20 May, 2013

Return to the Land of Stuff

Location:  Cocoa Beach, FL
Position:  N 28 21.108    W 080 43.119

After dawdling our way up the Exumas we were faced with a weather 'situation'.  A couple of nice days followed by several days of thunderstorms followed by high winds.  We decided that while we had a couple of good days we'd travel from the Exumas to the Abacos in northern part of the Bahamas, both to make some progress back to the US and because the weather wasn't supposed to be as bad up there.  We ended up  having a lovely overnight sail.

As we approached the Abacos just as the sun was rising we needed to get through a cut we hadn't been through before.  Julie called a big tanker (named “Ocean Energy”), and asked if the cut was straightforward.  Capt. Richie responded, said he was going through the same cut, and told her he'd slow down so we could follow him in...how nice was that!!

We dropped the anchor in Marsh Harbour, checked the weather – of course the forecast had changed for the worse and our bit of nicer weather in the Abacos went away.  So with a great forecast for sailing North and West, we decided to just continue on straight back to the US rather than hide from weather in the Abacos for the next week. So up came the anchor around 11am and we were on our way again for another 2 days and nights.

We poled out both head sails and had a great “wing on wing” trip back. We sailed the whole way and caught our second mahi-mahi of the season - a big 38” bull good for lots of meals.

We arrived at Cape Canaveral just as light was dawning.  Wow - all those lights from the port after 4 months in the Bahamas were slightly overwhelming!  Normally, we would have waited for the sun to come up but we had to get through an opening bridge and into a barge lock before 6:30 or sit and wait until after 9:00.  The bridge and lock do not open during rush hour traffic.  So we increased our speed and entered the port just as it was starting to get light.  We had never been in here before and there was a cruise ship following behind us and a dredging operation taking up half of the entrance channel.  Yikes!  And we were pretty tired, having just been at sea for 3 days and 3 nights.

Everything went well, however,  and we made the bridge and the lock with 5 minutes to spare.  As the lock was closing behind us we heard another boat calling them on the VHF.  It turned out that the lock was going to be closed for construction for the rest of the day.  If we had not made it through when we did we'd have been stuck waiting in Port Canaveral with no place to anchor until 5pm when the lock reopened.  Must have been our lucky day!

After emerging from the lock it was like we were in another world.  We entered the 'Barge Canal' which meanders through several miles of marshland crammed full of wildlife.    It was hard to believe that just minutes earlier we'd been in the middle of a bustling major port.  Now we were seeing cranes swooping, herons dipping into the water and scooping up mouthfuls of fish, meandering dolphins, and wallowing (as they tend to do) manatees.  Plus families of buzzards, ospreys, and many other birds, and jumping fish.  It is a vibrant ecosystem.  Because there was another bridge that was on restriction until 9:30am and there were no other boats behind or in front of us, we were able to just noodle along slowly, enjoying all the wildlife.

Then we were through the last opening bridge and out into the Intracoastal Waterway, the inshore passage up the east coast of the US where boats can travel in relative safety away from the vagaries of the Atlantic ocean.  We went a short way South and anchored at Cocoa Beach next to a high rise bridge  We had been transported back into 'The Land of Stuff'.  Cars and trucks zooming across the bridge, the sound of jackhammers making repairs to the bridge and lots of chatter on the VHF,  what a difference from the peaceful Bahamas!!

And this wasn't all of it.  We enjoyed a quiet relaxing remainder of the day aboard Rachel and made an early night of it. The next morning we headed in to shore to find the grocery store and some fresh vegetables.  We had to walk about a mile up the busy 6 lane highway, passing fast food restaurants, gas stations, shops, shops, shops.

Upon entering the grocery we were on overload.  So much stuff, so many choices, not just cabbage or carrots, which were often our only choices for the last 4 months.  Mmmmm, what to buy? We stacked the cart with yummy vegetables and fruit we had not seen for ages and were salivating and trying to decide which of these delicious choices we'd eat for dinner along with a big grilled slab of our freshly caught mahi.  We're back to the land of stuff where, as long as you have the money....you can buy anything you want.  What luxury!

We've decided to spend hurricane season traveling around the US and Canada a bit.  This Wednesday Rachel will be hauled out of the water and will spend 4 months on land.  We're going to fly to California, buy a truck or a van, and visit family and friends on our way back to the East coast.  It will be strange after 6 years on the boat but we're looking forward to this, our newest adventure.

Missing that clear azure water already,

16 May, 2013


Location: Hawksbill Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: N 24 28.073 W 076 46.170

Our plan to head down to the eastern Caribbean this season was interrupted by several sequential equipment failures. Once we finally dealt with the last of these, we experienced a few weeks of southeasterly winds, not the right direction. Kind of took the wind out of our sails, so to speak. These issues conspired with others to “assist” us in making the decision not to head further south then the Bahamas. Instead we've chosen to head back to the US for hurricane season (July – October).

Because we want to maximize our stay here in these beautiful islands, we're not really in any big hurry to get back. So we're dawdling our way up the Exuma chain of islands, stopping at some of our favourite spots and exploring some new ones.

Bitter Guana Cay, for example. We hadn't been here before, but we'd have friends who say that it's not to be missed – they were right! The whole island is a preserve for the increasingly rare Exuma Iguana. We enjoyed some good walks and spotted lots of these endangered lizards. The largest are reportedly 28lbs and live to be 80 years old! We saw a few of the really big ones, but no pictures as they were far too wary and fast for our trigger fingers!
On the advice of other friends, we stopped at an anchorage off the north end of Pipe Cay. We were all alone here, it was wonderful scenery and a welcome break! We spent our time here taking walks on the beaches and just sitting looking out at the beautiful Bahama water and the stunning sunsets

Then there's our perennial favorite, Cambridge Cay. This is, for us, like Cumberland Island in Georgia. A place we never seem to get enough of. If you remember we've been mooring hosts here a couple of times beginning with our first year out. Since then we always like to stop in and check (and maintain, to some degree) the trail we cleared 5 years ago to Honeymoon Beach (has it really been that long?). Snorkeling and swimming in our favorite saltwater swimming pool (the blue hole near our trail head) we also got to see a giant sea turtle with 2 ramoras upside down on it's back...way cool!

At Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, we visited the south anchorage for the first time. What a beautiful spot! We came in with 15-20 knots of wind and 3-5 ft. seas from the SE – a lumpy but fun sail nearly dead downwind. Once we made the turn into the mooring field, it was like a lake – flat calm and absolutely beautiful. We were the only boat there – what a treat! On a whim we hiked all the way up the island to park HQ and back down again. Not that far in distance (only about 1.5 miles each way), but the 5-hour walk with all the clambering up and down over rocks, walking in soft sand, and negotiating the winding turns of the trail, felt like we'd walked 10 miles!! After the walk, dinner and a nice, relaxing evening on Rachel were just what the doctor ordered. 

Our last stop was Hawksbill Cay, we'd been here before but wanted to spend more time exploring. We would go for a long walk in the morning, before it got too hot. We managed to do a different section of the island each day and discovered hidden trails that we did not know existed. Now we know we can circumnavigate the whole southern half of the island in one walk. Back to Rachel for lunch each day, a bit of a read then off again to snorkel and swim during the hot afternoons.