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….

Hey, Let’s Try This Again

Since we bailed out of the Bahamas to avoid Matthew we haven’t had good weather to get back over to the islands. Finally an itty-bitty one popped up but it was much shorter than we would have liked, the window was preceded by days of nasty weather with 20-25+ knots of wind and closed with a strong cold front bringing harsh 20-25+ knots of north winds on the backside.  We need 24 hours of sailing time and a cushion in the beginning to let the seas settle and a cushion in the back to allow for any pre-frontal squalls or mechanical delays.  This one we weren’t sure met all the requirements, but we hoped.  Strong north winds and Gulf Stream don’t mix. Period. We thought we would be cautious and use the earliest part of the window possible to cross decreasing any chances of getting caught by the bad weather if something were to go wrong-especially since it looked like we would be motoring into the wind at least for the first 12 hours. 

We staged at Lake Worth, got things all battened down and checked over.  In the afternoon the winds finally started to decrease and we pulled up anchor at 5:30pm to use the slack tide to go out the inlet.  We knew the seas were going to still be churned up, but also that they would only get better as the night went on so as long as they were doable we’d go. We got out the inlet and things weren’t too bad at all.  I’m bad at guesstimating wave height maybe 3 foot rollers, but still steep and confused.  It wasn’t comfortable but we were okay with it.  We also knew the Gulf Stream would pick it up a notch which we weren’t looking forward to. Once we got at the very edge, Oh my God, it was like a switch had been flipped. There was a distinct and dramatic change to the seas to say the least.  Again, not good at guesstimating but I think 5- 6 foot is a safe guess, but it was more how close together they were that caused the issue. That, and when they doubled up. It was steep and even more confused. Total washer machine. We had expected them to be more on the bow but many were hitting us directly on the beam (side).  Our boat was getting rocked rail to rail and since we couldn’t get the sail up with the wind on the nose we had no buffer to the motion.  The door to the oven slammed open tossing a pan and my pizza stone out (oddly the left over lasagna from dinner remained in the oven), the contents behind the cabinet doors crashed and tumbled around (thank goodness only one latch let loose), and the tub of items we had under the dodger went airborne and toppled down the companionway to join along with the pizza stone and pans sliding back and forth across the floor.  I was pretty sure my big clam shell was going to get tossed- that was going to do some damage. It was noisy and uncomfortable. Something was going to get broken. To be clear, this wasn’t  a dangerous situation at all it was just an unhappy one. It took effort to just hang on and stay in place.  Keith tried changing course to find a better angle, but nothing made much of a difference.  We decided we were “not having fun”.  We are not what you would call salty sailors especially when it’s not necessary to be! It wasn’t worth it. We turned around and headed back to port and contemplated trying again in a few hours.  The sunset was pretty though and since we were out of the stream and going with the waves we enjoyed it.  We weren’t sure how much the seas would settle or how close that put us up against the cold front on the other side of the window, but for us this crossing just wasn’t happening right now.  We tried to go too soon for sure. 

^^Didn’t snap a pic of the ugly seas, but did get the sunset on our way back in when it got calm again!

 On the way back in we got hit with a downpour, we had to open the enclosure windows to see out because they fogged up and the reflection from all the city lights made it impossible to see.  We got soaked.  Puttering in in the dark, we found that a catamaran had taken the spot we had been anchored in and were hoping to come back to so we had to, still in the rain, search for a new spot amongst the other boats. We settled into our new spot, stripped off our waterlogged clothes, cleaned up the items that had gone flying, and took another look at the weather.  There looked like there was enough time to wait a few hours and try again.  There was almost no wind so maybe it would be all better.  I still tied the oven door shut and pulled the big shell down, just in case it wasn’t.

A few hours later the alarm went off, we climbed out into the cockpit to have coffee, stare at the city lights, and get ready. Then we heard the wind- that had been dead for the last few hours-pick up.  And then pick up some more.  Huh.  Maybe a short squall?  An hour later we were still waiting for the wind to settle down. The whole time we were going back and forth of whether to go or not.  We wanted to go SO bad but didn’t need to shake ourselves or our boat up either for no reason- we don’t have a schedule, but…. we really, really didn’t want to miss what turned out to be a good crossing.  Ugh, decisions.  I think they can be the hardest part of this whole cruising thing. Around this time we pretty much decided that this weather window just might not happen. I know this because we had in fact already climbed back into bed around 1:00 am. There wasn’t another window in the foreseeable future- so that sucked. About this time our friend Craig who had left out about an hour before and called back to give us a report.  The first few miles were rough, but not as rough as they had been a few hours ago.  Also, once away from the land’s effect the winds had settled AND, big bonus here, he was able to get a sail up and was sailing- not motoring into the wind. He said things were pretty comfortable out there. Knowing we were going to hate not taking a doable crossing in the morning we slipped back into our wet safety harnesses and headed back out. We can always turn around. We have no qualms about changing our mind.

