Family

Let me apologize in advance to those that don’t know us that well – this is a self-indulgent post and full of photographs of family and what we did in the two weeks that they were down here.   For me, it was one of the best times of my life, with all of us together, perfect weather (which so seldom happens here) and lots of laughing, bonding and closeness.

It all began when we realized that our 70th birthdays were coming up at the end of the 2021 (Garth’s on November 16th, mine on January 1st and Kate celebrating her 40th on Christmas Eve).   A plan started formulating.    In March I called Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour (they laughed at me!!) to make sure that we had reservations for their New Year’s Eve dinner.  We decided to book a charter on a sailing catamaran for the family (ours is definitely a drink 6-10, feed 4 and sleep 2 boat!)   They also laughed at us – but offered us a nice discount for being their first customers to book for the 2021/22 season.   In June I booked flights; I know how they sell out over the holiday period.  It was easier and cheaper to get Dave and Kat from Italy than to get flights from the States for Kate’s family!     All good.   

A hiccup happened when we called the charter company in June as we hadn’t heard from them regarding deposits etc.    The owner had been taken ill shortly after we had spoken to him and was hospitalized in the States for three weeks.   Our booking had fallen through the cracks and the boat we had been promised wasn’t available any longer.    Hiccup turned into Godsend as I found a most charming cottage on VRBO, right in the heart of the settlement in Hope Town for half of what the charter would have cost!    Having proper beds, two bathrooms (actually three, as there was one outside which was invaluable when coming back from the beach) wifi, tv and a full size, fully equipped kitchen was perfect.   (A plug – it’s called The Boathouse, it’s on VRBO and is managed by Elbow Cay Properties – I would recommend it highly if you’re thinking of coming down to Hope Town).  

Of course we also didn’t know that Covid would be causing havoc with flights being cancelled left, right and center.   I spent many, many hours on our trip down the waterway making good friends with airline customer service agents (based in India I think) while they struggled to get through to the airlines to find us alternative flights.   Kate eventually re-booked their entire flight via Southwest and now has airline credits with American and United for her and the kids to use this year!!    Even that flight into Nassau was horribly delayed and our planned sunset trip from Marsh Harbour back to Hope Town turned into pitch black, grit your teeth and hold on journey.    But the stars were spectacular!!!   And day after Christmas, Kate, Mike, Will and Penny were here at last. 

The next day was the start of two weeks of perfect weather.   With the wind from the south-west, the beach could not have been more perfect.   Everyone was in their element – and slathered with sunscreen!   

That night we went over to the Hope Town Inn and Marina for delicious frozen drinks and an excellent meal.  

Kate put her back out on Monday (we think it was the cartwheels on the beach – yes, she can still do a cartwheel at 40!) but it didn’t stop everyone from going back for another perfect beach day on Tuesday.    Off to Bingo at Captain Jacks in the evening.  Garth and I went over before 4.00 (Bingo only starts at 6.00!) to get a table as it was first come first served – we got the last table available!!   Kate and Mike left before the end as it was overwhelmingly noisy – but the gambling bug kept the others of us there until the end – but as with most gambling, no luck!   Will and Penny came and slept on the boat with us – grandparents’ dream!    They are 11 and 9 now and such fun to be around.  

Dave and Kat were getting in at midday on Wednesday so we left early and headed to Marsh Harbor.   The others climbed the lighthouse – they took pictures of us leaving, and we took pictures of them.   We stocked up with fresh food at the big supermarket and came home with Dave and Kat!   After unpacking and settling in, we celebrated Kate’s birthday together and had a wonderful ribeye barbeque.

Thursday was a big day.   Up early and skimming along glassy seas to Fowl Cay where we anchored off the little island and had it all to ourselves.   Will and Penny had their first snorkeling experience – it wasn’t on a reef or anything, but there were fish and shells to see and they gained a good degree of confidence without being out in the ocean (where there are sharks!!).    I think what I really liked is that although we had plans, there was no timetable and we stayed as long as we were still enjoying ourselves

From there we went on to Guana Cay and up to the famous Nippers Bar.   It had opened the previous week for the first time since Dorian so our timing was perfect – they had been completely, completely destroyed by the hurricane and it had taken all of this time to get up and running again.   It is not completely rebuilt, but what a pleasure to share a frozen Nipper with Dave and Kat (first time in the Bahamas) while the kids swam in the pool and on the beach.

We rolled back down to Grabbers, as you do, for more frozen rum, lunch and we enjoyed their water activities. 

We hoped that a beach massage might help Kate’s back – I think it helped Kate, but not so much her back as she battled with that for the whole time here.   

Back home to a little R&R and a very early night for all.

Again with no rush or pressure (my very best thing) on Friday we got ready, made sandwiches for the boat and set off to head down to Little Harbour for New Year’s Eve.   Fortunately they had reserved a mooring ball for us so there was no urgency to get there.   Once more we had glassy seas and a great boat ride.

Lots and lots of photographs – if you think there are a lot on this blog, you should see the folder that I had to choose from.   But how often is it that you have the whole family together in paradise?   The kids were very happy playing ring toss – Will became the expert, even mastering the throw-around-the-nearby-pole-and-let-it-unwind-and-see-if-you-get-it-onto-the-hook technique!!  Penny was pretty good herself too.  

They had to limit their numbers because of Covid, but Pete’s Pub did a spectacular job of a five course meal – Seared Wahoo; Lobster Chowder; Green Salad; choice of Ribeye Steak or Lobster with sides; and a selection of pies for dessert.    Their signature rum drink is excellent and there was much to occupy us during the wait for midnight.

