Author Archives: solpurpose

From Sheds to Sheilings

August has been a very busy month!  Part of the reason for coming back this summer was to help Moray’s cousin, Angus, work on the remodel of his croft, Sunrise.  As is always the way of these things, planning permission for the major remodel has not yet been forthcoming, but there were still plenty of projects to work on!  So for the majority of the month, we split our time between staying with Moray’s Mum and staying at Sunrise.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the projects we worked on with Angus and Paulette:

Building a shed (with a chainsaw)

Building a bed (with a chainsaw… seeing a pattern? 🙂 )

Giving a new lease of life to a garden seat, by repainting the metal frame and replacing the rotten boards

Digging a drainage ditch to allow the shed wall to dry out

The walls of the croft were built with stone and lime mortar.  At some point, someone had repointed using cement, which looks ugly and also allows damp to be retained in the walls.  Over the years, this has become a problem, so the job was to remove that cement and prepare the walls for Angus to repoint with lime mortar.

Of course, it hasn’t all been working!  Alongside sleeping late, scrabble, backgammon and knitting clubs, time was spent traveling.  I went to Pennan with Moray’s mum while moray was helping his brother with a kitchen rebuild.  Pennan is a pretty little coastal town on the Aberdeenshire North coast.

When Moray came back from helping his brother he made a batch of home brew which he set aside to be ready when we returned from Edinburgh.

We were then off for a long weekend in Edinburgh, attending The Fringe and The Tattoo.  We camped in the car at the Festival Campsite, run by Camping Ninja.  This group sets up campsites for most of the major festivals in the UK and is very well organized.  There are great facilities and it was right on a bus route, so we could avoid the astronomical parking fees at the festival.  Of course, it also meant that we could both have a drink or two…..

We arrived at the campsite around 1pm, enjoyed our welcome beer, and then set off by bus to take in some of the Free Fringe Festival Acts.  Most of the acts are in little rooms in various pubs and clubs or in the streets, and last about an hour.  The first one we saw was “Pottervision!”  – two young guys who re-enacted the whole of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – just the two of them, using various props.  It was absolutely hilarious!  After that, we saw Erich McElroy, a stand-up comedian.  He’s an American living in London, and he gave a really funny account of how he was treated by his English friends and acquaintances when Trump was elected!  Finally, we were lucky enough to see Stephen Bailey’s “Can’t Think Straight” show.  Trust me, if you get a chance to see him, do it!

We took the bus back to the campsite and headed to the Big Tepee.  There were a couple of the acts staying there, and they were giving free previews to try to drum up attendance. (There are lots of acts that are free at the festival, but they rely on contributions after the show to pay their expenses).  There was a reason that they needed to drum up business, but it was fun to watch them!

One of the funniest things we saw in the streets was Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour.  All the people on the tour had on headphones and were tied into Guru Dudu’s waist mounted sound system.  He was a able to talk or play music to all the people and all other festival goers could hear nothing.  Its hilarious watching about 60 people all singing and dancing with no music to hear…

The next morning, we got the bus back into Edinburgh and spent the morning walking around, seeing the sights.  It is a beautiful city and with the street artists for the festival, was a really fun thing to do.  The first act we saw turned out to be our favourite of the Festival, Harriet Braine’s “Total Eclipse of the Art”.  She has very cleverly rewritten the words for popular songs, to accompany her “lecture” on various artists and famous paintings.  She is also a talented mimic, and her Kate Bush meets Edith Piaf needs to be seen to be believed!  We were really disappointed that she only had an hour!

Our next act wasn’t great, so we left and headed to another that had received great reviews.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t agree but it was one of the few events with a closed door, so we were stuck with it for the full hour – ah well, as they say, you get what you pay for…..

We had a couple of hours to kill before the next show we had selected, so we headed to Il Castello, for a superb Italian meal, before taking in Kate Butch’s show – and yes, I have spelled that correctly.  It was a great drag show, but we knew we would need to leave just before the end in order to get to our main reason for being in Edinburgh – the Tattoo.  We had been lucky enough to get tickets for the very last show for the year, and were very excited when we took our seats.  It started right on time, as you would expect with a Military event.  It was absolutely fantastic – military marching bands from around the world, including one from France who played Daft Punk songs and had the two pipers in crash helmets!  We joined in the singing of Auld Lang Syne, hands linked all around the arena.  The Scottish dancers were amazing and the light shows playing off the Castle walls were wonderful, but the stars of the show had to be the pipe bands, and especially, the lone piper on the Castle battlements to close the show.  It was an absolutely amazing experience!

We slept a bit late on Sunday, before heading back towards Turriff.  On the way we stopped of at Dunnotar Castle to see the beautiful scenery.

When we got back to Turriff, we spent an anxious couple of days watching the plight of our former home in Houston.  My heart goes out to all those who have lost so much, but I am very grateful that our friends all appear to have been spared.

We split the next few days between relaxing and working at Sunrise, before setting off on our next adventure.  Moray’s Mum was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, and a few years ago, he, his brother Ken and his Mum, spent a few days there, visiting the island and learning more about their roots.

Our first stop was Drumnadrochit, on Loch Ness, to take a look at the ruins of Urqhart Castle.

Then we walked the Abriachan Trails.  The views were incredible.

Next we went to Fort William, to look at the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase.  This is a staircase lock comprising eight locks on the Caledonian Canal. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 and it’s the longest staircase lock in Britain and it makes up some of the 29 locks on the Caledonian Canal.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the locks were closed for the night so we did not get to see them in operation but it is still a pretty interesting place to visit.

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View down the staircase

We drove into Fort William for a birthday dinner at The Tavern, before driving to Loch Linnhe.  There was a lay-by at the side of the loch, where we parked up for the night.

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On Thursday morning, we awoke to a glorious day and a beautiful view.  We drove just down the road to a café, where we ate a lovely breakfast before heading towards Skye.

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On the way, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, an ancient castle at the Kyle of Lochalsh.

After a brief stop, we got back on the road and headed across the bridge to Skye.  Our first stop was the pretty little town of Portree.

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Next stop was our main reason for stopping on Skye – to walk the Quiraing.  The walk was really hard work – steep hills, very windy and soggy underfoot.  We made it to the top, where we were disappointed to find that there wasn’t much of a view at the top because of the clouds.

Short video showing the vista at the Quiriang…

We needn’t have worried – we only needed to wait a few minutes before the clouds cleared, the sun came out – and so did the views….

It’s turning into a broken record but the views were indescribable.  We drove to the Ferry Terminal in Uig where we found a safe place to spend the night.

We had Tesco’s quiche and salad for dinner and then headed to the bar at the Ferry Terminal.  While we were there, we saw a flyer for the Blas Festival, which is an annual celebration of Gaelic culture and music that takes place over the Highlands of Scotland in early September.  We found that there would be a Ceilidh in Tarbert the next night.  As our ferry arrived in Tarbert the next afternoon, we went on-line and bought tickets.

The next morning was a fairly lazy one, of coffee in the local café while waiting to board the ferry for the short trip over to Tarbert on Harris.  Right on time, at 2pm, the ferry departed.

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all aboard!

Our first stop on Harris was the Ferry Terminal offices, where they have public showers.  The shower was clean, the water was hot and plentiful – and only 50p.  Duly refreshed, we started our tour of Harris, the south end of Harris and Lewis.  We drove to Luskentyre to see the beach at high tide, before heading to Scalpay where the Ceilidh was to be.

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Luskentyre at high tide

We found the community centre and a place to spend the night, and headed round to the only restaurant in town.  Although they were busy, they said they would be able to fit us in, which was great as the food smelled delicious.  Unfortunately, they then said that they only accept cash and we didn’t have enough on us.  So we drove back to Tarbert and had dinner at the Hebrides Hotel.  While we were eating, several other tables were talking to the waitress about that evening’s Ceilidh – it turns out that this was THE event of the month and everyone was going to be there, including all the bar staff!  So we headed back to Scalpay.  The Ceilidh was to be a joint event to celebrate the 80th birthday of local lady, Morag McLeod, as well as the Blas Festival.  There were a couple of tables of food, along with the cheapest bar we have seen in a while!  The first few hours were the birthday celebration, with local artists performing songs and playing the accordion and guitar.  The music was fantastic, even though we didn’t understand any of the words as it was all in Gaelic!  After the birthday celebration, all the tables were pushed back to the walls and the band set up – an accordion, a guitar and bagpipes.  The music was great and most people got up and danced.  I was even pulled up on to the dance floor by one of the local ladies and, while I can’t say I danced, I was guided around the dance floor to the Gay Gordon!  It was a fantastic evening, which wrapped up around 1:30am.  We didn’t have far to go as we were sleeping in the car park!

We spent Saturday exploring Harris by car.  We went back to Luskentyre to walk the beach from the north side.

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Debbie is the dot on the beach near the right hand side

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Next we drove to Leverburgh, the plan being to get lunch at the famous Butty Bus.  Typical – it was closed that day!!  We were a bit disappointed but found a Co-op which was well supplied so we bought enough stuff to feed us for a couple of days, before carrying on round the coast to Rodel.  This is where we found St. Clements Church, which was built for the chieftains of the McLeod clan.

After visiting the church, we sat next to the harbour at Rodel and had a picnic lunch

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harbour at Rodel with the hotel in the background

Then we headed back up the east coast of Harris, along the Golden Road, so called because it cost so much to build!  We went right the way round the southern part of island, then back across the isthmus to the northern end of the island.

We stopped at Glen Meavaig, walked up to the North Harris Eagle Observatory, and then continued on to Loch Voshimid, a 9 mile round trip.  There were a couple of people fly fishing in the loch, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything.

After the walk we needed another shower, so we popped back to Tarbert, cleaned up and then headed back to Huisinis (pronounced Hushinish), where we planned to spend the night.  The drive around the mountain was a bit hair-raising, but well worth it.  We even saw 5 deer on the way.  We discovered on arrival, that three days before, a new facility had been opened up for tourists.  There was plenty of parking, recycling bins, toilets, and (from 8am to 8pm), a shower block, more toilets and a viewing room, with picnic tables and double glazing.  The story behind the need for the facility is that with the growth in popularity of campervans, tourists had been blocking the access for the local crofters, and, I’m sorry to say, leaving rubbish lying around.  There had been public toilets before, but in the summer, the demand on the local water supply had been so much that they had been forced to bring water in by road.  Obviously, this wasn’t good for anyone, so first, the locals got together and installed two wind turbines, which supplied power to the area and provided an income by selling off the surplus.  That income, together with grants, provided the £270,000 needed to build the new centre.

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inside the new camping facility overlooking the beach

After a very windy night, with the car rocking almost as much as Sol Purpose, we awoke to some strange sounds.  On looking out of the window, we saw several highland cows and sheep!  They had wandered down from the hills above into the car park and were just wandering around!

It was pouring with rain for most of the day, so we decided to just stay put, making the most of the viewing room.  We read books, chatted with the intrepid bikers and walkers who showed up, and generally enjoyed the views.

On Monday morning, we headed out from Huisinis, and started to investigate the west coast, which has several historic sites.  We drove to see the Calanais (pronounced Callanish) standing stones.  Although not as well-known as Stonehenge, these standing stones are older.  Again, unlike Stonehenge, the stones are not really a circle, but more of a cross.  No one really knows what their purpose was, but they are very impressive.  It was initially a stone circle, a small chambered tomb was added later and the the cross was added still later.

Our next stop was the Carloway Broch.  This is the remains of an ancient homestead, probably of a powerful family, built on several levels.

The weather was a bit unsettled, so we took a side trip to Stornaway, the biggest town in Lewis, to visit the museum at Lews Castle.

