Hurricane Dorian: A Close-Call for Plaintiff’s Rest in the Bahamas

Sep. 1, 2019, a Cat 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and a minimum central pressure of 910 mb hit the Bahamas. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the northern Bahamas since modern records.  Phillip and I watched this monster breed, grow, and feast on the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean as it approached.  While we had done all we could—our boat was as prepared as possible—nothing can ease the fear of a hurricane claiming her, the one you’ve toiled so painstakingly over.  The boat you love. As Dorian began to rip into the Abacos, all we could do was watch and hold our breath as Plaintiff’s Rest sat tied to the dock at Great Harbour Cay in the northern Berry Islands, Bahamas.  

Dorian’s Path

August 28, 2019, Dorian is officially declared a hurricane. After rapid intensification, on August 31, 2019, she is declared a Cat 4 with a path pointed right toward Great Harbour Cay.  My stomach lurches as NOAA loads and shows us our potential fate.

“I’m actually glad it’s pointed right at us,” Phillip says.  “That usually means it’s going to go another direction.” 

While that may sound crazy (everyone has a few odd storm superstitions), that one actually holds rather true, as Hurricane Michael was pointed straight toward us in Pensacola in October, 2018, initially.  

But, because of our superstition, that meant the storm was going to veer off and just miss us. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Hurricane Michael did, heading just over 100 miles to the east, sadly, walloping Panama City. While it is always tough to “wish” a hurricane on anyone else, all you can think when it’s coming for you is “please turn, please turn, please turn.”  

Although it was unclear whether the damage from Dorian would be confined mostly to the Abacos alone, or the Abacos and the Berries, was yet to be determined, Plaintiff’s Rest did have several things going for her:

  1. The incredible staff at Great Harbour Cay (“GCH”) Marina;
  2. The marina’s 360-degree protection and impressive hurricane track record;
  3. Our extensive hurricane preparation; and
  4. Our final magic touch: Steve and Ros!

1. The Staff at GHC

While I discussed this extensively in the previous blog, it bears noting once more as this was one of the primary thoughts Phillip and I had running through our heads back in Pensacola as we continued to refresh NOAA and watch the news: Our boat was in the best hands possible with Steven and his staff at GHC.  I kept envisioning Steven with his 14’ “gang plank” he called it, having placed and scaled it out to our boat in the middle of two slips working feverishly to “spider-web” her out, as I call it.  

As I mentioned, we had an additional six (6) 50’ dock lines shipped to Steven at his request for a situation just like this, and I was confident he was using every one of them to expertly position our boat for the storm.  While the docks at GHC unfortunately do not float, Steven used a rock-solid strategy in tying the first set of six lines at a length that would allow her to float safely in a normal rise and fall of tide.  He then tied the secondary round of six lines at a length that would allow her to continue floating safely in the middle of the slips if the tide/surge rose another 3-4’ and/or any of the initial round of lines failed.  

Phillip and I were incredibly grateful for a team willing to take such great efforts in our leave to ensure our boat was safe.  We also heard from a follower on Facebook after posting about our hurricane hole who rode out Hurricane Matthew in GHC. She told us what impressive lengths Steven and his staff went to to help prepare and protect all of the boats in the marina. Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing this!

Thankfully, due to Steven and his team’s efforts, not a single boat was lost when Hurricane Matthew went over on almost a virtual track to Dorian. So, for Dorian, we had the best deckhands possible looking out for our boat: Steven’s Angels.

2. GHC’s Hurricane Track Record

One of the first things we learned about GHC when Phillip and I began to research it was its impressive track record. As I mentioned in the previous post, Phillip and I were comforted by an article we found written by a cruising couple who (like Cynthia) spent Hurricane Matthew in GHC and highly recommended it: Hurri-CAN or Hurri-CAN’T.

Hurricane Matthew’s path in 2004.

In addition to Matthew, knowing GHC also survived Hurricane Andrew, another Cat 4 direct hit, back in 1992, again with no damage to boats or homes, help put our minds at ease.

GHC is either a very protected place, or darn lucky. Either way, Phillip and I wanted both luck and geography on our side for hurricane season.

3. Our Hurricane Boat Prep

The sad reality of hurricanes is that no matter how much you prepare, how many anchors you drop or lines you tie, how buttoned up and stripped she is, whether on jacks or in the water, if a Cat 5 rolls over your boat, all bets are off.  Nothing is guaranteed.  No place is 100% safe, especially when there is always the factor of other boats around her that may not be secured off as securely, either in the shipyard or out.  All you can do is make the best decisions possible, do as much prep work as possible, then pray and plead to the hurricane gods that this time won’t be your time.  That’s what we did.  I’ve posted an article before outlining all of the hurricane prep work we do on our boat anytime we think she might face a significant storm or hurricane for your benefit here.  This comprehensive prep-work was a very comforting thought as Phillip and I watched Dorian rumble closer and closer from our laptops back in Pensacola, knowing we had done all we could.

4. Our Eyes and Ears on the Ground: Steve and Ros

This was an unexpected gift. Phillip and I had been lucky enough to meet this wonderful couple both when we cruised through Bimini on our way into the Bahamas this past spring, and again when we both ended up stopping in GHC to park our boats for hurricane season.  Steve and Ros are a very interesting and entertaining liveaboard cruising-couple who are just getting their first taste of the Bahamas this year.  We had fun dining and hanging out (literally!) with them when Phillip and I were in GHC before we left in May of last year.  

And the catch of the day is … ANNIE! Ros also does silks on her boat! She has a hammock that she rigs up to do yoga on the bow and inversions to help her back. Boat yoga keeps people young – I’m telling ya!

While Steve and Ros chose, themselves, to stay in GHC once it appeared Dorian was traveling significantly and safely to the north, they thankfully had a condo where they were able to stay so they remained high, dry, and safe.  But, this also let them be our eyes and ears on the ground as the storm rolled over Plaintiff’s Rest in Slip 6, which they could see from the safety of their condo. This was the view from their condo (Plaintiff’s Rest is the sailboat on the far right):

We spoke on the phone many times to Steve and Ros as the storm approached making sure they were safe, offering the food and water we knew was on our boat in the aftermath of the storm (as everyone expected the power, water, and food supplies to be diminished for days, possibly weeks post-Dorian), and talking about the conditions they were seeing in the marina.  Steve and Ros were able to send us some pictures and video during the height of the storm. 

You’ll notice in the photo above, the water has not risen enough yet to reach the docks. Thankfully the actual storm itself was fairly benign in GHC, with reports of winds only up to 90-100 mph in the marina. However, immediately after the storm, as the surge began to flow in (even with the incredibly narrow cut I documented previously that leads into the marina), new fears began to grow as the water quickly consumed the docks and continued to rise.  

Here you can see the water has risen over the finger pier next to our boat.
This is Steve and Ros’s view of their boat – the furthest mast down in this photo – and they, too, could see the water had risen over the dock.

One of the most frightening images I think we received from Ros was of all the boats in the marina with no docks visible—just lines stretched taut into the dark water below.  If that trend continued, Phillip and I knew our baby girl would be in trouble struggling with dock lines stretched to their max and continually-rising waters. Unfortunately, this was the last video we received from Steve and Ros around 4:00 p.m. on September 2, 2019 before their cell service went down for approximately 20 hours.  

I’ll admit that was a bit of a frightening moment, not knowing what was happening to the boat, what the water was doing, what lines, if any, were currently failing.  All kinds of graphic images wandered through our minds during that time, imagining her breaking free of all lines, being lifted up above the docks and laid back down on concrete, damaged, impaled, or worse.  But, Phillip and I had put our faith in that marina, its location and layout, and its exceptional staff.  And, finally, around 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of September 3, 2019, Phillip and I received a photo from Steve and Ros that (I’ll be honest) made me tear up:

Best selfie ever, Ros! Thank you! Thank you!

A wet, post-hurricane selfie with our baby!  Our floating baby!  I was elated, thrilled, laughing silly with the realization that she had made it!  Plaintiff’s Rest had survived Dorian!

That was the probably the most frightened Phillip and I have felt as a storm passed over our boat.  I remember Nate was very scary when we decided to haul out and strap her up as best as possible, but Nate then took a turn more toward Orange Beach and the reports from Pensacola told us they had only sustained 40 knot winds, so we were almost immediately relieved. Now, in 2019, watching our boat rise with a surge that was unpredictable without updates for an extended period of time was … well, gut-wrenching.  But, we know many others lost their boats, homes, and livelihoods in the Abacos when Dorian went over, so we can only consider ourselves lucky, and extremely grateful.

