Tuesday, June 26, 2018

While we were anchored in the Royal Island Harbour, Bill went for a long walk ashore.  It was spring, and it had been raining, so there were flowers everywhere.  I could not find this one in my books.  Do you have any idea what it is?

This is a second picture from Royal Island.  The two top snails which are almost the size of your closed fist had each found the perfect size hole to hole-up in while the tide was out.  They are eatable, so we don’t see a lot of them this large.

When we got to the Abacos, we anchored beside this large sailboat.  She is flying the White Ensign of the Royal Navy instead of the Red Ensign of the merchant navy that most British yachts fly.  At the top of her mast is the pennant of the Royal Yacht Squadron of Cowes.  Therein lies the explanation.

We stopped for a beer at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar on Green Turtle Cay.  When we first came here in the 1980’s, Miss Emily presided behind the bar, and the tip jar went to the local Anglican Church.  Sadly, no more.  But, they still make her signature Goombay Smash.  See the sign.

Back in the United States, we stopped for a couple of days at the Cumberland Island National Seashore.  They have “wild” horses, perhaps too many, and there are moves a’hoof to reduce their number.

The River Trail provided a pleasant walk from the Sea Camp Dock where we were anchored to the Dungeness Ruins and the smaller buildings that surrounded the ruins.  The trail had just the right mix of sun and shade with fewer bugs than the trail we came back on.

The old Captain’s House was converted to a ranger station.  Captain Bill rocked on the porch while I wandered around in the yard.

We saw two sunsets while we were anchored at Cumberland Island before we resumed out trip north to New Bern.

After being back home for only 8 days, we went up to Watauga Lake and spent three days and nights on our smaller sailboat, Canary.  With rain clouds hanging low on the mountains, it does not look a thing like the Bahamas.

Hello from our home in Tennessee.  We returned here on June 14, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll restart where I left off last time.

When I last wrote, we had sailed from Hatchett Bay, Eleuthera to Royal Island, Eleuthera.  As soon as we arrived, the weather turned cloudy, rainy, and windy.  It did not change for ten days.  Some days we had more wind than rain, other days we had more rain than wind, but we never had the weather we wanted for the 50-mile trip over to the Abacos.

While we were anchored at Royal Island, other boats came and went.  Despite the weather, a few went to the Abacos, and a few came from the Abacos.  We were a retired couple with plenty of time and were not in a rush.  We avoided the bad weather in the ocean by waiting in the harbor for better weather.  We took a vacation from being on vacation.  We piddled about on the boat reading, knitting, and listening to the radio.  Bill took a hike on the island, and the two of us took a tour around the harbor in the dinghy.  I found several sea biscuits on the two nearby small beaches, but I left them behind.  I had plenty at home already.  We were a bit bored, but not totally so.

Finally, on Wednesday, May 23, the weather forecast was for southeast winds of 12 to 13 knots with 3- foot seas; it was time to head north.  We were not the only boat in the harbor with that idea.  Our anchor was up, and we were gone by 7:30am.  I believe the harbor was empty by 8:30am.  The wind started out a bit stronger than was forecasted, and the waves were a bit bigger, but the crossing to the Abacos was both fast and uneventful.  With all three of our sails up, we sailed past two of the boats that had been anchored with us at Royal Island.  [It is always a rare thing for us to overtake another boat.  We are a small boat and therefore a slow boat, but we sail our best on a broad reach, and we were sailing on a reach.]  We entered the cut at Little Harbour at 3pm, turned north, and anchored in the calm water behind Lynyard Cay.

The weather forecast gave us two dry days before the rain returned, and we spent them anchored at Lynyard Cay before we sailed on to Marsh Harbor.  Marsh Harbour is the “big city” of the Abacos.  There are lots of stores and most importantly a super market.  We visited the super market, refueled the boat, shopped for some gifts in the gift shops, and had a great meal in one of our favorite restaurants, Colours by the Sea.  Everything was accomplished between the rain showers.  During the showers we topped off our water tanks and filled our cockpit with full 5-gallon jugs of water.  On our entire trip this year, we bought just 42 gallons of water at Palm Cay Marina, and we got a few free jugs of water from a tap in Black Point.  The rest of our water came from rain.  And, we had plenty on this trip.

After four nights in the “big city”, we were ready to move to a more tranquil spot.  We motored out of the harbor and sailed the few miles to uninhabited Water Cay.  Although another boat anchored near us during the day while they snorkeled on a nearby wreck, and second boat came and spent the night, it was a far calmer and quieter place than Marsh Harbour.  We enjoyed the peacefulness, swimming around the boat and taking a nice walk through Water Cay’s foot-deep sand flats and along its white sand beaches.  After our one night at Water Cay, the wind and waves were right to go around Whale Cay.  Because the water behind Whale Cay is shallow, deeper draft boats like ours must go around the Atlantic Ocean side of the cay; first out of the sound into the ocean, then up the ocean side of the cay, and finally back into the sound.  The charter boat companies in the Abacos call it the “Whale Cay Passage”, and fearfully describe its horrors to their charterers.   But really, it is like Longfellow’s little girl who had a little curl…  when it’s good, it’s very good indeed, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  With our good weather, our trip was very good indeed.

We anchored off New Plymouth Settlement on Green Turtle Cay and went to the famous Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar for a cold beer.  Then we walked around the town for a bit.  It was hot ashore, so we went back on the cooler water and took a dinghy tour of Black Sound and the boats that were moored there.  Our departure from the Bahamas was drawing closer.  But, we needed one final cheeseburger in paradise and decided to visit Sundowners Bar and Grill.  While we were having our rum punches and waiting on our cheeseburgers, we had a delightful conversation with a recently retired Coast Guardsman and his wife.  The conversation, rum punches, and cheeseburgers were all good.

On May 31 Bill changed the engine oil and did a few maintenance chores.  We checked the weather forecast and decided it was time to leave for the states.  The wind would be from behind us, and the rain and storms would probably hold off for a few days.  We brought the dinghy onboard, deflated it, packed it away, and made sure all was ready for a long passage.  We left in midafternoon.  There would be stormy weather off the Carolinas in a couple of days, so we headed to St. Augustine, Florida.  From there we planned to sail up the coast; out in the ocean on good weather days and inside in the ICW on bad weather days.

