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Epilogue…

Ok – we are a few MONTHS late in providing this last update, but I think the reason for the delay is the update itself. Before you think that something happened to cause the delay, think the absolute, complete opposite.

If you can suffer through a few more photos, we’ll put a nice bow on it in the end…

We’ll start with the girls. Tali came back to her sailing lessons and regattas, and junior lifeguard camp. Savy continued to look for an audience taking part in a musical theater camp. They started school without fanfare and have transitioned from boat school to Montessori school smoothly. A side note… after talking to some of the home/boat schooling families and the challenges that folks faced with their school systems at home while cruising, we can’t say enough about the Montessori curriculum and its flexibility to educate through experience allowing the child to drive the focus. When we do something like this again (subtle, right?), the biggest challenge for education will not be content, but likely social. Those daily ‘arguments’ and hurt feelings that kids go through at school are invaluable, and having them in a smaller circle of peers limits that experience…

Tali racing in a regatta… She loves her boat, “Sassy.”

She’s quickly adding to her trophy case… For the record, she is less interested in the trophy and more interested in making sure she beats the boys!!!

The girls changed in so many ways, but confidence is definitely one of the top three.

We came back and adjusted a different speeds… Becky was at work the week after we returned treating patients, and Chris was still glued to the weather report looking for the next front or low pressure system that would require us to change anchorages, or daily trips to Intermezzo to make sure everything was OK. (We’ve only had a boat on that mooring for 14 years without incident… why was he checking so much?)

People ask us about things we didn’t expect. From Chris’ perspective, there were two. First one was the amount of time and mental energy focused on our safety and security. For folks that are fans of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom two levels of the triangle. Second, the re-entry experience, which is directly related to the first. You just don’t shut off focusing on safety and security when you walk back into life in suburban New Jersey.

Another question we get is focused on what is different now that we are back. That’s the hard one… one answer is nothing and the other answer is everything – both are accurate. Before publishing the epilogue, we were waiting for that “ah ha” change, or that simple answer to what is different, but we waited and waited, and things are basically the same. So if everything changed, then what is it? The best way to describe it is that our outlook has changed – experiences are important, being with the right people is important, and each person’s life is unique and we have more power and ability to make ours unique than we may have thought before. The Jones’ are such a powerful force instilled from our childhoods… its such a powerful force because it is unconscious. Many people we have met know this and many other people that we know, knew this, but we did not connect at that level. So in short, we continue to wake up every day and go about our lives, but those daily micro-decisions we make are based on a different objective. While nothing looks different now, 5/10/20 years from now we will be in a far different spot than we would have been without this experience.

As far as our daily lives, Becky’s hours increased at work (not quite her choice), but she’s enjoying being back. She’s also coaching a local “Girls on the Run Team” and getting back involved with the school. Chris is continuing his search for work (he really couldn’t put together a coherent professional sentence not focusing on sailing or weather until the middle of August). Things are moving very well, it just takes time. He got back on the water and helped one of our friends move their boat from New York to Norfolk – a 2 night trip that fulfilled his offshore sailing fix. He is also spending time capturing this experience in a way that will continually remind us of what we accomplished as a family through a graphic and turning this blog into a hardcover book as a memento. And now, he’s back in his element, Intermezzo is out of the water and requires all sorts of work to get her ready for her first winter on the hard in NJ.

Savy helping Dad clean the waterline of Intermezzo.

As far as the next chapter… maybe a “Land Yacht” (yes, aka RV) to see the United States before Tali goes to High School? We’ll see, we know that the kids activities are going to start driving much of our lives, but just throwing the idea out there helps keep us focused.

In the end, our intermezzo delivered on its objective to be a break between two parts of our lives. We cannot thank you all enough for the support you provided throughout this journey.

Lots of love,

Becky & Chris

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Back in the US Again

If you think the picture looks familiar, it is… Charleston, South Carolina. It was our first milestone when we arrived for Thanksgiving, and now it is our arrival back in the US. We saw the Ravenel Bridge after 55 hours and close to 400 miles offshore from a small, uninhabited island named Great Sale Cay in the Northwestern Abacos.

We didn’t make it here without enjoying the last bit of the Bahamas though. We left off at Hopetown on Elbow Cay. While we had some weather coming, it was time to move on and explore, so we headed north to Great Guana and anchored in Fishers Bay. We explored the island a bit before the weather set in and enjoyed some time in the pool. Unfortunately, we were stuck on the boat for the next 3 days with squall after squall passing through. Worse yet, we entered “bareboat charter land.” We always joke when we charter in the BVIs, that they’ll give a boat to anybody, but it has a different meaning when they are anchoring next to your boat. We had a little excitement with one of those bareboat charters who decided to anchor upwind of a rocky shoal in the middle of the anchorage. He and his 7 close friends were in the dinghy within 15 minutes of dropping the hook – didn’t hang around to see if the anchor was set, or if there was any weather coming… A squall came through and when everything cleared, the boat was hard aground on the shoal on a falling tide. Chris and a group of 4 other dinghies went over to lend a hand – they got the boat off the shoal and things were back to normal with the bareboat anchored well clear of everyone else.

So you’re sitting on an idyllic beach and everything is perfect… then this boxy structure shows up and anchors just close enough to walk to. What can it be?

You guessed it – a swim up bar. (Sorry for the finger in the frame)

 

What a great message…

Chris with his girls enjoying some pool time…

Once the weather cleared, we were off to Treasure Cay on Great Abacos. We heard wonderful things about this spot through our travels, especially the beach. Plus, it is the main island of the Abacos, so there were plenty of places to provision for the trip back to the states. We’ve found that keeping the boat in one spot, and renting a car to see the larger islands makes sense, so we did the same thing here.

