Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend!!

Please remember those veterans or current members of our armed forces. It's due to their sacrifices that we enjoy our freedoms. Gratitude, truly.

As for was, oddly enough, the first weekend we haven't been out on the boat in 15 years. Thus, it  felt very,very strange indeed!! In the distant past, we'd have been skydiving our butts off at big boogies (The Herd comes to mind, but I'm dating myself) or, in recent years we'd have been have with our friends Paul and Muriel aboard one boat or another, with their two girls and Ally, but...this year, Ally is in Argentina with her school May Program doing language immersion community service along with cultural programs and sight-seeing, so we aren't together with friends this year. :( So...definitely not the norm! 

Not that we've jumped in about 10 years...but the memories remain! In the meantime, in the last 15 years, boating, cruising and living aboard have been our focus. Thus, last year at this time we were aboard Equinox on the Chesapeake watching the Blue Angels practice their Memorial Day routine over the Patuxent River, aboard with Paul and Muriel, but this year, Ron and I have spent the weekend land-locked in Florida and, kind of lonely! Albeit, we are in our beautiful new condo and while it's a change of pace from being aboard, it does feel strange not to be aboard commemorating Memorial Day with friends and entertaining. We've had a quiet weekend, just the two of us....we got out to do some bicycling in the mornings (16 and 23 miles respectively for the weekend) as well simply doing other needed chores. 

Watching the Blue Angels practicing over the Patuxent River 
for their Memorial Day 2009 show while aboard Equinox

The boat has been getting detailed and waxed this weekend as we speak, and we are happy with how it's turning out. It's looking fabulous...Richard and crew are meticulous, doing a great job! How nice it is to have Equinox back in fighting form, for she is gleaming!! On the home front, Ron and I kept busy with cleaning out our storage room in the condo garage, rearranging items and bringing up the last 6-8 boxes of books, office supplies, odds and ends and photos/negatives that were stored and still cluttering up the space. We're trying to purge all the non-storage items from the area and keep it for boat stuff and other long-term storage stuff. 

We have a busy week ahead though, with lots of boat work to be done. We are hoping to cruise over in the Abacos for July, so have a lot to maintain, repair and tweak after our six months in the Bahamas this past winter. In the meantime, June is upon us, as is hurricane season! Ugh!! Like I said before, we're new here, so we have not experienced any hurricanes, except in Maryland. There, it was simply dealing with storm surge and somewhat high winds, and certainly nothing like what they've experienced here in Florida!! So, we are putting together our contingency plans should a storm arise, trying to be somewhat proactive and have things in place should we need to haul the boat, hunker down at the condo or (worse case) evacuate. Here I thought provisioning for the boat was unique, but folks here make sure they have enough water and non-perishable foodstuffs that can handle an extended camp-out routine that just isn't imagined in the north! So, we're trying to follow suit and be prepared ourselves!! I'll just keep hoping for a calm season here and a gentle learning curve!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Best laid plans...

...are never what you expect. Just after when the detailing started on the boat in earnest, I had the lovely pleasure of finding out that some patrons of the restaurant next door had complained about the view/noise/dust from the buffers. They didn't think it appropriate that their view of the marina was marred by seeing people working on our boat! I have to admit that I was rather taken aback, I didn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers with the condo management nor with the neighbors, work with the buffers ceased, and hand-cleaning and polishing of the brightwork commenced until we could figure out how to handle the situation. We had the legal right to do the work there, and work was being done on other boats at the marina, but...we didn't want to get anyone upset with our being there, either. 

As it turned out, thankfully, the detailing company had ties with another marina that could handle Equinox, so on Friday morning after Ron's return, we moved the boat to get the boat work done. While it was frustrating that we had to move it at all, it was great that we were getting the work done! Of course, moving the boat was no simple matter. While the weather was gloriously calm (for a change!!) Murphy's Law still reigned, as the 20 kW genset refused to start! The mechanic aboard on Thursday had not only changed the oil in the main engines, but also changed the gen set oil (which unfortunately was not needed, as Ron had just done mistake on not realizing that). But, the mechanic had not bled the air out of the fuel system adequately, either, and so the generator refused to start. 

So, we spent a good half-hour bleeding the fuel lines so we could have the use of our hydraulic bow thruster, which is powered by the 20 kW generator. The bow-thruster is a necessity since our hull is hull so deep and affected by currents quite a bit. While bleeding the fuel lines was frustratingly slow, it was a smart decision to get the genset running again, as there was a good current pushing through the other marina when we arrived. Without a bow-thruster, we would have been in a world of hurt trying to pivot and get into the slip!! was a busy day! After moving Equinox and getting her settled in at the other marina, we spent the day dealing with the myriad of other details that needed attention. We had hoped to pilot Eclipse, our inflatable, up the Indian River back home from the dealer, but nasty rain and thunderstorms moving in from the west shot down that idea. So, we returned to focusing on more hurricane preparedness: how to secure Tingum should a storm arise. Ron had done a lot of ground work already, visiting several car dealers and trailer places to find both a strong trailer large enough to handle Tingum's weight, and find an appropriate sized SUV able to pull Tingum. After a bit more running about, by the end of the day, we had a great trailer and...a new Toyota Sequoia with a towing capacity of 10000 lbs! I bid a sad good bye to my beloved X5, which we traded in, and mourned the loss of my much admired, fun bumper stickers:

This was my favorite! I shall miss it...

