Monday, December 30, 2013


On Saturday, Dana and I got to witness a Bahamian tradition: Junkanoo. Over the holidays, typically on Boxing Day and/or New Years Day, locals don colorful costumes and parade down the street playing loud, festive music. Our friend Mike recommended we experience one, because he had a blast at Junkanoo several years ago. The big Junkanoo is in Nassau, but many of the smaller towns have their own, scaled-down versions. Our Junkanoo was in Georgetown. The festivities seem pretty similar to a Mardi Gras parade, Carnivale in the Caribbean, or the Mummers Parade in Philly, right down to the excessive alcohol intake.

Since Spanish Wells, we’ve made short work of the Exumas. Georgetown is the last stop before we start working our way down the final stretch to Turks and Caicos. Our first stop in the Exumas, after a long motor sail on a calm day from Spanish Wells, was Normans Cay. It was Christmas Eve and I read about a thatched roof bar and was hoping we could stop in for a Christmas Kalik (the local beer). However, we were too exhausted and instead made a Christmas Eve dinner of Yellow Tail Snapper I caught that day.

We hightailed it Christmas Day to Staniel Cay, a popular cruising destination, under fantastic sailing conditions. In Staniel Cay, we finally encountered the number of cruising sailboats I thought we’d be running into all the way down the Bahamas. We anchored around dozens of sailboats and the Staniel Cay Yacht Club bar was hopping that night. So much so, that they were completely booked for dinner. We were also hoping to get a slip at the marina so we could take hot showers and not have to worry about whether our anchor was holding or if another sailboat was swinging too close to us. Not to be either. Their few slips were filled with enormous motor yachts. Dana was sad that night, missing family and friends, and not getting any of the small things we hoped for that Christmas Day. The Internet wasn’t really working either, and we were stuck eating appetizers at the bar for our Christmas dinner.

The next day, however, made up for all of it. We got an early start and went for a run together around Staniel Cay. A short dinghy ride away, we pulled up to the beach at Big Majors Spot, where the cruising guide promised wild pigs greet you at the shore. I’ve read about these swimming pigs in various blogs and cruising memoirs, and I’ve been excited to see them since we started the trip. Sure enough, upon dropping our small mushroom anchor a few feet from shore, the pigs came rushing out of the woods looking for handouts. Although some cute piglets ran up and down the beach, the pigs that came swimming out to us were huge sows (or boars, I can’t really tell the difference). We brought carrots and the pigs were more than happy to eat them out of our hands. Given Dana’s Iowa background, she was not scared off by the large beasts. Another small boat came by to look at the pigs, and mostly everyone stayed on board, apparently too frightened to get in the water with the friendly porkers.

That mission accomplished, we dinghied to another popular attraction, Thunderball Grotto. We read about the grotto in our cruising guide, and again were not disappointed. You swim underwater into a cave that has holes in the ceiling. In full sunshine, like that day, beams of light shine down through the water creating beautiful colors on the bottom. Fishing is not allowed nearby and many guests feed the fish, so the grotto was teemed with colorful reef fish. When a boat full of tourists made the scene, we decided we’d seen enough and headed back to Eventyr.

That afternoon we raised the anchor and continued on to Little Farmers Cay, again in hopes of staying at a marina. Our hopes were dashed when no one responded to our VHF calls and the marina was closed and seemingly abandoned. We headed to shore anyway and made the long walk into the tiny settlement. It being Boxing Day, which is apparently a big deal in the Bahamas, the two or three stores in town were closed as well. We walked into the one bar and the proprietor was sitting alone in the dark. We asked, “Are you open?” to which he replied, “I am now.”

Terry, the owner of the Ocean Cabin Bar, was eager to engage in socio-political conversation and we spent the night discussing the societal woes facing the world today. After a couple hours and a drink or two, we decided on a solution to cure all the poverty, war and suffering worldwide: One love (as suggested by Bob Marley). We thanked him for the drinks and rousing conversation and headed back to Eventyr. Another thing Terry did for us was find out there was a Junkanoo happening in Georgetown on Saturday, so we should probably leave Little Farmer Cay early the next day to be there in time to catch it.

Georgetown’s Elizabeth Harbour has been referred to as chicken harbor, because many cruisers make it this far and are too chicken to go any further, where open ocean is more frequent and American-style conveniences become fewer and farther between. In “An Embarrassment of Mangoes, a Caribbean Interlude” a book about a couple from Canada who took two years off their jobs to live on a sailboat and cruise through the Caribbean, the couple spent three months in Georgetown. Dana and I are reading the book together right now, and we can see why it was hard for them to leave!

