Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sabrina turns 11

Sabrina's 11th birthday was spent hanging in Road Town, Tortola, BVIs. She planned her day to the minute. Monster Pancakes for breakfast (a type of baked egg/pancake), painting nails on the boat then out for lunch. The kids both enjoyed a huge cheeseburger and Ting, a Jamaican grapefruit soda. After lunch we did some expensive grocery shopping. We found our hair braid lady in the craft stalls and Sabrina sat for an hour while Sherry braided her hair. Dinner was pizza on the grill with Marc grilling a made to order pizza for everyone. Present and card opening followed with big smiles by Sabrina. Thanks to Kmart on St. Thomas and Black Friday, we got an adult version of Apples to Apples. The added weight on the boat is compensated by the kids desire to play the game nightly. Marc gave Sabrina the ever popular, "get out of dishes", "get out of punishment" and "wild card" hand made coupons. Showing great discipline, Sabrina just cashed in some of her last years cards a week before they expired this year. Smartly, she got out of Thanksgiving dinner dishes which Marc completed by himself.
After Road Town, we headed toward Norman Island, home of the Wille T floating boat bar and reputed buried pirate treasure. Though when here 17 years ago, I was young and crazy enough to do a body shot on the bar, this year we just watched the crazy drunken sailors. We met 6 guys on a boat from Rhode Island who bought us beers, danced, chatted us up and invited us back to "party" on their chartered catamaran. After assuring them that 9:00 p.m. was our bed time and we were old enough to be their parents, we left the craziness.
After two snorkeling adventures in the Caves and Indians, we felt the reefs were in respectable shape after 17 years of abuse by boat loads of tourists. The fish followed us around after being trained that boats and snorkelers meant food. Our entertainment has been watching the charter boats trying to anchor, pick up moorings and sail. Yesterday an "Emergency" call was heard on the radio. The panicked captain did not know to say "Mayday" or "Pan Pan" and state his position in the event of an emergency. He had ran his Moorings charter boat up on a well charted reef. With no Coast Guard or Boat US to save him, the local restaurants coordinated a rescue after figuring out where he was.
In Roadtown, we spent an afternoon touring 5 year old catamarans coming out of charter and going up for sale. Anyone thinking of buying the sales pitch presented at the boat show about the wonderful income stream chartering gives you should see the boats after 5 years. Even the boats "fixed up" looked trashed to us. Then, after seeing the way the boats are handled, the charter boats do not seem like a good deal. Next to Virgin Gorda, Anguilla and onto St. Maarten.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St. John

After exploring the north side of St. John 3 years ago, we headed to the
south side. Thanks to Laurance Rockefeller, about half the island of St.
John is National Park. The waters are protected by a sea park. Most of the
anchorages have mooring balls are are $15/night. In one such anchorage, a
park boat came along presumablely to collect while Sabrina tried to catch
the sea life. No, they are just the welcome service and cannot accept
money. With no maps left and limited knowledge of the fishing rules and two
guys on a boat, maybe deficit reduction should start with their jobs. After
experiencing the disappointing underwater trail at Truck Bay, we were not
sure what to expect in Reef Bay. The snorkeling was vibrant and Marc even
caught a lobster.. By hand!

To beat the heat, Marc and I started at 6:30 a.m. for a hike to the pre-Columbian petro glyphs on the National Park maintained trail. The National Park obviously did not believe in chemical eradication of the bugs and the mosquitoes enjoyed feasting on Angie. From Reef Bay, we sailed to
Coral Harbour. The harbor was filled with derelict boats with new reefs
growing on their bottoms. The "town" was the same as it was 3 years ago, a small grocery store and a few stores including a post it. With 100's of
boats in the harbour there was no dock. We heard something about protecting
the sea bottom. Ironically, all the dingy anchors digging in were much
worse than a dock would be. Sabrina was excepting gifts at the post office
Cruz Bay, on the other side of the island. Unfortunately, that can't tell
you if your packages are there over the phone. They did say that items
sent regular mail can take 4-6 weeks to arrive on St. John. With a
disappointed daughter, we sailed the short distance to the BVIs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Parker's Paradise

After 9 days at sea, Parker dreamed of a cheeseburger. When the St. Thomas
yacht club had a TRIPLE cheeseburger on the menu for the evening, he begged
us to go with the Watts out to dinner. Of course, we relented and enjoyed
our last evening with the Watts. Seeing Angie, Chris, Meghan and Christina
at Cowpet Bay after 9 days a sea was a real treat. Though they don't see
each other often or communicate regularly, the kids fall easily into their
friendships. They had a ball swimming, kayaking and chatting.

Having just left the states, we had the fixings for a full Thanksgiving
dinner on board. A hot oven with 90 degree heat outside, why not? In NC,
Alyson took me shopping and we picked out a roaster in its own cooking bag
that would last in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving. After the fourth
day at sea, I realized the roaster was not a turkey but a chicken. Marc and
I decided not to mention this oversight to the kids, who loved the "turkey".

