Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We unexpectedly found pigs on a beach at No Name Cay in the northern Abacos.  Like the pigs at Big Majors Spot in the Exumas, they are a major tourist draw.  Look at the people who have come a couple of miles by boat to look at the pigs and feed them.  Why?

The No Name Cay pigs have their own municipal water supply.  It is decorated with ads from local businesses and a thank you note to the “Pig Whisperer” for his relentless dedication to the pigs.  The sign with a picture of a dog and a pig asks “Why do we love one and eat the other” then goes on to list the adorable traits of pigs.  Yuck.

A near constant stream of people come to feed the pigs.  Someone brought them a case of rather large asparagus which they apparently do not have a taste for.  Oh yea, Bill says we eat pigs because they are made out of food.

Just around the corner from the pig beach is a mangrove lined creek.  It was more interesting and prettier than the pigs.  Bill got us a little too close to the mangrove roots, and I am a little worried.  It would be too easy for a snake to be hiding somewhere in there.

In the early morning fog on the Waccamaw River in South Carolina we passed this daymark.  It is a navigational aid and marks one side of the channel.  An osprey nest all but completely covers the red triangle that is the marker.  It is their nesting season, and there are chicks in the nest.

Hello from Northwest Creek Marina in New Bern, NC.  Irish Eyes is back in her home slip.  It will take us a few days to clean up the boat and pack all our things into the ancient Blazer before the well-traveled crew of Irish Eyes heads home.

When I last wrote we were anchored at Lynyard Cay in the Abacos.  While we were there Bill made his third and last batch of beer using the ingredients we bought in Miami.  In the evening we shared a glass of the second batch with another cruiser who declared it to be good beer, but both of us already knew that.  From Lynyard Cay we moved a bit north to Tahiti Beach with its sand beach and coconut palms for a few days.  We had several thunderstorms which brought some rain, and the first of the rainy season rain brought mosquitos.  They were hardy little buggers that could fly even when the wind was blowing, so bug repellant spray traveled with us when we went to a restaurant to eat or went shopping --- DEET, the perfume of the rainy season in the Bahamas.

When we had entered the Bahamas in Bimini back in March, we had been given a 90 day leave to stay in the Bahamas.  The clock had been ticking, and we needed to visit the immigrations office in Marsh Harbour to get a 30-day extension.  We anchored the boat in the Marsh Harbour harbor and took a cab to the Government Center on the edge of town.  The cab ride was a great improvement on last year’s long walk in the blazing hot sun.  Cool and dry definitely beat hot and sweaty when we filled out the necessary forms and dealt with the officials.  We got our extensions.  Bill could see no reason to waste money on the return taxi trip, so we walked back.

Marsh Harbour with its one stoplight seemed like a metropolis after months in the smaller islands.  Maxwells, the grocery store, was a real supermarket and the near equal to a Florida Publix.  It was a little overwhelming to see all the goods for sale after doing my shopping in a series of one room stores behind the owner’s house.  I explored Marsh Harbour’s numerous gift shops, and we ate in the local restaurants.  One morning we took our huge bag of dirty clothes to the laundromat.  It was Tuesday, and the office in the laundromat was closed.  That meant we had to get our quarters elsewhere.  I went to the small grocery store next to the laundromat.  The young woman I spoke with said not all quarters would work in the machines, only US coins and older Bahamian coins would work.  The woman kindly sorted through the quarters in her cash drawer to find the good ones and asked the other cashiers to do the same.  That was enough to get me started.  I sent Bill to the bank to get more quarters.  The bank tellers were not as accommodating as the store cashiers.  They just gave Bill a roll of quarters in exchange for his ten-dollar bill.  Bill and I had to sort through the quarters to find ones that would work.  Our success rate was less than thirty percent.  Finally, after several more trips to the bank, I had enough good quarters to finish our laundry and a pirate’s treasure of quarters that would not work.  I had forgotten to bring my DEET, and the mosquitoes that were busily hatching in the broken machines behind the laundromat had a feast on my legs.  I moved to the front of the building, so that the bugs would have to fly farther to get me.  It didn’t help much.  Later, and fortunately for us, on our last trip to Maxwells, the cashier saw Bill’s box of quarters and asked if he wanted to exchange them with her.  The answer was yes, and she counted the pile and gave him bills.  Bill and I were afraid we would be giving away Bahamian quarters for Christmas presents.

We listened to the radio weather reports and studied the internet.  Tropical storm Bonnie would go up the United States east coast, there would be a pause in the weather, and then another larger area of bad weather would follow.  That bad weather would last perhaps two weeks in the Bahamas.  While we don’t really think that the weather can be forecast three weeks in advance, it sounded like the “pause” would be a good time to sail for home.  If we went slowly up the northern Abacos and let Bonnie get out of the way, we could be back in the US before the two weeks of nasty weather arrived in the Bahamas.  Yep, it was time to head north.

We left Marsh Harbour and after a short stop at Bakers Bay, went around the ocean side of Whale Cay, and anchored at No Name Cay which is just south of Green Turtle Cay.  As a surprise to us, No Name Cay had pigs.  These lucky pigs had a 1000-gallon water tank, plastic boxes for shelter, and a keeper who wore a pig keeper tee shirt and came every day to feed them split coconuts.  A constant stream of motorboats from the local resorts brought guests to see the pigs.  During daylight there were always at least ten people standing on the beach looking at the pigs and offering them something to eat.  Unlike the Big Majors Spot pigs, the No Name Cay pigs didn’t swim out to greet the people bringing them food, but maybe these pigs were just new at the game and needed to learn that skill.  I am still mystified by the lure of pigs.  Why do rich people want to feed pigs on a beach?  What is the draw?  I much more enjoyed taking a dinghy tour of the mangrove lined creek that flowed through the island.  It was very interesting.  I had never seen such a forest of head high, twisted and tangled, red mangrove roots reaching down into fish filled water before.  If it had not looked so snake-y, I would have stayed longer.

Tired of two days of tourists and pigs, we motored to Green Turtle Cay towing our dinghy behind.  We went ashore to drop off some trash, buy a loaf of bread, stretch our legs, and take a look around.  It was sunny, still, and hot, and we were about the only people moving around.  We stopped at Miss Emily’s famous Blue Bee Bar to get out of the sun, sit down, have a beer, and cool off.  An old business card from our first visit to the Blue Bee Bar in perhaps 1986 was back on the boat.  My guess is that the business has been there much longer than that.

The wind continued to be extremely light.  We motored up the Sea Abaco stopping first at Allans-Pensacola Cay for one night.  The sand fleas there were terrible.  Our attempt at a beach walk was ambushed by the sharp toothed flying beasts.  We put in all the screens before sundown, then we sprayed the screens with insecticide to stop any fleas that could fit through the holes.  I do not like biting bugs.  The next day we motored all day to get to Great Sale Cay.  That would be our last night in the Bahamas.  We anchored off of a small sandy beach, so we could have one last beach walk.  Well, the beach was rocky and not very pretty.  Bill walked around the corner to look at a wrecked sailboat and scared up a big black pig with tusks that been busy rooting in the sand along the shore.  It charged out of the brush sounding like a galloping horse, and gave me a fright.  What is it with pigs?  This one was truly wild.  I have no idea how that black pig got there.  Great Sale Cay is not close to any town.  There is not a thing on the island except trees and shrubs.  Back at the boat, we put the deflated dinghy on the deck, mounted the dinghy’s outboard on the stern rail, and took a last swim in the Bahamas.  Sad.

