Archive for the ‘Latest Adventures’ Category

We needed to resupply and wait out some strong winds, so we headed back to Georgetown and got what we needed. We headed north on Exuma Sound on Sunday, for an almost perfect sail to Little Farmers Cay. The wind was blowing from the  south-west and we were going north,  a beam reach all the way. We picked up a mooring ball from Farmers Cay Yacht Club and headed ashore. We walked to the settlement, with only 55 people on the island and a pretty small island to boot, we figured it would be a short hike…wrong. After carefully crossing a narrow wooden bridge over a creek, we were warned not to step on the rotten boards, the paved road lead to a small town. The was a church, grocery store and 2 restaurants, we missed seeing J.R. Tinker’s wood carving shop because it was Sunday, but we did see some of his work at Ocean Cabin. Ocean Cabin is one of the restaurants that just happen to have the bar open as we were coming through town. The owner, Terry, kept us entertained for hours telling us about his life on this small island. It turns out he not only left home at the age of 7 to live with an aunt and attend school in Nassau, then later got a degree in history there. He was extremely knowledgeable on most any subject, had been a world traveler and we enjoyed our visit there, but we had dinner reservations at 7 back at the yacht club. And what a great lobster dinner it was.

We will be leaving here in an hour or so and head to Staniel Cay to snorkel in the Grotto we missed the last time. Future plans are to go to Cat Island, 50 miles east of us then continue on north to Eleuthera and finally Bimini before heading back to Florida.

20Mar

Long and Conception Islands

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Long Island and Conception Islands

We left Georgetown after the regatta; Ron and Carol, cruisers on Sea Dancer, organized a rally from Georgetown to Thompson Bay on Long Island. This island, as the name implies, is much longer than most at 80 miles, and has a population o f about 4000 people. Unlike most of the other islands that rely on golf carts to get around, Long Island has mostly American cars shipped from the states, but they drive on the left like in Europe. The trip from Georgetown to Thompson Bay was supposed to be a race but there was little wind, so we ran our motors. That evening we took the dinghy to the beach for a beach party. The next day we (80 plus cruisers, chartered two buses to tour the island. I know this sounds hokey, but this bus tour (yellow school buses) was too much fun. Omar was our driver, a local guy that knew and loved this island. What he didn’t know he BS’ed, and talked almost non-stop. One of the highlights of the island tour was a blue hole and the actual world record holder for deep diving was there. The blue holes are like round caves only they go straight down. This one was over 600 feet deep, and it is where most of the deepest dives, (either with scuba or free ascent, are made.  Because the rally race was postponed, we held a short race on Saturday instead; it was a fairly short course about 9 miles. Our previous crew, (Dan and Melissa), were unavailable, so Virginia and I did the race in 20 knots of wind, the boat was flying! We were so over powered that for much of the “race” the rail was in the water, (meaning the boat was healed over so hard the side decks were underwater).  Later that evening was the race awards dinner and party, we took 2nd place in our class, yahoo!!  It was quite unexpected; Virginia got a red “winners” hat, and a bottle of rum. The dinner was super and the dance that followed was really fun, but the highlight of the evening was Junkanoo. This is a Bahamian celebration dating back to slavery times, but for us it was a local band of 10-15 Bahamian guys with homemade instruments in brightly colored costumes, playing mostly drums, but also a kazoo type instrument, and several other unique instruments. The beat of the tunes they played vibrated through the floor and your whole body. And guess who the lead bass drum player was…our bus driver Omar! He got a standing ovation (but we were already standing). This is a wonderful island, the people are so friendly. This rally was the best thing they have seen all year, and we enjoyed each other so much. Anyone looking for adventure can find it here try Island Breeze Resort in Thompson Bay.

After the party it was time to move on. We sailed up to the north end of the island to Calabash Bay. There we took a dinghy ride to the interior of the island among the mangroves, wow such lush scenery! Most of the islands are desert like areas, and the foliage is low scrub brush. After a rolly night in the anchorage, around 9AM we headed for Conception Island. The island lies east of Long Island, and guess where the wind was blowing from, you got it, east. There were large waves most of the way there, with 20 plus knots of wind, but it was a short 2-3 hour ride, so we sucked it up. I think it was worth it, Conception is uninhabited and absolutely stunning. As we were coming into the anchorage the blue colors of the water and the pure white sand on the beach, with a rocky bluff around, words cannot describe the beauty of this place. We walked the beach and hiked over the dune to the Atlantic side, wow what incredible views!

