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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

West End to Marsh Harbor

Back in the day when men were men, giants walked the earth and there were pirates in the Bahamas, even the most daring of mariners had to cross the Little Bahamas Bank. Now Blackbeard may have had alternatives, like sending his most recently captured prize ahead of him to see if that ship sank. But for the rest of us there are really only two ways of crossing the Little Bahamas Bank from West End. The one we have used in the past is to go up northwest about 20 miles to Memory Rock, then head due east to Mangrove and Great Sale Cay. Although this is by far the deepest water – I think the shallowest is 10’ or so – but it takes about two hours more than the other route. The alternative is to head northeast and cut through the Bank at a diagonal up to Mangrove and Great Sale.  The challenge is that there are a few spots where the water is charted at only five feet. We draw 4 ½ feet. I need to point out two things so you don’t think we have gone bonkers and have turned into risk takers. First, the depth indicated on nautical charts is called the Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW). In most parts of the world, there are two low tides during the day (semidiurnal tidal cycle). The MLLW is the arithmetic mean of the lower of those tides. So, when we say the depth is five feet, it is supposed to be the lowest of the low tides. Second, we left West End at 0700. High tide was at 0732 AND the tide was supposed to be 3 feet above MLLW. As you can see, we were still being our normal cautious selves when we set out on the Southern Route that morning. Besides, we saw a sailboat about a mile ahead of us. In case you don’t know, sailboats generally have a much deeper draft than powerboats. So, we kind of followed in the path of the sailboat. Ok, Ok, it may be cheating … but it also kept us out of the mud J.
Great Sale Cay on the chartplotter.
Our boat is at the position indicated by the little bitty boat.
As a matter of fact, after we had passed shallowest parts of the Bank, we passed the sailboat and learned her name was Seaquel to … from Boiling Springs, PA (that’s the name of the boat; it is not Seaquel, it is “Seaquel to.”) We chatted on the radio for a bit and agreed that we would contact one another at Great Sale Cay, the next stop for both of us.

Some of you may remember from our trip two years ago how much we liked Great Sale Cay. It hasn’t lost any of its attraction. In the first place it has a wonderful shape for an anchorage; it is kind of an inverted “Y”, so, depending on where you anchor, you can get good protection from almost any direction. We like it so much that the first year we visited the Bahamas we stayed an extra day just so we could take our dinghy out and explore the water around this wonderful uninhabited island – of course that was when we had a 60 HP outboard attached to our Boston Whaler. VROOM! VROOM! This time, although we did not stay an extra day, I took the kayak down, paddled around, and watched the fish along the bank. I saw several different kinds, most of which I cannot identify by name. There were a bunch of little fingerlings, a couple of different species that were six to eight inches long, several juvenile nurse sharks, some barracuda and a sea turtle!!  There was also a good sized fish that splashed about ten feet from the boat while I was looking the other way. I heard the splash and saw the swirls, but I couldn’t tell what kind of fish it was.
That evening, in celebration of our first night at anchor in the Bahamas, we grilled the lobster tails that we had bought the previous day in West End. They weren’t the biggest in the world, but they were of legal size and they were DELICIOUS! We also hailed Seaquel to when they entered the harbor. We learned that they had caught a two-pound fish on the Bank and were planning on eating it that evening. Hmmmm, I may have to talk to this guy some more.

Our sign from having eaten at Da Valley on 1/23/12
The next day was Saturday and the day of the Army-Navy Game. Yes, I know Army has lost several years in a row, but I still wanted to see the game. We decided to go to Foxtown on the island of Little Abaco to watch the game on TV and to enjoy some of the best cracked conch in the world. We knew they had a TV because when we visited three years earlier, we watched one of the NFL playoff games. Unfortunately, when we got there we found that they had taken down the TV L. But they still made the best cracked conch in the world. So, we had conch, fries and a beer (Kalik) for lunch and went back to the boat to listen to the game on satellite radio – which, by the way, worked pretty well. It worked far better than the Army football team which lost 21-17. The only good thing about the game was that Army started a young freshman quarterback who just might be the real deal. We’ll see.
The world's best cracked conch with fries and a Kalik
MMMMMmmm Good!
Although it was starting to blow a little bit Sunday morning, and we were fairly well protected in Foxtown, we decided to set off the next day for Manjack Cay, about 40 miles away. Well, we got everything ready, weighed anchor and headed out. After about 15 minutes we realized that the anchorage had provided us much better protection than we had realized. It was not just blowing in the Sea of Abaco, it was very, very choppy – uncomfortably choppy. Spot went straight for her special place and Ann and I decided that, while Manjack would be a nice place to visit, forty miles was a long way. Allan’s-Pensacola Cay was only about six miles away and looked like it would offer a well-protected anchorage. It took me about 30 seconds to change our course in the chartplotter and about 30 minutes to get to the island. Whew! It was (relatively) calm, well-protected and a nice place to stay. And lo and behold, who was beside us other than Seaquel to with even more fishing stories!

The wind calmed down the next day and we decided to continue our trip to Manjack Cay. There were already five boats there, but it was a huge anchorage that can hold many times that number. Anyway, we found a nice location, dropped the anchor and lowered the dinghy. Although we weren’t sure we would go ashore, we did want to explore some of the beaches and see the shoreline up close. Moreover, Ann decided that it was about time to take Spot out on her first dinghy ride. I wasn’t quite sure how well it was going to work, so you can imagine how surprised I was when Spot got out of her carrying case and roamed the dinghy while it was underway. Ok, after roaming for a couple of minutes she decided that there wasn’t much to see and went back into her case, but, hey what do you expect for a first dinghy ride?!?

