Sunday, December 29, 2013

Preparing to Cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas

     For the past week Joe and I have been visiting family in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Joe's mom arrived at her winter home for the holidays in mid-December. With hopes of making her as settled as possible I managed to prepare a smorgasbord of meal selections for her freezer that will keep her well provisioned for an extended period of time. I rode my bike to the nearby Publix Market so many times that I'd lost count. Though, lugging all those groceries was great exercise. Being off the boat and away from Simple Life for two weeks felt strange. After a few days I missed life aboard and I missed our people in the cruising community. Although, it was wonderful being able to spend the holidays with family and we were fortunate to be able to leave Simple Life at a dock and in a safe place for the duration.

     One thing that surprised me during the two weeks ashore was the magnitude of ambient, urban sounds. Honking horns, screeching tires, incessant construction noise. I could continue but, I'm sure you've got the picture. While riding my bike to the grocery store everyday traffic noise levels seemed louder and more agrivating than I recalled when we lived among the general populase. Grumpy shoppers in need of attitude adjustments were everywhere. Distracted drivers made the bike ride to and from the market life threatening. Maybe I've been out of touch for too long or perhaps people were stressed from holiday shopping. Whatever the reason I'd seen and experienced enough. There have been times lately when I'm not certain we fit into the community at large anymore. Cruising and living on a boat has definitely changed us. I don't know if it's for the better or not but, I do know that when we stay in one place for more than a week I've become restless and felt that the time has come to move on and resume our life aboard the Simple Life.

     While staying in Deerfield Beach I began planning and provisioning for our trip to the Bahamas. The priority was stocking up on bulk items such as cases of water, paper towels, cases of beer, boxes of wine affectionately known as Chateau Carton (say that aloud with a French accent) and cleaning supplies. Basically, large items that were more easily transported by car rather than our usual transport by dinghy. In advance of departure my fish and lobster recipes were reviewed (hopefully we'll catch our own supply) to ensure that I'll have all necessary ingredients onboard. As of now the plan is to spend about four months anchored in and around the more remote areas of the Family and Out Islands. All meals will be cooked onboard since there are few restaurants and we don't stay at marinas. If you've taken a cruise ship to the Bahamas you've most likely visited the more populated areas such as Nassau, Freeport or one of the larger Bahama Islands in the Abacos and you're probably wondering why I'm making such a fuss over provisions. We will not be spending time in those areas. Provisioning for the Family and Out Islands requires significant planning. There are small stores in the settlements on the scale of half the size of a convenience store stateside. These stores' provisions are brought on the "mailboat" that arrives once or twice a week. in other words, there are no tractor trailers that arrive at a scheduled time for restocking. If the weather happens to be bad, the mailboat may not arrive.

     Now let's talk about the cost of food. To compare the costs of everyday items that can be purchased in the States and purchased in the Bahamas is eye opening. One case of beer in the Bahamas costs $45.00! A case of soft drinks around $12.00. Paper products such as paper towels are outrageous. In general, all provisions regardless of the product are double the cost of the same product in the States and are not always readily available especially as the number of cruisers increase as the winter progresses. I canned a case of meat and a case of chicken prior to leaving RI in my 21 quart pressure canner. The canned meat can be used in a variety of tasty recipes. If it sounds as though I've gone "overboard" with planning and provisioning I can assure you I haven't. I'm certain that there will be quite a few things I've left out. In that case improvisation will be a good teacher allowing us to explore new food options that may become favorites in my recipe repertoire.

     All of this planning probably sounds like a lot of effort and it certainly is. You may be thinking, "Why don't they just take a cruise ship to the Bahamas where people cook your food and wait on you?" Believe me on occasion I have questioned our motives, too. Although, then I remember how thrilling it was when Joe speared his first lobster at the reef on Cape Santa Maria in the Bahamas. The anxiety and sense of accomplishment of riding out a storm on anchor. Close friendships we've forged throughout our many years of cruising. It was then that I realized why we are living this life. I made this video ten years ago during our first trip to the Bahamas. If you have ten minutes to spare you too can have a virtual Bahamas Out Island adventure. Enjoy and Happy New Year! Hope you continue to follow our adventures in the new year across the Gulf Stream in the Bahama Islands where I'll be making new underwater action videos with the new GoPro camera that Santa brought!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lake Sylvia, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

