Bob and Carolyn Wilson, aboard Sea Island Girl, continue Lakeside's long running series of cruising adventures which began in the mid-1990s. To date we've had the Johnston family, Jean and Bill Bayman, and Mechelle and Bill Cooksey all contribute to the series. Bob and Carolyn boated on Lake Lanier until leaving for their adventure in 2002.
Let's go cruising
Have you ever considered a cruising lifestyle, or had questions about what it might be like? Our former Lake Lanier boating friends, Lynn and Lois Peck, were the ones that share their stories of their adventures to Mexico, Hawaii and South America. They shared pictures and continually inspired Carolyn and I to give the idea serious consideration. Not wanting to brush off the idea only to discover in our lateryears that we should have pursued it, we spent several years investigating the possibility.
While we continued to work, we subscribed to a host of boating magazines and read story after story written by extended cruisers to gain a clearer understanding of what they had experienced, and whether or not their expectations had been realized. It became apparent that such a decision would require a commitment by both Carolyn and I, if we were to accept the challenge.
For us, chartering for a couple of weeks for several years was an ideal way to determine if we could embrace the lifestyle. We learned to manage a larger boat, developed an appreciation of the skills that would be required while enjoying the waters of the Caribbean. Whenever possible, sailing friends from the lake and family members would join us. Chartering gave us an opportunity to meet lots of cruisers who provided first hand knowledge based on their experiences.
While on Lake Lanier we sailed a Catalina 34 which we enjoyed immensely, however after talking with more experienced sailors, we opted to buy an Island Packet 38, considered by some to be more suitable for what we were planning. What were we planning? Well at the time, we really didn’t know … sail around the world, sell all of our worldly possessions? The only thing we knew was that we had to get the boat ready for blue water cruising.
The next two years were spent on the lake installing the equipment which the books and magazines suggested that would be crucial. It was not cheap, but it was enjoyable learning how everything operated. Having the time to complete projects on the weekends while we worked rather than waiting was a wise choice.
When D-Day arrived the transport loaded Gypsy Common in the yard at Aqualand Marina and two days later she was splashed into the salt and briny waters in St. Augustine, FL. After completing some last minute chores and provisioning the galley. When we completed our last, we sheepishly looked at each other and said, “Where to?”
Winter was approaching so we knew we would be heading south. As we crept down the ICW it took a while to become familiar on how to use the mile markers to stay in the channel, but we soon got the hang of that and focused our attention on other things of which we were unaccustomed.
Detailed planning was something that was, at that time, one of the last items on our list, and that taught us a huge lesson. Winter weather and the changing patterns began to influence our travel plans and as a result we found ourselves at anchor in Palm Beach from November 1 until January 18, awaiting favorable conditions to cross the Gulfstream en-route to the Bahamas. But you know, we made it, and with the lessons learned, we have returned year after year.
I would suspect that several Lakeside readers have given some thought to going cruising and to them we can only say that it is a most enjoyable lifestyle. The experiences Carolyn and I have shared in our columns demonstrate that if you are going to do it, now is the perfect time to should start planning and establish a time frame. We have not been “yachties” all of our lives, in fact we could best be described as “newbies” up until the time that we departed. Again, we were a couple wanting to enjoy time on the water and wanting to do it before it was too late.
We would enjoy hearing from those of you that have considered cruising, or are just wanting to learn more. Should you have questions, or just want to know where to go for more information, email us at email@example.com
or simply Google “Cruising Wilsons” to look more into what we have enjoyed. Hopefully we will see you along the way.
- Until next time,
July 2014 column
Bob & Carolyn Wilson
It's all in a name, especially on the water
After many years on the water we are continually being amused by the names inscribed on the transom of the hundreds of boats that we see. While some are historically nautical, some are downright humorous and others are so convoluted that it is difficult to interpret any intended meaning, and even worse, it makes it even more difficult to hail them on the radio.
I remember when we bought Gypsy Common, our 38-foot Island Packet. The previous owner had the name beautifully displayed, but the name seemed a little strange. Well it turns out that in Europe wandering gypsies commune in a common area generically referred to as the Gypsy Common which gave us something to hang onto, and it made an interesting story. It would be less expensive to keep the name, and reportedly it is bad luck to change a boat’s name, so we kept it.
Boat names give you some insight into a person – their occupation, their heritage or their philosophy. Take for example: Out to Lunch, Home Office or Field Office, names most likely to be seen on a sports fishing boat. Gaelic Wanderer would be a good name for a sailboat owned by an Irishman. And for the philosophers, Theseus Paradox might be appropriate (translated, that could mean if you change the name of a boat, is it the same boat?).
Mega-yacht owners are a little more ostentatious. When you see Blue Neon you may automatically know it is country music star Alan Jackson’s boat and although a bit more nebulous, Sunday Money was owned by NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt. Some super-yachts have made a great gift as was the case with Tiger Woods giving his 155-foot Privacy to his wife Elin to become their secret hideaway from the media. Recently I read online that Elin has considered changing the name of her yacht to Alimony.
Foreign vessel owners often confuse us. The French Canadians tend to be the first to come to mind. The names chosen sound a little strange, and when you couple that with their accent it becomes quite difficult at times to communicate with them. I have made attempts to call out their names using some French words I learned in grade school, and more often that not I have received a few expletives in return having made a mess of things and embarrassed myself in the process.
There are some really great names out there, but there are others that are so over used that we often hear two boats competing for attention in the same harbor, i.e. do you want Angelina or Angelina the Yawl? And there are far too many Margaritavilles’, After Hours’ and My Ways’, and not enough originality, i.e. Blew Too Much, Lazy Bones, or Fantasea.
There must be some truth to the old saying, “It’s all in a name,” or at least that is what the Shire Council Mayor of Bland, Australia thinks. In an effort to increase tourism in his region, Neil Pokoney joined forces with the neighboring community of Boring, and the small village of Dull, in the Scottish Highlands. It provided everyone with some comedic and fun relief and hopefully it will enhance their efforts to attract international visitors.
