Hoffman’s Cay

Tropical Storm Kate passed to our east on Monday evening with no issue, as planned. We left our slip at Great Harbour Cay Marina the next morning, and continued on to an anchorage off of Hoffman’s Cay, on the Atlantic side of the Berry Islands. Our trip there was perfect, with big, gentle swells. After a five hour trip, we dropped anchor in gorgeous blue shaded water. We were surrounded by beautiful small islands. Each one with a beach, and each uniquely different.

One had a rocky, cliff-like shoreline

One was lined with coconut palms

One was lined with scraggly pine-like trees

And one even had a blue hole

At lower tides, the rocky shorelines seemed to float over the water

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to explore any of these islands. While we were enjoying our meal at the marina restaurant, the no-see-ums had a meal of their own. It turns out that I’m very allergic to their bites. I’d just started to recover from being eaten alive at our private beach excursion, and this time they hit me twice as hard. The normal Off spray didn’t have much effect on them, and I am covered in big, red, crazy itchy welts. Like chicken pox on steroids. The bite are SOO itchy, I want to scratch the skin from my body!

I have spent the last few day hiding inside the boat, giving the irritated bites time to ease a bit before I spread more repellent on them. I’ve been doing small painting and varnishing projects, watching movies and admiring our beautiful surroundings.

Scott, on the other hand, was like a kid on summer vacation. He’d take off early in the morning, exploring on the Aluminum Princess….come in for lunch (Which usually consisted of lobster that he’d caught. We’re still working on fish)….go back out for an afternoon run…come in for a snack and a nap….and then go out again before dusk.

The water around us was full of life. Stingrays and schools of fish swam by the boat, and there were at least three sea turtles who lives near us. We watched their heads break the surface regularly, as they came up for air.  And, we again had a resident barracuda under us. When Scott would get into the water the barracuda would come check out what was going on, and then retreat back to the shade of the boat. It was unnerving, but we learned to coexist.

We were anchored right near a coral head that was full of lobster and various fish. If Scott was near the boat, this is where I’d find him..

Howard keeps a close eye on Scott when he  gets in the water. I don’t know if he’s concerned, or jealous…

During his explorations, Scott found some coconuts, and we enjoyed fresh coconut water.

We enjoyed two days here, having the whole area to ourselves. It was completely quiet, except for the sound of the waves breaking on the rocky shoreline of the surrounding islands. However, with the forecast calling for the winds to build, we decided to continue south, and keep from getting stuck in one place for the next 8-9 days.

I took a quick video of the view from our anchorage.

Here are more photos of the waters around our beautiful anchorage, and Scott’s exploration.

Catch of the day: Lobster

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Waiting On Kate

So the tropical wave became a tropical depression, which quickly became Tropical Storm Kate. The forecast still had her staying east, with no immediate threat, but as the winds changed directions we would be too exposed at our anchorage. Erring on the side of caution, and not needing or wanting to take any risks this early in the game, we opted to head into Great Harbour and get a slip at Great Harbour Cay Marina.

The harbor is well protected, accessed by a cut in the island.

The marina is at the back of the harbor, surrounded by condominiums on one side, almost sitting in it’s own harbor.

The staff were more than friendly, and so were our slip neighbors who are settled here for the winter.

Once we were tied up, and the air conditioning was on (YAY!), we headed to the pool bar for a drink. The plan was to get something to eat there, but the prices were terrifically high! We had our one beer and then went to the small restaurant at the other end of the marina, about fifty steps from the boat.

Along the way, we passed many of these lines hanging in the water, loaded with live conch in their shells. We guessed that they were like the live boxes that crabbers on the Chesapeake Bay use. Hanging them in the water keeps the conch alive, but close and convenient when you want to use (aka eat) them.

With conch on the brain, we ordered conch fritters…that were awesome! Seriously, the restaurant is open for breakfast, and I was tempted to go and ask them to make me some! They didn’t offer alcohol, so Scott walked to the boat and brought back two cold beers for us to have with our conch.

Once our bellies were full, we went back to give Howard some outside time. It was his first experience with sand.