After a well-deserved soak in the hot tub, dinner was a delicious delivery pizza from Jack and Tony's, along with a good bottle of red wine. After the busy day we had, followed by an early bed time!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Boat work, care and feeding

Another whirlwind week of coordinating boat projects and various contractors, plus squeezing in a bit of bicycling on the side! Ron's been out in California the past week, so I was doing it all solo: meeting with the guys doing the detailing and waxing, going over the needed items for inspection, maintenance and repair aboard Equinox with the mechanic, meeting with the electronics guy so he could remove the SSB transceiver and tuner to send them back to the factory for diagnosis and repair, then making phone calls and handling the incessant correspondence that  goes along with being land-based again. Not to mention running to the store, bank, and post office in my spare time, of course. This all was usually after I rode 10-15 miles on my bike in the early morning. SO, I haven't exactly been lazy just sitting about eating bon-bons while Ron's been gone!

Thankfully, the riding weather has been perfect this past week, although a tad windy one morning with winds out of the north. (Sound familiar?? After this past winter and spring, I shouldn't ever be surprised by the winds.) Still, it felt good to get out and ride early even with the head winds that morning, before it got too hot and humid. Plus, it's just so gorgeous around here! I found more mailbox art to make me smile and more beautiful seascapes to make me appreciate the amazing beauty of the ocean. Love it!!

Great use of an old surfboard!

Florida tree art

A bit of a stiff riptide today, it seems!

So, it was great to start my days off right with a modicum of exercise before I was hunkered down below decks cleaning and organizing. It's amazing how you can expand to fill the available space aboard a many things, in so many small spaces and places! While Ron is gone and while we've got workers aboard, I've been taking the opportunity to clean out and clean up a lot of the storages spaces. Some areas are fairly straightforward, and others are black holes, but it sure feels good when it's done!! 

Of course, to cap off these tiring and busy days this week, the National Weather Service has come out with their 2010 hurricane predictions for this year, with it predicted to be "extremely active", with a range of 14-23 tropical storms, with a chance that 8 will become hurricanes. Great...not what I wanted to hear for our first hurricane season here in Florida, let me tell you!! It's already stressful enough to contemplate without the fun forecast of a "more-active-than-average" season. We'll be focused on getting Equinox hauled and safely stored should the need arise, although I'd rather not have to do that too many times. will be whatever the weather dictates, however!! Ron's latest focus has been on getting a trailer and appropriately bigger car/SUV so that we can tow Tingum and store her safely as well. SO...even more running around is on the horizon, I'm sure. I have to admit, all this scheduling and juggling of boat projects and preparations makes me long to be back aboard in the islands, with nothing on the agenda!! Soon, soon...!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Busy week!

I apologize for the delay in posting, but life has been intruding on my time lately! It's easier to write aboard the boat when there aren't as many distractions going on. Although, it's actually a bit of a double-edged sword, since communication and internet access is often more difficult then too. Still wouldn't trade it for the world; we love being aboard!

Being in port though, has enabled us to get a lot of work done on Equinox! Gel coat work and cap rail work are proceeding nicely, on the way to getting Equinox back to looking her best. We'll be getting her detailed and waxed outside once the paint work is done. This past week we had her thoroughly cleaned and detailed inside as well, which was a godsend! With the weather so windy and cool this past winter and spring, we had the hatches and windows open quite often. While the cooling effect of the wind was delightful, the amount of dust that came in was definitely not. Thus, it was fabulous to have the interior professionally cleaned, dusted and polished! 

Some of the cosmetic repairs underway

Aft cap rail ready for polishing 

Eclipse and Tingum have been receiving attention as well, with each taking turns for service at the dealer's boat yard. Tingum had new and better stereo speakers put in (seeing as how Ron and Ally love their music, this was essential) along with a few needed repairs and punch list items. We also got extra bow cleats installed, to better secure her when at the dock. Lots of little things accomplished, and more being coordinated!

This past weekend we had a reprieve from boat work while Ally was home from school. It was great to be with her again!! She is now officially done with term exams and will wrap up her senior year with her final Oldfields' May Program. She's participating in a two-week community service trip to Argentina this year, and is very excited about seeing that part of the world. From sight-seeing in Buenos Aires to living with host families in the northern part of the country, it should be a great experience! We spent part of the time getting last-minute items for her trip, but she also went out riding with Ron Saturday afternoon -- she rode my bike, and it was her first foray using clipless pedals. They did an easy 10-mile loop; Ally did quite well and she really enjoyed it. We followed that up with a delicious dinner at 11 Maple, in celebration of being together!

Father and daughter ready to ride...

