Back “Home” to Connecticut

We never tire of passing by this lady on our way thru NYC into the East River

What a change of plans!  We had planned to be in Sarasota, Florida on May 5th for our 30th wedding anniversary, as we were married on a trawler on Sarasota Bay all those years ago. COVID-19 sure put a halt to that.  Instead, we are almost 1,500 miles (by water) north of Sarasota back in our old hometown of Essex, Connecticut, almost running right up the foot of Main Street, as they call it. This is the spot the British landed their raiding party in April of 1814, torching all of the ships & resulting in the single greatest loss of American shipping of the entire War of 1812.  The story is an interesting read: British raid on Essex 1814

Instead of Florida 80’s, it was quite chilly in the 50’s.  Attempting to put a positive spin on things (& since Lori was sick of preparing 99% of our meals during the last many months), we ordered a luscious lunch to-go from the famous Griswold Inn, a short walk up Main Street.

Here we were 30 years ago – at least neither of have changed a bit!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in nearby Hamburg Cove, an all-time favorite of ours over the years, especially with Benj when he was younger & even going back to my childhood – my parents took us 3 kids there many a weekend in our old wooden Elco powerboat.  Being so early in the season, we had the entire cove to ourselves.

Just our 1st batch of packages

With yet another night forecast to be in the 40’s, we relented & proceeded to our temporary summer home at Safe Harbor Deep River Marina to plug in.  Ahhhh, no weather issues, endless power, heat, A/C, water, cable TV, laundry on-site, a car (thanks Seth!) & almost daily Amazon packages (thanks David!).  After a short break, we’ll be getting right into our dozens of projects, which this year will include some engine work too – I’ll be learning all about working on fuel injectors!

We’d still like to spend part of the summer in Maine – we’ll see how the summer shapes up with COVID-19 concerns.

 

Holding Out in Cape May, NJ

We’ve continued our cold & lonely trek north finally reaching Cape May, NJ.  We might be here a while as stormy weather approaches with gale warnings & ocean seas of 9′ – 11′ forecasted.  Our next leg is 114 miles offshore up the coast of New Jersey to NYC, so we’d like it a little calmer.

While there have been some calm days …

This has been much more common

My phone running out of space to display the warnings

We’re seldom as far north in early spring – it’s cold & stormy!  After a while you almost get used to thunderstorm warnings, gale warnings, tornado watch, blah, blah, blah – o.k. – not really!  For the worst weather, we’ve mostly managed to be hiding in marinas, but have been anchored out many cold nights with temps down to 44 & inside cabin temps as low as 49 by morning – hmmm … who gets out of bed first to start the generator so we can start up the heater??

We have been able to enjoy a bit of great take-out in places such as Beaufort NC (including Easter dinner delivered from Beaufort Grocery which is actually a restaurant) & especially at our favorite restaurant (Spoon River) in Belhaven, NC where we picked up a huge order of fantastic shrimp & grits which was enough for several dinners & even a lunch.  On the other hand, we had to lower our standards in Great Bridge, VA as there was only a Chili’s next to the grocery store in walking distance.  The only saving grace was they had their margaritas to-go as well! Their curbside pickup was a little sloppy as they were repeatedly going car-to-car close-up to opened windows asking which order was whose – not a great system.  We kept stepping further & further away from curbside until we were on the other side of the parking lot by the time our order was ready.

We hit the mother-load, finding almost-forgotten spare toilet paper & Bounty paper towels under a seat hiding-out with the air conditioning unit.

In times like this, it’s the little things.

 

 

 

 

We had passed this somewhat run-down looking shrimp dock in Hobucken, NC called RE Mayo Seafood many times without stopping.  Since we were running out of shrimp (our usual shrimp stop in Beaufort didn’t have any since they primarily sell wholesale to restaurants so their shrimpers weren’t even going out) we thought we’d take a look.  WOW!  Super clean & super nice with a huge selection of shrimp, fish & even lobster.  Nearly everything they offer gets unloaded right at their dock.  Lori walked out 20 minutes later with a big smile & her big bag of loot.  Even the cost was unbelievably reasonable.  With their own dock right along the waterway, we’ll definitely be making this a regular stop.

Right after RE Mayo Seafood there is a small U.S. Coast Guard station where they were (hopefully) just learning, as we caught a bit of yelling “Watch out! – Watch out!”

 

Ospreys distancing themselves in style

Isolating in North Carolina

We’re spending a week at Homer Smith’s Marina in Beaufort, NC obtaining groceries & waiting out windy weather.  The town is in lock-down so we’re not to leave the marina property & are taking advantage of various delivery services.  As the roads are blocked off with a police check-point allowing only residents in, we are attempting to give the stranded restaurants a little business.  We’ve enjoyed some delicious meals, pizza & have even pre-ordered Easter dinner.

Matt from the marina graciously delivered our grocery order

Not until having to pass by our favorite stops of St. Augustine, Charleston, etc. did we fully realize how much we used to enjoy stopping, exploring & eating at their great restaurants!  This has turned into mostly a “delivery trip” – just moving us & our boat north.  In the spirit of helping small businesses we did make a stop in Carolina Beach, NC, where it just so happened the only business we found who delivered was a donut shop – how fortunate!

Too large to fit in the picture was one of their famous Apple Fritters

Our most-favorite donut shop, Britts Donuts was closed, but Wake ‘N Bake Donuts are great too!