So when it comes time to name your next boat we hope that you will give some serious thought as to what would be a proper name. It is always a fun exercise when the creative juices are flowing but remember that you will probably end up monogramming hats, shirts, possibly towels and cups with your boat name. So make sure that the name is pronounceable, easily read and that it reflects an image that you will be proud of for years to come.
In Lieu Of was the name on the Catalina 34 sailboat we had on Lake Lanier, and it’s still on the lake. She is a great boat but we remember laughing when we first saw the name: “Yeah, In Lieu Of everything else,” we have a new boat. I loved the name and hope you will christen your new boat with a name that you can love as well.
June 2014 column
Hoarding: It's a nautical pastime
It is warming up around Georgia and that means it is time to get the family back out on the water for some fun and relaxation. For most it has been a dreary winter but before the family can join us at the lake, there are a few preparations and boat projects to be completed.
Mildew can appear most anywhere but bird droppings have historically been found on or near our boat, and getting rid of them is typically one of the first projects to complete. During our days on the lake, the captains would plan a work weekend to get things back in order and discuss or install our latest nautical toys. It was always good to get back together after the winter hiatus.
Prior to the working weekends I would make several trips to West Marine to gather up the supplies I would need. And as I walked the aisles, questions would pop up. Do I need some boat soap? How about some stainless polish or rubbing compound? Not knowing for sure what I had on the boat I would buy a little bit of everything.
I expected the sun would be taking a toll on the dock lines and grabbed several packages of lines with the loops rather than trusting my rope braiding agility. Determining the length to buy was mostly guess work so I bought short ones and longer ones just to be certain that we would have what we needed.
My brother purchased a new depth sounder and wanted some help wiring it up. I thought I had the proper connectors but was unsure if I had the waterproof type or the shrink to cover others that would be exposed to the elements. He was expecting some of his buddies from work to come up the following weekend, so we had to get it right. I bought everything, including marine grade wire, to ensure that he and his friends could enjoy searching for the best fishing holes.
The weather was perfect for our manly weekend and after a short stop at the ice house I managed to find a nearby dock cart and unloaded the trunk filled with the treasures. As I walked the dock several heads popped up to say hi and a couple of them stopped by to help me get everything aboard. It was soon five o’clock and there wasn’t time to store the supplies before a toast started the evening’s traditional happy hour.
It had been a long week and the festivities had lasted well into the night. Most of us had decided to skip dinner and when the last call rang out, we tucked into our berths for a well-deserved rest. Anytime I plan a project weekend like this I dream a lot, and this particular weekend was no different. I go over each project in my head making sure I know how best to complete the task and whether or not I have to tools and supplies needed. I question myself as to where certain tools are located on the boat. Does the drill need charging? Do I still have some rags aboard for cleaning up? I finally fell fast sleep convinced that in the morning, all would be fine.
I may fix a pot of coffee to get the morning started, but that’s about all. I am anxious to get started and as the pot was perking I decided to store the recently purchased supplies. What a surprise that turned out to be!
I discovered a gallon of boat soap in the aft storage compartment and another half a gallon of another brand under a seat on the fly-bridge. When I went to empty the electrical connectors into the electrical storage container I found there wasn’t room – I already had what I had just purchased.
The same could be said for most everything. I had spent the money and it would be time consuming to take it back and as always I will probably need it at some point. Some could call me a nautical hoarder, but like so many of my other friends, we probably have what you need on the boat. The problem is – we just can’t find it!
May 2014 column
Cruising with man's best friend
Everyone that knows Carolyn and I know that we are dyed in the wool dog lovers. Over the years we have had our share, and each one has held a special place in our hearts. Our three most recent dogs were rescues: Maggie, who was discovered on the streets of downtown Atlanta; Coco, who was found along with four siblings in a corn field; and Robert, who was found under a parked car at the Marsh Harbour International airport in the Bahamas. We have many memories of fun times shared aboard Gypsy Common and Sea Island Girl, enjoying each dog’s personality, his or her quirks, likes, dislikes, and tolerances while being on the water. They became to us, the children we never had as a married couple.
Traveling with a boat dog takes some effort although it seems that more of our friends are enjoying the company of a canine crewmember. Some prefer a smaller Havanese or Yorki, while other breeds, such as the Golden Retriever, Border Collie or Labs are just as welcome. We know of a couple who travels with two large Labra-doodles, and both man and dog are as happy as they can be.
There are considerations to be made anytime you bring a dog aboard – size and space being the most obvious. Is it a lap dog, does it require considerable exercise, or how will it manage being away from land? Will the dog’s resting spot be in a crate, or will it be left to its own devices to find a spot that is comfortable and safe when traveling? Do you need mesh netting to keep the dog aboard in rough seas, or is it tethered when on deck or below? Each is an important consideration.
One of the most common and talked about issues when traveling with a dog pertains to bathroom habits. We have chased all three of our rescues around an assortment of marinas trailing behind them with the infamous “green rug.” None of our dogs liked doing their business on board despite our good intentions. To our chagrin our vet says, “A dog will go when and where they want, so don’t worry about it.” Our dogs quickly learned that when the engine shuts down, taking them ashore is our priority.
Before we venture off, each of the dogs have their bi-annual physical. We carry an adequate supply of routine medications, and a few of those that we might need. Our veterinarian provides detailed medical records and, when traveling internationally, the required health certificates.
We have become personal friends with our vet in the Bahamas, as it seems something unexpected always arises. If it’s not flea bites, it’s a stomach upset, but as we experienced this year, it can be much worse.
