HEADING DOWN THE WATERWAY
We left Oriental in the morning on Monday, November 7th just before 10 a.m. Of course there was the official flag raising ceremony where we not only flew the maple leaf from our stern but also the American Flag and the Salt Spring Island Sailing Club burgee from our starboard spreader. Unfortunately, we had to stop in Morehead City, after going only about 20 miles. We were obliged, as Canadians with a foreign (to USA) built boat to get a "Clearance Statement" in all major ports that we put into, starting in Morehead City with Cindy, the infamous customs agent we had heard such horror stories about. Hopefully this practice will lighten up a little as we go further South (at least that is what we have been told). We had thought about going outside (into the Atlantic) to save the hassles of the waterway but the weather was not conducive and we would have had to motor the entire way to Charleston into a headwind. Not fun, especially if it gets nasty. We will get our chance to go outside in Georgia or even South Carolina, perhaps.
At last, the work is done and we are ready to leave!
We got to Morehead City about 2 p.m. and after dealing with Customs, realized that with tide and hour it was not wise to leave, so we just remained at the Portside Marina dock overnight, leaving before seven the next morning. Interesting! A Canadian sailboat couple from Montreal greeted us at Portside and helped us tie up. Then a couple from Knoxville, Don and Joanne, with a monstrous power boat arrived. So, just the three boats at a quiet outside dock, and the marina was closed Monday for some reason. Judy and I wanted an early start before seven, so left our card on the marina door saying we would call back that day (Tuesday) or the next.
The first high bridge (of many) that we passed under on our way down the ICW.
Don and Joanne had us aboard 'Jade Explorer' for a tour and a beer. New boat in April - and what a machine! The engine room is larger than our salon and galley. They have a range of over 3000 miles on one fuel fill! Don gave us a myriad of specs and stats that we couldn't retain, but the boat has a separate, stand-by engine, an electricity power plant, and a 'bridge' with enough controls and instruments to last us a lifetime. Same, yet different, story as ours - sold their house and all their stuff and they're on the water. (They must have had a much bigger house and a lot more stuff.)
The next day, We had a short day of motoring to Camp LeJeune anchorage (Mile Hammock Bay) where we did a little anchoring practice before the crowds arrived. Ron gets the anchor out and Judy does the helm thing and setting of the anchor. Judy was so tired after the excitement of our successful first anchorage that she caught some Zzzz's in the cockpit before lunch! We were the second boat to anchor, around 12:30, then boat by boat more arrived, until the last one, 'Bianca', around 5:30, a total of ten, five Canadian sailboats, including ourselves & the couple at the dock in Morehead. So that's four Quebecers & the Albertan.
Judy sleeps after we anchor Pioneer for the first time!
Other boats join us at Mile Hammock Bay
Wednesday morning Bianca told us that they had run aground south of Mile Hammock, so when they got freed they had to come back to the Bay. They were a little shaken - but, as the day progressed, they proved to regain their composure and lead the armada down the ICW, relaying shoaling information back to the rest of us and getting bridges to stay open a few minutes longer for all of us to get through.
The military aircraft training over Mile Hammock was amazing. The helicopters are huge, low, noisy, and unlit in the darkness - but they shut things down around 7:30, so the rest of the night was very peaceful. This anchorage, although it got somewhat blustery in the evening, was the most calm of all the ones we were to experience over the next several days.
We left with the other Canadian boats at first light and anchored again in the early afternoon with them at Carolina Beach. This was our most traumatic day. We bumped over the bottom twice and ran aground once (but managed to wiggle off). Afterwards we realized that, being a full moon, the tides were at extreme highs and lows. High tide came at about sunrise and low tide at about 1 to 2:30 in the afternoon.
One of many enormous homes along the waterway
We had to get off the waterway before low tide or we were really pushing it! Both anchorages were good places but there was lots of wind shifting in the night. The result was an entirely different look the next morning. BUT.....our anchor held and we did not drag - nor did anyone else drag and bump into us!
The scenery along the way has been mostly giant southern style mansions owned by "non-locals" and designed to be their retirement homes. There sure are a lot of people who have a lot of money and like to live in seclusion! We passed very little river traffic on the way - thank goodness.....
This barge would have been our nemesis had we met it in some of the very narrow channels along the ICW.
Our fourth day out was our most challenging day with a fearsome jaunt down the Cape Fear River in high winds and a strong current. Although the Cape Fear River was choppy, windy, lots of current, Pioneer is tough and handled it like child's play.
This fishing boat played tag with us down the river and when it was foined by a ferry, Judy tightened her grip on the helm and got that serious look on her face for a while.
Playing tag with a fishing boat
Some Canadian boats went out to the Atlantic at Cape Fear, but we turned down the ICW and decided to try a marina, St. James Plantation. What a treat! New, and 95 cents per foot. Tom, the dock man, is truly a gentleman. It was getting on to low tide and the marina was well placed for an evening where we needed to shower, relax and stay warm - it went below freezing that night! Thank goodness for the little heater! It also gave us some time to solve some inverter problems we were having. The marina is a condominium development with a golf course and restaurant, a plan that we found recurring on our way down the waterway.
St. James Marina on the waterway
On Day 5 we crossed the border from North Carolina to South Carolina. We figured the air should be warmer here - not so! Temperatures have been dropping steadily and it seems common that the nights are in the low 40's. So.....we opted for a marina again tonight. There were no anchorages where we wanted to stay which was just before the infamous "rockpile" that is rumoured to claim one in every 30 boats that passes through it! We put in at Dock Hollidays marina just past the swing bridge so we could head into the rockpile at first light and a rising tide. We pulled in to Dock Holidays at about the same time as the couple we had met the night before at St. James marina (Ed and Connie). They had us aboard their large Catalina for wine and pleasant conversation. It was very cold there! The marina treat is making things more pleasant, and fun. today we could just walk to stores & stock up on a few things. Anchorages are tricky in these areas, and the tides are quite a factor in how far we travel each day and where we can stop. We also have to pay attention to bridge openings and the tides in the area so that we don't get caught up in currents leading to a closed bridge! Most of the bridges we passed through (with timed openings) were swing type bridges. One particular bridge that we passed through was the only pontoon bridge on the waterway. We waited patiently with eight other boats while it opened - very slowly!
Going through the pontoon bridge in South Carolina
Doc Hollidays was within walking distance of a Wal-Mart, drug store and a Hooter's restaurant with Wi Fi. South Carolina has on it's license plates "Smiling Faces Beautiful Places", but not quite so, at least not in their North Myrtle Beach Wal-Mart. Maybe they were just having a bad day - but, we were so unimpressed, verging on offended, that Ron told Customer SERVICE how they rated (very bad, without question) compared to the many great Wal-Marts we have visited in the last many weeks. Because of our need for internet access, we were forced to dine that night at Hooters. The customers (all guys) with the smiling faces having all the fun were the vacation golfers from out-of-state who pretty much filled the place. The only women were Judy and the scantily dressed "hootettes". Food was good! Service left something to be desired.
One of many "swing bridges" on the waterway
The next morning we started through the "rockpile". It was a scary place - a narrow canal dug out of the rock with rock ledges lining the shore. You really don't want to meet a barge or any other vessel coming through here because to ere off the narrow route is to run aground on rock not that nice soft ICW mud we are used to! We stayed at Heritage Plantation Marina after a quick ride with the 4 knot tidal currents down the Waccamaw River.
Judy navigates down the Waccamaw
We had considered staying in Georgetown but figured we could make better time by staying here and avoiding the trip into Georgetown. The weather is starting to change from sunny cold days to warmer rainy and windy days. We are glad we have the enclosure on the boat! This Plantation is a nice spot but the currents at the dock are very tricky. Ron is becoming an expert at docking in many different conditions. Judy is by far the one better suited to fenders and lines. No pictures here - we were either too nervous, vigilant or cold to catch any pics. At least we didn't meet any other traffic on our ride through the rockpile!
