Snap Back to Reality

Monday April 13, 2015

Old Bahama Bay Marina & Resort

Well, we’re back in Indiantown and back to the reality that we need to jump right into boat work in order to get ourselves moving along to see any hope of cruising again by the new year.

On how we got back here from the Bahamas though….  All four of us were up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to give ourselves as much time and as much daylight as possible for the 55 mile journey back to West Palm Beach and our familiar anchorage in Lake Worth.  We thought we might be the first ones out of the marina besides the fisherman that get out while the skies are still dark and a little hazy, but we found ourselves patiently waiting for three other sailboats to back themselves out and clear the channel before we could take our turn.

Out on the water we immediately raised our sails and finally caught those east trade winds at an angle that suited us perfectly.  Pointing on a southwest course to counteract the Gulf Stream, we were on a comfortable broad reach and serenely sailing along at 6.5 knots.  The day was sunny and perfect, and much of my time was spent behind the wheel.  The least I could do to earn my position on board, and honestly it felt kind of nice.  I might have to remind myself of that every now and then on our own boat when we’re always so quick to throw on the autopilot as soon as we exit a harbor.

Every few hours we’d check our position on the tablet to see how far was left and if we were staying on course.  It turned out that in my few hours behind the wheel I had actually been pointing us a little further south than we needed to be and we were actually coming in closer to Fort Lauderdale than West Palm Beach.  A few more alterations and we were heading in the right direction, although I may had inadvertently cost us an extra hour on the water.  Not normally a big deal, but it can be when you’re trying to beat the sunset. I guess we must have been fighting a much stronger current on the way over than coming back and our course was much closer to our heading this time around.

Realizing that we’d now be hitting the inlet around 9 pm wasn’t the worst thing in the world as we’d exited it in the dark and it would just mean a very sharp lookout for channel markers once more.  Knowing that we’d at least be at anchor that night though was a big relief.

Getting within about a half mile of the beginning of the channel we threw on  the now repaired engine and put the sails away.  Everything was looking good until we were only a quarter mile away and the engine shut down.  Not knowing what the issue was, Matt and Bob ran down below deck to diagnose it.  Joni and I stayed up on deck and since we still had a good bit of forward momentum, I kept us pointing at the channel in case the problem was fixed right away and we could continue our way in.  Looks like our slightly southern approach was paying off.

Another 20 minutes later though I was now upon the first buoy for the channel and there was still not a peep from the engine.  The guys still weren’t sure what the issue was but were going to bleed the fuel lines in case they had air in them.  It was the only thing that made sense to them.  This project was going to take at least another 20 minutes though and I didn’t have time to continue drifting NW before coming too close to shore and other unknowns.  Cranking the wheel another 40 degrees I turned us dead north and rode the Gulf Stream until the situation below was taken care of.

Under bare poles and through the current alone, Shamroga pushed forward at an amazing 3.5 knots.  When I did hear the roar of the engine again 20-25 minutes later we had already covered over a mile just by drifting and then had to fight the current south to get back to where we originally had been, traveling at 2 knots with the engine under almost full power.  Eventually we made it back to the original buoy and were able to point ourselves west and resume a normal pace.

Thanks to our powerful Ryobi flashlight and four sets of eyes on watch we navigated the ICW once more and finally dropped anchor just after 11 pm.  Too tired to worry about anything else or things that need to be put away, we cleaned up the essentials and pleasantly passed out in our cabins.  This morning Shamroga went into a marina in the North Palm area to look into it’s engine issues a litter further before continuing to motor up the ICW, and Matt and I were put in a taxi headed for Indiantown.

All in all it was a great learning experience on all ends.  I think Bob and Joni learned heaps about their new boat as well as a few techniques, and Matt and I learned what it was like to work on another boat and decided to tuck that knowledge away for any future events in which we might be called on for our services again.  Anyone looking for shakedown cruises with a couple of instructors this fall…just let us know.  If we can get away from boat work we might take you up on it.  Or it might be a good excuse to get away from boat work too.

And now here we find ourselves again, back in reality.  Too tired to get any work in today on cleaning Serendipity to get her in sell ready condition, but honestly, we didn’t quite leave her in the best living condition either.  Our last night here with the Sailing Conductors as well as an early morning the next day meant a few dishes in the sink and items strewn around the cabin as we hurried to pack.

We did meet a few new cruisers in the work yard though.  Funnily enough, the two new boats next to us happen to contain blog followers!  Dan, Simone, and Bobby are a group of three young Aussies that just finished up time working in Canada and decided that before they head back to Oz they needed a little adventure.  Originally planning to take a van on a road trip across the US they ditched that plan in favor of buying an inexpensive Irwin 32 to travel the Bahamas with for a few months instead.  The other boat is a Moody that was purchased by Scott and Ellen of The Cynical Sailor and his Salty Sidekick.  Ellen and I had actually been online chatting on and off for the past two years so the odds of them ending up two boats down from us was pretty crazy!

So that’s where we’re at now.  My parents are coming to visit in two weeks and we hope to have a lot of Serendipity’s last major projects ticked off by then.  Things like painting the bottom and sanding and varnishing the sole.  I know there’s also a million minor things that one of these days I really need to write down so I can begin slowly ticking them off instead of laying around in the heat mumbling “I don’t even know what I can work on today”.  Progress needs to start NOW.  Ok, maybe tomorrow.

Old Bahama Bay Resort & Marina, West End

Old Bahama Bay Resort & Marina

Old Bahama Bay Resort & Marina, Grand Bahama Island

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West End’s Junior Regatta

Saturday April 11, 2015

West End Junior Regatta

Looks like we’re stuck in the Bahamas one more day than anticipated because we can’t get the welded part back until this afternoon.  Oh darn, whatever will we do with our time here in paradise?

Ha, like that would ever be an issue here.  But even if we somehow couldn’t fill our day with lounging by the pool or snorkeling & paddle boarding at the beach or even lazily swinging in the hammocks strung between palm trees, there happened to be a local event going on this afternoon. A few local organizations were hosting a regatta for the regional children.  After having been to the Family Regatta in George Town Exumas last year, we knew we needed to go.