The biggest adventure of the trip was Chris and I going to Kmart for Black Friday. Since I (Angie) had little for the kids for Christmas or Sabrina's birthday, I thought it might be a fruitful adventure. Leaving the boat at 5:30 a.m. with my honey having to wake up and dingy in, I found Chris
waiting for me at the dock. He wanted to save on a new washer dryer for the
condo. The line at the store was already large with security guards trying
to control the line jumpers. We waited outside for 30 minutes, us and all
the locals. It was truly Black Friday. I tried to get a cart in but gave
up when I could not get it in the door. I guess now the stores open on
Thanksgiving day, taking families away from each other for shopping. With
the sale signs still up from the day before, I thought I was getting a
"deal" (still 40% higher than in the states) on games for the kids. After
waiting 45 minutes to check out a few bioncles, games and two pillows, I
realized no sale, full price today. Chris still had not been able to
purchase the washer dryers and almost gave up when they said, you have to
take it with you today. Inefficiency was in full force and the kindness of
the islands gave way to all out yelling for the precious washer dryers.
Never again I said. I believe I saved a whole $10. The Watts flew back to
Saratoga and the Johnsons fueled up and sailed to St. John.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In the middle of nowwhere

Sailing out here in the middle of the Atlantic, I realized that, besides our immediate family, no one knows where we are or where we are going. As a write this, due to modern GPS technology, we know exactly were we are. However, as we can't sail directly where we want to go, we don't know where we will end up or when. With many financial balls in the air to be juggled prior to being incommunicado for a week or more, I failed to update the blog/facebook/email with our plans. The biggest stresser to us getting off the dock this time, no ink cartridges. With 5 days of shopping and a very detailed list, I failed to remember to inventory and buy ink cartridges. Well, even though I only need to print vitally important documents in black, our 5 year old Epson printer will only print if all 4 ink cartridges have ink in them. Without a car and with no public transportation in Carolina Beach, we had to get creative. Marc tried a "no mess" refill kit from Walgreens to no avail. I called the dockmaster to use the office, to no avail. Finally, I convinced (using carefully placed bills in the tip jar) the dock hand at a fuel dock to let me use the office printer. Print, scan, email and off the dock we go. In the its a small world category, a boat that we met 4 years ago in Annapolis was passing by. After not speaking in 4 years, Marc and Capt Larry on Meriah had a great chat and we followed them out the Cape Fear River. We hope to see them and their two girls this year in the Bahamas.

Since October, we sailed north to Annapolis for the boat show and a wonderful reunion with several dear friends. A side trip to Saratoga left us leaving Annapolis much later than planned. With kids, the issue was "where to be for Halloween". We tried to make it all the way to NC but decided to enjoy the Dismal Swamp instead. Halloween was spent in Elizabeth City, NC with 11 other kids (pictures on facebook.) After stopping in Orcacoke NC we arrived in Carolina Beach NC a week after Halloween to see our friends on Aly Cat, Lew, Alyson and Caroline. Every day, Alyson took us on various errands to stock up on non perishable food and boat supplies we many need for the next year. An hour before they left, we did a fresh food run to load up the fridge and Lew and Marc did a guy trip to buy engine products and booze.. but no ink cartridges. After a wonderful 5 days with Aly Cat in Fayetteville NC where we enjoyed unlimted hot water, a washer/dryer, internet, roller skating, dining out and of course their unending hospitality, we cut the dock lines on Monday to head to St. Thomas, V.I. Most boats are heading south this time of year and there are several ways to make your way to warmer weather. The cruisers inter coastal waterway (ICW) starts in Norfolk and goes to Florida following rivers and canals inside of the ocean. Many families with kids elect the "inside route" as there are not issues with big seas. Marc and I find the ICW more stressful and would rather make a few big overnight passages then them to worry about bridge schedules, being rocked by the boat wake of big power boats, finding anchorages for the night and having to be at the helm at all times. From Florida, crossing the Gulf Stream becomes the biggest issue. Some boats do a combination of inside and outside routes, and enjoy stops at popular ports such as Charleston, SC and Cumberland Island Georgia.

