Category Archives: Bahamas

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.

imageHere we are leaving the Exuma Sound at Galliot Cut and entering shallow water.Sometimes this cut is very rough, and today it slowed us down 3 kts since the tide was going out, but it was a smooth ride. 

imageInside the cut we were now sailing on the Bahamas Bank.
imageThis is the sunset from our boat in Big Majors anchorage. 

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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.

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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Nassau to Blackpoint

Before I begin our first blog post from The Exumas, I want to mention that I do regularly add photos and brief descriptions of our travels on our Facebook page. The link to that is in the right column of the website. Also, when a new blog entry is posted, there is a notification on Facebook. Followers of the website receive an email message immediately after an entry is posted. There is a place to enter your email on the right also. I do not have access to your email address, but you will be sent each new blog entry.

We left Nassau on January 1, after staying up until midnight for the dueling New Years’ Eve fireworks in the harbor. I can’t comment on them because I was huddled on a bed with a shaking Sailor. Mark, Cathie, and Tom (Interlude) said they were very impressive. Our first stop in The Exumas was Norman’s Cay. Sailor and a Mark went ashore to a nice deserted beach. Sailor always knows he goes to a beach when we stop so he positions himself where he can see it until he hears the dinghy start to be lowered when he races to the cockpit to hop aboard.

imageThe next day we sailed to Warderick Wells, which is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  This is a “no take” area so the beaches and underwater life are left as they are. We stayed for three nights, waiting out some strong wind.  Luckily we got in the north mooring field which is very protected in all directions.  We barely felt the effects of the wind.  Mark walked up to Boo Boo Hill and found our sign which we first put there in 2010. He updated it with 2015 but forgot the camera, so here is a picture of it from last year. If we return again this year, he’ll use a drill bit to etch Sailor’s name and the new dates on the sign to replace the Magic Marker.

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We went to our first group sundowner in Warderick Wells.  Almost all of the cruisers on the mooring balls came with a variety of snacks and of course their own drinks.  Friends Nancy and Jim (Summer Breeze) happened to be on a ball so we got to visit with them, pictured in the foreground wearing a blue shirt and white blouse. Also, Steve and Susan (Peregrine) who were a few slips down from us at Sunset Bay were here.  We motored past their Lagoon 380 in our dinghy and thought someone came out to wave as Lagoon owners often do to each other, but she called out, “Is that Sailor?” Everyone remembers Sailor and then we realized who was on the boat. One nice thing about cruising is that you constantly run into old friends and make new ones.

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The north mooring field is definitely a “Kodak Moment.” We are hidden a bit on the curve, the fourth boat from the front. It’s hard to believe water can be this beautiful, but this is what we usually see in The Exumas, with the variations in color due to depth. The darkest blue on the left of the photo is the deep water of the Exuma Sound.

imageYesterday we left Warderick Wells and motorsailed to Blackpoint, about a four hour trip. Blackpoint is known for several things. The most notable is the US style laundamat.  However, prices are a bit different with $3.75 for a load of wash. Ida, who owns the laundry also sells baked goods, gives haircuts, provides free wifi, has a small store, and recently opened a “gaming room” aka online gambling, and a golf cart rental.  Quite the entrepreneur. In the photo, Cathie and Tom (Interlude) are folding their laundry. Only about half of the machines are shown here.

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Today we will leave Blackpoint and sail a few hours Cave Cay, and tomorrow we will exit the shallow water to the Exuma Sound through Cave Cay Cut.  We’ll be in deep water again for a half day sail to Georgetown.

Miami to Bimini

The distance from Miami to Bimini is about 50 miles. We arrived at 1900 on 12/27/14, pulled into a slip and settled in for a few days. The first part of the trip was a little lumpy but about halfway across the seas flattened and it became more comfortable. We were motoring directly into the wind. We have been in Bimini a number of times so we knew the channel into Bimini Sands in South Bimini but they have changed the markers since last year. A new large unlit channel marker went between our hulls and popped out under the dinghy.  No damage to the boat, but sure sounded bad!