The wind played games with us.  Instead of staying in the southwest, it changed directions and blew from the northwest, nearly the direction we needed to travel.  Bummer.  We adjusted the sails and continued.  During the evening of Saturday, June 2, a little more than 48 hours out of Green Turtle Cay, we had a NOAA weather radio alert for a strong thunderstorm with 50 knot winds and hail.  Next came a Coast Guard broadcast describing the coming storm and telling vessels to seek safe harbor immediately.  We were approximately 40 miles off shore.  There would be no safe harbor for us.  We took all the sails down, closed all the hatches, and donned our foul weather gear.  In the middle of all this activity, we had a pod of dolphins join us.  They really put on a show doing back flips 3 feet in the air.  Although I watched, I did not have time to make a video.

The storm came.  With the sails down, we motored slowly into the wind.  When the wind reached 40 knots, Bill could not hold the bow into the wind, so he turned downwind, the opposite of the direction we wanted to go.  The wind peaked at 54.7 knots, the rain pelted down, a little hail fell, and the lightning was spectacular.  Thankfully, the bad part of the storm only lasted about half an hour.  When the wind dropped to 25 knots it seemed very calm.  I have now survived a 50-knot storm, but I do not need to do that again.

During the storm, we not only made no forward progress, we also backed us up 3.8 miles.  If we continued to St. Augustine, we would arrive in the dark.  Not good, we do not pass through inlets or cuts in the dark.  It is too dangerous.  We changed course and headed for the St. Mary’s River entrance at Fernandina Beach, Florida.  The rest of the night was calm. The thunderstorms moved off to the Gulf Stream and filled the eastern sky with an all-night light show with flash after flash of lightning.

After sixty odd hours at sea, we glided through the St Mary’s entrance and anchored on the Florida side of the Cumberland Sound.  We raised our yellow quarantine flag and called Customs and Border Protection for clearance into the United States.  Despite both the boat and the two of us being registered with the Small Vessel Reporting System, and despite our having properly submitted an internet Float Plan for our return to the United States, Customs and Border Protection asked us to check in with their experimental CBP Roam cell phone app which is being trial tested in Florida.  So… we went to the Google Store, download the app, entered all the data about the boat, the trip, and ourselves, then photographed ourselves and our passports.  While it was all easy enough, and we were cleared to enter the US almost immediately, it was frustrating for two old and tired people with a brand-new cell phone in one hand and a celebratory arrival beer in the other.  Naptime followed.

The next morning, we moved Irish Eyes to Cumberland Island.  We spent two days anchored off the Sea Camp Dock.  The island was lovely, but it was hot.  I think Cumberland Island is the bug capital of the world.  As we walked the trails, I could hear the mosquitoes all around me.  I just kept moving.  Bill was behind me, and he told me I had a large swarm of the nasty beasts flying behind me.  Of course, they did not bother him, just me.

By June 6 the weather off the Georgia and Carolina coasts had improved, and we headed north up the coast.   We had our sails up, but because the wind was light we were also running the engine to keep our speed up.  The next day, worried that we would run out of fuel, we ducked into Charleston to buy another 20 gallons.  It took us three hours to go into Charleston Harbor, buy the fuel, then come back out into the Atlantic.  It was an annoying but necessary side trip.

After a second consecutive night underway at sea, we entered the Cape Fear River, motored up the ICW to Wrightsville Beach, and spent a few hours anchored there resting and having supper.  Just before sunset, we headed back out into the Atlantic on the last of our overnight sails.  Early in the morning, we had a bit of rain but nothing like the big storm we had off Florida.  We came into the Beaufort Inlet early in the morning, motored north in the ICW, and anchored in Cedar Creek just after lunch.  We could have continued for another three hours to our slip in Northwest Creek Marina, but both of us were too tired to even consider that.  We spent a very calm evening anchored in Cedar Creek and continued to Northwest Creek Sunday morning.

Our first chore was to get the air conditioner out of the car, install it on the boat, and plug it in.  It took hours for the air conditioner to suck all the humidity out of our damp boat.  While the boat was cooling down we moved some of our things from the car to the boat and from the boat to the car.  Then, we each took long, long, long showers with unlimited hot water.  Lounging in a cool, dry, air-conditioned, stationary boat after a long hot shower was just pure bliss.

It rained the next several days, and Bill could not do the outdoor projects he wanted to do.  We decided to pack up and head for our home in the mountains.  This year’s trip was fun highlighted by the kids coming to Black Point and marred only by the rainy weather and our fuel tank repair trip to Nassau.  We will probably go again.

Enjoy your summer.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

These birds standing on a rock did not see the wave coming.  Some flew away.  Others got a bath.  Birdbath???

Here we are cruising along in Turtle Creek.  It is pretty with nice water and mangroves, but best of all it is filled with sea turtles that come in to play in the sun-warmed water.  The water drops on the camera lens are from the rain that just stopped.

Turtle Creek has birds too.  These are some of the great egrets that were there.

The osprey looks sort of fierce with the severe aggressive stare.  He won.  I backed away.

It is sad to see the amount of trash on beaches… plastic things, bits of rope, and most worrying for us, a piece of a refrigerated shipping container that had obviously been floating in the ocean.  Had it been broken up by waves, or had some vessel hit it?

Three of these 5 foot long sharks and one equally sized barracuda circled around our boat the whole time we were anchored at Conception Island.  It was sort of unnerving.  The theme song from Jaws ran through my mind.

Just off the beach near the McQueens settlement on Cat Island we came across this bird tracking station.  I explained it a little more below.

Bill took this picture of a herd (or is it flock?) of goats that he met in the woods near New Bight.  He said that there were maybe 25 of them all together and that they were friendly.

Our flopper stopper comes in handy for stopping the boat from rolling when we are anchored in a place where there are small waves.  It hangs over the side of the boat and is pulled up and down dampening the roll.

The Bahamas are all limestone and filled with hollows and caves.  At Rock Sound there is a nice cave that Bill walked (and crawled) through.  In town is the Ocean Hole which is connected to the ocean and rises and falls with the tides.