Midnight brought a wonderful fireworks show – and lots of hugging and kissing!   David borrowed the DJ’s mic and announced my 70th birthday – everyone sang and I was made to feel very special.

Next morning I made scones and Mel and Gary brought Kate and Mike back to our boat.  All 8 of us were originally going to have to sleep on our boat for the one night (!!!) but Mel and Gary’s friends who were supposed to be with them had to postpone because of Covid and their back cabin was empty.   Thank you Mel and Gary!!

My birthday gift touched the deepest place in my heart.   I won’t post any pictures, because I was blubbing my eyes out the whole time!    My children penned the most beautiful words for me and set them to the music of “Watch the Rain”.   For those that don’t know, our nephew Craig Hinds has a band called Watershed in South Africa – (another plug, look them up on iTunes – LOVE their music!)   The have an album called Watch the Rain.   The title song was written largely at our house when the whole family was over in the US for Kate’s wedding in 2009.   It has always been my favorite, and has been the closing song at their gigs that I have been to while in South Africa – which has added even more significance to it for me, as those are such special family memories.   They sent him the words, and he went into the studio and recorded MY SONG which they played for me on my birthday.    Even as I write this, my eyes get teary and I choke up.   What a special, special morning.  

I eventually stopped crying and we set off from Little Harbour over to Lynyard Cay.   There is a walk from the beach over to the ocean side and there are amazing shells and seaglass to be collected.   I don’t know what brings it all in there, but you never come away empty handed.   A bit more swimming, sand-castling and then we were on our way back.  

We stopped at Tahiti Beach on the way back to make water.   A new feature down there is a floating Tiki Bar which is moored in Hope Town but goes down on weekends and you can dinghy, swim or walk up to buy food and drinks.   Dave and Kat drew the short (or long?) straw and got themselves a drink – came back to the boat with hot chips – just what the doctor ordered after the previous night! 

Back to our mooring ball and little house and we had yet another surf and turf feast – the leftover steak from Pete’s and a lobster extravaganza that Gary had caught and given to us to share with the family.   How lucky are we?

On Sunday we all went back to the Marina for a last breakfast all together.   Then to the clinic to get the required negative Covid tests – success!!    The Dawsons were booked on a very early flight on Monday so we left Dave and Kat alone at the house (peace! quiet!) and spent the night at anchor in Marsh Harbour.   The taxi picked them up at 6.45am and sadly that part of the vacation was over.

It was the day of the big snow in Annapolis and Kate’s picture says it all!!

That night it was Dave and Kat’s turn for Bingo.   It was less boisterous (drunk?) that night and a lot of fun – made more so when Dave won the second round!!!    $248.00 in his pocket – not too shabby!

We had choices to make for the rest of Dave and Kat’s time.   Stay here and relax, or show them Green Turtle Cay.   The seas were quite large on Tuesday, but we all opted for the adventure.   We decided to try going through the “Don’t Rock” cut – it’s called that for a reason.   It was a bit of white-knuckle stuff, especially for Kat who was not used to boats and what they can and can’t do, but we made it.   We’ll never do it again, despite our shallow draft.  You have to go very close to the rocks and with large ocean swells on our beam; it just wasn’t worth it.    Now we know.  

We rented a golf cart to explore the island.   We have a favorite beach called Gillam Bay but with the strong winds and high tide it wasn’t the best.   Drove through the town (which was very quiet) and so headed to Pineapples.   It remains our favorite bar.   Frozen drinks, delicious food and lounging in the pool.   We had to drag ourselves away. 

Green Turtle Club has a steak night on Wednesdays and it didn’t let us down.  The bar there is papered with dollar bills with people’s names – Will and Penny’s were still there from 2018, despite the hurricane.   When we came to Green Turtle with the Beneteau Group in 2007 we had pinned up our flag – it also is still there and we added another dollar bill to it with ours and Dave and Kat’s names – we will be back!! 

Another night on the boat for Dave and Kat (she was becoming quite the old salt by now!) and we headed back towards Hope Town.   We stopped at Marsh Harbour so that Dave and Kat could get their Covid tests for the States and we decided to get tested as well as both Pete’s Pub and Capt. Jack’s had closed down after New Year with the staff having Covid.   Fortunately we were all negative – great peace of mind.  

The next morning, after another great breakfast at the Marina, Dave and Kat boarded a ferry to start their long journey home.   It was sad, but yet not as we had all had such a fabulous time together and so many good memories were made.    That night there was the most magnificent sunset – as though to close the chapter on the best vacation ever!

BAHAMAS!!!

After settling down in Hope Town for a few days, we took the boat over to Marsh Harbour to sort out a WiFi plan and to shop at the mega grocery store Maxwells.   It is like going into Giant – except for when you go to pay!!!   

Marsh Harbour is still unrecognizable.   By all accounts it was the worst hit by the hurricane.   Walking along the waterfront which used to be full of marinas, restaurants and stores, there is – nothing!   It was hard to recognize where we were and even imagine what used to be there.    So many buildings reduced to rubble piles, now with weeds growing through it all.    I couldn’t even take pictures.    We had to take a taxi to the phone place (used to be right on the waterfront) and we asked our driver where we might get a cup of coffee (Garth’s raison d’etre) and possibly a breakfast sandwich.   She took us to the only place that served breakfast.   We found a bench around the back amongst numerous burnt out generators to sit and eat.   But full credit to Miss Love – it was absolutely delicious!!!

