Monday, March 30, 2015

Deep Sea Fishing-Bahamas Style

Mahi Dreams at Spanish Wells
Photo courtesy of Jim Austin
March has been a banner month for deep sea and inshore reef fishing in the Bahamas. High easterly winds during February kept many cruisers seeking sheltered anchorages along the island chain of Exuma and Eleuthera. While enjoying Devils Hoffman's isolation we fished inshore. It seems Grey Triggerfish love shrimp and ham hocks! After reeling in three while at anchor we ended the day due to lack of free space in the freezer.
Grey Triggerfish love shrimp and ham hocks


Beautiful bull Mahi Mahi. Joe's a happy man!

     When the heavy air finally subsided a couple of weeks ago cruisers took advantage and got on the move. With the onset of March Mahi Mahi seem to be enjoying the lighter winds and were also on the move. Reports from several cruising sailboats  confirmed that Mahi and other big game fish were biting. Joe caught his 39 inch Mahi Mahi while motoring in light wind conditions across the Northeast Providence Channel between Devils Hoffman Cay in the Berry Islands and Spanish Wells, Eleuthera in over 10,000 feet of deep ocean. That day we also sighted a school of tuna and a school of Mahi Mahi leaping out of the water as we closed in on the drop off near the cut to Egg Island, Eleuthera. Unfortunately, we'd pulled our lines in before nearing the cut.
Bull Mahi Mahi 
Four fresh lobster tails for dinner!


Scott from Saltine holding his prize catch of the day!
     Our friends Scott and Donna from Saltine whom we spent time with in Bimini were sailing to Nassau from Frazier's Hog Cay in the Berrys when their game fish hit their lure in the Tongue of the Ocean. From the photo the fish appeared to be a White Marlin.  I am still waiting for confirmation from them on the fish's true identity.

     The Salty Paws,  Jim and Bentley scored twice in the same day on their trip along the western side of Eleuthera with two big, beautiful Mahi Mahis! Joe and I were invited to enjoy music and Mahis on St. Patricks Day aboard Salty Paws for some Irish tunes and delicious dinner.
Simple Life at anchor at dawn Meek's Patch, Eleuthera
Photo by Jim Austin
       In closing let me remind you, these fish were caught and successfully landed aboard sailboats not million dollar sport fishing boats equipped with fishing guides, fighting chairs and roomy aft cockpits. Believe me it's chaos when a fish hits, but the excitement and adrenaline make the catch all the more exciting and especially delicious!
Grilled triggerfish and champagne!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Perpetual Spring Break, Bimini

     While gazing outward toward the indigo waters of the Gulf Stream from our perch on the iron shore in Bimini one of the "Islands in the Stream" favored by Ernest Hemingway in the 1930's, Joe and I pondered our existence. This tends to be a common occurrence while sipping ice cold Kaliks (beer of the Bahamas). Joe remarked, "We're on a perpetual spring break." Wow. Did I feel guilty? Perhaps a wee bit, but only momentarily. I recalled names of those who also languished on this island before us. Ernest Hemingway, Adam Clayton Powell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Al Capone were frequent visitors to Bimini and lest we not forget former Senator Gary Hart and the politically damaging photo of a blonde bombshell perched on his lap aboard the sport fishing vessel Monkey Business. Characters such as these have found shelter on this island for decades. Now we're enjoying this island too. Although, not hiding from the press, but finding shelter from the easterly trade winds that have been relentless for over a month.



     One of the best features of cruising in the Bahamas is that our lives have become more spontaneous. A surprise visit from friends who were staying at a nearby marina in South Bimini made for a spontaneous and eventful afternoon. A vibrant couple, Scott and Donna from Saltine whom we'd met last year in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera had rented a golf cart for the day. They'd stopped by our boat earlier that afternoon, but we were enjoying the beach. At 3:30 I heard someone calling Simple Life. They invited us to join them on a whirlwind tour of Bimini by golf cart with a stop along the roadside at Stuart's Conch Shack of Kaliks and fresh conch salad. Joe and Scott managed to down more than enough beer and made a new Bahamian friend in the process. Fortunately, there's no breathalyzer  sobriety tests on Bimini. Remember we were driving a golf cart.

     A few days later Scott and Donna invited us along with a group of cruisers to South Bimini on Saturday for dinner at a restaurant Donnamebuson Nixons Harbour at the south end of the island. A colorful school bus provided free roundtrip transportation. Since arriving in the Bahamas we'd looked forward to having conch burgers. The conch meat is tenderized with a mallet. Strips are battered and deep fried served with lettuce, tomato, onion and fries. These were delicious and perfectly crispy.

