Monday, May 25, 2020

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore!

After waiting for a weather window for more than a week, we decided to take advantage of a 24 hour window that would provide calm seas.  Usually, we plan to cruise during the day, and anchor in a protected area at night, however, we needed to cover more than 160 miles (at 8 mph, that would be a perfect 2 day trip) but the heavy winds and rough seas were not willing to lay down for two days.  So we scheduled our departure for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 17 with the plan to take 3 hour shifts and travel straight through the night.  Our estimated arrival time, to Biscayne Bay was noon the next day.

I believe I have mentioned in the past that I am not a huge fan of night travel.  I know how beautiful it can be if you have calm conditions, and an amazing full moon glistening off the water (we would not have a full moon).  I am also well aware of the fact that if conditions are not calm, my seasickness record is cause for great concern.  I have only been seasick two times in the past 11 months, and both times were in rough seas in the dark.  

Additionally, I have to re-adjust my whole mindset regarding piloting in the dark.  I am a very visual helms person.  I like to have an unobstructed view 360° around the boat at all times.  I like to keep a close eye on the path ahead to make sure there is nothing in the water that might damage our hull or entangle our props/shafts should we collide.  In the dark, all of those ‘normal’ activities are greatly diminished for more electronic vigilance.  I still walk outside every 15 minutes, during my watch, to scan the horizon (and to listen) but I can’t see much in the pitch dark.

Our last day at Hoffman’s Cay

We enjoyed one last walk on our beach.

So sad to leave.  Good bye to our Covid hide-out for the last 8 weeks.

I was at the helm when we passed Great Stirrup Cay at sunset.  The sky was cloudy, foggy, and grey, and the anchored cruise ships were an eerie reminder of the uncertainty that faced us upon our return to the U.S.  I passed more than 40 cruise ships, anchored on the Bahamas Bank, during that watch.  It was an unbelievable sight!

We have developed specific safety protocols for overnight passages.  One of the safety devices we employ aboard the boat is the Lifetag system.  We originally purchased this system to ensure the safety of our grandchildren.  However, it is also fundamental in our ‘peace of mind’ for overnight passages.  There is no more terrifying thought than losing someone overboard in the dark while the other person was sound asleep.  So...we both wore a tag the entire time we were underway.  If this tag gets farther than 25 ft from the sensor, or gets wet, an alarm immediately sounds.  Having these types of protocols in place allowed both of us to sleep soundly during our 3 hour breaks from the helm.

WOW!  The average depth of the Chesapeake Bay is 10 ft.  These depths are new to us.  

This is how we announced our arrival to the authorities.
The passage was incredibly easy, with great weather, calm seas, and no seasickness!  Yippeeee! Also, getting back into the US was incredibly easy.  We registered for electronic check in, before leaving the country, using the ROAM App.  A few miles out, Keith logged on and entered the above information, and answered two questions, that were essentially...1) Are you transporting more than $10,000 cash? Yes/No 2) Are you transporting any fruit, vegetable or meat not purchased in the US? Yes/No

 We received a phone call from a Boarder Patrol agent who asked if our vessel was really 498 feet in length. No, that is a should read 49.8 feet in length.  His response, “alright, I’ll make that correction in our database, welcome home.”  That was it! Not one word about health, isolation, last shore visit...nothing.  WOW! That was surprise #1.  Surprise #2 (not really a surprise, but a reality check) occurred the next day when we went to Publix, in Key Largo, for our first grocery shopping trip in 10 weeks.  We couldn’t enter the store without a mask (which of course we were prepared), they made continuous social distancing announcements, and had one way aisles.  The pendulum swings! Surprise #3 came when it was time for the two of us to carry $475 worth of food a mile back to where the Whaler was tied to a mangrove tree.  Is it possible that we are too old for this lifestyle?

If you noticed on our ‘Arrival Summary’ we checked into the country at 12:38 on Monday, May 18. We had originally planned to anchor, in Biscayne Bay upon arrival, but we both still felt good so we continued south to anchor in Key Largo.  We anchored at 5:30, with a total time underway of 25 hours.  After taking one rest day to reprovision, we traveled around the southern tip of Florida, and started up the west coast.

