Monday, April 1, 2013

March 2013 : Week 4

This was our last week with friends at Boat Harbour and there were lots of “farewell activities.” First we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Mangoes (Coconut Shrimp) with Margo and Dennis (Pizzazz) who had recently moved their boat over to Harbourview Marina for the month of April.  Then Brian and Lydia who are liveaboards on Luna Blue invited us for afternoon “tea” and a visit after which we showed them our slides from our days of trekking and building schools in Nepal.  And the next day Margaret and Ben invited us over for a farewell dinner of Shrimp Fettucini aboard “Diva.”  “Alesto” had recently arrived from a season in the Exumas and we arranged to meet with them at Wally’s for lunch.  The day before they had leased a car for the day and unexpectedly experienced a harrowing drive through a wildfire with flames leaping up on either side of the road as they made their way south to Sandy Point!  These uncontrollable wildfires happen here all the time with the Bahamians completely unequipped to deal with them.  Local hunters apparently light small fires to flush wild pigs from the bush but these fires almost always get out of control with smoke and flames a constant threat during the 3 years we’ve been here.

On  March 28th, we enjoyed a final breakfast with Ben and Margaret at “Anglers,” said goodbye to our friends on Dock 4 and headed north toward Spoil Island where I hoped to spend a final afternoon collecting shells. But once outside of the harbour, Tom and Diane on “Minden” spotted our boat and suggested that if conditions were “right” we should attempt to cross the “The Whale” together instead.  So that is what we did!  The tide was running out and the Atlantic confused and choppy but the winds were 12knots out of the north with waves only 4’ and once we left the southern Whale Passage and began rounding The Whale itself the waters settled down into predictable swells and it wasn’t all that uncomfortable.  Although another boat travelling with us thought “otherwise” and ended up turning back after saying “This isn’t what we signed up for--it’s supposed to be fun--we’ll try another day!”  I guess after all these years, we’re becoming hardened “old salts” used to rough conditions. When we reached the relative calm of the northern side, we headed for the anchorage at Manjack where we anchored for the night along with 16 other boats.  When Mike and Georgie on “Alcyon” saw us leave that morning, they suddenly decided to go to--but we had an almost 2 hour head start on them and so they ended up crossing without us.  About 4:00 however, they too arrived at Manjack and dinghied over to our boat to invite us aboard for drinks and dinner.  The lasagne was good, the company great and the wine cold--another very happy ending to an almost perfect day.

The next morning however, was anything BUT perfect!  After waving goodbye to Alcyon and watching them sail away towards Great Sale and the USA, we began hoisting our own anchor. However, once we were “free” and I was in control of the boat, I discovered to my horror that I had no control over the gearshift whatsoever--something was terribly wrong with the transmission.  Vince quickly dropped our anchor back overboard and we prayed for an instant “catch.”  With so many other boats around us in the anchorage, we didn’t want to run into one.  When the engine was inspected, he found that the shaft had pulled free from the engine and therefore the gears could not engage. Had this happened the day before, on a passage round the Whale, it could’ve been disastrous for us.  As it was we were in a safe anchorage, only a few miles away from Abaco Yacht Services and we had sails on our boat to get us where we wanted to be.  Wind conditions were also ideal.  And so we sailed off the anchor and slowly made our way to Green Turtle anchoring--again under sail--just off the beach at Bluff House where we decided to spend Easter Weekend.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March - Week 3

Valerie Arden under tow. A true sailboat - no engine

After we all recovered from “Margarita Madness” and the really beautiful weather was back for good (we hope!) once again, everyone was anxious to “get out!” Despite the good times together, as cruisers, we were all suffering from “cabin fever” and desperate to set sail.  Everybody left!  A weather window had opened up to safely cross the gulf stream back to America which lured several boats away, and a big convoy set off for the annual “Barefoot Man” drunken party and rock concert on Guana.  We were one of only a handful of boats that stayed behind because Vince had been asked to help a fellow cruiser.

The boat “Valerie Arden” had been crippled earlier in the season when her engine was dismounted and a hole pieced her hull.  Now she had to get back to the US solely under sail with no engine controls.  And she was afraid to cross around the “Whale” in those conditions.  Bob on “Shade-Mor” promised to help and he asked Vince and Jim on “Ilsa La” to join him in a towing operation.  Early Saturday morning the little group left in two dinghies, tied on either side of Valerie Arden, and motored out of the harbour.  Once safely away, they tied a strong 100’ line to the stricken vessel and one of the dinghies--actually it was more than just a dinghy--it was really a small motoring tender with two big engines--and towed the sailboat out into the Atlantic and around “The Whale.”  The voyage was a success and once back into the safety of the Bahamian Banks at Green Turtle Cay, Valerie Arden hoisted her sails and jib and began her slow “safe” sail to Memory Rock.  Here, Boat US was scheduled to meet them and tow her back across the gulf stream to the USA.  If this engine problem had happened in the Exumas, the boat would’ve been stranded “on its own,” with no possibility of rescue.  Another example of why we like being here, relatively safe, in the Abacos.  Vince, Jim and Bob arrived back later in the afternoon and the next morning, we too took off in our boat leaving the marina virtually  deserted.