Next on the list was to make water.   We have a 75 gal tank, which lasts us about 8 days.  Yes, we only shower every second day – you got a problem with that??  We bought a Rainman water maker which Garth installed in the front locker.   We had avoided testing it until we were in really clean water – now was the time.   It worked perfectly, making about 30 gals an hour.   We could relax.  

For me, there are two things that spell Bahamas – water and clouds.   I wish I could put sunglasses onto my camera and capture the incredible water colors which show up so well in polaroid – but I also love the cloud formations.  The small ones are puffy and fat with flat bottoms, but then you get the huge towering ones that I remember so well from when we were flying Garth’s plane.    Throw in a bit of sunrise or sunset and it is just heavenly.

We took a trip down to Little Harbour to go and see Pete’s Pub where we plan to celebrate New Year.   It wasn’t open yet, and we were the only boat in the harbor.    But the foundry was open and we were able to walk through.    In the 50’s artist Randolph Johnston and his family arrived in the harbor on a sailing boat.    They initially lived on the boat and in the caves while they built a home, and eventually the brass foundry which is still operated today by the third generation of the artist family.

Then it was Thanksgiving.   Who would have believed that we would have had a full traditional turkey meal here in the Bahamas?   Will and Muffin and ourselves were graciously invited by Barry and Marcia Talley, Annapolis friends who have a house down here, and with a little contribution from each we had a FEAST!!!   Even Sophie the Dog was included.  

Barry and Marcia are making the most of a new waterfront view – you can see the slab left behind where the house in front of them was blown away.    They will enjoy it, but are looking forward to their friends being able to rebuild.  

Mel and Gary were held up in Stuart FL for a couple of weeks (they were not able to make the zippy exit that we did as they had some appointments set up).    When we heard that they were crossing over we decided to go back north and meet up with them and do the slow trip back, stopping at places we missed.    First stop was at No Name Cay – one of our favorites where Will and Penny had bonded with the wild pigs last time they were here.   Well that’s a thing of the past – the deserted island is no longer deserted with a Big O resort having been built there.   There are still pigs, but they are lethargic and we didn’t see any babies.   So glad the kids had the experience while it was still real and not commercial.   BUT, the restaurant makes excellent conch fritters, so there’s that!

From there to Black Sound in Green Turtle Cay (with our shallow draft, we can finally go there).   We went for a long walk around New Plymouth, the main settlement, and although they have made great strides, we were still saddened by the delapidated state of so many of their previously proud buildings.  There is no criticism, only heart wrenching sadness for the people.   Rebuilding in the islands isn’t easy – a supply ship was in town and this is how everything has to come in.    Also a picture of the fuel ship that was delivering to Spanish Cay, our next stop.   A strutting rooster and amazing mural brightened our day.

At Spanish Cay we met some lovely people and shared dinner at the restaurant, after a tranquil sunset.   The heron was hopeful until almost dark – and a picture of the same rocks in the sunrise the next morning.  

We met up with Mel and Gary at Double Breasted Cay the next day.   What a breathtaking place!!  The tides going in and out exposed and hid white sand banks and the colors of the water were spectacular – even without sunglasses!  

But the highlight was that Gary had been diving and caught lobster for dinner!  I don’t think a meal has ever tasted as good – they have got the prep down to a T, and Mel even serves melted butter in butter warmers.    I will never forget that first bite – heaven!  They went again the next day and Garth caught two, which are in the freezer waiting for our children to arrive.  Since then, pickings have been slim, so the feast was even more memorable.

Two nights at Double Breasted and then we went to Grand Cay which is very close by.   It is a fishing town with no frills but an authentic local feel.   Glad we went.  

The next morning dawned with not a breath of wind – the sea was like glass.   There seemed to be no horizon – we took pictures of Second Sojourn and they took pictures of us.    And I took a million pictures of our wake making patterns on the silky water.  

Back to Green Turtle Cay and White Sound this time – welcomed by a beautiful rainbow.   We rented a golf cart and toured the island – first a drink at the Tranquil Turtle, then a walk on the beautiful long beach at Gillam Bay where we were joined by the friendliest dog who must have lived in a house on the beach – she walked with us for the whole time, but when she saw we were getting ready to leave, trotted home.  

We ended up at Pineapples, a beach bar that probably tops our list of all bars in the Bahamas.   Their food is simple but outstanding, their drinks affordable (and two for the price of one during happy hour!) and the bartender Yvonne is just the best.    On any given day, she will apply her over-the-top makeup to suit the occasion – green, yellow, blue – and at Christmas one eye green and one eye red!   She was pretty low-key the day we were there but assured us that her 1” eyelashes were all her own (bought and paid for!)  

There is a crystal chandelier hanging from a tree on the beach (!?!) and I tried to get the sunset reflected in the crystals.   Not so successful, but it was beautiful.   After the hurricane, the opposite shore had apparently burned for more than 6 months.   You can see the burnt trees on the horizon and it looked as though the setting sun was the fire again.   A great evening and a very cautious golf cart ride home!

On another perfectly calm day six of us set off for Lynyard Cay and the Bight of Old Robertson to explore the mangrove shallows and visit the blue hole.   Garth and I stole over to Man O’ War Cay first – he had heard that the coffee shop was open.   It is a completely dry island and is where the Albury dinghies are built.  Sure enough – his first latte after reaching the Bahamas!  The water was calm and crystal clear – starfish from the deck of the boat through about 12’ water, and a turtle sunning along in the shallows.