On Tuesday, May 31 we were underway by 8am headed for Charleston staying east of the Gulf Stream.  There was no wind, so we were motoring.  After a day of motoring, Bill was worried that we would run out of fuel before we got to Charleston.  He altered our course to the west to put us in the Gulf Stream both to give us a little push to the north and to put us closer to the Florida coast in case we needed to stop for fuel.  Fortunately, the wind did pick up at times letting us turn off the engine and sail.  Nothing exciting happened on our three-day trip.  We saw a few ships, dolphins, and birds.  In the evenings there were thunderstorms all around us, but none came over us.  Watching lightning strike the nearby water was impressive.  We were just glad it was nearby, not close.

We entered Charleston Harbor just after 8am on June 3, tied up alongside the Mega Dock at the Charleston City Marina, and were officially cleared into the United States by Customs and Border Protection before noon.  It was hot.  We were probably the only boat without air conditioning on the dock; and the smallest, too.  The motor yacht Fountainhead was our neighbor.  Google “yacht Fountainhead” to see all the details.  Trust me when I say it is bigger than Irish Eyes.  It was flying a Cayman Islands flag which means it is registered there to avoid US taxes.  We fly a US flag.  That Is all I am going to say about that subject.

Our stay in Charleston was short, one night.  The forecasted nasty weather behind us had spawned a tropical storm named Colin.  Ahead of it, thunderstorms were predicted for coastal waters.  We made the decision to go up the ICW towards Georgetown and anchor there for the night.  The greenhead flies followed us in spite of my swatting and killing hundreds.  At McClellanville, the water was 4.5 feet deep.  We pushed poor Irish Eyes’ 5 foot draft through the mud for about a mile. Maybe if everyone paid their taxes, the Corps of Engineers could afford to dredge the waterway.  At sunset we anchored in the Waccamaw River just north of Georgetown.

Tropical Storm Colin was to cross Florida and come straight up the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.  The forecast was for 6 inches of rain and 50 knots of wind.  With that forecast we decided to stay on the ICW.  We stopped early the next day in Thoroughfare Creek off the Waccamaw River so that Bill could go swimming and look at the rudder which was acting funny after our mile of mud.  The fresh water and sandy beach attracted a lot of local motor boaters who spent the afternoon swimming and partying.  It was entertaining to watch.  When it started to thunder everyone left, and we had a peaceful night all by ourselves.

The next two nights were spent in Little River in the marina.  We saw my sister and brother-in-law which as always was fun.  Tropical Storm Colin turned out to be for us a non-event.  It rained a little and the wind blew a little, but it was nothing like the forecast.  The barometer did drop to 1004 mb Monday night, and that was really the only unusual thing.  When we got up Tuesday morning, the bad weather was gone and the sky was clearing.

We left through the Little River Inlet and sailed out into the Atlantic past Sunset Beach, Holden Beach, and Oak Island to the Cape Fear River.  The current and wind were both against us in the river making the trip upstream slow and tiresome.  It was almost sunset when we anchored at Carolina Beach.

Our plan was to motor to Wrightsville Beach, rest there until after supper, then go out through the Masonboro Inlet into the ocean and sail overnight to Beaufort Inlet.  From there we would motor in the ICW to Adams Creek, rest and spend the night there, then sail to New Bern the next day.  That was exactly what we did.

The trip to Beaufort was sixty-six miles long.  It would have been a stretch to sail that far in the daylight.  We chose to leave before sunset and arrive after sunrise to make the passages through both inlets easier even though it meant traveling mostly in the dark.  One year we came through the Beaufort Inlet in the dark at 11:00pm.  It was scary, and I’m not doing that again.

We sailed the entire way from Masonboro Inlet to Beaufort Inlet only turning the engine on to pass through the inlets.  In the dark I was confused for several minutes by different colored lights going on and off behind us, but I eventually realized that they were fireworks just over the horizon at Carolina Beach.  Bill saw some military flares when the Marines at Camp Lejeune lit up Onslow Beach for an hour or so.  There were no other surprises, and it was a nice sail.

When we got to Adams Creek we anchored, ate lunch, took a nap, had supper, and slept like babies through the cool night.

Saturday, June 11 we were up early and on our way to Northwest Creek Marina sailing up the river with all three sails set.  This was the last leg of the journey.  We were tied up in our slip and chatting with our neighbors before lunch – 139 days away from our slip and with just less than 2000 nautical miles under our keel.

The cleanup has begun and the packing will follow shortly.  This was our 9th trip to the Bahamas on Irish Eyes.  Bill and I are still speaking to each other after 4 months in a space 34 feet by 10-1/2 feet.  We had fun together and will probably do it again.

We will be home soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Anchored at Staniel Cay one morning Francois came over from the nearby anchored boat, Kel Bel Vie, in his dinghy to tell us that he had taken pictures of our boat the evening before.  This is one of them.  Nice, huh?

From time to time we have found flying fish on our deck in the morning.  This year we have twice found squid.  This one left a mark on our dodger window four feet above the water before falling to the deck where he left a nice ink stain.  I did not know squid could fly.

The ocean side beaches on Great Guana Cay are rocky cliffs.  The view goes for miles.

In low spots between the cliffs, plastic trash washes ashore.  It is a horrible thing.  Don’t dump things in the sea.

The Bahamas are made of limestone, so of course there are caves.  Bill took this flash picture inside one of them.  The fresh water filled pool is big enough to swim in.  I would not go in.  It was big and dark.  You never know what might be waiting inside.

We are allowed to have up to six conchs on the boat at any one time.  We stumbled into three large ones which Bill cleaned and I cooked.  They are just big, slimy snails.  See the slime dripping from the thing.

This is a a lionfish.  They are pretty, but they are dangerous.  Besides the feather-like spines you see, the fish has needle sharp poisonous spines that can cause a nasty sting.  Bill and Russ Veldman speared eight of the fish, and we ate them for dinner.

Warderick Wells is an island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  It is illegal to collect shells there, so people have picked them up off the beach and used them as cairns to mark the trails.  I think they are prettier than the usual piles of rocks.

This is the ninth year we have been to the Bahamas.  We put this sign on top of a hill near the park headquarters the first year, and we have carved each year’s date into it every year since.

One coral head we swam around was inhabited by hundreds of French grunts.  This is just part of the school that was passing by below me.  Russ accidentally speared one of these the day we got the lionfish.  We ate that one along with all the lionfish.

I am going to call these four fish ‘angelfish’ because try as I might and looking in my books, I can’t tell if they are French angelfish or gray angelfish.

This spotfin butterflyfish was leading a school of French grunts around and around a coral head.

Purple sea fans just wave back and forth majestically in the current all day, every day.

Sometimes I think the queen angelfish are the prettiest fish on the reef.

I had this beach at the north end of Shroud Cay all to myself.  Mine were the only footprints.

As we were sailing from Ship Channel Cay to Egg Island, an Australian catamaran overtook us.  He was already anchored at Egg Island when we arrived, and he brought us this picture of our boat under sail.

Approaching Abaco the first thing we saw on the horizon were forest fires on the southern end of the island.  The sun shining through the smoke cloud made it look like the sea was on fire as well.

The day after we arrived in Abaco, we took the dinghy to Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour for a cheeseburger and beer.  That is a Bahamas national flag flying outside.

