24 December, 2014

Our 13th Wedding Anniversary

Date: Christmas Eve, 2014
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia

We were married on Christmas Eve, 2001.  Since then, we've always loved planning and cooking a delicious dinner together.  That is, until we moved aboard Rachel.  Her galley is just too small to allow both of us to work in it at the same time.  We've managed to get by over the years by moving some of the prep work into the salon, but that's only a marginal solution, at best.  It's just not the same if we aren't both experiencing the semi-organized chaos of the "kitchen dance".  So we were quite happy this year to take advantage of the spacious and well-appointed kitchen at the house to make up for lost time.


Our 13th Wedding Anniversary Dinner Menu 















Salad
Wedge of Iceberg Lettuce w/ Warm Gorgonzola Dressing

Main
Grilled Portobello Caps Stuffed w/ Tomato, Rosemary & Mozzarella

Asparagus w/ Toasted Pecans & Warm Tarragon Vinaigrette

Grilled Tuna w/ Lemon Zest & Garlic Herb Rub

Wine (from some friends)
A lovely Tempranillo by El Cortijillo


















Dessert (from our local pastry shop)
Opera Cake: a wonderfully rich (and dreamy) combination of delicate almond biscuit or joconde, chocolate ganache, coffee buttercream, and chocolate glaze assembled like a very refined and decadent layer cake.

Some other rich and decadent choclate-y, creamy, rasberry-y confection whose name we can't remember.

















All served in a very romantic setting before the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights and gentle Christmas music.  It's great to be in love!

Wishing you all a richly delicious, warm, and sweet Christmas.

The Week Before Christmas

Our first Christmas tree in 7 years

The kids came over to help us decorate



Fireplace all ready for Santa



All done

26 November, 2014

Snow?

Date: 26 November, 2014
Location: Blacksburg, VA

We woke up this morning to something we haven't seen in over seven years.  Sheesh!


Front yard - 6:30 am


Side yard - 7:30 am


Back yard - 9:30 am

24 November, 2014

Winter

Date: November 24, 2014
Location: Blacksburg, VA

We moved back into our house in Blacksburg last week for the winter. It's in the mountains of SW Virginia at 2,000+ ft elevation. The day after we got our furniture moved from a friend's house we had a hard frost and snow flurries! We looked out the window and then at each other - no words were necessary. So far this winter has been a far cry from the last 7 we spent on Rachel. No, instead of balmy it's going to be COLD....freezing cold, not the 70 degrees F cold that we whined about when a cold front came through the Bahamas. No, this is the real thing – 15 degrees F during the day!! Sheesh! What were we thinking???


Even though it's only been a week we are already enjoying hanging out with family and friends here. We are also enjoying being at home again, although it does still feel weird, especially being here and not going to work every day.

And it is so big, compared to Rachel. We open the fridge, “Oooo this is SO big”; we lay in our king size bed, “Oooo this is SO luxurious”; we turn on a tap, “Oooo on demand hot water”; we turn on a light, “Oooo we don't need to check the batteries”; we fill the dishwasher, “Oooo”. We feel so decadent.


The house is in great shape to say it has been rented for so long. We've had the same family here the whole time we've been gone and they cared for it as if it were their own - we are very lucky. Now we have lots of jobs to do over the winter, both deferred and regular maintenance. Nothing too major, just lots of little things that need doing to keep things up. Today, for example. Winter took a little break and it was a balmy 60 degrees F (!!) so we donned our shorts, went outside, and got everything out of the shed and onto the lawn. Then we gave the shed a good cleaning and inspection, then sorted through the stuff, some of which got put back in. Then we made a pile for the dump, a pile for donations, and a pile of stuff we've never seen before to see if it belongs to any of our current tenants. Awesome, that's one thing crossed off our list!

What are our plans you may ask? Well, we're not sure, but we'll probably figure it out over the winter, sitting in front of the fireplace with our mugs of hot chocolate. Now, where are our slippers and woolly jumpers?

25 July, 2014

Plans

Location: Deltaville, VA
Position: N 37° 32.94' W 076° 19.78'


We have been very remiss in keeping the blog up to date this year. Our last entry had us lobstering in Long Island, Bahamas. Hmm well it's now almost August!!

