San Blas

Finally we made it to the grocery store. Knowing the bus would be packed and could only transport the groceries under our seats, we signed up for the morning and afternoon shuttle to town. The first order of business is to check out the pastry case.  The kids were impressed with my ability to order and pay for a few meat empanadas and a coffee with milk in Spanish.  Don’t get the wrong idea here, I am by no means bi-lingual, I just paid attention to Dora the Explorer on PBS Kids.

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By the end of the day we had bags of oranges, apples, papaya, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, milk, steak, and mystery alcohol.  I kept bringing home some promotional packaged alcohol for Eric to google so we would know what to do with it. We found that Seco Herrerano is distilled from sugar cane and used as a replacement for rum or vodka.

The 45 minute bus ride took us over the Gatun locks and passed the Panama Canal Train. It was crowded and stuffy, but nice to get a free ride to town.

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The kids headed back to the Fort Sherman Batteries and were armed with flash lights this time. I felt like we were part of the Scooby Do Mystery Inc. gang with all the bats flying around. We also saw giant cockroaches.

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A variety of creepy spiders. A hand full of birds, two monkeys, and plenty of butterflies.

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Fort Sherman was built in 1912 to defend the Panama Canal on the Atlantic coast.  The 23,000 acres of property includes 9 batteries, an air strip, barracks and housing as well as jungle. The site was also used for jungle warfare training.  Everything was turned over to Panama in 1999.

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Now the ruins are home to the returning jungle and it’s occupants. This palm tree has a community of Montezuma Oropendola nests. They have a beautiful and unique call.  The sounds of the day always include many different birds and also the roar of the howler monkeys.  We had a few glimpses of monkeys in the trees, but I don’t know what type of monkey it was.

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The jungle grows everything big and bushy.  We are surrounded by plants and animals that we constantly say, “I wonder what that thing is?” and never find out.

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Most boats here are coming and going. We waved goodbye to our friends on Freebooter as we headed out on Makai for an adventure.  They will be going through the canal shortly and taking a similar path north, so we hope to hook up again.

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Just to the north of the marina is the Chagres River. This is Panamas largest river in Panamas watershed and the main source of water for the canal and lock operations.

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We motored about 5 miles up the river to Gatun Dam which was constructed between 1907 and 1913 as part of the canal project.  One of the problems canal engineers faced was flooding during the rainy season and mud slides.  The resulting Lake Gatun, 164 square miles,  flooded the valley and stores about the amount of water the Chagres river brings down every year.  The lake is an important fresh water source for Colon and Panama City and is also 20 miles of the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

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We anchored along the river for a night and went on a little jungle cruise.

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The jungle is thick and grows as far as the river will allow.

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In the morning you could see the haze from the humid air rising up from the jungle and dew running off the deck.

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The butterflies were everywhere fluttering by like leaves in the fall.

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They all blow by in the same direction. In the evening they rest around our lights.

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We had a nice half day sail to Linton for the night at anchor.  We all got to swim and cool off in the water for the first time since the Bahamas.

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Habituated monkeys live near the beach and were happy to take our crackers. I could have spent hours watching them use their prehensile tail.  Like an arm, they hold onto things and rest on it.

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Around the corner is another jungle cruise through a full mangrove canopy.

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Fifty more miles to San Blas.  The Kuna people were living in Colombia and Panama when the Conquistadors invaded Central America.  They sought refuge in the San Blas islands and have remained  here ever since. They have resisted Hispanic assimilation and have maintained their own customs. Spanish is their second language and we found many of the men spoke English quite well.  They are merchants and traders, some of the men make the long trip to the mainland to work in the fields but the Mola is a prime source of income.

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Mola is the Kuna word for shirt.  The women wear them around their waist over brightly colored shirts and skirts. The designs originated as body painting until the Spanish colonization and missionaries pushed them to ‘get dressed’ and transferred the art to fabric. The mola in the center in front of Roy is traditional but the others are very beautiful and made for tourists.

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Over the course of 4 days we bought about 15 molas since everyone was more beautiful than the next. They use a reverse applique technique on layered fabrics.  Wikipedia had a great description of this technique.  They layer different colored fabrics and then cut away the design, turn under the edges.  The man told us that it takes two months to make one panel and wikipedia says 2 weeks to 6 months.  We paid approximately $25 for each of the larger panels, that’s a pretty low wage for a two month project.

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The families that came by with their wares also went away with cookies and stuffed animals for children. Men came by offering lobster and collecting aluminum as well.

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Our favorite activity is hobie sailing and snorkeling.  We had quite a bit of fun with each.  The water in the anchorage is quite deep, we’ve been anchoring in 35 feet or so, it is very warm, over 80 degrees, but the visibility was pretty bad and there is a strong current from waves rushing over the reef.

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We found an area with dozens of tiny, 2-6 inch lobsters.  All fishing is reserved for the Kuna, so Roy had to learn to enjoy looking with his eyes and not his spear.

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Most of the bottom was grassy with conchs hiding here and there.

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Roy chased a few squid toward me.  They swam by changing colors.

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Like the Bahamas much of the coral is turning brown and dying, but there are patches of coral, sponges and anemone.

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Each coral head is home to tiny lobsters, fish and feathery worms.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen the file fish, but Roy recognized it as something he caught when we stayed in New Smyrna, FL.

