Mango & Marley

The title is intriguing isn’t it? This post is not about Bob Marley. It’s not about mangos, although I love them. This blog post is about construction on a little island in the Bahamas, namely, here in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Al had the opportunity to use his construction skills, something he loves to do and is really, really good at. It was even more fascinating to him because down here in the islands, construction can sometimes be a little unusual compared to the U.S. I decided that this definitely deserved a blog post.

During our 2013-2014 trip to the Abacos, we met a couple from Maine (and Nova Scotia) who spend the winters in the Bahamas – John & Carol. As a creative and dynamic team, they sometimes flip houses, and do an excellent job of it. Last year they found a piece of land in Hope Town that suited them just right, on the outer harbor, for a house of their own. After completing the piles of paperwork necessary to begin construction, the work began.

John and Carol proudly show off their official building permit. Off they go to post it on the lane that leads to their property.

January 7th, 2016 — John and Carol proudly show off their official building permit. Off they go to post it on the lane that leads to their property.

Their cottage will be named (all cottages have names, just like boats) Mango & Marley. The idea for the name came from the Kenny Chesney song, “Guitars & Tiki Bars.” Mango & Marley conjures images of that island life, doesn’t it?

When I’ve had it up to here
I go down there
To guitars, tiki bars and a whole lotta love
Mangoes and Marley, you know, fit me like a glove
Sixth gear with nowhere to steer, when enough is enough
It’s guitars, tiki bars and a whole lotta love

John and Carol are a great team, but sometimes it is nice, and necessary, to have a crew on hand. Al, as a retired builder, was thrilled to hang out and help John, especially during this rather cool Bahamian winter.

After clearing the lot themselves, the septic tank was delivered. This became quite an unusual  event and I took a lot of photos.

The tank arrived on the supply boat, the same boat that brings all of our necessary stuff over to Elbow Cay from the bigger islands and the U.S. It is the noisiest boat ever, but we still welcome the sound in the hopes that fresh vegetables, fruit and dairy products will soon be on the shelves. This time it brought John and Carol’s septic tank.

The septic tank arrives on the supply boat. Who knew it would be such a pretty yellow?

The septic tank arrives on the supply boat. Who knew it would be such a pretty yellow?

The crane lifts it off the boat and onto the dock, but that is as far as it goes.

The crane lifts the tank off of the boat and onto the dock, but that is as far as it goes.

Now it is up to John and crew to get it from there to the lot. It has to go by water because the “roads” are too narrow and no one has a truck. What a sight this was!

Prepping the tank for its voyage required ropes and tape. The ropes around it are for holding. Plugging the open end by taping over it so that no water will enter and sink it.

Prepping the tank for its voyage required ropes and tape. The ropes around it are for holding. The open end was plugged by taping over it so that no water will enter and sink it.

Ready for the water! Launch! See the splash?

Ready to launch into the water!  See the splash? It IS floating!!

With a dinghy on each side of the tank, it wass guided out of the Hope Town harbor, and out to the outer harbor to John and Carol's lot.

With a dinghy on each side of the tank, it was guided out of the Hope Town harbor,  to the outer harbor and then to John and Carol’s lot. Al and Marty in one dink, John and Carol in the other.

Arrival in front of the building lot.

Arrival in front of the building lot, but still floating in the water.

From sea to land. I wonder how many septic tanks have had an adventure like this?

From sea to land, it gets rolled up onto the sandy shore.  I wonder how many septic tanks have had an adventure like this?

The septic tank now in its location until a hole is ready. TaDa! With a little help from your friends......

The septic tank now in its temporary location until a hole is ready. TaDa! With a little help from your friends……

We always checked on the progress of Mango & Marley whenever we left the harbor to go out and play. Al didn’t work all the time, after all he is retired.

Carol waves to us as we buzz by while John continues working on his electrical wall. Island cottages have these cinder block and concrete outdoor walls on which to mount the electrical service.

Carol waves to us as we buzz by while John continues working on his “electrical wall.” Island cottages have these cinder block and concrete outdoor walls on which to mount the electrical service.

Notice that old upside down boat on the right in the photo above? Every builder on an island needs a “work boat.”

John acquired an old whaler to use as his work boat. After some nifty fiberglass work and some other repairs, the whaler was put to use as a commuter boat and a hauling boat.

John acquired this old whaler to use as his work boat. After some nifty fiberglass work and some other repairs, the whaler was put to use as a commuter boat and a hauling boat.

Sometimes help from friends isn’t enough and you need the big guys with big toys.

There was only one way to get this digger to the lot. Wait until low tide and drive it from the nearest “normal” road (the word normal is relative) onto the beach, on the beach until you reach John and Carol’s lot.

There was only one way to get this digger to the lot. Wait until low tide and drive it from the nearest “normal” road (the word normal is relative) on to the beach, and then drive it over the sandy shoreline until you reach John and Carol’s lot.

John with attitude – I took this photo and don’t remember what was happening at that moment. John certainly looks like he has some attitude going on – too many watchers and not enough workers?

