Logging Camp Lament

Surf is up due to Southern Fun

I spent the penultimate night on my solo trip up the ICW from Cape Fear back to the Chesapeake Bay at one of the most beautiful and peaceful anchorages I can think of:  Logging Camp Anchorage at the south end of the Alligator River in North Carolina.  It is not a usual place for High ZZ’s to spend the night, always striving to find shelter from contrary winds or inclement weather.  Up north, our big weather usually comes in from “Nor-Easters”.   But in the spring and summer, those of us scurrying north to escape hurricane ally sometimes hide from “southern fun” (don’t know why they call it that…it is usually not that fun).  This recent case of southern fun, the remnants of tropical storm Alberto, had been chasing High ZZ’s north all the way from Florida, and had finally caught up in Swansboro, NC.  After two days in monsoon conditions, everything above deck was soaked, below deck was dank, but thankfully, not wet (remarkably, I still have not discovered any deck, hatch or port leaks in our 21-year-old boat).  I was getting tired and feeling a bit melancholy.  And the sky still looked quite gloomy, although the southern winds had diminished.  With no other boats around, it promised to be a quiet night “on the hook”…or so I thought.

Sunrise on the Alligator River

Anchoring by your self is easy, as long as there is plenty of space to drift while you are on the bow…but, luckily, going forward with no one at the helm is unnecessary for me as High ZZ’s also has windless controls in the cockpit.  I can power forward or back as is necessary while controlling the anchor chain as it feeds out.  The engine is still running when dropping the anchor as I always power back hard in reverse to insure that it is well set.   Since Miss Deb and her smarty-pants phone, with its anchor watch APP, was AWOL, no alarm would go off if High ZZ’s started dragging.   I needed a good night’s rest, so I set the anchor extra-hard!  But my vision, or should I say hearing, of a quite night was immediately trashed as soon I shut down the engine.   The cheerful clack-a-ty-clack of our trusty Yanmar turning over at idle was replaced by the almost defining sound of croaking frogs, chirping swallows, laughing gulls and screeching ospreys.  I was “at home”. I loved it!

Foresters love the woods

Logging Camp anchorage hits a home run in my ballpark on several fronts.   The cacophony of nature was just what an old forester needs as white noise for a good night’s rest.   And what could be better than a logging camp?  I miss the, sights, sounds and smells of the woods, having spent the vast majority of my time on the water or on the beach for the past 4 years.  A special channel was cut from the ICW into the camp to allow log barges to be loaded for transport to distance mills.   That same channel, long since abandoned, was still deep enough for High Zz’s to cozy up to the shore and woods.  And what a beautiful woods it was.  Loblolly pine, sweetgum, and even numerous baldcypress stood straight and tall where once, only stumps remained.  The forest was rejuvenated, and so was I.  I had been tired, and lonely without Admiral Deb, but in the morning, I was refreshed and ready for the last push up the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay where High ZZ’s and I would be reunited with our love.

Alligator River Bridge

Back on the Chesapeake

Boat Belly Blues

It’s true!  My daughter Constance is brutally honest about it.  “It” referring to the extra mass that grows near my beltline while spending months cruising on High ZZ’s.  After some extended time at the house in Venice last fall, she remarked in her usually bubbly way:  “oh look, you have lost your belly”; gleefully patting my done-laps disease.   You see, all of the sundowners on High ZZ’s and friends boats, all the extra food and drink, none of the regular daily bike to the beach and have a run I get while at the house…let’s see, did I mention all of the extra drinking that accompanies the cruising life?  After months on High ZZ’s I do tend to get “Boat Belly”.  No one sets out to purposely get boat belly.  It just kind of sneaks up on you, growing with every evening spent with friends and relatives that meet in the cockpit for drinks and snacks as the tropical sun sets.

