Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Salt Pond, Long Island, Bahamas 23º16.7N | 75º6.9W

Traveling by boat, we often skirt along the edges of the land, rarely penetrating the barrier between land and sea, between water people and land people. But sometimes, and not often enough, we find a doorway and sneak through, even for just a few hours.

Last Sunday in one of Long Island's tiny towns, I was looking at handmade straw purses in the back room of a small marine store.

"Those aren't for sale," the purse maker told me. "They're for the talent show at the church this afternoon."

So, at 4 o'clock, we paid our five dollars at the door, me and Chip, Karen and Dale, stood in line for our plates of homemade cake and cookies, and then awkwardly wedged ourselves into the last four plastic chairs near the front of the room, the only foreigners, at the Holy Cross Talent and Fashion Show.

Laughter, singing, prayer, babies, great grandmas, sulky teens, bright dresses, sweet people who didn't seem to be bothered at all by four white people in shorts crashing their church party -- or taking pictures of their children.

Husband hunter.
Not even the lady at our table who drove some 30 miles hopefully canvasing the gathering for a husband.

In finery from local shops, the islanders, young and old, promenaded across the stage, some shy, some buoyant, all relishing the coos and applause of an adoring crowd.

Between fashion sets, a thin teenage boy quietly sauntered onto the stage, while the announcer told us he was dedicating his song to his little sister, Zena.

The preacher's wife leaned over from the table next to us to inform us that his 10-year-old sister Zena died just a few months ago.

And through clear despair, without a hint of teen bravado, he labored through a recorded song by a rapper who lost a sister too. At the end of the song, he stopped by his grandmother's side for a long embrace. Though he never shed a tear, his face, his whole body exuded profound grief, and for just a moment, we felt it too.

And then, just like life, the show went on.

The whole scene a reminder that what is paradise to us is real life to those kind souls who live here.

Hat making contest.
The winner.
"Can I have this dance, for the rest of my life."

Monday, March 28, 2011


Salt Pond, Long Island, Bahamas 23º16.7N | 75º6.9W
A tree growing on the edge of Dean's Blue Hole.

Karen coming out of the abyss.  Photo by Dale Thomas
Dale going down.   Photo by Chip
What are they doing, and why are they shouting, "BREATHE, BREATHE!"

My thoughts on Dean's Blue Hole.
My thoughts on Freediving.
My article about Freediving in the New York Times.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Salt Pond, Long Island, Bahamas 23º16.7N | 75º6.9W

We drove our rental car down an inauspicious sand road, past an unassuming, handpainted sign that said simply:

At the end of the road, we walked down a white sand path and into ....

Dean's Blue Hole.
Here are the facts: A blue hole is a vertical cave filled with water, or, in this case seawater. Dean's Blue Hole is circular at the surface about 100 feet in diameter, surrounded by shallow -- really shallow water -- and plummeting sharply to 663 feet at its center. Above water it is protected on three sides by craggy limestone cliffs and rocky hills. About 66 feet below the surface, it widens into an underwater cavern over 300 feet wide.

As usual the facts don't tell the story -- at all.

Here is the story: This place is magical, capturing the imagination, tripping the senses and tweaking the intellect. Science fiction has had its way with black holes but has clearly overlooked the blue ones. Standing on the precipice in six inches of water, you lean over and peer into the abyss, equal measures of horror and seduction twanging your nerves.

Am I peering into a simple vertical cave of water or is this a portal, a magical transporter into the aquatic world? If I plunge in will I follow the wake of the incredible Mr. Limpet, become a mermaid, a dolphin, a citizen of the deep, or just sink right to the bottom? Can I bear not knowing?

More of my photos of Dean's Blue Hole.
Thoughts on Freediving.
My article about Freediving in the New York Times.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Salt Pond, Long Island, Bahamas 23º16.7N | 75º6.9W

Relaxing with Karen & Dale at Island Breeze Resort.   Photo by Chip
Our album cover. At Catholic church in Clarence Town, Long Island.


Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas 23º16.7N | 75º6.9W

Crossing the shallow bank from Georgetown to Long Island.

Blue on blue
shade upon shade of
blue water
blue sky
interrupted only by
blots of white cloud,
strips of white sand.

Water the color of Merlin's eyes 
or a mermaid's tail.
On days like these,
I think the sky should 
choose another color.
There's no competing 
with this electric turquoise.
Why try?

Whoever says they're "feeling blue"
is not speaking of this shade.
Floating in this sea of color
it is impossible to feel sad.

One would think
you'd grow weary
of all that blue,
and perhaps that is why
Bahamian houses
are bright pink and
lime green and lemon yellow.

Maybe after
generation upon generation
of blue on blue
one longs for a rainbow.

But not me.
Not today.

And as I mull my silly blue thoughts, we have crossed the Tropic of Cancer, the official beginning of the tropics.

