Thursday, March 31, 2011

The South Berry Islands, Bahamas

Scott Free under full sail on the Banks
We left Bimini at 11 AM, close to high tide. The channel was exciting with waves breaking on the rocks and big swells on the side of our boat. We had talked to Chris Parker early that morning and knew that the weather would be calm for our night on the banks. He pointed out that the wind was going to be from the south this week so we might be better starting our tour of the Berrys in the south and going north (we had planned on doing the opposite). After a quick pow wow with the others we set a new course. Craola and Alice May went out ahead of us and radioed back that all was well exiting the channel. Anything Goes and Molly Bloom led us and Kevin on Vagabundo followed up behind.
Ron, Scott and Peter prepare to deal with a pile of conch
As soon as we were out in the ocean we put our pedal to the metal and took off. We were worried about a shallow area after the Gun Cay waypoint so wanted to be there before half tide. It turned out not to be a problem, but our concern for tides is never ending through the shallow water of the Bahamas.
We soon passed Fair Winds and No Name, but everyone decided to anchor near each other for the night. It is strange to be throw down your anchor in the middle of no where but soon we had a little village around us.

Ron, Scott, Peter, Heather and Julie
Scott and duck confrontation. The duck
got in a nip!
It was a lovely quiet evening and we were off early with the wind coming up from behind. The catamarins took off like a shot, passing all the single hulls. The wind was light and we're heavy so we were among the last. As we approached the end of the banks we put our motor on and pulled easily ahead. The channel into Fraser's Hog Cay showed shallow spots so we wanted to be there by half tide. Everyone took pictures of all the other boats as they passed and we later exchanged them. Fair Winds looked particularly beautiful with both jibs, their main and mizzen all up. We had our stay sail up for the first time in ages.
I was glad to radio back to the others that there were plenty of empty good looking moorings available. We had heard from our guide book and other that there were only 3 but now there are over 10.
The Berry Island Club, Fraser's Hog Cay
Catching a ride on the one road at Fraser's Cay!
We dinghied into the Berry Island Club to pay the $25 fee and then had a good walk down the lone road. The club is undergoing renovations and is quite pretty - no services at present and the docks were rudimentary. A restaurant and bar is under construction. It's not a marina.
The next day we all took a walk. Not far down the road a charming couple picked us up in their truck and took us down to the island store. They were going away for a few weeks and the store owner keeps their frozen food for them! From there we walked down to the south end of the island and explored the deserted beach bar. Our men managed to cut down some coconuts but not to open them. That was accomplished later.
After lunch we dinghied over to Bird Cay. I SO wish I had brought my camera. This was one of the most haunting places I've visited. Many years ago our guide book says this was "one of the most extensively developed in the Bahamas, has great stands of casuarina, citrus and cocnut groves with several luxurious homes, roadways, gardens, village green and public buildings". It is all deserted now and going back to nature. The largest mansion looks like the family just walked away one day. There are sheets and blankets on the beds. Books, sheet music, pots, pans, piano, pool table, stereo equipment etc. all just lie around. There's a can of turtle soup sitting on the table in the kitchen. Amazing and eerie. This would make a great photo shoot.
Julie, Peter, Scot, Ron and Marie, caught by surprise
eating cracked conch at Flo's

Huge piles of conch shells line the shores around Flo's.
We had cracked conch for lunch, very delicious and much
easier than hunting, cleaning, pounding and cooking them
Our next stop was Frozen Cay. On the way over Ron caught a king mackeral and invited us all over to share it. Everyone brought something to add to menu and it was all delicious! That night we were hit with a squall but the holding there was very good. Next day we all dingied over for lunch at Flo's Conch Bar. It is necessary to contact Chester on the VHF first on 68 and give him your food order in advance. We all chose cracked conch served with sides of french fries, cole slaw and peas and rice. The afternoon was spent on the beautiful beaches nearby. The men went out with spear guns and brought back conch (you don't need to shoot them!). Cleaning them was a real mess and pounding them a lot of work, but they tasted great! I made a conch chowder and a few days later had everyone over for dinner to share it.
Several hundred dollar bills were nailed up to the walls of
Flo's Bar along with mementos of all kinds from cruisers.
Chester and Lovely at Flo's Conch Bar on Little Harbor Cay
Just one beautiful beach after another and no one on them but us!
Peter in fighting mode
Ron with a good closeup of the lion fish
he speared. They are an invasive species
and poisonous. The spines can be cut
off and it is then good eating. No one felt
like testing that out!

