Friday, June 30, 2017

This chart of the coast from North Carolina to Cuba shows the route of our trip this year.  The red line is our trip south and through the Bahamas up to our arrival in Marsh Harbour in the Abacos.  The green line is our route during this blog entry.  Although the green line is long, we sailed it in just seven days.  The red line took five months.  The blue water is shallow and the white water is deep.  To me it seems backwards, but Bill says they do it that way to save ink.

There is not much to see at sea.  It is just water and sky like this.  At night we have stars, planets, and the moon, but my camera will not take their picture from the moving boat.  That is why I don’t have many pictures this time.

This is the inside of the pump that pumps water through our engine to cool it.  The black rubber thing in the middle is the impeller.  Two of the vanes are broken off and are sitting on top of the pump.  Bill replaced the pump with a spare one the day before we left the Bahamas.

Hello from Kingsport, Tennessee.  Bill and I arrived back home Thursday evening, June 22.  Now we have all our projects here at our house to keep us occupied.

When last I wrote, we were anchored in Marsh Harbour, Abaco.  We stayed there for ten days.  The weather forecasters I wrote about last time were right; we had rain and thunderstorms almost every day we were in Marsh Harbour.  It was humid, and when we were not having a storm, there was very little wind.  Bill did boat projects getting Irish Eyes ready for the ocean trip back to the US.  I mostly read and stayed out of his way.  I did not knit much because it was so humid I could not hold the yarn.  We went into town a few times to do a little shopping and to eat in some of the restaurants.  Bill made his fourth and last batch of beer on the boat while we waited on the weather to clear.

Finally, on Saturday, June 10, the weather forecast was decent.  We left Marsh Harbour and motored north in the Sea of Abaco, past several islands, then around the ocean side of Whale Cay before returning to the Sea of Abaco.  While the trip around Whale Cay can sometimes be a little rough, this year the sea was calm, and we traveled just off the island’s coast.  Sometime in the mid-afternoon, Bill noticed the engine temperature gauge was reading a little higher than usual.  We anchored, and Bill checked the pump that pumps the sea water that cools the engine.  Two of the vanes on the rubber part that goes around inside the pump were missing.  They had broken off and plugged the hose.  Bill picked the broken vanes out of the hose, removed the old pump, and installed our spare one.  All I did was watch and worry.  We motored a little way farther to make sure the water pump was working, then we anchored for the night at Powell Cay.

It had been a long time since we had been swimming.  As soon as the anchor was down, we were in the water with our pool saddles and a beer.  The water felt really good.

With a forecast of light winds from the southeast slowly changing to southwest over the next four days, it was time to leave the Bahamas.  The genoa sail was up and the engine was running by 7:40am Sunday.  We were headed back to the US.  The course was set for Charleston and the autopilot was steering.  Over the next four days, we motored some, we sailed some, and we motor sailed some.  Off the coasts of Florida and Georgia there were thunderstorms and showers in the Gulf Stream that we could see.  We stayed to the east of the stream to avoid the storms. Only one storm came over the top of us, but it was in the daylight.  Thunderstorms are worse at night or at least they seem worse.  Not only are there the wind and rain, but with a 48-foot-tall aluminum mast it is hard not to worry about lightning.  Our last loaf of bread, store bought, was gone.  I, with encouragement from Bill, made some yeast rolls as we sailed along.

As we neared Charleston, the forecast said our good weather would hold, so we altered out course for the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.  The next forecast was not good, so we turned toward Winyah Bay and Georgetown, South Carolina.  Six hours later NOAA changed their mind again, so we again changed our course back to the Cape Fear River.  Wednesday evening, Bill did some calculations.  We were going to arrive at Cape Fear River entrance at 1am -- in the dark -- not a good thing. We tied two reefs in the mainsail making it as small as we could, and Bill tied a bucket to the stern of the boat and threw it in the water to slow us even more.  That worked; Irish Eyes arrived around 7am Thursday.  It seemed like a long time since we had seen land.  While we were at sea, we worked two to four hour shifts, one of us sleeping while the other watched the boat.  There was not much too look at except blue water, the sky, and the clouds.  Occasionally, we had atlantic spotted dolphins swim with us for a while to break the monotony.  I know I do not want to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat.  An ocean crossing would be way too long for me.

After calling Customs and Border Protection in Wilmington and receiving clearance to enter the US, we continued up the Intracoastal Waterway to Wrightsville Beach and anchored there.  We were both very tired.  We considered sailing on to Beaufort overnight, but after four days and nights of only sleeping a few hours at a time, a full night’s sleep sounded too wonderful to pass up.  

Friday morning, we left at sunrise, went back out into the Atlantic, and sailed on to Beaufort, NC.  That leg of the trip took about twelve hours.  If we had stayed in the ICW it would have taken us two days.  The trip to Beaufort was uneventful until we arrived at the Beaufort Inlet.  It was quitting time of the next to the last day of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament with its over $2,000,000 in prize money.  Let’s just say the huge sport fishing boats were in a rush coming home through the inlet, and there were a lot of them.  Their wakes combined with the waves coming into the inlet and the tide flowing out made it a rough, bouncy, wet, and almost terrifying entrance.  What a ride!  We anchored for the night near Fort Macon, the first safe place to stop.

Saturday, we travelled up the ICW to the Neuse River and then on to Northwest Creek Marina in New Bern.  It had been a week since we had touched land in Marsh Harbour and six days and seven hours after leaving Powell Cay.  It was hot in the marina, and the first thing on the list was to put the air conditioner on the boat and start it going.  We got it on the boat, but it would not start.  My 38-year-old Chevy Blazer started right up, and we drove to Lowes to buy a new air conditioner.  With the new air conditioner installed and set to cool the boat, Bill and I took long showers with unlimited hot water before going out for a pizza.  The small things in life are really luxuries, a cool dry boat, a good shower, a pizza, and sailing to the Bahamas with the one you love to name a few.

It took us four days in the marina to clean the boat and pack our stuff.  We left New Bern around noon on Thursday.  The rusty old Blazer made another trip to Kingsport safely.  Bill and I are slowly getting back into the swing of life on land... dirt dwellers again.

We had a good trip.  Maybe we will go again.