On Day 7 we had an uneventful ride. The tidal currents were against us but weak so the natural river flow overcame it and we made excellent progress. We anchored in Price Creek (Mile 448) just off the ICW. We were the first boat in the anchorage so we were able to pick and choose a spot. This area is a nature preserve and there are many interesting wildfowl. Otherwise it is very desolate - sort of like looking across a wheat filed in Alberta! One other boat appeared just before nightfall and set up their anchor. Once again the anchor seemed to set firmly the first time. Unfortunately we got severe thunderstorms and torrential rains all night. Apparently there were tornadoes in the area, but they stayed away from us. Pioneer held her anchor well and kept the motion down. The sound of the wind in the rigging was quite loud and the bilge pump cycled on 6 times to clear out the water that was managing to find its way in. We also found some leaky portholes that we will have to fix up before the next storm. Tomorrow we hope that the weather will be better for our trip into Charleston, SC. If not it will be another day at this anchorage.
The next day we made it to the Habourage at Ashley Marina - without reservations we were lucky to get the last spot on the front facing dock.
The bridge clearance into the marina is only 56 feet so we proceeded carefully and had about 8 feet to spare as we motored under the bridge. It would have been a little scary at high tide! The first night the winds were fierce and when the waves slapped at the hull it sounded like we were being hit by the dock or another boat. Needless to say we were up several times checking lines, along with our neighbours. All of us were eyeing the anchored boats across from the marina hoping that their anchors would hold and that we would not have visitors in the night!.
Pioneer, sporting her waterway moustache, moored at Ashley Marina in Charleston
We just had to get a picture of the infamous "moustache" on Pioneer that all boats seem to pick up in the waters of South Carolina. The water is like the colour of tea! Thank goodness the moustache will come off with a light application of "Sno-Bowl" (it's amazing the versatility of some toilet bowl products!)
The Francis Marion in Charleston
Charleston is very beautiful and old. There are palm trees everywhere and the seafood restaurants are great. We got few pictures just because it was too cold to sightsee much. We took time to do some more provisioning and laundry. Wednesday morning, Nov 23rd, we will head out and continue on to Beaufort SC - a two day trip for us. We met some great people once again. One woman, Julie, is the skipper of a huge classic trawler - the Francis Marion (shown here)- we were very impressed!
There were many large trawlers and power boats that were tied up at the marina, but none as impressive as the Francis Marion. We met another couple from Quebec on a smaller 30 foot sailboat who were very nice and heading our way tomorrow, so we may share an anchorage with them tomorrow night.
Palm trees line one of the streets that we walk along in Charleston
After Charleston, we had uneventful motoring days. Only a few bridges to go through - didn't really have to wait for either. Hopefully it will be the last bridges for a while! We were traveling with Allan and Felicity (s/v Voila) from Montreal, whom we met in Charleston. The plan was to sail together on the outside from Beaufort, SC to Fernandina Beach Florida. The first night we anchored in Fishing Creek, about half way to Beaufort.
Preparing to go through the lift bridge at Beaufort
Tonight we are at Port Royal Marina in Port Royal Sound, near Hilton Head. We are dieseled up, pumped out, Scout is rolled up on the deck and we are ready to head offshore in the morning. The course is plotted to Fernandina Beach - 24 hours away. But we will avoid Georgia and that will be a bonus. At least we won't have to worry about running aground, just keeping the food in our stomachs down - as we will be in following seas. The forecast looks OK. We will be sailing with another Canadian couple we have met from Montreal - Allan and Felicity on "Voila".
Tonight we had American Thanksgiving with the entire marina community. It was quite a meal - absolutely delicious.
Allan and Felicity join us for an enormous Thanksgiving meal.
None of us will need to eat tomorrow out on the water. That meal will last us for days!. Tomorrow is a big day - our first overnight sail - yes we are nervous but we are looking forward to the experience!
It was a memorable moment when at 10:00 a.m. on the morning of the 25th, Judy turned off the key and Pioneer was under sail in the Atlantic ocean. We made it to Fernandina Beach without incident but with a greatly heightened learning curve. The trip from Beaufort SC to Fernandina Beach Florida took 25 hours.
Judy turns off the engine so Pioneer can show us her sailing prowess
The seas were about 4-5 feet and rolling! The sky was clear and the winds 10 to 15 knots from the NE. Sunset was absolutely amazing as was seeing our first big ship up close!
Outside Beaufort the ship traffic was busy
Our first sunset out on the ocean
For most of the way we were on a broad reach but sometimes it was straight downwind. The Genoa needs a whisker pole to behave properly in a wing on wing downwind sail like that - we will get one asap. Before dark, we furled the genoa in to avoid the hassle of the sail flapping all over the place and not being able to see or do anything about it due to the sea conditions. Sailing at night is one weird experience. Judy got a little woosy, but Ron held his own like a trouper snacking on chilli (he had made that day before we put the sails up).
When we got into Fernandina Beach, we topped up the fuel tank and treated ourselves to a marina so we could sleep hassle free. Fernandina Beach has a nice, quaint downtown within walking distance. We shopped for fruit at a local market - fresh Florida oranges (yum!) and checked out the restaurants for dinner tomorrow night. We will stay here for another night before we decide whether to go out or traverse south on the ICW. They are big on pirates in this town - and gangsters! We enjoyed posing with them!
This pirate was no threat!
Ron appears calm - this "gangsta" was only carved wood!
We decided to stay here an extra few days to get some minor work done on the boat and to do some provisioning and sightseeing. The weather has been blustery and rainy for one day but the others were quite pleasant. We had dinner one night at a restaurant called the Crab Trap. It was delicious, especially the deep fried "gator".
We made very good progress for the next two days. We travelled with another sailboat "Bianca" from Fernandina Beach to Pine Island (just north of St. Augustine) on the first day. Bianca cruised at a faster speed than us so we were often trailing behind on the bridge openings! We both made good time, with minor delays when Bianca, with her 7 foot draft, ran aground near a dredging barge. It took about 25 minutes for the barge people to get her off and then we were on our way again. They were unable to get into the anchorage because of their draft, but at 5 1/2 feet, we were able to slip in and set up an anchor. In the Pine Island anchorage we met Larry and Sara from Neltje - a 117 year old steel boat that was very big and very interesting!
Larry and Sara (s/v Neltje) drop by to say hello at Pine Island anchorage
We also got some advice on the waterway hazards between Melborne and Ft. Pierce from another couple in the anchorage. The next day we made it past St. Augustine and, with the current in our favour, all the way to Daytona Beach where we anchored with a group of other boats (Sea Dream, Sarah, Seaesta and Crux). Maybe it was just our imagination, but the weather seemed to be getting warmer!
The waterway in this part of Florida is like a mud ditch (10-14 feet deep in the centre) dug into a shallow 3 foot deep body of water. The ditch in many parts is very narrow and on the odd occasion a passing boat will crowd you over to the edge - not fun!
Going down the narrow waterway in northern Florida
Just as we were sounding out the anchorage in Daytona, a muddy shoal reached up suddenly and grabbed us. Unfortunately, everything we tried would not get us off, so we called Towboat US (we have a membership that is sort of like CAA only on the water)- which turned out to be a good thing! Not only did we get towed off but the next day he escorted us and several other boats through a tricky part of the waterway north of Ponce de Leon Inlet.
December and Christmas is in the Air!!
On December 1st we left Daytona just before daybreak and made it to an anchorage near the community of Rockledge at about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was very quiet there and we were the only people in the anchorage. The next day it was off again just before daybreak heading for Vero beach or beyond. The scenery was definitely improving and it was looking like a tropical zone we were into. We even saw lots of beaches and sand! The current was in our favour and we actually made it to Ft. Pierce. We saw a few sunken boats on the trip (masts sticking out of the water!!) and were very glad that we were not there during the hurricanes. We anchored outside of the Harbour Town Marina - reputed to be a top 10 marina in Florida (we question that). The next morning, Ron made a big deal out of eating the very moldy bagels which Judy had thrown out. Mr. Waste-not, Want-not had rescued them from the garbage and proceeded to cut off the mould and consume the insides.
Ron enjoys his moldy snack - yuch!