Heading out!

Sunday afternoon was a travel day, as both Ron and Ally had flights. Ally returned to school, as her OS group will fly to Argentina tomorrow, and Ron headed out to California for a few days to visit his stepbrother. Never fear, I won't be bored as I get to continue to coordinate and schedule work on Equinox until his return. Yep, it's a boat: there's always something to do!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More Mailbox art!

Well, another couple of days of bicycle rides, boat projects, and mundane errands! Bright and early Monday morning, Ron took Tingum over to the dealer where she will get several punch list items repaired and some extra work done as well. It was a gloriously quiet morning, so his cruise around into Stuart was a smooth one. Thankfully, he took it over before it started raining cats and dogs! The weather has been warm and sunny of late, but that is changing as there are isolated and scattered showers in the forecast for the upcoming week. After I picked up Ron at the boat dealer's, we stopped in Stuart for a bit of breakfast, eating outside on a sidewalk porch. We had barely started our meal when it was interrupted by a real tropical downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. Glad the porch and awning provided some cover! With the rain and intermittent storms throughout the day, we took a rest day from biking; after riding 55 miles over the weekend, we didn't feel too badly about doing so!

We ended up having to attend to an unexpected car repair later, as the car onboard systems computer kept insisting that we "check coolant level". We took the car into a repair place, where they discovered that the coolant reservoir was cracked. (Just another item in the lengthy list of to-dos! At least it's not boat-related!) Tuesday morning, once the part was in stock, I took the car in for repair and waited while they replaced the coolant tank. After I got back, Ron and I were able to get out for a bike ride, this time just doing a bit more than 15 miles, and thankfully without a great deal of wind for a change! We've been trying to bicycle in the morning before the winds pick up and the storm clouds roll in. We were lucky to finish up before the afternoon rains arrived yet again.

We did see some more "mailbox art" during our ride, so I'll include just a couple more photos of those. I have no idea about the reasons behind some of them, but it's really starting to amuse and amaze me, how elaborate some of the designs are! Fun!! 

Complete with a tagged left ear!

This manatee mailbox sculpture is amazing!! It includes reef fish 
and sea fans at its feet, and a mailbox door in the shape of a shell.

I spent a good part of Tuesday afternoon aboard Equinox, sorting galley items and doing yet more cleaning. As far as the gel coat work goes, that is almost finished, but we're awaiting better weather (i.e., no rain) before the final painting can get done on the cap rails. It's looking good so far, though! Of course, we have assorted other jobs queued up, from detailing and waxing to oil changes and maintenance, and are coordinating those as we can. Yep, living the life!! 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Florida art!

One of the things we've noticed about Florida is its abundance of artistic free spirits! It's lovely in that there are a lot of art galleries and studios around, with special events and shows on the weekends in the county parks or sponsored by the local Chambers of Commerce. While bicycling around here, though we've noticed one area in particular where people apparently want to be creative: with their mailboxes! 

This past weekend it struck me as to just how many unusual mailboxes there are here. Some are clearly purchased, like the fairly common fiberglass manatee or porpoise mailbox stands, but there are several that are definitely one-of a-kind! There are lots of different hand-painted boxes with flowers or palm trees or other tropical motifs, to boxes with actual seashells and rocks adorning them, to boxes with ceramic cats perched on top, to boxes with antlers. (Kid you not!) All amusing and very creative! 

On Saturday, Ron and I went out and did a 34-mile bicycle ride, north up towards Port. St. Lucie and back. It was not intended to be such a long ride, but we're not all that familiar with the roads around here, so we didn't quite know where we were going! Still, it was great to get out and push it a bit. Although, the winds pushed us right back...the head winds here are brutal, especially along the river! But, while bicycling Saturday I saw so many of these artistic mailboxes that I began to look for them as I went cycling past! Today, when we did a shorter 20-mile loop, I took my camera along to capture the mailbox sights and funky fun! I wonder what the mailman thought when he first saw these?

Some boxes show folks' hobbies and passions...

...and some are very nautical in their decor.

This is made out of an old buoy, I believe.

Pineapple is King along the Treasure Coast!

Making use of a huge banyan tree by the driveway

And, my personal favorite...a tower (lighthouse?) with 
Rapunzel letting down her long braid of hair. Literally!! 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New bikes and old friends...

Well, I need to catch on a few days here... being in port is not like being out cruising on the boat, where every day is an unusual adventure and there's lots to write about! Thursday, Ron and I took a hiatus from the "all-work and no-play routine", and had an impromptu day of fun! In the early morning, we rode our bikes again along the same 10-mile route that we did yesterday, just working on getting our bike legs back. Riding is gorgeous here: long riverside roads, views of water and palm trees, banyan trees and beaches, as well as "old Florida" homes that are so unique: wooden-framed with metal roofs, large, wrap-around porches, some with the old, propped-up hurricane shutters. Just pretty biking! After our ride, we went to Mac's, a bicycle shop here in Jensen Beach to look at some hybrid bikes to replace the rusty remaining folding bike for the boat. Ron's on a mission, wanting to get these bikes!