South Florida shoreline from sea
     The sea was calm with a warm, gentle 8-10 knot breeze at sunrise as Simple Life motor sailed down the coast of Florida from Lake Worth Inlet toward the Port Everglades Inlet in Fort. Lauderdale. While motorsailing Simple Life was averaging over 6.5 knots. By traveling outside on the ocean we avoided having to negotiate 19 bascule bridge openings in the ICW and accomplished the journey in one day rather than two. From the get-go the trip was interesting. First a rambunctious pod of dolphins ascended from the deep blue depths to frolic in Simple Life's bow wake. I tethered into the jackline while carefully navigating my way to the bow stepping over mired jerry cans and fenders. Over the course of ten to fifteen minutes, the dolphins and I "communicated." While I leaned over the bowsprit peering down at them they turned side to side all the while using their sonar squeaks to maintain speed with our bow wake glancing up at me with each turn. Remarkably, they kept perfect pace with our speed. It was an exhilarating experience and one that I thought would make a good video that I could share with everyone. First I needed to get the camera. To my disappointment when I returned to the bow they were gone. It was as though they were as curious about me as I was of them and when I left well...I suppose they had better things to do.

     With the dolphin departure I returned to the cockpit to check out the shoreline. I began wondering about the Kennedy's and the family's Palm Beach connections. After all I'm from that generation that was raised on the Kennedy mystique. Of course I googled the former Kennedy administration Winter White House on Palm Beach. While searching the shoreline as we sailed by the coast of Palm Beach I was able to identify the home. It was surprisingly less spectacular than most of the newer McMansions that have been constructed by lesser known individuals along the ICW in south Florida. The Kennedy home at Palm Beach was sold in 1995 but, it remains on the register of historic places.

Port Everglades Inlet, Fort Lauderdale
     By mid afternoon we negotiated the Port Everglades inlet with plans to anchor in Lake Sylvia. The anchorage entrance is shallow and requires local knowledge to get in without grounding. Once inside it's completely surrounded by land and exclusive private homes. After all it is in the epicenter of Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale is referred to as the "yachting capital of the world" but, those of us who pass through as cruising sailors often find that there is an undercurrent of unwelcoming. Or, should I say it's apparent that size definitely matters in Fort Lauderdale. OK delete that X-rated thought from your mind. I'm referring to the size of your boat. Even though many cruising sailors headed to the Bahamas or south to the Florida Keys make this one of their stops along the ICW, Fort Lauderdale is not a place that caters to cruising live aboards. It seems that if you own a megayacht of 100 feet or more along with an overstuffed money clip, then the welcome mat is rolled out. Things are not so welcoming for the average cruiser traveling aboard a boat in the 40 foot range. We're pretty much ignored although at times suspiciously eyed by authorities and stopped for minor infractions while traveling Fort Lauderdale's canals. Such crimes as not having a whistle aboard your dinghy. There is one dock down at the end of one of the canals where dinghies are allowed to land for a fee of $10.00. The location is convenient since it's near a grocery store, laundromat, liquor store and a dollar store. What more could a cruiser want? The $10.00 landing fee at the raw bar is waived if you choose to have happy hour drinks or eat at the restaurant. Of course we all partake in happy hour, so most of us make good use of the dinghy dockage fee. Though, it would be even better if there was at least one dock in the greater Fort Lauderdale area that offered free dinghy dockage for less affluent cruising sailors.

    Simple Life's anchor barely touched the bottom when our friend Steve from IP 38 SV Slow Flight
Happy hour aboard Slow Flight photo by Stefano Piviali
dinghied over to invite us for happy hour aboard his boat. He'd earlier invited many of the anchored boats in Lake Sylvia. Steve said he needed to head back to his boat to prepare hors d'oeuvres. I'll admit that a sexist thought popped into my head. "What's he going to rush back and crack open a can of peanuts?" We were the last dinghy to arrive and Steve had prepared hot Calzones for everyone and they were delicious! The get together was a reunion for many of us since we'd met the crew of Pendragon along with Steve on Slow Flight in St. Augustine. Lorraine and Phil from SV Changes and Ken from SV Sail Away were cruisers we'd met while moored in Vero Beach. We were introduced to Stefano and Helen from Fremantle, Australia who recently crossed the Atlantic aboard their sailing catamaran Novae. I must admit, Steve was an excellent host.