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The reefs were high and strong, full of stag horn coral and interesting curly formations.

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This lone orange star fish in the grass is a bright contrast in all the green.

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I saw one spotted eagle ray digging in the sand.

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The trip wasn’t all fun and games.  We had chores like a little sail repair, rebedding Marie’s leaky hatch, and some polishing.  A huge rain storm came by and gave Makai a thorough wash.

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Cooking and eating was enjoyed by all.  Genny signed on as our salsa chopping chef. She just had a little problem with the onions.  After the salsa she went on to make lemon bars, deviled eggs and more. On our way here I was convinced I would find foods similar to those I was used to from Mexico, but it isn’t so.  Prior to the 1850s Panama was populated by the local indigenous people and those mixed with the Spaniards that colonized here.  After that the push to build the canal brought in many people from France, the British West Indies, Jamaica and then the United States.

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Makai enjoyed a great sail back to the marina.  Reefed down doing 9 knots in HUGE 10 foot ocean swells, many of our crew wasn’t so happy.  Topaz got some sort of an allergic reaction along the way as well.  Her ears swelled up, she started scratching like crazy and even threw up three nights in a row.  We had all kinds of theories starting with an ear infection and ending with ingesting Micron66 bottom paint she might have licked off her fur.  Whatever the cause was she has gotten a few scrubby baths, quite a few benedryl and has made a full recovery.

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In the marina we took care of laundry, boat cleaning, groceries, swimming pool refreshers, ice cream, and dinner at the restaurant.

Today we’re taking care of last minute internet research and waiting to transit the canal.  We hired an agent to arrange our immigration and customs paperwork, scheduling the official measurement of Makai and date and time for our transit.  He is also bringing us four 250 long dock lines and a stack of wrapped tires for fenders.  At about 3:30 today we’ll leave the marina and motor over to the flats leading up to the Gatun locks. There we will have an adviser join us at around 4:30 to go into the first set of locks.

The rough schedule is:

Tonight 5 miles to the channel, 2 miles up the channel, Gatun lock is 1.2 miles long and raises us up 87 feet in three locks where we’ll anchor on the lake for the night.

Tomorrow morning motor 15 miles across the lake, 8 miles on the Upper Chagres River, 8 miles through the Culebra Cut which was blasted through the Continental Divide, 3/4 of a mile in the Pedro Miguel lock which will lower us 31 feet, another miles across the Miraflores Lake, a mile in the Miraflores locks to lower us the last 54 feet, then 8 miles to the Pacific Ocean.

In total that’s 87 feet up from the Atlantic and 81 feet down to the Pacific over the course of 48 miles.  That will be exciting.

If you want to try to keep track of us you can use the slightly delayed “Where’s Makai” link or our spot link http://www.sailmakai.org/spot/ where the positions are posted closer to real time.

The canal also has webcams posted http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html  There are tabs for the Gatun Locks tonight and the Centennial Bridge near Culebra Cut and Miraflores Locks tomorrow.

If you are watching and can get a screen shot of us, please send email it to crew@sailmakai.org.

 

 

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Passage to Panama

We left Ragged Island Friday February 6 around lunch time.  Scooting at record speeds in front of a storm that started pounding the northern Bahamas we were chased out of town. We arrived in front of Matthew town  at first light, dropped the dinghy and Eric went in to check us out of the country when customs and immigration opened.  This was a quick stop only long enough for paperwork, then we had to continue on before that storm pounds Makai. On the way out we spotted Great Inagua’s lighthouse. After many shipwrecks, the English built this lighthouse in the 1800s. It is one of the only three remaining kerosene hand-crank lighthouses in The Bahamas.  A resident lighthouse keeper tends the flame and hand-cranks it every two hours.

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Oooo weee, here comes the storm.  Actually, the wind and seas were perfect.  Makai cut through the water totally reefed down going 8-9 kts.

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Within 24 hours we were through the windward passage between Cuba and Haiti and passing Jamaica.  After two stellar sailing days the wind died down and we did appreciate the rest.  Roy got out the pole hoping for a sea monster.  Instead he caught the smallest Mahi we’ve seen so far. My research says that Mahi are the fastest growing sport fish reaching sexual maturity in just 3-5 months and growing to 40 lbs in about a year.  They said that 90% of the mahi caught are less than a year old and not many live past 3 years. We released this one to go put on a few pounds.

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With the wind slowing everyone started to move about.  Topaz’s favorite place to lay is on the cabin top right in front of the helm.  Today it’s fine to block the captain’s view, but her favorite time to lay here is when we’re coming in to anchor.

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The water was very calm and everyone was wishing to go for a swim.

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In lieu of dipping into the big blue, the girls put together a spa.  They sat in bubble baths and did each other’s hair.

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The sargasso weed was unusually abundant. At first we saw huge accumulations of the weed and then for the next few days it was just scattered evenly over the water. This weed circulates around the mid Atlantic propelled by four currents that circulate from Africa on the North Atlantic Equatorial Current to the Gulf Stream back on the North Atlantic current and down again on the Canary Current. Individual sargasso is about 3-5 inches long with little gas filled nodules abut the size of a pea. It reminds me of the kelp we find in California but much smaller.

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Bait fish like to hide under the weed patches so fishing should be worth while.  With the only exception is that we constantly had to clear the lines.  After awhile Roy got sick of pulling the lines in with clumps of sargasso, so he recruited helpers to take a few turns with this job.

