Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Birthday Gift

Cape Canaveral to Palm Bay
December 5

What we saw of NASA's Orion test flight
We didn’t have special plans for December 5, Keith’s birthday. Unless you count being on a boat in Florida. But some days turn out better than you’d plan.
What official NASA photographer Bill Ingalls saw

The only thing on our agenda: to move from Point A to Point B. We set the alarm and weighed anchor just before dawn. Fifteen minutes later we witnessed the launch of NASA’s first Orion test flight from Cape Canaveral, about ten miles away. Even though we didn’t have a close-up view, it was exhilarating. A promising start to the day.

At the end of the day we dropped anchor in the Indian River and sat in the cockpit of Pelican to enjoy some moments of calm. Suddenly an amazing pelican show began. We like to think pelicans seek us out, that they somehow sense our boat is part of their squadron. At first there were around ten birds, then their numbers increased to about twenty-five. In funny, gawky, and graceful movements, they put on a fishing extravaganza. They circled high in the sky and, once fixed on a glinting, moving target in the water, dive-bombed with technical precision. As they started to dive they looked clumsy, wings and beak akimbo. But just before impact, they streamlined, every awkward appendage tucked in and perfectly aligned, and entered the water like missiles. With a tremendous splash. Followed by a huge gulp. Over and over, they repeated the sequence, two or three birds at a time.

Maybe a personal pelican squadron was Keith’s birthday gift from God.
All the things in this world are gifts and signs of God’s love to us.
The whole world is a love letter from God.
Peter Kreeft

These aren't the dive-bombing pelicans, just pelicans at the Fort Pierce jetty
"I seem to have something stuck in my craw!"
A pretty posing pelican
The facilities...

Friends Along the Way

Fernandina Beach to Fort Pierce
November 11‒December 7

It’s often said that the best part of cruising is the people you meet. That’s so true. In the cruising community, you know even before you learn a person’s name or story that you share a lot in common.

With John and Sally in Fernandina Beach
That said, we didn’t actually meet John and Sally while cruising. We met them at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minnesota. But our first connection centered on our common enjoyment of boats and sailing. John and Sally are now fortunate enough to live in Fernandina Beach, and we’ve stopped to visit them twice: a year ago and two hours into this year’s trip. This time there was plenty of news to catch up on. They didn’t know about Sean and Maggie’s wedding in October, we didn’t know about their daughter Jennifer’s upcoming wedding in January, so that gave us (mostly Sally and me) plenty to talk about: venues, centerpieces, sand (the wedding kind), engagement stories, and more. They served up warm hospitality and a delicious dinner in their lovely home. Thanks, John and Sally!

With Claus, Rachael, and a beautiful turkey
Thanksgiving fell during our time in St. Augustine. I love Thanksgiving, partly because there isn’t much to commercialize about being thankful to God for what you already have. When we’re home, being with our families is the best part. Gathering with strangers or eating in a restaurant is just not the same. Fortunately for us, Claus and Rachael live only three hours away and were also going to be alone for the holiday. They’re friends who are like family ever since we got to know each other cruising together in 2007-2008. For the second year in a row we spent Thanksgiving with them. In keeping with tradition, Rachael and I cooked up a fabulous turkey feast on Thursday, we all savored oyster steamers on Friday and decorated their tree
Decorator elves
in full elfish splendor on Saturday. We love you, Claus and Rachael! Thanks for the second annual Thanksgiving weekend.

Bob and Ilona in Fort Pierce
On December 6, we stopped in Ft. Pierce to see Bob and Ilona, who will be keeping their boat, Ihana, at the city marina there this winter. In Minnesota it’s about a 30-mile drive from our house to theirs, but we had to go to the Bahamas to meet them last year. We traveled together for about a month and have the greatest respect and admiration for this couple. They crossed the Gulf Stream for the first time on their way to the Bahamas when they were in their 70s. That’s gutsy! They’re full of energy (Ilona) and humor (Bob), so they’re a lot of fun to be around. We’ve spent time in Ft. Pierce before, but until Bob and Ilona showed us around, we had no idea all the town had to offer. Thanks for hanging out with us and giving us the special tour, Bob and Ilona!

