2000 Bahamas Cruise

Ed and I departed Baltimore on Thursday, May 25, and sailed overnight from Baltimore to Norfolk. We returned via rented car for a day; Graham (my son) and I drove back to Virginia Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Scott, his two kids Ethan and Devin, brother Jess, and friends Paul and Diane sailed Saturday, arriving in Norfolk Sunday morning. They called us via cell phone when still an hour from the start of the Intracoastal Waterway. Graham and I cast off and met them at ICW marker 0.

 The ICW is a 1500 mile inside passage used by barges, tugs, and pleasure cruisers wishing to avoid the rigors of the ocean. It starts in Norfolk and ends, more or less, at Key West. Familiarly called "The Ditch", it's much less canal than a dredged connection of shallow sounds, bays, rivers, and the occasional man-made cut.

 East Coast sailors have an easy ride to points north – the summer's winds typically blow from the SW, and the Gulf Stream, 5 to 100 miles offshore, gives a free couple of knots. But heading south is tough. Offshore, one either has to sail across the Stream, or thread a dangerous and tedious path between it and the shore. Scott and I decided to head down the ICW to Charleston to get a better angle on the wind and give us a clear shot across the Stream. Unhappily, the cost of using the Ditch is incessant motoring as it's often narrow and shallow.

10 miles from Norfolk we tied up in the Great Bridge lock where the water rose a dramatic foot. Jess and Ethan transferred to Voyager marginally reducing the crowded conditions on Scott's Willow.

Passing through the Great Bridge Bridge we motored south, passing quite a few eagles and their young. Overcast and cool conditions prevailed, sometimes interrupted by rain. Graham and Ethan played in the dingy, zooming over wakes, their laughter reaching across the water.

Graham pacing us in the dingy down the ICW.

Monday was Graham's 13th birthday, his entry into the teenage years. Unhappily, the wind had built to gale force from the NW. Worse, we entered the Albermarle Sound, a famously nasty 18 mile crossing. Seas built, both boats, under little canvas, were more or less out of control as we surfed south. Poor Graham started his birthday by getting seasick. Most of the day conditions were awful, though at least the kids slept peacefully through the worst of it.

That evening at anchor we had a celebration for him, with presents and a cake. "It's not the worst birthday I've had", he reassured me, perhaps one of the more bittersweet things a Dad can hear.

40+ knot winds harassed us again the following day as we went down the other two bad sections of the ICW, the Bay River and the Neuse River. By dinnertime we arrived in Moorehead City, 205 miles from Norfolk. Jess left for a meeting in California and Paul and Diane escorted the kids back to Maryland.

Wednesday dawned bleak but the sun soon came out and temps soared. Each alone, we motored towards Wrightsville Beach to meet Tom Pearson. Trees, brush, grasslands passed by, lush with growth and birds. Suddenly, just as we entered the Marine's Camp LeJeune, the grass disappeared, the trees were burned and devoid of leaves. I felt like we crossed a sharp dividing line into Mordor.

While waiting for the bridge in Wrightsville Beach to open Scott's engine died. I picked up his tow line; fortunately we had a current setting us away from the bridge making it easy to lurk for 15 minutes before it opened. Tom looked perplexed as we passed by the dock, headed for an anchorage 1 mile south. Leaving Willow on the hook I came back, met Tom, got some ice and diesel, and returned to continue towing Willow. Turns out the problem was minor, just air in the fuel system. Diesels are wonderfully reliable, but require absolutely clean and air-free fuel. Scott bled the system and got things going again.

We lazily motored south, passing expanses of cypress swamp, sand dunes, islands inviting exploration, ocean inlets, and marsh. 12 years have passed since I last ran this section of the ICW; in that time development has run rampant. Houses, some modest, others grand, and not a few gaudy, line the banks in great stretches. Someone made a fortune selling jet skis here. Like swarms of annoying mosquitoes they flit about at great speed and reckless abandon.

We passed many cruisers headed north for the summer months, and as yet not a single one southbound. Our timetable is driven by school schedules, not the seasons.

One night, my turn to anchor, we stopped in a nice creek with 13 feet of water. At 1:30 AM we awoke to find ourselves aground, still rafted to Willow. The tide continued to recede as the two boats leaned ever further over, till both were on their sides, tied together, rather like lovers spooning.

Friday morning I was below talking to friends Kirk and Lisa on the SSB. They're in the Bahamas now, and will meet up with us sometime in June. Suddenly I heard the engine go to panic astern. Dropping the mike in mid-sentence I jumped on deck as we hit a swing bridge. The headstay banged against the closed structure. I had visions of losing the mast. Three previous dismastings have been quite enough for my sailing career.

After backing off, getting through the bridge that quickly opened, we tied up at a nearby dock to survey the damage. The guys winched me to the top of the mast. Everything looked fine, though the headstay was looser than usual. It seems we came through with no problem, but will possibly replace the headstay in Charleston just to be safe.

It turns out that Tom thought Voyager could get under the 30 foot span. She can't.

Heading through South Carolina we pass tiny villages with just a half dozen houses, surrounded by miles of marsh. Shrimpers abound, their abandoned boats crookedly beached ashore. McClellenville, one of the bigger hamlets in SC north of Charleston, is home to 50 or more shrimpers, rafted together 7 deep. All of the villages are embedded in thousands of acres of grass just inches above the water. Time has stood still here the stately houses show age yet grace, not the gaudiness of overtly displayed Dow wealth so common along the ICW in North Carolina.

 The places here have such wonderful names: Lockwoods Folly. Drunken Jack's Ledge. Great Pee Dee River. The Waccamacaw River.

 We arrived today, Saturday, at the Ashley Marina in Charleston, 470 miles and 7 days from Norfolk, plus another 30 hours and 150 miles from Baltimore. We'll have a crew change here. Tom departs and Spence Seibert flies in to sail with Voyager. Spence lives aboard his 37 foot Hunter with Beth at the Anchorage, so is one of my neighbors. Bill Gaal  arrives to crew with Willow; Bill has sailed with us on many voyages over the decades.

