“Don’t bury the lead,” was the mantra of newspaper reporters back in the days when there were newspapers. The point of it is to remember to keep the leading story “above the fold” on the front page, and not buried within the paper where most readers will miss it.
While I try to be true to that mantra, it gave me some challenges while writing this blog post. The reason is that I envisioned this post as a chronological travelogue but the absolute coolest thing that we experienced during the entire 51 days of the voyage happened—no joke—on the last day of the voyage.
So without further ado and in the spirit of not burying the lead, I offer you this video. I could write paragraphs, even chapters, to introduce the video but I won’t because my writing would pale in comparison to Rhett’s prelude within the video. Yes, the video is 4 minutes and 15 seconds long—too long for the average internet consumer of media these days but I know my friends and readers are not “average.”
During our voyage, Rhett said to me several times, “Your friends are going to be angry with me because you’re blogging a lot less now that I’m sailing with you.” I’ve thought about what she said and while I generally think of the relationship between correlation and causation as either-or (it’s either one or the other), in this case I think the relationship between my blogging frequency and Rhett’s presence has elements of both correlation and causation.
The correlation is that, compared with my solo voyaging last year, I’ve had much less internet access on this most recent voyage. Fortunately, this year with our new satellite communication system, I’ve had the ability to post quick updates associated with our location but it’s not the same as full internet access. I will say that most other cruisers we met this year in the Bahamas had subscribed to some sort of data plan through one of the Bahamian wireless companies. Rhett and I considered doing the same but we concluded that we preferred the bliss of not having unfettered internet and email access. The ubiquitous coverage but low-bandwidth of the satellite system let us communicate from anywhere but only via text, short email and the aforementioned short posts.
The causation side of the equation has two elements. First, this year while voyaging with someone else (especially someone as wonderful as Rhett), I had much less of a need to relate to others via writing. Last year’s voyaging—when solitude was my default state—I found a deep need to communicate, to relate to others any way possible and writing and blogging fit the bill perfectly. Also, I found myself in some of the most beautiful places in the world and found that I had a burning desire to share what I had seen with others.
The second element of the causation is that this year, some 18 months after Colleen’s death, I find my self with much less grief to process than a year ago (just six months after her death). The thoughts of Colleen are still there—every day—as they should be, but they’re different. They’re tempered. As I’d noted in a post last year, they’re no longer transparent shards of glass that cut and draw blood. They’re now sea glass whose rough edges have been smoothed by the sea and sand, and whose surface is now frosted and translucent. I find too that more and more my thoughts of Colleen and for Colleen intertwine with thoughts of my sister Amy.
The last substantive blog post I had written this voyage was titled The Waiting Place because we had been pinned into a marina on the northern end of Great Exuma Island for eight or nine nights waiting out a long “blow” (bad weather).
When the weather finally broke, we made a 10 mile daysail down the coast of Great Exuma Island to Elizabeth Harbour and the town of George Town. Although neither Rhett nor I had been there, we’d read a lot about Elizabeth Harbour and heard about it from other cruisers. First, it’s huge. During a non-pandemic cruising it can easily have 300 cruising boats anchored (this year it had about half that population of boats). Second, we’d heard it had a vibrant and social cruising community. Third, many cruisers who visit Elizabeth Harbour for “a couple nights” end up staying there the rest of the season. Frankly, those three things had us prepared to be underwhelmed by the whole scene. We thought we’d spend a couple nights and be gone, off to more remote ports of call.
Perhaps it’s human nature that we all tend to think we’re unique—different from others. In the next week Rhett and I learned our lesson about our uniqueness…and a lesson or two about Elizabeth Harbour and George Town. Bottom-line its a beautiful place and checks most every box that a cruiser could want: socialization when you want it, solitude when you don’t; beautiful water; George Town’s dining, grocery stores, hardware and marine stores, and laundry; hiking; and beautiful beaches…we could have been perfectly contented there for months.
Stocking Island and Elizabeth Island lie to the east of Elizabeth Harbour (with George Town on Great Exuma Island to the west). In particular, Stocking Island has considerable elevation that protects the harbor from the prevailing easterly wind and the swells of the Exuma Sound. Rhett and I enjoyed rowing or sailing Lil’ Dinghy to the shore of these islands and hiking the many trails. Several of the trails crossed over the islands to secluded beaches on the Exuma Sound.
