I love sunrises when we travel. They are beautiful: vibrant colours, sometimes playing hide and seek behind small clouds, changing in colour and intensity every minute. That special moment only last 30 cherished minutes. The other aspect of sunrises that make them so precious is the end of darkness. After traveling for hours without seeing the waves and land points of reference, it is comforting to now see, instead of just feel and refer to an electroni charts. When I see, I gain more confidence; I welcome the day with its adventures and joys. To me, sunrises are openings to new challenges and opportunities; the meaning of my life.
When we left Coral Bay, St. John at 05h00, in darkness for an hour, we followed the protected Drake Channel in the Virgin Islands, sailing North East, before we jump onto open ocean water at Ginger Island towards St. Maartens. This 100-mile trip went very well. Jumping from Ginger Island, we had a good wind angle to allow rising both sails for 70 miles. Yeepee! Sailing at 6-7 knots, we were cautiously optimistic for an arrival by midnight. I even promised Frank an extra ration of rum if we arrive in St. Maartens by midnight. LOL! For the last 30 miles, the winds shifted towards our bow. We kept the main sail but furled the head sail. Our speed plummeted to 3 knots. That was a long stretch! We finally dropped anchor at 03h00 in Simpson Bay, St. Maartens. Only one ration of rum before bed!
When we arrive at an anchor in a new country, we need to clear "in" customs. The official procedure is to first raise a yellow flag meaning "quarantine" on starboard side. Then, only one person (crew or skipper) is allowed on shore to clear customs. There's a bit of confusion between the USA and other countries in the Carribbeans. With an American cruising permit - which allow us to come and go within the USA and USA-owned islands without clearing customs at every US ports - we don't need to clear "out" when we leave the USA. However, when we arrive in another country, they don't like us to clear "in" with them without clearing "out" with the USA. It makes the conversation of officials in both countries very confusing and ackward. Usually the receiving country just gives up and let us clear in.
Really, if we didn't have a boat, St. Martin on the French side and St. Maartens on the Dutch side would be the perfect island to buy property for us. It has various opportunities for sports: snorkeling, diving, sea-doos, and many other watersports, ATV's, scooters. The island has mountains, lagoons, beachs galore, history, cultures, excellent food. For us, paradise! We found a Dutch cheese store, a Garden Market of a multitude of European delicacies, all-you-can-eat seafod on the beach. And the best is to come: Marigot Bay, on the French side. We hope Harald and Melitta - Frank's cousin and wife who arrive tomorrow to sail with us for 2 weeks - will want to explore by ATV or scooters. Wow! Life is good!
Yesterday, we moved from Simpson Bay to Simpson Lagoon, a protection from the sea swells. With a forecast of 20+ winds and 27+ gusts, the sea within Simpson Bay is rolly to the point that all things on the boat must be secured from dropping and breaking or flying off into the water. The winds are still very strong within the lagoon but no waves.
To enter the lagoon, we needed to pay and register by VHF radio. Yesterday morning, we heard a boat called Doogie registering for the lagoon too. Doogie is a friend of Adanaco - reversed O'Canada; Adanaco, our friend from Ontario. (As you can see, we refer to sailing friends as their boat names). We met Doogie, and caught up with Adanaco, at Cape May; and the three of us sailed overnight to Norfolk, Virginia back in November. After that sail, we lost contact but followed their progress through an app (Marine Traffic) we have. Doogie and us followed the same path without meeting: Crooked Island, Caicos/Puerto Rico (Doogie on North shores, us on South shores), St. Thomas and now St. Maartens. What a joy to finally catch up with them! We hosted Happy Hour yesterday (Michelle baked delicious homemade foccaccia!) and tonight dinner on their boat. Hosting happy hour again, we realized how much we missed having people over and good conversations. When you spend weeks on a boat only with your loving spouse, you may feel socially deprived. It feels really good to talk to, and share experiences with, other people.
So much has happened since my last blog. Crooked Island, overnight to Caicos, Iridium GO dies, Caicos for 4 days, planning of our longest non-stop trip of 3-4 days.
Before I go further, let me explain the reason I called this blog "The Thorny Path". The Thorny Path is a known expression used to describe the path we are taking (partly) from Florida to the Virgin Islands, keeping close to shores. The currents, waves, weather, winds in this section of the trip are inconsistent. This make the trip "thorny" and longer, but also less risky and, if you plan it well, more comfortable. We can only travel in short distances on specific days. The other option is I-65, travelling East to Longitude W65 then South to the Virgin Islands. That option is about 10 non-stop days.First, Crooked Island. The marina at the northern tip of Crooked Island is brand new, still under construction. We heard that many boats are afraid to go to this marina because of the crooked route to enter it in order to avoid corral reefs. (Reefs can really damage propellers. If we lose the propeller, it makes sailing in a marina 10 times harder.) The entrance and inside the marina are at least 10 feet deep. As we approached the island, we called the harbour master who guided us through the reefs (turn right after this reef, turn left after the red buoy, etc.). We felt safe.
