Day 173, Year 10: Floating About on a Sea of Green

Day 173, Year 10: Floating About on a Sea of Green
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Weather: Sunny, Winds VERY Light (0-3 knots) and Variable
Latitude: 25 44.054 N
Longitude: 078 38.211 W
Location: On Mackie Shoal Headed NW to Florida-97 miles to Lake Worth Inlet

Well, we have been on a sea of green all day in water so shallow you can see the bottom, but we are motoring forward, not just floating about. We have had basically no wind all day and silky smooth seas, so at least motoring was easy. It is now 5 pm and the wind has picked up to a whopping 3-5 knots and we are now getting a NW swell that is disrupting our flat seas. We hope to get a little more wind overnight and into tomorrow morning, but the forecast calls for nothing more than 10 knots. So motor, motor, motor it is. We feel lucky to have this opportunity to head back to Florida with benign weather, so I shan’t complain about the motoring. It is just not my favorite way to travel. So far we have come about one-third of the distance of our total passage. We will pass an area referred to as Hens and Chickens (some little rocky islets) sometime after midnight and head across the Florida Straits. It will not be until the early hours of morning that we reach the fastest Gulf Stream current and once we do, it should be with us almost all the way to the Lake Worth inlet. The weather guru, Chris Parker, said this morning that we will have 3-4 knots of current and then it will abruptly go down to zero. So tomorrow morning’s part of the trip should be a fun ride. The northerly winds have gone away so the air temperature is once again hot. Our outside thermometer is in the sun right now and it reads 115 degrees F. But, of course, that is not the case. It is probably in the low 80’s and is 87 inside the boat with the motor going. But I shan’t complain about the heat, either. I just hope it is still this warm when we get to Florida.

I asked Mark today where he would go if he could return to the Bahamas next winter and all he said is further south. Actually I don’t think we would return to the Bahamas and the reason has nothing to do with the Bahamas. It is just too difficult to match the weather with Mark’s cancer treatment schedule, and then too expensive to fly to and from Florida. At over $600 a trip, we couldn’t afford many of those round trips. So if we do have the opportunity to continue to sail next winter, one possibility would be to go offshore from Norfolk to the British Virgins and then on to Puerto Rico. Mark could get treatments in Puerto Rico and our US Medicare and supplemental insurance would be valid there. That’s all too far into the future to think about right now, but I know both of us are silently thinking that spending another winter up north on the boat would just not be fun. So we will seek some alternative that we can afford. I don’t think either one of us wants to return to south Florida in Windbird again. It is just too shallow and the anchoring possibilities are getting slimmer and slimmer as laws are passed to keep cruisers from anchoring. We did enjoy West Palm Beach and that is why we are returning there for this next week while we wait for Mark’s next treatment. It will be nice to have phone and internet service again, but with our ability to do email and post logs via the HAM radio, we didn’t miss instant communication as much as some people might. We chose not to buy any plans for phone use. Instead, we made Skype calls when we were in anchorages with internet availability. Those anchorages are few and far between in the Exumas, but Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park had internet you could purchase, as did the Yacht Club in Staniel Cay. And there was free internet in Black Point on Great Guana Cay which was greatly appreciated. Black Point also had a laundromat. For us, it had very little else to offer. But if you do want internet or need a laundromat or free drinking water, it is absolutely the go-to place in the Northern and Central Exumas. And it is a comfortable anchorage in anything but westerly winds. Lee and Lynda were there twice and spent more than a week there the second time. They really liked it. Two different boats, two different stories. It is that way with cruising, so when you ask people for advice, you need to know the details about their boat (draft and mast height) and their personal preferences. But I do think Lee and Lynda would agree that anyone coming to the Exumas needs a watermaker. They don’t have one and it was a constant worry about where the next water source might be. As we are motoring today, ye old watermaker is banging out its merry little tune. It is irritating to listen to until you realize that without it, you have no water. So we embrace the watermaker ‘music.’

As I am finishing up this log, we are passing just north of Mackie Shoals. This is one of the places that people sometimes just drop the hook and spend the night in settled weather. This means we are a about one-third of the way to West Palm Beach. If things go as expected, by this time tomorrow afternoon, we should be settled off the city docks in West Palm Beach-home for a week.