We’re grateful for all the friends we’ve met along the way who have added so much to our lives and our cruising experience. On this trip, we look forward to getting to know other friends we haven’t yet met.
We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, 
and the best that we find in our travels is a friend. 
They are fortunate voyagers who find many. 
We travel indeed to find them.
Robert Louis Stevenson

All of the elves, including Bentley the dog

Sunday, December 7, 2014

First Stops, First Coast

November 11 ‒ 30
St. Marys, GA to St. Augustine, FL

Covered with shade cloth at St. Marys Boat Services
Our winter of 2014-2015 journey is underway and Pelican is very happy to be back in the water. On November 4 we returned to St. Marys, Georgia, where she had been stored on the hard just across the river from Florida to fulfill insurance requirements. She needed serious cleanup after being laid up in a dusty boatyard (no surprise there) but otherwise was in very good shape.

Ready to splash
On November 11, we splashed and began our cruise. The first stop was just a couple hours downriver. Fernandina Beach is the northernmost town on the coast of Florida. It’s a uniquely desirable location, evidenced by the fact that this is the only place in the US that eight flags have flown over. We stopped here to fill the water tanks, which we hadn’t done in St. Marys due to the unsavory sulphur taste of the tap water there. We also wanted to visit friends there. More about that in the next post.

After our first night aboard, we continued down the ICW and stopped overnight at Pine Island, a peaceful anchorage in a remote area. The anchor chain clanked as it paid out, and soon the day-long clamor of the engine halted. Silence reverberated. It took a moment for the senses to adjust. Then peace reigned. Winds were calm and, at first, we were the only boat there. Blissful! The slanting rays of sunlight glinted golden on the marsh grass. Only squawking shore birds and splashing fish broke the stillness.
At Pine Island after other boats arrived

Reenactors in St. Augustine
The next morning we left the quiet solitude for the lively city of St. Augustine on Florida’s First Coast. The name refers to the first permanent European settlement in the New World. Spanish explorers discovered this coast and never left. We’re tempted to follow their example every time we visit. The weather has a lot to do with it, as well as the distinctive architecture and charm of the old city. The real reason we stayed for three weeks this time was that we were waiting for Cooper’s Canvas in Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor to make zip-on shade cloths to protect our cockpit and an awning to shade the cabin roof. They did excellent work, and we hope to have plenty of the sunny, warm days the shades were designed for.
Handsome little machines

While we waited, we did a little sightseeing and a lot of preparation. We replaced the chart plotter, which means that our radar will work again; replaced the VHF radio and remote mike with newer models that include an AIS receiver so we can identify and track large commercial vessels during overnight passages; bought nonperishable foods for the Bahamas; had our folding bikes tuned up, and added my favorite upgrade: a set of Magma nesting pots and pans.

Our first stops on the First Coast haven’t taken us far. First things first—now we’re ready for the next legs of the journey. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Perfect Day

October 18, 2014Lynchburg, VA
When we left Pelican in Georgia last spring, we had no idea of all that would happen before we returned. In March I wrote a blog post about our son, Sean’s, visit to the Bahamas with his girlfriend, Maggie McDonald. (See “The Perfect Week,” below). In that post, I didn’t mention the bottle of champagne on the boat ready to chill in the event of a proposal. Alas, the opportunity didn’t present itself.

Just engaged, May 25
On our drive home after storing the boat, we stopped in Chicago to see Sean on May 20. He was soon to leave for New York for a summer computer coding course and told us Maggie was coming for the weekend to help him put all his belongings in storage. We offered to come back and help out. (Incidentally, over dinner I asked Sean if he planned to propose to Maggie anytime soon. He deflected with the response, “Well, if I told you before I told Maggie, that wouldn’t be very nice to her, would it?”)

So that Saturday, May 24, we met up with Sean and Maggie in the parking lot of his building. They seemed extraordinarily happy. As we chatted, Maggie made a lot of hand motions. We were oblivious, completely missing the sparkle of the diamond ring on her finger. Until she waved it in our faces.

Married under a sheltering oak tree
They set a date of October 18, less than five months out, and Maggie’s mom, Beth Doucette, went into wonder-working mode. I’d never spent time imagining what Sean’s wedding would be like, but if I had, the reality would have eclipsed my best dreams.

Beth and Maggie worked together to create a storybook event at Boonsboro Country Club on October 18. The weather was perfect, the setting idyllic. Under the boughs of a stately oak tree, led by Keith’s uncle, G.T. Gunhus, the former Chief of Chaplains for the United States Army, Sean and Maggie became husband and wife. Every detail was perfect. Maggie was absolutely gorgeous! Sean could hardly take his eyes off her. Both the wedding and reception were beautiful and romantic, fun and elegant, sentimental and sweet.
Stunning bride!

