Social Butterflies

We were certainly sad to see Micki and Nathan go home to Colorado. But we consoled ourselves by leaping into the Georgetown social scene with both feet. Did I mention we were there during the Cruisers’ Regatta? This is basically two weeks of boat races, games, competitions, and socializing…all revolving around the hub of Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island. It’s been taking place for over 30 years, and several of the cruisers we met had attended every year. It seems to be a particularly big deal for Canadian cruisers – they sail south from their home marinas on the Great Lakes, arrive in Georgetown in time for the festivities at the end of February, and then start the long trek back home. Unfortunately, we missed registration day, so many of the games were already fully booked. But Capt. Mike managed to snag a spot on a bocce ball team.

And we had the opportunity to meet cruisers from all walks of life. One afternoon, the Women Who Sail Facebook group held a meetup at the Peace and Plenty beach club. It was great fun to share stories and experiences with such a varied group of women of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of experience.

On another afternoon, the captain of Bel Canto announced a get together for Colorado cruisers. Super fun! I think there were twelve boats from Colorado, and we enjoyed hearing how all of these landlocked folks discovered sailing and a passion for the water.

And then of course there was the ARG (Alcohol Research Group) happy hour on the beach. Seemed like the perfect time to break out the last of our coconuts and bring them as our “research material.” This event even boasted live music – a jazz band of fellow cruisers. Also had the biggest, best potluck spread of the season.

As I write this, even I’m amazed at how many social events were squeezed into one week. You can start to understand why Georgetown exerts such a gravitational pull on cruisers. There’s so much to do, so many people to meet, and if you’re there for even a short time you start to make plans and commitments: “Next week starts a new Texas Hold-em tournament.” “Saturday is a concert at the Peace and Plenty.” “There’s a fundraiser for a new roof for the library coming up. We’d better stick around for that.” Next thing you know – a month has passed by.

But I’m an introvert. And after a while, all that socializing gets to be a bit too much. So then I turn to my favorite thing about Stocking Island – climbing the hill to the pristine Ocean Beach, and hiking for hours at a time. I measured it using my Garmin GPS watch. It’s 1.75 miles from the rock cliff at the south end to the north end of the beach. If this gorgeous place were in Florida, it would be covered in Condo high rises and sunburned tourists. Here on Stocking Island, I never saw more than five or six people and a couple of dogs.

And there’s a climb up to Monument Hill at the north end – just to get the blood pumping.

A little solitude, a bit of exercise, and I’m ready to be social again! We were finally reunited with our buddy boats Elixir and Leef Nu. Better yet, it was Trish on Elixir’s 30th birthday! So we celebrated in the best way – another night of Rakin’ and Scrapin’ at Eddie’s. The kitchen was not at its best that night. Between the eight of us at our usual patio table, only three plates of food ever got delivered. But the band was rocking, and we all had a fabulous time. I don’t think Trish will ever forget this birthday!

Speaking of reunions with old friends, Drew and Sharon of SV Z-Raye arrived in Georgetown from Key West while we were there. So we had a fun time catching up and making plans to travel together to Conception Island and Long Island.

Our First Guests, Part 2 – Georgetown, Exuma

After a couple of days anchored out and living off the grid, we sailed south to the (relatively) busy port of Georgetown on Great Exuma, catching some big shiny barracuda along the way.

It took us three tries to find the perfect spot to anchor, and Capt. Mike and I just might have gotten a bit testy with one another. Micki and Nathan discretely used that time to prepare a lovely charcuterie platter and fresh coconut water cocktails to celebrate anchors down.

Last year, when we visited Georgetown, we got a good feel for the “summer camp for adults” vibe of this cruisers’ mecca. This time, the energy was even higher because we arrived during the Cruisers Regatta – two weeks of races, games, challenges, and events augmented with daily parties. I admit, it was a bit of a shock to the system after the quiet days on Lee Stocking Island! After our delicious snack, we headed ashore to make sure that Chat ‘n Chill on Volleyball Beach was just as much fun as we remembered. Never fear – it’s still a lot of fun, and the de-facto gathering place for the cruiser community.

