Monday, January 28, 2008

OO7 and OOPs!

January 27-28, Staniel Cay, The Exumas
Thunderball Cave, just off the settlement at Staniel Cay, was the setting for scenes from the James Bond movie “Thunderball” (and the Tom Hanks/Darryl Hannah movie “Splash”). We really wanted to snorkel the cave, and though it was later in the day we were in the water within an hour of our arrival here.

It was low tide so we didn’t need to dive to enter the cave. Once inside, shafts of sunlight spilled through the opening in the ceiling and illuminated a spectacular array of sponges and corals ranging in color from orange to gold to lavender. To exit, we chose a small submerged tunnel and dove through. We were not disappointed—it’s no wonder this picturesque place has been featured in the movies.

As it turns out, I’m so glad we did that right away. The next morning Keith wanted to snorkel along the rocky shoreline and maybe spear dinner. I drove the dinghy back to the mother-ship and had to land it by myself against the current and in choppy seas. Just as I attempted to step off, the dinghy bobbed, my foot slipped, and I lost my grip. I crashed full force, catching my rib on the edge of the swim platform. We’ve determined that it isn’t broken (“it’s just a flesh wound”)—thank God!—but still it hurts to breathe and most movement is painful.

Our friend and traveling companion, Rachael, is a massage therapist trained in homeopathic treatments. She’s been taking excellent care of me. I’d really appreciate your prayers, too, that this injury will heal quickly and completely. Keith would also appreciate that since he’s waiting on me hand and foot now.

We did go ashore for a traditional Bahamian breakfast of stewed fish and johnny cake or grits. Then we walked around the colorful little town of Staniel Cay and bought a few provisions at The Blue Store and Pearl's Pink Market. The people who live here are delightful, so friendly and helpful and exuberant. If one is going to be out of commission somewhere, this is as good a place as any!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Little Decadence in Paradise

January 24-26, Warderick Wells, The Exumas
A crescent of shimmering aquamarine circles the harbor, surrounded by creamy light turquoise water over sandy bottom. This is the headquarters for Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, a pristine section of the island chain that covers twenty-six miles. Sitting at the ranger station, little Bananaquits will eat sugar right out of your hand, their tiny bird-feet tickling as they cling to your fingers.

On land, a network of trails cuts through dense bonsai-like vegetation and across jagged coral, leading past natural wells, mangrove marl, and rolling terrain to unspoiled beaches, a blow hole, and especially to the highest point on the island. It’s named Boo Boo Hill because of local legend that the island is haunted by shipwrecked souls. On the crest of the hill, cruisers leave their signature: plaques with the name of their vessel and the date. Most are made of driftwood (often simple, but some very elaborate)…others are written on old conch shells (no doubt gathered outside the park!)…and one with the name Pelican is written on a piece of a Home Depot yardstick (not impressive, but it works).

Out on the water, we explored a few snorkeling spots. It was my first time snorkeling since we arrived in The Bahamas, and after a little practice I thoroughly enjoyed the undersea world. The best locations we found were right in the harbor. The burned-out wreck of a sailboat rests directly beneath our boat. And a beautiful little reef in a cove is haven for dozens of brilliant fish and several super-sized lobsters.

Last night we enjoyed an extravagant appetizer with Claus and Rachael: beluga caviar that Keith had purchased in Moscow last October. It tasted like paradise, with flavors both delicate and decadent. Grocery stores may be few and far between in this area, but we’re managing quite well.

The sight of all the tasty treats in the no-take waters of Exuma Cays Park is enough to make our mouths water, though. We’re craving fresh seafood, and today we’ll move to Staniel Cay.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Secret World

January 23, Shroud Cay, The Exumas
Leaving Allan’s Cay, we hoisted our sails for an exhilarating sail down the Bank to Shroud Cay, part of Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. From the water, it looks like any of the other islands here, but the rocky perimeter shelters a secret hidden world.

Inside, crystalline lime green streams crisscross the island. They carve their way through mangrove marshes and white salt flats. At high tide, the flats become shallow pools; low tide leaves gently undulating white expanses and exposed tangles of mangrove roots—a landscape of otherworldly beauty.

We set out in Claus and Rachael’s dinghy at low tide to explore the interior. Half of the time, we had to jump out and drag it through the shallows. As you can see, we had no fun at all!

In the crystal clear stream of the protected habitat, huge conch lay undisturbed, little nurse sharks and black tips swished by, puffers and scores of other fish darted, and two crabs squeezed each other in a careful mating embrace.
At the other side of the island, the stream poured into the deep water of Exuma Sound, flanked by a long stretch of beach and the curve of a cove. We hiked to Camp Driftwood, and reveled in the 360-degree view. What a glorious palette of watercolors and creative brushstrokes God used to paint His world!

Iguanas Galore

January 18-22, Allan’s Cays, The Exumas
The Allan’s Cays are the first stop in the Exumas for many cruisers, including us, because of their proximity to Nassau, the good holding in the anchorage, but mostly because of the iguanas. The Allan’s Cay iguanas are a protected species found on two little cays and nowhere else in the world. Even though feeding is discouraged, the iguanas waddle out of the bush in droves as soon as a dinghy lands, expecting a handout. They don’t have sharp eyesight, so they often take a little bite of finger food.

