Jumentos- First Impressions

We finally made it to the Jumentos!! 

The funny thing is, it is not like they are that far away or anything.  The first little island is only a two day sail from the bustle of George Town (only one if you have a shallower draft than us).  But while close in proximity to the Exumas, they are certainly not simply an extension of the Exumas. These two chains are more like at-odd siblings-one is the sweet, mild-mannered one and the other one is the untamed wild-child.  It is not so much the miles that have made it a challenge for us to get here, but finding weather cooperative enough to safely (or comfortably) enjoy these islands.  There are few anchorages that provide protection beyond the prevailing winds and none that would give 360 protection for a front. This mild spring weather is perfect. We heard lots of things about this thin string of islands, and, for a change, it seems that we could see evidence of truth in just the first day. How many times have we let our selves be disappointed be expectations.

I will start with the bad and get it over with.  We heard the anchorages, besides not a single one in the chain providing full protection, were also rolly.  And, Oh, how we can confirm!  We spent our first nights at Flamingo Cay.  It is less than two miles long but it has a few anchorages to offer.  We thought the beautiful beach lined cove at the north end would be perfect for the South East winds we had but as we entered into the anchorage a swell built instead of diminished. I’m not sure why.  There was no North swell running, but unless we were up for an amusement park ride kind of night we knew it wouldn’t work and turned about and went to the second anchorage where, to our surprise, it was flat calm.  Well, it was until it wasn’t.  By morning every unsecured item had rattled and rolled its way loose.  Even a swell bridle did not tame the motion. When the waves began breaking on the rocks behind us we evacuated right back to the first anchorage-which was now flat. It stayed perfectly flat all day, even through a tide change.  We were feeling good until we settled in to enjoy a bonfire for ourselves on the beach and it turned back into a crazy washing machine again.  From the shore we watched the boat flop from one side to the other.  We jumped in the dinghy, ran out to the boat, pulled anchor and evacuated back to the other side.  I don’t think I’m using the word evacuate in an overly dramatic fashion. So, yeah, we will agree that the swell can be an issue.  But the island is beautiful.  And I found pretty shells.

 

^^It went from this to washing machine in a few hours completely independent of the wind.  Swells still befuddle us!

^^ Why couldn’t it just stay like this?!

Now for the good. We heard there was some of the clearest water and most spectacular fishing in these islands.  This, of all the things we hoped to be true, was the biggest.  We jumped in as soon as we got ourselves anchored. The water was, as promised, tap-water clear and Keith had a hogfish on his spear before I had even finished getting my gear on so we have to happily agree. Slip under the surface and there were fish everywhere, both the pretty tropicals and the yummy kind.  Happy little sailors we were.

 

^^ Love a fish in the fish bucket!

Moving on to other rumors.  We heard there were sharks, lots of them.  This is because the commercial fishing boats come into the anchorages and clean their catches tossing the carcasses in the water, thus, attracting them.  As soon as we dropped the hook we had both sharks and rays cruising by the boat.  It happened each time we re-anchored (which, as you read above, was a lot).  So, guess we won’t be swimming off the back of the boat!  Kai caught on pretty quick that we had guests circling below and ran around deck watching them swim.  He has been on the boat since his first day with us and we have always had the netting up around the life-lines.  He trusts it 100%.  He shouldn’t, it is getting sun rotted.  We ended up putting him on his tether fearing if he fell in we wouldn’t have a chance of saving him.  Also, we’ve GOT to replace the netting!  Oh, and to add to the shark population, May and June are mating season and they congregate here.  Are horny sharks more or less aggressive?

 

 

Our first impressions, are, surprisingly, that these islands may just be exactly like what we expected and exactly what we were looking for.  Ok, rolly anchorages and circling sharks aren’t exactly perks but they were fully expected.  The water, though, so densely filled with fish and life exceeded what I hoped for.  I foresee a lot of good days ahead.

 

 

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We Swam With Wild Dolphins!!!

WE SWAM WITH WILD DOLPHINS!!!  A BABY dolphin too!!! My whole world feels complete!  

I can’t get over it-it was AMAZING!  

