Monday, March 28, 2011

Warm breezes, lazy clouds ... trying to soak up the Bahamas in our skin

The last two days have been quite blissful. It's warm here, about 85 today, with a strong breeze. The kids are hanging by the pool, with only Elizabeth and I taking a cool dip.

We were going to go to Man O War today but the forecast hinted at possible squalls tonight with gale force winds so we decided against it. Not hard really, when it's this gorgeous.

We are all relaxing, trying to absorb as much heat as possible before we start cross the Gulf Stream into spring and cooler weather in the southern U.S.

I bask in the delight of a grocery store that has just about every basic thing you can think of, mind you, it's pricier than at home, but it's just so great.

One of our favourite things here is Cafe Florence, where Florence herself bakes up giant cinnamon buns dripping with warm icing each morning along with a rich cup of coffee and soft, sweet bread. Reg had one of the buns this morning for breakfast. He Hoovered it in less than 5 minutes. A great way to start a great, lazy day.

We're trying to get ready to gear up for big travelling, but for now, we'll take a rare few quiet days.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On laundry

One of the many things I miss about my house is my washer and dryer. They are lovely, time-giving appliances which toil away down in our basement. The washer, a new front loader, whirls things around quickly, the dryer works like a charm. Both sit down there every day waiting for me patiently to load, unload, load unload.

On our trip I have become something of an expert on laundromats and machines as well as how to do hand laundry using as little water as possible. Not to mention losing my inhibitions about hanging out my underwear and over-the-shoulder-boulder holders (as Scott likes to affectionately refer to my lingerie).

In the United States, most washing machines cost around $1.75 to $2 a load. This means hoarding quarters, sometimes raiding the kids' wallets. Sometimes the pricier machines work better, so it's usually fair no matter what. The dryers cost about a quarter for 10 minutes so it takes about four quarters for most loads but then you can fiddle with the loads and spread out towels and flannels for better bounce as they dry off. This is the part I call managing the laundry.

In the States, laundromats are pretty common, they're in almost every marina and every small town on the way, so it's pretty easy to keep on top of, really. I try to enlist family members for the haul-in but often they are more cheerful about loading up my backpack and my dolly and letting me go off for my hike to the nearest one. I get a chance to check on daytime TV - none of you are missing anything by the way - and maybe sneaka chocolate  bar or junky magazine or book.

In the Bahamas, it's a bit different. The cost of laundry is actually a line item on our budget. Here at Treasure Cay, I just spent $46 on four loads. That includes a folding service but still. That's why the free laundromat at Emerald Bay made me so delirious with joy.

Really it's kind of a chore but then sometimes you meet the most interesting people and the flavour of the community in these laundromats. In Georgetown, the central laundromat had a bank of lawn chairs, a 14-inch colour TV blaring above dozens of ancient machines and Trevor, a 6 foot 2 administrator decked out in camoflauge gear (including a cap) manning the machine. He didn't really rule the place though, that was for the intimidating lady behind the counter who barked out each customer name in order. It was hot too, with a giant fan valiantly trying to keep a breeze flowing.

In Cocoa, Florida, a lady in the upscale marina laundromat gave us good tips on going to Universal Studios. A lady I met in the downtrodden Spanish Wells laundromat is a volunteer turtle tagger with the University of Florida and in between loads lined up giving me all kinds of educational materials for the kids on the marine life in the Bahamas which she did later in Staniel Cay.

I also came to appreciate the availability of laundry and services though when I was forced to do hand laundry a few times to keep the loads from piling up or as a desperate bid to keep us in clean underwear. After my morning coffee, I sort emergency items from the rest and toss things up through the hatch. I then drag out a trusty plastic bucket and a bottle of ammonia, clothes pins and sunscreen (for me).

Messenger only has capacity for 80 gallons of fresh water plus another 5 or so in the hot water tank. We carry two (used to be three) jerry cans with 10 Canadian gallons for refill.

My friend Heather gave me this tip: fill up half a bucket of fresh water, put about 1/4 cup of ammonia in the bucket and let the clothes sit for about 15 minutes.

