February 2003, Hello from Nassau, Bahamas
We are finally, happily and "wonderfully" WARM!!!! For the first time since the end of Sept. We seriously doubted if we would ever be warm again. Just when we thought we were exaggerating that memory we looked at the video tape we shot on the Chesapeake Bay and "Oh baby was it cold there!" We are happy we can send e mail once more and send only good wishes to all of our friends and especially the USA - we have heard such awful news about the threatening events and warnings back there. We are sitting in paradise and it is hard to imagine that anything bad could happen in a day other than a little rain or wind shift. I think we all have to keep the faith and know everything will be OK.
For an update on our events - On January 16th Nadine and Entr'acte departed West Palm Beach, Florida around 4:00 P.M. and crossed the Gulf Stream for Grand Bahama Island some 80 miles away. We took a chance on a brief opening between two cold fronts and made the dash. The seas were somewhat lumpy and confused because of the strong north winds that had been blowing over the Gulf Stream during December and January. The winds were out of the Southwest and west but the swell came from the N. The sailing very comfortable but the stream did add some twenty miles to the overall trip. We arrived to clear customs 22 hours after departing the USA. Just before the new cold front arrived.
Grand Bahama is one of the most populated Islands in the Bahamas. We cleared into Lucaya which is a tourist center. Each night there is live music for dancing in the Market Square. We told Fred that the party was in his honor.
A reef lines the entire south shore of Grand Bahama and a perfect locati on to begin Justin and Josh's diving instruction and initiate them into to the life beneath the sea. Their SEAL team training began on the beach with instruction in how to wear the mask,fins,and snorkel and move around in shallow water. The next day we went a bit further offshore and practiced entrance and egress from the inflatable boat; a very athletic endeavor. The third day we moved a little further out and they were introduced to their "first ever coral reef" complete with fish. Grand Bahama is world famous for these reefs. Warm water and 100ft underwater visibility. Only the best for our friends. My only regret was that I was not shooting video when they first saw the reef. Their excitement cannot be described. They were hooked! This training was important as it was under somewhat controlled conditions. Reefs on the out islands are a lot more "in the wild" and they needed to be prepared. This is sure a far cry from teaching music.
After four days training on GBI we made another overnight passage to Great Stirrup Cay sixty miles farther south. We had to leave at 2:00 A.M. to arrive during daylight because all navigation is reading the water by eye sunlight is a necessity. Lights and buoys are pretty scarce out here. The night passage was a gloriously clear night with more stars than you even know exist and we had the moon for most of the night. Just after sunrise we encountered a "ship" crossing our course which gradually became a trident submarine--SSN Florida. In fact we almost ran him down. Ed was asleep and Ellen was on watch and wasn't quite sure which was the front and which was the back. Somehow we all managed to avoid each other and went our separate ways--or so we thought, to anchor off a real live "deserted island."
At 11 PM we were surprised by several Jet Skis zipping around our anchorage clearly on some sort of mission. Our first thought was "drug runners"--a throwback to the 80's but the next morning we saw them again but accompanied by a large camouflaged speed boat manned by equally camouflaged personnel. OK, we thought, Bahamas defense force in training, right? Wrong!
To make a long story short our deserted anchorage was smack in the middle of a "top secret military operation." It came complete with a nuclear submarine launching navy Seals out of torpedo tubes, remote controlled drone aircraft and a film crew from "60 minutes" to record it all. The kids just loved every minute of it especially when they saw them doing the same things we were training them to do and when one of the Seals addressed them as "sir" WOW! "Sir, be advised to keep at least 1000 yards away from any structure on the Cay at 07:00 Tuesday morning. We could not have paid to set up something like this. We should go into business as tour guides. The operation was based on a terrorist interdiction scenario--Terrorists hole up on a deserted island with some kind of nasty weapon and our US Navy is going to take them out and blow them up. Well, at 07:00 on the appointed day old Entr'acte really shook and did the rumba when our buddies blew up said terrorists.
Sleep well tonight your tax dollars are hard at work. Just check your TV Guide for a "60 Minutes" entitled "operation Giant Shadow" or something related to terrorist interdiction to be aired sometime in Feb. They told us that they had some great footage of our boat at anchor taken by the remote drone. So if you see the show and they have footage of three sailboats anchored peacefully off a deserted beach--that's us!! Oh, yeah, don't tell anybody. It's a secret!
After we had all successfully saved the world from terrorists and our navy support team swam 6 miles back to their waiting submarine and reentered the torpedo tubes (and they really did) the "real excitement" began when a boisterous southwest wind came up announcing the arrival of the next front. Ed and Fred were on shore checking out the terrorist site and Ellen was having school. Suddenly "Nadine" started dragging her anchor through the anchorage toward a reef. Luckily Karl, skipper of "Havsorn," came to our rescue and attempted to re-anchor "Nadine." Ellen was little help since our dinghy wasn't in the water. By the time the boys and Ellen pumped it up and arrived on the scene "Nadine's" anchors had lodged under a coral head. It was now impossible to move "Nadine" to safety. Karl brought and set a spare anchor and was standing watch while the kids ran to fetch the guys. Then it was time for Ed to do his Indiana Jones routine of don the diving gear and go down to free the anchor so we could get "Nadine" back into deeper water and away from the reef. Ed really wanted to try the torpedo tube routine but the sub had already departed so he had to settle for just jumping into the water.
All ended well and later in the day the wind calmed down enough to go spear fishing.
