Yikes! Back in the U.S.

Fortunately there is good cellular data in most of the Bahamas.  Unfortunately we have been keeping up with the news of the COVID-19 virus.  We had been planning on spending about 2 more weeks before heading back, but weren’t sure how much we’d enjoy ourselves checking the news every hour, so we headed straight back.  While in a way it made sense to just stay there in a tropical paradise away from people … it’s not that straightforward for many reasons.

Flying a yellow quarantine flag has been required when entering a new country for over a hundred years – seemed like a cute old custom until today.

How long would we need to stay?  The Bahamas enforce strict immigration law & may not necessarily extend your visa.  Hurricane season begins in only a few months & our existing insurance would be void.  It may get bad there too – thousands of tourists from around the world are on their way out, but may have first infected many Bahamians.  Medical resources are extremely limited with only one real hospital (in Nassau) for the entire country.  Many of the smaller islands have only a one-room clinic with a part-time nurse.

These were our thoughts over a week ago.  Of course, the situation has become worse since then. The U.S. State Department is telling all U.S. residents to return now, or be prepared to stay away for a long duration.  What if we tried to cross back to the U.S. in a few weeks & instead of easily clearing back in via a phone app, we are ordered to appear at some pier for a health screening and/or mandatory quarantine on shore? This, or worse, is possible if the Bahamas becomes yet other country with a large number of cases.

A relief! U.S. Customs allowed us to re-enter using only their phone app – very easy.

The Bahamas government is now taking this very seriously, so it may not be easy for cruisers who decide to stay.  Being able to stay and/or being able to re-enter the U.S., obtaining food & fuel may become serious concerns.  From our decision time to arriving in the Miami area was only 3 days.

As we crossed the gulf steam, we were surprised at the number of boats who appeared to have just left Florida heading the other way.  They are probably thinking … what’s the worst that could happen??

We found the last slip at a small marina in Marathon, Florida within walking distance to a Publix Supermarket.  We had seen photos of the crazy supermarket scenes from around the country, so were were expecting long lines to get in, people wearing masks, large signs with cautionary messages, etc.  Nope – these are the Keys baby – 1/2 way to crazy Key West.  While extremely busy & some shelves bare, the atmosphere was fairly casual & one guy I spotted was even barefoot.  Our cupboards were mostly bare after 3 months in the Bahamas, so we’ve made 2 cautious, but large runs to stock up, not knowing where our next easy stop will be. We can’t believe it, but some marinas are shutting down & will turn away any arriving boats.

At least the dolphins off Miami welcomed us back! While we’ve had dolphins swim with us dozens of times, this was the first with dolphins leaping up several feet into the air! Easy to enjoy – hard to photograph!

We have also now scrapped our original Florida plans.  As we were married on Sarasota Bay on a Krogen trawler on May 5th 30 years ago, I had the crazy idea to return in our own boat to celebrate. Oh well, maybe for our 31st wedding anniversary next year.

Be safe everyone!!

 

Twin Sisters Has Left the Harbour

George Town Harbour that is … hard to believe we’ve been here 2 months! The weather, as usual, has dictated our schedule & activities.  Every week or so there is a cold front which offers one perfect, low wind day, followed by several high wind days, followed by moderate winds.

You can see the weather coming in.
The first (of many) dragging boats during our stay. At least this one was in ideal conditions – daylight, low winds and didn’t hit or get tangled with another boat. That’s me by the stern just after we pulled it off the rocky shore (it only gently hit, so only scratched paint on it’s rudder).

While most boats are anchored out in the large 1 mile by 8 mile harbor, we spend much of the time in a protected area called Red Shanks behind Crab Cay.  There are 6 different “holes” – areas with 2 or 3 sided wind protection.  Some are fairly deep with rooms for up to 20 boats – this one spot is fairly shallow & barely room for one boat – us!  High hills to our north & east cut the wind down by half.  Our anchoring app to the right gives you a visual idea of the wind’s “clocking” with each cold front – the little anchor symbol in the middle is our anchor – the colored lines show our boat’s track as the wind takes us around during about a week’s stay.