We were told to take a dinghy ride to a nearby creek, to see tropical birds, turtles and pristine crystalline water. So on Tuesday 3/19 we took a long dinghy ride, in some not so dinghy friendly open ocean water to the interior of this island. We finally came to this mangrove with its turquoise shallow colored waters that in some parts was too shallow for the dinghy. But the scenery was incredible, green turtles in their natural habitat, Rays (skate like fish) slivering by, and birds like we have never seen before. Although the trip thru the ocean was unpleasant, the end result was worth the effort, very cool.

Our friend Ian, in Turks and Caicos, could not get a later flight to be there when we would be there, so we are rethinking making the trip down there. We are waiting out a weather window for Friday back here at Emerald Bay, so stay tuned we have no clue where we will go next.

06Mar

George Town Cruisers Regatta

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These last 2 weeks have been the highlight of the adventure so far. We signed up for 2 races, the coconut challenge, and we watched a lot of the other events during the 10 days of this Regatta. I think I mentioned that every morning we have the net, it’s a VHF radio show hosted by Herman, a cruiser who has been here in GT at least 6 months, he starts the morning with the weather, then opens it up for local businesses to advertise their daily specials, then we have the daily activities such a bocce ball, yoga, volley ball the list goes on. If you need help fixing something or information about all most anything you can chat with the community and folks will bend over backwards to help. It seems it’s the let’s-try-that events are really the most fun. On the net someone suggested a dinghy raftup around 4-ish bring something to share. By 5 o’clock out in the middle of Elizabeth Harbour we had 46 dinghies tied together with over 100 people sharing stories, telling jokes, introducing each other and just having a grand old time. Then there was the softball game under the lights, locals against the cruisers, what a hoot, several times the ump had to take time out to get another beer, it was a very loop-sided victory for the Bahamians 33 to 10, the game ended when all the softballs were knocked out of the park!

We signed up for the Coconut Challenge which sounded like fun but was actually hard work. You and your crew of 3 (total of 4) had to propel  your dinghy with single flipper each, they dumped hundreds of coconuts into the water and you had to paddle out fending off the other boats and scoop up the coconuts from the water and place them in the bottom. After about half an hour all the coconuts were recovered, everyone was exhausted and our team did not win but we had a great day. The next day was the around Stocking Island sailboat race, we crewed for Dan and Melissa on Slow Dancing. What a beautiful sail, perfect winds, and great friends unfortunately we did not win our class but Dan caught 2 Barracuda on Exuma Sound. We were in communication with the race committee giving them all the details and they were relaying this and other stories and experiences other crew were having, this was broadcast to anyone who wanted to hear who was winning etc. After that race we wanted to go the awards ceremony and dinner at St Francis Resort but by 5 o’clock the winds were blowing 25 knots and climbing we did not feel comfortable leaving the boat in these big winds, not to mention the dinghy ride back to the boat after.  Someone said they clocked gusts to 38, that’s about what we experienced in Hurricane Sandy not so long ago, only during Sandy we were securely tied to a dock out here we were on anchor along with 300 other boats!

Yesterday we did the in harbor race on Shadowfax with Dan and Melissa as crew. I think we enjoyed the other race better, this was pretty light winds and we did not do as well as I would have liked, but a Tartan 37 just like Shadowfax won their class and came in 2nd overall. Not bad for a 30 plus year old boat. A great party again at St Francis and of course the winners and runners up were celebrating big time.

Now the regatta is over and people are starting to leave, some starting their return to Florida and north; others heading south for more new adventures.  We will head to Long Island (not New York), there is a rally to there after the weather settles down a little maybe next week.

Pictures to follow.

23Feb

Off to George Town

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Shadowfax Sailing

Shadowfax Sailing

 

We have experienced some really outstanding sailing since we left the Abacos and like the Abacos we have to pick our times to go or stay put for a few days when big seas and/or wind pass through. The weather plays a big part of our adventure, it will cycle through days of steady trade winds (from the east), then a front moves through and we get bigger winds from the north then it cycles around back to east. As we get further south those cold fronts stall out before we see them sometimes. We stayed at Warderick Wells, which is part of the huge Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park for several days waiting out weather, but also because we really liked it there. We climbed Bo-Bo Hill and experienced on unbelievable view of the ocean (technically Exuma Sound). With the wind blowing in your face and off in to the north you can see a blow hole when the waves would smash onto the rocks it would shoot white spray up into the air.

