Saturday, June 6, 2015

We are sometimes asked what sort of boat you need to go to the Bahamas.  Well, the near boat is a 22 foot Catalina sailboat and is worth maybe $3000.  The larger boat is a 70 foot long Sunreef sailing catamaran and is worth about $3,000,000.  We anchored beside them at Shroud Cay in the Exuma Islands.  We later saw the Pennsylvania registered Catalina in Marsh Harbour 150 miles farther north.

After years of examining every old bottle on every beach, Bill finally found a bottle with a message in it on Shroud Cay.

Rock Shore
Sand Shore
We took the fast ferry through the Devils Backbone Reef from Spanish Wells to Harbour Island.  It is a scary high speed ride between the rocky reefs and the nearby shore.

The view from the Sip Sip Restaurant on Harbour Island was every bit as good as the food.

St John’s Anglican Church was founded in 1768.

We stumbled upon Patti Wagon, a center console boat, floating without its engine south of Bakers Bay in the Abacos.  Here Bill is towing it to the police in Green Turtle Cay.

This palm tree lined beach is at Crab Cay at the north end of Great Abaco Island.  While the beach looks nice for walking, it has hundreds of ankle straining rocks.  It might be a good place for an orthopedics convention…

A Swiss sailboat was aground north of the Ben Sawyer bridge at Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina.  The ICW had shoaled from its designed 12 foot depth to near zero where he was.  We found 5.3 ft off his bow and slowly slid our 5 foot draft boat by.

An alligator came cruising by us in the early morning as we were leaving the South Santee River in South Carolina.

Hello from New Bern, NC.  Irish Eyes is tied in her slip.  Bill is fixing broken things.  I am splitting my time between putting things away on the boat, packing the Blazer for the trip to Kingsport, and most importantly, goofing off.

We have been traveling generally north since May 6 when we sailed out of George Town’s Elizabeth Harbour and into the Exuma Sound.  After a thunder storm filled night anchored between Big Farmer’s Cay and Galliot Cay, we moved on to Black Point.  I did our laundry at Ida’s wonderful Rockside Laundry while Bill worked on the boat.  We had two meals ashore with friends from Ursa Minor and Swell Horizon.  We couldn’t linger long in Black Point.  Our visas were nearing their expiration, and we needed to find an immigrations official to get an extension of our leave to stay.  It was time to move on.

We sailed north up to Hawksbill Cay where we stopped for two nights. The sand flats on the north end of Hawksbill were beautiful.  The sand color ranged from white to pink, the water contained every shade of blue an artist could imagine, the cays on the horizon were green from the recent rain, and white cotton clouds filled the sky.  We wandered around for hours one morning just taking in the scenery.

Shroud Cay, a mere 5 miles away, was our next stop.  There we took the dinghy up the southernmost creek, through the island, and over to the ocean side.  On the beach Bill found a corked empty wine bottle with a message inside.  The bottle had only been in the sea for a week.  Bill added a post script to the note and re-launched the bottle.

Continuing north, we sailed up to Ship Channel Cay, anchored for the night, and left early in the morning for Spanish Wells in Eleuthera.  It was an all-day sail with the morning spent passing through an area filled with boat grabbing coral heads that rose almost to the surface. Thankfully the sun was shining, and we could easily see and steer around them.  We anchored off Meek’s Patch, a small island near Spanish Wells.

Our guide book said that Spanish Wells was a port of entry, and we thought we could renew our visas there.  We hopped in the dinghy and started on the three mile trip from Meek’s Patch to Spanish Wells.  That did not work.  We got soaked by the wind driven chop as we came around the corner of Meek’s Patch.  So, we did the intelligent thing; we motored over in Irish Eyes, anchored outside the narrow, shallow, and busy commercial harbor, and then took the dinghy into town.

While there was a customs office in Spanish Wells, the immigration office was a ferry and taxi ride away at the airport.  Unable to conveniently renew our visas, we consoled ourselves on the patio of a restaurant with a few beers and lunch.  The grocery store in Spanish Wells had everything on our list.  Stumbling down the road carrying our load of groceries, we stopped at Budda’s Bar, Grill, and Liquor Store (a collection of a house, outdoor tables, and an old school bus) and bought the other things we needed, so the day was not a total loss.  We took Irish Eyes back to Meeks Patch for the night.

Not far from Spanish Wells was Harbour Island, playground of the rich and famous and known for its pink sand beaches.  We’d never been there.  From Spanish Wells there were several ways to make the trip.  The first was to take a small local ferry to North Eleuthera Island, a taxi across the island, and a second small ferry to Harbour Island.  That sounded too long and involved.  Second, we could take Irish Eyes to Harbour Island, but the trip by water passes through the aptly named Devil’s Backbone Reef, and the guidebook was full of the appropriate warnings and strongly suggested that a pilot be hired for both the trip over and the trip back.  The pilots have names like Bandit, Little Woody, A1 Broadshad, and Capt. Kirt (His ad says “Beam me up!”).  That option sounded too risky or too expensive and maybe with too much local color.  We chose to jump on the large high speed ferry from Nassau when it stopped in Spanish Wells and make the trip to Harbour Island that way. It was quite a ride.  The ferry roared through the miles of reef at 30 knots with spray flying as it weaved its way between the coral, the rocks, and the shore all of which slid by 50 yards away first on one side of the ship then on the other.  It was fun.

Harbor Island does have its pink sand, but it’s not the pinkest we’ve seen.  We did a little shopping then found a path to the beach and walked along the shore.  There were very few people on the beach.  I bet everyone was lounging around the pool at one of the many resort hotels, with drink in hand, and pecking away at their i-whatevers.  After a very nice and quite expensive restaurant lunch eaten among palms and sea grapes overlooking the ocean, we walked around the town stopping at a Bahamian shack for a Diet Coke served on their tree shaded patio. From there it was a short walk back to the air conditioned ferry for the return trip.