The museum describes life in the islands from pre-history through the present day.  They make great use of oral histories, which brings it very much to life.  We spent several hours looking round the museum, before heading over to the west coast of Lewis and Great Bernera.  Bosta, at the north end of this island is home to the second of five of the time and tide bells installed by Marcus Vergette in 2010.

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time and tide bell in the distance

Right next to the bell was a recreation of an iron age house on a site where 4 were found.

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iron age house showing how they dug the entrance partially below ground level and partially walled to protect the entrance from winds

That evening we had dinner at the Doune Braes hotel restaurant.  There was a film crew making a movie there, but we weren’t able to find out much about it.  So after dinner, we headed to our stop for the night – Adroil, near Uig (Moray note: there is an Uig on Skye and Lewis).  This is the place where, in the 1800s, a beachcomber discovered a set of Norse chesspieces which became known as the Lewis Chessmen.  This was a beautiful beach with a lovely campsite, providing clean showers, toilets and trash cans.  All this for £2 per person per night!  It was already getting dark, so we parked up and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we took advantage of the lovely showers, before checking out the coast and beaches around the area.

Then we carried on up the west coast to check out some more of the sites.  During the drive, we marveled at how beautiful but bleak the scenery was.  The people who live and farm here must be a hardy breed!  This was borne out when we visited the Black House Village.  This was an inhabited village until about the 1970s, but was abandoned when the last inhabitants moved out.  Recently, the village has been restored.  Two of the houses are now a museum, while the rest can be rented out as holiday accommodation.  One of the highlights was watching a weaver making traditional Harris Tweed.

The loom was fully operational and the weaver was working when we were there…

We continued on up the west coast, visiting a few more sites, such as the Whalebone Arch,

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and a huge monolith

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and a Norse Mill, which has been reconstructed.  Unlike most mills there was never a vertical wheel.  The water was diverted under the mill and passed a paddle wheel directly connected to the mill stone.

Finally, we arrived at the most northern tip of the island, the Butt of Lewis.  Aside from the couple of hurricanes I have unfortunately experienced, this is probably the windiest place I have ever been!

We also visited the town of Ness, before heading down to New Tolsta where we planned to spend the next couple of nights.  The following day was another wet one, so we spent the morning reading and watching the locals show up to walk their dogs on the beach.

There was a break in the weather, so we decided to walk the Bridge to Nowhere, and take a look at the waterfall.  We were very lucky in that the rain held off the whole time we walked.  Almost as soon as got back to the car park, the heavens opened again, so we went back to reading!

Thursday was our final day in the Outer Hebrides.  We drove to Stornoway and got showers at the local YMCA.  As it was raining, we popped into a café and, while we enjoyed cappuccino and hot chocolate, we made use of the internet to catch up on the news and contact the boatyard who are caring for Sol Purpose.  At this point she is in the line of fire of Irma, though it is always possible that Irma will turn inland and we will dodge a bullet.  Not so much for our poor friends in Florida, and our thoughts are with them at this terrible time.

We took a drive out to see the memorial for the Iolaire disaster.  On January 1, 1919, a ship was heading back to Lewis, carrying 280 passengers, most of whom were servicemen returning from the war.  There was a terrible storm and the Iolaire got off course.  She ran aground on some rocks called the Beasts of Holm, just a few yards off shore.  One man, John McLeod, managed to swim to shore towing a heaving line, and it was used to guide some 40 of the passengers to shore.  However, the seas were dreadful, most of the passengers couldn’t swim, and several were weighed down by their heavy uniforms.  Over 200 people died, and some villages lost all their young men.  The monument is very moving.

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not the best weather for a walk.  The beasts of Holm can be seen between Debbie and the monument.  Now there is a navigational aid mounted there.

We headed back into Stornaway, and checked in for our ferry crossing the next day.  Then we went to the Royal Hotel, which has a restaurant called The Boatshed.  We had a superb meal there which was a great end to our trip.  Then we headed out for drinks at a local pub and then to the car park behind the ferry terminal where we could safely spend the night.

We were up at 5:30am to catch the 7am ferry to Ullapool.  The crossing took 2 ½ hours and was uneventful.  On arrival, we had a nice breakfast in Ullapool at the Frigate Café (sausages, bacon, egg, haggis, black pudding, hash browns).  Then we had a leisurely drive back to Turriff where we are now relaxing while the laundry is washing!

Quite a month!

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UK or Bust

When I last wrote an entry, I said that my next blog would be all about our UK trip, as all we had to do was move the boat and head for the airport.  The best laid plans etc., etc. – on Friday morning, the plan was to take Sol Purpose to the pump out station and the fuel dock, before heading to the boatyard.  I would drive there, while Moray would single hand the boat.  We settled up with the marina, started the engine, and left the slip.  Just as we turned into the fairway, the motor died.  Moray started it up again and we headed toward the pump out dock.  We had just made the turn, when the motor died again, leaving us drifting toward the railway bridge.  Unfortunately, in an effort to be efficient on arrival at the pump out dock, we had moved all the spare anchor chain in the anchor locker onto the primary anchor chain so we could get to the pump out deck fitting, so now we couldn’t drop the anchor.  And of course, we had removed all the sails to storage for the summer, so we now had no means of propulsion and no brakes!  Moray was trying to get someone’s attention to help us, while I took the wheel and tried to steer the boat away from the bridge.  We realized that we still had some control over the direction, so between us we managed to get into a slip, and get Sol Purpose safely tied up.  Moray immediately took a look at the engine to try to figure out what had happened.  Before long everything was fixed – just a couple of pipe clamps tightened a little too much on the new fuel lines he had just finished installing.  This caused the fuel pipes to be restricted.  With much relief, we started the motor and headed to the pump out station!

Moray took the wheel and drove the boat down the river to Wayfarers Marina, where Sol Purpose was lifted out of the water and onto the stands where she will spend the summer.  We packed bags for the trip home and then headed to our Air BnB for the night.  The next day, we went back to the boatyard, to complete a few final tasks.  I cleaned the now defrosted fridge and freezer, while Moray worked on some repairs to the prop shaft.  It was very hot in the boat, and the work was tough, but eventually everything was done.  We spoke with the boatyard manager and a craftsman there to organize work that would be carried out while we were in the UK.  This included the repair to the skeg, new bottom paint and some small gelcoat repairs.  We then headed back to the Air BnB.  Sunday morning saw one final trip to the boatyard to wrap things up and secure the boat, before heading to the airport to pick up a rental car.  Then it was back to get an early night as we would have a long day the next day.

Monday morning, at 5:30am, we began the long drive to New York.  We took turns at the wheel, and arrived at around 4pm, dropped off the car and checked in for our flight.  Of course, it was delayed, but not too long, and by 8pm we were on our way to Brussels.  We arrived at around 7:30am, picked up our bags and stowed them in an airport luggage locker.  Then we took a train into Brussels to spend the day sightseeing.  We didn’t have a huge amount of time, and we were very tired after the traveling, so we didn’t do too much, but we enjoyed seeing the Manneken Pis and his sister, the Jeanneke Pis!  Something caught Moray’s eye, in the same area as Jeanekke Pis was a Space Invaders Pis!!

We stopped for a Belgian beer or two, while people watching in the town square.  We walked around a beautiful park, and had a picnic lunch.

Finally, we bought some Belgian chocolates, before getting the train back to the airport.  Right on time, our flight to Bristol departed and by 10:30pm, we were at Mum’s house in Clevedon.

We had a relatively lazy day on Wednesday.  Mum had a list of tasks for each of us, so we researched what was needed to complete them.  We also started looking on Gumtree for a vehicle.  Our first thought was to get a campervan, but those proved to be far too expensive, so we started looking for an estate car that would be big enough for us to sleep in.  In the meantime, Mum kindly insured us to drive her car so we would have transport.

The next day, Mum dropped us off in Clifton, and we went on a trip down Memory Lane (for me, that is!)  First we walked through Clifton, where I used to work, then down Park Street, stopping off at Browns for a cold drink.  Next we went to Bristol Museum, and saw Alfred and the Gypsy Caravan.  The next stop was Brandon Hill and the Cabot Tower, which Moray climbed to see the great views of Bristol.  Then it was time to head to the Waterfront.  Since I left, the whole area has been revitalized and now is a bustling area with restaurants and bars.  We had a lovely dinner, sitting watching the boats, before heading to Avery’s.  I had found that there was a classic film festival going on and had bought tickets to see Casablanca in Avery’s wine cellars.  We were really excited about this, which was a shame, as the film was actually being shown on Friday!  Luckily, Mum was still in Bristol, so we called her and then headed to the Llandoger Trow and had a drink while we waited for her come and pick us up!  This is a pub that has been open near the waterfront since 1664.

After a quiet day working on our task list, Mum took us into Bristol and we went for a meal before round two of trying to see Casablanca.  This time we had it right!  We were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco, before heading into the candlelit cellars to watch the film.  A representative of the film festival gave us some interesting details about the film, before handing over to the Avery’s representative.  He explained that the film would be stopped at a number of places, and we would then be given a glass of wine from a country related to the film.  We had four glasses – one each from America, France, Germany and Casablanca (which is in Chile!).  We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and will be signing up for another when we get back to Bristol!  Once the movie was over, we headed to the bus stop to get the bus back to Clevedon.  The bus was late, but it was not a big deal as we met the Nailsea Nutters – a great group of older gentlemen who all meet up at a pub on Friday evening, have a few drinks and then ride back home on the bus.  They sang songs all the way home!

We spent most of the weekend working on our task lists.  Mine was easy – all knitting and crochet based.  Moray’s was much more difficult and involved building shelves in the pantry, the kitchen and the bathroom, as well as hanging mirrors and mounting a TV on the wall.

On Monday, Mum, Moray and I took the train from Yatton into Bath.  First stop, straight off the train was a coffee shop which is manned by, and in support of, people with autism.  Then we walked around Bath, looking at the Roman Baths (outside only!), and Bath Abbey, before heading to Sally Lunns Bun shop for lunch.  After lunch, we walked across Pulteney Bridge, past the Weir, and over to the Royal Crescent, before heading back to the train.  Bath is a beautiful city, and we hope to spend a bit more time there later in our trip.

Our next trip was to visit my aunt Chris and her husband Bryn in Ross on Wye.  After coffee, a chat, and a haircut for Mum (!), we all jumped in the cars and took a drive through the Forest of Dean to Symonds Yat.  There is a lovely pub on the river bank, right by a working ferry crossing.  It is fascinating to watch the ferry as it is pulled across the river by hand.  After a lovely pub lunch, we drove a little further up the road to Symonds Yat rock.  This is a huge rock, where the views are amazing.

Mum left on Sunday for a week’s holiday in Germany with my nieces and one of my nephews so we decided to travel a little farther afield for our sightseeing while she was away.  On Monday, we drove over to Cardiff to do a little shopping, including looking at a car.  We had arranged to see a car at 6pm, so went to St Fagans for the afternoon.  This is a park with a castle, and over 40 buildings which have been moved from various parts of Wales to St Fagans as a museum of Welsh history and culture.  There is a mill, a tannery, a number of farms and shops.  Our favourite buildings were the weaver’s workshop and the terraced ironworkers houses.  The former has someone taking the wool through the whole process (after the shearing), through to woven blankets and shawls.  The loom was huge and very complicated to work, but fascinating to watch.  Each of the houses in the terrace is decorated differently, starting with the fashion of the period when the row was built, and then progressing along the row to the 1970’s, when the row was moved to St. Fagans.  It was really interesting, but a bit odd to see a house furnished exactly like my grandmother’s house!

