Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oh the Exumas

We left Great Harbour Marina before the sun was even up.  There was just enough light to see our way out of the Marina and miss the markers in the channel.  By the time we hit the opening in the cliffs to see our way out into the bay it was getting a little lighter.  It was going to be a long day.

We rounded the North end of the Berry Island chain, around an island leased to cruise ship companies as their "private island"  and saw 3 cruise ships at anchor, waiting to tender their hundreds of passengers to the beach.  Not what I call a "private island" getaway.  But that awaits me at the end of this long day.

It took us 6 hours to reach Nassau, and the weather and water only got better and better along the way.  As we passed just outside of the Nassau harbor we still had 4 hours left to travel, and only 3 hours of daylight to do it.  We knew we would be anchoring in the dark, and being familiar with the anchorage we were headed to we were okay with that.  It was the distance between Nassau and the anchorage at Highbourne Cay that had some concern. It gets shallower, and if we pass over a reaching coral head or rock, that could be a problem, even more so in the dark.

The water became glass.  The yellow bank stretches between Nassau and the Northern Exumas, and even with depths of upto 30 feet, the water is so clear that we could see the little starfish on the bottom, and it seemed like we were only in 10 feet of water.  It is amazing.

We were able to have just enough daylight to cross the shallowest portion of the yellow bank on our route and entered the anchorage just after dark.  There were only a small handful of boats in the large anchorage to miss, so it wasn't too hard to find a place to drop our anchor and rest for the night.  So excited for the next day and the view that would come with it!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Great Harbour Cay

We arrived at Great Harbour Cay Marina early in the morning.  After getting settled at the dock, the next task was to clear in with customs.  This requires paperwork to be filled out, forms asking for names/birthdates/passport info of everyone on board.  Once the paperwork is filled out, the captain of the boat takes the paperwork to the customs officer, while everyone else stays on board.   Once the fees are paid, and the paperwork approved, we are then cleared into the country and can go where we wish.  In the Bahamas, this process is fairly easy as long as you show up at a port that has a customs office.

The kids finished up school work and had lunch.  Then while the younger kids napped, the older kids and Brittany set out to find the beach on the east side of the island.  It looked like a short walk for them.  David and I were in need of some rest and napped while they were gone too.

In the evening, we had a chance to visit with the small community of boaters that were spending a few of their winter months at the marina of Great Harbour Cay.  We were surprised to find as many boaters staying there for so long as we did.  We were also surprised to find among them the developer of a boating app that we use regularly.  David was particularly interested in talking with this developer about an idea he has been considering.  With so many friendly boaters, and strong winds from the south headed our way, we opted to stay in the Marina for another couple nights while the front passed us by, rather than hope the anchorage would provide enough shelter.

The next day, we took the kids in the small tender and went up Shark Creek.  This little creek can be found at the south end of the island and goes from east to west, or west to east, whichever you prefer. We, the adults, had fun enjoying the scenery, the kids repeatedly told us they were bored.  Even with stingrays swimming by us in the mangrove creek.  We went on a rising tide, as it was really shallow and we needed the higher tide to get through to the other side, where we found beautiful beaches, including the one the kids hiked to the day before.  We landed the dinghy on one near the creek, that had no swell and got out for a short walk.  The sand was soft, and the water as beautiful as I remember Bahamian water to be-- turquoise blue.  The water on the east side of the island, and in the Marina, was not this gorgeous blue.  It sang to my soul and said "go to the Exumas!"  The blue is amazing.

Even though we weren't dressed for swimming, the kids could not help themselves and into the beautiful water they went, splashing and playing.  That kind of water is hard to resist.  It beckons, and calls to you, at least it calls to me.

That afternoon, dressed in swim suits, Savannah, Calvin, Brittany, and I made the short hike to the beach.  Savannah sat on the beach and wrote in her notebook, while I tested out the water-- slightly chilly, but such a pretty color.  The water is only about 77-78 degrees in the Bahamas.  Which is great if you are on a one week vacation from a cold winter climate, but when you are living in a warmer climate and your body adjusts... 77 is kinda chilly for swimming.  Thank goodness for rash guards that help keep our body heat in a little longer.  The air temp at 80 degrees was just perfect.

The next day the wind picked up from the south.  We thought about taking another tender ride, even loaded everyone in and headed out of the Marina, but between the wind, waves, and water spray, we headed back to the boat and decided to just walk to the beach.  So off we sent Brittany with 4 kids to the beach.  When the younger ones were down for their nap, David went off visiting again with the many boaters.  He enjoyed chatting about boats and the area.  We even attended a first aid on boats presentation given by the "ActiveCaptain" boat staying in the Marina.

