shopping in the Bahamas. You eat what they have.

It’s Monday morning here in Great Harbor Cay and there is a lot less wind than yesterday.  A front came through early yesterday morning and with it came sustained 25-30kts of wind out of the west and northwest.  While Pandora is tied up to a dock in a protected harbor, we are on the most exposed slip and with a 1/4 mile fetch behind us, the wind kept us straining at the dock all day long.  The wind was humming in the rigging, no make that full throated singing, all day long and I worried that we might chafe through one or more of our lines.   I see from the weather report that a repeat performance is in the cards for Tuesday so we had better enjoy today’s lighter winds.
Yesterday’s front was a particularly strong one and added some extra “excitement” to yet another challenging weather season here in the Bahamas.  Our friends Maureen and Bill, who are in the Caribbean say that this as additional evidence that we should just give up on the Bahamas and take Pandora further south to the Caribbean were the winds are much more consistent and fronts are not as threatening.  I guess we will just have to see what the future brings.

Our thoughts have begun to turn toward when we will be leaving Great Harbor Cay Marina to head south to the Exumas, the central Bahamas.  Brenda and I have been invited to visit Over Yonder Cay again, the private island that we visited two years ago and we want to be sure that we leave plenty of time to fit that in on our way south.

I expect that we will leave here next weekend or so after our two week stay is up here at the Great Harbor Cay Marina and head to Nassau to re-provision and then jump down to Over Yonder Cay.   With all the fronts that have been coming through, it would be nice to time our arrival when another front is forecast to take advantage of the perfect protection that OYC’s private harbor provides.  Our friends, Ethan and Jamie, who work on the island, have a new baby boy so it will be very nice to see their growing family.  Of course, Diesel their dog is a draw too.

One big part of coming to the Bahamas is preparing for the much more limited provisioning options available, especially in the out islands.   Everything that comes here arrives by “mail boat” that stops once a week.  In the case of Great Harbor Cay, that’s on Wednesdays, weather permitting.

Living in the U.S., we have become accustomed to near instant availability of most any consumer item one could wish for so a visit to the market in the Bahamas can be a sobering experience.  No Amazon Prime in these parts.

This is the local market, liquor store and bar all wrapped up into one.  Not exactly a Walmart Superstore.The selection of produce.  Let’s just say it’s somewhat limited.  This is the entire produce section in the market with the exception of a few items kept in the fridge, such as lettuce.  I think that they had four heads of romaine, actually. How about the refrigerated section?  Lot’s of eggs, butter and oddly, Snapple.
Interestingly, as a past British Colony, some of the most reasonably priced items are biscuits from the U.K. and most places carry a pretty good selection.  Don’t plan on buying cereal as it’s about $10 per box.  PopTarts?  Try $8 a box.  There is a 40% duty on imported goods and a new 15% VAT on top of the cost of shipping the items in.  There’s no income tax though.  I wonder how many accountants there are in the Bahamas.  Not many, I expect. Wednesday night is pizza night at the marina and this is what a $30 calzone looks like.   However, $30 or not, it fed us for three meals.  After finishing off the calzone on the third day, Brenda and I needed a walk., several actually.  Along the way we crossed a bridge.  The water is beautiful where it runs under the road.  This is the view toward the mangroves.  Because of the rushing water it’s scoured out quite deep near the bridge.You can’t tell from here but on the other side of the bridge the current really rips.Today we plan to head to the beach and lunch at the beachside cafe.  Like most every other place here, the menu is pretty limited.  However, they do make a mean hamburger. And, the view of the ocean there is terrific.

And that’s my report.

Staying still against my will. Sort of…

It’s Saturday morning and today marks the one week point since I arrived here from Ft Lauderdale.  I am making special note of this milestone as it’s hard for me to sit still for very long and I have been here for a while now and there is no end insight.  It’s not like me to stay put as I have a reputation of NEVER SITTING STILL, FOR EVEN A MINUTE!   There you are. I HAD to say it.  “Bob, no need to say it, we already knew! Relax. Down boy, down boy!”

Poor Brenda wakes up each morning to an onslaught from me that has much in common with Tigger from Winnie the Poo.  And that’s before she has had a cup of coffee.

Me?  I like to get up and go.  And, that’s why I am struggling to stay put after a whole week.  And, that’s on top of being in Ft Lauderdale for two weeks before crossing over to the Bahamas.  TWO WEEKS in one place.

Now that we are here all I can think of is where are we going to go next and what are we going to do while we are here.  “Brenda, want to go for a walk?  How about a trip to the grocery?  Want to go to the beach?  Let’s walk down the dock?  What?  You want to enjoy your coffee first?  Oh yeah, you just got up.  Ok, we’ll wait a while.  WHEN do you want to go for a walk?  TODAY?”   Besides, I have already had coffee…two cups.   “Want to go for a walk?”

Brenda is very supportive of my blog and I sometimes find myself wondering if it’s because it takes me quite a while to write post and that gives her some peace for a little while at least.  “Bob, it’s been a few days since you have written in your blog.”  Hmm…

“Brenda, want to go for a walk?”

