Updates for Apr-Jun 2003

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5 April 2003 (Update #43)... Hello from Great Harbor Cay in the Berry islands of the Bahamas.

We were away from Bimini on Thursday (4/3) and made an overnight stop at Gun Cay. There's nothing at Gun Cay other than a navigation light (you can see it between Goosebumps & the monohull) and a great beach where we got ashore for a little walk. While we were walking on the beach we spotted remnants of the sailboat Nola which went ashore here in a storm several years ago. We were away from the anchorage at first light after a night of rock & roll in the surge and glad to be through Gun Cay Cut at about 0700 ET.

Gun Cay to the Berrys is a pretty easy trip but it was more than we could do in 11 hours of daylight. So we broke it into 2 parts by anchoring for a few hours out in the Great Bahama Bank. We were away again about 0430 ET, trying to time our arrival for good light. We arrived at Great Harbor Cay off the entrance to Bullocks Harbor about 1300 and found our way in easily.

We weren't prepared for the entrance. They had punched a hole through a 20 meter ridge of rock that bounds the inner harbor on the SW side... much like what I've heard the Corinth Canal to be like: vertical stone walls on both sides of (in this case) a 10 meter wide channel. We couldn't make out the entrance at all until we were right on top of it.

It looked like there was no anchoring in the inner harbor, so we used that as a convenient excuse to take a berth in the only marina. There's a lot to be said for washing machines, showers and dockside power, not to mention a couple restaurants.

We didn't make it to the restaurant Saturday night cuz we were pooped, but I promised the Admiral we'd make it Sunday night. Yeah, right... everything's closed on Sunday. Good timing Captain! We finally got in a lunch on Monday, so the Admiral was somewhat appeased, but she wasn't too happy about the prices. Michael (MIKI G) was right... restaurants are expensive and not that great.

Celia spent a short while chatting with one of the Bahamian ladies at the marina who said one of the POWs in Iraq is a Bahamian woman. She was serving with the British forces in Iraq. The war touches a lot of people you might not expect to be involved. What's more, the 87 berth marina at Great Harbor Cay was all but deserted. There were maybe 5 other boats and ours was the only one with someone aboard. The same lady told Celia that they'd had a lot of cancellations since the war started, though there were a good number still scheduled for April. There are 500 people living in the Berrys and it's pretty clear what an adverse effect the war is having on these folks that rely heavily on tourism to pay the bills.

While we were in the marina we managed to get a few chores out of the way, especially dig a very large sheet of plastic off the prop. Probably blown off one of the boats used to deliver mail and supplies to settlements on the cays and we managed to be the good Samaritans that collected the litter. Wouldn't it be great if this improved our fuel consumption... nah! Btw, the engine hour meter has packed it in. I'm pretty sure I have a spare made by Hobbs, but of course it's in San Francisco! :-(

Also had to reinstall the Nobeltec navigation software (ver. 6.5.617). This is the 2nd time we've had the software crash on us. Seems to happen when the track (the data file containing the date, latitude and longitude of Goosebumps as it moves across the screen) gets longer than some uncertain amount. Really disappointing since the track forms a part of our log. We'll confirm it Monday, but it looks like we'll have to break up the track into small segments. It's really a disappointment to see this fragile side of the software because it really does what we need and we like the vector charts.

We were off again on Tuesday morning (4/8) after a stop at the fuel dock for some diesel. We had a great sail around Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup cays to Great Harbor anchorage on the NW side of Great Harbor Cay where we're now anchored. Little Stirrup Cay had no cruise ships there when we passed, but we understand that the cay is leased by the cruise lines and that they take passengers ashore here. They made it off limits to small-boat cruisers like ourselves because they found the cruisers would join in the food line. They might have gotten away with it if they weren't so conspicuous: the cruisers had a dark tan and the ship's passengers didn't. Oops!

