Friday, May 20, 2011

Bahamas to Florida

Our little hitchhiker on Anything Goes
and below on Scott Free

The cruise ship that asked us to please get out of their way.

Anything Goes tied up behind us in the Port Canaveral lock

Petty, Mitch and Diane on their new Freedom

On the ground sitting, Peter, Scott, Heather, Graham, Julie and Diane

And it's a perfect lift off!

Anytime we are facing a longer passage, weather is a major factor. This time we were looking to cross the Gulf Steam from the Bahamas to Florida. Scott and Peter checked a number of weather web sites like and NOAA. I really like to talk to Chris Parker at the Caribbean Weather Service. We have subscribed to his services for almost seven years now and rely on his personalized forecasts. We get an email from him every day with general weather in our area, right now the Bahamas/Southern East Coast. In the morning we can hear this forecast and talk to him on the SSB at various times and frequencies. Recently he has added a webcast and that is great while at marinas or when we have access to wifi (we have a WIRIE system bought in St. Martin which has been terrific).
You can take a look at his website at We highly recommend him!
So Chris warned us that some possibly severe squalls would be coming in late that day and overnight, possibly from the west. The next day there would be large swells from the north but good wind for the passage to Great Sale and then overnight to Port Canavarel.
We decided to get around Whale Cay and over to Green Turtle Cay before the swells became a problem but then we had to face possible severe squalls. Anything Goes was able to leave early and go into White Sound's secure anchorage for the night but we couldn't leave Hope Town until 1:30PM.
It was an easy trip until out to sea around Whale Cay when the skies turned dark and ominous. Anything Goes called on the VHF to tell us that they had just tied up to the Bluff House Marina two seconds before the skies opened and the wind howled.
Too late for us. The wind hit 33 knots and the rain made for hard visability but our strong motor and boat plowed through everything and came through the cut successfully. Still it was a miserable looking anchorage we picked out near the ferry landing near Treasure Key (protected from the west). Scott dove on the anchor to make sure it was set and later the wind died down and we had a pleasant evening.
In the morning I talked to Chris again and all looked pretty good for the next few days. There were possible squalls on the morning we approached Florida though. Anything Goes pulled out of White Sound and we sailed down to the harbor at Great Sale for the night. They had a really nice time a the Bluff House Marina. The cost was $1 a foot but they subtracted that from the restaurant or bar bill - nice!
Great Sale is the departure point for many making the trip to Florida or further north. It's a large well protected harbor where it's possible to wait for weather, but there is nothing else there. The next morning we heard from Chris again and this time he used the word "benign" - nice word for weather crossing the Gulf Stream. We were off at 7:30AM motor sailing at first but later sailing alone. A tiny bird joined us and stayed with us for hours, moving from one boat to the other. Once off the banks the waves increased and were a bit choppy. We saw only a couple of boats on the crossing. With our AIS (automatic identification system) we have info on all boats anywhere in our area along with our closest point of approach, and they have that info on us. When there is a chance of a close call, we radio them on the VHF and make adjustments. Two freighters made adjustments to pass further from us out on the Gulf Stream and a cruise ship near the entrance to Port Canavarel asked us politely to get out of his way. "Yes sir!"
Peter, Julie, Diane, Heather, Scott and Graham our last night
together on Anything Goes