As I had said, several of the trails led over the island to the beach on the Exuma Sound and we had a most-excellent time exploring there.
Shortly before this hike, I heard from a friend back home that with the pandemic, she was missing the beach and her family’s annual pilgrimage to it. She went on to say that she was enjoying the ocean vicariously through this blog and Hazel’s voyages. I thought of her when I took this one-minute video. I thought it would be good therapy for anyone looking forward to getting back to the beach after vaccines have been more fully implemented and life returns to some semblance of normal.
While the hiking, beaches and water were wonderful, there were also the social aspects of Elizabeth Harbour. Every morning at 8:00 AM on VHF channel 72 (a seldom used channel) there was a moderated “cruiser’s net”. Any and all boats were welcome to tune-in and the moderator (a seasoned cruiser) would work through a set agenda that ranged from new boats in the harbor, boats leaving, call-outs for local services and restaurants that were especially good, any cruisers needing help and upcoming social activities.
On our first cruiser’s net (when we announced Hazel-in-the-hood) we heard about a music circle at the “Chat and Chill” (a local, open-air beach restaurant and bar frequented by cruisers). Of course we had to attend and Rhett got this fantastic video. How in the world Ian did that solo with a plastic trumpet…I’ll never know.
After five days in Elizabeth Harbour Rhett and I decided to take advantage of a good weather window and sail further east—about 20 miles or so—to Long Island.
One reason we picked Long Island as a destination was the Cape Santa Maria Resort. We had heard wonderful things about is and wanted to stay there for a couple nights. This is a noteable departure from my last voyage (my solo voyage). On that voyage, I slept every night—all 115 of them—aboard Hazel. However, on this voyage with Rhett one element of “the deal” was that we would stay in a resort from time to time for some pampering.
Although I’m more of a “boat guy” I have to say that the resort did not disappoint. Since there is no regular commercial air service to Long Island, it was secluded. Resort guests that are not sailing their own boat have to arrange the services of a private pilot to get them to the island. One evening over dinner, Rhett and I were talking with one of the resort owners who stopped by our table. When we asked him about travel and air service, he commented, “Yes, we’re always amazed when people actually get here.”—an interesting business model. He did go on to say that when a potential guest contacts them, they move heaven and earth to help them arrange travel. As Rhett captured in this video, the water around the resort was spectacular. We anchored Hazel a quarter mile or so off the beach in two and a half meters of water and rowed Lil’ Dinghy in to the resort with our things for a couple night’s stay—a romantic way to get to a hotel to say the least!
Another thing that was different from my solo voyage last year is that during my solo voyage, I did not set foot in a car once the entire 115 days. However, this year (and similar to the resort bargain), Rhett and I had agreed that from time-to-time we’d rent a car to explore. While I would have enjoyed a night in a resort or renting a car when I was solo, I never did it because it always seemed like it would just heighten my isolation and be a little depressing.
This year was totally different. Not only did Rhett and I rent a car, we had also connected with Ryan and Burt—two cruisers aboard Mojo from North Carolina that I had met last year in the Berry islands. Ryan and Burt jumped in with us on the rental and the four of us had a great day exploring Long Island by car.
Although the rental car was small, the potholes were big…so big they had saltwater in them. In addition, since The Bahamas are a British protectorate, Bahamians are supposed to drive on the left hand side of the road but their cars are a 50/50 mix of left and right hand drive models. This left Rhett, Burt and Ryan to enjoy the scenery while I tried to determine which potholes I could straddle and which ones were “unstraddleable”. (Did I say Bahamians are supposed to drive on the left hand side of the road? What that means is that having memorized the potholes in their neighborhood, they drive on all sides of the road dodging those potholes when no other car is around.) Bottom-line, at the end of the day we got our security deposit back which is more than I can say for a couple of my college apartments.
Unfortunately, while we were in Long Island my brother and sister contacted me with the news that the nurse practitioner and physician that oversee the clinical aspects of our father’s skilled nursing facility were recommending that our 93 year old father be admitted to hospice. Not for one specific reason but for an overall “failure to thrive.” Although his appetite and eating is good, he’s lost 10-20 pounds over the past month and his weight is below 130 pounds.
