The Marathon

It was time to say goodbye to the Bahamas and get on our way back to the states. Over the next 11 days, we traveled 411 nautical miles from Devil’s Cay in the Berry Islands all the way back to Punta Gorda, on the west coast of Florida. We flew back, especially considering this included a five day stop in Miami where we spent time trying to figure out what we wanted to do for the summer…go home to the west coast? Travel up the east coast of the United States? Haul out in Jacksonville? We really weren’t sure, but as we left the Berry Islands, we said we’d figure it out along the way. That was kind of a strange feeling: not knowing where we’d spend the next several months. Before cruising, we had every day planned, a predictable routine…work, weekends, etc. Before cruising, I would have freaked out if I didn’t know where I’d be living in a few days…it’s strange how our mindsets have changed. I’ve definitely got a Type A personality…planning is my thing. But with this new lifestyle, it’s easier, and more exciting, to just go with it; we were going to figure it out along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to make lists and I’d still consider myself a planner; I’ve just loosened the reins, a little.

The first leg…

On our way to Great Harbor, we noticed immediately that the winds were basically nonexistent: the water was like glass and it was H-O-T. Because the water was flat, not even a ripple on the surface, we could see straight to the bottom as we motored around the northern end of the Berries. I spent a lot of time perched on the bow rail, watching ocean triggerfish swim slowly out of our way as we passed.

We were making good time and once we cleared the cruise ships anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, we made the decision to make an overnight passage back to Miami. This would entail skipping the stop at Great Harbor (still in the Berries), bypassing Bimini (rather than stopping at Brown’s Marina) and crossing the Gulf Stream in the dead of night. We would be underway for just shy of thirty hours and almost 130 more miles, but since the weather was so calm, we decided to cover as much ground as possible.

Our passage was uneventful. We motored the entire way. It began to get dark and we enjoyed a great sunset as we grilled burgers in the cockpit. There is always a worry that the weather could change overnight…would we continue to make way over flat seas or would winds pick up? Thankfully, everything stayed calm, but we were able to at least put out the headsail for a bit and gained some speed. Overnight, we took turns between the helm and napping below deck. Whoever the helmsman was, kept a keen eye out for other vessels. Without radar, whenever we spotted lights of another boat, as quickly as possible, we’d determine their direction, coming or going based on their running lights. We saw a handful of other boats off in the distance as we made our way west. Troy was at the helm as we crossed the Gulf Stream…we moved along very well until after daybreak, when we slowed to about three knots. We fought the current a bit since we needed to head a tad south to Miami. But, soon enough the city’s skyline started to just barely come into view. By this time, we were back to just motoring, still about 20 miles offshore. We passed a group of about a dozen jet skis who we presumed were en route to Bimini.

We rounded the lighthouse at Key Biscayne and made our way to Crandon Park Marina to pick up a mooring ball for a few days. The Key Biscayne area on a Sunday was busy! Boats everywhere. We made our way into the marina’s mooring field and checked in with Customs and Border Patrol, using the CBP App. Using the app was so easy! We had a Facetime with an agent (well, she could see us, we couldn’t see her) after waiting just a few minutes. She confirmed we were who we said we were by comparing our faces to our passports photos we had previously submitted and were checked back into the country and napping in no time.

Over the next five days, we contemplated where we’d like to be for hurricane season. We knew we had projects to tackle, but also wanted to have some fun. Finally, we settled on coming back to the west coast of Florida, and settled on Punta Gorda, where we’d purchased the boat. Here, we’d be a couple of hours from family and friends and be able to hammer away at our list of projects. We took an Uber to Winn-Dixie…our first American grocery store in four months…so many choices! We couldn’t say no to a 6-pack of Kalik, the Bahamian beer we had come to love.

Moving on…

We left Key Biscayne and traveled South via the Hawk Channel towards Rodriguez Key. We stayed just one night at Rodriguez Kay, eager to move on.

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The next day was a long haul, beginning promptly at 8:00 am. Initially, we planned to continue south, pass under the Channel Five bridge at Islamorada, and anchor for the night at Matecumbe Bight (essentially retracing our steps from our trip back in February). Again though, the weather was so calm, we pushed on…and on and on.

We made our way all the way from Rodriguez Key on the east coast to Little Shark River on the west coast…a total of 70 miles and 12 hours underway. By the time we entered the river, my eyes were burning from staring in the water in search of crab traps to avoid for so many consecutive hours…I may have also been keeping my eyes peeled for dolphins.

Little Shark River in February was an oasis. Little Shark River in June was…mosquito, horse fly, and no-see-ums GALORE. Arriving at 8:00pm, we barely had time to unroll the cockpit enclosure and zip up. We were eaten alive! With that said, instead of staying a few days (which we had considered), we hightailed it out of there as soon as the sun came up! Bugs trailed us for several miles.

Marco Island was our next stop. 57 miles and 9 hours later, we were being chased into the anchorage by a thunderstorm. Capri Pass was busy coming into Marco Island. Tons of boats coming and going make this inlet incredibly crowded. Thankfully, we were able to get settled before the rain came.

Since Marco Island had a West Marine and Napa within walking distance, we went ahead and did an oil change on the diesel. After a few chores and two nights, we departed Marco Island.

The water wasn’t as inviting as last time. This is where we began seeing signs of the red tide. Sludge and dead fish littered the area.

Final stretch…

Our final leg of our trip home was from Marco Island to Punta Gorda via the intercoastal waterway through Fort Myers. We made the trip in two days. The first day we traveled 61 miles from Marco Island to Cayo Costa. The second day brought us from Cayo Costa to our marina in Punta Gorda, just 20 miles away.

The trip to Cayo Costa was without crab traps…Yay! And, it was with lots and lots of dolphins, especially once we entered the intercoastal at Fort Myers. We had done so much motoring since we left the Berry Islands, we were excited to get the sails up. We kept the diesel fired up since we were traveling through the channel, but in neutral. We made excellent progress towards Cayo Costa. Ginnie had the time of her life. Dolphins seemed to ride with us most of the way from Fort Myers to Cayo Costa… maybe they like the hum of the diesel? When Ginnie first spotted the dolphin, the surprise on her face was hysterical; she was dumbfounded. From that point forward, she wouldn’t leave her seat in the cockpit, paws up on the combing, searching for the next sighting.

We dropped anchor at Cayo Costa in the late afternoon. We knew right away, it wasn’t the same place that we had fell in love with back in February. Dead fish were everywhere. When we took the dogs to play on the sandbar, we were dodging dead fish left and right. We stayed for only a few minutes before we decided to give our marina a call. We were hoping our slip was available a few days early. The impact of the red tide was becoming obvious. We wondered if the red tide had reached our marina.

