Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted on Jun 13, 2015 | 0 comments

The Hub of Abaco

The beautiful anchorage just outside of Hopetown Harbor.

The beautiful anchorage just outside of Hopetown Harbor.

After spending most of our first few weeks in the secluded islands of the Exuma Cays, we were all ready for a little more human contact. We had been told by fellow cruisers not to miss Hopetown and Marsh Harbour, so we were interested to find out if the Abaco Islands lived up to the hype.

The crystal blue water was dotted with these ominous black circles. Do Not Hit!

The crystal blue water was dotted with these ominous black circles. Do Not Hit!

Before we could start having fun however, we had to make the trek to get there! Our first day from Ship’s Channel Cay to Royal Harbour took us through the Middle Passage, a path filled with coral heads that had to be dodged if we didn’t plan on leaving our boat at the bottom of the bank. I stayed on the bow for almost 2 hours directing Dan around the large black/brown spots on the otherwise crystal blue water. As the saying goes: if it’s brown, you’re going down! Our next day up to Little Harbour was one of the bumpiest we’ve had so far, with 4-5 foot seas on the beam rolling in from the open Atlantic, aka a seasickness party for Carter and me.

The lighthouse is still operated manually and open for self-guided tours every day.

The lighthouse is still operated manually and open for self-guided tours every day.

Our first major stop in the Abaco Islands was Hopetown, Abaco. The picturesque harbor town complete with red striped lighthouse was like a scene from a postcard. Hopetown would be a great place to spend a vacation, with the beautiful Atlantic beach and protected harbor and just a short ferry ride to the other destinations in the so-called “Hub of Abaco.” We had a great time climbing the lighthouse and strolling through town. We also had to have a taste of a Vernon’s Grocery Store’s famous key lime pie, which was every bit as good as the guide books claimed.

I'm pretty sure I could go that low...but I wouldn't be getting back up!

I’m pretty sure I could go that low…but I wouldn’t be getting back up!

Next on our itinerary was Marsh Harbour, the third largest settlement in the Bahamas coming in at a whopping 5,000 permanent residents. While we wouldn’t consider this one of our favorite spots for visiting, it was fantastic to be able to get some chores done and find parts that would have been nearly impossible to get in other areas of the Bahamas. We did have a bit of a splurge night by attending the weekly BBQ buffet night at the Jib Room, complete with Bahama-style mariachi band and limbo performer (limbo-ist?). The food was good, the company fun, and we all had a great time.

We visited on a weekend, so the workers weren't in the shop, but it was still fun to see the boats in progress.

We visited on a weekend, so the workers weren’t in the shop, but it was still fun to see the boats in progress.

The last point of the Hub’s triangle was Man-O-War Cay, a lovely town in which you can slow down. Because the island has a ban on the sale of alcohol, there are much fewer tourist establishments and no traditional beach bars. What they lack in party atmosphere, they more than make up for with the authentic feel of the community that has been mostly supported by their famous sail loft and boat workshop on the island. It was a great compliment to the other settlements in the Hub, especially after a few days of chores in Marsh Harbour.

Picturesque handmade boats were in abundance on Man-O-War Cay.

Picturesque handmade boats were in abundance on Man-O-War Cay.

The Hub of Abaco was a completely new side to the Bahamas that we are glad we got to experience. While the area certainly can’t compete with the sheer intensity of natural beauty in the Exumas, it still has plenty of its own charm and flavor. The proximity of the destinations to each other makes it a perfect vacation destination or charter area and we would encourage anyone to give it a try if you haven’t before.

Read More

Posted on May 22, 2015 | 2 comments

Farewell to the Exumas

The last sunset during our time in the Exumas.

The last sunset during our time in the Exumas.

We were sad to see our time in the Exumas come to an end, but it was time.

We saw 49 knots on our wind meter when the storm passed through!

We saw 49 knots on our wind meter when the storm passed through!

After a week of hiding out at Staniel Cay due to the Tropical Low that eventually became Tropical Storm Anna, we were going a little stir crazy to start moving again. Our buddy boat friends were moving on and we were close behind them. After a third visit to Warderick Wells Cay, we left the Exuma Land and Sea Park behind and made it to the famed Norman’s Cay, a former drug runner hideout and all together beautiful place.

Carter loved snorkeling the plane.

Carter loved snorkeling the plane.

The coolest kid on the block!

The coolest kid on the block!

A lonely plane crash on the inside cove of the island is a relic from the battle between the drug lords and the US Coast Guard; it also happens to be a great snorkeling spot. Carter is really getting the hang of snorkeling now and loved seeing the sunken plane! He also got some dinghy driving lessons from Dad, which he did very well at considering he can hardly see over the front of the dinghy from the driver’s seat.

Our special guest for dinner!

Our special guest for dinner!

The perfect meal for our 500th mile!

The perfect meal for our 500th mile!

Norman’s Cay marked 500 nautical miles traveled on Horizon and a grouper decided to stop by for our celebratory dinner! A candle-light (just because it was citronella doesn’t make it less special…) dinner of grilled grouper was just the right touch and one of our best meals aboard so far.

