Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nassau Connections

Nassau, New Providence
January 22-27, 2015

Nassau is always a good stop. Even if it’s only to re-provision at the best-stocked grocery store in all The Bahamas. Besides laundry, that was the only thing on our agenda as we sat out weather systems. Here on New Providence, we were open and available for a few serendipities.

There was one connection that didn’t materialize. We arrived here Thursday evening. Fellow Minnesota hockey parents from Sean’s high school days, Laurie (& Jeff) Saforek and Kathy & Tom Snouffer, spent the day here Friday on a cruise-ship stop. I saw their Facebook post Saturday, after their ship had sailed.

Close but not quite, unfortunately! But several other unexpected connections came together.

1) Dave and Alison on s/v Zingaro were in Nassau Harbour Club Marina when we pulled in. We’d enjoyed their company at St. Marys Boat Services in Georgia last spring, but this fall we left the boatyard before they arrived. It was fun to reconnect and go out with them and another couple for a delicious dinner at East Villa, a Chinese restaurant. Fun!

2) While seated at East Villa, a man came up behind us and said, “Hey, Keith!” It was Steve, a guy we’d met on Great Harbour Cay (whose primary home is in Nassau). What are the chances we’d run into him there? On one of our bike rides at Great Harbour we’d happened by his beautiful waterfront “cottage” while he was on the porch. He was very friendly and offered to show us around his unusual home built entirely from Brazilian hardwoods. The house was gorgeous inside and out. His wife, an interior designer, had added all the right finishing touches to make it a tropical beach haven. From the veranda, the turquoise view went on forever. Beautiful!

3) Allen and Lucie, a couple from Alaska, were assigned the slip behind us with their boat Trixie. We hit it off and chatted a couple times on the dock. (Somehow, we seem to gravitate to people from the northern US and Canada…maybe it’s because most people on boats are escaping cold weather!) They rented a car and asked if we wanted to drive around the island with them. Yes, please! When they found out Keith had lived here and was familiar with the island, that was a bonus…and an occasion for Allen to give him a ribbing for directing us to a few dead ends. We laughed so many times at Allen’s distracted driving. He couldn’t remember to drive on the left, didn’t notice huge potholes and speed bumps, and inadvertently used the windshield wipers to signal turns all day long. One highlight of the tour was Clifton Heritage Park, a place we’d read about on the south side of the island. Two renowned Bahamian sculptors, Antonius Roberts and Tyrone Ferguson, created a public work of art there called Sacred Space. They transformed the trunks of casuarina trees into figures of slave women. Though the faces are featureless, you can sense a powerful mixture of longing, desperation, and hope in the sculptures’ posture as they gaze over the ocean. All that from simple tree trunks. Amazing!
At Clifton Heritage Park with Allen and Lucie
Sacred Space
4) This one starts with Lindsey, a classmate of Keith when he attended St. Andrew’s School in Nassau. Keith, Sean, and I, along with Keith’s parents, went to Lindsey’s wedding in Toronto in the late 80s. She is one of the most remarkable people I know. Through the heartbreak of caring for a daughter with MLD, a degenerative neurological disease, she has beautifully articulated on Caring Bridge her deep faith and God’s loving care in the pain and struggle. Lindsey is also great at remembering birthdays and keeping in touch with old friends. I communicated with her on Facebook that we were thinking about her in her old stomping grounds, and soon she had put us in touch with another classmate, Penny. Penny had come back to Nassau after college and married Drew, who was a year ahead at St. Andrews. They and their son Ben took us out for dinner at East Villa. It was a trip highlight for Keith to be reunited with an old high school friend. We had a thoroughly delightful time and wonderful conversation with them. After dinner, they took us by their home to meet their eight-week-old puppy Dakota, an adorable mastiff like our Kia. On top of all that, we figured out that Steve, who had greeted us at the restaurant on our previous visit, is Penny’s brother-in-law! Her sister is the interior designer. Serendipity!
Ben, Drew, Penny, Keith, Joanie
Out here, far from home, those connections with special people nourish our souls as much as the beauty we see and adventure we experience. All of them are gifts from God that we treasure.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An Uncommon Day

Little Harbour Cay, Berry Islands
January 21, 2015

We thought our highlights in the Berrys were behind us. After such a great stay in Great Harbour Cay, we then anchored by the village and, the following night, dropped the hook father south in a gem of an anchorage at Fish Market Cays with two other boats. On our approach to that anchorage, at an inconvenient moment, Keith caught a Yellow Jack and decided to release it. When we checked our fish book later, we found out it would have provided an excellent dinner. Oh, well, brats on the grill were just fine. One more day, and then on to Nassau.
Market Fish Cay beach
Market Fish Cay
Market Fish Cay
You might think that there are no ordinary days in The Bahamas, but that’s not exactly true. However, the next day was uncommon. As we transited ten miles to the next anchoring spot, Keith was trolling, as usual, and caught a barracuda. Not good eating, so he was off the hook. No more than a minute after the lure went back in the water, the reel buzzed, line playing out fast. A bigger fish had taken the bait! As Keith brought it close to the swim platform, we could see yellow rather than barracuda silver. “It’s a huge grouper!” he exclaimed. This time we had our handy fish book in the cockpit and quickly researched its food value. Most groupers rate as very fine dining, but this was a Yellowfin Grouper and the book said bigger specimens could have ciguatera (a toxic poison that can build up in reef-feeding predators), and that one should seek local knowledge.

