May 11 - May 31
Thunderball Grotto * Sharks and Rays * Native Pigs * King-sized Conch * National Sea and Land Park * Coralhead * Catching Big Fish * Touring Nassau * Bat Caves * Crossing Atlantis??? * Back in the USA * Cannons at Fort Clinton * Armadilloes, Wild Horses and a Diamondback Rattler Back to Home Page
Day 294 - Friday, May 11
Near Thunderball Grotto, Staniel Cay, The Exumas, The Bahamas
N 24' 10.7" W 76' 26.6"
The strong 20-25 knot easterly winds are back this morning. The wind and waves are too rough for us to pull into the Government Dock at Little Farmer's. That is where we were planning to fill our water tanks. Our regular tank is empty, but we still have some water left in our second tank so we decide to pull out and get water at the next town, Black Point. We will be travelling up the western side of the Exuma Islands and we will be on the shallow Great Bahama Banks so the waves won't be a problem.
We usually sail with our genoa in the front. It is larger than the regular jib sail, so it gives us more power and it is usually easy to handle on our wide catamaran. But today the winds are so strong that the genoa would be a beast to handle, so we pulled our regular jib out of the back of the closet. Both the genoa and the jib are about 30 feet high, but the genoa is about 20 feet at its base where the jib is only 13 feet wide. It seems so small to us, but in this wind it still gives plenty of power.
When we put the mainsail up, we were travelling at 5 knots with that alone. When we added the jib, we cruised along at 7 knots. We got to Black Point quickly.
But when we docked at Black Point we found that things there weren't so good. Their mail boat had broken down, so they hadn't received supplies for a while. The shelves in the grocery store were pretty empty. Dan carried about eight gallons of water down to our boat and poured it down the deck hole into our empty tank, but when he went back for more he found that it wasn't flowing anymore. He walked around town to figure out what was going on and found his answer. Someone had been burning garbage and accidentally melted the PVC water pipe that runs above the ground. A man was out there trying to fix it in a big puddle of mud made from the leaking water. We decided to continue on to Staniel Cay, the next settlement on the Exumas, and hope that town was having a better day.
We must have picked up their bad luck. When we were back out on the Banks, we discovered that Zion's mattress was soaking wet. In fact, it had soaked up about eight gallons of water. Dan and Zion had been doing some repairs on the boat back in Georgetown and they had had to temporarily remove the hose that leads from the fill hole on the deck to the tank under Zion's bed. Unfortunately, we hadn't filled the tank for so long that no one remembered to reconnect it. The eight gallons of water that Dan had poured down the fill hole this morning landed right on Zion's mattress.
It's a good thing that his mattress is only five inches of foam rubber so it's a great big squeezable sponge. We hauled that and all of his sheets and blankets up on deck to dry in the sun, and put the fan on in his room to dry out the plywood.
Our string of bad luck continued later in the day, too. When we were being tossed about in the big waves yesterday, one of our fire extinguishers fell over. No one noticed that the safety pin had fallen out. While Zion was pulling out his fishing gear, he accidentally bumped the fire extinguisher and it started spraying dry yellow powder all over the galley. We swept up most of it, but I think we'll be finding yellow powder in our floor cracks and joints for years to come.
Our day had a happy ending, though. We arrived at Staniel Cay at 4:00 and found Loblolly anchored there. The kids happily went over to visit with Ches and Val for awhile.
There are many small islands scattered along the coastline here. One of them contains Thunderball Grotto, an underground cave that you can swim into. The inside is lit from the sun that shines through a hole in the top. It became famous in the 007 movie "Thunderball". We'll have to watch that movie when we get back home. Tomorrow we are going to swim into it.
There is a large bar and restaurant in Staniel Cay called Club Thunderball. Its name is tiled onto its roof, so its hard to miss. Since this is a Friday night, we could hear "Shake It Up" playing until 1:00.
During the night we found out that we were anchored in the exact spot where the waters from the Sound meet the waters from the Banks and there's a continual tug-of-war for dominance. We kept swinging in 360-degree circles. You don't notice it when you're on the boat, except that the view out of your windows keeps changing. But it sure twists up your anchor line.
Day 295 - Saturday, May 12
Big Major Island, The Exumas, The Bahamas
N 24' 11.0" W 76' 27.4
Loblolly came by at 9:30 to pick us up in their dinghy and take us over to Thunderball Grotto. We had to go around the end of the little island and then we found a small mooring we could hook the dinghy to. We all jumped into the water with our snorkel gear.
We had to swim into a small cave opening. Then the rock above your head dipped into the water and you had to hold your breath for a short dive. When you came up again, the scene was spectacular. You were in a watery room with rock walls and speckled sunlight.
The really fun part was feeding the fish. Large schools of brightly colored fish would circle around you waiting for a treat. We had brought bread along and they would eat it right out of your hands. I was amazed that hundreds of fish could swarm around you as you were swimming but they would never bump or touch you. We weren't able to take any pictures, but we found some post cards that looked just like the real experience.
After our fun, Loblolly continued north. They were hoping to catch up with Abientot since they had travelled with them in the Caribbean. Val and Jane had been good friends.
We motored over to Staniel Cay Yacht Club hoping to get gas, water and food. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the waters were a sparkling aquamarine everywhere you looked. Since it was a Saturday there were lots of people and boats around.
While we were filling our tanks with water at the dock, we noticed manta
swimming by and nurse sharks napping in the shade of the yacht docked next to
us. When we went up to shore we saw fishermen cleaning their catch - a
cartful of large dolphin fish (mahi mahi), each one at least three feet long.
