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Archive for the ‘Bahamas’ Category

I was reminded recently that I’ve not written a blog post since our return to the States… leaving some of our readers to wonder if we were lost in the Bahamas, or worse, at the bottom of the Atlantic.  Facebook is too quick and easy and threatens to turn me into a lazy blogger.  Fear not, we’re alive and well, in St Augustine, FL.  Yes, Florida.  More on that in a minute.

After a fast and furious reconnaissance run through the Abacos, we departed Great Sale Cay (translate: middle-of-nowhere Abacos) for our return crossing on a Thursday morning and arrived at the dock at Ocean Club Marina in Port Canaveral almost exactly 26 hours later.  It was a bit of a brisk run, with both wind and waves a bit more than forecast, easily our most challenging offshore experience to date, and our first overnight sail.  (We’ve done a number of overnight passages, but always under power.)  It was comforting to share this wild ride with our cruising friends Dawn and Paul aboard s/v Bubu, our buddy boat, whom we kept in touch with via vhf through the day/night.  I continue to experiment with anti-seasickness remedies that don’t require taking pills, and my ear plug/sea bands/MotionEase/ginger in various forms tricks continue to be helpful.  I’ve come to expect that offshore in most any kind of rolly seas, I’ll be a bit queasy, but if I can manage to not end up hanging on the lifelines, I consider myself fortunate.  This trip, I was once again fortunate.

Having signed up for the US Customs and Border Protection Small Vessel Reporting System and Local Boater Option in advance, we were able to clear back into the country via phone call rather than having to visit a customs/immigration office in person.  That left us plenty of time to enjoy the marina facilities (hot showers with unlimited water, a nice pool, etc.), give Cheshire a much needed bubble bath and wander about a bit.  Together with Dawn and Paul, we made a return visit to Seafood Atlantic, a restaurant/seafood market we had visited a couple of years ago, and added another “favorite” to our list, Smokehouse, which has great BBQ and all kinds of smoked fish and dip.  Rested and relaxed, and racing the calendar for our get-out-of-Florida-for-hurricane-season June 1 deadline, we threw off the dock lines and spent the next couple of days making our way north.  We were relieved to find that we could still negotiate locks and bridges without difficulty (none of those in the Bahamas).  This stretch of the ICW did not disappoint, as there were manatee, dolphin, tons of osprey and a sprinkling of other wading birds out and about to welcome us home.  Photos below of one of my favorite bridges in the Daytona area, with beautiful tiled murals. (Thanks, Dawn, for the photos of Cheshire underway.)

On May 31, only a bit behind schedule, we arrived in St Augustine and decided to pick up a mooring and pause for a few days before heading on north.  I don’t recall exactly how it first came up, but suddenly the Captain was making noises about maybe staying on in Florida for the summer, alternative to our usual stay in North Carolina.  Those who know him will appreciate my confusion… is he serious or just joking, as about every other time we pause somewhere he suggests that “maybe we could just live here…”.  At some point I realized he in fact wasn’t joking.  Long story short, we decided to stay… or rather he convinced me… I think he’d already decided.  Although there will be things I miss about our summer “home” in Oriental, NC, there are also advantages to staying in St Augustine, among other things the opportunity to get an earlier jump on the Bahamas this fall, with a longer range plan to head north earlier in the spring to do some exploring up in the northeast, Long Island Sound and environs.

view from our back porch

view from our back porch

So, after a few days on a mooring with a nice view of the Bridge of Lions and the Spanish El Galeon, we moved around to Rivers Edge Marina.  (You know you’ve spent some time in a place when you’re on a first name basis with not only the dock master, but the cleaning/maintenance staff).   We’ll enjoy some of our favorite things about St Augustine, with some new adventures sprinkled in, and get started on our lengthy list of summer boat projects.  Priority #1, looking at a summer in Florida, was getting Cheshire’s air-conditioner installed; the previous one died last fall, end of season.  It was a PITA project, but the new one is in and operational, though will still need some tweaking of plumbing/possible thru hull upgrade when we haul out later this summer.  Oh, and there’s the insurance issue to sort out.  It’s complicated.

