Monday, April 23, 2012

We made through the whale: Hopetown and Marsh Harbor

If you time it just right, you only know the whale by the way points on your chart plotter. You do pass tiny Whale Cay but it's what you can't see that will destroy you and your boat. Seas were pretty calm as we went through and seas were positively flat as we reached low tide and the channel to Hopetown. That was tricky but we managed to tie up before noon and explore this tiny town for 48 hours.

The best thing about Hopetown was sitting in the shadow of the Elbow Cay Lighthouse. Rick took advantage of a private tour on our second night there. This is one of only three kerosene lamps left in the world. The lighthouse keeper manually lights the kerosene lamp and tends it very two hours, so he took a handful of folks up with him. Rick says it was a lifetime experience.

Hopetown has more character than Green Turtle: lots of gingerbread, sea tales, and beautiful views all around. We stayed at the Hopetown Marina, under construction, and barely functional. They did lend us a run about to cross the harbor to get to town. After a short walk, we settled for local coffee and a loaf of Bahamian bread. It was a good thing we committed to two nights here as were ready to move on.

Marsh Harbor is on everyone's must visit list in the Bahamas, but we can't see why. This is a real town, not a quaint town, with a large grocery store. We too will patronize "Maxwell's" tomorrow before our departure. The best part of the trip here was the $25 steak dinner with music and dancing at the Jib room. There we were surprised to connect with friends aboard Nie Fariente, and we have spent two days together catching up and sharing info. We are docked next to friends aboard Nemo, out of Chicago, but they are on the mainland until after we leave.That is disappointing.

We are staying on the north side of the harbor, opposite town, but in a better protected sight for the blow we are experiencing. When I say we are off the boat, we are sitting in the Jib room here just to avoid the rocking at the dock. Winds have blown steady 25-30 with 40-50 knot gusts for two solid days, but we think they'll settle some tomorrow, and will shift to knock the waves down in the whale for our rerun passage on Wednesday. If weather holds, we will cross to Ft. Pierce on Saturday. We are ready to be on US soil. No expectations so no regrets! When it is time to go, it is time to go. That June 1 date looms on our calendar.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bonefish Follies

6 hits, 3 hook ups and one landing.  Even this little one took several runs and lots of backing before I could lead him to the boat. My guide Rick Sawyer did a great job of putting me on to fish.  We saw some really big fish.  Lots of sharks, barracuda and trigger fish too. With the wind blowing 15-20 knots and my rusty arm I lined and scared a lot of fish.  We hooked up in deeper water than I expected and a really big fish ran off hundreds of yards of backing and then disappeared.  Could be a shark got him before I did. While I look sunburned, my SPF 55 did the trick and the wind burn went away by the next day. Oh! next time no buttons on shirts and no shoes with laces, but the line tamer tub on the deck kept me from loosing the line over board, and I can't wait for a chance to try again.

Matt, Mark, Micah: This one's for you.

I photographed the bar at the Green Turtle Resort for my three sons. Twenty years ago we visited Cabbage Key off the west coast of Florida. Tradition was you stapled a dollar bill to the walls, and the walls were covered. Well, the tradition holds here, too. Now they include folks donating their club birgies (pennants you fly on your boat) and these decorate the ceiling as well. Memories, connections, traditions. 

We are wrapping up our visit to Green Turtle Cay. We have managed to eat our dockage and enjoy each meal with new sailing friends. Today we returned to Gillam Bay to hunt for sand dollars. Winds were down considerably today so one could really feel the heat on a cloudless day. We had a great wade in the bay, collected a handful of shells, but not a sand dollar was to be found. I think the calmer waters brought in fewer shells than on rougher days we visited the same site. Lunch came from Macintosh Bakery, a meat pie that was smokin'! We returned our rented golf cart, tried out the pool and finished the day with chores before dinner, all in anticipation of our departure tomorrow and a trip through the whale. Rumor has it it will be flat- we couldn't be happier.

In centuries past a common occupation on the coast and throughout the islands was to be a "wrecker." That meant you just waited for a ship to wreck on the reef or rocks. Then you claimed the spoils for yourself. You needed a high spot, house or tree to perch in to watch for the wrecks. There is a restaurant in New Plymouth named for this practice. Maybe this was a tree used for just such a look out.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Green Turtle Key, April 15, 2012

Why we came to the Bahamas.
So here we are, playing the waiting game at a popular and age old lodge/resort on Green Turtle Key. Our stay has been nice, staff is great and they run this more like a resort than a marina in a hurricane affected island. Irene and storms since the twenties have decimated the history and the natural beauty of the small settlement of New Plymouth, sister city to Key West. Thanks to those storms, everything is new and freshly painted or replaced, you would never know the club isn't new but decades old.

The resort offers a "dock and dine " program: deduct everything you eat and drink from your dockage fees. We should stay for free if we eat often enough. The fun part is we have meals with new dockmates, and once again, we learn a lot! Water is 20 cents here and we finally had to fill up. Laundry is $10 a load so I am washing on the boat; I did the math and it is cheaper.

The winds have howled so we have not really enjoyed the pool or beaches as much as you all think we are. We rented a golf cart to get around and today we went shelling for sand dollars. Our net was minimal but our views: priceless.