Afterwards, we put Eclipse in the water alongside Equinox, since the guys now working on touching up the gel coat and cap rail needed it to access the port side of the boat. (We're docked up along our starboard side without a finger pier on the port side.) Then, in the afternoon, we drove down to Pompano Beach to see some boating friends from Pennsylvania, Kim and Al, at their gorgeous Florida home! It was a blast being with them, especially since it was a surprise for Al -- he thought we were still aboard in Bimini! We enjoyed the sunshine and lounged around their pool before going to dinner at Yolo in Fort Lauderdale (utterly delicious calamari, as well as tuna sashimi!) before heading back to the house for apres-dinner drinks and more relaxing poolside. We had such a wonderful time; it was great to see them again!

Lounging poolside!

Friday we focused on getting more boat stuff done. Most importantly, we got Equinox and Eclipse registered in Florida, now that we are back in Florida waters and not returning to the Chesapeake. In contrast to the rather common experiences at the Maryland MVA of horrendous lines and long waits, the Martin County DMV is refreshing!! It's smaller, rarely crowded and the staff very friendly. We've had numerous visits here to get the cars registered in FL, get our driver's licenses, get fishing licenses, etc, so we can attest to their efficiency. Thankfully, though, I think we've jumped through the final hoops regarding all vehicles, vessels and licenses! 

After a quiet afternoon of reading and relaxing, we went out to dinner with some Kadey-Krogen friends at Peter's Steak House in Jensen Beach. We've discovered there's lots of great restaurants around the Stuart/Jensen Beach area here, which is another reason we enjoy it here so much. Since the food at Peter's is consistently delicious, we were delighted to return and introduce our friends to the place as well! We enjoyed catching up with Bill and Tracy, enjoyed the good food, great service, and just had fun. A nice time! After weeks of quiet anchorages and relaxing dinners aboard, it feels rather decadent to be dining out! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Home Port Projects

Well...I have to admit, it feels very odd to be land-based again! Having Equinox right in our marina condo complex is utterly lovely though, since we are able to take our time in doing all the unloading, cleaning and odd jobs that are desperately needed at the moment. If we weren’t so OCD about keeping Equinox looking and working her best, it would be easier on us! Oh well! :) Satisfaction in a job well done, at any rate!
Monday started a little later than usual, since after our long passage day Sunday, we needed to catch up on sleep. It felt totally decadent, let me tell you! The morning found us making many, many phone calls, from arranging for generator parts, compressor diagnostic information, boat detailing and waxing to gel coat work to take care of the scratches we inadvertently put on Equinox while Tingum was fendered on the hip during our cruising. (Many thanks again to the inconsiderate Sea Ray at Staniel Cay which created the nasty wake that rocked Tingum so violently she raked her rub rail screws into Equinox’s gel coat!) While Ron took care of tracking down info and arranging some of the boat work, I emptied out the flybridge freezer and refrigerator, defrosting and cleaning each one thoroughly. Since we’ll be here in Florida for the next few weeks, we’ll continue to use our provisions at the condo, to make sure we turn everything over. You can be sure we used the hot tub in the evening to relax and treat ourselves after all our work!

Hot tub ready and waiting
Tuesday we continued along the same theme, diligently working on some boat projects, but also getting doctor’s appointments out of the way. Being away from good medical care makes one appreciate it when it’s available! Both Ron and I had check-ups, to make sure all is well...after my accident, I certainly don’t take good health and fitness for granted! We then spent the afternoon running errands; Ron took some of his underwater photos in for framing, picked up our accumulated mail from our mail forwarding service and got new lines for Tingum; I did the more mundane items of laundry, paperwork and correspondence follow-up to the above-mentioned mail. 
Today was more focused on enjoying the moment and being in Florida. In the morning we took a great 10-mile bike ride along the St. Lucie River, north from our place in Jensen Beach, over to Hutchinson Island and down its length to the southern causeway and back. IT felt fabulous!! It was the first  “long” ride we’ve taken in months; most of the islands where we bicycled were so small that lengthy rides were hard to come by! We ran a few more errands (post office, bank, framing store, etc) before a great lunch at Mulligan’s to quell a mahi-mahi rueben craving! 

I spent the afternoon aboard Equinox cleaning and re-organizing her pantry. Things that we can use for the next couple weeks I took to the condo, then wiped down the shelves and bins, and rearranged things to prep for the provisioning run for the next passage. Ron visited a couple bike stores in the area, actively researching replacements for the folding bikes, now that we’re short one. He’s looking into more robust hybrid bikes that we can tuck into our Sunbrella bike bags and keep up top while underway, freeing up room in the lazarette. All fun things in the midst of the other more serious projects! 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Home again, home again...

