Thursday, February 28, 2013

When the Sun Goes Down...

Days around here are lazy when we're not busy exploring.  During Isla's naps (9am and 1pm, respectively) you can often find one or both of us sprawled out in the cockpit under our sun hats being lulled into other worlds by the pages of a book, or paddling about in the kayak or iSUP getting a little exercise and change of scenery. The pace is fantastic and we are unwinding from what - in retrospect - was a pretty stressful time in our lives.

When the sun goes down...that's when we really unwind.  Isla has a pretty early bedtime (6pm) and "adult time" quickly follows.  Scott and I usually kick back in the cockpit with a couple of cold ones and settle in to watch the sunset show.  Sometimes, just sometimes, the sun is so hot and bright as it slips down the horizon that you need a little break.  And that is precisely when we bust out our sarongs and clip them up around our bimini to create some shade.

I can't for the life of me remember where or who we learned this from (it was definitely from another boat while we were cruising) but we have found that sarongs have MANY uses on a boat.  They are not only great cover-ups and fantastic beach towels (they pack into a small bag, dry very fast and sand shakes right off of them), but they make pretty great 'blinds' as well.
The sunset show is different every night, and never disappoints.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Family Photo Shoot: Bahamas Style

Considering our lifestyle, professional "family photo shoots" are not high on our list of priorities.  Sure, we take a TON of photos and have been known to use the self timer every once and a while, but most of our "family" photos are candid shots taken ourselves.

So when some blog followers (and fellow bloggers) emailed that they were going to intercept us as they traveled up, and we headed down the Exuma chain we said "heck yes!" to a meet-up.  When Katie added that she was also a professional photographer and would love to shoot our family on the beach, well, how could you say no to that?

Shortly after we set our anchor in the soft, white sand of Shroud Cay, we were greeted by Katie and Ben in their "pink dink" and made a date for a photo shoot on a nearby beach later that afternoon.  Having never had a family photo taken since the infamous "white turtleneck" debacle of '91 (yes, it would *absolutely* qualify as an 'awkward family photo') we didn't really know what we should wear, so we settled on casual attire to match the incredible Bahamian hues that surrounded us.  Corny?  Perhaps.  But I think the photos turned out fantastic and we are so grateful for Katie for taking these for us.  Below are just a few of the many great shots she got for us.

Katie and Ben: it was SO great to meet you and spend some time with you guys!  Thank you SO much for taking these fantastic photos - we will treasure them forever.  Fair winds and we hope to cross wakes again some day.

Drinks, laughter and good company ensured on Asante post-photo shoot.  The only downside was that they were going up, and we were going down.  Fair winds Buckeye sailors!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Getting Into Our Groove

We're getting into our groove over here. Internet is more or less non-existent at the moment and when we do have internet, it's only through our Bahamian blackberry. That's just as well though, because we've been busy simply soaking in all this goodness around us and kicking back island-style. It feels SO good to be back cruising again and having Isla with us is icing on the cake. Cruising with a baby, for us at least, makes this experience even more enjoyable than before. Not only is she so much fun to have around, we have been given the gift of seeing the world through her eyes and - wow - it's like putting on technicolor glasses.

We are currently in Shroud Cay, an old favorite from last time around, and it's proven to have maintained it's magic while we've been away. This place is best appreciated from the seat of a kayak so yesterday we packed ourselves into ours and spent the afternoon exploring the wandering creeks that wind deep into the key. No motorized dinghies are allowed up these creeks and being one of only three boats here, we had this natural maze to ourselves. It was heaven to quietly glide along the flat water, so peaceful and beautiful. We paddled along the shallow canals, flanked by low lying tropical foliage and mangroves; spotting birds, fish, even a couple of small sharks below us. We are currently in The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and these creeks are breeding grounds for all sorts of bird and marine life. A paddle into the interior is sure to produce sightings of all kinds if you pay close attention and keep your senses keen. After a while, we beached the kayak on one of the shallow flats which was surrounded by a natural baby pool and let Isla splash around in the warm water (her first time in the salty ocean) before we turned around and headed home.

Since we've been here, we've also been lucky enough to meet up with some blog followers, one of whom happens to be a professional photographer, who did a family photo shoot for us on one of the beaches here. The pictures are absolutely incredible and, once we get some internet, I will upload a few and tell you a little more about our new friends.