 Watson smkt             


     Surprisingly, Bimini was an enjoyable stop for us. Alice Town was small with one narrow main road The Kings Highway, about the width of two golf carts. The town bustled with activity. Robert's Market had a good selection of food by Bahamian standards when the mailboat arrived, but shelves were bare toward the end of the week with one cabbage and only a few potatoes. There was no milk, eggs, bread or fresh produce. I'd hoped to provision since our plan was to head to the Berry Islands when the next sailing window opened. Unfortunately, the window came the day before the mailboat's arrival. At least we were able to have one of our propane tanks filled during our stay by Big Fred at his official "filling station truck" on the beach at the entrance point to the harbor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Charlie's Bread baked fresh daily in his home
      Several boats departed at dawn the following morning. The wind was still howling and we decided to wait for a favorable current and lighter winds before departure. No need to add to the anxiety of leaving with heavy air on the nose and opposing tide and currents. Simple Life was off the dock at 3:00 PM bound for an overnight passage over the Great Bahama Bank with an ETA of 7:00 AM at Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. The passage was relatively mild until after 10:00 PM when the wind piped up to 18-20 knots. With waves breaking over the bow concern grew as we sighted numerous lighted vessels directly on the route we planned to sail. Later it became obvious as passed each one that they were commercial Bahamian fishing vessels. All were lighted, but while underway it was difficult determining whether they were moving or not. After passing the first two vessels it seemed logical to assume the remainder of the fleet was anchored as well. This lowered the stress level to a manageable degree. As far as passages go this one was relatively easy considering the wild weather conditions we've experienced this winter.
           Bahamian friend Cecile fishing 



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Simple Life in South Beach, Miami

Simple Life's anchorage for over a month in Sunset Lake. Miami
the orange arrow is pointing toward Simple Life
Photo by Bentley Smith

      For those friends who are "holed up" in New England dealing with mounds of snow and ice we sympathize. We used to spend winters there and remember it all too well.  This winter Joe and I appreciate that weather here in South Florida has been better than what you've endured, but we too have had our bouts with rough situations this season. Albeit no shoveling involved, but cold weather fronts have been relentless ushering in higher than normal winds along with cold fronts that tend to keep boaters stateside…and in all fairness it was 40 degrees in Miami Beach a week ago.

The thong. A popular trend in fashion
on South Beach

The chaos of South Beach


One of our favorite hang outs at happy hour on
Espanola Way
Hair stylist from
Contesta Rockhair
on Espanola Way
     One of the most FAQ's by friends and non boaters has been, "Do you guys ever get caught in storms at sea?"


Venus of South Beach in a gallery on Lincoln Road
     The answer…"Not if we can help it." So, we wait, monitor weather, listen to weather router Chris Parker's Marine Weather Center's forecast and hope for a break in the conditions. As a result of these difficult weather patterns our routine each morning begin with the alarm at 6:30 AM. Time to tune the SSB (Single Sideband radio) to Chris Parker's Bahamas and Gulf Stream crossing forecast. This probably sounds like a ridiculous thing to do to those of you who live on land. But those of us who live on the ocean do this religiously each day. In a way it's somewhat entertaining. Chris has developed quite an interesting array of adjectives to describe some of these weather events. Horrendous, ugly, rough, less bad than, are some of his favorites. We listen, jot down notes, coordinates, wind degrees which eventually allow us to evaluate weather conditions and decide on our options. Believe it or not listening day after day can be stressful. Self imposed stress, but none the less stressful. Should we move, not move, what if an unexpected front pops up sooner than the forecast indicates and onward. Just imagine having to worry that your house might drift away, possibly bang into another house in the process and possibly end up in a different neighborhood during the night. That's the kind of weather we've had most of this winter.

Welcome to Little Havana
     This season Simple Life along with a large number of boats have been anchored in South Beach, Miami awaiting a favorable crossing to the Bahamas. Not a bad place to be held hostage so to speak. Although, at times we felt we'd become permanent residents. When staff in the local Publix Supermarket begin recognizing you it's time to move on. While in SoBe we took a side trip via public transit to Little Havana in Miami. After one bus transfer we arrived in the heart of historic Calle Ocho (8th Street). It's somewhat of a neighborhood on the verge of marginal gentrification. There are a few restaurants, galleries, cigar factories, and poqito ventanas (small street side windows) where Cuban coffee is doled out in small styrofoam cups along with mini cups for sharing. This is the heartbeat of historic Little Havana where thousands of Cubans emigrated to the US during and after the revolution in the early 1960's.
The main street in Little Havana Calle Ocho ( 8th Street)
notice the domino tiles in the mosaic

     Many of the original Cuban immigrants still call this part of Miami home. Some have moved elsewhere in Miami, but still gather each day in Domino Park for a rousing and often raucous game of dominos.

Seasoned domino players at Domino Park, Little Havana

      While visiting we met a few Cuban Americans who were children when they emigrated along with their families in the early 1960's. I asked one woman how she and other Cuban's of her generation felt about current political policies between the US and Cuba and the possibility of lifting travel ban restrictions. She eloquently explained that most Cubans who came to the US in the 1960's were not in favor because the old regime would still be in power. Most believe it will not benefit the Cuban majority and suspect it will only benefit wealthy businessmen. She was quite adamant and said she would never return to Cuba. It had been 53 years since she left Cuba with the clothes on her back. It was an enlightening conversation only to be interrupted when she was summoned to play dominos with her team at the table.

Playing a tile

Hands of dominos.

      After a delicious lunch at a Cuban restaurant, we crossed Calle Ocho for homemade Cuban ice cream at Azucar it was nearly time to catch the 208 back to the transfer station for the 321 back to South Beach. Some of our best excursions seem to occur when we've been holed up in port.
Ice cream at Azucar with Cuban
singer Celia Cruz looking over us.

     Sailing Simple Life even at anchor in a harbor always seems to offer unexpected opportunities for extraordinary experiences.
Mural on the outside wall of the Little Havana Cigar Factory

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