Monthly Archives: May 2011

Fort Lauderdale, the “Venice” of America

When we first got in to Fort Lauderdale I was horrified because it was such a mob of powerboating partyers, but now that things have calmed down a bit, we have had a little space to look around and enjoy what this area of Fort Lauderdale has to offer. It’s great for gawking. There is a lot to gawk at.
Gorgeous mansions, each more beautiful than the next, and many in an elegant Italian style architecture, line the waterways, which are set up a little like the canals of Venice. It’s a huge network of man-made canals created so that all these rich people could have waterfront property. It’s really quite lovely. There are also a lot of marinas that specialize in dockage and storage of the most mega of megayachts. Here is a yacht so big we could not even fit it all in our camera viewfinder:

There is a staggering amount of wealth here, and in comparison our wee sailboat is like living in a cardboard shack, but hey, we’re happy! And hey, we’re still on the water — all the hundreds of powerboats that crowded the anchorage over the weekend all left on Sunday night and the only boats left in the anchorage are sailboats! Yay, sailboats! Time and time again we are impressed with the difference between sailors and motorboaters. While there are certainly exceptions to this generalization I’m about to make, we have found motorboaters to be much less friendly and helpful, and our main interaction with them has been them zooming by us at high speeds. Today we had a great example of how sailors reach out to one another to help out: we were cruising around in our dinghy looking for a place to park it so we could go ashore. One of the major drawbacks of this beautiful canal system is that 99.9% of it is totally private and there is no access for people like us to tie up our boat anywhere. We were poking around a marina to see if we might tie up our dinghy to one of the docks there, and a guy came over to us and said that the management would probably come right out and kick us off the dock, so we shouldn’t tie up there. Then he offered for us to tie our dinghy near his sailboat, which was docked at a slip in the marina. He said we could be his guests. Notice he was a sailor, and he recognized us (maybe by our salt?) as other sailors. Big yacht owners would not even look at us, let alone offer unsolicited to help us out.

We met a nice guy in the Bahamas on a wee boat like ours named Patrick, and it turns out he is in the same anchorage as us here as well! So we hung out with him yesterday and strolled along the beach in Fort Lauderdale, which was absolutely throbbing with all kinds of people parading around. It was quite a scene.
Patrick has a witty name for his boat: Thistle Dew. If you say it out loud, you hear the pun. Lots of sailors are punny, and we have seen some of the most creative sailboat names….ones like Assisted Living (a retired couple), C[esc], (a computer guy who escaped on his sailboat), and my personal favorite: Sail a vie. As long as I’m bashing motorboaters, here are some of the stupid names we have seen on powerboats: Me Too!, (that is just stupid!) Who Cares?, Revenge, Destroyer, etc.

We are ready to get outta here, and we have decided that we are bringing Wee Happy back to Marathon to store her on anchor in Boot Key Harbor for a few months while we go back and deal with some things in New England. We have friends there who are going to keep an eye on her, and that is the cheapest option we have found.
We have strong east winds forcasted all week that will allow us to fly down there pretty quickly, and we are hoping to make it there in 2 or 3 days.

Simplicity in shopping

One of the things I appreciated about being in the Bahamas was the lack of commercialism. I didnt feel bombarded at every turn to buy, buy, buy. (with the major exception of the tourist straw market mentioned in an earlier post). We weren’t assaulted by advertising day and night. Granted, we mostly spent our time in very remote places that didn’t even have roads, let alone stores or billboards. But even when we went out shopping, I found a refreshing simplicity in the minimal offerings the stores had. Need peanut butter? One of the major grocery stores even in Nassau, the capital city, had two choices. Big or small. How easy! In the States I would have been standing there for 10 minutes trying to choose one out of 100 choices, and I by the time I finished shopping I would have left feeling overwhelmed, a feeling that is common for me in the States. In the Bahamas, if we actually found what we were looking for, we felt like it was our lucky day. In yet another way, less can sometimes be more.
Sometimes I think that the idea of having many choices equals a freedom of sorts, and perhaps in some ways it does. However I find too many choices can be paralyzing and numbing, especially when it comes to meaningless consumer goods.
The stores in the Bahamas featured only the basics, very few choices, and very high prices. But I dont think the Bahamians were totally miserable because of this….they seemed to me simply happy in a way that seems rare in America. And they just don’t buy a lot of stuff!

