Read: Bahamas Shakedown or Refit or Caribbean or en Francais
Dorado for Dinner II!
05/09/2007, Conception Island, Bahamas

Yahoo! What a day! We spent the last few days in a marina waiting out weather. We don't expect high winds, but high seas radiating from a fierce low due to make landfall in the states tomorrow. The Abacos in the North Bahamas saw 25 feet. Down here we saw 12 feet. Even in the marina the boats were sloshing around and banging against the pilings. We generally hate marinas because they are very expensive and you are essentially on land: bugs, no wind, and hot. Oh yeah, no cooking allowed on the boat to force you to eat out or endure PB&J. Fuel? $4.25/gallon. Water $.60/gallon. Yikes! The mosquitos and no- see-ums were vicious. We had to keep the boat closed up tight in the stifling heat and still look positively diseased from all the bites. Then there's the supposed 7' depth in the slips. Try 5'6" in ours - we were aground, albeit gently, at low tide. With that picture, you can perhaps understand how absolutely delighted we were to get out (we had to wiggle the boat with dock lines while in reverse to work back out through the sand) and away from Rum. The swell was still running today, but the forecast was for little wind and no swells tomorrow: perfect conditions to visit Conception Island, a marine park in the Bahamas. We figured we could deal with the rolling swells one night, but, in fact, we were able to anchor further up the bay than the charts indicate and are quite comfortable watching a stunning red sun sunset. The big news in our little floating world was our second Dorado, caught shortly after leaving Rum cay as we ran along the drop off. 15 lbs.! Enough for several meals! I really don't think I can land a bigger fish onto the boat. When they get this big you have to gaff them (hook with a meat hook-on-handle affair), but I've never done it and know there's something to the technique to keep them from jumping off. Regardless, it turns out our gaff is too short to really reach down below the fish. Spence and I are really just beginners when it comes to the fishing thing and have much to learn. It may seem picayune, but watching the sport fish guys clean Dorado it appears you should skin the fish BEFORE filleting. Duh, I guess... Sure enough, you can can just peel it off (perhaps 'rip with pliers and two hands' is better than 'peel') while the fish is still whole. Lovely. I don't know how we'll ever eat fish back home after eating grilled Dorado less than six hours from sea to table. The meat is moist, light, and almost sweet. Just incredible! Our fishing luck has definitely improved since the Caribbean. My theory is that the Caribbean is dead. Cath insists that our recent success is due solely to her spit on the lures: a recent modification of our trolling technique. We haven't had the chance to snorkel and explore Conception island, but it sure looks good from here. We'll keep you posted! ... Since we haven't been able to post, here's the conclusion of Conception. The weather is not really cooperating with us. The wind has switch to the SW (from the NE), not forecast, and put us on a lee shore here. There's not much wind, so its not immediately dangerous, but a little uncomfortable. In our weather briefing this morning, Chris advised us to seek safe harbor for expected severe squalls Fr- Su. Bummer, but at least the nasties of today will pass North of our path. The low pressure that's been bother us only indirectly has become the seasons first named storm: awful early. The storm plus moisture from the South has made things unstable and tropical in our region for a bit. Soooo, we had a quick snorkel (pretty good for the coral, but Rum was better for the fish), raised anchor, and are heading for shelter in Georgetown. Fortunately, as we're sailing over to Georgetown the conditions are picture perfect without any squalls in sight and 10 kts. on the beam, which allows to go 6+ kts, and no seas to speak of. Add to that the dolphin that escorted us out between the reefs at Conception, and we're feeling pretty good about the trip, if not the rush to take cover.