We spent the next few glorious days with “Diva” at Hopetown in Elbow Cay.  We were lucky to arrive in time to pick up two mooring balls in the harbour and the place was packed!  We loved being “out” bobbing comfortably in our boat surrounded by life and activity--so different than sitting safely in our slip at Boat Harbour with nothing to look at except other boats sitting quietly in their slips too.  Here there was always something “new” to look at--pretty pink cottages, a lush shoreline, and busy commercial activity--whenever the wind shifted the boats position.  At night cool breezes filled our berth as the boat rocked us to sleep--Bliss!  It was a really short dinghy ride to  shore where we spent a whole morning exploring the many interesting shops, cafes, and little twisting lanes that run through the village.  We had a magnificent Rib-Eye dinner at the old establishment “Harbour Inn” the first evening and the next morning I was up bright and early on a “shelling expedition” with my friend  Muffin and her dog Lucy from “Antares.”
We found lots of wonderful treasures on the beach and the water was glorious--all green and turquoise with lots of wind and waves--a really exhilarating experience. We made new friends--Jane and Ron aboard “Rachel” and were invited on yet another yacht for drinks and happy hour along with “Diva”.  On our final day Vince and I rose early and set out of the harbour in our dinghy which we got “up on a plane” zooming along at a very fast pace toward our special shelling destination.  We arrived in under 10 minutes, and while I collected even more shells, Vince read his novel in an Adirondack chair under a palm tree.  We met up later for breakfast at Seaview Marina and then headed on back to Hopetown.  We left on a high tide about noon and were safely back at Boat Harbour about an hour later--just in time for Mahjongg and showers.  We REALLY loved being here at Hopetown.  It is SO different and better in many ways than Boat Harbour.  But we love the people at Boat Harbour.  If only we could transport the whole club to Hopetown, it would be absolutely perfect.  But we will seriously consider spending at least a month here next season.  And maybe a few of the RMHYC boats will do the same thing.  But if that doesn’t happen, we’ll start another Bocci and Mahjongg group in Hopetown, if one doesn’t already exist.

Dinghy drift in Hopetown Harbour

FORTNIGHT in Hopetown Harbour

March - Week 2

Cheer leaders at bocce ball finals

This week was for us the culmination of all wonderful things.  It began with two special events for the both of us.  Bocci season came to an end and Vince was involved organizing the final playoff day that ended up involving most of the club.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  The sun was shining, the temperature “just right” for an afternoon out of doors and spectators turned up in droves to enjoy the fun.  Brian from “Roving Seas” made punch all afternoon which was served “free of charge” to everyone.  And at the end, when the prizes of two bottles of rum were presented to this years tournament winners, they were empty--the crowd having drunk everything they could lay their hands on.  What a hoot!  The old girls even showed up as cheerleaders with home-made red “pom-poms”!  It was a very memorable afternoon and deeply satisfying for Vince who was instrumental in organizing  Bocci this season.

The next day was my day to be happiest.  I had been playing bridge with the club group this year and was invited by Brenda from the yacht “Brenda J” to accompany her to a bridge year end luncheon at the Jib Room.  This in itself was something I was looking forward to doing, but it ended up actually being something else entirely--and so much more wonderful.  Because when we arrived, I was stunned to find the place filled with over 30 friends--most of them club members I had taught to paint-- all shouting  “SURPRISE!!” when we walked in.  It was a special luncheon held in my honour for teaching water colour again this year!  After our lunch there was a presentation of a gift certificate of dinners at “Wally’s” restaurant--my favourite place, photographs and lots of good wishes from many friends.  They had also arranged for a picture album of photos taken this year during the classes, to be sent to my home so I’m really looking forward to getting back and seeing that.  And I will treasure it always--something to look through and “remember” when I eventually get to an old age home.  

The next day I met with Fran (Tourelou) and Diane (Minden) for more water colour lessons and that was the day that I finally decided to start my own painting.  I haven’t actually done a painting myself for more than 35 years, so this was a real break through for me.  The week ended with another celebration:  “Margarita Madness” on the beach.

