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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Happy SCUBA Birthday

Happy Birthday to Marie! She is ten years old January 7th, 2015.  Today is a busy day for Marie so she got up bright and early to bake her own cupcakes. We selected the vanilla cake mix and strawberry frosting before we left Maryland.

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No fancy wrapping paper here, so pillow cases will have to do.

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Surprise, Genny gave her a Barbie video and Daddy brought back a BCD from California on his last trip to take the van home.

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Georgetown has everything a cruiser might need.  Groceries, butcher shop, water, laundry, hardware, rum store, and a PADI SCUBA shop.  Marie has been patiently waiting for her tenth birthday so she can take SCUBA lessons. We only have a week before our guests arrive so we were very busy.  The Open Water Diver course is completed with 12 -15 hours of videos and quizzes on PADI eLearning.  Since this is an internet intensive class, Marie and I spent several days at the dive shop using their internet.

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In addition to the eLearning, Marie started out practicing skills in the swimming pool at a local hotel.  Johnathan had her clearing her mask, switching between snorkel and regulator, adjusting her buoyancy and many other SCUBA skills.

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Next we scheduled two days out on the dive boat.  Unfortunately, the weather has been stormy and the visibility was pretty bad.  But since the point was to get certified we weren’t too concerned about the weather.

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Two dives back to back is pretty tiring, especially for a little ten year old.

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Out of the entire week we only took two days off.  Sunday we attended church at the beach.  They had song books, prayers, a bible reading and a short sermon.  The kids sat in the balcony for a better view.

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After church Roy and Jack got lessons for coconut opening from a couple of local guys.

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The weather was unpredictable all week.  One minute is was hot and muggy and the next a squall would come bringing a downpour and cold wind.

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A favorite activity is to walk across to the east side of the island and play on the sand hill.  We had two boogie boards and I was really surprised how well they worked for sliding down the sand.

 

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The kids made race tracks and raced and took turns sledding in the sand.

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Is it sledding or surfing?  Either way they all got sand in their hair and eyes and in their bathing suits.

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Marie’s first dive as a fully certified PADI SCUBA diver was around Rudder Cut Cay. This is one of those places you have to wait for slack tide to reduce the current so swimmers won’t get swept away.  There was no wind, the weather was calm and visibility was fabulous.

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Roy and Genny came with us and everyone had a great time on the reef.  Marie pointed out this cute little skate.

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She enjoyed weightlessness with the fish.

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This reef was alive and busy with fish coming and going.

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Here is a great shot of the invasive but beautiful lion fish.

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This tiny neon blue fish was abundant and always caught my eye.

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At the end of the dive, just as the current started moving between the islands, we scooted to the mermaid and piano sculpture. This was a great dive and everyone had a fabulous time.

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Happy New Year

Staniel Cay is a fun break from the quiet anchorages just a few miles away, but in the end the New Year’s Eve partying vacationers on the mega yachts were just too crazy for us.  Our little floatilla of kid boats took a short day trip about 25 miles south to a big empty bay on Big Farmer’s Cay.  The first order of business was a party for Jeanette’s 11th Birthday, sweets and a movie for the kids inside while the adults chatted outside.  There were a few fireworks off of Musha Cay after dark and then 2015 came with the sound of five sleeping boats.

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Roy and I tried our luck with a “crack of dawn” fishing trip, but no luck.  Topaz doesn’t see the point in getting up so early in the morning, we were just disturbing her sunrise.

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The kids started looking for some trouble to get into, so we launched the Hobie.  The first thing the boys discovered was how much fun it is to capsize.  The big bulb on top of the mast prevents it from flipping upside down.

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To right it, someone stands on the inside of the bottom hull and grabs a hold of the top hull or maybe a line hanging over the edge of that top hull and pull the Hobie back over.  The boys decided this was so much fun and if they pulled really hard, the poor Hobie could continue on to flip over the other side.

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The little girls played with Little Pet Shops and Ponies.

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The high energy continued as they all swam between the boats, jumping and diving, pushing and pulling.

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Genny and Luanda were Pancakes and Waffles, twinsies.  Each one as crazy and the other.  These two girls sailed the Hobie on a short passage last week, they paddled all over the anchorage in a pink inflatable ring and challenged each other swimming from boat to boat. It was really sad when we decided Makai needed to move towards Georgetown and Isla Bonita was going to pass us by.  Lucky for us, they decided they needed to pick up a part in Georgetown so we will meet up again.

