Sunday, November 30, 2014

Windy weather, Birthday Girl and menacing lizards

Happy Second Birthday to grand-daughter Reagan! We have known, from early in our planning, that we were going to feel really bad missing this day with her. And we do. We will do our best to make up for it when we return. Yesterday, she had a party, complete with pony-rides and a petting zoo. It sounds like it was a wonderful time for her and everyone that attended. Here, we, also, had some adventures with animals. Judging from the pictures, Reagan had more fun than we did.
She loves the pony!

Too cute.

























I have some time on my hands today so this may become a long and rambling blog. The winds are out of the east-northeast at 25 knots, gusting over 30 regularly. And, according to the weather, this is not going to be the worst day we see.  As a result, we are condemned to just sit.





We are anchored about a mile and a half north of Farmer’s Cay, up against the shore as close as we dare get, behind a bluff that helps block the wind. On our side of the bluff, since there is not much fetch between us and the beach, we are not getting too much wave action. The wind howls over the top (a towering 60 feet) and right over SeaClearly and out onto the banks. 

Another gorgeous Exumas view

Note white plume of spray left of center
On the other side of the bluff is the Exuma Sound which is, for all intents and purposes, the ocean. It is crashing against the east side of the bluff with such power that we regularly see geysers of white sea-spray rising above the top of the island. This serves to reinforce the fact that we are not sailing into the ocean anytime soon. The wind will, probably, prevent us from taking the dinghy over to the town today. Being Sunday, we might not find anything open anyway. But, we have a direct line of sight to the BTC tower on Farmer’s Cay giving us good cell and data coverage. All things considered, not a bad spot.
SeaClearly tucked up to the beach. Well, OK, we are
about 300 yards off the beach but, at low tide, we only have
about 2 1/2 feet of water below us. So, no closer!

Farmer's Cay and the BTC tower. A bit of a dinghy ride
across open water in big winds.





We moved here from Bitter Guana Cay yesterday morning. The move was interesting but I’ll get back to that story later on. First, I have to back up and talk about our stay there. We went there, mostly, out of frustration. We had been sitting in the harbor at Black Point for many days. Just before that, we sat in the marina at Staniel Cay waiting for parts for many days. The weather forecast implied that we would continue to sit for many days. So, we had to take some sort of action to prove that we were still in charge of our destiny. Moving 5 miles in the rain and wind to sit somewhere else may not seem like a real bright move but it had to be done. And, there were reports that Bitter Guana Cay had some great hiking trails and some endangered iguanas.

Beautiful cliffs and caves at Bitter Guana Cay.
By the time we moved SeaClearly to the new anchorage, the day had turned too ugly for anything but fixing our Thanksgiving dinner. It was the next day before we could consider doing anything else. The morning was already windy but, in the shelter of the cove, it was not bad and it looked like a nice beach. About mid-morning, Junie saw the first of the iguanas venture out and start moving around on the beach.  This looked like it was going to be fun. After some lunch, we got our stuff together for a beach trip – back pack with water, sunscreen, bug spray, jacket – expecting a hike to the top of the rocks.



As we got near the beach, the iguanas started coming out of the brush. Many of them. Some running.  I pointed the dinghy further north along the beach to a spot away from the iguanas but more of them came out of the scrub.  As we approached the beach, we looked down through the clear water, watching for the right time to stop and lift the motor to avoid digging into the sand. Junie thought it was starting to get shallow so she slid off the side of the dinghy – and disappeared! The water was still over 6 feet deep but so clear it is just hard to tell. She came up sputtering, got her feet on the bottom and started pulling the dinghy to shore. The iguanas started running towards us from everywhere.

These are not little lizards. They are 2 to 3 ½ feet long. And fast. I don’t know much about iguanas but I know that they are prehistoric-looking, a little weird and intimidating in large numbers. Sure, they say they eat leaves and grass and stuff. But, they have been on this island a long time. Maybe they are evolving. We got the dinghy ashore and I started to carry the little anchor up into the rocks to secure the boat. Junie stayed in the water about knee-deep because the iguanas did not seem to like the water.  I walked up into the bushes and rough rocks above the beach-line and dropped the anchor. As I headed back toward the beach, they rushed me. I swear to God, they charged.


Attack of the Killer Iguanas!

Bad Ass - owner of the beach











Now, we have traveled hundreds of miles, crossed the Gulf Stream, sailed through the night, anchored in remote places and dealt with all kinds of scary stuff. But we both were freaked out by the iguanas. Despite clear, posted regulations against harassing the endangered animals, I yelled at them, flailed my arms and swung the anchor line at them. The lead two skittered past me but the leader, Bad Ass, just stopped and stared at me. Standing on my anchor line. 
I eased cautiously around him back to the beach where Junie had filmed the entire show on the GoPro. Great.  Documentation of my little girl reaction to a bunch of over-grown geckos.  Junie, however, had no intention of leaving the protection of the water. And, the idea of hiking through the rocks and scrub with the potential of man-eating lizards lurking around every turn was not attractive. We, literally, drug the dinghy along in 2 feet of water, just beyond the reach of the iguanas, so we could see the beach. They followed us every step of the way. It was really weird. I am sure that they, just like the swimming pigs of Big Majors, have been fed too many times by people in boats. I am really glad these guys weren't swimmers. Go ahead. Say what you will. You weren't there.

Back on SeaClearly, we were, once again, antsy and ready to move. Especially since, it was clear, we would not be enjoying extended beach time and long walks. On this island, iguanas rule. The weather forecast was no different so we were not going out into the ocean anytime soon. But, hey, we could move south again inside the islands and find something new. We chose this spot above Farmer’s Cay as our next stop. We pulled up the 175 feet of chain and the anchor (with a minor snag thrown in for excitement) and turned north to clear out of the cove.


