Cruisin’ with the Wilbrichts’

We had our first visitors aboard Foxfire last week, when Tim, Mischelle, Luke and Noah flew down to George Town to share the dream with us, if only for a week. I can’t even describe how good it felt to see friends from home, especially Tim & Mischelle, who were by far our biggest supporters and mentors through the whole process of buying a boat and making this crazy dream of cruising a reality.  They were the ones who picked us up and encouraged us to just do it, even when our family and friends thought we were completely looney.  We didn’t realize just how home sick we were until we saw their familiar faces piling out of the cab and walking down the dock towards us.  We also didn’t realize what a dark island tan we’ve developed until we were standing next to them.  Guess we should probably bump it up to SPF 50+ from now on.

Since they had a limited time in the islands, we decided the first stop would be to head back north to Staniel Cay so the kids could swim with the piggies and do some snorkeling in the famous Thunderball Grotto. Staniel is about 60 miles north of George Town, so we were in for some pretty aggressive travel the first day, but Tim and Matt were excited to sail so off we went.

IMG_4418

All was going fine until we hit the Exuma Sound and the waves began to pick up.  Let’s just say all of us were unprepared for the motion of the ocean, especially the kids, who had their heads hanging in a five gallon bucket for the majority of the trip.  The rest of us were slowly eating saltines and popping Dramamine, desperately trying to avoid the same fate. Lets just say it was not exactly the perfect start, and we hoped the kids wouldn’t be scarred for the rest of the trip.  Poseidon must have heard our prayers, because by the time we reached Staniel Cay, the wind and waves died down and we were able to enjoy a few days of Caribbean bliss.  And Piggy Beach, of course.

IMG_4432

IMG_4427

IMG_4430

IMG_4454

Unfortunately, the good weather was short lived, and another front with 30mph+ winds was expected to come thru mid week and continue into the weekend.  Instead of island hopping south, we decided to play it safe and head back down to George Town to avoid any more traumatic rough days of sailing.

The trip back was so much better than the trip north, and Tim and Luke entertained us with riddles and random facts that Mischelle likes to refer to as “Tim Bits”.  We have no idea if he was telling the truth or totally bullshitting us, but he sounded like a man who knew a lot about whatever it was we were talking about.  No wonder he’s such a good salesman.

As we were anchoring off of Goat’s Cay back in George Town, we saw someone wildly waving in our direction from the beach.  Sorta strange.  We didn’t know if they were actually waving to us or not, so we decided to play it safe and ignore them to avoid looking like complete idiots.  After we set the anchor, we saw two people, one on a paddleboard and another on a kayak coming towards our boat and we thought – “Hey!  We know them”!  It was Alex and Charlene, the two Canadians who hitched a ride down to George Town with us!  Turns out we were anchored right off the resort they were staying at with her parents.  Too funny, aye?

The boat was starting to feel pretty small with six people onboard, so we decided to get off the boat and do some resort hopping instead.  The kids had WiFi and the adults had pina coladas, so it was pretty much a win-win.

IMG_4462

IMG_4464

After two-three days (two-tree as pronounced by the locals), we moved on over across the channel to explore Stocking Island, and to hike up Monument Hill, perhaps the highest hill we’ve seen since we hiked the cliffs at Staniel Cay.  You really begin to miss elevation down here, where everything is fairly flat and looks pretty much the same.  The trail to the monument was pretty neat… you began on the beach, then went thru some jungle, then back onto sand/coral, then did a small switchback trail up to the very top of the hill.  The view from the top was awesome.  You could see for miles.  IMG_4472

IMG_4496

IMG_4474

IMG_4473

IMG_4479

I grabbed a piece of rock and left a little memento on the monument.  The way the wind and sand was blowing up there, I’d be surprised if it was still there the next day.  Hoping I won’t be sent to a Bahamian prison for defacing public property.

