Friday, May 30, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The weather was perfect, and the trip was uneventful. We arrived mid morning just outside Musha Cay. We entered the cut from the Exuma Sound to the Exuma Bank on an outgoing tide, and it was crazy how distinct the current was in the cut as it rushed out to the Sound. You could easily see where the current ran as the water rippled like a river, but amidst the ocean. It was a strong current slowing our speeds from over 8 knots to less than 5. We increased our RPMs to maintain control as we continued to the shallow banks side. We quickly turned south into our desired anchorage for the day and night. We picked a great spot, in 8 feet of gorgeous water, a mere 100 yards from the private resort owned by David Copperfield. They had guests on shore that sped around us on wave runners and jet skis during the afternoon. Because it is a private island, we did not go ashore there, but we enjoyed the view. For $37000 per night, you and 12 of your friends can stay at this private island resort. WOW, the price! But the view is gorgeous.
Nearby was a sand bar that appears at low tide, so with low tide being about mid afternoon that was where we headed to play. The sand only dried in a very narrow spot, but the rest was just a few inches below water, and fun for the kids to play in. They found a beautiful star fish to examine, some fun shells, and nearby was a small plane wrecked in 4 feet of water for snorkel exploration. That night we rested up; our anchored spot was so calm and protected you could hardly feel the boat float.
The next day we headed just a few miles north to anchor off of Great Guana Island, and White Beach. With no one else around, we had the beautiful white sand beach all to ourselves. We anchored an easy swim away from the beach, with its shallow sand and turquoise blue waters all around. A short ways out were some good volcanic rocks that made for interesting snorkeling. The kids had a fabulous day at the beach. After snorkeling I headed to the beach to relax, and thought I would read my book, but I just could not take my eyes off the spectacular view of beach and water. The colors were so mesmerizing! It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and with it being deserted, it just made the day so much better.
That night the internet quit working, in fact we could not connect to the cell tower at all. So the next morning David and I headed the few miles around the tip of the island into the small settlement of Black Point, where a few hundred local Bahamians live. We found out that all the cell towers throughout the 100 Exuma Islands were down and out. Maybe a lightning strike from a passing storm the night before. At least one short storm a day was passing by, just a part of spring. The only form of phone and internet in the small village was thru the cell phone tower, so everyone was hoping it would be fixed within a few hours. And sure enough by late afternoon, the cell phone tower was connecting and our internet was back. We enjoyed the rest of the day exploring a few of the nearby beaches, including one that had a few dozen iguanas living on it.
The next morning, in an effort to keep heading north, and due to the slight swell wrapping the island, we moved on to a new anchorage. We headed to Cambridge Cay, the south end of the Exuma National Park. The anchorage was well protected and calm as could be. No swell wrapping in there. However staying on a mooring there is quite expensive. Next time we think we will just drop the hook at the south end of the moorings.
From here we could make short trips in the tender to see nearby islands. We spent an afternoon exploring Pine Cay with its numerous low tide sand bars. It was so beautiful dinging around thru the shallow sands enjoying the gorgeous scenery. We even passed by a small wedding taking place on a strip of sand at low tide. We passed by another private island resort, and watched a small seaplane land and unload its passengers. This resort is only $54000 per night for you and 15 others. They included transportation from Nassau island to the resort onboard their seaplane.
We also made a trip down to Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot to see the big swimming pigs. Staniel Cay has a small resort and village that support the boating community that spends winters in the anchorage there and nearby. They also have regular charter flights from Florida. We’ll need to find out how much flights are and maybe pick up friends there who want to come, see paradise, and visit us.
Another great spot in the south end of the park, is the Aquarium snorkel spot, and a few fun caves to swim in. The Aquarium was just as colorful as the last time we stopped there. It was the perfect spot to take Matthew snorkeling. This little grotto is filled with little colorful fish and coral. The water is crystal clear. Matthew loved swimming and seeing the fish each time we could convince him to put his eyes in the water and look. Benjamin had a great time snorkeling on his own there too. It was easy for him to swim around and grab the rope off the boat if he needed to hold on to something.
Friday, May 23, 2014
This was our first time stopping at Mayaguana Island. It is one of the most south islands of the 700 in the Bahamas, and I believe it is the most south port of entrance or exit into the Bahamas. We could have continued further north and visited a customs office somewhere else. But this seemed like a good place to take care of all the formalities. I had read that next door to the government offices was a Batelco office, and we needed to get a data sim card and plan, so this would allow us to clear in and take care of internet. Last time we came thru the Bahamas we did not come across a Batelco office until a few days before we were going to leave the Bahamas, and I didn’t want to make that mistake again, as internet throughout the Bahamas is quite spotty, but their cell phone service is plentiful.