 

Low Tide Warderick Wells

Low Tide Warderick Wells

Atop Bo Bo Hill

Atop Bo Bo Hill

After meeting several other cruisers in Warderick we left and did a sail down to Staniel Cay. We did several long tacks, the first one taking us to the area of the chart marked “Unsurveyed Area” when we could see coral heads dead ahead we tacked away and quickly! We went to an area called Staniel Cay, but we actually anchored, along with some Canadian friends, behind Big Majors Spot with maybe 25 other boats. When we went ashore cruisers had created a beach area and there were donated chairs, grills, tables, and a shaded cover. So we meet more folks, shared food and refreshments, told war stories then headed to the Staniel Cay Yacht club, for drinks and a meal. We really enjoyed ourselves here but the Internet was almost non-existent even sitting next to the Wi-Fi transmitter. I think it was their plan because while trying to logon to your email and it taking 15 minutes or more why not have another beer, how about some conch fritters. I wanted to do some snorkeling in the Thunderbird Grotto, which we are told is amazing, but by the time we got there the current was ripping faster than you could swim (almost faster than our dinghy could go) so we will save that for another time.

 

We left Staniel after staying for several days and sailed to the next island south of there called Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay. I was looking for the barber as I haven’t had a haircut since I don’t remember when, but her clippers weren’t working. What a fun place, there was a modern Laundromat with a pier conveniently around back for our dinghies, so we washed clothes and right down the street was Scorpio’s café, that just happened to have a happy hour with 2 for 1 rum punch. We crawled back to the dinghy, drove in the dark back aboard Shadowfax  then listened to the live music from the other restaurant that sounded really good. Next time we need to go to that bar.

 

Bright and early we left Black Point and headed to George Town, which would take most of the day expecting to be there around 4PM. It was a beautiful day, we sailed on a close reach with light chop on Exuma Sound till we got close to Georgetown. Our friends Dan and Melissa tried to hail us, but they could not hear our response, as we got closer we found out they were several miles north of George Town in a marina. We decided to break away from our Canadian friends we were sailing with and go to Emerald Bay Marina. We were sorry to leave their company but glad we were tied up in a marina, because that night the wind was blowing with 40 knot gusts. We stayed there for 5 days waiting for the weather to die down some.

 

Emerald Bay Marina is part of a Sandals resort and it was definitely a top notch place, 18 hole golf course, wonderful restaurant with an endless pool overlooking a white sand beach. There was a liquor store to replenish our beer, rum and wine reserves, a grocery store to refill our food supplies, plus water and fuel. Unfortunately for them after building this wonderful resort, the economy collapsed and the people stopped coming, the marina gets very busy when the weather turns bad, at other times only a few folks stop. As we were maneuvering to our assigned slip our friends were waiting on the pier (as well as several other cruisers) to greet and assist getting the boat tied up. It was so nice to see them, we have been a month behind them since Holiday Hills as they left in October and we left in November. We had lunch together, dined aboard their beautiful boat and shared many stories. They left to go home for a week for their granddaughter’s Christening, but plan to meet us in George Town when thy get back.  When the weather died down we also left for George Town.

 

Virginia and Bob board Slow Dancing

Virginia and Bob aboard Slow Dancing

The sail to George Town was pretty rough but we figured it was only an hour and a half so we pounded through 3-4 foot seas with 20 knots of wind. But we finally made it to George Town, this is the cruisers Mecca of the Exumas, it’s the third largest city in the Bahamas and starting next week is the Cruiser’s Regatta. This is a fun week of sailboat racing, partying, and activities of all sorts such as, dinghy parades, pet parades, coconut hunt, all totaled around 15 events for everyone’s enjoyment. We are anchored right off of Chat-n-Chill, which is the happening beach bar, with wonderful fresh conch salad, cold beer, beach volley ball, daily activities such as yoga which Virginia did this morning. The town of George Town has most anything you need including a barber shop which also sells fresh fish! So I got a haircut and 2 lobster tails and a big ole Grouper. Stay tuned for the regatta, see their website www.georgetowncruising.com .