While there is no way to say what is the “right” or “best” decision to make when a hurricane is coming, because there as so many variables and unpredictable outcomes, I guess I’ll apply the same rule that we use for docking: If no one was hurt and nothing was broken, it’s a success. Thankfully, we can say that this year—with that monster Dorian roaring a mere 60 miles north of our boat—and neither Phillip nor I were hurt and nothing was broken, which means our hurricane plan this year was a success. Thankfully.  

But, my lawyer (Phillip : ) wisely reminded me to include this important disclaimer: Deciding where or how to secure your boat for hurricane season can be an incredibly difficult decision, with no “right” answer in sight. But it is a decision you have to make on your own after conducting your own research, knowing no place, including Great Harbour Cay, can ever be a 100% guarantee.

Many thanks to Steven and his incredible staff at GHC for watching over our baby girl, to fellow cruisers who have posted and shared their experience at GHC, and a resounding, almighty thank-you to Steve and Ros for keeping an eye on our baby girl during the storm and venturing out when it was safe to make sure she was, too. Plaintiff’s Rest will be forever grateful!!

That’s her smiling. Trust me. I can tell. : )
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Our Hurricane Hole for 2019: Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas

Where to go for hurricane season is always a very tough call.  I’ve written here before about hurricanes, the sometimes horrible reality of cruising, and some of our more difficult winters spent here in Pensacola when Phillip and I often had to make the very hard decision of whether to haul: a tough call.  I am now grateful I can write here again—with after another hurricane season behind us and, thankfully, our baby girl still floating safe—about our experience this year and what we decided to do with our boat this past hurricane season, 2019.  This was another tough call on our part for two reasons: 1) it would leave her still very much in “the box” (although no place is guaranteed); and 2) it would mean we would have to leave the boat unattended for an extended period of time. But, we decided to do it and it turned out to be the right call.  Hindsight 20/20.  Dodging hurricanes has to be the absolute worst part of cruising.

Kissing our baby goodbye when we decided to leave her on the hard for Hurricane Nate, 2017.

So, how did we hear about Great Harbour Cay?

You might have guessed Pam Wall as she has given us such a wealth of information about “her beloved Bahamas” as she calls them.  Love that lady …  

But, a dock neighbor in Pensacola actually first told us about it as it was a spot he had kept his exquisite motor yacht during hurricane season several times.  And, if someone with that many more zeroes on his boat value than ours felt comfortable leaving it there, that definitely gave me some peace of mind.  We honestly had no idea there was any hurricane hole in the Bahamas until he mentioned it.   

Phillip and I had already decided not to bring Plaintiff’s Rest back to Pensacola this year for hurricane season because the odds of getting hit hard in Pensacola are fairly high (Pensacola was hit by Hurricane Opal in 1995, Ivan in 2004, Dennis in 2005, and Hurricane Michael only missed us by 100 miles, demolishing hundreds of boats, in 2018).  And, the huge bay, which is fantastic for sailing, can be devastating if a hurricane hits us there in the corner pocket of Florida.  Phillip and I spent the last several hurricane seasons in Pensacola playing the “haul or not to haul?” game, sometimes back-to-back each season (for Hurricane Nate in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018).  That can be an exhausting and expensive process, one that we wanted to avoid this year if possible.  

So, our plan for hurricane season 2019 had initially been to dot through the Bahamas rather quickly and get the boat from Pensacola down to Grenada over April-May.  But, you know me and Phillip.  When it comes to cruising, we don’t like to do anything quickly. It always seems like we could spend weeks (months even!) at some of the places we only stop at for days and, even then, we would still feel like we hadn’t fully explored the place.  And, the Bahamas have really resonated with us. Phillip always says it is a place he had heard so many people rushed through in their excitement to get to what most people call “the Caribbean” (the BVIs, Antilles, and such) but once down there, they realize they zipped through the stunning Bahamian islands too quickly.  We didn’t want to suffer the same fate! 

These two LOVE the Bahamas!

So, when we started to research Great Harbour Cay and gain some confidence in it, the thought of having an entire second year to explore the Bahamas without having to make the arduous journey (not to mention sometimes dangerous, sometimes lengthy if the weather doesn’t cooperate) bringing the boat to and from Pensacola to the Bahamas two more times, Phillip and I really started to see the appeal of Great Harbour Cay for hurricane season 2019.  Leave her in a protected hurricane hole, in the middle of paradise, and just fly in and out whenever we want to hop on board and go cruising? Umm … yes, please!

What we had heard from our dock neighbor friend about Great Harbour Cay sounded ideal.  He said the place had natural 360-degree protection, with tall limestone accumulation creating a protected nook for the marina in the center with a single, narrow inlet cut through the limestone that was a big deterrent to surge and swell. That was our initial report.  

Then Phillip found this fantastic article, Hurri-CAN or Hurri-CAN’T, about a live-aboard cruising couple that had ridden out Hurricane Matthew (a Cat 4 that went directly over the Berry Islands in October, 2016) at Great Harbour Cay Marina. If you’re interested in the place, it’s an enlightening read. 

The one negative was that the marina does not have floating docks.  They are fixed concrete docks.  

But, with the significant protection from swell, we considered this a risk worth considering.  (Especially considering Pensacola, which has floating docks where we kept her, but with one of the biggest deep-water bays in the southeast that would allow massive swell to accumulate if a hurricane hit there and demolish anything within a mile of shore, floating docks or not.  Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was a perfect example of this).  

Images like this make me nauseous but it’s just a sad reality of cruising. This is possible. Which is why we spend so much time and effort researching, planning, and preparing for hurricane season.

The bottom line is: the decision will always be tough.  No place, in or even just outside the “hurricane box,” is 100% safe.  And, nothing is guaranteed.  Phillip and I have spoken at length about this and we believe there is a portion of it that falls to the boat owner to make the most calculated risk-averse call that can be made and prepare the boat as much as possible, then the other portion is just pure luck.  There is only so much you can do, and no one can predict in advance of the season where a hurricane is going to hit.  After much consideration, Phillip and I decided, before we left Pensacola to cruise the Bahamas last spring, to call the marina at Great Harbour Cay and make a reservation through hurricane season. Thankfully, once we started cruising the Bahamas last year and finally arrived in Great Harbour Cay in May, 2019 and were able to see the place for ourselves, we were only bolstered in our decision.  

The day we were making our way around the northern Berries (and witnessing that crazy monstrosity that is Coco Cay for the first time!) toward the cut for Great Harbour Cay marina, I was Captain of the ship that day.  It is a tight channel coming out of the Atlantic and into the harbor on the west side of the island, but it is well marked and clearly shown on the Explorer Charts, so no trouble getting in at high or moderate tide (for us, with a 6 ft draft).  But, as I was nearing what the Explorer Charts were telling mewas the entrance into the interior of the island to get to the marina, I saw nothing in front of me but a big limestone wall.  It was a little daunting continuing to motor, in a tight channel, toward what appeared to be just a big land mass.  (You know how much I enjoy the thought of turning around in a tight channel.)  Phillip and I kept looking at the charts and looking ahead for an entry, looking back at the charts, then back ahead for an entry, but for a while none appeared. 

Finally—it wasn’t until we were about 50 yards from shore and started to turn to port—the entrance revealed itself as a very narrow cut (our dock neighbor was right!) into the limestone. 

While I’ve guessed the width of this many times in telling friends and fellow cruisers where we kept our boat this year, having now driven it a sixth and final time leaving the Berries just a couple of weeks ago, I can safely say it’s only about 50 feet across. Very narrow.  Comfortingly narrow.  Blissfully narrow, when you’re planning to keep your boat there for hurricane season!

We were also surprised to see the distance (finally in person, rather than just on a map) from the entrance, dog-legged around to the actual marina.  Great Harbour Cay is a phenomenal, well-protected hurricane hole. That much was clear just from our motor-in to our slip.  (Which Annie docked in like a dream, I must add!  : ) When we say “You’re Captain for the day” on our boat it means for whatever the day brings.  Sharing all roles possible on the boat is a game-changer.) 

However, what was not yet clear, was the added element we were unaware of when we made the decision to stay at Great Harbour Cay for hurricane season and booked our slip.

That was the people. Isn’t it always the people?

The staff and dockmaster at Great Harbour Cay were the je ne sais quoi that really sealed the deal for Phillip and me.  While Kingsley, whom I spoke with on the phone was very reassuring and professional, and Tramenco who helped us dock up was super friendly and welcoming, when I first spoke with the dockmaster, Steven, to let him know we were planning to keep the boat there during hurricane season, he said the magic words to me that let me know our baby was going to be in good hands.  The first thing Steven said:

“I’m going to need twelve dock lines.”  

