TMaybe is what we affectionately call our T Mobile service. We pay $70 per month to have unlimited data all over the US and Caribbean. Compared to exorbitant Verizon prices which give us zero connectivity outside the US, fabulous, right? Well, sometimes. Dead zones are everywhere, sometimes where you’d least expect. No service in Annapolis! In the Bahamas we are finding we can connect weakly to Facebook and to emails, but can’t open links, photos, or anything much more than text. So I have been getting behind on writing, knowing I can’t link to my blog to post. Bill is trying to do a bit of NxStage work, so we finally bought more service. Bahamas WiMax was $20 for a month, and completely useless, so we loaded up our old Battelco sim card, slid it in our dying unlocked i4 cell phone, and are limping along with that. Alembic is 36 years old, her crew are both 54 years old, and the equipment aboard is comparably old. I’m doing a little tech dance, hoping that the old phone, tethered to this MacBook (since the hotspot is toast) will link successfully.
Our three week route from Beaufort South Carolina, offshore to St John’s River Jacksonville, down the ICW to St Augustine then Fort Pierce, offshore to the Abacos, Eleuthera, and finally the Exumas have been full of adventure and excellent sailing. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a perfect time to reflect on our many blessings. We are missing our families terribly, but know that we will soon be together for plenty of fun times and bonding experiences.
Lumpy seas were the norm for the offshore leg from Beaufort SC to Jax. EastNorthEast winds of 15-20 knots, gusting to 25, and 5 foot seas never really subsided as was predicted by our trusty weatherman, Chris Parker. So we sailed along, giving the motor a rest. During this trip, we were faster than Kismet, Blabber, and Antares, who were all faster than us last trip, reemphasizing that Alembic performs well in rougher conditions than most boats her size. Ping was another boat that we met via VHF and passed. Alembic is often the slowpoke, so passing others was a rare occasion.
Tying up to the free dock at Sisters Creek was a treat. We had lived at this exact location 30 years ago on our beloved Wings, a Westsail 32. Back then, it was a trashy marina with fixed 5 foot docks that were nearly impossible to maneuver into. I remember smacking our rugged little ship into the pilings and pushing off, getting splinters galore, just to pivot us against the raging current into our tiny slip. Now, those docks have been replaced with a spiffy long floating pier that you can just step onto and line handle your boat into the correct position. And it’s free!!
Our next stop, Pine Island, was a sweet anchorage, just off the ICW, where ten boats tucked in for the night. St Augustine was next; we picked up a mooring here because Lindsay was about to arrive, and we wanted easy access to shore/showers/music/biking. We thoroughly enjoyed St Augustine, meeting many new and old friends,
and playing for four days with Lindsay. I’ve written a separate post about our time with Lindsay, because I couldn’t squish in all the happy times here! Suffice it to say that together we enjoyed meeting pirates, Cubans, and bikers, and experienced the most awful music (was that what the screaming hoarsely into the mic and banging on the keyboard was?) and then some delightful music, while dining in some quaint establishments ashore. And of course we had to add exercise into most hours of the day, as Lindsay is an extreme fitness person and we benefit from trying to keep up!
Saying goodbye to Lindsay was sad, but we realize that we all have plans to work toward our dreams. I love that each of our three children is so passionate about goals and lifestyles. They work hard, play hard, and fit in time with us when they can. I could never ask for more.
Southward bound, we headed down the ICW for two long boring days, dropping the anchor after dark at mile mark 842 Rockhouse Creek, and mile mark 925 Coconut Point. Hundreds of manatees broke up the boredom as they lazily rolled all around us, especially in Mosquito Lagoon. Photographing them was a complete megaflop as the water was darker than tea, hiding the beasts until they were right beside you. Each time I grabbed the camera, they were back below the dark surface before my finger could click a button.
Fueling up in Fort Pierce was our last US stop. We saw Bob and Doris’s catamaran and tried to walk over to them, but the locked gate prevented our reunion. We all lived aboard in a marina in Kittery Maine and I looked forward to catching up on their adventures. Alas, we had to get off the fuel dock, so away we went.
Good bye US! Some people may think we were running from the crazy post election results, but, no, this was our plan, and we were sticking to it. Donald Trump had just won the Presidential election two days prior, and most of the world, including his supporters, were in the state of shock. We carried on.
