We left the Bahamas one week ago. What a great way to start our sailing adventures! We are already missing the beautiful blue water. Our time in the Bahamas was filled with a lot of learning and re-learning of what it is like to live on a boat. I entered back into cruising with a little trepidation as to how much I would remember. After all, it has been 13 years since I was sailing on Exit Only before. What was it going to be like with six of us on board? How were the girls going to do with the transition from land life to boat life? Thankfully, most all my worries have been allayed. We’ve had some hiccups along the way, but who doesn’t.
The Bahamas was a great introduction to cruising for the girls. We have really seen them blossom into boat girls. They’ve adjusted to sharing a bunk, having fewer toys and books, learned to entertain themselves better, not having their favorite foods, and made friends easily despite “barriers” of age and language. The crystal blue waters of the Bahamas is like a giant swimming pool which really helped the girls get comfortable with swimming in the ocean. They’ve still had some moments of fear and learned to muster up the bravery to overcome the voices. It’s always a delight to see them jump into the water with joyful abandon.
It’s hard to believe that we really only have been sailing for the last 12 weeks. Here are the high points in my book thus far:
1. Bahamanians have big hearts! … 3 stories stick out … we were anchored off New Providence Island at Clifton Bay waiting on a weather window for 1 week. The bay itself was lovely and there was a nice little beach and park. However it was extremely isolated from any sort of shops. David and I wanted to get out and do a bit of exploring. We thought about just walking down the road to see what we could find. Google maps indicated that there was a bus stop just a couple miles away. When we got shore, we talked with some locals who were just cleaning up from a Triathlon event. Dorian offered to give us a ride to the nearest grocery store since it was so far way. In return, we helped them pack up the rest of the triathlon equipment. He drove us a good 8-10 miles to the grocery store and then insisted on driving us back (totally out of his way and after a long day)! We refused any type of payment whatsoever! What a generous heart!
In Marsh Harbor, we decided to find a church service to attend for Easter Sunday. We walked about 2 miles up into town with the girls and Donna. We had thought about attending one church which I had found on Google, but after walking for 20 minutes, decided that something closer was in order. We saw a sign for Marsh Harbor Gospel Chapel and school. Cars were rolling into the parking lot, so why not! It was lovely to attend the Easter service and honestly felt like a bit of a homecoming. Everyone was so friendly and introduced themselves to us. As we started to leave, they insisted that we couldn’t walk back to the anchorage. So once again, we got a free ride back.
And finally in Matthewtown on Great Inagua, we went in to find out about getting diesel. No one was around and we discovered that it was a Labor Day! No one was working, everything was closed … except that Dito met Leroy. He was actually doing some renovation work at the bank. When Dito asked him about getting Diesel, Leroy said let’s go find “Skinny” the diesel guy. Leroy took Dito in his truck and they drove around town for a good 30 minutes … they went to Skinny’s house, Skinny’s business, talked with Skinny’s wife and finally found him down at the docks. When Skinny found out that we needed diesel, he dropped what he was doing and said that he would meet us in 30 minutes to fill up our jerry cans. No holidays for him! So Leroy brought Dito back to where we were waiting, refused any compensation and returned to work. And just like he said, Skinny showed up with his diesel truck 30 minutes later and filled up all our jerry jugs. Amazing! Thank you MatthewTown!
2. The Exumas and Warderick Wells … This was in my book some of the prettiest water that we saw! The Exuma islands were lovely in their own unique way. Imagine dry and rocky islands, covered with sparse vegetation, and fine white sand beaches set against turquoise waters. Many of the islands were uninhabited. Some now have small settlements with the occasional marina or resort. In some areas, the anchorages were filled with mega yachts of the rich and famous mixed with tourists on day tours from cruise ships and resorts. Scattered between were the sailboat charterers and cruisers. All enjoying the same beautiful locations! The further south we went, the fewer mega yachts and tourists we saw. There were loads of places to explore both on land and sea. We spent 1 week at Warderick Wells (probably our favorite place) and enjoyed everything the island had to offer. The girls loved hiking and exploring. We got to snorkel, really for the first time, and show the girls some beautiful coral and fish. Dito had the chance to snorkel with the Eagle Rays that came through the Warderick Wells anchorage on a daily basis. Sea turtles came by the boat almost every day. Warderick Wells also gave us the chance to really meet and interact with other cruising families.
3. Meeting cruising families … We’ve meet more cruising families the farther we have sailed. Unfortunately, most of them were headed back to the US for hurricane season and not heading to Panama this time of year. Zoe and Joss had the chance to meet kids that are having a common experience. It was so great to see kids hitting it off after meeting only 5 minutes earlier. Games of freeze tag, jumping competitions, kayaking, frisbee, playing with My Little Ponies … It was good for me to hear from parents who have been cruising with kids longer than I have. They have had stories and wisdom to share … such as, “don’t miss this island”, what have been the most kid friendly boat toys, tips on curriculum choices … These are families that have made big sacrifices to follow their dreams and have the experience of a lifetime together! Hopefully as we continue our journey, we will meet more cruising families and have the chance to travel together.
And so our time in the Bahamas came to an end. Time to move South and out of the hurricane zone. Bahamas you treated us very well and I hope one day to visit you again!
From Georgetown we headed to Conception Island. We had a lovely daysail. David even took the opportunity to send the drone up while we were underway. We anchored at Conception Island for 2 days. Some historians believe that Christopher Columbus may have stopped at this island. It is completely uninhabited and absolutely beautiful. There is a 2 mile long beach of white sand and gentle waves. We would have jumped in the water immediately after anchoring except for all the sharks. The moment we put down the anchor, we saw several reef sharks who came to check us out. Our theory is that lots of sport fishers come to this area and then clean their fish in the bay. The sharks have come to expect boaters to drop free food in the water for them. So I think that we will just wait until we get to the beach to do our swimming. We headed in to explore the beach with the girls. It felt so great to walk the length of the beach and explore. We found some beautiful seashells and sand dollars. Just across the narrowest part of the island was a small trail to the Atlantic facing beach. We discovered a wonderful snorkel site with some lovely coral and fish. Our friends on SV Kraken arrived the following day and we enjoyed snorkeling with their family.