I did make a very funny discovery in a store in the Bahamas on our last day there. I had been looking for a pair of flip flops for the whole time I was in the Bahamas and surprisingly never saw any. But in the general store in Andros I saw a sign that said “Sale — winter mittens and hats”, along with a box on the shelf that said “mittens”. I couldn’t imagine that they were actually selling mittens when they didn’t even have flip flops! I asked the sales clerk about it and she said “We bake all year long, and when it does get cold, it feels REALLY cold and we all cover up”. I still couldn’t believe it. “Come on, really?! how cold does it get?!”. “Oh, it gets COLD!”. “How cold??”. “50 degrees – freezing cold!”

One of our favorite shopping experiences in the Bahamas was buying bread in Staniel Cay. We hadn’t seen any sign of fresh bread for weeks. (or fresh FOOD, for that matter, aside from the fish Captain K was catching). We were craving it. One morning on the VHF radio we heard an unusual thing, an announcement that there was fresh bread today at the “yellow house” in Staniel Cay. We were still a few days away from Staniel Cay and we started salivating already at the thought of fresh bread. When we got to Staniel Cay we asked where the yellow house was and were told it was just off the main road up the hill. “You can’t miss it.”. We thought the directions sounded a bit vague, but we went down the main road, found a hill, turned up it, and lo and behold there was the absolute brightest yellow house we have ever seen! It almost hurt our eyes, it was so bright. We couldn’t miss it! A large Bahamaian woman came out and we told her we were there to buy bread. She told us to come in and we stepped in to her kitchen, which was just a regular kitchen like you would find in any small house. The entire kitchen table was covered on loaves of fresh bread. The two varieties available that day were coconut and cinnamon raisin. Easy!
We’ll take one of each!

Paring life down to the bare necessities, the simplest things become so gratifying. Our one big splurge and indulgence while in the Bahamas was ice. Yes, ice cubes. what a truly wonderful invention! We never knew ice could be so good. We don’t have a refrigerator on board, so the only way to have anything cold was to buy ice. We spent ridiculous amounts of money on ice. We justified it by not buying drinks in bars, which was also very expensive. For example, at Normans Cay we spent a record $10 on a bag of ice at the one and only bar in a 30 mile radius. We were tempted to sit and have a drink at the bar, but it would have been about $10 for one drink, so we took our bag of precious ice back to Wee Happy and enjoyed our own cold drinks there. On the days we had ice, we felt we were living large!

Captain K takes in the chaos of the straw market in Nassau

the rich and poor are side by side enjoying the same beautiful waters in the Bahamas

– Capt’n K & Lala

welcome back to America

After laying awake most of the night being rolled like crazy, we finally got up at 3:00 am and got underway. We figured if we were going to get rolled like that we might as well be moving. Moving didnt stop the rolling as much as we had hoped, but hey, we were getting closer to a nice calm anchorage on the other side where we could sleep. In the darkness of the waning moon, we could see the Milky Way so brightly it actually illuminated the sea. Millions of stars twinkled above, and below, on the water, bursts of bioluminesence sparkled in our wake. A magical departure, even if the rolling was maddening.
For the first few hours we had such a faint puff of wind we could not keep a sail full and had to motor. The seas were calm. By mid morning the wind started picking up and we eventually were able to raise both sails, turn off the motor, and fly along on a broad reach. As the wind picked up from the east-northeast, the seas soon followed suit. Soon we were in 6 foot whitecapping waves and flying along at 7 knots! That is almost an unheard of speed for us! Wee Happy shook her freshly scrubbed ass, bouncing and boogeying her way briskly across the Gulf Stream. There was no standing, cooking, weaving, or other actitivites done on board today, we were just hanging on for a wild ride! We made amazing time and pulled into the Fort Lauderdale/Port Everglades inlet around 1:30. The waves were steadily increasing and by the time we approached the inlet they were huge. But the biggest waves were from the wakes of the dozens of powerboats speeding recklessly in and out of the inlet on all sides of us, completely oblivious of the effect their huge wakes have on our wee sailboat. At one point I feared we would either capsize, or be sent onto the rocks on shore, but Wee Happy managed to hold her ground and weathered it well. Captain K commented that the longer he sails this Albin Vega, the more confidence he has in her sailing ability. She may be too small to live aboard, but she sure sails beautifully! Past the giant criuse ships we went, and down a section of the ICW. Everbody and their dog was out for a joy ride on Memorial Day weekend. Major motorboat traffic clogged the waterway. We had not realized what a circus Fort Luaderdale would be on a holiday weekend. The closest anchorage was a few miles down in a strange “lake” surrounded by megamansions. (and I mean MEGA mansions, with MEGAyachts parked in front of them. This is the flamboyantly wealthy part of Florda). There are about 100 powerboats anchored here partying. We were dead tired and salty and just wanted to sleep, but instead we got boats doing donuts around us at top speeds towing intertubes full of screaming children. The water is a brownish green color, and the visibility is zero. While we were dropping our anchor I actually saw a turd, and not from a dog, floating in the water. All around us people were swimming. Even though we were crazy hot we opted out of swimming here. Like I said, the Bahamas spoiled us.