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After a single stunning sunset, we got the all clear from the dockmaster and headed twenty miles into Charlotte Harbor to our marina. Winds began picking up as we entered the marina’s channel…this seems to have become a theme for us…being chased by thunderstorms. Well, I guess that’s summer for you. We docked in our slip without issue. After over 400 miles, it was time to settle in to our summer home…and plug in to shore power for the first time for some ice-cold AC!20180627_191125

From Nassau to the Berry Islands

We pulled into our slip at Palm Cay Marina just in time before an afternoon thunderstorm began. We were happy to see the familiar faces of SV Elysian and thankful that they were willing to catch lines for us as we docked. I don’t think any sailors turn down extra hands for catching lines when docking!20180611_164837

The marina had just reduced their rates for the summer season, so we decided to stay a total of four nights, rather than two, like we had planned. Our four days were spent enjoying land-comforts…laundry, hot showers, wi-fi, and grocery stores. A full-size grocery store was built since our last visit, just a mile or so down the road, so we walked and brought our rolly-cart to carry groceries. We reprovisioned on essentials and bought a few special items…deli subs, Alexia sweet potato fries, and a few cartons of strawberries.

Back on solid ground, I decided to give running a go for the first time in months. I hadn’t run since we left home back in February. Early on the second morning in Nassau, I dug out my running shoes and went for it. My old pace (8:35/mi) was long gone, but I was shooting to keep in under 10-minute miles…I succeeded, barely, at 9:45/mile. I ran a total of four miles over our stay at Palm Cay…my legs were like jello!20180609_081810

We walked the dogs around the marina…Ginnie wasn’t so sure what the leashes were all about since she’s gotten used to being off-leash, but both dogs seemed to enjoy the grass!

Troy and I made one trip into Nassau by taxi. We picked up a new handheld radio and the Near Bahamas Explore Chartbook. Since we knew exactly what we needed and from only one store, our taxi driver agreed to wait for us…he was so nice and friendly…telling us all about his life growing up in the Bahamas.

While we had wi-fi, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app in preparation for our arrival in the states. This app is very new and after reading a description about it from the Boat Galley blog, I decided to give it a try. This app will allow us to check-in to the United States without having to go to a face-to-face appointment with Customs and Border Patrol. I entered our passport information and pictures along with our boat information. When we arrive in the states, to check-in, all I would need to do is complete a facetime appointment with a Customs and Border Patrol officer.

After our fourth night, we woke up and left early, to begin the trip 50 miles north to the Berry Islands. The winds were a bit stronger than we expected as we moved around New Providence; this made the first leg pretty choppy. Soon, we were aiming for Little Harbor and Devil’s Cay in calmer conditions. We realized, early on, that we were in for a stormy trip. We watched as dark clouds built up around us in the distance. Lightning was everywhere…but luckily nothing too close. It still made me nervous; as we got further and further offshore, the amount of lightning strikes seemed to increase. We got rain on and off our whole trip, but with the rain, came no wind. We moved SO SLOW. Eventually, we motored, being chased by storm cells in every direction.20180612_13350220180612_134531

Finally, we could see land as we approached the Berries, but we still had a ways to go. The cockpit was soaked from rain blowing in from the sides. Everything was wet, but at least the lightning was diminishing. Soon, thankfully, the storms subsided, and we made it through the cut to the shallow, protected interior of the islands. Once inside, it’s as if we’re in a sanctuary…we got the same feeling after surfing down waves for our first arrival here. We anchored behind Fowl Cay for our first night and then moved over to our favorite spot, Devil’s Cay, the next morning on a rising tide. The interior of the Berry Islands are shallow, so we moved over to our new spot when we had more water under the keel. We dropped anchor in a sandy patch among the seagrass about halfway down the cay.20180613_061518

Calm, protected, and HOT. We were really starting to feel the heat. With little breeze, we cooled off in the water many times throughout the day. Flip-flop hiking and dinghy exploring filled up our itinerary. The views are unspoiled…sugary sand, rocks and grasses, surrounded by blue crystal-clear water…perfection!20180614_12544420180615_152848

Ginnie was lucky enough to score an evening dinghy ride and I finally took a video. You can see her pure joy. I’m telling you, there is nothing that makes this dog happier than perching herself on the front of the dinghy…the faster, the better!

At this point in our trip, we were starting to make plans for our arrival in the United States. It is hard to believe our time in the Bahamas was coming to an end. It had been over four months since we were in Florida. At this point, we planned on moving from Devil’s Cay to Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands. From there, we’d make an overnight trip to Bimini and wait for a weather window to cross back over to Miami. Our weather information from Chris Parker told us that we’d be in for light and variable winds…more motoring, most likely. So, with that knowledge, we made our way out and around towards Great Harbor.

 

Cambridge Cay and Warderick Wells

Just 14 miles north of Staniel Cay is the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Waiting for us there are restful nights of sleep because, well…mooring balls. We made the short hop to Cambridge Cay. On our way, I pulled lines out of the lazarette and set them up on deck so we were ready to grab a mooring. We have a few specific lines that we use for moorings, that we’ve equipped with some homemade chafe protection (aka cut up water hose).

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From the southern end of the cay, we carefully approach the mooring field. The entrance narrows with shallows and rocks on either side. We come uncomfortably close to the rocks on our starboard, but that’s where the deepest water is. It’s a funny thing when we’re purposely bringing our boat that close to sharp, jagged rocks, but we made it through with no problem.

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We stayed a few days in the park, and like the last few anchorages, the mooring field was much less crowded than our visit back at the end of March. Then, all mooring balls were in use (about a dozen of them, plus some vessels anchored) and now no more than five other boats were moored.

We spent most of our time in the water snorkeling and exploring the nearby cays. Our dinghy got a workout here. From the mooring field, we traveled to O’brien Cay, Soldier Cay, Halls Pond Cay, and Little Halls Pond (Johnny Depp’s Island). One of our favorite things to do is exploring by dinghy. We love finding hidden coves, sandbars, and snorkel spots.

Along the south side of O’brien Cay, we slowed the dinghy down, found several coral heads along the island, and decided to drift dive, letting the current carry us as we swam. We like to snorkel mid-day, if the weather is right. Because the sun is straight overhead, the visibility is best. The sun illuminates the water and creates spotlights over the coral. The colors are unreal! I know I’ve said it before, but the water is crystal-clear, like a swimming pool. We’re so lucky we get to live in and explore such an amazing place!

We made two trips to “The Aquarium”. This tiny rock island sits between O’Brien Cay and Soldier Cay. Above the waterline, it looks like any other rock…but below is a water wonderland, full of bright coral and endless amounts of sea life.