Happy groom!

So in love

Elegant reception in the historic country club

It made it even more special that everyone in our families, from Mexico, Portland, Boston, Minneapolis, and Tennessee, was able to make the trip to Lynchburg, especially my 91-year-old mom. And it was a true pleasure to meet everyone in Maggie’s family; they’re all wonderful!
Maggie and Sean with his grandma
With both sets of parents
We love Maggie and are so happy she is now part of our family. The girl of Sean's dreams is also the answer to our prayers. We thank God for bringing Maggie into Sean's life, into our lives! This one perfect day was our greatest blessing of the year. For that and for so many other gifts of grace, our hearts are full of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blue Horizons

Powell Cay, Abacos to Port Canaveral, Florida
April 11 ‒ 12

We thought we wanted to spend some time anchoring north of Whale Cay, dropping the hook at several islands well off the beaten track. But as soon as we started talking about going home, something shifted. The wind started blowing toward Florida. We were ready.

Marine weather guru Chris Parker forecast four days of benign conditions for crossing the Gulf Stream. Those days would provide “an embarrassment of opportunities for westbound sailors,” he said. With the weather window wide open, we weighed anchor at Powell Cay and kept going until we made landfall in Port Canaveral, Florida, a trip of twenty-eight hours. Fortunately we left when we did, because the four-day window for Gulf Stream crossings slammed shut after two days (and would stay closed for the following week and a half).
On the Little Bahama Bank before we arrived at the Gulf Stream.
The lighter water is a fish mud: sand stirred up by fish.
As blue-water crossings go, in our experience, it was relatively comfortable. A waxing moon illuminated the horizon and delineated our mild pitching and rolling. For fifteen hours, we saw no sign of land. The immensity of the open ocean, shades of blue stretching to every horizon, was truly awe inspiring, not a breath-baited terrifying awe but a breathless holy awe. That sphere of unbroken blue speaks so powerfully of the vastness of God who created and fills not only the space you and I inhabit at any given moment but the entire universe.
Search high and low, scan skies and land,
you’ll find nothing and no one quite like God….
He looms immense and august over everyone around him…
powerful and faithful from every angle.

Psalm 89:68 msg

Farewell to The Bahamas

Green Turtle Cay to Powell Cay, Abacos
April 6 ‒ 10

After Sean and Maggie left, it was time for the first leg of our journey home—heading north around the Whale Cay passage. Because the Sea of Abaco is shallow between Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay, most cruising boats have to leave the Sea of Abaco, go out into the Atlantic around Whale Cay and back into the Sea of Abaco. Going through “the Whale” is something of an accomplishment because this cut is notorious for treacherous waves during conditions called a “rage.” Rage conditions are frequent where a large body of water such as the Atlantic funnels into a smaller, shallower area such as the Sea of Abaco. When northeast swells surge, the Whale quickly becomes impassable even for cruise ships. It’s not unusual to have to wait a week for an opportunity to safely transit this passage.

White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
Once around the Whale, we spent a few days in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay, to wait out yet another storm. During the night of April 9, fifty-knot winds roared through. An anchored catamaran dragged loose and pulled another sailboat aground with him. Déjà vu! The last time we were in the same harbor, in April 2008, we were involved in a very similar situation. In the middle of the night high winds picked up and a catamaran next to us dragged anchor. Their keel pulled out our anchor and we were bound together, our anchor chain wrapped around their keel. Hurtling loose through a dark and crowded harbor, we were T-boned against another boat and had to stay there for the night. We learned from that scary experience. This time we were tied up at Green Turtle Club Marina. And one of us (Joanie) slept through the entire squall.
The Tranquil Turtle Beach Bar, Green Turtle Cay

As we prepared to depart The Bahamas, we reflected on ways the trip turned out different than expected. We didn’t get to remote islands we’d hoped to visit, such as Cat and Long Islands. We did a lot of waiting. Waiting for my cast removal. Waiting for weather. Waiting for weather again. Waiting.

