Category Archives: Where?

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

A Trip To Fantasyland

Rhonda and I have never been to a major boat show. We’ve attended some local hometown ones, but never one of those major metropolitan on-the-water tributes to nautical excess. So when we found out that the St Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show, billed as the largest boat show on the Gulf Coast, was happening right next door shortly after our arrival here in St Petersburg (purely a coincidence, as we had no idea it was in the works), we decided to attend. Particularly since they were giving free admission to military veterans.

It was amazing to watch the progress as a huge marina appeared from nowhere in the empty basin just south of where we’re docked. In a few days, docks and slips for hundreds of boats were set in place, complete with utilities, while several enormous exhibitor tents bloomed.

Once complete, hundreds of vessels of all shapes and sizes, dressed in their boat show finest, motored into the harbor and took their places along the piers, while hundreds of smaller boats were trailered into line along the shore.

There are probably a lot of things I could say about the experience, but the biggest takeaway was a general amazement at how much money there must be floating around waiting to be spent. Because the prices on these vessels were jaw dropping. We saw center console fishing boats that cost over $750,000. Oh sure, they had some nice LED lighting, plush upholstery and every form of marine electronics known to man, but they were still basically just tricked out 34 foot fishing boats. Or for a cool $1.5 million, you could pick up a 42 foot flybridge cruiser, with an outdoor galley on the swim platform and a 55” TV in the salon. But not to worry, financing was available with easy-to-make payments of under $6,000 a month.

You may have heard of Glamping? Would this be considered Gloating?

Prices in the seven figure range were the norm for anything larger than 40 feet, or not much bigger than what we currently own. It felt at times like we were on a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” excursion, taking a peek at a world filled with people who own private jets and have personal chefs (provided we first took off our shoes and filled out a customer contact card listing our personal info). It was pretty sobering.

Fortunately, the exhibitor tents offered purchasing opportunities for we mere mortals. From dinghies to new engines, water makers to yachting wear, there were definitely deals to be had.

We delayed pushing the button on a Defender order we’d been assembling just in case we could find some of the things we were in the market for at the boat show, and I’m glad we did. For instance, we saved over $80 on a new set of dock lines that we needed, and Eagle Too now sports a shiny new set of earrings that we picked up at the Garhauer booth for only $35 each.

3/4″ x 40 ft dock lines for only $55 each. Yes, you get excited about things like this when you live on a boat.

 

OK, they’re not really earrings, they’re spinnaker turning blocks, but we told Eagle Too that she looked really pretty wearing them.

After chatting up a character known as Bob Bitchin’ from Cruising Outpost (sort of a celebrity in the boating community), we snagged a pair of complimentary passes gaining us entry into the Cruising Outpost party, with live music and free pizza and beer.

Bob Bitchin’, our host for the evening.

So when you factor in the savings on the items we purchased and throw in a party with free beer and dinner, I feel we came out comfortably ahead financially.

We also had a nice long chat with David Marlow, the owner of Marlow Hunter, which is the home of Hunter Sailboats. It was pretty interesting to pick the brains of the guy who owns the company that built our boat.

The show was a lot of fun, and I do think that if we ever need to make a major purchase like a new dinghy, waiting for a show like this one can save a bundle. It’s pretty clear though that if we ever hoped to purchase a new boat (i.e. floating palace) like the ones we saw lining the docks, we’ll have to start buying lottery tickets.

Who doesn’t want a pink outboard?

By the way, I’ll have more to say in another post about some of the things we saw which convinces me that sailboats are now being designed by people who have never actually been sailing.

Saving The Worst For First

Some say that for cruisers, the voyage is the destination. But I guess we’ve never really thought like that. As we approach the start of our third year of cruising, we’ve definitely learned that for us, getting there is usually just something we endure in order to be there. We put up with cold food, fight seasickness and suffer the physical and mental fatigue of a 24 to 36 hour passage so that we can spend weeks exploring an interesting new town, drop anchor in a pristine cove, or immerse ourselves in the culture of a different country. Maybe if we had more idyllic, balmy tropical crossings under the light of a full moon we might feel differently, but it very seldom turns out that way. Our overnight passages have generally been cold, dark, unpleasantly tiring experiences.