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Onward Makai and Dream Catcher moved to Rudder Cut for a quick snorkel. The same dog was on the beach that we saw last spring.  I was told that this pretty little dog lives on the island as a guard dog.  She is very quiet and hangs out on the beach looking at the people and boats in her bay.  When you get close you can see how skinny she is, so we always bring her a big scoop of Topaz’s kibbles.

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David Copperfield’s Musha Cay is around the corner.  You can rent the island’s facilities for something like $39,000 per day for 12 people with a four day minimum.  His Mermaid by the Piano sculpture rests in 15 feet of water in our anchorage.  Today a work boat was anchored off to the side, the sculpture was marked with buoys, music was playing in the water and a fancy tour boat had guests floating around taking photos with the mermaid.  We returned later when everyone was gone and the music was gone and so were the marker buoys.  We figure the tourists must have come from Musha Cay.

 

Just past the mermaid is a favorite snorkel spot.  Today we were entertained by spotted eagle rays. These beautiful creatures have a body the size of a dolphin with a ten foot wing span.

 

Finally we settled down into Williams Bay.  The anchorage is fairly shallow, so mostly catamarans congregate here. We met up with our pals on Tangent and Dream Catcher, both Leopard 40s, for hikes on the island.

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We spend so much time in the water, walking on land can be a bit of a novelty.

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The wind was blowing and the waves crashing on the east side.

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The kids found a little pond refreshed by the crashing waves.

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The next beach over is Roy’s favorite climbing coconut tree, and also the entrance to Perry’s Peak trail.  This peak is labeled as the highest point in the Exuma chain at 123 feet.  Add ten-thousand to that and that’s where you’ll see most of the beautiful Colorado hiking trails.

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The bay full of Catamarans is quiet.  The beach is waiting for us to wade and Topaz to chase fish.

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On the way back down the trail Roy poked at a huge termite nest.

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After several unsuccessful attempts at spear fishing we organized our schedule for a trip to Leaf Cay, three miles away.  Going in the water here requires several factors to consider. First the wind direction should not be from the north or the south.  Second,  morning is better as the sharks do come for a look around at dusk. Finally, most important, you MUST go at slack tide, the transition between high and low. At that time the current from the water rushing onto the bank or off the bank is minimum or not at all.  Otherwise a current of about a knot is impossible to swim against.

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Leaf Cay is also home to iguanas that are habituated by the tour boats that bring snacks for them.

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We played on the beach until the current stopped and then went fishing.  Eric spotted this big boy as soon as we dropped in the water and Roy expertly retrieved him.  This makes three lobsters (the locals call them crawfish) in the freezer for Uncle Jim, Auntie Ania, and Cousin Patryk’s visit next week. Everyone had fun looking at the rays, nurse shark, and schools of fish around the coral heads.  But check out the lobster, it’s tail is the size of Roy’s size 6 foot, the legs are the size of my pinky finger.

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The next morning at slack tide we went out again.  This time we went out and around the corner.  Ken from Dream Catcher spent quite a bit of time and energy working on this next lobster.  Unfortunately it was just to far into an narrow hole so he called skinny little Roy over.  Roy said he poked him a bit from one side and then went around to the other side to retrieve the prize.  It was a real dilemma for me as to whether we should serve him up on Dream Catcher’s table or Makai’s, lucky for us, Ken said we should have it.

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The fish out here were quite large as well.

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Roy’s snappers were big enough for fillets big enough for a beer batter fish fry for our guests.

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Finally, the long awaited Georgetown.  While the town isn’t as large as Nassau, the number of boaters that congregate here is awesome.  Georgetown offers necessities such as trash collection, groceries, laundry, fuel and even a free water hose.  A short taxi ride away is the airport to collect guests and ship repair parts in. We’re going to spend some time at Exuma Divers getting Marie certified await our guest’s arrival.

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We arrived at dusk, but the lure of vegetables at the market had me in the dinghy, mouth watering for a salad.

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End of the Year

Happy New Year to everyone!  The kids have a book of daily writing prompts and the Dec 31 prompt talked about the Y2K scare 15 years ago.  I remember it like yesterday.  While we were confident that the techies of the world had taken care of the projected computer chaos, Eric, Teak and I were self contained safely anchored in Tenacatita Bay, Mexico, eating tacos and drinking beer.

This year we’re enjoying the Bahamas. The trip started out with a sunrise fishing trip, looking for Roy’s first lobster of the season.  Lobsters are nocturnal and we have the best luck at daybreak, evening hunting usually results in being driven out of the water because the sharks have come to see what we’re up to.