We enjoy Bimini Sands because it is so quiet here and the marina has wide slips and floating docks. It is the only Marina in South Bimini. In the photo below we are between a large powercat and Interlude. There are other marinas in North Bimini, but they aren’t this nice. Also the current is strong at the other marinasmaking boats rock in the slips. Today we watched a sportfisher try 4 or 5 times to get into a slip with a strong current at Big Game Club Marina. Bimini Sands Marina is surrounded by condos and there are two pools, a tennis court, and several restaurants here. The beach is nice for walking, and Sailor certainly loves running on it.

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We are staying three nights and leaving tomorrow, December 30.  As always, moving around on a sailboat is dependent on the weather. We are hoping to get to Chub Cay tomorrow and Nassau on Wednesday. If the good weather window continues we’ll go on to the Exumas, probably Highbourne Cay on Thursday. While here we had some delicious pizza last night at the Beach Club on South Bimini.  Today we went to the phone company office.  No matter how hard we try to activate our phone and iPad ourselves, something always seems to require a visit to the Batelco office.  We took a colorful bus to the Beach Club and a water taxi to North Bimini.  Lunch at the Big Game Club and Marina was excellent.  (If you look closely, you can see the scars on my knees from the knee replacement surgeries in September and October.)

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Mark had several jobs to do here. It seems that when we have the mast taken down for hurricane season, there are electrical repairs to make. This time, the  anemometer (wind vane) at the top of the mast is not working. Also on the mast, the radar is not getting the information to our chart plotter.  Much to his dismay, Mark had to climb up to the top of the mast to fix them.  It is easier to climb a mast at a dock than when bobbing around at anchor. Still not a sailor’s favorite activity. After all this work he couldn’t get either one to work. I’m sure he’ll be back up again, perhaps at our next and last marina in Nassau, until we are headed home in May.

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Creature Comforts in Spanish Wells

While we love the simple life of being anchored next to a small Bahamian island with deserted sandy beaches, after awhile we do miss some of the creature comforts and conveniences we enjoy in the States. That’s just one reason we are in Spanish Wells for at least three weeks before we return to Florida.

Located northwest of Eleuthera and south of the Abacos, Spanish Wells, the only town on St. George’s Cay, and its neighbor Russell Island have a combined population of about 1600. They are connected by a short narrow bridge. The people are mostly white native Bahamians, descendants of British who came in the 1600’s and Loyalists from the 1700’s. Spanish Wells is very different from the towns we visit in the Exumas.  Most of the islands in the Exumas are sparsely populated and have very few onshore facilities.  Spanish Wells is a much more developed town. The main business is fishing and the large fleet of fishing boats here provide shrimp and lobster for Red Lobster as well as many other outlets. In fact, Spanish Wells exports more lobster than all of the other Bahamian islands combined. Lobster and shrimp seasons are over in the Bahamas so during the coming months the fishing vessels will be painted and repaired.

There is very little tourism here, although it is a short water taxi ride to trendy Harbour Island. There are plans to build a Jack Nicholas designed golf course with luxury estates, a spa and resort, a marina, and upscale restaurants on nearby Royal Island, which is a popular place for cruisers to anchor in  the protected bay before heading to the Abacos. The project has already begun and when completed will certainly give Harbour Island some competition but probably won’t affect Spanish Wells, which is a five minute boat ride away. A number of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans own homes in Spanish Wells and spend the winters here with some becoming permanent residents. The homes range from small cottages to large estates and all are very well kept, most with beautifully landscaped yards. The roads are paved and the town is very clean. It’s obvious that the town is prosperous and there seems to be plenty of work for the residents. Unlike many of the Exuma islands, it is rare to find buildings that have been started and abandoned when the money ran out. There are construction crews working around the town building new homes and the craftsmanship is outstanding. In between many of the houses in Spanish Wells there are sandy paths to the 2 1/2 mile long ocean beach and there are also several parks on the beach. At low tide it is a long walk out to water and then it remains shallow, a perfect beach for fetching a wubba.

