We’re committed to the nomadic life now!

On Thursday, we sold my car. Talk about a bittersweet moment. I’ve owned this cute little VW convertible since 2010, and it’s taken us on many adventures; including moving all of our belongings to Florida, and two more cross country road trips this past summer! More importantly, it’s given us the freedom to do whatever we wanted while living here in St Petersburg. Early morning trips to the YMCA? No problem. An afternoon of errands and massive provisions runs to Sam’s Club, West Marine, Home Depot, and Trader Joe’s? Piece of cake. Invitation to spend time with friends in Siesta Key an hour’s drive away? Don’t mind if I do.

Last year, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to store the VW at Drew and Sharon’s house here in St Pete, knowing we planned to return after the cruising season. This year, our plans are less firm. We want to have the freedom to continue cruising, without having to make the long trek back to Tampa Bay. So it’s time to cut the cord and truly become cruising nomads.

We put it off as long as we possibly could, and until every hold of the boat was FULL of provisions. Then we began the Craig’s List and Facebook Marketplace dance. Is this a real person or a robot? Will he actually show up for our meeting? Will he offer me some kind of ridiculous low ball price? After several “interesting” showings, we connected with Maggie of Das Auto Haus in Clearwater who offered us less than we asked, but more than the VW dealer, and we had ourselves a deal. Goodbye trusty Volkswagen! Thanks for everything!

Yesterday, I did my first round of errands as a walking person. Grocery store, post office: it really makes you think if you need BOTH almond milk and bottled water at the same time – heavy!

Conch. It’s what’s for dinner

Have you tried conch? I don’t mean conch fritters….. those little fried balls of who-knows-what dipped in catsup. I mean REAL conch, Queen Conch, strombus gigas, straight from the ocean, maybe served ceviche style raw with lime, maybe cracked battered and fried. Well, I have had the honor of eating the best conch in the entire world on Cat Island.

On our first day in New Bight, we stopped by Duke’s Conch Shack for some cold beverages, and spent a couple of hours shooting the breeze with Duke (Or “Dukie” as the local ladies call him, although I never felt quite close enough to be on nick-name basis). Duke’s place was a huge step up from the takeaway shacks surrounding it. He explained how he made the coconut palm thatched roof by hand; what kind of wood to use for the supports and how to soak it in salt water to keep out the bugs. He explained that this type of roof is perfect, because every time a storm destroys the restaurant, he walks out into the woods and gets new building material for free. He explained that he found all of the sailing-themed decorations and light shades washed up on Ocean Beach, “you can find anything in the world over there!” And he told us the Whitty K sign is a piece of the hull of one of the champion Bahamian racing sloops. Oh! And he acted out the story of when the shark bit him on the butt and he had to get 50 stitches. After we were buddies, Duke even gave us a ride a couple of miles up the road to the best grocery store in the Bahamas.

Amid all the chatting and story telling, Duke found time to whip up the most amazing conch salad ever; ocean fresh conch “cooked” in lime and orange juice, mixed with tomato, onion, and hot peppers. I protected my treasured paper bowl in a plastic bag, on the bumpy dinghy ride back to the boat and had a divine dinner served with tortilla chips and rum punch.

Nice photo bomb, Laura!

The next day, we returned to Dukes’s after our island tour adventure, for cracked conch. Since Capt. Mike and I need to stick to a gluten-free diet, we ordinarily can’t partake of this breaded and fried delicacy. But …. after hanging with Duke all day yesterday, he told us that if we brought our own gluten-free flour, he would use it to make cracked conch just for us!

We placed an order for three portions for us and our friends. Duke said, “Let me go get the conch from the freezer”, and walked across the dirt road to the beach. Sensing something awesome, I trailed along behind him. Duke crossed the beach, waded into the choppy ocean waves, took his shirt off, and dove under water. One by one, he pulled conch shells out from the water, and threw them onto the sand. Three… six … nine … twelve. Wow! That’s a lot of conch for three portions! By the time Duke returned to the beach, the crews of Sanitas, Z-Raye, and Orion were all on the beach watching. Duke walked us through the process of cleaning and prepping conch.

