Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Allans Pensacola Cay (23 - 24 January)

Although Allans-Pensacola Cay has a nice beach and is the site of a former missile tracking station, what makes it special is the tree. I don’t know how long the tree has been there, but for years, cruisers have been leaving relics at the tree. Over time, it became one of the “must sees” for cruisers in the Abacos. In an effort to maintain the tradition, we piled into John’s dink and headed towards shore. We dismounted at what a canvass-plastic structure that someone had called “Allen Cay Hilton.” There were some cooking utensils, a bunch of nails, a clothes line with clothes pins, a roll of toilet paper, a knife and a fishing net. I guess those are the essentials for survival in the Abacos. Anyway, we started up a trail behind the Hilton and while the trail never disappeared, it kind of faded away. On our way back, John thought he saw a little trail and wanted to try it out, Ann wanted to go back to the beach and I wanted to try a trail I saw up the beach a little so we all went our own was. Although I found a cool network of trails (where did they come from, I still wonder), it was John who found the tree. He took me back and I left a laminated card for Traveling Soul.

Traveling Soul's laminated card on the TREE. I wonder
whether it will last through the next hurricane.
We went to look at our anchor through John’s glass bottom bucket, it did not look as solidly set as it did the evening before. Nevertheless, the weather was good, the winds were calm and it was fine. Life is good. Again I thought about going swimming, but again I chickened out. If it were just a little warmer … J
Another picture of the TREE. Hey, what do you expect, there
was nothing here BUT the tree.
ANN’S NOTES: Another dinghy adventure to Allans Cay … the ride over was beautiful… getting out of the dinghy not so much. First I wore the wrong shoes ... so I had to take them off and walk in yucky sea grass onto a sandy beach ... just an FYI ... Ann and sand do not mix well. Than we explored this very dense island for a “tree”… in wet, sandy feet inside boat shoes…NOT a fun time for me. Michael and John went on exploring and I went back to the make shift fishing camp. The island was rather sad to see ... all sorts of human trash ... plastic bottles, broken glass bottles … just stuff … some left behind ... some washed up by the tide and water. Again I just sat watched nature ... lizards running around and a little hermit crab that I wanted to keep as a pet ... Michael said NO…I just miss my cat Chardonay … to end on a good note ... the island was at one time beautiful and that spirit does shine through. The pile of beautiful conch shells told me so.

Look closely and you can see Ann's hermit crab - her pet - NOT

Fox Town (22-23 January)

A buddy of John’s suggested he visit a place named Fox Town, across from Hawksbill Cay, and that he say “hello” to Ron and Judy. Since that moved us closer to our Marsh Harbor destination, we decided we were game and would accompany John. Now, Fox Town was the first real Bahamian town we had visited and it was probably as close to the real Bahamas as we will ever see. There were three things that dominate my observations of Fox Town. First, there was religion – Baptist. We arrived on a Sunday and just about everyone was observing the Sabbath the kids were out playing and there was nobody – or almost nobody – in the streets (except those few people in the bar watching the New England – Baltimore football playoffs). Second, there was poverty. The economy here is based on fishing, primarily lobster, conch, grouper and some other fish whose name I didn’t recognize. And while things appeared to be going okay, no one can really get ahead. My one-day observation – for what it is worth – is that the harder they worked the further behind they fell. Remember the Tennessee Ernie song, “Sixteen Tons?”It seemed kind of like that. It was kind of sad. But the third thing that no one could fail to notice was how friendly the locals were. When we docked our dinghy, there were two young boys who helped us onto the dock and decided to accompany us – and show us the way to – the nearest (and only) internet site in town. Kevin, one of the young men, was about 11 and claimed to have six brothers and four sisters. When we got to the local bar-café, Judy (of Ron and Judy) let us use her internet connection for free. John connected with his family and we connected with our friends and family. Oh! And I got to watch a little (and just a little) of the New England-Baltimore Playoff game. It was a great day!

