Author Archives: Jan

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.

Waiting for a Window in Miami

On December 10, 2015, we arrived in Miami and picked up a mooring ball at Dinner Key Marina and Mooring Field.  Expecting it to be a few days’ wait before a favorable weather window to leave for the Bahamas, we settled in. When it was time to take Sailor ashore that afternoon Mark climbed into the dinghy and oops……..”Something on your boat is broken….you just don’t know it yet.” Before we left Stuart, Mark transferred the outboard motor from our old dinghy to our new one. While doing so, the motor tipped and some fuel got into it. Mark assumed he could fix it when we got to Miami. He couldn’t. It always happens when we are ready to leave that something important breaks. We ordered a new outboard motor and missed the window to cross to Bimini.

Three weeks later as we listened to Chris Parker’s morning weather report we confirmed that we could finally leave Miami and cross to the Bahamas. Chris Parker is the marine weatherman we subscribe to who sends us daily email marine forecasts and broadcasts a morning weather report starting at 0630 on computers and tablets (for subscribers) and SSB radio for subscribers and anyone else who wants to listen. Since we subscribe, i.e. pay him money, we can ask a question about our particular route. We did that on December 30 and he replied that Friday, January 1, would be the best day to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini. We knew the weather would be comfortable for crossing the Gulf Stream on January 1, having listened to his forecasts the previous days and weeks and read his emails in which he recommends crossing weather windows as well as conditions in all parts of the Bahamas. What we learned from him on December 30 was that we would have to stay in Bimini for at least a week. We generally like to stay a night at Bimini, go to the Berries the next day, then Nassau, and then to the Exumas which is our destination for most of our winter/spring cruise. We can make it to the Berries on Saturday, but Sunday’s weather is not good for getting to Nassau. In fact, a gale force weather system is arriving in the Bahamas on Sunday and Chris Parker advised no travel for anyone from Bimini to the Exumas until at least Friday, January 8. 

While in Miami we made good use of the time. Each day Sailor got to go to a fantastic dog park in Coconut Grove. It has astroturf instead of grass and the walkways are recycled tires, so even when it rains there is no mud. On the short walk to the park we would stop at Starbucks. Several blocks past the dog park there is a Home Depot and also a very nice IGA store named Milans. We did some additional provisioning there, mostly for fresh fruits and vegetables since our pantry shelves on Seas the Day have enough food to open a store of our own. We also did some shopping at Home Depot and of course West Marine, also within walking distance.

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Unfortunately for the entire three weeks we were on mooring ball 157, the weather was very windy which made the water in Key Biscayne where the mooring field is located extremely  rough. Some days the large water taxi shuttle couldn’t come out to pick up people who didn’t want to go ashore in their own dinghies. This was a problem for us because for the first week we were there we had no dinghy motor. Even on a calm day, it would be a long row into the marina but impossible with the waves crashing through the mooring field. We got accustomed to rocking and rolling on the boat. Frequently we heard loud noises as waves pounded the hulls, sounding almost like we had been hit by another boat or large floating object. Sailor was particularly upset and wanted to spend almost all of the time while on the boat in a bed with one of us next to him. We read numerous books on our Kindles while we took turns in bed with Sailor. There was not a break in these weather conditions the entire time we were there. Once we got our new dinghy motor, we stopped using the water taxi and got used to getting wet going ashore and coming back to the boat. It was easier than waiting for the taxi which runs on the hour and sometimes cancels pickups midday or starts late due to the wind and water  conditions. One time Mark and Sailor got caught ashore when that happened and had to pay someone from a kayak rental company at the marina to take them back to the boat.

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All was going well while we waited for good crossing weather until three days before we were going to leave. I went into the freezer, which is full of six months of frozen food, and noticed that some of the food was thawing! A quick check confirmed that indeed the freezer temperature was going down. We transferred most of the food into several large insulated  cooler bags we use for shopping and also into a large cooler. We moved the meat into the small freezers in our two refrigerators and put some of the food in the refrigerator sections. Since this happened in the early afternoon, we were able to purchase large bags of ice for each cooler and put several bags in the freezer where we left some food thus keeping everything cold overnight. Our freezer is made by Vitrifrigo and luckily for us their headquarters are an hour away in Ft. Lauderdale. They gave us the phone numbers of three repairmen we could call and we were able to get someone out to the boat the next morning at 10 am. They didn’t even make us come to the dock, but rode out in our dinghy with their tools. The two repairmen who came checked everything and couldn’t find a problem until they discovered a great deal of dust where Mark hadn’t been able to reach when he cleaned it before we left Stuart. With their industrial strength blower, it all came out and the freezer temperature dropped immediately. Luckily cleaning people don’t charge $140 to come out to dust one item. For us, it was worth every penny to save many hundreds of dollars worth of frozen food.

With the freezer working, we hoped that was the end of the problems. On a boat, the repairs and maintenance are constant. Over the past few months we have replaced the dinghy, the outboard motor for the dinghy, the two trampolines on the foredeck, two of the four air conditioning units, the water maker pump, the two small seats at the front of the hulls on the foredeck (originally made of wood for some stupid reason and obviously were doomed to rot), the chart plotter, the radar unit, and numerous other small items. Because of these major expenses we didn’t get the one item we were determined to buy after our freezer went out for a day last winter in Georgetown, Bahamas, and we needed to store the frozen food. A neighbor in the Hole 2 mooring field loaned us their Engel 12V freezer which can also be used as a refrigerator with a different setting. That time the problem was caused because ice had formed over a thermostat and once thawed all was well. We could have used an Engel this time, but it remains in the Amazon.com cart where it is “saved for later.” Since it is about $900 it will be there for awhile.