As I said, I have been here for a week and the weather has been just about everything we could imagine during that time, short of a hurricane.  It’s been fabulously sunny, torrential rain, overcast, dead calm and windy.  Yesterday Brenda and I headed out to empty the holding tanks (you don’t poop in your nest).  We left the harbor and headed over the banks for a few miles.  Along the way, a pod of dolphins visited.  It was just great.  They cavorted on our bow pressure wave for a bit and then disappeared as quickly as they came.  I find them endlessly entertaining.  As quickly as they arrived, they were gone. The harbor where we are staying is very protected, which is good as most anchorages in the Bahamas are open to the west which means that you have to move and find shelter when a front comes through with it’s clocking winds.   A particularly strong front is coming our way and will bring several days of west wind.  That’s not common as most fronts only bring west winds for a short time and this one will last several days.  It’s good to be here with 360 protection.

The only entrance to this harbor was carved out of the limestone. It’s very narrow and about 15′ deep.  It’s pretty daunting to approach it as it is so tight.  If it weren’t for the waypoint to steer for on the Explorer Charts and the welcome sign at the entrance, you’d never find your way in.  Yes, there’s a marker but it’s tough to see unless you are quite close to the cut.   A couple from another boat in the marina were surveying the cut when we arrived.  “Smile for the camera.”  Not hard to do at Great Harbor Cay, that’s for sure. There are plenty of activities here and on Monday nights the folks in the marina have a “drink and drift” where everyone ties their dinks together out in the harbor and float around.  More than a dozen participated with us.  It’s a nice way to get to know the folks on other boats.

They also organize outings and there was a tour through the mangroves and a run down to the other end of the island, about 2 miles away.   Quite a few boats participated.
We wound our way through impossibly narrow passages in the mangroves that led to a beautiful section of shallows on the other side of the island. Everyone stopped for some beach time.  There were a lot of dogs in attendance and they seemed to love their time in the water together.   Dogs are very popular with cruisers but most/all of the canines aboard are of the “mighty dog” sort.  Large of bark but small of stature.   However, from my perspective, small or large they track plenty of sand aboard. Yuck.  When a front comes through, along with nasty winds, they usually bring amazing sunrises.  You know, the whole “red sky in morning, sailor take warning” thing.  And this, front inspired, sunrise that arrived in Ft Lauderdale just before Bill and I crossed was quite a sight.   .
And, speaking of Ft Lauderdale, some of the boats that we saw there were pretty impressive.  Remember the pilot boat that stopped to compliment me on Pandora in Ft Lauderdale harbor?  He passed us again as we were making our way out of the inlet to cross.  I like the lines on these “all weather” boats. Very solid. I also saw a boat that Brenda and I had raced against in the Newport Bucket Regatta a while back aboard the megayacht Marie. P2 is a remarkable yacht.  She handily won the three day series.    She was built of carbon fiber in Italy in 2008 and was recently for sale.  The asking price?  A tad under $10,000,000. Too late, she was sold in early 2016.  However, you can probably still charter her with 9 of your closest friends.  All boats in Ft Lauderdale aren’t HUGE.  This lovely cruiser turned my head.  Although not quite quickly enough to get a close up shot of her.  I love the raised bow. Well, the day isn’t getting any younger and I had better get going.   Besides, I really hate sitting around.

“Brenda…  Want to go for a walk?”  Wait, she’s still in her jammies.  “Can I help you pick out something to wear?  I want to go for a walk.”  I won’t repeat her reply.

Oh well, perhaps we can go for a walk later.    I guess sometimes I have to resign myself to sitting for a while longer.   (look of sad resignation comes over his face).  Perhaps that will convince Brenda to “get the lead out”.   No so far…

It’s not that bad.  We are in the Bahamas.  No snow here.

Chillin at Great Harbor Cay Marina

It’s Thursday afternoon and Brenda has returned from her visit home and is with me on Pandora.  I am so glad to have her back.  It was great fun having Bill aboard but I missed Brenda terribly.

Brenda made all of her connections yesterday and arrived on the shuttle from Nassau around 5:00 in the evening.   I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed as I saw her plane in the distance as it lined up to make it’s landing.  And, what a thrill it was to see her step off of the plane.  You’d have tought that she had been away for months.  I was important that she be with her friend during this difficult time but it’s going to be while until she decompresses and settles into a routine aboard Pandora.

We like the Great Harbor Cay Marina so much that we have extended our visit for a full month.  I doubt that we will actually stay here for all that time but I wanted to be sure that we had that option.  Happily, Brenda has already declared “I have waited my whole life to visit this spot. It’s my new favorite place in the Bahamas.   I am never leaving, ever.”  I guess that makes me look pretty smart.  Yes, I am goin’ with that.

On our way south, later in the month I expect, we will be visiting Over Yonder Cay, one of our “other  most favorite places”.  It’s a private island that we were invited to visit the last time that we were here in the Bahamas based on a blog post that I had written several years ago. The owner Ed, is a remarkable guy and has assembled an amazing mix of estates, vintage warbirds and yachts.  The islands manager, Ethan, contacted me yesterday to let me know that he and his wife welcomed their first son back in December.  When Brenda and I visited there two years ago, Ethan and Jaime were engaged to be married.  I guess that a lot has happened since then. I wrote about our visit in this post.

I can assure you that Over Yonder Cay is a totally different kettle of fish and it ought to be given it’s rental price of $65,000 per day. Yes, per day.  I’d say that Great Harbor Cay marina is more in our league and it’s really fun to be here.   And I am just so thrilled to find out that Brenda agrees.