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YES! Roy comes through with breakfast.

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Normans Cay was our first stop last year as well.  We spent a week here last year, but today we’re on a fast track and can only spend a day.

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The pressure to do all the fun things in one day and the sadness for the activities we had to miss made this an emotional trip. Roy found some old coral on the beach to use for his lobster impression.

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The weather at the top of the Exuma Cay chain is a bit colder than the southern islands.  Evelyn and Marie used the warm sand and wind break from a dune to warm up.

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We snorkeled on the plane wreck. We were a bit chilly and the current was strong as it wasn’t exactly slack tide yet.

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But everyone loves the sergeant major reef fish.  These little guys come out to greet the tourists and look for a handout.

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It looks like we’re all a bit out of shape.  After my morning snorkel trip with Roy, my ankles hurt from kicking my fins, and Roy also complained of some sore spot from his fins.  This is the first time I ever saw Topaz ask to get into the dinghy.  She sat there quietly, no barking or wagging, waiting for us to finish. I guess chasing the kite shadow at the beach earlier did her in.

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The next stop was Shroud Cay.  We could have played in the shallow water under the warm sun for days and days.  Unfortunately, we only had two hours.  As we entered the tidal river these cute dogs came out barking and wagging. We soon realized they were going into the water to chase after the dinghies, yipping and crying.  Oh it was terrible to watch them.  Our friends on Tangent were with us and everyone’s heart was breaking for these pups.  I took our dinghy back to Makai to put together a care package of kibble and water while everyone else continued to the beach with the starving pups crying to be rescued. Makai had to make a quick trip to Staniel Cay to pick up our D.C. friend Becky, so Tangent kept the left over kibbles to feed the pups another day.

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The trip to Staniel Cay was a flat motor boat ride arriving in time for a cheeseburger at the yacht club. It’s hard to believe Christmas is coming soon.  There are no commercials on TV, trees for sale in the Home Depot parking lot, or music in the air at Target. Just an occasional decoration when every we stop by a populated settlement.

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Becky’s flight was due in at 9am.  The girls and I walked to the airport with our rolling carts to help transport Becky’s luggage back.  The airline gave her a limit of 35 pounds of luggage, that should be easy to carry.

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No one and nothing showed any signs of life at the airport.  Once we thought we heard the plane, but it was just a moped.  Finally, a truck pulling a fuel wagon showed up and a few minutes later “De Plane! De Plane!”  Becky and 3 other people got out.  The pilot handed them their bags and we all jumped on a golf cart heading for the Yacht Club.

Later the same afternoon we were back in Wardrick Wells, 15 miles to the north, wading on the sand bar leaving the cares of civilization behind.

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We love these sandbars that expose a fresh white sand beach every 12 hours at low tide.

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The top of the island provides a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the bay, boats and sandbars to the west.

The beach below the ranger station has a humpback whale skeleton.  The plaque says the whale died from eating plastic trash. At the top of Boo Boo Hill visitors can leave a piece of wood with their name inscribed.  We made this plaque last season and were surprised to find it again.

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Critters, Critters everywhere.

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Roy climbed down into a cave.  I think the Loyalists, that came here from the new United States in the 1700′s, used holes like this as a cistern to collect rain water. The winter is the dry season and I’ve never seen one of these holes with water in it.

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We’re moving along quickly here.  Everyone is tired of the pace but we don’t want to miss anything along the way.  Next is our favorite anchorage right below Little Halls Pond, Johnny Depp’s island.  The anchorage is shallow and doesn’t leave enough room for two boats to swing on the anchor, so Tangent tied up next to Makai and we only needed one anchor to swing on.

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Roy’s Evolve Freediving t-shirt says it all.  I remember the anticipation of Jaques Cousteau TV programs when I was a kid and dreamed of visiting the underwater world he gave us glimpses of in his specials.

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This area is still in the Bahamas Land and Sea Park, so the sea life is plentiful.  On one dive you can see, lobsters, rays, sharks, huge schools of huge fish, coral heads and wrecks.

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The lion fish is a voracious eater and considered an invasive species in the Bahamas, but they are beautiful with their venomous spines splayed out gently floating in the current.

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Rays can be found covered with sand on the bottom or swimming about.   The spotted eagle rays are the most impressive with their giant bodies and expansive wing spans, but the stingray below is most common.

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Live conchs mill about in the sand.  Roy found this one that is giving an anemone a ride.

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In the evening Eric likes to play a themed movie.  This summer he bought us a projector to watch our movies in the cockpit on the big screen.

