Thursday, December 31, 2009

Back in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas

Sunday, December 20 - Thursday, December 31, 2009
Apologies to everyone...we're getting behind on our blogging! Christmas has passed since our last update, and today is New Year's Eve. Queue the party music! We've settled quite well into the "Island Time, Mon" mentality, where nothing seems too pressing, and just about anything can be put off until tomorrow. Don't worry, be happy!

As expected, the weather kept us in Marsh Harbor through Christmas. We had hoped to return to Green Turtle Cay in time for Gary's (S/V Breakaway) Christmas Eve brunch and Brendal's Christmas Day potluck. As luck would have it, we ran into Gary in Marsh Harbor a few days before his brunch. The "Bolo" ferries go from Green Turtle to the ferry dock on Great Abaco, and many people rent a car to drive the 15 miles from the Abaco ferry dock to Marsh Harbor for major provisioning. Gary and two other cruisers had done just that, and we walked right past him on the way to the grocery store. We got to visit with him for a few minutes and wish each other a Merry Christmas. We also learned that Gary was friends with our anchorage neighbors, Frank and Rose on Local Knowledge, so we were able to dinghy Gary to their boat after our shopping run. It's always entertaining to see just how small the cruising community can be. We've met so many people on our travels, and the more you talk to them, the more you find cruising friends in common.

We had a "just the two of us" Christmas Eve dinner on the boat, followed by a Christmas Day potluck at the Jib Room. Stacy cooked like crazy - Beef Braciole (steak stuffed with ground meat and spices in a tomato sauce), mashed potatoes, bread, and cherry cobbler for Christmas Eve, plus a pina colada cheesecake and mini quiches to take to the potluck. The galley looked like a tornado had struck, but the food made it well worth it. (P.S. I've had a few requests for recipies, so I'm going to add a recipe section to the blog...eventually!) There were probably 40 people at the Jib Room potluck, and we had a great time visiting with fellow cruisers Valerie and Ed on Wind Swept, Alan on Joyous, and Boo (aka Linda) and Tom, owners of the Jib Room.

The weather finally broke on Boxing Day (December 26th for the Americans in the audience), and we were able to make it back across Whale Cay Passage. Big surprise (I could say "as expected"), the weather forecasters were wrong again in terms of the wind direction. Winds clocked to the NW in the morning instead of waiting til the afternoon, so we had them on the nose again. (Rene's wondering if he'll EVER get to sail again!) Fortunately the seas in the Whale were MUCH calmer than our first trip over thanks to two days of south-easterly winds, and Tawny-kitty even managed to keep her breakfast down.

We're happy to be back in Green Turtle, and have had a chance to reconnect with old friends and to meet some new ones: Gary on Breakaway is here but will likely head south next week; we had a chance to see Frank and Rose on Local Knowledge before they left for the Exhumas; Cam and Jan on Te Amore are good friends of Gary's and spend every winter in the Bahamas; Linda and Rick on Sojourner bought their boat in Kemah and lived in Watergate for a few months - they're heading towards the Chesapeake at the same time we are, so we may get to be boating buddies this summer; and of course, our Dutch friends Nicki, Larry, and Babette in the cottage next to our anchorage.

We also had a great surprise when friends Tracy and Seann came to visit earlier this week. They're staying on Spanish Cay through New Year's, and have a fast boat that allows them to island-hop without spending an entire day doing it! We met up with them at Pineapple's for a drink, and they invited us back to Spanish Cay for the night. We got to ride in the Intrepid, and it took about 30 minutes to make the 10 miles from GTC to Spanish instead of 3 hours. What a deal! We got to visit with Tracy, Seann, his parents, and their friends, and met up with another Dutchie (Spanish Cay's harbormaster/manager), Richard. We had an amazing dinner prepared by restaurateur, yacht-builder, and owner of Spanish Cay, Don Davis, and finished up the night with karaoke, politics, and too many G&Ts. Seann brought us back to the boat the next day, and we hope to see them again before they go back to Ft. Lauderdale. It's so much fun to meet up with friends in these random places!

We kind of started celebrating New Year's last night with dinner at Nicki and Babette's, followed by dancing to the music of the Gully Roosters ("the #1 band in the Bahamas!") at the Green Turtle Club. The fun continues with a 4-course meal and more dancing tonight at the Green Turtle Club, followed by the after-party at Rooster's Rest in New Plymouth. Rumor has it the party goes til 5am, just in time for breakfast. Before you even think about getting some shut-eye, it's time to head back into town. Local vendors start setting up their tents mid-morning, and the Junkanoo parade kicks off at 2pm. Now is it time to sleep? Noooo! The real full moon is today, Dec. 31st, but the full moon party at Sundowner's has been postponed until tomorrow so as not to compete with the New Year's Eve celebrations. We're told it's a party not to be missed. What a way to end the holidays!