The history of this island is similar to many other islands in the Bahamas with the story of big development that has come and gone. Back in the 60s this island was a hopping place with a resort that was frequented by the likes of Brigitt Bardot and Cary Grant, just to name two that visited regularly.  The resort is now in ruins.  This is how it looked at it’s peak. In the left of the photo above, you can see a walkway over the road. Here’s what it looks like after all these years.  I walked around in the “club house” today and took some photos. I could almost hear the laughter from the lobby bar. I expect that this kitchen prepared some magnificent meals.There was once a wonderful 18 hole golf course.  Today you can still play 9 of the holes although the “rough” is all that, and more. The grand entrance.   No longer looking so grand but it doesn’t take much of an imagaination to “see” what it once was.Nice archway opposite the “grand entrance” staircase.The marina where Pandora will be for about two weeks is just lovely and was built to serve the resort.  Happily it is just terrific. Hans, the manager who’s been here for many years has done a spectacular job of improving the place.  It’s wonderful and a good value.  If you are looking for a nice spot to visit in the Bahamas and want to take a break from  being “on the hook”, this is the spot.

The view from Pandora’s bow.There will be plenty more to say about this spot so stay tuned.   I guess it’s time for me to do a bit of bottom scrubbing.  I wonder if one of the resident manatees will pay me a visit while I am hard at work.  Better that then a bull shark. Fingers crossed.

In the Bahamas, finally and it’s Plenty “OK” Mon.

It’s been a long journey trying to find our way to the Bahamas.  We spent a month in Florida, a good amount of that time waiting for a proper weather window to make the crossing.  But, Pandora is now safe and sound here at Great Harbor Key in the Berry Islands. This island was once famous for attracting well known guests from the Hollywood but now that building is in ruins.  It’s located just outside of the marina.  Bill and I walked by it yesterday.   2-1-16a 021Bill, flew down to Ft Lauderdale on short notice last week to make the run with me to the Bahamas.  We departed from the Middle River on Saturday to take advantage of a several days of light easterly winds.   Getting from FL to the Bahamas can be a “waiting game” unless you are what Chris Parker, the Weather router, calls “salty”.  Crossing to the Bahamas, against the easterly trades, the normal wind direction, for most folks means motoring into the light easterlies that usually follow the passage of a cold front.  This is about the only time that they winds settle down for a few days.   Alternatively, you can “ride a front”, This involves crossing as the winds begin to clock to the SW ahead of the front.   As the winds clock, they veer to the West, NW, North and ultimately back to east.  Properly times, you can sail all of the way.  This can be challenging, however, if the front ends up moving faster than expected and you can easily find yourself in the middle of the Gulf Stream with very rough conditions.  A northerly wind blowing against the GS kicks up short steep waves over 10′ and it can happen very quickly.  These conditions aren’t fun so most tend to head out when the wind is light and settled from the east.

With that in mind, we left as the wind was dropping and motored all the way here, around twenty hours.  The Gulf Stream was a “non-event” with swells of about 4′ but spaced quite far apart.   Crossing the banks, which are shallow, somewhere between 15; and 25′ deep, was a little choppy but Pandora did fine motoring into them.   As the sun set to the west we were treated to a spectacular sunset.  And, until the moon rose around midnight, the stars were amazing.  For some time now, I had been noticing that a small amount of salt water had been finding it’s way into the pan under the engine and after about 8 hours of motoring I was distressed to find that there was a few cups of water sloshing around in the pan.  Bill, who is very good with mechanical stuff, took a look and discovered that the tube on the vacuum break for the exhaust was dripping.  This isn’t a major problem, although it shouldn’t be happening.  Solution? He relocated the hose to drip into a part of the bilge that drains to the bilge pump.  Problem solved!

I had been trying to identify where that leak was coming from for weeks, with no luck. Great job Bill!   The elbow has a check valve that appears to have failed causing a slow drip.  Fortunately, it’s not a big deal but it has to be replaced in the spring.   This is quite good news as I was fearful that the problem was much worse.  The leak has probably been there for years given evidence of some rusty spots on the engine.

By the time we arrived at Great Harbor Cay yesterday it was early morning and we anchored outside of the cut that goes into the marina.  I hailed the marina and they had us come into the dock to clear customs.  The two officers that came out to do our paperwork couldn’t have been nicer.  All settled and legal now.  It’s good to be here at last. 

Great Harbor Cay Marina is very nice and after sitting at the dock for a few hours waiting for customs to arrive, I got to wondering if I should just sign up to stay for a few weeks after all.  Brenda and I had been planning to be here for ann extended visit and had booked a reservation months ago only to change it several times as weather delays kept us in Florida.

When Brenda had to fly out last week for a funeral of the son of her very oldest friend, we both felt that perhaps a stay at the marina wasn’t in the cards and I reluctantly canceled it.   However, after speaking with Brenda yesterday and hearing how exhausted she sounded, after such a difficult visit, I decided to try and re-book our stay.  The marina is completely full but happily, with a bit of shuffling, Kimberly, the dock master,  was able to accommodate us.

Brenda flies into Nassau on Wednesday and I have arranged for her to to Great Harbor Cay, a 15 minute flight.  The connection is very tight as she has to make here way through Customs and get her luggage in Nassau before heading to the “puddle jumper” flight.  I hope she makes it.  If not, she can stay in a hotel for a night and fly in the next morning.