The iguanas aren’t the only local creatures that appeal to us. For the love of lobster, Keith does the hard work of free-diving fifteen feet in strong current to bring up three large crawfish. Claus, Rachael, and their friend Paul helped locate and coax a couple out of hiding. The three tails were more than enough for a delectable feast for five.

We decided to sit out a cold front at Allan’s. The drop in temperature from 85 to 70 degrees wasn’t a concern, but the northerly winds that propel the front will challenge the anchor set and whip up uncomfortable waves. Keith was very pleased with the new Spade anchor I bought him for Christmas.

We loved our introduction to the Exumas. But after being confined to the boat for a couple days (any dinghy ride would drench the occupants), it was time to move on.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back Home in the Bahamas

January 14-17, Nassau, Bahamas
We had a beautiful, clear day on the ocean sailing from Chub Cay to Nassau, The coral towers of the landmark Atlantis Resort rose out of the sea on our approach to Paradise Island.

For six years in the early 70s Keith lived in Nassau with his parents and two younger brothers—a kid’s paradise of snorkeling, swimming, even tent camping on the beach where Atlantis now sits. He and his brothers had free rein to explore as far as they could roam.

We explored Atlantis, ate conch salad on Potter’s Cay, and walked to Hilltop House where they had lived. It’s still standing, but has been converted into apartments surrounded by a complex of apartment buildings that block the 360-degree panoramic view they once enjoyed.

Maybe you can’t quite go home again, but there are so many good memories associated with this place. And being back in these islands feels like home to Keith. You can take the boy out of the Bahamas, but you can’t take the Bahamas out of the boy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Island Time

January 11-13, Ft. Lauderdale to Chub Cay
Cresting sapphire waves and surfing down the other side, we had a relatively comfortable Gulf Stream crossing. That night we anchored out in the open on the Great Bahama Bank and tried to sleep through a wild, rocking-rolling night.

Morning dawned and the light sparkled on shallower teal water. The color grew brighter as the day went on, hinting of the brilliant spectrum of blues and greens awaiting us. A calmer passage welcomed us deeper into the Bahamas.

Looking out over the vast blue expanse that ripples to places far beyond the horizon, we felt a sense of amazement and felt drawn to something beyond ourselves. We could see God’s presence reflected in the beauty of creation all around us.

Our seccond night at anchor, we dropped the hook in a pure sphere of blue, no sight of land anywhere. That was a new and strange experience!

Today we made landfall at Chub Cay after two nights at anchor and decided to stay two nights. The resort is similar to the one in West End, Grand Bahama with no town nearby, just a beachfront development around the marina.

On the way across the Bank, Keith hooked a very nice dolphin. He did a great job of landing and cleaning it while we were underway. Guess what's for dinner?

It's sinking in that we have arrived at a different place and time. A place of powdery beaches, pastel cottages, and palms waving. A place to relax and just be. Time that ticks by more slowly. Time to take a deep breath, savor the fresh salt air, slow down, and settle in. Island time: where you have just enough energy for a little snorkeling, beach-combing, and book-reading before the warmth of the sun lulls you into a nap.

Well, that sounds good, but there's always boat work to be done!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Out on the Ocean Blue

January 11, Florida - the Bahamas
The weather window is opening just a crack and we’re ready to throw wide the shutters and cast off. For more than a week the winds have blown from the north (stirring up massive waves in the Gulf Stream) and the east (producing waves that we would pound into). Tomorrow we’ll see more desirable southeasterly breezes. It could still be a bumpy ride, so we’d appreciate any prayers for safety and relative comfort.

Once we leave shore, Internet coverage will be spotty and our cell phone service will be suspended. We’ll do our best ot keep in touch through this blog.

Claus and Rachael are making the crossing with us on Kyanna, and we’re so happy to be traveling with them for many reasons (and no, it's not just because they have a watermaker and life raft). Our float plan is to anchor on the Great Bahama Bank on Friday and Saturday nights, then check in and spend Sunday night at Chub Cay Marina at the southern end of the Berry Islands. Here’s to smooth sailing and godspeed!

A Plethora of Provisions

January 2-10, Hollywood Beach-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Our last step before we cross to the Bahamas is to load up with everything we might need and might not find easily or inexpensively over there. What those things are, we’re not entirely sure. To be on the safe side, we loaded up until we can stow no more. Rachael and I made several trips to the grocery store, and when we caught glimpses of each other’s overloaded carts, we’d laugh and say, “We’re acting like we’ll never see a grocery store again!”

