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, February 25, 2018

Northern Exumas

I am going to take a minute away from our chronicles to tell you about an odd (interesting?) happening. I have reported on this before, but it has been a while. A friend of mine notified me that I had lost another friend’s e-mail address. He jokingly attributed it to the Russians – as we both frequently do; we are among those, you see, who remember the “old days.” Well, Jeff may have been joking, but it caused me to take a look at the statistics that we keep on who is reading my blog. This is just for the month of February. See anything interesting? So, if there are any misspellings or other errors of fact in the blog entry for this month, it is probably because the Russians are trying to plant false news about the Bahamas. Who knows, maybe the Russians, the Ukrainians and the Canadians are plotting something. I’m just sayin’.

United States
United Kingdom

 After our visit to Palm Cay marina we headed south to the Exumas. The Exuma Chain has 365 islands and cays, but only about 7000 people. Only a few of those islands and cays are suitable for human occupation, so most are uninhabited. Provisions and services, as you might expect, are few and far between, so, before we left Nassau we made one last run to the grocery store to bulk up on food and other necessary provisions (like rum). Water is especially difficult to find and if you can find it you are going to pay through the nose ($0.50 per gallon or more), so we make our own water with our rather old, but still functional, reverse osmosis watermaker.

Ann and I both love the Exumas. The problem is that other people are finding it too. When we started coming here six years ago there were far fewer people and a lot less boats. We are sitting here on one of the islands, for example, where a few years ago there would have been three or four boats with us; today, I counted fifteen. It is still better than sitting at home in Maryland watching the snow fall, or coming into Nassau on a cruise ship with over a thousand of our best friends.

At any rate, the first island at which we usually stop in the Exumas is Highbourne Cay. The night we arrived we had lobster tales that Ann had bought a week or two ago at Great Harbor to celebrate both Valentine’s Day and our arrival in the Exumas. I love, love, love lobster and the meal was scrumptious.

One of the many views from the restaurant. It looks like
this for 180 degrees.
As you might expect from a name like “Highbourne” the folks on the Cay are kind of snooty. At the Highbourne Cay Marina, for example, you will, at any one time, find at least four or five 100+ foot yachts and their crews. So, I know you are asking why we stop there. Well, there is this restaurant (isn’t there always?). It is called Xuma, and it has both delicious food, and a view to die for. The night we went, I asked for and received lightly blackened Mahi and Ann had, what they called “Shrimp and Grits,” which was really more like seafood and grits. We both loved our meals. Now, we have eaten there before and it is one of those places where you marvel at the view, enjoy your cocktails, savor your meal and then close your eyes and sign the check. The two of us dropped about two bills (c’mon, it’s only 1/5 of a boat unit). We can’t and don’t do it too often but, hey, we intrepid explorers have to eat too!

I know, I know. Here I told you how few provisions there were in the Exumas and how we were metaphorically going to live off the land; then I told you about an extraordinary dining experience. Well, Highbourne is actually the last outpost of civilization for quite a distance and while they have a great restaurant, you couldn’t survive off the food they have in their little “7-11 type” convenience store. After two days there we were off to Norman’s Cay.

Norman’s has an interesting recent history. If you remember – or have heard of – the drug lord Carlos Lehder of the Medellin Cartel, then you have heard of Norman’s Cay. He owned most of the island and treated it as his personal fiefdom. He lived there, transshipped drugs there, kept a ton or so of cocaine as his emergency stash, paid off the police and generally treated the island as his own. Eventually, the combined forces of the DEA, the US Coast Guard and the Bahamian Defense Force kicked Lehder off the island and took it back. You can still see his shot-up house, and the remains of the “Hotel” where he kept his guests. Nowadays they are expanding and rebuilding the airport and rebuilding a small resort to help the island recover.

Monique, the lunch waitress and bartender at Mc Duff's,
 showing off her bar.
Part of the recovery includes building a small beach bar called “McDuff’s.”We had heard a lot of bad stories (high prices, bad service, etc.), but decided t give it a try anyway. First, we had to find it. It is off the beach and back in the woods. You can’t see it from the beach, so you just have to kind of wander along the cinder paths. Wander we did until found off a small path just off the beach that led right to the restaurant (wish we had known about the path before we started wandering!). When we got there we loved it. It has a definite out-islands kitschy feel to it. With both a darkened inside bar area (and a good supply of various kinds of rum) and a screened-in outside salon it looks like one of the ex-pat bars you see in the movies. We only had a couple of beers and some (very crispy and very good) French fries and it cost us $26 – no one can call this a cheap kitschy restaurant.