Jessie Marie, in the blue.
To celebrate, we stop for a moment next to our friends on Jessie Marie, drink a toast and give a shot to Neptune.

And one surprise: conch necklaces, the girls' long-awaited reward for whooping the boys at cards -- and making it safely to tropical climes.

Blue is the color of happy.

The wind chose not to compete with the blue...
...nor did the fish.

You might also like: My thoughts on the gut-wrenching science of pink.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Georgetown, Exumas 23º21.48N | 75º45.94W

Gratuitous shot of the signpost on Chat 'n' Chill Beach in Georgetown.
Of all the things Georgetown means to cruisers -- social center, reprovisioning outpost, guest pickup/dropoff -- it is very much a turning point. No matter what you do after Georgetown, you must turn.

So many people, when asked where they're heading next, heave a big sigh. "Oh, we can't decide."

Some call this "Chicken Harbor," because, theoretically, some are too afraid to keep going south into more challenging waters. For most I don't think that comes into play. The painting is much larger.

Children, grandchildren, aging parents, businesses, property, jobs. There are many reasons to head back home, but for those of us with no jobs, no house, no business, nothing that puts a date on our return, it is a confusing outpost here at the corner of north and south. But when we left North Carolina, in the emotional maelstrom of all the other changes we were undergoing, it was much easier to say, "see you next summer" than heave a weighty, open-ended goodbye. So we promised our ourselves, our families, our kids, our friends, that this first year, we would return.

These last few weeks, goodbyes have loomed up anyway as friends have waved from their boats headed to Cuba, to the Turks and Caicos, to the BVIs and other exotic destinations beyond. It made us ponder leaving Cara Mia somewhere along the southern route and flying home for a good visit, then continuing the migration south on our return. But we made one other promise, to Cara Mia, that we would spend some time and money preparing her for the blue yonder, because, even though she has been there before, we have not. Now that we have some cruising behind us, we need time to reevaluate what we thought was critical, what we thought wasn't, and how the things we put in place are working -- or not. Could be a long summer!

Our next step will be a bittersweet one, as we turn north, our dear friends on Jessie Marie plan to turn south for the Jumentos and Cuba.

In an effort to prolong that goodbye, we've planned a little side trip to Long Island, dipping just below the Tropic of Cancer, the southernmost point on this year's plod in paradise. One last adventure, together.

Sneaking in a renegade yoga class at Monument Beach.

Cara Mia in front of the monument -- I should know to what, but I don't.

Georgetown, the largest town in the Exumas, has a permanent population of 1000.


Georgetown, Exumas 23º21.48N | 75º45.94W

Today Cara Mia flew under the Swedish flag. It was an international holiday, not by any official decree, but because eight people on four boats declared that today was Swedish Day.

Actually, I think the original idea came from Chip, who I'm pretty sure was angling for some Swedish meatballs, but once the seed was planted, it took root and took over. Given time, and liberty, fun has a tendency to do that.

We used to think the Swedish meatballs at IKEA were so good, until Martin the Viking made the real deal for us. (Strangely enough though, they do not call them Swedish meatballs.) The real, homemade version was spicy, perfectly crispy on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside. Perfect.

We gathered round bleu cheese and ginger cookies, meatballs with lingonberry sauce, herring with mustard sauce, mashed potatoes, Swedish cookies and pickled vodka -- Chip's tasty, homemade version of schnapps.

Since Anna & Håkan and Johanna & Martin already had Swedish names, the naturalized Swedes took on our own: Hanna & Knut, Inga & Blix.

We ate, laughed, listened to Swedish music and sang Swedish beer drinking songs (some of us). We looked at maps of Swedish cruising ground, we learned some Swedish words. And then the Swedes taught us to tango.

Fun has no boundaries.
A beautiful watercolor painted for us by Anna, and our mascots: a moose and a mouse. 
Swedish Key Lime pie? Thanks, Anna!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Georgetown, Exumas 23º21.48N | 75º45.94W
The rare 'supermoon' was also super shy.
They're calling tonight's full moon a supermoon -- something that happens only once in a blue moon (actually longer) -- something about the moon being closer to the earth. Or something. Whatever.

Do you remember that lesson we learned last November on the ICW about full moons and run-call-your-mama low tides? Well, whatever.

Today, on supermoon, supertide day, we chose dead low tide to cross Elizabeth Harbor, shallow at the best of times, and pull up to a shallow all the time dock -- just to fill our water tank.

Why? No, really, I hope you can answer that. Why? I don't know. Something about moons and lunacy perhaps.

It did not help that there were boats anchored in the freakin' channel, all over it. The dockmaster guided us via the VHF -- right into a sandbar.

So we went back and threaded our way through and around the anchored boats and limped up to the dock, then wisely (if you can be wise in the middle of being stupid) stayed tied up until the tide turned.