We had a great but fast trip back north from the Bahamas. We met up with our friends Shep & Deb, to travel north with them from Florida. It's their first year cruising and we traveled offshore together from Florida to North Carolina. We are now back in the Chesapeake Bay using Deltaville, VA as a base for Rachel and are taking side trips to visit family.

We've been down to the outer banks of North Carolina twice, Blacksburg, VA twice and we are now in Connecticut with Mark's mum.

We've decided not to go south this winter. We have seven years of deferred maintenance that we need to do at our house in Blacksburg and some work we need to do on Rachel, as well. The house stuff is easier done if we're living there and the Rachel stuff is easier done if we are NOT living there. So...we've told our tenants we plan to move back into the house when their lease runs out mid November, or , if possible, before. And hopefully won't freeze to death during our first winter in 7 years!!

27 March, 2014

Hunting lobster

 Location: Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas 
Position:  N 22 21.144 W 075 07.793

We're sitting at anchor in Thompson Bay, Long Island, another of our favorite stops. Julie, as usual, is in the water. Yesterday, she went snorkeling with some friends and found a lobster living in a small cave in some rocks.

Our friends ask “Do you have a spear?”

Julie replies “Yes, but I've never used it. We've only had it for 7 years”.

You should try and kill the lobster” they say.

This gets Julie thinking, (always a dangerous proposition).

Hmm how hard could it be? We have friends who hunt lobster all the time. It does seem silly to have the spear and never use it. And some fresh lobster would go down pretty well ...”

That settles it. The next day she dons her snorkel gear and Mark's way-too-big leather work gloves. The spiny lobsters down here in the Bahamas are, well, spiny, and without heavy gloves, it's easy to get poked when you try to handle one. With her trusty pole spear in hand, she sets off toward shore.

The spear has a piece of surgical rubber tubing attached at the non-pointy end, allowing one to pull the spear back, stretching the elastic. When released, the spear springs forward, hopefully hitting and killing the target, in this case Julie's lobster. Unfortunately, the first time she tries, the old elastic gives out and breaks under the stress. This leaves her on the surface with a plain old 5' long spear and a lobster about 8' below on the bottom.
She provides Mark with a running commentary.

I've found it, but the spear elastic broke!”

She dives down 3 more times and shoves the spear into the hole and wiggles it around. The lobster emerges from the hole.

I've got it on the run!”

Mark, watching her shenanigans from aboard Rachel, giggles and cheers her on. She dives down a few more times. He notices her swimming away from the lobster's hole.

It's running around on the bottom and I'm poking at it!”

Rachel's captain nearly falls overboard because he is laughing so hard. When asked if there's a problem, he replies “Nothing, dear. Nothing at all.”

Not having any luck with the spear, she swims dejectedly back to the boat.

Score: lobster 1, Julie 0.

video
A friend mentions that he's heard you can catch a lobster with a mop. Apparently, one shoves the mop into the lobster's hole, twists it about a bit, and the lobster's spines tangle in the mop, allowing one to pull it out of the hole and take it to the surface to the dinghy. This sounds like a good idea to her, so a few hours later (after more dangerous cogitation) she's once again on the hunt, gloved up, with trusty mop in hand.

She spends about 10 minutes locating the lobster and another several minutes “mopping” it. She calls out a progress report to Mark, still aboard Rachel.

I think I've traumatized it!”

Mark is once again having difficulty staying aboard Rachel due to the effects of his convulsive laughter. Several photo ops are missed because he's finding it difficult to see through the tears.

Julie comes to realize that swimming around traumatizing the lobster isn't going to do the trick and reluctantly gives up, swimming back home with her mop.

Score: lobster 2, Julie still 0

That evening at happy hour she tells friends the story and one of them says “I have a spare elastic if you want it.”

He brings it over and leaves it with her. She installs it on the spear, gives it a good stretch and it breaks! Another dry rotted piece of rubber.

Hmm. (Oh no! More “thinking”!) She decides to cut the ends off the new elastic and retie it with our old string. She whips the elastic onto the string and now she's back in business, after a good test she's ready for attempt number three.