150401 Day 173 Bahamas–Sea of Green

Day 172, Year 10: New Providence Island to Chub Cay

Day 172, Year 10: New Providence Island to Chub Cay
Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Weather: Partly Sunny, Winds NE 8-12
Latitude: 25 24.579 N
Longitude: 077 54.621 W
Location: Chub Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas

We’re back where we started our Bahamian adventure and tomorrow morning we will head for West Palm Beach in Florida from here. It will be an overnight sail and we should arrive in West Palm around noon on Thursday. The moon won’t be quite full, but we should have plenty of light for our overnight. Unfortunately it looks like we will have to motor all the way. If we stayed here another day and left on Thursday morning, we would get to sail across the Gulf Stream. But the winds would be directly behind us (sound familiar?) and the seas would be 2-4 feet. My vote was to wait until Thursday so we could sail, but Lynda and Mark didn’t particularly like the idea of 4-foot seas on the beam with the wind behind us. Lee is anxious to get going but suggested that we leave tomorrow morning and anchor on the Bank tomorrow night to get a few hours of sleep. We compromised and decided to leave tomorrow morning, but not stop and anchor out tomorrow night. So after we listen to the weather, we’ll take off in the morning.

We just found out this afternoon that Lee and Lynda plan to leave West Palm on Friday and head home to Little River. If weather permits, they will go outside on some parts of the trip. But when the weather outside is ‘frightful’, they’ll stay in the Intracoastal. They bought a new condo while on this trip and the closing date is on the 20th, so they do need to move quickly. We will be in West Palm until Mark’s next cancer treatment on April 9 and then we will head back to Little River as well. We’d love to do the whole trip outside, but weather will make that decision. We will visit with Patsy and Joe, my sister and brother-in-law, in Little River, try to get our dodger repaired (the zipper for the ‘front window’ is broken), and then head back to Cape Cod. We expect to be there in early to mid-May.

There are a couple of things about West Bay on New Providence Island, our last night’s anchorage, that I must mention. One was the perfect palm tree that greeted us. It stood higher than anything else and as approached the anchorage. I looked through the binoculars to see that it was actually a cell tower decorated to look like a palm tree-a very Nassau kind of thing, but actually a nice way to hide an ugly cell tower. Then after the sun went down, the tip of land to the north of the anchorage lit up like Disney World and we could hear the music being played out into the anchorage. This tip of land is called Lyford Cay and a lot of very wealthy people live there. When I have internet, I’ll have to do a little research to find out what all the lights and music were about. Our entertainment here at Chub today was to snorkel on the reefs to the south of Mama Rhoda Rock. Dozier’s Waterway Guide to the Bahamas says the snorkeling on these reefs is stunning and Mark’s brother Steve said it is the best snorkeling site he’s been to in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, we were a little less enthusiastic. There are two huge reef systems, but most of the coral is dead. There is a population of elkhorn coral that is trying to make a comeback and there were a lot of fish, but only a limited variety. Lynda and Lee went with us, but Lynda didn’t stay in long. She didn’t wear a dive skin and she got cold very quickly. Mark came out next because his mask was leaking and then Lee got out as well. I was the last out of the water and my last sighting was a reef shark. I got a brief video so that I could show the others. None of us would call the snorkeling on the Mama Rhoda reefs stunning, but I’ve never met a snorkeling site that I didn’t like. If we were staying another day, I would go back and snorkel at higher tide. It was low tide and the reefs were almost exposed. It was very difficult to swim over them so we just swam around them. So to be fair, maybe a drift snorkel over the top of the reefs would look very different-maybe even stunning.

150331 Day 172 Bahamas–Snorkeling Mama Rhoda Rock Reef

Day 171, Year 10: Farewell to the Exumas

Day 171, Year 10: Farewell to the Exumas
Date: Monday, March 30, 2015
Weather: Partly Sunny, Winds NE 10-15-20
Latitude: 25 05.113 N
Longitude: 077 32.843 W
Location: West Bay, New Providence Island, Bahamas

After FIVE attempts at anchoring, we are finally securely anchored in West Bay at the western end of New Providence Island. What an ordeal. We knew the bottom here was hard with some sand patches, but having to re-anchor five times is a world record for us. But the important thing is that we are anchored and will be moving on to Chub Cay early tomorrow.

