February 1, 2007, finds Lionheart and crew in the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. The water is clear and a beautiful shade of blue. The sky is blue most days and full of bright stars by night. The attitude of the islanders is definitely laid back. However, before I describe this part of our cruising adventure, let me tell you where and how we spent December 2006 and January 2007.
My last page ended with Lionheart in Key West, Florida, having completed the Great Loop of America. Right after Thanksgiving the weather cleared and we made the run up the Hawk Channel (on the Atlantic side) from Key West to Marathon. We arrived in Boot Key Harbor after 6 hours of dodging hundreds of crab traps and pounding in the waves much more than Nikolas usually tolerates. For whatever reason, he remained in his cruising position on the pilot house seat in a seeming catatonic state and didn't complain nor did he give up his breakfast. Boot Key Harbor is protected from the wind and weather and seemed very calm. However, some rather interesting individuals are living in that harbor permanently on some rather interesting vessels. We apparently really ticked off one of these residents by running our generator all night for air conditioning. He came by to bang on Lionheart with a beer bottle (the bottle had been emptied into his tummy along with several others we think) telling us to get out of his harbor and stop smelling up the place with diesel. Then he repaired to his small sailboat and sang us songs of what he would like to do to us and all the other tourists who spoil his environment with their big clean boats and dirty old diesel, etc. That was the most unsavory incident since our stay in Puerto Madero, Mexico, late in 2005. One other unpleasant event occurred while we were in Boot Key.....USC lost to UCLA. We watched this game (which started at 10 PM on the east coast) and were our usual crazed selves when faced with a loss to the Baby Bears. Since it's not the first time it has happened in our lives, we did survive and looked forward to the Rose Bowl.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, Lionheart is up on the hard for the third time in 15 months.
Finally we see a Manatee! He or she swam up to Lionheart while we were at the boat yard dock. Locals told us it was looking for a drink of fresh water. Sure enough, we put the hose in the water and he/she took it in their mouth and had a nice long drink.
We had the boat hauled out of the water on December 4 at the Marathon Boat Yard. Lionheart had developed a howl in the starboard engine after having the propellers reworked after hitting a log last May in The Great Dismal Swamp. The Captain was pretty sure we had a bent propeller shaft. Also, having touched the bottom a number of times on our trip around the Great Loop, he wanted to see if there was any damage needing repair. Several other projects were scheduled so we planned to have Lionheart out of the water for the month. Our friend, Liz, who had crewed with us through the Caribbean last spring, lives in Marathon. She and her partner Ritchie had invited us to stay with them while the boat was in the yard and we were very pleased to do so. It was mostly me and Nick with Liz and Ritchie because the Captain flew back to California to visit the kids and doctors, and to Colorado to see his Mom on her 93rd birthday. When he arrived back in Florida, we flew off to Canada to go heli-skiing over Christmas, leaving Nick with Liz. When we arrived back in Miami on New Year's Eve, Liz and Ritchie picked us up at the airport and we joined their friends Sheila and Mike at their lovely home in Homestead for a fantastic New Year's Eve dinner. Could not have had a better meal at the most expensive restaurant in Miami for hundreds of dollars. I know this because I checked all over town trying to find a place to celebrate with Liz and Ritchie and try to thank them for their fantastic hospitality. Finally decided we just could not imagine spending that kind of money, not to mention the incredible hotel room rates on the few rooms that were available. All in all, it turned out to be one of the best New Years ever, celebrating with really nice people who sure know how to cook!
A new Great Loop Completed burgee flies as Lionheart enters Biscayne Bay for the second time in 9 months. The Miami skyline is in the background.
Nikolas, currently nicknamed Magellan, planning his next exploration of the docks and the neighboring sailboat.
A beautiful day for a bike ride to the north end of Man-O-War Cay.
Lionheart at anchor (center) in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay.
Touring Green Turtle Cay by rental cart.
Main Street in New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay. Settlement founded in 1700's by Loyalists who fled the American Revolutionary War. Thus the residents speak English and were British subjects until the 1970's.
On our way to Freeport on the bus with the local school children.
Arriving at Old Bahama Bay, West End, Grand Bahama Island.
Heading east out of Brighton Inlet, Pompano Beach, heading for the Bahamas.
The Captain & the Sheppards at their dock in Pompano Beach.
Queen Mary 2 docked at cruise center in Ft. Lauderdale preparing for an around the world cruise.