It was calmer, not calm, but calmer than it had been.  When we got to about the same point where we turned around the first time we still were not committed completely.  That section of water was rough. Craig had said he was now seeing 18-20knots out of the north.  Did I mention north and Gulf Stream are bad?  We weren’t feeling it; we weren’t having fun. In fact we had decided to turn around but just hadn’t actually turned the boat around yet.  At least this time with the sail up the motion was much easier and we were making better time.  The seas got less confused right about the time we got the message that the wind was letting up ahead of us.  We stuck it out.  In a few hours the choppy, jerky motion turned to more of a rhythmic swoosh-swoosh one. We were still sailing. By sunrise it was beautiful.  By lunch time we were on the bank and it was flat and gorgeous.  We kept saying how upset we would have been to have missed this crossing, so happy we did it. We pulled into Great Sale Cay about an hour after sunset, with the last sliver of purple sky fading.

^^ By sunrise all was well.

^^ Tanker being towed by a tugboat.  Glad we came across this duo during the daylight-even with AIS. We altered course to go behind them.

Now we are having fun.

Oh, and we beat the cold front with plenty of time to spare! We could have left in the morning and probably had smooth sailing from the start.  Oh well, we tried to error on the side of caution.  Add it to the experience bucket.  Always learning.

I looked back at snapshot I took of the Gulf Stream currents I had grabbed before the crossing. See where the two arrows are pointing towards each other?  That’s about where it went from okay to not-okay.  I wish I had noticed it earlier, it would have been easier to push through to the other side knowing the entire stream wasn’t going to be that messed up!

 

Playground

A friend commented that even though we have talked a lot about all the weather we saw the past few months, all the pictures showed sunny calm water.  I flipped through our photos, and sure enough they all look pretty calm.  

So here you go:  the storm clouds building and the eerie calm before the storm in Green Turtle last week. 

^^Then the squall.  

Captured the first rains we saw in months in this pic.  The far boat started dragging his anchor seconds after I took this photo so it was time to put the camera away. That one boat caused a lot of stress to all the others in the harbor.  Even though this squally weather was very expected, the owners anchored in a grassy part of the harbor with little scope and upwind of several boats that had attained moorings in preparation of the winds.  He had been approached earlier and given suggestions of where he could find better holding in the harbor but did not head them.  Instead he got off his boat and went to shore for dinner even though we were expecting winds upward of 30 knots and thunderstorms to 40-60 knots.  He, and the nearby boats, were lucky that when he dragged through the anchorage his boat did not hit another.  We hailed him on VHF to let him know his boat was on the move but by the time he finally was able to dinghy out the anchor grabbed, thankfully before he hit the rocks behind us.  The owner then went and re-anchored in the same exact bad spot with the same amount of insufficient scope played out.  He then started to get in his dinghy to go back to his dinner.  He got hailed on the radio by multiple other unhappy boat owners who firmly asked him to at least stay with his boat!  For good reason too, as they anticipated he was on the move again a little while later.  It is frustrating when you have done what you can to secure your own boat and another boat owner either carelessly/ignorantly/arrogantly/whatever-ly makes it all for not.  Unfortunately we run into this scenario over and over. It is tiresome. It’s also why there are so few pics of the crap-o weather.

