10 April 2016 | Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Abacos
19 March 2016 | Marsh Harbor, Abacos
12 March 2016 | Marsh Harbor, Abacos
22 March 2015 | Charlotte Harbor
17 February 2015 | Marco Island, FL
29 January 2015 | Fort Pierce, FL
15 March 2014 | Key West, FL
14 March 2014 | Sombrero Reef
26 February 2014 | Boot Key Harbor
09 February 2014 | Fort Lauderdal, FL
06 May 2013 | Harbortown Marina, Fort Pierce, FL
22 April 2013 | Fort Pierce, FL
21 April 2013 | Manjack Cay
11 April 2013 | Marsh Harbor, Abacos
02 April 2017
Peg and I are winding down our stay in Bimini and I thought I’d compile some of the highs and lows of our visit here. We arrived on Thursday, March 9th after an uneventful crossing from Biscayne Bay just south of Miami. Our friend Wendell was with us and despite the fact that the wind was on our nose, again, we made it in less than 9 hours. My first impression was how blue and clear the water was. We could clearly see the bottom in 25 feet of water. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
We landed at Bimini Blue Water Marina in Alice Town and got down to the business of clearing Customs and Immigration, always a daunting process. I was the only one who could leave the boat (because I am Captain Dick) so I got to fill out all the forms in duplicate, present all our passports and Immigration Cards and pay the $300 cruising tax. My second impression of Bimini was that apparently there are no trash cans here. I never saw so many paper wrappers, beer bottles and cans, Styrofoam containers and other assorted debris lining the street. Also, it was hard to find a building that was not falling down, under perpetual construction, abandoned or looking like a slum. Despite all of that, the people were very friendly and the beaches were amazing.
About the people: the most prominent of the four founding families in Bimini are the Saunders. Three brothers, Ashley, Ansil, and Tommy are the elders in their 70's and 80's, followed by a bunch of children, cousins, etc. Bimini was settled by refugees of the slave trade. Oddly, the Saunders were from Scotland. We spend days with them listening to the oral history they provided of the island, the culture and the famous people with whom they were friends like Ernest Hemingway, Adam Clayton Powell and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Ashley Saunders, the middle brother, is the artist. Years ago he was swimming with a pod of dolphins and was so moved by their grace and beauty that he dedicated himself to building a monument to them known as the Dolphin House. This place is truly amazing. I’ve posted a few pictures in the photo gallery. Check them out. Everything that Ashley uses for the house is stuff he found on the beach or scrap construction materials he found on the island, or items people sent to him that were appropriate for his art. He lives on the first floor in the back. His gift shop and mini museum is also on the first floor, and the heart of his creation is the second. He began his work in 1993 and after he completed the second floor, he began the third floor. The place is simply amazing.
Tommy Saunders is the youngest brother and lives just next door to Ashley. His art is sculpture using items indigenous to the island like shells, conch, palm and coconut. We bought a few of his pieces that we could afford. Some were unbelievable in their detail. For example, using nothing but some shells and coconut, he recreated the scene from Hemingway’s, Old Man and the Sea, depicting the struggle between the fisherman and the shark trying to devour his catch.
Ansil Saunders was the boat-builder of the family. The tradition dated back to their family business in Scotland and Ansil was the only member of the family to continue the trade in Bimini. He built skiffs designed to fish for Bonefish. They had broad fore-decks, flat bottoms, were very stable and very strong. He builds his boats from wood that is found in Bimini and his workmanship is incredible. He doesn’t rely on plans – everything is in his head. He built boats for Ernest Hemingway when Hemingway was living in the Compleat Angler Hotel and writing The Sun Also Rises. He would also take Dr. King in one of his boats to fish in the mangroves or to just contemplate. It was on one of those journeys into the mangroves that Dr. King worked on his “I have a dream” speech. Dr. King’s last visit to Bimini and his last trip to the mangroves with Ansil came just four days before his assassination. As a tribute to Dr. King, Ansil built a memorial in the very spot where he and Dr. King were. Getting there was a real challenge because there are no directions. You just gotta know. After following some folks we met here, were learned the route. Check the photo gallery. It was very moving.
We were blessed to have great company with us for two of the weeks we have been here. Wendell made the crossing with us and stayed a week. Jenny and Mark joined us a few days after Wendell left and we continued our journey of discovery with them. One of the most interesting discoveries was the Shark Lab on South Bimini. This is a working research center doing some very serious work regarding the migration patterns of Lemon, Nurse and Bull Sharks among others. There are some pics in the gallery of that visit.
