Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Impressions of Luperon, Dominican Republic

Saturday, May 28 – Sunday, May 29, 2011

We can’t believe it – we’re really here! We had an easy overnight trip from South Caicos, and arrived at the entrance to Luperon Harbor shortly after sunrise. Our only hiccup was a tricky entry into the harbor thanks to a faulty chart plotter chip. Our Navtech chips have been trusty companions for over two years, but the map of Luperon is a total mess. The land masses are a quarter-mile off of reality, meaning our GPS waypoints look like they’re forcing us over land instead of safely weaving us through the shallow spots. Harbor depths on the chart show 96-120 feet, when the truth is 15-20. (That makes quite a difference when you’re supposed to put out seven times the depth amount when dropping your anchor!) We managed to sound our way in following the waypoints and our cruising guide (trying our best to ignore anything on the chart plotter), and rafted up to Storyville until Papo and “Handy Andy” came by at 8am to assign us a mooring. What a great pair; Papo and Andy can rent you a mooring, bring you gas, diesel, or water (washing or drinking quality), get you a rental car, organize a waterfall tour, clean your boat bottom, or provide a dozen other services the visiting cruisers might need. We paid $250 up front for five months on a mooring ball – well worth it not to have to put our anchor in the quicksand-like mud that makes up the bottom of the anchorage. Papo even agreed to install a new mooring for us, one that was bigger than our initial one and closer to Storyville.

Next up was a trip into town to clear customs…or should we say customs, immigration, harbor entry, agriculture, and the Navy Commandante, followed by a trip back to the boat with two Navy “inspectors”. Each office meant new paperwork and more fees, and we were $93 poorer when we were through. Still, that’s a whole lot better than the Bahamas’ $300 cruising permit!

After taking the Navy boys back to shore, we joined Storyville at Captain Steve’s Bar and Restaurant in town. Steve and his wife, Annie, run the place that has become a cruiser staple in Luperon. They have a pool, shower, free wi-fi, grande cervesas (big beers) for under $2, and daily specials like bacon cheeseburger and fries, grouper fingers, fried chicken, Thai pork, chili, or spaghetti Bolognese, all for 100 pesos (about $3). We each had a great lunch and beer, all for $11 per couple. Supposedly you can eat further out of town for even less. No wonder so many cruisers come down here and end up staying! A couple can easily live here on $1000 a month. We’ve met two single-handers who do it for $500-550. We can’t wait to go to the vegetable market on Tuesday morning; the delivery trucks line everything up along the sidewalk and you can buy directly from them before the produce gets taken to the stores. Mangoes, papaya, pineapples, broccoli, peppers, and who knows what else for pennies. It’ll be hard not to go crazy!

Sunday we listened to the cruiser’s net to get the run-down on all of the available activities in Luperon: a Sunday morning cruiser swap-meet, watching the Indy 500 on the big screen at Wendy’s Bar, twice-a-week Spanish lessons, Monday-Wednesday-Friday yoga, twice-a-week movie nights at Wendy’s, Thursday lasagna night at the Upper Deck, Friday night dinner and karaoke dance party at the Puerto Blanca Marina… Plus cruisers will announce when they have extra space in a rental car or van going on a major shopping run to nearby Puerto Plata or Santiago. Even with all of the get-togethers, it doesn’t feel nearly as “adult day care” contrived as Georgetown. Maybe it’s because we plan on staying here for five months, or maybe it’s because there are so many other long-term cruiser “residents”; either way, there’s a real community feel to this place, and we think we’re going to love our stay here. People (both locals and cruisers) are so incredibly friendly, and everyone tells us that, with the exception of some minor theft (e.g. don’t leave things in your cockpit or dinghy if you don’t want them to disappear), Luperon is very safe. Somehow we just have to figure out how to say “no” to those humongous beers... Cheers!

