Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First, Lee's additions to the last chapter: The most impressive sites are the French Catherdals. In Paris the Cathedral was restored, clean and polished, the statues and artwork went on forever. In Chartres theCathedral was probably as large, but not maintained. It gave an account of what happens if you don.t have a few million dollars to maintain these giant antique stone structures. Mold and moss grow on the outside, roofs leak causing plaster to fall on the inside. The statues and stained glass get a layer of black. It was still a beautiful landmark, there was a restoration project working on the front facade and the ceiling above the altar (not little at probably 10,000 sq ft, but less than 10% of total ceiling) was recently refurbished. It looks like a terriffic job to try to maintain these huge buildings, this one finished in 1260, the other side being the superb quality and engineering skills that created a structure that lasted this long. Trying to find dimensions in guide books, the Nave is 427' long,120' high. We visited St Pierre's Church, again finding much needed maintenance,with netting to protect people from falling plaster. I am not being critical of efforts to maintain these structures, but wonder where the millions of dollars eventually needed to keep them up will actually come from. Lee

Our first B &B in France was delightful. We sat with two French women at breakfast who helped us learn a few more phrases in French. Another couple from the south of France called ahead for our reservation for Sunday night in Amboise in the Loire Valley. Ming stopped by to share her recommendations for sightseeing in the Dordogne valley. We headed out with her for another morning of exploration. We lunched at a local restaurant crowded with families. I ordered salade Nicoise and Lee had rump steak. It was hard saying good-by to Ming, she felt like an old friend. She has traveled the world for over 20 years. Her long-time boyfriend is a professor of film in Bejing and doesn't like to travel. She is planning to write a guide for people in China who have just recently been able to travel. She loved practicing her English and I enjoyed hearing about her life.The drive to Amboise wasn't too difficult, we stayed on big roads with few towns, lots of fields of corn and sunflowers. Solitary hunters with guns could be seen walking across the distant fields. We couldn't find our hotel,not even the street. We parked and walked around the narrow cobblestoned streets of Amboise looking for 8 place Michel Debre. The GPS worked well to get us near, but can't deal with the maze of tiny streets. The owner had agreed to meet us at six to let us in. When we finally found him he spoke no English and our room turned out to be on the third floor above his tiny restaurant. He got in the car to help us drive there and deposited me and the luggage in front while he and Lee went to find a friend who would let us park the car where he could keep an eye on it. Since the only entry was through the restaurant, he gave us a key. We joked about putting out the sign board with an opening announcement for a new American Restaurant. Below are the entrance, the room and the view, not bad, just strange.

Even odder than making our way later through a darkened restaurant was the fact that there was another couple on the second floor, no locks on our room doors, no towels, no heat. Lee raided the kitchen for paper towels so we could shower. We weren't sure if our bathroom in the hall was shared. Our faith in Rick Steve's guidebook is waning. Monday morning we headed out to tour our first chateau, Chenonceau. Ifyou've ever seen pictures of a chateau with arches spanning a river, that's it. It took most of the day to tour the chateau with our audio-cassettes in English, then the two formal gardens, the maze, the wax museum, thevegetable garden.

One chateau a day is our limit. We got ready for our next challenge, getting to Chinon for the night. The learning curve for driving here is high. We both were stressed watching for signs, circles with numbers for speed limit, subtract 10 or 20 for rainy conditions, a slash through the number for end of limit, a town name in a circle with a slash for leaving the limits of the town, many symbols we still don't know. We have learned not to take yellow line roads with D#s, stick to red, and then there are the roundabouts, which replace crossroads in France. We've never heard the GPSsay the word "recalculating" quite so much. Once we were on the correct numbered road, but somehow suddenly going the wrong way. What else have we learned? Look for the name of the next town at each juncture, not the highway number which often isn't there. Let's hope it gets easier.

Lee: I finally went online and checked our guide books for "Driving in France". I think I have the street signs and speed limits sort of figured out. I had turned right on red after a French car began honking, but find this is NOT allowed. The speed limits may not be posted, if you pass a city entrance itis 50km (30mph) but may not be posted. Other limits depend on the color of the route sign (A "department road" is 90km, an "Auto Route" is 110 or 130)and if it is wet are reduced 10km. We tend to be going slower than others,but our guidebook says that tickets are given for ANY speed above the limit,and if 25km over the policeman will confiscate your license on the spot.There is an old rule allowing cars entering from the right to have right ofway, unless there is a diamond sign, then there are anti diamond signs too.France seems in the process of replacing all 4 way intersections with roundabouts. Cars here are all Diesel, we have a Peugeot 207, a 4 door hatch backsimilar to a Toyota Corrolla, it seems to get better than 50MPG, it will easily do any autoroute speed, but accelerates slowly and is standard shift.I am not sure why these are not sold in US, we are told we need a Hybrid carto get good mileage, but this is much simpler. Possibly they think Americans would not buy a car that accellerates slowly. Fuel here is about$6.50/gal for Diesel, $7.25 for gas.