After a few hours walking around the park, it was time to head to Caerphilly to view the car.  We had already seen a few other cars, but this was the one we liked, so we made a call to get insurance in order that we could take it home.  We ran across a by now familiar problem, in that the insurance company couldn’t accept a foreign credit card (and while I had opened a bank account, my cards had not yet arrived).  Disappointed but not too bothered, we paid a deposit and headed home to Clevedon.

The next day, we set out reasonably early to drive to Donington, to visit Moray’s sister, Jane and her partner, David.  Moray’s brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Lorraine, had been on holiday touring  England, and had arrived the day before.  After coffee, we had a tour of the wonderful house and garden.

We then drove to the Royal Horticulture Society’s gardens at Wisley.  There, we met up with Moray’s uncle, Alistair and his friend Pam.  Moray hasn’t seen Alistair since he was about six weeks old, so it was quite a meeting!  After a wonderful roam around the beautiful gardens, we headed back to Jane and David’s for a wonderful dinner of BBQ and home grown vegetables.

After a late start on Wednesday, we headed off to Caerphilly to buy the car.  We had found that it is possible to get car insurance for 24 hours to cover test driving and buying cars.  While it wasn’t ideal, it meant that we would at least be able to get the car home to Clevedon, while waiting for my debit and credit cards to arrive.  Everything went smoothly, and Moray drove the Ford Mondeo Estate back, while I drove Mum’s car.  Once back, we went to the Post Office to tax it, which entailed rushing to an ATM to get cash because, surprise, surprise, the Post Office couldn’t accept a US credit card!

On Saturday, July 22, we took our next road trip.  We had hoped to be able to use our car, but luckily, we were able to use Mum’s.  First we drove down the M5, then headed on to the B-roads across Dartmoor.  Moray thoroughly enjoyed driving on the small country roads, as well as the great views across the Moor.  At one point, we had to stop as our road was blocked by a Dartmoor pony!  When we came to a halt, the pony came up to the car, obviously expecting to get a treat.  Moray wound down the window to take a picture and the pony reached into the car itself.  It was hilarious! [Moray Note: until it started chewing the windscreen wiper lever!]

That encounter over, we continued across Dartmoor, past the prison, to another landmark – Jamaica Inn.  We stopped at the Inn for lunch, but I must admit to being a bit disappointed.  I had visited the Inn about 30 years before and loved it, but over the years, it has become much more commercialized, and there were a couple of coach loads of people there.

Then it was back to the country lanes, heading for Port Isaac, which is called Port Wenn in the TV series, Doc Martin.  We saw the buildings used as Doc Martin’s house, the school and the pharmacy.

After a short time there, we headed to Mount Hawke, where my Aunty Joan and Uncle Brian live.

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Aunty Joan welcomed us with a traditional Cornish cream tea – a cup of tea, and a scone, smeared with jam, then clotted cream.  (If you reverse the cream and jam, it is a Devon cream tea!)  After tea and a chat, we drove down to a nearby town, St Agnes.  Uncle Brian’s sister-in-law and nephew live in St. Agnes, and they came out to visit with us, bringing coffee, cake and a jar of honey, which we enjoyed, while sitting on a bench overlooking the harbour.  Then it was back to Mount Hawke for dinner.

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St. Agnes

You may well have noticed a recurring theme in this blog – every time we get to someone’s house, or reach a town, coffee/tea and cake seem to appear.  We are going to be huge by the time we get back to Sol Purpose!

Early on Sunday morning, Moray and I headed off to another nearby town, called Porthtowan via some abandoned tin mines which are prolific in the surrounding countryside.

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There is a popular surfer’s beach in Porthtowan, so we sat having breakfast, watching people arriving to surf.  Moray was really interested in one house, which is a converted tin mine.

After a traditional Sunday lunch, we said goodbye to Joan and Brian, and took the motorway back to Bristol.  We had intended attending the closing event of the Harbourside festival but as it was pouring with rain, we decided to head straight back to Clevedon.  And finally, we had fish and chips for dinner!

We spent Monday getting the car ready for our trip.  I bought a black bed sheet, and Moray got hold of some cardboard boxes.  We cut out blackout covers for each of the windows, and covered them with the black sheet.  We bought an inflatable bed and pump which fits perfectly in the back of the Mondeo, so we were all set.  On Monday evening, Mum got back from her holiday, arriving at Tracy’s house at around 8:30pm so we drove over and picked her up. We finally managed to get our car insurance sorted out, so we were now all set to start the next stage of our trip.

On Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to Mum and headed away from Clevedon towards Oxford.  We parked in the Park & Ride and took a bus into the town to spend a few hours sightseeing.  We saw the School of Divinity, which was used as the Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.  We ate lunch at a lovely old pub, just next door to Diagon Alley!  We spent a couple of hours walking along the Canal, looking at the narrow boats.  We stopped to chat with one of the boat owners, and learned a lot of interesting information about the logistics and costs of canal boating in the UK.

After leaving Oxford, we headed towards Letchworth, in Hertfordshire.  The reason for visiting is this is the home of St Christopher’s School, the boarding school where Moray spent 6 years of his childhood.  We walked around as much of the school as possible, reminiscing about the good, bad and naughty times he had there!  As the school is closed for the holidays, we decided that we would spend the night in the back of the car in the school car park!  Obviously, there are no toilets there, so we forced ourselves to go to a local pub, have a drink and, thus felt justified in using their bathroom.  Then we parked in school car park, put the window screens in and turned in for our first night in the car.

We spent a remarkably comfortable night, and slept well, though of course, we woke up when the sun rose at about 6am!  We headed straight to Tesco, where there was a Costa Coffee and bathrooms!  After a delicious coffee, and picking up some lunch, we drove to Stamford.  This is a beautiful old town where several period dramas have been filmed, for example Middlemarch.  While walking along the river bank, we met a pike fisherman, who regaled us with all sorts of interesting stories!

Then we continued our journey northwards, across the Yorkshire moors to Tebay service station in the Lake District.  We had researched places to stay overnight, and found that newer motorway service stations, have to offer shower facilities and a place to park overnight.  We parked up and immediately made use of the free showers.  We then paid our £10 fee to spend the night, before going to their café and picking up some pies for dinner.  Then we moved the car a little farther away from the petrol station before settling in for the night.

The next morning, we had breakfast, bought some lunch from the Farm Shop, checked the air in the tyres, and then headed back to the road.  We drove to Falkirk, where we had two sights to see.   First we went to the Kelpies.  These are two gigantic sculptures of horses’ heads.  I must admit, I hadn’t been too enthusiastic, but they are spectacular!  After a while walking round the sculptures, we headed to the Falkirk Wheel.  This is an amazing feat of engineering, which is the only one of its kind in the world.  Rather than have a series of locks to move people up and down the canal, there is what I can only describe as a ferris wheel with a bucket at the bottom and the top.  The boats travel into the buckets, and the wheel moves round.  I’m not explaining this well, but maybe the pictures will help!  It is also possible to spend the night in the car park, for a fee of £15, which includes access to bathrooms and showers.  That all taken care of, we headed out to dinner at the Wheelhouse, before heading back to the Kelpies.  Although the Kelpies were fabulous during the day, we had heard that at night, they are illuminated.  Moray wanted to try to get some night pictures.  We got there far too early, so went for a walk until it started to get dark, at around 10:15pm!  It was worth the wait, as you will see from the pictures.  Pictures successfully obtained, we headed back to the Wheel car park, to settle in for the night.

After making use of the shower facilities, we left the Falkirk Wheel at 10am and drove to Balmoral.  We spent a few hours looking around the Castle and grounds.  These were absolutely beautiful, as we were there just a few days before the Royal Family were due to arrive, and the fruit and vegetables are timed to be ready just when they arrive!

Our journey was almost done, but first we stopped off in Aberdeen to see Sarah, Martin and new baby Amira.  We had a lovely visit and took lots of pictures before setting off, finally, to Turriff, to stay with Moray’s Mum.

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Amira, a genuinely beautiful baby!

On Saturday morning, we headed to Crossfields, to have coffee with Moray’s Aunt and Uncle, Fiona and Robert.  While there, Fiona showed me the yarn-bombed bicycle which had been put together for the CLAN booth at the Turriff show.  There were a couple of uncovered spots on the bicycle, so I crocheted a couple of flowers to add to the wheels!

On Sunday, July 30, we went to the Turriff show.  This is my first time at an agricultural show!  It was interesting, but would have been better if it hadn’t been pouring with rain!

We had planned to meet up with our friend, PB, but that didn’t happen.  No worries, as we got hold of him and met him and his friend, Scott, at the pub later that evening.  As the Turriff show is a huge annual event, the pub was absolutely packed, so most people were actually outside with their drinks.  We stayed for a while and then went back to Scott’s house for a while, before heading home.

Turriff 046

From left to right, Moray, Debs, PB and Scott

The next morning, we stopped off at the bakery where we purchased a baker’s dozen of rowies, before returning to Scott’s house for breakfast.  After a wonderful breakfast of bacon rolls and rowies, we said farewell to PB and the children, who were soon to head home to Calgary, before heading back to the Turriff show.  This time the weather was much better, and we got to see show jumping, Clydesdales, golden sheep and the Highland dancing competition.

It has been a great month – great sightseeing, great visits with friends and family, and a car purchase.   Below is a link to the path traveled so far…

https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=19232174

We are now working on the next thrilling installment…..

USEXIT (aka BRentrance!)

The adjustment to the Code 0 done in record time by Mack Sails, we set out on Wednesday, May 17th, to head back to New Bern, NC.  The original plan was to go out through the St Lucie Inlet, but the conditions didn’t look favourable, so we headed back up the ICW to Fort Pierce.  We went out through the Fort Pierce Inlet at about 3:30pm and headed out towards the Gulf Stream.  With high winds and lumpy seas, the ride was not as comfortable as we had hoped, and we considered heading back in to Cape Canaveral.  We decided against that, as we would be arriving after dark, and while it was uncomfortable, we felt safe.  The worst thing was that the autopilot wasn’t able to handle the conditions, so we manually steered.  This meant that instead of our normal three hour shifts, we took one hour shifts.  From Wednesday night to Friday morning, we were able to make good headway under sail alone, helped by the Gulf Stream current, but at about 4:30am on Friday, the winds died, so we motored until 2am on Saturday, when we started to motorsail.  At 10:30am, we entered the Beaufort Inlet.  There were lots of boats headed out for a day on the water, many of whom turned right round and went back in when they realized how rough it was out there!  We were getting anxious that we might not make it to New Bern – so near but so far – but right at 5pm, we pulled into a slip in New Bern Grand Marina.  We had covered 534 miles in just over 75 hours which meant we were covering 173 miles a day, or an average of 7.2 knots, which we were very happy with.

We connected the power and water, went to Bayleaf Indian Restaurant, one of our favorite restaurants in New Bern, to pick up a takeout, and then settled in for a good night’s sleep.

The reason for being in New Bern was to take care of several projects before hauling the boat out and storing her for the summer, while we go home for 4 months.  These included…

  1. Remove and replace the 2 water tanks, one with a plastic water tank and the other with an aluminum tank for diesel.
  2. Plumb boat for shore water so we could remove the tanks.
  3. Autopilot drive unit replacement.
  4. Replace anchor 1 ton shackles with 2 ton shackles.
  5. Investigate blockage in forward sink.
  6. Installation of a breaker for the solar panels so that they could be turned off when on shore power.
  7. Pickle watermaker for the summer.
  8. Service PeekaBooo shades.
  9. Replace the overhead hatch and install a recessed screen for the forward cabin
  10. Clean all stainless.
  11. Clean all teak.
  12. Organize flights/cars for travel to the UK

Most of the time here has been work, work, work, but we have managed to get in a few fun things.  First of all, the marina provides cable TV to each boat, so we were able to watch the live coverage of the America’s Cup.  It was amazing to see, and now we are waiting to hear the schedule, so we can start working on our plan to visit the southern hemisphere in 4 years’ time!