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Along the mostly commercial road by the harbor, called South Street, there are marine and hardware supply stores, golf cart and car rentals, gift shops, an excellent seafood market, restaurants and take-aways (takeouts), a customs and immigration office,  a small grocery store and even a boat lift where the commercial fishing vessels and pleasure boats are cleaned, painted and repaired. In 2010 we had our boat hauled out and the bottom painted here. It’s not unusual to see boats on the lift from Florida and other US cities.

In other parts of town there are more businesses, most located on Main Street which runs parallel to South Street, including a dive shop, several clothing stores, restaurants, churches, coffee shops, a Batelco office, a bank, an auto shop, a government clinic, a computer store, bakeries, a dentist, a canvas shop, hair salons, a homemade ice cream shop, a law office, an appliance store, a realtor, a cemetery, a small museum, and a large IGA type grocery store.

There are small ferry boats that take passengers to Eleuthera and Harbour Island and also a large “fast ferry” catamaran that makes the trip back and forth to Harbour Island once a day from Nassau with a stop in Spanish Wells.  There are nearby reefs for diving and snorkeling and the harbor is perfect for kayaking.  While we don’t fish, this is an excellent area for sports fishing on the ocean with world class bone fishing on the flats around Spanish Wells. The well protected mooring field where we are staying is a few boat lengths away from the docks along the harbor road and only has eight balls. There is also a marina, Spanish Wells Yacht Haven, that is currently doing major renovations with several brand new buildings. Below are photos of the mooring field and a small section of South Street across from us where the fishing boats dock and some of the commercial stores are located.

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The mooring field is home to a family of dolphins who come by frequently to entertain us.  As always, it’s impossible not to run out on deck when we hear them splashing in the water.

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It might sound like I have just described a large thriving metropolis, but Spanish Wells is a small town with very friendly people. Most houses have a golf cart in the driveway as well as a car and the golf carts probably get more use. The grocery store is the largest we have seen since Nassau and it is well stocked with everything we need. Most of the other stores are small although very well supplied. There is a liquor store here but no bars. We have heard that the residents do not lock their doors and that crime is nonexistent. Perhaps that is the reason the police car is a golf cart.

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In the past we rode our bikes around Spanish Wells, but this year we are hesitant to leave Sailor alone on the boat while not at a dock, so he comes everywhere with us. We decided to rent a golf cart for the time we are here and are finding it very useful for getting around town. The nicest beach area  is too far to walk with Sailor, and he has discovered that while he doesn’t like riding in cars very much, he LOVES golf carts.  After racing up and down the beach fetching his wubba, Sailor is ready to relax for awhile while we read in the shade of our beach umbrella. Another advantage of having the golf cart is we can bring chairs, an umbrella and other items to the beach. Driving on the paved streets is very easy and we return friendly waves to all of the cars and golf carts we meet.

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We were pleasantly surprised to find that there are three dog groomers in Spanish Wells.  Sailor desperately needed a haircut,  as can be seen in the two photos above, so a few days ago we took him to one of them and he got a nice summer cut.

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Of course one creature comfort I have been missing is Starbucks.  Several coffee shops here sell their version of frappuccinos, and I must admit they are very close to what I’ve had at Starbucks.

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Spanish Wells seems to be a perfect blend of tropical living without giving up too many creature comforts. It is a great transition to ease us back into life in Florida. In good weather it is a three day sail from here to Lake Worth.  However, we still have the rest of May to enjoy the Bahamas.

Last Stop in The Exumas

We like to end our Bahamas cruise by sailing from the Exumas to Eleuthera and then north to Spanish Wells.  A good place to cross is at Warderick Wells in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  We met up with good friends on Interlude, Cathie, Tom and their son Chris, who was visiting them, and enjoyed our last game of Mexican Train before they sail back to the States in a few weeks.

We stayed for two nights in the north mooring field which is one of the most picturesque settings in the Bahamas. In the photo below, Mark and Sailor are on their way back from a beach visit.  The different colors of water are due to depth. It’s easy to find the deep part which is the darker color where the boats are moored. The darkest water color is on the left side of the photo where there is a cut to the Exuma Sound and very deep water.  Snorkeling is good here because no living things can be removed thus we see large lobster and many varieties of fish.  Shells cannot be taken from the beaches.