Tomorrow the winds would calm and it would be time to head on... to bluer waters in the Exumas.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Goodbye Florida, Hello Bahamas!

Just a few days after returning from Disney World, the weather looked perfect for a cross to the Bahamas.  Nearly flat seas, hardly a breeze.  We headed down the coast of Florida from Stuart towards West Palm Beach, and when our speeds started to slow towards 6 knots, I aimed the boat Southeast, to our first destination... Great Harbour Cay, in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas.  As we headed further into the Gulf Stream, off the coast of Florida we saw a significant slowing in speeds, we were now doing, 5 knots, slow.  So we changed our route to head more east, and less South.  The Gulf Stream is a current of water heading north at a quick pace.  We turned north, just to see how fast it was running, and our speeds jumped to almost 11 knots.  We turned south heading directly into the current, and our speeds slowed to almost 4 knots.  So heading directly across the current, in a direct east direction gave us upper 6's, almost 7 knots.  After a few hours of heading east, we hoped we were on the outer edge of the Gulf Stream, where it no longer has as much effect and we could now head Southeast again.  

We had never been to Great Harbour Cay, but the approach is all in deep water which would accomodate our overnight traveling to reach the area.  With a deep water path, we can travel in the dark and not worry about hitting any shallow rocks or coral in our path.  We only needed to make sure we stay on track-- and not hit any boats.  And there were a lot of boats.  Mostly large tankers.  As we passed along the south end of Freeport, there were a dozen large tankers waiting along our path, for permission to enter the port and load or unload.  I don't really like passaging overnight, but this allowed us to only be one long day of travel away from my destination-- the Exumas.

The kids all did great, no one got sick, including Brittany--who had gotten sick on our trip to the keys, when our neighbors came to visit.  They got their school work done, played games, and watched a movie while we were under way.  

The older kids each helped with night watch and took a turn getting up during the night to look for boats and keep us safe.  The younger kids take a turn with mom or dad, while the oldest 2 give dad a bit of a break.  They have enough know how to spot something in the distance to let Dad know while Dad sleeps on the floor nearby to take a little rest.   

It took us about 20 hours to make it to Great Harbour Cay.  We were planning to anchor, but as we approached the island we changed our minds and decided to dock in the Marina.  This would allow us to easily clear in with customs and pick up a Bahamas cell phone SIM card, for internet.  And dockage was less than most Marinas in Florida-- which meant it was in our budget range.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

After a week at Disney, our friends headed home and we headed back to the boat in Stuart.  After a few last errands, and one last grocery trip, it is time to head off to warmer weather and bluer waters.  The weather this next week is looking perfect for a trip across the gulf stream to the Bahamas.  Now we are just anxiously waiting for Monday to arrive.

Poor Savannah has caught whatever illness Alex had.  Still hoping David or I don't get it, although I haven't felt quite right lately.  Maybe I have the toned down version.  We'll see.

Our plans for Monday are to leave in the calm weathers and calm seas Monday afternoon, to make the 20 hour journey, at 7 knots an hour, to Great Habour Cay, in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas. There we can clear in thru customs and purchase a cell phone SIM card so we can have internet.  We have only ever made a quick overnight stop, twice in the south Berry Islands, so this will allow us to see a little more of those islands before we head to our favorite area, the Exumas.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A visit from Idaho, and a week at Disney World

After 3 weeks of fixing problems on the boat, cleaning up after the roaches and ants, stocking with food, we were ready to head out on the water.  If only the weather would cooperate.  Our good friends and neighbors from Idaho came for a visit and we were hoping for good weather to cross the gulf stream and spend a week in the Bahamas with them on board.  They arrived late in the evening and we had a short window of calm waters overnight that we could have made it to West End, Bahamas, but we hadn't moved the boat much during the day yet and didn't want our first major outing to be in the dark, all night.  And by the next day, 20 knots wind was going to set in and just increase for the next couple days, bringing big waves.  So we said goodbye to our Bahamas plan, and decided to spend the next day heading south on the Intercoastal and spend the week in the Northern keys, just south of Miami.  The winds set in the next day with cooler temps, as we traveled down the intercoastal.  As we reached Palm Beach area, we passed the inlet and decided the ocean waters near shore looked calm enough to travel in the ocean rather than the intercoastal. So out into the ocean we went.  We could make better time without having to wait on bridge openings, and slowing for no wake areas.  Most of us did well with the slight swell, but poor Keaton was sick the rest of the day.  Sea sickness was not his friend. Calvin threw up at least once, and a few others felt sick but held it in.  Our nanny this trip, Brittany also got sick, but handled it well.  It was a long day, the kids helped drive the boat, played card games, minecraft and watched movies.  We finally arrived in South Miami and dropped our anchor at 11pm for the night just off South Beach.