It was a good thing that Judy's stomach was settling down and that she was not experiencing the motion sickness that had been bothering her for the first few weeks. Otherwise, just seeing Ron eat the bagels was enough to turn anyone's stomach! The next day we went into the marina to fuel up, pump out and stay the night so that we could do laundry, get internet, do some provisioning, and re-inflate Scout (who had been rolled up on our foredeck when we did our 25 hour passage). Ron once again proved his prowess at boat handling as he maneuvered Pioneer, stern first into a tight slip at Harbour Town.
Pioneer beside Dances with Dragons at Harbourtown Marina, Fort Pierce, Fl.
We met some terrific people in the marina and the anchorage. Rhiannon from New Brunswick with Pat and Miriam aboard came over for drinks the first night. We subsequently ran into them again at Pier 17 (a boatyard/marina) in Ft. Lauderdale. They have since made the jump to Bimini in the Bahamas. In the marina at Ft. Pierce we hosted Nancy and Wayne from Dances with Dragons, a Tayana 42 for happy hour.
Nancy and Wayne aboard Dances With Dragons
They had a car loaned to them by relatives in the area and Nancy offered to drive us to marine parts stores and grocery stores. So we were able to provision, get some parts and do it all in a relatively short time because of the kindness and generosity of Nancy. We were also invited to their boat for dinner one night and spent daily happy hours on their boat. Their plan is to head to Trinidad and make ready for an Atlantic crossing in the spring. They plan a Pacific crossing in 2007 - if we are still cruising then we may join them. We have really been impressed with the kindness of the cruising community.
Ron has been working steadily on Pioneer to get her ready for the trip to the Bahamas. Judy is cleaning up and refinishing the teak in the galley. We caught this picture of a Red-Neck Floridian car - hope you can read the signs!
While ashore at Ft. Pierce, we marveled at the many bumper stickers on this van
A close up view of the Christmas Boat Parade at Ft. Pierce
We may delay our stay here in Ft. Pierce in order to get some more jobs done but the plan right now is to head out Dec 5th for Palm Beach. Today, Dec 5th, we left our slip at the marina and headed back to the anchorage outside the marina - just in time for a two day blow and the Christmas boat parade - where we had font row seats. During the blow, Judy decided to try to clean Pioneer's hull - big mistake! Good thing she had her handy dandy life preserver on!
Judy prepares to clean Pioneer's hull in the Harbourtown anchorage at Ft. Pierce
When things calmed down, Judy was able to clean the cypress moustache off of Pioneer's hull - without the need for a life vest! Obviously our departure for Lake Worth at Palm Beach was delayed.
Judy cleans the moustache off Pioneer's hull
While in the anchorage we ran into Crux (with Kim, Carol and dog Molly aboard) the boat we had anchored near in Daytona Beach. Crux had been part of our parade through the tricky water when Towboat US helped us through. It is amazing how we touch base with the same people on and off throughout our trip.
We figure that we will probably hunker down in Lake Worth (Palm Beach) waiting for a weather window to the Bahamas. There is also the opportunity for us to sail into the Keys and make the crossing to Cuba from there. We really haven't decided yet. Hopefully we will run into some other Canadians heading for Cuba and then we can plan the trip together. Time to get out the Explorer charts and check out the alternatives! We have no Cuban charts so we would like to team up with some other boats who have charts for the crossing.
On Dec 11/05 at 6:30 a.m. we pulled up the anchor and headed out into the Atlantic (commonly referred to as "outside", as opposed to the waterway). In a little over 7 hours we reached the Lake Worth Inlet at Palm Beach. It is a busy commercial port and we found ourselves dodging freighters and keeping a wary eye on cruise ships.
Judy at the helm for our trip to Lake Worth
We motor sailed most of the way as the winds were light an we wanted to get a good anchorage. There was a weather window to the Bahamas in progress so we hoped that most boats would have left and the anchorage would not be crowded. We were right, but the anchorage we chose was right near the industrial section and there was no place to dinghy to for groceries and hope that Scout would still be there when we returned.
We decided to press on the next morning to Ft. Lauderdale and make our Bahamas crossing from there. It just sounded far more appealing than Lake Worth!
As the sun was rising, we passed this containership coming in as we were heading out
On the trip to Ft. Lauderdale, the commercial traffic was even busier. The wake of the ship pictured here with a close up of its bow wave, caught us by surprise and at the last minute we turned into it. The waves came over Pioneer's bow as we rode the roller coaster!
This baby came too close for comfort!
Judy was especially glad to be coming into harbour at Ft. Lauderdale as we had been on the water all day for two days straight - long days hoping to drop the anchor by mid to late afternoon.
It took us a while to find a spot for the night once we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale. The city had disallowed all anchoring except in Lake Sylvia. We had wanted to take Pioneer up the New River - a narrow winding and very scenic river through the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. We needed to provision and get some maintenance parts for Pioneer. We were finally able to get some dock space at a boatyard/marina about 3 miles up the New River- -Pier 17. Not a fancy place by any means but we have electricity, water, people to work on the boat and some familiar faces from Ft. Pierce - Pat and Mirriam on Rhiannon. The price was very appealing - the lowest we had seen the entire trip. As it turns out, we will probably be staying here 10 days to 2 weeks . We will be lucky to have a weather window for our crossing before Christmas. We are therefore taking the opportunity to do some work on the boat. We have ordered glass for all the port-lights - they were beginning to cloud up around the edges and some were cracked. We will replace them as we find the time. We will also have the fore and back stays replaced as they are original and should be done every 20 years. That will be a big job as we have to to dismantle our roller furling system and the SSB antenna in order to have the stays replaced. Then we have to reinstall them and make sure they work before we head out. Today (Saturday the 17th) we took the dinghy down the river a few miles and docked at a restaurant called "Shirt-tail Charlies". Great place - great people. We walked a few blocks to the glass shop to order the glass for our port-lights and one of the fellows in the shop loaned us his van so that we could do some shopping at some marine stores and the grocery store. It is quite amazing the kindness of many people we have encountered. The local "garden pets" are very distinctive and quite fearsome looking - iguanas of course. We caught two of them with the camera as they lumbered about. We saw one right by our boat just the other day. They are quite large and rather intimidating to those not used to them.
Iguanas on the banks of the New River
There are many homes that line the river with damaged trees and roofs and many boats that have been damaged by hurricane Wilma. Some have just been abandoned like the one pictured here.
Hurricane damage on the New River
There are also very large and beautiful homes on this river.
Expensive Florida real estate on the New River
So it looks like we will be here a while. Tonight (Saturday) is the big boat parade here in Ft. Lauderdale. We have adorned Pioneer in her international code flags and put on the spreader lights to light up the deck. We also put bumpers out on the river side of her just in case a boat returning from the parade should stray too close. We are going to be very easy to see when the evening revelers return from the parade. So it looks like it is going to be Merry Christmas from Ron and Judy in Ft. Lauderdale!
Pioneer all decked out for Christmas!
Today we made the decision to stay here for Christmas - hopefully the weather will be warm and we will be able to get most of the glass in our port-lights replaced (Ron's major project). We have rented a car so we feel a little more mobile and in-touch.
We had the back and forestay's replaced so the rigging is looking good. "Rick the Rigger" did a great job and was helpful in assisting us to understand how the boat is rigged and how everything works. He opted for the crane to lift him to the top of our mast as opposed to our bosun's chair - wise choice! We will replace the shrouds probably next year. Added some length to our SSB antenna on the backstay and reception is greatly improved.
We have changed our berth location to a more protected spot with minimal wake interference. At our new spot there is a workbench for us to work on - along with a vice.
Ron uses the bench vise to replace the glass in the round portlights
It has come in handy while we are working on the portlights and the interior refinishing. The marina is shutting down over Christmas (Fri noon to Tues. a.m.) so things should be very quiet here. We are enjoying the two palm trees that are beside the dock space that we occupy.
Judy refinishes interior teak over Christmas
We managed to take several trips down and up river in Scout to explore and to enjoy a meal out. It became a challenge to ride the current to our best advantage so that we would not have to fight it on any leg of the trip.
