The Beautiful Exumas

We’ve been in the Exumas now for about two months and in Georgetown for almost a month – such a long stint that, quite frankly, we’re starting to worry that our anchor is growing roots.

This island chain has brought us both extremes. When we first crossed over from Eleuthera, we entered the Exuma Land and Sea Park, which was the most remote location we’ve experienced to date. No settlements, no stores, no restaurants, no connection, for miles. In a few of the anchorages, we were the only boat in site. But there was unparalleled beauty in untouched beaches, ragged cliffs, vibrant reefs and waters in varying shades of blues that pictures just don’t completely capture. It was the most beautiful place we’ve ever been.

As we made our way south out of the park, we came to settled islands, like Staniel Cay and Little Farmer’s Cay, and the reintroduction to civilization was a bit strange. (Where did all of these people come from?!) But the warm embrace of conversation with others and a meal I didn’t have to prepare myself was magic.

Eventually, we made our way to Georgetown, the capital of the Exumas, and a cruising mecca. Some boats cruising the Bahamas make Georgetown their southernmost stop before heading north back to the States and to Canada. Others stop in for a month or two before venturing further south to the Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. And still others drop anchor here and don’t leave. Never before have we seen so many cruisers in one place, with bays off of Stocking Island lit up like Christmas trees every evening from the bevy of swaying anchor lights. Hamburger beach, honeymoon beach, sand dollar beach, volleyball beach – each anchorage its own little community.

Every morning at 8 a.m. on VHF channel 72, the cruisers’ net is broadcasted. It includes the forecast, the events for the day (morning water aerobics, afternoon coconut painting, volleyball games, trivia and poker nights, etc.), general boating inquiries, and arrivals and departures. Even without organized events, the beauty of this area lends itself to countless activities.

Town is a dinghy ride from our anchorage across Elizabeth Harbor, and you can find most things that you need, provided your expectations aren’t too high and your wallet is fairly padded. The grocery store is decently stocked, especially if you go right after the mail boat has docked, and there’s a cute little library that’s open sporadically. Imagine – the full complement of The Magic Treehouse books, here in the middle of nowhere!

One of our favorite spots is Driftwood Café, with tasty food, excellent coffee and sassy staff. They know me and Claire by name, of course. And I buy fresh organic eggs from one of the women who works there. She brings them from her home, where she and her husband tend to more than 100 chickens. Because that’s how we roll in the Bahamas.

Most of Claire’s birthday presents were purchased from the Straw Market, a tent of fold-up tables were local artisans sell their wares. Some items are sourced from Nassau, but Claire picked out a reversible doll from one of the stalls that the woman sewed herself, and I watched another woman make a larger version of the colorful straw basket I bought for Claire.

Between adventures with other cruisers, outings to town, boat projects, work deadlines, beach bonfires, lovely visits from friends and family, and countless other things that unfold each morning, we’ve settled into quite a comfortable groove here.

Still, that wanderlust is starting to creep in, wondering what’s around the next corner…

Post Happy

Sharable moment: Claire basking in the sun of Rachel’s Bath, on Compass Cay, Exumas!

The other day, I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance who in the course of our brief exchange, said, “You sure post a lot from your ‘remote locations.’” Their quotes around “remote location,” not mine.

It wasn’t the first time I’d received an offhand remark about my posting frequency on Facebook. And truthfully, it wasn’t news to me. I know I post a lot.  But I would like to offer some perspective.

When we moved onto the boat, we knowingly left behind our friends, our family, coworkers, and our community. Everyone that you interact with in a given day. It was one of the hardest parts of our decision, and we’ve come to realize how valuable even the briefest interactions are.

Dropping Claire off at preschool and having a quick chat with the fellow moms or dads. Aaron having a beer with a collegue after work. Even the predictable banter with the same barista at the local coffee shop each day. They are all little opportunities to connect with others.

If you think about it, when was the last time you emailed someone, not to coordinate schedules, but to catch up with them and ask them about their day/week/month? When was the last time you took the time at the end of a long day to call someone and check in? Or how often do you schedule video calls with friends and family? Honestly, back in “land life,” we hardly ever did.

I get it. Life is busy. We used to be in the daily grind of never enough minutes in a day. But whether it’s top of mind or not, you share your day with others – mostly in face-to-face interactions. And if nothing else, you share the events of the day with your spouse.

When we are in a bigger port, we are fortunate to interact with a few people in a given day –maybe the owner of the market or the server at the restaurant. Sometimes, we’re blessed to meet other cruising couples or families and plan outings together. But other times, we are in remote locations and don’t interact with anyone else the entire day – or multiple days. And as far as sharing your day with your spouse, well, Aaron spent the whole day with me. Nothing to report that he didn’t witness himself.