John with attitude – I took this photo and don’t remember what was happening at that moment. John certainly looks like he has some attitude going on – too many watchers and not enough workers? Or is it that the digger was delivered but the driver was  on island time and didn’t join his equipment? Or was this the time the driver had to leave it until a hydraulic hose could be fixed??

The porosity of the soil presents interesting challenges, especially for septic tanks.

Al chatting with John (in septic tank hole). The digger dug the two holes for the septic tank,

Al chatting with John (in the septic tank hole). The digger dug the two holes for the septic tank. The tank will go into the one John is standing in.  The other hole is the leaching field, filled with rocks and then a hand-poured concrete cover will top it off.         ~~ Notice that John is standing in water in the top photo — At high tide the water flows through the sandstone earth and into the hole so John can only work in there during lower tides. Hard to believe, but he would be waist deep in water at high tide!

The cisterns arrived  next. These are the tanks to hold fresh water. Water is precious in the islands. Surrounded by all of that beautiful clear blue salt water does not mean that there is enough fresh water for washing and drinking. Our options on a boat are to have a watermaker (expensive) or to buy RO (fresh water made from the ocean water through the process of reverse osmosis) or have a collection system like Al created. On land, most cottages have cisterns that are used to collect the rainwater from the roofs or to hold purchased water. Since the soil is rocky and porous, John will position his water tanks under the first floor at ground level. The first floor of living space is really one floor above the ground level.

The three cisterns arrived (tanks to hold the water).

The three cisterns arrived. The same delivery and floatation system was used as for the septic tank. (I missed this flotilla event – must have been off at the school or lighthouse, or laundry duties.)

John even built a storage shed. It's a must-have on a building site. Palm Pilot (John and Carol’s catamaran) can’t store all of the building tools and supplies.

John even built a storage shed. It’s a must-have on a building site. Palm Pilot (John and Carol’s catamaran) can’t store all of the building tools and supplies.

By the first week in February it was time to position the timbers that will support the four corners of the cottage. Sam sketched out an idea to raise these 8×8 pressure-treated 20-foot long timbers without power equipment.

John built Sam’s tripod/pulley system to haul the timbers upright so that they could be dropped into the hole, standing vertically. Very similar to the mast hoist system at our yacht club in Connecticut.

John built Sam’s tripod/block & tackle system to haul the 8″x8″x20′ pressure-treated timbers upright so that they could be dropped into the hole, standing vertically. Very similar to the mast hoist system at our yacht club in Connecticut.

Hoisting up the first corner.

Al is right in there, loving every minute. First corner is already upright. Sam is in the background (green shirt), John (white t-shir)t, and I don’t know the others’ names.

Checking how straight it is with a line of sight. Is it straight?? Carol leaning in, John standing. Al with Sam behind him.

Checking how straight it is with a line of sight. Is it straight?? Carol leaning in, John standing. Al with Sam behind him.

How many sailors does it take to hoist a post? By my count, there were 7 plus John.

How many sailors does it take to hoist a post? By my count, there were 7 plus John.

John and Al and three corners, braced with diagonals to hold them, temporarily.

John and Al and three corners, braced with diagonals to hold them straight, temporarily.

Looking good. The cottage has four corners now.

Looking good. The cottage has four corners now (one is hidden behind).

And there was enough of a floor to stand upon - Joe, Al, Carol, John. Joe and Al were the most consistent crew that John had for most of January and February.

And then there was enough of a floor to stand upon – Joe, Al, Carol, John. Joe and Al were the most consistent crew that John had for most of January and February. (There’s my favorite lighthouse in the background.)

Feb 18th - Carpenters dinner on our boat, but John cooked. This was a really good deal for me. I invited Carol and John to our boat for dinner, but he wanted to make Caribbean lobster chowder. OMG – soo delicious! We also invited Joe and Paula as part of John’s “core” building crew. Paula baked corn bread in a cast iron frying pan that complimented the chowder perfectly.

Feb 18th – Carpenters’ dinner on our boat, but John cooked. This was a really good deal for me. I invited Carol and John to our boat for dinner, but he wanted to make his Caribbean lobster chowder. OMG – soo delicious! We also invited Joe and Paula as part of John’s “core” building crew. Paula baked corn bread in a cast iron frying pan that complimented the chowder perfectly.

By February 22nd, it was time for Carol to head back to Maine to her candle business, Salty Beach Studio — “100% eco-friendly soy candles hand-poured in Maine.” The flavor combinations are inspiring and blend the Caribbean soul with the spirit of Maine.

23Salty Beach Studio

Carol’s candle company, Salty Beach Studio.                                                                                         Upper left, clockwise– Tropics Collection, Holiday Collection, Starfish Collection, Beach Collection

Before Carol left, there was an impromptu happy hour, the very first one at Mango and Marley, held on the newly built first floor, overlooking the harbor. Hot lobster dip with rum and beer. We were honored to be invited and glad we were available.

Me, Carol, and John The make-shift serving table Dave and Jill from Jilly-Q

Me, Carol, and John.
The make-shift serving table holding the hot lobster dip. Look at the view!
Dave and Jill from Jilly-Q.

