Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Florida Keys and Home Again

On March 29th we enjoyed another great sail from Key Biscayne down to the Florida Keys proper and anchored off Pumpkin Key.
Anne and Judi met us in Key Largo on Good Friday and their visit was the highlight of our Florida Keys interlude. We stayed the first three days at Gilbert’s Resort and it was a very interesting place, especially so if you are interested in surveying the consequences of a marina/hotel going 30 years with no maintenance. For instance, the steel doors of the of the marina showers were so badly rusted that an adult, male raccoon could easily walk through the hole in the door and join you in the shower.
At John Pennekamp Park we all watched three large manatees comfortably interacting with swimmers off the beach.
We spent an entire day at Key West shopping and sightseeing and attended the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. The square was jammed with jugglers, musicians, fire-eaters, tee-shirt salesmen, and one escape artist all competing for the attention and dollars of the tourists. I’ll say nothing more about Key West, except that this was the only community, which offered clothing-optional dining, and the moral environment has grown so degraded that even Jimmy Buffet moved out of town.
We enjoyed our best snorkeling of the entire trip with Ann and Judi at the Hens and Chickens reef on the ocean side of Islamorada. The sea floor was covered with living coral, including purple fan coral. Thousands of colorful (and a few colorless) fish swam beneath us. A school of 12-15 large black groupers glided by while I was in the water.
Ann and Judi’s second resort, The Ragged Edge, was much nicer than Gilbert’s, and we spent evenings there playing cards by the pool while Annie watched T.V. in their room ( I presume old Shirley Temple movies).
After Ann and Judi departed, we remained at Plantation Harbor Marina and got to be better friends with sociable and generous Dave and Betsy Chase. Our last evening in Islamorada Dave and Betsy asked whether we’d like to motor with them and their friend Rudy to a nearby restaurant. We departed in their flats boat, maybe 17 feet long intended for fishing in shallow water, We flew over the water about 10” off the surface, quite a different sensation after sailing. Annie, Mary Ann and Dave took turns steering.
The restaurant was charming, near Snake Creek on the ocean side. Rudy, a professional musician as well as boat captain sang and played a couple of Jimmy Buffet numbers with the house musician while waiting for our order. After eating, Dave informed us we were off for a boat ride. The check? We never saw it; somehow Dave paid for our dinners without us seeing a thing. And I ordered a chicken sandwich; I could’ve had lobster!
The next day we started north and after an en route thunderstorm anchored that night at Pumpkin Key in perfectly flat water. As we arrived, a large Southern Stingray leapt out of the water twice with loud splashes. As Mary Ann and I sat in the cockpit watching the sunset colors on the calm surface, another stingray swam past the boat cutting the water with his tail. Our last night in the Keys.
Then we began traveling north with nights in North Miami, Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Vero Beach, New Smyrna Beach and finally St. Augustine.
The Saturday ride from Miami to Palm Beach was especially remarkable. On a warm, sunny afternoon we seemed to be sharing the Intracoastal Waterway with all of the tens of thousands of boats/yachts in south Florida. We were literally surrounded with boats ranging from ten-foot fishing boats up to yachts well over a hundred feet in length (and worth several millions of dollars). Some motored at safe speeds while other powerboats roared by at 20-30 knots creating huge wakes for their fellow boaters to negotiate. The usually narrow channel here has steel or concrete bulkheads, so the waves moving away from us bounced off the walls and returned to rock the Peregrine again. Lake Boca (in Boca Raton) had contained only five boats anchored on our earlier trip south, but on this afternoon a hundred boats were anchored there, many rafted together in clusters of young boaters playing loud music, drinking, wrestling, laughing and generally enjoying the beautiful setting.
Our last anchorage, St. Augustine, was one of our favorite stops; we again attended mass in America’s oldest church and enjoyed excellent pizza at Pizza Alley’s. Mary Ann and Sarah believe that the shops here are the best, stylish clothes at reasonable prices.
Finally, it was time to lower Peregrine’s 52’ mast and haul her out of the water for the truck ride home. The crew at Comanche Cove Boat Yard was competent and eager to help (maybe having three pretty women on board made them more attentive), but we were told that someone had to ascend the mast to tie a bowline from the hoist sling to the mast’s lower spreader. This was an important task and since Annie was the lightest person available, she volunteered. She got it right the first time, and the mast came down without a hitch.
The voyage of the Peregrine was over.