Phone calls are 20 cents per minute from the Bahamas and while it won’t break the bank, it’s an additional charge, so we try to reach out to friends and family for calls on Skype, Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. But, understandably, most people don’t want to set up new accounts on apps they don’t already have, and using these apps requires a coordination of schedules on both ends that can be tricky – especially for us, when data can be hit or miss.

For the fellow cruisers we meet, we seldom travel together for more than a few weeks before parting ways. Some have cell phone plans, some don’t. Some check their email, some don’t.

But one platform that everyone seems to check, that for whatever reason loads even in the most remote places, with the slightest of data connections, is Facebook.

Cruising is an amazing endeavor. It is the best decision we ever made for our family. In our three months in the Bahamas, we have been rewarded more than I ever could have imagined in the richness of our life and the variety of our experiences. But it is also, at times, extremely lonely.

Facebook is our connection to family and friends back at home. It’s a way for us to see what’s going on in our old community. It’s a way for us to stay connected with the friends we meet while sailing the open seas. And it’s a way for me to share our day, even if it’s just to the social abyss.

I post not to collect likes, or count comments – certainly not to clog anyone’s feed.

I post for the comfort it brings to me, knowing that even though friends are hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away, they’re still right there, on the other side of that screen.

65 Hours

Here Clarity sat, for seven days. Sure, the mooring field looks calm here – a day or two after the heavy winds subsided, the waters calmed, too.

65 Hours.

65 straight hours down below on the boat, on a mooring at Warderick Wells, in the Exumas Land and Sea Park.

The weather is our master, and we must obey.

It was the longest we’d been on the boat without a break – without sailing. When we crossed from Florida to the Bahamas, it was three and a half days before we set foot on land, but much of that time, we were topsides, the sails full, taking in the sun and the gentle breeze.

As Aaron studied the weather forecasts for the Exumas, he saw the predictions for the front – first the winds were going to be in the 30s, then the models boosted it to gusts in the 40s. We knew when it was going to hit, and had an idea of for how long it would stick around. We were mentally prepared for being tucked in.

The added challenge was the fact that we were in the middle of a connectivity dead zone. No cell signal. No Wi-Fi. No Internet. No streaming. Nothing but the videos we already owned and the chatter on the VHF radio. It was a whole new level of extended isolation.

It would make for a much more entertaining story if I told you that the cabin fever set in, that we were bouncing off the walls, that Claire demanded to swim to shore, or that Aaron or I or both of us lost our marbles. It would be understandable. 65 hours is A LOT of time in a small space, especially without the ability to venture further than the cockpit enclosure up top. (With sustained winds of 30-35 knots, walking anywhere on the deck was treacherous.)

The morning of the third day, I was definitely ready to get off the boat and stretch my legs. But truthfully, I could have managed another day. Really, we did just fine. A few days that weren’t packed to the gills with sailing and setting anchor and dinghy rides and hikes and swimming and snorkeling, was a welcome change. We had no idea of exhausted we were.

We did school time with Claire in the morning, as usual. Claire and I had marathon reading sessions and she and Aaron built epic Lego villages. Aaron and I each had a list of boat projects that had been pushed aside or put on hold for shore excursions, and we were able to take the time needed to attend to them patiently.

I read a book in a day and a half and baked a pie from scratch, down to the crust itself, not because I’m opposed to premade crusts, but simply because I don’t have access to any. And yes, we watched movies – but mostly after Claire went to sleep. To my complete amazement, she asked for videos less on the days we were stuck down below than she does in any other circumstance.

One thing that can definitely wreck the equilibrium in an instant is a bad mood, and Aaron and I made extra efforts to be patient and polite, with ourselves and Claire. We also made efforts to switch up settings in the space we do have down below – reading and playing with Claire in her room, doing meals and school in the salon, setting up movies and stuffed animal snuggles in our aft cabin, and escaping to the enclosed cockpit to read and/or enjoy a cup of coffee.  It’s amazing how much these simple changes in surroundings can reset your mood.

The one challenge I will tell you, however, is that we were in a serious state of water conservation. We picked up the mooring ball two days before the blow set in, with our aft water tank full and our forward tank about halfway. But in those first two days, we all showered after swimming. We washed off our snorkeling gear. I did laundry. Nothing crazy, but all things that take up a considerable amount of water.

In the mooring field with the winds so kicked up, the water wasn’t clear enough to run the watermaker without severely clogging our filters. So we kept an eye on the tanks, and about a day after the winds started, we were low. We made sure we had plenty to drink and I was economical in my usage for cooking and cleaning.