Afterwards, we took the dinghy around most of the perimeter of Norman’s. We saw the south side anchorage where they are rebuilding the marina. The anchorage, itself, we decided, was way too rolly for our tastes in east winds – though it might be great with winds from the north or west – so we decided to stay where we were. There is a sunken plane in the anchorage that some folks snorkel, and there are some interesting houses on Wax Cay just to the south. We had visited before Norman’s before, of course, but things are changing – not very rapidly, mind you – nothing changes rapidly in the Bahamas – but changing nonetheless.

For those of you who are interested in our boating procedures, I should mention that we have made a change in the way we travel between islands. In years past, we have lowered our dinghy every time we arrived at a new place; we then raised it when we were ready to leave. When we were young 60 year old whipper-snappers it wasn’t THAT hard. Now that we are … let’s just say 60+ … it is getting more and more difficult. As a result, we have decided to use a side-tow technique when we are moving between islands that are close together. A side-tow is exactly what it sounds like. We place a fender on the dinghy’s side, tie the bow of the dinghy to one of our forward cleats and the stern to one of our aft cleats. Why on the side rather than off the stern like many people do? With two 550 horsepower motors, we make quite a disturbance in the water. Since almost all the dinghy’s weight is in its stern, when we tow it behind the boat, I am always afraid that it will flip and we will be out a chunk of money (to say nothing of the dink). There is very little disturbance on the side of the boat and I feel a lot more comfortable towing it there.

At any rate, we towed the dinghy from Norman’s to one of our favorite Exuma islands, Shroud Cay. Shroud is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The Park, established in 1958, is one of 25 National Parks and Protected Areas managed by the Bahamas National Trust. Unique in the world, the Trust is the only non-profit, non-governmental agency mandated with management of a nationwide system of parks and protected areas. In 1986, The Trust established Exuma Park as a complete NO TAKE ZONE and marine protected area, the first in the wider Caribbean. Ok, some of that is extracted from one of the many pamphlets we have on the park, but you get the idea.

We arrived at Shroud and dropped our anchor at about midday on 16 Feb. In the past we have taken a mooring ball, instead of anchoring, but with two rate increases in the past few years mooring balls are getting way too expensive. Moreover, we got there at the wrong time of day. The entrance (and exit) to the best sights at Shroud are very shallow. When the tide is ebbing, it is very difficult to get in or out. We learned that lesson a few years ago when we journeyed into the river during ebb tide. By the time we got back, the water was barely a few inches deep and we almost got stuck there for the night; it was only the vast muscle power of a couple of intrepid explorers that lifted the dinghy enough to get past the shallows. We weren’t going to do that again. This time we decided to wait until the tide was coming in.
The view from Camp Driftwood, high above Shroud Cay.

Shroud is about 4 miles x 2 miles and is kind of a mini-archipelago. Although they are actually connections between the Exuma Bank and Exuma Sound (the shallow side and the ocean deep side), thin veins of water seem as if they are rivers cutting deep into and through the mangroves. The “rivers” are about ten feet deep (except for the mouth – see below) and in the gin-clear Bahamian waters, you can see rays, turtles, fish and various kinds of birds. On our trip this time, we saw several kinds of fish, a number of birds that we had not seen before, a good-sized turtle swimming in the water and a ray. When it is hot – and it wasn’t hot when we went through this time – you kind of feel like Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in African Queen. “Mr. Allnut,” I expected to hear, “don’t you think it is a bit hot today?” Ok, Ok, maybe not, but the trip down the “river” is spectacular. Then when you reach the Sound (ocean) side, you are welcomed with a beautiful beach. About 100 feet above the beach is Camp Driftwood, where, according to various stories, DEA agents observed Norman’s Cay and captured the tail numbers of the Medellin Cartel airplanes taking off from and landing at Norman’s Cay.

At any rate we finished exploring Shroud on the 17th. Now we had a dilemma. We had planned on moving down to one of two spots in the Land and Sea Park and spending a couple of nights there. One, at Cambridge Cay we had visited before and enjoyed. The other, Pirate’s Lair, we had only visited once several years ago and thought it might be fun to go back. The problem was that the wind was due to pick up significantly in the next couple of days. We needed to determine not what we wanted to do over the next 24 or 48 hours, but where we wanted to spend the next week or so. While the Park locations would have been great for a little while, we were not sure we wanted to send a week there. So, we opted for Big Major Spot.