The beach life is fun and all, but we decided to mix things up a bit and hit some nightlife by dragging Micki and Nathan to a traditional Bahamian rake ‘n scrape. This Monday night tradition at Eddie’s Edgewater is a ton of fun. After eating a big plate of chicken plantains, and rice and peas, and after drinking a couple of Sky Juice cocktails (gin, coconut water, and condensed milk) we were ready to dance. The band included everything from guitar to horns to the saw – that’s what makes it a real rake ‘n scrape as opposed to just a boring old band. Micki loves music and is always ready to learn something new, so she got a quick saw lesson, mostly in how to hold it so you don’t cut yourself, and then she joined the band. We pretty much closed the place down, dancing until we couldn’t handle the heat and the Bahamian volume of the music, then catching our breaths hanging out with other cruisers on the patio, then dancing some more. Eddie’s is always a great night!

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Micki and Nathan and wish them a safe trip back to snowy Denver. Things got a little bit tricky on that last day. They’d spent a lovely night at the Peace and Plenty hotel ashore (and shared their hotel shower with Sanitas’ crew – hot showers are delightful!) but then we’d anchored back out on Elizabeth Harbor for the final night. The wind was up, and the harbor was very choppy that last day, we weren’t sure our little dinghy, Bug, could get four people ashore safely and keep the luggage dry. So we devised a complicated plan. Capt. Mike took Bug across the harbor by himself. The remaining three of us called Elvis’ water taxi and reserved a ride across the harbor at 10:00 so that we could pay for a safe, dry ride. However, nobody ever explained which boat was the water taxi, or how it would find us out at anchor. So…to make a long story short…. they didn’t find us. I hailed the water taxi on the VHF radio on channel 16, channel 14, and channel 68 and called them on the phone. I stood on the bow of the boat waving a bright shirt and yelling at any boat that looked remotely like a water taxi. And as it got closer to the time of their flight, I started waving at any old fishing boat that looked like it might get us across the harbor in time. Eventually I flagged down a water taxi a whole hour later than the original plan. The driver said, “I saw you waving at me, but why didn’t you hail me?” Hello!?! What did you think I was waiving that bright shirt and yelling so frantically for? Just to be friendly? It was quite the fiasco. But all’s well that ends well, and we had just enough time to grab a quick lunch from the jerk chicken shack and walk to the yacht club to catch a taxi to the airport. I hope Micki and Nathan enjoyed their visit! Thanks for the gift of the Peace and Plenty beach bag!

Our First Guests!! Emerald Bay and Lee Stocking Island

Nathan and Micki have been our staunchest supporters: they did NOT tell us we were crazy to sell it all and buy a sailboat. In fact, they threw us a tropical-themed going away party, and even came to St Petersburg to help us do boat projects in the yard. We wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting just anyone to stay aboard Sanitas for several days because it’s basically just camping out on the water (see: sleeping on the salon settee, cockpit showers, composting toilet….). But Micki and Nathan had been on two of our bareboat charters, and had seen Sanitas at her worst, so we knew they’d enjoy a glimpse into cruiser life. But first…. we needed to get ready to host!

We’d been living aboard now for three months, and while in the Bahamas we’d only stayed in a marina for a few days back in Bimini right after crossing the Gulf Stream. So Sanitas was a bit of a salty mess. We exited the cut at Rudder Cay with 3.5 knots of current against us (it took running our 50 hp engine at full power) and then pointed our bow toward The Marina at Emerald Bay on the island of Great Exuma.

All in all, we’d end up staying seven nights at this marina at a bargain rate of $1 per foot, appreciating our access to showers, laundry, internet, and getting a huge number of tasks crossed off our to-do list.

In fact, we worked so hard at Emerald Bay that the other cruisers staying of Dock D must have thought we were completely stuck up and antisocial, because every time they’d walk by headed to the pool or the beach we’d say “Can’t talk now, working.” Between polishing the stainless, stripping and staining more teak, defrosting the freezer, and cleaning inside and out, we weren’t allowed to have any fun!

We did bend our “No fun” rule slightly by sharing travel stories with Fellow Pacific Seacraft owner Ben of SV Loon who showed up on our dock the last full day we were there.

On the last day, we really broke the No Fun rules when we celebrated our accomplishments with some pool time and a delicious dinner out.

Finally, the exciting day arrived! We brought our rental car to the adorably tiny Georgetown airport to meet our first guests! After a Customs and immigration snaffu (who knew our visitors would need a copy of our cruising permit?) we drove to the closest beach so the Denver natives could trade long pants and running shoes for bare toes in the sand.