On the other hand, unexpected delays put in motion a chain of other enjoyable experiences. Like taking a little vacation-in-a-vacation when we spent four days in Nassau for surgery follow-up... Meeting wonderfully kind and gracious people, especially Dr. Neil... Receiving help and support from our friends on Ihana and Rag Doll… Renting a car on Eleuthera during a weather delay and finding Lighthouse Point Beach… Spending extra time in Marsh Harbour and attending a very enthusiastic church service with our friend George, who makes conch salad on the waterfront… Making new friends at Mangoes Marina. We wouldn’t want to exchange the gifts we were given for those we originally hoped for.
Gratitude embraces all of life:
the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not-so-holy.
We do this because we become aware of God’s life,
God’s presence in the midst of all that happens.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Up to the last minute, there were good gifts. One last grouper dinner. One last beautiful anchorage at Powell Cay. One last amazing wildlife sighting there: White-tailed Tropicbirds (creatures as beautiful as these should not be camera shy, but they flitted so fast we couldn’t get a decent photo). 
Look closely to see our picture of White-Tailed Tropicbirds,
Powell Cay
White-Tailed Tropicbird (photo credit: Jean-Luc Baron)
One last dolphin sighting on the Little Bahama Banks. 
Also slightly camera shy
One last sunset blast on the conch horn…a fitting farewell to The Bahamas. 

The wind-blown and frayed Bahamian courtesy flag
that flew on our boat.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Perfect Week

The Abacos
March 10 ‒ April 5

Way back on Monday, March 10, we motored up from Royal Island, just north of Eleuthera, to the northern group of Out Islands in The Bahamas called the Abacos. It was a very comfortable open-ocean run, even fun. We had huge gentle swells from the NE that we floated up and down. Unlike anything we’d experienced before, it felt as though we were on a kiddie roller coaster. When another sailboat passed going south, as we both rolled with those swells we lost sight of them except their cabin roof and mast. Because the swells were so large and smooth, it was an easy crossing.

When we came into Marsh Harbour on March 11 to sit out the next frontal system, we reserved space in Mangoes Marina for four days. The next day, we changed it to a month. Over the next couple weeks, one front after the other blew through the area.

Sandwiched between stormy, blustery days, Sean and Maggie’s vacation with us (March 30 to April 5) could not have been timed more perfectly. The weather was fantastic, sunny but not too hot, breezy but not too wild, allowing us to sail, anchor, or moor wherever we liked.

They came in part because of their thirtieth birthdays this spring (can’t believe our baby will be 3-0 this Sunday!), and we were so happy to help them celebrate. We fit as much into a week as we could, stopping at all of our favorite places. In the Abacos, different islands have different histories and personalities, and that’s part of the appeal. We visited cute and quaint tourist villages, remote Bahamian towns, glorious beaches, sand flats, a blue hole, and both fun and fancy restaurants.

We'll let pictures tell the story of most of the places on our itinerary…
Southern Great Abaco Island to Pete’s Pub & Gallery and Cherokee Sound…
At Pete's Pub in Little Harbour,
both Sean and Maggie got the ring on the hook
Cherokee Sound at low tide
Hope Town, Elbow Cay, home of the cutest cottages and the iconic red-and-white-striped lighthouse…
Sailing to Hope Town

Hope Town lighthouse

The view of Hope Town harbour from the lighthouse --
Pelican is in the middle bottom
Winer Malone in his Hope Town workshop
building an Abaco dinghy
Firefly Sunset Grill, Elbow Cay, a lunch stop for burgers (amazingly, it was the best meal of the week even counting all the delicious seafood we ate)…
Firefly restaurant on Elbow Cay
Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay, where low tide exposes a huge sandbar for wading and shelling…
Sean and Maggie walking on Tahiti Beach
Dinghying around
Man-O-War Cay, a lunch stop at the former wooden boat-building center and all-around charming town…
Harbour at Man-O-War Cay

Walking around Man-O-War Cay

Sean with a model Abaco dinghy and its creator, Andy Albury,
Man-O-War Cay
Great Guana Cay, for dinner at Nipper’s overlooking the Atlantic…
Front row seat at Nippers

Photo taken by Mackenzie, the dockmaster at Orchid Bay Marina,
Great Guana Cay
Baker’s Bay, Great Guana Cay, a day stop for snorkeling…
and Treasure Cay, our base for exploring the northern half of Great Abaco Island, swimming in a blue hole, and walking on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (per National Geographic).
Blue hole near Treasure Cay, Great Abaco
Swinging from a rope into the blue hole
Our voyage this winter has included plenty of highlights—gorgeous beaches, vivid blue-green water, new places to see. But no matter where we’ve gone, there’s nothing better than spending time with family, talking and laughing together, experiencing life together.
Having fun together
Sean and Maggie were excellent company to have aboard, and it was fun to get to know Maggie better. They had a great time and said it was their most relaxing vacation ever. When you’re only thirty, you can do a lot in a week and still have energy left over.

