Monday, December 20, 2010

Vero Deep Freeze 2010

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Vero Beach & Lake Worth, FL 2010

12/15/2010: Vero Beach to Hobe Sound – 47 nm

12/16/2010: Hobe Sound to Lake Worth Anchorage (West Palm Beach) – 15 nm

Total Miles This Trip: 736 nm

Thanksgiving Revisited: 11/21/2010

After a hoot of an evening at the Irish pub with Gigi's cousins Tom and Bill. G and I returned to the motel to crash and store up some energy for the 550 mile trip the next day to my Brother's house in Birmingham. Not long after we settled in I got a call. It was my son Noel with probably the most unexpected news I've had in the last 10 years. I'm going to be a “Grandfather!” Noel kept saying, “but it's early Dad, it's early so don't tell everyone just yet.” After he repeated it about a dozen times, Old Vic asked, “Just how early is it Noel - months, days ,or hours?” “Aw Dad, around a month,” was his response. Am I excited? – I slept little that night.

I don't know about you folk that are already grandparents but the possibility of being one brought on a sea of unexpected emotions. I can't quite explain the feeling. It is not just excitement but it is excitement surely. Not love. But it is that. Not a deep calm like a slick calm sea. But it is that too. I've not ever experienced a feeling like it even when Noel was born.

Richard Bode in one of his books said (or words to this affect), " Being a parent is like straddling the stream of life. You can see the future on the other bank but you are not across. When you become a grandparent you step completely across that stream to the other bank and you know you will continue into the future for one more generation.” Cool thought.

Due date: July 18th, 2011

Vero Beach Deep Freeze: A Christmas Story

We spent 12 freezing days on a mooring ball in Vero Beach rafted to Buck and Vicki Dawkins. Freezing? Maybe not by your standards but for us it was cold – nights in the upper 20s to low 30s, days in the high 40s to 50s, winds 15 to 30 mph sucking what little heat we had out of the boat. Burrrr! And we had only 2 clay flower pots turned up side down on the propane cook stove for heat (thanks for reminding me of that old sailor's trick John). Actually it worked quite well, temperatures in the cabin would stay in the low 60s until bed time. But let me tell you typing is really a chore with gloves on.

One morning the “coffee alarm” in my brain went off as usual at 7ish and we were greeted by one of those “see your breath mornings.” I rolled out of bed and slid into my smart wool socks, long johns, 2-T shirts, under armor shirt, hooded sweat shirt, thick sweat pants, jacket and... a “bunny hat” in an attempt to stay warm . Then staggered into the galley and lit the stove for coffee water (flower pot on the spare burner for heat.. of course). I retired to the “reading room” to freeze my butt off when Gigi called from the galley. “Vic I think we are out of propane in tank No.1.”

I finished my “business” (no need to put on a jacket since it was already on) and eased out the companion way to the propane locker to switch tanks. When I pulled the male pigtail out the O ring that had been on the end was missing. “Gigi,” I said, “We got a problem and if we don't get it fixed there will be no heat and no way to cook. The tank and pigtail are now going to need a trip to a“Propane Store” - either for parts or to be fixed. I can't do this aboard.

Jobs that normally take “dirt-dwellers” half an hour to complete take on different proportions to us “carless” cruisers. First, Vero has the best bus service anywhere on the East coast and it's free. The problem is buses are “public transportation” and no propane tank can be transported in “public transportation.” Taxis? Nope, same deal, “public transportation.” The tank, pigtail and I dinked into the Marina office and threw ourselves on the mercy of the court. The Dockmaster said, “Como Oil and Propane could fix it” and looked up the phone number for me. Curtis at Como Oil said, “If you can get here by noon I can get the part you may need and fix it this afternoon.” First problem solved. One of the guys at the marina said, “Hell, I'll drive you over to Como, no problem.” Second problem solved.

Como was way across town. When I got there, no Curtis. The receptionist said, he should be back in 45 minutes. I waited. When Curtis arrived he walked straight up to old Vic and said, “Get your stuff and let's go back to the shop.” Curtis was a balding 60ish kind of man with a big toothy smile and a kind countenance. He took one look at the pigtail and tank and said, “Hell, you ain't got no problem. These new tanks are set up to handle a lot of different kinds of pigtails. That one you have will work just as well with or without an O ring. Here, let's put some propane in your tank and make sure it and the pigtail don't leak.” It didn't and he finished filling my tank.

How you gonna get that damn thing back to the Marina?” Curtis asked. “I don't know yet...,” was the best answer I had. “Throw the tank in the back of my truck and I'll take you.” “Let me run in pay them for the propane and I be right with you...and thanks!,” a I turned to go inside. “Hell they don't need that $10. I'm just sorry you had ta wait. Let's go.” Curtis said with a grin and twinkle in his eye. With that he drove me back to the dingy dock. Back at the dock Curtis coated the pigtail with pipe “goop” so it would not leak and went on his way. Needless to say I tipped him well.

You would think the story would end here but it doesn't. Back aboard “Gigi's Island” I put everything back together, leak tested the system and found a leak. When I took the pigtail off with vice-grips pliers I must have put too much pressure on one of the fitting and probably warped it. Now I really do need a new pigtail. I called Curtis back at Como and asked if he had one. “I got one and have to be back over your way this afternoon. I'll bring ya one. I'll give you a call when I leave the shop.” And you know, when he delivered it he was sorry it cost so much, “ Ten dollars is just too much for these damn things.” as he “gooped” up the new pigtail fitting. I thanked him from my heart and again, tipped well. (not that Curtis expected a tip at all. He didn't he was that kind of man.).

I tell you this story for a reason. Little problems in the life of Cruisers can take on huge proportions. We live at the mercy, good will, and grace of others. In our world the “Curtises” are the norm. Time and time again when we are faced with a problems that seem insurmountable by some miracle a “Curtis” appears. We Cruisers are lucky people our “Thanksgivings and Christmases” don't come just once a year. We are reminded of the spirit of the holidays on a regular basis whenever a “Curtis” walks into our lives.

Lake Worth:

We are currently anchored in Lake Worth (West Palm Beach) and will leave tomorrow for Hollywood to spend a Christmas with Mac and Shirley. Buck and Vicki Dawkins will join us in Ft. Lauderdale after Christmas to stage for our crossing to the Bahamas.

Merry Christmas everyone and may the new year bring you many “Curtises.”

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,


PS – Gigi's “Trips” are doing fine.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Palm Coast, Hollywood, Orlando & Birmingham 2010

Fernandian Beach, FL to Vero Beach: 12/10/2010

11/9/2010: Fernandian Beach to Pine Island Anchorage – 42 nm.

11/10/2010: Pine Island to Palm Coast – 36 nm.

12/1/2010: Palm Coast to NASA Causeway Anchorage – 26nm.

12/2/2010: NASA Causeway to Melborne Bridge Anchorage – 29 nm.

12/3/2010: Melborne Bridge to Vero Beach Mooring Field – 30 nm.

Total Miles To Date: 665 nm

It's funny how “cruises” take on a life of their on - a theme if you will. This years seems to be “friends and family.”