This morning as we sailed away from Hawksbill Cay, we said farewell to the Exumas. There is always a bit of sadness when you leave a beautiful place. Did we see and do everything on our list? Of course not. But did we make the very best of our time in the Exumas. You bet we did. And for always, when I think of the Exumas, I will think clear and BLUE. I’ve said over and over just how clear and beautiful the water is here and it comes in so many shades of green and blue. Even the most beautiful of the fish we saw when snorkeling were decorated with an electric blue, that once seen, you never forget. We saw and swam with rays and sharks, snorkeled and snorkeled and snorkeled some more, ate local lobster, enjoyed the feral pigs of Big Majors Spot and the iguanas of Bitter Guana Cay, and delighted in finding the food we needed to replenish the larder and a convenient airport for flying in and out at Staniel Cay. We even saw gulls that looked blue-green instead of white . . . but it was just a reflection from the water. And we found a ‘favorite place’-Cambridge Cay. People always ask us what our favorite place was as we sailed around the world and we can never answer that question. If someone asks us our favorite place in the Exumas, we now have an answer. And as an added bonus to our Exuma experience, we got to be in the same anchorage once again with our friends Ed and Lynne of Constance and sail with Kevin and Claire aboard Windbird. In keeping with the blue theme, I’ll say what fun it was to see ‘true blue’ friends in the Exumas. We visited all of the islands we had hoped to except for Big Farmers Cay. It was the southernmost island we had hoped to visit, but there just wasn’t time for that. Actually the captain had never thought we would get that far south in our limited time. I just hoped that we would. And yesterday as a farewell gift, we saw a tree with the most beautiful blue flowers. From looking through the books that I have onboard, I’ve identified it as a Lignum Vitae, also known as the Tree of Life. It is the national tree of the Bahamas and a very rare and special wood. And the blue flowers are stunning. But now onward we go.

This morning we had great sailing day as we crossed the Exuma Bank to the west end of New Providence. It was so cool this morning when we left Hawksbill that Mark put on his polar fleece jacket. Ugh! I was fine in short sleeves, but he was out on deck raising the sail and it was cool out there. By noon, the winds calmed down a little too far and went right behind us, so we had to motor sail the rest of the day. But it was still delightful. The weather report this morning looks like we are on track for a Thursday crossing from north of Bimini to West Palm Beach. And it looks like we will get to sail that leg. If the weather holds, we will leave Chub on Wednesday, motor overnight to the area just north of Bimini, exit the Great Bahama Bank, and sail away across the Gulf Stream. West Palm Beach . . . here we come, again.

150330 Day 171 Bahamas–West Bay, New Providence Island

Day 170, Year 10: Emerald Rock to Hawksbill Cay

Day 170, Year 10: Emerald Rock to Hawksbill Cay
Date: Sunday, March 29, 2015
Weather: Overcast Turning Partly Sunny Mid-Afternoon, Winds NNE 15-20
Latitude: 24 28.028 N
Longitude: 076 46.142 W
Location: On a Park Mooring at Hawksbill Cay S, Exumas

Once again we decided to head into the wind. We were headed north and a little east and the wind was from the northeast. But leaving Emerald Rock and moving north to Hawksbill Cay today gives us a head start in the morning as we head across the Exuma Bank to the west end of New Providence Island. Nassau is on the northeast side of this island and we are going to anchor for the night on the far west coast in West Bay. This will be day one of the trip back to Florida. If the weather permits, on day two of the trip we will stop at Chub Cay and snorkel the reefs at Momma Rhoda Rocks. From Chub it is either an overnight sail to West Palm Beach in Florida or it could take two full ‘daylight’ days if we simply drop anchor on the Grand Bahama Bank to get a little sleep before continuing on to Florida the next morning. All of this depends on the weather report we get in the morning from weather guru Chris Parker. In either case, we should arrive in West Palm sometime on Thursday. This has us arriving almost a week earlier than necessary, but if we don’t latch onto this weather window, we will most certainly be at least a few days to a week late for Mark’s next treatment on April 9. We knew from the start that we would have a total of six weeks to fit this trip to the Exumas into Mark’s cancer treatment schedule. We lost one week at the beginning waiting for weather and now we are returning a week early to beat the weather. That gave us only a month in the Bahamas, but it has been a glorious month of warmth, sunshine, snorkeling and snorkeling and snorkeling, and witnessing the most beautiful, crystal clear water in every shade of blue imaginable. It has been a great month.