We found conch in abundance at Great Stirrup. The dive training we gave the kids at Grand Bahama paid off. Josh and Justin attacked full force. Fred was like a little kid. We don't know which excited him more, the fact that he could have conch again or that his kids were the fishermen. He just sat in the dinghy laughing like a kid and counting conch as Justin and Josh made dive after dive, ignoring the 6 ft Baracuda,to bring in the conch. Fred later said that he was so excited that he completely forgot to go into the water. That evening we had our first conch feast of raw conch, cracked conch, conch salad and conch fritters. The Bahamians feel that conch is the cure for any illness -- so -- we will see!!! We were conched out.
Once you get "out island" your concept of time changes. You cease to know or even care what day it is and we were surprised to discover that we had stayed at Great Stirrup for eight days; conching every day.
Next stop Little Harbor, Berry Islands. This is were Entr'acte survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Fred had his 62nd birthday at Flo's Conch Bar and Restaurant. The restaurant is the result of Hurricane Andrew. During the storm, two of the five houses blew away and in true island fashion the survivors picked up the pieces of what were once homes of people who never returned to the Cay and recycled them into a new building that became "Flo's Conch Bar and Restaurant." Little Harbor Cay is, in fact, only a large rock that has four residents; Chester, his wife Marina, daughter Chesla, and Flo, Chester's mother. This is where we would spend a large portion of our past summer vacations helping to build the restaurant.
Fred's surprise birthday party at Flo's Conch Bar and Restaurant at little harbour day, Berry Is.
Clockwise: Josh, Monica, Marina Darville, Ellen, Mr. John, Paula(Mrs. John), Fred, Ed, Chester Darville. Marina and Chester are the proprietors of Flo's Conch Bar and Restaurant.
For Fred's birthday we had the restaurant to ourselves and it was a grand buffet with Flo's Conch Bar specialties of conch in all it's forms, fish, lobster, peas and rice. Fred said that he was doubly surprised. First because he did not know about the party and secondly because he was still around to have a birthday in the first place.
Now that we had the conch under control, next of the list was lobster. Josh asked Chester--"where are the lobsters Chester? Out dehe! " Out dehe meant a dinghy ride five miles out on the Great Bahamas Banks looking for coral heads and the lobsters that hide beneath them. So, we canceled school because of "good weather" and went on a "field trip for science class."
We covered biology and words like "exo-skeleton," "molting," crustacean, cephalopod and lobster reproduction. We also covered Newton's three laws of motion and how it related to operating a spear and getting into a dinghy when the sharks came. "Did we find any lobster?
Oh yes indeed we sure did!!! The boys even bagged their share. We had quite a meal that night. 13 Lobster, a grouper, and a snapper. "What do you eat???" We are back to living off the land and the sea.
"What do you eat?" Lobster! One of the joys of cruising the Bahamas.
Mr. John our Oil Tanker Capt. friend and his wife Paula finally showed up. He has just purchased a new boat; a bit smaller than the last Mr. John. So now we are all together again in the same place after 20 years. Who would have thought that this friendship would have endured for all these years and transcended the oceans of the world. John is without doubt the single most competent mariner we have ever met and every minute with him is a learning experience. When we first met in the Caribbean back in 83 he was single handing and now all these years later he is happily married to one of the best photographers ever. We now have some decent photos of Entr'acte.
A "Real" sea captain.
Circumnavigators Paula and John Wostenholme of Mr John VI
Next on the agenda was our "secret" reef. We call it that because we seem to be the only off islanders that either know about it or are daring enough to go there and we won't tell anyone where it is. "It outdeh!" It is without doubt the most beautiful set of coral reefs we've ever seen but is a bit on the rugged side. This reef is in the middle of a mile wide cut between two cays and is completely exposed to the ocean wind and swell so you can only go there in settled weather and at slack water (the time of least current). These heads are giant mounds of coral that rise up 25 ft from the bottom and come to just 2 ft below the surface. Our boats are too small to carry SCUBA gear so all of our diving and spear fishing is "breath-hold" only. On this reef you can dive from 2ft to 25 ft as your ability permits. The kids jumped right in and headed down. They were so completely engrossed in the amount of sea life that they never noticed the 2 Barracuda standing by waiting for their free meal. It was a fabulous dive teaming with fish life of all types and sizes. This was big time diving indeed!
We usually get to stay only 20 minutes on this reef because the current becomes so strong that it becomes impossible to fight it. Also, once the shooting starts the sharks and cudas show up to take the fish off of your spear. This was such a perfect day, light wind and we hit the tide at the perfect time for the current, that Ed made the supreme effort and chose not to hunt With so many divers in the water and this being their first real open water experience it was just too nice to spoil it with sharks. Also, there was no reason to fish anyway because we had all been invited to dinner at the restaurant that evening. It was a "thank you dinner" because we had all spent a major portion of the week re-roofing and re-flooring the restaurant. "What do you do all day????"
So now we are in Nassau for a week and we can receive e mail again. We have been out island at anchor for six weeks and really out of touch. We are working on receiving e mail via short wave radio but that won't be until spring as we have to return to the states to put it all together. We want to have that in place for the Atlantic crossing in the spring.
We just heard that the N east had 26 more inches of snow. Well, at least the skiing is good and the drought has ended.
Please write and tell all we miss you all and are eager to hear what you are up to. We will be able to receive e mail until Saturday.
Love Ellen and Ed