The “Island” snaked her way through Matanzas Inlet's notorious shifting shallows and within the hour we were tied up nice and secure in Palm Coast Marina. It didn't take long for a cockpit party to develop. Gigi's cousin Tom Cook and his wife Olga showed up with a bottle of sangria and our friends Steve and Aggie Knox planted themselves in a corner of the cockpit with bread sticks. We added rum and cheese and it was time for a gam and catch up.

Steve and Aggie came bearing news. They were going to be “CLODS.” That's Cruisers, Living,

On, Dirt. They had bought a house and would no longer be liveaboard boat dwellers – a sad and glorious time one that will come to us all if we live long enough. It did not take long for Gigi, Olga, & Aggie to cloister themselves in a corner with “designs.” Olga had come with designs to paint the cowling of Gigi's new Yamaha 15 HP outboard to make it mo beautiful and less stealable. Which gave Tom and I the job of removing the Yamaha stickers on the cowling, sanding, and priming it so Olga could work her magic. God she did a beautiful job. Fellow cruisers now have “cowling” envy. I think Olga could go into business if she wanted to. A number of folk have asked us “what she charged?” Beautiful job Olga. Gigi says, “Thanks again!”

From Palm Coast we rented a car and started a life on the run. We headed south to Hollywood, Fl. to be with Mac and Shirley of last years “bitch wings” fame during her operation to remove a cancerous tumor. It did not go as expected. The surgeon decided to leave the tumor when they discovered more cancer on her liver. She is doing OK and will visit her doctors soon to see what the next step is. Keep Miss Shirley in your thoughts and prayers. You will note from the photo that not much keeps Miss Shirley down. Even in the hospital she was displaying “half bitch wings.”

Then Palm Coast to Orlando to attend Gigi's cousin Bill Hazlett's 50th anniversary of his ordination as an Episcopal priest. Gigi treated everyone to dinner at Bill's favorite Irish pub, “Ragland Road.” It was sort of a mini-family reunion with Bill, Gigi, Tom and his wife Olga, and a friend of Bills, Robert (?) down from Vermont. The pub is an actual Irish pub brought over from Ireland and re-built just outside Disney World. The food was superb – ribs with Gennis sauce and killer bread puddin'. The entertainment was Irish to the core complete with Irish dancers and musicians. Bill knew them all and they all came by to congratulate him and meet his family and friends. He even has his own “chair” at the pub with his name on it - all and all a great evening.

We left the motel early the next day headed for an old fashioned family Thanksgiving gathering at my brother Richard's house in Birmingham. At 10:00 AM during the drive up Gigi got “THE CALL.” She was a grandmother times 3 – 2 boys with heads full of black hair and a little blond headed girl, all weighing in at a healthy almost 6 pounds apiece. Landry Hope, Gunner Christian, Dillon Brewester, and their mom, Kristen, are now home with their proud dad, Christian Perry, and are doing fine. There will be little sleep to be had in that family for few years. The “triplets” (now known as “Trips”) are in addition to 2 other children under the age of 4. “Trips?” “Trips!” Kind of appropriate don't you think? God help 'em!

On to Birmingham for a Copelan family gathering. We had not had been together as a family for Thanksgiving in probably 8 or 10 years. Richard and his wife Lynn had a house full with Lynn's daughter Kate and her new husband Tate Windham, her son Michael, Mr. Wiburn Stewart (Lynn's Dad) & his lady friend Pat Smith, Ronald (my middle brother), Noel (my son), and (of course) Gigi. It was a holiday filled with fine food (Richard & Lynn are good cooks), southern football (Auburn / Alabama of course), and the warmth of family. Add Gigi's news and this Thanksgiving will live in my memory for the rest of my life. I love my family and miss them when I'm cruising.

We returned to Palm Coast on Saturday to find our friends Bob and Penny Kingsberry on “Pretty Penny” and Buck,Vicki, and Magic (their pup) Dawkins on “Victoria Gaye.” had arrived. Bob and Penny immediately organized a second Thanksgiving dinner that could not be beat and another gam and catch up.

Victoria Gaye” and “Gigi's Island” will travel in company for the foreseeable future. We left Palm Coast on the first of December and “froze” our way South to Vero Beach. The boats are currently in the mooring field rafted to each other with what feels like icicles hanging from the rigging. It has been in the 30s at night for almost 10 days now. Burrrrr! We are all ready for this cold spell to break. Life with no heat sucks. But we cruisers do what is required and have fun regardless of how much “mother nature” tries to block our path.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,


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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beaufort, SC to Fernandina Beach,FL 2010

Beaufort, SC to Fernandina Beach, FL: October, 31 to November 7, 2010

10/31/2010: Beaufort, SC to Fernandian Beach, FL – 125 NM

Weimaraner Memories:

Beaufort, South Carolina is a picture of what a small town can do right with its heritage and resources. The water front is a park with many private area to sit, think, read, or watch the world go by. I has a grassy common area that is in constant use – kids playing, concerts, weddings, or just small family picnics. While we were there the green was a Halloween party for all the kids in the area complete with movie afterward (Capser the Friendly Ghost of course) and a wedding the following day. Beaufort is a town to explore on foot. The streets are shady, Spanish mossed, and tree lined with homes that go back to the Revolution. It is speckled with little parks complete with benches that reach out to those willing to slow down and enjoy a moment of solitude.

We spent a couple of days doing just that, enjoying the solitude of Beaufort. As we strolled along I looked up on one of the columned porches that are common to Beaufort and there “guarding” the home was a Weimaraner pup. I have a soft spot in my heart for Weimaraners. As the camera came up and I looked into those inquisitive yellow green eyes I am whisked back in time.

I am no longer 65 years old. I am a young man again and 33 years old. My son, Noel is 3ish. And we own one of the gentlest, friendliest Weimaraners in the world, Christina Von Storm Cloud Copelan (Christina for short) – She farted a lot thus the “Von Storm Cloud.” It is a Fall afternoon and I have just gotten home from work. Christina is on the front step of the house sleeping in the strong evening sun. Noel greets me at the back door. I scoop him up and give him a couple of tosses in the air. He shows me his “new shoes” and how he can “kick” leaves and make “swooshing and rattling” sounds. Like most little boys he likes the crisps staccato sounds the leaves make stirred by his little kicks.

My long legs and I walk out to the mailbox about 50 feet from the house leaving Noel to follow along in my wake. I can hear Noel's little kicks as he slowly follows in my footsteps. Then I hear a low quaking growl the kind mad dogs on the run make. I turn to see my neighbors 2 German Shepherds in full flight charging Noel. My heart goes to my throat, there is no way I will be able to get to Noel before the Shepherds but I start anyway knowing it is a futile attempt.

To this day I have no idea how she did it. Christina just “appeared” between Noel and the Shepherds. My little “Gray Ghost” commenced to take names and kick Shepherd butt. She left both of them a bloody mess and howling for home. This gentle, sweet, non-aggressive dog had saved my son's life.

As the camera came down I was old again and the Weimaraner pup on the porch turned over and went back to sleep sensing I was no threat. As I said, I have a soft spot in my heart for Weimaraners.

Off Shore to Fernandina Beach, FL

The trip offshore from Beaufort, SC to Fernandina Beach is 125 NM anchor to anchor in Bell River about a quarter mile off the Fernandina waterfront. The trip usually takes between 23 & 18 hours (it took 22 hours dead even this trip). Which means it requires an over night passage. The good thing is it saves us 100 miles of winding thru Georgia and about 4 to 5 days travel time.

