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Once in a lifetime adventure
Hope Town
04/13/2012, Hope Town, Abaco

A view of the famous Hope Town Lighthouse here on Elbow Cay in Abaco.

Foolish Heart
04/13/2012, Hope Town, Abaco

Here is a picture of Foolish Heart in the Harbor at Hope Town at Sunset.

On the Road Again
04/12/2012, Abaco Islands

We have now passed 5 months on the road, so to speak. 5 months of living on a 35 foot sailboat day and night, 24 hours a day. As I've said before, I've dreamed of doing this for well over 20 years, and here I am with about 2 1/2 months left of the trip. Has it lived up to my lofty expectations? Well, in a word, yes. Has it been all good? Heck no! There have been times we've been scared witless, tired, cranky, uncomfortable, mad, pained, upset, and generally out of sorts.

So before I get into what we've been doing the past few weeks, let me say this: Don't call this a vacation! I've had quite a few conversations with other cruisers, and they all say pretty much the same thing: Friends and family continue to call their extended time on the water a vacation. It just ain't so! Let me ask you this: How many times on vacation have you had to fix a sewer system? Your refrigerator? Have you had to travel 3 miles over rough seas in a small rubber boat to acquire water for drinking and bathing? Have you had to move your hotel room to the other side of the island to prevent it from being sunk? Have you had to get up in the middle of the night and monitor a severe thunder storm that is threatening to blow your hotel room onto a reef?

Well, it probably sounds like I'm complaining here, but I'm just stating the truth. Cruising is a lot of things: A life altering experience, a sheer joy, an adventure, a way of life. But one thing it sure as hell isn't, is a vacation. On a good day we might only spend one or two hours on boat maintenance, provisioning, weather forecasting, and so on. Some days almost our entire waking hours have been devoted to the care and feeding of Foolish Heart. It's just the way it is, and it has become part of our lives. I've had some pretty incredible vacations in my life time, and this is nothing like any of them.

After we left Lee Stocking Island in the Exumas, we had a bumpy sail up to Cave Cay Cut, where we entered the Exuma Banks again, which is the shallow part of the islands and is protected by the primarily eastern trade winds. Sailing on the banks is much different than sailing just a few miles east out in the Exuma Sound, which is basically the Atlantic Ocean. Out in the ocean the water depth is thousands of feet deep, and the wind blows unabated from Africa building waves that can be pretty impressive and uncomfortable. Sailing on the banks, you are protected by a string of low-lying islands or Cays (pronounced Keys) which keep the wave heights down to a moderate level. The water is very shallow, oftentimes you can find yourself cutting through bathtub clear water that is only 7 to 20 feet deep. You can plainly see the bottom, starfish, sharks, rays, turtles, and the occasional dolphin pass by. The Exumas really are extraordinary: so very pristine, remote, and water clarity of which I've never seen before. However, if you're looking for 4 star hotels, fine dining, and world class night life, look elsewhere.

Cave Cay is next to Musha Cay, which is David Copperfields private island. It had been 2 months since we had been in a marina, so we attempted to get a slip in the new marina at Cave Cay, but no one answered our calls on the VHF radio, and it appeared to be closed. Oh well!

The winds were about 15 knots from the east, so we decided to continue north towards Black Point on Great Guana Cay. Black Point is a town of maybe two hundred, and counts among its attributes two restaurants, and a very nice Laundromat, where we did about 6 loads of clothes.

After a night on the anchor off Black Point, we sailed the 10 miles north to Staniel Cay and Big Majors Cay. Staniel Cay has a small resort with maybe nine rooms and a marina. We anchored a mile away off of Big Majors Spot, where wild pigs will swim out to your dingy as you approach the beach. Some call it the Bay of Pigs. We spent two nights on anchor there, taking advantage of the 3 "supermarkets" that call Staniel Cay home. Additionally, we had lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club which is one of those funky out-island bars which you just have to visit to appreciate. Jimmy Buffett has named it as one of the top 10 bars in the Islands.

More good winds from the east beckoned, and we pulled anchor and experienced a lively sail up to Cambridge Cay. Cambridge Cay is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, and was one of the islands we had missed on our way down to George Town. We spent 3 nights there on a mooring soaking it all in: great scenery, fantastic snorkeling, and beautiful beaches that you pretty much have all to yourself.