So, while you might not hear from us every day right now, rest assured we've loving life and gathering fodder for some great future blogs which we'll share with you once we get some decent internet, in the meantime, we'll just keep on keeping on and update you when we can.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Water Toys Make Cruising More Fun

The water of the Bahamas is unrivaled in it's beauty.  It's no wonder people who have sailed the world over continue to return.  Having nothing to compare it to in 2011 when we first passed through, we had no idea exactly how outstanding it was.  We simply assumed that all the water around all the islands in all the world was like this.  Not so.  Now that we've sailed a little further afoot and learned that not all island chains are created equal, we REALLY appreciate the Bahamas.  The people are more welcoming and friendly than almost any we've come across, sailing in the protected banks is fantastic, and there's probably an island for every day of the year.  Then, of course, there's the water. There is no place that we have been whose water even comes close to that of the Bahamas (with the exception of *maybe* the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines) and we are so happy to be back here.

What makes this water doubly better this time around (in addition to the aforementioned appreciation) is the fact that we have a pretty solid arsenal of water toys with which to enjoy this aquatic playground.  To us, it makes a difference.  A big difference.  We absolutely love our inflatable Sea Eagle kayak and our Airis inflatable stand-up paddle board (iSUP)*.  The kayak can be enjoyed alone or as a family (Isla loves it!), and the iSUP is perfect for one of us to hop on and paddle away for a little exercise and some alone time.   While the islands themselves are pretty, the Exumas are not known for their shore side attractions (most of these islands have almost no contour and are more or less uninhabited) so having as many ways as possible to enjoy the water really bumps up the fun factor.  These toys are both inflatable, which makes them easier to stow, and are simple to set up and deploy from the boat.  We have found, however, that in benign conditions we can tow the kayak, secure the dinghy to the davits and keep the paddle board on deck, which is nice so we don't have to inflate and deflate every time we use them.

We are LOVING having these toys, they are one of several things that are making our lives afloat that much more enjoyable this time around (stay tuned for a full list in the coming weeks)...And if you see us on the water come on by, we share!

Our fleet.  No, the color coordination was NOT intentional.
Exploring Norman's Cay 
A great, easy workout and fun way to get out and explore (since this photo, Scott's farmers tan has filled in nicely)
* We are sponsored by both Sea Eagle and Walker Bay (Airis) and were given generous discounts on both.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Boat Wine Rack

Project completion on a boat is all about prioritizing, right?  Well, we enjoy our vino.  As such, one fun project Scott did in-betwixt bigger projects while we were still in Ft. Lauderdale was to make a wine rack for our galley.  We have a wine "locker" to stow bottles in bulk, but I thought it might be nice to have a place to store open bottles where they'd be easily accessed and safe while underway.  I told Scott my idea and showed him where I thought it could be installed, and he immediately got to work designing the rack with some scrap wood, a couple of dowel rods and two brackets.  The next day, we had a custom-made wine rack that holds five bottles ready for action.  Man do I love being married to a handy man!
Scott's hole saws came in handy yet again!
Taking the measurements so it fits just-so.
Isla likes to help mommy and daddy on projects.
Dry fit and more measurements
The finished product!  A couple of brackets, some press-fit dowel rods, and some scrap wood and VOILA! Wine rack!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sharing Information on the High Seas: Old School and New School

Social media has taken the world by storm.  Nowadays, if it hasn't been Tweeted, Facebooked or YouTubed, it pretty much hasn't happened.  Information is shared faster than ever and news bytes of 140 characters or less are forcing print publications to stop the presses because they simply cannot keep up.  By the time the ink is on the paper, it's old news.  The flow of information today is incredible and, for better or worse, it's not going away.

Take us for instance, we're in the business of sharing information too.  Most of you know we have an online footprint that goes beyond this blog which includes Twitter and Facebook, two of the more prominent social media platforms and the two we happen to update the most.  In order to keep you informed (or entertained, or annoyed, or whatever) we have relied on internet.  Now that we are sailing, however, we cannot rely on wifi wherever we go - particularly at sea.  So how do we keep up our outbound flow of information?

This is where the "old school" single sideband radio (SSB) comes in.  

While I am completely oversimplifying, SSB is a long-range radio.  It can transmit way further than your VHF and - turns out - has a lot more functionality as well. 

I would say about half of the cruisers we met have it, the other half do not.  Many people find SSB totally outdated and unnecessary, a relic from the past that has simply withstood the test of time because nothing has really come onto the scene to completely replace it.  Others believe it to be a cruising necessity.  Like Twitter and Facebook, it's primary purpose is to share information and is used mostly for collecting weather data (though there are other ways) and/or participating in cruiser's nets when crossing oceans as a way to keep an eye on one another.

But there is so much more the SSB can do.  With our SSB setup we can:
...and yes, we have done all three.

"What does this have to do with Facebook and Twitter" you ask?  Well, we can update those with our SSB too*.  Heck, we can even upload entire blog posts (minus photos) by simply sending an email to our blogger account.  In short: because of our old school SSB, you will never be rid of us.  Our dispatches know no bounds (dun, dun, dun!).

