Ch 13 - George Town or Bust

Island-hopping wasn't the cake-walk I'd been led to believe:  coral reefs, shallow spots and fishing lines which could tangle in the prop were the greatest dangers, so we kept a keen watch from the vantage point of the fly-bridge.  The water might have been rough at times but at least the weather was cooperative; plus, islands were scattered everywhere, so at least if we wrecked we could swim to shore.

We'd been making our way to Marsh Harbor, the largest settlement in the Abacos Islands, for provisions and most importantly charts to continue south.  Everywhere we stopped we searched for groceries, parts and cigarettes in tiny shops with dusty shelves, and Czar always attracted attention.  He was the largest dog around.  

On Green Turtle Cay we stumbled upon a tiny hut at the top of a hill with two windows and a door, and experienced a Bahamian delicacy for the first time.  It was empty inside except for a single small table against a wall, with three rush-seat chairs.  After a few moments a stern looking woman came out from behind a plywood wall and explained that conch fritters was all she served, and sodas.  They were tender and delicious, and I dragged Cap back the next day for more.  Conch were everywhere - we'd never go hungry!  But although Mama warmed, she refused to give up her recipe when I asked sweetly.  She'd had many offers, she proudly declared, and after failing to ever find fritters as tender and delicious as those on top of the hill, I'm not surprised.

We planned on cruising part of the way to Marsh Harbor with Redhead, but when it was time to leave our batteries were dead, and so was the generator.  We instead waved goodbye to our friends and went in search of a jump.  We got out late-morning and arrived early afternoon following a nice, easy ride, for once.

Ch 12 - Cruising the Bahamas

I couldn't believe not a single egg was cracked when Cap and Don picked up the refrigerator.  I would have liked to fix a drink immediately but we had to deal with paperwork first.  From Entering/Exiting Policies of the Bahamas,

"Visiting boaters must clear Customs and Immigration at the nearest designated Port of Entry. As you enter each port, fly the yellow quarantine flag and notify Customs of your arrival. Only the captain is permitted to leave the boat until your vessel has been cleared."

Cap cleared customs without mentioning weapons while Don and I picked up the boat a bit, but before Czar could set one paw off the boat we'd have to take his shot records to the Ministry of Agriculture in Freeport.  We could have done that before we left Florida and saved the time and expense, but we didn't know.  Don stayed with Czar and Ruff Life while Cap and I took a cab to the Big City.

On Grand Bahama they drive on the left side of the road like the U.K.; only the cars have steering wheels on the left side, too, which was hard to watch from the back seat. The driver was chatting with Cap in the front and pointing things out, but we were too tired after the crossing and anxious to get back so the beast could get off the boat.

Czar's permit was $10 plus cab fare, but I can't find or recall the entry fee for the boat; certainly less than $50 or I'd have torn through my journal page while writing.  I'd heard the fees had gone up, and nowadays for boats under 35-feet it's $150 and those over it jumps to $300.  I guess they figure they can afford it.

Ch 11 - The Crossing

“See that?”

Chester pointed to a woman sitting on the edge of a nearby dock, legs dangling, preparing to soften the blow of the bow of her husband’s slowly approaching trawler against the dock.

“Don’t ever do that,” Chester explained during one of our tutoring sessions. “I watched a woman do that once, and the boat took her legs clean off below the knees.

DAMN, glad he told me.  I wished Chester was still around.  He always made me feel better, acted like my Dad, kind and never impatient.  Thankfully Don would be along to hold our hands, just as Chester had a month earlier.

It had seemed we were never leaving and suddenly the time had come. We called our mothers and added to our earlier stories:  Cap told Barb he found a boat to live on during breaks between his (fictitious) Life Flight flying schedule; and he would take the opportunity to cruise the Caribbean with Czar.  She'd worry and pray every day, but he reminded her he’d come back from Desert Shield intact.

I hadn’t told my mother we were actually leaving Florida for ports unknown, but she knew most of the rest and took it in stride.  Cap’s brother and my sister knew more of the details, since they were our forwarding addressees and could help with any stateside business.  They were also the executors of our wills, not that we had much anymore.

We were to leave during the wee hours of the morning, when the winds are generally at their calmest.  We tried to catch a few hours rest but in no time it was midnight and time to get up.    There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the marina was quiet.  Stars twinkling.  Couldn't be better, I thought. While Cap did boat-stuff outside I grabbed my list of things to secure:  dowels in the dish cabinet grooves; cupboards and fridge latched; portholes closed; bedroom hatch shut; mini blinds rolled up; swim ladder tied; bathroom door rock'd. (Please note:  most of these photos are from later years, and at different times of day.)

At the last minute a regatta of sorts in another marina announced over the radio they’d also be leaving.  The prediction was 2'-4' seas with a slight chop. Sailboats are able to take advantage of the wind and tack their way to their destinations, but Ruff Life would chug along in a relatively straight line, battered by seas in all direction.

Ch 10 - First Try

West Palm Beach was the destination to wait for a good weather window for the crossing to the Bahamas, we were advised.  Cap called each marina we approached but they were full or near to capacity; and then quite expensive.

“How long is your boat?”  For short stays, marinas charged by the foot.  Ruff Life was 33-feet including the swim platform and anchor pulpit but the boat itself was only 31; therefore, her length depended on whether we were bragging or paying.

Hurricane season began June 1st and ended September 30th (now October 31st) so by the end of October and into November and December the seas were full of boats heading south. This is why Cap had been so anxious, and I was probably told the reason but my mind was grappling with other issues.  I left the boat-stuff to him while I handled the purse.

We insured the boat, minimally, before leaving Oregon, and in Florida we were talked into additional local insurance on the waterways, like having AAA in case of a breakdown on the highway.  However, we wouldn’t be covered once we left Florida except for a premium, and then it would only be valid until May 30th, so we decided against.  We’d take our chances. Many insurance companies won’t insure vessels at all between certain latitudes during hurricane season, so boaters would cruise the Bahamas and West Indies during winter months; always on the lookout for decent hurricane holes (safe havens to wait out storms).  Come April and May they'd skedaddle either north to the States or south to Venezuela to wait out the unpredictable Caribbean summers in boating communities. Our goal was Venezuela.

I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but the absolute opposite was true at the time.  I was terribly distracted and confused by our strange accommodations and trying to perform simple tasks while on a floor which never stopped moving.  I wore sneakers but still staggered much of the time.

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