January 23, 2007

OK, OK, we know it’s been ages since our last log update but the good news is that we’re now on “Island Time”. Yes, we finally made it to the Bahamas! Let’s see if we can fill in the blanks about what we’ve been up to for the past month…

We flew back to Mystic Bond and warm weather on Christmas Day in Jacksonville. Before leaving there, we stocked up on provisions including enough wine and beer to last us three months (we hope!). The waterline went down more than an inch after stowing everything away. The New Years weekend is Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and it’s major party time throughout the city. As a result, we were treated to very loud bands on both sides of the St. John River competing for everyone’s attention until one in the morning. Planes, buses and boats were coming in by the dozen for the famous football game. Only our friend Ross would understand this affinity for a piece of pig skin flying in the air or being crushed by dozens of 300-pounders. Because of all of the hoopla going on, we elected to give a pass to the frenzy of the Gator Bowl and miss the New Year’s Eve fireworks which are reputed to use all the ammo from the American Forces.

We left Jacksonville on December 30 th and headed south after more than a month at a dock. We only stopped overnight at St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Titusville. While the weather was very warm, it was also cloudy and a bit rainy for those days. We found a beautiful (but very tight) anchorage in Eau Gallie just north of Melbourne. A good rain overnight washed the boat and early the next day we made our way down to Vero Beach. As usual, we took some photos of Americana as we went along.

Although there are still some great natural scenes, most of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in this area has been developed. Still, there is no accounting for taste in this region, which ranges from multi-million dollar mansions to shacks and trailer parks from one mile to the next.

Of course, our dolphin friends accompanied us a good part of the way. Despite lots of development and boats, there is a great deal of wildlife on the ICW including ospreys, many species of cormorants, pelicans and dolphins. Although we encountered signage everywhere warning us to slow down because of manatees, we have yet to see one of these critters which are a protected species in Florida. Maybe they need more than signage.

Our next stop was Vero Beach, a favorite stop for many cruisers and not just because of the beach, beautiful though it is. The Municipal Marina is very well equipped and the prices are reasonable, and there is free bus service to take you anywhere in town you need to go. Although we only stayed there one night, we chatted with a number of other boaters that had been there for over a month. Some even call it “Velcro” Beach because it’s so hard to leave.

On January 4 th , we arrived at a little place called Manatee Pocket, just outside Stuart, FL. Again, we saw no manatees but pulled in to the Hinckley Boat Yard to see if they could repair the leak on our engine. This company has an excellent reputation (they build $1M+ picnic boats for the likes of Martha Stewart) so we figured they would be safe bet to trust with our precious vessel. To make a long story short, it took them 3 days to determine that they didn’t have the right tools to work on a John Deere engine, so we decided to move on to Palm Beach where there was an authorised John Deere service rep. One good thing that happened while were there: we connected with a hydraulics expert who installed a new solenoid valve for our autopilot. The waterway is too narrow to test it here, but hopefully this will correct the problems we’ve been having for the past 6 months.

We continued on to Palm Beach on January 7 th and André passed the next week spending quality time in the “holy place” (i.e. engine room) with various mechanics to ensure that everything was shipshape before we attempted our crossing to the Bahamas. Several thousands of $ later, we had done all of the essentials, including another major provisioning run. The marine weather forecast promised a favorable but short weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream on January 16 th so we headed out to the anchorage at the entrance to Lake Worth inlet in order to position ourselves for an early departure that morning.

Since it looked like the weather was going to continue to cooperate, we left the inlet at 0540 on the 16 th and headed almost due east. Although there were some uncomfortable swells leaving the inlet in the dark, the seas flattened nicely as the sun rose and we had a near perfect cruise to West End on Grand Bahama Island. Even the autopilot worked! After going through the formalities with Customs and paying our $300 entrance / cruising fee, we celebrated our passage by sharing a bottle of champagne with another Canadian couple in a J40 sailboat who made the crossing with us.

On January 17 th we had an even more perfect cruise down to Freeport / Port Lucaya accompanied by dozens of flying fish at regular intervals along the way. We even saw a rainbow just as we docked at the Ocean Reef Yacht Club and Resort which we will use as a base for the next month so we can take short trips to some of the other islands. Life sure is tough, isn’t it?