The crazy Johnson's and at least 3 other boats are trying to get as far south as possible in one trip. The other boats, however left 2 days before us and are a good 300 miles further east. From Cape Fear NC, our route was over 1100 NM to St. Thomas VI. In order to get south, we wanted north wind. However, a strong north wind against a strong north setting gulf stream can create dangerous standing waves. . The rule of thumb is to not cross the gulf stream when the wind has any north component to it. We diligently studied the latest color analysis of where and how strong the gulf stream would be and picked the weakest point to cross it. Marc and I bantered around our options.. my issue being 25 knots of NE wind predicted when we hit the gulf stream. Marc saying that with only 1.5 knots off the NC coast, the waves would not be a problem and we needed to get east as soon as possible. In the end, we were both right The gulf stream rose to 3 knots and we had a very rough, uncomfortable time crossing it for about 10 hours. After months at the dock, all of us needed to get used to the motion and any activity inside the boat led to nausea. Water was leaking in the front hatches and we had to adjust course to take the waves off the back of the boat more. Prior to hitting the gulf stream, we got to experience the frying pan shoals off of Cape Fear. Now we all understand how they got their name.

Chris Parker, the weather guy boats "sponsor" to help with weather prediction, speaks to the other VI bound boats about easting every day. As the trade winds and waves come from the east, unless you are a freighter it is very difficult to get east in a sail boat. Our original plan was to go to Bermuda but IDA and the corresponding wind and seas made that impossible. The "easting" issue is why we want to get all the way to St. Thomas now, then work our way back north and west with the wind. The wind is supposed to go away along with the seas and we may have 3 days of motoring to get the 480 further east we need to be inline with St Thomas. Hopefully the fuel and engines hold out. Instead, we may end up in Puerto Rico, DR, Turks in Caicos or Bahamas. Imagine a car trip dependent on weather as to where you end up.

Our position is updated daily with the link to the right if you would like to see our progress. More to follow...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Auto pump shut off

On the boat, we are used to traveling for a month or more on 150 gallons of fuel.  After all, we are a sail boat with two auxiliary engines.  Our patience for slow sailing has increased with a 3 knot cut-off.  If we are going less than 3 nautical miles an hour (maybe 4 miles an hour) we turn on an engine and motor sail.  Now we are driving 40 feet of house down the road with a V10 Ford Triton engine and no sails on the roof.   All the CPAs in the family were taking bets on our first fuel mileage, with a required report in.


As with anything, figures can be manipulated to benefit the presenter.  At our first fill up, the pump magically shut off at only 38 gallons.  That would be phenomenal fuel economy.  But wait, it shut off as we had charged exactly $100 and that is the max on one credit card transaction.    That has NEVER happened to us before at the pump.  Another $100 and we had our first official mileage report and a realization that we are now our worse environmental nightmare at between 7-9 miles/gallon. 


Now we are happy that the recession has caused a drop in fuel prices. 

Now, we love the fact that U.S. has the lowest fuel prices of the wealthy nations. 

Now, we creep over the border from Canada so we don’t have to buy fuel at $1.00 a liter (about $4.00/gallon for the math challenged). 

Now, Marc has now taken to Priusing, coasting down any and every hill in neutral. 

Now, our internet time is used searching for the lowest fuel in the area.  Where is Chavez when you need him?   

As the accountant, I have figured at fuel costs $.33/mile.  Every wrong turn I think, ca$$ching, ca$$ching.  So, we are hoping our carbon footprint can be averaged over the last 3 years and divided by 4.. right?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Heading west with no GPS

Goodbye Hastings.  On Saturday, August 8th, after cleaning, fixing, and loading the “new” RV with food, we left Hastings Michigan heading west without a definite plan.   A new tradition was established.. honk at the entrance to every new state.  Bye Michigan, hello Indiana…. Goodbye Indiana, hello Illinois
Scott, my brother, turned 40 that day and we were meeting him off the highway in Illinois. We learned quickly to try to avoid toll roads.  With 3 axles, we had to take out a small mortgage to pay the toll taker.   Entering downtown Chicago,  the Express lane sign read, “no trucks”.  Our we now a truck… with 3 seconds to decide, survey yes, “YES”   After getting his first ticket in 20 years, Marc was extra sensitive to being a law abiding citizen in our new Tropi-cal RV.  So, onto the “local” lane we merged.   The first adventure of the trip occurred. ;
Black smoke was billowing in the right lane and cars were screeching to a halt.   With a car on fire in the far right lane, cars were slipping by in the left lane.   Just as we were getting by… WHAM, the impressive Chicago Fire Department showed up in force, parking their fire truck right in front us, cutting off the lane.   By now, the car was in full blown inferno with Marc saying… get a picture.  Chicago’s finest parked their fire truck in front of our perfect Eye Witness News photo.  I’ve never been the eye witness in Eye Witness News and now the picture was lost.. but I got the smoke and the firefighters in action.