It has been a long time since I have written.  [I am sorry, Dorman, but I have been busy.]  To make up for my tardiness, I added a lot of pictures this time.

Julia, Josh, Isabella, and Olivia arrived at the Staniel Cay airport on April 2.  We were really glad to see them.  They had a delayed flight then security problems, and they almost missed their flight from Nassau to Staniel Cay.  Unfortunately, their bags were still in Nassau.  Julia had her purse with her, and the girls had their backpacks, but none of their checked luggage made it.  After a little shopping for necessities, we all went to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a cold drink (or two) and a late lunch.  Suitably recovered, all six of us piled into our little four-man dinghy and headed to Irish Eyes which was anchored in front of the famous Thunderball Grotto of James Bond fame.

Early the next morning Bill and Josh went back to the airport to see if the luggage had come on the 8:00 flight from Nassau.  The bags made it; Josh had his short pants, and Isabella and Olivia had their bathing suits. We were all set.

We made a quick run over to Pig Beach at Big Major’s Spot to fed the pigs the leftover pancakes from our breakfast.  I still am amazed at the number of people who pay good money to see the swimming pigs.  There are several motorboat adventure tour companies that bring people 70 miles south from Nassau or 50 miles north from George Town just to feed the pigs.  The pigs swim out to greet boats, and the pigs, like pigs anywhere, eat nearly anything they are offered.

The weather forecast for the time of our guests' stay was not the best – a couple of good days, a too windy or maybe stormy day, then some more good days.  We headed north to Cambridge Cay hoping to get a mooring ball in the protected harbor where the kids could swim and play on the beach during the bad weather.  When we arrived all the balls were full and there were several boats anchored waiting like vultures for someone to leave.  We cruised through the mooring field and anchored off of Bell Island.  The evening was pleasant with a beach walk, a swim, dinner, and an early night.

Not far from Bell Island was a shallow coral area called the Sea Aquarium.  There were tons of different fish and beautiful coral outcroppings making it a great place to snorkel.  Isabella and Olivia each had a new mask and snorkel.  The snorkels were not very well made, and they leaked.  That was okay.  The kids were not going to dive under the water - just floating on the surface, drifting along in the current, and looking at the fish and coral below.  Isabella and I swam off together looking at the fish. Isabella raised her head and said the clown fish and the parrot fish looked like they had on make-up.  She was right.  They did.  Olivia, at age four, simply screamed.  The hundreds of fish swimming around her were frightening, actually terrifying.  All she wanted was to get out of the water and back to the safety of the dinghy.  Later on Irish Eyes, Isabella was looking at fish books identifying the different fish she had seen.  She recognized several in the photos.  Her sister, Olivia, said the fish she saw were straight.  They were silver and had yellow on them.  I found a picture of a yellowtail snapper, and she immediately said, “That’s it.”  Olivia had indeed seen fish.

Unable to get a mooring at Cambridge Cay, our best course of action seemed to be to return to Big Majors Spot where we would have reasonable protection from the strong northeast wind and rain predicted for later in the day.  The wind was supposed to be light and variable or maybe light from the northeast in the morning before picking up in the late afternoon.  We pulled up Irish Eyes’ anchor and headed back south.  The wind fooled the weather forecasters.  Half way to Big Majors Spot the sky darkened, and the wind began blowing about 20 knots from the south.  Not a fun sail.  It was a rough, wet motorsail into the wind with water coming over the deck.  At one point I looked at the knot meter and our speed was 0.9 knots, barely crawling.  Bill and I normally would not travel in conditions like that, but we were.  Isabella, Oliva and Josh were fine.  Julia was a little green, although she improved after a dose of Dramamine. 

It took us about four hours to get to Big Major’s Spot.  Just after we arrived the sky to the north turned very dark, the wind swung to the northeast, and it rained hard.  Isabella and Olivia helped Bill catch ten gallons of rainwater in plastic jugs.  I had not rinsed myself off from our snorkeling adventure, so I sat outside in the rain, but the wind was cool and the rain drops were big enough to hurt.  I finished my shower indoors.

The next morning the sky was a brilliant blue with plenty of sunshine. The Self family and I headed to Pirate Beach at Big Major’s.  Over the years several cruising boats had brought picnic tables, chairs, a grill, decorations, and even corn hole equipment to the small beach.  It was a great spot for just hanging out.  Olivia would later say it was her favorite place.

We took several dinghy trips to other nearby beaches in the next couple of days.  One afternoon we waded on a nearby sandbar looking for sand dollars.  Everyone found at least one. I found a camera.  It was a disposable camera, full of sand.  I hope whoever lost it had another camera with pictures of their trip.

Sadly, the Self family had to go back home on April 7th.  The girls had school and Josh had work.  Their journey did not get off to a good start. There was an especially big crowd at the airport, and it took three plane trips to ferry everyone to Nassau.  As luck would have it, the Selfs ended up on the third plane (which was actually the first plane on its second trip).  That made their connection in Nassau tight, but they make it.  As they were getting on the plane, Olivia told Josh that she wished they were getting off the plane and just beginning their vacation.  Me too, sigh.

Our friends Bill and Phyllis on the motorboat ‘Oh My!’ were also anchored at Big Major’s Spot.  We spent the next couple of days catching up with them first at a beach potluck dinner then later on a dinghy trip looking for sand dollars and shells.  Friends kept us from feeling too lonely.

We stayed at Big Major’s Spot for a while.  Bill made another batch of beer (which was very good), and we weathered a dry cold front.  The cold front meant lots of wind, cloudy skies, and slightly lower temperatures.  It dropped from 77 to 72 degrees which at the time seemed quite cool to us.  On April 12th it was time to move on.  The garbage was full, and we needed a few gallons of water.  We said good-bye to our friends and headed south to Black Point.

In Black Point Bill went ashore, filled two jugs with water from the town’s tap, dropped our garbage in their trash trailer, and put a little money in the donation box on the trailer.  He met the folks from ‘Cookie Monster’ and made arrangements to meet them at Scorpio’s for the Cruiser’s Happy Hour.

There were several boats in the harbor, so the Happy Hour was lots of fun.  Robin from ‘Cookie Monster’ was a retired math teacher.  She had taught at the Black Point All Age School when she was in Black Point before.  The Assistant Principal at the school, Mr. Musgrove, came to Scorpio’s to see Robin and arrange for her to teach again.  Bill had brought a couple of refrigeration books along on this trip planning to donate them to the school in hopes that someone would take up the trade because the nearest refrigeration technicians are in Nassau and George Town.  Bill talked to Mr. Musgrove about donating the books to the school library, and Mr. Musgrove invited Bill to come to the school next morning to talk to the kids in the middle grades, all seven of them. The next morning Bill combed his hair, put on his one pair of long pants, socks, shoes, and a collared shirt, and went to the school.  He almost looked respectable.  He talked briefly to the kids about his career as a chemical engineer and left his books.  Robin sat in the corner of the room and smiled.