Turks & Caicos

Tuesday, May 17 – Friday, May 27, 2011

Author’s note: You may have noticed that our blog updates have been fewer and farther between, thanks to a recent lack of good internet connections. We’re running a good two weeks behind these days (e.g it’s nearly June 1st as I finish up the May 17th blog) as we scramble to get from the Bahamas to Luperon. Once settled in the DR, we hope to find more regular internet service…and become more regular in our blogging!

First of all, a very “Happy Birthday” to Stacy’s mom!

After arriving in Sapodilla Bay soon after sunrise, we managed to stay awake long enough to clear in at customs, walk up to a neighborhood market, and spend some time swimming in the bay. Cruiser karma worked yet again, as we met a terrific family renting one of the homes on the beach. Frank, Angela, and their kids and their partners, Kara, Dave, AJ, Ryan, Brianna, and Bret, were staying in a nearby house for a few days. They graciously invited us up to the house for a tour and drinks the afternoon that we arrived, and welcomed us again for dinner the following night. Frank had filled up a cooler full of meats, and we were completely spoiled by Kobe beef, grilled chicken, sausages, pork loin, burgers, and plenty of trimmings. We had a great time hearing all about AJ and Ryan's upcoming wedding, Kara and Dave's travels, and Brianna's study program in the Middle East. We were truly enchanted by such a warm, close-knit family, and hope we get to see them again someday!

Call us crazy, but the Turks and Caicos has us feeling a little unbalanced. It’s been a “bi-polar” few days for us, with some serious highs and lows. We started on a high, just happy to be here and not moving after our 48-hour trip from Conception. Our excitement was soon dashed when a birthday call to Stacy’s mom revealed that Grandpa had been badly burned in a kitchen accident and was going in for surgery (think ‘excised skin and skin grafts’). He’d finally been admitted into the top trauma/burn hospital in Seattle, and we knew he was surrounded by good people. Still, it was awful waiting for news and hoping he’d come through the surgery alright. He has a few more weeks of recovery ahead of him, but we’re so thankful that he’s in good hands with a terrific team of doctors…and family members!

Once we felt better about Grandpa’s status, we said a temporary goodbye to Storyville and Pa’La O’La and headed to West Caicos for some SCUBA diving. West Caicos is an uninhabited island 10 miles from Provo, and is famous for its wall that lies just a few hundred yards offshore. There are moorings installed at each site that are primarily for commercial dive operators, but cruising boats can use them for diving and even overnight mooring when they’re not being used by the locals. Between our SCUBA guide book and a local website, we found 13 potential dive sites along the five miles of coastline. A cruise down the western shore found only seven actual moorings, but we figured it would be plenty for a few days in the area. We overnighted at “Brandywine”, and made our first dive of the season Monday morning. Woo hoo! Stacy hung off the ladder while Rene got geared up, and was amazed by the fish life right under the boat: jacks, tuna, barracuda, and even a shark in the distance. And that was before we even got down to the reef! We planned to take it slowly since this was our first dive in over a year. Fortunately, diving is a lot like riding a bike – it all comes back to you fairly quickly. We soon found ourselves in sand at a depth of 50 feet, and spent the next half-hour over the reef in 60-70 feet. There were the usual suspects: angel fish, wrasse, cow fish, blue tangs, trumpets, and even the dreaded lion fish. We even had TWO reef sharks pass us a few times as they patrolled their kingdom. Scary? Yes. Gorgeous in their own way? You bet! We had a real treat on the way back to the boat, when a loggerhead turtle came up right next to us. It let us follow it as it looked for nibbles, and we were in such awe that we didn’t spot the monster barracuda until it was right on top of us. It’s hard to judge the size of something when it’s inches away from your face, but we’re pretty sure it was a 5+ footer. All we know is that its head was massive! We moved a half-mile down the shore to “White Face” for an afternoon dive, only to discover that our other two tanks had leaked since the last time we filled them. The result? About 60% full in one tank, and only 20% full in the other. Damn! Rather than spend another hour filling the tanks, we decided to have a short dive using the fullest tanks we had: one-third and two-thirds full. We saw huge angel fish, more groupers, file fish, tux fish, etc., and hated having to turn back after 20 minutes thanks to our air situation. We were so preoccupied with our air levels that we didn’t do a very good job navigating…meaning we wasted a few minutes trying to find the boat. We finally managed to get back, just in time for a late-afternoon rainstorm that lasted, on and off, for four hours. Enough of opening and closing hatches already!

