Friday, March 18, 2016

12. Too Much Fun in the Exumas

I can hardly put into words all this week has held!  We left Nassau and started our tour of the Exumas, visiting Highborne, Norman, Shroud, & Warderick Wells.  I write as we travel while the experience is fresh in my mind so I apologize in advance if it makes this week a long update, just trying to fit in all the excitement :)   

Well, we’ve never claimed to be weather experts, there is definitely a learning curve.  So we departed Nassau heading east to the Exumas (small island chain southeast of Nassau) with a stiff 20 knot apparent wind on the nose and a choppy 5’ sea.  The first 2 hours were spent burying the bow under waves and contemplating turning back to wait for Sunday which forecast was calmer all around.  But we finally got in a more comfortable rhythm, timing our speed and sail with the break of waves to keep us from hitting most the big ones.  It’s not that the waves are that big but if you hit the top edge of one just before the next with a deep enough and wide enough valley for us to fit in followed by another considerably sized roll you get the down//up/down that will lift you from your seat and soak you with warm sea spray.  
By missing most I mean hitting one of these harmonics every 3-5 minutes as apposed to one ever minute.  When you have 5 hours of this in front of you, you really question if it is fun or torture :) Paige repeatedly said this was crazy!  So I made lunch and then took the helm while everyone had a turn resting and hiding from the spray.  You eventually are completely soaked but the sun is warming you and you no longer flinch with each splash.  It was a fairly straightforward day, holding 135 degrees on the compass.  We went through a field of coral heads that Paige on the boom and Andrew on the bow navigated me through but other than those, wide open blue.  When we pulled into our anchorage at Highbourne Cay, Paige said we could salt our salad with the salt on my face :) All day in those conditions you whisper to yourself, “I hope our anchorage is worth this, I hope our journey pays off” and the west side anchorage at Highbourne did not disappoint.    
We shared our beautiful private beach with a dozen other boats and were treated to magnificent sunsets!  
    Sunset Highborne Cay, Exumas
When Andrew & Sky dove to check the anchor they were greeted by the friendly, neighborhood 8' shark.  Sky excitedly exclaimed, "SHARK, SHARK!" nervously watching as he swam away while she made her way back to the boat :)  
We spent a day exploring and enjoying the beach with lots of new and old friends we’ve made along the way.  Andrew got his first spear fishing lesson and we snorkeled the reef.  But we couldn't resist the urge to move on.  
Norman Cay has this amazing inlet completely surrounded by land, only deep enough to enter during high tide.  So we accepted the challenge and headed out.  We passed a fishing boat along the way that had a “fish on” so we decided to throw in our line as well.  It hadn’t been in the water for 2 minutes when Andrew & Sky saw 2 mahi jump after it.  So Sky landed her first catch, her excitement was contagious!
Just as we finished cleaning the fish and cleaning the mess left from cleaning the fish, we rounded the bend into the mouth of the inlet.  It is not inviting!
    "We go through where?!"
So after a failed first attempt and a dinghy ride to scout out the path, we finally made it into the cut and it was all we had hoped!  
After dropping anchor with only one other boat inside, we set out on the dinghy.  We visited 4 little coves, each prettier than the last, before settling on the flats in the entry.
Paige busied herself rescuing as many sand dollars as possible from drying out on the flats.
While Sky hunted for conch and shells and anything else she could find.  
It was amazing to look at the cut we had just entered dry out and shallow denying any others entry.  
    Note the difference between high & low tide!
It was all ours and it was amazing!
    Sunset Norman Cay, Exumas

Having learned how to navigate with the tide in Norman’s Pond we departed at high tide.  Our next stop was Shroud Cay.  The ocean lays flat on the west side of Shroud for miles of 6-10’ shallows more clear than your backyard pool!  
   Abby's shadow on top of out anchor chain.  Look at the left side to see our anchor buried deep.
Sky and I checked the anchor and she dove to touch it - pretty proud of herself :) and Paige saw a sand dollar on the ocean floor and had to work up a lot of courage to dive down to retrieve it.
The attraction at Shroud is hard to discribe.  You wait for high tide to take a dinghy ride into the unending mangroves hoping the path leads to somewhere.  It would be easy to get confused among the different finger outlets along the way.  But if you have a great captain who studied the charts before heading in, you are amazed to find the most breathtaking beach!
Paige said it had Bahama sand, the kind you could spread in your house like soft carpet.

    The little spec in the center of the water is us!  
    Paige & I are behind Sky.  These shallows go on forever!
Words cannot describe how it feels to be the only people in the world appreciating it’s beauty at that moment in time.

Next stop - Warderick Wells.  We had lots of fun snorkeling, Sky & I swam with a huge eagle ray, the girls climbed the mast & practiced their dinghy handling skills while I stole a little reading time and we were excited to meet another kid boat.  
Sky & Andrew hiked to Boo Boo Hill to leave our token for King Neptune and see the blow holes.
    Sunset Warderiick Wells, Exumas.
Next stop will be Rocky Dundas.  We'll let you know if it is as amazing as they say!