Ron departs his dinghy parking to pick up Judy at "Shirt Tail Charlies" on the river
Judy takes a break on Christmas Day in Ft. Lauderdale
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS!!!
FROM R&J IN FT. LAUDERDALE
It was most appropriate that on one of our outings in Ft. Lauderdale, we ran across this sign on the front of a building - that was almost how we were feeling as we waited in t. Lauderdale for a window to cross the Gulf Stream!
Why are we really here??
We did occupy our time, however, with haircuts and replacing the glass in the port-lights! It took us a while, but we finally figured out how the port-lights came apart and how they went back together. The workbench near Pioneer was well used on Christmas day.
Then it came time for the big crossing!. Chris Parker - our weather guru said "GO NOW" so we went on December 28th. We got up mighty early (2:30 am.) and cast off our lines from our dock space at Pier 17. It was a fascinating trip down the New River in the middle of the night with only the city lights to light our way. When we got out into the ICW we used the chartplotter and steered by instruments. Once out of the Port Everglades Inlet we set the auto pilot for a vectored course (allowing for the 3.5 knot current in the Gulf Stream) more southerly than our intended path across the Gulf to Bimini. We figured that we would be crossing the Gulf mostly in the daylight and arrive at Bimini around 4 p.m.
Sunrise in the Gulf Stream
The "stream" was relatively quiet and we arrived in time to drop anchor before nightfall. Our first task on anchoring was to raise the quarantine flag to indicate our intentions to clear customs - Ron did the honours and the US flag got put away safely for our next visit there.
Ron raises the quarantine flag
The sunset was beautiful from our anchorage but that anchorage turned out to be a bad choice come nightfall when the winds picked up. The result was a very bouncy night - with bruises to prove it! The next morning amid waves breaking over the bow, Ron hoisted the anchor and Judy piloted Pioneer into the Bimini Harbour -the entrance channel was a very scary transit with big waves and a narrow channel in unknown waters! But, we made it - with a smile on our faces, especially Judy's as now she could stand on terra firma and get over the sea sickness that came on during the night of rocking and rolling.
We moored in a slip at the Bimini Bluewater Marina - great spot, nice people, very reasonable prices. We were then joined by another sailboat who had followed us into the harbour - thinking that we knew the way! Actually we had managed to talk on the VHF with a boat already in the harbour and they had given us instructions on how to navigate the channel. Ron did the customs clearance and it went very smoothly. The cost of cruising in the Bahamas is $300.00 for a 1 year cruising permit. We have that permit so we can go in and out over the next year.
Ron at the customs house, passports in hand
Now it was time to raise the Bahamian flag - Judy's turn to shine! We also walked around town (very small -but quaint and clean.
Judy raises the Bahamian courtesy flag and our sailing clum pennant from SaltSpring Island
Our time in Bimini was short but fun. We loved the town, the people and the ambiance but we wanted to get further south. We did take a walk around the town and snapped some pictures of the local scenery!
Judy checks out the wall murals in Bimini
Pioneer at the Bluewater dock in Bimini
The water was such an amazing contrast to what we have back home and on the East coast of the US. When they say you need to use visual piloting skills in the Bahamas, they definitely mean it. It is easy to read everything about the bottom except it's depth - sure are glad that we have a depth sounder!
We met Gord and Suzanne on Camelot II and Bill and Angela on 3 Kings - all Canadians. The next day all of us left Bimini. 3 Kings and Pioneer went to Gun Cay for the night and Camelot II headed across the Great Bahama Bank for Nassau. We shared happy hour with Bill and Angela at Gun Key watching the sun set.
Bill and Angela s/v 3 Kings at Gun Key
In Gun Cay we had our first chance to anchor in 3 meters of water and snorkel around the boat, check the hull and anchor and just relax.
Ron tries out his new snorkelling equipment at Gun Key
Ron had his first chance to try out the new snorkel equipment he had purchased in Ft. Lauderdale. Even colour coordinated! The water was warm and very refreshing. The cockpit shower was a great asset to get the salt water off us before we relaxed completely.
Judy was the first to get ready for the swim she but had to jump in early to retrieve an empty bleach bottle Ron tossed overboard (by accident). As you can tell by the look on her face, she was not pleased!
Judy is just not ready to jump in "unknown" water - must check out the sea life first!
The next morning at 5:30 we pulled up the anchor and set off in the dark across the Bank - our destination, the far side of the Bank where we would anchor that night. Judy and Ron shared the watch during the crossing with Judy being especially attentive during her watch time! It was a hot day out there and we were glad to have a breeze. We managed to put the foresail up for a while and had the other sails ready to go but the wind seemed to die and then hit us directly from behind. If we hadn't been trying to catch a weather window to Nassau, we probably would have waited for a day that we could sail across the Bank. But the weather guru said get to Nassau by Sunday at the latest - so that is what we are doing! Eleven hours later we arrived at the Northwest Channel light having crossed the bank with nothing to see but the horizon all the way - and of course the starfish on the bottom as the bank was only 3 to 4 meters deep all the way across.
Judy relaxes during the trip over the banks - "Otto" is at the helm!
This was our next opportunity to go for a swim off Pioneer - the Bank was like a millpond and stayed that way until about midnight when it started to get a little bouncy but not bad at all. The swim turned into a skinny dip as we were the only boat to be seen. Ron demonstrated his unique talent at being able to snorkel and skinny dip at the same time.
Ron enjoys his first "skinny dip" in the beautiful Bahamian waters
Judy just wiggled her toes this time. The vastness of the Banks was somewhat intimidating for Judy, besides that a boat popped up out of nowhere and caused Judy to rush to put her bathing suit on. So that is how we spent New Year's Eve - skinny dipping on the Great Bahama Bank!
January in the Exumas!
A New Year - A New Way of Living!
Cruise ship in Nassau harbour
After leaving The Northwest Channel marker on the Great Bahama Bank, we motored (again - wind on nose all the way) down the tongue of the ocean to Nassau, arriving just as the tide changed from an ebb to a flood. Our arrival was well time as we avoided the turbulent rip currents in the harbour.
Mailboat in Nassau harbour
As it was it slowed us down by 2 knots as we negotiated the harbour. It is quite a sight to see Nassau from the water - cruise ships, fancy hotels, freighters and fishing boats. We had arranged ahead of time to stay at a marina.
Beautiful hotels on Paradise Island
We opted for that to give us the security to leave the boat and sightsee. The marina has security so we are comfortable leaving it for the day. There has been a lot of theft at the anchorages and the holding is really getting bad - sand over hard bottom with debris scattered over the sea floor from the hurricanes. Also, according to the weather guru, the winds were supposed to top 25 knots on Monday and Tuesday and not be in any direction to sail anywhere.
Brightly painted condos on the harbour waterfront
By Wednesday, we should be "on the road again". The cold front coming through seems to be partly a result of the latest tropical storm that should not bother us except for the next few days.
We are glad we are in the marina - the Nassau Harbour Club. Pioneer is rocking and bobbing and that would not be fun in an anchorage with a lot of boats, many of them dragging their anchors. Even under normal conditions, the boats drag in the anchorages here, simply because of the strong current. With our ground tackle we probably would have had no problems but better to be safe than sorry.
Boats at anchor in Nassau harbour
Two days after New Years, there was a spectacular Junkanoo in Nassau. Unfortunately we did not see it (only some of the leftover floats) as it was at 2 a.m. and we had just gotten in that day and were very tired after crossing the Great Bahama Bank.
Leftovers from Nassau Junkanoo
While sitting out a weather front in Nassau, we took advantage of other local sights - the fish/vegetable market and the Atlantis Aquarium. In Nassau, we met many more cruisers and saw some very big Mega Yachts! On a good sized cat, two slips down from us were Gerard and Susan (New Brunswick) on Gaia Su (whom we linked up again with in Allen's Cay), also in the marina were Fred and Nina on Mi Nina (Pompano Beach, Florida), another CR38 couple John and Mindy on Coquina (Vermont) and Reed and Maren on a Jeannau 41 (New York). This picture of a manta ray at the Atlantis aquarium was almost as spectacular as the manta ray that cruised around Pioneer in Allen's Cay the next day.
