WHAT DO WE DO ALL DAY LONG?
"How come its 5:00 PM already?"and "Where did the day go?" are two of the three questions that Jim and I ask each other on a regular basis. The third question is the all important "Is it Happy Hour yet?"
We are at Long Island, Bahamas. Our 34 mile sail here was picture perfect. Aquamarine waters, sandy islets and dolphins to welcome us when we arrived at Thompson Bay. Today is Saturday, April the 14th and I cannot procrastinate anymore- its time to update that blog. The sooner this is done, the sooner Jim and I can play!
Later today Jim and I are going ashore to visit some caves. Tomorrow we have rented a car with some cruising buddies so we can explore this 80 mile long island. There is a world famous blue hole to visit and some interesting communities with old churches dating back to the 1700's.
Anyhow, back to the first two questions ..I will write about a few of our adventures so that you might have a glimpse of our cruising life.
1. Dinghy exploration:
While at Shroud Cay in the Exumas, Jim and I offered to guide our sailing buddies from Orion and Wind Dancer on a dinghy exploration of the creeks and the central tidal swamp forest of mangroves. We promised our friends they would see baby barracuda, turtles and sharks. We assured them we knew where to go because we had been there in 2009 and therefore we were "experienced".
These same friends have followed us all the way from Florida because we are seasoned sailors, which is another way of saying that we are still alive and the boat is still floating, and if we two dummies can do it, then so can they ..So, off we go on our dinghy adventure.
We found the creek and headed slowly down the meandering stream. We surprised turtles and we saw barracuda. We poked our way along and found a nice little spot to beach our dinghies so we could hike over to a beautiful beach on the windward side of the island for a picnic and a swim. Following this restful interlude, we hiked back to our boats so we could continue with the adventure.
Shock and disbelief and oh oh's abounded when we saw the creek had receded about ½ mile, leaving the dinghies high and dry on a dropping tide. The laughter and light heartedness of the previous few hours vanished and Jim and I felt a bit vulnerable as our friends shot accusing looks at us. "Not to worry" we say, "All we have to do is push our dinghies towards the creek and in no time we should be floating."
Sounds pretty easy but that half a mile was composed of soft, squishy muck. Inwardly I reviewed all the Tarzan movies featuring quicksand and comforted myself that at least we were dragging our boats with us and if we got sucked down we would be able to save ourselves. We struggled to drag the boats, sometimes sinking a foot or more into the ooze. We were hot and at our age, a heart attack is no longer a remote possibility. Eventually we decided to take the engines off the boats, walk those to the water's edge and leave someone there to hold them upright, while the rest of us pulled, tugged and pushed the dinghies over the muck. It took a few hours before the boats were floating. The ordeal was not over yet as we still had to pull them over shallow water for another half a mile before we could get into the dinghies and use the motors. Eventually we found water that was ditch deep- a perfect place to wallow with all our clothes on and get rid of some of the muck we were covered with. Cool and refreshed, we continued with our fun. Our friends, possibly terrified of being abandoned and never finding their way out of the maze of creeks, opted to stay with us and we rewarded them with a beautiful white beach where the creek met Exuma Sound and the water was deep and clear for swimming and snorkeling. This place has to rank as one of the most beautiful spots in the Bahamas! Later as we made our way back to our sailboats, we spotted a shark swimming in the creek. The adventure was fantastic and certainly ranks as a highlight on this year's cruising adventure for us and our friends.
2. The Golf Cart.
At Staniel's Cay, our friends from Orion and ourselves, rented a golf cart so that we could explore the island. No one died.
3. Snorkeling Adventures.
At Cambridge Island we snorkeled at the Aquarium, a beautiful reef with lots of fish life. We also visited a sunken plane and a reef with healthy elk horn coral and an amazing underwater cave at Rocky Dundas. Further down the chain, we visited Thunderball's Cave which was used for the James Bond movie, Thunderball. This cave is very beautiful and loaded with lots of fish. Sometimes Jim caught lobster and then we would cook them up for dinner!
4. Hiking Adventure.
Nearly all the islands have hiking trails which meander along the cliff tops and down to the beautiful sandy beaches which make the Bahamas so famous. Too often we head out for a short hike which turns into an all afternoon adventure as we discover more and more branches of the trail leading to spectacular views and beaches. Occasionally there is some bush whacking involved as the trails peter to nothing. Now we are lost. And we have no water or beer. Jim, ex-Boy Scout that he is, assumes the leadership role and marches us through the thick brush that makes up the Bahamas. The ground is very rough limestone and any misstep can lead to a twisted or broken ankle. Some of the brush is Poisonwood and if you grab one of its branches you are going to suffer as the sap is worse than poison ivy or poison oak. There are lots of thorns too. By the time we find the "right" trail, most of us are scratched and bloody. But we are having a fine adventure and that is what cruising is all about!