Friday, June 2, 2017

We have two blue plastic pool saddles with us this year.  They are a square piece of foam with cutouts for your legs.  You sit on them, float in the water, and drink beer.  If only they had a cup holder.

Several islands in the Bahamas have iguanas.  These two handsome fellows were on Leaf Cay north of Lee Stocking Island.

Bill collects beach junk. In the top picture he has a stand up paddleboard he found washed up on the rocks.  It was too heavy to carry back to the boat.   On the left is a mornings work; old rope, torn nets, fishing floats and (get this) a fresh washed up honeydew melon.  He tried to eat the melon.  On the right is another plastic fishing float.  That thing is now tied to our boat's lifelines.

At the north anchorage off Hawksbill Cay in the Exumas, the mega yacht Wheels had set up this collection of beach toys for their charter guests. There was a sliding board, jet skis, kayaks, chairs, umbrellas, tents, paddleboards, a buffet lunch, a photographer, and a "dinghy" with four 400 hp outboards to move it all.

While the yacht's guests were enjoying their toys (actually they mostly sat in the chairs), we watched two sea turtles forage on the bottom near our boat coming up for air every five minutes or so.  During the ten years we have been coming to the Bahamas on Irish Eyes, the turtles have become both more numerous and larger.

Atop Boo Boo hill is a collection of driftwood signs left by cruisers over the years in hopes of being granted fair winds and a safe return.

This is our sign resting among the others.

Sometimes you don't need the Weather Channel to know bad weather is coming.  This thing contained 30 kt wind and an inch and a half of rain.

I like sunsets.  

This is one of dozens of parrotfish on the reef at Sandy Cay in the Abacos...

...and this is some elkhorn coral not far away from the paotfish.

Hello, from Marsh Harbour, Abaco.  We are now headed north, but slowly, waiting for more settled weather to sail back to the States.

We hung around in George Town to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a cruisers’ beach potluck on Flip Flop Beach.  It was well attended by both humans and mosquitoes.  The beach was recently sold to a developer with big plans, so this may have been the last party on the undeveloped beach.  The dry laid stone walls, the thatched roof stone bar, the picnic tables, and fire pit that cruisers have built over the years may shortly be replaced with more magnificent structures and ‘No Trespassing’ signs.  Or, maybe not.  This is the Bahamas, and they are much better with plans than with accomplishments.

Two days after the party, the cloudy, rainy weather left, the skies cleared, the forecast improved, and we left George Town sailing north to Lee Stocking Island.  It was not far, just a half day’s sail north of George Town.  We had visited Lee Stocking several years ago.  It was a nice place and deserved a return visit.

Lee Stocking Island was home to the Caribbean Marine Research Center. There were houses, science laboratories, workshops, storage buildings, an airstrip, and tons of equipment.  Several US universities sent students to the center to do studies on coral, fish, and conch and to operate the center’s deep dive submarine.  In 2012 NOAA’s research funds were cut, and the center was closed.  Everything was just abandoned in place.  Today it is a Twilight Zone ghost town.

Much to our surprise, a freight boat came into the research center’s dock while we were there.  Men on several small boats came up from Barraterre, a town just to the south, and unloaded boxes on pallets and building supplies then took it all some place on the island in a truck. Kevin and Cris on the sailboat Après Ski told us there are plans to open the center again, but the internet talked of a New Yorker’s plans to develop a "fully sustainable, carbon neutral, five-star sanctuary and wellness retreat" with ”70 luxury hotel villas, 15 private estate villas, an energy farm, spa, organic farm, whole food restaurant…”  Who knows?  Anyway, for the present we could walk anywhere on the largely untouched island.

While anchored at Lee Stocking Island, we climbed to the top of Perry’s Peak, the tallest point in the Exumas, all of 125 feet.  There were great views from the top.  We took a dinghy trip to the nearby Normans Pond Cay where there was an abandoned salt pond and lots of young conch.  In between our shore trips, we swam in the crystal clear water around Irish Eyes.

We left Lee Stocking Island on May 10th.  After a pleasant sail in the Exuma Sound, we anchored off Galliot Cay.  There is a pretty beach on the banks side of Galliot Cay and a rocky, plastic trash covered beach on the Exuma Sound side.  I walked about on the sand beach and played in the shallow water.  Bill, of course, went over to the rocky side to look at the trash.  He came back with yet another big plastic float which he proceeded to tie to our boat’s lifelines.  This one even had a reflective tape covered post sticking out of it’s top.  I have not the faintest idea what he plans to do with all his plastic s___, I mean prizes.

On the day we left Galliot Cay, there had been a local police boat and a Bahamas Defense Forces boat cruising about in the area.  They tied their boats up at a rocky spot on the cay, and several people, both uniformed and not uniformed, came ashore and wandered through the trees and shrubs.  We later learned that they had arrested two Jamaican drug runners and were looking for their island stash.  Thankfully, it was not near where Bill had gone.

Many other boaters had sung the praises of Ty’s Beach Bar on Little Farmer’s Cay.  We decided to pick up our anchor and make the five-mile trip to Ty’s for supper.  Everything went well until Bill discovered that the 1.7m spot on the chart where he was trying to anchor was only 1.5m deep at low tide.  Irish Eyes needs 1.5 meters of water to float, and that 8 inch difference was the difference between floating and sticking.  We were stuck.  Our engine would not move us.  Bill dropped the anchor under the bow and piled 50 feet of chain in a heap beside it on the bottom.  It was all very embarrassing.  Everyone could see Irish Eyes facing in the wrong direction with her chain hanging limply down while the nearby boats bobbed happily about facing into the wind and pulling on their anchors.  We quickly got in our dinghy and went to TY’s Bar to drown our sorrows in a beer and to wait for the tide to rise.  We left the boat so quickly, I forgot my camera, so I do not have any pictures of Irish Eyes aground.  Ty was very friendly and sold us several beers and some great food for supper.  By the time the sun set, Irish Eyes was floating once again.  The sunset was spectacular.  Irish Eyes was right in the center of all the other people’s photos.  At the next low tide in the early morning hours, Irish Eyes’ keel bumped about on the bottom for a short while.  Bill slept through it all peacefully.  I felt every bump.  We left Little Farmers Cay the next morning safely floating on a high and rising tide.

