After departing West End, we sailed around 50 miles across the Little Bahama Bank to Great Sale Cay, a little uninhabited island which had a great anchorage.  We decided to stay here two nights so we could explore the island.  We continue to be in awe of the color and clarity of the water and all the different beautiful shades of blue.  We were not disappointed with the amount of marine life that surrounded Great Sale…stingrays, turtles, sharks, barracuda, conch.  All of them right under the dingy or next to our legs as we waded through the water.  Bryan even caught a couple lobsters, but none of them were big enough to actually keep!    

Next stop was Fox Town, which is situated between lots of boulders but provides fairly good protection from the wind.  The town itself has been untouched by tourism.  We stopped in the one little general store and the girls got a lollipop and gave the owner a Blessing Bracelet.  We took the dinghy over to Hawksbill Cay, the island directly north of Fox Town and did a little shell hunting and found two beautiful sand dollars  

The next day, we pulled up anchor without the engines on and sailed off to our next anchorage which was at Allans Cay.  It was a beautiful sail and and an equally beautiful beach that we found on the other side of the island.  A short hike through the woods lead us to one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen.  The sand was so soft and the water so blue.  There was also a neat signing tree that past cruisers sign with their boat name and date.  We added our names and boat name to the tree and enjoyed a wonderful swim.  

We stayed an extra night at the anchorage in Allans Cay because the winds really picked up…we have learned to stay put if conditions look uncomfortable.  The next day we sailed on to Green Turtle Cay and tucked into Black Sound at the Leeward Yacht Club.  We have missed some islands that we wanted to see but hope to stop at on our way back through.  The little settlement of New Plymouth is on the south side of the Green Turtle Cay and is considered the sister city to Key West.  In the 1800’s the residents of Green Turtle took their houses apart and put them on barges heading to Key West seeking fortune in the US.  The bright colors of the homes and business are reminiscent of Key West.

We took full advantage of visiting the city by renting a golf cart one day.  We enjoyed riding around and visiting the different beaches, finding driftwood forts, drawing with sidewalk chalk, swimming in the marina pool, and finding a place for ice cream.  Our favorite location was Pineapples which hosted a tiki bar, grill, pool, beach, playground and picnic tables overlooking the Sea of Abaco….it was perfect!

 

We also took a dingy ride over to No Name and checked on the pigs on this island.  No one lives on the island but the pigs and we hear they get fed very well by tourists coming to see them!  Surprisingly, the girls were not interested in them.

We have also left five Blessing Bracelets along the way for others to find (West End, Great Sale Cay, Fox Town, Allans Cay, and Green Turtle Cay).  Tomorrow, we will move on to explore the rest of the Abaco…hoping to make it to Marsh Harbor, Guana Cay, Man-O-War, Hopetown, and any other little cays along the way.

Since we live on a boat and are surrounded by the sun every time we walk up the companionway stairs, making sure we have good sun protection gear is important.  While we are not technically at sea all the time, we are definitely outside MOST of the time. The sun shines down from above and reflects off the water onto us while on the boat.  When not on the boat, we are either outside swimming, exploring, or beaching.  We try to take the precaution of staying indoors during the “worst” hours of the day, however this frequently just can’t happen.  So I have been hunting down some of the best products to protect us while we are in the direct rays of the sun.

One lesson I have learned in the past nine month of living on a boat, is you only have one body, so you better take care of it.  Not only does skin cancer run in my family, I also recently had another “wake up” call with an abnormal mole resulting in stitches on my toe.  Going through this uncomfortable situation again is definitely something I want to avoid and has made me even more diligent in finding products that protect us during all daytime activities.  From tents on the beach, sunscreen, and protective clothing, here are some of the best products that I have found and that we use on a consistent basis.

Sunscreen

Thanks to a dear friend, we were pointed in the direction of Blue Lizard Sensitive sunscreen.  After doing LOTS of reading about sunscreen and finding the best protection with the least amount of dangerous chemicals, Blue Lizard continuously is at the top of the list.  

As testament from our crew, we have ONLY used Blue Lizard for the past nine months and not one of us has gotten burned.  We purchased the gallon size container with a pump and keep it in our cockpit for easy assess.  We just transfer the lotion into a handheld container when we go ashore.  

