We spent the first two weeks of February provisioning for our 2-3 month cruise to the Bahamas, completing maintenance items and installing our new cooktop and dryer. Kathleen completed a long (since October) dental work saga (at least its over). Dave and Elaine arrived on the 9th, and we started our weather watch looking for a good window to cross over from Florida to the Bahamas. And we waited. And waited. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together, as well as venturing out for sushi one night, to the Mel Fisher treasure museum for an excursion, and our requisite visit to Squid Lips – a local restaurant that is heavy on fried food and excellent views of the Indian River. Finally, the stars seemed to align for a reasonable crossing, and with negative Covid tests in hand, Bahamian Health Travel Visas, and a pending cruising permit, we departed Loggerhead Marina Vero Beach on February 18th at 7:45 am.

Dave and Elaine enjoying the view on the Indian River during a one night excursion to test boat systems before we set out for the Bahamas
Elaine enjoying a morning workout on the boat deck

The trip started fine, with 3-4 foot waves at the Ft. Pierce Inlet where we entered the Atlantic about 10:00 am. We had nice cruise down the coast, the guys trying their hands (alas unsuccessfully) at fishing for tuna and mahi mahi, and watching the sunset 3 miles off shore. We began angling east as we neared Palm Beach, planning to cross the Gulf Stream overnight, cruising to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands for our first stop and check in with Customs. Sometime in the small hours of the night, Kathleen was on watch when the alarm for the stabilizer hydraulic oil temperature started, well, alarming. After a too-soon awakening, Neil determined that a cooling pump was failing and we had to shut down the stabilizers – in the middle of crossing the Gulf Stream in 3-4 foot seas. Suffice it to say that Dave and Elaine had a rather abrupt induction into “sea life” and we were all very glad that we had our Scopolamine patches on. With all the rolling, our navigation chart computer shut off at one point, but luckily, rebooted without too rapid of heart beat for Kathleen (not to worry though as we had our backup navigation chart program running on the iPad – redundancies…).

Once through the Gulf Stream, the seas calmed a lot, and we had a magnificent sunrise to reward us for our harrowing night. We carefully navigated into Great Harbour Cay Marina around noon, getting secured to a dock with helpful hands from the marina crew. Kathleen went to check in with Customs, and was informed that some information she had uploaded in Florida had not been saved – not a big deal, but it was a bit of a hassle. Although it probably only took about another hour, we were FINALLY all checked in, the yellow quarantine flag came down and we could all get off the boat to explore a bit.

Cruising south a few miles off the coast, sunset near Palm Beach
Entering narrow cut into Bullocks Harbour, Berry Islands Bahamas
Great Harbour Cay Marina
Marina cat decided our boat was a great place for a nap

We wanted to go to our favorite place, Brown’s Garden, for dinner, and grabbed a cab. Once there, however, we discovered that the restaurant was closed from Friday night through Saturday night (seems an odd schedule for a restaurant, but whatever). Our very obliging cab driver took us to two more restaurants until we found one that was open (who knew that Saturday night was not a popular night to go out?). We had a nice meal, with Dave sampling two variations of fried conch (fritters and cracked) and Neil, Dave and Elaine toasting our arrival in the Bahamas with a Kalik, the locally brewed beer. Our cab driver was conveniently at the bar with his friends also enjoying a couple of Kalik’s while we ate, and was there to take us back to the marina when we were done. Yes, we all collapsed into deserved sleep that night.

Kathleen and Elaine used our bikes to explore the island the next day, discovering beautiful sights and beaches. They did visit the Beach Club (another favorite from our previous visit), but it was closed on Sunday morning (to be fair, it did seem that most people were at church when they were out riding). Neil was busy trying to fix the stabilizer oil cooling pump. It took a couple of days, but he got the original pump fixed.

Over the next two days, Neil and Kathleen ventured out on a bike ride to the beach while Dave and Elaine explored the area on foot. Kathleen discovered that she really CAN fit into a lower storage area in the kitchen (good to know if she ever has to find a good hiding place on the boat), and also did some baking, taking advantage of the shore power while in the marina. The days were easy as we waited for weather to clear and we all agreed that there are worse places to wait out the wind.

Kathleen repacking the galley food stores, and discovering a great hiding place
Enjoying a walk on Great Harbour Cay beach
Beach all to ourselves!
Cocktails on the foredeck

On the morning of Feb 22nd, we exited the marina and cruised for a couple of hours to confirm the stabilizer system fix, use the watermaker, and check other systems. We then anchored off of the Government Docks just outside Great Harbour, intent on beginning our journey south to the Exumas the next day.

Short cruise off Great Harbour Cay to confirm no more stabilizer system issues

We raised anchor about 7:00 the next morning for a nine hour run to West Bay, New Providence Island. It was a bouncy ride, with 2-4 foot waves. Dave and Elaine were beginning to doubt the stories that Kathleen and Neil had told about smooth Bahamian cruising from the previous Summer. Even with the stabilizers working there was still some rolling on the boat. Again, Scopolamine to the rescue. It is definitely different here weather-wise this time of year, but the temperature is wonderful and the water very inviting.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of the water here- it’s unique, crystal-clear torquoise blue is unlike anywhere else. The water is a tempting 80 degrees and the air temperature about the same. We have to keep remembering that it is still winter and keep thanking our lucky stars that we get to have this adventure.

Anchorage off the Government Docks at Great Harbour Cay
Our first Conch catch! Appetizers …
Kathleen preparing scorched conch for a pre-dinner appetizer
A beautiful West Bay, New Providence Island sunset

West Bay was just an overnight stop, so we were raising anchor again the next morning around 7:30. The seas were very bouncy, with 4-5 foot waves once we entered the Great Bahama Bank which is quite shallow. We turned into the anchorage at Norman’s Cay about 3pm, carefully working our way around inattentive captains and coral reef heads to get anchored by 4. The beautiful vista did not disappoint – white sand beaches, crystal teal waters, and gentle, sun-kissed breezes. We all went for a swim, Kathleen diving the anchor to ensure it was set, and all of us playing in the water for a bit. Dinner was a bit later than anticipated due to Kathleen not noticing the BBQ had gone out (oops), but we had a nice celebratory first night in the Exumas, and an early bedtime as we were all pretty tired from the last week’s travels.

Early departure from West Bay anchorage to begin our cruise to the Exumas
Steep waves on the Great Bahama Bank sending a continuous sea spray wash onto the windshield, and coating the boat with salt
Kathleen diving the anchor and giving the thumbs up

On the 25th, after breakfast and morning chores, we lowered the dinghy and cruised over to the beach. We toured the waters for about 30 minutes, then anchored just off the beach, setting up our towels and gear. We walked for a little over an hour, discovering MacDuff’s restaurant located right on the beach (which alas was not yet open), and just enjoying the sun and sand. We did some snorkeling and relaxing which seemed to be the perfect way to spend the day. We plan to be here until Monday, so we will have time to find some reefs to snorkel, and the sunken drug-running plane on the other side of the island that is apparently quite the tourist attraction and something Neil and Kathleen were sorry they had missed on their previous Bahamas visit.

Sunrise at our Norman’s Cay anchorage
Norman’s Cay beach, nice …

Closing out 2021

The long gap between postings does not mean we’ve been idle! We took two trips to the Keys, one in August/September and one in November, enjoying various islands, snorkeling, sunsets and dolphins … We spent time in Key Biscayne, which is our favorite anchoring place as we travel south. On the second trip we also anchored at Elliot Key for six days. It was an idyllic spot, much quieter than our usual anchorage, but also less protected from north winds that were prevalent during our cruise. From Biscayne, we cruised south discovering and re-visiting Rodriguez Key; on the second trip, we met up with our friends Christine and Joe Cook on Legacy. They were returning from their voyage around the Keys and the Dry Tortugas. It is ALWAYS nice to catch up with our cruising friends!

Heading south off Florida’s Atlantic coast
Relaxing at anchorage on Miami’s Biscayne Bay
Sunrise as we depart Biscayne Bay and head further south in the Keys
Granuaile anchored off Rodriguez Key
Snorkeling Molasses Reef located 5 miles off the Florida coast
Touring the canals in Key Largo

On our first trip south, we stayed at the Marathon City Marina in Boot Key Harbor. There, our very dear friend Christa drove down from a convention she was attending in Miami. We had not seen each other in almost two years, and it was so great to catch up. We got to visit a dolphin training and rehabilitation facility in Marathon during her stay, as well as dining at some of Marathon’s colorful eating establishments. On our second trip south, we again anchored just outside the Marathon City marina, waiting and hoping for some clear weather to adventure to the Dry Tortugas. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Neither trip afforded us our necessary weather window, so it looks like we may have to try again next season.

Stayed on a mooring ball in Marathon’s Boot Key harbor
Sunset at anchor outside Marathon
Another gorgeous sunset off Marathon

We did travel to the gulf side nearthe Everglades and enjoyed unbelieveable beauty and solitude on Cape Sable. Not another soul in sight and too many shells to imagine. It is a national park, so all shells were left where we found them on the beach, and we reveled in the calm beauty of the area. Unfortunately, we also discovered that our house battery bank was in need of replacing, as well as our main engine alternator needing some serious attention. We decided it was best for us to head back to Vero Beach to attend to needed maintenance. On the way back, we did celebrate Thanksgiving in Biscayne Bay, which was pretty much as close to perfect as it gets.

Cape Sable, Everglades beach all to ourself

On our return we did shorter hops back to Vero instead of cruising overnight up Florida’s Atlantic coast, spending the night in the Palm Beach anchorage. The next morning, when we were heading out to turn into the channel for the inlet, we came to a halt, seeing on our navigation chart and hearing over VHF that a cruise ship was heading in to port. It was amazing to watch this huge ocean liner coast into the Palm Beach harbor right in front of us! At that moment, we once again sent a quick mental thank you to Bernie Francis, our training captain, who drilled us on the importance of using ALL devices at our disposal to always look ahead and pilot defensively.

Waiting for cruise ship to pass before we enter channel to exit Lake Worth/Palm Beach

We got back to our Grand Harbor Marina on November 27th, with our welcoming committee of two dolphins leading us back to our slip. The next two weeks were busy with boat repairs/maintenance, Christmas shopping, and packing. We left for Denver December 16th, and by the end of the day, were able to hold our oldest, Sean, who we had not seen in over two years. Needless to say, it was amazing, and there were a lot of tears on Kathleen’s part.

Our kids were with us again – which was amazing. We also all came down with Omicron eventhough we were all vaccinated and boosted. Many silver linings, not the least of which was that no one got too sick, and we were all together for three weeks. We spent many great hours laughing, doing jigsaw puzzles, even went ice skating when we were in the clear. It was a truly magical time and we can’t wait to do it again next year (albeit WITHOUT any version of Covid…)

Visited Denver for Christmas. Neil hanging out with son Sean’s pug trio.
Christmas morning with all four children!

We returned to Vero on January 8th, and left on the 15th to head to Yacht Tech at Seminole Marine in North Palm Beach for our biannual haul out. Cruising on the ICW and through Lake Worth on Martin Luther King weekend definitely ensured a lot of crazy boat traffic, and a busier than usual anchorage, but all went smoothly. The next morning, we manouvered from our anchorage over to Seminole Marine and into the Travelift’s waiting straps. She was lifted out of the water and moved a very short distance to a space where work would be done over the next two weeks.

  • New bottom paint
  • Rebed rub rails
  • Replace some old hoses
  • New house battery bank
  • Service the dinghy crane
  • Service the stabilizers
  • and other misc stuff
Granuaile lifted out of water at Seminole Marine in Palm Beach Gardens

We splashed back in with just a minimal rub against a piling due to a swift cross current. We went back over to the anchorage by Old Port Cove Marina to wait out some inclement weather. Had high winds and rain for a couple of days (as well as a close call with a nearby sailboat that anchored too close to us), but the worst of it was having our cooktop go kaput when the generator malfunctioned and output >300VAC, smoking the cooktop circuitry, and then the clothes dryer gave up the ghost. Murphy’s Law was working overtime for us. Luckily, Neil was able to locate both a new cooktop and dryer AND have them delivered to Vero the following week. We returned to our Vero slip on January 31st, anticipating Neil’s brother, Dave and his wife Elaine coming from Vancouver to journey with us to the Bahamas for our next adventure.

Cruising the Exumas and returning to Florida

August 4: We weighed anchor at Warderick Wells Cay around 10:00am. With a strong current as we navigated out of the mooring field and several moored boats to steer around, it was a bit nerve wracking, but we did fine. Our cruise to Shroud Cay, still within the Exumas Land and Sea Park, was a nice easy run, with us arriving at the mooring field around noon. The wind was brisk but it was easier to pick up the mooring ball this time. What surprised us was the SIX superyachts also moored/anchored here

After a quick lunch, we launched the dinghy, eager to make our way through the mangrove creeks from our side of the cay to the Atlantic side. These creeks are swimming-pool-clear, and shallow. We saw quite a few sea turtles, but really no other sea life. The banks were lined with mangrove forests and extremely peaceful. The ride took about 30 minutes, anchoring the dinghy in shallow water, on what was a still-rising tide.

We had heard that this beach was possibly one of the most beautiful in the world, so we were very excited to see it, with just a small hike over the intervening sand hill between the creek and the beach beyond. Unfortunately, the seas must have been really rough recently, as the beach was covered in seaweed. We could imagine how it would look with calmer seas and a white sand beach, but for us, this was not the right time of year to come here. We took some pictures, and headed back to the dinghy. As we waded out to the dinghy the fine sand creek bed, more like mud, was sucking at our feet and sandals up beyond our ankles – interesting sensory experience, but not really enjoyable… We cruised back to our boat, checking out some possible snorkeling sites near some reefs.

Granuaile on a mooring ball off Shroud Cay
Hiking beach on the Atlantic side of Shroud Cay
Cruising mangrove creeks on Shroud Cay

The yachts around us were HUGE. They had all the toys – jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks, hydrofoil boards, and even inflatable slide from the top deck to the water (some of these boats were 4 or 5 decks high). They all had crews. It’s fun to check out these yachts, but we noted at the end of the day, we all had the same spectacular sunset to enjoy with a chilled cocktail (of course, they also had a catered meal on the beach that someone else set up, prepared, cleaned up and took down, but you get the idea!).

We snorkeled the water around our boat to cool off, but there was not much to see. We were anchored in great sand, but as it is on dry land, sand in the ocean equals desert. Still, we are constantly amazed at the clarity of the water here and know that we will miss it when we have to leave.