It's turned into a grey day ahead of the front that's headed this way tomorrow nite. We want to make it 20 nm south down to the S end of Hoffman's Cay by late afternoon since it's protected from most of what we expect to see in the way of wind. We should have some N winds after the front passes which will help us on our way to Chubb Cay and then on to Nassau where we hope to buy a few vegetables, plus some vegetables and maybe a few extra vegetables. I don't think either of us can make it very long on only sweet potatoes (yams) which is about all we've seen so far in the "super markets".

More later...

Bruce & Celia
Great Harbor Cay, Berry Islands

ps- yes, Michael, we got the drive leg out of the water, and yes, Maxine, we drained the gas out of the outboard! :-)

15 April 2003 (Update #44)... We're in the big city folks- hello from Nassau on New Providence Island! It's quite a sight as you round the breakwater and head into the channel to see all the cruise ships in their berths at Prince George Wharf! We counted 7 berthed there.

We never made it down to Hoffman's Cay. As we rounded Great Stirrup Cay we found the wind on the nose not too much fun, so we anchored for the night at Great Harbor at the NW corner of Great Harbor Cay. The next day proved to be much the same and we again cut the day short, stopping at the bight along the E shore of GH Cay. It's protected from the S & W which is just what we needed for the frontal passage. We ended up staying here for 3 nites as we waited for the wind to ease and were only able to get ashore one day.

Fortunately another boat that had been in this anchorage before pulled in the same day we arrived. Jim & Patty on RENASANCE told us about 'the club' and took us over to Mama T's. It looked more like an open air bar than a restaurant, but the story was they had burgers to die for. A 'cheeseburger in paradise' sounded like just the thing to make us glad for the early stop. Unfortunately the kitchen was closed, so we settled for a local coconut water which was terrific. We wanted to get back the next day for our burger, but by then the strong winds had set in and we were glad to stay put.

We had hoped to get away from Great Harbor Cay on Friday morning (4/11), but we still had winds with gusts in the high 20s, so we waited till Saturday with plans to be away by 0600. Unfortunately the Bulwagga anchor was by this time buried somewhere under quite literally about 15' of sand and it took almost an hour to retrieve it.

We were away by 0700 and had a great 50 mile broad reach then run SE to Nassau with 10-15 kt winds out of the NNW. It wasn't clear what the winds were going to do the next day, so we chose not to stop at Chubb Cay and pushed on to Nassau so we could get into a marina before the office closed. That meant we had to keep our speed up to make it to Nassau early enough to find our way into Yacht Haven Marina where we plan to do some provisioning and collect our mail. Fortunately the wind cooperated and we had a great motorsail the whole way in, arriving about 1600 Saturday (4/12), an hour before the office closed.

Nassau is an amazing harbor and easily the busiest I've been in. You don't go in or out without first contacting Harbour Control. Even with all the ships and working-boat traffic, fishing boats and the harbor tour boats, I thought the most striking thing is the mega yachts. This one, at anchor not far from the west entrance, dwarfed everything else in the anchorage. Most find space in one of the marinas that cater to these incredible boats, places like Atlantis Marina (where the hotel is) and Hurricane Hole.

After we were tied up our neighbor told us where to find City Market (owned by Winn-Dixie which is not our favorite chain, but usually well stocked). The next morning we hoofed it over to the market about 9'ish and bought a few things for lunch. As we headed out the door we saw that they were closing- they're only open till 10 AM on Sunday. Well, Toto... we're definitely not in Kansas anymore! :-) Since we didn't get enough veggies for dinner too, we opted for a very over-priced steak at Outback and enjoyed every bite with enough left over for dinner the next night.

So now we're busying ourselves with some walks (this is the path through the cemetery leading to St Mathews church about a mile away) plus a little shopping while we wait for our mail and the next front that's just around the corner. We certainly don't want to try the next leg with prevailing easterly wind as we head for the Exumas which are due E of us. Ideally we'd like a couple days of NW to N wind to get us east to the top of the Exumas. From there we'll work our way south down to George Town before we make any more plans.