The Hatchet Bay entrance looks just as narrow on the chart as it does from the restaurant porch.  They say it is 90 feet wide, but I’m not so sure.  We anchored about where the "C" is in Hatchet Bay.  The Front Porch restaurant is in the north east corner of the harbor.

Today, we are anchored at Royal Island; at the north end of Eleuthera near the town of Spanish Wells.  We had lots and lots of rain over the last few weeks.  Cold fronts from the USA have come down from the north.  Atlantic tropical waves have come in from the east.  Moist air from the Gulf of Mexico has come across Cuba to get us from the west.  So, short story, we are wet.  And now, Chris Parker (our radio weather guru) is talking about a possibility, abet a small possibility, of a tropical low forming in the Caribbean next week!  Weather, bah humbug.  People who live in houses have no idea how much weather influences our life on a boat.

Bill and I left Georgetown early on April 19.  We had topped up our fuel, bought the few groceries we needed, ate in our favorite restaurants, and walked the beaches.  Our initial destination was New Bight on Cat Island, but once we left the harbor, we discovered that the wind was also favorable for sailing to Conception Island.  Conception Island is part of the Bahamas National Trust.  No one lives there.  It is a nature preserve and bird sanctuary.  It is a beautiful place.  We had to go there.  Along the way we hooked a nice dolphin (not the mammal like Flipper, but the fish that restaurants call mahi mahi).  Unfortunately, the line broke as Bill was pulling him in over the stern, and he got away.  As soon as we dropped the anchor at Conception, two local fishermen came by in their boat and sold us a grouper and three conchs.  I’d rather have the grouper and conch myself.

Conception Island has an interior creek which is full of sea turtles.  Our first morning at Conception, we decided to walk the nearby beach and then dinghy up the creek to see the turtles.  As we were nearing the end of our beach walk, the biggest, blackest, ugliest cloud started coming our way.  We abandoned the beach tour and hurried back to Irish Eyes.  It rained enough to fill our water tanks, and then it put another thirty gallons of water in plastic jugs before we opened the deck drains and let the rest of the rain run into the sea.  Our turtle watching tour would have to wait for another day.

If you looked at a chart of Conception Island, we were anchored on the northwest side in the lee of the island at say 11 o’clock.  Bill’s plan for the day was to take the dinghy on an island circumnavigation.  We’d go clockwise around the island stopping at all the beaches along the way, and when we got around the island to the 8 o’clock point we’d tour Turtle Creek before coming back to the boat.  It did not work out that way.  We had only gotten as far as 1 o’clock when both of us had had enough of the wind and waves on the windward side of the island.  Plus, I was tired of dodging the coral heads that rose up like columns from 20 feet down threatening to grab our little rubber dinghy as we went by.  By mutual agreement, we retraced our steps back to Irish Eyes.  That was a good thing.  It started raining again, and we stayed dry aboard our boat before later continuing to Turtle Creek with its amazing population of sea turtles, fish, sharks, and birds.  We toured the whole creek.  At times the GPS showed us in mangroves or on land, but we were not.  We were just going places the map said we could not go.  It was a special place.

Back at the boat, we were surrounded by wildlife.  Tropic birds with their nests in the nearby cliffs soared overhead whistling loudly to each other and fishing in the water behind us.  In the water under the boat, we had three sharks and one large barracuda swimming around and occasionally resting in the shade of our dinghy.  One night I got out a flashlight to watch the smaller fish under the boat, but I felt guilty when the barracuda came into the light and quickly ate them all.  We did not go swimming.

Intent on seeing the windward side of the island, Bill put on his hiking boots and walked along the cliffs and through the bush to two of the ocean side beaches.  He found only a few shells, but there were tons of plastic stuff and lots of lost fishing gear… the detritus of modern civilization.  He brought back two red plastic milk crates from a dairy in Puerto Rico.  They are now on our boat taking up room.  He did leave behind all the fishing gear and a much desired (by him) 200-quart Coleman cooler, thank goodness.

On April 24 we packed up Irish Eyes and headed north to Cat Island.  In the beginning the sailing was a bit rolly, but in the afternoon the wind died and the seas went flat, so we motored the last few miles and anchored near the McQueens settlement on Cat Island.  McQueens seemed to be a village that everyone left.  Just inland from the beach, we could see several abandoned or unfinished houses.  I walked along the beach, and Bill walked up the road into town.  He found a well maintained small church amid mostly derelict houses.  We saw what looked like an old TV antenna in the bush near the beach, but it turned out to be an automated Smithsonian Institution bird tracking station.  The endangered Kirtlands Warbler spends its summers in lower Michigan and its winters in the Bahamas.  The station tracks the tagged birds as they fly by.  Back at the boat, hot from the sun, tired from our walk, and without our “fishy friends” from Conception Island, we had a nice swim and a long pleasant soak in the ocean.

We had been away from civilization for over a week, and it was time to move over to New Bight, a settlement with people.  Bill made dinner reservations for us at the Bluebird Restaurant and Bar.  We would be their only customers that evening.  The place was owned and operated by three sisters.  One mixed the drinks and waited on the tables.  One was the chef.  The last had a stroke; she sat at the cash register and talked with us.  We had a delicious lobster dinner and a great time talking to them.  We knew it was time to go when all three sisters gathered closely around the satellite TV to watch Wheel of Fortune.  They reminded me of my grandmother and great aunt.

New Bight is the home of the Hermitage, a tiny one-man monastery atop the highest point in the Bahamas.  I had been here twice before, and I did not want to accompany Bill to the see it again.  For some reason I find the place creepy.  He went alone, but he did get to speak to a herd of friendly goats in the woods on his way back.

Several thunderstorms rolled through New Bight while we were there, and with the wind blowing out of the southwest we were not protected by the land.  Irish Eyes rocked around, especially at night.  We have two “flopper stoppers” that Bill has made.  They are aluminum triangles about the size and shape of a Yield sign.  They hang horizontally in the water on the side of the boat from three ropes, one tied to each corner.  One of the corners is weighted.  When the boat rolls one way, the plates rise, dragged up through the water by the three ropes and thus slowing the roll.  When the boat rolls the other way, the ropes go slack, and the weight pulls the one corner quickly down lowering the plates to be ready to slow the next roll.  They do make a difference.