From Conception island we will head to our last Bahama island … Great Inagua. It’s hard to believe that we have come to the end of our Bahama journey. It was an overnight sail from Conception Island to Great Inagua. It was a pretty straightforward sail until about 6 AM on the 2nd day of sailing. David was adjusting our sails when the rope (halyard) which holds up the head sail suddenly broke. We needed to take down the head sail to avoid damaging it. Unfortunately, the sail became jammed up in the track. The headsail wouldn’t come down and we ended up just having to refurl it. We ended up motor sailing for most of afternoon along with use of our mainsail. As we approached Great Inagua Island, there were storm clouds with thunder and lightning on the horizon. Not great for sail boats. We circled for a while and watched for a break in the storm using our radar system. It was starting to get late in the day and we needed to be inside the anchorage before it got dark. As every good sailor knows, its never wise to come into a new anchorage (especially one that has known coral reefs). We finally found a break and headed towards the anchorage just missing the worst of the storm. What a relief to arrive in Great Inagua!
Our anchorage at Great Inagua Island was beautiful. We anchored in about 40-50 feet of crystal clear water. We could see loads of coral reef and brightly colored fish under us. Just in the distance, we could make out the Morton Salt Company cargo docks and huge piles of white salt. I read that the company has been here for over 50 years. We planned to go and visit Matthewtown after getting our head sail problem fixed. Dito, Captain Dave, and I started to work on the sail. David had to go up the mast and check out the problem further. We discovered exactly where the line had broken. It looked like it had chafed through about 12 inches inside the mast. We attached a new halyard to the headsail and then David worked his way down the furler. He discovered that several set screws had started to work their way out. This was preventing the sail from being slid down the track. Once he was able to adjust the screws, the sail came down easily. This is a big problem and shouldn’t be happening on a recently re-rigged boat. As we have said before, this part of the journey is really our shakedown cruise. This is the time to find problems before we head out to do some bluewater cruising.
We headed to Matthewtown with our friends on Kraken. They are headed to Luperon in the DR for hurricane season. We needed to find some fuel before heading out from Great Inagua Island. We took our fuel jerry jugs into the beach only to discover that it was a national holiday and that everything was closed. David walked around town trying to find something open. That’s when he met Leroy. This exceptionally nice gentleman took David to find the local fuel guy, Skinny. David returned about 45 minutes later and gave us the good news. Lisa, Don, David and I carried the jerry jugs up to the street to wait for Skinny. As we waited, we received lots of stares but also many friendly waves. This placed definitely has a small town feel. Everyone knows everyone, so we surely stuck out. Skinny was super friendly and helpful. We got all jerry jugs filled up and carried them back to the dinghy. That evening our friends on Kraken headed out towards the Dominican Republic. When you’re sailing, you often make new friends along the way. Sometimes your plans synced up and you can travel together for awhile. So far in this trip, everyone seems to be headed in a different direction than us. We had a wonderful time getting to know Kraken and it was bittersweet to see them go. Next stop for us will either be Panama or Colombia depending on the weather.
After several great days at Warderick Wells, the weather was finally settled enough for us to set out. Our next stop was still within the Land and Sea Park at Cambridge Cay. We wanted to stop here after hearing about some excellent snorkeling at a place called the Aquarium. What an apt name for a snorkel site. There were already a couple of tour boats there when we arrived and several snorkelers in the water. We all jumped in the water to discover loads of fish and colorful coral (fan coral, brain coral)… The fish are definitely used to the snorkelers and came right up to you expecting food. I think that a lot of people must feed the fish. It definitely is the best snorkeling that I’ve done in a while. I totally understand why they call it the Aquarium! It made for a really fun afternoon!
After 2 days at Cambridge Cay, it was time to head south again. It was a quick sail down to Staniel Cay and Big Major. This place is known for it’s swimming pigs! And what a tourist attraction it has become! We anchored off of Big Major. There were a good 30 boats anchored out. Every 10-15 minutes, a fast speed boat would pull into the big loaded with tourists. As you looked towards the beach, pigs could be seen walking on the beach and swimming in the water. Now we had heard some stories that occasionally, these pigs have gotten aggressive with tourists. Someone apparently got a good bit on their tush this season which required repair. The pigs are semi-tame and expect everyone to bring them food. The last time that Exit Only visited, a hungry and curious pig tried to swim out and climb into the dinghy!! We decided to head for the beach and check out the situation ourselves. There were loads of tourists petting the pigs. The locals have even built a make shift shelter for the animals with feeding and water trough. There were about 10 cute baby pigs wandering around. Zoe and Joss tried to pet them. Some of the tourists attempted to pick the baby pigs up and then were reprimanded by the guides (apparently the mother pig will reject the very young baby pigs if it smells like humans). We didn’t bring any food with us this time. Most people seemed to be feeding the pigs bread and fruit. A few of the pigs were just massive!! And no wonder!!
Staniel Cay is also known for Thunderball Grotto. This is a sea cave which was featured in a James Bond movie of the same name. We dinghy over with the girls and Gaga to check out the cave. The grotto really is small island which has been formed from old raised coral beds, and the wind and the waves have hollowed out the inside. We headed towards the entrance of the cave but discovered a strong counter current. The girls weren’t strong enough to swim against the current. David was the only one who had brought his fins. So we swam in groups against the current with David helping to pull us in. Thankfully, the current lessened significantly in the main chamber. Once inside the huge hollowed out cave, you could see the sun shining in through a hole in the ceiling. The cave itself is about the size of a small auditorium. In the water were loads of blue, yellow and green fish. While we were checking out the cave, we saw someone prepare to jump from the hole in the ceiling. The drop is a good 40-50 feet into 20 feet of water. The crazy thing is that from the top you can’t really see inside the cave or where you are going to hit the water! Dito considered making the jump, but after watching a tipsy young lady jump in and land squarely on her back (ouch!!), he decided not to risk it. Getting out of the cave was easy as pie. We floated back out of the cave with the girls and headed back to the boat.
