Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Homeland Security, Then and Now

April 26-29, Fernandina Beach, FL to Charleston, SC
A perfect weather window opened, and we decided to go offshore from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina
on an overnight passage.

The beginning and the end of our voyage were both anchored by Civil War–era forts. As we exited St. Marys River on the border of Florida and Georgia, we passed Fort Clinch, its cannons aimed outward to prevent invasion by sea. And historic Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the “War of Northern Aggression” were fired on April 12, 1861, welcomed
us to Charleston harbor with its flags flying.

In between, just past Fort Clinch, we looked back and saw that we were being pursued by a far more technologically advanced weapons system. A colossal Trident nuclear submarine from Kings Bay Naval Base was gaining on us rapidly.
A Coast Guard inflatable zoomed up behind us to warn us to stay to the side of the channel. Two “coasties” manned machine guns on the bow and stern of the inflatable, never taking their hands off the triggers or their eyes off us. Their inflatable came within a few feet of us, the submarine within a few boat-lengths.
What an impressive sight! And just a bit of a change in the past 150 years in how our borders are secured.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Open-Air Amphitheater

April 22-25, Titusville-Fernandina Beach, FL
Some cruisers speak in disparaging tones referring to the Intra-Coastal Waterway as “the ditch.” Waiting for bridge openings and watching channel markers is definitely a different style of cruising than island hopping in The Bahamas, but we enjoy this part of the trip, too.

A fair amount of real estate along the winding rivers, lagoons, and land cuts is developed, but there are also beautiful wide-open spaces. Between hammocks of graceful palms and sturdy pines, marsh grasses sway. Rose-gold and spring-green savannas contrast with stands of dense and lush green jungle growth. As we travel northward, moss-laden live oaks here and there indicate progress.

We’re in an open-air amphitheater and the wildlife puts on a delightful performance for us. Aquatic birds and other wildlife abound. Pelicans glide in a ballet on the breeze, then, spotting fish, descend into the water in hilarious nosedives that are anything but graceful. Egrets stalk the shoreline in lurching staccato steps, looking for little minnows. Dolphins surface in undulating waves, displaying tail flukes and arching high above the water, then with uncanny timing they disappear at precisely the moment the camera is ready or the shutter is snapped. The manatees in Titusville Marina are less camera-shy, but may be less photogenic.
Our last stop in Florida, Fernandina Beach, has a colorful history that goes way back to 1562. In its earlier years, pirates and other rogues used it as a hideout. In more “modern” times, Victorian stores and homes were built (and have been restored) in the historic district. The flags of eight different countries have flown over the town, making it the most highly prized area in our nation. We’ll miss the big show in town—the shrimp festival is next week—but didn’t miss out on fresh-caught jumbo shrimp for dinner.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Back on Home Soil

April 18-21, Great Sale Cay to Port Canaveral, FL
I love the word “uneventful.” An occasional shot of adrenaline may have some value, but I’ll pick a smooth passage over stormy seas any day.

We enjoyed a smooth voyage from Green Turtle Cay to Great Sale Cay out on the middle of the Little Bahama Bank on April 18. That night we anchored with 25 boats. In pairs and small groups, they began to depart at 11 p.m. and continued throughout the night. We left in the morning and anchored that night on the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, out of sight of land, with four other boats.

We slept as well as one can sleep in a washing machine, then pulled anchor, as planned, at 2 a.m. It was a bumpy beginning that calmed down as the day went on. Our destination was Port Canaveral, and we arrived at 5 p.m. on April 20.

The passage was uneventful—if that word can accurately describe a voyage in which Keith caught a mahi-mahi and a pod of six dolphins jumped all around our bow for ten minutes in a spirited dance of joy. What beautiful gifts from the Creator of all life!

Port Canaveral is a base for cruise ships. It’s also home to scores of sport-fishing boats. When they come back to port, scores of pelicans congregate, waiting for just a tiny scrap of the catch.

It’s good to be back on home soil. From here on, Keith’s placemarks on the Google map link to the right will be yellow to distinguish them from the blue balloons we have used up to this point. Thanks again for joining us on our journey. As always, we appreciate your love and support!

A Big Birthday Send-Off

April 17, Green Turtle Cay
The last night we spent with Claus and Rachael, we made it a happy celebration with an early birthday party for moi (we’ve been around a lot of French Canadian boats). Rachael pulled out all the stops and put on a full dress affair. I was given suggestions about accepted attire, and Keith was given his own instructions. That afternoon, Rachael had woven attractive rattan ties for the guys, shirt and jacket not required.

She had a very busy afternoon! Not only did she stitch up some torn seams in our bimini canvas and make two ties, but she also made me three coconut bowls (from coconuts we had found together) and a conch horn. In The Bahamas it’s traditional for cruisers to celebrate every sunset by blowing horns made from conch shells. There’s a trick to it, and I’m getting the hang of it.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, Rachael made a scrumptious dinner including pork medallions with a sour cream-cognac sauce and a low-carb flourless chocolate cake. Mmm mmm, I don’t get chocolate very often, so it was a huge treat. I’ll sure miss Rachael’s cooking!

