Friday, February 27, 2009

Third Week in George Town

Days 82- 87 Eager to Go Exploring Again

Today is Friday, February 27, 2009 and we are thinking that the Caribbean Soul should be off sailing someplace else right now. HOWEVER, squalls and stormy weather all week have kept us here in the safe and snug little harbour of George Town, Exuma.
This—our third week in Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, Exuma—is not too exciting, but we don’t want you to be left out of any part of our trip. So—boring or not—here is our week.
Sunday (Day 82) I went back to St. Andrew’s Anglican for another 2 ½ hour service! After church, I met an interesting Bahamian who is the principal of St. Andrew’s Anglican School here on the island. She and I exchanged email addresses hoping to chat about being principals. When we get to internet on shore, I will post her a note and check to see what is in our email box. It is interesting that the thing I seem to miss the most in this cruising life is the internet! Somehow, I had convinced myself that the “internet air card” we have with Verizon would work over here in the Bahamas—but it does not.

After church on Sunday, John and I had a lovely lunch at the pool-side bar of the Peace & Plenty. We didn’t take pictures, but you can check it out at . It’s a great spot and one of our favorites from ten years ago. The bartender is the same Lemon Rolle—the Dr. of Libation!

On Monday (Day 83), we were in town long enough to visit the library and rent a phone to square away some bills. We have discovered that one cannot possibly have too many books on board—perhaps some of you already knew that.

On Tuesday (Day 84), we did boat chores. Here is Capt. John doing his disappearing act down in the lazarette to add fresh water to the batteries. Coincidentally, we just got email from Dave Pierce (previous captain of Caribbean Soul) reminding us to do this. Thanks Dave--we're on it!

Wednesday (Ash Wednesday & Day 85) was a strange day—it was sort of like a sick day without being sick. The winds were so high and the harbour so choppy, we couldn’t do much of anything. So, we just stayed in bed and read all day. Occasionally we’d get up to make coffee and toast—see what we mean—just like a sick day!
Thursday ( Day 86) continued to be windy, but we sat out in the cockpit to read. Thursday evening we—and about 30 other boat-bound sailors—jumped into our dinghy and took a short (but very wet) ride over to the nearest beach for a sunset gathering. Folks brought snacks to share and their own drinks and musical instruments. We met some nice folks from Maryland who just arrived on their Tartan 37 sailboat (just like ours). The little group of musicians played bluegrass, Jimmy Buffet, folk, etc. We sang along and tried to do a little clogging in the sand (not an easy thing to do).
Today (Day 87), we plan to motor the big boat across Elizabeth Harbour to the George Town side and finish provisioning for a trip to the Jumentos and Ragged Islands. Hopefully, we can get on someone’s internet and post this blog and check email. We always look forward to connecting our little floating home with yours!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Week Number Two in George Town

Days 75- 80- Week Number Two in George Town, Exuma

February 15 - 20, 2009

Wondering what we’ve been doing during our second week in George Town? I’ll bet you think we’ve just been sitting on the beach, drinkin’ Bahamian beer, and reading cheap novels---well not ALL the time. And, remember that Captain John celebrated his 54th birthday on Monday so he deserves to lounge around! Yay! I made chocolate chip cookies in our little oven and we celebrated with a neighbor boat. Somehow we feel like we are celebrating birthdays, Christmases and everything everyday!

Here is the birthday boy hiding from the sun under my straw hat.

The rest of this week we have been getting ourselves and the boat squared away for more sailing. Mom forwarded our mail so I’ve been sorting out bills and getting ready to file our income taxes online. Thanks Mom.
John has been busy fixing things. Our VHF radio just died on us and could not be revived. Finding electrical equipment here is next to impossible, but we really don’t want to travel with just our hand-held VHF—we need one hooked up to the antenna mounted on the top of our mast when we’re out on the ocean. It took John three or four days, but finally he found a guy on a boat here who had an extra radio—so now we’re all fixed—crisis over! Then, the boat hook handle got in the way of our wind generator on the back of the boat and one of the blades was destroyed! Oh my! We can sail without the electricity that generator produces, but it’s hard to run the refrigerator, stereo, inverter, and the lights! There absolutely are not any stores where you can buy wind generator blades, so we went to bed that night feeling pretty glum. In the middle of the night, John sat straight up in bed and said he thought he remembered seeing a spare set of blades stored somewhere in the boat. Was it wishful thinking or did he really remember seeing the blades so long ago? A quick search of some hidden storage places proved him right—we did have a spare set of blades (thanks to Caribbean Soul’s previous owners)! Today we motored over to a high dock and John made the repairs as he balanced on top of a piling. A nice cruiser—Larry—helped John get the job done. Here’s a picture just in case you think we’re kidding about balancing on the piling!