IMG_4476

IMG_4483

We hiked around to the ocean side of the island and discovered an amazing beach with this beautiful pink sand that your feet sunk into all the way up to your ankles…  It was like stepping on some sort of memory foam mattress.  We walked the beach for a while, collecting shells and examining random flotsam, before heading back into the jungle towards the boat.

IMG_4492

Noah’s favorite part of the trip was using our cooler to beat out some epic drum solos along with his iPad.  After about three days of being woken up to the shrill sound of a flip flop banging on the fiberglass and echoing throughout the hull, Matt thought of a brilliant way to design him a custom “drum” set, complete with sticks made from an extra fiberglass batten and paper towels wrapped in electrical tape.  He also took a foam knee pad and taped it to the cooler for extra protection.  This worked wonders to dull the noise and had the rest of us voting him MVP of the trip.  Way to go, babe… you’re a freakin’ genius.

IMG_4456

 

Alas the week was over, just as quickly as it started.  Isn’t it funny how vacations seem to work that way?  Thanks so much for visiting guys!  We had an awesome week and hope you did too.  Hate to see you go, but sure am glad it’s not us returning to single digit temperatures back home.

Sorry… too soon?

IMG_4510

George Town Fish Fry

Continued down to George Town after leaving Farmers Cay the next morning.  Tried to sail with no luck.  Tried to fish with no luck.  Did manage to learn a new card game that was pretty cool.  Other than that, it was just a loooong day of motoring the final 40 miles or so to GT.

We had to enter in from the ocean side through a cut in the reef called Conch Cut.  I’m sure it’s normally pretty tame, but when we approached it, all we could see were these massive curling waves with what appeared to be a tiny section of calm water in the middle.  Like, west coast surfing waves that actually formed into a tube as they barreled towards shore. Apparently this is what a “rage” looks like.  All of our guidebooks strongly advise against entering any cut during one of these “rages”.  Great. Guess we should start paying attention to tides.

IMG_4401

Aside from a few uncomfortable minutes in which the galley managed to completely dislodge it’s contents, we were totally fine.  I know I don’t give him enough props, but Matt is a really, really good captain and always has complete control of the situation.  Don’t want that to get lost in translation since I’m the one doing all of the writing, usually from my point of view, which in this case, was scared shitless with a white knuckle death drip on the side railing.

First impression of George Town, the “cruising” capital of the Bahamas? Holy freaking sailboats, Batman!  My goodness, it’s like Annapolis on steroids!  Boats were everywhere. We had to pick our way through them all in order to make our way into the marina we were staying at, which judging by all of the boats at anchor, is NOT the thing to do here.  Oh well, I think we got a pretty good spot.

IMG_4406

Spent the next morning giving the boat a good scrub in preparation for our guests that were coming in the next day.  We’re both super anal about this, which is probably why we get so many compliments on how good our boat looks. Any time we have access to fresh water, it’s bath time!  After she was all tidied up, we met up with Alex, Charlene and her parents at their resort where they were kind enough to let us use their washer/dryer to do our laundry.  Nothing like having fresh underwear again!  Their house was huge with amazing views of the harbor below.  I’m not going to lie, I was a tiny bit jealous that they’d be spending the next week or so on land.  With unlimited water and electricity.  And queen size beds.  And the washing machines.  And ice.

Ahhhhh…. ice.

IMG_4413

IMG_4411

Since it was a Saturday – and Valentines Day to boot! – we all went down to the local fish fry for dinner, since it was THE place to be in town.  They called it a fish fry, but everything was actually grilled and not fried, and they seemed to be selling way more chicken and ribs than fish, but hey, who am I to judge.  The only thing that’s pretty consistent down here is that things are usually inconsistent. Once you know that and just go with it, you’re life will become a lot easier.  We placed our orders with the cook and waited around for about an hour and a half, talking with some locals and tourists until our food was ready.  Wow, was it delicious!  Anytime you see a sweaty cook laboring some love over a pile of hot charcoal, you just KNOW it’s going to be good.  Either that or you’ll be in the bathroom all night.  Like a game of roulette.  That night, I won and Matt lost.