There were three of them, two adults and a baby.  It was the mom and baby that approached me first, just swam right up so close I pulled my hands in so I wouldn’t accidentally touch them (Any wild momma gets my respect). It was exhilarating how close they, even the baby, would come.  I’ve seen so many dolphins but never close enough to see all the details of their faces.  I loved the little wrinkles around their eyes and the way they looked at us so inquisitively. I was surprised by all the marks and scars on their snout, some quite deep. I had never noticed the markings around the blow holes, and how they were not round.  We just slowly circled each other and checked each other out.  All the while it felt unreal and magical.

Keith got in the water right behind me and they came over to check him out too.

After we all got a good look-over the dolphins started being playful-twisting and diving.  They seemed to like when we dove down too and would come close or swim over top of us.  The baby would dive down then come up and flip his tail out of the water.  Lots of nuzzling between mama and baby. Then all of the sudden they were gone.  We stuck our heads out to look for them.  A second later we saw one swim right under us.  I took a picture and was taking a breath to dive down when Keith and I both stuck our heads out and said to each other “that’s not a dolphin-that is a shark!”.  Same color, same size.  Thankfully not the same inquisitive behavior and it just swam on by.

The dolphins came right back but this time seemed to get on either side of us and instead of diving and playing they swam straight for our boat.  They would circle around get next to us and keep heading that way.  (We were swimming in the middle of the anchorage)  I try not to put human emotions on a wild animal but I swear they were escorting us back to our boat!

A soon as we got to the boat they started playing again.  Flipping on their backs and swimming under us.  We swam under the keel back and forth with them.  We watched them stick their whole nose (do you call it a nose? A snout?) into the sand and eat something.  The whole while they are clicking and squeaking to each other.  Maybe to us too? Their eyes always following us and looking right into ours. I know I’ve said it, but AMAZING!

 

Our friends Greg and Lucie on Pushkar were anchored right behind us and joined in too and we all played.  What a magical experience to share!  Then again we heard loud, fast clicks and squeaks and see momma and baby-snugged up right on her- zoom off.  Mr. Shark made a repeat appearance.  We thought that would be the end of our dolphin encounter but they came right back again.  We played with them for about forty minutes.

I can’t quite wrap my head around it, something so beautiful and playful, so smart and empathetic, an animal so wild and free chose to spend its day playing with me!  I keep wondering why.  Is it like when we humans go to the zoo and hope the monkeys come out of their houses so we can see them?  Did the dolphins swim through the anchorage hoping a human jumped off their boat?

I’ve sat in the cockpit all day today reading a book and looking up at the end of every paragraph looking out at the water in hopes they come back again.

 

 

 

We Are Where We Are Supposed To Be

BAHAMAS!!!

^^ I was too tired for a real swim when we finally got to Mayaguana, I settled for floating behind the boat in our life ring.

^^ Any doubt we had about our U-turn dissolved away in these waters right here.  (Keith’s note: NOT Photoshopped)

^^ It would be boring if it were always sunny, right?

^^ Attwood Harbor, Lady Slipper Cay. Might be my new favorite anchorage.

We are where we are supposed to be.

^^ Pulled into Mayaguana and found a long time friend from home in the anchorage and we get a chance to sail with them for a little while. Love it!!!

^^ Enjoying catch-up time with Happy Healer crew.

^^ found some new eyewear on the beach

^^selecting tomorrow’s snorkle spot.

 

 

 

 

In the Future…

Our recent U-turn brought us face-to-face with a reality that we have only taken fleeting glances at in a rear-view mirror the past few years. That reality being we have to work again.  We are not retired and our current lifestyle is one that is not self-sustaining.  While we haven’t been in denial and we are in no more urgent need to figure out our next steps than we were a month ago when we were still sailing East, as soon as our bow (not our stern) was pointed in the direction from where we started the feeling of needing a real plan for the future sort of whomped us both in the face.  If not careful, we would, by default, end up exactly where we started from.  While not a bad thing, and we even considered it a possibility, we want what we do in the next few years to be a conscious choice.