Upon entering Elizabeth Harbour, I caught a fish big enough to eat for dinner, and dolphins swam along the side of our boat. The water is the intense turquoise color you imagine when you think about the Bahamas, and the sandy bottom offers great holding for boat anchors. There are two grocery stores, reverse osmosis water free for the taking at the dinghy dock, sailing weather reported every morning over the VHF, dozens of friendly cruising sailors with whom to spend time, and stunning beaches and snorkeling within dinghy distance. Everything Georgetown has to offer even made up for the fact that we still don't get to stay at a marina.

Yesterday, we dinghied over to Volleyball Beach where the beach bar, Chat and Chill, serves the freshest conch salad you’ll ever get. One guy gets the live conch out of the shell, while the other guy chops onions, tomatoes, green peppers, navel oranges, sour oranges, and scotch bonnet pepper, and mixes it all together with sea salt before scooping it into a bowl and handing it to you. 

A side perk of this process is that the scraps of inedible conch attract sting rays, who have become accustomed to being hand fed. Not to be one-upped by Dana’s pig-feeding, I seized the opportunity to hand feed some large sting rays that swam right into ankle deep water for the meal.

Check out the huge mound of Conch shells in the background

Next, we have to head back out into the open Atlantic for our trek to Turks and Caicos, which will take several days of sailing. We’ll wait here for the weather to be right so we have a more comfortable sail than our last couple open-ocean crossings. Let’s hope we don’t get stuck in Chicken Harbor for as long as the couple from “Embarrassment of Mangoes!” We have a date with friends in just a couple weeks.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monster lobster in Spanish Wells

Dana and I did it! Our first open-ocean crossing just the two of us.

Wednesday started out like most days in paradise. We went for a run, stopped at the local grocery store for a few items and were deciding whether it would be a beach day, boat chores, or maybe I would hoof it to the other end of the island for some surfing. We were in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Our plan was to spend some time in Hope Town Harbor, then anchor off of picturesque Tahiti beach. On Thursday, we would head down to Little Harbor and the famed sand floor beach bar, Pete’s Pub. On Saturday we would make the crossing down to Eleuthera Island.

However, the weather had different plans. Dinghying back to Eventy, we spotted a catamaran we recognized from Great Guana Cay, Sojourner. Rick waved us over and we came aboard. He wanted to show us all the websites he uses to track the weather. We spent close to an hour scouring the Internet for weather info from his various trusted sites for wind, waves, sea states, etc. The upshot was that if we didn’t leave the next day for Eleuthera (the next major stop on our trip), the winds wouldn’t be right again until Christmas Eve.

This totally screwed up our plans, but as we need to keep rambling, we decided to leave Hope Town Harbor and head directly to Little Harbor right then. We had a pleasant three or four-hour sail and got to Little Harbor by sunset. To our chagrin, Pete’s was closed, not opening until the next day. We dinghied over to the dock anyway and ran into a party. Pete and some of the other locals from the small, off-the-grid hamlet were on the dock drinking rum and having a good time. They treated us to some rum and we got to meet practically the whole town. Turns out one of the residents, Brian, is from Connecticut and his daughter went to UConn. Dana and I walked up to his house later that night and we all watched the first half of the UConn/Stanford game. All his electricity comes from solar panels and generators, which is pretty cool. Sort of like living on a boat!

Thursday morning we were up at 5 am and left our mooring by 6 under a full moon headed out into the open Atlantic. The forecast predicted somewhat strong wind from the right direction, and rough seas. One website gauged the sea state with colors: green, yellow, red. Red is extremely rough and the wave heights that day were depicted by a shade of pink. We flew across the 50-mile Northeast Providence Channel on large choppy seas with strong wind on our beam. Despite flying very little in the way of sails, we cruised along near Eventyr’s top speed. Dana was not happy and it was definitely not pleasant for either of us. We basically endured a 10-hour bucking bronco ride. We finally got to our anchorage and were sound asleep by 7:45 pm. We didn’t wake until almost 12 hours later!

From there we headed to Spanish Wells, where we’re currently moored. This is another fun town with wonderful people and a beautiful pink sand beach that stretches for a mile-and-a-half. We’ve been partying with the locals at night and enjoying the beach by day.