We wish all of our family and friends a very happy New Year. Here's to a fantastic 2010!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marsh Harbor Part I, Abacos, Bahamas

Wednesday, December 16 - Saturday, December 19, 2009
We've finally made it to Marsh Harbor, the 3rd largest city in the Bahamas (after Nassau & Freeport). We've been excited about coming here, since it's the first "big city" we've been to since leaving Florida. As much as we've loved Green Turtle and Great Guana Cays, Marsh Harbor has big grocery stores plus more restaurants, shopping, and hang-out spots. We wouldn't want to stay here for too long, but it's a nice change of pace.

Marsh Harbor is less than 7nm from Guana Cay. Our cruising guide warns not to swim in the harbor due to the "poor water quality", so making water in the harbor doesn't sound like the best idea, either. We figure we can make 2 hours worth of water on the way from Guana to Marsh Harbor, but we really have to tone down the RPMs to make 3.5 knots (yes, we're motoring again...winds are - big surprise - light and on the nose). It's a slow and easy trip to Marsh, and we settle in to a good anchoring spot by noon. There are a few boats in the harbor, but it's definitely quieter than our guide books have warned for this time of year. We spot a few familiar boats...we've see or talked to Curieuse, Joyous, Mailine, and Wind Swept at different times over the past 3 weeks, and Val and Ed of Wind Swept soon dinghy over to say hi on their way to snorkel the nearby reef. That's still one of the best parts of this lifestyle; you never know who you'll run into at your next port, but you can be pretty sure there'll be at least one familiar face! We get the scoop on the nearest dinghy dock, directions into town, and some local cruiser spots, and are soon on our way in for a tour of the town. What looked like a small dinghy-landing beach from the boat turns out to be a floating dinghy dock adjacent to the ferry dock...and a good part of it isn't floating anymore! We manage to keep our feet mostly dry getting the boat tied up, and wander off for a tour of Marsh Harbor. It's literally a one-stoplight town, which is still more than can be said for it's neighboring islands. For the first time in 3 weeks, we see more cars than golf carts. Come to think of it, we don't see ANY golf carts. Now we know we're in the big city! Our walk takes us away from the waterfront, past banks (open more than two half-days a week!), veterinarians, hardware and marine stores, groceries, liquor name it, it's here. Another turn takes us to "Restaurant Row" at the eastern end of the harbor where the marinas, open-air bars, restaurants, and more touristy shops reside. There are plenty of places to visit, and most of the waterfront spots have their own dinghy docks. They really make it easy for cruisers, who provide a steady supply of tourism dollars each year.

Another good thing about being in Marsh Harbor is that we can finally pick up the daily cruiser's net on the VHF. Marsh Harbor has a net (i.e. radio program) at 8:15am each morning on VHF channel 68; it's similar to the net we used to enjoy in Marathon, FL, and covers the weather, arriving and departing boats, community events, announcements or specials from local businesses, etc. We find out about the Thursday night cruiser's happy hour at the Jib Room (bring an appetizer and meet your fellow boaters!), a wine tasting on Friday at Tupp's, Italian night at the Abaco Inn, Saturday steak night at the Jib Room, and the Christmas potluck that will be held at the Jib Room. (In case you haven't noticed, the Jib Room at the Marsh Harbor Marina seems to be "THE" spot for cruisers. There's even a flag from our old homestead, Watergate Yachting Center.) The potluck is a welcome announcement for us, since the weather forecast is not looking good for a return trip to Green Turtle in time for Christmas Day. The powers that be are forecasting gale-force winds Friday through early Sunday, and sadly the various weather sources actually agree on this forecast for once. We've already put out a second anchor in a "V" to better hold us in place and prevent dragging. Even if we do drag, there are a lot fewer boats to run into than when we first arrived. Many boats in the harbor have made reservations at local marinas so they can ride out the storm tied to a dock, and they start pulling up anchors as the winds pick up on Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, there's not another boat within 200' of us. Not to be deterred by a little wind, we dinghy into town again on Thursday to pick up a few groceries, and even make it to the cruiser's happy hour at the Jib Room that evening. (If we're going to be stuck on the boat for the next 2-3 days, we need to get out and socialize while we still can!)