The next day she goes off again. At first she has trouble finding the lobster as the visibility has got pretty bad with lots of sand being stirred up from the high winds. Finally she finds the hole and there's the lobster staring up at her, taunting her. Arrogant beast! She shoots the spear 5 or 6 times to no avail. Finally, the lobster emerges from the hole and, with one last derisive wave of it's antennae, swims, really fast, off into the distance. Wow! She never realized they could move like that!

Score: lobster 3, Julie still 0

Later, we tell other friends the story during yet another happy hour on another boat. After the laughter dies down, Julie says

I've decided that if it wants to live as much as that, I just don't have the heart to kill it, so I'm going to stop trying.”

Final score: lobster for a win with 4, Sweet Julie still 0, but also a winner in our book.

05 March, 2014

Volunteering in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park

Location: Cambridge Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: N 24 18.210 W 076 32.375

Wow! It's been over a month since we last wrote. Guess it's true that time flies when you're having fun!

We're just finishing up a month-long stint volunteering for the Exuma Land and Sea Park as mooring hosts at Cambridge Cay, one of our favorite spots in the Bahamas. We did this for three weeks 6 years ago and enjoyed it so much we decided to do it again this year for five weeks.

You can learn more about this exceptional park at their web site: http://www.exumapark.org/) and you can read Khronicles from our last stint here: http://svrachel.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html

It's a great deal. We go around daily in our dinghy visiting the other boats collecting mooring fees and helping to manage the anchorage. We also organize the occasional happy hour, clear and maintain the trails, and provide info regarding the island and the snorkeling and diving opportunities nearby. We enjoy meeting and chatting with all boaters and their guests who come here to pick up a mooring and support the park. In exchange we are given a free mooring in paradise, occasional rides down to Staniel Cay for shopping, a bit of gasoline to cover what we use doing our rounds, and, very important, trash pickups every few days!

Julie even found time to learn how to collect palm fronds and weave baskets! Her inaugural effort has earned her some well-deserved praise from other veteran basket makers.  We should mention here that she was given the palm fronds she used to make this basket by a friend who picked them outside the park. The entire Exuma Land & Sea Park Park is a "no take" zone.

The snorkeling around here is exceptional, so we've been treated to lovely fish and coral at one of the several snorkel spots here almost every day, often accompanied by other visiting boaters.

Mark, Julie & Maureen after a swim
An old friend of Mark's from Copper Hill, Virginia, came to visit for a week, too. We had a lot of fun with Maureen and enjoyed sharing this special place with her. One boat lost their dinghy the night before we took her to catch her return flight. We were lucky enough to spot it drifting out into open water on the banks on our way to the airport at Staniel Cay, giving her the opportunity to also participate in a dinghy rescue! The dinghy owners were very appreciative as you can see from their blog: http://www.sailingkiawah.com/2014/03/ode-to-rachel.html

Mark helped some other friends who were having trouble with their outboard,.  They wrote about us too. http://sailingsimplelife.blogspot.com/2014/02/friends-to-rescue-in-cambridge-cay.html. Apparently we are really popular this year!!

So, here's a typical day as Cambridge Cay volunteer mooring hosts:

6:30 am – Listen to Chris Parker, our favorite weather guy on the SSB (marine single side band radio), make coffee

7:30 am – Fire up the old Pactor modem and check our radio email, drink coffee.

8:30 am – Listen to the Cruiseheimer's net on the SSB, eat breakfast.

9:00 am – Listen to the park mooring assignment net on the VHF, give a 10 second Cambridge Cay mooring status report, do dishes.

9:30 am – 3:30 pm – go for a walk, work on the trails, snorkel, swim, eat lunch, nap, etc.

Cambridge mooring field
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm – do our “rounds” in the dinghy: collect mooring fees, provide local info, and meet the nice people who have come in to visit us for the night. This sometimes takes 2 hours if a lot of new boats have arrived.

4:30 pm – 6:30 pm – happy hour. Sometimes with friends on another boat, sometimes with everyone in the mooring field and anchorage on the beach, sometimes we do a “dinghy raft-up” where all the dinghies off to each other off Rachel's stern and pass appetizers around, sometimes it's just the two of us for a quiet evening on Rachel.