As Bill and I were sitting in the cockpit last evening enjoying the comings and goings in the marina, a small runabout came by loaded, and I mean loaded, with lobsters and fish.   The fishermen moved their catch to the dock to clean and sell what they had and they had plenty.   Bill and I just had to have lobster for dinner.  I think that we picked the three on the left, you know, the second, third and fifth from the top center.  No wait, perhaps they were the 17th, 31st and 38th from the right?  Not certain.  Which ever they were…they were excellent. 2-1-16a 022With all the changes I have had to make,  the staff here at the Great Harbor Cay Marina have been very understanding.  They happily do everything that they can to help out.   Last night they even called the “liquor store” for me to check and be sure that they had coconut rum before I rode a bike over there.   I put “liquor store” in quotes because it’s a relative term.  In reality, it’s a bar, grocery store, pool hall and liquor store all rolled up in one with the “liquor store” selling what they have stored under the bar itself.  I expect that the locals get a better price than I did.  However, I did get the rum.

I will see Brenda in a few days and I am excited.  Bill has been great company but I have missed Brenda and it’s been tough having her away.  I expect that she will need some time to decompress from her trying week but hopefully being in the sunny Bahamas and enjoying the friendly smiles of the locals will help her get into the “Island spirit”.  Perhaps an “adult beverage” will help too.  Yes, I expect that it will.

This is very friendly place indeed.  Perhaps this sign at the entrance to the airport says it best.   “Please Come Back Again. (OK?)”.  And yes, “OK” it is.   No, make that “Plenty OK Mon!”

Brenda… See you soon.  :)

 

 

Heading to the Bahamas, again.

It’s Thursday afternoon and I am still here in Ft Lauderdale.  Yes, I mentioned in my last post that it would be my last from FL and the next would be from the Bahamas.  However, things change.

Actually, Brenda and I were finishing up purchasing fuel on Sunday when Brenda got word that her oldest friend had lost her son to a drug overdose.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to face such a thing.

So, as you can imagine, we scrubbed our departure and Brenda flew home to be with her friend.

I thought about what to do next and decided to head over to the Bahamas so Brenda could join me there and invited my brother to spend a week with me.  We have not had much time together for many years so at least one small thing will come out of this horrible tragedy.  Having him with me is a treat.

Bill arrived on Tuesday and we are now waiting for a window to cross, which looks like it will be Friday evening or perhaps Saturday morning.  He flies out of Nassau on Wednesday next week, the same day that Brenda flies in.

The last few days have had some pretty heavy rain and today is no different.  We did get some time to walk around between showers yesterday but today has been pretty steady rain.

Earlier today, as we were getting a bit stir crazy sitting around on the boat, we decided to take a tour of the commercial ship terminals in Ft Lauderdale, rain or shine.    It was pretty neat to see the big ships loading and unloading all sorts of stuff.

Interestingly, as we were waiting for one of the bridges to open, a harbor pilot boat pulled up along side and stopped.  A “pilot” is someone who works in a particular port and is called upon to meet incoming ships, climbing aboard and guiding them into port.   Anyway, the pilot pulled right next to me and rolled down his window, greeting us with “who designed your boat?”.  I answered him, Rodger Martin in Newport.  He then told me that he really liked my boat which was quite a compliment coming from someone who spends his life on the water and goes out in all conditions, regardless of how rough it is.

There were two ships with yachts on board.  One boat was launched as we passed by and immediately headed south, probably to the upcoming Miami Boat Show.   It was raining, sometimes in torrents, so this shot is a bit dark.I always enjoy tugboats.  This one is of the modern type that has rotating drives, sort of like a pair of outboard engines that poke out of the bottom of the hull.  They can rotate 360 degrees so that they can maneuver in any direction with a joy stick control.  Amazing machines. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also enjoyed the antics of the local iguana population.  There is a tree near the water that is covered with these lizards, each vying to be “king of the hill”.  It’s amusing to see the constant effort they make to prove who’s the “baddest” of all.  This guy is one of the larger ones, about 4′ long.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day, Brenda and I saw one of the colorful crabs that climb out of the water to sun themselves at low tide.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, it’s nice to have Bill with me for the week but the opportunity to spend time with him came up for a very sad reason.   Fortunately, it was possible for Brenda to jump on a plane so she could support her dear friend.  I look forward to having Brenda with me again when she comes to Nassau next week.

I guess that’s all for now.  Hopefully Bill and I will have a good run to the Bahamas in the next day or so.  Fingers crossed for a good trip.

Bahamas bound and fingers crossed

It’s Saturday mid day and it’s blowing like stink here in Ft Lauderdale.  We have now been here for ten days waiting to cross to the Bahamas and while there was actually a weather window a few days after we arrived,  we just weren’t quite ready with provisioning the boat and were still collecting all of the items that we had shipped here in advance of our arrival.  As we flew down this year, instead of driving, we had to send things ahead as we wanted to limit the number of bags that we had to schlep on the plane.  That meant that we had a parade of stuff arriving at the local UPS store.  They sure loved us at $5 per package.

Anyway, we are ready now and all that has to happen now is for the wind and seas to settle down following the cold front that’s passing through today.  According to Chris Parker, the weather router, we expect that things will improve sometime tomorrow, Sunday afternoon..    The best departure time is a bit fuzzy as if we leave when the wind drops on Sunday afternoon we will still have to contend with some residual seas in the Gulf Stream as it takes some hours for the wind driven seas to subside once the wind drops.    A Monday morning departure would actually be a lot more settled but there is a risk that we will then have to contend with building east winds as we cross the Bahamas Banks, on Tuesday before we reach our destination about 20 hours after we leave Ft Lauderdale.