Sharks, don't swim here!

Sharks, don’t swim here!

Here piggy, piggy, piggy

Here piggy, piggy, piggy

Just when you think you know a place, its signature so to speak, you come to realize you didn’t know it well at all.

Our guidebook describes the Exumas as an “emerald necklace” of islands. As  we sail south, passing island after island (small uninhabited islands), I can see this is a very apt description. Our destination is Warderick Wells Cay.  When we arrive, we see that the island has formed a perfect semi-circle. The water is a rainbow of turquoise, green, and to our surprise periwinkle (purple to all you non gardners). This spot is utterly natural and pristine. In a word “exquisite”.

The Bahamian government set aside 176 square mile area known as Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park, as a land and marine protected area. Warderick Wells lies within this area.  NO FISHING, NO TAKING ANYTHING OFF THE LAND, NO MESSING WITH THE WILDLIFE, NO TOUCHING, hefty fines if you do.

In the evening there was a cruisers gathering on the beach. We met a lot of wonderful people. There were three cruisers from Canada we ended up traveling with over the following week. What a good time.

Valentines Day we invited our friends over for breakfast. We had just gone to the local bakery the day before, so we had fresh coconut bread, eggs with salsa and fresh fruit and coffee. We all went out to dinner that evening to a wonderful local place right on the beach. The bakery and restaurant are actually part of the house these people live in. The kitchens are tiny, but the food they make is D-lish! We love the local places. Well actually at this point every place is a local place.

Our next stop was Stanley Cay. We took a dinghy ride to the other side of the island. You will never guess what we saw. Swimming pigs!! I told you, you would never guess. We have pictures. They live on the island. It’s all natural, no gimmicks. They will swim out to your dinghy looking for food because people feed them. When one started swimming toward our dinghy, I told Bob to “TAKE OFF”.

 

 

05Feb

Royal Island and Spanish Wells

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We’ve been without Internet since we left Little Harbour Sunday morning, so let me fill you in on our journey.

Plans are made to be broken I guess, we planned on making the crossing on Monday at first light. In hindsight we should have followed thru on those plans. But… When we left Little Harbour on Sunday at 11:30, to catch the high tide, we headed over to the byte where excellent snorkeling and turtle watching was suppose to be excellent. But the strong current and rolling swells from the ocean told us this would be no place to anchor, I would get zero sleep and with plans to sail all the next day that was not a good choice. So we headed over to Lynyard Cay, on most any day this would have been a great place to find shells on the deserted beach or snorkel or do nothing, but we had those north winds howling with absolutely no protection from north wind. Once again I had a dilemma, where to spend the rest of the day and anchor for the night. Another boat (Dixie Chicken) said they were leaving at noon to make the crossing on Sunday, putting them at Royal Island in the dark around 9PM. So we weighted options and decided it would be nice to have some company crossing so we gave up on Lynyard Cay and went out in the bluest of blue water of the Atlantic. We were motor sailing initially, the west winds were light, but an hour later they filled in and we turned off the motor for a really wonderful sail, until the sun started going down and wind shifted to the north. We started seeing larger and larger sea swells coming behind us and the wind continued to build, finally we were almost across and we hadn’t heard from Dixie Chicken for a while so we called them on the VHF radio. They were having engine problems it seems the large swells coming up behind filled the engine with water then when they tried to start it they had issues. They continued sailing and after awhile they get the engine running on 2 cylinders, at that point we pulled into Royal Harbour and anchored. About an hour or so later they came in and anchored, Virginia made some extra food for them but they were afraid to raft up with us because of the engine problems. Monday morning they limped over to Spanish Wells to find out their engine was destroyed, that’s a pretty expensive repair especially in a foreign country.

We stayed in Royal Harbour for the day, this is a perfectly protected harbor with no facilities. During the boom of 2004-7 they were going to turn this into a fancy resort. Then the big money dried up and tourist interest went away and so they just walked away from it. You see a lot of started projects that don’t get finished here in the Bahamas.