A wooden pier over 800 ft long…. it was the original pier for the mailboat to come in to.

While neither one of us are photographers… this seemed like a cool shot.

This old logging path was a bear to find… the tour books talked about signs, maps had it on the other side of the street… but we found it!

…A blue hole that has been explored by National Geographic and has artifacts going back hundreds of years ago. There were warning signs all over the place when we got there. It was clear that this is an important site and they don’t want tourists finding it or messing with it (which would explain the lack of road signs)

Smiling kids ! ! ! Priceless…

Obligatory beautiful beach picture… the color where the clouds break is spectacular!

We also wanted to see Green Turtle Cay – the weather was not cooperating and we had friends that were expecting us, so we took a ferry across and explored the island. Dave and Kathy are friends of Becky’s parents and have known Becky since she was 10. They have been coming to the Bahamas for years, so having their knowledge (and golf cart) was a great way to see the island.

The girls fed the turtles at Farmers Cay in the Exumas, but look at their comfort here at Green Turtle Cay…

Lunch at Miss Emily’s, the birthplace of the Goombay Smash with our friends the Rizzo’s!

One of the most valuable and truly life-changing experiences of this trip has been the people we’ve met. The pictures don’t cover it – you can’t take a picture of a conversation over coffee talking about the weather with a new friend, or a picture of a conversation about future plans with a group of people who are all taking a path less traveled. Just because these relationships don’t make it into pictures, it does not minimize their impact! Back in the Exumas, we parted ways with our friends on Liberator III. We have been keeping in touch, but with our plans to cross, we know that the next time we see each other, it will not be as part of this journey. They put together this video of our shared time in the Bahamas, and we think it is great to share with you all.

 

At this point, we had a weather window starting to emerge with over 100 miles to travel prior to stage for the crossing. One challenge we did not expect was how dependent we had become on the internet for our weather. As we moved further west, there were less cell towers, and our staging point had no cell signal at all. This wouldn’t be an issue if we were just crossing over to FL, but we planned a 3 day passage to Charleston. Weather forecasts are pretty reliable out three days, but quickly become less accurate on day 4 and 5. The urgency for this window was that we were starting with the highest winds and seas at the beginning, moving into less winds and down to dead calm by the end. So if the forecast was off, we would just have less wind sooner.

Our plan called for departing Great Sale Cay at 9AM and then traveling 9 hours to the edge of the Bahama Bank to a place called Mantanilla Shoal. Our plan was to drop the hook ‘in the middle of nowhere’ for the night with a 5AM departure. We were trying to limit our passage to one overnight. The two adults could have gone all the way to NJ, on 4 hour watches, but it is tough to tell the girls (who are not on 4 hour watches) that they can’t bother “mommy” or “daddy” when they are not at helm, because they need to be napping/sleeping. Things didn’t quite pan out… the anchorage ‘in the middle of nowhere’ had 4-5 foot seas. While the boat would have been fine and, honestly, the ride at anchor would not have been that bad, sending either one of us up to the bow of the pitching boat to deploy the anchor (and then retrieve in the dark at 5AM) wasn’t worth the risk, so we decided to push on. The girls were fantastic – once they got their sea legs, with the boat dialed in with 1 reef in the main and 2 in the jib – it was smooth sailing. The wind eventually died, as forecasted, we started the engine and motored in to Charleston Harbor dropping the hook across from the Battery… the place where they tied the pirates to the wall at low tide and left them there for three tide cycles to make sure they were dead.

While Tali didn’t sit on the 3AM watch, she did have to plan the entire passage the good old fashioned way. Like we talked about before, we have multiple electronic navigation tools, but before you rely on the electronic tools, you have to understand what they are doing.

Tali started with a list of GPS Waypoints which managed maximizing our time in the Gulf Stream (which flows north at 3+ kts), with the comfort of the ride with the remaining northern component in the wind which kept the seas 6-8 ft. She plotted each point, determined the heading, and based on an assumed speed, the expected arrival time at each waypoint. This was her ‘final exam’ for all of the math work she has been doing throughout the trip. It was great to see her get excited about applying things to the ‘real world.’

Sunrise at sea…

With sunrise comes cleaning off the flying fish from the deck… this particular one is special… it hit the shroud, bounced back and hit the dodger support, hit Chris in the shoulder (the face would have been pretty funny) and then he thought, bounced off the boat… but it was right next to him the whole night.

The adjustment from cruising in the Bahamas, to coming back to the US has been a big one. Since the cruising lifestyle is not permanent for us, it seems like a bit of a transition back to the way things were before we left. It’s very comfortable to get into those old habits. That said, it’s tough to see change within yourself… so looking at the change in Tali and Savy, we can hope that the trip has affected us and our outlook, but only time will tell.

Mom and her girls on the beach at sunset on Sullivan’s Island…

A beach is a beach… the girls spontaneously broke out in cartwheels – might have been the large cup of Gelato they had at dinner…

History lessons continue – Savy is signing the Declaration of Independence at the Charleston Exchange Building. We’re thinking of the ‘final project’ for history for Tali – we’ve covered Native American (Native Bahamian) through Colonization, Piracy, Revolution, to Civil War. If it doesn’t click now, hopefully it does when she takes US History in High School!

Gardens at Boone Hall Plantation… different than Middleton on the way down in that this Plantation was all about generating revenue, even to this day – it is both a tourist destination and a working farm supplying farm to table fruits and vegetables to farm stands and local restaurants.

…no comment.