This year’s Boat Belly was curtesy of Rob, Sandra, Pat and Janey; and the Abacos, in general.   Yes, I do “blame” others for this malady of excess flesh.   Let me start with the Abacos.  They are that large group of northern Bahamian islands known as “Eastern Florida”.   Why the dubious distinction, you ask?  Well, the Abacos has everything that Florida has to contribute to Boat Belly.   You see, there is Snapper’s in Marsh Harbor, there is Captain Jack’s in Hopetown, there is Cracker P’s in Lubber’s Quarters, there is Pete’s Pub in Little Harbor.  And the worst are Nipper’s and Grabber’s on Great Guana Island.  These are all waterfront bars with large beer selections and rum drink concoctions; and, most important, conch fritters.   Ok, ok….so yes, many waterfront bars in every eastern US state offer beer and rum, but it is those conch fritters that are a deeper than deep-south specialty contributor to Boat Belly.  Luscious gooey versions of southern deep fried batter (like hush puppies) with bits of conch and seafood spices (like Old Bay) in them.   Those conch fritters are important contributors to Boat Belly.

But it is also the easy accessibility of the Abacos to fly-in friends and relatives that forces us to try all of the rum concoctions, and evaluate all of the conch fritters that these lovely group of Bahamian islands has to offer.   There must be 10 flights per day into Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay from somewhere in the US.  And the protected waters of the Abaco Sound, all the great sailing, snorkeling, beach combing, within three hours of the airport locations….well, it is just the place that friends and relatives what to come to experience cruising on High ZZ’s with us.  And with all this fantastic fun and opportunity for poor gastronomic behavior, we just could not resist establishing the “Greater Abacos Fritter Challenge”.  The object of the “GAFC” is to rate, independently, as many conch fritter producers as is possible to visit within the timeframe of your fly-in vacation.   The winner of the GAFC is the closest individual to the order of ranking by composite scores of the review panel….sounds complicated, but basically, the person who comes the closest to the average rank of the conch fritters wins a free conch horn to blow at sunset.   What a hoot!  ….So sorry for the bad pun.    But it is impossible to avoid Boat Belly when friends Sandra and Rob came for their second cruising vacation on High ZZ’s.  And then, after already establishing a rotund baby-bump (a small fritter/rum caused protrusion, that is), nephew Pat and his wife Janey flew into Marsh Harbor on the flight Sandra and Rob flew out on.  Well that really did it.  This year’s Boat Belly will take months of exercise at the house in Venice to erode….Oh, the “Blues” part….well we are just sad that more friends and realtives have not taken up the GAFC.  When are YOU coming?

Chris’s Wake

    Theoretically, every molecule of sea water moves as affected by every wave, every wind, and the wake of every vessel that has ever sailed on the sea.   Even eons can pass, and, if we were really, really (OK, impossibly) good at levels of detection, we might just be able to detect the wake of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.  Think of it…a permanent record of the wake of the Santa Maria on October 12, 1492  as it approached San Salvador, Bahamas, exists…it is just too difficult for us puny humans to detect right now.  To think that High ZZ’s might rise and fall, pitch and yaw while sailing, in some measure affected by the wake of the Santa Maria…well it is just too grand to imagine.  So the crew of High ZZ’s settled for the next best alternative:  to actually set foot where Christopher Columbus had 526 years ago!


   After much debate as to where Columbus actually landed (since he thought he was in India, reconstructions of his navigational notes are pure speculation), most scholars have settled on San Salvador, in a large part, because it is the only potential landing spot that has archeological evidence.  Some Spaniards, in the 1400’s, left beads, glass, pottery and metal objects of the type Columbus mentioned trading with the natives.   Not to mention that the island itself, and the surrounding islands subsequently visited on that first voyage, fit Columbus’ descriptions.  And so, High ZZ’s has also landed in San Salvador by the steady determination of her crew and the pure dumb luck of three days of perfect weather.  I say perfect because San Salvador is way out east, by itself.   Thirty to 50 nm east of the more well-traveled islands, against the prevailing east wind and giant eastern swells in the fierce north Atlantic.  So the best weather to get there, is really no weather at all…no wind and little to no swells…for three days!  So it cost us a few gallons of diesel; we stood on the island where Columbus landed!!!

In five years of listening to other cruising boats check in on the morning SSB radio net (Cruisheimers: 8152 MHz), we have never heard of another boat making landfall in San Salvador (I am sure there have been some; but I guess they did not feel like bragging about it).  Actually, we made a way bigger deal of the “First Landing” than the Bahamians have…there are fewer Columbus monuments on San Salvador than on Long Island (remember Fernandina, his third stop?).   The lone Columbus museum on the island closed years ago.  Not even a Columbus statue, WTF???  Just a sign on a dilapidated church apologizing for messing too many people up.  So, we included a picture of the real nice Columbus monument on cape Santa Maria, Long Island…err, I mean Fernandina.