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We tied up to the dinghy moorings and hopped off the dinghy. We are instantly surrounded by fish. This trip, I brought a few Ritz crackers to crumble up for fish food. These little guys aren’t shy!

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Since we arrived at slack tide, the current is almost nonexistent. We leisurely made our way around the entire perimeter of the island. Occasionally, Troy and I would have to pause to find each other, we often slowed down to get closer looks at all the tropical fish. Out a way from the aquarium, Troy spotted a group of ocean triggerfish and a sea turtle and snorkeled to check them out. I stayed, poking my nose in the nooks and crannies of the coral, seeing what I could find.

Afterwards, we motored over and took a slow stroll around Johnny Depp’s Island, Little Hall’s Pond Cay, just west of O’brien Cay. Unfortunately, we had no star-sightings! We also made another trip to the plane wreck nearby. Out in the open, away from any island, we picked up the dinghy mooring and snorkeled the wreck. I spotted a few barracuda lurking nearby… I kept my eye on them! I think my fingers stayed permanently pruned, but I never get tired of being in the water!

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After three days, we headed 12 miles north to Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We snagged a mooring ball in the Emerald Rock mooring field…Salty Tails was the only boat when we arrived! We expected to have fewer neighbors at this point in the season, it was becoming a common theme.

We checked on our sign at the top of Boo Boo Hill…it still looked great! I was a little nervous because the salty air and relentless wind is so rough on things…it was a little faded, but intact! The hike to and from Boo Boo Hill is a short one, but the heat had really ramped up and Troy and I were both sweating, A LOT!

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The next day, was a little dreary so Troy decided to take care of some dinghy motor maintenance. He installed a new water pump and replaced the lower unit oil. For Troy, these tasks are extremely simple under normal circumstances, like in a garage. BUT, the winds picked up a little out of the west and we were rocking. Imagine lifting an awkwardly shaped 60-pound weight up from the dinghy into the back of the sailboat…both of which are moving up and down with the waves. Sheesh! Thank goodness we didn’t drop it! It was a messy job, and somehow, we both ended up oil-stained, but the dinghy had fresh oil by the time he finished!

20180603_200405We enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets of our trip on our last night at Warderick Wells. The sky shone every color of pink, orange, and blue…breathtaking! In the morning, we’d be heading to Hawksbill Cay.

Staniel Cay and Thunderball Grotto

Our sail north from Black Point to Big Majors was easy breezy…with a following sea on a nice beam reach. As we pulled into Big Majors for the second time, we sailed in further to the anchorage before firing up the engine and pulling in the sails. We weaved our way to the front of the anchorage, just north of pig beach. Compared to our first time here, on our way south, now there were fewer boats, especially sailboats. There were still a handful, but the anchorage was occupied predominately by trawlers and mega yachts.
We made our usual trip in to Staniel Cay by dinghy to fill up on water, gas/diesel, and groceries. We made sure to do laundry as well. If I haven’t mentioned before, the laundromat here is also a bar/liquor store. Rather than making trips back and forth to switch laundry from the washer and dryer, we decided to grab a few drinks and stay put.

At the laundromat, we met another cruiser, traveling with her husband and teenage daughter, heading south with their goal being to reach Grenada for hurricane season. They were on the move, making very few stops along the way since they began their journey late in the season. The couple had been sailing for years, once cruising full time about 20 years ago. They had just recently sold their home near Miami, quit their jobs, and decided to cruiser full time again, now with their daughter. We really love meeting and talking with other cruisers. I am always curious to learn each sailor’s story and what inspired them to head out on their journey. Despite meeting people from so many different places, with widely-varying backgrounds and experiences, we all seem to have core similarities: adventurers with a desire to see and experience new places while living a more simple, slower paced life.
We spotted an especially exciting boat in the Big Major anchorage…La Vagabonde! Riley and Elayna’s channel on YouTube was the first vlog we began watching when we became interested in sailing/cruising. They have been a huge source of inspiration and information for us. While still living our “normal lives” we watched their videos weekly. We can, with conviction, say that the glimpse into the sailing life from their vlogs, truly gave us the “we can do this” push! It was wild to see them anchored just a hundred or so yards away from us! Pretty remarkable!

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We did not get a chance to snorkel Thunderball Grotto as we headed south, so we were excited to check out the spot made famous by the James Bond movie. Between Staniel Cay and Big Majors are a group of rock formations. The most western one is Thunderball Grotto. We had heard that it can become crowded with tour boats during the day, so we were relieved when we arrived to see only one other boat. We tossed the dinghy anchor, grabbed the GoPro, and got our masks and fins on. By the time we were ready to hop in, the other boat had left…we would have the grotto to ourselves!8A597BD0347FBAF9A3292807E31EEC22

The entrance to the cave is not obvious, initially. We couldn’t see where to enter until we swam from the boat, right up alongside the rocks. In the narrow, hallway-like entrance, we were entering on a mid-tide and had to swim underwater to get inside. Right away, the area was teeming with fish…it was like having private escorts swimming alongside us through the entrance.

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We popped our heads up to look around once inside. It was a breathtaking sight! The cave’s ceiling stretched high overhead, forming a dome, enclosing us in shade. There is a round, jagged opening in the top, allowing sunlight to shine down and illuminate a portion of the cave. Snorkeling below it, the water is illuminated like a spotlight.
We saw a variety of fish: from yellowtail snapper to angel fish, swimming among colorful coral.

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After swimming the perimeter, admiring the coral, and diving to check out the fish, we looked for the exit. On the opposite side of the cave is a wide opening to exit. Taking a deep breath, we dove down and swam under the rock ledge. We came up for air outside of the cave. Coral and fish surrounded the exterior of the grotto. The strong current allowed us to drift-dive all the way around, back to the dinghy. With nicely pruned fingers, we climbed back in the dinghy and headed back to the boat for hotdogs on the grill, celebrating Memorial Day.

The next day, while we were in town, we ran into some other cruiser friends who invited us to a potluck on the beach. After stopping to pet the nurse sharks at the yacht club, we headed back to the boat. Later, we got quite a laugh as those same cruisers towed a pallet behind their dinghy…they’d be making a new table for cruiser beach (Pirate Beach). Talk about being resourceful!

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That night, I cooked up a giant pot of yellow rice to share at the cruiser’s potluck. We all gathered and shared lots of yummy food and even brought fireworks to celebrate Memorial Day. Once the bugs made their appearance, we headed back to take Ginnie and Bella for a potty run.
Over the next few days, in between rain showers, we relaxed and snorkeled some of the coral heads around Big Majors. We also bathed the dogs on the beach. It had been a while…they needed it!