But showering was not an option. By the time we were able to get the watermaker back online, it had been three days. Luckily, when I provisioned back in the States, I bought baby wipes for these occasions – if our watermaker ever quit altogether in a place where we couldn’t get water, or we weren’t able to run it. Johnson & Johnson to the rescue.

These cold fronts seem to be a semi-regular occurrence in the Bahamas, at least for this time of year, and I’m sure our boat seclusion will happen again, probably soon. But rather than see these times as annoyances, I’m starting to see them as signs that we can really do this, this lifestyle, long term. These extended cold fronts can break cruisers, unable to mentally cope with the time being “stuck” down below, or frustrated that their travel timeline is delayed.

Aaron is vigilant about checking the immediate and extended forecasts every morning, often multiple times a day, keeping an eye on these developing cold fronts days before they hit and making sure we’re in the safest place for the blow. I make sure we have plenty of food for tasty meals and think through things to squash the cabin fever when it creeps up.

And then we just settle in down below and take advantage of the break from adventuring to recharge. We have no schedule. We have no timeline. We have nothing but time, together.

Royal Island Ruins

dscn3480When we experience places truly only accessible by boat, or even only by small boat (dinghy), that’s when this whole thing peaks for me.

After a beautiful sail last weekend from the Abacos to the Eleuthera chain, we tucked into an uninhabited area called Royal Island, a little sliver of land northwest of the main Eleuthera island.

It was as remote as you could get. There were signs of an abandoned, and then restarted, and then stalled resort development; beach villas and a fairly substantial ferry dock remained, likely to provide transportation from the main island to the property.

And there was an old fishing retreat that other cruisers had told us was not to be missed. As the story goes, the development was built in the 1930s by wealthy Floridian W. P. Stuart as a remote getaway to kick back with his friends. It included a cliffside bar, a grand fireplace, numerous outbuildings, and trails down to the beach on the Atlantic side.

At some point, the parties ceased, and the estate was left to settle into its surroundings. Many of the buildings are crumbling, with vines forming a picturesque wallpaper. Lizards now have the run of the place, and flora blooms in the holes between the bricks.

The dock was also mostly deteriorated, with a few poles left jutting out of concrete and ragged rocks. It was just enough for us to (very carefully) tie up our dinghy and climb the steps to a little enclave built almost 90 years ago.

We couldn’t stay long, but we respectfully left our mark – a conch shell bearing our names placed on the bar, as others have done before us. And we left, as quietly as we’d come.

Something about boat problems and making lemonade

"A little higher, guys, and a little to the left... I can't hold her all day!"

“A little higher, guys, and a little to the left… I can’t hold her all day!”

The bad news: We had to get hauled out this week.

The good news: We’re back in the water and finally on our way to Eleuthera tomorrow!

So here’s what happened. After slowly traversing the Abacos from north to south, we had finally made our way down to Little Harbor, our gateway to cross to Eleuthera. With the boat safely anchored, Aaron donned his snorkel gear and dove down to clear what we thought was a clogged water inlet for our watermaker (turns out it was just an air lock in a pump which, once found, was fixed in seconds). But while he was down there, he noticed that our sacrificial anodes, or zincs, were in bad shape. The one on our propeller had fallen off (the bottom cleaner we hired in Florida installed it for us and apparently didn’t bolt it on correctly) and the one on our saildrive was just about shot.

We had another propeller anode on board and Aaron was able to do a quick replacement. The saildrive anode, however, was another story. We didn’t have a replacement on board – a definite oversight. And, to boot, replacing it meant disassembling the propeller and reassembling it. Newer saildrives allow zinc replacement without removing the prop… what a concept! Some props simply come off in one piece, but of course, we have a fancy, feathering propeller that folds up when we’re sailing to reduce drag. Great, except that to remove it, it has to be taken apart in many pieces (see photo). Not something easily done under water with scuba gear – at least, not the first time, which it would be for us.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

For those who are unfamiliar, sacrificial anodes are pieces of zinc, a less noble metal, that stray electrical currents slowly eat away at, rather than the propeller, saildrive, or other underwater metal parts of the boat. They can originate in a number of ways – either from neighboring boats in a marina, or from an electrical issue on your boat. Aaron figures it was a combination of other boats in marinas back in the States, as well as an electrical issue of our own that he found and fixed during our first month on the boat this summer.

The anodes are very, very important and replacing them is just a matter of routine maintenance, not an issue of the boat malfunctioning. He had been keeping an eye on the propeller anode and had it replaced shortly before leaving the States.  However, this being our first boat with a saildrive, we didn’t realize there was another anode for it.  It should have been changed back in the States as well.