While we’re back in the States, we are still living on Intermezzo, at the whim of the wind and the tides with no plans to return until July. Between now and then, we’ll head offshore to Beaufort, NC, then take the ICW up to Norfolk (to avoid waiting for a more finicky weather window to get around the Grand Banks). We’ll look to meet friends in Annapolis around Memorial Day with a few repairs on the boat and then head north through the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal to Atlantic City where we will wait for our next offshore hop to Block Island. It didn’t seem right to bring Intermezzo back to Keyport without introducing her to her New England cruising grounds : )

We hope everyone is enjoying spring…

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Such a diverse landscape…

Wow!  Eleuthera was a great surprise…  From initially, just being an island to sail by to get to the Abacos, it now will have a special place in our memories of this trip.  If you look at the chart of Eleuthera, you see a Long Island with very little protection from any other wind direction than east.  The three harbors that do exist either have poor holding, or lots of sunken debris from hurricanes, that can snag your anchor.  That said, while in the Exumas, the more people we talked to, the more people said we couldn’t miss it.  So we dropped the hook in Rock Sound – the best of the three anchorages with good holding and protection from the west if necessary.  We rented a car and explored the island.

It didn’t take long for us to recognize that this was going to be place we were going to enjoy.  In a 4-wd rental we introduced the girls to some off roading shenanigans, we got lost on the island following paved roads, dirt paths, and sandy paths… a few long trips in reverse were required, as we hit either the ‘end of the road’ or sand a little too deep-with no cell service for help to dig us out.

The first part of the island we explored was the east shore in Palmetto Point – lined with isolated houses 50-100 ft up catching the breeze and then a walkway down to flour-like sand below.  This location should be on everyone’s VRBO list for a short getaway.

We ‘borrowed’ the front yard of one of the houses on a tiny dirt road for this photo op. Can you imagine waking up to that view every day!!!

It was getting time for lunch, so we headed to the town in the center of the Island – Governor’s Harbour – the former capital of the Bahamas.  We had a great lunch at Buccaneers and then explored the town.  A few cemeteries, a little history, but the Library caught our attention… it was Easter Monday and offices were closed – it was this point that we decided we were going to need the car for another day.

We visited the library the next day… Book club was just finishing up and Tali headed right to the Kid’s section and found a book on, you guessed it… The Titanic. There was something odd about sitting in a library, browsing books, while having all the beautiful beaches just outside. I guess that’s an indication that we’ve truly immersed ourselves in the cruising life.

We headed north, initially following the Fodor’s guide stopping at all the highlights, including a cave, a tidal pool, the glass bridge, and of course the highly rated watering holes along the way.  As our day progressed and we met more people, we changed our route… ending with pizza night at the Rainbow Inn – this is truly an island-wide event…

Girls in front of French Leave Beach. The first pink sand in Savy’s collection.

Heading into the cave… one of us has fears of darkness/bats/anything cave related – that’s who is taking the picture.

Savy and Tali in the cave…

Chris and Tali headed as deep as they could on an iPhone flashlight and took a selfie. If anyone has the opportunity, you can get a guide to go through the whole cave which exits over the ocean… we just ran out of time!

Our ride home exposed the kids to a close up view of Homecoming (remember the one that sounded good and smelled good from the anchorage?)… well this time, we missed the memo on where it was taking place and the party had spilled out into the only road across the island.  Everyone was in good spirits, but picture Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and driving through it – I’m not sure we ever saw the girls’ eyes so wide!

The next day we revisited some of the highlights and got to some of the places we couldn’t make it to, including Surfer’s Beach.  We got in some last minute shopping at the organic farm stand, and breakfast at a gourmet market (Belgium Waffles, Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs, Homemade Granola and yogurt, and bagels and lox — can you tell that we’ve craved a little bit of home?).  We returned the car and continued our northward travel on the boat.

Hmmmm… this looks interesting

Yes, a nice place to hang out

The next time any of you are on Eleuthera, please check on Chris, this is where we left him.

They just couldn’t wait to get in the ocean after being in the car driving from spot to spot.

Zoomed out a bit, but this was the girls’ favorite spot – the mermaid moon pool!!!

Another one of those pictures that you rarely get…

Not enough swimming, so we got back to the boat and some jumping off the bow.

During our travels we found the French Leave resort which had mooring balls available – don’t have to worry about the bad holding…  We picked up the anchor and had a dead calm, windless motor up to Governor’s Harbour.  Along with the mooring came access to the resort, so the kids got their pool time in, and there happened to be a pool bar for mom and dad-win/win!

This needs a little explaining… at this point we are almost 3 weeks on stern showers alone. A stern shower involves jumping in the salt water, using salt water soap to shampoo and lather up and then a fresh water rinse. The goal is to use the least amount of fresh water as possible to avoid the need to find a place to refill the tanks. We were walking from the dinghy dock to the resort pool (this is the back door of the resort). As we’re walking up the path we see this lonely shower off the back of the building covered by the upper deck and completely private. You know you have had some sort of shift in perspective when you get the kids set up in the pool, the first round of cocktails, and then run back to the boat to get the soap, shampoo and towel to take a shower on the way back to the boat. Out of the mouth of kids… Tali: “Mom, we are really boat people now!”

Who says you can’t take a shower outside the back of a hotel, then get changed and have a fantastic dinner inside the resort? We clean up pretty good for “Boat People”

The next day we headed up to Spanish Wells to prepare for our trip over the Devil’s Backbone – the reef responsible for countless shipwrecks over the years, including a group of loyalists fleeing religious persecution in Bermuda.  They shipwrecked on the backbone and proceeded to spend months living in a cave named Preachers Cave.

Our anchorage was perfect to introduce the girls to the halyard swing – they loved it!

The Devils Backbone experience was a first for Chris… he has never given up the helm of his own boat to a stranger before, but that’s exactly what he did.  We picked up our pilot, Captain Kirtland, just like the cruise ships that come into NY Harbor.  The difference was, Captain Kirt, as we called him, was a wealth of knowledge.  His ancestors go back to the Preachers Cave.

