Saturday, March 23, 2013


We've made it out of the remote Berries and into Nassau after a gorgeous 10-hour sail across the Tongue of the Ocean. Whew. Remember the first time we crossed the Tongue?

We will have some internet while we're here, so I promise updates and photos soon.

All is well on s/v Cara Mia.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


White Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas

"Be sure you're tucked in somewhere with west protection by sunset," weather guru Chris Parker said ominously on the SSB as we sat anchored in water wide open to the west.

Okay, 'wide open' is not quite correct. We were surrounded by flats, which break up any big swell, but do nothing about the wind.

The forecast was for a front to swoop through just after sunset (why always at night) kicking up 20-knot wind with periodic nasty squalls. The blow would end by noon the following day.

We looked at our options, debated and decided to reanchor a little further out and sit it out.

It wasn't a decision we were thrilled with but neither was it scary. Should the anchor give way, we would be blown toward sand, not rocks, and we would spend the night ready to pounce, get the anchor up and motor to safety. Not really relaxing but not dangerous either.

When I went forward to lift the anchor to move, I could see through the crystal water that our chain was wrapped and wrapped around a huge-ass rock. Very disconcerting.

I pointed, Chip turned the boat, I reeled in chain. We overshot, backed up and, what?!?! The chain was free. A pre-storm miracle.

We hunted and pecked around for almost an hour trying to find an ideal spot to anchor, no grass, good bit of sand, deep enough water in a 300-foot circumference so we could swing on anchor.

Finally at rest, some Bahamian fishermen motored up just before sunset and gave us a grouper in exchange for two beers.

"Do you think we'll have a big storm tonight?" I asked, assuming fishermen were good weathermen.

"Oh, no. We'll have a beautiful night," he said.

Bahamian fishermen v. Chris Parker. Any wagers?

Sure enough, we could see the front coming toward on the waning sunlight. As darkness fell, the wind kicked up.

There it is! Maybe it will pass north of us?

By midnight it was howling, and we were getting quite a ride on short, choppy water.

I lay in the v-berth going over my anchor drill, puzzling over how I would release both the snubbers, how much chain I would pull in before checking to see if it was piling up wrong (we had 125 feet out). I pondered how in the heck we would find a patch of sand in the dead of night when it had taken us 45 minutes to find one in the daylight.

The tide shifted around 2 a.m. putting the anchor against both wind and current. The snubbers groaned and the wind howled, but the anchor held. Every 30 minutes I opened up Navionics on the iPad to check our position. Our anchor held beautifully.

There was little sleep and a little nausea but nothing to report.

Would I do that again? Probably not. We were lucky that we didn't have squalls. Marsh Harbor to the north got a 50-knot squall with rain, lightning and hail. Eek.

Chris Parker: 1
Fishermen: 0

We rested today and are ready to sail south to Nassau. The farther south we get, the calmer the weather.

South! South!

An inland, saltwater blue hole.

Where some swam ....
... while others watched. Creepy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


White Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas

We listened to the weather forecast early from our lonely Slaughter Harbor anchorage. We had a tiny 22-mile route to take, but the forecast was calling for squalls and sporadic high winds.

The sky looked unsettled and drippy, so we made coffee and waited.

About 10 a.m., Chip saw a boat leaving Great Harbor and entering the North East Channel where we wanted to go. It was two boats traveling together, and they reported calm conditions.

We lifted anchor at 10:55, and headed on the same path as yesterday, minus the Norwegian Pearl. The sky was overcast but looking milder. Boats all up and down the Berry Island chain chattered with us about the conditions and relayed messages between us and Jessie Marie.

Our conservative plan was to duck into Petit Cay if it looked squally, but a catamaran heading north reported beautiful conditions south toward our destination, White Cay.

The wind was settling into a beautiful westerly. We sailed along on 'another day' on calm-ish seas and pulled into the remote White Cay at 3:18 for a happy reunion with Karen and Dale.

Cara Mia and Jessie Marie are once again anchored side by each.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Slaughter Harbor, Berry Islands, Bahamas

We would have probably laid up in Great Harbor today if Jessie Marie weren't anchored so tauntingly close, close enough for VHF radio contact.

Dale and Karen, who came over to the Bahamas more than a month ago, are waiting for us a scant 12 miles south as the seagull flies, but 36 miles as the full keel sailboat must pass.

The weather called for a brisk 15 knots from the southeast, not ideal, but we thought with only 17 miles of the trip in open water, heading southeast, we might, just might be able to manage. And maybe the prediction would be wrong. It often is.

We scoped out all the potential spots to ditch in if it was ugly and headed out.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, the turquoise water brilliant, dazzling. We sailed a beautiful clip in the lee of Stirrup Cay heading east, but we could feel the swell wrapping around toward us as we approached the eastern edge of the island.

We were full sail without the engine, one reef in the main, and when we sped past the island's edge, we got the full brunt of 20-knot wind and 4-6 foot swell on our beam. The weather was indeed wrong. They had underestimated the conditions. I handed the helm over to Chip, who is always better at muscling through waves. Cara Mia was overpowered, and we weren't placed well to take in any sail except for the tiny staysail, which I took in on my own while Chip galloped us along in the swell.