190 tickets were sold to this event and the beach at Boat Harbour and when we arrived the venue was already filled with cruisers and “dirt dwellers” having a good time.  The fun began at 3:30 with an open bar in the thatched Tiki Hut serving unlimited free liqour, wine and margaritas.  I downed 3 glasses of Pinot in quick succession and after that was a VERY happy camper for several hours, just sitting back comfortably with friends and enjoying watching everything unfold all around me.  There were silly games on the beach--water balloon tosses and sand skiing--and a simple dinner of hamburgers, sausages, cole slaw, potato salad and gigantic cookies afterwards.  When the sun went down a huge bonfire was lit on the sand and there were s’mores and even more fun.  I left early however.  After the meal and all of that wine, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed--still very happy.  Vince stayed for the bonfire and joined me a few hours later.  This was a really great week.

Standing room only at bocce finals

March - Week 1

Linda's water colour class

The cold continued this week, with added rain.  Ugh!  So when it was at it’s worse we escaped from the outside and went “in,” heading off to Mangoes for a wonderful coconut shrimp dinner with Margo and Dennis from Pizzazz--their treat--even better!!  Dennis was having trouble with his engine--so he thought--very sluggish, and they were preparing themselves to spend thousands on an overhaul until Vince showed up.  He donned diving gear and inspected their prop which was covered with several inches of barnacles and other nasty growth.  After spending the better part of an hour cleaning it off for them, the engine roared to life once again and they were most grateful.  So that was added cause for our celebration at Mangoes.  

We “holed up” during the worst of the weather this week with DVD’s lent to us by other cruisers and enjoyed watching “Argo” and “Impossible”.  We also viewed lots of home renovation programs on HGTV--a perverse activity that I’m addicted too.  I think in my next life I’ll come back as an architect or building contractor instead of a teacher!  It’s something that Vince and I always seem to be involved in each summer of our life together.  The cold fronts finally left us towards the end of the week and the sun came out once again along with seasonal temperatures just in time for this years RMHYC Arts and Craft Show.

We began “set up” for the show March 6th and it was a lot fun getting everything ready for the big event.  That night, Ellen and Woody on “Double SS” invited us over for dinner with Sue and Ron on TK3 and we all spent a wonderful evening together in anticipation of the next day.  This years “show” ended up being the best yet! The displays were marvellous, we had hundreds of spectators, the bar was open all afternoon and everyone spent a great afternoon viewing the art, talking to the exhibitors, and enjoying their drinks in the sunshine on the terrace outside the venue. One whole wall was covered with the lovely water colours that my “students” had produced this year and both Susan and I were interviewed about the event and our parts in making it happen, by a reporter from the “Abaconian,” the Island newspaper.   After the show we all went over to Anglers where they had prepared a “special dinner” for the club as the final climax to a memorable day.  

Class work displayed at RMHYC craft show

February - Week 4

I have been really “bad” at keeping up this blog.  Because even though it “says” Week4, it’s actually March 21st today!!  We have been SO busy having fun and doing things that I’ve completely neglected my writing. So--I can either write a very long blog describing many events that happened over the past 4 weeks, or actually try to write 4 individual blogs from memory.  I will attempt the latter, but they will be uncharacteristically short.  So here goes:

After we left Legacy we returned to Boat Harbour just in time for “Fish Tasting!”  The RMHYC “fleet” had been out in full force and were so successful that the days haul was BBQ’ed up for the whole club to enjoy.  We all brought hors d’oeuvres and drinks up to the tent at dock 5 and spend a wonderful few hours together eating fish and getting smashed.  And the next day, with sanity prevailing once again, it was all about walking, water aerobics, mahjongg and bocci.  On the 26th we attended the annual club outing for “Meatloaf Dinner at Jamies”--a local Bahamian dive with great food at reasonable prices.  We should’ve asked for “doggie bags” and split up our meal, but we didn’t think of that until it was too late and we were completely stuffed with meatloat, mac ‘n cheese,  peas ‘n rice, salad and too much drink.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.  The next day there was more Mahjongg, Bocci and cocktails at 5.  And then Legacy showed up again.  They had guests arriving from Kansas City and we all spent some time together at the Abaco Beach Resort the first day they were here.  Unfortunately, I think they brought the horribly cold northern weather with them and we actually had to wear long-sleeved tops or jackets for the next few days.  It wasn’t actually all that cold--maybe high 60’s.  But there were overcast skies and howling winds that made it feel much worse.  The weather here this year has been really strange--but still much better than if we were either back home or anywhere else in the USA so we’re not complaining.  And we have all the comforts of home here on the boat  plus we are surrounded by good friends.  When it comes right down to it, at this time in our lives it’s all about health, comfort and friends. And this year, at Boat Harbour in the Bahamas, we are blessed to have all three.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February - week 3