Dolphins guided us out to sea. Leaving the Fort Pierce jetties was so mellow, with 12 knots of NE wind. We sailed with the main and working jib while the motor did most of the driving. Winds soon became light and variable, topping a whopping 7 knots! The seas were bizarre; large but so smooth and far apart. At times, while seated in the cockpit, we couldn’t see any horizon because we were in a trough, but the motion was slow and gentle. We tried every sail combination, ranging from two to all four up. Around midnight, when we arrived on the Little Bahama Bank, with winds from the south, we shut off the motor for a nice quiet beam reach sail while Bill slept. This trip goes down in the record books as the easiest ten hour Gulf Stream crossing ever!
After a spectacular moonlit night (full moon was the next day), we were gifted with a magnificent sunrise on the shallow banks, near Great Sale Cay, our destination to anchor for a rest. Given the mellow trip, we had no need to stop, so we continued on.
Catching a 2 foot barracuda broke up the monotony of the motorsail. We usually release barracuda but this one was small and we recalled eating so many that others caught last year and never contracted the dreaded Ciguatera. So Bill made a bloody mess on the aft deck and soon we had dinner in our fridge.
Becoming antsy with too much sitting, and figuring that we had excess amps, given the hours of motoring, Bill brought out the sander and began working on our weathered shroud rollers. There are definite benefits of having an overachiever for a husband! Always working on something!
Manjack was a welcoming sight. Never having been there, but hearing so many stories from friends, we knew we wanted to explore this beautiful spot. Bill and Leslie Harrington settled here 25 years ago and have built a remarkable homestead. Their home, gardens, free range chickens and goats, docks, and beach reveal their many talents as architects, builders, artists, and farmers. They welcome cruisers to their land and share everything they have built.
We checked in through Customs and Immigration the next day at nearby Green Turtle Cay, but came back to Manjack for two more days of playing and exploring the land and sea.
Then on to Great Guana to visit Nippers and the Alburys. A quick stop at Man-O-War Cay for fuel and water, and on to HopeTown for a night at a mooring.
This year, we have been focusing on hitting the spots we missed last year, so we buzzed through the Abacos quite quickly, skipping Marsh Harbor entirely. We stopped for one last partial night in the Bight of Old Robinson, just north of Little Harbor. We tried to snooze in the rolly anchorage until midnight, then we raised anchor and set off under moonlight through the cut south of Lynyard Cay, Eleuthera bound.
Focusing on seeing new spots, we knew we had to get to Dunmoretown; after all, Bill’s Mom’s maiden name is Dunmore.
Very few cruisers go here, as getting there means you have to either go a very long way around Eleuthera and enter through a cut south of Harbor Island, or test your bravery going through Devil’s Backbone. Most boats use a pilot to guide them through this treacherous route, but we decided to try it ourselves, even after a night offshore with little sleep! I’ll spare the details here, and just tell you that we made it! Once though, we enjoyed the peaceful bay, five miles long and one mile wide. Romora Bay Marina welcomed us to tie our dinghy here, making this anchor stop free and easy.
Glad we came, but happy to leave the next day, Dunmoretown seemed bipolar. Plenty of rich folks pouring off their docked Megas congregated in the heart of the beautiful town, while the black locals huddled in the northern end, with zero cruisers, except Bill and I, to span the gap. Cruisers, like us, mingle well with all types, rich and poor, local and foreign, with constant curiosity and no obvious affluence. My favorite part of meeting cruisers is that you don’t know, or care, if the folks are rich or poor, had lofty careers or not; we are all working hard to keep our own sailboats floating and moving, while we travel slowly far from home.
Traveling back across the Devil’s Backbone the next day was even hairier than the day before because the wind had picked up, and we added the second crazier part, Salt Kettle Bay. But we made it safely. Turning into the narrow harbor between St Georges and Charles Island, we exited the western end and anchored just south of Russell Island, for a peaceful night with no boats in sight. Visiting Spanish Wells, the town on St Georges Cay, was mellow. We dined on greasy conch fritters and Kalik beer for a mere $24 total; cheap for the Bahamas!