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Around the corner is snorkel area as full of life as an aquarium. The sergeant majors greet guests as usual. Without fishermen to kill off the big fish, lobster, groupers and snappers grow to colossal sizes.

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Further around the corner is another small island and sand bar with a natural channel dredged through it from the current.  The kids like to swim into the current and ride the lazy river along the sandbar.

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The kids discovered the Popsicle stick box and made a catamaran.

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Pipe Cay gets us out of the park for Roy’s next fishing excursion. Andy and Drew from Tangent joined us to practice with their new fishing gear but Roy comes through again with two lobster and a few snappers. After Roy cleans his catch I always cook up the horns and legs, so the boys had a yummy breakfast of fresh shellfish dipped in butter.

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I’m thinking that maybe Pipe Cay is our favorite anchorage.  Not only do we have favorite fishing holes, but the sand bar is great. At low tide an acre of sand is exposed to play on with additional shallow flats that we haven’t yet explored.  There is a boat anchored here with a retired couple that spend several months every winter in this one place. Maybe that will be Makai 15 years from now, after we’re tired of exploring the rest of the Caribbean again.

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Drift wood art is a new addition to the little island near the sandbar.

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Speed boats full of tourists is also a regular occurrence here when low tide is in the middle of the day. The tour includes rum punch and conch salad. While the tourists walk around on the sand and swim in the shallow water the crew prepares their treats and abandons the shells on the island.

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It’s time to move again, Becky’s short five day visit is about over.  Topaz is exhausted from barking, running in the sand and swimming after fish.

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Becky’s last evening included dinner at the yacht club again.

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The water in front of the restaurant is usually home to these huge nurse sharks.  Despite their size and scary appearance, these docile sharks don’t have teeth.  Their mouths and behaviors are similar to a ray.

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Becky leaves at 3 pm so we still have time to see the pigs.

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Becky said the airport she left from in Fort Lauderdale had pictures of the pigs in the waiting area.  I’m not exactly sure the story about these pigs, but I’ve heard that someone brought them here years ago with the idea they might need emergency pork chops.  I’ve never heard any stories about the pigs being owned by anyone or even being used for BBQ, but maybe I didn’t ask enough questions.

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Becky also got a quick snorkel at Thunderball Grotto with more sergeant majors greeting their guests, and then we walked her to the airport.  The plane was a half hour late and with no one at the airport to ask about the delay it can make a traveler nervous.  Becky said the whole ride was a great adventure.  We all stood around the plane while the pilot tossed her bags in and checked her passport.  She said in Fort Lauderdale he even walked her through the hangar and past the mechanics to help her find the rental car and keys that she ordered to be wait when she returned.

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Tangent headed straight to Georgetown from here as they have guests arriving the day after Christmas and we don’t have to be there until around Jan 7.  The wind is coming up out of the south and Dream Catcher invited us to come back to Wardrick Wells for Christmas.  So north to Wardrick Wells it is.

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The moorings and anchorage was nearly empty last week when we were here, this week everything was completely full and no one was leaving until after Christmas. We spent six days in the company of five or six boats full of kids as well as the park ranger’s kids. Eighteen or more kids having a blast.

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They swam and sailed, ran, jumped and played with evening movies and popcorn on the boats.  Topaz gave me a scare that her knee injury from five years ago had reoccurred, which sent a big dark rain cloud over my head. After a day or two she was back to full strength and a warm breeze blew the cloud away so the sun could shine again.  Anxiety is a horrible thing!

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Yes, Christmas, I almost forgot.  The kids have candy advent calendars to remind me of the coming holiday.  We baked a few dozen cookies and invited girls over to decorate.

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A few of the other boats hatched a plan for Reindeer Games for the kids.

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Twenty children in two age categories spent the afternoon competeing  to see if the Reindeer or the Elves would be the Christmas Eve champions.

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Kayak relay races had them race around buoys and tying a fender to the swim dock.

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Here Roy is sporting his red nose from the reindeer team.

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The sandman contest was difficult because they were all so creative.

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Most kids worked in teams with only a few palm fronds, sticks and sand. One team even made a squatty melted snowman baking in the hot sun.

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The snow puff bite was a riot.  With a marshmallow dangling a foot in front of her face, after several attempts Genny managed to swing the snow puff into her mouth.

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Next everyone slathered their noses with Vaseline and moved as many cotton balls from one bowl to the next using only their gooey little noses.

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The Christmas Tree relay involved posing on a kayak while your partner pushes the kayak out to the swim dock and back.

