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Madcap Sailing
25/04/2008/6:04 pm, Marsh Harbour, Abacos

"If you don't leave, you can't come back." That was an expression I used frequently when our children were small and didn't want to leave a friend's house. It's one we've heard here in the Abacos as folks head north, and it's one into which I would now put a slight twist. "If you don't part, you can't have a reunion."

We arrived in Marsh Harbour Thursday to see a familiar profile - Sapphire! We last saw Kathy and Mike on their 40 ' Bayfield ketch in Black Sound, Exumas when, after spending a few weeks together, we headed off on separate timetables. Our reunion took place in their cockpit in the form of an evening of rollicking laughter, spicy and satisfying jambalaya, multiple bottles of wine, and dozens of stories of the "Did you see...? Did you go...? What did you think of...? Oh, we'll have to do that next time!" variety.

Jim spent most of Friday on the internet researching power options - wind generators, solar panels, batteries etc, while I did laundry and engaged in a most frustrating retrieval of our ship's clock. I left it to be repaired back in January and went in to pick it up only to find out that not only had the man not gotten around to repairing it, there had been some kind of mix-up in the clock itself. From being all silver coloured when it went in, it now has the same face but on a brass body. The owner of the shop assured me it had come in like that just as much as I assured him it hadn't. We parted ways with him saying, "That's why I put a numbered sticker the clock - so there will be no mistake" and me saying, "Next time I'm taking a picture of any article I leave for service - so there will be no mistake." I'll get it checked and fixed back in Canada (although interestingly enough, this guy is a Canadian who moved here 20 years ago.)

Going back to the Laundromat was therapeutic. It was just some local women and me - the cruisers had finished up early - and as we all stood at the counters sorting and folding, the woman next to me singing away, it felt soothing and calming, and things kind of got into perspective again. I've got clean sheets to sleep in tonight and a clock on the wall.

Solitaire arrived this afternoon and had a chance to get reunited with Sapphire (they last saw each other at American Thanksgiving in St Mary's). We joined them and as the six of us walked down the street to dinner, we gathered in Carol and Steve (Restless). The others all knew each other, and despite Jim's reply of "It must be a case of mistaken identity!" when Steve said to him "I was right behind you when you went aground near Daytona Beach," we laughingly agreed that it was a reunion for them too.

As we sat at a table in Snappas enjoying delicious fish, burgers and salads, more reunion related information emerged. Solitaire Jim, Nancy and Steve found all sorts of connections in their history as pilots - the sort the just make you wonder about the degrees of separation in this world. Among cruisers, it has to be far fewer than six! While Steve and Carol headed back to their boat, the rest of us piled into Solitaire's cockpit once more for songs from Nancy's enormous collection with added percussion from the wonderfully rattly pods from the Poinciana trees, and reminiscences about the music of our youth. Oooh - doesn't that sound like we're oldies?

We had never met these people before we started this trip, have now met them again and again, and know that we have many reunions ahead of us for they have become dear friends.

... ps

When eventually we decided we really must go home, we discovered that our dinghy was well and truly wedged in under the dock and Jim had to partially deflate it, haul it out and pump it up again before we could depart. Those tides - even though they aren't very high, they can take boats where they were never meant to go!

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Light and Shadow
24/04/2008/8:39 am, Tilloo Cay

Since my last update - posted while sitting on the steps of the Administrative building next to the School in Spanish Wells, we've visited 3 more anchorages.

We motored over to Meeks Patch Saturday afternoon and spent 2 nights in that tranquil little bay - once again, all by ourselves. A small coral head nearby invited us to do a little snorkeling and Jim chased a grouper around with his spear. I found some interesting small shells on the beach and we did a little cleaning, swimming and reading.

As we sat in comfort on our boat in the beautiful sunlight, we listened to a much darker story unfolding on the VHF. A fixed wing US Coast Guard aircraft was calling for assistance in locating persons in the water in NW Providence Channel - not all that many miles from us. A group of Haitians were in the water - the calm and concerned voice kept mentioning persons in the water, and it wasn't until much later that we heard him say there were 3 survivors, 20 dead and 2 still missing. It was interesting that he never did refer to picking up bodies - it was always persons in the water. A small thing perhaps but it sounded so much more respectful. We still don't quite know all the rights of the story but we heard from another cruiser that one boat had sunk and a passing fisherman had tried to rescue them, only to have his own boat swamped by the panicking people.

It felt dreadful to know that while we sat there in comfort and sunshine, these people - and there are many more - have been living such an unbearable life in Haiti that they ventured out across the sea in an unsafe boat, only to die on their way to what they hoped would be a better life. The men we talked to on a Bahamas patrol boat said their prime target is human trafficking and this is what it is about. It was one reminder that wherever there is light, shadow is not far away. We listened in vain for updates on the radio news the next day. Eventually Jim found a report from Fox News and a fellow cruiser found a paper that covered the disaster. Such events need our attention. Listening to a rescue live on the radio sure focused my attention.

Monday was travel day despite the lack of wind and we motored almost 60 miles north to the Abacos - entering Little Harbour Cut just as the wind whipped up to 20 knots. It was such a localized gust that it didn't alter much in terms of swell or rough water in the cut - just increased the wind chop a bit. We were amazed to see 17 boats scattered along Lynyard Cay - last time there were just 4 or 5 - all of them unfamiliar. It has been a long time since we entered an anchorage and didn't see someone we knew. It must be a combination of people moving south, and those who left Georgetown before we got there. Having said that though, it is quite easy for boats to be always a day or two ahead or behind or on a slightly different route through here.