We were so close, we got to chat with the firefighters and see the business man with his briefcase watching his car go up in flames.  One of the firefighters gave Parker a comment about playing his DS vs. watching the action.  New DS rules were put in place and within 20 minutes, we were on our way.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Land Lubbers

August 1st , 2009 was a milestone day. In the morning, we negotiated our first RV purchase, a 37',1999 National "Tropi-cal" model with 35,000 miles.Why did we BUY an RV you ask. Side-by-Side was "on the hard" at the Severn River Marina in Virginia awaiting a new transmission. Most boat yards forbid living on the hard. We have done it once and it is no fun and nearly impossible for the 3-4 weeks it was going to take to fix the boat. So we were officially home-less. Ideas were tossed around including rent an RV in Europe as the sailing plan there was squashed by the kids. Heading to South America was an option. Then sailing friends in Idaho (formerly Mima), who purchased an RV after sailing, invited us to visit and tool around in the RV. Maybe it was time to "See American First" as the original National Park travel slogan stated. Renting an RV was costly and, for the 4 weeks, would have been as much as buying one. Brad, my CPA brother in law and I approached the decision from a non emotional "run the numbers" approach. Brad asked to see my spreadsheet analysis of the cost of an RV vs. nightly hotels factoring in gas, depreciation and the opportunity cost of money. I'm still working on it. Inspired by our friends the Olson's who had tented camp for 3 weeks last summer, I suggested driving the 1996 teal Plymouth Voyager with 120K on it and tent camping. Marc just said, "It is about the experience, not the numbers." so off shopping we went.
After almost buying an RV in Virginia until metal appeared in the transmission fluid, we were spending every day looking in Michigan for an affordable, low mileage older RV. We checked Craig's List, walked through pre-auction lots, called dealers to no avail. Anything reasonable was trashed inside and/or water damaged and delaminating. Seems that Michigan's15% unemployment rate has lead many fore-closed families to move into motor homes as their primary residence. Feeling discouraged, we saw a large RV sitting in a used car lot in Caledonia Michigan, outside of Hastings. It looked entirely unaffordable but Marc said, "Let's take a look." Wow, it was not trashed, had Corian counter tops, tons of storage, TWO slide outs, palm tress on the outside and etched sail boats on the inside. On the down side, it had some evidence of water damage, non working batteries and was $7,000 outside of our upper limit. The sales guy, without asking, takes $5,000 off the price. After a 6 hour work over by a mechanic and a list of repair issues, we went in for some hard negotiating. 2 hours later we left with an insured, paid for RV but running late for Hannah's baptism. Then onto Angie's 25th class reunion.. Quite the day!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Close friends. Sending out Christmas cards or wedding invitations our list of friends can swell to large levels. But when it comes down to the number of people you can call on for anything, anytime the number shrinks Those people who open their homes to you and tell you to stay as long as you need to, even beyond the standard "4 day" limit. Sailing, we meet other cruising who become "do anything" for you friends in a short period of time. Why is that? Maybe because we are all somewhat craving play mates for our kids and adult conversation from someone other than our spouses. Maybe we know that at any time we may need help in terms of a boat part, computer expertise or just an ear to vent to. Regardless, turning around and headed back gave us an to opportunity to be reunited with "shirt of my back" friends on Aly Cat, Pelican and Miakoda. They were "sorry" for our boat problems but glad the goodbye we said in the Bahamas was not as long as expected. Thanks Alyson, Lew and Caroline for opening up their beach home to us. The kids learned to surf in all of 5 minutes while the adults had a great time being schooled in Poker. Too soon, we felt it was time to head north.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One Big Bad U Turn

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After 4 days and 450 miles into our trip south, between Cuba and the Cayman islands, we mysteriously stopped moving through the water. For 95% of the time, we had to motor with no wind or wind coming from the direction we wanted to go. We finally decided to drop the sails and punch our way to the Caymans using just one motor. The 140 miles left were going to be rough, bashing into building seas.
Waves had crashed on Sabrina's hatch and leaked through to the mess below. Had the school books not still been on her bed, the salt water mess would have been more manageable. Could this be a behavior changing lesson?
All of us we excited as we had not been to the Caymans before. From there we were going to refuel and cruise downwind to Panama. Fate had other plans for us. First, my laptop which had been developing vertical lines decided to add a large black stripe down the middle of the screen. At the last minute, we got a new lap top from Best Buy in Fort Lauderdale 5 days ago. Dell had a recall on the screens but we were too late. Never fear, Marc has the same laptop and I can get my data off. Two days out to sea, Marc's laptop gets a black stripe also. Two laptops down, two left. The kids computer had intermediately stopped powering up and we took it into Best Buy prior to leaving. They, of course, "could not replicate the problem". Now, it will not power up.. One laptop left. The new laptop however is Vista and non of the programs will work on it. Fate is trying to tell us something.
A sun shower looks good about now. Finally, the port engine stopped working altogether.
But, we have another engine.