The next day, several of the yachts left and we had more of the area to ourselves. We dinghied to a protected beach near us, set up the umbrella and marveled at the beauty around us. Whenever we had previously thought of the Bahamas, this was the picture in our imaginations. We lolled on the beach for a couple of hours. Kathleen went exploring in the bay (which was so shallow for a long way out that she had to crawl along the bottom with her hands, letting her feet float out behind her – the same kind of fine sand/sand mud was here… She was trying to snorkel out to the breakwater area as there looked to be some reef activity near there. Just as she was getting near the area, she spied a HUGE manta ray watching her, floating in the water, with its face raised up – Kathleen got the strong vibe that she was intruding on some territory, so she carefully and calmly made her way back to the shallows. The ray followed her for a while and then settled back in the deeper water. Kathleen is well aware that rays (other than sting rays) are no real threat, but when suddenly faced with something waaay bigger than her both in length and width, she happily ceded territory and went back to the beach…

After we decided we had been lazy long enough, we got back in the dinghy, only to get back out and have to push it a bit to deeper water. Then we got back in to motor out. Neil angled over to the ray (the water was THAT clear that we could see it from some distance). It actually swam towards us, and then followed us out as we left. Who knows – maybe it was used to the humans giving it treats. It was a very cool experience, and of course, we have no pictures of it.

We enjoyed another lovely evening watching the sun set and the stars come out. The breezes help tremendously in this very humid, hot climate, and more than once we wished there was some way we could sleep on the deck without waking in the morning soaked from the dew.

Relaxing on deserted Shroud Cay beach just a short dinghy ride from our boat
Shroud Cay sunset

We left Shroud Cay on August 6th about 10am for a run south to Staniel Cay, about a 4.5 hour trip. We have had several friends tell us about Staniel, and we have been excited to see it. We anchored in the Bay of Pigs off Big Majors. The anchorage again had MANY super yachts, along with smaller boats of various lengths and kinds (sailboats, catamarans, trawlers, day boats). After setting the anchor, Neil swam out to check that it was set (it was), we lowered the dinghy and loaded up two weeks worth of trash and headed to a dinghy dock. We tied up easily, but realized that we had forgotten to bring our masks (DOH!). The store clerk was kind enough to give us two, and we were able to dump our trash and pick up some fruits and veggies. We walked around the area, checking out the other markets, homes, and marina. We had seen the mail boat that delivers everything for the island arriving as we were anchoring, so we knew that any real shopping should wait a day for the stores to get restocked. After dinghying back to the boat, we took a quick swim, had some dinner, and relaxed. We did have a more rolling evening as this anchorage has great holding, but is bumpy and rolly – we probably should have cruised in further before dropping the anchor, but again, it being our first time here, we decided to err on the side of caution.

On the 7th, after a lazy start, we kayaked over to a beach area that had semi-wild swimming pigs as an attraction – no joke! We didn’t bring any snacks (which you’re not supposed to do as these are semi-wild animals that will swarm to get at any food you might have – only feeding them in the water is allowed….), but they were all really friendly and super cute – especially the piglets! Kathleen made friends with two of them that were lounging at the water’s edge – Charlotte’s Web is right, people – pigs LOVE having their ears scratched. She even had one reclining on her leg, loving belly rubs. There is a long history there about the pigs, but today it’s kind of a kitschy attraction that we really enjoyed. After satisfying our pig curiosity, we got back in the kayak and paddled around the shoreline. It’s all limestone or sand right up to the water with lots of interesting caves that were carved out by the sea long ago.

Kathleen making friends with the swimming pigs
Kayaking around Bay of Pigs

Back at the boat, we had a quick nosh and then dinghied over to a beach near the marina and town; we were seriously jonesing for some fresh produce. One thing about this life – grocery shopping is always an adventure when away from our marina. We anchored the dinghy in shallow mud-sand stuff, and walked up the beach, down semi-paved roads and over to a market (Burke’s or “the blue one”), where we were able to stock up. The cashier was so incredibly friendly – she was watching the Olympic events on YouTube and proudly showed us the events where both the male and female Bahamian runners had won the gold in the 400. This country has many islands, but not a large population, and you could feel her pride and excitement that they had won both events. It was really cool. Getting back on the dinghy, we realized that we were getting kinda used to seeing nurse sharks – they were still fun to see, but we didn’t really notice them all the time anymore. This is not something we had expected, truth be told. But it’s like getting used to seeing the Rockies every day – it is something exceptional, but at the same time, something that becomes part of the norm.

Anchor dinghy and head into the town of Staniel for shopping

Once back on the boat, groceries put away, Kathleen made some hummus and guacamole and we enjoyed a light meal on the deck. We also got to catch up with all of our children, having both cell coverage and data available to us. This is the hardest part of this life – being so far away. But everyone was great and had stories to tell. Christmas is not that far away…

Our weather forecasting gurus were starting to make some noise about weather coming off of Africa, which is always a precursor to icky weather in the Caribbean and possibly the Bahamas. So, we knew the time was looming for our return to Florida.

August 8th had us up and out a little after 8am to go explore the “Thunderball Grotto”, which was used as a shooting location in two Bond films, “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again”. Of course we had to check it out! High tide (or just after) left us with rather swift current, but no other visitors. We anchored the dinghy just off the limestone rocks of the grotto. Kathleen got in first, and though the current was robust, felt that we could handle it. We eased our way around the outside, knowing that there were three or four entrances to the grotto (which at high tide meant diving down under the water to come up on the other side of the cave wall. Neil went first with no mishap. Kathleen followed, a bit panicky as diving down with just a snorkel in a quick current under sharp limestone rocks caused her heart rate to go up – she also has an INCREDIBLY difficult time staying down in the water – too much buoyancy… Anyway, she only slightly scraped her forehead upon entering. The grotto was magical, with early morning light filtering in from the opening above, Spanish moss (or something much like it) hanging from the top, stalactites growing down from the rocks above, and a lot of fish (including our now-anticipated barracuda…). There was a natural shelf against one wall which lent well as a bench to rest on. Neil got some good video and photos and Kathleen swam around.

We took a different way out as it was bigger, and seemed easier. Neil again went first. Kathleen followed, and was fighting current as well as her inability to stay down in the water. Neil, safely on the other side, saw her struggling, and pulled her out. On the way, she clonked her head on the limestone above, having her seeing stars. We had to rather quickly get back in the dinghy as the anchor was beginning to drag. Kathleen hit her head twice on the way out, significantly enough to start bleeding (as all head wounds do), we knew there were sharks around, so that may have boosted our exit speed quite a bit, too.

The rest of the day Kath spent on the couch with 4X4 pads and an icepack. Suffice it to say, we learned a lot, Kathleen needs a weight belt and gloves and put her hand up when going under ANYTHING, and we should trust our gut if a current seems a bit too wonky. BUT it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. We’d like to come again in the future – at slack current, of course.

Snorkeling Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay

Aug 9th: With the weather predictions continuing to point towards an approaching Tropical Storm, it was time to start heading back north. We raised anchor about 8am for a 6 hour cruise to Highbourne Cay. On this trip, our nautical miles crossed over 4000 since moving aboard Granuaile! We’ve done a bit of traveling in the past 1.5 years!

The sea conditions were easy and calm, and marina was beautiful. Highbourne Marina is a smaller, private marina, and we got tied up easily. Neil checked us in, and we replenished our water supply. After dinner, we walked the area, strolling on the beach in the moonlight and walking the docks of the marina. At one end, there was a fish cleaning table with lights on in the water. There were easily six nurse sharks, and some bigger fish hanging out – they know where the free food is. We saw a reef shark casually swim into this area, snarf down one of the fish that was swimming about and head out. Nature at it’s finest, right there….

Cruised by a 200+ ft superyacht anchored near Staniel Cay. Now that’s a water slide …
Highbourne Cay Marina
Crystal clear water in the marina

We left Highbourne the next morning around 8:00 to cruise the 60 miles to the west end of New Providence Island and anchor in West Bay overnight. Seas were active this trip, with 11-14 knots of wind and 2-4 ft waves. Not awful, but quite bumpy. The anchorage was easy to get into and set the anchor, we were able to tuck in quite close to the shore with good depth. However there was a lot of surge here so it made for a rocking sleep.

We departed the next morning in pre-dawn light around 6:15 to get to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. It was a 10 hour run, with 3-4 foot waves, 11-15 knots of wind, but we made it no worse for wear. We tied up at the Great Harbor Cay marina, initially thinking we would leave the next day for Florida. Unfortunately, “Fred” had other plans. The weather was beautiful where we were, but predictions for crossing were not promising, and Florida was getting a lot of rain. So we did what we always promised that we’d do in this type of situation. Stayed put. This marina is a great “hurricane hole” protected by land on all sides. The island is pretty, and has a population of about 850 people (both of our high schools had more people…). The people here are unbelievably friendly. Everyone waves, has a smile, light toot on car horns as they go by. We stayed for five days, planning to depart on the morning of the 16th to cross after Fred and before Grace.

Early morning departure from anchorage in West Bay, New Providence Island
Granuaile at slip in Great Harbour Cay Marina located in Bullocks Harbour

While here, we borrowed the marina’s bikes (which unfortunately were not adjustable and gave our knees quite the workout). We rode around the island, checking out the town and stopping for breakfast at “The New Beach Club” which is a wonderful outdoor restaurant/cafe/bar. After a very filling and tasty breakfast, we headed back to the marina. While Neil did some maintenance on the boat, Kathleen got in a lot of pilates and shoulder exercises. We walked to Brown’s, a restaurant/take-out place about 1.5 miles from the marina (which is a much bigger deal in this heat/humidity) and were rewarded with our best meal in the Bahamas so far. Neil had cracked conch and Kathleen had grilled hogfish snapper – both freshly caught and prepared by the host/manager/waiter Ronnie. We waited at our outside table, watching a glorious sunset, being regaled with fishing stories by a lovely older local, who has spent his life free diving for conch and spear fishing with his Hawaiian sling. It was a great night, with Ronnie coming out to visit with us. The island has suffered from Covid and it’s affect not just on the population here but also on the tourist industry. But these people all care for each other and have a very beautiful outlook. After dinner, Ronnie called his uncle (this island’s form of Uber?) who gave us a ride back to the marina – which we greatly appreciated after a couple of rum punches, a very large dinner, and a sun already set.

Breakfast at the New Beach Club
Dinner at Brown’s Garden
Brown’s Garden patio overlooking Great Bahama Bank

We went back to the New Beach Club for lunch, thoroughly enjoying it (and earning it with another walk to the restaurant – not as far, but much hotter). Kathleen completed our Bahamian exit documents online and a very nice immigration official came over from the airport to check us out.

We did get to partake of another excellent meal at Brown’s to celebrate our last night in the Bahamas. We split a dish of scorch conch (a truly Bahamian way of preparing it – almost like ceviche, but much much faster – scorch is to the Bahamians as scored is to us. Lime juice, onions, and a very few habanero chili seeds, mixed up and poured over the scored (scorched) and sliced conch. It was amazing. We also got chicken wings, peas and rice (a staple here) and some fried plantain, rounded out with Ronnie’s rum punch. We watched the sunset and fully appreciated this unique experience on this unique island. The walk there and back justified our indulgence (or at least that’s what we told ourselves!). Back on our boat, we grabbed showers and some reading, and went to bed early – we knew we’d be up before five the next day.

We left Great Harbour Cay around 7:30 am with calm seas and clear skies with just a few cottony clouds. We were a bit nervous that we would encounter at least challenging seas during our trip across, but it was unexpectedly easy. Waves were 1-2 ft, wind was 11-15 knots, and absolutely no rain. It stayed that way all night and the next day. We picked up speed in the Gulf Stream, so we arrived just outside of Ft. Pierce around 5:30am – we didn’t want to enter the inlet until 6:30 to catch the slack tide. We just meandered for a bit, then Neil captained us in through the inlet. We did have to wait just a bit for a bridge opening, but we had very calm waters the whole way back to Vero Beach. We had a textbook docking with very low winds and got secured easily.

We passed multiple cruise ships that were adrift off Freeport.
Sun setting as we cross the Gulf Stream

So now this Bahamas adventure is in the books. We have some maintenance and lots of cleaning and polishing for the next bit, but if the weather gives us a window, we will scoot down to the Keys or maybe the Dry Tortugas. We feel so very lucky to have been able to stay in the Bahamas as long as we did during hurricane season. It all went way too fast, and we cannot wait to go back next year. This trip, with just the two of us, tested us and confirmed our desire for this life, and we are grateful. We both hope we can hold onto the Bahamian outlook (relax, work hard, be nice) and share it here. Another bucket list item in the bag. Thanks for coming along with us through this blog.

On to Eleuthera Island and the Exumas

Monday, July 26 we left Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay at about 8:00am to cruise a few hours south to Tilloo Cay, our last stop in the Abacos before we cross the Providence Channel to Eleuthera. The anchorage is protected and very quiet (we were the only ones here – which was marvelous). We lowered the kayak and rowed over to a nearby beach, snorkeling in shallow, clear water, with not much sea life, but easy swimming on a hot day. We did see several large conch (which we will one day gather to have for dinner), lots of small, clear/white fish, and one ray. After a leisurely stroll on the beach (just us), we kayaked back to the boat. We snacked and then sunned on the upper deck, with music and books. Given the isolated area, there may have been much less clothing and much more sunscreen as we sunned and swam. Life is very good.

Tilloo Cay South anchorage
Relaxing on the foredeck with a cocktail
Kathleen providing some live music entertainment

On the 28th, we pulled up anchor around 6:30am, knowing the cruise south to Eleuthera Island would be close to 10 hours. Neil tried his hand at fishing again, this time hooking two barracudas (one was about 4 feet long!). As these were not fish we wanted to mess with, he became rather proficient at releasing the hook from inside their mouths (which had very long, very sharp, and many teeth… thank God for the hook remover gizmo he bought…) Kathleen saw a flying fish that was actually flapping its fins like wings and flying far over the water, even able to change direction. Seems like a really cool evolutionary upgrade, right there. We did encounter a few freighters, which always makes you pay more attention when you are cruising across generally wide open spaces. We anchored near Current Cut, which is the inlet we would use the next day to travel across from the north west side of Eleuthera to the south east side.

Heading out early to a beautiful sunrise
Barracuda catch and release
Crossed paths with a few freighters and a cruise ship while cruising Providence Channel
Putting out the anchor bridle. Anchored near the town of Current Settlement on Eleuthera

The waters here are even clearer than in the Abacos, reminding us of swimming pools rather than large oceanic bodies of water. We did some snorkeling to cool off and explore, but there wasn’t a lot around us as far as wildlife. It was also Kathleen’s birthday (and a rather cool way to spend one’s birthday, she did heartily opine….). Our daughter Meghan set up a Skype call with the kids (well, three out of the four made it…) and it was wonderful to spend an hour laughing and catching up. We had some Mahi Mahi in the freezer from Sam’s Club, so we had that, which while not as good as fresh caught, was still wonderful to enjoy with a cocktail and a splendid sunset.