Compared with the ICW offshore is usually a piece of cake. Granted the boat's moment can be a bit more tiring but you don't have to concentrate ever minute of every mile and running aground is pretty much out of the question unless you really do something stupid.

We outsmarted ourself this trip. We waited one more day for the weather to settle and the seas to drop – wrong choice. The Island hauled her anchor at 1:00 PM on Halloween and headed down the Beaufort River to Port Royal Sound and the open Atlantic. By the time we reached the sea buoy at the mouth of Port Royal it became real apparent that the damn “weather guessers” had missed it ...again. Instead of being 5-10 out of the West it was 15-20 Southwest and dead in our face for the next 95 miles. We were in for a bashing - hitting 3' chop square on the pointy end and slowing our progress to less than 3 knots at times.

Boats at sea are not quiet. Everything in the lockers rattle, shake, bang, and clunk (assuming you did a good job of “de-housing” if not add “fall” to the list and whatever you forgot is on the floor). If you are in a well found boat like Gigi's Island then it complains with loud thuds as the sea does her best stop the boat but she takes it all in stride. I've been in boats that are not so well built and they ring like a steel drum being hit by a 10 pound hammer. Even in the Island sleep under these conditions are pretty much out of the question. Turned out the wind finally did drop out on my watch at about 2:00 in the morning and finally worked its way West. The last 8 hours of the trip our speed increased to 6.5 knots and we rode easy over a slow rolling sea.

Sunrise at sea is always special. I don't care how many times I see one there is something about a fiery red sun shouldered up out of a dark sea that warms the soul and thrills the heart. By 11:00 AM on November 1st the anchor was down in Bell River, two more States (South Carolina and Georgia) were behind us, and we had our anchor's down rum in our hand. An hour later we were both down for a nap..dead tired.

Outsmarted... Again!

We had planed to spend a few pleasant days anchored in Bell River, enjoy Fernandina and then move up to Cumberland Island for a few days before heading further South. Again we outsmarted ourselves. Wednesday a cold front moved thru the area, the temperature dropped into the high 30s at night, and the winds have been above 20 knots ever since....shit. Translation, we have been stuck on board for 3 going on 4 days and no HEAT. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the complete inclosure Gigi had build for the cockpit has given us a “solarium” to spend the day in. And Bell River has provided us with some entertainment. A pod of dolphin apparently live here complete mother and calf. It is fun just to watch them feed and play in the low Autumn sun, fishing the edge of the marsh, and doing head over tail cartwheels just for the pure heck of it.

Hopefully, tomorrow the wind will drop out and we will be able to venture into town again, get a HOT shower, and a meal that I don't have to cook. Then Tuesday head South for Palm Coast where we will hold up until after Thanksgiving, visiting with friends, and celebrating special events with family.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,


PS – No news on the triplet front. G's grandbabies are still in the “box” but it can't be much longer.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Southport to Beaufort, SC - 10/29/2010

Southport, NC to Beaufort, SC: October 17 – 27, 2010

  • 10/19/2010 Southport, NC to Calabash, SC - 28 NM

  • 10/20/2010 Calabash Creek to Myrtle Beach, SC – 10 NM

  • 10/21/2010 Myrtle Beach, SC to Butler's Island, Waccamaw River, SC – 38 NM

  • 10/22/2010 Butler's Island, SC to South Santee River, SC – 32 NM

  • 10/23/2010 South Santee River, SC to Dewees Creek, SC – 31 NM

  • 10/24/2010 Dewees Creek, SC to Charleston, SC – 13 NM

  • 10/26/2010 Charleston, SC to Tom's Point Creek, SC – 37 NM

  • 10/27/2010 Tom's Point Creek to Beaufort, SC – 37 NM

          • Total Miles: 330

Smugglers...We! Southport Revisited:

I need to backup...and this story takes a bit of twist and turn and needs a little explanation so bare with me. On the way down the Cape Fear River to Southport a crown came off one of my teeth so a trip to the dentist was mandatory. With the help of the dockmaster at Southport Marina and a couple of phone calls I was set up for a late visit on Monday to put the crown back where it belonged.

While waiting (there is always a wait) for the dentist I got to talking to Karen, the medical assistant manning the desk. She asked what I “did?” Being gainfully unemployed and fully “retarded” and sensing an opportunity for a story I told her, “I was a smuggler.” She gave me a confused look and took the bait.

Seven Seas Cruising Club for years has worked a deal with school book manufactures to collect their school book over runs and last years leftovers and distribute them to cruisers headed for the Bahamas. Us cruisers quietly “sneak” them past Bahamian Customs in guise of “ships stores.” Then ferry the contraband ashore in our dinghies into the open arms of the schoolmarms in the Exumas, Raggeds, or other “Out Islands.” Bahamian Customs charges a 40% import fee for goods, schoolbooks included, so we Cruiser not only save them the cost of the books but the import fee. This year Gigi's Island will have 8 boxes of books aboard bound for Black Point Settlement in the Exumas. So I guess that technically makes Gigi and I “Smugglers.” Karen laughed and about that time the dentist was ready for Old Vic.

After the crown was put in it's proper place and I was paying the bill Karen reached behind the desk and handed me a big bag of toothbrushes with a large toothbrush that is used to teach kids how to “brush” included all tied up with a bow – must have been a couple of 100 in the bag. She smiled and said, “Now I'm a “Smuggler” too. There are a lot of good people in this world.

October 19 – 27, 2010:

Not all that wander are lost” JRR Tolkien

We eased our way down the last North Carolina steaches of the ICW. Through Lockwood's Folly. Through Shallotte Inlet and, for the last time, through the pontoon bridge that connects Sunset Beach to the mainland. Sunset Beach bridge will be a highrise in the spring. For those of you that want to see up close and personal what some of the stimulus money is doing you need only look to the ICW. During the Bush administration the ICW and it's infrastructure had been almost totally neglected.

Lock Folly and Shallotte Inlet were dreaded by all cruisers and almost impassable. To the point that the Corp of Engineers were thinking of giving up on Shallotte and pulling the marks. Today both inlets have been dredged and you almost never pass a bridge anywhere on the whole length of the ICW from Norfolk to Miami that is not undergoing some from of maintenance.

We spent the night anchored in Calabash Creek, SC, with one state behind us... but just barely. South Carolina is my favorite area of the Waterway (once past Myrtle Beach), but Myrtle Beach was special this year. We made a short run from Calabash to Barefoot Landing Marina in North Myrtle where Buddy Bulow, friend of mine from my previous life with NC DAQ, picked us up and took us to CAPCA (Carolina's Air Pollution Control Association's semi-annual meeting). I've always wanted to stop on my way down the Waterway and “smooze” with my old work life friends and today was the day. It was even better than I had hoped. A work life may have an end point but friends are forever... Forever.

Just South of Myrtle Beach is the Waccamaw River. The Waccamaw is an old, meandering, cypress, lined river. It is a beautiful river to run at this time of year. “Gigi's Island” feels like “African Queen” as she snakes her way through the cypress and lilly pad lined water. Life here has her own rhythm - it is old, it is slow, it is comfortable. Here even the “Island” feels the difference. She eases into a rhythmic Chug-a-lug-a-lug-a, Chug-a-lug-a-lug-a – a steady, strong, and confident feel. Like the River herself.