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Our Christmas tree this year is a candle, compact, pretty, and easy to store.

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We gathered around the table to open gifts and watched the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall, we saw them live a few years ago on a trip to NYC.  The gifts were simple like a snorkel for Marie, Rubik Cube for Roy and an electronic kit for Genny.  A few gift cards, dvds and lip balms.  perfect, now lets go swimming.

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The last few days have been really steamy but the potluck at the ranger’s house was fabulous.  All the workers and many of their family members, the boaters on the moorings plus more from the anchorage were in attendance with their dish to share.  We had turkey and dozens of side dishes and deserts.  I couldn’t believe the amount of food laid out and the amount that got eaten.

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When everyone was full many of us retreated to the sand bar for a dip.  Pets were invited too.

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After six days, everyone was ready to move on.  We took a long tack out of the park boundaries to fish.

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Roy takes good care of his equipment.  It rinses the salt water off, dries it and stores everything in his room.  When it’s time to fish he has a pole holder on each side with a line to clip on the reel so there aren’t any mishaps where the equipment goes overboard.

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Today he was happy to catch a Mahi Mahi.  This 34 inch fish is much smaller than the 54 inch whoppers he caught last season, but it will make a few nice meals.

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We went back to Pipe Creek, a favorite anchorage for it’s calm waters, easy access to spear fishing, and fun sand bar.  One morning Genny and Eric put together the electronic pen gift Eric gave her for Christmas.

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Later that afternoon everyone gathered at the sandbar for wiffle ball.  Everyone had huge smiles on their faces hitting, running and catching.

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The next stop is Staniel Cay again!  This time everyone had business on their minds.  Some needed fuel and water, everyone needed laundry and groceries. Topaz just likes to BARK.

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Genny and Luanda have become great friends.  The both love to rough house, goof off, play hard and take on challenges.  They convinced the parents to let them sail the Hobie Cat the five miles from Pipe Creek to Staniel Cay by themselves.  The Hobie is so easy to sail you rarely have to do anything besides steer in the direction you plan to go. I figured they might need to do a little more than that on their passage, so with a few tips, life jackets, sun screen, water bottles and candy, they headed off. I guess they got quite wet, but had a great time.

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Roy and I went with Ken from Dream Catcher for our usual early morning spear fishing. Roy always comes through with a bucket full, the sad part is that somehow we missed three more lobsters.

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The kids have had a lot of freedoms here. Most of them drive the dinghy so they can pick up their friends and go fishing, diving, to the beach, and to town.  If no one has the dinghy, they just swim there or paddle surfboards or paddle boards. They quickly figured out this next activity.

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The nine kids found a place to climb up the vertical face of this island and a perfect jumping location.  It works best at high tide, not only do you have deeper water to jump into, but also it’s easier to reach hands and feet up onto the island from the water. After several jumps a few parents joined in.  I was chicken and decided someone had to take the pictures. Other boaters and even the police boat came by to watch.

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There is a new laundry on Staniel Cay up the dirt road outside of the Yacht Club.  The owner did a beautiful job with the building and the machines are brand new.  I put all of our sheets, towels and t-shirts into one huge four load machine.  I was having a nice chat with Ruth, the owner’s sister who runs the place, when the Island’s power went out. After quite awhile I decided to go check on groceries.  The three stores on the island, Isles General, the Pink store and the Blue store, all had the same answer, sorry no eggs, the mail boat hasn’t been here in a week and won’t be here until next week. They only had a few dry goods on their shelves and a few wilting vegetables. Wilted cabbage is better than no cabbage, so I got one for $5. Ug, not getting much done today.  So I went out for a snorkel and found the washer to be finished after that.  Everything gets hung around on Makai for a cheap line dry and that made the day a success.

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The day we left our friends announced that the Blue Store’s son is a pilot and brought a load of groceries on his regular commuter flight from Nassau.  Yippee, we picked up three dozen.  You need eggs to bread fish, bake cookies, and eat.  Pancakes and cereal get old after a few weeks. Makai pulled out around the corner and we were surprised to see the mega yachts  anchored.  The yacht club was full so I guess they all decided to anchor around the corner.  All week crew was shuttling guests around, providing towels to their snorkelers and taking care of their needs. The Yacht Club had hopping, hooting parties and it was time for us to move on before their New Year’s Eve celebrations began.

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Our kid floatilla moved about 15 miles down the islands and celebrated with cake for Jeanette’s 11th birthday and a movie.  A Mega Yacht anchored a little to the south had a fireworks show and everyone went to bed for a quiet night just before midnight.