Outside the channel to Cape Canaveral we made some calls to marinas looking for a place to tie up. Unfortunately we didn't make advance reservations and had to go further up the canal, through the opening bridge and locks to get spots for both of us. Harbortown Marina was a comfortable place with a restaurant, pool, laundry and nice personnel. We stayed three nights until the next weather opportunity to move further north. At this point we were to part. Peter and Julie (along with Diane and Graham who had bravely agreed to make the crossing) were going to St. Augustine Marina via the inter coastal. We were headed off shore to make a two day, one night passage up to the St. John's River, past Jacksonville, to Green Cove Springs.
Sunset over the old docks at Reynold's Marine Center
But meanwhile we had the great fortune of a scheduled shuttle launch on that Monday morning. It was a postponement of a previous attempt two weeks before. And this time it went off perfectly, at least for the shuttle. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud cover, so a few seconds after the liftoff it disappeared in the clouds. Still it was a great thrill.
We rented a car on the previous day and drove down to Ft. Pierce to see our good friends Mitch and Diane. They have bought a new Freedom 38 so we were able to have drinks on board before going out to dinner. Diane and Mitch were role models for Scott and I. They sailed around the whole Caribbean basin for ten years, returning and selling their Freedom 44 "Segue" before we left for our trip.
It was heart wrenching to say good-bye to our good friends and buddy boat the next morning. We had been together almost 2 months. We so enjoyed getting to know them and sharing so many adventures! They put their boat up on the hard and returned to Australia a few days later.
Our passage went well at first with the expected WNW wind but in the evening the wind shifted more ahead of us and picked up. We were bashing into the waves and could only keep our main up sheeted tightly. The motion must have stirred up the diesel because suddenly the engine shut off. We set the sails as close as possible and sailed while Scott changed both sets of fuel filters, the inner one being very hard to access normally, let alone in a jolting boat. It took awhile but finally he got it going again and we turned on a more direct heading. What a relief!
We were both exhausted and glad to see the sun come up and the St. John's channel appear.
The trip up the river was a pleasure; sunshine, calm waters, well defined channel and lots of interesting scenery. We hope to spend more time exploring Jacksonville when we come down next January but now we needed to get to the Fletcher Marina Center. We had only three days to get the boat ready for hauling and wanted to get started.
Scott Free in the sling at Green Cove Springs with Heather
at the wheel. Notice the new solar panel at the stern
Our boat was being hauled at the Green Cove Springs Marina and stored there on the hard until January, but they didn't have a spot at the dock with enough water for our boat for the preparation time. Only a short distance away the Fletcher Marina had deeper water and adequate facilities. Getting in and out from the river channel to the dock was a bit scary. We basically gunned the boat and plowed through the mud! But it worked!
Preparing the boat means taking down the sails and folding them, washing the boat inside and out, emptying and cleaning the refrigerator, laundering everything, changing the oil, winterizing the outboard, etc. It's hard physical work and unfortunately it was hot! The crew running the travel lift was very professional and solved several problems particular to our boat. Scott had to take down the wind generator and the split backstay.
We rented a car from Avis one way, returning it to the Jacksonville Airport. Our last night we had a very pleasant tasty meal at Latinos Store La Casita. We saw several people from the marina there and the staff seemed to know everyone. The food was good and a great value. The next day we flew to Washington DC to spend time with our two sons there and then on to Boston to see our oldest son and family. A few more day later and we were home in Vermont.
We'll be back on the boat at the beginning of January and plan to head down to the Keys, the Dry Tortugas, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. If all goes well, we'll leave Scott Free in the Rio Dulce next summer.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Hope Town - in our top five harbors

We are often asked what are our favorite places so far on the trip. One of them is Hope Town Harbor, Elbow Cay, Abacos, Bahamas.

It has all the elements; safe enclosed harbor from all but hurricanes, beautiful views from your boat (the candy striped lighthouse is amazing), fantastic beaches, quintessential cottage village, good restaurants and bars. It's in a word - charming!
It is possible to anchor, although there's not much room, but the moorings are only $20 a night so we hook on with pleasure. There are marinas too but our boat draft (6.5 ft) makes that impossible at present (the new marina being built, visible from the pictures below, may solve that problem).
There are so many little details to love about
this place.
Scott, Diane, Peter, Julie and Graham at Cap'n Jack's

Blooming onion, perfectly cooked for an appetizer

Looking out the window on the way up

The entrance to Hope Town harbor from the lighthouse

Panning right from the above shot

Looking over the Harbor from the lighthouse, continued (panning right)

The Fresnel lense

and gears!