Getting into the resort’s office early in the day, we took out 4 bikes and set them aside for the ride into town later that afternoon. Our morning of course was spent basking in the glow of our beautiful surroundings and sipping coffee while munching on a blend of potatoes cooked to perfection in a cast iron skillet (after French Toast yesterday…yum!). Have I mentioned we’ve been very well fed on this job?  I really need to take some of these recipes back with me.  And clean off the two years of rust from my own cast iron skillet.

When it was time for the regatta to begin and we had built our appetites back up, the four of us cycled up the same road we had taken in to town yesterday only this time instead of two sets of tandem bikes we were each striding our own up the road.  Pulling up to the blocked off section of road we all wove through the barriers and parked our bikes behind a set of bleachers, parched and ready for a cool Bahamian beer. First there was the matter of food though and we stepped up to the folding tables that were just being set up for the day to see what was on the menu.

Between different options of BBQ; chicken; and fish, I had been looking at the barracuda with some interest until Matt shook his head no, it may not be safe for me to eat. Humph. Even though the BBQ and chicken were looking like delicious alternatives there was no way I could get myself all the way to the Bahamas and not enjoy one fish meal so I opted for the fried snapper that came with rice and coleslaw.  Bob and Joni had the same idea as me and as our meals were being prepared, Bob scuttled off to the liquor store up the street to grab us a few cold Kalik’s to enjoy with our meals.

The food was so good, and the friendly women working the stand even gave us each two fish because ‘dey’re a liddle on da small side’.  I’m sorry St. Martin, I know you’re supposed to be the ‘Friendly Island’ but the Bahamas should really swipe that title from you.

Just as the four of us were scooping the last bites of food into our mouths and draining the final drops of our beer, we realized that the regatta was already in motion.  There had been no horns or warnings and apparently we’d missed the first two legs thinking that all the kids were only out practicing.  Guess this is a little different than both adult regattas and the Wednesday night races I used to participate in.  Once we knew to pay attention to the action though we caught the last few minutes of the races before they finished.  Enjoying one more beer, we were all becoming tuckered out from the heat pretty quickly and made the decision to head back to the marina for more pool lounging before returning again in a few hours to see the high school marching band.

lunch at the regatta

Bahamian fried fish

Bob enjoying a Kalik

Jr Regatta, West End Grand Bahama Island

Joni walking the beach

pile of conch shells

Matt bicycling in West End

As we got ourselves back to the regatta in the late afternoon we could already hear the music from the band starting up.  Originally worried that we had missed the whole thing, it turned out they were just warming up and we were still in time for the show.  In fact, we still had a good 30 minutes to spare.

Grabbing an ice cold Coke and putting a few orders in for conch fritters, we took our spots on the bench and watched the children play in the water until the band actually began it’s march.  This was a little shorter than the police marching band we were treated to in George Town but it was still fun to watch the kids parade down the asphalt with their instruments.

There were still two more races for the evening which we enjoyed with more fritters, but by the time it came around to wait for the awards ceremony we agreed that we’d all had a pretty long day and would rather enjoy a nice leftover dinner at the boat instead of frequenting the food stands here again and waiting for the ear deafening music to begin thumping out of the speakers.  Tomorrow is going to be another long day after all.

Time for us to head back to the US, our vacation job is coming to an end and we still have those two boats back in Indiantown needing our attention.  Well, it’s been great while it lasted Bahamas, I hope we’re back in this exact spot around the new year on the new boat, celebrating with friends.

West End Bahamas marching band

High School marching band in West End

Jr. Regatta 1

Junior Regatta

Matt casting shadows

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Video: Snorkeling in West End

Friday April 10, 2015

Old Bahama Bay
Holy crap.  This place is spectacular.  I’m serious, if you ever find yourself in West End make sure you come to Old Bahama Bay Marina.  The grounds are gorgeous and the amenities are more than any cruiser could hope for.  Normally we’re just happy for a shower, a wifi connection, and maybe a laundry facility if we’re lucky. This place has hall that and so much more.  A pool surrounded by palm trees; land games like basketball, corn hole, and shuffleboard; free bicycles for touring town; and so many water sports.

Completely free with your stay you get the use of kayaks, paddle boards, and even a hobie cat! (Although the rudder was broken when we were there)  Three of us did take advantage of the paddle boards our first day there as well as used the bicycles to run into town to find a welder for the broken alternator bracket, but today was all about satisfying Bob’s craving for snorkeling.  As soon as he found out their boat would be headed to the Bahamas he went out and purchased all the gear and it was the one thing on his checklist during our stay.

Talking to the friendly staff we found out the best area for snorkeling on the grounds was currently off limit due to rip currents but if we walked down the beach a bit there was a small jetty of rocks that we should still be able to find some fish in.  True to their word, we did find all kinds of little fish in this area and I was even able to follow a sting ray for just a moment.  And to think that Matt and I were worried that we wouldn’t be able to pull our gear out for a whole 9-12 months when we left the Virgin Islands….

I also had the luck of trying out a GoPro for the first time during this little snorkeling adventure.  It wasn’t until we were back at the boat that I was able to look back at the footage and I’ll admit that I may not have always been shooting where I thought I was (for the most part I was wearing it on my head), but it was still fun and I was even able to put together a little video from the footage! I may have been a little slapdash putting it together since I wanted to get it up right away, but I hope you enjoy it.  🙂

Other than that, we’ve all been enjoying our time here immensely! The days are beautiful, the company is great, and Joni is an amazing cook that keeps us well fed morning, noon, and night.  This ‘job’ could not have come at a better time and I know we’ll be incredibly sad when it’s time for us to head home. Shamroga stern Shamroga side church West End Bahamas

mosaic window in church

Old Bahama Bay Marina

Old Bahama Bay Marina and Resort

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Bahamas Baby!

Thursday April 9, 2015

Old Bahama Bay Marina

The rigging is finished, the sails are on, the boat is fully stocked, and the weather is as much in our favor as we’re going to get it in the next week.  We are ready for the Bahamas.

Joining back up with Joni and Bob, Matt and I drove ourselves out to Sunset Marina where Shamroga was sitting on a mooring ball and all ready for the five of us to leave.  The fifth member of this party being Georgie, whom as soon as she was placed on board, took up her favorite hiding spot of that little open area under the gunnel where winch handles and sail ties are normally stored.  I can only wait to see her get into the ones in Daze Off where there is no easy way to be able to retrieve her.