Amazingly clear water in the anchorage
Easy to inspect Granuaile’s bottom for growth and check zincs

We left about 2:30pm on the 29th, planning to catch (or at least near) slack current through Current Cut, and we were successful. It is a narrow deep passage, with very shallow shoals and reefs on either side. Once through, we cruised to Mutton Fish Point, first passing “the Glass Window” which was probably waay cooler when it was a natural arch. It’s still impressive as a view to the Atlantic and is the only connecting road for the north and south parts of the island. We anchored in a lovely spot, enjoying the views and the water. We realized that we were skipping down Eleuthera, and have every intention of coming back to more fully explore the beauty of this island. For this trip, we are taking advantage of really nice weather, and trying to get to the Exumas before Mother Nature decides we’ve been here long enough. So, for now, it’s quick overnights at gorgeous anchorages, in beautiful waters.

At anchor off Mutton Fish Point, Eleuthera

We left Mutton Fish Point on the 30th at about 9:00 for a six hour run down the coast to the Tarpum Bay Settlement (which is very near Kemp Point. We have dear friends, John and Anne Kemp – it seems that their last name is rather prolific as we saw a Kemp’s B&B last summer on St. Michael’s, and now we have Kemp Point. We need to ask John about his family’s nautical past…). In the anchorage, we were the only boat there, and were able to anchor 1/4-1/3 of a mile from shore. Again, stunning, clear waters, fun snorkeling, lots of sunscreen and stargazing.

Another beautiful Bahamas sunset

On the 31st, with good weather in our favor, we left the anchorage at 9:00 and cruised 30 miles across the Exuma Sound. Neil tried his hand at fishing, but we had no luck. It was awesome to see the southern part of Eleuthera, which has a beautiful marina/resort on the point where you cross out into the sound. There were many fishing boats and dive excursions, which means it is probably a place for us to come back to!

We made it to Warderick Wells Cay which is part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park! This has been on our “must see” list from the beginning, and we planned to stay for at least 4 days. After speaking with the park manager over VHF radio for a mooring assignment, we carefully and slowly cruised in to the mooring field. Shaped like an incomplete “U”, there are mooring balls for boats up to 120′. The current was running swiftly, which made our grabbing the mooring ball pendant “tricky” to say the least. Neil did some amazing contortions and was able to grab the loop with an extremely long boat hook while Kathleen did her best to hold the boat as close to still as possible (which, in this current, was not really all that still). Once we were moored and settled, we put on our fins and masks and jumped in. Kathleen was the first in and was immediately shocked that when she came up for air she was 15 feet from the boat. The current was very very swift as it was near high tide, so she swam back to the boat and hung on to the swim ladder. Neil swam for a bit, but we both decided that maybe it would be more enjoyable with less current…. Not long after we got out, a very cute, curious nurse shark came by to check us out. We LIKE nurse sharks to swim with, as they are more like rays than true sharks, and are timid creatures – a friend likened them to sea puppies, and we have to agree.

Nurse shark checking us out
Jumping off the swim platform for a refreshing swim

We launched the dinghy and cruised over to the office, which was closed due to Covid. We paid our mooring fees via a drop box, and walked along the adjacent beach, seeing the skeletal remains of a whale that had died near there about 25 years ago. There are lots of posters and information signs, so in addition to enjoying another exceptional sunset, we learned about the land crab (nice to see it’s a real thing and not just something mutant that we saw on Manjack Cay), the terns (who knew there were so many kinds of terns?), the conch life cycle, the coral reef and its life cycle, and the spiny lobster. There are several hikes starting from this point, and we intended to visit them in the coming days. There were not a lot of boats here on this first day, and we knew how lucky we were for that. The mooring balls are plentiful, and this is a “go to” place, so in season we imagined that it would be a little tougher to grab a ball.

Out for a sunset stroll on nearby beach
Sun setting on Warderick Wells Cay

August 1st had us up and enjoying sunrise with our beverages and reading the paper (there is very little wi-fi here, but with our booster, Neil was able to download the WaPo…). We packed up our backpack and dry bags and headed to the dinghy dock after breakfast to hike one of the trails. We picked Causeway Trail (it was the first one we came to). It was a wobbly trail, built largely on limestone (which reminded us of hiking on jagged lava rocks…). The trail ran next to a causeway that would fill up during high tide (we hiked at low tide), detouring off to see barefoot beach, and ended at a beautiful over look of the water. It was a very hot hike, however, and when we got back to the marina office, we did sit for a while, drinking copious amounts of water and enjoying the view. Once back on the boat, we grabbed some lunch, then headed out for some snorkeling at Emerald Rock, a spot not far from our mooring. This entire area (the land and sea park) is known for wondrous snorkeling, and we couldn’t wait to explore.

Emerald Rock did not disappoint, with beautiful coral reefs to explore. After exploring one section of the reef, Neil cruised to another nearby mooring (very nice to have here – easy to tie up and don’t have to worry about your anchor dragging or accidentally hitting coral). Kathleen did some more snorkeling and videoing the vibrant community that was cruising around below the dinghy.

Once back at Granuaile, we realized how truly bone-tired we were – the best kind of tired – like the tired you felt as a kid on vacation when you zoomed all over the place, swimming, running, exploring, daydreaming, until your engine just needed some down time. So we took naps and relaxed and had a nice cod loin dinner before watching the stars.

Granuaile on a mooring ball at Warderick Wells Cay
Hiking the Causeway Trail on Warderick Wells Cay

August 2nd had us up again to watch the sun greet the day, and about 10am we dinghied over to the coral garden, which was only a couple hundred feet from our boat. There is so much to see and so hard to put into words. Entire communities at each cluster of rocks and coral, with fish, large and teeny, all living together. Coral like Staghorn, Brain, and Elkhorn, colors across the spectrum, fans and plants waving in the current, polyps of every color on the corals. The tiniest of fish, bright, neon blue, then what we call the LSU fish – half purple, half orange, angel fish, and Nemo fish, and striped grouper, parrot fish, so much to see. Neil saw three spiny lobsters (which Kathleen somehow missed). Then Neil tapped Kathleen on the head. Our nurse shark was coming to see what we were up to. We called her “she”, but we really have no idea. – flat heads and tails that resemble sting rays more than sharks. She carefully looked us over, then went to hide behind a reef on the sandy shore. We took some pictures and video, but left her alone. First time swimming with a “shark” for both of us!

Snorkeling the Coral Gardens located a couple hundred feet from our boat
Nurse shark resting in the coral garden

After we rinsed off from this exceptional swim and had some lunch and downtime, we took a dinghy ride around the moorage to check out the few other boats here. There was a really cool big full rigged two mast wooden sailboat, seemed to be a charter. There were two “super” yachts, and a couple of catamarans. It’s always fun to check out other boats! We then cruised out to a secluded beach, anchoring the dinghy in 3 feet of water – Tababuia Beach. Shallow enough to just play in, deep enough to swim around. Neil took some “meditation” time and we both relaxed and reveled in the quiet and beauty.

It had been overcast all day; this didn’t dissaude any of our excursions, but did limit night sky viewing. So, after a fair attempt, we went inside, and tried to watch a movie – with both of us asleep within 15 minutes! Ah well, tomorrow is another day…

We had Tababuia Beach all to ourselves

We ran the generator overnight to fully charge the batteries, which meant we ran the aircon all night – HUGE bonus! After a great sleep, we got up on the 3rd, had coffee with the sunrise, and were able to leave a bit earlier as we didn’t have to run the generator in the morning to charge the batteries for the day. We headed over to the dinghy dock to take on Boo Boo Hill trail and beyond. Again, we crossed a lot of limestone rock, and various bits of flat sand (part of the causeway from our previous hike). We got up to the top of the hill, tried first to see blow holes (which would be cool at high tide, but it was low tide), then to Boo Boo Hill crest. This is another spot where boaters have left memorabilia from their time here – mostly carved wood with their names, their boat names, and the year (or in one case, several years) that they visited. From there, we continued to the Pentatek Memorial (for a couple that had done much to preserve this area), then followed the path onward, seeing amazing cliffs and beautiful beaches, including “Pirate’s Lair”, ending when we couldn’t find the path to continue on the Exuma Sound trail. It was another long, beautiful hike, and we needed a break from the heat and the sun by the time we got back to the boat.

It was, however, very near slack tide, and that would be the optimal time to visit the coral gardens again… so after a bit of a rest and snack, we jumped back into the water and swam over. Once again, a phenomenal experience. At one point, Kathleen asked Neil to point out a lobster as she hadn’t seen one the day before. Not more than ten seconds under the water, Neil had found a HUGE spiny lobster for her! It was incredible. After about an hour in the water, we swam back to the boat, this time against the current, for a really good workout. Once we were on the boat and rinsing off, the nurse shark came around again, just seeing what we were up to.

View from Boo Boo Hill
Driftwood and buoy offerings for King Neptune at top of Boo Boo Hill
Angelfish in the Coral Gardens, Warderick Wells Cay
Nurse shark dropping by the boat again

Truly exhausted this time, with lots of boats arriving into the mooring field, we had a bit of lunch, and much needed naps. In the afternoon, Neil suggested a swim, which was perfect as it was hot and muggy, and he wanted to clean some of the bottom of the boat. Kathleen swam around the area as Neil worked. Suddenly we both spied a shark – not a nurse shark – a real shark – turned out to be a black tip reef shark. He was a bit bigger than us, but really was just cruising around and had very little interest in us. As he swam off, Neil continued cleaning the keel. Kathleen noticed that little fish swam around after Neil as the stuff we didn’t want on our boat was food that they loved. Kathleen also noticed the return of the reef shark under the boat – not aggressive, just there. We both decided maybe we should be done for the day, so we got out, rinsed off, had a nice cocktail, and leftovers for dinner.

Next we head to Shroud Cay in the Exumas …

Cruising the Abacos: Green Turtle Cay to Man-O-War Cay

July 18th: We lazed on the morning at our Manjack Cay anchorage, finally securing the dinghy to the upper deck, preparing the boat, and raising the anchor to leave about 11:00. It was a little bittersweet leaving, but we knew we would be back and wanted to see more of this beautiful country.

Leaving Manjack Cay

We cruised just 4-5 miles south to Green Turtle Cay, anchoring just north of Joyless Point (not sure why it is called that, but whatever). We were hailed by a catamaran that had anchored behind us – a family of five came toward us in their dinghy – they are from Westminster, CO – right by where we used to live! It was great to meet them and hear about their adventures and marvel that in all this space we would run into a family that lived about 10 miles from us back in Colorado.

After we got the dinghy in the water, we cruised over to the town of New Plymouth to explore the historical area of Green Turtle Cay. The people here are very resilient, and are working every day to rebuild their town from the destruction of Hurricane Dorian two years ago. It is shocking to see the bulldozing power of a hurricane in its aftermath – buildings flattened, roofs ripped off, palm trees still standing, but with no palm tops to them. The marinas are open, and there are several resorts that are open for business, and most of the flora has grown back. Still. The damage is extensive and these people are amazing in their hard-work and positive attitude to build their home back even better than before.

Taking the dinghy for a cruise into town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay

On the 19th, we went back into town (most everything was closed the day before as it was Sunday). Neil bought some tremendous baked goods at “The Daily Bread” bakery, and we hit two grocery stores, picking up some fresh produce (and guava jam, because, well, it’s guava jam). We wandered the various streets (which are basically cement slabs – everyone drives golf carts or 4 wheelers, with very few actual cars or trucks around – there just isn’t room for them). We walked around a large vessel – the Bahama Seas – that was pushed up onto the seawall during the hurricane. There is an interesting sculpture garden memorial dedicated to the “American Loyalists” (a new term for Kathleen), the original immigrants to these islands. These settlers were loyal to King George and Great Britain and it was interesting to read “the other side” of the Revolutionary War. The people who came here left everything (or had it confiscated by the rebels when they beat the British). Some had traveled first to Florida, but ended up leaving when the Spanish got that land in a settlement. Many of the immigrants were freed slaves (the memorial stated that the British guaranteed the freedom of any slaves who sided with them), and they made their homes here alongside the loyalists. Hurricanes, lack of arable land, and just very rough conditions caused many to leave, but obviously, many also stayed, and created the Bahamas. There wasn’t any mention of indigenous peoples already here …

Memorial garden for America loyalists and key figures in Bahamas history
Bahamas Seas wreck in New Plymouth harbour

We lunched at Two Shorty’s, a nice food stand, where we had hoped to get conch (Bill and Leslie swore that it was the best in the Bahamas), but they didn’t have any on the day’s menu. We settled for roast chicken, which was an excellent substitute. Back at the boat after the day’s excursions, we had a leisurely swim, they settled down for a nap (for Neil) and this blog update (for Kathleen). A thunderstorm is off to the west right now, and we plan a quiet evening before hoisting anchor again tomorrow to sally forth to Great Guana Cay.

Another gorgeous Bahamas sunset

On July 20th, we left Green Turtle Cay mid-morning for an easy 14 mile ride to Great Guana Cay. We went “outside” for a bit, but honestly, there was very little to no difference between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean. As we were nearing Great Guana Cay, we spied our first “super yacht” of the trip, coming up from behind us. These huge vessels are luxury in the extreme, and fun to spy as they pass us. The north end of Guana Cay appears to be an area for the well-heeled, with huge estates and private beaches in some areas. We happily anchored not far off the beach, with brisk winds and some less than perfectly steady seas. Neil dove the anchor to be sure that it had dug in. The ocean surface here is often lots of grass with spots of open sand. Grass is not as easy for our anchor truly dig into as mud or soft sand, but so far, we’ve held fast at each anchorage. We snorkeled around the boat, spying several conch, tropical fish, and the ever-present barracuda… They are rather imposing fish, with their teeth and all, but seem very relaxed about us swimming in their areas… so far!

Anchored in Bakers Bay off Great Guana Cay
Swimming with Barracuda

The next morning we got up and breakfasted, lowered the dinghy, and took a ride around the point to the Atlantic side of the cay. We had read that there was some pretty awesome snorkeling among the reefs not far off the shore. After two tries, we successfully anchored the dinghy in sand bottom near the reefs, and went for a swim.

These reefs are magnificent – so full of color. Hundreds of tropical fish, ranging from less than an inch to a couple of feet, in every color of the rainbow. Coral of all types and colors, along with beautiful fans and sea plants everywhere. We took a lot of footage with the GoPro, while marveling that this whole world was just a few feet under us as we cruised around. After about an hour of playing, we got back into the dinghy and came back to our anchorage. The weather all day was on and off showers, which really was not a bad thing as it a) cleaned the salt off of the boat, and b) cooled the air. The breezes are a wonderful respite in this rather hot and humid time of year.