Rum Cay
05/08/2007, Rum Cay

Sure, sure, it's seven feet deep at low tide, you can make it. That's what the marina said over the radio. And we believed them.... until we ran aground in the marina. But we got pulled out so we could run aground in our slip. Too bad our winged keel acts like a giant anti-reverse barb. Nonetheless, we docked in the nurse shark infested marina without further incident. We visited the town, Port Nelson, a short walk away. The population of people is about 100, and there is plenty of mosquitoes to go around, not to mention the hordes of no-see-ums (see Bahamas Shakedown). We met people from Annecy, in France, as well as Boulder. The gourmet restaurant was anything but gourmet. We ordered 3 fish and 1 chicken. We waited for 2 and a half hours until they brought the chicken and told us they were out of fish now. We went to another restaurant to dine with our Boulder friends the next day. Mommy's shark paranoia aside, we went snorkeling and got some fabulous fishy photos. The sport fishermen took over the marina because of the upcoming fishing tournament. The fish carcasses were greedily snatched up by the nurse sharks. Our next destination is Conception Island., supposedly the best island in the Bahamas....

How to clean and prepare conch
05/07/2007, Rum Cay

We are now at Rum Cay waiting for the nasty front generating close to hurricane force wind in the eastern US, before we get to the Exumas. We heard great things about this island, but so far, we have not been impressed so we are catching up on blogs from the Sumner Point marina (we tucked in here because of the predicted 12 ft swell and the poorly protected anchorages). Note to other cruisers: this marina is a total disappointment from the lavish advertisement in the guide. You can't go in at low tide with a 6 ft draft (after being told 'no problem' we ran aground), the gourmet restaurant is no longer here, the only place they have serves fried chicken wings for $20, no showers, and the place is full of no-see-um (flying critters that bite at dusk and dawn). The only thing good so far is the wifi that allows us to post pictures, and we heard the snorkeling is great, so we'll check it out when the waves are down.

The other highlight of our stay in Long island was a thorough course (from Jan on DreamCatcher) on how to clean conchs. Conchs is to Bahamian what beef is to American. It goes like this: you dive for conch until he finds at least 4 big ones - it is hard work because each shell is heavy so once you find one you have to bring it back on shore or to the boat and go back out for the next one. Then you go to a beach (see picture) with painkillers (not the meds but the local rum-based drink) and try to get the mollusk out of his shell. It's quite a perfected art that locals can do in 2 seconds when it took us a good 30 min at first. It requires a hammer and a chisel to severe the critter's spine from the outside of the shell at a very specific spot. Once detached from his shell, you pull what must be the ugliest creature on earth. You then chop his 2 eyes out along with all his intestinal parts. The locals eat raw a long skinny gelatin looking body part (called the "style") rumored to be an aphrodisiac. Yuk. You keep the white muscle part - that is hard as rubber when you first extract it. Then you pound that puppy until it is tender, and you now have the flesh with which you can make conch fritters, conch chowder, cracked conch or conch burgers. I wonder if they sell conch at Whole Foods now ..... By the way, if you want to keep the beautiful shell as a souvenir, you can also boil the critter out, but you pretty much ruin the meat doing that.

Sweet Sixteen!
05/06/2007, Rum Cay

Sorry this blog is a bit late, but better late than never. I celebrated my 16th birthday not too long ago and spent an amazing day that I will never forget. When I first woke up in the morning there was a Happy Birthday balloon hanging from my hatch. Then we enjoyed French toast (Daddy's present-I LOVE French toast!). Once we were filled with breakfast I opened all my presents. Since thank you cards are difficult to come by here, I'll do it right now. Thank you to Grandma, Grandpa, Mamy, Mom, Dad, Spencer, and Katie Schweber. You're presents were AMAZING. It's kinda scary how well you know me ;) And thank you to everyone who sent me an email/posted a comment wishing me a Happy Birthday. Even though we're a long way from home, you all made me feel like this distance didn't exist. We joined our friends on Dream Catcher and mosied on up to Stella Maris with the rental car so they could clear customs. On the way back down the island, we stopped at the Stella Maris resort for lunch. The food was exceptional and the service was superb. Of course, everyone had to embarrass me by telling everyone that it was my birthday, but hey, I guess that's what I get for turning 16 J While roaming the lobby we found a broken piano with a bunch of broken keys. Little did I know, when I started to play it, it was also out of tune. But after 3 months of no piano, I absolutely had to play it. Then we found the foosball table....everyone was laughing so hard that we were crying. It was absolutely hilarious. So funny. We spent the afternoon driving to and seeing the Colombus monument. Man, that view was to die for. It was gorgeous. To top the day off, we did some basic provisioning and enjoyed a quiet night on the boat, complete with pesto pasta and a movie. I haven't ever spent a better day in my life.