The view…. Oh the view! John and Carol will be able to see the Elbow Reef Lighthouse (the “candy-striped lighthouse”) from their cottage.

The view…. Oh the view! John and Carol will be able to see the Elbow Reef Lighthouse (the “candy-striped lighthouse”) from their cottage.  Wouldn’t you just love to live here?? Or even visit?

Feb 27th – Progress is visible from the water.

Feb 27th – Progress is visible from the water. John gives us a wave as we pass by.

Feb 29th - Even more progress! There is a wall.

Feb 29th – Even more progress! There is a wall.

Sam and John admiring the progress.

Sam and John admiring the progress contemplating the next step. 

The larger walls required more assistance. Would that be  “Many hands make light work” ?

Ready, set, on the count of three...... LIFT! Anthony, John, Dan, and Al

Ready, set, on the count of three…… LIFT!
Anthony, John, Dan, and Al

lift the wall

Up and up it goes. The guys are really “doing the heavy lifting.” Sam, John, Al and Dan this time around.

That’s as much as Al was able to contribute to the construction of Mango & Marley. He was loving every minute of it, but it was time for us to leave the Abacos. 🙁  Through the wonders of technology and digital cameras, friends have sent photos of the progress during the past three weeks.

March 8-10th

March 8-10th – John seems to be working all alone now.

 John up on the floor of what will become the second story. Yes, that is pretty high up there.

John up on the floor of what will become the second story. Yes, that is pretty high up there.

You can see Mano & Marley forth top of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. It seems fitting that Carol and John will be able to see the lighthouse and the lighthouse has a view of them.

You can see Mango & Marley from top of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. It seems fitting that Carol and John will be able to see the lighthouse and the lighthouse has a view of them.

Plywood appears onto studded walls and a porch.

The walls are taking shape with plywood over the studs, and the deck of a porch appears.

36Mar26 looking out from 1st flr

The porch will have a wonderful view of the harbor for watching all of the comings and goings.

It will probably take another year or two to finish the cottage. John returns to Maine before the hot Bahamian summer begins. We look forward to seeing the cottage become their Bahama “home.”

Drifting Along ….. Drift Seeds and Sea Beans

This is not about us drifting along; it is about “drift seeds.” We never found a single one on our first visit to the Abacos, but Al’s discovery of one sea bean at Green Turtle Cay within the first two days of our arrival, changed our fortunes. Finding a sea bean is a sign of good luck, a good omen. Little did we realize how this first find would become a new beachcombing obsession for us, adding to the sea glass, shells and conchs, and driftwood that we acquire along the way. It sure is nice to have a larger “hold” in the boat for storing our treasures.

2purple fan and seaheart

Purple fan and sea heart. The first sea bean, a sea heart, next to a purple fan coral, both found at Green Turtle Cay.

Our cruising friends showed us their sea bean finds on our first trip, but our eyes never seemed to notice any. This year, that first sea bean had us hooked and quickly trained our novice eyes, as well as hooking our curiosity (mine, for sure.) I learned that “sea beans” is a generic common name for these gems, and “drift seeds” is a more global and inclusive term. “Drift” is a very apropos name. Most of these seeds and beans are from vines and trees that grow along the tropical shores and rainforests all over the world.

Looking at this graphic of the ocean currents impresses one with just how far the seeds and beans drift.

Looking at this graphic of the ocean currents impresses one with just how far the seeds and beans drift.

 

They fall into waterways and drift through inlets and bays, reaching the sea where they travel with the ocean currents until washing up upon a beach somewhere, even thousands of miles from their “homeport.”

The buoyant beans and seeds are held afloat by internal air pockets and are protected by their hard outer shells. World travelers!

 

The wrack line is the line of debris left on the beach by high tide.  Seaweed, kelp, assorted natural debris that floated in on the tide, as well as man’s debris in the form of plastic bits and other trash.

Wrack lines

Some days there would be almost no wrack line, other days there would be a wide heavy wrack, but usually the wrack line was somewhere in-between.

Until we started searching, both on the beach and on the internet, I had no idea how many people were obsessed with sea beans. A quick google search unearthed (unbeached?) lots of information and websites dedicated to drift seeds/sea beans. If you get hooked like we did, you can check the links below, or even attend a sea bean symposium (last one was October 2015 in Cocoa Beach, FL) or read the triennial newsletter, “The Drifting Seed.”

This blog post of mine is about the sea beans we found this winter in the Abacos.

One in my hand, in its natural, newly found on the beach, condition.

This sea heart, in my hand, in its natural condition, newly found on the beach.

The sea heart (Entada gigas), native to Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, and Africa. Sea hearts originate in huge, hanging bean pods, up to six feet long. They are impervious to salt water, even after years of drifting in the ocean waters. Sailors carried sea hearts as good luck charms to protect them from sickness and to ward off the evil eye. It is said that a sea heart (also known as fava de Colom) inspired Christopher Columbus to set out in search of lands to the west.

Supposedly, sea hearts are second to brown hamburgers as the most common of all beach-found sea-beans. We did not find this to be true. We found more sea hearts than any other kind of sea bean or drift seed.

Eight of our sea hearts lined up,

Eight of our sea hearts lined up, natural on the left to polished ones on the right.