As soon as we cleared the north point of the rocks, we were exposed to the full force of both the wind and the incoming tide as it came in through the narrow cut to the ocean.  SeaClearly went from 3 knots Speed-Over-Ground (SOG) to 9 .2 knots in about 30 seconds. We were like a leaf floating down a ditch in the rain. That only lasted a few minutes and we settled in for a few hour sail south to our destination. Given that we had 28 – 35 knots of wind from the east, we only needed to put out the staysail – no mainsail at all -and made great time and had spirited sailing all the way.

So, here we sit. We are studying all the charts and looking for options to move south. The Turks and Caicos are calling!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from SeaClearly!

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. Family, friends, adventures, health. We hope that everyone has a great day and that your own list of things to be thankful for overwhelms any negatives.

Which, in our case, is the weather. We were so hoping to be moving on but a passing weather front has stalled our progress. We thought we had a window to move south to Georgetown leaving on Wednesday. But, our weather guru advice said to move on Thursday. Then the tides in the cuts come into play and we were soon down to a 6 hour weather window to make a 6 hour trip.With a windy, squally front right on our heels.

We tried several different approaches to make our plan work but it just seemed uncomfortable. Junie even entertained jumping out ahead of the weather front and heading directly to the Turks and Caicos. I was not convinced we could stay ahead of the wind. Our rule regarding trip planning is that one 'No' vote wins. Unfortunately, the weather may stay crappy for two weeks now and we are stuck here. Junie was probably right but all I can do now is grovel.

We had already determined that we we going to pick up the anchor and move somewhere even though we couldn't go far now that we missed our opportunity. We targeted Bitter Guana Cay, just a few miles north, as a protected anchorage to hang out for a change of scenery. We thought we were going to wake up to a calm Thanksgiving morning that would, eventually, turn snotty. So, we pulled up the anchor, blew off our friends Aggie and Carlton for a scheduled lunch at Lorraine's (sorry guys - next time we see you we will tell you the story) and headed out. Right into the line of squalls that accompanied the approaching front.

Even though we were only going a few miles, we had some of the worst weather we have seen in a while. Winds of 35 knots, current of 3 knots passing the cut, torrential rain. Junie dropped the anchor in 10 - 12 feet of water just off of the beach while I held SeaClearly steady into the gusty winds. We rolled out about 100 feet of chain, let the anchor grab and waited for a letup in the rain to finish the process. Thirty minutes later, there still was no break so I went out in the rain, dropped another 75 feet of chain and got the snubber on (a line that takes the load of the anchor chain and distributes it to the cleats instead of the windlass).

We settled in and started preparing our Thanksgiving dinner - turkey tenderloin, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce. We had provisioned especially for this meal way back in August. It was wonderful but, of course, we are far from home, family and friends. And, although the weather is grey and windy, we won't be watching any football today.

We will keep you posted on our next moves. We hope the weather gives us a break. In the mean time, the beach here is supposed to have some iguanas so that could be cool - if we can get off of the boat. Happy Thanksgiving to all from SeaClearly, Junie, and me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back at BlackPoint

We are anchored at Black Point, Exuma. We have been here for several days now. Not that that is a bad thing. We like Black Point. Last year, this was the furthest south that we reached on our trip before we turned and headed home. We were looking forward to getting back here with a few specific missions in mind.

First, we wanted to stop by the new preschool to drop of some supplies. Black Point is very welcoming to the cruising community and they are working very hard on their own community. The preschool is brand new, already has about a dozen students and they operate with very limited resources. We felt that this was a way that we could help the community so we had packed up an assortment of markers, pads, stickers, little toys and misc stuff.

There is no questions that we got the better end of this experience. They were incredibly grateful for the supplies. They welcomed us into the classroom and had all of the kids stand up, in their green uniforms, and thank us for the gifts. The teachers had them sing us a couple of songs that the students were working on for Christmas - Jingle Bells and Away in a Manger. Then, they put some Junkanoo music on and danced like crazy. The kids were very interested, like all kids, in getting their hands on the iPhone as we were taking pictures. Junie mentioned that we had a grand-daughter back home and they insisted on writing up a little sign, signed by a couple of the students, to take back home. As we left, we could see into the rooms of the higher-grade classes where the students were in more formal uniforms - boys in ties and matching green shirts and slacks - and they were standing up to answer questions when called upon. It was a fun visit.

















The second important item on our list was laundry. Black Point has, arguably, the best laundromat in the Bahamas. Many machines, reasonable (not cheap) prices and, usually, conch fritters and carrot cake. Unfortunately, this year we are a little bit ahead on the seasonal rush and, therefore, the businesses here are just getting cranked up. There are only a few boats that have made it this far south -partly due to timing, partly due to lousy weather along the east coast of the US. Not enough people to support Lorraine's Restaurant buffets on Sunday and Wednesday. Not enough people for Ida at Rockside Laundromat to bake an entire carrot cake so Junie and I could buy one slice each. Bummer. Of course, we understand but I was sure looking forward to the food.

We did, however, manage to get a reservation for a lobster dinner at Deshamon's Restaurant on Friday night. At first, we were the only people there. We were joined later by 3 German couples who came in for pizza (which looked great). We enjoyed our dinners and then dinghied back to the boat in the dark. That always gives you pause for thought. It is pretty desolate out there at night. The wind had been blowing 20 - 30 knots all week. As we are puttering along, splashing through the waves, at night, with only a handful of boats within a mile - well,you sure hope that motor keeps working. We made it, of course, and were soon tucked into bed.

