16 January 2020
Annie and Alistair are at school today! Not ‘Mark and Meg’s boat school of hard knocks’, a REAL school on land with four walls and a roof! Black Point All-Age school welcomed A&A yesterday morning to attend for the day. It was such a success that we sent them today as well. Our friends Paul and Laurie, on 2 Outrageous, suggested this idea to us. As things often go in small towns, most people wear many hats, on a professional and volunteer basis. Two nights ago, the man co-ordinating the buffet dinner at the bar we went to introduced us to a woman prepping food who is also a teacher at the school. So we arranged for the kids to get a taste of the Bahamas education system.
Annie is in a grade 3/4 split class with 10 other kids. Alistair is in a grade 1/2 split class with less than 10 kids. All together, from grades 1 to 12, the school has 55 students. The local kids are super friendly and welcoming, happy to have A&A in their midst for a couple of days. We met Annie and Alistair with a picnic lunch yesterday and most of the students happily crowded around to give us their observations of our children. We learned a bunch of hand-clapping songs and games, watched kids rip around on their bikes and saw that Alistair fit in quite well on the basketball court. It’s a great opportunity for the A&A to get a brief taste of this aspect of Bahamian culture. Some things are different (the students get a slap on the hand with a ruler if mis-behaving) and in many ways it’s similar to home. Of course Mark and I are more enthusiastic about it than they are (Annie keeps insisting she is on holiday so why is she going to school?)....to which we roll our eyes and repeat our favourite mantra of this trip: this experience is shaping your character whether you choose to value it now or later!
We finally booked my Mom’s flight! She’ll meet us in Georgetown on January 21st and stay for a week. So tomorrow we’ll sail the 50 miles back down to Georgetown. It’s certainly true what all the wise cruisers have cautioned us about: booking visits with friends and family is risky business! We left Georgetown on January 1st, knowing we’d want to be back for Mark’s work flight on the 21st. We’re about to complete a loop that, on paper (in terms of mileage) could easily be done in a mere few DAYS.....that is if weather is not a factor! As it has turned out, tomorrow is our FIRST opportunity, in 3 weeks, to safely and comfortably sail back to Georgetown. The Easterlies have not stopped blowing less than 30 for 20 days! So, while I thought Mark was being un-reasonable to avoid booking a flight for my mom until a few days ago, it was a prudent decision, in the end. We did not want her to show up with nobody there to greet her.
We’ve adapted a new routine onboard that has greatly improved our quality of life: Annie and Alistair wash the breakfast and lunch dishes every day! We save fresh water and us adults get a break from a portion of our mundane daily tasks. After a recommend from our pals on Rollic, we set a great pattern in motion. The kids throw all the dishes in a bucket and sit on the ‘sugar scoop’ off the stern (swim platform). They do a quick salt water rinse, then a wash cycle (with our phosphate-free soap). Then we do a quick rinse in a fraction of the fresh water we would otherwise use for a regular batch of dishes. The dinner dishes still get washed in hot fresh water so they get a ‘sterilize’ round every night. We are quite pleased with this new regimen and, what do you know, the kids are proud of their daily household contribution...that is after they’ve come to realize their moaning and groaning is futile:)
Our bread situation, lately, has been decadent as we’ve had fresh baked loaves from Ida, the local bread queen. She has a smart little business run right out of her home. You walk into her house and pick from the still-warm loaves lined up on her kitchen counter. They don’t have time to cool down before being swept up by all of her loyal customers. Thanks to Bev, from our original cruising guru team Dagny, we’ve had it in our notes, for years now, to look her up once we got here. After all the hype, we were not disappointed! Coconut bread to die for (especially when made into French toast) and cinnamon raisin bread. Ooh 😋 yum!