While it seems like we might have had a miserable time in Miami, we didn’t. We never expect to get there and leave immediately and having rough water and repairs are all part of cruising. Below are two photos from the deck of Seas the Day. The first was on Christmas night with a full moon above Biscayne Bay. The second is our boat under one of many beautiful sunsets, taken by our boat buddies on the next mooring ball, Renaissance II. 

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After one last trip to Milan’s for fresh food, another to the nearby Fresh Market for their homemade cookies, a visit to the marina laundry, a stop at the fuel dock to top off the tanks, a last time at Blanche Dog Park for Sailor, followed by a bath at a hose at the marina, and one last frappuccino, we settled down to get a good night’s sleep before leaving for Bimini on January 1, 2016, hoping the midnight fireworks wouldn’t be too loud. They weren’t and at daylight January 1, we released mooring ball 157 and headed east.

Cruising Season Eight Begins

After a few delays for weather we finally left Sunset Bay Marina on Tuesday, December 8, 2015. We had a great group helping us get off the dock and as much as we want to get to the Bahamas we will miss our friends in Stuart.

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We were worried about getting under the 65 ft. Roosevelt Bridge as we exited Sunset Bay because due to all the rain, tides are extremely high. Our mast is 63 ft plus the instruments at the top and we did get under without touching. The next day we weren’t so fortunate. 

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We had a pleasant motor on the ICW to North Palm Beach and stayed at the North Palm Beach Marina. As usual lately, it rained part of the day. Still this was the best weather in awhile and there was a train of boats traveling down the ICW. We were in a group of eight each time we waited for a bridge opening but after we arrived in North Palm Beach we watched many more boats passing by to get into marinas or anchorages in the area and no doubt continue south the next day or perhaps head east to the Abaco Islands.

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The next morning, an hour after high tide, we approached the Riviera Beach Bridge and saw the board showed 62 1/2 ft clearance. We decided to wait as we watched the board. An hour and a half later the clearance was just a little over 63 ft and we decided to go……very slowly. As we started under the bridge our antenna started to drag on the bridge bottom. It has never done that before, but we continued and made it under with the antenna dragging the whole way. No pictures here as we were both watching the mast very closely.

We exited the Lake Worth Inlet to the ocean and turned south to Ft. Lauderdale. Even though there weren’t even white caps, the seas were rough and confused (coming from all directions). Sailor is a fair weather sailor and always lets me know he wants to get into the bed by going down the steps to the companionway and staring at me until I come.
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We were very happy to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale and motor up the New River to tie up at the New River City Marina along the Riverwalk. We walked across the bridge and had dinner at Briney’s Irish Pub and got a good night’s sleep.IMG_2659

Thursday we left under the 17th Street Causeway bridge opening and again turned south to Miami. This was a pleasant, calm motorsail and we arrived on ball 157 at Dinner Key Mooring Field after filling up with fuel at Crandon Park Marina for the trip to the Bahamas.
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As mentioned in the previous post, cruising plans are written in sand. The next good weather window to go to Bimini is next week and that’s when we hoped to cross. That was the plan. However, Mark had to work on the dinghy motor because when he moved it to the new dinghy before we left Stuart it tipped and oil got in it. Despite his best efforts to repair it, the motor is dead and we have to buy a new one. Mark was able to find exactly what we wanted in the Miami area, but it has to be ordered and won’t get here until next Wednesday or Thursday. The good news is we found out before we left, although we could have purchased a good outboard motor in Nassau. Also, this is a nice place to stay. One year we spent most of the winter on a mooring ball at Dinner Key when we were waiting for the boat to be converted to twin diesels from an electric hybrid system. There is a Fresh Market a few blocks away, lots of great restaurants, the best dog park we’ve ever seen nearby, and the marina has been updated with a new three story building and all new facilities inside. Also, there is a water taxi shuttle that comes to pick us up and drop us off from 0800 to 1700 so we don’t need our dinghy while we are here unless we want to be off the boat after 5 pm. This is good for us because until next Thursday we can’t use our dinghy. We could row in but being on Biscayne Bay, the waters are rarely calm and there is almost always a brisk wind. 

The shopping and eating area of The Grove has many choices. We headed straight for this one. Once we are in the Bahamas, Nassau is our last chance to go to a Starbucks.

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Below is a photo of Blanche Dog Park in Coconut Grove, a six block walk for us. The astroturf and recycled tire walkways make this the perfect dog park because even though it rained the morning this picture was taken, no dogs got muddy!

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Chris Parker, the marine weatherman whose forecasts we subscribe to, says next Tuesday and possibly Wednesday are good days to cross to the Bahamas and there might be one more opportunity before Christmas on December 24. I suspect we’ll be celebrating Christmas in Miami. Nothing new here. No matter how early we start, we have never made it to the Bahamas before New Years’ Eve. Weather and boat repairs always hamper our plans. One year we were almost to Bimini and our previous hybrid propulsion  system failed. We had to be towed back to Ft. Lauderdale and we made a successful run to Bimini a few weeks later. We’ve talked to a number of other cruisers who are here at Dinner Key waiting to go someplace. Almost every person has either said they aren’t quite sure where they are going or not quite sure when.  We know there are many people who would like to have this “problem” and we realize how blessed we are.

Cruising Plans Written in Sand

There is a saying that “Cruising plans are written in sand at low tide.” Once again that has proven true for us, but this year it wasn’t our electric windlass that broke or our watermaker that needed a part the day we left on a cruise as in years’ past. The “plan” was to leave on Monday, November 30, when our slip reservation at Sunset Bay concluded. However, the weather has been rainy and windy for weeks, and it looked like the best weather window to get to Miami would start Tuesday, December 1. Unfortunately, Sunday night we spent four hours in the emergency room when Mark had intense pain. It was diagnosed as a prostrate infection, and he has an appointment with a urologist on Thursday. The antibiotics and pain killers they gave him in the emergency room stopped the pain but also made him very tired, keeping him from doing some last minute projects. We decided we had to stay and now the weather window is closing Friday. Also, today (Tuesday), I got a phone call with the results of a recent bone density scan. It came back with a diagnosis of osteopenia in both of my hips. Luckily someone had just canceled an appointment today and I got in to see my doctor shortly after the phone call. Now I have to get some medications to keep it from getting worse and developing into osteoporosis. We are incredibly lucky that these two health issues occurred before we were in the Bahamas where health care would not have been what we got here.