Happy 2015!

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On to Paradise

Before and After

I think the picture tells the story.

 

The journey from Solomon’s Maryland to the Northern Bahamas is about 700 miles. We made it in three legs totaling about seven days of travel gaining 45 degrees F.

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It was great to have been in Buffalo for their big November storm. I learned that the Lake Effect storms happen because the lake is still warm during the late fall months and when a huge arctic blast comes down massive evaporation over the lake fills the sky with snow bound for Lake Erie’s shores in Western New York. We had a great week snowbound with Nannie and JJ and our friends like little Olivia and Miranda.

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The residential roads were socked in with four feet of snow for three days. In the middle of the night my mom got me up to watch the plow clear us out. She has a plow service for her driveway this year so we didn’t mess with that at all. Then another night the neighbor, who works with heavy equipment, came by with a HUGE front loader (bigger than the plow) and scooped out our driveway plus four other neighbors. Buffalo’s nickname is The City of Good Neighbors, I guess its times like this that proves the name to be true. The storm hit on the day the kids and I were to leave in a rental car and pick Eric up at the Baltimore Airport on our way back to Makai. He said the cabin temp was 32 degrees when he arrived at the boat and there was a bit of damage to outside fixtures from frozen water.

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Our town, Lackawanna, still has a driving ban and our cupboards are pretty bare. We borrowed ingredients from neighbors. One day I walked up to a sub shop that was open for a take out treat and at the end of the weekend my brother Jim parked at a nearby shopping center and brought us Chinese Take Out.

 

Now that the weather is forecasted to be up to 60 degrees everyone is warned of flooding and heavy snow on the roofs. I got out and shoveled the flat roof from the porch and many of the neighbors used a rake with an extra long handle to pull the snow off their houses.

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By Monday the disaster was over, we rented our car and returned to Maryland. One more stop to load up on refrigerated items and off we go. The weather windows at this time of year are so short you usually have to get adverse weather at one end of the trip or the other. We left Wednesday night hoping to go slow enough to miss the gale force winds at Cape Hatteras on Friday. As luck would have it we flew down the bay and had to pull over in Virginia Beach for Thanksgiving to kill a little time.

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Bright and early Friday we set out for Cape Hatteras, by the time we got there the wind was gone and the engine was on. Hmm, should we round the Cape with 35 knots of wind or 5 knots. We went the safe round and took 5 knots.

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Topaz is always hopeful that she will get shore leave to take care of her potty. Our preferred location is on the back step, but after holding it for nearly two days, anywhere she decides to go is praised. Sometime during the night we picked up a hitchhiker. This little guy hopped around Makai chirping until mid morning when Topaz came out to see what was going on. At one point he had a pal with him.

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Its always exciting when the dolphins come. The leap and splash and race ahead of Makai like a torpedo.  Other than a few turtles and crabs we didn’t see very much marine life in the Chesapeake.

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Then there is Roy with his fishing pole, doesn’t he look happy? He got out new line and set up for trolling.

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Cape Lookout in North Carolina has been our waiting room heading both north and south. It’s a nicely protected bay with fun beaches when the weather is nice. As always, Eric has boat parts to fix. This time it was changing the bulb in the steaming light.

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The sun was warm but the breeze was chilly and the water was ankle biting cold. We took a short walk on the beach. Topaz was happy to play at the beach digging in the sand and chasing birds.

 

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Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better the icing on the cupcake showed up. A PUPPY! Oh yea, no one in our family can resist a puppy. Except for maybe Topaz, she gave it a quick sniff and went back to the water.

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The puppy was soft and squiggly, waggy and squirmy. Oh, I want one!

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The sand was covered in shells. The occasional jellyfish at the water’s edge was interesting.

 

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When the Hill family visited us in the Bahamas last season, they brought us a trick kite. The kids love to fly this one because of the challenge to zoom it around without crashing.

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After two days waiting for the south wind to turn around we took off on a direct path for the Bahamas. Last year our path took us on a three day sail to Florida, a few more days to hop down to Miami, wait for a south wind and then cross to Bimini. This year we’re on a tight schedule so we cut the fluff out and are heading straight for paradise.

 

The first 50 miles was a great sail, slowly the current took over knocking our 7-9 knots of boat speed back to 3 – 4 knots and at one point we were seeing 2 knots and the wind died. Ahhhhh at 2 knots we won’t get there for a week! Most of the crew was either sick or working hard at not being sick. Poor Marie was sick the whole 4 days and only ate a few crackers and some electrolyte drink. At the half way point the wind picked up and the current cut back to 0-1 knot against us so Makai could race to the finish. We did 250 nm in a day and a half arriving in Marsh Harbor mid-afternoon on Friday the week after Thanksgiving.