One night we decided to dress up and go out for a special dinner. The Abaco Inn on White Sound, a few miles south of Hope Town, was the perfect destination. We made a reservation in advance as they come in a van to pick you up. The small resort is perched on a narrow bluff between the ocean beach and White Sound, the other shallower bay mid way down Elbow Cay. From the welcoming bar you can see the ocean and the Sea of Abaco. We had drinks on the terrace and watched the sun go down. Then followed with a very nice meal in the restaurant. The food was good and the service attentive - the view amazing.
We also enjoyed Cap'n Jack's right on Hope Town Harbor. One night we stopped for a beer and ended up staying for appetizers and Bingo! Haven't done that for awhile. It was $1 per board and we all tried it for awhile - no winners in our group however.
The village is so attractive with narrow lanes that wander all over. One day we started out from the north end of town and many miles later circled back, having made it to the end of the island past lots of lovely homes.
Of course we explored the famous candy striped lighthouse on the far side of the harbor. It's a long climb up the narrow staircase to the top. A narrow balcony circles the tower below the light. This is one of only 3 manual lighthouse left in the world. It has a spring mechanism that must be hand cranked every few hours. The lens is a first order Fresnel, built in separate sections mounted in a frame to make it lighter and thinner than a regular lens. It's beautiful!
We stayed here for three nights until a weather window opened up and we left for our trip back to Florida.
By the way, entering and leaving the harbor is harder for us due to our 6.5 ft. draft. We had to wait until two hours before high tide and that was just barely enough water for us.

Scott, Peter and Graham dressed up for our big dinner out -
and don't they look fine!

Julie, Heather and Diane in their Sunday best

The Abaco Inn pool hanging over the ocean beach

Sunset over White Sound, Elbow Cay

Friday, May 06, 2011

Nippers, Great Guana Cay, Bahamas - Our favorite bar!

Heather, Scott and Peter cooling off

Julie, Heather, Scott and Peter chow down

Looking up at Nippers from the beach

Peter caught us from the front and the back

A few of the beautiful young people for a change

The pool at Grabba's where we left our dinghy
For over 15 years Nippers has been providing non stop fun from 7 AM until whenever the last person leaves, 364 days a year (I'm assuming the one day off is Christmas) and we can personally attest to the fun! This was our third trip to the Abacos and dreams of Nippers helped to get us there.
So why is it so great? First there is the location. To get there you walk from the sound side of the island and the quiet little village down a dirt road winding through a sun dappled grove of trees. Surprise - a colorful playful tractor peeks out from the bushes. A tantalizing waft of Jimmy Buffet beckons you on. Then the road rises up the sand dune and you get your first glimpse of colorful beach chairs and umbrellas by the pool. The lower pool of course, connected to the upper pool by a little waterfall. Come around the building and you are welcomed by the sight of the open bar, a parade of bright colored stools overlooking a fabulous long white beach topped with turquoise water. Oh my God...yes, it's a little bit of heaven.
Now it's still early so you have time to stake out some lounge chairs for the day (and evening). We prefer those by the lower pool as the music is just at the right decimal level there for talking. Then it's into said pool and the hammock chairs hanging by the bar there. Close your eyes and rock slowly with your legs in the water and your face up to the sun. YES...Did I mention the Goombay Smash already in your hand.
Get the picture?
After lounging for a time, you head for the beach and fun diving through the waves. Perhaps a walk either direction to get your appetite up for the PIG ROAST. Yes, it's Sunday and in just a while you'll stand in line for roast pig, gravy, macaroni and cheese, peas and rice, cole slaw, salad, pudding etc. Lots of people have arrived but there is room for everyone. Let's sit up on the top deck under an umbrella. A waitress brings some cold beers while you eat.
Later as the afternoon rushes by (much too fast), everyone starts to dance - or watch the dancers.
Scott and I are having too much fun to leave but Peter and Julie need to return to Marsh Harbor on the ferry. Their friends Diane and Graham are flying in soon.
We meet several groups of people and later move with them down to Grabber's for more dancing and a dip in their pool. We feel young and care free. It's a nice feeling.
 So that's why Nipper's is our favorite bar! Comprendez?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Green Turtle Cay and the Island Roots Heritage Festival

Green Turtle Cay is only 3 miles long and 1/2 mile wide but it's a perfect example of a Bahamian island. Although it was founded by Loyalists fleeing the Revolutionary War, it has been more comfortably biracial than many other originally all white islands. So it is perfect that they celebrate their African roots in this festival, their 8th annual.
New Plymouth is the small village on the island and it's pristine and charming - a bit like a New England fishing village (think Cape Cod but colorful). The Abacos in general are a conservative religious people but unlike Spanish Wells, this island isn't dry.