IMG_4417

IMG_4415

Farmers Cay

We wanted to spent a few more days in Staniel Cay after the anchoring incident, but decided to move back around to our original anchorage just off piggy beach the next morning to avoid any additional mishaps.  We were thankful that we got out unscathed and didn’t want to stick around tempting fate any longer than we had to. While having post PTSD drinks aboard Dealer’s Choice that night, we met a group of twenty-something cruisers – we’re NOT the youngest ones! – who also had some issues that same night.  Turns out their anchor not only dragged, but got wrapped around their keel, all during the pitch blackness of night.  You could just hear the F-bombs coming from their boat.  Damn.  They were able to recover pretty quickly, but I can only imagine that they had one hell of a stressful night and were in need of some serious down time in the form of a white sandy beach the following day.

IMG_4372
IMG_4370
IMG_4369

We had agreed to take two of the “kids” – Alex and Charlene – to George Town with us, since that’s where we were headed anyway and they needed to meet her parents who were flying in from (you guessed it) Canada for a 10 day vacation.  Their friends who’s boat they were staying on –  Brian and Cass – had to stay in Staniel Cay since her sister was flying in the following day.  Sound confusing?  It wasn’t.  We gladly offered up a ride because they were super cool people who we’d be doing a huge favor for, and that’s exactly how you meet new friends and get a few extra karma points on your side.  Win-win all around.  As they were dinghing over to our boat, I had a complete mind fart and totally forgot their names.  How embarrassing.  This trip could go one of two ways – extremely awesome or terribly awkward.  Luckily awesome won out, and we all felt like we were old friends in no time.

George Town was still about 60 miles away, which is quite a hike especially with no wind to sail, so we decided to anchor in nearby Farmer’s Cay for the night.  The guidebook said it was the second most populated settlement in the Exumas, besides George Town, and that it had a good pizza place which pretty much sold Matt and Char.  We pulled in by late afternoon, dropped anchor, and headed into town eager to explore a new place and to possibly score a slice of that fabled island pizza. As we wandered around the deserted streets, we got to thinking that either the guidebook had a misprint or we were in the wrong place, because for it being the second largest settlement, there was absolutely no one around.  We found the town “center” – and I use that term very loosely since there were maybe 10 people there – and were all sorta standing around scratching our heads thinking “is this it”?

IMG_4375

We were approached by a guy named Carlos, who offered to take us on a free tour of “His Island”.  It was obvious that he was very proud of his home and wanted to share it with everyone who visited. Glad we went because it turned out to be a pretty neat little tour.  He pointed out lots of native plant life – guava trees, pomegranate trees, almond trees – that we would have passed right on by.  We all even took turns cracking almonds for a bit.  He introduced us to all sorts of people… most of whom seemed to be related to him in some way.  Met his uncle who was an excellent wood carver, and who had a an old Polaroid picture of his wife and the original Cornel Sanders – of KFC fame – hanging in his shop.  Pretty funny.  When we asked about this being the second largest settlement in the Exumas, he just laughed and said that it was actually the smallest settlement, with only 55 inhabitants on the whole island.  Ha. Epic fail, guidebook.

IMG_4377
IMG_4380
IMG_4385
IMG_4384
IMG_4382

We stopped in for a drink at the local bar, Ocean Cabin, and chatted with the owner and his wife, trading recipes and stories.  That really is the best part of traveling – meeting people from a completely different background in life and learning a little bit about their world.  If we wanted to surround ourselves with the same, we’d be at a Sandals somewhere.  On our way out, we noticed their sign out front.  Pretty much sums up Island Living to a tee.

IMG_4386

Made our way back to “town” to grab some fresh conch salad and ended up hanging out with the local fishermen for a bit.  They were whipping up some pretty amazing looking food on their charcoal grill and were giving us tips on the best way to prepare seafood, including a lesson on how to crack and clean conch.  Seems complicated.  I think we’ll just continue to buy it instead.  Tried to pay for the conch salad but they didn’t have change, so I bartered some cans of soda into the deal and a Char grabbed a chunk of what we think was parsnip to use in our own dinner later that night.  Now that’s some serious negotiating power right there, folks.