We’re determined to balance work and play, and so far, so good.  Friends Dawn and Paul introduced us to Ed and Beaux who are one of the options for carriage rides around this lovely city.  We were invited to see the stables and ride along with Ed one morning to Avenida Menendez on the waterfront where the carriages stage.  One day we might spring for the tour.  We also toured El Galeon where cruising friends Dan & Jaye have been volunteering since last fall; blog post to follow.  This impressive ship has since departed St Augustine, bound for the US northeast coast for the summer, but is scheduled to return in time for the the city’s 450th Anniversary Celebration in September.

This evening we’re off to check out a restaurant that’s been on our radar for some time… Catch 27.  A bit of a splurge to celebrate our anniversary… four years ago today we moved aboard our Cheshire to begin this great adventure down the rabbit hole.  There’s lots more of Wonderland to explore too… thanks for tagging along.

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As our time in the Bahamas for this season winds down, we find ourselves island hopping north and west through the Abacos, Dawn and Paul of Bubu 3 our guides as they’ve spent most of the season exploring these northern islands.  It’s been nice to get a little more remote, exploring beaches, swimming in the amazingly clear waters.

Manjack Cay is one that certainly makes our “we’ll- come- back- here list”, full of wide well-marked hiking trails to a number of gorgeous beaches.

Allans-Pensacola also makes the list.  Although the trail is more overgrown (machete for next visit?), the beach is well worth the seeking.  The four of us plus Kimba had the beach to ourselves this morning, though the Signing Tree offers evidence that many cruisers have come before us.  Kind of a collaborative, evolutionary art installation comprised mostly of beach-found objects.  A mama plover and her chick were quite elusive, and challenging to photograph against the coral rock, but I managed to get one good photo.

Tomorrow we’ll sail west, aiming for Great Sale Cay where we’ll lay over for a day of rest and preparation.  Weather permitting, we’ll depart Wednesday morning bound for home.

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After a brief stop in Marsh Harbor (relatively big city, lots of traffic, not a favorite) to do some provisioning and hit an international ATM, we headed for Green Turtle Cay.  We spent a day anchored off New Plymouth, the settlement on the cay, and found it a lovely place to wander about.  The town was charming and colorful, with streets seemingly sized for the ubiquitous golf carts.  We opted however to explore on foot.  Tucked into a bit of land in the middle of the settlement we found the Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden; the main piece was quite interesting, depicting a pair of girls, one black, one white, one holding a conch shell, the other a Union Jack.  Surrounding them were a collection of bronze busts of some of the key figures in the settlement of the Abacos, Loyalists who fled the US in the time of the American Revolution.

We managed to find the road out of town that eventually turned to sand and finally ending at Gillam Beach which was quite picturesque.  I was surprised to find a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, usually a nocturnal creature, also out for a stroll along the shoreline.

Food highlights were BBQ night at Harvey’s Island Grill (jerk ribs) and breakfast the following morning at the Plymouth Rock Cafe & Liquor Store.  Yes, the Captain insisted he could not miss an opportunity to combine two of his favorite things, breakfast and liquor stores.  Indeed, their breakfast sandwiches are very tasty.

With a bit of weather coming in, we opted to move, seeking a bit more shelter in nearby White Sound where we also reconnected with Dawn and Paul aboard s/v Bubu 3.  Green Turtle Club and Marina turned out to be a fine place to do a bit of laundry and grab a bit of free wifi.  We met Dawn and Paul at Bluff House Beach Resort for rum drinks and snacks at the Tranquil Turtle Beach Bar (not to be confused with the Tipsy Turtle at Green Turtle Club), followed by a decent pizza/salad dinner at the restaurant.