We have had a very busy six months in Stuart. Another popular saying is, “Everything on your boat is broken, you just don’t know it yet.” Some repairs we knew we had to do, some we didn’t. This summer and fall we replaced the trampolines, which were rotting. We also knew the watermaker needed a new pump. It was no secret that our dinghy had seen better days and after having to add air everytime we used it last winter, we replaced it this fall. The radar wasn’t working and we were able to find a new unit, which has been discontinued but works with our current Raymarine navigation system so we don’t have to replace everything. We have four air conditioning units on the boat and two of them needed to be replaced. We were able to have the salon one custom built locally, for about half the price of the same one we had. We didn’t replace the one in the master cabin yet but cool air from the other cabins and a fan keeps it comfortable. Our TV stopped working several months before we returned to Florida last spring so a new one had to be purchased. Luckily we had a warranty in effect and the replacement was basically free. Even our “marriage saver” headphones died and new ones were no longer available. The new bluetooth ones were more expensive but also much better. We use these to communicate when one of us is in the cockpit and the other dropping the anchor and approaching or leaving a dock or mooring ball. Also, when Mark goes up the mast it is easier to communicate using the headsets. Since the new ones are bluetooth, we can listen to music from our phones or computer on them and even talk on the phone. In addition there were many smaller projects, such as marking the anchor chain for depths so we know how many feet we are putting out. In fact, Mark was doing that when the pain began this past weekend. 

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A few weeks before we are “planning” to leave, I make an inventory of the provisions we have on board. I itemize this on a spreadsheet by category and make a list of what we need for the next six months. Then, let the shopping begin!  Most of the items are purchased at Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart. Apparently we haven’t spent much money at these stores this year, because after a number of multiple hundred dollar purchases, an attempt of charging over $1200 at Sam’s was refused but another try at $1000 on the Sam’s card with the rest of the purchase on another card went through. We knew we weren’t near our credit card limit so when I checked the account online, I couldn’t get to it and was prompted to call the company. That resulted in a number of questions to answer about the purchases and they even sent a text with a code I had to repeat to the agent. All was well, and I profusely thanked her for keeping a close eye on the charge card, as they obviously thought someone had stolen it. Many of our provisions are bought online and delivered to the marina. Sailor gets six months of food, medications for heartworm and flea and tick, vitamins, treats, dental chews, etc.

As the provisions are brought on the boat, the organizing begins. A few years ago we decided to remove the bedding and mattress from the starboard aft cabin and stack plastic boxes labeled and filled with food on the platform. Most of the paper products are stored in one of several   large watertight holds on the forward deck. Also a few years ago we both got Kindles and stopped reading paperback and hardcover books. Those we were storing on the book shelves in the port companionway were given away or placed in our storage unit, and food now resides on those shelves. In addition, items are placed in cabinets, drawers, closets, in benches under salon cushions and under beds. To store under beds means you lift a mattress, remove a section of the platform, and put items in the storage area under the bed. Ingredients for rum punch, gin and tonic, and wine are under a bench in the salon, and a large supply of juice and pop (or soda for those of you who aren’t from the Midwest) are under a bed or tucked away on the floor.

Overkill? Perhaps. Yes, people do eat in the Bahamas, but the stores are few and far between and the selection of products is limited and expensive. Some Bahamians order their food in bulk from Nassau and it comes on weekly boat deliveries.  In the Exumas where we spend most of our time we can get some items in Staniel Cay at the Blue Store, the Pink Store, and Isles General. These are all in people’s houses, and if you don’t arrive at the door soon after the weekly food is delivered on a supply boat from Nassau, the pickings are meager. In Blackpoint there is another store in a house that has limited provisions. Georgetown has several stores that have fairly good supplies including the Exuma Market which is similar to a small US grocery store,  but in many cases the items are quite expensive and of course the selection of products is more limited than US stores. Some food, especially dairy products, are subsidized by the government so they are reasonably priced. One could easily live on food purchased in Georgetown, but if we want our favorite brands at a discount price, Sam’s, Target and Walmart aren’t there. Snack items are very expensive. One year I craved red Tootsie Pops and Mark craved Sweet Tarts when we ran out early in the cruise. We finally found some in Spanish Wells in May just before we came back to the States. My Tootsie Pops were in a small bag where half were red and half were green and the price was about a dollar a pop, so you can guess how long they had been on the shelf. We do buy fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products in the Bahamas, although this year we are bringing four dozen eggs from my yoga teacher and friend Kim’s free range chickens and they will last awhile since we got them so fresh. We also have a large cherry tomato plant that is full of green tomatoes already, nine strawberry plants in a strawberry planter, and quite a few leaf lettuce plants.  

The good thing about a catamaran is there is lots of storage space. The bad thing about a catamaran is there is lots of storage space. The result is we overbuy and always come back with enough to live on for most of the summer and fall. The freezer and two refrigerators are both full now and most of the freezer items are in Food Saver bags so they will keep for many months. Below are some of the items we have stored for the next six months. The boxes on the bed are two rows deep. Right now there are 30 boxes, but I do have an additional few days for more shopping! Many of the snack foods are for sundowners where we get together with other cruisers on beaches for drinks, snacks and conversation. We also need snacks for the Texas Hold’em games held on Seas the Day every Saturday evening while we are in Georgetown. 