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Yes in deed we did have luck.  We hooked four Mahi Mahi’s. The first one was returned to the sea to grow, next we got a nice bull mahi right up to the stern but failed to land it.

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The next one he got was huge and jumping mad.  You could see his body flying and twisting in the air.  But the line was full of sargasso weed and he got unhooked.  The last one, Roy decided he was hungry, so it became dinner.

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After 48 hours of motoring the seas flattened down to glass.  The next evening a light breeze and the spinnaker had us ghosting along at an acceptable 5 knots.  Everyone was happy and rested so Eric decided a movie on the big screen was in order.  Everyone was snug with popcorn and pillows.  We had our side windows up for the trip as well.  They cut down on the wind in the cockpit and protect us from wave splashes to the side and rain squalls.

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We had several heavy rain clouds pass over us, but non of them brought excessive wind.

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On Friday the 13th at first light we arrived at Panama. For the last 7 days we only saw one sail boat in the distance and a hand full of tankers on AIS that weren’t close enough for a visual. But arriving in Panama the AIS went crazy. Most of these tankers are anchored.

The weather was very warm, cloudy and humid with a nice breeze.

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Everyone came out on deck to see our first glimpse of land in a week.  We had to constantly call Topaz away from her favorite seat blocking Eric’s view.

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The bay is protected by two long break walls.  The walls are built with cement ‘jacks’ shaped pieces interlocked and piled up above the water. The wind picked up considerably over the next few days and we could see the waves crashing high above this break wall from where we were in the marina.

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The inside of the harbor reminded us of Long Beach harbor back home.  The port off to the south east was busy transferring containers with it’s huge cranes.

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The trip log registered 987 NM.

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Roy found a dried up flying fish.  Makai, like a whale, would sail through their school and they would all take off and skim across the water’s surface 30 – 40 feet or more.

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Shelter Bay Marina is a bustle of activity.  Boats from all over the world are preparing to cross into the Pacific Ocean. The conversations are all about who your agent is, have you been measured and do you have a canal date.  The first few days were really a blurr to us since we hadn’t slept yet and people were coming to measure Makai, collect paperwork, give instructions and finally we got our date.

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Meanwhile the kids goofed off.  The pool is right in front of Makai so I can watch the kids swim while I hang the laundry out to dry.

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We are the second boat in on the right side of the dock.  From upstairs in the lounge we had a good view of the marina.  While Makai certainly isn’t the smallest boat here, there are several catamarans near by that make her look like a Hobie Cat.   Off towards the entrance of the marina is where they tie up the really big boats.  There are a few mega yachts over there plus a couple of nice sail boats.  We made friends with  Barend, Claudia, Charlotte and Nicolaas on Freebooter. They are a Dutch family that lives in Monaco out for a year on a beautiful Swan 70.  Most boats, after transiting the canal, continue on across the Pacific to New Zealand, but Freebooter is on our path up the coast.  We’re hoping to catch up with them in Mexico.

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Finally the paperwork is finished and we were notified that we’ll transit the canal on February 26th. We have guests, Gary and Sandy, coming today.  Then we’ll go off to the San Blas islands about 70 miles away for a few days before returning for our appointment with the Panama Canal.

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Everyone is happy and content here.  They have unlimited internet access, a swimming pool, a  minimart with ice cream, a few friends and we even ate at the restaurant for Valentines day. Everything was delicious, served on fancy plates with a margarita to wash my fish tacos down, for half the price of our Staniel Cay, Bahamas price.  Now I would never trade the rum punch and conch fritters with our Bahamas friends for this, but it sure was delicious.

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In between officials, Eric’s work, my laundry and boat scrubbing, we went for a few walks.  The marina is on Fort Sherman, 1912-1999, U.S. military base that was turned over to Panama in 1999 when the US gave up control of the canal. All around us are old buildings, empty and falling down, plenty of interesting things to go look at right here at the marina.  Across the parking lot is a field full of the cement pieces used to make the break wall as well as the black molds that form them.

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Columbus discovered the new world while looking for a passage to Asia and since then everyone who bumped into North and South America spent their life looking for a way to get through it.  In the 1800s the French were sure they could plow through this narrow isthmus and cut a path to the Pacific.

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Shelter Bay Marina is located on Fort Sherman’s (1912 – 1999)  water front.  Fort Sherman was one of the many US installations built to protect the Panama Canal which was turned over to Panama in 1999 along with canal operations.

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The closest ruins are a five minute walk down the road followed by a two minute hike down a path. We were immediately greeted by endless  rows of leave cutting ants carrying their catch from who knows where to over there.

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The kids had fun climbing around the abandoned buildings. HUGE termite nests were everywhere.

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Inside the battery tunnels you can see bats zipping from room to room.

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The jungle is creeping up on the abandoned structures.

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In the end we didn’t see the jungle animals we had hoped for but we did hear howling monkeys and saw the hanging  nests of the Montezuma Oropendola bird.

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Yesterday we signed up for two spaces on the shuttle bus.  The limited space made me think we needed two more spaces in the afternoon as well.  So I spent the day on the hour and a half round trip shuttle ride to the grocery store with kids.  We managed to collect meat, dairy and produce, and we also had a great Spanish lesson.

Now were ready for some fun.