We took the opportunity to renew our CPR/AED first aid certifications, both because it is always good to refresh your skills, but also because it is a useful certification to have when applying for volunteer positions which we hope to do next summer.

We also visited the local Escape Room one Saturday evening.  Along with another group of 4, we had an hour to solve the clues to escape from the office of the serial killer doctor, who wanted to add us to his list of victims!  It was a lot of fun, and I am happy to report that we escaped with over 15 minutes to spare!

Now we are getting very close to hauling the boat out.  We have rented a storage unit to house the items that will be better stored in air conditioning, and the fridge/freezer is all but empty.  To prepare Sol Purpose for hurricane season, the sails have all been washed, dried and stowed, and the bimini cover and dodger have been removed.  On Friday, we will move Sol Purpose to Wayfarer’s Cove Marina (we are praying that the water level will come up a little so that we can get in!), and haul her out of the water, so that she can be cleaned, painted and repaired.  We will spend the weekend working on the repairs, while staying in an Airbnb nearby.  Then, (at last!) we will be driving up to Newark, to fly home.  4 months in the UK – here we come!

We will write a couple of blogs while in the UK as we travel.  We intend to buy a second hand camper van to tour around the country which we will then try to sell before we leave.  This will help with hotel costs and give us more freedom to explore.

One last thing, we have to give a huge shout out to Bob ad Clare, who lent us their brand new truck while they were in Bermuda for the Americas Cup.  It was a major boon to us for everything from grocery shopping to getting us to our first aid training.  It’s great to know people like this when you are a cruiser.

Sol Purpose has no Sole (part one)

Back in January we had tried to convert one of the water tanks to a diesel tank to increase our motoring range.  Leaks in the tanks put a stop to this project.  We knew that the issue would have to be addressed eventually and so we have used our 6 week stay in New Bern to remove the cabin sole, remove both the old water tanks, measure them and have new tanks made.  As we are leaving to go to the UK for 4 months over the summer, I wanted to get as much of the work completed before we left so that we could hopefully take no more than 2 or 3 weeks to get it all installed and the sole back down before heading South in the fall.

The project had many issues to face, not the least of which was that the sole is fixed in placed and tabbed to the hull.  The furniture sitting on the sole would also have to be removed first as this is also tabbed into the hull.

It took half a day to remove the port settee “uprights”.  I did not want to remove the seating surface as this is what is tabbed to the hull behind the seat backs.  As the seating surface was supported at the hull, galley bulkhead and forward cabin bulkhead I was not concerned about leaving the settee this way over the summer.

The removal of the sole took another two days.  Firstly I removed the trim around the inspection hatches and then took the sockets for the table legs out.

With this done it was time to remove all the fittings and hoses from the tanks to make sure that, while cutting out the sole, I did not damage any of them.  I then used a jigsaw to cut out the sole above the tanks, removing as little sole as possible.  I had to cut two inches off the jigsaw blade so it would not bottom out on the top of the tanks.

The cross members that border the fore and aft edges of the tanks were not where I expected to find them.  I thought the forward member would be directly under the bulkhead between the salon and forward cabin but it was about 4 inches aft of this.  I expected the aft member would be under the bulkhead between the galley and the salon.  It was about 3 inches aft of this.  This caused 2 sets of problems.  The first was that the removal of the aft water tank was difficult as I could not pull it directly upwards due to the galley bulkhead overhang.  The second was that the sole was 1 inch thick and was comprised of a 3/4″ marine plywood sub-floor and a 1/4″ teak and holly plywood glued on to the sub-floor.  When replacing the teak and holly part of the floor I would have to line it up with the teak and holly sole that was not removed.  The original join between the teak and holly in each area was the doorway through to the forward cabin and the bulkhead between the galley and the salon.  I would therefore have to route down all the teak and holly above sub-floor that was not being removed in the salon area to bring it level with the new sub-floor.

With the sole removed, I was able to see that the tanks were held in place with spray foam which held the tanks away from the walls and off the hull.  Both tanks had fill holes in the top of the starboard walls.  This caused an issue with the aft tank removal and so I had to cut the fill off.  I wanted to have the fill holes in the top of the new tanks so this would not prove an issue on reinstallation.

tanks 018

aft tank fill fitting removed

I now had to pry the old tanks out of the holes.  There was not enough room to get anything of any strength down the side of the tanks so I cut four slots in the top of each tank near the corners.  I was then able to insert a crowbar into these slots and pry the tanks out with the assistance of a car jack and fulcrum

tanks 014

crowbar and slots

tanks 016

technique to lift tanks out

With the tanks removed I could clean out the area beneath the tanks ready for the reinstallation of the new ones.  The space was surprisingly clean.  I had expected dead cockroaches and dust bunnies galore as the mast base drains through this area to the bilge but there was very little to clean up.

tanks 002

Now that the tanks were out I was able to clean up all the edges, route down the teak and holly where required and cut and fit sections of wood to screw the new sub-floor into around the perimeter of the holes.  With this done I bought 2 pieces of 3/4″ marine plywood and cut them to fit the hole.  This was problematic as the hole was not rectangular due to the inability to make cuts where desired.

The sub-floor was screwed down temporarily to allow us to move around the  boat till the new tanks arrived.

The second major issue regarding the project was that I was not able to find a manufacturer that would custom fabricate a plastic tank for both the water and fuel tanks.  I had to order the fuel tank in aluminum which is not an issue as our existing aluminum tank is 22 years old and has no signs of pitting whatsoever.  Boyd Welding in Ocala, Florida took the order for the fuel tank and was very helpful through all stages of the process.  I sent them the original design drawings that I was able to get from George McCreary at Caliber Yachts.  I tweaked the drawings to reflect the fittings required for a diesel tank as opposed to the original water tank.

I did not want to make the water tank out of aluminum as this is what led to pitting in the original tanks.  I was able to order one made from polypropylene from Dura Weld in Lake Worth Florida.  They were also very helpful through the whole process.

We intend to haul the boat just before we head to the UK to get the crack in the skeg repaired and also get a bottom job done.  We will leave the boat on the hard until we return at the start of November.  Luckily Tom at Wayfarers Marina and Boatyard agreed to accept delivery of the tanks and store them in his warehouse until we return.

I spent the next week ordering all the hoses required for the new fuel tank along with all fittings.  I will run all hoses that I can before we leave.  I plan to install two 3-way fuel valves.  One will be used to choose which tank supplies fuel to the engine.  The other will be used to ensure that the fuel return line goes back to the same tank.  These will be attached under the inspection hatch for the aft fuel tank.

Part two of this project will be completed when we return from the UK…

Wrap up of our first year

The first year is now in the books, so it’s time to reflect.  As I did for the first six months, I have put together details of our travel days, expenses and a few observations.  I hope you will find these interesting/useful.

Where we have been

For various reasons set out previously, in the first six months, we had spent more time in marinas than we had anticipated.  The second half of the year proved more in line with what we had envisioned, with much of the year spent at anchor.  At first, we had thought that we would need to run the motor when we ran the watermaker, in order to keep the batteries charged, but after talking with some other cruisers, we learned that, so long as it was a sunny day, the solar panels, along with the wind generator, would be enough to keep up with the watermaker.  This was great as it meant that we didn’t have to use precious fuel in order to keep up with our water needs.  Another advantage of being at anchor is that, except in a few circumstances, you always face into the wind, so you can get a nice breeze going through the boat, thus removing the need for air conditioning.

Here is the breakdown of how we spent the first year:

First six months Second six months
Overnight travel  26   5
At anchor  62 139
Free marina/moorings  14   7
Moorings  11 4
Marinas  71 26
184 181

In the first six months – 5,161 miles, 2 countries, 14 states, 45 different anchorages/marinas.

In the second six months – 2,801 miles, 2 countries, 2 states, 57 different anchorages/marinas.

The link below shows the route of Sol Purpose since we left Kemah, TX.

Route of the first six months

The link below shows the route in the second six months:

Route of the second six months

The Bottom Line

As mentioned in my previous post, we are trying to keep our spending below $3,000 per month.  The first six months saw us way over that target, but things were much better in the second half of the year.

We did buy a complete set of sails from Mack Sails, but we had saved this money and set it aside before we left, so I have not included this expense.  The new sails, in particular the Code 0, have enabled us to sail in winds in which we previously would have had to use the motor.  Although there were the inevitable repairs, these were much more routine and less expensive than in the first six months.

We did a lot better in the eating out category!  Christmas was a bit of a blip, as was the time we spent in Georgetown, but overall, we did much better.  Of course, when you spend four months fishing for lobster, conch, and mahi-mahi, why would you need to go out to eat?  By the way, let me know if you need suggestions on how to prepare mahi-mahi – I have at least 10 recipes!

Finally, in this six month period, we sailed a lot more, which saved on fuel, and spent the vast majority of our time at anchor

Here are the details:

Category 5/12/16- 6/1/16- 7/1/16- 8/1/16- 9/1/16- 10/1/16- 11/1/16-
5/31/16 6/30/16 7/31/16 8/31/16 9/30/16 10/31/16 11/12/16
Fuel         527.96        317.19        154.65        193.81          381.50            48.91  –
Insure Boat  –  –    2,564.80  –  –  –  –
Registration  –  –  –  –  –            26.00  –
Other Boat         111.73    1,981.97            1.95        115.26          220.60          929.74          163.32
Dining         171.36        646.18        890.38        787.98          328.21          370.63          148.01
Ent. & leisure         270.51        930.64        812.30        395.57          249.09          650.64  –
Groceries         533.00        417.52        801.87        806.71          819.51          599.73          422.22
Household         101.78          83.31        256.87          90.12            97.36          560.47            92.00
Medical  –    1,057.18        701.33        713.51          721.33          691.77  –
Misc.  –        137.12          59.00          10.85  –  –  –
Travel to UK  –  –        288.09          74.52  –  –  –
Slip fees         709.30        448.90        310.00        746.24          510.00          607.95  –
Telephone         149.28          69.14          69.21          69.25            76.71            80.24               8.50
TOTAL     2,574.92    6,089.15    6,910.45    4,003.82      3,404.31      4,566.08          834.05
Category 11/13/16 – 12/1/16 – 1/1/17 – 2/1/17 – 3/1/17 – 4/1/17 – 5/1/17 –
 11/30/16  12/31/16  1/31/17  2/28/17  3/31/17  4/30/17 5/12/17
Fuel           11.24        248.64        676.24                 –            321.43            34.00          153.07
Registration                  –                 –          70.00                 –                   –                   –                   –
Other Boat         178.17        362.60        201.67            3.24            20.00                   –                   –
Charity                  –                 –        240.39                 –                   –            25.00                   –
Dining         193.90        293.25        163.19        910.55          413.21          381.00          414.57
Ent. & Leisure         190.40        920.14        212.90        396.80          290.00          385.74          348.42
Groceries         399.95        780.00    1,583.60        288.08 897.67          638.31            53.44
Household         676.49    1,534.14    1,170.01          33.48          213.78            42.30            38.50
Insurance                  –                 –        110.00                 –                   –                   –                   –
Medical         135.15                 –                 –                 –                   –                   –                   –
Immigration fees                  –                 –        300.00                 –                   –                   –                   –
Internet                  –                 –                 –                 –                   –            56.26                   –
Slip Fees                  –        719.77                 –                 –                   –                   –            85.00
Telephone           60.64          68.74          58.39          28.40            10.00                   –            66.15
TOTAL     1,845.94    4,927.28    4,786.39    1,660.55      2,166.09      1,562.61      1,159.15

 

We have stayed in so many places this year, all memorable, whether it is for the beauty, the solitude, or conversely, the camaraderie of fellow cruisers.  It hasn’t always been fun, but there has not been a day when I regret the decision we made, to quit the rat race and start travelling the world.  We now have to start planning the next adventure!