Deepest Blue Hole, Long Island

Last week we spent a couple of days discovering Long Island (not the one in NY Howie!) with our friends, Jan and Jim on DreamCatcher. What a beautiful, clean and well provisioned place. We had no idea we would find this type of provisioning here - the marine store was a little McGuckin in and of itself and Jan and Jim said that was better than George Town. We even found a DVD reader cleaner in there to stop the skipping we now experience when watching movies :) You should see our faces when we find fresh produce. That's a highlight of our days after seeing green or no tomatoes in most other places. What most impressed us about this island is how clean it is, how many churches it has, the stores and the world's deepest blue hole - 600 ft straight down and right off the deserted beach (see picture). To see all these things, you have to rent a car as the island is mostly a long stretch of land (70 miles long to a couple of miles wide). So the 6 of us rented the one car the marina across the anchorage had - a compact little Suzuki with a big "Keep left" sign (Bahamas drive on the left). Spencer started in the trunk then finally gave up and agreed to sit on his mom's lap :)

Dorado for dinner!
05/02/2007, Clarence Town, Long Island

We are now in Long Island where we reconnected with Dream Catcher, after temporarily losing them in our voyage. We spent a day in Mayaguana, recuperating, diving up conch, et doing the standard customs clear in process. The Bahamas beat the record for the entry fee for vessels - $300. Yikes. Maybe it matches the quality of the water and the richness of the sea life. We had not seen that many fish, rays and even nurse sharks since we left. The water is just unbelievable here and we can't help but jump in as often as we can, but not as often as we wish, considering we need to rinse off after every event and we are making our own water on board. Spencer had an impressive catch on the 24 hr sail from Mayaguana to Long Island: a 7 lb dorado. Howard, you would have been proud of him. We are grilling the critter tonight and sharing it with Dream Catcher who caught 2 'cudas and 1 mahi-mahi that escaped them. Life is hard in the islands.... Tomorrow Shelby is turning 16: without any friends, but with an incredible scenery, and some French toast for breakfast (her request). Internet is scarce here - the recent posts are done via satellite phone, so we can't post pictures. We are hoping to find a wifi spot soon and will make sure to give visuals of the past days.

Passage for rookies
05/01/2007, Abrahams Bay, Mayaguana

This is Shelby's blog entry, but first a word from our sponsor. We've been without Internet access for some time now and don't know when we'll be able to get back on to view blog notes and upload photos. We'll keep the text coming (Sat Phone) and upload more photos, email, etc. when we do find an access point. Best wishes to all! And now...

An inside peek to a 3-day passage through the eyes of us "rookie sailors". Our schedule: wake up. This is when we communicate with our stomachs; conversations usually follow a similar pattern. "Good morning stomach. Are going to keep breakfast down or shall I disregard the morning rations?" Go up the companion way, realize how cool it is in the morning. Go below to get a jacket and pants. Come back up and sit in the cockpit for approximately 15 minutes. Get hot. Ge below deck and put on a T-shirt and shorts. Lather on sunscreen in an attempt to resemble a snowman to remind of the brutal winter we missed. Sun rises up and becomes brutal hot. Until lunch, search fro the shady corner and site there before anyone else does. Communicate with stomach regarding dinner. Stay outside until we are so sleepy we can barely move. Dash onto a settee/berth and hope we fall asleep before our stomach decides to make any food we ate its archenemy. I'm sure you wonder what the personal hygiene was like. In most cases, for example Mommy, one would prefer to smell like a pig (pecifically a girl pig with a bow on its tail that says 'Mommy') rather than revisit those morning crackers. However, I was determined to stay clean. Plug, I figured if I got sick I was always right next to the toilette anyway. Daddy insisted on rinsing off after every watch, so I guess I got my hygiene from him. Spencer, however... let's just say he didn't get Daddy's great hygiene gene ;) Si this basically covers what we did for 3 days. The thing that was the most uncomfortable was not the sea-sickness or the inability to sleep all night, but rather the lack of things to do. Almost all of our everyday activities (reading, math, etc.) promote stomach discomfort. So we took to repeating dialogue of a movie, singing, and watching our position slowing move on the GPS. We definitely kicked into survival mode, but seeing the clear water Mayaguana has for sure made the passage worthwhile.

