Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 17 - April 28, 2011

The quiet times……sometimes we leave posts unwritten because we’re having such a good time that we feel terrible verifying the reality exceeds the dream.  Sometimes we leave posts unwritten because we have no internet connection; sometimes we’re waiting for input; sometimes, most often in fact, the silent gaps in our postings are because we are in the “drudgery mode” of the trip. 

This past eleven days have been days of mostly just work….anchor up by 7:00 am, means Tony’s up and checking in at the office and with the weather bureaus and checking all the boat systems long before first light.  We have moved the boat through miles and miles of territory we saw for the first time just a few months ago (but it was colder then).  We’ve had a few delays for weather, and we’ve been exceedingly lucky and/or smart in our choices to delay, hold still, or speed up.  We’ve been on the edge of some harrowing systems, but we’ve been only on the edge of those systems.
Scott's Eggshell Scrimshaw - Bahamas 2010/2011

Our biggest highlight over this past stretch was Easter, spent in Portsmouth, VA with Messenger and Georgia-E.  Tony and I split off from them just before the last storm (4/16).  We left Wrightsville Beach and ran some long, long days covering 96 miles in one run.  Those days were spent with a schedule of early up and out, then one hour shifts hand steering through the mind-numbing tedium of the ICW.  We finally came to the last stretch making it through 4 bridges and a lock with precision timing, to pull in to the Tidewater Marina at Mile Marker “0”!!! And there we sat.  And got off the boat to see if our legs still worked.  And, went to bed later than 8:30 and slept later than 6:00!! We had a BLAST in Portsmouth, VA;)  Messenger and Georgia-E pulled in on Holy Saturday after their similar, exhausting run.  Never daunted, Lisa had Easter “in the bag”.

Endurance & Georgia E in Eggshell
After quick showers and reconnaissance, Messenger has all three boats off for a lovely dinner-theater event that night to see “The Conspirator” at the local dinner/movie venue.  We closed the night with just the Captains and First Mates off to the local Irish Whiskey Bar “Still” to enjoy some of the best imports to be found in liquid form.  At first light Messenger has already had an egg hunt and baskets, and at 11:30 the three boats were sitting down to a lovely Easter brunch on the docks with sun-shading Easter bonnets and Ray-Bans feasting on Messenger’s ham and ‘sunshine salad’, Georgia-E’s mashed potatoes, Endurance’s coleslaw and watermelon and (later) a burned but edible Pineapple Upside-down Cake.  If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with – and we do.

The light air sail flies as we head North on the Chesapeake

All three boats left Easter Monday and are now in the upper Chesapeake; Georgia-E spun off yesterday for a quick tour of St. Michael’s, while Messenger and we are in Annapolis; we’ll wait out the rest of today for this nasty storm front to pass, and then to Baltimore, tomorrow.  Baltimore – home away from home for us.  We simply cannot wait.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

That's over!!

Yikes!!  Sustained winds of 37 with gusts to 57!!  Four foot waves in the anchorage.  Ninety minutes of "Yikes!".  Can we sleep now?  Get on with our trip?  At 9:15 p.m. we have a steady 11 to 12.  Radar shows it all out to sea; trailing all the way down to Charleston.  The sun will be out tomorrow.  We'll have sun.  And we're headed Home....

Proof of our journey...

 Our fine feathered friend.

Georgia E under sail in the Gulf Stream!

Home, but under quarantine.


 The Big Blue!!!  And the Little Blue.

For this we come home?

Tornados?  What a welcome home!

Trip to Georgetown (South Carolina, not Great Exuma - unfortunately), was uneventful and fish-less. George and I had spent several hours at Hadley Creek Tackle Shop in Charleston "gearing up" for a few days of South Carolina coastal fishing. Spinning rods and tackle and ten day licenses, but, as they say, "we was skunked". We did spend a pleasant night anchored at Harbor River and saw them jumping. Likely moving too fast on the ICW for either trolling or casting this light gear. It ain't the ocean, my friends.