Before making any passages to any of the island, time is spent planning. This entails looking at charts for dangerous reefs, putting waypoints into our GPS so that we can plot a course that avoids danger and reading our Bahama cruise guides for information about anchorages. Throughout the Exuma chain are narrow cuts between islands that lead from the inside protected waters of the banks to the deeper and rougher Exuma Sound. These cuts are notorious for rages caused by the outgoing tide meeting the incoming winds. Many sailboats have been swept onto the rocky shore while going through the cuts when the conditions were unfavourable. Knowing this, Jim and I spent quite some time planning exactly when we would go through Galiot Cut, out to the Exuma Sound and onwards to Georgetown. The day of our departing comes along and we have firm plans to leave at 11:00 AM. At 9:00 AM, we eavesdropped on some other cruisers talking on the VHF radio who had just done the cut. Conditions were ideal so we threw out our plans and "went for it"! And yes, it was good. The entire trip to Georgetown, almost 40 miles, has to be one of the best sailing days ever!
We listen to Chris Parker's weather broadcast at 6:30 AM and read his emails everyday. If we have good internet we spend time looking at www.passageweather.com and check out sea state, wind direction and precipitation for the next week. When in doubt, we can talk to Chris Parker about our sail plans. He always gives us great advice and in our few years of cruising has never steered us wrong. The most difficult thing about weather is waiting for the weather window. Sometimes you can be waiting for a few weeks or more. Waiting for weather has been known to cause grumpiness and discontent aboard sailboats, usually directed at the "bearer of bad news", me.
After weeks visiting islands with stores that offer only the most basic of supplies, and never what you need, we arrive in Georgetown and head to the Exuma Market. Here we can buy wonderful fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. More importantly, we can buy Cheetos Cheezies- a rare commodity in the Bahamas and nearly as important to our diet as Costco jelly beans.
In Florida, we stocked up and filled our hold with as much red wine and beer as we could. In Georgetown, a few months later, these supplies have mysteriously disappeared and we must find some drinkable red wine and beer. Beer is not a problem. It is expensive compared to Florida prices, but comparable to prices in Canada. Red wine is the challenge. We have to search all the liquor stores to find one that sells decent quality red wines. We avoid the Chilean wines as they are full of chemicals. Unfortunately that means we have to buy the more expensive brands. We found one store in Georgetown that stocked some great red wine. Even better, they gave a 20 % discount if we bought 6 bottles or more. Price ended up being less expensive than if we had bought the same wines in Canada. I was a happy camper. Jim used up the savings on more rum.
9. Scooters and Friends Visiting.
Sometimes well meaning friends come to visit and introduce us to new adventures. Our friends, Rick and Jayne Beason, visited us from Victoria, B.C. this April while we were at Georgetown. Jim and I filled their days with snorkeling, beaches, beach bars, barbecued ribs, scuba diving, lightening storms at night, dolphin encounters, rum drinks, wine and beer, conch cerviche, more beach bars, hiking and swimming. Quickly bored by this, they suggested that we rent some scooters and explore Great Exuma Island. This sounded like a great plan, especially after some extra strong rum punches, so arrangements were made. On the day of the "Big Adventure" we went to the scooter place and got the scooters. Jayne and I were happy to see that these scooters were automatic so we did not have to worry about changing gears. The owner of the scooters looked a bit worried when we took off and so he should be. I could hardly keep mine upright and the short ride to the gas station was quite challenging. Lucky for us, it was a holiday so downtown Georgetown, usually teaming with semi's and cars was empty of traffic. After fueling up one of the scooters we set off for the south part of Great Exuma, taking care to drive on the left hand side of the road, the scooter shop owner's warning of "Stay left and live, drive right and die "ringing in our ears. Jim and Rick showed us how to do wheelies and sped off. Jayne and I puttered along at a stately 5 mph, eventually gaining confidence and speeding up to 25 mph. By the end of the day we were doing 45 mph. To be quite honest, I did not get to see much of the island as all I could do was keep the damn thing on the road and watch for traffic behind me. We did stop a few times and saw some interesting tombs, towers and salt ponds, but mostly it gave us the opportunity to get our hands un-cramped and slow down our heartbeats.