Friday morning we're both bleary-eyed, and not from last night's happy hour. The winds have been howling all night, and Rene's gotten up to check the anchors twice. We're happy to report that we're still in the same position, but the latest weather report tells us we'll need to stay on our toes: Barometer Bob, Chris Parker, Weather Underground, and Windfinder are all still forecasting 30-40kt winds this afternoon through Saturday night or early Sunday morning, with the possibility of 40-50kt gusts in passing sqalls. Oh, joy... By noon we start turning as the winds clock around from the north to the east and beyond. Clocking is a strange thing on a boat. It's like a slow-motion version of the teacup ride at the carnival, only in much larger, more expensive teacups that you hope don't turn into bumper cars. You look out the window to see your neighbor boat behind you, spend a couple of minutes doing something else, and the next thing you know, you look up to see that same boat along side or even in front of you. If you've set your anchors well (ditto for your neighbors), your view doesn't include another boat suddenly in your face! It can be dizzying if the winds change fast enough, which is exactly what we've been told to expect today.

Our first squall comes thundering in at sunset. Sheets of rain hit the windows, and we get quite a light show for the next hour. The wind has us swinging back and forth again, causing our neighbors' mast lights to fly past the windows. Needing some Christmas cheer, we've hung our colored Christmas lights around the windows and have put a few decorations up. Gone are the days of 8' Christmas trees - our current tree is only 6" high. Still, it's amazing how a few lights can put you in the holiday spirit. With the Saturday morning forecast we've all but accepted the fact that we'll be "stuck" in Marsh Harbor for Christmas. (We know - queue the mini violins!) The winds are going to be too strong all the way through Christmas for us to cross the Whale Cay Passage back to Green Turtle. Tuesday is supposed to lighten up for a few hours, but it won't be enough time to allow the seas to calm down before the winds pick up again. Stacy's college friend and her family are also supposed to be cruising from Ft. Lauderdale to the Abacos for Christmas, but at this point we're not sure if the waves in the Gulf Stream will ease up enough to get them here. Who knows...maybe things will calm down in time for us to meet up for New Year's!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Great Guana Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

Monday, December 14 - Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Today is a fantastic day. Wanna know why? Because we FINALLY have internet access! It isn't incredibly fast and it logs us off intermittently (God help us when we try to Skype), but it's the first time we've had internet access (excluding the hour at the Caldwell Banker property management office-slash-cyber cafe) in nearly two weeks! We've been going positively batty, thinking we must have bad internet karma. It turns out something is jinxed in Green Turtle Cay. We'd been working with a local guy to get access there, but even he couldn't get access through his own service. We could get CNN, weather, etc., but it would crash anytime we tried to access a site with a login/password. Hmmm...what might you need that for? E-mail? Facebook? Skype? Investment/bank accounts? The blog??? Nah, nothing important there. After we spent an hour on Saturday with the internet guy, even he recommended that we consider going with the competition. Very sad... :-) Anyway, we've signed up with Out Island Internet for the next 3 months, so hopefully we'll be able to keep in touch better than we've been doing so far.

Other than that, our last day in Green Turtle was pretty quiet. Saturday night the winds blew like crazy, so we decided against going out in the dinghy. Good thing, too...after dark, it started to rain and the wind howled through the rigging. We had 20+ knot winds that kept the boat rocking all night. Those would NOT have been fun conditions in a 10' inflatable boat! Sunday afternoon, Brendal stopped by and invited us to join him for a sundowner at Pineapple's. Since we planned on leaving the following morning, a goodbye drink with Brendal seemed like a good idea. Enter the "Pineapple's Smash", their take on the Goombay Smash. Pineapple juice, a few secret ingredients, and lotsa rum. Here's where Rene plays guest blogger, since he remembers a lot more than I (Stacy) do!

Ahhhhhhhhhh ..... Happy Hour with Brendal. Remind me (Rene) what I remember of the last time we went drinking with Brendal? Correct, not too much. Today turned out to be no exception. What started as a relaxed bar adventure with a modest amount of rum punch drinks and discussions with Brendal quickly changed when the next couple of guests turned out to be Dutch sisters and of course we had a lot to catch up on. Let's just say that we had a great time but that we stayed for 1 rum drink too many. We did make it back to the boat okay but Stacy quickly faded out while Rene thought the night was young, the skies were clear and the meteorite shower needed some kind of an audience. While Stacy slept off Happy Hour, I opened a bottle of red wine and laid down on the foredeck to watch Mother Nature at her best. It was an amazing spectacle. And then somehow Stacy managed to get up, cook dinner and watch a little of it as well. Quite the trooper she is! All-in-all we had a blast but were not exactly looking forward to getting up early the next day.