Chris’s voyage was, for all its intents and purposes, a complete failure.  He messed up his nautical calculations, estimating that the way west to the Indies was many 1,000’s of miles shorter than the actual distance  (I’m glad I have never made such a huge navigational error or Admiral Deb and I may be speaking French right now).  He ran into a continent that, turns out, had already been discovered, centuries earlier, by leaf Ericson.  And he found no gold and precious gems that he had promised the King and Queen as a return on their investment of funding his voyage.  But Columbus did leave one true gem in his wake that the Bahamians had the good sense to preserve to this day:  Conception Island.   Now a Bahamian National Park, Conception Island, and the waters that surround it are unspoiled by development, pollution…except noise.   For all the “thou shalt not” rules enumerated on the park’s signboard, they forgot to include: mega-yachts setting up a boom box toting beach party for their ultra-rich owners/charterers, complete with jet skis, water slides….what were they thinking???   Luckily, the one mega-yacht that was at Conception when we arrived left an hour or two later, and the next mega-yacht we saw steaming hard for the Island past us just as were leaving for San Salvador.  Conception is still nothing like Little San Salvador Island, another first visit landfall for High ZZ’s.  Little San Salvador is now a cruise ship party stop for Holland America and Carnival (I think), complete with pirate ship bar.  Again, we arrived at LSS when a ship was leaving, and left LSS just when another cruise ship was arriving; what luck?   Following in Columbus’ wake…a gem of an adventure!

Tropics! At Last!

With all of the pictures of sandy white beaches, coconut trees swaying in the breeze, tropical fruit drinks, and water so blue and clear that boats seem to be floating on air, you might think we have been cruising the tropics on High ZZ’s since retirement.   But, not so fast, my pasty white, northern clime, friends.   The truth is that we really only ventured far enough, just this winter, to actually claim reaching a tropical paradise.

You see, the true tropics are only those latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer, in the north, and the tropic of Capricorn, in the south.  Being as I sport no earring, we have never ventured across the equator with High ZZ’s, so our latitude of record is 23 degrees, 26.223 minutes – North: the Tropic of Cancer.   As you can see in the accompanying photo of High ZZ’s chart plotter, we reached that latitude, sailing south, from Georgetown, Exumas, to Thompson Bay, Long Island on March 9, at 10:20 off Pinkston Cove.  An accomplishment worthy of a cigar, and a tropical fruit drink (had I not been driving High ZZ’s at the time).  Long Island was a long-awaited destination for High ZZ’s, having twice before left Georgetown to go north instead of south; Admiral Deb was anxious to return stateside in 2016 and 2017, forcing an about face.

Long Island is, is…well, aptly named, really long; over 80 miles, so we did not get to see it all.  But what we did see:  Thompson Bay/Salt Pond and Calabash Bay by boat and from Cape Santa Maria to Clarence Town by car, impressed us as most Bahamian!   Unlike the Exumas, Abacos, and New Providence, Long Island is not overrun by US and Canadian cruising boats.   You feel more like guests in a foreign country, rather than being in some Florida east coast port.  Locals seem more friendly, life laid back a bit more, just, well, more Bahamian.  As a way of saying thank you, the crew of High ZZ’s helped paint St. Josephs Anglican church with a group of cruisers on a volunteer-work detail.

The island was originally called by the Arawak name “Yuma”, but it did not look anything like Arizona!  For one thing, it is surrounded by beautiful blue water.   There are cacti, but they are the minority plant on Long Island.  Christopher Columbus  must have liked the green lush island.  He named it “Fernandina”, after the Spanish King who sponsored his first voyage in 1492, but that name only stuck until the island was resettled by Loyalists in the 1700’s.  The only things seemingly left from the Loyalists occupation were ruins of cotton plantations, and “sheep”.  Long Island sports a Mutton Festival each March.  But, touring the island for four days, we saw not a single sheep; but we saw many, many goats.

And, much to Shep’s chagrin and Deb’s delight, we had to leave Salt Pond before the “mutton” (or whatever mystery meat) was served.  Although we did not get to sample the goat…er, I mean sheep, we can report that Long Island had the best conch salad we have had to date!