The next two days were not our usual pretty blue sky weather.  It rained off and on, and the wind blew.  We mostly stayed aboard reading; I knitted and Bill fixed broken things.  We filled our water tanks and several 5 gallon jugs with the rain water.  Our friends on Oh My! arrived and anchored nearby.  Bill and I went over to their trawler one evening for a beer and a chat.

On May 19 the weather began to clear, we put the dinghy on deck, and left on the 55 nautical mile trip across the Northeast Providence Channel to Abaco.  Our visas were nearing their expiration, and it was time to push on.  We left at sunrise.  The route took us over some of the deepest water in the Bahamas.  One place on the chart indicated 4529 meters or 14,859 feet – almost three miles to the bottom.  The wind was pleasant and the waves small.  After an all-day sail, we were in Abaco anchored off Lynyard Cay in time for supper.

The next afternoon we made the quick trip to Marsh Harbour.  It’s the largest town in the Abacos with all the government offices, and get this - a stoplight.  Our guide said the Immigration Office was in the Dove Plaza Shopping Center, a short walk from the town dinghy dock.  When we got to Dove Plaza, we learned the Immigration Office had moved to a new government building on the edge of town.  It was hot and sunny, but we survived the mile walk and got our visas extended for 30 days.  The best thing about the walk back was it ended at the Golden Grouper Restaurant.  Our lunch of grouper fingers for me and cracked conch for Bill was served in air conditioned comfort.  It was excellent.

We emptied the remaining jugs of rainwater into our water tanks, bought fuel for the boat and rum for us, and sailed out of Marsh Harbour on May 22 bound for Green Turtle Cay.  We were about half way there when we saw an unoccupied 19 foot center console motorboat named Patti Wagon just drifting.  Worried that someone might have fallen overboard, we put down our sails and motored over to investigate.  When we got closer I realized the boat did not have a motor.  The outboard was gone, the electrical cables had been cut, the steering cable was hanging over the transom, and the engine mounting bolts were laying in the cockpit.  Bill phoned the police in Marsh Harbour.  They asked us to tow the boat to Green Turtle Cay where an officer would be waiting.  We managed to tow both our dinghy and Patti Wagon the rest of the way to Green Turtle Cay… out the Loggerhead Channel into the ocean, around the ocean side of Whale Cay, and through the Whale Cay Channel back into the Sea of Abaco.  We got all that done without sinking either the dinghy or the motorboat and without getting either of two tow lines in our propeller.  We must have been an interesting sight to the passing boats.  Of course, when we got to Green Turtle Cay and were preparing to anchor, it began to rain by the bucket.

Bill towed Patti Wagon with our dinghy to the Government Dock at Green Turtle Cay.  He was gone for quite a long time.  I was beginning to worry that the police had detained him.  It just took him a while to fill out the statement.  The boat was owned by some people who live on Lubbers Quarters, another island in the Abacos.  Bill got a very nice email thank you from them.

Two other boats we know, Pearl and White Pepper, were also at Green Turtle Cay and headed north to the US.  All 6 of us enjoyed an afternoon swimming on the beach and then sundowners and supper at the Sundowner Grill.

The weather forecast was for 15 knot winds from the south or southeast with 2-4 foot seas for the next five days giving us a window to sail to Charleston.  On Monday the 25th we decided to sail a little farther north even though the wind was actually 20-25 knots, anchor for the night, then take off for the US on Tuesday.  We had a nice sail to Crab Cay at the north end of Great Abaco Island and anchored off the beach there. The chart described the palm tree shaded beach as a “Rubble Beach” and it was rocky.  Try as I might, I could not walk on it.

Tuesday morning we deflated the dinghy, put it on deck, and left.  The wind was stronger and the waves much higher than predicted making our trip in the Atlantic a little rolly.  We sailed only starting our engine to charge the batteries and cool the fridge.  It took us a little over 72 hours to reach Charleston.  We were tied to the Mega Dock at Charleston City Marina by late morning on the 29th.  Two Customs officers were walking down the dock looking for another boat.  They came on board and cleared us in.  While we were having our celebratory beer, a woman and a little boy who were walking down the dock spoke to Bill.  We ended up giving them a boat tour.  That took the place of my much needed nap, but it did not interfere with my much needed shower.  After supper at a restaurant, we went to bed and began clearing away our three nights of sleep deficit.

Because of the Spoleto Festival the marina was fully booked for the weekend.  We needed to leave Saturday morning.  The wind was coming out of the east, and that was the way we wanted to go, so we began motoring on the Intracoastal Waterway through the hordes of weekend small motorboat traffic.  As the day wore on, the boat traffic thinned out, but their place was taken by an even greater number of green head horseflies.  We killed them with flyswatters, shot them with bug shooters, and vacuumed them up with our Dust Buster.  We did not achieve the ‘final solution’, but we came close.  Anchoring for the evening in the South Santee River, we held them and their mosquito allies at bay with our screens and had a pleasant and cool evening in a pretty and lonely spot among the salt marshes.

Sunday morning we motored in the ICW to Winyah Bay, went out the inlet into the ocean, and sailed on an overnight trip to the Cape Fear River.  We arrived at the Cape Fear sea buoy in the dark, but the sun was up by the time we were in the river.  With the current from the rising tide behind us, the trip up the Cape Fear River and along the ICW to Wrightsville Beach was speedy.

We anchored at Wrightsville Beach for a few hours, then we went out Masonboro Inlet around 5pm for another overnight sail, this time to Beaufort.  We entered the Beaufort Inlet at sunrise, started our engine, motored in the ICW through Morehead City and north to the Neuse River.  From there it was just final few hours to our slip at North West Creek Marina.  We were putting in our air conditioner when the thunderstorm we had been watching caught up with us.  The storm did not last long, and soon Irish Eyes was washed of her salt, cooling down, and drying out.