He had a ball, and eventually tried to take off across the street to get to the thicker trees and shrubs before we reigned him in. He vented his frustration with us by hissing and batting us with his paws (claws in) as we walked him  back to the boat. There was also a lot of stressful, open-mouthed panting. He really liked his taste of sandy soil.

This morning, we left the marina, and are now making a go for the Atlantic side of the Berry Islands. We’re hoping that since Kate stayed off to the east, the waves won’t be too terrible for our trip today. Fingers and paws crossed!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Tropial Weather Comes Knocking

If you follow our Delorme tracker path, on our Where Are We Now page, you already know that we are still at anchor here off of Bullocks Harbor on Great Harbour Cay. (If you zoom out on that page, you can see our original path in, and out attempt to move on Wednesday, when we turned around. You can also see our trip through the mangroves. We took the tracker with us)

We’ve had a close eye on a tropical wave in the area, that has developed into a low pressure system.  The wave now has a closed off eye wall, and is beginning to strengthen. A tropical wave can become a low pressure system, the low pressure can become a tropical depression, an onward to hurricane status.  Here is the current path of the system:

Chances are very very good, that we could have gone ahead as planned, and anchored on the Atlantic side of the islands. This thing won’t even be a tropical storm as it passes. We are on the far edge of the projected path, and it’s very likely that we’ll get little effect from it. However, not knowing how good the area is for holding our anchor in big wind at the next location, we decided that it’s not worth the risk for blue water.

The National Hurricane Center finally has an eye on this and keeps moving it more and more west, which is not good for us, so we’re keeping an eye on today’s development. The hope is that it stays to our east, in which case we’ll just stay here at anchor and wait it out. If it does keep moving farther west, we’ll go into Great Harbour and get a slip at the marina tomorrow morning. So…here we sit.

Aside from all of that drama, things are good. Howard keeps nightly watch out on the pulpit….all the way out onto the pulpit.

It makes me so nervous, but he loves the smells.

We also enjoyed another beautiful sunset, that Scott captured along the way.

For those of you looking for something to do on a Sunday morning, check out the updated link to Howard’s many photos here

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Lobster, Lobster, Lobster!

This week has been quiet. Aside from our trip through the mangroves on Monday (you can see our path on the Where Are We Now page), Scott’s done a lot of snorkeling and spearing of lobsters, which has made for yummy lunches! We’ve also been doing the  usual, boat maintenance and assorted projects (painting and varnishing).

Scott has been waiting to get a chance at spear fishing, and he’s finally gotten his chance here in the Berry Islands. He ventured out on Tuesday, and here is his day’s catch:

The conch shell was beautiful, and temping to keep.

We really wanted a conch shell that we’d found on our own, but neither of us wanted to attempt to get the conch out…ick. So we tossed it back.

But all in all, a good catch!

Scott is now on a mission to hone his new found spearing skills on some fish. Unfortunately, the fish and lobster seem to move around daily. We think that they are trying to stay one step ahead of the many jet skis that buzz around the wrecks that are near us.

There is a private island for Royal Caribbean in sight, just to the north. When the ship is anchored, there is a flurry of activity: parasailing, glass bottom boat tours and jet skis. Luckily, only the jet skis come in our general direction. We mainly see boats taking workers back and forth between the ship and Bullocks Harbour here.

We went to dinner in town, at Cooliemae’s. Her restaurant sits up on a high hill, with a great view of the sunset..and our boat at anchor!

On Wednesday, we planned to go to the Atlantic side of the island and anchor there. The water here is very clear, but it’s a greenish color, reflecting the grasses on the bottom. After our trip to the beach, and seeing the gorgeous blue water (comes from a sandy bottom), Scott wanted to change locations. We started out, but the head sea became too uncomfortable (head seas are the worst), so we turned around to wait for a better window.

On Friday, we took the Aluminum Princess to the dock at Bullock’s Harbour and went for a walk through town. There are just a few businesses scattered around the area: three very small grocery stores, a police station, a hardware store and the government building which houses the post office, clinic, and court offices. Of course there are also three or four bars and take away stores, where you can get something simple to eat and a cold freezer beer! These Bahamians are geniuses! We ducked in more than one, to try and cool off during our sweaty walk…freezer beer hit the spot.