Sunshade

When we head to the beach, we wanted a tent to take with us that was easy to carry, set up and store away when on the boat.  The Neso Tent met all of those requirements.  This tent is so lightweight (3.92lbs) and stores easily under our navigation station.  It is simple to set up with just two poles and the shade fabric….no complicated instructions needed.  It is high quality and high stretch fabric with sun protection of UPF 50.  When the wind picks up, it stretches and then relaxes back into place without disturbing the setup.  And an added bonus for us is its great performance as a shade cover for the boat when stretched over the boom while at anchor.

Sun protective Clothing

I admit that I really do not like lathering lots of sunscreen on my body, so when possible I will try to wear sun protective clothing.  Coolibar has some really nice looking clothing for the whole family.  We try to keep the girls in rashguards as much as possible.  We love the colors and designs that Coolibar provides and they are lightweight, breathable, quick drying, and saltwater and chlorine resistant.  Also they provide UPF protection of 50+ and the fabric does not wash or wear out easily which I have found with some other brands.  I have especially loved their cover up because it is so comfortable and breathable, perfect for boat living.  Plus, it is versatile and can also be used as a causal dress, not just a cover up!

Eclipse Sun Products is another company that provides some different options for sun protective clothing.  Their shawl has been one of my favorites to wear on the beach and in the cockpit over a swimsuit. It is lightweight and flowing, a nice change up from rashguards that fit tighter, and it covers my shoulders and arms.  Bryan has also enjoyed wearing their sun sleeves which not only protect his arms, but also his wrist and top of his hand, perfect when steering the boat.  Both the sunsleeves and shawl are quick drying, durable and ultra light.

Sun Accessories

I have had the same pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses for 6 years now and they have provided excellent sun protection for my eyes and have held up against all types of abuse.  They are actually at a point of needing some repairs and all I have to do is send them in to Costa and they fix them for a small processing fee!  The girls will not keep sunglasses on, so we try to stick with hats for them.  We particularly love our Sunday Afternoon Hats.  Not only do they have a brim that goes all they way around their head, but they can get wet and dry easily.  This company also has a really neat back story about the evolution of their travel blanket into sun hats.

I’m afraid that damage has already been done by the sun from my younger careless years, but at this point my hope is I can protect my girls from damaging rays and instill in them the importance of protecting their skin through example.  

 

***A special thank you to Neso Tents, Coolibar, and Eclipse Sun Products for contributing products to our crew to test out.   

 

We are currently tied to the dock at the Old Bahama Bay marina in West End waiting on some strong winds to pass and it’s given me some time to think about “what’s next.”  After all, we are nearing the end of Year One of this cruising adventure and I’m really astonished that the year has worked out the way it has.  We’ve just about done exactly what we set out to do.  But for the crew of All In, the future is mighty uncertain right now.  I really don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing even 6 months from now.  Maybe next year we’ll continue to cruise and explore beyond what we’ve seen so far.  Live abroad in some sort of exchange program?  Maybe we’ll find a place to settle down for a while.  Maybe we’ll…gulp…get jobs.  But into that unknown, I will take with me an incredible lesson learned over the last 4 years.  I’ve learned more than anything else that you can make it happen.  You can accomplish your goals.  Your dreams can become reality.  What sounds like an enormous cliche, now pours through my veins like my own personal religion. I know in my heart that whatever comes next will bring enjoyment and fulfillment.  I believe in our ability to get it done.  This is not to say that we confidently attack our ideas without looking back.  It’s actually more like the complete opposite.

We’re constantly doubting ourselves.  Questioning whether or not we can do it.  Whether or not we are cut out for the cruising life.  We often feel like frauds, because we’re regularly surrounded by seasoned sailors with extensive sailing resumes and a lifetime of experience.  Our sailing plans have always been very conservative.  We take baby steps and keep our ambitions in check.  A surprising number of people, early on in this endeavor, would ask if we hoped to sail around the world, to which we would laugh and admit that we just hoped to make it out of Beaufort in one piece.  More often than not, we just hoped to find the next playground. We considered our travels a success if we made it to an ice cream shop.