Amazingly enough, we woke up Monday morning feeling much better than we deserved to. The alarm went off at 7am so we could get out of Green Turtle with enough water (high tide was at 6am). Thank goodness Rene's cell phone still has a working alarm function. Granted, that's about the only thing it's used for these days, and that doesn't happen often! We'd initially planned to make the "crossing" (all 15 miles of it) from Green Turtle to Guana Cay on Sunday, but the weather forecast did a one-eighty on us. The original Sunday forecast of "light and variable winds under 10 knots" somehow changed to "15-20 knots through the afternoon". Now 15-20kt winds aren't a big thing if you're in a protected area, but this trip required us to cross "THE WHALE". Whale Passage is probably 4-6 miles long in its entirety (I think the outside section is only 2 miles, with a maybe 4 mile long channel leading up to it), but it's a bear in anything but calm, non-northerly winds. The Whale involves a lapse in the long reef that typically provides a natural jetty for the Abacos. For those few miles, you're dealing with waves straight out of the Atlantic. Today we finally got our "light and variable" south-easterly winds, and the Whale still managed to hit us with 2-4' rollers (i.e. rolling waves spaced far apart). The furry duo (Tux & Tawny) were sick almost immediately upon entering the Whale, and conditions didn't improve until we reached the channel off Guana Cay nearly two hours later. Poor kitties...poor pukey, poopy kitties - and their parents who had to clean up the mess!

We got into Fisher's Bay in Great Guana Cay close to 11am today, and decided to go for the lazy man's anchoring: Dive Guana's mooring balls for $15/night. It means we don't have to worry about whether our anchor will have any problems holding here, plus it's a slightly shorter dinghy ride to the beach. If we stay for a second night, we'll probably go back to real anchoring to save the $15 (that's a cheeseburger in the Bahamas!). For now, it's kind of nice not to have to check our surroundings in the middle of the night to make sure we aren't dragging anchor into another boat. After a failed attempt at a nap, followed by lunch and a shower, we dinghy over to the public dock at Grabber's Bar & Grill. Grabber's is on the northern side of our anchorage and is supposed to be a fun spot. We stop in to see if they serve dinner, and learn that their kitchen is only open for dinner Thursday through Sunday. They have a potluck dinner on Wednesday that's supposed to be popular with cruisers, but we plan to be in Marsh Harbor by then ahead of the next cold front. So much for Grabbers...maybe next time. On the plus side, Grabbers is on the peninsula between our anchorage and Guana Cay's main drag. It makes for an easy walk from the dinghy dock into town, and we enjoy a leisurely stroll around the main harbor. That takes all of 15 minutes (we're talking about a tiny island with a population of 450), so on the way back we decide to take a right turn at "the crossroads" to climb the hill to Nipper's. Nipper's is by far the most famous place in Guana Cay. It opened in 1996 and immediately attracted people from all over with its multi-tiered bar, pool, fresh seafood, and frozen "Nipper". Apparently a Nipper has orange and pineapple juices mixed with 4 types of rum, but they won't tell you which rums or how much of each. (After our last couple of experiences with rum punches, we're avoiding the frozen Nippers for now!) The place has incredibly gorgeous views of the wide, golden-sand beach below the bluff, as well as the turquoise water of the Atlantic beyond. We have a good chat with the bartender and decide to go back for lunch the following day. We also find out that they have FREE calls to the U.S., which seems to be the case at a couple of bars on Guana Cay. Now if only we could remember peoples' phone numbers...

This is a short trip to Guana Cay since there's a front coming through on Thursday that's supposed to bring gale-force (31-40mph?) winds. We really don't want to be out and about at that point, so we're leaving for the protection of Marsh Harbor on Wednesday morning. Hopefully the front will blow through and bring some calmer weather by early next week. We still want to make it back to Green Turtle in time for Brendal's Christmas potluck!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Green Turtle Cay