We have stayed in Big Major Spot before. You might remember it as the home of the Bahamas’ famous  swimming pigs. For us, it is primarily a big anchorage with solid protection from the east, and some from the south, with sand that holds your anchor in place almost regardless of the wind speed. The reason we chose Big Major Spot is that is costs nothing – the Parks mooring balls cost us over $50 per night (I know, right?) – plus we have some good friends, Bill and Regina, aboard their boat Meant2B. In addition, there are maybe 50 boats here and we thought we might be able to meet other people.

We arrived at Big Major Spot and the first thing we tried to do was go to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC). Like McDuff’s this is kind of like a classic ex-pats bar. The difference is that SCYC is (almost) the real thing. I say “almost” because it used to be the real thing, but in recent years has become busy, very busy with boaters, yachties and tourists of all stripes; I don’t think there is an ex-pat anywhere in the neighborhood. The place really has quite a history. In fact, the famous Grotto from the James Bond movie, Thunderball is located near the Yacht Club AND they actually have pictures of the Thunderball film crew in the bar. I don’t know why “Bond, James Bond,” himself isn’t pictured. He must have been putting on his tuxedo.

The increasingly famous swimming pigs at Big Major.
You will notice that in the first sentence I said we TRIED to visit the yacht club. Well, the wind made the chop so bad that the trip was untenable, so we dropped in to see our friends Bill and Regina, who, this year had their daughter’s best friend’s son (I think I have that right) Matt with them. We have known Bill, Regina and Matt since we first met them in Nassau several years ago and have kept track of them ever since. They had us over for a drink that, with Bill’s great Greek cooking, turned into dinner. Other than that, we made a dinghy tour of the anchorage and some of the areas nearby that are out of the wind, learned the meaning of the term cerulean and why it is important in the Bahamas specifically and the Caribbean more generally, and we waited.

Well, that just about catches you up. We are now sitting about 10 miles south of Big Major at Black Point, but we will tell you about our time here in the next entry.

Ann’s Notes: I really do not have much to add to the blog. It has been windy and the water in the protected anchorages has been good holding.  Trying to venture out of the protected waters means you get very wet in the dinghy. Most of you know that I am not a fan of salt water and I am much happier when it is not on me.  Fresh water pools are my preference … thank you very much. Just to be clear, I like walking on the beach and I look forward to rinsing the sand off my feet when I get back. Just saying.

Spot has been enjoying her free time on the bow of Traveling Soul while we are at anchor. She follows the sun during the day, like a small sunflower, always wanting to be in the sun, silly little feline that she is.

Official Guard Cat Spot, patrolling the kayak,
 looking for prey.
It was so good to visit Bill and Regina and Matt once again. They were out of country for two years, Bill took a job in Egypt. They kept their boat in Titusville FL while they were gone. Meant2B is up and cruising again, and receiving visitors. They have more friends and family visit than most cruisers I know. If they would stop being so nice … just kidding.

I have been busy with a few cross stitch projects, reading and a few new recipes. We finished watching the full TV series of Burn Notice and are now watching Northern Exposure, it case you were wondering what we are watching after dinner.

That is about all for now.

Traveling Soul…OUT

Friday, February 16, 2018

Grand Bahama to the Exumas

Whrrr! The reel went Whrrr! is the sound for which fishermen everywhere live and die. Whrrr! “My God that fish is taking out line,” I said to myself. He probably had 300 feet by the time I made the twenty foot sprint from the helm to the aft deck. I could tell he was big, maybe even huge, just by the feel. Whrrr! the reel sounded and the line went out. “Okay,” I told myself, “just let him run.”Whrrr! “man, he is taking out line.” I looked down and he already had well over half of my 30# test and he showed no sign of slowing down. The reel was getting warm to the touch. “I have to do something,” I thought, “or he’ll have all of my line.” Ever so slightly I increased the drag. But I swear it didn’t make a whit of difference in the speed with which the line was zipping off the reel. “Ok, just a little more drag, I told myself.”
“Oh my God, was that him that jumped out there 500 feet away?” He was still taking line. Ann was at the helm and I told her to put it in neutral and come back to watch the show. The fish, at least five feet long and maybe more, leapt out of the water showing off his magnificent colors, gold on the sides and bright blues, greens and yellows on his back. Again and again he jumped, at least three or four times. He then began a series of lateral leaps kind of like a dolphin, almost skimming across the water. And then … Oops I’m getting ahead of myself. I was going to tell you about the crossing from Grand Bahama to Great Harbor. I’ll come back to the TRUE fish story.

