Camp for Cruisers

I mean, I’m not the first one to say it. Georgetown is like summer camp. Sometimes, though, camp is pretty good.

Cruising kids working the slackline and rope swing at the Chat and Chill

Cruising kids working the slackline and rope swing at the Chat and Chill

View from the anchorage

View from the anchorage

We are not anywhere near peak season here in Georgetown, so the number of boats hanging out in Elizabeth Harbor is more like 100 instead of 300. Yeah, that sounds like a lot, but it’s an enormous harbor; we’re currently nestled into the anchorage at the Monument, but we could be farther south at Volleyball Beach; beyond that at Sand Beach; anchored right outside the town, on the other side of the harbor; or tucked into one of three hurricane holes here at Stocking Island (well, maybe not the hurricane holes; it looks pretty shallow in there). And that’s just where the majority of the boats hang out; there are plenty of other spots to park.

Hiking around town, looking for rare items like eggs

Hiking around town, looking for rare items like eggs

None of the spots have a dock, however, so we’ve been shuttling back and forth to town to fill up our jerry jugs with water and diesel, and replenish the fridge. It’s about a mile to Georgetown from our current spot, and it’s been pretty windy, which has made for some wet dinghy rides. So wet, that some days we just hang out over here….and camp it up.

Library in town. Only open between 10-noon, and no one can figure out on which days...we never made it inside.

Library in town. Only open between 10-noon, and no one can figure out on which days…we never made it inside.

F works the rope swing

F works the rope swing

Tomorrow morning, for example, I’ll be heading to the lovely Lumina Point resort for free yoga, in a shady pavilion overlooking the harbor. If I really wanted to fill my day, I could go to the volleyball game; grab a three-hour lunch at the Chat and Chill; feed the stingrays at the conch shack that allow themselves to be petted; and show up for poker later at the St. Francis. There might be more going on tomorrow—I’ll have to listen to the cruisers’ net.

Confluence.

Confluence.

This is only the second time we’re really tuned in to a “net,” and we’re kind of enjoying it! Every morning at 8:00, Sue from Wind Dancer comes on to Channel 72 on the VHF radio and starts off by asking if anyone has any emergency that needs to be addressed. She follows that up with weather, usually from Chris Parker, and then lets local businesses call in with any announcements (this is where Lumina Point will remind me about yoga). Next up, if I remember correctly, is community announcements, followed by anyone needing help (lots of requests for engine assistance during that stretch); then it’s buy/sell/trade time, followed by new arrivals and departures. Anyone in the harbor can call in, give their boat name, wait to be acknowledged, and then make a request at the appropriate time; we picked up some dive weights this morning from a neighbor, just by asking on the net. At the end of the whole shebang, Sue has new arrivals stick around and gives them the rundown on garbage disposal, dinghy docks and other vitals for the area. Everyone else shifts down to 68, the de facto hailing channel for the cruising community, and finishes making arrangements with their trades or technical support. Not only have we found the net to be super-helpful, it is some fantastic voyeurism.dscf1260

Topping up the SIM card at the BTC office

Topping up the SIM card at the BTC office

A great number of boats hang out here for three months solid. Our plans have revolved around reprovisioning, more or less. We had set a lofty goal to find a new toilet seat—the hinges on the old one were barely hanging on. Accomplished!! So it’s basically like an entire bathroom renovation in there, since the toilet takes up half the space in the head. We’d also hoped for good wifi, but after struggling to upload photos at a restaurant reputed to have good internet access, we decided it was easier to buy data for the phone and tether it to the laptop. We’ve also learned how to compress the photos to a more manageable size, so as long as we’ve got cell service, we’ve got blog posts. We are clearly tech geniuses, and will be looking for jobs at Google when we return.

Sad to split up these kids.

Sad to split up these kids.

Georgetown is also, for us, a parting of the ways. As we’ve been heading south, we’ve met up with so many people heading in the same direction; but our closest cruising friends will not be following us to the Ragged Islands, or to Cuba. The Perlas are right behind us, but won’t be going to Cuba; Mafalda and Wildcat are heading east; Sapphires are off to Turks and Caicos. While it’s always possible that we may see these folks again, it’s unlikely; so we’ve had to start saying the goodbyes that are so common in the cruising life. The kids are rolling with it, but some of these boats we’ve been traveling with since South Carolina, and we’ve shared a lot together. We are faced, once again, with the end of a chapter in our journey. Looking forward to the next tale.

Cost to Cruise: December

Boilerplate Disclaimer: This is not what it will cost you to go cruising.