So there we were, perfectly positioned to head to Eleuthera the next day, and we had to make a decision. We could cross – the anodes needed attention, but we would be okay for another few weeks or more. But, Eleuthera is even more remote than the Abacos. We started frantically researching how we might get the anodes shipped there, and though there seemed to be a few possibilities, they were questionable at best, and definitely wouldn’t be speedy.

Clarity's Saildrive

Clarity’s Saildrive

The bigger problem, though, was that there aren’t any yacht yards in the Eleuthera island chain that could haul out the boat. So, either we swallowed our pride, turned the boat around and stayed in the Abacos to get the boat hauled, or we continued on and either got the parts shipped somewhere in Eleuthera and did all the work underwater in scuba gear (don’t drop anything!), or hoped the old anode held up long enough to get to Georgetown in the Exumas and got hauled out there. Honestly, we were extremely lucky that Aaron noticed the problem the day before we left, when we were still in a place that afforded us some options.  It’s amazing how a $20 part can bring everything to a halt.

After a day of letting the bad news sink in, we bit the bullet and ordered the anodes to be delivered to Marsh Harbor, as we had done with the engine shift/throttle mechanism a month or so ago. We called the Marsh Harbor Boat Yard and got on their schedule for a haul out the soonest they had an opening, a week later. And we tried to make the most of the time in between. It’s all just time and money, right? A lot of both.

hauledUltimately, it all turned out fine. Sure, there were hiccups. Our package was delayed clearing customs, which pushed us back a day. And the delay meant that we missed our window for a short-haul of just a few hours to replace the anodes, and instead had to be fully hauled out and blocked for a night. But, we also rented a car in Marsh Harbor to maximize our time. We did a big provisioning run, filled our propane tanks, got diesel for the boat, stopped at the bank, made a few trips to the hardware store, and even managed to get a few birthday presents for Claire. Her birthday is at the end of March, and toy stores and Amazon shipments just don’t exist here, especially not where we’re headed. Marsh Harbor was our best bet, and luckily, I found just what I was looking for – a kickboard.

Those pesky anodes

Those pesky anodes

Aaron also put in two grueling days of hard manual labor, taking advantage of the boat being out of the water to take care of as many things as possible in addition to the anodes, like cleaning the bottom of the boat, resealing and cleaning out some throughhull fittings, fixing our underwater speed sensor, reinstalling the rubber fairing around the saildrive (lots of sanding and gluing), and overseeing some workers fixing our broken window and changing the oil in the saildrive (it has to be drained out and pumped in from the bottom).

The boat was hauled on Wednesday midday and was back in the water 24 hours later. By mid-afternoon Thursday, we dropped anchor again in Little Harbor, where it all started. And tomorrow, we will cross the Atlantic 65 miles to Eleuthera – with two new anodes in place, and two spares of each on board.

While Aaron was taking a break from working on the boat, he walked across the yacht yard to several men working on a beautiful catamaran. Feeling somewhat gloomy, he thought, “If we could only afford something like that, we wouldn’t be fixing stuff all the time.” The boat is two years old and valued at roughly $550,000. What could they possibly be fixing on such a new, expensive boat?

Both rudder shafts were apparently cast with inferior steel and had swelled in place. The result: The owners were barely able to steer the boat. It was hauled out and had been there for quite some time while new parts were made, others were ordered from France, and many, many hours of hired labor were put in to tear apart and rebuild the steering system. Someone’s cruising plans had not just been delayed, but completely canceled.

We will always have problems to fix, parts to replace, and maintenance chores to do, as this boat is many times more complex than our previous one. Weather conditions will delay plans, freak medical conditions will pop up. The lesson here is to not let these things kill your spirit. I think we’re getting better and better at that.

Life In The Out Islands

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

When most people (myself included, until a few months ago) think of life in the islands, simplicity comes to mind. Ease. Life without worries. But when you start realizing the complexity of sustaining these small, remote communities, getting on “island time” is as much of a necessity as it is a luxury.

First, a definition. The Abacos are considered out islands of the Bahamas. Out islands are any of the hundreds of islands that are “out” from Nassau on New Providence Island (the biggest city in the Bahamas – home to around 80% of the Bahamian population). Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island is the biggest city in the Abacos and serves as the heart of the island chain, from where all goods and services flow, to the even more remote islands, the out-out-islands, like Man-O-War Cay and Great Guana Cay.

Stores on the more populated islands are open Monday through Saturday and most of them close for lunch from 1 to 2 p.m. every day. Stores on the out-out islands are open more or less at the whim of the owner, and nothing is open on Sundays.

The out island grocery stores get shipments in by ferry from Marsh Harbour, and Marsh gets supplied primarily by Nassau, which is primarily supplied by the U.S.  Not many things grow successfully on these islands, and attempts at sustaining livestock have mostly failed. Given the song and dance required to get a gallon of milk, you begin to understand the pricing.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

While staples like dry goods are consistently stocked, other items, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy, are happenstance. If you see something you want in stock, buy it, because they might get something completely different the following week. Sometimes, the shipments to the restaurants and the grocery stores get mixed up, and you just make do with what’s available.

