Friday, March 21, 2008

Back in the U.S.A.

I think that might be a good title for a song…Hmmm, maybe Born in the U.S.A would be Better?! Anyway, yes, we are back on the US Coast, anchored off the Shore of Cumberland Island, which is on the border of Florida and Georgia. Our arrival here was definitely bittersweet…sadness about leaving the Bahamas, but happiness about being home again and seeing our loved ones. We felt the difference immediately upon reaching the home shore. Traffic and dirty water were the first impressions. We stayed a few days in Vero Beach to relax a bit and check back in with customs. Here we hung out with Carol and Bill on Interim (the fourth boat in the flotilla). They saw us off after hosting a yummy chocolate chip pancake breakie.

We have since been enjoying the trip north and continue to see interesting and sometimes beautiful places. Amidst anchoring and passing through lovely, serene marshland, we have stopped at several great towns. We first stopped unexpectedly at New Smyrna Beach. We had intended to anchor out that night, but we were concerned about crossing a particularly shallow spot at low tide. That and the high wind convinced us that we should seek shelter at the marina. This turned out to be a good choice when we discovered that it was St. Patty’s day and the town was celebrating. We started out at Maloney’s where, you guessed it, they were Irish! We sidled up to the bar, ordered a Guinness (Cindy and me that is…Lynn had a coke) and listened to the Irish duo playing folk (or were they drinking) songs. All the elements for a good time were there, including “Hurling” on TV and the boot of Guinness passed around the bar for the patrons to drink. I found out it is bad luck to put the boot down after I placed it down on the bar. We also partook of the awesome seafood chowder, made to order by Jim, the owner, in unique steam kettles (only 8 of their kind in the US). The fun was topped off by the band playing “Alice”…with the refrain “Alice, Alice, who the f*%& is Alice?” shouted loudly by everyone in the bar. We had a blast…it was one of those spontaneous perfect occasions that you could not repeat with a year of planning.

We left the next day and headed north to St. Augustine, Florida, which is the oldest city in the nation. They obviously have a lot of history, including the fact that Martin Luther King organized one of his first peaceful demonstrations there. Although it has become rather touristy, there is still great old charm. We even saw an anti-war demonstration, so not much has changed I guess. It was discovered by Ponce de Leon, so there is a strong Spanish influence. We all really liked it and even had fun viewing the city in the cheesy red tour train. We spent a little time carefully picking out a cowboy hat for me in a cute store in the walking district. We finished the day sipping sangria on a balcony overlooking the busy main street…another gastronomic success!

We departed the next day and picked our way north to Georgia. We are waiting out the day with a plan to leave late afternoon to traverse in the ocean to Beaufort SC to stop off for a short visit with David and Gini. It appears that the stars have aligned. The wind and sea predictions are good, it’s a full moon so we will have lots of light, and the tides are favorable. We will leave around 5 PM and should get to Beaufort by around noon tomorrow. Although it means another nighttime cruise, we will happily avoid the ICW shallows in Georgia. So, next stop South Carolina!

Homeward Bound

The return trip from the Bahamas was very successful and full of fun and laughs. We stayed in Green Turtle Cay for five days, where we luckily met Chris and Deke aboard their 37-ft Catalina sailboat, aptly named Chris Deke. Not only were they a great couple to hang out with, they were also experienced and proved to be a big help in planning the crossing. Each morning we would listen to the weather forecast by Chris Parker on channel 4045 of our single sideband radio. Then we would gather to confer on the situation and reevaluate our plan, which changed regularly. Remember, patience and flexibility are the most important elements for safe cruising. While we waited we continued to explore and spotted a few more rays during our travels. Cindy gave me another blog-worthy quote when she declared “You don’t really know how strange you are until you are around normal people!”

We finally left for Allens-Pensacola Cay, which was to be the first stop on our return itinerary. It was a beautiful day and we sailed all the way there. I was so pleased that we had great conditions so that Cindy could experience sailing in the Bahamas. We arrived late afternoon with enough time to meet some of our anchorage neighbors (Mike and Linda on Yemanja) and explore the windward beach. There was a great path through the brush to the other side of the island where we discovered a “signing tree”. It was a big tree on which passers by left an amazing variety of mementos, like boat bumpers, driftwood and even rope swings. Of course Cindy and I had to take a turn on the swing and nearly toppled off the back. On the way back to the boat we caught a glimpse of several sea turtles, and I mean a glimpse as they move incredibly quickly in the water. The evening was topped off by one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen; it appeared as though the sun actually melted into the horizon. A perfect time for blowing the traditional conch horn! Not that we really need a reason to do that.

The following morning we left for Great Sale Cay, which was to be our last stop before starting the crossing. Our plan was to leave at dusk, travel across the Little Bahama Bank throughout the night, arrive at the edge just before dawn and finally cross the gulf stream during the daylight hours. This proved to work out perfectly, except we opted to wait one extra day for better conditions based on the advice of Deke and other boaters waiting to cross. In the meantime we spent the days preparing the boat (I am pleased to say I learned a few things after the first crossing and there was a lot less crashing of stuff below decks). Cindy and I played a trivia game and laughed hysterically at very little. She was going to dismiss us as being trivia losers and consoling ourselves by remembering that the definition of trivia is “unimportant things”. However, I insisted on tallying our points and found out, to our delight, that we are actually card-carrying trivia geniuses!

