Three’s a Crew

Tuesday June 11, 2013

CPA 1

(Photo courtesy of Offshore CPA)

 

Thanks to Nate’s boss for letting him out a day early, and winds that would be on our side (albeit light) for the three to four days that fit into both our schedules, Serendipity was taking on an extra crew member for the 380 mile crossing from Grand Cayman to Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras.  With the departure date set, Matt and I spend yesterday touring what felt like the whole island by foot, looking for extra fabric to make a shade from the mast back as well.  We visited the same shop we bought the first set of fabric from, only to find out that the next day, someone came in to purchase whatever was left.  So then we went to six other fabric stores sprinkled across the island, only to find out no one else carried Sunbrella, and the one store that did, couldn’t sell it wholesale.  I guess the back shade will just have to wait.  While out on our hunt, we also filled up our both our backpacks to the brim, pretty sure that we’d never see things like granola bars or pop ever again.

Today we planned on leaving in the early evening, so I spent a good part of the morning in the galley, prepping meals so that little to no cooking would need to be done underway.  I made two loaves of bread, spaghetti with meat sauce, and a pepperoni pizza.  Cooking and clean up took a lot longer than I thought, I don’t even know why this surprises me anymore, it never changes, so Matt was left to do all the other pre-departure prep such as cleaning the boat and making sure everything is stored in a place that it will not get thrown about the boat.  Then we took a break to do something we’ve simultaneously been looking forward to and dreading at the same time.  Making sure Georgie knows how to swim.  We don’t have protective netting for kids/pets around our lifelines, and we make sure to keep her in the cockpit, harnessed in, whenever we’re underway, but that still doesn’t give a 100% guarantee that she may never fall off the boat at some time.  Our friends Kim and Scott have had their cat fall off multiple times at anchor, but their cat has always gotten back on by swimming around the boat to a little rope they leave down for her.  We have a small net that we tie to our stern while at anchor, just for this reason for Georgie.

We’ve never wanted to practice this cat overboard drill with her in most spots because of currents that might have swept her away, but now we were in a perfect area to try.  Both of us were excited to see her try out her swimming skills, but neither of us had the heart to toss her in.  A few days ago, Matt almost got her by giving a soft kick to her bum as she was leaning over the edge, but that little ninja was able to hold on by one paw and bring herself back up.  So today we mentally prepped ourselves to actually do it, and before thinking twice, Matt scooped her up and tossed her over the side.  The net was within eyesight of her, and we wiggled it around in hopes that she’d move toward it, but nope, this cat was making a beeline for the bow.  Matt jumped in behind her in case she needed assistance, but only having to guide her without even touching, she swam, quite speedily I may add, one full circle around the boat until she got to the stern again and used the ladder to pull herself up.  Go figure.  Wanting to make sure she knew what the net was for, Matt took her once more and lowered her to the waters edge right in front of the net, where it didn’t take her two seconds to use the net and climb back onto the boat.  It’s official.  We have a swimming cat.

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 ”Never feed it after midnight.”

 

With that taken care of, it was off to customs and immigration to meet Nate and check out of the country.  It was just as easy as checking in, and we were all off on one last grocery run before departing.  Jenn met us at the docks to say one last goodbye to Nate, and took some great shots of us as we were getting ready to depart.  She also wrote a nice post on her own blog about our departure here.  With all crew members on board the ‘Dip, we went about last minute projects like raising the dinghy on deck, and giving Nate a run down of where everything was located and how everything worked.  All of our latest purchases were stowed away, along with Nate’s backpack (and the Lo Carb Monster he bought for me, best gift ever!), and we were ready to go.

CPA 3

Nate, I think you may be confusing ‘pirate’ with ‘gangster’.

CPA 2

The crew of Serendipity is off to Honduras!

(Above two photos courtesy of Offshore CPA)

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Before we knew it, literally, Nate and I were below when I happened to look out of the window, we were moving.  Coming out on to the deck we gave our new crew member a run down on the headsail that was being using at the moment, what the lines did, and the fact that he shouldn’t have to touch them unless he wanted to because we’d take care of all of that.  Then getting a lesson on how to read the chart plotter, we had a failure.  The autopilot stopped working once more, just as it had on our way to Cuba.  Ten minutes into our journey.  We could still see shore and just make out our mooring behind us.  As Matt went to work on it, with ever attempt resulting in nothing, it now became a question of ‘Continue on, possibly hand steering for the next three and a half days? Or turn back and try again tomorrow?’.  I don’t know why I was so determined to go that day, probably because I thought we’d lose our third crew member if we didn’t, but I was ready to push on.  Good thing, because 20 minutes later, everything was fixed and Serendipity was back to steering herself.  To celebrate the occasion I grabbed sundowners for us all to enjoy, dark & stormies for Nate and I, and a Red Stripe for Matt.  We had a great time chatting while watching the sun go down, and then after dinner, Nate and I played a game of Settlers of Catan on his touchpad.  Yes, this guy had Settlers of Catan with him.  Best. Crew member. Ever.