 

 

This little beach in Red Shanks used to be where cruisers hung out most nights, jokingly called the “Red Shanks Yacht and Tennis Club”. Someone had a great idea to gather one night – just like in the old days. All of those things high up on the rocky bank are dozens of old conch shells cruisers used to paint their boat names on & leave on display.
Military? helicopter exercises on adjacent Crab Cay – no markings, tail numbers or IDs?? Better not to ask …

While waiting for winds to die down, there are always various projects to keep us busy.  I’m making a watermaker repair replacing the feed pump.  Here’s Lori’s latest creation!

 

 

We always make the best of the good weather days!  We get our shopping & errands out-of-the-way to have some fun!

As part of the George Town Cruisers Regatta, there is a softball game between the cruisers and Bahamians. We had never attended before so it was fun, although the Bahamians were so late we only saw part of the actual game.
A feast courtesy of Cort and Max – Max caught the lobsters and fish that morning.
This is the view the tourists see from the Peace and Plenty Hotel looking out at the 300+ boats anchored out in the harbor.

Overall it was a great season! Lots of time with old cruising & land friends, along with a some new friends. While we had planned on staying a bit longer, there is a long stretch of windy weather ahead so we need to head about 50 miles north up the Exuma chain, which allows us to cross over from the east side (basically open ocean) to the west side (the “bank side”) of the chain which has protection from the most common east winds. Over the next 2 weeks we’ll slowly continue up another 50 miles stopping at favorite spots such as Black Point, Staniel Cay, the Exuma Land & Sea Park, then Highbourne Cay.

This is our first stop heading back north up the Exuma chain.  This sunset picture shows a peaceful scene, however 1′ – 2′ waves rocked us silly for a few hours until the front switched the wind around.  By midnight the wind clocked around to shore side giving us some relief.  The faux castle is actually just someone’s house, although we haven’t seen anyone around in a few years.

What wind?

This is our protected, beachside anchorage we moved to the next morning, since the wind was forecast to be blowing 25 – 35 knots for the next 4 – 5 days.  Our move, however, was not without a bit of drama.  As we passed by 2 sailboats, they started yelling & pointing, then air horn blowing, again & again.  Finally we motored over closer & were told we couldn’t re-anchor because that’s “their spot” they were planning to move to later in the morning! “Their spot” was a large corner for the anchorage with plenty of room for several boats. We weren’t even necessarily anchoring there anyway – we were simply making our way past them.  Later on the beach he told me that the day before “everyone” had pre-planned their anchoring spots, including where they might be moving to when the wind changed, so they were pissed that we (& another powercat before us) had just moved on our own?!?  Anchoring situations can be stressful, but this was a first!!

Hanging Out in George Town

Boy, what a windy year it’s been down here.  Hot too – but no one wants to hear that!

Our private, protected anchorage out of the wind

The best part has been a visit from Benj!  He got to escape Vermont’s cold for a week, even though his original flight was delayed, delayed, then cancelled until the next day.

 

Lots of good eats!  Unfortunately, the lobster wasn’t caught by us, but still tasted great.

A good father/son project – baking rum cake from scratch.  Very, very carefully pouring the rum syrup on top – it’s the most important part!

 

 

What else to do on a windy night?  A bourbon tasting of course, although perhaps we should have had Benj try to teach us a new card game first

Paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming, body surfing in the ocean surf, a beach walk, exploring the Loyalist ruins on Crab Cay, chasing after turtles in the dinghy, then two sharks chasing us provided a fun, but busy week.  As always, it goes by much too quickly.

When it was time to get Benj ashore for a taxi ride to the airport, it was too windy to dinghy to the usual dock in Lake Victoria, so we brought him up a creek to a laundromat, which kinda makes sense considering we buy our lobster at the beauty salon.

 

This American Oyster Catcher has been hanging around us for a few days.
Our friend Cort & his grandson Max are back!

