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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We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Ask any person on a boat what their favorite part of cruising is, and it will probably be the people they meet. We are still in contact with friends we met in 2008 on our first year living aboard Seas the Day. Each year we cruise, we make new friends and connect with old ones.  Sometimes we don’t see them for years, and sometimes we’ll never pass near them again, but they are friends for life. 

If you need help at your home port or at a marina or anchorage you are visiting in the States, you have lots of options on shore. Same thing if you want to socialize. You have friends onshore and friends at your home marina or anchorage, but probably don’t say more than a quick hi to cruisers passing through. There is also a tendency to get to know the same “type” of boater as you are, be it sailor, powerboater, or megayacht owner. This is certainly not true in all cases, but it does seem to happen fairly often, especially when you are away from your home port. 

That all changes when you cruise offshore and from our experience, especially in the Bahamas. Once at Cambridge Cay we had sundowners on the beach and the owner of a large yacht joined us. Of course, the sailors scarfed up the gourmet snacks from the yacht owner a little faster than the salsa over cream cheese with Tostitos we brought and the similar snacks from the rest of the people. Another time we stopped at a a restaurant in Eleuthera and the only other people there joined us at our table. We had a nice conversation during which they told us about some repairs they were working on. When asked, they said they were on a motor yacht and at the end of the meal we found out they were staying in an upscale marina at nearby Harbour Island on a 100+ ft yacht. They live in Palm Beach right on Lake Worth where we often anchor and they invited us to stop in to see them (in what we saw later was a large mansion) the next time we were there. Regardless of  the size of boat or type of propulsion people on the seas are living on, when cruisers meet the camaraderie is instant.

There is no better example of “getting by with a little help from our friends” than what happens in Georgetown, Bahamas. Every morning on the Cruisers’ Net, there is a section called “Boaters’ General” when people can “buy, sell, trade or give away something or ask for help.” Earlier this week, we had a reason to ask for that help. To prepare for our departure, on Monday we let go of the mooring ball that we had been attached to for almost three months, and motored across Elizabeth Harbour to the Exuma Yacht Club Marina to fill up our tanks. The entrance to our mooring field is shallow at low tide, so after getting our fuel, we crossed the harbour again to anchor until we could get back into the mooring field. We have an electric windlass with a remote handheld to raise and lower the anchor. Mark was at the helm and I was in front ready to drop the anchor. I touched the “down” key and nothing happened. No problem. This has occurred before and we just need to reset the circuit breaker for the windlass. Didn’t work this time! That was a big problem since we were leaving in a few days and needed to anchor. We went back to the middle of the harbour and floated around for a few hours while Mark checked everything he could think of to fix it. Mark had installed a new windlass two years ago, and knows the mechanics and electronics of our boat well. He worried that the problem could be somewhere in the wiring or in the circuit breaker. Worse yet, he thought he might have to tear the windlass apart. When the tide was up, we went back to our mooring ball (thank goodness we had this option) and he continued to troubleshoot. As they say, cruising is making repairs to your boat in exotic places. We posted our problem on the Lagoon Owners Facebook page and got several suggestions. 

The next morning on the Georgetown Cruisers’ Net (on VHF radio station 72 every morning at 0800) Mark explained our problem and asked for help. We got several responses, but the most promising was from a friend on another Lagoon 420 named The Norm. Bruce and Rhonda had the same problem recently and the cause was the wiring in the remote device. They had put in a switch to fix it and then ordered a new remote from the States which their son brought to them in Georgetown. They kindly loaned us the repaired one to try and when we plugged it in, presto! Down went the anchor!! So Mark headed to town to buy a switch, however when he opened the remote he saw the loose wire and decided to try soldering it back on. This worked!  We also ordered a new remote which we’ll have forwarded to us at one of our next stops and will also order a new circuit breaker for the windlass, since several people said theirs had cracked. 

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On a daily basis, the cruisers in Georgetown help each other. Whether it is rescuing a dinghy that came loose from another boat and floated by them, coming to the aid of other cruisers with electrical or mechanical problems, answering questions, helping with an injury, etc. cruisers answer the call for assistance. They are some of the most giving people we have ever met, especially considering that help is often offered to total strangers. A few days ago a cruiser on a boat in our mooring field went to make tea, and the can holding the tea bags had a long snake wrapped around it! (They believe it climbed aboard when they spent a few days at the marina a week ago.) They called someone they knew in the harbour who had worked with snakes. He came, captured the fellow, and released it on land. Last night while we were at anchor, someone came on the radio calling the St. Francis resort. They had found a black lab swimming in the harbour and thought it had fallen off a boat named Second Chance. They had called them on the radio with no answer so they called the resort to see if the dog’s owners were there playing poker. They weren’t but eventually were tracked down. In the meantime the dog was safe on someone else’s boat. Georgetown is not unique in this way. Gather any group of cruisers together from 2 to 300+ and if you need something, ask for help and you will get it. 