We are now on a mooring ball in Fort Myers beach, FL. We plan to take advantage of a great weather window coming on Thursday-Monday to travel to the Mobile River.  This leg of the journey will include one more over night crossing.  Fingers crossed that it is as uneventful as our last!

Poor Keith!!!  This is the fourth time he has taken the lower unit off the outboard in an attempt to fix our continuing problem.  As we are traveling along, the motor will suddenly go into ‘safe’ mode by reducing the throttle to an idle and displaying a warning light that says, “low oil/high temp”.  First of all, these two items should not share a light, as they are different systems in an outboard.  There is plenty of oil in the tank and it is pumping correctly. So his focus has been on the cooling system.  He replaced the impeller, which seemed to solve the problem for a few weeks, but then it started doing the same thing again.  When we arrived here, he took an Uber to an Evinrude dealer to purchase a new thermostat. Installed it yesterday...nope. Took it apart again to double check that all springs were aligned, and to pump salt cleanser through the system to make sure there were no blockages, and change the spring in the high speed bypass...nope.  Took it apart again and changed the impeller AGAIN...nope, the problem continues...UGH...I feel so badly for him, because he is an excellent mechanic, and he has called people, downloaded every diagram and manual that exists and he can’t identify the problem.  I know this is driving him crazy, but I am 100% confident he will figure it out. He is now planning to replace the head gasket...fingers crossed that this solves the problem!

On a happy note, Randall has posted a Message in the Bottle Story on his Figure 8 Voyage site that gives a comprehensive overview of the bottle’s journey. This is one of the pictures from his site.  Randall explores local currents, and possible routes and obstacles the bottle might have faced along the way.  To read ‘The Full Story’ follow this link to Randall’s page

I miss my sharks already!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Day Trippin’

The weather over the past week has been very nice, with lower winds, great temperatures, and sunny days (until’s been raining for the past 24 hours).  This reprieve from high winds allowed us to enjoy several day trips.  The first was back to the lionfish hole to try to catch dinner.  Lionfish are an invasive species that are causing problems along the reefs in the Bahamas, and the southern coasts of the US.  They have a high rate of reproduction, a voracious appetite, and few predators.  Therefore, everyone is encouraged to help manage the lionfish population.  

The preferred way of capturing lionfish is by diving down and stabbing them with a pole spear.  You would think they could easily escape or hide, but no they just look at you...then give this WTH (what the heck) expression when you stab them. We were able to remove three from the environment, but they were fairly small so they were turned into an appetizer instead of dinner! My filleting skills were tested with these small, strange fish.  Additionally, lionfish require special handling, as many of their spines are venomous so Keith carefully removed all spines before I got to work with the fillet knife.

We have been making a concerted effort to dispose of fish carcasses away from the boat to avoid attracting additional shark traffic.  For some reason, on this day, we decided to fish with the lion fish carcass.  Within 30 minutes we had two sharks tracking the scent behind the boat.  We kept pulling the bait in closer to discourage them from getting hooked, but this guy came within a few feet of the swim platform so we had to discontinue our fishing attempts.  We did not want to unnecessarily hook a shark.  As you might imagine, neither of us readily volunteers for hook removal duty in a mouth this large!

While sitting on the swim platform, cleaning conch, Keith attempted to get a picture of the barracuda that had been ‘hanging out’ under his feet.  At the time he didn’t realize the barracuda might have been interested in this conch attempting to escape.

Clearly freshly dispatched conch also release ‘smells’ into the water.  Within minutes of dropping this shell in the water, this huge starfish came to investigate the possibility of a free lunch.  It was very interesting to watch this starfish make a ’bee line’ for this shell.  They move much faster than I thought was possible.