Weeds and Fish

          Can’t help it…won’t even try.   Saltwater fishing has been in my blood since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  Isn’t blood mostly salt water anyway?   I don’t know exactly when my first saltwater fishing experience was, but the memory of that wonderful experience has left me wanting more and more.  I guess I was really just a tadpole when my dad took me on a fishing trip on a head boat out of San Diego.   It is indelibly etched somewhere deep inside, not just for the fishing part, but because growing up, I had so few “alone” times with my dad.  The second of six kids, I was only five when the third arrived, and four, five and six followed at regular two-year intervals.  Dad passed a few years back, but yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day was his birthday.  And, I caught a beautiful Mahi-Mahi on his birthday.  So, I remembered that I was the only real kid on this boat, and the deckhand and captain, in a move likely to insure their future job security, made sure I caught plenty of fish.  While I was off watching my pole with dad, they would hook a fish, slacken the line, and then ask me if I could hold their pole for a minute, while they got a drink, had a smoke… Wow, fish on!   It must have taken me three or four fish before I caught on to their “hook and hold”, but mostly, “hook Shep” on salt water fishing, antics!   This has been our best season yet, fishing and cruising on High ZZ’s in the Bahamas.  Mahi, big-eye tuna, snapper…have all jumped on our poles, until Deb says “no more fishing until we eat up what we already have in the fridge!”  Having returned to life on the salt water since retirement, I now know why something about my 32 years in the mountains of Virginia left me unfulfilled…the absence of saltwater fishing.

Weeds, damn, blank-a-ty, blank, s—ty weeds!   We may have boated many more fish, if it weren’t for all the seaweed catching on our lures.   There is so much seaweed, the small floating bladder encrusted type, in the Bahamas, that we have to keep reeling in, and clearing the weeds from our hooks so frequently, that the lures seem out of the water as much as they are in.  This is probably why all the lures you see for sale here in the Bahamas have single hooks.   Many of my lures are so old, dating back from my teen and 20-something years fishing off the coast of California, that they still have the original double hooks on them.  Double hooks catch and hold mush more weed than single hooks.  Must get rid of the doubled hooks…must get rid of the weeds!

Weeds!  Weeds choke off the things that we like, the positive things.  Weeds choke off our garden vegetables; weeds block the sunlight and choke out our flower beds; weeds choke out our lures from catching fish.  Weeds are like negative thoughts.  They choke off our positive vibe, they block out good memories.  We can’t go to that island, there are too few places to hide from storms.   We must not enter the banks thru that channel, it is so narrow and shallow that it seems daunting.   How will we ever see a sunset there?  It is just too far to go against the prevailing winds and swell.  Just weeds!  Block them out, remove them from your hooks, think positive thoughts, have your best Bahamas cruise ever!


Shenanigans in Georgetown

High ZZ’s Code Flags

Interesting word: shenanigans.   If you are thinking…well, BOORING!… this is just the same title as last year’s blog from there; well you are partially correct.   Webster’s definitions: tricky or questionable practices or conduct, and high-spirited or mischievous activity, are kind of like “Fun and Games”, the title of last year’s Georgetown blog.  But shenanigans seems to encompass much, much more, and is more suited to the things that happened at this year’s Cruisers Regatta.


Yes, we did play “fun” volleyball this year, but we added beach golf.  Yes, we did participate in the Poker Run.  But so much more happened during our stay in Elizabeth Harbor, some questionable, some mischievous, that a better blog title was in order.  Volleyball was more fun than last year (for Shep).  Yes, “we” only won one game, same record as last year.  But, unlike last year, Deb and Shep were on separate teams; and Shep’s team beat Deb’s team, for a combined record of 1 and 9.  Beach golf was a hoot!  All pitch and no putt (80 yd. longest hole), it consisted of 9 holes, each a par 3, all shots are teed up, and the “hole” is a 10ft diameter, seaweed circle.  For the first time in Shep’s golfing career, he finished a “round” of golf in under par!!!  But he was just out of the sudden death playoff, as four others had 3-under 24’s.