Despite the attention we give to the dogs getting on and off the boat, our 4-yr. old Coco slipped and was injured while jumping onto a fixed dock. At first she seemed OK and the vet came over to the boat to examine her that evening, recommending a visit to the clinic the following morning for x-rays. Unfortunately Coco had sustained undetectable internal injuries and unexpectedly passed away during the night. The resort where we were staying was extremely helpful and provided a lasting place of rest overlooking her favorite running grounds and the Sea of Abaco. The experience was devastating for us, and two year old Robert.
The event has caused us to rethink our preparations for having dogs aboard. We had thought through so many contingencies but feel that we fell short when it came to this unforeseen incident. We are considerably more attentive with Robert jumping off the boat and are looking into fitting the boat with a ramp for his use.
Considerable thought is required anytime there is a dog aboard. Being able to learn from experienced dogs owners regarding special considerations will go a long way. Any health considerations and the best way to manage the daily needs of your pet should be discussed with a veterinarian, and we encourage everyone considering a pet on board to take the appropriate steps.
If you love dogs as much as we do, you will thoroughly enjoy having them aboard. They easily adjust to the daily routine, they are a joy to be around, so why not enjoy the adventure together.
April 2014 column
Everything must come to an end
For those of you who suffered through the miseries of snow, cold weather and power outages it would seem logical that reading about blue skies, white sand beaches and 80 degree temperatures could become a little frustrating, yet this winter was one of the best cruising seasons we have experienced. But, despite all the rhetoric, we now realize that everything must come to an end.
Being perfectly honest, there were a lot of things back home we missed. Kroger and Publix would probably rank the top of our list, and having a car would be second. Don’t get me wrong, there was a good grocery store, but the prices were substantially higher. The brand name goods were even higher. One can justify some increase in costs because there are no taxes, and everything has to be shipped in with custom duties added. But having few options, we would either pay the price, or do without.
Rental cars were available for twice the usual price, while gasoline was just over $6 a gallon. Taxi rates were high so we tended to walk the three miles to the grocery then hail a taxi for the return trip to preserve the refrigerated items.
Thanks to one or two of our boating friends, we enjoyed a lot of fresh fish. Tuna, Grouper, Wahoo and lobster were plentiful this year and it was always a special treat whenever they shared their catch.
As for Carolyn, she would almost nightly exclaim, “I sure do miss my dishwasher!” That is something that wasn’t available when we bought our trawler, however, some of our friends with much larger boats have standard refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers and washer/dryer combinations. I have explained to her that it only takes a million dollars or so to have all of those conveniences, and that usually ends the conversation.
What else have we missed? Chinese food, Wendy’s and Trader Joe’s, along with our neighborhood WalMart, CVS and Home Depot. I have missed my art classes, and Carolyn has missed her students at Dunwoody Prep. We have missed getting together with our neighbors, and having our friends and family close-by to enjoy a cookout or celebrate a special occasion.
What haven’t we missed you might ask? It would have to be the traffic congestion, the sirens, the violence, the air and noise pollution; or, the rush to go everywhere and the urgency with which everything needed to be done.
Now that another cruising season has ended, we find ourselves back home trying to catch up on a few projects around the house. Sea Island Girl has been tucked away for the summer and Carolyn is delighted to have a dishwasher once again.
It’s a bit cooler here than in the Bahamas and the flowers will be blooming soon. But there are some things missing. Long gone are the glorious sunrises that we woke up to each morning and the billowing clouds being outlined by an orange, setting sun. We have discovered that the neighborhood pool is no replacement for the miles of sandy beaches that we roamed in search of sea glass or colorful shells. Unfortunately the smell of bougainvillaea or the swaying of palm trees festooned with coconuts has quickly become a fading memory.
The single traffic light on Great Abaco and the two lane roads replete with potholes have been replaced by congested interstates, tractor trailers zipping by too close for comfort and brightly illuminated billboards while George’s Conch Stand, the Saturday steak night at the Jib Room and an assortment of harbor-side restaurant bars are winding down in hopes that a larger crowd arrives for the summer.
But that’s the way it is: time moves on, and things change. We consider ourselves so fortunate to live such an active and interesting lifestyle, and while we will miss the Bahamas we appreciate that everything will have a beginning, and its own beginning and everything must come to an end.
March 2014 column
When time stood still
It was a peaceful night in Man O War back in 2002 when I penned an article for Lakeside entitled “A Special Night with Pirates” describing the relaxed lifestyle on the small island. In fact, Carolyn and I stayed aboard our sailboat on a mooring in the harbor for two months, and during that time we came to realize that the ever present hustle and bustles of modern day living elsewhere had somehow bypassed Man O War.
There were 200 or so residents then. The men were engaged in boatbuilding, boat repair or fishing, while the women baked, crafted canvas bags or managed a limited number of shops. Back then the Abaco Ferry Service operated a fleet of ferries to the mainland or neighboring cays, Ms. Lola sold her bread to anyone that wandered the narrow streets, and the second homeowner population was beginning to expand at a robust pace.
We recently returned to the area to attend the annual Man O War School flea market. During the fundraising event, the streets were bustling with bargain shoppers. There was a long line at the ice cream shop, and the home baked goods, burgers, ribs, and tasty conch salad provided visitors with a delightful “taste of Abaco” experience. When the ferries departed by mid-afternoon, much of the flea market items had been sold, and calm settled back over the settlement as if nothing had ever happened.
Back in 2002 it was common to see a few golf carts zipping around the Queen’s Highway early in the morning heading to the ferry or delivering the children to school. When the delivery barge arrived at the government dock, the shopkeepers would line the dock to gather arriving goods or ship things back to the mainland. Everyone stayed busy during the day, then, shut down at lunchtime. The day workers not living on the cay boarded a shuttle at 5 p.m. to take them back to the mainland, and the “sons of Man O War” would gather at the grocery store to recount the day’s activities or spin a yarn or two.
