Day 5: “Elizabeth Jean in her element” Captain Sullivan’s note in the log.

By midnight at the beginning of our fifth day out from the Bahamas, the wind was gusting up to 16 knots, rewarding our earlier faith in its return.  Elizabeth Jean‘s reefed main and full jib powered us along at seven knots; Perkins rested.  Much of South Carolina’s coast was now behind us.  The coastline jutted northeastward into the Atlantic, shrinking our distance from land.  Cape Fear, north of the South Carolina–North Carolina Border was under 100 nautical miles to the east, northeast.  Shortly after sunrise, we altered course towards a safe point off of Diamond Shoal, the beginning of the long passage around Cape Hatteras.  The morning weather forecast predicted another two days of good sailing before the cold front that would close our weather window arrived.  Our VHF radio, silent for much of our passage, hummed with reports of naval maneuvers, Coast Guard reports, and towing activities.  Cargo ships, also on their way to Cape Hatteras, accompanied us at a safe, but imposing two mile distance.  By 2100 (9 pm), Elizabeth Jean was nimbly gliding over the three to four foot seas with the wind gusting up to 27 knots.  As the midnight watch began, only the stars in the moonless sky and the Cape Hatteras Light abeam studded the dark, dark night.  Elizabeth Jean had rounded the fabled Cape in style.

Hatteras winks at Albatross as he hovers above North Carolina.  Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC.

 

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Day 4: “Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze” Carl Sagan

Moonrise and a shooting star brightened the quiet midnight watch as Day 4 began.  With winds hovering below 10 knots, Perkins (our faithful British diesel engine) kept Elizabeth Jean‘s pace above 5 knots, fast enough to reach the Chesapeake before our window closed.  Sunrise caught up with us at 6:15, 150 miles east of Savannah, Georgia.  At this point we had run Perkins for over 36 hours.  Over 300 miles still separated Elizabeth Jean from Chesapeake Bay’s entrance.  We expected the wind to freshen in a day or two.  However, to conserve fuel we turned off Perkins and hoisted our spinnaker to test our progress as the breeze stirred.  Our experiment lasted only an hour.  To fill our sail it was necessary to sail off our course.  While we had enjoyed our respite from engine noise, we concluded that the forecast of winds to come was sufficiently certain to risk consuming more fuel to keep us on course.

 

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Day 3: “The first man who ever saw a flying fish probably thought he was witnessing a miracle” Elizabeth Gilbert

The winds dropped throughout our third day enroute from the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay.  By 18:00 (6 p.m.) the sea was so flat that the flying fish were leaving wakes on the water.  A warbler, far from land, circled Elizabeth Jean and finally landed to rest.  Amidst the calm, we assessed our own progress.  At 30 degrees North latitude, we were off the Florida-Georgia border.  At this latitude, the Florida Current, unconstrained by the Bahamas to the east meanders creating south flowing counter currents along the Gulf Stream’s eastern boundary.    For the last eighteen hours, while enjoying the relative quiet, a 1.5 knot counter-current had been silently slowing our progress.  We headed Elizabeth Jean west to return to the favorable Gulf Stream.

Photo credit: Luther Bailey

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Day 2: “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts . . . ” Psalms 42:7

It wasn’t their noise that captured our attention, it was the black bottomed clouds, from which the spouts emerged.  After an uneventful day of light rain, clearing skies and brownie baking, suddenly we were among the thunderheads.  The dark fingers of water that reached from the clouds to the ocean surface seemed to be the work of Voldemort or some other malign agent.  Eulalie turned on the radar, which captured the storm impulses as distinct targets on our chart plotter.  By avoiding the targets, Elizabeth Jean again safely passed north.