Friday, December 4 - Saturday, December 12, 2009
Welcome to Green Turtle Cay! We arrived in White Sound at Green Turtle Cay on Friday, having left Spanish Cay on Thursday and overnighting at nearby Manjack (pronounced "Munjack" or even "Nunjack") Cay. The weather gurus warned of a cold front bringing strong (20-30+ knot) winds on Friday and Saturday, so we wanted to get to a well-protected anchorage. White Sound fit the bill perfectly. The only tricky part of the journey was actually leaving Spanish Cay marina. 20kt winds were blowing us up against the dock, so we had to get creative about leaving. To give you a frame of reference, we were in a 50' slip that had a dock to port and three pilings to starboard between our slip and the slip next to us. Behind the portside dock were two additional pilings in case someone wanted to put a really big boat in the slip. Somehow we needed to get Pipe off the dock and out of the slip without hitting either the dock or any of the five surrounding pilings. After a couple of hours of brainstorming, we finally had a plan. Rene got a dock line and swam to the center piling between our slip and the one next to us, then used a boat hook to get the dock line over the piling's cleat 10' above the water line. That done, we were able to winch the dock line tight enough to pull Pipe's stern away from the dock. The plan was to bow-thrust to starboard while releasing the port bow line, then ease the boat back out of the slip. The line on the center piling was supposed to keep the boat from being pushed back into the dock, or worse, into either of the two pilings behind the dock. We would, of course, release the line on the center piling as we crept out of the slip. Good plan, right? Well, it ALMOST worked. Bow-thrusting to starboard worked like a charm, and the boat was centered for the first few seconds that we backed out of the slip. Unfortunately, a combination of the wind and the pivot from the center piling line caused Pipe to turn diagonally in the slip; suddenly, we had the bow to port against the dock and the stern backing towards the starboard piling! Stacy is running from one side of the boat to the other pulling lines out of the water and trying to push us off of the pilings. Rene is at the helm trying to straighten out the boat and keep us from hitting anything more. Our plan was to back out of the slip to port into the mini turning basin, but somehow we ended up doing a counter-clockwise doughnut out of the slip. Thank god the marina was nearly empty! There wasn't anyone to hit, and our only witnesses were the caretakers of the mega-yacht and a couple who had just brought their boat in for repairs. Not that we mind being the source of entertainment, but we really don't want to do any major damage!

We finally get the boat turned towards the exit, manage not to hit any of the boulders that make up the marina's breakwater, and are on our way to our next destination. We're only 15-20nm from Green Turtle Cay, but the entrance channel is 4.5-5' at MLW and high tide isn't until 9pm. Rather than risk entering an unfamiliar channel on a rising tide in the dark, we opt for a gorgeous anchorage at Manjack Cay, which is less than 5nm from Green Turtle. This way we can leave early in the morning and get to White Sound in plenty of time for high tide at 9am. We get to Manjack before sunset, and are greeted by our neighbor boat, Baroda. Baroda calls us on the VHF with an offer of a fresh fish ("on a bun!") dinner, but Rene isn't in the mood to lower the dinghy. We promise to meet up with them in Green Turtle Cay, which is their destination as well.
Friday morning we're up with the sun, only to find that Baroda has already left. We make the hour-long trip to White Sound, and have plenty of water to make it through the channel to the anchorage. Who do we see as we enter the anchorage? Baroda, of course! We meet up with the guys later in the day in the bar at the Green Turtle Club. It turns out that they left at 10:30pm the night before, having gotten tired of the heat and mosquitoes in the Manjack anchorage. We have a lot of fun chatting with Al, Bob, and Gary, who are nephew/uncle and father/son-in-law traveling together. Don't try to keep it straight - we couldn't! We all decide that we're ready for a night without cooking and agree to meet up for drinks on Pipe Muh Bligh, followed by dinner together at the Green Turtle Club's buffet. Coconut-encrusted grouper, mango chicken, ribs, homemade bread, Bahamian mac n cheese, rice & peas, and pineapple upside-down cake...good stuff!

The next morning, Stacy wakes up at 6:30am (yuck) for Chris Parker's weather forecast. The cold front is finally coming through, and we're supposed to get 20-30kt winds with gusts up to 40kts. So much for our plans to dinghy into town. We would need to dinghy out of White Sound, go a few hundred yards in open water, and tuck into Settlement Sound to get to New Plymouth. It's supposed to be a quaint little town, but it'll be there tomorrow. We don't want to deal with 3' seas in our dinghy, even if it is only a mile or two. Talk about a wet ride! Wouldn't you know, Sunday ends up looking a lot like Saturday. The winds are a bit calmer, but dark clouds threaten rain all day. This means day 2 on the more of these, and Stacy's going to start throwing things! ( gives me a chance to work on the blog. Now if only I can get internet access to publish the darned thing...)

Monday we finally make our way to New Plymouth, the one and only "downtown" area on Green Turtle. It's as quaint and lovely as the guidebooks say, and we spend the morning wandering up and down the streets and stopping in a few shops to talk to the locals. The owners of Sid's Grocery show us a schedule of events happening every weekend between now and Christmas, and tell us about Green Turtle's "Junkanoo" festival that's held on New Year's Day. We don't know the history of the festival yet, but it sounds like a heck of a party! Up the street from Sid's, we find the recently renovated home of Admiral Roberts, which has been turned into a museum and marine/reef awareness and educational center. It has some great photos of New Plymouth from 1951 and 2006 (not much has changed), as well as some gorgeous shots of nearby dive sites. We also meet a 6-months-out-of-the-year local in the Roberts home who tells us about a boater's happy hour that takes place on Fridays from 6-8pm in a nearby watering hole/liquor store. It sounds like a good way to meet other boaters, and we figure we'll stick around through the weekend. In the meantime, Rene has been itching to go diving, and we've decided that we'll go out with a local guide this week to get a feel for the conditions before working our way to the reef in our dinghy.