Continuing north, we sailed from Little Farmers Cay to Little Sampson Cay.  On our first several trips to the Exumas, Little Sampson Cay was the home of the beautiful Sampson Cay Club and Marina, and we usually stopped there.  The people who worked on the island were friendly, the food in the restaurant was good, and the bar was a nice place for an ice cold adult beverage.  We have bought food and fuel there, I have done our laundry there, and we have walked all the island’s trails and beaches.  For some reason John Malone, the owner of the property, decided several years ago to make it private for his family’s exclusive use.  The pretty rental houses are still there, but the fuel dock, marina, restaurant and bar are all closed.  ‘No Trespassing’ signs dot the beaches and docks.  We anchored Irish Eyes off the cay and took a dinghy trip around the island.  Everything was pretty, all was well maintained, but nobody was about.  It seemed a shame…

Once again, we were expecting a cold front with some southwest or west winds.  We decided to make our way to the Cambridge Cay Mooring field which offered all around protection from the wind and waves.  The front did pass over us, but it was not a strong one.  Bill and I walked on the beaches, cruised around in the dingy, and swam in the beautiful water.

We left Cambridge Cay continuing north to Warderick Wells, the headquarters cay of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  The day was hot, without a breath of wind.  The sky was overcast, and looked as if it would pour rain any minute.  We had a reservation in the park’s north mooring field for mooring ball number 14.  The sky got darker and darker.  It really looked ominous with a great black rolling cloud extending from one horizon to the other.  We had just tied to our mooring (second try), and put our things away when the wind suddenly went from zero to thirty knots and the drenching rain came.  Bill filled both our water tanks and all five of our 5-gal plastic jugs with fresh rain water while the wind pushed our stern alarmingly close to the rocky shore, but the mooring held use safely away.  It was nice to have enough water to be able to have a long fresh water rinse after each swim – more than my normally allotted 2 quarts.

The park allows cruisers to leave behind mementos made from driftwood on the top of Boo Boo Hill, the highest point in the park.  We have a large weathered mahogany board there with ‘Irish Eyes’, our names, and the dates of our trips to the Bahamas all carved into the surface.  After walking to the top Boo Boo Hill, we started looking for our sign in the enormous pile.  Bill was searching through the signs when I saw part of ours right on top.  Somehow it had gotten broken in two, perhaps tossed about by last fall’s hurricane Matthew or maybe just stepped on.  We found both pieces and headed back to Irish Eyes where Bill repaired the break and carved the tenth date in the sign, MMXVII.

Bill has made four batches of beer on this trip.  We had bottled and carbonated a 2 gal batch a couple of days before we arrived in Warderick Wells.  A boat I mentioned before, Après Ski, was on the mooring next to us.  Bill asked them over to sample his latest brew.  They were amazed at how good a non-traditional home brewed beer could be.  The next evening, after we put our repaired sign back on the pile, we went to Après Ski to sample Kevin’s homemade conch fritters.  They were great.

Our next stop was Hawksbill Cay.  When we reached the anchoring spot, it looked like a small resort had sprung up on the white sand beach.  A mega yacht, Wheels, had every imaginable toy lined up on the beach for their guests.  There were shade tents over beach chairs, an inflatable slide, jet skis, kayaks, paddle boards, and some clear plastic motorized kickboards that would tow a person around while he looked at the coral and fish below.  It was all quite a sight.  The crew from Wheels put all the stuff up every morning and took it all down and back to the yacht every night.  Bill and I walked on the northern sand flats and beaches. Bill walked the trails to both the north and south ocean-side beaches, the Russell Plantation Ruins, and then across the island in three different places.

We spent one night anchored at the southern end of Shroud Cay.  At high tide we took a dinghy trip up the southernmost creek on the island to the ocean side beach.  I think that might be the prettiest spot in the Exumas.  While we were back in Warderick Wells, Bill talked to one of the rangers about three dead tropic birds we had seen earlier in the year on the northern beach at Shroud Cay.  The ranger said there was a dog problem on Shroud Cay.  The island is uninhabited, so we were not sure what he meant.  Walking on the southern beach this visit, we saw lots of dog footprints that did not seem to be with a human footprint.  As we were leaving the beach, we saw three medium sized dogs running along the creek.  They barked and whined at us from shore, but thankfully they could not get to the dinghy.  I guess they had been abandoned on the cay.

Monday, May 23rd was the day to cross Exuma Sound to Eleuthera, the first of several all-day trips.  We headed out early, ringing our ship’s bell as we passed the sailboat Wilma.  Wilma is home to a young German family with four children.  We had first seen them in George Town, newly arrived from the Caribbean, where Bill had given them copies of charts of the Bahamas, and they had given us a box of marzipan from their home town of Lubek.  The children love to swim but were out of the water as they were leaving for Nassau.  For us it was a light wind day, but we managed to sail most of the way to Rock Sound in Eleuthera motoring only the first and last few miles.

We spent five days in Rock Sound.  Bill did the grocery shopping, we ate at Sammy’s Place, and we toured the creeks and beaches around the harbor by dinghy.  One beach had lots of Atlantic winged oyster shells in the shallow water.  It was a shell we seldom see.  I did not pick up all of them, just a few.  It was hot and humid in Rock Sound, but the cure was simple.  Bill had bought two foam rubber pool saddles before we left the states, and every afternoon we jumped in the water, floated in our saddles, drank beer, and cooled off.  Remember all the rainwater in jugs from Warderick Wells?  It got put to good use every afternoon.

It was time to go, and the wind was from the south, so we sailed north up the coast of Eleuthera to Governors Harbour.  The town there was, as always, pretty and active.  We did a little shopping and had dinner at the Buccaneer’s Club.  Bill also bought us two huge conch salads from a local man working out of the back of his truck by the harbor.  The conch salad served us for the next two suppers.

After only one day in Governors Harbour, we made the all-day trip to the northern tip of Eleuthera stopping to anchor at Royal Island.  It was a pleasant trip except it was hot.  We beat the heat with a nice swim in the island’s harbor.  Despite investments by Jack Nicklaus and Roger Staubach, Royal Island is a failed resort development.  There are a clubhouse, one house and several tent hotel rooms that are in use.  There are also an abandoned golf course, decaying roads, and idle construction equipment.  We found the natural harbor nice even without the planned 200 slip marina.