IMG_4390
IMG_4391

When we were ready to head back to the boat, the nice police officer who was drinking rum drinks at the conch stand offered to drive us back.  I’ll say it was quite the picture having four young gringos pile into an island police car with open beers in their hands.  Definitely a first for me. He cruised right on down the airstrip by the marina like it was a road.  Sure am happy there were no incoming flights.  Not sure what we found funnier, the fact that he used the airstrip as a road, or that they have an airstrip on an island with only 55 people.

Another beautiful sunset….

IMG_4392

Anchor Tug-O-War

We met some fellow cruisers on the boat anchored next to us who were nice enough to invite us over to their boat for some sunset cocktails.  Up to this point, Matt and I have been feeling a bit isolated, as most cruisers seem to have already formed their “groups” and have little in common with a bunch of younger, unexperienced sailors like us.  Or they’re from Montreal only speak French, which makes having a conversation somewhat difficult.  We were really surprised at how many Canadian cruisers there are here.  Bet this is the largest source of maple syrup and Canada Dry to be found outside the mainland this time of year.

So, we were enjoying some drinks with Brian and Maureen aboard their boat, Dealer’s Choice, having a great conversation with them and their friends who were visiting from (you guessed it) Canada, when then this happened:

The sailboat, Wind Affair, came into the anchorage (which was pretty crowded at this point), and dropped their anchor in front of several boats, pulling up everyone’s anchor behind them in the process.  It all happened so incredibly fast.  One minute we’re sitting there all relaxed, and the next we were in the midst of a mad scramble to secure not only Dealer’s Choice, the boat we were on, but the two other boats this guy had just set free as well.

It was painfully obvious that this guy had no clue what they hell he was doing, not only by the way he came in and dropped his anchor over everyone else’s, but by the way he continued to put his boat and the three others in jeopardy as he tried to free himself of the mess he just made.

Turns out he had gotten his anchor hooked onto Dealer’s Choice and was trying to do a hard reverse to dislodge it.  Now, Dealer’s Choice was a 55′ Sea Ray motor yacht with some powerful engines, and having this little sailboat try to reverse away from us with his 30hp engine was like bringing a knife to a gun fight.  He had no shot in hell.  Matt was yelling at him to put his boat in neutral so our boat could pull him, but the guy didn’t seem to understand and kept trying to reverse.  We were essentially in a tug of war game with this other boat.  In the process, the anchor chain on Dealer’s Choice got wrapped around the front hull of the catamaran next to us, which we were able to free just so it didn’t slip underwater and clothesline his props.  It was pandemonium.  And all I could do was stare over at our boat, about 50 yards away, who had thankfully managed to avoid getting it’s anchor pulled too, but wasn’t far enough away from the action to be in the clear just yet.  If our boat had been swept up in all this mess, there was no one onboard to do anything to stop it.  We were completely helpless.  What a sick feeling.

But here’s the best thing…. after we get the anchors untangled and every one sorted out, this guy proceeds to move on to a spot just down the channel to re anchor.  Talk about balls of steel.  I was really surprised he didn’t do a sail of shame out of the anchorage to find a spot elsewhere.  I certainly would have if it were us that just caused such a ruckus. Everyone was absolutely over this guy and wanted him far, far away from here, but he didn’t seem to mind at all.  Crazy.

After we were re anchored, we continued on with our cocktail hour, full of adrenaline still from what just happened. It seems like we’ve been having a few too many traumatic experiences on boats this trip, our last one being the night we came into Bimini. Here’s our PTSD group shot below.  Brian and Maureen are the ones standing. Ah, life on a boat!  It’s always and adventure!