You cannot go anywhere without sampling the local cuisine. In this case, it revolved around Bimini Bread, Cinnamon – Raison Swirl Bread, lobster tails and Conch Salad. Stuart’s, in the case of the latter, is the island’s best. Of course, if you were walking by, you wouldn’t consider eating there. It’s just too big of a dump. But the Conch Salad is amazing and the guys are catching and cleaning the conch right there. It doesn’t get any fresher. After a while we got sick of eating lobster. The lobster man would show up every day with his fresh catch. A dozen tails for $50. I’m sure my cholesterol count has gone through the roof.
All in all, this has been a very good trip. We were surprised at the hidden beauty of Bimini – the people, their history and culture. We loved the beaches the blue waters and soft sand. The ship wrecks that were part of the rum running era during prohibition, were easy to visit and told silent tales. I look forward to coming back to Bimini and seeing how Ashley is doing with the Dolphin House and how Ansil is doing with the boat his was building. He said it would be his last and should be done in between five months and five years. I really like life on Bimini.
27 February 2017
I know this blog had begun to be repetitive. "Here we are in the Bahamas", or "Look at this secluded beach" - you get the picture. That's, to a large extent, why I haven't posted much lately. But, this past January, Peg and I and our friends, Jenny and Mark, travelled to Cuba for a most memorable six days. Certainly that trip was blog worthy.
We flew there from Fort Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines, one of four America carriers now flying directly into Havana from Florida. The process was so easy you would think you were flying to Mexico or Canada, not the dreaded communist stronghold ruled by Castro. Fidel is gone but still revered. Billboards with his image or the image of Che Guevara are everywhere. Signs praising La Revolution line the streets. The Cubans themselves speak of their revolution is terms very similar to how we speak of our revolution. Interestingly, the Cuban revolution was not about the United States. It was about Spain and Battista and his dictatorship. One of the largest monuments in Havana is the Tower of the Revolution. It commemorates Cuba's independence from Spain. This site is where Fidel gave his four-hour long orations.
It is too bad that the US and Cuba got so sideways in 1959. Such a comedy of political errors. Castro was looking for trading partners and spoke to Russia. The US still had not resolved the issues pertaining to our alliances with the Battista regime and did not talk to Castro when he visited the UN in 1959. Castro took that as a slight and entered into a trading agreement with the Soviet Union. The trading agreement morphed into installing missiles with nuclear warheads. The US took that as a threat to democracy in the Americas. Hence the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Embargo, and Cuba's isolation from the US. To this day, the Cubans believe that anything bad that descends upon their country was directed by the CIA. Ironically, the Cubans love Americans and welcomed us with open arms, but they hate the embargo and parade their 50's vintage American cars as proof that despite the embargo, they can overcome.
Speaking of vintage cars, they are everywhere and they are beautiful. What fun riding around in them. They were far superior to the Russian-built Ladas that are common. Our ride from the airport was in a Lada. The four of us and our driver felt like Spam in a can. The vintage Chevys, Olds, Pontiacs, etc. were privately owned and operated as taxis for hire. We paid between 10 and 20 Pesos per ride - the equivalent to $10 and $20 US. With the ride we got a travelogue about all the places of interest along our route. Unfortunately, the travelogue was in Spanish and we only understood a very small portion. Peg was our interpreter and was pretty good given her limited Spanish language education. In Havana, the people have practically no reason to speak English. Canadians tend to stay east of Havana in Varadaro, at the seaside resorts. So, English speaking Cubans were a rarity in Havana. In fact we met very few.
Money is another challenge in Cuba. There are no banking relationships between the US and Cuba, therefore credit cards and checks are useless. All transactions are done in cash. But the exchange rate between our dollar and their convertible peso, known as a CUC, is very punitive. We would only get $.86 on our dollar. To mitigate that, we exchanged our US dollars for Canadian dollars before we went and then exchanged our Canadian currency for CUCs when we arrived. We got a lot closer to one for one that way. Complicated but effective.