Yellowfin Grouper
 Conveniently, our planned anchorage was near Little Harbour Cay, the home of Flo’s Conch Bar. It’s a restaurant only accessible by boat, only patronized by cruisers. Once situated at anchor, we left the fish on a stringer behind the boat and dinghied to Flo’s to ask Chester, the proprietor, whether our catch was safe to eat. “Are you sure it’s a Yellowfin?” Looking at our camera screen, he agreed that it was, even though he hadn’t seen one caught in those waters for a long time. “There’s no problem eating them,” he said. “Why don’t you bring him in here and we’ll clean it for you if we can keep the carcass.” Deal!
Flo's Conch Bar - notice welcome sign on roof
Flo's Conch Bar sign inside

As we stood watching the big fish—estimated at twenty pounds—being cleaned, a couple guys who manage a private island came by. We struck up a conversation and they asked us to come to their island. How could we refuse that offer to go to a place we can only visit by invitation? That afternoon was the one possible time, so as soon as the fish was cleaned and half stowed in our fridge (the other half in the restaurant’s, since we didn’t think we could use all of it ourselves while it was fresh), we turned the dinghy toward the private island.

Twenty minutes later, we stepped ashore. Again, we were shown that open-door Bahamian welcome. We chatted while one of them showed Keith his method for cleaning conch, then the other man gave us a tour of the beach cottages. The perfect hosts, they served us drinks and insisted that we take six cleaned conch, a bag of whelks, and a fine bottle of wine with us when we left. It was such an unusual experience that we smiled all the way back to the boat, the whole bumpy, bone-rattling ride.

That night at Flo’s, we were served a fine dinner of grouper fingers—and the next morning, a delicious fish stew for breakfast. Both times, we were the only customers enjoying the gorgeous view and the unique character of the place. It’s an isolated outpost, yet there’s currency stapled to the wall from countries all over the world. In the nearby anchorage we were also the only boat, a rare occurrence that we always savor.
Interior of Flo's
The view from Flo's
Pelican at anchor by Little Harbour Cay
So many uncommon gifts came to us, all strung together into one of the most memorable days we’ve experienced in cruising The Bahamas. 

A Berry Warm Welcome

Great Harbour Cay, The Berry Islands
January 7-20, 2015

We could sail far and wide to find a more welcoming place than Great Harbour Cay [“key”] in the Berry Islands. Everyone is so friendly. Almost every driver waves, and if you’re walking, you’ll probably be offered a ride. Strangers stop us and ask if we’re enjoying our time on the island. They beam when we tell them we love it there, that it’s beautiful and the people are so nice. We’ve heard stories of other cruisers who were drawn in and spent much more time than planned at Great Harbour Cay.

A short walk across the island from the marina leads to a gorgeous long crescent of powder sand beach. You could walk all day and only see a few other people. We unfolded our bikes and toured from the north end of the island—where we could see Disney cruise ships, parasailers, and jet skiiers at a private island—to the south, where we walked out on sand bars exposed by low tide for hundreds of feet. We biked to several other beaches, including Bardot Beach (yes, named for Bridget, one of the beautiful people who, along with Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicklaus, owned vacation homes on the island in the 60s and 70s).
Mangroves near the village
Low tide sand bars at south end of cay
Driftwood at Lovers Beach
Bardot Beach taken from the dinghy
One of the island’s charms is its community of Bahamians. We enjoy talking to local, native people, getting to know them, seeing how they live. In the winter months, part-time residents add to the population and suddenly it’s high season.

Staying longer than last year allowed us to participate in several activities. The Beach Club outdoor restaurant had reopened on that long crescent beach. A tiny gallery on the premises, called the Art Shack, offered a craft class where we transformed coconuts into painted fish (ours turned out pretty cute). Proceeds from the class and art sales will provide computer equipment for the local school. At the grand opening of the Art Shack a few days later, we got acquainted with more residents. Third and fourth graders sang for us and displayed coconut fish they’d made (theirs were cuter).
The Beach Club
Craft class with Art Shack in background
Our coconut fish are very compatible
Kids's choir at grand opening
Each Friday night, we mingled with cruisers and residents at a “chill and grill” at the marina. Several evenings, Keith and I played a game called petanque (the French version of bocce) with locals and cruisers.
Marilyn and I at the "chill and grill"