I fear that some readers may think that our voyage must have required either great wealth or willingness to go deeply into debt. Not so. Most cruisers are notoriously frugal and live on very little. Certainly, if one must dock in a marina, eat in restaurants every day, and smoke Cuban cigars, if would be easy to go through $10,000+ a month, but if the cruiser anchors in harbors, maintains the boat himself, cooks on the boat, and enjoys reading, swimming, sailing and snorkeling, then a crew of four can be very comfortable on $1,000-$1,500 a month. Some live on much less. For most folks, cruising is much cheaper than living in Toledo.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve been asked over and over again whether the voyage was all that I thought it would be. No, it was both more than I expected and less.
Cruising to a beautiful, foreign land is a romantic venture. One expects some danger and hardship and one expects to be stirred by exotic beauty. Magazine travel and yacht ads do all they can to market romance. They never include photos of litter, drunks, or the very ugly stray dogs, which haunt the streets of Marsh Harbour. No one expects to throw stones at vicious dogs when setting off for a gallon of milk.
On the other hand, glossy photo ads cannot capture the beauty of sunrise on Man-o-War Cay or the underwater colors of reef fish and coral.
Cruising is also an exercise of hope. The hope is that sometime during the cruise, while watching the sun rise or set, or walking along a deserted, windy shoreline, or swimming with dolphins, I will have a revelation. My faith will increase; I will fully appreciate the miracles of creation. The veil will be lifted from my eyes. Well, maybe and maybe not.
I did learn some things about my family and myself.
We were all able to adjust to living in cramped quarters and respect the needs of each other. There was no grumbling on stormy, cool days. No one got hysterical when we were out in the storm. When the wind was howling and the waves were 7-9’ feet high, no one screamed at me, “You’re an incompetent captain; we’re all going to die, and it’ll be all your fault!!” If they thought it, they didn’t say it.
Of course Annie sometimes complained about being away from home and her friends, but she would complain on a perfect day as well as on a rough one.
About myself I realized that long-term cruising is not for me, at least not now. We encountered many live-aboard couples who had sold their homes and cars and moved aboard a boat permanently. I chatted with one fellow in Ft. Lauderdale as he sipped amber fluid on ice, puffed on a Cuban cigar, and played solitaire on his laptop; he had been sitting at that dock for nearly six months. I think I would either go mad or begin sipping a lot of amber fluid.
Sarah might say that my ambivalent feelings toward leisure result from being raised as a Protestant, but after 30 years of useful labor, the hours of idleness were often burdensome. Any little task was a relief; disassembling the boat toilet, cleaning and fixing it brought great satisfaction (and made the boat smell better).
Still, it was a great trip. We got leaner and browner and stronger, and the Bahamians are generous, honest, Christian people. We got to know many of them in a way that a weeks stay in a hotel would never have accomplished.
Finally, I am grateful to my shipmates. Sam grabbed all the gusto he could and the trip down the coast would’ve been enormously more difficult without him. Sarah brought great enthusiasm and energy with her when she arrived in early February. Annie was almost always a source of joy. I am most grateful, however to Mary Ann. She left the comforts of home behind (including plentiful hot water) and never complained about it. She was always excited by new islands and new adventures, offering her help and encouragement. I think she enjoyed the trip more than I did (even though I never let her fix the toilet) and would be eager to cast off again.
It was a good trip.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Grand Bahama Island and Back to America