I tip the jerry can and let the sweet water spill in. I toss a few things in and knead like bread.I sit and wait, watching boats come and go in the anchorage or watch for fish under the boat. Then I squeeze and hang to dry (I did lose some underwear this way) and the smell evaporates. The sun and wind dry the clothes. This method came in handy a few times.The clothes take on a soft, outdoorsy smell, much preferable to their odour before the dunking.

This is the way life can be so much simpler on a boat. Fresh water is a precious resource, something I hope we never forget when we return to our Great Lakes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Revisiting Royal Pain in the A** Island and riding the High Seas across the Ocean

Exumas to Royal Island to Abacos
We had some big travelling days the last few days. We spent our last day in the Exumas visiting the endangered iguanas on Leaf Cay in a dicey anchorage, then moved off to a secluded anchorage where we snorkeled, Reg stared down a big barracuda and we had a quiet night.

Then we left at first light for the 45-mile or so passage from the tip of the Northern Exumas back to Royal Island. We dodged a minefield of coralheads in unbelievably clear water where we could see starfish and urchiuns dotting the bottom as we skimmed above.

We were headed to Royal Island where we had such a bad experience two months previous - we had dragged our anchor in the midst of a nasty series of squalls and then a gale. Funnily enough we were travelling once again with Painkiller, Beth and Scott, who we travelled with since the Abacos. Beth shared our feelings too about Royal. We saw clear to the bottom in the anchorage and noticed a piece of steel I beam, old mooring balls and all kinds of garbage on the bottom, perfect for fouling anchors and rodes not to mention the possibility of damaging a boat.Yikes. It was calm but none of us slept well.

The forecast for the next day was about 10 to 12 kt winds. We had that sitting at anchor and by the time we got out and turned north to the Abacos the winds were rising and so were the seas.

We had a wild ride with building seas 8 to 10 feet and winds 18 to 22 kts. It was on our stern quarter though so we were able to surf but had to handsteer the 60 miles. Scott took the brunt of the helmwork, and I spelled him off and later Aidan. Unfortunately Reg was terribly seasick, didn't give him his medication early enough and we're determined to try the patches next. We need to manage that for our big jump offshore to the United States.

For now we're recuperating in Treasure Cay - our first major stop after we reached the Bahamas. We'll spend a week or so in the Abacos waiting for our friends on Endurance to reach us and for a good weather window to cross.

Our time in the Bahamas is coming to a close.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back to the Abacos

We left Staniel Cay last Friday with our good friends Tony and Tess on Endurance to make an attempt to visit Rocky Dundas and the othergreat spots at the southern end of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

Rocky Dundas is an underwater cave that divers can enter at low tide when the entrance is exposed.

We had a terrific sail the few miles up the Exuma Banks and dropped our anchors about a mile and a half away near Bell Island. We divided up kids between the two dinghies and we started across the open waters to the caves.Wow,what a crazy ride. It was very choppy but with extremely shallow reefs and sandbars and then we had to take some swells from the cut to the Sound (the ocean), only to get to Rocky Dundas and realize it was way too rough to enter. We bobbed about and decided to go to 'Rachel's Bubblebath' - a lovely little inland tidal pool where waves from the ocean crash over coral breakers and then slip into the pool as bubbles.

It was delightful. We snorkeled around a coral ledge in about three feet of water where we saw a variety of fish, all tiny, a kind of nursery for the big reefs.

We took the long way back, shared a cocktail with Tony and Tess and then they went back south to pick up a friend and we headed north to Warderick Wells, where we had stopped before but without Reg.

The winds started to pick up and Sunday and Monday it blew very hard - topping 30 knots at times.We were snug on our mooring ball. We celebrated Elizabeth's 12th birthday on Monday (and alsosent birthday wishes to Uncle Chris and Cousin Stella by email) with a hike, snorkeling and a big super sweet chocolate cake, barbecue steak, fettucine alfredo, mashed potatoes and peas. It was delicicous. A number of our cruiser friends sent messages and little gifts to Elizabeth and she ended up having a very special day.

Reggie is hard at work at school and is still homesick but is loving the snorkeling here -it is spectacular.

