Sunday, January 27, 2008

Treasure Cay

Lynn and I have discovered that, when in the Bahamas in winter, your travels are very much governed by the wind conditions. Northers blow through every 3-4 days and with them bring first a little short-lived rain, followed by high winds from which you need to seek out sheltered anchorages. After leaving Hope Town almost two weeks ago we headed to Treasure Cay where we planned to stay for a few nights. We’re still here! This is because it is a very nice place to be, but we have also been comfortably anchored for two such blows. We did leave very briefly for a night at Great Guana Cay, but returned the next day just ahead of yet another Norther. Today we are sitting through the last of it and are looking forward to the coming week and predicted calm conditions. Don’t get me wrong, on the whole we have had great weather and I estimate only about 5 days where we were compelled to stay on the boat and not venture out. Not much to complain about considering the nasty, cold winter being experienced in the north!

The best thing about Treasure Cay is the spectacular beach, which was voted one of the 10 best beaches in the world by National Geographic. It is a huge semi-circle with 3.5 miles of incredibly white, powdery sand. As usual, there is hardly anyone on the beach and you can walk for miles all alone. One day Lynn and I trekked the entire length and back. Our ultimate goal was to see a plaque on the point commemorating the arrival of the first Loyalist settlers in the Bahamas. We never found the darn thing, but our feet sure did ache! On the way back we saw one couple after being on the beach all afternoon. As we passed they commented that the beach was getting crowded!

We rented bicycles and rode around looking at houses and checked out the local ceramic place. We even spent a day relaxing and reading on the beach. Anyone who knows Lynn will understand that this was a very big sacrifice for him since he doesn’t sit around very well. We took the dingy out to a little secluded island and explored the rocks and beach, which didn’t take long as it was quite tiny. Of course we found the local bakery owned by Florence and her husband Captain Forty. So we continue to indulge in home baked pie and bread. Florence even made Lynn a special order apple pie that met his high standards! We returned the next day to sample her blueberry pie (OK, we bought the while thing), which was equally delicious.

On the windy days we passed the time playing games, reading, watching movies (or sleeping through them!), and working occasionally. We have learned that I rule in Scrabble and Lynn rules in Gin Rummy (not to mention that I am not a very good loser). Naturally, neither of us likes playing the game we don’t win…at least I don’t. Today Lynn was getting a little bored and resorted to rebuilding a head and making dinner.

The harbour is very serene and is a home to dolphins and sea turtles. Every so often we spot a turtle poking its little head up for a breather. I tried feeding them leftover chicken stew, but only managed to attract the gulls! It is also home to three 1983 50-foot Gulfstar Sailmasters, including ours. This is pretty amazing when you consider that there are only 16 total. We went over to take a look at one and found the owners there. As it goes with this community, they immediately invited us on board; it was fun to take a look at our sister ship. We really enjoyed meeting Midge and Allan, who came to visit our boat the following day and then took us out to lunch and to see their beautiful island home. It was probably just about anyone’s dream home, it certainly was mine.

So, picture this…you see a house you like so you walk up to the door and knock on it. When the owner comes out you ask them what kind of house it is and when they bought it. They happily tell you all about it and then invite you in for a look around. This is exactly what happens with boaters, so you are constantly meeting like-minded people. It’s what makes cruising so much fun…which is something cruisers like to have! While over at Guana Cay, we happened upon a big potluck dinner sponsored by the local pub for the people anchored in the harbour. We joined in and met even more people. We have collected a bunch of boat cards (like business cards for boaters) and have struck up new friendships, some of which will be brief encounters, and who knows, some may endure. But, best of all, Lynn and I have become better friends with each other. All the stress and worry of getting the boat ready has melted away and we are finally experiencing the joy of realizing the dream together…it’s a wonderful thing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Picture Perfect

We have posted a bunch of new pictures to the Picasa web album for anyone interested...just click on the link on the right hand side of the page---->

Jami and Justin

It doesn’t seem like we only had four days with Jami (Lynn’s daughter) and Justin (Lynn’s grandson); we packed a lot into a short time. We really enjoyed having them here to share in the stories and have their own mini adventure. We rented a 22-foot skiff so we could travel quickly around the islands, which turned out to be really fun.