Lynyard Cay is fantastic – there is a path through to the Atlantic side of the island with all kinds of shell and seaglass treasures to be found.   They seem endless.   I filled a bag for the kids as shelling is not so good in other places, and seaglass is hardly found.   We had sundowners on the beach (chased from the donated picnic table by a very cute but very hungry rat who just wouldn’t give up his quest to share our cheese and crackers!).

Next morning we all met in our dinghies and Dan led us through the mangrove lagoon – lots of turtles and rays, but they were too quick for my camera (that is – me!).   We stopped at the beach for a swim and then onto the blue hole.   The others snorkeled around it but we were not tempted.  

We’re now back in Hope Town – some very windy and rainy weather is forecast.   We are so excited to have our children coming to join us after Christmas and for the New Year and to celebrate our big 7-0 birthdays with us down at Pete’s pub.   Our grandchildren call Garth “P” – so he posed for a Christmas picture especially for them.    An announcement is put out on the Cruiser’s Net in the morning and everyone is invited to go to the beach at 4.00, dressed in red and white, for the annual Hope Town Christmas Card.    A drone takes the pic and the cards are sold to raise funds for the Community Center.  

So we’ll leave you with the Christmas Card which brings our wishes to everyone for a happy, peaceful and Covid-free Christmas.  

Florida

After leaving Fernandina we noticed two couples in Hawaiian canoes lurking on the side of the waterway.   As we passed they zipped out into our wake !   Having one of those canoes himself, Garth adjusted our speed to give them the perfect wake and they stayed with us for quite a long while – they were stoked!

After the beautiful marshes and natural scenery in Georgia and the Carolinas, we find Florida to be long straight stretches of houses and bridges!   Opulent is a word that quickly comes to mind.   I’m a little fascinated by the mosquito screen cages that they build around their pools and outdoor living areas, but having experienced the mosquitos and no-see-ums I fully understand.  

We love the stop in St. Augustine and were excited that Roy and Nicky Todd drove down from Jacksonville to have dinner with all of us.    We got good exercise walking all over town and had a feathered boat visitor too!

You may have heard the expression that “it is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”?   In the old days they used to stack the cannon balls like this on the deck, and they were contained by a brass ring called a monkey.   When it got really cold, the brass ring would freeze and contract – and all the balls would tumble out.   Nothing to do with primates!

Next stop New Smyrna and Gary and Mel showed us an anchorage we had never been to before.   Perfectly calm and protected (the clouds and wind were still around).   They came to our boat for a drink and  suddenly this flock of grackles swooped in and made a home in their rigging – it looked like they had dressed ship!    Garth couldn’t stand thinking about all the bird poop on the deck so he jumped in the dinghy and went across and was banging on the hull – nothing budged them (but he probably succeeded in scaring the daylights out of Hobie the Cat downstairs!!!)    Then he found something and banged on the rigging with it – success! – they all flew into the air.    As he was heading back to our boat, we saw the whole flock had simply done a big circle and they landed right back where they had started.   We were falling about laughing!!!

The morning brought a beautiful sunrise and wonderful bird life. 

This guy looked as though he was trying to disguise himself as the tree stump next to him!

On the next stretch from New Smyrna to Cocoa Beach we saw lots of dolphin.   I have finally conquered my quest for a dolphin picture – they normally duck below the water the minute I get my camera.   Not great shots, but enough for me to feel as though I have shaken the bad dolphin-karma that was beleaguering me!!

The Haulover Canal is where you normally see Manatees – none this year.   But some cormorants drying their feathers and always a gathering of pelicans. 

It had been a very cloudy day and so we were not hopeful of seeing the SpaceEx launch at Cape Canaveral taking four astronauts to the International Space Station – both because of the clouds and because we were anchored about 15 miles south.   But we went up onto the flybridge at the appointed time with the live commentary playing and were treated to an amazing spectacle.   The sky was dark but the clouds were completely lit up on takeoff.    Fortunately Mel had her phone on her and managed to catch it – the red glow is when the first stage was jettisoned.    It was eerily quiet for a while and finally the noise caught up – we all had goosebumps!   What a treat and a privilege!

The next day we headed to Vero Beach and had a huge storm along the way.   (Another check mark for our PDQ – we could drive from warm and dry down below).   But even with windscreen wipers the rain was so heavy we could literally not see a thing for about ten minutes.   Thank goodness for our instruments.  

At Vero Beach on Thursday night we were checking for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas.  We planned to visit our good friends Dick and Carol Tuschick in Stuart and Garth wanted to spend time talking all things PDQ with them.   They were PDQ dealers before they retired and their daughter Beth has taken over their business – we bought our boat through her and there was so much we wanted to share and learn.   We needed to  re-provision, get our Covid tests done and expected to have three or four days there at least.   The weather gods decided otherwise and presented us with the perfect crossing day – on Saturday!!!    So Friday saw us racing to Stuart, tying up at Camp Carol (Dick and Carol’s house pictured below) and they were just wonderful and took us to the health center, supermarket, liquor store, West Marine as well as providing us with wonderful food and advice and friendship.   We couldn’t have done it without you guys!  

Saturday morning saw us leaving their dock at 6.30 am (getting caught by the railway bridge being down so we could have taken more time!) and heading out into the ocean  before 8.00am.    A beautiful sunrise and then deep blue sea and no-one else in sight.   We only saw one freighter the whole time.  