Scott shows off that lion fish too

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bimini Bound

A most unusual house decorated with shells and stone and
and above Scott & I at dinner our first night.
We left Marathon about noon, Scott and I stopping to fill up no fuel and water first. It had been weeks since a weather window had opened up so a lot of boats were crossing. Ahead of us were Crayola, Alice May, Sea Flame and Sea Hawk. Later Kevin on Vagabundo joined us, having spent the night further north. It was great sailing the whole way and in fact got into Bimini much earlier than expected. Later that night swells from the SW knocked us around quite a bit but we got some sleep. As usual we were worried about the depth in the channel so our catamarin buddies went in first and reported no problem.
We had made reservations at the Sea Crest Marina but they had screwed them up - happily we were all accommodated at the Blue Water Marina, a very nice place with a pool!
Marie welcomed us to the dock with Mimosas! GOOD MORNING!
We checked in with Customs and then took a nap. That evening we went to the Big Game Resort for dinner on their local's night - $9.95 for dinner with 2 for $5 drinks - terrific! To work off our meal we walked the beach on the ocean side with an almost full moon.
The next morning we had time to walk around the island - sleepy but charming. Happily we found a baker and bought fresh bread - coconut and honey wheat. Peter and Julie bought rum raisin. We split the loafs in three and shared them among our three boats. The local museum documented the fascinating history of this famous fishing destination with pictures of the big game fishermen and women who stayed here. Now with faster boats most people can come fish and then return to Florida on the same day. Now this is a quiet spot with only a few small hotels. That is except for the big development on the north end that could be on it's own island - only megayachts and millionaires welcome!
The beach on the Atlantic side of Bimini
The largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen!
Scott on Scott Free at the Blue Water Marina after
a long night crossing the Gulf Stream from the Keys

Friday, March 25, 2011

Buddy Boating in the Bahamas

From left to right, Scott, Heather, Ron, Marie, Julie and Peter
at Flo's Conch Bar in Little Harbor, the Berrys, Bahamas

Buddy boating is a term cruisers use to denote another boat or boats that one travels with for some time. The time can vary but it means that you plan the trip together and usually sail within visual range This has been infrequent with us during our eight years cruising
It first occurred  in the Abacos with Doug and Sandy on Interlude and later Roger and Francoise on Starship Annie, but that was just noodling around the cays there. Our first more classic experience was leaving Georgetown, Bahamas on our trip south to Trinidad. We left with around seven boats and stayed together for awhile in the out islands of the Bahamas before separating as we went further south towards the Dominican Republic.  Benno and Marlene on Diesel Duck and Ed and Linda on Dreamtime ended up with us off and on both there and in Puerto Rico.  Linda and Mike on Casa del Mar, Kathleen and Roland on M'lady Kathleen, and Jaime and Dan on Nereia didn't catch up with us until Dominica but we have stayed in touch with all of these boats by email and had reunions in islands all over the Carribean since.
Often you choose a buddy boat for safety reasons on a long passage and obviously become good friends in the process Our next experiences worked out that way We met Dave and Val on Angel V anchored at the Testigos and stayed with them through the Venezuela out islands to Bonaire. They are now on a big adventure circling the globe! Tom and Coleen on Unplugged joined us on our cruise down the Columbian coast to Cartagena. From there to the San Blas (and on a land trip inside Columbia) Roy and Sue on Vindomar traveled with us.
Manta 42,  Anything Goes
Molly Bloom at sunrise on the dock in Bimini

Ron, Marie, Scott, Peter, Heather and Julie at Heather's Birthday dinner at Staniel Cay Yacht club and our farewell
evening with Marie and Ron. Christian, Julie and Peter's son took the picture. More about his visit in another entry!