Setting off down the ICW we made our way toward Lake Worth while taking turns behind the wheel and letting Joni get comfortable on the VHF to call in bridge openings.  Lunch was prepared for us on the calm waters of the Intra Costal and Matt and I had some of the tastiest grilled cheese sandwiches we’d ever sampled.  Having the meals included on this trip was turning into a total bonus.  Not that I had cracked one open while underway, but I did notice that Joni had stocked the boat up with a supply of Leinenkugel’s summer variety pack after I had mentioned last week that I had been dying to get my hands on a Berry Weiss at some point.  Not that either of us were expecting this to be a tough job, but it was looking like it was turning into a very nice all inclusive vacation for us.

Since the day had a bit of a late start, I believe we pulled into the bay in Stuart around 2 pm, we were just sneaking into Lake Worth as the sun was about to go down on us.  The guys took care of a few last minute preparations such as getting the dinghy and outboard on deck, while Joni cooked a delicious meal in the galley.  Without much to do myself, and not with the physical ability to do any heavy lifting with the guys, I cracked open one of my Leinenkugels and watched as the sun set over Shamroga, preparing myself for an early night.  With a 2:30 am alarm coming, we were going to need all the rest we could beforehand.

After dinner the four of us went about tucking everything away to make sure that nothing could bounce around or fall down, and checked the weather and tides one more time before tucking in for the night.  I’d forgotten how exhausting a day of simply motoring a boat could be, and was more than ready for bed by the time 9 pm rolled around.

Lake Worth, Florida

Georgie on Shamroga

Matt & Bob raising the outboard

sunset on Lake Worth

It turns out that having a spacious v-berth where you have the room to move about without rolling over on your partner in the process does help one to fall into a quick and deep sleep.  By the time the alarm went off I felt like I had accumulated enough REM to face the next few hours of getting out the inlet before being sent back to bed.  With Joni and I behind the wheel and Matt and Bob raising the anchor, we left Lake Worth  and followed the green and red markers of the ICW toward the Palm Beach Inlet.

With the chart plotter on board giving some issues we were using Navionics between two tablets and one really good flashlight to keep ourselves on course.  It took about an hour to get from the anchorage to the mouth of the inlet, but we were finally on our way!  Engine still on and sails down because we were pointing directly into the wind, Joni and I went below for the first sleep shift while the guys navigated out into the Gulf Stream.  Since the east winds were also pushing waves directly at us that were building up on the shallow banks surrounding the channel it was also quite a bumpy ride for the first hour.  Even though we’d stowed everything away as best we could a few items still found their way out and I even had a book or two crash down on me while sleeping. I felt bad for not getting up right away to put them back, but with it being such an issue with my rib to get from a flat position to a sitting one, I just pushed them to the side to be dealt with later.

When it was time to wake up and go on watch we found that we weren’t making as good of progress as we’d been hoping, only moving at about 3.5 knots.  With the last bits of the Florida shoreline still in sight it didn’t look like we’d be making it to West End by the early afternoon.  More calculations determined that we may not even get there before sunset.  But we did the best we could and just kept plugging along through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon.

Then in the early afternoon, a mini disaster struck.  There were issues with the engine and it had to be shut off asap.  As Matt and Bob went down to inspect the issues they could tell the alternator bracket had broke and something else was causing oil to spew out left and right.  This didn’t look like it was going to be a quick and easy fix.  When it was resolved that we couldn’t use the engine to get ourselves any further, possibly just for getting in  a channel but that’s it, we hoisted the sails to see if the Bahamas were still an option.

Angling ourselves on a SW heading we were able to go close hauled enough to set a course toward West End.  We still weren’t going fast by any means, about four knots once you took out the current working against us, but it was unanimous that we’d still rather make it there slowly than not at all.  It also meant either a night time arrival or slowing ourselves down to arrive at daybreak.  Checking over every single chart we had, Matt and I found an area that looked like it would be safe to anchor for a few hours, just outside the entrance to the Old Bahama Bay Marina where we’d made our reservation.

With some pretty smooth sailing for the rest of the journey and seas dying down to 1-2 ft it was quite an enjoyable ride and we all enjoyed lounging in the large cockpit until it was time for shifts again.  We ended up pulling into the anchorage around 5 am and got ourselves set with no issues.  Stating that we’d be up again in two hours to motor into the marina, that plan went out the window as we all allowed ourselves to catch up on a bit more sleep and enjoy a coffee and breakfast with the beautiful beach in front of us.  But alas, it was eventually time to get ourselves inside the marina and checked in to the country.

As Shamroga was directed in through the channel and into a slip, we found ourselves in hands down the most gorgeous marina I have ever seen.  It was idyllic.  It was picturesque.  It was everything you expect the Bahamas to be from movies and postcards and ads.  Every building was well kept for and painted a bright color, there were white sand beaches with hammocks hanging from palm trees; and the famous clear Bahamian water.  It may have been a lot of work to finally get here, but man was it worth it. A few hours later once all of us and the boat were legally inside, we raised the flag and popped the champagne.  Welcome to the Bahamas baby!!

Shamroga outside of West End

Bob opening champagne

Matt & Jessica, checked into Bahamas

Joni & Bob, checking into Bahamas

Bahamian flag & champagne

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Radio Beach Rocks

Monday May 12, 2014

rocks on Radio Beach, North Bimini

Did you think I meant ‘rocks’ as in ‘this place is so cool, I never want to leave it’?.  Well, although that is also true, I was talking about the actual rocks on Radio Beach in North Bimini.  Are they actually rocks?  Or are they coral?  Fossils?  I’m not quite sure, Google didn’t help me out too much on that one.  All I know is that last time we were here I didn’t get to see much of them because it was high tide during our afternoons at the beach.  On this round however, the tide was low and leaving them fully exposed for me to explore.