Aidan is plugging away at school as well and is looking forward to our return to the Abacos,which he loved.

We're happy to be turning our faces home but sad to know we'll never have a trip like this again. We left our boat name on a piece of driftwood on top of Boo Boo Hill here in the park as so many others have done. Funny to think it will likely still be there next year when we are still shovelling snow and back to our lives at home.

We leave today for HIghbourne Cay (30 or so miles,a fivehour trip) then we go to Royal Island the next day,we hope (about 60miles)then the next day across the ocean gap to the Abacos (about 60 miles)-aseriesof 3 long day trips. And so the long travelling days return.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Reg took this just near our anchorage at Big Majors Cay - close to Staniel Cay
At home we rarely had time to take in a sunset. Maybe we'd catch it if we were racing on our sailboat, but that's about it. Usually we were making dinner, picking up one kid from piano lessons, the other from hockey or stuck at work.

Every day here the sunset is an event. Cruisers plan 'sundowner' parties, skippers grab their conch horns (horns made of conch shells) and trawler captains get ready to blow their big horns.

We all watch for the green flash - the last gasp of blue meeting orange as the sun slips under the horizon.

This is something I will miss.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Life in the beautiful northern Exumas

We are slowly making our way north after leaving Emerald Bay Monday morning. The waves were breaking over the boat as we motorsailed out, a bit nerve wracking - I actually couldn't look it was that crazy.

A few moments later and we were back in the deep blue of the sound with big seas occasionally picking up Messenger's stern and swinging her bow to starboard. It was smoother under sail so we threw up what we had and we flew along at 7 and a half knots.

Soon enough Reg and Elizabeth were wedged in the cockpit along with us while Iron Stomach Aidan was in the washing machine down below sleeping in then casually wandering around eating a bowl of sloshing cereal while reading a book on the Kindle.

Reg mastered seasickness by taking the helm and did a very good job. The bonus was he started feeling better. We put on some tunes and munched ginger cookies until we reached Galliot Cut, our way off the  Sound (really the ocean) and back onto the beautiful banks of the Exumas.

We soon had an exciting sprint through flat seas but with strong winds. We made it into White Point where Folie a Deux was anchored. Reg and Elizabeth slipped over to the shore for a bit of exploring and we tucked in for a good night.

The next day we decided to run to Staniel Cay and try to work our way into the Thunderball grotto but tides were against us and we did it the next day.

We love Staniel Cay - the water is unbelievably clear and crisp, we see nurse sharks and rays gliding by and the rocky cays are just gorgeous.

Today I did some shopping in Staniel with my friend Tess off Endurance while the kids dove on the Thunderball Grotto with Folie a Deux. We bought some lobsters tonight off some local fishermen and made LOADS of lobster.

Tomorrow we'll have to make a bisque with the leftovers. Oh well.

Made some awesome bread today along with Stromboli - kind of a stuffed Italian bread. That's pretty much gone.

I dove in for a late afternoon swim and dashed around the boat keeping out an eye for rays and sharks and then had a quick shampoo.

Elizabeth had a friend over from Sinn Fein, a boat from Port Stanley. Scott and Tony are trying to troubleshoot a prop problem on Endurance.

There really isn't a dull moment here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Georgetown Regatta

Going for broke

This photo was taken by a couple on Amaryis from Quebec who happened to dock next to us in Emerald Bay

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh yeah, I remember feeling stressed....

Before we left to go on this trip, I honestly didn't think I'd make it. Our lives were a hectic whirlwind of sailing school volunteering, church volunteering, work work, driving kids, cleaning house, caring for cat and of course, due to my mid-life crisis I headed back to school and contemplated a career change.

All the while we're trying to figure out what to take on the boat and how the heck we were going to manage.

Those stresses are forgotten now - it's different in a cruising lifestyle. There aren't the usual stresses of life at home, but there are stresses.

However this week I had a taste of that old panic-strickness. Reg is signed up to take a Canadian Yachting class which we didn't realize needed a big bandwidth, much more than my more little blackberry-as-modem can handle. On top of that he's taking two online high school classes. We also need the computers and internet for weather, etc. Then the our new PC laptop couldn't handle the demands and crashed.