We spent the rest of the day exploring Exuma by car with a delicious lunch at Tropic Breeze restaurant and a stop at the Tropic of Cancer beach. We finally made it to the tropics – hooray!

Back at the marina, we gave Nathan and Micki the tour, and got them comfortably settled on Sanitas, because we were headed off-grid the next morning.

We used our newfound confidence in navigating shallow waters to cozy in close to Lee Stocking Island where we experienced the most stunning sunset we’d seen in weeks.

Nathan used the shallow sand flats as an opportunity to try out his new fly rod and fish for bonefish while Capt. Mike, Micki, and I explored the research center.

Lee Stocking was the home of the Perry Caribbean Marine Research Center from 1970 to 2012. When the grant funding ran out, the beautiful community was abandoned, leaving a ghost town of research buildings and residences still covered in flowering bushes and planting with stately coconut palms. It is a bit eerie to explore in 2019, evoking the tv show Lost with its dated PCs and file cabinets full of research material and the massive water making facilities and gardens. The living quarters were still furnished with funky 70s brown tile work, and even coffee makers and wet bars intact. I almost expected jump-suited scientists to step out from a well preserved doorway to ask if I’d hit the button, or if we’d seen a smoke monster.

Exploring was good fun, and we walked every road and trail on the island. But the best part of the day was learning to harvest drinking coconuts from the heavily laden trees that lined the main road. I’d done my research and learned there are many varieties of coconut palm trees; some that are just pretty, some good for eating the coconut flesh, and others bred for coconut water. Lee Stocking is covered with drinking coconut palms and even has a convenient wooden ladder available. We took turns harvesting as many as we could reach, drank our fill, filled our water bottles with coconut water, and brought a few back to the boat for future cocktails. The trick to harvesting is not to pull the nut off the tree, but to twist it until the stem separates easily. Then cut a little triangle in the shell and simply pour the juice out the hole. Simple!

We were a big hit at the cruiser’s happy hour that evening. “You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up. You put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning”

And we’re on our own….

After Black Point and the the fun of the Super Bowl party, Sanitas and our buddy boats parted ways for the first time since Bimini! Yikes! Leef Nu had family visit and Elixir wanted to explore the northern Exuma Islands. We on the other hand were looking forward to hitting some new spots that we missed last year. Ok, perhaps “hitting” is a poor choice of words. When planning our route, Capt. Mike asked me “Are you ready to be adventurous and try to sail where the charts say we won’t have enough water?” Honestly. How would YOU have answered that question?

But we’ve learned a thing or two in the past year. And we now know that the depth on a nautical chart marks the mean low. Yes, that’s the average low tide depth at that spot. And there are resources we can use to find the daily tide tables which indicate how much above or below average the tides will be on any given day. So Capt. Mike’s says things like “Even at low tide , we’ll see an extra 0.4 feet of water.” And of course, we can time our entry into an anchorage close to high tide to ensure we have even more water. Our chart plotter keeps a history of where we’ve traveled, so if we manage to get into an anchorage successfully and keep track of the shallowest water we see, we can follow our purple track line back out a few days later or in the dark. We’re also much better at visual piloting – watching the color of the water to determine if we are nearing sandy shallows or grassy patches or rocks or coral. So we went for it!

From Black Point we sailed south past a number of private island owned by celebrities such as David Copperfield and Johnny Depp. We carefully followed our well-planned route, snaking between sandbars and islands for the final 6 miles, keeping Sanitas carefully in the deeper water. And it was so worth it! We dropped anchor just off Rudder Cut Cay in front of a beach that looked right out of Pirates of The Caribbean.

The white sand beach had just the perfect number of palm trees. The water was the perfect shade of blue. And there was a pirate cave available for stashing stolen treasure. Arghhh.

We nestled our six-foot-draft monohull in between a few three-foot-draft catamarans feeling pretty darn proud of ourselves. Then we went off to play, snorkeling the rocks at the entrance to the cut as well as the famous statue of a mermaid playing the piano that David Copperfield installed here. It’s in the process of growing into a new miniature coral reef. I stole this picture from Jeff and Trish on Elixir because I don’t have an underwater camera, if you can believe that.

The next day, we took a short hike to the ruins of the “Green Castle” at the top of Darby Island. It’s a stunning location, with 360 degree views from the second story patio.

