We’re in Turks and Caicos!

Just a short post to let y’all know, our address has changed from “The Bahamas” to “Turks and Caicos”. We arrived at the Turtle Cove Marina on Monday afternoon. It was a 382 nm run from Nassau to here:
– 15 hours to Cat Island
– 8 hours to Sal Salvador
– 6 nights on San Salvador, with a little scuba diving and island exploration (met some GREAT people from Michigan Adventure Diving in Milan, MI on a dive trip – Thanks, Ty, and Kadee, and Betsy, and Suzette, and Steve,  and Elaine, and Tom, for welcoming us into your group!)
– 11 hours to Semana
– 11 hours to Mayaguana
– 7 hours to Provo

The last 20 minutes were the most interesting. Provo is protected on its north side by a lot of coral reef, and there’s only one safe route through it. It’s twisty and windy, and at one point, only 30 feet wide (Smartini is 16 feet wide). So the marina sent out a guide boat for us to follow in. Thankfully, we had high tide and no wind, so it was easy, but still a little nerve wracking.

Yesterday (the day after we arrived on really nice seas), the wind kicked up, and the dive boat that shares our marina went out, and came right back in – too rough! Hats off to the Smartini Trip Planning Department for picking a near-perfect three day window for the journey here!

Banana bread Fran made on the trip from Semana to Mayaguana, with bananas from Peter, the marina manager in Nassau who we became friends with
Our last sunrise in the Bahamas – maybe forever? No telling when we might return.
This little bird joined us about 20 miles from Provo, and flitted around the boat for most of the rest of the trip. At one point, it landed not a foot from Fran.
Fran decided to toss out all the plants in the Tower Garden before entering a new country to avoid any potential hassles. This is her final poblano pepper harvest – 163 of them!

Long Island, Conception, Cat Island and Eleuthera

In the middle of June, we had a two week stretch between guests to get from George Town on Great Exuma to Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera. The weather was mostly favorable for travel, so we were able to spend all the time we wanted at each of those places. This post tells just a little bit about those two weeks, with a whole lotta pictures at the end of it.

Looking over Calabash Bay, Long Island

The North end of Long Island is about 53 nm from George Town, and that was our first stop. We had heard that Calabash Bay is very nice, with one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Bahamas. We made it there easily in one day, and found (surprise!) a beautiful bay and beach, and a nice calm anchorage. Long Island is long (duh!) – about 80 miles – so one of the days we rented a car and drove about 2/3 of the way down it to Clarence Town. There, there are two churches that were designed and built by a man called Father Jerome – one church is Catholic, the other Protestant (Church of England). He was an interesting guy, but I won’t spend much Smartini Life time on him – if you’re interested, his real name was John Hawes. Near the end of his life, he built “The Hermitage” on Cat Island, of which there are a lot of pictures in the photo gallery at the end of this post.

We visited world famous Dean’s Blue Hole, a 600-foot deep blue hole (and underwater sink hole) where the annual freediving championships are held. We snorkeled around the edge of it, but neither of us could bring ourselves to swim out over the middle of it. (What? We’re going to suddenly plummet to the bottom just because it’s deep? I didn’t say it made sense.)

We found the house of one of our long-time clients from when we had jobs, Dr. Larry Levin. He flies to Long Island from his home in Rhode Island in his Socata Trinidad (single engine airplane) about once a month to run the only dental clinic on the island. Unfortunately, we keep missing him – he zigs when we zag – and this time was no different.

Salvaged wood table on porch of tiny house owned by nameless couple on Long Island

We met a couple from North Carolina on the beach one day, and they told us they have a house overlooking the ocean, and that we should stop by for coffee the next day, before we took off on our rental car exploration of the island. So we did. What a cool place they’ve built! It’s tiny, it’s high on the rocky shore of the East side of the island, it has no electricity nor running water, near-constant sea breeze, and an incredible view! They have scrounged the beach for years and build stuff with their found treasures – furniture, decorations, etc. They fly down in their Mooney (single engine airplane) pretty regularly and just relax, and enjoy their little paradise. And we can’t for the life of us remember their names. But that’s the way it’s been on this trip more often than not – we meet people, spend a little time with them, usually learn some really interesting stuff about them, and then we never see them again.