The other challenge is housing. Air BnB turned out to be an effective way to go. Mark and Jenny were making their third trip to Cuba so we followed their lead. Mark booked an apartment in downtown Havana for three nights. We had the entire 14th floor. The apartment had three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, living room and dining room, plus a balcony that overlooked the ocean about five blocks away. Now the good news and the bad news and they both the same - the apartment was on the 14th floor. The view was spectacular but when the electricity went out, we had no elevator or water. The former was a very big problem because when the electricity went out, Peg and I were in the elevator. About 20 minutes later we were rescued somewhere just below the 12th floor. We hiked up to the 14th floor, called Ignacio, the property manager, and explained that we could no longer stay there and he needed to find us suitable accommodations. He did. He invited us to his house. It was in Havana Centro and he had two apartments on the 1st floor that he rented and were available. So we schlepped our bags down fourteen floors, with great difficulty we found a cab, and finally arrived at Ignacio's home. It looked very scary on the outside because it was in a warehouse district but when Ignacio came out to greet us and gave a shot of Cuban Rum, we actually felt we were better off than we were. The inside was beautiful, complete with an interior courtyard and roof top patio.
By the way, the reason we lost power and had to relocate was that the winds were very strong out of the North and was driving the ocean over the sea wall at the North end of the city called the Malecon.
It is not unusual for the road along the Malecon to be closed due to flooding but on this occasion, the flooding extended to our apartment building, five blocks in. That's why we lost power and could not expect it to be restored until the flood waters abated. Time to move.
Ignacio was a trip. Very well educated, he was a former professor of Thermal Dynamics at the University of Havana. Before that he was a nuclear physicist and was involved in the construction of Cuba's nuclear power plants after Castro came into power. This itself was a very interesting story. After the Bay of Pigs and the embargo on Cuba, the Russians became Cuba's principal trading partner. The Russians bought Cuba's sugar crop and supplied Cuba with petroleum. When the Soviet Union began to dissolve Russia could no longer support Cuba. That support included significant infrastructure support like roads, bridges and nuclear power plant construction. In addition, relations were already strained between Cuba and Russia because Fidel had been left out of the negotiations between Russia and the US after the Cuban missile crisis. As a result, when Fidel realized that he would have no source for nuclear fuel, Fidel's dream of a Cuba that was energy independent was gone and so was Ignacio's job.
Our touring around Havana revealed a city that was both elegant and in tatters. We saw crumbling buildings next to beautiful, restored homes. Some streets had more potholes than street. Papel sanatoria (toilet paper) is a scarce commodity. Bring your own. Internet is virtually non-existent except in the high end hotels. But the city is a time capsule from 1959. The Hotel Nationnale is magnificent. It was built in 1930 to be the playground for the rich, the politically connected, and the mafia. The locals referred to it as the Mafia Hotel. We saw Meyer Lansky's suite that had a secret entrance so that Frank Sinatra could come in and visit without anyone knowing. Apparently, whenever the mafia came to Cuba for a meeting or just to play, they would tell Frank that he would be the entertainment. Pretty interesting. Vestiges of the old casino were visible although the casino was closed after the revolution. Instead, bunkers and gun emplacements were built to repel an anticipated invasion from the US.
And then there is the food and rum. Viva la Cuba. All the time we were in Havana, we never had a bad meal. And I have a whole new appreciation of Cuban Rum. We drank more than our shares of Cuba Libras and Daiquiris. A must stop for lunch or dinner is the San Cristobal. It is located in Old Havana. We asked if we could get a table for four for lunch and they said they had nothing available. We asked when a table would be available and the gentleman asked us if we were American. This was very odd. His English was excellent which was a surprise. He excused himself for a moment and when he returned he said they were able to seat us. The place was beautiful. And the food was amazing. The waiter came over and asked if we would like to see the room where Barack and Michelle Obama dined. The private dining room was like a shrine with pictures of the Obamas, a letter Michelle sent to the owner and even the bottle of wine they had drunk from, under glass. Jenny sat in the chair that Michelle sat in and both Peg and Jenny had the same lunch that Michelle had. I then understood how we got a table even when one was not available. They revered the Obamas because he was the first sitting president to visit Cuba in 60 years and chose to dine at their restaurant. I don't remember how much our lunch cost but it was very inexpensive.