We anchor behind Butler Island with the island on one side and old abandon rice plantations on the other. Then settle in for a spectacular sunset and moonrise. The cypress that line the island's shore light up like torches of red and brilliant orange...and then the full moon rises with the sun's Autumn colors still splashing the trees.

The Waccamaw empties into Winyah Bay, a big open bay that leads to the ICW and the start of the “low country” of South Carolina – marsh as far as the eye can see with a spider web of life giving creeks and rivers that connect it to the Atlantic. We wind our way thru creeks and man made cuts over the next 2 days and anchor in Dewees Creek just north of Charleston, SC.

Dewees Creek is my favorite anchorage on the ICW. You are surrounded by a sea of grass deep in a salt marsh. Twice daily you rise and fall with the heartbeat of the tides. Dolphin fish the shoreline for their supper. Shore birds of all species wade the shallows in their constant search for food. Fishermen pass a leisurely day taking an occasional red drum or trout. There was even a professional photographer that shows up with a ladder to photograph the marsh as it catches fire at the dieing sun as it paints the saw grass with reds, oranges, and golds. I'm reminded of a quote from “Education of Little Tree.” Little Tree's Granddad would take him up on the ridge to watch the morning break clear on their mountain. He would always quietly, reverently, and in hushed tones say to Little Tree when the sun broke the ridge “She's coming alive.” The marsh does too afire with the splendor of the Fall.

Charleston is well...Charleston. We spend a couple of days at Charleston Maritime Center in the company of fellow cruisers including the “Liberty Clipper” out of Boston whose crew were having more fun than the law should allow.

Then we headed South again. Through Wappoo Creek and Elliott's Cut. Down the Stono River. Winding our way though a series of cuts, rivers and creeks with names like Toogoodoo, Steamboat, Dawho, Ashepoo, and Coosaw. This like most of lower South Carolina is an area of the low country that is remote and beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful places, we are currently at anchor in Beaufort, SC, waiting weather for our jump off shore to Fernandina Beach, FL.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic Copelan

PS – As most of you know Gigi's daughter-in-law, Kristen, is not so patiently waiting the birth of triplets – two boys and a girl. She has been in and out of the hospital for the last few days but is currently home..waiting. Due date? Any minute.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Away At Last - Oct. 18, 2010

Away: October 14 - 18, 2010

10/14/2010 Matthews Point to Cedar Ck, NC – 9.3 nm

10/15/2010 Cedar Ck to Mile Hammock's Bay, NC – 51 nm

10/16/2010 Mile Hammock's Bay to Wrightsville Beach, NC – 34 nm

10/17/2010 Wrightsville Beach to Southport, NC – 24 nm

Total Miles to Date: 118 nm

10/14/2010: Away

Between thunderstorms, we took in the dock lines on Gigi's Island at 10:57 and were officially last. After months of preparation, and months of stowing stuff in nooks and crannies, and months of moving stuff off Oconee ,and re-stowing it on the Island the boat was full to the bursting point and we were beyond ready.

I like to make the first day a short one and Cedar Creek is only 9 miles away and just the ticket. And today, it was not only the “ticket” it was a must. Just after we anchored a 30 knot squall hit dumping buckets of rain and enough wind to set our big Rocna anchor deep and secure. That anchor has never failed me and I sleep well at night because of it. After the storm the Island and her crew settled in, read, listened to a little music, and enjoyed our first “sumdowners” of the voyage.

Short days are a real treat...

10/15 – 16/2010: Cedar Ck./Mile Hammock's Bay/Wrightsville Beach:

Folk have asked me what it is like to travel down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)? Perhaps it is easer to tell you what it is not like. It is not like driving a car.

First, you are operating in three dimensions not two – depth is a key ingredient here. The ICW is well marked but not well maintained. Depths on the ICW are supposed to be maintained to a minimum depth of 12 feet. In this economy that almost never happens. Both Oconee and Gigi's Island draw 5.5 feet of water so the “prudent skipper” is always looking for water deep enough to float his boat and there are no clues except the depth sounder because the water is a murky brown/green. No we have not run aground yet but we have seen 6 inches under the keel. However, the trip ain't over and our time will come – some places on the ICW there is nothing for it but to wait for high tide.

Speaking of ICW marks... The aids to navigation can throw you a curve. ICW marks are unique. They are always red marks on the right hand side going South with green on the left. Normal rule for navigational marks is “Red on right coming in from sea.” For example: coming in an inlet or going up a river or creek the channel buoys are red on right and green left. So... you are calmly headed down the ICW and you come to a river or inlet. Guess what? The colors can switch and red is now on the left. Sort of like driving down the road and the rules change. Now you are supposed to drive on the left not the right side with the added benefit of being solidly aground in a NY minute. How does one tell the difference between ICW and regular marks one might ask? Little yellow squares and triangles painted on the marks...and careful attention to your charts.

All this to say it “ain't like driving a car” and you never ever can just “drive.” Attention is require 100% of the time. Thus...short days and sundowners are good. Especially the sundowners!

Houses: Mile Hammocks Bay to Carolina Beach

I've ran this section of water on the ICW from Mile Hammocks Bay to Carolina Beach many times now and am always struck by the diversity of homes on this stretch of water. If you like houses this is your section. There are stately houses with lawns and columns to match, tall houses, squat houses, thin houses, pourched houses, ones with widow's walks, old houses, new houses, ostentatious houses, gaudy houses, beachy houses, clapboarded houses, and shabby houses, green ones, brown ones, pink ones (Gigi likes pink ones), every color of the rainbow ones and yes, just plain butt ugly ones. There are even some ordinary ones but not “ordinary” (read cheap) enough for me to own.

The thing about the ICW is it is almost never a bore if you open your eyes and heart and enjoy the ride. Around every bend in the channel is something new to enjoy and see. Every year it is just a little different and a lot of fun.

We are currently in Southport, NC and will be headed out of here tomorrow morning for Calabash Ck, NC, and then on to Mrytle Beach, SC. I used to belong to CAPCA (Carolina's Air Pollution Control Association) back another life. Every year they meet once in Asheville and once in Myrtle Beach. I've always wanted to stop by on my way South and “smooze” with my old friends. This year is the year.

Fairwinds & Rum Drinks,

Vic Copelan

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snowbirds 2010

Snowbirds: 9/26/2010 - Matthews Point Marina, Mitchell Creek, NC

The days are warm and the mornings break clean, clear, and cool with “smoke” drifting just above the surface of the water. There is a crispness in the air that signals fall. The hurricane season draws to a close and their Atlantic threat diminishes. Flocks of boat tail grackle swirl and spiral silhouetted in front of the full moon before going to roost for the night in the trees along the edges of Mitchell Creek. Schools of mullet fill the creek and crater the smooth dark waters chased by some unseen predator from below. And “snowbirds” like myself get itchy feet and prepare to take flight – it is almost time to go.