Spot's first dinghy ride!!
While at Manjack, I hunted for an internet link and guess what … there was an unsecured wifi connection! It was kind of slow and I am not sure we would have been able to detect it without our external wifi antenna, but it worked. We sent brief e-mail messages to our family so they would know we were still alive.

That evening, Seaquel to anchored near us and we finally got in the dinghy and putted over to see who these magnificent fisher-people were. Joe and Paula were there names, and they had just caught what we believe was an 8-pound mutton snapper. Moreover, they were nice enough to give us half of it – which we promptly had for dinner the following evening.
We only stayed at Manjack one night. In years past, we would then have gone to Green Turtle Cay and wandered around Black Sound and White Sound for a day or two. We know a lot of folks who love it in Green Turtle, but quite frankly we didn’t lose anything on the island and don’t care for it as much as others do. Moreover, the weather was almost perfect for crossing through Whale Passage. “The Whale,” as it is called, is not to be trifled with. As one website puts it,

Whale Cay is perhaps one of the most treacherous areas in the entire Abacos island chain. While Whale Cay (uninhabited) is not of any particular danger, the surrounding waters and shoals are sometimes among the most treacherous anywhere, due to shallow water and long ocean fetches. Whale Cay is located northwest of Great Guana Cay and northeast of Treasure Cay.
Navigating the Water:

If you draw more than 4 feet, you must navigate the outside east edge of Whale Cay, where depths are not a problem, but waves and wind can be. If the wind is blowing out of the northeast, the passage around the outside of Whale Cay, especially around Whale Cay Channel, can be deadly. Yes, deadly. The shallow water in this area and a long fetch to the northeast can result in sea conditions often referred to as a “rage.” No boat should be out during these conditions.

So, we figured we might as well take advantage of the good weather while it lasted. We did and our passage proved to be a non-event.

After the Whale, we headed for Treasure Cay. We love it there. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and might be one of the least crowded. Our favorite pastime is to set up in one of the tiki huts, then alternately watching the waves and reading a good book. When we tire of that we stroll over to Coco’s and split an order of cracked conch and fries – and a Kalik or Mango frostee, of course – and just people watch. After lunch, we are ready to go for a walk on the beach or a stroll over to the Treasure Cay pool. Then we go back to the boat for dinner and a good night’s sleep and we repeat as often as necessary.

After a couple of days at Treasure Cay, it was off to Marsh Harbor. Marsh is more of a commercial center than it is a tourist destination. It has Maxwell’s, probably the grocery store most like a US supermarket outside of Nassau, three or four excellent hardware stores, a couple of medical clinics, a very good dentist, etc. That said, it also has its share of touristy things like several small gift shops, and a number of restaurants. It is also where we had planned on spending Christmas and the days just before and after.

We arrived at the Marsh Harbor Marina on 17 December, and immediately Ann had to have one of her favorite meals in the Bahamas, a “Jib Room” (the name of the marina’s restaurant) BLT with onion rings. She had another one two days later. In both cases we forgot our camera, so you’ll just have to take our word for it. The next day I took a long walk around the town. Since then we have schlepped our backpacks to Maxwell’s to get some food (man, food can be heavy!) and taken a day to visit several of the gift shops. We also met Peter and Laurie aboard Navigator, who fell in love with Spot. It is now Christmas Eve and most of the shops are going to be closed until next Tuesday so we’ll have to figure other ways to entertain ourselves.

In case you were wondering, the weather has been wonderful: highs around 80, lows around 76, with partly sunny/cloudy days. We have had a couple of rain showers, but nothing serious – just enough to clean off the boat. Yep, I could get used to this.

ANN’S NOTES: So it is my turn once more. I have been keeping daily notes so I can share them with you. I told you about this plan in my last posting so now I am going to see how it looks on the screen when I share it with you.

Friday 12/11/15:   Anchor out Great Sale Cay, good protection

Sat 12/12/15:  Fox Town Little Abaco Island, Dinghy down, went to town, lunch at Da Valley, sent short e-mails to family. Cute orange kitten, shared my cracked conch with her. Found our name on the wall. Very windy, not fun getting the dinghy up. Listen to Army vs Navy game on the radio, that was interesting.

Sun 12/13/15:  Sea of Abaco very choppy. Changed  destination . Spot given Bach’s Rescue Remedy for Pet, the magic formula as far as I am concerned. Arrived Allan’s Pensacola, anchored out.

Mon 12/14/15:  Beautiful weather at Manjack Cay. Meet the voices from Seaquel To, Joe and Paula, nice people. Heard from our good friends Kathy and Martin on the VHF, passing the Cay on their way back to the States on their sailboat. They are selling their mono hull and buying a catamaran, we will miss them at Marsh Harbor. Good connection on random WiFi, got on Facebook. Spot took her first dinghy ride, she did well, I am proud and pleased. Good day.

Tue 12/15/15: Treasure Cay, Mooring ball. We were going to anchor but a sail boat came in behind us, moved next to us, dropped his anchor without even looking at the distance between us, so we moved, what a jerk. *** note*** I do not  drive the dinghy well, it seems all backwards to me, it is not like driving a car at all***  Drove the dinghy to the mooring ball to change the lines leading from the ball to the deck of the boat. I did it, could do it again if needed .( Note to self…need to practice driving the dinghy.) Bought first loaf of Bahamian bread, yummy.