Tomorrow morning, we plan to try again for an anchorage on the Atlantic side. It will take 5-7 hours, depending on the waves and our speed. Going into a head sea tends to slow us down, adding time to the journey. We’re leaving at 5 am, so fingers crossed we get there without too much banging around. Here are a few photos from this week.

Catch of the week: Lobsters! And a catch and release conch.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Exploring Great Harbour Cay

We have been exploring the area around our anchorage. Scott has done some snorkeling at the two boat wrecks that are near us, as well as the wreckage of a DC-8

We also took a ride around the nearby small islands and went into and around the harbour here.

Scott had read that there is a path through that mangroves, which takes you through the island and over to the Atlantic side. We decided to check it out, and loaded the Aluminum Princess up with chairs, towels and such for a beach day.

We made our way down to the entrance of said path and followed as the water got more and more shallow, and the “path” got more and more narrow!

The mangroves were really thick on either side of us. The boat, and sometimes us, took beating at times. I kept trying to stand up and take pictures and video of the path ahead, but it wasn’t easy.

I’m fairly sure that the path was meant for kayaks and such. However, we managed to squeeze our way through, and were rewarded with pretty blue, sandy-bottom water (the water at our anchorage is clear, but the bottom is covered with grass, so it’s a darker, green color).

The plan was to stop at a restaurant on the beach first, but being a Monday they were closed. Not such a bad thing, as the winds off of the ocean were blowing right at the location, and would’ve made it difficult for us to get off in the bumpy water.

Most dingys can just beach onshore and then get off at the bow, but with the enclosed pilot house, we can only get on an off of the Aluminum Princess at the stern end. We’d have had to anchor and make our way to shore in chest deep water (at least for me). Not appealing.

Ok, so now our lunch was going to be boxed Chex Mix that I’d brought for a snack….no problem! We were just happy to be able to spend some time on a spit of sand and wade in some clear water. We chose a spot around the corner, out of the way of the ocean swells.

Scott was not going to waste time with sunscreen, and made is way right into the water.

While I napped, he walked around toward the ocean side of our spit of land, which got more and more rocky.

A quick video:

There were many, many snails in and among the rocks, and a lot of conch shells that had been empty and discarded.

After a few hours, we squeezed our way back through the crazy mangrove trail. It was a great day, except for the fact that I was an all-you-can-eat buffet for the bugs while on the beach. Bug spray, bug spray, bug spray…I learned that lesson the hard, itchy way.

Here are today’s photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

On To The Berry Islands

October 31st

We woke to another day of clear, glassy water. Scott says its like boating in your friend’s infinity pool. With today being much calmer than yesterday, we can see the bottom very clearly. This video was taken in 20 feet of water!

Not your neighbor’s infinity pool (of course we wouldn’t really know for sure, having never been in an infinity pool)!!

Scott spent most of the day walking back and forth, staring in the water and remarking how calm it was and how he could still see the bottom. When he wasn’t walking back and forth, he spent time sitting out on the pulpit (his new favorite viewing spot).

We have had two fishing rods out each day, testing our luck. Late in the morning, we heard the whir of something on the line. Scott started to reel it in, and there was definitely resistance on the line…yay!…dinner! Alas, it was a barracuda. A big barracuda. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to take a chance on eating it. Barracuda usually carry a large amount of ciguatera, a toxin found in fish that feed along coral reefs. The fish cannot rid themselves of the toxin, and it accumulates gradually in the fish with age. It was a big guy. The lure in this video is nine inches!

So…we didn’t want to eat it, but also didn’t want to cut the line and lose our lure (not having an arsenal of these things). Scott did not want to get close to that mouth, so he used several long handled tools to get it off of the hook. It was quite a fight, as the thing was nasty and mad, but he came away with the lure! We called it a day, and brought the poles in.