Today there are a few more small trucks and the golf carts come equipped with head lights. Some of the carts are decorated with colorful LED strips, and the teenagers are gathering in groups in the evenings dressed in “hip hop” attire, listening to rap which heretofore would have been highly discouraged. Could it be there has been a subtle revolution taking place?
For years Man O War had been such a quiet place – early to bed, early to rise. Children were obeying their parents, and church services would close everything down on Sundays. But with technology and a 4G Network now available, things are changing. It is not unusual to see a 4-year-old huddled in a corner with an iPhone or electronic tablet, or others so consumed that they tune out everyone and everything around them.
Fiberglass has replaced the handcrafted wooden hulls of yesterday, and with the ease of reaching the mainland for groceries and supplies, life here is a far cry from the days when the Loyalists landed here in hopes of escaping the tyranny of an America in revolt. One wonders if technology has had a positive influence.
As I grow older, I have seen similar changes in so many places. Our grandchildren are similarly immersed in the computer revolution, so much so that I find myself asking a 3-year-old how to post a picture on Facebook or add an app to my iPhone.
I recall my parent’s distrust of the Beatles invasion and the beads and bell bottom pants that were so popular among my generation. From all indications I feel that I have had a pretty good life, so hopefully all the changes that have taken place since our last visit to Man O War will not be so bad after all.
February 2014 column
Time well spent in the Bahamas
It may not mean a lot for some, but when your wife shows you the shells she picked up on the beach and says “I had to bend over to pick up every one of these little shells, and just think of the weight I’m losing,” well you just look over her collection, smile and keep your mouth shut.
Along with her many lady friends in the Bahamas, Carolyn is into the more artistic endeavors rather than yoga or jogging. She uses the shells collected to transform Poinciana tree pods into pleasing works of art, and weaves pine needles with raffia into quite impressive looking baskets. Making a basket is intense and time consuming. It gives her a sense of gratification when showing them and she enjoys giving them as gifts to several of her friends back home.
Other friends are into the more traditional exercise mode of running, yoga and water aerobics, and for a group of senior citizens they do pretty well. It is when they are convinced that they are in their late 20s and play pickle ball that their age catches up with them. It is easy to spot these athletic over achievers; they are the ones with knee braces, arms in slings or casts. We have even had a few on crutches!
Games have become a popular past-time with many of the cruising boaters here in the Bahamas. Bocce Ball happens at 2:30 on Sundays, Mahjong has achieved dominance among the ladies three days a week while others just enjoy relaxing aboard their boats engaged in serious games of bridge. Although trivia has not as yet started, it will soon be returned as one of the more challenging evenings, complete with a “bring your main course and something to share” dinner.
We have been fortunate to have several talented individuals in our group. Ray Vallerie and Bob Williams are always standing by in case anyone needs someone with mechanical skills, and Bob’s wife Judy is the master gardener looking after our own private garden here at the resort. Jim and Kathy Fenn are always willing to share their boat for off-shore fishing adventures, and if it’s a good day, they share their fish with those of us that elect to stay tied to the dock.
A Canadian friend, Linda Weeks, has a special place in my heart. She was an art teacher before she and her husband decided to get away from the cold weather and go cruising. For two years, she has devoted much of her time to unleash the artistic abilities in all of us. Linda has a phenomenal way of bringing out previously unrecognized talents in many of us.
I dropped in on one of Linda’s sessions in 2012 while walking the dog. Having never thought of watercolor painting, it seemed relatively straight forward, so the next day I joined the group with eight paints, a pad of paper and a brush. “Marvelous! Fantastic!” were her words, and I was hooked. Another local artist commented on one of my first paintings by saying, “now, go paint 300 more.” While home in Atlanta I have extended by training under Dylan Pierce, a noted Atlanta-based watercolorist, and now find it difficult to see what Linda ever saw in my early paintings.
Having the time to spend doing what we enjoy is a real God-send, and that is why the lifestyle has been good for us. We are surrounded by wonderful friends, each with something to share, and the Caribbean climate makes it all the better.
If you have ever pondered cutting the lines on the lake, and setting off on a cruising adventure, we certainly would encourage you to establish a plan to do so. It can be an exciting time and a way to separate yourself from the more traditional lifestyle, to enjoy new places and meet new friends who are endeavoring to do the same.
January 2014 column
Returning home for the new year
It’s a new year and Sea Island Girl is resting once again on the Sea of Abaco following her month-long journey from coastal Georgia to Marsh Harbour, a family island among 700 islands and cays of the Bahamas. With the exception of two separate nor’easters which held us up for a couple of weeks, the 480-mile trip was a pleasant journey for the crew and an uneventful challenge for our 42-foot trawler.
We had stayed state-side last season and while we enjoyed being with old friends, and making new ones, the Bahamian families whom had become “our winter family” over the years were noticeably absent and sorely missed. It didn’t take long to decide a return to the islands would be in order this year.
“Hey Island Girl,” and “Welcome, back Mr. Wilson,” spoken in a Bahamian dialect were the first words coming across the VHF radio as we entered the turning basin at Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina at Settlement Point on Grand Bahama Island. It had been 18 months since our last visit but in no time we were made to feel as though we had arrived home.
It had been a long day but Carolyn managed to hit her favorite shelling beach while I took Coco and Robert for a much needed walk around the property. A fresh cracked conch dinner with peas and rice, cole slaw and an ice-cold Kalik beer has traditionally been our arrival dinner, and this year was no exception. As we were returning to the boat, the sunset was spectacular and the warm breeze had a salty air about it, making for a perfect ending to a perfect day.
The weather the following day was ideal for moving on and we took advantage of the conditions and put in a long day heading for Spanish Cay, a private island situated among the northern cays of Abaco. There had been many improvements to the area since our last visit however we were short on daylight and settled-in for dinner and a quiet evening aboard.
The following day was exciting! It was a short-trip south to Marsh Harbour and once we rounded the Whale Passage (known to be treacherous at times), everything was a welcomed sight. The cays and marinas along the Sea of Abaco brought back memories of previous visits and we quickly developed plans to return during our stay in the area.