Captain Kirt and Chris during our trip over the Devils Backbone.

We arrived 2 hours later, safely in Harbour Island – a stop that we had on our list of must-sees.  Harbour Island was definitely a bit of a culture shock initially…  beautiful hotels and resorts, sushi restaurants, pink sand beaches, mega yachts, and plenty of people from our neck of the woods.  We got a golf cart and explored the island and then headed to the beach the next day.  It is obvious why so many people come to this quaint Martha’s Vineyard of the Bahamas (including the Vineyard Vines clothed traveling band!)

I know, another beach picture, but the views never get old! This one was simply perfect for the girls, small waves, shallow water, and pink sand!

Savy and Tali in a tree house… what so funny you may ask? Savy lost here shoe in the tree roots : )

Our next big hop was to the Abacos…  this is an open water passage requiring timing of cuts which meant an 0-dark-30 departure.  We couldn’t do that from Harbour Island, so we headed back over the Backbone to Meeks Island for a clear passage out the next morning.  Our 60 mile trip was uneventful and HOT!  Unlike no wind, this trip was worse… this had 6 knots of wind on our stern…  we were traveling a 6 knots… it felt like there was no air – no complaints though.  We arrived safely through the North Bar cut and anchored behind Wilson’s City (of course not really a city, but protection from the South and then West… we had a front coming through).

What do the girls do on a long windless passage? Give each other pedicures of course…

People always ask about our concerns with weather and storms… we’ve been out for over 5 months and have not run into a storm… but we got a doozey at anchor.  40+ knots with two of us in the anchorage.  The anchor alarm went off, (not because we dragged) because the captain drew the wrong circle on the alarm and the wind shifted 180 degrees.  The lightening was truly spectacular – it was like little flashes of daylight where you could see the land, reef, and the other boat to get a reference every minute or so.  With things settled down, we went to bed, but of course – the anchor alarm went off again – the wind settled back to the SSW and the circle was in the wrong spot AGAIN- we weren’t dragging, just spun once again.  The Captain needs to be a little more diligent with his circle drawing – perhaps Savanna can help?

The next day we picked up anchor on our freshly washed boat : ) and headed for Hopetown.  We took a bit of a detour because that cold front had not finished yet.  The good thing about cruising the Bahamas is everything is 15′, so if you have to drop the hook, you just stop, drop the anchor in the middle of nowhere, and ride out the storm.  Of course the storms are not as spectacular during daylight.  We finished our trip, and pulled into Hopetown…

The update is getting a little long, but Karma is an important concept in cruising and we always hope to keep the Karma jar balanced – our luck with a mooring in the harbor should be evidence of that.  Getting in to the harbor at Hope Town brought us over the shallowest water we’ve seen in the Bahamas.  We draw 5.5′ and the depth sounder said 5.5′.  We both decided that whether there was a mooring ball available or not, we’d just spin around the mooring field and wait for the tide to come up – no need to do that twice.  We rounded the corner and then saw the mooring field – the tightest field we have ever been in, packed with boats. Makes those quaint mooring fields in New England seem spacious.  Not able to safely circle for an hour and not willing to go back out through the shallows, we picked up a reserved mooring and had lunch.  We’re very surprised there are not more collisions – there is definitely boat rage going on… 40-50 foot boats racing each other for scarce moorings… there has to be a better way.  Here’s where the Karma comes in… the reserved ball we happened to pick up had a phone number on it.  We called the phone number, a person picked up and said that his reservation was over yesterday and we were welcome to the mooring… : ) We broke out the cocktails and started to settle in.

It really does make the mooring field in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island look spacious…

We got up the next day and explored a little bit to see what we were going to do with our time here.  If Harbour Island was the Martha’s Vineyard of the Bahamas, Hopetown is the Cuttyhunk.  Cute, small, friendly, quaint – all words that describe this town on Elbow Cay

The photographer in this picture has an equally terrifying fear, compared to the cave photographer, of falling… he had the iPhone in one hand and a steel bar on the outside of the lighthouse in the other!

It’s hard to believe, but while we’re here, we’re starting to keep an eye on the weather to put together a plan for crossing back to the US for the end of the month.  We’ll look to move north to Green Turtle Cay to see some friends there and then begin to stage, in earnest for our crossing.  That said, between then and now are beautiful beaches and more interesting people to meet.  We’ll be wringing every last ounce of this experience over the next couple weeks.

Looks like things are warming up, temporarily, in the Northeast… enjoy the weather!

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Goodbye Exumas, Hello Eleuthera…

Happy Easter ! ! ! Well it wasn’t a traditional Easter, that’s for sure. We left our anchorage and had a fantastic 50 mile sail up to Rock Harbor Sound in Southern Eleuthera. There is truly nothing better than the wind blowing from the east at 15 knots when you are traveling north – it was perfect! We finished the day dropping the anchor and Becky topping her Christmas Prime Rib with a Bacon-wrapped Pork Tenderloin… that plus a great Scribe Chardonnay sealed an Easter Sunday that we will not soon forget… but where have we been since we left Great Exuma?

A little grainy, but this is Easter Dinner on Intermezzo anchored in Rock Sound.

We left great Exuma the day after St Patricks Day – clearly we were responsible adults the night before to get up early and start the trip north. Our first stop was Lee Stocking Island – home of the abandoned Marine Science Lab that Tali mentioned in her blog. It is very difficult to understand how it is better/cheaper/makes sense to abandon all of those assets. The foundation that ran it still exists, but details on why the island was left the way it was are scarce.

There must have been over 30 fish tanks… while dirty, in fine condition.