09 January 2020
We are in the middle of a 5 day stretch of 30 knot winds. This shattering of low-lying islands is JUST enough to protect us from 10 foot waves blowing in from Exuma Sound. We are anchored off of Big Farmers Cay right now, taking shelter on the west side of the island. We’ll have a taste of civilization tomorrow when we touch down at Little Farmers Cay (one island north of here) to do laundry for the first time since Dec 27th. We MIGHT get to have a shower on land for the first time since Vero Beach, Florida (Dec 4th). The only showers we have on the boat are with the fresh water 🚿 off the stern (sugar scoop) after we’ve washed in the ocean...and even then it’s just a quick freshwater rinse. Afterall, we must conserve our water storage!
We spent a couple of fantastic nights at Williams Bay and enjoyed the company of a lovely couple from Ottawa. The next two nights were spent in front abandoned marine research centre, where we spent an afternoon sneaking around the island. It was the longest stretch our legs have had in many weeks! The kids cracked open their first fresh coconuts 🥥 and got to frolic with the crew of Rollic. A really nice couple with 9 and 11 year old daughters. Still can’t find a 7 year old boy to save our lives but Alistair made do with yet another bunch of girls. I’m sure it will serve him well in the future...
This morning we passed by the magician, David Copperfield’s private island. A couple of islands south he’s placed, underwater, a large statue of a mermaid playing the piano. We dove down to it the other day. Quite magical.
We are keeping our fingers crossed that a visit will work out for my Mom in a couple of weeks. Hopefully she’ll keep the kids and me company while Mark goes to work for another 5 or 6 days. Can’t book a flight for her until we know what the weather will allow us to do...stay up at Staniel Cay or go back down to Georgetown.
We had to move in these strong winds just before sunset this evening because we realized that we’d hit bottom when low tide comes tonight. Just a little hiccup. Now we’re out in 9 feet of water instead of 7 feet of water and more exposed....I’m sure we’ll sleep great tonight🙄...
Signing off from my shortest blog post yet!
03 January 2020
After two weeks in Georgetown it was time to stretch our sea legs again. On January 1st we lifted anchor and set off for a quick 20 mile motor to Lee Stocking Island. We've come back north to the top of Great Exuma Island, where there is a lovely cluster of Cays that we are exploring at our leisure. The goal, in these few weeks, is to to see a lot under water, covering a little over ground.
We had a great time based in Georgetown for 15 days, regrouping after a pretty demanding 10 week treck getting ourselves to Bahamas. Because our travel itinerary has been complicated by Mark's work schedule we are calculating what we can fit in between his commutes. Don't get me wrong, this should hardly count as a complaint. It is allowing us to take a giant vacation with a salary coming in. But it has added a bit of stress for Mark. Once we established ourselves in Georgetown he had a few days to relax before flying back to the white (and sometimes not so white?) north on Dec 21st. The kids and I enjoyed our 3 musketeers dynamic until Mark's sister Tracy arrived on Dec 23rd. I did not have many tricks up my sleeve for Christmas so it was the perfect gift to have her stay with us for a week, throwing a bit of variety into our little 42 x 14 foot living space. Mark returned on the 28th which gave him and Tracy a good amount of time to overlap before she left on the 30th. He goes back to work on Jan 21st for 6 days so we have a 3 week window to putt around at a snail's pace. The wind has BARELY stopped blowing since we arrived in this fair country. So even though some readers may scoff at the idea of us stressing over a three week window, the weather can easily be such that you travel only 20 miles from point A to point B and you are stuck waiting out a low pressure weather system in order to get back to point A (where Mark catches a flight to work). As mentioned in a previous blog, the Banks side of the islands are often too shallow for us to go more than a few miles before having to switch to the Sound side. But the sound side is deep and wide open to the Atlantic, therefore high winds in the wrong direction can prohibit travel for weeks at a time. So you really do have to plan out your weather windows.
Georgetown, they say, is like day camp for seniors and "family camp" for young families. There are certainly far more baby boomers parked there for the season than anything else but we managed to eek in with a small collection of young families. In particular we became very fond of our pals from Ruby Vi, a catamaran living their dream of sailing around the world. We enjoyed each other's company off and on for two weeks but as we’ve turned back north to explore further, they are getting ready for their next big jump South and...most likely...west. Trips like this are all about saying hello and goodbye within a short period so you get used to consciously waving farewell with a light heart when you part from a great bunch of new friends.