Sandy beach Spanish Wells

Sandy beach Spanish Wells

Spanish Wells is actually not Spanish at all, named when they found water on the island. It was where in the 17th century Eleutheran Adventurers looking for religious freedom left England and settled here. Most are descendants of those folks from England and yes they speak English, well sort of. We picked up a mooring and headed to town to the large grocery store and to do laundry. Tomorrow we need to get some water our tanks are running low and continue our track south. If the plan works we should be in Current Island at the tip of Eleuthera tomorrow and one of the upper Exuma islands on Thursday, but then again plans are made…

The pub on the beach T-shirt from everywhere imaginable

The pub on the beach T-shirt from everywhere imaginable

Eagle and Big Cat fight for fish

Eagle and Big Cat fight for fish

If you looked at our track coming here you might say, can’t they sail in a straight line? Once again the wind was coming from the south and that was where we were heading so we had to do a lot of tacking. Also it was a pretty breezy day so it was a beautiful sail but kind of rough. We made it to Little Harbour close to high tide, we needed that deeper water both to get out of White Sound and into here so we couldn’t dilly dally. This is the end of the spots on the Sea of Abaco, and some would argue the prettiest. There is not much here in the way of facilities no fuel, marinas, grocery store, but they have Pete’s Pub and some of the best reefs to snorkel, caves to explore, and beaches to comb. Randolf Johnston, a well known sculpture, settled here in the 50’s and created some amazing art using as his subjects mostly local animals such as Osprey, sea turtles, fish, etc. His son Pete took over the foundry and started Pete’s Pub, and today Saturday was his birthday. Folks this was bigger than Nippers, the pig roast was very good, Virginia thought Nippers was better, but the party was great. They had a live band and an auction selling many stunning pieces, too bad we don’t have room for stuff!

Tomorrow we will be leaving here and head to Lynyard Cay to anchor and explore then bright and early Monday morning we will leave the Abacos and head down to Royal Harbour 8-10 hours south of here.  I doubt we will have Internet initially, a run over to Spanish Wells on Tuesday and we should be able to fill you in on the passage. Follow us on Spot.

30Jan

The Conch Shell Horn

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One evening everyone on our dock agreed to meet at the end of the dock, at sun down. to honor the island tradition of heralding in the end of the day by blowing the conch horn.  The conch shell is that pretty spiral shell that we all hope to find walking along the beach.  The one you put to your ear to hear the ocean. We had about 7 horns altogether. Each horn had been made by it’s owner. Depending on the size of the shell, each horn had it’s own sound, low to high. It’s a bit of silliness, but also fun. Let’s face it, when was the last time you blew a conch shell?? The gathering turned into a happy hour.

For the best sound quality, choose a shell that is at least 7 inches long or longer. When all signs of the original inhabitants are gone, wash the shell in a solution of water and bleach. Saw off the pointed end to the size of a dime. Open the hole a bit with a drill. Use a fie or sand paper to create a smooth lip. This is the mouth piece of the horn. Then, practice, practice, practice.

The First Mate

Orchard Bay Sunset

Orchard Bay Sunset

Orchard Bay

Orchard Bay on Guana Cay

We left Treasure Cay with the intention of going to Guana Cay, but the wind was not helping matters. Guana Cay is just about due east of Treasure Cay and guess where the wind was blowing from? That’s right east, not a problem we call that tacking (see definitions). Well we did not feel like tacking for 3 hours in huge winds so we headed to Marsh Harbour instead. As it turned out this worked out very well, we got a slip but this time on the other dock. There were 5 other boats there from Annapolis (Eastport Yacht Club) and we had a great time getting to know everyone. After the winds died down a bit we left Marsh on Sunday morning and had a splendid sail to Guana Cay. We got a slip at Orchid Bay Marina, only because the weather was calling for big winds for the next couple days, and the moorings were crappy looking. This is a beautiful resort, but no one was here except a hand full of cruisers, but the real excitement on this island is Nippers.

Nippers Nippers2

Nippers

Sunday is the pig roast that starts at 1 at Nippers and goes till all hours of the night. We got there around 2, we met folks from New Bern, NC (moved from the Chesapeake Bay and owned a Tartan 3500) and another couple from Maine on a Passport 47. The food was buffet style and it was really good, they had a DJ playing tunes and the view from the bar was to die for. It was high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic with people swimming, body surfing and snorkeling on the reef, but even though this view was to die for the real entertainment was the folks at Nippers. We watched people dancing, older guys trying to hook up with the younger ladies and older chicks trying to look like teenagers and hook up with the local guys. We stayed most of the day, but as the sun was setting we headed back to the boat to crash and burn. Today has been very windy so we stayed here on the boat doing cleanup and downloading Kindle books because after we leave Abaco we will most likely go for long spells with no Internet access.