The weather forecast was for the wind to swing around to the northeast and blow twenty to twenty-five knots for the entire next week.  It was time to either stay at Cat Island for a week or move north to Eleuthera for a change in scenery and for protection from possible west winds.  We decided to move, but it was raining.  The boat’s radar showed a break in the rain coming our way, and when it arrived we sailed off to Pigeon Cay at the north end of Cat Island.  During the trip we could see rain all around us, but it did not rain on us.  We anchored there ready to make the longer jump to Eleuthera in the morning.

The next morning, we were up and underway early as we had a long way to go.  We sailed the entire trip, but we occasionally ran the engine to keep up our speed (and to run the freezer to make ice for out arrival drinks).  We passed Little San Salvador (now owned by Princess Cruise Lines and renamed in their advertisements, Half Moon Cay).  We could see a cruise ship shuttling its passengers to the shore.  The island has been transformed into a completely fake Bahamian Island with a fake village, buffet food, jet skis, ATVs, a netted fish free swimming area, tiki huts, and beach bars.  It is a shame.  There is a real Bahamas nearby that is better than the theme park one.  Oh well, I guess some people prefer theme parks.  After a 60-mile day, our anchor was down in Rock Sound, Eleuthera before sunset.

Rock Sound has a couple of grocery stores, a filing station, a laundry, and several restaurants, but most importantly it has a completely protected harbor with a good sand bottom for our anchor.  We shopped and did laundry between the ever-present rain and wind storms.  One of the restaurants, Wild Orchid, had moved from its old location.  The owner, Sybil, had transformed a cute blue house on the water’s edge into her new location.  She had only been open two weeks, but the food was good, and we enjoyed talking to her.  After a week of rainy days, Captain Bill was getting very antsy and tired of being trapped on the boat.  He went ashore and hiked all over town taking shelter from passing rain storms in a cave, under the porch of the AME church, and while pretending to shop in a small store.  I elected to read and knit on the dry boat.  On his trip Bill bought a plastic bag full fresh conch from a local fisherman.  I’m now trying to perfect my conch chowder and conch cake recipes as we eat our way through the slimy mess.

Finally, on May 6 the weather cleared, and we left Rock Sound.  As we were preparing the boat to leave, I kept finding small sticks on the deck. Then, I noticed a bird on the radar antenna.  The silly thing was building a nest there.  The bird few away as we started moving.  I hope it found a better place for its nest.

We had a nice sail to Governors Harbour.  We managed the trip without any rain, but the rain did return several times while we were there.  Once again, we were able to top off our water tanks.  We have only had to purchase water one time on this trip.  So, I guess rain is not such a bad thing.  We bought cinnamon rolls, twists, and bread from the bakery and had delicious sandwiches and a beer in a cute little coffee shop.  Bill went on two hikes along the roads going out from town.  The first was cut short after two miles by the swarms of mosquitoes that emerged from the wet woods.  When he got back I actually picked the dead ones off his tee shirt.  His second hike took him to the abandoned Club Med site with its mile-long pink sand beach.  I would have liked to have gone, but I don’t think my knees would have cooperated.

Thursday, May 10 was a dry day, and the winds were blowing from the east.  The long-range forecast was for lots of rain and some strong wind.  We sailed north from Governors Harbour to Hatchett Bay.  Hatchett Bay claims to be the safest harbor in the Bahamas.  It was once a half mile wide inland lake or pond, but it was made into a harbor by blasting a 90 foot wide entrance through the rock to the Exuma Sound.  The surrounding land gives wind protection from all directions.  We launched our dinghy and explored Alice Town, the village along the east shore of the bay.  It was hot, so a cold Kalik beer at the Da Front Porch restaurant was very nice.  We liked the restaurant so much, we went back the next day for lunch.  I had really good grouper fingers, and Bill had a huge double mahi burger.  On our way back to the boat, eagle scout Bill did his good deed for the day when we towed a fisherman back to his dock.  The fellow had been sitting on the bow of his boat paddling upwind with a board when we saw him.  We got a hearty thank you.

Yesterday after breakfast, we listened to the radio, checked the internet, looked outside, and scanned over the horizon with our radar before deciding it would be a good time to go farther north through Current Cut to the northern end of Eleuthera.  Once outside the harbor the winds were from behind us at a light 8 knots.  We put up our genoa and also ran our engine to keep the boat moving at a decent speed.  As we traveled along, clouds moved in, the sky darkened, it started to rain around us, and the wind kept increasing reaching a steady 18 knots as we approached the cut.  That was not good.  There is a reason for the name, Current Cut.  Only 250 feet wide, the current can reach 6 knots during tide changes making it difficult to control a slow sailboat.  Worse, because of outlying sandbars the approach to the cut is along the land south of the cut, only then at the last second turning into the cut itself.  We took down the large genoa and put up the small staysail before we started the half mile run along the rocky shore.  The deepest water was only 50 to 150 yards off the land where the 3 foot wind driven waves were crashing on the rocks with spray flying everywhere.  Prayer, luck, charts, and GPS got us through the cut, and we emerged on the lee side into almost tranquil water and light wind.  After all that excitement, it was an easy and uneventful hour and a half sail to Royal Island where we got the anchor down and the boat stowed away before the real rain began.  Whew…….


Sunday, April 15, 2018

For reasons unknown to me, cruisers stack up rocks in neat little piles along the rocky shores.  This curly tail lizard must have found the cairn on Shroud Cay to be the prefect place to wait for a lunchtime treat to fly past.

Back in 2008 we found this old weathered board washed up on the beach.  Bill scratched our names, the boat’s name, and the year in the face of the board with a beer can opener, and we placed it on top of Boo Boo Hill on Warderick Wells Cay.  Every year since we have come back, and he has added another year to our sign.

This is the view across the Blackpoint Harbor from the house we rented for our children and grandchildren to stay and visit with us.  The stone paved path leads from the house down to the water where it is nearly low tide and where the white sand is emerging from the blue water.

This is Eli, Ann’s son, swimming down to a coral head in the Bahamas.  He’d make a pretty good fish.

We can not identify this flower-like anemone growing on the coral.  It is not in our books.  While it looks like a plant, it is really an animal.

With everyone watching and ready to laugh, Bill made his maiden voyage on a stand up paddle board.  He was a natural, a success from the word go.