Although we’ve been unwavering in wanting to find a way to work and live in the Bahamas for years, we haven’t been able to figure it out once we remove Nassau from the equation.  And Nassau is most definitely removed from the equation. Our second long-standing desire has been to work 6 months and spend 6 months sailing.  We haven’t been able to crack the code on that one either.  What secret do the Canadians know that we can’t figure out? With those two plans not blooming any viable solutions, it was time to start considering all options and we had 13 hours of undisrupted sailing time to begin working it out. Let the conversation begin. Where did we want to live, where did we want to go, what did we want to do?  What is important? How?  When?  Is that even possible? We started throwing out every idea we’ve ever had-anything that flitted through our brains- no matter how outlandish or improbable.  We only gave each other a funny look a few times.  Sometimes the lines blurred between whether we were talking about where to travel vs. where to live.  Same between what we wanted to do for fun and potential for future incomes.  We just threw it all at the wall hoping something would stick.

A couple hours into this exercise, we were feeling out a new idea of me working with a medical travel/temp agency (think: travel nurse…except I am not a nurse).  We didn’t know much about how that worked but in one of the most rare sails ever we actually had internet between islands and a quick Google revealed that Alaska seems to have a boatload of seasonal Med Tech positions available for the summer.  Alaska? Keith’s eyebrows went up and he said “I want to go to Alaska.” Alaska is on my bucket list too. However I was thinking more of a 5-day summer cruise or something. We’ve never considered living anywhere cold. Ever. We moved along and kept up the brainstorming.  We also kept coming back to Alaska.  Each time we came back a tiny detail added to the little nugget of a plan.  By the end of the day it was clear, Alaska was the thing that stuck.

We even had it ALL figured out.  Okay…we might find a detail or two overlooked, but here it is:

Nothing changes for this Spring/Summer/Fall- we keep cruising as planned.  We are feeling good about that. Sometime next winter we will take the boat to Florida and buy a Toyota Highlander and one of those adorable teeny-tiny 13-foot travel trailers that look like an egg. Have you seen them? They even come with a shower in them! Ours will certainly have a little heater too. We then hit the road and do a road-trip from Florida to Alaska. I don’t even know how many miles that is yet. Alaska seems pretty far from Puerto Rico right now. We are assuming that there are a lot of nifty things to see between here and there. Every single one of our vacations for the last 20+ years had been a boat-based destination so this idea is really something totally new and different to us! There are so many places neither of us have seen yet so we might as well do all we can do in one fell swoop.  In Alaska we still get mountains, volcanoes, clear water, big wildlife, and lots of fishing.  And lots of space. We just wont be doing all of this in our bathing suits anymore! I will, hopefully, have arranged a 26 week long position in a medical laboratory for the summer, thus, checking the required box for “income”.  Housing will be provided or at minimum supplemented by the agency which is good because we are not planning on living in the wee travel trailer for the whole summer. Thirteen feet is not much bigger than our dinghy, we are aware of that fact. Keith is an A&P with experience with small planes and running maintenance of a small airport.  There seems to be a lot of those up there so hopefully he too will find a summer gig. The final important detail is to bolt before winter arrives, besides, I am sure we will be ready to see a palm tree or two by then.

Oh, and somewhere in there I buy a mountain of long underwear and a collection of fur-lined boots because my definition of cold is anything under 75 degrees.

See, ALL the details figured out! Wait….Did we finally figure out how to do the 6 months on/6 months off thing?!? Maybe???

Now, with that all figured out we can get back to enjoying the islands in front of us. This cruise is far from over.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico! Finally breaking away from the congestion of St. Thomas, we retreated to Culebra and her little sister Culebrita for a little quiet time.  We stayed two nights in a flat calm anchorage looking straight out over the Caribbean Sea but protected from the swell by a shallow reef.  It felt glorious to stop rolling after so long in St. Thomas!  During the day we left our peaceful anchorages and ventured over to the rolly anchorages by Culibrita to go exploring. It was squally and since we were on a mooring that we didn’t fully trust we stayed very close to the boat but did take a walk up to the crumbling lighthouse, saying hello to lots of wild goats along the way.  We snorkeled the reef right under our boat to cool off (We did no spear fishing here-the ciguatera risk is too high for our comfort), but we passed on the bubbling pools when we saw a couple boat loads of tourist disembarking and heading that way.