The anchorage at Mayaguana is large and we had anchored out aways from the town dock. We had read it gets quite shallow as you get close to the dock, so we took the littler dinghy in, and boy does it get shallow. We picked our way thru the deeper spots to get to the dock, but in many places there was barely a foot of water. Once on land, it was a short walk down a dirt road to find the government building. The town is a small settlement with a few hundred people living on the island. We didn’t venture very far into the island, but spent our time taking care of our 2 items at hand. Both the customs office and Batelco office were very friendly and helpful. At the customs office the lady handed us a copy of an article that had been printed online by a vacation boater that had stopped at the island with a group of boats in the last year or 2. They had transitted from Puerto Rico and made their first stop in the the Bahamas at Mayaguana as well. The Writer and his wife expressed high expectations of visiting the Bahamas, as they had been told such wonderful things about the country, but they then wrote about how disappointed they were with their first impression in Mayaguana. The short walk we had just made to the customs office, they described as a mile long smelly, desolate, dirt road. They continued into the town hoping to find a store for food, and lunch, and bread. Why they needed these items after leaving Puerto Rico on 3 days before, I don’t know. But my guess is they had not done the needed research, which would have informed them, that the water and beaches of the Bahamas are breathtaking and unforgettable. But in order to have such pristine waters, and deserted beaches, there are no facilities for “tourists”. There are no stores, or cafes, or bread shops. These islands get deliveries of needed items once a week. They are poor. And this far south, they rarely get visitors, so they are not prepared to provide for the rare stranger that shows up. The townspeople were hurt by this opinion piece and the bad judgments made about their small island. We had stocked appropriately, and could spend our time enjoying the best of the Bahamas, its natural beauty. It’s sad that some people miss out on that.
After returning to the boat, David debated whether we should continue on to get closer to the Exuma chain or spend the rest of the day resting up anchored where we were. I was still exhausted from our 55 hour journey, and could tell David was quite tired too, he just didn’t want to admit it yet. After I insisted we stay put another night, he finally decided he really needed a nap, and off to bed he went. The kids all got ready to go for a swim in the gorgeous waters, and then I looked out and saw a spring storm headed our way. We waited an hour and had lunch as the rain poured down and passed us by. Then the sun came back out and in we went for a swim. With the shallow waters, and reflecting white sand below, the water temp was warmer than in the Caribbean. It was great. Savannah had a great time snorkeling around the boat checking out the little sea life nearby, including a shark. I wasn’t in yet to see what kind of shark it was, but from her description I would guess a reef shark. It swam away a few minutes later as they usually do. When I got in to swim, I felt like I was in a swimming pool. The water was unbelievably clear. Most places we have been have clear water, but there is usually silt or particles in the water. This rarely visited place was just crystal clear and pristine.
When it rains, it really pours.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
We had been checking the weather on a daily basis and watching a nice weather window covering 2 days from San Juan, PR to Turks and Caicos. From there it would be easy to day hop thru the Bahamas into the Exuma islands, where we planned to stop and spend 10ish days before heading on to Florida.
And just as we saw in the weather file grids, it was a nice time to leave the Caribbean behind and head into the Atlantic towards the Bahamas. The winds were light, a few short rainstorms passed by us each day and night, but the waves were on our aft and small with long periods between swells. It really was a pleasant 2 days… other than traveling overnight. I really prefer to anchor for the night and sleep, but that is not possible when passaging between islands that are far apart. With nothing but the deep ocean around us, we have no choice but to transit overnight till reaching land again. And while the weather was nice and travelling was good, the engines are loud and the moving boat makes it hard for me to sleep underway. The kids all sleep thru the night easily underway, but they love to each take a shift helping with night watch. Since we are underway all night, someone has to make sure we are headed on course, and not going to run into any other boats or ships out there. So each of the kids take a 2 hour shift thru the night helping out. I think their favorite part is the popcorn and movie they get to watch with me or dad. David heads to bed right after dinner and I take the first shift till 10 or 11 pm. I usually get to spend watch with Benjamin and Isabel. And then David gets up and starts his shift. He does a couple hours alone until he starts to feel tired, then he gets Savannah up. She is 11 and regularly helps with watch during the day. So she does a pretty good job at night. We use a timer to check for lights and route every 8 minutes. During her 2 hour watch David usually lays down nearby on some cushions on the pilot house floor and naps while Savannah watches and can easily wake him if needed. At 5 am, Melinda starts her watch shift, along with Calvin. The sun is on its way up then and it is easier to see any boats that might be around us. Then a few hours later the little kids are waking up and its time for me to get back up and help out. But since I only “rest” thru the night, not really sleep, the days are long and tiring. Luckily I can rest when the baby goes back down for a nap. The weather really was beautiful both days, so the trip went well.
playing underway, it was great weather, so it was easy to move around the boat.