Wed 12/16/15: Treasure Cay Lunch at Coco, beach, reading, relaxing. Went to gift shop, bought a cute dress and a soap dish that I w ill use as a butter dish, perfect size and shape for the wonderful Irish butter we use here, to go on the yummy bread that we buy. (When you live on a boat you have to think outside the box, I had good training as an Army wife) Enjoyed the fresh water pool, had a drink pool side with Michael before returning to the boat.

Thurs 12/17/15:  Arrive Marsh Habor , good slip, nice view. BLT and onion rings…SOOOO good.

Took Spot for a short walk/drag (not really I pick her up) First time off the boat in a while, she is not fond of the wind. She always knows where her boat is, no picking her up when she returns from a walk. Good to see old friends again at the marina.

Friday 12/18/15: Dinghy to town, bought phone. Windy and humid out

Sat 12/19/15: Cold front came in, more wind. Couple came over to meet Spot, they saw me walking her and wanted to meet her. Nice couple on the boat Navigator, Peter and Laurie. Boat being washed by a guy named Sal. From all the banging around, I hope he is making the boat shine. Spot is following him around from window to window, she is fun to watch. Did laundry, I am spoiled with the washer and dryer o n board. BLT and onion rings (doing laundry  made me hungry) Our granddaughter Maddy turned 20 today.

Sun 12/20/15   Windy and coolish out. Made beef stew in the crock pot, boat smells so good .Phone call day, ( had to make sure our new phone worked) Talked with Liz, Barbara, Dave and Joan, no answer at Tim and Carrie. Our grandson  Nik  turned  20 today.

Mon 12/21/15: First day of winter. Sal back to finish cleaning the boat, we must remember that we are on Island Time.  Windy out.   Spot sleeping with us, the sound of wind drove her to us.

Tue 12/22/15: Dinghy to town. Went to the  Maxwells  grocery store*** note*** items placed in the grocery cart, pre-back pack loading, do not LOOK heavy…(note to self… items placed in the backpack post grocery cart viewing are HEAVY…stop placing items in the cart earlier) went to bakery, phone store to place more money on prepaid phone. Peter and  Laurie over for drinks and conversation. Spot was her charming feline self.

Wed 12/23/15: Dinghy into town, gift shop shopping. No heavy items were involved in this trip.  Fun day. Called Hope Town Marina to make reservation, they are booked, we are on a wait list.

So what do you think? You now have a glimmer of what we do during the day. Hope you enjoyed this new format.

Traveling Soul…OUT

Friday, December 18, 2015

North Palm to West End

We arrived at the North Palm Beach Marina on 27 November. North Palm was to be the last place we were scheduled to stop in the States for three to four months, so it was time to do some major provisioning and preparation. We had four principal tasks to complete. First, we needed to provision for our adventure in the Bahamas. We had to get people food, cat food and all the “stuff” we would need for the coming months.  Second, we needed to get Spot’s health certificate from a local vet and permission from Nassau to transport her to the Bahamas. Third, we needed to get a few more repairs done on Traveling Soul. Some we have known about for some time and the need for others happened only recently; some we can do ourselves and some we have to pay to have done. Fourth, we had to wait for a weather window. This may be the most difficult task of all because we really have to be ready to go while waiting for the weather – and things can get b-o-r-i-n-g. Anyway, Part I of this blog is the story of our time in North Palm getting ready to cross and Part II is the story of our crossing and first few nights in the Bahamas.

United States
United Kingdom
Ok, do you think that first paragraph kind of diverted everyone’s attention? Let’s hope so, because before moving on, I would like to share something about the audience for this blog. Overall, in the years we have writing, we have had 16,135 pageviews. The countries with the top viewership are as indicated in the table to the left.

Now I can understand the US readership (of course), France’s readership (Ann has relatives who live there), viewers from the Bahamas (some of our friends visit there), Canada (most of the followers of this blog know that I believe the Canadians are on the verge of invading the Bahamas – I am sure they are just keeping track of me) and even the UK (we have friends who live there, too). But Russia??? The Ukraine??? And China??? And you all thought I was paranoid. I am sure all of you have read Chapter One (written most kind of humbly by yours truly) in the Carnegie Corporation’s China’s Military & the US-Japan Alliance, 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment, and are well aware of what I think about the Chinese. And, though I haven’t written anything of substance yet, let’s just say I am not a big fan of Putin and his actions in the Ukraine. So, you think the fact that I have a big audience in Russia, the Ukraine and China is coincidence?? Well, I think not!  They are all keeping track of me. Even paranoids have enemies! Shhh, don’t tell anybody that I am onto them. Now back to the blog …
Getting Ready