And when there’s inclement weather, cold fronts, kicked up seas, etc., the shipments are on hold. When we visited the grocery store on Green Turtle Cay the second week of January, their shelves were low, as a boat hadn’t come since before Christmas.

It may not be obvious, what with rainbows of shimmering blue in every direction, but drinkable water on the islands is a precious commodity. There’s no immediate fresh water source, like rivers or lakes, so most islands use reverse osmosis and also catch rain water in cisterns. In almost all restaurant restrooms, there are signs to use the water sparingly.

Mail is also very much weather dependent and processed on “island time,” and the post offices run on a whimsical schedule.  The small office may or may not be open, and if it is, your mail will make its way down to the mail boat pickup whenever it does. Once the mail boat picks up the outgoing mail, it’s off to Marsh Harbour. But even there, it gets sorted when it gets sorted. The same goes for the reverse. Friends that we met in Man-O-War in late January were still awaiting a Christmas card that had been sent to them in early December.

A side note regarding addresses: In the out islands, a car is a rare siting. Most everyone travels by golf cart. But some also live on archipelagos where there simply aren’t roads, their dwellings accessible only by boat. Which also means that streets are absent in their addresses, and as such, their properties all have call names. “Sue Jones, Sunset Splendor, Dickie’s Cay, Abacos.” Sounds as magical as it does remote.

Each island that has residents has a bank  – or, I should say, they have a building that serves as a bank. In Hope Town, for example, the bank is open only on Tuesdays, and only for four or five hours. A representative from the Royal Bank of Canada handles the needs of the islanders, but the transacting is more rudimentary. For instance, we needed to get more cash and ATMs on the island do not exist, including at the bank, even when it was open. We queued on the Tuesday we were in town for 15-20 minutes and then Aaron requested a cash advance on our credit card – the only way we could get the paper money we needed.  The bank did not charge any transaction fees, other than what Visa charges us, and it was a rather easy affair.

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

Islands with more residents have health clinics, though these are not the emergency walk-in facilities frequented in the States. They are staffed mostly by nurses, with doctors who visit on specific days of the week to assess specific cases. Like the stores, these clinics are open Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday, and if you visit the building as a walk-in, you may see a sign on the door that the staff has gone to do a house call and will return later. There are no emergency numbers to call for after-hours consultations.

Communication also works a bit differently in the islands. Given that the islands are all very much maritime communities, much of the correspondence between friends and businesses is done on designated channels on the VHF radio – including for those who live on land. Work also does not happen at the nail-biting, life-or-death pace that courses through our veins in the States. If you call a business to inquire about inventory, or getting work done, they may or may not call you back the same day. They may or may not respond to email. And if you have a verbal agreement for them to come out and assist, they may just get too busy that day. “It will get done.”

When we first arrived in the Abacos, I initially saw all of the negatives in this less-structured framework. What if I need groceries on Sunday, and what if they don’t have what I want? What if I can’t make it to the clinic before 5? Should I even bother to send postcards? It took me awhile to shed the heavy burden of immediate gratification in all things.

But the longer we’re here, the more I develop a calmer rhythm, and I respect, as I should have all along, that all people, including business owners, should be able to spend Sunday at church or with their families. Having certain businesses, like banks, only open one day a week has made us both more intentional about our schedule and more relaxed.

With a complete absence of convenience, I’m redefining “need.” I’m becoming more adaptable, more flexible, more resourceful.

Island time…. I think I’m just about there.

Man-O-War: A Photo Journal

Man-O-War is a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, heritage and community, that is the essence of island living.

Roughly 300 people live here year round – some work on the island, but most take the ferry to Marsh Harbor daily to work on the mainland. There’s a tiny little library next to a tiny little schoolhouse next to a tiny little post office, like a box of pastel crayons.

The houses are just as cute – yellow, purple, turquoise – with coconuts and conch shells lining the properties and golf carts parked outside. Water is sourced from cisterns that catch and store rain water.

Walk the main street off the marina and you’ll pass by friendly neighborhood cats, ducks quacking at the piers and swimming alongside turtles, cotton trees bobbing in the breeze, and shops that may or may not be open, depending on the owner’s plans for the day. You’ll most certainly meet at least one Albury – the family has been on the island almost from the beginning, generation after generation of boatbuilders, sailmakers and master woodworkers. It is a maritime town to its core.

As you head northwest on Queen’s Highway, the island narrows and at The Low Point, a slip of road and a picnic table is all that separates the Sea of Abaco from the Atlantic Ocean.