Deb in form

Yes the Poker Run ended, much like last year, wet behind….err…I mean wet and behind.  It was a bit wet, not just from the requisite drink at each draw, as the wind made crisscrossing the harbor to the different bars wet in our soft dinghy.  And we were always behind; the last to arrive at most of the venues, due to our slow dinghy/small outboard.  Our poker hand was about the same as last year: 3,4,6,7,8,J,Q, all different suits.  They did not award a last place trophy, which should appropriately be a nearly empty roll of toilet paper (as in wiping up the rear); at least we could have used that to dry our wet behinds!  Unfortunately, we did not have visitors in Georgetown this year, so were unable to field a team for the coconut challenge.  What’s up with that peeps?  Come visit us while we are cruising…lodging is free!

Avg. G’town Day

But those shenanigans pale in comparison to the ones experienced at night, in the anchorages around the harbor, when the wind pipes up (30+ knots) and the wind direction changes rapidly (90 degree shifts in 5 minutes).  I am always, truly astounded, at the lack of anchoring skills amongst, otherwise, seemingly intelligent boaters.  Our friends Mark and Julie warned us not to anchor at Volleyball Beach, as someone always drags in the night.   But I am here to tell you that, no matter what the anchorage, Volleyball, Honeymoon, Hamburger, Sand Dollar, Monument…someone will drag in every anchorage because of questionable anchoring skills (shenanigans).

Visit to Shep’s Beach

Think 70 feet of rode in 20 feet of water is enough, a 3.5-1 ratio or what mariners call ”scope” in 30+ knots of wind?  Will it hold?   I have heard that scope quoted as what amount of anchor rode was put out.   Seven to 1 or 10 to one scope is recommended by every safe boating guide in the world.   Not so bad if the offending boats only put themselves in peril; but as they drag across the harbor, they bang into other boats and make a twisted mess out of anchor rodes.  Luckily, we dodged all the offending boats, but the cursing and shouting on the radio; can’t dodge that.  Anchoring 100 yards from a leeward shore with 40 kt gusts predicted…Admiral Deb would fire her captain.  Find a good tall bluff to windward and anchor behind that; you will get some sleep at night!   And what about all the boating course admonitions to back down, HARD, on your anchor with the engine to make sure you will stay put?  Most seem to let wind/current do what it will with the engine in neutral, pour a cocktail, and then just shut the engine down.  Are they mischievously trying to wake others up in the middle of the night by ramming them with their boats?   Knock on wood…we have only dragged once, and that was in 72kt gusts with nowhere to hide.  But really folks…try a bit harder to stay put.   And finally then, there is the simple matter of securing your dinghy/kayak/paddleboard to the mother ship.  Every morning in Georgetown we are greeted to questions on the radio about the whereabouts of someone’s lost watercraft.  Is it really that hard to provide your dinghy with two points of contact with your boat?  I guess when you get 300 cruising boats together in one place for a week or three, there are bound to be some shenanigans!

Poker Run Fun

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Fish in a Hot Blue Hole at Rock Sound

Fish in a Hot Blue Hole at Rock Sound

img_3373   High ZZ’s in Fernandez Bay

With no disrespect to Tennessee Williams, our next island of call south, after Rock Sound, Eleuthera, is Cat Island.    It is an appropriate metaphor for a place that has no harbor of refuge.  Like its smaller “out islands” neighbors, Conception Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay, Cat Island has no harbors that are safe in all wind directions.  In fact, most offer protection in only 3 or 4 compass points (of the 16 principle points).   This lack of protection makes cruisers “as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof”.   We had waited in Rock Sound for a favorable wind to visit Cat, and maybe Conception, but the window that we got was awfully narrow.   Maybe two or three days before another cold front penetrated the Bahamas; a new round of wind clocking around from North to East, to South and then West and back to North again.  A new place for us, another Maduro cigar for Shep, but the euphoria is short lived.  We are not inclined to enjoy anchoring for the night in 25kts of wind (gusts to 30) in an exposed place.  We chose Fernandez Bay as the/our best anchorage.  If you can tuck way in toward the east side, the cruising guides says it has N-NNE-NE-ENE-E-ESE-SE-SSE protection…Woo Hoo!  Eight Points!    I guess, only if you are talking about direct exposure to the wind-driven waves.  But the surge is the scourge!    Surge is waves of big-water swells created by big wind from one direction that wrap around points of land and change direction, generally into an otherwise calm anchorage.  Surge makes seemingly snug harbors very uncomfortable for all but the biggest vessels.  The surge from the NE wind on our first night makes us rock-and-roll, 60 degrees and we hardly sleep.  The next night the wind is SE and we get the same rock-and-roll treatment….not fun.   So much for the best protection on Cat Island.  After two uncomfortable nights, we get the really bad news from our weather guru, Chris Parker, during his 0630 weather broadcast on the SSB Radio:  the next night it will be SE wind going to S and then SW and going to W just before dawn.  Fernandez Bay will be completely open to wind and waves from the west.  We cry Uncle!  We decide to motor directly for the only really protected place on Cat Island:  Hawks Nest Marina.  It is up in a narrow creek, with the type of entrance that makes Hatchet Bay seem like child’s play.  Rocks to the right of us, coral to the left, here I am, stuck in the middle with Deb!