We, and another catamaran, were the only customers. Excellent! We found out later that the third boat was the home of the marina manager and his wife the cook of the restaurant. To Frank's happy surprise, Carolina the Cook, is from Munich! We spent 3 days waiting for our next weather window for Turks & Caicos. We met six other American men staying in cabins. They were there for daily fly fishing expeditions. We shared scotch and cigars after dinners. The only downer for me was the noseeums having a feast on my legs. I look like I'm wearing polka dot socks.
We sailed Crooked Island to Turks & Caicos in 30 hours. It was very plaisant; winds, weather and waves were perfect for us.
Second, Turks & Caicos. What a beautiful island! Clear blue water, palm trees everywhere, friendly and laid back people, always breezy. This is where our 2-month-old satellite communication device, Iridium GO, died. This is a real setback for us. We relied on it for weather downloads en route and trusted it for communication with our family/friends at any time. The customer service is located in New Zealand. By the time we called them on Thursday, it was Friday morning for them and they don't work on weekends. As the service is through PredictWind, they couldn't do much for us in a day, besides telling us that Iridium GO can take 3-4 weeks to process a replacement (!).
The marina we're staying at is far from everything. Cab service is excellent. I hadn't done laundry since Jensen Beach, FL. So that was one of my priorities. Frank cut my hair and his own. Today, we provisioned and cooked some meals. We're leaving tomorrow morning.
Instead of continuing on the Thorny Path which would bring us next to the Dominican Republic, we decided to jump to Puerto Rico, a 3-4 day non-stop trip (another reason we miss our Iridium GO). We will sail across the Caicos Banks, then South of Turks Islands, then follow a curve East and South to San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is our longest non-stop trip to date. Wish us luck!
There's so much to do and see in the Exumas. People spend weeks here. For us, we only sailed to Norman Spit and The Mice. We have a lot of mileage to do this year so we have little time to spend in different spots. However, we promised ourselves to come back to the Bahamas in the next few years.
We only stayed one night at Norman Spit. There's not much wind/wave protection. The night was a bit bumpy. We loved The Mice .... well, the isldands of course. We anchored in 10-12 feet. The water is light blue and so clear. From the deck, looking at the bottom, it's hard to believe there are 12 feet. It looks like 3-4 feet. We decided to stay a whole day (2 nights) to give time for Frank to clean the bottom of the boat and for me, knowing we'll sail a 30-hour stretch next, make some meals in advance: oatmeal pancakes, hard boiled eggs, chicken pasta salad, more cooked chicken and leftover roast beef.
To clean the bottom of the boat, Frank used his snorkling mask, his suction handles (I call them suckers) and a brush. After more than a couple of hours, he took a break not because he was tired but because his stomach felt quizzy from swallowing salt water over time. He did come up the ladder pretty quickly after I yelled "Shark!!!". No kidding, a shark passed 2-3 feet under him. The shark, swimming in a leisurely way, didn't look hungry. Before the end of the afternoon, Frank wanted to finish his cleaning job. But after I notified him of a long black fish (about 75 cm long) near him, and he said it's a barracuda, we decided no more cleaning today. We didn't want the barracuda to decide Frank could be dinner. That's enough excitement for one day.
We left The Mice behind this morning, crossed over the Exumas to the East, and are now heading for Crooked Island - a 30-hour sail. We have localized rain showers. The wind is broad reach. The sea has less than a meter waves. The head sail is out. All is well.
The Bahamas really have a extraordinary geography. All around the 700 islands, the corral reefs and banks are no more than 20 feet. Once we cross the waters from island to island, the ocean is 7000-9000 feet deep! It's like each island is a table: when we leave the table, the floor is way down. We experienced this unusual geography when we left Bimini Islands. We traveled from 07h00 to 23h30 on Great Bahama Bank towards Chug Cay and Nassau in 10-20 feet of water only. The water was gorgeous: it was light blue and we could clearly see the white sand bottom. At a certain point in the afternoon, we stopped the boat, swam and wash up. We could rinse the salt water using a shower head on our swim tramson. What a feeling!
When we tried to exit Grand Bahama Bank through a narrow pass, the current against us was too strong - we could barely move forward. We decided to retrace our route a little bit and drop anchor until the current changes direction at around 04h00. Before bed, we opened a bottle of bubbly and celebrate the New Year. A few hours later, for breakfast, we finished the bottle with mimosas.