Dan got a chance to watch their technique, and the kids got a chance to watch
nurse sharks and rays fight for the fish scraps being thrown into the clear,
We learned there was a well-stocked grocery store on the other side of town, so Zion and I took a hike over there. We passed by the Pink Pearl Grocery Store since it looked closed. It was the garage attached to a pink house at the top of the hill. Then we passed the island's small airstrip and crossed a bridge to get the the General Store that was thankfully open. That's where we found the neat post cards and the fresh fruit and vegetables that we were craving.
We only had a short way to go to our next stop, Big Major Island. Pomegranite had told us that we could feed the native pigs on this island so we wanted to give it a try. There is a great anchorage on the west side of the island and twenty other boats were already there. We motored right up to the beach since it was all sand. We stopped in three feet of water. And, sure enough, two big fat pigs started "swimming" out to meet us. Actually, they just walked until the water got too deep for them.
We took a jar of dry oatmeal with us and swam to the beach. Dan had to do
most of the feeding because these "wild" pigs were very large and aggressive.
They were also smart. When Dan told them firmly that the food was all gone,
they seemed to understand and stopped begging for it.
We found an old ship wrecked on the beach, and the kids spent some time
swimming. We met a young couple from California that was travelling on
Pelican. They had been at Georgetown, too. They had brought a coconut along
to feed the pigs. But the pigs were so well-fed that they only wanted the
coconut meat if it was completely removed from the shell. Scraping it out of
cracked coconut on their own with their teeth was just too much work.
Day 296 - Sunday, May 13 - HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY
Big Major Island, The Exumas, The Bahamas
N 24' 11.0" W 76' 27.4"
It rained all morning. Fresh water - what a blessing! We set out every bowl and bucket we had to collect water. Our dinghy was the best collector of all.
At noon the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. There was no wind and the waters were smooth. We filled up every empty bottle we had with the rain water and there was still more left. My Mother's Day gift was a long, hot shower. I used up the water we had put in the shower tank at Staniel Cay, then we refilled it with rain water.
Dan did dishes and the kids went snorkeling with me as their Mother's Day gift. We saw lots of colorful fish, but our biggest find were two super-sized live conch. Tricia found one, and Zion found the other.
Dan was still trying to get a good conch horn, so we took them back to the
boat. We tried a new method for getting the conch out of the shell without
making any holes - we tied them up by their foot and let them hang. After
about four hours, they had dropped their shells.
Dan pulled the boat in closer to the sand so he could stand and work on the
hulls. The pigs came out to visit, of course. We also saw four goats roaming
For dinner I had a conch to cook. I decided to be brave and try to deep-
some conch fritters since that is the kids' favorite way to eat conch. I got
lucky and the
fritters turned out perfectly. Now I know the importance of hammering the
conch meat to death to make it tender. If you use a conch mallet, which is a
wooden hammer with a metal waffle plate on the end, it only takes about ten
good wollops to tenderize it thoroughly.
(p>Day 297 - Monday, May 14
Warderick Wells, National Sea and Land Park, The Exumas, The Bahamas
N 24' 23.6" W 76' 38.0"
We woke to a gorgeous, sunny and still morning. It feels like the first day of summer to us since it's the Monday after the end of school. But because the wind was gone the no-see-ums came to visit us in our cabins.
Yesterday's rain had soaked our beach towels which had been hanging out. This morning they are all dry and fresh-smelling, a real treat. They've been salty-wet for weeks. When towels or clothes get full of salt water, they never really dry. The salt in them continually pulls moisture out of the air and they always feel damp and clammy to the touch. A truly dry towel is a luxury.
We took off from Big Majors Island in the morning. Since the winds were so light, we put our big genoa back up and packed the jib away again. The genoa kept us moving at five knots since we were on a nice beam reach.
I made lunch while we were travelling. I had one more conch to cook. This one I had soaked in lime juice overnight. I wolloped it good, then coated it in flour and fried it. It was traditional cracked conch and it turned out nice and tender. The kids even ate it.
In the afternoon it turned cloudy. Soon we arrived at our destination - the National Exuma Land and Sea Park. We stayed at one of their moorings for the night. We learned that in the Bahamas there are no federally-funded national parks. The national parks are supported by the National Trust, a charitable organization. They have to work to raise money to support the protection of their national resources. The only paid employee at this huge park is the ranger who lives there with his wife and two small children. They take care of everything with the help of many volunteers.
Here at Warderick Wells they are preserving both the island and the nearby reefs. Since fishing is not allowed in the park, the sea creatures get a chance to live longer and grow bigger. Other cruisers have told us about seeing 300 lb. groupers and 3-foot-long lobsters here.
We took a hike around the island. First we saw the whale skeleton mounted
the beach. Sadly, the whale had died from ingesting plastic garbage that had
been dumped in the water. As we walked the trails through the mangrove swamps
we were followed by two friendly dogs. They seemed to know where to go.
On the ocean side we found some blow holes in the rocks. Blasts of air came whooshing up out of the holes whenever a big wave filled the shallow caves below. It was fun to stand over them and get a blast of air up your shorts.
From the blow holes we walked up Boo Boo Hill, the largest hill on the
At the top we were delighted with a whimsical collection of momentos left
behind by other passing cruisers. Some left old flags or floats with their
names attached, while others spent hours building works of art out of wood,
shells, rope and all sorts of imaginative materials. One even had a blown-
glass mermaid attached. Tricia was excited to find a momento left behind by
her friends on Cool Breezes. And it was only a week old. Maybe we'll catch
up with them yet.
Near the end of our hike we came upon a native "conch bush". Someone had
decorated a small, dead tree with a bouquet of conch shells. Now we know how
they really grow! Zion thought that maybe it was a tropical phone booth, so
he picked one up and tried to call home.
We wanted to go snorkeling here, but the waters were just too rough this afternoon.