I wanted to go out of our way to explore more new places, so we headed east toward the Glass Window the next morning. Why is this off the beaten track? It was amazing! Eleuthera becomes very skinny here. The spectacular limestone arch, created by the crashing Atlantic seas clawing their way through, finally collapsed, falling into the opening where the ocean water flows at high tide onto the shallow banks. A bridge was built where the arch had been so cars could still get across. This bridge ended up getting shoved 7 feet westward during a hurricane. Imagine driving a car and the bridge jogs abruptly. Yup.
While exploring the Glass Window and the Queen’s Baths (deep pools smoothed out by crashing seas on the Atlantic side) we met a nice family who have been living and vacationing here for over 20 years. They introduced us to Michael Albury, who guided us through huge caves nearby.
Carrying on down the west side of Eleuthera, we enjoyed snorkeling and SUPing by the cliffs at Annie’s Bight and anchoring in the protected harbor at Hatchet Bay. We had to stop at the Front Porch here to meet Frances, famous on Active Captain! He was recovering from a horrible accident which required him to be airlifted to Nassau for surgery on his arm and head. Despite some cognitive issues and morning arm pain, he is recovering well, working at the restaurant, and truly grateful to be alive. An inspiring man for sure.
Before dawn the next morning, we snuck through the narrow gap in the cliffs, heading due west to Finley Cay. We had a delightful twenty mile downwind sail with the genoa poled out and the mizzen up (Jib n Jigger). Raising the main as we rounded Finley Cay and headed south, the trip became a pleasant beam reach in crystal clear water, about 15 feet deep. Bill and I chilled, reading, writing, and relaxing as we sailed briskly in rising winds. Just as we hit the Middle Ground, the winds piped up to 25 knots and we began a romping slalom course through the black coral heads. I’m sure they were delightfully colorful below, but to us they were black in color and in significance. Hitting one could end our trip abruptly, with no TowBoat to call.
Reef the mainsail in the middle of this slalom course?? Yes, with no brake pedal on Alembic, we had to, unless we fancied the idea of hitting one of these beauties with tremendous force. Once reefed, we sailed a bit slower, with more control for quick darting turns. Visibility was hindered by the sun in our eyes, making the sea look sparkly. We couldn’t see the coral heads until we were about 100 feet from them. I wasn’t sure what I liked better: turning around, facing north, I could see the all coral heads up to a mile away, looking like an impossible route, or facing our direction, south, where I could only see the ones I was about to navigate around. I decided I liked our direction. Is this a metaphor for my life? Viewing only what’s right here, instead of looking far down the road? Yes! Living in the moment.
We were supposed to be exploring new places, and had planned on dropping anchor at Finley Cay, Middle Ground, or Sail Rocks, but these are all very exposed to wind, and anchoring would have been unpleasant at best, so we carried on to a familiar spot, Allans Cay. After jumping in for a refreshing swim, a peek at the iguanas on the beach, and a visit with the Germans nearby, we prepared for a quiet night. Quiet was not the case, however. The winds picked up to almost 30 knots and the current snorted through this cut, causing Alembic to swing in huge arcs and toss around as if we were at sea. Too bad Andreas on BossaNova didn’t know we had a secure anchor; we learned that he lost sleep worrying we might drag onto his catamaran. We all left the next morning in search of a better spot.
Highbourne Cay was that better spot. On the charts, it seems more exposed than the tight channel of Allans, but after one night there, we found no current to pivot us sideways to the wind, and the coral sandbar blocked the seas from wrapping around the island and rolling us. Like Dunmoretown, Highbourne caters to the mega yachts and has a marina, store, and restaurant with exorbitant prices. No matter, we enjoyed the free anchorage, the excellent snorkeling where Bill speared another two lion fish, and the peaceful spot to cook up a big Thanksgiving meal. We sat alone in our cockpit, dining on cornish game hen, wild rice, potatoes, green bean, and pumpkin pie and shared our many thankful thoughts. It was weird to celebrate alone, without any other family. My thoughts drifted back to the many Thanksgivings spent at our house or my brother Paul’s with vast numbers of children and adults. I miss those times. Even last year, we had Lindsay with us to celebrate a caribbean version of the holiday.
On holidays and most other days, I miss our dear friends and family, but truly appreciate Bill and all of the adventures we manage to pack into our lives. Please come visit us sometime, so we can share these glorious places and experiences with you!!