Friday, March 10 - Georgetown
The photo above shows boats at anchor off the Monument (Hamburger Beach) in George Town. Many of the hundreds of boats here move only when a front comes through, doing the George Town Shuffle back and forth across the harbor for better protection. Some boats never move at all.

We did very little yesterday worth recording, except for a visit into town to drop off laundry and some Internet work at a shop called Bal Sound ($3.00 gets you all-day wireless access). The connection at Bal Sound was not up to Comcast standards, but the price was right. We also researched getting parts shipped into George Town. The preferred method (assuming you don't know someone who is traveling to George Town and doesn't mind bringing boat parts) is to have things Fed-Ex'd to Exuma Market. However, unless the part you're ordering relates to the propulsion system of your boat, you might have to pay around 45% duty as well as a 7.5% stamp tax.

Photos: Cleaning conch and preparing conch salad on Volleyball beach.

Today I rewired the Raymarine chartplotter so that it would have a shorter run and thus less voltage drop, since the radar seems to work more consistently when it's getting more volts. I'd previously checked the cable and contacts for corrosion and found nothing obvious. Then it was time to kick myself for not buying a new starting battery when I'd had the chance. I'd always planned to do this before leaving Chattanooga, but never got around to it. So there I was in West Marine in Marathon just a few weeks ago, looking at the exact AGM battery I needed right there on the shelf. Of course, the existing starting battery had never given a hint of trouble, but I figured $200 would look mighty cheap the first day we couldn't get the engine started in some remote anchorage hundreds of miles from the nearest AGM battery dealer. I knew I would regret not buying that battery, but the only way to be sure was to leave without it. You know, sometimes it's no fun being proven right. This afternoon I spent $165 buying a much lesser conventional starting battery here in George Town.

Got my new ham call sign yesterday: KI4NZH. I downloaded a free Morse code tutor called Morse Academy and darned if I haven't learned a bunch of it already. The only trick is getting to the Virgin Islands to take the code test, but I'm that's a detail we can work out later.

Saturday, March 11 - Georgetown
Sure, there were some minor creative differences on the project, but in the end it's the art, the final product, that's important. Directed by Rhonda, with admonitions of "It needs to be bigger!" from Janet, our team created a beautiful sand-based rendition of Daryl Hannah, the mermaid, riding on a dolphin. Rhonda used three different colors of sand, leaves, shells, coconuts, and other native materials to make this sculpture the most distinctive on the beach. I wanted to call it "Feliz Navidad" but the official title was "Fantasy." People took pictures and declared it was a sure first-place winner. When it was announced that we had won third place, there were gasps from the crowd (okay, maybe nobody gasped, but I think a few held their breath, which is even harder to hear). Later lots of people said they didn't understand why we didn't win. Clearly, there was some sort of conspiracy, probably the same one that caused Annie's coconut milk to scorch and ruin dinner later. That's not so far fetched when you consider that the coconut milk was our prize for getting last place in the coconut harvest, which means it's all connected.

Each member of the team received a cool yellow flag for our efforts. Even better was knowing that these sand sculptures will stand forever as a monument to the creative skills of the 2006 Georgetown cruisers.

Photos: (1) Feliz Navidad in all its glory. (2) The first place winner. I have to admit, the open mouths on the shark and alligator were a crowd-pleaser. (3) Conspiracy, I tell you!

Wednesday, March 15 - Conception Island
We finally left George Town this morning at 7:30 AM, after a quick snorkel to untangle the anchor chain from an old fuel tank on the bottom. Everyone seemed to know about the fuel tanks off Sand Dollar Beach, and we had been warned about them as well, but didn't know there are at least two sets of fuel tanks waiting to snare the unwary cruiser.

Memories of George Town: (1) The cliffs above Sand Dollar Beach overlooking Exuma Sound reminded me of northern California. There are lots of newly-cut hiking trails in this area. (2) Crabzilla about to attack on Sand Dollar Beach. Actually, this was a baby Crabzilla, only about three inches long. They grow to a foot or more, with a giant claw that looks like it could rip the wheels off a car.

Georgetown during the regatta was an experience we will always remember. For us (and apparently for others--see the log of Kismet,) it felt like we had somehow been transported back to high school. Everybody else seems to know everybody, and you're the new kid on the block. Meeting another cruiser is no longer something special--there are a thousand people there, all of them cruisers. The social calendar, like the hailing channel 68, never quits. Before leaving, I attended a meeting for "southbound cruisers," where 30 or so of us listened to a few old hands and traded boat cards. It sounded as if quite a few people would be heading for Rum Cay, then further south, by Friday or Saturday. Leaving this morning was bittersweet for us since we were saying goodbye to Janet and Rhonda on Promise, having bid farewell to Doug on Misty Blue a couple of days before. We have a CD of Doug playing keyboards which can transport us instantly to Happy Hour and have promised to visit Janet and Rhonda next July in Rhode Island. After all the goodbyes and eighteen days at anchor, with plants starting to grow on our hull, it was sweet to be on the move again today, plowing through that incredibly blue water, answering to no one but ourselves.