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Everyone likes to hike up Boo Boo Hill where you can leave a sign with your boat name on it. The sign must be made from a natural material, usually a piece of wood.  We made our sign in 2010. In 2012 friends Lynn and Shelley on Anything’s Pawsible found it and sent us a picture.  We saw it next in 2013 and added the date of our visit.  Shortly before we arrived here this year we got an email from Minnesota cruiser friends who had just been to Boo Boo Hill, found our sign underneath some others and put it in a more prominent place.   Therefore, we quickly found it a few days later thanks to Bill and Judy on Jubilee.  Mark had used a dremel and paint to create the original lettering, but this time we didn’t have the tool charged so we just added “RIP 2013” by Daisy’s name and added “Sailor” along with 2014 all in Magic Marker.

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Another site at Warderick Wells is a skeleton of a Sperm Whale.  Sailor loves bones, but he didn’t attempt grabbing these.

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By now, Sailor is probably totally confused about where he is and we have lost count of the number of beaches he has visited. However, regardless of the island or the beach, Sailor is happy if he can just fetch his floating Kong Wubba.

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A Beach a Day

What is better than walking on a long sandy beach with clear turquoise water to wade in or swim through?  The sky here is usually bright blue, there is often a breeze or stronger wind, and the temperature at this time of year is always around 80. It’s hard to believe but EVERY stop we make in the Exumas has at least one, and often several gorgeous beaches next to where we anchor. The water is clear and warm, the sand is soft and the beaches are almost always free of debris.  They are usually free of other humans too, and if people are walking on the beach, there are never more than a handful. Every beach is dog friendly and of course no leashes are needed, although we do bring one to control Sailor if/when other people pass by us.  All beaches in the Bahamas are public. Some of the more than 500 islands in the Exuma chain have been sold to celebrities and wealthy people, but even Oprah has to let us use her beach up to the high tide water line.  It’s the law.

In the Exumas, there are two types of beaches.  The calmer, smaller beaches are on the “bank” side, the inside of the islands.   We are always anchored on this side.   The water is shallow and usually very calm so these beaches are perfect for swimming.   Of course, the soft sand is on the sea floor as well as on the beaches which makes walking out in the water no different than walking on the beach, just wetter.

A short hike over rocky hills, often on a trail marked by other cruisers takes us to the Sound beaches.  (The “marks” are varied, including conch shells, rocks, cloth tied to branches, and even old sandals.) These beaches are bordered by high rocky hills which can be climbed for dramatic views of the Sound.  The beaches are often as far as you can see, deserted, and covered with soft, white sand.  Waves crash over reefs close to shore, but in some parts there are calm areas where you can safely swim, almost like ponds in the water.  The Sound beaches are breathtaking because the water offshore consists of shades from light to very dark turquoise, depending on the depth and floor of the sea.  There might be sand, rock, reefs,  or grass underneath, which affects the coloration.

Pictures being worth a thousand words, below are some I took today while on a beach walk on the Exuma Sound side of Georgetown.  Pictures in the previous post were at a beach on the Elizabeth Harbor side, where we are anchored.  To get to the beach on the Sound we ride a short distance to a very small stretch of harbor beach where we leave our dinghy, throwing the anchor up on the beach.  If it is high tide, we put the anchor out in the water so we don’t come back to a dinghy sitting on a beach when the tide goes out.  We climb a rather steep rocky hill up and then down on the other side to the beach you see in the photos below.  Although the trail is steep, there are branches and sticks deep in the ground to grab for support so it is quite safe.  Today we walked for several hours along this stunning beach.

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Sailor the Escape Artist

From the first day Sailor moved aboard Seas the Day with us last September, we worried about him falling through the lifelines.  Many people with small dogs put woven rope all around their boat on the lifelines to keep their dogs from falling through. When he was small, Sailor was never alone on the deck. As he grew we figured he was too big to fit through between the lifelines. At Sunset Bay, our hurricane season port in Stuart, FL, we occasionally left him alone on the deck for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. (We couldn’t leave him inside because he gets frustrated and rips up paper and other items but he was fine on the deck.) He totally ignored people who walked by unless they came over to pet him.  He mostly slept while we were gone. Our deck was usually about five feet above the dock and he had to get off on a ramp we put up and took down whenever he got off the boat.