Manta Ray at the Atlantis Aquarium
The seafood and vegetable market was a highlight for Ron. He was in his element bartering with the vendors and laughing with them. They were stubborn, but Ron was even more so and got some great deals on tomatoes, bananas and limes! It was also our first taste of conch salad - a specialty at the market. While seeking out the best priced and best looking salad in the outdoor market, we ran across two cruisers from Oakville, Ed and Dee on Sea Fox X. They were a lot of fun to chat with and the next day we linked up with them again in our anchorage at Allen's Cay.
Conch shells pile up on the waterfront fishing docks
We also got a chuckle out of this vendor in the market "Evelyn's Kitchen", it made us think of Ron's mum and how she would love to see these sights.
Evelyn's Kitchen at Nassau
The next day at about 8:30 a.m. we headed off to Allen's Cay to see the famous iguanas that cover the beaches. After anchoring, we got into the dinghy to go exploring and ran into a great couple from Kingston - Henry and Rachel along with their daughter, Ocean.
Henry, Rachel and Ocean enjoy the beach at Allens Key
We also ran into the local attraction - the iguanas. When they hear you approach, they all come down to the beach. They are scattered all over the place, in the rocks, in the grass and on the sand. They are quite bold but are harmless. The tourist boats feed them grapes, so they are very attracted to human sounds and motors. The signs said not to feed them or bother them, so we followed the signs and just stepped around them!
Judy stays in the boat so the iguanas can romp freely
Ron, on the other hand, enjoys a romp with the iguanas
Iguanas weren't the only wildlife that caught our attention. This manta ray was the first one we had seen in the wild and we were very impressed!
This manta ray casually swam under Pioneer at Allens Key
Gerard and Susan invited us over to Gaia Su that night for happy hour. They had arrived at Allens a few hours before us. Ron ended up cutting Susan's hair and I ended up cutting Gerard's. They both looked great by the time we finished with them! In appreciation, they invited us for supper, which consisted of a very large salad which we thoroughly enjoyed!
Ron and Judy take turns at cutting hair
Gaia Su left Allens a few days later for Warderick Wells and then the Caribbean. They were destined to travel far and wide, including crossing an ocean!
The next morning we woke up gently aground, but still straight up, on a sand bar. After we floated off we reset the anchor and then that began a series of anchor resets that we hoped would keep us off the sandbar in the coming storm. Thinking that we were safely anchored, we explored the snorkelling over a sheltered coral reef - which was full of different coloured and sized fish - but no lobster yet for us! When we got back we invited Sea Fox over for happy hour and just relaxed. The next morning as the seas started to pick up, we again bumped at low tide. After many more tries, we finally had to give up that area and put the hook down nearer some other boats just after the winds picked up. It was not great fun re-anchoring in high winds but the hook grabbed and we were able to relax without worries of our rudder bouncing off the bottom. One of the other boats in the anchorage that morning was totally aground and on a decided list - they had to wait for high tide to get off and re-anchor in a new spot. Thank goodness for our Reed's Almanac with the tide tables of the Bahamas and Caribbean! Now that we have used it extensively, I don't think that we will run aground again in an anchorage.
It is now Saturday and we are still in Allen's Cay waiting for the front to pass. Our anchor has held and so have the ones belonging to our neighbours. It is still rocking and rolling out here as the current determines which way the boat lies and the wind just does it's rocking job from the beam. It can be very uncomfortable and make you feel very unstable, but we are coping. Last night the winds were gusting at 35 to 38 kts and although we did not have the breaking seas we did have the wind and the large roll and swell. It was an all night vigil for every boat with everyone onboard sharing anchor watch. The next night the wind was less intense but was clocking around to the ENE from the NW. In anticipation we shortened our anchor rode, along with our neighbour on one side to adjust to the new position that we would be in come morning. Unfortunately we forgot to inform our neighbours, D and Ed on Sea Fox X. They were on our other side and had the most chain out.
The next morning when the current was slack and the wind changing, they were dancing around in circles while we and our other neighbour were stationary and very slowly coming around to the wind and the deeper water. The result was a clink of davits to davits at 5 a.m. That sure woke Ed and Ron up in a hurry! Once again we stayed up until dawn to check on our position relative to other boats. As the cruising guides say, this is a good anchorage in settled conditions but not in the unsettled ones that we faced.
Sea Fox X
That morning we weighed anchor at about 0930 and headed off to Shroud Cay and deeper water. The iguanas at Allen's Cay were interesting but most of the anchorage just seemed to be too shallow for us. Must be too much stowage aboard! Shouldn't have bought all those bottles of rum in Nassau! We had a pleasant beam reach sail to Shroud Cay with winds about 15 to 18 kts. It was pleasant and relaxing. When we pulled into the anchorage, there were three other Canadian boats there - from Toronto. We were in the lee of the Cay so it afforded protection from the bigger waves, with very little rocking in the night. The anchor dug in well in a sandy bottom with 11 feet of depth so we felt secure and safe from the bottom bangs we experienced the night before. Shroud Cay is known for its dinghy trails through the mangroves.
Ron enjoys the scenery in the mangrove canals of Shroud Key
We headed down one of these mangrove waterways for a sightseeing tour. It was quite fascinating. The mangrove roots were all twisted around each other reaching down into the salt water. That night was very relaxing and uneventful. The next morning, the winds had picked up and we got confirmation of a mooring at Warderick Wells so we headed off there at about 9:45. Our actual departure was delayed as we had to find and retrieve Judy's hat which had blown off into the water in the 15 kt winds. With a little searching and Ron's keen eyes, we found the hat and picked it up using our best man overboard retrieval method. Hooked it on the first try! Our sail during the first half of the trip to Warderick Wells was exhilarating. We had 18 kts of wind gusting to 25 with our toe rail in the water at peak wind times - well heeled over even with the main double reefed! We were doing over 7 kts with only the main and the genoa up. At the helm for the initial part of the trip, Judy put her newly retrieved (and favourite) hat on backwards to avoid any future incidents. Unfortunately the last 8 miles involved a course change that had us nose into the building seas. So, we finally pulled in the sails and motored the last leg in.
Judy with her favourite hat on backwards to avoid losing it
Warderick Wells is a marine and land park protected by the Bahamian government. For the most part, only mooring balls can be used - no anchoring except at Emerald Rock on the west side of the cay. It has been quite pleasant here so far but still very windy (no swells and rocking motion, however). The wind is supposed to lessen over the next few days and then build again to some major squalls over the weekend. We may stay until the weekend squalls pass through. and then start to work our way further south. On Tuesday, Jan 10th we experienced our first hike on land on one of the many trails at Warderick Wells. The trails lead to remote and secluded beaches, as well as palm groves and blow holes.
Ron walks on one of the many small beaches at Warderick Wells
They even have a bridge on this trail!
The cay is built up on coral and hiking is best done in runners with good support. On one of the beaches, the skeleton of a sperm whale, that washed up on Shroud Cay, is mounted.
The main beach at Warderick Wells with the whale bones
Over the next few days we will be able to snorkel, hike, picnic and generally chill out here. We seem to have been on the go since we crossed the gulf stream and we are really enjoying this break. Gaia Su is here along with three other boats from the rough night at Allens Cay. Gaia Su plans to head out to Cat Cay tomorrow on their first stage of a voyage to the Virgin Islands. We had considered tagging along but on further thought, we really were not ready to do that yet - we need more time to learn how to sail Pioneer here in the Bahamas. Cuba is still a possibility for us so when we get to Georgetown, we will be looking for other Cuban bound boats.