After the excitement of Black Point, we needed a little peace and quiet.  Starting in Black Point in the north we began a beach-a-day journey down the ten-mile-long uninhabited southern end of Great Guana Cay.  We explored one limestone cave by dinghy and another by foot.  We walked beaches, collected shells, and relaxed.  While anchored at Isaac Bay, we checked out the nearby coral heads with a glass bottom bucket, picked the one that seemed the best, put on our fins and masks, and went exploring.  We saw beautiful tropical fish and several lionfish. Lionfish are an invasive fish from the Pacific with no predators in the Atlantic.  Someone, somewhere released a pair of lionfish and the fish have flourished in the Bahamas.  Although pretty, they eat the native fish and reproduce rapidly.  Lionfish have 18 venomous needle-like spines that can cause a very painful and serious reaction if a spine pierces the skin.

At the south end of Great Guana Cay we turned back north and returned to Black Point.  I did our laundry, and we had dinner and drinks with our friends Dorothy and Glenn from Dot’s Way before continuing on north to Staniel Cay.

In Staniel Cay Bill and I went grocery shopping.  We found almost everything we needed at the Blue Store and the Pink Pearl Supermarket.  The bread lady was baking that morning, so we stopped at her house and bought a loaf of coconut bread and another of white bread.  With clean linens and food aboard, Irish Eyes was ready for guests.

We met Russ and Gayle at the airport, and the four of us had a late lunch/early dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  I do like their grouper fingers.  As we were leaving we watched the fishermen at the dock cleaning their catch.  Dozens and dozens of sharks were feeding on the guts and bones that were tossed into the water.  A local fellow with one arm was trying to convince some young women to wade into the water and pat the feeding sharks on the head.  He leaned over and scratched their heads with his remaining hand saying they were really just pets.  I would like to know how he lost his arm.

After a nice calm evening and good night’s sleep, we pulled up our anchor and made the obligatory stop at Pig Beach. Russ and Gayle saw the swimming pigs.  Later we sailed to Bitter Guana Cay where there are iguanas on the beach.  Some of the adventure tour boats that bring folks to see the pigs, also stop at the Iguana Beach.  There are signs saying not to feed the things, but the iguanas expect food. They eat fruit.  All we had were raisins.  I am not sure they were big fans of raisins.  While they ate the raisins, they sure looked like they expected better.

From Bitter Guana Cay we sailed down to Jack’s Bay Cove on Guana Cay anchoring there with one other boat.  We explored the western side beach with its lone pine tree, crossed over to the little cove on the eastern side of the cay to inspect the piles of plastic sea trash that accumulate there, took the dinghy into the cave in the rocks to the north, then toured the rocky shore on our way back to the boat.

Our next stop was Galliot Cay.  There we found two keeper conch. Bill cleaned them on the beach along with one we had found earlier.  They would later become conch chowder.  Before leaving the next morning, we took the dinghy to Big Farmers Cay where we walked the beach, checked out a small cave, and waded in a mangrove creek.

Returning to the north we anchored in Isaac Bay where we toured the coral head that Bill and I had scouted earlier.  After taking some underwater photographs, the lionfish hunt began.  Bill and Russ speared eight.  Bill said it was like shooting fish in a barrel; it was so easy. While Bill was cleaning the fish, one of the venomous spines pierced Bill’s hand through the thick rubber gloves he was wearing.  The internet says to place a cloth soaked in hot water on the spot as soon as possible.  He did.  Bill said it felt like a hornet sting.  Russ finished cleaning the fish. I poached them in white wine and lime juice. Lionfish have white, flaky meat without a strong fishy taste.  We enjoyed our fish.

We headed to Black Point for a drink and dinner at Scorpio’s.  Dot’s Way sailed past us on their way back from the Ragged Islands and suggested we all meet at Scorpio’s for supper.  We did just that.  Russ and Gayle enjoyed talking with the other cruisers in the restaurant.

We spent the last night of Russ and Gayle’s Bahamian adventure anchored at Staniel Cay.  Bill took them to the airport in the early morning, and we moved the boat back to Big Majors Spot where it was a little calmer.

The weather forecast was grim once again.  A cold front was coming with its west winds and rain.  It was time to find a more protected spot.  We sailed up to Cambridge Cay with its all round protection, this time far enough in advance to assure that we could get a mooring ball.  While waiting for the bad weather to arrive, we walked the beaches and sand flats.  The pre-frontal rain came at 3am on Thursday May 5th.  It rained about ¼ of an inch, and we caught a little rain.  The real front came through around 8am with lots of rain and 30-35 knot winds.  The rain was great, we filled both of our water tanks and put 25 gal in plastic jugs to boot.

The following day, we left Cambridge Cay and reserved a mooring at Warderick Wells, the Exuma Park Headquarters.  Some say it has the most beautiful water in the world.  On our first trip to the Bahamas we carved our names, the boat name, and the year in a piece of mahogany we found on the beach.  We left it atop Boo Boo Hill with a pile of similar signs left by other cruisers.  Each trip we have carved another year in that sign.  We climbed the hill and without too much looking found our sign.  Bill carved MMXVI into the sign, and we put it back on the hill.

With summer coming, it was time to head north toward the Carolinas, even if ever so slowly.  After two nights tied to our mooring ball, we left Warderick Wells and spent one night at the south end of Hawksbill Cay.  We took advantage of the calm weather to explore the sand flats and rocky cays at the south end of the cay.  It too was a pretty place.

From Hawksbill we sailed up to Shroud Cay anchoring at the north end of the cay where we stayed three days.  Of course we explored the north mangrove creeks making the loop and going all the way through the island to the ocean side beaches in three places.  We went up north to Little Wax Cay and even to the rocks beyond checking out all the beaches as we went by.  We snorkeled on Neptune’s Oasis, a coral garden we had never visited before.  I loved looking at the beautiful water and sand.

Leaving Shroud Cay we motored in light winds to Ship Channel Cay at the north end of the Exumas then the next day sailed and motored to Egg Island in Eleuthera.  From there we again motored in almost no wind across the 50-mile-wide Northeast Providence Channel to the Abacos where we are now anchored off Lynyard Cay.  We will rest there for a day or two then spend the next few weeks in the Abacos before moving on.

We will see you in June. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

It is spring time in Tennessee and you probably have your grape hyacinths in bloom.  I can’t find these purple things in my books, but they do look like a grape hyacinth to me.

The sand flats within Shroud Cay were dotted with these mounds that some worm-like creatures built.

An Exuma Sound beach is just beyond this creek inlet.  We got lost in our dinghy trying to find the beach and got lost again coming back.  The story is below.

Bill is telling tales of past Family Island Regatta sailboat races over drinks at Scorpio’s.  Fishy is listening and smiling.  He races in George Town every year.

The parade at the Black Point Easter Festival featured local girls in costumes.

After the parade there were fire dancers.

Hello!  I hope you all had a Happy Easter.

We finally left Norman’s Cay after being there over a week.  The wind settled down, the waves dropped down, and we were at last able to move farther south.  We traveled all of five miles to Shroud Cay.  Our anchor was down before noon on March 12.  It was nice to have new scenery.

Shroud Cay has several creeks that pass from the west side of the island through the interior to the east side beaches on the Exuma Sound.  The mangrove lined creeks are beautiful and fun to explore.  The creeks are shallow and winding, forming a water filled network in the island interior.  At dead low tide we took the dinghy into the mouth of one of the three southern creeks and walked around on the exposed mangrove beds and sand flats.  It seemed like it had been weeks since we had left footprints on land.