Sunrises: free. Also, sunsets. Shroud Cay, Bahamas

Sunrises: free. Also, sunsets. Shroud Cay, Bahamas

People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.

Kapow!! Take that, cruising budget!! December for the win!

Marinas: $120 
Grocery: $285.20 
Restaurant: $291.04 
Supplies: $21 
Booze: $15 
Ice Cream: $4 
Laundry: $26 
Transportation: $0 
Communications: $182 
Entertainment: $0 
Pump Out: $0
Boat Parts: $323.54 
Fuel: $104.70 diesel; $0 stove fuel; $15.36 dinghy 
Immigration/Customs: $320
Water: $6.45
Garbage Disposal: $4
Bank Fees: $3.23
Grand Total: $1721.52

Of course, the above glory is only made possible through the outrageous provisioning of November. Still. Feelin’ pretty good.

Of particular note:

  • “Marina” implies a level of luxury not to be had by us; the fees in that category were for mooring balls in the Land and Sea Park, which we were happy to pay
  • I’m confident we paid more in bank fees, but I can’t seem to find them anywhere. Let me recommend for everyone the Charles Schwab checking account; no foreign transaction fees, and no ATM fees of any kind, worldwide–we are fans
  • Communications includes the data and voice for our sat phone, and a Bahamas SIM card for the smart phone that has proved invaluable; downloading Predict Wind forecasts on the cell phone has been much more convenient for us than using the Iridium GO. Surely that will change–I’m looking at you, Cuba–but we’ve been really happy with the convenience of prepaid data here in the Bahamas

I also want to talk a bit about water. We chose not to install a watermaker before we left on our trip; they are extremely expensive, take up a lot of room, require lots of energy to run, and break down on the regular. We’ve been traveling with boats that have water makers, and I won’t pretend that we haven’t been jealous; we haven’t been alongside a dock of any kind since we checked in at West End on December 2, so it’s been lots of dinghy runs with jerry cans to fill up our tanks. But while we’ve had days of concern, where we’ve felt like we’re running low, we’ve been fine for water. We were told it would be a real problem for us, but it hasn’t.

The biggest reason for our success: foot pumps. Our boat friends with pressurized water pumps (i.e., their faucets work like yours at home) tear through their water at about four times our rate. Not only does using a foot pump make you think about your water use, it also lets you control the flow really easily. The salt water pump in the galley sink is huge for us, as well; if we had to wash the dishes off the stern step to conserve fresh water, we’d probably have lost a lot of forks by now.

We might be changing our tune in the San Blas, and I know water’s an issue in the Sea of Cortez, but for the Bahamas, we were never concerned about being able to resupply. Water generally costs between forty and fifty cents a gallon, but there’s high-quality RO water available for free in places like Black Point and Georgetown. We filled our tanks and jerry jugs in Vero Beach, and didn’t pick up any more fresh water until Staniel Cay–21 days later, after using about 100 gallons. If you’re thinking of cruising the Bahamas, and are under the impression that a watermaker is a requirement, just keep in mind how much water you can buy for that $2000.

Our budget for next month has, sadly, no hope of remaining so low; the customs fees for Cuba are wicked, and we plan to be doing some overland travel, so we anticipate transportation and restaurant increases, plus something along the lines of housing. We’re mostly excited about all of the possibilities for showers.

Holidays in the tropics

The end of the year is always a bit of a rush for our family. Thanksgiving, Christmas and two birthdays compete for attention, and we have certain things we need to do every year to celebrate.

Correction: things we USED to need to do.dscf0937

Heading over to The Aquarium, a snorkeling spot off Bell Island in the Land and Sea Park

Heading over to The Aquarium, a snorkeling spot off Bell Island in the Land and Sea Park

This year was, of course, a bit different. No elaborate birthday parties for the kids, who seemed totally fine. No massive holiday baking marathons. No huge pile of presents under the tree. No tree, actually. We did a few special things to connect us to family tradition, but for the most part, we let things go pretty easily. There was some sadness about not being around friends and family, but the regular trappings of the season weren’t missed.dscf1024

Michu heads down to check out a huge porcupine fish

Michu heads down to check out a huge porcupine fish

Downed plane near The Aquarium

Downed plane near The Aquarium

Birthday pancakes!

Birthday pancakes!

T’s birthday was spent anchored at Big Majors, where we did the requisite visit with the swimming pigs. The most fun rumor is that the pigs were left by sailors, who planned to return and eat them later; but apparently, they were planted by locals in the early nineties, both as an attraction and a food source. Once upon a time, they would swim out to your anchored boat and eat your food scraps. Now, they’re so popular that big tourist-filled boats will pull up to the beach and feed them; they don’t really swim out past your approaching dinghy anymore. It’s probably for the best; the anchorage was packed, and it’d be a bummer if one got run over. Waste of a good pig.