We are getting towards the southernmost Bahamas. All that’s left for us is Georgetown (a major cruiser hangout … AKA “chicken town” per the Captain). Many cruisers don’t go beyond the Bahamas, which is in some ways understandable since there are over 700 islands to explore and miles of beautiful blue water. Why leave such a beautiful and easy cruising ground which is so near the US? Beyond the Bahamas lies the Caribbean and some more challenging sailing.
We anchored just off Georgetown at Stocking Island. You can definitely tell that this is cruiser central. We hear that during the high season, there can be more than 200 sailboats anchored. I can only imagine how crazy that could be! But I also hear, that the cruisers here really spend a lot of time together … lots of kid related activities, BBQ on the beach, sundowner’s with friends, yoga in the morning, lectures and classes in the afternoon … At the center of all this activity is the Chat n’chill beach bar/restaurant! They have many large picnic tables set up, a kids play area, a beach volleyball area all for cruisers to use. Along the beach, very friendly sting rays glide in for daily feedings from the tourists.
Georgetown is a bustling little town of about 2000 people. During the cruising season, the population swells to near 5000 with all the cruisers. The town has really adapted to the needs of the cruisers. The main grocery store is right on a town basin and has a large dinghy dock. So if you need groceries, you just take the dinghy into town and tie up to their dock. The store is stocked with lots of US and European products which are sure to please yachts who are missing home … including ICE CREAM! We haven’t had ice cream for weeks! And now there is a whole case of Hagen Daz and Breyers to choose from! Dito has been saving a special $10 dollar bill for just this occasion! You may have already seen his Instagram or Facebook post. 12 years ago while in he Bahamas he won a bet to swim against a strong current all the way over to a buddy boat. We ll, he has been keeping his winnings tucked away for the last 12 years so that on his return to the Bahamas he could buy some ice cream! The girls were more than happy to help their dad fulfill his dream of buying ice cream! I don’t know who enjoyed it more … the girls or Dito! : )
Stocking Island has been a fun place to explore. We discovered a path across to the Atlantic side of the island. Breathtakingly beautiful and wild, it reminded me in some ways of the California coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway. We had a great time doing body surfing with the girls. But quickly discovered that the fine Bahamas sand seemed to find its way into every crevasse and fold of our swimsuits. Walking down the beach, we discovered a “bubble bath” of sorts. A tidal pool had been formed in the coral. As the waves would break, water would rush into the tidal pool and bubble up! The girls enjoyed playing with the bubbles until a largish wave came through, knocking them over! They were a little more cautious about heading back in the water after that.
Our next stop was Warderick Wells. I have heard about this place for years from David. It was one of his favorite stops during the last circumnavigation. The headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park (ranger station) and Bahamas Defense forces are both here to help take care of the park. There is a nice anchorage at Warderick Wells with mooring balls. Every morning, the park ranger comes on over the radio to announce departures and take reservations for the mooring balls. We were able to contact the office by VHF radio and get a mooring ball without a problem. But I am sure that at the height of cruising season, that mooring balls can be hard to get.
We ended up staying at Warderick Wells for almost a week because of weather. The predominant winds have been from the southeast which aren’t great for our journey south. However, what a great place to stop. There is lots to do here! Whale beach is beautifully calm and overlooks the anchorage. There is a full skeleton of a small sperm whale reconstructed on the beach.The park has beach chairs, picnic tables, a small covered area, free kayaks and stand up paddle boards for park visitors. The Ranger station has a small book exchange, postcards, informational sheets about animals in the park, and some interactive exits for the kids. We found out that the rangers and defense force were hosting a weekly meet and greet on Friday night which sounds like fun! There are several great snorkel spots surrounding the island. Hiking trails criss cross the island. Looks like we will have some fun exploring this island!
On Friday night, we went up for the meet and greet. Everyone brought in appetizers and drinks to share. We meet several other cruisers and defense force soldiers. The defense force is there to catch poachers and drug traffickers. We got lots of great tips from the other cruisers on not to miss places in the Exumas. Zoe got a wild frisbee game going … jumping and splashing in the water. Joss was happily swimming and playing in the water. It was a great evening!
While at Warderick Wells, there was plenty of outdoor activities. We went snorkeling with the girls in 2 different places. We made our way out to Emerald Rock and tied up to a mooring ball. Zoe and Joss were both excited, but a little anxious after their last experience at Marsh Harbor and Norman’s Cay. Thankfully, the sea state was much calmer this time. With a little encouragement and hand holding, they both plunged into the water with us. Emerald Rock had a lovely little reef many colorful fish. Zoe was transfixed by all the fish that were there but still wanted to stay close. David decided to stop at another snorkel location. Unfortunately, the current was too strong for the girls to really enjoy it. So we made the most of it by doing a drift dive. We turned the engine off and then hung onto the dinghy as it drifted through the water. David saw an eagle ray! On another day, we made the hike up to Boo Boo’s Hill. It’s become a pilgrimage of sorts for cruisers who come to Warderwick Wells. At the top of the hill is a large pile of signs painted by various boats. Signs have been made out of rocks, shells, pieces of wood. People paint colorful signs with their boat name and then leave it at the top of hill. On the one hand, I think that this is kind of cool. On the other hand, I wonder what the park rangers must think. Is this considered trash? Will this pile of wood and rock just continue to grow and grow?
As Warderick Wells is a highly trafficked cruising destination, there are lots of boats coming and going. We have had the chance to meet several different sailing families. We met a French family on SV Twinny (Henri, Helene, Louise, and Maielle). They sailed across the Atlantic ocean on their catamaran. They hiked up Boo Boo Hill with us and had the girls over to play. It’s amazing how language is not a barrier to playtime! The kids loved it! And it gave me the chance to practice my French for a few days. We met SV Kairos 5 (Dave, Marcie, Adeline, Asa, and Jude) and SV Marvyn (Clint, Erin, Even, and Marley) who were sailing back to the US after a season of cruising in the Caribbean. They graciously shared their kid cruising experiences and tips. We had a fun time with them hanging out on the shallow sandbar in the middle of the anchorage one grey and rainy afternoon. David and Dave had an epic frisbee battle of keep away with the kids while several of the other parents traded stories, recipes, homeschool tips, and future plans. Meeting all these cruising families really makes me hope that we can find a cruising buddy boat with kids who are near the same age as Zoe and Joss. It was so fun to see all the kids playing together and having a great time! And it was fun for the parents to hang out as well!