When we started moving through the water a few weeks ago, sailing south, we never let him on the deck without his life jacket on and tethered to the helm seat if he was outside while we were moving. All went well until we got to Nassau and were at the Nassau Harbor Club.  The dock was almost level with our deck, making it very easy for Sailor to get on and off but when we  undid the lifeline gate he wouldn’t jump down by himself so Mark had to lift him on and off when we took him for a walk. We didn’t leave him alone on the boat.

That night we heard a loud boom around 9:00.  Apparently the Atlantis Resort occasionally has a fireworks show for the people staying there, but they shoot them off from a barge directly across the harbor from us, quite a distance from the Atlantis.  (We discovered why the next day. All the boats in our marina, and probably all the houses and business around us and across the harbor near the barge were covered with debris from the fireworks. We assume nothing landed on the boats and hotel at the Atlantis Resort.)

Sailor has always been very alert to noises.  He often growls softly to alert us if he hears someone walking by the boat in the middle of the night.  He can be in a deep sleep anytime and wakes up if he hears something strange. He is always looking around and listening, no matter where he is. However, he has never been afraid of noises.  When the very loud fireworks started he first ran out on the deck and then came right back, seeming to be very nervous.  We went out on the deck to see what was going on and he followed us, but ran back inside.  We watched the fireworks show for a minute or two and I went back in the cabin to see what he was doing.  Sailor wasn’t inside!

At that moment we saw the marina security guards coming down the long dock towards us.  We were in the very last slip.  They said they saw our dog racing down the dock and he had fallen into the water.  We ran down the dock and saw exactly what had happened.  The dock stops abruptly and turns at a right angle with a short span of water ahead between the dock and the shore. I’m sure he was running so fast he couldn’t stop and went flying into the water. He may not have noticed the dock ended.

It was low tide and there were about six feet between the dock and the water.  Sailor was dog paddling around the wall, but there was no way for him to get out without help. Mark climbed down a ladder and called Sailor over to him. Marinas always have ladders down to the water in numerous places on their docks in case someone falls in or has to get down to the water. Sailor swam over to Mark but it was impossible for Mark to climb the ladder with a 45 pound dog.  Three men were there to help, along with me.  Mark let go of the ladder, took Sailor in his arms and swam to the next dock where a small fishing boat had a low platform at the back.  The water was shallow so Mark could bounce his feet off the bottom.  He lifted Sailor onto the boat and another cruiser staying at the marina lifted Sailor onto the dock.

Sailor was totally traumatized.  By now the fireworks were done but he would not come back to the boat with us.  We figured out later that he must have thought the loud noises and light flashes were on our boat.  Sailor is extremely attached to us and he would never choose to leave us.  Not wanting to drag him down the dock, Mark carried Sailor all the way back to the boat.  We rinsed the salt water off him, dried him with towels and wrapped him in a blanket.  I sat on the floor with him, held him tightly on my lap, and tried to comfort him.  He shivered for about an hour, long after his body warmed up, staring out the door.  The water actually wasn’t very  cold and we worried that he could be in shock.   Finally he stopped shivering, but could not relax.  Mark slept in the salon with him and by morning he ate his breakfast and was almost back to his happy self.

We were leaving that morning for the Exumas and water was part of our dockage fee, Mark was washing the salt off the boat. Unlike marinas in the States where water is free, you pay for it almost everywhere in the Bahamas.  I got off the boat to walk across the street to buy some groceries, locking the lifeline gate behind me.  Shortly after I left, a cruiser came walking down the dock and said to Mark, “I have something for you.” Mark looked and saw Sailor trotting down the dock next to him.  We suspect he knew he could get off the boat by squeezing between the lifelines and went looking for me. Until the previous night, Sailor had never gotten off the boat without our assistance.  Fortunately there is no way to get out of the marina unless you can open a door that goes out to the street and he hasn’t learned to do that…….yet.