Deb on Hawks Nest Beach

Deb on Hawks Nest Beach

Cat Island Starfish 3ft Dia.

Cat Island Starfish 3ft Dia. HUGE!

Beautiful place, Hawks Nest, with its own 3,000ft runway, guest cabins, restaurant, beach, swimming pool…   But we are like a ‘fish out of water” here.  The marina is full of 30-60ft sports fishing boats (read expensive…since copious amounts of diesel fuel, at $6 per gallon, is no problem for these guys); we are the only “rag boat”.  However, our neighbors are all nice, and we only need one night of protection, and, and, and, we don’t need any fuel!  We can do laundry, fill the water tanks, and take real hot showers with lots of water; not the usual splish-splash some water, turn it off and soap up, turn it on for a few seconds to rinse.  Unfortunately, the fishing has been poor (too much wind, they tell us, perhaps cursing rag boats under their breath), and we get no Mahi handouts that night.  The forecast is not good for a visit to Conception Island…we punt, and sail off to Georgetown.  The Cruisers Regatta shenanigans await.

Normal Size Starfish

Normal Size Starfish

Narrow Passes/Passages

Narrow passes: Glass Window

Narrow passes: Glass Window

Venturing south from Spanish Wells to the ports/anchorages in Eleuthera and other out-islands generally means negotiating some very “narrow” passes and passages.   None are more daunting than Current Cut just south of Spanish Wells.  In the Bahamas, shallow banks butt up against deep ocean sounds and channels. Water depths can go from 15 feet to 2,000 feet deep in ¼ mile.   Most often, moving from one to the other requires negotiating a “cut” or narrow pass.   Water spills into, or out of these cuts, during the flood or ebb tides as if poured from a large bucket onto a flat pan (envision the ice water challenge, or Bill Bellecheck’s head after the Super Bowl).  Current Cut is the baddest of the bad!  As water rushes off of the Eleuthera Bank into the Northwest Channel during the ebb tide, the current in Current Cut can exceed 8kts…faster than most sailboats can motor.  Add to that an opposing wind and 4 to 6 foot standing waves can build up just outside (deep water side) the cut.   The term “white knuckles” is so, so inadequate.  SYB….  S… Your Britches, is more the feeling.  As a consequence, we go to great lengths to avoid transiting cuts when the wind opposes the current.  We are lucky this time going into Current Cut.  We catch the water going onto the banks during the end of the flood (with the current). We are moving at 7kts…and the engine is just at idle speed.    But, we are unlucky with the wind on the other side…it is from the south, on the nose only 12kts, but….3-4 foot waves on the banks (the shallow water side)???   Et Tu Brute?  …ouch!  Five long minutes of SYB, and then we exit the grasp of Current Cut.

The silver lining after Current Cut is Eleuthera’s  “Glass Window”; another narrow pass that has cut a hole into Eleuthera Island spanned by a bridge.   Once, during a storm, the concrete bridge was knocked 7 ft. off of its abutment by Atlantic waves pounding through.  It is quite a beautiful/scary sight, even on a relatively calm day.

Hatchet Bay; Narrow Passage Entrance

Hatchet Bay; Narrow Passage Entrance

South, past the Glass Window, is Hatchet Bay, our first stop after Spanish Wells.   Also a daunting narrow pass, but not for its current.   The cut into the harbor is only 50 feet wide; the deep water we can transit, maybe only 25 feet wide.   Not much room for error with our 13ft wide boat; and you never want to meet another boat going the opposite direction!  Because of its narrow entrance, Hatchet Bay is well protected from storms, but the town is very sad.  Not a place to hang out long.  So, we are on to Governors Harbor the next day.

img_3346   Governors Harbor was once seat of Bahamian government, before Nassau took over.  It is another very pleasant place, with well-kept homes and guest houses, and fantastic Friday Fish Fry (crap….it is Sunday).  We found an antique car there that seemed strangely familiar.  Can anyone identify this car?  It looks very much like the 1948 Austin of England car my dad gave me to work on as my first vehicle (we had a “hard” top).  We could not get close enough to see the hood ornament clearly.