Rene refilled the tanks the next morning, and we motored the quarter-mile to “Driveway”. “Driveway” is supposed to be one of the most popular sites in the area, so we waited until the commercial guys had all selected other moorings before grabbing it for ourselves. What a beautiful dive! We saw a tuna following a reef shark as we made our descent, and were soon following the reef at the top of the wall in 50-60 feet of water. We saw tons of electric blue creole wrasse, … (get fish guide). The highlights of the trip were a green moray eel that came partially out of its hole in the coral to watch us, followed by a tiny black and white juvenile drum fish. Rene would likely add our very curious companion, a six-foot reef shark, to the list of highlights. Stacy, not so much. The damn thing followed us the entire trip back to the boat, disappearing into the murk for a couple of minutes at a time before coming back to get in our faces. Rene managed to stay between it and Stacy the entire time (thanks, honey!), but Stace was scared…uhh, “poop-less”. Seriously, it was within three feet of Rene more than once! (Author’s note: Rene swears it never acted “twitchy”, or aggressive, but I’m not entirely convinced.) After 15-20 minutes of being followed by the dang thing, Stacy was more than ready to get back to the boat. We finally got aboard without incident and moved to “The Gully” after lunch for an afternoon dive. Stacy got into the water at the swim ladder and made a cursory glance around to see what was down there with her. Bad move! An 8-foot lemon shark was patrolling the area along the shore bottom, and it began heading towards the boat a few seconds later. Stacy got out and had Rene check on the shark; it had begun patrolling the bottom again. Stacy got back in, and the shark immediately made a bee-line for the boat. That was enough to put Stace in a panic, and she vetoed the dive. (Our good capitan was NOT pleased, but I just couldn’t do it!) Guess it was time to go back to Sapodilla Bay…

We’d also been keeping in touch with Pa’La O’La (and Storyville, by extension) via SSB radio. Each morning, Barbara and Stacy would talk to each other to catch up and talk about the latest plans for crossing. We agreed to move to South Caicos on Thursday to meet up with the others, and had heard that Saturday would offer a good weather window for the 23-mile crossing of the Columbus Passage (aka Turks and Caicos Passage) to Big Sand Cay. Big Sand Cay is 78 miles from Luperon, and is a much-used staging area for boats heading to the DR. You know what they say about “best laid plans”? Chris Parker’s forecast threw yet another monkey wrench into the works when he warned of 40-50kt squalls that threatened the area through Saturday and Sunday, followed by even more crummy weather the following week. Storyville decided to get out while they had a chance, and left Thursday morning for a nonstop jump to Luperon. Pa’La O’La decided to wait out the weather in South Caicos, and we debated leaving ourselves Friday morning vs. making some side trips with them until we all got another window. We got up at 6:30 Friday morning to listen to Chris Parker, who then managed to scare the bejesus out of us; heavy storms were coming our way starting Saturday night or Sunday, and there was a one in twenty chance that a tropical low would form south of Jamaica the following Wednesday. Bottom line, either leave for Luperon TODAY, or sit out some really crappy weather on the unprotected Turks & Caicos banks. (Did we mention that the crappy weather might prevent a Luperon jump for another 2-3 weeks?) Talk about a no-brainer! We headed into town with Barbara and Gary to check out at the immigration office, and made it back to the boat by 10am. After spending 45 minutes prepping the boat for the 20-hour trip to Luperon, we headed out of Cockburn Harbour and into the Columbus Passage. We saw a few storm clouds shortly after leaving the harbor, but managed to miss out on all but the tail end of a sprinkle. The waves flattened out after the first few hours in the Columbus Passage, and we had a relatively easy motor-sail (and even some real motor-off sailing) until well after sunset. The winds picked up in the wee hours of the morning courtesy of some major storm cells off to port, and we began to see 15-20kts, gusting to 25, by 3am. Stacy had to rouse Rene out of his sleep shift to help roll in the jib, and we spent the next hour trying – successfully, thank god! – to outrun the cells. Fifteen miles out, we began to smell the Dominican Republic – earthy, smoky scents on the winds – and we knew we were almost there.