We skipped Hawksbill Cay on our way south, so we were elated that we got the opportunity to stop here today. It is billed as the most beautiful island in the Exumas. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but it does have an interesting coastline. It has outcroppings of what I call the ‘prickly’ limestone (jagged and sharp) as well as layered limestone that that is much smoother. We are moored right in front of the entrance to a creek that goes inland a bit and there are beautiful white sand beaches. There are lots of snorkeling spots here, but by the time we got here, it was well after low tide so we chose not to snorkel. Instead, we picked up Lee and Lynda in our dinghy and headed about a mile north to a little beach with a path to some old Loyalist ruins. The Loyalists (loyal to England) moved from the northern colonies to Florida and then when Florida was given to the Spanish, some of them escaped to the Bahamas with their slaves. By 1785, the Bahamas were part of the British Empire and the Crown gave a grant to the Russell family to settle on Hawksbill. We found the remains of about five of the total ten houses that are here, saw the deep holes that were dug into the rock for watering chickens and pigs, found one beehive oven that was used for cooking as well as for incinerating conch shells that were used to make mortar for the walls, and walked along a wall that looks like it was built for protection. We saw a number of little rock iguanas and a beautiful little tree with intense purple-blue flowers. I’m going to have to do some research to figure this one out as I have never seen it before. But the bees sure loved it. They were happily buzzing from one flower to another.

We got an email from our daughter Heather back on Cape Cod just now and she said, “Guess what? It’s snowing.” This was written last night and I don’t think Heather sounded too happy about more snow. It’s almost April and the big snows from February have just melted with the rain of the past week. They are desperate for some signs of spring. So I’m not going to complain about the cooler temps down here right now. I’ll just mention that this NE wind is supposed to continue here in the Exumas throughout the week and the temperature will remain in the 70’s. The 80’s sure were nice. Maybe we’ll get something a little warmer as we head toward Florida. Or maybe we’ll need to fire up the propane heater again. Sure hope that is not the case!

I just took a break and went up to the cockpit to watch the sun go down. There were lots of clouds and red ‘sails’ which made for an interesting sun set. Sure hope those red sail are going to be our delight tomorrow.

150329 Day 170 Bahamas–Hawksbill Cay

Day 169, Year 10: Riding Out the Late Season Cold Front

Day 169, Year 10: Riding Out the Late Season Cold Front
Date: Saturday, March 28, 2015
Weather: Squall Overnight, Overcast All Day, Winds N 15
Location: Emerald Rock Mooring Field, Warderick Wells, Exumas

Today was spent riding out the late season cold front. The north winds have definitely cooled things down a few degrees here. The thermometer tells us the outside temperature is 77, but Mark just shut the hatches because it feels cold inside the boat with the wind blowing through. I’m sure those of you up north would die for 77 degrees right now, so I dare not complain. It is late in the year for this kind of cold front bringing north winds, but as you well know, the weather has a mind of its own and it doesn’t necessarily consult the calendar. Another cold front is forecast for next weekend and that is going to impact our timing for our return to Florida.

At 2:30 am I was basically thrown out of bed by the rocking and rolling of Windbird. But Mark didn’t even wake up! We were expecting a squall and it had arrived, but with only 30+ knots of wind, not the 40 or 50 that it could have packed. And it rained, but only for a short time. We bounced around a bit on the mooring and finally Mark came up to the cockpit to join me. When Mark came up, I went back to bed but couldn’t get to sleep. In a bit, I could feel that things had settled, so I went up to get Mark. We both went back to bed around 4 am and then I was up again at 6:30 am to listen to the weather. This morning I listened for a straight hour and a half trying to get the best handle possible on the coming week’s weather. And what it told me is that we either need to find a way to get to Florida by Wednesday or Thursday of this week, or we wait out the next cold front and return sometime after April 9. That is the date of Mark’s next cancer treatment. We’d love to linger longer, but sitting out these cold fronts is not a whole lot of fun. So hopefully we’ll be able to travel on. There are two different scenarios that will get us to Florida by Wednesday or Thursday of this week, but we will need to wait until Monday’s weather report to make the final decision as there is no weather report on Sunday. If we do decide to go for it, it will mean long days and an overnight, and it will mean that I don’t get to see Hawksbill Cay. But it can be done. According to the forecast, we should be having 20 knots from N right now, but we are not. So maybe we can actually start the trek north tomorrow which will make it a much more relaxed trip. But we don’t want to head directly N from here in 20-25 knot winds from N. So as always, we will make a decision in the morning after checking the real world weather outside.

