Getting Ready for Bahamas Cruise #7

For the last year and a half, since June, 2017, we have been at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, Florida. Oddly, I did not post a blog about our stay in Spanish Wells and another one about our cruise back to Florida at the end of our sixth trip to the Bahamas. I thought I had, but haven’t looked at our SV Seas the Day website since returning.  

Here is a brief summary of the last month of our Bahamas Cruise in 2016/2017. We stayed  in Spanish Wells until May 22, 2017. We then sailed directly back to Lake Worth, Florida,  leaving Royal Island, near Spanish Wells, at 10:05 am and arriving at Lake Worth the next morning on May 23 at 6:30 am. We had to slow down at the end so we could enter Lake Worth in the daylight. The next day we traveled north on the ICW back to our home port of Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart.

We didn’t go to the Bahamas the following November, 2017, due to some medical news we received after returning to Florida. Mark had a physical and his PSA had risen. Over the summer of 2017 it continued to rise until he eventually had a PETscan which showed cancer in his prostate that had spread to his spine. Chemotherapy began in the Fall but after horrendous side effects, his oncologist changed the treatment to a hormone injection every three months and daily hormone pills. There were no side effects, Mark gained back the 25+ pounds he had lost during chemotherapy and he got his hair back. After a few months, he felt 100% better, changed his diet from mostly sugar to mostly organic and has been healthy ever since. A PETscan a few weeks ago in October, 2018, showed the cancer is gone from his prostate and spine. However, the hormone treatment will continue for the foreseeable future. We had decided shortly after his diagnosis that we would go to the Bahamas for the 2018/2019 season and that is what we are doing. He will have to fly back to Florida every three months for his injection and have his hormone pills mailed to him each month in the Bahamas. For this reason, we will quickly get to Georgetown, which has a good airport nearby and stay there until April. Then we will go directly to Spanish Wells for the rest of the season. Spanish Wells also has an airport in nearby North Eleuthera.

So what have we been doing for the last year and a half? First, as always, we made some changes to  Seas the Day. For example, we have never liked the one inch deep cushions in the cockpit. We have a large seating area around the table, but it was uncomfortable. Therefore we had new cushions made, now much thicker and very comfortable. In the previous post, you’ll see an older photo of our cockpit seating with two boat chairs in the corners. Since the padding was so thin we always put these chairs on top of the cushions. The new cushions are the same color and material as the old ones, so they look similar, just feel different. In the picture are two of our new Seas the Day pillows. Mark also sanded the drop leaf table he made several years ago and put a new coat of finish on it.  Also in this picture, we changed the chain for the hanging lamp, since the old one had rusted. 

At the same time, we replaced the helm seat. We had already had a new one built a few years ago since the one that came with the boat was extremely uncomfortable. However, that replacement was not exactly what we wanted so now we have a seatback that is high with a thick cushion seat.  Our sunshade panels in the cockpit were starting to wear out so we had new ones made, once again the same color and material as the old ones. We were never satisfied with the SPOT satellite location device we have used since 2008. Sadly while the tracking was good,  it disappeared after a week. Therefore we have no online record of all of the places we visited during the ten years we have cruised on Seas the Day. SPOT was the only device available when we moved aboard, but a few years ago the inReach device became available. Starting with this cruise, we will be using an inReach and the track is permanent. It also includes the ability to add a message, along with many other desirable features. Our new tracking link for inReach is here. It can be found on the menu of our website under “Location.” Each time we move, we will turn the tracking on and it will update our new location every ten minutes. At the end of that leg of the cruise, the tracking will stop and I will write a short message about the trip on the inReach page. 

When Hurricane Irma came through Florida in the fall of 2017, we had to evacuate. This is the first time we had to leave town for a hurricane. We drove 28 hours to Knoxville, Tennessee, and stayed there for one week. Under normal conditions, this trip would take us less than 12 hours, but of course the roads were clogged. However, when we arrived in Knoxville we stayed at a wonderful LaQuinta which was across the street from a Starbucks. Notice in the photo of the bed we brought our own comforter, so Sailor wouldn’t get theirs dirty, and of course he had to bring some of his toys with him.

The Treasure Coast of Florida includes the counties of Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach. In other words, it runs from Vero Beach, south to Palm Beach with Stuart in the middle. Amazingly, while Irma went through most of Florida, the Treasure Coast was hardly touched. We returned to our marina to find there was no damage to our boat or the marina as a whole. When we knew we were evacuating, we of course removed the sails and everything that was on the deck of the boat. Since we were worried about losing power, we purchased an Engel refrigerator/freezer and planned to empty our freezer and bring the food with us. Unfortuately, the Engel did not arrive in time so we had to give away our frozen food. However, now we can use the Engel while cruising. It uses much less power than our current freezer and can also be used as a refrigerator. 

During our last Bahamas cruise, a cruiser friend (Penny from M/V Pretty Penny) sent us a photo of a display she saw at a local Florida store, Bealls. Everything had “Seas the Day” written on it. Of course, when we returned I immediately visited Bealls and bought numerous items with our “logo” on them. Now we have new cups, insulated glasses, rugs, wine glasses, plates and trays with the name of our boat on them. I don’t know why anyone else would want something with Seas the Day on it and of course they were all on sale for that reason.

After getting the results of Mark’s PETscan a few weeks ago, we began to seriously start to provision and make purchases of spare parts. Mark was very busy with the “to do” list he had been avoiding for awhile. Provisioning was very different from past years since we are now eating very little meat, lots of veggies and fruits, and whenever possible “organic” foods. Our eggs and chicken breasts are from free range chickens, our beef is from grass fed cows and our salmon is “wild.” We did end up buying quite a bit of meat with those qualifications, which of course meant everything was more expensive. We saved a lot by not buying massive amounts of candy (for Mark) and ingredients for all the cookies, Rice Krispie Treats, and homemade caramel rolls I regularly made while in the Bahamas. Instead of coffee, we bought green tea. We didn’t have to buy any cases of Coke for Mark.

As always, we have to make preparations for Sailor. A few months ago I sent away for the paperwork he needs to enter the Bahamas. He had his yearly physical, during which our vet signed the Bahamas paperwork. Provisions for Sailor are seven months of food, treats, Heartguard meds, Nexguard (flea and tick), shampoo and conditioner, and one final grooming. Speaking of Sailor, I’m sure he has missed running on Bahamian beaches, but he has enjoyed his twice daily very long walks preceded and followed by sitting on the marina porch.

Now that we are ready to go, as usual something breaks at the last minute. This year our freezer is not freezing. While we have the Engel, we bought too much and the excess frozen food was placed in our large freezer. Tomorrow Mark will order the part we need and in the meantime, another cruiser is having freezer problems too and they have friends who have an empty freezer in a house, so we were able to put our freezer contents in it. Whew! I have lost count of the number of times our freezer has failed and we have lost massive amounts of food.

Tuesday, November 12, was a good day to make the three day trip to Miami, but we won’t be able to do that. As usual at this time of year, fronts pass through Florida and delay our departure from Stuart. We should get another window to leave at the end of the week.

Below are a few photos of our activities from the last year and a half.

In March, 2018, since we were in Florida for once, we were able to go to the Spring Fling, an annual reunion party put on by Sailor’s breeder Moss Creek Goldendoodles. We drove to Orlando and stayed for several days in a hotel. The romp was held outside of Orlando, where Sailor got to play with hundreds of his relatives.

Sailor has worn the same costume for every Halloween of his five years. Before he came home to us, I had already purchased his sailor costume in small, medium and large. He’s a good sport about wearing it. In the Crew section of this website, you’ll see a photo of Sailor the day we got him wearing his size small sailor outfit.

Sailor has a BFFF (best furry friend forever) named Zorro. His dad Chris visited us in the spring of 2018 at our marina in Stuart on their way to the Bahamas. Zorro fell off a dock at Vero Beach so he couldn’t run and play with Sailor. However, in the second picture of them they were running together on the beach in Hole 2, Georgetown, Bahamas several years ago. 

 

While I didn’t write about our visit to Spanish Wells in April and May of 2017, below are two of my favorite pictures from this island. I had hundreds to choose from and selected one of Mark and Sailor playing “fetch” on the beautiful Spanish Wells beach. The other is a picture of our favorite activity in Spanish Wells – going to get a soft ice cream cone at Papa Scoops. We always rent a golf cart for the month we are there, which makes it easy to get to Papa Scoops, which is only open in the evenings.

One advantage of staying in Stuart last season was I got to have my daughter Jennifer visit more often. It was especially nice to be with her during the Christmas season. We always went to the beach when she came on her once a month visits. Her dad had surgery during the summer and she got to stay with us for a month, not her usual three day visit.

 

I also got to go to some of Jen’s Special Olympics meets. Below she was competing in a track meet. Loving to win, she was very disappointed that she got second place.

Finally, while at a dock we have unlimited city water, so of course we do as much washing as possible before we leave. Besides washing pillows, quilts, curtains, dog bed covers, and rugs, Sailor’s toys got baths. He is used to this so he slept through the whole process. Below are a FEW of his toys. 

As I was writing this blog entry, our water pump stopped working. Mark will work on it tomorrow, and has temporarily fixed it so we can take showers tonight. Each time we get ready to leave for a winter/spring cruise, something goes wrong. Once we got to our first stop at Lake Worth/Palm Beach and while trying to lift the anchor, the electric winch fell into the anchor locker. A week later we had ordered a new one and moved to a marina from the anchorage to install it. Another time we got to Miami at Dinner Key Mooring Field and had to use our dinghy to go ashore.  The motor froze up and it couldn’t be repaired, so we had to order a new one. Such is the life of a cruiser. We were told when we first purchased Seas the Day that “Everything on your boat is broken.  You just don’t know it yet.”

 

 

Georgetown to Spanish Wells

After spending our longest time in Georgetown during six cruises in the Bahamas, we were ready to leave on April 2, 2017. We had been on a mooring ball in Hole 2 for four months and a few days, so it was time to start heading north. We like to leave one month at the end of the cruise to spend in Spanish Wells before sailing back to the States at the end of May.

The first leg of our sail north from Georgetown up the Exuma chain is on the deep water of the Exuma Sound, so  we have to watch the weather closely and usually we have to wait at least a few days for favorable weather. This year the trip on the Sound to Galliot Cut, which we crossed through to the shallow Bahama Bank, was calm. After filling the diesel tanks the day before and making one last trip to the Exuma Market, we left the Georgetown Harbor at 0730, traveling with True North. They travel a little faster than us, and stopped in Emerald Bay for fuel. We got ahead of them but we both ended up at the same time as we anchored next to Blackpoint at 1410.

We can always tell how calm the sea is by watching Sailor. He is perfectly happy sleeping at the helm if there is little movement, however as soon as we start to rock a little too much for him, Sailor goes to the salon steps leading down to a bed. He has finally become willing to stay on the bed alone, where he seems to feel safe. This makes me happy since I have spent many hours on that bed reading my Kindle while he sleeps. Notice in the picture below he doesn’t seem to get the idea that he is supposed to be on the towels. People who visit our boat often ask what we put away when we are sailing. It’s a catamaran. Unless the seas are rough, or we expect someone to wake us on the ICW or an inlet like Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale), we leave most things where they are, especially in the cockpit where none of the items seem to move even in rough weather. Incidentally, if any of my childhood friends from Duluth are reading this, notice the bowl of rocks between the shell arrangements. Those are the ones I picked up on our trip to Grand Marais last summer and I will always treasure them as a remembrance of the three days we spent together. 