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Besides boat repairs and provisioning, we have to get in all of our doctor, dentist, hair, dog grooming , veterinary, and medical test appointments before we leave. This year I also got involved in months of chiropractic care when an x-ray showed I have severe scoliosis. Last year, Mark was diagnosed with spinal stenosis shortly before we left, although it doesn’t seem to be very advanced. Sometimes trying to get this done doesn’t work, like this year I tried to schedule  my yearly eye exam and my insurance wouldn’t cover it until December 1, since that’s when I had it last year when we stayed later than normal. That is today, and we were supposed to be gone so I had canceled it. 

There is a great deal of work and planning that goes into leaving the country on a boat for six months, especially to a third world country. One worry has always been what would happen if one of us got sick, or even died, while in the Bahamas. This year we planned for that by getting a nautical policy from SkyMed that in the event of a serious injury or illness will fly us back to a hospital of our choice in the States by Lear Jet, even picking us up from a remote island in a helicopter, paying for our boat to be returned to our home port in Florida if we can’t return to it, flying us back to the Bahamas when we are well, paying someone to watch our dog or flying him back with us, ground transportation in an ambulance from a US airport to a hospital is included, and flying a visitor to stay with us in the hospital if needed. Physical remains are recovered and returned to the States if the worst happens. It is worth every penny for the peace of mind that if one of us was sick, injured or worse, we could get help in a US hospital quickly. We also pay for daily email, SSB and online live forecasts from marine weather forecaster Chris Parker. Another yearly expense is our SPOT device that tracks our progress when we move. In addition we pay for a mail forwarding service that scans envelopes and posts them online so we can see if we want to have the mail sent to us, shredded or the contents scanned. This is essential when we are out of the country for so long.

Sailor, of course, knows something is going on. He got suspicious when he saw some of his toys being washed. A visit to the vet for an exam, shots and paperwork we bring for immigration further confirmed it. When five bags of dog food and enough snacks to cause him to drool arrived, he got dressed in his sailing clothes.

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Sailor is ready to take over his responsibilities as First Mate. This is his third Bahamas cruise and as soon as we arrive, he will start running on deserted beaches and swimming in crystal clear water. While we have trained him not to bark, he does woof a few times if a stranger comes past us in an anchorage or mooring field. Some of our followers on this blog and on Facebook have commented that they would like to have Sailor’s life.

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After Mark’s appointment on Thursday, we could leave Friday morning, but the weather window closes that day, according to current forecasts. Hopefully we can leave early next week. Our cruise to Miami, where we wait to cross to Bimini in the Bahamas, takes us first to Lake Worth/Palm Beach on the ICW, then to Ft. Lauderdale on the ocean, and finally to Miami on the ocean. We need a three day window of good weather that doesn’t create big waves on the ocean before we will leave Stuart.

It’s been a wonderful six months in Stuart, but we are anxious to get to the Bahamas. Each year something seems to happen just before we leave, and hopefully these medical problems were  it this time. While we wait, we can enjoy having our Christmas tree lit all evening without using up the power in our batteries that our solar panels, wind generator and diesel engines give us when we are no longer plugged into shore power. In the photo below the smoke is coming from a diffuser with an essential oil called “Christmas Spirit” making our salon smell like the holidays are already here. Hopefully we’ll be opening our presents in the Bahamas.

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Spanish Wells to Stuart

We arrived back in Florida at the end of May. Guess I was a little lazy about writing the last post of the 2015 cruising season, because here it is the middle of October and I am getting around to documenting the end of our last season while we are planning our 2016 Bahamas Cruise.

We left Spanish Wells after a fantastic visit with my son Peter who flew into Eleuthera and joined us for the rest of the cruise. We then sailed from Royal Island, near Spanish Wells, to Chub Cay on May 19, leaving at 0645 and dropping the anchor at 1515. This was Peter’s first opportunity to sail with us in the Bahamas and luckily we had perfect calm seas. We stayed at Chub Cay one night and the next day sailed to Bimini, leaving at 0550 in the dark and tying up to the dock at Bimini Sands at 1650. 

Here are several photos of our crossing from Chub Cay and entering the waters of Bimini. In the third picture, the red rooftops of the condos surrounding the marina at Bimini Sands Resort and Marina are visible. Sailor had been there before and I am fairly certain he recognized it, or at least he said to himself with a smile, “Land Ho!”

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We stayed in Bimini two days and enjoyed the north and south islands. Peter snorkeled on the beach from Bimini Sands to the southern end of of South Bimini. He saw some fantastic underwater scenes, so next time we are there we’ll have to try it ourselves. Oddly after many visits to Bimini we had never snorkeled the reefs. Of course, we had to show Peter The Dolphin House in North Bimini, and he was impressed. He said he hopes to go back someday and rent a room from Mr. Saunders. We saw Mark’s last Minnesota license plate from his Corvette on one of the walls.  We donated it to Ashley Saunders’ collection of many car license plates two years ago. In his museum, we read the famous quotes he had mounted on the ceiling. To see more photos of The Dolphin House from our previous website, click here.

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One of the prettiest views in Bimini is from the Dolphin House. Mr. Saunders told us that a man from China recently approached him about buying The Dolphin House. Of course, it will always be in the Saunders family as it is a labor of love which he will no doubt continue working on until he can’t physically do it anymore. We will visit every time we go to Bimini to see the latest additions.

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When we stay in South Bimini, we take a very short water taxi ride to North Bimini. We always look for two white Golden Retrievers, who live outside by the water and fish for their food! Yes, we have seen them dive for fish and bring them ashore. They seem pretty healthy so perhaps the locals provide them with other food. We especially like watching these dogs because Sailor’s grandfather is a white English Golden Retriever.

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On May 22, 2015, we left Bimini Sands at 0610. Sailor was glad to spot land as we neared Lake Worth  that afternoon and  entered the channel.