The air is fresher here in Man-O-War, the pace slower. Life is simpler and more vibrant, and pleasures come easy – like the slick of salt on your top lip from the spray of the steady ocean breeze.

Green Turtle to Great Guana

The most beautiful princess and her Great Guana sunset

The most beautiful princess and her Great Guana sunset

Finally, we are getting on island time – taking a deep breath and allowing ourselves the opportunity to enjoy where we are, even if it means putting a few non-essential projects on hold.

Due to a cold front that made traveling further south with Clarity impossible, we spent two weeks in Green Turtle Cay, but it turned out to be such a blessing. We tucked into a cozy little anchorage in White Sound that was surrounded by gorgeous resorts and was a short dinghy ride to town. Just a few days in, we met another cruising family that’s spending the better part of the winter in the Abacos on Wild Child, their Beneteau. Their daughter, Marleigh, is Claire’s age, and the two became fast friends, running like kitties along the beaches and setting up coconut stands.

Amazingly, a few days after that, we spotted Dark Horse anchored just off the island. Just a month ago, we celebrated Christmas in Florida with a couple of cruising families – one of them being Dark Horse, an incredible force of six (four kids aged 8 months, 2, 7 and 9) who have been living on their schooner for three years. We guided them into our anchorage in Green Turtle, and like that, our community grew again.

We explored the island together and the kids climbed trees and put on magic shows while the rest of us bathed in the warmth of adult conversation – heightened by healthy doses of wine, rum and moonshine. We took our dinghies over to No Name Cay to feed the wild pigs. The men convened to share charts and review forecasts.

And when the weather window did lift, we caravanned down to anchor off of Great Guana Cay together, spending the next three days doing school and work on our respective boats in the morning and meeting in the afternoons for snorkeling, diving, fishing and sandcastle-building.

Finding this, a “family,” friends for Claire and for us, was one of the things I was most worried about when we decided to leave all that was familiar in Chicago. To have found a taste of it this soon was an unbelievable gift.

As another cold front was bearing down, the three of us parted ways to find safe harbor – Dark Horse to Marsh Harbor, Wild Child to Hope Town, and us to Man-O-War Cay. We hope to meet again before our paths further divide. Dark Horse plans to leave the Abacos sooner than we will, as their draft prevents them from comfortably cruising the southern cays here, and this is the end of the road for Wild Child, heading back to the States in another month or two.

For now, we’ll enjoy the next week on our mooring in Man-O-War as our cozy little community of three.

The Case of the Three-Thousand-Dollar Black Bean

Claire in her "hospital costume," as she called it, right before they put her under.

Claire in her “hospital costume,” as she called it, right before they put her under.

To say that the last week was a rough one would be putting it mildly.

After striking out Monday at the local clinics and waiting out the national holiday on Tuesday, Aaron and I caught the ferry Wednesday morning with Claire, rented a car (from Big Papa, because in the out-islands, everything is family run) and drove to the clinic in Marsh Harbor.

We were so hopeful, but after multiple attempts to get the bean out, we had to come to terms with the realization that true medical help was not only necessary, but a plane ride away.

Claire, happy as can be in her pillow fort, in our hotel room in Marsh Harbor.

Claire, happy as can be in her pillow fort, in our hotel room in Marsh Harbor.

Sitting in our hotel room that night in Marsh Harbor, waiting for the flight Claire and I would have to catch the following morning to go to the hospital in Nassau, Aaron and I were in bad shape. Totally defeated. We just couldn’t catch a break, it seemed.

“Do you want to quit?” “…Do you?”

Honestly, we didn’t know what the other would say.

You see, the bean was the cherry on top of two weeks that have been equal amounts stressful and wonderful. Yes, there have been amazing anchorages, gorgeous beaches, swimming and snorkeling, and great friends.  The other half of the story is that, shortly after we crossed to the Bahamas, our batteries stopped holding their charge and would die overnight. Our watermaker all of a sudden started functioning at 50% the output we had when we brought it online in Florida. One of the windows of our hard dodger shattered, showering our entire cockpit and parts of our salon with glass.

Our Wi-Fi for tethering to our phones, which we need for work, wouldn’t load properly, even after hours of troubleshooting. Bugs started cropping up in our galley at night. And a prolonged cold front came through that not only brought temps too chilly for swimming, but also winds and a sea state that made getting further south impossible until it lifted.

And then, Claire stuck a bean up her nose – “tree trunk,” she named it shortly after it took up residence in her left nostril. So you see, we were already pretty run down.

