Croc Hunting in Great Harbour

November 9, 2019 – Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas:

[Spoken in a thick Aussie accent] There I was … standing on the precipice, knowing it was going to be a gnarly journey across treacherous waters and an even more unforgiving landscape once I reached the other side. But, he was out there, baiting me, challenging me … one wild and unpredictable Croc!

Okay, I know, it’s not an actual scary crocodile, but do you know what IS scarier than a crocodile? Whatever the heck is crawling around on this floor that I have nightmares will crawl under my toenails grow roots out if I don’t wear shower shoes. 

And, it just so happens my shower shoes were Crocs. These cute little flamingo-themed croc flops that aren’t nearly as bad as the original Croc, which I both refuse to (and cannot) wear.  Seriously, the first few times I tried to wear the iconic platypus style when they were a wild hot rage 15 years ago, that bulbous toe would always stub the ground causing me to stumble, trip, even fall.  Apologies in advance if any of you are Croc-lovers out there, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say many of these “Croc truths” are not wholly UN-true … 

Jesus, those are funny. And, yes, they make them in heels.

Yes, they make them in the form of a cake.

They even make everyone wear them to weddings on the lake. 

I’m not sure about this one, though? Truth or a Croc?

While I cannot do the platypus version, I did love my flamingo shower flops and they taught me a very important lesson.  Maybe this should be Cruising Rule #78: When boarding a boat, never leave your flops on the dock. Why? 

They’ll blow the heck away! Flops mostly, but boat shoes too, particularly if they are Crocs, which mine are!  Don’t hate, mine are cute!

But, you know those things are made out of super-light NASA foam stuff that can never sink (and likely never biodegrade, unfortunately). While they are not recyclable either, I was at least pleased to find the company Crocs has partnered with a program, Soles 4 Souls, where you can donate your used Croc shoes back so Crocs can then distribute them to poverty-stricken countries for kids and adults who cannot afford shoes. At least there’s that. 

Sadly I had broken Rule #78 that November day post-shower and one of my poor Croc-tastic shower flops blew off the dock and across the bay at Great Harbour Cay.  I came back up after dropping my shower goodies down below and making a cocktail (because that’s the first thing you do post-shower!) to find only one lone flamingo flop left on the dock!  But, Phillip and I did not fear, because those things float forever, right?  We’d lost Crocs to the same plight before only to find them happily floating on the other side of the harbor the next day.  As the sun was setting that evening, he and I both swore we saw a tiny little white spec across the harbor from our boat, so we eased merrily into the evening (and into round two of our ‘tails) assuring ourselves a quick Croc hunt in the morning would surely uncover my missing reptile.

Do you see a little white spec? We did! (Might have been the cocktails … )

So, the next morning, we lit up early and pumped up our awesome inflatable YOLO paddleboard on deck so I could paddle over to find that darned shoe!  Phillip got me this paddleboard as a birthday gift (he’s kind of awesome that way) back in … gosh … 2014 I believe, and it’s been a real asset on the boat.

It’s a secondary vehicle to/from shore when we need it, a nice getaway from one another when we need a solitary “check-out” paddle, and even fun trying to surf it in light waves!  We even patched it with G-Flex 3-4 years ago when it blew out a seam and that crazy fix has held ever since!  

[Back to the Aussie accent] Pumped and prepared, off she went, rigid paddle in hand, eyes laser-focused on her target. As she muscled her way across the tumultuous, enemy-laden waters, her knuckles whitened and her muscles flexed. Hunter Annie was on a mission to wrangle a killer Croc on the uncharted eastern shore.

Yes, it was that dramatic. That was quite the paddle.  I almost … broke a sweat!  *gasp*  I’m kidding. You sweat all the time in the Bahamas. From the minute you wake, until the sun goes down and you shower.  It’s just part of it.  Sadly, though I did make it safely across, I found no white flamingo-themed Croc on the lee shore.  Whatever white spec Phillip and I had seen the night before was just that … a crock! I checked and overturned every white piece of anything I could find – pieces of Styrofoam, white tennis shoes, white take-out containers, you name it.  But, no flamingo Croc.  I did, however, find a spongy gem!  Laid bare, all on its own, as if calling to me, was one lonely black Teva flop.  It looked fairly new, sun-baked so I assumed it was clean, and just my size!  Likely a men’s shoe from the look of it, but still just my size!  Only problem was, I couldn’t recall which Croc flop I had lost … the right or the left?  Hoping for the best, I tucked the black Teva under the bungee on my board and paddled my way back to the boat.

And, wouldn’t you know it … 

The perfect pair! Ebony and ivory! These are, I kid you not, my shower shoes to this day. I get some funny looks sometimes on my way to/from the showers. But, if folks think me mismatching my shoes is the worst I did that day, then I believe I’m ahead of the game! And, I love a shoe with a story. I love anything that has a story. 