Still moving north, we made another all-day trip from Royal Island to Lynyard Cay in the Abacos.  It was 50 miles in open water with container and tanker ships crossing our path.  The wind died during the day, and we motored most of the way.  The anchor was down before sunset and fortunately for the cook, the last of the Governors Harbour conch salad was in the refrigerator waiting to be served.  The next day we took the dinghy up to Sandy Cay to go snorkeling in the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park.  It was fun to drift in the current looking at the fish and coral below.  Bill had installed little stick-in bifocal lenses in my mask, and I was several times quite confused to find the reef had jumped from far away to too close for comfort.  (I took them out when we got back to the boat.)  We also walked on the Lynyard Cay beaches right up to the newly installed ‘No trespassing beyond this point” signs.  In the past we used to walk over to the ocean side beaches.  Oh well, change; you have to love it.

We left Lynyard Cay May 31st sailing to Marsh Harbour.  I did our laundry while Bill did some grocery shopping.  

The weather forecast is not the best for the next several days.  According to Chis Parker, the short wave radio weather guru, a cold front is going to “fester” in the Gulf Stream and the northern Bahamas for the next several days with squalls and thunderstorms.  It is well protected here in Marsh Harbour, so we will stay a few days to let the weather settle down.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

These prickly shells were attached to a long piece of rope that we found on the beach.  Bill picked two of the shells off the rope before he found a sharp piece of metal to cut the rope and free the third one.  Their spines are incredibly long.

On the ocean side of Great Guana Cay opposite Jacks Bay Cove, Bill found this perch in the rotten limestone cliff.  I think the weather up there was about the same as the weather down on the beach where George Brown and I were standing.

Bill and George went spear fishing with little success.  They did see three lobsters, but unfortunately the season was closed.  This one was peeking out of a hole in the coral.  After the picture was taken Bill grabbed him, pulled him out, then turned him loose.

This coral head had hundreds of squirrel fish and french grunts schooling over its top.

George and Bill swam into Thunderball Grotto.  The water filled room in the center of the island has a few openings in the ceiling that let light in.  They are also the holes that let James Bond out when he was fleeing SPECTRE.  The room has both an entrance and an exit.  The entrance had a little air in it, but the exit was completely water filled.

The races start with the boats anchored in a row.  In this picture the gun has sounded, and you can see part of the crew pulling in the anchor as the others start to raise the sail.

The Bahamas sloops come in several sizes.  This is one of the smaller dinghy class boats.

This is an A class Bahamian sloop beating to windward in the evening sun.  The weight of the fellows on the two pries just barely keeps the boat with its huge sail upright.

The winner of the Regatta’s A Class was Tida Wave.  Running Tide was her closest competator.  Here Running Tide is at the last rounding of the windward mark on the last race of the regatta.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band performed for the crowd at the reviewing stand on the last day of the regatta.  Dressed in white and red with leopard tunics, they were something to see.

Hello from George Town, Exuma.  Bill and I came south to George Town last week to see the National Family Islands Regatta.  It’s been a couple of years since we were here last, but it is great fun to watch the traditional Bahamian sailing sloops race.

At my last posting, we were anchored at Big Major’s Spot waiting for a cold front to pass over us.  Lots of other boats had the same idea even though the anchorage was completely open to the west and offered little protection from the wind and waves during a cold front passage.  As it turned out, the wind only blew from the west for a few hours and was never more than about 10 or 15 knots.  After all our preparations and worry, it ended up being an almost non-event.

During the day, a nearby boat suggested we have a have a cruisers’ potluck party on Pirate Beach.  It sounded like a good idea to us.  I made a black bean, corn, and tomato salsa which we took along with pita chips and (of course) our drinks.  We tried out our new beach party drinks system.  Bill had bought five tropical themed 24-ounce Tervis tumblers for fifty cents apiece at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop in Kingsport.  For a far higher price, I bought straws and snap on lids from Amazon for two of the glasses.  We mixed up three drinks in each glass before we left the boat and were set for the entire party.  There was no messing with ice, booze, and mixer in the sand.  It was a great system.  The potluck was well attended, and we met lots of new people and caught up with some people we had met in the years before.  There was even a woman from Rogersville, Tennessee visiting her sister and brother-in-law on their boat – small world.

We moved Irish Eyes around from Big Majors Spot to anchor off Staniel Cay near Thunderball Grotto in anticipation of George Brown’s arrival on April 11.  Bill filled our boat’s fuel and water tanks, and I bought some fresh food to replace what we had eaten. We tidied up the boat and relaxed, eating a few meals ashore.

George arrived on Tuesday, but his plane was a little late.  With George’s luggage in hand, we started the half mile walk down the road to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club where our dinghy was pulled up on the beach.  We had not gone far when two women in a golf cart stopped and offered us a ride.  We hopped in.  Bill had briefly spoken to the driver while waiting at the airport, and George had talked to the passenger who had flown in with him.  As we approached the Yacht Club, Bill recognized the driver’s voice.  It was June from Over Yonder Cay who in our early trips to the Bahamas had read the weather over the VHF radio each morning.  We were riding with an island celebrity.  We had not heard her in several years and assumed she had left the island.  It turned out her radio antenna was damaged in a storm and she decided to “retire” from weather reading.  Bill and I were thrilled to meet the person who went with the helpful radio voice.

After a late lunch/early supper at the yacht club, the three of us returned to Irish Eyes. George settled in on the boat, and we had a peaceful night at anchor.  In the morning, we moved Irish Eyes briefly over to Big Major’s Spot so George could see and feed the famous swimming pigs.  Bill and George left with some apple slices and a few bits of lettuce to add to the pigs’ fodder.  They took a few pictures, and we then left for Bitter Guana Cay.

Bitter Guana Cay has a colony of endangered iguanas that live on the uninhabited island.  [I figure that they are there because they were not good to eat, you know, “those bitter iguanas”.]  Lots of tourist boats come from Nassau and George Town to see the iguanas either before or after feeding the pigs.  The three of us tried to feed the iguanas apple slices, but the beasts did not seem to like apples.  No doubt the regular tourists feed them something better.  We walked over to the ocean side of the island to see the rough surf.  The wind was coming from the east and was strong.  The surf was pounding on the rough and rocky shore sending spray 20 feet or more into the air.  Off shore in the distance it was raining, and we were treated to very nice rainbow out over the water.