Of course, this was very scary for us.  We were lulled into thinking Sailor would not get off the boat without us. After living on it for six months he had never even tried to jump off.  We can only assume he saw the opportunity because it was level with the dock, even though he had to squeeze through the lifelines.  Fearing the very loud fireworks sound, he was no doubt terrified enough to do anything to escape.  At the time we thought he was inside and other than hearing the sounds, we didn’t know he was afraid of them. The second episode was probably Sailor learning a new “trick” and he wanted to come with me.

We thought we were doing everything possible to keep Sailor safe, but it wasn’t enough.  We are extremely fortunate that there was no way to get to the street on the day he tried to follow me because no doubt he would have run right in front of a car.

After being traumatized by the fireworks sound, Sailor is now afraid of our Shark cordless vacuum.  Today while I was vacuuming up sand he brought in from the beach, he jumped up on the couch and left by the window.  Yes, that is a trick our little escape artist has learned.  He’s pretty big to be going out the small window, but he manages to climb up on a shelf and out.  He comes in the same way!

We feel so very fortunate that everything worked out in Sailor’s favor.  The security guards saw him go in the water.  If not for that, we would have been looking all along the dock and maybe wouldn’t have even seen him if he had swum under a dock. In fact, we might not even have known he had fallen in and we would have looked on the marina grounds.

Sailor is adjusting extremely well to sailing.  Each day he learns something new.  He very quickly learned to love riding in a dinghy.  Whenever he hears the dinghy starting to go down into the water, he is at the top of the sugar scoop steps ready to jump in.  The first time he was on a beach, in Bimini, he ate sand.  He actually put his mouth down into the sand and filled his mouth with it.  It made him sick for a few day but he hasn’t injested it again.  He learns fast. We know many dogs are afraid of fireworks, but we’ve never owned a dog who was terrified like Sailor obviously is.

Some people wonder why cruisers bring a dog on a boat.  Sailor is part of our family and we wouldn’t enjoy this experience as much without him. When our wonderful Goldendoodle Daisy died last summer, after living aboard with us for five years, we mourned her, but within a few weeks since we had never not had a dog in our lives, we decided to find another Goldendoodle.  In the end, dogs want to be with their people and with some adjustments, they can be just as happy living on a boat as they are in a house.

Below are a few pictures of our little escape artist coming in the window and relaxing after running up and down a deserted beach in Staniel Cay, the Bahamas.

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What Do You Do in the Bahamas For Six Months?

Recently, I was talking with an acquaintance about our plans to go to the Bahamas on our boat for six months.  He asked, “What do you do for six months on a boat in the Bahamas?”  I don’t know if he was inferring that it would be boring or if he was genuinely confused, but I gave him the stock answer:  we snorkel, swim, sail, hike and have sundowners with other cruisers.  Later, I started to think about it and realized if you’ve never left the country on a boat for an extended period of time, then you might have this same question.

As I started to write this blog entry, I found myself thinking about what we DON’T do and DON’T have for those six months, so I’ll get that over first. We can’t walk into a grocery store and have every food choice known to man in front of us for reasonable prices.  While we have Direct TV on the boat and we have satellite coverage every place we sail, we would use up too much power if we watched it very much, so other than a few favorite shows, we don’t.  We can’t go to our regular doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists or specialists for check-ups and we can’t visit them when we are sick.  I can’t go to my favorite hair salon or yoga studio. Since we make our own power with solar panels and a wind generator, we have to be frugal with the appliances we use.  That limits using our blow dryer, curling iron, toaster, microwave, ice maker, and other power hogs. We make our own water and that uses power so we can’t take long showers. And of course the real biggie……no Starbucks!

