Category Archives: Where?

Places we’ve been, are presently at, or wish to go to.

There’s No Place Like Home!

After cruising for six months and traveling over 2,000 miles, we’re happy to be back in Pensacola for the summer. We’ve seen and done some amazing things since our departure last December, but for now we’re looking forward to a few months of downtime. No worrying about whether the anchor is well set, or if we’re in a protected location for the next passing front, or how far it will be until we see another fuel pier or grocery store. Just a chance to relax, reconnect with family and friends and get reacquainted with our home town.

We truly threaded the needle on our passages across the Gulf and back to Pensacola. While persistent unsettled weather generated widespread rainstorms, we were able to pick windows that let us navigate from the Florida Keys all the way home to our slip at Palafox Pier without encountering a single drop of rain.

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While still in the Bahamas, when we first made the decision to point our bow north, we called Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor and inquired about our old slip. We had lived on E dock in slip 6 for a year and a half while getting Eagle Too ready to cruise. It was vacant, and the terrific folks at the marina made sure it was available for us when we slipped quietly in just after sunrise this past Thursday. So if you’ve visited with us before at Palafox Pier, then look for us in our old location.

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It’s been quite a journey, but now we’re home.  We’ve already started the process of converting Eagle Too from a proper cruising boat back into a fair weather sailor, offloading some of the gear we carry that we won’t be needing for leisurely sails in local waters. Our water maker is pickled and ready to be put in storage, our satellite tracker has been deactivated (which will save us $69 a month while we’re here), and we’ve begun to tackle some of the little tasks and chores that we never seemed to find the time to attend to while cruising.

With this latest cruise now behind us, we’ve traveled a combined total of over 4,000 miles and have sailed our boat to three countries (the Bahamas, Cuba and Mexico). Our tentative plans have us here until November. It’s too soon to say where we might go next—we’ll just see how we feel after the summer (and hurricane season) winds down.

We’ll post something on our Facebook page soon about a little get together here at the marina. So please stop by if you’d like to say hi and catch up, have a glass of wine, see a few pictures, and help us enjoy a sunset. 🙂

A Cruiser’s Passage Planning Primer

There’s a lot of time to think about things when you’re spending 32 hours motorsailing across the Gulf. One of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during our recent jump from Clearwater, Florida to Port St Joe was the issue of picking a suitable weather window for offshore travel. The criteria for planning a comfortable and thus enjoyable ocean passage is a topic I wish we had known more about before setting off on our Life On The Hook™. But there’s no teacher like experience, and after over a dozen offshore passages of a hundred miles or more, many involving the crossing of a major ocean current, we’ve come up with a list of criteria that we apply when determining whether or not to make a jump. This list reflects our priorities and ours alone. You may have or learn to develop your own list of what’s important to you. But since it’s always good to share knowledge and experience, I thought we’d pass along what we feel makes for the most comfortable passages.

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Number one on our list by a wide margin is sea state. When we first started cruising, I’d have considered the wind forecast to be the top concern, but something we’ve learned is that the winds don’t matter if the sea state doesn’t work. When making a go/no go decision, we’re looking for forecast seas of one to two feet. If everything else is perfect or we absolutely have to get moving (which seldom happens because as cruisers we don’t travel on a schedule), then we’ll consider two to three foot seas. But if we see that the forecast calls for three to five feet or more, then forget it, we’re staying put, even if the winds and weather are favorable. High seas make for a miserable passage, which often means missing out on an otherwise nominal weather window because the seas are still too high from a previous weather system.

