The end or the beginning? Going out or going in? Starting or finishing? Which is it? It’s a good question because that’s where we’re at right now. Ending and starting! It’s now been 2 months since we left Amanzi in Florida and slowly started resuming some aspects of our old lives.
So I thought I’d tell you about where we’re at and where we’re heading and then, mainly for any new people who might stumble upon this blog, give a summary of how we got here and the wonderful adventure we’ve had. This is really to “close” this blog – like the final chapter in a book. I know I’ve read many blogs that just seem to end without a decent conclusion and everything’s left hanging there and I’ve felt quite cheated!! I didn’t want our blog to be like that. The admiral has given a nice summary of what we’ve done since returning in the last blog so I’ll not mention any of that.
Exit – arriving, going in. I am finally back at work (just finished my first week) and, to be honest, I’ve enjoyed getting back into the practice of medicine. I am doing locum work which is really “temping” for doctors who are wanting to take some annual leave etc. As part of the deal I get accommodation thrown in. So, because of this, we haven’t settled down and bought a new home as yet We are traveling around New Zealand from town to town as the need takes me and investigating which would be a nice town to settle in. We’ve decided not to return to the big cities as we like the quieter pace of life! Traveling down the ICW and in the Bahamas at 7 mph has spoilt us! Mary, the admiral, is a chartered accountant and does her work via the Internet – nice!!!
We’ll be in the town of Wanganui for the next 3-4 weeks and then move on someplace else. So, really, we are more or less continuing our “transient” boating lifestyle but on land Leaving our daughters in Christchurch we hired a camper van (RV) and spent the next 3 weeks traveling north to our old haunt of Auckland where we caught up with all our old friends and retold the story of our adventure a number of times.
Following that we headed south again to Rotorua where I attended a medical conference and then moved further south to Wanganui.
RVing is very similar to cruising but without all the stresses and strains that go with running a boat!!!!! It’s very easy to “dock” – just drive in, climb out, connect the power and, voila!, you’re done. No need for dock hands, bow lines, stern lines, springs, connecting power and water, emptying the holding tank, filling the water tanks, checking tidal ranges, putting out fenders and the myriad of other little activities that need to be done to dock and ensure safety
Exit – leaving, going out. Yes, we are leaving behind 9 months of holiday/adventure/relaxation/stress and returning to a more “normal life.”
Here’s a short rundown of our trip with some of the ups and downs. Everything’s in the blog, so this is just a taster for new readers. Enjoy
It started years ago when I suggested I would like to do a circumnavigation. The admiral said, NO. So we bought a coastal cruiser and sailed locally for many years.
I then mooted the idea of cruising the Bahamas where the trips would be short from island to island, no overnights, and, mostly, within sight of land. The admiral said YES!!! I jumped with joy and the planning started in earnest.
I read many blogs and trip reports. I read about the Gulf Stream. I read about the currents. I read about the weather. I read about provisioning. I read about preparation. I read about many many things and stored the information.
There seemed to be many obstacles. Most cruisers bought their boat and spent a few years getting to know it and preparing it for a voyage. We lived in New Zealand and didn’t have the luxury of time to “adequately” prepare ourselves or the boat.
But still I researched.
Initially I was going to buy a sailing catamaran but eventually chose a power vessel. Why? From my research, it seemed few cruisers actually ever got to SAIL in the Bahamas as the winds were always contrary. So, if we would be motoring a lot it seemed to make sense to buy a motor vessel.
So we did – via the Internet. A stressful but successful process See my early blogs about this.
We got rid of a lot of our stuff, packed up the rest, sold our home and flew from NZ to Baltimore where we collected our boat, a 1985 38′ Bayliner. We stayed in Baltimore for 3 weeks “preparing” her and ourselves. In this time, for various reasons, we only managed to take her out of her berth on ONE occasion before we departed and this was on the day before we actually left!!! Seems crazy now but that’s the way it was.
Leaving Baltimore on October 23, 2011, the weather was great with clear blue skies and very calm seas. We were ecstatic!!! Seventh heaven.
We spent 3 days travelling down the Chesapeake stopping overnight at various marinas. We were totally blown away by the size of the Chesapeake. Intellectually we knew it was about 130 miles but the reality was way way different to the mental image.
The next 1089 miles of the IntraCoastal Waterway ( ICW) suddenly seemed very daunting!!!