We set sail for the Exumas early in the morning. We have about a 40 mile run which will take us about 5-6 hours depending on the wind. We have been waiting on this weather window for the last week. The weather can definitely be one of the frustrating things to deal with while living on a boat. It effects everything! We are counting on all the weather predictions being right … little wind and smooth seas … so that we can just blast our way south. We will have to cross over the same Yellow Banks which gave us such trouble 1 week ago. Coral reefs and even old shipwrecks abound. So everyone will have to be on their toes. We thankfully found that all the conditions for right for an easy run down to the Exumas.
Our first Exuma stop was Allan’s Cay. The water has just been absolutely gorgeous! Crystal clear blue water, white sand beaches and … tour boats! Allan’s Cay is apparently a stop for local tour boats. We slowly motored into the anchorage to check things out. Not a lot of room to anchor because of coral reef and lots of water traffic. We kept seeing small speed boats zipping in and out with tourists. We decided that this was a nice place for a pit stop, but definitely not overnight anchorage material. The reason to stop at Allan’s Cay is to see the amazing Iguanas! These special creatures are only found in a few places in the Exumas. They are quite used to the tourists now who come bearing gifts of fruit and veggies, even though a sign clearly states that one must not feed the wildlife. The girls were delighted to splash in the beautiful water before we dinghed back to Exit Only. From Allan’s Cay we headed for a better night anchorage off Highbourne Cay. Just off in the distance were 3 large mega yachts! We are talking fancy fancy boats with their own crew, tenders, and skidoos. Hmm … maybe Beyonce is hanging out here!
Once again we had beautiful clear water. The Captain decided that this was the time and the place to fire up the water maker. David pulled out the whole kit which was soon happily humming away. The rest of us decided cool off with another swim! The girls have worked up their courage and are now happily jumping off the bows. Zoe still sometimes needs a little encouragement as she seems to be worried about sharks. The girls can happily jump, splash and swim for hours. It always feels so good to get cooled off after getting all hot and sweaty in the Bahamas heat. Once swim time is over, we have to get the salt water off. Don’t want to track all that into the boat. So we have something called sun showers which we set up outdoors. There are large bags which hold 2-3 gallons of water. We set them out in the sun to get warmed up. The bag gets hung up off the transom and everyone gets rinse off. Fresh and clean once again!
It’s bread day on Exit Only. I’m trying out a new bread recipe. Now that we are out of store bought sliced sandwich bread, we’ve started to make our own bread. Donna has her go to recipe from from South African cruising friends. We are swapping off making bread about every 3-4 days. I am hoping the recipe will turn out. You have to make a few adjustments when living on the boat and being in such a humid place. It’s been a while since I’ve made bread, but I’ve always enjoyed it. I got the dough ready to go before we raised anchor. We headed for Norman’s Cay next. David has been dying to show us this place. Apparently the island used to owned by the drug dealer, Carlos back in the 70-80’s. There is a DC 3 plane which is sunk in the water and now has become a “go to” snorkeling site. Once again this is a well trafficked anchorage. A little untenable between the current and the coral heads. So the Captain decided to stay on board while David, Zoe, Joss and myself went to snorkel on the plane wreck. Both girls were a little unsure of themselves. This is the 2nd time we’ve gone snorkeling. Thankfully, the sea conditions were calmer which made it less scary for them. Zoe overcame a big fear hurdle and jumped in the water with me! She’s so excited to see all the fish! The only thing that made it hard was the current. We ended up having re-anchor the dinghy and set out a safety line because of the strong current. Initially Joss got scared of the airplane itself and jumped into the dinghy. Zoe felt much braver holding David’s hand. She saw a nurse shark and a barracuda as well as lots of other fish. With the strong current, we weren’t able to swim down into the cockpit area as David had many years ago. I was thankful that this snorkeling experience was much more positive for the girls! And now it was time to sample freshly baked bread. Delicious!
Onward ho from Norman’s Cay to a better anchorage at Shroud Cay. We have now entered the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The park includes 16 major islands. It was formed in 1948 and was the first marine reserve in the Bahamas and Caribbean. It is considered a “no take” zone which means that no fishing, shelling, or coaching is allowed. We are looking forward to seeing the abundant wildlife and pristine waters. We spent a quiet night at Shroud Cay and prepped for another day of adventure. We had heard about a dinghy excursion which would traverse the island through the mangroves. Apparently this is a great place to find sea turtles and rays. We packed everyone into the dinghy that morning with cameras and snorkel gear. The girls thoroughly enjoyed spotting turtles. Every 5 minutes, one of them would yell out turtle. Now one might think that turtles are slow moving creatures, but in actuality these sea turtles are extremely fast. You get one glimpse of them and then they are off! I tried to capture some footage with our waterproof GoPro camera but it proved to be challenging. We arrived at a beautiful white sand beach on the other side of the island about 45 min later. The girls were excited to find some waves for body surfing. I found a trail that led up pretty good embankment and discovered a spectacular view of the ocean. Just another reminder of what an amazing world we live in and what an amazing Creator we have! Truly all creation shouts His praises! The final part of this little excursion was going through the “washing machine”. David had heard that the cut from the ocean into the mangrove river could get really churned up with current depending on the tide. This would make for a white water like ride which some other cruiser had deemed “the washing machine”. Both girls jump in with him to ride the current in, but alas it was more like a lazy river than a washing machine. But hey, you still gotta enjoy the ride!
