Tuesday, December 10

A Surprise Welcome

We had a smooth Gulf Stream crossing with no wind to speak of.  As we approached the US shores of Florida, the sea breeze began to pick up.  As we pointed south to Key West, we chose to sail inside the barrier reef to take advantage of the flat water and good wind.  We picked up a lot of speed and were at top speed of 8.5 knots.  AHH-MAZING!  It was so much fun.  What a way to end our trip, right?!  Craig went to bed as the sun went down and I was in charge.  The girls settled down in their various spots around the boat and it was me and my (one ear only) i-pod.  The weather was warm and it just so happened to be the night of the super moon.  How cool was that to be sailing during the super moon event!  I was relaxed in the captains chair watching various fishing boats coming and going.  I watched tankers going up and down the big channel.  Even though we were not remotely in the same vicinity, I liked clicking on each one on the AIS screen to see what their name was and where they were headed.  Hey, we do what we can to pass the time.  Essentially I was minding my own business, marveling at how freakin' fast we were sailing!  Let me just say, again, how much fun it is to sail FAST.

 Proof our boat was going over 8 knots!

Sun going down on the Florida coast

Even though there was a super moon on the rise, it was still pretty dark out there.  We were also alongside the Keys, but there weren't many lights from land.  And then it happened, out of the blue....from nowhere, like a stealthy, preying predator.  A US Coast Guard RIB boat flipped its blue lights on and did a quick u-turn and came right up alongside our boat.  I nearly peed my pants as I yanked my i-pod out of my ear and threw it over my shoulder.  I quickly ran through my head what in the world I could have done wrong to deserve flashing lights.  It was 11 pm for crying out loud.  I pounded on the cabin roof where Craig was sleeping to wake him up.  That was always our signal that we needed assistance when on watch.  I guess I pounded with great urgency because Craig was up on deck in 2 seconds flat.  Literally!  The USCG boat pulled alongside and yelled, "Captain, can we come aboard?"  Of course it wasn't really an option, they were preparing to board while Craig was answering.  They struggled to pin the bow of their vessel on our hull and after a few tries, a couple of armed crew members jumped on board.  We knew of a boat that got boarded just a couple days prior and we were prepared for the same (although we didn't believe we would be boarded).  Sure enough they wanted to see the usual safety equipment, passports, flares and boat papers.  They asked us where we were coming from and where we were going.  They asked if we bought anything in the Bahamas and Craig sarcastically answered "have you been to the Bahamas" because the places we'd been didn't have any people let alone anything to sell.  At some point during the conversation that Anything Goes was sailing along, on autopilot, with no one at the helm!  Ooops.  They roamed the boat with flashlights and wanted to know who else was on board.  We explained that we had 3 children that were asleep (not for long).  They questioned that our boat registration had expired and did we have the new papers.  Ummmm, well, no because we didn't get mail while out at sea (stupid question).  Luckily I had an e-mail I could reference on the lap top.  Phew.  Short and sweet, their visit was complete and they walked out to the cockpit to motion their mother ship over.  We all watched for what seemed like forever, as the USCG boat struggled to pull along side our boat.  That's when it happened.  A captains finest moment.  When I say captain, I mean Craig's finest moment.  The USCG captain hollered over to Craig and said "Captain, can you slow your boat down please!"  Are you kidding me!   Craig beamed with pride as we luffed the sail and slowed down to allow the USCG crew to make it safely back on their boat.  After they pulled away, Craig and I looked at each and squealed with excitement "Can you believe they asked US to SLOW DOWN"  Holy cow batman, that was a first for us!!  Usually getting boarded by the USCG is NOT that exciting, but we were thrilled to say the least.

This is what the USCG boat looked like - big and fast.

Sunday, December 8

Road Rage on the High Seas

I am not usually the road rage type.  I pretty much assume that 'they' are in a bigger hurry than I and that's why 'they' find it necessary to cut me off.  I reserve my horn honking for real emergency's and not the typical road rage event.  Boy do I wish I had a big huge honker the morning that we nearly got run over by a mega yacht called "Big City".  Yep, that's the name of the jerk, oops, I mean the name of the boat, that caused me to jump up and down and wave my arms furiously in an effort to prove he was a big fat jerk.  Oh trust me, I had a potty mouth that day and everyone on our boat heard it.  There was no shielding my children from my foul sailors mouth.  Come on, really!  Our kids have heard it all, especially after this trip.  Ha!