We began every morning tuning in to the 'Cruisers' Net', which is equivalent to the daily briefing from your local newspaper. The same person hosts every day, starting off with the 24 hour weather forecast, then moves on to community announcements: Beach Yoga, beach volleyball, beach water aerobics, ukulele lessons and poker nights. All these services /events are provided by volunteers who have all the time in the world...since...we're in paradise. (Apologies if I'm making anyone gag). The next issue addressed on the morning net is items offered/requested for barter or giveaway, followed by local business announcements from the town. Lastly is 'Kids' Corner'...a chance for kids to hop on the radio and announce a plan they have for the day, for example a beach bbq, beach garbage pick up, volleyball....whatever they come up with. All quite blissful, really. The makings of a great commune.
The town itself has what I consider to be the locals side and the tourists side. On the one we find the laundromat, liquor store, a million local businesses and a park. On the other we find a million cafes, the straw market, hardware store, gas station and a million little gift shops. All of the Bahamians are super friendly and most seem to love having us tourists there (at least as far as I gathered from my chats with Georgetown residents). The best place in town, by far, is a tiny little shack out of which comes the most delectable jerk chicken you'll ever have. A man named Julien operates it. Outside is a big BBQ and inside is the one man show. No windows, no signs. You knock on the plywood door and out comes Julienwith a mask on, in order to not smoke himself out of this windowless shack. With your fingers crossed you ask if there's any jerk chicken available. $12 for a giant plate with rice and veg on the side. If he's nearing the end of his daily supply he'll give you a smaller serving for $10.
Today Annie went in the water for her first time since gouging out a chunk of her leg at the beach rocks on Boxing Day. We managed to avoid infection after she acquired a wound worthy of stitches (but only received steri-strips). The kids and Mark are currently having a play date on the beach with the two kids from the only other boat tucked into our anchorage here. While we enjoyed the social and amenities aspect of Georgetown, we are loving being out in these more remote islands where you can easily go a few days without seeing any other people. This morning we snorkelled over some beautiful coral at the mouth of a cut (entrance from the open ocean) and spotted a gathering of 8 MASSIVE sting rays ...maybe sleeping...mostly buried in the sand. They didn't move an inch as we drifted over them. We also caught sight of a barracuda which sent Alistair into a panic. They are known for being aggressive scavengers so they can appear as though they're stalking you but really they just see us as large predators who, if they're lucky, will catch something and leave behind some remnants for them to devour. They would only bite a person in self defence and these occurrences are extremely rare. Speaking of catching things to eat, we caught a huge Wahoo the other day and it got away before we were able to hook it😫 The kids won't let me forget it. Mark reeled it right up to the boat and I was supposed to stick it with the gaff hook. I was not successful and it jumped off the line. Maybe we'll reverse jobs next time. This deep ocean fishing is serious business.
Tomorrow we'll go to the abandoned Caribbean Marine Research Centre. With luck, we should be able to walk around and through it. I imagine it to be like the series Lost. Apparently the center was shut down so abruptly that there are still work schedules written on chalk boards, etc. This is the place that Mark's cousin Judy worked at as a Marine Biologist. Should be neat! Also, we'll be on the look out for one of Johnny Depp's MANY homes. Apparently it's somewhere around here. The kids got a reality check getting back into our school routine yesterday so it's not ALL fun and games here (though Alistair did just go speeding past me on a donut being towed by the neighbouring boat's dinghy)😉
Attack of the rocky cliff!
29 December 2019 | Paradise
Annie & Tracy Gray
We are writing to you beneath a pine tree, overlooking beautiful blue Bahamian waters. We are confined to these quarters while others frolic on the beach with our friends Ruby Vi.
Not far from here, not so long ago, a terrible accident happened. While running with a Christmas kite on Boxing Day, a rocky cliff jumped up in Annie’s path and attacked her, leaving her speechless and in great pain. Eliora’s crew came to the rescue with first aid. Several bandages and 3 steri-strips later, we returned to Jazzy Lady. Fear not earthlings, Annie’s wounds are healing well. We hope that she’ll be back to normal very soon. In the meantime, she’s suffering from stillness. But we’ve got ahead of ourselves, and should go back to where we last left off.