I don’t know if it is the sleep deprivation from the four day journey, dehydration, eating only granola or maybe needing to wash my hair, but like a musical the tail end of this passage begged me to belt out a song.

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Roy and I were watching the waves and Makai carving through the Atlantic Ocean like a NYC messenger darting through traffic. The water’s surface is bustling with wind and wave activity. Makai plows through a steady barrage of moving, peaking, foamy water. Some waves slap the windward side sending spray to douse the cabin and drip down the windows. Other waves shoot between the hulls smacking the bridge deck. If the water smacks far enough forward a blow hole shoots up through the trampoline. The wave that hits amid ships bring visions of Moby Dick rising up under us and slapping Makai with his tail leaving her shuddering from the force. The waves that escape out the stern appear to shake their foamy white fist at us as we bid farewell to that bit of water.

 

Other waves arrive from the stern joining with the small rooster tails our sugar scoops make. The patters of foam and spray are constantly changing. A bit o wind can blow the top off and confused waves collide into each other pointing dozens of water fingers back at us. Some manage to climb up our stairs and wash down the back deck.

 

Roy and I are mesmerized like staring at a campfire. What show will the next wave provide? While the waves at the stern have us captivated, we can feel Makai twisting and banging into the waves on the bow. Occasionally a wave hits the scupper in the cockpit just right and a geyser shoots up under the table or a similar geyser shoots up the sink drain. That will be a clean up project for later.

 

When we manage to lift our eyes from the show, the ocean looks fairly consistent. Deep blue peaks frosted with white foam glistening in the sun. Occasionally patches of sargasso weed float by. Some the size of a dinner plate and others the size of a SUV. Do you know what that means? Hiding under the weed umbrellas are bait fish that the Mahi Mahi like to feed on. Unfortunately we’re moving much too fast to put out a line and no one is in the mood for fighting a fish. This beautiful ocean brings “Mal de Mer” but we won’t discuss that :)

 

The chart shows 10 miles to the channel entrance. The islands are so low that we won’t spot land until we’re upon it. Unlike Christopher Columbus, I have a chart to prove to the mutinous crew that land is indeed ahead. Can you just hear the crew of the Santa Maria with their scurvy teeth falling out, “Are we there yet?”, “How many more minutes?”

Finally, we arrive and pull into the small Marina that our friends on Tangent are in and the day ends with showers, dinner and drinks at sunset on Tangent.

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The next two days are full of work projects. All the things we couldn’t do in Maryland because it was too cold. Makai got scrubbed top to bottom, we cleaned and removed the cockpit enclosure. Topaz got her Island Haircut  (it took forever to cut through the forest of dog hair) and we did several loads of laundry with our cockpit washing machine.

 

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Eric changed engine oil and replaced the bearings in the wind generator. One night on the trip the wind generator made weird noises and then froze up. Eric was impressed that he found the spare bearings and then spent much of the two days taking it apart and replacing the seized part.

 

 

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The marina had a pool so when the kids took a break from fishing and playing, they splashed around in the pool.

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This marina hosts a few charter companies. Makai is a retired charter boat from the early 1990s and I always feel like she’s having a family reunion when we’re surrounded by the charter fleet. Since she was in service several generations of Leopard Cats have come and gone, now Makai is the granny on the dock.

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We made a few trips to town for fresh provisions, rum and the internet store and are ready to head out.

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We carefully watched the weather and found that the two day hop trip down to the Exumas would consist of one windless day and one smooth cruise. After leaving the marina we no longer had internet, but assumed the weather wouldn’t change so we stuck with the plan.

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Wow, we were wrong. Makai and Tangent entered the cut through the reef at the exact same time as the cold front band of clouds did. Our wind went from zero to 20 knots and the breaking waves on either side of the channel were 8-10 feet. Eric said that his surfing experience was an asset here. He was impressed with the Sunset Beach type waves of the North Shore of Hawaii while my knees where shaking. They didn’t break in the channel but Makai would rise up over the top and fall down the back side of the swell. The rest of the trip was wet and bouncy as the wind was strong and on the nose. We managed to sail most of it until the top of the jib chafed through. Luckily we were only a few miles from the anchorage.