This year’s trip was great.  It was fun, and we got to see some new places.  It was good to be tied to our home dock at last.  We should be back in Tennessee soon.

Have a wonderful summer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Eddie’s Edgewater Restaurant and Bar is a fixture in George Town.  The weather was horrible for taking a dinghy into town, so “Other Goose” (a Canadian sailboat) arranged a water taxi for the first 28 people.  We were among the first to sign up.  That is me facing you on the porch.  The Monday night Rake ‘n Scrape party is in full swing inside.

This spliced picture shows the band between sets.  The crowd is at the bar behind me, so I can get the band's picture.  Left to right that is a drum (with a burning Sterno can inside), an old saw and a stick, another drum, two guitars, and… well something else… my memory fails me due to alcohol induced dementia.  Anyway, they made music and people danced.

This is a sad picture.  George Town had a straw market under a large tree that shaded the market and the roads outside.  Several years ago the tree was badly hurt in a hurricane.  Then the night before this picture was taken, the straw market burned down and the tree was finished off.  The ladies who sell their crafts inside lost everything.  It was just a few days before The Family Island Regatta (think Super Bowl or World Series for racing native Bahamian sailboats) which brings huge crowds to town.  The ladies were wiped out.

Looking down the ocean side of Water Cay in the Jumentos you can see the sort of “beach” you don’t want your life raft to wash up on (and this is on a dead calm day at low tide).  Pretty isn’t it?

We found tons of shells on Water Cay.  Most we left behind, but I kept this Triton’s Trumpet shell.  It is about a foot long.

There are conch on the grass covered sea bottom in the Bahamas, and there have been conch here for a long time.  These are conch fossils in the sandstone rock at Flamingo Cay.

There is a small airplane wrecked in the shallow water off the beach at the north end of Flamingo Cay.  Someone dragged the remains of the nose up on the beach.  It must have been a bad day for the pilot.

We took our dinghy into this seawater filled cave and motored around inside.  The bright sunlight streaming through holes in the rock made it hard to take pictures, but there is a shell covered beach inside the huge cave.

With all their thorns these cactus flowers are pretty safe from being picked.

Bill cleaned six conch using the rusty remains of a washed up old refrigerator as a work table.  You can see the tools of the trade; a hammer and a screwdriver to put a hole in the beast, a knife to slip into the hole to first separate him from his shell and then to cut off the disgusting parts (as if the whole thing was not disgusting enough), and catfish pliers to remove his skin.  The white bit of meat with the fingernail like thing attached in the middle of the cutting board is the part to keep.  It is about the size of a chicken breast.

This osprey watched the conch cleaning with great interest.  If he had chosen to fight for the conch, he probably would have won.

I don’t know what this pink thing is.  It is the size and shape of a small Nerf football and is growing on a branch of a 4 ft tall underwater tree.  There is a slit opening in one side which is black inside and closes when the thing is touched.  I can’t find it in any of my books.  We saw several.

It is pretty down there.

A juvenile French angel fish was swimming around this coral reef near Crab Cay in Elizabeth Harbour maybe 150 ft from our boat.  He was only one of a lot of spectacular fish there including one overly curious barracuda that caused us to cut our visit short.

It was my bath time and this dolphin was circling the boat.  As you can see I can’t quite get up my nerve to join a 300 lb wild animal in the water.  But, after a while I did.

This is what he looked like underwater.  And, I lived to tell the tale.

Hello from rainy George Town, Exuma.  It has been raining for the last three days and at times the wind has howled.  We had a cold front come down here from the north, pass south, come back as a warm front, morph into a trough, and shift back to the north.  It may yet become the first tropical storm of the year.  The short story is… it has rained.  While living on Irish Eyes we are very dependent on the weather.  The weather helps (?) us make all our travel decisions, and it helps plan all our activities.  It is sunny today, but we could still have one last rain storm before the day is over.

We had just arrived in George Town when I last wrote.  We spent our time here enjoying the beaches and the amenities offered by a relatively large (pop. 1,000) town.  Several times Bill made the mile and a half dinghy trip from our anchorage at Sand Dollar Beach into town for fuel, groceries, and water.  The wind was fairly strong, so he always came back a little wet.  One day I went along to do the laundry.  Big mistake.  I came back from the trip soaking, absolutely soaking wet.  I stood up and the water drained by the gallon from my clothes.  Thankfully the laundry was still dry.  It was sealed in a dry bag which was itself inside a tightly tied plastic trash bag.  If the clean and dry laundry had gotten wet, I would have cried for a week.

The impromptu social life in George Town was lots of fun.  We took part in several happy hours, ate a few restaurant meals, went with a group of 25 or so to a Rake ‘n Scrape night at Eddie’s Edgewater Restaurant, and walked the nearby beaches with our anchorage neighbors.  We were having fun, and the Family Island Regatta was set to begin, but the weather was right, and we wanted to go farther south to the Jumentos Cays.
We had never been to the Jumentos Cays which curve south from George Town toward Cuba.  In previous years either weather or time kept us from going.  This year the weather forecast was favorable, and we had the time.  We pulled up our anchor early in the morning on Saturday, April 18 and set off on our journey south.  There were two ways for us to go to the Jumentos.  The short way was through Hog Cay Cut, but the low tide depth was 0.9m, and when we passed by it was just before low tide.   With our 1.5m draft we could not go that way.  An unlucky sailboat had tried.  Looking south into the cut we could see him aground in the middle of the cut listing hard over to one side.  We figured he would be floating again in 5 or 6 hours.  The other, and longer, way was to continue sailing east to Long Island and return west through the Comer Channel.  We continued on.