Planes, trains and automobiles - all because of a little black bean

Planes, trains and automobiles – all because of a little black bean

In a really big way, we were lucky. Though we had to get the bean out as soon as possible, Claire’s “ailment” was not painful. But it was extremely traumatic for her, not really knowing what was going on, with Aaron and me trying to hold her down and doctors she didn’t know shoving tools she didn’t understand down her nose.

The biggest contributor to the decision to fly to Nassau was that she simply wouldn’t lay still. She just couldn’t calm down, even with a shot of Valium to try to ease the anxiety. With each attempt at the clinic in Marsh Harbor, her fight got stronger, and it became less and less safe to try to get the bean out. So, alas, a flight to Nassau, where she could be safely put under, was in order. If it’s any indication of the state she was in when we got to the hospital, even the sight of a nurse walking in with a pen would send her cowering behind me, poor thing.

The staff at Doctor’s Hospital in Nassau was fine. We went straight there from the airport and were registered in the emergency room almost immediately. Shortly thereafter, the doctor on call told me he was working with the ENT and the anesthesiologist to determine a plan.

Keeping spirits up in the waiting room! Markers make everything better.

Keeping spirits up in the waiting room! Markers make everything better.

What I didn’t know, though, and I wish the doctor in Marsh Harbor had told me, is that to put Claire under safely, she needed to have fasted for at least six hours. I had given her snacks on the 1 p.m. flight, so we had to sit and wait until 7 p.m. for them to treat her, Claire getting more and more hungry and antsy as the minutes wore on.

Finally, when it was time, I think Claire was so excited to finally leave the waiting room we had been in for hours that she took it like a champ, happily putting the hospital gown on, smiling, joking with the nurses. She gave me a thumbs up while they wheeled her away in her bed – it was as far as I was allowed to go – and they sent me out to the waiting room. It was an absolutely horrible feeling.

The infamous black bean

The infamous black bean

But 20 minutes later, it was done. The bean had been successfully removed, she was waking up and I was allowed back up to see her. “They found tree trunk,” Claire said in a sleepy stupor, and as I called Aaron with the news, relief washed over us. We flew back the next morning, took a cab back to the ferry dock, made the 20-minute trip across the Sea of Abaco, and were back on Clarity by 11 a.m.

So let’s talk money. The ferry for Aaron and Claire to get to the mainland on Monday ($21 round trip per person) and the cab to and from the Cooper’s Town Clinic. The ferry back to mainland for the three of us on Wednesday morning, the rental car to drive to Marsh Harbor ($75), the hotel stay ($150), as we’d missed the window to get back for the last ferry. Then on Thursday, the flight for two (round trip – $300 for the 30-minute flight, thanks to last-minute booking), the cab to the hospital, the cab from the hospital to the hotel, the cost of the hotel stay in Nassau ($260, the cheapest we could find), the cab from the hotel to the airport on Friday, the flight back, the cab for Claire and I back down to the ferry stop ($85), and the return ferry trip. And that’s just travel.

The first two clinics – Green Turtle and Cooper’s Town – didn’t charge us anything, and for all of the effort of the doctor in Marsh Harbor and his staff, and the medicine they used, the total was only $115. At the hospital, however, there was the emergency room charge ($500), for simply registering and sitting in the waiting room for more than four hours. Then the substantial charges really began, because to have her put under, she actually had to be admitted. And with that comes the cost for the ENT, the cost for the anesthesiologist, the cost for the nurses, the cost for the bed. We had to put down an additional deposit of $2,500 for them to even treat her.

We don’t have the final bills yet, but the charges for the hospital visit alone will be more than $2k (they could be more or less than the required deposit – we have no way of knowing until we get the bill).

Of course, you do what you have to do. We never hesitated, each step of the way, in getting Claire the care she needed. In doing as much as we could together, then Claire and I flying ourselves to Nassau to save the flight fee for the third person. In trying as best as we both could to swallow our frustrations and exhaustion and keep Claire in good spirits.

Kids are so resilient; it always amazes me. The same day she and I made it back to the boat, she was out playing at the beach with her friends, supremely happy. No pain, no residual symptoms, nothing.

I slept 12 hours that night. I still feel tired.

We’re trying our best to not let these things kill our spirit. Aaron was able to isolate and fix the issue with the batteries and we have a plan for troubleshooting the watermaker. With fastidious cleaning and a military approach to crumbs and food waste, the bug issue seems to be dissipating. We’ve found a place in Marsh Harbor that can replace our shattered cockpit window, we have a workaround for the Wi-Fi, and the seas should finally lay down enough in the next day or two for us to head south.

Above everything, though, Claire is healthy and back to her happy self, running face-first into the waves and setting up coconut stands on the beach with her friends.

I’m sure six months or a year from now, I’ll look back on the story of the black bean and laugh. Right now, it’s still just a bit too soon.