Now we’ve met some cruisers that will laugh at that. “Three to five foot seas? That’s nothing!” they’ll say. But here’s what we’ve learned. The forecast wave height is for the average sea state. If the forecast is for 1 to 2, you’re going to experience quite a few 3 footers. If they’re calling for 4 to 5, well, you’ll have more than a few 7 footers hitting you. And for us on our boat, this would be dangerous. Not because the boat can’t take it, but because the chance of one of us getting hurt increases exponentially with sea state. In 1 to 2 footers, it’s not too hard to move around, as long as we’re careful and always keep one hand on the boat. It’s possible to put a pot on the stove to make coffee or heat up a meal. Above 3 feet, the boat will start pitching and rolling enough that going below and moving around can be dangerous. The stove gimbal is hitting its stops, which means pots won’t stay put, so it’s strictly sandwiches and water rather than hot food and coffee.  Spending hours holding on to the stern pulpit to keep yourself upright is tiring, and fatigue leads to loss of focus. Then you try to go below, miss one of the ladder steps, and fall into the cabin and get hurt while 50 miles offshore.  Following 5 foot swells cause the boat to roll 25 to 30 degrees or more, and beating into them causes the bow to bash into the waves. It can be tolerated for a few hours. But a day or more? No thank you.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Next we look at forecast precipitation. We live under a 63 foot aluminum pole, and when we’re out on the ocean, we’re the tallest thing by far from us to the horizon. So if they’re predicting thunderstorms, we don’t go. It’s just that simple. Much better to just wait it out in the marina or anchorage, where at least we’re not the only tall aluminum pole around. If the forecast is calling for showers, but not thunderstorms, then it comes down to intensity. A little light rain isn’t that big a deal, we have foul weather gear for that. But if they’re calling for moderate to heavy showers, we’ll probably stay put. It might be different if we had a full enclosure for our cockpit, but we don’t, and there’s only so many hours of standing at the helm in the rain that we can tolerate. If it’s not a day that you’d consider riding a motorcycle, it’s probably not a good day for a passage.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Now we get to wind. You might think that as a sailboat, this would be higher on the list, but here’s what we’ve learned about wind in our 4,000 miles of travel. It almost never blows from the right direction at the right speed. It’s either too little, too much, or coming from the wrong direction. If we only traveled when the wind was right for sailing, we’d hardly ever go anywhere. So if the prediction is for force 3 or less (up to 10 knots), we’ll go, regardless of the forecast direction. We’ll consider going in a force 4 wind (11 to 16 knots) if it will be behind us, but we won’t go if we’ll be reaching into it, because the apparent wind will be in the 20+ knot range. Greater than force 4, we’re staying put. Even as seasoned a sailor as Bruce Van Sant, author of the cruiser’s bible The Gentlemen’s Guide To Passages South, says that there’s no point in traveling in anything higher that a force 3 wind unless you have no other choice. It’s not relaxing, it’s hard work, people can get hurt and boats can break, and that’s not why we cruise. It’s probably different if you have to be at work on Monday, but cruisers don’t sail to a schedule. We just don’t do it.

So here’s the dirty little secret about sailboats, at least as far as cruising goes. Seventy-five percent of the time, you’re going to be motoring or motorsailing. Only a quarter of the time or less will you actually be able to arrive at your destination under sail alone. So yes, make sure those sails and rigging are in top shape, but also consider adding that three bladed prop, make sure your engine alignment is spot on, and do whatever propulsion system upgrades you may need in order to feel confident about running your engine for days at a time without a break. You’ll probably need a spare alternator or water pump much more than a spare sail.

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

After considering the sea state, rain and wind, we like to take a look at the moon phase. Since you only get one full moon a month, it’s not something you can really factor in to your decision to go if everything else is in alignment. You just take what you get. But let me tell you, spending a night at sea in conditions that require sail adjustments or movement about the deck is infinitely better when there’s actually some light to see by and you’re not totally dependent on a headlamp. And it’s extremely comforting to actually be able to see a horizon at night, especially when crossing a shipping lane full of fast moving freighters or threading through a pack of fishing trawlers. The total darkness of an overcast night with a new moon, where you can hear the waves but can’t see them because the world beyond the lifelines is invisible, can be unsettling. So we like to make long passages during times when the moon is at or near full.

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Yes, the stars are breathtaking out in the middle of a calm sea on a clear, moonless night while ghosting along under sail in a gentle breeze. But in 14 months of travel, we’ve experienced exactly two nights like that. Every other of the more than a dozen overnight passages we’ve made have been cloudy, dark, rolly, windy, or some combination of the four, while the steady drone of the engine numbed our ears and physically wore us down.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

So those are the criteria that we evaluate when determining when to head out onto open water. If you’re one of those people whose response is “we go regardless of the conditions,” or “we sail through thunderstorms and force 7 winds all the time,” I have one simple question for you. Why? I’d like to hear what motivates you to do such a thing.

Crossing Lake Wimico

Crossing Lake Wimico

Since much of this discussion probably makes ocean passages sound less idyllic than you may have pictured, some of you may be asking the question, “Is it worth it?” My answer is “Yes, it is.” Passages can be a trial, a measure of determination and a test of endurance. But the return on the investment is that we get to spend weeks, even months visiting some pretty amazing places that most people are lucky to experience for just a handful of days. And in the final balance, that’s what cruising is all about.