Unfortunately for the average working class Cuban, the cost of our meal was close to a week's wage. The government does provide Cubans with housing, transportation, food from government dispensaries, health care, education and all kinds of subsidies. So their wages become more like walking around money. Cubans live modestly but are excellently dressed. They are required to attend school for 14 years and serve in the army or police for 2 years. Crime is almost non-existent and the city streets are completely safe. Not to be political but possession of guns or even knives is a criminal offence punishable by 10 years in prison. Just sayin. It is a communist country and there are limitations to individual liberties but we never met a single person who regretted the revolution or spoke badly of the government. Maybe their only regret is they all want to visit the United States but only a few have been able to. They love Americans but hate the embargo.
After three days is Havana we went 130 km east to a resort area called Varadaro. It's affectionately known as Canadian Cuba because everyone there is Canadian or European. It was nice to be able to able to speak English and be understood but Varadaro was ultimately just another beach resort. We could have just as easily been in Mexico. It was very scenic but I liked Havana a whole lot more.
Ok. This blog has gone unusually long. Sorry about that. Check out the pictures in Photo Gallery section. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and I have subjected you to enough of them. The pictures tell some more of the story about Havana and Cuba.
Something Different. Signs and Other Oddities
10 April 2016 | Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Abacos
One of the things I love about travelling to different places is experiencing the differences in culture and attitude that is everywhere, be it in the States or in the Bahamas, or wherever. We captured some of this in pictures of stuff we thought was very funny in some of the places we have visited. You have to go to the PHOTO GALLERY to see the collection and unfortunately, the gallery if far from complete. I would have to have my camera hanging around my neck 24/7 to capture the most interesting stuff that is all around us. Please enjoy and don't forget to keep an eye out for your own Signs and Other Oddities. They are everywhere.
The Barefoot Man
19 March 2016 | Marsh Harbor, Abacos
He's a guy you probably have never heard of. The Barefoot Man, aka George Nowak, lives in the Cayman Islands and visits the Abacos once a year and puts on a two day concert at Nippers Bar and Grill on Great Guana Cay. We heard so much talk about this guy we downloaded some of his stuff like Thong Gone Wrong, and You're Gonna Die. In his words, he is to the Bahamas, what Jimmy Buffet is to Key West. Jimmy might have something to say about that, and so with a sceptical heart, we went to his concert on Friday, March 18th. We'd been to Nippers once before but not like this. The place was rocking. Barefoot Man went on stage at 1 pm and played until 6 with only one intermission. I'm now a fan. What fun. Go to www.barefootman.com, to learn more about him. And don't forget to download some of his classics like Big Panty Woman, I Don't Want to be a Conch, andWho Put the Pepper in the Vaseline.
Also, go to the photo gallery to see some great shots of the party, Nippers and the ocean.
12 March 2016 | Marsh Harbor, Abacos
We waited until March 1st to make our crossing to Grand Bahama Island and it turned out to be a very wise decision. Despite the weather in Florida being beautiful the day before, all those who departed on February 29th said the Atlantic was still very angry from two weeks of very unsettled weather. Our crossing was beautiful. We left at 0600 from Palm beach and arrived at 1600 at Old Bahama Bay Marina.
Our good friend Wendell sailed with us again the year. Unfortunately, Linda was not able to join us and she was greatly missed. We kept telling her the trip was awful and the waves were huge.
We only spent one night at Old Bahama Bay before heading out to Indian Cut and our traverse of the Little Bahama Bank to Great Sale Cay. That trip took about 7 hours, not too bad. We traveled with another boat, Spindrift and anchored in the very protected notch of Great Sale. Sunset was spectacular.
Our plans the next day were to anchor off Alans-Pensicola however, the anchorage was full of other boats and the holding was very shaky. So we opted to continue to Spanish Cay where we took a slip in the marina. The sharks showed up on time around 4:30 pm and swam around the boat looking for food. BTW, these were Bull Sharks, the man-eating variety, about 6 feet long.
There is a very interesting area you have to transit to get into the Sea of Abaco. It's called the Whale. Basically, you go out into the Atlantic, around Whale Cay, and then back into the Sea of Abaco. The trick is, during times when there are storms in the Atlantic, the Whale passage is very, very dangerous. Our rule has always been, if it's a good day to go around the Whale, you go around the Whale. Don't wait for tomorrow because you may be stuck for a week. This is exactly what happened when we rounded it. The winds were very strong but from a good direction. Other boats opted to wait for calmer winds at Green Turtle Cay. The winds turned around the next day, to blow from the North East and made the Whale almost impassable. I think those other boats were delayed about five days.