Getting out of here could prove to be a challenge. We just witnessed what can happen when wind and current combine to push a boat and its skipper just a little beyond what the skipper can handle. The docks at Yacht Haven (and most of the marinas) are in the tidal stream. Sadly a 40+ foot monohull got sideways in these conditions and crunched its way toward the entrance, careening off the transoms and dinghies of several other boats. It finally came to rest on the hard bottom dinghy & stout davits of the last boat where it snapped off the outboard at the mount and separated the fiberglass bottom of the dinghy from the floatation tubes. The offending boat had to be warped off with the outboard still laying on its deck. What a helpless feeling watching it all happen and not a thing to be done to stop it. Makes a body yearn to be at anchor!

For those that are interested in such things, Steve Pavlidis' On and Off the Beaten Path 2002 edition has been a great cruising guide.

17 April 2003 (Update #45)...The Goose... was just about ready to leave Nassau for the Exumas. It took another trip to the market, a propane refill and some fuel to top off the diesel jugs and we were on our way to Ship Channel Cay (4/19).

The last several days seem to have flashed by as we rushed around trying to throw away money. At least that's how it felt when we walked over the bridge to Paradise Island and visited the famous Atlantis Hotel. It's an amazing place and we're certainly glad we went to see what it was all about and to visit the famous aquariums.

David Powell, who's on this mail list (checkout his recent book A Fascination For Fish), consulted on the design of several of the aquariums at Atlantis and we wanted to see his handiwork. If it's in the Bahamas, it's here to be enjoyed... all at a safe distance. If we had listened to the opinion of another cruiser a few days earlier we wouldn't have gone because they found the glass obscured by algae and not worth the $25 admission. When we were there a few days later the visibility was great and we had no trouble watching the countless inhabitants (they must have arrived before the divers cleaned the glass that day).

We even donated to the upkeep of the hotel by dropping a few $$$ at the casino and out at the Lagoon where we had a fruit punch. Back at the main part of the hotel we stopped at Jimmy's for a milk shake and looked in wonder at the megayachts here at the Atlantis Marina.

Interesting side note... the slot machines would only accept US currency. Bahamian dollars wouldn't work at all. Caused me to think as we walked around the exclusive area of the hotels and saw everything so perfect that guests here hadn't been to the Bahamas at all. It's all safely insulated and resort-neutral.

Once you walk back over the 70' high bridge and start down toward Nassau, however, the din of music and people talking on Potter's Cay is almost deafening in the late afternoon with music blaring and DJs announcing coming events and who's competing. We had definitely stepped back through the looking glass and were swept away by the sights, sounds and smells of the world on Potter's Cay. This is where you can find fish and conch and prepared food that you can't find at the City Market. The causeway is lined with shanties with a boat tied out of view on the water side. On the street side it's a clamor of vendors hawking their goods. In the area near the center of the Nassau Harbor channel is Potter's Cay. Potter's is where the mail boats tie up to take on supplies and cargo for the cays. Each of the mail boats has a regular schedule to certain of the main cays in an island area. If you're on one of the smaller cays that doesn't rate a stop by the mail boat, you have to get in your own boat and be at the landing site to collect your goodies or do your shopping at the local markets. What a trip!

Remember the sea planes we found on Bimini? They take off and land right down the middle of Nassau Harbor. Makes a person appreciate the need to call Nassau Harbor Control before moving anywhere around here.

Saturday morning we got away from the marina dock and were on our way to the Exumas. We decided to stop at the first large island in the north of the Exumas, Ship Channel Cay, and work our way south from there. The cay gets its name because it's at the entrance from deep water onto Exuma Sound. We motored around in the dink to find a place to go ashore, but everything we saw looked like it would tear the fabric of our inflatable. So we didn't try to land and now see why cruisers prefer to start at Allen's Cay about 3 miles south. Which is where we'll be tomorrow so we can check out the iguanas. If the next Update has every 4th letter missing you'll know one of the buggers had one of my fingers for lunch!

Stay safe everyone...

