Saturday, May 14, 2016

Exumas to Spanish Wells to Eleuthera to Harbor Island Through the Devils Backbone!


Easter Egg Hunt on Lee Stocking

Conch Fest!

Campfire Night!

School with Guest Teacher MadSam

Hog Cay Anchorage

Boo Boo Hill Signs

The crew of MadSam with Shambala 

Pink Sand Beach on Harbor Island (if you look close you might see a few pink grains)

Blow Holes on Rat Cay

Spa Day on Shambala

Queen's Baths on Eleuthera 

The coolest library on Eleuthera on Governor's Harbor

The Piano near David Copperfield's Island

Shambala touches bottom at low tide near Big Farmers

Plane wreck in the Exuma Land and Sea Park

The Aquarium in the park

Coral near Sandy Cay in the Abacos

Turtle - Sandy Cay Abacos

Sandy Cay Abacos

Swimming Pigs near Staniel Cay

Since we left Long Island and met up with our friends on MadSam we have been traveling throughout the Bahamas.  Here are some highlights from our trip through the Exumas.

The first few stops were anchorages just north of Georgetown.  MadSam had visitors for a few days and we showed them all of our favorite places.  Lee Stocking Island and the elk horn coral, hiking, beaches, and ruins of a previous ocean research facility.  Leaf Cay with the iguanas and drift dives.  Norman Pond Cay where we found a few conch followed by a conch feast.  Bon fire at the beach with roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.  A new stop for us was the blow holes on Rat Cay.  

After MadSam said goodbye to their friends we moved up to Black Point where we did laundry at our favorite laundry.  Then we moved up to Staniel Cay where we enjoyed beer, conch fritters at the yacht club, and fed the famous swimming pigs.  We stayed one night in Pipe Creek to enjoy the cool sand bar and enjoyed sundowners.  

Next stop was the Exuma Land and Sea Park at the Hog Cay mooring area.  It is a tricky entrance but exciting.  The views, scenery and snorkeling were amazing.  We snorkeled on some of the oldest lifeforms on the face of the earth, Stromatolites.  They supposedly pre-date our oxygen atmosphere.  The only other place they are known to be is in Australia.  

From there we moved around to Emerald Rock anchorage and stayed a couple of days to re-new our sign on Boo-Boo Hill.  

We made a big jump from there to Norman’s Cay but felt the anchorage was too rough for snorkeling on the plane wreck so moved up to Allen’s Cay.  The wind stayed strong and we were not able to snorkel as much as we wanted but took advantage of the wind to head up to Ship Channel Cay where we drift dived the west side along the corals heads.  

From there we made a big jump and sailed to Spanish Wells.  This town reminds me of a quaint little north east fishing harbor.  The houses are colorful and surrounded by water and fishing boats of all shapes and sizes.  

One day we rented a van to tour Eleuthera.  We were spoiled with air conditioning and got to see the sights by land.  We started at the Glass Window, Queen’s Baths, the Library in Governor’s Harbor, the Ocean Hole in Rock Sound, Hatchet Bay Cave, and back up to Preacher’s Cave. 

I think we were all exhausted but had a great time.  

For our next big adventure we decided to transit the Devil’s Backbone just East of Spanish Wells to get to Harbor Island.  It is recommended in the charts to hire a pilot to help navigate the intricate reefs.  We decided to brave it on our own in calm conditions (10-12 knots from the East )  with a partly cloudy sky.  We followed the charted line nearing high tide (according to Nassau) and found the only difficulty is dealing with the other boats transiting back and forth in the narrow passages.  

After visiting Harbor Island we moved north to the Abacos.  We came up the Bight of Abaco and through Spence Rock Channel.  We made it to Green Turtle where we decided to check out Black Sound and stayed at Donny's Marina.  An extremely good price and timing was good because our engine died and we were expecting bad weather.  This was our first time doing a hip tow but had no issues.  There we said Goodbye to our friends aboard MadSam as they headed back to the U.S. 