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At 1410 we dropped the anchor near the Lake Worth Inlet after a very calm crossing.  We dinghied over to the park on Peanut Island to stretch our legs. The next morning at 0630, we left the Lake Worth anchorage with a beautiful sunrise in the sky, and started up the ICW to Stuart. We love being able to go under the 65 foot bridges and through the lift bridges while looking at the gorgeous homes along the route. We do not like being waked by speeding powerboats and fishing boats, and as always we seem to end up going on this leg of the trip on a dreaded South Florida weekend when they are out in force. As we entered the ICW, numerous fishing boats were ready to race out onto the ocean.  Later in the day, Sailor seemed to be a little bored, but Peter had a talk with him and they relaxed for the rest of the trip.

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Finally, at noon we pulled into our slip at Sunset Bay Marina, where we have spent hurricane seasons for the last four years. It’s called Sunset Bay for a reason. (That is a power cat in the next slip, not Seas the Day.)

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Thus ended our fourth Bahamas Cruise and our seventh year living aboard S/V Seas the Day. We spent the other three winters in Corpus Christi, the Florida Keys up to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and one season in Miami and Ft.  Lauderdale as we waited to have our hybrid catamaran converted to twin diesels. 2015 was a very different cruising season as we visited new places in the Bahamas and spent three months on a mooring ball in Georgetown. We boat buddied with good friends Tom and Cathie (Interlude) meeting up with them and spending Christmas together in South Beach, Miami,  then sailing together all the way to Georgetown, The Exumas, then back north with stops in Long Island, Cat Island, Little San Salvador, Eleuthera, and finally to Spanish Wells where Interlude continued to Abaco and we stayed in Spanish Wells.  We learned to play Texas Hold-em in Georgetown and played three times a week! We met a lot of new friends and hope to see most of them again in 2016. Sailor, of course, met his BFF, Portuguese Water Dog Zorro aboard M/V All In (Vivian and Chris). He’s never enjoyed playing with another dog this much and hopefully they’ll reunite this season. As we love doing, we spent the last month in Spanish Wells, renting a golf cart and staying on a mooring ball. The highlight of that month was having my son Peter visit, which added to the excitement and caused us to enjoy some new experiences.  He almost didn’t make it though, because after taking the Red Eye from San Francisco, at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport he wasn’t allowed on the plane to Eleuthera without a return ticket to the U.S. When he called us as the plane was loading (thank goodness he knew our Bahamas phone number), we were able to email a copy of our cruising permit to prove to the airline people that he did have a way back to the States. In Spanish Wells, a definite highlight was when we hired James, owner of Spanish Wells Bahamas Ocean Safaris, for a phenomenal day on the water, snorkeling, diving, swimming, finding conch and shells, watching James spear our fish for dinner, and playing on a huge sandbar.  Having Peter sail back to Stuart with us also added to the uniqueness of our 2015 Bahamas Cruise.

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Visitor Number One Comes to Spanish Wells

We have lived on the boat since July, 2008, and been to the Bahamas four times. We finally had our first guest in the islands, my son Peter. He arrived on Wednesday, May 13, stayed on our boat in Spanish Wells, and sailed with us to Chub Cay, Bimini, and back to Florida. He flew into the North Eleuthera airport and was met by Calvin Pinder who took him by land and water taxis to Spanish Wells.

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On Thursday we rode the water taxi back to Eleuthera and rented a car for the day. Peter is a surfer and lives on the coast in Central California so he was anxious to try surfing in warm water. Eleuthera is known for its good surfing, thus our first stop was Surfer’s Beach. Unfortunately the wind was the wrong direction for good surfing, so we continued south to Rock Sound. There we showed him a dramatic series of caves and a blue hole. 

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We then drove north to Governor’s Harbour where we had conch fritters at The Buccaneer Club and walked on the beautiful pink sand beach at the Club Med which was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

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Our next stop was the Glass Window Bridge where the dramatic view has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. In 1991, a rogue wave came through and pushed the bridge four feet.

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On previous car trips we had seen most of the places where we stopped this time, but a new one was Preacher’s Cave. In 1648, 70 people who had left Europe for religious freedom and came to Bermuda decided to find a new place to live and set sail for Eleuthera. They were called the Eleutheran Adventurers. Eleuthera means “freedom.” Unfortunately their boat hit the Devil’s Backbone reef and sunk. The survivors made it ashore but all of their provisions were lost. They found a large cave and lived in it but had no supplies so they built a boat and a small group of them headed to Jamestown, the nearest English settlement. They actually made it and returned with supplies. Later some moved to Harbour Island, Spanish Wells, Man of War Cay in Abaco, and Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera. 

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The next day we arranged to go out snorkeling and diving with James from Bahamas Ocean Safaris. It was just the three of us and Sailor with James and we got to design our own water adventure. We started with some diving for Peter and snorkeling for Mark and me. The first dive was over a wreck, but the current was too strong so we went on to another area which had beautiful coral and fish. Diving near the sunken boat they saw a 300 pound turtle with barnacles on its shell. The boat is partly above water in the first photo below. James speared two fish for us, a hogfish and grouper. Our next stop was a huge sandbar that rises out of the water at low tide and disappears at high tide, much like our favorite anchorage in the Bahamas at Joe Sound. Sailor of course loved being able to run free and had fun chasing birds. Peter snorkeled and found a trumpet conch and lots of sand dollars and shells. 

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At the end of the day, James cleaned the fish he speared. Unfortunately when he cut into the hogfish he saw it had ciguatera poisoning so he threw it out, but the grouper made a tasty dinner for us.

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On our last day in Spanish Wells, Peter went kayaking. We had lunch at Buddas, watched a final sunset, and made our last nightly visit to Papa Scoops. 