It was bright and early when we slipped our lines and ghosted out of Tidewater Marina in Norfolk and passed milemarker 1 to get to our very first early morning bridge opening.
Suddenly there were dozens of boats jostling to get in line for the bridge to open. And then it did, our first bridge opening!!! And like a race, the boats were off!!! First the faster powerboats, then the sailboats. All trying to make sure that they got to the next bridge in time for the opening or they would be delayed.
Imagine a race, a marathon, with hundreds of athletes jostling each other! Well, that’s what it seemed like to us. Pandemonium!!
Well, we managed that without incident and embarked on the next 1089 miles to Miami. There were many “events” of note. They’re all described in the blogs but I’ll mention a few. Anchoring in narrow tidal creeks.Rafting up as the only power vessel with ~12 other sailboats in the Dismal Swamp.
Negotiating the locks.
Being caught at anchor in a storm. Having flat batteries because the charger was not up to scratch. Finding out that the previous owner had the start and engine batteries wired in parallel. So a tow was needed from Mile Hammock Bay to Wrightsville.
Mary’s brother and wife had joined us for a few days and declared that they had signed up for the full package – and they got it.
First, some boats dragging onto us, then taking 2 hour turns on anchor watch as the storm raged, taking bearings every 10 minutes to make sure we weren’t dragging. No time for my sister-in-law to experience her usual sea sickness. And then, hauling the slimy, mud caked anchor aboard before our tow – no battery or engine power, remember. So yes, they got the full boating package in the space of a few days
Meeting some wonderful people along the way. Both cruisers and shore people. Enjoying the friendliness of small towns.
Dragging anchor in the middle of the night!! And not being able to reset it by moonlight in a 50m wide creek with the tide running. Staying up all night on anchor watch.
Worrying about channels and channel markers.
Red on the right (opposite to New Zealand) but sometimes on the left when you left the ICW and headed up river!!!!!
Seeing other boats aground, calling for assistance.
Enduring the wettest weekend in recorded history in St Augustine but offset by meeting new friends. Anchored alone in a small creek north of Savannah and hearing that there was a TORNADO warning for our area.
Sitting, scared out of our wits – I would say shitless but that’s not the way I speak – with the generator running and watching the storm’s progress on our TV and radar. Thankfully it passed north of us and we could finally go to sleep.
Having ice on the decks in the early morning and later sunning ourselves in the warm sun.
Spotting dolphins regularly.
Never ever seeing a Manatee Hearing a Securite message from the US Coastguard a 1000 times about the Atlantic Right Wales!!!
Meeting up with friends along the way south!!
Using our trip down the ICW as our “shakedown” cruise and stopping off for repairs and further modification and installations. Enduring the frustration of waiting in marinas for things to get done and finally getting on our way again. Having a leak in our brand new, never been used, dinghy (Mercury) – what a performance to get it repaired!!
provisioning, and more provisioning.
This was one of our biggest challenges. Remember, we came from New Zealand so we didn’t know the shops, we didn’t know the products, we didn’t know the brands, and we didn’t have transport for the most part. But we muddled through it all. We used Publix, Food Lion, Piggly Wiggly, various Dollar Stores and then some.
Of course, we also dropped a fortune at West Marine but were thankful to get huge discounts via friendly people.
We braved the rudeness, arrogance and selfishness of the boaters in Florida!!! To the extent that the admiral was known to hail boaters on the VHF telling them to slow down when passing us!! For the most part they didn’t care that their massive wakes caused all other boats to rock and roll like drunken teenagers. They must be the worst mannered people in the USA. So different from all the kind and gentle folks we met in the Carolina’s and Georgia.
Finally, arriving in Miami
Then waiting for the weather window to make the dreaded crossing across the Gulf Stream to our first stop in the Bahamas, Alicetown in Bimini.
Exit:- to go out, to leave, to depart. Also to go in, enter.
So the morning of 23 December arrives. It’s been exactly 2 months since we slipped our lines in Baltimore and have travelled some 1300 miles!! We’re pretty experienced by now.
The forecast was for southerlies and the sea state for 1-2′ seas – ideal for a Gulf Stream crossing!!
We had anchored just inside Government Cut, so, as dawn was breaking, I weighed anchor and we stuck our nose out into the great Atlantic Ocean for the first time! As we headed east into the rising sun, we entered the Gulf Stream and watched the Miami skyline slowly disappear into the western horizon.