Diva and others at the Warderick Wells mooring field
It is now January 17th and we are still enjoying the Exuma Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells. We are volunteering to help with the office and the grounds while the regular management are off tending to medical emergencies. It is fun and very nice for a change. We also managed to weather one of the worst cold fronts in years here. At one point we thought the entire cay was going to blow away as the gusts racked up to 48 kts. That is a lot of wind and well into the gale category. Some of the boats facing broadside to the wind (due to the current factor) dipped their toe rails into the water before they finally swung around into the wind. Two boats chafed their mooring lines badly such that the mooring lines had to be replaced. Apparently this was the worse cold front in 6 years - we can certainly believe it. During our stay we have had a chance to meet many boaters, new faces and ones we have seen before. We even got to celebrate a birthday for a one year old, Ocean, from the boat Ray Ocean.
Ocean celebrates her first birthday a a party on the beach
Ocean has been sailing with her mum and dad, Rachel and Henry, since she was a newborn. She even walks (with support) like a sailor!
We also had time to get to know another CR38 couple John and Mindy on Coquina. Snorkelling by the south mooring field turned into a fun afternoon activity for the four of us as Mindy used to plexiglass bottomed pail to find the best snorkelling sites.
Mindy and John from Coquina scout out the bottom with their see-through pail
Judy was glad that the barracuda that everyone was admiring was long gone by the time she snorkelled past. We met a wonderful couple from North Carolina, Bette and David on Tarheel. They were flying the North Carolina flag so we matched it by raising our NC flag (which had been part of Judy's Halloween costume).
Judy raises our North Carolina flag, in support of our second home
This mooring field at Warderick Wells is quite spectacular. The boats are all anchored in a narrow channel that curves around like a big "C". We have explored many of the hiking trails and we left our mark on Boo Boo Hill, where all visiting boaters leave some memento of their passing. We did that hike with John and Cheryl from Malabar and got some great pictures from atop of the hill including a spectacular shot of Pioneer. On our hikes we have run across various snakes and lizards - some with hardly any fear of humans.
John and Cheryl (s/v Malabar) on Boo Boo Hill
Pioneer on her mooring ball at Warderick Wells
Boo Boo Hill is the highest point on the key and the spot where all boats leave their mark. So, we left ours - small for now but to see improvement in a couple of years.
Boo Boo Hill and its artifacts
Judy and Ron atop Boo Boo Hill with Pioneer in the background
Ron has been commandeered by some of the cruising ladies to cut their hair. During our stay he has tackled two other heads besides Judy's - Dee and Lisa were the lucky recipients of a new hairline.
We will probably stay here as long as we are needed. We are also waiting for the winds to cooperate and give us a good sail down to our next stopping point which should be Big Majors Spot. That weather opportunity may come sooner or later - we are not concerned - it will eventually happen.
Ron cuts D's hair - customer #2
Ron cuts Lisa's hair - customer #3
These lizard like critters seemed to be everywhere as we hiked the trails at Warderick Wells. They looked like tiny iguanas so Judy was still not interested in getting too close to them!
On January 19th, we detached from our mooring ball and headed for Big Majors Spot, near Staniel Cay. We motor sailed to charge up our batteries although the 18-25 kts of wind didn't require it. At the Big Majors anchorage, there were several other boats that we had met along the way so it was like revisiting old friends.
Old friends and new gather on the beach at Staniel Key
Although our stay there was windy for the most part, we managed to get into Staniel Cay once, by dinghy to offload garbage and enjoy happy hour with the other cruisers at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
The Staniel yacht club rowdies!
However, we were beginning to get our introduction to "how to ride a dinghy when the wind and waves were up". We also attended our first beach party, which was fun and allowed us an opportunity to meet several cruisers we had heard on the VHF but not met as yet. Inflatable dinghies are very common on most boats in the Bahamas and they all seem to look alike, so we are glad that our motor is painted bright white - it does stand out in a crowd!
On January 23rd we left Big Majors Spot for Black Point Settlement and will be here for close to a week. Black Point is a fascinating place with delicious home made bread, plenty of water, two small grocery stores. an absolutely fantastic coin laundry (the best we have seen since we became boat people), a school (with a school marching band) and two restaurants.
Strolling down the main street at Black Point Settlement
We spent our eating out dollars at Lorraine's Cafe where the food was very good and the fellowship outstanding.
The school at Black Point
Lorraine's was also the place to go for a local beer when doing laundry at the laundromat nearby. The settlement has only a few streets, lots of kids, a few cars/trucks, ladies weaving baskets everywhere and gets its supplies from the mail-boat that arrives every Wednesday.
Judy and Debbie (s/v Diva) enjoy a beer at Lorraine's Cafe
Girls at the Black Point School practice their band marching performance
We will leave here as soon as the wind dies down a tad. We have shredded some seams in our headsail and so we can't use it until we get it repaired or it will just rip to shreds in the 25 knot winds. That probably means motor sailing to Georgetown, at least for part of the way. Hopefully we can sew up the seams and put some patches on the sail so that it will last until we get someplace where a new sail can be ordered.
Upon leaving Black Point, we headed for Big Galiott Cay and the Cut that would take us out into Exuma Sound on Tuesday morning. Up until now we had been sailing entirely on the Exuma Banks as we wandered south through the Exuma island chain. Now it would be into the deep water of the sound. For the last week it had been difficult to go out onto the sound with its 5-6 foot swells and 25 knot winds, most of the time on your nose as you travelled further south. The last opportunity to go out on the sound there was no wind and it would have been a motor experience. This time there were 10-15 kt. winds from the NW with 2-3 foot swells and that made for very good sailing. We stayed two nights in Galiott, tolerating the current flow in order to get a good start for Georgetown on Tuesday morning. The currents in all the cuts are strong and in Big Galiott Cut the current is exceptionally strong. Once again we appreciated the good engine under us and the calm winds at the time of our trip through the cut.
Judy at the helm as we work our way to Georgetown
The current was against us and the wind was the opposite to the current. On days with greater wind speed, the cut would have had very dangerous standing waves. We arrived in Georgetown in the early afternoon and got settled into an anchorage with good holding near some other boats that we had met along the way. Here we can get our sail repaired, re-provision do laundry and have as active a social life as we wish. So far in our 4 day stay here we have only missed sharing happy hour with friends once and the next two days ahead are already booked!
One of many "happy hours" on Hamburger Beach in Georgetown
We have attended a breakfast on the beach for Ontario sailors, which we crashed along with a couple from BC. It was a great opportunity to meet new friends and ones we had met on our way through the Bahamas. We also attended happy hour on the beach for anyone who wished to come. Then there are the organized and casually set up games! Bridge, dominos, volleyball and just sitting around under the trees on the beach chatting with people. Judy has started bridge lessons and is enjoying them while Ron works the crowd getting to know the other boaters. This place is just like summer camp for adults! We will stay for a while - how long is anyone's question. Since there are another two cold fronts coming through, we could be here for possibly two weeks or more. Our destination after Georgetown is still up in the air. Right now this is a good place for us to hang out and get to know a lot of people.
February in Georgetown
Here we are in Georgetown, still! Actually, we like it better than we thought we would and it looks like we will spend the entire month here - then move on sometime in March. We have a great anchorage at Monument Beach - good holding for the anchor! We have experienced our first "dinghy raft-up/dinghy drift" - 83 dinghies all attached and drifting in the middle of the harbour.
Dinghie "raft-up" in mid-harbour
Entertainment included speeches and jokes and a friendly rivalry between the Texan cruisers and the Canadians. A memorable speech on behalf of Texas proposing an annexation of the Exumas, to become Texuma was given by our friend, Carl, on Diva. Laughter abounded in the harbour that night.
Carl (s/v Diva) pronounces the Exumas to now be Texuma!
We have met and mingled with so many wonderful people on our journey and we cherish the time we have shared together with them. One couple we have run into several times on our trip down the Exumas is sister ship Coquina with John and Mindy aboard. John and Mindy are from Vermont and we have made a date to visit them this summer. John is the King of Riddles and has many to keep you sharp.
John and Mindy aboard Coquina
We enjoy challenging others with the riddles we have learned from John. Mindy is very good at conch blowing, but Carl is the master conch man. Below are pictures of all of us trying our hand at the conch!
Ron on the Conch!