Hot, tired and discouraged, we stopped the boat and called a family meeting in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Sabrina wanted to go to the Caymans. I was looking at Honduras or Guatemala but Marc that the best repair options were back in the States. Parker, thinking internet and friends wanted to go to States. Now we are have to BACKTRACK all of the distance we just covered and make it to North Carolina after stopping to refuel in Miami
After we turned around, we put up the spinnaker for a nice, comfortable downwind sail. 15 minutes later, the black cloud behind us was fast approaching. I just noticed the wall of wind heading our way rapidly. Marc ran forward and fought with the spinnaker sock to get it down, just in time.  Wind reached 48 knots and we were sailing only on the sail covers.

On the positive side, once we finally arrive in about a week, hopefully we can see the friends we left behind in the Bahamas. At least we weren't 1000 miles out on the way to Europe when this happened.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Half Moon Cay

A few days ago, Jennie (Miakoda) and Alyson (Aly Cat) made friends with the Jamaican horse tenders on Little San Salvador. For marketing purposes, Holland American Cruise Lines has renamed it Half Moon Cay and set up a cruise ship fantasy land on the island. Living onshore are 25 or so ex-polo ponies for the cruise ship passengers to ride on the beach and in the water. Our cruising guide says, "boats are not allowed in the harbor or ashore except in an emergency" as the island is privately owed. Well, no one owns the water and we find a little kindness goes along way. Sure enough, minus one bottle of tequila, Jennie and Aly arranged for the kids to ride the horses at 9:00 a.m., before the 4000 cruise ship passengers swarmed the island. Parker and Casey bagged out, so 6 girls and Aly (who Rodney, the dentally challenged Jamaican seemed to have taken a fancy to) rode polo ponies around the corral. Aly also arranged for the ladies to come back at 2:00 p.m. for a real ride at the end of the day.

Kristin (Pelican) and I enjoyed the hiking trails and almost lost our way in the interior of the island. School was put on hold and 5 kid boats with 8 kids and 10 adults tried to blend in with the mostly older, sun burned cruiser ship passengers. The caretakers encouraged us to take part in all of the festivities. First stop was the stingray lagoon. However, by the time we got there the first group of paying cruise ship passengers were donning life jackets, masks and snorkels to swim in waist deep water with the tamed sting rays. With no shoes to protect our feet, we ran to the ocean while Aly and Jennie negotiated a return trip.
By now, 4000 people has crowded the beach, filling beach chairs, cabanas and even private houses for rent at $100/day. Sabrina said, "I feel like I'm back in Florida". Casey (Pelican) and Parker made for the water park and ocean tramps while the girls went back to the stingrays. Green backs talk and the kids got to
feed sting rays for a little kindness passed to the low paid workers.  Marc spent the day photographing Americana while the rest went back to the horses. Riding horses in the water was an exhilarating experience.
Staying on was tricking with breaking waves. The horses keep doing their business in the water, requiring legs up to let it passed by.

The adventure kept going. Ally (Miakoda) split her chin open on a water slide. Dr. Johnson to the rescue and he did a professional suture job on the boat, applying 4 stitches. As the wind has picked up and changed
directions, all of the dinghies on shore were flooded with shoes, masks and snorkels strewn across the beach. Bailing, bailing, bailing and all three dinghies were floating. The gas tanks were flooded also so
Casey and Parker got our dinghy from the boat to tow the other boats in. Side by Side is now missing a few packs of cigars kept on board just for trading and a bottle of tequila. Thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines for a
great day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Family Island Regatta

Every year in April, traditional Bahamain sloops from all the island groups in the Bahamas compete for three days of racing, drinking and dancing in Georgetown Bahamas for the National Family Island Regatta. The sloops are unique as the ballast comes from 5 or so guys "hikin" out on a board on the windward side. On a tack, everyone has to duck and get the board out on the other side. Race conditions were intense all week, with 20-30 knot winds. The Johnson's wore bathing suits for the rough ride across the bay and back to watch the start of the races. Breaking races would drench the dingy and all of us. As one of the few to brave these conditions, we got to see the anchored start and two major crashes. The Cat Island boat was rear ended, sending sailors into the water, breaking the boom and ending their race week. Our friend, Mike, co-owner of Long Island Breeze, has a broken thumb after being cleared off of the board by the boom in a crash at a buoy. Crewing on a race boat looked more dangerous by the hour. Had we arrived one day earlier, the kids could have sailed in the Junior group. After seeing all of the crashes, I was glad we missed it.

On Saturday, two bands performed for the delight of the crowd. The first group were elementary to high school age kids. Unlike our marching bands, the Bahamains do little marching and lots of dancing, gyrating and booty shaking. My favorite quotes included a Bahamain guy behind me to his woman, "now I see what I be missin". Marc stated the PTA would be in an uproar over these moves. The main event was the Royal Bahamas Police Marching Band. Traditional marching band style started their show. However, the drum major had moves I have never seen before, even embarrassing the local woman he pulled out of the crowd. I believe I heard her say, "don't go there!" Another local said to me, "If they could investigate as well as they played, there would be no crime in the Bahamas!" The drum corp precision while tossing their drum sticks and drums was incredible. Who needs cable!