Early the next morning, with a higher tide, we set off in the dinghy down the southernmost creek.  Several years ago Bill had made a hand drawn map of the many intersecting creeks from satellite photographs; this time he forgot to bring it along.  We missed a turn, but we still ended up at a sound side beach.  Since we came in a different way, we were not really sure we were at the right beach.  We walked around a little taking in the gorgeous water and white sand views.  When we left the beach, we took still another wrong turn and found ourselves at the very south end of Shroud Cay.  We were not too worried; like Daniel Boone “we weren’t lost, just a mite bewildered”.  We started on our now quite long dinghy ride back to Irish Eyes.  As we motored past the mouth of the southernmost creek where we started off, we decided to prove that we knew what we were doing...  that we could get to the sound side beach without getting lost.  We did, and we also proved our two beaches were one and the same.  The tide was falling by this time, so we hurried back to Irish Eyes before the creeks dried out.  We had a nice cold drink to celebrate our adventure.

Shroud Cay has a natural fresh water well that descends deep into the solid rock at the top of a hill.  Bill went over in the dinghy, filled five jugs, and brought us back twenty-five gallons of water.  He added Clorox to the water and put it in our tanks filling them to the brim.  We had used twenty-five gallons of fresh water in nine days.  At home we use about 1000 gallons in nine days.  We can all do quite well with less.

It was time to move south again.  We sailed the three miles to the north mooring field at Hawksbill Cay.  Bill and I walked the island’s beaches and explored the sand flats taking in the scenery and seeing what the sea had thrown up on the shore.  We met several other cruisers during our stay including a woman originally from Burlington NC whose sister lives in our hometown of Salisbury NC.  It’s a small world.

On our last afternoon at Hawksbill Cay, Bill decided it was time to brew up his first batch of beer using the homebrew kit we had bought in Miami.  The process was long and smelly.  Just making a third of the recipe used both of our biggest pots and both burners on the stove.  It was an all afternoon affair -- boiling two kinds of malt and adding four kinds of hops then cooling everything down before putting it in the fermenter for the yeast to do its thing.  In the middle of the brewing, the park warden and two armed Bahamas Defense Officers came by to collect the daily fee for the mooring ball.  Although we literally “smelled like a brewery”, they did not say anything.

We continued south, spending one night at Warderick Wells.  On St Patrick’s Day morning, Bill did his usual HF radio position report on the Waterway Radio and Cruising Club net.  (They are a ham radio thing.) He said Irish Eyes was anchored at Emerald Rock on Warderick Wells 3,619 miles southwest of County Monaghan Ireland.  (County Monaghan is where Bill’s several greats grandfather was buried.  Bill and one of his cousins went there while we were living in England.)  The Waterway Radio guys suggested that he have a one-person parade.  Instead we had a beer.

Still moving south, we sailed down to Big Major’s Spot, home of the famous swimming pigs, near Staniel Cay.  The weather once again turned ugly.  We had several days of high winds, cloudy skies, and rain. It rained 1.9 inches one night.  Both of us got up to catch the rainwater that landed on our decks.  Water is a precious thing here in the Exumas. If we do not get it from rainfall or from the well at Shroud Cay, we have to buy it.  We caught enough rain to fill our tanks to the top plus twenty-five gallons extra.  That was plenty.  The rest we let go into the sea.  I filled the kitchen sink with water and did some laundry.  It was a very small load since it was 3:30am, but when I finished I had more clean underwear than Bill.

Finally, on March 23rd the weather settled down to its normal nice self. We sailed the seven miles from Big Major’s Spot to Black Point Settlement.  Black Point is the home of Ida’s wonderful Rockside Laundry with its gorgeous tropical view.  It was time to do big loads of laundry. The last time we had done laundry was in Vero Beach, Florida.  It took all morning to get the laundry done, but we visited with some friends from New Bern and some other cruisers we met.  We learned that the 500 inhabitants of Black Point were going to have a weekend long Easter celebration mostly as a fund raiser for the island’s little school.

I could hear the Good Friday service from our cockpit anchored in the harbor a quarter of a mile away.  When it ended we went to the town’s Regatta Point park.  There the school moms sold food and drink while a DJ played Bahamian music with an amplifier so big that would have caused the lights to dim had it been dark.  We hung out with the cruisers and whiled away the afternoon with beer and conversation.  At suppertime we wandered over to Scorpio’s Restaurant for a rum punch or two.  Scorpio makes a great Rum Punch.  He says the rum is cheaper than the mixers or ice.  Along with several other cruisers we filled a big table.  Bill and I had a plate of grouper fingers and fries.  We talked a lot.  Bill does love to tell his tales.  The evening’s music and dancing were just getting started at the Regatta Point.  Some folks went there to dance.  We went back to the boat and to bed.  For us, it was a late night.

Saturday was the highlight of the weekend.  The school ladies were back at Regatta Point.  Bill and I passed on the chicken and fish dinners they had on offer.  Instead we had their Bahamian mac and cheese for lunch. It was nothing like the Kraft stuff.  Theirs was a casserole, thick and creamy, with peppers and spices; a meal by itself.  In the evening we returned to town for the championship men’s basketball game between Black Point and the nearby Staniel Cay.  Black Point takes basketball seriously.  The school has a lighted court that everyone uses.  The court has a light which is on a timer.  On weeknights the light goes off at 9pm. When the light goes off, the kids scream, “Bedtime, Good Night”, and they all run home.

The championship game was being played by two teams of young men.  They did not have uniforms, but generally the Black Point team wore white shirts and the Staniel Cay team wore red, but there were exceptions.  It was very confusing to watch the game at first, but I eventually figured out who was on which team.  It was a scrappy game. Black Point won by one point.  After the trophies were awarded, there was a parade.  The sound system that had been used for the Regatta Point music and for the basketball commentary was placed in the back of a pickup truck.  The truck drove to the eastern end of the main street, turned around and drove back playing junkenoo music.  It was followed by several young ladies in feathered costumes followed by all the town’s kids who were dancing, playing cowbells, and blowing police whistles in time with the recorded music.  A fire dancing group from Nassau was the finale.  Four young women danced, first with lighted torches, then with twirling open lanterns, and finally with two of the girls breathing fire. What a sight.  The music and dancing continued till early in the morning when the roosters took over.  We listened from our bunk with our eyes closed.

Easter Sunday was fairly quiet.  In the morning the Bahamas Defense Force boarded and inspected several boats anchored in the harbor.  We were one of them.  The officers were very polite.  They checked our passports and our customs and immigrations forms, they examined the boat’s papers, and they looked in all our storage lockers.  As his assistant filled out the paperwork, the officer in charge told us he wanted to try and make wine from sea grapes.  I had not thought about doing that.  To me it would not seem too promising.  A sea grape plant is not anything like a grape vine.  It is a woody shrub with big leaves that grows near the shore.  After they left, Bill and I had a walk on the beach.  It was a very nice Easter Day.

After the social scene in Black Point, we decided it was time for a little rest.  Monday morning, we sailed the six miles from Black Point to White Point.  There is not a thing at White Point except two long sandy beaches and blue water.  After we dropped our anchor, Bill decided to go for a swim to make sure the anchor was properly dug in.  When he got back onboard, he said we had a remora attached to Irish Eyes.  These fish have a suction cup on top of their head that looks like a tennis shoe sole.  They attach to larger fish and eat any scraps left over from the big fish’s meals.  On occasion they will attach to a boat.  We have had them before.  I wanted to swim, and I hopped into the water.  The Remora attacked me.  I guess “attacked” is too strong a word.  It swam over three times and tried to attach itself to me.  I did not stay in the water long.  Later, I read in one of my books that this was common.  All one had to do to remove the fish is to slide it forward and pop it off.  Yuck!. Not me.  Bill got one of his fishing spears and shot at it several times. He did not hit the fish, but he did manage to chase it away.