We could hang around Green Turtle for a bit longer, maybe even see a turtle, but not this pass though.  More recon to do.  From here we’ll start to get a little further flung, more beaches, fewer beach bars… we’ll see about the wifi.

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Hope Town

When we started this grand Bahamas 2015 adventure, our loose plan was to drop down into the Exumas as far as George Town, then work our way back north, ending up in the Abacos towards the end of the season when it was a bit warmer.  It was a fine plan, until we found ourselves in Spanish Wells on the north end of Eleuthera with about two weeks until our 90-day visas run out.  We could, and many do, request an extension of 30 more days.  The other issue though is that our insurance mandates we be north of Florida by the beginning of June for hurricane season, so we now have two reasons to be getting north.  So, we’re currently on what I’m referring to as a 2-week reconnaissance trip, taking notes for another year.

We moved out of Spanish Wells and staged overnight at Egg Island for an early departure the following morning and made good time under sail across Northeast Providence Channel, ducking inside at Little Harbor, Great Abaco Island.  We took a mooring in Little Harbour proper and spent the late afternoon/early evening checking out Pete’s Pub and the adjacent sculpture gallery.  There’s a bit of history in this place.  Find a dated but interesting Mother Earth News piece on sculptor Randolph Johnston here.  He left a quite comfy life to move to the islands and pursue his art, eventually building a foundry here.  Alas Randolph is since deceased, but the foundry is still active today; we’d hoped to catch a tour but their apparently working frantically on a piece commissioned for the Nassau airport, so no tours for a bit.  The gallery was impressive though.  Randolph’s son, Pete opened the nearby Pete’s Pub which was a quite pleasant place for a dinner and drinks.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera ashore, so no photos.

Moving on north, our next stop of consequence was Hope Town on Elbow Cay where we’d spent three nights on a mooring, catching up with Lisa and Alex of s/v Tiki Trek who we’d met last fall in St Augustine.  Food/beverage highlights included a couple of visits to Wine Down Sip Sip, once for flatbread pizza happy hour, incl wine from a bottle, and back the following night for a rum tasting;  take-a-way from Papa’s Nasty’s BBQ aboard Cheshire one evening; and a bicycle exploration of Elbow Cay including a brunch/lunch stop at the Abaco Inn.

The real highlight of Hope Town though is the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, rumored to be the most photographed lighthouse in the Bahamas… though to be truthful, there aren’t many.  This candy-cane striped tower is a beauty though.  Initially erected in 1864 by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service, this tower was not popular with the locals, many of whom made their livings scavenging the many wrecks in the surrounding waters.  It underwent a major refit in 1936 and still operates in much the same way today, without electricity, one of only two lighthouses in the Bahamas that has escaped automation.  A hand pump is used to pressurize the kerosene and  rotation is driven much like a giant grandfather clock, requiring a keeper to wind up the weights every two hours.  Find an interesting bit on the wrecking history of the area, in addition to the history of the lighthouse here.

And then there’s the view from the top…

panoramic view from Elbow Reef Lighthouse

panoramic view from Elbow Reef Lighthouse

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Flying Fish

Fish that fly, go figure.

We’ve seen these creatures during most all of our passages between the islands and I’ve been fascinated.  They’re quick though, and impossible (for me at least) to photograph at a distance from a moving boat, hence the internet photo below.  For the curious, find more information from National Geographic here,   and from Wikipedia here.

Internet photo - Flying Fish

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Our last stop on Eleuthera would be Spanish Wells. Leaving Hatchet Bay, we managed a couple of hours of sailing before the wind faded to almost nothing. We also needed to make Current Cut at slack tide, so motor we did. We managed the cut without difficulty and a short time later had picked up a mooring ball just off the settlement of Spanish Wells. After the remoteness of Hatchet Bay, Spanish Wells felt downright metropolitan.