When we entered Galliot Cut and got on the bank, where it is much calmer, Sailor suddenly thought it was going to be too rough for him so he went to his safe place. The cut can be very rough, especially if the wind and strong current are going different directions, but this time it was near slack tide and wasn’t bad. Sailor stayed on the bed until we approached the anchorage at Blackpoint. After four years of living on the boat, Sailor recognizes that when the engines slow down it often means we are stopping. If he sees land, he wants to be ready to get off the boat, which usually happens shortly after we drop the anchor.

After we anchored at Blackpoint, we went ashore, passing True North. Sailor recognized his friends Cathie and Tom also getting ready to go ashore.

Sailor looks very happy to be going ashore.

We spent one day in Blackpoint and had only one goal – to get a few loaves of Lorraine’s mother’s coconut bread. Hers is the best we have ever had, especially since she uses freshly grated coconut which of course she gets from palm trees on the island. Her bread is baked in the morning so on April 3, we went into town about noon and got two fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves. Sailor got a few beach runs that day and on April 4 we left at 0850 to head to Warderick Wells. Cathie and Tom stayed behind to do a few more things and we met up with them again in Warderick a few days later.

On the way south last November, we stopped at a number of cays to snorkel and give my son Peter a taste of the beautiful water of the Exumas. Sometimes we visit our favorite cays on our way north, especially if we were trying to beat weather to get to Georgetown quickly on our way south a few months earlier. This year we went directly from Blackpoint to Warderick Wells and spent some time there with friends. There were a few poker games on our boat since Carina, True North, and Riff Raff were there with us. Also, Mark had time to retrieve our sign from Boo Boo Hill and add some updates. The photo below is from when he went to get the sign to bring it back to the boat. It held up fine through Hurricane Matthew last fall. He added “17” and touched up the paint a bit. Our friends Jeff and Jane on Carina had put their sign next to ours earlier this year. It’s always fun to see how many boat names we recognize when we are on Boo Boo Hill. As you can see, many signs end up in a pile. You would think that in hurricane force wind all of these pieces of wood, located on a high hill, would blow away but oddly they don’t. The rules are that you can only use wood for your boat sign. Just like you can’t take anything away from the Land and Sea Park, you also can’t leave anything that is not natural. Our sign has stayed there since we first put it up in 2010 on our first trip to the Bahamas. Boo Boo Hill overlooks the north mooring field on one side and the Exuma Sound on the other.

The “plan” was to stay in Warderick Wells a few days and then across the Exuma Sound to Eleuthera. Those few days turned into eight days. The wind picked up, which meant the sea did too, and we waited until everything calmed down. It took eight days to do that. Meanwhile, the mooring balls filled up as more and more boats looked for shelter from the wind. I continued to do a water aerobics practice each day by myself in a small sheltered cove near the Emerald Rock mooring field. Sailor got plenty of time running and chasing his ball on that beach. Dogs cannot go off the beaches on the trails, but he would love to go chase the hutia (plump brown rabbit size rodent) that are found all over Warderick Wells. 

On April 5, we heard what sounded like a helicopter warming up. We had passed a mega yacht on mooring ball 1, reserved for large boats, when we entered the mooring field and noticed there was a helicopter on the upper deck. Sure enough, the helicopter was preparing to take off. It was a very windy day, but the pilot was obviously capable and soon the helicopter flew south. A few hours later it returned, perhaps with visitors who had flown on a plane into nearby Staniel Cay,  or perhaps the people on the yacht were just taking a tour over the nearby islands. Again, the expert pilot  dropped the helicopter on the deck.

We always try to stay in the north mooring field at Warderick Wells. The setting is extremely beautiful. This photo was taken from Boo Boo Hill and we are the catamaran on the far right side of the field.

While we love being at Warderick Wells, eight days was more than enough time there we were anxious to cross over to Governor’s Harbour the first day the weather on the Sound was moderately calm. Mooring balls in the Land and Sea Park for boats over 40 feet are $30 a night and we hadn’t planned on spending $240 in Warderick Wells. We left through the inlet at at the exit from the north mooring field  at 0823 on April 12 and arrived in Governor’s Harbour at 1615. We have been here many times, but only stayed one day and started north the next day at 0635, motorsailing off the coast of Eleuthera to Spanish Wells, arriving at 1250 on April 13. We left Governor’s Harbour under a beautiful sunrise with calm water, as can be seen from the fact that nothing in the salon had to be put away.

We were now at our final destination in the Bahamas, Spanish Wells, where for the past six years we have spent our last month before returning to Florida. 

(This blog entry was written in May, 2017, but somehow I forgot to upload it until today, November 12, 2018 as I started to write a new blog entry.)

 

Georgetown, Part Six

It’s hard to believe that this is our sixth visit to Georgetown with the first one occurring in 2010. It is a popular stop for cruisers who spend time in the Exumas. A great many arrive to spend a few days and stay for weeks or even months, returning year after year. It is the ideal place to provision for going further south, so some stop, shop, and continue on their way. Occasionally  cruisers avoid Georgetown at all costs. Some have heard stories about it being “adult daycare.” Others don’t like to be around so many boats, although there are numerous anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and some are frequently empty. You can be surrounded by other boats or anchored all by yourself. Last year I wrote an extensive post about Georgetown. It’s located here.  This year we are doing and seeing all of that and more.

We arrived in Georgetown at the end of November and quickly settled into our routine. As more cruisers arrived, the activity level picked up. Add to that the opening of the new resort at Lumina Point where we had an additional place to eat, exercise, dance, listen to cruiser jam sessions, and attend Happy Hour. When we arrived in Georgetown there were less than 20 boats here. The number peaks during Regatta Week. Below are two photos of the dinghy dock at Exuma Market. The first shows my son Peter, Mark and Sailor on the dock with five other dinghies when we first arrived in November. Mark is holding the hose hanging where cruisers line up in their dinghies to fill jerry jugs with free RO water, provided by Exuma Market. Yes, that is free. Other places in the Bahamas RO water costs 50 cents a gallon, sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less, but never this convenient and free. The second picture was taken in March when there were about 300 boats in the harbor. Notice the dinghies lined up to get water. By the time we left in April, there were less than 100 boats remaining. When the Regatta ends, some cruisers continue on their way south to the Caribbean, some head back north through the Exumas or Eleuthera and on to Abaco or other islands, and others follow different routes, eventually ending up in the States before hurricane season begins.

This is our third year in Hole 2, a hurricane hole mooring field. Not only do we enjoy the protection from high winds, but we also get to meet new friends each year because as a group we are “Hole 2.”  Michelle and Dan on Sea Monkey hosted a number of fun get-togethers, including a Valentines Day party and a jam session with Shannon and Bob (Category 1) and Gary (Tamaki) singing and playing their guitars. One afternoon Michelle offered to read our Chakras, which was very interesting. The bonfire parties on our beach in Hole 2 are legendary, but this year our main organizers, Joanne and Jack on Houseboat Panda, sold their boat and returned to Canada early. Jack was great at building bonfires and we only had one after he left – someone needs to take on that job. Most of the boats have kayaks and/or SUP’s and it’s not unusual to see several of us padding through the holes together since it’s always calm on the protected water. Below are a few get-together pictures with our Hole 2 friends and a photo taken, I believe, by Ingrid from Tamaki as they flew over Hole 2. The four mooring fields are on the west side of Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbour. The long sandy beach on the east side of Stocking Island is on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. That beach is one of the most beautiful in the world and oddly, even when there are hundreds of visitors and cruisers in the area, rarely are there more than a few people walking on the beach and sometimes we are the only ones. Most cruisers spend time on the beaches on the harbor side of Stocking Island or in town. 

Below is a photo of the women of Hole 2 when we had a farewell luncheon at Lumina Point for Joanne on Panda and a welcome to Jill, the new owner. 

Saturday Night Poker on Seas the Day continued this year.  It is the highlight of our week and a good excuse to get the boat cleaned. We host 12-16 people with the men in the cockpit (seats aren’t as comfortable) and the women in the salon. (A note to the men – we hope to get the cockpit cushions replaced before we come back next year with much thicker seats.) When the number of players left in the game gets down to about 7 or 8, we combine the tables into one, usually in the salon. Most of the cruisers who come are from Hole 2. In fact three years ago when we began this, all the players were from Hole 2 the entire season. The last two years we have also invited friends from the anchorages when there aren’t enough players on the Hole 2 boats as cruisers come and go. Halfway through the game, we stop to chip up (trade in our chips for higher value ones) and eat a variety of always delicious snacks contributed by the players. New friend Holt (SV Agandau) is a gourmet snack maker and we hope he’ll be back next year, not just for his food. The name of his boat combines the symbols for silver (agand gold (au).  Sailor greets each dinghy pulling up to Seas the Day with one of his stuffed toys and kisses. He even has special ones he always brings to the same people. For example, Cathie consistently gets Mr. Squirrel. 

Three years ago we started to play poker at the St. Francis on Tuesday and Thursday. When we arrived in mid November this season, there was one table of about 10 people playing, including the three of us. Once hundreds of boats had arrived a few months later, the limit was set at five tables of ten each and we needed to register by about 5:15, with registration beginning at 5:00 or we would not get a place. Play starts at 6 pm. Mark and I won money enough times that we probably broke even. Buy-in is $5 with all money going back to the top five winners at the St. Francis and top three on our boat. Mark actually made it to the final table at the poker tournament during the Georgetown Regatta where there are many more players than the normal 50. He came in fourth place and won a very nice St. Francis shirt, a bottle of wine, and money – around $50. Pam on SV Dejarlo won the tournament, which was fitting since it is the last year she and Ollie will be coming to Georgetown after many years of being involved in numerous activities and volunteering through the years for just about everything. They will be missed. Below are photos of the final table at the Regatta Week tournament and Jillian, co-owner of St. Francis giving Mark his prizes.

Free yoga classes at Lumina Point Resort were offered during November, December and part of January. They were held on a large deck also used as an outdoor restaurant, a small deck overlooking the harbor, or, when weather was rainy, in their exercise gym. The teacher is from Andros Island and was trained in the States. She is also their massage therapist and is excellent  in both positions. I attended classes every day until the middle of January when I discovered that some of the poses were hurting my shoulder. Starting about that time, the classes switched to three times a week and there was a small charge to attend. The free classes attracted 20-30 people or more. Once the nominal fee was charged, the attendance dropped sharply. Luckily at that time free classes were offered by Agnes, a cruiser teacher, on Volleyball Beach. As the new resort started to get more guests, they stopped having so many activities for cruisers. It is an eco-resort, with solar power running everything and all aspects designed to be environmentally friendly. They even hand carried all of the building materials through the property to build the cottages. The paths are carefully cut through the thick foliage. Lumina Point Resort will no doubt attract visitors who are there for a relaxing, peaceful vacation. Cruisers tend to be noisy!