So, the choice seems to be rough seas in the Gulf Stream with a Sunday departure or building head winds in the final 6-8 hours of our crossing the Bahama banks if we leave on Monday.  It’s a tough call and I am not sure which will be the most comfortable or should I say, least uncomfortable for Brenda.  Perhaps taking our lumps in the early hours of the trip and having the rest be more settled is the best option but Brenda’s surely not going to like a “washing machine” at the beginning.  One way or the other, we have to move or we’ll be here for yet another week, something that neither of us wants.

Today is a terrible day in the Gulf Stream with seas running in the 15’ range with gale force winds.  Now that would be horrible and something that I don’t even dare contemplate, with or without Brenda aboard.   Here in the harbor, sustained westerly winds are expected to peak around mid day at nearly 30kts.   We are paying very close attention to everyone around us to be sure that we don’t end up tangling with another boat.

There is one big ketch in particular, with nobody on board, that I have already had to up anchor to get out of his way at least once.  He has a small anchor and short scope so he’s been dragging slowly around the anchorage with each wind shift.  It’s amazing how cavalier some people can be about leaving a boat unattended.   I sure hope that I don’t end up my dink pushing him away from us if he drags yet again.  I guess we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and dink ready.

Anyway, how about this?   What’s a post about Ft Lauderdale without a few shots of some of the “big boys”.   Nice “dink” aboard this one.  “Off to the market James and quick.  We are just about out of Grey Poupon.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, if you’re yacht is “mega” it just has to have it’s own garage for your toys.How about a peek inside?  Amazing display of wealth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a post recently I mentioned that I was submitting what I believe is the last item needed to complete my approvals to go to Cuba, a form required by the U.S. Coast Guard.  I filled it out with the date of my departure port in the US, my plan to visit the Bahamas, when I’d be arriving in Cuba and where I would clear in.   I also indicated when I’d be returning to the U.S. and what my arrival port would be.  The next day I received a call from a USCG officer stating that I must submit the form a minimum of two weeks prior to departing for Cuba.  Oops, I was leaving in four days.   However, with further discussion she agreed that my actual date of departure was the date that we will be leaving the Bahamas, over a month from now, to head to Cuba.  All well and good but I still had to resubmit with corrections.  Great!

The problem is that the form isn’t up to date with the current laws, which are changing quickly.  So, like a good law abiding citizen, I filled out the form again and sent it in a second time.  And, that might not be the end of it.  If any of our dates vary from those on the form by more than 5 days, I have to do it all over again, and two weeks in advance of those dates.  Yikes!  It’s nearly a “catch 22”.

Are you kidding me?  I have submitted each form at least twice and it’s taken months to sort through everything.   And, it’s not over yet…

A few folks have commented on all of this, both on this blog as well as my posts on Facebook, stating that I should “just go”.  I have asked officers in the various departments I have been dealing with what they thought of that and the answer is universally, “good luck with that”.   The fact is that Cuba is still off limits to us and the only way to be sure you won’t get in trouble is to carefully follow the ever changing rules, as annoying and tedious as the process may be.

So, as we prepare to head to the Bahamas I am hopeful that I have indeed “crossed all of the T’s and dotted all of the I’s.  Well, for now fingers crossed that I have done this right.  If not, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

I expect that the next post I do will be from the Bahamas.  Until then, I’ll close with a shot of some of the locals listening with rapt attention to my every word as I described the approval process to them in the park the other day.  Ok, ok, one more photo.  This one of of a lovely sunrise a few days ago.  Yes, this is the mood I am looking for.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor now, it’s blowing like stink but here’s to a “reasonable” crossing.  Fingers crossed.

Heading out, but when?

It’s Wednesday morning and we are still here in Ft Lauderdale. It’s been a challenging week with terrific wind and a few nasty fronts, complete with some impressive gusts over 40kts and tons of rain.  We even had the fun of re-anchoring in the wee hours, which is always good for a laugh or two.  Brenda particularly enjoys those special moments together.

Actually, yesterday might have been the first day since our arrival that I didn’t have to bail out the dink at least once.   Happily, we are getting some respite from the wind as it’s supposed to be pretty light until perhaps Friday when it’s expected to get “sporty” again and blow at near gale strength.   I guess that this is par for the course in early winter in Florida when the “fun” returns every few days.

It’s pretty cool too.  No, I won’t say cold as it will just make my brother irate as he lives in northeast PA where cold means something.  So far, the “sunny” in “sunny Florida” has alluded us as we have been here for more than two weeks and I can only count a couple of days when the sun as shown it’s face for more than a few hours at a time.  So much for “solar power” ruling the day.  However, it’s nice to see that the sun is, sort of, out in force as I write this.

I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, both yesterday and on Monday with the hope of “getting out of Dodge” and crossing to the Berry Islands today but the wind is a bit strong from the east than we’d like and with so many miles to go against adverse winds and seas, we opted to wait until the next “window”. Unfortunately, this means that we will be stuck here through the weekend.   However, he feels pretty confident that we will be able to head out perhaps as early as Sunday evening to make the 125 mile run to Great Harbor Key where we will be treating ourselves to a stay for two weeks or so in the marina, something that we have not done in the past.  We are really looking forward to it as we have heard that it’s a fun spot.