Approaching Conception Island, the prettiest beach we’ve seen in the Bahamas

Next stop was the tiny island of Conception, about 20 nm NE of Long Island. It’s a national park, with no one and nothing on it, and it has the most beautiful bay and beach of any we’ve seen in the Bahamas. When we arrived, there wasn’t another soul to be seen – and in June in the Bahamas, that’s saying something. We spent only a day or so there, did a little snorkeling, saw the biggest Nassau Grouper ever (I swear he was the size of a suitcase!), walked on both sides of the island, and then when another boat showed up, it was time to move on.

The Hermitage, from below

The southern tip of Cat Island is only about 30 miles from Conception, but where we were headed, it was a total of about 45, which we did on another beautiful day for being on the ocean. Our first stop on Cat was New Bight, a tiny settlement on the West side of the island. (All of our time on Long, Cat, Conception, and Eleuthera was on the West side – the East side is often too rough for us to travel there, and almost all of the settlements are on the West sides.) We simply had to stop at New Bight, so that we could climb Mount Alvernia – the highest point in the Bahamas! For one thing, we needed some exercise, so a little mountain climbing seemed like a good idea. But the real attraction of Mount Alvernia is The Hermitage – a tiny compound built by the aforementioned Father Jerome to spend the waning years of his life. It has everything one needs to live and worship – a chapel, a place to cook, and sleep, and shower, and everything else – all built for one, single person. He also built a monument of sorts on the steep, rocky path up to it – all of the “Stations of the Cross” are represented along the way. I can imagine for someone who is Catholic, especially a devout Catholic, that it would be a moving experience to hike it. There’s a picture of each one of the surviving stations in the gallery at the end of this post, along with many other pictures of The Hermitage. By the way, our mountain climbing wasn’t as strenuous as most – it turns out that the highest point in all of the Bahamas is only 206 feet above sea level!

We rented a car on Cat, too, and drove around much of the island. One of our stops was the Bat Cave (see pictures). Since all of the Bahamas is made of limestone, there are lots of caves, sink holes, and other natural formations that happen when limestone erodes. This particular cave is right on the side of the road, so we just had to go in. Takes all of three minutes to see it all, but if you go all the way to the back, there are bats! Interestingly, this was our second cave with bats in the Bahamas, the first being on Cave Cay.

Fun Fact: Cat Island is the only place in the Bahamas to ever have a railroad. In the 1800’s, when there was significant agriculture on Cat, the railroad was used to transport produce to a port for loading on ships to Europe and the US. There’s almost none of it left now – we didn’t find any of it. Just another tidbit in the long, strange history of these islands.

After a couple nights anchored at New Bight, we moved a few hours north to Bennett’s Harbour. We found some nice reefs to snorkel, harvested a few of their groupers, spent a night or two, but apparently, didn’t take many pictures. No big deal – it was just another beautiful bay, with beautiful water, overlooking a beautiful beach. Nuthin’ special.

Tidal creek on Cat – a real turtle refuge!

Just south of Bennett’s Harbour, a little north of Alligator Point, we took Killer about a mile and a half up into a big tidal creek. It was beautiful up in there, but the main attraction is turtles – juveniles who aren’t yet big enough to be out in the ocean full time. We saw a lot on the way in, so on the way out, we counted them – nineteen! Plus two or three sharks, and a big stingray or two.

Why can’t it be like this all the time?

The day we left Bennett’s Harbour was maybe the flattest, calmest, smoothest, pick-your-favorite-adjective-for-good-boating-est day we’ve yet experienced. The picture of Killer in our wake, with every wave distinct and undisturbed to the horizon, says it all. A rare day indeed.