And it also has a very interesting history. During WWII, Darby Island was owned by the British hotelier (and Nazi sympathizer) Sir Guy Baxter. He was gifted the island by King George and he built an 8000 sq foot “Castle” on the highest point. Rumor has it he hung lanterns to guide Nazi U-Boats, dredged the channel, and built a concrete mooring to allow them to resupply with water and to hide in the island’s network of caves. Supposedly he had very advanced radio and communications equipment in the attic. The ruins of the house do retain a spooky air, so I absolutely believe it! We also toured the caves, complete with their gigantic spiders and colony of bats. I expected a giant spider to come out of the shadows and grab me, just like in The Hobbit.

Our last morning was spent relaxing on that pirate beach while I read my book and Capt. Mike built an arch. I think it was worth braving the shallows to experience Rudder Cut Cay, don’t you?

Kombucha, Baby!

Boulder, Colorado has a reputation of being a crunchy, granola sort of place. But even when I lived there, I never made my own yogurt or kimchi or kombucha. Why would I? There was a Whole Foods supermarket within walking distance, with shelves stocked with organic goodies, and still I had a paycheck to buy them. The weekend Farmers’ Market was amazing. And I could buy kombucha by the case at Costco.

Things are different now in cruising life. Grocery stores are few and far between, and unless you’re content with the basics, like rice and flour and dried beans and sugar, you’ll pay through the nose for imported goodies. So when my friend Cheryl on SV Leef Nu offered me a kombucha scoby, or mother, I said yes. And worried about the details later.

And there certainly were some details to work through. I knew the basics about kombucha: that it is naturally fermented tea, that it contains healthful probiotics, and that is makes for a flavorful, low calorie beverage. But I had no idea how to make it or store it! Cheryl sent me some info from a class she took. And I found a very detailed recipe and process captured on TheKitchn. But my biggest barrier to entry was the fact that I don’t own a container at least a gallon or larger in which to ferment the tea. So after several days of growing increasingly guilty that my kombucha mother was just sitting in a grocery bag under the nav table, I went on the hunt. Luckily, we were in Rock Sound, Eleuthera at the time, and there were several stores available within walking distance. Over a 48-hour period, I pretty much visited every one of them: both grocery stores, the school supply store, the hardware store, and one sort of everything store that contained a few home goods. There, I handed over $30 for a bright orange, insulated, 2-gallon jug. It’s the kind that you see used for drinking water at construction sites. I walked the mile and a half back to the dinghy dock with a backpack full of groceries, a bottle of rum, and a massive orange jug. I got pretty good at the wave to all the passing cars on my way back. I guess I didn’t look pathetic enough for any of them to offer me a ride.

Once back on Sanitas, I pulled out the biggest cooking pot we own (previously only used for making popcorn) and brought 3.5 liters of water to a boil. Once boiling, I added 8 black tea bags, and 1 cup of sugar and turned off the burner, leaving the whole thing on the stove the rest of the day to steep and cool. (The recipe says you can speed up the cooling process by sitting the pan in an ice bath. Yeah right. The author sure doesn’t live on a sailboat) When the mixture was more or less cool, I filled up the big orange jug. Then took the brown, gelatinous scoby out of its ziplock bag for the first time, complete with its vinegar smell and several brown stringy things and slid it in on top of the strong sweet tea. I screwed the lid on tight, then unscrewed it about a half-turn to let some air in, so the poor little scoby could breathe. Then I shoved it under the salon table for about a week or so, and hoped for the best.

Ten days later, the scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) had fermented away the sugar, leaving a tart and tangy brew. I filled three plastic soda bottles and added mint to one, basil to the second, and left the third plain. Time to get that big old pot out again and make a new batch. Gotta keep the kombucha mother happy by giving her more sugar! After a few days of secondary fermentation in the bottles, I moved them into the refrigerator and started drinking the kombucha as a welcome change from plain water or chemical tasting drink mixes. Success!

I’m now on my third batch, tweaking the proportions a bit this time to try to make four liters at a time instead of three. And my kombucha scoby has grown so much that I had the opportunity to split it, and to share the scope and recipe with another cruiser. I’ve gotta say I’m pretty impressed with myself! Now Capt. Mike and I just need to keep on top of it, drinking enough of the finished kombucha that I can have empty soda bottles ready to fill each time a new batch is done.

(PS: in the past two weeks, I have also made homemade hummus, and almond flour blueberry scones. Who is this person?)