We had such a fun evening reminiscing about the quality of the time we've spent together. When we calculated the quantity, we were amazed to realize that we've been together most evenings for the last five months, except for a couple weeks here and there when our schedules took us in different directions.

We didn't want to talk about sailing away without them the next day. What we’ll really miss on the rest of the trip is the love and camaraderie between all of us. It enriched the meals and conversations we shared on each other’s boats, added fun to everything we did together, and enhanced the places we explored. Until next time, Claus and Rachael!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

April 13-16, White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
Yes, there can be trouble in paradise. We’ve often mentioned the need to seek a sheltered harbor when storms are forecast. High winds produce uncomfortable conditions on unprotected seas, so every boat is looking for safe haven. Unfortunately, the “safe” anchorages become crowded. And even there, anchors can break loose. Sometimes those captains maneuver and reset their anchors without significant problems. Other times, they do everything wrong, to the peril of the other boats in the anchorage.

At 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, that’s what happened. A storm hit our anchorage with winds of 40 miles per hour. Boats started dragging and moving, including a Moorings charter catamaran next to us. They pulled up their anchor and, instead of motoring forward or to their starboard, they drifted back onto us, fouling their rudder in our anchor chain and pulling our anchor out. Entangled, the only thing we could do was fend off and try to separate the two boats. We told them to put out an anchor—now!—but they didn’t.

The events unfolded so quickly, yet they played out like a slow-motion horror movie, scary and surreal. The catamaran was attached to us, and we were both hurtling between boats in the crowded anchorage, very narrowly missing one. Keith released all of our anchor chain, but still entangled, the catamaran rammed us, T-bone style, onto the bowsprit of another sailboat, Samaria II. At this point, Keith cut the anchor completely loose and the catamaran was able to break free. Concerned that we might tangle the anchor chain of Samaria II, which we were now blown hard against stern-to-bow, we put out fenders and rafted together until daylight.

The rest of the story is good news. Andrew and Denise on Samaria II are the nicest people you could ever wish to raft up with, involuntarily or not. They made a harrowing night much more bearable by their kindness and positive attitudes. Andrew’s father invented the CQR anchor, and he enjoyed putting it to the test with two boats hanging on the one anchor in gale-force winds. Denise even thought it was an exciting adventure. (We can’t go quite that far—yet!)

In the morning Claus and Barry Hammerberg spent a long time helping us separate Pelican and Samaria II without any further damage. They set a kedge anchor off the stern to hold the two boats apart. Then Keith dove down to the bottom of the harbor and tied lines to our primary anchor and chain, which they helped us recover before we motored away and re-anchored. We’re so grateful for their time, expertise, and muscle!

And the whole cruising community pulled together around us, surrounding us with concern and support. We feel as though we’ve gained a bunch of new friends.

Pelican did sustain damage which needs to be repaired, but it is mostly cosmetic. She will still be able to soar in a fine breeze. We thank God for being good to us and protecting us in a situation that could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Perfect Corner of Creation

April 11-12, Manjack Cay
If there is a perfect place in The Bahamas, for us it’s the northernmost bay on Manjack Cay (pronounced mun´-jack). God must have said, “I’m going to do something extra-special with this little corner of My world.”

And so He designed curving sand beaches that shimmer in the golden rays of the sun and small rocky coves that explode with spectacular surf spray. He tinted the waters in jewel-tones of emerald, aquamarine, and sapphire. He fashioned an expansive variety of seashells to wash up on the beach, little gifts from the sea. And He created both laughing gulls that squawk in hope of a handout and stingrays with velvety soft undersides that caress your hand as they nuzzle it looking for treats.

At night, He studded the jet-black canopy overhead with a glorious array of stars. And down in the water, a brilliant touch: phosphorescence that glitters with any movement—swishing an oar through the water creates swirls of twinkling flashes, as if the fish are playing with sparklers.

Awesome displays that each reflect a tiny facet of the beauty of our awesome Creator.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Favorite Island

April 8-10, Green Turtle Cay
Just north of the Whale Cay passage lies Keith’s favorite island, Green Turtle Cay. Beautiful live barrier reefs sit to the east, and two harbors offer shelter. White Sound, on the north end of the island, is home to two marina resorts. Black Sound is near the town on the southern end. The thriving town is called New Plymouth—do you think it might have been settled by British loyalists? It’s not too tourist-y and feels truly Bahamian. Miss Doreen’s house, pictured here with green and white shutters, is the oldest wooden building in town dating back to 1800. Several others have stood since 1840. They’ve seen a lot of hurricanes come and go. Maybe part of the appeal is a feeling of permanence.

The “most unusual building” award has to go to the old jail or “Ye Olde Gaol,” as the sign says. Notice the stairway to nowhere. We think it may have led somewhere indeed—to the gallows. There’s no perfect place anywhere, but this one is “Claus enough” as our dear friend has been heard to say.