I don’t know what it was about this little chunk of water that was so irresistible to me, but I could just not stay away from it.  Walking on the rocks, amid the rocks, poking between the rocks with a stick.  You would have thought I was a six year old let lose on their first school field trip.  One thing is for sure though, whether they’re entertaining a six year old, or just a thirty-one year old who likes to act like one, these rocks/coral/fossil combined with the crystal clear waters behind them were absolutely stunning.

rocks on Radio Beach, North Bimini, Bahamas

North Bimini, Bahamas

Bimini rocks

tide pool at Radio Beach

Jessica on Radio Beach, North Bimini, Bahamas

dark clouds over Radio Beach, North Bimini

rain on Radio Beach, North Bimini

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What’s in Our Beach Bag?

Saturday May 10, 2014

what's in our beach bag

Now that we’re sitting in Bimini and waiting for a good weather window to cross back over to the Bahamas, we’ve finally had some time where we’re not rushing to be anywhere or trying to dodge bad weather, and have had some time to actually lay out on a beach in the Bahamas.  Crazy concept, I know.

Back in Isla Mujeres we became quite familiar with day trips to the beach and what we wanted packed in our beach bag.  No, we don’t go crazy with big umbrella’s (that’s what the shade of a palm tree is for), or even those little pop up tents (have you seen those things??!!), but we did find there were a few core items that we wanted with us each time.  So, besides the obvious things like sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good book, this is what you’ll find in our beach bag.

 

Our Beach Bag.

Well, we couldn’t really fill our beach bag if we didn’t have one to start with, and this one from Reisenthel has worked out fantastic for us.  It’s the perfect size that it fits everything we need, but not so big that I think I’m going to dislocate my shoulder on my walks to and from the beach.  Near the bottom is an expandable zipper that gives me just a little extra space when I need it, and even has a convenient credit card holder on the very bottom of the bag.  Plus, this thing is tough.  Made up of a tearproof polyester fabric, we don’t have to worry about any stress that’s being put on it, or the tree branches poking out at us as we tried to find a shortcut to the beach that didn’t really turn out to be one.  Water and sand brush right off, which is also a big thing for us since we don’t want to be tracking any of it back to the boat.  Whatever we try to throw at this bag, it stands up to it.

reisenthel shopper e 1

Our beach blanket.

Although we do still have about two beach towels sitting on the boat, they’ve long been retired from actually making their way to the beach and instead just serve a purpose of drying us off after some of our showers when we can’t find or don’t feel like using our chamois.  At the beach, we use a large sarong that we purchased, fittingly, on the beaches of Mancora Peru, where a gentleman was walking through the sand trying to sell them to tourist.  Best beach purchase ever.  Not only is it much more lightweight and less bulky than trying to shove a couple of towels in our bag, but it doesn’t trap sand in it’s little fibers!  Do you know how great it is to just be able to quickly shake it out and know that it can go right back to it’s storage spot in the cabin without having to be washed first?  Plus it dries extremely quick.  Hang it on the lifelines for an hour or two and it’s dry as a bone.

sarong as beach towel

 Sexy husband sold separately.

 

Music.

In my opinion, you just can’t have a good day at the beach if you don’t have good music to pair it with.  Not only do we not have a boombox, but if we did have one it wouldn’t be practical for our lifestyle, so we wanted to stay away from anything like that.  Which is ok, because we’ve found something much better.  the XBoom is a small little speaker that fits in the palm of your hand but produces a mega sound.  We plug it into our MP3 player (which honestly is a little outdated and could use replacing), but it can work with any device such as computers, tablets, and phones.  The sound that comes out of this little speaker is anything but small and is also incredibly clear.  It’s the perfect beach accessory and so portable that it could be used in any of a variety of other places as well.  I just wish we would have had it around for all of those dinners in the ranchito back in Guatemala.

Xboom portable speaker

Our cooler.

Sticking with the boating theme of everything must be as compact as possible, and if it folds down then it’s even better, our cooler is just a small Thermos lunch duffel that can roughly fit about six cans of pop (or beer) and two small apples (chocolate bars).  But seriously, this thing is awesome!  It has a zip top closure, of which has never rusted on us, and we’ve always been able to fit everything we need in there, although if we happened to be bigger partiers or socializers we probably would have gone for a little bit bigger of a size.  Granted, this is not the option you choose when you need to throw together a bag of ice and a 24 pack for an all day bender (between many people of course), but this bag will keep cold items cold, and if you add a little ice pack like we do, they’ll stay cold all day.  Plus it’s just as tough and durable as our Reisenthel bag, which means that for short hikes or sundowners on another boat, this little sucker is all that we need.

Thermos lunch duffle

 Don’t you like our fish shaped bottle opener?  A very important addition.

 

 

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The Still Lost City of Atlantis

Thursday May 8, 2014

NW Bimini

Everyone has heard of the lost city of Atlantis, right? A highly developed society constructed  in script by Plato that supposedly sunk into the sea? Did you know that right here in Bimini Bahamas, they claim to have remains of this lost city? Or at least, the road leading to it. That’s right, situated on the NW side of the island just off Paradise Point is the Bimini road, an underwater rock formation that is so precisely laid out that it is claimed to have once been a man made road or wall, and is now currently sitting 15 or so feet below the water’s surface.

When we were here just a month ago I had desperately wanted to dive (snorkel) this site, but it was just waaaay more than our dinghy would have been able to handle, about five miles each way from where we had been sitting all the way up the channel inside. Since we had no reason to rush ourselves in this morning, in fact, we needed to wait for an incoming tide, we decided to time our departure from the anchorage in the afternoon which meant we had the whole morning to find and explore the Bimini Road. After our morning coffee to fully wake ourselves up, we checked the spot where I had plugged the coordinates in our chart plotter and with the destined spot now in mind, we hopped in the dinghy and sped off at all our little Mercury 3.3 could give us. Our guidebook along with the coordinates, also stated there was a buoy marking the site and you could not miss it. Only…we could. As far as we could see on the horizon, the only buoys that seemed to be littering our view were bright orange ones that were marking off construction zones for a new pier that is being installed.

At this point we realized that we should have put the coordinates into our little hand held GPS and brought it with us, but now, just like in that scene at the beginning of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, although we could still see the boat, we deemed that we’d ‘Already gone too far’ and didn’t want to head back to get it. The next best option was to have Matt stick his goggled head underwater each time we came up to a dark patch in the water only to find out that each of these dark patches was a bed of eel grass. There were a few rocks out in the water that were supposed to be marking the start, or end, or side, or some relation to the road, so we kept focusing on that area to no avail. Then we realized what we’d really been wanting to do all along. Catch some dinner at the end of our pole spear.