After two days of peace and quiet at White Point, we came back to Black Point because its harbor would offer better protection from the expected south winds.  Bill took our trash ashore and filled two water jugs.  He ran into Dorothy and Glen of “Dot’s Way” and agreed to meet them for drinks at Scorpio’s.  They traveled down the ICW with us nine years ago on our first trip to the Bahamas, and we have frequently seen them in the Bahamas.  Dorothy writes a daily email that we sometimes use as a cruising guide.  It was fun catching up with them in person again.

We have now moved the boat to Staniel Cay.  Julia, Josh, Isabella, and Olivia are due here this afternoon.  We have done some shopping and have cleaned the boat.  Bill has bottled his beer and carbonated it with his CO2 cylinder.  It is not bad at all, sort of dark and hoppy.  Bill made beer once while he was in college at his parents’ house.  He left the bottles of beer in his mother’s kitchen window.  One by one they exploded spewing beer everywhere.  I sincerely hope his six one liter bottles of beer do not explode in my little galley kitchen.  With company coming the mess would make me cry.

I hope this note finds you well and happy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

This was sunrise in the Gulf Stream as we were passing between Key Biscayne and Bimini on our first day traveling to Normans Cay.  It’s not usually like this, but that morning it was dead flat, and we were motoring along.  Later in the day we got some wind, but never enough to sail.

Sunrise the second day was on the Great Bahama Bank.  We were still motoring.  When we came off the banks and entered the Northwest Channel, the wind picked up some.  But, it was still from dead ahead, so we continued to motor.  By the time we got to Normans Cay in the Exumas the following morning, we had burned about 25 gallons of diesel.

The runway at Normans Cay has been widened, extended, and fenced.  Mountains of sand and rock have been moved.  Now all the earthmoving equipment is standing silent in what is in some places a moonscape, but they have planted several little gardens like this along the runway.

Bill was overjoyed to find this beer can.  It was in the limestone rock on the west beach at Normans Cay.  The limestone sand on the beaches in the Bahamas consolidates to rock rapidly, maybe more rapidly than anywhere else in the word.  Neil Sealey in his book “Bahamian Landscapes” talks about fossilized Coke bottles, well here is a fossilized beer can.

Sandra Little made this unique embroidered shell collection bag for me.  I’ve already put it to good use.  The shell on top of the bag is a yellow Atlantic cowrie.  One of my books says it is rare.

We made it to the Exumas!  Irish Eyes is anchored in the shelter of Norman’s Cay.  It has been windy for the past few days.  The temperature is in the seventies, and the sun is shining.  In the morning with the temperature at seventy-one, we both feel chilly and put on sweatshirts.  Just a few weeks ago we would have thought seventy-one was a heat wave.

Bill and I spent ten days in Miami Beach.  We first anchored near the Julia Tuttle Causeway, but the wind went west, and we moved into Sunset Lake.

The people-watching in Miami Beach was great.  The area around Arthur Godfrey Boulevard is a Jewish neighborhood with synagogues, Hebrew signs, yarmulkes, and prayer shawls.  We went into a small grocery store, and everyone was wearing black.  I had on a bright green shirt and sandals.  I felt more than a bit gaudy.  When we left the store and walked about a block, we saw a young woman walking her dog.  She had on very short shorts and had a tattoo on her bum that peeked suggestively out of her shorts.  I guess my green shirt was not so bad.  It is fun to watch people.

With no more need for our long underwear, down jackets, or wooly caps, we stuffed all the winter clothes and our two electric heaters into two duffel bags and shipped them to the Self family in Gaffney, SC for them to keep until we return.  We won’t need any of that stuff again this year.  I also sent our granddaughter Scarlett a wool blanket that I finished knitting on the trip south.  The boat now seems so much roomier.  Bill says we now have room for beer.

Bill was reading a book about a young couple’s sailing trip around the world.  [No, I do not plan to do that.]  The couple discovered that they could make beer onboard their boat saving both money and room.  Bill decided we could do it, too.  We carry a 5lb cylinder of CO2 (the “fizz-a-nater” as our granddaughter Isabella named it) and a box of Diet Coke syrup for making our own Diet Coke.  It was Bill’s low cost, over engineered, DIY Soda Stream machine.  He figured if we fermented the beer, we could carbonate it with the CO2 in empty 1-liter tonic water bottles.  After all he said,”Everyone knows a 12oz can is too small.” Google found Bill a homebrew store across the bay in Miami, so off we went looking for a bus to take us there.

Bill said the bus to Miami ran every 20 minutes, but we waited an hour for one to come.  When we got on, it was absolutely packed.  Both of us squeezed in and grabbed a pole to hang onto.  The bus was so full that the driver was not stopping at all the stops.  She just waved and drove past the waiting people.  She only stopped when someone wanted to get off.  When the doors opened, more folks would push onto the already crowded bus.  At one stop a large young man got on and loudly pushed his way toward the back of the bus.  He was really loud and really pushed.  A few feet behind us, he found a spot to stand.  He then started profanely berating a teenage boy with orange hair.  The next things we heard were a pair of thumps as the man hit the teenager twice in the side of the head, then screams as the man threw the boy off the stopped bus.  Of course the bus went no further, and the police were called.  Bill and I got off the bus and listened to some of the other passengers describing what had happened.  We talked to our bus driver who was waiting for the transport security people to come and get the security camera tape.  She said we were lucky no one had a gun or knife.  Someone else said it happens all too often.  It was getting late in the afternoon, we had had enough excitement for the day, and I was ready to go back to Irish Eyes.  A bus going in the other direction came by, we abandoned our travel plans, and got on.  Back at the boat it was double rum rations all round.

Bill still wanted his home brew kit.  We made another attempt the next morning.  This time we were more successful.  We did get off the Miami bound bus miles too early, but we caught another bus without a problem.  The fellow in the homebrew store sold Bill pretty much everything he was looking for.  I asked the homebrew guy about a good place for lunch.  He recommended a tiny four table Thai place two doors down.  The food was great; green curry beef with eggplant over rice. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at the Target to buy a few items for me and for Bill the short sleeve shirts he forgot to pack.  If you come to visit and have one of Bill’s homebrewed beers, you need to remember, I risked my life for that beer!

The weather forecast had a good window for crossing the Gulf Stream.  We went into full shopping mode.  Bill got all the bits and pieces of hardware he needed.  He filled our water and fuel jugs.  I spent several hours in the Publix Supermarket buying food.  We were all ready to go by noon on Tuesday, March 1.  The anchor came up in Sunset Lake, and we motored to No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne to anchor for the night. That got us close to the Florida Channel which, unlike Government Cut in Miami with it cruise ships, commercial traffic, and speedboats, is a much calmer departure point for the Bahamas.