 

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983 NM

That’s how far it is from Ragged Island in the Bahamas to the Panama Canal Entrance. The GPS says we’ll arrive mid-morning on Friday which is pretty much exactly one week from when we left Ragged Island. It has been a fabulous trip. The first few days we had strong winds, reefed the sails and flew along at close to 9 knots. The next few days the wind speed was zero so we motored along more stable than most anchorages. Now, we’re ending the trip with a beautiful down wind spinnaker run socking it in favor of the jib only to slow down for a daylight arrival on Friday. (Thanks again Rodney for equipping this Leopard Cat with that big blue downwind sail)

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All is quiet in the Caribbean

The water is filled with sargasso weed. Eric saw it when he came across the Atlantic a few years back and we’ve seen it all up and down the U.S. East Coast, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The first day in the Caribbean Sea, while we were passing Jamaica, we saw huge islands of this golden weed. Since then it has been smaller clumps dispersed over the water. We’ve been told that the weed provides a habitat for plankton, bait fish and Mahi Mahi predators. Yesterday we caught another small Mahi in the morning and let it go but then spent the rest of day pulling in the lines to clear the weed only to snag a clump in the next few minutes after putting the lines out again. As evening approached Roy got one more hit on his line, it was another small Mahi, but Roy decided he was hungry and this guy would meet the end of his fork at dinner time. I was really surprised how much meat we got off of this fish. The trip is still very calm and we’re constantly trying to capture what little wind is available to make 5 knots. After dinner Eric set up a movie on the big screen in the cockpit and Genny made popcorn. This is the activity that sold Eric on catamarans back in 2000. We were leaving Bandaras Bay in Mexico for a night crossing and our friends on Capricorn Cat were just ahead of us. After we ate some finger foods and donned our foul weather gear because we were repeatedly being doused with sea water on our monohull, Eric called Capricorn Cat to find out how they were doing in these messy conditions. Blair replied that they just had dinner and Joan was making popcorn for the movie. Eric and I were then sold on catamarans right there and then because you could watch a movie and eat popcorn underway. Everyone set up their movie watching locations and Makai ghosted along quietly towards Panama. By the end of the movie (Mr. Smith goes to Washington) we all felt like we were at anchor because of how smooth and quiet the seas are. This morning we had a few rain showers without wind. Is it still a squall if there isn’t any wind? Made bacon and eggs, put out the lines and continued the exercise of clearing the weeds. Finally, FISH ON! I was sure it was a big one leaping in the air out there. Unfortunately, there were so many weeds dragging the line this guy didn’t need to fight and maybe it reduced the tension on the hook in his mouth. I don’t know, but that’s one more that got away. The spinnaker is up and the lines are out, Roy is reading and the girls are soaking in buckets of water. Time to make lunch. It’s been nearly three weeks since we’ve been in Georgetown to resupply. Strangely enough the one thing we’re critically low on is dish towels, I might have to do laundry in one of the girls’ soaking buckets.

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Caribbean Sea

So far this leg of the journey has been uneventful. Roy caught a very small Mahi that he released. Then he got a nice sized bull mahi that was full of energy. He fought this fish for quite a long time but in the end there was too much debate on how to land it and it got off. That always makes for a miserable day. Today he caught an even smaller Mahi and a small barracuda. We’ve been motoring for the last 36 hours, the water is flat calm and smooth like glass. The wind is predicted to pick up tonight and we should be able to sail the rest of the way. The girls fill buckets of water and set up a spa in the back. We’ve been playing games, doing chores, cooking and eating too much. Normally appetites are down on passages, but without any sea sickness the Makai buffet is open. Finally, without that hectic spear fishing, cocktail party and beach schedule we’ve been getting to reading. I wanted to say hello to our friends on the Chubasco Net in Mexico. Send us email at crew@sailmakai.org we should have internet by the weekend. I would love to hear all about the latest and greatest cruiser hot spots in Mexico. I’ve been telling the kids about all the great food in Zihuatanejo, friends in Barra de Navidad, the alligator and hippo slides in Paradise Village and how the Sea of Cortez will remind them of the Bahamas except with cactus. I remember a guy catching dorado in the anchorage at Los Frailes, the fabulous produce markets in La Paz, the seal colony at Isla Islote, clams, lobster and scallops off shore from Loreto, and cheese wiz coated bacon wrapped exquisitos in Santa Rosalia. We need something to look forward to. See you all there!

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Fish ON!

My breathing slowed as I drifted off to sleep just to be awakened to the drag on Roy’s pole cranking. FISH ON! Off in the distance we saw a beautiful little Mahi jumping to free itself from Roy’s line. The closer it got to the boat we noticed how small it was, something less than two feet. With these fish each inch of length also equates to more or less girth. Jr. would have been little more than a mouth full, so he holds the distinction of the first Mahi Mahi Roy released.