Rained on and off (mostly off) as we made it to Georgetown. A pretty little town that was once the rice and timber capital of (and thus, the third largest city in) South Carolina. Harborwalk Marina looked brand, spanking new and we had a delightful walk in town checking out the historic markers and great buildings. George Washington actually did sleep here.

Prior to our afternoon naps, beer and fried oysters at Buzz's Roost reminded us of the Cruisers' Life we recently left in the Bahamas. Sitting at a bar at 3:00 in the afternoon will be surely missed.

George subsequently managed to catch two catfish off the boat. Technically, they were Gafftopsail or Schooner-Rig Catfish; what George calls Ocean Blue Catfish back in Florida. The first one could have fed a family of six, the second a family of four. But, not in South Carolina. Immediate release required. Dinner at the River Bend Restaurant, resulted.

Next morning we were off to Charleston International Airport in an Enterprise rental car to send George back home. A great trip. Great crew. Great fun.

And now, we are headed Home. Up the ICW on Thursday to the Calabash River off Little River Inlet on the South Carolina-North Carolina border. Next morning, we are in North Carolina and South Carolina is $11 richer without having given up any of her fin-fish resources to Endurance.

Now, in North Carolina, they actually throw fish at you. As we left the Cape Fear River through Snow's Cut, we turned back North on the ICW at Carolina Beach Inlet. When we came through here last Fall, the shore was lined with fishermen. Same, this time through. I don't know if it was a South Carolina fish that chased us clear through to these foreign waters, or a North Carolina fish that just felt bad for us, but as we made the turn, a three foot fish hits the side of the boat, jumps as high as the lifelines and almost lands in the cockpit. If the enclosure window was rolled up (battened down against this Northern cold wind), we would have either had him for dinner or heard him laughing at us. In any event, as close as we have come to successful fishing in U.S. waters.

A long day to Wrightsville Beach put us in their great little anchorage with a nice dinghy dock at Wynn Park. Walked to the Post Office and the Beach. The place is jam-packed with young co-eds working on their early season tans and social lives.

Our travel plans, though, are thwarted for Saturday. The front moving through on Saturday promised rain which would require us to get really wet as we waited for the next four "timed" bridges on this next part of the ICW. Then,  NOAA issues a Severe Weather Alert for potentially damaging winds. Then several of the bridges close to openings due to high winds. Then NOAA upgrades it's Alert to a Tornado Watch (till 9:00 tonight). And the Coast Guard says there are six to nine foot waves in Bogue Inlet.

We're staying put. As of 5:00 p.m. still no rain, but "blowing stink". We'll either be on our way at 0630 tomorrow (to catch the first bridge opening at 0700), or you’ll hear about us on the news.

In either case, we are headed Home.

Monday, April 11, 2011

We made it Home! Back to the US, at least.

Left Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island at 1000 Thursday for the 410 nm trip to Charleston.  Our start was timed to assure Georgia E that the rising tide would keep us off the rocks in the skinny entrance to Sunrise Marina.  We even had a dinghy escort to be sure we all stayed in line.  Once outside the cut, Georgia E went head to wind and raised their mainsail.  Thinking the race was on, Endurance did the same, set a preventer and then turned its stern to the wind to head West.  Georgia E immediately called to find out where we were going.  “West” we say, “and you”.  Our first shared waypoint was apparently mis-keyed on Georgia E and they were going East.  A funny start to our adventure.

Swinging West then North around Grand Bahama Island, we were at West End and then Memory Rock in about three hours and then, out of the Bahamas.  Wow!  Bittersweet.  We so much wanted to be home; but so badly hated leaving the Bahamas.  What a great trip it has been.  We seriously thought that we would have a three week window after which we would grow bored and want to return to the States.  As it turned out, December 17 to April 7 gave us sixteen great weeks of sailing, relaxing, just having fun, and ignoring the world which you all call “reality”.  We met great new cruising friends, and helpful and friendly Bahamians.  We were also assured that we could get a Bahamian residency card “in 20 minutes, citizenship in half a day”.  Tempting; yes.  Practical; no.  Are we coming back?  Certainly.  Here, or somewhere else.  Whether it’s the Bahamas, the Caribbean, or some other sailing destination, we certainly feel that we can take Endurance, and more importantly, ourselves, there.  Can’t wait.