Yesterday, we loaded up our dinghy with snorkel gear and headed out to a spot suggested by Robert, one of the locals with whom we’ve been hanging out the past couple nights (he even got some green coconuts just for us, chopped them open and made gin drinks in them!). I brought my Hawaiian Sling and Dana requested I get three lobsters for dinner. Sure… We anchored our dinghy and I dove over to survey the scene. Not much in the way of coral, but tons of fish. I even saw a large stingray. No lobsters, though. I went back to the boat to grab my sling anyway.

Even if I couldn’t find a lobster, maybe I could spear a snapper or grouper. I swam over to a large boulder and decided to dive down and take a look underneath. Sure enough, I saw some antennae, suggesting a lobster was hiding. I couldn’t really see the lobster, but I saw some legs and antennae. I aimed and took my shot. The explosion of power at the end of my spear totally surprised me. I pulled it out from under the rock, and speared on the end was a huge lobster, the biggest I’ve ever seen. It was able to squirm off, and I thought, “I can’t lose this, no one will believe me!” I reloaded and fired again hitting the bulls eye and assuring it couldn’t get off again.

I swam back to the dinghy and yelled to Dana, “Get the camera!” We got the huge sucker on board and left to do some snorkeling. Dana decided that the lobster would suffice and I didn’t need to do any more spear fishing :-)

Later that night while at a house party our new Bahamian friends were throwing, I passed around the picture of my catch. Many of them are, or have been, professional lobsterman. They confirmed it was a once-in-lifetime lobster and I should feel pretty proud of my catch. Dana and I ate well that night, with almost a pound of lobster each.

And to my friend Otis, who works for California game and fish and joked that my last lobster didn’t meet the 6” tail rule to be a keeper by Bahamian law, this lobster is totally big enough to keep. See for yourself ;-)

The winds will be good for heading south again on Christmas Eve, so we’ll leave early in the morning to shoot down to the Exumas. The Exumas are supposedly some of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas and maybe the world. However, we’re starting to feel the pressure of the clock again. Patrick and Shanley, our close friends from Philly, are flying to meet us in the Turks and Caicos on January 15. We still have hundreds of miles and a couple open ocean crossings to get down there, so no dawdling. We’re totally excited to meet up with some friends from home!

Not sure where we’ll be for Christmas, somewhere in the Exumas hopefully. Happy holidays to everyone. It’s weird being in the tropics far removed from family and friends during this festive season, but I think we’ll manage.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Everything is working!

As I write this, everything I can think of is functioning properly on Eventyr. This has to be a first! Our outboard on the dinghy runs without dying and starts relatively consistently. Our diesel engine is running beautifully and not leaking oil or diesel. Our depth indicator, which wasn't working yesterday, sprang back to life after I did some re-wiring and tinkering. The sails are in good shape, as are all our lines. I really can't think of anything that's broken, which is like a Christmas miracle. Let's see how long that lasts :-)

Since our last post from beautiful Treasure Cay, we spent time on Great Guana Cay and are now in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Like I said in our last post, Great Guana Cay was going to be a time for partying…and partying we did. I even broke out Dad's surfboard for a tranquil day of surfing and enjoying the beach (even if the waves were so small they were almost unrideable). The Bahamas are treating us well.

Great Guana Cay is famous for Nippers, a bar recommended to us before we left the states and we continued to hear about during our travels. Even though it's pretty slow around here for tourists right now, we were able to meet many people ready to cut loose for the weekend.

In addition to Nippers, and another bar on the island, Grabbers, we spent a good amount of time at Kidd's Cove Bar. This particular bar was run and frequented by a bunch of 20 and 30 something Bahamians and we immediately made friends. We even bartered with them, trading two gallons of gas for several cocktails (they call their specialty drink the "Gripper,"as a comedic play on the "Nipper" and the "Grabber," their nearby neighbors/competitors). Their generator was out of gas and the only fuel station on the island was closed. If we didn't dinghy back to our boat for gas, they wouldn't have been able to stay open for the night!

Friday, after a raucous day at Nippers, then Kidd's Cove, we invited one of the "Kidds," John, along with a couple we met at Kidd's from Denmark who were vacationing on Great Guana Cay, back to Eventyr for cocktails. Pia speaks Norwegian and confirmed that our boat name is authentic and she was excited to come aboard. We enjoyed Dana's dark and stormies while John drank vodka. Soon enough, we had a full dance party going on in the middle of the harbor. Dinghying them back to shore was exciting and the next day was rough for all of us.