We plan to stay in Luperon for the next five months, depending on how hurricane season goes. Once we get settled, we’ll try to find more regular internet service so we can update the blog more frequently. We have a feeling the DR will be quite an adventure. Til then!

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2011TurksCaicos?feat=directlink

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Goodbye, Georgetown…Hello, Out Islands! Or Make That Luperon…Nope. How About Turks and Caicos?

Thursday, May 12, 2011 – Monday, May 16, 2011

Amazing…we’ve finally done it. We’ve actually left Georgetown! We pulled up anchor in Red Shanks before 7am, and joined Storyville and Pa’La O’La for the 40-mile trip to Conception Island. We had virtually no wind, which made for a smooth ride on the motor – once we got out of the choppy, rolly, confused seas prior to the inlet. As expected, we had a very seasick kitty in the first hour, but he zonked out once we were left to the widely-spaced swells of the Atlantic.

We also – finally – tried our hand at fishing during a crossing. We picked up a plastic yo-yo in Georgetown, and fixed it with a green and yellow lure to hang about 50 feet behind the boat. Three hours later, we hadn’t gotten a nibble, but we heard shouts of “fish on the line” over the VHF from Pa’La O’La – they got a three-foot mahi mahi – and “we got one” (make that a two-foot mackerel) from Storyville. Oh, well, as much as we hoped to hook something ourselves, we were just happy get to share in the spoils – in the form of a fantastic grilled mahi dinner aboard Pa’La O’La that night! We made great time to Conception, and were an hour from our anchorage when a huge line of squalls stopped us in our tracks. We debated trying to outrun the storm, and finally agreed that the best option would be to drop the sails and do doughnuts until the front passed. As LA would say, “that’s what Plato would do!” After an hour, we finally managed to find a hole between three cells and made a quick dash to the anchorage. We could hear other boats reporting a three-foot swell coming into the anchorage, and knew it would be a rolly night. Oh, well…at least we were out of Georgetown!

We spent Friday exploring the highlights of Conception Island: hiking to the Atlantic side to beachcomb and admire the views, dinghying south around the point to watch the turtles swim through the mangroves, and snorkeling over the many coral heads north of the anchorage. Thanks to a sleep-deprived night caused by the swells, we also learned how to make a “swell bridle”, courtesy of Bruce Van Sant’s Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South. The idea is to tie a line from your anchor rode to your stern, thus forcing your boat to point into the swells instead of into the wind (much preferred since the wind-driven waves were negligible). The bridle worked wonders, and we expect to make use of it as we go further south into the Caribbean.