Polishing sea hearts is quite a task with several steps and lots of time.

I started with 180 grit sandpaper, followed by 400 and 600 grit. There were times when the skin on my thumb felt as though it were getting polished as well.

I started with 180 grit sandpaper, followed by 400 and 600 grit. There were times when the skin on my thumb felt as though it were getting polished as well.

When I tired of working on a bean, Al took over. He wore gloves when using the sandpaper, but then soon turned to his power sander. He then gave some of the beans quite a shine with finishing compound and the buffing machine.

When I tired of working on a bean, Al took over. He wore gloves when using the sandpaper, but then soon turned to his power sander. He then gave some of the beans quite a shine with finishing compound and the buffing machine.

Two of the beans with a high sheen after Al finished polishing.

Two of the beans with a high sheen after Al finished polishing.

Hamburger beans, said to be the most common of all beach found sea beans, are sometimes considered to be “true sea beans.” Our experience says otherwise – finding a hamburger bean was unusual. We were thrilled to find a brown one and then a red one.

There are hundreds of varieties in varying shades of brown, red, and brindle growing in tropical regions around the globe. Nowadays they are carried for good luck and protection against the “evil eye.”

hamburgers and a sea purse

On the right – Our two hamburgers, one red and one brown. On the left, my finger holds a sea purse from rolling.

Brown Hamburger, Mucuna sloanei , the most common of all beach-found sea-beans are more ball-shaped than other species which are flat in comparison. Tropical Africa, South America, Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean.

Red Hamburgers Mucuna urens are found less often than brown hamburgers. They are flatter and have more color variations from light beige to deep red.

Sea purseDioclea reflexa Coveted by collectors, sea purses are one of the rarest and most colorful of all sea beans found on any beach. Distinct color variations range from butterscotch to solid black. Originally from Asia, these beans have drifted to islands in the Caribbean and Central and South America, reproducing there. The circular hilum along the edge of these resembles a zipper, giving it the name “sea purse.” They have thick, protective shells which, enable them to survive for years at sea in the salt water. 

We found one brown nickernut. I'm surprised I even noticed it in the wrack.

We found one brown nickernut (Caesalpinia globulorium). I’m surprised I even noticed it in the wrack.

Nickernuts or nickar nuts are used as marbles (Dutch word knicker for clay marbles) in the strategy games of African mancala or Caribbean’s  “Island Waurie.”

 The same day I found the brown nickarnut, I also picked up a funny looking bean or seed. With the help of “The Little Book of Sea Beans and Other Beach Treasures“,  I identified it as a Starnut palm (Astrocaryum spp.)  The Rainforest Garden Blog stated,  “Some, like the starnut palm, are ridiculously tropical and exotic.” Very cool. I was excited to add this to our tiny collection of sea beans.

Two views of my little starnut palm

Two views of my little starnut palm – The starnut palm has the most interesting shape resembling a black tear drop.There is a pattern of lines down the seed and 3 tiny holes in the bulbous base.

Sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera), is also known as “golf ball” because it is the size and shape of a round golf ball.  It is not a real coconut, but it is a palm tree.The sea coconut is a tall, unusual palm with leaves nearly 30 feet long. It grows in the Amazon basin, on the island of Trinidad, and on the Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America spottily. We found quite a few sea coconuts, but the outer skin would soon crack and crumble. They don’t look very attractive, and yet there are photos of how pretty they look after polishing. We aren’t sure how they can be polished with that crackling outer shell.

We kept five of the sea coconuts we found, but are not sure just what we will do with them yet.

We kept five of the sea coconuts we found, but are not sure just what we will do with them yet.

 The mahogany or madeira tree is native to southern Florida, Florida Keys, Cuba, Bahamas, Hispaniola, Jamaica. I first noticed strange wooden-looking pods scattered about on the grounds of the Lighthouse Gift Shop when I worked there. They were very interesting looking so I gathered a few up. I had the opportunity to show it to a local person who informed me it was from the madeira tree also known as the mahogany tree.

Madiera pods

The grayish brown wooden conical fruit splits like an umbrella causing brown winged seeds to fall to the ground. The seeds disperse leaving the interestingly shaped inner part still on the stem.

Royal Poinciana is a species of flowering plant, noted for its fern-like leaves and flamboyant display of red flowers. When we found these pods along the side of the road on Treasure Cay, the plant was not in its “flamboyant” phase. The pods were dried and woody on the ground or hanging limply from the tree.

Royal Poinc collage

Al is holding the long pod that contains the small seeds, shown on the right. Lower left is a look at the pods hanging in the tree.

On our last day on Elbow Cay, Sam gave a necklace he made.

On our last day on Elbow Cay, Sam gave me a necklace that he made from nickarnuts and royal poinciana seeds. The nickarnut in the center is a gray one, also known as a “sea pearl.” I wore this necklace during every nautical mile of our crossing days to keep us safe. It worked!

A new collection ( or a new obsession?) A plate full of sea beans!

A new collection ( or a new obsession?) A plate full of sea beans!

