“It’s ‘Island Time,’ Mon”
[This is a guest blog written by our recent guests Cedric (Sid) & Stefani]
After a long night and morning of two flights and a layover from Southern California, we’d finally arrived in Nassau, Bahamas. This was a mere pause en route to paradise, yet we could already feel our energy and mindset change as soon as we cleared Customs and paused long enough to soak it in. We had a few hours to kill before the last puddle-jumper flight into Georgetown, Great Exuma (GGT). Not really enough time to venture outside the airport, so we decided to find a bar and grab a beer (or two) to get into the rhythm. Naturally, it had to be Kalik (say kaLICK, as one syllable), beer of the Bahamas.
This trip has been a long time coming. I (Cedric) met Kathy through the Nordhavn Dreamers group on Yahoo. Kathy had written a story about the lightning strike that befell Shear Madness and had asked me if I would be willing to assist her with editing the story. Long story made short, I worked on the piece with Kathy and some time later, as we got to know one another, Kathy asked if we’d like to visit them on SM and finally meet in person. Twist my arm a little harder, would ya? Of course we said yes! As a Dreamer, this opportunity is analogous to kid in a candy store. Even more so given Stef and I have been contemplating retirement aboard a long-range passage making yacht; we relished the opportunity to spend some extended time aboard a truly gorgeous Nordhavn—they’re all gorgeous, aren’t they?—while validating our assumptions and learning the ropes from a pair of highly experienced captains and owners. Who could ask for more?
Land Ho!! Following a brief stop in Rock Sound on our island-hopping inbound flight, we had finally arrived in GGT. With excitement building, we hopped a taxi into town and met-up with our hosts at Exuma Market, a cruiser’s favorite. Probably because I was already conscious of the size of our singular, Monster Bag, I could see Bradley look at it and wonder what caliber of dirt-dwelling landlubbers were coming aboard. Not that I could fault him; I’d have done the same thing. We did the bag drag from the market down to the yacht club docks; there were a bunch of go-fast girly boats there, but no Shear Madness. The tender was there though, waaay down there, from a fixed dock at low tide. Monster Bag suddenly seemed even more dubious. Needless to say, it was fun getting gear, crew and provisions aboard. This was the first time, but not the last for a fixed dock adventure. As darkness claimed the sky, we crossed the bay to the leeward side of Stocking Island with some swell and wind chop. We were getting a good bit of spray in our faces but we didn’t have a care in the world at that point. The sea does that to a person, or at least it does so to us. You’d have needed a chisel to get the grins off of our faces, for days to come.
Lesson #1: Fight the Salt. One key focus on Shear Madness is using the shower on the stern to minimize salt brought aboard. Once salt is inside the cabin, especially in the beds and carpets, it’s a pain to get out and it holds moisture making things like the sheets less comfortable. So, we always rinsed off whenever any salt water was involved. As a plus, we also showered on the swim step every day. At first, it felt a little awkward standing on the stern naked to the world, but that didn’t last long and at the end, we agreed that it was one of the highlights of our time aboard that we’d dearly miss. We never did shower in our en suite head. (Editor’s note – this normally occurs after dark or when in an anchorage with no nearby boats during daylight).
Once aboard SM, Kathy, Bradley and able crewman, Taylor, assisted us to our cabin in the port bow and we set about unpacking. Alas, Monster Bag seemed a bit dicey for the trip down the stairwell without scratching the joinery, so we unpacked with a relay method from pilothouse to cabin. Bradley would later say that we’d probably find that we’d packed too much, and he would be correct… For me. Stef packed almost perfectly and she had a little smirk of superiority when we talked about this later. I hate it when that happens. Lesson #2: Pack less; you just don’t need nearly as much as you think, especially in warm climes.
While we could see all the anchor lights on the masts of the sailboats that evening, it was dark with a newly waxing moon so we could not see much else, at least not outside. More importantly, it was time for the Welcome Aboard, “Shear Madness Cocktail,” for which, upon raising your glass for the first time, you say “Shears.” Of course you do, silly. The SMC is a delicious yet secret, rum-based concoction that goes down easy; one could imbibe several without a second thought. Try as I would throughout the journey, neither B nor K would share the recipe for the SMC, but I haven’t given up yet. After a tour of the boat (she’s amazing, of course, but more on that later), and some getting-to-know-one-another-better conversation, we found ourselves exhausted around 9:30pm. Up to the pilothouse and then down to the cabin. With the cabin door, the hatches and the porthole open, we laid there in a perfect cross-breeze all night as the boat rocked us through a wonderful sleep. Priceless.