During the ten days George was with us, we had very strong easterly winds.  We mostly went up and down west side Great Guana Cay staying out of the wind and waves and visiting a different beach each day.  Bill and George found lots of plastic bits on the ocean side beaches.  George took home a sign written in Spanish about life jackets, and on Irish Eyes we now have Bill’s hard round red plastic fish net float and his very large faded red inflatable fender.  I found pretty shells; Bill found plastic junk. The trash on the beaches was sad, really sad.  Too much plastic stuff finds its way into the ocean and litters the beaches.

Bill had finished making a batch of Pacific IPA Beer and had started fermenting a batch of Churchill’s Nut Brown Ale just before George arrived.  George has brewed lots of beer at home.  He works at it using both the best of ingredients and excellent technique.  As I can attest, he makes great beer.  Bill’s beer making is, well, to be charitable, a bit more, well, basic.  But, as with food, presentation is everything, and Bill’s beer served cold on a warm sunny afternoon on a sailboat surrounded by turquoise water with a tropical wind blowing, is also great in its own sort of way.  We drank it all.  None was wasted.

In addition to our beach explorations, we hiked through the brush to a large limestone cave with a pool in its center.  The cave had bats hanging from the ceiling and crawfish swimming in the pool.  One afternoon we dropped in the water to spear some lionfish.  We only got one, but we saw a nice grouper and three lobsters.  The grouper hid in a hole in the coral and would not come out, and the lobsters were out of season.  That done, we stopped in Black Point to view the geyser-like blowhole on the ocean side of the island and to have drinks and dinner at Scorpio’s Restaurant and Bar.

On George’s last day with us, we moved from Black Point to anchor again in front of the Thunderball Grotto.  We had a very nice sail despite the strong wind.  After launching the dinghy, Bill and George swam into Thunderball Grotto just like James Bond did in the movie ‘Thunderball’. They reportedly found lots of fish, no SPECTRE assassins, and no other tourists.

We were up by 6am on April 20 to get George to the airport for his 9:30 flight.  It was, as always, a little different than doing the same thing at home.  While the wet dinghy ride across the harbor and the walk to the airport were negatives, the lack of x-ray machines, metal detectors, airport security, and the boarding lounge wait were real plusses.  After a short delay the (always a little late) airplane landed, the pilot looked at George’s passport, put his luggage in the plane, and flew George and four others off to Ft Lauderdale.  By evening we had a note saying that he was home.

Bill and I decided we would sail back to Black Point so I could wash our mountain of dirty laundry.  Another cold front was to pass over us over on Sunday April 23.  I did our laundry at Ida’s Rockside Laundry on Saturday, and we readied Irish Eyes for the coming high wind.  Sunday, we did boat chores and waited for the wind to pick up, which it did. During the night, we woke up when it rained a little, the wind picked up, and there was lots of lightening.  The wind clocked around to the west so the wind and waves were coming straight on our bow with no land ahead to break their force.  There was lightening off in the distance; some to the west and a lot to the east.  We learned Monday morning that the Cape Eleuthrea Marina had winds of 110 to 120 knots.  That was the storm to our east. South Andros had 40-50 knot winds.  That was the storm to our west.  Our wind was nothing like that, but it kept the boat rocking none the less.  Monday, the west wind was still blowing like stink and the anchorage was very rough.  Several boats left Black Point.  One left and immediately came back.  It must have been still rougher outside.  Monday night continued to be a rough ride.  Even though the boat was bouncing around, Bill slept soundly Monday night after being awake Sunday night.  I did not sleep either night.  I was not a happy sailor.

After putting the dinghy motor on the stern and the deflated dinghy on the deck of our bouncing boat, we set out Tuesday for George Town.  We motorsailed the thirty miles in the calm seas on the east side of the islands.  Along the way, we hooked two dolphin fish, one getting off the hook immediately and the other shaking off the hook right behind the boat while Bill was reeling him in.  We arrived in George Town about 6pm, anchored at the first good spot we came to, Monument Beach, and collapsed in our bunk.

Wednesday, April 26 was the first day of the Family Island Regatta sailing races.  Bill and I put on our saltwater soaked clothes expecting a wet dinghy ride across Elizabeth Harbour to George Town and headed to town.  We took along our water jugs to take advantage of the free water at the Exuma Market’s dinghy dock.  After filling all five of our jugs, we walked along the Regatta site looking at the temporary plywood shacks set up to sell fried food and “adult beverages”.  For lunch, we shared an order of conch fritters and a tropical conch salad along with two cold Kalik beers.  The fritters were very good.  Bill talked to the woman as she made them, and they compared making conch fritters to making hush puppies.  I watched the man making conch salad and listened to two nearby old guys talk about all the scantily dressed young girls as they walked past.  We took our lunch over to the viewing stands and watched a race or two.  Back on Irish Eyes after another wet ride, Bill put the water in our tanks, and we had a nice swim around the boat.  We did not need supper.

At 3 in the morning we woke up to rain.  The weather forecast had called for isolated thunderstorms.  Well, our isolated storm lasted about three hours and gave us two inches of rain and 30 knot winds.  While worrisome at times, nothing bad happened.  Bill completely filled both our water tanks and refilled all five of our plastic jugs with rain water. After the storm and after being awake half the night, we watched the next day’s races from our cockpit happily napping during the periods between the three races.

Friday, we again made the long and wet trip to town to be racing spectators.  I probably have explained the races in previous years, but I’m going to do it again in case anyone has forgotten.  The boats are wooden Bahamian sloop rigged sailing vessels with cotton canvas sails. They must be built in the Bahamas and owned and skippered by Bahamians.  The boats are divided into four classes, A (28 ft), B (21 ft), C (17 ft), D (12 ft), and E (the 12 ft youth class).  The A and B classes race alone, and the C, D, and E classes race together with the E class having a shorter course.  The upwind-downwind races start with the boats anchored in a line and with all the sails down.  When the starting gun goes off, the crew pulls in the anchor to start the boat going forward and raises the sails to catch the wind, then the crew move out onto the pry to keep the over canvased and now speeding boat upright.  Starting line collisions and entanglements are common, occasionally with broken booms or masts.  All you Watauga Lake Sail Club racers want to try that?  Just watching, it appears that if you have a bad start, you have a bad day.  Bill and I spent all day watching the races, moving from the starting line viewing area to the finish line viewing area as the excitement unfolded.  It was a fun day.