Day 298 - Tuesday, May 15
Hawksbill Cay, National Sea and Land Park, The Exumas, The Bahamas
N 24' 29.0" W 76' 46.3"
It was a cloudy, windy morning so we had to put aside our plans for snorkeling at the reefs here at the park headquarters. We decided to continue heading north and try to do some snorkeling at another nearby park reef.
But first, we had to leave our momento on Boo Boo Hill. Dan used his
soldering iron as a woodburner and we made a completely biodegradable wooden
sign to mark our visit. Then we took it to the top of the hill and left it
next to Cool Breezes'.
We had a chance to talk to the ranger's wife, who was on duty in the office, and his five-year-old son who was trying his best to leash one of the island dogs. The dog dutifully let him attach the leash to its collar with a resigned, long-suffering look on its face. But when the end of the leash was staked into the sand, the dog calmly got up and walked off, dragging the leash along. The young master gave him a good talking-to, but it didn't make any difference.
Mom was gamely trying to get some office work done while consoling her disillusioned son. We learned that she was from Montana and she goes home every year for a visit. She thought that she recognised Dan as Mr. McArty, a man who has sailed the South Pacific. In the past other people have mistaken Dan for the same man. They say that everyone has a double somewhere in the world. I guess now we know who Dan's is.
We left the mooring late in the morning and sailed to Hawksbill Cay in a brisk wind. We averaged 7 knots with our genoa and mainsail up, and occasionally we surged at 9 or 10 knots.
Hawksbill was another beautiful calm bay with a sandy bottom. There were three other boats there, all with names we recognised from Georgetown, like Alfran and Tango Too. We anchored close to shore then went snorkeling along the shoreline rocks north of the beach.
We found a big coral head just offshore that was filled with new and unusual fish. Tricia found one that she called a skeleton fish because it was white and bony and had large dark eyes that made it look skull-like. Later we learned that it was a squirrel fish. We also saw a parrot fish and a queen angel fish for the first time. Dan found a large pink feather duster coral swaying in the current.
Day 299 - Wednesday, May 16
Nassau, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
N 25' 04.6" W 77' 19.7"
Dan and I got up at six to perfect calm and a sea like glass. The weather forecast says it will stay calm like this through Sunday. We won't be able to sail, but we can make good time motoring on the smooth seas. Tricia is especially happy that we will be travelling without any waves.
It took eight hours to get to Nassau. We were all excited when Zion caught
fish on his trolling line. It turned out to be a 40" dolphin fish. Dan knew
exactly how to clean it because he had seen the fishermen do it in Staniel
Cay. The fish was so big it provided three full meals for us, all boneless.
We had fish
and potatoes for lunch, a huge plateful of fish nuggets for dinner, and fish
salad the next morning (think tuna salad).
In Nassau we saw big concrete bridges and traffic and tall buildings - all things we hadn't seen for months. It felt like we were returning to the modern world. We stopped at Atlantis since several other cruising families had recommended it.
Atlantis was incredible, a watery Disneyland of perfection. There was a
hotel complex designed to look like an ancient underwater castle with giant
sea creatures spouting water into the canal. Their marina was shiny white
everywhere and the uniformed dockhands gave us all the information we needed.
We were dwarfed by the other gleaming white mega-yachts in the marina.
We found out that staying in the marina costs 3$ per foot and with that you get free admission to their Mayan water park and their simulated archeological dig. The kids weren't real excited about it, so we decided to pass on the opportunity and save our money for other things.
We crossed over to Nassau harbor and found ourselves anchoring among a large group of boats, many of them from Georgetown. We even ran into Ed and Bea from Beach Church. They told us that on the Sunday after we left, the total attendance had dropped down to nine people.
Even though the water was dirtier here in Nassau than it had been in the rest of the Bahamas, it was still clear enough to see to the bottom. Zion spied a heavy old nautical chain down on the bottom, so he dived down and attached our anchor line. Now we had a mooring and we didn't have to worry about swinging or dragging in the harbor. And best of all, this makeshift mooring was right next to the dinghy dock provided for the boaters.
The dinghy dock belonged to BASRA - Bahama Area Search and Rescue Association. BASRA is supported by donations from member cruisers and they provide several services to the boating community. They coordinate a weather reporting service for the Bahama area on shortwave radio every morning at 7:00. Dan has been listening to them every day for the last few months. Once you leave the U.S. you no longer get all of the great NOAA weather forecasts, so BASRA is the next best thing. BASRA also coordinates search and rescue missions when they are needed.
Day 300 - Thursday, May 17
Nassau, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
N 25' 04.6" W 77' 19.7"
Today was our day to go sightseeing in downtown Nassau. We stopped at a store that advertised Internet service and we were delighted to learn that it was only ten cents a minute. The upstairs of the store was still being converted into an Internet Cafe, but they had ten machines with big screens up and working. It felt like a dream come true. The rates were so cheap we each got on our own machine and had fun catching up on three months of messages from family and friends.
Then we continued walking around town. We saw a statue of a young Queen Victoria, and another one of Columbus. We passed a huge straw market that filled a whole city block. There must have been hundreds of vendors selling t-shirts and straw baskets. It was very competitive so the sellers were very aggressive. They catered to the huge cruise ships that stopped in Nassau sending thousands of tourists onshore all at once.
We spent the rest of the morning at the Pompey Museum which focused on the history of slavery in the Bahamas. It was an old colonial building that used to be a slave marketplace. When we entered there was a Bahamian high school class receiving a tour. They all looked so formal in their school uniforms. The boys wore dark pants, white shirts and ties. The girls wore white blouses and plaid skirts. But underneath it all, they acted pretty much like American high school kids.