Saturday morning we all woke up for the 6:30am Chris Parker SSB broadcast, assuming we’d get one more forecast under our belts before making the 20-mile trip to Rum Cay. Rum Cay is described as one of the most beautiful islands in the entire Bahamas chain, and we were really excited to go. We knew we probably wouldn’t have time to SCUBA like we initially intended (damn dinghy outboard!), but at least we’d get to see the island. From there, we figured we’d make a few day-hops to Clarence Town, Little Harbour, Landrail Point, Attwood Harbour, Mayaguana, and finally the Turks and Caicos before jumping to our final destination of Luperon in the Dominican Republic. A nice, leisurely trip, right? Not so fast… Pa’La O’La spoke to Chris to get an extended forecast for our southbound jaunt, and the weather guru told us that we needed to get to Luperon by Tuesday or risk not having another weather window open up for at least a couple of weeks. WHAT?!? Damn you, Chris Parker! Okay, not really. Obviously it wasn’t Chris’s fault that Mother Nature was throwing us a curve ball. And we DID have the option of hanging out in the Bahamas for the foreseeable future and hoping that maybe Chris was wrong. Unfortunately, Chris tends to be right more often than not – which explains why so many cruisers have relied on his weather advice for years. So where did that leave us? After a 20-minute VHF conference between the three boats (one punctuated by shell-shocked silence as much as actual conversation), we agreed to make a mad dash to Luperon. No Rum Cay, no leisurely pace down to the Turks & Caicos. Fast and furious, baby! By leaving Saturday morning and going non-stop to Mayaguana, we figured to cover the 120-ish miles in about 24 hours. Giving ourselves a few hours to sleep, we’d then leave Sunday evening for the 50+ mile trip to the Turks and Caicos Bank, arriving just after sunrise so as not to traverse the shallow, coral head-dotted bank in the dark. We’d continue across the bank, trying to reach to Big Sand Cay – 60 miles away in the south-eastern T&C – by nightfall. Big Sand Cay is the usual jumping-off point to Luperon, 80 miles further south. The hitch? Mr. Van Sant, the Bahamas-to-DR cruising guru, recommends making the passage at night and arriving in Luperon just after sunrise to avoid the strong trade winds (and accompanying big waves) that increase throughout the day. So unless we made phenomenal speed across the T&C Bank, we could forget about stopping for a few ZZZZ’s at Big Sand Cay. Bottom line, with the exception of a cat nap in Mayaguana, we’d be making a nonstop run from Conception to Luperon. Whoopee!

So…how did things REALLY turn out? As usual, not quite according to plan. One of our buddy boats heard a knocking noise coming from the engine as we passed Rum Cay, making us wonder if we’d end the big jump before we’d even begun. After some troubleshooting, the engine seemed to be okay, but everyone agreed that running it too hard all the way to Luperon wasn’t a good idea. We ended up making less boat speed than anticipated (Van Sant always recommends adding a 20% padding to any schedule; smart guy!), and started talking about our options. Given the unusually calm sea state, we agreed to try to get as far south as possible. Still, doing 4-4.5 knots meant it took over 32 hours to get to Mayaguana, and close to 48 hours of non-stop motor-sailing (including a few hours of perfect 6-knot REAL sailing) to reach Provo in the T&C. By the time we reached Mayaguana, we were seriously looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The real question: would we keep going for another 48 hours (or more) to reach Luperon, or would we stop in Provo and explore the Turks and Caicos until another weather window opened up? The boats were split in their preferences. Storyville was anxious to reach the DR while we still had good weather, while Pa’La O’La wanted to stick with Van Sant’s recommendation to reach Luperon by 8am BEFORE the trade winds picked up. (A good choice; another friend of ours recently made this same trip and said he got himself into trouble every time he didn’t follow Van Sant’s tried and true advice.) There was no way we could reach Luperon before mid-afternoon on Tuesday (day #4) at our current pace, so Barbara and Gary decided they would drop the hook and wait for another window once we reached Provo. And us? We were willing to go all the way to Luperon if the weather and group consensus said so, but we weren’t sure we’d make it before our lack of sleep started resulting in poor judgment calls and Veracruz-like hallucinations. Besides, looking at all the dive sites flagged on the T&C chart really got our mouths watering. We needed a dive fix!

We finally told the others that we were taking a break once we got to Provo. Two boats down, one to go… Troy and Deana held out on the Luperon plan for a few more hours, but finally decided to join the party and see what the Turks and Caicos had to offer. We arrived at Sandbore Channel soon after sunrise and worked our way through the coral heads to Sapodilla Bay. Customs, Immigration, and a nap are all on the agenda – not necessarily in that order. And who knows? As the T&C are a British Crown Colony, maybe we’ll even find a good pub along the way. Cheers!