Chris was a little too nosey, he entered the office to get a closer look at the files and then heard a rather loud creak and felt the floor bend a little too much… time to leave that building…

From Lee Stocking Island, we dropped the hook off of Rudder Cut Cay – home of the sunken Steinway being played by a Mermaid. We had lunch, launched the dinghy and went exploring, killing time for slack tide, which is really the only time to snorkel the piano (unless you are Michael Phelps and want to swim in a resistance pool). We took the dinghy over to Musha Cay (David Copperfield’s island) to see it from a distance – no landing permitted. There were also some great caves to explore, and at low tide, you could bring the dinghy right in and beach it. The piano and mermaid did not disappoint – it is actually Savy’s top spot for the trip.

“Savy – keep away from the clear water – it’s a sand bar…”. It was like a magnet for her… Definitely dinghy captain in her future though.

This was weird – they both finished driving the dinghy and we were repositioning when we turned around and Tali and Savy were sitting there, “waiting for their closeup!” Both of them willing participants in a picture, it had to be taken!

Mom and girls in the cave…

We picked up the anchor the next morning and headed back to Little Farmer’s Cay (remember the story of the captain who ended up getting stuck high and dry with the tide). We stayed on the other side of the island this time and did some more exploring. Tali’s blog covers much of the details (by the way, have you noticed that she is getting ahead of us… hmmmm – wonder who the slackers are in this family : ). The one point of Little Farmers that is worth expanding on, though, is the history. The island was settled by a freed slave with her two sons, Michael Nixon and Adam Brown. They later purchased the island from the British Crown. The original settlers willed the land to their descendants, who to this day can build on the island, but not sell to outsiders. The conversations that we had with the residents were one more interesting than the other… everyone (except one person) is family on the island. The island is just not that big – I can’t imagine a family squabble…

Tali and Savy petting the sea turtle… It was amazing that a few taps on a conch shell brought these animals in from the bay to be fed and pet.

We spent a few days at Little Farmers to wait for some weather to come through and then it was off to Staniel Cay to catch up with friends that were finishing their spring break vacation with family. It was great to catch up with folks from home, but really – the best part was seeing the girls get to play with their friends. Since they had a powerboat, we were able to move far further in an afternoon than we could sail in a day. We headed up to Compass Cay to swim with the Sharks and hike to Rachel’s Bubble Bath. It was a fantastic day!

Those smiles were the theme of the visit.

You have to swim with the sharks when you visit the Exumas, but I’m not sure Savy expected him to swim that close ; ). Check out those kicks!!!!

So we’ve gone from a pet dog, to a pet pig, to now a pet shark?

Girls hiking up the tidal stream to Rachel’s Bubble Bath.

Hanging out in the Bubble Bath created by waves breaking over the rocks.

Our stay at Staniel finished with our niece, Jenna, joining us from Nashville. This is a big deal – to have weather, schedule, (and Pluto) align to have someone meet us to spend a few nights on the boat has been near impossible, but Jenna made it ! ! !

Cockpit selfie with Jenna…

We left Staniel Cay and headed next door to Big Majors to revisit the Pigs and the Thunderball Gotto. We didn’t quite time the Grotto right with the tide (insert Michael Phelps reference here), so we had to abandon… however, the pigs did not disappoint.

Remember the pig that Tali was holding from a couple posts back? He grew up a bit in the past month!

We picked up anchor early the next day to head to Cambridge Cay, back into the National Park. It was a nice motor sail, until we rounded the corner to get into the north side of the anchorage. There was only a 400 yard piece of raging water with breaking waves separating us… darn current running against wind. We joke, we’ll have it all figured out for next time (ha ha ha!!!). So we did a u-turn (literally) and headed for what ended up being our first private anchorage in the Bahamas off of Obrien’s Cay. It was one of those situations where we looked at each other, looked at the chart, made sure that we were only a few hundred yards away from two top snorkeling spots and wondered why no one was there… we dropped the hook, waited for slack tide (getting the theme of snorkeling in the Bahamas at this point about the tides) and headed out to the Aquarium (which literally looks like you are swimming in a fish tank), and a plane wreck. The girls loved it and we have to admit – the Aquarium is some of the best snorkeling we’ve seen.

After a great night of stargazing in our private anchorage, we picked up the anchor the next morning and turned back south (momentarily) for Black Point on Great Guana Island – a must stop for cruisers. We dropped the anchor, launched the dingy and headed in to explore the town. Jenna’s flight left the next morning, so we did not have a lot of time to explore, but did walk the main street. It took us a while to figure it out, but there was something very unique about this town. The restaurants/bars/hangouts, were all on the street. The owners’ houses were behind the bars/restaurants, on the water with the view. So the proverbial happy hour overlooking the harbor for sunset did not exist, except for a nice gazebo behind the laundromat – yes you read that right. So what does this crowd do, go into one of the bars, without a view, pick up some roadies (which, BTW, needed to be poured in plastic cups because they could not technically serve alcohol until 6PM on Good Friday), walked back to the gazebo and enjoyed the breeze and the view. Finished up the day with happy hour and snacks with fellow cruisers and then headed back to the boat.

Black Point is not far from Staniel Cay, where we needed to drop off Jenna, so we rolled out the genoa and had a very slow and relaxing downwind sail. We anchored, had lunch and Chris dinghy’d Jenna into the airport. We did some last provisioning ashore, hoisted the dinghy and prepared for our offshore trip up the Exuma Sound.

As we write this, we have stumbled onto another Bahamian tradition – homecoming… so we are downwind of Rock Sound Homecoming – smells fantastic and sounds great!

Happy Easter to everyone…

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Turning North…

It is amazing how fast and how slow this experience goes at the same time. The trip down the Intracoastal felt like it would never end, the time waiting for weather windows in Fort Lauderdale and Bimini lasted forever; but in the midst of all of that, we have hit our southernmost point and are turning north.