We learned how American Loyalists from the Carolinas flocked to the Bahamas with their slaves after they lost the Revolutionary War. They doubled the number of whites and tripled the number of blacks that inhabited the Islands (with blacks being the majority even before they arrived). They were hoping to start plantations in the islands, but after ten years of struggling with the rocky soil and the dry climate, many of them gave up and went home. Often, they didn't have enough money to take their slaves back with them, so the blacks were left behind to fend for themselves. We even saw a photograph of the plantation ruins we had visited in Williams Town.
A young Bahamian museum guide taught us about the current politics of the Bahamas. He explained that everyone was still very loyal to the Queen of England even though they have been independent since the 1970's. He explained that this was a show of gratitude for receiving independence without having to fight for it. The Bahamas is ruled by a Governor General, who represents the Queen, and a Prime Minister who is the head of Parliament. The young man was from a nearby island, Eleuthera, that is famous for growing pineapple.
After we were done at the museum we were hungry and started looking for a
place to eat. A pirate on the street invited us to peek at the Pirate Museum.
It looked like a smaller version of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean.
Tickets were $12 each, so we passed on the tour but said we would be glad to
eat lunch in their restaurant. They had a pleasant outdoor courtyard behind
where we had some great sandwiches for lunch. Zion got adventurous and
ordered two British Bangers which turned out to be brats by Wisconsin
The kids finished lunch first and checked out the Pirate Gift Shop. They came back very excited because their friends from Cool Breezes were there. Erin and Tricia were drawn together like magnets, and Tricia was invited to spend the rest of the day with them. They had to do some errands and get their dinghy back to their boat. Tricia happily went with them.
After leaving the Gift Shop, Dan stopped to have his picture taken with the
pirate wenches painted on the building. While we were stopped, a local man
came up to give us some bracelets. He started putting them on my wrist and
when I objected, he said they were just a gift, but if I wanted to give him
some money it would help the children's community center. I doubt the money
went to the community center, but I gave him a few dollars for the bracelet
because I knew Trish would like it.
We went past Parliament and many other pink government buildings. We stopped at the central post office to get a few more Bahamian stamps and Dan had a chance to talk to the postmaster. The postmaster knew all about the mailboats and why they were so slow at times. Many of the small communities in the out islands, like Little Farmer's and Black Point, are so tiny that they could never afford the high freight costs of the small shipments of food and goods that they need. So the goverment subsidizes the shipping industry that supports these small islands by sending their mail on the same boats. Mail delivery is put out on bid to private freight boats, and that income helps offset the cost of delivering other goods to those islands. The government only delivers mail directly (and regularly) if there is enough volume to recover their costs.
Dan, Zion and I walked through the city to find the Queen's Staircase. We
entered at the bottom of a long, narrow cavern. At the other end was the 66-
step stairway carved out of stone with a splashing waterfall dropping beside
it. The shady area was a revitalizing oasis of coolness and moisture in the
middle of the hot, dusty city. We were impressed knowing that slaves had
carved the stairs out of stone in days gone by.
When we reached the top we were greeted by Patrick, the black Bahamian tour guide with the precise British accent and a tweed hat upon his head. He gave us a tour of Fort Fincastle which stood at the top of the staircase. It was erected to guard Nassau harbor from pirates, invading Spaniards or any other enemies of the day. Then we were wowed when he explained that slaves had carved the entire cavern out of rock, not just the paltry few stairs. It had been excavated as a "back door" escape route for the fort. It couldn't be seen from below because the entrance was hidden behind trees, and it led right to the shore where small boats were waiting for secret escape.
As we were getting the tour, Patrick kept saying things like "Step right this way, mum" and "What do you think of that, mum?" I didn't catch on that I was the mum he was talking to until he started referring to Dan as Sir. We learned that Patrick had worked as a deckhand on a British yacht in a previous career, which explains his very British accent.
We walked back through the cool cavern because it was so pleasant, and we
two young Bahamian men using it as their private health club. It was a
wonderful idea. They ran up and down the steps, and did push-ups on the stone
benches. Plus, the whole place was naturally air-conditioned and free. We
learned they were doing off-season training for basketball. They said the
most popular sports in the country were cricket and basketball.
After this we were exhausted and headed back to our boat. We found a bag of eggplant that Cool Breezes had left for us. Someone had given it to them as a "gift" while they were walking around town, and they didn't want it. So I enjoyed eggplant parmesan for dinner. Quite a lot of it, in fact, since I was the only one who would eat it. One eggplant down, two to go.
Day 301 - Friday, May 18
Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, The Bahamas
N 25' 10.5" W 78' 01.7"
Cool Breezes brought Trish back to our boat early in the morning. We learned that they had been staying in Nassau for a week at a marina where they could do repairs on their boat. When they were in Little Farmer's they had hit a coral head and it ripped off the bottom of their daggerboard. Luckily, there was no structural damage to the boat so the board was easy to fix with some fiberglass work. They were heading north to the Abacos, then they would come back to Nassau again because Grandma was coming to visit. She was going to be staying in the British Colonial Hotel, the fanciest place in town. In fact, they weren't sure she knew how fancy it really was! We wished them a fond good-bye and Tricia is hoping we make a trip to Alberta to visit them someday.
As soon as the banks opened Dan and Zion went ashore to get more cash and
By 10:30 we were saying good-bye to Nassau. We passed by the dock where six
giant cruise ships were tied up. The biggest one was the Disney cruise ship.
Hundreds of people were walking to shore and back.
It was another great day for sailing with a good wind behind us and smooth
seas. We averaged 7-8 knots, a great speed for us. We had to cross the
Tongue of the Ocean to get to Andros Island. The Tongue is where the water
gets miles deep. Zion was trolling and luck struck again. He reeled in
another 40" dolphin fish. This one was a dorado dolphin, with a large sail
fin on its back.