Anchored dinghy near coral reefs on the Atlantic side of Great Guana Cay

Neil took advantage of a break between rains to try out our hookah dive system – it allows underwater breathing using a regulator, many many feet of tubing, and a compressor. It was a successful test and we plan to use it while cleaning the bottom of the boat in the coming weeks

After enjoying refreshing Cosmo cocktails, dinner was on the light side, fruit salad and hummus with tortillas, but a million dollar view, enjoyed from our forward deck. We got chased inside by yet another thunderstorm, but were rewarded a few minutes later by a huge full, end-to-end rainbow. We really do feel that we have found our pot of gold. Tomorrow, we’re off to Man-O-War Cay for more reef snorkeling….

Nap time under a rainbow

We took a leisurely run down to Man-O-War Cay, as it was only 10 miles away. The day was nice and the wind light, which boded well for a smooth cruise. The trip itself was easy and uneventful, anchoring, well, not so much. It took us three tries, which is never a lot of fun. Our first drop (which set really well) would have been perfect, except for our anchor chain laying right over a power line which is definitely a no-no. So after Neil dove the anchor and saw this (the power line was noted on our charts that Kathleen had somehow missed seeing), we successfully raised anchor and moved a bit farther south. Our second drop was also pretty good, more sea grass than the first, but still ok. Neil dove the anchor again, and this time swam past a clothes dryer and pieces of an outboard motor, not ideal as we did not want to foul the chain when the boat moved with wind and current (although Neil reported that the fish really liked the dryer as a makeshift beginnings of a reef…). Finally, our third attempt was a success! We were both pretty tired after this foray, and after lunch decided that naps were in order. Kathleen jumped in to do a bit of snorkeling later, and then we had cocktails on the upper deck, watching another magnificent sunset and moon rise.

Kathleen swimming laps around the boat

We had a couple of reasons for coming to Man-O-War – the town sounded intriguing, but mostly it was to follow a recommendation from our friends Doug and Sue for some of the best snorkeling in the Bahamas at Fowl Cay (which is 2 miles north of our anchorage at Man-O-War Cay). After a good night’s rest and breakfast the next morning, we launched the dinghy and headed over to the reef. Fowl Cay is a land and sea reserve, with acres (miles?) of reefs teeming with life. We anchored the dinghy in sand bottom, with Kathleen very happily volunteering to dive the anchor (you could see it from the dinghy itself, but always a good thing to do!). The water was jump-in perfect temperature.

This was one of the most beautiful places we have ever been – not just the Bahamas, but anywhere. There were so many fish of every color, with neon-seeming glows, schooling, playing, eating, plants and corals of every shape and size, perfectly clear water. We saw a beautiful ray swimming with another fish when we first jumped in. He (she?) settled into the sand to watch us, and let Kathleen get a little close before eyeing her with what seemed to be a “God, I hate these tourists” look, and gently flew away in the water. The fish here were much less skittish of us, and seemed to like swimming almost with us (Neil made a couple of attempts to swim with schools that seemed to be either trailing him or just off to the side – he never completely got into the middle, but came close). After about an hour, Neil decided to rest topside on the dinghy, while Kathleen continued to explore. As soon as she had turned the GoPro over to Neil and went back under, she saw a sting ray (far enough away to admire and not be afraid of), many more fish (some small electric blue ones that seemed to be very curious now that she wasn’t holding a beeping camera), and five small floating sea creatures that she thinks may have been some type of juvenile cephalopod (not sure what baby octopi look like, but these had a large eye, were about 6-8” long swimming together, and one bravely squirted ink to scare her off.)

When our kids were little, we would take them to the Denver Aquarium, a beautiful place to go, where you could walk through clear tunnels and see various sealife all around. As cool as that was, we always thought about how fun it would be to be actually swimming with the fishes. That’s what this excursion was like – swimming in an aquarium. It is not an experience we will soon forget, and hopefully we will be back here again.

After having too much fun on the reefs, we cruised back to our boat, rinsed off, had lunch and relaxed as a storm or two rolled through. Later in the afternoon, around 4:00, we took the dinghy into the Man-O-War Cay harbour. Here is where we could see the real destruction of Dorian. The area had obviously previously been a very cute, thriving area, with homes and businesses on both sides of the narrow harbor. The storm had ruined so much – homes, all the docks, and so many boats. Lots of sailboats were demasted, and appeared to have just been left behind, creating a boat graveyard feel to the area. The main marina dock was new and open, so we tied up there to walk the area. Man-O-War has a long history, a small community with a strong spiritual commitment (no alcohol is sold on the island, all shops close at 5:00, and nothing is open on Sundays. Also, according to our Bahamas Waterway Guide, 70% of the residents can trace their ancestry back to the first Albury settler… not sure how that worked, but suffice it to say it’s a close-knit community.). There is a long history of boat building here, with people from the US bringing their boats here for work. The craftsmen on the island were (are) renowned not only for their high quality boats, but for canvas sail-making. Sail-making has morphed into including canvas bags and hats, which are easier for most tourists to buy.

Town on Man-O-War Cay, looking down to the harbour

We visited the grocery market here, and were amazed at how well stocked it was. We picked up some fresh produce (as well as Raisin Bran for Neil – there is another box somewhere on the boat, but neither of us can remember where we put it – oh well.) Our purchases completed, we went back to the dinghy, carefully nosing our way out the north entrance to the marina (that runs lower than one foot in places.) The winds were picking up, and the evening was cloudy, stormy, threatening-looking clouds looming. We went to bed, having learned to try to keep an ear out for any trouble (like heavy rains as we had open port holes and hatches to improve wind flow, or the anchor alarm going off to indicate that the winds had won over our anchor.) Kathleen awoke in the early hours to an impressive lightning and thunderstorm, but easily fell back asleep – only to realize later that the rain had come in the front hatch – luckily, that is in the guest shower, so no damage.

July 24th: The winds were between 15-20 knots, which is stiff, and the clouds were continuing to look like they were ready to drop buckets on us at any moment. As the water in the anchorage is shallow, the waves weren’t huge (2-3 feet), but they were causing us to rock more than usual. We watched the weather forecasts, and when it looked like there was a slight break (very slight) we worked quickly to get the dinghy up with the davit (loads of grins and giggles when the boat is rocking, the dinghy is heaving next to the boat, and a harness has to be secured to both the dinghy and the davit – good times). We were successful in getting the dinghy loaded without causing any damage to anything or ourselves – no small feat. Once that was done, we quickly got the boat ready to leave, raised anchor, and sailed back north to Orchid Bay Marina, located at the southern part of Great Guana Cay. We made good time with the winds almost off the stern, and after circling the area to see if the most recent clouds would move off (they did – a bit!), we radioed the marina for our slip assignment. We were not terribly encouraged when Neil asked about the conditions in the marina (it is protected by a rock jetty) and was told succintly that conditions were “sloppy”. However, once we got into the marina area, the winds decreased significantly. We had a very able dockhand, and with Kathleen calling out directions and Neil manouvering Granuaile into the slip, we secured with no bumps and no scrapes. The marina had water (yea!) for 35 cents a gallon – so we were able to fill up our water tanks (300 gallons), and Kathleen went to work washing clothes and sheets and towels and anything else that needed a bath after two weeks. The inside of the boat got washed, vacuumed, wiped, and scoured – it felt good to get things cleaned up again. There was a great party boat docked near us, with great music and a fun group on board. After laughing with them a bit, we walked to Grabbers, an outdoor bar/restauraunt/B&B – pretty much the only restaurant/bar that is still open on this end of the island. We had a nice meal, and wonderful frozen rum punches while watching the sunset. There was a legendary place called Nippers, that looked crazy fun (two-level swimming pool? Pig roasts? Tiki bar and semi-annual Barefoot Man concerts…) – unfortunately, it was lost completely to Dorian, with very little of the structure remaining – and Kathleen REALLY wanted to see the two-level pool…

Docked at Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay
Orchid Bay Marina had been destroyed by hurricane Dorian in 2019. Around half the slips have been rebuilt.
Grabbers Bar & Grille located on beach off Fishers Bay, Great Guana Cay

The next day involved more boat maintenance, and Kathleen made some bread (she has to have Gluten Free and that’s not a thing here), did more laundry, and polished all of the stainless steel on the superstructure (railings, grills, caps, staples – anything stainless) – much had been beaten up by the salt showers from cruising, and needed a bit of elbow grease to remove marks and beginnings of rust, and then polished with wax to protect all of it again. When our chores were completed, we walked to the Atlantic side, to a beautiful beach and swam in the shallows enjoying the magnificent clear waters and small fish that shared the area with us. More storms looked to be coming in, so we walked back to our dock, had evening cocktails and enjoyed some shrimp and andouilla sausage gumbo (we may be roughing it, but we’re not savages…).

Atlantic side beach, a short walk through town from Orchid May Marina

Next we head to Tiloo Cay, then south to Eleuthera …

Allans-Pensacola Cay and Manjack Cay

July 13th: We weighed anchor at 9:45 to head just over an hour away to Allans-Pensacola Cay. The crossing was rather “bouncy” with 15-17 knot winds over rather shallow waters, but it was a pretty straight shot, so we arrived no worse for wear. There were already two boats in the anchorage when we arrived, but there was plenty of room and the anchor set well. We again had fun snorkeling after we got the boat secured, seeing another barracuda. Apparently these fish look fierce, but if you leave them alone, they are rather relaxed. We lowered the dinghy in anticipation of exploring the area, but the weather was again uncooperative with windy conditions and storms that threatened, but just skirted where we were. The lightning storms that we have seen on several nights, including the night we crossed over from Florida, have been impressive, and luckily, not directly over us or delivering bad weather. We’re hoping that this “good” weather holds and no tropical storms or hurricanes decide to form or head this way.

Weather threatening but not passing over us at the Allans-Pensacola Cay anchorage

We got up early on the 14th, enjoying iced coffee/tea on the deck watching the morning unfold. While Kathleen got breakfast ready, Neil practiced with the drone, taking some fun video and picture of our girl and the surrounding area. After a hearty veggie omelet breakfast, we packed up our dry bags, backpack and snorkeling bag into the dinghy for a fun adventure. We took the dinghy to a beach that was decorated with all kinds of items from past visitors, and a fairly well marked trail to the ocean side a short walk away. It was fun to see flipflops, hats, floats, and even plastic bins marking the trail, which we would never have been able to follow without these helpers. On the ocean side was the “signing” tree – where many people have left signs with their boat names and their names attached to the tree. There was also a giant hammock that Neil bravely tried out, and Kathleen executed a side plank that Neil memorialized with a picture to show that her shoulder and she are really doing great.

Signing Tree on Atlantic side beach of Allans Cay
Kathleen celebrating a repaired shoulder (and Neil cringing behind the camera)
Allans Cay beach
Granuaile and her neighbors in the Allans-Pensacola Cay anchorage
Neil bringing the drone in for landing on the boat deck

Back on the cay side, we saw a sea turtle and a young nurse shark as we were wading in the shallow waters of the beach. We snorkeled around the area for a awhile, not seeing a lot of life (except for a blue tang, which was unexpected and fun), but a good swim. We got back in the dinghy and cruised the area, crossing an inlet from the ocean, and stopped at Umbrella Cay for another swim. We unintentionally disturbed about 20 cormorants that were upset at us for busting in on their tree time – but they eventually came back. We encountered another barracuda, this one seeming a bit more curious about us, swimming parallel to us and basically checking us out. Neil got some great video and pictures with the GoPro, and we enjoyed just relaxing in the calm water, they only humans on the beach. We got back to Granuaile about 12:30, which was 3.5 hours of sun for these Irish-heritage folks, so we decided to have a break from our endeavours, lunching, napping, reading, and more relaxing, until we decided the day was too nice not to swim again. No barracuda this time, but lots of sand dollars, corral, small fish, one clam that was just on the ocean floor, but very much alive, and Kathleen is pretty sure she saw a starfish. All in all, a most excellent day. After rinsing off, we looked at the day’s films and enjoyed some leftovers. Given the sun and swimming, it’s a safe bet that tonight may be an early one, although we’d like to check out the stars again.

Kathleen relaxing on a deserted beach on Umbrella Cay, a short dinghy ride from our anchorage
Swimming with barracuda
Sunset view from Allans-Pensacola Cay

We left Allans-Pensacola Cay on the morning of the 15th at 10:00 am to cruise to Manjack Cay, arriving at 1:15. This beautiful gem of a cay is breathtaking. Our friends, Christine and Joe Cook had met a couple that have lived on the Nunjack Bluff overlooking the Cay for the past 30 years, and recommended that we reach out to them. Bill and Leslie are wonderful people who have created a paradise that they willingly and lovingly share with all cruising visitors who drop anchor there. After speaking with them upon arrival and making plans for cocktails later in the evening, Bill recommended that we take a path from their beach across the island to the ocean side. The water is crystal clear and so inviting. After Kathleen volunteered to swim out to check that the anchor was well buried, we got the boat settled in, dropped the dinghy and headed to the beach. We made some rookie mistakes, namely anchoring bow-in, not setting a stern anchor, and not accounting for longer than anticipated time away from the dinghy on an ebbing tide. We headed out on a trail to the Atlantic side, which was about a 20 minute walk. Coming over the final rise, hearing the ocean before seeing it, was amazing. We quickly got down to our swimsuits and put on our snorkeling gear and kicked out to a small reef about 20 yards or so from the beach. It was a beautiful, underwater garden, with fans and ferns, all kinds of coral, and lots of tropical fish. Neil was in charge of the GoPro and got some great video. We ended up staying in the water for about an hour, only coming in when we both realized we were getting more tired than we should.

Granuaile anchored off Manjack Cay
Looking east from our Manjack Cay anchorage. Rat Cay and Crab Cay in the foreground.
Kathleen snorkeling off Manjack Cay on the Atlantic side

After toweling off and re-gearing for the hike back, we took what we thought was a different trail back that Bill had recommended. Our multiple backtrackings and ending up where we didn’t mean to be made for a much longer trek back. We did spy lots of hermit crabs on the inland area, as well as seeing some disconcerting large holes dug by something. Neil finally spied that something – a gray, nearly-two foot wide by 8-9” tall something – either a spider from Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest (who know they might be real?) or a gray mutant crab the likes of which we had never seen before. When we came upon another one, we were (somewhat) relieved to see that it was some large land crab and not a spider. Either way, we gave him all the room he wanted.