Another positive feature of us being with cruising friends, especially in the Bahamas, is they get us involved in activities where we make more friends. The perfect example of this happened last year when we boat buddied with friends Cathie and Tom (SV Interlude) and they taught us to play Texas Hold’em poker. Twice a week at the St. Francis Resort for the last two seasons, we have played in the “International Texas Hold’em Tournament” with a $5 buy-in. For $10 a time, we have had great fun and, even better, made new friends. We go there to eat dinner and play cards, but it’s also a social event. Cathie and Tom also encouraged us to take a ball in Hole 2 last year. Not only did we enjoy the calm weather in the protected hole, but we made another set of good friends who are on the other boats in the mooring field. We have enjoyed many get-togethers and bonfires on the Hole 2 beach, had  sundowners or meals or just visits on each other’s boats, talked on the beach when other dogs were there to play with Sailor, and of course had friends over every Saturday night for poker on Seas the Day. The photo below was last year’s group, all of them from Hole 2, and this year, since half of these cruisers didn’t return, we invited others and made more friends.

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Several of our Hole 2 friends have been on adventures with us, and I know we wouldn’t have done them without their invitations. A few weeks ago we went to Mariah Cay, a long dinghy ride from where our boat is, with friends Jean and Art (MV Interlude) and their visiting friends. What a fantastic day we had eating our picnic lunches, swimming in the crystal clear turquoise water, floating with the current on a natural “Lazy River ride,” walking on the beautiful deserted beach, and of course talking. 

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DSCF2425DSCF2369Another day, Christina and John (HB Oasis – that’s HouseBoat) invited us to go with them on their Carolina Skiff, about 18 ft long, for a day of snorkeling. We hadn’t been snorkeling in Elizabeth Harbour so we were thrilled to have the  chance to visit the coral gardens they knew well. Even Sailor got into the act, as he was unwilling to stay in the skiff alone and joined us in the water. After some excellent snorkeling, we explored a nearby cave. Next we motored to Santanas, a very popular restaurant south of us in Great Exuma. As we anchored the skiff, a dog we assume belongs to the owners of Santana’s swam out to greet Sailor. We had two delicious lobster tails for $14 and some conch with sides. A perfect Bahamian lunch. Next door we visited Mom’s Bakery and bought rum cake and coconut bread. Mom used to bring her baked goods to downtown Georgetown, parking near the Exuma Market, and sold her cakes and bread out of her car, but she is getting older and doesn’t make the trip now. She still gave us the hugs she is famous for, however. Santana’s was too far away for us to go in our 12 ft inflatable dinghy, so we really appreciated going with Christina and John. The underwater photos below are from Christina’s camera. 

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We left Georgetown as soon after sunrise as it was safe to go on Friday, April 8, after anchoring out the last night at the Monument anchorage in Elizabeth Harbour. The first part of the day we motorsailed on the Exuma Sound, part of the Atlantic Ocean, in water over 300 feet deep a mile offshore. We waited several days until the seas were calm, and we had a very smooth sail. Then we entered the Bahamas Bank through Galliot Cut and sailed in shallow water, about 14 feet deep, to Staniel Cay where we will wait for guests to arrive from Florida by plane in less than a week. The photos below begin with the sunrise over the Monument anchorage as we left Georgetown and end with the sunset at Big Majors anchorage near Staniel Cay.

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Sailor knew it was going to be a calm day at sea when he settled under the helm seat instead of running inside to the bed to hide from the big waves. He didn’t move from this spot for 8 1/2 hours until we arrived in Staniel Cay.

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Why Do So Many Cruisers Converge on George Town?

We’ve been in George Town for almost two months, having arrived here on January 16, 2016. The settlement of George Town is located on the island of Great Exuma at the southern end of the chain of 365 islands and cays in the Exumas. (An island is a land mass completely surrounded by water. A cay, pronounced “key” in the Bahamas, is an island that forms on top of coral reefs.) When traveling south along the Exuma chain, George Town is the first settlement most cruisers have visited since they left Nassau that has a large selection of services such as: two large well stocked grocery stores, two banks, a small hardware store and a very large one with marine supplies, a dive shop, several places to get propane, two laundromats, a library, a marina, a deli with a large selection of meat, many restaurants, a pharmacy, a clinic, a dentist, a bimonthly visiting vet and dog groomer, businesses that can repair small engines and refrigeration, liquor stores, a Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office, a phone and electronics store, a computer repair shop with wifi and phone services, hair salons, masseuses, nail salons, bakeries, gift shops, Customs and Immigration offices, gas stations, a straw market, and much more. Some smaller settlements in the Exumas have a few of these but grocery stores not located in a house and banks with ATM’s, in particular, are only located here in Georgetown. Most cruisers headed further south to the Caribbean stop in George Town to provision for food and other supplies. Once we arrive here, our destination for half of our time in the Bahamas, we breathe a sigh of relief. Finished are the days of checking weather to see if we can move on, and rocking and rolling in anchorages when we can’t.  