Hawksbill Cay is our next stop. We grabbed a mooring ball at Hawksbill Cay for the night. There are a couple of other boats here. From the boat, we could see a large cairn that cruisers had built on top of a hill. David popped the dinghy in so that we could do some beach exploration. We explored all around the island. We dinghyed into a small shallow bay and walked on the tidal flats. We came back around to a small beach surrounded by cliffs. There on the beach was a sign reminding us that we were now in the Land and Sea Park with a deposit box for our nightly fee to be dropped off. I hiked up to the top of the hill to find the cairn. All I have to say that the cairn is impressive. It was a good 10 feet tall, surrounded by thick brush and made of the white coral rocks which are all over the island. How did people get all these stones up here? The hike up is a little steep and winds right along the edge of a cliff. They must have trucked them up from near the beach is all I can figure. We walked around the island a little and met up with another cruiser and her friendly little dog. The girls happily played in the water. David found some “musical rocks” which had been hollowed out by the tides. After a night at Hawksbill, it was time to move on to the next anchorage.
We want to start moving south soon. We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather and think that we have a window. Most other cruisers are headed back to the US. We made a pit stop in Marsh Harbor again to top up fuel and fresh foods before starting a trek south again. But not before David had a chance to pull out his drone. We decided to make an investment in a drone before we started on this trip. Drones are able to capture amazing footage and pictures. It’s a little nerve wracking to be the “drone deployer” on a moving vessel, but we did a great job that day. There wasn’t too much wind as we headed back to Marsh Harbor. We were cruising over gorgeous turquoise waters. Up the drone went and got some gorgeous pictures of Exit Only. You may have seen some of these pictures on Instagram or Facebook.
We spent Easter Sunday in Marsh Harbor. I knew that I wanted to get to church with the girls. The day that David and I walked to Fed Ex, I had seen several different churches. After a little internet research we picked a church to attend Easter Sunday. Growing up on the mission field in France, it was always such a joyful experience being part of an international congregation. People look different, speak differently, think different, worship differently … but we all have the same Lord! We headed down the hot and dusty road with the girls and Donna. Along the way, we saw many people dressed in their Easter best and headed to church. We walked past 2 small churches and still hadn’t reached the church I had found on the internet. After about 25 minutes, girls started to complain about the walking and wondering if we were on the right track. When I double checked the map again, I saw that we had at least another mile to walk which the rest of the crew wasn’t really interested in doing. Just then we came upon a sign for Marsh Harbor Gospel Chapel and saw several families driving into the parking lot. Why not this one? There was a lovely little church and small christian school there. Walking in the doors felt like a homecoming to me. Easter music was blaring. People were smiling, hugging and shaking hands. It was a real privilege to share Easter Sunday with them. The speaker who was filling in for the pastor gave rousing sermon about living out the truth and joy of Easter Sunday daily! The girls enjoyed attending Sunday school with some of the other kids. We got to talking with some of the church members who insisted that we shouldn’t walk back to the anchorage and then generously offered to drive us back to the dock area. We gratefully accepted their offer.
After a few days in Marsh Harbour, we are all geared up now to head south now. From Marsh Harbour. we did a day sail down the coast of Great Abaco island. Beautiful blue water all over … but also coral. We definitely are always keeping an eye out for any possible coral heads. Thankfully, most modern day maps will show where the danger areas are and it’s just a matter of creating a safe track through it all.
Our next stop was a pretty anchorage called Little Harbour. More than 50 years ago, a well known sculptor, Randolph Johnston, moved his family from the US to the Bahamas with he intention of finding his own little piece of paradise. He dreamed of an untouched place which would continue to fuel his creative efforts. His family moved to Little Harbour and set up an artist studio which continues to this day. His family continues the legacy. There is a small art gallery, fun little beach pub and very family friendly atmosphere. Swings were set up on the beach so that you can swing out over the water. Zoe and Jocelyn had a blast swinging and jumping into the water. Pete’s Pub is overlooking the beach where you can have sundowners and a lovely meal. We enjoyed exploring the island. One side of the island seems completely wild with ragged black coral rising out of the ocean. We walked to an outcropping and played in the sea spray. We hiked out to the ruins of the old lighthouse built in the early 1900’s, long since destroyed by hurricanes. We made friends with a friendly dog who played on the beach with us. A very idyllic place! I can see why the artist loved it here.
Next stop … Eleuthra … that is to say and somewhat unplanned stop. We had pulled down our most recent weather gribs only to discover a shift in the weather. We ended up leaving from Little Harbour a day early so we could make the run south. The wind had started to come up and in a direction that was not favorable. We came as far south as the tip of Eleuthra and tucked into an anchorage at Royale Island. Several other boats had the same idea. What was so amazing were all the rainbows we saw along the way. Rain and storms kept threatening our sail. But it also brought rainbows. Zoe and Joss are now convinced that there is a pot of gold somewhere on Royale island just waiting to be found. We left the anchorage the next morning with the intention of trying to get as far south before the wind really whipped up the sea state. Sailing into wind is not pleasant on a catamaran. This typically causes a see-sawing, slamming motion which is rather unpleasant. We had gotten as far as the yellow banks when the winds and sea state really kicked up a notch. Not what was predicted in the weather files. Things were rough enough that Joss actually got sick and threw up … it was almost like she didn’t realize why or what had happened, and then it was just over. My stomach didn’t feel the best either, but thankfully staying outdoors in the fresh air where I can see the horizon helps a lot. After pounding away for about 1 hour, the captain made the decision to turn around. No point in pounding unnecessarily … not because it made people feel unwell, but because it really can stress out different parts of the boat. Sometimes things can break in these conditions. And right now, we aren’t interested in having to delay our cruising because something is broken. We ended up heading to the island of New Providence. It was with a sigh of relief that we anchored in the calm of Clifton Bay. Everyone was exhausted! Now it was just a matter of waiting on the weather … again.
Clifton Bay is a well protected, beautiful bay on the western corner of New Providence. The beach is lined with fancy homes. But thankfully, we have shore access at the public beach. We ended up spending 5 days here waiting for the weather to improve. We made the most of our time by doing a little exploring, snorkeling and swimming. We discovered that we had 3 remora which had decided to hitch a ride of the hulls of Exit Only. When we could scrape off the lunch plates, we would watch the remoras come darting out to eat our leftovers. David grabbed his underwater Go Pro and we got some pretty cool pictures of these sleek and strange creatures swimming around. We finally pulled out the water maker for a trial run. We had already been sailing for 3-4 weeks, but had actually bought water at a local marina instead of run our water maker. It’s a little bit of a complicated process which involves pulling out a generator and modular machine which desalinates sea water into potable water. We had heard great things about the Rainmaker water maker and now it was time to test it out. The guys went over all the instructions and put it together. They flipped the switch and water started squirting everywhere! Not exactly what it was supposed to do. The guys put in a call to the service dept and did a little tinkering which thankfully solved the problem. 2 hours later, our water tank supply was topped up with delicious clean water!