Creatures we've seen this week:
Massive eagle & speckled rays
Queen Conch
Hundreds of Sand Dollars
Our friendly Ramora
Inking squid
Nurse Shark
Mahi Mahi
Sea Turtle
Cushion Starfish
Giant hermit crab
Countless Conch
Too many gorgeous fish on the reefs to name!
School this week:
How mangroves survive & thrive in this region
Dinghy driving
How to stear the boat with a fish on the line
How to filet a fish
Using a spear (attempting to catch lobster or anything unlucky enough to swim in front of us- while not in the national park, of course)
How to save a sand dollar
Identifying fish on the reef

Things learned aboard this week:
We are crazy!  When all guests aboard say how they couldn't imagine living in such a small space, when on an open and rough rolling sea your own daughter says so, when sitting at anchor we bob so much that I nauseatingly watch the moon dance in and out of the companion way and about a million other times each day I realize that we are truly mad!  But to quote Alice in Wonderland, "all the best people are."  You would have to be to leave a perfectly good home and safe life to try your hand against the whim of the sea.  But oh the sweetness of the moments of payoff!
18 years ago I made the best decission of my life!  Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.  So happy it is you by my side through this crazy adventure and every one to come!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

11. TMI About My Dinghy (and Atlantis, too)

We have had an exciting week in Nassau!  
We made lots of new friends heading the same direction we are.
    Dinner at the Poop Deck w/ friends.
Spent time at the local Starbucks using their wifi to video chat with family & take care of business.  We got our BTC (Bahamas’ cell carrier) service connected and picked up a few precautionary prescriptions to have on board in case of emergency.  
But by far the most exciting “chore” was picking out the new outboard engine for our dinghy “Slow Dancin”.  We sold our small outboard while in Ft Lauderdale in favor of keeping our larger 15 horse 4 stroke engine because it had enough power to move our family around with ease.  Us moving it around with ease never quite happened :)  Loading it onto the back of the boat for long passages required all hands on deck with Paige wrangling the dinghy alongside the boat with Andrew aboard to manhandle the engine, Sky manning the winch and me controlling the boom and hoisting the engine.  We would pull it off the transom, Andrew would hug it tightly while Paige walked the dinghy to the back of Abby where we then used our over engineered swim ladder as a lever to pull it up and strap it snugly to the back of Abby’s rails.  Sound like a lot of steps?  You should try doing it in rolling seas!  So Andrew was waiting patiently to get to the Bahamas where the 15 horse 2 stroke engine he dreamed of was readily available, and promptly bought it.  It was an exciting day when they delivered our new and shiney outboard to the Marina fresh out of the box and took the old heavy monster away to consignment.  Andrew, with Sky’s assistance, got it onto the dinghy no problem and we have been enjoying her ever since.  
That may be all you ever wanted to know about dinghies but we had a few more exciting moments this week:  Like the time we were crossing the channel to Atlantis and decided to tow Slow Dancin instead of hoist her aboard only for her to break free mid-channel.  The glass bottom boat following us was treated to the entertainment of watching us try to catch her and me almost falling in while quickly climbing on into it before she drifted away again.  But we got her secured and continued on our way.
Or the time we dinghied back across the channel to run some errands in some rough seas and all were completely drenched before reaching shore!  Lesson learned - we now always travel with the rain gear when dinghying in :)
But enough about that, now on to our Atlantis adventure.  
It truly was all the girls had hoped for!  The super friendly marina staff treated us to golf cart rides to and from the resort anytime we needed them.  
Sky made a friend on our first day there that she spent every moment with and they kept us updated on any ride or area we hadn't experienced yet.  
The entire facility is huge so if you visit Atlantis definetly plan on walking but the grounds are beautiful and their is a new pool around every corner.  Surprisingly I had one of my favorite meals there, an amazing chicken curry wrap so not just your average waterpark fare.  
We had so much fun having fun with our girls!  
We met our neighboring boats at the Marina and even got parked in by a mega-yacht for 2 days!  
    The photo doesn't even do the size justice only capturing less than half of La Pellegrina.
We loved spending time with our new friends from Canada all day at the water park and it spilled over into evenings of ice cream, hanging aboard Abby and a true Bahimian Junkanoo with costumes and instruments and lots of dancing :)
Paige said it was the best birthday ever.  
The girls didn't want to leave!  But Andrew and I are ready to leave the bustle of the large city and head to the Exumas this week for some quiet and seclusion.

Things learned this week:
Money doesn't buy you happiness.  We were by far the smallest boat in the Atlantis Basin and may have felt a little white trash :) but in speaking with the captain of one of the huge yachts who has been captaining for 15 years he said most of the families he works with fight all the time and spend their days yelling at each other and hating being confined onboard together.  So I will gladly take my little boat and my wonderful family and the amazing adventures we have together.  But if you plan on coming to Nassau you’ll need to have at least some money because it is one of the most expensive places we have traveled to.  But the people and places are beautiful so well worth the visit.  

We will be checking out the Exumas this week so stick around to see what we are up to.