We had loaded up the old PC laptop and so it was handling things OK until we got to nowhere this week at Children's Bay Cay and it decided to disconnect the Blackberry as a modem. For two days we stewed and fretted. I lost sleep. I got up at 6 am. and started in on the old PC. Five hours later I did a system restore and it finally got working - for a day. Meanwhile we decided to reset the entire new PC with its startup disk (I had packed it but forgotten about it - Scott found it, bless him). It did reset the computer but we lost most of our precious photos and it still seemed wonky.

Today I finally got the new one almost back to itself - time will tell if we can get this Blackberry working properly as a modem - critical for Reg's courses. And we're at Emerald Bay again for its great Internet signal for his CYA course.

I'd rather not have that stress again thank you. Let me go back to just figuring out weather fronts and how to navigate the next cut to the ocean and whether or not the bread has risen enough.

Speaking of weather, incredibly beautiful here - cool nights, warm days but lots of challenges in the forecast.

For now though, I'll trundle off to the laundry room here - geez we love this marina...

Monday, March 7, 2011

In memory of Siobhan

We are deeply saddened today to hear of the sudden death of our neighbour Siobhan Ringrose. We've known her since we moved to Temperance St. E. 13 years ago.

We learned of this just last night and wish we could slip home if only to offer our sympathies to her family.

She was a kind, artistic soul and she will be missed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Race day

We're heeled over more than we should be, the wind is gusting up to 25 knots and we were screaming our heads off.

It's the in-harbour race in Georgetown - a race amongst various shoals,coral reefs and about 300 anchored boats and private yachts with a crew composed of people from all over the world, some of whom had never sailed a monohull before, let alone knew where Messenger's main halyard was.

The race is part of the Georgetown Regatta held by cruisers. Our crew was Scott,myself, Reg and Aidan and then we had Alan and his 16-year-old daughter from Vancouver (Alan originally is from Johannesburg, S. Africa), Tony and his friend Jeff from New Hampshire and Ken Sadler, originally from New Orleans.

Aside from the brisk conditions in the harbour, the tricky thing was deking around the hundreds of anchored vessels directly on the race course. I'd never raced a keelboat as a spectator sport before. It was a bit unnerving to cut so close to someone's stern that they could pass you a sandwich, but once we'd done it a few dozen times,we almost got used to it.

The crowds were great, people were screaming and cheering us on from their boats.

We acquitted ourselves quite well, not sure of our place yet. Those results won't be known until after Wednesday's race around Stocking Island. We're not sure if we're going to do that one yet and not sure yet if we're staying in Georgetown much longer.We'll see what the weather suggests. I'm longing to leave, to stop at Emerald Bay for great wifi, laundry and showers, oh, the showers. Then on to the northern Exumas again, to walk on secluded beaches, see the striking cays, reefs and waters. Then Spanish Wells (likely), the Abacos again and homeward.

But for now, Georgetown beckons forcefully for the kids. Lots to do and and some kids to hang with. Hard to beat. Reggie is entering the dinghy sailing race tomorrow and there a couple of other activities they'd like to do.

Whipping by Georgetown
In any event, this was definitely one of the most exhilerating days yet, made so much better by this collection of new friends in our crew.

Pics to follow.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Georgetown - home to cruiser nation

There are literally hundreds of cruising boats in Elizabeth Harbour outside Georgetown for regatta - it's non-stop people, a bit overwhelming actually.

We head to opening night festivities tonight then a coconut challenge, dinghy sailboat races and big boat races and lots of socializing in between. Trying to get our laundry done today along with some provisioning and getting our cruising permits extended. We also needed to get fuel and water during a downpour today as it's supposed to really blow hard for the next couple of days.

We're frantically trying to get caught up on school, etc. as we ready ourselves to hunker down for festival and the blow.

Kids are having a blast, so that's great. We're here for a few more days at least.
Our more tranquil day Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island. Note the free diver who is taking a rest on the raft in the middle
of the blue hole. His record to hold his breath is 3 minutes, 14 seconds.