Unable to turn south, we headed straight east until we had the conditions and a plan well in hand, then tacked back straight west, full speed at an anchored cruise ship. Chip fell off the wind, I eased the main, and we surfed the stern of the Norwegian Pearl, surely providing good entertainment on a gray day at anchor.

We ducked happily into the unfortunately named Slaughter Harbor on the northern end of Stirrup. The anchorage looks like it has a shallow entrance, but it doesn't. It also looks to be exposed to the south, but it's not.

Our anchorage was just out of VHF range of Jessie Marie, but some generous folks relayed for us, and we tucked in for a good night's rest.

Tomorrow is always another day.

Our stern view was very intimate coming back the other way.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Great Harbor Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas

After waiting in Miami for a seemingly long 18 days, a weather window opened to cross the fickle Gulf Stream. At long last, the northern wind began to lighten and clock east, then southeast and off we went.

For a change from the usual hop to Bimini, we set our eye on Great Harbor at the northern tip of the Berry Islands, 146 miles from Miami. We estimated it would take us just over 24 hours, so we left Miami at a luxurious 9:10, waved goodbye to our dear friends Joe and Deb on Kajon and pointed east.

And Mother Ocean smiled on us today. You just never know when you head out there, but except for a few hours of confused seas, we had smooth water in the Gulf Stream with enough south in the east wind to keep the main full. By 3, the wind was a light 5-8 knots at 150 degrees, and all the sails were flying.

Gulf Stream doesn't get much better than that!
Our goal was to make it onto the Bahama Bank by sunset. Most of the day, that seemed unlikely, but sure enough, as the sun sank low in the west, Bimini was right there on the horizon. We cleared North Rock, north of Bimini as the sun was setting, but not before we reveled in our first glimpse of gorgeous turquoise water. With more than half our crossing to go, it felt like we'd already arrived.

We sailed on into the gathering blackness that slowly unfurled a blanket of stars overhead. We huddled together in awe, watching.

Chip sailed, full sail, for his 12-3 watch, which he gallantly extended to 4, so I could sleep. The wind lightened just before 4, and we went back to motorsailing.

On my 4-7 a.m. watch, the wee crescent moon was long gone, the horizon ahead just a barely visible line differentiating the black of the sea from the dark of the sky. But it's not really a line, is it? Just my own perception of the edge of my world.

The stars, if possible, were even more brilliant. I leaned back to watch.

Off to my starboard side, something caught my eye, a star trying to get my attention. It was not the brightest nor the biggest, but it blinked the most, right along the southern horizon, the only one to send a luminous reflection across the black water straight toward me. Its faint reach of light beamed an unfathomable distance across space and atmosphere and water but dwindled out a few feet from my outstretched hand, just beyond my grasp.

Unrequited love is always the most tender.

Then something caught my attention in the water below. Did I see a flash of light? No, surely not. There, again, did I see a light?

Yes, I did. Bioluminescence bubbling up in the fast-moving water along Cara Mia's hull, not fireworks but a gentle spark there and then another over here. A flash and then gone. Two flashes and another.

I leaned back to look up at Cara Mia's sails, there in the crest of the sky, an arc of stars encircled Cara Mia's mast like a crown.

A dazzling blanket of stars above, twinkling water below, me and Cara Mia in between.

We almost resented the sun for awakening us from that dream.

But Great Harbor waited just ahead, and we entered the skinny limestone channel, tying up at 10:24, 25 hours and 17 minutes after leaving Miami.

And the Bahamian flag flies once again on Cara Mia.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Great Harbor Cay, Berry Island, Bahamas

Cara Mia and Mother Ocean brought us safely on a 24-hour, 34-minute crossing. A full report to come as sketchy internet allows. We are in Great Harbor at the northern tip of the Berry Islands.

We are that "A," thanks to Google.

We'll be skipping down the Berries this week and crossing to New Providence Island (Nassau on the above map) when weather allows.

Y'all, I can't see these photos. I'm sitting outdoors in the bright sun (yes!). Please Photoshop our tired, happy selves.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Coconut Grove, Miami

Mother, mother ocean
I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters
since I was three feet tall. --Jimmy Buffett
Tomorrow is our day. We are finally ready to set off, and the weather window has opened. The next time I write it will be from a limestone shelf with the most enchanting turquoise water.

Cara Mia is so ready. We have done her well this year: new standing rigging, batteries and dinghy motor, plus a rebuilt windlass. Her belly is full of good food, and she chomps at the mooring, ready to set sail.

Two years ago, we sat in this very same mooring field, nervously waiting to cross the Gulf Stream for the first time. Two years have brought us bone-deep patience and trust in our instincts, a confidence tempered by nature's wild card. We enter Mother Ocean with joy and anticipation, always hoping she treats us kindly.

And maybe gives us a fish?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


"When I lived on land, I would have found it creepy to stalk somebody on the strength of a six-hour friendship, but on the water, different rules apply. Cruisers are subject to 'flash friendship,' where hours spent together are measured more like dog years." 

And if you want the whole backstory, here are the links:

Thanksgiving in St. Mary's, 2010, where we met Sea Gal and finally caught up with Karen and Dale after meeting them briefly in Charleston.
The blog post this column is based on -- and another visit the next day.