Next we were supposed to check in with U.S. customs. We had been told to call an 800 number when we arrived at our anchorage, and that customs official took all of our information over the phone and told us we had to show up in person to the Port Everglades customs office. This is the place all vessels arriving from a foreign port are supposed to check in, so we figured it was on the water, or near the water, and that we could access it easily by boat. After all, ALL the people going to that office are on boats and obviously not in cars. We asked the customs official how to get there by boat and were told we couldnt arrive by boat……ok……they are located near the cruise ship dock, where we were not allowed to go. We got the address and with some difficulty found a place to land our dinghy within a mile or two of the place. We walked for a ways along a very unpedestrian highway until we reached a security gate for the cruise ship docks. The security official turned us away, saying that we couldnt walk to the customs office but that we had to take a cab. Ok……we walked back to the big intersection and managed to get a cab. The cab driver took us through the same security gate and the same official let us through. WTF?!? I guess it is a good thing that we got a cab, though, because it turned out to be really far down a weird no-mans land industrial road that would have sucked to walk down. The customs office intself turned out to be in a office type building that had NO SIGN whatsoever on the outside of it stating that it was the U.S. Customs office. There is no way we would have found it if it hadnt been for that cab driver. Once inside the customs office, it didnt take long for the official to stamp our passports, and then we had to get another cab back to our dinghy, which was miles away. We asked the official to call a cab for us, and he acted shocked that we hadnt driven our own car there, even though we clearly had just arrived there to declare entry for our sailing vessel! I was appalled and furious that they would make it so difficult. When you arrive in an airport they dont expect you to figure out on your own how to get a boat to the customs office! Anyway, our biggest tip to any other sailors who may be going abroad is to take the trouble before you leave to get “the local boater option”, which allows you to clear customs with only a phone call and you dont have to report to an office. We didnt do that before we left and now we wish we would have!
The funny thing is, we easily could have just not checked in with anyone when we arrived back in Florida and as far as I can tell no one would have known the difference. There seems to be a surprising hole in the Homeland Security thing when it comes to boats entering Florida from the ocean.
So here we are back in America…sure wish I could say it felt like home sweet home!
– Capt’n K & Lal

Our last days in the Bahamas

Our last few days in the Bahamas have been both lovely and challenging. We spent a day on Andros, where we reconnected with a few friends we met there earlier, Tony, Saunders, and Harvey. We cleaned the bottom of Wee Happy, who had started growing a scary amount of fuzz under the waterline. She needs a new paint job asap. We inquired about a catamaran that was anchored in the harbor there that was rumored to be for sale at an unheard of low price. It seemed like such a once in a life time deal that it was worth checking out. we managed to track down the owner with relatively little trouble, and when we told her we had come to inquire about her boat for sale, she laughed and said “no, no, no, no, no it’s NOT for sale!!!”. Ok, well that answers that.

The weather forcast showed a few days of relatively calm weather, which was to be followed by increasingly strong winds from the northeast. In order to get safely across the Gulf Stream, we wanted to avoid northerly winds, so we decided to book it out of Andros early the next morning to get to our launch point for crossing the Gulf Stream. We left in the wee hours of the morning in the dark, and motored our way out onto the Great Bahama Bank. We were hoping for at least a little wind to push us across, but the whole day was dead calm, and we unfortunately had to motor the whole way. The Great Bahama Bank is like a giant desert covered in 10 feet of water. It feels vast and barren. There arent really any fish or coral or underwater plant life, it is just miles of white sand covered in clear water. It is quite surreal, and the hot day featured beautiful mountainous ranges of cumulous clouds all around the horizon line. At one point I got so hot I just had to jump in the water, so we stopped the engine, jumped off the boat, and just floated out there in the vast blue water. The water in the Bahamas is undescribably delicious — so perfectly clear and just the right temperature. I am going to miss swimming every day so much when I get back to the States. We are forever spoiled now after getting to swim every day in this type of water – all other water is going to seem disgusting in comparison.