Hopetown Harbor has always been one of my favorite spots in the Abacos. It's one of the larger settlements and is beautiful. We picked up a mooring ball in the middle of the harbor (a minor miracle in itself), and settled in for a few days of taking in all the beauty around us.
At the time of this writing we are in Marsh Harbor, the largest population center in the Abacos. I've said that Marsh Harbor is the Cleveland of the Abacos because it is the commercial hub for the islands. But since the Bahamas instituted a value added tax on everything, great improvements can be seen here. The water is considerably cleaner and all around things are looking better. It is our best re-provisioning stop having the only American-style grocery store anywhere. They even have Jarlsberg cheese! Also, they have the Jib Room. This is a funky restaurant/bar that we love to visit. We had the best rib dinner I've had in years, and got to join the band again playing the saw. This year, I learned to play the Ohio State fight song. Check it out in the photo gallery.
Wendell left yesterday to fly back to Florida. We'll miss him. Wendell helped in so many ways. Thank you Wendell for repairing our auto pilot and single side band radio, and identifying the problems with our vhf radio. We love having him on board.
Lastly, for now, visit our Photo Gallery for some great pics of our journey thus far. We'll post more but to do so we need a good internet signal and that is hard to come by. For now, keep warm and enjoy your winter days. Tomorrow begins Daylight Savings Time. Spring is on its way.
Dick and Susi's Visit
22 March 2015 | Charlotte Harbor
To start the month of March, we had the great joy of having our friends Dick and Susi from Columbus, join us for a week of sailing and exploring. Our adventures began in Burnt Store on Charlotte Bay and took us to Pelican Bay next to Coya Costa, then down to Fort Myers and back up to Burnt Store. It was a great mix of lounging around at a nice marina with a very nice pool, to anchoring out and taking the dinghy in to explore the gulf beaches in a beautiful state park, to hanging out on a mooring ball in Matanzas Pass and celebrating Dick’s 69th birthday. Plus the weather was beautiful.
After getting settled in at Burnt Store for a couple of days, the four of us headed south through Charlotte Harbor to Pelican Bay. Charlotte Harbor is quite large and the water depths are sufficient enough that you can sail all over the place regardless of the direction of the wind. After a 2 hour motor – unfortunately there was no wind – we arrived at the entrance to Pelican Bay. This is an amazing place, well protected from winds in most directions, and very tricky to get into. The local knowledge we got instructed us "to enter the bay from navigational aide “Red 74” and steer a direct course to the “No Wake” sign. About ½ boat length from the sign, turn sharply to port and steer a course towards the State Park docks keeping the shore about 50 to 75 feet to starboard. The shore is a sandbar and it looks like you will run aground but you won’t. As you approach to park docks, steer more to port and find a place to anchor in about 6 to 10 feet of water". YIKES!! After we stopped hyperventilating and got settled in the scenery was wonderful, quiet and relaxing. We took the dinghy ashore and for two dollars we rode the tram across the island to the Gulf-side beach. That was awesome.
The next day we decided to take the Intracoastal Waterway to Fort Myers and pick up a mooring ball in Matanzas Pass. This area is very interesting. Although we were on a ball that was about half a mile from the public dinghy dock, the Pass is very well protected and we stayed dry mostly. Besides, the outboard motor did all the work. It wasn’t like we were rowing. From the dinghy dock, we were only a couple of blocks to the beach. Fort Myers Beach has the finest sand anywhere I’ve been. We went to Nervous Nellie’s Restaurant to celebrate Dick’s 69th and overall had a walloping good time.
On our return trip to Burnt Store Marina we finally got to sail, at least for a little while. We went out into the Gulf, got the sails up and enjoyed a quiet, engineless mosey up the coast. On the way we saw plenty of dolphins but the real thrill was the gigantic Hammerhead Shark I saw right next to the boat. It was just below the water and very visible. Unfortunately, I was the only one who saw it and everyone said I was lying or hallucinating. Believe me, it was there. We finally got to Burnt Store, got settled in for the last couple of days of Dick and Susi’s visit. They were with us from the 4th to the 11th. The time really flew. We look forward to seeing them back in Columbus this summer. In the meantime, Peg/Marg and I have almost two weeks until our next guests arrive and we plan to do some exploring further north. Stay tuned for our continuing adventures and don’t forget to check out the photo gallery from Dick and Susi’s visit. Some great pix if I do say so myself.