New Year's Day found us back in Marathon in time to watch the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl at our friends. Now neither one of them is a Trojan, nor do they follow football, so our hats are off to them for putting up with the howling Van Gemert Trojans. I must say, the Rose Parade coverage on the east coast is not nearly as complete as Channel 5 in LA, but the floats were great, although I am not sure we saw them all. The day looked like the usual Pasadena gorgeous New Year's Day. In Florida it was windy, warm and humid. Anyway, the Trojans won and all was well. Nick was glad to have us back, although I think he really enjoyed his time on land. He spent most of his time out on the screened-in back porch at Liz's. He loved watching whatever was going on in the heavy mangrove forest that borders their property. One day we saw a huge turkey buzzard in a tree back there. He was obviously looking for a bite to eat. Not only was Nick screened-in, he is definitely more than bite-sized! In fact, when I took Nick to the Vet to get his shots for the Bahamas, she suggested a slight cutback in Nick's rations. He has not taken this lying down. He now spends much of his day (that part which is not taken up by serious catnapping), sitting by his food bowl in prayer. There is also serious talk from the boy whenever anyone is around to listen. He obviously thinks he is starving to death but it has not yet begun to show on his ample body.
While I was staying with Liz and trying to get in shape for skiing, by going to the gym in Marathon, I was also introduced to the wonders of Mah-Jongg. This is one of the most interesting games I have ever played. At least for Sue the beginner, it seemed much more difficult than bridge, which I also love but play rather poorly. It also takes 4 players so you are constantly looking for others to play with. In my case, I need others who have the game set. I certainly plan to pursue Mah-Jongg whenever I can on the trip and hope to join a club when we arrive in Oxnard for good.
While our holidays were jolly in Florida, we did miss the family and hope it will be our last Christmas season away from them. It's also quite crowded in the Florida Keys during the holidays. The winter birds start arriving in December, followed by all their kids who come for the holidays. The decorations are more pastel in the Florida Keys than California and certainly less majestic than say South Coast Plaza (in fact you have to go to Ft. Lauderdale to approach that level of decor). However, it was the climate that made it feel less than Christmas-like for me.
On January 4, 2007, we moved back aboard Lionheart and prepared to head up the coast to Pompano Beach. Thanking Liz and Ritchie profusely for their hospitality and friendship, we left Marathon on Jan. 8. Spent one night anchored off Key Largo, one night anchored in Biscayne Bay, Miami, and spent Jan. 10, retracing part of our trip up the ICW last spring. We passed through Ft. Lauderdale again which is the boating capital of the world. Having seen it by land and by sea, I marveled again this year at the palatial homes and humongous boats in this part of the world. This is the home of the largest West Marine store in the world. This is not a dubious distinction in the world of boaters. We arrived at the home of our friends, Jerry and Sistie Sheppard, that afternoon and docked there. Their neighborhood is much like Huntington Harbour and is just off the ICW. We had met the Sheppards while "looping". They had left their boat, Why Knot, in Pensacola for the winter, thus an empty dock, so we had the benefit of their hospitality while we made final preparations for spending the winter in the Abaco Islands We shopped at Costco, Publix, West Marine, etc. for 3 days. When we were not shopping, we were packing all that stuff on the boat. Finally, on Jan. 16, we had finished our preparation and we got the good weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Jerry and Sistie have spent several seasons cruising in the Bahamas and they came along with us for the ride and to show us the ropes. It was about 60 miles from the Brighton Inlet at Pompano Beach to West End on Grand Bahama Island, which is where we chose to "check into" the Bahamas. Checking in is registering with Bahamian immigration services and paying a $300 fee for the privilege of cruising in the Bahamas for l year. You have to reregister every 3 months but the fee is once per year. It does allow you and your guests to cruise all the islands, land on any island, and fish according to their regulations. We had to get special papers for Nick to enter as well, but that is another story. The immigration office was located at Old Bahama Bay Marina and Resort which is a beautiful resort with a pool, beach, breath taking ocean vistas, and fancy dining room. There were also some very venomous no-see-ums which had their way with me the very night we arrived. My bites were later identified as sand fly stings but let me tell you, I looked like I had smallpox within 2 days. Those suckers turned into blisters and welts I couldn't believe. This is much like Central America when it comes to insects and I'm back to using Cutter-Evergreen when the wind isn't blowing! Grand Bahama is part of the Abaco Islands which is the northernmost island chain in the Bahamas. Our plan is to hang out in this island group for the whole winter, using Lionheart more as a condo than as a means of transportation. After traveling 12,000 miles in 13 months we need some R&R from our adventure! This looks like a wonderful area to do, well, not too much. This is where we test our abilities to be cruisers rather than boaters. The definition of a cruiser is one (or up to a boatload) who can be happy just hanging out in beautiful marinas and/or anchorages, enjoying the simple pleasures or swimming, reading, eating, drinking, etc., for months at a time. Boaters, on the other hand, are pretty much always in motion with plans and schedules to get from one place to another and, well, see the world. I think the Van Gemerts are "boaters" who are taking a stab at "cruising" this year. For right now it's working just fine.