The last day of the Regatta was Saturday.  Bill and I decided to have lunch at the St Francis Hotel and watch the racing through binoculars from the other side of the harbor. After our delicious lunch of cheeseburgers, fries, and beer, we made our way to Chat N’ Chill beach for a couple of more beers.  We chatted and chilled most of the afternoon until the A class boats were ready to start the final race.  The A class boats have a crew of 12 to 18.  Their masts are huge and their booms are almost twice the length of the boat.  Their 5,000 lb lead ballast is not enough to keep them upright; the crew must perch on the 3”x12”x16’ pry which hangs out over the side of the boat to keep it from being blown over.  When the crew tacks the boat (that is turns the boat so the wind moves from one side of the boat to the other) several things must happen at once.  The jibsail and the mainsail with its enormous boom are blown from one side of the boat to the other threatening to sweep everyone off the boat.  The crew crawls in off the pry, unships it, and moves the pry under the swinging boom to the other side of the boat.  The crew simultaneously moves across the boat and resumes their places on the pry keeping the boat from being blown over.  It is something to see.  Bill and I took our dinghy and anchored near the upwind turning mark for the A class race.  Watching the guys tack the boats was very exciting.  After the race, we went into George Town and watched the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band march and play.  It was almost dark when we made the long, wet dinghy ride back to our floating home, but we had had a wonderful day.

The following day, Sunday, we rested and snoozed until 6pm when we went ashore for a cruisers party with food, drinks, a bonfire, and music. Bill and I met lots of people and stayed till about 9pm.  The party continued long without us.  Sailors can certainly tell lots of tales.

Our plan is to stay here in Georgetown a few more days then head south or north or whichever way the wind takes us.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Washed up on the beaches of Normans Cay we found this SeaDoo, a fiberglass dinghy, an inflatable dinghy, and two motorboats.  All looked great from a distance, but close up, all were wrecks.

While we were at Shroud Cay, the wind blew from the southwest calming the usual surf on the ocean side beaches.  We used the opportunity to visit some that we had never seen before.

Bill patrols the beaches of the Bahamas for “good stuff”.  He was looking for two milk jug crates and found them.  He does look happy with his find, doesn’t he?

The interior of Shroud Cay is a maze of creeks winding through the mangrove swamp.  This camera does not have a wide enough lens to show it all, but here is just a little bit.  We spent three days slowly traveling in the dinghy through these creeks.

Earlier this year several of the pigs at Big Majors Spot died either from dehydration or from being fed large amounts of beer and booze.  They now have this partially completed shelter to get out of the sun, signs saying “no booze”, and an old cooler for a water trough.  I wonder if the pigs miss the beer.

Pirate Beach has been improved with a picnic table donated by the crew of the motor yacht Pirate and treasures left behind by others.  It is quite the resort.

I live in the Tennessee mountains, so having a real sunset every evening is a treat.  No two are alike, every one is different.

Hello from Big Majors Spot in the Bahamas, home of the famous swimming pigs.  We have now been in the islands for three weeks.  On March 20, our refrigeration was fixed, our laundry was done, our groceries were bought, and our fuel and water tanks were full.  We untied our dock lines from the slip at Crandon Park Marina and sailed out into Biscayne Bay to anchor off No Name Harbor at the southern tip of Key Biscayne.  Crandon Park Marina turned out to be a nice place to stay before heading to the Bahamas.  If the anchoring and dinghy-tying-up laws in Miami Beach get any stricter, Crandon Park may replace Miami Beach as our last US port of call.

The Gulf Stream weather forecast for the next day (Tuesday) sounded good for crossing over to Bimini.  Wednesday’s Gulf Stream weather would be even better, but the following two days would be impossible. We needed a total of three days of good weather with the wind from the right direction, not too strong, not too light, and with no rain to get all the way to Highbourne Cay in the Exumas.  Bill and I debated whether we should leave on Tuesday or Wednesday.  We decided that Tuesday would be the better day.  The Gulf Stream would be do-able, Thursday would be a good weather day to travel across the banks, and Thursday afternoon’s bad weather would not catch up with us until after we were in Highborne Cay.  Both of us were ready to go.  We set an alarm for 3am.  After a quick breakfast, we pulled up the anchor and headed out in the dark.  Bill dealt with the anchor while I steered in the moonlight around the other anchored boats and past the tip of Key Biscayne to the Florida Channel and out into the ocean.  I am not a big fan of steering in the dark, but with Bill watching the radar and GPS and calling out the compass courses for me to steer, I got us safely out of Biscayne Bay and into the ocean.

The crossing was sort of comfortable, motor-sailing with 3-4 foot in waves in the Gulf Stream, but the seas dropped to less than a foot as we approached Bimini.  We arrived in Alice Town at Weech’s Dock at 2 pm.  With no one in sight at the marina, we tied ourselves up.  Captain Bill went to Customs and to Immigration to clear us into the Bahamas.  I remained on the boat because as crew I am not allowed to leave the boat until we are cleared into the country.  He returned with our cruising permit, stamped passports, and a mixed case of Bahamian and Haitian rum.  He gave Mr. Weech $20 for the use of his dock, we untied ourselves, and we were gone.  We sailed north around Bimini then east across the Great Bahama Bank.  The wind died, and we motored on.  Bill did his sums and determined that if we kept motoring, we would arrive at the rocky Highborne Cay Wednesday night – in the dark -- not good.  If we anchored for the night on the shallow banks, we would arrive Thursday in the afternoon but after the forecasted 30 to 35 knot east winds started – also not a good plan especially since we would be traveling straight into that strong wind.  The solution to the dilemma was to anchor on the banks for a few hours to delay our arrival until after dawn.  We moved about a mile south of the route that most boats use as they travel between Bimini’s north rock and a place called Mackie Shoal.  We anchored just after sundown, ate supper, went to sleep, woke up at 3 am when the moon rose, and continued motoring east.  The sun came up, the wind filled in, and we sailed on toward Nassau taking turns napping and steering the boat.  The sun set again, the wind went light, and we re-started our engine.  We changed course away from Nassau to pass south of the west end of New Providence Island.  While I slept, Bill and the boat did a mile-long dance in the water to avoid a collision with a south bound oil tanker that altered course ahead of us as she turned to run toward the power plant on the southeast corner of New Providence.  The incident left Bill a little unnerved.  The tanker either did not see us or did not care.  Without any further incident, we arrived at Highbourne Cay as the sun rose at 7:30am.  Fifty-four hours out of Florida, the last leg of the journey to the Bahamas was over.  We both took a long morning nap.