Cracked conch MMM mmm ... Even better than gator!
 We were there only about two hours, but the local extroverts had to come and see the new people. I am sure you have all seen movies about how the locals followed the hero explorers into town. Although we were not heroes, we felt kind of like that. In addition to Kevin and one of his brothers, others came to join us when we arrived at Ron and Judy’s. We thought we were the tourists coming to see their town, but they seemed to perceive us as the aliens they had to observe. Strange. Anyway, I learned all about catching lobster and conch from one local fisherman (whose name I, sadly, do not recall) and Ann learned all about the town from Caroline. Caroline was a big lady. Ann and I disagree on her age. Ann says early seventies, I say maybe her fifties – who knows, who cares, she was a sweetheart -- who had owned her own fishing boat until she had a stroke. Now, they wouldn’t let her take a boat out on her own anymore, so she hung around town. I don ‘t know whether or not she was the (very sweet) town gossip, but she sure knew and relayed a lot about Fox Town. Anyway, we all decide that since there were several grocery stores in Fox Town, and since we were not yet finished with our internet business, we would come back in the morning and leave for out next destination in the afternoon.

Ann and her new friend Caroline
The next morning, we initially went to the bar-café where we had been the day before so we could establish internet connections. When we arrived, Carline was already there. We asked where the best grocery store was and she decided that she should take us there. She really wanted us to go to the local phone company and get a chip in our phone so she could “check up on us.” We didn’t tell her that we were going to wait until we got to Marsh Harbor, but we did take her phone number and tell her we would call. The grocery stores were not what most American would consider a real grocery store. They were about the size of a small bedroom or a walk-in closet; they were small. For the most part they had canned goods, and staples. We did not see any vegetables or fruit, fresh or otherwise. These were minuscule “grocery” stores. However, since we were there and did take up the proprietors time, I felt obliged to buy something. At the first one we bought pineapple juice (for rum drinks, of course) and barbecued Pringles – primarily because no one was buying anything.

 After using the internet at the bar-restaurant-café, we decided we need to have a real Bahamian meal, so we ordered cracked Conch. (Besides, we needed to repay Judy for her hospitality and I thought the best way to do that was to order a meal. It was heavenly. Ann, especially, fell in love with it and convinced the cook to yield her recipe. We also met Theresa, a white lady living in Fox Town who is from Deale, Maryland, the location where we used to keep our boat. It is a small world. After we talked to everyone and eaten our conch, we were stuffed and ready to head off to Allens-Pensacola Cay.

 ANN’S NOTES: I think Michael has described Fox Town rather well…the town has about 500 people living in the town. It has a fueling dock, the internet café/bar, several of what the locals call grocery store,s and some very friendly people. Oh…just a note …almost all the little settlements/town have wonderful bakeries that have home-made bread. Fresh fruits and vegetables are catch as catch can..if you see a tomato, buy it JThe cracked conch was excellent…I talked with Judy the cook/bar maid/fueling attendant/internet expect…the multi-tasker if ever there is one. Anyway we talked about how to make the perfect cracked conch..I think the trick is to hammer the conch to death until it is tender. They also used a special kind of flour from Canada, of which we now have a five pound bag in our pantry J

Theresa (from Deale, MD) and Judy of Ron and Judy fame

Anchoring at Great Sale Cay (20-21 January)

Great Sale Cay provides the first decent anchorage after crossing the Bank. So, there we anchored. The island is shaped like an inverted“Y” with one leg of the “Y” extending down about two miles or so. The anchorage is in the crotch of the letter. On the outside of the short leg is a beautiful white beach.

Sunset at Great Sale Cay
 I must say that while we have some rough spots to work on, we deployed our anchor pretty well. I would give us a good C+. You will recall that since our %^&%$^&% old windlass had given humankind a few problems. At West Palm it yielded to one of man’s most sophisticated technological inventions: a sledge hammer. We now have a brand new Maxwell 1500 that can pick up 1500 pounds. We also bought a new anchor. I wanted to test our old 45 lb CQR anchor on our shakedown cruise. But since we didn’t have that chance, we decided to get a new anchor anyway. So we got a 66 pound Bruce. It is a big anchor and we are feeling more and more confident with every night it doesn’t drag. Moreover, my plan on using two 25foot lines as our snubbers worked pretty well. Snubbers fill two purposes. You connect them to the chain, then tie them to the boat in such a way that they take pressure off the windlass – and believe me now that we have one that works we are babying our windlass. There will be no pressure on OUR Maxwell!!! Second, the snubber cushions what might otherwise be a “snap” from wind gusts that drive the boat back until our chain stops the movement rather suddenly. Since they are made of nylon, our snubber stretches about 16% and eases the impact of the wind gust.