The Gulf Stream, our nemesis, our greatest fear, our biggest nightmare, turned out to be little more than a tame puppy! Almost a huge disappointment after all the hype that is written about crossing to Bimini.
So, exit the USA and enter the Bahamas!! A whole new adventure! We had arrived!
Traveling down the ICW was, apart from the times that were we’re stuck waiting for weather or repairs, more or less a delivery trip for us. Up at daybreak, check the weather, up anchor, travel 50-60 miles, drop anchor or tie up at a marina, have dinner, plan the next day’s route and stopover and then collapse into bed. It mostly passed in a big blur of travel.
But now we were in the Bahamas!!
Leisurely days, great weather, small hops from anchorage to anchorage. Balmy days. Great colored waters, lazy times and leisurely swimming. Sun-drenched beaches. Sundowners and fishing. Lobster and conch for the taking. Ahhh, sheer bliss!
Delusions!! How deluded we were! How misinformed! All those wonderful photos of the Bahamas? Only on the good days. Weather???? Yeah right!
Weather forecasts? There were none after Bimini. We had to get an SSB receiver flown in. Weather ranged from perfect to pretty miserable with big winds. The cold fronts started in Canada and travelled all the way south into the Bahamas causing us many a headache!! When to travel? Where to go? What to do when the wind clocked around from N to NE to E to SE to S, SW, W, NW and back to North!!! We were stunned!
Then the anchorages. The first one was scoured out so couldn’t get the anchor to set (E of Cat Cay) so had to find another one late in the day. STRESS!! The wind changed in the night and the boat was like a hobby horse, bouncing up and down in the wind driven swell. And this onto a lee shore! Morning couldn’t come fast enough but at least I had a great anchoring system which held perfectly. Some wise decision I made there…
Then the currents while at anchor. I first experienced this on the Bahama Banks when swimming near the wreck of the Sapona.
At anchor, I jumped into the perfectly still and clear water off the back of the boat and surfaced some 4m away next to the dinghy. In that short space of time the current had carried me away. Thankfully I had been towing the dinghy so was able to grab on and pull myself back to the boat. And that wasn’t the last time we had strong tidal currents at anchor.
Crossing the Banks from Bimini to Chub Cay and further to Fraser Hog Cay was a nightmare. Hampered without decent weather forecasts we were beset with bad winds and heavy seas. The same occurred between Chub Cay and Nassau. And we had been expecting the worst crossing the Gulf stream!!!!! This was many times worse.
But the anchorage at Chub Cay was idyllic – all that we had dreamed about. Hot and balmy. Windless. Water so clear you couldn’t tell where it started.
Depth was impossible to tell by looking. We had to learn to rely on the depth sounder. But it was faulty But I eventually fixed it This, a new one!! There were other breakdowns too: the anchor winch packed up, never to work again on our trip; the GPS pulled a hissy fit but, with help from fellow cruisers, I got it sorted; I dunked my iPad in the sea and it died with all my charts which I was using for navigation since Baltimore.
As a cruiser we met in Bimini asked “when does the fun begin?”
But we learned – and there were many lessons!!
Eventually our SSB arrived with our daughter who had flown from NZ with her 2 young boys to join us.
So we could get the weather. But, it took us a week to figure out on what frequency and time!!
From then on, it was up at 6.30 each morning to listen to the forecast and plan the day. The holiday, which had never really begun, was over. No more lazing in bed till the sun was up, enjoying a lazy breakfast, choosing a destination and making a leisurely trip further south to the Exumas.
Cruising had taken on a new twist. When was the fun going to start?
We learned our lessons. We learned the meaning of the forecasts. A high pressure north of us meant very strong winds – different to NZ where we had learned to respect the forces associated with low pressure systems!!! A front meant that the winds would lessen for a while and we could travel. Then they would clock and blow our brains away We learned to choose our anchorages with this in mind. When the weather was great and ideal for the pleasures of lazing, swimming, strolling on the beach, we learned to travel to the next anchorage.
In short, we learned about the weather. We had to. It dominated our lives and everything we did. There was no getting away from it. We learned to respect it.
We also learned patience. Oh yes, how we learned to be patient. Waiting for the weather to improve took patience. Immense patience!! But we learned. We chose our anchorages as best we could so that we could still get off the boat even when the weather was bad. With 2 little boys on board who had boundless energy, we learned well.