 

That %$*/& Crossing Again

The “crossing” window for a boat really involves more than just the Atlantic Ocean between Little Bahamas Bank and Florida’s coast. That’s the most important part but you need to get there first. Our plan was to break it into 3 days of travel (Hope Town to Crab Cay, Crab Cay to Mangrove Cay, Mangrove Cay to Fort Pierce, Florida) aiming for Saturday as the actual “crossing” day. The fickle heart of this year’s weather continued to toy with our affections. Everything was good at the moment, looked like it would remain doable, but the “best” day flip-flopped back and forth between Saturday and Sunday. Do we want lower winds with higher seas or higher winds with lower seas? Couldn’t we just place an ala carte order for low winds and a side of low seas?

The morning of Thursday, March 3 was charmingly, lovely day, making it all the harder to leave Hope Town. I was really ready to go home, but I didn’t want to leave.

1Solstice farewell send off

Sam & Kayda followed us out of the harbor to wish us bon voyage, complete with a tooting horn for a send-off.

One last look at the Elbow Reef Lighthouse lighthouse and her candy-stripes.

One last look at the Elbow Reef Lighthouse lighthouse and her candy-stripes.

We laughed as we stared at our chartplotter’s recorded tracks, a reminder of every trip in and out of Hope Town. It wouldn’t have been long before the tracks obliterated the actual chart if that continued.

We laughed as we stared at our chartplotter’s recorded tracks, a reminder of every trip in and out of Hope Town. It wouldn’t have been long before the tracks obliterated the actual chart if that continued.

Oh that water! How we will miss this unbelievable blue water.

Oh that water! How we will miss this unbelievable blue water.

The weather and tide allowed us to give Don’t Rock Passage another try rather than go out through the whale.(remember that time back in December? Don’t Rock the Boat, Baby)

Don’t Rock ahead

Don’t Rock ahead

We passed by Don’t Rock itself. Now this is a really good photo of Don’t Rock, if I do say so myself. Much better than the first time.

We passed by Don’t Rock itself. Now this is a really good photo of Don’t Rock, if I do say so myself. Much better than the first time.

Just past Don’t Rock, Sand Bank Cays are on the port side. There are still shallow depths through here so we carefully and slowly maneuvered through. It was one hour after low tide and 5 feet 3 inches was the lowest depth we saw.

Just past Don’t Rock, Sand Bank Cays are on the port side. There are still shallow depths through here so we carefully and slowly maneuvered through. It was one hour after low tide and 5 feet 3 inches was the lowest depth we saw.

A chart plotter view of our boat, just passed Don't Rock with Sand Bank Cays up on the left. And the shallows

A chart plotter view of our boat, just passed Don’t Rock with Sand Bank Cays up on the left. And the shallows

Green Turtle Cay ahead

Green Turtle Cay ahead

Three and a half hours after leaving Elbow Cay, we dropped the anchor outside Green Turtle Cay for lunch and a last weather check on the computer (Green Turtle has excellent wifi. Would that make the anchorage an internet café?)

GTC shoreline pretty houses – blue, yellow, pink green, orange. So pretty!

GTC shoreline pretty houses – blue, yellow, pink green, orange. So pretty!

Saturday or Sunday? Sunday or Saturday ?? We were still debating. Our friends, Anthony and Annette on Magnolia, also left Hope Town later that morning and planned to stop at Green Turtle for a few days. They promised to stay in touch via VHF to give us the latest weather news from Chris Parker the following day (We don’t have a Single Sideband radio not do we pay for Parker’s weather service, but we do have gracious friends who have both.)

After lunch, we continued on to Crab Cay, a little narrow uninhabited cay at the north end of Great Abaco Island. We had tucked in there on our way back in 2014 and decided to do so again.

Anchoring at Crab Cay

By 3 pm we were anchored at Crab Cay, 44 miles from Elbow Cay. Sure not much to look at. Spent the night there with about 6 other boats that had made the crossing in the other direction, west to east, from Florida.

Anthony radioed to us on the VHF from Green Turtle Cay and read Chris Parker’s crossing forecast to us. My written notes were:

  • Saturday 3/5: “Benign westward northern route, ENE 10-16 knots winds, mild swells, 3 feet going 6 feet.”
  • Sunday 3/6: “More northern component, building wind.. 10- 16 knots, seas 7-6 feet.

Based on that information we decided to aim for a crossing on Saturday. Day 2 (Friday, March 4th) of the crossing trip, from Crab Cay to Mangrove Cay, would be about 57 miles, so were underway at first light.

Leaving Crab Cay in the early morning

Leaving Crab Cay in the early morning

Coffee and omelet underway. Conditions were calm enough for me to cook us a nice omelet for breakfast.

Coffee and omelet underway. Conditions were calm enough for me to cook us a nice omelet for breakfast.

It was pretty quiet out there, alternating sunny and warm with periods of clouds.

We didn't see many other boats, but we couldn't miss this one, even at a distance. Zoomed in you can count 4 little boats getting towed behind the bigger one. AL said he could see shrink-wrap other biminis. New ones going to market?