We finally made it back to our original beach (we ended up going back to the ocean beach and just taking the same trail back), only to find our 1000 lb dinghy firmly beached as the tide had gone out. We were both really drained. Neil tried contacting Bill, but he wasn’t near his phone. The next high tide was six hours away, at midnight. We knew we could probably bum a ride out to our boat from Bill and Leslie, and just hung out on this island-perfect beach waiting for their return. In no time, Bill appeared on his ATV to introduce himself. When he saw the pickle we were in, he chuckled, and said, “No problem, I have a tool for that” and reminded us of the Bahamian way – “when the back starts to hurt, use the brain”. He went back to his compound, returning with with a 6 foot long piece of 6” dia PVC pipe, and his wife Leslie. After introductions were made, we successfully got the dinghy turned bow into the water, placed the PVC pipe under the hull, and were able to push/pull the dinghy into the water. Lesson learned, and we hopefully will not do that again. We scooted back to our boat, took our first real shower in many days, then went back to Bill and Leslie’s for some evening relaxation.

Dinghy high and dry on Manjack Cay beach

To say their home is remarkable is an understatement. Over the past 30 years, they have built a main house, which is fit for any paradise movie theme, with a guest home and a large gardening area. They are very self-sufficient, with solar power, tank for collecting rainwater, growing their own food, having had goats and chickens over the years. It is a thoroughly modern home, with wifi, state of the art kitchen, and amazing bathroom and bedroom suite with walls open to the outside. Sitting outside on the veranda, wild birds coming in to eat seeds Leslie has placed in bowls near us, we could see why they had chosen to build here. They are in the process of completing a second home that they hope to move into, further up the bluff, and plan to sell their current home once the new home is finished. They have endured several category five hurricanes, and numerous tropical storms – and have been perfectly safe and secure. Leslie gave us several cuttings from her vast garden, so our fresh herb supply was not only replenished but improved upon. Bill introduced us to a rum (Bahamian “Fire In De Hole”) , tonic and lime cocktail, which is probably our new favorite beverage. We somewhat reluctantly wandered back to the path to their dock to take our dinghy back to our boat, lead by moonlight (and Neil’s cell phone spotlight).

View from Bill and Leslie’s Manjack Cay home front yard

On the 16th, we explored with the dinghy, snorkeling at a cay that was known for rays and nurse sharks – of which we did not see any. We did see a really cool spiny lobster and a lot of tropical fish, as well as an (empty) conch shell that had the most beautiful pink-purple inner shell. We left it on the seabed for others to enjoy and fish to inhabit. From there, we dinghied out to the Atlantic, with Kathleen snorkeling among some rock/coral formations. Neil stayed with the dinghy, both out of abundance of caution and wanting to take a break. After exploring the reef, we cruised back through the inlet, and spotted a sea turtle and an nurse shark in the shallows. We turned off into a mangrove creek area that wound around behind the island. We saw at least thirty sea turtles – they were EVERYWHERE and so very cute. We decided to come back the next day on the kayak.
Back on the boat, we relaxed, enjoyed another spectacular sunset, chatted with Bill as he passed by to check on his two sailboats in the waters near us. Venus has been flashing her very brilliant light every evening in the western sky, seeming to appear even before the sun has completely set. The moon is waxing and incredibly bright, which makes for fun shadows, but not as many stars to see. Oh well…

Getting ready for some snorkeling
Beautiful conch shell. Left it for others to discover and enjoy.
Cruising the shallow creeks on Manjack Cay looking for turtles

On the morning of the 17th, we got up a bit early, and after breakfast, deposited the kayak from the boat deck into the water, which was another learning experience. Once we got it into the water, we rafted it up to the dinghy and loaded ourselves in – our first attempt at doing this delicate maneuver – we’ll take the win that neither of us yelled or swore directly at the other one. Once we were settled in, we paddled off, to go see the turtles again. This was the first time Kathleen had been kayaking since January, and she may have over-estimated her shoulder strength and endurance by just a tad. Luckily, Neil was very understanding and encouraging. We did get to see dozens of turtles, who were quite curious about our kayak and came very close before flying away under the water when we would so much as look at them. We also saw two more nurse sharks, which was interesting as the water at times was less than a foot deep. They were way more frightened of us, and we just felt lucky to get to see them. About an hour and a half later we were back at the boat, and Kathleen was completely done in. We got the boat secured on the upper deck, and with Neil’s encouragement, Kath laid down and stayed that way until about four o’clock that evening. She’s beginning to think this excursion could turn into a really strength training mission.

Kayaking the shallow creeks on Manjack Cay
Sunset at Manjack Cay

Next we head to Green Turtle Cay …

Bahamas Bound!

After waiting out Tropical Storm Elsa (which passed to the west of us, luckily), we departed our dock at 2:00 pm on Friday, July 9th. We cruised down the ICW to the Ft. Pierce inlet, and traveled south on the Atlantic to about Palm Beach. Neil tried his hand at offshore fishing, snagging a large harvest of sea grass, and one beautiful blackfin tuna! We hung a left at Palm Beach and proceeded to cross the Gulf Stream, which was unfortunately rather close to Florida (like 11 miles off shore…), causing our speed to slow. Overall, however, it was a pleasant trip across, with less traffic than anticipated, except when Neil had to hail a Chinese fishing vessel to determine how to cross paths, with a freighter traveling in the opposite direction a mile or so beyond the fishing boat – good times.

Departing our Vero Beach marina
Into the Atlantic from Ft Pierce Inlet
Kathleen at the helm
Fish on! Or seaweed??
Our first catch from the boat. Tuna!

The ocean got rolly about two hours from West End, but it settled down for the last few miles as we came into Old Bahamas Bay Marina the next morning around 9:30 am. It was a lovely day, the dock hands very helpful, and Kathleen was able to get us checked in with Immigration and Customs with no hassle (Click2Clear and Covid vaccines have made this a much simpler process). The only glitch we had encountered was in running the watermaker – we were getting a high salinity error, which is not good. We were able to top off our water tanks at the marina, and after checking possible problem points with no obvious resolution, Neil reached out to the technician we had contacted before, anticipating that we need a new membrane. We are hopeful that we can get a new one soon, but if not, we are luckily on the most beautiful water ever and living in bathing suits – so water needs are not as great, and can refill the tanks at marinas along the way.

Granuaile at slip in Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End, Abaco
Walking beach near marina at West End

We had dinner at the marina restaurant, which was lovely, and left early the next morning for Great Sale Cay, a 63 mile cruise. It was a pretty day on the water, with little traffic, and we arrived at the anchorage before 5pm, topping off the trip with our first jump in to the water here in the Bahamas. The water was soooo beautiful, teal blue and jump-in ready, providing our first sealife encounters – a very relaxed barracuda and our new favorite – stinger-less jellyfish! These pretty little creatures are gentle and as they don’t sting, really fun to swim with – quite the opposite of their cousins in the Chesapeake – it took Kathleen a minute to not scramble away when she first saw them. We can now enjoy their beauty and other-worldliness WITHOUT having a panic attack. The water is crystal clear and every shade of blue depending on depth and the bottom. We will definitely be spoiled for swimming in murky water in the future. The clouds rolled in and gave us an impressive display, with the worst of the storm just skirting by us. We enjoyed Jamaican blackened blackfin tuna for dinner, compliments of Neil’s fishing prowess on the way over from Florida! The night stars put on another spectacular show for free, and we had fun slapping the water to energize the biophosphorous life in the water. Their turquoise fluorescence is magical and so pretty.

Enjoying swim off the boat at Great Sale Cay anchorage
A beautiful day to cruise from West End to Great Sale Cay
The chef prepared blackened tuna for dinner. From sea to plate!
Threatening weather that passed to the west

We left the anchorage on the morning of July 12th at 7:30 to cruise to Fox Town anchorage, arriving just after noon. After some fun snorkeling, we had thought we’d go into town for dinner, as the restaurant is known for it’s amazing cracked conch. However, the weather had other plans, so we had cocktails on the “Lido Deck”, and a gourmet dinner of grilled canned-tuna and cheese sandwiches. We had a bit of a hiccup when the generator suddenly shut off, and Neil had some sweaty work diagnosing and fixing the problem – turned out to be a loose connection in the control circuit, took a while to find, in a very hot and sweaty engine room. The fun of boatlife never ceases… We had a stormy night with some high winds, but our anchor held.

Enjoying a cocktail while at anchor off Fox Town
Fox Town, Grand Bahama Island

Tomorrow the 13th we continue our Bahamas adventure and head to Allans-Pensacola Cay …

One of the first lessons of boating: DON’T MAKE PLANS

OK, maybe not entirely, but it is a good thing to remember – plans need to be fungible, because things like weather, boat systems and pandemics can disrupt the best laid schedule. So can getting injured. Although not completely unpredictable (Kathleen did find out that our friends in CO had bets going on when and what her first injury would be – sprained ankle/broken toe for the win!), we’ve definitely hit a larger snag. In January, while washing the boat, Kathleen slipped on the side deck stairs, grabbed the rail and dislocated her left shoulder (again – this is actually the fourth time it’s been dislocated in less than 15 years…). Just like all previous times, the shoulder went back into place on its own. After a visit to a doctor who said all that was needed was some rest and PT (yeah!), we were excited to only have to delay our departure to the Bahamas… until Saturday morning when Kathleen dislocated it again, this time requiring a visit to the ER. After finding an orthopedic surgeon, scheduling (and having to re-schedule) MRI’s and appointments, we finally found out that it’s kind of a bigger deal and Kathleen needs Remplissage surgery for a Hill-Sachs depression (just google it). We’re hoping surgery can happen in early April. If so, it’s three months of recovery and three months of rehab… so… no Bahamas, no New England…(heavy sigh).

We plan to stay here at Loggerhead Marina in Vero Beach until after the New Year 2022 but if weather cooperates in Sept – Nov we will cruise south to the Keys for a few weeks. Over Christmas/New Year we also hope to be able to get back to Colorado and (if the border opens) visit family in Vancouver.

It has not all been grim here however! Christmas on the boat for the first time was different, but nice. Kathleen decorated a small tree and hung lights on our windows, while playing Christmas carols on the guitar and on the radio. Kathleen was able to sneak a cross stitch of a phrase that we had seen earlier in the summer, and frame it as a gift for the boat. She also had a friend back in Colorado make a beautiful framed line drawing of our Granuaile that we really enjoy. Tracy is very talented, and if any of you would like something done like this (she does houses, cabins, etc), just let us know and we’ll get you connected.

Granuaile at slip in Vero Beach decorated for the holidays
New Granuaile artwork

Christmas was hard as it was the first time we had not been with any of our kids, but it was fun in that we zoom-called several times over Christmas Eve – Christmas Day, visiting with our kids and with Neil’s family. Katie, Mike and Meghan were all together in Vancouver, which was excellent, and Sean was safe in Denver with his puppies and best friend, Aren. It’s also been a very long time since Kathleen has had a warm Christmas, and the first one for Neil. We both prefer colder weather for the holidays, but we agreed it was unique to be wearing shorts on Christmas day!

Keeping warm by the fire while preparing Christmas dinner

New Year’s Eve was also rather subdued, but we had a nice dinner with our dockmates, Christine and Joe. Kathleen went Mexican with the cooking, and we capped off the evening with sparklers, courtesy of dockmates Doug and Suzanne. OK, so it might have been 10:00 pm, but it was New Year’s somewhere…

Sunset from our boat deck

Before the shoulder incident, we bought a two person kayak. It is a lot of fun to use, and slips through the water so easily. Neil has had more practice with it than Kathleen, but we should be able to get another ride in before too long. Our friends, Paul and Shannon, fellow Canadians who were with us here in Vero until a few weeks ago to head to the Bahamas, gave us lots of tips, pointers, and places to go once we finally do get to cross over. One of the simplest, yet coolest contraptions that they recommended is a breeze booster, which attaches to your port hole or hatch to direct cooling breezes into the boat – absolutely essential in the warm Carribean (but not as useful here in Vero where we are constantly bombarded by no-see-ums, tiny biting evil minions that seem to come out just as the wind dies down…). We once again realized how unique and lovely the boating community is, with everyone so willing to help out – whether it’s with handling dock lines, friendly chats, information and hints for travel, or just a friendly wave. This transient life can be tough when being far from family, and this community is an amazing group.

Neil heading out for a morning paddle on the ICW
Practice flying the new drone before risking an over water shot from the boat

We’ve been keeping busy with trips to the beach and pool (ok, not busy, but fun), Kathleen doing what she can to stay fit (doctor approved), knitting, writing, playing guitar, and binge watching various series (currently watching Homeland!), and Neil working on the “boat to-do list” of things to look at, fix, adjust, replace. So far have replaced the exhaust mixing elbow and impeller on the wing engine, repaired the pilothouse aircon compressor (blown capacitors), re-caulked a number of items on the boat deck and pilothouse roof (need a good rain storm or two to confirm fix for a water leak into the engine room!), main engine and transmission oil and filters change, dinghy motor annual maintenance, repaired a seized spotlight, and staying on top of the myriad of preventive maintenance tasks tracked with our Wheelhouse maintenance management app … And Neil took a diesel engine/generator maintenance course offered via Zoom by manufacturer Northern Lights. The learning never stops.

Kathleen working out in the salon. Neil practices boat yoga in the engine room and lazarette while contorting himself to work on difficult to access equipment.
New vs Old exhaust elbow for the wing engine. Replaced before severe corrosion inside the elbow caused a cooling water blockage that would lead to hose blowout or much worse.
Diver discovered that the stern thruster props were damaged during some unknown encounter with debris in water. Had diver replace with new props during next bottom cleaning.
Lesson learned: Use Gopro camera to conduct periodic check of thruster props

We have been exploring beaches in the area, enjoying the nice milder weather while we have it, and mostly watching the Atlantic rather than swimming in it (every day so far has been a “red flag” day, which is a no swimming day especially if you have an injured limb). We have seen the return of Portuguese Man O’War jellyfish on the beaches – very pretty, but very painful – we give them wide berth when we see them on the beach, as even dead ones can still sting.

We have taken the boat out twice, once with Christine and Joe along when we went into the ocean from Ft. Pierce to test various systems, and once just the two of us for a four hour jaunt on the ICW to exercise the engines and just have a fun day. We have also been on a few dinghy rides (including a breakfast picnic to celebrate our anniversary on March 6th!). There are a lot of really pretty areas to explore here on the Indian River, as long as you have a shallow draft (like the dinghy!). We’ve seen our share of manatees, dolphins (including mamas teaching their babies to fish), pink flamingos, turtles, rays, juvenile sharks, pelicans and so many nesting ospreys. The wildlife here is amazing and abundant (although we do not go exploring loud splashes near the mangrove lines on wild islands – we still have a healthy respect/fear of bothering alligators).