Bruce & Celia
Pimlico (Long Rock) Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

29 April 2003 (Update #46)... Hello to you all from Norman's Cay...

We haven't gotten far at all from where we sent our last message. We left Ship Channel Cay and went to Allen's Cay (4/21-22). I don't seem to be missing every few letters as I type, so you can tell the iguanas didn't get any of my fingers. They're pretty intimidating, actually. About 2-2.5 ft long and completely fearless. They figure anyone that comes up on the beach must be there to feed them, so they scoot right over to make it easy on you. How considerate... wouldn't want a tourist getting tennis elbow throwing crackers to needy iguanas! This little guy (about 18") decided the Admiral looked like an easy touch for a handout and followed her around the beach. The Admiral, on the other hand, thought he was interested in a chunk of her leg and was dancing around trying to get away... the old "Allen's Cay Shuffle"!

Allen's Cays are a group of 3 named cays on the east edge of Exuma Bank (as are all the Exumas). Where the Exuma Bank ends, that's where Exuma Sound begins... you go from 20' depth on the bank to several thousand feet in the sound.. We poked around the east side of Leaf Cay (100 yds east of Allen's) which takes you out toward Exuma Sound (deep water) and saw a quite different look to the water. Much darker because of greater depth near the cay and less sand visible either from rock or sea grass. There were tidal rips too, caused by the strong currents over the rocky bottom. The fish on the east side were larger and more plentiful.

We had a nice sail down from Allen's past Highbourne Cay to Norman's Cay (4/23). Norman's was home to a drug dealer (Carlos Lehder?) at one time. He's not around anymore, but the vertical stabilizer of a plane supposedly used for transporting drugs serves as a reminder of the bad old days. We dinghied around the wreckage which is still pretty much in tact after it's crash in the anchorage at Norman's.

The main reason people come to Norman's is for a cheeseburger at MacDuff's, just across the airstrip and an easy walk from the anchorage. You have to brave the mosquitoes to make this necessary stop even if you don't (God forbid!) like cheeseburgers. When the electric motor burned out on the blender at the bar, they applied a little out island ingenuity. The electric motor was replaced with a gas motor from a WeedWhacker and a couple U-joints for alignment. Want a Margarita? All the ingredients go in the blender, then they give the starter rope a tug (more like 4 or 5 tugs) and the bar fills with exhaust fumes while they blend the drink. Doesn't last long since blending a drink with a 2 horse power motor driving the blades is pretty quick! It was a hoot the first couple times, but after I was half way through my cheeseburger and they fired it up again the novelty was wearing off.

Unfortunately we stayed at Norman's for about 10 days and were ready to leave after 2. The weather didn't cooperate as we waited for a front to pass through that seemed to fall in love with Norman's. The clouds and T-storms persisted but we were determined to not give in to the urge to move on before weather permitted. It was an unfortunate circumstance where fronts, troughs and a low would slide NE across our position between 2 high pressure ridges.

To fill the time we managed to get laundry out of the way using our washing machine (a 3-gal bucket) and drier (the lifelines). Plus we did some exploring in the dinghy. We would like to to have done some snorkeling but sadly, as in Nassau, the nettles decided to spawn (or whatever nettles do in massive numbers) and we needed to stay out of their way to avoid the stings.

Bruce and Celia
Norman's Cay, Exumas

14 May 2003 (Update #47)... Hello from Key West!

So what happened to Exuma Land & Sea Park and George Town and... and... and... ??? Well, we had a change of plans thrust upon us that wasn't anticipated. Looks like we'll have to head back to California for a visit to resolve a few issues, probably in June. That being the case we needed to head back to Key West quickly to get the boat ready and to do a ton of odds and ends including the usual doctor visits.

The day after we sent out the last Update we were hit with an early morning thunderstorm. Pretty exciting stuff with winds over 50 knots and boats starting to scatter all over the huge anchorage. It was all over in half an hour and folks started getting anchors reset.