Before leaving the Grand Bahama Yacht Club Harbor we met Kyle and Kathy who arrived a day or two after we did on their boat Now and Zen. In the last blog entry, you may recall, I vented about how unfriendly the majority of the Yacht Club members were. Kyle and Kathy were exactly the opposite. They were cruisers like us. They live in Fort Lauderdale and had just bought a second house with a 50’ dock in beautiful Beaufort, SC, right along the Waterway. They came over for drinks one evening and before any of us knew it, it was 10 PM. We really enjoyed their company and wish they had come a day or two earlier. We also briefly met Jerry and Billie who arrived aboard their boat Miss Liberty. They, too were on the way to Great Harbor and we spent a lot of time with them there. They will pop up frequently through this entry.

Anyway, we departed Grand Bahama at about 0745. For the first fifteen – twenty minutes, it looked as though the cruise was going to be a little sloppy. Spot retreated to her carrier, which is now her hidey-hole of choice. However, after we got far enough away from the island the water smoothed out and we had a very comfortable trip to Great Harbor. It was also very peaceful, that is until that huge mahi took the hook. The end of the story is kind of sad. When a fish has 500’ of line and shakes his head, he creates slack in the line. From there it is only a split second until he is gone. And that is what happened to me. Oh well. That is why they call it fishing, not catching. Maybe next time.

The night we arrived the marina staff had arranged a “chill and grill” for all the cruisers. Again, even though the weather had been beautiful, Ann and I were still a bit tired from the trip and we were both ready for a quick meal and bed. We met Billie and Jerry from Miss Liberty at the marina. They were planning to go the chill and grill so we decided to go too. Ann and I both had ribs, and they were well pretty well cooked (not as good as mine, of course). The problem was that at about 5:30 the noseeums came out. Both Ann and Billie were getting eaten alive so we all adjourned to Miss Liberty to finish our meals. You would think that would be it, and we would go to bed, but noooo. The gazebo where the chill and grill was held was about 50 feet from our boat. And what, besides food, do you need at a Chill and Grill? Apparently you need loud Bahamian music. 
to keep them straight, the staff
put faces on  them. The decaf,
needless to say, had the frowny face.
At Carriearl Ann and I both ordered a
 cup of coffee for dessert.  Ann ordered
decaf and I ordered regular ...
One of the real joys of going to Great Harbor is the opportunity of going to Carriearl, a boutique hotel (four rooms), owned, run and managed by two British ex-pats. They have lived on the island for years and they own the home where Mr. Blackwell (of the “worst dressed list” fame) where they serve dinner in the evenings and brunch on Sunday. We decided to go to dinner this year and were rewarded with two scrumptious meals. I had beef stroganoff and Ann had fettuccini with shrimp. I think hers was as bit better, but we both cleaned our plates.

The following day, Sunday, was the reason we had come to Great Harbor in the first place – the SUPERBOWL.  Now I don’t have a dog in this particular fight. I am not a New England fan and I really don’t care for the Philadelphia Eagles. But I am a football fan and football fans like to watch the Superbowl. Although we don’t have satellite TV on Traveling Soul, Jerry and Billie (one of the couples we met at Grand Bahama) have it on their boat. They invited us and a couple we had met the evening before, Rema and Chris, to watch the game on Miss Liberty. Well, we would have had a grand time even if the Eagles did not win. Billie and Jerry were excellent hosts, cooking a meal and providing coffee and desert for all. Yes, we provided some appetizers and Rema and Chris made a salad, bit the hospitality that Billie and Jerry demonstrated that evening was some of the best I have seen among cruisers. If you are reading this, Billie and Jerry, thank you so much for a wonderful time.

The next morning, we were on our way south. The seas were fairly calm and I fished almost all the way (no, again I did not catch anything). Our destination was an anchorage we had used the previous year, Alder’s Island. It is very picturesque and was about half way towards our next destination, the Berry Islands Club. The anchorage was a little more rolly than we remembered it ad we did not have a particularly good night’s sleep. Still, it did provide protection until we got going the next day.