About the time I stopped going to yoga classes, a few of us realized that our two aquafit teachers from last season would not be coming to Georgetown this year. I volunteered to teach the class and Joanne from SV Bristol Cream provided the music and led the arm exercises. I have taken water aerobics/aquafit classes for many years, both in Columbus, Ohio while I was working and now in Florida. I researched poses that would work in the open water, rather than in a pool, and designed a routine that has a warm-up, followed by aerobics, then exercises strengthening each part of the body, ending with a cool down. As cruisers who came to our classes left Georgetown,  I gave them each a copy of the routine to follow as they visited other islands or back home in their own pools, lakes, rivers, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting many new friends who came to the classes. Having retired from classroom teaching 11 years ago, I had forgotten how much I like being a teacher.

While we still paddle in our kayaks, mostly in the smooth, calm water of the four large mooring fields, this year we added an inflatable SUP (stand-up paddle board) to our “water toys.” I have to admit the main purpose was to give Sailor something to ride on with us. He hopped on our friend Christina’s SUP last season and seemed very comfortable, so now he has his own spot on the “pup deck” at the front of our SUP. So far he has behaved perfectly, sitting the entire ride. However, I am worried that if he ever decides to stand up, we’ll both go over into the water. 

Lumina Point Resort held several open mike sessions and we discovered there are many musically talented cruisers. One of my favorite sessions was when Sarah, on MV Borrowed Horse, played “Dueling Banjos” on her banjo with another cruiser on his guitar. It was incredible. Our friends Shannon (aqua shirt below) and Bob (red hat playing his guitar) are from Nashville, and their country music was fantastic. 

Activities in Georgetown increase substantially during the Regatta. There are usually close to 300 boats in the harbor and while the highlight is the big boat races, there are many other daily events, such as the poker run, bocce ball, beach golf, small boat races, the coconut challenge, a scavenger hunt, and much more.  A variety show is held the opening night in Georgetown at Regatta Park. The participants are both cruisers and Bahamians.

Our friends Cathie and Tom were on SV Interlude when we met them in January, 2013 in Bimini and they introduced us to Hole 2 three years ago. After selling Interlude, last summer they purchased a Tolleycraft motor yacht they named True North. Of course she goes much faster than a sailboat, up to 25 kts. One night we were invited to take a sunset cruise in the harbor with other friends from Hole 2 and we got a taste of Tom’s need for speed. 

We can’t write about our Georgetown activities without including Sailor’s adventures. He does have a great life on the boat. While in the Bahamas he goes ashore twice a day to play on the beach, plus he goes most places with us since the Bahamas are very dog friendly. He hasn’t met a friend as special as Zorro, his Portuguese water dog BFF. They were inseparable two years ago on the Hole 2 beach and later on in Long Island and Spanish Wells. This year a puppy named Bentley, which incidentally is the name of Sailor’s father, was the one dog who loved to run up and down the beach with Sailor.

After each visit to the beach, Sailor has to be washed off with fresh water. Then he is wrapped in this towel so he doesn’t shake water all over the boat.

In past years, we have never checked into the Bahamas before January 1. This year we arrived in Bimini on November 14 and Georgetown on November 27. A huge celebration on the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, is Junkanoo. In the larger cities such as Bimini and Nassau, a second Junkanoo is held on New Years’ Day, beginning at midnight. The parade held in Georgetown was colorful and fun. The groups practice for a long time and in many cases make their own costumes.

Groceries are always an important consideration when visiting the Bahamas. We provision for our entire winter/spring cruise, seven months this year. However, we always have to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and the Exuma Market and the Shop Rite Mart in Georgetown have great selections, but fresh produce only lasts on the shelves for a day or two after the supply boat brings food. These are by far the best grocery stores we shop at in the Exumas and other than Nassau, the second best we go to during our Bahamas cruise. The best is the Food Fair in Spanish Wells. Below are photos of one shopping trip at Exuma Market and some of the food we have enjoyed on Seas the Day.

Broccoli, muchroom, and cheese quicheMarinated boneless pork loin pork chops with pineapple and maple syrup, fried rice, and asparagus

Multi chip (and multi calorie) oatmeal cookies

These are items we purchase almost every week

Caramel pecan rolls rising overnight to bake in the morning 

Rice Krispie treats – not fancy or unusual but we couldn’t make them without bringing Rice Krispies with us from the States since cereal is very expensive here

Of course there are many good restaurants in Georgetown. A tradition is Valentines Dinner at St. Francis, always with a wonderful gourmet meal. It is so popular that it isn’t even “advertised” on the morning net, but the reservations fill up quickly.

I often say that the best thing about cruising is the friends we meet. This year, we met Tucker and Robbie on SV Pixie Dust. They were in Hole 2 on a ball near Seas the Day. Little did we know that Robbie would give us a very special gift the day before they flew back to Michigan. She is a talented artist, and she certainly captured our boat, Mark, Sailor and me in the water color picture she painted of us. Each day, we picked her up on her boat to go with us to water aerobics. We looked just like this arriving at Pixie Dust. 

We left Georgetown on April 2nd to start our way north. We’ll be back next year to create more memories. The sad part about leaving is that each year some of our friends do not return to Georgetown the next cruising season when they sell their boats and become CLODS – Cruisers Living On Dirt. Our 2016/2017 cruise is not over yet though. We still have two more months to enjoy the Bahamas as we travel through the Exumas, across the Sound to Eleuthera and on to Spanish Wells.

Cambridge Cay to Georgetown

With our dinghy motor nonfunctional, on 11/24/16 we left Cambridge Cay at 0950 and at 1200 dropped the anchor at Big Majors Cay, next to Staniel Cay. As usual on this trip, we were one of very few boats in the anchorage. In a month or two, this large anchorage will be crowded. It’s a very popular stop, both for cruisers heading south and for those who like to stay in this area for weeks or longer. The anchorage is huge and well protected from all but westerly winds, with a few smaller nearby anchorages for wind protection from the west. There are three very small grocery stores, two in small rooms in private homes and one on the first floor of a private home. Another advantage of stopping here is there is an airport, so often cruisers will have their guests fly into Staniel Cay. Also, with the airport being walking distance from the marina, it’s a good place to have boat parts or other supplies shipped from the States. (In Georgetown we have to pay a $30 fee to a broker who drives to the airport to pick up packages we have sent  from the States and brings them back to town where we pick them up.) There are several restaurants, including the recently updated Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The town recently added a laundromat. Water and fuel are available at the marina and dive boats take tourists to nearby snorkeling and diving locations.  There are quite a few cottages and private homes for rent on Staniel Cay. Cruisers can base themselves here and with a short sail or motor be at the popular Exuma Land and Sea Park. 

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First on the agenda was to repair the dinghy motor. Mark worked on it for several hours, finally determining that the problem was the fuel. He emptied it from the motor and it looked more like water than gas. He added new gasoline and the motor started. Off we went to see the swimming pigs and take Sailor to the beach. We needed to wait until the next day for a slack tide during daylight to go into the Thunderball Grotto and snorkel. 

People actually come from all over to see these pigs, which is quite amazing because a pig farmer from Iowa once told us that all pigs can swim. Although there are quite a few beaches on Big Majors Cay, the pigs are always on this one. We chuckle when we see float planes or tour boats coming here from resorts all over the south and central Bahamas and as far away as Nassau to see the pigs.  They pull up to the pig beach, the tourists get out and swim with or feed them, they get back in their plane or boat and head off to the next “attraction.” We usually stop our dinghy when passing this beach, but have never gotten in the water with the pigs or gone ashore. Sailor, of course, would love to play with them, but that would be dangerous. These are huge pigs and they are protective of their piglets. Apparently, these pigs are so important to tourism in the Exumas that as Hurricane Matthew approached Big Majors Cay in October, the piglets were captured and placed in sheds while the larger pigs were left to fend for themselves. With the strength of the hurricane force wind, the piglets could have blown away. 

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Next we took Sailor to another beach on Big Majors where he could run, swim, and fetch his ball. We can almost always find a deserted beach in this anchorage where he can freely run without dodging people. He hadn’t been off the boat since the fiasco on Bell Island the previous day when we were marooned for awhile. This was much more fun.

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My son, Peter, climbed a nearby hill but the rocks were very sharp so he didn’t go far.

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The next morning, we moved Seas the Day to an anchorage right next to the grotto so we wouldn’t have a long dinghy ride to snorkel or go to lunch. Our motorsail to our next stop at  Cave Cay was short, so we could easily get there in the afternoon after spending the morning in Staniel Cay. Last year when we snorkeled Thunderball Grotto, it seemed like there weren’t many fish and the coral wasn’t as colorful as in the past. We blamed it on the massive amount of people in the grotto making it difficult to swim around to look at the coral. Everyone times it to come during one of the two slack tides during the daylight hours. Otherwise, the strong current pushes through the grotto and makes getting in and out difficult. Like the pig beach, tour boats bring tourists to snorkel at the well known Thunderball Grotto where scenes from the James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed. This time, again there were several dinghies anchored outside the grotto (the dinghy mooring balls have disappeared), but it wasn’t as full as last year when we came. Swimming into the grotto, it was very apparent that the tourists who come here in large groups have killed the coral and scared the fish away. I spent several minutes inside and returned to the dinghy since there was little to see. Mark didn’t go in the water because he had a cut on his foot and there are a lot of sharks, mainly harmless nurse sharks, in the area. Peter ended up snorkeling mostly around the back of the outside of the grotto where few people go. All in all, I don’t think we’ll go to Thunderball Grotto again. It’s sad that the multitudes of tourists have ruined it. I don’t include cruisers in this because they have been coming here for many years, before the influx of numerous daily tours began, and until a few years ago the coral in the grotto was very healthy. Our first time snorkeling here was in 2010 and the grotto has changed drastically since then. In the past, there were so many fish in the grotto than they would sometimes totally surround snorkelers.  Most cruisers are very careful to protect the land and sea environment so they know to be careful not to touch live coral. 

Peter used his GoPro camera at Thunderball Grotto, but hasn’t put a video on YouTube yet. Hopefully he captured some colorful live coral outside of the back of the Grotto. He saw a nurse shark while swimming there. 

Below is a video Peter took when we snorkeled at The Aquarium, near Cambridge Cay, at our last stop. This is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is a “no take” zone, so it’s as pristine as the coral is going to get here. There were still plentiful, wide varieties of fish in The Aquarium. However, several nearby islands are owned by private citizens, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan, and they have been dredged for megayachts which will probably affect the nearby cays in the Park. I suspect they allow their family and visitors to take shells off their beaches, so while they are in the Park, the “no take” rule isn’t being followed. 

We returned to the boat, cleaned up, and went ashore to Staniel Cay where we had a delicious lunch at the Yacht Club and took a walk around the town. 

Lunch at the Yacht Club.

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Sailor and the resident Yacht Club retriever had a discussion below our table, probably about food droppings. There are signs telling people not to feed the dog, but he is quite clever. We were eating outside and I noticed he would wander over and walk under the tables from time to time. He seemed to know he would find food that had dropped off the tables, and he did! Sailor doesn’t eat “people food” so the dog got any scraps that blew off our table. Perhaps Sailor was telling him to feel free to eat any scraps he found.