I awoke before sunrise, before everyone as it happens, and found my way to the flybridge. This is my favorite time of the day, bar none. Sitting there in solitude listening to the sailboat riggings and water lapping at the hull as the dark eastern sky began to give way to the sun in that perfect moment of light was transcendent. I’m logical to a fault; I know that there’s infinitely more to the cruiser’s lifestyle, but in that moment I knew, knew without reservation that this was what I wanted for the next chapter in our lives. Of course, I represented precisely 50% of the decision-making team and it was still very early in this journey of discovery, so the answer for “us” remained to be determined.
As we gathered for our first breakfast aboard consisting of homemade bread, yogurt, sliced fruit and cereal, I queried about our plans for the day. What would we do? What did we need to do (we were aboard as crew-guests after all)? Where would we go? When did we need to be there? These are the questions of a working dirt-dweller. Snap, snap, snap. Obligations. Schedules. Get ‘er done! On this occasion, the response was, “We’ll figure it out as we go. We’re on Island Time, Mon.” Lesson #3: Slow down. A lot. This was a lesson that sunk in more and more over the duration of our visit. Make no mistake; we were very active, yet everything was at a casual, comfortable pace without specific schedule. Over time, a peace set in upon both of us; we were more relaxed than we’d been in a very long time. By the way, Lesson #4 is related to Lesson #3: Respect the Boat or Feel the Bite.” What’s the bite? Well, that’s when you make a mistake or get careless as regards the boat. She will punish your carelessness with a “bite,” whether it’s smacking your toes into gunnel, or slipping on the edge of a step and falling, gracelessly, down the stairs. Trust me when I say this, she’s a lot stouter than we feeble humans and you will feel the pain of the bite. Respect her might and move with careful purpose though and you’re good to go!
Throughout our time on the hook at Georgetown, we’d do many things, most of them simple, yet all rewarding in their own regard. Each day began with breakfast and listening in on the Georgetown Cruiser’s Net. This informal net provided the low-down on happenings around Georgetown: Cruiser’s pot-luck & sundowners, daily volleyball, prayer meetings, trail hikes, church service, sail repair parties, cruisers in need, parts for sale, you name it, all announced by boat name first. I’d heard and read it before, but here before my ears thrived a mish-mash of folks from all points that had established a caring community all because each were cruisers. It sounds kind of silly, but it resonated with me.
We went into Georgetown that morning to shop for provisions. First stop was another fixed dock an hour or so past flood slack. Not so bad getting ashore, but we’d face a bigger drop later. We walked about town in a big loop stopping here and there for various items while Taylor, our young crewman, was on trash duty and then off to find an Internet café to feed his connectivity craving (our onboard connection allowed for email but not big downloads). I’m sure that he also wanted to get away from us “old folks,” not that any of us are that old, right? The rest of the crew hit the Straw Market for a few tourist trinkets for Stef and me. We then hit every grocer within range looking for some good deals. At the store farthest from the docks we struck pay dirt; they had frozen turkeys for $20. Overstock from the holidays, no doubt. We bought one and stuffed it in Bradley’s backpack. I also picked up some Kaliks and Mt Gay Rum, of course. It is the islands, after all.
Somewhere in the midst of all this we decided that we were hungry and set about finding a place for some lunch. In the end, the menus at the nicer places that didn’t quite match what we were after. We finally ate a barbeque lunch of beef, pork and chicken while sitting on a brick wall in the town park, bought from a tiny little roadside shack. Somehow, this simple meal was the best damn barbeque I’d ever had, doubtless influenced by the Bahama breeze and a cold Kalik. Appetites sated and provisions in hand, we headed back to the tender. The tide must have been near low because that drop from the dock to the tender was pretty big. We made it work, but only by sitting on the edge and “dropping in.” There was no going back ashore without a swim, or splinters!
Once back in the anchorage, we rested a bit and then took the dink over to the Chat n Chill for some beach volleyball with the other cruisers. Bradley and I were in it, big time. Stef took in a game but then decided the better of it while Kathy played a couple before yielding to some anxious younger folks. While we gents went on to work our tired old bones through several more games of volleyball, Stef and Kathy set off to windward, wading through the lagoon and then hiking out to the other side of the island. By the time they got back, we were tuckered and ready to roll back to Shear Madness.
On Day Three, we set about some boat chores in the morning, then more of the previous day’s activities that afternoon; hiking for the ladies and volleyball for the boys. The Cruiser’s Net had announced a beach potluck and cocktails at sunset. We were definitely in for that. We also told our fellow cruisers about the $20 turkeys on the morning net. Low and behold, another cruiser announced that they wanted a quarter turkey and was anyone else interested (nearly all were on sailboats with limited storage capacity). Two minutes later, eight quarters were spoken for! We decided to head back in and get one more turkey as well, only this time we had the butcher slice that big bird into quarters with his band saw. The saw made short work of the frozen fowl and the quarters were very efficient for freezer storage aboard. By the way, that first turkey was cooked-up to perfection a few days later for a Bahamas Thanksgiving Dinner in January and many a sandwich for days to come. Twenty bucks very well spent.