We noticed that our little castaway birds were still with us, and later in the afternoon our stowaway numbers grew. A seagull decided to take a break and perch himself at the end of our paravane. Soon enough, there were five of them fighting for space. I roused Howard up from his travel sleep, and showed him what was going on. It was quite the sensory overload, and I was worried he might have a stroke. He settled into the port side pilot house window, to take it all in.

It became quite a loud, shrieking show, but the gulls finally left as we approached land. However, Howard started to look at the roof of the pilot house, thinking that they must have settled up there. God knows what will ensue when he goes out once we anchor. He’s likely to spend the rest of the night searching for them.

It was an enjoyable and eventful eight hour day, and we are now anchored in Bullock Harbour, off of Great Harbour Cay.

We plan to spend a few days here. Scott wants to snorkel near a submerged plane wreckage, and jump into a blue hole; both are right near us. There is a beach on the east side of the island that we want to check out, as well as a beach bar or two. Plenty to keep us occupied!

Catch of the day: Barracuda!

Here are photos from today’s journey. By the way…Happy Halloween!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Great Bahama Banks

Friday, October 30th

We are crossing the Great Bahama Bank, on our way to the Berry Islands. The Great Bahama Bank is made up of limestone deposits that scientists believe was exposed to  air during the last ice age (meaning it was dry land), when the sea level was substantially lower. Today, it’s total thickness is almost three miles. The shallow waters of the bank extend southeast from Miami, in a broad curve about 330 miles long between Cuba and Andros Island in the Bahamas. The waters of the Bahama Bank are very shallow, no more than 80 feet; we traveled in 10-20 feet of water most of yesterday. However, it’s edge drops off very quickly into deep, deep water. Basically, it’s a huge sandbar in the ocean.

Our ride was very comfortable. We saw one little boat on the horizon, but other than that, the banks were ours. With no boat traffic and calm waters, there was little to no navigation to do. Scott took a hour or so nap (not in the cock pit), and we puttered around doing random things.

The Berry Islands anchorage that we’re heading for is a 14 hour run, which we cannot make with  daylight hours getting shorter. So after traveling for six hours,  we anchored in 10 feet of water in the middle of the banks…in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. Nothing in sight all around us, and nothing on the radar for 36 miles….no land, no boats, no markers…nothing. Here we are on the chart (yes, Kirk, this is your chart!).

And here are our surroundings at anchor.

By the way, we are officially in the Bermuda Triangle…

Once anchored, we discovered some stowaways on our rigging. Two small birds had hitched a ride with us! By the time we saw the birds, I’d already let Howard out and he was up on the flybridge. Sure enough, when I went up to check on him he was in full stalking mode. I was terrified that he’d go over board, leaping to get to one (when we were at our slip in Baltimore, Howard jumped off of our bow and onto a duck..that was in the water!). Thankfully, they eluded him, and we eventually lost sight of them. However, they may still be holed up somewhere, as it’s a long, long flight to land for them.

The water was glassy calm, and we could see clearly to the bottom. Scott finally got in the water for a bit, and also dove down to check the anchor.

We spent most of the late afternoon sitting on the swim platform, dangling our legs in the cool water, Scott enjoying his Bahamian mango rum. Being in the middle of nowhere provided great star gazing later in the evening, and we got a great view of the milky way.

Scott took a flashlight, and shined it down toward the water, off of our swim platform. It attracted lots of little crabs and some sizable fish.

In the middle of the night, big rolling swells woke us up. Scott’s theory was that we were feeling wakes from ships traveling overnight to get to their destination in the morning. He checked the radar, but nothing showed up around us for 36 miles. The rocking lasted for a few hours before settling down. It didn’t knock me out of bed, but I stayed clear of the edge!

Tomorrow, we’ll anchor off of Great Harbour Key, in the Berry Islands. Photos from today.

Catch of the day: Seaweed

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Hel-LO Bahamas!!

After two frustrating, patient-testing weeks, we are in the Bahamas! We left our anchorage in Key Biscayne at 4:30 am yesterday. Waiting and delaying paid off. The winds and waters for our trip over were good, and we were lucky to dodge the many squalls that were in sight all around us as we crossed. A pretty sunrise greeted us in the gulf stream.