From Georgetown, we motored to the north end of Long Island, Bahamas. Long sandy beaches, salt pond islets and tall white cliffs grace the end of Long Island. Our afternoon dingy adventure included a climb to the Columbus Monument where he ran aground in 1492. The monument was unique in that it said, "to the peaceful, friendly, loving, Lucaya Indians of the Bahamas (many spaces) and to Christopher Columbus." The message was subtle but effective. From there we tried to navigate a shallow inland pond and collect sand dollars and shells. After pulling the dingy through the mangroves, we decided to turn back. On the north end of the the island, the waves have created dingy in caves with natural skylights at the top. Hunger called us back to the boats, but we loved our time on Long Island.

Currently, we are in Conception Island and leaving for Cat Island today. With our fellow kid boats, Miakoda and Taua, we have enjoyed mahi from our fishing successes. The kids (and moms) have been wake boarding and water skiing, beach combing, snorkeling and turtle watching on Conception Island, a land and sea park. Our position is posted on the link in our blog.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Prior to Little San Salvador, we were in Fernandez Bay, Cat Island. Cat Island is a very friendly island known for its traditional African religious practices, including abandoning houses once the grandparents
die to allow the spirits to live in peace. Cat Island is also known as the home of Rake and Scrape music, Bahamain music using a heated goat skin drum, saws with a screw driver and an accordion.

At the local Rake and Scrape, we met a pilot from Crystal Lake (like Scott and Kendall)
who offered a tour of the corporate jet to the kids. We also met Evan, the manager of the Fernandez Bay resort who was from Michigan. All 5 kid boats descended on the resort and enjoyed a tour of a 25 million corporate jet. The pilot, Alain and the co-pilot, JT, got tours of our much less expensive boats and happy hour in the evening. Alain then piled all of us into a rent a truck for a visit to the famous Hermitage,
a sanctuary built by a retired priest at the highest point in the Bahamas, modeled after an Italian shrine. To top it off, Alain buzzed the anchorage in the jet on the way home. The site of a jet going 450
knots directly over head will not be forgotten soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Overcoming Fear at the Blue Hole

On Easter Tuesday, we decided to rent a van with our friends on Miakoda to tour Long Island, Bahamas. Finding a car was the first challenge. Jennie would speak to someone who said, yes we have a car only to find out that the car had been already rented to other crusing friends. Finally, we arranged a van and a pick up. The friendly Bahamaian who met us at the dock drove us to his house and gave us the van with no paperwork to complete. Can you imagine getting a rental car in the states without any paperwork! Long Islanders are famous for their hospitality and this was just one example. So off we go with 4 chiefs, 4 kids and Brian assuming the driving responsibilities. Brian and I are more alike in touring style, see everything and move on. Jennie and Marc linger, take pictures, talk to everyone.
The highlite was Dean's Blue Hole pictured above. Dean's Blue Hole is the world's deepest blue hole (underwater sinkhole), which plunges 202 metres (663 ft) to the ocean floor, in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island. Over previous weekend, they held the world championship free diving competetion here. During the event, Australian Walter Steyn achieved a new Australian free-diving record of 100 metres (330 ft) at Dean's Blue Hole. Free diving.. no tanks, no air, just a big breath. Marc, Brian and Parker enjoyed cliff jumping into the deep dark hole. As I have aged, I have developed a fear of jumping off of high places. After devoloping an increasing frustrated audience at the blue hole, I finally jumped. Every time I went to go, my legs would freeze. The brain knows this is a bad idea so you really have to overcome your instinits to throw yourself off of a cliff into the great abyss. Even Marc hestitated at the very top. Parker will jump no problem, but he doesn't like to swim where he can't see the bottom. Fears are complex, and I was happy to have conquered mine for the day.
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Treasures Found

All of us wanted to return to Johnson Cay, a small inland with a perfect beach facing north and an anchorage only for two boats. Two years ago, we had a magical experience with our friends on Dream Catcher. So this time, we were there by ourselves with perfect weather, clear skies and gorgeous water. With the artistic Daniels family on Dream Catcher, we painted a sign that said, "Welcome to Johnson Cay. Here is the picture as it looked two years ago:
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Friends had said, "No did not see the sign". So we thought it was gone after two years of wind, sea and weather. While I was snorkeling, Parker started yelling from shore. He had found the sign, somewhat overgrown but still there. I looked around and found the board painted by the Daniels family and all of the kids& painted conch shells, still there. Here is the sign after two years of abuse by mother nature:

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A project presented itself, the sign called to be repainted. Unfortunately, we did not have a full paint set on board. Green and white were the only choices. Parker also scored a kite-board.not Marc's but one just the same. Johnson Cay never fails to amaze and enchanted us. With a perfect name, it is our favorite secluded island and probably always will be.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Scavenging and Seclusion