Sherry: Our new plan for choosing hotels is to ask to see the room. The hotel AgnesSorel is so nice we're staying here two nights. Since arriving in Chinon yesterday we've walked all over town, toured the royal fortress, biked about20 miles to Saint Martin, and ordered real french food at a restaurant (coq au vin and duck parmienter). Tomorrow we start out for the Dordogne Valley.
Our second evening in Paris began with another long subway ride to another landmark we didn't want to miss. We emerged to the grandeur of the Arc deTriomphe.

The plan was to walk from there along the Champs-Elysees, the 5th Avenue of Paris with all the expensive shops, back toward the Louvre. Wewere surrounded by a very international affluent crowd, including veiled women hidden even by sunglasses although it was evening. The only establishment we ventured into was a futuristic Peugeot dealership with a light show highlighting the cars. By the time we reached Place de laConcorde, a huge open square circled by speeding traffic, the crowd had thinned and we were ready for the tourists again. We had imagined walking through the Tuileries Garden but the gates were closed. The street to the left was too deserted for us and we headed over to the Seine. It was drizzling and the picnic crowds were missing. We were starting to feel really lonely. We walked through the Lions entrance to the pyramid at theLouvre looking for a subway stop. The market area beyond here was the one area our bike tour guide had warned us about and we weren't sure we were supposed to be here late at night. Down onto the subway platform of ourfamiliar #9 subway and there were the missing crowds. At every stop more people managed to squeeze aboard, no wonder there was no one left on thestreets above. Again we stopped at our neighborhood grocery and took bread and cheese back to the room, too tired to eat out.

Friday morning, our last in Paris, we headed for the national Maritime Museum at Trocadero Square, Lee's choice for our one museum visit before leaving the city and a surprisingly good one. We left the subway for a close-up view of the Eiffel Tower before heading into the museum.

A special exhibit featured a famous explorer's three circumnavigations. The guide says "un voyage aucoeur des cultures maritimes du monde, a bord des bateaus traditionnels despeuples de la mer et des fleuves". I wish I knew his name so we could read more about his career. He was an artist and a collector of model boats fromevery country he visited (maybe that's what it says). We had an audiocassette in English and could have stayed hours longer.

But it was time to pack up and go find our rental car. We both agreed a taxi was the only way, due to the unmentionable luggage.

We enjoyed the ride through new streets and neighborhoods. Elegant stone buildings with black wrought iron balconies and windows boxes of redgeraniums was our final impression of Paris.yiy Then began the ordeal. Never pick up a rental car on the outskirts of Paris during Friday evening rush hour. It was beyond the logic of our brains, our GPS, our maps, we must have circled the area six or seven times before breaking free. We no longer cared where we went, Rouen, Giverny, Versailles,any route that would take us away from Paris. We stopped for gas and bought a Michelin atlas, found a route marked Chartres and went back to our original plan. Lee had skypped a hotel there so we had a destination. And it was a perfect one. Our hotel room was palacial. We were a block from the cobblestone streets that led to the cathedral, which we could see from our hotel window that night.

We still haven't mastered the art of ordering a sit-down dinner in a french restaurant and opted forIndian chicken korma and biryani, I know we have to get beyond this.Someone, please, tell us exactly what to order for a perfect French dinnerand we will. Back at the hotel the deskperson told us about a Brahms concertat the cathedral in an hour and we hurried back up the hill. The wholepopulace was converging along the drizzly streets. We learned it was an orchestra from Tours with several volunteer choirs performing. It was truly amazing to be in that space hearing that music.

Today we started our wandering to find a market in the central square with everything from rabbit to garlic and crowds with shopping carts. We next went to the tourist bureau to get the audiotour cassette for our walkabout. They were able to call and reserve a bed and breakfast where we are tonight. We were lucky to meet Ming, a fellow tourist and filmmaker from Bejing China who spent the day walking around with us.