Out for a day cruise on the Atlantic, off Ft Pierce
Returning home to our Vero Beach marina at sunset
On our way out of marina for a short cruise north on the ICW
Early morning ride to a quiet anchorage for breakfast
Baby dolphin with mom
Alligator basking in the sun, at Turkey Creek Sanctuary near Palm Bay, FL
Nap time after enjoying lunch while anchoring off the ICW just north of marina

After figuring out that our cruising season was not going as planned this year, we decided to buy a car, as we need one for necessary shopping runs and also to be able to explore more of Florida. We are now once again proud (?) owners of a car – a Mini Cooper, which is a lot of fun to use to run around the area. Most recently, we drove over to the Gulf side of Florida, visiting Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Although the traffic on the islands can be insane (we quickly learned the value of getting to the beach no later than 9:00 if we wanted a parking space), the beaches are beautiful, the water refreshing and gentle, and the sun toasty warm. We had hours on the beach, swimming in the water, and just relaxing. We had a couple of wonderful evenings enjoying local seafood and beverages. It was great to be able to sit by the water and watch the sunset, with local flavor around us (OK, the Karaoke bar was a bit much, but still…). Best of all, we definitely used sunscreen judiciously, and no one ended up sunburned.

Beach on Captiva Island, on the Florida Gulf Coast
Lighthouse Point beach on Sanibel Island

The days are already starting to turn very warm and the humidity is rapidly rising. It’s funny that Spring hasn’t even started yet, but February and March are definitely two of the most beautiful months in Florida. Staying here through the summer will be a new “experience”, and we are very thankful for aircon on the boat. Still, living on our wonderful floating home, in a very secure “hurricane hole” marina is not a bad way to spend our time. As our cross stitched frame hanging in the galley reminds us, Home is Where the Anchor Drops. Or in our case for now, where our lines are tied. The adventure continues.

The Trek South to Vero Beach, FL

We left the Albemarle Plantation marina on November 3rd, Election Day. We were a couple of the very few who were so lucky to be out of touch of the media frenzy of the day, having neither reliable cell coverage nor internet access. It was hard at first for Kathleen to adjust, but it was such a blessing.

We cruised out the narrow channel from the Albemarle Plantation, navigating some stiff winds getting out of the slip, and then enjoying our cruise across the Sound and returning to the Alligator River and through its swing bridge to anchor for the night. The anchorage at the south end of the Alligator River was so blissfully quiet and after an easy dinner, and breath-taking sunset, we went to the upper deck to marvel at the night sky, uninhibited by ambient light, EXCEPT for the blazing (nearly) full moon. Sitting there in awe of the vastness above us, we tried to take it all in.

Alligator River Swing Bridge opening up for us
Relaxing in the pilothouse
Another stunning sunset at anchorage on the Alligator River, NC

Wednesday dawned with clear skies and calm waters – perfect, in our minds! It was also our daughter Katie’s birthday, so we were hoping to reclaim a couple of bars for cell coverage during the day so we could talk with her. The Alligator-Pungo Canal is lush with flora and fauna, and is also NARROW. There was light traffic (thankfully) and we saw several deer gamboling along the shore as we passed by – we even saw two swim across the canal in front of us! Kathleen originally thought they were just some floating wood, as only their heads and small antlers were visible – but Neil caught their movement and we both got a wonderful surprise watching them cross. The other deer on the banks seemed to be playing tag with each other, seemingly oblivious that we were slowly cruising by.

Beautiful day for a cruise on the Alligator River, NC
Light traffic on the Alligator-Pungo canal
Passing a barge and tug on the Alligator-Pungo canal. Best to find a wide spot on the canal and wait for the barge to pass by.

We anchored on the Pungo River near the same place we had dropped anchor during our journey north, just off of the ICW. It was another calm, peaceful evening, and we did get cell service, so we were able to talk with family and sing Happy Birthday to our newly-minted 24 year old.

Thursday morning we departed just before 8am under brisk, partly cloudy skies (which provided a unique and powerful sunrise). As we continued down the ICW, we passed iconic places (like the dock where professional fishing trawlers dock, with a structure advertising “Fuel and Seafood”) It looked like a fun place to explore, but we had a long way to go that day, so we decided not to stop.

Sunrise as we got underway on the Pungo River, NC
Mayo Seafood – sells fresh caught seafood. Just pull up to the dock and place your order.

Anchoring again in Broad Creek, NC was like coming home. It is still one of our favorite places to anchor, and this time it was even quieter. We nestled in just off the main channel and tucked in for the evening, nicely protected from the worst effects of winds blowing that evening.

We were up and going early on the 6th, wanting to travel our 30 miles with a higher tide. Kathleen was VERY excited to see dolphins again surfing our bow wave! We were even hailed by other boats that saw them swimming – they seemed to lift everyone’s spirits.

Early morning departure from Broad Creek, NC
Dolphin swimming in our bow wave
Houses crowding the banks of Adams Creek, NC

Navigating the waterway to the Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort was tricky, including negotiating a passing barge and tug through the narrow waterway approaching the bridge before the entry to the marina, confusing directional buoys that required careful review and observation to be sure we stayed on the right path and in deep enough water. Finally, actually turning into the marina entrance was befuddling, as none of our maps nor our marina directions completely matched what we were supposed to be doing. We avoided grounding, and carefully wound our way in, having to blow our horn twice at two men in peddle kayaks blissfully ignoring our 50 ft trawler approaching them with no room for us to move. They did finally get the hint and scooched out of the way enough, but it did make us both wonder about their thoughts as we approached.

We went directly to the fuel dock to pump out our holding tank, and while there were given three different slip assignments (not at the same time, just the dock master and crew trying to figure out where to put us – and yes, we had a reservation with info about our boat etc) – with so many people journeying down the ICW, planning for incoming reservations and helping departing boats would be a master’s class in Jenga/Tetris. We did finally get secured at a great slip, with winds blowing and no bumping on our way in. It was nice to be back at this marina again, and we took advantage of a marina loaner car to make a grocery run to stock up on supplies. We were beginning to feel that having a car for grocery shopping was a luxury – something we had never considered when we lived on land and had 3 cars.

Granuaile docked at Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort, NC

Before we cast off the next morning, we encountered a beautiful white egret (or possibly crane – we’re not really sure) picking her way among the mud flats at low tide. These birds are graceful and delicate, despite their height. It is always soothing to just watch them as they make there way through muddy shores with quiet confidence and silent moves.

The weather was not cooperating for an offshore run down to Southport, NC where we had scheduled a visit to the Zimmerman Yard at Holden Beach to address a few issues on our fix-it list. Plus Neil was concerned about a seawater leak in the wing engine’s packing gland that developed during yesterday’s cruise. His efforts to stem the flow of water had failed so we cruised south on the ICW, on routes that we had not experienced on the way north in June. It was a glorious sunny day, and we enjoyed the views, if not the continued challenges of navigating shoaling and boats at various speeds and sizes. We also saw evidence of the hurricane from this past summer, with partially submerged craft and damaged docks regularly interspersed along our journey. The scenery continued to take our breath away, with miles of wilderness occasionally broken up by homes or small marinas.

We turned off the ICW to anchor at Mile Hammock Bay anchorage near Camp LeJeune, NC. There were already several boats anchored in the bay, but our information indicated that it could hold a lot of boats. We spent the next 1.5 hours trying to anchor in a good holding while maintaining safe swing distance from other boats. EIGHT attempts. Good times. On our eighth drop, we did finally hold, and just hoped that the weather predictions for wind strength and direction were correct. It’s not the most peaceful or confident way to anchor, but we were out of sunlight and places to go. We sat out in the cockpit to enjoy the sunset. A couple came by in their dinghy to offer some leftover Halloween candy – and although a lovely gesture, we declined. We guessed they didn’t get many trick-or-treaters…

Busy day on the ICW, south of Morehead City, NC
Cruising past the many beautiful homes along the ICW
Sunken fishing boat on ICW just south of Bogue Sound, NC
At anchorage in Mile Hammock Bay, Camp Lejeune NC

Our departure the next morning, Nov 8th, was timed for high tide so we had lots of water under the keel when negotiating the many shoal areas on the ICW. We knew it wasn’t advisable to travel on the ICW on weekends, but we really had no choice, so once more into the void on this Sunday morning. We were cruising to Wrightsville Beach, NC.

A busy weekend day on the ICW

We anchored at Wrightsville Beach this time in a quieter area, with much less traffic. Wrightsville is a busy, fun place and we enjoyed another relaxing time in the cockpit, watching the sunset and various sailors learning to maneuver around a crowded anchorage.

Anchored in Banks Channel, Wrightsville Beach NC

We raised anchor on the 9th and began cruising just before 9am, again heading out onto the ICW, to journey to Zimmerman Marine at Holden Beach. We had traveled these waters when we came up in June, and this time they seemed less treacherous – amazing what five months of active cruising can do for one’s self-confidence. We saw our dolphins again, and kept watch for shoaling until we reached the Cape Fear River and its deep channel.

Passing a towboat with boat under tow, just as we exit Snow’s Cut Channel a nerve wracking heavily shoaled area of the ICW. A yacht fisherman behind us was briefly aground after speeding through a shoaled bend in the channel, but worked himself off and sped past us.
Dredging on the Cape Fear River

As we turned off of the Cape Fear River and back onto the ICW at Southport, NC, the sun broke through. It was great to be back here again, but it was sad to see the destruction from when Isaias had come ashore here in August. It was a full hurricane at the time, and unleashed its fury on exposed marinas, boats and docks.

At Zimmerman Marine in Holden Beach, the winds and the current were very stiff, pushing us off the dock as we came in for a stern tie. We had help with the lines and got secured quickly. This marina is a working yard, and as we quickly surmised, not really near any town – which in these days of Covid is actually a really good thing.

At slip at Zimmerman Marine yard in Holden Beach, NC
Sunrise in Holden Beach

Over the next couple days, we had work done on the boat:

  • Rebed a boat deck railing’s stanchions
  • Fixed the wing engine stuffing box seawater leak,
  • Adjusted the wing engine throttle control and cable to eliminate a sticking throttle issue
  • Serviced the 12V alternator on the main engine to address the intermittent operation issue, we hope
  • And scoped the work required to install a Siren Marine boat monitoring system. Will allow us to monitor key systems via cellphone when we are away from the boat: boat location, shore power status, battery banks, bilge high water alarm, bilge pump operation, lazarette hatch door. The plan was to cruise down to Zimmerman’s Charleston yard for the installation. A visit to Charleston was on our wish list anyway.

We did attempt a haul out which would have allowed us to inspect/replace hull zincs that the previous diver was unable to replace and fully service the wing engine stuffing box, but once we had maneuvered into the slings, we determined that the marina’s lift straps were too short for our boat – so we got even more experience navigating out of, into, and out of slips again in high current and wind. We tested our thrusters to their limits with these moves, and were very grateful that we have them.
We were happy to find two fish markets on the docks a short walk away. We indulged in sea scallops, clams, and hogfish snapper (which is neither a hog nor a snapper, but is amazingly great tasting fish).

Fresh seafood next door to Zimmerman’s. Fishing boats at the docks.
Enjoying a morning coffee while docked at Zimmermans

With only a slight delay due to rain (left over from hurricane Eta hitting the gulf), we were able to leave on the 15th, again unable to go “on the outside” (aka on the ocean) due to uncertain weather, high winds, and waves due to that latest hurricane. So we once again sallied forth into the ICW, charting a three-day voyage to Charleston, SC, after an inspiring sunrise. The cruise was more of the same – beautiful wilderness, lots of shoaling, interesting and pretty homes along the way. We did see something for the first time – apparently land based casinos are not legal in South Carolina but are allowed on ships – we cruised past the only two ship casinos in SC.

We anchored in Bull Creek anchorage, where Kathleen “learned” how to try to anchor in a fast current and narrow channel. It took a few times, but anchor was set, and we relaxed to take in the incredible beauty of the South Carolina countryside. This was a peaceful little creek, another rare gem. The trees grew right down to the water, and so dense that you can’t see anything through them. We again sat outside after sunset to appreciate our private concert of evening stars. We could see the Milky Way, and really had a hard time picking out constellations because of the myriad of twinkling lights. We wish there was some way to capture these moments, but they do take our breaths away.

Up at dawn to prepare for an early departure from Zimmerman Marine
Kathleen taking us through drawbridge as we cruised down the ICW through Myrtle Beach,
The Big M ship casino
We saw few other boats on this section of the ICW south of Myrtle Beach as we approached our next stop, anchorage in Bull Creek
Captain kicking back at anchorage in Bull Creek, SC
All alone in anchorage on Bull Creek. Beautiful and peaceful

We were up before sunrise the next morning, and while enjoying tea and coffee, we heard so many animal cries and sounds – when we thought we had heard an infant crying, Kathleen remembered hearing a similar sound in our backyard in Colorado and that it was most likely a fox, not an abandoned child.

Another peaceful, calm and beautiful morning for our continued journey let our Monday departure begin on an upbeat! It was a sunny, cool day, with again, lots of shoaling and obscure tracks to avoid grounding – with swirls and crosscurrents from inlets and side rivers adding to the fun. We have learned a lot about successfully steering this big girl through the ICW. Around noon, Neil surmised that we should anchor sooner than planned, as the tide was approaching a low point and we had some shallower waters to navigate. We pulled off the ICW onto a creek that led to the ocean, Five Fathom Creek (which was nowhere near five fathoms, but was deep enough for us). Kathleen again worked to get the boat oriented properly for an anchor drop in swift-ish current and a narrow creek – with much better success this time (she did cheat using the thrusters, with absolutely no apologies).

This was the first time we had anchored in this type of environ – salt marshes, close to the ocean, with not much traffic other than watching larger fishing boats coming home at sunset and setting out before sunrise the next morning. Anchoring here would allow us to leave the following morning during high tide.

Dredging operation on the ICW at Santee River at a notorious shoaling area. They were blocking 80% of the channel. Had to call them on VHF to confirm where we should pass.
View of anchorage at Five Fathom Creek, SC. Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean is ~3 miles downriver from here.
Trawler returning home at dusk. From our anchorage we viewed the local fleet of commercial trawlers heading out to sea at dawn and returning as the sun set

We left Five Fathom around 9:00 in the morning on the 17th. This turned out to be an EXCELLENT idea, as between high tide and rain runoff from recent storms gave us a lot of water under our keel. There were still several areas requiring very close attention (due to shoaling – never-ending around here apparently). We had the current behind us, so we were making good time – this was a plus and minus. Plus in that we had lots of water over charted shallow areas, which made navigation much easier. Minus because we needed to arrive at Charleston Harbor Marina at slack tide, which was not until late afternoon.

We turned off the ICW onto Charleston Harbor, and we were back in a very busy international harbor with dredgers, freighters, tugs and barges, large and small boats, motor and sail. The entrance is stunning, with a beautiful bridge spanning the water. We had time to kill (like 2.5 hours), so we slowed even further down and just cruised around the area, went under the bridge, and got very close to a couple freighters loading containers. They are even more impressive up close, and we are left wondering exactly how they do move through the water – looking at the same time like lumbering buildings and fragile boats laden with stacked piles of cargo containers on the deck (with the hold completely filled down below).

