After leaving Elbow Cay, we stopped back by Marsh Harbor to re-provision (have I mentioned how bad I am at provisioning) and do some laundry (bucket laundry just doesn’t cut it sometimes).  We encountered the only rainy and stormy day we had in the Bahamas so it was perfect for getting boat chores done and movie day for the girls.  We were able to meet back up with our friends and say good bye after one more pool and playground day and then we headed to Man-o-War.

Man-O-War is a settlement that revolves around boat building.  The island is pretty small and we were able to walk the streets and again experience the beautiful bright pastel colors of the houses.  I was even able to pick up a few fabric scraps to remind me of these beautiful colors and hopefully inspire some creative thoughts in the future! There was a small woodworking shop in the town and the owner gave the girls little boats made from coconut shells.  

It is election time in the Bahamas so we also got to witness a candidate going door to door soliciting support.  I also snapped a picture of a blackseed cotton bush (thanks Melanie for the identification!) and learned that it was brought to the islands by the southern loyalist that settled these island.  On Man-O-War it was primarily  used to make caulking used in the boats they built.  Always fun to learn little bits of history.

After leaving Man-O-War, we made our way to Great Guana Cay, another small island, however, an island that has lots of growth due to the rich and famous building vacation homes.  Our favorite spot here was Nippers…a restaurant on the beach with a two story pool, restaurant and bar.  We ate, swam, and snorkeled before making the way back to the boat where Bryan prepared delicious stuffed peppers…did I mention that he is not only the captain but also the cook on our boat?


The next passage was around Whale Cay again requiring a good sea state that happened to be ideal the next day, so we took the opportunity and made our way back to Green Turtle Cay.  It was at this point that our time in the Bahamas started to feel like it was starting to come to an end.  We spent the evening at Pineapples, one of our favorites from our first time through…the girls played on the beach with the families dog, Carolina, finding conch shells and swinging on the swing while watching a beautiful sunset.

The next day we filled up our water and diesel tanks and made our way to Manjack Cay right next to Green Turtle Cay.  Our time spent here was with friends that we meet back in Hopetown….more beaches and swimming plus fun times playing with other kids!!  Manjack Cay was a very unique place, which had a “cruisers” beach which picnic tables, hammocks, sunfish, roosters, and other oddities that were left by past cruisers for future use.  After about a mile hike across the island through lots of poisonwood trees and crossing paths with a naked man (guess he thought he would not run across other people), we made our way to the ocean beach.  The kids played and the adults conversed….fun times for all.  Back at the boat, Avery spotted a starfish while swimming around the boat (without goggles, the water was so clear).  I loved Manjack Cay…another idyllic Bahamian island.  From there our “relaxed” cruising time was done and it was “go” time to start looking at the weather for perfect crossing conditions.

We are finally here….in the place we dreamed of and doing what we dreamed of doing four years ago.  I have worked on slowing down this entire year.  This has been tough for me and my mind that is constantly moving with different ideas and thoughts and always wanting to be doing “something”.   On the go, chasing after something, feeling productive, helping others, and above all being a mother and wife.  It is sinking in and I am slowing down.  Days of jumping in the crystal clear water, diving down to explore the ocean bottom, seeing sea life all around us, walking on powdery sand beaches….all while my family surrounds me is starting to come to an end.  Taking in the fresh air, the beautiful views, and the giggles of my children, however, will continue.

Learning to live each day in each moment is one of the biggest lessons I will take with me from this time we have spent in the Bahamas.  Every day is a precious treasure that is given to us and slowing down is the only way to truly take it in without living with regret of the time you rushed through and forgot.  Off course, life will not always be a dreamy tropical paradise making it easy to slow down and soak in the surroundings and the moments.  “Normal” life will begin again for our family at some point, and the tropical ocean breezes will no longer flow through our boat at night and the spectacular water and views will not be at our backdoor.   But I will for sure always remember to stop and take in each day as it is and live each second when it comes….hugging my girls, reading books, going to a job, fixing dinner, washing clothes….there is happiness to be found in all these things.  