Cruising Up The Gulf County Canal

We call Pensacola, Florida home and spend the summers there waiting out hurricane season. Unfortunately, because of its location, when the time comes to head south, our only choice is to do a pair of overnight passages, the first from Pensacola to St Joseph Bay, and another from Apalachicola to Clearwater.  These legs are by far our least favorite parts of voyaging, and we always approach them with reluctance and a touch of anxiety. It probably has something to do with the fact that when passing through these waters, we’ve either just departed Pensacola for what we know will be at least half a year away, and the sweet sadness of wishing friends and family farewell still weighs heavily, or we’re on the last leg of a long trip back home, and we’re generally suffering from a major case of “are we there yet?”

Tied To The Wall In Apalachicola

Contributing to our dislike of these legs are the short, choppy seas common in the northern Gulf in anything but the calmest conditions.  In order to have smooth seas, there has to be virtually no wind, as it only takes 10 to 12 knots of breeze on the shallow northern Gulf to start stacking up the waves.  No wind means 24 to 30 hours of motoring for each leg, and the constant drone of the engine can really wear a person down.

Welcome To St Petersburg!

With a rest stop for a 5 hour nap in St Joseph Bay and a night spent tied to the wall in Apalachicola, we managed to make Clearwater about 76 hours after leaving Pensacola, and motored over to St Petersburg Municipal Marina, our home for the next six to eight weeks, the following day. We had been pushing to take advantage of a three day weather window that would allow us to cross the Gulf in advance of an approaching cold front bringing rain and higher winds, and we made it to St Pete just as the window slammed shut.

After spending the holidays here in St Petersburg, a town we really enjoy, we’ll once again start working our way south. But for now, we’re just happy to be here, the trip from Pensacola to central Florida now comfortably behind us.

Making Space

If you’ve spent any time around boats, you know how valuable storage space is. There’s never enough room for all the “stuff” you want to bring onboard, and being a cruiser and liveaboard means life is a constant exercise in possessional triage, where every item has to have enough value and utility to make the cut and find a home on board, with the rest ending up stored ashore or disposed of. Things are even a bit worse when you own a Hunter, like we do. Hunter put a great deal of effort into packing the biggest living spaces possible into the hull, which makes the boat live like one that’s significantly larger. But it comes at the expense of little things like storage lockers. You get a lot of room to lounge on a Hunter, but not a lot of places to store stuff. So when we find a way to turn an unused area into a locker, we jump on it.

While waiting around to see what Hurricane Irma was going to do, we decided to start pulling out our cabin sole (interior floor) to apply some coats of polyurethane. When we unscrewed the chart table seat from the deck and removed the sole panel, we found this vacant, completely empty, totally unused void. There’s probably two whole cubic feet of potential storage there! Enough to allow for a significant expansion of our wine collection, an additional case of beer, or possibly even something practical, like groceries and spare parts.

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We know a really good, reasonably priced marine carpenter here in Pensacola, so I immediately gave him a call to ask him how busy he was at the moment. As things worked out, his truck was at the repair shop and he was just puttering around his shop working on this and that. Could he do a quick plunge-cut on a sole board to put in an access panel, I asked him? Sure, drop it on by, he said. So we dropped the panel off, and four hours later we had a newly cut and trimmed out access panel, opening up this formerly sealed void that probably hadn’t seen the light of day since April of 1997 when Eagle Too was built.

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Cutting the hole took a lot of the strength out of the panel, so before reinstalling it we attached a cleat to the head bulkhead to support the edge of the sole panel. I’m actually surprised the factory hadn’t put a support cleat here since that was such a large, unsupported span, and it explains why that particular floor board always creaked when walked on.

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Do you own one of the hundreds of Hunter 376’s (or possibly a 380 or maybe even a 386, which are later versions of the same boat)? Then you might want to look into opening up this enclosed void. Because it’s an easy way to create a couple of cubic feet of that most valuable of spaces, a place to store your stuff.

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.

breakers

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.

frontdesk

The reading room.

library

The coffee bar, replenished daily.

coffeebar

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.

poolroom

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!