After this triple front system moved out of the way, we headed towards Double Breasted to wait for our friends on Nessa, Happy Healer, Anywhere and Raven.  After a long afternoon of shimmying our way into the anchorage on an especially low tide we enjoyed it all to our selves….well, for a little while.  About 7:00pm we see a charter boat heading into the anchorage.  Not good for two reasons: “A”, charter boats approaching always command our attention (and evoke a sense of dread) and “B”, it was way too late in the day to be able to read the water depths and the current was still ripping.  It was not a smart time for any boat to be trying to navigate around what we call “creepy corner”.  Not surprisingly they ran aground.  When they finally got off they came into the anchorage and anchored with only one anchor.  Double Breasted is one of the very few anchorages where two anchors, in a Bahamian moor deployment, are required to keep you centered in the narrow channel during the tide switches.  They were far from us and they did make it through the night without event. The next day, though, they learned why two anchors are strongly suggested.  By then there were five boats in the anchorage and they were two boats away so we were not too concerned with them until we peeked out the hatch before going to bed and found that they had dragged down the channel and were now between us and the boat in front of us.  Fortunately they ran aground before running into us. Keith got in the dinghy to see if  they needed help to get off the beach and reanchored.  They actually asked if he would come on the boat and just re-anchor the boat for them, they didn’t know what to do.  “NO” When they got off the beach and did reanchor they chose a spot that is nearly dry at low water.  Oh well.  Probably safer for both them and us if they are sweetly and securely sitting on the sandbar.  We were relieved to see them move along the next day (after they got them selves ungrounded-for the third time).  People, you stress me out!!

Enough whining.

This is where we are right now and I don’t want to be anywhere but here!  Double Breasted is a breathtakingly gorgeous little gem made up of nothing more of a few craggy rocks and spit of sand and shallow water in the middle of them.  Our closest friends brought us here 16 years ago, it was their special spot. Over the years we have shared a lot of memories with a lot of different friends in this spot.  Being here makes those memories more vivid, for that reason no other island can ever be as special.   Prettier? maybe/maybe not. Better anchorage? Well, yes, there are better anchorages out there.  But more special? No. We are quite happy to hang out here for the next few weeks.

^^The anchorage is in a narrow channel.  One side is rock the other side is sandbar (out of view in the picture as it was high tide)

^^Those rocks look much closer after the sun goes down 😉

^^ My boys, just chilling on the beach

^^ Keith cleaning up a conch for us for dinner.

^^Just a little tiny spit of sand, but so perfectly so.

^^ The entire anchorage looks out to clear shallow water and sandbars that materialize as the tide falls.  Little pockets of warm water pools settle in between the bars.  Natures pretty playground.  Yep, not in a hurry to head back to Florida just yet.  

Oh, not sure if I made our plans known on the blog; here they are…  We are hoping to hang out here with several friends for a while, then head to Florida for a few weeks for a much needed reprovision stop and to install the new water maker (so excited about that), from there it depends on the hurricane season. We may rent a mooring ball in George Town in one of the hurricane holes as a safety net and head back to the Exumas or, we may investigate getting clearances to Cuba or, might stick to the US until fall (not my first choice!).  We aren’t sure yet.  After hurricane season, if not before, we will head back to the Bahamas to see some of the places we didn’t get to see before heading on “down island”.  At least that is the plan for today.  Right now I’m not going to worry about it too much and go for a swim.

 

Green Turtle and Manjack

We are back in The Green Turtle / Manjack Cay neighborhood.  It feels a little like coming home-in a sweet way.  Almost immediately we reconnected with our friends Gregory and Lucie from Pushkar and got busy catching up and swapping stories about how windy the winter was.  We went to town and Martha and Scott, the owners of Sid’s Grocery, waved us in when the saw us walking past their storefront.  We had missed their sweet, immaculate little store.  And them.  We talked to them about the stores in the Exumas and they asked if it had been as windy down there.  Keith got his hair cut at the same little hair salon that is hidden behind a white picket fence and overgrown tropical plants as the last time, the owner remembered what he asked for and asked about our winter and where we had gone.  He told us how windy it had been there.  At Manjack we went diving on some of our favorite little coral heads and Keith came up with a hogfish for dinner within the first few minutes.  We haven’t even SEEN a hogfish since we left here a few months ago so it was pretty exciting for us.  Hogfish and conch for dinner, even our old Abaco routines returned so effortlessly.  We stopped by to say Hi to Bill and Leslie, the property owners at Manjack, and were invited in for key lime and coconut rum drinks served with Nutella on freshly cracked coconuts from their beach as an afternoon dessert.  (I think I’m going to have to start implementing an afternoon dessert on the boat, it’s quite delightful.) We talked about where we planned to go next and their plans for a new dock facing West to watch the sunsets on. And, of course, we talked about how windy of a winter it had been.  I guess  we weren’t the only ones who had noticed!

Sometimes it’s really exciting to sail into a new anchorage for the first time and explore a new town and search out new dive spots; and sometimes it’s just as nice to be somewhere that feels as comfy as a favorite pair of pajamas. 