Crash Course in Island Healthcare

whiningfeeHave you ever wondered what you’d do if you stuck a bean up your nose in a remote location?

No?

Us either. Turns out, we should have.

We’ve been in the Abacos for almost two weeks now, and we’ve already had some amazing pinch-me moments.

But one thing to remember – we are reminded every day – is that we are not on vacation. This is our life. And with that comes the expected tasks (laundry, cooking, cleaning, school, work, boat projects), and the unanticipated ones.

On Sunday morning, as I was preparing some meals for the week, Claire asked to see a few of the dried black beans I had out. And then she proceeded to stick one up her nose.

“I wanted to see what it would feel like.” I don’t know what else to say about the act itself. For the longest time, we thought she was joking. But that’s a pretty specific experience she put together. Turns out the joke was on us.

Now, in the States, I’d just throw her in the car and take her to the nearest walk-in clinic so they could suck it out and we could be on about our day. (We tried and tried and tried all of the obvious ways here on the boat to get it out.) But in the out-islands of the Bahamas, when you live on a sailboat, things work a little differently.

We are fortunate that the island we’re currently at (Green Turtle Cay) is developed enough that there’s a clinic – however, it’s only open Monday through Friday and there’s no after-hours emergency line to call. So, Monday morning, we piled into a golf cart rented by another cruising family we’ve come to know here and headed to town.

“Oh, no. We can’t fix that here. It’s way up there? No, we don’t have a tool for that here. You’ll have to go to the mainland for that.” (Keep in mind that I had gritted my teeth and paid for the expensive call to the clinic when it first opened that morning to explain the problem and make sure they’d be able to see us.)

Well, the ‘mainland’ is the northern part of Great Abaco Island, across the Sea of Abaco from where we are, and we had two options: Cooper’s Town and Marsh Harbor. The former is a smaller town but still with a government clinic allegedly more well-equipped than the one at Green Turtle Cay. Marsh Harbor is the third-largest city in the Bahamas, with robust medical facilities, but farther away (i.e. more expensive for travel). And with a cold front that has settled in the Abacos like a cold that won’t quit, the seas are kicked up and we don’t want to move the boat out of our protected anchorage.

So, luckily again, there’s a ferry from Green Turtle across to Treasure Cay on the big island. From there, we’d have to cab it to either location – with the ride to Marsh Harbor being twice as expensive.

Early Monday afternoon, Aaron spoke with the staff at the Cooper’s Town clinic, who were very friendly and helpful on the phone. They gave us the names of specific doctors in Marsh Harbor who could help, but right as we were about to make the decision to head straight there, realizing that we’d never make it back to Treasure Cay in time for the last ferry of the day and would have to also pay for a hotel room there, they said, “Bring her here to Cooper’s Town. We think we can get it out.”

Off Aaron and Claire went on the 3 o’clock ferry (I stayed back to save the ferry fee and also make some progress on a work deadline). By 3:30, they were in a cab and by 3:45, the doctors were taking a look at her. “Nope, we can’t get that out. Too far up there.” It didn’t help that Claire was flinching and crying anytime anyone tried to get a good look up her nose.

Back in the cab, back on the ferry, back to the dinghy, back to the boat, $115 poorer and still with that damn bean firmly planted up Claire’s left nostril.

The thing is, if it had been anything else – a viral infection, a jellyfish sting, a weird bug bite – they likely could have treated it here in Green Turtle, and definitely in Cooper’s Town. But this is now bordering on internal medicine.

Oh, and another kicker – today is a national holiday, so everything is closed.

So tomorrow, we have an appointment with a specialist in Marsh Harbor at 2 p.m. We’ll have to hop in the dinghy to shore, get the ferry again, rent a car and drive to Marsh Harbor. If the specialist can’t get it out, either because Claire won’t settle enough for him to make a good attempt or because it’s lodged in too far, we’ll have to take her to the emergency room, where they’ll likely have to put her under to get it out.

Hopefully, we’ll make it back to Treasure Cay in time for that last ferry at 5 p.m., though likely not. So, add the price of a hotel room to the tab.

One thing I will say, though, is that so far, the costs of this debacle have all been travel-related. The medical professionals haven’t been able to help us so far, but there also wasn’t a wait at any of the clinics, and no fee just to walk in the door and be seen, unlike in the States, where the five-minute visit at each location would have been $100 or more, with or without resolution.

Yes, such an amazing and exciting life we lead as cruisers, with the swimming and the snorkeling and the sailing. And the planes, trains and automobiles required to hopscotch back and forth across the Sea of Abaco, all because our delightful, intelligent, inquisitive daughter decided on a whim to jam a bean up her nose.