We stayed and snorkeled on the big reef at Sandy Cay where we saw a lot of elk horn coral and turtles.  We also had some calm weather and snorkeled on the wreck of the Adirondack and the Fowl Cay reef.  

Now we are making way to Double Breasted Cay where we will await the weather to return to the U.S. ourselves.  We don’t have any definite plans yet for where and when we return.  Traveling by the direction of the wind will still be in our future for a little while longer.   

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Raggeds and Jumentos

We all love being back int he beautiful Bahamas.  We love the beaches, the clear blue water, the abundance of sea life, and so much more.  We have caught up with some old boating friends and have met a lot of new ones.  

The wind was predicted to die down to light and variable so we took advantage of it and headed to the Jumento Cays and the Raggeds.  Our first few nights were at Water Cay where we spent time diving on the three different blue holes just west of the cay.  We are all still floored by the amount of fish and sea life living there.  It is like swimming in an aquarium.  The trigger fish are the funniest because as they swim by they turn sideways so they can put an eye on you then flip over and put the other eye on you.  They seem very curious about us as we snorkel in the water.  

Paul spearfishing

Queen Triggerfish

The next stop was Flamingo Cay where we snorkeled around the island, especially the bight on the north side.  Nicholas and Samantha both practiced with Paul’s spear on the beach.  They both have grown an interest in spear fishing.  

Practicing with the spear

Grouper we shot

By this time the wind was predicted to blow like crazy for the next week so we went out the cut at Flamingo and trolled down to Johnson Cay cut to head to Hog Cay.  We know from previous experience that this is the most comfortable place to be when there is crazy wind blowing.  Along the way we went through a school of tuna and caught one on the hand line and one on the rod.  Paul was pulling in the one on the rod when a BIG shark came up and ate it!  Paul quickly tried to pull the hand line in but again the shark was much quicker and ate the other one too.  The kids got to see it all and we were amazed, I felt bad.  It is like watching a car crash, you can’t help yourself.  It was very cool in a gruesome sort of way.  
We stopped at Man-O- War Bay as we worked through Johnson Cay cut and Paul shot a fish or two.  It is hard for me to remember now how many and where he shot them but needless to say we had fish and lobster for dinner pretty much every night.  
While we stayed at Hog Cay the wind blew out of the northeast through southeast at 25- 30 knots.  We were very comfortable and able to get off the boat each day for hiking, snorkeling, fishing, beach time, and bon fires.  
Nicholas speared his first fish while we were visiting here.  It was a lion fish.  There seemed to be an abundance of lion fish at each of the little coral heads in the anchorage.  I didn’t feel bad at all getting rid of them mostly because they don’t have a natural predator and eat pretty much all the other reef fish. I feel like it is our duty to get rid of them so they have at least one predator,  us!  Oh, and they also taste delicious.
We turned around and started to head back north when the wind died down but then had a major leak in the sea water strainer which then caused the engine to start to overheat.  Paul was able to get it back together with parts that we have aboard but we decided it was a sign to head back to some civilization.  We stayed again at Hog Cay and Paul fixed it again and we found out our friends on MadSam were arriving in Long Island in a couple of days.  Wow!  Were we excited.  We quickly headed back to Long Island where we caught up with MadSam and Alibi II. 
Nicholas had his birthday here at Long Island where he is now a big 8 year old.  Both Samantha and Nicholas are growing up before our eyes. 
Birthday Boy
We look back at pictures and videos when we first started our trip on the boat and are amazed.  I love that we have been able to experience life with them every step of the way. 

So now we are back to bon fires at the beach, work parties, and spending time with our friends.  Yay!!