But, that's the life of the adventure, I guess. Every day is a new experience, from partying like it's 1999, to fixing things on the boat, to having a calm beautiful sail across the Sea of Abaco. That's exactly what we did yesterday. Dana and I left our mooring at Great Guana Cay and had a great two-hour sail to Hopetown, another quaint little town with pastel colored houses and everyone driving golf carts to get around the island. They have a picturesque striped lighthouse we climbed for amazing views of the island and surrounding seas.

We continue to meet fantastic folks, whether they're other cruisers like us or tourists visiting by plane and then ferry. One concern recently, is that we've met many a naysayer who scoff at our adventure plan and warn there's no way we can finish in the time allotted. I say, where there's a will, there's a way, and Dana and I are committed individuals. When we set goals, we're willing to go to the extreme to achieve them. We can't be too strict on our timeline, or else things get dangerous. Pushing your luck with weather because you're on a schedule is the set-up for many a misadventure in sailing. On the other hand, we find no need to sit in the same place for weeks taking naps and setting into sedentary, albeit pleasant, routines.

So tomorrow we'll push on. Just a couple miles to Tahiti Beach, where I'll be able to walk a short distance to surf (if it's up, which it should be). Then, on to a staging anchorage where we'll ready Eventyr for another open ocean crossing of about 50 miles down to Eleuthera Island and the next segment of the Bahamas. This will be our first open ocean sail just the two of us, so wish us luck. I promise we won't be partying the night before that trip!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Most beautiful beach yet and more engine repairs

We sailed from Green Turtle Cay to Treasure Cay a couple days ago, and the tall talk about the spectacular beach lived up to the hype. It being low season, we had the beach practically to ourselves!

Today we planned to have a full beach day and chill out, but the best laid plans … As I may have mentioned, our engine has been leaking oil every time it runs. This began in the ICW and continues. We thought we solved the problem after paying a small fortune to a mechanic in Ft Lauderdale, but no such luck. By the time we got to the Bahamas, the area under the engine was again full of oil :-(

Well, last night we were having drinks with new friends Toni and Dave from Montana on their catamaran. When we told them of our leak, they immediately recommended a local guy they used for engine repairs in the past. Dana and I already made an appointment with a Yanmar (our engine brand) certified dealer a couple towns away (Marsh Harbor) for this upcoming Monday. However, that town was out of the way, and if we could get it fixed before that, we could skip the trip.

This morning we called Anthony about the problem and he promptly came over to the marina. The three of us dinghied out to our boat and he took a look at the leak. Within 30 seconds, he identified the problem and said he could probably get the part today. Coincidentally, the part was in Marsh Harbor. Anthony said, "You want to go for a ride?" We excitedly agreed and he drove us to the town. Anthony is incredibly friendly and hospitable, as are most Bahamians, and in addition to bringing us to the service department of the Yanmar dealer where we purchased the part for $17 and cancelled our upcoming appointment, he gave us a tour of the town of Marsh Harbor. He works as a charter captain at a charter boat company (in addition to being a mechanic) and he brought us on some of their huge sailboats (talk about sailboat envy) available for charter!

Our engine is now leak free (fingers crossed).

The friendliness of the people seems to be story of the trip so far. Back on Green Turtle Cay we were having a Goombay Smash (rum punch drink) at the bar that invented the concoction, Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar, and chatting with the owner. We were low on cash, as the island doesn't have an ATM, and they didn't take cards. We figured we'd have one drink with our remaining cash and then head to a restaurant that took cards. Meanwhile, a local lobsterman/fisherman, Matt, struck up a conversation. He gave me some tips on finding lobsters and joked with us on various topics.

When we told him we were leaving to go somewhere to get dinner that took credit cards, he would hear none of it. He exclaimed "Nonsense, I'm getting you dinner. Wait right here." We protested but he ordered two more drinks for us and told us to stay put. By the way, his drink of choice was creme de menthe with sweetened condensed milk. Soon, the chef of the restaurant who was off for the night came in with fresh caught lobsters, to prepare dinner just for us (as we were the only ones in the bar). The chef slipped away to the kitchen and returned with a delicious lobster dish over rice. The chef, Matt, Dana, and I all sat down to eat Matt seemed incredibly happy to be treating us to dinner. After eating we thanked him and headed back to Eventyr. We could hardly believe what just happened! I guess it is better in the Bahamas ;-)

Here in Treasure Cay, my ability to provide for dinner seems to be lacking. All I catch are bizarre fish that I can't even identify!