The bright crisp mornings stir a flurry of activity among us “island gypsies.” Ships stores go aboard by the cart load. Spare parts lists are checked and re-check. Last minute projects are tidied up - the lists grow shorter. We pore over charts as we look with longing to favorite anchorages and harbors. Slowly, quietly, sadly, we say our private goodbys to land based friends over drinks in the cockpit or dinners aboard or ashore. Slowly, quietly, joyously, our hearts turn toward the cruising friends new and old we will meet again for the first time in the months to come. Points south dominate our minds and hearts – points South, ever South. The sad glorious date of departure draws near. The docklines have not been cut but the voyage has already begun in our hearts.

This year we will be in “Gigi's Island” not my beloved “Oconee.” “Oconee” will wait patiently here at Matthews Point for my return in the spring. She has 9 months - plenty of time to plot her “revenge” for leaving her behind.

Fairwinds & Rum Drinks,

Vic Copelan

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Headed Home!




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Headed Home!

On Monday 3, 2010, Oconee will officially start her voyage back to the good old US of A. Our plans are to leave Sampson Cay tomorrow morning and anchor off Highborne Cay for the night. Then on to Nassau on Tuesday. Fuel up and cross the banks on Wednesday night. Then ride the Gulf Stream North to Cape Canaveral. With fairwinds and a little luck we should clear in country on Friday morning.

The photos are from the Family Island Regatta at Georgetown, Exuma. There are 3 classes of boat A, B, & C with A being the largest at 28'. The rules are simple. You pass a boat you get 1 point. You hit a mark they take away 1 point. Hit another boat (or a race official) they take 2 points away. The boat with the most point at the end of 3 days of races wins.

These guys are aggressive as you will see from the posted photos. One of the photos shows just a mast sticking out of the water. The boats are so over canvased that they can and do simply drive the boat under. This particular boat's crew was too hung over to race so a pickup crew (read inexperienced and slow to react) literally drove the boat thru their own bow wake and down she went. They towed her back to the dock. Cruisers helped remove the lead, re-floated the boat, and they were back in business.

Fairwinds & Rum Drinks,


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Starbound and Crazy Cubans - 3/2/2010

Starbound & Crazy Cubans : March 2, 2010

Nassau: 2/27/2010

Well Oconee is back in Nassau...again. The dingy engine's kill switch went south about 2 days after we got the refrigeration up and running (there seems to be a pattern here). I replaced the kill switch and “Mule Kicker” is now running so what's gonna' break next? I'm holding my breath.

Our friends Mack and Shirley on Cats Paw are still having refrigeration problems. The compressor they had on flown into Staniel and dutifully carried to Nassau for Kenny, the refrigeration man, to install is the wrong one. It has taken 3 days to figure out what was “the right one” and get a replacement ordered and shipped to Miami. “Darvin,” a friend of Kennys, is a pilot and going to magically get it from there to here and thru Customs. Dis de Bahamas mon....

The month of February has been a month of west winds and new friends. We met a couple on a beautiful old Josh Slocum replica of the “Spray” (first solo round the world voyage). “Starbound's” keel was laid just before WWII in 1942 for the owner of Sail Magazine and completed in 1953. She has been around the world 3 times and had 2 books written about her exploits. She is now owned by a young family – Jimmy, , Scarlet - age 6, River - age 2. I unabashedly fell in love with little “Ribber.” The children are a delight. “Starbound” is planning their own circumnavigation. Take a trip over to our photo page for some pictures of “Starbound” and her crew.

Cubans at Eleven O'clock: 2/15/2010

We were jolted out of a sound sleep at around 11:00 PM by 66 courses of “My Ding-a-Ling” sung by drunk, Florida, Cubans at the top of their lungs in three part harmony all parts out of key (of course). Gigi thrashed around in bed and covered her head to block out the grating harmonies pulsating from the bar on the other side of the marina. You have no idea how bad music can be until you have heard drunk Cuban's trying to sing a Southern, Black, “Hot Nuts” song. Nobody was going to sleep thru this din.

Maybe I'd better back up to the beginning of this story... .

We had gathered as usual to celebrate sunset on the Sampson Cay Club's veranda (and future site of “tiki bar”) that looks West out over the Bahamian Banks – a perfect place to end the day with friends and rum drinks. The Marina was closed but not long after sunset our revery was broken by the appearance of two 80 foot plus power yachts. It was obvious they were going to tie up on West Dock so Gigi, Mack, Shirley, and I went down to help with lines.

They were “charters” and the worst kind of “charters.” The only people aboard that were sober were the captain and mates the rest were loud, obnoxious, Latinos , shouting, “ Put us across from each other boat so we can talk.” They had no idea of how to talk. All they knew how to do was yell. The young mate on “Rhapsody In Blue” (a misnomer for sure cause there sure as hell was no rhapsody aboard either boat) was almost in tears she was so upset by the situation. Gigi put her arms around the young lady, gave her a reassuring hug, and promised to check on her in the morning. We helped them finish securing the boats and retired to Oconee and Cats Paw at the other end of the marina for some peace and quite. I commented to Mack on the way back to the boat that, “I didn't know we drifted back to Miami?”

Back to 11:00 AM...

The Cuban serenaders have got to run out of steam in a few minutes! They've just got too! But no the braying continued. I told G, I'm gonna' fix this as I rolled out of bed, put on my red plaid flannel birches, grabbed my compressed air signaling horn, and headed for the bar. My horn and I strode up to the screened in enclosure of the bar, took aim, and fired “one prolonged blast” and “three short blast” ( the signals for leaving a marina and operating in stern propulsion). The crew in the bar frozen in stunned silence. I delivered the lecture: “Bar closed people are trying to sleep. A little respect would be nice.” Then quietly turned and went back to Oconee enjoying the thundering sounds of silence.


That's what I wanted to do but (unfortunately) not what I did. Which was close the hatch and turn on the fans for some white noise to drown the bastards out.

Story Over... NOT! - 2/17/2010:

The next day both boat loads of Cubans moved into the Marina proper, one across the dock from Oconee and Cats Paw and one on the next dock, to choruses of groans from us all.

Shit! But they can't do it two night in a row can they? Can they?

We did learn that the Florida “Cubans” were the owners and not charterers and they had new captains and crews. This should have been our first clue. Who would work for these assholes for more than one trip? After another celebration of sunset (green flash included) and a pleasant supper aboard, we settled in for a quiet evening of reading and listening to a little jazz. It was not to be quiet for long.

At about 8:00 o'clock “Rhapsody In Blue,” lit up like a whore house and started to pulsate with the scintillating latin rhythms Cuba is famous for. Women of all ages gyrated to the music amid high pitched screams of delight. The men started telling macho tales of former conquests each trying to out shout the other. What is it about Miami / Ft. Lauderdale Cubans that makes them loud, lascivious, obnoxious, self centered, and disrespectful? Soon the whole marina, Oconee & Cats Paw included, were pulsating along with them only ours “pulses” were from elevated blood pressure.

By 8:30 I had had enough. I stomped over to Rhapsody, banged on the hull, and barely manged to attract a “gentleman” over the din that appeared to be an authority figure. As politely as a pissed off southern gentleman barely in control of his “pissedoffness” could I asked, “Would you please tone it down a bit it is quiet time in the marina.” He promised he would. The lull lasted about as long as it took old Vic to walk back to the boat. I had already made up my mind that they would get air horns down the companion way at 5:30 the next morning if this shit kept up.