We arrived at Morgan's Bluff in Andros during the afternoon. We gave our fish to Shalom, the dockmaster, because we weren't in the mood to quickly eat another ten pounds of fish. He was happy to get it, and told us that in the morning he would pick us up at 9:30 and drive us to a fish fry in Nicoll's Town. We were happy to get a ride because Nicoll's Town is four miles away and we wanted to support the fish fry because they are usually done for some worthwhile local cause. We were just hoping there would be something besides fish on the menu.
We learned that Shalom used to work in the British Merchant Marine. Now he is the local loading master for G&G Marine, one of the island freight boat companies.
Day 302 - Saturday, May 19
Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, The Bahamas
N 25' 10.5" W 78' 01.7"
Shalom took us to Nicoll's Town at 9:30 AM for the fish fry. The kids and I rode in the back of his pick-up. First, we dropped off Trish at her friends' house up on the bluff. The girls were amazed to see her again. They covered their open mouths with their hands and could hardly believe what they were seeing.
As we drove through some of the back streets in Nicoll's Town that we hadn't seen before, we saw some very nice-looking homes. Shalom described them to Dan as the one where the Germans lived, the one where the Brits lived, etc. Once again, it seems that the nicest buildings on the island are the vacation homes of the rich from other countries. I wonder if the local Bahamians ever get tired of sharing the most beautiful parts of their islands with foreigners?
We couldn't find the fish fry, but we got out in Nicoll's Town so we could walk back and do some errands. We passed the park where one little boy was tying large nails onto his fishing line for weights, and another group of boys was playing a noisy game of dominoes in a shady little pavilion. They were a perfect imitation of the adults in the way they slapped their pieces down for maximum sound effect.
As we trekked back we stopped for some cold chocolate Parmalat (boxed milk) at one store, and bought a few groceries at another. Then we stopped for cold drinks again. Dan kept trying to get in contact with Mr. Pinder, the high school computer teacher, that he met here on our first stop, but he didn't have any luck. Mr. Pinder's phone was unlisted and he wasn't home when Dan stopped by.
We passed by a little gift shop that was selling Androsian batik fabric. They had some beautiful summer clothing made out of the cotton batik, but I decided to get a tablecloth to use back home and remind us of the colorful Bahamas.
The sun got hotter and hotter as we continued walking back. A woman driving a small refrigerated seafood truck stopped to give us a ride. I accepted the ride back to our boat while the guys decided to continue walking and get some fresh-baked bread at Angie's house.
The truck driver's name was Patricia. I thanked her by giving her my two remaining eggplant, which she was happy to get. At least somebody appreciates fine vegetables.
In the afternoon we filled our water tanks and took showers with the free and fresh Androsian water. They sell bottled Androsian water all over the rest of the Bahamas.
There were teens on the beach all afternoon with music. We learned that the high school was having their senior picnic. Graduation was coming up soon.
Dan and Zion took another trip to the secret caves in the woods. This time they took their flashlights and wore their oldest clothes. They were determined to slither their way all the way to the end. They went farther than they had ever been before, but they turned around and came back when there were too many bats flying past them. They said that crawling through guano isn't bad. It's just soft and dry dirt.
Day 303 - Sunday, May 20
Travelling across the Grand Banks of The Bahamas
We left Morgan's Bluff at noon. We timed it so we would reach Bimini the next morning if we spent all night sailing across the Grand Banks. Then we could either stop in Bimini to rest, or continue sailing and get back to the States before nightfall.
The weather was perfect. We had good winds and calm seas and we had
great day of sailing. Zion's hook was hot and he caught another big fish.
This one was a four-foot barracuda with teeth and everything. Zion was happy
because he has been wanting to catch a barracuda ever since the first day they
started harassing him under the water. Other cruisers complain that all they
ever catch is barracuda, and Zion's problem was just the opposite. We had to
throw the barracuda back in because they aren't safe to eat. Large ones carry
from the reefs that make your stomach sick. But before we threw him back,
Zion had fun pulling out all of his big sharp teeth with a pliers.
Zion and I took watches during the evening and early night. At 2:00 a.m. Dan took over and the rest of us went to bed. It had been easy sailing across clear, wide-open water.
Because we had made such good time, we actually sailed past Bimini at 3:00 in the morning. Since the weather was so perfect and the sea was so calm, Dan decided to just keep going straight for the States. We would be there by noon.
After passing Bimini he had an other-worldly experience. He was heading out towards the Gulf Stream in 300 foot deep water. Suddenly, he passed over a completely smooth patch of water, and his depth meter quickly dropped to 11 feet. Then, suddenly, he was back in 300 foot water again. What was it? Just northwest of Bimini there are huge submerged flat boulders that some people say are part of the lost city of Atlantis. Did he cross over a piece of Atlantis? Or could it have been a whale peacefully sleeping under the water? Or was it just one of those Bermuda Triangle mysteries? We'll never know. But when you're out all alone travelling across a dark sea with thousands of stars overhead, anything seems possible.
Day 304 - Monday, May 21
Los Olas City Marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Mile 1064 on the Intracoastal Waterway
As we headed west across the Gulf Stream, Dan just let it push us north.
ended up entering the United States at Fort Lauderdale. By 11:30 we had
stopped at the Fort Lauderdale Marina and Dan had called Customs to let them
know we were back. We were happy that they let us back in.
It was time to splurge on a nice marina with lots of hot water for long showers and ten loads of laundry. Fort Lauderdale, the Yachting Capital of the Country, is full of marinas, but I think we found the best one at Los Olas City Marina. It was just built three years ago and it was perfect for us. It had a huge laundry room and an air-conditioned lounge. It felt like heaven.
There were some kids on the dock watching us pull in. When we got a little closer, we recognised them as Traveler and Kela, two boats with kids from George Town. Tricia spent the afternoon hanging out with her friend, Chloe, while Zion spent time with the other kids.