We have still had daily struggles while here in the Bahamas…constantly watching the weather, living in close quarters (a future post), feelings of isolation at times, whiny children, a messy boat that never seems to get clean, dirty laundry that I can’t seem to get clean in a bucket, saying bye to friends we have met, and dealing with uncomfortable sea states at times.  Not to mention the typical boat life of water and power conservation.  However these times have built our family structure stronger and we continue to soak the good times and the bad times.  When you really slow down and observe your surroundings, you can learn from the good times and bad times.  The broken rudder, difficult passages, the impatience that comes with waiting for weather….and reflect on our previous life, making us want to keep the freedom and family time that we have created for ourselves by making every decision based on a dream.

As we prepare to cross back over to the states and travel up the east coast closing out our first year of cruising, I hope my children will have also learned from this experience. I realize they are probably too young to remember the places that we have been but I hope they remember the time we had together as a family of four. And above all, I want them to know that dreams can become reality, hard work pays off, and anything is possible.  Looking forward to see what the next year holds for us.

 

From Green Turtle Cay, we made the passage through the “Whale,” which requires more than normal weather planning, since you make your way slightly into the the ocean and then around Whale Cay back into the protected waters of the Sea of Abaco.  For this passage we encountered some of our biggest swells we have seen thus far…around 8 feet, which was a little uncomfortable.  We decided to head to Marsh Harbor and found a really nice and big grocery store, Maxwell’s.  Prices are still about double or more the cost in the US but we were able to stock up on some fresh items and meats.  From Marsh Harbor we headed to Hopetown on Elbow Cay…this has been our favorite stop so far!  

Hopetown was actually founded by a South Carolinian, Wyannie Malone, in the late 1700s and is home to the famous lighthouse that is the only one that is still lit each night by a lighthouse keeper and run on kerosene.  We climbed the lighthouse and explored the beautiful town that is lined with flowers and colorful cottages.  The ocean is just on the other side of the little strip of land and you can hear the ocean waves crashing at night.  We met a couple other cruising families here and enjoyed their company at the pool and visiting their boat for dinner.  The local ballet school put on a production of “The Mermaid and the Easter Egg” the night before Easter, so we bought tickets and enjoyed the show.  We participated in the Easter Egg hunt the next day in the Cholera Cemetery….a little weird, but it was one of the few open fields and a tradition of the town.  The girls found palms fronds that they wanted to make into easter baskets.  This really challenged by crafting skills.  After a lot of trial and error and hot glue, we had two palm frond easter baskets ready to go for the easter egg hunt. We said goodbye to Hopetown by leaving a Blessing Bracelet behind and moved on to an anchorage on the side of Elbow Cay.  

We had new neighbors who had 3 and 5 year old boys and we enjoyed days of playing in the pool and at the beach with them.  We explored Tahiti Beach…another beautiful Bahamian beach.  It has perfect shallow water for the girls to play in and is protected from the ocean by big rocks.  Leslie and I enjoyed searching for seaglass and shells and Avery enjoyed playing in the water with her new friends.

The water was so clear around our boat that I could snorkel and found a beautiful starfish right below the boat.  I brought it up for the girls to see and touch. Later in the week, I also found a huge conch.  We celebrated Bryan’s birthday with our neighbors on their boat and shared a delicious Key Lime Pie from Vernon’s Grocery accompanied by silly kids dancing and singing Happy Birthday!  The time we have spent at this anchorage has been what I dreamed the Bahamas would be like…so relaxing, beautiful, swimming off the boat, and exploring nearby islands.  

One part of this lifestyle that I really enjoy is being out of the grasp of consumerism.  The girls did not expect an Easter basket filled with candy and toys on Easter morning.  They were so content with going to an egg hunt a collecting couple eggs with other kids.  Elaborate birthday parties and lots of presents are not expected…homemade cards are more of the norm. When we move back to a “traditional” life, I wonder if we will continue to be able to live this way or if it is even possible….

 

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.