Our last stop before Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera was to be Tarpum Bay, but it was farther than we wanted to go in one day, so we made a quick overnight stop at Little San Salvador, a tiny island with a big bay, all of it owned by one of the cruise ship lines. Fortunately, we got there after the ship had left, and we left before the next one arrived, so we had it pretty much to ourselves for the few waking hours we were there. Unfortunately, while maneuvering to anchor, Captain Fran heard an unfamiliar noise and put it in neutral, but not before Killer’s tow line had gotten wrapped around the prop. Ugh! Several breath-hold dives later, the prop was clear, the tow line was only about 10 feet shorter, and we had learned a very valuable lesson – tie Killer CLOSE to Smartini before doing any maneuvering.

Michael, of Bahamas Plastic Movement

Tarpum Bay, on Eleuthere,  is home to the Bahamas Plastic Movement, whose mission it is to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the environment. Their major achievement so far is helping to get plastic bags banned in the Bahamas (to take effect in 2020). Fran learned of them through a Pike High School student named Molly Denning. (Pike is where my daughter Maddie went, along with all of her friends, and the kids of many of our friends in Indy.) Molly did an internship with BPM during college. Molly is friends with the BenHameda family, who are dear friends of ours. The connection was made, and Fran started communicating with Kristal Ambrose, the founder of the organization. Kristal was to be off island, doing an internship of her own in the Netherlands, while we were there, so she arranged for Michael, a local teacher who is deeply involved in BPM, to meet us. He was a fantastic host, giving us a tour of their part of Eleuthera, telling us about all the cool things BPM is doing, and showing us one of the most impressive trees we’ve ever seen! (And spiders – see pictures.)

After a night or two at Tarpum Bay, this chapter of our story came to a close as we headed for Governor’s Harbour to await the arrival of our next guests, Ingrid, Penelope, and Porter (Fran’s sister, niece, and nephew). I’ll write that Visit Report next!

It was a wonderful two weeks, the first long stretch that we’d been able to do what we thought we’d be doing most of the time – leisurely cruising from island to island, exploring each one as much or little as we like, and then moving on. Don’t get me wrong – we love having guests, and getting to share some of our adventures with them – but “Fran and Brian” time is special, and this little adventure was definitely special.

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Visit Report: Paul and Denise

Faithful readers of Smartini Life know that the crew of Smartini went to Italy for three weeks in May/June. What they probably don’t know is that two wonderful people stayed onboard Smartini for that time, and more important, took care of May the Cat. They are Paul and Denise Magnus. We met them almost two years ago when we took Smartini to a marina in Titusville to have some work finished. They lived on their boat, Orion, in that marina, and we became friends. Sadly, Orion was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in that same marina, but thankfully, Paul and Denise were not onboard.

When we were making plans for Italy, we knew it would mean leaving Smartini and May somewhere, in someone’s hands. We posted on one of the online boating groups that we were looking for a cat sitter and a boat sitter. Denise saw the post and almost immediately volunteered her and Paul – wow! They would fly all the way to George Town in the Exumas and live on Smartini, and take care of May, and Fran’s new Tower Garden – and asked nothing in return.

They arrived a few days before our departure to Italy, in early May. Over the next few days, we showed them everything we could about Smartini, and then they shuttled us to the airport, and we were off. We don’t have a lot of details about the three weeks we were gone, but we know it rained a lot, and the wind blew a lot, and they didn’t get to really enjoy living on a boat in the Bahamas very much. (They told us that one day, they barely opened up the boat because it rained so much – they just sat inside and watched movies all day. Not the kind of days we would have hoped for them, to be sure!)

When we got back to George Town, we finally got to spend some time with them, and even had one really beautiful day. We left the anchorage and went “outside” (the ocean side of the island) and fished for an hour or so, then snorkeled a bit. It was Paul’s birthday! We went to one of the restaurants that cater to cruisers and played trivia. We did get to experience one of their rainy days with them, and watched a water spout, from formation to dissipation, just a few miles away – that was exciting! (See pictures.)

And then, just like that, they were gone! Back to Minnesota, where they’re from, to resume work on a house they had bought shortly before coming to George Town.