Twelve?!, I thought at first.  Then, instantly my brain snapped.  “Absolutely, Steven.” Whatever you need to keep our baby girl safe, you will damn sure get it.  Twelve dock lines it shall be.  And, if that seems overkill, anything that keeps Plaintiff’s Restsafe in a storm is not, and never will be.  Phillip and I ordered up another six (6) brand new, 50-foot dock lines that day from Lightbourne Marina in Nassau to be shipped by boat to Great Harbour Cay the following week.  You want twelve, Steven, you get twelve.  

But, Steven also gave us great comfort talking about the previous hurricanes that had come straight over Great Harbour Cay: Hurricane Matthew which I mentioned in the article above in 2016, which was a Cat 4 with no damage, as well as Hurricane Andrew, which was a Cat 4 in 1992.  During the entirety of those very deadly storms, no boats in Great Harbour Cay suffered any damage.  The marina really has an impressive hurricane track record. But, aside from the marina itself, the people also gave Phillip and I great comfort.  

Steven—he and I both enjoying the marina’s “grill night” on Friday’s (a choice of delicious barbecue pork or chicken made dock-side) and looking at Plaintiff’s Restin Slip No. 6—told me if a storm were to build and start heading their way that he would move our boat to the middle of Slip Nos. 6 and 7.  He would then spider-web the lines out, attaching six of them to hold the boat secure in a normal rise and fall of the tide, and another six of them at a higher rise and fall if any of the first lines broke during a storm.  Steven said he has a special “gang plank” (he calls it, jokingly) that he uses to get from the dock to a boat in the middle of two slips to secure all of the lines and make sure the boat is floating safely in the middle.  I wasn’t ashamed at all.  I hugged the man.  I didn’t care if he wasn’t a hugger.  I am, and in the moment that’s all that was called for.  (And, I’ve generally found most men don’t mind a hug from a gal in a bikini ; ).  Steven seemed to fall in that category as well.

Steven also asked me, which sounded more like a recommendation, about removing the bimini and dodger.  “Oh, we’ll strip every last thing, don’t worry,” I told him, knowing Phillip and I planned to leave the boat completely hurricane-ready.  Phillip and I had debated this in the days before we reached Great Harbour Cay, i.e., how much hurricane prep we would do before leaving her.  And, I could easily say, after all of this tough decision-making, the last thing I wanted was to find myself back in Pensacola, the boat in the Bahamas with a hurricane bearing down on her, and thinking: I wish we would have removed that stack pack.  Or raised those halyards to the top of the mast.  Or, wrapped those lines around the binnacle.  Or, taped all of the instrument covers on.  Or … I could go on.  That was the feeling we were trying to avoid.  As I’ve mentioned, we believe hurricane survival is part tactical decision and part luck, so in the tactical-decision department, Phillip and I wanted to give our boat the best odds possible. 

Main sail on the cabin floor. It’s a ton of work but the peace of mind is totally worth it!

Thankfully, we have done the hurricane-prep drill many times (and I’ve written out our entire process here if you are interested) and, thankfully, it has only ever been a drill … knock on wood.  But, because we have, we knew what all needed to be done.  When it comes to preparing Plaintiff’s Rest for a hurricane, Phillip and drop everything—the sails, the stack pack, the dodger, the bimini.  We bring as many halyards up the mast as possible (using long dyneema messenger lines) and wrap, or bag up and tape, the remaining lines as much as possible.  We cover and tape the instruments.  We cover and tape the companionway opening.  We ziptie the dodger and bimini frame secure.  Feel free to read the article above for more hurricane prep tips. We’re pretty fanatic about it. And, for good reason.  Have you seen our gorgeous boat!  : )

Photos from our hurricane prep in Great Harbour Cay in May, 2019:

I assured Steven our boat would be completely stripped, 100% hurricane ready, which seemed to give him comfort as well.  I could imagine being a dockmaster and dealing with a boat left behind that is not hurricane ready must cause him a great deal of stress as it would leave him worrying not only about the condition of the non-prepped boat, but also its then-ability to potentially cause damage to nearby fully-prepped boats. I do not envy any dockmaster their job when a storm is coming.  This brief conversation with Steven gave me a fascinating glimpse into the stressors of his position and I was impressed with everything he has to handle in that situation.  

So, Great Harbour Cay. We cannot recommend it highly enough as a secure, reliable hurricane hole in the Bahamas.  It is also a very welcoming little island with plenty to do: a handful of fun little bars and restaurants, plenty of diving and snorkeling, a great shelling beach on the north shore, a spooky “shark river,” and a great little grocery.  Not to mention the marina is very clean with decent wifi, laundry, and shuttle service when available.  GHC has lots to offer for a week stay.  

But, now that you know the decision process and everything Phillip and I went through to try and keep our boat secure during hurricane season this year, you now also know the frightening reality (which we decided not to share publicly) of where she was when Hurricane Dorian hit.  In September, 2019, Phillip and I could only watch and wish the staff at Great Harbour Cay Marina and our baby girl the best as that monstrous, slow-moving, massive Cat 5 was headed straight for the northern Berry Islands, Bahamas.  

Next up on the blog, we will share Plaintiff’s Rest’s experience when Hurricane Dorian hit.  It’s one helluva tale. Hurricanes … uggh. I’m so glad the 2019 season is over!

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Back to the Berries: Our Most Isolated and Inundated Stops

I would have never thought I would use the word “inundated” when describing the Berry Islands, but unfortunately, one of them is. Have any of you seen Coco Cay? Formerly Little Stirrup Island, the island was purchased by Carnival Cruise Lines and turned into just that: a carnival. 

We’ll get there.

Thankfully, many of the other islands of the Berries remain untouched and exude the quiet, serene calm that Phillip and I love about the Berry Islands. The one we stopped at first after leaving Warderick Wells Cay on a nice overnight run to the Berries was just that: quiet and picture-perfect Little Harbour Cay. Proof, we had the place ALL to ourselves:

And, it was a place we had never heard of before and likely never would have stopped at had it not been so heartily recommended by a fellow cruising friend (shout-out to Pensacola sailor, BaBaLu!).

That is one of the very cool things about meeting new cruisers: they often help you find new tucked-away little anchorages you might have never found otherwise. So, before I tell you about Little Harbour Cay, let me tell you a little about the sailor who recommended the place to us: Captain Bob Fleege, better known to Pensacola locals as “BaBaLu.” (Seriously, you say that name in cruising circles around here and everyone knows who you’re talking about.) BaBaLu sails on an exquisite Catalina 34, s/v Partager (which means “to share” in French and boy does he!). And, just like the French, he kisses, too! 

This is Bob greeting me in front of his boat at the shipyard. While we knew BaBaLu in passing (as the Pensacola cruising community is delightfully small), we got to know him much better (as you always do) when we were both on the hard in the Pensacola Shipyard back in 2016 when Phillip and I spent a grueling three months re-building our rotten mast stringers and changing our old rod rigging to wire. Whew, that was some serious time on the hill! Bob was hauled out, too, replacing his auto-pilot and some electronics and he was gracious enough to let me film a tour of his exquisite Catalina 34 while we were there. BaBaLu’s was Boat Tour No. 2 at HaveWind!

Bob was cheering there after having just crawled out of this hole … if you can believe it.

Believe it …

BaBaLu also appeared in our Second Annual Boozer Cruiser when we picked him up aboard s/v Partager to dinghy him around for a night of boat-to-boat, boozing fun! Bob had just come out to drop the hook for the night—with no idea that we had a Progressive Boozer Cruiser, costume-required, evening at the anchorage planned. But, that didn’t deter him one bit. As a cruiser, Bob is always prepared. (I couldn’t NOT share this clip with you : ). According to Phillip, the First Rule of Cruising is … 

Good times! Aside from seeing him often in Pensacola out at Ft. McRee, Red Fish, and Pirate’s Cove, we’ve met up with BaBaLu down in Key West in 2014, as well, when he was there when he was down for his annual cruise staying at A&B Marina. 

Bob sails his Catalina down the west coast of Florida to Cuba, Mexico, and often the Bahamas every year. So, he has a lot of great recommendations for anchorages, marinas, restaurants, and (his favorite) tiki bars along those parts. Following and texting us via our Delorme last year, when BaBaLu saw that we were leaving the Exumas to head back to the Berry Islands, he told us we had (“simply had!”) to stop at Little Harbour Cay, drop the hook (“for the day at least!”), and dinghy up the inlet to Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar for “the best cracked conch in the Bahamas!” That’s a pretty bold statement. One Phillip does not take lightly. Or, at face value. We decided we needed to verify Bob’s promise for ourselves. For … scientific accuracy, not because we love cracked conch.