After reluctantly leaving Cambridge Cay, we sailed north to Hawksbill Cay (still in the Land & Sea Park) and took a mooring off a stunning beach. The next day we hopped in the dingy and hiked through thick vegetation to a series of small ruins left over from the revolutionary war period. English loyalists escaped to the Bahamas to start plantations, which pretty much all failed because of the poor soil quality. We got a good view of the Mega Yacht "Cakewalk" which was anchored a few miles off the cay. It's the largest private yacht ever built in the U.S., and can be yours for about 251 million. Quite impressive.

After a couple of nights off Hawksbill Cay, we were able to sail (again!) to Norman's Cay. Norman's Cay attained infamy as the hideout of the famous drug lord Carlos Lederer. It is said that he murdered cruisers who ventured too close in to his operation. The United States DEA spied on him for a while from a near by cay, and brought him down in a hail of gunfire. There are still buildings on the island riddled with bullet holes from the day the feds came to town. Now there are 14 private homes on the island, an airstrip, and a tiny resort with 4 bungalows and a typical Bahamas Bar. The one night we anchored off the island we ate both lunch and dinner in the bar. It's famous for its hamburgers, but they don't come cheap: One burger will set you back 18 clams, but I gotta say, it's a damn good hamburger. For dinner they were out of most of their signature dishes, so we made do with sandwiches: Dorothy had a burger, and I chomped on a chicken sandwich and a couple of glasses of wine. We met a couple from another boat who were heading north and sat with them, sharing cruising stories from the Exumas. It amazes me how down here you can say hello to someone as you enter a bar or restaurant, and end up sitting down with them and sharing a meal. Three hours later you're still talking like you've been friends for years, and the owners are waiting for you to leave so they can close for the evening. We've experienced this quite a few times in the past few months, and it has been a highlight of our trip. After dinner, we took a slightly intoxicated walk up a pitch black beach, laughing as we tried to locate our dingy.

In the morning we sailed to Highbourne Cay, which had been our first landfall in the Exumas back in early January. Highbourne has a small, pricey resort and marina where the Mega Yachts visit. We anchored off the beach and took the dingy in to peruse their well stocked store. Dorothy grabbed some high priced chicken, a couple of steaks, and I avoided spending ten dollars for a box of Oreo Cookies. Really. Ten bucks! Paradise doesn't come cheap my friends! After taking the groceries back to Foolish Heart, we jumped back in the dingy and had lunch at the resorts' restaurant. It sits up on a hill over looking the Exuma Banks, million dollar views - they could have served crap on a stick and I'd have eaten it just to sit there with that view.

We stopped by the resorts' store on our way back to Foolish Heart, to pick up the weather forecast for the next few days. We decided to make a run the next day to Eleuthera Island, and then an open ocean crossing to Great Abaco Island the day after, which would be a severe test of our sailing skills. See Dorothy's blog for the story on that. All I'm going to say is that I spent some serious time conversing to God on that passage. Enough said.

So after almost nine weeks, we left the Exuma Islands. In many ways they were so much less than I had envisioned. Less people, less civilization, less stress. But personally, they were so much more than what I had expected. I was saddened to leave, but excited to move on to the Abacos. Hopefully someday in the future we can return to sail those infinitely clear waters.

04/16/2012 | Kath
Again, I love your updates. The photos are breathtaking! It's sad that you are about to make your way back north, but I am so happy that you were both fortunate to embark on this adventure. Enjoy the rest of your trip!
Cambridge Cay
03/23/2012, Exumas

This is a view of Foolish Heart while we were visited Cambridge Cay in the Exuma Land & Sea Park. One of our favorite islands so far - great views, great snorkeling, and utterly beautiful. Someday we will spend more time here.

Lee Stocking Island
03/23/2012, Exumas

We stayed six days at Lee Stocking Island waiting out heavy winds before we could head north again. During that time we were able to hike the trails on the island and visit the beaches, which we had all to ourselves. This is what I love about the Exumas - NOBODY AROUND!

Hawksbill Cay
03/23/2012, Exumas

This is a view from a trail on Hawksbill Cay in the Exuma Land & Sea Park. The island is uninhabited, but has a number of trails cut through the thick jungle. There are remains of about 10 buildings from the late 17th and early 18th century we visited.

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Who: Kevin Irwin, Dorothy Irwin
Port: Havre De Grace, Maryland
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