So today we motored about 40 miles southeast through a calm Exuma Sound to Conception Island, where we anchored in West Bay with six other boats (among them Scooter, southbound meeting alumni, and Escape Velocity from George Town). Conception is a beautiful uninhabited "out island," considered one of the prettiest in the Bahamas. I snorkeled a bit (no wetsuit but the water felt great) and saw lots of fish, including a three foot barracuda who kept chasing me. The water is very clear here, with about 100 foot visibility.

We talked briefly tonight with Watermark I, more southbound meeting alumni, on the SSB. They are anchored tonight at Calabash Bay on Long Island, only about 15 miles away. Our current plan is to keep moving south (and east), at least to the Turks and Caicos, perhaps to Puerto Rico, and (maybe) from there the Virgin Islands. And then up to Rhode Island for the 4th of July, and on to Canada to visit Doug--right?

Photo: Conception Island near the West Bay anchorage. Note dinghy at upper right for scale. I tried to get Annie and Laura to come ashore with me for scale, but they were resting and wouldn't leave the ship.

Ship's note: I changed the engine oil before leaving George Town. We were at 373 hours. I purchased and added to the tank 15 gallons of diesel. We had burned five gallons just sitting there in George Town, keeping the batteries charged (the solar panels help, but they can't do it alone). The radar worked fine all day, so rewiring the chartplotter for less voltage drop may have done the trick.

Thursday, March 16 - Conception Island
It would have been a rousing sail over to Rum Island today, but after a rolly night as a weak front went through, we decided to stay here another day. As Van Sant says (to paraphrase), why rush on looking for paradise when you have it right under your keel?

We did a nice beach hike in the morning, napped after lunch, then dinghied up "Turtle Creek." It's best to do this trip around high tide, but we'd already missed that, so we went at low tide figuring that if we made it in, things could only improve. We saw several sea turtles, what we think were three to four foot sharks, and some beautiful leopard rays with wingspans up to four feet right at the entrance to the creek.

Photos: (1) Laura and Annie make for the bitter north end of the island. (2) Annie on the trail connecting the west anchorage to the east shore. (3) Rope climb on the east shore. (4) I had some business at the top of the mast, so I took the camera along for this view of the West Bay anchorage. The yacht Scooter, a very nice Maramu, is in the foreground. (5) Low tide up "Turtle Creek."

Ship's Note: We got good use out of the SSB radio today, talking with Watermark I, Endaxi, and best of all our old friends on Anticipation, who we hadn't seen since Marathon. Ron and Bobbie were in Black Point, headed in the general direction of George Town. Now, if we could only make contact with Clarence and family on Third Angel, who left Sale Creek about two weeks ago and are already somewhere around Mobile.

Friday, March 17 - Rum Cay
We're anchored near the government dock at Port Nelson, Rum Cay, next to Dick and Nelda on Alibi. We visited the Sumner Point Marina which was a beautiful facility, but they were out of gas, diesel, and their phone lines were out as well, so we didn't get much done there. A very nice woman at the Last Chance Store helped me fax a document to the Caribbean Weather Center so that we can get personalized forecasts from Chris Parker.

Photo: The beach near the government dock at friendly Rum Cay. There were lots of sea urchins in the shallow water here, some of which had beached themselves. We tried to throw them back, but they washed right back in. Is there is an emergency response team for beached sea urchins?

Our current plan is to leave early tomorrow (Saturday) for the 120 mile trip to Mayaguana. Tom Pride calls it, "Eerie, scary, Mayaguana" and I've been meaning to ask him why--perhaps we'll see for ourselves but I'm not really hoping for that. We should arrive by daylight Sunday morning. There isn't much wind forecast, so we may be motorsailing, but the plan is to keep the north of Samana so we will be able to deal with any wind from the east or southeast. From Mayaguana it's another 50-60 miles to Provo in the Turks & Caicos, which is a new country but on the whole a bit less frightening to me than Mayaguana.