Work party at Erskins

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to Bahamas

We haven’t posted in a while so I’ll summarize what we've been up to since December. We had a nice Christmas in appropriately named Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island, USVI and then moved over to Charlotte Amalie to see the new Star Wars movie which we had been talking about doing for months. The kids also got to spend some of their Christmas money buying even more Legos while we were there. We then spent the next week moving back and forth between St. John and Jost Van Dyke doing plenty of beach time and people watching on both while waiting for a few more packages to come to St. John. New Years Eve on the beach at White Bay was very entertaining watching people getting drunk in preparation for Foxy’s famous Old Years Party that night. We learned from Wendel, who has a shop on the beach, that every evening there is treasure to be found in the water because of all the drunks on boats losing things overboard during the day. We went out snorkeling early on New Years Day and Staci came up with a pair of sunglasses and Samantha found $20. Wendel found a big $800 stainless steel anchor that someone had lost and he offered it to us but we really didn’t need it so I brought it ashore for him in our dinghy. Our packages finally showed up on the 5th and we started moving west again. We made our way to Charlotte Amalie so I could get a new high pressure hose for our water maker made to replace the one we had made in the Bahamas last year which was leaking already. I was able to get that done quickly while the kids did school and then we continued on our way.
Christmas Morning.Notice how dark the porthole is above Samantha's head

The beach at the Soggy Dollar New Years Eve

The kids helping raise the kayak
The beach at Trunk Bay

We first sailed to Brewer’s Bay near the airport on St. Thomas, which turned out to be a great anchorage, and the next day had a great downwind sail in 8’ seas to Culebrita. We went into the anchorage there and put an anchor off our bow and tied to a mooring off our stern to keep us bow to the seas but the swell was so big that we were afraid our anchor line was going to chafe through.  There were even people surfing off the point at the head of the anchorage and it looked awesome. We decided to bail out of there just before sunset and made our way into Bahia de Almodovar on the SE corner of Culebra which is protected by a reef that doesn't let any swell come in but you are fully exposed to the trade winds so flat calm with a great cooling breeze. This turned out to be one of our favorite anchorages and we spent several days here over the next couple of weeks. We moved the boat into the harbor near Dewey on Culebra so we could rent a golf cart to tour the island and had a great time. The beach at Flamingo Bay had  huge waves rolling in from the north swell and Nicholas and I spent hours getting tumbled by the surf. After about a week in the area we made our way to Fajardo on the mainland of Puerto Rico to provision and prepare to head to the Bahamas. We rented a car and broke the bank at Costco, Wal-Mart, and the supermarket so we were once again fully stocked and sitting low on our waterline. 
Culebra Playa Zoni
Our cool golf cart 


Well, we were ready to go but the weather window for a 4 day passage to The Bahamas was not predicted for anytime soon so we decided to cruise around Vieques, Culebra and maybe back to the Virgin Islands to kill time. After spending some time in Vieques we thought we had favorable winds to make it to St. Thomas but once we got out of the bay the seas were big and confused so instead of spending 6 hours getting beaten up we just fell off and headed for Culebra again. While anchored in Culebra I started to stress out about our batteries because they seemed to be losing their charge more quickly over the last couple of months and I didn’t want them to fail again in the Bahamas where it would cost a fortune to replace them. The decision was made to head back to Fajardo to replace them. We arranged another car rental from Enterprise and made our way back to Costco where we were able get 4 new golf cart batteries at US prices plus a bunch more treats, fruits and veggies. Finally the weather looked like it was turning so we sailed from Isla Palominos to San Juan and anchored in the shadow of a huge Disney cruise ship in San Juan Bay. We stayed a couple of days and then sailed out of the harbor Bahamas bound.
Entering San Juan Harbor