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Day 1: “I don’t want to overstate my concern about the squalls” Chris Parker

Chris Parker, our weather guru, strongly dislikes thunderstorms, squalls and lightning.  His forecast the morning we departed Little Sale Cay started with this energetic trio for the first day or two.  We could delay our departure a couple of days to miss the squalls and face several days of motor sailing.  A delayed departure would also shorten our weather window for reaching the Chesapeake by two days.  We pressed Chris on the trade offs between the risk of the “nasty-squallies” (Parker’s term for unsettled weather) and a shorter overall time to reach the Chesapeake.  Parker restated his strong bias against lightning squalls and then concluded, “I don’t want to overstate my concern.”  Ok, we decided after weighing the risks.  As we departed the anchorage, Eulalie saw a ragged dorsal fin approach our bow.  She recognized the distinct fin from the day before.  Shark? we wondered.  A cluster of fins fell in behind Ragged Fin and criss-crossed Elizabeth Jean‘s bow.  Dolphins!!! A good omen as we left protected waters for the Atlantic Ocean.  Eleven hours later, during the 9:00 p.m. watch, lightning tattooed the sky over Florida’s coast.  Had we made a colossal mistake?  If the squall reached our position, 160 miles offshore, a lightning strike could knock out our engine and electronics and cripple us.  We watched the light show nervously for a couple of hours.  Fortunately, the squalls stayed close to shore.  As the 12:00 a.m. watch began, stars overhead winked reassuringly at Elizabeth Jean as she made her way north under 25 knots of wind.

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It’s show time; finish strong.

We named our sailboat for our two daughters, Beth and Jean.  We explained to them that by so doing we would have them near us as we traveled.  Not surprisingly, over our four years of cruising, Elizabeth Jean helped connect us to her namesakes as they pursued their distant and separate paths.  At the same time, Elizabeth Jean became alive to us, possessed with her own personality: solid, steady, comforting.  In a word, beautiful.  As we thought of what would be our final passage together, we thought of these characteristics.  Too, we thought of Beth and Jean.  Beth, who found her voice on the stage, abandoned her inherent shyness at “showtime” to deliver one remarkable performance after another.  Jean, always the most coachable member of her many athletic teams, always followed her coachs’ advice to “finish strong.”  Thus, for our passage from the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay we elected to take the 700+ miles in one long six day at-sea passage, rather than a series of shorter hops.  Now, it was show time.  We intended to finish strong.

Albatross scopes out the passage from Great Sale Cay, east of Florida, to Chesapeake Bay (shrouded in clouds above Cape Hatteras).

Beth and Jean, together this past winter, always in our hearts.

 

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“There are days when solitude is a heady wine.” Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

The Abacos are one of the Bahamas most social cruising grounds.  We know vessels who spend months moored in Hopetown, a popular gathering spot.  Moorings, the bare-boat charter company, has its base in Marsh Harbor a short sail from Hopetown.  We understand why.  Within the Abacos’ protective outer reefs numerous small towns offer their version of conch salads and rum punch all within a couple hour sail of one another.  The VHF radio and cruisers net crackles with vessels planning their on-shore rendezvous.  By early May when we arrived, however, our Bahama clock was running down as other priorities pulled us north.  Thus, we generally eschewed socializing and shore for quiet anchorages as we moved steadily towards Grand Sale Cay to position ourselves for our return to the United States.  Grand and Little Sale Cays, our last two Bahamian anchorages, afforded two more nights of solitude.  Watching sun dogs paint the sky after an afternoon of snorkeling while lazily cleaning Elizabeth Jean’s hull, Eric wrote in the log “it is crazy to stop cruising.”

The above chart depicts the Abacos in relationship to Grand Bahama (where we began our Bahama visit in February at West End).  Grand Sale Cay, one of our last anchorages three months later, is immediately to the right of its label on the chart.  Grand Sale is approximately 100  nautical miles from West Palm Beach Florida.

Light refracting through ice crystals form sun dogs, or are they just magic?