Ten Days In George Town

Ah, George Town—an essential punch on every cruiser’s ticket. It’s the world’s largest floating campground and RV park for sea gypsies.

You (We) Are Here

You (We) Are Here

You haven’t fully sampled all that east coast cruising offers if you’ve never searched for a good spot to anchor among a hundred other boats in Elizabeth Harbor or sipped a cold one at the Chat N Chill, plowed your dinghy through a rage while trying to enter Lake Victoria or grabbed lunch at the pool bar at Peace & Plenty.gt6

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Leaving Lake Victoria

Leaving Lake Victoria

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George Town is to cruisers what Sturgis is to bikers or Oshkosh to pilots. It’s a central gathering point for members of the tribe, a place that allows you to mingle with hundreds of people with similar interests and experiences, and the nautical hajj that every cruiser should make at least once. You may love it or you may hate it, but I doubt you’ll sail away noncommittal.gt2

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The Smallest Cruisers

The Smallest Cruisers

There were things we liked about George Town.  Probably number one for us was the ability to easily obtain provisions, fuel, and adult beverages, and ATMs were convenient. Unlike other locations in the Exumas, the markets in George Town were relatively well stocked. gt15

Both the Exuma Market (groceries) and the nearby Shell Station (fuel) had their own dinghy docks.gt14

Top II Bottom was an amazing little hardware store reminiscent of something from Mayberry RFD, with narrow aisles crammed ceiling high with virtually anything you could possibly need, provided you had the time to search for it (all the merchandise was placed in apparently random order, like snorkel gear in the kitchenware section and electrical supplies mingled with fishing tackle).gt11

Most of the residents were extremely friendly. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the only place we’ve been where perfect strangers would say, “Welcome to the Exumas! (or sometimes, Bahamas) in lieu of a “hello” as we’d pass on the street.  I found it interesting that the town re-broadcasts the four major US networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox), allowing you to watch the evening news or stay up with what’s happening on Dancing With The Stars if such things are important to you. Even Nassau didn’t offer that. And there was near-4G cellular service, which let us use our phones as hotspots to get good internet access for all our digital devices.

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The Busiest Boat In The Harbor!

The Busiest Boat In The Harbor!

What didn’t we like about the town? First, it was just too busy. When we were there, we shared the harbor with over 100 cruising boats of every shape and size. We were told that if we had been there a couple of months earlier, there were as many as 400 boats. The island’s only pumpout boat has been out of service since a hurricane blew through last year, so just let that thought roll around in your mind a bit.  There was supposed to be a harbor area WiFi service called Bahamas WiMax that we paid $20 for. It hardly ever worked. Various power boats roar through the Stocking Island anchorage at high speed, caring not a bit that their wakes are throwing your dinghy up onto your stern and tossing your boat around while you’re trying to cook breakfast/lunch/dinner. In fact, one of the worst offenders was named FU2, which probably tells you all you need to know about the attitude of the Bahamians who drove it. The radio (channel 68) is constantly busy, with everyone in the harbor seeming to need to talk to everyone else about something very important all day and much of the night. But without a doubt, the thing we least enjoyed about our stay there was how rolly the harbor was. I think we had one decent night’s sleep in ten days. No other place we’ve anchored in the Bahamas has had our boat rocking and pitching so much. The wind clocked completely around the compass during our stay, but the rolling never stopped, except for the one calm day we experienced when the winds finally dropped below the 15-25 knot range.

But with all that, it was still a journey I’m glad we made. Not only because we got to see the Family Island Regatta, but because George Town showed us that maybe we’re not as crazy as some people may think. All of our friends and relatives generally express some small level of interest in how we’re living this stage of our lives, but could never imagine themselves doing something similar. They’re just too connected to their material possessions and too comfortable with their mortgages and steady jobs and cable TV bills and lawn maintenance and knowing that every week is going to be pretty much a replay of the week before and the week before that, with next week looking like more of the same. And heaven knows we’ve seen more marinas than we can count that are filled with boats that never go anywhere. But after our first day here in George Town, Rhonda turned to me and said, “I can’t believe there are this many other people during this!” by which she meant people using their boats for travel and adventure, i.e. cruising. You know, people like us.