While the area is called George Town, that is just the name of the small Bahamian town located on the east side of Elizabeth Harbour. Stocking Island, where the anchorages with the best protection from the prevailing east wind and the three mooring fields are located, is on the west side of the harbour. In the harbour there are designated reefs where one can snorkel. On Stocking Island, numerous sandy beaches are located on the harbour side for swimming, and long sandy beaches great for walking and swimming are on the Exuma Sound side. A short dinghy ride out into the Exuma Sound is the best place for fishing and spearing lobsters. The Exuma Sound is actually part of the Atlantic Ocean with very deep water offshore. Kite surfers like to use the harbour, but when the Sound is calm, they are out there too. Below is a satellite picture of Elizabeth Harbour. Our mooring field in Hole 2 is located by the blue dot below the word Stocking Island on the map. The settlement of George Town on Great Exuma Isand is directly across the harbour from us, about a mile by dinghy. When the water is rough we either don’t cross the harbour or we wear rain coats and pants so our clothes are dry when we arrive in town.

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This is our fifth trip to the Bahamas and last year when we came to George Town we took a mooring ball in one of the three “holes” on Stocking Island. The other years we anchored in the harbour. Last year I had three month old knee replacements and I didn’t want to deal with getting in and out of a dinghy in an anchorage with rough water. After a few days of totally calm water in Hole 2, regardless of the speed or direction of the wind, we knew we were spoiled. This year, there was no question about it. We were ready to grab a mooring ball in Hole 2 as soon as we arrived on January 16. Unlike some places in the Bahamas, these mooring balls are very secure and checked regularly. Hole 1 is called “The Fruit Bowl” and is mostly filled with houseboats with names like “Cantaloupe,” “Pineapple House,” and “Papaya.” They obviously stay here year round, but some of the Hole 1 balls are used by cruisers here for the season or maybe a few weeks. They like it because it is very close to the popular Volleyball Beach. Hole 2 is a bit more protected and boats have survived hurricane force wind with no damage. About half of the boats in Hole 2 do not have people on them right now, with their owners flying in for short visits throughout the year or coming to their boats and sailing to nearby destinations. At least four airlines fly into the Great Exuma Airport and cruisers or their guests leave and arrive daily, together with packages delivered to locals and cruisers.  Hole 3 is a true hurricane hole and no one is allowed to live on the boats there. Many boats are stored there while their owners are home in various parts of the world. There is a small deep “blue hole” in Hole 3, filled with fish, a popular place for snorkeling. Numerous turtles live in the mooring fields and occasionally dolphins visit, although they seem to prefer the open water in the harbour. At least once a day someone will come on the hailing channel 68 and announce “dolphin alert in _______ anchorage.” The harbour is filled with fish, starfish, stingrays, dolphins and the occasional shark. Being on a mooring ball in Hole 2, we rarely rock. On occasion a small boat will speed past us, between Hole 1 and Hole 3, creating a slight wake. It is calmer in Hole 2 than at any marina or mooring field where we have stayed in the Bahamas or the States. As I write this blog entry, the winds have been in the 20+ knot range all day long and our boat hasn’t moved. One of the other nice things about being in Hole 2 is the friends we have made. Below are photos of one of the bonfires we have had in our hole this season.

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There is a small beach in Hole 2, and that is where Sailor goes ashore twice a day. He could swim the short distance to the shore, but he rides in the dinghy and then jumps out. Usually there are one or two other dogs to play with who live on boats in Hole 2. Other dogs could come to this beach but since every anchorage is near a sandy beach, that is where dogs on those boats go to play. Last year, Sailor’s  BFFF (best furry friend forever) Zorro, a Portuguese Water Dog, was here in Hole 2 on MV All In. Unfortunately Zorro and his family were not able to come back this year.  Libby from SV Flying Dog and Tasha from SV Tikitiboo often played on the beach with Sailor.  Libby preferred to eat coconuts, but Tasha, a shaved Golden Retriever (very smart idea to keep shedding down), loved to run on the beach and help Sailor fetch balls. Sadly, both went back to the States this week. Sailor still enjoys running on the beach and swimming, but he likes it better with a friend.

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Since the mooring fields are so protected, they are an ideal place to paddle on our kayaks. Sometimes I join friends on their kayaks and sometimes we paddle alone. One friend, Christina, has a stand up paddle board and Sailor enjoyed jumping on her board and taking his first ride on one last month. He doesn’t fit in our kayaks, so perhaps a SUP should go on our list of things to buy for the boat. Many cruisers have kayaks and SUP’s onboard and of course we see them paddling along the shores in the harbour, but it’s much easier to paddle on flat water in the holes.

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We love walking on the beach on the Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island. It is usually empty or might have a few people walking on it or swimming in the turquoise water. Needless to say, it is a beautiful beach for dogs and people.

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We got “hooked” on Texas Hold’em last season, and this year we returned to playing Tuesday and Thursday nights at the local resort, St. Francis. Luckily it is located next to our mooring field, so even when it’s windy and the water is rough in the harbour, we can dinghy to poker without getting wet. On Saturday, we host a game on Seas the Day. Last year we had the same group of six couples every week, all from Hole 2. Three of those couples did not return this year, so we had to recruit new players. Unfortunately some of them have not been able to come every week, but we are always able to have about 12 people playing, the men at the large table in the cockpit and the women at the salon table. When we get down to six or seven people, they move to the inside table and sometimes we have a “losers table” in the cockpit. Halfway through the game, we stop to have snacks and drinks.  Both at the St. Francis and on our boat, each person puts $5 in the pot and the top three players split the money on the boat while the top five players split a much larger pot at the St. Francis. Below is a photo of our friend Jean (MV Winterlude) when she got all the chips and won a game on our boat.