We didn’t see many other boats, but we couldn’t miss this one, even at a distance. Zoomed in you can count 4 little boats getting towed behind the bigger one. Al said he could see shrink-wrap on the biminis. New ones going to market?

Blue water, blue sky, white clouds.

Blue water, blue sky, white clouds.

There was still time to breathe in that beautiful water.

There was still time to breathe in that beautiful water. The “banks, ” nothing but blue.

During the morning, the winds picked up to 15-18 knots and the waves went from 2 ft to 3-4 feet. Instead of heading to Great Sale Cay as in the past trips, we chose Mangrove Cay which will get us closer to the Gulf Stream for a shorter trip on the next day. We were anchored by 2 pm on the east side in the lee with less wind and waves, which had subdued.

15 Mangrove CAy

Mangrove Cay – that’s just what it is. A tiny blob of land with mangroves and not much else on it.

The water was pretty, there was no one else there, and the weather was quiet and warm enough. Just warm enough for our traditional last day in the Bahamas skinny-dipping ritual. (Don’t worry, there are NO photos of that.) No sooner was I cleaned up from the swim, when Capt Al announced we were leaving. What??? Where are we going??? To Sandy Cay, a little spit of a cay (emphasis on LITTLE) about 3 hours away, closer to the edge of the Banks. Don’t worry, honey, this will make tomorrow’s crossing almost all daylight. OK…………

A total of 80 nautical miles and 12 hours later from Crab Cay, we reached Sandy Cay about 6 pm, just before sunset. (Why are there so many cays with the same names and all in the same general region? Sandy Cays, Guana Cays, Crab Cays, Pelican Cays.) This Sandy Cay is a little north of West End where boats can check in, and south of Memory Rock, on the edge of the banks. With the last of the daylight, we took the time to check the passage out of Sandy Cay because of the shallows, making tracks on our chartplotter that we could use in the early morning.

If Mangrove Cay was tiny, Sandy Cay is minuscule.

If Mangrove Cay is tiny, Sandy Cay is minuscule.

17 tattered courtesy flag2

The tattered courtesy flag comes down. It’s pretty amazing that it looks as good as it does after this windy winter.

18 Setting sun Mar 4On Saturday March 5th we departed the Bahamas at 5:10 am before dawn. It made it so much easier to have those tracks from last night so that we could carefully make our way out the other side of Sandy Cay and into the Atlantic Ocean.

The dawn behind us said good by as we left, but the sun was subdued and didn’t say much at all.

The dawn behind us said good by as we left, but the sun was subdued and didn’t say much at all.  Red sky in morning, sailor take warning???

It wasn’t long before the seas were 3-4 feet with 10-15 knots of wind. It was ok at that point. We saw a few cargo and tanker ships, but not too many other boats. I think you always imagine that boats will be passing each other here and there, but this isn’t Long island Sound; it’s a whole lot bigger.

cargo ship Grande Gabon – We spoke with this cargo ship on the VHF because our paths were going to cross. We informed the ship that we would pass behind them. We don’t mess with boats that big. No way.

Cargo ship Grande Gabon – We spoke with this cargo ship on the VHF because our paths were going to cross. We informed the ship that we would pass behind them. We don’t mess with boats that big. No way.

By 10:30 am, the chart plotter showed that we were in the “approximate location of the axis of the Gulf Stream.” Conditions had become uncomfortable by then. The winds were now 15-18 ENE and the seas were confused, 7-9 feet rollers with chop on top. It’s what we called the “washing machine effect.” The level gauge would tip 25 degrees to port, then 25 to starboard, and then settle back to just 10 either way.

Chugging away. Funny how photos just don’t capture what it really looked like and felt like. On the other hand, we weren’t afraid, nothing broke, and the autopilot worked like a charm. We were moving along very swiftly, averaging 8 knots.

Chugging away. Funny how photos just don’t capture what it really looked like and felt like. On the other hand, we weren’t afraid, nothing broke, and the autopilot worked like a charm. We were moving along very swiftly, averaging 8 knots.

The only really interesting thing we saw during the 80 miles/10.5 hours across were curious little floating things passing by the boat. Although many passed us during those 10 hours, photographing them was more than tricky. Not only did I have to steady myself on the rocking boat, but I had to zoom and allow the auto focus to center in on the funny little thing quickly.

What are these??? Miniature alien spacecraft or a sea creature?? If anyone knows, please share!

What are these??? Miniature alien spacecraft or a sea creature?? Read on – we found out.

We had no idea at the time what these were, so Al posted the photos on the Live Aboard Boats Facebook page and within one minute we had 18 replies. They are  Atlantic Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis), also known as the Man-of-War, blue bubble, or floating terror, and live at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, remains at the surface. The submerged venomous tentacles extend 30-50 feet beneath the surface and can deliver extremely painful stings to humans. Since the Portuguese man o’ war has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for the details.)

At 12:45 pm we noticed a sailboat named Hold Fast on the AIS, about 10 miles ahead of us. Recognizing the name as friends of Magnolia (Anthony and Annette) we hailed them on the VHF to say hello. Magnolia had told them to look for us out here. It felt good to be able to talk to another boat, and learn that they were uncomfortable as well. 😉

Just as we neared the channel entrance to the Fort Pierce inlet, Al saw something in the water. Everything was much calmer and quite benign now (at least this is my definition of “benign”, Mr. Parker) so the Captain did a u-turn to go back and take a look. A manta ray, eating something. He was there on the surface longer than usual.