First, use a hammer to pound a hole in the shell to release the suction so you can pull the conch from its home. Rinse the conch several times to clear the sand. Remove the conch “pistol”. Depending on who you ask, this is either the semen sack, which has special sexual-strength-inducing powers, or simply part of the digestive system. Either way, it’s pretty badass to swallow it hole, as Laura and I did, lol.

First taste of conch pistol

I like all the puzzled faces in this picture…

Next, you need the remove the operculum… a shell like covering that assists in locomotion, aka: a thick skin covering the conch. Cut it off with a BIG knife. Also cut off any dark of discolored pieces. Rinse a few more times.

Once you have coaxed the critters out of their shells, and removed all the nasty bits, the next step is to pound the heck out of it. FYI, this is why I don’t clean conch myself on my boat. (Picture slimy conch bits all over the walls)

After all of this extremely labor intensive cleaning and prepping (not to mention actually catching the darn things!) comes the civilized part or dipping the strips of tenderized conch in egg, cream, and flour and then frying. Add salt, French fries, and hot sauce (and a rum punch) and you have a meal fit for a queen…. conch (see what I did there?)

It was supposed to be a smooth passage …

On March 10th, we finally headed south from the Sea of Abaco. After 10 days in Marsh Harbour, hiding from nor’easters, we had staged ourselves off Lynard Key, watched the weather, and listened to the cruisers net every morning to hear the status of the cuts. The cuts are gaps between Bahamian islands that allow you to pass from the protected waters of a sea or bank (such as the Sea of Abaco) into the open ocean. They can be tricky; narrow with rocks and reefs on either side, and a strong current either pulling you forward or fighting your progress. You need to time a cut passage properly, preferably at slack tide, when the wind is not working again the current and building up strong, high waves. I have a goal for cut passages, and that goal is “No stories.” There are many salty sailors who take pride in their horror stories, “I was passing through Whale Cut in northerly winds of 35 to 40 knots! The waves were as tall as houses! Only my arcane skills as a sailor and my brave heart enabled me to make it through unscathed!” Well personally, I prefer the uneventful, safe passage. Oh, and I passed through Whale Cut a few days ago. It was fine. Nothing happened. That makes for a boring blog post, I know. Sorry!

Anyway …. We had listened to the cruisers net hosted out of Hope Town every morning. The net coordinator shares a weather report from Barometer Bob, and invites folks to describe the conditions they are observing in the cuts. We decided to head south when the Little Harbor Cut transitioned from a “bouncy 3 out of 5” to a “very passable 4 out of 5 and improving” We had mapped out a course of approximately 60 nautical miles to Spanish Wells at the northern tip of Eleuthera. The trip was supposed to be calm and uneventful. We might even need to motor if the winds were too light to sail. We departed the anchorage just at sunrise, giving us almost 12 hours of daylight to make the passage. I had a book ready.

And the weather man was wrong! Winds were as high as 25 knots. Seas were 6 feet in the wrong direction to the wind. On the positive side, we sure had enough wind to sail! We spent the day heeled over at 15 to 25 degrees and sailing at 5 to 6 knots (fast for Sanitas). The wind was on our bow, as it always seems to be, and the seas were on our beam, so it made for “uncomfortable” conditions. I claim that I don’t get seasick, but I put that claim to the test today! At one point, I built myself a little nest of pillows in a corner of the salon, and wedged myself into the small space to avoid being tossed around.

All three ships in our tiny flotilla were battered today. On SE of Disorder, a bail broke on their main, causing lots of noise, and tangling the main sheet in the rigging. On Sanitas, the bilge pump stopped working, and the propane sensor broke so that we couldn’t use our stove. But Orion had the worst luck of the passage. They had sailed all day, bearing west of our rhumb line because it provided a better angle to the wind for a close reach. We could just barely see them on the horizon when they started up the engine and planned to motor straight into the wind to reach our destination for the evening. Over the radio we heard “Orion is having a very bad day.” They were getting absolutely no thrust from their motor, and feared the prop was missing – the victim of a large patch of seaweed they’d sailed through ten hours earlier. Bob had to get in the water, in those high seas, out of sight of land to check on the prop. (There would have been a lot of tears shed if that happened on Sanitas) Bob diagnosed that the prop was there, but the prop key was missing, allowing the prop to spin freely. Essentially, Orion had no working motor, and could only proceed under sail. That meant they couldn’t make it to Royal Island which was directly into the wind, and couldn’t get to Egg Island Cut and the hopefully calmer waters on the other side. Instead, they sailed all night long in deep safe waters, until they saw the lights of Nassau, and headed back north to join us in daylight and under better wind conditions. Capt Mike and I felt terrible as we watched them sail further away from us, and we instead made our turn toward Royal Island. We knew they’d soon be out of radio range and on their own for the night. And I have never been happier to hear Bob’s voice than when he hailed us at 6:00 am the next morning, after making it safely through the night, and only about three miles from our anchorage!