The “window” that we were going to use this week was a narrow one, lasting less than 24 hours.  We could have made it over to Bimini but once there, we would have been stuck through the weekend anyway and would have had to check into a marina at about $100 per day.  The rates for a marina are much higher if you only stay a few days than if you plan a longer stay.  Once you have stayed ten days or so, the rate for a whole month isn’t much different.

So, the plan now is to hope for the best and plan on leaving Sunday or Monday.  That’s fine I guess, as we have been struggling to get everything done prior to leaving the States.  I just found out that there are two more forms that I have to deal with in order to complete our plans to visit Cuba.  It seems that we need to submit a form to the U.S. Coast Guard to let them know of our plans and itinerary.  They also need the particulars of the approvals from State and Commerce.   Oddly, these forms have to be faxed verses e-mailed and must be printed out and signed.  I can’t say that the “nautical fax” machine is active on Pandora. However, we do have a printer.  There is also some sort waiver form from OFAC, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, that I have to submit to avoid a 180 day waiting period before we can re-import Pandora.   Not sure about that one.  I’ll need to do some work on that today.

We also will be getting some Canadian currency as it has a better exchange rate in Cuba as the Cuban government imposes a 20% tax on Greenbacks.   There’s Fidel sticking it to the Yanks.  I guess fair is fair.   However, he did start it with the whole “revolution thing”, right?

Anyway, Ft Lauderdale is nice but I am so looking forward to the Bahamas with warm clear water.  Besides, our daily runs to the store for “one more thing”, have to end at some point or I’ll have to haul Pandora again and raise the waterline.  Just how many y0gurts do we really need?  Bottles of wine?  Well, that’s another question entirely.  Besides, a boat does need ballast, right?

Through all of this I have ordered plenty of last minute items including a hand held depth finder, that arrived yesterday.  It will come in handy as we pick our way through unfamiliar waters in Cuba.  There are times when we want to enter a spot and aren’t sure if it’s deep enough so having a portable depth finder that I can take ahead in the dink will be very useful.  It’s pretty neat and even has a thermometer in it.   “No Bob, we can’t go in there, the water is not warm enough.  Check over there.  It looks warmer over there, yes to the right.”

We have also purchased courtesy flags for the countries that we plan to visit and just for fun, I laid them out in the cockpit the other evening.  Of course, the middle one is our own Essex Yacht Club burgee.   In clockwise order, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and The Caiman Islands, all spots that we may/will stop along the way.  Last night over an “adult beverage”, I remarked to Brenda that, when we were sailing Long Island Sound way back when in our 20’ Cape Cod Catboat, that I never imagined that we’d ever visit these places by boat.   Her reaction wasn’t completely clear.   Was it a smile or grimace.  Hmm…  You know, she was the one who came up with Pandora’s name.   Anyway, cool photo.

As  I reminisce, I should mention that we had a lovely visit with our long-time, notice that I didn’t say “old”, friends Linda and Richard.  Linda worked with me for perhaps a decade back in one of my “previous lives” and we try to visit her when we are passing through West Palm Beach, where they live.  Linda is the keeper of the last remaining stand of “Bob the banana”, offspring of a plant that Brenda and I grew from a shoot that we purchased back in the 70s while we were dating in high school.  We kept it alive for many years, in our home and later in a greenhouse that we kept for over 20 years.  When we moved away from NJ, four years ago, we tossed the last of our “Bob”.  However, he lives on with Linda and Richard as they planted a shoot that I gave to Linda when they moved to Florida almost ten years ago.  Here’s a shot of me, Linda and “Bob”.  He’s doing well, I would say and pays his way by producing hundreds of bananas a year.  Don’t we all look so cute together?  “Bob loves it there!”  Me too.So, for the next few days Brenda and I will finish up last minute details and I’ll try to figure out exactly what else Uncle Sam wants to be sure all is in order for our visit to Cuba and perhaps more importantly, our return to the U.S.  I guess I had better sign off or we won’t be ready by the weekend “window”, if it arrives after all.

Signing off from Sunny Florida for now and enjoying a day that actually is as advertised.

 

Cuba bound. Who knew?

It’s Saturday morning here in Ft Lauderdale and it is shaping up to be a really nice day.  That’s particularly good news as the weather has there hasn’t been much sun here since we arrived in FL in late December.  It’s been very cloudy and rainy with temperatures lower than you’d expect for “sunny Florida”.   And no, I don’t expect any sympathy from my “buds” up north who are experiencing a “real” winter.   However, you can take some solace in knowing that while you were snoozing all warm and snug in your bed the other night, I was out in the cockpit for hours on anchor watch lest we drag in the squalls and strong winds that roared through the anchorage at “0-dark-30”.

Anyway, today is a beautiful day and makes up for all the rain that kept us cooped up on Pandora yesterday.  This is the view that greeted me today as the sun rose over Ft Lauderdale.  Beautiful.  What a difference a day makes.Rain or not, yesterday was a big day as it was Brenda’s “real” birthday and the culmination of the “celebratory period” that began back in November when I threw a party dubbed as “Brenda’s not even close to 60 years old, birthday party”.   We had to begin celebrating early as I wanted to be sure that she’d enjoy her special day with old friends, well not really that old, while we were still in CT, knowing that we’d be aboard Pandora on her “real” birthday.   It is worth mentioning that she shares that day each year with Martin Luther King, as well as the national holiday that is held in their honor.

