Better late than never!
17 October 2020
Although our plan was to stay in Maine and enjoy the typical beautiful Fall until mid October, an early cold snap with nighttime temperatures in the 30s motivated us to try and leave earlier. When we saw a good weather opportunity starting on Saturday the 4th, we scrambled to get ready and left late in the afternoon. Not even a half hour from home Cay Paraiso's "overheat" alarm went on and we crept slowly back home. Thankfully Mike was there to help us in, as the sky was pitch black and we have no lights on the dock.
The current in the Back River is very strong, often containing lots of seaweed and other debris. Dave unclogged one of the thru hulls and that problem was solved. Then there was an issue with the starter and, by the time it was sorted out and fixed, travel conditions weren't favorable anymore.
We finally got going again on Sunday the 12th. The trip out the Sheepscot River and down the coast of Maine was very pleasant but the sea state progressively got worse starting below Portsmouth, NH. By the tine we were adjacent to Gloucester, MA, we decided we couldn't take another 8 hours of it and bailed. We went into the Southeastern Harbor and, unsuccessful at getting a grab with the anchor, we took one of the many unoccupied moorings.
Dave discovered the next morning that the alternator hadn't been charging the batteries the entire way down and they were so low that the boat wouldn't even start. He spent the entire day and next morning troubleshooting and when he ran out of ideas we started calling for help. Despite Gloucester being one of the biggest fishing harbors on the East Coast with resources galore, we had great difficulty finding someone to help us. Columbus Day weekend starts the mad rush here to haul boats and there were neither mechanics nor marina space available. A last ditch phone call to the harbormaster led us to a guy named Donny at Gloucester Railways Marine, a shipyard for the fishing fleet. He went out of his way to accommodate us despite not really being set up for cruisers. He took the time to call his connections in the harbor and was able to identify and fix the problem. When conditions still weren't good for us to leave, he made space for us on his dock amongst the fishing boats, and welcomed us to stay through the weekend. What a guy...
Being right in the middle of a working shipyard gave us the opportunity to watch the hauling of the big fishing vessel "Linda" by marine railway. This process involves floating the boat onto a huge wooden carriage that has been submerged and is then pulled by a huge chain. (See my photos in the gallery). Gloucester Marine Railways is the oldest continuously operating railways in the U.S, having operated since before the Civil War.
We plan to leave at daybreak tomorrow with the intention of stopping for the night somewhere past the Cape Cod Canal. It looks like we may have several good days. It's getting cool but our new full enclosure is making a huge difference!
All the way to Maine!
25 June 2020
Our trip through NYC was bittersweet. It was eerily quiet with only the occasional high speed ferry sharing the river with us, yet it was the ideal opportunity to get up close to the Statue of Liberty and see the surroundings without distractions.
We enjoyed anchorages in Port Washington and Port Jefferson, both lovely with beautifully maintained homes and gardens. On our last day in Long Island Sound we had the current with us and decided to push past our destination of Fisher's Island, making it all the way to Cuttyhunk. It was getting foggy and dark when we unsuccessfully attempted to anchor just outside the harbor. The winds were light so we just put out a lot of anchor chain and, thankfully, stayed put overnight.
Our trip through the Cape Cod Canal was swift and uneventful, but it was cold and starting to rain when we came out of it. We were hoping to go the rest of the way home to beat the north winds predicted but decided, instead, to head for Gloucester and wait for better weather. Conditions improved before we got there and we were were able to push on. By the time we were passing Portsmouth, NH the full moon was beautiful but the seas were 4-5 feet, about 4 seconds apart and on our stern quarter, making for a ride that some people describe as "corkscrewing." Fog started moving in as we moved north along the Maine Coast, and by the time we were right off of Seguin Island, we couldn't see any land contour whatsoever. We blindly made our way up the Sheepscot River with 5 ft following seas and total reliance on our chart plotter, and arrived home safely at around 7 a.m, June 6th.
Cay Paraiso left Maine in Fall '14 and hadn't returned since. We are delighted to have her back on our dock where we can work on her at our leisure and admire her from our sunroom windows. Although we said we would never make the trip again, we enjoyed taking it more slowly, enjoying the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound instead of pushing offshore and trying to make good time. We're thinking now that this may be our new normal! So, until next season....
Moving northward... Slowly!