As predicted the wind picked up to 25-20 knots with occasional higher gusts late Thursday afternoon.  We stayed onboard Irish Eyes reading, knitting, doing small boat chores, and resting up.  We watched a 70’s Gardner McKay movie, “How I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew”.  It was a hokey movie.  The six girls mostly smiled and posed.  None of them ever even got her hair wet.

Finally, on Monday, March 27 the wind had settled down, and we were rested up and ready to move on. It was a long trip that day, about 5 miles.  We anchored off Norman’s Cay for the next few days.  Norman’s Cay was being developed with a marina, hotel, and airport all under construction.  We dinghied around the island looking at the excavators at work.  I checked the beaches for shells while Bill looked for “good stuff”.

Our next stop was Shroud Cay.  Shroud is part of the Exumas Land and Sea Park, and except for some trails, the island is untouched.  The creeks leading over to the ocean side beaches are great fun to explore in the dinghy.  We saw lots of fish and sea turtles swimming in the warm creeks, and we walked along the beautiful beaches.  Since we first arrived in Miami, Bill had been looking for two plastic milk crates to hold his project supplies.  He was lucky and found two milk crates in perfect condition, one blue and one black, washed up on the shore.  After cleaning the sand off them, he put them on the boat.  The blue one was from Scotsburn Dairy in Nova Scotia, and the black one was from Hood Dairy in Portland Maine.  It had written on it, “If caught stealing this case, you will be prosecuted”.  I guess the milk crates were just gifts from the sea.  I’m not too worried.

The wind once again had a hand in where we went.  The normally strong southeast wind was broken by one day of light easterlies.  We wanted to go southeast, so we raised our anchor and headed 30 miles southeast to Big Majors Spot, just north of Staniel Cay where we are now anchored.

Since we have been here, we have watched the swimming pigs, we have watched the tourists feed the swimming pigs, we have had our first Bahamian restaurant meal with a Kalik beer, and we have seen and chatted with several people we have meet here in previous years.  The sun is out, the weather warm, the water clear, and the sky blue.
There is a cold front expected to pass over us early Friday morning.  This one has caused some havoc in Alabama and Georgia.  We should have some squalls and west wind, but it should not last long.  Wind from the west is not a great thing here because the islands offer only a few places with protection from that direction.  But, it’s not supposed to be very strong and should shift around to the north quickly.  Our plan is to just stay where we are anchored and ride it out. Our friend, George Brown, will arrive at the Staniel Cay airport on Tuesday, April 11.  We will not go too far from Staniel Cay before then.

A Happy Easter to you all.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When we pass through drawbridges, we talk to the bridge tenders on the VHF radio.  We ask them to open for us, and we thank them after we pass through.  We wave at them, and they wave at us.  The drivers in cars don’t hardly even know the bridge tenders are there.  Most are friendly, and some come out of their control rooms to wave.  They all wish us a good day.

When we anchored in Miami Beach, we had the Miami skyline behind us.  You can see the cranes adding more and more to the city every day.  Did you know that Miami was incorporated in 1896 with a population of 300? It is only 11 years older than Kingsport.

This huge staghorn fern was growing on tree along Alton Road.  It encircles the tree.  I think it is really neat.  Do you?

We were in a slip at Crandon Park Marina doing repairs when this mother manatee and child floated by.  She is big… maybe 1000 lb and 8 feet long.  There are scars on her back and tail where she has been hit by boat propellers.  Manatees are too slow to get out of the way.

This is our engine.  The round thing at the top right is the compressor for our refrigeration.  It is what failed and kept us in Miami.  To the right of it is a brass hand pump that sucks water out of the bottom of our icebox.  It too is new.  Bill broke the old one right after he replaced the compressor.

Greetings from the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne.  Irish Eyes has now been in the Miami area for almost three weeks.  Up to now it’s been warm, windy, and sunny, but Thursday morning it was 56 degrees when we woke up.  Brrrrr.  We have had some mechanical problems which have kept us from leaving for the Bahamas.

We left Vero Beach early on February 20.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and the weather was getting warmer and warmer as we headed south. Monday was Presidents’ Day, and we worried that there would be lots of small boat traffic darting this way and that, but few people seemed to be out.  By 4 that afternoon we were peacefully anchored in Hobe Sound, behind Jupiter Island and its golf courses.  From that point south there were 36 drawbridges before Miami, six of them before the next good place to anchor in North Palm Beach.  It broke Bill’s heart to stop so early, but if we had pressed on and had any delays at the bridges, we would have gotten to Palm Beach in the dark.  Besides, the early stop meant early cocktails.  Hooray!

Tuesday was a long and boring day going through the bridges. Sometimes, we had to wait as much as an hour for a bridge to open.  By 5 o’clock we were in Boca Raton.  There, between the Palmetto Park Bridge and the Camino Real Bridge, is a wide spot east of the ICW called Lake Boca Raton.  I had a hard time thinking of it as a lake.  It was small, and most of it was too shallow for us.  But, we found a suitable spot just off the waterway and happily anchored among several other cruising boats.  Wednesday dawned with rain and wind; it was not good traveling weather.  With no deadlines, we stayed put.  It rained 1.3 inches, and the wind blew 20 knots with frequent gusts up to 30 knots. Bill did some indoor boat projects while I knitted and read.  I liked taking the day off.  It was dry and cozy inside the boat, and it was a welcome break from the bridge marathon.  By 4pm the cold front had passed, the wind stopped blowing, and sky cleared.

We were up and away early Thursday.  There were still bridges ahead, and just north of Miami was Baker’s Haulover, a shallow spot scheduled to be dredged later in the spring.  We got there at low tide, and the TowBoatUS and SeaTow boats both were circling like vultures.  We were more than a little worried.  Although at times we only had inches of water below our keel, we luckily never touched the bottom.  The drawbridges were not a problem either, except for Miami’s 79th Street Bridge.  We called the bridge tender twice on the VHF radio without getting a response.  After 15 or 20 minutes, the bridge tender came outside his ‘house’ and looked around for awhile, then he went back and called us on the radio asking if we wanted an opening.  He must have been taking a nap when we first arrived.  After passing through his bridge and traveling a mile or more, we looked back and his bridge was still in the up position.  Four lanes of traffic were still stopped.  Maybe the guy just quit and went home, who knows.