A Real Passage!
04/30/2007, Mayaguana, Bahamas

We finally made it out of Puerto Rico and, unfortunately, skipped the Dominican Republic to make up time. Serious cruisers would scoff, but this passage is our first multi-day hop, from Boqueron, Puerto Rico to Mayaguana, Bahamas and is a 'big deal' for us because of the length and because it started with the infamous Mona passage between Puerto Rico and Hispanola (The Mona). For readers not familiar with cruising, on passage there is no place to pull over for the night. The sailing is non-stop and you live the best you can while rolling around on the waves. You would think that sleep would come difficult, but since we (Cath and I) are on three hour watches is doesn't take too long to become so exhausted that you can sleep in conditions, and in positions, that one would think impossible. Of course, with exhaustion comes fatigue and we're extra careful to do things thoughtfully and slowly. They say the first three days are the worst while you adjust to the watch schedule, but after three days we're here! There's a joke that if you want to know what cruising is like, set the alarm for 4 AM. When it goes off, throw on a slicker over your underwear, run out onto the lawn and have your spouse hose you down all the while shouting that its time to reef the mainsail. That's about right.

For you sailors, here's the gory details of the Mona and our wake in it. The Mona is the most difficult passage in the Caribbean, especially upwind, which we weren't. There are two main nasties to deal with. The deepest (second deepest?) part of the Atlantic ocean is the Puerto Rican Trench just North of the The Mona. The Mona lies across a saddle connecting Puerto Rico and Hispanola. The current runs this saddle and spills into the trench creating all sorts of nasty currents. Where you have nasty currents and wind, you have nasty waves. Some punishment is just the price of crossing, but you avoid the worst by staying windward of Hour Glass Shoals. The second problem is the costal front, with associated squalls, that Puerto Rico releases from its West Coast each afternoon. These squalls can be viscous boat breakers that cause masts, and sailors, to tremble in fear. In the late 1400's, Spain lost an entire fleet, except the boat carrying Columbus's gold (read The Last Voyage of Columbus), in the Mona. In our direction, down wind but against frontal progression, we need a fairly long weather window if we want to make the Bahamas in one stretch. So, we've been waiting, with others heading the same way, sometime now for the right window. We got our chance rather suddenly when Friday's forecast improved Friday morning, leaving the four of us scrambling to batten down and get anchors up. First up was beating out against the sea breeze from the West; the breeze away from land was from the North East. Our plan was to get out and head just about due North to out flank the storms we knew would be heading out in the afternoon so we weren't shy about motor sailing though the Westerlies to get on our way. Everyone knew the deal, so we didn't leave together: each as fast as possible and worry about keeping in touch later. The flanking maneuver worked perfect and three of us got to watch the fireworks pass harmlessly behind us as the inevitable progression of cells marched across the Mona. The winds (20-22 kts.) and waves (6-8') were higher than forecast and normally higher than we would have liked, but catching this trailing weather would hopefully allow us to get all the way to the Bahamas before the next system moved in. There was a place where the waves, for some reason, became quite impressive as each of us passed through the area, but they were more height than brute and didn't cause us any harm. The conditions, while robust, moved us rapidly through the area and before midnight, The Mona was, thankfully, behind us: collective sigh.