Good thing we went to dinner on Friday. A weather front came in overnight and we didn't leave the boat again until Sunday. The winds were gusting near 40 knots (about 44-48 mph) and, although SeaClearly rides these blows easily due to her weight, the dinghy ride to shore was not worth it. We read some books, planned our next trips, opened and closed hatches as the rain showers passed and, in general, hung out.





















By Sunday, we had cabin fever and went into town. We walked north along the island and over to the ocean side. From there, it was obvious why we should just sit here for a few more days before moving south. Our next leg, south to Georgetown, will involve going out one of the cuts into the ocean (actually, Exuma Sound - looks like ocean), down the coast and back into Conch Cay Cut. The ocean we saw as we came over the hill was, let's say, unsettled. Three days of 30 knots winds left a turbulent, crashing sea all the way to the horizon. Junie did find her first sea biscuit on our beach walk. We went back to SeaClearly content to sit at anchor for a little longer.

Now, it looks like it will be Wednesday or Thursday before we can make our jump south.We may be sailing on Thanksgiving. We will, surely, be thinking of everyone at home and all the celebrations and missing it all very much. We have a turkey dinner, of sorts, planned but it may have to wait a day.

Blogging at Rockside Laundromat
Today, we are back at the laundry for one last load, free wifi and to sort out some Batelco data plan issues. It is a beautiful day, breezy and warm. Maybe we can find some lunch in town.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Staniel Cay

Staniel Cay Yacht Club



Staniel Cay Yacht Club has a marina. Mostly, it is a resort that has cute, pastel colored cabins, a restaurant and a bar. So, there is an interesting mix of vacationers that have flown in for a resort stay, mega-yacht visitors that come in from their big boats in their launches (all color-coordinated to match the mothership) and a couple of wayward sailboaters looking for a break.




Nurse Shark feeding frenzy near the fish cleaning station
Bar and restaurant






















We are out on the end of the outside T-dock and, while we have had a few neighbors come and go, we have mostly been by ourselves. We are ahead of the seasonal rush. In a few weeks, there will be no slips available. We have run the AC all the time. Just because we can. The electricity is probably going to cost us an extra $20- 25 per day but, boy, have we slept well. We thought we would also fill up our water tanks with their pricey RO water. We assumed it would be high-quality since they charge 40 cents a gallon for it. Having learned that I should always test any water before tanking it (thanks Doug), I checked this before I started running it through our pre-filter. It measured in at 731 ppm. We can make better water than that with our watermaker. So, while we sit here in the cool air, we are running the watermaker and filling the tanks.


The marina facilities are not much. There are no showers. Due to construction, the single bathroom is shared with the bar and, therefore, is only open from 8:00 am until the bar closes. But, we are waiting on our pumps to be delivered here. That is another story. I will wait until we have actual pumps in our hand - supposedly, this afternoon's flight. In the mean time, there are things to do here.


The pigs of Big Majors swimming out to meet us
 One of the popular attractions, located just around the corner of the next island, is the beach of the Swimming Pigs. Yes, that's right. I never saw a pig fly but I have, now, seen them swim. They live in the low scrub behind this one particular beach. They have become accustomed to getting food from people in dinghies - to the point where they recognize the sound of the outboard motors, rise up from their midday naps, wade into the water and start swimming toward the boats. These are not cute little pink pigs. They are large, hairy boar-cousins and have been known to damage little rubber boats like ours. It is best to just circle by, toss food (cabbage, in our case) and keep moving. It is a riot to see them and hear them snorting along in the clear water by the beach.

The entrance to Thunderball Grotto










We then took a long dinghy ride around the island and ended up back at Thunderball Grotto. They filmed underwater scenes for part of the James Bond movie, Thunderball, here back in the 60's. It is an interesting snorkel trip. You need to go at slack, low tide because otherwise (a) the entrance is submerged and (b) the current is very strong. The thought of being slammed into rocks in an underwater cave being somewhat unappealing, we opted for the low, slack tide. We threw out the little dinghy anchor and hoped that it kept the boat there until we came back. We swam the 50 yards to the entrance.

Inside the grotto
The number of fish as you approach the entrance is amazing. The swim through the entrance with your snorkel practically scrapping the rocks above you is a little unnerving. Coming up inside the grotto, lit from above by the sun and from below by the sun from outside the entrances, is priceless. The domed ceiling is about 20 feet above, the sand and rock floor is about 15 feet below and you are suspended in the middle surrounded by tropical fish. Just awesome.

We have not done much snorkeling so far on this trip. Add to that the fact that we packed our big scuba fins and we were tired quickly. Today, we have aches and pains from the unusual exercise. But, it was well worth it. I am sure that Thunderball Grotto will be a tourist day-trip destination for a long time to come.











Junie has been playing with her new GoPro and has some amazing shots and videos of sharks, rays, fish and other underwater scenes. If you follow her on Facebook, you have seen some of the pics.


Late update. The electric bill was less than $15 per day and the pumps made the late plane! We are ready to move on. We need to get down to Black Point to hit the Rockside Laundramat for some clean clothes, conch fritters and carrot cake.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bahamas Birthday

November 16

Today, we are in Staniel Cay. Today is my birthday. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be here when I turned 59 years old. In the Bahamas, on a beautiful sailboat with a beautiful girl that I love very much.  We are on quite the adventure, Junie and I. We are fortunate to have discovered this common love and to be together on this adventure. Another birthday? No big deal. We saw a quote on a bench near BooBoo Hill in Warderick Wells a few days ago that I found very birthday appropriate.