^^ We love the trails on Manjack.  This is the beach on the anchorage side of the island, the pictures below are of the beach on the Atlantic side of the island.  They are both too beautiful 🙂

We also love taking the dinghy and exploring up Turtle Creek att Manjack.  It is appropriately named as at any one time you can probably count five or six baby turtles scooting about.  There is usually some small sharks and rays enjoying the shallow mangrove creek as well.

 

Cat Island

Cat’s Cool.  

Keith’s father bought a piece of property on Cat Island back in 1960’s.  The plot was never developed, nor any of the property around  it but we just had to go check it out while we were in the Bahamas so Cat Island was on the “must see” list for us for this reason alone.  Sailing up to Hawk’s Nest Creek at the southern tip of Cat we passed right by the tiny piece of property.  We had the binoculars out and have got to say it is on one very remote stretch of land!  Some ocean water, some iron shore, and some scrub.  But, a cool thing to finally check out.  We had planned on actually going to the piece of property but renting a car and hacking through the scrub with machetes to get there seemed like more effort than we could muster so instead we settled into the bight for a few days and soaked in the peacefulness that Cat has to offer.  It is a large island without much on it, and that is not a bad thing!

The main attraction, besides the fact that there are no main attractions, is the Hermitage built by Father Jerome atop of the highest peak in the Bahamas. Father Jerome is kind of a legend in these parts, he was an architect and designed many of the churches in the Bahamas.  When it came time for him to retire, if that’s the right word, he got permission from the church to be a hermit (I didn’t know you needed permission to become a hermit-always learning something).  He selected Cat Island and built his tiny hermitage; it is a miniature scale monastery.  It’s big enough to walk through, ducking and squeezing.  It is said that he is buried beneath it.  It made an interesting touristy day. 

^^After losing a fish overboard, Keith rigged up a net version of a fish bag on the back deck.  Preliminary trials are going well.

^^The path up is a walk through the Stations of the Cross.

^^and past his burial site

^^Found bananas on the walk home

^^The town parking lot.  For as quiet of an island as it is, the grocery store was well stocked (once the mail boat arrived).

 

 

Regatta

We are back in George Town, this time it was unavoidable, we had to get our visa extension.  I’m not sure why we stress so much about it, it’s an easy process.  You go down to the immigration office a few days before it runs out, smile, hand your passports to the man with the gun, say please, and sit down and wait while he disappears into the back with your stuff.  A while later he comes back, smiles (maybe), hands you your passports, and off you go. No money even exchanges hands!  Of course last time we were told we were granted 90 days but while we were walking back to the boat Keith said he didn’t think something was right.  We stopped and pulled out our passports on the side of the road and sure enough, we were told 90 days but had only been stamped for 60.  Thank goodness he looked or we would have been showing up 30 days illegal this go around! That probably wouldn’t have gone as smoothly.

Our re-visit to George Town also coincided with the beginning of the Family Island Regatta.  While we had run from the Cruisers Regatta, we thought the local one might be fun to experience.  This weekend was the juniors race days.  Those little kids had some skills.  It wasn’t a keep you at the edge of your seats kind of event and watching the spectators was just as much fun as watching the boats, but it was an easy way to spend the day.  We shared it with Jessie and Stacey on Smitty.  We met them a few weeks ago. They recognized us while we were at the laundromat and it turned out our boats were anchored next to each other. They were actually our very, very first blog followers (and I probably one of their earlier followers).  Over the past three years as we’ve traveled the same journey of prepping a boat, selling the house, quiting the jobs (at least for a while), and going cruising we had emailed/commented back and forth frequently ending with something along the lines of “maybe we will meet each other in some beautiful island anchorage”.  Whatdayaknow…..that’s exactly what happened!  We’ve been loosely sailing with them and completely enjoying it.  They invited us over to their boat for Easter breakfast, a decadent event with eggs, sausage, croissants, Brie, and fruit.  Oh-Yum. It’s cool when something you’ve thrown out to the universe materializes.

Our original plan was to get our visas, reprovision, and head for the Raggeds. The weather just isn’t cooperating, nothing scary just not blowing from the right direction.  But it IS blowing from the right direction if you wanted to go to Cat Island. 

Hey, let’s go to Cat!

^^Just watching the kids race.

^^photo edited in Brushstrokes app

^^Yeah, I’d like to stay here for another 90 days please.  Thank You.

^^whatdayaknow….sharing a view of our pretty island anchorage together at sundown.