For us, having them here filled our souls with new energy. We thank God for Sean and Maggie and the memories we made together. It was simply the most perfect week of our trip.
The sun looks down on nothing half so good as 
a household laughing together over a meal.
C. S. Lewis

Friday, March 28, 2014

Eleutheran Adventures

Powell Point, Eleuthera to Royal Island
February 27 ‒ March 9

The first Europeans who established a permanent settlement on this island in 1648 based their name on the Greek word for freedom, calling themselves the Eleutheran Adventurers. Their experience on these shores included shipwreck and hardship. Our adventure was of a much more delightful and relaxing variety.

We’d never visited Eleuthera before, so we rented a car one day and toured the island from the southern tip to Governor’s Harbour—about half of its 110-mile length. We were so impressed by the gorgeous scenery we kept discovering that it became our new favorite island.

Cottage on Cupid's Cay across from Governor's Harbour
Eleuthera is jam-packed with natural beauty. White and pink sand beaches stretch for miles along its coasts. Majestic cliffs and massive boulders rise above the beaches. Magnificent views of the bright aqua Bight of Eleuthera on the west and the cobalt Atlantic Ocean to the east can sometimes be seen from the same place.

Our lunch stop was Governor’s Harbour, a picturesque village with quaint New England‒style cottages that stair-step up a hill. A causeway connects the town to Cupid’s Cay, where the Eleutheran Adventurers first made landfall. We drove beach access roads and walked on beautiful beaches. And at the end of the day, we found it: the beach that surpasses all the others we’ve seen so far! They say that nothing but a four-wheel-drive vehicle can manage the last few miles of the drive to Lighthouse Point Beach. But Keith maneuvered our compact rental through deep, sandy potholes and ruts between walls of tough shrubbery along both sides. The view at the end of the road made every bump worthwhile.
Lighthouse Point Beach (late in the day, the picture doesn't do it justice!)
Cliffs at Lighthouse Point
Because of a pattern of repeating cold fronts with strong westerly and northerly winds—and the fact that there are few good harbors on Eleuthera for those winds—we didn't mosey around as much as we’d have liked. We spent several nights at Cape Eleuthera Marina, anchored for one night at Governor’s Harbour, and then moved on to Hatchet Bay Pond, a hidey-hole with all-around protection, to wait out the next storm.

The Front Porch Restaurant in Harchet Bay
There weren’t many thriving enterprises in Hatchet Bay, which made The Front Porch restaurant even more of a find. Francis, the owner/chef, had been out the previous day and had fresh stone crab claws and crawfish (lobster). I ordered crawfish stuffed with fresh crab meat (a great choice for the indecisive), and Keith went for the claws. The biggest stone crab claw on his plate was the size of his hand; including the knuckle, the claw extended a few inches up his wrist. It was all fabulous.

Storm clouds at Hatchet Bay Pond
Once the storm passed through, we moved farther north and anchored by the Glass Window, a tiny isthmus sometimes referred to as “the narrowest place on earth” (less than 100 feet). It connects the northern section of Eleuthera with the rest of the island and dramatically contrasts vivid turquoise waters with the deep-azure Atlantic. The Glass Window was named when a large stone arch crossed the narrow section. The force of a hurricane swept the arch away in the early 1920s. A couple highway bridges have since spanned the gap. On Halloween of 1991, a formidable wave moved one end of the latest bridge over by seven feet—but it’s still in use, one lane only!
The contrast between turquoise and blue at the Glass Window
The Glass Window bridge.
Waves can sweep over the top even on a clear day!
If you look closely, you can see the offset of the bridge at the orange sign.
And Pelican is in the right top corner.
Even the departure from Eleuthera had potential to be an adventure of the wrong kind. Ebb or flood tides at Current Cut, an opening 100 yards wide between Atlantic and the Bight of Eleuthera, can flow as fast as 10 knots. Since our boat goes 7 knots under power, it would be impossible to go through this cut with current against us and we would have very little control if it was with us. After reading all of the advice we could find, we arrived 90 minutes after low tide and had almost no current going through. Getting the timing right was adventure enough.
By Lightouse Point Beach
When those first Eleutheran Adventurers arrived on the island over 350 years ago, the native Arawak people called it Cigatoo, their word for paradise. According to our own Eleutheran adventures, the name is still a perfect fit.