10. Tragedies at sea.
This is a more serious aspect of sailing and one that most sailors prefer not to think about. However, sometimes reality raises its ugly head and you are confronted with a vessel in distress. While anchored behind Cave Cay Cut, we overheard a woman on the VHF radio, calling out that their beautiful boat was sinking. Jim intercepted the call and asked for their location. They were only about 2- 3 miles away from us on the other side of Cave Cay Cut. They had struck something in the water and within 15 minutes their boat was taking on water so fast that there was no way to stop the boat from going down.
Jim did a Mayday Relay and was answered immediately by Had Hammer who was about 1 mile away from Pepa 2, the floundering Whidbey 42 sailboat. Had Hammer punched in the GPS co-ordinates that Jim gave them and headed to the rescue. By this time, the owners of Pepa 2 had launched their dinghy and abandoned their sailing home. It was heartbreaking to listen to them on the VHF radio as they described the decks awash and then the disappearance of their mast as it sank.
Had Hammer picked them up 20 minutes later and took them to safety. It is thought that they had hit a large, barely awash container which could have been one of many that get lost from freighters each year. The conditions on the day of the sinking were ideal. Seas were calm and winds were light. Fortunately for them, they were close to other boats. For all the boats in the vicinity, it was a grim reminder that things can go horribly wrong when you least expect it.
And so the sailing life goes on. Jim and I are still loving the adventures, the good with the bad. The days go by way too fast and happy hours seem like seconds. We have met many wonderful people on our travels and look forward to making more friends as we explore new places.
Starting Season 4!!! Bahamas here we come! Eventually!
02/02/2012, Marathon, Florida
On January 5th, Jim and I arrived back in Florida, tired of the cold weather in Canada and eager to start sailing aboard Emerald Seas. On our first morning, we donned our warm weather clothes. Jim looked quite pale and touristy in his shorts and t-shirt and I looked just as bad. Putting on our shoes and sunglasses in preparation for heading out for breakfast, I realized I had made a major mistake when packing my sandals. At home, I had two pairs, both of them black and with similar straps. After that, the resemblance changes, one shoe is taller than the other by about ¼ inch. When I told Jim about my screw-up, he told me that I wouldnt even notice the difference if I wore them. I gave it a try and hobbled to the dining room. By the time we returned to our room, my left hip was in agony. I put on my beach flip flops and contacted our neighbours, Janet and Neil, in Nanoose Bay. They took pity on me and mailed me my sandals. Life was good again. We drove to Sneads Island Boat works in Palmetto. Emerald Seas looked lonely when we saw her and brightened considerably once we were aboard and hosing the dust off. Inside all was in good shape. No mold and only two dead cockroaches could be found. Our dinghy was home to a few hundred ants and a happy, well fed, gecko. All the boxes that we had mailed down from Canada were aboard. By evening, we had unpacked and stored everything. We ventured out to a Thai restaurant close by and enjoyed a very romantic dinner, accompanied by live music consisting of Chinese, Thai and Japanese songs. Later that night, we cuddled together for warmth. The daytime temperatures had dropped from the low 70s to freezing, just like what you hear happens in the desert. Warm in bed, we made plans for our first big purchase- a HEATER. Next day we rushed to Walmart, the Walmart greeters recognized me and my Visa card and were helpful in directing us to the heater section. Returning to Emerald Seas, we plugged the heater in and got back to work. The first thing that we discovered was that our fridge was not working. This meant buying ice to keep food and beer cold during the day- we could always place everything out at night when the temperature plummeted. Sailors next to us recommended a repairman and he came down right away and got our fridge working. With the fridge working, there was nothing to stop us from loading up on necessities. The next day we visited Costco and filled up two buggies! Two big jars of jelly beans were in there plus lots of cookies, candies and other tasty treats. Jim nearly fainted when the cashier asked for $1100.00. Instead, he conveniently forgot his PIN number and I had to buy the stuff!!! After spending the last few months working out at our gym at Fairwinds Centre, we felt that all the goodies had been earned. Besides, our fellow aerobic and fitness buddies who we left behind will never find out .. Jim installed a new stereo which we can use with our iPod and replaced one of our cockpit speakers. The entire system sounds great. Try to imagine Jim and I, sailing the warm, sunny Bahamas, music blasting, not a care in the world except choosing which beautiful, sandy beach to anchor at! What a great life! Our rental car days