The first thing we did was to rent a car from Enterprise. After that, we determined that the first step in preparing our boat and crew for the Bahamas had to be Spot’s paperwork. We knew a vet had to give her an exam and issue her a health certificate, but we weren’t quite sure how to get the certificate to the Ministry of Agriculture in Nassau. We read the web site for the Ministry and, to be honest, it wasn’t much help. Then we got lucky. While we were in Brunswick, GA we met Karen Siegel, from Accapela. To make a long story short, we learned that we had to send the paperwork to the Ministry via UPS or FEDEX. Sending it through the Bahamian Postal Service was a recipe for disaster. When Karen used the Post Office, it was MONTHS before she got the permissions back from Nassau. She also said we needed to send the paperwork with a $15 money order. Ten of the dollars were for Spot’s entry fee to the Bahamas (we knew about that) and the other five dollars was a fax fee. The notion was that once the Ministry received and approved the paperwork, it would send everything back to us by fax and would do so within 48 hours. So, I am thinking, “Yea, right. I don’t know of ANY bureaucracy that gets something done in 48 hours.” Needless to say, I built in somewhere between a week to ten days to get the paperwork back. Imagine my surprise when, 48 hours after Ann sent the paperwork to Nassau, we received a fax from the Ministry of Agriculture. Spot had been approved to enter the Bahamas.
Besides getting Spot’s paperwork, we had to provision with non-food items. Every year, as we travel down the ICW, we make a list of non-emergency items that we want to get for the boat. It can be boat cleaning products, spare parts, new lines (ropes) or just some cool stuff. When we arrive in Palm Beach we head to a place called Boat Owners Warehouse – a boat products store that has very good prices – and we spend some a lot of money. In addition, of course, we head to Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath and Beyond and a number of other places so we have everything we need while down Island (as we boat people say).

We have one FULL refrigerator
Provisioning also involves food. Those of you who know Ann and I certainly know that we are going to eat well no matter where we are or where we go. The first year we went to the Bahamas we stocked up on everything; all the books we had read said that Bahamian grocery stores are few, far between and don’t have much of an inventory. Well, that’s true in many places. But in Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbor, Nassau, Georgetown and some other locations, the stores have just about everything you might find in a US supermarket – though any of the products are at a fifteen to twenty percent mark-up. So, we this year we focused primarily on buying things that are especially expensive in the Bahamas (paper products, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, personal items, crackers, etc.) and on meat products that we don’t see very often in the local stores (steak, chicken, hamburger, etc.). Yes, we bought some canned goods, and yes we bought some specialty items that we like a lot, but generally, we focused on meats and cleaning/laundry/paper products. 
As I said, we arrived in North Palm on Friday 27 November. By Monday we had Spot’s health certificate and had sent it to Nassau. By Wednesday we had permission for Spot to enter the Bahamas. By Thursday we had done 90% of our provisioning and were just about ready to go. The only thing that wasn’t ready was the weather. So we had to wait for a weather window.
This is as good of a place as any to tell you what we are doing weather-wise this year differently than we have in the past; we have hired our own personal weatherman!  Chris Parker is well known among cruisers as an excellent prognosticator of Caribbean and Bahamian weather. Since we plan on going places where it is difficult to get good forecasts, we decided to hire Chris and to integrate his forecasts with those of our Sirius/XM weather system. BUT if you think having your own forecaster is easy, you need to think again. Here is Chris’ synopsis for a specific day in December:
THIS AFTERNOON: RIDGE along 32N strengthens / upper-air disturbance continues supprting squalls as noted in IMAGERY (mainly from GrtInaugua NNE-ward)...but also reflects broad surface TROF from 72W-76W...which causes wind W of 75W to back NE & build, especially in C Bahamas-KyLargo (ENE wind builds this afternoon in rest of NW Bahamas-SFL) / most areas E of 74W see building wind clocking ENE<ESE, with a few squalls/T-strms. There should be an area under TROF (maybe 72W-76W in areas S of 24N...including parts of Crooked-Acklins-Jumentos-LongIsland-G'twn) which lie under TROF (rather than W or E of TROF), and which see light wind except possibly in a few squalls.

There are about ten paragraphs just like that. Now all of that is readable, of course, as long as you have a guide by your side and have an hour or so to absorb the forecast. I am sure it will become easier over time, but right now it takes quite a bit of work.
The Crossing

All that being said, on December 10, it appeared the stars were in alignment and that we could take off. At 0600 we were up and were busying ourselves with last minute checks of the engines, our water supply and the electrical cords. By 0700 we had cast off our lines, had pointed our bow toward the horizon and, as Mark Twain put it long ago, were on our way to, “Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Spot. In her special place under the table.
For some reason, and I don’t quite understand why, the first couple of hours of our trip was a bit bumpy. Not seriously bumpy, you understand, but bumpy enough to have Spot look at us as if she thought we were off our rockers. In fact, after looking for someplace safe where she could handle the crossing, she went to her “special place,” under our table and decided to wait it out there. About two hours after we started, however, the wind shifted just a bit and the seas calmed down. Finally, they were the 2-3 feet that the forecasters had predicted – and it was (relatively) smooth sailing.

You know, each time we cross I try to describe the feeling of crossing the Gulf Stream under our own power – and each time I fail. Let me try this. We are two humans on a fifty-two foot boat made primarily of fiberglass. Under us is a water column of ½ mile. Moreover, you can look to the left and to the right and see nothing but water – a half mile deep at any particular point. It makes me realize that we – all of us, not just Mike and Ann – are not quite as important as we think we are. In the grand scheme of things, we are just one of nature’s interesting little experiments.
Here is the squall on the radar.
We were trying to go fight between the blobs.
On the way we saw a couple of squalls heading in our direction. We turned on the radar and I decided to see if we could worm our way through them. First we went right, then we went left, then straight up the middle. Yes!!! Although we did catch some drizzle, we made it through the squalls without any real rain.
You can see the squall we were trying to miss in the
distance. Luckily, this one had no lightening
We arrived at Old Bahama Bay Marina, at West End in the Bahamas at about 1500 on the 10th.  We were assigned slip C2; we knew it well, we had been there before. After checking in at Customs and Immigration and paying our $300 entry fee, we officially lowered our yellow quarantine flag and replaced it with a courtesy Bahamian flag. We had made it this far, and, as far as I know, neither the Chinese, the Russians nor the Ukrainians know where we are.

