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