But here’s what I’ve learned.  You just keep pushing and you keep moving forward.  Our day to day plans almost never worked out, but our overall goals came together beautifully.  Eyes on the prize.  We got out of Beaufort.   We crossed our first state line into North Carolina.  We survived and overcame the setback of running aground and having major repair work done.  Inch by inch, we worked our way up the Chesapeake Bay.  We dodged two hurricanes, sailed offshore through the night for the first time, covered the entire east coast of Florida from Jacksonville to Key West, planned and prepped for a Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas and then sailed through the night to make it happen.  And doggone it, with the exception of an unexpected side to trip to Vermont last Summer, which was excellent by the way (thanks Jan!), wouldn’t you know that is exactly the way we sort of arbitrarily planned our first year of cruising to happen way back in early 2016.  Until now, my life has NEVER happened like that.  

In 2013, we decided to do this.  Everything was completely uncertain at that point except our commitment to the idea.  Could we really save enough money?  Are we actually going to sell our house and cars, quit our jobs and give up our happy life in Beaufort?  Are we actually going to buy that boat?  Can we handle living in 37 feet of space with extremely limited water and power resources?  And are we really going to do all this with two little girls in tow?  Day by day, month by month, each of those questions were answered.  So here I sit in West End, Bahamas on top of mound of questions answered and goals accomplished feeling incredibly proud.  

I think that our most recent obstacle to overcome is what has got me feeling so philosophical and reflective.  In our minds, it was a big one.  Leaving the country.  Leaving all sight of land and crossing an ocean current reknowned for its ability to throw an incredible tantrum under the right conditions.  More accurately, it can be downright deadly.  Leaving behind the luxury of unlimited access to resources.  Leaving behind the familiarity of culture and customs.  And probably at the forefront of our minds, leaving behind the shelter of safe harbor tucked inside the coast of Florida.

We’ve been reading about crossing the Gulf Stream for months now and talking with anyone who has done it before and is willing to offer advice or suggestions.  For those who don’t know, part of the Gulf Stream current flows along the southeastern coast of the US bringing warm water from the Tropics north and then across the Atlantic toward Europe, affecting weather patterns on a global scale.  Off the coast of Florida, the Gulf Stream can flow at a rate of 4 knots or more at times.  Often, the seastate will be far more energetic in the stream than outside of it.  And if the wind is blowing from the north, opposite the flow of the water, the conditions can become incredibly dangerous very quickly.  For a slow moving vessel like All In, watching the weather and planning carefully for this crossing is imperative.  We decided to wait for the right moment to cross from Palm Beach, which is about 56 nautical miles from West End.  We expected the trip to take about 12 hours.

After three weeks of watching and waiting, it appeared a weather window was finally taking shape.  It wouldn’t be a lengthy window of opportunity, but perhaps about 36-48 hours.  Very quickly after that, a powerful front of northeastern winds would set in and stay for several days.  We took comfort in knowing that another boat near us in the anchorage would be attempting a crossing at the same time, but really hoped to have another person on board to help with the girls and to provide an additional level of safety for all of us.  Incredibly, my dad answered the call and agreed to fly down to Palm Beach on Tuesday to join us for the crossing.

The plan was to leave at about 4am on Wednesday morning because, as best I could tell from the different weather forecasting instruments at my disposal, that would be the time when the waves were the gentlest and the winds the mildest.  For our first crossing, we hoped for calm seas.

Monday and Tuesday were filled with activity.  Last minute food provisioning, filling water, gas and diesel tanks, checking sails, rigging, engine, and communication and navigation equipment.  We also had to find time for the girls to play on shore and ride their scooters.  All very important tasks.  Tuesday morning, the weather appeared to shift forward several hours, tightening our window even more than it already was.  While my dad was boarding his plane in Charleston, we decided to change our departure time from 4am Wednesday to 9pm Tuesday…we would leave just a few hours after his arrival in Palm Beach and sail through the night.  

I’m happy to report that this turned out to be a fantastic decision.  The skies were clear all night, allowing the moon and stars to illuminate the atmosphere.  The waves rolled by mostly unnoticed all night long as there was a 10 second period between crests.  The winds were light, but helpful, filling our genoa just enough to provide lift.  The girls slept soundly until sun up.  We passed several sailboats returning from the Bahamas, two cruise ships, a few cargo ships, and some other vessels making their way through the night.  Except for a momentary loss of direction during which our boat headed due North instead of East (I was downstairs asleep at the time while Laura and Dad manned the helm), I would call it nearly a perfect crossing.  