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If you consider yourself a cruiser, you really need to visit George Town at least once.

Happier Hour And The Very Good Deal

We first heard about Emerald Bay Marina (or The Marina at Emerald Bay as they like to call themselves on the VHF) from another cruising couple we met in Nassau. During our travels we often learn of places that weren’t originally on our radar from talking to other boaters. I’d go so far as to say that probably half the places we’ve made a point to visit were places we’d never even heard of when we set out for the Bahamas last December.

When another couple we were having sundowners with several weeks later, this time at Allen’s Cay in the northern Exumas, also mentioned Emerald Bay, it cemented the notion that maybe this was a place we should visit. And when weather delays kept pushing back our arrival in George Town, and we found ourselves staring April 15th in the face and needed to find some reliable internet to do our taxes, the Marina at Emerald Bay sounded like a very good option since we were in the area.

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So we pulled in for a few days. To do our taxes. And catch up on laundry. And grab some provisions and restock our liquor cabinet. And then the weather closed in.

We’ve been here now for two weeks, listening to the wind blow. A steady 15 to 25 knots from the northeast, with gusts on some days into the 30’s. But before you tell us to suck it up and not let a little wind scare us, I should point out that the marina entrance faces northeast, and runs close to a shallow reef. When the wind blows strongly from anywhere north of east, large breaking waves sweep the inlet.

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We watched boats try to leave. And the breakers stopped them dead like they hit a wall, and then tossed them around like a cork in a tempest. There just wasn’t anyplace we needed to be that merited chancing an exit through those waves. As I said to another boater who thought he could impress or inspire us with tales about worse conditions he’d endured in the past, we had no reason to deliberately put ourselves in a situation where one little engine hiccup could cause us to lose the boat.

But here’s the good news. If you’re going to be stuck somewhere for a while, it would be hard to beat The Marina at Emerald Bay. Because it would be hard to think of a place that was better at serving the needs of cruisers like us.

There’s pretty good, free WiFi, and a strong cell signal. The shower room is among the best we’ve seen in our travels, with individual rooms each containing a sink, toilet and enclosed shower, all cleaned daily. Modern floating docks in very good condition. The laundry facility? Several washers and dryers, all late model front loaders, and they’re totally free! Yes, free. A free DVD lending library with several hundred movies. A pleasant, professional staff. And probably the nicest clubhouse we’ve ever seen. Even nicer than any yacht club we’ve visited.

The front desk check-in.

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The reading room.

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The coffee bar, replenished daily.

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The boater’s  lounge.

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More of the boater’s lounge.

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The TV room, with American satellite TV.

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Even a complimentary internet-connected computer for those who don’t have their own laptop.

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We forgot to take a picture of the fitness center and weight room, but we did grab a shot of the billiards table.

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Now none of this would surprise many of you if I told you that we were paying $5, $4, even $3 a foot to stay here. But get this. Our charge to stay at The Marina at Emerald Bay has been 50 cents a foot. That’s right. Half a buck per foot per night. So for our 37 foot boat, we have the free laundry, free WiFi, free DVD library, showers and coffee bar and lounge and computers for less than $20 a day.

But wait, there’s more! It’s called Happier Hour, and it takes place every Monday at 5:30. You see, The Marina at Emerald Bay is owned by Sandals Resort, and to make us feel part of the family, they throw a free weekly party for the marina guests.

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Just be sure to be on time, because the rum punch and food goes fast once the bell rings!

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Not enough for you? Well, there’s a Greg Norman designed 18 hole course right next door that wraps along the shore like Pebble Beach, and of course, the Sandals Resort that I mentioned in our previous post is just a few minute’s walk down the beach. They’re not free, of course, but with all the money you can save by staying at the marina, well, maybe you can afford to splurge a little!

What’s the catch, you ask? Well, there are two. First, in order to secure the 50 cents per night rate, you have to stay a minimum of three nights (but honestly, why would you want to leave after just one or two nights?). The second is that the bargain rate dockage comes with no services. That’s no water, no power, no pumpout. Just a space at a dock to tie up your boat. But since we make our own water and power, and the temperatures are still cool enough to be comfortable without air conditioning, this hasn’t been a problem for us. But if you absolutely need power and water for air conditioning and the ice maker, well, the rate is $2.75 a foot a day, plus metered utilities.