The funny thing was, though, this tongue-in-cheek “croc hunt”—while not in actuality dangerous at all—did almost end in actual danger on the way back. So … I mentioned the inflatable paddleboard, right? And, the “enemy-laden waters.” I wasn’t kidding about that. Do you want to know what swims around in the Great Harbour Cay Marina? 

Sharks. Plenty of them. 

We were disheartened to find, about an hour after my paddle, our paddleboard wilting and sinking into the water behind the boat. Poor thing. She’d blown another seam But, she’d definitely done her job first. It gives me chills looking back thinking that paddleboard could have started deflating and sinking when I was still many yards from the boat and I would have been flailing around in those shark-ridden waters. *gulp*  I know they say that sharks in the wild will likely ignore you if you’re not failing about, injured, or bleeding. But, I’m two out of three of those things on any given day, so I don’t want to test the theory. In all, I called the croc hunt a success as it restored my shower show pair, and we set to patching up the YOLO hoping she wouldn’t be any worse for the wear!

And, if I didn’t mention this I would be sorely amiss! That night on the boat Phillip whipped up pure bliss! Homemade meatloaf with spinach and mushrooms.

I love wining and dining with that man – Cheers!

Next up, we head to Devil’s-Hoffman. Any of you ever been there? It was the Blue Hole or Bust!

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Cruisers’ Rule #42: Find that Flange! (And Other Engine Tips)

They’re more like guidelines, really, but we cruisers do have them: good rules of thumb to keep you and your boat going. “Find that flange!” is an important one, as it can mean the difference between carrying on with a happy, humming engine, or sitting stuck in a rut with an engine who can’t keep his cool.  No bueno.

After Phillip and I received the fantastic news that Plaintiff’s Rest had gallantly weathered Hurricane Dorian and was floating happy and safe and awaiting for our return in Great Harbour Cay, we eagerly started planning our cruising this season.  While it’s fun to think about all of the interesting places we will go and things we will see or eat when we get there, to ensure we can actually get there (in theory anyway), our cruise-planning often begins with the following important questions: 

  1. What work needs to be done on the boat before we leave the dock?  
  2. What boat parts/supplies do we need to bring to the boat to do that work, versus what we can acquire once we arrive? 
  3. What gear or spares do we need to replenish before we shove off and where can we get those?

She’s a boat, right?  If you want to go cruising, you’ve got to keep her safe and seaworthy, which requires a great deal of forethought and work. Cruising is every bit of what they say about “working on your boat in exotic places.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s Cruisers’ Rule #1, or in the top ten, at least. 

When Phillip and I asked ourselves these questions as we were preparing to return to the boat after Dorian, one of the first tasks that came to mind was the need to change the oil in the engine and inspect/replace the impeller before we set off to cruise further down into the Bahamas.  Knowing we had plenty of oil on the boat and the kit to do this, as well as plenty of spare impellers, we were fully stocked to take on this one with everything we already had on the boat. All, she needed was us! So, we hopped on a plane in November and happily made our way back to our beautiful floating home!

I cannot tell you how grateful we both were to finally get back to our boat in the wake of Dorian and seeing in person that she survived. Surviving hurricane season can be a very scary thing for a boat, and its owners.

Once we got settled aboard, and were able to get the main canvas out of the saloon and back up on the deck (re-installing the bimini and dodger, mainsail and stack pack, getting Wendy (our head sail back on), etc., Phillip and I were ready to dig into the necessary engine work.

We have a Westerbeke 27A on our boat, and we strive to change the oil every 50-75 hours, closer to 50 than 75 when we can help it.  I’ve written about the type of pump/oil container we use on our boat to extract the used oil out of the engine and contain it until we can walk it to a proper oil-dispensing location.  

How We Change the Oil On Our Boat

Phillip and I had quite the adventure in St. Petersburg a few years back tracking down this handy little pump from a Back-Door Marine Supply Guy!

I’ve also published an article and video previously showing how we change the oil in our engine on the boat if you are interested here: Maintenance in Marsh Harbour – How We Change the Oil On the Boat.  That also includes one way, in particular, on how NOT to do it, when we suffered quite the nasty oil spill on Plaintiff’s Rest.  Good times.  The takeaway: do NOT tip that pump more than 90-degrees horizontal or it will squirt oil out the handle the next time you pump.  That’s Cruisers’ Rule #149, I believe.  

Our Raw and Fresh Water Cooling Systems

After we got the oil changed, we next set our sights on the impeller.  For those of you somewhat new to engine maintenance (which I myself was just a few short years ago), this is how I wish someone would have explained it to me … in Annie Speak, so to speak.  Most diesels have primarily two cooling systems: the raw water system and the “fresh” water system (which in our boat we fill with antifreeze, aka coolant (that Ghostbuster green stuff)).  The raw water system uses a rubber wheel (the impeller) that spins to create suction pulling raw (sea) water into the heat exchanger.  

