Monday, July 21, 2014

The Road Less Traveled (Eleuthera!)

cruising life cruiser destinations
One of many get-out-and-walk-so-the–car-won’t-bottom-out
sections on Eleuthera’s back roads.  Remembering to drive
on the left side?  Child’s play, in comparison. 
Eleuthera?  It wasn’t even on our itinerary.  Yet it was one of my favorites stops of our Bahamas cruising season. 

We went there on just one cruiser’s recommendation, and simply because it was a logical stop on an alternate route back.

Sure, we love the Exumas, and agree if time is short, that’s the “don’t miss” destination of the Bahamas.  How can you bypass a place so exotic they’ve shot Bond movies there? 

And cruising the remote Raggeds and Jumentos are worthy of bragging rights, given how relatively few of us make there to enjoy its pristine splendor.  Yes, undeniably, they’re right up there in our Bahamas winter 2013 - spring 2014 cruising season hit parade.  We understand why fisherman flock to that area, cruisers bond with each other and those few hardy and hospitable locals lucky enough to call that area home.

cruising life cruising activities cruising destinations
Exploring Eleuthera's Queen's Baths before we took a dip.
But Eleuthera?  We didn’t know a darned thing about it, other than how to get there.  And so we did.  But then what?

Enter Trip Advisor (click here for their great list of Eleuthera “Things to Do”—well worth combing not only for ideas but also for explicit directions to otherwise almost-impossible-to-find-places), a keen sense of adventure and our equally adventurous buddy boaters Ann aka Krazy Lady and Andy of sv Amante, and two very full days with Wayne’s exceptional dirt road (really -- off road) rental car driving prowess.  Plus, thanks to Ann and Andy, we doubled our fun, and halved our rental car costs.  How can you not love that?

Ok, I’m giving Elethera short shift here – we really spent 2 ½ weeks there, from April 19 – May 6th, and loved it wherever we explored (see these GWT Elethera blog posts Healing Hole of Rock Sound  Bygone Splendor – Elethera’s Royal Island  Hobnobbing in Harbour Island  Bahamas Green Hot Rods  -- not to mention kayaking sweet Spanish Wells and its Gonpoint Park – a future picture post if my photos are recoverable, ditto Governor Harbor’s Levi Preserve near the fabulous pink sand – aqua water beach of French Leave).   Our other forays there were mostly more leisurely explorations by foot and sea.  But it was the road trips where we most eagerly and exhuberantly embraced Eleuthera in broad, glorious gulps.

cruising life cruising activities cruising destinations
Duck!  Why well-charged flashlights are essential for exploring
Eleuthera's exquisite Hatchet Bay Caves.
We took one trip from hurricane hole Rock Sound, south… to batty and otherworldly Spider Caves, touring Cape Eleuthera Institute (a marine research school), where we were tipped off to a “cuppa” (watch for a future blog on that) and braved the long bumpy dirt road road to spend the afternoon at lovely Lighthouse Beach, where a large out-of-season lobster taunted us with his cha-cha dance.

We took another lengthy day road trip from little Hatchet Bay to the long and twisty Hatchet Bay Caves, down another car-sized potholed dirt road to Surfer's Beach, then to Queen's Baths during low tide to lounge in the baths, to beautiful Glass Window where the Atlantic Sea and Exuma Sound collide under a bridge, stopped at some other cool yet unnamed Heritage Spot near Rainbow with musical rocks along the trail there, culminating  where unreachable rocky caves precipitously perched, spectacularly overhanging a clashing Atlantic coastline. Our final stop of the day took us all the way back to Governor’s Harbour.  I insisted on finding the beach simply noted in our Explorer Charts as "Pink Sand Beach."  Wayne and the rest of our menagerie humored me beyond reason.  We wandered, well. lurched, aimlessly at least 15 minutes along rough, unmarked roads, doubling back and forth without a clue. 

cruising life cruising activities cruising destinations
Wayne and Dana sitting on the "throne" at Queens Bath, Eleuthera.
And then we found it.

Against a deep periwinkle-clouded sky was the pinkest sand beach I’ve ever seen.  Pinker than Valentines at Eleuthera’s exclusive Harbour Island.  Pinker than Barbuda (though Wayne disagrees with me on that).  Again, that brilliant aqua water, creating a purple swirl where the waves tumbled the powdery soft pink sand.  There was even a blowhole, geysering up with great mournful sighs.  Magical.

Amazingly, we had that long, lovely stretch of beach to ourselves. 

You’ll have to take my word for it; all three of our camera’s batteries burned out in a glory of day-long photo orgies, by the Rainbow Heritage site.  They were spent, even before we were, or at least before we were willing to call it a day.