On the 17th we decided to take the local bus into the town of Freeport and to the resort area of Lucaya. The bus was a van and at 9:00 AM it was also the local school children's transportation. We stopped frequently on our way down the 2-lane road (driving on the wrong side of the road like in England) to take on tiny pre-schoolers who were then hand delivered by the driver to their various pre-schools along the way. At one primary school, several children disembarked, however, one little guy obviously had decided to pass on school for the day. The teacher must have counted noses because Daniel was found before the bus departed and hauled off by the driver dragging his feet the whole way. We completed the 20 minute drive in about an hour and 15 min., but it was totally entertaining. Luckily, when we decided to return on the 3:00 PM bus, we got the return school delivery ride and had an even more interesting circuit which took us out to remote neighborhoods. In this way we really saw the way the people live outside the resort areas and the huge amount of hurricane damage suffered on this island. The greatest loss seems to be the defoliation, as well as windows, doors and roofs. Many native fruit trees, which provided the local population with food, like mangos, bananas and sour oranges which are all staples of their cooking. All of the Abacos are low lying islands that can be easily flooded in hurricanes which causes the salt water poisoning of the vegetation. Hopefully it will come back in this area as it seems to have done in the Florida Keys after the devastation of Wilma.
Jan. 18 and 19 were spent on the hook in Sale Cay (pronounced key), 2 nights on Allen-Pensacola Cay, where the Captain discovered a problem with the starboard (right side) transmission. He announced that we we're in potential deep doodoo because we are in the Bahamas where there are few boat yards of good reputation and an island time mentality. Jerry, having spent a good deal of time in the Bahamas, suggested that a really good boatyard was located on Man-O-War Cay, so we started in the direction of Man-O-War which is close to Great Abaco Island. We spent 2 nights on Green Turtle Cay on the way, arriving at MOW Marina on Jan. 24. A very experienced mechanic at Edwin's Boat Yard assessed the problem while the Captain assessed the mechanic's knowledge of transmissions. We waited 5 days for the mechanic to get to us (he is really busy because he is the only diesel guy around) but he fixed in in 3 hours for $380. This was a wonderful turn of events because the Captain had envisioned several thousand going to the project. The Mechanic and the Captain determined that some of the work done at Marathon, when they installed the new propeller shaft, had caused this problem, but that too is another story. One that the Captain will tell any other Captain who wants to hear it.
Today finds us still at the dock at MOW Marina. There is a swimming pool, great internet, a really nice laundry room; life is good. The marina is in the bay formed by MOW Cay and Dickies Cay. There are several couples and several boatloads of cruisers hanging out here but it's not a hugely social crowd. The little village has 2 very small grocery stores, 2 gift shops, 1 restaurant, 2 beauty shops, library, school and several churches. The Atlantic Ocean is on the east of the Cay and the Sea of Abaco is on the west of Dickies Cay. They don't sell booze on this cay. There are no cars, just golf carts, and there is a ferry that runs several times a day to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island. We are staying at the dock while several major fronts blow through the area. When the weather lightens up, we will head to Marsh Harbor to hang out with some of our Looper friends at Boat Harbor Marina. The locals and cruisers say the wind will be less and less as the months pass. We hope that's true because we would like to get out to all the islands that have safe anchorages and do some snorkel exploration of the many reefs. Fishing is also on the Captain's agenda. We also hope to have some friends visit us while we are in the Abacos to share this beautiful place with us. So, if you are looking for a vacation in the Bahamas, contact us on our website. The Lionheart B&B is up and running.
View of Bugaboo Spire from our room at Bugaboo Lodge
Top of the mountain in Rory Creek - Bugaboo Spire is top left.