Tomorrow morning she's bringing over her itinerary from the Dordogne valley to help us plan a future leg of the trip. We also happened upon a parade: seemed to have a harvest theme, oxen, horses,traditionally costumed people, speeches by politicians, it's all a mysteryto us, but very interesting.

The language deficiency hasn't been much of a problem, people are very friendly and we like being mystified. Tomorrow we'll head to the Loire Valley.
I left the boat at Oriental, NC, a sublet boat slip at a new condodevelopment. They SELL slips, just $80,000 or so. A friend at Orientalcheerfully offered to drive us around to find boat parking. I had expectedto haul the boat out of the water and park it on land, but Hurricane Earlhad just gone by and so many boats were pulled for safety that the boatyards were full.After arriving back to Ithaca with in a rental car, I was able to replacemy Bifocal glasses in 2 days with one trip tp Owego and 3 trips to Vestalwhere they promised lenses "while I waited". My original set of glasseswent to the bottom of the Hudson River and my spare set had some terribleprescription mistake from last year. I had been getting by with 2 sets ofdrugstore reading glasses that I was able to buy in Kingston, NY.(Lee)Next from Sherry:We're heading out again on our annual fall migration, this time by air andcar and cruise ship, rather than on S/V Alesto. We're finally going toEurope, first time for both of us. We fly to Paris tomorrow, which isthrilling, even to type. After three days in Paris we have a rental car for40 days to meander through southern France with a little Italy and Spain ateach end. We then get on a cruise ship in Barcelona for some guided travelto several ports, including Majorca, Madeira and the Canaries. We are onlyseasoned travelers when on our own boat. We know how to anchor and dingyashore for exploration all through the Caribbean. Whether we will do as wellon land is yet to be seen. The lack of French worries us more than a little.Continuing in Paris:The most difficult part of our trip so far had to do with luggage, too muchluggage. We lugged (lug must be the root word for luggage) it from the PortAuthority bus terminal in NYC 20 blocks to Michael's apartment in Manhatten.Then the next day we lugged it down the subway steps, bumping our our threesuitcases every step of the way. We lugged it all back to street level inBrooklyn to have lunch with Jill. At that point she took pity on us andaccompanied us from the C train to the A train. We managed on our own fromthe A train to the air train that took us to terminal 8 where we managed tocheck our bags and move freely again. Normal people would have taken a taxi.It's good we aimed to be there three hours early, since we had about an hourto spare when we finally reached our boarding area. I'm not a big fan of airtravel (those who know me know how much of an understatement that is), butthe seven hour flight was fine. They fed us dinner, we watched a movie,lights dimmed while normal people slept. The time zoomed ahead to accountfor the six hour time change so it was soon time for breakfast. The suncame up and there was Paris. We somehow found a bus outside the terminalwhich took us to another bus which took us to Gard du La Est which the mapshowed to be near our hotel. We were able to walk from there, again lugging.The hotel was a bit of a shock, along the lines of our usual Lonely Planetguide hotels. We left the luggage in a corner near the desk and went out toexplore until our room was ready. We came back and lugged it up one flightuntil we discovered a miniscule elevator up to our 5th floor roomette. Theluggage filled the area not covered by the bed. Three walls are school-busyellow and one is red. The bedspread is a spread of sunflowers and moons onblue, there is a casement window overlooking rooftops we can open forventilation. The lightswitch on the stairs stays on 4 1/2 flights out offive. You cannot turn around in the shower without bumping the faucet. Butthe price is right. I won't complain any more or mention the word luggageever again. Paris is wonderful. (Sherry)The room measures about 8X9, minus the bed, the bath is 4X4 plus a 2X2shower with a curtain that drains in the room. There is no A/C, or evenheat that I can see, but the ventilation is good. The room was very clean.(Lee)We walked until jet lag forced us to take a nap, mostly in Le Marais, ourneighborhood. The guidebook says it has more pre Revolutionary lanes andbuildings than anywhere else in town. After resting we headed out on thesubway for a nighttime boat ride on the Seine. After NYC, subways here areso easy. The map shows the lines by color and number with the endpointsnamed. That's all you have to know to board the correct train. They appearevery three or four minutes and stops are well marked. And the cost is oneEuro, much less than NYC's $2.25. The boatride showcased the "City ofLights" as we circled the two islands in the Seine with all the majorlandmarks and bridges glowing in the dark. Crowds of Parisians werepicnicing along the banks cheering and waving at the tourists. The EiffelTower's golden structure twinkled with white lights every hour and even thebirds overhead glowed golden from the boat"s lights. We got back to theroomette late and crashed. (Sherry)Actually, we walked until my feet hurt and I refused to go on. Thearchitecture and sculptures in Paris go on forever and make it allworthwhile. It is amazing the scale of it all, considering constructionthat started as early as 1100 AD and was done all by hand labor of thefinest quality. (Lee)This morning we enjoyed our hotel breakfast before heading out for a fourhour bike tour (Bikeabouttours). Our guide Pamela was from Chile, our fellowtravelers were from many countries and our folding bikes took us on bikelanes and cobblestone alleys around the inner circle of Paris, both rightand left banks. I hope to trace the route on our map before I forget toomuch. There are well-marked bike paths all over and a company called Velibhas 20,000 bikes all over which can be unlocked with a credit card. Wefollowed up the tour by exploring the Latin Quarter and hope to visit atleast one more neighborhood tomorrow. Then we pick up our rental car andtake whichever roads lead away from Paris with the least traffic.We had one whole day in Paris before the strike began, something to do withprotesting the government in power which wants to raise retirement age to62. Huge crowds with chanting and smoking flares snaked through every areawe visited today, peacefully enough though. (Sherry)I have no sympathy for strinking French. They work about 42 thirty fivehour weeks per year and retire at 60. All physical work here has beenreplaced with machinery, every delivery truck has a hydraulic gate on theback to lower and raise goods, every garbage truck is automated. Healthcare is free. Get this! They may get STRIKE PAY!!! Something likeunemployement insurance for strikes. We were in the French Islands 2 yearsago during a strike. Everything stopped, the money machine was not workingand we had no Euros, even the Customs office was not working. Local peoplewere stealing the gas tanks from sailor's dingies. We found one bakery thatwas selling bread, and every day they gave us change for $20 US in Euros.We will keep an eye on this and keep a full wallet and gas tank. (Lee)Since arriving yesterday we have eaten bagettes with ham and cheese andcrudites, croissants, crepes with pommes compote (which turned out to beapplesauce) , brie and bagettes, pastries, several tiny strong coffees whichmight account for our productivity and free tap water. (Sherry)Truthfully, restaurant food is expensive here, so we eat takeout or homemademostly, but cheese and baguettes are favorites for us anyway. (Lee)I had hoped to post pictures with this on my blog, but it seems to havedisappeared in France and all the directions to fix it are in French. Thismay be a problem. Sherry