Down the Exuma Cays to George Town

Always nice to be welcomed to the Exumas – this guy was practically doing flips!  He made several leaps completely out of the water off our bow before I could even grab the camera.  But a private fireworks display too … enough – stop it!

It was private fireworks, but not just for us – we were anchored off Musha Cay in the Exumas, owned by David Copperfield who operates a small mega-luxury resort on his islands.  We anchored off for free & enjoyed his fireworks show, but to stay at his resort starts at $52,500.00 per night, but that covers up to 24 people, so bring your friends!

These were our “buddy boats” also anchored off Musha Cay.  The 164′ yacht on the left named “Omaha” is practically brand-new – only a year old.  We couldn’t see a name on the right-hand ship but it’s color scheme was identical – could it be an accompanying “fun ship” to hold all of the water toys?  It’s almost believable as some yachts have multiple water slides, water toys, jet skies, tenders of all sizes, tents they set up on beaches, swim platforms, towers to jump off of & weird “water bikes” that speed thru the water & then race up onto the beach.

It was a bit of a challenging year to have gotten down here, but our view out onto Elizabeth Harbour makes it all worth it!

 

 

 

We Made It Across!

We had a very short window to make it across the Gulf Stream, then as far as possible, yet arrive before sunset, to a protected (but not too expensive) marina & clear customs before 5:00 PM.  We decided on Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Bahamas.  This meant re-positioning ourselves to Miami, to a protected anchorage, yet with a quick & easy passage to get out in the dark.  Yes, dark, to make the 130 miles before 5:00 PM.  We awoke at 2:30 AM & got underway at 3:15 AM.  Within 10 minutes it began pouring rain, just as we were turning to head into the channel leading out to the mighty Atlantic.  Of course, there is always one boat (usually a sailboat) anchored at the edge of the channel without a proper anchor light – just a dim flashing solar light from the dollar store (I might have lit him up with my spotlight – sorry if I woke you up :))

Our trip went fairly well – not our smoothest crossing – but not a bad crossing either.  It had been windy for days with the wind only having dropped for less than a day.  While the waves were only 2′ – 3′, they were very short & choppy.  We slowed down & sped up to avoid several rain squalls.  It didn’t really calm down until a mile out of Great Harbour Cay, but we successfully docked at 4:45 PM.

Not there yet!

We tried to delay customs until the next morning, but to no avail.  I was beat & not in the mood to fill out a stack of paperwork then endure the “song & dance” of clearing customs.  One of the “discussions” is the duration of your stay.  The most they want to give you is 90 days – you can apply for an extension, but only at certain ports & only less than 3 days before expiration – never after.  Every year (except one) I have negotiated (begged) for 120 or 150 days & received it.  This year I asked for 150 days.  She hemmed & hawed , then said she’s have to phone her supervisor – fortunately, the call went right to voice mail – after more what-to-do, what-to-do – BAM, BAM, BAM of her rubber stamp, we’re in!

An aerial shot, likely from the ’90’s

It is deja vu to be here at Great Harbour Cay Marina for Christmas, as we came here after our first crossing in 2011 with Benj & also stayed for Christmas.  With the wind forecast to be 20 – 35 knots for at least a week, we’ll hunker down completely protected – the wind at our slip is only half of what is showing elsewhere.  While we’re still less than halfway to George Town, the most difficult portion is over & we can make smaller jumps thru the rest of the Berry Islands, to Nassau, to the Exumas & finally down to George Town – we’ll make it!

Here’s an interesting History of Great Harbour Cay.  Up until 1960 it was a typical Bahamian island with fishing & quiet island life.   However in the 1960’s, it’s raw beauty was discovered by the rich & famous who wanted, of course, to develop it with a new airport, houses, private clubs & a championship golf course.  During it’s short heyday, the rich & famous flocked here, including Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Nicklaus, The Rockefellers, Douglas Fairbanks, Ingrid Bergman, among others.   It’s the Bahamas ‘mon, so it didn’t last long – for many reasons.  You’ll have to read all about it by clicking the link above!