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Once we were ready to move on, we made our way north, back the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park!

Little Farmers and Black Point Round 2

We arrived back at Little Farmer’s Cay after motor-sailing north from George Town. Seas were fairly calm with extremely light winds…it wasn’t as hot as our trip down, so we were thankful for that.

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After roughly seven hours, we anchored in the same spot as last…strong current, but excellent holding in between Little Farmers Cay and Great Guana Cay, right out in front of Little Farmers Yacht Club. Summer was approaching: we had a few strong squalls over the few days we stayed. Riding out the storms proved extra interesting since current controlled the boat’s direction rather than the wind. When the rain and winds passed through, the cockpit often got soaked because winds came from the sides or behind.
1We heard from other cruisers that there was a population of sea turtles that lived in the harbor of Little Farmers Cay. We decided to scope it out and took our GoPro with us in the dinghy, hoping to get some underwater footage. The day prior, we noticed a handful of dime sized jellyfish passing the boat. On this day, we stumbled upon several huge masses of the jellyfish near the shore. At first, it looked like a bunch of seaweed floating along the top of the water. Upon further inspection, we discovered that we found hundreds of thousands of the little jellyfish floating in the water.

Although the water was only five or so feet deep and crystal clear, there were so many jellyfish in spots that you couldn’t see through to the bottom. And that’s where we found the sea turtles. It was as if we stumbled upon a jellyfish buffet. We didn’t need to enter the harbor to see the turtles, they swam among the jellyfish and coral. We got some great GoPro footage and the turtles didn’t seem to mind our company.


After a few days, we headed back to our second home, aka Black Point! We were excited to head back and had a fun 10 mile trip north under sail. The winds were pretty piped up from the southeast. In about 15 knots of wind with a following sea, we got up to 7.5 knots…with just the headsail! Troy and I shared the helm this trip…I was really starting to feel more comfortable at the helm while under sail.

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And after a few hours, we were approaching Black Point, this time from the south. The winds really picked up, blowing over 20 knots…it felt like we were flying! This time, for two reasons, we could tell the cruising season was coming to an end. First, there were fewer boats than our first time in the anchorage. Many people had probably already headed back to the states. And secondly, the spring/summer weather pattern of thunderstorms was obvious. During our second day, we had another day of scattered showers. Sometimes these showers brought along wind, and others just rain.

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Black Point meant we were going to have a chance to do laundry…with the best view! While doing laundry, we met another couple about our age, Rylie and Allie on SV Generations. We got to talking and became fast friends! We decided to meet up at Scorpio’s (for 2 for 1 rum punches, of course). Cruisers gathered at Scorprio’s, the nightly ritual. After most headed back to their boats, Troy, Rylie, Allie, and myself decided to stay and hang out with the locals. Many rum punches were consumed…along with sharing stories and plenty of dancing. I do not dance in public…but I did that night.

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We decorated a few dollar bills to hang above the bar, leaving our “We’ve been here” mark. We climbed up and stuck them on the ceiling…we’ll definitely check to see if they’re still there next year! That was a pretty late night…even the dogs slept in the next morning.

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Over the next week or so, we hiked the island and snorkeled several places nearby. The reefs and coral heads in the area are healthy and thriving. Most are colorful and teeming with fish and sea life. We spent most of our time snorkeling just outside and south of the Black Point anchorage. These spots aren’t marked on any of our guides, we found them just by dinghying (I may have just made that word up) around and dropping the anchor when we found a spot with a few coral heads. The water is warming up…each day it gets easier and easier to hop in.


When I wrote about Black Point last, I mentioned that our favorite part of Black Point was the people…the feeling has now increased exponentially. From the late nights hanging out at Scorprio’s to the kids climbing the ladders on the dock to the simple daily interactions in the street, the people of Black Point make you feel like you’re at home.
A prime example of their hospitality was when we met Bread Boi, owner of several vacation rental homes. He knew we weren’t ready to leave Black Point, but we had a package to pick up at Staniel Cay, a few islands north. Rather than charging us to rent one of his Boston Whaler skiffs, he let us borrow it for the afternoon! We just had to replace the gas we used. We were blown away by his generosity…and frankly his trust in letting four strangers (Allie and Rylie came with us for a day trip, of course) take his boat.
When we left Black Point in the skiff, the four of us were laughing when the boat jumped up out of the water. The 115hp engine moved the skiff A LOT faster than the four of us had gotten used to in our sailboats. We returned after several hours with our package. My mom had sent us a care package with some things we were missing and couldn’t get here in the Bahamas…protein bars, Crystal Light, 3M boat wax, and the icing on the cake…an XM satellite radio adapter for our stereo.

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We spent a total of over 25 days at Black Point…and we loved every one of them! We made new friends and slowed down, island style. We can’t wait to reach Black Point next year.

Home Away from Home

Our next stop heading south was the anchorage at Black Point on the northern end of Great Guana Cay. It is the second most populated settlement in the Exumas after George Town, home to about 250 residents. The anchorage itself is quite roomy, we counted thirty-five boats on the busiest night during our stay. Strong northeast winds were in the forecast, so this spot would provide us with the protection we needed. Although we couldn’t get tucked up close to the beach, waves did not have the opportunity to build and rock us around because of the shallow sandbar that extended far out from the beach.

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We hadn’t made it to shore before a squall hit the area. Lasting only twenty minutes, the dark clouds encroached upon us, dropped some heavy rain, and cleared up in time for sunset. I was looking forward to checking out the laundry facility; we had heard that it is the best in the Exumas. The next morning, we arrived at the laundry facility with two loads to do…we also brought along our laptop, iPad, and cell phones hoping to connect to the free Wi-Fi. We learned that the laundromat also sells basic marine supplies, snacks, and T-shirts. The shaded pavilion just outside the laundromat seemed to be a cruiser’s hangout. We met several cruiser couples and families and made plans to meet for Happy Hour at Scorpio’s that evening. We chatted and surfed the net while we waited for our laundry…all with a great view of the anchorage.

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That night and the next night were spent at Scorpio’s enjoying 2 for 1 Rum Punches, sharing stories and experiences with other cruisers. On Saturday, cruisers met again for the cruiser dinner at Lorraine’s café. We had a great time hanging out with our new friends and enjoying hamburgers, hotdogs, wings, fries, rum punch, vodka lemonade…all you can eat/drink…for only $20 per person! It was dark out by the time we left Lorraine’s, but rather than heading back to Salty Tails, we decided to entertain an offer from another boat in the anchorage. Along with Jess and Brent from SV Seaduction, we headed over to Beacon Won in our dinghies. After tying up amongst several other dinghies, we climbed aboard. Captain Bruce built the nearly 70-foot vessel himself five years ago. The sailboat is used to charter youth groups, educational trips, and mission trips, etc. We toured this fascinating vessel and explored everything from the galley, helm, engine room, and sleeping accommodations and then swapped stories on the stern upper deck. Finally, we headed back to the boat to settle in for the windiest night.