The highlight of the trip thus far has been our arrival at Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina. It has been our base of operations for over eight years. To say it is a friendly place would not being doing it justice. Upon our arrival we were greeted with “Welcome Back” comments, hug and kisses by our yacht club members and the entire resort staff. As we walk the grounds, local residents and taxi drivers welcome us with open arms. It’s a though we never left.
Thus far the only emergency that we were unprepared for was a late night, dog overboard drill. Shifting tides and fixed docks make it difficult at times to get the dogs on and off the boat, and despite the routine we had established, Coco missed the dock and plunged 12 feet into the salty brine. Not being water friendly, she thrashed around, coughed a few times until I could shed my shirt and shoes and dive in.
Coco was a champ and grabbed onto the dock ladder with all four feet. After a minute or two of calming her down, we swam to the swim platform at the aft of the boat where Carolyn assisted me in getting her back aboard. There was blood everywhere and as we frantically inspected the dog we learned that I was the one bleeding. Apparently the barnacles on the dock ladder took a chunk of skin off my leg.
The good part of the story was that the bleeding was stopped, and Coco was pleased to re-unite with her canine crewmate Robert. The frightening part was that my wallet went missing during the ordeal. The security guard found it the next morning floating some 100 or so yards from our slip.
There will be more escapades to share with everyone as the season progresses, so stay tuned and we hope that 2014 will be filled with peace, love, fun and happiness for you and your family.
December 2013 column
Back onboard again to build more memories
We just escaped the brunt of the cold Atlanta weather and finally moved aboard Sea Island Girl once more for another winter cruising season in the Bahamas. Although we love our home, it is always exciting to be back on the water and if the truth were told, our two canine mates, Coco and Robert, actually prefer the boating lifestyle.
The first week seems to be the most confusing, trying to find where we stored everything, but it usually works out in the end. Our daughter Rebecca was a huge help this year. Rather than treating us to a special dinner for the holidays, she collected a large amount of coupons and took her mom grocery shopping. She saved over 50 percent, and completely stocked the boat with provisions.
Our first day on the water was a short but pleasant trip from Brunswick to Fernandina Beach. The tidal depths at Jekyll Creek forced us to leave later than normal, but we arrived in time to have dinner at the Marina Restaurant in downtown Fernandina with our good friends Kent and Vicky McKee whom we had sailed with for many years on Lake Lanier.
It has been our policy in the past not to over-plan our trips. Bill Wennerstein, a former Lake Lanier sailor himself always said, “I’ve got no plan, and I’m sticking to it.” His philosophy has worked well for us because there are so many variables – new places to visit, meeting new friends or spending a special evening with old friends, and the infamous weather.
The cruising community is an interesting bunch. Because of our mutual interest in traveling by boat we pretty much think alike and enjoy the same things. Every once in a while you will find a “salty loner” aboard a boat destined for the graveyard, or the “wahoo” steaming past you with little concern for the wake he is throwing your way. For the most part, cruisers are hospitable, welcoming and always available to lend a hand when called upon.
As you can imagine we have met quite a few interesting folks over the years. There was a fellow that designed a hammer for NASA and was later crucified in the press because the final cost, after the specifications were changed multiple times, came in at $4,000. Another was an 84-year-old gentleman who was looking for a place to swim. As it turned out, he held the world record for the back-stroke. And we will never forget the young man rowing a sailboat from Chicago to Key West to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.
We have seen our share of celebrities as well – Eric Clapton, on board his yacht serenading his mother on deck; Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, and John Travolta. We can only aspire to own a boat like theirs.
There have been a lot of unexpected, yet interesting stops along the way. There was LaBelle, FL where we stayed overnight at the Riverside Motel dock. It was just big enough for two boats, dockage was $15 including electricity, and they loaned us their Lincoln Continental to drive into town. Then there was the tornado we experienced on Grand Bahama Island having driven to the other end of the island for lunch, only to be asked by the waitress, “did you hear about the tornado that hit Port Lucaya?” That was where we were docked.
As for excitement, we have experienced one dog overboard drill and several near misses. We were treated to a country music evening by the residents of a nearby Jensen Beach trailer park, dodged our share of water spouts in the Atlantic, and seen our first shrunken head in a museum in Key West. In the Bahamas we were greeted by swimming pigs and landed on a cay which was home to hundreds of fierce looking iguanas.
You now have a better understanding of the people, places and situations that make our life so interesting. At first we thought it would be the white sand, the water and the blue sky that would be most appealing, but as it turns out, it is the people we meet along the way who unknowingly encourage us to keep moving.
November 2013 column
On-board guests can be fun
When it comes to living aboard a boat, let’s just say it is not for everybody. The quarters can be too tight for some and the rocking motion can be quiet disconcerting for others. I guess that is why we have concluded that Sea Island Girl was meant to accommodate eight guests for happy hour and up to six for dinner. We often joke about sleeping arrangements, saying that she can only sleep two (plus our two dogs). To some, especially our family and closest friends, this may seem a bit harsh. Nevertheless, there is sound reasoning and experience to support our logic.
Having overnight guests aboard can sometimes become a challenge. Just because someone is a long-time friend does not make them a good bedfellow. We all have our quirks and habits with which we are quite comfortable, but at times these can be troubling for others.
My morning routine is not that unusual. I go to bed earlier than most and usually rise around five or six in the morning. I fix my coffee and enjoy watching the morning news on TV. However, when guests are aboard, the sound of someone moving about the boat, or the volume of the television can waken a light sleeper. Another example would be if our guests partied a little too late for our tastes, and we had an early departure and a lengthy journey the next morning. There are many other scenarios, all of which suggest the importance of choosing your overnight guests carefully.