We have cases of canned goods and beverages, bricks of coffee, an herb garden, and as much fresh produce and meat as we can squeeze into our refrigerator. Our boat is riding low in the water, but we are in no danger of starving for a very long time. And if Keith and Claus catch as many lobster and conch as we all hope they do, we’ll let those cans of tuna gather dust.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Free Dock Space

December 30-January 1, Ft. Pierce to Hollywood Beach, FL
We had been forewarned that we needed to vacate our slip in Ft. Pierce on December 30, come hell or high water, hurricane or death in the family. Our flight on December 29 landed in Miami, and a few days before departure there were no rental cars to reserve from any agency. But one of the rental web sites showed availability on December 30 in Aventura. Claus and Rachael had their boat nearby, and they kindly picked us up at the airport, fed us another gourmet meal, and put us up for the night.

The next morning when we tried to pick up our car there were none to be had. A corporate computer glitch had allowed thirty reservations with no cars except those that might be returned that day. People walked into the office, confirmations in hand, and found that they were stranded. There was no other way for us to get to Ft. Pierce. I immediately began to pray. We were third in line…two cars were returned…and we soon learned that we happened to be standing behind a man who wanted to exchange a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder convertible for a sedan. In a short time we were cruising up the freeway, the top down, the sun shining, and the wind in our hair. All things do work together for good!

That night we anchored across the ICW from Ft. Pierce and then motored for two long days to reach the dock where we would stay next. Thirty bridges spanning the waterway needed to open for us to pass through. Most were on schedules, forcing us to wait a few times, but more often Keith cranked up the engine and made the opening.

The further south we traveled, the fewer trailer parks or open spaces. Spectacular residences, complete with fountains and statuary and fabulous yachts out front, lined the waterfront. See-and-be-seen boaters buzzed all around us.

We were on the move toward Hollywood Beach. A strong cold front with beach-emptying forty-degree temperatures and forty-knot northerlies was forecast for several days. Before it arrived, we wanted to be securely in place. And what a place it was! On the east sat a row of condos with docks; behind them a one-block walk to the Atlantic surf. On the west, rare undeveloped parkland created the foreground for vivid sunsets.

We stayed at one of those docks thanks to our well-connected friend, Claus. He makes friends wherever he goes, and one friend’s son owns one of those condos. Claus and Rachael kept Kyanna at that dock and made it their mission to find Pelican a place at one of the empty docks in the development. The owner next door agreed, and our boats happily bounced in the wakes together.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Winter Wonderland

December 18-29, Prior Lake, MN
On December 18, we left behind the palm trees wrapped with Christmas lights and landed in a pure-white winter wonderland of pine trees frosted with snow. It had been an unusually snowy season, and snow continued to fall almost every day while we were home. Yes, we had been dreaming of a white Christmas, and it was just what we were hoping for.

All of my sisters and nephews were home this year for Christmas for the first time in fourteen years and it was wonderful to be all together. My nephews from Mexico and Tennessee, who are all growing up very nicely—ranging from 5ʹ10ʹʺ to 6ʹ7ʹʺ—especially enjoyed the opportunity to experience a northern winter and build snowmen.

We celebrated with my family on Christmas Eve, and wrapped up the evening with the service at Christ Presbyterian Church. It closed with the singing of Silent Night in a darkened sanctuary, everyone holding candles and lighting them from one to the next, a beautiful and moving symbol of Jesus coming to bring light into our darkness.

On Christmas Day we celebrated with Keith’s family, and this was also the alternating year when everyone was together. Even when we’re living our land life, those precious times when the entire family can be together are all too rare. Being away this year, we treasured every one of those moments.

It was a whirlwind of activity and we didn't have time to see most of the friends we wanted to see. Still, by the time we were scheduled to return to Florida, we were happy to leave the chilly white stuff behind. We’ll miss everyone, but we’d rather be on a white sand beach.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Providential Timing

December 10-17, Daytona Beach to Ft. Pierce, FL
Most of the dock space for the month of December at Ft. Pierce City Marina had been booked since August. We called at the end of November to inquire about a space to leave Pelican when we would fly home for Christmas and were very fortunate to reserve the last spot. After an overnight stay in Daytona Beach and a couple nights at anchor, we arrived safely, filled up with diesel, and backed into our slip. The timing was providential—everything had fallen into place beautifully.

The next morning, the screen on our laptop went black. Even though Keith is computer savvy, he was baffled. Research needed to be done and reservations made, and without a computer we were at loose ends. The expert we called in determined that an external monitor would cure the malady. But by the time we got home for Christmas, we knew we had to buy a new laptop. (Ask Keith how he spent his vacation.)

If the events of the morning were not enough, that afternoon the cabin began to reek of the offensive odor of diesel. Opening the hold, we were greeted by an ominous puddle of pink marine fuel. Fortunately, not a drop had leaked into the bilge. Keith spent the next day and two nights replacing absorbent sheets around the leak every half hour around the clock to keep it that way. Finally a great mechanic, also named Keith, fixed the leak by replacing the neoprene gasket by the fill-hole.

In the end, the timing of the computer failure and fuel leak was providential, too. If these things were about to happen, better that they should occur in Florida than after we cross over to the Bahamas. Thank God, all things do work together for good! Posted by Picasa