That evening, we had our first Cruiser’s Potluck and Sundowner’s Party on the beach. It was a lot of fun to meet with and speak to so many cruisers, especially to hear their stories of how they got from “there to here” on their path to this lifestyle. Poor Taylor, so hungry for younger company struck out again at the party. Other than Taylor, and a few young boat kids here and there, there wasn’t a soul under 40. Still, he had fun. In a clear case of cruisers helping cruisers, we rode over to the party barefoot, which was fine for the beach, but not so good when nature called. You see, back amongst the foliage where a person could privately do their business, there were little burrs, or stickers, everywhere! You could not walk one step without picking up several in your foot. One of the female cruisers, Helen, noticed Stef trying to figure out how she was going to answer the call of the wild, puts 2+2 together and offers Stef her sandals. (Stef here: A girl has to do what a girl has to do, I’m looking at you Helen.) Nice. Lesson #5: Cruising brings out the best in people. Really.
The next day it was time for some underwater activity. As Stef and I are not certified divers we snorkeled. With the skinny (shallow) water in the Bahamas there’s plenty to see and do with a snorkel, mask and fins. For this first of many snorkeling adventures, we took the tender out through a cut below Stocking Island to windward. Whoa! There was a good bit of swell on the outside as we fought our way through the cut. Once out, we ventured further west toward a reef but the Captain decided conditions looked a bit dicey for anchoring and snorkeling so we headed back leeward through a different cut. The return was even more exciting as the swells were breaking in the cut. Our first approach was off course and had us headed to the shallows so we timed the swell, came about, powered over a wave or two and set up for another approach. The second time we got through with a slight bump in a trough, but no problems. Alas, the snorkeling was fun, but not particularly noteworthy other than “Honeymoon Beach” (our name for this lovely, isolated white sand beach), which was lovely. Naturally, I had to kiss the girl!
Day Four brought our first passage. Yay! Everything we could’ve hoped for from the cruiser’s lifestyle had been magnificent thus far, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aching to get underway. This is what I had been dying to do from the first moment I’d come to understand and respect a well-found passage maker such as Nordhavn. We were headed S-SSE to the deeper cut below Stocking Island, then ENE to Calabash Bay, on the north end of Long Island. Not a particularly long passage, perhaps 4 hours, yet more than enough to get into the swing of things, stand watch, perform engine room checks, and learn approach and anchoring. The passage around Stocking was plotted and navigated with care. Sporting nearly 8 ft of draft through skinny water demands constant attention and a sharp lookout for uncharted obstacles.
Calabash Bay proved both gorgeous, and deserted. While there were a few vacation
homes ashore, and even a small resort, there was but one sailboat sharing the bay with us. The water was stunning and the sunsets amazing. By now we’d fallen into a rhythm of life on board: Hiking (the girls), snorkeling, boat chores, meals, sundowners on the flybridge, nightly swim step showers, and more. Heck, we even had 3G connectivity through BaTelCo, though that’s a mixed blessing at best (I had to “see” my Seattle Seahawks lose to the Atlanta Falcons via a text update every 30 seconds. Ouch). We also battled at both cribbage and backgammon. While the snorkeling was definitely better here than what we’d found near Georgetown, it wasn’t great. This, coupled with a swell wrapping the north end of the island, had us pulling anchor on Day 6 and headed to Conception Island National Park.
The passage to Conception was about 3.5 hours. We caught some swell as we rounded the north tip of Long Island. While not large, perhaps 4-6 ft, the waves were right on the nose and close-coupled. This set us up for a bit of a ride for the first hour or so, but nothing significant; we had a nice ride the rest of the way to West Bay. Not only is Conception stunning—seriously, it was amazingly beautiful—it’s bereft of human habitation; we shared the anchorage with only three other sailboats. We were finally off the grid too. Yay! As we’d taken a lot of salt spray on the way over, the first boat chore after anchoring was to give the big girl a bath. With five of us working, we washed the entire topsides and dried her spotless in a couple hours. Good, hard work to get your sweat on. Boat chores done, we decided to scout the reefs and dive spots to see what was cookin’. We’d been told that the diving was spectacular at Conception so everyone was excited to get going. Alas, our efforts didn’t yield quite what any of us expected, but there were still days of exploring yet to come and the day was drawing to a close. We motored about the bay saying hello to fellow cruisers and invited everyone for sundowners the following day.