After the weekend concluded, we were really starting to feel at home. The friendly people of Black Point were warm and welcoming. We often found ourselves stopped in the street talking with the locals about the island, our plans, sailing, the upcoming regatta in George Town…just like old friends. Even the kids of Black Point share the adults’ charming qualities. Dressed in their green school uniforms, they always waved, smiled, and said hi on their way to or from school. And on weekends, boys and girls often played near the water or on the docks, fearless of the nurse sharks swimming nearby. The settlement was much more laid back and quiet compared to Staniel Cay, no mega yachts here. The settlement offers free RO water (reverse osmosis) for cruisers, just another example of their great hospitality. We had plans to leave early in the next week, but we ended up staying for a total of 15 nights! The next week was spent exploring the town, completing maintenance jobs, and hanging out with friends. Between the awesome cruiser community and the locals, we definitely recommend Black Point!

Since we had tried out the two restaurants, we of course, had to try out the third: Deshamons. I tried the conch burger, Troy had a hamburger…both excellent! That afternoon, we stopped by the home of Lorraine’s Mom. She baked and sold the most delectable homemade bread, renowned around the Exumas. We enjoyed eating pieces of the coconut bread on our walk back to the dinghy dock. I froze a few pieces in effort to make it last longer!

A day or two later, the mailboat arrived. When you read mailboat, think floating semi-truck, for size comparison. Because the Exumas are far from Nassau, island communities receive their goods via mailboats that come approximately three times per month. When the mailboat arrives, everyone comes out to unload. Trucks, golf carts, and helpful hands work into the night unloading and sorting goods and supplies. I even spotted a little guy walk away with a new pet bunny! I was just as excited, the next day we rode over and loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies from Adderley’s Friendly store.

Nearing the end of our time in Black Point, we decided to take a dinghy ride north to Gaulin Cay to visit the caves and iguanas. We crossed over Dotham cut, which was still pretty churned up from the strong winds that had been blowing through. We drug the dinghy ashore and enjoyed the beach to ourselves. Afterwards, on our way back to the boat, we explored the mangroves just inside the cut and discovered a beached sailboat. The last registration sticker dated 2015, but the harsh saltwater had taken its toll, making it appear the boat had been there for quite some time.

After some planning, we decided that our next stop would be Little Farmers Cay, just at the southern end of Great Guana, 10 miles south. We were sad to leave; Black Point has made a special place in our hearts…we will be back!

French Fries, Sharks, and Piggies, Oh My!

Staniel Cay, our first island outside of the Land and Sea Park, is a bustling settlement with the epicenter being Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We headed south from Cambridge Cay to reprovision: we needed gas, water, and groceries…and planned on treating ourselves to lunch at the yacht club. We decided to anchor on the western side of Big Majors Spot, the cay just northwest of Staniel Cay. Here, rather than be in the be in the path of boats entering the yacht club, we’d be a 10-minute dinghy ride from Staniel Cay. We would be able to resupply and fill up our jerry cans while being anchored in a place that offered several pretty beaches as well as Pig Beach!

We entered the anchorage from the east and settled in the back of the pack: this was the most crowded anchorage we have experienced so far. Cruising boats dominated the anchorage, but there were quite a few large mega yachts off the southern point. Now that we’ve been cruising for a few months, we are beginning to recognize sailboats we have seen along our way south. Several of these familiar “faces” were anchored here as well.
Our first full day was spent doing chores. First up: filling the water cans and gas cans and getting rid of trash. We took the dinghy…full of cans and trash bags over to the yacht club. Our dinghy may not have been a pretty sight, but the views along the way were! The water was crystal clear, we spotted coral heads and several nurse sharks along the way. We paid $0.40 per gallon for water and $7.00 per bag of trash…expensive, but a necessity. The yacht club seems to be a haven for nurse sharks; countless sharks hang around the docks regularly until the fish cleaning station is in use (aka feeding time).

We were just thankful to have full water tanks and be free of trash (nowhere in the Land and Sea Park is there a place to dispose of trash). Diesel and gas were priced as we expected, roughly $5.00 per gallon. Loading and unloading 20 gallons worth or gas/diesel was a sweaty workout!
Next up: laundry, groceries, and propane! Three convenience stores can be found on Staniel Cay: Isles General (conveniently located in a canal with its own dock), the Blue Store, and the Pink Store. We visited all three…you never know what one store may carry and the others may not. All three stores are well-stocked with staples. We loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies at Isles General, along with dropping off one propane tank to be filled. Isles General also has some basic marine supplies and DVD rentals. We found our favorite tortilla chips and other necessities at the Blue and Pink stores. We noticed these stores had more of a variety than Isles General but were a further walk.

The yacht club has a beach just for landing dinghies. This was great: it was free, near the laundromat, and just outside the restaurant (French fries, here we come!). The laundromat on Staniel Cay is clean and in a newer building just a short walk from the yacht club. We hadn’t done laundry since Nassau, so we had two big loads needing to be washed. We paid about $20 for both. Do you know what else is at the laundromat? The liquor store! We restocked our rum supply while our clothes finished up then headed over to the yacht club for lunch.

In preparation for our trip, we ate all meals at home…this would be our first meal out in over six months! We took a seat in the bar area, tucked our clean laundry under our seats, and immediately ordered drinks: Troy had a Kalik (Bahamian beer) and I had a frozen mango daquiri…heaven! Next up: a cheeseburger and fries for Troy and a giant Chef Salad for me. We probably looked like starving sailors; we scarfed our food down, barely speaking. That hit the spot!

That evening, feeling like little piggies, we headed over to the beach on Big Majors Spot to see the famous swimming pigs. After watching tour boat after tour boat unload tourists onto Pig Beach to feed them, we decided the evening would be a safe time to go…my hope was that the pigs would be nice and full and therefore, less pushy. Armed with apple cores, carrots, and other veggie scraps, we climbed out of the dinghy. Most of the bigger pigs lay passed out on the beach, not seeming too interested in us, thankfully.

We noticed a sign on the beach that says: Mama Karma will bite your butt! Hopefully Mama Karma was somewhere sleeping and dreaming of tomorrow’s visitors! One large, wiry, gray-haired pig approached and was surprisingly, very patient. She opened her mouth and waited for food to be dropped down without stepping on my toes.