Monday, March 7, 2016

10. Bahamas, Baby!

The excitement and anticipation of the crossing to Bimini made it easy to wake early.  We weighed anchor and pulled away from No Name Harbor and had a glorious sunrise to help welcome the day.
The conditions could not have been more perfect.  There was little wind as we began which made it feel more like a lake than ocean.  The water became a deep blue unlike any we had sailed in before and had a notable temperature change as we entered the Gulf Stream.  
    Lunchtime onboard
     Boat life!
We were greeted by countless Portuguese man of war.  Not something you would ever want to swim with but they were beautiful as they floated over the water.  I thought they looked like little rainbows but Paige said they had mohawks :)
    The picture doesn't do it justice, the ridge is iridescent and the base is a dark royal blue. 
As the Miami skyline faded into the distance, the excitement was palpable!  The sun was shining, the girls played on deck, dowsed each other with buckets of water to stay cool, and kept a look out for marine life.  A scream went up when Andrew spotted the recognizable spout of a whale in the distance. We were lucky enough to watch two North Atlantic Right Whales making their way south and they put on quite a show for us with the grand finale of fluke waves from both of them as they dove away.  
     North Atlantic Right Whales
We thought the day couldn’t get any better until Paige spotted land in the distance!  Both girls stood on the bow and watched as the water changed from the deep ocean blue to the clear turquoise of a swimming pool.  Even though the depths stayed over 10’ in the entry channel to Bimini, you could see directly to the bottom.  The shouts from the girls got louder and more excited as they spotted schools of fish, starfish, stingrays and sharks.  We did it, we made it, we actually left and now we were in Bimini.  It was crazy!
     New neighbors
We docked at Bimini Blue Water Marina and Andrew went to check us in at customs while the girls and I stayed aboard under the quarantine flag.
We were supposed to be tidying up and getting settled in but it was so hard to not want to chat it up with all the new neighbors that came by to greet us, watch all the different fish swim by and squeal everytime the local 8’ bull shark came by for a visit.  The locals were very friendly and welcoming and some of our new dock mates split a freshly caught wahoo among all of us neighbors.  What a way to end the day!
    We’re having fish tonight!
Even though Bimini was beautiful, we decided to keep moving while the weather was good.  So we headed out the next morning.  We made a pit stop at our first snorkeling adventure, Sapona.  The Sapona was a concrete ship made for World War I that never made it to battle.  It was privately owned as a casino boat in the 1920s and sunk in a hurricane in 1926.  In World War II it was used for target practice.  We tied our dinghy up through a few of the remaining bullet holes.  It was kind of creepy to be in the water beside it but we saw some great marine life!
Our crossing of the Great Bahama Banks was surreal.  It felt very "Life of Pi" watching schools of flying fish dance across the water.  There was no other soul as far as the eye could see and at times it was even difficult to tell where the water ended and the sky began.  

    Great Bahama Bank
We took advantage of the calm ride to clean Abby’s decks and have a dance party aboard :)
    Girls working hard and having fun.
The next few days mesh together like a blur, that seems to happen when you spend days at anchor without stepping on land :) We watched movies, did school, took naps, and did a few small projects as Andrew diligently watched the anchor alarm making sure we did not drift.  
    Sunset over Chub Cay
Saturday night was a long night as the blow the day before seemed to loosen our holding and we slowly but continually drifted closer to shore.  We were up 2 different times resetting the anchor before finally giving in and getting under way around 5:30am.  
    My very own Sleeping Beauty.
Even with the lack of sleep we had high spirits aboard as today was the day we were heading into Nassau!  We had a beautiful sail across the tongue of the ocean with rolling seas of 6-8’.  The girls love when we have good waves!  We’ve gotten better about securing things below so there wasn't near the mess when we made it to Nassau Harbor.  
Paige was so excited when she spotted Atlantis in the distance.  We are getting the lay of the land today as we will be here for about a week waiting on the weather to calm down.  We will be spending the next 3 days at Atlantis enjoying Paige's 13th B-day present.  And the rest of the time re-provisioning -how can we already be out of stuff?!  And trying some of the local fare as we have heard most of the small islands that make up the Exumas don’t have restaraunts, etc.  Sounds like this girl is going to be putting in the galley hours!
    Sky's interpretation of all we saw on our crossing to Bimini :)

Things learned aboard this week:
I get crabby when I'm hot!  I pride myself on being a pretty pleasant person at all times but the truth is my family has to see my true colors.  I thought our few days at anchor were going to be rewarded with a marina with pool (even though Atlantis is only a day away) and I might as well have thrown a tantrum when I found out it was having repairs done :( Hopefully I'm making it sound worse than it was, I usually just stay below and get things tidied up while I'm feeling fowl so I don't affect everyone else's happy hearts :) But being face with your own short-comings on a daily basis is humbling.  Luckily, my family loves no matter what.
The girls are troopers.  Other than getting on each other's nerves occasionally, we don't hear a peep from them about "are we there yet?, can we swim yet?, I have to eat what?, you want me to scrub what?".  They are embracing this life full on.  They make us proud!

Don't want to rub our good fortune in your face while you are experiencing winter but we are enjoying a beautiful high 60s with a stiff breeze at the local Starbucks in Nassau using up their free wifi to update you ;)
Hope you enjoy!