Thirteen pounds and 36 inches, a record we hope to beat in the future!

Thirteen pounds and 36 inches, a record we hope to beat in the future!

Our last stop in the Exuma Cays was at Ship’s Channel Cay, a great overnight stop before we would head out across the Middle Passage to Northern Eleuthera and the Abaco Islands. That night as I was tossing dinner scraps to the friendly remora under our boat, a huge Crevalle Jack decided he wanted a bite as well. Dan attempted to catch him for half an hour or so, but couldn’t get him to bite. After cleaning up, we accidentally left the pole in our rod holder and went to bed. At about 11 o’clock that night, we starting hearing the whirring of the reel and we both rushed out to discover he had finally gotten his bite! The half hour fight that ensued, chasing him around the boat with me holding the flashlight and Dan reeling him in, will certainly live on as a proper send off from the Exumas!

We loved the Exuma Islands and hope to return to visit again. Our first real cruising grounds will be hard to beat in our future travels.

Read More

Posted on May 3, 2015 | 0 comments

Our First Taste of Buddy Boating

The whole crew on our visit to Thunderball Grotto.

The whole crew on our visit to Thunderball Grotto.

On our second day in Black Point, Carter had decided that he was bored with Mom and Dad for company and it was time to find himself some new friends. Up to that point in the trip we had seen precious little of other families on cruising boats and even Dan and I were ready for some interaction. Carter attempted to make a VHF call by saying, “Calling all vessels, are there any kid boats in Black Point?” to no avail. Then, as we were coming back from a water run some motion caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Little people! We saw a few kids jumping off of their boat and swimming not too far from us.

Our crews plus that of another boat family on Del Max.

Our crews plus that of another boat family on Del Max.

Carter and I unceremoniously ditched Dan and the water jugs to go check out the action. Sure enough when we pulled up to their boat, Zazen, we found three girls with their parents enjoying the warm water. And thus began our first foray into buddy boating, as we made arrangements to meet at the beach.

The two bambinos!

The two bambinos!

Dan and I quickly became friends with Fred and Adrienna but not as quickly as Carter and their youngest daughter Paloma. For the next week, the two were practically inseparable partially because we all enjoyed each other’s company so much and partially because the two of them would drive us crazy asking when we would meet up again. Marine, Penelope, and Paloma were a joy to be around and Fred and Adrienna were the type of friends that come quickly but we hope will last a lifetime. (Sorry if we spelled any of your names wrong!)

Oh to be a fly on the wall during this conversation...

Oh to be a fly on the wall during this conversation…

We made our way back north with them, seeing sights for a second time in a new light with another family to share them with. On one long hike, we never quite made it to the destination we had intended, but Carter and Paloma managed to have a great time anyway jumping in puddles, picking fruits from bushes, and having the enlightened conversation of four-year-olds. When I asked Carter afterward what he thought about the hike he replied, “Mom, it was very hot and very amazing.” Well put.

While we only spent a week together on the water, it felt like we had known them for years by the time we had to say good-bye. This was the end of their trip and only the beginning of ours so we unfortunately had to part sooner then we (or the kids) would have liked. Such are the friendships made while traveling. We look forward to meeting more cruisers and hope to see the crew of Zazen again in the future.

Read More

Posted on Apr 30, 2015 | 0 comments

The Northern Exuma Cays

Another lesson to add to our last list: water and electronics don’t mix! Due to a combination of my phone getting a salt bath and us being out of Wi-Fi and cell phone range for a few days, we’ve learned what incognito really means. Luckily, we’ve had plenty to occupy our time and attention with the last two weeks in the Exuma Island chain.

Our first anchorage in the Exuma Cays

Our first anchorage in the Exuma Cays

Our journey from Rose Island to Allen’s Cay went straight through the Yellow Banks, an area dotted thickly with shallow coral heads. For a little over an hour, I was at the bow having my first experience with visual piloting. Dan was watching the charts while I was continuously scanning the water for any dark areas ahead. The water here is so clear that it is quite obvious to see large coral heads or rocks that may be of danger to our boat, but only as long as the sun is above/behind you and the clouds aren’t shadowing the water. It is quite nerve wracking when a cloud passes over an area and suddenly the water is a solid gray. I was rewarded for my diligence by a pair of dolphins playing underneath me just as we passed out of the dangerous zone (and with an undamaged boat of course!)

This iguana was standing sentry for the rest.

This iguana was standing sentry for the rest.

He called out all of his bodies once we got to the beach.

He called out all of his bodies once we got to the beach.

We spent our first two nights in Allen’s and Highbourne Cays where we got to spend some time with the famous iguanas. As we pulled into the anchorage, there was one iguana standing sentry in the middle of the beach but as soon as dinghies starting pulling up they starting appearing everywhere! Nearly 100 iguanas swarmed onto the beach, waiting for the handouts they’ve obviously been conditioned to expect. We kept our distance, but the iguanas certainly were not shy at all!

Even with having to pull the dinghy, the scenery made up for it and then some!

Even with having to pull the dinghy, the scenery made up for it and then some!

The most beautiful beach of our trip so far.