Four weeks in the Bahamas so far and we’d never been out for one spear fishing adventure. This was going to be our last opportunity, and if we couldn’t swim the underwater road to a mythological city, well damn it, we still weren’t going to go home empty handed. Based on the kind of below the surface life we found back at Emerald Rock in Warderick Wells, the rocks we had been skirting around all morning seemed like the perfect place to gouge things. Dropping the anchor to the dinghy in a sandy spot to the side we fell back in the water and were instantly greeted with bright purple fan coral and a small shelf of rock hiding glass eyed snappers below. I thought Matt would have to work at his rusty skills for awhile since it’s been over a year since he’s last stabbed anything, but on his third attempt he was already swimming to the surface with a punctured fish on his spear. Score! That was half a dinner right there, we just needed a few more to fill our plates up for a few nights.

Rounding all angles of the large rock now we first scanned to see what was available to eat before just shooting anything that moved. There were a lot of fish we hadn’t seen in quite some time, and a few new ones we couldn’t identify as well. Continuing around the edges we’d kick down the 5-6 feet below us to look in all nooks and I kept a close eye out for any lobster. We didn’t see any of those, but did come across something much much better. At the east side of the rock was a large tunnel that wasn’t visible above water, but once you got down a few feet you could see that it let from one side of the rock right out to the other. Except, you couldn’t quite see it clearly due to all the fish swaying back and forth in there with the tide. It was literally a wall of fish with a few specs of light filtering through here and there. Matt was completely ready to go in and do a little exploring, but my nerves got the best of me and made it apparent to him I would be waiting outside. He decided to forgo it if I wasn’t going along, we wanted to make sure to always have an eye on each other, and took the long way around instead.

Getting from one side to the other was a little tricky due to the shallowness of the coral and rock in some areas. We had to swim over rugged edges of rock that were mere inches away from our belly, all the while fighting against the crests of waves that were building up due to the shallow waters. Doing a circumnavigation of the rock we ended up on the south side for the best fishing, where a group of yellow fish that we can’t remember their name but ate all the time last year were hanging out. 15 more minutes in that spot and we had two more fish in the dinghy, ready to make their way to the dinner table that night.

Even though that spot had been treating us well we settled on a change of scenery and snorkeled past the dinghy to the next rock where we didn’t see many good fishing opportunities, but we did see parts of something that looked suspiciously like an underwater rock formation. The beginning of the Bimini Road perhaps? Hmmmm….I’m going to say yes just so I can say that we actually did snorkel it. Since we had lost sight of the rest of the road and had also lost sight of any good fishing, we moved ourselves and the dinghy to the northernmost rock of the formation. Wow. All I can say about this rock is wow. Best snorkeling we’ve seen in the Bahamas yet this year. Not only was there colorful coral abound, but there were underwater bays full of hundreds and hundreds of fish! We could have had enough fish to last us a year by staying in this spot had two unfavorable things not happened. The first is that the elastic band on our pull spear kept breaking. Matt was able to fix it two times, luckily since one of those time brought in another fish for us to eat, but after that it was deemed unusable for the rest of the day. The other thing was the biggest barracuda I’ve ever seen, and it would not leave our eyesight. It’s one thing just to swim with them, but when we have a bloody fish between us and them, well, let’s just say we don’t want to find out in person how they handle that.

I can’t say we were too disappointed with our day though. Great snorkeling, great fish gazing and spearing, and swimming the Bimini Road (yup, I’m calling it!). Once we had the fish on deck and cleaned into edible fillets, still need to hone that skill a little, we upped anchor to make our way out of the swells that were building and into the safety of the harbor where we were greeted with a calm anchorage and internet access. For dinner we enjoyed a breathtaking sunset and fish tacos where I decided that it was a special enough occasion to pull out my second to last Red Stripe (yup, part of the 24 pk I bought in Jamaica last May). Our time in the Bahamas now officially feels as if it’s at an end, we’ll probably be leaving on the next available weather window although it’s probably still a few days out. I can’t believe how fast it’s already gone by. Last time we were counting down the days until we could get out, now we’re savoring each day that we still have here.

Bimini sunset

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Making Miles

Wednesday May 7, 2014

Exuma Banks

There was only one thing left on my Exuma wish list, and sadly, I did not get to complete it.  The last item on the list that we missed out on last year and I wanted to squeeze in this time around was stopping at Norman’s Cay, just about 10 miles north of Warderick Wells.  This spot is famous for being the headquarters of drug smuggling operations for Carlos Lehder (even featured in one of my favorite movies, Blow), and even though the drug runners have been gone for about 30 years now, this little island still has a few draws.  There’s the famous McDuff’s restaurant where we hear you can pay $20 for a single burger (thanks, I think we would have passed on that one), and the sunken remains of an airplane that lies just a few feel below the water and is perfect for snorkeling.  That is the reason I wanted to visit.  But according to Kim and Jereme, whom had just come from there, getting to the plane from the anchorage we would have been in on the west side of the island would have been very far in the dingy and very hard at times with the current ripping through the cut between islands, where the wreckage lies.

Well, since our intended plan had been to anchor at Norman’s Cay, then Allen’s Cay; Nassua, Berry’s; Great Bahama Banks; and finally Bimini, and now it wasn’t likely that I’d even be able to see the one sight I wanted to go to Norman’s for, we decided to skip it all.  After talking to a couple from s/v Sea Witch while out snorkeling the other day, they mentioned there would be steady east winds for the next three days that they themselves would be riding directly back to their home port of Palm Beach.  We took a moment to think about it, and this is what we came up with.  We need/want to be back in Miami by May 15th to give ourselves at least two weeks to prepare the boat for our Atlantic crossing with a departure date for that of June 1st (weather dependent).  If we were to still hit all of these intended anchorages, even just staying for one night, that wouldn’t put us back to Bimini until the 12th.  Doable, but any bad weather could quickly put us behind schedule.  Or…we could skip all of that and head directly back to Bimini from Warderick Wells.  So that’s what we decided to do.