We dropped our anchor in Thompson Bay, Long Island in the late afternoon and spent the night.  Early the next morning we were underway again.  We had good wind and sailed all the way to Water Cay. Along the way looking north through the Hog Cay Cut, we could see that the sailboat had left.
The Jumentos north of Ragged Island are undeveloped; no hotels, no houses.  The cays are just bits of rock and sand in the middle of beautiful clear blue water.  When we got to Water Cay, four sailboats and three commercial fishing boats were anchored off the western side of the island.  That was quite a difference from the 175 boats anchored in George Town.  In the morning three of the sailboats left.  Nice.

Over the next few days Bill and I explored the west side Water Cay by dinghy and walked on the west side beaches.  We found lots of shells; more in two hours than in the previous two months.  Bill found a metal fishing float that he kept along with lots of plastic junk that he left behind.  One afternoon we hiked to the top of the southernmost of the three Water Cay hills and looked down at the rocky eastern shore.   The water was clear, we could see the coral reefs along the shore, and the waves pounded hard against the shore sending fountains of spray into the air.  On our side of the cay the water was calm, clear and warm, so we did our swimming there.

After three nights at Water Cay and after walking all the beaches, we headed south to Flamingo Cay.  The wind was very light, so we first motored, then tried to sail, and finally motorsailed to anchor off what the chart called “Two Palm Beach”.  It is actually a one palm beach with only the stump of the second palm tree remaining.  We were the only boat there.

It was hot with very little wind, and we put up our full sun awnings.  We took the dinghy to all the beautiful beaches picking up shells and marveling at all the harvested conch shells.  The fishermen clean their conch on the beaches and leave the shells behind.  There were piles and piles of the empty shells on every beach.  The conch had obviously been here long before the fishermen.  The rocks at the north end of the beach were filled with conch fossils.

Bill found a trail that went from our Two Palm Beach to the long beach on the north end of the cay where there was a wrecked airplane.  The trail had sharp pointy rocks (not my favorite to walk on) as well as Prickly Pear cacti.  There were several salt water ponds in depressions in the limestone rock that were full of bright red crayfish.  It was an interesting walk, but it was hot in the blazing sun.

On one of our dinghy outings we found five keeper size conch, and Bill later found another one while wading off the beach.  Bill took them ashore and cleaned them all there.  At the time we had a three foot Remora attached to the bottom of the boat and two barracuda hanging around.  If he had cleaned the conch on Irish Eyes, he would probably have attracted even more unwelcome fish to interfere with my swimming.  I fixed conch chowder, cracked conch, and conch salad.  We had three suppers from our six conch.  Bill said he “caught” the conch.  I beg to differ.  How can you “catch” a conch?  They don’t run away, bite, scratch, or anything like that.  He just picked them up.  It’s not very dramatic to watch.  The worst they can do is drip slime.  They are just big snails.

We spent eight days at Water and Flamingo Cays before we got a forecast of a late season cold front coming our way.  That would bring strong winds from the west and thunderstorms.  With no nearby anchorages with all around protection, we needed to get back to George Town for the expected bad weather.  We went north to Water Cay, spent the night there, and headed to George Town.
We made the trip from Water Cay to George Town in one day -- one long 12 hour day.  Once again we took the longer Comer Channel route to avoid low tide in Hog Cay Cut.  When we entered Elizabeth Harbour at George Town the sun was setting, the wind was coming from the west, and 40 kt squalls and thunderstorms were in the forecast.  Crab Cay on the southwestern side of the harbor in Georgetown, looked like a place with good protection from the west wind.  And even better, it would save us the long trip up the harbor.  The east side of Crab Cay is not one of the popular anchorages in Georgetown.  It does not even have an anchor symbol on the chart.  We were all alone.  When the thunderstorms did come through with lots of wind and rain, we did not have to worry about any other boats hitting us.  It actually worked out very well.

We stayed at Crab Cay for a couple of days until the wind changed to the northeast and then moved over to Sand Dollar Beach where the windy and rainy weather continued until today.

Our plan is to leave here in the morning and head north.  It will take us a few weeks to meander up the islands to the Abacos.  We will then wait for good weather to cross over to the USA.

Fair winds to you all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

James and Sandra Little came to visit us in the Bahamas this year.  You can tell they are sailors; they haven’t much luggage.  You can tell they are friends; half of what they are carrying is things we asked them to bring (like a new outboard propeller).

Grilled lobster tail for dinner... freshly caught with melted butter waiting.  My 
napkin is already in my lap.

Here is a short movie of the blow hole on the beach at Black Point.  The water shoots 20 or more feet into the air.  The sad part is that the plastic trash in the ocean also shoots up into the air and lands on the rough rock where it is trapped.  You can see it scattered around the blow hole.

Sandra may look a bit tentative petting this pig, but they eventually became best buddies.  It is just what you always wanted to do on your vacation; fly 1500 miles to pet a pig.  From what we saw that day, there will shortly be even more pigs.

Bill found this Chinese fishing float on the rocky shore of Big Galliot Cay.  It was too big to fit in any of the boat’s lockers, so he let it go.  We watched it drift away from the boat toward the horizon.

This is the inside of a cave on Big Farmers Cay.  I would not go in, so Bill took this picture.

The yacht ‘Serque’ dragged its anchor and wound up on the same beach were we fed the pigs just a few days before.  I’d bet the owner had a frank discussion with the captain.

This a the view from a hilltop on Stocking Island looking over the anchored boats at Sand Dollar Beach in George Town.  We are out there.

Irish Eyes at anchor with a riding sail up, an anchor ball displayed, and both a Bahamian courtesy flag and American flag flying.

Hello from sunny and warm Sand Dollar Beach, George Town, Exuma, the Bahamas.