Bill’s alarm went off at 3am Wednesday morning.  We were up, fed, and underway before 4am.  There was not a whisper of wind, so we motored all the way to Bimini.  We saw lots of Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, several dolphins, and a few ships.  Kiminni, the dockmaster at Weech’s Dock, helped us tie up and gave Bill the forms to fill out for Customs and Immigration.  Bill changed into a clean new shirt and went off with our passports and the boat’s papers to clear us into the Bahamas.  Since only the vessel’s master is allowed off the boat before clearing into the country, I just watched the fish swimming in the perfectly clear water and rested.  Bill was back in less than an hour.  We bought a case of Bahamian rum, untied our lines, bid farewell to our friend Kiminni, and were motoring east again by 3pm.

The weather was very calm, so we motored until dark.  We moved about a mile off the channel and anchored on the Great Bahama Bank.  At 3am when the moon came up and we could again see, we pulled up the anchor and continued on towards Norman’s Cay.  We motored all day and night Thursday arriving at Norman’s at 9am on Friday – 54 hours after leaving Key Biscayne.  It was time for a nap.

When we first arrived at Normans Cay the wind was forecast to swing to the northwest, so we anchored in the cut between Normans Cay and Wax Cay near the wrecked airplane.  After a couple of days, the wind swung from northwest back to east and strengthened making the cut with its currents uncomfortable.  We moved to the west side of Normans and have been there since.  It has been fairly calm here even as the wind has blown 20 to 25 knots with occasional spells up to 30.  We have rested, taken a swim, read, knitted, and worked on boat projects.  We have walked the nearby beaches several times, and of course I have found a few shells.  This year I really do plan to be more discerning in what shells I keep, but I think I say that every year, so I wouldn’t count on it.

The wind is supposed to calm down over the weekend, and then we will move on.  I have things to knit and read, and Bill has a list of projects, so we will not be bored.

Stay well, be safe.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The whispy mare’s tails hanging below the clouds are virga.  They are rain falling that evaporates away and never reaches the ground.  Most of the time on this trip the rain came all the way down to us.

This large tug pushing a smaller tug overtook us south of Titusville. They were only going a little bit faster than we were.

Later, south of Vero Beach, we met the smaller of the two tugs pushing a 200ft barge with a giant crane north.  He had a still smaller tug on his hip.

I don’t know how many bridges have to open for us on the trip, but there are a lot.  This is a bascule bridge at Sisters Creek where the Intracoastal Waterway crosses the St Johns River.

We tried twice to leave the ICW and enter the Matanzas Inlet to anchor for the night.  Twice we tried, and twice we ran aground.  It was an extraordinarily low tide, and there was just not enough water.

We see a large variety of craft along the way.  We met this junk rigged sailboat in Mosquito Lagoon.

Kingsport has more than its share of crooked roadside signs, but none so bad as this one at the southern end of the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff.

Sunrises are a constant surprise.  

On rare occasions we get off the boat.  This is Mulligans at Vero Beach.

Hello from Miami.  The temperature here has been in the 70s during the day and near 60 at night.  It’s much warmer than it was when we started out.  I am a bit ahead of myself here, so let’s start at the beginning.

Bill and I intended to leave Kingsport Monday morning, January 11th, but by Sunday night too much still remained to be done.  We weren’t in a rush, so we gave it another day and relaxed.  Tuesday morning our 1978 Chevy Blazer was packed to the roof, and we left home for the 8hr drive to New Bern.

The driving part of the trip was uneventful.  That was a good thing. With 280,000 miles on the odometer, it was not a sure bet.  James Little said the scariest part of our trip was in the Blazer.

Bill had tons of boat projects to finish before we could leave New Bern. The biggest one was replacing the last two of our cracked chain plates. The chain plates are the pieces of stainless steel that attach the rigging to the boat hull.  The rigging holds up the mast.  Bill had discovered cracks in a couple of the chain plates in the fall while Irish Eyes was out of the water for her annual maintenance.  He had already replaced four of the chain plates, but he still had two to do after we got onboard.  The last two required removing some of the interior teak, lots of cussing, and Bill folding himself into a pretzel in order to reach the spots he needed to reach.  I shopped for groceries and other things we had forgotten while keeping a low profile and staying well out of his way.

The big snow storm that dumped 40 inches of snow in the northeast just brought rain and wind to New Bern.  It was colder than normal, but it was not too bad.  Bill and I waited out the weather on Irish Eyes with two electric heaters keeping us warm.  We did not want to drive the Blazer on the salty streets then leave it sitting outside for six months. The Blazer does not need any more rust, and I really don’t think it could stand a trip through the car wash.  Just think of all those rotating brushes getting caught in the rust holes.  It would destroy both the car and the car wash.

On the morning of January 25th we were ready to untie the dock lines. It was sunny but cold.  We broke through the half inch of ice that had formed overnight in the marina leaving an open path in the ice behind us.  The sound of the ice breaking was a bit unnerving.  I wondered if it was scratching our hull, but it wasn’t.

That first day was short; four hours to Cedar Creek.  The next three were all-day motoring, rather boring “adventures”.  It was cold, but we had the bus heater on the boat to keep us warm.  It used heat from the engine and a fan to blow hot air in the boat just like the heater in your car.  It was great.  Underway the boat was warm and dry, and when we anchored for the night we dropped in our hatch boards, sealed ourselves in, and stayed warm for the next few hours before we buried ourselves under blankets.

At the end of that fourth day we arrived in Little River where my sister and brother-in-law live.  Our visit with Elaine and JP was great.  We always appreciate their hospitality, but after two nights it was time to push on.  The weather was fairly warm and clear for the next couple of days.  We made excellent time getting through all of South Carolina without any problems.  It was duck hunting season, and we could hear lots of shots as we motored along.  Some of the ducks we saw this time of year, especially the mergansers and buffleheads, were so pretty I couldn’t imagine shooting one.  I guess that is why I’m not a duck hunter.

The forecast for the first few days of February was for overcast skies and rain, but there was no mention any serious wind.  We anchored in the New River between Hilton Head and Savannah on February 2 planning to leave early in the morning to pass through Fields Cut and cross the Savannah River before low tide.  Our guidebooks call the junction an “ICW Trouble Spot”.  Fields Cut is a narrow manmade canal connecting the ICW to the Savannah River.  The cut itself is shallow, and the strong currents in the Savannah River create an even shallower sand bar across its mouth.  With the addition of the tug, barge, and ship traffic coming and going from the Port of Savannah, the junction and the area around it can be a difficult place.  We met a tug pushing a fuel barge coming out of the cut as we started in, but we waited out of its way on the side for it to go past.  After getting through Fields Cut we passed over the sand bar at the Savannah River with water to spare, and crossed the river in a huge gap between two inbound ships.  In the ICW just south of the draw bridge at Causton Bluff the wind speed jumped to 20 knots, and a tug appeared ahead of us coming our way.  Bill moved over to the side and promptly ran us aground.  With the engine screaming, the wind howling, and the tug rapidly approaching, we got off the bottom, got the boat under control, and got by the tug.

This leg of the trip had two more ICW Trouble Spots; Hell Gate and Florida Passage.  Hell Gate is narrow, extremely shallow, and marked with buoys that are moved as the sand bars move.  Other boaters had reported depths of 4 feet.  It takes 5 for us to float.  The tide was almost high when we arrived at Hell Gate, but the wind was howling blowing us sideways.  We decided, well, actually, Captain Bill decided, to press on.  Fortunately, Hell Gate is not long, and we were through quickly.  The Florida Passage is supposed to be shallow, but we had no problems in that section.  I finally convinced Bill it was time to stop. The wind was still strong, and it looked more and more like rain.  At the south end of the Florida Passage we turned left into Buckhead Creek where the ICW went right in the Bear River.  We found a spot in the marsh and dropped our anchor.  It was a good thing we quit early.  The evening NPR news was interrupted several times with tornado watches and warnings.  While I had no idea where the various small towns and crossroads were, I was comforted by a map of Georgia with the county names on it.  While others did have tornados, all we had was wind and rain.  Lots of rain; 2.25 inches fell in our rain gauge!  We stayed anchored in Buckhead Creek two nights, waiting on better weather.