were coming to an end so another trip was made to Walmart to stock up on about $750 worth of wine, beer , coke and soda water. All our sails and canvas are back where they should be. Greg Knight and his gang of rogues had checked all the sails and canvas, renewed the UV covers on the sails and changed the reefing lines and batten thingies so that we could reef faster when we needed to. We are just about ready to pull away from Sneads and head over to an anchorage by the White Cross. Tonight we will celebrate with steaks on the barbecue. ******* Today is Friday, February 3rd. We are on a mooring ball in Marathon, Florida. Our trip from Tampa Bay to here was excellent. All systems worked as they should. We spent one evening in Venice and then continued on to visit our friends, Norm and Linda Stark at Pine Island. Leaving their hospitality behind, we did an overnight trip to Marathon. There was no moon out but the bright stars made up for it. Dolphins accompanied us all night and we could hear them blowing and see their spray because of the bioluminescence in the water. Magical. The last few days have revolved around more shopping for spare parts and supplies and meeting with fellow cruisers. We are already part of a group that will be heading to the Bahamas together- we are hoping to leave on Sunday! The window is not as long as we had hoped but conditions look acceptable- not too windy or rough. Fingers crossed, knock on wood etc. etc. Thats all the news for now. Loving the life! Renate & Jim .. Check out our blog: www.sailblogs.com/member/emeraldseas
BACK IN CANADA/WHAT HAPPENED WHEN WE LEFT CUBA AND WENT TO THE USA
Jim and I are looking out our window. The wind is blowing from the North and its quite chilly outside. There are some sailboats on the horizon and although we envy the fact that they are sailing, we are happy to be inside where it is warm and dry. Besides, we have just booked our flights back to Emerald Seas. She is waiting patiently for us at Snead Island Boatworks in Palmetto, Florida. We are looking forward to next season's cruising adventures - this time we are going to revisit the pristine waters and beautiful islands of the Bahamas.
But, in the meantime, I better get my ass in gear and finish off the blog for the last cruising season! Procrastination is easy once you have settled into the day to day existence of life ashore. When we first arrived back in Canada we spent a couple of weeks moping, missing our carefree life aboard Emerald Seas. Eventually we adjusted to the change and our time was taken up with moving back into our home, setting up phones and TV, getting our power boat ready for boating in the nearby islands, family gatherings and time with friends. Add some gardening, aerobics and fitness training and before you know it, the memories of our carefree cruising life start to fade...........Until some unsuspecting family member or friend stops by and we can entertain them with stories about cruising and pirates and show them thousands and thousands of photos on our extra big TV screen.
And so it goes. There are no more excuses left. Its miserable outside. A perfect day for catching up with our blog!
Time to travel back to the month of June, Cuba and our passage back to the USA. Waiting for weather can be frustrating, especially when there is a possibility of a tropical depression heading towards you. Our boat insurance did not cover us in Cuba and we were getting anxious to return to the USA before any hurricanes could develop. The day after our failed attempt due to waterspouts, we set off. This time, sea conditions were excellent. Flat calm. No wind either and that means slow going with Yanni our engine. Not to worry, says I to Jim, the Gulf Stream, which travels at speeds up to 5 knots, will just carry us along to the Florida Keys. Add some engine power to the mix and we will be doing at least 10 knots!!!! We were pretty excited at the idea of the Gulf Stream rushing us to the USA!
Jim and I motored patiently up the West Coast of Cuba. No Gulfstream yet. Night falls and we are pumped. Any second now, we will be entering the Gulfstream. Morning comes. The current is against us and we are losing about 1 knot of speed. Must be some sort of back eddy. No problem, the Gulfstream will speed us along soon.... We motor patiently away from the North Coast of Cuba and take a heading towards Key West, Florida. The Gulfstream flows between Florida and Cuba.... Night falls and the current against us is only .5 knots. The Gulfstream has to be close now...Morning finds us motoring slowly through the glassy calm Florida Straights. According to Wikepedia "The Gulf Stream is typically 100 kilometres (62 mi) wide and 800 metres (2,600 ft) to 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) deep. The current velocity is fastest near the surface, with the maximum speed typically about 2.5 metres per second (5.6 mph).". [ How could Jim and I miss such a huge ocean current??? What is wrong with our navigational skills? Chris Parker, our weather guru, had even supplied us with the GPS co-ordinates of the Gulfstream and we still missed it!!