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A Month in Spanish Wells

An early Spanish explorer found fresh water on an island north of Eleuthera, thus it got the name Spanish Wells. We arrived here on April 18 and took a mooring ball for a month. We also rented a golf cart and set up a time to have the boat hauled out and the bottom painted at R&B Boatyard. This is our fourth visit to Spanish Wells and we have always been on a mooring ball for a month. Spanish Wells is a nice transition for us before returning to Florida, after spending most of the cruising season in The Exumas. It’s still in the Bahamas so the town has a relaxed island feeling, but unlike most of the other islands where we stop, we can find almost anything we need here, including a large well stocked grocery store with reasonable prices, every type of marine service we might need, a large hardware store, several nice casual restaurants and a more upscale one, the above mentioned mooring ball and golf cart, Papa Scoops Ice Cream, a bank with a 24 hour ATM, clothing stores and gift shops, hair salons, a dentist, and even dog groomers.

We visit Papa Scoops almost every night and have their soft serve ice cream for dessert. They serve two flavors each night, available from 7:30 pm until 10:00. The evening’s flavors are listed on a posterboard sign on the main street near the shop or on the Papa Scoops Facebook Page, where there is a new photo of their current poster each day.  (Notice the sign from Sunday that says they will be “open after church.” The Sunday night services last until 7:30.) The open air building is next to their house and a young daughter of the owners, who live in the house next door to Papa Scoops, comes to your car, bike, or golf cart, takes your order and makes your soft serve treat. 

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The first residents of Spanish Wells were English Puritans who traveled to  Bermuda in search of religious freedom, but apparently they wanted more and in 1648 a group called the Eleutheran Adventurers left Bermuda, headed for Eleuthera. They were shipwrecked on the dangerous Devil’s Backbone Reef and the survivors lived in a cave, now called  Preacher’s Cave, in north Eleuthera for awhile until some of them started a settlement in Spanish Wells. Most people living on the island are white Bahamians, descendants of those early Puritans and still very religious. They are a simple, hard working group of people with an unusual accent unique to this town. Until 1967 there was no electricity on Spanish Wells, more likely because they didn’t need or want it than they couldn’t have it. Now they have their own power plant on the island.  The commercial fishermen make six figure salaries and there is obviously a lot of money on the island and plenty of opportunities for becoming wealthy but you wouldn’t know it from observing their lifestyles. The lobster industry is the main employer and the docks are lined with large fishing vessels. Young men buy into ownership of the boats when someone retires or dies. The lobster season runs from August 1 to March 31 and the fishermen are gone most of that time. The fishing fleet here provides about 80% of the lobster served at the Red Lobster restaurant chain. In the off season most of the fishermen work other jobs. For example, a chef on one of the fishing vessels caters meals in the off season. You can go to his house and take home a meal or eat it on his front porch. Each week he posts a different menu on the Food Fair Grocery’s bulletin board on Thursday or Friday with four or five choices of entrees and you call his house or stop by to place your order for the Saturday night meals. This past Saturday, Mark and I shared a delicious prime rib dinner. A captain of one of the fishing vessels repairs diesel engines. In addition the fishermen spend time during the off season building new lobster traps and making repairs to their boats.

One of Sailor’s favorite activities here is riding in the golf cart looking for goats. We’ve noticed quite a few goats in Spanish Wells and nearby Russell Island, which is connected to Spanish Wells by a short bridge. At first we thought some enterprising entrepreneur was renting out goats to clear property, but that’s not why they are behind fences on empty lots. Recently we found out they are raised to be eaten! (We won’t tell Sailor.) As we ride down the streets here, Sailor’s nose is constantly sniffing, looking for the goats. I think he’s figured out they are always behind fences so when he sees a fence he gets more excited. All we have to do when we are driving down a steet in the golf cart is say, “Sailor, where are the goats?” and his head starts spinning around looking for them. 

imageSailor also loves to spend time swimming and fetching a ball on the beaches. Since he sometimes likes to take off running down the beach, he has to wear a 20 foot long floating leash so we can catch him while he’s racing past us. 

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Until several years ago, Spanish Wells was dry. However, Eleuthera wasn’t and people regularly took the short water taxi ride there to purchase liquor. Now there are several casual restaurants  that sell drinks and food, Budda’s and The Sandbar. Neither would be considered a “bar.” We had the best cracked conch we’ve ever eaten at The Sandbar. Besides eating and drinking, you can swim, rest in the beach lounge chairs, or swing in a hammock. An upscale restaurant, The Shipyard, also serves drinks and has a very popular “Happy Hour” as does Budda’s.

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Last week we had the boat hauled out and the bottom painted. Due to rain, a three day job lasted a week. There is a unique lift system at the R&B Boatyard. We pulled into a slip that has a platform under it, a diver (the owner of R&B) dove under the boat and placed jack stands under the hulls to hold the boat upright and steady, the lift went up and the boat was above water resting on the keels and jack stands on the platform, ready to have the workers powerwash and paint the bottom then wax the hulls. (The photos below were taken right after we were hauled out. Seas the Day looks much better now.) We could have stayed on the boat, but since we couldn’t let water drain from the sinks and showers while they were painting, we decided to rent an apartment for the week. While it was an unplanned expense, having the following for the past week has been wonderful: long showers, unlimited electricity, air conditioning, cable TV with premium channels, fast free wifi, a bed you can walk around, a washer/dryer, and  a full size refrigerator and stove. 

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We stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor of the Harbourside Gift Shop.