Neil Petersen, my South African Irish friend who I met in the 1992 OSTAR lives here, and will be down to party and help out, as well as loaning us a car. Neil recently completed the BOC single-handed round-the-world race in his 40 footer.

Planned departure is Tuesday June 6, assuming we finish the repairs and reprovisioning required. From here the two boats sail about 300 miles east, crossing the Gulf Stream, and thence to Nassau. Total distance will be about 700 miles, taking perhaps a week. It's not really possible to sail in company, but will probably never be more than a hundred or so miles apart. We'll likely have light winds for the first few days, but hope to pick up the NE Trades on the other side of the Stream.

I'm writing now on June 9, our third day at sea. Spence and I in Voyager are trailing Scott and Bill in Willow by 50 miles.

We left despite one hospital visit. The day before leaving Scott, working on his engine, backed into the sea-swing and dumped a boiling pot of coffee all over his back, creating a mess of first and second degree burns. Happily, the nurse lives aboard a sailboat and is holed up in Charleston earning money for her next cruise. She was sympathetic, provided lots of medicines and instructions. As long as Bill could slather meds on his back there was no reason not to go.

We've had plenty of wind, generally force 4 to 6 on the beam, and have made great progress. No storms or even squalls so far. It has been rather bumpy, so stomachs on Willow and Voyager are sometimes a bit unsettled.

As we left Charleston Voyager's knot/log failed - the paddlewheel sensor fell apart. So we have no real DR ability and are relying on the GPS. I've been too lazy even to take a sextant sight.

The new weatherfax is pretty wonderful. It frees me from Herb, the weather guy in Toronto. So far we've been creeping up on a stalled front that's just about where we turn south into the Northeast Providence Channel, the path to Nassau. Voyager is just 80 miles from where we expect to make our turn into the channel; from there it's 180 miles southwest to Nassau.

Few ships so far. The first night we kept a watch of sorts, expecting lots of traffic taking advantage of the Gulf Stream. Since then we sleep at nights, though get up every hour or two for a look-see.

We talk to Willow twice a day on the single sideband. They seem to be doing well, with few problems.

Gotta run – the cinnamon rolls are ready to come out of the oven!

June 15 - We arrived in Nassau, New Providence Island, Bahamas after 5.5 days at sea on June 11. A very easy trip indeed, with no bad weather, not even a squall. We chased a cold front stalled over the Bahamas, which gave us quite unusual north to NE winds till we picked up the easterly trades. Perfect sailing, with just a single day of motoring.

Willow arrived half a day before us, anchoring in Salt Cay (the word "Cay" is pronounced "key" here) for the night. Spence and I spent the night working down the NE Providence Channel, arriving off Nassau around 0430. We hove to till daybreak due to my reluctance to brave the entrance channel in the dark. Spence stayed up all night, a real help for me, as I wanted to get some sleep before figuring out the channel and reefs.

It's hard to say much about the offshore sail as it was so easy. We baked bread and ate well. Spence brought some backpacking meals; as a lark we pulled the string on a self-heating package of spaghetti and meatballs. 15 minutes later a surprisingly palatable entrée resulted.

As dark descended on our last night at sea a tanker and container ship converged on our course. The tanker passed not far astern, but I worried about collision with the other, so called them on the VHF. The laconic deck officer assured us he would pass astern, but time didn't bear this out so I jibed in a big circle to let him get by. The radio still on we heard the tanker call the container ship in heavily Slavic-accented English.

"Container Ship, you just 7 cables away. What you course?"

"I go Cuba" came back in a vaguely Spanish lilt, Cuba pronounced "kooba".

"But what you course?" the tanker insisted.

"Cuba, Cuba, I go Cuba."

"I know you go Cuba" the tanker replied in obvious frustration, "but what you course?"

"246."

"You now 3 cables away!" shrieked the tanker, "turn port, turn port."

"OK, I turn starboard".

"Starboard! You turn Starboard! Turn port" the tanker officer yelled disbelievingly.

A long delay. Now, a clearly different voice from the container ship agreed that they would, indeed, alter course to port.

Voyager entered Nassau and tied up; Willow came alongside of us a half hour later. We of course made much of beating them to Nassau, despite the obvious fact that Willow anchored just 5 miles away some 12 hours earlier. Sometimes facts can be conveniently malleable. We cleared in and ventured ashore for a land-meal. Later we anchored both boats off Crocodiles bar and grill in the midst of a dozen other cruising boats. The holding ground is basically awful and currents strong. Each boat required an hour of work to get two (each) anchors to set. In the end we set all by hand, an easy thing to do in the very clear Bahamian waters. The harbor's 20 feet of water is crystal clear, the anchors clear from the surface, despite this being the Bahama's busiest and presumably dirtiest port.

The next morning I caught friends Kirk and Lisa on the SSB. They were on their way north from Georgetown to see us, in company with a South African boat named Free Spirit, owned and crewed by Bruno and Kate. We learned they'd be in Nassau that same day, around mid afternoon.

None of us could resist snorkeling so we took two dinghies 5 miles to a likely spot. Despite a flotilla of tourists in yellow inflatable vests swimming from a day boat, the reef was nice and great fun. We noticed a white boat, perhaps a Tayana 37, sailing by, and wondered if this could be the Mali B, Kirk and Lisa's boat. Pulling up the anchor we chased the boat down and found that indeed to be the case. Tying both dinks up astern of the still sailing Mali B we all clambered aboard and had a great reunion. I hadn't seen them since last summer. We anchored near Voyager and Willow, as did Free Spirit which was not far astern.

For the next few days the crews of the various boats partied and took care of ships' business. At dinner one night aboard Voyager I invited Lilly, who looked lonely on her 40 foot powerboat, over. Quite gregarious, rough and tumble, this 60ish lady had almost lost her boat a few weeks earlier when a stuffing box sheered. An interesting… and odd… person, though we enjoyed her visit.