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‘Merica!

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(Sittin’ On) The Deck of the Boat

Sunday June 9, 2013

6.8.13

Ever since Nate dropped us off at the docks on Wednesday night, we have not been off the boat.  Once.  For anything.  Normally that would drive me insane, but I think we just got really into project and relax mode.  One of the places that Nate helped us run errands to before dinner last week was to a fabric store, where we purchased about 8 yards of what we told was Sunbrella (we’re still not sure) so we can made a shade cover to hang over the deck while we’re at anchor.  In can get incredibly hot in the cabin with the sun beating down on us all day, usually with interior temperatures reaching 90 during the day, and only cooling off to 85 at night.  We use our fans so much that, at this rate, they’ll probably have to be replaced in about six months.  And those things are not cheap.  Although, through reading through forums and accounts of other sailors, by shading your deck, you can bring down the interior temperature by up to five degrees.  We were sold on finding some way to shade our deck.

Until…dun, dun, dunn…..Matt said we had to make it ourselves.  Which I thought meant, ‘Here’s the fabric Jessica, go to work while I watch from the sidelines’.  Dear God, do I hate any projects involved with configuring and sewing.  Which happen to be the only projects that get thrown my way.  Believe me, I understand that Matt gets plenty of projects himself, none of which ever look very fun, but when you’re only project is different variations of the same task, and that task happens to be something you loathe more than anything in the world, it gets old really fast.  So imagine my surprise when the day after we bought all our fabric, Matt pulled out all my sewing supplies to begin measuring and marking the fabric.  He had already been up on deck taking measurements of where it would start and end, and was now transferring those measurements to the fabric.  He was taking over all the logistics, the part I actually hate the most, and all I had to do was push the fabric through the machine.

The first thing we did, since we read it’s better not to have the seam running straight down the middle from forward to aft, is measure the width of the fabric at it’s widest part as it would hang from the beam ends, and cut it at that length.  Then those pieces of fabric were laid side by side and sewn together, using three zig zag stitches.  One in the middle, and one on each end, just to ensure extra strength.  The piece we’re working on now will only be long enough to run from the bow to the mast, so we’ve measured the width of the deck at different spots moving forward, since the deck angles to a point near the bow and isn’t as wide there as it is midship.  We’ll probably have to take the fabric to shore tomorrow where we can lay it out flat, transfer those measurements, and make the necessary cuts.  After that it will just be sewing the the edges to make some pretty seams, and adding reinforcement patches to where the grommets will be.  Dare I say….that might be it?  It could actually be ready to hang after that?  We’ll see how the rest goes, since from my experience, these projects tend to get effed up somewhere along the way.

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging on the boat relaxing.  Taking advantage of the Burger King internet signal that has been coming in strong for the past few days, and, while Matt’s been distracted with that, I’ve been able to steal my Nook back for a few days to get some reading in.  Tonight I tried to remind myself of the splendors around me, and went up on deck with a glass of wine to catch a gorgeous Cayman sunset.  Which I’ve kind of been needing, since once more, I’ve been feeling a little off for the past few days.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck inside the boat working on sewing projects, even though having Matt tackle this one with me has been a huge help, or maybe it’s because our friends have been gone for almost a week now and I’m feeling a little lonely.  Who knows.  I just hope I get out of this funk soon, because with Matt starting to fall into one as well (“I hate fricking boats!  Everything on them always breaks!!”), Serendipity might eventually succumb to our secret desires of pyromania.

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Clear bottom of the anchorage, 15 ft below me.

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This little face can always cheer me up.

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Don’t I Know You from TV?

Wednesday June 5, 2013

HHI

To get a better understanding of this story, let’s go back a few months to January when I was visiting my parents in Arizona.  Somehow, that one week decided it wanted to accumulate 1/4 of the yearly rain fall in that area, so more time than we planned was spent sitting inside in front of the tv.  Being a lover of TV though (don’t judge), I sat there happily, enjoying all the shows that I used to love watching back home but hadn’t been able to catch up on for months.  While eating lunch one afternoon, I was flipping through the channels and found one of my old favorites on, House Hunters International.  It’s a show on HGTV that follows people as they go to buy homes in new countries across the world, showing them three different properties, and having them decide on one at the end.  The one being featured that day was about a young couple around my age from Pennsylvania that was moving their life to Grand Cayman Island, where both would be continuing their careers in the banking industry.  At the end of the episode, where it showed the couple happily moved in to their top choice and enjoying the splendors of their new location, the girl mentioned that she would be blogging about their time there so friends and family could keep tabs on them.  Hmmm, sounds familiar.  I filed this couple, their location, and the blog in the back of my mind.