On December 21st, a very sad Jazzy Lady crew said goodbye to their captain for a little while. He was needed in Quebec City to fly people to Cuba. Two days later, a reinforcement came in - me, Mark’s sister Tracy. Most of my luggage was “not-so-conveniently” left in Miami. Fortunately, the Christmas bag did arrive eventually. But, the stress was not over. Would Santa be able to find us?
The Santa tracker showed that he would be nearby at 10:08 pm. So all got to bed as quickly as we could. We woke up to stockings filled with things. The kids were overjoyed! That afternoon we had a Christmas potluck lunch with friends. We had a second, smaller Christmas when Mark got home with a sack of toys from Nana and Kimbo (aunt and grandmother).
One of the highlights from Tracy’s visit was the sting rays at Chat ‘n’ Chill beach - they nuzzle up to you and you can “pet” them. They are very soft. And as always, food takes centre stage and Jazzy’s crew is not hard done by.
17 December 2019
By popular demand, Annie will probably be back with another entry sooner rather than later!
We are in Georgetown after what we vowed to the kids would be our last 9 hour day of travel for a couple of months! The next several days are promising to be very windy (30 knots, constant) so we are happy to be established here in time to take shelter from the low-pressure system coming through.
Yesterday was a BEAUTIFUL 50 mile sail from Staniel Cay. Heading north or south along the Exumas chain, there is almost always the option to travel on the west side (banks) of the islands or the east side (sound) of the islands. If weather permits and you want to cover a lot of ground at a faster pace you travel on the sound side (east) since it’s reliable deep Atlantic water and you can practically shoot in a straight line. If you want to putter along and have more protection from the Easterlies you travel on the banks side where you’re often looking out for shoaling and reefs but it’s much more scenic because you’re weaving in and out of islands, each one unique and with endless exploring and anchoring options every 10 miles.
We had an epic two days way back on December 7th and 8th. As mentioned in my last entry, we took a good weather window to rush off from Bimini (our entry point to Bahamas) and east along the Bahama Bank. That was an incredible day, as the sea was almost dead calm and the depths only 10-20 feet. So the kids had a spectacular time perched on the deck watching the turquoise water with regular sightings of jellyfish, starfish and one shark! In between the hours of sea gazing they swung from the jib sheets, lazed about on the boom and climbed the shrouds as high as they could go. It was glorious. The water was so still that, at one point, we shut off the engine and jumped in for a swim while Jazzy Lady drifted along with no land in sight any direction we looked. That night we anchored with still no land in sight. It is a published anchoring way point but feels so bizarre because it is exposed from every angle. We wouldn’t have done it in rough conditions but it is common practice in calm weather. Also, we had a ‘buddy boat’ with us. We’d crossing over from Florida with them and they were keen to stay on the same path as us; Paula and Byron from Newfoundland:) Very comforting to anchor in a location like that with another boat in sight. The next day we went off the banks and across the ‘tongue of the ocean’, which brings the depths of the Atlantic scooping in between the north west islands of Bahamas. We ended up at New Providence Island, where Nassau is. We anchored at a lovely spot on the south west end of the island, opposite end from Nassau. We were forced to remain there for three nights to wait out bad weather and could not have been happier to stay put for a spell. From our mooring, we could see the island that Captain Jack Sparrow got marooned on in Pirates of the Caribbean. We had a glorious day of snorkelling and lazing about with our buddy boat pal, Byron followed by a ‘sun-downer’ visit aboard Sea Whisperer with our Newfoundlander friends.
On the 11th we lifted anchor, bound for the Exumas! Our touch down point was Highbourne Cay. This was pretty emotional, actually, because in 2016 we rented a sailboat for a week with Mark’s parents and did a whirlwind tour from Nassau to the first few cays of the Exumas. At that time we were dreaming of doing this sailing trip but it seemed out-of-reach back then. It was surreal to be sailing into the same harbour three years later on our own boat.