What else do we do? Well, on Sunday I went to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church—it’s the beautiful little white and blue church on highest part of the island. I attended this church 10 years ago when I flew down to spend a week here with John. I remember loving that there was no need for stained glass windows as the open windows showed God’s most beautiful colors—bright flowers just outside and the gorgeous blue water beyond. This time I quickly noticed there were no breezes in the sanctuary—they had air-conditioned! But I must tell that they didn’t put stained glass in the windows—the closed windows were clean and clear—God’s colors were still there outside the air-conditioned sanctuary. The service was very much like the Episcopal services at home except that they use the Providence of the West Indies Prayer Book and the service lasted 2 ½ hours!

We do spend a fair amount of time searching for internet connections. We’ve mentioned in past blogs some failed attempts and we’ve since experienced some more. Some restaurants say that they have internet connections, but their signal is so weak there’s not much point in logging on and paying their hook up fee. One of the best (no kidding) internet places is this little shack pictured below. In the series of pictures you can see what a strange little place it is with electric cords run everywhere and folks perched on tumble down furniture in the dark little shack emailing away. John found an electrical plug-in for our laptop behind the refrigerator. Skype phone calling through the computer is not allowed when there are a lot of customers as it uses up too much band width. You can see me in one of the pictures posting an earlier blog. Blogging is not always easy—and most of the time coming to shore means a 10 minute wet dinghy ride with the laptop inside a dry bag (thanks for the bag Finley!) But as one guy was saying today, “If it were all easy, everybody would be here!”

Our biggest project right now is planning our next sail. We’ve got all the charts out and we’re plotting and planning. Also, we are filling up the fresh water and fuel tanks. The weather predictions are still talking about fronts coming and going—we think we’ll just decide where we want to go next and jump out there when the wind blows in that direction! Chances are good that we will be sailing to some extremely remote parts of the Bahama Islands so we won’t be posting blogs or doing regular emailing during that time (couple of weeks?). George Town is a wonderful place with lots and lots of very nice cruisers (hundreds!), but two weeks here is enough—we’re ready to go sailing!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Valentine's Day Under the Casaurina Trees

Day 74 Evening- Valentines’ Day Under the Casuarina Trees

In addition to being Gladys Weaver’s 90th birthday back in Sanford, North Carolina, today is Valentine’s Day. Earlier in the week John made reservations at the Chat & Chill for the Valentine Dinner under the casuarinas trees on Volleyball Beach—woo whoo—who could wish for anything more romantic?

We dressed up in our best evening wear and headed for the beach. Dinner was yummy and the dance out on the deck of the Chat & Chill was wonderful. If anyone reading this blog has ever cruised in George Town, you may recognize some of the Valentine dancers. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day we’ve had!

The Wavy Side of Exuma

Days 74 Morning- The Wavy Side of the Exumas
On Friday the 13th (Day 73) we joined the George Town Public Library for $3. It really is more like a book exchange than a regular library. We took in a load of old, read books and brought back a new load of old, unread books. Then we spent the rest of Friday the 13th lounging on the beach reading—fun, fun!

This is Saturday morning, February 14 and we decided to go exploring. We packed a couple of those books in the backpack and dinghied over to the next beach south of us—Sand Dollar Beach. We weren’t exactly sure where the path leading over the island to the ocean side (Exuma Sound) was, so we motored close to an anchored sail boat and asked the lady hanging out laundry on the lifelines for directions. She assured us that we were heading in the right direction—“Just look for the blue bench on the beach,” she said.
We pulled the dinghy ashore at the brown picnic table, which— on closer inspection— had bits of worn, blue paint around the edges. Anyway, it was the right spot so we followed the sandy trail that had been carved out of the vegetation by some nice folks with machetes. Here is what we saw:

We are looking north with the “wavy side” or the ocean side on the right and the harbour side on the left with anchored boats and George Town in the distance.

John is studying the limestone cliffs wondering if we (mainly me) could make it down the 30 some feet to the wavy beach below.