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2011BahamasXIII?feat=directlink

(Attempted) Escape from Chicken Harbour: Georgetown, Exumas…Still

Monday, May 2 – Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stupid damn dinghy! I know, not the most gracious start of a blog entry, but that’s how we’ve felt for the past few days. Our dinghy motor started acting up during the regatta (seemingly slipping out of gear), to the point it would only go in idle speed if at all. Wouldn’t you know, it happened as we were going into town from our anchorage at Red Shanks. Have we mentioned this is a 1.5 mile course that, when not on plane, takes 30 wet, frustrating minutes – especially when you’re trying like crazy to make it to the propane truck in time? We did make it to the propane truck before it left, and were able to hook up with Genesis, Storyville, Pa’La O’La, and Kaleo to watch some of the races. Unfortunately, when Rene went back to try to work on the engine between races, he discovered that our carburetor had taken on water (again). Stacy stayed with the others while Rene slow-boated it back to Red Shanks. Stacy got to go out in Genesis’s dinghy to follow the race boats while Rene sweated in the sun over a 9.9HP engine. Who do YOU think had more fun?

Anyway, that was then, this is now. The regatta is over, Stacy’s fabulous 40th b-day is over, and we’re ready to begin our journey south to the DR. Right? Uhhh, not quite. When we finally got into town Monday morning to have someone look at the outboard, the mechanic determined that our propeller needed to be replaced. The bearing was shot thanks to a few Red Shanks groundings, and we needed a new prop. The mechanic even tried to come up with a temporary fix, which worked for all of the five minutes that it took us to get out of the relative protection of Lake Victoria and into the soaking waves of Elizabeth Harbour. Yippee! We hobbled back to the mechanic, who wasn’t able to get the “band-aid” to stay put. We were able to flag down Deana and Troy at the dinghy dock to give Stacy a ride back, and Rene eventually took a water taxi ride to Pipe.

After several calls on the VHF net, we got lots of helpful ideas from other cruisers in the harbor. Unfortunately, no one had a spare, and by all reports we couldn’t get a new prop delivered for a week or more. We were really hoping to leave Georgetown for Conception Island by Wednesday or Thursday (weather permitting), and didn’t want to hold our buddy boats back. As luck would have it, the weather gurus eventually pegged Saturday as a prime travel day, so we figured we had a few days to come up with a solution. On Tuesday, Rene was able to work with an air service who’d been recommended by other cruisers, and we were told us they’d be able to get us a new prop by Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, Troy spent hours working on our old prop, managing to get it functional enough for us to get around with a bit of babying. Miracle of miracles, our prop arrived at the airport Wednesday afternoon, and Rene picked it up at the customs office before joining us for dinner aboard Storyville. Hopefully we were back in business!

Rene went out to install the new prop Thursday morning, only to have our spirits dashed; the damn thing wouldn’t fit! We hadn’t been able to find a part number on the prop or in any of our documentation, so the agent found a replacement based on our outboard’s model and serial numbers. You’d think that would work, right? Sadly, not so much. It turns out the prop that we received had been returned, re-packaged, or whatever, because it didn’t match the box it was in and no one checked it in the rush to get it to the plane. Gary on Pa’La O’La realized he had the same outboard that we did, so he and Rene compared props and found an official Mercury part number. Rene sent the info to his air service agent, who went in search of yet another replacement. The hitch? Their next flight to Georgetown wouldn’t go until the FOLLOWING Wednesday. Our friends graciously decided to stick with us to the bitter end, agreeing that they wouldn’t leave Georgetown until we ALL could leave G’town. This seriously sucks for everyone, but we keep reminding us that life could be worse. After all, we’re still “stuck” in paradise…