On the last Sunday, we caught a ride in the church van to St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in the village. Formality and exuberance, liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer and piano-pounding hymns combined to form a purely Bahamian experience. The Spirit was definitely moving! The parishioners gave us an open-armed welcome: big hugs from almost everyone during “sharing the peace” time. The two hours (!) passed quickly. Raising our voices and our hearts in worship with a group of others, we felt God’s presence in a different way than we do when we worship by ourselves in the cathedral of creation most Sundays. Either way, He’s there.
St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church
Finally, it was time to leave. With a forecast for a few days of settled weather, we planned to anchor by a few cays on our way to Nassau. The Berry Islands have fast become one of our favorite places in The Bahamas, and we look forward to a return visit next year.
Sign by the airport. Okay, then!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Marvelous Crossing

Lake Worth, FL to Great Harbour Cay, The Berry Islands
January 6-7, 2015

First sunrise in the Bahamas
What a marvelous night for a crossing! Every time is different, and we’ll probably never see another like this one. We arrived safely in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands, after an unusually calm and gentle journey. At the beginning, leftover wind waves in the Gulf Stream had lasted  until around sunset. Then the wind and waves laid down and overnight the ocean turned to glass. The moonrise began like the haze of city lights on the horizon. Then it made its appearance as an orange ball behind lacy low-lying clouds. High in the sky, the full moon lit cloud edges and waves in soft, luminous shades of gray. Keith even saw multiple jumping gray
The cut into the very protected harbor
dolphins on one of his watches. The night might have felt eerie if it hadn't been so bright and alive, so full of God's presence. It was so still it felt otherworldly—which, in some way, it was.

Yesterday afternoon we walked on the beautiful beach on the east side of the island and took a swim in the ocean. The water was chilly at first, but refreshing!

Almost to the beach...
We're happy and relieved to have the big jump behind us and be in the Bahamas. Where it’s almost always better!
Mo, Carly, and George, our buddy-boaters for the crossing

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year, New Adventure

December 8 – January 6
North Palm Beach, FL and Prior Lake, MN

Happy New Year! We hope 2015 will provide you with just as much adventure as you want to handle!

Before we flew home for Christmas, the weather conditions were absolutely ideal for a crossing to the Bahamas. Flat calm all the way across the Gulf Stream, a rare occurrence in the winter months. The crossing didn’t demand an extra dose of courage or a huge sense of adventure, but that’s a huge bonus. We watched caravans of boats leave, and part of us wanted to go with them. Sunny days and warm beaches were calling.

With Sean and Maggie at home
With our great nephews Alex and Christopher
Instead, we headed to the frozen northland because, contrary to the slogan, it isn’t always “better in the Bahamas.” The warmth of being with the people we love for Christmas was a far better option. It did our hearts good to spend time with our families, especially Sean and Maggie on their first Christmas together. We loved getting together with family and a few friends, collecting hugs, catching up on how everyone was doing. The day after Christmas, we had a blast skating on Prior Lake with Maggie and Sean. With his hockey background, Sean skated circles around all of us, but Maggie acquitted herself well using hockey skates for the first time. At least for that one day, skating on the glassy ice was better than snorkeling in turquoise waters.
Striking a classic pose
Then temperatures plummeted below zero, and we were happy to get on a plane and return to Pelican on New Year’s Eve. Now we’re anticipating the next steps of our adventure this winter. People ask where we’re going. To the same place? The Bahamas again? Well, yes and no. Of the 700 islands in the Bahamas, we’ve visited a fraction so far. We’ll stop at some of our favorite (irresistible) places but hope to also expand our horizons to find new favorites.

The three most important words in traveling by boat are weather, weather, weather. Crossing the Gulf Stream requires favorable conditions. Wind from the north churns up nasty waves in the north-flowing current. So Keith has been diligent in scouring multiple weather forecasting resources. The opportunities are brief right now, and tomorrow (Tuesday) appears to offer the most benign crossing conditions. By late Wednesday, howling winds will push into the area and there’s no telling when the next chance will come.

Ready to roll!
We’re as ready as we can be. We’ve done everything we can to prepare—hours and hours of research and work on the boat; dozens of trips to the grocery store, Sam’s Club, West Marine. We’ve added safety upgrades. Keith even got a new toy for his birthday from his wife: a DeLorme InReach Explorer. When turned on, this handheld device will communicate through the Iridium satellite network and track our location on a map in 10-minute intervals. For those who like this sort of thing, here is a link to the map: (Until we start moving tomorrow, all it will show is a sample track from Minnesota. I’ll include the link in future emails.)

Even with our preparedness and excitement about making the big jump, there are still butterflies. It will take almost 24 hours to reach our destination and it’s impossible to know exactly what the wind and seas will be like. So if we find ourselves out there in the middle of the night bobbing like a cork in a huge ocean, I’ll have these words ready to calm my own sea state.
God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. 
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, 
courageous in seastorm and earthquake, 
Before the rush and roar of oceans…
GOD of angel armies protects us. 
Psalm 46:1-3 MSG
(Skimming quickly over that cliff-edge of doom part.)

A couple other photo highlights since the last post (can't wait to upload pictures of those beautiful Bahamian beaches):

Sunrise view from our slip at Old Port Cove

With Chris and Eden, Bob and Ilona, the gang from last year's trip reunited