Little Harbour Cay is one of the long narrow islands in the Berries between Chub Cay to the south and Great Harbour Cay to the north.

Phillip and I would likely not have stopped there if it hadn’t been for Bob’s recommendation because we didn’t know there was an anchorage there and we had no idea there was a restaurant. But, after a nice, peaceful overnight from the Exumas across the Tongue of the Ocean, we meandered in to Little Harbour Cay and were thrilled to find this little gem.

It was a beautiful blue-water spot with gorgeous green and navy waters, a protected little anchorage with plenty of depth, and some fun inlets to poke around in on the dinghy. Not to mention Flo’s Conch Bar just a short dinghy ride up the way.

But, I do have to break some sad news to you. We didn’t get any conch at Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar. I know … it was a travesty! But, it was entirely our own faults. Bob had told us in a text to “call ahead and order the cracked conch.” We figured Bob just liked to have his lunch hot and ready when he got there. He’s quite organized like that. Not being as particular—and happy to wait for home-cooked food in a fun, new place—Phillip and I just dinghied in, planning to order when we got there. Well … we can’t fault Bob for it. He tried to tell us. We just didn’t know “call ahead” meant “if you don’t, they won’t have conch for you.” At least for us they did not. We got there around 2:30 p.m. and chatted a bit with this guy in the kitchen who was trying to fix a flashlight with some wire and duct tape. He wasn’t very talkative, but he was friendly and nice enough to let us know they only cooked conch for you if you called it in by 11:00 a.m. Like the Seinfeld soup kitchen, it was “No conch for you!”

But, as I mentioned, that was our fault. Aunt Flo, we’ll be back! And, we’ll call ahead next time! What was really cool, though, was the little surprise I found there on the wall at Aunt Flo’s. Here, I’ll give you a little 360 of the place so you can see what Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar looks like.

There are so many of these little Mom-and-Pop type fried conch restaurants in the Bahamas, and many of them have lots of local memorabilia tacked up on the walls—shirts, boat flags and pennants, signed dollar bills, you name it. And, I was just moseying around while Phillip was sipping his rum drink talking to the Flashlight Fix-it guy and look what I found on the wall!  

BaBaLu’s boat signature that he had left there about a month before us in April, 2019! S/v Partager was here! : )

Little Harbour Cay was definitely a fun little surprise and a nice welcome back to the Berries. Our first time there, back in 2018, we had pulled into Frazer’s Hog Cay, just because it looked like the most protected spot for a blow we were expecting, that was all, but it turned out to be the most memorable stop of our Abacos cruise in the winter of 2017-2018. Why? Because of the people! It’s always the people! That’s when we met the infamous Pat and Steve who I wrote about on the blog and in SAIL Magazine.

Steve and Pat made the Berries an unforgettable special stop for me and Phillip back in 2018, and we were excited to now log a new Berries story in our belt. “Aunt Flo, Conch No” we’ll call it : ). Despite our Flo flub, though, Little Harbour Cay was our most isolated, wonderful stop in the Berry Islands this past year. 

Leaving Little Harbour Cay, however, and making our way north toward Great Stirrup and Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Phillip and I encountered the most inundated island in the Berries. We had a nice sail up north that day and decided to get the stainless polished up while we were underway.

I didn’t know if it was the Collinite fumes or the heat, but I thought I was seeing things. As we were sailing on the Atlantic side past Devil’s Cay then Hoffman’s Cay, we were stunned to see what looked to be an alien monstrosity start to materialize on the horizon. I really didn’t know what I was looking at for a while. It looked like a County State Fair right there on the Atlantic. There was a looping, towering structure that mimicked an amusement park ride, a hot air balloon in the air, lots of flags flailing, what appeared to be towers with zip lines. It was insane!

As Phillip and I began to make our way closer, we realized we were seeing exactly what we thought we were seeing: a carnival on the water. Carnival Cruise Lines bought this island and converted it into exactly what you would expect a Carnival island to look like. I’m sorry, but as a purist and fan of natural Bahamian beauty, I felt like Coco Cay was an absolute monstrosity in the Bahamas. 

I’m sure it’s fun. I’m sure the drinks are tasty (and pricy). And, I’m sure many people have a great time there. But, it’s all so … concocted. It’s taking American ideas of “fun” and “vacation” and imposing it on what was once a beautiful, pristine island landscape. Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup are now private islands that you can’t event dinghy up to and simply step ashore and enjoy, which is sad. I honestly thought a good bit about Terry Jo Duperrault and her mesmerizing Alone: Orphaned at Sea story (which I had read during our passage over to the Bahamas that year) because her family, while cruising the Bahamas in 1961, had stopped at Little Stirrup Cay, when it was an untouched Bahamian gem of an island. If only Terry could see this now, I thought. Coco Cay is quite shocking. 

Phillip and I circled around Little Stirrup and headed into the inlet on the Atlantic side of Great Harbour Cay to drop the hook for the evening. Unfortunately, the anchorage did not offer the same serene charm as Little Harbour Cay with all of the Coco Cay “excursions” that were running about. We had jet skis circling us all afternoon and power boats zipping from island to island, chock full of Carnival cruisers. But, Phillip and I were there for a reason. We needed to scrub the bottom. We had been doing the bottom on our own while cruising in the Bahamas, which proved to be a rather easy, gratifying project. We only have to do it once a month or so. It only requires a couple of Scotch Brites and some healthy lungs. Or our Mantus Snuba set-up, which gives us each 15 minutes on either side to scrub the bottom and is a great portable little dive rig. We call it “snuba” because it’s a nice hybrid between scuba-diving and snorkeling. Thank you Mantus for another great product!

Scrubbing the bottom ourselves also gives us comfort laying hands on our own hull and making sure she’s in good shape, i.e., there are no blisters forming, or big paint patches chipping off. I honestly rather enjoy it. And, I knew it would be a while before we would be doing it again, so it was kind of like giving Plaintiff’s Rest a little love pat on the bottom before leaving her. Phillip and I were scrubbing the bottom that day because we knew our next stop was going to be Plaintiff’s Rest’s home for hurricane season and we wanted to park her with a clean bottom. 

Yep, you read that right. We did not sail our Niagara 35 back to Pensacola this past summer. While it was hard to do and a tough decision, it ended up being the right one for us and our boat. Thankfully … Next up on the blog, we will tell you all about the protected little hurricane hole in the Bahamas where we kept our baby girl this past season, where she weathered a massive storm that ravaged the Abacos only sixty miles to the north of her (Hurricane Dorian – uggh), and where she remained in incredibly-capable hands and under the watchful-eyes of amazingly gracious cruising friends. New ones at that! Cruising is most definitely all about the people. We have much to share about hurricane season this year. Stay tuned!

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Turtle Tales from Warderick Wells

Boo Hoo Hill, blowholes, a greeter shark … oh my! Warderick Wells was definitely our favorite stop in the Exumas this past spring. We only had time to visit a few Exuma islands before we had to move to get our boat back to safety before hurricane season began, but Phillip and I both are so glad we stretched our Exumas visit enough to let us enjoy this stunning Land and Sea park at Warderick Wells Cay. Here is where the island is located.

The natural deep channel that snakes through the harbor makes for some of the most stunning neon-streaked water views I’ve ever seen.

The snorkeling here was also some of the very best we’ve done to date. Being a Land and Sea Park it is a “no-take reserve” (meaning no fishing, poaching, or harvesting) making it a fabulous ecological preserve and wildlife refuge. 

The whole island really is breathtaking. I felt like a super model when I saw the photos of myself walking out of the water. It’s amazing what a beautiful Bahamian backdrop can do. Bo Derrick look out!

But, the island had so much more to offer than views:

The legend of Boo Hoo Hill, with its haunted howls from the souls that perished on a long-ago ship lost to the reef is a fun hike up the island and offers a signing tree with an amazing view. 

Emerald Rock gifted us with exceptional snorkeling just a short dinghy ride from our boat. I saw a baby puffer fish, a white speckled stingray, funky sea cucumbers, and a lion fish all in one dive. Sorry not sorry for the lack of underwater photos. I was living that moment! Not filming it. 