After being anchored behind Hoffman’s Cay for 6 weeks, it was time to take a trip into deeper water (a few miles offshore) to dump our black water holding tanks (sewage).  We selected a nice calm day, and decided that while we were out there we would try our luck at trolling.  Until this point, we had only fished in relatively shallow water near the islands.  In this location, there is a ledge about 5 miles out that changes in depth from 75 ft to 2,500+ over a short quarter mile distance.  We decided that trolling along that ledge might be a good place to catch something.  We set up the rods with ballyhoo rigs and slowed our speed to 4.5 mph.  Since we are new to all of this, we were just making up the ‘rules’ as we went.  We do have a book onboard that we each perused, but we had no ‘tried and true’ methods to fall back on.

Beginners luck is a wonderful thing!  We quickly pulled this feisty fellow onboard and headed to the literature for identification.  After some discussion we both agreed this was a king mackerel.  It that good or bad?  If memory serves me correctly, I have read that mackerel is an ‘oily’ fish. I’m not exactly sure what that descriptor means, but I have always mentally equated ‘oily’ with ‘fishy’ or possibly ‘mushy’. We really hope that is not true, because this fish provided 4 large fillets (another filleting first with a fish that has a clearly delineated back-strap and a belly-strap fillet on each side), which means we will be eating it at least 4 times.  With no internet access, I headed to the book shelf to look for information and/or recipes.  I found two possibilities: a creole tomato sauce recipe in one of my all time favorite books, An Embarressment of Mangoes, and a baked coconut fish recipe in The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing. Both might be options to counter balance any oily/fishy taste?

Sautéed mackerel with creole tomato sauce won the coin flip that night, and I am happy to say the fish was AMAZING!  Now I am a little confused about what ‘oily’ actually means, because this fish was very firm, white, flaky and delicious.  We also ate fish tacos, made with the mackerel, this week, and those too were AMAZING!  Fingers crossed we might catch another king mackerel, but we still have two large fillets in the freezer!

Keith caught me mesmerized by the amazing clarity of the water.  This picture was taken while heading back to our anchor spot, in 18 ft of water.  There are so many things to see...I could stand there and stare at the bottom forever!

The next day we decided to hike to the blue hole on Hoffman’s Cay.  Blue holes are vertical sink holes that are filled with water, and are apparently quite common in the Bahamas.  We took the Whaler to the beach and entered a very tropical looking path.  The ‘hike’ turned out to be a very short walk up a hill that led us to this rock overlooking this beautiful site. Following a path to the right, we ended up under the rock ledge overhang.

Who needs television, when this kind of entertainment is available daily!

Keith decided to jump in to get the full experience.

I, on the other hand, preferred to wait until I was back in my swimming pool with my water hammock...let’s refrain from fishing!

Another wonderful week has passed, but we think it is time for us to mosey out of the hurricane belt.  We are now watching for a weather window that will allow us a safe and comfortable passage back to the US.  It looks like the next break in strong winds might occur early next week.  The next post could possibly be our re-entry into the US. We have also turned our InReach tracker back on if you would like to see our exact location.

Note:  I have received several text and email messages that say people are having trouble leaving comments on the blog site.  When I return to the US, I will try to find a 10 year old to give me technical assistance in resolving these issues.  Always feel free to contact us through email at  If you are subscribed and received this in your inbox, you can simply reply and your message will come to the boat’s gmail account (thanks for teaching me that, Melissa!)

We would love to hear from you, and we always enjoy receiving feedback and questions about the blog.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Shark