Commodors Ball
This week the skies cleared, the sun shone, the temperature rose and all was right, once again in this part of the world--paradise found!  This too was the week of the greatly anticipated “Commodores Ball”.  And this year, Heather, Sue and the ladies from dock 5 went all out to make this the most spectacular event of the season.  The theme was “The Sands” (as in the Sands nightclub in Vegas during the Rat Pack era) and everyone was dressed to the nines.  The venue was aglow with hundreds of tea lights, tables elegantly draped with white and red cloths and chairs festooned with ivory covers tied back with lengths of red chiffon. There were tall calla lilies as centre-pieces on each table and life-sized “cut-outs” of “ole blue eyes Sinatra” and Dean Martin.  Guests were greeted with free glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres (stuffed mushrooms and mini quiches) followed by a main course which featured lobster topped chicken and a stuffed beef roll. There were salads, rolls, and creme brullee for dessert followed by coffee, liquor and wine which flowed all night long.  After dinner we danced to the sounds of the 60’s and everyone enjoyed an evening that we will never forget. 

The next day we rose bright and early and after a quick coffee and cocoa cast off our lines and headed out for a few days of adventure. Our friends Ron and Pam aboard “Legacy” had recently returned from a season of sailing through the Exumas and we were eager to get together again and share news and good times.  Both of our boats arrived at Guana at about the same time and after setting our anchors in the protected Fisher’s Bay waters, the four of us set off in “Scout”--”Legacy’s” tender--to collect shells on “Spoil Cay”.  By noon we had bagged more than enough “treasures” to last us a while and decided to dinghy over to the restaurant at “tony” Baker’s Bay” resort for lunch.  We enjoyed drinks (Kaliks for Ron& Pam, white wine for me and coke per usual for Vince--some things just don’t change!) pizza, and grilled steak crostinis dockside where we watched guests coming and going and enjoyed the 80 degree weather in the shade  outside at the bar.  Perfect!  We returned to our mother ships mid-afternoon and, after a “nap” Ron stopped by to pick us up for a dinner aboard Legacy.  We dined on Wahoo which Ron had caught and cinnamon crumb cake (which I had prepared--compliments Betty Crocker.)

Over the next two days the sun continued to shine and temperatures remained in the 80’s.  We walked the long expanse of Guana Cay beach, enjoyed burgers and fries for lunch, spent another blissful night rocking at anchor and then left for Matt Lowes Cay where we trespassed on this absolutely exquisite private island--playing bocci ball at the high tide mark, collecting shells and lolling in the shallow turquoise water along the shoreline.  Nothing “bad” happened--nobody came rushing out of the bushes with dogs to scare us off, so we’ll probably do this again some day, since it was so beautiful there.  I also began water colour lessons with Pam and Ron who both produced two lovely paintings during our time together.  Our last night at anchor we celebrated with a rib dinner aboard Legacy--payback for the painting lessons--and polished off two or three bottles of wine.  And Vince went through 2 whole cans of coke!  We returned to Boat Harbour Sunday morning, and did very little but kick back in the cockpit for the rest of the day reminiscing about the wonderful week we had just enjoyed.

                                           Linda getting ready for the ball.
                                           On the way to the Ball.
Ron and Pam's boat LEGACY

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 2013 - week 1 - BEACHES resort in Turks and Caicos

                                           Italian village pool at Beaches
                                          French village pool
                                           French village
                                            French village restaurant

Not many people get to enjoy a holiday within a holiday.  But that’s exactly what we did this week when we left our winter holidaying place in the Abacos for a week of pampering at “Beaches Turks & Caicos”.  Despite being only about 350 miles away as the crow flies, it was a long day getting there.  We had to be up before 6:00am to catch the Bahamasair flight from Marsh Harbour to Nassau where we had breakfast followed by a 4 hour wait at the airport before boarding “Air Turks & Caicos” for the flight into Providentiales, the capital.  From there it was a short taxi ride to the “Caribbean Paradise Inn” where we had reservations for the first night.  Our arrangements with “Beaches” was for a week from Sat--Sat., but since there were no flights to/from Nassau over weekends, we had to make bookings at an alternate hotel for nights on each end of the week.  Bummer.  But it DID mean a longer holiday in a new place away from the boat--so it was all good.