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Whenever the Staniel Cay residents have a fundraiser for a local cause it’s held in this location. The food is always traditional Bahamian cuisine including BBQ meat, peas and rice, mac and cheese and coleslaw.

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Before cell phone towers were built on most of the islands, you could get a phone card and make calls back to the States, or locally, from one of these booths. Now Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) has cell towers everywhere (except in the Land and Sea Park) and voice and data prices are reasonable. This phone booth hasn’t been used for awhile.

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Coming back to our anchored boat near the grotto, we were all alone again. We pulled up the anchor and made our way to Cave Cay. 

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We had asked Chris Parker during his morning SSB/webcast what the sea conditions on the Exuma Sound would be like the next day between Cave Cay and Georgetown and he said the wind would be 10-12 kts and seas would be 4 ft becoming 3 ft. That sounded fine to us so the plan was to leave for Georgetown in the morning from Cave Cay Cut. When we arrived, there was one other catamaran anchored near us. We didn’t go ashore, although there is a nice beach right around the corner from this hill. You can see why this is called Cave Cay. Below is one of the many caves along the shore and there are more on the land.

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The next morning, we waited until 0900 to leave, hoping that since it was close to slack tide we might not encounter large seas or a rage as we left through the cut. We were anchored near Galliot Cut but motorsailed the short distance to Cave Cay Cut, which we find is sometimes easier to go through. But it wasn’t. As we entered the cut, large waves were coming onto the foredeck and crashing over the salon roof, which was not unexpected since it’s always been rough when we’ve gone through these cuts, but we assumed once we got through the cut and turned south, the predicted 4 ft waves would be manageable. They would have, except Chris Parker didn’t mention the HUGE SWELLS. The four ft seas were on top of them. We were going straight into the swells and they were still crashing up onto the foredeck, occasionally coming over the salon roof.  Mark estimated the swells were 10 to 12 feet high. From another direction they would have been manageable because if there is enough time between the swells, they just carry the boat up and then gently drop us down. Not this time.

I went to bed with Sailor and Peter got in his bed with a dramamine while Mark was at the helm, controlling the boat as best he could. Many people think it’s easier in rough seas to be on the deck level, but on our catamaran, I find it’s more comfortable in beds located in the hulls. Besides, Sailor is a “fair weather sailor” and insists I get in bed with him if the sea is not almost flat. These sea  conditions were probably the worst ones we have ever sailed in over the last eight years. At 1417, about five hours after leaving Cave Cay, we were in Elizabeth Harbour and dropped the anchor near Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island to wait for high tide to get into the mooring field on our ball. The seas dropped as soon as we entered Elizabeth Harbour although it was still very windy and the water was choppy. While this was a horrendous leg of the journey to Georgetown, we know that Seas the Day can take much more than we can and we weren’t worried about any danger to us or the boat.

The Ohio State/Michigan game began shortly before we entered Elizabeth Harbour, so we had to finish watching that, which went into several overtimes. We lived in Columbus, Ohio for over 20 years, so Peter and I are diehard Buckeye fans. A few minutes before the game ended, we lost our Direct TV signal, so we had to check online to find out that Ohio State won.

Before we left Cave Cay, we had removed all items off shelves, locked all cabinets, moved cockpit plants to protected areas, and put away everything we thought might fall because it’s almost always a little rough on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. However this time anything that was loose fell down. We have hanging rods for clothes in the two showers that we don’t use and these had never come down in the roughest of seas. Not only did they come down with all the clothes, the rods bent in the middle and will have to be replaced! A planter in the cockpit that had never moved fell down causing loose dirt to blow all over the cockpit. Except for the hanging rods, nothing broke, but it was the biggest mess we ever had to clean up. 

Below are pictures of the mooring field in Hole 2, and Seas the Day on her ball. Most of the moored boats are empty, with owners storing them here during hurricane season and not arriving for the cruising season yet. When Hurricane Matthew passed over Georgetown in October, several boats in this mooring field and the “hurricane hole” next to it, broke loose and hit the sharp rocks on the shore, causing major damage. The mooring  balls, which are held by screws dug deep into the floor of the mooring field, did not break loose, but the lines from the boats to the balls did. In one case, a boat came loose and hit other boats, pushing them along with it to the shore.

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Peter had a few days to explore Georgetown before he flew home to California, but the wind was high so all we got in were a ride around the relatively calm mooring fields on the stand-up paddleboard and kayak, a walk on the Exuma Sound beach, a trip into town for a short tour, a snorkeling attempt in the harbor, two dinners at St. Francis, and a game of Texas Hold’em the night before he left. It was too choppy in the harbor to get in anymore snorkeling or exploring.

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We’ve never seen the dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, where cruisers tie up when they come into Georgetown, so empty. Then again, we arrived here over 1 1/2 months earlier than on our other five visits to Georgetown. Sometimes we were the only dinghy on the dock. In a month, dinghies will be three and four deep along this dock.

dscf3256In the dinghy dock photo below you can see Mark and Peter are getting water from a hose to fill a bowl for Sailor.  This is the only place in the Exumas where there is free RO (reverse osmosis) water for cruisers available directly into their dinghies. Water usually costs about 50 cents a gallon at fuel docks and marinas in the Bahamas. The Exuma Market, located next to the dinghy dock (which was built for cruisers by the Market), provides this free water. As more boats arrive in the harbor, there will be a line of dinghies with jerry jugs waiting to get water to bring back to their boats and put in the tanks. We have a watermaker so we make our own RO water, but once our watermaker broke and while waiting for a part we were very grateful for this free source of water. 

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Shortly before we arrived in Georgetown, we heard news that the Red Boone Cafe had burned down. The building is next to the Exuma Market, so it was amazing that did not catch fire. Fortunately, a large propane tank used by the cafe, not shown in this picture, did not catch fire and explode. This was a very popular place for cruisers to get together for something quick to eat and to visit. I believe they also had free wifi. The three red picnic tables near the cars, always occupied by cruisers and locals, are now partially burned,  showing that is where the fire stopped. Hopefully it will be rebuilt and used as a cafe again.

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The Georgetown School is near the center of town. In the Bahamas, all schools are painted yellow. Government buildings are pink and police stations are aqua/green, The islands in the Exumas do not have high school classes, so students have to move to Nassau and live with friends or relatives when they attend high school. 

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I don’t know the significance of this boat, although I suspect it won a regatta for Georgetown.  Next to it is the Georgetown Straw Market. This burned down in April, 2015, but is up and running now with a variety of locally made treasures. The only thing I could talk Peter into letting me buy him was a small refrigerator magnet with a map of the Exumas on it. It cost $6 and I suppose I could have bargained down the price, but I always figure these ladies need the money much more than we do, and gladly pay whatever they ask.

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The wind finally calmed down enough to go for a kayak and iSUP ride. We stayed in the “Holes” aka mooring fields, where there weren’t any waves and we were protected from the higher wind in the harbor. This photo was taken in Hole 3, which is a hurricane hole, and boats are on mooring balls or tied to docks. No liveaboards are allowed.

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We took the kayak and iSUP to a small beach in Hole 1 and walked over the hill to the beautiful Exuma Sound Beach. It’s amazing that there is so much foliage left after Hurricane Matthew’s wind went over The Exumas.

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A climb to the top of a sandy hill where there is a bench gave us a great view of the beach below. It is almost always either empty or at the most has a few people walking or swimming.  All the action is on the Elizabeth Harbour side Stocking Island and across the harbor in Georgetown, so many cruisers and tourists never discover this treasure. Hopefully the tour boats don’t start coming here!

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On November 30, Peter had a flight leaving in the morning and the wind had picked up, making a dinghy ride across the harbor rough. Peter and I took Elvis’s Water Taxi and he brought us to town. From there Peter rode in a van taxi to the Georgetown airport to fly back to his home in Oceano, California. We enjoyed having my son with us for several weeks on our travels from Miami to Georgetown.  I think he got a taste of what the “cruiser’s life” is all about. A few days ago I got a text from Peter saying, “I saw someone in Morro Bay taking their groceries out to their boat via dinghy yesterday…..Now I know the struggle.” 

We plan to stay in Georgetown until sometime in April, when it will be time to start heading north to eventually return to our home port of Stuart, FL and our favorite marina, Sunset Bay. 

Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay

On November 18, 2016, we left Great Harbour Cay Marina at 1500 and motored to nearby Bullock’s Harbour, about 1.5 miles north of the cut into Great Harbour Cay. Even people who have been in and out of the marina many times do not do it in the dark in a large boat. There are several tight cuts and turns to navigate through.  Since it was our first visit to this marina, we were definitely not leaving in the dark from the marina slip the following morning and that was necessary in order to get to Nassau in the light.

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Since we saw “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” we left the next morning for Nassau. Actually, we checked the weather forecast first and had a fairly pleasant motorsail, averaging 8 kts. Part of the route was over deep water, called The Tongue of the Ocean, and we did have large swells, but they were on the port aft beam, about 12 seconds apart, so they were manageable. We left Bullocks Harbour at 0520, in the dark, and arrived in Nassau at 1435, pulling into a slip at Nassau Harbour Club with several hours of daylight left. Very few boats were there, since the majority of cruisers hadn’t crossed to the Bahamas yet. We walked across the street to the strip mall, stopping at Starbucks and also picking up some fresh fruits and vegetables at the Fresh Market. It’s not the chain from the States, but is an equally nice grocery store and the last well stocked store we would see until the Exuma Market in Georgetown. In the Bahamas, we rarely look at prices, and buy what we need since there really isn’t an option. Except for a few dairy products, almost everything is much more expensive than in the States and of course we don’t always find the brands we prefer. Since we have stocked dry goods for seven months, we usually only have to buy fresh vegetables and fruit and eventually cheese, eggs, yoghurt and other dairy products. I freeze several months worth of yoghurt and eat it frozen for breakfast every day, so I don’t have to buy any for quite awhile.

The next morning we left the marina at 0755 and motorsailed across the shallow bank, arriving  in Shroud Cay, part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, at 1340. Until we exited the Park after Cambridge Cay, we would have no Internet or phone service since there are no cell phone towers in the Park. For most of the rest of the way to Georgetown we would be on the “bank” which is shallow water. Therefore unless the winds were extremely high or from the west, which isn’t protected since we travel on the bank with islands to the east of us, or if there were squalls, we could move from cay to cay without encountering uncomfortably rough conditions. We chose this stop over the more protected Norman’s Cay, a few miles to the north, because we wanted to take the kayaks into the mangroves. Unfortunately there were swells on the beam in the Shroud Cay anchorage/mooring field so it was an uncomfortable stay and Norman’s Cay would have been a better choice for our first stop in the Exuma chain.  We didn’t paddle in the mangroves long because the tide was going out and it gets shallow even for a kayak, so we could end up walking back and dragging our kayaks behind us. However, this is a favorite place to snorkel in the midst of nature and silence so it was worth the rocking and rolling night. 

