To read what we’ve been up to since Christmas, open the above Word document.
After the 2014-2015 Bahama trip, we could not resist the siren’s call to again seek warm tropical weather, sunny skies, and clear aqua waters. After all, wintering in the Bahamas is not such a bad life, even if done in the context of luxury camping. Who knows, maybe it would be our last great adventure and maybe we might even stop to smell some roses along the way.
We left our Mill Creek dock on October 19, stopping along the way in:
· Hampton Roads, VA– a quaint VA sea town with much history, and across to Norfolk and up the Elizabeth River to begin the ICW trip south;
· Oriental, NC where pre-election fever was raging, and we bought shrimp right off the boats;
· Wrightsville Beach, NC to spend time with our dear friends, Jim and Ann Martz;
· Beaufort, SC, a charming southern town where the display of live oaks delights and amazes;
· St. Augustine FL, where recovery from Hurricane Matthew is well underway. Here we ate at Gas, a gas station converted to a restaurant devoted to farm to table cuisine and local craft beers (We highly recommend it to anyone in the area.)
· Vero Beach, FL. We spent a week, rented a car, grocery shopped, took in some movies, and did the tourist thing. We also visited with our new friends, Bob and Bev Schneider, who graciously invited Len to play golf at their country club, provided dinner, and use of their laundry room. Bob’s a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan. We watched Cowboys upend our Baltimore Ravens.
· Ft Pierce to Ft Lauderdale, an overnight ocean passage.
· Ft Lauderdale—where the rich preside and million dollar mile is well named!
By sailing offshore for several hundred miles we missed much of the ICW shoaling and bridge opening schedules. However, and luckily, when we were on the ICW, we experienced unusually high tides due to the super moon giving us extra water under the keel.
At this writing, November 29, we are anchored on the west side of Key Biscayne, an island just southeast of Miami and where Richard Nixon had his home. We await Amy’s visit on December 10th and plan to explore this beautiful area and visit the 7th of the top 10 most beautiful beaches worldwide. Weather permitting, we plan heading to Nassau and going where the wind blows—or doesn’t.
While the Bahamas are one nation, its island groupings are diverse. The Exumas and nearby islands are desolate, remote, somewhat arid, devoid of most avian or aquatic life with beautiful beaches and multiple shades of blue ocean water. On the other hand, we found the northeast islands in the Abacos to be more populated with quaint towns and villages. We were surprised to see more trees, less scrub brush, larger harbors and anchorages, and every now and then birds chirping. The people were as hospitable and joyous as elsewhere.
We spent a week waiting out bad weather in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. There we found resorts and restaurants with buildings painted brightly in corals, turquoises and yellows. Homes with manicured lawns and gardens abounded with every tropical flower imaginable. Our hikes led to broad vistas and long white beaches both on the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean side. Once the weather improved we sailed to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island and re-provisioned, and then sailed northwest through the Whale Cut and entered the northern Abacos. Here we anchored and explored many cays, collected more shells and sea glass, and bar hopped and ate-out at places with unique names—Nippers, Grabbers, Snappas to name a few.
My cousin Claudia and her husband Allen joined us at Green Turtle Cay for a few days leaving Vermont’s snow and freezing cold. Phase II was moored in White Sound next to the Green Turtle Marina and Resort while Claudia and Allen stayed in a resort villa. This harbor provides all around protection and is a good jumping off spot for day tripping.
One of the highlights of the entire trip was what I nicknamed “turtle drifting” on Manjack Cay, which is a short hop north of Green Turtle Cay. Here the mangrove swamps provide an interstate highway system for green turtles and at high tide you can dinghy into the creeks, cut the engine, and just drift with the current as you watch them explore the bottoms and swim about. These turtles are very fast swimmers and getting a picture was next to impossible. Here several hiking trails lead to ocean beaches and on one hike my wading in the surf was cut short as I yielded the space to a nurse shark.
With company departed, we were anxious to start the journey back to Virginia and home. Once again, we waited a week in Green Turtle for bad weather to pass, hoisted anchor, and motor sailed to Great Sale Cay, an uninhabited island providing shelter and a good place to stage a crossing across the Little Bahamas Banks and to Ft Pierce, Fl. After about 20 hours we entered USA waters via the Ft. Pierce inlet and then proceeded north on the ICW to the Vero Beach Municipal Marina. Now, it is just a matter of continuing north, either with offshore trips or on the ICW until home.