Anytime guests are invited aboard a number of parameters must be set. First, there is only one captain on board who has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the crew. He, or she, has the final word. Secondly, it is best if all guests are familiar with the proper operation of certain on-board equipment, especially the head. And finally, guests should only participate in any boat handling chores when requested to do so by the Captain, and only when they fully understand what is expected of them.
During our travels we have seen multiple problems arise when these guidelines are not made clear. An overly zealous guest, wanting to do his part, pumped diesel fuel into a water tank. Another tossed a dock line to a dock hand without securing the other end which contributed to the boat making a hard landing and subsequent hull damage. Alcohol often plays a role in causing most accidents and drownings, especially when the intake is not monitored carefully.
When we have guests aboard we typically provide them with certain guidelines in advance i.e. itinerary, use a soft sided bag to carry clothing, and wear boating shoes, not black high heels. Upon their arrival we will provide them with a tour of the boat to point out certain features that will make their stay more comfortable and instruct them on donning a life-jacket and the use of other safety equipment. In most instances, they have questions which we find best to address before setting off.
As most everyone wants to help out it is fun for them to take them helm for a while, and when conditions warrant we give them an opportunity. Based upon our experience, we prefer to handle the docking and maneuvering of Sea Island Girl ourselves, mainly because we have developed a routine and have been successful. Occasionally we will have an experienced guests assist.
We find that even the most novice guest can enjoy a few days on the water when they fully understand and follow a few simple guidelines. Some of them have gone on to buy a boat of their own and with the help of a few pointers that we passed along, are having on-board guests of their own.
We have determined that some of our happier days on the water have been with guests with similar boating experience. They understand most aspects of boat handling, and to us it is comforting to just sit back and enjoy being on your boat, with someone else at the wheel.
October 2013 column
Boat Show mania
Well it’s that time of the year when the annual boat show season is beginning. I’m fortunate to be able to attend the Annapolis Boat Shows beginning Oct. 3 and the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show Oct. 31, and what a time it will be.
It is expected that 350 new boats will be presented at the Annapolis Power Boat Show, ranging in size from 8-80 feet. This is always an exciting time. There is new technology, new designs and the enthusiasm this year is fueled by a changing market. In 2012 new boat sales increased 10 percent, and thus far in 2013, sales have increased another 5-10 percent.
These boat shows present everything from luxurious motor yachts to trawlers, and high performance boats and coastal cruisers, and what an exciting time it is. At these shows there is always an opportunity to see the latest in marine equipment, and speak directly with company representatives regarding any questions or issues you may be having with their products.
The Annapolis Show this year will be somewhat different. The management team has put together a combined show where there will be the Powerboat Show the first week, combined with a Brokerage Show. As many buyers are looking for quality used boats, it has been suggested that having a combined show of new and used boats will fuel the economic impact the show will have.
On Oct. 10, the Sailboat Show, which is the largest sailboat show in the US, will highlight the latest models being offered.
These shows generate millions of dollars in revenue, and while being the largest and best attended, they only represent a small portion of the other boat shows across the country.
The Atlanta Boat Show will be opening on January 9th in downtown Atlanta, and while it doesn’t present the larger motor yachts and trawlers, it does present a wide range of boats that are among the more popular designs, suitable for lake waters in and around the area.
Houseboats, sailboats and run-abouts make up the majority of boats purchased at this well attended show. According to statistics, most of the boats actually sold at the Atlanta show average less than 27 feet in length. However, I have toured the spacious houseboats, pontoon boats and sailboats and am always amazed at the availability of useful information provided by the various brokers and agents.
After years of boating I have come to the conclusion that the most important decision to be made in purchasing a boat comes down to “how do you intend on using the boat?” I have seen so many buy a boat because they like the layout, or they like the color … with no consideration as to whether or not the boat is suitable for how it will be used. As it is always the case at some point, the boat is not used, or the owners continually remain frustrated being unable to do what they wanted to do from the start.
When we went from sail to power, it took three years. We climbed on every good looking boat we could find, and must have read five or six books on boat design and studied the layout of hundreds of boats. It was a trying time, but the time spent was well worth the effort.
Going to boat shows can be lots of fun. You can explore, you can dream and you can spend lots of money. The excitement of being around other boat owners is contagious so we encourage everyone interested in boating to make plans to attend a boat show. Take your non-boating friends along as well, especially if you enjoy watching them get excited about boating, and possibly buying a new boat.
September 2013 column
Keeping busy in the 'after years'
Retirement. Now that is something that many long for, but if you are one of those people that could never sit around and do nothing like some, there’s got to be a way to spend your time doing something productive, and maybe picking up a few dollars on the side.
Spend your retirement years living on a boat? We have been fortunate enough to do just that. As unorthodox as it may seem there is a large contingency of cruisers working or volunteering while traveling around the world. It is not something that makes you rich in terms of dollars but it pays off by occupying your mind and while helping to maintain a youthful attitude.
During our years of cruising we have been involved in a number of freelance writing endeavors and have done our share to support the communities where we have traveled. Carolyn has been volunteering with a special needs school and animal rescue while in the Bahamas, while I have been a cruising editor and regional sales representative for Waterway Guide, a cruising guide for those traveling throughout the Bahamas. Neither of these pays a lot, but they keep our minds active. For us, it’s giving back to those that need the support, or, as in the case of the cruising guide, it’s a way to provide up-to-date resources for other, less experienced cruisers visiting the area.
We have met others who continue to manage their companies from afar. In most cases they have a son, daughter or manager at the helm to manage things and keep the ship afloat in their absence. There have been stock day-traders, designers, hospital architects, authors and owners of automobile dealerships that set aside a significant amount of time to enjoy their retirement lifestyle.
Unless you have a mega-yacht and a full-time crew to manage the boat, you will find the working environment quite different than before. There is no office to go to, and most have limited space for the office equipment. Wi-Fi and a reliable internet connection is an absolute necessity. In the areas which we travel, SKYPE has replaced the iPhone for phoning which is not always the most reliable means of communicating, especially for conducting business.