A friendly (I’m going to assume) nurse shark comes to visit every new boat that hooks onto a ball in the mooring channel. It was a little unnerving at first, knowing we were about to go snorkeling. But, when we saw him swim up to every other new boat that came in, we knew we were safe. It’s just a new breed of shark they have in the Exumas: a greeter shark. : )

There is also a sunken boat near Mooring Ball No. 10 that was really neat to dive. While the channel graciously offers enough depth for 20+ boats to cruise in, grab a ball for a few nights, and enjoy all the island has to offer, it is still only around 15-18-feet deep allowing for easy free-water diving and snorkeling. You can see the channel here that curves around, kind of like a fish hook.

Underneath the sunken boat, Phillip and I saw the biggest grouper and lobster we had both ever seen. The grouper had to be about four feet long, from nose to tail, and the lobster’s body was bigger than a basketball. Antennae to tail, he was probably longer than the grouper! We had to dive down 3-4 times to fully take them in. And, it was fun to learn from other cruisers who were there, as well as the Land and Sea Park staff, that the grouper and the lobster are apparently long-time friends who have been living under that boat for years. I wonder if they get tired of the lookie-loos … 

This is all just the tip of the Warderick iceberg. I could go on. But, when I was reflecting back on our time there—as Phillip and I are right now gearing up to kick off our cruising season this year, beginning again in the Bahamas—three distinct memories came back to me. One, I sent to Bob Bitchin in a fun “Annie-dotal” story he requested at the Annapolis Boat Show. Be on the lookout for that. It’s called They Don’t Answer Stupid Questions in the Bahamas. The other two I’ve written up for you below: 1) We Dropped the Ball; and 2) Our Time With a Turtle. : )

We Dropped the Ball

This was easily mine and Phillip’s biggest ever complete mooring ball FAIL. If you’ve ever felt like you have been “the show” in the mooring field, with everyone watching you miss the ball, lose a boat hook, trip on the deck, miss the ball again, curse, throw things, etc., don’t worry. We’ve been there, too. This was definitely our day to entertain the other boats already safely on their balls in Warderick Wells Cay. And, it was my day (of course!) to be Captain. 

Since I got my USCG license in 2017, Phillip and I try to share all roles on the boat equally … well, except when it comes to contorting into lazarettes and engine spaces. I seem to be more suited for that. But, when it comes to helming, navigating, sail trimming, deckhanding, etc., we try to keep it equal so we always have a good understanding of what the forces on the boat are doing and what the other crew member is experiencing or dealing with. It has been a very fruitful, eye-opening exercise for us as we continue to learn the obstacles and challenges unique to the traditional roles we use to play where Phillip always helmed, and I always ran around on deck like a jackrabbit on cocaine fending off and catching/tossing lines. While the mere role of Captain does not (on our boat) make one responsible for any snafoos, I will just go ahead and admit our epic fail that day was 100% my fault. But, thankfully, there was absolutely no damage, 0%, so it is now just a fun docking debacle story we get to share. As Bob Bitchin will tell you: The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is what?  Attitude. Love that guy!

So, after an unnerving exchange with Radio Lady, the Exumas Land and Sea Park gal at the headquarters who guided us in and assigned us our ball (you’ll read about her in an upcoming Lats and Atts issue), I was navigating our Niagara 35 along the narrow channel that I mentioned snakes through the harbor. It really is a fantastic, natural deep channel that—thankfully—allows us, on boats with a deep draft, to come in and enjoy this amazing place, but it was still a pretty tight little channel with a strong current pushing us toward our ball that did not have me feeling comfortable about turning around in it.

If I could avoid turning around in it, I was sure going to, which is why I told Phillip as we were approaching our ball to “Grab it at the bow.” My thinking being he would secure the ball to a bow cleat, the current would push and whip us around in a nice, tight little circle leaving us safe and latched on the ball once the boat got turned in the right direction. A great plan, right? Many of you more experienced helmsmen probably had the same reaction Phillip did.

“I think we should pass the ball, turn around, then try to get the ball as we’re approaching it, against the current,” Phillip said.

That would have brilliant. That’s not what I did. I told you I did not want to turn around. 

“Try your best to get the ball at the bow as I come up on it,” I told him. And, he did, but the current proved to be too much for him to hold it. After Phillip dropped it, I saw the ball coming up near me at the stern, and my inner deckhand/jackrabbit took over. I left the helm and grabbed the ball. But, oddly, with the ball saddled up on our port stern and the current streaming by, it was just the right cocktail of forces to park us. The boat was just sitting. Happily stopped. Only problem was we were backwards, and not secure on the ball. I gave Phillip a funny “What now?” look when he made it back to the cockpit, and he gave me a “Well, you’re the Captain” look in return. Or maybe it was a “this was your idea” look. Yeah, that was probably it. And, he was right. This was my mess. So, I decided we would walk the ball up to the bow together and secure it. A great plan, right?

Wrong again, Captain Annie.

I could just feel all eyes of the anchorage on us. Rightfully so. If I were them, I would have plopped down on my bow with a drink in hand for the free show! Cruising is full of them! As soon as Phillip and I got the ball near the bow and the boat started to turn around, she had somehow gathered the force of a thousand horses. When the current caught her stern and slung her around, it was so hard and fast that the rope loop from the ball jerked out of both mine and Phillip’s hands at the same time (leaving me with blood blisters). Suddenly we were drifting back to the edge of the channel with no one at the helm. It’s deep in the middle of that channel, but it is super shallow on either side. There’s not much room to avoid running aground.

I flew back to the cockpit to grab the helm and throw her in forward to stay in the channel. Phillip was absolutely right. It became immediately clear to me that approaching the ball using the current as a pushback was the best way to do it. It’s like docking with a head wind, much easier than with wind that is shoving you into the slip. I just did not want to turn around in that tight spot with the current.

Funny thing is, I got my wish. Because I didn’t turn us around. The current did! Along with our masterful ball-handling. (Sure, go ahead. Make all the jokes you want to right there.) While we were thrilled to finally be safe on the mooring at Warderick Wells Cay, it was clear that Phillip and I had definitely dropped the ball. 

Our Time With a Turtle

To date, this is still my #1 turtle experience ever, although I’m eager to collect more. Phillip and I were diving that sunken boat near Ball No. 10 that I mentioned, when he spotted a turtle on the bottom. Our entire time in the Bahamas, we had not yet had a good turtle spotting. They are just so fast … and shy. The minute they sense you are looking at them, the head pops down, and the turtle takes off. We chased many in our dinghy, but chase was all we did. By the time we had gone through Bimini, Andros, and Nassau, to make it to the Exumas, I was dying for a date with a turtle. And, boy did I get it! 

This little guy was munching sea grass on the bottom, minding his own business, enjoying his lunch, when Phillip pointed him out to me. Well, and I say “little,” but he was the biggest one I’ve seen that close-up. His shell was probably 2.5 feet in diameter. A decent-sized turtle. I stopped kicking and wading, thinking surely he would high-tail it out of there the minute he noticed me, like most other turtles always did, and I watched him in complete still-mode for a bit. It was cute to watch his little head extend out from his shell as he would turn it to the side and get a nice big sea grass bite. I could even hear him chewing! I watched him munch and crunch for about two minutes, then he started to make his way to the top for a breath of air. 

Phillip was about 5-6 feet away from me, watching the turtle and other things swimming around the sunken boat when the turtle stated to rise between us, putting him about 2 feet away from me, and 2 feet away from Phillip. Either one of us could have reached out and touched him! But, Turtle Guy was just slowly swimming up, not paying us any mind. Phillip and I were struck still with saucer eyes watching him. Then, a few feet shy of the top, the turtle stopped and waved his little turtle arms in a pattern to hold him steady. He turned and slowly looked at Phillip, holding his stunned gaze for a few seconds, then paddled his arms some more so he could slowly turn and look at me. The turtle and I locked eyes for another few seconds, then he kept on his path, making his way to the top, and we all broached the surface together to take a breath: me, Phillip, and Turtle Guy. Like we were some happy trio snorkeling together. That was a surreal moment we shared with a turtle. 

The turtle kept his head above water in between us for five seconds or so, then he slowly swam on down the same path back to the bottom to get back to his munching. He did this two or three times, heading down to munch for 3-4 minutes then swimming back up to take a breath and the three of us would all broach together and breathe together. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had while cruising. Phillip and I decided later—when we were giggling and falling all over each other in the dinghy re-living our turtle experience—that when he turned and looked at each of us, he was just taking us in, deciding if we were enemies or friends. Phillip and I both decided he saw us as friends, which is why he was fine to keep doing his thing and letting us tag along. I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever gotten the nod of approval from a turtle, you feel just about as “one with the earth” as possible. And, even had my underwater GoPro been working, and had I captured a shot of him, I don’t think it would have done it justice, and it probably would have hindered my enjoyment. It felt nice to just be one with the turtle without the blinking red light. I will never forget that moment. 