Coming back to the anchored Irish Eyes from the beach at Bitter Guana Cay, all eleven of us would not even begin to fit in our four-person dinghy.  Five people traveled in the dinghy while the remaining six were towed along behind holding on to a rope.

Josh, Isabella, Michael, Olivia, Ann, Scarlett, Julia, Kaelyn, and Eli stand behind the now resting sow which minutes before had been chasing them down the beach to get the pancakes they were carrying.  A 500 lb hungry pig is a fearsome beast.  A resting pig… not so much.

At Normans Pond Cay Bill and I waded in the water and walked on the beach picking up the treasures we found before throwing them back.  This is Bill with one of his finds, a reticulated starfish.

We have been to Normans Pond Cay several times, but this year was the first time that we have seen iguanas there.  Two were resting in the shade of a group of casuarina trees.  This is the female.  She is not quite 3 ft long.

Hello from Georgetown, Exuma.  We have had a busy couple of weeks.

When I last wrote, we were anchored at Shroud Cay.  During our four days there, we took our dinghy into the interior creeks and mangrove swamps of Shroud Cay stopping at the beaches on the eastern side of Shroud Cay.  We dinghied around to the ocean side of the island.  We had the cruising couple from the sailboat Blue Away over to celebrate St Patrick’s Day by sharing six bottles of Guinness stout that Bill brought from home.  It was a beautiful stay in a beautiful place.

Two back to back cold fronts were forecast to exit the Florida coast and come into the Bahamas.  We returned to the Norman’s Cay cut for protection from the wind.  We stayed for three days waiting for the wind to die down to a reasonable sailing speed.  When we arrived at Norman’s Cay, a large motorboat, Miss Anna, was anchored there.  We chose our spot 240 yards away from her.  Other boats came and went, but we stayed, and so did Miss Anna.  At sundown on our second night, the distance separating us had decreased to 75 yards.  I watched Miss Anna.  She was not moving with the wind and waves.  She had dragged her anchor and was aground behind us.  The professional crew calmly waited for the tide to rise as they served dinner to the guests on the aft deck of the yacht.  When the dishes were cleared away, Miss Anna floated free, and they re-anchored again, 240 yds away.  The next day a large sailboat which had been anchored on the other side of us also ran aground behind us.  Bill and several other cruisers went over in their dinghies and helped him get off.  It really does not take much to entertain me.  I just sit in our cockpit, knit, and watch the world unfold around me.

On March 23 the wind was blowing from the north at a reasonable 10 to 15 knots.  It was time to head south.  We pulled up our well buried anchor and sailed to the Emerald Rock mooring field at the Exuma Park Headquarters on Warderick Wells Cay.  Bill went into the office, paid our fees, and retrieved our driftwood sign from the top of Boo Boo Hill.

There is a huge pile of these driftwood signs on the hilltop.  Each has the names of cruisers, their boat names, and the dates of their trips to the Exumas.  Leaving a sign is supposed to assure cruisers of good weather and a pleasant trip.  We have been using the same sign for all eleven of our trips.  It is amazing that the thing survives all the wind and rain that blow over the island, and equally amazing that we can find it in the ever-growing heap of signs.

On Saturday night on the beach at the park office, there is a cruisers’ happy hour party.  We had also been invited to have a cocktail on a 22 foot sailboat moored near us at Emerald Rock.  So, off we went party hopping.  The couple on the sailboat, a Marshall Catboat named Done Reach, were retirees from Rhode Island who now live in Spanish Wells on Eleuthera.  They were taking a two-week trip on their little sailboat.  Bill and I enjoyed swapping tales with them, and they enjoyed the Black Eyed Pea dip I have named Tennessee Caviar.  They also enjoyed the ten ice cubes Bill brought as a present to their refrigeration-less boat.  After we left Done Reach, we went to the cruiser’s happy hour to meet the other cruisers and most especially Ron and Phebe, the crew of the sailboat Noodin, who we had met last year.

Sunday morning, we slipped our mooring and headed a few more miles south.  Our intended destination was Big Major’s Spot with its famous swimming pigs.  But when we got close, Bill looked through the binoculars and saw lots and lots of boats at Big Major’s.  We changed our plans, changed our course, and anchored off Sampson Cay where there were only two other sailboats.  Irish Eyes made it three.  Later, three or four large motor yachts anchored near us to avoid the coming high winds.  But that was fine, I had rich people playing on all kinds of expensive water toys to watch from my cockpit.  It was great entertainment.

On the windiest day, Captain Bill decided that we, like Jimmy Buffet, needed a restaurant prepared Cheeseburger in Paradise.  Our closest option was the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, a mere 5-mile dinghy ride away.  Off we went.  After the first mile, we were wet, salty, and not making much progress against the wind and current.  I asked Bill if he REALLY needed that cheeseburger.  I think he was just waiting for me to say something.  He immediately turned the dinghy around, and we spent a couple of pleasant hours walking on the Sampson Cay beaches before returning Irish Eyes for homemade sandwiches and beer.

The last time I did our laundry was in mid-February while we were moored in Vero Beach.  The dirty clothes locker was dangerously full, and my underwear drawer was almost empty.  The Rock Side Laundry in Blackpoint is the best coin laundry in the Exumas.  It was time to go there.  And anyway, our children, their husbands, and all the grandchildren would be there in a few days.

Our anchor was down in Blackpoint Harbor on Good Friday afternoon.  We tidied up Irish Eyes, I did laundry, and Bill gave me a haircut to prepare for our visitors.  Our good friends Ron and Dee from the sailboat Ursa Minor were in Blackpoint too.  We spent Easter Sunday afternoon catching up with them in the cockpit of Irish Eyes.

Early Easter Monday morning, and I mean really early, like 5am, my phone began pinging with rapid fire text messages describing our traveler’s progress.  All nine members of the Murdoch clan began their journey to Blackpoint from Michael and Ann’s new house in Nashville on Easter Sunday evening.  First, there was a flight from Nashville to Ft Lauderdale, then an airport shuttle to their Ft Lauderdale hotel for the night.  In the dark of Monday morning starting with that previously mentioned 5am ping, the journey resumed; another shuttle to the executive airport, followed by a charter flight in a small plane to Staniel Cay, then a golf cart ride to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a late breakfast.  Properly fed, they and all their belongings had 6 mile speedboat ride from Staniel Cay to the government dock in Blackpoint where a car and a truck met them and for a ride to their rented house on the water.  The five grandchildren were already in their bathing suits, splashing in the beautiful, clear, blue water and playing in the white sand before Bill and I could cross the harbor in our dinghy to meet them.