The sail from Culebra to Salinas, Puerto Rico was a long, but very productive one. Keith set the poles as soon as we came up to the drop off and almost immediately we spotted a boil that we altered course for. TUNA!!! And we got one! As Keith was bleeding it we got another hit, at first we thought a shark because of the blood but it was just a pesky barracuda.  Boo. Before we could get it all the way in to release it the other line went zzzzziinngggggg! Now we have one slippery, bloody tuna, a fillet knife, and a half reeled in pest all going on on the aft deck at the same time all while lumping around in the waves. I keep saying I should mount the GOPRo to capture the chaos as we try to fish (but if I did that we, of course, would not catch anything).  We thought the next fish was another bigger barracuda…until we saw the stripes.  Our first Wahoo!!! Fish tacos for dinner-yum! It feels SO good to have fresh fish on our boat again.

With more than enough fillets onboard we pulled in the lines and the rest of the sail we spent trying to figure out just what we wanted to do with our lives, where we wanted to go, live, work, all that stuff……the outcome of that looooonng daylong discussion will have to be another post. (Spoiler: we’ve got a plan!)

Salinas reminds us of Florida with its mangroves, river-ish water, and even manatees.  Except they are very friendly towards cruisers and have mountains in the background so we settled in for a couple days.  Unfortunately the water had a distinct port-a-potty smell and we were happy to escape it by renting a car for two days and checking out the rest of the island. 

Puerto Rico cannot be seen in two days.  Add in the fact that we also needed to do all of our provisioning for the summer in the Bahamas plus hit up a list of stores like Wal-Mart, West Marine and Home Depot we had to do some major prioritizing!  The rental car  situation was a weird mess.  The marina by the harbor can arrange a car but we learned it was just a private guy with his personal car so we passed and arranged with a major provider.  They couldn’t pick us up (after saying they could) and we couldn’t find anyone who would so we were delayed a day. In the end we wound up using the marina’s guy.  He said he would bring all the paperwork and it was fully insured blah, blah, blah….  The morning of he handed us a brand-new car-only 121 miles on it- and we handed him $120.00 cash.  No paperwork.  I don’t even think he knew our names.  But, he promised over and over full coverage. No worries!  It’s not like they drive insane here or anything. Yikes. Hope so.

First priority and first stop was a small winding road in the town of Guavate. It is known for the Lechonerias that line the road all selling spit-roasted pigs.  Both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman have featured this drive on their shows so I was worried it might have turned touristy, while there are several food trucks and souvineer vendors when you first turn onto the road they quickly disappear after the first few yards.  It is advised to go on a weekend at lunchtime when it is lined up and traffic slowed to a crawl with locals.  We had the car on a Wednesday and it was closer to breakfast time than lunch but it would just have to do.  No traffic jams and a few of the places were not open, but we had no problems finding a juicy pig!  Best. Lunch. Ever.  Including that crispy slice of skin.  Oh boy, so good.  In fact, we re-arranged our schedule just to eat here both days. Plus we had enough leftovers for a dinner too on the second day.

Next touristy stop was Old San Juan.  We wandered through the colorful streets and down the brick roads but didn’t need lunch and it wasn’t the kind of shopping we needed to get done that day so we spent most of the time checking out the fort.  It’s a pretty impressive fort. We hit Walmart and the other stores on the drive home.  I was way too tired to pull off a major provisioning run properly so meals might get interesting in a few weeks. Our last stop of the night was Keith’s choice.  We didn’t want to eat out because we wanted to get back to Kai, but having only eaten our very early pork lunch we were starved.  He pulled into a boat storage yard by the harbor.  I had no idea why.  In the back there was a bar with blinking disco lights, loud music and some guys playing pool under a canopy. We got ice-cold drinks and he ordered some chicken empanadillas to tide us over till we cooked dinner. They were pretty damn delishious!  Just as I was wondering why one of the tough-looking guys kept looking over at us he approached and introduced himself.  He asked where we were from and and welcomed us to the neighborhood-let him know if there was anything we needed while we were in the area and we talked with him for a while. It was a perfect ending to our long day! So how did Keith know about this place?  He found it walking to the grocery store earlier in the week.  (No wonder he didn’t mind going to the store each day even though it was a couple miles walk)  He hadn’t told me about it because even though he had bought an empanadilla to bring home for me, each time he had eaten them himself before he arrived!  After having one-I can’t even blame him.