...which is bittersweet, at best, after the great time we've had during the past 6 months cruising the Bahamas. While we've totally enjoyed our time in the Bahamas, and were reluctant to was time to head back to the States. We were up at 3:30 am, in order to ride the high tide out of the Sands Marina. Ron left first, heading out in Equinox, while I followed in the tender. I have to say that it was a very different experience piloting Tingum in the dark, making my way out the cut and pulling up to Equinox's stern without much more than a quarter moon for natural light. Ron had the aft cockpit lights on, so while it enabled me to see where the boat was, it wasn't exactly easy since the lights were also blinding me a bit. Of course, adding to the excitement (um, fear factor) on my part was that the winds were higher than anticipated too -- so much for the "light and variable winds" that were in the forecast! (Definitely shades of the mild forecast but no-fun rough weather on our return from Bermuda!) 

I made my approach as gently as I could, but I needed to use some power in the current and wind so that the boat would make headway and wouldn't swing back in the current and hit Equinox after I shut down the engines to ready the boat for towing. After I pulled up, Ron caught the prow of the tender and attached the tow line while I went about shutting down the electronics, switching to one battery, adjusting engine trim and making the boat ready, before scrambling forward to scoot over the bow onto Equinox's transom. I fended off the tender from Equinox as Ron went back to the helm , then I paid out the towline and ... we were underway!

We took turns at the helm in the morning hours, each napping a bit in turn to catch up on sleep. Unfortunately, it wasn't a smooth cruise; just after dawn we hit a squally area with clouds, high winds and waves, which was a bit stressful for me, watching the tender tow line pull and jerk as Tingum followed us wave to wave. I was definitely thankful for the high-tech tow line from Rope, Inc!! They make the tow lines for the large megayachts that go at much faster speeds, so the technology is sound for us to tow at our low speeds and smaller weight. Nevertheless, I hate towing in anything but perfect seas! Since it was hard enough to be heading home, I guess I just had to fret about something! 

About 3:00 p.m., just prior to our arrival at the St. Lucie Inlet, we were contacted by a sailboat that wanted local knowledge of the cut. We'd been watching the boat meander all over the place -- apparently his dog was freaking out in the rough weather, and he was wanting to come in to the ICW to get out of the waves. We slowed down to let him follow us in, which was fine, since the St. Lucie Inlet is not one to taken lightly with its constantly shoaling waters. Plus, it was Grand Central Station inside the cut: not only was it Sunday, but Mother's Day, and everyone and his brother -- er, mother -- was out on the water!! We pulled Tingum in through the inlet jetties, and headed north on the ICW towards Outrigger Harbour. Once we were clear of the heaviest traffic, Ron slowed Equinox down so that I could pull in the tow line, release the tow line, hop aboard Tingum, and go. I then ran ahead, pulled in and tied off the tender so that I could help Ron when he came in with the big boat. Always exciting, making landfall!!

So, we're now in Florida, which is kind of exciting at it's our new home port! We have a bit of land-based business ahead of us between getting the boat registered in Florida (now that it's actually here), doctors appointments, preparations for Ally's graduation back in Maryland and tweaking out the boat systems for care and maintenance. We timed our return well, rather serendipitously, since we arrived just as the main engines are due for their routine scheduled oil and filter changes, with both gensets in need of care and petting as well. We have a list of little things on various systems we want looked at, inspected and adjusted, just for our own peace of mind after our time in the islands. You really feel far from servicing and amenities! From repairing gel coat scratches to a good cleaning, detailing and waxing, we're going to pamper the girl! 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Glorious weather, Day Two!

Seas don't get any calmer than this!

Once again, beautiful weather!! We felt absolutely decadent in enjoying it, since we’ve had nothing but wind, wind and more wind this past winter and spring. Here we had good weather two days in a row! Ron and I dove in the morning at Moray Alley, where we immediately noticed lion fish everywhere. There were three on the coral head right at the mooring line anchor, and several others tucked in the reef throughout the dive. (One was just HUGE...boy, did I wish I was snorkeling with a spear!) We also saw a big green moray eel, swimming amongst the coral formations just as we were on the mooring line, starting our ascent at the end of the dive. Why is it we always see totally cool creatures when we’re out of no-decompression dive time?? It never fails!

A big cargo boat pulling into Bimini Sands...
and here we thought the entry was tight for us!
In the  afternoon, Ron talked all the guys into going out in Tingum and  trying our hand at fishing once again. Karen and I went along, although I took a book and read while we let the guys play with the baitfish and rods. Being fishing neophytes, we’re always learning and after today, we learned what NOT to do. We fished all afternoon to no avail...and learned that when the seas are clear and calm, trolling is a bust! When we returned, there was a big fishing boat at the dock near the cleaning station, processing a cooler full of big fish from groupers to hogfish. Clearly, we should have been bottom fishing, but what did we know? Not enough!! 

Amore, Concrete Idea and Equinox all in a row
at Bimini Sands Marina

Friday, May 7, 2010

Gorgeous weather at last!!