- You can live with much less than you think you can. Fewer clothes and shoes come first to mind. Two pairs of flip flops do it: one pair with closed toes and the other traditional style. Boat shoes for sailing days. Pair of rubber boots to wear when washing down muddy anchors.
- You can live in 400 square feet, but getting off the boat at regular intervals is essential to good mental health and spousal relief.
- You do not have to wait for 5 o’clock to start the cocktail hour.
- There is no such thing as too much rum, especially Mount Gay, tonic and limes.
- Every town should have a home bakery where someone churns out the most amazing coconut bread as well as other goodies. There is nothing better than bread fresh from the oven, especially with peanut butter and jelly.
- Current navigation charts and electronics are invaluable.
- Weather conditions and wind direction are critical to safe passages. Don’t depart unless you’re sure.
- A weather forecast is just that—a forecast not a certainty.
- A really good book is worth every page it is printed on. We read about 30 books, some riveting and entertaining and others barely worth finishing. We read about the civil war, the history of the Bahamas and other non-fiction that proves sometimes truth is better than fiction.
In closing, there is a secret we’ve kept since departure that can now be shared. After we left home, Len suggested we keep a running score of our daily gin rummy games for the entire trip and play for a penny a point. The grand totals, as of this date anyway, is Vickie—$75.21 and Len—$55.49. Bragging rights are priceless!
Even though we are surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauty, we were tragically reminded of her power and fury on March 5, 2015. On this day we departed Warderick Wells, Exumas to make a 40 mile passage over open waters, then another 10 onto Rock Sound, Eleuthera’s safe harbor. The forecast was for 10-13 knots of wind, diminishing throughout the day. Since the Forgosh’s were elsewhere with plans to meet up later, we left by ourselves and found conditions not at all as forecast. Average wind was at least 20 knots with much higher, frequent gusts complicated by ocean surge conflicting with wind driven seas. Many sailors have no doubt experienced worse conditions, but for us it was the worst we’d ever encountered especially over such an extended period of time. Seas grew to at least 8’ with some monsters well over that: the jib was soaked at least 15’ above the water line; one wave splashed over the dodger, which is 30’ back of the bow and easily 10’ above the water line; once, and thankfully only once, when we turned into a wall of green water. Need I say more, except our boat and the captain handled it well and when we turned the corner heading into Eleuthera the land sheltered us enough to cut waves down to 3-4’.
This is when tragedy struck. As we turned the corner toward Rock Sound, we heard “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Delilah a 27’ sailboat off Schooner Cay. Kite boarder down. Severely cut on leg. Stung by sting ray. ” There was a response from the land based rescue team saying they thought they heard the Mayday, but could make out no other details. It became obvious that we were the only vessel within range and so began to relay communications between the rescuers and the distressed vessel. Simultaneously, we looked at the charts and saw that shallow water and opposing wind made it impossible for us to reach them. Very shortly after we relayed the call, communications were established, we were not needed and help was on the way. For 90 minutes we followed the drama, which ended in tragedy. We later learned that the injured victim bled out quite a bit it in the water and was subsequently bitten by a shark or barracuda and died. This event is etched in our memories forever and reminds us to give Mother Nature her due respect.
With this tragedy behind us, we turned to exploring Eleuthera, which is much different from the Exumas. First, Eleuthera is 100 miles long and home to several communities while the Exumas are comprised of multiple small cays, mostly uninhabited. Consequently, Eleuthera has more commerce, larger settlements and Rock Sound was proof. Here we found the best grocery store we’ve seen since Nassau. In the states you waltz into the produce section and find any number of lettuce varieties; I rejoice when I find just romaine that is not all brown and slimy! Is there a green vegetable besides broccoli or canned green beans? They tell me it is so…. Kidding aside, who would think going to the grocery store worthy of a blog entry? But, it was a real treat and the icing on the cake was that the store gave us a ride back to the dinghy! No schlepping on this trip.