Here is a starfish we could see on the bottom from our boat at anchor:

We arrived in our anchorage at Cat Cay right at sunset. And a stunning sunset it was too. It felt like we were sailing right into the gates of heaven.

The next morning we listened to the weather again and decided to wait one day to cross the gulf stream. There would better wind for sailing on Sunday, and we would just beat the northerlies that were arriving late Sunday. Or maybe we decided to wait one more day because we wanted to enjoy the Bahamas just a little more. Im not looking forward to being back in the busy land of cars and big box stores and work, as much as we know that it is time. I have been having alternating moments of loving our little life on our little boat more than ever, savoring the sweetness of being out here in the beautiful turquoise water. And I have also been having moments of hating our little boat with an increasing passion and wanting nothing more than a real bathroom and some SPACE, dammit!

So our last day was a bit of both of those things. But it was mostly sweet and relaxed, and it was an equisite day filled with dreamy clouds in a blue sky over blue water, and coconut palms on the beach. We took the boat over to the other side of Cat Cay to position ourselves better for another early morning departure in the dark. On the way we tried fishing by throwing a line off the back of the boat. We saw one group of huge yellowtail snapper, but didnt catch anything. Once anchored we found a small coral head and went snorkeling on it. It was covered in huge fish and Captain K speared two of them for dinner! Yay! Fresh fish on our last night in the Bahamas!!! While Captain K the fisherman cleaned the fish I swam over to the little beach and found the most amazing collection of conch shells that had been washed up on the beach. The pounding of waves and sun had turned them into artistically sculpted masterpieces.
When we put down our anchor it seemed calm enough. No big waves and minimum rollies. We put out our “rocker stoppers” and the boat floated serenely on her anchor. We figured we’d be fine. After we went to bed, however, the rocking began. Swells from the ocean came rolling in and rocked the heck out of us all night long. It was the kind of swells that rock the boat sideways back and forth with a somewhat violent, sharp, incredibly annoying motion, and it is impossible to sleep through, although, believe me, we tried. We hung on tight in our bed and hovered on the edge of sleep all night…..our last night in the Bahamas.

– Capt’n K & Lala

Big Daddy

Those of you who have been to the Exumas know that there are some famous residents on the island of Big Majors Spot. We recently met them and here is a video of our encounter.

Still in Nassau

We decided to stay in Nassau for a day and night in a hotel with a real bed. After 8 monthhs sleeping in a shoebox, some hotel therapy was in order. So we’re still here. We’re about to sail to west bay on the west end of the island this afternoon, and then tomorrow we plan to cross the tongue of the ocean to Morgan”s Bluff, Andros.

Seems pretty vacant here. Most cruisers have gone home. hurricane season is approaching. The last few days have actually been cloudy, the first cloudy days we’ve had in months. We are so spoiled!

After a couple of days in Andros, we plan to cross the banks back to Bimini and then the gulf stream back to Fort Lauderdale Florida. It’s time to go “back to the real world”.

A glimpse of the other Bahamas

One of the greatest things about traveling in our sailboat in the
Bahamas is that we have had access to remote islands that no one
else goes to except for adventurous sailors and megayachts. A
strange combination, it’s true, but these have been basically the
only other people we’ve seen in the Exumas. (actually, we haven’t
seen much of the megayacht people, as they seem to operate in their
own separate universe even though we shared many of the same
anchorages.) We haven’t been in any really “touristy” places, as
the islands we have visited are out of reach of the average mass
marketed tour. Sure, all the sailors are technically “tourists”,
but tourists of a much different sort than the mobs that get off
the cruise ships in Nassau.

Today we spent the day in Nassau and we decided to venture to the
tourist center of the city, the Straw Market, which is right next
to the cruise ship docks. While the historic district of downtown
Nassau was charming, the Straw Market itself was a disgusting
assault of hundreds of tiny stalls in a big tent covered
marketplace, staffed by somewhat desperate looking Bahamians who
tugged at your sleeve and practically begged you to buy something
from them. The problem was, they were all selling the exact same
crap that we didn’t want. I mean, who wants this stuff, really?
Lots of straw bags with the Bahamas printed on them, straw hats,
gaudy cheap jewlery, and other random tourist stuff that has no
real use. Sure, the straw things are made my the local women and
they do a very nice job making the same things over and over. I
couldn’t help but feel that our version of bringing dollars into
the local Bahamian economy was actually just an insult to the local
people. I don’t think they really want to be there hawking stupid
stuff to drunk sunburned tourists. So why did we go there? Well,
actually, there was a locally made item that I wanted — a straw
mat to put on the floor of the cabin in Wee Happy. My friend Mimi
had bought one at a small town in the Exumas, where the women were
also making straw items. It was a perfect size for the boat, and
we really need something like that. So I figured they would have
them at the Straw Market. But no, they did not. Out of a hundred
vendors making straw stuff, none of them had mats. They all just
had the same baskets and bags and hats. How do they stay in
business all competing against each other selling the exact same
stuff? Come on, people, diversify a little bit!