Our second day at Great Sale was much more entertaining as we observed several boating dramas unfold. The first started in the morning when the wind picked up significantly around 5 AM. All three of us awoke when the sound of the wind and the feel of the water abruptly changed. We were in the cockpit checking that our anchor wasn’t dragging when I noticed that a boat that was anchored well off shore when we went to bed was now much closer. They were definitely dragging. We started hailing them on the radio but were unfortunately not able to rouse any of the occupants. Sadly, they did not wake up until they reached the shore. The other event unfolded over the SSB radio. I was listening to the morning weather report as usual when a boat called in distress. Fast Annie said they were broken down on the Little Bahama Bank and unable to reach Tow Boat US. I happened to be the only transmission they could receive, so started to relay messages for them. Between the two events, I spent most of the day on the radio calling for assistance and transmitting messages. You can imagine that my companions found this pretty amusing and teased me mercilessly. However, I was apparently in my element. I think I have found a new calling. We were all relieved when both boats finally got the help they needed prior to us starting for home. It was an eye opener though; don’t expect help to get there fast in the Bahamas!

Our crossing went like clockwork. All our planning paid off and we enjoyed a relatively calm voyage. The three of us worked a 2-hour shift rotation from helm, to rest, to sleep. While awake we chatted and even resorted to a game of 20 questions over the radio with the other boats in our flotilla (four boats total). We must have been pretty tired because it took us more than 20 questions to come up with the word “star”. We finally arrived in Fort Pierce Inlet at about 2:30 PM where we entered the ICW and continued to travel north to Vero Beach. We were safely on a mooring at about 4 PM. All in all it was a perfect passage. We later learned that the days before and after were not pleasant so were pleased with our decisions. The only sadness was that we parted ways with Chris Deke. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and very much appreciated their insights. I find that although cruising acquaintances are sometimes short, they are more intense as you are often dealing with critical situations, so it is hard when you have to say good bye too soon.. We feel that way about many of the wonderful people we met while in the Bahamas and we hope that we will be lucky enough to see some of them again…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Back Home

Lynn, Cindy and I arrived in Fort Pierce, Florida on Friday afternoon, March 14th. We had an uneventful crossing of the gulf stream, which made us very happy. We had reports from other criusers that the days before and after were not good, so we got lucky! Anyway, there's much more to report, but we are busy wathching Pirates of the Caribbean and baking chocolate chip cookies. We just wanted everyone to know we are safe and sound. I'll post again soon!!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cindy's Here...Yippeee!!

Our friend Cindy Williams finally arrived in Treasure Cay on March 3rd. She came full of giggles and carting a big bag of booty, including 4 bags of Oreo cookies, 2 boxes of wine, an inestimable amount of chocolate, a can of spaghettios, and only 1 bag of pretzels (a 5-pound bag that is, special ordered on the Internet). She had very little clothing as all her baggage space was taken up by food!

Cindy flew in to join us for the journey home. Some of you may think this a strange thing to do, especially considering my description of the passage here. But, then you don’t know Cindy, a girl who loves adventure. We did offer that she could join us sooner for some time in the Bahamas, but she said she was only interested in the return voyage. I think she is rethinking that decision now that she has seen the Abacos and discovered the delightful, unspoiled islands. But, the good thing is that we have been waiting for about a week to get a good window to cross back to the U.S. coast, so she has had a little taste of most of what the area has to offer.

On Cindy’s first night we had an impromptu sundowner happy hour with a bunch of cruisers who were anchored in the Treasure Cay Bay. She got to meet some of our buddies and happily joined the spirit of the occasion. We then said good bye yet again in anticipation of departing the following day…that didn’t happen. Due to the conditions, we chose to wait an extra day before attempting to pass through the Whale channel, something I was nervously anticipating after our first experience. This delay gave us a chance to stroll along the beautiful Treasure Cay Beach one last time. We did go around Whale Cay the next day and I am happy to report it was uneventful. I will use the Cruisers Net lingo for the conditions, which were a “sloppy 4” on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being impassable and 5 being perfect. Instead of 12-foot swells we saw only a little chop.

We made our way to Green Turtle Cay where we are still waiting for a good window to head home. We chose to anchor outside the Harbor on the first night and were hit by an unexpected squall that brought sustained 35 knot wind with gusts above 50 knots. It was an incredibly violent thunder storm that passed directly through us. We even donned our life jackets. I was quite nervous and actually screamed when a lightning bolt struck so close I thought we had been hit. Of course Cindy loved every minute. We checked the radar and could see the storm was about 25 miles long and 6 miles wide. Yet again our trusty anchor held through the event even though we swung over 180 degrees.