Our final day at Clifton Bay, we watched some local Bahamians participate in a triathalon. After the race was done, David and I decided to head in and do a little exploring without the kids. After 5 days on the boat without really being able to go anywhere, I was itching for a little adventure. After being dropped off by the dinghy, we asked one of the triathlon participants if there was anything off the public beach worth seeing. Unfortunately, he said that there wasn’t much around the beach but that he would be glad to give us a lift. What kindness. We helped him clean up the rest of the triathlon equipment and he introduced us to his friends. We explained that we were living on the boat as a family and all that we had been up to. I was mostly interested in finding a local grocery store where we might be able to grab a few things. We jumped in Dorian’s truck and headed for the closest grocery store which was a good 5 miles away. Dorian showed us around a little and explained some of the history around New Providence. Grab your groceries and I’ll give you a ride back! How awesome is that! What an answer to prayer! We offered to pay him gas money or buy him a drink which he refused. To celebrate our good luck, we bought a tub of ice cream! We don’t have a freezer on Exit Only, so having ice cream is a real treat when you have been out sailing for a while. We wrapped it up as best we could in newspaper and cardboard and thankfully, it survived the trip back to the boat … only to bed devoured in about 5 minutes flat by the crew! Delicious! Thank you Dorian wherever you are!
Our plan was to check into the Bahamas at Port Lucaya and then start making our way to the Abacos or Exumas depending on the wind. After a 2 day stay at Port Lucaya Yacht club, we started to make our way around the eastern side of Grand Bahama Island. We decided to start out with a daysail and made our way to West End. We checked into West End Yacht club for a 1 night stay. We were surprised to discover that this gave us access to their resort (including beach, pool, restaurant and store). Here we found our first perfect little Bahamas beach with white sand and palm trees. The girls had a fabulous time playing on the beach. Zoe had an exciting moment, when she had a loose tooth which plopped out of her mouth and into the sand. We searched and searched, but never ended up finding. She had a slight moment of panic … what would the tooth fairy do? But never fear, the Tooth Fairy always knows where to find teeth, even in the ocean! We met up with a local girls softball team down by the pool. They had just won their local championship. As a prize, the whole team of 9-11 year old girls got a weekend at the resort! What fun for Zoe to meet up with kids her own age, play and talk.
We also met another boat kid, Eileen on MV Lady Kae. Zoe, Joss and Eileen immediately hit it off and were playing on the beach just in time to catch the sky diving show! While at West End, a group of sky divers had rented out the resort for a weekend of sky diving. It was their last day at the resort and they were having a big party to celebrate the last dive. What an amazing sight to see these guys coming down over the sky! Dive bombing is more what I’d call it! Not gently floating down on the breeze, but more like zooming from the heights before freakishly and gracefully landing. What an amazing start to our Bahamas adventures! You can check out the great video that David made of the sky divers on our youtube page or instagram!
After a night at West End, we started sailing towards the Abacos. Another 2 day sail across the Bahama banks and we finally made our way to Manjack Cay. This small island gave us good protection from the wind and also the chance to do a little exploring. We crossed paths with a boat called SV Mersea which David had met all the way back at Ft Pierce. Frenchie and Jan took Zoe to do a little fishing off the reef. She was ecstatic to catch some small grunts.
The next morning we got our dinghy inflated and went to explore the island. Frenchie had told us that people could feed manta rays and go up a small river to see turtles. We took the dinghy up a shallow river. Just as we entered the mouth of the river, we saw several small manta rays gracefully swimming. Unfortunately, none of them stayed around long enough for me to be able to capture them on video. Then it was up the river some more to find many turtles zipping back and forth. It’s amazing how fast they are! One minute the girls would be crying out that they had seen a turtle head popping out of the water and the next minute it would be gone. Our other surprise was finding a small nurse shark up the river, contentedly hanging out with the turtles. It didn’t like us much and decided to swim away when we got too close. We headed back towards Exit Only to explore another part of the island. David dropped the girls and I off at a small dock. From what we read, although there were 3 or 4 families that lived on the island year around, the public was allowed to walk on the paths that they had made across the island. It felt good to be stretching our legs on land. We tromped down the trail which was surrounded by dense, almost jungle like growth. To our delight, we discovered a picturesque white sand beach with clear water. Time to play and swim! The girls found shells, jumped and ran in the clear water! What fun! It was finally time to head back to the boat. We waited for David at the dock. Looking down in the water, you could see a clear 10 feet down. Lots of little colorful fish! I dared the girls to jump in the water! Zoe has been a little anxious about jumping in unless the water is perfectly clear (she still worries about sharks). Joss was completely gung-ho. So jumped first and it was delightedly cool! Zoe followed and then Joss! Hurray for water girls!
The only low point of the last 2 days has been the discombobulation of my phone. We had purposely bought a phone for the Google Fi phone plan. This reportedly works great internationally and allows us to have unlimited SMS. I’ve had my phone already for one year and it’s worked great. But it decided to “brick” itself. David and I both tried to get it back up and running to no avail. So we contacted Google who agreed that there was a hardware problem and that the phone would need to be replaced. Unfortunately, they would not be able to mail a new phone to the Bahamas. In addition, any package mailed into the Bahamas would be subjected to a pretty hefty import tax. And finally, before receiving a new phone, I would have to mail them the old “broken” phone. So one problem begets another. We will need to get to place that has FexEx or UPS to get the old phone back to the US. We will figure it out somehow. But for now I will be “sans phone” for the next several weeks.