Note the perfect relationship between the snubbers and the anchor chain.
Yea, yea, yea, note also the beautiful environs

Anyway, the weather at Great Sale Cay was so beautiful. Since neither of us had ever been to a deserted island in the Bahamas, we decided to stay an additional day. Great Sale Cay is an uninhabited island that does not have much to commend it to humans, except the wonderful anchorage and the nice – though not pristine –beach around the corner. Before we did anything, of course, we had to deploy our dinghy. Well, we got her half way down and, as you might have guessed, the winch ceased working. We could raise the dinghy, but could not lower her. So we raised he back up and put her above her davit (but we could not lower her into the davit) and tried to diagnose the problem. Luckily, John from Vulcan came over and spotted a break in the wire. Even after he fixed that, however, the winch still didn’t work. I determined that the problem was the switch. Between John and me, we figured out how to open up the switch and clean the contacts.

That was it! The winch worked! We were back in business and began our explorations. We followed the crotch of the anchorage around until we found a place to go ashore. When we did, we found that other humans had preceded us – and had left their refuse. Still, we learned that this particular island was made mostly of dead coral and mangroves. I tried to get over to the other side of the island, but the going was pretty tough and I never quite made it. We did, however, discover a skull!!! I am not sure what kind of animal it was, but since we did not see any signs of fresh water or any other signs of a mammal on the island, we think it was probably brought to the cay like everything else and left by some ghoulish humans. You know if you were looking for a story to write, you could probably not do much better than a serial killer on a deserted island in the Bahamas … I am just saying.

Mike out exploring in the deal coral and scrub at Great Sale Cay
 Speaking of discovery, I also found out something about our dinghy – it goes like hell! I had never had it down in a place where no one cared how fast you went, so when I opened up that 30HP puppy, I discovered why it ran so rough at low RPM – it wants to MOVE. I zipped around the anchorage a few times, then went back to the boat where Ann and I redeployed the dinghy in preparation for traveling the next day.

 ANN’S NOTES: Anchors, snubbers, windlasses OH MY…I am just the anchor girl that has to use all these things with help from my fearless captain. We are still very much in the learning curve. At the end of this adventure I will have arms like Michelle Obama J While we were exploring around the island we saw several sea turtles..those little guys swim fast. I do not explore very well..too many bugs that love to bite me..while I was waiting for Michael ,I broke a branch on a dead tree..inside was a large colony of ants..little white eggs and all. The ants moved every one of those eggs out of the sun. How clever nature is ..a dead tree that keeps them protected from the sun and away from lizards that like to eat them. If one just slows down and observes what is around them you can learn a lot. I want to thank our boat buddy for helping us out with the windlass switch..it would have been a nightmare traveling with a swinging Boston Whaler on our fly bridge.

The Crossing and West End (18 - 19 January, 2012)

As many of you know, we have been focused on crossing the Gulf Stream and docking in the Bahamas for several years. We had watched, listened and learned from the experiences of others. And on 18 January 2012 at 0655 we left Lake Park Harbor Marina and at 1430 we arrived at Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, the Bahamas!!!!!!!!

Now, as I describe the crossing, many of you are going to think, “hey, what’s the big deal?” But remember two things. First, this is serious ocean. It is over 2000 feet deep and has taken a number of vessels over the years. I don’t think it would hiccup at swallowing a 52 foot Jefferson. Second, we knew what we were doing with regards to the weather. We had received some very good advice from a number of cruisers: “Don’t cross with the wind having ANY northern component;” “make sure you have a day or two after significant winds so the seas have had a chance to settle down;” “ensure you adjust your arrival destination to save fuel, because the Stream will push you north at 2-3 miles-per-hour.” After we made all our calculations and took everyone’s advice to heart, we determined that Wednesday 18 January was the perfect day. In fact, on Thursday, the forecast was for the winds to shift to the north. So, it was either Wednesday or sometime the following week. Needless to say, we left on Wednesday.

 Once we got onto the ocean, the seas were about 2-4 feet, as forecast. We had been through worse, and it really wasn’t too bad. During the crossing, I guess the thing that struck me the most wasn’t the size of the waves, but the color of the water. It was the deepest blue I had ever seen. Now, I know some of you think you know what deep blue is – and you may have seen bluer water than we have. But, normally, water isn’t blue, it is transparent. However, for, what I am sure is a very scientific reason, the deeper the water, the bluer it seems. The water between Florida and the Bahamas is over 2000 feet deep – that means the water column is nearly ½ mile; think about it, ½ mile of water. Now, I know that there is deeper water in the world, but Traveling Soul has not seen anything deeper, nor have I. So, as I said above, the water was deep; in fact, it was the deepest water, and hence, the deepest blue I have ever seen.