A manta ray just outside Fort Pierce

A manta ray just outside Fort Pierce

You know you are back in the U.S. when you see such sophisticated channel markers, red nun on port, green can on starboard. We must be in Florida.

You know you are back in the U.S. when you see such sophisticated channel markers, red nun on port, green can on starboard. We must be in Florida.

So, yes, we are back in the United States, Florida for now, 200 nautical miles from Elbow Cay. What did we learn from this crossing? I am slowly developing my own “weather window” rules. After reviewing all our weather apps and websites (Windfinder, SailFlow, Mavs Buoy, Windyty, NOAA, Passage Weather, Northern Bahama Surf Report, plus a Chris Parker report if available from someone), I will then assume they are wrong. Seriously, the best course of action is to look for a window that is better than you think you can handle, because the reality always seems to be worse. That said, it wasn’t awful, just a lively, salty and somewhat uncomfortable ride. The good part was that it only lasted for 10 hours, not 20+. 😉

Although we are now in Vero Beach, I still have a few Bahama blog posts to write, but I will get to those later. It will be nice to think about the Bahamas again even if we aren’t there anymore.

Last Days in the Abacos

Our last week in Hope Town came upon us sooner than expected, as a result of the weather predictions. We knew we needed to begin our return journey sometime between March 6th-11th. Looking ahead at the forecasts, it appeared that we would have a window later this week but not another one until after the 13th  or so.  If we were totally carefree and without “ties”, we could just wait it out for a later time. But, those family ties are pulling at us, especially me.

The previous week we had made a day trip to Marsh Harbour for a Maxwells run and a visit to the immigration office. When we checked through Customs back in December at Green Turtle, we received a 90-day visa. Thinking ahead that we may be here until mid-March, we had to go through the process of an extension. With Anthony and Annette, who came along for the ride, we walked to the recently completed “Bahamas Government Complex”.

The new Bahama Government Complex

The new Bahama Government Complex

It was February 22nd and our 90 days would end on March 2. Much to our dismay, the immigration clerk, after counting three times with her finger on a calendar hanging on the wall, informed us that we were here too early. You can only have the permit extended within 3 days of its expiration and we were 6 days too soon. Really??? Are they going to be that picky? Especially for a country that is pretty relaxed about most things. Fortunately for us, after checking with a supervisor, we were given a 14-day extension. Relief. I’ll admit that I was ready to just forget the whole extension thing and take our chances that we would never be stopped and asked for the paperwork. If we were stopped, would that result in jail time? Boat confiscation? Big $ fine?? Better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes……….. 

Another preparation task for leaving was fuel and water, especially fuel. We pulled into Lighthouse Marina just inside the Hope Town harbor entrance for water and fuel for our return voyage.

Lighthouse Marina. Al checking the water meter as we filled the water tanks.

Lighthouse Marina.
Al checking the water meter as we filled the water tanks.

Wouldn’t you know that just before we leave the Bahamas our water tanks were finally low enough. Al’s water collection system during those rainy days had worked very well. This was also the first time we took on diesel since we left Stuart, Florida on December 2nd. 100 gallons of diesel ($4.02 per gallon) and 90 gallons of water (36 cents per gallon.) Plus the Bahamas VAT tax of 7.5%

The day we returned from Great Guana Cay, we spontaneously hosted a Leap Year Day flybridge happy hour for our “core water family,” who were all back in the harbor again from various and sundry exploits.

Leap Year Day Happy Hour. What's better than a day in paradise? An extra day in paradise!

Leap Year Day Happy Hour — What’s better than a day in paradise? An extra day in paradise! Anthony & Annette;  Laurie, Peter, and Kayda;  Marcia & Dan; John; Sam

Conchs at sunset - Peter and Al sound their horns.

Conchs at sunset – Peter and Al sound their horns.

The next day, March 1st, we reached the conclusion that we needed to catch the little weather window predicted for later this week. Suddenly, every day and evening was busy, getting ready and saying good bye. Dinner on Cutting Class that night (no photo), then another happy hour on JillyQ.

Happy Hour on JillyQ -- Dan & Marcia, Michele & AL, Jill & Dave, and Anthony & Annette

Happy Hour on JillyQ —
Dan & Marcia, Michele & AL, Jill & Dave, and Anthony & Annette

Another interesting, semi-unexpected event occurred during this last week, although the roots of the problem had begun weeks (months?) earlier. Dinghies and their engines are important when cruising. No, not important, they are CRITICAL. Our older Hondo 4-stroke engine has had cranky moments on this trip. Al has taken it apart on several occasions, the most noteworthy back in December.

Dinghy Surgery

A man performing surgery on his dinghy engine attracts other guys like flies to honey. They love to solve mechanical problems. Sam stops by with advice, Will takes a look at the problem, and Al…… what is he doing with the carburetor in his mouth???