After trying to get hooked up to a local internet service (still no luck), we head to Brendal's Dive Center on Tuesday to set up a dive. Rene wants to do a two-tank dive, but the folks at the shop are touting their "Adventure Tour" on Wednesday that includes a one-tank dive plus a beach BBQ of lobster that will be caught en route and fresh grouper bought ahead of time (our guides tell us they're okay spearing the cockroach-like lobsters, but can't bring themselves to spear groupers that often follow divers around like tame puppy dogs). Rene, being the dive purist that he is, really doesn't want to sacrifice a dive for lunch, but he finally relents and signs us up for the full-day event. What a fantastic time we have! The dive shop is conveniently located at the Green Turtle Club, which is a 3-minute dinghy ride from our boat. After checking in at 8:45am, we load our gear onto the dive boat, pick up another couple from the Bluff House Resort on the other side of the anchorage, and our on our way. This is definitely a slow time in the Bahamas, and there are only 7 of us on the boat: 3 guides (Brendal, Jack, and Tasha) plus 4 guests, and only 2 of the guests (us) are diving. Talk about personal service! We stop at the Coral Caverns, where Jack tells us to expect reef sharks, groupers, tarpon, and plenty of tropical fish. As the name suggests, there are also plenty of caverns or "swim-throughs" to enjoy. Fortunately, the swim-throughs are open at the top and allow for plenty of sunlight - we aren't ready to do true cave diving yet! It's also a fairly shallow dive - 40' at its deepest - so we'll get to stay down for an hour or more. What a magnificent spot. The first thing we see when we get to the bottom is a trio of reef sharks. These puppies are each 6-8' with plenty of teeth. Stacy's heart skips a beat at first; they come within 20' of us before turning away, but we're obviously not a part of their food chain. We also see massive silver tarpons, big jacks, groupers, spiny lobsters (although we can't touch them - spearfishing with SCUBA gear is a no-no in the Bahamas), and tons of smaller, colorful fish. We maneuver through the caverns and enjoy the healthy corals, and spend the latter part of the dive over the reef in 15' of water below the boat. While we've been diving, Brendal and Tasha have been snorkeling with Scott and Nicole, hunting for lobsters (called "crawfish" in the Bahamas) for the BBQ pit. They've speared a few big ones, and we get a lesson on removing the lobster's tail with most of the meat intact. We also get our first glass of rum punch...let the party begin! Anchor up, we head for a nearby beach on the north side of Manjack Cay. It's like something out of a travel brochure: crystal blue water, golden sand, a lone pier, and a couple of picnic tables. Jack and Tasha get the BBQ going and Brendal preps the lobster tails. He tosses a couple of pieces of grouper into the surf, which attracts the attention of our first marine visitor - a 3-4' tiger shark. Compared to the reef sharks on our dive, this little guy seems harmless. Rene immediately jumps in the water and splashes the surface to get his attention, and the shark swims back and forth among our group. Once in awhile the shark swims so near the beach that its dorsal is out of the water, and we begin to understand how people get bitten in knee-deep water. We finally tear ourselves away from the entertainment to have lunch (not to mention a few more rum punches), and what a fantastic feast it is. The grouper has been cooked in Mojo marinade with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, and the steamed lobster tails are served with a garlic-butter sauce. The tails have an almost smoky flavor, and even Stacy (not a lobster fan) loves them. After lunch, we get yet another visitor - a resident stingray who has come to get a few pieces of raw grouper that Brendal saved for it. We all take turns holding pieces of grouper underwater, fingers and thumbs protectively tucked into fists, as the stingray nibbles up its treats. We've fed stingrays in the Caymans before, but you never get tired of petting these velvety creatures. It's been an amazing day, and we hate to leave our little patch of paradise. Fortunatley we know we'll be back - there's more diving to be done!