But honestly, who would have believed you could find such value here in the Bahamas, land of the $18 hamburger and $45 case of beer?

Yes, I Am (Or Theoretically Could Be) A Pirate, 200 Years Too Late

So we’re currently stuck at Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma Island waiting yet again for weather. We’d heard a lot of good things about the marina here at Emerald Bay and what a first class operation it was from cruisers we met on our way south, and we’ll have more to say about that in another post. But today we want to talk about the enjoyable time we had yesterday.

Emerald Bay Marina is owned by Sandals, which also operates the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort that’s just down the beach. Rhonda and I decided to go for a walk on the beach yesterday, because we’d heard that it was a shortcut to a local bakery in Roker’s Point where you could order fresh Bahamian bread for pick up the next morning.

So we’re strolling along a typical Bahamian beach (beautiful clear blue water and nice almost-white sand) when we happened across the beach-side entrance to Sandals.

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There were water toys scattered about and pretty little cabanas full of Sandals guests relaxing and enjoying the day, and one of the first things I noticed is that there really didn’t appear to be any sort of control over access to the resort from the beach.

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So I started looking a little closer at the folks on the beach, and the second thing I noticed is that no one appeared to be wearing any sort of wristband or tag that identified them as guests of the resort.

So I turned to Rhonda and said, “You know, I’ll bet that in theory, (since this was a purely hypothetical conversation, after all) we could just walk right into Sandals and check it out, since there really doesn’t seem to be any type of gate or fence or person checking IDs.

It actually seemed like it would be a reasonable thing to do, because the marina, being an extension of Sandals Resort, offered a resort day-pass for $160 per person, and we’d discussed possibly buying a day’s access for my birthday next Tuesday. Surely they’d understand if we wanted to first take a quick look to see if it merited $320 for a one day pass for the two of us?

And then I said to Rhonda (purely theoretically, of course), “And you know, since the resort is an all-inclusive, I’ll bet if we just walked up to the pool bar like we belonged there and asked for a couple of beers, they’d more than likely serve us, because I doubt the wait staff checks room keys or anything.”

“Do you think so?” Rhonda asked apprehensively, as she is not a natural born pirate and somewhat uncomfortable with such speculation.

“I dunno for sure, but I’ll bet you the servers don’t care, particularly if you throw a couple of bucks their way,” I offered hypothetically.

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“And I’ll bet we could even enjoy some of the activities and perhaps even relax by the pool. If we were to try, that is,” I conjectured.

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Let’s just say that it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable day.

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Were we pirates? Well, who’s to say, really? Maybe the title of this post reveals a hidden truth. Or maybe it’s all just an opportunity waiting for someone with a sense of daring and adventure to exploit. We’ll never tell… 🙂

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The Bahamian Ghost Town

We first heard about Lee Stocking Island from some cruisers we’d met further up the Exumas. It was an odd place, they told us. It had been home to a large marine research station that had been suddenly and completely abandoned in 2012. The crew just got on boats one day and left, leaving everything behind. As recently as two or three years ago, they said, you could still find computers sitting on desks, outboard motors on skiffs, and equipment in the labs.

It sounded like an episode of Lost. This we had to see.

It was a short trip from where we had anchored at Rudder Cut Cay to see David Copperfield’s underwater sculpture The Piano. Only 12 miles or so.  Of course, we had to thread our way out Rudder Cut and then back in through Adderly Cut. Navigating cuts, which are the breaks between the Exuma Cays that provide passage between the Banks and Exuma Sound, is one of the most dangerous navigational challenges you face down here.  Huge volumes of water stream through the cuts, generating strong tidal currents. The tumultuous reversing seas and standing waves that sometimes arise, as well as numerous reefs and rocks, have ended more than one cruiser’s journey. We then had to ride a rising tide to clear a large shoal in order to get into the anchorage. But hey, it was only 12 miles or so.

It took a radio call to boats already in the anchorage for guidance on navigating our way in. An hour of seeing a foot or less under our keel left Rhonda craving a stiff drink by the time we finally dropped the anchor. But we obviously made it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Three or four weeks ago, we would have just passed on by. But after dozens of Cays and weeks of navigating the shoals and channels of the Banks, I was sure we could do it.

So what did we find? Here, have a look.