In the next entry we will tell you about our excursions to Great Sale Cay, Foxtown, Allans-Pensacola Cay, Manjack Cay and Treasure Cay. I know you are chomping at the bit, but I need to get someplace that has an internet connection.

ANN’S NOTES:  So I guess it is my turn. I have given some thought to how I am going to write my part of the Blog. In the beginning I kept very close track of the wildlife, but that got rather boring and besides, I now have my own little feline to talk about. I decided to keep daily notes on our everyday activities and see how that looks on the computer/ blog.  So here goes, just remember that I do not handle negative comments very well…just saying.

Preparing the boat for our stay in the Bahamas was really pretty easy, this is our third winter over there and I know the drill. Weird things like toothpaste, mouth wash, deodorant, dental floss and just cleaning supplies are expensive. Food, in general, although a little higher than on the mainland, is about the same. After all, people need to eat the world around.
Old Bahama Bay, West End Bahamas -- Our destination!
The one new item on my list was taking care of Spot. I had read all the rules, regulations, Facebook chat rooms, etc. and was starting to get a little anxious. The universe was kind in putting us next to an “expert” while we were in Brunswick, GA – because we were there for only one day. Thanks to Karen Siegel and her calm voice and wonderful advice, I was able to get the permit needed for Spot. I did learn a few lessons on my own. FedEx and UPS will not send a package to a PO Box address. After two stops at two different FedEx locations, I must admit I got a little panic attack. I had Spot in the rental car with me and we had just been to the Vet. That story will follow. I finally went to a UPS store and was told the same thing – no deliveries to a PO Box. So…I asked to speak to the manager, I asked the right questions and I had the correct solution. The deal is, the UPS package needs to be signed for by a person, a PO Box cannot do that.  I had the building name, the department in said building, the street name and the city. I just omitted the PO Box Number…BINGO…the paper work was sent and the permit was faxed to the marina in 48 hours. Thank heaven.

The story at the vet was so sweet. I went to the same vet in Palm Springs that Spot’s breeder uses, and the one that spayed Spot when she was a kitten. He had Spot’s mom in the back and asked if I would like to see her. Actually her dad was also there but he was not really interested in Spot.  Spot’s mom was in a lower cage, Spot was talking to her in the lobby before I even got to the back room. Although Spot was in her harness and on a leash, she went right up the cage and started to sniff and give nose kisses to her mom. Even the Vet said he had never seen such a reaction between cats, no hissing, clawing, or meowing. It was really like they knew they were related, mother and daughter.  I was glad Spot got to reunite with her mom but sad to take her away again.
The other pre departure items to be done was call the credit card companies t o tell them we are leaving and to not put a hold on the cards when they see it is being used out of country. Also I had to call Verizon to suspend my phone while in the Bahamas. Michael had to get a haircut and had a last minute dental appointment. Oh… also making sure we have enough personal medications to last while we are one. And that is yet another story…I will just say that the CVS pharmacy went above and beyond to help me. Also, a trip to the bank, cash is good in the Bahamas.

Michael told you about our crossing, people wise it was fine, feline wise, well just say I gave her a dose of Bach’s Pet Rescue Remedy and that helped a lot. She found her safe place under the table and all was well. I am glad she is not the sea sick type. I am learning to just leave her alone and let her handle the situation in her own cat way. The less fuss the better, and a good dose of Bach’s helps.
All is well on Traveling Soul, we have meet a few new cruisers, that is always fun. The boat systems are all in working order and humming along with no problems…knock on wood, cross fingers.

Thank you for following…even those of you in Russia, China and the Ukraine.



Monday, December 7, 2015

Down the ICW 2015

Yes, on 26 October we finally moved out -- on our way down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway towards the beautiful, warm Bahamas. This year we intend to go further south than we have before and enjoy some real seafaring Bahamian adventures. Before that, however, we have to get down the Waterway. It will be about 220 miles down the Chesapeake, then another 1025 miles down the ICW before we can re-provision, wait for decent weather and head for the Bahamas.

Our Strategy 
Spot supervising her staff's strategy development process.
In the past we have employed different strategies for getting down the ICW, depending on our needs at the time. There have been years when we had to be conscious of time, to, for example, show up for doctor’s appointments. That, we hope, is not the case this time (fingers crossed). In other years we have really wanted to visit some of the “famous” cruiser’s sights, like Georgetown, Beaufort (both of them), Cumberland Island, Saint Augustine, and many others. While we certainly want to drop by some of our favorite spots, we don’t need to go everywhere. And last year we wanted to explore Georgia’s barrier islands, Sapelo, Jeckyll, St. Simons and Blackbeard. This year, though, since we dropped several tens of boat units on Traveling Soul over the summer, our approach is going to be one of keeping the costs down -- and still having a good time. To do this, we will employ a two-part strategy. Part one is to minimize our fuel cost. In the past, fuel has cost $3 or more per gallon. Not this year. If we play our cards right we should be able to get it for less than $2 on average!!! We can best do that by identifying the lowest cost fuel providers on the ICW and building at least part of our trip around them.  Part two of our strategy is to anchor whenever we can rather than go to a marina. That does not mean we aren’t going to a marina, just that we want to keep the number of visits down.