Since our last post, which is over a month ago (have to get better at posting more regularly – that’s for sure), we were leaving Staniel Cay ahead of a front that would bring strong winds from the North. On our way south, we stopped at Little Famers Cay. No pictures from this stop, but the memorable part was a poor captain, who brought a party of about 6 people out to see the Exumas. He anchored the 36′ center console off the beach, and when he came back, the tide went out and he was hard aground… We had to have a few drinks with him and help to entertain his guests while they waited for the tide to come up. The worst part, and you can’t make this up, there was a bucket that was left on the beach to use as a step to get off the boat. The bucket marked the point at which the boat would float again – a dog came up on the beach, and picked up his leg to christen the bucket – this poor captain could write this day off as the worst day ever.

From Little Farmers Cay, we traveled south to Great Exuma. Because the weather was expected to be nasty, we got a slip at Emerald Bay Marina – next to two resorts… Sandals and Grand Isle. Definitely a nice place. Our trip down was a bit eventful – the mainsail would not unfurl, the boat was filling up with water, and it smelled like an electrical fire… Before you get worried, I’ll back up…

Ever since we went offshore from Fort Lauderdale to Miami and anytime we were in any seas thereafter, we would get water in the bilge. The problem with leaks on boats is that the final resting place of the water is nowhere near the source of the leak. The leak was not enough to sink the boat, so we just kept an eye on it, and used a wet-dry vac to keep it under control on the offshore passages. Every stop we made, we moved a step closer to finding the leak; however, we had still not found the source. On the trip from Little Farmers to Great Exuma, it finally caused enough trouble to keep the boat in the marina until we solved it. One of the times we went down to vacuum out the bilge, there was a distinct smell of an electrical fire… for those that don’t know, fires are the single most dangerous issue you can have on a boat. We resolved the smell and isolated the power, and safely pulled into the marina – but the issue had to be solved before we would set sail again.

This was the culprit of the electrical smell… on boats, you always have to watch out for the ‘after market’ additions. Ours has a great flat screen TV in the salon. The wiring is all waterproof, except for where the TV plugs into the power. This was a standard plug with a little electrical tape around it – and that was sitting in the bilge where the salt water was coming in… While fiberglass may not be Chris’ strong point, AV is – we had that fixed the first few days in the marina.

The good thing is that we were stuck in the marina for weather for a little over a week, and then because of some weird pricing, there was a breakeven point at 10 days… meaning, if you stayed 10, it was the same price as staying for a month. So the pressure was off and we settled in to explore the island.

The first week, we became Rake ‘n’ Scrape groupies… The local band was great!!! We literally followed them from place to place – it was a fantastic way to experience the local restaurants – not the places in the tourist guides. We explored both Great Exuma and Little Exuma; including a big white tower on a cliff which guided ships to the coast of Little Exuma to pick up salt that was harvested from local salt ponds. We also made it to the tropics… at least we stood south of the Tropic of Cancer.

Not sure if this video will upload, but if you’ve ever wondered what Rake ‘n’ Scrape is, here is a snippet with Tali and Savy dancing. Simply put, a large drum, guitar, bass, and a saw with a screw scraping on the back beat. It creates a great vibe!

Chris and Tali overlooking where the Salt ships would come in to Little Exuma… there is really no harbor here – wonder how they actually got the boat to shore?

Tali and Savy standing on the Tropic of Cancer. It was great to connect the Tropic of Cancer to the Celestial Navigation and sun sites Tali was taking.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch Chris had a chance to go through Fiberglass 101 and 201 trying to fix this mysterious leak which we had narrowed down to somewhere in the anchor locker.

He thought he had the leak fixed, filled the anchor locker up with water and none ended up in the bilge. Success!!! We were having a good time, so we decided to stay a little longer. One of the benefits of being next to Sandals is that they have a SCUBA diving operation in the marina, including training. Chris signed up for his open water certification and finished up by the end of the week. There was one problem – when we put the anchor back in the anchor locker, the leak started up again… problem was not solved. Hmmmmm premature celebration.

While there is not a ruler in the picture to determine the size, that anchor windless drum is not 6″ in diameter – he was crammed in there pretty tight getting his fill of resin fumes, acetone, etc… All part of cruising in beautiful places.

This is after Chris’ final dive for certification with his instructor, Lincoln, and classmate Kirsty.

Unfortunately, a “masters” in Fiberglass was needed for this issue – it was beyond Chris and all of the other helpful folks in the marina. It was time to bring in the heavys, enter Junior: a local Bahamian boat guy! Just what we were looking for. With some trial and error and deep discussions in the cockpit, which always involved rum shots, he eventually found the source. The anchor locker drain holes were leaking – and though we weren’t convinced that so many gallons of water could sneak through those little holes, Junior was pretty sure he could fix it. After a few days and a number of rum shots he concluded his work and we brought her back out on the high seas. We had a great ‘test sail’ with friends and ended with a dry bilge! Finally!! Now we are free to continue on our way.

Tali, Savy, and our friend Liby from s/v Liberator III on our test sail – it was a beautiful day!

The good thing is that during this repair, there was really no place to go. Those in the Northeast experienced the Bomb Cyclone – well we felt the tail end of it in the Bahamas with a swell that was the largest swell that locals ever remember seeing. We were basically trapped in the marina because we could not get out through the breaking waves.

To the left of the breakwater is the channel leaving the harbor… No one was leaving to bring their boat over those breaking waves!!!

As we look back on the past month, we got into a bit of a routine. The girls made great progress on their schoolwork, we had weekdays and weekends… We rented a car on the day that the mailboat came in with the fresh fruits and vegetables. It was truly living an island life – it didn’t feel like a vacation, but just a different way of living. We had not experienced that to this point. It’s very easy to treat this as a year-long vacation, but first of all, it would be expensive; more importantly, though, it’s not really the experience we signed up for.