The next day was really overcast; not the best light for reef diving. So, we decided to explore the inner lagoon. We’d been told that there were a lot of rays and turtles about so off we went. Talk about skinny waters. The tender on SM is a large, twin-engine beauty that’s awesome for the open ocean but keeps you on your toes when the depth readings start winding off toward zero. We got up into the interior lagoon on a flood tide, but not too far before the depth had us dropping the hook. From this point, we’d explore by snorkeling. The entire lagoon was so peaceful and beautiful. There was lots of sea life about, including a ray that decided to stalk me for a bit, but I did not see a single turtle (Kathy did). I think I must put off some kind of “stay away from this guy sonar” that only turtles can hear. We dove in Hawaii on another trip, in prime turtle country, and I didn’t see any then either. Still, the lagoon was a lot of fun and a great experience.
The following day was still overcast. We did some more boat chores, including fixing a grounding strip in which a screw had broken off leaving some grounds floating; that was a bit of work, but rewarding, as is any job well done. Stef and Kathy took off in the kayak to explore the shore, then hike the island’s north and east sides. Bradley and I took the dink and headed for the north reef. The reef extends nearly four miles north of the island and requires diligence in navigation. The leeward side was pretty dead, sadly; we scouted quite a bit of it to no avail. When we went around to windward, the difference was startling; this side had much more color and sea life, and amazing reef structure. Sadly, one of the recent hurricanes had significantly damaged the reef as well; there were sections that had been broken off that were the size of a VW and entire bone yards of dead areas. Still, much of it was amazing. That night SM hosted sundowners for the cruisers and Mother Nature did not disappoint. This was the best sunset of our entire visit. Lesson #6: One should never tire of a great sunset or sunrise, and cruisers get a lot of both.On our last day at Conception, the sun finally broke out in spades. We went back to the north reef and spent hours exploring. It was majestic. Alas, we were on the downward side of our time on board and had to get to Cat Island to catch a flight out of Arthur’s Town airport back to Nassau. It was decided to conduct a night run of about 7 hours so we’d arrive Cat at dawn. We planned to pull the hook at midnight so everyone hit the rack around 7:30 for a little snooze time. We set up 2-hour watches and I drew 4-6am.
Sleep? Ha! Everyone else on board fell off into slumber while I laid in the watch berth of the pilothouse and read a book, waiting for midnight. Not a bad deal overall as the motion of the boat and silence were so peaceful. We got underway a bit ahead of schedule so I headed down to our bow cabin for some shuteye (Stef had first watch with Kathy and the second with Taylor). As it happened, there was a good bit of swell once we cleared the shadow of Conception’s north reef that well exceeded the forecast. This had me levitating on the fall into each trough between swells, yet I didn’t bother to move aft. Low and behold, I quickly drifted off with no problem until my alarm roused me for my watch at 03:45. I washed the bugs out of my eyes, oddly more alert than I expected, and headed up to the pilothouse only to find it completely empty as we motored on. What? I finally spot Bradley on the closed circuit TV hunkered down in the lazerette examining the rudder actuator (there was a slight leak). OK. That’s better. Anyway, the rest of the passage into Orange Creek, on the north of Cat Island, was uneventful. Radar and AIS were blank until the very end (that is, they showed no traffic). Nothing but a half moon and smooth seas (once in the lee) all watch. Perfection.
Our stay on Cat was but one day, but we made the most of it with a good walkabout, a cruise to Shanna’s Cove resort for lunch (really, really good pizza!), and an amazing dinner and fellowship at Halvorson House with hosts Matt and Sooner for our final night of the trip. On the walk about, nearly everything was closed as the Sabbath was observed, yet we happened across Thelonius and his little roadside bar (shack). We stopped for refreshments (Kaliks) and a chat-n-chill session with Thelonius. The man lives a simple life, perhaps even impoverished, yet was so pleased to share with us his pride and joy, his garden, and show us around his digs sharing a bit of his history with us. It was a great experience and another reminder, or Lesson #7: Your life is what you make of it; be happy for what you have.
Alas, the time had come to bid our hosts adieu. A sense of melancholy had set in when we reached Cat Island; we knew we had to return to our “normal life,” yet there was nothing awaiting us back home—save loved ones—that could compare to what we were experiencing right here. Kathy and Bradley had been excellent hosts, and teachers. They had shared with us their lives and their home on Shear Madness, helping Stef and I to validate our assumptions about the cruiser lifestyle. We would return home the same people who had left 12 days before, yet forever changed in immeasurable ways. In case you hadn’t figured it out, Stef and I were now “100%,” aligned, convinced of our path for retirement. Thank you, Kathy, and Bradley, and Taylor too. We can’t wait to do it all again!
Click to check out the slideshow of Ced and Stef’s visit.Click any photo to enlarge. Please send us a comment/reply – we love to hear from you!