Glass Window, Eleuthera, where the
Exuma Sound meets the Atlantic.
If you get the chance, go to Eleuthera and surrender yourself to its exotic beauty.  If you go only two places there, make the effort to take the roads less traveled to Queens Bath and to try to find Pink Sands, between Governor’s Harbour and French Leave Beach.

Finding Pink Sands and Queen’s Bath was my most perfect day in our whole season of cruising. 

What was your most magical travel “moment”?  Please share!

cruising life cruising activities cruising destinations
Dana mugs for the camera while Wayne
saunters down the trail to Eleuthera's
legendary Lighthouse Beach.
Location, Location

BAHAMAS retrospective.  This blog post is a recent retrospective of our visit to Eleuthera, BAHAMAS (N24.44.044 W76.14.45 - N25.30.807 W76.50.884) April 19th - May 6th, 2014. My hard drive is finally happy but most of my recent cruising season photos are still inaccessible.  Please wish me luck with that! We are currently working over hurricane season in Jacksonville FL; this time with our boat “on the hard” in Green Cove Springs, until just before we leave in November, bound for the South Pacific via the Panama Canal.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Safe Sanctuary... in Nassau?!?

cruising destinations
The marina view from the back -- plenty of room!
Even tourist-loving Bahamanians admit Nassau,on the small island of New Providence, is rough. 

We’ve stopped at Nassau twice, out of necessity – to break up long passages and for some much needed boat maintenance and repair.  I never felt safe, especially after dark, until we lit out for other Bahamas territory.  Pretty much everywhere else we cruised inthe Bahamas, crime’s practically unheard of.

Yet we found a safe spot we’d recommend on New Providence without hestitation. Palm Cay Marina.  It’s gated at the marina entrance, and on the land. While it’s a bit tricky getting in – do follow their websire directions and call in ahead -- that location offers one of the best angles into the Exumas; we hopped easily the 33 nm to Northern Exumas’ Highborne Cay from there.

cruising destinations
These were not miniature palms;
this was a big chess set at Palm Cay Marina!
Yes, I admit we were lured there with a coupon to stay free for a week* -- the regular price there is reasonable, $1-2 foot, depending on your timing. When we were there, the marina was nearly empty.  At the time, other cruisers were paying $1/foot and happy to do so.

Even though the bathrooms, showers and laundry weren’t completed, the folks at the marina graciously found ways to help us out with viable alternatives.  We were still able to use the marina’s gas station, head up to use the free WiFi from their then unfinished clubhouse, and they even offered to set us up with a car as they are a bit off the beaten track.  We didn’t get a chance to take them up on their offer.

cruising destinations
Scalloped beaches at Palm Cay, viewed from their clubhouse.
We also enjoyed supporting the marina’s “turtle crossing” with our veggie discards, with the marina staff’s encouragement. It was a truly peaceful spot.  Quiet, awakened by sweet birdsong in the morning.

We regretted staying at Palm Cay only a few days of that week – we were eager to move onto the Exumas.  We’d much rather stayed the week at Palm Cay and skipped anchoring near Nassau, where another cruiser dragged anchor into us, and cruisers were robbed at the adjacent marinas.

*We got our coupon for a free stay from Jacksonville FL’s Ortega Landing Marina, where we stayed in 2013. I suspect some smart folks at Palm Cay chose Ortega for the same reason we did; their plentiful excellent Active Captain reviews  -- see “The Marina at Ortega Landing” on Active Captain’s Interactive Cruising Guidebook.

cruising destinations
Journey, docked at Palm Cay Marina
near Nassau, Providence Island.
Location Location
BAHAMAS retrospective.  This blog post is a recent retrospective of our visit to New Providence Island, near Nassau, BAHAMAS (N25.01.129 W77.16.277) February 4-7, 2014.  My hard drive is finally happy but most of my recent cruising season photos are still inaccessible.  Please wish me luck with that!  We are currently working over hurricane season in Jacksonville FL; this time with our boat “on the hard” in Green Cove Springs, until just before we leave in November, bound for the South Pacific via the Panama Canal.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bucket List? Crash! Ouch.

cruising life transition taotao scooter
Scooter in same style as mine, pilfered from the TaoTao website.
My scooter’s blue and sports an additional storage compartment
added behind the seat.
“You know if you asked me what to do, you’d ignore me anyway.  I still love you.”

Don’t recall what prompted that classic line decades ago from Dad.  It’s still spot on.

Dad resisted bringing that one up when I deployed a bucket list wish (click here if you’re not sure what a bucket list is)* as a solution to my temporarily land bound commute conundrum  -- riding a scooter to my West Marine job.  The results were moderately disastrous.