One of our excursions on mailboat/provisioning day to the northern end of the island.

And today we are celebrating yet another holiday in Tropic weather. Becky had the Irish Rovers playing this morning preparing the corned beef in the slow cooker and starting the shepherds pie. She befriended the local butcher, and asked him what his thoughts were on getting the corned beef. As luck would have it, he actually lived in Red Bank NJ for a few years and worked under the tutelage of Stewy at Monmouth Meats. He gladly would cure our beef!! Chris scoured the island liquor stores and found some Guinness, the meal was now be complete. So we are currently sitting by the pool sipping Rosè, looking forward to sharing our meal with our fellow boat friends this evening – Sláinte!

With our turn north, it is a halfway point of sorts. We’ll head back through the Exumas, over to Eleuthera – Spanish Wells and Harbour Island, and then on to the Abacos. So while the compass heading changes from South to North, there is still so much to see and experience.

We miss you all…

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Off the grid…

Apologies for being incommunicado for the past month, but we made it to the Exumas!

The last post had us arriving in Bimini, freezing – again, and waiting for a weather window – again. The first major hop was from the US to Bimini, the next major hop is from Bimini to Nassau/New Providence Island across the Great Bahama Bank and then finally from Nassau, over the Exuma Bank to the top of the Exumas – Highborne Cay in our case. These key hops (no pun intended), are a challenge because the prevailing wind is East with either a slight Northerly or Southerly component, and we need to go East in each one of those legs.

We were in Bimini for another two weeks and left on February 1 for Nassau. We settled in with fellow cruisers that were waiting for the same weather window. We got to know many of the locals, had way too much Conch Salad – still haven’t figured out how to make it, but each ‘chef’ definitely has their own subtle differences.

Our crossing window was not ideal, but it would do. On February 1st, we departed at 10am for our 24 hour trip to Nassau. Like we mentioned in the last post, there is something special about sailing at night, but this time, you can start to get into a rhythm for 24 hours. We took 2 hour watches starting at 11pm and then napped in the cockpit. It’s not sustainable for more than one night, but worked very well for us this trip. The girls got their sea legs and woke up to us calling Nassau Harbor Security for permission to enter. It reminded Chris of calling Air Traffic Control to get clearance to land at an airport – it was needed, there were huge cruise ships moving around and we weren’t 20 ft from them (yes – we were a little tired and focused on traffic, so the camera did not make it up – no cool pictures)

On the school front, it was time to get Tali involved in some navigation – she’s been getting the math basics since we left, and it was time to apply them.

While there is triple redundancy on electronic navigation equipment – the basics are still important. Tali is learning to plot a course using our trip from Bimini to Nassau.

During boat school, Chris has been focusing on learning celestial navigation. He was taking his sun sites and showing Tali the ropes – she wasn’t too far off.

Once we arrived in Nassau – Palm Cay Marina on the south eastern side of the island, it was time to wash the boat after the salty crossing, top off fuel and water, and fill the boat up with provisions – from this point on to Georgetown, fresh food was going to be scarce.

The girls were just happy to be some place different than Bimini, but no swimming yet…

We watched the Super Bowl (or at least the first quarter before the kids got a little tired) projected across the pool on a make shift big screen, with stars overhead and waves lapping in the background. Pretty cool way to watch the game – as far as the winner, well there is one Giants fan in the house, so he couldn’t route for either team, and the Pats fan was getting streaming updates from the boat and had high hopes up until the bitter end!!!

We left Nassau on a flat calm day and headed across the Exuma Bank – while we did not get that experience from Bimini, this made up for it.

While the photo does not do it justice – we are in about 15 ft of water, at the top half of the picture, you see the bottom with waves of sand, and the shadow of our mast – truly beautiful. The girls were counting star fish on the bottom!

We made it to Highborne Cay near the top of the Exumas, dropped the hook, and went swimming for the first time off the back of the boat!!!

If you catch a shot like this, you have to post it!

Those smiles make it all worth it!

The next stop was Shroud Cay, a few hours south. This marked our entrance into the Exumas Land and Sea Park – very much like our National Parks, rustic, carry in/carry out, no resources, no cell towers – simply put, off the grid. One of the best parts of Shroud, are the tidal rivers that go through the middle of the island, past the mangroves to the beaches on the other side. Basically, you fill up the dinghy with gas, head out on a rising tide (being careful to take note when it starts falling, so you don’t get stuck in a dry riverbed) and follow the river. We’ve never experienced anything like it!

Tali put on her snorkel and mask and we towed her behind the dingy – she loved it!

Hope the picture captures the colors of this 2 foot deep river we explored…

Family photo at the beach on the other side of the island.

After a couple days exploring Shroud Cay, we were on our way to Warderick Wells – the park headquarters. The natural beauty was amazing. We spent a day hiking the island, another day snorkeling, and a third day relaxing. The cruising community was great here… all too often you pull into an anchorage and either there is no place to congregate, or there is the local bar which some folks come ashore to check out. But here, there was a beach, a canopy, and a nightly potluck happy hour. We met some great folks there that we hope to keep in touch with.

Tali starting to get some solo helm time on the way down – we have to get her ready to take watch on the way home : )

Intermezzo on her mooring – She’s never been in a prettier anchorage!

Tali exploring a cave on our hike….

…and Mom and Savy shocked she went so far down!

Captures the natural beauty of the island – by looking past the two people in the foreground : )

A little side note about the driftwood pile at the top of Boo Boo Hill… as a bit of a rite of passage, as cruisers come to the island, they are to bring a piece of driftwood or shell and put the year they came, boat name, and crew… you’ll see the turquoise shell in the middle – that is from s/v Baila, friends of ours who did the trip last year.