“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”

And, today, I have pictures! After several days of travel, anchoring out, mooring balls and lack of communications, we are treating ourselves to a marina break. Partly because of my birthday, partly due to a weather system moving through -mostly because we need to have some parts delivered. Without providing all of the details, we have to get some plumbing parts or we will be in deep s%#t.

Once we left Bimini we moved a few miles south to Cat Cay to anchor out. Cat Cay is an exclusive resort that does not allow you to come ashore. They have an expensive marina / yacht club that you could go into but, even if you pay the admission, you aren't allowed to go anywhere outside the marina grounds. So, we just anchored out in the bay to the east and looked at it. Reminded me of one of our favorite sayings from the past.  “Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a boat big enough to sail right up next to it.”

We got up the next morning and started planning our next steps. Then, spontaneity aligned with the weather report. We pulled up the anchor and headed off for an all-day /overnight trip to the south side of New Providence island (where Nassau is). Our intention was to go to a marina there, at Palm Cay, to get set up for a jump to the Exumas. We had a great sailing day across the Bahama Banks. It is just crazy to be sailing along, perfectly quiet, in 10 – 15 feet of crystal clear water. The contrasting and coordinating colors are just stunning. Every time you go down into the cabin for something then come back up the companionway, the brilliance catches you off guard and you are dazzled again. Even the rain came with rainbows. Ridiculous!

We were approaching the Northwest Channel at about 10:00 pm and went through uneventfully despite several little dramas playing out around us. Boats moving in the dark, not talking to each other, going through a pinch point between the shallow Banks and the endlessly deep Tongue of the Ocean created some tense moments. Not for us, fortunately. We came through here last year and had our share of excitement. This year, we are a little more comfortable and maybe a bit wiser. We hung back, let the drama play out, called the big boats on the radio to confirm our respective actions and went ahead peacefully.

We motor-sailed the night away and turned east, just after daybreak, passing the west end of New Providence.  Spontaneity reared its head again (well, actually, I guess I got anxious to get to the Exumas) and we reversed course away from our intended marina stop and headed across White Bank toward Shroud Cay in the Exumas. The wind was good enough for us to sail some more. We had promised ourselves to sail whenever possible this year and it feels good. Eventually, we had to resort to motoring because the wind shifted around on our nose. We made it to a mooring ball at Shroud Cay, in the Exumas Land and Sea Park area, by late afternoon on Tuesday, November 11.  A little tired but a lot of progress. A trip of 157 nautical miles from Cat Cay to Shroud Cay.

Some strong northwest winds developed overnight which brought with it some fairly large swell and waves. The bow rose and dropped 5 – 6 feet all night long. And we slept like logs. I woke up a few times and thought, ‘Geez, this are big waves.’ Then went right back to sleep.

We were looking forward to getting up in the morning to explore the interior part of Shroud Cay. There is a creek that runs through the mangroves which is big enough to float through, in your dinghy, all the way to the ocean side of the island. Step One is to get the dinghy down off the davits on the back of the boat. Remember those big swells and waves? Yeah. That dinghy process did not go well. By the time we got the dinghy down, it became obvious that it would be too dangerous to try to get the outboard motor onto the dinghy. Somebody was likely to get hurt and the motor would be at the bottom of the bay. Trip cancelled. We thought about the times- many times – last year when we had to take Roux in to shore in some choppy waves. He would not have been happy with a day like this because there would have been no shore relief.
Looking at the water, looking at the scenery,looking at the sky...

We spent the day doing something or other. It is easy to just look at the scenery. The light changes the colors which changes the aspects which reveals new perspectives. You get sort of enchanted, afraid to look away because you might miss a variation. We did play with the GoPro for a while filming the shark-like things swimming under our boat. We finally determined they were Remoras - those fish (not little) that tag along on sharks and whales. Apparently, they think we are a whale.




Next morning, we had decided to move on without doing the mangrove float trip. We can back-track in the next couple of weeks if we want. So, while we were a little disappointed, we quickly put it behind us when we found the wind coming from the perfect direction for our 3 hour sail south to Warderick Wells.

Warderick Wells lagoon
Warderick Wells is a famous Bahamas sailing destination. It is also within the boundaries of the Land and Sea Park and, as such, has no services – no stores, no supplies, no trash disposal, no fuel, no nothing. Although, there is a park office here. The horseshoe-shaped mooring field in cobalt and turquoise water, in between rocks and white sand, is very distinctive and has been photographed often. The approach is narrow and shallow and you must stay very close to the other mooring balls and boats going in. Fortunately, we are a little bit ahead of the sailing migration moving south this year so the mooring field is almost empty.
Butterfly Beach

As it is with every stop in the Exumas, you think, ‘This is the prettiest place I have ever seen!’ We got moored up, went to check in at the office and then went for a hike around the island. The landscape ranges from nearly lunar to mangrove shallows. The views are spectacular with the shallow banks on one side and the ocean on the other. The Exumas chain stretches north and south away from you as you stand on the high points and survey the world. Absolutely amazing.





Interior of the island - mangroves
Looking west across the banks



Tourist stop on the hike. Apparently, OSHA does not exist
here in the Bahamas.


Ocean side

Looking north along the Bahamas

SeaClearly in paradise - where she belongs.




The 'cairn' on BooBoo Hill. According to the sign,
this is the only place in the Land and Sea Park where
you can legally leave anything but footprints.


Our hike took us up to BooBoo Hill, also famous amongst Bahamas sailors, where people leave driftwood signs with their boat names and dates of their visits. We had not prepared a viable sign and thought that SeaClearly deserved a better token than a broken piece of plywood with a handwritten Sharpie inscription. Guess we will have to go back there one day with a more appropriate item.