We watched the sun break over the horizon directly in front of us as we approached the first of the Bahamian islands.  An hour later, we entered the harbor of the West End settlement on Grand Bahama Island, tied up to the dock, and headed to the customs and immigration building to clear into the country.  

Now, several days later, we sit and wait for the weather to clear so that we can continue on into the islands of the Abacos for about 8 weeks before heading back to South Carolina for a summer of weddings, family, friends, and air conditioning.  We’ll also be making plans for next year, but, for now, it’s awfully exciting that those plans are totally up in the air.

 

Wow….it is coming up on nine months that we have lived aboard All In.  These past months have taught me so many things about myself and my family.  This is not an experience you can ever really be prepared for, but instead you launch into it with a wild leap of faith and take in every single moment with an open heart.  I guess this is the first lesson that I have learned….always be prepared for the unexpected and learn to accept it.  We began this journey back in June and 3 weeks into our new life, we were back off the boat wandering around the east coast by car….never would I have expected this turn of fate but it happened, we accepted it, and moved past it.  Since this time we have had our share of mishaps that I never even had a chance to write about like losing our dingy in a storm and miraculously recovering it, diving into swampy alligator water to get a rope untied from our prop, and of course the “exciting” times when the engine started smoking, hurricane prep, and our running aground that was made into a blog post.

Now as we prepare for our real first offshore crossing to another country, the fear and anxiety is on the rise (at least with me), but the excitement of another adventure is also running through my veins!

So, what have we (I) learned in the first nine months aboard?

  1. I have learned that daily showers and makeup are not necessary to be happy.  I rarely wear makeup anymore…..something I would have NEVER done before.  And hot showers in a public marina every couple days are a luxury and better yet is a hot shower off the back of the boat from the solar shower in a private anchorage.
  2. Protecting yourself from the sun and staying healthy is vitally important (another post about this in the future).  You have one body, so you better take care of it and protect it.
  3. Plans are overrated.  In my past life, I planned EVERYTHING.  I loved planning and still do, but it does not drive my life.  I have learned to take each day as it comes.  The beauty of each day is so unexpected either with the places we visit or the people we meet.  I have learned to take a deep breath and let fate lead us which has required letting go of control.  When living on a boat, there is little control that we have since mother nature points our direction and decision making many times.
  4. Bryan is becoming a decent diesel mechanic and handyman of all boat stuff….plumbing, electronics, cooking, navigator.  He is constantly fixing things and if he becomes stumped, he researches and figures out how to fix the problem.  I am so proud of him.
  5. Happiness does not come from things, but from people and experiences.
  6. My kids challenge me daily, but give me more in life that I could have ever hoped for and I am so lucky to be able to spend everyday experiencing life together and and learning from them.  This transition to a boat was not easy many times, but they ARE adaptable and I love that I can snuggle with them, teach them, and learn from them daily.
  7. There are other ways to make a living rather than a traditional 9-5 job.  Branching out and trusting in your own talents and abilities can provide lots of satisfaction.  Part of the fear of this type of lifestyle previously was letting go of the “traditional” way of life and lack of income.  My eyes have been opened to many different options of ways to support our family that I would have never known before releasing the bowlines (first reference ever on a post regarding the title of the blog!)
  8. Embracing uncertainty…..ok, I’m still working on this one.  Uncertainty and fear are part of living but can lead to some of the most wonderful  experiences.  Once again, taking a deep breath, and be accepting and open to uncertain times and knowing everything will “work out” the way it is planned.
  9. An inspiring majority of people we’ve met, from all walks of life, are incredibly kind and friendly and helpful.  Even from our limited travels so far, we’ve gained an overwhelming sense that we humans are all in this together and really just want to be happy.  This is one of reasons we are continuing to make our Blessing Bracelets.
  10. Our family moves really SLOW…everything we do is slow from making our way off the boat to traveling to our next port.  This is just US and how we roll at this point in our life.  Being a punctual person by nature (the anxiety rises in me every minute I am late to something), I now do not make many plans with a timelines because I know I cannot make it.  The one, actually two, exceptions to this plan are to be back for my brother in law’s wedding in June and a trip with our friends in July (without kids).