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The next morning at 0725, we sailed south to the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells, and took a ball for two nights. When we arrived at 1000, we were the only boat on the balls in the North Mooring Field, except for a lonely sailboat that belongs to the park. Over the two days we were there, a few more boats came in but it was not full the way it is later in the season. Of course we had to go up to Boo Boo Hill where cruisers leave handmade driftwood boards with their boat names on them and there is a beautiful view of the Exuma Sound and surrounding Park foliage and water. Even though Hurricane Matthew passed over the Exumas a month earlier, there were still plenty of signs on the hill, including our Seas the Day one that we first put on Boo Boo Hill in 2010 and have added to in subsequent visits in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Mark originally carved into the driftwood and painted the letters, but the past few years had just used Magic Marker and it had washed off. He brought the sign back to the boat and painted the dates. We’ll probably stop at Warderick Wells again this season, so will add “2017” on that occasion. (Usually we stop here on our way south in January or February, so we had already been here in 2016.) We also went snorkeling in the north mooring field and around Emerald Rock. Peter used his GoPro camera to shoot a video and got some nice shots, although the coral is not as bright as it was when we first came here in 2010. After two days we were ready to move on.

Seas the Day, alone in the mooring field

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Peter stopped to look at the skeleton of a 53 ft sperm whale, who died after swallowing a plastic bag.

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Dogs must be kept on a leash in the park and only on the beaches, not the numerous trails. We take Sailor to a beach by Emerald Rock  so he can swim and fetch his ball.

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The Park Headquarters are in the building on the hill, with access by dinghy from a dock or a beach near the sperm whale skeleton.

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Peter walked up the path to Boo Boo Hill.

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Views below are from the top of Boo Boo Hill.

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Video of snorkeling in Warderick Wells in the north mooring field and near Emerald Rock, by Pete Beagle:

We had one more stop in the Land and Sea Park, Cambridge Cay. We left Warderick Wells at 0915 and tied up to a ball in Cambridge Cay at 1130 on 11/23/16. Again, we were the only boat in the mooring field. We only stayed one night, but it was an exciting, and a bit frightening, afternoon. Since it was still very windy, we took the dinghy to The Aquarium, a sheltered area with a coral wall and lots of tropical fish. We all went in the water and then started back to the boat. One of us had to stay in the boat with Sailor or he would have joined us.

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As we passed near the cut to the Exuma Sound by Cambridge Cay, where the waves were high and choppy, our dinghy engine suddenly quit. Mark is proficient at fixing motors, but he could not get it started. We were bouncing around and water was splashing into the dinghy while he attempted to restart the engine but we soon realized we had to get ashore quickly to get out of the waves in the cut. In the Land and Sea Park, except for Warderick Wells where the park rangers stay, almost all of the cays and islands are uninhabited. While we always bring a handheld VHF radio with us in the dinghy, unfortunately this was one of a handful of times over eight years that we forgot it so we were unable to call for help. However, we were fortunate to be near Bell Island, owned by Aga Khan, the leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslim community. His purchase of Bell Island was quite controversial, since it is in the Land and Sea Park, the one area of the Bahamas left that is kept in its natural state as a “no take by land or sea” zone. The Aga has dredged a marina for his megayacht and built a mansion and other buildings on the island.

Because this was the Aga Khan’s island, it was probably the only one where we could hope to find someone who could help us. Mark and Peter rowed through the waves to a small sandy beach on Bell Island, surrounded by mangroves and sharp rocks. We had protection from the large waves on the east side of the hill pictured below. We knew there was civilization on the west side of Bell Island, so Mark took off walking through the mangroves and sharp rocks. Luckily we had all brought hiking shoes. Peter, Sailor and I stayed on the beach and waited. Even Sailor knew something was wrong because he was on a beach but just stayed near us, rather than run back and forth like he usually does.

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Periodically, Peter walked to the top of a hill and said he could see buildings and a few workers on the other side of the island but didn’t see Mark. By now it was late afternoon and we hoped we wouldn’t be sleeping on the beach. We could see our boat in the mooring field, but it was far too rough to attempt rowing there. We had almost given up hope when Mark came around the end of the island in a large open boat with two powerful motors and a Bahamian at the wheel. He was a maintenance worker on the island and kindly towed us back to Seas the Day. We gladly gave him $50 and thanked him profusely for saving us. I doubt that he expected any money, but he certainly earned it! If not for the kindness of this Bahamian, we would have been sleeping on the beach. We were incredibly lucky that the motor died where it did. I believe a guardian angel was watching over us that day.
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After this harrowing experience we decided to leave the park the next morning and move on to more populated Big Majors Cay and Staniel Cay. This meant we couldn’t snorkel in one of our favorite spots at the Rocky Dundas Grotto or visit the Bubble Bath on Compass Cay, but the water was too rough and high tide for the Bubble Bath, when waves crash over the rocks from the Exuma Sound into a small pond on the other side creating numerous bubbles, would be in the late afternoon the next day. Most importantly, we had no way to get to either of these without the dinghy.

We hoped that Mark could find out what was wrong with the dinghy motor, which is only one year old, when we arrived in the anchorage at Big Majors Cay the next day. If not, we wouldn’t be going ashore again until we arrived in Georgetown where we could ride on a water taxi to town and possibly bring the motor to a repair shop. When cruising, a dinghy is our “car” and our only way to go ashore. We do have two kayaks and an iSUP, so we could possibly use them to get off the boat, but with the high winds we had on the entire trip so far, and choppy water conditions, it wouldn’t be the preferable mode of transportation. We are fortunate that Sailor will “go” on the boat, using the trampolines on the forward deck. However, we were looking forward to snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, showing Peter the swimming pigs, and eating lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

Miami to Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas

At 0605 on 11-14-16 we released mooring ball 58 at Dinner Key Mooring Field and motorsailed  across Biscayne Bay to the channel entering the Atlantic Ocean, beginning our fifth cruising season in the Bahamas. The seas were predicted to be calm, but with minimal wind for sailing. Unfortunately, we were headed right into what little wind there was and it was just choppy enough to make the ride uncomfortable. In other words I spent most of the morning in bed with Sailor. After several hours, a loud alarm went off to alert us that one of the engines was overheating. We turned that engine off and continued on with one engine until it cooled down. Mark checked it and added more coolant. The engine started up and ran fine the rest of the trip. This has never happened to us before, so it was a bit worrisome. I was very glad we were on a catamaran with two engines. As we approached Bimini, the seas smoothed out and we arrived at 1400 in Bimini Sands Marina and Resort. 

Sunrise as we left Miami. 

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Seas the Day at Bimini Sands Resort and Marina

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We had been been looking forward to having a delicious seafood pizza at the Bimini Sands Beach Club Restaurant, but sadly it has closed. Also, the entire resort is closing at the end of November. The marina will stay open until March, but unless someone buys it, the marina will also close. There are condos at the resort, and the owners will be able to use them, but the restaurants will be closed and they can’t rent their condos. I’m sure many of the condos  were purchased to be rentals but there will be no one on the property to handle them. Not good news! We have enjoyed this marina because it is on South Bimini, away from the noise and activity of North Bimini. Also it has two pools, restaurants, very nice floating docks, and a beach next to the marina. The North Bimini marinas have a very busy channel on one side and a busy street on the other. A water taxi connects the two islands.

At 0440 on Tuesday, November 15, in the pitch dark, we left Bimini Sands to motorsail to the Berries. Usually we stop and anchor at Chub Cay (pronounced Key), but the weather was going to deteriorate on Wednesday until at least the weekend. Therefore we decided to go to Great Harbour Cay Marina in the Berries. It is a little closer than Chub Cay and the entire trip is on the shallow Great Bahama Bank. The sky was cloudy, but the water was as smooth as glass.

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A few hours before we reached Great Harbour Cay, it started to rain. It was a gentle rain, not a squall or a thunderstorm, and it continued to drizzle as we entered Great Harbour Cay. We knew from the charts and talking to other cruisers that it would be dangerous to enter the marina after dark. There is a channel with high rock sides and several sharp turns before eventually entering the marina. Many cruisers get to the Cay and then anchor outside the entrance until daylight. We arrived at 1620 with plenty of light and were directed to a wide slip. This marina has become very popular over the past few years after the owner of Active Captain, a site where cruisers rate and review anchorages and marinas, spread the word on his Facebook page, email to Active Captain subscribers, and other social media than this is THE place to stay in the Bahamas. Other cruisers agreed and now it is impossible to get a reservation here for the winter without booking many months in advance. When we arrived, there was only one other boat with people on it and a few sportsfishers and trawlers with no one aboard, although more boats have come in each day. We found out that some of the fishermen fly leave their boats here and fly in to the Great Harbour Cay Airport.

It is clear why this is a popular cruiser destination, where many stay for the entire winter/spring season. From our first contact on the phone with a receptionist through the check-in process, the staff was polite and professional. We were told our slip number before we arrived, which is rare at most Bahamian marinas. Even in Nassau, as you are calling them from outside the marinas to let them know you have arrived, they figure out where they’ll put you. Once we were guided into a slip at a Nassau marina that got narrower as we proceeded and we almost got stuck in it before quickly backing out! We always make reservations at least a day ahead once we know which day we can get to a marina. Movement in the Bahamas always depends on the weather.

During the season, when the marina is full, there are many activities here. We saw yoga mats in a storage shed and the professionally made information booklets we received spoke of art classes, exercise classes and more. Even now with few people here, we can get homemade bread delivered to the boat every other day, homemade pizza delivered to the boat at the time you choose on Thursdays, and a  Bahamian BBQ meal on Fridays for $10. The booklets showed detailed maps of the local places to snorkel and where to take a dinghy into the mangroves. A long walk, or short bike ride on free marina bikes, brought us to a seven mile long sugary sand beach extending along the north side of the cay.

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There is a grocery store next to the marina and a Batelco phone store walking distance down a paved road. Every day fishermen come in and guests at the marina can get fresh fish or lobster. The free wifi is very fast with four towers around the marina. There are three showers/bathrooms which are very clean and modern and several more are being built. It’s nice to be plugged into shore power, although it is billed at 75 cents per KWH. There is well water at our slip that is free to wash off the boat and RO (reverse osmosis) drinking water from another hose at our slip for 50 cents a gallon. There is also a fuel dock at the marina.

My son used a bike today and went up and down the roads of Great Harbour Cay. He took the photos below showing the beautiful scenery.

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After Pete got back from his bike ride, Sailor was playing with his toys on the deck. He is not allowed to do this but often sneaks one or two out to his bed. We noticed that his hamburger toy was missing, and sure enough it was floating away from the boat. Mark thought about putting the dinghy down but Pete offered to jump off the dock and swim for it. He did, got the toy, and returned it to a relieved Sailor.

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This morning, we listened to Chris Parker, the marine weatherman we subscribe to, and found out that Saturday and Sunday will be our best days to get to the Exumas. Sunday night another front is coming through the Bahamas. Therefore, on Friday we will leave the marina to anchor nearby. We’ll sail early Saturday morning to Nassau, spend the night at Nassau Harbour Club Marina, which just happens to be across the street from our LAST Starbucks until June, and sail to Norman’s Cay or Shroud Cay in the northern Exumas on Sunday. The sail to Nassau is on deep ocean water, so even with mild wind, it might be rough. Once we leave Nassau, we are on the shallow Bahama Bank all through the Exumas until we have to go on the Exuma Sound for one day to reach Georgetown.