Below are some pictures from the few days we got to spend with them. Thanks, Paul and Denise! We can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you did for us!

Back in the Saddle Again

Faithful Readers: forgive me, for I have sinned. It’s been four months since my last submission. Four months!!! What kind of a blogger am I?!?! Busy? Well, yes… but not so busy that I couldn’t squeeze in a little writing from time to time. Let’s go with “unmotivated”, and leave it at that.

Captain Fran taking us out of Nassau Harbour on the first leg to Turks and Caicos.

First, let me bring you up to speed on our current situation. We left our Bahamian home-away-from-home, Nassau Harbour Club Marina, Saturday morning at 6:20 and motored 15 hours to the southwest tip of Cat Island. We anchored and slept for a bit, then left at 6:40 yesterday morning and motored 8 hours to our current temporary home, the island of San Salvador. We’re on our way to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where we plan to be from mid-November until at least some time in January, maybe longer. The trip was uneventful with the notable of exception of having the drive shaft of our main hydraulic pump break about 11 hours into the trip. Not a catastrophe – we can run all the hydraulics from either or both of the main engine or the generator. The two issues are that we can’t use the stabilizers when we’re running unless we run the generator (which we don’t normally do), and we can’t get full hydraulic power for the bow and stern thrusters, which comes in handy when docking if there’s much wind and/or current. I’ll be looking for a replacement part, and a hydraulic service company in Turks and Caicos, but for now, we’re still almost fully functional.

San Salvador is in the Bahamas, although the name sure doesn’t sound like it. (Of course, neither do a couple of the other islands in this part of the Bahamas: Mayaguana and Inaugua.) It’s supposedly the island where Christoper Columbus’ expedition first landed after they left Spain, and he named it. It’s a decent sized island – 6 miles across and 12 miles long. Much bigger than almost every island we’ve visited in the Exumas and the Berrys, but much smaller than Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, and Long Island. It’s quite remote, but has a Club Med, another small resort, and a dive resort that’s been here since the 1960’s. And it has something we haven’t seen yet in all of the Bahamas: great scuba diving on the west side of the island – the side that’s protected from the typical E – SE tradewinds. That means we can anchor very near a dive site, and can dive even when the wind is blowing pretty hard, because the island protects us from the wind. As a matter of fact, we’re anchored about 500 feet off the western shore of the island, and this morning, we took Killer on a 55 second ride to the closest dive site. Yes – less than a minute, and we were just puttering. And there are at least a half dozen more within a mile, because there is a legitimate wall only a few hundred feet west of where we’re anchored that runs all up and down the west side of the island. And when I say a wall, I mean a wall! The drop-off starts at 20 feet. Just 100 feet west of that, it’s 230 feet deep. In another 200 feet, it’s almost 600 feet deep. And just 1/4 mile west of the drop-off, it’s almost 1,500 feet deep! There are places where it’s even steeper than that – but that’s OK – we probably won’t be going below 60 – 70 feet anyway.

Picture from the bow of Smartini, down into 10′ of gin-clear water.

Oh – and the water here is the clearest of anywhere we’ve yet seen in the Bahamas. This picture is of the water we’re currently anchored in – it really does look like we’re in a swimming pool!

It’s cloudy this afternoon, so we’re going to wait until tomorrow to dive again. We might have to take Killer for a couple of minutes to get to our next dive site choice. Fran’s taking a lot of underwater pictures, so I’ll post some later. In the meantime, I’m going to try to catch up on some of the six Visit Reports I owe you.

 

By the way, May the Cat is now a fully documented Boat Kitty, able to legally enter Turks and Caicos. As you can tell from the picture, she’s SO excited!

One last thing: if you’d like to see where we’ve been, and where we are, you can do so from here: https://share.garmin.com/FollowSmartini. Click the little “+” by Fran’s name on the left side to see our track. If you click on one of the little circles on the track, you can see details about that point, and you can even send us a message from there, via our InReach satellite tracker/communicator.