F checks out the local megafauna

F checks out the local megafauna

Birthday boy and family

Birthday boy and family

We also hopped over to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a little birthday lunch. The staff overheard us mention the big event, and showed up at the end of the meal with a huge slice of cake, with “Happy Birthday” spelled out in raspberry coulis.

Staniel Cay is also the home of the Thunderball Grotto from the James Bond movie. You have to enter at low slack tide to get in through the cave.

Staniel Cay is also the home of the Thunderball Grotto from the James Bond movie. You have to enter at low slack tide to get in through the cave.

Underwater at Thunderball

Underwater at Thunderball

The family that snorkels together.....

The family that snorkels together…..

Stocking up the galley

Stocking up the galley

It was about a two-mile dinghy ride from our anchorage to Staniel Cay, but we made the trek several times, filling up our water jugs and picking up what food we could in the little bodegas. Staniel is about halfway down the Exumas chain, and an important reprovisioning stop. We were happy to find some fresh fruit, eggs, and milk, and topped off the diesel tanks.

No Christmas tree on the boat; instead, we decorated the compression post with lights and sand dollars

No Christmas tree on the boat; instead, we decorated the compression post with lights and sand dollars

Cruising kids in Black Point

Cruising kids in Black Point

Christmas found us anchored just south of Staniel, off the town of Black Point. Less touristed, but still loved by cruisers, Black Point is more of a “locals” town, and every morning, powerboats buzzed past us ferrying residents to their jobs at Staniel Cay Yacht Club. For Christmas Eve, we put together a potluck on shore with some other cruising families. Christmas morning was extremely windy, as predicted, so the kids and I stuck to the boat while Michu headed in to check out the local church; he reports that all the cruising boats were individually prayed for, that we would avoid storms and that our anchors would set well. We pulled on our foul-weather gear and braved the wet dinghy ride to Lorraine’s for dinner, along with the rest of the fleet. Lorraine had put together a delicious buffet for the sailors, including All The Meats—turkey, pulled pork, fried fish, crab salad, some kind of beef, and fried conch. T was loving it. Post-cake, the tables were pushed to the side, and the cafe transformed into a disco. You know, your typical Christmas Dinner Disco boogie. Isn’t that what you did this year?

The scene at Lorraine's

The scene at Lorraine’s

F inspects the lobster catch

F inspects the lobster catch

Part of the wonder of this trip has been the reminder of people’s tremendous capacity to adapt. We’ve adapted to all kinds of things as a family, of course—tight quarters, less of a schedule, homeschool, showers on the stern step, limited internet (well, we haven’t really adapted well to that last one); but it’s striking how easily we’ve adapted to the incredible beauty and easy cruising of the Bahamas. Tonight, I saw a mosquito for the first time since we left Florida. It just hasn’t been buggy, and I’d ceased to notice the glory of insect-free outdoor living. We snorkeled on a reef in the middle of nowhere the other day, filled with amazing fish, and it was just our family and our four friends. This seemed normal to me. We rarely ask ourselves if an anchorage is going to be ok—instead, we ask ourselves which of the four or five nearby anchorage would be best. I have a strong feeling we will look back on these past few weeks and wish we could return.

Michu returns with a lobster. This is normal, right?

Michu returns with a lobster. This is normal, right?

Stockings off the grab rail, Christmas Eve

Stockings off the grab rail, Christmas Eve

There are some particular, local traditions around the holidays that we’re missing—especially Junkanoo (best sampled in Nassau), and the traditional Bahamian sailboat regatta at Staniel. As we’ve been traveling with friends, decisions about where to go—and when—have been a little more fraught, wanting to stay together but having our own agenda. Instead of dwelling on what we might miss, we are looking ahead. We need to spend some time in Georgetown, the big metropolis of the Exumas (population 7300); we won’t see a well-stocked hardware store or grocery after this for months, and we need to prep for Cuba and beyond. We know of a couple of families heading in the same direction, and we’ll be consulting about routes and weather, but we’re at a point of being less casual about the direction of our days, and more focused on the next step.

Just noodling around in paradise…

Full-on photo bomb, I’m afraid. The beauty surrounding us is the message here.

On a mooring in Warderick Wells

On a mooring in Warderick Wells

We’ve been slowly weaving our way south through some of the 365 islands that make up the Exumas. As I type, we’re in Warderick Wells, which is within the boundaries of the National Land and Sea Park. There’s no fishing (or shell collecting, or disturbing the wildlife in any way), which makes Michu sad and antsy to move on, but it’s stunningly beautiful.