We picked them up in Marsh Harbour on Thursday afternoon and started with lunch at Curly Tails, where Justin first discovered he likes Bahamian beer. We then bounced our way back to Hope Town for an inaugural tour of the streets. When passing Captain Jacks we noticed it was trivia night, so we stepped in for a try. We figured we had a promising team, with a wide range of age, gender and nationality. In fact, we were quite proud of our 11.5 points out of a possible 20…that is until we learned that another team had 18 points; we then quietly left the bar. Did you know that the stripe on a Canadian Mounty’s dress uniform is yellow? We topped the evening off with spaghetti dinner (you may have noticed this is a staple on the boat) and an attempt at watching National Treasure 2. We discovered that the copy we purchased for $5 from the shady guy on the street was indeed bootlegged and probably filmed in the cinema. Lynn was so incensed he wouldn’t watch it, but it didn’t matter since the rest of us fell asleep anyway.

The next day we headed south to Little Harbour, the home of Pete’s Pub and Art Gallery. On the way we stopped for a swim in the crystal clear water just south of Lubber’s Quarters. While Lynn and Justin flexed their muscles, Jami and I hovered in the boat. Lynn also invented a Bahamian-style snorkeling technique that required simply wearing a mask and hanging off the back of the boat; also known as the lazy man's snorkeling!

Pete’s Pub is a fun shack bar on the beach where people leave T-shirts pinned all over the walls. Randolph Johnston, apparently considered one the great sculptors of the 20th century, brought his family to live in the area in the 1950’s when there was nothing there. Now his son, Pete, runs the art gallery that houses his work. You could purchase a sculpture for a mere $25,000 to $65,000 if so inclined! But, it is a neat place and the T-shirts were only $22. The harbour is also a sea turtle sanctuary and we spotted a number from the boat. We tried to snorkel to get a better look, but they are quick little fellas and successfully eluded us.

When we got back to Elbow Cay, we headed to White Harbour where Lynn’s niece, Dana, was staying with friends; it seems amazing that she was in Hope Town at the same time we were there! The funny thing is that the hostess, Miss Betty, turned out to be the same elderly lady on oxygen that we saw in the church on Christmas Eve. She is actually 94 and still travels on her own to the Bahamas each year. I felt a little guilty about my quip on the earlier blog. All in all it was a fun evening having dinner in her lovely cottage with friends and family. We then headed back to our boat to make our way to Hope Town Harbour. It was at that point we discovered that the lights on the boat weren’t working and there was no moon in the sky. One of the guests, a local, led the way out of the harbour and we moved very slowly homeward with me on a sharp lookout on the bow. Another exciting passage!

The third day was also a blast when we headed north to Great Guana Cay. On the way we stopped at Fowl Cay, a national park and great snorkeling spot. Luckily the conditions were calm because you have to go through a cut to the ocean side; a passage that is often prohibitive if it is too windy. We grabbed a mooring and jumped in. I had ventured over to the nearby coral head and was happily watching the huge variety of colorful reef fish when I turned around to see a school of about 20 barracuda that had crept up behind me …Gasp!! They will apparently not bother people, but they sure do look intimidating. Lynn said they appeared to be on a military training mission as they stealthily moved through the water. Once safely back on the boat we headed to Nippers on Great Guana, another colorful beachside bar, where we had lunch and wandered on the beach. Then home for a night of bar hopping with Justin in Hope Town. This involved wandering to the two possible options that were all but empty. It wasn’t exciting, but I think Justin liked that fact that he was legal drinking age and could just sidle up to the bar and order a beer.

Our last day was spent wandering about Hope Town and walking on the beach with Bill and Mary. Jami picked up information on rental properties; she liked it so much she plans to bring the rest of her family for vacation. We even toured a beach front cottage with the owner whose son is the creator of the TV show “Scrubs”, which Justin, a big fan, thought was pretty cool. Finally we did the obligatory trip to the top of the lighthouse. This time it was Jeffrey lighting the torch and we were smart enough to forego volunteering to turn the crank. Other little highlights include total indulgence in Vernon’s Key Lime pie (I couldn’t keep Jami away from it; I think she ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!), Justin and Lynn smoking cigars and chatting on the deck, and a couple of rip roarin’ games of Scrabble. “Yo” is a word after all…sorry Justin.

Dawn of their return day arrived much too soon. We saw them off on the ferry from which Jami waved out the window until the last possible moment. We then sadly walked around town feeling very lonely. We were both so pleased they Jami said, “fun times never to be forgotten”.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hello Again

Have I lost all my readers? I’m very sorry to be so remiss in blogging, but I seem to be very busy here in paradise! It’s amazing how the days just slip by even though we often don’t do much of anything. Let’s see, how have we been spending our time since New Years? I’m not sure I remember…it’s a blur of wandering about Hope Town, walking on the beach, and slurping mango daiquiris (Lynn’s favorite cocktail)…hmmm, maybe that’s why it’s a blur!?