Hope you all enjoyed the Warderick Wells tales! I would encourage any cruiser heading anywhere near the northern Exumas to plan to pull into Warderick Wells Cay and stay on a ball for a few days. It is a “must-see” place.

Next up in blog time, we’ll head back to the Berries, to gunkhole one of our favorite groups of islands, before we tuck into a new marina to stash our boat for hurricane season. Stay tuned!

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Our Annapolis TOP TEN

Whew! We had to give it a week to let the dust settle (and our lungs settle). The day after Phillip and I got back from Annapolis, my chest turned into a raging, burning battlefield. I can’t imagine there is anything left in my head and lungs to hack up, but it somehow miraculously keeps coming. Phillip and I both got monstrously sick after we returned from Annapolis. Did anyone else get walloped with the cold/flu last week? Man, it makes me appreciate my health! The good news is we are on the mend this week (with at least one lung each still in tact), and I’m eager to share some of the awesome highlights from our first trip ever to the Annapolis Sailboat Show!

While the entire week was jam-packed with events, talks, boats, and beers, ten very fun memories seemed to bubble to mind when Phillip and I reflected back on our week in Annapolis. From #10 down to #1, here they are!

10.  Seeing Bob With His Bitchin Award (the Sailing Industry Distinguished Service Award, a handsome Barometer from Weems & Plath)

While I was going to say “getting a bitchin hug” was number ten on this list, Bob’s goofy, happy face when he showed me his award was even better than his massive bear hug.  The moment after he let me out of his grip, Bob tugged me into his booth and started telling me about the award he had been given just that morning.  

“Only Gary Jobson, Alastair Cook, Peter Harken, and Olaf Harken have got this award in the past,” Bob told me. “I guess the world went crazy this morning and decided to put me up there with the lot of them.” Ever the humble one. But, Bob was so cute holding his award (a stunning Weems & Plath barometer engraved with his name) up high and pasting on a goofy smile to pose with it.  I was proud to snap the photo and be able to share the moment with him.  His genuine humility and excitement from it were infectious.  Well done, Bob!  No one deserves it more! And, seeing Bob and Jody at the boat shows always brings a smile (and a hug!).

9. Watching the Show Flood Out

This was not so much a highlight as a shock. On Friday while Phillip and I were walking around the show, we watched as many of the entrances and exits from the show began to fill with flood waters, making it difficult to navigate our way out and back to the Calvert House on State Circle where we were staying.  (That is also where a portion of Cruiser’s University was held.) On Saturday morning, we were told that the combination of seasonal high tides, a full moon, and Tropical Storm Melissa, which stalled off the eastern seaboard, caused flooding throughout downtown Annapolis, leading city officials to close Spa Creek Bridge and Compromise Street, among other streets. 

While walking around the boat show on Saturday, we began to see water creep up to a foot or more around many of the booths. Flooding forced visitors to trudge through water when making their way to boats and between booths. Unfortunately, we saw an older gentleman trip on a pallet and fall into the water near one booth. As attorneys with our red liability flags definitely up at that point, Phillip and I were sure they were going to cancel the show any minute to avoid injury. It was sad to see some vendors suffer damage to their goods, although the running joke was that Gil and the other foul weather vendors were killing it selling boots and waiters left and right. Bob Bitchin even caught a video of a guy paddling through the show. It was wild! 

Studies show between 1957 and 1963, Annapolis averaged roughly four floods each year. That jumped to nearly 40 floods each year between 2007 and 2013, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You can read more about these stats and the flooding during the boat show here.

8. Knowing No Matter How Many Fancy New Boats We Stepped On, Ours Is Still the Best!

It’s true! In our minds anyway. Every new boat we toured made me appreciate the simplicity, capability, and comfort of our 1985 Niagara 35. The perfect boat for me and Phillip. Perfect because we made it that way, and perfect because it has only the bare necessities and only the necessary luxuries, and nothing more. No matter your boat preference, I found it hard to swallow several myths like these which were touted as truth at the show:

New Boat Myths (Do NOT Fall for These!):

  • Newer means better.
  • Catamarans are always more spacious, more comfortable, and faster.
  • No heeling means no seasickness.
  • Two helms and a wider cockpit make for smoother, drier sailing.
  • Handholds and fiddles can be sacrificed for a pretty interior.
  • Natural ventilation can be sacrificed for AC.
  • The more AC, gen-power, and thru-hulls the better. 
  • In-mast furling mains are a good idea.

Call me a purist, but I thought 59-North’s Swan 59, Ice Bear, was the most capable offshore boat I stepped on at the boat show. The minute I saw a boat that had a dumbwaiter from the galley below up through a hole in the deck to the cockpit, I knew I had stepped into some alternate universe where boats are designed more to entertain than perform.

That’s not to say all of those shiny fiberglass beauties wouldn’t be fun to travel and live on, I just bet an older, 35-footer would out-perform many of them in an offshore sail. Hands down. And, that was a good feeling to have while tip-toeing around on many million-dollar boats: a complete lack of envy or desire knowing the best boat for us is already ours.  Plaintiff’s Rest, you rock!

7. Honor, Courage, Commitment: Touring and Jogging the United States Naval Academy

Phillip had his eyes set on the United States Naval Academy from the moment we booked the trip. While I believe the Marines don’t like to say it out loud, they technically are a branch of the Navy, so, as a Marine himself, Phillip was really excited to see the campus and learn more about the history and traditions. The USNA offers tours on the hour every hour, from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. weekdays for only $12.00 and it was well worth it. Even without a military background myself, I was still very impressed with the rich history of the buildings and the many monuments inside that are testaments to great battles and achievements of the Navy and its many sailors.

The Statute of Tecumseh, which faces Bancroft Hall, the dormitory for 4,400 midshipmen attending the USNA was a highlight. Tecumseh has become not only the “God of 2.0” — the passing grade point average at the academy — but also the idol to whom loyal midshipmen give prayers and sacrificial offerings of pennies. Midshipmen offer a left-handed salute in tribute to Tecumseh, and they toss pennies his way for good luck in exams and athletic contests. We also learned about USNA Heisman trophy winner Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach and saw many of the impressive athletic records held by USNA students dating all the way back to the early 1900’s in a dizzying array of sports from wrestling to swimming to football to soccer to diving to lacrosse to golf to tennis. The USNA students spend approximately two hours each day in rigorous physical activity, which is why they feed them 3,500-4,000 calories a day in the Mess Hall. 

Two things about the USNA stuck out for me: 1) the tradition of capping the Herndon Mount; and 2) our morning jog around the campus on Andy’s recommendation. The Herndon Mount tradition marks the end of “plebe year.”  All freshmen entering the USNA must spend the summer before their first school year at the academy in rigorous training where they wear the traditional sailor whites (think the Cracker Jack guy) complete with a white dixie cup hat.  At the end of their plebe year, the plebes must work together to rush Herndon Mount (a monument on campus, that is greased to the nines for the occasion), scale the statute, and replace the dixie cup hat on top with an upper classman’s hat. Seeing the images of the plebes working together to build a human pyramid to accomplish this was really something. (We won’t mention the fact that it’s a pile of ripped, sweaty men – that had nothing to do with it for me … nothing at all : )

And, my second favorite memory of the academy was the bright early morning jog Phillip and I took around the campus on Friday morning of the show. We had just met Andy Schell from 59-North (more on him below) the previous day and had mentioned our tour of the USNA. If you know Andy, you know he’s a pretty fit dude (and he knows we pride physical fitness, too). I mean, health and time are really the only commodities worth protecting and stockpiling. So, Andy recommended Phillip and I jog the USNA campus in the early morning, right at sunrise. While I figured it would be refreshing, I did not think it would be so transformative. These was just something about running with all of the other young Navy students who were out that morning in the crisp fall air as the sun rose above the Chesapeake Bay that made Phillip and I feel strong, young, and connected to something bigger than us. I imagine many USNA midshipmen feel that way often when they work together to accomplish something momentous, be it an offshore sail, a football game, a swim meet, or a capping of Herndon Mount! Our hearts pounding and our lungs filled with cool, crisp air that stunning morning, I think Phillip and I got just a tiny sliver of what the team spirit of the Navy must feel like. The Naval Academy definitely rubbed off on us.  