Ron and I enjoyed the utterly gorgeous weather which has finally arrived!! No winds (amazing!) and calm seas -- almost mirror smooth -- it was wonderful. We dove early in the morning on the Bimini Trader again, and although we didn’t see any hammerheads or other sharks, but it still was a lovely dive, relaxing and beautiful. After we returned to the marina, Ron took everyone from Concrete Idea and Amore over to snorkel on the SS Sapona while I remained aboard Equinox to tackle some long-overdue correspondence, phone calls and e-mail. Now that we have internet access, I’m trying to get hotel arrangements in place for Ally’s graduation next month; it feels odd to be a visitor in our old home town now that we don’t have a slip or a place of our own in Maryland any more! I managed to get a lot accomplished, so with a light heart, I was delighted to hear how much everyone enjoyed snorkeling when they all returned. 
It was the first time for both Kerry and Karen to see the amazing fish life in Bahamian waters, and they both really enjoyed it. They were really interested in the different fish, so I showed them our Caribbean Reef Fish Identification reference book by Ned DeLoach and Paul Humann, which has photos of adults and juveniles alike of all sorts of reef fish. It's a well-researched book, and it’s really spectacular. We have several other of their beautiful books as well, and I never tire of looking through them after every dive. During a dive, I always make it a point to try to spot a fish that I'm not familiar with,  and then try to identify it by using the DeLoach/Humann books. (Check out for more information on their books.) 

When everyone had changed out of their swim suits and showered, we took Tingum over to North Bimini to show Karen and Kerry around that island a little, while Dave and Dorie went to get a Bahamian phone card for use while here. We hung out at the bar at Brown’s Marina for a bit, before cruising up to the Bimini Bay Marina and seeing a bit of that resort. While most folks were going to party it up at Brown’s later that night with live music, we made it an early evening, heading back to Bimini Sands for dinner at the Petite Conch before we all crashed out early. Just another day in paradise!

Our motley crew at Brown's Hotel and Marina

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gun Cay

While awaiting the arrival of our friends aboard Concrete Idea and Amore, Ron and I made an early dive at a site off Gun Cay called North Tuna Alley -- gorgeous, with just a little current. Certainly nothing like yesterday! The reefs there have great bushes of black coral, huge sponges and deep ravines and crevices with all sorts of fish life. This is one area where we didn’t see any lionfish, for a very welcome change! And, while we were doing our safety stop on the mooring line, a huge hawksbill turtle swam right up to us before circling away. I love seeing turtles, they are just so serene. 
After the dive, we stopped at the derelict pier on Gun Cay, tied off Tingum and delicately crossed the ramshackle boards of the pier to walk about the cay. We checked out the big red and white light house there, which I think was built in 1863. It still has a functioning light at its top (solar powered) but the rest of it is in disrepair. The door is open, so one can enter and see the dangerously decrepit spiral staircase that winds around the walls of the interior. Besides the light house, there are two derelict 1-story lightkeeper's quarters and an oil house, and the remains of a radio tower, clearly destroyed by a hurricane. The walls of the cottages are incredibly thick, probably a good 2’, although the rest of the house is falling in on itself. Still, it allowed one to readily imagine what it might have been like to be a lighthouse keeper here 140 years ago!

Stock internet photo of Gun Cay 
(I was sorry I didn't have my camera along!)

On our return to the marina, we stopped for a second dive at the The Bimini Barge wreck...this one down at 70’ or so. No sooner had we descended on the mooring line and reached the wreck, when a large hammerhead shark approach us as we reached the wreck!! Very cool!! As is usual with hammerheads, they tend to be somewhat solitary and will often approach divers with a single pass. That is precisely what this one did, and after he checked us out, just swam on past. They are such unusual looking creatures! The locals told us that hammerheads are seen rather frequently here, since they like to feed on the eagle rays that cruise the channels of North Bimini. We’ve only seen a hammerhead once before in all our other dives, so we were delighted.
After the other boats arrived, we  helped them tie up and get settled. While the guys went off to the airport to clear in, Ron and I went out to dive once again in the afternoon, this time off North Bimini at one of the dive moorings. We saw another big hawksbill turtle once again, this time resting in the reef. He stayed there quite a while dozing, which let us observe him closely until he decided he awoke rather grumpily and lumbered off. We also saw a large green moray tucked into a hole, a large southern ray, and I found an old, old Coca-cola bottle from the 1950s, totally intact. Very fun dive indeed! 

We snorkeled on the way back, and tried our hand at using the Hawaiian sling pole spears. I’m not much of a hunter, but Ron snagged a lion-fish, which actually wasn’t hard since they aren’t afraid of anything (having no natural predators) and just sit there. According to National Geographic, the lionfish has an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins that are venomous. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal, so one needs to take care while catching and cleaning them. Now there is one less on the reefs! We tried to clean our catch later, but our filleting technique leaves a lot to be desired -- while we were successful in getting the spines off without incident, we didn’t have much else left over for fillets! 
Ron cleaning the lionfish. Be aware, although 
the meat is delicious, the spines are venomous.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not the best day ever...