Bill and I have travelled a few miles and seen a lot since I last wrote.  On the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, we set sail for Black Point.  The wind was light, but we made the five mile journey by lunch time.  As we were lifting the dinghy’s outboard off the stern of ‘Irish Eyes’ and onto our dinghy, the pin holding together the block supporting the motor fell out into the sea.  The rope tangled and the outboard did not go swimming. Bill quickly put out a sounding weight to mark the spot so he could dive down and retrieve the pin.  Our friends Bill and Phyllis from motor vessel ‘Oh! My’ came over for a beer, and the retrieval dive had to wait.  We had not seen Bill and Phyllis since last year.  The afternoon was spent catching up.  The four of us decided to go to the St Patrick’s Day Happy Hour at Scorpio’s Restaurant.  Before going ashore Bill dove into the water to see if he could find the lost stainless steel pin.  He got it on the first try!  Amazing.  The thing was tiny, the size of a small broken piece of spaghetti, and was laying on the sand bottom among the grass and creature holes.  At Scorpio’s with Bill and Phyllis, Captain Bill had corned beef and cabbage, and I had conch.  We had green rum punches.  Lot of other boaters were there, and everyone had a good time.

The laundromat in Black Point has the best view of any laundromat in the Exumas if not the world.  I decided it was time to have clean clothes and sheets.  Back on ‘Irish Eyes’, Bill changed the engine oil and caught up on his boat chores.  At bedtime we discovered the holding tank for the toilet had leaked a bit under my bunk cushion (and our clean sheets). It took more than several paper towels to clean up the stinking mess. The next morning was spent finding and fixing the leak. The glue holding the level sensor in the tank had failed.  Fortunately, it was not a large leak, and we fixed it by smearing more glue over the spot.  It is always something on a boat!  Scorpio’s was again having Happy Hour that evening.  We needed a Happy Hour.  The holding tank leak was something we needed to forget.

Friday, we walked out to the blow hole and beaches on Black Point’s ocean-side shore.  We had been there before, but we had never seen the blow hole blowing.  This time we caught the tide and wind just right.  The blow was great, looking like something from Yellowstone.  The beaches produced a few good shells and a sea heart sea bean, making the trip quite worthwhile.

Sandra and James Little were due fly into Staniel Cay on Sunday, so back to Staniel Cay we went anchoring nearby in Big Majors Spot.

Early next morning we moved the boat from Big Majors Spot to a spot just off the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  The tide was high, and we were the only boat there.  Bill and I chose our place, dropped our anchor, and were all set.  For some reason a forty five foot motor boat, ‘Docs Aweigh’, decided our chosen place was a really a good one and anchored beside us only thirty seven yards away.  While that was a little too close for our liking, the wind was calm, so we were not overly worried.  Bill talked to the captain on 'Docs Aweigh', who apologized for anchoring too close and said he was just waiting to pick up crew.  We went about our chores without any real worries.

Sunday afternoon Bill and I went to the airport terminal, a gazebo, and met the Littles.  On the way back to Irish Eyes we stopped in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a beer and conch fritters.  As we left I bought two lobster tails from a fisherman for supper.  When we got to ‘Irish Eyes’, ‘Docs Aweigh’ was still anchored near us.  It was still calm, so no problem.  We grilled our lobsters, ate, and all went to bed.

In the dark of early morning, Captain Bill woke up with a strange feeling of unease.  The wind had picked up and the current was flowing in the opposite direction to the wind.  On deck, in a more than excited voice, Bill called to me to come help him.  ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Docs Aweigh’ were swinging together, and a collision was imminent.  Although Bill tried to cushion the blow, the noise of our spare anchor striking the other boat was more than alarming.  That brought everyone else up on deck.  The two boats only hit that once, but they swung threateningly close several times, and with all four of us now on deck and working we were able to push them apart.  Fortunately, no more damage was done, and no one was hurt.  As soon as it was light, we pulled up our anchor and moved back to Big Majors Spot.  What an exciting welcome to the Bahamas for our guests!

While the Littles were with us, we fed the swimming pigs at Big Majors Spot, walked several beaches on different cays, swam a bit, found shells, took a long dinghy tour, re-visited Black Point, and (of course) talked a lot.  A cold front was to pass through the area on Friday night or early on Saturday.  The wind was going to clock all the way around from the southeast through the south and west before settling in the north.  The Littles were to leave on Sunday morning, so we needed to be near the Staniel Cay airport.  Bill and I decided the most protected spot near Staniel Cay was in the channel between Big Majors Spot Cay and Little Majors Spot Cay.  We left Black Point with a south wind and had a lovely downwind sail to our well protected anchorage.

The forecasted cold front came through at 3am.  The first gust of wind was a solid forty knots.  (I will never understand why this sort of thing always happens in the dark middle of the night.)  There was lightning, rain, and a constant thirty knot wind.  The only thing missing was thunder.  We watched the boats around us in the lightning flashes and turned on our VHF radio in case a nearby boat were to hail us, but nothing much happened where we were anchored.

On the other hand, over at Big Majors Spot things got interesting.  The boats there were completely exposed to the waves that the west wind had kicked up.  During the storm we could hear over our VHF radio the boats anchored at Big Majors Spot talking.  There were calls for some boats to take in anchor chain and others let out more anchor chain all to avoid boats dragging or striking one another.  Everyone there was asked to turn on their deck lights so their boats could be seen.  The 133 foot mega yacht, ‘Serque’, dragged its anchor and ran aground on Pig Beach.  Mercifully, it did not hit any of the other anchored boats.

In the morning after things had calmed down, the four of us got into the dinghy and went over to see what was up.  It was low tide and ‘Serque’ was resting on the beach with the pigs walking around the scene.  We wondered if the pigs got better food from the mega yacht than the eggplant skins they had gotten from us five days earlier.