Even in paradise though, there are a few things that aren’t quite perfect. Our cell phone doesn’t work in the Bahamas and the WiFi service is intermittent at best. Anyway, it’s a bit of a nuisance, but hopefully we can make things work to send out another update next month.

Cheers for now! André and Olga on board m/v Mystic Bond

February 18, 2007

It feels like we've been in the Bahamas forever, even though it's just over a month since we crossed the Gulf Stream. Life has been pretty good except for needing to clean the sand between our toes, getting our bathing suits wet when we go snorkeling and having to blend our own fruit juices to mix with the cheap rum (Bacardi Gold - 40 oz for $7) that we have to drink everyday at sundown.

Our son Josh joined us for two weeks so we went to the Abacos islands and (for the most part) had good weather there. We stopped along the way at Great Sale Cay and then carried on to Spanish Cay and Green Turtle Cay. One day, Josh managed to catch a big Spanish Mackerel (5-6 lbs) and while Olga was quite keen to cook the bugger, Andre wimped out at cleaning this monster with big teeth and a strong jaw. So we threw him back, to Andre's great relief!

We went to the Abacos via the Grand Lucayan Waterway, the shortcut canal that bisects Grand Bahama Island. While it saved us some 50 miles, it also gave us a few more grey hairs. The entrance and exit to the canal are very shallow and on our way back we managed to bump along before we hit some deeper water. The canal was the dream of someone who saw Grand Bahama Island as the next Florida. There are hundreds of lots for sale and only a few houses built so far. The canal is cut deep into the old limestone and coral of the island and there are many side channels to service all those vacant properties.

The Abacos is a wonderful cruising ground with great anchorages and marinas. The settlement of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay is like a page out of the 1800's. This quaint village is very colorful, very friendly and has good services, considering it's smallsize. This is definitely one the places on our "gotta return to" list.

When we came back to the Ocean Reef Yacht Club in Lucaya, Josh left us to return to freezing Toronto, and Howard and Donna from Blue Rocks, NS, came to visit for a few days. We toured part of the island by car but only managed to take them on Mystic Bond to Peterson Cay for a bit of snorkeling since the winds were quite strong during their stay. Still, we had a great time with them, including buddying around with the cruisers on several of the other boats in the marina.

 

Using the Ocean Reef Yacht Club as a base has turned out very well for us. The staff here are helpful and friendly, the services are good, the dockage fees are reasonable and we've met a great mix of other cruisers (both sail and power). One boat that we've become particularly attached to is Bill and Judi's Nordhavn 46, m/v Recess. Although it's a lovely boat (OK, we admit to just a little bit of boat envy!) and Bill and Judi are a lovely couple who, like us, have become fulltime liveaboards, the main attractions are their canine crew, golden retrievers Dakota and Jackson and a poodle mix named Oscar. Needless to say, we've been finding all manner of excuses to walk by their slip several times a day to cuddle with these friendly pooches and chat about our two passions, dogs and boating.

Our next venture tomorrow morning is to go back to the Abacos and visit the south of the island chain. We will then come back to pick-up more company and enjoy the warming weather through March.

Cheers to all...don't freeze too much. Olga & André on m/v Mystic Bond

The Bahamas, January-February 2007

Sunrise on the Gulf Stream at our crossing s/v JEM with Louise and Andre buddy-boating
Mystic Bond at Old Bahama Bay, West End, Grand Bahama Island
The beach of Old Bahama Bay
The resort of Old Bahama Bay
Pool time for Andre
Mystic Bond at Ocean Reef Yacht Club, Lucaya
Underway to the Abacos with Josh
Josh doing some serious fishing...see the Cuban reel
Josh caught a Spanish Mackerel, Andre refused to gut it
Spanish Cay Marina
Lizard of Spanish Cay, very friendly
Spanish Cay is built on old coral
With some nice beaches
And many unoccupied villas
Sunset at Spanish Cay
Beautiful, but it lasts only a few minutes
Green Turtle Cay, New Plymouth heroes memorial
     
   
New Plymouth, old town
Andre relaxing at Ocean Reef
And trying on Olga's shoes
 

 

March 8, 2007

We've spent the past few weeks in the Abacos. In making the trip here, we managed not to bump in the Dover Channel like the last time; we actually had a whopping 3 inches under the keel!