It was the perfect day – benign seas and glorious weather.   And being able to travel at 14 knots very comfortably for much of the way, we reached West End, Bahamas at 1.30pm!!!!    You know you’re getting close when the water gets shallower and turns that beautiful turquoise blue.   

After clearing customs we headed for the restaurant at Old Bahama Bay and had a Goombay Smash (a delicious rum and pineapple drink) and some cracked conch.    On the way back one of the fishing boats had their underwater lights on and I saw these little squid pillowing about – never seen them before!

Heavy weather was forecast so we moved quickly and spent the night at Grabbers Beach Bar on Guana Cay. It had been totally destroyed in Hurricane Dorian but they have done a great job of rebuilding.    Another rum drink on the beach and then we headed the next day to Hope Town, which is our home away from home and happy place.   

Garth quietly turned 70 on November 16th (we are saving the big celebrations for when the family arrive after Christmas) and we had a lovely dinner with our friends Will and Muffin Heyer.         

Getting There ….

Charleston was the best of the best!   It was wonderful to see our friends Ben and Sallie Du Buisson again and we were very lucky that they managed to get us a slip at Carolina Yacht Club.    The marinas in Charleston were totally full – there was a huge storm that came through on Thursday night and all the transient boats were ducking for cover!

Charleston is a magical city.   Despite many visits, there is always something more to see.   They do Halloween in style!

Our friends Di and Terry Clarence came and joined us for five days to get a taste of the Waterway.   They also go back a long way with Ben and Sallie and we have a great time reminiscing about the old days (are we codgers or what?!?)  We ate spectacular food, as you do in Charleston.  We took a horse and carriage tour and then walked around the city – thank goodness for digital photography as there is no end to beautiful photo opportunities.

After Charleston we anchored out for the night and Gary and Mel had us all over for a spectacular rack of lamb dinner – no pictures sadly, we were having too good of a time!   After that we headed to Beaufort SC (Bew-fort, as opposed to Beaufort NC, Bow-fort)   and then to Hilton Head.    We hadn’t realized that the South Carolina Yacht Club was closed on Mondays, so we Ubered to a restaurant on the water and ate fish and chips watching a most spectacular sunset.

This “house” (mansion?) overlooks the lock at Windmill Harbour where we stayed in Hilton Head.  

Leaving Hilton Head and heading to Savannah GA we noticed a lot of birds feeding.  Looking closer, we saw that among them were Roseate Spoonbills, which you don’t often see.   I was very happy that one of my photos featured a stork, an egret and a spoonbill together!   (I’m a point and shoot photographer – later I enlarge them to see what I captured!!

A spit of land with major erosion, and then we came across this dredger and we got a lesson all about balls and diamonds – how Garth remembers this stuff is beyond me!

More birds and then we were in Savannah for a sad farewell to Terry and Di.   It was wonderful having them with us and sharing what is so special about the trip south.

Anchored out that night – another glorious sunset and then more gorgeous scenery.   We took a side route down to St. Mary’s Sound (another score for the shallow draft PDQ) and it was idyllic!   Not a soul around and just natural beauty.

Then you get to St. Mary’s sound which is where the submarine base is.   Nothing natural about what happens around here.   A big sub in for repairs (we thought), the degaussing pen which removes magnetism from the subs, and a brightly painted workboat.

The current rips through the sound, and fortunately it was with us.   Garth wanted to record this speed (top left) for posterity!   Our normal high speed is about 14 knots with max at around 16.  

Crossing the sound took us into Fernandina Beach FL – recognizable by its paper mill as you arrive.   Another big front was coming – we stayed there for three days with rain and wind blowing solidly at 25 knots with gusts of up to 50!!   We were glad to be safely tied up and managed to get some cleaning done, as well as braving the weather to make it to a coffee shop for breakfast and a wonderful prime rib dinner at the Rusty Pelican.   We were given the ultimate cruiser’s treat when we were picked up by Graeme and Nicola Nichol, South African friends of Jonathan and Anne who told them we were in Fernandina.  They took us to a grocery store and then to their home where we did laundry and they spoiled us with delicious sous vide salmon while we shared stories and found so many common threads in our lives.   It is a tradition that is appreciated so very much – in fact, they are paying it forward from when it happened to then when they started cruising and were embraced by cruising folk in Fort Lauderdale.   Who, it turns out, were South Africans Lorraine and Rob Miller!   We knew Lorraine and Rob when we were in the Caribbean sailing in 1978/79!!!!  What a very small world.    

The next blog will cover Florida and our crossing to the Bahamas – this morning (Friday 12th) we find ourselves in Vero Beach, rushing to our friends Dick and Carol Tuschick in Stuart where we will get all of our last minute provisions, covid tests, beer and wine and be ready to take advantage of a hopefully perfect crossing day to the Bahamas tomorrow.   It will be close –    will keep you posted!!

We’re Off Again!

After our last two trips down to the Bahamas we were both hankering to do it again – just one more time. Acknowledging our advancing age, we felt we would be better off on a power boat this time – and wanted a catamaran with a shallow draft so that we would be able to visit many of the places and coves that our 6′ keel prevented us from seeing. After a lot of research and discussion, Garth decided that a PDQ Power Cat was the perfect boat for the job and through our friends Dick and Carol Tuschick and their daughter Beth we were lucky enough to find a really good one in July last year. Of course there was work to be done and Garth spent time upgrading and installing and cleaning and improving – as he does!