It is surprising how much energy a body spends keeping warm. During our Bimini-Nassau crossing, at night the air was warm. Navigating was comfortable and pleasant. I remember though when we sail overnight up in Massachusetts and Virginia. The cold air was draining our energy pretty quickly trying to stay warm. So we were often very tired and irritable. Well, we're done with that now!
Nassau is the busiest hub in the Bahamas. Before we entered the harbor, we saw 6 cruiseships moored. I could just imagine all these people in downtown Nassau. Bahamas celebrate Christmas and New Year with Junkanoo. It is a celebration of music, parades, costumes (with a contest) and dance. We were too tired to participate but we did see the aftermath: costume parts and lots of garbage on downtown streets. It looked like it was quite a party. Many locals were cleaning up this morning. The 6 cruiseships left during the evening and 3 more appeared when we woke up this morning.
We reprovisioned after breakfast today. Man, it's expensive. A 18-egg crate is $9 US, celery $6 US. We were able to keep the tab at $145 US this time. We've seen up to $300 US for groceries, and that's for one store only. As for laundry, we'll wait until we get to Great Inagua. I found a laundromat on Google Map. In the meantime, I'll wash a few items en route. For next season, we'll buy a hand washing machine that we'll ship to Grenada Island before we get back to Komeekha in November.
According to this morning's wind forecast, we'll leave Nassau tomorrow morning. We'll follow the string of islands called Exumas for a couple of days. We'll then cross over to Conception Island, then Crooked Island, then Great Inagua, then Turks (& and Caicos), then Dominican Republic. If you look at Google Maps, it might seem weird to go that North from Great Inagua to Turks and Caicos. There are 2 reasons for this decision: 1) We can only clear Customs at Great Inagua, no longer can we at Mayaguna Island; 2) With winds and currents, we get a better angle to get to Dominican Republic from Turks and Caicos instead of Great Inagua. As usual, this whole plan can change based on Mother Nature's temperament in the next few days. She's the boss!
Please note: now that we left mainland, we don't have cell service unless we go for a beer or a meal in a bar, restaurant or hotel. So I need to plan more carefully to catch opportunities to post my blogs. Therefore, pay attention of the blog date as I might post more than one at a time. This also means that it will take a few days for us to be able to read your messages sent from our website. We hope this new situation will not deter you from writing to us. We love reading your news.
For a couple of weeks now, I started to relearn Spanish. I had learned Spanish in college for 2 years but never kept it up . At the time, I chose Spanish in the hope that it wouldn't require much studying as it is similar to French. This way, I could spend more time on my required courses. My good friend, Sharon, gave me the perfect Spanish-English illustrated book. Guess what!: the biggest section is about food! My favorite topic. So I'm focusing now on everyday vegetables, fruits, proteins and numbers. My parents, who were snowbirds for many years, told me that mom knew enough Spanish to bargain. LOL!
We left Miami Beach on Dec. 22 at 04:00. By the time we reached open water (an hour sail only), we gave way to four huge cruise ships. Obviously, Miami Beach like Fort Lauderdale is very popular. The crossing to North Bimini Island, Bahamas, a 50 nautical mile jump, went very well. The swells were mostly less than a metre. We had enough wind to raise the head sail (the one at the front). And the sun was shining. I couldn't believe how blue is the water of the Gulf Stream, more than 500 feet deep. It's a cross between a blue that is on the Greek flag and a shade darker. It was really beautiful and inviting!
During the day, we spotted at least 6 other sailboats/catamarans aiming for the same channel entrance, all of them with Canadian flags! Due to shifting sand in this part of the Bahamas, the entrance is a bit tricky. So we decided to pay attention to the route chosen by the sailboat about 300 metres in front of us. We see it enter, turn left then stop! It got stuck on a sand bank. Thankfully, the skipper was able to back out of it and chose a route beside the bank. We learned from them and avoided this situation. I stood at the bow as usual when we enter a tricky area and tried to learn water depth based on the colour of the water and how well I could see the bottom. This skill will be useful everywhere we go from now on.
We're anchored with many Quebecers. They're all very social and love to party. Today, we'll celebrate Christmas Eve during happy hour on a catamaran called Sabano. All the other boats in this anchorage are invited. I can just imagine everyone talking at the same time about their journeys so far and their plans for the season. It's very easy to spend hours with strangers when we have so much in common.
We got our first taste of British driving on the island. They drive on the other side of the very narrow roads. The direction of roundabouts is reversed to those in Canada. The good thing is that we were on our bicycles - a mistake on our part wasn't so bad. We learned quickly.
When we had a couple of beers in a bar beside the channel, we saw two bull sharks and stingrays underneath our feet. Wow! According to forecast, our next weather window for a 24-hour trip to Nassau will be on the 31st. We'll see ....