But, on to our passage.

George arrived on Wednesday afternoon, so we had a full crew complement (three).  Unfortunately, Wednesday night we entered the US versus Canada International Rules Eight Ball Tournament.  George, anxious to show the Canadians how to manage the felt field, became at first surprised, then concerned, then outraged, then too drunk to care that we were actually playing Canadian Rules (who knew there was a difference?  Look it up!).  In shock and horror, we adjourned (late) to the cockpit of Endurance where the evil Canadians proceeded to finish off the Havana Club which I had so carefully hidden from US Customs and Border Protection.  CBP should hire Canadians to ferret out smugglers.  No pay.  They’ll just drink their finds.

In the morning, George was useless as a deck hand.  Once off the dock, he was back in his berth.  How does the song go?  What do you do with a drunken sailor, early in the morning?

Light winds from the East and South are predicted for the next four days.  A perfect weather window that could take us all the way to Norfolk.  If we had a hankering for being colder, sooner; rather than later.  So where did the Northwest wind come from?  Never mind.  We sailed a good twelve hours from Memory Rock into the Gulf Stream, until about two in the morning on Friday.  Then in the morning, we are sailing again.  Our 52 hour trip had us sailing at least half the time.  At one point, we were sailing over 10 knots in ten knots of wind.  Thank you to the three and a half knot current of the Gulf Stream.  Tess suggested we reef down so that Georgia E could catch up.  I was concerned that if anyone saw an Island Packet reefed in ten knots of wind, we would be forced to go to Remedial Sailing School. 

In any event, we had what should be considered a perfect Gulf Stream passage.  Light wind.  Good current.  Great weather.  On the dock in Charleston by 2:00 p.m. Saturday.  I had planned a six knot per hour passage getting us in on Sunday afternoon.  Not bad for first timers.  And Georgia E was right behind us.  Stu says that they always caught up on Tess’ watch, since she would throttle down to let them catch up.  George and I would then pull ahead.  But, all in all, we had a great joint venture.

Also boarded an unexpected passenger about midway through our passage.  While we thought we were safe bringing home an American Gold Finch, when Sibleys’s showed us we had a common House Finch (yellow variant) aboard, we withdrew apple, oatmeal and granola bar service and shooed it away before CBP started asking questions.

George asked as we approached Charleston whether it was more exciting to leave a port or arrive, we unanimously agreed that getting there was what it was all about.  And it is.  Being on the Charleston City Marina Megadock is like being home.  Restaurants, groceries, Tuesday Mornings, massages (for one), credit card usage; this is what America is all about.  Our Crew Dinner at Slightly North of Broad (on King Street) was extraordinary.  Our Passage Sunday Breakfast with (and compliments of) Georgia E was fantastic.  And our final dinner at Poogan’s Porch was what Charleston is all about.

Monday, after buying new spinning rods and reels, we are off the Megadock at 2:00 p.m., through our first swing bridge (the Ben Sawyer) by 3:00, under our first fixed bridge (barely 65 feet), and now (by 6:30) anchored in the Harbor River (not Harbour, anymore), on the ICW.  Headed to Georgetown (South Carolina) so that George can see the ICW north of Ft. Lauderdale. We are truly “Headed Home”.

See you all soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Manatee


In the Berrys, but Homeward Bound

PH has left the vessel.  Ahhhhh…..

After a great “final” week in the Exumas, exploring those unexplored parts of the Exuma Land & Sea Park we have bypassed on our various passes through over the past three and a half months, we headed to Nassau for re-provisioning and now are headed up through the Berrys toward Grand Bahama (Freeport and Lucaya).  That destination provides our jumping off point for the States.  Florida, Charleston, we’ll see how far we can make it in our initial passage.