After cruising around the bay and confirming with the marina that we were indeed at slack tide, Neil skillfully steered our girl through a few tricky turns and then into our slip.  Kathleen called out directional instructions and handed lines to dock help, and we were secured with no mishaps.

Passing tug and barge in ICW near Awendaw, SC
Entering section of ICW that passes through the Isle of Palms, just east of Charleston
Cruising under the Arthur Ravenel Bridge that spans the Cooper River in Charleston, SC
Container ships at port on the Wando River, Charleston SC

This marina was beautiful, and the help was wonderful. There were many egrets, cranes, and kingfishers here. It is also a resort, so there are amenities that we can use if we choose. On our first night here, we went to the Bridge Bar – an outdoor bar with a stunning sunset view, where we toasted our arrival at a safe distance from others with a bartender mixing excellent beverages. It was a very nice first night.

Charleston Harbor Marina

On Tuesday, the 18th, Neil met with the Zimmerman Marine team to start installation of the Siren Marine monitoring system. This system will allow us to monitor several of the boat systems remotely (if we ever get to travel away from the boat again, that is.) We also planned to have the boat hauled to have the wing engine stuffing box re-packed, hull zincs replaced and to have some work done on a seacock located in the lazarette.

Granuaile needed a serious bath – desperately – however it was a bit chilly as yet with wind, so we kept putting it off. In the meantime, Kathleen got caught up with blog drafts, and Neil worked on one of our spotlights mounted on the stack. There were worse ways to pass the time in a lovely place. The next day we got Granuaile scrubbed and polished, and waxed the superstructure (not a favorite job, but she looked very pretty when done). We took a few walks to the grocery store that wasn’t very far away, enjoying the sites around the marina, including a memorial park, the Cold War Submarine Memorial.

Granuaile in slip at Charleston Harbor Marina
USS Yorktown CVS-10 museum at berth next to Charleston Harbor Marina
A beautiful Charleston sunrise

One of our dear friends lives in Charleston, and works for the historical society. Unfortunately, with Covid we all decided it was a better idea to miss seeing each other (and having an amazing tour guide) this trip just to keep everyone safe. Hopefully, we will be back again next year and we will be able to get together.

We did take an Uber to Charleston from the marina and spent a great day walking around the old city, marvelling at the homes south of Broad St (true mansions with impeccably sculptured yards), the historical buildings (including old churches from the 1600’s with cemeteries to explore) and an original Slave Market that has been turned into a museum honoring the African Americans that were brought here in bondage and the history of their lives here.

After walking up King Street with its high end shops (rather like a Rodeo Drive of the South), we had a nice dinner and headed back to our boat.

Washington Square in downtown Charleston
From downtown Charleston, looking out across the Cooper River towards our marina
Walking tour of downtown Charleston’s historic buildings

The boatyard was not able to haul Granuaile for the needed work as Zimmerman Marine announced at the last minute that they had to isolate their crews due to possible contact with someone with Covid. As none of the work was really in need of immediate attention, we checked the weather and saw that we’d have a good window for going out on the Atlantic, leaving Thanksgiving day with arrival in Ft. Pierce FL on Saturday afternoon. We spent our remaining time securing the boat and making sure we were prepared for a run on the “outside”. We celebrated Thanksgiving a day early, complete with turkey (breast), sweet potato souffle, asparagus, cranberries, gravy, stuffing, and key lime pie. Who says you have to scrimp while living on a boat?

Thanksgiving dinner

We departed the marina around noon, knowing that the first part of our journey might be a bit rough. The weather was sunny and warm with light winds. Once we got out of the harbor and into the ocean, we had 3-4 foot seas with about a six second period – this means it was a bit rocky, but nowhere near as bad as our cruise north in June. With Scopolamine patches secured to our necks behind our ears, we were set to brave the seas.

Departing Charleston Harbor Marina, heading south down the Cooper River to the Atlantic

The sun set rather early, but was spectacular with light clouds giving a dramatic effect. Kathleen got some pictures of the sun appearing to set into the sea. The first night was uneventful (which was great) and the seas calmed down to gentle rolls as opposed to stiffer waves. We had a full moon which lit up the sky and the ocean beautifully (and Kathleen got a picture of that too). The sunrise was breathtaking – watching the sky slowly lighten, almost imperceptibly, until the dramatic colorful staining of the eastern sky – it’s hard to find the words to describe this event.

Beginning our two day passage down to Florida
Sun setting as we prepare for night cruising
Night on the ocean lit up by a full moon

Friday was a gorgeous day, again with little happening – occasionally ships would appear on radar, but we rarely saw any other boats. It was peaceful and serene and lovely. And the water was nearly calm. The night shift brought us down past St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral. Kathleen was a little spooked by the 10+ freighters at anchor waiting to enter the shipping lane and port as we had to cruise between the ships and the port – Kathleen said a few prayers that none of the ships decided to start moving. Only one ship was actually moving, and we were never near each other.

Neil had a fun experience during his shift – he was hailed by another sailboat at ~1am asking if we were turning into the Canaveral channel, as he was going there. Neil told him we were headed further down the coast. The sailboat captain then pointed out a tug and barge that was brightly lit – and carrying the SpaceX booster that was returning after a recent launch. Kathleen was deeply asleep at this time, but she believes Neil’s recounting…

Entering a fog bank off Jacksonville FL
Dawn on the 28th

We had favorable currents cruising down the Florida coast, and arrived at Ft. Pierce with time to kill as we wanted to enter the inlet at slack tide (or as near to that as possible). We have learned (the hard way) that waiting for slack tide is very preferable to just running an inlet when there is a strong ebb current – ocean and river water colliding in a narrow inlet with rock breakwater walls on either side makes for an “exciting” transit. After making a very lazy figure eight – and dodging various boats also trying to enter at slack tide – we followed a parade of boats (including one sailboat being towed) into the Ft. Pierce inlet. We had already decided to anchor at the Harbor Isle anchorage for two nights to relax (and we were not expected by our Vero Beach marina until the 30th!). As we were turning into the anchorage, we were hailed on the VHF by our friends Clark and Michelle on the Nordhavn 55 Roam. We had last seen them in Annapolis earlier in the summer, and they were docked at the Ft. Pierce City Marina near us. They invited us to swing by in the dinghy once we had rested up.

Kathleen was very excited to see dolphins around us again, fishing and playing where we were anchored. After securing the boat for the anchorage, we ate and pretty much collapsed early!

Harbour Isle anchorage, Ft Pierce FL
Enjoying a beautiful Florida sunset at anchorage

The next day we lowered the dinghy and went exploring, ending up over by Clark and Michelle, and spent an hour or so catching up with them. As Clark was laboring washing the boat, he didn’t seem to mind the interruption. We also saw Gale from Nordhavn 57 WorkKnot, whom we had last seen when we were traveling north, passing him at the Atlantic Yacht Basin marina on our way to Norfolk. We joked with him that we had just missed him several times on our journey north and south, and it was good to catch up.

Back on our boat, we rested up, had dinner, and planned to leave the next morning for the last leg of our nearly six month journey.

Monday Nov 30th dawned sunny, but we knew the weather was forecasted to change, so we wanted to get on our way. Departure was a lot faster than we had anticipated (the anchor was not caked with gunky mud…) and so the extra time we had built in to get to the Ft. Pierce North Bridge was a bit too much time. Neil spent nearly 30 minutes circling in a turning basin in increasingly windy conditions, with the tide swirling the waters where we were. We did receive a hail while we were waiting – our friends Mark and Susan from Tropic Jones who had been docked next to us in Vero Beach when we had left in June were headed south and to the gulf shore. We were sad that we would miss them, but it was great to hear from them.

After clearing the bridge, the trip north was relatively uneventful (except for the refresher course on how narrow the ICW is in this part of Florida and that there are incredibly rude boaters everywhere). The rains started about 30 minutes before we turned into our marina. Kathleen got the lines and fenders secured, and as we turned home, a dolphin swam up to our bow and guided us back to our slip. (OK, maybe he didn’t know which slip was ours, but he did swim with us the whole way to our dock). Friends waited for us on the dock to help us tie up, and although we hadn’t been here long before we started our summer journey, it felt like we were being welcomed home.

The weather was unusually cold for the next few days, which made scrubbing the boat a “challenge”, but we got her all cleaned up and de-salted. We also got to see our local dolphins playing, as well as a rare appearance from a manatee who popped up to say hello and let us take some pictures and video before quietly slipping away.

Manatee welcoming Kathleen back to our Vero Beach FL marina

We will spend the next few months preparing for our next adventure, which we hope will be a journey to the Bahamas at the end of February for two to three months. We have no plans to travel for the holidays, so Christmas will be a new experience here on the boat. Hopefully by this time next year, 2020 and its pandemic and politics will be a distant memory, and we can be planning to see family and friends. For now, we are grateful for the friends we have here, who share this cruising lifestyle with us and make us all feel that we are part of a big family. We have no plans to go anywhere, but plan to learn how to use our drone/camera that we decided would be a great Christmas gift to ourselves this year. Bikes are in our future, and hopefully some visits to the beach. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.

Solomons, MD to the Albemarle Sound, NC

We left Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD on October 13th around 8:30 am. The weather looked gloomy with very low hanging clouds. After we got further underway, we realized we were heading into fog, which is something we had not tried our hand at just yet. Another learning experience! We had pretty good visibility, and with our running lights on and all of our navigational electronics working, we proceeded cautiously.

Heading out of Back Creek into the Patuxent River
Cruising south on the Chesapeake Bay

The fog lifted after a couple of hours, and we actually had a nice cruise down to our next anchorage. We went south on the Bay, then hung a right on the Potomac. Very quickly we made another right onto St. Mary’s river, and cruised up to the Horseshoe anchorage, winding our way for a few miles before dropping anchor in a lovely, protected and deep cove. After getting the anchor set, we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and another spectacular sunset. The water was calm, and this area, although having homes along the shore, seemed remote and quiet.

Heading up Saint Mary’s River to anchorage
Sunset at our anchorage just off Saint Mary’s City

The next morning we launched the dinghy and took a water tour of the environs before heading over to St. Mary’s College and Historic St. Marys City. St. Mary’s College has a great history in its own right, and they have a world-class collegiate sailing team. It is a public, liberal arts honor college established in 1840, originally known as St. Mary’s Female Seminar. The campus was quiet (Covid), but so very pretty to walk through. We then toured the remains of St. Mary’s City – the first colony and the first capital of Maryland. Originally established by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore of England, it was an experiment in religious tolerance (A Protestant King allowed Calvert to have a colony that would not persecute followers of other religions than the Church of England, most notably Catholics). This mandate was unprecedented at the time, as England had been wracked by religious conflict for centuries.

The town was thriving but small in the 1600’s to early 1700’s, but when the capital was moved to Annapolis, there was no more need for the town – it wasn’t a big agricultural spot and it basically existed to conduct state business.  Several years ago, a restoration/archeological dig began and it is now an 800 acre living history museum – kinda like Williamsburg, but less commercial and quieter.  There is a replica of the ship that brought the original settlers to the area in the harbor.  As there were not many people here, we had the pleasure of having basically private tours around the area and the Dove, the ship replica.  We discovered during our tour that the boat we had seen being built at the Marine Museum in St. Michaels is being constructed to replace the current Dove that we were standing on!  The new replica will more closely follow the original Dove designs and will have modern updates to protect from worm rot and other problems.  The original Dove was lost at sea during its return to England, so assumptions are being made on the actual structure, helped by archeological studies that have uncovered drawings and plans of similar boats of the time. We were both in awe of the intrepid nature of the colonists – these ships are not large and they would journey for several months, without really knowing how their journey would end, or how they might survive.  These colonists had great leaders, with contacts with the local native tribes.  So instead of making huge blunders and getting slaughtered, they did live peacefully with each other for many years.  Of course, eventually, that ended, but at least they started well.  

Touring St Mary’s College
Reconstructed State House of 1676 in Historic St. Mary’s City
View of St Mary’s River from Historic St Mary’s City

Other than Neil’s back still nagging him, it was a perfect day – beautiful, fun and full of history – something we both love. After observing an oyster nursery in the college’s marina, we returned to our boat, securing the dinghy and preparing to depart early the next morning.

Oct 15th: Our next leg signaled our return to Virginia. After leaving the Potomac and cruising south, we turned into the Piankatank River, navigating a bridge and a winding waterway to anchor at Berkley Island, a shallow but protected spot.  The winds were coming up and we were expecting a storm, so we were happy to have a well protected anchorage.  

Berkley Island is a natural spot, hosting a church summer camp, but quiet now.  We saw a lot of fishermen, and quickly realized that Saturday, October 17th was the opening day of hunting season – that or there were gun crazed folks shooting off rifles in the early morning…  Although the water was too cool now to swim in, we did enjoy milder days as we moved south.  We took a couple of days here to rest and relax and just enjoy the wilderness around us as Fall brought crisper mornings and changing leaves.

Cruising down the Potomac and into the Bay
Anchorage next to Berkley Island on the Piankatank River
Another beautiful sunset at the Berkley Island anchorage

As we got ready to raise anchor on the morning of October 18th, we were treated to the magical appearance of morning mists on the water. That coupled with literally no wind created a quiet smooth exit for us as we began our cruise down the Chesapeake Bay to Bluewater Yachting Center Marina in Hampton, VA.

Mist on water surrounding our only neighbor in anchorage
Approaching Route 3 Bridge on exiting Berkley Island anchorage on the Piankatank River
Kathleen taking us out the Piankatank River into the Bay

Although we felt a bit like we were returning to an area we “knew”, we had actually only seen Hampton, VA from land (when we toured around in July while staying at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth). It was much different coming in from the Bay. The winds were 10-15 knots but with lots of cross currents. By the time we were rounding Old Point Comfort, the wind was very “brisk” with a lot of smaller sailboats criss-crossing in front of us. We approached the Hampton River entrance to the marina and could not reach the harbormaster with our VHF radio. Kathleen called on her cellphone to get our slip assignment and directions to pump out.

We overshot the pump out station, and Neil pulled a u-turn in the middle of busy Sunset Creek in front of the marina. Once we got turned around and to the pump out dock, we got permission to dock at a slip close to where we were at that time, which was really great. We did need to tie up stern in, and with the breeze proved challenging, but we did it. Kathleen even secured a bow line onto a piling with no mishaps and no boat scrapes, so success all around.

Granuaile at her slip in Bluewater Yachting Center Marina, Hampton VA

While getting settled in – hooking up power, adjusting lines, etc, we caught up with another couple that we had known briefly back at Grand Harbor Marina in Vero, Travis and Kathy. It was great to see familiar faces and to hear about their summer. Neil got us secured with the harbor master and we relaxed for the evening.