After an overnight stop at Great Sale Cay, we continued south and east to Manjack Cay. This place is what we all imagine when we think of a tropical paradise island where two former cruisers, Leslie and Bill, have made it their home for many years. He has built a beautiful house, many trails through the island and mangrove swamp and they have planted fruit, vegetable and flower gardens all over. They welcome cruisers to their island, which has a beautiful little beach with a good anchorage. They even have a strong WiFi signal that they invite you to use at will. We stayed only overnight but will defintiely plan a return visit shortly.

After Manjack Cay, we proceeded to Green Turtle Cay for another five days of eating and drinking our dock fees. The marina has a deal for transient boaters during the winter months where your meals and drinks at the resort's upscale restaurant are deducted from your dock fees. Not bad, eh? One cruiser beside us had been there for 43 days and decided he had to leave since he could not keep up with the drinking and was getting fat from all the good food!

Because the water in some parts of the Abacos is so shallow, you have to go back out into the Atlantic when moving south from Green Turtle Cay to the Central Abacos. Although it's not long, the area through the Whale Passsage can be quite dangerous in certain conditions. On March 2nd, we had a good weather window, so went out with a couple of other boats and had a lovely cruise in gentle swells around Whale Cay and then turned back in to stop on the lee side of Great Guana Cay. Although this island has beautiful beaches and is home of the infamous Nippers Beach Bar and Grill (i.e. party central for the whole area), the winds in the bay where we were moored kept us bouncing all day and night. So, the next day, we went on to Man O War Cay and took a mooring there which turned out to be free for three days. This is a very well protected harbour with one of the few boat builders left in the Bahamas. This is where Howard and Donna's boat s/v Malolo was built back in 1963. The town has not changed much since that time and the palm tree under which their boat was built is still there. Another treasure on this island is Miss Lola (well over 75) who provides the best bakery in town out of her house. In an attempt to support the local economy, we pigged out on her cinnamon buns and fresh bread.

On March 5th, we carried on to Marsh Harbour, the supposed boating Mecca of the Abacos. We were somewhat disappointed as the harbour, while well protected, is quite filthy. There are numerous turtles in the harbour and they surface close to the boat but they are the only ones who would dare swim in this water. The town itself is geared for tourists on one side and is quite desolate on the other. It does have a reasonable choice of items for reprovisioning but, as with everyting in the islands, the prices are quite high. All in all, not a place we intend to visit for long. However, the great treat was to re-connect with Paul and Lise from s/v Nantelise after nearly three months of not seeing them. They just came back from the Exumas where they had a great cruise in pristine, wild natural surroundings. Of course we had to celebrate and Olga cooked a good dinner. Lise brought over a jar of her homemade cretons which I proceeded to gulp down before supper. Paul still had a stash of SAQ wine which was also great. Because they have caught and eaten so much local seafood, Lise still has much of the preserves she made last year in preparation for their cruise. It's amazing what she has managed to store under the floor boards of their 30ft. sailboat: patés, cretons, duck à l'orange, and all kinds of other preserves.

The weather has been very changeable here in the Abacos. As a result, we have not done anywhere near as much beach time or snorkeling as we expected to. Conditions are either too windy or the beaches we end up at are bare of sea creatures. We keep getting cold fronts coming down on us every couple of days with high winds. The days are sunny, breezy and warm (25-30 degrees) and the nights are often quite windy and cooler at 20 degrees.

As soon as the wind calms a bit, we will head back to Freeport / Lucaya, to pick up Olga's sister who is coming in mid-March for 10 days. After that, we'll start seriously planning our return passage across the Gulf Stream. While doing this update we witnessed the demise of our little digital camera. It seems that salty air does not agree with the "pinouche" needed to transfer pictures onto the PC. So, folks, no pictures of André in a bathing suit.