Bruno and Kate were a delight. This 20-something couple spent a couple of years captaining a Venezuelan sailboat, making enough to buy Free Spirit in South Africa. Since bringing the boat to the islands they've been cruising for a couple of years. In October they'll lay her up for the winter, somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay, and fly back to Africa to get married. We learned some interesting South African expressions from them, whilst chatting over rum drinks in this land of manana. "Just Now" means sometime in the next hour or day or so. "Now Now" means soon – within the hour, or even right now. For the next few days "now now" and "just now" peppered our speech.

As always, I found the time with the crew of Mali B wonderful, though it was a bit hard to talk deeply due to the number of people. Happily Lisa and I, and then later the three of us, did have a chance to catch up on some of the more interesting and challenging issues, though it seems a giant clock loomed over us all. For we of Voyager and Willow had a plane to catch on Thursday, Free Spirit was headed to Maine the same day, and Mali B as well was Maine-bound at about the same time.

Tuesday, Spence, Kirk and I dinghied 40 minutes to a submerged wreck reputed to be prime snorkeling territory. We were not disappointed. Clouds of inch-long fish, tens of thousands, filled hatchways in the sunken ship. Yellow-striped Sergeant Major fish were so tame they'd surround you, hundreds of them nibbling on masks and hair. Exquisite Queen Angelfish a foot across swam lazily by, taking little notice of the three fish-men watching so intently.

As part of my current fishing mania I bought a Hawaiian Spear, a 5 foot long stainless spear propelled by surgical tubing. It's hand-held, as spear guns are illegal here. Kirk brought his along as well, and after an hour and a half of gawking we grabbed the spears and went hunting.

A few fish came within range, but I just couldn't bring myself to shoot! Wrestling with my conscience 15 feet underwater holding my breath, the fish won and hunting lost. Dinner too. "Killer" Kirk bagged two nice Spanish Mackerels, putting my efforts to shame. Before the summer is out, though, I intend to put fish on the table. Voyager is primed with spices and seasonings; all we need is the meat!

Mali B left a Hawaiian Spear for Graham. I know he'll be thrilled. I'm worried about the integrity of the inflatable dinghy and his little sister…

Snorkeling gear in Nassau is much cheaper than hear in the States, or at least in Columbia. Nassau Divers charged us half the going rate for snorkels; I even bought a prescription mask for $150 less than quoted by Columbia Scuba. It's odd, since most everything else is so expensive. $15 to fill the dink gas tank, for example, about the same I pay in the US of A to fill my Toyota.

Lisa left me with a history of the Bahamas, copyrighted in 1962, long before the Islands' 1973 independence from England. I'm halfway though now, and was impressed to read that it does indeed snow there. Most recently in 1798, actually. Hurricanes are a more immediate threat, I'm afraid.

Scott, Spence and I boarded a plane to Ft Lauderdale on Thursday after putting the boats to bed in a marina in Nassau. The bikini-clad women around the pool had no effect on our choice of locations. We left Ft Lauderdale with tales of northerly thunderstorms; two hours into the flight the plane circled Richmond since BWI was closed due to the storms. Fuel ran low, we landed, never to take off again. Next flight out was almost 24 hours later, and was booked. We tried renting a car, getting a train, hijacking a bus, but wound up hiring an Ethiopian named Abbis in his cab. $260 and too many hours brought us back to Baltimore.

I head back to Nassau on Thursday with the kids; Scott and family follows a few days later. We had been planning to head to east to Eleuthera, then north to the Abacos, but our friends have pretty much convinced us to head south after Eleuthera to the Exumas where snorkeling is reputedly better.

Graham, Kristy and I flew down to the Bahamas on Thursday, June 24, arriving in the late afternoon at the Nassau Club and Marina in the late afternoon. The call of the pool was a siren song too hard to resist, so we dallied here a day longer than planned, leaving this AM. After a rather unpleasant slow motor into the wind and seas we arrived at anchor at Rose Island.

We were drawn by the phenomenally clear water, but were disappointed by the lack of reefs. Exploring the entire lagoon by dingy we found lots of dead coral, a sandy bottom, and grass from place to place, but no alive reef structure. Our snorkeling furies thwarted, we were initially disappointed till we decided to explore a very shallow, very sandy, quite beautiful beach. In one to two feet of water we found a host of small fish, including some needlefish we couldn't identify despite a long postmortem with the fish books. Abandoning our fins so we wouldn't disturb the shallow sandy bottom, we hovered for a couple of hours, watching the slow procession of life pass by.

 The anchorage is rolly and a bit uncomfortable, but I dally here to help build the kids' sea legs for later, probably less easy, places. Part of the delight of youth is their  casual acceptance of so much that so many adults would find intolerable. It's nine at night as I write, totally dark, yet they're having a great time as we rock ‘n roll.

Graham and Kristy took the dink to Rose Island this afternoon as I read, and walked to the north shore where they found a great beach and snorkeling area. I'll go there tomorrow to check it out.

We stopped in at Atlantis yesterday, a required pilgrimage for Norte Americanos. I started calling this extreme example of conspicuous consumption "Alanis Morissette", after the famous angst-ridden singer. Even our South American friends (now at sea on their way to Maine) now call it thus.

Alanis Morissette is a complex of 38 restaurants, innumerable bars, an indescribable aquarium, casino, etc, etc. They even have their own seaplane ramp! The crew of the little 32 foot Voyager took our piddling 10 foot dingy into the upper-crust marina (part of the complex) to sample some of the delights. The boats hare are 100 foot-plus examples of bad taste and too much money.

Fifteen bucks bought us three ice cream treats, but we had a great time strolling through the fantastic fantasy.

The Trade Winds, a steady 15 knot more or less easterly, blow down our forward hatch, funneled by the nylon wind-scoop we've deployed. It's ineffably refreshing. I'm reminded of my first Australian trip; my contact was an old Aussie salt who took me to Freemantle, a town south of Perth on the Indian Ocean. After almost 30 years I'll never forget standing on the beach there, in night's full bloom, the Southern Cross high overhead. He told me the breeze that felt so silky was called the "Freemantle Doctor" due to its healing effects. Ever since, when bathed in Trade Winds, I've thought of the Freemantle Doctor.