The baby piglets were our favorite and since they are often pushed out of the way by bigger pigs, we made sure they got a fair helping! The beach was really a sight: pigs lay scattered over the beach sleeping and grunting, roosters peck around at scraps, other pigs find anything they can to rub and scratch their bodies along, and baby piglets hop in and out of their raised wooden pen.

We spent five nights at Big Majors and we had guests under the boat every night. Five large remora called our bottom home. The stayed suctioned to our keel (and had blue paint on their heads to prove it) until I dropped crackers in the water to feed them. Soon, expecting crackers regularly, anytime we’d walk on deck, they’d come out circling and splashing.

The remora took off for a bit on the afternoon we cleaned Salty Tails’ bottom. That’s when we met Stanley! He was another resident who lived in our rudder shaft during our time here. He’d circle our swim ladder before darting back to safety.

That afternoon was the first time we had cleaned the bottom. Even after three months, all that was needed was a light scrubbing; no barnacles and hard growth needed to be removed. I helped for a while, but Troy did the vast majority of the work. Soon, she was nice and clean!
We enjoyed our final night with the dogs on the cruiser’s beach at the northern end of Big Majors. Over time, cruisers have added a swing, picnic table, chairs, and a grill to the beach, for all to use. No one was there that evening, so we enjoyed the sunset with just the four of us.

Exuma Land and Sea Park, Part II

Next up in the Land and Sea Park: Cambridge Cay! Cambridge is the last major cay of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We set sail southbound and since it was a smooth ride, we decided to investigate a little “problem” we had been experiencing while underway. For the last few sails, our bilge pump would cut on and expel some water. We weren’t sure where the water was getting in, but we had our fingers crossed that it would be a simple fix. Something like that could potentially be a major issue, but since the bilge cut on only while underway and only pumped out a small amount of water, Troy had a hunch that it may be one of a few minor problems. We emptied two of the lazarettes in the cockpit, allowing us to see the hoses to our cockpit floor drains. A small stream of water (imagine a water fountain), came through a pinhole in one hose.

Since water only comes that far up the hose when heeled, it only leaked while underway. YES! We had found our problem…and it was by far the easiest fix. Troy repaired the leak: now the water would stay outside! After reorganizing the cockpit, we enjoyed the rest of our sail to Cambridge Cay.

As we entered the protected anchorage, we were hailed on our VHF radio by the mooring attendants…all the mooring balls were taken, except for a mooring ball meant for vessels up to 150 feet. Since the park operates on a first come, first served basis, we would take it until a standard sized ball became available. This was our first experience with mooring attendants. Chuck and Carmen on SV Soul Mates were cruisers who volunteered to oversee the moorings. During the months of March and April, they lived aboard their catamaran at Cambridge Cay. Chuck and Carmen were incredibly hospitable and made Cambridge Cay feel like a close-knit community! They invited us aboard their boat to tell us all about Cambridge Cay and the places to go nearby.

That afternoon, they arranged a group to ride over to Rocky Dundas, a set of caves across the channel. We immediately agreed to go with the group; how nice it was to travel together with several dinghies, a buddy system. We suited up, grabbed our snorkel gear, and crossed the channel to reach the caves. It was a bit rough that afternoon; many guides suggest visiting Rocky Dundas on a calm day at low-tide. The seven or so boats tied off to the two dinghy moorings outside the caves and bounced around like bumper cars. Thankfully rubber boats don’t leave dents! Chuck described the best approach to the caves: swim under the opening and into the tall cave; quickly get your footing and climb out onto the cave floor. On a calm day, this was fairly easy, but because the afternoon turned out to be quite choppy, we had to have our wits and swimming legs on!

We didn’t expect to see such beautiful coral on our swim over to the cave. An abundance of fish and sea fans swayed with the current; the bright sun made the colors of coral pop.

We headed through the cave opening and popped our heads up once inside. We took off our fins, tossed them onto the cave floor and climbed out before getting knocked over by the waves crashing through the opening.

Once inside, it was really a sight. The cave ceiling stretched high above head and the sun’s rays shone through the opening at the top, illuminating the inside of the cave. The cave floor, although rocky, had been worn smooth by the water over time.

The pounding of the waves echoed inside. In furthest corner of the cave, we wrote our names in the sand for good luck, a tradition we all took part in. After returning to the boats, I climbed in while Troy swam and explored the second cave with others from our group.
A standard sized mooring became available after our first night. This turned out to be good timing because Chuck let us know that a large yacht was arriving hoping to take a mooring. We would be doing a bit of shuffling so that everyone could fit! Before we had a chance to move, the yacht’s tender (an impressive Everglades center console) pulled up to our port side. Graciously offering us a bottle of wine, the crew member thanked us for making room for the approaching yacht. We would have, of course, moved anyway, but we didn’t turn down a nice bottle of wine!
Over the next few days at Cambridge Cay, we met some great people! We enjoyed a sunset and drinks at the sandbar with other cruisers and played games aboard a neighboring boat. We took another group trip to “The Aquarium” and snorkeled a sunken plane. Cambridge Cay turned out to be a great staging point for some of the best snorkeling spots we’ve visited in the Bahamas.
The Aquarium is one of the most popular snorkel locations in the Land and Sea Park. Aptly named, the site is a massive shrub covered rock above the waterline, but below is an impressive coral reef teeming with a variety of fish. After our group hopped in the water, we were immediately greeted by a school of fish…clearly hoping for handouts.

We snorkeled around the wall of coral, spotting trigger fish, lobster, snapper, sea urchin, angelfish, parrotfish, just to name a few.

It had been a couple of weeks since we left Nassau so we were beginning to run low on water and gas for the dinghy. We thanked Carmen and Chuck for their hospitality and let them know that we would be leaving in the morning. A few hours later, we got a call on the radio from the neighbor boat (actually another 150+ foot yacht) letting us know they had a gift for us courtesy of Chuck and Carmen… water and gas!

We enjoyed another few days at Cambridge Cay; this was turning out to be one of our best stops yet! Soon though, we moved on to the first settlement since Nassau: Staniel Cay. We needed to do some resupplying and were going to enjoy our first meal out in six months at the yacht club!