By 9:00 PM our women folk were really pissed off. Miss Shirley, off Cats Paw, is a 4' 11” X-school teacher that can easily drown out a room full of 10 year olds on lunch break operating at full volume. Gigi & Miss Shirley planted themselves in front of Rhapsody In Blue, assumed the “bitch wing” posture and Miss Shirley commenced to get their attention. Oh, you don't know “bitch wing?” That's hands on hips with elbows akimbo and gyrating (elbow movement is usually used to punctuate appropriate words and phrases). G and Miss Shirley (like most ladies) are bitch wing artist when they are really ticked.

Shirley explained in no uncertain terms, terms even a Spanish speaking Miami Cuban can understand, that loud partying in a quiet marina in the Exumas was not acceptable behavior and must stop and stop NOW (or words to that effect)! Gigi explained that what was acceptable behavior in Miami was not acceptable in the Exumas and perhaps Sampson Cay Club and Marina was not their kind of marina. And maybe they should search elsewhere for a marina that better suited their on personal “party down style.” Mack was more direct, “You people are the most obnoxious, inconsiderate people I've ever met.” The Ft. Lauderdale Cubans returned fire but Gigi and Miss Shirley's icy bitch winged stares won the day. Within 30 minutes the party broke up and quiet slowly reinstated itself across the marina.

You don't need an air horn when you have a “Miss Shirley” and a “Gigi” in your arsenal.

Story Over? No and Hell No! - 2/17/2010:

The next morning, Gigi was walking down the dock next to “Caspian,” the Florida Cuban boat on our dock when their bow line turned loose and her bow swung out into the current. The boat had been tied up by the captain off “Rhapsody In Blue” the previous even. We took the “cruisers entertainment” option and just watched them tie up this time. Evidently the job had been botched. Too bad so sad.

Cruisers can be entertained so easily, we watched as “Caspian's” captain ran for the helm, ripped off the cover, started the engine and swung the boat back to the dock with bow thrusters. While crew re-tied the bow line.

About an hour later more entertainment came our way. Gigi, Miss Shirley and I are standing on the dock when “Caspian” again moved away from the dock, the forward spring line comes up short and slams the boat into the dock with lines straining to the breaking point. The boat crushed a couple of 2x4s used as sacrifice material on the piling like match sticks in a vice and the dock actually moved sideways 2 feet. Then the boat slammed into reverse and did the same thing going astern. Miss Shirley ran to find Rock, the dock master, and almost ran into Caspian's captain returning from paying his bill. Shirley not so calmly informed him that his boat had almost taken out the dock. The Captain broke into a run jumped aboard and got the boat back under control.

It turned out the owners son had been on the bridge and was playing with the controls with the engine running. And yes the owner was watching – dumb ass. Some people get what they deserve. Oh, and the “Caspian” hit the dock hard enough to put a good dent in their rub rail and nice scratch in the side. One of the Cuban ladies came out in her high heels with some Simple Green and a cloth and tried to remove a nice 7 to 8 thousand dollar scratch – didn't work. See I told you cruisers were easily entertained.

An hour later Caspian pulled away from the dock with Latin rhythms blaring on the stereo and all the “ladies” aboard swaying to the tunes while giving Gigi & Miss Shirley inappropriate gestures. Gigi responded with some “East Philly” hand jive of her own that a good southern boy is just too gentlemanly to ever understand. Gone and good riddance!

“Rhapsody In Blue,” not to be out done, left a few minutes later with their dingy hanging in the air, swinging like a pendulum, and not secured in chocks and their almost water level engine room doors open. With West winds at 25ks they would have following seas and a good chance of taking one over the stern, thru the doors, and down into the engine room. We gave the captain a call on the VHF and told him his engine room doors were open. His response, “ No problem, she will do 45 knots.” I can just see him coming down off plane and the engine room filling from his own wake. More power to him.

If these west winds will just let up a little Oconee will be headed back for our beloved upper Exumas. Richard and Lynn, my brother and his wife, will be joining us in mid-March for a week of R&R cruising style. The freezer is stocked with lobster and conch and we just restocked the rum locker. I see rum punches and sunsets in store for Richard and Lynn. G and I are really looking forward to their visit.

'Till next time.

Fairwinds & Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

PS – Mack and Shirley's compressor has been supposed to be delivered to the marina at 2:00 PM for the last 4 days. Is de Bahamas Mon.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Northern Exumas - Feb 7, 2010

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Northern Exumas - February 7, 2010:

Oconee and crew have spent the last month getting to know the Compass Cay to Black Point area of the Exumas. Last year we sort of did a quick survey of the area (read got in too big a hurry) and moved on down to Georgetown. This year we are stayin' put and trying to “acquire” a little “local knowledge.”

This area has what G and I really enjoy – nice folk, gin clear water, an infinite number of places to swim and snorkel, and places to hold up in a westerly blow. In short we have found a home away from home. Our current plans are to stay in this area until late March and then go “walkabout” again – Georgetown, Long Island, Cat Island and Eleuthera.

Compass Cay – 1/1,2,3/2010: Sharks and the “Inside / Outside Family”

Oconee threaded her way thru a 2 mile tongue of blue water surrounded by yellow sand shallows of the banks to hide from a westerly blow at Tucker Rolle's Compass Cay Marina. The island is gorgeous with well kept trails decorated with cruiser's art and beaches that provide miles of beach-combing or just a quite place to sit and read a book. To Oconee being in Compass Cay Marina was like floating in an aquarium. There are small reefs ever where well populated with fish of all kind (Tucker allows no fishing in the marina). There is even a school of bone fish that consider the Marina home.

Tucker is famous for his pet sharks. The dingy dock at low tide is underwater and the sharks have learned to sit on top of the dock and allow folk to “pet” them. Not to worry, they are nurse sharks and relatively harmless unless you do something stupid like pull their tail.

The other thing Tucker is famous for is his large family. Tucker Rolle is a handsome friendly black Bahamian in his early 60s. Tucker has 33 known children. There is hardly an island you go to that someone doesn't say, “I'm Tucker's son or daughter.” He is a remarkable man.

Perhaps I should explain a little about the Bahamian family. Bahamian men have what they call their “inside family and outside family.” The inside family are the children of their legal wife and the outside family are well...outside that relationship. Many times the outside and inside families live side by side and the mothers and father nurture both.

If you ask a Bahamian man if women are provided the same “flexibility” in their relationships he will emphaticly say, “of course not.” But ask a Bahamian woman and she is likely to laugh and say, “Well not all those inside chillen' is inside chillen.”

Black Point 1/12,13/2010:

It was laundry time and that means Black Point Settlement. Ida has the cleanest coin operated laundry in the islands..not-to-mention is an accomplished beautician. Gigi (and I) think she is the best with her hair...and it was “hair cuttin' time” also. As we ambled up the street from the public dock luggin' our laundry toward Ida's the Black Point Police pulled up, rolled down his window, and said, “Hop in I'll take you up to Ida's.” Where else in the world will the Police give you a ride to the Laundry?

The minute G walked in the door at the laundromat Ida gave a little squeal, ran over and gave Gigi a big hug. She pointed to the wall where she and G's picture we gave her last year was still posted for all to see and said, “I knew you would be coming back.”