Why go you ask, of course, for the scavenging, hunting and seclusion. All of us were excited to find lobster, whose season ended in 10 days. In Sabrina;A Child's History of the World", she learned about the life of the Stone Age people. "These early people must have spent most of their time hunting for food or trying to get away from animals hunting them for food". That was us, the scavengers of the Jumentos. Parker likes to scavenge the ocean beaches for fishing buoys and sticks to make spears and forts. Sabrina was determined to find sea beans and to make a necklace out of. After finding tons of sea hearts, only a rare hamburger bean would appease her. Another favorite for kids was to pile up found shoes for a "Payless shoe store" on the beach. She also was interested in spearing fish and lobster. Marc wanted to get up on the kite board and was excited for high winds. This year we have lost so many things. Just days before, Marc's kite-board had disappeared overnight. It had been used once and all were upset by it.
Marc is a superb hunting, able to lie on the deep bottom and spear well hidden lobster under rocks. On average, he was bringing home 3 large lobsters a day. The cave man genes have pushed their way to the surface. My big score was a boat fender and hat from washed up on the beach. That is what we have become, glorified dumpster divers on the beaches of the Bahamas, and loving it. It seems that other type A cruisers have similar ideas. Gathering spots are strewn with "art" displays of beach treasures and functional pieces like wheel barrows, tables and altars, all made of recycled materials. More disturbing were all of the plastic washed up and the beaches. What, as self proclaimed environmentalists should we do or not do with it? In the U.S., beach clean up days are organized and trash bagged and recycled or land filled. In the Bahamas, our choice is to leave it or burn it, releasing its lovely components into the air. Let us know which the better choice is.

Sprawl and Socialization

Only in the Bahamas can you go from the polar opposite cruising experiences in a day's sail. At one end of the cruising spectrum is Georgetown, Bahamas during Cruising Week. At the other end are the remote and desolate Ragged Islands/Juementos, Bahamas.
In Georgetown (G/T), we listened to the VHF net, wrote down the daily and weekly activities and had to use (gasp) a calendar with time commitments to organize our lives. The cruising lifestyle in Georgetown is organized, punctual, with a set hierarchy of leaders. Volleyball daily at 2:00 p.m., Beach Church on Sunday's at 9:30 a.m. and ARG (Alcohol Research Group) meetings at 5:00 p.m. Arriving at 5:10 p.m., we found a full beach and many appetizers already gone. If anything, our "just in time"
arrival policy has gotten worse.. after all we are on a boat. However, retired cruisers are frustratingly early to events. With 300 plus boats in the area, privacy is non existent with new friends popping by the boat daily. The anchorage was a wave of color with boats flying every flag on their boat. The kids were excited to display the G/T flags won 2 years ago and add the new ones from this year.
Nothing like Georgetown exists in our experience around the Caribbean. Bed times, who needs them especially with cruisers' parties only lasting until 10:00 p.m. However, at the end of week 2, we are tired, and ready for the solitude of the Juementos.
At the last campfire of our time there, we tried to convince the other friend and family boats, Los Gatos, Miakoda and Cambraytion to join us in the Juementos. As described in our chart books, "they are unpopulated wilderness with only one tiny settlement, closer to Cuba than Georgetown". Our information purports to be prepared for no all around anchorages, limited protection from fronts and swelly, rolly anchorages. Food is limited and water and fuel are non existent. Oh, and than there
are the sharks who come in the shallows to breed in the spring and become aggressive. Of course, all of the ladies have read and reread this information, making the area seem more and more dangerous after each reading. At top of that, the weather god, Chris Parker, said that the wind was going to be blowing hard out of the N-NE for 5 days straight, making the anchorages even more rolly and snorkeling challenging. Needless so say, no-one left with us. Most boats leave in the morning and announce
their departure to a chorus of "goodbyes" on the radio from fellow cruisers. We left late afternoon, so we could use our raffle-won day on the water in a high speed power boat, sneaking out during the afternoon activities. Cruisers never say good-bye, just see you later. We left not knowing when and if we would be seeing our friends again, but happy to be finally sailing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back to Georgetown

After a crazy and fun two weeks in Georgetown, Bahamas during regatta week, we are peacefully anchored in Nurse Cay, Jumentos. Our position is posted on the ship trak link on our blog. The Jumentos, which means donkey in Spanish, is a string of virtually uninhabited islands closer to Cuba than the US. Prior to G/T, we were blessed by our dear friends, Chris and Kelly, Jack and Katie Case of Saratoga Springs, The weather cooperated and we enjoyed a few long sails interspersed with snorkeling, hunting, beach combing and great company. Their trip ended with two great days at Atlantis, a super-resort on Paradise Island. Las Vegas has nothing on this place, add to that the largest man-made marine habitat in the world along with literally miles of water park activities and you begin to understand what this Atlantis is like. Surrounded by mega and new giga (bigger yet) yachts whose expenses at Atlantis exceeded our yearly cruising budget, we hung our wet laundry out with pride. I tried to weasel my way onto Pegasus, a 200+ foot yacht that blocked our view, to no avail.