Spot curled up into a ball of fur so she can't see the sea state.
If the seas on the day before were fair, for the first half-hour or so of our trip to the Berry Islands Club they were terrible. Eventually we would be going southwest and would have the wind and waves on our aft starboard quarter, then we would turn due west and have them on our stern most of the way. But to get out of the anchorage and get to our planned route, we had to head pretty much due east directly into the wind and waves for a couple of miles. Well, Spot didn’t appreciate that fact. As soon as the rough ride began, she looked for a place to hide. She eventually chose a place between Ann and me on the helm with her face buried behind the back seat cushion. After about 30 minutes, we made the turn southwest and everyone was much more comfortable. Spot, however, stayed on the helm with her head buried behind the cushion. Every time we tried to move the cushion we got scolded with a very loud “MEOW” that was telling us she was fine and we should go on about our own business and not bother her. Apparently, in Cat Land if you cannot see the rough seas and the bumping and banging going on around you, all is well.

This rainbow kept growing and adding colors as we watched it.
First it added blue, then violet.
We had planned to spend the night at the Berry Islands Club. It is a small place with seven mooring balls and the beginnings of a marina. Located in the southern Berry Islands we had heard it was a lot of fun and decided to check it out and at the same time to give them a little business. We tried to call them on the phone – no answer. Hey, ‘tis da Islands, mon, they could have not answered for any number of reasons. We got closer and called them on the radio. We did not get an answer from the Club, but a passing cruiser told us the club was closed. We went up to the mooring balls anyway, but it was so choppy in the mooring ball field that we decided to move on another 10-15 miles to the anchorage at Chubb Cay AND give the Club a bad review on Active Captain. So there!

Chubb Cay was a little rolly, but overall a nice anchorage. We downloaded our dinghy to take a look at the marina, which charges an (almost) exorbitant $3 per foot. The facilities are nice – actually it is kind of a swanky place – there is a Club House that we could have used, but didn’t, and according to reports, a small chandlery. But at $3 per foot we weren’t going to use the place and from the number of empty slips, we weren’t the only ones with that attitude.

The fancy-schmancy Chubb Island Marina.
It was too ritzy for us!
On Thursday we left Chubb and headed for Nassau. Here, too we were going to try out a new marina, Palm Cay. The marina itself was nice, except for the lack of effective wi-fi, the fact that they charged extra for use of the pool and beach, and the fact that they charged very high rates for water; Nassau is not the hinterlands of the Exumas where water is scarce. The reason that we will never return, however, has little to with all of this. Our assigned slip was on a concrete bulkhead. It doesn’t take a genius to note that fiberglass and concrete do not mix very well. We managed to get enough fenders out in time that we weren’t scarred, but why did they do that? There were a number of empty slips (I counted 11) that could have held us. I don’t get it.

The best thing about Palm Cay, however was the people we met. Fran and Frank aboard their boat At Last, Shep and Deb on High ZZs and Chris and Robin from Cerulean were all wonderful folks and we had a blast with all of them. By the time we left, all had departed except Chris and Robin who were instrumental in helping us get out of that damned slip. Without our wonderful deck crew (Ann) and Cerulean’s crew we night still be in Palm Cay. We hope we see you all down island!

So, here we are at Highbourne Cay in the Exuma Island Group. Ater we leave Highbourne and head south, we will not be very well connected. We’ll try to update our blog as often as we can, but it might be a few extra days.

Ann’s Notes: Michael is correct in telling you that we have had some pretty bumpy rides, and Spot will second that notion. I, however, like to be rocked to sleep, if that is what a baby feels being rocked in a cradle, I understand why it is so soothing and will sign up for that sensation any night.

We have done more exploring in the dinghy this trip and that is fun. The reason for more dinghy rides is because Michael is having some back issues and cannot walk long distances without a lot of discomfort. He spend a good part of last summer trying to isolate the cause of the pain, found a good neurologist, who gave him a serious of back injections with little or no relief, plus different medications. That being said, we are exploring the islands from a water view and not walking the beaches or making our way through low scratchy bushes. We will be able to explore once again by foot once Michael is fixed. We hope.