Florida is on the horizon now. Time to think of more important topics. Homeland Security and the fact that we were coming from Cuba. What are the jails like in the USA? When can we expect the Coast Guard to come along and escort us to their nearest coast guard facility? Or how about a helicopter? Or something? We had been warned by many other cruisers that the USA will not welcome us if we come directly from Cuba. Not even the fact that we were Canadians or a Canadian registered vessel could help us...It was time to find out. Jim called the Coast Guard to let them know who we were and where we were coming from. They welcomed us to the USA and told us to give them another call once we had anchored our vessel. We had seen enough movies to know that this was just a trick and that any second now, the gun boats, helicopters, swat teams etc would have us surrounded! Nothing. No excitement to keep us awake after such a long, uneventful trip from Cuba.
We anchored and called them again. After reminding them of who we were and where we had come from, they ordered us to pull up anchor and make our way over to a dock so that we could be BOARDED AND INSPECTED. Now this is more like what we were expecting- an exciting conclusion to our 2011 cruising season. Then they told us that we had 24 hours in which to comply and that anything we bought in Cuba would be confiscated. There is not much to buy in Cuba except rum. 24 hours gave us plenty of time to drink all the rum.....
24 hours later, we presented Emerald Seas and ourselves to Homeland Security. We received a very friendly welcome but they did recommend that next time we visited Cuba and wanted to return to the USA, that we consider doing it via another country such as Mexico or the Bahamas. That way we were showing consideration for their laws. At the same time, they understood fully that the sailing route, via the Gulfstream (which we never did find) was the normal route for sailors. They never searched our boat. Celebration that night at Margariteville- Cheeseburger in Paradise and lots of margaritas! It was great to back in the USA!
IF I DON'T SEE IT, ITS NOT THERE!
06/01/2011, Cayos de Lena, Cabo San Antonio, Cuba
Attempted to head towards Florida today! After checking out of customs we headed out to the Yucatan Channel and turned Northwards towards the USA. Ahead of us were dark and ominous clouds and I thought to myself, I don't remember hearing or reading about those on the weather forecast. I turned my attention to the bright and sunny skies to the South of us and made some "happy lists" in my head. The list includes buying more jelly beans at Costco,redecorating at our home in Nanoose Bay,iPad's, fresh vegetables to eat and on and on. I am really looking forward to being in BC.
I look out towards the North to check if things have improved. Nope. Now we have a line of waterspouts in front of us. There are at least 5 of them formed and more in the making. I look towards the South. Pretty nice in that direction. But I want to go home so I don't say a thing to Jim. Maybe they will disappear or something. I do my best to avoid all eye contact with Jim. However, the thunder has started, along with some more waterspouts. Jim finally says something -"Maybe we should head more to the West and we will avoid those 'son of a bitches'". I point out to Jim that the wind is heading in that direction and if we go that way we will end up in those squalls and waterspouts forever.
So we turned Emerald Seas around and scurried back to our safe haven at Cayo de la Lena.
Maybe tomorrow we try again......
05/28/2011, Cayos de Lena, Cabo San Antonio, Cuba
Still stuck in Cuba awaiting fair weather so we can cross the Gulfstream and get to Key West, Florida. The reason we are stuck is because of a "possible" hurricane or tropical system heading our way. Hopefully there will be a weather window this coming weekend allowing us to sail to Florida. This Facebook message is posted via our Single Side Band radio as there is no internet here. In the meantime, we are loving Cuba and its people!
BAD WEATHER GO AWAY!
05/28/2011, Bahia de Corrientes, 30 Miles East of Cabo San Antonio, Cuba
Looks like beautiful scuba diving here! Pristine waters, healthy coral and wall diving to about 6000 feet! Jim and I are going to dive today and tomorrow we have to round Cabo San Antonio, located on the extreme SW corner of Cuba. Looks like a low pressure system might be forming in the central Caribbean and if it develops we have a good chance of being seriously affected! Wind and sea conditions between Cuba and Florida are currently too rough for us to consider a mad dash for Florida so we will have to settle for a nice comfy nest in the mangroves and do our best to make friends with the noseums and mosquitoes. The other night we got eaten alive so we are not looking forward to another major encounter- maybe we can call a truth with the bugs because of adverse weather? Completely out of fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs so we are having to mine through our canned goods in search of Spam, canned peas, and other delicacies. Made bread the other day, but unfortunately the yeast did not do its job.......We have a great beer bread recipe which has not failed us yet.
Thats it for now! Still loving the adventures!