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.   

 

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.