While I was doing the laundry in air-conditioned comfort, Dan went into Fort Lauderdale and found a nearby Internet Cafe. They had the right equipment so he could quickly upload the pictures from our camera onto our website. It only took six minutes, and without the right equipment it usually takes about six hours.
The people from Kela invited Traveler and us to their boat after dinner for happy hour. The adults had a chance to talk while the kids played together on shore. Kela was preparing their boat for a several year around-the-world cruise with their two sons, ages 9 and 11. Traveller is finishing their year of travel, just like us. They are trying to decide whether to sell their boat or keep it or buy a bigger one. For now, they have to find a place to store it in Florida so they can fly back home to Colorado.
Day 305 - Tuesday, May 22
South end of Lake Worth, near Palm Beach, Florida
Mile 1030 on the Intracoastal Waterway
In the morning we headed out to get some badly-needed groceries. There weren't any grocery stores nearby, but there were several well-stocked convenience stores. We stopped at a 7-11 and I was amazed at the cheap prices on all of the food. What a difference from the Bahamas. The kids were very happy to get Frosted Flakes and cold milk for breakfast.
The family took a little walk into town to see the sights of Fort Lauderdale. Near the beach are lots of small restaurants and stores. We stopped at a tattoo parlor and saw guys with their legs and arms covered with tattoos. The clothing stores all had tattoo artists at the doors to paint temporary henna tattoos on your body. Zion and Tricia both were in need of new swimsuits. Zion's suit had ripped in so many places that I had had to give up trying to repair it. He was using his old soccer shorts as a swimsuit. And Tricia's suit was saggy and baggy and thin. We found a store that sold mostly swimsuits and they each got a good one that should last for the rest of the summer at least. Dan had a nice talk with the owner who was an Israeli. They had a good discussion of the current difficulties in the Middle East while the kids tried on different swimsuits.
At noon we left the marina and motor-sailed north through all of the fancy homes that lined the Intracoastal. There is one mansion after another and it boggles the mind to think that there are hundreds and hundreds of people who can afford this level of fairy tale luxury.
We realized that we were in calmer waters when Tricia came up on deck to
She hasn't come out of her cabin while we were sailing since we left
George Town. There are no waves on the Intracoastal, just occasional wakes
from passing boats. When we sail up these waterways we only use our genoa.
The mainsail stays covered up on the boom. Tricia has claimed this spot for
her own. She can lay on top of the boom on the cushy sail cover and it's
almost as good as a hammock. I think she's the only one in the family small
enough to do this comfortably.
We anchored in a protected corner on the south end of Lake Worth and had a good night.
Day 306 - Wednesday, May 23
Manatee Pocket, Stuart, Florida
Mile 987 on the Intracoastal Waterway
We continued motor-sailing north on the Intracoastal. In the morning we stopped at a public boat ramp that was near a Yamaha engine store. We stopped so Dan could pick up some spare engine parts that he needed. As Zion was jumping off the boat onto the dock, his hand was cut by the sharp metal end of one of our lifeline posts. We've lost almost all of the rubber covers that are supposed to be on the end of these. The cuts weren't deep or serious, but they were real bleeders. We had to send Tricia onto the dock with a roll of paper towels to wipe up all of the blood while I helped him bandage his hands.
When we got back on the waterway we discovered that we were following Traveler. We talked to them on the radio and agreed to anchor near each other in Manatee Pocket.
We passed through Jupiter Inlet, the place where we had seen our first manatees on the way down. All of the manatees are gone now. They go out to sea for the summer.
Day 307 - Thursday, May 24
City Mooring Field, Stuart, Florida
Mile 7 on the Okeechobee Waterway
In the morning Chloe came over to visit with Tricia while Dan, Zion and I went to West Marine with a long list of boat parts and supplies that we needed. We needed a good anchor rope for our second anchor that Zion had found. They also showed us some metal polish that would take the rust off of our stainless steel. The salty sea air makes stainless steel rust amazingly fast. Even the buckles on our sandals and some of my silverware is rusted.
I left the boys to their fun at West Marine and I walked down the road to a fruit and vegetable stand where I stocked up on as much as I could carry. They had Georgia peaches and giant oranges and the reddest tomatoes I've ever seen. For lunch we feasted on fresh fruit.
In the afternoon we travelled the rest of the way to Stuart. The city marina in Stuart is now finished and open for business. It was under construction when we were here in January. We got a mooring near the park for just $6.
Trish and I went into town so she could visit her friend Mitsy again. They had a nice reunion and we had a picnic in the park. We satisfied our craving for chips and salsa. We haven't had any for months. A bag of chips is $6 in the Bahamas, and a jar of salsa is $7.
Day 308 - Friday, May 25
Anchorage west of bridges, Palm City, Florida
Mile 8 on the Okeechobee Waterway
Today was the day to do our big grocery shopping at our favorite store - the Publix in Palm City. We pulled up to the Palm City dock and made a first stop at the library. We updated our website and did a thorough reading of all our e-mail since it was free once again. What a great library system we have!
Publix was crowded with shoppers and I realized that this was going to be Memorial Day weekend. I hadn't even thought about it before. One day is just like another travelling up the Intracoastal, or to say it a better way, every day is a holiday for us.
It was fun shopping at Publix, though, because many people there remembered us from our January visit. Our check-out person was interested to hear about our trip to the Bahamas because her husband had met Dan down at the dock the first time we were here. And even though they were busy, the manager gave me a ride back to our dock. He was a boater, too, and in a week he was going to be travelling to Bimini himself with a group of other boats to do some fishing.