Judy playing taps on the conch
Carl toots his horn!
Mindy blowin' the pipes
Big John - the "master of riddles"
Fun times on volleyball beach include bridge, volleyball, hat contests and a variety of other contests depending on the mood of those on the beach. The best game is string ball which we play whenever we get the chance. John and Mindy constructed the game based on a model made by some Canadian cruisers years before.
String Ball on the beach
The game is like throwing a bola at a target. Lots of fun! It is also fun to see the costumes/hats/shoe wear that people can create when challenged. It really is like adult summer camp, complete with arts and crafts, sports and fellowship.
The costumes never cease to amaze!
The boaters also try to give to the community some of their talents in order to help out those less fortunate. Among several projects is the house building venture that the cruisers have taken on to assist a family that is in need. Ron helped work on one of the crews and found it a most worthwhile venture.
Ron helps to build a new house as part of the cruiser's community project
In town, the medical/dental clinic is used often by the cruisers. The dentist is absolutely excellent, inexpensive, fast, does good work and you can get an appointment within a few days. Our friend, Debbie, on Diva, got a great job done on her front teeth for an extremely low price. It would have cost 5 times the amount back home!
We have learned some new games that are very entertaining. One is a dice game called "Farkel", the other is a game where the dice are "pigs" which you toss to see how they land and you score accordingly. The roll to the right is a sider (no points) and a razorback (5 points). A snouter (pig balancing on front feet and nose) is worth 20 and a leaning snouter (pig balancing on nose and ear) is worth 25. A pig on its feet (stander) is worth 5 points. It's a great happy hour or after dinner game. Thanks John and Mindy for introducing us to "pig dice".
The pigs at "play - this is a double "razorback!
Ron's salon is becoming very popular
Ron continues to get new customers for his hair trimming talent. Debbie became customer #4 and Sally is thinking of making it #5. We also have done some island hiking. The scenery is magnificent and the beaches and water spectacular. We even ran across a termite nest similar to the ones we saw in Belize.
Ron marvels at the construction techniques of the local termites
The beaches are big and beautiful!
Ron contemplates life as he gazes out across the water
Ron has been wearing his dad's captain's hat for special occasions. One of the beach happy hours included live music from the "Bilge Brothers" and Ron decided that this was a fitting occasion for his "Captain Ron " hat. He really looked "dapper" all decked out in his special hat.
Ron with friend Mindy from Coquina with the deluge of dinghies in the background
The dinghies pictured here were less than half the number on the beach that night.
Ron and Judy at Happy Hour
There are lots of things to keep you busy around here. You can volunteer in the community, support the local clinics and library, volunteer within the cruising community, or just occupy your time with snorkelling, swimming, reading, and participating in the many activities that are offered. Once we leave here, it will seem very quiet indeed!
Judy working on her bridge game
Judy's talents at Bridge increase with every beach session - at the game pictured here she and her partner were victorious - in fact Judy and her various partners have only lost one beach game so far!. Judy may now be ready to take on a game with her mum and her other Salt Spring island cronies.
Chris Parker is here to give a seminar about weather - can you imagine! Chris has been our guide and our saviour, telling us when to go and when to stay based on the latest weather information. We have found that there are many boaters who have talents and professional knowledge that they are willing to share with other boaters. Judy took advantage of the physical therapy training of one boater by getting guidance on how to exercise, stretch and massage the tendon in her hip. Now she is getting around a lot better and hopefully will be in great shape by the end of the month.
Chris gives a weather talk at Georgetown
We have been attending the weekly ham radio luncheons on Hamburger Beach to learn more about our SSB radio - with great results. At the final luncheon, the coveted Hamtenna cap was passed on from Carl on Diva to Bob on Signet - a great honour!
The Hamtenna hat is passed on
Besides bridge, there are other challenging games like Train Dominos and Progressive Rummy to keep Judy off her feet and resting her hip. Although rest is good for injuries, walking for short periods every day is also recommended. Therefore, we continue to hike the various trails on the Cays, scour the ocean side beaches for treasures and check out the critter life. So far we have only seen lizards and birds - no snakes, although apparently there are plenty.
This bird had the most beautiful call and appeared to be unafraid of human closeness.
Judy on one of our daily hikes
The topography along the shore can vary from long stretches of beach to mounds of coral and rock with small beaches spotted throughout. One treasure we found on our hikes was a plastic crate that had been lost from a Greek ship. It was a perfect size for our port lazarette for containing oil and engine related containers. However, it was coated in clinging sea lifeso after a few days of soaking in salt water, Judy tackled it with a scrub brush on the beach.
Judy scrubs the sea life off her "treasure"
While Judy was scrubbing, Ron was giving Sally (client #5) a haircut. This was Ron's first attempt at cutting long hair and he did such a great job, we got a dinner invitation!
Ron gives Sally (s/v Its About Time) a trim
Bath day consists of taking the container of Joy liquid soap to the beach, getting wet, slathering on the joy and then rinsing it off. The best part is the floating around after the cleaning is done! When we get back to the boat we rinse again with fresh water in the cockpit.
Ron floats all the soap off after scrubbing up in the salt water
Since our life is conducted almost completely out of doors and for the most part the days are sunny and warm, we have developed some noticeable tan lines. Ron models his line here in a x-rated photo - just don't let his mom see the picture!
Ron's tan line is quite remarkable!
Oftentimes, there is entertainment provided on volleyball beach by some of the talented boaters that abound in Georgetown. Eileen Quinn on Little Gidding is a well known folk singer who writes and performs songs that pertain to life on the seas. She and her husband have been living aboard for about 12 years and Eileen has written many songs about the cruising life that make you laugh and cry. The large crowd that came to listen to Eileen's concert was thoroughly entertained. We bought all five of her CD's after the concert and have been enjoying them ever since.
Eileen sings up a storm on volleyball beach
Our long past trip down the Exuma Banks from Warderick Wells to Big Major's Spot was unkind to our genoa and we ended up with several rips in the sail and the sun protective borders. We had not been able to use it since. We found a Haitian gentleman, Gesner, who ran a small upholstery repair shop out of a tiny wood shack in Georgetown who was willing to sew up the sail. Debbie and Carl on Diva loaned us the sail thread and Gesner did a great job of sewing up and patching the rips. Since doing our sail, he has done two more and gives same day service at extremely reasonable prices.
Gesner makes short work of our damaged sail
Treks into town for water, out of the R/O spigot on the Lake Victoria dinghy dock are almost a daily routine, as long as the sea state in the harbour permits dinghy travel.
Filling up at the water spigot at Exuma Market's dinghy dock
Usually, Ron makes a water run first thing in the morning so that we can keep out tanks topped up for a quick escape from Georgetown as soon as the next cold front passes.
The dinghy dock can hold many boats, several deep
When we stop at the grocery store to get food,as is the practice of many boaters, we purchase ice cream in the container - but must eat it before we get back to the boat or it will all melt! For an old ice cream fanatic like Ron, this is no hardship what-so-ever.
Ron just "loves" his ice cream!
The dinghy dock normally has dinghies two deep. While in town, there are a few restaurants where you can get some of the good local dishes. The other day, we visited Shacanta's conch shack for conch fritters and conch salad. It was outstanding!
Shacanta makes a "mean" conch salad
To get in and out of Lake Victoria, you enter under the tiny, narrow and very old bridge pictured here. They are talking about demolishing this one and building a new one. It is a good idea as the bridge is deteriorating badly and in much need of repair.
The narrow entrance to Lake Victoria
As we get closer to the day when we will be leaving Georgetown, hopefully this Thursday, we are trying to touch base and share time with the many friends we have made during our stay. Sally and Conrad on "It's About Time", an IP 38, have become good friends - we have shared happy hours with them, dinner on their boat, walks on the beach and even a haircut for Sally!
Judy, Sally and Conrad walk on the windy Atlantic side beach
This picture was taken during a very windy day on the Sound side of Elizabeth Island. The breakers were tremendous - nice to look at but dangerous to surf in. There are always lots of shells and interesting items to pick up on the beach during walks. On this particular day there were people surfing using parachute/kites. Quite an adventure that would be!