Occasionally, we entered marinas to escape the weather and give our grandsons the opportunity to run ashore and work off that excess energy. Even if it occasionally cost us a fortune in a marina, it was worth it for us (Highbourne Cay Marina was $60 per night JUST for the power and $9 for a quart of fresh milk!!!)
But we were learning to have fun:)
We enjoyed crystal clear waters.
We walked on pristine beaches where ours were the only footprints. We swam and snorkelled. We dinghied around headlands exploring coast lines.
We harvested Conch.
We learned how to extract and cook them.
We fished and actually caught fish.
Small coral fish on the banks and big Mahi Mahi in the Exuma Sound.
We caught lobster with the Hawaiian sling we had bought in Bimini.
And when we couldn’t catch them, we bought them cheaply from the locals. We later sold the sling to another boater who was traveling south and we were heading home
We observed a State funeral of a former Governor General.
We enjoyed visiting Atlantis in Nassau.
We enjoyed talking politics with the Terry, the owner of Ocean Cabin Restaurant Bar and on Little Farmers Cay.
We braved the standing waves in the cut from Little Farmers into the Exuma Sound. We had learned to choose our weather and sea state to make travel in the Sound pleasurable. We learned to minimize the discomfort by making better choices. Oh, we learned!!!!
We enjoyed the camaraderie of all the cruisers during Regatta Week at Georgetown, Great Exuma Island.
We visited friends on their boats and they visited us on ours. We offered them hot showers on our boat as we had virtually unlimited fresh water with the water maker I had installed.
We drank rum and heaps of it.
Beer too but it was expensive. Run was cheap
We enjoyed the 1 mile dinghy rides from Little Stocking Island to Georgetown to get provisions – fresh fruit and veges, yumm!! We were joyous when we could get cans of coke at $1 each instead of $2 or more!!
When the wind changed we enjoyed up-anchoring and moved to a quiet secluded anchorage just north of Goat Cay in Elizabeth Harbour where it was too shallow for the sailboats.
Here we enjoyed piggy backing on someone’s unsecured wireless with our wifi expander and so remained in touch with the world and our families. We could also update our blog
A lot of the time we just watched the comings and goings. Boats came, anchored, people dinghied ashore, returned and they left! These were some of the saddest times for me – saying goodbye to good friends knowing that the chances of ever seeing each other again was slim.
We watched people standing in their dinghies as they zoomed around. Obviously, well experienced! We never got that far as to be brave enough to emulate them, but then I didn’t have a tiller extension for my dinghy motor.
We heard of a boat that had been dismasted; a lady who capsized her dinghy the first time she went solo; a friend of ours who fell into the water as she was getting into her dinghy – she was 78 and her partner was 84 and they’d been doing the trip to Georgetown for the past 10 years!!!
There was always something happening.
We missed our daughter and grandsons who had left us at Staniel Cay to fly back to NZ. But, not before visiting the swimming pigs
and snorkeling, yes even the 3 year old, in Thunderball Grotto.
We enjoyed collecting my sister and brother in law in Georgetown after a long journey for them from the UK.
We still worried about the weather and it still affected us greatly. It pinned us down in Georgetown, Big Majors Spot, Nassau, and Bimini. It ruined our plans to return to the US via the Abacos because we ran out of time. We had a deadline to catch a flight back to NZ for our youngest daughter’s wedding.
We learned that having deadlines is a bad bad bad thing. With any deadline the best laid plans WILL go awry!!
So we retraced our steps. We were up before dawn for the weather forecasts, we caught fish, we met friends and made and lost new ones. We travelled on the good days and explored the islands on the bad. We enjoyed safe anchorages especially in Warderick Wells and revisited Boo Boo Hill via Banshee Creek.
On the way we tapped the musical stones and saw the water spouts through the Blow Holes.
We took thousands of photos and hours of DVD but still haven’t had time to sit down and relive our memories. Maybe tonight…..
Finally. Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear reader, for accompanying us on this wonderful, exciting, exotic, stressful and sometimes frightening adventure. For that’s what it was – never a holiday but always a great great adventure.
If somehow, someway, somewhere, you are inspired by reading about our adventures, to do something similar, then just go for it. Don’t let your own fears hold you back!!!
Thank you and goodbye.
So, EXIT: go out of the old and into the new!!!
Capt. Lance and Admiral Mary
Amanzi is now to be sold as we are moving on to other adventures. Please see Mike Dickens, my broker, at Paradise Yacht Sales, in Fernandina Beach for details.