IMG_4361

 

Staniel Cay

After our stay at Norman’s, we continued south to Staniel Cay.  On our way we passed this HUGE mega yacht, complete with the helicopter on the back.  It was definitely the biggest yacht that we’ve ever seen. EVER.  All we could do was stare at it with our mouths hanging open as it slowly passed by.  You know there had to be someone pretty darn rich important onboard.  We heard later that Johnny Depp was getting married on his private island which was like 10 miles north of us.  We literally passed it on the sail down that morning.   I’m assuming that’s where this yacht was headed.  Guess our invite got lost in the mail.  Damn mailboats are so slow down here!

IMG_4219

We were excited to see the famous swimming pigs, which are actually on Big Major’s Cay, right next to Staniel, and is uninhabited except for the pigs.  I’m assuming that the locals didn’t want to share their island with a bunch of feral pigs and “relocated” them to the next island over.  Totally understandable.  Especially after we saw how aggressive they get when you approach them with food.  We were careful to toss our bread out and away from our dinghy because we heard that they would jump right in to search for food.  Sure enough, as we were leaving, another dinghy pulled up close to shore and didn’t get their food out quick enough, and a huge pig the size of a bear just climbed right on over the side and grabbed their bag right out of their boat.  It was pretty funny to watch, only because it wasn’t our dinghy they were trying to board.

Supposedly, they’re not the same pigs each year.  I guess Staniel Cay is also well known for it’s yearly pig roasts.  Mmmm….

IMG_4262
IMG_4228

Later on, after we were sure the pigs had been well fed from all the tour boats stopping by all day, we actually went ashore to try to hand feed them.  Matt hopped out of the dinghy first with a loaf of bread in his pocket and sure enough, the big piggy began chasing him around the beach for the food.  Funny for me.  Not so much for Matt. Luckily he survived with only a light nip on the shorts.

IMG_4268

Once the big pig had eaten everything we had and thoroughly sniffed us both to make sure we were definitely empty, he just turned and walked away, totally uninterested now that we were out of food.  We took the opportunity to pet some of the smaller ones, who liked having their belies scratched like dogs.  They were actually pretty sweet.  I had quite the following by the end of the afternoon.

IMG_4348
IMG_4350

The following day we set out to do some exploring and discovered this small hiking trail that circles the perimeter of the island.  There were some great views of the ocean on the back side of the trail.  I still can’t get over how beautiful the water is!  Stripes of turquoise and aqua everywhere.  We saw these interesting mounds of rocks that we think were trail markers.  We added our rock as we passed and wished for fair winds, following seas, and for our anchor to not drag like we’d heard of others doing the night before.  Betcha don’t have to worry about that on land!

IMG_4306
IMG_4280
IMG_4301
IMG_4291
IMG_4282
IMG_4289
IMG_4287
IMG_4296
IMG_4302

After our hike we rewarded ourselves with a few beers because we were hot and I trust the quality of beer more than the water here.  It’s a rough life, we know.

IMG_4314
IMG_4312

We had some fun doing a little swimming off the back of the boat.  Big Major’s Cay has a beautiful sandy bottom so it was pretty much like swimming in one gigantic pool.  Another benefit of the all sand bottom is that Matt can easily see any dark shadows approaching the boat and be able to hop out of the water at lightning speed.  I think he felt more comfortable playing lifeguard as I swam.  He’s never going to be able to live that one down.

IMG_4317
IMG_4336
IMG_4323
IMG_4221

The big thing to do on Staniel is go to the yacht club.  Aside form their overpriced food and drinks, it has a really nice atmosphere.  We walked over to where the fishermen were cleaning their catch and had a pretty close up view of some nurse sharks.  I even reached down to pet a few, just to see what their skin felt like.  Nurse sharks are harmless and I was on my second beer, so I was feeling pretty confidant. They feel leathery, by the way.  It was cool.

IMG_4249
IMG_4251
IMG_4255
IMG_4236
IMG_4315
IMG_4241

Oh yeah, and we finally had our Cheeseburgers in Paradise, and boy were they delicious!

IMG_4252