This was not the best of days, at all. It started out very badly when I noticed one of our folding bikes wasn’t on the finger pier between the boats where we’d left it. I just thought Ron was out for an early morning ride, until he walked into the salon a minute later. When I asked him if he'd moved the bike, he said we realized the bike was missing. Ron jumped in with his dive gear to make sure it hadn’t fallen off the pier into the water, but there was nothing under the pier but fish and they certainly weren’t bicycling about. 
The bikes weren’t visible from the entrance or even from the dockmaster’s office, so it had to have been someone who actually walked by the boat itself enroute to the resort grounds and slips past our berth. It was really disappointing; during our entire time -- nearly 6 months -- in the Bahamas, we have never had an issue with our boat or gear, nor felt security was ever an issue. Needless to say, the staff at Bimini Sands were very upset, as  they’ve never had any issues with theft before, since the island is so small and everyone knows one another. The night guard at the marina stationed by the main entrance never saw anyone leave with it, either. The staff suspected it could have been taken by the boaters who had left earlier that morning, and while we don't want to believe that cruisers would steal from other cruisers, a folding bike made for boaters would have appeal, and all of the boats beyond our slip would certainly have seen the bikes there. In any event, the bike’s only attraction was its bright red parrot horn on the handle bars since the rest of the bike was rusty and rather worse for the wear. Not exactly a prize item as it needed to be replaced soon, but it did dampen our spirits to have it taken. 
Ron and I decided not to dwell on it, so to distract ourselves we cruised south to Gun Cay and Cat Cay to make a dive. We cruised a good ten miles south in Tingum, only to find that there were these unusual, wicked-fast currents flowing, so diving was not an option. Since we couldn’t dive, we went snorkeling around the SS Sapona, a concrete-hulled cargo steamer that ran aground near Bimini during a hurricane in 1926. There wasn’t any current on the banks so it was a relaxing snorkel, and the wreck is filled with fish, from sargeant-majors to grunts and chub, to parrotfish, damselfish and angelfish. The remains of the ship are easily visible for several miles, since the hull wreckage stands so high out of the water on the shallow bank, in about 15 feet of water. It’s both a navigational landmark for boaters as well as a popular  snorkeling site. 

The SS Sapona on the Bimini Banks

For a bit of history, the Sapona was built as part of a fleet of concrete ships authorized by Woodrow Wilson during World War I, because steel was in short supply at that time. Like many others in the fleet, the war was over before the ship was completed, and the Sapona was sold for scrap. Rather than being destroyed, however, it was used for oil storage, and later, as a warehouse for alcohol during the era of  Prohibition. In 1926, the ship ran aground in a hurricane and broke apart. During WWII, the wreck was used for target practice by the U.S. Army Air Force and the U.S. Navy, so little concrete is left on the hull because of the effects of bombing and weathering. 
We tried yet again to dive in the afternoon -- twice! -- but to no avail, as the currents were still ripping along. Oddly, the currents didn’t seem to be tidal in nature, as they continued unabated throughout the day and through the next tide change. Each time we checked, we had the same result: too much current to dive safely. Argh! In fact, rather than diminish as we’d hoped, the current actually seemed to have increased in speed; the last time Ron jumped in the water to check it out, he found he had to grab the swim ladder almost immediately to keep from being swept past the boat. Nope, not divable conditions!
We wound up the day not by having margaritas or celebrating Cinco De Mayo, but instead, by having a great sushi dinner down at the Bimini Sands Beach Resort, thanks to Chef Jeremy. It was a treat indeed, and one we thoroughly enjoyed and needed, especially after such a disappointing day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Passage Day and Landfall!

A long passage Monday, as we cruised from Nassau to all the way to Bimini, a cruise of 14 hours. We initially thought we’d stop at Chub Cay, at the marina there, but they were going to charge us for both Equinox and the tender too ($3.10/foot apiece for each boat), which wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear. (Generally, marinas simply charge you for one boat, not for the tender as well!) And, since the anchorage in the small bay there at Chub Cay is known to have swells in southeasterly winds with only fair holding, it didn’t have much appeal either! SO...since we have friends who are trying to cross to Bimini on Tuesday, we thought we’d head there. We opted to push across the Great Bahama bank, get as far as we could with the following seas, and simply anchor at sunset. 
Unfortunately, the winds picked up and were stiffer than expected at the time we needed to anchor (of course!) but we made do. We dropped the hook in the small anchorage on the banks just off North Bimini, unfortunately without much protection from the winds. But it was preferable to bob a bit at anchor than try to enter Bimini in the dark! We’ve done it in the daylight and know how tricky it can be. The shoals there are always on the move, and it’s never a great idea to be making landfall in the dark. SO....we waited! It was a bit of a bumpy night in the winds and chop on the bank, but not too unbearable.
Tuesday we each piloted a boat off the banks as we didn’t want to be towing Tingum, since the winds were still blowing hard. Not to mention, we didn't want to tow through the tight channel into North Bimini. So, Ron piloted Equinox while I was in Tingum, and off we went. Conditions in the Florida Straits were rougher than expected with big 3’-4’ rolling waves coming from the south. I got soaked as soon as I rounded the northern tip of North Bimini,  thanks to a wayward wave. I bounced my way south along the shoreline to the entrance to the Bimini Sands Resort and Marina on South Bimini, where we'll be meeting our friends. I made slip arrangements for our boats while Ron was still underway. 