That repair was the best one yet and the engine did well for the next 12 weeks. I became more comfortable with it and thus more independent, which I loved. But then, that old crankiness surfaced again, and there were a few times when I couldn’t get the engine started again. 🙁 That did not make me feel confident. The dinghy engine issues spread to Magnolia’s dinghy engine. Is this like a flu?

Dinghy engine issues spread to Magnolia. Al and Anthony worked on that one.

Dinghy engine issues spread to Magnolia and it caught the crankiness bug. Al and Anthony worked on that one to keep it running.

All of this background leads to a stop at the Yamaha dealer in Marsh harbor when we went for our visa extension. Anthony and Al spent their time in the showroom while Annette and I were grocery shopping in Maxwells. Why would we buy a new dinghy engine here in the Bahamas????? It’s the old 2-stroke vs 4-stroke story, which I finally grasp in a very basic way.  Two-stroke engines are no longer sold in the U.S., although you can still use them. Four-stroke engines pollute less. But I have to wonder, just how much does a small dinghy engine really pollute the air we breathe? Not so much, I’m thinking. Two-stroke engines are much lighter in weight and that is an important consideration when you are cruising and must lift or hoist it. Lastly, the 2-stroke engines are a very good deal here. The new (never had a NEW engine before) is a 15-horse and will be faster than the old 9.9 horse. Back in Hope Town, the guys pondered, debated, contemplated, and ruminated over and over, and then decided to go for it, making a deal with the dealer for two engines, including delivery to us in Hope Town.

Al and his new dinghy engine

Al and his new dinghy engine. I don’t mind. Al searches eBay and Craigs List for good deals on used and new equipment all the time. The Honda would have been fine for a while longer, but he is pretty excited about his new Yamaha 2-stroke. Me? I now have to relearn everything because starting and running these mechanical things is not intuitive for me.

And then, suddenly, without apparent warning, it was our last day in Hope Town. And it was beautiful day. NO, it was perfect. The weather we had wanted for the past 2 months was back again – sunny with just a light breeze ruffling the water. Perfect for one last ride to Tahiti beach which would help break that new engine in. Even better – Sam and Kayda joined us for the excursion. How appropriate that was! Our first days in the Bahamas, back in Green Turtle, were spent with them, and now our last day would be together. Full circle.

Water reflections

Kayda and I spent our time in the clear water, “beach combing for treasures and admiring the reflections in the clear water.

Al and Sam are discussing boating and world problems.

Al and Sam are discussing boating and world problems.

Instead of packing our lunches, we decided to have lunch at Lubbers Landing, a place we have never been, a first for us. WOW – So glad we didn’t miss this terrific place. Absolutely loved the location, the style, and the food.

Approaching Lubbers Landing, on Lubbers Quarter, by dinghy. Great fire pit right on the beach.

Approaching Lubbers Landing, on Lubbers Quarter, by dinghy.                               Great fire pit in the sand right near the water..

The covered wooden walkways up to the buildings were the first sign that this place was going to be charming, in a very islandy way.

A rustic covered walkway led from the dock up to the restaurant.

A rustic covered walkway led from the dock up to the restaurant.

Amy and her husband Austin, own Lubbers Landing, this small personalized island resort.

Amy and her husband Austin, own Lubbers Landing, this small personalized island resort. She paints the whimsical sayings on the wooden signs, posting them all around the resort.

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Sam (Samantha) and Char (Charlene) are patient and welcoming to us new folks who want to explore and walk around before ordering.

Sam (Samantha) and Char (Charlene) are patient and welcoming to us new folks who want to explore and walk around before ordering.

We sat outside on the deck enjoying every moment of this last day, good friends, excellent food, beautiful setting.

We sat outside on the deck enjoying every moment of this last day, good friends, excellent food, beautiful setting.( Thanks for taking our photo, Amy. It will be one of my favorites.)

Lubbers Landing is known for its tuna burger (on the right) and the fish and chips. Both were delicious. Their famous "saltwater marguerite was the best ever!

Lubbers Landing is known for its tuna burger (on the right) and the fish and chips. Both were delicious. Their famous “saltwater marguerite was the best ever!

We chatted with Amy while we ate, and she eagerly agreed to show us one of their cottages.

If I ever decide to run away froth world, this is where I will be. Wooden walkways meander around the grounds to each cottage. The cottage is small with everything you would ever need. The design is natural "island" (my words) not colorful island. SO peaceful. Amy arranges smooth stones and pebbles in a heart shape on the bed for guests when they first arrive.

If I ever decide to run away from world, this is where I will be (if I also win Lotto.) Wooden walkways meander around the grounds to each cottage. Each cottage is small with everything you would ever need. The design is natural “island” (my words), not colorful island. SO peaceful. Amy arranges smooth stones and pebbles in a heart shape on the bed for guests when they first arrive.

And then it was time to dinghy back to Hope Town, carrying with us wonderful memories of a last day. Thanks for joining us, Sam and Kayda! You made it extra special.

And then it was time to dinghy back to Hope Town, carrying with us wonderful memories of a last day. Thanks for joining us, Sam and Kayda! You made it extra special.