On Thursday, our last night at Great Harbour Cay Marina, we enjoyed homemade pizza delivered hot to our boat. We ordered two: a lobster/conch pizza and a special with “everything” on it. They were delicious! We did get our seafood pizza after all. I planned on taking a picture when they arrived but we were so hungry I forgot until the leftovers were in the refrigerator and freezer. Leftover pizza will be great to nibble on as we travel over the next few days.  Next stop, Starbucks!

Stuart to Miami

After weeks of preparations, and a summer and fall of repairs and new purchases for the boat, this past week we had a weather window to get to Miami. Our wonderful dockmates helped us release the lines on Wednesday, November 9, and we were on our way…….until we reached the 65 ft Roosevelt Bridge next to our marina. The tide had been higher than normal, so we waited until mid tide and still barely made it under the bridge. Our mast is 63 ft (cut down from 68 ft so we could go under the ICW bridges) and the clearance sign said 64 ft, however we have instruments on top of the mast so we knew it would be close. For the first time our antenna dragged across the underside of a 65 ft bridge.

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After that we had an uneventful motor to Lake Worth. We rarely had to slow down for bridge openings. Some are on the hour and half hour and others are on demand, but we seemed to time it perfectly. We anchored near the Lake Worth Inlet and took Sailor for his first dinghy ride of the season over to Peanut Island.

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The next morning we left the Lake Worth Inlet and turned south towards Ft. Lauderdale. The seas were calmer than predicted, in fact there weren’t even white caps. We made good time and went under the 2:00 opening of the 17th St Causeway Bridge. This was the roughest part of the cruise so far with a number of powerboats racing by us in the inlet. We have stayed at the New River City Marina many times and they know us so the dockmaster gave us a slip before the first bridge. There are numerous bridges on the New River and they are closed between 7:30 am and 9 am on weekdays, therefore we would need to leave before 7:30 or after 9 am to get under the bridges and to the inlet. We had two surprises on our way out to the ocean. First, turning towards the bridge from the New River, we suddenly ran over something and heard it banging under our port hull. Assuming is was a log or some other debris, Mark backed up but we couldn’t seem to lose it. Then a fire boat came by and they told us we had run over a buoy. Oops!! It was small, close to the water level and Mark didn’t notice it. I was inside at the time. Backing up further, the buoy popped up and we continued on to the bridge. At the 9:00 opening of the 17th St Causeway Bridge, we went under and turned into the Port Everglades Inlet. Oops again. A cruise ship was returning to her slip by the bridge and was taking up most of the channel. We had to turn around and pull over so she could get by us. Then we entered the inlet and for once no powerboats raced by to wake us. We turned south towards Miami and had a pleasant smooth motorsail again. 

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Coming into the Miami Inlet is much easier than Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. That is probably because Miami is a busy commercial harbor and numerous cruise ships are close by. We rarely see any boats speeding into the harbor. Our first stop after going under the Rickenbacker Causeway into Biscayne Bay was at Crandon Park Marina to get fuel. The older gentleman who has always been there in past years wasn’t working and the young man taking his place didn’t seem too enthusiastic. We had to call the marina to get him to come outside and catch our lines. While Mark was filling four jerry jugs with diesel after filling both tanks, the young man told us he was going back inside to eat his lunch and we could call when we were finished. When I went to the office to pay the bill, I handed him a tip and suddenly he seemed more interested in helping us with the lines as we left.

As we approached the Dinner Key Mooring Field in Biscayne Bay, we called and got a ball assignment. They said to grab ball 170 and gave us directions to where it was. We went up and down the rows and there was no ball 170, so  we called the office and the worker again gave us directions. After looking for 15 minutes we called again and this time someone from the mooring field was there and told us that ball had been “deactivated” and assigned us another one. 

We have spent three days here, walking around Coconut Grove and visiting the dog park, which is very nice. There is astroturf and recycled tires are used for the paths. Sailor has gotten a lot of exercise each day and should be ready now for beach runs.

Today my son Peter arrived and he’ll be joining us as we make our way through the Bahamas to Georgetown. 

I enjoyed my last frappuccino at Starbucks until we return to Florida at the end of May. Well maybe I’ll have one in Nassau. We made final visits to the local grocery stores, Milam’s Market and Fresh Market, mostly for fresh fruits and vegetables plus a few items we forgot to purchase during our provisioning shopping trips in Stuart. 

The forecast for the crossing on Monday is 1-3 ft seas and light and variable wind. If that turns out to be correct, we will have a pleasant motorsail to Bimini. There has been almost a week of mild weather but of course it can’t continue. A front will be passing through Florida and the Bahamas In a few days.  We will not be able to make it all the way to the Exumas without an extended stay somewhere. If we have two more good days we’ll get to Nassau. Otherwise we’ll stay in Bimini rather than going on to Chub Cay or Frazier’s Hog Cay in the Berries where there is nothing to do on shore. In fact, Chub Cay is a private island and we can’t even take Sailor to the beaches. 

To further complicate our cruise to the Bahamas, we have been getting email updates on a Tropical LO forming in the Caribbean. This could possibly develop into a hurricane over the next few weeks. Hurricane season isn’t finished until the end of November, but since they are rare in November, our insurance policy allows us to leave our marina in Stuart after November 1. We will watch this system closely and make sure we are in a safe place if it becomes a hurricane in the Bahamas.

Preparing for Bahamas Cruising Season 5

Our usual cruising schedule is to leave Stuart after Thanksgiving, head south to Miami stopping in Lake Worth and Ft. Lauderdale, and wait at Dinner Key Mooring Field to cross the Atlantic to Bimini. Invariably we get stuck in Miami waiting for weeks to cross with favorable weather conditions and have never made it to the Bahamas before January 1. This year we are leaving in November and hope to have better results.

Once we are back in Stuart at the dock in June, we are no longer spending our days sailing, moving from island to island, anchoring, enjoying the beaches of the Bahamas and connecting with cruiser friends old and new. Very quickly we get back into our land mode and the boat becomes a floating condo tied to a dock. No longer do we have to depend on our diesel Onan Generator, gas Honda Generator, solar panels, and wind generator for power. Since we are plugged into shore power at the dock, we can once again freely use the microwave/convection oven, blow dryer, curling iron, toaster, coffee grinder, air conditioner, have unlimited TV watching, and use everything else that has to be plugged in without using up the power stored in the batteries. We could and sometimes do use all of these appliances while cruising, but the generator must be running for anything that creates heat. We don’t have to make reverse osmosis water while at the dock, and have unlimited city water to fill our tanks with a hose, wash the boat, take longer showers and give Sailor much needed baths. We have fast free wifi at our marina so we don’t have to pay for the more expensive data in the Bahamas or use much of our Sprint and AT&T data. A pumpout boat comes to us once a week to empty the holding tanks for free. In Georgetown we pay between $20 and $30 per pumpout and that is the only place we visit that has a pumpout boat. We get our car out of storage and have all the stores and shopping we need within a few miles of the marina rather than going to mostly small stores with limited and expensive food items in the Bahamas. Ordering by mail becomes possible again and our Amazon Prime purchases start arriving at the marina before we do. We can have items sent to the Bahamas, but shipping is very expensive and we pay a high customs fee based on the cost of the item. Yoga studio classes and water aerobics are back on my schedule, and instead of walking Sailor on sandy beaches, Mark and Sailor are strolling on the streets and in nearby parks in Stuart. Mark makes the dreaded “to do list” but doesn’t feel rushed to complete it quickly. Our marina is 10 minutes from the ocean so Sailor still gets to visit beaches, just not twice a day, every day. He has lots of Goldendoodle friends in the area and we get together occasionally for beach romps. Luckily, Stuart is a very dog friendly area.

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We quickly fall into new patterns and forget about boat chores for awhile. However, soon the lists start to be checked off and there are always repairs to make and new things to buy. This year our radar unit had to be replaced, new shower and sink faucets were purchased and installed, as wells as zincs, a gear box for the anchor windlass, and 200 feet of new anchor chain. Our Honda generator needed to be repaired, we had to buy a new jib sail, and the list went on. However, just as Mark would start on a new project, something else had to be fixed, like a bilge pump suddenly wasn’t working so that went to the top of the list. Parts are much easier to get here by mail or in stores, so we try to bring extras of everything we use or might need to repair along the way. At the top of this list are parts for the watermaker since almost every year some part fails.

When Mark replaced the radar unit, he first went up to take the old one down, lowered it in a bag to me and then came down. After resting, he went up again to install the new one which I raised in a bag to him. Thankfully when he came down and turned the radar on at the nav station instrument panel it worked! He went up in a bosun’s chair, with two lines tied to it. I brought him up using an electric winch, first raising one line, locking it, and then raising the other, reversing the process on the way down. The winch is controlled by foot pedals so it takes no strength on my part. We went very slowly and it’s as safe as we can make it, but very tiring for Mark to keep his legs wrapped around the mast. It’s not a job he enjoys.
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One of the greatest things about cruising is the friends we have made. We always make it a point to meet sailors on other Lagoon 420’s and share new items to buy or ways to improve things on the boat. We have gotten many suggestions from friends Karen and Matt on SV Where 2, including the Amazon link for wonderful new shower heads and sink faucets. 

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We got a nice break from the Florida summer heat when we drove to Duluth, Minnesota in July for a class reunion. Actually our classmates turn 70 this year so it was a birthday party. Taking advantage of the fact that a group of us who have been close friends since elementary school were all there, we took a road trip up the north shore of Lake Superior and spent several days together in Grand Marais, Minnesota. We had a fantastic time sharing memories and making new ones. There is nothing more special regarding friendships, in my opinion, than the ones from childhood. I would say we are all looking pretty good as we reach 70 years old. The first photo was taken in Grand Marais and the second at one friend’s house in Duluth. The eight of us have stayed in constant contact for over 50 years, first with snail mail “chain” letters where we each added our letter to the rest and sent the fat envelope on to the next person who replaced her letter with a new one, and now we communicate via email, regularly updating the group with our latest news. This was the first time in many years we were all together in one place.

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While in Duluth we stayed at a Sheraton Hotel with a gorgeous view of Lake Superior. They allow, and in fact welcome, dogs up to 80 pounds. I could stare for hours out at the lake watching the big ships come through the canal in the the harbor and smaller boats sailing and motoring near shore. We were able to stroll along the Lakewalk and stop at the beautiful parks along the way, including the Rose Garden pictured below. Duluth has changed a great deal since we left it in the late 60’s and has become a popular tourist destination. The lake views were all from our hotel room.

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The months ticked by and soon it was September and then October. As we were going along crossing things off our lists, Hurricane Matthew formed. Until the day he arrived in southeast Florida, we were predicted to be exactly where he would make landfall with CAT 3 or higher winds and a storm surge, in the so called “cone of uncertainty.” At the last minute Matthew turned slightly east and we only got tropical storm force wind. We had no damage from the hurricane, however while putting the dodger (aka windshield) back on after the storm passed, the wind caught one panel and it fell to the deck and cracked. Fortunately we had the dodger made here in Stuart, so they were able to quickly replace that one panel for a mere $600.