Yesterday, Sunday, Graham and Kristy went off exploring by themselves. On the other side of Rose Island they found great snorkeling, where we spent the morning today. An amazing display of Parrotfish covered the reef, as well as a couple of rays and other species.

Graham, armed with a Hawaiian Sling left for him by the Mali B, fairly radiated Testosterone as he looked for a target, any target, that fulfilled the rules of engagement we had agreed on. He did manage to hit one fish, but the spear went all the way thru, and the fish managed an escape.

Kristy was quite the opposite. Like an underwater tourist she swam delighting in each new aquatic discovery, even carrying our waterproof fish ID book.

It's Wednesday June 29, and we're anchored at Allen's Cay, which is really a complex of three keys: Allen's, Southwest Allen's Cay, and Leaf Cay. Voyager is now 100 feet off a pristine white beach on Leaf Cay. As I write, at 9PM, Graham, Kristy and Ethan (who is sleeping over) are creating hemp necklaces.

We motored here from Rose Island yesterday, a rather unpleasant all-day event directly into the wind across the very shallow banks. Charts are a joke here. They showed us going across 30 miles of shallows… and gave no other information. The many thousands of square miles of the Bahamas banks are uncharted even to this day. The trick is to hit the worst areas when the sun will be behind your back (the deepest are three meters; the shallowest zero) so the coral heads show up. I navigated all day with polarized sunglasses to pick out the shallows based on the color of the water, detouring around the coral heads. All nav in these shallow waters is strictly based on water color. It's demanding but fun. I wish I could describe the beauty of these shallow, green, pristine clear waters. The bottom is always clearly visible, the water insanely clear.

Scott and I went on a mission for dinner at Rose Island, armed with the two Hawaiian Spears. He bagged one very small fish; I struck out despite making several shots. Two big Barracuda watched us, but gave up in disgust and swam away. There's clearly a lot of skill – that we lack – required for this. But that's rather appealing in its own way.  

The children from Voyager and Willow, hamming it up as usual.

Snorkeling here in the Allen's Cay region is breathtaking. The kids, who take the two dinghies by themselves, found a fabulous reef. Sue and I went with them this afternoon and found the Sergeant Major fish schooling within inches. Many fewer Parrotfishes than Rose Island, but lots of Tangs and Bluehead Wrasses. All this in just 4-5 meters of water.

 Kristy, a very strong swimmer, today started diving below the surface. This means when she surfaces her snorkel is full of water, so she's learned to clear it effectively. She loves watching the fish. Graham is as at home in clear waters as any fish, and is a great diver/snorkeler. I broke out the scuba gear at Rose Island and taught Graham how to use it; he was totally at home.  

Fish at Allen's Cay

Allen's Cay is famous for the Iguanas. We've been ashore a number of times, and these lizards immediately come out of the bush to confront us. Some are timid; others quite aggressive. Most are about a meter long, though some babies are just 6 inches. Hundreds greet us, follow us. It feels like Jurassic Park, like jumping back to the Cretaceous age. Apparently this species of Iguanas are only found in the Bahamas. It's so strange! The kids treat these creatures with equanimity, as if this is quite a common thing in their experience. I hope they someday understand how unusual this is.

Iguanas and kids

I'm desperate – panicky – to get an Internet connection. It's been a week since I've checked my email, and in that time I can expect 500-800 messages. More important, I agreed to write five articles for a publication, the articles being due two days ago. Rose Island had no power, no phone service, so there was no chance to email these pieces off. Today Kristy and I took the dingy to Highburn Cay in hopes of finding food, gas for the dink, ice, and most importantly Internet. Hah!

We motored offshore, in the open ocean, across the miles. Unfortunately the dink has developed a nasty air leak; the starboard float deflates at an alarming rate. After 45 minutes at 15 knots, bouncing across the ocean waves, we finally made it to the Cay. When we left Kristy was mad at me; she didn't understand my capricious decision to take her but leave Graham behind (I felt it was unfair to leave too many kids with Sue… and Kristy weighs less than Graham so we could make better speed). By the time we arrived, though we were soaked, had spent too long pounding into seas, she was her normal delightful self. What a great kid!

Turns out, the grocery store was empty. Not closed, just empty. It was maybe 10 by 10 feet. The freight boat had arrived, but no one got around to unloading it. We managed to buy ice, critical since we were totally out, and gas, also critical since we arrived with the dink on the fumes, but that was it. When I asked about Internet access everyone (mostly dock idlers) laughed. "Ah mon, we got dat in Nassau I tink". Oh shit! There's one phone on the island, so I placed a few calls. These Bahamian out islands are very remote, with few services that are very expensive. 3 gallons of gas for the dink, 50 pounds of ice, and dumping two bags of trash cost $41.

The grocery problem is getting acute since Voyager is out of vodka. We may make another emergency run back tomorrow. The Cuban rum from NPI is but a poor substitute…but any port in a storm.

While on Scott and Sue's Willow for cocktail hour Graham noticed that our dink was sinking. The air leak had gotten out of control. So, we hauled it on deck and repaired the worst of the two leaks we know about. There's a 24 hour drying cycle which is impossible with kids, so I hope at the very least we can slow things down.

Scott and Benjamin (their youngest) went to the reef while Kristy and I were off to Highburn. They ran into an 8 foot nurse shark. It was seemingly sleeping whilst they swam.

It's Friday, June 30, and the kids are on deck now, at 9:15 PM, Kristy reading "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" and Graham reading the first of the sequels, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". I worry and struggle over reading material for them, as I think reading is so very important, and feel that love of it comes from delving into interesting and fun books. These seem to have taken. Scott has a plan he's hatching, which, if it works, will result in us getting the next Harry Potter book when his eldest's girlfriend shows up in a week. She's supposed to bring two of these, one for Kristy and one for Benjamin. Right now the plan is a secret, as so many things can go wrong. I've read it's 752 pages, twice the length of the last one, and some 3.8 million copies are being printed – more than any other first run of any book in history! Kristy and I read the first 3 volumes, which were utterly delightful, fun, good reading, and totally lacking in inappropriate material.