Monday, September 20, 2010

We're heading out again on our annual fall migration, this time by air and car and cruise ship, rather than on S/V Alesto. We're finally going to Europe, first time for both of us. We fly to Paris tomorrow, which is thrilling, even to type. After three days in Paris we have a rental car for 40 days to meander through southern France with a little Italy and Spain at each end. We then get on a cruise ship in Barcelona for some guided travel to several ports, including Majorca, Madeira and the Canaries. We are only seasoned travelers when on our own boat. We know how to anchor and dingy ashore for exploration all through the Caribbean. Whether we will do as well on land is yet to be seen. The lack of French worries us more than a little. One incident on Saint Martin remains a nagging doubt. We went with boater friends to a festival in Grand Case. We dingied from our anchorage in the lagoon to Marigot where we boarded a bus to the festival. We'd heard there might be a problem with buses late at night for the return trip. But at ten we spotted a small bus with Marigot on the front and other English speaking tourists boarding. We happily regaled the others with stories of our savior faire sailing down the island chain. The bubble burst when the bus stopped in a lonely parking lot and all the others departed for their cars. Left alone with the driver and no French other than desperate "Marigot, Marigot" we finally managed to persuade him to continue. We recognized huit (eight) Euro, but had to idea if that was per person or trip. Luckily is was per trip and the evening ended well for us back in Marigot. We will probably have similar scrapes in France. If we become to lonely for English, we'll just make a U turn and head for England.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Homeward bound: The Abacos to Florida