Island hospitality did not stop here. After hauling two huge bags of laundry around town, trying to find the laundromat, a woman offered to give us a ride. It was HOT, we were sweaty, Len’s sprained toe (that is another story for another day) hurt so it was a no brainer to thankfully accept. She gave Len a ride back to the dinghy and me a ride to the laundromat, which was closed. She called around trying to find the owners, but to no avail and then offered to take it to her home and do it for me. This would be taking hospitality to an extreme and I said no thanks. Amazingly, we discovered she had lived in Monkton, MD which is only about 10 miles from where we lived.
Next stop, Hatchet Bay where the government blasted a 90’ cut thru a rock wall to connect an inland lake and Exuma Sound hoping to facilitate a cattle industry. Unfortunately someone must have made a projection error; the cost of importing feed exceeded the value of the heard. We did rent a car here and toured Surfer’s Beach, Rainbow Cliffs, pink beaches, James Cistern Bay and had a great lunch at the Laughing Lizard Café. From there we spent a night just outside Spanish Wells, where we took a mooring for a couple of days waiting for a weather window to cross the Atlantic and land in the Abacos. While there, we rented a golf cart, did more touring, tried to get Forgosh’s portable generator and our outboard engine repaired. Yes, Silver had lost his Hi, Ho and Away we go ability. In the end, the generator has been given last rites and we deferred Silver’s fix until Marsh Harbor.
Happily the 50+ mile trip to Marsh Harbor was made with little wind and flat seas. The highly was seeing a pod of about 50 dolphins; of course, they would do cooperate to pose for pictures. Today, we are anchored in Marsh Harbor; Silver is fixed and purring like a kitten; the Forgosh’s hope to buy a new generator on Monday. Then, off to Hope Town, Man-o-War Cay and more points north.
During the last month, we’ve meandered about the Southern Exumas with destinations dictated by the need to shelter from nasty cold fronts (we know, don’t complain as it is nothing compared to the cold fronts plaguing the Northeast US).
From George Town, we headed about 40 miles to Cat Island, where we stumbled upon a Junkanoo contest between the two local high schools. Dressing in highly decorative costumes and dancing thru the streets to an intoxicating rhythm, the festival’s general purpose is to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck in the New Year. Parents, relatives, teachers, neighbors and visitors alike cheered on the youth who had been preparing and rehearsing for months. The entire island’s 1500 inhabitants seemed to have turned out. We also observed that teens here are no different from those in the rest of the world; girls dressed to the nines hoping to attract the boys’ attention and boys pretending not to notice!
Bahamian cruisers fear the west wind due to lack of protective harbors; the islands and cays are generally exposed to the west causing waves and swells from this direction to roll in with nothing to break their fury. No exception, Cat Island lacks protection from strong west winds and the Exuma Sound wave swells. Before heading to shore in our dinghy and knowing westerly winds were forecast, we battened down hatches and made sure our anchor was securely set. Later in the afternoon, the wind clocked from the west to the northwest. Phase II’s bow faced the NW wind at this point, but the swells from the west were still strong. The result: Phase II rolled side to side as the 5-6 foot westerly swells hit broadside on the port side, and at the same time the strong NW wind caused the bow to pitch upward toward then dip while the stern rose and the waves broke over the deck. The evening dinghy ride back to the boat wasn’t much fun. The timing to disembark from the dinghy onto the boat was critical as the dinghy heaved and the boat pitched and rolled. Thankfully, all ended well, but sleeping that night was impossible. By morning things had calmed down and we sailed back to George Town for water and fuel. Our next destination was Lee Stocking Island, 20 miles to the north, to hunt for sea glass and shells. I fully admit that I am addicted to this activity, but Len would rather sail, fish and drink Kalik, the beer of the Bahamas.
In addition to sea glass hunting, we also explored nearby cays and cuts, where the water was crystal clear and many starfish, conch and rays were spotted. Respecting another forecast of westerly winds, we headed for a sheltered anchorage outside of George Town, arriving a few days before the winds to assure a safe spot. This time, the ride was much improved even though the blow was stronger and longer.