What a wonderful week we had!  The house we rented had a stone path leading down the wooded hill to the water on the Blackpoint Harbor.  At high tide the water was probably 3 feet deep, at low tide there were acres of sand flats to tromp over.  Perfect!  The kids could swim or build sand castles.  And, there was a small kayak and two stand up paddle boards to master.  The wraparound porch on the house was great; from there we could watch the kids only having to move the furniture from time to time during the day to stay out of the sun.

One day, all eleven of us piled aboard Irish eyes and went on an excursion.  We sailed our little boat, crammed with people both below and on the deck, a couple of miles south to the Hetty’s Land beach.  Bill, Julia, Josh, and Eli took the dinghy and went snorkeling and spear fishing on several of the nearby coral heads.  The rest of us, Ann, Michael, Kaelyn, Isabella, Scarlett, Olivia, and I, looked for sand dollars on the beach and played in the shallow water and in the sand.  While the snorkelers came back with only pictures of fish, the beach goers found their sand dollars.  Irish Eyes was anchored so close to the beach that the beach goers could just walk through the water and, after a few swimming strokes, climb back on board Irish Eyes.  When the snorkelers and the dinghy returned, we motored back to Blackpoint where, after several overloaded dinghy trips between the boat and the shore, we celebrated with drinks and dinner at Scorpio’s bar and restaurant.

On a “rest” day at the house Josh and Julia took the dinghy and went fishing off the rocks near the entrance to the harbor, but after an afternoon of fishing, they only brought back one fish.  They had fun anyway.  While they were away, the rest of us lazed about, built sand castles, splashed in the water, played on the porch, and generally wasted the day away punctuated only by a swim in the breaking waves on the ocean side of the island.

On our second trip on Irish Eyes, we motored the six miles north to the famous Swimming Pig Beach on Big Major’s Spot.  When it was discovered that no one had thought to bring food for the pigs, Bill ducked below and cooked two dozen pancakes for the beasts.  Once ashore, Ann had the pancakes in a plastic grocery bag.  The pigs, like all pigs, instantly sensed food.  First, Ann tried to distribute the pancakes to the kids who wanted to feed the pigs.  Then, she tried to appease the herd of pigs that were chasing her by feeding them a few.  Finally, under a direct frontal assault, she quickly dumped all the food on the beach and danced about holding her empty hands in the air to prove she had no more food to give.  Fully fed, one of the large sows dug out a bed in the sand and lay down at Ann’s feet.

Back on Irish Eyes as Michael made sandwiches for lunch, all the kids jumped off the bow pulpit of Irish Eyes and into the water as each tried to make the biggest splash.  They all watched from the deck as a large shark swam under the boat and over toward the swimmers at a nearby boat.  Eli got his wish to jump into the water from Irish Eyes.  Olivia got her wish to see a shark.  None of the jumpers were eaten by the shark.

There are large iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay, and we went to see them.  There was absolutely no wind, so we motored through the glassy and sparkling clear water.  The children sitting on the deck broke into a port side team and a starboard side team and had a competition counting the starfish on each side of the boat; on the bottom, in the grass, clearly visible 25 feet below us.  Anchored off Iguana Beach, the kids swam to the shore while the sensible adults took the dinghy.  We walked and swam along the beach feeding the iguanas bits of canned mandarin oranges.  Since all eleven of us would not fit in our four-person dinghy, Bill trailed a knotted floating rope behind the boat and towed the children back to Irish Eyes.  Julia (yes, she is a child) said she has waited 38 years for her father to tow her behind the dinghy.  We saw the people on a nearby anchored boat both stare and laugh at us.

On their last full day, tired of walking and sure that fishing success could be obtained with boat better than our dinghy, the travelers rented a 9 passenger golf cart and a 16 foot motorboat from Ulrisa and Breadboy, the owners of the house.  Josh, Julia, Ann, Kaelyn, Isabella, and Eli took the motorboat and went snorkeling in the morning while I played in the water with the mermaids Olivia and Scarlett.  In the afternoon Josh, Julia, Michael and Eli went fishing.  They caught several trigger fish, but thankfully they brought back only pictures and not the fish.  Ann, Kaelyn, Isabella, Olivia, Scarlett, Bill, and I took the golf cart to the blowhole to see the surf driven geyser shoot up through a hole in the rocky shore, then to another sound side beach for a shell collecting walk, and lastly on a tour of every paved rode on the island.  13-year-old Kaelyn drove the golf cart (It was a bit scary.) until we saw the island policemen in the distance, and Ann took the wheel.  Ann, who has never driven on the left before, proved remarkably adept.

The somewhat sunburned visitors left on Saturday retracing their path back to Nashville where they arrived after midnight.  Bill and I spent the day hosing the sand off the decks of Irish Eyes and feeling very fortunate that we could share one of our favorite places with all our family.  I am pretty sure they had a good time.

The wind changed after they left, coming from the west and blowing across miles of open water.  We bounced through the night while our anchor held us off the lee shore.  Then in the morning, we left headed south to the better protected Lee Stocking Island.  The island was once a research station, studying marine life.  The research funding dried up, and the place has been pretty much abandoned.  Rumors say a billionaire bought the island but could not get the permits to build a resort.  Bill and I dinghied along the sheltered sides of Lee Stocking Island and the adjacent Normans Pond Cay walking lots of beaches.  One morning at we had a nice rain shower and filled our water tanks to the brim and also put another 30 gallons of water in our six 5-gal jugs.  While we were anchored, a couple we met two years ago, Robin and Corbett on Cookie Monster came and anchored nearby.  We had a lovely time with them and with a Polish/American couple on the sailboat Aldebaran at a four-hour happy hour hosted by Cookie Monster.