Having had way too many rum punches on Manjack (we didn't realize they were mixed with 151), Thursday ends up being a mostly wasted day. Neither of us feels very productive, but we manage to get second winds in time for our guests to arrive. We'd invited everyone from the dive trip over to the boat for happy hour, and Brendal, Scott, and Nicole arrive with goodies in hand. What a bunch of sweethearts! Rene had told Scott and Nicole how much he was going to miss having fresh milk on board, so they show up with a half gallon of 2% as a boat gift. Brendal brings a cooler full of ice ("you never go to a boat party without ice!"), as well as his guitar to sing us a few tunes. A fun happy hour gets even better when Brendal suggests we all go out. Since Scott and Nicole are leaving the island in the morning, how can we say no? We hop into Brendal's boat and motor down the nearly pitch-black channel out of White Sound. The first thing we notice are the stars: the sky is so clear and bright that you can see the milky way along with the constellations. You just don't get skies like this in the city! Ten minutes later, Brendal pulls up to a dock at the end of New Plymouth. We have no idea where we are until we see a sign made of Christmas lights: Sundowners. Ah-ha! We saw a sign for this place at Brendal's dive shop, and it's supposed to be one of the best bars on the island. It's full of locals and visitors alike, and EVERYONE knows Brendal. Having been in business here for 25 years, he's definitely a local celebrity, and people are just drawn to his charm and kindness. We have a fantastic time at Sundowners, and finally crawl back to the boat around midnight. We hate saying goodbye to Scott and Nicole, but we know we'll see Brendal again soon. He's supposed to be playing at another local hot spot, Pineapples, on Friday night. He also holds an annual Christmas Day potluck dinner at the dive shop. We'll be there!

Friday we're on the hunt again. We STILL don't have internet access, and our families are probably beginning to worry about us. We even got the passwords from Green Turtle Club to access their Wi-Fi service, but it doesn't work from the boat. There's a local company that covers most of the Abacos for $100/month, but the site bombs out every time Rene tries to enter his credit card info. Wouldn't you know, you can only sign up online - Rene called the company, but they can't sign us up over the phone. Arrrrggggghhhhh! Three hours, two phone calls, and a thousand keystrokes later, we still have no internet access. We went to the Green Turtle Club but couldn't access their system even from on site. Rene called the local company again, but they can't tell us why we aren't able to sign up for service. We can get a free trial of their system for about 5 minutes, but we can't access e-mail, Facebook, or anything else with a login page that would allow us to send a message ("we're okay!") to our families. The 3-5 other "unsecured" networks in the area will let us connect, but nothing happens once we do. This has gotten ridiculous, and we don't know what else to do. We're pretty close to breaking down and making a few really expensive phone calls home! We finally give up on the internet saga and jump in the dinghy back to town. We're off to the boater's happy hour at David's bar/liquor store, and hopefully to Pineapples to hear Brendal play after that. He was told last night that it might not happen since there's a Christmas caroling event in town. We haven't quite figured out the logic to it...whether that means Pineapples thinks they'd have no one at their place to listen, or there would be some other reason for canceling Brendal's gig, we aren't sure. We aren't giving up yet, and figure we'll swing by Pineapples after the happy hour to see what's up. We arrive at David's at 6pm, and walk into what used to be the living room of an old house. Bookshelves have been set up around the perimeter and filled with liquor and wine bottles for sale, and a long bar runs from one end of the room to the other. The lighting is subdued to better show off the Christmas tree and lights hung from the rafters, and we immediately like the place. Just one thing...this isn't really a boater's happy hour. It's a local's happy hour, and conversation grounds to a halt as all eyes turn to us when we walk through the front door. Hmmm... As we get a few hellos and people return to their discussion, we learn from the bartender that you can buy a bottle of wine to drink there (nothing is sold by the glass), or get a beer from their large selection in the cooler. Wine glasses in hand, we begin to look around for someone to talk to. The place isn't too busy yet, and everyone (except us) is sitting at the bar while we stand behind them. We must look awkward enough checking out the bottles on the shelves, because someone finally takes pity on us and comes over to say hello. We learn that she and her friends are from Texas (something in common!), and she introduces us to a few others at the bar. Now we're getting somewhere! The place fills up soon afterwards, and we have a good time meeting a few people. It turns out that while some have (or had) boats, most of them live on the island six months out of the year or more. They aren't cruisers as we had expected, and this is more of a neighborly get-together. Although we get one question of "so how did you find out about the local's happy hour?", everyone is really friendly. We even meet Lana who works at the library and tells us we can access the internet on their computers for $0.50/minute. (Yessss...maybe we can FINALLY call home and publish this damn blog before it becomes as long as a Tom Clancy novel!) As we leave the bar, another couple we've met tells us that it doesn't look good for Pineapples tonight. You can see Pineapples's dock from where we stand, and it's dark and quiet. "Usually you can hear the band from here." Uh-oh. It turns out that tonight was the town's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, and Pineapples has closed for the festivities. No Brendal tonight. Oh, well...back to the boat we go.