I have to say that we have meet some very nice people, Michael and I are not really joiners of groups, but we decided to make an extra effort this year to be more outgoing and meet more cruisers than in the past.  So far this has been a good plan, we have had many wonderful conversations, I have a few more friends on Facebook, and have a few more appetizer recipes.

The dinner at Carriearls was so nice, we went with Billie and Jerry. While waiting for our ride to the restaurant we met another couple that was also waiting. That is when we meet Rema and Chris, they had a very interesting story to tell about how they met and are now cruising together. For a younger couple they blended right into the older generation group. Their sense of humor was wonderful and kept us laughing with their commentary during the superbowl.

I have learned that while cruising you need to mix it up sometimes and explore new places. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not so much. In the case of going to a new marina in Nassau, the “not so much” applies. The marina is lovely, the staff friendly and helpful, but the dock master needs to rethink where he is going to dock a fifty-two foot  boat  before he assigns  the slip. The marina has pretty much been taken over by a condo association and they just want money to keep the land portion out of the red column in the budget book. Their solution, I fear, is to make the cruisers pay, pay for water at 35 cents per gallon; we hold 200 gallons in our tanks. Even worse is the $15 per person for a three day pass to use the pool or go on their small beach. That just pissed me off and we did not pay that price, I did however go to the pool as a guest from my newly made friend Robin. They do have good WiFi, for free at the CafĂ© but the signal did not reach our horrible slip, so far away. They did have a courtesy car with a two hour limit, that was very nice. I wish we had a video showing us, literally wiggling out of our slip. Three dock hands, plus Robin and Chris got us out. Thank heaven for a great Captain, Michael, head sets for clear communication, and my line skills. That adventure made my heart race , but we did it together and I got a compliment from Michael that did not involve my cooking and food preparation.

All and All it has been a fun – sometimes more exciting than it had to be – adventure.

Traveling Soul…OUT

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Grand Lucaya (24 Jan - 1 Feb)

It has finally happened. My long-time readers will remember that about three years ago I warned about the imminent Canadian invasion of the Bahamas. Everyone ignored me – and some even laughed. Last year, when I again raised the specter of a Canadian-controlled Bahamas, I pointed out that the battle was nearly lost – by a count of 17 American to 15 Canadian boats (with one uncommitted French-flagged vessel) the Ocean Reef Club had already nearly fallen to the invaders. Still, there was no response. This year, I can say for certain that Freeport and Grand Bahama Island are gone, lost to the Maple Leaves. Here at the Grand Bahama Yacht club, I am not even sure the Americans put up much of a fight; I guess the Canadians just polited us to death. It is true that the Americans continue to bring in their HUGE Cruise ships, but cruise-ship people certainly aren’t capable of out-politing the Canadians. Grand Bahama is lost. 
The view behind out boat in the marina.
Okay, back to more peasant business. I was in such a hurry to get our last blog out that I failed to mention our new friends Ran and Bebe aboard their beautiful sailing vessel, Venture. They arrived at Old Port Cove about the same time we did and were looking to cross about the same time. Unfortunately they had some mechanical issues that kept them in port. (See, it is not just us!) I sure hope they can make the next weather window – whenever that is—and we can meet them in, what may then be, the Canadian-owned Bahamas. We also had a visit from our friends Sharon and Andy. I met Sharon years ago through the blog about their vessel Finally Fun and we have kept in touch since. They have sold their boat, moved ashore, and are now looking for another boat. It was great seeing them.

The Crossing
As you will remember we had been waiting for quite some time – and had spent quite a few bucks – at Old Port Cove Marina. On Sunday we moved into Lake Worth and on Tuesday we departed. It was a pretty narrow window and the weather didn’t look perfect, but if we were going to go anytime in the next two weeks, Tuesday was it. We launched at 0750.

The seas were … shall we say … far from perfect. That said, they could have been a LOT worse. We have been in rougher seas on occasion and, over the years we have been on Traveling Soul, we have been bumped and slammed around plenty. So, while this was not the worst ride we have ever had it was probably among the worst 10. Our cat, Spot, disagrees. She is generally wonderful on the boat. She kind of likes exploring the ICW and finding different kinds of birds along the way; she likes watching dolphins as they swim off our beam and she likes some of the different destinations we visit. However, she definitely likes the ICW more than the open ocean. As soon as the seas started to get a little rough, she checked out her hidey-holes one-by-one. She wasn’t satisfied until she was in her carrier as far back as she could get. She was a bit vocal, too. I could tell that some of her meowing was asking, “What the hell are you humans doing? Are you crazy? How about going back to Lake Worth?”  With all that, however, nobody was hurt, nothing was damaged and at the end of the day we were in de Islands, Mon!!!