It all started right after I came up on watch just before we were going to cross the Gulf Stream.  Craig had gone to bed and remember, Maggie and I caught the barracuda and let it go ourselves.  Yippee.  We were sailing along minding our own business.  I was keeping an eye on things and noticed a boat out on the horizon.  I checked the AIS and sure enough he was headed right towards us.  How did I know this, you ask?  The AIS said so.  I just simply touched the icon on the chart plotter screen and it told me the name of the vessel, the length, draft, speed over ground, GPS location, heading and if and when we might collide.  Pretty cool.  Yes, it is very helpful when I can't always tell which way a boat or tanker is headed.  But I digress......So I checked the AIS and knew we were on a collision course.  I knew his name was Big City.  Who names thier boat Big City??  Perhaps someone with a big head.  Oh, sorry, did I just say that out loud?  It was clearly day light about 8 or 9 am and my large white 60 foot sail was high in the sky.

I watched as Big City approached closer and closer.  Somehow it always makes me feel better to talk to myself out loud.  So I began talking out loud "is this guy going to alter course?  Doesn't this guy see me?"  It was ridiculous.  I was feeling a little anxious knowing that he should be altering his course to avoid a boat under sail.  I hailed him on the radio and announced myself as the sailboat in his direct path.  No answer.  I hailed him a second time AND a third time!  No answer.  I waited and waited, watching with a pounding heart as he raced closer.  It was ridiculous to think this guy was not going to answer my radio call nor yield.

It felt like a game of chicken for sure and it was not fun nor was I in the mood to risk my life and that of my family to prove a point that he shouldn't run me over.  Allow me to point out that a boat under sail has the right of way over a boat under motor power.  Those are them rules on the water.  He, of course, wasn't worth it.  So I quickly cranked the helm so that we would not be in harms way of this butt head (I realize this is a family friendly site, so insert whatever suits you).  As I turned, Big City zoomed by about 100 feet away going approximately15 knots creating a massive wake!  I could see at least 2 people on the bridge (the place where the captain drives a mega yacht).  Ohhhhh, I was soooo mad, I was fuming and as I mentioned before, I was spitting out obscenities that can not be repeated here.  The really comical part was that I was in my pajamas.  So I want you to picture an irrate lunatic, stomping around with flailing arms, flipping the bird at the captain(s) in my PJ's!  I'm quite certain that they got the last laugh!!  Oh well.  It felt good and I didn't care.  Unfortunately, I woke Craig up in the mean time and as I re-enacted the scene for him, I got even more furious.  I would have called the coast guard if I thought it would have ended with a ticket for Mr. Big City.  As it turned out, he went on his way and I turned back on course and went on mine.  I can assure you that the owner of Big City would probably not approve of the way his captain was treating other boaters.  Or at least I like to think that anyway.

The culprit:  Big City

Saturday, November 30

USA here we come

It was time to go.  The wind was going to continue to die over the next several days, so we needed to get out of dodge so we didn't have to motor across the Gulf Stream.  We swam for the very last time, prepared our meals, battened down the hatches and made a run for it at two in the afternoon.  As we got under way, the wind was light, lighter than we would have liked.  In fact, we had to motor sail until we reached the top of the Berry Islands.  When we turned west, the engines were turned off and it was quiet once again as we sailed for the last time in the Bahamas.

 Watching a movie as we get underway

 Reeling 'em in

Wouldn't you know it, just as the sun was making it's last appearance and we were ready to bring in our gear for the night, we heard that sweet sound of Zzzzzzzzzzz and then again, Zzzzzzzzzz and then the hand line pulled tight (sorry it doesn't make that Zzzzzzzz sound)!!  Holy tuna batman, we just went through a school of fish.  Craig was already reeling his in, I started reeling in the other pole and we left the hand line alone for the moment.  It was utter chaos with kids running around doing their 'jobs', not knowing if they should help mom or dad.  Craig pulled his in - it was a tuna!  Woo Hoo.  Then I pulled mine in, another tuna!  Oops, mine got away.  I think I pulled him in too close and too fast.  He shook the hook.  Darn it!  The hand line was next, we landed another tuna.  Three fish on the hook and two in the bucket.  Not too shabby.  

Yummy sushi tonight!

Night night

Moon on the rise

We had a nice sail that first night.  I took the first part of the watch until 1am.  During my watch I witnessed a growing number of ships as I approached the intersection near Freeport, Grand Bahama and the main channel.  At first, I could make out a few lights and confirmed their position and intended direction using our trusty AIS.  Then slowly but surely, the number began to grow.  I remember at each marked hour when I wrote in the log book, the number was steadily increasing.  I counted a maximum of 15 ships (cargo and cruise) at one time in my immediate vicinity.  I was on the southern edge of the water way, close to the shallow banks of the Berry Islands while the ships while passing to the north.  But they were not all on the move, that was the puzzling part.  A growing number of them, I surmise at least half, were not moving at all.  They were just sitting there like birds bobbing in the water.  I don't know what they were waiting for.  Perhaps they were waiting for the sun to come up before entering Freeport.  However you want to explain it, it was a little freaky and definitely kept me alert all night.