Chris putting our driftwood on the pile…

The final resting place for years to come… Chris told Tali she could bring her family here on a sailboat and show them our driftwood from this trip – she replied as innocent as a child can be – “Of course!”

From here, it was time to leave the park after 10 days at anchor/moored. We were running low on water, and that meant rationing showers, so we were getting a bit stinky. So it was off to Staniel Cay, with Thunderball Grotto and the Pig Beach at Big Majors. We tied up to a slip at the Staniel Cay yacht club, Chris turned off the engine, went down below to get a glass of water and the last tank went dry – perfect timing! We filled up with water, enjoyed a great Valentines Dinner with our friends from s/v Liberator and explored the two landmarks.

Unfortunately, pictures at the Thunderball Grotto did not happen, but you’ve all seen it. It is from the scene in the James Bond movie Thundeball. You swim in at low tide into a cave with a ray of sunlight at noon that shines down on what can only be described as swimming in a tropical fish tank. We have snorkeled at a lot of places in the Caribbean, but this ranks as one of the top.

The next stop was pig beach – honestly we thought it was a ‘check-the-box’ type of thing, but you just can’t explain showing up on a beach in a dinghy with these pigs walking around and swimming out to greet you. It literally felt like you were visiting them, and the were welcoming you to their home. Crazy…

First sighting of the pigs…

I know, you can go to the web and see the same pictures, but it is just simply weird seeing this…

We thought a puppy was in our future… hmmm…

Our anchorage for the night… we’re enjoying the sun and warmth, but definitely missing everyone… stay warm!!!

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We made it to the Bahamas!!!

That little Bahamas flag flying in the spreaders means we are officially cleared to cruise the Bahamas! Who would have thought hoisting that would have such significance?

While the weather window that we thought we would have, did not materialize – again (added more toilet paper to the boat); one did finally materialize. I would not call this a bay window, I’m not sure I would call it a double hung window, but perhaps a small basement window large enough for a child to crawl through type of window. We left Fort Lauderdale last Thursday, and made the 6 hour trip south to Miami. The trick is to get as far south as possible so you’re not fighting the northward flow of the Gulf Stream at 3 kts (more on that to come). The trip south was sunny and beautiful, although a little slow with the wind and waves on the nose. We entered government cut made a quick left and tucked in behind Fisher Island for a few hours to have some dinner and rest… we planned to leave at 2AM to take advantage of an expected favorable wind shift (more on that later).

Savy enjoying passage south in her normal style – napping in the cockpit, in her undies

Being from NJ, we’re spoiled with a great NYC skyline, but Miami was beautiful. Of course it doesn’t come through in the picture, but it was a great sight to see before departing for the Bahamas

We departed on time at 2 am, and headed out into black ocean – short of flashing red and green lights marking the channel. We are very spoiled with GPS and charplotters these days – they add a bit of confidence that the dim, low to the horizon, flashing green light that flashes every 3 seconds is the one we should keep to starboard, even though there is another brighter and higher (meaning it looks much closer) flashing green light to port which marks a dogleg in the channel further out. It is always exhilarating departing at night.

Unfortunately, that favorable wind shift did not come as predicted, we headed south to try to make some progress before getting flushed north by the Gulf Stream, but it was very slow going and the wind and waves were on the nose and choppy – lots of pounding. The boat can surely take it, but the crew… well if there is another way, it would be a little more enjoyable. By the time the sun came up, we had had enough of the pounding and fighting the Stream, so we turned north, rolled out the sail and had a great trip. Making that decision, we had to get comfortable that we were going to miss Bimini and head north to Grand Bahama, but at that point, we were making 2 knots of forward progress, being pounded by the waves and being flushed 3 knots north – nature won, as she always does. The good thing is that the predicted wind shift did eventually come, and we we able to get out of the Gulf Stream faster, so we were able to, ever so slowly, turn south a degree or two at a time with our final heading at the entrance to Bimini.

This was our course… green is slow and orange/red is fast. Where you see the orange in the middle is where we made the turn north – you can see if you draw a straight line, here was no way we were going to make Bimini without that wind shift. I guess we owe the wind gods one ; )

Natalie stayed at the helm with Chris calling out the big waves once we started sailing so Mom and Savy were ready. We think she should be ready to take a watch on our trip north : )

We’re entering Bahamian waters, time to hoist the ‘Q’ flag to let everyone know that we have not cleared customs and immigration yet… once that’s done, the ‘Q’ flag comes down and the Bahamas courtesy flag goes up.

Our time in Bimini (actually South Bimini – there is a ‘ferry’ that connects to the two) has been relaxing. That tiny weather window I mentioned, meant that as soon as we got here, the wind started blowing and the temperature started dropping. The local Bahamians are freezing – ski jackets, gloves and hats… for us, it is just way too cold to be in the Bahamas. If you ask locals, it is the coldest it has been in 8 years… if you ask cruisers that do this every year, they say they’ve never had such a cold and windy trip – that’s because we’re doing it this year : )

Friends keeping warm during sundowners!!!

As we started exploring, we found the Shark Lab… Natalie can cover the specifics, but all I can say is where was this place when I was in college looking for internships? Basically, there are a few full time staff, a few PhD candidates working on their dissertations, and a bunch of interns that are supporting all the research. It was impressive to see the work and their intellect, but man – where were these internships for Physical Therapy and Business students?

The Intermezzo and Liberator III crews at the Shark Lab.

While we did not make it to the Bahamas for Junkanoo, Chris had his own parade down Queen’s Highway.

We hope everyone is doing well and staying warm – miss you all!