We moved the boat to a day anchorage just off Tom Curry Point to enable us to make a short dinghy ride to Little Harbour. Before sitting down to lunch at Pete's Pub, we visited the gallery and foundry to see the magnificent pieces of lost wax bronze sculpture that have been created by the Johnson family. I had visited the gallery on our trip down and it was really helpful to see the production process too. Randolph was a master of facial expression.

Solitaire came through the cut just as we were heading back to a more secure anchorage for the night so we were pleased to have Nancy and Jim join us for happy hour in our cockpit followed by an early night for all of us.

We had so wanted to spend Wednesday exploring the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park - snorkeling the reefs at Sandy Cay and walking the beaches, but just as it was on our way south, the wind was too high and we couldn't stop there. Quite a swell was coming in through the cut and the water was too choppy to swim. We tried to anchor near the south end of Tilloo by a beach but the anchor wouldn't hold and there was still an uncomfortable roll so we gave up that idea too. We cruised up the side of Tilloo to the northern tip and anchored in the protected little curve just south of Taverners Cay where we had spent a night last January.

This has been a comfortable stop and we'll head on into Marsh Harbour on Thursday. That will be a day of errand running. The water we picked up in Spanish Wells tastes horrid even when it has been through the Seagull purifier so we'll get drinking water and use that for washing. We hope our ship's clock is ready and we'll do a little grocery shopping as well. Jim has had no luck fishing despite having a line out most of the time as we travel. The "honest to goodness fresh from the field" tomatoes and green peppers I bought by the bagful in Rock Sound are just about gone, and I'm ready for a new supply of pineapple too.

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Where the Banks Meet the Atlantic
Beth - wincing at moving up the latitudes
19/04/2008/2:21 pm, The Glass Window, Eleuthera

In our policy of lingering as long as possible, we chose to hug the shore and pull in at the Glass Window while Interlude, Werplayin and Rachel E headed for Current Cut. It was interesting that we first thought "Oh - maybe we should push on with them and position ourselves for a crossing to the Abacos," despite not having seen the northern end of Eleuthera as we'd planned. It is very easy to get caught up in a group movement. I even reported on Cruiseheimers that Madcap was enroute from Alabaster Bay to Current Cut. As we started out, however, we came to our senses and veered off, and we were so glad we did. Jim commented, "What could we have been thinking?" while we strolled along the sand in this reprieve from towns and activity and the push northward.

This was a beautiful anchorage with excellent holding and Madcap was the only boat there. We usually like to balance periods of group activity with a day or two of solitary travel or anchorage so this was perfect. It was a beautiful bay - several dinghy-friendly beaches, a view of water foaming and crashing under the bridge from the Atlantic, wide expanse of soft green water reaching out to the western horizon and the roar of the Atlantic waves reaching our ears.

The "Glass Window" is a narrow ridge that joins the northern and southern ends of Eleuthera and divides the dark blue Atlantic Ocean on one side from the soft turquoise of the Bahama Banks on the other. Over time, the waves have eaten away at the natural ridge and now a man-made bridge spans the opening. It is one lane wide and crosses an opening through which the water foams and crashes onto the Banks. A few years ago, the bridge was shifted a few feet sideways in a storm and it looked pretty precarious even in its repaired state.

The views were simply stunning. We'd have hated to miss this. Shelling was interesting on the little beaches around the bay and although the water seemed a bit cooler (28C) it still felt delicious as we went in for a swim. The evenings have been cool this week and dinner was in the cabin - sweet and sour meatballs with pineapple and green peppers over rice and a nibble of chocolate for dessert.

We headed out at 7:45 to catch a favourable current at Current Cut - aptly named. Figuring that time was a bit of a trick. We knew that the water ebbs to the Ocean and flows onto the Banks so that narrowed it somewhat. The next consideration was to arrive at or near slack tide, and that's where there can be some confusion. One book said the tides there are 1 to 1 hours after Nassau, another book said 2- 2 hours later. High in Nassau was at 7:58 so we figured that if we got there sometime between 9:30 and 10 we would catch slack tide or the beginning of the ebbing current or at worst, the end of the rising tide when it wouldn't be very strong ...and it worked. We caught the ebb tide. Once again we were the fortunate beneficiaries of good planning and good luck. The planning worked for the time, and Mother Nature was in charge of the wind which was behind us - meaning that both current and wind were going in the same direction - and that makes for smooth water. Our speed picked up to 7.7 knots as we made the elbow turn - a very comfortable passage.

As we left the anchorage on Saturday morning, we kept turning to see the "window" behind us, and it was visible for miles - looking absolutely like a window through the rock. The land formations were just beautiful and we highly recommend it as a place to spend some time.

By noon, we were anchored outside the harbour at Spanish Wells and Jim has been making regular dinghy runs back and forth to the tap outside Pinder's Grocery to fill our water tank. I went walking around to find some steps to sit on where I could link up with wifi - and found it beside the school. We will probably stay in the area till Monday (at least) and then make our trip across NW Providence Channel to the Abacos.

We are definitely feeling nostalgic today; this is the first revisiting of a place on our way back north. We are up to 25 degrees of latitude again. With each passing landmark we say, "Oh, that's the last time we'll see this water... or that beach ... or this coral reef" and we moan and wail until one of us says, "until the next time!!" and we cheer up again because we surely will be back.

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