As soon as the sun came up, the wind died down.  The engines were woken up from their slumber and we motored down towards Bimini, our jumping off point to the US.  With no wind to speak of, the sea state of the Gulf was pleasant, so I guess we can't complain too much.  However, It would have been better, and more fun, to sail.

The next morning as I came up on watch to relieve Maggie while Craig was fast asleep, I felt no need to change out of the pj's.  I was excited to do some last minute fishing, so I dropped in a line.  A little while later the girls and I heard music to our ears....Zzzzzzzz.  I quickly reeled it in but it ended up being a dumb ole barracuda.  I swear they are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.  I didn't want to wake Craig for a stupid barracuda, so Maggie and I managed to get the hook out of it's mouth and set it free.

 One last effort to send a message in a bottle in the gulf stream

Helllooooo Miami

Sunday, November 24

Funny Characters

"Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open." - Elmer G. Letterman

By Craig Boyer

Traveling by boat for a year opens the door to witness a great number of characters, good and bad.  We traveled over 8000 miles at an average speed of 6 knots.  This leisurely pace allowed us to observe and sometimes meet some unusual people along the way.  We didn't always have a camera handy but when we did, we captured the encounter.  Here is a small sampling of the characters we saw and/or met along the way.

Our first stop was in Rhode Island where we met wonderful people and made life long friends.  We loved Rhode Island and quickly understood why it was so popular with the rich and famous, but who knew it was an intergalactic destination.  I was truly star struck when I saw Boba Fett and his buddy vacationing in Newport.  I tried to talk to them, but they scootered off faster than a X-34 Landspeeder.

While in NYC I saw this guy.  Maybe this handsome coif has some cultural significance, but it looked like he was growing a giant ball of yarn on his head.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to meet this chap either to discuss his style as we had hungry kids pulling us down towards the hot dog stand. 

Time square has its share of hustlers.  At least this guy was honest!

The girls spotted this guy hanging out in the park while sharpening his “pet” chicken’s spurs when we were in Spanish Town, BVI.  He has a cool style too, I especially love the white cape.  Later we had to have a talk with the girls about befriending strangers in the park armed with a knife and a killer chicken.

Guys down in the caribbean dig nicknames.  We met quite a few characters with colorful names like
First Blood,  Hash Doctor, Assassin,  Big Pappa and Cobra.  All were way freindlier than their names implied. While in Dominica we met Stuff.  Yes, his name is really Stuff!  Or at least that's what he and everyone else called him.  Stuff was always asking us for money.   Turns out that Stuff is the friendliest homeless drug addict in the world.  He always had a smile even when everyone told him to get lost.  Somewhere along the line we wised up and started giving Stuff money when he provided a service like getting us fruit, which he happily did.  Here, I told him I’d pay him $5.00 EC ($2 USD) if he posed in a picture with me.  I have no idea what he is holding, but he is pretty proud of it.

On the creepier side was Ross.  We should have known he was trouble by the lack of a killer nickname.  He loved to dance with women, especially American women.  We first met Ross at reggae night where he demonstrated his dancing steps with a child's barrette in his beard.  Wendy had to be saved several times from the clutches of Ross.  He was so happy to see us at the Carnival kick off party that he attached himself to our little posse.  It was sort of cool until he started pulling the girls by the arm into the crowd and became a little territorial.  That's when we had to kick Ross off of the fun wagon rather sternly.

 Last but not least, we found Gandhi on his cell phone in St Lucia.

Friday, November 15

Great Harbor Cay

We have seen it all when it comes to boats.  We've encountered the smallest of run down sailboats, fishing boats, sailing cruise ships, tall ships, "pirate" ships, mega yachts and the infamous charter boats.  It wasn't until we rounded the northern tip of the Berry Islands did we run into the ocean going mega cruise ship.  Holy cruise ship, those boats are monsters!  They dwarf everything in sight as if it were a make believe model of an island.  We'd heard they were abundant in the Bahamas, but we had to see it to believe it.  And there is really no way of getting away from them, they are so tall that you can see them over the tops of the islands.  How do those things float and not tip over?  At first site, we wanted to turn around and go back to our deserted islands.  However, we were on to them.  We knew their schedule; when they arrived and when they left and we planned our visits accordingly.