You're not going to believe's Saturday morning, we've gone into town to use the computers at the library, and their internet is down! Rene tries to connect using Wi-Fi on his laptop, but no luck. Lana tells us about a Caldwell Banker office around the corner that also has internet. We go there, are able to connect using their computers, but we still can't sign up for the local service. You've got to be kidding!!! We've transferred the blog notes and pictures to a jump drive to copy onto the Caldwell Banker PCs, so we're finally up to date (and yes, we're still fine, Moms!) At this point, we may have to wait to sign up (or at least try to) in Great Guana Cay or Marsh Harbor. Till next time!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Great Sale Cay & Spanish Cay, Bahamas

Monday, November 30 - Thursday, December 3, 2009

We've made it! We're finally in the Bahamas...a year later than we originally planned, but we're here! We left Lake Worth at 9pm on Sunday (11/29), headed for Memory Rock north of West End. We initially planned to go to the Old Bahama Bay marina on West End to clear customs & immigration, but a pending cold front threatened to keep us there for a few days (more marina days = more $$$). Someone at the Riviera Beach marina told us it was a lot easier to go straight through to Great Sale Cay via Memory Rock. It saves you from clearing customs in West End, and more importantly, from having to deal with the shallow channel past Indian Rock and Barracuda Shoal. Instead of leaving Lake Worth at 4am on Monday, however, that pushed up our departure by a few hours. We ran around Palm Beach like crazy finishing up last-minute errands, and managed to raise the anchor on time. We had an easy trip out of the inlet, up until we neared the outer marker and saw a HUGE barge coming our way. We'd heard him talking to a tug on the VHF radio, and called him to figure out how to best stay out of his way. Once we passed him, we were on our way to the Bahamas!

Seas were only 1-2' most of the way, which made it easy on us and the kitties. The northerly current of the gulf stream was much stronger than we anticipated. At its worst, it required a 50 degree spread between our true heading and our course over ground. On top of that, the wind was on the nose the entire time, so we never managed to raise the sails. (It looked like our wind gauge was broken!) Ultimately it took us 13 hours to make the 53nm trip from Lake Worth to Memory Rock instead of the planned 10-12 hours. We continued on to Great Sale Cay in plenty of water and calm seas. Our only no-no was breaking the Bahamian "cardinal rule" of not traveling in the Bahamas at night (too many shallows and coral heads); fortunately we had deep water all the way to our anchorage, as well as a nearly-full moon that lit our path. We arrived at our anchorage an hour and a half after sunset, and were one of only 4 boats in the anchorage. Apparently we weren't the only crazy ones traveling at night; 2-3 more boats arrived at the anchorage two hours after us.

We were up at dawn to make the 44nm crossing to Allans Pensacola Cay. En route, we spoke to another boat via VHF who mentioned a spot that had better protection for the forecasted 20-plus knot south-easterly winds. We ended up in Crab Cay off the eastern tip of Little Abaco Island with only one other boat (our radio buddies ended up going to Allans Pensacola), and enjoyed a spectacular sunset and the company of a 3' barracuda which circled our boat on arrival. Speaking of wildlife...we've only been here for two days, but we're already in awe of the sea life. During yesterday's crossing, we came across a 4-5' tiger shark swimming at the surface, as well as a dolphin that wanted to check us out. The water is so shallow and clear that we can see all kinds of creatures wherever we are.

Wednesday we made the 5nm trip from Crab Cay to Spanish Cay to clear customs and find some shelter from the forecasted 30kt winds. Spanish Cay is a private resort island, and we've apparently come in the off (i.e. dead) season. There's no one here, other than the caretakers of a 112' mega-yacht and the marina manager with his visiting family members. By the way - did we mention that they're Dutch?? It seems like anywhere we go, Rene manages to meet up with his fellow countrymen. Queue the Disney characters and "It's a Small World" now...

After checking in with customs and immigration, we were finally "legal" in the Bahamas. Woo hoo! We wandered to the north end of the island and found a beach with tons of conch shells and a few stranded starfish that Rene put back in the water. We tried to go to Wrecker's bar on Barefoot Beach, but it turns out that it's only open Thursday through Sunday during high season - neither of which applies today. No worries...we went back to the boat for lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the marina pool.

Today (Thursday), we hope to go up to Manjack Cay for an overnight stop if the winds will ever let us leave Spanish Cay marina. We have 15kt winds on the beam pushing us into the dock, so we're not going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully they'll ease up this afternoon so we can get out of here. We'd like to get into Green Turtle Cay Friday morning at high tide, since the channel entrance is only 4.5-5' at MLW. Green Turtle is supposed to be a pretty happening place, so hopefully we'll have more stories to tell later!

A word of warning to our friends and family - not surprisingly, it isn't nearly as easy to find internet access here as it is in the states. We're traveling around some deserted islands, often far from a cell tower. We're hoping to figure out a more reasonably-priced alternative to our Verizon broadband stick once we get to Green Turtle Cay or Marsh Harbor. We'll update the blog as often as we can, but please don't be surprised if it's a week or more between updates!

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