Early the second day, we arrived just off the Caicos bank, from here the waves were almost flat. The Turks and Caicos islands and shallow bank, knocked down any waves. We enjoyed a warm day till we reached the north end of the Turks and Caicos. I was looking forward to stopping and sleeping for the night, but as we rounded the west side and looked for a spot to anchor, all I could see was a small swell wrapping the island and I wanted to cry, because it would mean rocking all night. David, always looking to go further, proposed we continue on 7 more hours and arrive at midnight at Mayaguana, Bahamas—which was our next stop anyway. I wasn’t thrilled with the 7 more hours, and I definitely wasn’t thrilled with entering into an anchorage in the Bahamas at night. Shallow water, with random coral heads is often difficult during the day, so entering at night can be a very bad idea. After rereading about the wide entrance into the anchorage we decided that it would be safe to do in the dark, and chose to continue on.
Just after dinner a storm with a few rainspouts (tornado like funnels) passed overhead. We were able to avoid the downspouts until the storm passed over head, and then the setting sun came back out. We reached the anchorage at Mayaguana just after midnight. We were able to mark the reef and island on radar and match it up with our GPS to make sure we were on track to enter thru the cut, and not hit anything. Prepared for the worst, we had Melinda and I checking the dark water looking for white caps, which would indicate land on each side of the boat. Calvin was up and ready to help if needed. Savannah had been woken up as well, but asked to stay downstairs with the rest of the sleeping kids. This way she was ready to help the kids if we needed to get them upstairs quickly. All that preparation, but we entered quite safely and were soon looking for a spot to anchor. Inside the anchorage, we headed a little closer to the reef to block any waves and dropped the anchor. Settled for the night, we finally crawled into bed around 1am to get some much needed sleep. In the morning we awoke to the beautiful Bahamas turquoise water and white sand. Always a beautiful sight.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Before heading north, we had a few things to take care of-- like getting to a reasonable jumping off point to minimize our consecutive time underway, making sure the weather would be good for travel, and stocking up on food. First we wanted to spend a few days anchored off St. John in the USVI, enjoying the National Park and beaches there. The kids had a great time exploring a different beach each day.
So after a few days enjoying the beauty of St. John, USVI, we headed over to St. Thomas for the weekend. On Saturday we hit the mega store, Cost U Less, and on Sunday we were able to attend church on the island. In order to survive for 10-14 days in the Bahamas it was essential to stock up on ALL things we would need. That meant when the fresh fruits and veggies run out, I needed to have canned or frozen produce on hand to fill in. The Bahamas has very little in the way of produce or even stores. And what you can find there is not usually in good condition and it is very expensive. Luckily we found plenty in St. Thomas and by the time we headed to Puerto Rico we were well stocked to survive until we would arrive in Florida.
So Sunday after church we headed underway to the south side of Vieques, Puerto Rico. This was a bit out of the way for us, but we didn’t want to leave the area without another visit to Musquito Bay to see the Bioluminesence at night. We had a great time stopping here the year before, and were hoping for the same experience. Luckily I had done my research and had learned that the heavy spring rains often wash out the high concentration of bioluminesence in the bay. Sunday night, the moon was not going to rise until late at night, so just after dark we tendered over to the bay from our anchorage. As it got darker and darker, we were finally able to see the glow in the water. It wasn’t as amazing as the year before due to the low levels in the bay, but it was still a magical experience, watching the kids swim in the light glowing water filled with fairy dust.
That night we rolled in the swell in our anchorage. It was not fun, but by morning we were ready to leave Vieques behind and head to the San Juan harbor. The morning was a bit rolly with waves, but by the afternoon we had turned west and the waves were all following and a much nicer ride. We reached the San Juan Harbor in the afternoon. We either misplaced our US boat decal, or never received one, so David headed over to the port Customs office to get a new one, and met Officer Carlos. We had spoken with him multiple times on the phone and via email the year. He was so helpful in getting all of us registered with the US local boaters program which allows us to call into customs rather than going into an office to clear into US waters. It is a great convenience, but the website is not easy to understand to register or file float plans. Carlos was a huge help to us! David enjoyed meeting him and telling him how much we have appreciated his help. He remembered our family as well, of course how many Blood family’s are boating in Puerto Rico, with 6 kids on board their boat. We tend to be a little memorable.