Day two of touristy things was all about the rainforest (and more chores).  The El Yunque park is a legit rainforest and since going to a rainforest is on my bucket list it was non-negotiable.  I absolutely loved it.  Since we did the full-immersion waterfall experience in DomRep we stuck to the just looking experience.  Because of time restraints we didn’t take any of the long hikes or even see the big, big waterfalls but completely enjoyed the experience we did have. I loved the huge, lush, dripping-wet leaves everywhere.  I’d go back in a heartbeat! By far, this was my favorite part of Puerto Rico.

Goodbye Puerto Rico.  You were tasty and gorgeous!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U-Turn

It is official, we’ve made a U-turn.  While just days ago we were on a path floating down the string of Caribbean Islands and planning to spend the Hurricane season in Grenada before working our way across the South and Central American coast towards the jeweled and remote islands of the San Blas (Panama) from which we would slowly work our way back to the start, today we have our bow pointed West.

What happened in the past few weeks to totally derail decades worth of planning and dreaming?!?  I don’t know for sure.  Maybe it started when we left the Dominican Republic and knew we hadn’t even begun to see all it had to offer.  We were only in one harbor after all.  Or, on that logic, maybe it started when we sailed right past Rum and Conception in the Bahamas- they were both on my wanna-go-there list.  It’s like we built up so much momentum then crashed and burned.  Really, it probably started with the comparison of what we had read and seen about the San Blas islands in our preparation phase (years and years ago) to what we heard from people who have been there recently. Seems we did our research once and didn’t revisit it again. To shorten it down to a sentence or two: It is no longer a place that is only reached by the rare cruising boat, it is a place now easily reachable by plane, charter boat, cruise ship excursion tours and probably even jet skis too. We are listening to reports of overcrowded anchorages with fees to anchor and even come ashore.  This is a far cry from what we are in search of.  Not all the islands have been corrupted by the taste of tourism, but it seems many have.  Some cruisers loved the San Blas, some hated it, some people said it is now a lost destination- the window to truly experience it unmolested has already closed.  However, everyone does seem to be in agreement that if what you are looking for is free diving, spearfishing,  clear water, unlimited white beautiful beaches, and the freedom to travel among them we won’t find any better than the Ragged and Jumento Islands of the Bahamas. In all of our time in the Bahamas we never made it there. Normally we take it all in and just go see for our selves but all of a sudden 1600 miles (plus the return trip) seemed like a really, really long way to sail for a destination that we now had some doubts about how much we would like. From this doubt it snowballed and we’ve been a lost, spinning mess since.  If time (money) were not the limiting factor we would still just go and see for our selves then come back and hit the parts of the Bahamas we missed and/or loved again.  We don’t have that many seasons left.  It is an either or situation. Decisions had to be made, priorities sorted.

Once San Blas was in question the entire Eastern Caribbean quickly came under review.  Did we want to still go to Grenada for the summer?  The Eastern Caribbean was never our interest, they were just islands along our path we hoped to enjoy on our way to our primary destination.  We’ve been in the USVI for almost three weeks now for weather, and while we know we can’t compare these charter clogged islands to the entire chain, we think we have seen enough to make a decision. Though the process has been a doozey!! We’ve flip-flopped on an almost hourly basis for days now!  I even made a color-coded spreadsheet with our possible routes to help sort out all our options.  It just added to the mess.  Anyone who has come in contact with us as we were working out this whole morphing-of-a-dream thing has probably felt our sting. Sorry. We never forgot that we are in a the most privileged  of positions, but, still, transitions can be exhausting.