Peter, Scott and Ron attempt to open a coconut! It didn't
work this time, but later they became experts.
Peter, Julie, Heather, Scott, Marie and Ron in Bimini at the Big Game Fish
Resort restaurant

Julie, myself and Marie with our dinghies waiting for our men to return from the sea. They were hunting fish with
spears and picking up conch from the bottom
Ed and Benia on Sea Angel were friends for many years before we joined up with them last year to travel through the Bahamas with Just Us, and over to Ft. Lauderdale. Then we followed them down the Intercoastal last fall off and on from the Chesapeake. They are now spending a year doing the great circle route around the Great Lakes and back to the Gulf.
This year our newest buddy boats are Peter and Julie on Anything Goes and Marie and Ron on Molly Bloom.  Peter and Julie are originally from New Zealand but now live in Australia. Marie and Ron are Floridians. We met in Marathon and decided to travel to the Bahamas together. We left on March 23 and stayed together until Molly Bloom had to leave us in Staniel Cay to head down to Georgetown April 17. An honorary member of our group was Kevin, single handing Vagabundo, the "happy boy". He, Ron and Marie are continuing on down further south in the Caribbean this spring. Peter and Julie and ourselves sailed on to Eleuthera and are still with us today in Spanish Wells!
They have been wonderful companions - fun, flexible and mostly fearless! This is what buddy boating is all about!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yes, We're Still Cruising

Our sign Heather painted to add to the post at
the City Marina

The grounds of the City Marina in Marathon Key, FL

Only one of the many dinghy docks! Over 300 boats are
moored and anchored here.

It's a dog's cruising life!

My boat garden - thyme, rosemary, basil and
And in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida! We arrived on Monday, February 21 and thought at first we'd be only here a few days - four weeks later we're still here and having fun. Several things have led us to remain. Our original plan was to continue on to Key West, but we've driven down instead and will be staying there awhile next year on our way to Mexico. Russ came with us on our boat but after a week home, returned again for almost 2 weeks, so we've spent some fun times with him. And we've met a number of old friends and made a bunch of new ones.
From left, Barbara (Russ' sister), her daughter Abbey and
husband Alan, Russ and Scott on board for lunch

Scott on Russ' boat in front of their Duck Key home

Benia and Ed from "Sea Angel" with Russ and Scott at
the Duck Key home
This is a major destination for cruisers. Many come and stay for the whole season either at anchor, on the City Marina moorings (there are over 250 of them), or at the many marinas. Boot Key Harbor is very protected and feels enclosed, but there are two main channels and considerable water flow, so the water is reasonably clear. Pods of dolphins frolic in the morning particularly and manatees are everywhere. Pelicans, herons, hawks, sea gulls, cormorants and egrets all fish and wheel in the sky.
We stayed at Russ' home on Duck Key off and on too. It is a lovely place right on the ocean with his power boat on the lift at the dock. His sister Barbara, her daughter Abbey, and husband Alan came down and we visited with them frequently.
Russ cousin Don also arrived
Captain Russ on his motor yacht
for a visit and came over to the boat for dinner.
Our buddy boats and friends Ed and Benia on Sea Angel arrived for a short stay. They are now on their way around the Great Circle trip up the East Coast, Hudson River, the canal system to the Great Lakes, through several rivers and canal down to the Gulf and eventually back to Boot Key Harbor! We had them over for dinner at Duck Key to celebrate the night before their departure. This cruise will take about a year!
Jim and Kerron on Mustang II took this picture one morning
right near our boat. We don't need to go to the Aquarium show