Fast forward a few months.  We had just arrived in Grand Cayman, and probably our second day there I thought, ‘Hey, there was that couple that moved here from PA.  I should try and contact them, see if they can give any info on the island, and maybe see if they want to meet up sometime’.  Doing a little research on Google, I found their blog, Offshore CPA, and sent an e-mail, which was responded to by Jenn within a day.  She gave a lot of great tips of places to check out on the island, but was unfortunately off the island at the moment for a wedding back in the States.  A little bummed out, but still grateful for the info, I kept in touch with her a few more times, until we found out that tropical storm Andrea was keeping Serendipity put for much longer than originally anticipated, and we would still be in Cayman when they got back.  Even then, Jenn was incredibly bogged down with work, but her husband Nate, was just about to transition between jobs, and had much more free time on his hands.  Not only that, but he was also about to leave for a trip to Central America before his new job started.  She passed the e-mails off to him, and we began to talk, trying to find ways to meet up and discuss traveling.  After a few failed attempts, he was even going to pick all of us up from the Masochistic Trail and have lunch with us, but with very limited internet and low spirits that day it was pushed back, we finally made plans for him to snorkel the West Bay with Matt and I.

Meeting up at my favorite place in the world, Burger King, we sat in a booth and chatted for awhile, getting to know each other, and finding out all the dirty little secrets behind shows such as House Hunters International (like that it was actually filmed one year after they moved to the island!).  We probably could have sat at the BK all day chatting, but since we had promised Nate snorkeling, and that this would probably only be a 2 hour outing, I forced us down to the dinghy dock so we could run over to Serendipity to change and grab our snorkel gear.  Once Matt and I were suited up and I had packed a small cooler with a couple of drinks, we were off to find a dive buoy to tie off to.  We found one about a half mile out from shore, and one by one dropped into the water to check out the scenery below.  In one area that we were swimming over, there were small caves and tunnels that were filled with thousands of little fish called silversides.  They were so thick and clouded that you could barely see past them, but as soon as you dove down to get a closer look they would spread apart and then swallow you as you swam through.  Both Matt and Nate took turns diving down through the caves with the fish while I watched mesmerized from near the surface.  We also went in to just off the shore where we found dozens of little squid, darting in groups near the shallow bottom.

When my legs and fins were getting tired, we swam back to the dinghy where I pulled out an odd array of drinks for us to enjoy.  Nate was given the last Red Stripe, I took the last Lime-a-Rita, and poor Matt got the 345, Cayman’s version of Steel Reserve.  As we sat out in the sun enjoying our cold drinks, Nate told us of his seven weeks off between jobs, in which time he’d fly in to Honduras, and then go to Guatemala and Belize before meeting Jenn back up in the States for some more family time.  His first stop in Honduras was going to be the ever popular diving area of Utila, one of the Bay Islands.  Also, conveniently, where we were headed next with Serendipity.  We kind of joked around that, ‘Hey, you should come with us instead of flying, we’d love to have an extra crew member’.  We all kind of laughed about it, how he could spend three days traveling the high seas with us, until Nate kept responding “No, really, I’m intrigued”.  He said that he would need to talk to Jenn about it more, but he was seriously thinking about cancelling his flight and coming with us, should we be able to hold off until his last day of work the following week.  I’m sure Nate was thinking that trip would either be 1.) a nice relaxing way to sit out in the sun, drink some tropical rum drinks, and catch up on a few books, or 2.)  a high thrill adventure complete with stories to tell of ‘That one time I braved the Caribbean Sea’.  All Matt and I could think was ‘Six hours of uninterrupted sleep’.

Pretty serious about running off into the sunset with a couple of Michiganders that he had just met, Nate had run this new plan by Jenn, who wasn’t opposed to it, but thought it might be nice to meet us before sending her husband off with us on a 400 mile journey in a sailboat.  After helping us run a few errands with the use of his car, we went to eat at a place called Sunshine Grill, which serves some of the best tacos I’ve ever had.  Jenn came to met us while taking a quick break from work, and over dinner we discussed our traveling so far, and the idea to bring Nate to Honduras with us.  We listed off all the navigational and safety equipment that we carry on board, as well as the fact that we have a satellite phone, which can keep her and Nate within reach of each other at all times.  Being the all around awesome wife and person that she is, she agreed to let him come with us, should timing and all other things work out.  Meeting new friends and a possible new crew member all in one day?  See, it pays to watch TV.