 Some of you may remember that during our Shakedown Cruise we had some problems with our Autopilot. During the Crossing it worked perfectly; maybe too perfectly. Once you set your autopilot, there is very little for the human pilot to do; the boat literally steers itself. One break from the tedium is to listen to the radio for other cruisers talking to one another. As we were crossing, we heard the vessel Vulcan calling the Old Bahama Bay (OBB) Marina. We only paid attention because we intended to dock at the same marina for the first night or two, and – okay – because we like to listen to other peoples’ conversations. It wasn’t a very interesting discussion and we didn’t pay much attention, but we would recall it later.
 At about 1430 we arrived at Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina and backed into our assigned slip. I was brilliant as I ran the port engine in reverse and the starboard engine in forward. In short, it was, if I may say so myself, a magnificent job of pulling into the Marina. We then deployed our yellow Quarantine flag, Ann got our documents ready for Customs and Immigration– it is a foreign country after all – and reported to the C&I office. After clearing into the Bahamas, we paid what seemed like a small fortune for the privilege if using OBB’s water and electricity. BUT we had arrived. We had realized our dreams. We had become full-time cruisers and we were preparing to spend our first winter in the Bahamas!
Traveling Soul and her Quarantine Flag

Was this important to us? Now, I want you to remember that we had focused on this plan for about five years. We had bought books, talked to other cruisers, read Blogs, attended boat shows, etc. We were serious. Then, if I can be permitted a maudlin moment (and it is my Blog, after all), after I had my “cardiac event,” we were more determined than ever. Within nine months of my surgery we had bought our boat and had achieved our dream. But achieving a dream was only the first step. The question for us was, “What do we do now?”
 The answer was simple. We spent two nights at Old Bahama Bay. It had been originally designed as a “resort and marina.” There were 72 slips, and probably 150 (or so) condos, in addition to the 50(?) very large houses in the neighborhood. The resort had a nice beach, two pools, a beach bar, wonderfully landscaped grounds and the potential for a restaurant, gift shop and other facilities. The problem was that no one was there. In the marina, there were probably 20 boats, in the resort there might have been 20 –30 guests. The recession in the US was killing OBB – though we hope it survives. For us, however, the first night was still special – not only because it was, well, our first night in the Bahamas, but because we bought three fresh lobster tails from a young man walking along the docks (for $10 – but we could probably have had them cheaper) and Ann cooked lobster with drawn butter, served with rice pilaf. It was perhaps the perfect meal!

Old Bahama Bay is a beautiful resort and Marina

While at OBB we met John Carnie, who was single-handing the vessel Vulcan.(Who ,you will recall, we had heard as we were crossing the Gulf Stream). John is a Brit with an American accent who has apparently adopted us. Single-handing a vessel is not easy in the best of circumstances, but, though John had sailed elsewhere in the Caribbean, he was now on a 34-foot Mainship and had never been to the Bahamas. He is 67 years old and thought it would be best if he could cruise with a “buddy boat.” We talked and decided that we would cruise together to Great Sale Cay on the Little Bahama Bank.

 ANN’S NOTES: I did not see any frolicking dolphins…where are they? Old Bahama Bay really is a nice place..I got a pedi while we were there…the young woman was beautiful and well traveled..she had been on an Alaskan cruise..went to massage school in Florida…loves to travel and has many places on her bucket list. It was wonderful to have some “girl talk” The loster was yummy and was bought from a guy on a bike still in his wet suit..I think they were fresh. Our boat buddy is really a nice man..we enjoy his company.

More Repair and Provisioning (9 December - 17 January)

Over the holidays we spent out time with our friends Dave and Joan Wolf and with some of our kids, Tim and Carry, and some of our grandkids, Caylin and Gavin. Our boat stayed at Lake Park Harbor Marina and had some more work done. When we got back to the boat on 9 Jan, we spent most of our time making sure everything worked and provisioning. I know some of you might want to read about our provisioning adventures. If so, you need to say so in the comments section. For, while I know provisioning was important, I am more interested in writing about our time cruising.
ANN’S NOTES: I thought I should get involved in the blog so you will see my notes and comments…In order to provision the boat we joined Costco…that  store was so helpful  and we now have all the beef we can put into our freezer. I  think we did a pretty good job …and  I did find a place to store it all away, although I had to use the lower berth as a storage area. I must admit I do know how to organize.