It has now been 5 weeks since we dropped anchor in this location, and more than 7 weeks since we provisioned in Key Largo.  Of course, we never planned to be in the same location for so long, and we certainly never considered the possibility of totally living off our stored provisions for more than a few weeks.  However, five weeks in and we are still doing well and enjoying our time in isolation.  I have received numerous emails from people concerned that our food supply must be desperate if we are eating so much conch.  
Let me assure you that we still have a freezer full of steaks, shrimp, lobster tails, pork tenderloin, meatballs, and numerous other meat items, as well as, veggies, and fruits.  Our dried good and canned good supplies are still strong too.  The latest news articles lead me to believe that it might be in our best interest to return to the US with a freezer full of food, if possible.  Hence the reason for us to make a concerted effort to supplement our food supply when possible.  
I have learned some valuable food supply lessons during this experience.  Most new food experiences have been extremely positive, like my newfound LOVE of homemade yogurt (I should have been doing this for years!). However, there has been one item that I would put in the horrendously vile category, and that is canned ham...yuck! 
 I was so disappointed, because as a child I have very fond memories of canned ham from the times I would accompany my father to his hunting club’s turkey shoots.  I would ‘help’ by selling tickets and retrieving targets. At the end of the day the men would stand around a fire drinking beer and chatting.  This activity would almost always include a large canned ham being opened. The liquid contents would be replaced with a beer, and the can heated to a boil on the fire.  I remember the slices of ham being delicious. 
So, excited for a little nostalgia, I decided to open our first canned ham for Easter dinner.  Immediately my hopes were deflated!  This ‘ham’ smelled exactly like cat food.  I attempted to salvage the meal by covering it with a whiskey honey sauce (with extra cinnamon and orange zest), but there was no hiding the cat food-like smell, taste, and texture.  Needless to say, canned ham is off my future provisioning list!
Here, Shrimp boat awaits our return as we explore a new-to-us small island to the north of our anchorage.

Yikes...I think this is a good place to turn around.

When we returned to Shrimp boat, this huge Spotted Eagle Ray (I think that’s what this is) was cruising in the shallows.  Check out the pattern on its dorsal surface.

We have spent a good part of the past week working to improve our fishing skills, and I am happy to report that a fish taco dinner and a sautéed grouper dinner were the rewards.  Our problem has been in identifying the location of the fish we were wishing to catch.  As you know, I have been pulling Keith behind the Whaler so we can find conch. Well, we decided to employ this method of exploration to conduct a little recon on potential fishing sites.  It worked wonderfully!  When Keith would spot a reef or depression where large fish were congregating, he would spit out his snorkel and yell “fish”, and I would drop a pin on the iPad Aqua Maps chart.

Our first day of fishing at one of the pins resulted in two snapper, three trigger fish, two grouper, and three sharks.  We later read that trigger fish are excellent to eat, but at the time we were a little shocked by their appearance and threw them back.  However, they are really fun to catch as they put up a good fight!

Winner-winner grouper dinner!  We were very happy to catch 3-4 lb grouper, as the likelihood of fish this size carrying ciguatera is much lower.  Ciguatera toxin accumulates in larger reef fish and can cause nausea, vomiting, pain, cardiac, and neurological symptoms when ingested by humans.  Clearly, that would throw a wrench in our Swiss Family Robinson experience.

Note to self: when the third catch in a row is a shark, it is safe to assume the fishing grounds have been compromised...time to move on. 

A nice shady spot to enjoy lunch.

Our second day of fishing was not as fruitful as the first.  This is the only creature I caught, and I must say that reeling in a 5-6 ft nurse shark is much like pulling a Volkswagen off the bottom. They don’t run your line out like the reef sharks do...instead, they just seem to anchor themselves to the bottom.

Red Russian kale is thriving in the hydroponic garden. We now have 12 of these plants at various stages of development  We are also seeing successful growth rates in chard and several varieties of lettuce. Interestingly, herb plants have not fared as well. 

Weather patterns are changing here and there is a prediction for an early tropical weather season (starting as early as May 17).  This will most likely be the thing that determines when we will return to the US.  Recently I thought our low supply of coffee might be our Achilles heel, but Eron and Vicki, on No Fixed Address, donated a 2 lb 10 oz can of Maxwell House, as they were leaving the Bahamas....SCORE!!!  Hope they have a safe crossing to Florida! Now our attention can return to the weather.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Message In A Bottle

It has been a very interesting week at isolation island. Our friends Eddie and Gail on Seaquel were able to join us for a few days while they waited for a weather window to return to the States.  It was so good to see them again!  We had originally planned to hop down the Exuma chain until we met up with them, but the lockdown halted our south bound travel plans.  Luckily, their journey north led them to us.  We were able to squeeze a lot of fun into the few days they were here.  On Easter Sunday, I suggested that we hold an ‘egg’ hunt on the beach.  The goal was to beach comb and collect any items that resembled an egg.  The winner would receive a snickers bar and jelly!