Rick will bonefish in the morning, I cut out a quilt to sew tomorrow, and we are excited for Tuesday's calm winds, then . . .

Our plan is to sail just twenty miles to the infamous "whale" on Wednesday. Winds look to be in the right direction for this narrow passage and we will have given the seas time to settle down. Once inside the Sea of Abaco there are several great places to visit but we are now on a short time frame so Hopetown Harbor is our destination. ' Can't think of returning yet, I feel we just got here after years of planning and 6 months of travel.

The view of New Plymouth at the top of the hill.

Crazy Love Bakery

Historic home of Nevels Chamberland,
unpopular Prime Minister before Winston Churchill,
now covered in a giant Philadenreon vine.
Shelling at the beach on the Atlantic side of the island.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Meet the neighbors at Spanish Cay, April 10-12, 2012

Spanish cay is a small private island, accessible only by boat or small plane. A half dozen residents, including the owner and working help, maintain this three mile stretch in the Sea of Abaco. Once visited by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and a trio of famous Mafioso, Spanish Key now includes a twenty year old development of a dozen stilt condos, a bar set IN the ocean, and a “hotel” for those not staying on their boat. We used this island as our introduction to the Abacos and to break up our sail. (I don’t know why we use that word; we are motoring most of the time.) There are beaches to walk to, a simple restaurant and pool, and our neighbors included 25’ to 150 foot vessels, and some strange sea life that appears at feeding time. Note how clear the water is!

Next to  the boat, before dinner.

Next to the boat, after dinner.
The sport fishermen clean their catch and call the sharks to the dock.
 Don't fall in here!

Photo credits to Rick on this one! Don't leave your tote bags on the ground.

Hotel at Spanish Cay
Promise at sunset, flyinging the Bahamian courtesy flag.

Happy Birthday, Brother John! April 13, 2012

Greetings form the Bahamas, April 3, 2012

To those of you who wonder, will they ever cross the ocean? We did it!

Like March anywhere, it was blustery. There had been 30 consecutive days of 15-25 knot winds which can double in the Gulf Stream; this weather window was a welcome break. As always, Captain Rick picked the weather for a flawless crossing. We left Dinner Key Marina before sunrise, having sailed out of the Channel two days before and laid tracks on our GPS system. It was go or sit in Miami another week by Tuesday, April third, and we were more than ready to go. Below you’ll see our final glimpses of Miami at 6 am, the stilt houses with Coconut Grove in the background, and our sunrise that day.

Good bye Miami at daylight.

Things were a little foggy but all went well. By the time we hit the Gulf Stream we were doing 10 knots, above our 7.8 hull speed. Sadly, that ended by noon, the winds died to 5, then less than 5 knots, and we roasted in the sun, rocked back and forth (not my favorite part of the trip) and motored into West End at Old Bahama Bay Resort at 6:45 PM. That’s 13 hours, over our 4 PM estimate. The worst part of the trip: having alerted loved ones we were due at 4 PM but when we arrived late we had no phone or internet service to alert them that we were safe and sound, and ready to enjoy ourselves. We cleared customs and found dinner off of the boat to feel solid land for a while.

Old Bahama Bay

We spent a week at OBB in the company of an old acquaintance, Bob, of Azure Skies, and three new boats/three couples from Florida we really enjoyed. Good company and a great pool helped time pass as winds raged and “elephants” appeared in the Gulf Stream. A front with two storms of 45 knots kept us in the resort for the week, but as with any storm, winds clock around and conditions always improve.

Weather improved greatly on Sunday but we waited for Monday and the seas to die down to make way to Great Sale Cay. Loved it! Only six boats anchored for the night and winds were on the other side of the island so it was unbelievably quiet and the stars were absolutely amazing, (my next photography goal.) We didn’t bother to launch the dingy and explore, we just wanted to break the next leg of our trip into two.

Sunsets are free!

We set sale at sunrise but had to stall for light fog to lift. Destination: Spanish Cay, a private 3 mile island with a harbor, restaurant, pool and beach. Not as high end as it sounds, but all of these bits of “paradise” are still on island time (third world country.) Water today is by reverse osmosis at 25 cents a metered gallon, and wi-fi was an extra $10 a day! We motored on a glassy Sea of Abaco and Rick caught a fish, kind unknown, as it broke free just as he went to land it! We arrived at 1 PM, refueled and relaxed. Hurricane Irene was not kind to the Bahama Islands. Things are a work in progress here.
No complaints, we have had such smooth ocean sailing compared to our lumpy fall.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Off to the Bahamas at last!

Our stay in Dinner Key Marina, Coconut Grove, Fl. Has been great. Unfortunately, we have had over 30 days of high winds out of the north, making a crossing to the Bahamas impossible for fair weather sailors like us.

But, April has arrived, bringing calm seas and winds out of the E, S, and good combinations there of. SOOO, tomorrow at first light we sail to West End in the Abacos. We expect variable winds out of the south less than 5 knots, seas two feet. Winds may shift out of the north late in the afternoon but we should be in Old Bahama Bay by then. This is what we have been waiting for!