Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Beautiful Berrys

North Palm Beach ‒ The Berry Islands
January 20 ‒ 27

Sugar Beach on Great Harbour Cay
The Berry Islands are a small chain of cays (“keys”) halfway between Freeport and Nassau. Easy to overlook on a map of the Bahamas, they don’t get much press. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 60s, an ambitious golf course, beach, and marina development on the largest of the islands, Great Harbour Cay, was the playground of the rich and famous. The Rat Pack, Brigitte Bardot, and other stars spent time there. Frank Sinatra owned a beach house on the north end. Jack Nicklaus had a home on the 18th green. Now the expansive stone clubhouse lies in ruins, the few holes left sport more divots and weeds than grass, and the celebrities have moved on. But the natural beauty remains—especially the gorgeous beach with four miles of white sugar sand.

The cut into Great Harbour Cay Marina basin
Great Harbour Cay Marina, part of that earlier development, is located in an interior basin accessible via a channel blasted through the rocks. Its protected harbor made a charming first stop on our Bahamas itinerary. When we came into the country, we flew a yellow Q (quarantine) flag until checking in with customs in a port of entry such as this one. Then we raised the Bahamian courtesy flag.

The local people welcomed us with smiles and friendly greetings. We rented a stripped-down Suzuki Samurai with homemade plywood and plastic seats to tour all seven miles of the island’s length: its beaches and coves and the village of Bullocks Harbor, which is the largest population center in the Berrys. Cooliemae’s Restaurant served up a delicious meal of hogfish while we enjoyed a Bahamian sunset and conversation with a lovely older couple who have wintered at their home on the island since its glory days.  
One of the beaches at our anchorage

After four days of settling into a more laid-back rhythm and seeing all that Great Harbour Cay offered, we wanted see other cays in the Berry Islands. Along with three other boats, we moved south to anchor between Hoffman’s and Devil’s Cays.

The blue hole on Hoffman's Cay
This anchorage is highly recommended in the guidebooks both for its protection from different wind directions and for its access to the blue hole on Hoffman’s Cay, to Flo’s Conch Bar, and to a small archipelago of little cays, all ringed with turquoise and green water and stretches of white beach.

It’s amazing how quickly community springs up in a marina or anchorage. The several boats anchored with us held varied and interesting people, including a couple from Norway who have lived on board for eight years and their two grandsons now joining them on holiday; a chemical engineering professor and his wife, a high school chemistry teacher (from Roseville, MN!); a public health nurse and her husband, a rock climber and guidebook writer.

Chris climbing a stalactite at the blue hole
We traveled with a flotilla of three dinghies to the blue hole. After a short hike through jungly growth, we topped a rise and there it was: an impressive cobalt pool 100 yards across encircled by a 30-foot-high rock rim. A path to the right led down into a water-level cave with stalactites. Most of us jumped in and found that the super-salty water made us extra buoyant. Keith (surprise!) was the only one in our group who jumped from the rim up above.
Chester of Flo's Conch Bar

Another place that can only be reached by boat is Flo’s Conch Bar, a small outpost of a restaurant on Little Harbour Cay. Chester Darville and Lovely, the only two inhabitants of the island (not counting chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats) make their living by welcoming and feeding cruisers. It’s necessary to contact them by VHF radio and place your order several hours in advance in order to eat dinner there. Mid-afternoon, sixteen of us scrambled into a fleet of four dinghies and splashed the 2.7 miles down to Flo’s for a taste of true Bahamian cooking and, especially, for the experience.
Our little community of cruisers at Flo's Conch Bar

Aside from those side trips, we spent our three days at this spot walking on beaches of different little cays, discovering a beach bar, shelling (Joanie), snorkeling for lobster and conch (Keith—no luck yet!), reading, relaxing, breathing in the warm salt air, taking in the picturesque views from every angle—and thanking God for all these gifts of beauty and joy and life!

"Beach bar" on Goulding Cay made from trash washed ashore
Keith lounging by the beach bar
Queen Helmet Conch
On an uninhabited cay
Maybe the saying originated in the beautiful Berrys: It really IS better in the Bahamas!

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Daytona Beach ‒ North Palm Beach
December 9 ‒ January 16

Christmas at home was wonderful, celebrating and enjoying time with people we love. Now we’re back on the boat and officially in full-on preparation mode. Our crossing-readiness plan looks something like this:
Indian River sunrise by NASA causeway
Step 1: Move farther south to a good jumping-off point. We are behind the bulk of boats crossing to The Bahamas. Maybe that’s why we were able to anchor all by ourselves on three consecutive nights. We love the silence and solitude of unshared anchorages.

One of those spots was south of Titusville right by the huge NASA facility and the causeway that takes workers to the Kennedy Space Center. We were in a manatee zone, and as the light fell, fifty feet behind the boat three different groups of manatees returned from their daytime feeding grounds. They traveled in a line with just a small part of their bodies exposed and, as the Waterway Guide says, resembled floating coconuts.

On Monday, January 13, we arrived at our launch point: Palm Beach (Lake Worth Inlet).

Lighthouse at St. Lucie Inlet
Step 2: Order last-minute supplies. A second pole spear and cedar plugs should help Keith land a few super-fresh seafood dinners. (Watch out, lobsters and mahi-mahi! Or, on second thought, Never mind!)

Step 3: Top off all tanks. It’s no surprise that fuel is more expensive in The Bahamas. However, it was a little culture shock on our first trip to learn that water (reverse-osmosis), being such a precious commodity, most often sells for $0.50/gallon. We don’t have a water-maker as quite a few cruisers do, so we economize by washing and rinsing a sinkful of dishes in two cups of water and showering with what feels like the same amount.

Step 4: Provision with perishables. Just before we go, we’ll pack the refrigerator/freezer with produce, meat, and fresh dairy items. Basic staples can be found in any settlement, not to mention fish, lobster, and conch. Even certain luxury items like fresh Irish butter are available for very low prices. But paper goods and more specialized groceries are very expensive. Make the list and check it twice. (Non-perishable foods are already crammed into every available cranny.)
A portion of our non-perishables

Step 5: Make passage foods. Who wants to slice and dice as the cutting board—the entire galley—pitches and rolls? A couple comfort-food meals will be on standby for a quick warm-up.

Step 6: Study charts and entry points. Decide on a course and destination (we’re thinking Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands). Then study some more and keep the options open, depending on Step 7, below.

Step 7: Wait for a weather window. A “weather window” means no strong northerly winds opposing the Stream’s north-flowing current, building big seas and making the passage uncomfortable, even dangerous. We just missed one crossing opportunity because we weren’t yet ready. Now cold fronts are stacking up, arriving every couple days. It looks like at least next week before a window that allows us to cross the Gulf Stream.

Of course, no matter how prepared we may try to be, so much is outside of our control. And so we try to wait patiently, watching for what God may bring our way today, right where we are. Ready…set…wait!

Patience is…not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control.
Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment,
to taste the here and now, to be where we are.
When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are.
We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else.
Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.
Henri J. M. Nouwen