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.......
16 February 2020
Our crossing from Lake Worth to Great Harbor Cay started off with calm seas and light winds. We rolled for a couple of hours in the middle of the Gulf Stream but then the seas and winds were calm again until about midnight. Winds and close together waves on the nose came earlier than predicted so we "bashed" for the remaining part of the trip and arrived in the marina around 10:30 a.m. We had never travelled that part of the Northwest Providence Channel before with its busy commercial traffic. In addition to fuel tankers and cargo ships going in and out of Freeport, Grand Bahama we passed 7 cruise ships en route to either Coco Cay in the Berrys or Nassau. Needless to say, between the conditions and the traffic, it was not difficult to stay awake.
We stayed in the Great Island Marina for 8 nights because of winds. It was difficult to explore much by dinghy because of the weather, but we managed to get in a few nice beach walks and we used the marina bicycles to explore the town and much of the island. Just before we left it was calm enough to dinghy through the intricate mangroves in Shark Creek, a trip only to be taken at high tide.
Although we knew it would be a little uncomfortable because of seas and wind direction, we ventured out of the marina on Weds.2/12 and made our way down to Soldier Cay. We were finally able to anchor in the beautiful blue Bahamian water, drop the dinghy and go for our first swim. The next day we took the inside route along Hoffman's Cay at high tide, well aware that the shallow depths would be a challenge. Sure enough, we bumped several times and had to back off in one spot, but Dave was determined to try to get through and we did!. Next time I think we could fine tune our course a little and make it through without stopping...
We anchored in the channel behind Little Gaulding Cay and enjoyed a beautiful view of the multiple small cays around us for 2 nights. We hiked to Hoffman's Blue Hole and enjoyed a dip in its seemingly bottomless water and we walked several of the gorgeous, unspoiled surrounding beaches. It was our first time in that area and we now appreciate its reputation for having some of the prettiest anchorages in the Bahamas. I could have stayed there longer but we needed to grab a good weather window to move south to Nassau.
We attempted to fish on our way down early yesterday but arrived with no fish and 2 fewer lures. We've provisioned with fuel and food and plan on heading out tomorrow.... destination Exumas! Once again we'll be achieving our goal of getting there by Dave's birthday. Yay! Check out the pics in the gallery...
Hanging out in Stuart
01 February 2020
When we rented a car before we flew home to Maine, we drove over to Clewiston (on the SW side of Lake Okeechobee) to visit my cousins. I hadn't seen two of them in well over a decade, so it was really fun to catch up. Hopefully we can make it an annual event!
As I expected, our trip home was a whirlwind. We were sorry we didn't get to see Eric, Sara and the kids, but we had a nice visit with Mike and I got to spend some fun time with Hutch and Morgan. We were fortunate to get snow and I even downhill skied for the first time in a decade.
We kept the car for a week when we returned to Stuart and did some exploring. We had a guided tour of Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge Museum on Hutchinson Island. Built in 1876, it is the last remaining of ten refuges built for shipwrecked sailors in Florida. The organization that ran it, The United States Life-Saving Service, was a predecessor to today's U.S. Coast Guard.
Ross Witham Beach, right nearby, was named after Ross Witham, an early biologist in charge of the Department of Natural Resources turtle rearing program in Stuart. He was one of the country's first turtle conservationists.
We also visited the Elliott Museum, also on Hutchinson Island. The most interesting exhibit there was of historic cars, including one of the largest collections in the world of Ford Model A and Model AA commercial vehicles.
We checked out several nearby beaches but our favorite was the Hobe Sound Beach, abutted by a national wildlife refuge. We were unable to get in the water due to rough surf and an abundance of Portuguese man o' war following high winds, but we enjoyed walking the long stretch of undeveloped beach.
We've been watching the forecasts since we returned from Maine and there have been a few marginal opportunities to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas but nothing we've been comfortable with. We've had some cold nights requiring our little portable propane heater for comfort, but for the most part the weather has been pleasant. We have been taking extensive walks, averaging 6 miles. We usually opt for the route in the photo or some variation of it. The riverfront boardwalk that surrounds the historic district begins right at the marina and connects with the Banyan Tree lined campus of the Cleveland Clinic, then into riverfront neighborhoods of beautifully landscaped homes. We've been listening to audiobooks which helps to pass the miles. Other than that Dave's been doing boat chores, I've been cooking and vacuum sealing and we've been reading like crazy. Sunset Bay Marina really caters to cruisers and has been a very comfortable place to stay.
It finally looks like we may have a window to cross on Monday. We plan to leave for Lake Worth tomorrow morning, anchor near the inlet, and leave Monday mid day for Great Harbor in the Berry Islands. It will be roughly a 22 hour trip. This year we will be trying out myisland wifi, a mobile hotspot rental with unlimited data. We'll set it up when we get there and will post again then!
Check out more photos in the gallery...
Finally, the Treasure Coast of Florida!
07 December 2019
Conditions in the multiple Sounds in Georgia can get pretty snotty but, overall, we cruised through them uneventfully and mainly with fair currents. I sort of hated bypassing Cumberland Island, but we decided this year to leave the dinghy deflated on the bow until we got somewhere warm and could launch it easily.
We tried a new marina in St. Augustine (the Marker 8 Marina), right across the river from the Municipal Marina. Other than the strong current there limiting its access to slack tide only, we found the facilities quite boater-friendly. Right across the Bridge of Lions from town, it was very convenient and much quieter than the Municipal Marina. The replica of the Santa Maria was in town and the Christmas lights were turned on while we were there. We never get tired of walking through the historic district.
We made it to Stuart in the St. Lucie River the day before Thanksgiving. The Sunset Bay Marina, where we are on a mooring, sponsored a nice Thanksgiving potluck dinner. They provided the turkey and fixings while the cruisers brought sides or desserts.
Stuart, the 'Sailfish capital of the World" is a great little town and the marina is right in the heart of it. We walk daily all around the area and there is a free courtesy shuttle that runs 3 times a week from the marina to all the big box stores, Publix, CVS, etc. So far we have managed fine without a car, but we plan on renting one for a week before we go home to explore a little and load up on some provisions we'll need as we continue on in January.
Dave has managed to keep up with Ohio State football and especially enjoyed the Michigan game. Little did he know that the guy rooting for Michigan while they watched the game in the marina, turned out to be on the boat right behind us. Lets just say he wasn't very enthusiastic when Dave introduced himself to him the next day...
We're looking forward to going home to Maine for a few weeks on December 17th. Happy Holidays to everyone!
(More pics in the gallery)