The anchorage in Lake Sylvia, Fort Lauderdale
      Now that we are nearing Christmas and the New Year, quite a few cruisers have been actively seeking reasonably priced, secure places to leave their boats in order to return home to family for the holidays. Once again boats have been departing the anchorage each day. Simple Life has found a temporary home at Bruno's Zoo for a week or more while we visit our family in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Bruno's Zoo is actually a few finger piers behind a private home in Fort Lauderdale. We were fortunate enough to be recommended to Bruno by fellow cruisers from SV Chantibrise II with whom we shared Thanksgiving dinner in Vero Beach. That's how life is out here. Cruisers helping fellow cruisers, sharing information, laughs and camaraderie. It's a special life that we partake in and it's rarely simple but, there's nothing that compares to life aboard. Happy holidays to everyone wherever you are! (I feel like Tiny Tim...)
Simple Life at her berth at Bruno's Zoo, Fort Lauderdale

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving in Vero Beach, Florida

A walk on Vero Beach
     Given that it was Thanksgiving Day and being away from family once again for the holidays, I began feeling somewhat sentimental. Not so slushy that I wanted to be back in New England but, none the less missing the old days with the sound of pots and pans banging about and all that tension on Thanksgiving morning in my mother's kitchen. I searched the Intenet hoping to find some reference that would bring back the nostalgia of home. I came across a few Thanksgiving quotes online that were mostly sappy, laments about giving thanks for all our gifts..blah, blah, blah. The host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart's quote cheered me the most. He said, " I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land." That certainly put a new spin on Thanksgiving! With that thought in mind, this year Joe and I celebrated Thanksgiving while moored aboard Simple Life in Vero Beach in the company of our extended family; more than a hundred other cruisers.
Joe and I had a picnic in the park at the beach.
Joe and Jim Austin from SV Salty Paws at Vero City Marina

The mooring field at Vero Beach, Florida
     Due to the number of vessels attending the event this year the Vero Beach Municipal Marina required rafting up to three vessels per mooring. Simple Life was rafted to Kismet an Island Packet 350 with Jim and Laurie aboard and Sail Away a 34 foot Beneteau from Ontario with her skipper Ken. 
Another cold front arrival was in the forecast ushering in more heavy nine foot seas with winds in the 30-35 knot range. Within a few days the predicted winds arrived and lasted beyond Thanksgiving. We were all "thankful" to be safely rafted in the protection of the harbor.

Dinner with friends Elaine and Lawrence from Elle and I



     Thanksgiving dinner was scheduled to begin at 2:00 PM in a large hall at Riverside Park which was within dinghying distance from the marina. One of the nice features about these loosely organized pot luck shindigs is that each person contributes one traditional side dish for dinner. Most boat ovens can handle a bird about the size of a stuffed quail but, squeezing a turkey thats been hopped up on hormones into one of these compact cookers would be a stretch. Having the responsibility of stove top cooking on Thanksgiving can be liberating. Traditionally, there are a few towns along the southern migration route that contribute to cruiser's Thanksgiving celebrations. The oldest and best known events are at Vero Beach, Florida and St. Mary's, Georgia. This year it made sense for us to bypass St. Mary's and continue south to Vero since Thanksgiving fell so late in November. Vero's event didn't disappoint. More food than we could possibly consume, meeting new friends, interesting banter around the dinner table and ending the day with a music jam. It felt like home.
Music jam after dinner with a motley crew of individuals.
To read more about Thanksgiving in Vero Beach read the following newspaper article from Vero Beach featuring several quotes from my blog and photos that Joe Boulay took during the festivities.

Jim Austin SV Salty Paws and Michele share a laugh
black and white photos taken with Jim's film camera.