On Saturday morning after enjoying a good breakfast at the Caribbean Paradise Inn, we      took a taxi over to Beaches.  This place is indescribably gorgeous!!  Pictures can never do it justice--although we have included a few at the end of this blog to give just a taste of what we experienced.  The resort is comprised of three integrated “villages’’--French, Italian, and Caribbean--each with it’s own distinctive architecture and restaurants.  The landscaping, which ties it all together with lush greenery, masses of flowers and cobblestoned walkways is absolutely incredible.  Three luxurious swimming pools form centrepieces in each village (see photos) and there is a beautiful crescent shaped beach of thick white sand dotted with thatched palapas, and  comfortable loungers facing out towards clear turquoise water.

The Beaches Resort is all-inclusive which means that after you pay the very hefty price-tag which comes with staying there, you need never open your wallet again. Gourmet meals (your choice of 10 themed restaurants), drinks, snorkelling, scuba, sailing, kayaking, water slides, surfboarding (plus lessons) floor shows, nightclub, games, childrens day-camp, you name it--it’s all included!

Last year when we stayed here with Julie, Dan and the grandchildren, we all booked into separate rooms at one of the large complexes.  But after seeing the oceanside “villas” complete with round the clock butlering service available to a “select few,” Dan & Julie decided to “do it in style” this year and reserved one for their family.  (You only live once).  We were invited to join them--and were given our own massive room featuring a kingsized 4 poster bed and sunken tub--within the villa, and asked only to contribute the cost of what we would’ve paid had we reserved the same room as last year.  So it was win/win for us all.  Dan got the villa subsidized by us and we got to stay in accommodations we could only dream about.

Our butler provided us with cell phones and was only a “call” away at all times.  He anticipated our every need, stocking our refrigerator with our favourite soft drinks, wines and spirits and surprising us with platters of shrimp, hot lobsters with drawn butter, fruit and cheese trays, and plates of assorted pastries at all hours of the day!  He also arranged for us to have our own private covered cabana poolside, complete with loungers, dining area, and a cooler stocked with ice and drinks.  Similar arrangements were made when we wished to lounge around the beach and we felt like royalty being pampered within these luxurious “set-ups” while everyone else walked the beach looking for empty loungers on which to sit. The butler also made all of our dinner reservations, and actually accompanied us to the restaurants of our choice, taking us right into the dining room and seating us at special tables that he had “set up” with floral arrangements in advance of our arrival so we never had to “wait.”

When we weren’t being pampered by butler service we spent a lot of quality time with our little family.  There were long walks on the beach, snorkelling along the reef, sailing with the kids in small boats, swimming the pools and off the beach, building sandcastles, geo-cashing, looking for shells, watching the evening “shows” together, as well as quiet times with just the two of us enjoying a fabulous dinner together or curled up with books on one of the “beach beds”. Matthew even got to parasailing and deep sea fishing with Dan.  This was a really unbelieveable week and we all had so much fun together that we booked it again for next year.

But all good things must eventually come to an end and on Saturday morning Feb. 9th we said goodbye to our family--the Saryas--as they headed off by taxi to the airport.  We spent the rest of the day enjoying the delights of “Beaches” and then left in our own taxi for another 2 nights at the Caribbean Paradise Inn.  When we arrived we were so exhausted from having too much to eat, drink and “do” the previous week that Vince opted to take a nap while I lounged out on the terrace with my novel and a glass of champagne.  I had just settled comfortably into my chaise when I heard voices shouting “surprise!!” which I thought was coming from the room next to ours.  It wasn’t.  It was coming from OUR room.  And when the faces of Julie and Lilly suddenly appeared outside our sliding glass door, I really WAS surprised!!  Apparently their flight had been cancelled due to mechanical problems and everyone on board was given a free nights stay at a hotel plus meals.  Luckily Dan had remembered the name of the Inn where we were staying and requested to go there to join us.  (And we had thought we were in for a relatively boring 2 more days!)  Instead, we joined them as they settled into their room and then we all walked the relatively short distance to “downtown” where we bought ice cream, and browsed through the boutiques and island grocery store.  Then it was back to the Inn for a leisurely dinner a good visit and finally, into bed.  

We saw them off early the next morning for a second time and spent the rest of the day walking along the beach and reading our novels.  On Monday morning we finally headed back to the Bahamas, leaving the hotel at 7:00am and arriving back at Boat Harbour just before 5:00.  Another very long travelling day!  But this one too had a surprise ending when Fran and Tony welcomed us back with an invitation to join them along with Margaret and Ben from “Diva” for dinner aboard their yacht “Tourelou”--the perfect ending to a perfect holiday.

                                                                  Carrabean village pool
                                                                 Our villa in the Carabean village

                                                                  Some of the toys along the beach
                                                                  The family at lunch