Volunteer work. Again, no OSHA rules apply.








Day Two at Warderick Wells we volunteered to help out at the park. We expected them to have a list of projects – cleaning up trails, fixing signs – you know, volunteer work. When we asked what we could do, their response was, ‘Well, what are you good at?’ I replied that I was fairly handy with most stuff. After all, we live on a boat. Turns out they had a large watermaker that needed some hoses replaced and a generator that sounded funny. OK. Not exactly what we expected but, hey, I can do this. So, I ended up replacing that watermaker hose and then switching out the fuel filter on the generator. Junie turned out to be particularly adept at unearthing required pieces and parts in the mish-mash of miscellaneous stuff that they have on hand. They are really working with minimal tools and parts and making do with what they have.  We spent the morning working with them and they seemed to appreciate the help.


Yeah. I know, right?
We went back to the boat for a quick lunch and then went snorkeling! We started out in some deeper water over a small sunken boat. It was pretty cool but Junie kept having visions of the sharks she had seen earlier, cruising the beach while we were working. We climbed back into the dinghy and went around the island to some gorgeous little beaches where we could land and, basically, walk into the water and snorkel. Very mellow.

An approaching squall chased us back to the boat. We had some chores to attend to anyway. One of them involved our plumbing issue – our macerator pump was not working last time we tried to use it and some troubleshooting was in order. To make a long story short, it turns out that our holding tank is almost full (despite the gauge indicating that it was not) and we have no way to empty it. What a crappy situation. Sorry. There has been an endless stream of crude, 8-year-old-boy level, jokes here since this situation floated to the surface.


This, pretty much, forced us to get up and move the next morning to Staniel Cay. Again, this decision delivered perfect sailing conditions. We, literally, cleared the mooring field, came around to the heading we needed to make Staniel Cay, shut off the motor and sailed. Like, as in, seriously sailed. For hours. We had the full cutter rig working on a close reach  the entire trip. We didn't start the engine again until we needed to drop the sails for the approach to the entrance. An absolutely perfect, sailors dream, kind of day.

At Staniel Cay, there is air delivery service, via Watermakers Air, that can get us a replacement pump fairly quickly. It also means that I get to have a birthday dinner at a restaurant, we get to run the air-conditioner  (Yes, I know it is cold up north - You all have my sympathy) and let the batteries charge up nicely. The weather front will pass, we will get things fixed and we will get underway again soon. Staniel Cay has its own stories and I will get to them shortly.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Warderick Wells

We are sitting on a mooring ball in beautiful Warderick Wells in the Exumas. Our internet connection is practically non-existent. As soon as we reach a good wifi spot I will put some really good pictures out here from our last several stops. Sharks, snorkeling, hiking - cool stuff!

Bimini Day 2

November 8 2014

We were up early on Saturday and filled with anticipation. We were planning to rent a golf cart and explore the island of North Bimini. There are three towns on North Bimini – Alice Town, Bailey Town and Porgy Bay. Our visit last year only included short walking trips (since we had a crew with a few physical limitations) so we had not really seen anything north of Alice Town. Brown’s Marina, where we are docked, is at the very southern end of the island and, as such, is pretty far from ‘town’.  The north end of the island has been developed by Resorts World International and includes a 1000 foot long pier out into the ocean for docking the Bimini Superfast cruise ferry that runs day trips out of Miami and Port Everglades. We were curious to see what that was all about.

We had a conversation with our dockmaster, Cordero, about things to do and places to go. He named a couple of restaurants including one on South Bimini (which would require a ferry ride – not the superfast kind) called The Square Grouper. The name is a reference to a slang term for the occasional flotsam that washed up back in the days of serious marijuana traffic back in the day. But, we were committed to a golf cart for the day and staying on the north island. Cordero had mentioned that he could hook us up with a golf cart through a friend/cousin/this guy he knew. The going rate for carts on the island is $50 a day for electric and $80 for gas-powered. We took the recommendation to get the gas version. A few minutes later Jason, from M & M carts, delivered our coach to the marina and off we went!

To put this into perspective, the island of North Bimini is about 6 miles long. There is one main road that runs the length of the island. There is one road that runs along the ocean parallel to the main road for half that length. There are 4 cross streets that connect the two roads – the longest of which is, maybe, 300 yards long. It was not yet 9:00 am so the traffic, mostly other golf carts with workers moving about, was light. The Bahamas retain their British characteristics so they drive on the left side of the road. That always takes some getting used to. Even though the US is very close, most of the products and automobiles are uncommon brands.

Everybody either greets you or, if you greet them first, responds quickly. Even the scariest looking dreadlocked person you met would break out that dazzling smile when you said hello. The typical island greeting is “Mornin’, mornin’” and you find yourself adapting to that.  Junie insisted that we stop and offer a ride to a young woman walking along the street. She gladly accepted and we took her half a mile or so to the market where she was headed to work. And got more restaurant recommendations.

But one recommendation remained consistent. If you want fresh conch salad, go to Stuart’s. That was number one on Junie’s food hit list for the day. It was only 9:30 when we pulled into the sand parking lot of the little building stuck out over the water. There was no one around but we found a couple of guys hammering on the conch shells, busting loose the slimy little critters, on the dock beside the open wooden building. ‘Come back in about an hour.’

We drove north to the resort and found it to be, pretty much, what we expected. An ostentatious entry gate, construction in process, nice enough, some nicer homes up on the ocean side. Not unlike several other developments we have seen and, like most, not without controversy. The Bimini Superfast brings a lot of tourists to the island (good and bad), the development has impacted the environment (mostly bad) and the survival record of developments in the Bahamas is abysmal. So, not everyone is excited.