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I can’t believe Hollywood hasn’t made a horror movie here. We walked about the property for an hour, the only people there, feeling a bit uncomfortable and out of place, as if we shouldn’t be intruding in this Bahamian ghost town. It definitely wasn’t your typical Exumas experience. But it’s a stop I’m glad we took the time to make.

And by the way, you may have noticed that it’s been darn near a month since we’ve updated our blog. That’s entirely due to how rare it is to find a decent internet connection here in the Exumas. While we’ve occasionally been able to get a good enough connection from a nearby BTC (Bahamas Telephone Company) tower to do a quick Facebook update and sometimes even upload a few pictures, it has been over four weeks since we’ve had WiFi with enough bandwidth to do a blog post. But we arrived today at Emerald Bay Marina on Grand Exuma Island, where it looks like we’ll be hanging out for at least a few days, maybe a week, to wait for some windy weather to blow through. We’ve seen and done some amazing things in the last four weeks, so maybe we’ll have to do a mother-of-all-update posts to catch everyone up!

Amps In The Bank, Water In The Tank, And Spending A Day In Nassau

After four long days, the winds have finally stopped howling, and Rhonda and I are getting ready to make our next move. It’s about time, as 96 hours of listening to the rigging hum and feeling the boat rock and rub against the pilings was just about all we could stand. It’s a little over 30 miles from Palm Cay Marina to Allen’s Cay at the northern end of the Exuma island chain. Our plan is to settle our tab and throw off the lines in the morning and skirt Yellow Bank as we head southeast. The charts say the Bank is 12 feet deep with numerous coral heads that reach to within 3 to 4 feet of the surface (our keel is 5 feet deep). It requires visual piloting, which means we have to make sure the sun is high and the sky is clear so that we can read the water and dodge the keel munching stacks of coral. We’re thinking we’ll probably take the scenic route, skirting the edge of the bank rather than cutting straight across. It will add a few miles to our sail, but it should be quite a bit easier on our nerves.

To prepare, we spent the day giving Eagle Too a much needed bath. I also ran the water maker to fill the tank, and turned on the battery charger to top off our house bank with plenty of fresh electrons. With everything full, we’re basically ready to go.

So I mentioned in my previous post that Palm Cay Marina has a little car available for running errands. Your use is limited to two hours, and since it takes 20-25 minutes to get into Nassau and the same to get back, you have to plan your trip to make the most of the just-slightly-over-an-hour that’s left to do whatever it is that you need to do. On our grocery/pharmacy/liquor store runs, we literally plot our movements in advance and head into town with lists in hand to make the most of every minute. But the other day we had an idea. We wanted to spend an afternoon just sightseeing. More than you could fit into a two hour window. But we didn’t want to have to rent a car. So when we found out that Bob and Wendy on S/V Journey also wanted to play tourist for a while, a plan was hatched. We signed up to take the car from 11AM – 1PM, and they took the 1 – 3 PM. And like that, we had a ride for half a day!

We headed for The Queen’s Staircase, which was hand-carved by slaves from a hill of solid limestone in the 18th Century.

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We hiked up to Fort Fincastle, with its commanding view of the cruise ships in the harbor.

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We wandered through the grounds of the government buildings.

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And stumbled upon a rum distillery.

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We explored the former gracious manor home Graycliff, now operated as an exclusive hotel. We were in awe of their lobby “tree” made entirely of wine bottles!

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Graycliff has its own cigar factory, which I had to see (and sample the wares).

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We took in the general sights around town.

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And then stopped by the Rum Cake Factory, where they sell absolutely amazing cakes for only $5 each. They were better than Tortola Rum Cakes for a third the price.

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A quick stop to pick up some “takeaway” street food to bring back to the boat for dinner later.

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And then our time ran out and we had to return to the marina. But we packed a lot of the sights, sounds and feel of all that is Nassau in four short hours!

Waiting Out Weather

We originally planned to stay here at Palm Cay Marina for three or four days in order to make a grocery run and catch up on our laundry. But then we looked at the weather. The forecast called for wind. Lots and lots of wind. Gale force wind. The kind of wind that makes sitting at anchor damned unpleasant.  So we decided that we’d much rather wait it out here in this snug little harbor tied firmly to a pier. And like that, our three to four day visit is now entering its second week. And there are at least two, possibly three more days of this wind yet to come.