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This year, I decided to try water aerobics. It is held every morning at 9:30 on one of the beaches by the monument. We call it South Beach, since it is the most southerly beach of the several beaches near the monument. The instructor, Callie on SV Serenity, is a well trained yoga and water aerobics teacher and she makes the class a lot of fun. Music mostly from the 70’s and 80’s is played from a device resting in her dinghy, floating next to her. The water temperature is in the high 70’s but sometimes, especially if it is very windy and the sun isn’t shining, it feels chilly when we arrive and climb out of our dinghies. However, we all warm up quickly with the fast paced exercises. There is also yoga offered on another beach at the same time. As with all events here, classes are free. Occasionally Callie will jokingly say, “You get what you pay for,” but we would gladly pay her for this incredible experience. 

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Impromptu sundowner get-togethers are held on various beaches, where everyone brings their own drinks and snacks to share. Someone announces over the VHF radio the time and place, and dinghies arrive on the beach. It’s a great way to meet new friends and greet old ones. Occasionally an ARG (Alcohol Research Group) meeting is called, which involves a bonfire, singing, musicians playing, and of course eating and drinking. Many other regularly scheduled activities are available, including a Bible study group, trivia, bridge, dances on Volleyball Beach with a DJ, Bahamian “Rake and Scrape” dances at several restaurants in town, volleyball, and softball. A group of cruisers also meets every week with children from the local school who need help in reading. 

At 2 pm every day, cruisers arrive on Volleyball Beach to (surprise) play “fun volleyball,” take part in all sorts of board and card games such as Mexican Train, or sit around and talk. Chat ‘n Chill, a restaurant with burgers, drinks and more, is located on Volleyball Beach. The owner does not allow people to bring their own food and drinks to that beach, so if cruisers want to eat or drink, they buy it from him. Whenever someone wants to talk to a group about various topics, this is also the beach they use. There are numerous benches and picnic tables under large Casuarina Trees for shade. A tire hangs from a rope swing in one of the trees for the children on boats to use. On most Sundays during the cruising season a local historian shares interesting and educational stories about the Bahamas. Last week, Jeff and Karen Siegel, developers of the popular Active Captain (a website used by cruisers to share reviews of marinas, anchorages, etc.) gave two talks: one on what to do in a medical emergency and one on the most recent cruising APPS and other technology to use on a boat. The medical talk was not a first aid class, but rather gave valuable information on what to do when someone is hurt, especially on a boat, until help arrives. We are seriously considering buying an AED (automated external defibrillator) for the boat and know of several cruisers who have them. The Siegels were both EMT’s for many years before moving aboard their motor vessel. Whenever groups want to get together for a specific purpose they meet on Volleyball Beach. Recently one cruiser shared his expertise on marine electrical systems. Another boater taught people to make conch horns so they could blow them at sunset. When a group of people are going to a particular destination, such as south to the Caribbean, or to Cuba, they meet to discuss their plans and then often travel together as boat buddies to their destinations.  Usually an experienced cruiser who has been to those destinations leads the discussion. On Sundays, Beach Church is held on Volleyball Beach with cruisers taking turns sharing a message and a choir singing songs, followed by a fellowship time with coffee and treats. 

Last week was the 36th annual George Town Regatta. Here is a link to the regatta website with a list of all of the activities. There is also a Facebook page for the regatta with lots of pictures and information. There are always more than 300 boats here during regatta week. Many cruisers are now waiting for weather windows to travel north and eventually back to the States, or south to a variety of near and far destinations. One of our favorite events during Regatta Week is the Pet Parade. Sailor won this year for “Best Costume” wearing the K9Sailor sailboat that Mark made for him. He tried it on before we left and then competed on Volleyball Beach with a dozen pets who also live on boats. All the dogs got prizes. We have never entered our catamaran sailboat in the races, but two years ago we crewed on our friends’ monohull, SV Interlude. The first race is in Elizabeth Harbour and the second is around Stocking Island. There are also small boat races with kayaks, SUP’s, rowing dinghies, small sailboats, and more. A poker run event is where cruisers motor in a dinghy to multiple bars and restaurants along the harbour, picking up one playing card for their group at each stop. The dinghy with the best poker hand wins. Bocce Ball and beach golf are other competitions and the cruisers’ softball team competes against a local Bahamian team. This year the score was a tie. A scavenger hunt is also a fun event. The regatta began  with a Variety Show in town with cruisers and locals performing, and ended with an awards ceremony at the Peace and Plenty Restaurant in town. The George Town Regatta Facebook page has photos of most of these events and the website has descriptions of all of them.

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imageThanks to Donna on SV Duchess for the pictures below of some of the Variety Show acts. My camera’s battery died when we arrived at the show.