Eddie and Gail are hunting for ‘eggs’.  There was an ‘informal’ complaint filed, to make us aware that due to being Jewish, they felt that their lack of experience in this exercise put them at a disadvantage.  Nope, not buying it...look for an egg😉. 

We intentionally planned our egg hunt during low tide, because there is so much more to see.  The rock structures left behind by erosion are fascinating!

These were the final entries for the ‘egg’ hunt competition.  Eddie did find a very fragile sea urchin skeleton that really was a perfect egg shape, however, it was crushed by the time this picture was taken.  As you can see, we had a coconut, two rocks, sea sponge, blue float, some type of fruit/nut from a local bush, and a turtle egg shell.  Yes, the white ping pong ball shaped object next to the coconut is a turtle egg (shell).  Everyone agreed that the actual egg should win so Keith was the winner, however, taking Eddie’s great urchin skeleton into consideration (coupled with the handicap points for being Jewish) the guys agreed to share the candy.  Win-win (that’s for you Tom)!

So...after returning to the boat and thinking about the turtle egg, I realized that nesting season is upon us, and that beach was littered with a LOT of trash.  It wasn’t really the trash that worried me so much, but the amount of nets, ropes, and lines that could entangle turtles that really caused concern. So I proposed that we return to that beach to clean up the entanglement items.  Eddie and Gail were happy to join us to help.  There was so much debris on this beach, coupled with the fact that there is no way for us to properly dispose of it, I was happy with just the plan of dragging all nets and ropes up the steep rock face and throwing them into the vegetation.  The next hurricane would probably take them back out to sea, but I was content with the possibility of helping the turtles for a few seasons.  However, once we started cleaning Eddie and Gail proposed that we just clean up everything...that is how I found the bottle!

With my hands full of plastic, I spotted this bottle.  I picked it up and balanced it with all of the other items and headed to our trash pile.  Just as I was getting ready to throw everything into the trash I noticed a cork in the bottle...strange.  I got rid of the plastic and held the bottle up to the light and saw a small scroll of paper tied with black string.  A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE!!  How exciting!  I sat on a rock and pried the cork out with my knife, and this wonderful message came out.  The message had traveled approximately 1,300 nautical miles in just under one year. As it turns out, Randall Reeves, the author of the note, is a bluewater sailor who was in in middle of an historic solo circumnavigation taking him through both Arctic and Antarctic waters. Learn more about his trip by reading the article recently published by Soundings

A successful day of beach clean up, but that float is really jammed under this will have to stay there for now.

Before leaving, Eddie wanted to try his hand at being (what he calls) a ‘Conch Cowboy’.  Gail and I pulled both of them through the water behind the for all!!  A conch cleaning party ensued on the beach.

This time I was determined to make a Bahamian conch dish, so I tried this conch chowder.  In an effort to conserve our frozen veggies I decided to make this with all dehydrated veggies, with the exception of the tomatoes.  The finished product was pretty good, but just seemed like it was missing something.  Oh darn...I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t help myself...after adding two tablespoons of Old Bay we both agreed this was the BEST seafood chowder we have ever was delicious!!

Warmer weather seems to be bringing more frequent thunder storms, but they are so wonderful to watch.

We tried our hand at crabbing.  We have crab rings that you lower to the bottom with bait tied to the middle.  We have used them before, but we have never been able to watch the crabs walk across the bottom and start eating the bait.  Some of the crabs here are very similar to the blue crabs we are accustomed to, but others are quite strange to us.  We call the crab on the left ‘camo’ crabs.  

While drinking my coffee on the back deck this morning I thought, “what  a beautiful morning for a swim!” The wind has finally stopped and the water is like a pond. It is an amazing 85° and the sun is wonderfully warm on my skin.  A nice swim will be the perfect way to start this day...

Ugh...look who was waiting for me...on second thought, I think a lunchtime swim would be MUCH better!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

You Lookin’ At Me?