We arrived at West End and pulled into our slip at 1600. We had very little time to fill out the paperwork and get to the Customs/Immigration Office before 1700. If we didn’t make it in time I was concerned that we would have to spend additional time at West End the following morning – when we wanted to leave as early as we could. I shouldn’t have worried as we made it with time to spare. As a note to those who follow, the Office has changed from years past. They are in a new building and had at least four Customs Officers processing paperwork while in the past they had only one. Moreover, they SAID they were going to inspect all the boats that came in before close of business. Now, I know the way bureaucracies work and I know that in the Bahamas ALL work stops at 5 PM. So, while I saw the boss send one inspector to check one boat (the captain seemed to have been evasive in answering his questions), I was pretty sure that they were not going to get to all of them that evening. I was right. Other than the one boat I saw inspected, I don’t think they checked any.
Usually we arrive at West End a little earlier in the day, and after checking in, we stroll around the property, go to the little beach bar and sometimes even eat at their restaurant. Not this time. All three of us – Ann, Spot and me – felt tired and literally “beat up.” We had a good dinner on the boat and hit the rack.

Grand Bahama
Our first Kaliks this year. MMMmmmmmmm
Remember when I referred to a “weather widow” before? That is because the one or two good weather days can be surrounded by nasty, windy days on either side. This was one of those short windows. Of the boats that crossed at the same time we did, several, including our friends Shay and Elizabeth aboard their boat Escape, went north to Memory Rock and were going from there to Great Sale to get a little rest, the start out Wednesday morning so they could make it to one of the marinas at Green Turtle Cay.  They had to make it on Wednesday because the weather was predicted to deteriorate throughout the day on Wednesday and become really nasty on Thursday. We, and a few others, chose to go the other direction. Rather than go north and head for the Abacos, we decided to go south and head for the protection of the marinas around Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island.

Many cruisers don’t like going to Freeport. The “purists” would rather spend their time anchoring and visiting the out islands than go to any touristy places. We understand. We also like anchoring and visiting the out islands. However, for us, learning about the Bahamas and its people is more important than maintaining purity. I am sorry, but you can’t learn about the country by ignoring its largest and second largest cities. (Nassau and Freeport) which together constitute about 80% of the Islands’ population (Nassau has about 255,000, Freeport 50,000 and the Bahamas overall about 387,500.) Besides, we enjoy sightseeing everywhere. 

We decided to stay at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club. Although it is a little more expensive than most in the Freeport area, it is also nearer the attractions. It is really well constructed, used to handling boats of our size and much larger, has a very nice swimming pool, is reasonably close to the International Marketplace (a dinghy ride away) and is on the shuttle boat route to just about all the attractions. And they have a shuttle bus to the grocery store which is only a couple of miles away. In short, the marina is great.
That said, I am not sure we have ever been in a marina where the resident cruisers are quite as snooty as they are here! In the first place, most of the people we have met so far spend the entire winter, or most of the winter, at the marina. One couple we met, for example, has been coming here every year since 2010, and almost everyone we met spends all or most of the winter here. Now, I really do get it; they are friends, close friends, who buddy around together and generally meet the sociologist’s definition of a “clique.” That would happen anywhere. Still, in most marinas where we have stayed, people will at least say “hello” and offer to show you the local sights. Not here. Okay, enough venting.

Ann taking us on a dinghy trip.
Port Lucaya and the International Marketplace
The International Marketplace is easy to describe: it is tourist central for Freeport – a location where cruise ships frequently stop. In fact, we met two ladies who were on a 3-day $99 cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. The Marketplace was designed for them (though these ladies seemed far savvier than the tourist board gave them credit). It basically contains five types of shops: restaurants, bars, jewelry stores, bars and a straw market that sells touristy mementoes. Ann bought two little touristy memento magnets at the straw market that were advertised as “original hand-crafted Bahamian.” On the back of both, of course, were stickers that labeled the products, “Made in China.” Oh well.