That is my short list to this point.   Currently, we are prepping for Bahamas which means waiting (for the most part) for the perfect weather window and accepting what our family is comfortable doing at this point in our cruising life which is short passages.  And of course, relying on mother nature and accepting uncertainty.  Hoping the next post will be from the Bahamas!

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We have officially departed the Keys and are now making our way to Fort Lauderdale.  As we cruised away from the Keys, feelings of sadness and anxiousness creeped up on us.  We spent the last two months in the the Keys and in a way it started to feel like home due to the familiarity and it was sad leaving, especially since we are very uncertain of the future cruising grounds.  

We were moored in Boot Key Harbor the majority of the time in the Keys and were getting accustomed to the day to day life of the beach, playground, library, parks, exploring and boat repairs.  Boot Key Harbor is like grand central station for cruisers with all the resources that a cruiser needs, making it very easy on you to delay your departure!  We had some memorable experiences during our time in the Keys….here are just a few.

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At the beginning of our time, we had a visit from the grandparents.  We spent some time off the boat and with them at Tranquility Bay Resort in Marathon which was beautiful and relaxing.  The pools, sand, tiki bar, and wonderful time spent with family was so nice, not to mention the free laundry and hot showers!  We also were able to watch Clemson win the National Championship during this time and have since added a Clemson National Championship flag to our boat.

Thanks to a wonderful Christmas present from Uncle Chris and Aunt Rachel, we were able to visit the Dolphin Research Center.  Bryan and I visited many years ago and swam with the dolphins (a very cool experience!) and it was fun to bring the girls back to see the dolphins and sea lions.  They also had a splash zone which was a hit with the girls!

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Avery and I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon with a homeschooling group.  This was a neat experience to learn about how they rehabilitate the turtles and then release them when they are better.  It was also another good lesson on littering and how trash hurts and can kill the turtles.   This was extra special for both Avery and I because it was just the two of us….something that does not happen that much.

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After advice from a number of people about the anchorage and mooring field, we decided to rent a car and drive to Key West for the day. We visited the Shipwrecker Museum, Eco-Discovery Center, Mallory Square for fire jugglers and finally made it back to our favorite restaurant, Blue Heaven.  The food was just as good as it was 7 years ago when ate here.  The girls danced in the sand to the band and we shared the best key lime pie I have ever eaten!!!

We had the surprise opportunity to meet back up with Jim and Debbie, who helped us in Socastee, South Carolina after hurricane Matthew swept through.  You can read about that story here.  They were vacationing in the Keys and called us and we were able to have lunch with them.  They are such kind and caring people….one of the best parts of cruising is the people you meet and the seemingly random relationships that are formed.

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After leaving Boot Key Harbor, we anchored off of Bahia Honda State Park for four days and meet up with some new friends who were also cruising with their two kids ages 2 and 1.  This was truly one of the most idyllic times we had in the Keys…..the sunsets, snorkeling, beaches, wildlife and adult conversations while the kids played was soooo relaxing and nice.  Bryan caught his first lobster and all four of us had a surf and turf meal with evening on the boat.  The kids were fascinated by catching snails on the sea wall at the park and having a close encounter with a manatee.

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We celebrated Avery’s Birthday on the last day we were in the Keys while anchored off of Rodriguez Key near Key Largo.  I will admit, I was feeling guilty that we did not have a “party” planned like in years past and it was just the four of us.  Avery wanted chicken wings for her birthday meal, so we were lucky to be able to dingy up to a nice open air restaurant where she got her chicken wings, a Shirley temple, and brownie cake, as well as a kite and scooter.  It was all very low key, but at the end of the day, she surprised me with a sweet note (with her Daddy’s help) that made my heart melt even more for my sweet and thoughtful girl.

Avery

We also started our bracelet making endeavor called Blessing Bracelets while in the Keys.  We have sent over 30 bracelets out to South Carolina, New York, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Montana!!  You can read more about them here and let me know if you would like one or if you would like me to send one to someone you know.

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Our sights our now set on the Bahamas and it is overwhelming the amount the preparation that we need to do.  I have started a working document of all the different information we need to do or know….medical, documentation, spare parts, provisioning, communication, etc.  We are waiting out some weather in Miami and hope to be in Fort Lauderdale by the end of the week to seriously start our Bahamas prep.  So I guess we are now officially Bahamas Bound!