In the meantime, two of our friends had made the long crossing from the anchorage and into Georgetown in their dinghies. That's one of the tough things about anchoring here: the dinghy ride across the water is loooong -- 20-30 minutes -- and wet. Most of us don foul weather gear, or garbage bags. Johanna from Snowbird just strips right down to her bathing suit in anticipation of the dousing.

So, since we were crossing back to the anchorage in the big, dry boat, we offered them all a lift.

Our rubber dinglings.
One boat, six people, three dinghies, six opinions on anchoring.


Chip, waiting for the supermoon -- and a shot of vodka.
Elizabeth Harbor from Stocking Island, Georgetown across the water.
New album: The Swedes of Snowbird. Now we just need the music ....

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Georgetown, Exumas 23º21.48N | 75º45.94W

There is a reason I travel: a constant quest to experience transcendent moments, few and rare, in a far-flung place, experiencing a true, uncontrived moment that connects me to humankind.

The mesmerizing thrum of drums and shakers, marching feet and blaring tubas, trumpets, brilliant white paint on black skin, white costumes shot through with bursts of blue and orange and yellow. Pound, pound, pounding feet.

A Junkanoo band threading its way through the crowd, stringing me along upon some common thread running back through history and time, a thread through horns and drums and facepaint, through generations of love and joy and suffering and tears, and right through me, stringing me to all that came before.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Georgetown, Exumas 23º21.48N | 75º45.94W

Underway to Georgetown.
That sketchy cut at Emerald Bay was kind to us. There was swell, but it only tossed us around a bit. Nothing scary. We had a brisk and exhilarating, door-to-door sail today in 18 to 20 knots of wind with good swells. The wind direction wasn't ideal (is it ever?) so we tacked way out into Exuma Sound and back in -- several times. Picking our way into the enormous Elizabeth Harbor, we dropped anchor right next to Unicorn for a long awaited reunion with yet another cruising couple we met in St. Mary's at Thanksgiving and hooked up with again in Vero Beach.

Within the cruising community, Georgetown is either famous or infamous, depending on whether you're a supporter or a detractor. Hundreds of cruising boats anchor here, some all winter, in Elizabeth Harbor east of Georgetown, the largest town in the Exumas. This is, at some level, a boon to the local economy even though cruisers are not known for throwing around cash. However, with hundreds of boats provisioning and going out for beer, I'm sure it adds up. Some of the cruisers have found ways to support the community, raising funds for various projects. (I'm sure there are other ways that cruisers give back. If you know, please comment on this post.) On the other hand, a big percentage of these hundreds of boats pump their waste into the otherwise clear harbor and have been known for pressing the limits of "free" offerings such as water and wifi.

There is an actual governing committee for the floating community here with a "cruisers' net" in the morning for news, weather, local business ads and allotted time for arriving boats to check in and departing boats to say farewell. A cruisers' exchange follows for boaters to offer and partake of goods and services. There are organized activities such as poker, volleyball, swimming classes, basket weaving (really), bridge lessons, and their ultimate week of activities surrounding cruisers' regatta culminating in a ceremony and talent show on shore.

We timed our arrival in Georgetown after the crowded Cruisers' Regatta (unfortunately missing a few friends) and before the Bahamian Music and Heritage Fest, a few days after most of the cruising boats left the still-crowded harbor.

Double reefed. The new reefing rig is working great.
We're once again anchored down amongst friends and looking forward to some Rake and Scrape!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Emerald Bay, Exumas 23º46.7N | 76º5.11W

Church in Rolleville, Great Exuma.
What do cruisers do when they have a car? Provision! But not before taking care of business -- and breakfast.

Dale (Jessie Marie), sweet guy that he is, noticed that the workbench on Sea Gal is in a part of the boat with only about five feet of headroom, about a foot and a half too short for Barney, so he decided to donate a stool to the cause.

In a replay of yesterday, we stood on shore howling, whistling and waving, this time with a stool.

Karen and Dale hailing Sea Gal.
Barney came over in the dinghy, and, always one to entertain, he didn't disappoint.

Barney trying out his new stool.
Next order of business: breakfast. We drove along Great Exuma with visions of omelets and toast and bacon dancing in our heads. The Bahamians clearly had a different vision that ran more toward sheep's tongue and pig's feet. Soup. 

AWESOME. If you like souse for breakfast.
The guys decided to go in whole hog, so to speak.

Dale had pig's feet.

Chip had sheep's tongue.

I chickened out and had chicken.

And you were wondering why I found breakfast blog worthy. We eked through the souse, just that once, but found the Johnny cakes spectacular, somewhere between bread and cake. Yum.

Finally, we hit the supermarkets. Real, well-stocked supermarkets, our first in seven weeks, where you can even shop from a list.

Living large -- and well provisioned.

No, Chip's not picking up extra cash, he's carrying our purchases
from the liquor store (which did not include any wine).

TWO dock carts of groceries.