The harbor anchorage was wonderfully calm, dead calm. We could have been on land. It was great. Since we were on “US soil” we took the kids ashore to the nearby sizzler for dinner. Old San Juan is just beautiful, and it was neat to see it from the water this time. After a very restful night, we arose with the sun double checked the weather again, and set off for the long 2 days to the Turks and Caicos.
One of my favorite sunsets, Maho Bay Anchorage, St. John, USVI
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Around dinner time, and maybe it was the change of tide, but we started to roll a little at anchor, so that convinced me that in the morning we would be moving on to a new anchorage. After checking the weather seeing rainstorms headed our way over the weekend, we knew it was a good day to head to The Baths for the day. If you have just one day to spend in the BVI's--maybe a cruise ship stop, then definitely go to the Baths. It is by far a gorgeous and cool place. The beaches there are amazing. The snorkeling, also amazing. But the rock formations and the climbing path and tunnels thru them are truly a unique and cool experience. We loved it last year, and we loved it this year. The weather was hot and sunny and perfect.
We were gad we went when we did as we saw several boats come in after us looking for spots to anchor. And the next day, the rain started and rained all day long. It was a good wash down for the boat, and cooled the air off for us a bit. We worried that it would still be raining come Sunday and we'd have to make a wet ride across the channel to church, but Sunday morning we woke up to clear skies. The forecast was calling for rain later in the day so we took our raincoats with us as we loaded into the tender and had a pleasant ride across the 3 mile channel into Road Harbor of Tortola for Church.
It was Mothers Day, and the Tortola Branch had a sweet Mother's Day program prepared by the Primary. They even invited our kids to sit with the other kids and sing with them. And after sacrament meeting they handed out sweet gifts to all the moms in the congregation. We enjoyed visiting with the members we had met there the year before.
That afternoon I enjoyed a snorkel around the shoreline of the anchorage to discover that after diving and snorkeling all throughout the Caribbean isalnds, the BVI's truly has some of the best. I love being able to just hop off the boat and swim to a nearby reef and enjoy for an hour, and this anchorage has days of exploring nearby rocks and coral.
Monday morning David and I once again headed back across the channel to restock on food. We love shopping at the Rite Way store in town, as they have pretty good sales, it always helps if the sale items are things we need. Doesn't always happen, but it helps, as food here is expensive.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
St. Martin/Sint Martin is a well known Caribbean island. A LOT of cruise ships stop there, many tourists fly and stay a week, and lots of boaters head there as well. They have tons of boat services and shops for boaters. We hadn’t stopped there on our way south wanting to avoid the high tourist islands. But heading north we decided to make a stop there to look at a new inflatable tender. I was a little worried we’d get stuck there. Lots of boats get work done in St. Martin, so I was hoping nothing would break or that David wouldn’t decide he needed to get something done there. But he promised we were just going for a couple days and then on to the BVI’s. It helped that there was a great weather window for Tues and Weds, so we needed to leave St. Martin by early Weds morning to travel in beautiful weather.
It was only a short couple hours up to Sint Martin. We anchored in the outer bay on the Dutch side. St. Martin is split in half with 2 countries. The North half is part of France, the south half is part of the Netherlands. On the west end of the island is a lagoon, big and sheltered—probably why boats started coming here, a nice very protected huge lagoon. To get inside you have to enter by bridge opening on either the dutch or french side. We had talked with lots of people and read as much as we could, and here is what we gathered. It is free to go in or out on the French side and then you pay the usual small fee to clear in on the French side. The opening is more narrow on the French bridge. On the Dutch side they charge large fees to go in and out, which you pay when you clear in on the Dutch side, along with higher Dutch fees. The bridge on the Dutch side is quite wider and easier to pass thru with a nicely marked channel. What we heard was a lot of people go in thru the Dutch bridge, then head to the French side of the Lagoon to anchor. Since they are staying on the French side, they clear in on the French side and therefore never have to pay the bridge fees. We read that the Dutch keep a list of all the boat names that pass thru the bridge and if you ever clear in on their side they will charge you for all the times you passed thru previously. So we anchored for the night in the outer bay on the Dutch side. Luckily the customs office is closed for the weekend so we had till Monday to decide what to do. We could stay in the bay, but it was quite rolly. If we stayed, we would need to clear in with Dutch customs. Which meant if we decided to go into the Lagoon, we would be charged the high bridge fees when we went to clear out. Or we could go all the way around the island to the French bay, which could also be rolly, plus the time and fuel to get there. Or we could go into the Lagoon, and like so many others pass thru to the French side.