At the top of the Berry Islands sat a small 'cruise ship only' island called Great Stirrup Cay.  The guide book said you have to have permission to go ashore from the cruise ship captain.  There were multiple ships 'parked' along the shores of Great Stirrup Cay.  I smugly thought to myself that it was a little fake  that these passengers thought that this was a deserted island only for them.  I guess it was and I shouldn't judge, but it doesn't seem deserted if you are sharing it with 5000 other cruise ship guests and there are hundreds of lounge chairs lined up along the beach.  I'm just saying.....

Needless to say, we kept right on going.  In fact, one of the cruise ships was preparing for departure.  As we sailed closer and closer, we watched as the passengers were loaded back onto the ship and the smoke stack started spewing black smoke and then the anchor went up.  Oh boy, we'd better call to make sure he sees us.  Do those things have a back up camera??  We were about to sail right behind him.  So, we hailed Mr. big ship and told him we were sailing behind and would he please not run us over.  He was happy to oblige.

We were headed to the western side Great Harbor Cay in search of wifi.  We were preparing to head back to the US and that meant a gulf stream crossing.  We needed to know the weather forecast for the next several days.  We anchored outside of Bullock Harbor and dinghied in to see what we could find.  A whole lot of small island town is what we found.  There were Manatees lounging around the yacht club docks.  We went back across the harbor and tied up the dinghy in an abandoned or perhaps newly constructed (thinking positive) deep water boat launch.  We walked ashore and found a boat yard, post office, a small grocery store and a restaurant.  That's about it with exception to the homes in which the locals live.

 I reel in the extra lines while Craig reels in the fish

Oh man, it's another barracuda.  We caught 3 of these on this particular day.  It is such a bummer they are not good eatin'!

 See what I mean about the ship dwarfing the island (and that is no small island)

 Finally, a fish we can eat, a really nice big eye tuna.  We are not letting this one get away

A BIG tuna!

 A quiet sunset

 A hungry Manatee greets us at the dock where we stopped in the dinghy to ask for directions

 Eating lunch at Coullie Mae's restaurant by the sea - local Bahamian fare

Ouch, another toe casualty.  It's a good thing we are almost home, Craig is running out of toes to hurt.

 Liv reels in her catch

Leaving the rough Bullock Harbor Anchorage behind, we sailed across the shallow water to make our way back around the north tip.  Our plan was to see how many cruise ships were anchored and determine if they were all leaving for the night so we could stay the night in their protective anchorage before heading back to the eastern side of Great Harbor Cay.  Once we were underway, Olivia begged Craig to fish.  At first he said no because the water was too shallow and all she would catch was a barracuda.  Well, her persistence paid off or Craig was worn down, what ever the case may be, Olivia threw in a line.  Not only did she cast her line, she challenged Maggie to a little fishing tournament.  Maggie declined.  Once Olivia caught a little Cero, Maggie decided she was game.  She threw her line in and waited.....and waited....and waited.  Just as we approached the deeper water and were making our turn north, Zzzzzzzz, the line took off.  This time it didn't stop!  The fish was strong and fast.  He ran the line out to 900 feet!  Craig and Maggie fought the line while I slowed the boat down.  And then slowed it down more.  And then slowed it down to a stand still.  The fish was still fighting.  I turned the boat around and started heading towards it!  It was insane.  This fish was a fighter.  We could tell he was dodging in and out of rocks trying to cut himself loose.  The beast was eventually reeled in and victory was declared for Maggie!

 Liv's Cero (we let it go cuz it was kinda small)

 Craig attaches the fishing pole belt so Maggie can reel in her determined fish

The fish lost the fight.....Maggie's huge Mutton Snapper

 Passing the cruise ship island again - can you make out the hundreds of blue lounge chairs and the imported palm trees (not judging).

We arrived at the cruise ship island at about 3pm and there were 3 cruise ships getting ready to leave.  Ahhh, peace and quiet.  We pulled into a small protected area where several other boats were anchored (presumably awaiting departure to the US).  We jumped in and swam a bit and then it was time to make dinner and go to bed.  We didn't even venture ashore to check out all those lounge chairs.  The following morning, we moved over to Sugar Beach on the eastern shore.

 Making homemade tootsie rolls

The girls built a swing to pass the time

 Our anchorage between Shelling Beach and Hawks Nest Cay - at low tide the sand is out of the water (all the light green color in the middle of the screen)

 Maggie going out for a spin

 There goes Olivia

She looks like a pro - even if she has adult work gloves on!  Those are her "sailing gloves"

 Last look at our boat floating in clear water alongside a Bahama beach

Last picture of clear water and white sand beaches