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!

Along The Way

New bridge construction with the old drawbridge in the background

During our 9 years of cruising, we have seen dozens of opening bridges replaced with 65′ high bridges – nice for all of us & especially sailboats.  Particularly in the south, it is remarkable how fast they build replacement bridges.  In as little as 2 years, they’ll build a new high-rise bridge complete with approaches as well as removing the old bridge (unless they keep part of it as a fishing pier).

 

The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) requires frequent dredging – historically under-funded.  Fortunately, the last several years has seen a large surge in much needed dredging.

 

While dredging is great, there are times it is a challenge to get past the dredges … or in this case … their goods.  This is a tug, a barge with pipeline AND hundreds of feet of trailing pipeline moving to their next job.  This photo shows only 1/2 of the pipe – it was TWICE this long including 2 small work boats attempting to “steer” it around the bends of the river.  Right after we stopped to let them go by, we heard on the VHF radio a police boat responding to “pull over” the tug as they were accused of hitting a boat docked at a marina a mile before … oops.

Almost more important than regular dredging is keeping channel markers & charts accurate & up-to-date.  While all of the agencies involved usually do a good job, there are a few spots which are so frustrating.  One particular half-mile stretch of the ICW in SC was just dredged at a huge cost.  Not only has it already partially filled-in making passage at low tide difficult, there is an  adjacent, parallel naturally-deep path with plenty of water – why not just move the channel markers to where there is naturally-deep water?

 

This is an another example of the need for proper placement of channel markers.  This shoal on a curve has been growing for years, but if you simply follow the red channel markers (leave them on your starboard/right – circled in yellow) you can go aground as this boat did (he’s high & dry).  On the other hand, this is a curve in the channel – you must follow the curve & take it wide.  Still, this shoal protrudes much too far & needs to be dredged back and/or marked better.

 

Speaking of expensive miscalculations, we cruised by the Golden Ray cargo ship which also grounded on the inside turn of a channel & capsized last September in St. Simons Sound, Brunswick, Georgia.  They are still formulating plans to cut it apart, remove it along with the 4,000 automobiles contained within & all of the pollution – it may take up to 2 years & the blame-game, environmental damage & legal battles will likely go on for decades.  Ironically, Georgia is in the midst of being the first state in the nation to pass strict anchoring regulations & nightly fees for cruisers because some politicians think we’re polluting their waters!

South Carolina & Georgia

We love to stop in Charleston for a few days on our way thru – I think we’ve only missed it once.  While we have stayed at a marina right in the city a few times, it is often simpler to stay at St. John’s Yacht Harbor Marina.  It is a 20 minute Uber ride into downtown & they have a loaner car you can use for 2 hours to do errands. 

In addition to the usual restaurants & tourist spots, we like to add a new museum or such every time.  This time … a new donut shop!  BKeD Shop.  Fairly expensive, but very good!

 

That is the shrimp boat at the dock in the background

We’ve been on the hunt for fresh shrimp, but have had bad timing at some of our usual stops.  Fresh shrimp is truly right off the boat, so you need to be there when a boat comes in, as it’s unloaded, processed & shipped off within hours.  While stopping at Thunderbolt, Georgia we spied an old building that had “the look”.  We walked up, but were disappointed as a sign on the door said “NO SHRIMP”, but as we continued around the building, an overhead door was open & we saw shrimp!  The workers were about half-way thru the unloading & promised us some if we came back in an hour – “whole or headed?”  An hour later, we bought 5 pounds at a great price – headed – thank you.  We had some for dinner (they were fantastic!) & now our freezer is nicely stocked with enough shrimp to last us a few months.

 

From our marina in Thunderbolt, it is only a 15 minute Uber right into downtown Savannah.  Unlike Charlestown, we’ve only stopped a few times, but looked forward to visiting again.  Our new stop for Savannah was … no … not a donut shop, but a new museum – the American Prohibition Museum.  It was really comprehensive & quite interesting.  There were so many aspects of Prohibition which I had never considered:

  • While the 18th Amendment & the resulting nationwide prohibition of alcohol wasn’t passed until 1919, “the movement” & various Temperance Societies had began in some areas of the country almost 70 years previously.
  • While the theory was to keep the men in-line, sober & stop them from spending their pay on evil, there were so many downsides never considered.  Tens of thousands of farmers, brewers, distillers, coopers, distributors, truck drivers & workers of all kinds were instantly out of work.
  • The first national Income Tax was enacted to offset the loss of liquor taxes.
  • Organized crime got it’s big start with bootlegging – a multi-million dollar business.