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL

Our Scott Free sign on the post outside the
City Marina 

Our portable herb garden - basil, rosemary
thyme and parsley

Glen and Brenda on Young at Heart

We didn't mean to stay so long in Boot Key Harbor but week by week we remained. Of course Russ' lovely home on Duck Key was nearby. We stayed there one weekend while he was away and watched the Oscar Ceremonies (and swam, bicycled and walked all over). We made a number of friends in the harbor, some of whom are pictured here. And there was the dominos, the SSCA lunch, the HAM operators lunch, the "Meet and Greet pot luck" etc. 
We explored a lot of the area with our feet. Heather needed to walk at least an hour every day so we discovered some back streets and happily nearby Sombrero Key. We could dinghy there and leave our boat at the Dockside Restaurant while we walked all over the island.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And yes, Heather is feeling much better...

I really hated to include my health problems in this upbeat blog but many people have asked and it instructive to know what happens when you have problems while cruising. So last spring I had two emergency room visits and  scheduled appointments and procedures while in the Caribbean.
The first occasion was in St. Lucia at the Rodney Bay Marina. At 10PM I felt waves of pain centered in my center back but radiating some forward. I called our emergency help number at our HMO in Boston and talked to a nurse. She suggested I go to the hospital as it could be a heart attack. A taxi called by the security guard brought us to the Tapion Hospital in Castries (in about 40 minutes). I was immediately seen by an emergency room doctor and nurse and given a EKG. Lab tests were done and a CAT scan. This later was done to check for a spinal aneuryism and turned up something quite different. I ended up spending the night in the ER and the next morning saw a cardiologist. He did not think it was my heart but probably a muscular problem, however he informed me that I had a cloudy spot on my lung. He felt I should see someone when I returned to the States.
The next attack occurred while at anchor in St. Martin at night. The half mile trip into the nearest marina wasn't pleasant but we managed to catch a taxi to their nearest hospital, the St. Maarten General Hospital. They had to go through the same tests for my heart but again ruled it out. This time the doctor suggested it might be gastroenteritis of some form and I should see a gastroenterologist.
Now price ruled it's ugly head! The visit in St. Lucia was covered by my pension health insurance but I had a few days before changed to Medicare a few weeks before my 65th birthday. This visit to St. Maarten Hospital was not covered. Medicare only covers care received in the U.S. (or it's territorys). We made immediate plans to head for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our friends Bill and Suzanne Osbourne found a doctor in St. Thomas and I was able to make an appointment with him in two  weeks. Meanwhile at his suggestion I went on a strict diet of bland and non fat foods (and no caffeine or alcohol). The thought of another attack kept me on the straight and narrow. Our son and room mate Courtney were arriving in a day or so to spend their vacation or we would have left immediately.
The diet worked luckily. Dr. Lawrence Goldman at the Paragon Medical Bldg next to the Schneider Regional Medical Center was excellent and had great credentials. I had a endoscopy only days later and left for Puerto Rico with a two week supply of tons of antibiotics and anti acid medication. 
I stayed on the diet until I returned to the States a month later. I needed to lose weight anyway and Dr. Goldman thought it might be spasms of my esophogus from acid reflux (and my own doctor thinks it's gall stones even though I had my gall bladder out) so who wanted to take a chance on finding a ER in the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas! 
Long story and no final outcome on this. But the real clicker was the "shadow" on my lung! Once home it was diagnosed as a B.A.C. type lung cancer. After several CAT scans months apart happily it hadn't changed in nine months from the St. Lucia scan (which they sent to my own doctor). I saw a pulmonologist and then two thorasic surgeons before choosing Dr. Steven Mentzer at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. I had surgery on 1/10/11 and he removed one lobe of my right lung and all the cancer. I don't need chemo or radiation and will have twice yearly CAT scan follow ups to check for reoccurence. 
Three weeks after the surgery we flew back to Scott Free and three days later were underway for the Keys.  The recovery has been long for me but considered very quick by others. Long story but in summary, I feel I got very good care in all three islands. I still don't know what exactly caused those attacks but I'm taking care of my stomach and have a variety of medications to help. But I did get diagnosed early for lung cancer!!!