Black Point is a special community where you can get a great pizza, see traditional Bahamian sloops being built, and (of course) get the best coconut and cinnamon raisin bread in the Bahamas. Loraine's Mom at Loraine's Cafe makes traditional Bahamian bread to die for at only $5.00. The only thing I know that is better is French toast made from her bread. Mmmmmm! Good!

What really makes Black Point special to us is the kids. They are well behaved and friendly. It is always, “Good morning sir. Good afternoon mam. What you do here? Do you want to see my bike?” Walk by the school on your stroll about the community any day of the week and you hear no noise while the classes in session. Knock on the door and you will be invited in and greeted by teachers and students alike with a warm, “Welcome to our school,” said with pride.

It is a place where cruisers are encouraged to “volunteer.” The day we were there there was a lady from Utah helping a group of kids in rapped attention with their reading skills. I could not help but think how much our teachers back in the US would love to teach in an environment where, well...they could teach.

We love Black Point Settlement.

Sampson Cay – 1/9/2010: Gypsies In the Palace...:

Kathy & Mike are the managers of Sampson Cay Club and Marina. Part of the deal is that they have 2 weeks off island every 5 weeks. That leaves the Bahamian's in charge. As the Contender pulled out to take them to Staniel Cay and their plane Gigi's parting words drifted over the water like an omen of things to come, “Remember Jimmy Buffett's song, Gypsies In the Palace...” (If you don't remember the song now would be a good time to dig it out and refresh the little “gray cells.”)

One day later all us cruisers were invited to attend Miss Cherry's 50th birthday party. It was to be a throw down for sure. By afternoon Bahamian's started showing up by the boat load. G and our friends off “Cat's Paws” showed up early to help them get ready.

It wasn't long before both Shirley & G had been roped into being the bartenders for the night and the party was in full swing complete with free food and free drinks. Miss Cherry had obviously spared no expense to celibate her 50th. With “Gypsies In the Palace” ricocheting around my brain cruisers and Bahamians alike partied down. There was even one guy there that looked like Johnny Depp out of “Pirates of the Caribbean”- hell he may have been Johnny Depp of that matter. He does own an island just North of Sampson Cay. I even think I saw “Snake.”

Sampson Cay – 1/20/2010: Food & Bill Gates:

“Food” (a name not...something to eat) is one of the Bahamian managers for Sampson Cay Club and Marina. Over time G and I have gotten to know him and his 5 year old boy, Ashton. Ashton is a bundle of energy and very smart. One day I was talking to Food and casually commented to him that he needed to be saving his coins to send Ashton to college when he graduated from high school. Food grinned and with a shy glance at the floor stated, “Ashton already had a full scholarship to a school of his choice in Florida.” (No this is not where Bill Gates comes in.) It seems one of the mega-yacht owner had been so taken with Ashton they gave him a full ride to college.

Sampson Cay attracts a large variety of mega-yachts and Food knows them all. He has met the great and near great including: Louis Vittion and Johnny Depp. He and Johnny are friends and party together. Here is where
Bill Gates comes in. A few years back Food was working at Indigo Cay, a private island just North of the Land Sea Park. Bill rented the island for a week at $25,000 per day so he could read a book in peace. Bill was sitting on the beach when Food walked by and Bill asked him if he would mind sitting and talking for a few minutes. Food said Bill is just a nice laid back man that wants desperately to be “normal.” And Bill said as much to Food. Food, in his quite shy way responded, “Bill, a person with one seventh of the worlds income gave up being normal a long time ago. It ain't never goina' be mon.” Truer world have never been spoken. It ain't never goina' be.

Cruising with George & Becky 1/24 – 2/1/2010:

We had been looking forward to George & Becky Shennan's visit for over a month. Gigi had planned to try and give them a true “cruising” experience, but we didn't know how “true” until 2 days before they were to arrive. This trip has been a series of fixing stuff that breaks this time it was major – the refrigeration went belly up. Oh well there is always ice, just like the old days. So they got to see the good, bad, and the typical.

We were lucky with weather, and were able to get in a trip to Black Point, the Pig Beach at Big Major Spot, a pot luck or two, a couple of good sails, conching, and a fantastic snorkel of Thunderball Grotto. Plus G and I got to try out our new underwater camera – a $300 Canon D10 point and shoot. As you will see from the photos it has already been worth the money.

Thunderball Grotto is located just off Staniel Cay. It is a domed iron rock island that is hollow (you can swim right thru the middle of the island) and it is rimmed with a beautiful coral reef and a huge fish population. Thunderball is where the underwater scenes from the Sean Connery, 007 movie of the same name were filmed.

When you slip over the side of the dingy one is immediately engulfed in a school of sargent major fish. They will come right up to your mask and look in as curious about you as you are them. You push your way into the current under a narrow ledge and into the grotto. Thunderball grotto has a feeling of “peace” almost like an underwater cathedral and is lit by stain glass like, holes in the top of the island. As you push your way into the blue water on the other side of the island and the current grabs you and you are swept back around the island to the point you started, past gardens of healthy coral of all variety, and past a huge variety of tropical fish. Take a look at the photos. Both G and I are astounded at what that little camera can do.

We really enjoyed George & Becky's visit. It had been way too long since I had spent time with them and it was good to renew our friendship.

Until next time.

Fairwinds & Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

PS – The refrigeration is still not fixed. We are waiting on Kenny, the refrigeration man from Nassau, – maybe tomorrow (That's a Bahamian “tomorrow” that could mean anything from 1 day to weeks).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sampson & Saniel Cays 2010

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Sampson Cay / Big Majors Spot / Staniel Cay: 1/3/2010

12/29/2009: Sampson Cay to Big Major Spot – 4.7 nm.
1/1/2010: Big Major Spot to Compass Cay – 11.6nm.

A Sampson Christmas...

Christmas Day was beautiful with light winds and warm temperatures. It was a perfect day to snorkel the reefs in Pipe Creek between Rat and Mice Cays. Mule just flew over the aqua and deeper blue waters around Sampson and threaded her way thru strong currents in the cut between Sampson and Over-Younder Cays. “Over-Younder?” sort of has an “Abbot and Costelo” routine sound about it doesn't it. Where you goin'? Over-Younder... No but where you goin'? I told you, Over-Younder.

We anchored Mule off the end of Mice in pure white sand in about 3' of water, donned our mask and fins, and slid into the clearest water I've ever seen and started a slow swim following the reefs on the West side of Mice. There were fish of all variety – bright yellow damsel, every variety and color of angel fish some the size of dinner plates, gobi, trigger, bright blue tang. And the coral would just take your breath away. The interesting thing was there was lots of new coral epically bits and pieces of perfect brain coral poking up through the white sand bottom.

The mangrove underwater have finger like root that disappear in the pure white sand. Schools of snapper and striped grunt hang out among them hiding from predators. Predators like barracuda that already know where their next meal will come from.

Then we crossed over to the East shore of Rat Cay and swam the edge looking for conch. Floating with the tide over deeper bluer water live with coral and fish. For the second time this year we saw reef squid – big eyes with their tentacles pointing toward us in a conical shape.

Within 30 minutes we had our limit of conch and were preparing Mule for the trip back to Oconee. But Pipe Creek was not through with it's “ magical Christmas gifts” for us. As we squared Mule away after our swim we caught movement in the deeper blue water. It was a pair of spotted eagle rays flying majestically along – almost like a ballet. One was over 10' across, wing tip to wing tip. They took no notice of us and we followed wrapped in awe and our own thoughts. It had been as perfect a day both on and under the water as I've ever experienced.