And, with that, we had traveled the length of North Bimini. We drove back south past Stuart’s where they were still cracking conch and turned up one of the side streets to the ocean. The view is just breath-taking. The ocean, looking west back towards Florida 50 miles in the distance and out of sight, drops sharply to several thousand feet deep right off shore. The color changes are very cool.

We ended up almost back at the marina and stopped at ‘A Taste of Heaven Bakery’ for a Guava Cinnamon roll. The traffic was starting to pick up by the time we went back to Stuart’s and pressured them into making us their first conch salad of the day. All fresh ingredients – conch fresh out of the shell, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, some seasoning and lime juice. Simple and delicious. We had a great conversation with Matthew, one of the Stuart brothers, as he prepared the salad in front of us. It is a pretty small place so everything is in front of you. They are very proud of the new establishment which, apparently, is much nicer than the previous place.


As the afternoon progressed, the road got busier and more exciting. We drove up and down the island many times. So many, in fact, that an old man in a wheel chair along the road started shouting, ‘There you go again!’ every time we passed. A few more cars were moving about and were in a hurry – although I don’t know where they might hurry to. It seems that beer drinking – Kalek, here in the Bahamas- starts in late morning so the driving skills go downhill fairly early. The narrow streets with people walking everywhere, tourists that had shown up from the resort and all of the cars practically guaranteed that we would see an accident by the end of the day. And we did. Thankfully a minor incident with a golf cart running up a stone wall and no one hurt.  We went back to the marina and parked our cart. Turns out, a 2 hour cart rental would probably have been enough.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Days in Bimini

This morning, we are sitting at anchor just east of Cat Cay. There is a blustery cold front moving through ('cold' being a relative term) and I have been up several times in the night to check our position to make sure the anchor is holding. When we set the anchor, it did not want to dig in at first. I could feel it skittering across the bottom as Junie backed SeaClearly down. It did, finally, grab onto something after about 30 seconds and we hoped it had found the sandy patch it liked that would hold us through the night.  As the front arrived, it has turned the wind from south to southwest to west to northwest to north and, now at 5:30 am, northeast.  Our perspective of the few lights on shore changes every hour so your confidence in your position is shaky. We have an anchor alarm application, “Drag Queen”, that sometimes just adds to the drama by screaming at you when the boat swings around on the anchor or the GPS fix varies. Short story – the sun will be up soon and we are not on a reef, sandbar or rocks. Good news!

I do need to back up a little to fill in our story. It may take a couple of days because there is no way to tell a good story in a few words. And, we have a limited data connection so the pictures will come when we get back to a good wifi signal in a few days.

November 6

We dropped our mooring in Dinner Key at about 1:30 pm and went in to the designated marina slip – number 18 – where mooring ball people like us can fill up water tanks and pump out. We were also still waiting for a UPS delivery to show up. We had some additional water filters (never enough filters) coming and had expected them earlier. We were in no particular hurry so we hung out in the slip, hoping no other boaters would need to get in, until the stuff showed up. Moments later, at around 4:15, we were on our way.

The plan was to cross Biscayne Bay, pass NoName Harbor through the narrow channel near the key and sail into the ocean. The crossing to Bimini is only about 46 miles from that point but it is crossing the Gulf Stream and still a pretty big deal. We had a nice weather forecast and a beautiful night. As we rounded Cape Florida into the ocean, the sun was just slipping below the horizon and behind us as a huge full moon came up in front to guide us through the night. It never got dark the entire trip.

We had way too many hours in the night to make this trip. We could make the trip, in this weather, in about 7 or 8 hours,  which would bring us to the entrance to Bimini in the dark at low tide. Not good. We had elected to take it slow and had resolved to hang out off the coast once we got there and wait for daylight. We wanted to get checked into the Bahamas but, also (and far more important to the Communications Officer) to get a Batelco SIM card for our phone. It would be Friday morning when we arrived and the office would be open.

The crossing was a fairly uneventful motorsail except for the dozens of ships – cruise ships, cargo ships, hazardous tankers, tugs pulling barges - passing north and south as we traveled east. We had radio conversations with a couple of them to make sure they saw us and to confirm courses and close passes. The tug captain was funny. In our initial conversation, he says, “Yeah, I do see a little red light out there.” When I asked him to confirm the nature of his vessel, it turns out he is a tow boat pulling a barge with about 800 feet of cable between the two. Then he says, “Lord, don’t try to go between them! You will give me a heart attack.” I responded that, perhaps, my day would be even worse than his. But, then, he would have to fill out all that paperwork involved in running over a sailboat.

The full moon and clear skies made the passage somewhat less intimidating but the AIS and radar are still your best friends at night. We did have, as a result of the minor north wind, a beam sea for the whole trip which made for a rolly ride. There was not really enough wind to hold SeaClearly over to a good heel. That orientation can be uncomfortably queasy so there was no sleeping in the cabin. Between the mesmerizing moon on the ocean and this uncomfortable motion, neither one of us got as much sleep as we needed.

Despite taking a slow ride, we were already sitting off of Bimini by 4:00 am and sort of hove-to in the building southwest winds to wait for daylight. The entrance to Bimini is not hard but it is interesting. After cruising along in thousands of feet of water, you suddenly pass through the markers in beautiful turquoise waters that are less than 10 feet deep in a couple of spots. Believe me, you still feel like you are out in the ocean. You then have to make a sharp left turn to avoid shoals on your port side and the beach to starboard. Throw in a couple of landing craft-style cargo ships that also were waiting to enter at daylight and you have an exciting ending to a quiet night.