The next day we opted to move inside the safer harbour, called White Sound. We were a little tense about this as the channel is quite shallow, but it turned out to be a piece of cake as Captain Lynn calmly steered us through the markers. Cindy and I were at the bow watching starfish pass by when we sighted a huge Spotted Eagle Ray glide away from under the boat. It was beautiful with a wing span of about 4 feet…very exciting. Lynn then expertly turned the boat 360 degrees into our slip. We are spending our last few nights tucked snugly in at the Green Turtle Club Marina. This will allow us to charge up our batteries, replenish the boat supplies and rest up before the long journey home. We are also safely docked for hopefully the last Norther we will experience here.

Over the last few days we have toured the island in a golf cart, explored New Plymouth (the nearby town), wandered on the beach, splashed in the waves and found more sea treasures while snorkeling. Cindy has put me to shame as she wakes before sunrise each morning and runs 6 miles before I get out of my PJs. We have also indulged quite heavily at the Green Turtle Club because every dollar spent there is deducted from our dock fees…so we feel compelled to max out on eating and drinking.

Most importantly we have spent many hours planning the crossing, which entails listening to the morning weather forecasts, plotting the course and discussing the outlook with our buddy boats. As of today the plan is to leave here on Monday with a stop over at Manjack Cay that night. We will then head to Great Sale which will be the departure point for the crossing. We hope to leave there at dusk on Wednesday, cross the Little Bahama Bank overnight and reach the Gulf Stream at day break on Thursday. We should arrive in Fort Pierce, Florida at about 2 PM that afternoon (March 13th). The forecast is for very calm winds and less than 2-foot waves in the gulf. That will be a welcome change.

So, our unforgettable adventure is now drawing to a close. The downside of this that we will have to leave the beautiful Bahamas, go back to work, start to wear makeup and undergarments (less of a concern for Lynn), possibly see a touch of winter, and get back to reality. All of this is almost balanced by the upside of seeing our friends and family again.

Not Sure How Much More We Can Take?!

Hi, we’re still here!! And loving every minute. For the past three weeks we have been bouncing around between Marsh Harbor, Hope Town, Treasure Cay and Great Guana Cay. It’s been more of the same blissful days of sun and fun. We spent lots of time with Mike and Harriet (Dual Dreams), Kathy and Ken (Coconut), Jeff and Cindy (Salty Dog), and Bill and Mary (Ment Tu Be). We also enjoyed meeting some new folks, including Willie and Mark (Liahona), Jim and Marie (Kawliga), Harvey and Nancy (Stardust), and Chris and Deke (Chris Deke). It’s great how a little community develops as you all move around from place to place.

We first left Great Guana and headed to Marsh Harbor to wait out some high winds and get the usual chores done, not to mention going to a few happy hours. After that we went over to Hope Town for one last look around and to attend the big Hope Town Fire Department Fair. We discovered a new little joint called On Da Beach which was lots of fun. Lynn and I then went south and anchored for a few nights at Tahiti Beach. It was a secluded, peaceful spot where we snorkeled and lazed on the beach (yes, I again coaxed Lynn into spending an afternoon on the beach!). After that we moved north to Treasure Cay for a few nights and then to Great Guana Cay to anchor in Fishers Bay and await the Barefoot Man concert. We spent several days strolling about the island and walking on the beach. We finally decided that Grabbers is our favorite beach bar, with a perfect location overlooking a lovely bay sheltering sailboats and offering spectacular sunsets. Of course, they also have the potluck dinners, bocci ball, and hammocks under the palms.

OK, now for the Barefoot Man concert. This is a very big event in the Abacos that draws about 2,000 people. There were at least 60 boats anchored in Fishers Bay the night before. Think Jimmy Buffet, only its one guy with a guitar and a bongo accompanist. It’s not that he is even all that good; it’s more of a phenomenon. People love him because his lyrics are all about the Abacos and very humorous. His song titles include A Thong Gone Wrong, When They Cut you Off at Nipper’s, and It Don’t Get Better Than This. Anyway, the concert is at Nipper’s and the place is packed. Just picture Spring Break with a somewhat older crowd. We even witnessed the flashing of a few boobies. Lynn and I did a quick tour through the bar then exited stage left to the beach where we joined the more sedate group. We quickly tired of the whole thing and escaped to Grabbers where the atmosphere was somewhat calmer. It’s one of those things you should do but only need to experience once. We closed the evening with the first of several bon voyage celebrations as our departure day was nearing and we were saying “see ya next year” to some of our new found friends.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

By Justin Hohner (Lynn's Grandson)

"It was my grandfather who sat at the helm of his fifty foot sailboat, cigar in hand, as he gazed out into a clear calm sea. The music of Jimmy Buffet competed with the calls on the CB radio from plunder hopeful fishermen, searching for the day’s big catch. As the sailor lit his cigar he brought it to his face, which was covered in a soft white beard, then emitted the sweet smelling aroma into the air. The captain’s topless, big round belly reflected a bronze tan from the midday hot sun. I had never at that time seen my grandfather so relaxed, finally living out his dream."