In the morning we set off a few more hours to cross Biscayne Bay and anchor for a few days off of Key Largo, on Crocodile Lake.  As soon as we arrived the kids set down the Kayaks to explore the area.  They begged dad to get out the hotdog and take them tubing.  We tested out our new purchase... a floating dock to tie to the boat to use as a swim platform at anchor.  I'm excited to use this on our upcoming weeks in the Bahamas.  The water was 68 degrees, to cold for me, but the kids had fun kayaking and tubing in it, and for longer than I thought they would be out. The air wasn't much warmer so it was surprising they played so long wet.


The following day we explored some of the mangrove canals in the area, and of course the kids did more hot dogging.  We just hung out and took it easy, while the winds blew.  We were tucked in a nice corner of the sound, where it was calm and peaceful.

After a couple days off Key Largo, the winds finally settled down, and the air warmed a little, so we headed a little north into Biscayne Bay National Park, to anchor with several other boats off of Elliot Key.  The water is a pretty turquoise blue, over a sandy bottom.  But there was not much of a beach on shore.  Mostly a mangrove shoreline, but the kids had fun playing at the small beach.  The adults stayed put in the tender, not wanting to brave the cold water to reach the small beach.  We enjoyed chatting while the kids played.

Monday Morning we left before sunrise to make the most of the calm weather to journey back north. We passed by Stiltsville, just south of Miami at Daybreak.  The sun came out in the afternoon and it was a nice day.  Too bad we couldn't have spent it traveling back from the Bahamas.  We anchored that night just a few miles from Stuart in Hobe Sound, just off the intercoastal waterway.

The next morning we slept in a little, and rested, then headed up the river the rest of the way to Stuart.  Where we arrived in time to see the boat yard lead boat leading in another trawler.  Diane and I were able to hitch a ride with them into the boat yard to pick up the Despains rental car.  We made a stop at Walmart to pick up some food, then headed out to the St. Lucie Lock in time to see RCabin go thru the lock.  We then met the boat docking at the Storage Center where we had left the boat all last summer and fall.  We were leaving the next day for a week at Disney World with the Despain family and another Family from Idaho too, the Gardners.  So it was now time for many loads of laundry, and packing for the week.

Disney World was of course fun.  But it was sooooo packed over the weekend.  We arrived on a Wednesday and the first few days were fine, but Saturday and Monday were crazy!  We will never go when it is that crowded again!  Lesson learned.  We would get to the park at opening so we could ride lots of rides before the park was even more crowded, but we were not alone in this thinking, and the place was packed from opening on.  In the afternoon and evenings it was wall to wall people.  Not fun.  But we enjoyed being there with friends.  We even met up with another friend from home, a college student, and older sister to one of Isabel's favorite friends.  She is working at Disney as a college intern this semester.  She had a couple days off and spent them touring the park with us.We have been to Disney World about 5 times now and much prefer low season there.  It was cold there, for Florida, so that only added to our frustration.

The older kids favorite thing, is Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.  It is an interactive game you play in many different areas around the Magic Kingdom. You are sent on a trail to cast spells to defeat the Disney Villains using playing cards you can collect each time you visit the park.  The kids love it, and have played it the last 3 times we have been to Disney World.  The nice thing is you can play this game in the super crowded park without waiting in an hour long line.  There are multiple villains and levels, so you can play over and over.  If you are visiting Disney World with tween aged kids-- I highly recommend Sorcerers.    Our kids would play for hours!

What we enjoyed most was being with friends, and the "firsts" in our family.  Benjamin was taller this trip, and enjoyed riding new rides and rollercoasters this year, such as Mt. Everest and Space Mountain.  Matthew was 3 years older, and enjoyed riding his first roller coaster ever.  He didn't like it too much, but he went at least once on every ride he was tall enough for, even the ones he considered "dark and scary".  His favorite part was meeting Lightning McQueen.  He loves Lightning and gave him a big hug and kiss.  Alex LOVED seeing Mickey Mouse.  He would shout over and over, "My Mickey Mouse!"  He gave him plenty of kisses on the cheek.