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Every year there is a contest for the design to be used on the regatta t-shirts for the following year and cruisers vote for their favorite design at the opening event, the Variety Show. This year along with t-shirts, water resistant backpacks and hats were sold to raise money for regatta expenses. Any money left over is given to a local charity. Volunteers sell regatta items at a small booth between the Exuma Market and the new Red Boon Cafe, a popular place for breakfast and lunch. 

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There are lots of reasons why cruisers flock to George Town, although admittedly people either love it or hate it. We’ve heard it called “Adult Daycare.” Some cruisers think it is very “clique-y.” Other cruisers don’t like the crowded anchorages, although there are so many they could  easily find an empty one in the harbour. Some people take advantage of many activities and others interact with a few old and new friends. Since there are many anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and two mooring fields, it is easy to find a secluded anchorage or cruisers can choose one of several popular anchorages to be among many fellow cruisers either close to town or near the activities on Stocking Island.  Boats with children on them love to come to George Town to meet up with other “Kid Boats.” They can be found playing together on the beaches, especially Volleyball Beach, and there are special events for them during the regatta. Young voices are often heard on the hailing channel calling their friends. Naturally, those who come here year after year make good friends and socialize with those friends. However, these same people are very friendly and anyone who wants to be part of that “clique” can join in by getting involved in the cruiser and/or local activities. There is a Cruisers’ Net every morning at 8 am on VHF channel 72. A volunteer “net controller” recognizes other cruisers and locals who indicate they want to share something. The Net begins with a weather report (someone reads marine weatherman Chris Parker’s report for this area), then there is a section for local businesses, followed by community announcements, a section where cruisers can buy or sell or give away items, and the last section is where cruisers who have just arrived in the harbour tell about themselves and departing cruisers share their new destination and say goodbye. When cruisers ask for help with a problem on their boat, they get numerous offers after the Net ends. Last year, our freezer stopped working and we asked on the Net if someone had a cooler we could borrow while Mark fixed it. Immediately after the Net ended, a cruiser offered us their 12V Engel freezer which kept our items frozen until Mark discovered the problem and fixed it. Requests like this are asked and answered here every day. This week, cruisers are collecting clothing and household goods for a young Bahamian family from George Town whose house burned to the ground. Many cruisers brought items to Long Island this year to help those who lost everything in Hurricane Joaquin last summer. Rum Cay lost all of its trees, so cruisers going that direction are bringing small seedlings provided by the locals from Great Exuma. Overall, cruisers love the Bahamas and especially the people here. It’s a mutual admiration society as the Bahamians appreciate the cruisers who spend their money here and in many cases lasting friendships are made between cruisers and Bahamians. 

Besides all of these activities going on, there is perhaps an equally important reason why cruisers stop in Georgetown for a day, a week, a month or more: groceries and free water. There are two well stocked grocery stores located on the shores of small Lake Victoria, which has an entrance from Elizabeth Harbour under a bridge on the main George Town street. One of them, Exuma Market, provides dinghy docks and a hose dispensing free RO (reverse osmosis) water. Dinghies line up along the dock by the water hose with their 5 gallon jerry jugs and fill them, return to their boats, and pour the water into their tanks. Even people like us who have watermakers supplement the RO water they make with a few gallons of the free water. When we run the watermaker we have to turn on our inverter and sometimes the generator, so it does take fuel and power. Below, a line is formed on the right with Mark and Sailor at the front putting water in our jerry jugs. In the rest of the Exumas, water costs 40 to 50 cents a gallon or more. In town we can also drop off garbage at $2 for a small bag or $3 for a large one. Rodney on the Harbour Services boat comes to all the anchorages near George Town to collect garbage, pumpout holding tanks and he also collects propane tanks to be filled and returns them a few days later.

DSCF2250The Exuma Market has an excellent supply of fresh produce, together with meats, dairy products and other staples. Supply boats come twice a week to restock the shelves. In other smaller towns in the Exumas, you have to go to the store (usually in a house) on the day the boat arrives to get any fresh food. In George Town the shelves are fullest after the supplies arrive, but the shelves are never empty. Prices for most items are more expensive than in the States because most are shipped from the US and since last year, a 7% VAT is added to everything here. However, like most cruisers, we are happy to contribute to the local economy by buying items from them.

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We have less than a month left to relax and enjoy our stay in George Town. Friends from Hobe Sound, near our hurricane season marina in Stuart, Florida, will be flying into Staniel Cay on April 14th to enjoy a week aboard Seas the Day with us. We can get from here to Staniel Cay in a day, by sailing north on the Exuma Sound for part of the trip and then entering a cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank to travel along a chain of cays and islands until we reach Staniel Cay. We will leave here several days early to be sure we are in Staniel Cay when their plane touches down. As in all cruising, weather is the main consideration, and if there are strong winds out of the north or high seas predicted, we’ll need to plan an earlier departure from George Town. We’ll be in the Exumas and Eleuthera during April and most of May we’ll stay in Spanish Wells, returning to Florida at the end of May. 