First we weathered the big Norther that blew about 30 knots and caused unseasonably cool temps for about 3 days. But, it was OK because I finally did some actual work. Of course I didn’t let on to my boss that the inclement weather was the primary reason I got anything done (oops, I wonder if he’s reading this?!). We had the gang over for a big spaghetti dinner and an evening of Captain Ron, the classic sailing flick, because we were all getting a little cabin fever.

One of the highlights during this part of the trip was going to Captain Jacks to play BINGO, their Monday night draw. Of course, they call it JACKS, which you have to yell out if you win. And, guess what, I did! It was a big night so the pot was $222. Unfortunately I had to split it with some bratty kid, but it was still enough to buy all the drinks for the table, pay for our JACKS fun and walk away with $35…not too shabby!

Another event that will stand out in our memories was spotting a 6-foot Nurse Shark in the shallow water just outside the Hope Town Harbour (yes, I am Canadian). We were actually heading out to snorkel on the reef when I asked Lynn, “What’s that brown thing over there?” We moseyed over in our dingy and sure enough it was a shark! We watched him from the safety of our craft until he swam off. Needless to say we altered our snorkeling plans.

We discovered that it is a very small world, especially in the Bahamas, and have met some really great people. First we met Jessica and Drew on our snorkeling trip. Not only did Jessica and I have tons in common, they recently bought the same sailboat as our first Coyote and have it in charter where we did. We are definitely looking forward to connecting with them again. Then we stopped by Heinz and Jaqueline’s boat to say hello because they were from Montreal, my home town. It turned out that they owned a business just about a mile from my childhood home. They were lovely people and invited us over for cocktails. Then we bumped into Hugh at Nippers, who we knew from our Marina in Baltimore. He had been hopping around the islands and there he was in the same bar. Actually, that’s not all that surprising because it was the Sunday Pig Roast, an event that draws people from all over. We had gone there with Sheila and Buddy from Alabama, a very fun couple. Of course I liked Sheila immediately, not only because she has the same name as my sister, but she has that great southern drawl. When she says Beth, it comes out Bay-eth…I love it! But, that’s the best thing about cruising, all the wonderful people you meet.

We had a few other mini adventures exploring the local area in our dingy, including a splashy jaunt over to Marsh Harbor for some supply shopping and lunch at Curly Tails. We also zoomed down to Sea Spray at the far end of Elbow Key, again for lunch and a change of scenery. Dale and I tried to jump start Maggie, the fire engine, but were thankfully not successful. On our way back we stopped at Tahiti Beach, which is just a pretty as it sounds. I got hooked on Conch Burgers (pronounced Conk…right Jami?) at Munchies…a little roadside stand that has the best to offer for only $5! We have also put on a few pounds from indulging in Vernon’s bread and Key Lime Pie.

So, by now you have probably figured out that we have been doing a little too much eating and drinking and not enough exercising. Although I am still wearing my bikinis, I feel that I am not as svelte as when I started out on this trip. Sorry Jonathon, my personal trainer, who helped me get in shape in a mere three months when I suddenly realized that I would have to don a bathing suit. Our deal was that I would not gain any weight while away. I guess I need to break out the exercise gear I brought along with such good intentions…hahahahahaha! No wait, I think I hear a Bahama Mama calling my name...

Things We Love About the Bahamas, not in any particular order:

  • Not working (not much anyway)
  • Beautiful, powdery sand
  • Spectacular, deserted beaches
  • Vernon’s bread and Key Lime pie
  • The wide variety of rum punches and Kalik beer
  • Conch burgers at Munchies
  • Crystal-clear water
  • Endless places to explore
  • My husband realizing his dream
  • Relaxing on the boat
  • Finding seashell treasures
  • Winning JACKS
  • Meeting wonderful fellow cruisers
  • The incredibly friendly Bahamians
  • Being in a place with no real crime
  • Getting up early and going to bed early
  • The quaint pastel-colored cottages
  • Hopetown and its tiny picturesque streets
  • Exciting wildlife sightings
  • The Bahamian accent
  • Potcakes…their name for mutts
  • Unique little beach-side bars (The Harbor’s Edge, Captain Jacks, Pete’s Pub, Nippers, Grabbers)
  • Walking on the beach
  • Learning how to navigate and understand the weather (guess I should have done that before I came?!)
  • Our trusty boat
  • Awesome starry skies
  • Being on a spectacular adventure

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Christmas on Coyote - Part 2

We have had a wonderfully unique Christmas holiday season on Coyote. We arrived in Hope Town, Abaco on Christmas Eve morning. This is one of the most popular anchorages in the Bahamas, which is not at all surprising because it is such a lovely place. It is located on Elbow Cay and is overlooked by a red-and-white-striped lighthouse. The town has a very distinctive character with quaint streets (I think only two, named Front Street and Back Street) lined with pastel-colored cottages that are beautifully maintained. They do not allow vehicles to drive on the streets, only the odd golf cart, so the whole place has a very relaxed, serene quality. There are many paths leading to the beaches that are very natural with only a few cottages visible behind the dunes.