Lucky for us, locals frequently walk around selling lobster they just caught for cheap, so we are not lacking for great home cooked meals.

Next on to Nippers Bar on Great Guana Cay for some weekend craziness. Hopefully there's something going on, since it's off season. Everything seems a little like a ghost town around here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Green Turtle Cay

We’re almost a week into the “real” adventure (i.e., outside the conveniences of the U.S.), and it’s just as we’d dreamt.

Since the last post, we left the West End to head through the Abacos, a series of islands and cays in the northern Bahamas. Our first day was just what we needed to continue building our sailing confidence. Just Dana and I were aboard, and we planned to sail 25 miles across the sea of Abaco to an uninhabited island to anchor for the night. The wind was relatively light and in the right direction for comfortable sailing. We sailed lazily along over turquoise water. As you looked down, you could see all the way to the bottom like an aquarium. Soon it was just us, out in the open (but calm) sea and no land or other boats in sight. We put on the autopilot, I did some fishing, Dana read and did some exercises and we cruised along in comfort until we eventually spotted the island we were shooting for and dropped anchor for a serene night’s rest.

I even caught a couple fish during the sail, but still nothing big enough to cook up.

We hustled the next couple days, motoring into the wind, to make it to an inhabited island for our five-year wedding anniversary. We were married on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas is a good approximation. We made it to Green Turtle Cay, a beautiful Island with a quaint little town called New Plymouth.

For our anniversary, we dinghied over to a restaurant, Pineapples by the sea, where they had live music. We chatted with locals and semi-locals (Floridians with a second home on the Island), and learned of some fun things to do while we’re here. I even got in on the fun of the band, adding my own rhythm section.

As with most of our outings, our anniversary night was not without adventure. We found Pineapples earlier in the day and had a happy hour drink. We made note of where their dinghy dock was and headed back out to Eventyr. After a quick shower, change, and a glass of Prosecco we were saving for this occasion, we hopped back in the dinghy to head to dinner.

However, now it was dark, so it was harder to locate the restaurant. We remembered there being a banner over the dock and a green light. We spotted it and motored over (by the way, our dinghy motor is working more reliably now after bringing it to a mechanic in Ft. Lauderdale. Doesn’t start every time, but I guess that’s life). We got to the dinghy dock and Dana climbed up the ladder, and quickly and adeptly tied off our line to a piling. I was about to climb up the ladder as well when we heard “Can I help you?” A gentleman was standing on the dock, so I replied, “This is Pineapples, right?” He shook his head “No.” Then I noticed the banner over the dock read “Abaco Fly Fishing Charters.”

We apologized profusely, and he didn’t seem that perturbed. He comforted us, “It happens all the time, just happened last Friday.” We shoved off and headed toward the restaurant. Again, it being dark, we didn’t see the well-marked channel we needed to stay in, so we were heading right toward a shoal (shallow patch of sand). We were laughing about our ordeal when all of a sudden the propeller jammed into sand and the boat shuddered to a stop. Dana remarked “I think it’s really shallow here,” which I didn’t find all that amusing. I took out the oars and we rowed off the sand bar. After making it to deeper water and restarting the outboard we were finally able to enjoy our anniversary evening.

Since then, we’ve been exploring the island. I’ve been running when I get a chance, averaging 20 to 30 miles a week. No marathon training, but I guess I’ll stay in shape. Running for me is more out of habit or compulsion than anything else at this point in my life. It’s a constant I can rely on, no matter what stressors are needling me.

Note our dinghy on the dock and Eventyr off in the distance
New Plymouth seems to be nuts over Christmas. Along with the plethora of Christmas decorations, they have numerous Christmas activities on the schedule. Last night a group of carolers passed us wassailing from house to house. Kind of weird seeing the Christmas spirit in 80 degree weather, but I guess us northerners will have to get used to it.

Yesterday was one of those beautiful, magical days you dream about. Upon the advice of one of the ex pats we met at Pineapples, we took our dinghy for a long ride out around the Cay to a supposed uninhabited island with a picture perfect beach. The uninhabited island is called No Name Cay, and we spent several hours lounging about, writing postcards, and toasting the warm sunny weather.

In the next couple days we’ll shove off for Treasure Cay. Our Philly friend Jackie and her parents recommended it and locals have confirmed it has the prettiest beach in all of the Bahamas. Tough life but it’ll do.