The Passage Home

After the best night’s sleep in several days, we woke up refreshed and ready to get some tasks taken care of.  While I worked on updating the blog, Moray fixed a broken lifeline, moved the fishing rod holders, serviced the outboard motor and adapted a SUP paddle he had found while snorkeling for use in the dinghy.

That done, we went ashore to Rock Sound to take a look around.  We walked as far as the Market Place, where there were several stores, but in the British tradition, they were closed because it was Wednesday afternoon!  We found the laundromat and then stopped at Wild Orchids for a Kalik.  It appears that this restaurant has been bought and sold several times over recent years, but it looks as though the current owners are working on expanding the deck area, which will be great.  After leaving there, we walked to the highly recommended Sammy’s.  The menu appeared to be extensive, but we soon learned that it is quicker just to ask what they have that day!  It wasn’t an issue, as the conch fritters, mahi, and BBQ combo (pork chop, chicken and ribs) were all excellent!

We spent a couple of relaxing days anchored in Rock Sound Harbor, taking care of laundry, grocery shopping, chatting with friends on the phone, etc.  We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and decided on Saturday morning to move across from Rock Sound Harbor to Poison Point, where there would be protection from the south winds and waves.  Moray jumped in to check on the anchor and then went snorkeling.  He came back saying that he had seen lots of large crabs, so he went back to the spot with the dinghy, gloves, gaff etc. to see what he could find.  He came back with two large, very active crabs (channel clinging crabs aka reef or spiny spider crab, or coral crab)!  We put sea water in the sinks and put the crabs in them, while we researched how to kill, clean and cook them.  Even with the instructions we found, we had quite a time trying to deal with them, but eventually they were steamed and ready to be eaten.  The meat was very tasty and we made crab rolls from them, but on balance, we probably won’t do it again!

The next day was a fairly lazy day, as we waited for the storms to arrive.  It rained on and off during the day, so we relaxed inside, listening to music and booking flights for our trip back to the UK over the summer!  It’s so exciting to be going home for 4 months!  And thank goodness for air-miles!!

The storm arrived, with heavy rains and winds around 30 knots, but our anchor held beautifully and we were comfortable.  Just 3 miles away, in the marina at Cape Eleuthera, they were hit by a microburst, with winds at 110 knots and hail.  We heard that some boats broke loose, but all were undamaged and everyone was safe.  Eventually, the storm died down around 3am and we finally made it to bed.  We had planned to move back up to Rock Sound Harbor once the storm had passed, but instead we moved slightly further east and dropped anchor by a Blue Hole.  We jumped in and snorkeled around the hole for a while.  There were a lot of mutton snapper and yellow fin tuna there, so once we were done, Moray went back over with the pole spear and came back with a snapper.  The weather continued to be calm so we decided that we would stay put, and in the morning, revisited the Blue Hole, this time with scuba gear.  It was a fairly shallow dive, about 23ft, but interesting to investigate deeper down in the hole, under the ledges we couldn’t reach while snorkeling.  It turned out that 2 “caves” at either end of the blue hole were actually tunnels that dropped down rapidly.  We had not brought our dive lights so Moray stopped when he reached 45ft and was surrounded by darkness and big fish.  He felt a current pull against him in one of the tunnels so it must have been joined elsewhere to another body of water.

After a week in the Rock Sound Harbor area, it was time to continue our journey northwards.  We headed up to Governor’s Harbor, and dropped anchor as close into the shore as we dared.  This is the most populated place we have visited in a while, with some very large houses nestled among the trees on the hillside.  There was a fisherman selling his catch on the beach, and while we had a drink at Da Perk, we watched a constant stream of cars pulling up and purchasing fish or conch salad.

Abacos 089

local fisherman preparing his catch for sale

One of the reason for coming to Governor’s Harbor was to visit the dive store, get our tanks refilled and buy new computer batteries.  Unfortunately, the dive store no longer does tank fills and appeared to be more of a spearfishing store than dive store.  They gave us the number of someone who might be able to fill the tanks and suggested that we might be able to get the batteries we needed at the grocery store.  The grocery store couldn’t help us.  And when we called the guy about the tank fills, he wanted $20 per tank, plus a $60 fee to come and pick up the tanks!  Now we both love to dive, but $100 for tank fills seemed a bit steep, so we decided to decline!  We had been the only boat in the harbor when we arrived, but by nightfall, several others had arrived.  Dinner that night was another variation on the Mahi-Mahi; bacon wrapped over a bed of rice.

Eleuthera 001

mmmmmahi-mmmmahi

The next morning, we went for a stroll around town.  We walked along the shore and round to the government dock area.

We also met a couple, Ted and Mili, from Morning Glory.  After chatting with them for a while, we walked up to the resort at the other end of the town.  It’s a nice looking resort with pretty chalets, a restaurant and pool.  It looks as though it must be doing well as more chalets were being constructed.  It’s nice to see someone succeeding as there are so many abandoned hotel and resort projects scattered throughout the Bahamas.

Once back at the boat, we decided to go for a swim, so swam over to Morning Glory to say hello again!  After about an hour in the water, we headed back to the boat to get ready for an early start the next day.  We needed to time our arrival at Current Cut so that we would have the easiest possible passage through the Cut on our way to Spanish Wells.  As we arrived at the Cut, we saw Tackless Too, a boat we had first met in George Town, who were headed to Royal Harbor to have their boat hauled out, so we spoke with them for a couple of minutes before continuing on our way.  This was the beginning of a bad week for me, as far as steering the boat is concerned.  We tried to anchor in the main anchorage, but after a couple of failures to get the anchor to set, we moved around to another anchorage.  On the way there, I managed to run us on to a shoal  [Moray’s note: There are only 2 types of sailors; those who have run aground and liars :)].  We got off the shoal fairly quickly, but I was stressed about it.  It took another three attempts before both Moray and I were happy with our position, but finally, we were settled.  We took the dinghy in to town, and headed up to the Shipyard for a couple of drinks and a selection of appetizers, which were excellent.  While walking through Spanish Wells we saw a single car ferry run by a man who dressed like he was Amish but could not be as his ferry had an outboard motor 🙂  He would carry vehicles from Spanish Wells to Russell Island or the mainland of Eleuthera

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The Amish ferryman!

After making a couple of phone calls the next morning, we loaded the scuba tanks into the dinghy and headed into town.  We went quite a way, past the marina and round to a private dock where the scuba store was.  We dropped off the tanks, and walked over to a bakery, and then to a grocery store, where we managed to get fresh cilantro and sour cream.  We picked up the tanks and headed back to Sol Purpose.  The anchorage had been rolly the night before, but now it was even worse, so we decided to move back out to Meeks Patch, where we thought it might be a bit more settled.  If not, at least we would be cutting an hour from the following day’s run to the Abacos.  There were already several boats there, and it was much more comfortable.  We enjoyed mahi-mahi tacos that evening, with sour cream, cilantro, guacamole etc. (Are you seeing a pattern to our menu yet?)

On Sunday, April 30th, we said goodbye to Eleuthera and headed towards the Abacos, for the last part of our Bahamas adventure.  We set off at about 9am and headed out into bouncy seas, with 8 foot swells that had a short period.  Because of this the autopilot was hunting a lot so Moray hand steered for the 8 hour trip.  It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but we sailed the whole way, which was wonderful.  We arrived at Lynyard Cay at around 6:30pm, and dropped anchor.  There were a couple of other boats there, but there was so much room, we were nice and secluded.  The original plan was to anchor there and dinghy over to visit Little Harbor, and Pete’s Pub and Gallery, as several other contributors to Active Captain had done.  We soon realized that they must have much more powerful outboards than us, as there was no way our dinghy would be able to get us there in comfort.  So we pulled up anchor and at high tide, made our way through the channel into Little Harbor, and for the first time since December 16th, did not anchor, but tied off to a mooring ball.  This is a nice little harbor, and Pete’s Pub and Gallery are great places to visit.  If you go there, you must try the Blaster – their signature drink!  There were several boats that had come down on a day trip from Hope Town, as well as several boats on moorings.  One we recognized from our time in Boot Key Harbor – Saltwater Taffy.

 

The next morning, Moray went up the mast to take pictures to show the Code 0 issue to Mack Sails, and to fix the anemometer, which had bent slightly.

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Sol Purpose and Debbie (the grinder) 55ft below

That done, he sent off an email to Mack Sails and we sat down to relax until high tide, so that we could get out of the harbor.  While we were waiting, Mike and Blanche from Saltwater Taffy came over to say hello.  It appeared their plans were similar to ours so we agreed to meet up the next day.  Just before high tide we set off, but for the second time, I managed to put us on the bottom, so back to the mooring ball for 20 minutes, by which time, there was enough water to get us through the channel.  Our plan was to head to Sandy Cay, drop anchor and take the dinghy to a mooring ball, so that we could dive the reef there.  As we were passing the cay, we could only see two mooring balls and the swells were very bad, so we decided to keep on going up to Tilloo Cay and anchor for the night.  Shortly afterward, Saltwater Taffy arrived, and we arranged to have lunch at Cracker P’s the next day.

We took our dinghies over to Cracker P’s and were looking forward to a great lunch, as the place had rave reviews.  Luckily the company was good, as the lunch was very disappointing.  Ah well… not everywhere can be perfect!  Anyway, after lunch, we took Sol Purpose back down to Sandy Cay, dropped anchor and dinghied round to the dive moorings.  That morning, the moorings had all been replaced, so we were the first to use the superb new mooring – no slime on the pennants etc. – it’s the little things!  We dropped on to the reef and were immediately enjoying a great dive.  I would have liked to have investigated the top of the reef a little more but the swells were bad, so we dropped down, where everything was calm.  75 minutes of swimming down the reef and back was amazing – good corals, lots of fish.  Once the dive was over, we headed back to Tilloo Cay to anchor another night.

Our plan on Thursday was to have a lazy morning and when the tide was right, head into Hope Town to pick up a mooring ball where we could ride out the next weather front.  While we were sitting in the cockpit, we saw Morning Glory pass by, on their way to Man O’War Cay.  At around 2pm, we pulled up the anchor and headed into Hope Town.  We weren’t able to raise the marina on the radio until we were inside the harbor, but eventually they came on and told us to pick up any red or blue mooring ball.  We were making our way round the harbor looking for an available red or blue ball, when they came back on the radio and told us to grab the yellow ball that was right in front of us.  We did so, and once secured sat down to look around.  This was the closest packed mooring field we had ever been in, but it looked as though there was just sufficient room.  It was then that we realized that the boat next to us was Providence!  We had met Bill in Little Farmers Cay and again in Georgetown, so were delighted to see him again.  Just as we arrived, he came back to his boat, so he swung by to say hello and let us know a bit about Hope Town.  He pointed out a pool area, where the cruisers gather every afternoon at around 4pm to chat, have a couple of drinks and play Mexican Train dominoes.  We had never played before, but thought it sounded like fun, so we went over there.  The game is a lot of fun, and fairly easy to learn.  It was a great afternoon!  Mike and Blanche from Saltwater Taffy came over to say hi, as they had also arrived in Hope Town that morning.  And later, while we were enjoying sundowners in the cockpit, Ted and Mili from Morning Glory dropped by.  They had been up to Man O’War Cay for the day and were now anchored outside the harbor.  They were going to see what the weather was like and come into the harbor the next morning if necessary.