Without going into the embarrassingly stupid how it happened** the end result is a very small paint scrape on the scooter, but a broken wrist for me.  I believe scooters don’t kill people, people kill people.  Know anyone who wants to buy a lightly used scooter?  By the time my cast is off, we’ll be cruising so soon after it doesn’t make sense to keep it.

not a galley wench tale sailing mishap transition in jacksonville fl
Jacksonville Shands Hospital tag atop my wrapped splint.
They took good care of me.
Our friend Allen advice? “A 15 mile [well, it’s 13 ½, each way by backroads] commute in Jacksonville by scooter is too long.  I’m sorry about your wrist, but that may have saved your life!”  Admittedly, it was a long backroads ride.

Off the cuff, the orthopedist who reset my broken bone said it typically takes 12 weeks to heal a broken bone.  As we were one month away from employer-paid health insurance – uninsured -- I suspect the hospital’s financial damage will last far longer than the broken bone.

This is my first blog post since breaking my wrist.  Since my cruising season photos were FINALLY reinstated on my formerly ailing hard drive yesterday, watch for more upbeat retrospective posts complete with ohhhh – ahhhhh photos.

cruising transitions jacksonville, fl, transportation
Journey getting moved to Green Cove Springs Marina’s
“Canada” lot for hurricane season.
It takes a while to do things with my left hand (and other appendages) only, as I broke my right wrist and am right handed.  However, I’m looking forward to getting back on track with GWT blog posts, and am grateful West Marine is happy to keep me on as a one-handed checker, and that my virtual work for Finex, Dorigan & Assoc., Vancouver Family Magazine and various freelance work (like Cruising World shorts) is still do-able.  Wayne too takes some gleeful pleasure in assisting me, particularly when it entails a derriere pointed up whilst my head’s draped over the tub when he wets my hair for shampooing with a European-style shower head.  Sorry, no photos of that one.

“Guess no endless showers,” he empathizes.  

Not counting two-ply toilet paper and fast internet, my two biggest landlubber indulgences are a queen-sized bed and irresponsibly long showers. 

One outta two aint bad, we conclude.  One more reminder of feeling safer cruising on the water than getting around on land in civilization.

*My bucket list is not driven by health issues but more by my philosophy that life is a terminal disease and to make the most of it while you can.

**Readers – please help me come up with an amusing how it happened story that is not based on committing violence.

cruising transitions jacksonville fl
Squirrel!  In the backyard of our temporary digs
for hurricane season.
Location Location
July 8, 2014, temporarily land bound in Jacksonville, FL, USA.  Journey’s on the hard in Green Cove Springs (N29.58.9 W81.38.8) until hurricane season ends in November.  Then we do some boat maintenance and improvement and set sail for the South Pacific, through the Panama Canal.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

BAM! Storm Hideout in Quirky Compass Cay

anchoring, cruising destinations

Notice that faint beige-y stripe?  It’s a sandbar we were forced to hit.
After a couple idyllic days crashing Carnival’s cruise ship island of Little San Salvador (click here for to read about that), we found ourselves jockeying for safe anchorage storm cover back in the Exumas.    We chose Compass Cay, where jockeying required choosing which barrier was the softest to crash.

Entering Compass Cay is a tricky affair in the best of conditions; threading through a plethora of closely spaced sandbars.  Our wind-filled sails and the prevailing current put us on a nice trajectory for a narrow, sand-free anchoring spot.  We readied our anchor….  

cruising destinations
Dredging to enlarge Compass Cay.
Good idea!
Then a big power cruiser, turned down from Compass Cay's tiny marina, shot out from behind a rock, and promptly anchored right where we were about to.   Our only alternative besides crashing into them was to smack into a sandbar, far softer than their boat.  The offending cruiser was puzzled by our behavior, clueless that they were the cause of it.

Before the blow, there was time to explore ashore.  We played with the sharkies (click here for more about that),

cruising life, cruising destinations
Cruiser memento at Compass Cay.
An hour or so later, to our chagrin, they left for another anchoring spot.  We were not so secretly pleased their alternative anchor spot was rougher.  We took advantage of the opening to move, as our neighbor got the word out via VHF that we’d swung a bit close to their boat.  Fortunately there was no harm done and an apologetic offering of home-made hummus was a good start to a new friendship.

cruiser destinations, cruiser activities
Surprise!  Truly fresh egg option at
Exuma’s quirky Compass Cay.
We returned the next day for a long, leisurely hike.  We were tickled from the get-go with our first encounter with the delightful cruiser mementos (there’s got to be a specific name for these and if anyone knows please chime in) – creative “found” sculptures emblazoned with cruiser boat‘s names and arrival year. 

We wove through the branching trails to a sweet little crescent beach, visited the dilapidated cliffside “Hesters House,” with its Pebbles and Bam-Bam-like “gym,” ambled across a low-tide landing strip, and were pleasantly surprised to see a veggie garden thriving and the cluck-cluck source for farm fresh eggs.

cruiser destinations, cruising life, hiking
Sweet little crescent beach at Compass Cay.
What a refreshing spot!  Especially after our first Exumas stop this year, at high-falutin’ “non-marina / resort guests are not allowed to walk on [sully?] our island or use our internet” Highborne Cay.