 A boat from Ft. Lauderdale was anchored near us here in Allen's Cay with an older couple aboard. Yesterday Richard took the kids to the beach and showed them how to process conch – how to extract it from the shell, skin and clean it. We spent much of the day looking for conch, but mostly struck out. A Bahamian conch boat, wooden, reeking, piled two meters high with conch, was anchored nearby so we ran over to it today and bought 5 big conch. They shook their heads: "you sure you want conch in shells, mon?" they asked, trying to convince us to have them do the processing. I wanted the kids to exercise their newfound skills. Enriched with the critters the kids ran to the beach in the dingy and spent almost two hours banging with a small sledge and cold chisel on the shells, then cutting the muscle clear with a knife. I stayed aboard Voyager, watching with interest but despairing of meat. Imagine the scene: the kids were on the beach, working with the tools, as armies of very curious iguanas milled about. Lord of the Flies. They came back with quite a bit of perfectly cleaned conch. Kristy and I tenderized it (banging on it with a 2x4 and hammer for a while as it's so tough) then made up a batter and fried them. Very tasty and a ton of fun.

Scott and I went back to Highburn Cay for groceries, more ice, and most especially vodka. The island, the biggest hearabouts, has no wiring to any other point. We passed by the electric plant, a trailer with a diesel generator. The grocery store wasn't much bigger than Voyager, and though short on fresh stuff had most of what we needed. It's open by appointment only as there are so few people here. The "grocer" told us the mail boat came just yesterday, reprovisioning the store. It stops here just once every two weeks, and is the only contact with the outside world. The Exumas are truly remote.

A seaplane landed here this afternoon, outward bound from Florida, owned by the fellow who owns the Miami Dolphins (football? Baseball? One of those sport things), as well as Blockbusters. The amazingly beefy passengers disembarked, "did" the iguanas for 15 minutes, then left. Astonishing.

We motored to Norman's Cay today, Saturday, a short 2.5 hour run. We're anchored in 10 feet in clean sand with the single CQR down on 60 feet of chain. This is a nice change. The current is very strong, here as in most Bahamian anchorages. Generally people plop two hooks down in what is called, of course, the "Bahamian Moor". Used by sailors worldwide, it was perfected here. To folks who want to come to these islands, I highly recommend good ground tackle. Voyager carries 4 anchors (I'm looking for a fifth). Our Bahamian Moor generally consists of a 35 pound CQR on the appropriate amount of chain – there's 175 feet of 5/16 high test in the locker. The second, downstream, anchor is a 23 pound Fortress (Danforth design) on 30 feet of heavy chain and 350 feet of ½ nylon. The stern anchor is on 400 feet of ¾ nylon and 20 feet of chain, and there's 600 feet of ½ nylon stowed for the last hook if needed.

We went to Norman's Cay in pursuit of food! McDuff's restaurant is famous in these parts because, well, it's the only food joint between here an Nassau, 50 miles away. They serve cheeseburgers. But not to us. Turns out, the place is booked tonight for a private party, so we were turned away. There's great hope of hitting the joint for lunch tomorrow before sailing on.

After food, the second attraction here is the partially sunken DC-3. This island was once owned by a famous drug smuggler. His airstrip is still in service, though I imagine there's not so much illicit traffic now. Somehow one of the drug planes missed the strip and wound up in the water. I recall that coral grows at 1 cm per year, so it appears the wreck is 15-20 years old. There's little coral on it, in fact; it's surprising how intact the plane is. We found the original fabric (!) covering for the ailerons.

We swam into the plane, and sat in the co-pilot's seat. Swimming under the wing we're presented with an incredible array of fish of all sorts. A huge sting ray sailed past, a couple of barracuda, lots of big sergeant-major fish, the usual assortment of Bluehead Wrasses, etc. Tangs, oh so pretty with their brilliant blue (or yellow for juveniles) coloring, and the tiny yellow spot covering the stinger, are everywhere, as they are all over the Bahamas.

Later Graham, Kristy and I returned. Since McDuff's was closed we called Willow on the VHF and assured them we'd harvest dinner from the rich fish banks swimming around the plane. Graham and I, armed with the Hawaiian slings, with Kristy as enthusiastic spotter, were determined to get a lot of fish. Again, alas, we struck out despite an hour of trying. A handful of other snorkelers were exploring the wreck, but our spears seemed to dampen their interest. Though we swam with them capped, they of course didn't understand and soon left.

We each fired a few times and missed with every attempt. I tried a top-down shot. Missing, the spear went through the DC-3's wing and jammed! It took me 10-15 dives to widen the hole enough to retrieve the spear (with barb so effectively entombed in the aluminum structure).

 Hot dogs substituted for fish dreams this evening.

The dingy leak was getting acute so I patched the worst, the one underwater, a day ago. There's another in a terrible spot near the oars that I patched a few minutes ago. I hope this takes, as pumping every few hours is getting old.

It's 10 PM and Graham, Kristy and Ethan are here on Voyager playing Scrabble. Our dinner with Willow's crew here earlier was much fun. Tomorrow we  have restaurant dreams and then may sail south again. The kids want to explore some of the pristine white beaches. I wish I could describe the phenomenal water colors, the white beaches, the fish, birds and stars. As I worked on the dingy by flashlight Graham came out and was awed by the Milky Way.

One CD Voyager acquired recently is by the Indigo Girls, a rather famous lesbian duo. Almost every song is a winner; one that greatly appeals starts "don't write this down, remember it in your head; don't take a picture, remember it in your heart; don't take a message, talk to me face-to-face". Though we're taking pictures as aids to oh-so-imperfect memory, I do so hope the kids will remember this trip in their hearts.

My computer tells me it's Thursday July 6, though the day means little to us here. It's 11 PM and we're anchored again in Allen's Cay, after sailing south to Norman's, Warderick Wells, and Staniel's Cay. We're northbound, headed to Nassau, to pick up Devin's girlfriend on Sunday. Ethan is sleeping aboard again tonight. Graham and Ethan play together so happily for so many hours per day. This is the third generation of pals: our dads have been friends for 40 or 50 years, Scott and I for most of our lives, and now these two youngsters. The symmetry appeals.  