While the technology of the SSB might be a little archaic, we believe it still has it's place in the ever changing world of information sharing.  Sure, it's slower than dial up and makes a heck of a lot of noise when it's connecting - but if we're out sailing in the middle of nowhere and get a hankering to Tweet, we can.  And while it might be the slowest uploaded Tweet you ever saw, it will still be a Tweet.

*Just Google how to update Twitter and Facebook via email for tons of resources on how to do this. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Provisioning on our Boat: Getting Better

I think it's safe to say I provisioned the boat a little better than last time.  Maybe it's the fact that we have a fridge and freezer, maybe it's experience, maybe it's my new cookbook - heck, it's probably a combo of all three - but we are eating a LOT better this time around (which, let's be honest, was not a hard hurdle to jump).  There are two reasons for this I think:  one is the simple fact that we have most of the items that recipes call for (which doesn't seem like a big deal, but is when you are me).  The other is the fact that, because this boat has afforded us more space (hallelujah!), we have hugely improved the way we stowed things and it is much easier to get the stuff I need, when I need it.  Don't get me wrong, I still dislike cooking and I don't like provisioning, but it's entirely possible I have turned a corner...

I promised you all that I would show you our provisioning list, and here it is for your viewing pleasure (here is our last one for comparison, in case you are curious).  I'm sure there is plenty of stuff I missed that you would bring and visa versa, but provisioning is a very personal thing.  For example, Scott and I are - for the most partpescetarians so we don't have any meat on this list.  We eat light, healthy meals that are pretty simple in nature ( no mind to the "snack" portion of that list).  We did not completely stockpile our fridge and/or freezer intentionally just in case one or both pooped out on us.  I also did not hoard like a doomsday prepper which I unwittingly did on our last trip.

As for provisioning for baby, Isla eats more or less whatever we do (on top of nursing) so I didn't bother with any baby food.  What I did bring for her were lots and lots of individually wrapped organic baby snacks that I can keep in my purse when we're ashore because you can never have too many snacks.  Ever.  This list does not include all our cleaning and laundry supplies, strictly foodstuff.  Paper towels are one thing you'll want to stock up on (I saw one roll for $4 in Bimini), we brought 18 rolls.

A few "tips" on how we provisioned/stored our goods:
  • Removed all items from cardboard packaging and either put them in Lock & Lock Containers or ziplock bags (usually double bagged). This not only creates more space, but helps to prevent roaches.
  • Put bay leaves in all powdered goods to prevent weevils (sugar, flour, etc).
  • Stored "like items" together for easy access.
  • Used non-skid liners on all shelves and lockers to prevent sliding.
  • Took inventory as we loaded so we have a master list that we can reference.
  • Stored most everything in plastic bins to a) minimize movement of items when underway and b) contain any spills should they occur.
  • Stored many fresh items in our two large gear hammocks hanging in the salon (also good place for chips because they don't break here).
  • Made sure to place heavy items low on the boat and made sure that can storage was far away from any compasses (because they are metal and compasses are magnetic, placing them nearby will screw with the compass).
  • Washed all produce with a vinegar/water solution that I keep in a spray bottle in the galley.
  • Many people wash and label cans, which we did not do this time around, but it bears mentioning.
So far, I'm pretty proud of myself and just about every time I make a tasty meal I exclaim to Scott, "Honey! I actually did a good job provisioning" like a pre-schooler who just learned a new skill.  He keeps reassuring me that, yes, I did do a good job with a smile, but I'm guessing this excitement of mine is going to get old after the fiftieth meal or so.  Until then, the excitement will ensue!
Three spice racks in the galley make fantastic spice storage and very easy to reach.
This is the right side of our galley cabinet (right side is top photo) where we keep everyday items like condiments, coffee.. 
Looking outboard into our cracker/fruit and "extra" locker 
Looking down into our pasta/canned good locker
This here is looking down into our baked goods/dry instant meal locker
And here is our "snack" locker, it's in disarray because we're always reaching in there

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Making the Transition from Fishing to Catching?

Our passage from the Bahamas Banks to Frazer's Hog Cay in the Berry Islands will now forever be known as "the day of catching".  It is no secret that Scott and I are poor anglers at best.  Sure we caught that one dorado, and we've landed bunches of barracuda (because they go for anything), but other than that, we don't have much of a repertoire of success.  We can count the number of fish we've caught on two hands.  I mean, we took my brother deep sea fishing and came back with zilch.  Eight hours on a deep sea fishing boat and nada.  That's pretty pathetic.

Becoming more adequate at fishing is one of several goals we have this time around.  As such, I bought Scott "The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing" for Christmas which is rumored to be some sort of fishing bible for those in "the know".  We shall see.  It is clearly not the book to fumble through when you find you have a fish on the line (as we did) and it seems a little more "hard core" than we need (there is ample detail on how to make a "live bait well"... in your sailboat) but, hey, we'll give it a go.