After a few days anchored at Lee Stocking Island, Bill and I continued our journey south enjoying (?) a rollicking sail in northeast winds to Georgetown.  We had our anchor down at Sand Dollar Beach in the Georgetown harbor by mid-afternoon.  Georgetown has two grocery stores, a gas station, laundry, propane, beaches, and restaurants.  We will stay a few days while the wind blows, with our riding sail up and our flopper stoppers in the water, once again waiting for a cold front to go away.  The plan is to then head to Conception Island, turn around, and begin our slow trip north hoping that the winter cold fronts are behind us and that calm settled weather awaits.

Monday, March 19, 2018

When there is a full moon, the sun goes down on one side of the boat while the moon comes up on the other.  We like the moon.  It lets us see in the dark of night.

You may not recognize the “new” Bill.  With a scraggly beard and this horrible tropical get up, I’m trying to disassociate myself from him, but I am afraid I’ll not lose him even in a crowd.

We spent a week anchored at Normans Cay as a couple of cold fronts passed over us giving us strong winds and cool (68F) weather.  We wondered around the island both ashore and in the dinghy.  They have built a 5000 foot runway for private jet planes and are constructing a megayacht marina with planted palm gardens.  We enjoyed four $8 beers at the old but now gentrified McDuff’s restaurant where lunchtime hamburgers are now $25.

To me it seems that there is something wrong with flying in on your float plane to hop out and swim around a crashed cocaine hauling C-46 that is resting in six feet of water.  But, that was what these people did one day at Normans Cay.

We found a leak in our diesel fuel tank and had to backtrack to New Providence to buy the things we needed to repair the tank.  In the morning the sky looked like this.  You know, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  We arrived before the weather turned bad.

This is the fuel tank coming out of the boat.  Bill has already removed the table, the floor boards, the metal rods that hold the tank down, and the wedges that hold it in place.  You can see just a little bit of the filthy bottom.

Scrubbed clean and with epoxy putty spread into the corroded spots, the tank looks much better.  The dinghy foot pump’s hose is still attached to the tank.  We had pressurized the tank with air to find the leak.

I don’t have a ‘before’ picture of the bilge, but it was really filthy.  Now clean, it is not pristine, but it is so much cleaner and better smelling.

I am not fond of marina living.  Everything is hard.  Even getting off the boat is a job for a gymnast.  My legs are so short, and the gap is so long.

With the tank repaired, we are back doing what we came to do; relaxing, taking in the view, and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day from Irish Eyes anchored at Shroud Cay.  [That is when I wrote this.  It has taken until now to upload it to the internet.  ...and you think your internet is slow...]

When I last wrote we were anchored in Miami Beach.  It took us about a week to buy our food, some missing spare parts, and the things we had forgotten to bring from New Bern.  We toured around Miami and Miami Beach, sent our winter clothes to Julia, and had a few restaurant meals.  I really enjoyed watching the crazy people in Miami Beach.  It was like watching the animals in the zoo.  But, after nine days in Miami Beach I was tired of people watching.  The boat was ready to go, and so were we.  So, we pulled up our anchor and headed just a little farther south to No Name Harbor on the southern tip of Key Biscayne.

By anchoring outside No Name Harbor for our last night in the US, we had a much shorter (and much straighter) trip in the dark to the open ocean.  To try something a little different this year, rather than going to Bimini, we planned to sail all day then all night to reach Morgan’s Bluff on the north tip of Andros Island in the mid-morning of the next day.

The anchor was up, and we were underway at about 5:30am on Monday, February 27.  The moon had set by the time we got underway, but the sun was scheduled to rise about 6:15.  In the dim light before sunrise, the navigation marks were easy to see as we motored out the Cape Florida Channel to the ocean.  I was much happier not having to find our way down the channel by searching for the red and green daymarks with a spotlight.

The crossing of the Gulf Stream was uneventful.  We passed north around Bimini in the mid-afternoon and kept on going.  In the evening the moon’s reflection on the water behind us was breathtaking and its later setting was spectacular.  The moonlight made it much easier to identify the boats going by us and to see the several other boats anchored on the shallow banks for the night.

When we got to Morgan’s Bluff the next morning, we had been underway for 28 hours.  Whew.  Bill went ashore to check us into the Bahamas.  I stayed onboard Irish Eyes because the Captain is the only one allowed on land ‘till we have been cleared into the Bahamas.  Bill got the paperwork done, and the immigrations officer gave us leave to stay until July.

Several years ago, we met a couple who raved on and on about Andros and Morgan’s Bluff.  They spent a large part of the winter there.  The woman in this couple told me how great it was to watch the Bahamian women make Androsia batik fabric.  The fabric is sort of tie dyed in bright colors with motifs of shells, fish, pineapples, and other tropical things.  I would love to see the fabric made.  Well, the Morgan’s Bluff we saw had three buildings; a bar, the harbor master’s office, and a filling station.  Google told us that the Androsia factory was an hour’s drive south in Andros Town.  It was far too far for us to walk.

Since we didn’t find much of interest in Morgan’s Bluff, and since the weather was going to change and bring rain and strong winds, we decided to move on to New Providence Island.  In light wind we motored the 30 nautical miles to New Providence’s Southwest Bay and anchored off the entrance to the Albany Marina and Resort.  Our guidebook says the marina may be the most expensive in the world at $6.00 per foot per night (with a 50 foot minimum) plus a $500 per day resort service charge plus the usual 7.5% VAT.  Tiger Woods and some “friends” own the place. It was almost dark by the time our anchor was down, and we collapsed for a full night’s sleep while our anchor held us safely in place for free.

Our destination the next day was Norman’s Cay.  To get there before dark, we put up our sails and ran the engine to keep up our speed.  The boat heeled over until the starboard rail was in the water.  It was a rollicking motorsail, but we managed to get the anchor down on the west side of Normans Cay before sunset.  While we were underway, Bill was sitting at the navigation station and discovered that his feet were resting in seawater.  Somewhere in our quarter berth (which was full of all sorts of boat things and small amounts of beer, wine, and liquor) there was a leak.

Bill spent the entire day Thursday taking the things out of the quarter berth, finding and repairing the leak, and putting all the stuff back in the quarter berth.  The leak appeared to come from two of the four screws that hold the antenna tuner for the shortwave radio to the foot of the quarter berth.  The screw ends go into our rear anchor locker which fills with seawater when the boat heels to starboard.  (Remember, we put that side of the boat underwater?)  Well, the water leaked in around the screws.  There is always something to fix on a boat.