We love these last few months of our cruising season because the days are longer, meaning more hours of sunlight. With the strong winds today and the clear blue sky, our wind generator and solar panels are working hard, currently giving us 35 amps of power and our batteries are fully charged with no need to turn on a generator for power. Every morning at the end of the Cruisers’ Net, the net controller asks if anyone has a thought for the day. If I was giving mine right now it would simply be “life is good.”

Bimini to Georgetown

On January 8, 2016, we left Bimini for Chub Cay in the Berries at 0520, obviously in the dark, arriving at the Chub Cay anchorage in daylight at 1700. We were going almost directly into the wind and made good time, but it wasn’t a comfortable ride. However, we were on the Mackey Shoals portion of the shallow Great Bahama Bank for most of the trip and the water was beautiful. Chub Cay anchorage is not the best, but OK for one night. It is often rough because large fishing boats race in and out of the channel to the marina, which is right next to the anchorage, causing huge wakes. It is close to deep water, where the fishing boats are headed, and often there are uncomfortable swells. Also, Chub Cay is private so we aren’t allowed to take Sailor ashore. Below was our view while sailing on the Bank. 

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Unfortunately we had to stay a second day in the Berries since the sea and wind conditions were still unfavorable for going on to Nassau. Also the wind was clocking and the conditions were getting worse at Chub Cay. In the morning we moved to nearby Frazier’s Hog Cay and while the first part of the trip around the end of Chub Cay was VERY rough, it smoothed out and we spent a comfortable night at Frazier’s Hog Cay. This will probably be our stop in the Berries from now on instead of Chub Cay. We had a nice time swimming off the beautiful beach and Sailor got lots of exercise chasing his ball. The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset.

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On January 9, we reluctantly left our anchorage in the Berries headed to Nassau. We heard on Chris Parker’s morning report that the seas were 6-8 ft with over 3 ft swells on the beam and we try to only sail in 3 ft seas or less. However the weather this winter in the Bahamas has been very different than usual with constant storms and poor sailing conditions for long periods of time. This was our last sail on deep water until we go out on the Exuma Sound for one day to Georgetown. The winds were also not great at SSE 19-20 kts gusting 22. It was a rough ride, in fact Mark wrote in our cruising log, “Worst sail by choice ever.” Thankfully it wasn’t a long sail, leaving at 0715 and arriving in Nassau at 1230. 

We had reservations at Nassau Harbour Club and enjoyed a quiet night in a slip. Of course, we had to have our last frappuccinos at Starbucks and visit the Fresh Market grocery store, both right across the street from our marina. The photo of Starbucks below is taken from the exit of the marina. Two years ago, when Sailor was 7 months old, we stopped at this same marina and Sailor, spooked by fireworks (in February!) jumped off the boat, ran down the dock in the dark, and fell into the water when the dock turned to the right as he kept going straight. Mark showed him the very spot this happened, but not sure if Sailor remembered.

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While our sail from Frazier’s Hog Cay to Nassau was rough, other boats had come in after sailing straight from Bimini or the States over a period of several days, and they had horror stories to tell. A boat in a slip across from us had taken on water. The marinas in Nassau were filled with tired cruisers. We were glad we waited the extra day to leave the Berries even if we still had an uncomfortable sail.  

We try to never stay longer than one day in Nassau. It is not a safe city, and other than crossing the street from the marina to the strip mall, we don’t have anything else we want to see or do there. Boats have even been boarded by thieves at several of the Nassau marinas and it is dangerous to be out on the streets after dark. Paradise Island, where most tourists go, is across a bridge and probably safer. Nassau is on New Providence Island and is where the cruise ships stop. Our boat buddies since Miami on Renaissance II, another Lagoon 420,  decided to stay in Nassau since they had never been there and we left the next morning for Norman’s Cay, our first stop in The Exumas.

On January 11, we left the last marina we would stay at until we return to Sunset Bay in Stuart, Florida, at the end of May. The route to The Exumas is across the Yellow Bank portion of the Great Bahama Bank. We had a great wind angle for sailing although on a long day we always use the engines and sails and at one point were motorsailing at 8.3 kts. We left Nassau at 0900 and arrived at Norman’s Cay at 1445. It was almost full when we entered the anchorage because strong winds were forecast for that night. We anchored southwest of the sunken plane and several boats came in after us but left, probably going south to the next anchorage or mooring balls at Shroud Cay. During the night we had high winds and rain while turning 360 degrees with the strong current.

After listening to Chris Parker’s report the next morning, we decided the weather was settled enough to head south to Big Majors/Staniel Cay. This meant we were going past the entire Exuma Land and Sea Park, something we would never do if we weren’t planning to return on our way north in April. The park has the best hiking, kayaking, beaches, and snorkeling in the Exumas. Our goal was to get to our mooring ball in Georgetown as quickly as we could safely move. Friends who were already there told us the balls were being taken quickly, perhaps in part due to the 100+ kt storm they had while we were safe at a marina in Bimini.  We left Norman’s Cay at 0740 and dropped the anchor at Big Majors at 1230. We made very good time, outrunning a squall coming from the ENE as we left Norman’s Cay followed by a sunny day. Big Majors is a large, excellent anchorage, unless the wind is from the west. We will be returning here in mid-April to pick up good friends Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) so we didn’t mind missing snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto. We did go ashore for a walk and Sailor got to visit the nurse sharks who hang out at the marina waiting for someone to drop discards from the fish cleaning station. Of course we had to bring him to see the famous swimming pigs also.