While we may be sailors, we’re the leisurely cruising sort. There’s nothing about heading out under a gale warning that we find appealing. Since I often tell people that we have no place in particular to be and all the time in the world to get there, we feel no urgency to get moving until the conditions are right. Besides, this is a pretty nice place. There’s a bar, a restaurant, a beach and a pool. The washers work in the laundry room. They even have a little Toyota that you can check out for two hours at a time to run errands. We’ve used the time to do some shopping and a little sightseeing, and we’re taking advantage of the pretty decent marina internet to catch up on our banking and start our taxes and do some software updates on all our various devices. We’ve even been able to catch up on a few of the TV shows we’ve missed since leaving Florida by streaming episodes (which is not as easy as it sounds, but I’ll have more on that another day).

But still, our marina fee of $80 a day really starts to add up after a while. It’s putting quite a dent in our cruising budget. So hopefully in the next few days this wind will blow itself out and we’ll be on our way. From here, we’re jumping over to the Exumas to start working our way south towards George Town.

But for now, let’s take advantage of the fast WiFi to catch up on pictures!

We’ll start with this taste of what it’s like to wake up after a night spent anchored in the middle of the Great Bahamas Banks. No land in sight, but only 18 feet deep!

On the second day of our trip from Bimini to Nassau, we tucked into what we thought was a nice little anchorage between Chub Cay and DIamond Cay. Chub Cay has been a major mecca for sport fishermen that want to hunt for the big ones in the deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. Unfortunately for them, it was clobbered by hurricane Matthew last year, and is only now starting to get back on its feet. And the nice little anchorage turned out to be a mirage. When I dove on the anchor to check its set, I learned that the nice big patch of white sand that we’d settled over was actually a flat table of white limestone, and the anchor was just sitting on top of it. Fortunately, extremely light winds were forecast overnight, so we just put out a hundred feet of chain and called it a night. Besides, there was an unlocked WiFi network available that let us check weather and update Facebook.

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The next morning we rose with the sun and pointed Eagle Too towards Nassau. The day started dead calm.

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We tried to motor-sail, but there just wasn’t any wind to be had and we eventually gave up. When it did finally start to blow, it was dead on the nose, and since we needed to be at Palm Cay Marina before they closed the gate in the evening, we continued motoring. Rhonda put out a couple of fishing lines, but only managed to add to her collection of seaweed.

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By mid-afternoon, we passed Atlantis on Paradise Island, which anyone who’s been to Nassau will recognize.

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Dodging the cruise ship and mega-yacht traffic, we hooked around the eastern end of New Providence Island to reach Palm Cay Marina, our destination, where we quickly settled in and made ourselves at home.

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Among cruisers, Nassau is considered a bit of an armpit. The main harbor is crowded and dirty, and crime is rampant. Even marinas with security have had problems with thieves approaching at night from the water on paddle boards to burglarize yachts. Palm Cay Marina is several miles from Nassau, and has security both from the land side, and from the water as well. To enter from land, you have to get past this guy.

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And believe it or not, they pull up a chain barrier to lock the waterway into the marina at dusk.

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It’s a shame it has to be this way, but it is what it is, and as the Capitol of the Bahamas, Nassau is the best place to run parts, obtain stores, fill prescriptions, or send and receive any type of mail. So we picked a place where the security is tight enough that many people don’t even lock their boats. And did I mention the free loaner car?

OK, it’s not really much of a car. And the steering wheel is in the wrong place. But the streets get a bit narrow and they drive on the wrong side of the road here, so it works. With Rhonda helping remind me to keep left (especially at traffic circles), we made it into town and back without incident. My biggest problem was my tendency to turn on the windshield wipers whenever I wanted to signal a turn, because the control stalks were reversed on the steering column.

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If you’re weeks out from seeing a major grocery store, we discovered you’ll find everything you need at Solomons. And the prices weren’t even that bad. Some things were a bit higher than we expected, but the meat and vegetable prices really weren’t much more than we were used to paying at home. And the selection was terrific. And we could even buy beer by the case! In Bimini, we had to purchase by the can or bottle, as the stores didn’t want to give a case price, but rather protect their margins by charging by the can.

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So if ever there’s a reason to deal with all that is Nassau, the opportunity to re-provision at a well stocked grocery store is right up there.

Our groceries stacked on the pier waiting to be brought on board.

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In our next post, we’ll go a little bit rogue in order to use the loaner car, which is really for running short errands, to do some sightseeing.