6. Getting Front “Row” Seats for Our Best Meal of the Trip

And, let me say first of all picking a top meal was exceedingly difficult in a place where everything starts with fresh, Chesapeake Bay crab. I think ate a total of four crab-themed omelets in the course of three days, then there were the lobster rolls at Mason’s, the breakfast bowl at Iron Rooster, the hot Nashville cornmeal fried-oyster sandwich (that Phillip devoured) at Miss Shirley’s Cafe, the Senator breakfast at Chick and Ruth’s Delly. Lord, stop me now. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it again. The food in Annapolis was jaw-dropping, and I don’t regret a single bite. 

But, our favorite meal of the trip—as it almost always is every time we travel, the one that has that special je ne said quoi—was the one we had aboard a friend’s boat who was anchored up in Spa Creek for the Boat Show. I’ve mentioned Russell Frazer on this blog several times before. He is a long-time delivery captain and he and his wife, Lynn, are exceptionally capable and knowledgeable sailors who Phillip and I have had the pleasure of knowing for several years now through the blog. Russell and Lynn gave us some great advice on how to rig our whisker pole and about swapping to a composting head, both of which I have written up here on the blog. So, when we learned Russell and Lynn were going to be aboard their boat, a gorgeous Kelly Peterson 42 s/v Blue Highway in Spa Creek for the boat show, we knew we we definitely wanted to meet up. What we did not know is that Russell and Lynn were going to invite us for a fantastic Moroccan lamb dish (Lamb Tagine) and Key Lime Pie aboard their boat (the cockpit is always the best seat for dinner), complete with a chauffeured row from the dinghy dock on the end of Market Street in downtown Annapolis. That meal was such a treat! Thanks again, Russell and Lynn, for the invite and superb job hosting!

5.  Meeting Long-time, Online Friends for the First Time Face-to-Face

Andy and Mia with 59-North

That’s right. All these years emailing and chatting with Andy and Mia from 59-North online, following their offshore travels, and listening to Andy’s exceptional podcastsOn the Wind and How I Think About Sailing, and Phillip and I had never before met the two in person. Meeting Andy and Mia was something Phillip and I had been looking forward to for months before the show as we really admire Andy and Mia, both for the adventure and offshore education they offer and the mutual passion for offshore sailing that we all share. Andy’s serious side, his philosophical nature, and his respect for all aspects of boat-building, maintenance, and handling, in particular, speak deeply to Phillip, and I know Phillip was eager for the chance to shake Andy’s hand and thank him for the incredible knowledge he continues to share with sailors all over the world. 

For me, meeting Mia was a real treat as I have admired her tenacity and courage in jumping on a boat with Andy to sail the world (much like I did with Phillip) and for pursuing her Yachtmasters license while showing the world you don’t need formal training (or testosterone) to be a good sailor, and more importantly, a good captain. You just need a level head, good instincts, and listening skills. Mia was also much more bubbly and giddy in person than I would have expected, and she brought out my inner girl, which was really fun!  Proof: Girls rock.  They just do!

Rob and Liz Miller

Remember when I was on Patreon, using the crowd funds to give several lucky winners the Gift of Cruising?  Well, Rob and Liz Miller were our 3rd Gift of Cruising winners, and I partnered with Andy Shell of 59-North Sailing to send Rob Miller on a 10-day cruise along the Leeward Islands from the BVIs to Grenada and back.  

Rob and Liz have been long-time followers at HaveWind and have followed mine and Philip’s travels from the beginning, finding inspiration in our content to fuel their own cruising dreams.  Rob has been working on renovating a beautiful Slocum 42 boat and rig it out so he and Liz can shove off on their own cruise through the islands next year!  Having emailed and spoke with Rob and Liz for years, it was wonderful to finally put faces to names (and big bear hug arms around them) when we got to meet in person at the boat show!  Ironically, we had so much fun chatting we forgot to snap any photos of the four of us, but Rob and Liz joined us on the sail on the Woodwind that Andy and Mia hosted and we had a fantastic time!  I took this photo of Liz and Brian Trautman – what a great one!  : )  

Rob, Liz, it was such a treat to finally get the opportunity to give you two a hug and share a drink (or five!).  We can’t wait to see where your own cruising dreams take you. Phillip and I hope the next time we meet up it will be out on the water on our boats!

4. Getting a VIP Top-Down Ride to Weems & Plath for a Personal Tour

That’s what happens when you travel with Pam Wall. That lady can open some doors, I tell you! Weems & Plath sponsors Pam Wall on her talks and boat show presentations, so she is always eager to share word of their fantastic products and encourage many boat show attendees to stop by their shop in Annapolis for the “dent & bent” sale they host every year during the boat show. Pam wanted to take Phillip and I by so she called the Weems office and asked for a ride and what would you know: a convertible pulls up to take us there in high style!

We got a personal tour of the facility by Drew and learned a ton about what they are doing with OGM lights. These things burn for 50k+ hours and can be seen for miles. They are phenomenal safety devices with technology in the LED field improving every year!

I also picked up their Road Rules and Light Rules sliding rulers which are great nav aids to keep in the cockpit to make sense of all of the different light combinations you can see on passing ships at night, as well as buoys and markers and rules of the road. They were half-off at the sale! I was also impressed with their CrewWatcher product: a bluetooth device the crew member on watch can wear around his or her neck. In case they go overboard, it sounds an alarm on a phone on the boat with GPS coordinates to easily find and retrieve the man overboard. What a (literal) life-saver!

3.  Sailing on Woodwind with 59-North, Delos, and Sailing Totem!

We didn’t even know Delos was coming to the show until a few weeks before the event. While Andy and Mia had been planning to host an informative, fun presentation on Friday night as a “happy hour” event with a talk, we were totally down with them deciding to cancel that when they learned Delos was coming so they could host an afternoon sail and joint YouTube sailing panel discussion instead. What a treat! Andy and Mia hosted a large party on the schooner Andy used to crew on in the Chesapeake Bay, the elegant s/v Woodwind, and invited Brian and Brady from Delos, along with Behan and Jamie from Sailing Totem aboard for two wonderful hours out on the water with a stunning view of the boat show in our wake. While I had met Brian earlier in the week (do NOT miss #1 on this list ; ), this was my first time meeting Brady, and they were both beyond chill, just great guys who love to sail and have a good time. It was a real honor getting to hang out with them, as well as Andy and Mia and Behan and Jamie. The boat show was my first time meeting Behan as well, with Pam earlier in the week during Cruiser’s University, and she is an incredibly sweet, knowledgeable sailor. Phillip and I both felt like we were having mini star-struck moments all week, and our sail on the Woodwind was the explosive finale!

2.  Speaking with Pam Wall

This just warmed my heart. Hearing Pam step up time and again to share her story, her sailing background, how she met Andy Wall, how they built the most beautiful Freya and sailed around the world with their two darling kids, Jamie and Samantha. I never get tired of hearing it; which is great, because Pam never gets tired of telling it! Bless her sweet, salty soul! Pam is committed to helping any person with the dream to go cruising to shove off tomorrow and make it happen. She is an abundant wealth of information (frankly, it shocks me how much she can remember with all of the world-travels and adventures she has packed into one lifetime) but also a humble, kind, caring friend. I will cherish forever the day I met her (and took her to lunch!). We are bonded for life, and I cannot thank her enough for allowing me the honor of standing on the stage with her and sharing what little, but important, lessons I have learned the last six years sailing with Phillip. Speaking with you, Pam, was a real honor.

1. Getting Recognized Right in Front of Delos! : D

This was probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me in my “HaveWind” career (if you can call it that – I just call it one helluva good time!). So, we all know Brian Trautman from Delos, right? He’s like a mega-celebrity in the world of sailing. (And boy you should have seen the lines that formed around him and Brady day in and day out at the show! Yet, they were always so humble and patient; they shook every hand and smiled for every photo – thousands of them!) Like many of you would be, I was super star-struck when I saw Brian for the first time. It was when Phillip and I were touring Andy and Mia’s Ice Bear, and Brian just happened to be aboard. Phillip and I both spotted him but he was talking to another gentleman at the time and we didn’t want to barge in, so we both waited (I was in the galley talking to a very interesting Ice Bear crew member and Phillip was in the saloon).