We've been moving too fast for much reporting-if it's Thursday, it must be Daytona Beach. We thought we would spend a leisurely two or three weeks in the Abacos, but got a weather window to rush across the gulf stream and cut it short. We love the Abacos and usually start our Bahamas travels there at the beginning of the season. The sea of Abaco is like a big lake bordered by many islands which we can visit without weather worries. But the weather there is definitely colder and windier, so the southern route through the Exumas was the right choice this year. Most cruisers said it was the worst weather they could remember, no surprise to most Floridians, I'm sure.Once we arrived from Eleuthera at the southernmost cut into the sea of Abaco at Little Harbor, we hurried through all our favorite anchorages: one night at Lynyard Cay, one at Little Harbor looking for sea glass, on to Hope Town to visit with several boater friends who spend the season there. There was a festival that afternoon, a walk through town, ice cream!!, sundowners on a friend's boat, a real homecoming. We had to hurry over to Guana Cay for the dish-to-pass the next night (homeowners with kitchens as well as cruisers make this a real feast). Then we had to rush to Marsh Harbor for a cruiser's get-together, then on to Man O War Cay for an overnight with dinner out and a hike, back to Hopetown for a long bike ride down to Tahiti Beach and friends over for lasagna on Easter Sunday. Back to anchor at Guana and the weather report that had us sailing west all day on the first of the three days to Florida. It might have been weeks before another weather window as good, so once I calmed down at the prospect of racing through the next three days I was resigned to go. Usually I can only take one passage at a time and don't trust that the weather could behave for three days in a row.
At the end of day one, we anchored at Great Sale Cay just at sunset. , a deserted island (in more ways than one, since I made a pie to take over to a buddy boat "Te Amor" for dinner). Phil on Falcons Nest also came. It is so comforting when you're that far from anywhere to have a feast with neighbors. The next day we stopped for a few hours at Mangrove Cay where Lee scrubbed the boat bottom, just long enough for hundreds of flies to move aboard-they must have been shipwrecked there a long time and swatting them became our entertainment for the next few days. That night we anchored at Old Bahama Bay, Grand Bahama, at the edge of the gulf stream, ready to up the anchor at 5:30 for the crossing to Fort Pierce, FL. It was a little lumpy, after all it is the infamous gulf stream we're dealing with, but a good sail. Only one wave made it into the cockpit as we neared the inlet. Lee finally managed to catch a large Mahimahi on the crossing.
It went into the fridge in a plastic bag to be dealt with the next day when we were safely anchored at Fort Pierce. Notice the harness he's attached to and the gaff, no falling off the back deck for him. That happened to him once, thankfully not while I was crew.

We anchored and met our crossing buddies, who have a car at the marina where they keep their boat, and drove to a restaurant for PIZZA! It was too late for customs, so they gave us another ride the next morning to customs at the airport. This car thing is addictive.

On to Vero Beach for two nights with a crusier's party and free bus rides and walks to the beach.

We had a guest on board the next day who refused to leave until we gently approached him with a boat hook. He would have been welcome except for the problem of not being housebroken. He worked hard to stay balanced on the lifeline and then nestled into an even better space. It's a pelican!

Then another day brought us to Doris's dock where we made Doris dinner with our Mahimahi.
We can always recognize her house from the street.

Then on to New Smyrna, where we found a great Mexican restaurant and then Daytona, still on the Intracoastal Waterway with no weather worries, to visit my aunt and uncle. The view from their sunroom is a little different from what we're used to.

So today I catch a train to NYC to visit kids and Lee takes off with his crew to head north. Another cruising season is almost over.

Lee's turn: Just spoke with my on air shortwave radio weatherman. We were advised the ocean is uncomfortable seas today, we should motor to St Augustine and leave from there Friday early for a 2-3 day passage north to somewhere between Savannah, GA or Beaufort, NC. Wayne is here and he brought his friend Larry Bivens from Owensboro KY along as crew. He should be very helpful with the night passages.

Homeward bound:Eleuthera

Position of Alesto 2: Anchored off Lynyard Cay, near Great Abaco. N 26:22, W 76:59. (Degrees and Minutes)We just bounced over to the Abacos from Eleuthera for the last seven hours, full strength Atlantic Ocean. Lee says the waves were 6-8 feet, I tried not to look out. Our weather man doesn't work Sundays and conditions seemed worse than reported in yesterday's report. He probably would have said "some people might enjoy these conditions" which is my cue not to go. I'm adding never start a voyage on a Sunday to my checklist. Lee got the fishing out of the way early, with a ten pound something in the tuna mackerel family-they never quite match the pictures in our fish book.