The Albert Lowe Museum traces the history of this
Loyalist settlement

Yes, there are Pirates in the Caribbean! They organized the
children's games at the fair

Our boats were at anchor in Marsh Harbor and Green Turtle Cay was a day's trip away so we rented a car and drove down to the ferry at Treasure Cay. It's a short hop over to Green Turtle Cay for $25 round trip. Julie and Peter had never been there before so we first walked around the town admiring the pristine, charming cottages that line the narrow streets. There are two different museums and a sculpture garden - a lot of cultural richness for a very small community.
Unfortunately it was mid day and hot so we ducked into a tiny cafe-bar at the end of the main street for a cold beer and shared conch fritters - yummy.
The festival was at full swing when we arrived. Tents and booths were set up on the peninsula park at the end of the town. There were lots of activities for kids both outdoor and craft types (costume pasting, conch horn and cowbell lessons), supervised by movie type looking pirates in high spirits. The history of Juckanoo was detailed in one tent with lots of actual costumes to admire.
Vendors in smaller tents sold art, jewelry and crafts of many types, all from Abaco artists. Other tents provided the food and drinks. We carefully checked out all the food purveyors before choosing our plates. Everything was good and in big portions.
The Loyalist Sculpture Garden has statues
and busts of important historical figures
in the Bahamas (including black Bahamians)

Nature Conservancy and Turtle Rescue
Educational Foundation

Scott loves the drinks with little parasols!
The Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band put on a great show. They did precision marching with a lot of south of the U.S. border steps. Leopard skin like coverings draped over some of their uniforms. The baton weilding leader was very dashing and fun to watch. Hopefully I'm going to figure out how to get our movie of this incorporated here. For some reason we're having problems - check back later.

These are sample Juckanoo costumes worn
by participants

There were many craft projects for the kids. Here they are
making Juckanoo masks

Face painting was very popular

As we watch the band the clouds began darkening and rolling in ominously. Luckily the storm waited to break until after they were finished. We ran towards the church where a series of lectures were being held and just made it. We heard Jeffrey Poitier talk on "How Bahamians shaped South Florida". Key West is New Plymouth's sister city and in 1830 a large group left New Plymouth to settle in the Keys. As late as 1912 60% of the residents of Key West were Bahamian!
We were sorry to only hear the end of the previous talk on archaeological findings in the Bahamas, South Florida and the surrounding Caribbean islands.
The rain had cleared off when we emerged but we were ready to head home. Once back on Great Abaco we stopped to tour the community at Treasure Cay. Once a separate island, the land filled in over time. This is a big resort with hotels, condos, large number of homes, restaurants, a marina and golf course. The beach has been rated by some as one of the best in the world - sorry not to be able to report as we didn't see it!

A big plate of typical Bahamian dishes; ribs, peas n' rice,
macaroni & cheese, and cole slaw

Once back in Marsh Harbor we did some shopping and headed back to our dinghies, tied up at Snappa's. Of course it was necessary to have a few drinks there to express our thanks for the dingy dock. The night before we had enjoyed their free appetizers on Friday night at Happy Hour - meatballs and chicken wings. Fun place, good food, friendly service, and overlooking the water.
We enjoyed the view of the boats tied up to the dock and have to share a picture of our favorite couple - a typical cruiser with cat (and dog) enjoying their sundowners.

A number of artists showed their work. I'm sorry not to get
this man's name as he did really great work

The Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band put on a great show