We managed to make it to McDuff's for lunch. Dale, the owner, wandered in late, his hangdog look suggesting he had had a night before that was one to remember. Pictures on the walls made me think this might be an every night occurrence. The chainsaw engine-powered blender confirmed it all.

A tremendous thing happened today: Kristy met a 9 year old girl. In fact, Taylor was born 3 days before Kristy! The Taylor-centric family unit sailed out of Nassau on a powerboat. Her oh-too-young parents, poster kids for any mid-America gym,  invited Kristy over for dinner and fun this evening. When I picked her up we got a tour: air conditioning! TV (satellites downloads)! A button made all sorts of couches change into all sort of couches! Taylor has her own bedroom, with head and color TV. Kristy was amazed. They even have tanning pads (?)!?

The parents were very nice, and even towed the boys back this afternoon when the dink engine quit. It needed a bit of dismantling and TLC.

From Norman's Cay we sailed/motored to Warderick Wells to see the famous sleeping Lemon Sharks. Warderick Wells is the center of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a preserve where no taking of the sea life is legal. In the northern section even anchoring is illegal, so we picked up moorings in the fantastically beautiful crescent-shaped mooring area.  As usual,  the current whips through, scouring the bottom and mediating every snorkeling decision we make.

Lobster in Warderick Wells

Warderick has a park ranger, who was in Nassau in the hospital recovering from firefighting injuries. The volunteer replacement, Joyce, gave us a wonderful overview of the park. The anticipated Lemon Sharks don't exist, but several nurse sharks fed at the dock. We ran into Bara the Baracuda at the mooring, as well as most of his extended family whilst snorkeling at a very nice reef a couple of miles from the moorings. The park prohibits fishing, so the fish are quite tame. A 3 foot lobster – dinner for a week in my dreams – hid in a hole. Nassau Groupers prowled about, accompanied by thousands of other fish.

A boat whose home port is Cincinnati came in and massively misjudged the current. Their failed U-turn had them drifting broadside to the stream down onto the boats. We were coming home in the dingy and watched them miss Voyager by just a few feet. Seemingly paralyzed, the captain took no action so they collided with the next boat downstream from us. The screams of twisting, ripping metal and cursing filled the air. Eventually they managed to pick up the mooring, and I guess reached some settlement with the other boat owner. Later we met the Cincinnati crew at the yacht club bar on Staniel Cay. They keep the boat in Nassau year-round, and use her only a time or two per annum. Quite nice folks who were not unexpectedly loath to discuss the incident.

Joyce and her partner Scott, the volunteer stand-ins for the park ranger at Warderick, offered to let me send an email via their SSB on their 48 foot ketch. I just had to get articles uploaded, so this was a lifesaver.

We visited Staniel Cay for provisions and to see the cave where Thunderball was filmed. Turns out the guidebooks were overly optimistic. Though it's a beautiful island, little is available. We tied up in the Happy People marina for one night, and anchored for another.

With 60-70 people Staniel is the most populated of the Exumas we've visited. Like all of these out-islands it's totally isolated from the mainland or even the bigger islands. A diesel set makes the island's power. Phone service is over a microwave link. In fact, Scott and I visited the microwave station. Turns out there are 35 phone numbers in Staniel.

The Blue grocery store competes with the Pink grocery store. Each is the size of a small bedroom, and each stocks indifferent-looking meats, a variety of canned goods, and some dried food. We arrived a few hours after the mail boat so saw the stores at the maximum stock level.  

Us in Staniel Cay

Everything comes to these islands via mail boat out of Nassau. Groceries, outboard motors, wood, pipe, and mail. These steel vessels probably start life as general workboats servicing oilfields, perhaps in the USA. As rust and entropy take their toll they pass through owners and missions. I suspect that "Bahamian Mail Boat" is the last role they'll play, as most are beat up rusty hulks. Several in Nassau at Potters Cay (where they all tie up) are sunken.

The mail boat arrived in Staniel at the government wharf 100 feet ahead of us. The captain must know the reefs intimately as he crosses the dangerous banks at night. Our crossings were daytime only, with a high sun so we could find and dodge uncharted coral heads. Of which there are many.

Some 20 people were on the boat, perhaps crew, maybe passengers or extended family. It was piled high with cardboard cartons, crates, and a car. They discharged a couple of tons of packages and left.

With only one visit every two weeks, the islanders are used to doing without. It's hard to imagine living with such infrequent deliveries.

Thunderball cave is a protected area, so the fish have no fear of humans. We brought bread as food in a plastic bag and were almost attacked by swarms of Sergeant-Majors. So many dashed in the kids were scared. The current is strong so it's only safe for 45 minutes at low slack water. I ran out of film for the underwater camera while in the cave, unfortunate, as Graham the Fish swam in many tunnels. I'd get glimpses of him 10 feet under going between caves.

Back in Nassau now, July 14. Sue and the kids go home tomorrow. We'll probably head to sea on Sunday for the run back to Baltimore.  

Heading back to Nassua

Voyager sailing back to Nassau

Lauren, Devin's girlfriend, joined us in Nassau, delighting him. Even happier were Kristy and Benjamin, since she arrived with two copies of the new Harry Potter book. I took a picture of Kristy asleep that night, clutching the volume tightly.

Her new friend Taylor also returned to Nassau; we heard them on the VHF and met up. Kristy spent one night over there, and Taylor joined us in swimming and exploring Atlantis.

A week ago we left this town and sailed back to Rose Island, just to get out of town and get an 8 mile headstart on our way north. After anchoring I jumped in to check the set of the CQR, and found a live conch under us. Then two, three. I called the kids in. Within an hour we collected 21 conch, far more than needed even for the 9 of us on Voyager and Willow. Tossing all but the ten best back in we headed ashore and removed them from their shells, then prepared the meat. Dinner featured cracked conch that evening.