We called Brown’s Marina, our destination, and got the usual Bahamas response (none) so we proceeded to land SeaClearly on our own. We had picked our arrival time to catch the slack tide. That is a big deal here in Bimini. The current rolls through at 2 – 2 ½ knots so it can make docking a nightmare. A dockhand did show up as we pulled into the slip (we had our choice since there was only one other boat in the 18 slip marina at the time) and we landed perfectly. Back in Bimini! We missed Roux as we thought about our arrival with him here last year.

The first order of business is to check in to the Bahamas. Only the captain can leave the boat, with all of the ship and crew information and a handful of cash, to clear in with customs and immigration. I changed into some more presentable clothes (they take that seriously here), and walked the half mile to customs while Junie stayed on the boat (she told me I was captain).  There are about three forms, some serious stamping, no humor and 10 minutes involved at customs. And $150 bucks – I had expected $300 and still think they may have messed up so, hopefully, that won’t be a problem. They did give us a 90 day stay which is good for us. Sometimes (if you don’t dress nice or if you are an a$$hole) they only give you 30 days.

Immigration is in a different office which was located down the street in the police station this year. I got there and found that my tired self had forgotten to pick up and fill out the immigration forms at the marina so I had to hike back to the boat for Junie’s signature. We took a chance on running afoul of the Bahamas officials and Junie walked back with me since it was in the right direction for the Batelco office. We wrapped up the paperwork and we were in! An hour later, we had our new Bahamas phone, complete with data plan, and were headed back to the boat.

By 10:00 am, we were already thinking that it must be getting late in the day. But the clear water, constant boat traffic and new arrivals at the marina kept us entertained throughout the day. As evening fell on the waterfront, the sky softened into gorgeous colors. The still-full moon rose over the flats to the east. Reggae music mixed with the lilt of Bahamian accents and deep laughter and echoed across the docks as the last of the fishing boats came in with the last of the light. It is great to be back.


We have big plans for Day Two in Bimini. We are renting a golf cart and doing the island!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Prep'ers?

We went on a shopping trip the other day. As I had mentioned, one of our stops (actually the first stop after picking up the rental car) was the Apple Store at Dadeland mall. It was a zoo. Now, if you have ever been to the Apple Store, and I assume everyone has by now, you know that it is a crazy place. All the employees are talking into headsets of one kind or another. You are never quite sure if they are talking to you - or anyone. The collection and diversity of customers is incredible. From Fashionistas to business people to grandparents, they have it all. We were more than a little skittish and taken back by all the noise, the crowd and the characters.

It was then that we realized it. They were all looking at us. We were the unusual weirdos in the group. At the Apple Store, for crying out loud! What has become of us? Apparently, our nervous behaviour, bedraggled look, quick-dry clothes and wet boat shoes were not the appropriate fashion statement. The constant averting of my eyes toward the door may have been part of it, too.

As we left an hour later with our new iPad, anxiously, almost running, Junie says, "Man, we need to get out of here. We need to pack it up and sail away." Ummm. We already have. We have taken on the aspect of cruisers, for sure. Now, we may be leaning towards Prep'ers. In the past, we have watched the TV show, Doomsday Prep'ers, with a smirk and a grin at these weirdos preparing to run from collapsing civilization. Now, we find ourselves on a sailboat, watching the political unrest in the world and Ebola outbreaks. Throw in a frightening trip to the Apple Store and we are ready to flee to the ocean!

On SeaClearly, we are surrounded by dried and canned foods. Enough for about 4-6 months. Seriously. We have wind and solar power for energy self-sufficience. We have water tanks and a watermaker. We do almost all of our own boat maintenance. We are a sailboat so we can travel anywhere at the speed of breeze.

Fortunately, we don't have to flee to the ocean unless we choose to do that. We still like lunch at a little cafe along the street. We like to visit Costco (even if our most recent trip was ugly), and we still like people, in general. I'm not sure how people feel about us, though. Oh well!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Charmed

Our trip down the east coast was almost charmed. Things went extremely well. SeaClearly performed wonderfully. Our weather windows developed when, and as, expected. We anchored in nice places, had a couple of short marina stays and we were always ahead of the cold weather and bad storms. Now, we try to plan things to turn out well. But we know better than to take too much credit. And, I do not take it lightly to tempt fate by talking about a string of good luck. We know that fate can be fickle. We carry a full compliment of talismans and symbolic items to try to attract good fortune.

Our most recent addition came from our neighbor, Jack, just before we left. A hand-crafted, stained glass rendition of a white seahorse. The seahorse has long been considered good luck by sailors and represents such qualities as patience, perspective, persistence, friendliness and contentment - all of which we would like to possess someday.

We keep the champagne bottle we used to christen SeaClearly onboard. We also embraced the legacy of her original owners by keeping the brass plaque commemorating her commissioning. We have a relatively nondescript tin container that carries the ashes of our very special dog, Roux. We have a St. Brendan medal given to us by our daughter, Emily, mounted over the nav station. We both have rosaries, given to us by friend Thomas, that we carry all the time. And I carry a gold coin in the same pocket with mine - not sure if that negates any benefits or not. It may seem that we take a shotgun approach to fostering good fortune. And that would be correct.




Picking up our trip at Port Canaveral - we left at 12:45 pm on October 29th after a two-night stay. Our new friends, Dave and Janis, waved us good-bye. We enjoyed their company and their wonderful English accents and we expect to catch up with them in the Bahamas. Our stop at Canaveral gave us enough time to recover, re-launder and regroup. The weather looked good, if somewhat mild, to make the run down to Miami. We wanted to get the timing right this year. Last year, we ended up arriving in the middle of the night, altered plans, made some fairly dumb choices and managed to come out of it safely only by cashing in some of those expensive 'good fortune' points. This year, we just took our time, went slow and managed our progress.