This is the impeller inside the raw water pump (unattached at the moment) in our engine.
Here I’m replacing a gasket for the raw water pump (when we had to remove and rebuild it). Right behind the gasket is a red tube running athwartship – that is the heat exchanger.

The coolant in the fresh water system is completely contained (well, when you don’t have any minor coolant leaks – very common, particularly around the thermostat on our boat), and is moved through heat exchanger (where—just as the name implies—warmer coolant from the engine is cooled by the raw water running swiftly on the other side of it in the exchanger) and then recirculated through the engine via a pump that is spun by the alternator belt on the back of the engine. 

That is the fresh water pump with the belt around it at the top (the alternator is to the right).

I am explaining all of this here for the benefit of newbie cruisers (which I, in many ways, still consider myself), and for future reference as you will learn soon about an issue we had with this cooling system in future travels.  

We’ll Have Some Fresh Water Cooling System Lessons to Share Soon – Stay Tuned!

Clever foreshadowing will have to be forfeited here for the loftier goal of sharing and educating as it was mine and Phillip’s replacement of the impeller on the raw water pump before we left Great Harbour Cay that reminded me of this important little nugget undoubtedly worth sharing (or, technically, I should say reiterating as I have mentioned it here before).  I urge you cruisers: when swapping out your impellers, if you notice some of the flanges on your old impeller have broken off (common), there is one critical thing you must do: 

Cruisers’ Rule #42: FIND THOSE MISSING FLANGES!

It can be tempting to ignore them.  I completely understand.  They’re broken off.  They’re gone. You’re putting in an entirely new impeller, so who gives a …  You should give a.  That’s who. I’ve documented several instances where Phillip and I ourselves or we have seen other boaters suffer some serious consequences from a thrown flange that was not tracked down and later lodged itself in critical locations that impeded water flow and prevented the raw water system from working properly.  

A fellow cruiser’s Tartan 37 – you can see the flange piece lodged in the hose barb that was causing his engine to overheat.

At the very least, a wayward flange can easily cause your engine to overheat.  Bad enough. But, in one rather severe case (Yannick’s!) it melted his muffler!  Zoiks!

The missing flange on Yannick’s boat.
There you see it lodged in the hose barb on his raw water pump impeding flow and causing his engine to overheat as well.
But that guy fixed his melted muffler with a blow-torch and a piece of PVC. Love that guy. Check it out if you haven’t already in our Atlantic-crossing movie!!

I don’t want a melted muffler, do you?  But, Phillip and I learned another small lesson during this impeller exchange when we noticed two flanges thrown and had to go track them down through the raw water system.  That is: 

Look In the Easy Places First

Sound silly?  Perhaps it is, but our gut instinct was to start at the point closest to the pump and work our way toward the heat exchanger. And, with this thinking in mind, we almost (alllmmooosst! but thankfully we didn’t) disconnect the hose from the pump to the exchanger first.  This would have been a several-hour rigorous chore trying to get that thing off and back on again.  And, would have been completely unnecessary in hindsight.  What I learned during this impeller maintenance session was that the heat exchange end caps are far easier to remove than hoses (many of which have been forged onto the barb after years of pressure).  The end caps are just simple bolts.  Very easy to remove (and replace the gaskets once you’re in there).  

Here I am looking for a missing flange years prior after removing the port-side end cap of the heat exchanger.

The Heat Exchanger Acts a Bit Like a Pea Trap

Also, the ends of the heat exchanger (on ours anyway and I’m sure it’s similar on others) act a bit like little pea-traps under the sink.  It’s the most likely place something that “goes down the drain” (or in this case, goes down the hose from the pump to the exchanger) is going to swirl around and get caught.  

Thankfully, after loosening the hose clamp on the hose from the pump the exchanger and giving it several hard tugs, my eyes traveled over to the much-easier-to-remove bolt on the starboard cap of the heat exchanger, and I suggested to Phillip: “Maybe let’s check the easy place first.”   

Now, did I suggest this out of wisdom?  No, it was pure “I don’t want to wrestle this anaconda-hose anymore” laziness.  But, it still turned out to be the right thing to do!  After we clamped the hose back up and popped the end of the heat exchanger off, our two missing flanges were sitting nice and accessible right there for us.  Whew! Got ‘em!  

The chase is not always that easy, and rarely what we would exactly call “fun,” but finding those missing flanges can mean the difference between continued cruising and camping out at the dock with an angry engine.  That’s why it’s a Cruiser’s Rule!

Following little rules like this can mean you spend more time like this, less time in engine grease! : )

Now that we were back aboard and had our beautiful boat up and running again, it was time for Phillip and I to focus on the way-more-fun side of cruise-planning: Where to?  Next up, we’ll share our thoughts and planning on how best to make our way from the Bahamas to the BVIs.  Let the thorny debate begin!  

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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.