Down the Chesapeake
The trip down the Chesapeake, from Kent Island to Norfolk, took three days. The first day was a bit long; I think we covered around 80 miles (our average day is 50-60 miles) before stopping at Smith Creek, just inside the mouth of the Potomac. We have stopped there before. It is very scenic, protected from both wind and current, and our anchor has always held well. In the past we have heard the local landowner play reveille around 0800, but this year I think we left a little early and didn’t hear a thing.

The second day we went almost as far, anchoring in Fishing Bay, just south of Deltaville, VA. We have spent a lot of time in Deltaville over the years, but had never been to Fishing Bay. It turned out to be a great anchorage. About 20 minutes off of the Chesapeake itself, it has a marina close by for emergencies and has wonderful protection from the north, east and west (though not so much from the south). We will definitely go back there again. We were joined by about ten other boats, but there was room for several more.

While the first two days were long, the weather was good and the water was fairly smooth. The third day, however, the seas were decidedly rougher. While it wasn’t the worst day we have had on the boat – by a long shot – it was probably one of the worst ten days we have suffered. I mean on the worst days, I count the hours, minutes and seconds until we get to our destination, or at least until the seas will improve. This time around it wasn’t THAT bad, it was just a bit uncomfortable.  Moreover, it was pretty foggy and hazy most of the time. In fact, until we got to Thimble Shoals Reef, just outside of Portsmouth, VA we had seen only two other boats.
Anyway, we survived the trip and headed to Top Rack Marina, one of my favorite stops along the ICW. With one exception, it has THE cheapest fuel prices along the Waterway -- $1.93 per gallon of diesel!!! Needless to say, we filled up every tank we have. Also, the marina offers FREE dockage as long as you eat in their restaurant! Ann and I both like the restaurant, the Amber Lantern, so docking there (did I mention it was for free?) was a no-brainer. In addition, we met our friends Russ and Lori who are now aboard their new power catamaran, Twin Sisters. We originally met Russ and Lori two years ago in Marineland, Florida when they were sailboaters.  The next year they sold their sailboat and bought an RV. This year they sold their RV and bought a new (power) boat. Welcome back Russ and Lori to the world of boating!!! And welcome, in particular, to the Dark Side. We have cookies. J

Top Rack was around Mile Marker 6 on the ICW. We had decided to celebrate Thanksgiving at Vero Beach, as we had two years ago, with 200 of our best cruising friends. Vero is at Mile Marker 951.6. We had a ways to go and we were just starting down the ICW.
Down the ICW

After leaving Top Rack, we had to go through both the Great Bridge Lock and the Great Bridge Bridge. (No, that is not a typo. Great Bridge is a location and it has a bridge; hence Great Bridge Bridge. It also has a lock raising or lowering boats two feet or so, hence Great Bridge Lock.) While we were at the Lock we apparently rubbed up against one of the big black rubber fenders on the wall. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except that it left one of those blackish rubbery marks that can be very hard to get wash. AARRGGHH!!!
Traveling Soul on her way down the Waterway. Thanks Lori!!!
Since I couldn’t get the mark off, we motored on. The first night on the ICW proper we stayed at the Broad Creek Extension, the same place we stay almost every year. The next day we crossed the Albemarle Sound, cruised down the Alligator River as well as the Alligator-Pungo Canal and anchored on the Pungo River. I like the Pungo anchorage for several reasons, the most important of which is that it has three “sub-anchorages.” If the weather is pretty good or there is a little wind from the north or east, we could have (and did) anchor very close to the junction of the canal and the river. There is just enough land and trees to offer decent protection and a bottom strong enough to hold the anchor in place. If the wind is blowing harder – especially from the north or the south – we could have gone to an alternative anchorage a little further up river. If it was really bad, we could have gone about five miles further up the river and been just about as well protected as one can be in an anchorage.

The next day we anchored just outside of Belhaven, NC. Now Belhaven isn’t far from the Pungo anchorage – only about two hours – but we wanted to spend the whole day in Belhaven. We had heard there were two good places to eat. One, Spoon River, we had already enjoyed, but the other, The Tavern at Jack’s Neck wasn’t opened the last time we were there.  We decided we would go to the tavern for some … er … uh … libations and to the restaurant for dinner. Well, I have to tell you that Spoon River is as good as we remembered. They constantly change their menu so they can use fresh local ingredients in their food. The day we were there, they had a wonderful appetizer, “Crab Bruschetta with Quail Egg.” It was on their menu because some local kids had started raising quail and were bringing the eggs to the restaurant! That appetizer was scrumptious.
The tavern, however, was a different story. First, the good. They have beautiful wooden sculptures throughout the place. I have no doubt they are very expensive and I can tell you they are a wonder to behold. Now the not-so-good. I asked for a Makers Mark Manhattan on the rocks. Now, a Manhattan is a pretty basic drink. It consists of whiskey -- in this case, Makers Mark (a magnificent Kentucky bourbon for those of you who are unaware), sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters.  That’s it. Three ingredients.  The bartender, however, had to come back to me and ask how much vermouth she should put in. I told her what I did, all the time thinking, hmmm, what have I gotten myself into. Ann ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. It is a little more complicated to make, but it is also very popular so you might think she had made one before. Ann jokingly asked how well the bartender made them. The bartender’s response, “well, I am just going to read the recipe,” whereupon she opened her bartenders guide and made the drink – forgetting only one ingredient (the splash of coca cola that gives the drink both its color and its sweetness). Oh well. At least we got a good story out of it!!!

Every year this boat slips
a little further into the water.