OK, I was faking this.
There were no fish caught.
We did get a great view
of a sea turtle!
We had an easy first day with some nice sailing throughout the afternoon. At evening, we reduced sail but still didn't need the engine until later in the night. We were never more than about 5 miles off the coast and, as such, we could see the lights from the various cities as we went along. And ships. Container ships, cruise ships, cargo ships. Once again, glad to have AIS.

Day two dawned just beautifully but the wind was gone. We slowed to nearly a stop and fished. We watched the ocean. Then, we started playing with the sails. We had about 8 knots of wind from directly behind us so, we thought, 'What a perfect time to use our whisker pole!'

Sure, the sail is not very full but checkout the
whisker pole and all that rigging.




A whisker pole allows you to hold out your headsail to catch the wind from astern and keeps the sail from collapsing when the wind is really light. It requires some setup. It is a large, extendable aluminum pole that is attached to the front of the mast. There are guy lines that run from the end of the pole, both forward and aft, back to the cockpit so you can stabilize the pole. There is a spare halyard that acts as a topping lift and holds the pole up. Done right, the pole is held in place by all this rigging and the sail hasn't even been unfurled yet. Pretty cool.

Wing-on-wing




Then, we unfurled the headsail and let the pole hold her out to starboard. We swung the mainsail out to the port side and we were sailing 'wing-on-wing' downwind at a blazing 4 knots for all of our effort. But, we were very pleased with ourselves and are looking forward to a time when we can sail downwind like this on a more spirited day. Good to get some experience under easy conditions.















Sunrise coming into Miami
The wind collapsed entirely by evening. We ate a nice dinner in the cockpit (just like breakfast and lunch) and watched the sunset. We cranked up the engine and started, basically, idling our way through the night towards Miami. Our timing was good this time. We arrived at Miami's Government Cut, the main channel, at right around 8:00 am on Friday, October 31. We went directly to Miami Beach Marina, just inside the entrance, to top off the diesel. This should be our last fuel stop before we cross to the Bahamas. As you might imagine, this is a pretty upscale area. So we probably didn't impress them much with our 15 gallons of diesel.

The view from Miami Beach Marina




But the dockhand was very nice.  We got to top off the water tanks and wash the salt off of SeaClearly. And, he told us it would be perfectly OK to leave her tied up there while we walked somewhere to find breakfast. We were surprised that they would let us take up space at the fuel dock like this but we jumped at the opportunity. It was only a few long blocks to the trendy South Beach area. We found a great little gourmet shop/restaurant and got coffee, a chocolate croissant (me) and some cheesy, spinachy, roll thing and OJ (Junie).

The busy back channel south of Government Cut

Skyline views


We got back onboard and made the quick run through the back channel around Miami (skirting south of the cruise ship alley) and over to the moorings at Dinner Key. We stayed here last year and it proved to be a nice staging spot. It is right next to Coconut Grove which has its own share of trendy areas. My mission, for several days, had been to make it here, get a mooring, get into town before 4:00 pm and get to a restaurant called Lokal. We were there last year and had the best, most unique Chicken and Waffles you could ever imagine. The hint of Cayenne Pepper in the syrup, the side of fresh whipped cream and fruit - Wow! The plan worked perfectly, the lunch was everything we remembered and we were dinghying back to SeaClearly before dark. We were sure that we had taken a picture of the Chicken and Waffles but it seems to have disappeared. Obviously, we like food.

We are settled in for the week while we wait for a good weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Our weather is supposed to be windy from all the wrong directions until, at least, Thursday. The weather back up north was really ugly and we are just getting some of the overflow. We had a number of things on the list to accomplish before we can move further south anyway.

Yesterday was engineering day. We defrosted the refrigerator, changed the engine oil and filter, changed the transmission fluid, drained and changed the forward Racor fuel filter (and, it needed it), checked the aft Racor filter (hasn't been used, looks good) and replaced the O-rings in the watermaker (because it is still not performing as expected).

Today, we rented a car to do a full-on provisioning trip - the Apple Store at Dade mall (needed a replacement iPad for the old one that flew across the cabin at some point in the passage from NC to Florida), Costco, Walmart and the propane filling station.  We also squeezed in lunch at a highly recommended Cuban restaurant (Versailles). We got an unplanned tour of some interesting parts of Little Havana and Little Haiti in the process.

It was dark by the time we got back to the dock and the wind had picked up. It is almost 3/4 of a mile from the dinghy dock out to our mooring. We bought so much stuff that we couldn't get it all into one dinghy run.  It turned out to be a good thing that we did not try to fit everything in. It was a wet, bumpy, windy ride. Tomorrow morning, we will have to retrieve the other half of the stuff that is still in the trunk of the rental car. And, return the car. But, we got most of the items on our list.

Tonight, we are back in the comfort of SeaClearly. The trips to big, public places in a big, diverse city were a little frenetic after several days of ocean travel and laid back marina time. We were anxious to get back home to our boat. Our charmed home on the water.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chilly Coconuts

Sitting in the mooring field at Dinner Key, Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida. Waiting for our Verizon data plan to roll over tomorrow so we have enough to post some pics and stories. The short story is that we had a great trip all the way down the coast. We are probably stuck here until the weather fronts pass which should be about a week. Next stop Bahamas!

And, none too soon. It is only 52 degrees here this morning with 15 knot winds. I hate to think what it is like up north. More later.