We left on October 19th – a day later than we had planned, but I was very grateful for that extra day!    And still there were things I forgot – like pillows!    I had Kate run by the house on her way down to say goodbye. How many groceries do you have to take with you on such a long trip – this many!   It was quite a feat to get everything packed away but we did.    There are still things I forgot, but fortunately the first part of the trip is down the waterway and there are grocery stores along the way.   We will stop and re-provision at Stuart FL before we cross, so now it is list-making-time for the things that we overlooked.  

Saying goodbye was so hard – how are we going to live without these two?

But we threw off the lines and left Back Creek on a very beautiful morning.    The first day took us to Mill Creek, VA.   The sunrise the next morning was a reminder about why we’re doing this – shedding the daily grind and getting in touch again with the simple things.     

We stopped for the night in Hampton after that.    There were so many boats!!   We worried that the whole waterway was going to be this crowded, but I think a lot of them were boats staging in Norfolk to leave on an offshore rally that made it seem worse than it was.    The first time we benefited from the change to a power cat was when we were able to make it under the low bridge in Hampton and anchor in lots of room on a perfectly calm night. 

We left early again the next morning (that is our routine – get up at 6.00, tea and rusks, then head off by 7.00.   After a long day we are tired, and with no TV reception it is easy to be in bed by 9.00 – we are both sleeping so well!!).   The trip through the Norfolk Navy shipyards is always interesting – I love the flat lines of the radar deflecting ships and these are a different kind of Blue Crane (which is the national bird of South Africa I believe). 

After going through the Navy yards, there are a number of low bridges which you have to get through to proceed.   Because everyone generally starts out early, when the bridges are down there can be quite a lot of congestion!    This one is a railway bridge – the horizontal section raises and lowers when a train is crossing.    It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it can back the waterway traffic up for miles!    As it raises, everyone that is waiting jockeys to get back into line to get through  – in case it closes again!

After that there are two choices:   the Dismal Swamp route (what a name!) or the Virginia Cut route.    Most people take the Virginia Cut as it is quicker and deeper, but we chose the Dismal Swamp.   So glad we did.   It is a long, straight canal with locks at each end so there is no tide and just beautiful scenery on each side.    It has a lot of shallow bits, and a lot of bits with logs on the bottom, and for the second time we were pleased with our change to a power cat which only draws 2’6”!   Gary and Mel (our good friends and boat buddies who have lived on their boat for five years and we have done this trip with them twice before) also wanted to do the swamp as there was a bridge that was being worked on on the Virginia Cut that they might not have been able to get through.   So we had good company on the trip, although afterwards they told us that with their 6′ keel they were bumping the bottom in many places.    Only three boats chose that route, so it was peaceful and scenic.

This was a Corps of Engineers boat that came buzzing past us in the canal.   You can see how brown the water is – all the fallen leaves stain the water with tannin and it is almost black.    His wake left a path of foam which slowly settled into the most beautiful patterns.

Once we were through the bridge we anchored for the night at Goat Island and set off the next morning for Belhaven NC.    Our very favorite restaurant in the whole world (except for Eastport Kitchen!) is in Belhaven.   Called Spoon River, it is run by a husband and wife – he’s a farmer and she’s a very talented chef – and they cook what is local and in season.   The restaurant is eclectic  – if you look closely at the lights they are made from books that have been folded or cut into shapes and opened around.    This year didn’t disappoint – I had smoked pork chop with butternut risotto and Garth had rack of lamb.   Both amazing!   And because they had been very full and short staffed (we didn’t mind, we were just soaking it all up) she sent a double dessert on the house – tiramisu and a kind of cookie/bar with chewy bits and homemade ice cream; out of this world.    A whole paragraph about one meal at one restaurant – but if anyone has the opportunity to go there, it’s a must!!!  

From there we stopped at R.E Mayo the next day and picked up some seafood – frozen, but fresh off the boats.   Flounder, speckled trout and shrimp.   More lovely scenery and then we were in Oriental NC for the night.   We managed to snag the municipal dock (power cat advantage #3!) and tied up next to this beautiful shrimp boat.   Fortunately the wind was blowing in the right direction and we didn’t have to sleep with fishy smell all night!    Another good meal ashore with Gary and Mel (why did I bother to buy all those groceries?) and we were on our way again in the morning.  

The scenery you pass along the way is just beautiful.   Lots of marshes and birds and the colors are spectacular.    Of course you share the waterway with lots of different craft.   And you pass amazing homes – I have been snapping pics of the beauties and also the “what were they thinking?” – I might put them all together in a separate blog – much like the winners and losers at the Oscar fashion awards!!  

Into the Waccamaw River which is one of my favorite stretches.   More of the black tannin water and a beautiful winding river with trees lining the edges.   This is where I saw an alligator on our first trip – looked hard this time, but all I got was turtles.   Very cute turtles!  And an osprey.

Charleston was the next stop – I’ll end here and start a new chapter there.  I’m sorry that it has taken so long to get this blog posted.   Hopefully I’ll be able to keep more up to date moving forward – but I can’t promise!

Winding Down

We had a great time in Farmers – reunited with some sailing friends from Maryland after crossing paths at various places along the winter cruising route – as well as other new friends we have made along the way.   The weather wasn’t as co-operative this year with rain on the first day of racing.   However, we got some great shots of the boats …

Whitty K, the overall winner, rounding the mark.   They are a crack team, been sailing together for years apparently, and romp away with the trophies every year.    That doesn’t stop the hopeful competition – which includes H20 from Black Point – who we support because it has the same name as our previous Harbor 20, and because the skipper in his yellow slicker appeared ancient when we watched two years ago – and he’s still at it!!!