Then some sharp-eyed cruiser spotted a water spout that formed right after the T-storm passed. It was pretty nasty looking... much like watching a saber saw blade cut through cheap plywood with what looked like splinters of white water shooting up at a 45 degree angle to the spout. I had been in the process of putting the dinghy in the water to offer help to some of the boats that had scattered. When Celia told me what was coming I got the dinghy back up in a hurry and we got on life jackets though I think parachutes might have been better! One fellow in a dinghy just headed for the beach and ran into the trees rather than go back to his boat. As the spout reached one of the cays that bounds the anchorage at Norman's it lost its energy and the spout broke in the middle. In 10-15 minutes all the excitement was over. And as close as I ever care to come to a tornado!

With all the weather delays we had to decide if we'd see the park and then turn back or head straight for Nassau. The wind decided for us. When we woke up the next morning we had a decent southerly breeze. Since the park was to the south and Nassau to the northwest, we headed for Nassau. We had a great sail back to Nassau where we again stayed at Yacht Haven Marina. We did some provisioning, got fuel, a few chores and by Wednesday morning were on our way to Chubb Cay.

We only stopped at Chubb Cay for a little sleep as we anchored behind the natural protective barrier. We were up by 0330 the next morning to cross the bank. We found lots of traffic including 3 other boats moving with us from Chubb toward the NW Providence light. Plus there was traffic coming off the bank including a 150' container ship presumably headed for Nassau. Of course once the sun was up and we could see clearly all the traffic went away and we were by ourselves all the way to Brown's Cay on the W edge of the Great Bahama Bank.

Brown's Cay offers nothing in the way of protection from the SE where the winds were. Since we had good weather we decided to just go for it didn't even slow down at Brown's. We headed out into the Gulf Stream moving really well. A little extra wind and some rain changed all that and pretty soon we had sails down and were motoring as we crossed the stream headed slightly S, giving up over 3 kts to the current.

As we closed with the coast near Key Largo, a veritable parade of ships started to cross our route. At one point I had 8 ships in sight going both directions either having just passed or about to. Once out of the shipping lane we were also out of the strongest part of the current and kept pointing closer and closer to our target. Inside the reef that bounds the E-S sides of the Florida Keys we headed for Rodriguez Key and slept for a few hours.

Over the next 3 days we hopped from key to key stopping at Long Key, Boot Key (where Marathon is), then got up early Monday and started the last leg to Key West. We needed to arrive early enough to officially check in and still make it to Sunset Marina, but the fuel dock was jammed with boats when we arrived there at 1300. Celia called customs' 800-number to see if we could check in with them via phone since we have a Customs Decal. They told her we could but we had to be tied to a dock when we called. However, they had no issue with us going into a marina anywhere in the Key West area, so we headed for Sunset Marina.

When we arrived, Barbara (dockmaster at Sunset) volunteered to call customs for us. They left her on hold for about 45 minutes and when customs finally answered I was done refueling and was able to finish the call. Armed with customs' clearance number we called a local phone number to take care of immigration and agriculture check-in. Turns out 4 agents showed up: 1 from agriculture (USDA; he was worried about tropical fruit, honey bees and how we had stored garbage), 1 from immigration (who was pissed at the agriculture guy for his lousy directions to the marina) and 2 from customs (dressed in all-black uniforms and looking like they were taking no prisoners). They came right to the marina and headed straight for the only Q-flag they could find. Pretty cool. The whole thing took all of 10 minutes, all were very pleasant and we were immediately on our way to the storage unit to retrieve our air conditioner (yee haw!). It was nice to learn that urban legend about the difficulty of check-in can be so wide of the mark.

There may have been a little concern on the part of our neighbors during check-in, however. Customs sent 2 guys- an experienced agent and a rookie. The rookie came aboard to check things out while the old pro stood around on the dock with his hands on his hips. One of those hands was resting over the butt of his side arm and, with the scowl from the bright sun, he looked for all the world like he was ready to shoot the first person stepping off the boat without permission. I doubt there was much to worry about... with that hot south Florida sun beating down on the black grip he would have burned his hand if he'd tried to pull his weapon out of the holster!