Matt was a little more enthusiastic about this ‘go go go’ idea than I was, I wasn’t ready to give up these excruciatingly beautiful anchorages just yet, but he’s been indulging me throughout all of the Bahamas so far, so he did not hear any complaints from me when he asked for this one favor back.  He was ready to get into ocean crossing prep mode, and after 8 days, I was just excited at the thought of getting internet back.  Anchor was weighed at 9 am yesterday under sail power alone, and we slid out into the calm waters of the Exuma Banks.  Due to the east winds and still being so close to shore, we enjoyed a good five hours of extremely settled water where it was hard to tell we were even moving.  Poor Georgie, who probably assumed we were still at anchor since it was so calm, didn’t understand why she was being reprimanded as she tried to wander the deck.  We still never want to take the chance that she might go overboard while underway and contain her to the cockpit, but unless conditions are pretty rough we won’t actually force her leash secured leash on her, letting her wander the cockpit and cabin.

Although we were headed in a NW direction, the winds had clocked just south enough to keep fairly downwind the whole way.  Things did start to pick up yesterday evening where the waves began to build just a little and even though our apparent wind was only in the 15-20 knot range, we were keeping a steady 7 knots under our hull.  We passed Nassau just at sunset and then I was sent to bed.  Even though we were speeding along and would normally reduce sail once the sun went down (just so a reef doesn’t have to be put in when one person is trying to sleep…we just take care of it beforehand), there was an unspoken wish between us that we might actually cover all our miles to Bimini before sundown the next night, but we needed to keep going fast to do that.  It was only when I had been down below for a few hours, never actually catching any sleep, that I felt a sudden knock on our side.  A big gust had come up and basically thrown us over and rounded us up into the wind.  Ok…time to slow down a little.  Matt brought in the headsail, but even in doing so we still managed to keep 6 knots under our hull until getting in the lee of the Berrys.

The NW Channel was crossed over at 3 am, and something we would normally never do in the dark, except we still had our track on the chart plotter from the first time we passed through and we made sure to stick to it exactly.  Surrounding us were the lights of anchored boats that had dropped hook in the shallow waters just before the pass, waiting until morning to make their run through it.  By this point I had been on shift for three hours, and since I had not managed to accumulate any sleep from my first shift below, Matt let me go down early to catch a few hours even though I still owed him two more. (We made sure to both be up for crossing the channel)

The rest of our sail today through the banks was rather uneventful, although I wish some excitement would have come in the form of fish biting on our line.  We didn’t even have any barracuda to throw back.*  I guess in the world of yin and yang though, we had to give something up to get something in return.  Our journey might have been fish-less, but it was also fast.  We rounded the North Rock of Bimini at four in the afternoon, plenty of time to get ourselves to a comfortable anchorage for the night.  Since the tide was now coming out though and we would prefer it to be at our backs instead of fighting it on our way in, we decided to anchor outside of the harbor for the night.  Which not only satisfied my wish for at least one more beautiful anchorage, but it might satisfy my wish for good snorkeling as well.  Because we have just put ourselves in a prime spot to check out the Bimini Road tomorrow morning.

 

*Imagine my disappointment when, as soon as I logged into our Facebook account after having scheduled a bunch of post to go up as we were heading up the Exumas, one of our readers pointed out to me that the first time we crossed the banks our first catch was not actually a barracuda, but a mackerel!!  Something we could have eaten!!  Thanks for letting us know Ben, we’ll make sure to keep a sharper eye out the next time.  It was those damn big teeth that had us confused the first time.

 

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Exuma Land & Sea Park

Monday May 5, 2014

Exuma Land & Sea Park

Keeping as true to my Exuma wish list as possible, since we’ve now already skipped the sunken sculptures at Musha Cay, when Matt asked what our next stop was, I told him ‘Warderick Wells!’.  This is one spot I’m actually very sad we missed out on last year, and as soon as we pulled into the anchorage and then brought the dinghy out by the park headquarters, Matt was as well.  This place is b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!  As well it should be, too.  That’s because Warderick Wells is part of the Exuma Land & Sea Park, a 22 mile stretch of sea and cays that are protected under the Bahamas National Trust where they like to promote the saying ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints’.  Meaning you take no fish, plants, flowers, ect, and do not leave any trash behind.  It’s a great concept and the island has definitely benefited from it.

Warderick Wells hosts two big claims to fame among the cays that make up the Land & Sea park.  Not only does it contain the park headquarters (ok, that’s not actually one of them), but it has a stunning horseshoe anchorage filled with mooring balls to preserve the seabed below, and just a few hundred meters away from this is Boo Boo Hill.  The lore of Boo Boo Hill is that many years ago, a schooner sank off the shores of Warderick Wells on a stormy night and that every soul on board perished.  They still like to haunt the area though, and legend has it that if you climb the crest of the hill at the bloom of a full moon, you can hear the voices of the lost souls singing hymns.  We weren’t up for night hiking, and I don’t think we were even anywhere near a full moon, but a hike up the hill sounded fun enough.

anchorage at Warderick Wells

The term hike should be used very lightly though, and after a few minute uphill climb in which I never even had the chance to become short of breath, we were at the top.  The views up there were spectacular, but that wasn’t the only thing we had come to behold.  For you see, there’s been a tradition going on here between cruisers for quite a few years now.  Keeping with the theme of the natural reserve, cruisers have been leaving their mark at the top of this hill in the form of driftwood with their boat name painted or burned into it.  We didn’t have anything to leave as a memento, nor were we planning to, but the stunning views we were afforded at the top was well worth the trip in.  Through the mass of driftwood we tried to search out friends that we knew left pieces behind, but the crowd of 2014 was exceedingly strong and we would have had to do a lot of digging to unearth anything older.

Boo Boo Hill, Warderick Wells

Jessica on top of Boo Boo Hill

looking down Boo Boo Hill

 There was one sight we spotted at the top of Boo Boo Hill that we weren’t expecting too see but extremely happy we did.  Sitting on a mooring ball was s/v Laho, belonging to our friends Kim and Jereme that we hadn’t seen or talked to after spending a night out in the Bahama Banks, something we still hope they don’t hold against us.  (‘Oh, this uncontrollably rolly anchorage out in the middle of nowhere?  We’ll be fiiiiine.’)  Getting back in the dinghy we planned on doing a ride-by stalking to see if anyone was aboard, whilst trying to pretend that we were just checking out the mooring field.  Coming up on Laho we saw that in was in fact their boat, but it didn’t appear as if anyone was home.  There were however a group of dinghies gathered in the center of the anchorage where low tide had provided a couple of lavish sandbars that would be the perfect spot to enjoy a sundowner, and we cut the dinghy over to see if they were among the crowd.