After anchoring at Belhaven, we spent a night at a marina in Morehead City, NC, then we went to the at the anchorage at Mile Hammock Bay (on Camp Lejeune, for you former Marines),  We then spent two nights on a mooring at North Myrtle Beach. We were going to go ashore and see what the beach area was like, but the weather was cold, wet and windy so we decided to stay on the boat and check the place out next spring.
Our first stop in South Carolina was Osprey Marina. Why Osprey? It was part of our cost saving strategy; diesel cost $2.01 per gallon! We took on 320 gallons and were ready to go the next day.

After Osprey we stayed at anchorages in Graham Creek and Toogoodoo Creek in the South Carolina marsh country. (I mean we had to stay at Toogoodoo Creek just so we could say Toogoodoo.) Both were good, though not great anchorages. They had substantial current flowing through them that turned the boat when the tides changed. After Toogoodoo we headed for Lady’s Island Marina. We wanted to go there for two reasons. First, we had a great time the past two years we had been there. Our friends Mark and Becky aboard Sea Angel live on board there and we like visiting with them. Also, our VHF radio had been acting up since we left the Chesapeake. We weren’t quite sure what was wrong, but we could not broadcast or receive for more than about ½ mile. As a result, we had been using our hand-held radio to call bridges and boats on the Waterway.
When we called Lady’s Island the dockmaster told up not to worry, that he could and would help us fix the radio. We figured that even if he couldn’t, someone at the marina would know SOMEONE in the area who could repair VHF radios. In the event, it turns out that we were wrong. After promising at least three times to be “right there” as soon as he finished whatever it was he was doing at the time, we figured out that he was a little more talk than action. We asked around for repair-people who might be able to help us. Again, no luck. Apparently Beaufort, SC doesn’t have a repair infrastructure of any kind. Moreover, since Ann’s friend Becky was away visiting her brother, since the marina was a lot  more cliquish than we remembered, and since we really DID want to get our radio repaired, we decided we would head on down the waterway to Savannah, GA.

I do a lot of complaining about the marine industry – primarily because there is a lot to complain about. Once in a while, though, somebody does things right and when they do, I want to make sure I give them credit. After failing to get our radio repaired in Beaufort, we called the Hinckley boat yard in Savannah. They had done some work for us a couple of years earlier and seemed both competent and reasonable.  Although they were busy, they promised to fit us in and thought they could help. We arrived about 1300 and went right into a slip. They told us that their electronics guy was busy, but that he would be available the following morning, meanwhile we could use their courtesy car to go anywhere we needed.
The following morning, we were ready at 0800, but the electronics guy started on a different boat. Hmmm … I was beginning to get worried. After he finished that boat, he started on a Hinckley (always their priority customer). I was beginning to get more worried. I was beginning to think that it could be at least another day or two before we got out of there, so I … well, let’s just say I let the office know that I wasn’t thrilled about the way we were being treated. About 1100 or so, our man finally showed up with the right tools and the right attitude. He looked at the radio, ran some checks, soldered a part in place and within an hour we were ready to go. When I went to pay, we paid only the $90 service fee. Since they had kept us waiting that morning, there was no charge for staying at their dock for two days. Wow! That is a class act. Moreover, the $90 for an hour of their mechanics time is less that we often pay in the Chesapeake. Double Wow! So, to all you boaters and will-be-boaters, here is my suggestion: If something goes wrong near a Hinckley Boatyard, go there first.

South of Savannah, there are several places where the water is a bit shallow. The first one is … are you ready for this … Hell’s Gate . You proceed southeast past the mouth of the Little Ogeechee River, then take a 90 degree turn to the southwest, pass through the Gate, then take another 90 degree turn to the northwest. We took the Gate near high tide, and we were careful as we went through and really had n o problems. We heard a new power boater behind us asking the sailboat in front of him if he would lead the way. Really? A power boater following a sailboater through Hell’s Gate? How insulting!! (Of course we have done the same thing, but when we do it, we don’t call anyone. We just slow down and follow.)

Following Hell’s Gate we anchored in New Teakettle Creek before taking on the next challenge – the Little Mud River. The Mud River is just that – not so much water as mud. Some of the sailboats, in particular, have to be careful because the water is so skinny. We decided to anchor so we could take the at New Teakettle so we could take the River on a rising tide. Again, it wasn’t that bad for us.

After the Little Mud River, we headed for Brunswick Landing Marina. Why? $1.96 per gallon, that’s why! In this case, though, there was quite a bit of wind blowing in the marina. Sheri, the dock master asked for a spring line.  Now, Ann and I know what a spring line is and try to get dock hands and dock masters to use on whenever we back into a slip. Unfortunately, we have found that not many dock hands or dock masters know what they are doing. The problem is that when you are docking in a significant wind and you rely on your spring line one of two things can happen. If the dock hand/dock master does not know what he/she is doing, you can end up in a world of hurt. If he/she does know what to do, you can move right into that slip like it was made for you.  Well, we should have known; Sheri knows exactly what she is doing and we backed right into that slip. Hurray!!!
When we left Brunswick Landing we anchored at Cumberland Island because, well, because we like anchoring at Cumberland Island. After that, it was off to Florida, specifically, to an anchorage at Pine Island, then on to Marineland in Florida. Before we leave the subject of Pine Island, I should point out for those of you who like to anchor the same places we do, that the charts are not correct at Pine. They show 12 feet at the entrance. At low tide we found  more like 6.5 feet. (One of our friends, Gary aboard Sea Wisp also found some skinny water – and his draft is like 5-½ feet! Further into the anchorage the water deepens, but you may want to watch the first quarter-mile or so.