A week ago we had a calm trip across the Exuma Sound from Staniel Cay, Exuma to Rock Sound, Eleuthera. The only mishap was discovering I had left my backpack under the table at the Staniel Cay yacht club, only when it was 50 miles away. Thus began a saga involving some twenty boats on the VHF radio discussing who could pick up my bag and deliver it to some unknown destination in either Eleuthera or the Abacos. Bill on Long Winded had it for awhile, only he was headed to Nassau. Some more frantic communications got it transferred to Finnesterre, who finally pulled into our anchorage last night. For the rest of my cruising days, I'll probably be known for this little mishap.There's a cruise ship stop at the southern end of Eleuthera and we just happened to get to a restaurant last Sunday in time to see a couple of buses from the ship bringing in tourists for lunch on their island tour. We had fun being local color (scruffy cruisers) and watched the entertainment: preparation of conch salad and a little Junkanoo parade. On Monday we shared a car with new friends and toured southern Eleuthera. We revisited the Island School, where mostly American high school students can spend a semester doing academics as well as ocean related projects. It was interesting to see the tanks of farm raised cobia and tilapia, as well as lettuces raised on the tank runoff. They're trying for self sufficiency with cars running on fryer oil from the cruise ship stop and local restaurants, pigs eating table scraps, wind mills, solar, gardens mulched with seaweed, poopoo gardens from sewage. We had a great tour this year, the guide being a technical person. On our way back we spotted a giant pile of perfect red tomatoes in a back yard and stopped to see if we could buy some. The lady insisted on giving some to us and showed us her beautiful garden. It's surprising what seems to grow out of rock and sand. Linda showed us a beach a local lady had taken her to the day before and we got in an hour of shelling before returning the car.We headed up to Governor's Harbor and spent an afternoon finding the bakery (for Lee) and a shelling beach (for Sherry). We met a family from Rhinebeck, NY on the walk back and discovered a mutual acquaintance. This was not a good anchorage for west winds, so we had to move on the next morning up to Spanish Wells. This village fills up its own little island with streets numbered 1 through 31, 2000 -3000 inhabitants, all with the same nine last names, all blond and efficient, descendents of an English vessel that crashed here in 1648. Lobstering is the main industry, now that refrigerated boats can deliver 1,000,000 pounds a year that they catch. The local museum explained that prior to the late 50s, all freight to and from Bahamas was by sail. Fish and lobsters would not keep that long and at the time lobsters were $.10 and the locals used them for bait. Now, they have a new method of lobster farming, "Lobster Motels". They build a 4'X 4' piece of tin roof on 2 2X6 boards and place them in 20-60' of water, the lobsters like to stay under them. One large boat may tend 15,000 of these twice a year. Their location is recorded on their GPS and kept secret. They dive on them with a compressed air hose, just lift the box and sort eligible lobsters. The alternative, Finding and removing lobsters from coral holes is slow, difficult work. Recently they discovered a needed motel renovation: a second set of legs on top. It seems that dolphins wait for the divers to catch the fish that swim out as the diver collects lobsters. The dolphins then learned to tip the motel over on their own, thus the need for legs on both sides. Cruisers Jean and Tom bought a house here in 1996 and welcome visitors to a Happy Hour on their porch every evening, complete with a book exchange and lots of local knowledge. We found out why collections of people were grouped on the docks every day, always with someone standing in the water. Seems a pregnant Florida manatee, now named Rita, has taken up residency. The vet from Nassau did an ultrasound on her Thursday and thinks birth is immanent. Meanwhile she is being hand fed the recommended diet of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and not too much celery (it binds her up). We were glad to find out why fully clothed women were standing in the water up to their necks. Golf carts are the primary transportation and we felt safe biking. We made it all the way over the bridge and out to the end of Russell Island, the new suburbs of Spanish Wells. We could have spent a few more days admiring all the gardens, but our supposed weather window came along and we took the leap. Every detail of this cruising life is weather dependent, so different from land travels. We positioned at Royal Island for our ocean crossing to the Abacos and had dinner aboard Finnesterre. They delivered my missing backpack, which still contained my camera and money: always our experience in the Bahamas. The crossing was bouncy, as usual for this year, and Lee asked at one point if I wanted to turn back. But I just stayed below and tried to ignore it: better the devil you know. The biggest worry was the cut at Little Harbor. It's always a worry that the waves might be breaking all the way across, then where do we go? But as usual, nothing bad happened. To misquote Will Rogers "I must be a very effective worrier, because nothing I worry about ever happens. Note there are no pictures of Eleuthera because my camera was travelling separately. I thought it should have been sending me postcards of its adventures, but nothing!