Friday’s passage our predicted NE at 10 was W at 20 plus.  A great sail, though beating most of the way.  We reefed down at 24 knots and again at 29 knots, but were at anchor at Cabbage Cay - Little Harbour Cay ahead of any squalls.  He says beating, I say, it was truthfully quite nice…it went into the edges of some squalls, the sky was a little gray, the sea a little rollier than usual here…it was just like sailing in Maine, and felt quite right all in all.  Once we set the anchor, the wind abated, the sea calmed, the evening was lovely for a few hours of de-salting the cockpit and galley (oops, I meant to close that, honey)

Saturday we had a great sail up the Berry chain past Great Harbour and Great Stirrup and around the west side to Bullocks Harbour.  Wind abeam almost all day.  A great sailing day.  And a great fishing day.  Four Cero and three Bar Jacks.  We ended up with about eight pounds of fillets.  No more fishing for a while. 

Okay, so I’ll do the shortened blow by blow straight from the log book:
9:20 anchor up;
 9:51 Bar Jack beheaded in pail on board;
10:55 Bar Jack #2 in pail;
11:00 #3 Got Away;
12:22 Cero, 21”;
  *ACM takes shower after beheading and bagging this one, scales all over his arms – showers on fly seat in aft of cockpit…refreshing!
12:53 Bar Jack #3
1:13 Cero, 18”;
1:27 Another damn fish, Cero 19”
2:06 “Oh shit, the biggest yet” Cero  then, “I’m exhausted, I can’t fish any more today”

3:20 Anchor set; he starts cleaning fish.  Fish cleaning ends at 5:30! (With another shower – neighbors hopefully averting eyes)

And we are in the calmest grassland bottoms imaginable.  And what do we see?  Manatees!!  Poor Capt. Tuna had little time to raise his eyes with that infamously sharp knife in his hand and seagulls swarming and calling above, but I could linger all afternoon (and did) just lowering my blood pressure watching these two serene sea elephants come up for a bit of air with a mouthful of grass and weeds sticking out of their mouths, then slowly roll over themselves back down for another gulp.  Once submerged, a 3 foot mushroom-cloud of sand bubbles toward the surface as evidence of another clump of dinner torn from the seabed.  They stayed just off the port and aft side of the boat until sunset…quite a treasure for our memory books.

Finally dinner was made:  Spanish rice and lightly battered and fried fish for the hungry workman today.  How many recipes can we steal from Gordon’s Fishermen?!?

It was a beautiful evening sky; no brilliant green flash, but a gentle setting of the sun into 80 degree water, over a calm horizon with blues and pinks blending and bouncing off the water and back to the sky.  What a split personality we have:  oh to be home among those we love again; oh to be here in a safe secluded anchorage in Hollywood weather conditions…….Home and family still wins, but how lucky are we to have the luxury of that decision?  

Tomorrow, we sail Homeward.

Tess & Tony's Excellent Bahamas Adventure, by PH

A grand tour of the Exumas, Bahamas starts with a Flamingo Air flight aboard a 9 seat plane – a “Barbie plane” bound to Staniel Cay from Nassau.  The 45-minute flight showcases the brilliant and varied blues of the Bahamian waters.  The pilots are competent.  The plane is island-worthy – well worn, but serviceable.  It brings me safely to Tess & Tony who wait under an open air “gazebo”.   Tess & Tony share a story about a woman who lives on Staniel.  She flew in 40 years ago and after flying in over the amazingly clear waters, declared she would never leave.  How lucky for her.  How lucky for me that my good friends have invited me.  AHHH!  It feels so good to be here.  I can feel myself relaxing already.

First a stop at the local market where fresh produce, eggs, etc have been purchased and set aside for pick up upon my arrival, which fortunately coincides with the arrival of the weekly supply boat.  We’ll eat well for the rest of the week.  Then we’re off to the dock where the dinghy has been tied.   A pit stop at restaurant beach allows for a change into my island attire and a short walk to the Staniel Cay yacht club for a Kilik, perhaps.  Or rather a decision to race back to the boat.  We’re anchored at the Big Majors, famous for its swimming pigs who hang out on the beach waiting for food scraps from the tourist boaters. 