From Manjack Cay we headed to Marsh Harbour to try and get ahead of the weather. It is the biggest town in the Abacos with about 5000 residents. It is the sailing hub of the Bahamas with a few charter companies based here. The Harbour itself is a large area which can hold many boats. As sailing central, there are lots of businesses which cater to cruisers. Every morning, there is a local radio net on VHF radio. Cruisers are provided with weather reports and a list of local events. Restauranteurs entice with announcements of daily specials. Sailors wish one another happy birthday and tell of their sailing plans. It’s a happening place down here! We discovered that there is a Fed Ex in town which is terrific! Now to find it …
We headed off the boat for a little exploring, shopping, and and Fed Ex delivery. Everyone jumped into the dinghy and we motored over to the public dock. Some of the young local boys were there willing to give us a “helping hand” for a small fee. They say that they will watch your boat while you’re out and about. And while that may be true in the loosest sense of the term, it’s more likely that they are scoping out the dinghies for anything of value. We decided not to leave our dinghy at the dock. So Baba took it back to the boat while we went off. Down the road with went with shopping bags in hand. We met a few other cruisers along the road who pointed us in the right direction. David and I tromped off to the Fed Ex while the girls went with Gaga to Maxwell’s supermarket. Thankfully, the grocery store wasn’t too far away. But we had a 2-3 mile walk ahead of us to get to the Fed Ex which is usually how it goes with cruising. Down the dusty road with went … After 30 min of brisk walking we had arrived! For a mere $50 I was able to mail my broken phone back to the US. At least we’ve gotten that taken care of. We will have to figure out phone delivery later.
We headed back to the grocery store to meet up with Gaga and the kids. Maxwell’s was super nice. But also super expensive! Everything is at least 2-3 times more expensive here in the Bahamas than the US. Part of that has to do with the need to import most goods. The Bahamas also has 12% VAT! Yikes! And if you use a credit card to buy something, another 5% is tacked on to the price! I saw an avocado that cost $4!! That would make for some expensive guacamole! It makes me wonder if it is hard to make ends meet for most Bahamanians. Cost of living here seems to be quite pricey! Walking around Marsh Harbour reminds me of some developing countries that I have visited in the past. There is definitely a high end and touristy area here, but the “have nots” are also very apparent.
While in Marsh Harbor, we had the chance to meet some other “kid boats”. We had really been hoping that once we were out sailing, we would meet some other sailing families. We meet 2 families that have been cruising the Bahamas over the last year. They provided us with some great information and shared some of the lessons they have learned about cruising with kids. The girls were thrilled to meet some kids with a shared experience. Within less than 5 minutes, a game of hide and seek was underway. We attempted a snorkeling trip over at Mermaid Reef with SV Walden. The reef was on a lee shore (wind blowing on shore) which meant that the seas were a bit choppy. Zoe and Joss were gung ho to get out and try snorkeling for the first time. But once we got there, Zoe panicked when looking in the water and refused to get in. Joss got in for a while, lost a flipper, panicked but then headed back to snorkel with David. Still working on getting the girls comfortable with the ocean and myself for that matter! Unfortuanately, both SV Walden and MV Summercamp were both headed back to the US for the upcoming hurricane season. We hope to meet other families along the way. Thanks SV Walden and MV SummerCamp for being so friendly and generous with your time.
After a couple days in Marsh Harbour, we headed back out to explore the Abaco Islands. We sailed to Spoil Cay, a deserted little island which was formed from the old dredging of a cruise ship channel. We had heard that it was a great place to find shells. We spent a fun afternoon walking the beach and looking for shells. From there we went to a beautiful beach on Guana Cay, called Baker’s Bay. We anchored in 8 feet of clear turquoise water. Our view included a long 2 mile stretch of white shiny beach and several large fancy (presumably) vacation homes (several of them so nice, I could well imagine a movie star living there). We went in all together and explored the beach, swam, kayaked. So good to feel the sand between our toes and stretch our legs. It made for a great way to spend my birthday! A birthday in the Bahamas … definitely a day to remember.
Kind of took a break from writing and posting over the last 8 weeks. March and April were busy months for the crew of Exit Only. We spent most of March helping Captain Dave up to speed on the boat and getting boat jobs finished up. In hindsight, we really did need the extra time to get the boat ready. Little jobs cropped up all over the place … fixing leaks, finishing up the fish decals, having the generator fixed … And as per usual, things usually take longer than expected. And then sometimes, the unexpected occurred. Donna had a tooth which broke and required a crown. So we had to find a local dentist around Ft Pierce. Thankfully, we found a great practice and took the opportunity to have the whole crew checked out!
We had 2 birthdays to celebrate before leaving Ft Pierce. Zoe turned 8 on March 25 and Jocelyn turned 5 on April 8! It’s been so crazy to see these girls growing before my eyes, becoming boat girls. For Zoe’s birthday, we went out to see How To Train Your Dragon 3 and ate a delicious ice cream cake with our friends, Trish and Wayne (SV Soul Meredian). For Jocelyn’s birthday, she requested a blue cake (since Frozen is still her favorite movie) and anything that had to do with unicorns!
Zoe, Joss and I had a girls day out. We headed down to see replicas of the Pinta and the Nina down in Jupiter, Florida. I had heard on the radio that the ships were touring up the east coast and thought it would be a fun way to see how sailing was done about 500 years ago. We will be going to places that Columbus reportedly landed. Seeing his ships would certainly give us a better sense of the kind of adventure that he went on. We really enjoyed checking out the ships! Crazy to think how these sailors went off into the unknown without any maps, electronics, engines … Brave, brave souls! It made what we are doing look like a piece of cake! It was fun to talk with the volunteers on the ships who were intrigued by the idea of a family sailing with kids. But as we learned, Columbus had a couple of boat boys on his ships … so sailing kids really aren’t anything new. We packed in the fun by stopping in Stuart on the way back and checked out their Oceanographic Center. The girls loved getting the chance to pet some sting rays, see all the fish in a very large basin/tank, walk the mangrove trails and learn more about the Indian River Lagoon.
We made our final plans and provisions to depart by the first week of April — get groceries, fill propane tank, fill jerry jugs … At this point we were just waiting on the weather. To get across to the Bahamas means crossing the GulfStream. The weather conditions need to be just right or you can end up getting swacked by the wind and waves. We were looking for wind out of the west or the south. Every day, we started downloading weather files (gribs) to track the wind, waves, and weather. We finally found our window on April 9 and made our final preparations.