31 May 2020
After our shallow excursion through the shortcut past St. Andrews Sound, we anchored in the Umbrella Creek. A severe thunderstorm came through with gale force winds and torrential rains, dragging us over to the mud shore. Fortunately, the incoming tide enabled us to float off and set the anchor again.
On our trips north in the Spring, we are usually able to travel a good portion offshore. This year, however, our only weather opportunity up until now was from St. Catherine's Sound in Georgia to the South Edisto River in South Carolina. From there, we had a pretty uneventful trip up the ICW to the Neuse River, NC.
Although we had decided to take Cay Paraiso all the way back to Maine this year, we were getting north faster than we wanted to and stopped at Northwest Creek Marina in New Bern, where we usually leave the boat for the summer. We decided it would be good spending a little time where we had a vehicle, we could take walks and where there was very little Covid. We ended up being there for three weeks because of Tropical Storm Arthur. Dave got a head start on his golf game at the nearby driving range and we both got some badly needed exercise.
We chose the Dismal Swamp route to Norfolk, VA rather than the Virginia Cut. The Dismal Swamp's raw beauty and its lack of commercial vessels and fast power boats makes it a more relaxing choice in exchange for a little more time. I had only been this way once and Dave, twice. It did not disappoint!
We had also only been up the Chesapeake Bay once before and with conditions borderline offshore, we enjoyed a trip though it once again. Except for one morning of dense fog and another of higher than expected wind and waves, we had an uneventful several days with lovely anchorages at night.
We arrived in Cape May Saturday and plan on leaving today for Sandy Hook, NJ. We will arrive around daybreak, sleep a few hours, then Cay Paraiso will make her first excursion ever through NYC and Long Island Sound. We're looking forward to this new adventure!
More pictures in the gallery...
We made the best of it!
16 April 2020
It was difficult, at first, to figure out how the Bahamian pandemic restrictions applied to boaters. Initially the orders were to stay at home with exercise allowed up to 90 minutes in your neighborhood. Then, exercise was limited to your yard. What is your "yard" or your "neighborhood" when you are on a boat? We decided not to go to Cat Island based on the "no inter island travel" rule and the fact that Cat would only put us even further from the States during all the uncertainty. Also, the Exuma cays are mainly uninhabited and we figured anchoring in remote spots would be safe for all and would enable us to take walks, snorkel and swim. Beaches were closed but sand bars would be okay.
As cases increased and as rules were being broken, restrictions tightened. Curfews for all businesses including grocery and fuel started being enacted. At that point cruisers began getting more clarification on how to function within the restrictions. We were encouraged to return to our home ports and no one was allowed ashore for any reason. By then we were only getting off the boat to swim right nearby. Not even that would be allowed now.
Fortunately we had gotten food and fuel right before the curfews were put into place and had moved to the gorgeous surroundings of Pipe Creek. We were there for roughly 2 weeks while we waited for a weather window to cross to Florida.
After a very difficult crossing, we made it into Lake Worth. We had hoped to aim a little further north but conditions prevented us from doing so. A pattern of back to back fronts has been moving through the area and is expected to continue through the rest of the month. So far, all windows for going offshore have been too short to be worth our while. So, we're slogging along in the ICW.
Today, ahead of winds expected to climb into the 30s, we decided to bypass St. Andrews Sound (Georgia) and take an alternate scenic and protected route we thoroughly enjoyed 5 years ago.The highlight was seeing a group of at least a half dozen wild hogs. The low point was giving the keel a thorough mud scrub in a stretch of the route that has obviously shoaled since our last passage through. Depths read between 4 and 4.5 (we draw 4.5) for 2 significant stretches slowing us a bit but, thankfully, never stopping us. Whoops!
Moving down the chain
21 March 2020
We headed south and anchored by Little Sampson Cay for the first time. Until 2013 it was home to the Sampson Cay Club, a popular Exuma resort and marina. The island is owned by billionaire John Malone, recognized around the time of the resort closure by Fortune Magazine as the "largest landowner in the U.S." There are still docks and 5 villas remaining for his private use. 121 acre Big Sampson Cay is presently for sale by Sotheby's for 9.5 million dollars.
While at Little Sampson we dinghied around to nearby Over Yonder Cay, a 72 acre luxury private island with 4 villas, powered by three wind turbines and a 1.5 acre solar field. In case you're interested, rentals start from $44,000 plus taxes per day for a party of up to 12.