On the other hand:

  • Auto & boat engine technology exploded – more horsepower was needed for the bootleggers and then by the authorities chasing the bootleggers.
  • Women rarely drank alcohol before Prohibition, but sure started during Prohibition.  Speakeasies, although illegal, were everywhere & for the first time, women could freely socialize with men in an informal setting complete with dance to this new music (to many) called jazz & wear risque clothing.  It is also said to be the real start of integration – people of all backgrounds, colors & social standing gathering together just to have a good time & mingle with each other for perhaps the first time.

Continuing Down the North Carolina Coast

Beaufort, NC is another must-stop on our way thru.  We usually stay at Homer Smith’s Docks, somehow an easy name to remember.  This is an old-time shrimp boat dock/processing facility which is adding more modern marina space with a free washer/dryer, loaner car & a coming-soon clubhouse building with even better offerings.  It’s always a pleasure dealing with Tony, the owner, who I don’t think would be offended if I called him a “good old boy”.  Before they had a loaner car, he just threw us the keys to his new personal $50,000 pickup truck.  We also stock up with the best shrimp, right off the boat (and sometimes mahi or swordfish), but were disappointed the shrimp weren’t cooperating that week, although a boat with flounder was coming in soon.

A 10 minute walk brings you thru a historical neighborhood of small houses from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s, to the Beaufort waterfront of shops, marinas & restaurants.  We hadn’t visited the North Carolina Maritime Museum since our first time thru & were pleasantly surprised at their expansion.  Much of their new space is devoted to the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship, which ran aground attempting to enter the Beaufort Inlet in 1718 while trying to hide from the British.  The British were determined to end piracy for good after Blackbeard & his men successfully blockaded the port of Charleston the month before, causing panic, partial evacuation & much embarrassment that a bunch of pirates could overwhelm such a fine, southern city.

In 1996 the wreck was discovered just off the inlet & a careful recovery began. It took 3 years just to confirm the ship’s identity, as there are thousands of shipwrecks off the Carolinas with hundreds near this inlet alone. It was a painstaking process – one clue was that the cannons recovered were such a mishmash of calibers & countries of origin – this lead to the conclusion that they had likely been removed from various captured ships. To date, over 300,000 artifacts have been recovered, with a few hundred restored & displayed at the museum, as it is such a slow process. Interesting, chests of gold are not expected to be found, as what do pirates do?  They take their treasure & bury or hide it.  After the grounding, Blackbeard, his men & likely any treasures escaped onto another ship.  Blackbeard soon surrendered & received a royal pardon, only to return to piracy after only a few months & was killed in battle soon thereafter.

 

A beautiful sunrise, but darn – requires waking up early …
The parade leaving out from Beaufort

With an excellent weather forecast, we decided to head offshore from Beaufort Inlet to Masonboro Inlet (Wrightsville Beach), onward to Carolina Beach & down the Cape Fear River into Southport – about 100 miles. We like to do this trip offshore if possible, as this portion of the ICW has some of the worst shoaled areas, a few opening bridges & there is a spot near Camp Lejeune which sometimes gets shut down for hours at a time due to military training & live fire exercises.  The perfect weather was … perfect & we even had a 2 knot current with us down the Cape Fear.  At Southport we enjoyed a great dinner at Joseph’s – one of our favorite Italian restaurants & it’s even located right in the marina.

 

With remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor heading our way, we zoomed down the rest of North Carolina coast which even meant grilling our chicken dinner underway just before setting anchor at sunset up a creek.  Surprisingly our grill often gives me problems, always blowing out, etc., but apparently it must be a marine grill, as it worked perfectly underway zooming down Winyah Bay!

The next day we arrived in Charleston to wait out the rain & wind.