Island isolation is still working well for us.  We are concerned that the Bahamian government might be planning to ‘roll up the welcome mat’.  As with everywhere, changes are coming every day.  In one of the last announcements by the Prime Minister, it was revealed that the government was working on a plan to ‘encourage’ cruising boats to return to their home country.  We completely understand their concern and do not wish to overstay our welcome, but if we don’t go into any of their towns, or burden their resources, we should be fine staying where we are for at least another month (or two)...or until the tell us to leave, whichever comes first!

Our final ‘preparation’ for this ‘lay low’ plan was to make a trip back to the nearest town to fill up those gas cans we found and repaired.   We took the Whaler so that we could take the 11 mile route instead of the 30 mile route, which would have been necessary for Right Hand.  The trip into town was fairly quick and easy.  With masks and gloves we ventured to the fuel dock and the marina grocery store.  The store was out of eggs and flour, but I was able to score 5 apples and some candy bars.  During our return trip is where we ran into a slight problem.  The outboard started acting funny and would ‘power down’ once we were up on plane for a few minutes.  We were NOT in a good place to be adrift in a dinghy (of course we would have anchored in shallow water to avoid being blown out to sea).  We decided to change our course and attempt to weave our way through very shallow sandbars to cut the trip in half.  We had to go very slowly (which the engine liked) and at one point we both got out to lighten the load.  I pulled and Keith pushed over the final sandbar and we were home!  The trip definitely took on the feel of a Survivor challenge instead of a Swiss Family Robinson expedition, but in the end it worked out fine and we were able to acquire an addition 18 gallons of gas (and 5 grainy apples).

The garden is doing well, but as the plants get taller I will definitely need to address their vulnerability to strong winds.  We did get a pretty strong storm a few nights ago with winds up to 45 mph, and I only found one basil leaf on the deck the next morning. 

Yep, he’s looking at me!  Conch have eyes on stalks, and I have noticed lately that the conch hanging off the swim platform are usually looking at us as we come and go in the Whaler.  I find this slightly disturbing since I know I will soon be eating these creatures.  Keith doesn’t help the situation, because for some reason he has a need to name them.  It adds a whole new dimension when I am preparing to clean and cook ‘Larry, Moe, and Curly’.

We enjoy hiking across the island to the east side.  In some places the path is open, but Keith took a machete to clear some of the vegetation in the overgrown areas.

That path looks a little tight.

Ahhhh, the other side

On this day it happened to be low tide when we arrived, and what a difference the tide makes.

Now we can go around this rock outcropping instead of over.

There was still the need for a little climbing on rugged rock surfaces, but we were able to get to 3 different beach areas on this low tide trip.  To my AACPS friends...did you notice the ‘Be Kind’ finger cloud?

Small trails👍  Also, during low tide there are numerous pools of water left behind.  The assortment of animals trapped in the pools is amazing.  These snails must know that this is the time to move...before the waves start pounding again.  

All of this is underwater, and inaccessible, at high tide.

The hole in the face of that rock goes all the way to the top, so when waves crash into it at high tide the water shoots out the!

Starfish are huge here!

I’m not sure what to say about this.  I originally thought it was a sea cucumber, but it doesn’t feel like a sea cucumber!  Sea cucumbers kinda feel like starfish...not quite a rigid, but leathery.  This guy was a BLOB!  He felt like firmly set jello jigglers!  He was more elongated in the water, but folded himself up accordion style when Keith lifted him out of the water.  This scrunching up action must require the expulsion of water, because a steady stream came out of him until we returned him to the water.

Still enjoying good conchin’!  I have been using conch in many of my standard crab recipes, and it has been very good.  I do need to be a little more adventurous in cooking and attempt some of the Bahamian conch recipes. 

Had a great view of the Pink Supermoon.  Happy perigee-syzygy everyone...look it up!

Cloud formations have been very active this week, which makes for an interesting sunset.

Stay safe and enjoy the sunset, wherever you might be!

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore!

After waiting for a weather window for more than a week, we decided to take advantage of a 24 hour window that would provide calm seas.  Us...