From Rose Island we motorsailed 45 miles to Spanish Wells, more or less the gateway to Eleuthera Island to the NE of New Providence. Most of that sail was in 2000 fathoms of water so I trolled a big lure, but struck out. Even Kristy is making fun of my lack of fishing skills.

Spanish Wells is a pretty but odd little community of 800 people and, it seems, 800 cars. Why do they need so many vehicles on a 2 mile long Cay? There's another 800 or so scooters and 800 or so golf carts.

Virtually all Bahamians are black, but on Spanish Wells we found an almost exclusively white settlement, speaking their own quite unique Bahamian-English dialect. These people are also some of the most well-to-do in the country. They've built a successful economy on crayfishing; large, well-maintained boats head to sea for a month at a time and bring back a valuable catch.

Fully half of the people here are named "Pinder". Many trace their ancestry to the original Eleutherian Adventurers shipwrecked in the 1600s. Others were Loyalists who escaped to here from the American revolution.

We found a stunning beach, one that just must have been used as a Bahamas ad picture, a dinghy ride away on the north side of Eleuthera itself. Graham and Ethan explored a cave nearby.  

Pristine beach in Eleuthera

Graham, Kristy and I took the dinghy out to look for good snorkeling reefs. Though the boat needs just a foot of water we found ourselves trapped in a lagoon, surrounded by coral heads inches deep and in some cases sticking above the water. This was two miles from land, north of Spanish Wells. Graham stood in the bow and gave me directions, finding a winding channel by watching the water color. He dropped over the side to check out a large starfish, and then rocketed back into the dingy when a five foot barracuda became interested. We gave chase to the fish for a while with the boat till it escaped.

Royal Island, just 5 miles from Spanish Wells, was our next stop. The totally enclosed harbor was quiet, well protected, and quite beautiful. Voyager arrived first; we dropped the hook and then Willow rafted with us for a couple of days. Here the kids swam, played with the dinghies, and explored the shore. I broke out the scuba tank to give the bottom a last cleaning before the long sail home. Kristy and I made a cherry pie from scratch which was watery but tasted OK.  

One of many dinners aboard Willow

The Pie

At dinner one night the conversation turned to writing for magazines, and someone made the suggestion that the kids should write a piece about cruising with children. The ho-hum response changed instantly when they heard that many publications pay $1000 or more for a good article. Graham and Ethan paired up, as did Benjamin and Kristy, each off on a different boat, each scrambling to create an outline. We'll see if they follow-through…

Tomorrow the kids and Sue all fly back. We're getting ready to leave, me alone, Scott with friend Craig who arrives tonight. I haven't had a chance to look at a chart so am undecided which way to go, or even how far the return trip is, but guess it's 800-1000 miles, a week to ten days. With a bit of luck we might get southwesterlies; if they're strong enough we'll have an easy run back.  

Voyager's and Willow's Crew departing for the airport

Scott asked me how cruising in the Bahamas compared to our Caribbean adventure last year. It's hard to draw parallels as there's so much that's different. Navigation in the Bahamas is more challenging since essentially all of the banks are uncharted and are very shallow. However, I found the Caribbean charts to be generally less accurate than those here, perhaps because less attempt was made in the Bahamas to log features that are likely to change. In fact, one of the charts we're using is from a British survey in 1835 – that's the most recent data available. Charts show no GPS coordinates in the Caribbean, and some of the islands are so poorly surveyed their positions don't jibe with reality. Here in the Bahamas quite the opposite is true, as quite a few GPS waypoints are shown, and all that we used were spot-on.

The shallow water makes anchoring easier… except that the Caribbean just does not have the strong currents the pervade almost every Bahamian anchorage. So we might put out only 50 feet of chain, but need two anchors. Last year I used all 100 feet of chain repeatedly since the water was often 30 or 40 feet deep. During the winter I added more, so now carry 175 feet on the main anchor. Yet here I've yet to put out more than 65 feet.

These islands are much more remote than the Leewards and Virgins. Supplies just don't exist; most of the places we've stopped are uninhabited. So provisioning is more problematic. Prices are higher here as well. Last year we never paid more than 15 cents per gallon for water; here 50 cents is more typical.

The remoteness means there's "less to do" on shore, few civilized distractions like movies or ice cream. But the unspoiled land, fantastic beaches, astonishing limestone formations, all provide plenty of fascinating entertainment. The "B" word (bored, which I consider a curseword) did pop up from time to time, but never lasted long.

The Bahamian snorkeling is, in general, far superior to that of the Leewards and Virgins. Reefs are shallower here, water clarity better, and the fish more numerous and varied. I realized that, though we have 3 or 4 fish books aboard, we really need more basic reference material on the sealife – books that explain the behavior patterns of different species, how they live, reproduce, etc. We've seen so much, yet I'm left with too many questions. Parrotfish, for example, like some other species, sometimes change sex. How? What makes this happen? What is their life cycle?

Winds are lighter here and less reliable. Sometimes that's good; we motored a lot, especially heading down the Exuma chain, into what was usually a light SE. If stronger life would have been tougher. But it means anchorages are hotter. Temperatures below occasionally hit 98. With the solstice June 21, and our latitude varying from 24.5 to 25.5, the directly overhead sun baked anyone not careful. Me, I like the hot, but the kids sometimes suffered a bit.

It's July 21 and Voyager is now anchored not far from Moorehead City, NC. Willow, with Scott and Craig aboard, and Voyager, with me singlehanding, left Nassau on Sunday bound for the Chesapeake Bay.

We elected to sail back via the Northwest Providence Channel, a 50 mile wide gap between the Grand and Little Bahamas banks. This route took us towards Florida; as we turned right into the Straits of Florida we were about 60 miles off of West Palm. 

There the Gulf Stream roars north, with speeds approaching 5 knots. Both Willow and Voyager settled into the middle of the Stream, enjoying our free boost. Voyager often found a 3+ knot current, and one day did 170 nautical miles noon-to-noon, her record. So far.