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The next morning we made the short trip to Cave Cay, where we planned to exit the cut to go out on Exuma Sound to Georgetown. We knew we would have several days to wait for calm seas and favorable wind. We left Big Majors on January 13 at 0825 and arrived at 1130, the only boat in the anchorage outside Cave Cay Marina. It was a very pleasant sail and after dropping the anchor, Sailor and Mark headed to a beautiful beach near our boat. The shore has some interesting caves and there are many more on the cay, thus the name “Cave Cay.” Mark and Sailor also took the dinghy into the very protected marina at Cave Cay. He reported that it is a hurricane hole marina with excellent docks, but it seems to only get boats in its slips during very bad weather. During the several days we were in the anchorage, two boats joined the one that was already there.

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Houses and caves were next to the beach where Sailor played.

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Sailor checked out the marina at Cave Cay.

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We spent three nights at Cave Cay waiting for the Exuma Sound sea state to calm down. On the first morning we had a BIG surprise. We got up at 0630 to listen to the Chris Parker marine weather report and saw a 160 ft long tanker named Tropic Breeze headed right towards us. (We have AIS and checked the info about the tanker.)  We saw her anchored on the deeper south side of Cave Cay Cut the night before and early that morning she was coming to our shallow anchorage.  Tropic Breeze motored straight for our starboard side, then turned and went a few feet off our aft, turning again passing us on our port side. A short distance past us, her anchor dropped. Next, we saw a small boat with a diver in it next to the tanker. The diver brought a large fuel hose from the tanker to the shore and for several hours fuel was pumped into the Cave Cay tanks. We weren’t worried about the “close call” because we have seen these Bahamian ships often and their captains are very good at maneuvering in tight spaces. The reason the ship went around us was to get downwind so they wouldn’t be blown into us. However, we were surprised that this was a marked anchorage on the Explorer Charts but there was no indication that tankers would come here to transfer fuel to the cay. We have anchored here before but this was our first close encounter with a big ship. 

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The fuel hose is visible floating in the water in front of the small boat.

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For the next two days, all was quiet in our anchorage, mainly because we were the only boat there, and by January 16 the sky was clear, seas were 2-3 ft, and winds were from the southwest at 8-12 kts. It was time for the last leg of our journey to Georgetown. Even Sailor stayed out in the cockpit all day, which he only does when it is very calm. Otherwise he insists I get in one of the beds with him where he feels safe. We left at 0730 and were on our mooring ball in Hole 2 at Stocking Island, across the harbour from Georgetown, by 1230. There were only two balls left in Hole 2 and a few days after we arrived the last one was taken. We were very happy to reach our destination for the next few months and are looking forward to our stay here until the end of March.

This was our view of Exuma Sound on our way south to Georgetown. It is rarely this flat so it was well worth the wait.

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Entering the turquoise water of Elizabeth Harbour. The city of Georgetown is on the right and Stocking Island is on the left. 

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Finally we are on our mooring ball in Hole 2.

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This is Hole 2 with Elizabeth Harbour and Georgetown in the background, We are at the far end of the mooring field, protected on all four sides with a narrow channel running in the foreground of the picture from Hole 1 through to Hole 3.

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Cruising is a Waiting Game

Leaving Miami at daybreak on Friday, January 1, we had moderately rough seas for most of the cruise to Bimini. The forecast was for light wind, but unfortunately we were going right into it. We decided to stay on the mooring ball at Dinner Key Thursday night since it was New Year’s Eve. Normally we stage at No Name Harbor at the eastern end of Key Biscayne, which is right at the entrance to the ocean, the night before we leave for Bimini. We knew that there would be many boats out on the Bay celebrating and watching the midnight fireworks, and anchored in or near No Name would not be comfortable as it is next to a channel. Leaving from Dinner Key added an hour to our trip but at least we got some sleep. We left at 0650 and arrived in Bimini at 1500. The distance from Miami to Bimini is about 50 miles. Since we were motorsailing into the wind, we didn’t get much help from the sails.

Below is is a photo taken with Miami behind us and a screen shot of what our SPOT track looked like for the first hour, leaving Dinner Key and entering the Atlantic Ocean. (The SPOT track is always available on our website located in the “Location” menu.)

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While it was a bit rougher than we like, headed into the waves and “hobby horsing,” to show how comfortable it is in a catamaran, I took a picture of a glass of water that was on the galley counter while the boat was rocking. Notice the water isn’t moving and the glass is not falling over nor is anything else on the counter moving. Outside in the cockpit, our plants are not sliding off into the ocean. This is one of many reasons why we like living and cruising on a catamaran.