The weather is perfect for a late afternoon, early evening swim.   The T&T team spoils me immediately by serving grilled spiny lobster tail with cole slaw for dinner, accompanied by wine from Lisa aboard “Messenger”, who made sure that Tess & I would have a bottle to share.  Tess bakes an amazing ginger cake by improving upon a recipe from the book “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” by Ann Vanderhoof.  Tess substitutes maple syrup for molasses.  Tony & I can’t get enough of it.  We have it for breakfast the next 2 mornings.  Yummy!

The book has been left on my bunk’s shelf for my reading pleasure.  The perfect book for a cruise through the Exumas where the author details her own island hopping adventures.  It’s a book that has been recommended to me several years ago.  I am delighted be given the chance to read it aboard Endurance. 

After a hearty breakfast, day 2 starts with a visit to the hungry pigs.  It’s slightly unnerving when they swim toward the inflatable, but we manage to avoid any mishaps by tossing the food away from us.  Tony also maneuvers the dinghy away from any danger.  The pigs are large and appear to be very well fed.  Good eating for the locals when the cruisers are gone for the summer.  We’ve got many more anchorages to explore and it’s a beautiful day for a sail.  Yes.  We sailed from Big Majors to Cambridge Cay within the park boundaries of the Exuma Land & Sea Park. Cambridge Cay highlights include snorkeling, swimming, beautiful beaches and sunset cocktails aboard “Chandelle”.

Day 3 we’re off to Wardrick Wells, the headquarters for the park.  Again we swim and snorkel after a hike up Boo Boo Hill where Endurance has placed their driftwood plaque among the hundreds of others left by cruisers throughout the years.  We found fellow cruisers’ names and had a great view of Endurance on the mooring.  There is no fishing allowed within the land & sea park.  Fines are $500/person per fish.  The fish seem to know this as they stay within the boundaries and thrive.  The current is strong.  Tony encourages us to hold onto the dinghy while he drifts over the reef.  The snorkeling is excellent.  We see gigantic grouper and spiny lobsters as long as our arms. 

Day 4 finds us at Shroud Cay.  Again we swim & snorkel.  The highlight is a dinghy ride through the mangroves to an isolated beach on the sound side of the island.  We’ve been sailing on the banks, the shallow side.  The beach is right out of the Bahamas brochures.  The water is beautiful, indescribably beautiful.  The sand feels wonderful on my feet.

Day 5 sail brings us to the Highborne Cay anchorage where we swim again.  Swimming is an every day, usually multiple times per day activity.   Swimming, reading, eating, cribbage, exploring new anchorages, sunset happy hours.  What an amazing vacation.  AHHH!

Day 6 means a move to Allens Cay famous for its rock iquanas.  They definitely look like miniature dinosaurs.  Fascinating.  The water is still beautiful.  The anchorage has plenty of room for more boats.   Of course, we swim off the back of the boat.

Day 7  - So sad, we must make our way to Nassau in order for me to catch my flight from Nassau to Boston the following day.  The wind is light.  The weather is hot!   The longest passage of the trip is uneventful.   Docked at Nassau Harbor Cay Marina for the 3rd time, Endurance and its Captain & Admiral are practically locals.  They know the ropes and arrange for my taxi ride to the airport.  There is a pool.  We swim again. 

Departure day - After a morning swim (of course) in the pool rather than the sea, a grand tour of the Bahamas ends with a taxi ride to Nassau’s newly remodeled international airport.  The driver, Mrs. Moss, points out interesting facts along the way.  The couple I’m sharing the ride with are returning to Hampton, Virginia after spending the last 5+ weeks helping their friend bring his boat from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.  They have sailed the boat through the same territories that I have been reading about in “An Embarrassment of Mangoes.” 

What a relaxing and exciting vacation, an amazing and memorable adventure with my forever friends.   AHHH!   We had a pisser of a time.