As we crossed the banks Scott got a hankering for some fish so he tossed in a line.  I can't recall how much time passed before we heard the telltale "ZzzzzZZZZZzzzzzzz" of a fish on the line, but boy was it exciting when it did.  Our hearts started thumping and we sprang into action.  Scott to the back of the boat and the rod, me to the helm.  Reduce speed.  Furl sails.  Set autopilot.  Grab camera.  Start snapping pics.  Where's the baby? (just kidding, she was napping).  Man, fishing is quite the production when you actually catch stuff.

Unfortunately, the first fish was a barracuda which is a "no-no" to eat in this part of the world due to the prevalence of the ciguatera toxin here in the Bahamas.  Oh well.  We didn't want to bring him on board anyway.  He looked suuuuuper mean with his sharp, snapping teeth so we let him go and let him take one of our spoons with him.  Good riddance.

The next go, I wanted to pick the lure.  I took my responsibility seriously - much like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade - and suffice it to say I chose wisely...  A little blue squid.  It looked nice enough.  Scott rigged it up and just before he tossed in the line I remembered, "Oh, wait!  I have to spit on it! I read somewhere that it's good luck".   Well, I must have some pretty powerful spit because no sooner had that lure touched the water when the line started running out.  We reeled in a decent sized skipjack which was super fun until he made the aft deck of our boat look like a scene straight out of Dexter.  Blood. Was. Everywhere.  Not pretty.  We were very grateful for our aft deck shower.

We threw in the line once more and an hour or two later we reeled in what we think was some sort of makerel.  Unfortunately, being that we are not good anglers (see first paragraph), we did not have a net (this has been remedied) and when we had him hanging by the line about to bring in the boat, he got free.  Truth be told, I think Scott and I were both secretly happy we didn't have to clean up another blood bath.  Filleting is another skill we must improve if we are going to ramp up our fishing.  They kind of go hand in hand.

So now we shall move forth with even more vigor!  We still have a ton to learn about fishing, but we've got the gear, the patience and the bellies for it so, as they say, "game on".
Mean barracuda.  We did not want him on the boat.
Here you can see about one tenth of the blood bath. 

Pretty fish, unfortunately it's considered only a mediocre eating fish.  Whatever.  We ate him anyway!
The one that got away...sigh.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Funday

The north wind blew hard all night long, and with it came a chill in the air.  I know, I's nothing compared to what some of you are dealing with up North, but for those of us who's blood has been thinned by the tropical heat, well, it was pretty dang cold yesterday.  Did that stop us from having a family adventure?  Heck no.

Scott and I bundled up little Isla (we even put SHOES on her) and took her to see a local sailing regatta.  We stumbled upon it during our early morning walk when the vendors were setting up.  "Are you setting up or breaking down?" I asked one sweet old Bahamian woman. "Settin' up"  she smiled, "Come back later.  I sell food here.  Lot's of food.  Conch salad.  Very good."  Well, conch salad just happens to be my weakness these days so return we did.  It's always great fun finding things that locals do and getting in the mix.  We had a great time sitting on a park bench and watching the world go by as we gorged ourselves on conch salad, Bahamian macaroni pie, coconut cake and ginger beer.  All that goodness for $9.  Not much in Nassau is cheap, but to us - that was a pretty good deal for a meal.  Isla even decided it was time to take ten steps unassisted.  I'm guessing we can say she's walking now?

Nap time beckoned and we returned to the boat.  But there was even more fun to be had...  Later that afternoon we packed Isla back into the Ergo carrier and walked over to Atlantis to check out the aquarium.  Say what you will about touristy, opulent, superstructures but I can see the appeal of a place like this if you are looking for a one-stop-shop family vacation.  They've got a water park, theaters, boutiques, five-star restaurants - even a little "nightclub" (aptly named "Crush") for the ornery we're too cool for parents teens that you wish you could leave home but can't.  And the aquarium?  Way cool.  It was made even cooler by the fact that we were let in for free*.  Traveling with a super cute baby has it's perks, that is for sure.

It was funny to walk through the casino and reflect on (what I can remember of) our last visit back in 2011.   We were traveling with a posse of young cruisers then and hit Atlantis hard by gambling on five cent slots while getting severely inebriated on mere pocket change.  Yikes.  That still goes down as one of the roughest "morning afters" in my entire life.  Man, things have changed.  For the record, this is a good thing.  Waking up fresh as a daisy has it's merits, take it from me.

It was a great day.  We're finishing up our business here and plan to be on our way tomorrow.  Exactly where we will go will depend on the weather.  We'll keep you posted.

*Before 5pm you either need a room card or a day pass to enter the aquarium (we were there at 4).  A day pass was something like $40.  After 5pm the security guards go home and you are free to no cost.
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