The first mark is right amongst the anchored cruising boats, and with the dinghies which follow the race down the course it becomes quite chaotic when everyone starts arriving.

We anchored at Oven Rock and went looking for the nearby cave – amazing stalagmite/tite formations.   To the right you could go down to a pool of fresh water – we were told that if you stood in the water the shrimp-y things would come and nibble the dead skin off your feet!!   Not this girl, not to even go into the cave, let alone the water!   The rock colors are very beautiful.

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From Farmers we headed down to Georgetown which was abuzz with boats and people arriving for “regatta” – a two week period of fun and games, volleyball, softball, poker run, variety show – you name it, something on every day.   There was even a sailing race – duh – “regatta”!   Garth had hoped to sail but it was only on the 24th and we would have left already.   Very disappointed.

We anchored at Monument Beach which was a little bit away from the regatta craziness at Chat and Chill.   As always, the sunsets are just amazing.

And when you wake up to a wind-less morning, it is just as beautiful.   An Australian powercat was anchored near us and we enjoyed their sense of humor.   A blow up kangaroo on the bow, together with two blowup dolls that had new outfits every day and were re-positioned around the boat – sometimes on the bow, sometimes waving from the stern – always a double take!

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It was our 39th anniversary on February 16th, so we treated ourselves to a night out at a wonderful restaurant at one of the resorts – no matter how up-market, the dress is always casual.   It was that same still calm day, and the ride home was so beautiful with all the boats’ anchor lights reflecting in the water.

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The dinghy dock in Georgetown is always crowded – there were 293 boats anchored across the water when we were there and everyone comes into town to get groceries, water and to drop off garbage.   When you leave you have to negotiate this tiny little gap under the bridge – when the tide is going out and the wind is blowing in, you are guaranteed a soaking as the one meets the other!

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It is about a mile dinghy ride from Georgetown itself to Monument Beach, so our friends John and Denise McLinn were very kind to come in and help us with luggage when Jonathan and Anne arrived.

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We left Georgetown the next morning to explore the Exumas with Jonathan and Anne.   We were lucky that their trip coincided with their friends Pete and Louise still being in the area, and we met up with them and shared a fabulous meal on their boat at Children’s Bay Cay, and all going on to Lee Stocking Island the next morning.   (Naming all of these places is to help me remember them later – there are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas, many of those in the Exumas uninhabited and just exquisitely beautiful).

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From there to Black Point where we enjoyed a Bahamian Buffet at the famous Lorraine’s Restaurant which ended with her giving us two red roses (left over from Valentines I think) which lasted more than a week.   A lovely extravagance on a sailboat!   Even though the vase was a beer bottle wrapped in a microfiber cloth.

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To try and explain the geography, the Exumas are a long thin chain of islands which have the deep waters of the Exuma Sound on the eastern side, and the Bahama Bank on their western side.    The winds blow predominantly from the east, and with the deep water and strong winds you get big waves developing on the “outside”.   But if you can get through a cut between the islands (some are more navigable than others), the waters on the Bahama Bank are protected from the wind by the islands and are much calmer.   As well as being shallow and crystal clear – the white sand and shallow water are what make the water down here so turquoise blue.   However, in many places it is really shallow and our boat has a 6’ draft so we are often limited as to where we can go and where we can anchor.   And when the wind changes direction and blows from the west there is very little protection so you have to be constantly aware of weather predictions and where you find yourself when the westerlies blow.    There are places you can tuck in where you are protected from east or west, but they are sometimes too shallow for us.    And when the weather is due to turn, all of the cruising boats head for the safest spots so you had better get there early!!   All of this to explain that it is not always “smooth sailing” and that you can’t always go where you would like unless the winds are in your favor.   Because of very shallow areas on the Bahama Bank lower down, the legs from Georgetown to Lee Stocking Island, and from there to Black Point had to be done “outside” – I was grateful in the big seas for Jon and Anne’s sailing expertise, which left me free to huddle in the corner and contemplate seasickness, which fortunately didn’t become an issue!!!

Up on the “inside” to Cambridge Cay where you couldn’t ask for more – red wine, roses, delicious seafood pasta, evidence of the day’s snorkeling expedition drying in the background, balmy and warm enough for sleeveless clothing all night and then the full moon rising just for us!!

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The next morning we walked over the island to the beach on the ocean side and Garth and Anne climbed the hill next to Bell Rock.  Jon and I were content to walk on the beach and try and pick up as much plastic as we could.   It is a never ending battle to deal with the synthetic flotsam and jetsam that washes up on these beaches, especially as most of the islands are uninhabited and even if you do pick it up, there is no way of getting it disposed of.    Cambridge is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park where the entire environment is protected and you can take nothing and leave nothing.   From what I hear the lobster and grouper that you see when you go diving have this smug little smirk on their faces, knowing that you can’t touch them!   But it is a wonderful Trust and the laws are strictly enforced, to the extent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and confiscation of your boat if you are caught fishing there.

While we were walking this beautiful power boat, the Allesandra, came in and picked up a mooring ball next to us.   We watched in awe as the crew hustled to get all of the toys unloaded and ready for use.  It made our special dinner the night before seem somewhat tawdry – but hey, the sunset and moonrise looked just the same from our cockpit as from theirs!