We ventured forth the next day to replenish our groceries, rolling tote in hand. On the walk back, we gratefully accepted a ride from Travis who was passing by. Boat people are the best.

We left two days later (Oct 20) around 9:00. Once we exited the Hampton River and started south into the Elizabeth River, we were quickly shrouded by HEAVY fog – less than .25 miles visibility. Adding to the excitement, we were going to be crossing a major shipping channel. We relied on AIS, radar and VHF to help us across, along with running lights, and a couple of trips to the Portuguese bridge by Kathleen to scan the water with binoculars and listen while Neil steered us across.

As we were almost across, Kathleen heard either a helicopter or a freighter – thankfully, it was a helicopter and we were nearing the huge Naval Station Norfolk shipyard. Just as we approached, the fog started lifting, so we were treated to cruising by FIVE aircraft carriers and many other Navy ships. A tug/barge had slipped in behind us, so we were observant of where that captain was going. To add to the “fun”, a freighter was coming towards us. Thankfully, the waterway there is necessarily deep and wide. The freighter seemed close to us, but he probably hardly noticed us as he confidently piloted his vessel to a pier for lading. Once past this area, we cruised by Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, where we had spent July. Moving beyond it, we turned onto the Elizabeth River, and the myriad of bridges that we needed to pass through. There were MANY more cruisers and sailors on the ICW this time than when we had come up in June. It was odd to be part of this annual migration to warmer climes, but mostly we spent our time adjusting to the various speeds and sizes of vessels on the water, while navigating the narrow and curvy waterway.

Exiting the fog with view of aircraft carrier row
Freighter passing by us on the Elizabeth River
Ahead, the first of many bridges to pass through on our way south on the Elizabeth River

As we neared the Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina, we once again traveled through a lock, the Great Bridge Lock. We were stopped and waiting for the on-coming traffic to exit the lock first – that on-coming traffic was another tug and barge, with the captain very skillfully steering both through a narrow passage as boaters did their best to pull as far off to the banks as possible without grounding their vessels. To give some perspective, imagine a tractor trailer driving down the center of a two lane rural road with various size vehicles on either side.

Northbound tug and barge exiting the Great Bridge Lock with line of boats including us waiting to enter
Entering the Great Bridge Lock

Once through the lock, we needed to pass under a bascule (draw) bridge. Suddenly the boats in front of us slowed way down, leaving us in the precarious position of directly under the (open) bridge – which needed to close. Neil carefully edged to the left of the traffic jam, about 8 boats long. Unfortunately, coming the other way was ANOTHER tug and barge. Luckily there was enough room for the barge to pass us without any problems.

AYB marina is right on the ICW, with facing docks for transients like us. Kathleen was again having problems hailing the marina on our VHF radios, so we once again used the cell phone. We were given a facing dock slip assignment, but there were no dock hands available. So teamwork again prevailed as Neil edged the boat into our spot and Kathleen got on the dock and secured lines. About 10 minutes after we were docked, and feeling pretty good for having done it “solo”, the dock hands arrived and moved us closer to the boat in front of us, they really pack boats in on this dock especially at this time of year as so many people are moving south.

Kathleen was bummed that we were back in hot and humid weather – she had really been enjoying those cooler days and not sweating.

Tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina in Chesapeake, VA
Night falls at Atlantic Yacht Basin marina

The next morning (Oct 21) we cast off from the dock at 9:00, trying to get ahead of the masses coming down the ICW behind us. Our next destination was the Coinjock Marina where we had docked on our journey north five months ago. There was traffic, bridges and barges, as well as winding waterways and still problems with our VHF radios. Kathleen added to the “fun” when she had a complete brain-fart and lapsed into thinking a day marker that was supposed to be on port should actually be on our starboard. Luckily Neil (and Kathleen) noticed this lapse before grounding our girl, and we were able to rapidly stop and go into reverse while getting back INTO the ICW. Did we mention that this happened as a larger cruiser was asking to pass us? Good times. Count on Kathleen to add excitement to a day’s cruising…. Neil had “fun” trying to navigate ANOTHER tug/barge coming towards us in Coinjock Bay. We had ONE FOOT of water under our keel while passing – the tug captain relayed he had the same. We kinda think it might be time to dredge this section of the ICW…

Kathleen keeping the green day marker to PORT
Classic yacht cruising past us while docked at Coinjock Marina

We noticed that the 12V alternator on the main engine was not charging our house battery bank. This meant the battery bank state of charge was dropping as the hours passed by during our cruise. When we got to Coinjock, our VHF radios again were on the fritz, so we used our handheld radios to communicate with the marina. Again, Neil had to pull a u-turn to get on the facing dock, and we had several professional hands helping us get tied up. Once secured, Kathleen did some research on the VHF radio problem, and learned that being able to hear others (which we were) but unable to send clear messages (which was also us) was usually caused by power problems – like a DC voltage drop due to an alternator not charging our house batteries while we were underway. We confirmed this by checking the radio with a neighbor once we had shore power on – and the radio worked fine.

The next morning (Oct 22) we cast off again, knowing that in the worst case scenario, we could run our generator to power the electronics and charge the batteries – and we had cell phones and handheld radios as back ups. The alternator was again functioning correctly and the VHF radios were working like a charm. Should be fun troubleshooting this intermittent alternator issue!
There was fog when we first departed, but it lifted very quickly. Kathleen marveled at the beauty of the spiderwebs built overnight on the dock, heavy with dew and glistening in the morning light. Luckily, she did not spy any spiders….

Passing under bridge just south of Coinjock Marina

We followed south many of the same boats we had been with for the last two days, both sailboats and powerboats. Neil drove us down the ICW, dealing with hairpin turns with local fishermen in dinghies close to day markers and again, boats of various speeds and abilities on very narrow water. Once we got onto the Albemarle Sound, we turned to the west, leaving the migration hoards to continue their journey south.

Cruising west on the wide open Albemarle Sound, NC
Kathleen taking us to Albemarle Plantation Marina, dodging crab pot buoys along the way

The sound is beautiful – very large and shallow. We had gorgeous weather, with no wind and cool temperatures. Our only hassle was a lot of crab pot buoys, but even these were relatively easy to negotiate, as they were strung with a lot of room in between them and in the calm water were easy-ish to see. We both also felt that we were feeling a little more comfortable due to our cruising experience over the past year. Neil negotiated us into the Yeopim River, a VERY shallow waterway that has a VERY narrow channel leading to the marina. Neil had called ahead to the dockmaster to confirm channel depth and was comforted by the fact another Nordhavn, a 62 with deeper draft than ours, had made it through. Adding to the fun were several crab pot buoys lining (and some actually in) the channel. Neil steered us through and we had our slip assignment, so we proceeded carefully.

Our slip does fit our boat, with about one foot on either side. We docked with help from J.E. the harbor master and really great guy, plus another helper from a nearby boat. Once we got secured, including a stern line tied to a piling behind us, we went exploring the Albermarle Plantation development where we were staying. Interestingly, there is not now, nor was there ever a plantation here; the developer just liked the images of a large agricultural area that the word plantation evoked for him. There’s no agriculture here, but it is very pretty, with lots of trees draped with Spanish moss. We took our rented golf cart for a spin, and were amazed at the friendliness of the residents and the beautiful grounds. We stopped at the Clubhouse and had a cocktail on the back patio, looking out over the Sound and a perfect setting sun.

We were going to sit in the cockpit that evening to watch the stars. Kathleen was seated and all set to find Polaris, when Neil came out and asked if she knew what the buzzing sound was. Kathleen had assumed it was a nearby boat’s outdoor lanterns. Neil looked around the corner back up to the dock and said, “Get inside – quickly!” It was hoards of flying bugs. We had heard about the bug swarms in South Carolina and were vigilant on our journey north earlier this summer, but we had not encountered anything like this. We hunkered down inside, lights out, realizing that maybe this place wasn’t as perfect as we had first thought. As Fall had not really arrived here yet, the bugs were still around, and sticking to our boat.

Our slip at the Albemarle Plantation marina
Nordhavn 62 “Gray Matter” docked behind us. Mark and Christine are world cruisers, having cruised to the South Pacific.
View of the Albemarle Sound from our slip
Our transportation, handy for cruising around the rather large Albemarle Plantation development
Beautiful view of the Albemarle Sound from the clubhouse

The next morning dawned with heavy fog, that lifted in a short while. It turned out that the next several mornings would be socked in, but it was really cozy to experience. Even going for a walk was an adventure, with oaks and Spanish moss gradually appearing through the mist. Once the sun was out, we spent the morning and early afternoon busily scrubbing our Granuaile inside and out (the bugs washed off pretty easily, and we learned that we would probably have to wash the boat off every day when it was warm), doing laundry and cleaning up the guest room as two of our favorite people were coming to visit – Kevin and Peggy Maher! This couple is amazing fun that we have known for years from our Colorado days. We also noted that the last time we had been with them was exactly one year ago when they hosted us at the LSU – Auburn game in Baton Rouge. That weekend was the kickoff of our retirement, and we had a fantastic time both with Kevin and Peggy as well on our own down in New Orleans. They were also the first “non-family” visitors to our boat, and we were so excited to see them and to have them experience a bit of this life.

Spanish moss covered trees, path out to the marina
Typical morning fog blanketing the marina
Enjoying visit with Peggy and Kevin

The first evening we had cocktails on the dock at a very pretty picnic table. The gods had dialed in picture-perfect weather – gently breeze, warm sun, calm waters – it was like being in a commercial advertising this place. We were going to have dinner up at the Clubhouse, but belatedly found out that it had closed at 2:00, and the marina grill was also closed. Kathleen whipped up some shrimp scampi with linguine, and as Kevin and Peggy are about the easiest guests imaginable, they were good with it!

Much conversation (and wine consumption) occurred that evening. The next day we got up, had omelets for everyone, and then ventured out to the town of Edenton in Kevin and Peggy’s rental car. Edenton is another historical colonial town, largely unscathed through the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. There are many historic colonial buildings, along with a rather busy small town (Kathleen was FINALLY able to get new sneakers – her old pair had almost worn through…) The four of us had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking around the town and reading about the various homes and sites (Kathleen and Peggy also discovered a pecan tree that was handily dropping nuts as they walked by – score!).

After a couple of hours, we stopped at 309 Bistro and Spirits for a hearty lunch. Again, incredibly welcoming people and great lunch! We capped off the day with (another) grocery shopping trip (whenever there is a car available, we gladly make use of it!). Once home and unpacked, we relaxed on the boat deck in the late afternoon light. Once the sun went down, we went back inside (avoiding the bugs again) and just had a great evening talking about, well, everything. Friends like these are treasures, and we are so grateful that they made the journey to see us.

Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton, NC. Moved to Edenton after it was decommissioned in 1941.
Walking tour of historic homes in Edenton
Enjoying a refreshment and the evening view

Sadly Sunday morning they headed back to Norfolk to catch their plane home. Peggy did share that this was her first time ever sleeping on a boat (Kathleen was amazed at this as both she and Kevin are global travelers), and that she really enjoyed it! We think we may have gotten them a step closer to realizing their retirement dreams – not living on a boat, but great adventures.

We had originally planned to leave this marina on Sunday. However, a hurricane was building in the Gulf, planning to slam New Orleans, which meant rougher weather here later in the week. Additionally, before that happened, we had really rough weather predictions for Thursday and Friday. We had plans to cruise east in the Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks and stay at a marina in Manteo, NC and check out a couple anchorages but with the risk of really bad weather on the Sound we decided to stay here. Sunday was Neil’s birthday, so we celebrated by dining at the Dockside Cafe, the restaurant at the marina. We had a nice dinner and evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent going for walks and enjoying the nice calm before the storm.

The storm came crashing in around 11:00 am and was very rough, we positioned fenders to protect the port side from a piling, and had help from other samaritans (J.E. leading the way) to tie the boat up closer to the starboard dock (no small feat with 35-40 tons of boat being blown the opposite direction). Boat people are the best – always willing to help others out, and it was also a bonus that it was not cold or raining – just super high winds (35-40 knots at one point).

Sunrise on the Albemarle Sound. Calm before the storm.
Wind was from the south so waves built up across the sound and came crashing directly into the marina without break. Unfortunately the catamaran next to us sustained some damage from repeatedly bouncing into the dock.

After the storm blew through, we were talking with another Nordhavn owner docked here (Mark and Christine, owners of Gray Matter), who were actually directly behind us in the marina. Mark and Kathleen had the same thought – it was time for some wine, even if it wasn’t yet 5:00. They invited us over to their boat (62 foot Nordhavn, a true world cruiser) for a tour and a visit. We really love meeting new people, especially Nordhavn owners, as it is fun to learn people’s back stories and lives that lead them to this lifestyle. And we always seem to make really good friends.

Friday was an easier day. As Mark had graciously taken us to the grocery store on Wednesday, we were set provision-wise. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup and guacamole, while Neil updated Wheelhouse maintenance checklist items. The marina has an annual tradition of lighting boats on the evening of October 30th, and people walk around visiting. The winds had been blowing on Friday, but by 4:00 it was fine and we used our Christmas lights to festively decorate our stern and saloon windows. Once dark, we walked over to a neighboring dock and visited with other boaters. Apparently the event had actually been called off due to winds (something we didn’t know) but was ok as at least ten other boats had also decorated their boats. We didn’t stay out long, but it was fun to get a bit into the Halloween spirit.

Granuaile decorated for the marina’s Halloween celebration

Halloween day was beautiful. We went for a long walk around the development and then Kathleen got to work out while Neil mapped out our next course. Mark and Christine came by for a glass of wine and some good conversation, then we settled in for our Halloween tradition of watching the classic movie, Young Frankenstein. Neil may have been a tad less enthusiastic than Kathleen (really, when you can pretty much recite the lines from the ENTIRE movie, it does take away from the tradition aspect). But it was fun, and connected us to our previous life, that had involved children, costumes, carved pumpkins, roasted seeds, candy, doorbells, decorations and this movie.

Sunday (Nov 1st) dawned deceptively nice, with just the beginnings of wind. We took advantage of the relatively calm weather to move the boat over to the fuel dock for a holding tank pump out. It was also good practice for everything from getting out of a tight slip (Kathleen using an extension pole to get the starboard stern line off the piling), to tying up to a facing dock in wind for the pump out, to finally getting back into the dock, this time with both port and starboard stern lines affixed to pilings, and using the time to really secure the boat for another anticipated blow, this time from the north.

After taking showers, the wind picked up, with the rain shortly following. Although rocky, our plans for securing the boat did their job. Kathleen worked on this blog and sewing our rather tattered US flag. Neil worked on mail and other more-mundane boat life items as we kept a sharp eye (and ear) out for any wind related mishaps.

Storm blowing in from the north