Saturday, March 18 - Mayaguana Passage
We left Rum Cay around 8:00 this morning in the company of Sam and Margie on Encantada, who had anchored next to us last night. As I write this at around 4:00 PM we are twenty miles west of Samana Cay or about seventy miles out from Mayaguana. The winds are light and since are motoring anyway we're passing to the south of Samana instead of the north as originally planned. We were making good time motorsailing this morning and actually had to slow down a bit so that we don't get to Mayaguana before dawn. The seas, up to 14,000 feet deep along this route, are mostly flat with just a bit of Atlantic swell. It's a very nice day to be out so long as you have a motor running.

Photo: We shut down the engine a couple of hours before sunset and didn't start it up again for almost ten hours. Of course, by the time we did start the engine, we were down to one and half knots over the bottom.

Sunday, March 19 - Mayaguana
We came around Devil's Point at Mayaguana around 7:30 AM after a mostly peaceful night. After I watched Tom Cruise in Minority Report in the cockpit during my shift, Annie did the same on hers, even though I had thoughtfully placed This is Spinal Tap in the portable player. When I came back on deck at 4:00 AM, I got Spinal Tap back out and watched it for her.

The night was not without some adventure. Annie had two ships pass within thirty minutes (one of them close enough to make her pause her movie). The red/green lights on the bow shorted out and I had to lash our dinghy lights there. We were trailing two fishing lines and both tripped, but when I hauled them back in all we had caught was seaweed--although my prized spoon lure was missing, the leader bitten in two by some leviathan of the deep. After rebedding the chainplate in Nassau, we had been sailing without cotter pins in our starboard shrouds and the lower one unscrewed itself and started flopping around, which is probably why more intelligent sailors always put the cotter pins back in (it's not enough to check them regularly--I had personally checked those shrouds just a few hours earlier). Finally the sun came up looking like a volcano with lava flowing out over the water and I forgot about all the challenges for a few minutes, at least.

We anchored off Start Bay for three hours, most of which I spent sleeping, then motored through the reef into Abrahams Bay to join seven other boats. Some of them, including Rock 'n Roll, Evening Star, and Rainbow Rider, departed late afternoon for the fifty mile overnight to Provo, leaving four of us here. Although the forecast was favorable, Sam and Margie on Encantada said they were too tired to push on. We were tired as well but also knee-deep in rewiring all the nav, anchor, and deck lights. Tomorrow night the winds may be contrary so we may spend a couple of days here. Looking at the charts, we're now 280 miles southeast of Nassau and 430 miles straight line from Miami. It's starting to feel like a long way from home.

Photo:At anchor at Abrahams Bay, with the reef on the horizon at right. This anchorage has a very exposed feel since you are a mile off the beach with just the small breaking waves of the reef between you and the ocean. It's so far into town that this may be all we'll see of Mayaguana.

Tuesday, March 21 - Mayaguana
We just returned from a very enjoyable happy hour gathering on Encantada, a very nice Endeavor 42 where Sam and Margie hosted Keith and Tony from the Kelly Petterson 43 Renaissance, Gary and Linda from the Niagra 42 July Indian, and Mike from a Columbia 29 Fretless. After being cooped up on the boat all day, it was fun to "go out." Yesterday we dinghied over to the reef (about 200 yards from our anchor) where I did a little bit of snorkeling in three to four feet of water, but we couldn't find a path to the far side of the reef. We visited for a while with Keith and Tony before dinner, but those are the only times we've left the confines of the boat in any real way since Friday.

I did have some excitement while snorkeling around the boat this afternoon. I had replaced the shaft zinc and then gone forward of the boat to look for a screwdriver I had dropped last night while rewiring the bow light. I was in about twelve feet of water with a flat sandy bottom, visibility about eighty feet in all directions. When I saw the shark, it was about fifty feet away and headed directly for me, a large three-finned torpedo. The smart thing to do was probably to stay cool, keep an eye on the thing, and move slowly toward the boat. Instead, I turned tail and ran, covering the thirty feet to the swim ladder in about two seconds. I've never climbed a swim ladder before while wearing fins but I can report that it is possible if you are sufficiently motivated.

Photo:Unsuccessful attempt to dinghy over the reef at Abrahams Bay, with the anchorage in the background.

We could have left tonight and motored to Provo but the other boats had decided to wait another day in hopes of being able to sail, so that was okay with us as well. We plan to leave tomorrow evening, take it slow, and get to the Sandbore Channel south of Provo sometime after dawn.

Annie says: It's been a long time since I said anything. But what's to say. Day after day we are enjoying paradise. Snorkeling, beachcombing, meeting new friends and sailing in incredible water and wind. It is still everything I dreamed it would be and sometimes even more. Sometimes I think briefly about what we will do when we are "through" cruising. But that seems so distant from where we are now, that I can't really make sense of it.

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