At 2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, it’s a smallish island (St George’s Cay technically, but never referred to as such), first settled by the Eleutheran Adventurers who came from Bermuda and were shipwrecked on a nearby reef called Devil’s Backbone in the mid 1600’s. Another wave of folks came later, Crown loyalists who fled the United States during and following the Revolutionary War. Given this history, it has a very different vibe than many of the islands we’ve seen to date. Spanish Wells is primarily a fishing village, lobster fishing specifically, and an active one at that, despite the fact that lobster season was closed at the time of our visit.

We had an enjoyable few days wandering about town, and checking out a few of the local restaurants. A stand-out was S & H Take-a-way which we’d heard about from a fellow cruiser. Steve, the chef, apparently is the cook on one of the local lobster boats, but when he’s ashore on a Saturday, one can sample his handiwork ashore. The deal is there is a sign posted outside the local market a day or so in advance that informs of the menu, and has a phone number… that’s it, not the name of the place, the address, nada. You just have to know. Mike called to make reservations, and called again later to clarify which “pink house across from the mooring field”  (no sign) we were to be looking for. A lot of their business is carry-out, but they’ve got some seating on the front porch; we opted for the later, and were glad to have gotten a tip from the bartender at Budda’s on the BYOB deal as well. It turned out to be one of the best meals we’ve had in a while.  (Budda’s was an interesting place as well, kitchen in the bus, bar in the back, tables scattered about and a liquor store on site, photo below.)

It also turned out to be a great birding spot as the mooring field (all 6 mooring balls of it) are sandwiched between the settlement of Spanish Wells on one side and uninhabited Charles Island  on the other.  Low tide usually found me in the cockpit with my binoculars and camera.  I’m confident about the Oystercatcher id, but the others are new to me, captioned with my best guesses.  Confirmations and/or corrections welcome.

Having taken care of some chores, including a bit of provisioning, a propane tank refill, and getting our Cheshire a desperately needed bottom-cleaning, tomorrow we’ll top off fuel and water and continue making our way north. As our time here is running short, it’ll be a quick recon trip through the Abacos instead of a more leisurely explore as is our preference. It’s all good though. We’re already making notes for the next visit.

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Note to self: It’s best to figure out the flash and low light capabilities of one’s relatively new camera before exploring very dark caves. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to take the lens hood off. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. That said, a few of the following photos are mine; Tammy aboard s/v Dos Libras gets credit for the others. Thanks, Tammy, for the share.

We’d heard about the Hatchet Bay Caves from some other cruisers. Tammy and Bruce were also up for the adventure, so exploring we went. We were prepared for a bit of a hike, north from Hatchet Bay most of the way to Gregory Town. We weren’t even hitchhiking, but when a local pulled over to offer us a ride, far be it from us to refuse. A short ride and a short walk from the main road later, we were at the mouth of the caves.

I’ve had two previous memorable experiences with bats. The first was on a small boat in the middle of a big lake at night when we had bats dive bombing us after mosquitos; I about went overboard to escape. The other was when a bat got into a crummy apartment I lived in shortly after graduate school; after an hour or so of encouraging its escape without success, my roommate at the time managed to whack it with a tennis racket after which I had to dispose of it. I get that they’re useful creatures, just not a favorite of mine. I’m certain that these caves had bats… lots of guana evident, but thankfully they were tucked away during our visit, no doubt irritated by the tourists who most certainly were disturbing their slumber.

Tammy had done her research, so we knew that descending the first ladder to the second level was doable. The next ladder to the third level, into standing water I might add, was best left to the pros. We passed on that one.

Eventually, with Mike leading the way, we saw (literally) the light at the end of the tunnel. It took a bit of crawling, but we ended up in the bottom of what looked like an old well with a rope ladder climbing to the top. So climb we did.

A short walk along a grassy trail, and we were back at the entrance to the caves. A bit further down the road we opted for lunch at Sugar Apple… yummy fish tacos and local beers. We even got lucky and got a ride back to Hatchet Bay, but not before I spotted and photographed another Smoot-billed Ani.

LS_20150503_115707 Smooth-billed Ani

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