February 5th was Bill’s 65th birthday.  I gave him his presents at breakfast, and we were off again.  There were two more Georgia ICW Trouble Spots ahead of us, Creighton Narrows and the Little Mud River. Tide and current were in our favor, and we flew through both of them finally dropping our anchor in Wally’s Leg just north of Brunswick.  I fixed pizza for Bill’s birthday supper.  In place of the more traditional ice cream and cake, he had a giant Goo Goo Cluster the Zangris had given him for Christmas.

The bad weather returned the next morning.  It was extremely windy, and rain and thunderstorms were predicted for February 6th and 7th. The wind was forecast to come from an unfavorable direction to be comfortable in Wally’s Leg where we were anchored.  We moved a couple of miles south to a spot north of Lanier Island for better protection from the wind.  We got the wind.  Sometime in the afternoon we watched a well worn 60ft motor yacht motor slowly by us.  It went around the island and disappeared from our sight.  The forecast rain started at sundown, and the wind continued to blow.  We were comfortable in our tiny house, tucked under our covers, and fast asleep until 3:30am.  Both of us woke up to a hard thump on our hull.  We scurried outside.  In the cold windy rain we found the 60ft motor yacht alongside our boat!  Bill beat on the other boat’s hull with his fist to wake them.  Their anchor had broken loose, and their boat had drifted from over a half a mile away to hit us.  We pushed the motorboat away, and they re-anchored.  First, they chose a spot ahead.  That was not good.  If their anchor broke free again they would hit us a second time. The captain of the motorboat apparently figured that out, and they anchored again this time behind us.  Irish Eyes didn’t have any real damage, just a scuff in the paint on the hull.  They left in the morning.

The wind changed direction on Super Bowl Sunday, and we moved after the rain stopped to a very pretty, well protected anchorage in the Frederica River.  We put up our TV antenna and watched the Super Bowl as the wind calmed down.

Our next objective was to make it through Jekyll Creek, across St. Andrews Sound, and on to Cumberland Island before the next batch of high winds arrived.  Bill thought 6am was a great time to get up, but I wasn’t not so sure.  Anyway, he was the captain, and we left the Frederica River just before sunrise.  The tide was almost high as we passed through the shallow spot in Jekyll Creek; perfect.  The wind was still light, so we made it across St. Andrews Sound without the predicated six foot swells.  Once across St Andrews Sound we were behind Cumberland Island.  There the Brickhill River was a nice place to anchor to get out of the wind.  The wind was still light, so pressing our luck, we passed it by.  About an hour later as we approached the Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base, the wind started blowing a steady 20 knots, and the gusts were 25 knots.  We had come too far to turn around and go back to the Brickhill River.  So, on we went to Fernandina Beach with the wind raising a nasty chop in the Cumberland Sound as it blew over the opposing current.

Fernandina Beach has a nice marina and a nice mooring field.  The wind was blowing so hard we weren’t comfortable with the thought of trying the boat to the marina dock, and I was certain I wouldn’t be able to pick up a mooring ball, so we anchored outside of the mooring field.  We stayed there about an hour.  The wind and current were playing games, and we were just going around and around in circles twisting our anchor chain into knots.  It was getting dark when we tired of the circles, pulled up the anchor, moved about half a mile, and re-anchored near a beautiful (?) paper mill.  All the while the wind was howling.  I saw 31 knots on the wind indicator.  It seemed like it took forever to do all this. The wind finally dropped in the late evening.  What a day!

We were up again the next morning before the sun.  While it was nearly calm, the wind forecast for the afternoon was a steady 30 knots with gusts to 40 knots.  By leaving early, we could make some southerly progress before the wind picked up.  Before noon the wind had started blowing again.  We passed several spots to anchor, but Captain Bly, I mean Captain Bill, said it wasn’t afternoon yet, and we needed to go on. I finally convinced him we didn’t need to try and cross the St John’s River with its currents and commercial boat traffic in the strong wind.  We anchored in the Ft. George River.  The wind was blowing 35 knots, and it took us three attempts before we finally found a spot out of the waterway traffic with enough room for the boat to swing and with enough depth to float the boat at the coming low tide.  Anchoring in the tight and shallow spot was rather scary.  I wasn’t a happy sailor.  It took me a while before I could talk to Bill again.  The wind once again died at sunset, so we had a comfortable night watching two tugs and their barges pass down the ICW just 250ft away.
The next day was cold. We were motoring along dressed in our long underwear, multiple layers of shirts and pants, and our down coats.  We were in Florida, so why was it cold?  It had to be warmer farther south, so on we went.  The wind was still blowing hard, but it was calming down as we motored along.  We intended to anchor near the old Spanish fort in the Matanzas Inlet.  It was dead low tide.  We could see a tow boat pulling a 70ft motorboat off a sandbar just south of the inlet.  We made our turn into the inlet and found the bottom ourselves.  We got off that sandbar and tried again.  We found a different sandbar.  The tow boat circled and watched us like a vulture.  It didn’t look like we would be getting into the Matanzas Inlet anchorage at low tide.  We pressed on south and found still another sandbar in the ICW.

The sun was setting.  It was getting dark.  Each of us looked at the chart and read the guidebooks.  The next anchorage was about 2 hours away. It had the not so welcoming name of “Cement Plant” and a not so positive note that said “not many cruisers stop here anymore, room for one smaller boat”.  About an hour away was a small marina at Marineland, a dolphin research center.  Bill called the dockmaster who was on his way home.  The dockmaster took our credit card information over the phone and said go right in and tie up.  He also said there were some shallow spots in the marina, but not to worry, the bottom was mud, so just push on through.  Irish Eyes floated in the entrance channel but slowly came to a complete stop.  We revved up the engine and pushed our 5ft draft thru the mud, got lines on the dock, and pulled ourselves alongside with our sheet winch where we lay leaning slightly to port.  All the bottom paint on the front of the keel was probably scraped away, but we were safely tied to the dock. On our way out the next morning the tide was higher, but we still had to push through the mud.

The weather was getting warmer each day.  We motored from sunrise to sunset most days.  We spent one night anchored off Cocoa where we went shopping and had a pizza.  We stopped for three nights in Vero Beach for showers, laundry, shopping, and a little exercise.  It was so warm one day in Vero that we walked out to the beach.  It was lovely.

There were 33 bridges that had to open for us in the two days that we traveled between Jupiter and Miami.  We were lucky and timed the bridge openings fairly well.  The section went faster and with less frustration than in previous years.  We were anchored off Miami Beach and having a celebratory drink by 2:30 of the second day, February 19; not bad, 936 miles traveled in 26 days.

Right now we are putting away our winter clothes, doing boat chores, shopping, enjoying the town, and relaxing on board.

I will try to write more often from here on. Until now it has been too cold to stay up and type, or I have been too exhausted.  We are perfectly fine, and we hope you all are too.