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Although there are a few apartments, cottages, and homes for rent in Spanish Wells, the tourist business is not the most important feature of their economy. They are very industrious, hard workers and their businesses seem to be successful. Unlike other Bahamian islands we have visited, there doesn’t appear to be an unemployment problem here. Everything in Spanish Wells is geared to the residents, not the transients like us. While quite a few cruisers pass through Spanish Wells on their way to or from Abaco, or on their way back to the States, most don’t stay too long. Without a bike or golf cart (which is the main vehicle on the streets) it is a long walk to the grocery store or some of the restaurants and beaches. I recently read a blog where someone said they thought the residents of Spanish Wells were not very friendly. We have found just the opposite. Everyone waves at us when we pass them in our golf cart. In stores or on the streets, they are very friendly and helpful. Two CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) host a happy hour on their front porch every night at 5:00. Anyone can show up and join them. They also have a lending library in their living room. At restaurants, the owners stop by tables to visit customers. (That’s how we discovered the owner of Budda has a large belly, much like Buddha.) Our friend Tom on Interlude left his Crocs on the bottom step of our sugar scoop while visiting. When he was ready to leave, they were gone. We found one floating away, but the other was lost. I went on the VHF radio and asked if anyone saw a brown clog floating in the harbor could they come back to Seas the Day. Immediately we got a reply that one of the water taxis had it and would drop it off on our boat.  The taxi driver told Tom he looked for the other one but couldn’t find it. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we think the Spanish Wells residents are very friendly and welcoming.

The citizens of Spanish Wells seem to live comfortable lives, and many are well off, however their homes are simple and nicely maintained. We haven’t seen a single large mansion, but we also haven’t seen any partially completed abandoned houses or tiny shacks found on many other Bahamian islands. Below are a few of some of the lovely homes in Spanish Wells. The majority of them are modest ranch style houses or two story Cape Cods. Looking at real estate listings, however, these houses are not bargains. Simple cottages are $200,000 and up. Ranches start at $300,000. One large home listed with 2700 sq ft and a dock was 1.1 million. A two bedroom, two bath cottage on a 115 ft of beach is $2.2 million. 

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Finally, we have always been very impressed with the lack of crime in the Bahamas. (This does not include large cities like Nassau and Freeport which are dangerous.) A picture can be worth a thousand words, and the photo below is a good example. It was taken on a Saturday night after the local dive shop was closed, not to be reopened until Monday morning. Can you imagine what would happen if stores in most parts of the world left all of these “for sale” items outside for an entire day and two nights? 

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There isn’t exactly a big police force here. In fact, their police car is a golf cart. No high speed chases in Spanish Wells. 

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Last year I wrote an extensive description of our visit to Spanish Wells, which can be found here.

Skip, Hop and Jump Through Eleuthera

After leaving the cruise ship island of Little San Salvador we set sail for Eleuthera. Our plan was to stop at Cape Eleuthera Marina at the southern end of Eleuthera. However, we got there early and decided to “skip” it and continue on to anchor at Tarpum Bay, a little farther north. When we arrived there we motored in towards the shore and discovered it was very shallow so the plan changed again and we “hopped” another 14 miles to Governor’s Harbour. It was mid afternoon when we anchored and went ashore.

Governor’s Harbour is a busy town, the seat of government for Eleuthera. There are shops and restaurants a block or two from where we bring the dinghy ashore. The homes are built on a steep hill and on the other side of the hill on the Atlantic Ocean side of Eleuthera is the beautiful pink sand beach of a Club Med Resort that was partially destroyed in 1999 by Hurricane Andrew. It has not been rebuilt but some of the buildings and the beautiful landscaping remain.

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The next morning we went out to breakfast with Cathie and Tom (Interlude) at the Buccaneer Club, where we had delicious food in a uniquely decorated restaurant. 

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Below are photos of the Governor’s Harbour Library, near our anchorage, and several homes on the hillside.

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After breakfast we decided to leave and sail to Goulding Cay. Our next destination was Spanish Wells and while we could leave from Governor’s Harbour the next morning and get to Spanish Wells in the afternoon, we wanted to time our entrance through Current Cut for slack tide in the morning. Goulding Cay is a lovely anchorage near the Glass Window in northern Eleuthera a short distance to Current Cut. We spent the night there and left in the morning for the “jump” to Spanish Wells. On the map below, the narrow Glass Window is just below the top arrow from the word “Eleuthera Island.” Goulding Cay is a very short distance south of that.

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One of the houses on the beach has a surfboard table in the yard. I guess Sailor is practicing surfing. You can see Seas the Day anchored off the point of the cay. Goulding Cay has a great shallow swimming beach, usually deserted, and the perfect place for Sailor to fetch his ball in the water.

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This was our quickest visit to Eleuthera in the four times we have come here. Other years we have also stopped at Rock Sound, which we skipped this year, and spent time renting a car to drive the length of the island, visiting a number of beautiful pink sand Atlantic beaches. Once in Spanish Wells, we are only a short $8 water taxi trip back to Eleuthera so we’ll be able to rent a car for a tour of the island.

Our goal was to reach Spanish Wells by the middle of April with a month available to stay there before returning to the States at the end of May. When traveling on a boat, plans are written in sand, but in this case we had good weather and were able to adjust our stops to reach Spanish Wells. We were lucky the weather cooperated because that is always the determining factor on when and where we go. 

First Visit to Cat Island

Normally when we leave Georgetown, we go out to the deep water of the Exuma Sound and follow the shore of Great Exuma north to a cut into the shallow water of the Banks on the west side of the islands. We try to avoid sailing on the Sound except for this one leg since there are generally higher waves and rougher water than on the Banks. Once in shallow water, we continue north to stop at islands we didn’t visit on the way south a few months earlier. We take more time to swim, snorkel, kayak, and hike at some of our favorite destinations in the Exumas. Then we cross from Warderick Wells to Eleuthera. This year we decided to take a different route. We left Georgetown and crossed the Exuma Sound sailing northeast to Cat Island. From there we went to Little San Salvador and on to Eleuthera.

Cat Island was settled in 1783 by the Loyalists. It was named after pirate Arthur Catt who made many stops on the island. Another claim to fame for the residents of Cat Island is that actor Sidney Poitier was born here. It is 48 miles long and 1 1/4 miles wide. We made three stops on Cat Island: New Bight, Fernandez Bay, and Bennett’s Harbor.