 

 

Definitions:

Some folk’s think I write too nautical, sorry here are some words defined for you land lubbers.

Tacking                 A sailboat can’t sail directly into the wind. You have to steer a course about 45 degrees to the right (or left) of the wind for a period of time then ‘tack’ to the new course 45 degrees on the other side of the wind for a total of 90 degrees. In bigger winds this is very uncomfortable on a cruising boat because the boat heels hard away from the wind 15 to 20 degrees, plus when tacking the crew has to quickly bring the huge head sail (Jib or Genoa) to the other side of the boat, it’s a lot of work.

Reef                      When the winds start blowing around 20 knots (nautical miles per hour) or so the wind pressure on the sails makes the boat heel over so hard that it is hard to control, also the bigger winds can damage the sails or the rigging. When we reach this point we need to reduce the size of the sails, this is called a reef. Reefing the main sail (usually the sail attached to the rear of the mast) consists of making it smaller by not raising it as high and tying it off at various ‘reef points’ built into the sail. The first reef might work from 18-25, the second reef 24-30, third reef above 30. The head sail sometimes called the jib (sail forward of the mast) can be rolled in on a device called a furler, which works very much like a window shade, this makes the jib smaller to handle bigger winds.

Sailing, motor sailing       When we say we are sailing we have turned off the engine and totally relying on the wind for propulsion. If motor sailing we are running the engine but get a little help from the sails so we can cut back on the engine rpm, save fuel and go the same speed. When motoring we usually run the diesel engine around 2200 rpm, which pushes the boat at its most efficient speed.

Depth/draft                       I talk a lot about depth, in the Bahamas it is shallow almost everywhere we go. Our boat is a Tartan 37, it has a shallow draft meaning the amount of depth we need before we hit the bottom is about 4.5 feet. On the other hand a power boat will draw only 2-2.5 feet, and a catamaran sailboat maybe 2 feet, a normal sailboat of our size will draw about 6 feet.

Moorings, slips                  When you pull into a marina they assign a space for the boat called a slip. It will have a number and usually they will send someone to help guide you into the slip and get the boat tied up. Marinas are typically expensive, our budget can’t afford one every night so we sometimes anchor. Many harbors have floating balls attached to huge anchor chains that you can rent for the night, these are called moorings. Mooring is usually much less expensive than getting a slip. Anchoring is free in most cases, but there is always the chance that it doesn’t hold on the bottom. Mooring and anchoring give you the best ventilation because the boat will swing into the wind and you have a nice breeze to keep you cool, marinas are sometimes hot. If you want to go to town if on a mooring or anchored you will need to use the dinghy which becomes your taxi to take you wherever you need to go.

Treasure Cay Beach

Treasure Cay Beach

One of 10 most beautiful beachs in the world

One of 10 most beautiful beachs in the world

We left Man-of-War after spending 2 days there, oh I forgot to mention Man-of-War is a dry town, BYOB at restaurants.  There was a strong north wind blowing so we sailed the whole way, at first we reefed the jib back to maybe 120, then we put in the first reef of the main. Even with reduced sail we were hitting 6.5 to 7 knots the whole trip, it actually was cool enough for sweater and long pants, I guess our bodies have gotten use to the warmer weather already. The entrance to Treasure Cay was swallow, I sound like a broken record all these islands have a shallow entrance, and once again it was low tide. I hailed the dockmaster at Treasure Cay to find a mooring (they had none) and the problems to expect coming in. No problem 6 feet he says, so we took a slip the first night and tonight we are on anchor. We went to town and got laundry, grocery, hardware, and bank things taken care of. We walked to the nearby beach and were absolutely amazed at the beauty of it. Today we spent pretty much the whole day there. Tomorrow will be breezy and we plan on a trip to Guana Cay to have dinner at Nippers, world famous bar and resort. Every Sunday they have a pig roast but we most likely wouldn’t be there for 3 plus days, we need to move south.