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The next day was supposed to be a nice sail, but we spent the day cleaning up and making repairs. Our jib halyard attaches to two straps that are sewn onto the head. I previously bought the strap as a backup but my machine won’t sew it. The sailrite is strong enough to punch through the webbing and thick fabric on the head of the sail, but somehow as the needle punches down through the layers it slows down and is out of sync with the bobbin thread. The result is maybe 1/3 of the stitches actually stay in. In the end I just went over it extra times and eventually had enough stitches to hold. Sewing the cover back on was done by hand using pliers. I broke about 10 needles on this job, but after some difficulties, we got it back up and are in business.

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Topaz was very happy to get swim time in and now we’re off to the Exumas. It’s a warm windless day, the water is crystal clear and the bottom looks like a beautiful sand beach 30 feet under the water.

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We’re here!

The ride was about 80 hours and 500 miles. A hard core ocean sailor would have said the conditions were perfect. After the unfortunate day of motoring with no wind into a very strong opposing current, the wind was from a perfect direction and the seas were a perfect size and Makai performed perfectly. Eric said Makai, which was built in South Africa for conditions there, probably thought the passage was like a day at the park. Our crew, on the other hand was exhausted. The good news is that it is over. We’re in a marina in Marsh Harbor, we have friends here, had a great dinner, Roy fished, the girls played, Topaz swam, we all changed our clothes and took showers, and now we’re ready to clean up and do a few chores, make a few repairs and get going to find some FUN! Sent from my iPhone

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Underway 1/3 of the way there

The first 30 hours has been a bit disappointing. We either had plenty of wind and a plague of “Mal de Mer” sweep the passengers, or no wind and a strong current push us back a step for every step we made forward. It’s really discouraging to be smashing along at 8 or 9 knots through the water but only making 4 knots over the ground. There were even times when I saw 2 knots over the ground, I could walk faster than that. Anyway, the good news is that everyone is re hydrating and nourishing themselves on things like potatoes. The water temperature is around 84 and the air in the cockpit is 77. We put the foul weather gear and second set of clothing away and hopefully have crossed over to the Bahamas side of the Gulf Stream. ===== This message was sent using Winlink, a free radio email system provided by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation (www.arsfi.org) and volunteers worldwide. Replies to this message should be brief using plain text format and any attachments kept small. Use of this email system for monetary gain is strictly forbidden. See www.winlink.org/help for additional information.

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Last leg to 80 degrees

After careful review of the wind and currents we decided to head straight for Marsh Harbor, Bahamas. The passage is 500 miles and we should arrive on Friday. The sun is coming up here in North Carolina, but it is hard to drag myself out of bed to make final preparations to set sail. The thought of doing two hour watches for the next three days and nights plus a little more is keeping me glued to the bed. The reward of warm clear water is tempting, so here we go. Keep track of our progress on the “Where is Makai” page. Sent from my iPhone

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Makai heads south

Check out the “Where’s Makai” link to the right to watch our progress. We got our rental car in Monday and said “adios” to our friends and family in Buffalo, we will miss them. After a long drive arrived around 1am to go to bed on Makai. Tuesday was a flurry of activity loading up on meats, dairy and produce. Topaz got her health certificate, I returned the rental car and filled a bottle of propane to bring back with me. The rest of the day and most of Wednesday was spent putting things away, laundry and last minute chores.

Just before sunset we headed south. The temp is less than 40 which is extremely cold for the guy on watch. We did strict 2 hour watches and it took all of that two hours for the off watch guy to get ‘almost’ warm. With only a little jib rolled out Makai flew down the Chesapeake at 7-8 kts or more with the wind at the tail end of the storm. As predicted the wind died by morning but we went so fast that we were ahead of schedule which means we would get to Cape Hatteras too early an the big winds would still be at the cape mariners have feared for centuries. What to do? How about stop at Virginia Beach for 24 hours and let it pass. Last year for Thanksgiving we left North Carolina to sail south, this year we had a pleasant bit cold day napping and playing games on the boat.

Here we are bright and early Friday morning heading to Cape Hatteras. The weather predictions are for 15 kts of wind all day, that is Makai’s favorite wind speed. We’re cruising along at nearly 9 knots and may roll the jib in to slow down a bit, don’t want to break anything. The plan is to get to Cape Lookout, NC by Saturday night when the wind is predicted to turn from behind us to in front of us. It’s a bummer, but you can’t sail directly into the wind. Never fear, on the East Coast the wind changes direction 180 degrees every few days so we should be off again early next week. Every day we sail south the temperature is predicted to increase 10 degrees. Four days of sailing south should get us up to 80, I hope. Sent from my iPhone

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