One picturesque vies of the Grove's Gardens.
See the turtles on the log and in the background
We also did a bus tour of Freeport. we learned that Freeport doesn't really have much of a history, it was developed in the 1950's. We did learn several little tidbits about the island and the Bahamas generally -- but to learn about those you will have to buy us a drink. One interesting part of the tour was the trip to Groves Gardens. Groves was the guy who basically destroyed the Abacos and parts of Grand Bahama by deforesting them in the 30s and 40s. So why they named a garden after him I am not sure. Anyway, at the garden they discussed several Bahamian medical remedies for common ailments.

One of the most dangerous aspects of being laid up in a touristy location like Lucaya is that restaurants are readily available. My guess is that there are 20 or so in the Marketplace, some at the lower end of the culinary scale, several in the middle and at least one at the higher end. We went to three for lunch on various days, Agave, A Caribbean-fusion restaurant, Zorba’s, which serves Greek food and Daddy Brown’s Conch Stand. At Daddy Brown’s we had two cracked lobsters (cracked is basically pounded flat and fried) and some very good conch fritters for $15. Man, you can’t beat that. PLUS it was delicious.

Two dirty martinis at the Flying Fish. The view and the
 cocktails were to die for.
On our next-to-last night in Grand Bahama we went to Flying Fish, purportedly one of the finest restaurants in the Bahamas and rated #8 in the entire Caribbean and somewhere around #58 in the world. Our overall opinion? It was very good; not spectacular, not extraordinary, but very good. There was one exception. We had read that early in his career Chef Tim Tibbits had prepared a “calamari with brown butter” dish that, because it was chosen for the menu at the restaurant where he was working, “changed his life.” Now come on, if you think I am going to miss a dish that a renowned chef believed changed his life you are nuts. We had it as an appetizer and I gotta admit, it was delicious!!! In fact, Ann spent much of the following morning figuring out how to duplicate it. She even had me go to the store and buy some unsalted butter (which is apparently better in the preparation of brown butter than is salted butter – who knew?). The main courses we had were far less spectacular but were certainly very good. The service was good, though they rushed us a little bringing the main course out at the same time they brought a cocktail, but I guess that is better than being slow. The total cost was $187 (including tip). I have paid more and I have paid less for an equivalent meal, but when I think that I could have had 10 of Daddy Brown’s cracked lobsters and beer for one dinner at the Flying Fish, I gotta say I am not sure I would go back.
Finally, the weather had improved so tomorrow we are on the way to Great Harbor Marina in the Berry Islands. We plan on staying there through Sunday – and the Super Bowl – then meandering through the Berries a little longer before making the jump to Nassau. I don’t have anything vested in the superbowl, I am not a fan of either team. But hey, if you are a fan of the game – and I am – you have to watch the Superbowl.

Ann’s Notes: I really do not have too much to add. When we arrived we got the dinghy down when the wind was not too bad. The poor dinghy was one hot mess, dirty and just needed some TLC. Michael and I agreed that we would do some exploring every day and one or two small boat projects. Spreading the little “needs to be fixed” project over several days is a good thing. I did a lot of re-organizing the cabinets in the galley and putting labels on containers. You all know I LOVE to organize things, so that project was fun for me. The NOT fun project was cleaning the dinghy. I just dumped in a bunch of Simple Green soap, added some water and took a scrub brush. We both did the pontoons as well as we could. I fixed the oar mounts and used lots of good old fashion elbow grease. Spraying the water was fun with the wind slightly blowing; once you are wet you might as well finish the damn project. I will say once everything was dry, I am no longer embarrassed to be seen riding in our dinghy.
Michael was very correct about the Canadians not being very friendly… their loss, not ours. Americans that cruise are generally much more friendly and helpful.

I have enjoyed our time in Lucaya, the marina staff is wonderful and the Bahamian people so pleasant to be around. It is very much a tourist spot for cruise ship people and right now we are tourists.
The dinner at Flying Fish was a treat, I thought the food was different and the service was good. I like a fancy dinner every once in a while and I like to try and duplicate a food item that was yummy.

I also want to thank Sharon and Andy for coming across the state of FL to visit us. They are such fun to spend time with.
The tour of Freeport was different, they have a very complicated car license registry, I will read up on it and try to figure it out. Like most semi- third world countries … the rich are very rich and the poor stay poor… although ... I think in the larger cities there is a working middle class. They must have a good social welfare system because everything is expensive, food, fuel, and utilities.

That is about all, I never think I will type that much but once I get in front of the computer, I just GO.

Thank you all for following us.

Traveling Soul…OUT