 

Moving On

Rhonda and I have thoroughly enjoyed our month here at Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg, and we’ll probably soon have another post or two that talks about some of the things we’ve seen or done while here, but it’s time to move on. The engine checks are complete, the bikes are lashed down on-deck, the speed sensor is re-installed, and Eagle Too is ready to get underway. We postponed our departure by a day to allow an intense storm front to blow through, but tomorrow morning and the next few days are supposed to be beautiful, so after a quick breakfast we’ll be bringing in the lines and pointing the bow south. Next stop—Sarasota, where we’ll take a mooring for a few days. I hope that this time we’ll be able to linger long enough to visit the Ringling Museum!

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La Dolce Vita

A friend back home in Pensacola who follows our blog recently texted. He said Rhonda and I are living La Dolce Vita, or The Sweet Life. Now I can’t say that a cruising life is the never-ending vacation that some people might imagine, but I have to admit it can often be quite sweet. For example, when we passed through St. Petersburg, Florida back in April on our way to Cuba, we couldn’t linger long. But we knew we’d love to come back again someday. Well, it’s someday, and now that we’re here again, the fact that we live the cruising life means we can stay as long as we’d like. Really get to know the town. Here’s just a taste.

We arrived two days before Christmas, and enjoyed biking around, taking in the holiday decorations.

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There’s a Publix supermarket just a five minute bike ride north of us, and we take great advantage. Departure planning and preparations took up so much of our December that we forgot to plan holiday meals, and found ourselves on Christmas Eve with nothing good in the larder for Christmas dinner. But a quick stop at Publix, where we found the perfect boat-friendly rib roast (i.e. on the smallish side to fit our oven), and we were all set for a truly terrific meal.

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Love those LED candles, by the way. They add just the perfect touch of atmosphere, without setting off our smoke detectors!

As we pointed out last April in our post St. Petersburg And A Very Good Day, this is a terrific town to explore by bicycle. And one of the things we’ve noticed as we’ve cycled up and down the streets and avenues is that a good nickname for the town would be “City Of A Hundred Fountains.” They really like fountains here. Big fountains,

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Small fountains,

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even fountains in restaurants.

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I could probably do a lengthy post on just the fountains of St. Pete. Maybe I will someday. 🙂

When we arrived in town, we took a chance on a marina we’d never been to before when it turned out that there was no room at the inn (the municipal marina). The Harborage Marina at Bayboro is located less than a mile south of downtown, immediately adjacent to the University of South Florida St Petersburg campus.

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We initially had our doubts, because we really enjoyed the municipal marina’s location right in the middle of downtown. But Harborage does have some advantages. The biggest is the floating docks, which are actually hard to find in these parts. We’re less than five minutes from the heart of town by bike, and it’s a pleasant ride, past the USFSP campus and several small parks (which this town has in abundance).

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While researching the marina on Active Captain, we saw mention of a nice restaurant at the nearby Albert Whitted airport. Since it was so close, we thought we’d give it a try.

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They have a $6 gourmet cheeseburger special every Wednesday, and so far we’ve been there two Wednesdays in a row. It’s fun to have a tasty and inexpensive dinner while watching the planes and helicopters arrive and depart.

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Exploring the local dining options is one of our favorite activities, and we love how many bars and restaurants here are set up for al fresco dining. Eating outside in January (and being comfortable doing it!) just never gets old. We watched the Seahawks play at The Avenue.

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And we try to catch the happy hour at 400 Beach as often as we can, as they have half price draught beer and house wines from 3 to 6 PM.

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It’s hard to beat $3 for a cold pint while people watching and taking in the street scene. Plus it’s right across from the north yacht basin, so there are boats. Boats make everything better. 🙂

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Even though it’s in the heart of downtown, when you sit down in the courtyard at Red Mesa Cantina for dinner, you feel like you’re someplace truly distant and exotic. The surrounding wall of bamboo completely shuts out the city. And there’s a fountain.

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We even found a family run Cuban cafe just down the street from the Post Office. It’s fun to talk to people who run a Cuban restaurant about our experiences in Cuba.

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Eventually, perhaps in a couple more weeks, we’ll continue our journey south. But for now, we’re content to linger. Afterall, we’re in a place where the birds you see in trees and on power lines are likely to be parrots,

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and you can eat outside almost everyday.

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