Wishing all a Very Merry Christmas from Russ & Lori!

Bahamas Bound

We had a productive month-long stay in Vero Beach with doctor appointments, stocking up & prepping for our crossing to the Bahamas.  Of course, cleaning our boat’s bottom is one of our hundred of get-ready chores!

The weather was perfect for the entire month – almost too perfect – hoping it wouldn’t all be used up!  As it turned out, there was an absolutely perfect crossing weather forecast right as our month’s stay came to an end, however we had made other plans …

We were conflicted with our Bahamas plans this year after Hurricane Dorian.  While most of the Bahamas weren’t even touched, Abaco, which we visit every year was completely devastated.  In particular, Hopetown was ground zero with winds of over 200 MPH.  The eye came directly over the harbour & just sat there for over 1/2 hour before moving slightly, then stalling again for many hours.  For the first week afterwards, they were strictly in survival mode.  The only outside help at first were U. S. Coast Guard helicopters.  Then came private boats & yachts from Florida bringing food, water & fuel for generators.  The tiny local volunteer fire department of only a dozen members, no firehouse, no fire truck & no fire/rescue boat became relief coordinators working 18 hour days to secure the few remaining houses for all to live in & set up a temporary kitchen.  Since then, volunteer organizations from around the world have descended with help of all kinds, but there is endless work towards recovery.

Having cruisers arrive by boat is a good/bad situation.  If you’re on the younger side with construction experience who want to volunteer repairing roofs & are completely self-supporting – great!  If you’re the average cruiser who wants to hang out, eat food meant for the volunteers & needing to buy short-in-supply diesel – not so much.  Benj had already bought airplane tickets to Georgetown, Exuma for early January, so we decided to stick to our plan, bypassing Abaco for now.

There is no FEMA, no insurance & limited governmental help.  If not laborers, they mostly need $$$$, for construction materials & the ships to bring them.  A grassroots effort began for the Hope for Abaco Benefit Concert in Florida, appropriately featuring the Barefoot Man, who appeared for many years at Nippers Bar & Grill on nearby Guana Cay (now also mostly destroyed).  Our donation provided us with a great time, but more importantly much needed $$$$ with 100% going to the relief effort.

The perfect weather has turned into a weather nightmare.  Weeks of windy, stormy weather is now forecast putting our crossing plans in doubt.

We have less than 3 weeks to get down to George Town, Exumasfor Benj’s arrival.  Plenty of time … unless we can’t even begin to cross for weeks.  Plan C is now in effect, which involves getting further south to Miami,

Houses in Florida decorated for Christmas look a little different

so we have a shorter & better angle to cross.  Many cruisers cross to Bimini, but that is still only 1/8 of the way to the Exumas, so we’ll have to go further – possibly an overnight – our favorite – NOT!

Onward to Florida

Our continuing trip south to Florida was pretty straightforward with no issues.

Sneaking past a submarine at the Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia

“Pirate ships” in St. Augustine offer the tourists a fun time

The boat on the left is hard aground as we all pass on by

A wine brochure in our doctor’s office

Dredging near the Matanzas Inlet south of St. Augustine on the ICW caused heartaches for many this season like this boat on the left.  It is easy to get confused in areas of dredging, as they often remove all of the channel markers & partially block the channel with the dredge and/or pipeline.  Many boats had no idea what was going on & were making panicked calls on channel 16 (but if they had researched on-line they would have learned the name of the dredge to call by radio & the channel they were monitoring).

Want to know why so many people are moving to Florida?  It’s not just the warm weather & no income tax.  It’s doctor offices which have wine tasting brochures next to the colon cancer screening brochures in the exam room!

 

Never tire of dolphins swimming in our wake – Love the way they tilt their heads to look at you!

A peaceful sunset over the condos at our marina in Vero Beach

Soon we’ll be looking for a window in which to cross over to the Bahamas – hoping the warm, beautiful, calm weather we’ve been enjoying continues!