The entrance coming in from the north can be a bit tricky, as the northernmost channel leading in has a dogleg turn to starboard near shore, before an immediate turn to port to make the final approach into the marina. The jetties at the entrance are actually canted a bit south, so the turn to port is more than just 45 degrees. With the southerly waves rolling in,  the turn to port required a bit of delicate timing, because the waves were coming broadside at the turn and pushing you towards the rocks! Ron had a hairier time of it than I did since Equinox is so much larger and takes a bit more time to respond, but Ron handled it with skill. He did say that the rocks seemed very close!! 

The entrance jetties at Bimini Sands on a calm day --
narrow and rocky!

Once inside and settled in our slip, we felt rather decadent. It's been so long since we were in a marina that simple things like plugging into shore power felt like a real luxury! The resort is very nicely maintained and well-equipped, and we're enjoying it! We explored town on our folding bikes, and pedaled out to the airport to get our Bahamian fishing permits renewed (for some odd reason they were each dated differently than those of our cruising permits), and stopped in at the local grocery store for a few needed items. In the afternoon, we went out to dive on the wreck of the Bimini Trader, an old mail boat that sunk just offshore  South Bimini. Anchoring there is hard, since the bottom is scoured and rocky, with little sand, but we fortunately found a place that allowed for secure holding while we swam about the wreck. Lots of coral growth and fish life abound on the wreck, so it's a good site. We also found a small anchor, fouled in the wreck, along with a 100' length of line. It clearly hadn't been there long, as it looked like new -- the anchor still had a price written on its flukes! We brought it up with us when we made our ascent, since we can use the line for the smaller tender. Fun!

We later discovered that our friends off Concrete Idea and Amore have been delayed due to a generator/battery issue, but they will be joining us in a couple of days. The weather window looks good for them on Thursday. Ron and I shared a quiet dinner at the Bimini Sands Beach Club in the southern part of the island before we came back and made an early night of it. It's been a long day, but a fun one!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nassau Harbor

Up early and anchors aweigh before 0800 today, as we made our way north from Highborne Cay. Winds were 15 knots or so out of the south, with an easy following sea of 2’-4’ pushing us along. We carefully made our way across the Yellow Bank area with its isolated scattered coral heads before deciding that we’d head to Nassau versus West Bay. With the winds out of the south, we figured that we’d have more protection in Nassau Harbor there than anchoring off West Bay. We weren't keen to try making our way around the western end of the island in the rougher deep open waters. Hopefully the weather will settle enough so that we’ll have a good lee shore to follow in the morning before crossing the Northwest Passage/Tongue of the Ocean to the Berry Islands. 

Entering Nassau Harbor
Coming into the eastern bay of Nassau Harbor, we hailed a couple of marinas on the VHF, out of curiosity to see what the current transient rates were. Having been on the hook for the past 5 weeks at  various bays and coves in the Exumas, we weren't sure we wanted to return to a marina just yet. Prices were more than expected, actually, with Hurricane Hole wanting $4.00/ft and the Atlantis Marina quoting $7.00/ft!! (Rather shocking, considering the rates we were used to in the Chesapeake, and even in other parts of the Bahamas!) But, Nassau is a major port with all the amenities and creature comforts, so the dockage prices reflect that. Vessels entering and leaving the harbor have to contact Nassau Harbor Control as to your intended route and destination, and to receive clearance to enter and exit the busy commercial area. It's not as bad as Norfolk in terms of traffic, but it narrow and congested in spots!

 Some of the working boats in Nassau Harbor

According to the cruising guides, anchoring in the harbor wasn’t highly recommended due to the limited anchorages, poor holding, and the many obstructions within the harbor, so we didn’t know what to expect. Ron knew about the anchorage in front of the British Colonial Hilton, just past the commercial cruise ship piers, so that’s where we headed. To our delight, there was only one other boat there in the anchorage, and we dropped anchor just to its east in an area of sand and grass, where our anchor set well. It’s a much better anchorage than I had feared it would be, but we shall see how the currents affect us tonight!

View from the pilothouse of the commercial pier 
near our tiny anchorage

View of the massive Atlantis complex, as seen from our anchorage
We took Tingum over to the commercial city pier, where we docked along the promenade. Being Sunday, most places of business were shuttered, including restaurants. We wandered a bit, before having a late lunch at (rather embarrassing to admit) Senor Frog’s .... since no other restaurants were open, that was the choice by default! After lunch we walked about town to stretch our legs some more before returning aboard Equinox to relax and watch the cruise ship Majesty of the Seas turn around next to us after leaving her berth, before departing west back to the States. 

No, she's not coming into the pilothouse!

Almost done turning about, preparing to depart

A quiet evening aboard with dinner on the aft deck followed the day's activities, with our protected anchorage most appreciated!