We spent our extra week in GT doing last minute provisioning, waiting on the diesel truck to arrive (and then waiting for the broken gas pump to be repaired), borrowing our buddy boats’ dinghies for quick rides into town, bumming rides as needed, and getting together for the odd meal and happy hour at the Red Shanks Yacht and Racquet Club (i.e., the beach). It certainly wasn’t a bad way to spend a week, but we were all anxious to be on our way to our next destination. Wednesday finally arrived, and Rene hitchhiked up to the airport to save the $30 each way cab fare (not to worry – hitching is one of the basic modes of transportation in the Bahamas). As luck would have it, the 3:30pm flight was delayed to 5pm, which then became 7pm, which finally meant 7:15. Thank goodness the customs official promised to stay until the flight arrived, and Rene was finally able to get the prop in hand around 8pm. He even managed to put the new prop on at the dinghy dock in town, and had his first good ride in our dinghy in nearly two weeks. We were back in business!

In the midst of our propeller nightmare, we also had to bid a fond (and very teary) farewell to LA and Susan on Genesis. They’ve left Georgetown to meet up with some friends near Staniel Cay, and will travel back to Florida with them before heading down to Mexico. As much as we hate that they’re not traveling with us anymore, we know we’ll stay in touch through the wonders of Facebook, e-mail, and Blogger. How appropriate to be reading one of Troy’s favorite books, Illusions, by Richard Bach (Mr. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, himself), which says:

“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

We wish Genesis safe travels and look forward to seeing them again in some future anchorage. We love you guys!

In the meantime, we’re finally saying goodbye to the Exumas in the morning. We’ll be leaving Georgetown shortly after sunrise to get to Conception Island. It’s the first step in the next phase of our journey that’ll take us to the Dominican Republic and the rest of the Caribbean. Off we go!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lordy, Lordy – Look Who’s 40!!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Well, everyone – this blog is a little different from our usual entries. Today is my (Stacy’s) 40th birthday, so please indulge me for a bit! We all know that benchmark birthdays bring different emotions to different people. It’s a chance to reflect on our lives so far, and to wonder what our future will bring. What have I done with my life? Am I happy with where I am now? What might be next? A lot of people have asked how I felt about turning 40, and I can honestly say, not only do I have no problem with turning 40, I’ve even been excited about it. I’ve been so incredibly lucky to get to spend every day of the past two years with my hubby and best friend, Rene, in some mind-blowingly beautiful places…often surrounded by great friends. How can I not get excited about that?

My morning started off with a fantastic surprise from Rene: he got me a card and a gift! Now before you (or he) thinks I’m slamming him, think about our situation: we literally spend nearly every waking moment together and have done so for two years. Our running count of hours apart since March 2009 is somewhere between ten and twelve hours now, but that’s it. We’re never out of each other’s presence long enough to buy a card or present without the other knowing about it, so surprises are a HUGE accomplishment on this boat. Thanks to a problem we’re currently having with our dinghy’s outboard engine ("dinghy" equals "car" to the rest of you), Rene spent a good part of Saturday in town and managed to do a little surprise shopping. I adore this man!

Our next stop of the day was breakfast with LA and Susan aboard Genesis. As many of you know, we’ve been traveling with them for the past five months, and have seen them practically every day for that time. We’ve laughed, cried, told stories, had debates, explored new places, eaten fantastic meals, and drunk plenty of wine together, and they’ve become more important to us than we can even say. (Sadly, we’re getting ready to go our separate ways in a few days; don’t even get me started blubbering about THAT.) They invited us over for one of Susan’s yummy breakfasts of eggs, sausage, and biscuits, complimented – of course – by mimosas. Talk about a warm and fuzzy start to the day! (Of course, we forgot to bring a camera...) We really appreciated getting to spend some time together before they head for Florida, and will keep trying to convince them to join us on our southward venture. Denial is a beautiful thing, right?