6:30 pm – 9:30 pm – dinner followed by a game or movie, sometimes both.

9:30 pm – Oops! It's 30 minutes past “cruiser's midnight”! Time for bed!

You can imagine the stress we've been under with this hectic schedule. Just joking – we love doing this and really are enjoying ourselves.

There's one occasional exception, however. Whenever the wind is forecast to come from a westerly direction at more than 10 knots, the moorings fill up early, and people come in to anchor because of the great protection afforded here. Anchoring is allowed at Cambridge Cay, but only to the west or the south of the mooring field – not to the north or the east, and not within the mooring field itself.
From the highest point on the island we could sometimes
 pick up enough phone service to look at email

We make sure to announce these rules on the VHF whenever someone calls in for anchoring info so that everyone else who is listening in can hear them (the VHF is like a big party line – everyone listens in on everyone else's conversations). But invariably a boat comes in and tries to anchor where they're not supposed to. Sometimes they'll reply to our calls on the VHF and will move before they get the anchor down, saving them some time and trouble. Other times they'll ignore our calls and anchor anyway. This means we have to get in our dinghy (and the weather has usually deteriorated by this time so the ride can be bouncy and wet) and go over to the offending boat to ask them to move. This is our least favorite part of the job. Most of the time they move without too much protest, but sometimes it can get a bit painful.
 
Maureen chillin' at the beach

We've learned there are several distinct types of “bad anchorpersons”:

The Clueless: this person pleads ignorance and moves readily enough, albeit sometimes with a bit of grumbling. We usually give them the benefit of the doubt as to whether they heard us hailing them on the VHF, and generally end up on good terms with them.

The Exception: this person thinks rules are for other people. Certainly not for them. They usually try to browbeat us into letting them stay, and will only move grudgingly.

The Entitled: this person has “been anchoring here for 18 years and it's the first I've ever heard of this restriction.” They will also only move grudgingly, and seldom stay more than one night – “If I can't anchor where I want to, I'm going to take my ball and go home...”.

Maureen feeding the pigs at Big Major's Spot
The Confrontationalist (our least favourite): this person is usually also an Exception and is sometimes also an Entitled. He will go out of his way to create a confrontation. “What regulation is that?” and “Where is it written that I can't anchor here?” and “Why didn't you tell me BEFORE I got the anchor down and set?” (never mind that we tried to hail you repeatedly on your way in and your radio was “off”). Very little, if anything, will make this person happy. Sometimes we drop a hint that the park warden will be coming by soon with the Defence Forces guys – this is usually enough to get them to move. Once, when a boat didn't answer us when we hailed them, we didn't bother going by (our dinghy was up in preparation for some bad weather). We just called the park office on the VHF, asking them to send the warden down to talk w/ them. The offending boat left right away and we canceled our call to the office – so much for not having their radio on, eh?

At any rate, here we are in paradise, having a ball. Our time here is almost up and we'll be moving on to George Town next week to renew our tourist visas.

Until next time, fair winds, be safe, and enjoy!

25 January, 2014

Junkanoo!!

Location: Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Position:  N 24 52.142  W076 09.878

We've been lucky enough to attend not one but 2 Junkanoos this year. Junkanoo is a traditional Bahamian holiday parade and celebration. See http://www.bahamas.co.uk/about/junkanoo/what-is-junkanoo for more info.


January 1, 2014 – New Years Day

We love Junkanoo. Especially in Green Turtle Cay. It's not as big and fancy as the one in Nassau (there's only one band), but it starts in the afternoon on New Years Day rather than late at night – a much more “cruiser friendly” time of day! We attended Junkanoo here in 2009 and this year made a point of hanging around in the Abacos so we could go again. We enjoyed it just as much as our first time.

The rhythm of the drums, cow bells, whistles, and other noise makers is mesmerizing. The costumes are creative and colorful. The dancing is exotic and beautiful. The shuffling walk of the musicians moves the parade forward at a slow, rhythmic pace, giving everyone a chance to see all of the performers. It's very much a family friendly function, with children actively participating in the parade and in the activities before and after. It's one of our favorite experiences in the Bahamas.