During our last week in the Abacos, we visited the uninhabited islands of Manjack Cay, Allans-Pennsecola Cay, and Great Sale Cay. The tradition on Allans-Pennsecola Cay is to leave the name of ones boat on the Signing Tree on the windward side of the island, so we carved “Peregrine” into a piece of driftwood and hung it from the tree.
After a lovely all-day sail to Great Sale Cay we anchored in placid waters and blew our conch-shell horn as the sun sank on our last day in the Abacos. The sunset blowing of the conch shell is a tradition in the Bahamas and in Hopetown or Marsh Harbour one might hear a dozen shells of various size and tone sounding as the sky turns orange and red.
The next day brought another perfect sail over (very) shallow waters to Old Bahama Bay Resort/Marina on the west end of Grand Bahama Island. There is no anchorage here, so just sailors pay the marina price and enjoy themselves; there is much to enjoy. Aside from the exercise room, T.V. and internet access, patrons were allowed use of the beautiful pool, beach, pool table, ping pong, bicycles, and Hobie cats on the pristine beach. There was a shortage of 13-year-old girls on cruising boats, but Annie buddied up with Carrie Clark (two boats down) and they spent most of their spare time together.
Carrie’s dad was a generous fellow and former starting offensive lineman at Clemson University. In addition to the American and Bahamian flags, he flew the Confederate Stars and Bars, two Clemson Flags, and an upside down South Carolina flag. When you’re 6’6’’ and maybe 260 pounds, nobody questions your flag choices.
West End Settlement was the the most impoverished Bahamiam village we encountered , but as had been the rule the residents were friendly and eager to help visiting yachtsmen. Working at the resort and fishing seem be the main sources of income here, and alcoholism was clearly a problem.
At Sunday mass (3/10) in the tiny St. Michael’s church, Fr. Dan (who attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana) preached an impassioned, excellent homily. After mass many parishioners introduced themselves and three of them offered us a ride back to the marina. We would miss this level of hospitality when we arrived in Florida.
On a ride to Freeport (3/12) our bus passed a funeral procession for a Miss Mary Williams near the Anglican Church. The 200-300 mourners seemed to all be dressed in stylish black dresses or black suits and white shirts.
Incidentally, I received a bit of a compliment at the International Bazaar in Freeport. A middle-aged security guard gave me directions and then asked if I were Bahamian. I thanked her and asked why she thought so. “I don’t know; you just look Bahamian.” Maybe I’d been in the country long enough. The morning of our sixth day at West End dawned on clear skies and winds from the east, so we could finally sail toward Florida. A much happier sail than our trip over, the winds and the seas were behind us and even as the swell grew higher, we slid down the waves with smiling faces. We watched hundreds of flying fish skim the water, sometimes for a couple of hundred feet, and encountered a pod of brown Atlantic Spotted Dolphins who played in our bow wave for 15 minutes before leaving us.
A few days later, we met Ann and Dan Clegg at a marina in the Palm Beach area. Sarah made us great hoagies for dinner, and the next day (3/19) Dan treated us to a spring training game between the Dodgers and Cardinals in nearby Jupiter, Florida. On the 20th Dan proved himself to be a real sailor next day on Lake Worth.
After goodbyes to Dan and Ann, we headed down to the Keys and waited in Key Biscayne a few days for improved weather. While standing at the bus stop in Key Biscayne I asked a 70-year-old pedestrian for the time. I was wearing khaki shorts, a Land's End polo shirt and boat shoes; I had showered and shaved that morning. “Excuse me, sir; do you know the time?”
He looked me over and said, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” I guess panhandlers dress differently in Key Biscayne than they do in Toledo, but it was a helpfully humbling moment. Near our mooring in Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, was a narrow mangrove-covered island about 300 yards long which was packed with Snowy Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Black Vultures, various terns, and Magnificent Frigate birds. We had seen frigate birds in the air throughout the Abacos, but never so many as here. We didn’t know whether they were nesting, but dozens of adults and immature frigate birds were perched in the trees on the west side of the island.
Mass at St. Agnes Church in Key Biscayne was quite the contrast from West End Settlement. The large church was well supplied with Italian marble. There was a good deal of chatter before mass, especially in the front right side of the sanctuary which contained what might’ve been called the Very Well Groomed Ladies Guitar Choir. The choir also contained a middle-aged man plucking a bass fiddle and an apparently retired gentleman beating a native-American-type drum with his fingertips.
It is a very active parish with several Sunday masses in English ands Spanish and two masses each weekday, but I don't remember any introductions or ride offers after Mass.
Key Biscayne may contain the most expensive housing of the entire trip. We saw a three-bedroom condo on the ocean advertised for $3 million, and I know you could buy a real house in Palm Beach or Boca Raton for the same price. We definitely aren’t moving to Key Biscayne.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Voyage of the Peregrine -- The Saga Continues -- May 9, 2007

I know it’s been a long time since out last blog entry, but I feel compelled to finish up and share, at least, the highlights of the last half of our cruise. I will, therefore post the remaining blog entries over the next couple of weeks; I hope you'll enjoy them.

When our laptop computer quit for good, we received quite a few calls and e-mails, “Did you sink?”; “Are your dead? “, and, most often, “Did Father Waja ever come back?”
I am now prepared to answer those and other questions our readers may have. The answers are: No, no, and yes, Fr. Waja did return to his pastoral duties in the Abacos, but more about that later.
Our voyage entered phase two (or maybe three) when Sarah arrived February 5th. After a couple of days in Marsh Harbour, we began sharing our favorite Bahamian places with Sarah. Sarah’s first taste of the real Bahamas was on a perfect day (80 degrees, light breezes, clear skies) on Treasure Cay beach. I lack the powers to describe the lovliness on the south end of the 3.5 mile crescent beach: white-pinkish sand, fish darting about in the gin-clear water, small islands dotting the surface east toward the ocean. It was about as good as it could get. Sarah waded far out into the shallow, warm waters.
Of course, it wasn’t all fair weather. We were anchored in White sound on Green Turtle Cay one morning (6:15 AM) when the winds and rain cut loose. The wind was howling (perhaps 60 knots) and heeling us far over on our port side when I struggled out of bed to assess the situation. As I worked my way through the main cabin, Sarah asked quietly, “Dad, are we in a tornado?” Well, we weren’t, but it was a serious storm which caused damage both on land and the water. Our anchor held firm, but another sloop about our size (Ke Le out of Marblehead, Ohio) broke loose in the wind and plowed into a large catamaran (Seven @ Sea containing a married couple and their five kids), so both boats had to re-anchor in the wind rain and, now, nickel to quarter-sized hail. A vessel nine miles north of us on Powell Cay told me that the 150-miles-per-hour winds had ripped off his bimini and otherwise damaged his boat. He insisted that a tornado had hit Powell Cay.
And so it went. Periods of balmy, delicious weather broken up by two or three days of windy, cooler conditions. And we were anticipating and especially an strong northerly front as we entered Hopetown harbor the last weekend before Lent