By suppertime we were safely anchored in Biscayne Bay near the Miami Beach Mt. Sinai Hospital.  Our friends on Dot’s Way were anchored nearby as well as a large motor yacht, Rockstar.  Whew.  We had cleared the first big hurdle of our journey.

Next, we needed to fix a couple of things that had raised their heads on the way down.  First up was the inflatable dinghy and its new outboard motor.  When going fast on a plane, the outboard propeller would suck air, the engine would speed up, and the dinghy would slow down.  That cycle would be repeated over and over.  Calls to the shop that sold us the engine and to the dinghy manufacturer gave us three possible fixes.  We could saw a notch in the dinghy transom to lower the engine thus putting the propeller deeper in the water.  We could pump up the inflatable dinghy really, really hard thinking that the heavier new engine needed a harder dinghy to support its weight.  Or, we could buy a pair of hydrofoil fins and bolt them to the engine anti-cavitation plate to make the plate bigger and keep air from being sucked into the propeller.  Cutting the dinghy transom just seemed too drastic.  Pumping the dinghy up hard seemed easy at first, but the foot pump was in the bottom of the port cockpit locker and too hard (?) for Bill to bother to dig out.  Buying hydrofoil fins and bolting them to the engine appealed to Bill.  He could buy them at West Marine, and he never passes up a chance to go shopping at West Marine.  Off we went on the MetroBus, MetroMover, and finally MetroRail.  Bill got to visit his favorite store (and buy a few things he didn’t need), and I (that is we) had a nice lunch at a Coconut Grove restaurant.  Back at the boat, pumping up the dinghy fixed the problem, and later attaching the hydrofoil fins to the outboard helped the dinghy get up on a plane faster.

Our second problem was the VHF radio.  On the boat the VHF is like the telephone.  We use it daily, not only to talk to other boats, listen to the weather forecasts, and call marinas, but we also use it like an old party line telephone to listen in on our neighbor’s conversations.  That’s really important, right?  Anyway, last year we were disappointed in the radio’s range, so in the fall during our annual haul out, Bill had the cable to the antenna replaced.  That made things worse, not better.  He suspected the yard had done a poor job of soldering the connectors on the ends of the wire.  He wanted to solder the connectors himself.  There are four of them; one at the radio, two at the bottom of the mast, and a final one at the very top of the mast.  Bill bought a super-duper, hotter-than-hot soldering gun for the job and did the first three by himself.  Now, the last one; that one was a problem.  It was at the top of the mast, almost 50 feet in the air, and I had to pull Bill, his tools, and an extension cord up there.  Yuck.  Well, I did it.  Bill re-soldered the connector.  The radio became much better.

After supper Saturday night Bill was washing the dishes, and we were running the engine to cool the frig and charge the batteries.  Bill said, “I smell something burning.”  Living in a plastic and wood boat with 50 gallons of diesel oil, five gallons of gasoline, and 40 pounds of propane, that was not what I wanted to hear.  Both of us immediately began looking for the fire.  It turned out that the electric clutch on the refrigeration compressor that is mounted on the engine had shorted out and burned up.  A fuse blew and stopped the smoke, but we no longer had our best way of keeping the freezer and refrigerator cold.  We could still run the engine with its alternator to make 12v electricity, change the 12v into 125v with our inverter, and use that electricity to run the much smaller cooling system that we use when we have normal electricity in marinas.

Bill decided that night that, if he had the right tools, he could replace the burned up clutch himself.  Sunday, he went to Advance Auto, bought some tools, and set to work.  Everything was going well until there was a loud bang, and oil and Freon blew out of the compressor.  Somehow, he had damaged a seal causing all the refrigerator gas to leak out.  Now, the whole compressor was trash, and all our Freon was gone.  Bill found the business card of the local refrigeration technician who repaired the system in 2011 and gave him a call Monday morning.  They talked, he agreed to do the work, and Bill gave him the part number for the compressor on the phone and by email.  We heard from him one more time, but not again.  After ten days Bill got aggravated enough to order a new compressor on ebay, to order a vacuum pump from Amazon, and buy Freon and a gauge set from Advance Auto to do the repairs himself. We moved the boat to the Crandon Park Marina so we would have electricity for the vacuum pump, and in two days Bill had everything running again.

During our refrigeration troubles, we had a lovely surprise.  Our friends Sondra and Tom Price, who used to live in Kingsport, were vacationing in Florida.  They drove to Miami Beach, and Bill and I met them at Books and Books on the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in South Beach for lunch. It was really great to see them.

One of the perks of being in Miami Beach with refrigeration problems, was the chance to try different restaurants.  For our last Sunday lunch in South Beach, we went to a fried chicken place called Yardbird.  It was not your regular KYC sort of place.  We had a starter of deviled eggs topped with fish roe, followed by a platter of fried chicken served with cheese waffles and watermelon.  There was a spicy hot sauce for the chicken and a bourbon-maple syrup for the waffles.  Dessert was bacon doughnuts with butterscotch sauce.  It was a different and memorable meal.

It was time to start getting ready to cross to the Bahamas.  As Bill was finishing up on the refrigeration, I caught up on the laundry.  Since we were in a marina, it was an easy walk down the dock and across the parking lot to the washing machine and dryer and where I did everything alone.  It was so much easier than loading everything in the dinghy, leaving the anchored boat and going ashore, carrying all the clothes and things to the laundromat, dealing with other people doing their laundry, then toting everything back to Irish Eyes.  Thursday was the first grocery store perishables run.  We took the bus to the Winn Dixie here in Key Biscayne.  Bill went to the hardware store while I shopped, and we returned on the bus.  There is still more food to buy, water tanks to fill, and things to do before we can leave.  I just hope nothing else breaks.

The five-day forecast this morning showed calmer winds with good weather for crossing the Gulf Stream early next week, and we hope to use it.

As it says on my tee shirt, "Life is good".