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“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach” Tony Robbins

While we get little sympathy when we say it, cruising life can be exhausting. One thing that contributes to this exhaustion is the sheer number of decisions we must make. A case in point: our 50 nautical mile passage from Spanish Wells off Eleuthera to Little Harbor, on Grand Abaco.  As is common, we faced a weather window.  A couple of days between fronts would provide relatively calm weather to move.  Two factors complicated our decision, however.  First, the forecast included thunderstorms with high winds and lightning.  A lightning strike could render our electronic systems, including navigation, useless.  Second, extreme currents, called Rages, at times made impassable the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the protected waters inside the Abaco island chain.  If we mistimed the currents we could be stuck overnight outside the entrance waiting for the next tide.  The delay could bump us into the lightning storm time frame.  Just as we were comfortable with our calculations and casting off from our dock, a new vessel arrived with bad news.  They were planning a similar passage and had poked their bow out into the passage, only to conclude the conditions were too rough.  After considering our options, we decided to venture out.  We too concluded to wait a day or two to make the passage and tucked up behind a small island where we could watch the squall while riding at anchor in relative comfort.  Winds topping 28 knots drove rain past Elizabeth Jean as lightning knitted the skies above Spanish Wells.  Two days later,  the front gone, our faithful Perkins chugged the fifty miles on placid Atlantic waters and Elizabeth Jean entered Little Harbor Cut on a favorable tide without incident.  Our Abaco exploration was about to begin.

 

 

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Albatross on stingray

The Bahamas clear water provided many opportunities to view sting rays.

The stingray symbolizes sensitivity, restrain, protection and maneuverability.  Stingrays have a heightened sense of touch and the ability to pick up on the energy of others.

Stingrays blend into their surroundings on the ocean floor and are not aggressive unless provoked. When they feel threatened; they use a poisonous barb to defend themselves.

Stingrays go to great lengths to camouflage and avoid conflict, but will defend themselves when necessary.

When a stingray crosses your path

Stingrays may be telling you to not overreact to your emotions, to calm down and wait before reacting. Stingrays maneuver themselves quite well despite their size and shape and they tell us to also carefully maneuver the complex emotional waters of our inner world.

Balance and restraint are strong themes of this totem animal. When it appears to you; consider your actions carefully and allow your intuition to guide you rather than raw emotion.

Stingray Dream Symbolism

Stingrays in dreams represent your emotions and how you may be hiding them from others. A calm dream suggests maneuvering a challenge in your life with ease and grace. An aggressive dream means you may be reacting to your emotions, rather than using careful deliberation in your approach, which could be costly.

 

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“How do we live well in a place?” The Island School

Elizabeth Jean’s crew were early converts to the power of experiential learning. In sixth grade, at the instruction of her teacher Mr. Kolb, Lal brought home a muskrat skull and boiled it clean. Her love for hands-on biology dates from that early lesson. Eric’s mother, the Muz, cofounded the Junior Museum, an early form of the “do-touch” school of learning, which became Eric’s second home. In the intervening years, Echo Hill, Outward Bound, NOLS, and Salish Sea Expeditions variously fed Lal or Eric’s experiential learning jones. Thus, Eleuthera’s Island School, an experiential learning center on steroids, became a pilgrimage of sorts for our island visit.  Our half day tour of the school’s campus introduced us to the ways that it seeks to answer the central question it poses to its students” “How do we live well in a place?”

The Island School begins its quest for living well in a place by providing a spectacular place in which to be immersed.   Reef ecology and boat-based exploration are part of the curriculum.  Each course, whether in the science or humanities, includes a field component.

Modeling sustainability is central to the school’s mission.

Bicycles provide student transportation.

Recycled bottles provide light portals to this shop building.

To fuel the school’s motor vehicles it operates its own biodiesel facility.

Samuel, a former student turned biodiesel plant operator explains the its operation.  The green containers, filled with used vegetable oil, come from cruise ships visiting Eleuthera.  The school also works with local restaurants to obtain its crude inventory.

When we say “crude” we mean crude.  This bucket contains the used oil in all its unrefined beauty.

The refined product looks good enough to drink, but don’t.

The associated Cape Eleuthera Institute includes a hydroponic agriculture lab.

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