Hopetown was very crowded during this stormy period, so we rented a dock, but I was anxious to switch to a less expensive mooring, so I motored over to ask Rudy Malone if he had any moorings available.
Rudy is a hard-working, lean, 60 year old whose nose has a lot of character, in fact, it has nothing to fear. His moorings were full but suggested I should call (on the VHF radio) a mooring owner who answers to, “Alley Hoop.”
“Alley Hoop or Alley Oop,” I asked.
“Alley Hoop! Like the song.” And then he began singing in a high, thin voice, “Alley Hoop Hoop, Hoop, Hoop Hoop; Alley Hoop Hoop, Hoop, Hoop Hoop.”
“I see, Alley Hoop. Thanks, Rudy.
Although our relationship never progressed beyond Rudy giving me dockage or ice or water and me giving him money, I will miss Rudy.

The next day we dinghied to mass in strong, cool winds. Hopetown is well-protected from weather, but northerly winds were blowing over 40 knots as the four of us set out in our 8-foot dinghy to cross the harbor. We usually exited our dinghy at public docks, but due to the chop, we knew it would be difficult to climb from the boat to the dock, so instead we ran the dinghy onto a beach just a few yards from the spot Wyannie Malone first landed at Hopetown in 1783.
And waiting to minister to us was Father Waja (Roger) who seemed rested and upbeat about tending to the flock.
Due to the bad weather, Mass was held in the public library rather than outside under a tree. The building was full, and I sat next to a large, black 16-year-old Bahamian boy named David who suffers from autism and other possible ailments. Smiling and with downcast eyes, David spoke softly throughout the Mass. He typically picked up on some phrase from the liturgy or the homily and repeated it. Fr. Roger said, “the eyes of God”; David murmured, “the eyes of God”. It continued, “Lamb of God”, “Love is patient”, “those most in need of thy mercy”. Later, he took my hand and wished me “the peace of God”. I wished him the same.

Two days later (February 22) the weather had improved and we encountered the sailboat Mysterious Ways for the second time. The Nicholsons (Scott, Joanna, Charlotte (age 10) and Allister (age 8) sailed Mysterious Ways, a 37’ Hunter, down from their home in St. Andrews, New Brunswick located in the Bay of Fundy. Scott was used to deep water and shocking tidal swings; St. Andrews typically experiences a 24’ drop in water level from high tide to low tide. Much different from Lake Erie where the tidal swing is roughly, zero.
Scott wanted to enter the local yacht club race on Tuesday and recruited me to crew with him. Well, the conditions were perfect, the boat was fast, the crew was agile, we got off to a fast start and, two hours later, crossed the finish line second to last. We were passed by everything: catamarans, trimarans, catboats, ketches, but Charlotte made us all little award ribbons which read, “Second to Last” and most of the crew went off to the post-race celebration.
That afternoon, while I stayed on the boat and worked on the head (toilet) flushing mechanism, Sarah, Annie and Mary Ann enjoyed the Hopetown beach, one of the most beautiful we encountered, and searched for sea glass.
That evening we all attended a concert at the Hopetown Lodge given by a group of retired members of the Cornell University glee club, The Sherwoods. They were not professional singers, just retired physicians, professors, and businessmen who love to sing. The sun setting into the Atlantic at their backs, they performed old folk songs, show tunes and told old jokes between numbers. Some of the jokes turned on the humorous concept that elderly ladies are rarely choosey where available men are concerned.
The concert was a benefit for Every Child Counts, a self-supporting school for disabled children in Marsh Harbor. David, and his twin brother attend this school. We enjoyed the concert, made as big a donation as our budget could manage and finished the evening back on the boat with Annie’s fresh-baked cookies and a quick game of euchre.
Not all of our days were as full as this (there were days with no toilet repairs), but it is representative. We spent the days exploring the islands as time and the weather allowed. We spent more time in Marsh Harbour than we wanted to, but also enjoyed days off Elbow Cay, in Treasure Cay, Great Guana Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and other beautiful spots. We anchored out in the open when possible, but often ducked into a harbor for protection from the weather. Residents of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota would find my complaits about weather trivial and indeed we could usually sail on the Little Bahamas Bank and the daily temperature range was almost always between the upper and lower 70’s, a high of 78, a low of 73 was typical.
More soon