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As we approached Bimini, we were happy to see the Bimini Sands Marina and the narrow opening to the harbor. It is not much wider than our 25 ft beam. Once we are in the marina the water is always flat and backing into the wide slips is easy. This is the only marina we have ever stayed at where all slips are wide enough for two monohulls or one catamaran with no post in the middle. There is no extra charge for a catamaran.

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We knew we would be in Bimini at least a week because we only had one more day left of the current “weather window” and that would get us to an anchorage in the Berries. There is a very nice marina called Great Harbour Marina in the Berries, but we would be arriving in the dark and have never been there so we decided to wait out the current weather system in Bimini. We have stayed at Bimini Sands many times, and it is always amazing to us that so many boats go to the North Bimini marinas instead of staying here.  There are only a handful of boats with us at Bimini Sands while the marinas in North Bimini are much busier. Several of the popular marinas there are $1 a ft while at least one is $1.50 a ft. We are paying $1.50 a ft and it is so quiet and calm here compared to North Bimini where the streets are very busy and the docks, which aren’t floating like we have at Bimini Sands, are hit by the wakes of powerboats rushing back and forth in the channel next to the marinas all day long. We are completely surrounded by condos and the water is always flat. For us, it is well worth the extra $20 a day.

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We have been waiting since we were here last May to return to the Bimini Sands Beach Club for their seafood pizza covered with big pieces of lobster, shrimp, and conch as well as veggies. We bought an extra pizza to take back for leftovers. The free shuttle took us to the the Beach Club at the southern end of South Bimini and picked us up after our delicious meal with boat buddies Sandy and Tom (Renaissance II). The colors of the bus match those in the Bahamas flag.

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seafoodpizza Just like the weather in Miami was unusually stormy while we waited there, we haven’t had much sun in Bimini this week. It makes walking around the town difficult when rain clouds are overhead and the wind is blowing hard, but on Monday we took the water taxi the short distance from South Bimini to North Bimini. Our one goal was to go to Batelco, (Bahamas Telephone Company), to get a new phone and a SIM card for it. After several years of exclusively using our iPad with a Batelco SIM card while in the Bahamas to get online and a small cheap phone to make calls, we decided to get an unlocked smartphone with a hotspot feature so we could also use our US phones and computer online. Our current US smartphones are locked so we can’t put a Batelco SIM card in them. We were lucky to find a Samsung smartphone for a little over $100. It kills me to use an Android, after owning  Apple products since the first one came out back in the early 80’s, but I have to admit this Samsung is a nice phone and has all the features we need while here.

Many of the readers of this blog know that I talk to my 36 year old daughter Jennifer, who is autistic and lives in Florida, each night at 9:30. On past cruises, I used a Batelco phone which cost about 80 cents a minute when I called her each night for 3-5 minute conversations. This season we are using Facebook Messenger when we talk, which is free and uses very little data. The Samsung smartphone has an APP for Messsenger so I am still talking to her on a phone and it seems to be working beautifully, plus I am saving a lot of money. 

The Bahamas started providing cell phone service with towers on or near every inhabited island a few years ago with SIM cards that can be easily topped off online or by using purchased cards. When we first came here in December, 2009, we had a wifi extender and used free or prepaid wifi. It was very expensive for the prepaid ones and the unlocked free wifi spots were few and not necesarily safe or broadcasting strong signals. Each year Batelco has improved their plans for cruisers and tourists who are not here all year. This year we can get 5 GB’s for $55. Last year it cost $30 for 2 GB’s and that option is still available. The year before it was $30 for 1 GB. Year round residents can get 15 GB’s for $75 after putting $300 down and there are other cell phone plans for people who are here all year.

We were in Bimini last May and during that visit my son Peter was with us so we took him to all of our favorite places. This time we have been spending most of the time relaxing and as always there are things to fix on the boat. As I write this, Mark is repairing our deck wash system. Sailor was happy to get to his first Bahamas beach of this cruise, just a few steps from the marina. The photo above of the entrance to Bimini Sands shows the beaches to the north and south. They are almost always empty or with one or two other people on them. The beaches on North Bimini are more used since the bulk of the residents of Bimini are located there, as are most of the tourists and cruisers.

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Tonight we will pay our marina bill, minus 10% for being here a week, and go to sleep early. We will leave before sunrise Friday morning at around 0530 and round North Bimini, headed to Chub Cay (pronounced Key) in the Berry Islands. It’s a long day, but we’ll  be on the shallow Bahamas Bank most of the time, so the water should be relatively calm. We will arrive at the anchorage after sunset and it is an easy one to enter in the dark. We have reservations to stay at the Nassau Harbour Club on Saturday and will hopefully leave there for the Exumas on Sunday. We were smart to stay in Bimini this past week. Last night there were reports of squalls in the Exumas with gusts to 106 kts in Cambridge Cay and sustained 70-80 kt wind with gusts up to 105 kts in the Georgetown Harbor with five foot seas at the Chat ‘n Chill Restaurant on Volleyball Beach! This is extremely unusual and we heard that many anchored boats dragged and some landed on the beaches in Georgetown. When we are there we stay on a mooring ball in a very protected hole. That weather has moved out of the Bahamas and we will hope for “fair winds” for the next few days.