It felt good to have the food bilges full again. They had gotten pretty empty. We were never in danger of running out of food. We have enough rice and oatmeal on board to keep us full for a long time. But it's nice to have food that you can actually enjoy eating. I had bought three cartfuls of groceries, and my bill was only $350. I couldn't believe that I had bought so much for so little. I even checked the receipt because I couldn't believe it was right.
Zion finally got his birthday present. They had some boogie boards on sale that he liked. He also got some fishing tackle. I picked up a cheaper boogie board for Tricia so she would have one, too. I figured we would probably be doing a lot of ocean swimming as we head up the east coast, plus the boards would even work in Lake Michigan on big wave days.
We went back to our old favorite anchor spot for the night, but Sea Kids Six was no longer there. We miss them. They sent Dan an e-mail saying that they headed back up the east coast a few weeks ago.
Day 309 - Saturday, May 26
Mile 925 on the Intracoastal Waterway
We started out at 6:30 in the morning in dead calm. We travelled all day, doing a little sailing but the winds were very light. Now the mansions are gone and we are passing beautiful normal homes with small docks in the back yard. There are small towns and small islands everywhere.
The boat traffic is heavy because of Memorial Weekend, and some of the wakes can tip us pretty good. Everything inside the boat has to be secure. Every so often we pass a sandbar island that has a string of tents set up along it. It reminds us of camping on the Wisconsin River.
We all took turns steering so Dan had time to work on putting a fiberglass patch on the bottom of the dinghy. It had sprung a small leak.
By the end of the day we had reached Florida's Space Coast near Cape Canaveral. We could see the huge NASA building from a long ways off. We found a nice anchor spot for the night.
Day 310 - Sunday, May 27
Mosquito Lagoon, Titusville, Florida
Mile 861 on the Intracoastal Waterway
We got an early start in the morning. The winds were calm and there was a haze hanging in the air. It smelled like campfire smoke, and I wondered if we were smelling the campfires of the campers on the islands. But the haze continued for so long that there was no way there were enough campfires to cause it. We learned from the news that 60,000 acres of nearby wild land was burning. Lightning had started the brush fires because Florida is suffering from a 200- year drought. We spent the whole day travelling through the haze with smoke in our lungs.
Since we were near the space shuttle launch site, we were hoping we might be able to see a launch. It would be worth sticking around a few days to see one. We stopped at the Titusville Marina to get ice and gas and Dan learned that the next launch wasn't scheduled until June 15. We wouldn't be able to hang around that long or we'd never get home on time.
We flew our genoa all day and kept it close-hauled. It gave us one extra knot of power. We all did some piloting and Dan continued glassing the dinghy.
Day 311 - Monday, May 28 - MEMORIAL DAY
Matanzas River, St. Augustine, Florida
Mile 791 on the Intracoastal Waterway
Now the cities we pass are few and far between. Most of the land we pass is mangrove swamp. There are a few modest homes and cabins along the river. It looks like northern Wisconsin. There are still lots of other boaters out for the holiday. It was very windy when we anchored, but it calmed down overnight.
Day 312 - Tuesday, May 29
Pablo Creek, Jacksonville, Florida
Mile 744 on the Intracoastal Waterway
We've got the river mostly to ourselves today. We're sharing it with a few other fishermen. We saw some men our casting for shrimp off one of the old bridges.
Now there are large swampy wilderness areas between the few scatterd cities. We are seeing dolphin again every day and occasionally one will swim by our boat for a bit. There are also egret, pelicans and cormorants along the waterway.
We stopped at St. Augustine, the oldest continually-occupied European settlement in North America. It was founded in September 1565 by Pedro Menendez who came from Spain with 700 soldiers and colonists. This city makes Jamestown look young.
In 1672 Spain's Queen Regent Mariana realized that St. Augustine was the keystone in the defense of the Florida coast, so she ordered the construction of a new fort made of stone. The old ones had been made of wood and regularly burned down when the English or the French or the American colonists or the Native Americans invaded from the north.
It took twenty-three years to build Castillo de San Marcos but it was well- used and is still standing today. It was built out of a local stone called coquina, a soft shell-rock. Coquina was easy to shape and build with, and it did not become brittle and crumble under cannon-fire.
The Castillo is extremely large and surrounded by a moat. In 1702 English troops from South Carolina attacked St. Augustine and 1500 Spanish citizens fled into the fort and lived there for fifty days, refusing to surrender. The British finally gave up on the fort and burned the town instead. That's why there are no wooden buildings older than 1702 in St. Augustine today.
We didn't have enough time to stop and tour the Castillo, but we got a good view of it as we passed by. We also enjoyed passing under the Bridge of Lions which is guarded by two giant stone lions at it's entrance.
As we continued travelling up the waterway there were several downpours
throughout the day, which was good for Florida's water supply. Trish was our
pilot during one of the downpours. She put out buckets and collected over an
inch of rain. In the evening we anchored in Pablo Creek where there was a
strong current to keep us straight. The wind and water were calm. We enjoy
the predictability of the river currents again.
Day 313 - Wednesday, May 30
Cumberland Island, Georgia
Mile 709 on the Intracoastal Waterway
We continued travelling north all morning. We stopped when we reached Fort Clinton on the northern edge of Florida. We decided to stop since this was a state park.
The size of the fort was amazing. It was an irregular pentagon built of brick. The two-story battlements at the corners had impressive brick archways underneath. Sometimes the winding staircases were made of granite, sometimes they were brick. If the stairs were brick, you could follow the indentations left from the thousands of shoes that went before you.
There were underground brick tunnels that led through the earthen bunkers
the outer perimeter. Several of the big cannon were still standing at ready.
Inside the fort was the old store, the soldier's dormitory, the bakery and
kitchen, the prison and the guardhouse. It was great because you could walk
through all of it.