Our passage to Mayaguana, Bahamas was good. We thought we would have to motor for the first day but it turned out we were able to sail until about 1 a.m. the first night when the winds died so we ended up motorsailing for the next 14 hours. Late in the afternoon of the second day we turned off the motor and had a cracking beam reach and broad reach sail for the next day. We caught a MahiMahi early in the morning of the third day right as I put the handline out. I didn’t even have it fully secured when the fish hit but was able to pull it right in so it was fish for dinner. The winds were building to 20+ so we decided to turn downwind and sailed due west passing south of the Turks and Caicos and the turned NW as the wind eased to make landfall at Mayaguana. We had to enter Abraham Bay just after midnight with no moon and reef all around us. We had researched the entrance as best we could and it seemed the Garmin charts we use were very accurate in this area but it was still nerve wracking as hell and we only went in far enough to anchor. The next morning we moved in close to the settlement of Abrahams Bay and I went in to clear customs which went very smoothly. Mayaguana is the southeastern-most island of the Bahamas and seems pretty forgotten. We explored an old US missile tracking sight on land and dove the reef and an old sailboat wreck. It felt great to be back to the great diving and beautiful waters of the Bahamas.
The girls on night watch on our way to The Bahamas

 The next couple of days were predicted to be light winds followed by about a week of 20-30 knots so we took advantage of the light winds and motorsailed to East Plana Cay. This place was awesome. Again we had to enter a reef-strewn anchorage but did it in the early afternoon with great visibility to be able to read the bottom. We dove the reef on the west side of the entrance channel where we saw more fish than we had seen in all the Caribbean combined. A monster Nassau Grouper appeared and curiously watched us. I got close enough to easily spear him but doing so in this beautiful place would just seem wrong. Hurricane Joaquin was centered right here when it was wreaking havoc on the Bahamas so the beach was loaded with amazing shells. We spent a couple hours collecting and walking the beach. It was obvious this place doesn’t get many visitors as it is not a tenable anchorage in prevailing winds. The next morning the wind was already building higher than the 10-12 kts. that were predicted so we raised anchor and headed for Samana Cay 30 miles north. 

Samana Cay is another out of the way cay that is mostly visited by fisherman that come up from Crooked and Acklins Islands. The entrance to the anchorage at Propeller Cay is very narrow through lots of coral heads and in the Explorer Charts it says should only be attempted in settled conditions with good light. We were a little nervous getting there because the seas were around 4’ and the skies were overcast but as we neared the island the NE swell was greatly reduced and the clouds opened up for us to make our way through the narrow channel. The anchorage here seems to always have a surge so we had to rig a bridle to point our bow into it so we weren’t rolling too badly. We had read that this place had great fishing and reefs teaming with sea life but after diving on quite a few heads we didn’t find this to be true. The island really got battered by Joaquin so we wondered if it had destroyed a lot of the sea life or it’s just been overfished.  The beach was great to explore and we found a bottle that looks very old. After we had been anchored a couple days we ran out of propane in our big tank so I went out to switch to the other tank and found it empty also. We had it hooked to our grill and we think the propane leaked out over the last 2 months. So, with the prospect of eating nothing but cereal, cheese and crackers, and cold canned food for the next 5 days we decided to high tail it to the closest place to get propane which turns out was a two day sail away. We raised anchor and went out the west entrance of the harbor which was very shallow and winding with lots of coral. We ended up bumping our keel on some rock or dead coral but made it through without to much trouble. The sail to Landrail Point, Crooked Island was fast in 20 kts. downwind. We anchored in the dark and rose  before sunrise to go the rest of the way to the southwest end of Long Island where the propane guy was.  Landrail Point was devastated by the hurricane also with lots of houses in ruins and much of the vegetation destroyed. 
Houses on Landrail Point

We sailed to Long Island and got our propane, spent a couple of days in beautiful Dollar Harbour, and then sailed up to Thompson Bay, Long Island where we are now. Our friends Bill and Bess from Alibi II are here and have been helping out with relief efforts so we spent a very full day helping out some locals by removing debris and starting to rebuild one of their homes. Tomorrow we are going to do it again. We met some other boat families here and have had quite a few beach bonfires. We love this place.
Carpenter in Training