Jen & Nate

 Nate & Jenn.  Too cute!

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Matt diving through the silversides.

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Nate’s view as he swims with the fish.

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Matt and I float near the surface.

Nate’s Video from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.

(Yes, the music was added by me.  Before you say anything, all I had access to was the classic rock my dad downloaded for me while I was visiting in January.)

*All photos and video courtesy of Nate Smith

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It’s the End of a Buddy Boat Era as We Know It

Monday June 3, 2013

  6.3.13

Our wish did not come true.  I was informed by Stephanie last night that they found a weather window, on the back of a tropical storm no less, and that Road Trip would be departing the next evening to make it’s way to the Mediterranean.  They had just enough time to squeeze in one last outing with us, amongst finishing up all their last minute provisioning and goodbye Skype calls to family back home.  While we were out to lunch at an upscale pizza restaurant close to 7 mile beach (don’t let that $16 Cayman for the 9″ pizza fool you, it’s actually $20 US), they went over once more what their plan was, even though I’m sure they were already exhausted of telling to every single friend and family member.  What they explained to us, was that with tropical storm Andrea passing by, it was going to cause some South winds to form North of Cuba.  This is exactly what they needed, since after making a couple hundred miles Northwest up to the tip of Cuba, they needed to make about three days of Easting, which is normally exactly where the wind is coming from.  There was a chance that winds could be a little stronger than they’re used to, but Rode Trip is a big heavy boat that might actually enjoy surfing through some high winds and waves for a little bit.  The crew….I’m not so sure of.  But it’s either take this window, or come to Guatemala with us.  I guess you know what kind of friends you have when they’re willing to go out in a hurricane just to get away from you. (I kid!)

Once they’ve passed under Florida, they’ll hook a louie and ride the Gulf Stream up, possible as far as North Carolina.  At that point, they’ll point their bow straight to the Azores (about 900 miles from Gibraltar), with the option to jump out to rest at Bermuda if they feel like it.  If they do go straight from Cayman to the Azores, the trip will be over 3000 miles and take them four to five weeks to cover.  Hopefully Matt and I will be ready one year from now when we plan on making the same jump ourselves (most likely leaving from the BVI’s), but right now, I’m not even looking forward to the three days it’s going to take us to get to Honduras.  Four weeks would be torture for me.

After lunch we said our goodbyes at the docks, us going back to the ‘Dip, and them checking out with customs and immigration.  There was lots of hugging, smiles, and laughter, but surprisingly, no tears.  After traveling thousands of miles together, side by side, we knew this couldn’t be the end.  Just ‘until we meet again’.  For originally having the idea that the two of us would be loners on the high seas, never getting sucked into the buddy boating regimen of where you’re at the mercy of where your friends wanted to go and when, we could not have found two better people to fall in with.  They have made this trip so incredibly enjoyable, and a lot of the best moments we’ve had while traveling have been with them.  Every day we were excited to go to a new location together, make plans to explore together, or usually the best part, sit down to a meal or a drink at the end of the day, going over the highlights, and at some points, more likely, lament about everything that seems to be going wrong.  Because you can try to explain the lifestyle to your friends and your family back home.  You can complain about being out in your cockpit for 10 hours a day when the high is only reaching 50 degrees, or condensation on your hatch caused a dripping on your face that woke you up every 10 minutes while you were sleeping, or even how incredibly boring your last three day passage was. But no one is going to understand your sorrows and give you true sympathy like a buddy boat will.  They’re right next to you living the same exact thing.

So Brian and Stephanie, let me take a moment to raise a toast.  We didn’t know it, the first time we met you in Cape May to share a bottle of wine on Anthyllide, or the next day when we took our very first buddy boating trip across the Delaware Bay, that you would become our new best friends.  We’ve shared ups and we’ve shared downs.  We’ve traveled to three new countries together and spent hundreds of hours passing the time with excursions, meals, and games.  I can’t imagine getting as far as we have without you, nor would I ever want to.  Good luck on all your future adventures, and we’ll see you again out there, I’m sure of it.  Cheers!

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Stephanie and I at our Frankenstorm party.  Silly girls.

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Rode Trip, Lockin’ it up in the Dismal Swamp.

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Enjoying the Harbor of Hospitality.

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Such nerds.

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Stephanie, trying to turn a frog into a prince in St. Augustine.