Exuma Banks from Georgetown to Staniel

The locals are advertising St Patrick Day specials on the VHF radio, so it must be. We didn't exactly leave Georgetown as promised in the last report. We debated, talked to the weatherman, debated some more and then decided to wait for slightly better weather the next day. That didn't happen and Lee lamented about the bird in hand. So we had a few more beach sundowner parties and one last dance party with rake and scrape music. It's always intriguing to find out where the non-boaters at these gatherings come from. One large group flew in on two planes from their runway community in Texas. They were curious about the boating life and we marveled that they arrived from Texas that day at about 30 times our speed. It took them about two minutes to start dancing, with their teenaged daughter finally noticing and yelling "MOM!" in a scandalized voice. Another couple described taking an around-the-world cruise of 114 days and deciding to buy a house in Georgetown, the best place in the world. It must have been the fact that we were leaving the next day or else the beer, but we became incredible dancers on our last night there, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Rake and scrape, with a saw, wash tub, several guitars and drums, will get anyone dancing. I'm hoping we can find a CD to take home with us.

We headed north up the Exuma Chain of islands in Exuma Sound with 13 knots of wind on the nose and porpoised our way north for about six hours, heading into Adderly Cut to anchor near Lee Stocking Island. Once we got through the cut, it was peaceful banks water, seen above, a picture postcard setting with only our boat on the west side of Norman's Cay...except for the large barge and workboat (no picture included). We launched the dingy for our beach walk and noted other footprints on an otherwise uninhabited island. We tracked them for a mile or so and found four ocean kayaks, tents, beach kitchen, lounging people: more tourists off the beaten path. Seems you can get outfitted and kayak your way up the banks from Georgetown, who knew? In this uninhabited area, there are thousands of young Conch (Live) lying along the beach. It is said that in years past the whole Bahamas was covered with conch like this. The conch somehow migrate to deeper waters as they age, not sure how, we have never actually seen one move, we have seen trails left by them, but possibly only 50 feet per day may be their rate of travel, they are a huge snail like critter with one finger claw. Try a web search for "Queen Conch" for details.
In the interest of research, we decided to take the shallow banks route up the chain, rather than go back out into Exuma Sound. Another boat with our depth said they had done it several times. I marked the depth at each section from the guidebook and we left at high tide. It was still nervewracking with the depth sounder beeping and some concern that we might have to anchor and wait for the next high tide. Most of the tiny islands between Georgetown and Farmer's Cay are private and we've heard stories about over zealous caretakers who ward off cruisers. David Copperfield and country music stars are said to have enclaves on several of these islets. We didn't know where we could go ashore and had time/tide constraints, so we made no landfalls. But the pictures show what a paradise this area is.

So here we are at Little Farmer's with no damage to the bottom, ready to go out and eat corned beef and cabbage (not)! hour of walking took us to every corner of the island and we were ready for dinner at Ocean Cabin. Terry Bain, the proprietor, served us the most expensive dinner in memorable history, but it was worth it with his one-man comedy hour which followed, most of the jokes involving clergy. The rays were still eating the remains of our freshly caught dinner when we walked back down to the dock following dinner.

Lee's additions: Georgetown has a VHF marine radio net, 8AM every morning there is business, community and then general announcements. For my announcement, I advertised my lost Teva sandal, which fortunately floats, and it was found immediately, saved by another boat.
We have been motoring against the winds lately, which are at least moderate, but the sea motion is quite BAD, fuel use is worse than average at probably 1.2 gal/hour, as we need to use both engines to power against the wind and waves. Tomorrow (Sat) we intend to head for Rock Sound Eleuthera, light winds are predicted, but on the beam (side) which will provide a nicer ride, but will probably require a small amount of engine power added to the sails to do the 50 miles in daylight. Anytime the sails can be kept filled with wind, the ride is MUCH better, fuel use motorsailing is less, .5 Gal/Hour or less. Today (Fri)we are at Staniel Cay, we will be doing a circumnavigation of this small island by foot this morning. We bought a book about the history of the island written by a woman who came here with her husband in the early 70s. He disappeared from the narrative without another mention and we want to know the details. We will research that ashore today.
Above is the view over the shallow lagoon with the airport runway visible behind it, taken on our walk. We never solved the mystery of the missing husband. We stayed a few days longer than planned waiting for weather, but had dinner with friends on Salsa and had a calm ride to Eleuthera, so all was well.