Poor little Alexander woke up Monday morning sick.  We dragged him around the park in the stroller, where he napped on and off, and rode a few family rides.  Finally in the afternoon after another nap and tossing his cookies a few times, we left the older 4 kids in the capable hands of Brittany and Rachel, and David drove me and the 3 younger kids back to our condo, so Alex could rest and be sick.  I felt so bad for him.  He was so sick for 3 days.  By the end of day 3 he had me a little worried, that it was more than a bug.  But on day 4, he woke up feeling better, and a little more like himself.  And by Day 5, he was 100% over it.  Now, let's hope no one else gets it... but Savannah is feeling sick now.

All the times we have been to Orlando, this was our first visit to the Orlando Temple.  After church on Sunday we drove out to see this beautiful place.  We enjoyed walking the grounds and gardens and enjoying the peaceful spirit there.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Return to Warmer Weather and the Roaches.

After spending a great summer and fall in Idaho, we have returned to the warm Florida weather for a few months on the boat. We brought with us the newest member of our family, a beautiful baby girl, named Julia.  That makes us a family of 9 living on our boat, plus our family helper/tutor.  We have been really fortunate to find a great nanny/tutor willing to travel with us each trip.  This year we were able to bring a neighbor and friend, home for a semester from BYUI.  She use to babysit for us when she was 12, and now years later she is adventurous enough to travel with us.

Returning to the boat this year was a little difficult for me.  I realized that in years past David has always made a trip out to the boat prior to the family returning.  During those trips he makes sure the boat gets cleaned and takes care of numerous little projects.  This year we all returned together after leaving the boat for 6 months, so there was ALOT of work to do.  More than I anticipated.

Oh the mess of the Roaches.  Last year when we returned to the boat in St Lucia, in the Caribbean Islands, we found we had picked up roaches, most likely from storing the boat there all summer.  We would only see one here and there every few days, so we did not think it was that bad.  And from what I'd read and heard, roaches were just a part of Caribbean life. We are clean people, and keep the boat clean.  So when we reached Florida and packed up the boat to head home to Idaho, we treated the boat floors with Boric Acid, hoping to get rid of them.  A few weeks later the facility where we were leaving the boat called to tell us they had boarded the boat and found roaches, so they suggested we have them bomb the boat.  So we did.

Here we are, months later, and the facility told us when they went to put the boat back in the water, there were dead roaches all over, like thousands of them.  GROSS!  They vacuumed them up for us, knowing we would be returning in the evening and didn't want us to return to the dead roaches everywhere.

I knew we would have to vacuum and make beds when we arrived, so I was prepared for that.  And I knew I would need to wash up dishes, but I had no idea that every item and shelf in every room, on the boat would need to be completely cleaned.  The roaches had been everywhere.  I don't know if they knew we had left and just had a party or what.  And I am sad to say, that we are still battling them.  Again we see only one or 2 every 4-5 days, but ewww, I just want them to go away!  But we just keep putting out poisons and hope we will get them all.

And next came the ants.  Being tied to a dock brings more critters.  It really makes me look forward to getting out to an anchorage and away from the dock.  The ants climb aboard over our dock lines and attack my food.  So I have again had to clean out the shelves and spray for ants.

Among our projects was replacing a stair railing that has been suffering from termites for the last few years.  We have sprayed the railing over and over, but the termites have prevailed, so we finally took the railing off and had it fumigated.  Hopefully those critters are gone.

Its not all about bugs here, we did have a few engine and prop shaft repairs to make as well.  And then our unexpected issue is with our fuel tanks.  While filling with fuel last week, one of our side tanks unexpectedly overflowed into our main tank, and when that was full, it overflowed into our bilges, and then the pump, pumped it right overboard, on the other side of the boat where no one was watching the several gallons of fuel being dumped into the water.  This required environmental agency notification and 3 hours of clean up.  And there is probably still fuel in the bilges somewhere, because it still smells.  We haven't received the clean up bills yet, but that will be a new cost for us. We are still trying to figure out why the tank overflowed and in trying to move fuel around between the tanks, there is still a problem.  But we have enough on board to last a few months, so we'll head out for a few weeks, and then attempt to try moving between the fuel tanks again to see if we can figure out the issue before refueling.  The good news is the drop in fuel prices.  Loving that fuel is half the price it was last year!

The weather is near perfect.  We also picked up a couple of kayaks this year and the kids have had a fabulous time playing on those.  For the first 2 weeks we were docked at the storage facility and next door was a park for the kids to play at after school work and chores were done.  There was plenty of room for them to ride their scooters around too.

We are now wrapping up our gazillion projects and getting ready to welcome our Idaho neighbors aboard.  Hopefully the weather will play along and we can make a quick trip over to the Bahamas for a week.