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Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica

We set off on Friday the wind was perfect. Makai was reefed down and did 8+ knots for nearly 48 hours. We briefly stopped at Great Inagua to check out of the country and then kept going to take advantage of the edge of the storm most of the Bahamas was experiencing. Early this morning, in the triangle between Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, the wind died down to below 10 knots. Eric and I have had two nights of two hour shifts. It’s not so bad since there is plenty of napping during the day to make up for lost sleep at night. Maybe five nights to go. Now the spinnaker is up, the sun is shining, everyone is taking showers and scrounging for food. Yesterday we had pizza, today maybe some cabbage salad, cabbage and sausage and some other cabbage dish as that is always the last vegetable alive after more than two weeks since our last shopping trip. I think the weather is supposed to be like this most of the week in the Caribbean Sea so we should have a pleasant trip. Roy has a line out, maybe the Young Man and the Sea will have a story to tell. ===== This message was sent using Winlink, a free radio email system provided by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation and volunteers worldwide. Replies to this message should be brief using plain text format and any attachments kept small. Commercial use or use of this email system for monetary gain is strictly forbidden. See www.winlink.org/help for additional information.

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Ragged Islands

Totopaz, I don’t think we’re in Georgetown anymore.  LIONfish, TIGER sharks, and BEARacudas, Oh my!

We were greeted by dolphins as we slipped through Hog Cay cut with only half a foot between the bottom of Makai’s keels and the sand.

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We rushed down to Buena Vista Cay with Makai loaded down with produce orders for our friends.  As soon as the anchor was down the kids all jumped ship and the adults came over for their produce.  Unlike the mail boat, Makai serves wine when you collect your order.  The chat and wine party went on until dinner time, the girls disappeared into a friend’s boat and the boys went spear fishing.  Yes, it is time for me to cut the apron strings and let my little boy go off with his pals, spear fishing in shark infested waters.  Look what’s for dinner when you have three thirteens and a twelve year old boys.  They were all shivering on the back step cleaning these fish so I cooked up a nice cup of hot cocoa and steamed a pot of lobster for them to snack on.

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After a few days in Buena Vista we all headed down to Ragged Island to collect supplies in Duncan Town.  From the south anchorage there is an interesting walk to town.  There are several unmarked paths through the brush to a dirt road which passes the trash dump.  Always good to know where to get rid of your trash. Then we swiftly cross over the runway to the road.  Up and over the hill and down the other side to the market.

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Maxine’s market is a very small one room that only has supplies on mail boat day.  Behind the market her husband dries conch for export to the Asian market.

In the 1800s Duncan Taylor began a thriving salt industry trading with Haiti and Cuba. Through all my research the best I can come up with is that the salt comes from the ground and the crystals are produced when the rain water floods it in the summer.

Today Duncan town has less than 100 residents, that rely on the mail boat for supplies.  The entrance into the harbor is through this mangrove channel.  Most of the cruising boats are too chicken (smart) to transit this shallow channel and opt to anchor off the south end of the island.

The town was very friendly.  Most houses had chickens but this one has and interesting array of pigeons.

Our 14 children and 12 adults must have been quite a spectacle.

After shopping the kids went off to the school to play at the playground or to tap into the free highspeed WIFI provided through a fiber optic cable to the local Batelco tower. There were enough adults for Marjorie’s husband to open his bar and serve ICE COLD beers.

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Their yard has several chickens, roosters, cats and peacocks and hens. The peacock seems to be the only one that can fly/hop to neighboring roofs.

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Marjorie makes beautiful baskets and purses plaiting straw and fronds. In her shop she also makes fabric products like bed, bath and kitchen sets. Below is a panel that just arrived with the Bahamian coat of arms.

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Daniel at the Silvertail Fishing Lodge invited us for lunch.  Roy would have loved to go bonefishing, they are a great sport fish, but not good for eating.

After provisioning, cooking and cleaning up after three meals a day for several months, the moms decided to have a Ladies Lunch at the lodge. The kids decided to head to town to find free WIFI and I’m not sure if I ever heard what the dad’s did that day.  The ladies arrived and placed their order, poured a glass of wine that we were encouraged to bring for ourselves and sat down for a nice quiet chat.  Within minutes the kids arrived, hey how does that work, ladies lunch with a side of kids?  Anyway they were engrossed in their electronic devices and barely noticed us at the table until our food arrived.  Then like piranha on a dead cow or mosquitoes on a bare arm at sunset they attacked. The moms fended off barrage after barrage of requests for ‘just one’ french fry.  Eventually the kids produced cash from their own pockets and supported the restaurant with their own orders.

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Back at the boats the boys played poker.

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Girls baked a cake.

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Enough of this town stuff, we need to find a place to get wet.  Its difficult to swim in the Raggeds because most anchorages are also the home to one or more sharks.  When we first arrived, Topaz jumped in for her swim day and all the boats in the anchorage radioed us to warn of reef, tiger and bull sharks patrolling the anchorage. We spent a few days at Hog Cay and had a lovely Super Bowl party.  Some of the boats have TV receivers that can connect to the Duncan Town signal.

It is difficult to travel in a pack of six boats.  Even though we’re all going in the same general direction, no one gets to be independent when the kids can’t seem to survive without each other.  The first to make the break was Dream Catcher.  We have had the most adventures with Beth, Ken and Jeanette than anyone else.  We met them our first summer in Connecticut just before they departed home for their cruise.  Since then we had great adventures in the Bahamas, the marina/shipyard in Maryland and also in Washington DC.  They headed back to Georgetown to meet up with a repair part, supplies and off to more Bahamanian adventures.  Adios friends.

The next day the rest of the boats scattered between three different anchorages, a total of about 3 miles north or south from each other. We went to Johnson Cay and it’s beautiful crescent beach. The low land across the island floods at high tide, and there are goats roaming freely.