Look Homeward

April 11, 2008, Green Turtle Cay
It’s not that we’re ready to trade balmy 85-degree days for blustery 10-inch spring snowstorms in Minnesota. It’s been a good winter to be somewhere else! But in order to get home in early June for the best weather the northland has to offer, we need to begin our slow journey now.

We completed a series of “lasts”: the last propane and water tank refills, the last major grocery provisioning, the last trip to the Laundromat. We extended our immigration status, which was set to expire before our exit.

And…sigh of relief…we got around Whale Cay. This passage (out one cut and back through another where the deep Atlantic funnels into the shallow Sea of Abaco) is notorious for wreaking havoc, even sinking big ships, when “rage” conditions (huge, breaking waves) are present. This time the roaring lion purred like a pussycat. Now it’s all downhill from here.

Oh, except for another notorious passage called the Gulf Stream. We’d like to cross sometime around April 20. Of course, every plan we make has a weather contingency clause.

We’re so happy that Claus and Rachael are still buddy-boating with us. They don’t plan to leave The Bahamas until mid-May, but we’ve all become such good friends that they’ll stay with us as long as possible and then back-track a little. It’s better in The Bahamas, and it’s fabulous with friends!

Places to Go, People to See

April 2-7, Man-O-War and Great Guana Cays
Before leaving the southern part of the Abacos, we made a couple more stops. After Hope Town we headed just a little bit north for a day stop at Man-O-War Cay. This island was formerly a wooden boatbuilding center. Now small shops along the waterfront manufacture fiberglass runabouts. Albury’s Sail Shop sells all kinds of colorful canvas bags and hats. It’s a quiet place that caters far less to tourists than Hope Town does. The locals are industrious and devoutly religious. Nothing is open on Sunday; no alcohol is sold anywhere on the island. We spent part of the day visiting Kirk, a man we’d met a couple weeks earlier on the ferry to Hope Town.

Back to Marsh Harbour for a few days. When it came time to leave there, the fuel docks were full. Plan B: we’ll motor to Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay to top off our fuel and water tanks. This was one of the times when Plan B turns out to be far better than the original plan! In 2004 we had made friends with the dock master, Mackenzie. He was still working there and remembered us. He said he’d thought about us many times and wondered how we were. We told him we’d talked about him often, how he gave us a ride over in Marsh Harbour when he saw us walking with groceries, how he visited us at another marina. It was great to see him again, and we promised we’d spend some time at Orchid Bay on our next trip to the Abacos. Yes, we hope there will be a next trip.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Happy Endings

March 28-April 1, Hope Town Harbour
Some things turn out better than anticipated. When the Hope Town Harbour Light was erected in the 1860s, the residents protested loudly, refusing to provide fresh water to the government workers on site. Many locals feared it would interfere with their “search and rescue” livelihood of wrecking: watching for ships that foundered on the barrier reef the runs along the east side of the Abacos and collecting any saleable goods (and, of course, any sailors) from the wreckage.

The story had a happy ending. The lighthouse was completed and now contributes dramatically to the local livelihood of tourism. Standing over the harbor with red and white candy stripes, it has been the colorful subject of countless photos and paintings. It’s a magnet to visitors who come to Elbow Cay to sightsee in the charming town. They can climb the tower, browse in cute shops and eat in restaurants housed in colorful cottages, or walk the long beaches. They may stay for a few hours or a few weeks, and some never leave.

Along with many other cruisers, Hope Town was on our must-do list in the Abacos. After we left Little Harbour we first anchored off Tahiti Beach, a gorgeous beach on the south end of Elbow Cay. For lunch, we checked another item off the list: we dinghied over to Cracker P’s, a restaurant on the island of Lubber’s Quarters only accessible to small boats. Then on to Hope Town.

For several days Pelican was moored in Hope Town harbor while a weather system breezed through. Sunday we attended the Methodist church in town and ran into Ed Collins. We had met Ed in 2004 on the street in Marsh Harbour. He was very friendly and welcoming to us as fellow “Middle Westerners” and invited us to come and spend a day in Hope Town. He and his wife Bobbie had first come to Hope Town on a sailboat and now have a second home there. Bobbie was back in the States at the time, so we didn’t meet her. But Ed was a great host, showing us around their home, taking us out for lunch, and giving us a tour of the island with a special stop to watch Winer Malone work on a wooden boat. Winer is the last builder of traditional wooden Abaco dinghies on the island, and he does it all without the aid of power tools in a tiny shed attached to his home. At that time, Ed was finishing a book entitled Winer Malone and the Abaco Dinghy.

It was fun to see Ed again, and this time we had the pleasure of meeting his lovely wife, Bobbie. Ed's book is published and all of the proceeds go to support the Wyannie Malone historical museum in Hope Town. We bought a copy and were very impressed. It turned out beautifully. The text clearly describes a complicated process, illustrated by dozens of beautiful pictures. Another happy ending.