Simulated Junkanu for tourists at Rock Sound

Simulated Junkanu for tourists at Rock Sound

From Governors Harbor we moved south again to Rock Sound, to wait out impending weather.   What, you say, pray tell, is “impending weather”.  Well, part of the “narrow passages” gig is that you only have so much time, a narrow window, through/in which to move from Island to island, harbor to harbor.  Impending weather means that some negative wind/storm event is coming, and you want to be sure you are in a good place to wait it out.  There are relatively few, all-around, protected harbors in the Bahamas.  Many places are considered “hurricane holes”…but even these fail miserably in a direct hurricane hit.   Governors Harbor is completely exposed to west winds, so with the impending weather, we must move to Rock Sound.  Even Rock Sound is not ideal; a derecho event (50kt gusts) last year damaged several of our friend’s boats, and one lost their pet dog overboard.  Rock sound is so large that you must move from one side of the harbor to another as the wind clocks around during the passage of a cold front.  And so we wait…moving from the east to west side of the sound as the wind howls in the rigging.  We wait for the next narrow passage window to Cat Island.


Bimini and Beyond: Third Time’s the Charm



West Bay, New Providence

West Bay, New Providence

Well our third trip to the Bahamas has, at least at the beginning, been the charm!   After a paltry five days waiting at No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, we got our weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.  Five days, that is a record short time; and the trip across to Bimini took only 7.25 hours (another record)!  We had 2.5 hours of sailing, pure, unadulterated sailing in 15kts on a tight reach…no motor noise…fantastic!  Hard to imagine a much better crossing.   But wait…the euphoria was short lived.   Upon entering the North Bimini channel, we see a local sail/dive boat coming out of the harbor…and it is coming out on the wrong side of the red (remember: red-right-returning, into the port).  He passes two red marks on his starboard side.  Yikes!   Should I follow suit?  He IS a LOCAL.   But, not wanting to explain what I did to my insurance company, I stay the course….red-right-returning.  It is rough; 3+ft swells in the channel.  High ZZ’s approaches the third red mark and I hug it close, hoping even if the deep water is on the wrong side, we will still float in.  Beads of sweat begin to form on my forehead; it is dead LOW TIDE!  We hug the third red mark…and just then, in a trough, the depth sounder flashes 0.2ft under the keel.   We prepare for a crash landing; but just past the mark, the depth sounder flashes 0.8ft, then 1.5, and then 2.5ft under the keel.  We are in!   An ice cold beer, and a good Maduro cigar await the victor as we tie up at the Bimini Bluewater Marina to check into the country.


Enjoying beach at Palm Cay

Bimini is chaotic, noisy, a bit run down…we kick ourselves for not continuing on course that day to check-in somewhere further east.  But we are tired, ready to rest, and the forecast is good to continue on in short order.   But there we sit…wind from the east…when will it end?    Only five days layover this time…another record!  We are off to New Providence.    But not so fast, we decide to anchor out “on the banks” rather than do an overnight.  It is “relatively’ calm, but unsettling, anchoring with no land in sight, only wind and waves…and six other boats doing the same thing.  Not that we know any of them, but somehow, it still makes it seem like a good decision (misery loves company).  Crossing the Northwest Channel to New Providence is rough.  Ten to 15kts of wind only 20 degrees off of the bow, but the “big” thing is the swells.  NW Providence Channel funnels wind driven swells from east to west, all the way from the open Atlantic.   Cruising guides recommend making your easterly distance early in the morning, and then turning south toward New Providence as the afternoon breeze fills in.  Captain Shep does not heed this warning and is lulled to complacency by the easy going in the AM.  Bad idea!  We motor-sail with the main only, salt is everywhere.  It is a hard slog to windward, something gentlemen should not do, but 8.5 hours later, we are safely anchored in West Bay.   West Bay, is better termed ”way out bay” in New Providence.  Nothing but private land, houses and a national park.  But a good walk in the park, and we have forgotten all about the tough time getting there.  National parks in the Bahamas are different…four-wheeler tiki tours, beer bars on the beach….boogie boarding behind go-fast speed boats…you will not find that in the US National Parks.