All in all, Compass Cay a good place to weather a blow, a fun spot to wander once its settled, and worth a repeat and further exploration, from what we heard from other cruisers.  Just watch out for those sandbars!

Location Location

cruising life, cruising destinations, hiking
Captain and studmeister Wayne
weightlifting at Hester’s House,
Compass Cay. Yeah, Baby!
June 26, 2014 BAHAMAS (retrospective), Compass Cay (N24.15.273 W76.30.825).  Currently in Jacksonville FL, working to restore our cruising kitty over hurricane season.  Once my hard drive images are restored (soon!) watch for more retrospectives of the cool places we visited earlier this year.  Meanwhile, we just moved our boat onto the hard at Green Cove Springs, Florida until November.  Then, it’s off to The South Pacific!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Land Pig’s 2 Words

cruising life cruising transitions
Moving vehicle?  Yup.  Straight from the Heart’s gracious loan of their mini
enabled the move of a good portion of our Spartan possessions.
Dirt Dweller. Land Pig. These colorful decriptions cruisers and live-aboards* might use to derisively describe what we’re doing for the next five months.

*Live-aboards home is on a boat, even if it’s not going anywhere.  One could arguably accuse some live-aboards of “swallowing the hook.”

It’s easy affect a sense of superiority when your home is wherever your sailboat takes you.  Your view changes whenever you decide it’s time to change it; the boat may be small, but we can justifiably boast about our awesome back yard.

Yet even for cruising misers like us, there comes a time to pay the piper.  Hurricane season (June – November in the Northern hemisphere) is the perfect time to support our lifestyle with that four-letter word called work –or, more quaintly -- rebuilding our “cruising kitty.”

Last year we lived aboard when we worked, in Jacksonville Florida’s lovely Ortega Landing Marina. 

Wayne worked a graveyard shift, 11 pm – 7 am.  It made car sharing easy; no conflict with my West Marine hours.  But graveyards really wreaked havok with Wayne’s sleep patterns.  His desire for no sound, vibration or scent during his sleeping hours, which could occur anytime within an 18 hour window.  Cooking, accessing anything on the boat, phone calls, getting on or off the boat were all potentially disastrous sleep disrupters.

Miraculously, our marriage survived that rough patch.  Part of it was a mutual agreement, which Wayne might fairly call my “Never again” (work a graveyard shift in a boat whose only two rooms are “inside” and “outside”) edict.

This year Wayne again landed work (4 pm – 2 am; in between a swing and a graveyeard shift) in Jacksonvile for hurricane season (and once again I will return to work at West Marine).  We’re glad to be back. 

Despite our logistical challenges last year, Jacksonville echoes much of what we love about Pacific Northwest hometown Portland OR (Vancouver WA, technically).… Friendly folks.  Eclectic walkable neighborhoods.  A thriving arts and creative culinary community. Even a strong preservation of architecture and a port town big river running through it.  Jacksonville exudes its own quirky, local sense of identity.

The two clinchers for us? 
  1. Relative affordability.
  2. When it comes to (re)entering the Caribbean for cruising, Florida’s a whole heckuva lot easier from the Southeast than from the Pacific Northwest.

It’s nice, though a little different this year reconnecting with our Jacksonville liveaboard friends as “landpigs.”

As with boats and nearly all life’s choices, there are tradeoffs.

cruising life, boat maintenance

Bottom line benefit most land pigs take for granted.We give our thanks multiple times daily.
While we are “land pigs,” these are the two words we’ll revel in multiple times daily, until we return to our watery nomadic life:

Two ply.**

**Some cruisers manage their bottom line by not stowing rather than flushing their t.p. (toilet paper), opting for a stinkier bathroom in exchange for healthy head hygene.  Bigger budget cruisers may invest in spectacularly robust heads (marine toilets) that require neither stowing their used wipees aboard nor one ply to keep their head happy. Your average cruiser, however, will secretly groan in envy, at least in this one respect.

Location Location
June 18, 2014.  Jacksonville, FL.  Until this Sunday, our boat will remain docked at the JAX Naval Mulberry Cove Marina (N30.12.980 W81.40.234).  Then we’ll put it “on the hard” (store it on land) until November, when we’ll begin preparation to cruise the South Pacific.  We are, meanwhile, (gasp!) moved into a one bedroom apartment in Jacksonville for the interim.  Now that we’re moved in and my Mac’s dead power cord’s replaced, expect more frequent blogs, especially after the bulk of my yet-to-be-published cruising photos get resurrected.