Well after a night of rolling at anchor in the bay, we decided to head into the calm lagoon for the night. We decided to head to the French side to anchor. It was wonderful to anchor and not move or roll at all. It was dead calm in the Lagoon. We’d only be here a night, but it was great. The water however was icky looking. It was clear, but green with floating icky stuff in it. Not a place we want to run our watermaker or swim.
Monday morning we were off to run our few errands. After towing our hard sided tender for a year now we are curious if we can get the same benefits without some of the hassles with a larger inflatable tender. Towing in general is a hassle. It slows our speed by about 1 knot, which may not seem like much, but when your average speed is 7-8 knots, losing 1 knot is a lot. It is hard sided, so pulling along our boat requires practice and lots of fenders, and of course we make errors, which means scratches and dents. We just had the boat painted before arriving at it in March, and 2 months later… we have scratches and dents. So much for that nice paint job (covering up our old scratches and dents from last year). And then add a little chop or swell, and it is hard pulling up the tender and getting in and out. Of course in those conditions a new RIB will bounce around too, it just won’t scratch and dent our boat. But the one thing we love about our large tender is the distance we can travel in it relatively comfortably and sometimes dry. And that is what we wonder if we can get with a large RIB. Can we cover the same few miles in the same kind of waves, comfortably and relatively dry. Sadly, the conditions on Monday when we went to test drive the RIB were beautiful, which made it hard to tell how well it would do in slightly larger waves and wind. but it thought it was good. David didn’t like a few things about it. He felt the console was cheaply made, and a brand new large RIB is expensive. But we had done our test drive and can now move on…
After a quick trip to the grocery store, Grande Marche, we stocked up for the next few weeks. Prices were okay, better than in previous islands so we were able to really stock on some items, like frozen gr. chicken, and eggs. One of the perks of this store was the delivery service. For a tip they will drive you to your dinghy. It had taken us about 10 minutes to walk to the store, and we had purchased quite a bit for our large family, so the ride back to the dinghy was much appreciated!
With groceries on board it was time to head out of the Lagoon as we would be leaving by sunrise in the morning, long before any bridge openings. We decided to try the narrower French bridge, as the bay on that side was much calmer than the Dutch side and it was a better spot to leave for the BVI’s in the morning. With the bridge being narrower we decided Jenn would drive the tender thru the bridge behind the boat rather than tow it thru on the hip, making us narrower.
Before sunrise we were up and off in our awesome weather window. If only every passage we made good be as beautiful as this one was. It took us 13 hours to reach the BVI’s, but the water was so calm I made bread while we were underway. There wasn’t much wind, but it wasn’t too hot either. It was a beautiful day for a long open passage. It was a long day, but worth the early leave time so we could arrive with plenty of daylight to anchor and get settled in the North Sound of the BVI’s..
Saturday, May 3, 2014
We stopped in St. Barts for a short 2 nights in route to St. Martin. We hadn’t been before and thought we’d stop and see. We decided to anchor in Colombier Anchorage on the northwest end of the island. It was very picturesque, turquoise water, beautiful deserted beach, and about 20 boats. It was a little more rolly than I was hoping for, but we after 6 weeks of rolling almost every night, all I could think was “well, it’s the Caribbean!”. It was much less rolly and choppy than the main anchorage closer to town, so that was good. But the deserted beach left us with no internet for the 2 days we were there.
St. Barts is a whole different kind of Caribbean. Clean streets, nice shops, expensive everything. It was like being in Park City, Utah, or Sundance, Idaho. This is a place the super rich visit and stay. Everything had a clean and nice appearance and they had hundreds of run about boats all along their harbor boardwalk. We’re told that many of those runabout boats are moved during Christmas and New Years and replaced with dozens of Mega Yachts. We had met a family last year in Puerto Rico and they were currently living at anchor on their catamaran in St. Barts. We had a great time meeting up with them and visiting.
The kids loved the 2 beaches we visited. We swam into the one in front of our boat. I towed Matthew and Benjamin on a raft. It was a great work out.. The beach had gorgeous soft sand, and awesome surf (that’s why it was so rolly!). The kids had a blast on their boogie boards surfing the waves. Matthew and I walked the beach and enjoyed the nice afternoon.
The next morning we met with our friends again and walked from town out to Shell Beach. Not hard to imagine why it has this name. The sand is literally millions of little shells. It was beautiful. The kids had a fabulous time playing with their friend for a few hours. David and Simon drove the island for a tour, including the road where airplanes fly so close overhead as they come in to land.
We enjoyed our short stay at ritzy St. Barts and would probably return if nearby again.