After surveying the disaster from our dinghy we checked out several nearby pocket beaches before returning to Irish Eyes for lunch and a beer.  Later that day at high tide, we took the dinghy over to watch the salvage crew pull ‘Serque’ off the beach.  Overseas Salvage was doing the work.  They put floatation bags under the yacht and with three tugs pulling and a great deal of effort, they got Serque off the beach and safely anchored again.  The word we got was that the yacht’s propellers were damaged, but new ones would be on the way from Ft Lauderdale along with an engineer to fix everything.  It costs from $99,000 a week to charter ‘Serque’.  I guess they’ll have to work a couple of extra weeks this year to cover their unplanned expenses.

Sunday morning it was a cloudy, windy, and cool seventy degrees.  At 7am Bill, James. and Sandra left in the dinghy for the mile and a half trip to the Staniel Cay airport.  I did not go thinking that with fewer people in the dinghy everyone would have a drier ride.  The Littles flew out for home, and Bill came back to Irish Eyes only slightly wet.

It was time for us to head farther south.  Bill and I decided to work our way slowly to George Town.  We stopped again in Black Point, our third time there this year.  On the previous two times we had watched a police boat take things off a rather sad looking sailboat in the harbor. Finally, the police towed the boat out of the harbor and into a nearby creek.  After asking several of the locals, we found out that the owner of the boat had been arrested, we think on drug and weapons charges, and that the boat had been confiscated by the police.  We were told the owner had five illegal weapons on board and was planning a mass murder/suicide.  There are crazy people even here in paradise.

We left Black Point and anchored near Galliot Cut to be ready to leave for Georgetown first thing in the morning.  While at anchor, Bill gave me a haircut.  I am still surprised I let him.  Actually, I begged him to cut my hair.  It was a mess, but it is now (somewhat) better.

It was a pleasant 36 mile sail down to George Town.  Bill made a fishing lure out of an empty toothpaste tube by cutting off the seal at the bottom and slitting the walls into long narrow ribbons.  The leader went in through the open hole at the top and a big hook rested amongst the ribbons inside the tube.  It looked impressive in shiny red and silver.  We had one fish bite the lure, but the fish got off.  Oh well…  I didn’t want it anyway.  We arrived here in George Town at our favorite anchorage off Sand Dollar Beach in the late afternoon.  The trip was uneventful; nice wind and calm seas.

We have walked a few of the trails on Stocking Islands, looked for sand dollars, and generally enjoyed the scenery.  Saturday we joined a dinghy drift, a floating cocktail party in dinghies all tied together drifting along with the wind and current.  It was fun.  The sun set and the dinghies drifted almost all the way across the harbor to Georgetown proper before the party literally broke up and everyone returned to their boats.

I have been knitting furiously.  Bill has joined the Waterway Radio & Cruising Club and talks to other amateur radio operators on the HF radio.  He has busied himself working on our boat and has helped a couple of other boats with their problems.  Both of us have read a pile of books, but so far we have only looked at one of our DVD movies.  It seems odd to be so busy when we are busy doing nothing.

Remember Jimmy Buffet’s line, “We are the people our parents warned us about.”?  Yup, that’s us.

Jimmy Buffet sings....       (Bill remembers the Gardner McKay and the 'Tiki' from "Adventures in Paradise".)

Hope you all had a Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

From Miami Beach the sun sets across the bay behind the Miami skyline – sometimes it’s between buildings, sometimes behind a building.  It is always a show. (Find the airplane in the picture.)

Crossing the Great Bahama Bank between Bimini and New Providence, the sun went down and this light fog rose from the perfectly still water.  The sky and sea merged, and everything turned pink and light blue.

The chart names this little island near Norman’s Cay “One Tree Cay”.  It is.

I’m on the beach waving at you from below Camp Driftwood on Shroud Cay.

We bushwhacked across a stony hill to a seldom visited beach near the northern end of Shroud Cay.  Bill crawled back into this cave.  He said it was shady and cool inside.  I bet it had snakes.

This 8 foot tall contraption had washed up on the shore.  It was aluminum, all welded together, with the yellow hollow plastic things along the bottom.  It was firmly fixed in the sand.  Any idea what it is?

The interior of Shroud Cay is a morass of mangrove creeks and sand flats.  I think the African Queen is just around the corner.  We will wait here for the gin bottles to float by.

Greetings from Big Major’s Spot, Exuma, Bahamas.  I have not been a very good blogger.  Bill asked me tonight if I had given up on writing. We have not had good internet since we arrived in the Bahamas.  My old cell phone has a BTC SIM card that can access the internet if we have a cell phone signal.  Bill and I have been in the mostly uninhabited part of the Exumas.  There are two cell towers in the area.  One at Highbourne Cay and another about 50 miles south in Staniel Cay.  The part of the Exumas between the two towers is really pretty, but, it’s sort of remote. We like it there!  Big Major’s Spot, where we are now, is just over the hill from Staniel Cay with a 300 foot high antenna, so we now have internet.

When I last wrote we were waiting on a higher tide to go through Hell Gate in Georgia.  We made it through all the shallow parts in Georgia: Hell Gate, the Florida Passage, Creighton Narrows, the Little Mud River, and Jekyll Creek without a problem.  However, when we were motoring cross the Sapelo Sound we found a spot of 4’-6” water in a place where the chart said 16’.  Irish Eyes went hard aground on a falling tide. We needed 5’ to float.  It took us about 20 minutes to get off and into deeper water.  We raised our sails and ran the engine while I hung over the edge of the boat to get it to heel over to get the keel off the bottom.  I was not excited about hanging over the edge of the boat.  I was sure the water was very cold.  Thankfully, I did not fall overboard.

It was cold in Georgia and north Florida.  We spent two nights in St Augustine and wore our jackets anytime we were outside.  When we got to Vero Beach it was finally warmer.  It was nice not to have on long underwear and down filled coats.  Finally, on February 13 we arrived in South Beach, Miami Beach.