This is proof that we made it down the cliffs and that we enjoyed sunning and reading on the beach there—what a lovely day!

John stood in the surf and took this picture of the waves crashing ashore. You can see the limestone cliffs we slid down to get to the beach. Climbing back up was really the bigger challenge. When we were ready to go back to the harbour side, athletic John sprinted right up but the less-than-graceful Penny struggled up two steps sliding back one until she made it back to the top.
Here are some more views of Elizabeth Harbour. We can’t tell you which of these boats is ours because they all look pretty much the same from here. Our anchorage may be just to the right of these pictures anyway. Perhaps you can tell why folks say that this is a cruiser’s paradise!

Hot Weather and No Bahama Breeze

Days 72- Hot Weather and No Breeze

Today is Thursday, February 12 and we’ve gotten what we have been wishing for—hot weather and no breeze. It is true that you should be careful what you wish for!

These pictures show the sunset and the lights of George Town, Exuma where we spent the day in the laundry mat. It cooled down a bit this evening making it possible for us to reflect on the blistering day we spent across the way doing five (yes 5!) loads of wash. This was the first day that the Harbour waters were calm enough to get clean clothes back across without getting them soaked in the salt water splashes. We took some big plastic trash bags to wrap the clean clothes in—just in case—but the water was so flat and calm it was not a problem.
We are guessing that everyone at home is getting ready for Gladys’s 90th Birthday celebration. We will be thinking of all of you partying away!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Life Continues at Volleyball Beach

Days 69- 71- The Winds Continue to Rage, But Life Goes on at Volleyball Beach

These days are Monday to Wednesday, February 9-11, 2009. The winds continue to blow. We moved our boat over closer to the shore in hopes of getting it to stop leaping around all night long. It worked! Sleeping has been a bit easier, but we’re still waiting for calmer weather.
Meanwhile, time spent on Volleyball Beach gets us off the Caribbean Soul long enough to get our “land legs” back. Also the beach, surrounded by trees, is well protected from the wind and give us a break from the constant howl of the wind. Here is everything we can think to tell you about Volleyball Beach where we are currently anchored.
You can only get to Volleyball Beach by boat. Water taxis and dinghies bring folks here. Inflatable dinghies line the shore and are neatly attached to lines that run between wooden posts along the beach (no doubt organized and constructed by the cruising community).

The Chat & Chill is the only business at Volleyball Beach. Here pictured under the Chat & Chill sign is the outdoor kitchen that cranks out great Bahamian treats such as conch burgers and ribs as well as cheese burgers and fries. They open each day at 11 am and are usually closed by 7 or 7:30 pm because cruisers end their day about that time. I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures that the wooden structure has sides that can be propped open (or not) depending on the direction of the sun and wind. Bathing suits and bare feet are not only welcome, but kind of expected.
One day (Tuesday) was declared French Day at Volleyball Beach. Many of the cruisers are French Canadians. They organized this day where everyone dressed up to look French (berets, striped shirts, etc.), recordings of Edith Piaf blared across the beach, and bocce ball contests were held (not sure bocce ball is French). Interesting….

So on Wednesday our good ol’ American boy decided to fly a kite and play a bit of volleyball. The kite flying was great—lots of wind. The volleyball was good too. John and I both played with the novice group where everybody plays in teams of 9 and rules are loose, but the game is fun. John progressed on to the court where they play with rules! In spite of the fact that John has logged hours of watching Olympic beach volleyball on TV, there were lots of rules and techniques this crowd taught him. Please don’t be fooled by how young these players in the picture are—they were tough! The courts are maintained by the cruising community with the profits they make from Family Regatta Week each March. The poles that hold up the nets are old sailboat masts. We’re guessing that there must be an exciting sea story behind each volleyball net post.

Now the sun is setting and we are toasting a fun day had at Volleyball Beach. And—most amazing of all—there are no white caps in our rum punch! The wind is finally calming down.

Cruisin' at Volleyball Beach

Days 66- 68- Settling In at Volleyball Beach and Waiting for the Wind to Stop Blasting the Bahamas

These days are Friday through Sunday (Feb. 6-8).