This afternoon Mark and I made another dinghy trip into the Park office in the Warderick Wells North mooring field. On the way we had to find an out of the way place to make a contribution to Neptune. We got in the freezer this morning to find that six beautiful chicken breasts and a package of liver were not completely frozen. And you can’t take a chance with meat, so we had to get rid of it. We had this same issue when we were in the Indian Ocean with 80 degree water temps. We didn’t want to throw the meat overboard in the mooring field as we didn’t want to attract sharks. So on the way to the Park office, we got rid of the meat and then went to exchange a couple of shirts that Lynda and I had bought yesterday. She needed a smaller size and the shirt I bought had a stain on it. So I returned it for one with no stain. When we returned, Mark took our old VHF radio over to Sea Turtle. Their VHF radio transmits but does not receive and their portable VHF radio charger stopped working. So they basically had no communication with other boats. We bought a new VHF somewhere along the way in the South Pacific and had stored the old one. We both thought it was still working but Mark had wanted a new radio that would work with a remote microphone in the cockpit. Soon after he took the old radio over to Sea Turtle, I heard them call on Channel 16 and when I answered, they were able to hear me. So success!!! Hopefully the old radio will hang in there until we get back to Florida.

Day 168, Year 10: Happy Birthday, Lynda

Day 168, Year 10: Happy Birthday, Lynda
Date: Friday, March 27, 2015
Weather: Partly Sunny, Winds SSW 15-20
Location: Emerald Rock Mooring Field, Warderick Wells, Exumas

Lynda on Sea Turtle had birthday today. Unfortunately the seas are so rough that we weren’t able to get together this evening, but I did bake Lynda a birthday cake. She and Lee had so enjoyed the carrot cake in Black Point that I thought I would give it a try. But the only recipe I had onboard was in an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and when the cake was done, I have to say I wouldn’t recommend that recipe. But even though it was less than stellar, we took it over late this afternoon. As our dinghy rose up out of the water on a big wave, Lynda was on Sea Turtle’s side deck ready to grab the bag with the cake. Happy Birthday, Lynda!

We’ve been hobby-horsing on the mooring all day long, so I literally feel like we are ‘riding’ out the westerly winds. We have almost no protection from the south or the west, but hopefully the cold front will come through in the morning bringing north winds. I’m not looking forward to the cooler weather we will have with north winds, but we will have protection so hopefully the big waves will calm down. But despite the big waves, Mark and I took off at low tide this morning to snorkel out at the Malabar Cays. They are a mile from here and it was really a rough ride in the dinghy. About a quarter of the way there, I realized that I had left our snorkel masks on the seat in the cockpit, so we had to turn around to get them. It was too rough to snorkel on the south side of the cays, but we went to the north side and got some protection. I went in first and didn’t find anything very exciting, but Mark came along behind. He is having trouble with his mask leaking and the rubber of the mask also rubs raw some of the places where he has a facial rash due to the cancer treatment. So he didn’t stay in long. We had hoped to see turtles, but maybe it was too rough for them today. I did see a number of barracudas, two different kinds of rays, and a couple of lobsters, some beautiful Queen Angelfish (the size of a dinner plate, and one tiny (2 inches in length) juvenile Queen Angelfish. That made the whole snorkel well worth it to me. When we got back to the anchorage area, we stopped by one of the snorkel sights around Emerald Rock. I jumped in and immediately saw a beautiful Queen Triggerfish. She was a very pale blue with two electric blue lines on her face and outlining all of her fins. She had small lines radiating out from her eyes that made her look almost bug-eyed. I took some photos and then moved on. When I came back, an almost black triggerfish was in the same place with the same electric blue lines. When I got back to the boat I read that Queen Triggerfish can pale and darken dramatically, so I guess I was actually seeing the same fish. Seeing the Queen Angelfish juvenile and the color-changing Queen Triggerfish made my day.

150327 Day 168 Bahamas–Snorkeling Malabar Cays & Emerald Rock

When we got back from snorkeling, we changed clothes, went to pick Lynda up, and headed into the Park office which is about three-quarters of a mile north of us. Lee threw his back out yesterday and didn’t want to aggravate it any more by climbing in and out of a dinghy and bouncing through the big waves in the dinghy. So Mark, Lynda, and I went to the office to check in. We paid for three nights, last night, tonight, and tomorrow night, and are hoping that we might be able to head north to the next island on Sunday. While in the office, Lynda and I bought t-shirts and then went out to inspect the sperm whale skeleton on the beach. It was killed by ingesting plastic and is there as a reminder that plastic garbage must be carefully contained and never thrown overboard. It was quite interesting that there was a red plastic bag blowing about on the beach as we were taking photos of the skeleton. I guess not everybody is as careful as they should be.

150327 Day 168b Bahamas–Judy & Lynda at Park Headquarters