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As the hurricane approached Florida, days and days of preparations began, including moving the boat to a more protected floating dock at the marina, removing everything from the deck and putting it inside the boat (including sails and two kayaks), and adding additional lines from the boat to the dock as well as more fenders to protect us from banging on the dock. The day before the hurricane hit Florida, we left the marina and stayed with friends Marilyn and Rich, who live nearby in Port St. Lucie. We were very grateful for their hospitality. Their Goldendoodle Tater and Sailor, who share the same father, had fun playing together and we all slept through the hurricane.

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We then began the task of putting everything back where it was previously kept. One advantage, however, was it became an opportunity to give everything on the outside a good washing. All around the marina, most boats were being cleaned, not from the hurricane effects, but due to the relative ease of cleaning when there was nothing that had to be moved. 

As we were taking down the jib for the hurricane, we discovered it needed a few repairs and brought it to Mack Sails in Stuart. Surprise, surprise, we were told it was not worth repairing and we needed to buy a new one, which we did after the hurricane passed. In the photo below, Mark is attaching the new sail.

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As soon as everything was put back, it was time to start preparing to leave. A big part of that is provisioning for a seven month cruise. Spreadsheets are made after determining what we need. For several weeks, I went shopping almost daily, bringing back bags full of provisions and then storing them. It’s not just food that has to be purchased and stored. We also buy paper products, toiletry items, cleaning supplies, office supplies and of course replacements for the many systems on the boat.  If we use it, we buy plenty to take with us.  Many items can be bought on Amazon or by mail order. Naturally this year I made sure I had plenty of hot chocolate and Sailor had abundant treats since we ran out of both of these last year. We get a new courtesy flag for the Bahamas every year, and we also had to get new paper charts for the Bahamas since ours were from 2008 and several revisions have been made since then. Of course we have a chart plotter with digital charts for the areas we travel in, but the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas are not available for our navigation system in digital format. Courtesy flags are not well made and rarely last a season so we have started buying two of the “premium” courtesy flags and are then able to have a flag flying for six months that isn’t shredded by the wind. We always bring an extra US flag too so we can replace it if it tears. This summer we bought an inflatable stand-up paddle board (iSUP) to add to our two kayaks for water exploring.  Sailor will now enjoy going with us on the iSUP. OK, I know the photo is sideways, but I can’t rotate it and we have deflated the board for storage so until we are in the water, this is the only one I have. Note the “pup deck” at the front for Sailor’s traction.

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We have three queen size bed cabins and one is devoted to food storage when we cruise. Everything is placed in plastic containers, labeled and stacked. Catamarans are known for their storage, so cabinets are full as are the storage areas under the salon couch and bench. The bookshelves Mark built in the office became a pantry after we bought Kindles and gave away most of our books. We have deep storage lockers on the foredeck and under beds there is more space for storage. Under one bed we have four large bags of dog food, many cases of Coke for Mark and other miscellaneous items. Of course the freezer is full as are our two refrigerators, one in the cockpit and one in the galley. Before we leave Miami, we’ll get fresh fruit and vegetables and again when we stop in Nassau we’ll restock what we need at a fantastic, but expensive, Fresh Food Market. The next good grocery store we will be near is when we reach Georgetown. The grocery stores in the small islands of the Exumas are usually a few shelves in someone’s house. They are stocked once a week when the supply boat arrives from Nassau with items from the States. 

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The storage locker below is one of several on the foredeck. It is just under five feet deep and is full of paper products which are ridiculously expensive in the Bahamas. Yes, we probably buy more than we need and it does add a lot of weight to the boat. Just today someone watched me bringing supplies aboard and said, “They do have groceries in the Bahamas you know.” Yes, I know that, but what if I want a certain brand of peanut butter and don’t want to pay twice the price I got it for at Sam’s, Walmart, or Target or it isn’t even available where there is limited stock? What if I need rechargeable batteries and can’t find them in the Bahamas? What if I use a certain brand of face lotion and I can’t get it there? A one gallon container of Rotella engine oil is $12.97 at Walmart and $53 at a NAPA store in Georgetown. However, in most cases it’s really not about money. It’s about choice, and we choose to eat and use the brands we like. The fact that we save money is an added benefit. The fact that we have a boat with a lot of storage available makes it possible.

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Another thing we have to provision for is our meds. Mark takes several prescriptions and I am on thyroid medication. Luckily, I can buy a three month supply, without using insurance, for $10 at Walmart and they have no problem if I get six months for $20 or even a year at a time, as long as it is on the prescription. Mark, on the other hand, has a huge problem getting what the insurance companies call a “three month vacation waiver.” It’s fine with the doctor and OK with the pharmacy but it is pulling teeth to get the insurance approval. In the end, after weeks of sending in forms, numerous phone calls, and much waiting, he gets them. This year it was particularly difficult. It’s hard to explain to someone that you don’t have a cruise ship itinerary to send them, or a receipt for a tour in Europe to prove you are going to be out of the country. They don’t understand that we can’t go to a pharmacy when we cruise, although there is one in Georgetown and also in Spanish Wells. One year I ran out of thyroid medication and purchased some at the pharmacy in Spanish Wells. I recall it was quite a bit more expensive, although that may not be true in all cases. After calling every day for over a week, and spending four hours on the phone last Friday, today Mark finally got a call saying his Medicare provider had approved it. That’s fine, but we had actually planned on leaving yesterday and this afternoon our car is going into storage. So at 2:30 today he picked up the last of his meds and now has a seven month supply. 

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As we do all of this, we are also watching the weather. We subscribe to marine weatherman Chris Parker and get daily email updates on sea conditions in the US and Bahamas. We can also listen to his morning weather reports for the US, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean, broadcast on SSB and webcast. Our route when we leave takes us from Stuart to Lake Worth on the ICW. Then we have two days on the ocean, first to Ft. Lauderdale and then on to Miami. This means we have to wait for two days where the ocean is fairly calm and wind is in a favorable direction for sailing or at least not on the nose. Once we arrive in Miami the wait begins again for “crossing weather.” Chris Parker has reliable stats and recommendations for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. It is about 50 miles on the ocean from Miami to Bimini where we check into the Bahamas. The route is complicated by passing through the Gulf Stream where seas can be huge if the wind is from the north and meets the Gulf Stream which is a strong current flowing north up the US East Coast. There are many weather sites we can check but invariably our best source is Chris Parker’s crossing forecast. It usually takes us about eight hours of motorsailing to get from Miami to Bimini.

We originally “planned” to leave Stuart on November 3. Insurance requires us to stay here until November 1. However, last week passed with no weather window to leave. We are hoping to head south on Wednesday, November 9. Thursday and Friday are predicted to have relatively calm seas and we won’t be headed into the wind. The wind is from the north but it is “light and variable” by the end of the week. Inclement conditions are returning over the weekend when a front passes through Florida, so we will be in Miami for at least a few days, possibly more. Last year we spent three weeks in Miami on a mooring ball waiting to cross. As they say, “Cruising plans are written in sand at high tide.” Another one is, “The most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule.” 

To follow our cruising route, there is a link in the menu at the top of our website page. It is under “Location” and called  “Spot Tracking.” Whenever we are moving it is turned on, updating our position every ten minutes. I tend to post photos and updates more often to my Facebook page than to this website and there is a link to that at the top of the right column on the Seas the Day website. 

We plan to leave Sunset Bay midmorning on Wednesday (tomorrow) and take the ICW to Lake Worth/Palm Beach. It’s an easy motor with quite a few bridges that have to open for us, but all timed well. We have reservations at a marina in Ft. Lauderdale for Thursday and Friday night, in case we want to wait until Saturday to go on to Miami. 

Finally, we miss many things about living in the US when we are gone. In particular, there is one thing I can’t provision for and can’t purchase anywhere we visit, other than Nassau. Goodbye, Starbucks. See you in June! (I actually have a picture of a frappuccino in my car cup holder but it appears most photos I take with my iPhone are sideways when I upload them to this website. A sideways photo of Sailor on an iSUP is OK, but a sideways photo of a frappuccino just isn’t right.)

Last Month of Bahamas Cruising Season 4

After dropping off our guests at Staniel Cay, we sailed back to Warderick Wells on 4/23/16. The next day we sailed across the Exuma Sound to Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera leaving at 0630 and arriving at 1430. The seas were 2 to 3 feet, just the way we like them. On the 25th, as we pulled up the anchor in Governor’s Harbour we realized it had wrapped around an underwater cable. Mark was able to untangle it using a boat hook and we sailed from Governor’s Harbour to Spanish Wells, thus skipping most of Eleuthera. We’ve always stopped at three or four towns and anchorages, but this time we were anxious to get to our mooring ball in Spanish Wells to begin our one month stay. On May 22, we left Spanish Wells, sailing the short distance to Royal Island where we anchored overnight and left at 0700 on the 23rd of May. For the first time, we did not stop, and sailed straight through to Lake Worth, arriving at 1145 on May 24. From there we motored north on the ICW to Stuart on the 25th, arriving 5 1/2 hours later at our home port of Sunset Bay Marina. Below are some photos of our final month of this cruising season.

Sailor took one last look at Big Majors/Staniel Cay before we left.

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Sailor posed beside the whale skeleton in Warderick Wells at the Land and Sea Park Headquarters.

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We had one last Sundowner get together at Warderick Wells with some new and old friends.

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First Mate Sailor made sure Mark was headed the right direction across the Exuma Sound.

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We arrived at slack tide at Current Cut. If you don’t enter the cut at slack tide, you will either be barely moving against a very strong current, or you’ll fly over the water through the cut. We sailed on to Spanish Wells, but couldn’t get our mooring ball so we anchored outside the harbor. There are only nine balls in the field and luckily someone left the next day.

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One of our favorite restaurants in Spanish Wells, actually on Russell Island which is connected by a small one lane bridge, is the Sandbar. This is the beach next to the restaurant.

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To get around the island we rent a golf cart for a month. We are then able to go to this beautiful beach twice a day. We are almost always the only ones on the beach so Sailor can fetch his ball in the water, his favorite water sport. Of course this means we have to share the golf cart with a wet dog.

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We always stop to visit and feed the goats. 

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The sandy beaches are crystal clear.

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I was out of my favorite drink, Land of Lakes hot chocolate, so I ordered some from Amazon and had it delivered by Eleuthera Couriers. It took less than a week to arrive and was worth every penny!

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After going ashore, we ride our dinghy back to the mooring field.

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One yard has this lovely shell collection on the front lawn.

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Well water is free in Spanish Wells. While you wouldn’t want to drink it since it has a slightly salty taste, it is perfect for rinsing the sand off Sailor before we go back to the boat.

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Our time in Spanish Wells came to an end and we headed across the water back to Florida. This was our view as we left the Royal Island anchorage, where we spent our last night. As you can see, conditions were perfect for a long overnight sail.

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Periodically, Mark took Sailor forward to “go” on the trampolines. His willingness to do this enables us to do an overnight sail. As you can see, we are very careful. Mark is always tethered to jacklines that run across the deck and Sailor is on a leash. We always wearing lifejackets. Plus, the seas were very calm. If they were rough, Mark and Sailor  wouldn’t have attempted this “walk.”