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We saw birds and lizards in the bushes.

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We found one of the goats’ great grandfather as a skeleton with a pelt.

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On the windward side of the island a fun blow hole was spraying water with each wave. The kids collected plastic trash and fishing floats that washed ashore here and threw them in the hole.  Each wave would launch some piece of trash into the air.  This activity could have kept them busy for hours.

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Makai and Wonderful Life enjoyed a quiet day and a half swimming, playing, and fishing with no sign of sharks. Wonderful Life has a great story too.  Their boat, formerly know as Prologue, was cruising in Mexico when we were there in the late 1990s.  They bought it in Long Beach the next dock over from where we lived in Alamitos Bay, took it to San Franscisco and lived in a marina under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Doug was an Air Force Officer and when he was relocated to the Atlantic their boat was trucked over Donner Pass and across country.  While the slow moving truck was bogged down by the weight of the boat and causing televised traffic jams, Kathleen was in the hospital giving birth to their first boy. Since then they lived in Germany and Doug retired from the military but now they’re working on returning to Germany for a job and to save up to buy a catamaran for their ‘cruise without kids’.

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Roy and Genny went spear fishing with Abe and Jack while the rest of us basked on the beach.

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Marie and Ella were great friends.  They had sleep overs, played with Little Pet Shops and My Little Ponies, swam and played all day.

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We went for a snorkel on the reef inside our anchorage.

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This is one of the most beautiful and well protected reefs around.

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Not much in the way of giant sea monster fish for dinner, but perfect for little girls who want to see pretty colors.

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The brain coral is alive and growing, surrounded by purple fans.

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Schools of yellow chubs and blue damsel fish hover in the coral.

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The contrast of the colors against the white sand makes the coral oasis stand out.

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The serenity was disturbed only by the sound of the dinghy returning with the fishermen.

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Abe caught a huge snapper.  The usual size is about ten inches which is the size of the reddish hog fish in the above picture.  Abes snapper was at least twelve inches.  Then Roy shows up with the Sea Monster sized male Hog Fish nearly 30 inches. That is just nutso.

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That afternoon everyone met across the channel for a quick slack tide snorkel at the cut. Makana threw out their fenders and tided up to Makai for the snorkel trip.

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Stag Horn coral is impressive.  It looks like it’s reaching up to the sun.  Some people took pictures, other were entertained by the complicated bottom full of old coral and cubby holes for critters to hide in and the fishermen had a great time collecting dinner.

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That evening we all met at the beach for our final evening together.  Genny’s birthday is coming up so she received a few gifts and we brought chocolate cupcakes for everyone.  Before we left Maryland everyone selected a cake mix and frosting for their birthday.

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Rick from Makana is a high school math and science teacher, so he put together a class project.  Over the last week each kid picked a star, did the research when we had internet in Duncan Town, and prepared a presentation.  Tonight, in order of age, the kids gave their presentation and were graded by their peers.  This is a unique opportunity for cruising homeschoolers and everyone did a fantastic job. Since Jeanette on Dream Catcher left early, a hand full of us went to her boat to listen to her presentation given in Dream Catcher’s cockpit.

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Wednesday morning a favorable wind out of the east prompted everyone to pull up their anchor and head north.  We said our final goodbyes and promised to visit each other at their home ports in the future. This was a miserable day for Makai.

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Wednesday marked the end of our time in the Bahamas.  Last year when we said goodbye to friends there was the promise to meet up again somewhere, but this time Makai will be heading for the Pacific Ocean. My eyes were full of water all day, Marie sobbed until evening, Roy was choked up, Genny couldn’t look anyone in the eye.

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We went back to Johnson Cay and cried over sand castles made with Ella, reefs explored with Abe and Jack and beaches shared with Doug and Kathleen. We tried to be sociable with Bob and Becky on White Magic.  They were pals in the shipyard marina in Maryland. This is their first cruise after retirement and their daughters have grown up and left the nest.   They are our hope to return in the future.

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We have been watching the weather, it looks like Friday afternoon winds from the north should arrive giving us a quick sail to Great Inagua just north of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.  We will officially check out of the Bahamas in Matthew Town and head to Panama. Until then we have several chores to take care of.  Burning paper trash, checking engine oil, filling water jugs, re-arranging the pantry, defrosting the refrigerator and preparing a few meals ahead of time.

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The only one who didn’t notice our departure was nearing is Topaz. She wagged her tail pouncing on fish, twigs and pieces of grass floating by.

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Roy wanted one more fishing trip.

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He came home with his prize but decided to freeze them for later.  Sloppy Joes on tonight’s menu sounded better. That’s how you know its time to leave, Roy doesn’t want to eat lobster anymore.

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The wind is predicted to build out of the north as the day goes on and we should arrive in Matthew town and check out just before it hits.  We’ll see how it goes, but maybe we’ll just keep going toward Panama right away.  Currently the forecast shows lighter winds for most of the trip with almost no wind on Monday or Tuesday, so we’ll have to use the engine a bit.  I plan to send short updates to the blog from our HAM radio and you can follow us from the Where’s Makai link on our blog.