On the ride back to Oconee I kept trying to think of ways to describe the colors and beauty we had just experienced. All my mind would do was just “stutter.”

Two days later Pipe Creek gave us another kind of experience. It was a predator kind of day. Again we swam the edges of Mice. Around the first bit of coral on the back side I just noticed a lion fish. Lion fish are quite poisonous and are not indigenous to this area and are taking over natural habitat. Even in the Land Sea park snorkelers are encouraged to kill any they see. I quickly warned G so she would not blunder into the beast as I almost had.

The mangroves on this day were sprinkled with barracuda. Barracuda are curious and tend to come over for an up close look. They will usually not bother you but they can be a bit unnerving. As we rounded the end of the Mice about 30' in front of us was an 8 to 10' Big Fuckin' Shark (that's BFS to you). Neither G nor I knew exactly what the BFS was but it was not a nurse, bull, or reef. It had a pointy end and big eyes with a mouth full of teeth and paused and gave us the once over. We stood still. After a look he went South and we swam North. I think he was as lemon but what do I know...

On Christmas Day back at the “ranch” we showered and “dressed” for the Sampson Cay Club's annual Christmas dinner. “Dressed” means: Gigi wore a dress and I wore a shirt other than a T-shirt since it was sort of “dress up” affair. From the pictures you will see we had a great time. Good food. Good friends. Perfect way to end a Christmas Day.

Mustang Sally-Island Times & The Seaplane

It is a couple days after Christmas and we are “on the hook” right outside of Sampson Cay Club &
Marina (Google search the name and you will see where we were). We had asked if we can get a slip for the weekend as another “blow” is coming only to find out they are going to be full-at this moment they were almost empty. Vic & I were sitting in the cockpit reading when the mega yacht parade started.

You have your average, everyday mega yacht in the 100 ' range like Island Times and then you have the larger size like Mustang Sally at 139'. Keep in mind that these yachts bring their “toys” with them-both yachts had 18 foot tenders (Mustang Sally's tender had 4, 300hp engines). Mustang Sally was going to tie up alongside inside the marina which means they would have to go through a small “cut.” Unfortunately since Mustang Sally was 139' long she could not turn around once inside the cut because the channel is too narrow. The captain had to turn her around out in the anchorage and then BACK her in—it was a something to see. You could only watch in awe as he backed this mega yacht through the cut- a cut no wider then 50' add current & wind to make the job more of a challenge. In addition to the t/t Mustang Sally with the “go fast” engines she had an inflatable, jet skis, and a 60' Harkers Island built “sport fish” so the owners could go fishing if they wanted too.

Island Times was at the dock across from where we were anchored and they had been at Sampson Cay for a good bit of December and were really great people. Like all good cruisers as we sat on the stern we had the VHF on listening to what we call “the party line”- people talking on the VHF. The party line is where you find out what is going on in the area. As we listened we heard Island Times speak to a pilot and the pilot's answer was he was landing at that very moment, what we did not know until we looked up was that the pilot was landing a seaplane right in front of us. The seaplane taxied to within 50' of Oconee where the t/t Island Times picked up the owners guests . It took 3 trips to move both guests and the luggage to the boat.

There were many other yachts & mega yachts that came to Samson Cay that day but Mustang Sally and Island Times were the hit of the day. I want to point out that both of these yachts are privately owned. Mustang Sally is owned by the gentleman that owns Quiznos Subs, I do not know who owns Island Times.

“Go to Da Wedder Side Mon”

Staniel Cay does New Year week right with 4 days of festivities. There is the “pirate party” at the yacht club on New Years Eve eve, eve. Then on New Years Eve eve, the events really kick up with an auction of items donated by cruiser with the proceeds going to island charities. There is a local artist brazer. Followed by the C class Bahamian sloop Captain's dinner & cocktail party. Early in the day the C class skippers and their families conch, fish, and lobster. Then they prepare a free dinner for everyone that shows up complete with conch fritters (best I ever had), conch salad, fried grouper and hog fish, and grilled fish and lobster. All to be washed down with gallons of Rum Punch. The evening is finished off with a lottery for cruiser positions on the 4 Bahamian Class C Sloop races on New Year Eve (a pig roast follows the race). All culminating on New Year Day with a cruiser's regatta with Staniel Cay's newly refurbished A-Class Bahamian sloop the Lady Muriel competing against the cruisers. If you are in this area it is an event not to be missed.

I was lucky enough to have my name drawn to race on Slaughter, a C- class Bahamian sloop from Blackpoint (yes I know there is no head sail, but this is the Bahamas).You ain't sailed “tippy” until you sail one of these babies. Ballast is usually lead ingots, rock, or concrete that can be added to or removed entirely dependent on crew weight and wind conditions (our Captain immediately took all ballast out of Slaughter when he saw me). The boats are so over canvased it is not funny. The A class boats like Lady Muriel are 40' in length, carry a 60' mast and a 30' boom. And the A class boats are “stable” compared to the Cs.

Big Daddy, Capt. of Slaughter, just barely made it to the start line in time, anchored and we that were to be his crew jumped aboard ( almost a mistake. The boat almost turned turtle). From my count "Slaughter" had at least 4 broken ribs. Big Daddy gave a perfectly good tiller to the crew boat and shipped a rotten piece of shit that didn't fit, hacked it down with a butcher knife, and re-anchored for the start. The total instructions for the crew from "Big Daddy" was, " Get to da wedder side mon!” Crew sits on a "pry" a 2x6 that slides from side to side so the “moveable ballast”(us crew) can get further out board of the boat...and you got to be quick (me quick? Ha!). The boom is about 6” off the deck when you tack and it requires slithering off the pry, diving into the cockpit, and clamoring up the “wedder” side all in seconds.

The start is from anchor with boats jockeying for "a little advantage" by placing their anchors line over the next boats and pulling like hell when the start is announced.  The start is initiated by one boat hollering, "you reddie Mon?"  Then all hell breaks loose.  Sails go up and anchors are hauled at a frantic pace, accompanied by a long steady stream of obscenities loosed by all crew and skippers. By Gully had thrown her anchor line over ours to give them selves a better start with Big Daddy screaming “You Cheat! You Cheat! I nebber knowed you a cheater, mon!” We started last...of course.

The tiller broke on the first windward leg and Big Daddy steered by holding the rudder between his island sided paw. I did good balancing the boat on the “pry” nimbly sliding in and out with the gust to keep Slaughter balanced and going. Old Vic sure ain't as quick as I used to be and put us in irons twice and was relegated to the cellar because I could not "get to da wedder" side quick enough. The first time the boat almost turned turtle. What a hoot!!! I still got a big “SEG” plastered across my face. Wet from head to toe, put in my place and told not to more, we finished last. I can't remember when I've had so much fun.

I've started something a little new with this Blog entry. I'm going to post with the new photos copies of the charts of the area to give you a better idea the waters we sail.

We are currently in Compass Cay Marina with Tucker Rolle the owner of the best island in the Exumas (well one of the best). The next post will include our visit with Tucker.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks

Vic & Gigi