Because of those “don’ts” we have to make lots of lists and “provision” before we leave.  Think having to buy six months worth of everything in your kitchen and medicine cabinets because likely you won’t find your favorite shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, make-up, etc. in the little stores on most islands.  Food is a different story because you could go there with no food and eat well.  The difference would be the expense and the lack, in most stores, of your favorite brands so we try to buy sufficient amounts of everything we think we will eat. My hair won’t look as nice, but Mark is a pretty good hair cutter and there is usually a nice wind to blow my hair dry. We get our physicals and check-ups between June and November. Luckily we rarely get sick and if we did there are clinics on most islands. We don’t miss TV, especially the news, and we get to read lots of books. While we limit using certain appliances, when the generator is on we can use anything. If we need something not available in the islands, we can order it online and get it shipped to us. As far as frappuccinos, I just have to endure withdrawal symptoms for awhile. There is a Starbucks in Nassau and when we stop there I usually linger over my last one until I get back to Florida in June.

Once we are in the Bahamas, we have no schedule.  That is on purpose because cruisers know the most dangerous thing on a boat is sailing with a schedule. If you have to get somewhere on a certain date you are tempted to leave when the weather forecast is not safe.  Luckily, in the Exumas where we travel the next destination is usually a few miles away and at most less than a day’s sail or motorsail. Also, there is no hurry to get there or even go there.  We have no fixed itinerary, just places we would like to visit.

Now for the answer to what do we do all day for six months.  Remarkably, every day is different.  The weather changes, the location changes and the people around us or the lack thereof, changes.  On a typical day, we wake up with the sun and eat breakfast outside in the cockpit.  Sailor will ride ashore in the dinghy to a quiet, sandy beach where he is the only dog. At each place we stop there are usually several nice beaches close to us.  If another dog is in the anchorage and going ashore, we can choose to play or be alone.  He’ll have a run and swim and take care of his “business.”  Back on the boat, we might have a few chores to do…..cleaning or laundry for me, a boat repair or maintenance work for Mark.  If we don’t have work to do we might paddle the kayaks into nearby mangroves or along the shore.  Stopping at a beach via kayak or dinghy, we might swim in the calm turquoise water or take a short walk to the other side of the island, which will be on the Exuma Sound, and enjoy a whole different rocky ocean shore.  After lunch on the boat, we might relax with a book from our library or on our Kindle.  We almost always have Internet access through Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) so I might write a blog, check email, pay bills online or look at what mail has come into our mail forwarding service.  At our request, St. Brendan’s will scan any important mail into a pdf so we can read it online and print it out if needed. Sailor will get another dinghy ride ashore in the afternoon. If we don’t get together with friends for dinner, we’ll probably go ashore for sundowners (drinks and snacks) with a group of cruisers anchored near us, or we’ll have friends over to play Mexican Train (domino game).   When we are tired we go to bed.

That’s a typical day but on other days, depending on the island we are near, we’ll snorkel, go ashore to walk through the small towns, ride our bikes, and do some grocery shopping.  If we are near a more populated town like Georgetown, we have numerous options for eating out and shore activities.  That town, in particular, has activities for cruisers going on every day like beach yoga, volleyball, Texas Hold’em, dances, pot lucks, sundowners, scavenger hunts, etc.  When we are in Georgetown, we are one of over a hundred boats spread out over numerous anchorages. We can anchor alone or near a group of boats.

Bottom line is we never get bored.  We are totally relaxed most of the time except when there is a problem with something on the boat.  In that case, Mark fixes it. We meet a lot of people with similar interests and make lifelong friends.  We actually socialize much more with friends when we are in the Bahamas than when we are at a dock in the States or than we did when we lived in a house. If we have a question or problem we make a call to everyone in hearing distance on our VHF radio and ask if anyone can help us.  Invariably we get that help.  In Georgetown there is a cruiser’s net broadcast every morning on the VHF radio where we can hear and share news, questions, and announcements.

One last thing.  The Bahamas are beautiful.  You could spend hours just looking at the sunrises, sunsets and everything in between.  The water is crystal clear and an indescribable color.  (The background on the computer version of this website is a picture we took of the water under our boat in the Exumas.) Dolphins are everywhere and no matter how many times we see them, we have to stop what we are doing and watch these mesmerizing creatures.

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What do we do for six months on our boat while in the Bahamas?  We “seas” each and every day.

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