As soon as the man Brian was talking to seemed to be wrapping up and getting ready to head topside, I started to mozy toward Brian so I could meet him and shake his hand (and gush like a little girl). But, suddenly, they guy he had been talking to turned around and shouted “ANNIE DIKE?! The Annie Dike?!” Right in front of Brian, the Captain of s/v Delos … this guy has an Annie fit? What would you do? I tossed my hair over my shoulder, giggled and said “Why yes, yes it’s me!” while hugging the man and giving Brian a hilarious this happens all the time look. I couldn’t have asked for better timing. Thank you fan dude, wherever you are, for giving me that Delos-worthy ahhhh moment. I felt just a bit famous! Phillip said Brian looked like he recognized me without the spotting; I’ll take his word for it. But, after I finished with fan-man, I got to give Brian a big hug and meet him, too. That was probably our favorite moment of the trip! Star-struck!

Was I holding on to him too tight? Maybe just a little! : ) Wouldn’t you?

What a wonderful time we had in Annapolis. It was so much fun meeting both our “sail-ebrities” and feeling like some ourselves when folks would stop Phillip and I with a “Is that HaveWind?” look on their face and tell us how we inspired them. Phillip and I were humbled time and again and had a great time meeting so many diverse and entertaining sailors. We all have a story, and we all have dreams ahead. Life is about living and sharing them, and Annapolis really solidified that for us. We hope you’ve enjoyed the recap. We’ll return with some more Exumas wonders next time! Stay tuned!

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Notorious Norman’s Cay – Home of Ill-Fated Legends and the Fyre Festival Fraud

You can’t blame the notorious for coming here.  I mean, look at the place.  

Norman’s Cay in the Exumas is nothing short of stunning.  It’s that unparalleled pairing of enticing tan sand, shimmering jewel-blue water, kissing a deep blue sky.  

So many of the islands throughout the Bahamas, and particularly in the Exumas look like this.  Yet, Norman’s has some impressive but ominous history.  I’ll have to consult with my lawyers, but I think I can rightfully say this: The island was once owned by Pablo Escobar.  

Norman’s Rule by Drug Giants, Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder

Unfortunately, in Florida, we are all too familiar with the Escobar name.  But, you cannot deny his craft and cunning as a pure business man.  Escobar saw, seized, and subjugated an opportunity that made incomprehensible millions.  But, a man cannot run an empire like that alone.  In the last 1970’s and early 80’s Norman’s Cay was primarily operated by Carlos Lehder, a fellow member of the Medellín cartel, as a transshipment base for smuggling cocaine from Columbia into the U.S.  Lehder hooked up with business partner George Jung during a stint in prison where he learned Jung had been smuggling marijuana into the U.S. via plane. Lehder, however, convinced Jung it was in his and the cartel’s best interest to begin smuggling cocaine via plane instead.  At the time, Lehder was one of Escobar’s right-hand men.

Lehder eventually constructed a 3,300-foot (1,000 m) long runway for his fleet of smuggling aircraft. To protect the island, he planted armed guards and attack dogs all along the beaches and runway, as well as radar to identify and fend off any pilot foolish enough to try and land there. The island was a strategic point for Colombian drug flights to refuel and rest before proceeding to the United States.  

And, as a drug hub, the island, not surprisingly, became a location for some serious partying.  With Lehder allegedly pulling in over $300 million a year off the operation, some partying stands to reason. Norman’s Cay was described as a “ … playground. I have a vivid picture of being picked up in a Land Rover with the top down and naked women driving to come and welcome me from my airplane,” one of Lehder’s men was quoted saying.  

The remnants of Lehder’s party palace on Norman’s Cay

“And there we partied. And it was … drugs, sex, no police… you made the rules… and it was fun.”  I’ll bet.  That’s probably the reason Norman’s Cay was chosen as the location for the fated Fyre Festival—the greatest party that never happened.  

The Fyre Festival Fraud

Did any of you hear about this or watch the documentary? The Fyre Festival was touted as the most luxurious, wild island party to ever occur, with intoxicating promo videos, models running all over the island titillating viewers, with promises of the best music talent in the industry performing at an island-wide nonstop music fest for days.  Go on, watch the trailer.  See what they promised:

Without spoiling the movie, I can at least say an all-out magnificent party did NOT happen, but the tale behind the hype and fall-out is mesmerizing.  Thousands of people bought tickets, costing thousands of dollars each.  Millions of people followed, commented, and shared.  It was an insanely successful … promotion.  Here is the official trailer for the official Netflix documentary – definitely watch it:

Interestingly, much of the Fyre Festival’s collapse centered around the marketing team’s forbidden statement that the island was once owned by Pablo Escobar. Apparently that name ignites certain feelings (and legal ramifications).  Ironically, it turned out in trying to capitalize on the legend of Escobar, Lehder, Jung, and the like, the Fyre Festival suffered the same fate: eventual demise. 

After an impressive five-year run dominating Norman’s Cay exclusively for the cartel’s cocaine trade, the Bahamian authorities began to crack down in 1982, allegedly in response to pressure from the United States, and Lehder was eventually arrested in Columbia in 1987.  His property was confiscated.  He stood trial in the U.S. and was convicted on all counts in 1988.  A fitting fate for a drug dealer. But, in another nod to their notorious past, Hollywood decided to commemorate their epic venture through Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in the 2001 movie, Blow, which was based on the cocaine escapades of Jung, Lehder, and Escobar.

While Norman’s Cay is now a wonderful addition to the Exumas, offering idyllic strolls on the beach, and fantastic rum drinks, island food, and waterview cottages for rent at the long-standing MacDuff’s Cottages and Restaurant, there is one icon on the island that stands out among others: the (alleged) drug plane that sunk in the shallows of Norman’s Cay’s cut. While much speculation circles this plane, surmising it must have crashed because it was weighed down by too many kilos of cocaine, or because the pilot and crew were blitzed out of their minds, I found this seemingly honest account from the mouth of Jack Reed, Carlos Lehder’s first pilot and resident on Norman’s Cay during the late 1970’s. This paraphrased excerpt comes from the book ‘Buccaneer: The Provocative Odyssey of Jack Reed, Adventurer, Drug Smuggler, and Pilot Extraordinaire’ by Jack Reed & Maycay Beeler and was posted at https://www.outislandlifebahamas.com/2017/03/the-plane-wreck-of-normans-cay/.

The Iconic Sunken Plane

During Lehder’s reign over Norman’s Cay, an old C-46 World War II aircraft appeared piloted by one “British Andy.”  As a large twin-engine transport plane utilized to carry troops and cargo, Andy thought it would serve as a good transport in Lehder’s fleet.  While Lehder did not end up buying the plane, Andy left it there as a memento anyway. 

Legend had it, British Andy had a drinking problem (not surprising), and had been known to take along a six-pack for company on many of his flights (a bit surprising). Being on a short vacation seemed like a reasonable excuse for starting his favorite pastime first thing in the morning, even a morning he decided to drop by the airport, being a bit tipsy, to “fire-up the old sled and shoot some touch and goes” which is pilot language for practice take-offs and landings. An unsuspecting Columbian lad joined Andy on his venture and off they went.

As Andy made his approach for the first landing, he miscalculated the beginning of the runway and touched down short. Realizing his error at the last moment, he gave the old girl full throttle to execute a go-around. To his great dismay, he clipped an earthen berm, tearing the left landing gear loose from its housing, leaving it dangling from the aircraft by cables and hoses. The plane then dipped low enough for the propeller on the left engine to strike the runway – bending it – and rendering it useless. With the right engine roaring and straining to keep the plane airborne, a bit of altitude was gained, but it was only enough to clear the runway and make a slow settling arc to the left.  The plane ran out of flying speed and altitude about a block offshore of the marina in front of the hotel and belly-flopped to a splashing spectacular halt in shallow water, leaving roughly half of it submerged.

Many allegedly witnessed this fiasco. A boat at the marina made a quick trip to the site of the crash and rescued the two survivors, neither of whom had a scratch. Lehder furnished transportation for the embarrassed pilot back to the states, but the plane has sat in this location for decades, deteriorating, and being slightly repositioned by passing hurricanes. 

Here are the Fyre models snorkeling around the plane. I’m sure I looked just like that when we dove it. Even in my platypus suit.

Our Visit to Norman’s Cay

After spending a fabulous, indulgent night at Highbourne Cay, wining and dining ourselves silly at Xuma’s restaurant, Phillip and I weighed anchor the following morning and sailed over to Norman’s Cay. We were excited to spend the day exploring the island, snorkeling the famous sunken plane, and ending the full-day adventure with a filling meal and drinks at MacDuff’s restaurant.  And that is exactly what we did! Norman’s Cay, despite its ominous history, still offered a beautiful, bright sunny day on exquisite beaches followed by a fun, atmosphere at MacDuff’s and a chance to fill our bellies with a fresh catch.