We’ve nicknamed Disorder “Toolbox” because Stan, a retired fire fighter, has every tool and part and spare you could possibly need aboard. Between our three boats, we had everything Bob and Mike needed to replace the prop key with Orion in the water. Even a small dive tank to facilitate the underwater repairs. The trip that took 12 hours and 60 miles for Sanitas took 120 miles and 30 hours for Orion, but she was finally anchored, repaired, and safe. And her crew could get some much needed sleep.

Real Women Move

While in Marathon, I received the good news that I have been selected as an ambassador for Skirt Sports for the second year in a row. I love this woman-owned, Boulder-based company that provides high-performance cute workout gear (with pockets!) for women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. I’ve made a lot of friends through this group, and when I moved to Florida, local Skirt Sports sisters welcomed me to town.

I’ve been encouraged to fit exercise and healthy eating into my life by these strong women. And it’s good to know that I can always find a workout partner anywhere in the country. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m the only ambassador whose primary sport right now is sailing, lol. But honestly, the same clothes that keep you cool and dry on a run work great in the tropical environment of a sail boat. AND the dresses are really cute!

If you check out Skirt Sports in person at the Flagship Store in Boulder, or on line at https://www.skirtsports.com/ feel free to use my discount code for 15% off full priced items. “41BAEH”

We Untie the Lines

Finally, after three months in St Petersburg, we are leaving this safe home base, and heading south. Ready or not! The marina does start to exert its own gravitational pull. The environment is familiar now; we even have our favorite walks and restaurants. We have made friends on the docks. TC and Suzanne who live on the beautiful sailing vessel Arabella and hope to start cruising next year. Robert and Rhonda on Eagle Too who have given us lots of good advice on cruising and provisioning. Doug and Glenda, from Ontario, who are doing the great loop of North American waterways, and have been fun happy hour companions. Pat and Melana who sail a beautiful catamaran and have been gracious hosts, hopefully leaving about a week after we do when their sails are replaced.

It would have been easy to keep puttering around on projects, socializing, and packing. But Drew and Sharon picked a date, and we used that as our motivation to get moving. I had to have a little heart-to-heart with Mike on our last morning in the marina. In my best wifely tone, I gently suggested “maybe it’s time to stop tearing the boat apart on new projects, and start putting the boat back together again.”

Our last few projects involved registering the car in Florida, so we wouldn’t get fined while storing it (which only took three attempts at the DMV) and selling our townie bikes. That part made me very sad, and I sent mike in to Play it Again Sports to do the deal so I didn’t have to watch. I asked if he told the clerk that her name was Olive Oyl and if he promised to take good care of her.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, 21 Jan, we finished our last fill of the water tank, last check of the electrical systems, said our last goodbyes, and finally untied the lines and left St Petersburg. Gulp!

Super light winds meant we were pretty much just motoring, not sailing, but they also ensured a smooth Tampa Bay, and an easy trip under the Skyway Bridge, past Eggmont Key, and sound into new territory. An easy six hour motor, and we were on a mooring ball at Marina Jack’s in Sarasota by 4:00. Just for comparison, to drive from St Pete to Sarasota would have taken us just over an hour. We are definitely doing slow travel now!

Put the dinghy in the water, and headed ashore to celebrate our first day at happy hour, and luckily stumbled into the Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival. Fun opportunity to dance to a soul and funk band while eating shrimp. So far, this cruising thing is off to a good start!