10 things we’ve learned in 90 days…

We’ve been cruising and living aboard for just over 90 days now. It is hard to believe three months have already gone by. This has been an experience unlike any other. It has been challenging, physical, tiring, stressful, but also rewarding, relaxing, full of adventure, and downright satisfying. We’re new sailors and cruisers, so of course we had a steep learning curve…talk about “on the job training”! We prepared for our trip while still living our “normal” lives: scouring the internet to learn about sailing, cruising, living aboard, life on the water, weather, anchoring, and the list goes on and on. We found a wealth of information and inspiration on blogs, YouTube videos, websites, forums, all thanks to the many cruisers who document and share their journey. Every day Troy and I talk about how we’re adjusting to this life, what we have learned, things we wish we had known, things we’re proud of, and even what we’d change if we started from the beginning again. I have compiled this list as a means of capturing a summary of what we’ve learned so far. Honestly, the list is much longer than this…I could expand each of these infinitely and add many more nitty-gritty details. But for your sake, we’re keeping it to the “Big Ten”.

1. What we prefer to eat doesn’t change just because we’re living aboard.

I suppose I thought we would be living on a diet of beans and rice or soup. It was important for us to provision and stock up on foods that are shelf stable. We took major advantage of BOGO deals at Publix…canned soup, canned veggies, pasta, rice, canned tuna and chicken. We wanted to make sure we would have food that would last…while preparing, we didn’t know how long we would have to wait to visit a market or grocery store as we explored the Bahamas. Plus, we read and heard that buying food in the Bahamas can be very expensive. But guess what…there are grocery stores in the Bahamas and the many staple items are not bank breakers. Lots of our provisioning staples are still in our storage compartments…we haven’t eaten all 48 cans of soup, nor the 80+ cans of vegetables. But, we did begin running low on our favorites. About six weeks into our trip, we were just about out of cheese, bacon, deli meat (we love a yummy hot ham and cheese for lunch)…which we had already picked up more of in Miami. Our favorite tortilla chips ($2 in the states) are at least $6-$8 here…but we love them, so we buy them. I try to eat as healthy as possible…looking back, I’d stock up more on lean meats, protein bars, frozen chicken (3 chicken breasts cost upwards of $13.00 in the Bahamas). Thankfully, fresh fruits and veggies (although sometimes tricky to come by) are not overly expensive, depending on which island we’re visiting and the ease of deliveries. I’m also happy to report that we’ve found brand alternatives to snacks we enjoy…because I just can’t splurge for Oreos when they cost $9.00!

2. Weather dictates EVERYTHING.

We definitely already knew that weather would play the biggest role in our decision making. I suppose the new learning was that weather plays the biggest role in our decision making AND it is always changing! When we boated during the summers in Tampa, all we needed to know was the chance of rain and waves/chop. Now, the focus of our planning is wind. Wind speed, wind direction, the effect of the wind on the sea state (wave height, wave direction, current, tide, swell, etc.). This information answers several questions we constantly ask and assess…Can we safely travel to a new location? Will we be able to sail? Will our sail require few or many maneuvers? How will tide and current affect our travel? Will we have protection from wind/ocean swell in our anchorage? If the weather changes, how will our anchorage serve us? By no means have we become weather experts, we are far from it. What we have become is aware. Awareness and a respect for weather will keep us safe…and hopefully smiling.

3. The boat is always moving.

After a long, exhausting day at work, there is nothing better than coming home. Your home is your sanctuary: the place where you are safe, protected, and STILL. Well, the boat is our moving sanctuary…even at anchor. Weather affects the water, water affects the boat…and the boat NEVER stops moving. Whether the movement is caused by wind, current, waves/swell…we can always expect the boat to be in motion. Even on the calmest of nights, we can expect tide changes or 180° rotations which we may not feel, but will affect our anchoring decisions. Generally, we stay pretty comfortable; this is simply a feeling that took some getting used to.

4. Hardy ground tackle is an absolute MUST.

We were fortunate to purchase Salty Tails with extremely good ground tackle. Our boat is equipped with a 55lb Rocna anchor, oversized for our boat. When it comes to anchors, bigger is always better. And we’ve got it, thankfully. She is also equipped with strong 3/8” G4 chain…well over 100 feet of it. Now that we’re 90 days in, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to many other cruisers about ground tackle…what works, what doesn’t, stories of dragging, etc. When other sailors hear what kind of ground tackle we’ve got aboard, their response is always, “Oh! You’re not going anywhere.” This always feels good to hear. We are incredibly thankful the previous owners set her up so stoutly. We trust our anchor and heavy chain. We’ve also learned to read the type of bottom we’re anchoring in; we know what will hold well and what may not (soft sand is our favorite). Troy always dives on the anchor to check that it’s set. Last night during a squall with 30 knot winds, we were still able to sleep soundly.

5. Our dinghy is our “car”.

The grocery store, restaurants, laundromat, hardware store, marine supply store, access to water and diesel/gas, visiting friends on other boats, taking the dogs ashore…anything away from our boat…requires a trip in the dinghy. Just days before leaving Punta Gorda, we made the decision to purchase a new dinghy so that we would not have to worry about waking up to a flat dinghy. This was probably one of the best purchases we made before taking off. We decided to buy a 9.5-foot West Marine dinghy that could get on a plane. With our 9.8 Nissan 2-stroke motor, we’re able to zip around anywhere, in favorable conditions, at around 12-14 knots. It would have been cheaper to buy a smaller, non-planing dinghy, but our range would have decreased immensely. We can cut across a larger body of water or get to that cave on the next island in less than half the time it would take if we weren’t able to plane up. Our new dinghy is without a doubt, money well spent.

6. In the Bahamas/Caribbean, we really don’t need a huge wardrobe.

More than half of the clothes I’ve brought, I have never worn. Troy and I have an entire cabinet in the v-berth, just in front of our bed, packed full of clothes that neither of us have touched. Swimsuits, gym shorts, t-shirts, and tank tops are our main attire. It is warm and humid; to keep cool, we do not need or want to put on many clothes. Same goes for shoes, we’re usually barefoot…but obviously flip-flops are the footwear of choice. I’ve even hiked some pretty rocky trails in my Reef flip-flops…they’re still holding strong! Another motive for needing so few clothes is laundry. More clothes equal more dirty laundry. Since we do not have easy access to a laundromat most of the time, it means I do laundry by hand, in a five gallon bucket. I “encourage” poor Troy to wear the same shirt until we both can’t stand it. Soon my forearms are going to look like Popeye’s from wringing out t-shirts and towels. We try our best to wear clothing that dries easily…the less cotton the better. Next time around, we’ll leave many articles of clothing behind…I guess I don’t need five sweater options or over a dozen pairs of shoes.