The crowd however, completely dispersed as we came up on it, and we think we saw Kim, Jereme, and Oliver riding off in a direction back toward their boat.  Not wanting to actually stalk them by immediately turning ourselves back around, we landed the dinghy at the sandbar and walked around for a few minutes before trying Laho a second time, where we were eagerly invited aboard and offered cold beers while the four of us filled each other in on lost time.  With both boats being stuck for at least one more day due to a front coming through, I made sure that Kim didn’t mind me stopping back over once more so that I could return her favorite hair clip that I borrowed during our casino night and forgot to give back in the excitement of Jereme falling out of our dinghy on the way back to the boats.  That was just a cover story though.  What I was really after was Photoshop lessons so my photos can begin to look anywhere near as amazing as hers.*

Matt on sand bar

Warderick Wells at low tide

 The promised storm did come howling through in the middle of the night, waking us up at 2 am while 35-40 knot winds straightened out all our anchor chain and left Matt in the cabin to sleep in case any quick action needed to be taken.  None did, and 30 minutes later everything calmed back down to the peaceful 15-20 knots we’re used to.  What the storm did leave in it’s wake though were larger than normal seas on the Banks side of the island, the one we were exposed to.  We have not been doing well so far this year in trying to hide ourselves from west winds, and the result has been us rocking back and forth, familiar to those dreaded swells we experienced back in Grand Cayman.  This now being our second day of experiencing them, I could not handle it anymore.  Calling up Kim on the VHF, I begged her to let me take refuge on Laho for a few hours. I think the phrase ‘I’m going to burn this boat down’ was starting to make it’s way back into my vocabulary.

Knowing that I couldn’t show up empty handed again, I made a quick batch of Johnny Bread after following a recipe on my friend Brittany’s blog.  For being a first time attempt I think it came out pretty good, albeit a little more burned than I would have liked, but coupled with a side of strawberry jam I figured it was a very presentable gift for my gracious host, who in turn, handed me a cold Bud Light upon my arrival.  You gotta love how these trades work on the high seas.  Plus all the valuable lessons and tools I picked up from Kim to use on my CS6, well, let’s just say I think I ended up in the black for the day.  (Or week)

storms over Warderick Wells

storms over Warderick Wells

Georgie watching fish

Today we got off the boat to do a little more exploration of the island in the form of snorkeling and hiking.  There are a few patches of coral marked off in the anchorage we’re in at Emerald Bay, and taking the dinghy over we dropped hook in sandy patches next to the reefs and devoured every colorful fish and piece of brain coral we could take in.  I’ll be honest, it didn’t compare to the diving we did in the Ragged Islands last year, but it was our first chance to see anything underwater this year and we were soaking it all in.  Once we had finished on the three pieced of coral in the bay we took to diving Emerald Rock itself and found much more life there.  Matt spent tons of time in the water sneaking into every little crevice he could find, but the 5 ft barracuda that kept eyeing me, even though I knew it wouldn’t do anything, sent be back to the dinghy to soak up some sun and get warm instead.

After lunch we took to the shore and let Georgie join us.  We’ve decided that even though she loathes dinghy rides, we want to get her off the boat when possible so she can add a few new sights and smells to her world.  As soon as she was dropped off on the beach she began rolling around in the sand and chasing Matt as he ran near the waters edge.  In short, she was acting kind of like…a dog.  We were even able to get her to walk on her leash and we hiked up one of the trails to some ruins, and as long as one of us was in the front leading the way, she was completely content to follow.  It wasn’t until we were back on the beach that we remembered all the signs posted asking you not to bring your pets on the trails and to keep them on the beaches.  Ohhh, right.  She is a ‘pet’.  I forgot.  Cats walking on leashes tend to do that to you.

beach at Warderick Wells

Davis Plantation Trail marker

Matt walking Georgie

Jessica at Warderick Wells

We could have spent all afternoon resting on that beach, and Matt had even picked out a little cove where he would love to anchor Serendipity for a month straight if we had the time, but true to the Bahamian nature we’ve been experiencing so far this year, the sun was quickly overtaken by approaching clouds and sending us running back to the boat to close all the hatches before something really nasty blew in.  With two and a half days here though, I think we still managed to get the full experience in. Verdict of Warderick Wells:  Exquisitely beautiful and well worth the stop.

5.4.14 (14)

 *Now that we’re back in Miami we are hunting down deals for me to buy a new DSLR body so I can stop shooting with my Cyber Shot.  I am so over the moon about the prospect of being able to shoot great photos again.  Thank you mom for the gift, you’re the best!!

 

 

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Staniel, Baby, One More Time

Friday May 2, 2014

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This year’s trip to the Bahamas was supposed to be all about seeing places that we never visited before since we rushed through so much of it last year. Why spend what little time here seeing things we already have before? This rule has already been broken twice when we stopped in Nassau, although that really is the only middle ground between the Berry’s and the Exumas, and when we stopped in Georgetown, but that was to see friends and therefore totally excusable. This last stop though, well it is another double of last year, but we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Staniel Cay and Big Majors have two major things going for them as far as sightseeing, and although we did see/experience both of them last year, there was no way I could pass them up again being as close as we were. Staniel Cay is home to the famous Thunderball Grotto, even featured in two James Bond films, as an underwater cave filled with fish and a grand opening in the center allowing you to view the cavernous walls as well as some erosion near the ceiling that allows in a bit of light.  Right next door on Big Majors is Pig Beach where, true to it’s name, is filled with a dozen or so very large pigs that will actually swim out to your dinghy looking for food scraps.  Can I really be expected to pass that up?