Anyway, it was an experience to check it out, but we were fully
ready to get out of there after about 10 minutes. To recover, we
had to stop for a drink at the famed “Senor Frog’s”, where we got a
Bahama Mama drink for a staggering $14, while cruise ship partiers
with balloon sculpture hats hooted and hollered drunkly all around

Last night after we arrived in Nassau after a long, slow sail
across the Exuma banks, we decided to go check out Atlantis, a
giant hotel/mall/casino complex that is a “recreation” of the lost
city of Atlantis. We putt putted our dinghy past a bunch of
imposing, impressive megayachts until we reached the towering
columns of Atlantis, each column with a big sculpted seahorse on
it. Then there were waterfalls coming out of big shells, and
arched gateways leading into a castle like tunnel that we magically
rode our dinghy through. Impressive! There was no dinghy dock, so
managed to tie up our dinghy on the side of a concrete wall and
climbed up a ladder to the lower level of the complex, where we
found an unmarked door and entered it. Immediately we felt like we
were tripping, as we found ourselves suddenly in the middle of an
upscale, busy, loud bar filled with well dressed people. And then
there’s us, looking pretty salty with sand from the Exuma beaches
still between our toes. We walked through the bar pretending we
came there all the time, and ventured out into the casino.
Blinking lights, dinging noises, people who look like they came
from another planet than us…..were we really tripping or was
this real? We blew $5 on a game we barely knew how to play, then
blew some more money on a slice of pizza, and decided to find the
real reason we came there — to check out the Aquarium. Atlantis
has a famed aquarium that numerous people had told us about with
rave reviews.


To get to the Aquarium we had to go into the hotel portion of
Atlantis, where there was a fabulous, and I mean fabulous lobby
filled with delightful murals on the walls, giant marble
staircases, and a gorgeous wall of elegant windows.
Below the
lobby was the huge aquarium. The aquarium had a LOT of fish in it.
Whole schools of big and little fish swam around. The aquarium
looked like it was in an underwater ruined city. But, even though
it was fun to see such huge fish, and they had a stunningly huge
manta ray and some gorgeous spotted eagle rays, I have to admit
that the fish we have been seeing while snorkeling in the Exumas
were more spectacular than even the fish of Atlantis. So there you
have it. We didn’t pay thousands of dollars to stay in the lap of
luxury and have experiences handed to us on a sugarcoated platter,
and in the end I think we had a better experience than the tourists
whose only view of the Bahamas is Nassau. Although I had moments
being surrounded by the beauty and wealth of Atlantis that I wished
desperately I could afford to stay in a place like that, when it
really comes down to it I wouldn’t trade the experience we had on
our wee humble little sailboat for anything.

The Big fish

The big Snapper Capt'n K Speared

Maffick’s Rich and Mimi had their son Timmin visit. he flew out in his Cessna and we went spear fishing.

After poking around a few coral heads for a while, I noticed a large yellow fin underneath one rock. After repeated dives I got a glimpse of the whole fish, and he was huge. I kept diving until I got a good shot, but I knew that if I tried to pull him out through the small hole in the rock, I’d end up pulling my spear out of him, and then he’d be hurt and lost.

So I had Timmin help me. It took both of us to get this awesome fish. He dove and got a shot with his spear clear through the fish which locked him onto the spear. Then I was able to wriggle the fish through the rock holes to get him out.

Man was he heavy and tasty! He fed all six of us that night. That’s the biggest fish we’ve ever caught, and it took two of us to do it! Yay teamwork!

On another note: we’ve turned around and are heading back to the States now. We’ve made it all the way to Nassau now, and our plan is to return to Andros and then go back to Bimini and then cross the stream to Fort Lauderdale. The exumas were fantastic, but we have committments in the States this summer, and we want to return before the storm season begins.

Thanks for checking in!

Thunderball Cave

At Staniel Cay we got to explore a marvelous cave by fin. We donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the anchored dinghy. Swam into a hole in a big rock island and found this cavern inside. Magic! Some of the best snorkeling we’ve seen so far in the Bahamas.