With The Mona behind us, we trucked along at good speed (average of 7.5 with a peak of 9.5 kts.) down the North coast if Hispaniola during a routine, though bit lumpy, segment. Yesterday evening, as we sat huddled around our dinner bowls in the cockpit, we were joined again by dolphins. Dolphins are a good omen for a voyage and always a delight to see, but this evening was particularly special. The small pod included a wee little baby dolphin! About three feet long, she was soooooo cute!

This morning found us strolling along towards Mayaguana, Bahamas. We lost contact with Paramor III, who was anchored next to us way back in Boqueron, PR, after the second day as we past them by. Losing contact by VHF radio, happens as the boats spread out over time. VHF has a range about about twenty miles. Our cruising friends on Dream Catcher (Tayana 42) that have taken us under wing are about 80 miles behind us, but we're keeping in touch by shortwave radio (turns out transmit is working fine) on a regular basis to exchange positions, for safety, and a few words for morale. They will night over somewhere to time their arrival at Mayaguana with good light for picking through the reefs. We wish we could have given them a few knots of boat speed: they needed more and we needed less. A good anchorage is often 'good' because it is well protected by reefs. The flip side of the protection is the sometimes tricky entrance through the reefs into the anchorage. The passage can be intricate and not something that can be charted. One must be able to clearly see the reefs lying under the surface. Ideally, the sun should be high and just behind you for the best visibility. Doing one of these in the dark is suicide. Thus, one must time ones arrival with the proper position of the Sun. The timing is easier said than done because the wind determines when you'll get there. In our case, we moved too fast and spent the last 18 hours running under just a reefed main to keep our boat speed down. Dream Catcher had a slower time of it and had to hold off for the night for another chance at the anchorage tomorrow. We feel bad that luck worked against their timing, so I'm diving up some conch to give them when they arrive tomorrow.

We've snugged up against the inside of the reef at Mayaguana and have reefs less than 100 meters from the boat all to ourselves: the best snorkeling we've had on the entire trip! So peaceful and gin clear water that makes the boat look like its floating in air over the bottom - really! Mayaguana has a population of 320 and is way, way out there and captures what the Bahamas were like before the tourist invasion. They did not have electricity until 1997!

Cruising camaraderie is a funny thing. We enjoy our new found friends in a here-and-now sense because you never know when weather, break downs, or diverging itineraries will separate you without hardly a chance to say 'goodbye'. Most cruising friends meet in an anchorage or, more often, over the radio as a side effect of going the same way on the same day. On this passage we 'met' several new boats/crews that we will see in person for the first time when we trickle into Mayaguana. Through the days and nights we've talked about weather, passed on coordinates, offered GPS way points, and just said 'hi' at three in the morning to not feel so alone when you're slogging it out in the middle of the ocean without another soul or evidence of mankind in sight.

We 'think' we could have kept going past Mayaguana, but the weather between here and the next stop (Long Island or Rum cay) is riddled with nasty squalls (not that you could tell it from the blue skies and gentle breeze here), so stop we must and wait for another weather window before continuing. You should be getting the feeling that we wait A LOT for the right weather. As an aside, just about everyone cruising the Bahamas and Caribbean depends on Chris Parker for weather information. Chris hosts a weather net for cruisers on the short wave (SSB) each mornings: kind of a morning radio show at 7:00 on 8137.0 MHz, upper side band, if you please. Chris first gives a synopsis of the situation and then each of us (meaning each of us who paid up for the privilege) checks in and he gives us specific weather and sea information about our location and passage. As cruisers we are tied to the weather for our every move, both for comfort and safety, and Chris is our weatherman. Weather forecasts tailored to small boat sailors make the difference between misery and comfort for all of us and Chris is the only show in town, albeit a one man show! He went on vacation one week and we were a little skittish about heading out without Chris as our copilot.

This passage has been one of the biggest challenges we've faced as a family, and we're still running on adrenaline, elated to have seen it through without incident and with morale intact. Our buddy boats all signed off the air, after three days of radio chatter, to catch up on some much needed rest. Shelby cleaned the boat, do laundry, make lunch, and the rest of us went to snorkel on our private reef and dive up some conch. Now the inevitable is catching up with us and now... it is time... to sleep... -the end-


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