As we watched the weather forecast for the week we also saw that her “real birthday, day”, yesterday, was likely to be rainy, and it sure was, so we celebrated ashore for “happy hour” a few days ago.    This photo is supposed to document that we are more “hip” than old with the stage lighting pulsing in the background.  Not sure that the photo offers definitive proof of “hipness”.  I guess you will have to be the judge.  Never the less, it was a lot of fun and there were plenty in the bar that were even less hip than we.  Well, I cling to that belief.  I won’t mention that it wasn’t even dark out when we arrived.  Pretty pathetic.    Question: What did we do before we had “selfies”.  Hmm…So, yesterday was the “it” and Brenda enjoyed a quiet day aboard while the wind whipped us and everyone else around the anchorage.  However, due to my excellent advance planning, I was ready.  Well, almost ready, as I didn’t have any ribbon to tie up her present.  Not to be deterred, I found some “designer cording” and a “natural fiber decoration” plucked fresh from a local shrub.    How many cruising boats have a supply of wrapping paper and tape on hand?  Like most everything aboard a cruising boat, one needs to improvise.Another big event yesterday was receiving the “final final” approval from the Commerce Department that included the definitive “you go Bob” notice that givs us approval to visit Cuba aboard Pandora.   It was a long time coming as I began exploring the process of visiting Cuba back in early summer with a call to my congressman’s office to learn what the process for visiting Cuba looked like.   Well, here we are in mid-January and it finally came.   I won’t bore you with all the details but it was a long and involved process.   I have to say that, as I downloaded the approval document today, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t accompanied by a “trill of brass horns” as I opened it on my screen.  However, everything is now in place.  Amazing, actually.

I say that everything is “in-place” but we still have plenty of provisioning to finish up with and one of Brenda’s prescriptions was wrong from Express-Scripps and getting that corrected will take a few more days, at least.  Getting three months’ extra supply of medications is no simple feat and getting it right, and sent to the correct address, well that’s nearly impossible.  Did you know that when you use a UPS store as a drop point, it costs $5 per day per package once it has arrived.  Yikes.  When I visited them yesterday I was presented with a bill for $185 as some packages had been there for a while.   Fortunately, they took pity on me and I ended up paying somewhat less.  I won’t make that mistake again.

This morning I listened to Chris Parker, the weather router, and there may be a window to cross over to the Bahamas on Wednesday and if that doesn’t happen, we might be another week till the forecasted strong cold fronts have passed and another window presents itself.   The prevailing winds are from the east, as are the Bahamas, so getting there can be tough.  For every day that’s good for “easting”, there are many more that are unfavorable.  I won’t go into details on that except to say that making the run across the Gulf Stream can be tough and “tough” doesn’t play well with Brenda, self-described “creampuff” that she is.   Actually, she’s a lot tougher than she lets on but I had better not push it as there’s a lot of water to be crossed until we get to Cuba.

For now, I’ll focus on getting ready to go so if we get the go-ahead from Chris in a few days, we’ll be ready.

It’s hard to believe that we finally have our approvals in order to visit Cuba, a country that has been off-limits to U.S. citizens for as long as I have been alive.   It’s safe to say that when we first thought about making this trip, I never thought it would actually happen and now it is.  I guess that there’s nothing as consistent as change and changing it is.

So, that’s my report.

Palm Beach, home of the big kids

It’s Monday morning and we are in West Palm Beach where we will spend a few days seeing the sights and decompressing from what seemed like an endless number of “to do’s” aboard Pandora.  With most of the packages we have ordered waiting for us here with my friend Linda, who we hope to see later today, or in Ft Lauderdale at our favorite UPS store, we finally feel like things are settling down a bit.   There’s plenty more to do to prepare for our run to the Bahamas and on to Cuba but the “heavy lifting” is about done so we can relax a bit.

The last few days since leaving Ft Pierce have been fairly routine as we motored down the ICW on our way south to Ft Lauderdale where we will stage Pandora and prepare for our crossing to the Bahamas.   We did have a “fun” moment though in the middle of the night on Friday when we dragged our anchor during a thunderstorm.  When we anchored earlier that evening I did feel that the bottom seemed very soft and that the anchor didn’t set quite as well as I had hoped. Perhaps I should have anchored once more, but we backed down and I assumed that it was “good enough”.  Not…

Anyway, we both enjoyed a late night “BVD Shuffle” as we dragged around the harbor and re-anchored two times till I sort of “got it right”.    Even then I didn’t feel that the holding was all that good.  However, with shallow water all around us there wasn’t much risk in damage to anything beyond my ego and our “marital bliss”.  No, Brenda didn’t enjoy it at all.

Happily, the holding here in Palm Beach is great so we are all snug.  And, that’s a good thing as the current whips through on the ebb and flood with the tides so the anchor has to reset ever 7 or so hours with the current switches.

West Palm is a beautiful city with a dramatic skyline and wonderful restaurants.  It’s also a short walk to the grocery.  And, perhaps best of all, they seem to like cruisers as there are two huge and very nice public docks to land a dink on.  Given how unfriendly the cities in South Florida are, it’s refreshing to be well treated here.   And, as an added benefit, there aren’t any derelict boats so clearly the city is enforcing the laws to keep the waters uncluttered and leave room, and the welcome mat out, for visiting boaters.