The day was mostly cloudy, but as we approached Bimini, the sun came out to welcome us!

We traveled through waters that were 2,600 feet deep! That’s approximately half a mile, and some of the deepest water we’ll travel in over the next few years.  And, I watched NBC tv , clear as a bell,all the way to the channel!

It wasn’t dead calm, and with the possibility of having to pass through a squall line, we put the paravanes out as a proactive measure. Here’s what I’ve learned about the paravanes: they are great at keeping our roll down when we’re in bigger seas that I’m not comfortable with. However, to put them out or bring them in, you have to bring the boat to idle speed. So now your “in neutral” in the same waters that made you want to use the paravanes! It’s a race for Scott to get them in as fast as he can, while we roll and flop.

We always try to put them out before conditions get too bad, and ideally we pull them in when we’re already in a harbor, or when the waters have already calmed. That’s not always possible though. We need a certain amount of water depth to put them in or out, and sometimes there is too much boat traffic in a harbor or an entrance channel is too narrow. Overall though, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I’m so glad that we have them!

So back to yesterday. We put the paravanes out ahead of wind and squalls. The squalls missed us, but because they were in the area the winds and water picked up (winds also tend to pick up in the afternoon). We were rolling pretty good, and glad that we had the paravanes out, but the options for pulling them in were low. The harbor in Bimini had the room, but not the depth. So I had to do my best to keep the boat into the waves (to avoid flop and roll) while Scott brought the birds in. As the wind and waves pushed us sideways, I had to put the boat in gear and “goose” the gas.

Once that was done, we entered the channel while the current came out and the winds blew in. When the two oppose each other, it creates a washing machine effect. So we had to work a bit to get to the finish line, but it was worth it!

Scott put a line in the water as we traveled, hoping to catch us some dinner. He had me on watch, so he could keep an eye on the line, and be able to hear it if something caught. I went to see how things were going, and here’s what I found…

Seriously?!? This is fishing? Now I realize that Howard is an avid fisherman..

No luck yesterday, which is good for me, since I’m the one who has to clean and fillet it (still have to learn that)!

After tying up in our slip at Brown’s Marina, we unloaded our bikes and peddled to immigration, followed by customs. They both went off without a hitch, and we now have a 60 day permit for the Bahamas. After that, we headed to Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) to get a sim card for my phone, so we could use it for internet data. Turns out, can’t use my phone, so we  bought a cheap one and put data on it. We can use this one now, as we travel to other countries.

Lastly, we went to the liquor store. There is a brand of rum here that you cannot get in the states, and Scott loves it. He bought two cases. Leaving only one bottle in stock between two stores; it took two trips on the bike. He purchased containers to bring with us, to act as rum tanks. They hold eleven bottles worth, needing far less storage! Now he’s set for his stay here. After that, back to mango rum withdrawal.

At our second stop for rum, I noticed a bottle opener tied to the checkout counter. The man in front of us bought two single bottles of beer, paid for them, opened them at the counter and headed out the door. As Scott was checking out, I decided that I too would like to take a single beer with me. I walked toward the refrigerated cases, but the woman behind the counter called out to me to get one out of the freezer. Freezer?! It was the size of a mini van, and full of beer. God bless her! My teeth hurt it was so cold! I was so happy, that I went back this morning, to get another before we left…and to get some pictures!

We gave Howard a chance to stretch his legs. He was anxious to get off the boat, once he realized that there was a pier next to us. I think he was eyeballing the boat next to us, and planning a boarding. He is now restricted to supervised outings with a leash, after his escape onto the 3 million dollar boat

By this time, we were starved. Big John’s was right next to our marina, so we walked over. Our dinner was terrific! Scott had grilled lobster sandwich, and I had fried snapper. Delicious!

We woke up to a beautiful Bimini sunrise.Today we’ll continue east, toward the Berry Islands.

Internet is great here, as we’re right ear a Batelco tower. I’ll post as I can, when I can get a good signal. A few photos

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”