Our usual anchorage near Belle Isle was unusually crowded.  Bill spent a good bit of our first night sitting in the cockpit watching the closely packed anchored boats dance about in the wind and tide.  He wanted to be sure we were not in danger of hitting any other boat.  As soon as the sun came up, we moved to a more isolated spot near the Julia Tuttle Causeway.  The view of the huge houses and large motor boats along the shore of the Venetian Islands was impressive.  Our new anchorage gave us an opportunity to explore a different, more northern, part of Miami Beach.

It was cold in Miami.  One morning it was 43 degrees!  The local fashionistas were wearing boots, scarves, and hats.  I was sporting a sweatshirt.  We took in the Miami Boat Show on Sunday February 15. Anything and everything a person could possibly want, and not necessarily need, for a boat was on display.  For us it was a cheap day; we only bought two beers.

Bill made two bus trips into Miami to buy boat parts while I stayed on board Irish Eyes.  I was knitting a blanket for our granddaughter Olivia. I finished the blanket, and we sent it along with our winter clothes to Julia in South Carolina.  Goody bye down; good bye long underwear; good bye socks; good bye electric heaters...

South Beach was the perfect place to people-watch.  We did our laundry, bought groceries, shopped a bit, ate in restaurants, and drank in bars all while watching the oddest of people walk by.  It was fun.

The weather forecast for Monday, February 23, was perfect for crossing the Gulf Stream to Bimini.  We made our final trip to the grocery store. Bill got fuel and water.  It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon when we pulled up our anchor and headed south to No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne.  The Sunday boat traffic on Biscayne Bay was heavy.  Boats were everywhere.  It was a zoo.  A jet ski even roared by purposely splashing water into our cockpit.  By sundown all the crazies went home, and we were quietly anchored outside No Name Harbor.  We had an early supper and went to bed ready to go out the Florida Channel in the morning.

Bill’s wristwatch alarm woke us up at 3:00am, and we were underway by 4.  I am not a big fan of going through a narrow shallow channel in the dark on a falling tide with no moon, but we made it just fine.  Our crossing was uneventful and smooth.  We saw lots and lots of Portuguese Man of War jellyfish.  They looked like light blue, clear balloons floating on the surface of the ocean.  The weather forecast for the next two days was favorable for heading east then south from Bimini towards the Exumas; after that – not so good – the wind speed would increase and blow directly at us.  If we spent the night in Bimini, we would be stuck there for at least a week.  We decided to clear in with the Bahamian government in Bimini, buy a case of rum, and leave immediately.

We arrived in Bimini at 2:30pm, docked at Weech’s Bimini Dock, and chatted with Kimini (the dock master).  Bill went to visit customs and immigrations.  We ran across the street and bought a case of rum.  With everything done, we were underway again by 4.  Sailing across the Great Bahama Bank, the sun set with a beautiful green flash, probably the best one we have ever seen.

The wind died completely as the sun set, and it was perfectly calm.  The low level fog (or dew clouds) were rather disconcerting; everything was hazy - gray, pink, or baby blue.  I saw phantom boat lights two or three times when something moved in the water, causing the water to phosphoresce, and lighting the fog from below.  Since it was completely calm, we decided to anchor just before midnight to get some sleep.  We just pulled a mile off to the side of the course line on the chart and anchored.  More phantom boats appeared and disappeared around us.  It was eerie.

At sunrise, we continued on sailing, then motoring, for all the next day and night, arriving at Norman’s Cay before noon on February 25.  As predicted the wind picked up from the south.  We were really glad we had not spent the night in Bimini.  Other boats that crossed over from Miami with us got stuck in Bimini for almost ten days.

We spent two nights at Norman’s Cay, then moved south to Shroud Cay. The creeks at Shroud lead over to beaches on the Exumas Sound side of the island.  In our dinghy we toured the creeks enjoying the beautiful scenery.  The outboard motor on the dinghy was not running very well.  Bill had worked on the motor and thought it would be ok.  Well, the motor didn’t run well, and we managed to damage the propeller by running aground.  Bill rowed us about a mile and a half back home to Irish Eyes.  It was a looong trip.  The biggest risk was that when we came out of the creek and into the open water, the wind and current would sweep us past Irish Eyes, and we would next be in Cuba.  I guess all is well that ends well.  I caught Irish Eyes as we swept by, and of course, Captain Bill had stored away a spare propeller for the outboard. Not a perfect replacement, but one that fit and worked.

A week at Shroud Cay was long enough.  It was time to move.  We made the huge leap, all of 10 miles, down to the south anchorage at Hawksbill Cay.  There we stayed a couple of days swimming, walking the trails, and just soaking up the warm temperature.

Our next stop was Emerald Rock at the Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park headquarters on Warderick Wells.  Each year we engrave another year on our sign that stays atop Boo Boo Hill.  We climbed the hill to the large pile of signs from boats and found ours deep in the pile.  The sign had suffered some damage losing the corner that had 2014 carved into it. Bill did some repairs and carved both 2014 and 2015 on the sign.  When we took it back to the hill, Bill found the missing bits.  With our sign resting on Boo Boo Hill, we are assured of good luck in our travels.

On March 11 Bill decided to go hiking on the rocky trails in the park.  I decided not to go along. Bill has boots, I have flip-flops.  After he got back we discovered that the flushing handle on the toilet would not pump.  That is a really bad thing.  I have found a toilet much preferable to a bucket.  My handy captain spent the rest of the afternoon rebuilding the bronze and china beast.  Finally, the pieces were back together, and the toilet was working again.  Whew!

We left Emerald Rock after our fourth night there.  The wind was forecast to blow really hard from the east southeast for several days beginning in the afternoon, and that was where we wanted to go.  We had a quick, but wet, morning sail to Big Major’s Spot where we are now.  The wind did blow, but everything was just fine in this sheltered spot.
The water is beautiful, the temperature goes from about 75 at night to 81 in the daytime, Bill is doing little boat projects, and I am knitting and reading.