The next morning, the guy we had spoken to from the marina came over.  It turned out that the yellow ball was his own, so he came to collect the payment.  As every ball in the harbor costs the same, it wasn’t an issue.  I just hoped that it was as well maintained as all the others!  It doesn’t seem to matter to the marina that people on other mooring balls use their pool, laundry and bars, so all was good!  Moray headed ashore to take care of the laundry, while I baked.  Unfortunately, the laundry driers didn’t work so well, so it was almost 4pm by the time he got back!  He wasn’t best pleased, so I made him a quick snack before we headed to the pool area to play Mexican Train.  The sky was looking a little ominous, so we took our foul weather jackets with us, much to the amusement of some of the others.  10 minutes into the game, the heavens opened!  We grabbed the dominoes and ran to the bar area, which was more covered than the pool area.  We put a couple of the restaurant tables together and carried on with the game.  The roof was leaking a little, so a couple of people were still getting a bit wet, but the game was fun nevertheless!

That evening, we were hoping to find some live music somewhere, and were told that Cap’n Jacks would have music and Cinco De Mayo specials.  We headed over there at around 6:30pm, only to find that the Cinco De Mayo specials ended at 6pm!  Oh well!  We ordered dinner and then headed into the bar area to wait for the music to start at 9pm.  It turned out that it wasn’t live music but a DJ.  We hung around there for a while, chatting to a couple, Doug and Tina, from another sailboat, Amazed, and watching a group of teenagers who were holidaying on a motor yacht, having their own Girls Gone Wild experience!

I spent Saturday morning planning a few alternatives for our journey back to Stuart, Florida.  It wasn’t the easiest task as for some reason our weather forecasting app was only predicting 2.5 days out, rather than the 5 it should have, but I got a few alternatives planned out, including getting three days of diving in.  After lunch, we headed in to Hope Town and took a stroll around the town.  The island is unlike any of the other islands we had seen up to this point.  The houses are all beautifully kept, with colourful gardens and well-kept lawns.

We walked down to the beach, and stopped at a beach bar for a piña colada, before heading back into town.  Although we had been told otherwise, Froggies the dive store was open, and could fill our dive tanks, so we headed back to Sol Purpose to pick them up.  As we were crossing the mooring field we spotted Mele Kai!  We stopped and knocked on the hull, and out came Jeanette and Walter – we haven’t seen them since we left Kemah!  We said hello and they invited us to their boat later that day.  We got the tanks taken care of and then headed off to play Mexican Train one last time, before heading over to Mele Kai.  Already there were Tim and June from Subject to Change, another Kemah boat!  We had a pleasant evening there, before heading out to see if we could join the lighthouse keeper as he lit the lamp.  The Elbow Reef lighthouse in Hope Town is the last which requires the kerosene mantle to be manually lit each evening.  The Fresnel lens rotation is managed by the keeper “winding” up a 700lb weight through the height of the tower, that when released, allows the lens to spin for 2 hours.  He has to repeat this work throughout the night.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone around and the lighthouse was locked so we headed back to Sol Purpose.

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another view of the lighthouse from the approach channel

On Sunday, we headed out from Hope Town at around 1pm.  For the third time in about a week, I managed to put us on the bottom, and by this time I was refusing to ever steer again!  But we got out of the harbor and picked our way out across the shallows into slightly deeper water, and then headed for Mermaid Reef.  As we approached, we saw that Saltwater Taffy was already there.  We anchored and headed over to the reef to snorkel.  As soon as we got in, the sergeant majors started towards us, hoping to be fed.  We just kept going and eventually they left us alone.  What a spectacular reef!  The corals themselves aren’t too exciting but the amount and variety of fish life was the best we had seen.  Among others we saw Midnight Parrotfish, a golden eel, a yellow stingray, porgy, and best of all, lots of lobster that delighted in tormenting Moray by walking around in the open, almost as if they know when it is closed season!  The strangest sight I have ever seen was a blue-tinged (egg guarding) sergeant major attacking a lobster that was presumably too close to the eggs.  He was constantly biting its antennae.

After about an hour, we headed back to Sol Purpose, took nice hot showers and headed over to Saltwater Taffy for dinner.  Blanche cooked a wonderful dinner of chicken, spinach and wild rice and we shared a lovely evening, talking about where we had all been in the Bahamas and our plans for the future.

The next day we headed over to Fowl Cay Reserve, dropped anchor and headed over to the reef in the dinghy.  We tied off to a dive mooring ball, and dropped in.  The fish life was not so spectacular as on Mermaid Reef, but the coral structures were incredible and we were escorted for pretty much an hour by a huge grouper, who Moray named Greg.  He followed us like a puppy, and even appeared to want his chin tickled!  After a great dive, we headed back to Sol Purpose and set off for Treasure Cay.  We anchored just behind Stephanie Dawn, a boat from Kemah, who was on a mooring ball.  We took the dinghy over, but found that Sandra was not on board, so we headed in to see if we could find the dive store that the resort advertises it has.  We found that the dive store is no longer in operation.  Disappointed, but not surprised, we went to the bar and had a beer before heading back to the boat.  As we passed by Stephanie Dawn, we saw that Sandra was now home, so we had a quick chat with her.  It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to really catch up with Sandra and Rick, but I’m sure we will do so next year.

On Tuesday, we refueled at the Treasure Cay fuel dock before heading out.  We had called ahead to Brendals dive store on Green Turtle Cay and confirmed that they could fill our scuba tanks.  They also reminded us that everything would be closed the following day as that was election day in the Bahamas.  With this in mind we quickly changed our plans.  We headed straight to Green Turtle Cay, and got the tanks filled.  Then we went straight down to No Name Cay, where we anchored and dinghied over to the reef.  This time there were no mooring balls, so we dropped the dinghy anchor in the sand and headed over the reef.  This dive was a lot shallower than the previous day, but just as pretty, with interesting coral structures and with quite a variety of sea life.  The only disappointing thing was the group of snorkelers all carrying pole spears, despite the fact that this is a reserve and fishing is banned.  Some people just don’t think the rules apply to them and it’s a shame.

As soon as the dive was over, we headed back to Green Turtle Cay so that we could get the tanks refilled before the store closed.  That taken care of, we headed into New Plymouth, as this would be the last town we would see in the Bahamas – this trip!  We took a walk around town in the afternoon.

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only in the Bahamas…

We found a court setup for some type of game/sport but had no idea what the markings represented.  If anyone knows, please inform us…

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what game are these markings for?

Moray had read about an amazing Chinese restaurant/food truck and was craving Chinese food.  We eventually found the place, but it was closed 😦 as were the next couple of places we tried 😦 .  Eventually, we were directed to a restaurant/bakery, where the food was delicious.  Moray even had a rum & raisin, home-made ice cream 🙂 .  On our way back to Sol Purpose, we stopped to say goodbye to Saltwater Taffy, who had just arrived.  They were planning to stay a couple of nights before heading to Great Sale Cay, then West End, and then make the crossing over to Fort Pierce on Saturday.  Our plans were a little different, so we wished them safe travels and headed back to our boat.

The next morning, we headed over to Manjack Cay, and anchored in the Nunjack Channel, before taking the dinghy over to the reef.  Again, there were no mooring balls around, so we dropped the anchor and started our dive.  The site is called the Catacombs and was absolutely the most spectacular dive of the trip.  It’s always good to save the best for last!  The coral structures were fabulous, with lots of swim-throughs and light cascading down through the coral on to the sand below.  There were several different types of coral and plants, and lots of fish.  Almost as soon as we descended, we saw a nurse shark, half way through we saw a huge Southern Stingray burying itself in the sandy bottom and the dive was rounded off by us being escorted along the reef by a blacktip reef shark.  He checked us out once or twice and then must have decided we were dull, as he headed out away from the reef!  It’s not particularly deep, and we were able to take our time going out and back along the reef.  In all, we spent 80 minutes under the water.  What a great way to end our Bahamas trip!

Back on board, we set off for Fox Town, where we would be anchoring for the night.  Shortly after we arrived, another boat came in a dropped anchor – right next to us!  I guess the snuggle syndrome was in full effect!

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Sunset in Fox Town

The next day was just a run over to Mangrove Cay to stage our crossing back to the USA.  We motored all the way, so were able to run the water maker to fill the tank.  When we arrived, there was only one other boat there, but by sunset, several boats had arrived.  I’m not sure if they had all just arrived in the Bahamas or like us, were headed back to the States.

Friday morning was May 12th, exactly one year since we had left Kemah for the last time!  The plan was to leave at around 4am, when the winds would be westerly but not very strong, head west toward Memory Rock, then turn northwest and use the predicted southerly wind and gulfstream to get us to Fort Pierce just before sunset.  The best laid plans…..  First of all, when the alarm went off at 3:30am, the winds were howling.  We had coffee while we decided what to do.  I picked up my watch and realized that it wasn’t 4am, it was only 2am!  When the SIM card in the phone had been switched out, something had messed up the time!  By now, we weren’t able to go back to sleep, and the wind was too strong to try to get out of the anchorage.  So we watched a TV show until 4am!  By then, the winds had dropped, although they were still westerly.  We had a bright almost full moon, so we slowly picked our way out of the anchorage and set off.  Once we got out of the protection of the island, the seas were very lumpy and we were at times only travelling at 2.5 knots, with a projected arrival time of the next morning.  When we sped up, our projected arrival was in the middle of the night.  Now I hate arriving anywhere after dark, more so if it is somewhere new and even more so, if we are anchoring.  I tried to swallow my fears and just deal with the situation.  We decided to head a little further west than we had originally planned and then make a sharper turn northward to make use of the southerly winds, when they arrived.  At 1:30pm, the winds changed and we were able to get out the sails.  We also were now in the gulf stream, and suddenly we were racing along at 9 or 10 knots!  It was amazing!  Such a lovely day of sailing and our projected arrival got earlier and earlier.  Just as the sun was setting, we entered the Fort Pierce inlet, heaving a sigh of relief that we would be able to get the anchor down just before it got dark, and relax.  But that wasn’t on the cards just yet.  We were heading along the inlet, almost at the anchorage, when the coastguard pulled alongside us, and asked where we were coming from.  We told them, and when asked, said we were heading to the anchorage just ahead.  So now I had to anchor, in growing darkness, with a coastguard boat right next to me!  As soon as the anchor was set, they came on board, checked our paperwork, checked our life-jackets, fire extinguishers, through hulls and life ring.  They even checked that we had a bell on board, which thankfully, we do.  They were great guys, and even gave us tips about which restaurants and bars to go to!  Not what I had wanted to happen that evening, but not a bad experience at all!

On Saturday morning, Moray went ashore to call Customs.  Our phone wasn’t working with the AT&T SIM card, so he needed to get to somewhere with an internet connection and use Skype to make the call.  That went fairly painlessly, so then he came back and picked me up, so we could head to the airport to clear immigration.  We got an Uber, and in no time were at the airport.  The driver waited for us for the 15 minutes or so it took to clear immigration, and then brought us back to the City Marina.  We took a look around the Farmers Market, before heading to the Tiki Bar for a celebratory beer.  We ordered the local wheat beer, Sailfish White Marlin, which was delicious.  As we were drinking, a guy arrived and sat down next to us.  He asked what we were drinking.  When we told him, he told the server that the next round was on him.  It turned out that he was the manager of the Sailfish Brewery!  We chatted with him for a while and then headed back to Sol Purpose.  We sat in the cockpit watching the party boats coming and going from the island, as well as the fishing boats stopping to gather their bait.  Just as the party boats were just about gone, we heard over the radio a conversation between Tow Boat US and Saltwater Taffy.  It appeared that Saltwater Taffy was almost in the inlet but had had engine trouble.  We contacted Mike to let them know where we were anchored and that there was plenty of room for them too.  Their engine was fixed at that point, so Tow Boat US guided them in and they dropped anchor just next to us.  They had had a long day, most of it under sail, but had an engine problem when they started the motor to come into the inlet.  Mike had had to replace the raw water impeller which he had just replaced the week before.  We told them that we would be leaving for Stuart the next morning, but chatted for a while, before saying goodbye, again!