After a much-needed nap (champagne seriously kicks my butt!), we got ready for the big party. Deana and Troy from Storyville, LA and Susan from Genesis, and Barbara and Gary from Pa’La O’La arranged a beach BBQ and bonfire in a gorgeous cove. The cove is apparently the home of a nudist camp during peak season – we didn’t go quite that far, but we sure enjoyed the thatched-roof palapa and bar they left behind! The ladies coordinated all the food (Barbara even made a chocolate birthday cake in her solar oven), Gary manned the grill, and Troy played guitar. We took a swim after dinner and got a fire going on the beach as the sun set. As if the great friends, food, and setting weren’t enough, there were even presents: LA and Susan gave me a terrific herbs & spices cookbook that should make shopping in the Caribbean a real adventure; Deana showed off her (very talented) artistic streak with a “Deana Jones Original” painted sea bean; and Barbara made a bookmark from a heart-shaped piece of coral found on one of her and Gary's many beach hunts. It really was the perfect day, and I have to thank each and every one of our great friends for giving me the best birthday ever. Cheers!!

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2011BahamasStacySBig40?feat=directlink

Party Time: Family Island Regatta-Style, Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Friday, April 22 – Saturday, April 30, 2011

Welcome to the 58th Annual Family Island Regatta! The regatta is held each year in Georgetown, and the sloops involved are all designed, built, owned, and sailed by locals from all over the Bahamas. This is THE event in the Bahamas (think of it as their Super Bowl, World Cup, and World Series all rolled into one), and adults and kids alike are given time off from work/school to attend.

We had originally planned on missing the regatta (silly us) to get a head start towards Conception, San Salvador, and Rum Cay on our way to the Turks and Caicos. Big surprise, our plans changed. As often happens with us, we began talking to others about the event, and soon had it drilled into our brains that this was an event we could NOT miss. Mother Nature seemed to agree with everyone else, because the weather soon turned less than ideal for the 40+ mile crossing to Conception. In the end, we decided to hang out with Storyville, Genesis, and Pa’La O’La in our favorite Georgetown anchorage, Red Shanks; Red Shanks was close enough to town to party when we wanted to, yet far enough away to get out of the craziness if need be.

The first race was held on Wednesday, offering us a chance to see the various classes – from the 28’ A class to the 18’ C class – in action. The most notable thing about the boats is their length to sail-plan ratio; these hand-made sloops average 20-30 feet in length, but their masts are nearly as high as ours (60’), and their boom is even longer; overall, the amount of canvas (sail) they fly is more than most cruising boats, and they are frighteningly unstable in heavy-wind conditions. Having no engine, participating boats must be towed out to the starting mark and then drop anchor. When the starting gun goes off, a few crew members begin hand-raising the anchor while others raise the sails. If a gust of wind knocks the boat sideways, everyone crawls out onto a plank hanging from the side of the boat (think “human counter-balance”); not doing it quickly enough could put you and the boat underwater. Talk about a show! The boats are beautiful with their sails flying, and the crowd really gets into it as islanders cheer for their favorites. Long Island and Black Point seem to have some of the most successful boats, and their followers are constantly egging each other on. In between races, you can grab BBQ ribs, jerk chicken, or a cold beer at one of 30 tin-roofed, plywood stands that get put up the week before the regatta.

The only downer to the regatta was the weather. As Mother Nature decided we needed to stay for the race, she also decided it was time to help the locals fill up their cisterns. Prior to the regatta, we could count on one hand the number of rainy days we’ve had since arriving in January; thanks to a tropical wave that came from the Turks & Caicos, downpours coursed through the Georgetown area for three of four days during the regatta. As much as the Bahamas needed the rain, this really wasn’t the time for it! Our first afternoon in town was spent running from observation spot to rain shelter and back again. We managed to go out in our dinghy and follow the boats during the last race, but headed home early to avoid getting soaked by yet another black cloud. We just made it to Pipe’s cockpit as the heavy drops hit…perfect timing since we hadn’t fully closed our hatches.

The rain kept us on the boat Thursday, but we made it back into town for more regatta excitement on Friday. We all left Red Shanks for the Monument anchorage on Saturday, in order to be closer to the beach where we’ll have Stacy’s birthday bash on Sunday. That, and we’ve recently been having problems with our dinghy engine…but that’s a story for another time. Til then…

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2011BahamasXII?feat=directlink