We wish you all an early spring. Olga & André

April 6, 2007

Well, we finally made it back States-side, after waiting an extra week for the winds to calm down.

We had a good trip back from the Abacos to the Ocean Reef Yacht Club in Lucaya, arriving there on March 12 th , just as the winds were picking up again from the East and NE. A couple of the other cruisers that we had met our last time there had also returned from their trips to Nassau and the Exumas so it was a bit like "old home" week. André even tried to climb the mast on s/v Dream Machine to help release a snagged furler, but had to slide back down when he started to feel woozy from the height. Now you know why we have a motor vessel instead of a sail boat!

Olga's sister Liza arrived the following weekend from Halifax and we had a nice visit with her, even though the winds were too strong to take her on a planned trip to the Berry Islands . Oh well, maybe we'll stop by there next year. We did manage to get in some snorkeling on the reef at the marine park off Peterson Cay one day and at Deadman's Reef on the west side of Grand Bahama island another day. We also introduced her to our latest culinary find, the delicious beef patties prepared daily at the Western Bakery in Freeport , so her holiday with us wasn't a total washout.

Since we were waiting anyway for a favorable weather window, we took advantage of the time to do some boat maintenance. After much sanding, varnishing and the occassional shouts of: "don't step there!", our teak and holly cabin soles (wood floors to you non-yachty types) are back to their original bristol finish and should be good again for another couple of years. André also decided to reconfigure the space on our aft deck and took the Skilsaw to the aft helm seat. Removing the back of the seat and lowering the seat by 8" has really opened up the area to make it much more accessible and the new and improved seat now doubles as a table for serving munchies or an al fresco meal when it's nice outside.

On April 2 nd , we thought the wind and seas might be calm enough to attempt the crossing back to Florida so we checked out of our slip, loosed the lines and headed out the inlet to open water. Twenty minutes later, after going through a mile or so of steep 3-5 foot waves, we turned around and headed back in to laze by the resort's pool and wait for another day. After all, this is supposed to be fun, isn't it? The next morning was clear and calm and we had a lovely crossing over to Lake Worth , Florida , buddy-boating across with Tom and Charlene aboard their Krogen 39, Forever 39 . On arriving at the anchorage just before supper time, who should we see but our friends Bill and Judi (and their 3 lovely dogs) aboard, m/v Recess . Needless to say, we immediately bribed them to come over for a drink so we could get some much needed doggie cuddles!

This morning we encountered some very courteous and professional U.S. Customs and Immigration staff and cleared our entry in short order. We're now docked again in North Palm Beach , waiting to connect with the engine mechanics who did some work on our boat in January. Hopefully, they'll be able to do the work quickly and will treat the additional repairs as warranty work instead of charging us another arm and a leg to do what's needed. Wish us luck!

All in all, we've spent two and half months in the Bahamas and probably saw only 1 / 1000 th of what the islands have to offer. We enjoyed the people, the beaches, the cruising and the little snorkeling that we did. We did not enjoy the endless high winds which lasted forever and neither did our sailing friends. We did not run out of beer or wine and acquired a real taste for rum and tropical juices. Many cruisers we met do this journey every year from as far away as Ontario , Quebec and the Maritimes. It's a long trip to get some sun and warmth. Cost-wise, the Bahamas a very cheap compared to the mainland. While you can't live on a dollar a day, if you are seriously into rum you can do it on $7 a day plus $2 for the terrific meat patties referred to earlier. Of course, you have to anchor and sail with no mechanical breakdowns or too much socializing by the pool or at fish fries on the beach!

We'll definitely be back, but probably not for a little while as there are many other places we also want to explore.

André and Olga

 

The Bahamas, March -April 2007
Sunrise on the Gulf Stream at our crossing Andre and the girls
Andre supervising Lisa at the helm
Olga and Lisa snorkeling off Peterson Cay
The BEACH
New Portsmouth
Donna and Howard
Donna communing with Neptune
The famous flower that Donna wanted
Going to the beach
Andre helping a neighbour
We still love Josh's pic of the lizard, they are everywhere

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