We departed the anchorage and Fort Pierce at around 8am on Sunday, waving goodbye to the Coastguard guys as we passed their boat!  We made our way down the ICW, timing our arrival at the St Lucie inlet for high tide, so that we would be able to get into Manatee Pocket.  We stopped at the Mariners Cay Marina fuel dock, before heading to Hidden Harbor Estates.  Bill, our friend on Providence, had put us in contact with the dock master here and we have been able to get a slip in the private marina associated with the community he lived in.  It’s great because it is just down the road from Mack Sails, which is the reason we have come here.  It is also close to the Twisted Tuna, where we went to eat some delicious sushi before settling down for the evening with air conditioning for the first time in over 5 months!

Mack Sails will be coming tomorrow, so hopefully we will soon be headed north to New Bern.

 

Dinghy Debacles, Part Deux

One of the great things about the cruising life is all the great people you get to meet.  Of course, that means that one of the worst things is constantly saying goodbye to some awesome people.  This has particularly been on our minds over the past few weeks.  First of all, it is a year since we had such a great leaving party, and we realise how much we are missing our friends from Texas.  Then, we have been thinking about the people we have met over the past year and wondering where they are now.

We spent quite a lot of time in Georgetown and got to know a few people there, so leaving on March 30th was bittersweet.  The day started by waving goodbye to Paul on Arriba II and Hazel & Sue on Susimi.  They were heading south towards Cuba, while we were heading north to Emerald Bay to refuel and then east, towards Long Island.  We spent the night anchored at Calabash Bay at the north end of the island, so we were ready for an early start to head to Rum Cay the next morning.  Almost as soon as we set off, the autopilot decided to go on strike, so this would be the day for me to practice steering manually!  I am confident steering under engine power but when the sails are introduced into the mix, I get a little stressed.  Practice then, forced or otherwise, is a good thing!  Next, Moray went up on to the deck to check the mainsail, and found that the topping lift shackle had disconnected from the boom.  This wouldn’t be a problem while we were sailing but we wouldn’t be able to furl the main without dropping the boom on to the bimini.  With Moray standing on the rail to reach the boom, I was even more stressed, but he fixed it quickly and all was well.

We had decided to anchor at the north end of the island, where there was a nice reef we wanted to snorkel.  The downside was the number of coral heads around.  There are so many that they aren’t all marked on the charts, which means that Moray stood on the bow to signal back to me where the coral heads were.  We dropped anchor, and Moray jumped in to check around.  When he came back aboard, I could tell that he wasn’t comfortable, so we pulled up the anchor and searched around a little, until we found a better spot.  Now that we were settled, Moray took the dinghy over to the reef to take full advantage of the last day of lobster season.  He came back with a huge lobster, but had left a big grouper as a shark came by when he was about to spear it!

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Last spiny lobster of the season

We spent two nights here, in a totally secluded anchorage, sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming.  The coral was bleached in places, and there was clothing all over it, presumably remnants of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the island quite hard.  However it reached from the sea bed 20ft up to the surface and was over 2 miles long, there was plenty of fish life and it was a fun day of snorkeling.  Rum Cay was idyllic and just what we had hoped for when we came to the Bahamas.

Our next stop was to be Conception Island.  We had a great day of motor sailing with the Code 0 (love that sail!), and arrived in Conception around high tide, which was perfect for visiting the mangrove creeks.  We dropped anchor near the entrance to the creek and set off into the creek in the dinghy.  We spent about 90 minutes riding around the creeks, looking at the green turtles, nurse shark, sergeant majors and barracuda.  We even saw a porcupine fish.  We also got our first sight of tropic birds.

We got back to Sol Purpose, pulled up the anchor and carried on round to the anchorage at the north end of the island.  There were already several boats there, but it was a large anchorage so there was plenty of room for all.  This is where we got our first sighting of s/v Adele.  She was 180ft long, and had a tender that is bigger than Sol Purpose!  A stunningly beautiful boat!

Conception Island is part of the Bahamas Land & Sea Park, so there is no fishing etc. allowed here.  We hoped that this would mean great diving, so we got all our gear ready, and headed out, first to snorkel to check everything out in the morning and then to dive in the afternoon.  We were really disappointed when all we could find was bleached, dead coral.  There was some fish life, but not much.  We headed back to Sol Purpose to regroup.  We had considered taking the dinghy a couple of miles north on to the reef, but it was open ocean with a fairly strong current and we weren’t sure that we wanted to do that if there was nothing to see.  An alternative plan was to leave the next day, and drop anchor just off the reef, so that we could dive from Sol Purpose, with a swim platform, rather than the dinghy.  In the meantime, we would make the most of the rest of the day by taking a walk along the trail towards Booby Cay, which was by all accounts, raw and beautiful.  The trail begins at the top of a little cliff, but there are ropes there to help you climb up.

We didn’t go the whole way along the trail as part of it is right on the cliff edge, and was too much for my height-hating brain to handle.  We did see some stunning views though, and looking down from the hilltop, we thought that the coral on that side of the island might offer better snorkeling.

While we were sitting in the cockpit drinking our sundowners, another boat, Island Hope, came back from a dive trip out to the reef.  Moray spoke with them, and confirmed that the coral out there was also dead, and that there had been too much swell to dive safely.  We had held such high hopes from all the reviews of Conception Island, but it hadn’t turned out as planned.  However, the island was still a beautiful place to sit at anchor and watch the world go very slowly by!  Moray took one of our buckets and made a looky-bucket out of it.  He cut the bottom out and cut a piece of Makrolon to fit in the bottom which he sealed in with Sikaflex.

The next day, I packed a picnic lunch and we took the dinghy round to the beach on the north side of the island.  We took the looky-bucket to take a look at the corals but there was nothing here to see so we went ashore and found a place to sit and eat our lunch.  After lunch, we headed back round to the anchorage and snorkeled there.  We saw a smooth trunkfish, which was nice, along with a tang-gang (as Ned DeLoach calls them!) and parrotfish.

Sitting in the cockpit and hour or so later, reading, and a strange movement caught my eye.  I looked up and in horror, saw the dinghy painter heading towards the back of the boat – it had come untied and the dinghy was once again, trying to make its escape!  I managed to grab it just in time!

Next stop – Cat Island.  At first light, we pulled up anchor and headed out.  We unfurled the Code 0 and were sailing at a gentle 4.5 knots, so Moray decided to throw out a line.  As the water here was more than 5,000 ft deep, he was hoping to catch something other than a barracuda!  And didn’t he just!  He managed to catch a 20lb or so Mahi Mahi!  After a little bit of a fight, and a lot of blood strewn around the boat (all the fish’s, I hasten to add), he brought it on board.

Rum Cay 007

The only thing bigger than the fish was the huge smile on his face!  After the fight to bring it aboard, and the cleaning process, the boat looked like something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so we furled the sail, switched on the motor, and Moray used the deck washdown pump to clean up while I steered towards Reef Harbour, Port Howe, at the southern tip of Cat Island.  We had researched the various anchorages and knew with the weather front that was approaching, this would offer us the best all-around protection.  We picked our way through the gap in the reef, and dropped anchor in the large harbour.  Dinner that night was super fresh Miso Glazed Mahi Mahi over Udon Noodles.

New Bight2 054

At this point, the winds had not yet changed from the south to the west, and our decision proved to be a bad one.  The waves coming over the reef to our south were not broken up at all and we had one of the most uncomfortable nights we have had so far.  The boat was pitching and rolling and the next morning, with little sleep, we were both thoroughly miserable.

The wind direction change was not going to be for another 24 hours and we knew we couldn’t manage another night like that, so we pulled up anchor and headed round the island to the Hawkes Nest anchorage.  As soon as we dropped anchor there, we heaved a huge sigh of relief.  It was almost flat calm and we knew we would be better there, as long as the winds remained from the south.  We had planned to stop here after the front passed, as the resort here advertised that it had a dive operation.  So we took the dinghy ashore, walked round to the office to try to book a dive or two.  Once again, it was not to be.  There was a group of fisherman staying at the resort and both the boats were booked all week to take them fishing.  We were beginning to wonder if we would ever get to dive in the Bahamas.  We headed back to Sol Purpose via the few coral heads but nothing looked like it had any life on it.  Once back on board, I looked at a Cat Island Tourist Guide brochure I had picked up in the resort office, and found that back at Port Howe there was another resort, which also had a dive operation.  We knew that we would be going back there the next day, so Moray gave them a call.  Success!  We booked a two tank dive trip!  Finally we were going to get to dive!

Or were we?  I prepared some Mahi-Mahi for dinner, including removing the skin.  That is one thing it is ok to drop overboard, so that’s where it went, rather than stinking out the boat!  Very shortly afterward, we noticed a shark circling the boat, obviously attracted by the fish skin.  Looking at it, I was pretty sure that it was a tiger shark, but our fish ID books said they were rare in the Bahamas.  Moray decided that the best way to be certain of the identification would be to video it and check it that way.  He got the GoPro and headed to the swim platform.  I am sure that he will add some edits to my version, but here is my version.  I’m down below in the galley, preparing dinner.  I think my other half is standing on the swim platform, videoing the shark from above every time it swims under the boat.  Then I hear a scream followed by maniacal laughter, followed by “you know I said I’d be careful?”  I ran up to the cockpit to discover that my crazy guy had put his arm in the water, holding on to the bright yellow handle of the GoPro, to try to film the shark under the boat.  He didn’t get right in, as that would have been dangerous??!!??!!  So, he can’t see the shark, which he thinks is a tiger shark, a highly aggressive shark, that’s looking for food, when he puts his hand in the water.  The scream was when the shark touched him as it swam past from under the boat!  The ensuing video had to be edited before he posted it on Facebook, because my language was far from ladylike when telling him what I thought!  Ah well, he is still with us, unharmed and yes, it was a tiger shark!

Video of the shark under our boat

small section of video showing the start where the shark brushed my hand.  Edited for public viewing 🙂

The next day we moved back round to Reef Harbour, Port Howe, where we spent a much better night, now that the winds were not coming out of the south.  We got up early on Saturday, excited to be finally getting a chance to dive.  We headed over to the beach, where we were to meet our divemaster, Antoine.  While we waited, we chatted with Hoyt, a local fisherman, who was preparing bait for his grouper traps.  He was smoking fish carcasses on an open fire, covering the fish with palm fronds.  He explained that sharks and barracuda will go after any bait that smells of blood, but that if he smokes the carcasses, they aren’t attracted to them.  However, the grouper will still be attracted, so he puts them in the traps and can get up to 15 grouper in a trap.

Antoine arrived, right on time, and we loaded the gear on to his boat.  We were to do two dives, the first called The Cathedral, followed by a shallow dive.  We got in the water for dive number one, so excited to finally be diving.  Then I realized that, to my horror, my dive computer readout was fading.  Then it died completely, so now I had no idea how much air I had, how deep I was diving, or how long I had been in the water.  Anyone who has ever dived with me knows that I am 1) little miss conservative diver, and 2) little miss play by the rules diver.  I was devastated and did not want to call the dive.  So I let Moray know that I had a problem.  We have dived together so much that we know we use our air at the same rate, and we knew that we had had the same amount of air when we dropped in the water.  So I am making my confession that we broke all the rules and did both dives using Moray’s computer alone.  Mea culpa over for now – the dives were great!  First of all, we saw the first moray eel of our trip.  Then there was The Cathedral which is a small chimney in the coral, that you drop down through and it opens into a cavern, which opens out on to the drop off.  It was beautiful!  There was a lot of varied fish life, but coming out through the cavern into the blue at 100 feet was amazing.  We had never seen a drop off that was so extreme, it went past vertical which made it look all the more ominous as it dropped over a thousand feet down.  On the second shallow dive, we saw a burrfish, honeycomb cowfish, smooth trunkfish, flamingo tongues, southern stingray and barracuda.  It was a really nice dive.  After getting back to the boat, taking showers and cleaning the gear, we relaxed with books, reveling in the fact we had finally been able to dive.  Thank you to Antoine and Greenwood Dive Centre!