When we arrived yesterday there was a car show in full swing with literally hundreds of fabulous cars, mostly on the exotic side.     Of course, who doesn’t like a “fleet” of Vets?  I know that my son Rob would love this show. And, of course, what about your “inner Bond”?  You can look, but don’t touch. Most of the cars were exotic sports cars but this “Big Healy” was one of my favorite.  The owner spent six years restoring it himself.  He rescued it when he found that it was being towed to the dump as a total wreck.  Pretty impressive car and in perfect shape.  I’d love to have one of these, and it’s the PERFECT color.  Wow!If I could have whatever I wanted, this Jaguar would be perfect.   Elegant and in mint condition.
Of course, there were plenty of “super cars” for those who want to make a statement, perhaps, “mine is bigger than yours, much bigger”.   Brenda would say that cars like this make up for something else?  Hmm…  Glad that I don’t want one. Well, I don’t want one really badly.  Yeah, that’s it. One way or the other, there was certainly something for everyone at this show.  Well, at least everyone with at least $100k to spend on a toy.  But hey, we are in Florida and that’s where the money goes to be spent in the winter.

There are plenty of massive homes and boats along the way and it’s clear that to live here you have to have plenty of “green” and be very willing to spend it.

Oh yeah, a cold front came through last night and it was in the 40s when we got up. It’l go up to the low 70s later today so don’t feel so bad for us.  Not that you do…

Stay tuned, more to come and I promise that it will include boats next post.   Honest!

Under way sort of, finally. Getting excited.

It’s Saturday morning and Pandora is secure at the Ft Pierce City Marina in, you guessed it, Ft Pierce FL.  We decided to splurge and tie up in a marina for a night because there is a farmer’s market and craft show each Saturday adjacent to the marina.  The city has invested heavily in the waterfront and it’s very nice.

Another, no make that the main, reason that we decided to visit though was because Brenda had learned about another weaver that lives aboard a boat here in Ft Pierce.  And, let me tell you, Brenda has happened upon VERY FEW weavers aboard boats over the years and this one wasn’t to be missed.   The couple, Laura and Bill, live aboard a powerboat for a few months in the winter and in Beaufort SC in the summer.   And, as an added benefit, they aren’t ever OLD.  Well, they aren’t as old as me and Brenda.   However, they live on a powerboat but hey, she’s a weaver, so we won’t hold it against them.

Laura and Bill visited us aboard Pandora last evening.   Here’s Brenda and her  new kindred sole, Laura.  These girls have a remarkable number of things in common, including a fetish for purses.  Hmm…Speaking of fetishes, not that one you sicko, Brenda is also very fond of jewelry and she found, in Ft Pierce, perhaps the Holy Grail of jewelry stores, one named after her.  How perfect. Even more perfect, it was closed.  Yipee!Speaking of spending boat dollars.   Somehow Pandora’s bow pulpit was bent to the side by about 4-6″ and I don’t know how it happened.  One way or the other I had to have it fixed so Brenda and I headed back to Riverside Marina and the gang pulled and pushed to get the pulpit back in shape.  They used very heavy straps, a fork lift and plenty of elbow grease to make it right.  Here’s George hard at work setting the straps in place. George was one of the guys that put on Pandora’s davits earlier this year.  Nice guy.  He knows how to apply a proper amount of “English” to the job and pull everything into alignment.  They used quite a mix of straps, wood blocks and chains to secure everything and keep it moving in the right direction.   They did a remarkable job and the bill was only a fraction of a “boat dollar”.    Well done.  I was in and out within a few hours. I hope that it’s our last visit to a yard for an “adjustment” on this trip.  Today we plan on visiting the market and will leave after lunch to either head down the ICW toward Ft Lauderdale or anchor near the Ft Pierce inlet and wait to sail on the outside down to Lake Worth.  I’ll have to check the weather files later to see which makes sense.  I don’t want Brenda’s first run of the season to be a “non-starter”.

One more thing before I break.  You may recall a post that I did a while back about my “encounter” with the USS New Mexico off of New London CT.   Well, I have continued to be in touch with Damon, in New Mexico, that manages the boat’s site and he sent me a very nice note the other day.  I just have to share it here.    Damon was referring to the day this summer when I helped my friend Ken and his family spread the ashes of their parents on the waters of Long Island Sound.

Damon wrote:  You blog is wonderful and full of joy and friends.  Congrats to your son and new daughter-in-law.  One amazing story you might find interesting is that the USS NEW MEXICO did the exact same favor for us as you did for your friend Ken.  One of our long-time Committee members, Leo Davis, a Navy torpedoman that completed seven combat patrols during World War II, died in August 2013 at age 91.  With eager permission from the Navy, I accompanied his two sons, who carried his cremains, to Groton in September 2013, where Leo was piped aboard the submarine with full honors, and his ashes remained onboard until March of 2014.  It was at that time, during a scheduled Arctic deployment, known as ICEX-14, that the Commanding Officer and several crewmen piped Leo ashore for the final time, launching a container with his cremains out Torpedo Tube #1 at the North Pole.  Leo in on eternal patrol at the Top of the World.  His last wish was to be buried at sea, and we were able to fulfill that wish in a manner that may be a once in a lifetime event.

I was very touched to read Damon’s comment.  I also take comfort in knowing that I have friends that have friends that own cruise missiles if Fidel gives me any crap when we are visiting Cuba.  HaHa!  Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t read my blog. Not likely.

Well, it is sure great to be underway again and there will surely be plenty more to come so stay tuned.    I am excited!

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Don’t forget to check out “Where is the world is Pandora” tab on the home page to see where we are each day of our journey.   We hope you follow along.   And, sign up too so you’ll get a note when I post.

That’s all for now.