13 June 2003 (Update #48)... Hello from the Interstate!

The Goosebumps crew is slowly heading for California by way of (mostly) the back roads. It's been 2 weeks and we finally finished the 2-day trip to Annapolis, MD. Saw some really interesting places on the way like Wilmington & Asheville, NC, particularly enjoying Oriental, NC. We'd missed Oriental on the way south in fall 2001 aboard the Goose... and were delighted we took the time to check it out this trip. If you pass through there, be sure to stop at The Bean and say hi to Jessica and Ashley when you order your coffee. They managed to concoct something pretty close to a Cuban coffee!

Annapolis was a real treat: Voortreker III is back in the water after holding for weather for most of the 5 weeks they were hauled out and Ric's new Beneteau 473 (Sezaneh) is at long last home in Herrington Harbour South looking gorgeous.

We also stopped at PCI (the company that buildt our Gemini) and said hello to Sue Smith. On the way up to the office we spied the first Telstar nearing the end of the production line. Sue got one of the guys to show us the way the hulls fold... very cool!

While we were in Melbourne we checked out a pickup we saw on the Toyota dealers lot. It was a used (our favorite kind!) Tundra they'd had sitting there for longer than they wanted and we were able to work a trade. Now we're driving in the lap of luxury, all the subtle and sometimes scary new sounds of the tired Corolla left behind. This pickup is like riding in a Camry with a huge trunk. Cool.

I'm afraid we've created a monster, though. The Admiral, now referred to as the Head Mother Trucker (HMT for short), has started calling most passenger cars and small trucks 'weenie cars'. :-)

We're trying to move a little faster now after spending so much time checking out 'home ports'. Main stops along the way are Wyoming & Oregon before we hit California.

21 June 2003 (Update #49)... The Goosebumps crew are in Salt Lake City for the night, ready to attack the Bonneville salt flats in the morning!

Since the last update we managed to cross the South Dakota plains, checkout the Badlands National Park, and- are you ready for this?- visited Wall Drug in Wall, SD. Trust me, Wall Drug is a great stop on the way to Yellowstone! They have a little bit of everything from western wear to a cafeteria to prescription drugs and have put an otherwise obscure little plains town in the category of 'yuh just gotta see it!'

We also stopped at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, WY. My grandfather remarried after my grandmother died and the widow he married happened to live in and run this historic hotel. Actually, she turned hom down the first time he asked her to marry him back in 1905. That time she married Al Smith who owned the Smith Ranch and later bought the hotel. Fifty years later he asked her again and she finally said yes. They ran the Occidental profitably for many years and traveled off-season until his death in 1968.

I hadn't seen the hotel since the late '60s and it was a real treat to see all the restoration in progress by the new owners. I'd known that the Occidental was "Where the Virginian got his man" as Owen Wister stayed here one summer and, even though the story of The Virginian is centered in Medicine Bow, he gleaned many of the personalities for the characters from those hanging around the town and the hotel bar. What I didn't know was that Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody and a few other notables stayed here as well. The new owner took us around the bar and pointed out all the bullet holes in the walls and ceiling where possibly someone didn't "smile when you say that pardner." The old Busy Bee cafe is now an upscale restaurant

It was disappointing, however, to see that the city of Buffalo, WY had taken down the 'U-Turn Permitted' sign from the bridge beside the hotel... I always loved telling the story about how it was the only city in the US where a U-turn is permitted on a bridge. Nothing like progress to mess up nostalgia.

Devils Tower and Yellowstone are pretty much as we remembered them. And we really enjoyed the drive to get there. At the suggestion of a guy working the counter at the Wyoming Visitor Center on the Interstate we took the route through the Big Horn Mountains to get to Yellowstone. With the lower amount of travel on the roads (post-9/11) it turned out to be an easy drive and absolutely spectacular.

As we were walking away from Old Faithful at Yellowstone Celia got a call from California. Looks like play time is over and we'll have to get to San Francisco as soon as we can. We'll get out another update after we're back in SF.

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