Working on Delbert's house

Awesome worker
Dollar Harbour 

Daddy and his girl making dinner

Thursday, December 24, 2015

British Virgin Islands and the USVIs - Christmas in the Caribbean

We arrived as Virgin Gorda after an uneventful overnight downwind sail from St. Barts.  The check in was easy since we were here earlier this year.  This time we did the full tourist package.
The Baths and the Caves

Foxy's and the Soggy Dollar
Soggy Dollar during the day

Sunset by the Soggy Dollar

Our favorite anchorage and place to be was White Bay near the Soggy Dollar.  We stayed there for a few days and watched all the tourist boats and cruise ships come and go.  We enjoyed people watching at the beach during the day then enjoyed the sunset in peace and quiet after everyone had gone.  The Soggy Dollar boasts to be the home of the "Pain Killer" which is an amazing rum drink with coconut, pineapple, and orange juice with a few other added extras.

Now we are back in the US Virgin Islands anchored off of St. John awaiting Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Antigua and Barbuda and Captain Windy Pants Saves the Day, Twice - Then St. Barthélemy

The next part of our trip was visiting these two islands that we missed on our way south.  It took us about a day to sail from Guadeloupe to Antigua.  The climate seemed more dry here with no rain forest or water falls and more cacti and desert landscape.

Antigua has just about everything you might need as a tourist or as a cruiser.  There are a lot of charter boats about and fun places to anchor.  We met another boat of young people chartering from Colorado.  They had wrapped a fishing line around one of the props so Paul helped them out by offering our hookah rig.  They were just starting their 10 day vacation so with the help of the rig they were able to save the engine and continue with their vacation as planned.
We got a nice bottle of red wine as a treat.

We visited a lot of places while in Antigua including Jolly Harbor where we checked in, Falmouth Harbor where we visited both there and English harbor by land, and Green Island.  My favorite place was Green Island where we stayed on a mooring in a few different spots.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving chicken with all the fixings and enjoyed the beach and snorkeling.  The water temperature is slowly getting colder.  Still is about 82 degrees F so I really can't complain much.
Nicholas gets buried in sand

Samantha's turn

Our next stop was Barbuda.  The island is considered part of Antigua but couldn't be more different.  There is one town called Codrington and the rest of the island is a frigate bird sanctuary, beach, reef, and 2 expensive resorts.
While coming into the harbor we noticed a small skiff off shore.  It seemed to be staying in one place but what I didn't notice was the bow was facing away from the wind...not anchored where the bow would be into the wind.  Oops!!  As soon as we anchored two young fishermen came over yelling help us!!  We quickly helped them aboard and set off in search of their small skiff.  Imagine trying to find a needle in a haystack, that is what it felt like.  Their small boat was white and the waves were also big enough to have white caps.
Long story short we finally found it after traveling about 3 miles off shore.  Their anchor line chaffed through on some coral.  We towed them back to shore and they shared some of their catch with us.
Along the way to save the boat we found out some interesting history about the island.  Nobody owns the land, they all pick a property and just build on it and the house is theirs but the property is not.  The lifestyle is peaceful and everyone seems to get along.
We took a day and went into Codrington where we had some awesome jerk chicken and street food.  This place reminds me of the Bahamas in many ways.  The beaches were so sandy white, I didn't think it was possible to be so soft and clean.  The only real sense of civilization was Condrington and a few other people in cars driving about.  We were sad to leave this piece of paradise but the wind looked good so we took off for our next destination St. Barts.
The beach was almost deserted except for us

We left as the sun was rising and had a wet sail downwind to St. Barts.  We arrived in time to find a mooring ball just north of Gustavia at Anse du Colombier where there is a beach that you can only reach by boat or by hiking trail.
St. Barts is definitely the place of the rich and famous.  We walked by a Hermes Boutique that had $6,000 crocodile skin sneakers.  We didn't stay long but did enjoy the beach there and the hiking trail.  Being that it was a french island some people went au natural on the beach.  Oooh La La!