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Ragged Islands

The day after our guests departed we loaded up on produce and a few other supplies and headed out on the 70 nm trip to these remote southern islands. This distance is too short to travel overnight and too long to do in one day, plus we had wait for high tide to cross over this one shallow spot, which doesn’t have enough water to float Makai at low tide. Anyway, all the east coast storms are bringing us great sailing winds so the trip down here was great. We arrived yesterday afternoon to a crowded anchorage. This is one of the few spots that offer protection from the west winds, so everyone in the area is hiding out here until the wind changes direction. When we got the anchor down and set, the kids went off to find their friends and the adults came to Makai to collect the requested items that we brought from Georgetown. We ended up spending the afternoon chatting and drinking wine. The boys (three 13 yr olds and an 11 yr old)?went off to do a little spear fishing and came back with 5 huge lobsters and a bucket full of fish. They we’re all shivering and blue while cleaning fish on the back step, but a little hot chocolate and steamed lobster warmed them right up. I just love having all the kids over. It’s especially great having the gang feasting on lobster that they caught. Last night, after being separated from their pals for two weeks sleepovers we’re organized, but the dinghy went in early this morning to take everyone home for school. Sent from my iPhone

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Walters Family Visit

My brother Jim, his wife Ania, and their son Patryk came for a visit.  Most years we all have a week of fishing in Canada, but this year it was cancelled.  Having them aboard Makai is going to be a fun replacement fishing vacation.

They changed out of their travel clothes, had some quick refreshments, my ‘foodie’ family did an inventory of the spice rack and other galley items and we headed back to town to take care of a little business before heading to the outer islands.  We’ve spent most of the last month with our ‘kid boat’ friends.  They were all in playing basketball near the cell phone store where Patryk bought Sim card for Bahamas wifi.  Most of our pals are heading to the Ragged Islands/Jumentos, we’ll meet them there in about two weeks.

With Makai’s refrigerator loaded and the Hobie stowed for the long day at sea, we headed north to a few favorite anchorages.

Marie likes to stand on the front of the mast for a better view.

Genny is always trying to take charge, once in awhile Eric lets her have the helm.

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Roy put out the poles and in less than an hour after leaving Georgetown “Fish On” screamed from the port reel.

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Everyone was so excited to see the shimmering blue green fish jump at the end of the line.  As Roy brought the fish closer to the boat my anxiety kicked in.  This part always worries me.  We only lost one fish, but I was sick over it for days.  Jim grabbed the net but even Roy’s giant net isn’t big enough for a 41 inch Mahi Mahi.

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In the end he just pulled it up on the back step and I threw a towel over it and held it down for a quick drink of alcohol. This is a perfect way to begin a fishing trip!

Roy cleaned the first side and Jim cleaned the second side.  We ended up with a big bag of meat to keep our fish eaters fed for awhile.

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The wind patterns are changing.  December gave us nonstop east winds but in January the winter storms from up north sent frontal passages that provide wind that changes direction 360 degrees every week.  Light winds from the west are predicted and the channel between Normans Pond Cay and Leaf Cay offers good protection from those westerlies.

For dinner Patryk digs into the galley combining spices and flavors.  We had several meals of Lobster and Snapper in the freezer to get us started, but fishing trips are planned to keep these seafood dinners going. Don’t worry, I’m not out of a job, I still have bread and rolls, deserts and three non-seafood eating people to cook for.

Our guests live in Buffalo where there isn’t much opportunity for snorkeling and spear fishing.  We started our day at the beach so Jim and Patryk could get a little snorkeling practice in before presenting them with the reef. The beach at Leaf Cay is the residence of a couple dozen Iguanas.  They have become habituated by the tour boats that come and feed them for their passengers.

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Our friends on Tangent met up with us.  The girls had fun playing at the beach while the fishermen searched the reef for dinner.  Roy did a great job bringing us a jumbo lobster and large snapper and teaching Jim and Patryk to shoot glass eye snappers.

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Roy likes to pose his crawfish for a photo.

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Patryk agreed with this posing pleasure as well.

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As always, the fishermen are rewarded with steamed horns and legs for their after dive snack.

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On its way around the compass, the wind is now coming from the north.  Williams bay is a great place to anchor in these conditions.  The bottom is sandy, there are three nice beaches in front of us, opportunities to walk the paths to the windward side of the island and fun snorkeling with out spears.

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The kids played all day and we had movies and dinner with Tangent in the evenings.

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The other side of the island has a beautiful coast line of jagged rocks, cliffs, and coves formed by the crashing waves and foamy water.

After just a few days, Tangent had plans to revisit anchorages to the north and we have plans for the Brigantines.

It’s sad to say goodbye to friends now because chances are we won’t see them again. We’ve met so many interesting people and quickly became pals, it’s really hard to move on.

The Brigantines are a group of islands about 3 miles off to the west.  The area is quite shallow but there is enough water for Makai.

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As always getting in the water means spearfishing.  Jim and Patryk are anxious for success with this form of fishing.  Jim has taken Roy river and lake fishing in NY and Canada for the last five years or so and now it is Roy’s turn to teach them to fish. Unfortunately, Roy is still bringing in massive sea monsters while everyone else is lucky to get a goldfish. I was doing my job pulling the dinghy along while Roy hunts when I heard him squawking through his snorkel.  The next thing I saw was the end of his spear swimming away and then a puff of sand as it disappeared under a rock. What was that!  After the sand settled down again he found his prize.  It was crazy to watch Roy swim with this giant fish.  Not too long after the first one he got another much smaller one.