We were up at the crack of dawn getting everything locked down and ready to go. We had a crowd of friends at the dock that morning. Ft Pierce City Marina had been so good to us. We had made friends with several other cruisers who were on the docks and the very friendly marina staff. The girls were sad to leave behind the local library, marina kitties, and boat friends. A shout out to SV Soul Meridian, SV Windlass, SV Akira, SV Whitecap, MV Liberdade, and MV MillerTime — thanks for becoming part of our Ft Pierce sailing family! We will miss you all! The girls were very excited to go out their first sail down the Indian River Lagoon. We opted to go down the ICW which would give us calmer water. This was a good way to start the girls out since they’ve never had any sailing experience before. By staying in the ICW, we also had better access to some of the costal towns in case we have any engine or electronic trouble.
Thankfully, we didn’t have any engine or electronic trouble. However, the weather decided that it didn’t want to cooperate. There were some squalls coming through, so we decided to hunker down at Jensen Beach until the storms had passed by. The girls and I took the opportunity to get off the boat. We walked under the big bridge and found a small playground. It always feels good to stretch your legs after you’ve been underway … even if it’s only been a few hours : )
So down the coast we continued until we reached Ft Lauderdale around sunset. Now it was time to make our move across the GulfStream. The wind and weather was favorable and so we set out on our first off shore passage. I was a little concerned how the girls might do once we got offshore, but they were real troopers. We had story time and then they hopped up in their bunk like always, sleeping through the night without any complaints of seasickness or bumps and bounces. We got through our first night and arrived at Port Lucaya the next morning. Smooth sailing all the way! Now on to discover all that the Bahamas has to offer!
We have the all clear!! Captain Dave has been cleared by Orthopedics to start weight bearing!! David took him in for his check up this morning. The X-rays look good! So now the Captain will need a little more physical therapy but will be able to be back on board Exit Only! What a wonderful surprise to see him walking around the marina using his crutches!! It was so great to hear the good news that we went out to celebrate at our favorite local Mexican Restaurant (Super Taqueria … OMG, so good) and the Captain’s favorite!
There are still lots of jobs to complete around the boat. With Captain Dave moving back on board, it’s help to shift our focus on getting ready for some sailing. We will need to take things slowly and see how Captain Dave’s hip will respond to being able to bear weight again. He says that there is no pain and after seeing him get around over the last 48 hours, we are hopeful that things will start coming together soon. David has still been working on finding a small leak. We fixed one leak (which was over the binnacle), but there is another leak which is refusing to be found. We believe that we have isolated it somewhere in the cockpit corner. So David has taken apart all the teak slates off the benches to see what he can find! I have faith! He’s covered certain ares of the cockpit to isolate and test for possible leaks! How hard can it be!! We also sprayed some heavy duty scotch-guard on the bimini to help better waterproof the material. Once he gets back on board, I’m sure that there will be a big list of things for us to start working on. Still hard to know that this point exactly when we might be leaving, but every day is a little bit closer!
And just like that another week has gone by. Time is flying here in Ft Pierce. We are counting down the days until Captain Dave has his final Orthopedic appointment. We hope that he is given the all clear and will be able to come back on board Exit Only. That being said, it’s a good thing that he’s been at a hotel all this week because the boat has been totally tore up. David has spent most of this week taking Exit Only apart investigating the source of the leak and working on the engine. Our bunk has been pulled apart … so there’s a mattress hanging out in the starboard hull, boxes of books and camera gear strung around, tools pulled out … We’ve spent the week sleeping in Captain Dave’s bunk during all these repairs. At this point we think that he has found the source of the leak and fixed the problem. It actually looks like we had 2 sources of water — 1) the binnacle and 2) a fitting to the Bimini. It’s taken most of the week to get everything cleaned up and dried out. I am hoping that by tomorrow, we can start putting our bunk back together.
Another family arrived on the A dock this week. The girls were thrilled to meet 2 other girls and have some playtime. They have happily been running up and down the dock. We had the chance to attend library time together. Unfortunately, in the cruising world everyone is on the move. Friends come and go which has been a little hard for the girls. But it’s always nice to think that we might meet new friends at some point in the future at a beautiful anchorage.
School has been puttering along. Zoe was so excited to complete 2 of her text books this week! We’ve just finished up our unit about biographies. We studied MLK for black history month and learned about Helen Keller. We’ve just started to dig into landforms which has tied in beautifully to some of the world geography that we’ve been studying. Never in my dreams did I think that I would be teaching elementary school. She’s taken off with reading. More often than not, I find her nose in a book … especially under the covers with a flashlight! She’s been a bit of a reluctant writer, but I’ve been trying to work with her on expanding sentences and writing in her journal. We still have our hiccups, but thankfully Donna has been a wonderful resource for ideas, encouragement and instruction. The local library has been such a great place for the girls spend time. The children’s librarian has been wonderful. We really enjoy participating in their story time and STEM activities every week. I’m really going to miss that once we are out cruising.
The girls and I are also trying our hand at sprouting. We’ve heard from many cruisers that fresh green veggies can be hard to find when in the out islands of the Bahamas. Fresh produce is expensive in some of the Caribbean islands. I had heard about other cruisers growing their own micro greens or sprouts on board. So I thought, why not give it a try. The girls and I will learn something new about seeds and plants. And we will see how these sprouts do in a salty environment . Our first batch of sprouts didn’t fare so well. It’s all about getting the right ratios of seeds to space. But our 3rd batch (which did come from a different seed source) did great. We had pretty little green sprouts of broccoli, alfalfa, and radish in less than 1 week.
The other activity that we have started with the girls is fishing! We bought a kid sized fishing pole for Zoe while in KY. She has been so excited about the thought of going fishing. She imagines that this pole will catch Mahi Mahi or Tuna!! Well, what it does catch is catfish!! I got her set up off the stern of the boat and she caught 2 catfishes within 30 minutes! There were whoops of joy! But would she touch it!! After a little encouragement, she proudly displayed her catch! Just wait until we get out there and start cruising. It’s going to be so awesome to see her face when she reels in a big fish!