We even managed to get a short movie of the parade before our camera ran out of juice. The video lost some quality when we uploaded it, and the soundtrack doesn't really capture the insistent rhythm of the big drums very well, but it will give you a taste of our experience. This was filmed about an hour after the parade started, so some of the initial “pep” is beginning to 

See more of our photos following this post.


January 25, 2014

A few weeks later, on our way down the west coast of Eleuthera, we learned that in a few days, schools from all over the island would be sending entries to Governor's Harbour to compete in their Junior Junkanoo. This made Governor's Harbour a “must stop” for us. Luckily, we were blessed with benign weather, since the anchoring there can be a bit sketchy.

Each school had picked a theme and had obviously put many hours into practicing the dancing and music, and creating the costumes from cardboard and different colored tissue paper and other materials. The parade/competition started around 5pm. We found seats in the bleachers so we could see above the crowds that lined the street. Venders were selling food and drinks and all the families were there to see their kids in the parade. Everyone was happy and having fun. We had a lovely afternoon and evening watching and enjoying all of the kids from 5 to probably 12 or 13 years old. They were so cute!










Check this link for more Junior Junkanoo pictures: http://www.eleutheranews.com/permalink/3786.html

A bunch of other Junkanoo photos (not from us):

 










22 January, 2014

Hatchett Bay

Location: Hatchett Bay, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Position:  N 26 20.995 W 076 29.573

We first stopped here for a quick overnight stay, not even going ashore, last year on our way south. After talking with friends who have stayed here often, we decided to make it more of a destination this year, rather than just a convenient overnight stop. We're really glad we did.

Hatchett Bay Pond is a small, very protected basin on the west coast of Eleuthera and is touted as being the safest harbor in the Bahamas. Several years ago the Bahamian government installed a bunch of moorings and the town makes them available for free.

The settlement on the south end of Hatchett Bay Pond is named Alice Town. Our first day ashore happened to be Sunday. Meandering around town we began to realize that there were a lot of churches for such a small place. Every one of them had people singing, preaching, and “amen”ing. Everyone we met smiled and said “hello” or “good morning” - even the teenagers!

We also heard about a roadside stand on the main road a couple of miles south of town that sells fresh vegetables. The next day being Monday, we decided to go check it out. It was a bit of a walk but we're glad we made the effort. Marilyn and her husband (who wasn't there at the time) have a farm where they grow vegetables, herbs, and fruits. When we arrived we were happy to see a table full of okra, papayas, grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, squash and herbs amongst other things.

We had a bit of a sit down in the shade and a lovely chat with Marilyn. When we gave her our boat card she looked at it and said “Blacksburg, VA. I almost went to Virginia Tech!” Small world eh? She is a construction project manager and her husband is in construction. They are trying to make a go of the farm and then she'll be looking for some project management work. There is quite a lot of home construction going on in Eleuthera so we wished her well in this endeavor.

With a bag full of goodies we hitchhiked back to the boat. Within a couple of minutes 2 construction guys in a pickup truck stopped to give us a ride. We clambered into the back and off we went. It didn't seem nearly as far on the way back, although we did have to stop for an errant cow in the middle of the road!

They stopped at a little local bar called “Da Spot” for lunch, and being on the lookout for local dining opportunities, we decided it was a good day to treat ourselves to lunch, too. We'd heard this place had good food and was a good place to mingle with the locals. They have a fixed price $7 lunch - it was delicious, especially when accompanied by an ice cold Kalik beer. Mmmm.

We ended up spending a week here. The people were really friendly and helpful, the little grocery was really well stocked, and we walked up and down every road in town and across the island to the beautiful ocean side beach a couple of times. Julie even came back from the beach with a pocket full of sea glass! We visited all the little shops, had a nice wander around the graveyard (which was right on a beach), and generally enjoyed ourselves meeting and chatting with the locals. All in all it was a very enjoyable week.

Unfortunately, our camera battery chose to run out of juice just as we arrived here and we discovered that the charger was back in Florida in our van. Oops! Luckily some friends were able to find it and take it to our mail forwarding service. We got it in our next mail package, forwarded and delivered to us at the end of February by a visiting friend. Guess you'll just have to take our word for it...