They even had real hard tack in the store. It looked like a cracker, but
was the size of a piece of bread, and when you pounded it on the table it made
a loud whacking sound, but it didn't break. Zion wanted to try some because
he loves bread and dry, tough beef jerky and this looked like a combination of
the two but they didn't have any for sale.
The fort had been held by the Union army throughout the war. There was never a single shot fired against it. It stood on a gorgeous stretch of sand overlooking the blue sea. We saw an old advertisement trying to entice young women from the north to come down and marry the engineers at the fort. The big inducement was the seafood they would be able to eat - oysters, squid and eels every day!
After our tour we only had to travel a short way until we could anchor off Cumberland Island, a national seashore preserve in Georgia. We had finally reached the end of Florida. We have now travelled the entire panhandle, west coast and east coast of Florida, but because we took the Okeechobee Waterway we didn't go through the Florida Keys or the Dry Tortugas. We'll have to try those some other time.
Day 314 - Thursday, May 31
Cumberland Island, Georgia
Mile 709 on the Intracoastal Waterway
Cumberland Island is huge and the only way to get there is by boat. Because of its isolation and beauty, it was and is a popular place for the rich and famous to go for peace and privacy. Much of the island was owned and developed by Thomas Carnegie, the wealthy brother and partner of Andrew Carnegie. The National Park Service now owns half of the island, including the Carnegie property. But there are still exclusive retreat homes on the rest of the island. It provided the perfect private place for JFK Jr.'s wedding several years ago.
We dinghied up to the dock at Sea Camp and paid our National Park Service fee. There were other campers arriving by ferry boat. Everything they needed had to be carried ashore. Visitors cannot bring vehicles to the island. But the Park Service does provide carts to put your gear into so you can haul it to the campsites or to the ocean beach on the other side.
We decided to take the walking tour offered by one of the park rangers.
We were immediately struck by the beauty of the woods on the island. It is full of huge live oaks covered with Spanish moss and air ferns. Occasionally you can see a blooming magnolia tree. The ground is covered with saw palmetto bushes. And the wildlife is abundant.
We arrived at low tide and there was a field of dark, rich mud between the dock and the sea wall. We watched thousands of small crabs scuttle around and keep each other out of their territory. Some had two small claws in front, but some had one small claw and one giant claw. Sometimes two of them with giant claws would attack each other and tussle until one scurried away.
Next we saw a raccoon trying to steal camper's food. The ranger told them not to feed it.
As we walked to our
tour, we saw a mother armadillo with two babies by her side. They were
rustling around in the undergrowth near our path.
Waiting for the
tour to start, we saw a group of wild horses in a natural pasture. They roam
free on the island which means you have to watch your step as you walk along
the paths in the woods or you might step in a big surprise.
During the tour we saw a red velvet ant, about an inch long, and a deer tick on the ranger's hand.
But the best animal sighting was a four-foot long diamondback
rattle snake. They are poisonous and the ranger said this was the first time
she had seen one on the island in 2-1/2 years.
There are also wild pigs and deer on the island. A regular hunting season keeps the deer population in check, but the wild pigs are harder to catch and out of control. There are several thousand of them on the island. The biggest problem with them is they love to eat loggerhead turtle eggs that they find on the beach.
The name of Cumberland Island actually comes from Scotland. One of the early English governors in Georgia took some of the local Native American leaders on a visit to Britain. While they were there, the nephew of the Native American chief became good friends with a young Lord Cumberland from Scotland. When he returned home, he named his island after his friend from Scotland.
Years later Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy decided to build a mansion on
the island. They named their home Dungeness, after the name of Lord
Cumberland's castle in Scotland. The Carnegie home was built on the protected
side of the island. It had a turret four stories high so they could climb up
and see the ocean beach on the other side. They also built a
separate recreation hall nearby that had an indoor swimming pool, squash
courts and a gymnasium. The swimming pool could be covered up and made into a
dance floor. The center of the lawn was decorated with a large
circular fountain, and the back was kept manicured for playing polo.
Thomas died young, before the age of fifty, but his wife Lucy loved the island and continued to live there with her ten children. She eventually married the children's Quaker tutor and spent her whole life on the island. She built homes for each of the children as they grew up so they could come back and visit.
The family's needs were supported by a village of working people. There was a farm for dairy, chicken and beef, a large stable for polo horses and carriage horses, and gardens for vegetables and flowers and the Victorian delicacy of palm hearts. Their captain lived nearby to run their boats. Eventually a small electric generating station was built.
After Lucy died, the family fortune was split between the ten children and no one had enough money to maintain Dungeness in its original splendor. A caretaker was left on the island to watch over the place, but poachers on the island became a big problem. When the family told the caretaker that he should "take care of" the poaching problem, he thought that meant he should shoot at them to keep them away. The poachers didn't appreciate being shot at, so in retaliation they set the decaying mansion on fire. It was an obvious arson because each of the palm trees lining the lane were also set on fire. Witnesses said that it looked like a line of birthday candles.
You can still see the fire rings around the palm trees that survived. And
brick walls of Dungeness still remain. The Park Service lets you look all
around the property as long as you don't get too close to the shaky brick and
stone walls that are still standing. You can even see what's left of the
pool, though it's been filled in with gravel for safety.
The Park Service is restoring and maintaining many of the buildings and
putting them to good use. They find that buildings last much longer when they
are used instead of just left standing. They have converted the old stables
into their machine shop. The old Captain's House is now a small museum about
After the tour we crossed over to the ocean side. The kids had their first
chance to use their new boogie boards and their new swim suits. The waves
were only one to two feet high today, not the best for boogie-boarding but
good enough. The sand beach on the ocean side of Cumberland Island stretches
for eighteen miles and there are hardly any people. When the sand is wet it
is dark grey, so different from the white sands of the Bahamas. There are
loads of cockle shells and a big variety of crab shells all over the beach.