Given the pandemic, the last time I had seen my dad face-to-face was January of 2020. While his retirement community has done an admirable job keeping us connected via video calls and “window visits” (waving at him through the exterior window of his room), there’s no substitute for being face-to-face. With my dad entering hospice and him being fully vaccinated, we were informed that we could visit him most any time we wished. After talking with Rhett and sleeping on these facts, I decided that I wanted to get home as quickly and safely as possible to see him. Rhett, as always, was 100% supportive.
To the good, we looked at our various weather sources and forecasts and saw a very positive weather window approaching, so on the morning of Wednesday the 24th of March, we set sail for home. The passage was amazing and it was eye-opening for Rhett (in a good way). The prevailing winds in this part of the world at this time of year are from the east and southeast so much of our sailing early in the voyage was upwind and difficult. However, going home (west and north) 98% of our sailing was downwind and 95% of that sailing was under spinnaker—a beautiful and relatively fast and comfortable way to sail.
To start, we sailed for 55 hours straight and covered about 260 nautical miles from Long Island to Bimini. In Bimini, we stayed overnight in a marina and cleared out of the country with Bahamian customs.
The next morning, we set sail (again downwind and under spinnaker) for Hillsboro Inlet and arrived in Florida about 8:00 PM that evening.
To close the loop of this post (and to get back to “the lead”), we were about 5 miles out of Bimini when we saw the dolphins. Now, for any of you who don’t know Rhett, you have to understand that she’s a “squealer”—and I mean that in the most positive definition possible of the word squealer. When she sees any sunrise or sunset (even, in my mind, an “average” one) she squeals with wonder. When she sees a bird—even the most common seagull or ground dove—she squeals with delight. So…you can imagine her reaction to intelligent sea mammals so close we could almost touch them. In addition, all voyage the dolphins had been taunting us. We’d see one or two and they’d stay with us for 30 seconds or a minute. However, on this last day of our voyage, a pod of 30-40 dolphins intercepted us and stayed with us playing in our bow wake for 20 minutes or so. It was magical. Hazel was on a good course and the weather was steady so she (Hazel) was taking care of herself and Rhett and I could be on the foredeck enjoying the dolphins.
A Few Afterwords on the Voyage…
Throughout the voyage, I kept track of our days and miles in Hazel’s ship’s log. By the numbers, we were away 50 nights on this voyage and had spent 45 of those nights aboard Hazel (this includes nights we were in marinas but sleeping on Hazel). We sailed 790 nautical miles during that period. For comparison, during my Bahamian and Virgin Islands solo voyage last year, I was away 115 nights and logged 2,470 nautical miles (this includes about 30 days when I was pandemic lockdown in the British Virgin Islands and not permitted to move).
While we are happy to be back in Florida, the whole reason for cutting our voyage short was to get “home” (to Pittsburgh) and see my dad. Rhett’s and my plan was to first get home safely to Florida and then stay in Florida for several days and do our best to get our first dose of “the vaccine” (which we did!). Then we would fly to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, two days before we were to depart for Pittsburgh, we were informed that a couple staff members at my dad’s skilled nursing facility had tested positive for COVID and—understandably—the facility was cancelling all visits for at least seven days. We’re now in a holding pattern in Florida, seeing family and friends (distanced and outside) and doing some projects on Hazel.
Finally, we’re delighted to report that our 2021 Winter/Spring voyage was a “success” from the standpoint of Rhett and me being able to not just survive but thrive together amid all the joys and challenges of the freedom and confinement of a 31-foot boat. While we had thought it would work when we embarked, there’s nothing like the real-world to test your hypothesis. I’ll add (or, should I say, “we’ll add”) that our Bahamian voyage was such a success, that we are planning a U.S. East Coast voyage this summer! Our rough itinerary is to stay on land through mid-to-late May and get our second vaccine shot and attend the wedding of two dear friends and a family member’s high school graduation. Then, we’ll sail north and follow the weather. There’s no air conditioning on Hazel so when things get warm, we’ll push northward and then do the opposite in the fall. Who knows how far north we’ll get—perhaps to the Chesapeake Bay, or Newport, Rhode Island, or maybe even up to Maine. It’s a wonderful story whose ending has not yet been written.