In Georgetown, we had to say goodbye to Mima who we had been cruising with for a year and a half. It was an emotional time but we know our paths will cross again. We enjoyed campfires, dinners, the coconut challenge, kids days and did a Tim Conway Dorf-on-Golf like skit with them. For those of you too young to remember, someone is behind you under a shirt with their arms as your arms and your arms are your legs. It is fun, physical comedy or it can bomb. Marc, Brad and kids have been doing a Johnny camper version at YMCA camp the last few years, so it gave us the idea. We performed "Stan and Lena come to Georgetown". Mark on Mima and I were a dysfunctional cruising couple from Minnesota with Marc and Susan as the arms. The kids passed up props like a mini mast and sail, fishing pole, radio, lipstick, shaving cream and razor, etc. The crowd loved it as we poked fun at the typical situations in the cruising community. Mima, being relative newbees to the Bahamas had to trust that the jokes were funny. When we get internet, we will post the video on the blog. In the end, we won 3rd place out of 15 groups. One couple stopped us and asked where we were from in Minnesota! First place was garnered by the French Canadians doing a Can Can for which that had transported complete costumes for 15 people. 2nd place were our friends, the family on Los Gatos. They did a Youtube inspired "Evolution of Dance" skit with their two daughters and mom and dad. Angie's Mom came for 10 of the days and was a fantastic boat guest.

Marc raced on Phoenix, an Ocean Cat 49 twice. The boat was owned by the Henry who built the only 10 Ocean Cats in existence. Marc calls it a Manta on steroids. After starting last and catching up to all the other boats, Marc decided to tack to get out in the ocean more, while all the other boats headed to shore. Unfortunately, the wind died and they were becalmed for 45 minutes while the others still had the wind. They were going so slow they could see lobsters in the water. So, they finished 5th out of 10 boats. Saturday we all raced around the harbor and finished 2nd in the Ocean Cat. The harbor race was crazy, with boats having to dodge anchored boats and lots of up wind sailing.. not good for a cat. We actually caught and dragged two marks that we had to round. So we got a bottle of rum for 2nd. Parker was the official door prize drawer for the race. He pulled out "Phoneix" and won the captain a beautiful watch. The next day, the captain gave it to Parker.. he has not taken it off.

The kids did well in the competition category in Georgetown. They got 1st in the coconut harvest, having to round up coconuts from a dingy with only used fins to propel the dingy. Parker came up with a sea monster idea for sand sculpture and won first with Sabrina, Kristen and Annie from Bird on a Wire, Geneva on GottaLife and Lee Ann, the only adult in the group. The judges were moved by the only true kid group vs. an adult group with kids thrown in as labor. The adults got second in the sand sculpture with a "Red Hot Knight", a knight with brandishing a sword with bulging muscles everywhere. The theme of the event was Red Hot Nights so we were trying to gain points. In the end we lost to Dog Beach. I think the fake dog poop made of sand and sea beans but them over the top. Alvina/Mom helped tremendously and got a 2nd place flag to take home. We did an encore presentation of Stan and Lena at the closing night ceremony with Chad and Lee Ann, a newlywed couple from Muskegon Michigan.

Our first day there, we won a snorkeling trip with 4 other couples on a high speed power boat. We stayed an extra day to take the trip..value $100 a piece. After waiting an acceptable amount of time to factor in "Mon, this is the Bahamas, mon", we called. The day was spent trying to track them down. As it was the first calm day in a while, they decided to make money vs. take a donated trip. So, Marc went snorkeling and got two huge lobsters and gave one to Mike on Los Gatos who went with him. With 300 boats in G/T, it was amazing there were any lobsters left. That night we did a huge group bonfire on the beach and had grilled lobster and veggies. Three guitars kept us all singing late into the night. It reminded us of the reasons we are out here, clean air, warm ocean breezes, new friends, and perfect smores, even with sticky marshmallows and stale cookies.

The next day, the Exuma tour people showed up early! The just in time Johnsons almost missed the boat as we were saying goodbye to friends. The trip was amazing, exploring all the local knowledge places near G/T that most of the 300+ boats and cruisers never see. I found and Marc shot another huge lobster!! After the trip we motored out of G/T, another emotional time for the kids. This is their favorite place on the planet.

Yesterday was the best day of fishing and hunting ever. Each kid shot a monster lobster with guidance from Dad. Marc found 3 more huge lobsters, a field of conch and we caught 4 fish on the way south without really trying. With the freezer over flowing, we continue to head south before lobster season closes in 7 days.

Parker's Lobster