The most beautiful beach of our trip so far.

From Higbourne we journeyed into the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, with our first stop being Shroud Cay. Shroud Cay is essentially a ring of solid land surrounding a huge mangrove field with two creeks running through the middle. We decided to journey by dinghy on the northern creek to the Exuma Sound on the east side of the island. What we didn’t realize was we should’ve gone around high tide, so Dan and I got to play barge mules whenever the creek got too shallow to drive our dinghy. Never the less, it was one of the most beautiful hikes we’ve ever done and the beach at the end of the hike was by far the most beautiful we’ve seen so far in the Bahamas.

The view of the Warderick Wells mooring field from the top of Boo Boo Hill

The view of the Warderick Wells mooring field from the top of Boo Boo Hill

Our modest plank on Boo Boo Hill

Our modest plank on Boo Boo Hill

Next, we moved on to Warderick Wells which is the home to the park office and another beautiful destination. We hiked Boo Boo Hill, where the legend says the ghosts of a shipwreck still haunt. Boats leave a piece of driftwood with their name on the top of the hill and we left ours too. What we didn’t realize was how elaborate some of the decorations would be! The view from the top was spectacular but we were ready for a dip at the beach after a hot hike in the sun.

You can see the whole crew swimming out for a taste.

You can see the whole crew swimming out for a taste.

Carter was nervous about the pig biting his fingers!

Carter was nervous about the pig biting his fingers!

Finally we made it to the famous Staniel Cay, home of the swimming pigs and Thunderball Grotto. We visited the pigs on our first day, not knowing exactly what to expect. As we pulled up in the dinghy, they saw us coming and starting swimming out to us, especially once they figured out that we had brought them some raw potatoes. The biggest pigs were so excited they were pushing into the side of our dinghy with their mouths open like baby birds! We decided not to even get out since we didn’t want Carter to get accidentally knocked down or stepped on by the over-excited hogs.

Thunderball Grotto was a magical place!

Thunderball Grotto was a magical place!

Most of the entrances are underwater at high tide.

Most of the entrances are underwater at high tide.

Thus far in the trip, we hadn’t been able to convince Carter to try snorkeling with us. That all changed at Thunderball Grotto. The grotto was made famous by the James Bond movie Thunderball and is truly just as beautiful as the movie made it seem. We made sure to go at low slack tide so that Carter would have plenty of clearance into the low cave entrances and so we wouldn’t have to fight the strong current that runs through. When you come into the cave, it is amazing to see the shafts of light shooting down into the amazingly clear water filled with fish and colorful coral and sponges. Carter loved it so much, he immediately started asking us when we would come back again. At the time, we didn’t think we would but he got his wish the next time we came back through.

More pictures and buddy boating stories to come soon!

Read More

Posted on Apr 20, 2015 | 1 comment

10 Lessons Learned

Carter says, "Listen up, foo'!"

Carter says, “Listen up, foo’!”

Everyone in cruising talks about the steep learning curve involved when you first start. Dan and I can certainly attest to that and the stress that goes along with the uncertainty of moving your house and all your worldly possessions across an expanse of water. While we are definitely not what we would call seasoned, we have gotten into more of a rhythm after a few weeks of traveling thanks in part to some first-hand lessons we’d like to share:            

  1. Take seasickness medicine as soon as you feel sick (some even say beforehand if you are prone to bad bouts). Trying to tough it out only makes you miserable, it doesn’t go away without dry land under your feet.
  2. Weather forecasts aren’t always right. This might seem like an obvious one, but there’s something about paying money for forecasts that makes it seem like they should be more accurate and more frustrating when they aren’t.
  3. Paper charts are worth the cost but not only for a back-up to electronics. Our Explorer charts of the Bahamas have been invaluable in planning our routes, something that is significantly harder to do on a chart-plotter or other small screen. It is also nice to have two different sources of chart information.
  4. If your charts and instruments (including your eyes) disagree, trust your instruments and proceed with caution. Charts aren’t always accurate and if the visibility is bad, it’s always better to err on the conservative side to avoid problems.
  5. Once you get used to the sounds and reactions of your boat, be wary of believing your gauges if they are telling you something that doesn’t seem to jive with how your boat is acting. We lost significant time on our trip to Nassau because an electrical short was telling us that the engine was running hotter than it really was. If we would have tested the gauges sooner, we wouldn’t have lost those (very uncomfortable) hours.
  6. Calling a boat by name (thank you AIS!) usually produces a response from the captain. No name, forget about it.
  7. Moving around in an anchorage can produce dramatically different results in comfort levels. This is especially true if you can get tucked in slightly farther behind wave obstacles or get out of the typical line of traffic coming in.
  8. Fix the annoying noises your boat makes at anchor, it’s worth it! Rocking at night we can handle, creaking all night we can’t.
  9. Salt + inside of the boat = bad. Rinsing off with fresh water in the cockpit is worth the price of a gallon or two here and there.
  10. If glitter is the bane of the craft world, sand is the bane of the cruising world. Once it sticks, it is impossible to get rid of.

What lessons did you have to learn the hard way?

Read More