Our friends, James and Sandra Little, will be here next week.  They are bringing us a proper replacement outboard propeller along with several other things we forgot.  It will be like Christmas.

Hope Spring comes to you soon.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Our old and rusty Blazer is waiting for us to return in the parking lot at Northwest Creek Marina.  Let’s hope no important parts fall off while we are gone.

On a small spit of land just south of North Carolina’s New River, this gaily painted house stands all by itself.  It has its own lighthouse, pool with water cascading over a rock wall, dock, gazebo, artwork…  All the toys are there.

Sunsets are always nice.  It is so much clearer in the wintertime.

The Waccamaw cypress swamps go on for miles and miles.  Even in winter with their grey colors on, they are pretty.

We had a brief shower north of Charleston, but we quickly left both the rain and the rainbow behind us in our wake.

When we crossed the Savannah River this orange ship was coming at us.  We got easily across ahead of her.  As she passed we could see that her name was “Tiger”.  With the orange paint job, I wonder if she is a Clemson fan.

Greetings from onboard Irish Eyes.
Bill and I have been on the boat for a little over two weeks.  We had a busy busy Christmas week:  Christmas Eve service at St Paul’s, Christmas Day Free Dinner for about 300 at St Paul’s, two Christmas Day parties at friends’ homes after the dinner, a Boxing Day party at our house, our daughters, their husbands, and the grandchildren with us in the days after Christmas, New Year’s Eve with all of them together, the Watauga Lake Sail Club Frostbite Race on New Year’s Day, and then the Epiphany Sunday lunch for the congregation of St Paul’s.  With all that out of the way, and with things just beginning to settle down, Bill woke up on January 5th and said, “Let’s leave for New Bern tomorrow.”  Tomorrow???  I was ready for a little rest!  But, the Captain persisted, the Christmas tree came down, the decorations were put in the attic, last minute shopping was done, clothes were packed, and we hurried around getting our stuff together for six months on the boat.  Bill’s ‘tomorrow’ turned into six days, and on Sunday morning January 11 the 1978 Chevy Blazer was loaded, and we took off.

A 400 mile drive in a rusty 37 year old Blazer with over 265,000 miles on the odometer is always a little risky.  But, it made it to New Bern without any problems, took us on numerous shopping runs, and made two trips down NC 55 to Oriental.

Bill had projects to complete, and I had a boat to stock.  He flushed and filled the water tanks, loaded diesel, gasoline, and propane aboard, and worked his way down the long maintenance list.  I drove the Blazer, something I don’t do often, twice into New Bern filling it with groceries.

One of Bill’s projects was to finish installing a bus heater on Irish Eyes.  The heater works like a car’s heater.  While the boat’s engine is running and the heater’s fan is on, hot air pours out into the cabin.  It has been a major improvement in winter boat life. The cabin warms up and dries out as we motor during the day.  When we stop, we quickly dive below, close everything up, and enjoy the seventy-eight degree warmth until it finally all fades away as bed time approaches.

On January 19 with most of our projects completed, with most of the food bought and stowed, and with most of our stuff put away; we started the engine, untied the dock lines, and left.  At last we were on our way south!

It was a cold but beautifully sunny day.  The first thing to break was the alternator belt on the engine.  That happened just twenty minutes into the trip!  We anchored Irish Eyes in middle of the Neuse River, and Bill replaced the belt.  We were underway again in about half an hour.  Tools and parts; we have a boat full of tools and parts.  They do come in handy.

The temperature outside was in the forties, but down in our warm cabin it was in the seventies.  I can’t say enough good things about our bus heater.

It took us four days to get to Little River, SC.  We spent three nights there visiting with my sister and waiting for a patch of rainy, windy weather to pass.  When the sun came out, we were on our way again. 

The trip down the Intracoastal Waterway in Myrtle Beach was uneventful until we stopped.  With the engine shut down and everything quiet, Bill heard a motor running.  We tracked it down to the fresh water pump. The line from the water heater to the galley faucet had split dumping all the water in one of our two water tanks into the bilge.  With the water gone the pump was running dry.  Bill, of course, had a piece of spare hose, hose clamps, and little brass things to stick in the ends.  Tools and parts, yes, we have tools and parts.  He cut out the leaking section of the old hose and had a new piece installed in time for me to fix supper.  I just stayed out of the way while he worked in the bilge and cussed.

The next morning, Bill discovered the engine oil dipstick was not right.  The dipstick has a rubber bit on it that stops the dipstick from going too far into the engine and seals the hole in the engine. The oil level is supposed to be between two marks on the end of the stick.  The rubber bit was loose and sliding up and down on the dipstick.  Who knew where the rubber bit was meant to be?  How far should the dipstick go into the engine?  Bill called the Yanmar engine distributor in New Jersey to ask them.  They didn’t know, but they did offer to sell us a new one for $71 plus shipping.  $71 for a dipstick???  And anyway, how does one ship it to us when we are anchored in a South Carolina salt marsh?  Even Amazon doesn’t have its drone delivery fleet running quite yet.  Bill finally found a sketch of the dipstick in his Yanmar parts catalogue.  He did some measuring and calculating, and put the rubber bit where he thinks it should be.  Duct tape now holds the rubber stopper in place.

We spent the next night in a marina in Beaufort, SC.  That let us refill our water and fuel tanks, take a long hot shower, and enjoy a restaurant meal.

Yesterday we crossed the Savannah River and entered Georgia.  We left the Carolinas behind.

Right now we are anchored just north of Hell Gate.  The word on the internet is that the water depth in the channel ahead is 4-1/2 feet at low tide.  Since it is low tide and since Irish Eyes draws 5 feet, we have stopped.  In a couple more hours the tide will rise enough to let us go on, but for now it’s time for knitting, reading, and lunch.

It has been cold at night, but it warms up during the day.  Every day we are a little farther south.  Every day it is a little warmer.

Stay warm where you are.