Aboard Sea Island Girl we had designated an area of the helm station as office space; however I find myself spread out on the table in the salon with my laptop and two dogs sleeping at my feet. We have a copier, scanner and fax combination and have found it to be sufficient. FedEX and UPS are absolutely necessary. Keeping papers and files organized can be a hassle. If the file I need is elsewhere and I get up to retrieve it, the dogs wake up to follow me and then we must settle them back down before resuming the work.
The work day can be sporadic and there are no set hours. It takes a lot of time management to ensure that deadlines are met. When cruising to another area we may not locate an internet connection for days, and while preferring to work during the day, it is often the quietness of early morning that gives me the peace and quiet necessary to complete the work.
Carolyn’s volunteer activities are just as challenging, yet she takes them just as serious as my publication deadlines. She spends hours on end walking the beaches collecting shells to be used for an art project, and even more hours scrounging for cardboard and cuts it into shape for use by her class the next day. Without adequate transportation available, she walks to and from school pulling her cart loaded with the day’s materials. She has been doing this for seven years.
You may be asking, why? Well one thing I learned a long time ago is that idleness in your post-retirement years can bring about other issues, health issues among them. We have found that staying active has added vitality to our lives. We meet new people with similar interests. We’re involved in something that is worthwhile. And we do it because we enjoy it!
If you are nearing retirement, or already retired let us recommend that you get involved. Become a greeter, or mentor a youngster at school. You certainly have something to share. For us, it has added a new dimension to our retirement years, and it can do the same for you.
August 2013 column
Boating fees raised in Bahamas ... on second thought, maybe not
It is amazing to me that some people just do not get it! The newly elected government of the Bahamas recently sent out a notice that entry fees into the country were being increased again. Now for a country that depends almost entirely on tourism that was a pretty gutsy move. But with most actions, there is usually a reaction.
July 1 was to be the effective date, but the notice failed to reach many of those affected in a timely fashion and many were caught off guard. Entry rates for boaters were increased 33 percent from $300 to $400 for boats over 35 feet in length. Three passengers are included, any additional would be $20 each. And if that were not enough, marinas will experience a 645 increase increase in dock taxes, so if they paid $1000 last year, it soars to $6,450 in 2013. All of this by the assembly to stabilize the budget.
As the Marina Operators of the Bahamas Association points out, “business has been bad the last three years due to the US economy, and there is no way that we can simply absorb the increase. “Simply put, the tax increase will have to be passed along to the boaters.” Some boaters are blogging, “I’ll vote with my wallet and go elsewhere.”
New fee structures have also impacted the airlines. A representative of Airlines for America (A4A), which represents 90 percent of the US airlifts to the Bahamas, has indicated that the new structure for US based airlines would seriously impact the already slim profit margins being achieved and that airlines such as Delta, Jet Blue and American are re-thinking upcoming plans that would have increased current airlift by more than 400,000 seats.
The Chinese are re-vitalizing a hotel complex in Nassau which is scheduled to open in 2015. A spokesman for the $4-billion Bahia Mar development was quoted in the local paper to say, “The airline industry’s reaction to the new Customs-related charges could also not have come at a worse time … . ” The Marina Operators were responding to an abundance of emails until they gained the attention of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. According to Obie Wilchcombe, the Bahamas Minister of Tourism, “Tourism stakeholders – including the Bahamas’ tourism minister - have urged the government to re-consider the new fees.”
Boaters tend to be a feisty lot, and they are certainly known for their frugality, and simultaneously reacted to the Bahamian governments posting of the revised fee structures. Bloggers blogged, and Facebook and Tweets were bouncing around world-wide. Cruisers websites posted daily updates and reactions they were receiving.
It was as if the Bahamas completely dropped off of the radar screen. Travel plans were being changed and local businesses were left scratching their heads, trying to make sense of it all. And finally, someone got it! They realized that while the increased revenue looked good on assembly documents, it would never pass the old check-list method used by Ben Franklin.
It took about a week for everyone to get back on track and almost as quick as it appeared, the new guidelines were rescinded and the entry fees for boaters will remain the same as last year. Things are still under negotiation regarding increased fees for the airlines and marinas, but I will bet that the Minister of Tourism will be contacted regarding future proposed changes to the budget.
A modern, International Airport is nearing completion in Marsh Harbour, Abaco and this is where our friends and family fly-in during our stays in the Bahamas. Reportedly Delta will have a direct flight from Atlanta, something that has been sorely needed. The locals there have struggled for years to revive the economy by welcoming tourists from around the world, and it would be a shame to have them disappointed once again.
On a personal note, Obie Wilchcombe is one of my Facebook friends, so let me ask that you keep him and our wonderful Bahamian friends in your prayers.
July 2013 column
A summer getaway and a birthday party all in one
“Big Papa” Wilson had two passions in life – enjoying an ice cold Coke and taking a Florida vacation with all of his family members each summer. We lived in Tennessee when the tradition started and I can still remember waking in the middle of the night and sleeping in the back of our station wagon with my siblings as we made our way down US 1. My father continued the tradition for many years after my grandfather passed away and he passed it along several years later.
Today my siblings, their children, grandchildren and their spouses continue to gather for the annual get-together in St. Augustine. The family has grown to the point where it requires four three bedroom condos to accommodate all of the family members, and the smaller ones sleep on inflatable mattresses. The week’s activities include spending the day on the beach, and a girl’s trip to the Tanger Outlet. The evenings are filled with gamesmanship and the families take turns preparing a feast for the lot each evening.
By the time July comes around, Carolyn and I have finally settled back into our Atlanta home after being on Sea Island Girl for the winter. Moving home and getting things organized takes a lot of time and the last thing we want to do is pack up the dogs and drive back down to Florida to spend a week at the beach. We are the family elders which has caused a bit of consternation, however, the family recently came up with a plan.