New Bight was chosen so we could visit a monastery called The Hermitage which was built by Monsignor Jerome Hawkes, also known as Father Jerome. He came to the Bahamas as an architect and an Anglican priest to repair Long Island Anglican churches and later was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest. In 1930, at age 62, he built the Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia in Cat Island. He named the high hill after one in Tuscany where St. Francis received the wounds of the cross. From a distance the monastery looks huge, but once we climbed the steep hill to the top, 206 ft above sea level, we realized it is a scaled down model with four small enclosed rooms: a bedroom, living area, chapel and kitchen. There is also an open air bathroom and a bell tower. Father Jerome’s monastery includes a guest building and the grave where the priest is buried.  Below are photos of the Hermitage beginning with the sign on the main road near our anchored boats.

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Mark, Cathie, Tom, Sailor and I walked up the road to the Hermitage. In the distance is the monastery at the top of the hill.

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Next we left the road to walk up a path. This is the entrance to the steep, rocky path.

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 At a fork, we chose a path that went past the Stations of the Cross, hand carved by Father Jerome.

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The path continued and became much steeper. I stopped and waited by the stations of the cross  because I knew it wasn’t safe to go any further with my recent total knee replacements. The path ended and there were very steep hand carved stone steps leading to the monastery.

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This is the view approaching the Hermitage.

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Tom, Cathie, Sailor and Mark came back down the hill by a more gradual path. Mark and I went back up choosing the safer way at the fork in the path to the Hermitage. Here we are in front of the monastery’s bell tower. This demonstrates the small size of Father Jerome’s rooms. The Atlantic Ocean is visible on the other side of Cat Island. He had a 360 degree view of the area from his monastery.

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 It’s hard to image how he was able to construct the intricately designed monastery, but recalling that he was also an architect it is understandable that each room was built for a specific purpose no larger than he needed them to be. He built this monastery to live in for the rest of his life and he was looking for solitude. 

His chapel has a chair and desk to sit at as well as an altar.

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Sailor enjoyed the cool shade of the bell tower.

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A ladder leads up to the top of the bell tower. As I was waiting for the group to return to me, I heard the working bell ringing.

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This window looks down at the road we walked on to get to the Hermitage. You can’t see the steep path because it is under the window.

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Father Jerome built his personal monastery stone by stone. From left to right, the rooms are the bell tower, his chapel, the living area and the kitchen, an open area with pillars and carved quotes and at the far right his bedroom. The words “Beata Solitudo” mean “blessed solitude” and he carved this into the area with pillars.  Amazing and well worth the long hike to the top of the hill.

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He even built a guest house. It contains two fireplaces, one outside and one inside the building. There are also fireplaces in each of the monastery’s rooms. 

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Father Jerome died in 1956. He is buried on the property of The Hermitage.

Our next stop was a short sail away in Fernandez Bay, where there is a beautiful beach and lovely resort. We had dinner at the resort with our boat buddies Cathie and Tom (Interlude). 

Before dinner we watched a stunning sunset over the bay where our two boats and one more were anchored.

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We were the only dinner guests who weren’t staying at the resort. The dinner was a delicious buffet but the best part was the ambiance of the resort and of course the company of our good friends Cathie and Tom. By the way, Cathie and I did not plan to dress alike! We sat inside because when we arrived it was much cooler than the patio seating and our table was open to the water just like those on the patio.

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The dining room was in a stunning thatched roof building with intricate designs in the ceiling. 

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 Another short sail the next day brought us to Bennett’s Harbor. This destination was chosen mainly as a place to anchor where we could leave Cat Island the following day and reach Little San Salvador. There were houses on the beach by our anchorage, so we took the dinghy for a ride in a channel running though nearby mangroves. Returning to Bennett’s Harbor, we found another beach, totally deserted with powdery white sand. Sailor was free to fetch his ball and we could swim in the shallow warm water.

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After all this fun, we returned to our anchored boat to get ready to leave in the morning.

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Little San Salvador is a private island for several lines of cruise ships. When we arrived in the early afternoon, a Carnival ship was anchored and the next morning a Holland America cruise ship arrived. After the ships leave at 4 pm, cruisers anchored nearby are allowed to go ashore. 

Sailor could have had “boat envy” as we anchored near the cruise ship when he seemed to stare longingly at the huge vessel. He would love racing down the decks on that ship. The passengers were brought back and forth from the ship to the shore all day in small ferries seen next to the big ship. 

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One of many onshore activities for the ship passengers was horseback riding on the beach and nearby trails. Others snorkeled, walked on the beach, visited the various buildings built for their use, ate food, swam, and sunbathed.

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After the cruise ship left the private island, we re-anchored closer to the beach and went ashore in our dinghies. There was only one other boat there besides Seas the Day and Interlude. Sailor loved running on the deserted beach. We had to watch out for the big tractor smoothing the sand on the beach. We also kept him away from the stalls where the horses live.

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To cool off we all went swimming in the crystal clear water. Behind us on the shore you can see the  buildings used for the visitors from the cruise ships.

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Naturally the water and sandy beaches are beautiful, a big consideration when cruise ships buy their private islands. Of course, before it was purchased this was no doubt a fantastic place for cruisers to stop and spend a few days when crossing from Cat Island to Eleuthera. Now, visitors on private boats  have to wait until 1600 to come ashore and leave by 0800 the next morning if another ship is arriving or at least move out of the way. In the Bahamas, all beaches are public up to the high tide water line and no one can stop you from anchoring anywhere, except in the Land and Sea Park in The Exumas. Permanent workers stay on the island, and they were very welcoming when we came to their beach. The only consideration in anchoring on Little San Salvador is to stay out of the way of the ferries delivering people to and from the islands.

imageWe left at 0730 the next morning and passed a Holland America cruise ship pulling into the anchorage as we sailed towards Eleuthera.