superbowl    Big Screen TV for Super Bowl

It is Super Bowl Sunday, and we are off to Palm Cay Marina to find a TV to watch.  Much to our great joy, they have set up a projection TV outside…5 beers for $20 (unheard of in the land of $6-8 beer), a plate of wings/fish bites for $20 also.  Only wish the game…no, not the game, which was exciting…but the outcome was better.  SO, SO tired of the Patriots!   So off we go, Tuesday after the “recovery” Monday, to Spanish Wells.


img_3314    Spanish Wells is one of our favorite places in the Bahamas.  It is said that 75% of the seafood from the Bahamas comes from the fishing fleet in Spanish Wells.  It is a very well kept town with brightly painted houses, clean streets, friendly residents…and a great Valentines Day, prime rib dinner for about what you would pay in the states….also very rare…that is how I like my prime rib…slice it off, and run through the warm kitchen…do not dally….no I meant the price, which is usually 2X  a similar meal in the US.  But no time to dally for High ZZ’s also.  After digesting our meal, we are off further south to Eleuthera.

We’re Off In 2017!

The Clan at Thanksgiving

The Clan at Thanksgiving

After a great holiday month…err…two months, we were finally off on our 2017 southern cruise.   It was fantastic to have son Alan in FL for both Thanksgiving and Christmas (with Constance and Andre’, of course).  Unabashed eating (or should we say gorging) is a primary reason for holiday gatherings.   However, I must admit that I am way less capable of consuming mass quantities of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (my all-time favorite), and stuffing.  Laying on the floor, like a beached whale, is also mush less appealing than it used to be.    But I still love trying.   We took up golf, again, after a year off; sadly, none of us has improved.  Our project (well really Miss Deb’s) for this trip to the house was a new tile floor in the kitchen.   Really sets the kitchen off.  The beach weather during November and December in Venice was fantastic!  We rarely missed a day on Manasota Key.   Come see us next fall; when you are still stuck up north, somewhere, working to pay our Social Security checks.

New Kitchen Floor

New Kitchen Floor

Warming up

Warming up

On January 10, we slipped our lines at the Palm Island Marina, and were southbound again.  This time with Admiral Deb’s new “pets”.  Ok, they are really just spice plants, but it does make the boat “more like a home”, according to the Admiral.  I must say, this trip around the horn of Florida was much better than our previous attempt in that direction.  The weather cooperated, we had a good visit with Jim and Laurie at their mom’s place in Cape Coral.  And, it was good to find out that there was enough water to get in to their dock.   Next was a visit with Derek and Rosie, Bahamas cruising friends from last season, who are spending the winter at Marco Island.   Also great to find out that we can get into Smokehouse Bay, at ½ tide or better.  It is a very well protected anchorage, we had mostly to ourselves, on the way to/from the Keys.   Playing “dodge the crab pot”, as usual, cruising past Cape Sable and into Marathon (Boot Key Harbor) on our next leg was exciting.  We actually cut one Styrofoam float in half with our prop; a first!   The pots are often closer to one-another than the length of High ZZ’s, in a grid; making it impossible to clear all of them (even when we are trying).  At night, for some reason, they all seem to disappear?

Deb's new "pets"

Deb’s new “pets”

At Marathon, we were reunited with radio “Marti” in Sisters Creek.  I guess, with our new president, we are no longer “friends” with Cuba, so Marti is deemed essential; just wish they would “tone it down” enough for our boat instruments to work there.  Especially the depth sounder!   Next we hit (not literally) Key Largo and visited the Glass Bottom Bar over the water with windows in the floor, and lights that attract fish at night.  So cool!   Very un-cool….Admiral Deb took the first, impromptu swim, off of High ZZ’s when one of our lifelines failed!  You know, the lifelines that we just replaced, last summer.   Seems a ring pin had worked its way out (very rare).   Deb was just not that impressed at how rare her swim was.   Luckily, the water was quite warm, and she was back aboard in less than 30 seconds (luckily for Capt. Shep, that is).    Then, it was then off to No Name Harbor, in Key Biscayne, to await our weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream.     .img_3049