Pictured here are the soft sands of Volley Ball Beach directly across Elizabeth Harbour from George Town, Exuma. This is home for hundreds of winter cruisers most of whom are sail boaters. The morning Cruisers’ Net reported that there were 215 boats in the Harbour—I thought there were more! This is a unique community of cruisers who are mostly retired couples from places like Alberta, Canada and Michigan and New Jersey. Ironically, these seem to be folks who looked at what the other retirees in their town were doing and decided to do something radically different—throw their stuff in a little sail boat and head for Volleyball Beach. Many come year after year and know each other well. Most seem to be organizers—they organize volley ball games at various different skill levels; they organize classes in knot tying, ham radioing, yoga exercising, lap swimming, arts and crafting; they organize contests in Trivial Pursuit and Texas Hold’em; they organize a Beach Church with adult & youth choir; they organize a morning Cruisers’ Net on the VHF Channel 72 with weather, community announcements, and welcoming of new cruisers to the area; and they mastermind the annual Family Regatta Weekend (which has lots of subcommittees for Tee Shirt sales, youth events, racing rules, music, etc.). Wow!

John and I are cruising because we love to sail. We are definitely not interested in parking the boat in Elizabeth Harbour and filling our days with lessons and committee meetings! Goodness, we don’t even know where to find a calendar to write down all those times and dates! That said, we don’t want to be so stand offish that we miss doing something that might be fun.
I started with the Beach Church thing on Sunday. My intention was to dinghy across Elizabeth Harbour to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in George Town that John and I visited Easter of 1999 rather that the cruisers’ Beach Church. Well, Sunday was still very windy and I knew that we’d be soaked by the time we got to George Town for church and then we’d have an even wetter trip back across. Beach Church was right here at the boat—an easy and dry ride to Volleyball Beach—so I put on the pretty green blouse Gladys gave me for Christmas and attended Beach Church. You can see from the pictures that they are quite organized with music and song books, etc. You can also look at the folks and see that they really are a crowd of retirees. Next Sunday, I hope to attend St. Andrews across the harbour. We’ll see.

These last pictures are of John trying to get us onto the wireless internet at the St. Francis Resort near Volleyball Beach and our anchorage from the St. Francis porch. It was a lovely spot, but those fruity drinks were mighty expensive and the internet never connected with our laptop.

Day 65

Day 65- Jumping Out In The Dark Blue Ocean

Today is Thursday, February 5, 2009. We got up early (6:30 am!) to prepare for the ocean sail down to George Town. This time there was not a choice of routes. The only way to get to Elizabeth Harbour and George Town, Exuma is via the ocean route. The weather was not calm, but it was blowing from the east—just right for a broad reach kind of sail. We strapped the dinghy onto the deck of Caribbean Soul and hauled the outboard up to its traveling spot on the back rail. We needed an outgoing tide to help us through the cut to the ocean from Little Farmers Cay. Eight o’clock in the morning seemed to be the best tide time, so wrapped up in warm clothes, we set the main sail and headed out.

Wow! What a ride! I am not sure that the pictures give an accurate feeling of what it is like to ride those huge swells as some were certainly 10 to twelve feet high! The seas were rolling in the same direction we were sailing (a following sea) so John sailed for the first five hours and I sailed for the last two (after the wind had died down a bit). The auto pilot does not perform well with a following sea as the boat gets knocked around a lot and you have to surf down the big waves. So, when the auto pilot cannot do its job, we humans have to do the steering.
In one of these pictures, you can see the jib of a boat behind us. This is a guy we had met at Club Thunderball several days ago and his boat is a big Morgan, which he was sailing by himself. We talked to him on the VHF and he seemed content to follow. Several times John and I commented that it was interesting that his Morgan with just the jib sail was keeping up with our swift little Tartan which was flying both main and jib. After several hours, the Morgan began to close the gap between us. Yikes! We started wishing that we had a big Genoa jib instead of the little working jib—or something—how could he be passing us? Then he called on the VHF to see how we were doing. As it turned out, the Morgan sailor was also running his motor which makes sense for a guy single handling a big boat! We, however, were feeling much better about our good little sailing boat keeping pace with a boat that was motor/sailing—funny how sailors get to feeling about such things—even sailors who claim to care only about cruising and not racing!
When we got to Elizabeth Harbour (George Town area), the big waves stopped, but the wind kept our sails full. John sailed the Caribbean Soul gently through several anchorages to check them out and just enjoy the last of our sail. We got lots of smiles and waves from folks on anchored boats seeming to enjoy our little sailing romp as much as we were!
Finally, we had to pull down the sails and throw out the anchor. At last we were in George Town! It almost felt like being home—but, guess what, it still was not bathing suit weather!