Back to Marineland. You may remember that we had visited here before, but in case you have forgotten, “Marine Studios,” as it was known then, was built in 1938 and was used in the filming of movies including the “Tarzan” films in the 1940s and the “Sea Hunt” television series in the ’50s and ’60s. Although the roadside-attraction aspect of Marineland peaked in the 1960s and then slowly declined in the 1970s after the 1971 opening of Disney World, film and television production continued into the 1980s, when the studio was the location for a “Benji” TV movie in which the canine star became the first dog to scuba dive. Some or all of the following movies/TV shows were made at Marineland
Here, you can see some of the Marineland natives,
hailing Traveling Soul in the background. (Thanks again, Lori!!)
• “Marine Circus” (1939)
• “Port Sinister” (1953)
• “The Sea Around Us” (1953)
• “Creature from the Black Lagoon”
• “Revenge of the Creature” (1955) Clint Eastwood’s first film!!
• “Secrets of the Reef” (1956)
• “Sea Hunt” (1958, TV)
• “Live a Little, Love a Little” (1968)
• “Zaat” (1975)
• “Sea Dream” (1978)
• “Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland”
(1981, TV)
• “The Flamingo Rising” (2001, TV)

After inept management and a few destructive hurricanes, Marineland went out of business until 2006. Today, it exists as a Dolphin Conservation Center where guests can enjoy up-close and personal experiences swimming with dolphins or participating in other eco-tour programs. Every time we visit, we go see the dolphins.

Mike and Ann in the Jaws of Death and Marineland
 While at Marineland, we also re-connected with Russ and Lori aboard Twin Sisters, and we met a family of five, mom, dad, two lovely, rambunctious little girls and a cat, living and cruising on a 34 foot sailboat. Let me say that again. Four humans and a cat. On a 34-foot sailboat. More power to them.

When we left Marineland it rained on us almost all day long on the way to our next anchorage at Rockhouse Creek, where we could see the Lighthouse at Ponce de Leon Inlet all night long. From there it was on to lovely little Cocoa Beach. We had planned on anchoring at Cocoa for a couple of nights, but the wind was so strong that we ended up heading to the marina instead. It was a little tricky getting into the slip they assigned us, but we managed to do so without destroying any boats on the way in. I hadn’t mentioned, but about three days earlier while trying to check the tablets we use in one of our heads, one of the damn little spickets broke. Now I am not going to go into detail on what this little spicket does and why it was important, I will just say that I was initially concerned that we were going to have to spend another half-of-a-boat unit or so to get it fixed. In the event, however, I took everything apart, found the replacement part at the ginormous hardware store at Coco (SF Travis) and effected the repair myself.
Thanksgiving Dinner with 200 of our best friends
(who we don't yet know)

After Coco, it was on to Vero Beach. If you will recall, that is where we had intended to have Thanksgiving Dinner. Every year the people of Vero put on a huge spread for cruisers in the area. They buy and cook the turkey, ham and other meat while the attendees bring a side dish or dessert. We went two years ago and had such a good time that we decided we would go one more time. This year we ate with our friends Russ and Lori and met several folks that we hope to see in the months to come.

 We had already made reservations at North Palm Beach Marina to rest, re-provision and conduct repairs before we crossed the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. That is where we are now. Waiting for the weather to clear.

 Ann’s NOTES
Hello everyone ... It is nice to be writing to you once again. I missed the deadline for the last blog, so I had to make sure I got my two cents in this time. Michael can be a hard task master when it comes to posting the blog.
I want you to know that as of 2 November 2015, we have been living on Traveling Soul for FOUR YEARS. Yes, we moved on board in 2011, when her name was Suite 13 and she was docked Long Boat Key FL. The name she has now is so much better than the old one.
Our trip down the ICW has been a good one, not too much drama from other cruisers. Seeing our friends Russ and Lori has made it fun, lots of picture taking going on. Also having Spot on board, she is fun to watch when you see her reaction to birds, bridges, dolphins anything that catches her eye. She does not miss much so it is a day-long entertainment.
We have seen a lot of dolphins on this trip, I have some good pictures and a video clip but it sucks up too much band width. I will just have to show you individually, with no charge to the viewer.
I will add a little something about our docking in Brunswick GA. We were assigned a slip with a large sail boat on our starboard side and a good size trawler on our port side. And we were backing into the slip, and it was very windy, and there was about twelve little sail boats with wanna be sailors learning to sail. Well #6 sail boat was in the fairway, not under control, and between us and the slip that we were backing into. I do not yell very often but when the occasion rises, I can be heard over the wind. It was not a fun time for any of us. When I can feel my heart beat in my throat, well, that pretty much means you are going to get yelled at. I am sure that Sheri, the dock master, had a few words for the sailing school.
Spot's first birthday -- with birthday candle -- at
North Palm Beach
Michael has included a picture of Spot celebrating her birthday. She was born on the 4th of December 2014, right here in North Palm Springs FL. She was home for her special day. I cannot tell you how much joy that little feline has given us ( 99.99% of the time… she does have her naughty moments) She is very social and our cruising friends and land family, really enjoy her also. Our six year old grandson drew a picture of her. He actually did a good job, he got the stripes and spots right.  Just watching her makes me happy. I am glad she is such a good boat cat and she is with us for this adventure. Spot had one other sister and three brothers, I am sure that none of them are living this life style.
Thanks you for following us, next blog will be from the Bahamas!!!
Traveling Soul…OUT