A cold front was approaching the Bahamas from the US.  The wind would to be strong, first from the southwest, then the west, then the northwest, and finally from the north.  The Bahamas Meteorological Office forecast for Sunday hilariously said, “Boaters should remain in port.  Winds northerly at 20-25 knots in the northwest Bahamas… …seas up to 20 feet in northerly swells across all areas, across the ocean.  No significant weather expected.”  While we laughed at the “No significant weather...”, we decided to move into the Normans Cay Cut where we would have protection from the west and north winds.

Friday, the wind picked up a little, but as the weather gurus said there was more to come.  The number of boats anchored around us increased over the next two days.  Our Kingsport friends, Rob and Minta Fannon, came in their boat, Caroline, and joined the anchored fleet on Saturday.  The wind continued to clock around and blow about twenty knots.  The water in our anchorage was fairly smooth, not completely calm, but not too bad either.

On Sunday we had planned a dinghy exploration trip with the Fannons. But, with twenty knot winds, spray flying, and an air temperature of 69 degrees, we instead spent the afternoon chatting in the cabin of Irish Eyes rather than riding around in a wet dinghy.

Our bad weather came from a couple of cold fronts that had dumped snow over the eastern United States and had spawned a severe nor’easter in New York and Boston.  We stayed anchored in the Normans Cay Cut for a week.  We did move the boat around in the anchorage twice.  Once because another boat anchored too closely to us, and once again for better protection from the choppy waves.  During calmer periods we went exploring.  Bill began his hideous habit of collecting beach trash.  So far, he has brought back to our boat a small blue ball, a diver down flag on a float, a sandy baseball hat, and a medium sized cone shaped Styrofoam fishing float.  Unlike Bill and his random junk collecting, I am trying to be very discerning in my shell collecting.  I have only saved a single perfect large top snail.

One afternoon while Bill was piddling about, he opened the cover to the bilge.  The bilge is the nasty, dirty underworld of the boat where the 36 gallon fuel tank lives.  Bill saw diesel fuel floating on the bilge water.  We got out the garden hose we use to wash off the anchor when it is muddy, attached it to the wash down pump, and washed the oil out the bilge with seawater and detergent.  Twelve hours later there was oil in the bilge again.  There was a leak in the aluminum fuel tank.  The tank was as old as the boat, and for a couple of years Bill had talked about taking it out and inspecting it.  It seems he waited just a little too long.

We decided it would be best to go to a Nassau marina to work on the tank.  The boat would be safe with the engine inoperable, we could find most things we might need to repair the tank, and we could take the tank off the boat to work on it.  Palm Cay Marina on New Providence was the closest cruiser friendly marina.  To slow the leak, Bill pumped 20 gallons of fuel out of the tank and into the five gallon fuel jugs we carry on deck.  On Friday, March 9 we motorsailed from Normans Cay to Palm Cay Marina.  By supper time we were tied up in a slip at one of their docks.

Saturday morning Bill began the task of removing the fuel tank from the boat.  First, he made a couple of trips to a grocery store to buy gallon jugs of water; not for the water, but for the jugs.  The last of our fuel went into the emptied jugs and the inside of the tank was wiped out with paper towels.  Then, we unbolted our table from the floor and tied it in place on top of one of the settees.  We removed the salon floor, set it aside, and took out the tank.  The outside of the tank was a filthy, greasy, gross mess.  We put it in the cockpit on top of a sheet of plastic.  Bill scraped off most of the mess, then he wiped off the rest of the crud with a whole roll of paper towels wet with clean diesel fuel.  Next, we moved the tank to the dock where Bill scrubbed it with a wire brush and paint thinner.  He pressurized the tank with our dinghy foot pump and found the tiny leak by painting Joy detergent and water over the bottom of the tank.  The lowest part of the tank was corroded, and the leak was in one of the corroded spots.  Bill put some epoxy putty on all the corroded areas and left the putty to harden.

Early Monday morning, the remains of another cold front passed over us.  We had 4.8 inches of rain with thunder, lightning, and lots of wind.  I was glad we were safely in the marina.  Palm Cay had several courtesy cars available for marina visitors to borrow.  In the Bahamas they drive on the left-hand side of the road.  Fortunately, the courtesy cars are right hand drive (the British kind).  Bill drove while I navigated on a trip to three of the marine supply stores in downtown Nassau to buy the things to patch the tank.  With all the rain, the streets were full of standing water.  The rain continued on and off all day, so we got only a little more work done.

Tuesday, Bill painted the whole bottom of the fuel tank with epoxy resin and put fiberglass cloth and epoxy on the lowest part of the tank.  That done, Bill decided to clean the area of the bilge that was under the tank.  I did not offer to help with that nasty job!  I admit the bilge looked (and smelled) much better when he finished.  Wednesday, we put the tank back in the boat.  Bill attached all the hoses, and we filled the tank with diesel fuel.  We watched and did not see any oil in the bilge. Hooray!!  The engine started and ran just fine.  We were free to leave the marina.

While the tank was out, the cabin was in chaos.  The dining table was atop one of our settees, and the settee cushions and Bill’s tools were everywhere.  I was glad when it was all over.  If Bill had not been able to fix the fuel tank, I do not know what we would have done.  Our two daughters, their husbands, and all five grandchildren plan to meet us in Blackpoint the first week in April.  They will stay in a rented a house because all eleven of us will not fit on the little ol’ Irish Eyes.  Just the thought of our having to go back to the US to get the tank replaced was devasting to me.  I have to be in Blackpoint that week!  I can’t miss the kids and grandkids.

We left Palm Cay Marina Thursday morning sailing to Highbourne Cay for the night.  After a peaceful night anchored there, we left Highbourne and sailed the ten miles to Shroud Cay, one of our favorite places in the Exumas.  We will explore the creeks around Shroud Cay for the next couple of days.  Another cold front is to pass over us next week, so we will move then to find better protection from the expected winds.

Hope those of you with snow soon see some Spring Green.  It was an unusually cool 63 degrees this morning.  I have on a sweatshirt, but my feet are still bare.