Yet another front approached threatening winds in the 30s, so we chose to return to Norman's Cay for its great northerly and easterly protection. We enjoyed another 5 days there and still didn't get tired of it, this time exploring the massive sand bars that are exposed in the Pond at low tide. On our way south again, we provisioned and were finally able to do laundry for the first time in almost a month! We finally met up again with friends Rex and Amy, who we hadn't seen in 4 years.
The seas on the Sound were still bigger than we liked from the stiff easterly winds and we REALLY wanted to catch some lobsters, so we continued south on the Banks west of Great Exuma. We were hoping that the remoteness of the area might improve our chances. Many boats don't venture over there because of the shallow areas. We timed the tides, had no problems, and enjoyed some great sailing and solitude. Dave was able to spear 2 lobsters with his Hawaiian Sling at our second anchorage. They weren't very big, but we thoroughly enjoyed them as part of a surf 'n turf dinner. The snorkeling there was fantastic as well.
We returned from out on the Banks to get protection from more winds coming. Our anchorage in Williams Cove, behind Lee Stocking Island, has become another on our list of new favorite spots. Home to the Perry Institute for Marine Science for almost 3 decades, the island is now unoccupied. The facility looks like a ghost town with most of the buildings and equipment still present but abandoned. There are many hiking trails, some well-marked and others not. We hiked one, the "Loyalist Trail," which ran through dense vegetation, parallel for about a mile with a stone wall. It was very difficult to find as well as to navigate because it was pretty overgrown. (We won't be doing that one again)... The prettiest trails ran along the many beaches and spectacular cliffs.
A big part of our story this year is the phone app Dave found called Geo Tracker. It uses Google Maps and enables us to record our tracks and find our way if we get lost. Many of the trails we've discovered are from satellite views not seen on our charts.
Tomorrow we plan on moving a little further south to an old favorite spot, Boysie Cay. From there we plan on crossing to Cat Island, one of the "out islands." It's quiet and sparsely populated, yet it has whatever provisions we might need. With all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, we feel like staying in the Bahamas for now makes more sense than trying to get home. At present, we are expected to minimize travel between islands except for when we need essentials. Although the marinas are closed to transients, they are open for fuel.
We're sending love to our family and friends in the States as you weather
the chaos there...
There are 20 photos in the gallery to check out...
Aaah, the Exumas
25 February 2020
Normans Cay is part of the Exuma chain near the northern end. We had never visited before partly because we wanted to get further down to some of the better known spots and partly because we'd heard it was difficult to access. This is somewhat true, but well worth the effort - Normans may be our favorite location. Seeing a stretch of unsettled weather with high winds, we decided to get into Normans Pond - a very large, totally protected body of water. So early one morning, on a high tide we crept into the tricky little entrance, tucked into a corner on the east side and dropped anchor. We haven't left yet and we've explored the entire island. The best beaches we've found, wildlife, water colors changing with the tides, very calm in all winds - we like it all.
And there's nobody here! Only shallow draft boats and adventurous cruisers who don't want much company bother. Very few live here either. There's a reason for that. The very large airstrip at the southern end of the island was built in the 1970's for drug trafficking. Carlos Lehder, a Columbian, found the island and changed the way that cocaine was imported to the US. Cargo planes from Columbia were off loaded and refueled here. Cocaine was then loaded onto smaller planes with enough range to reach remote air strips in Georgia, South Carolina and North Florida.
Lehder's operation was a major part of the Medellin Cartel and large volumes of cocaine passed through here. Lehder bought out most residents, bought the small hotel and restaurant and basically owned the island. The airstrip was patrolled by guards with assault rifles and attack dogs. US DEA became aware, but got no cooperation from the Bahamian government who were getting huge cash payments. Also, our State Dept didn't want to upset the Bahamian government because they were allowing us a large military installation on Andros for watching Cuba during the Castro years. So this went on for years and huge sums of money were made here.
Eventually, this got shut down in the early 1980's and Lehder is in a US prison (though with a reduced sentence since he agreed to testify against Manuel Noriega.) The Bahamian government seized everything and some developers are slowly getting things going. The marina lagoon has been opened to the sea and construction is underway there. But MacDuffs is still the only restaurant and only a handful of homes are scattered around the island.
Thus, we find it a nearly private paradise. Marine researchers say this lagoon is a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks in April, but we'll be moving down the Exuma chain by then.......