We finally were able to work it through to this:  With our remaining cruising seasons, was it more important WHERE and how FAR we went (and completing what we set out to do)-or-HOW we experienced these remaining seasons.  Until now the where and the how meshed.  We were someplace we thought was terrific and doing all the things we love. So Simple.  We don’t feel that way now.  Where do I begin without sounding sour and bratty? I suppose I can’t, but we are not enjoying the crowded harbors, we don’t like being told we have to use a mooring ball, and we really don’t like having to pay $26.00 a night to use it.  We don’t like the hunt to find the exclusions to these rules. The beaches are beautiful, sure, but are littered with bars, and beach-floaty rental shacks, and, the kicker for me, they come with roped-off swimming areas that I am supposed to stay in.  I, apparently, do not like being told where I can swim! Throw on top that you have to pay just to access many of the beaches and we are done.  Done, done. What all of that boils down to is that we feel we are someplace we could just as easily visit and experience just as wholly by plane and we are worried it will likely be the same for the majority of the way down the islands.  The freedoms we have by traveling on our own little boat are all gone here.  Are our concerns for the remaining islands valid? I think so. Would we see beautiful things, have amazing experiences, and meet wonderful people if we kept going?  Absolutely. Will we regret not venturing on? That is the real question. We hope not. We won’t have this opportunity again.

Instead of continuing on we have chosen to spend our precious remaining seasons living a life that cannot be reached by plane.  We are going back to where we eat from the water more meals than not, have the freedom to chose where to drop the anchor and make home for the night- perhaps a beautiful beach with not another soul in sight, and live a more self-sufficient and free life in a part of the world that is still unblemished by crowds (before it is).  Where we want to do that happens to be in the direction we just came from. The current plan (it has been unwavering for a whole 30 hours- a record for the past few weeks) is to finish waiting on some mail here in St. Thomas, then slowly work our way back through Puerto Rico seeing what we missed on our speedy sail East, revisit Dominican Republic, and then head back to our beloved Bahamas. We won’t miss the Raggeds this time! Plans for Cuba are actively being researched to help satisfy the “see new places” desire. Yesterday we committed and made arrangement for hurricane storage if needed on Stocking Island. It is not the plan of world-travelers or of adventurous sailors.  It is just our little happy-happy plan.

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^^ Despite our overall feelings, our introduction to St. Thomas could not have been sweeter.  A few miles out we hailed our friends on Smitty– we haven’t seen them since sailing with them in the Bahamas about a year ago and were excited to see them again.  We didn’t really expect an answer on the radio, they were not expecting us for a few more weeks, but we got one!  Before we even made it all the way in the harbor they had a mooring ball arranged for us and a plan to get us in the water immediately!  Best. Welcome. Ever.  They gave us the tours and the lowdown’s on where to get stuff like groceries and laundry, and more, it has been fun catching back up.

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^^We moved out of the mooring field and into Brewers Bay anchorage to give ourselves some more room and hang on our own equipment for the days and days of weather we got.  We knew it was coming, that is why we had been traveling so fast.

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^^ We participated in a community clean-up day with the crew on Blabber. The ladies liked Keith’s dreadlock painting skills!!!

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^^ We sailed over to St. John to get away from the city for a night.  It was pretty.  We enjoyed seeing the mountains green and not covered with square buildings. We tied the boat off to the required mooring, secured the dinghy off to the designated dinghy area and swam in the buoyed swim zone.  Everything was nice. The experience did little to sway us from turning around.

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^^While at St. Johns we went in search of a beach that Kai was allowed on.  The main one was off limits and the one behind us was to rocky to land on so we went to the next little one we saw.  It was perfect and no one was around. Kai ran from one end to the other over and over.  When we got back to the boat we realized that that cute little beach had been in the BVI’s. Ooopppps!!  We were not allowed there and Kai REALLY wasn’t allowed there.  (So, technically the farthest East we got was the BVI’s!)

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^^ Our favorite little spot on St. Thomas ended up being Brewers Bay. (The previous three photos) It sets under the pretty little University of the Virgin Islands Campus.  The University has opened the beach to the public for free and many locals come and enjoy it daily.  Two food trucks park up on the road.  The other side of the anchorage is the airport runway so it provided us entertainment to watch the little planes landing and taking off when we were getting gusts in the 30’s and 40’s!  It is filled with sea turtles, so that is nice too.

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^^We took a walk on Megan’s Bay Beach just because it was listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.  Of course we went after 5pm because we just don’t pay to walk on a beach.  It was pretty, and long.  We left feeling very lucky….we could list a bunch of beaches that we enjoyed more.  I think our judging criteria was just different.

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^^ Lost in thought….