The weather here in Georgetown has been windy for the most part and cool when the cold fronts go through. We average one cold front per week followed by a high pressure ridge that brings even higher winds. Between these fronts and ridges the weather is usually relatively calm for a few days. Hopefully the quieter winds will settle in for our trip north on Thursday.
The Journey Home
It is hard to believe that the time has come to head back to the United States. We had a choice to either head south to Trinidad and fly home from there or head north to North Carolina and fly home from there. The trip north won out this year. We are looking forward to seeing new friends in NC and old friends and family in Alberta. On March 2nd, just before the start of the Georgetown Regatta, we took advantage of the far too few weather windows north. The first day we negotiated Exuma Sound as far as Black Point Settlement where we crossed onto the Exuma Banks. It is always good to visit Black Point. The people are friendly and the local coin laundry puts all other laundries in all other countries to shame.
Sailing home through the Exumas
From Black Point we headed to Warderick Wells to visit with a few other boats that we knew were staying there. From that point on it was all new territory. Our next anchorage was Ship Channel Cay (March 4th) - with the wind now up we bumped around all night in an anchorage that was only slightly protected. The next day, March 5th, was our most fearsome day in the Bahamas. We had the White Bank to cross in 20 knot winds on the nose. The water was only about 12 - 15 feet deep and the coral heads were numerous (we had to steer around them which felt at times like threading a needle!). At times the waves crashed over the bow and our speed slowed to 1.8 knots. We probably should have turned back, but were not excited about encountering the many coral patches again. It took all morning for the winds to die down and the seas to become less intense.
By the afternoon we had a fairly uneventful trip to Royal Island off the northern tip of Eleuthra. It was a very beautiful and protected anchorage - with about 20 boats seeking refuge there. That anchorage is where we again met up with Henry, Raquel and Ocean on Ray Ocean. We discovered that our plans to cross the gulf stream were similar so we started to scout out plans to make the crossing together.
Ocean peeks out from behind Pioneer's helm
On March 6th we left the refuge of Royal Island, along with about eight other sailboats, for our trip up the New Providence Channel - destination the Northern Bahamas (the Abacos). That night we made it as far as Boat Harbour near Marsh Harbour. A cold front came through so we stayed there for a few days before we headed over to Marsh Harbour. Then it was two days in Marsh Harbour, waiting for a weather window and sea state window to negotiate the Whale Channel - a particularly difficult stretch of water subject to large ocean swells, currents and standing waves. On March 9th we set off on our journey through the Whale Channel - which was rough but not a difficult passage. That night we stayed in Manjack Cay and the next day after a brief fuel stop in Spanish Cay, we headed for the anchorage on Great Sale Cay - to stage our passage to the United States which was to begin the next morning. The two days that we spent on the water after leaving Marsh Harbour were mostly sailing days and some of the nicest that we have experienced.
Perfect sailing days were in order for our return trip from Marsh Harbour to Charleston, SC
On Saturday, March 11th, we set out at 6:00 a.m. from Great Sale Cay and headed to the Matanilla Shoal - our point of departure from the Bahamas. At about 2:30 p.m. we reached the shoal and headed out into the Strait of Florida and the Gulf Stream.
Ron checks the sails as we sail towards the Straits of Florida
Our plan was to at a minimum make landfall at Brunswick, Georgia and at best make landfall at Charleston South Carolina. It was so good to have Ray Ocean along with us - it was a first time experience for all of us and we collaborated on our strategies to make the voyage as quick and painless as possible. Our plan included a NW heading out into the Gulf Stream then straight north once we hit the axis of the stream (79 deg. 50 min. W longitude). Here the current was running north in excess of 4 kts and aided by our sails and the motor we hit over 12 knots a few times but mostly in the 10.5-11.8 knot area.
Ray Ocean sails beside us as we cruise in the Gulf Stream
After we got north of 31 deg 45 min. N longitude, we headed NNE for about 30 miles to catch a little more lift from the stream, then we turned NNW towards Charleston. On Sunday morning, March 12th, we made the commitment to head for Charleston over Brunswick. On Monday morning, March 13th, at daybreak, we pulled into Charleston Harbour and tied up at the Ashley Marina.
Ray Ocean leading the way into a misty morning in Charleston
We stayed in Charleston for three nights, sightseeing, resting up and getting caught up on laundry. The absolute best part were the hot showers that we hadn't had since we left the States in late December. The customs came down to the dock that afternoon and we were cleared to continue on our journey. All in all, the experience of crossing the gulf stream was an exhilarating one. We saw few ships and managed to stay close together for the entire trip. We also got our first experience with sleeping in shifts so that we could do the required 3 hour night sailing watch duties. The trip north with a good weather window, is always fast and very comfortable.
On Thursday, March 16th, we left Charleston for the week long trek up the waterway to Oriental, North Carolina. Our first two nights were spent in secluded anchorages, Graham Creek and Prince Creek, with the latter being by far the better of the two. At Prince Creek, it was so calm and protected that Ron was able to set up the barbecue and cook steaks for dinner! All of our anchorages were very quiet and comfortable - BUT COLD!!!! That is one thing, among many, that we really miss - WARMTH!!!! The days here have been sunny and comfortable, but the nights have been very cool. The picture above shows Judy stubbornly keeping hold of the Bahamian/Caribbean tradition of blowing the conch horn at sunset. Maybe she was also thanking the conch gods for the lovely bouquet of roses that Ron gave her for her birthday on March 15th!
Judy sounds the conch at sunset in Prince Creek
Ron lights up the barbecue on a still night in Prince Creek
Our goal is to stop at Little River tonight and start into North Carolina tomorrow. There are lots of areas in North Carolina where we need to pay close attention to the tide cycles, areas like Lockwoods Folly, the Cape Fear River and the New River Inlet. The Cape Fear River we want to do on a flooding tide so we don't have to go against the current. The other two require a time close to high tide for our boats to make a safe passage. During our passage on the Cape Fear river, we passed a huge barge filled with garbage and surrounded by scavenging seagulls - check out the picture!
Large object bearing 10 degrees off the port bow!
We are now within 1 day of Oriental. We anchored two nights ago at Calabash Creek near Little River. The next day was a "mega miles" day - 71 statute miles. We arrived at the Sunset Beach Marina after dark and it was a little difficult as a result. We had to wait for a bridge opening at 7 p.m (the marina was on the other side of the bridge!). The bridge tender was empathetic of out situation and opened 10 minutes early to help us. Kudos to the bridges of North Carolina. The dock master at the marina, Ray, came back to the marina (which closed at 5 p.m.) because he knew we were coming in. He got into his boat and came out to lead us through the narrow channel to the slips that he had set aside for us. On top of that, knowing that we were leaving early in the morning, he gave us the night free of charge. Kudos again for the marinas of NC! We highly recommend this marina for its friendliness, helpfulness, accessibility, cleanliness and availability to restaurants and the small town of Surf City.
The next day we had another full day traveling from Surf City to Beaufort, where we anchored in Taylor Creek. The following day we had drizzle and cold temperatures for our trip to Oriental. The Neuse River was fairly rough for our crossing to Oriental but it was short. In Oriental we rafted up with Ray Ocean at the end of the town dock.
Entering the Town Dock area at Oriental
What a beautiful and unique small harbour. It was great to experience the "Bean" again and to be able to enjoy the many restaurants in town. The only drawback was the cold - and it certainly was cold!
Pioneer rafted up with Ray Ocean on the Town Dock
After our allotted 48 hours on the town dock, we left and parted ways with Ray Ocean. They headed north to Virginia and we headed up the Neuse to Minnesott Beach, Wayfarers Cove, where we will stay until we fly back to Alberta on April 5th. We have had a great experience traveling with Ray Ocean. We will miss them. We are happy, however, to see our friends, Rex and Carol, and Susan and Perry once again. They were our first close friends as we started this journey and they continue to be the very best of friends. Pioneer will stay at Wayfarers until we return in May to take her up to the Chesapeake.
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