Still hanging with the dolphins!

Still hanging with the dolphins!

dscf0885

T and his buddy discussing the particulars of sand dollars

We’re on a park mooring for twenty dollars a night, and may be staying a few additional days to avoid another cold front. The weather has been a huge factor in our travel plans here—as everywhere, I guess. Cold fronts tear through on a regular basis, with strong winds that clock from east to south to west, and very few spots in the Exumas are protected from all directions. Warderick Wells  is one of them.

Great hiking in the park

Great hiking in the park

dsc_1657I know you’re not feeling too sorry for us, with this requirement to stick around here for a few extra days. There are many great spots for snorkeling; maintained trails to hike; and two other kid boats whom we know well. And don’t be fooled by the nomenclature; “cold front” won’t mean temps lower than 70.

Our mooring is right next to the beach; the kids can head to shore on their own.

Our mooring is right next to the beach; the kids can head to shore on their own.

Beach activity

Beach activity…

...and water games.

…and water games.

We’d hoped to make it to Georgetown by Christmas, but if we don’t get there, it’s no big deal. We’re not meeting anyone, and easy traveling conditions will trump the Boxing Day Junkanoo festival.

Solar showers off the stern. We managed to go for 20 days on 100 gallons of fresh water.

Solar showers off the stern. We managed to go for 20 days on 100 gallons of fresh water.

We still haven’t topped up our tanks; we’re fine. We still haven’t done laundry; it’s ok. Our six-month cruisaversary went unnoticed. We are clearly sinking into this way of life, where our agenda bends to fit with what’s available. Not too shabby, really.

Bahamas, Baby!

We made it.dsc_1529

Checking the action under the boat

Checking the action under the boat

As I type, we are anchored in Highbourne Cay, waiting in the company of friends for a cold front to blast through over the weekend. The boat looks like it’s floating in air, the water is so clear; you can see every blade of sea grass underneath us. We’ve been up since about 6:30, watching the bait fish swarm around our boat, grouping together and pulling apart as they try to evade the needlefish who dash between them, trying for breakfast. Michu has plans to meet up with the Mafalda and the Cygnus families this morning to hunt some lobster; we had some the other day for dinner, tails split and grilled in the shell, still twitching as they touched the heat. The kids are getting the school work out of the way early so they can snorkel with the other kids in the eighty-degree water. This is why we came.

Sunset, Berry Islands

Sunrise, Highbourne Cay

T learns to work the snorkel in the Berry's

T learns to work the snorkel in the Berrys

Not ugly.

Not ugly.

Not that it was easy getting here. We seem to have a talent for being just a day behind the optimal weather, and our crossing from Vero Beach will henceforth be referred to as A Series of Unfortunate Events. I want to emphasize for the grandparents reading this blog, everyone aboard was safe and the kids slept well, but it was not the comfortable cakewalk we’d hoped for.  The impeller for our engine cooling system blew out a couple of hours outside of Fort Pierce, and repairing it down below in the bouncy conditions made Michu very, very seasick. Having one parent down really makes things hard—there’s just less bandwidth for the boat and the kids. Our own expectations were working against us, as well; we started out making such good time, flying along on a close reach, that when we were delayed with our plan to turn south (the wind took its time moving west, and the Gulf Stream held us in her grip longer than we anticipated), we didn’t manage to whip across as quickly as we’d hoped.

Leaving Fort Pierce, FL

Leaving Fort Pierce, FL

Since we’d left from so far north, we still had some big passages to get south to our sought-after Exumas. We had a lovely few days in the Berry Islands, hiding from the big easterly swell and learning about picking lobster off the rocks, followed by a quick hop to Nassau. We’d planned to spend a couple of days in the big city of the Bahamas, hooking into wifi, doing laundry, and  stocking up on a few final supplies; but the weather pointed to a nasty impending blow from the east, and we figured we could either bail out early or be stuck for days. We bailed.

School continues, even in paradise...

School continues, even in paradise…

Dinner in the Berry's

Dinner in the Berrys

Wildlife exploration in the Berry's

Wildlife exploration in the Berrys

So now we’re officially in the Exumas. Our water tanks were not topped off before we left, and we have only about a half a tank of diesel. We’ll be paying cold, hard cash for internet access beyond phone data, to get the bills paid and update everyone back home. We never managed to find a spare prop for the outboard, or expanding foam to attack that leak that keeps getting stuff wet in the v-berth. The laundry pile is not small, and the boat and our bodies are pretty salty. We have zero complaints.