We sailed with a generally fine breeze and gentle seas. Though the wind failed from time to time, our engines kept the boats going. We navigated independently, yet for days were in sight of each other. Willow finally pulled ahead, disappearing into the horizon. We kept in touch twice a day via VHF when close, and then SSB as we drew apart. I enjoyed hearing about their day, their sail.

Yesterday, minutes after the day started at midnight, my autopilot failed. I managed to nurse it along all night, but in the first light of day pulled the steering wheel off to replace the unit with the spare (whilst steering with vicegrips on the shaft). The drive unit fell apart in a million pieces on the cockpit sole. I installed the spare, and gathered the parts with visions of nastygrams to Autohelm. The failed unit is not even a year old.

Happily the spare steered just fine. The wind, though, had built so the seas were giving us a fun and wild ride. The SW wind suited me fine; a bouncy trip was fine as long as the wind was behind us.

Towards evening it suddenly, in less than a minute, swung around to the NE, directly on the nose. Trying to maintain a course in the middle of the Gulf Stream, Voyager couldn't beat into the wind at all. Much as I love this boat, she's fat and not particularly adept at pointing. So I slogged around for a while, finally turning on the engine in an attempt to motor into the wind. With only 150 miles to go to Cape Hatteras, I figured it made sense to try and power there, if possible.

Except for that genoa sheet that came adrift… It snaked over the side and wrapped around the prop. The trusty Westerbeke died, stalled by the line wrapped around the propeller. So, I hove her to, donned a mask, and jumped in with the emergency knife (never used and kept surgeon-sharp). The 6-8 foot seas banged Voyager up and down as I dived under her, but one swipe of the knife cut the 5/8 line, and with a few more dives I unwrapped the line from the shaft and prop. The process was easy but before jumping over the side I was tormented with memories of falling overboard in mid-Atlantic during the '92 OSTAR. Last year while sailing from Bermuda to Norfolk, in dead-calm conditions, Nan went for a swim. I demurred, figuring there was little reason to leave a perfectly good boat… and also haunted by those falling overboard memories.

With a clean prop Voyager still made no headway against the NE winds. I finally hove to again, but a large ship bore down on us. Getting underway I tried to avoid her, but she got closer. Her lights were baffling, with multiple reds and whites all over. I called, repeatedly, on the VHF, giving her position, but got no answer. Shining the 1 million candlepower light at her, and then at my sails, also brought no response. Finally, when she was maybe ¼ mile off, through the binos I saw enough to see she was some sort of Navy vessel, and called "US Navy Vessel at so & so position" – and she responded. The USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier, was headed to the coast. We discussed courses and came no closer than the ¼ mile.

This is my third run-in with this same ship. Several years ago, off the coast of the Carolinas, and last year, in the Netherlands Antilles, the JFK came much too close, and wouldn't respond on the radio.

The thought of staying hove to in the Stream, a stationary target for the Atlantic Fleet, was sounding less and less attractive, so I sailed for Moorehead City, 80 nautical miles to the north, arriving there at 1 PM today after a very nice and easy sail. Customs didn't want to honor my customs decal (which should have permitted clearing in via cell phone only), and demanded I tie up for an inspection in Beaufort. The heavily armed agent was very polite.

I talked to Scott this morning; he was rounding Hatteras. We'll chat again in an hour if conditions permit. He'll be in the Chesapeake Bay tonight or tomorrow early, and in Baltimore 24 hours after that.

I'll run up the Intracoastal Waterway to Norfolk, and thence up the Bay to Baltimore, another 350 miles and 4 days or so. This will be my ninth trip up this section of the ICW; who needs charts?

This afternoon it rained, and the temperature plummeted to 80. My tropics-adjusted body froze; it felt like the 60s. How are my friends Kirk and Lisa, and Bruno and Kate, adjusting after years in the tropics to Maine? I can't imagine.

It's Monday, July 24, and Voyager is anchored now just 7 miles south of Norfolk in a section of industrial wasteland. The smell from the factory ashore is overpowering, but at least it's a safe, quiet spot.

Yesterday, while sailing across the Albermarle Sound, a 25 foot powerboat came alongside and asked "is this the Albermarle Sound?". Aghast, I asked him to repeat the question, convinced I had heard wrong. This body of water is huge, perhaps 500 or 1000 square miles. That's much like asking, when somewhere between Annapolis and Bloody Point, "is this the Chesapeake Bay?" I remember listening to the radio one day and hearing a distress call from a lost sailboat. The captain told the Coast Guard they were under a bridge – the CG asked if it was the Key bridge or the Bay Bridge. The answer: "I dunno, how do you tell?"

I had hoped to sail to Norfolk today and then continue nonstop up the Bay to Baltimore. But the weather was awful, pouring rain all day. Cold, too. The thermometer here says 75; to stop the shivers I've turned the heater on (a cherry-red flowerpot upside down on the stove). We had a 4 hour delay at the Chestertown Bridge today as it had failed and couldn't open. The other bridges were slow and late, and the lock at Great Bridge ran way behind. As dark approached I saw, through rain-streaked glasses, two sailboats anchored. Always a sign of happiness. I poked in and found a nice spot in 10 feet of water and dropped the hook. Tomorrow I'll head to the Bay if this miserable north wind abates.

Scott and Craig made it back to Baltimore yesterday afternoon, after a nice rounding of Hatteras and traffic-intense run up the Bay. For them this summer's adventure is over. For me, I'm ready to return, and feel in limbo as I know real life is ready to pounce with vim and vigor. An awesome summer, but once more, dear friends, into the breach…

Thursday, July 27, 2000 - I arrived in Baltimore yesterday evening, after a 34 hour run up the Chesapeake Bay in cold, rain, fog and with a headwind. Not exactly my idea of a good time!

Generally while on this route I nap in the cockpit for 15 minutes at a time, but traffic was much too heavy and the fog made napping dangerous. Worse, at midnight the autopilot, the spare installed offshore, fell apart. I steered all night, but was able at daybreak to reassemble the unit and get it back online.

So ends this year's sailing adventure, a success by any measure.

To the next trip!