We started our celebrations on Christmas Eve by climbing the 101 steps to the top of the lighthouse. From there we had a spectacular view of the harbor (sorry, harbour for the Canadians) and the Sea of Abaco. The Hope Town lighthouse is one of only three manually-operated kerosene-fueled lighthouses remaining in the world. Because we were at the top just before dusk we witnessed the actual lighting by Franklin, the Lighthouse Keeper who arrived promptly, Heineken in hand. First he removes the protective screens followed by lighting the burner to slowly warm the lamp. He then has to crank the weight 600 times to start the lantern turning. The light can be seen for 20 miles. We all took turns cranking till we reached 600…I’m sure Franklin loves the tourists!! The cranking must be repeated every two hours to keep the lenses turning. According to witnesses, the lighthouse has been observed to be at a standstill several early mornings…I suppose by then Franklin may have had a few too many Heinekens!

We then quickly changed and headed to the church for evening mass, which was presided over by Vernon, the local grocer who fills in when the Minister is busy on another island. The setting was perfect, with the moonlit ocean visible through the windows. The mass consisted mostly of singing Christmas carols (not one verse was missed) and finally the lighting of candles. We were a little worried about the elderly woman on oxygen sitting in the pew ahead of us, but her daughter wisely turned off her tank just before the lighting. We emerged from the church with a warm feeling and topped off the night by strolling along the streets gazing at the houses glowing with Christmas lights.

We awoke to a lovely Christmas day. We exchanged a few presents and decorated the boat for our afternoon party. The funny thing about a boat party in the Bahamas is that your guests arrive by dingy. It was a fun afternoon of festivities, including finally popping the celebratory bottle of champagne, great food, and a white elephant gift exchange. One of the highlights was calling home to our families…it was so great to hear the voices of those we were missing.

Boxing Day is celebrated here (that’s the day after Christmas for you Americans) so it was quiet. Actually, I don’t remember what we did; one day kinda blends into the next. We did finally go to the beach on the 27th and were just in time to see a wedding. It was so pretty with the wedding party adorned in the colors of sand and sea glass. Of course it was Vernon presiding again. We had just seen him baking bread and key lime pie in his store. Then, an hour after the wedding he was back in his store in his yellow T-shirt selling his goods. We bought both the bread and the pie and they were equally delicious. Lynn asked him if there was any job he didn’t do, to which he replied, “I don’t deliver babies!”

The rest of our time was spent relaxing, doing some chores and wandering about town. We also spent a day snorkeling where we saw lots of colorful reef fish. Gini, a most observant naturalist, sighted a spotted eagle ray. I, a very unobservant wildlife loser, did not. I did however see a 5-foot barracuda, which was pretty cool. Actually, we met the wedding party on the trip, who turned out to be from Pennsylvania. We had a very enjoyable time and look forward to seeing them again when we return home.

Gini and David departed for home on December 30th. We were sad to see them go. Lynn says he always feels like he is fulfilling his boyhood dream when he sails with his brother. Although we would have managed the trip here without them, it would have been much harder and not nearly as much fun.
We capped the holiday season off with a New Years celebration, Bahamas-style. First we had the challenge of staying up 3 hours past our bedtime, which we did by gathering the gang on Coyote and urging each other to keep our eyes open between yawns. Finally we took the dingys to town just in time for the fireworks, a display to rival any we have seen before. Afterwards was the Junkanoo, a kind of parade consisting of about 10 people dressed in costumes and banging rhythmically on drums. They meander slowly through the streets surrounded by a big crowd of rather drunken partiers. You end up following along like the Pied Piper. It was a fun night!

All in all it was a fantastic week that we will never forget. Right now we are hunkered down in the boat because a cold front has blown in (probably from Canada) and it has become very windy and cold (60s). I know, I know, stop complaining! We are now looking forward to the arrival next week of two of Lynn’s daughters, Traci and Jami, and Lynn’s Grandson, Justin. I’m sure their visit will provide me with lots of bloggable quotes!