The next morning, now that all the gear was dry, we took a look at my dive computer.  We had changed out the battery a few days before, to ensure that all our gear was ready.  Now it seems that the battery compartment had flooded when I entered the water.  We opened up the back and realized immediately that there was no rescuing the computer.  We have changed the battery on that computer several times, so it was just one of those things, but so frustrating.  Luckily, I have a backup computer that just needs a new battery, so when we get to Eleuthera or the Abacos, we will get that taken care of and we will be back in business.

Once all the gear was stowed, we pulled up anchor and headed toward New Bight.  It was a bumpy ride, but we could tell from the three other boats already there that it was nice and smooth in the achorage.  Normally we hoist the dinghy into the davits when we move from place to place, but this time we had decided to tow it behind us.  We have done this a couple of times before, but not in a while.  Now, when we anchor, Moray is up on the bow, watching for a good place to drop the anchor and taking care of letting the right amount of chain out etc. while I steer and keep an eye on the depth.  Once the anchor is down, I reverse the boat to make sure the anchor is set.  We have the routine down and it usually works just great.  However, I forgot to factor in the dinghy.  I was reversing to set the anchor, when I heard a clunking noise and realized to my dismay that the dinghy painter had been drawn under the boat and was now round the prop.  [Moray’s note: The painter was made of water skiing line which is meant to float but I guess the suction caused by the prop when setting the anchor was enough to pull it under].  I put the boat into neutral as I shouted to Moray.  Then I turned around and saw the dinghy making her third attempt at escape.  The painter was made of very thin line and the prop had cut right through it.  This time there was no time to call anyone, so as Moray turned off the motor, I jumped in and swam after the dinghy.  I caught up to it, and clambered into it.  Then I had a few minutes of struggle as the engine mount was stiff and I couldn’t drop it down into the water.  Eventually, I managed and got the motor started.  Heaving a huge sigh of relief, I started heading back toward Sol Purpose.  It was then I realized that a bikini top is not the best thing to be wearing when you swim after an errant dinghy, climb aboard and then struggle to release the engine.  I was almost back to the boat and, in full view of the other boats in the anchorage, when I realized they were getting even more of a spectacle than the dinghy debacle itself!  Ah well!!

I then dived down to see the prop and had to clear some more line from around the shaft.  I checked that everything looked OK and that there was  no play in the prop.

There were three other boats when we arrived, but by the end of the day, we totaled nine!  After dinner, we took the dinghy to shore and headed for the Fish Fry.  This is an area of waterfront bars and restaurants serving Bahamian food, and can be found in lots of Bahamian Settlements.  We walked past all the bars before deciding that we liked the look of Annie Boo’s best, so we stopped for a beer.  What a great evening!  Annie’s 3 year old son, Charlie (3 going on 30, that is), entertained us all with his antics.  He’s going to give his parents trouble, I can tell!  Every few minutes, a car would pull up, the driver would call his order and it would be taken over to the car!  After a while, Howie Pinder, Annie’s partner, turned up to take over the bartending.

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Annie and Howie, the perfect hosts

What a great guy!  He is a former police officer, who now splits his time between the bar, and teaching music.  When he started talking about music, we told him that we had liked the local rake ‘n scrape  music.  Hearing that, he called over to a gentleman who was sitting at the next door bar (Sunshine’s).  This turned out to be Pompey, who has traveled the world playing rake ‘n scrape at festivals, and has even been featured on the Today show!  He said that he had seen that there were several boats in the harbour, so he and his band would play the next evening at Sunshine’s.  Oh, by the way, if you ever get a chance to drink at Annie Boo’s, ask for a shot of Liquid Cocaine.  It is Pinder’s own creation and, while I can’t confirm this, Moray says it is wicked!  It is a combination of tequila, Goldschlager and Jägermeister.

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This should come with a government health warning!

The next day, we put out a call to the other boats in the harbour to let them know about the rake ‘n scrape that evening, and then went ashore to buy groceries, get rid of trash and inquire about renting a car.  The latter turned out to be far too expensive for our budget, so we dropped that idea, and stuck with picking up groceries.  We knew that people in the family islands were renowned for their friendliness, but we were stunned when a young man driving by stopped to offer us a ride back to our dinghy with our groceries.  We were almost there so we declined but thanked him.

After an early dinner, we headed back to shore to take showers before going to the Fish Fry.  New Bight is an amazing place – not only are the people wonderful, they offer free trash disposal to boaters, and even better, free showers – yes, free!  There is a public toilet and shower block right on the waterfront, which is clean and has plenty of hot water.  Heaven!  Clean and happy, we headed to Annie Boo’s for a couple of drinks before joining in with the rake ‘n scrape.  Yes, I did say joining in.  Pinder had brought his trumpet and to make sure that everyone got to play, he also brought something that looked a bit like a large cheese grater, along with an afro comb.  That was our instrument!  I had a go but Moray was a star, as you can see.

Moray on the cheese grater/afro comb

It was a great evening, but eventually we all had to head back to our boats.  We were just about to leave the beach when one of the other boats called to us that they were out of fuel.  So we towed them back to their boat before heading home and to bed.

The next day, we went to shore and paid a visit to the local bakery to get some fresh bread.  As we opened the door, the smell was fantastic.  We selected the bread we wanted and then I saw a sign that the baker was taking orders for Hot Cross Buns.  Now this was Tuesday and we were leaving the next day, so I mentioned that I would have loved Hot Cross Buns, as I haven’t had those on Good Friday since I left the UK over 20 years ago.  The baker asked what time we were leaving the next day, and said if we could wait until 10am, she would bake a batch, just for me!  She had a deal!!  After that, we took a walk up to Mount Alvernia.  This is the highest point in the Bahamas at a whopping 206ft!  At the top is The Hermitage, a little one-monk monastery built by John Hawes, aka Father Jerome in the 1940s.  It is built out of stone to be hurricane proof and is an incredible testament to not only the man’s faith, but his architectural skills.

There are 2 ways to get to the hermitage.  There is an easy path around the back and a steep climb up the front which has the 14 stations of the cross carved and in cement. Two of the stations were missing (stations 5 and 6), I presume due to hurricane damage.

One final task that day was to fill a jerry can with petrol, so that we can continue to use the dinghy (if it doesn’t finally escape!) – but at $34 for 5 gallons, ouch!  I guess we will get more used to those prices when we get to Europe.  However, for almost-Texans, that was a bit steep!  That done, we headed up the coast of Cat Island, to Fernandez Bay, where we planned to spend a couple of nights.  Fernandez Bay is a resort, but they are welcoming to cruisers.  We didn’t go ashore while we were there but we did enjoy snorkeling around the coral heads in the anchorage.  Again, the coral was not in the best condition, but there were colorful fan corals and lots of fish, so it was fun.  We also enjoyed watching the antics of our neighbour’s dog.  The boat is called Caribbean Soul, and they have a large dog on board.  They have put together a ladder, with boards behind so the dog doesn’t fall through, and fenders at the water end.  They drop this into the water and the dog comes and goes as he pleases.  He seems to love being in the water and would swim for hours!  We’re not sure how they would protect him from a shark in the anchorage, but we noticed that they appeared to pull up the ladder mid-afternoon, which is when sharks start their hunting.

We started Good Friday with Hot Cross Buns before pulling up the anchor and heading to Arthurs Town, a little further up the coast.

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It was a brisk sail, at 6.5 knots, which was a lot of fun.  After dropping anchor, we headed to shore to Da Smoke Pot for dinner.  We had amazing cracked conch and ribs, before joining in with a rake ‘n scrape band.  There was a lovely family from Baltimore there, and while it took a little persuasion, we all took a turn playing the saw!

Debbie on the saw

The next day was a lazy day on the boat.  Moray took advantage of a good internet connection to download dive sites from wannadive.net to BlueCharts on our iPad.  We noted that there were a couple on our planned route to Eleuthera, so we decided to take a look and see whether there were mooring balls or if it would be feasible to get there by dinghy.  Moray had taken a walk around the settlement the day before and had found there was nothing much to see, so we just relaxed on board, before leaving on Sunday morning for Orange Creek.  Orange Creek has a laundry and grocery store, and unlike most places in the Bahamas, it was open, not only on Sunday, but Easter Sunday.  That is because it is run by Seventh Day Adventists, for whom the Sabbath is Saturday.  The laundry was very reasonably priced, as was the grocery store.  It was so nice to have clean clothes and fresh vegetables!

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Sol Purpose at anchor just off Orange Creek

We took a dinghy run up Orange Creek, but there wasn’t much to see.  And unfortunately, this proved to be another very rolly night-so bad, in fact, that Moray slept in the cockpit, the least rolly part of the boat.

That made the decision to leave the following morning really easy!  Our next destination would be Little San Salvador, where we hoped to dive.  Little San Salvador is owned by the Carnival Cruise line, but cruisers are welcome to anchor there and, if there is no cruise ship in, to go ashore.  We had checked the cruise line’s schedule and found that there would be no boat there on Monday, which was perfect.  We went to the north end of the bay and dropped anchor before putting our dive gear into the dinghy and heading round to a reef we had seen on the chart.  It was a very shallow dive, with not too much to see, but we had finally managed to dive from the dinghy and had been able to find some dos and don’ts in relatively calm waters.  Sol Purpose was bouncing a little when we got back to her, so we moved further south, where a couple of other boats were anchored and seemed much more settled.  It was a good move and timely, because within a couple of hours, there were seven or eight more boats anchored.  We sat on deck and watched dolphins playing in the anchorage before heading to bed for a good night’s sleep.

Our next destination was Eleuthera, where we will be riding out the next weather front.  It was a fairly long run, so we set out early.  The winds were great, so we were under sail alone for most of the trip.  Now many of you will know that in a previous life, I took five trips on a liveaboard dive boat called the Aquacat.  It is a 102ft motor catamaran, which travels to dive sites from Nassau down through the Exumas, and it was on those trips that I fell in love with the Bahamas.  This was one of the reasons that I was so keen to share the Exumas with Moray.  Now occasionally, the weather means that the Exumas are not the best place for the Aquacat to be, so they head over to Little San Salvador or Eleuthera.  As we were approaching the dive site marked on our charts, we saw the Aquacat!  I called on the radio and had a brief chat with Captain Des.  He was first mate when I took my trips and he and his girlfriend, Meghan, helped me out on a couple of occasions when my flights didn’t work out as planned!  It was lovely to talk with him.  I have to thank Moray too, because I spent the rest of the day reminiscing about the various trips I took!  After our brief interlude talking with the Aquacat, we headed into Rock Sound Harbour.  It is a lovely big space, with pretty good protection all round, so this is where we will spend the next week or so, waiting for the front to pass.  It had been a fairly long day, so we decided to wait to go ashore, and just relaxed on the boat for the evening.  We had a really calm night, so much so that, after the last few rolly nights, I woke up convinced we were sitting on the bottom!

Anyway, that’s been our last couple of weeks of adventures.  Hopefully, my next update will have no mention of dinghy debacles and lots of diving delights!