Once the weather settled, we headed about 40 miles to Long Island, surprising named for its length! (80 miles long and 4 miles wide) A long walk led to a beach with some pretty shells, but the goal was to explore a cave. After spotting the trail, but being attacked by mosquitoes and threatened by a snake, we made an about face and never reached the cave. Oh well. Next up: a rental car to visit a church designed by Father Jerome, a sponge beach, where sponges from nearby beds wash up, and abandoned salt flats.
A visit to Little Farmers resulted in a nice walk and a visit to a famous wood carver, who had no inventory but beautiful gardens and interesting stories. Probably the highlight of this trip was the journey back to George Town, which passes thru ripe fishing grounds. Len caught another mahi-mahi and a wahoo. While hauling in the one mahi, another struck. Len thought it much bigger, but it got away when about 30’ from the boat. In the meantime, First Edition landed a Black Fin Tuna. Fish dinner that night, fish bites for appetizers, fried fish for dinner and more fish in the freezer.
We rode out another cold front, and then headed from George Town back to Long Island to escape the crowds gathering (over 350 boats) there for Regatta Week. We rented another car shared with another couple. Laundry was done early and the rest of the day spent sightseeing, having lunch in Clarence Town, and exploring more beautiful beaches and more sea glass hunting. We expect to begin our journey northward over the next few weeks.
Just before Christmas, Amy arrived at Staniel Cay in the Northern Exumas, ready for sun, fun and strong desire to see the swimming piggies. Since these piggies, which swim out to your dingy begging for food, are close to Staniel Cay, the first order of business was to partake in this event. She also snorkeled in the famous Thunderball Cave, where scenes from an old James Bond movie were filmed. This site is a cave entered via an underwater tunnel but once inside holes above provide a mystic sort of blue light.
As an aside and while waiting for Amy to arrive a lesson learned: if you need to rinse sand off your feet, do not sit on the stern transom and splash very much. Personal experience confirms that sharks are attracted to splashing / thrashing items. A curious five foot nurse shark appeared only a few feet away!
From Staniel Cay, we headed on toward the Exuma Park, passing Steven Spielberg’s motor yacht en route. According to locals, you can rent this vessel for a little over $1 million per week plus expenses, which includes a crew of 23. But, I digress. One could easily spend weeks exploring Exuma Park where boundless hiking and snorkeling sites await the adventurous. We snorkeled at a spot called The Aquarium near Cambridge Cay and then headed to park headquarters at Warderwick Wells. Here mooring balls line a horseshoe shaped, deep channel and the center becomes a sand flat at low tide. We saw many rays and sharks and hiking led to breathtaking views on the Exuma Sound side of the Cay.
Next on the tour: Black Pointe, a settlement on Guana Cay and home to of Ida’s famous Laundromat. (A load to wash and dry was $7; we had four loads at that point). We stocked up on homemade coconut bread as well as other basics and ate conch in all imaginable form: conch fritters, conch burgers, cracked conch, conch salad—and anything else that can be fried. The trails here lead to expansive beaches where many shells and much sea glass were hunted. After a couple of days at Black Pointe, and with calm seas, we anchored off Bitter Guana Cay to see the iguanas. As soon as they heard the dinghy engines, they ran out of the bushes quickly letting us know they wanted to be fed. We discovered they are fond of romaine lettuce and not so fond of potato peels.
I picked up a new skill—running the dinghy, which, as one would expect, entails starting the outboard. Nicknamed Silver, for its high ho and away we go reliability, wouldn’t you know that the first time I soloed, I was unable to start Silver. Fortunately, other boaters gave Amy and I a tow back to the boat where Len was immediately able to start the engine. Lesson: don’t flood the engine!
With Amy’s departure date soon upon us we headed back to Black Pointe where she picked up the puddle jumper to head back to Nassau, then on to DC and the real world. On the other hand, we headed to George Town, continuing to enjoy endless turquoise seas and summer temperatures. While on the way there and only 20 minutes after starting to troll, Len caught a Mahi-Mahi. I was lucky to actually see him strike and screamed “fish on”; after a bit of a fight, Len reeled him in; I was executioner. (You pour rum into its gills. It can be cheap rum as the fish are not too picky). Len filleted and grilled him, making a dinner fit to compete with that of any restaurant.