After all this rushing, worried that we were behind the average cruiser’s schedule, it turns out that we are early. Highbourne Cay was very quiet, hardly any boats in the marina. Apparently the cruising scene doesn’t really pick up until after Christmas. Of course, there are pros and cons to this. We are at a point of been quite eager for more social exposure but, at the same time, there is nothing like walking along a pristine beach with not another soul around.
As Annie reported, we found some lively Iguanas at Allen Key. We pulled up to a quiet beach with not a single critter in sight and before we’d finished dragging our dinghy ashore, the hungry creatures came scrambling out of the palm bushes! Unfortunately there are tourists who feed them. We didn’t but we armed ourselves with swimming flippers to guard our ankles when they got uncomfortably close.
On the other side of that island we had some nice snorkelling in a little tidal cut. Our next stop was Shroud Cay. We had a lovely meander through a Mangrove creek and explored a little fresh water spring with an abandoned well. There is a bucket for you to pull up water with. We tasted some and poured some over our heads. Fresh water, when you are
Et surrounded by salt water, feels so decadent.
On the 13th we snorkelled at a sunken airplane on Norman’s Cay in only 5-10 feet of water. This twin engine cargo plane crashed in the 80s, full of cocaine (I think part of the Pablo Escabar drug trafficking era). We got some great underwater footage which we’ll post eventually in videos.
From Norman’s Cay we sailed to Warderick Wells for the night, then carried on to Staniel Cay where we anchored right beside Paul and Cheryl on Distant Shores III a boat from Toronto with a couple who have been cruising for 30 years. They are famous in the sailing community, one of the first crews to make a tv series documenting their travels. Ever since 1995 they’ve been releasing movies for their series. We had a really nice visit with them aboard their brand new Southerly 480. We were a little star-struck, as we have a stack of their DVDs at home but we managed to remain fairly cool during cocktails.
We had spectacular snorkelling in Thunderball Grotto, the site of a famous scene from the James Bond movie, Thunderball. At slack tide you can just barely swim into the caves without going under water. Once you’re in there you look up at a breathtaking chasm and down with snorkel and mask at hundreds of fish 🐠 hovering around. There are two spots where you can dive down and swim through a hole to the outside. I am really proud of the kids. There have already been a handful of times that they have been hesitant and said ‘I’m not going in’ but with a little coaxing they have every time. And they’re always elated with all they’ve discovered once we hop back in the dinghy. As it turns out, Alistair has a fear of high cliffs or cave ceilings falling in him. We’re coaching him through it.
Today, our first in Georgetown, we dinghied across the bay to the town. We found some kids to play with so all is right in the world for Annie and Alistair. We set up shop on a beach with a bar/restaurant called Chat N Chill Cafe. There’s a volleyball court, hanging hammocks, a guy making fresh conch salads on the beach and huge sting rays swimming in the shallows. We will settle in Georgetown for a while, keeping this our home base for a couple of weeks.
12 December 2019
Today we dingyed over in SUPER choppy conditions to an island with iguanas🦎 that where VERY fierce and we almost died!!! On the other side of the island we went snorkelling in a little bay sort of thing where there was a really strong current. This afternoon our plan is to go to a sunken plane reck and drop anchor beside it, snorkel around it for a bit, then pull up anchor and go to the mangroves, drop anchor there and stay there for the night. Tomorrow morning we are going to explore the mangroves in the dinghy. After that we are going to be headed for Staniel key (or Warderick Wells I’m not sure!) and getting there will probably take the rest of the day. Lately we have been watching Christmas movies every night (which Ali and I love!) on the computer 💻 while we eat dinner 🍽. I will now talk about the storage from my prospective! I think that the storage is really annoying because mom and dad are always messing up my room looking for things under my bed 🛏. I also have a little bench in my room where I usually keep my un sorted laundry 🧺, and under that bench is where dad keeps his stuff for the motor so he’s always going in and out of there and throwing all my laundry onto my bed and then I have to clean my room over and over and over again! THE END!
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