Making the decision to skip Mush/Rudder Cay and David Copperfield’s sunken sculptures due to tide/current conflicts, we left Adderley Cut with the the east winds and incoming current working together against us, but at least not against each other.  This left a calm progress out the cut at 3 knots.  The slow speed I could handle versus rushing out into whitecaps.  The Exuma Sound was full of large rolling waves though since winds have been steady and out of the east for a few days now.  Raising the main we tried to keep a relatively low speed so that when we reached Dotham Cut we could ride the tide in, something that wouldn’t be happening until after four in the afternoon.  On the ride north though, we saw an electric blue light in the water that at first had us completely puzzled until we realized it was a mahi swimming just a few hundred feet off the boat!  Having had our fishing line out all morning already we changed course to try and tempt it onto our line, but the only thing that prevailed from this side trip was that we helped to waste a little extra time.  It wasn’t enough to get us to the changing tide though, and we still ended up heaving to for two hours until we found it safe to pass through Dotham Cut.  Under sail alone.  Matt is really starting to prep me for our Atlantic crossing by making sure we don’t have to rely on our engine for those times we won’t be able to use it.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club

streets of Staniel Cay, Exumas

boat carrying palm trees

We had the luck of arriving to Staniel just after the mail boat which meant fresh produce for us at the stores.  Not having purchased anything since Ft. Lauderdale, our heads were full of the thoughts of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, about the only things we haven’t been able to keep a six week supply of on the boat.  I used to include things like apples on that list, but it seems like even when they are bountiful and in front of me I can’t force myself to eat them over whatever junk food we have around.  Now it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even snack between meals.  With fresh fruit out of the picture, the only snack foods we seem to be left with are the now staling granola bars that we purchased all the way back in Cayman, and personally, I’d just rather go without than be forced to eat them.

After picking up a few staples for cooking though and even securing myself a can of ginger beer which will later be turned into a dark & stormy, we were back to the boat and ready to put our things away in order to rush over to the beach and visit the pigs.  Last year we had tried to lure them to us with lettuce which we had read plenty accounts of other people feeding them, only to find that things have changed and you better show up with carrots or oranges, lest you be ignored by them.  Carrots happened to be something we had managed to retain a few of, and sure enough, these pigs were ready to accept them.  I hadn’t thought far enough ahead though to break the carrots into smaller pieces before leaving the boat, and wanting to spread the for as long as between as many pigs as possible, I was rapidly trying to do this once we had landed the dinghy on the beach.  The pigs however, were incredibly impatient and when they noticed I had food in my hands that was not being passed immediately to their open mouth, they got a little nippy and let me know of their displeasure by nibbling at the bottom of my shirt.

If you haven’t ever seen the size of these pigs you might be thinking to yourself, “Awww, how cute!”.  But these are not cute little pigs.  Although they did actually seem pretty well trained to tourist and I don’t think they planned on causing me any harm, I think they could have if they wanted to.  I’ve never started snapping carrots as fast as those moments I thought they might eat my shirt off if I didn’t give them something else to eat right away.  Being sly of hand and quick of foot though, I did manage to get myself away with a few small pieces still in my bag, to divide up between feeding to the new piglets that weren’t here last year, and letting Matt get some feeding in as well.  As soon as the food was gone we watched these massive pre-cooked pieces of bacon wander around the beach and in the water for a little bit before they lost interest in us and made their way back into the thick of the island.

Jessica with pigs at Big Majors

pig from Big Major's Cay

Jessica with piglet at Big Majors

family of pigs at Big Majors

piglet checking out dinghy

Matt feeding pig

Most of our other free time anchored here in Big Majors has been spent soaking up the amazing beauty surrounding us.  If I haven’t already mentioned how appreciative we are this time around of how stunning these anchorages are, or how clear and beautiful the waters are in the Bahamas, we definitely are.  Yesterday I forced Matt into those waters just after we got back from visiting with the pigs so he could do a little more cleaning of the bottom of the boat.  He whined that it was getting too close to shark-thirty and he might be better putting it off for one more day, but I tried to put his fears at rest by telling him that there was still three hours before sunset and the sharks wouldn’t possibly be out yet.  Which is why I had a little bit of a surprise when I was down below changing into my suit so I could join him for a refreshing dip in the water when I heard him yelling from the stern, “Jessica!!  Get out here now!!”  I rushed out, barley being able to cover myself, to see what all the excitement was about.  He pointed to a dark spot just a few feet from the boat and exclaimed “Shark!!”.  Yup, I had forced my husband into shark infested waters.  It turned out to only be a 5-6 ft nurse shark that was happy to ignore us both (I quickly got in the water to see it better with my snorkel gear), but for Matt, having a dark looming shadow pass just feet below you while you’re not expecting it can give you quite a scare.

Today we made our way over to the Thunderball Grotto to get our first real snorkeling in this year, and I could not have been more excited.  Slack tide wasn’t until 5:30 in the evening, and with Matt’s shark scare yesterday, he was not too fond of going that late.  We bumped up our time a little bit and, since we knew the lay of the land, weren’t too worried about any current that might be running through it.  We dropped anchor in the dinghy just outside the entrance next to about five other dinghies or small boats.  I had come prepared with a ziploc full of corn to feed the fish, and both of us rushed our way into the cavernous entrance of the grotto.  Weaving through other tourist, we found a spot that had the most fish gathering in it and quickly went through all the corn as I tried to reach out and brush any fish that came by for a snack.  The currents were a little stronger than we had experienced last year which didn’t allow as much time floating in one spot to watch all the underwater life below you before bumping into the cave walls.

We’d heard it last year, and even in the span of 13 months have unfortunately found it to be true, but the fish in this area seem to be disappearing quite quickly.  Upon talking to a cruiser just as we were about to make our way into the grotto for the first time last year, he mentioned that ten years ago there were four times as many fish as there were now.  Having been one of our very first snorkel spots in the Bahamas, we didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised at the amount of fish we had been able to see at that time.  Even one year later though, it was very apparent to us that there weren’t as many fish as last year.  It’s been a subject that’s been coming up in the news a lot lately, and we seem to be experiencing it first hand, but it looks as if our oceans are starting to empty of life.  Which although as sad as it is, just gives me one more reason to appreciate that Matt and I are out exploring the world right now.  Who knows what we’d be left with if we waited 30 more years.

fish at Thunderball Grotto

cave at Thunderball Grotto

Matt inside Thunderball Grotto

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