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From there up to our favorite spot, Waderick Wells, which is the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park.   We were greeted by this large guy, who seemed to enjoy the shade that our boat provided.   You can believe that we thought twice about jumping in for a swim!

While combing the beach at Cambridge, we had found a piece of driftwood and thought we would try again putting our boat name at the top of Boo Boo Hill.   This time Garth etched the boat name into the wood with his heat gun, so we hope that when we return one day we will be able to find and identify it.

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Walking back to the boat you go over sand flats where the tides ebb and flow.   Loved the image that these mangrove roots made when the tide went out, and the twisted roots keeping this hardy little tree alive.

We were enjoying Waderick so much that we decided to stay put for another aimless day rather than pressing on to a new anchorage.   Jon and Anne had completely unwound by this time and it was hard to contemplate that they had to get on a flight in Nassau and head home to cold Virginia.   But press on we did after our two days in Waderick and we did the long day crossing to Nassau in a perfect flat sea.  It was so strange to be tied up in a resort marina with electricity and golf carts and rental cars.

We dropped the Hutchings off for their flight the next day after having a wonderful time with them – so many laughs! – and then drove into Nassau itself to look around.    Horrors!!    There were four huge cruise ships in port and all of the passengers had been disgorged into the streets.   You could hardly move.   Solicitors standing outside jewelry stores and restaurants trying to entice you into their establishment – why is it that people who go on cruise ships feel a need to buy expensive jewels at exotic places???   We couldn’t get out of there fast enough and headed back to the boat as soon as we could.   I would have loved to have been there at a quieter time as the colonial buildings are charming and I’m sure that there are so many interesting places to explore.

We spent a day or two doing laundry and reveling in the well stocked grocery store and then headed off ourselves towards Spanish Wells, Eleuthera once more to begin our slow journey home.

 

Some technical info

I have learned something – if you get my blog via an email, or look at it on your phone, apparently you see all of the pictures in the same size, in a long line underneath each other.    Who knew – that’s not the way I compile it.

Apparently if you click on the title of the blog within the email (not the subject line) it will re-format and be shown the way I would like you to see it.    Give it a try – it takes time to put together and I would much rather you see it in its proper layout.

Next Phase – Leaving the Abacos

After Christmas and New Year, we had a wonderful visit from our friends Kevin and Kathy.   They flew down and stayed in a hotel, but we were able to show them all around Elbow Cay and Hope Town.    We went for a sail one day, not really enough wind but we anchored and swam – and passed these two boats which were anchored out.    The first was called Incognito – 165’ of luxury.   The second, called Shadow was their support boat – 185’ !!!    Besides the three high powered motor boats we could see, there were FIVE jetskis on deck and I can just imagine what other goodies they carried for the folk on Incognito.

 

You certainly see all kinds of things – including a seaplane which motored into Hope Town Harbor one day.    I can only imagine the surprise when that sport fishing boat turned the corner and was confronted by a plane motoring out!!

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We had fun with Kevin and Kathy – lots of great meals, lots of great drinks, lots of great beaches, and then sadly it was time for them to leave.

 

 

The weather window was good, so as their ferry set off to take them to the Marsh Harbour airport, we motored out of Hope Town and down to Lynyard Cay to wait overnight for our crossing to Eleuthera the next day.

 

The crossing was good – we felt very diminutive when we crossed paths with this HUGE cruise ship.   I don’t understand how they just don’t topple over; they seem so top heavy.

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We love Spanish Wells at the north end of Eleuthera.   We rented a golf cart and explored all around; we shopped at their well stocked grocery store and we re-visited all of our old haunts.    We had always wanted to go to Harbour Island, but the route there is studded with treacherous coral heads so taking our boats around was not a good option.    We got a ticket on the high speed ferry that comes from Nassau and goes to Harbour Island (the name is diminished to “Briland” by the locals).   It was a great idea as five hours there, walking almost the whole time, gave us a good idea of what it was all about.

First things first – we found a coffee shop for a good latte – they had these art pieces that I liked.

 

Next are a whole bunch of pictures of things that appealed to me – I could have taken hundreds more.   We didn’t have time to learn too much of the history, but the surface of things left a great impression.

 

 

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We found yet another gem of a local restaurant – The Queen Conch – Mel had the mango conch salad.  Yum – as were our special of the day rum drinks …. until we got the bill and found that they had cost $12 each!

 

Time to head further south.   We had seen a weather pattern that would allow us to make our way to Cat Island – always wanted to go there – and so we went quickly down Eleuthera this time.   Our one stop was at Governor’s Harbour.   As in so many places around the world, the churches are what anchor the community.

 

It was a nice stop, but on a Sunday nothing was open so we left at first light the next morning.    What a day!     Not a breath of wind and amazing light and colors playing on the water.

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Our destination for that night was Little San Salvador.   This small island has been bought by a cruise line and re-named Half Moon Bay (much more enticing for the brochures!)    It is a day destination for the huge cruise ships – there were two there when we arrived.    Hundreds and hundreds of people ferried ashore to enjoy (?) themselves swimming and sunning and sipping umbrella drinks until it was time to go back to the ship.    I think a skeleton staff stays on the island, but staff is brought in from Eleuthera and Cat Island and taken home again once the ships leave.   Fortunately, cruising boats are permitted to anchor at the northern end of the island which is completely unspoilt and we had the best swim ever off the beach.

 

Our friends Terry and Di do a house swop every year to Cat Island – their house was on the beach at the south end in Port Howe.    We anchored in a little bay that was completely protected by a reef – it was spectacular!

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