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This Mutton Snapper weighed in at 15 pounds and provided almost as much meat at the Mahi Mahi did.

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Today was a day of ups and downs.  We were excited that Roy got this giant sea monster, but it was a bummer that there weren’t many fish for Jim and Patryk to practice with.  The day was gorgeous, but in the kid chaos earlier someone forgot to securely fasten the surfboard they were playing with and it floated away.  We went out and searched in the dinghy but there were so many places it could have floated off to there is no way we could find it.  Eric and Topaz went out for a sail to search but it really felt hopeless.

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The rest of the gang went to the beach and out for more spear fishing.

This trip is Ania’s first experience with snorkeling and she has been loving the beauty of the small coral heads in the warm shallow water.

The girls played in the shallows until the 4pm no see-um witching hour.  Ahh the bugs attacked and we were stranded at the beach.  We all moved out away from the shore as far as we could until the guys came back for us.  On the way back to Makai the wind died down to nothing.  While the crew was cleaning up I took the dinghy to retrieve Eric and the Hobie Cat.  Wowsie, he had the surfboard!  Talk about a needle in a haystack.  Eric said it was just floating out there and he came upon it, what great luck.  We moved Makai back to Williams Bay as some wind was predicted overnight and a sheltered anchorage is a better choice for the night.

Today is a land exploration day.

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We walked up to the 123 foot Perry’s Peak, reportedly the highest point in the Exumas. We also went to the abandoned research center to take a peek at the buildings, the air strip and the beaches on the windward side.

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This is another gorgeous day in paradise.  Eric and Patryk sailed on the Hobie while the rest of us were in the dinghy.

As the wind continues on its way around the compass we had a day with wind blowing from the south east, perfect to head north a bit to Rudder Cut Cay.

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Rudder Cut is one of the places we have to be concerned with the tidal current.  When the tide is changing, the water flows faster than we can swim, so we put out a line with a float on the end for anyone who wants to go in.  Eventually the tide changes and the current goes slack, today so did the wind.  It was like looking through a piece of glass, we could see the bottom that clearly.

Roy set up poles for our guests to try to catch a few of the fish they could see swimming by.  They had fun with a few catches but typically the fish that bite the bait aren’t good eating so they were released. Here is one of Roy’s favorite pompano that evaded the spear.

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Genny had a chance to do a little wake boarding with a great view of the reefs she skimmed over.

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We swam to the cave and saw some squid along the way.

Sadly Rudder the lonely dog still lives on the island.  We met a guy who works at a resort on a Cay about an hour’s speed boat ride away. He said he comes to feed her a bucket full of meat scraps from the resort on his days off.  He also told us the story that she was on the island when David Copperfield bought it several years ago.  There is a fresh water pond on the island and someone comes a couple times a week to feed her.  We always leave a big pile of Topaz kibbles when we’re here so he gave us two huge baggies of meat scraps for us to feed her the next day.  When we left we passed it on to another boat to continue feeding her.

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Back on Makai Topaz is living the good life at her all inclusive resort.  She gets two square meals of kibble, many plates to lick, occasionally she manages to sneak a pancake or sandwich someone left unattended.  She does have to put up with baths, haircuts, and nail trims, but the soft bed at night makes it all worth while.

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That evening we got a new neighbor in our tiny anchorage.  The owner and guests are gone so the crew went out snorkeling.  Before dark they moved down the way a bit since it just didn’t seem safe to have a mega yacht anchor so close.

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There is only one full day left for the Walters family and they didn’t want to go back to Georgetown, but when the wind clocks around from the north again, it’s time for Makai to sail south.  We stopped to take on fuel in Emerald Bay along the way.  Sixty-eight gallons used in six weeks, that’s pretty good.  Back in Georgetown we found that some old friends had arrived.  The girls love to visit with Colleen from Glass Slipper and we were all excited to see our friends on Rollick.  We met them in Georgetown last year and then visited them in their home port of Baltimore, MD this summer.   The crew was sorry to see the fishing trip come to an end, so I organized one last snorkel with Bernie and Andrea from Rollick.  Marie agreed to babysit their 4 and 6 year old girls on Makai while we went to Bernie’s favorite reefs.

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Jim and Patryk had gained confidence and improved their snorkeling and spear fishing skills over the last week. Ania provided the surface support in the dinghy and I like to swim around spotting delicious morsels or hazards. This reef was a little deep and the area is a little exposed to the open ocean swells which made the location a little more challenging.  Patryk was the first to spot and retrieve a lobster.  Then Jim came back with a world record sea monster of a lobster.  Jim got a second and Roy got one too.  Andrea and Bernie had a nice catch for their dinner as well.  Just when we thought we would have to eat chicken for dinner, the fishermen came in with a nice catch.  For their ten day visit only one meal was prepared without seafood.  I opted out, but Jim and Patryk took over the galley in the preparation of sheep tongue curry on that evening.

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After saying farewell to our guests we cleaned up the boat, scrubbed the cabins, moved the kids out of the captain’s cabin, did laundry and collected a list of groceries for our friends in the very remote Ragged Islands.  We’re heading out to meet up with them first thing in the morning and then continuing on to Panama from there.  I hope to have internet in a week or so and will try to post again at least once before we leave the Bahamas.

I’m sorry I posted twice in one day.  Don’t miss Marie’s SCUBA post!

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