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Sunrise over the ocean after an uneventful night at sea. The conditions were still calm.

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We arrived at Lake Worth, anchored for the night and then started north on the ICW. Luckily we were not doing this on Memorial Day Weekend, or we could not have enjoyed it. Local Florida boaters are known for racing up and down the ICW creating wakes that rock sailboats and on a holiday weekend they are out in full force. 

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When we tied up to the dock at Sunset Bay, we were all happy to be home for the next five months. Below is our first sunset back at our marina. 

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Enjoying the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

After leaving Georgetown on April 8, we motorsailed to Staniel Cay. As always we waited for relatively calm seas since we had to go on the Exuma Sound for part of the day until we entered Galliot Cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank. Our purpose in going to Staniel Cay was to pick up guests Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) on April 14 and take them to Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, 15 miles north of Staniel Cay.

According to a brochure, “Exuma Park, a no take zone by land and sea, was established in 1958 to preserve and maintain the delicate ecological balance of marine life in the Bahamas.” People are not allowed to remove anything from the water, the beaches, or the land. The park begins at Wax Cay Cut in the north and is 22 miles long, ending at Conch Cut. The average width is eight miles and the park is a total of 176 square miles. The sea part goes from 3-5 miles off the land in both directions, on the Exuma Sound to the east and on the Bahamas Bank to the west. There is nothing commercial on any of the cays, including Batelco cell phone towers. Therefore there is no phone or Internet service while in the park. In fact the only structures are on Warderick Wells, where the park office is located, as well as living quarters for the park wardens and staff. Oddly, a few of the Cays (pronounced Keys) in the Park have been sold. Johnny Depp purchased 45 acre Little Halls Pond Cay, next to Cambridge Cay, in 2004 for a mere 3.6 million dollars. I wonder if he doesn’t take anything from his beaches and property. 

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Carolyn and Ed flew in on Watermakers Air and took some amazing photos of the Bahamas as they passed above the islands. One in particular was special because they happened to get a photo of Seas the Day anchored by Thunderball Grotto. We are in the center, closest to the two small cays. Never having been to Staniel Cay, they just happened to get a perfect shot of us as the plane was landing. Our usual anchorage is at Big Majors Spot (where the swimming pigs live), but that morning we had moved closer to the yacht club where we were picking them up. It was also convenient for snorkeling the next day in the nearby grotto. 

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Mark picked Carolyn and Ed up at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and brought them to our nearby anchored boat.

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After our guests arrived we spent a day snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto and waiting for the mail boat to come to Staniel Cay with fresh groceries. Then we moved over to the anchorage by Big Majors Spot. There are numerous beaches so it was easy to go to a deserted one to let Sailor chase his ball and for us to swim in the turquoise water.

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Arriving in Warderick Wells the next day, we tied up to a mooring ball in the preferred north mooring field, which offers excellent protection. This crescent shaped field with various shades of turquoise water is a favorite photo opportunity for anyone visiting the area. When we first came here in 2010, the mooring ball fee for a boat up to 45 feet was $20. This year it cost $30. We paid $80 to become part of the “Support Fleet.” For this donation we got two days of ball fees and for the next year we will be put at the top of the waiting list when we request a mooring ball. The park is the only area of the Bahamas which has restrictions on fishing, shelling, etc. so we were happy to help them with their costs to preserve this treasure.

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Close to the park office there is a skeleton of a whale. 

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As with all of the cays and islands we visit in the Bahamas, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches. In the park, dogs are allowed on the beaches, but they cannot go on the numerous trails. Below are photos of one of our favorite beaches, near the Emerald Rock mooring field. It is well protected from any wind or waves, the sand is like sugar, and it is very shallow.  The rocks in the foreground are actually under water, which shows the clarity of it. Each beach area has paths that go across to the Exuma Sound side of Warderick Wells. 

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At this beach there are tall rock piles and on this day we found a gecko sunning himself on the top of one tower of rocks.

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Shortly after we picked up our mooring ball we had an interesting event develop before our eyes. Four Lagoon catamarans came into the mooring field. At first we noticed they were very close together and coming in too fast. We saw flags from a charter company flying so knew they could be inexperienced cruisers, and it turned out that was an understatement. I guess no one told them they didn’t have brakes. Even Sailor knew they were coming in too quickly and too close to each other. As you can see in the photo below, they had plenty of people on each boat to help pick up a mooring ball. Each boat had 10 or 11 people aboard. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to know how to do it.

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They all tried to pick up their mooring balls next to each other at the same time. Big mistake! There was current at the time, so the little control they had was lost. The first one turned sideways and ran into the front of another Lagoon catamaran that was already on a ball and not with their group. The second one hit the side of the first one. The third one hit the second. Another cruiser yelled at the fourth one to turn around and grab another ball near the opening of the field and wait. While turning around, that boat almost hit the monohull in front of us. We already had our fenders out ready to protect Seas the Day. The charter people seemed to have never picked up a mooring ball before, but eventually they each grabbed a ball. Unfortunately then they put out far too much line placing them dangerously close to each other, especially since the current causes the boats on the mooring balls to swing with each tidal change. The correct way is to pull the ball as close to your boat as possible with lines coming from each hull on a catamaran. Other people in the mooring field rushed up in dinghies to instruct them on the correct way to attach their boats to the balls and also had to tell them to use stronger lines. The people on one boat spoke Italian and the others were speaking French. The charter company was from Canada out of Nassau. 

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Later, they all went ashore in their dinghies. It was interesting to see how many people a small rubber dinghy can hold.

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After they were finally all on balls, the Lagoon (not part of the charter group) that had been hit by the first one moved a few balls away. The picture below shows Seas the Day at the front with with three of the charter boats behind us. The fourth charter in the group went around to the other side of the field. Whether by choice or not, they were the wise ones and the only boat in their group without damage. When they left a few days later, they hadn’t learned any lessons as they all went out at the same time very close together, one of them even passing another in the narrow channel. 

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The wind picked up for the next few days so we decided to stay in Warderick Wells rather than follow our original plan which was to spend a day or two there and then go the few miles back south to Cambridge Cay. We prefer the multiple snorkeling sites and beaches in and near Cambridge Cay, but we were able to snorkel at Warderick Wells.

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Of course, Mark hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill to add “2016” to our Seas the Day sign. This is a popular thing for boaters to do. The signs have to be made on a piece of driftwood. Mark made ours in 2010 and we have added a new year each time we have come for four more years. Our original sign had our previous dog Daisy’s name on it, but when she died in 2013, the next time we came we wrote “RIP” by her name and added “Sailor, 2014.” Mark screwed our sign into a post, which has helped keep it above the pile of other signs for six years and prevented it from blowing away. The original sign had white paint over the letters and numbers which were cut into the board, but for the last few years he has used magic marker which has washed off. Next year he’ll bring white paint.

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Here is a photo of the entire north mooring field taken from Boo Boo Hill on a cloudy day so the water isn’t as beautiful as on a sunny day. The inlet from the Exuma Sound is on the right side of the photo, and this is where we leave the Exumas to go to Eleuthera.

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After the boats near us in the mooring field left, we had this beautiful view to ourselves until the next group of boats arrived.

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On our way back to Staniel Cay to drop our guests off, we stopped at another favorite area located south of the park on Compass Cay called the “Bubble Bath.” The Cay is privately owned, and if you want to visit the beaches and hike on the paths, you must pay $10 a person. However, the Bubble Bath is on the north end of the cay and no one seems to care if you visit it. It is far away from the marina area on the south end. There is little in the Bahamas reference books about the Bubble Bath, and not a word in the several ones we own. We discovered it three years ago when boat buddying with our friends on SV Interlude, Cathie and Tom, who knew about it. Now it’s a “must stop” when we approach Compass Cay. The Exuma Sound shore on the cay is steep and rocky, but there is an opening and a calm pool on the western side. At high tide, waves occasionally reach the opening and crash into the pool, covering it with bubbles. Sailor joined us but wasn’t interested in the bubbles. First we had to walk a short distance from where we anchored until we came to the pool.

In the photo below, Seas the Day is anchored on the west coast of Compass Cay while Carolyn and Ed start inland to the Bubble Bath. In the background is Rocky Dundas, another grotto and an excellent snorkeling site close to Cambridge Cay.

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Mark and Sailor are almost to the Bubble Bath pool. The path we are walking on carries the excess water collecting in the Bubble Bath to the Bahamas Bank side of the cay. 

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In the foreground is the Bubble Bath pool and through the opening you can see the darker water of the Exuma Sound. At high tide the waves splash through the opening into the pool. The pool is shallow enough to stand in while waiting for the bubbles to arrive.

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Carolyn, Sailor and I wait for the waves to reach us.

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Here comes the wave!!

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The water goes from very warm to chilly with the arrival of the bubbles.

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Here comes another wave, but Sailor decided he had enough.

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It was certainly fun having guests aboard.  Hopefully Carolyn and Ed had a relaxing vacation. We tried to make it interesting for them, showing them “the real Bahamas.” Chef Mark made them some wonderful breakfasts. Below they are eating French toast made from Jan’s homemade French bread with bacon and cantaloupe for breakfast in the cockpit. Their coffee was made with freshly ground coffee beans in a French press.  I guess the theme of the breakfast was French! 

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There is probably not a prettier spot in the Bahamas than the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We always try to stop there during our trip south in the winter or north in the Spring. Warderick Wells is also a good place to make the cross over to Eleuthera. The day after our guests flew out of Staniel Cay on April 20, we went back to Warderick Wells. It was Saturday night and the park employees always invite all of the boaters in the mooring field to get together for “Happy Hour.”  Everyone brings treats to share and their own drinks. The park provides something most people appreciate – ice!

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After waiting for a good weather window to cross the Sound to Eleuthera, on April 25 we left Warderick Wells and arrived in Governor’s Harbour in the afternoon. The Exuma Sound is deep water, part of the Atlantic Ocean, so we always wait for calm seas. We stayed at Warderick Wells until the wind had been down for several days, flattening the seas. On the day we crossed, the wind picked up at a good angle for our sails, but the seas were still flat – perfect sailing weather. One way we always know when the seas are smooth is that Sailor stays at the helm. If there is any rocking, Sailor is inside, down the steps and up on a bed, expecting one of us to join him. He is indeed a “fair weather sailor.” This trip he stayed at the helm the whole day.

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On April 26, 2016, we motorsailed up the coast to the northern end of Eleuthera to Spanish Wells. In order to get to Spanish Wells, we first have to enter Current Cut. We always wait until slack tide, since the current is very strong on the incoming and outgoing tidal changes. This is a picture of the cut after we went through.

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We have stopped in Spanish Wells for the last month of our Bahamas cruise every year and this is our fifth trip here. After securing a mooring ball for the month and renting a golf cart for the same time, we settled in to relax and enjoy this wonderful Bahamian town. On May 25, weather permitting, we will leave Spanish Wells, heading back to our hurricane season location in Stuart, Florida at Sunset Bay Marina. Below we are safely attached to mooring ball one, close to the channel and a very short dinghy ride into the town.

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