“Why don’t you bring the boat down for the week? We can celebrate your birthday!” Carolyn’s first reaction was, “how would you fit your two brothers and your sister, their spouses and their four kids, and all of their kids on a boat with the two of us and two dogs for even a day trip?” Well she has a point, even if it was just for a boat ride. Being a little more conciliatory I decided to put a pencil to the idea and suggested we would get back in touch.
The thought of trekking down the ICW to St. Augustine is a bit humorous in that we had literally passed by the condominium complex where the family gathers in early May. Looking over our log book it seems that the 216 mile round trip would require four days of travel time. Diesel fuel is $4.55 a gallon and we would burn 124 gallons for a total of $564. Marina dockage and power would be $464, raising the total to more than $1,000.
Keeping up with tradition is one thing. Spending a week surrounded by six toddlers, a two month old and a rowdy group of siblings and their clan is another. We still have a lot of items remaining on the boat that need to be put away for the summer, so it seems we will most likely forgo the trip, put the money to good use with home projects and let the family enjoy themselves on the beach. As they have done in the past, they can phone us on my birthday.
We were fortunate that the boat went unscathed when the last storm blew through Brunswick. However, it is supposed to be an active storm season leading into the fall and there are the usual projects to be completed before putting things to bed for the summer. The canvas needs to be removed, the dinghy secured and it wouldn’t hurt to put another coat of wax on before the summer really heats up.
As I contemplated calling my brother with the news that we would not be coming down I had an idea of my own. Why not have a few of the young men in the group drive the two hours from St. Augustine to Brunswick and help with the chores around the boat? I could even buy some pizza and cold beverages, and with the young bucks energy level we could complete the work in one day!
Summer vacations can be an enjoyable time for families to get together. With today’s busy schedules it is a rarity for entire families to unite and as we think about it once again, we will most likely opt to go to the boat, get some work done and then drive the two hours, let the dogs run on the beach and enjoy sharing my birthday with the family.
June 2013 column
'Baah-ack' home again, reporting surprises along the way
During our travels this winter season we were pretty much limited to the Intracoastal Waterway. With our plan to meet with friends along the way this for us worked better than jumping in and out of ocean inlets to make the longer and often, overnight passages.
There were pristine vistas along the 50 or so miles we traveled each day, and a host of quiet evening anchorages where we could enjoy majestic sunsets and glorious sunrises. The anchorages are seldom crowded, and when arriving before dark there is ample time to take the dogs to shore, and to unwind in the cockpit as we watched the sun go down.
Unlike the congested area where we live in Atlanta, we have come to appreciate the marshlands along the coast where we enjoy seeing a variety of marine life and waterfowl. Dolphins abound in these waters and they often accompany us alongside for a short time making for an exciting time for the dogs and for us, an opportunity to observe the dolphins agility and speed.
We took an opportunity to visit the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL. The zoo visit had been highly recommended, however having visited zoo’s in San Diego, London and Sydney I couldn’t imagine all the fuss. As it turned out, the Brevard Zoo, rated among the Top Ten in the country, was considerably smaller yet unexpectedly brimming with zebra, exotic birds, hippos and giraffes for visitors to enjoy truly up close encounters. Being eye level and feeding a giraffe made our visit, a truly memorable experience.
The Barge Canal, a short-day trip north of Melbourne, connects the Indian River to Cape Canaveral. The waters are briny, yet abundant with fish, manatee and the occasional dolphin. In a friend’s run-about, we traversed the canal and were amazed to see raccoon scraping the banks in search of food, and pelicans diving in waters ahead of us to get the fresh catch of the day. We even witnessed a rather large alligator sunning itself on a nearby bank.
Just south of St. Augustine is the small town of Marineland, boasting its population of eight. There is little more than a welcome sign to let you know you have arrived. If the truth be known they could have easily placed a single sign that read, “Welcome to Marineland” on one side, and “Thank you for visiting Marineland” on the other. There is some history here, thus making it an interesting stop along the ICW.
I was only knee high to a grasshopper when my parents took our family to visit. Along with the Alligator Farm and the Castillo de San Marcos Fort, this was a must-see when traveling to Florida for many years. There were thrilling dolphin shows and exhibitions at Marineland long before Shamu, and Lloyd Bridges often filmed segments for his Sea Hunt television series here.
The Georgia Aquarium has assumed ownership of Marineland and both the Universities of Georgia and Florida have experimental stations on-site to research and study the marine environment. Additionally, a group of dedicated naturalists conduct a variety of kayak and land tours for observing the marine life along nearby tributaries, especially bird watching in an effort to help preserve the delicate surroundings.
All of this makes for an exciting time on the water, but just when you think you have seen it all, there is always some unexpected event that happens to amaze.
As we arrived home, we discover a flock of sheep grazing in a neighboring lot! There were 20 or so ewes being watched over by two Anatolian Shepherd herders. How different is that? It seems they were brought in by Ewe-niverally Green, a local environmentally friendly company, to clear the over grown greenery and kudzu at St. James Anglican Church. According to Brian Cash, head shepherd, it is a “cute, clean and natural” way to manage natural lands. We agree, but for us, it was an unexpected and exciting welcome home!
May 2013 column
M: Means all the world to me
April was an enjoyable month for the crew of Sea Island Girl. We had started our northerly trek from Stuart, FL even though the weather had been wonderful and we were not that excited over the lingering cold back home. Cocoa Village Marina became our home for the month, and while there we had an opportunity to catch up on the winter activities and gossip from the Bahamas when a host of our boating friends passed through the area. Most were heading to their home port for the summer, although a few had decided to leave their boats elsewhere and fly home.
The captains aboard didn’t appear all that anxious to hurriedly plod the 50 or 60 miles on the ICW each day, but their mates were hoping to be among their children to celebrate Mother’s Day and se