7. We can do MORE with LESS.

Troy and I live simply these days…we can go for days without the internet when we’re out of cell service range. 100 gallons of water can last us a surprising while…at least two weeks. Our only power source comes from the sun (we haven’t even connected shore power when we’re docked at a marina). We only see live TV if we’re at a bar that has a television. We’ve learned to fix boat issues with on-hand items…like the time we noticed our lines were chafing when we were on a mooring ball. We cut up an old water hose, zip-tied the hose around our lines, and voilà homemade chafe protection! Basically, we’ve learned to appreciate our resources. It is amazing to me to think back to our land-lives and how much water, electricity, and food we wasted on a regular basis. Out here, we’ve adapted quickly to conserving, we’re totally happy to do so. We hope that by making a smaller footprint, we’re doing our part to protect our vulnerable environment.

8. Stop and smell the roses.

Cruising is a major change of pace from our land lives. While we were working, it was always go, go, go. Work, chores, traffic are just a few things that kept us on the move. We were lucky if we got to simply relax, even on the weekends. Leading up to our departure, our days stretched 12+ hours as we worked to prepare Salty Tails. Now that we’re cruising, if our chores and boat maintenance are done, our time is OURS. We can explore, swim, hike, snorkel, visit new friends, nap, read, watch a movie. Sometimes I still find it difficult to sit still. After years and years of always being on the go, at work and at home, I find myself getting anxious if I’m sitting for too long. Slowly, we’re adapting. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of work to do; maintaining a sailboat is not a walk in the park. But we definitely have more time for us!

9. Weather it out and learn to adapt.

We have faced countless unexpected challenges and sleepless nights in these first 90 days. I’m not going to lie, there have been a few instances when we’ve questioned what the hell we’re doing. We’ve misinterpreted the weather, rode out storms, drug anchor (only once, thankfully!), found ourselves in rough seas, and lost engine power completely…all in just 90 days. Things rarely go as expected; we’ve learned to adapt to situations and circumstances that are down right scary or uncomfortable. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about ourselves, how we problem solve together as a couple, and what we are capable of. We aren’t free of challenges…but we are full of rewards. There is no greater feeling than thinking about how far we’ve come and what we have accomplished in such a short amount of time. We are rewarded by being able to call one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in the world our home. The Bahamas have become a place that we’ll cherish forever.

10. The dogs will always lay in the middle of any tight space, causing plenty of bruises.

When we began looking for a sailboat, a 37-foot boat seemed HUGE, especially since we began our search with our sights set on a boat in the 32-34-foot range. Now, we’re totally comfortable maneuvering our 20,000lb girl. She keeps us safe and comfortable. The dogs are comfortable too, maybe too comfortable. While the cat curls up in the v-berth or on a salon settee, the dogs prefer sprawling out across the middle of the salon. Even though Salty Tails is plenty big for us, it is still a monohulled sailboat with a finite amount of floor space. A 60lb lab mix can take up quite a bit of space if she chooses…and so can Bella. I’m always knocking my knees or toes on things moving about the boat and you can bet in the middle of the night, I’ve tripped over Ginnie and Bella…and have the bruises to prove it.

South, South, and North Again

The following Monday, we left Allans Cay and headed to Normans Cay. At just under ten miles and two hours, this would be a quick hop south. Even though the trip was speedy, I was still able to count over 50 colorful starfish along the way (Yes, I kept count)!
We chose to anchor on the western shore of Normans Cay, just south of Skipjack Point. We had good depths here, compared to the shallow depth we anchored in at our last stop. We dropped the anchor in about 15 feet. The water was incredibly calm that day. Although we were open and exposed to nearly everything except the east, the water was flat, we could see straight to the bottom. When we set the anchor, we could see it biting into the sand, as if it were just inches underneath us. After lunch, we hopped in the dinghy and rode to the other side of the island (where many cruising boats chose to anchor). On our trip over, we slowed every so often to observe the stingrays, giant needle fish, and coral heads.

Once inside, around the southern tip, we idled through the anchored cruising boats, over to the sunken airplane (said to be from drug-running days). We hadn’t brought our snorkel gear with us, so we were unable to dive the site, but with the water as clear as it was, we managed to get a good look from inside the dinghy. We headed to the island’s “hurricane hole” next. Norman’s Pond is accessible from the eastern side of the island and is for shallow draft boats only. We considered anchoring inside as we planned this leg, but knowing how shallow the entry was, we weren’t going to chance running aground. We were free to explore by dinghy, however. We entered the “pond” between two large rocks and it became shallow almost immediately. At the current tide, the depth could have been no more than a few feet. Once clearing the shoal just inside, the depths increased as we followed a deeper contour into the pond where depths are reported to be well over ten feet. The pond was more than what we considered a “pond”, it was quite large actually. The water was just as blue as the outside, but opaque and two neat caves rose above the water along one side. We drove around in the dinghy…only one sailboat was inside. We decided that it might be a good spot to escape bad weather, if we could enter at a high tide; but for now, we were happy with our anchorage on the west side of the island.
The next day we headed south to Shroud Cay, the first cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. This hop was even shorter at only six miles and under 90 minutes. We arrived fairly early in the day and opted to anchor rather than pick up one of the mooring balls. Since we arrived before midday, many boats had not left from the previous night; we anchored as close to shore as we could, without crowding other boats. We hiked a few trails around Shroud Cay and explored some of the mangrove creeks.

Later that day, we hopped in the dinghy, loaded up the dogs and then tossed the anchor in knee-deep water with drinks in hand so the dogs could play. After Ginnie got her fair share of running around, we headed back for sunset on board. That night was rolly. We didn’t sleep much since the boat didn’t really stop moving. We had protection from only the east and winds had shifted to the southwest, so waves rolled in from that direction.

shroud 2

shroud

We headed back up to Allans Cay that morning to wait for the winds to subside. We learned what it means for Allans Cay to be a “fair weather anchorage”: it was quite different this time than when we were last here. Strong current and swell from the bank rolled through, not always matching the wind. This lead to some interesting moments in the anchorage. Usually, boats point into the wind, so typically all boats point in the same direction. This was not the case now. Because the current moved differently depending on which side of the anchorage one was anchored, boats danced around their anchor, often pointing in different directions. At one point our anchor (which thankfully held secure) was behind us rather than at the bow. The combination of current and swell was uncomfortable. One night, I had to remain holding onto a pot of boiling water so it wouldn’t topple.

Obviously, we took anchor watch shifts. During my shift, I watched Pitch Perfect (singing along quietly so Troy wouldn’t hear me), drank too much coffee, and made mini homemade cherry pies…because, why not? We tried to make the best of the several nights we were there. We hiked around Leaf Cay to a beach on the east side (which was remarkably calm) and climbed rocky hills of Allans Cay to check out the Exuma Bank which was incredibly rough from days of western winds. We decided to stay put until the Bank settled.


Thankfully, it finally did…we were itching to move on!