 

Our trip continuing north is still in flux & we spend hours checking news from various sources regarding each remaining leg.  While many marinas in various states are closed or restricted in some way, Maryland had gone further completely closing off the Chesapeake Bay to all recreational boats, but later modified their policy to allow boats in transient with limited, essential stops only.  Just today New York has now forced all marinas to close, which fortunately won’t bother us.  However, if Connecticut follows suit we’ll need an entire new plan.

 

Meanwhile back in the Bahamas, COVID-19 is being taken very seriously, as they have no ability to take care of large numbers of patients.  Most of the COVID-19 cases have been on highly populated New Providence (Nassau) & Grand Bahama (Freeport), which are also the only locations of small, yet full-fledged hospitals.  While they have a plan in place to fly patients in from any of the other 100+ inhabited islands, one unfortunate woman on Bimini passed away waiting at a clinic for a flight to be arranged – she passed away shortly after arriving in Nassau.  This is why they are taking this so seriously. On these other islands there are no ambulances to whisk people to an ICU in minutes.  Only a tiny fraction of the 100+ islands even have a clinic or an airstrip, much less an airport.

The Prime Minister has constantly ramped up advisories & policies for limiting transmission of the virus, especially to any of the 100+ “family islands” as they are called.  Cruisers have been asked by both the Bahamian authorities & the U.S. Embassy to leave for weeks now & most have.  However way too many are staying, even after the most recent, forceful directive to leave. “Do not wait; the time to leave is now. Depart as soon as weather and provisions allow you to do so” “directly to the U.S. without any unnecessary deviation or stops except for essential food, water or fuel”.  This directive also mentioned an upcoming 5-day “full lock-down” around Easter weekend, meaning that nothing (even grocery stores or fuel docks) will be allowed to be open, so stock up with food, water, fuel, allow for weather & LEAVE!!!

These purple marks represent only a fraction of the boats actually there.

Nope – this is the AIS (Automatic Identification System) view of boats still in George Town days later.  Only some boats have AIS transmitting, but reportedly there are around 100 boats still there! While most may be following the distancing & other restrictions, they are clogging up the only grocery store, which is limiting entry & attempting curbside pickup, while only being allowed to be open a few days/week (there are 3 – 5 days of full lock-downs every week in which they must be closed too).

Except for the very few boats from Europe or elsewhere who may be truly stranded (they would usually be heading to the southern Caribbean now, but can’t as it is completely locked down), 95% of these boats will eventually leave for the U.S. as almost no one stays for hurricane season.  There is great fear that if the virus gets to Great Exuma (George Town) in these extra weeks the cruisers delay their departure, some may become infected, then spread it along to the islands they stop at along their 300+ mile return trip over several weeks.  In addition, many will stop at Nassau (the big virus hotspot), then make additional stops (especially at marinas in Bimini) awaiting a weather window to continue across the gulf stream to the U.S.

I’ve had to stop reading on-line cruiser’s blogs & postings bragging about how good the lobstering is, how wonderful their great cruisers community support of each other is, how a local administrator says there is no need to leave, how the anchorages aren’t as crowded, how they’re interpreting the government’s restrictions to exclude them because they have a dog, etc., etc.

I’m hoping for the best, but this could end poorly in so many ways.

Cautiously Heading North

We kinda got the message to get-going after being kicked out of our Marathon marina a day early, as anyone with a short-term rental (including boats at marinas) was given 24 hours to get out.

If looking to shelter in place, this could work – we passed JK Rowling’s yacht in Miami which happens to be for sale! She bought this beauty from Johnny Depp but apparently has buyers remorse??

It seemed like just yesterday we had cruised thru Miami on our way south to then head around up to the Florida west coast – how everything has changed in only a week.

Passing thru Miami, there were cruise ships scattered everywhere. All of the piers were full & others were just anchored off South Beach with nowhere to go.

First the Keys, then Miami-Dade County somewhat shutting down behind us as we head north with various restrictions.  On Sunday we saw thousands of small boats on the water. It was crazy at times with 30+ boats approaching us while 30+ boats were passing us on the somewhat narrow ICW channel.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in the 80’s & was a great way for people & families to get away for a few hours.

Proper social distancing on a sandbar

Although the vast majority were off having fun on their own, we saw several sandbars crowded with 40 – 50 boats & people crowded together partying violating the county regulations & common sense.  This was even after the county had closed down the public launching ramps were supposedly patrolling looking for large groups.

We made a quick pit stop in Vero Beach & rented a car so we could go to our storage unit to exchange winter items (like our mini Christmas tree) & pickup important stuff (like our oil change pump). We attempted to make some curbside pickups, but grocery shopping was fairly scary with almost no precautions in very crowded conditions.

Down here in the south, county governments pretty much run things so we’re running into different COVID-19 regulations as we travel north thru Florida & now in Georgia.  Some marinas are shut down, some are not allowing new transient boats in & some are open with special precautions.  While we mostly anchor out, we do have to stop every week or so for fuel & groceries.  We had been doing 80 – 110 mile days in order to at-least get out of Florida, but will now slow down as the temps have gone from the 80’s daytime to now 50’s nighttime in Georgia.

Our next marina stop will be in Beaufort, North Carolina.  That particular county is allowing us in, but won’t allow us to step off the marina property.  This would usually make it difficult to obtain groceries, but being North Carolina, they have us covered.  Just tell them the groceries and/or take-out food you want & they’ll go out & bring everything to your boat. Now, that’s southern hospitality!

Be safe everyone!

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!