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 Briefly reunited after two months apart.

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The Mas(ochis)tic Trail

Saturday June 1, 2013

6.1.13

Whenever Matt and I travel with Brian and Stephanie, we always let them plan the fun activities and outings, and we just tag along once given a date and a time.  It kind of makes sense though, they’ll have much more local knowledge than us since Stephanie, well, loves to talk to the locals, and they’ll both pour over books, magazines, and pamphlets on the area.  I have no idea what’s going to happen when they leave us in a few days to start their journey across the Atlantic.  Not only are we going to lose our weather routers (but we have internet right now, so it’s ok), but we’re also going to loose our cruise ship activity coordinators.  Who’s going to be the one to inform me that Caybrews are going to be served on the lido deck at sunset, or that today’s activity is hiking the Mastic Trail?  I’m pretty sure that each boat thinks that the other is going to change their mind at the last minute and follow the other one.  And if a good weather window doesn’t pop up really soon (one comes up and then disappears almost every day), we might have our wish with Rode Trip following us to Guatemala.

But they haven’t left yet, so once more, all four of us were still together to do a little outing.  Stephanie found out about the Mastic Trail from a magazine she picked up at the laundromat, hiking trails is right up her’s and Brian’s alley, and Matt and I joined in since we miss hiking the trails of Northern Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, although we didn’t quite think the trails would be even close to the same.  As we hopped one of the local shuttle buses to take us to the other side of the island, I read up on Stephanie’s magazine article, and how people would come from all over just to hike this trail.  Even though the skies were once more overcast and rain was threatening at any moment, it sounded like we were going to have a great time hiking this beautiful trail.  The shuttle driver dropped us off, after having shown us where the trail would end and we could come back to the main road to catch another one back, and told us to have a good day.  We followed the main road until it turned into the beginning of the dirt path that started the trail.

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 The road leading up looked nice enough.

 

It started out fine, albeit a little boring for Matt and I.  We attributed it to the overcast and dreary skies and kept walking, waiting for more interesting things to pop up as we got further in.  Every couple of minutes, a little sign would pop up with a letter of the alphabet and an informational tag describing what we were looking at (we must have been doing the trail backwards since we started at Z).  There were Red Birch trees that grew right out of the limestone, and many other things that you had to squint your eyes to see otherwise you might miss it in the overgrowth of the area.  Brian and Stephanie were having a ball, but Matt and I just felt like we were walking through someone’s backyard in Michigan.  The trail felt overcrowded, cramped, and with nothing much to see except whatever was two feet in front of your face.  We missed the great views provided from the trails back home, but then again, maybe we’re just spoiled.

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The roots of a Red Birch tree.

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I think this describes the mood of the day.

 

There were a few fun moments for us though when we’d come across birds we hadn’t seen before.  Again, it was almost impossible to make them out in the trees through the thick brush, and it was almost a game trying to pin the spot that the sounds were coming from.  It’s a good thing Brian brought his zoom lens, because my little point-and-shoot I was tugging along for the day was not doing the job.

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A Grand Cayman Parrot.

mastic trail - west indian woodpecker

A West Indian Woodpecker.  (Above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

Any fun was very quickly ended though as we came up on the swamps.  The magazine article had said there would be some light walking through water, so we all prepared ourselves with water friendly shoes.  What we came up to though, were not the small puddles we were expecting.  They were calf deep swamps of brackish water.  Stephanie was the brave one that began to push through the first one, until the thing that scares her most in the world made an appearance right in front of her feet.  A water snake.  She shrieked and jumped up on a log, and being a trooper to make sure she didn’t disturb it any more so a photo could be taken, replaced herself near the back of the group so we’d come across any creepy crawly or slimy things first. (For the record, I love snakes.  If it was me up there, I would have been chasing it around trying to play with it.)  I was the one to take the lead in front of the group, and although there were no more snakes I could see for me to chase down, I did have the unfriendly job of pointing out crabs that we scuttling through the shallow waters, and using my face to collect spider webs.

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‘Snake!!!’

mastic trail - Matt n Jess in swamp

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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It didn’t get much better for me.  Once we finally thought we found salvation on a wooden boardwalk, I stopped for a moment to take count of all the mosquito and spider bites I picked up along the way.  It was when I was looking over all the bumps on my arms and legs that I felt a pinching down by my feet.  Thinking it was stones in my shoes, I ignored it for a minute until it got stronger.  Then finally bending down to take my shoes off and find out what it was, I looked down to see fire ants creeping into my shoes and biting me.  Both shoes were off in a matter of seconds as I hobbled around, trying to pick them off of me and off of my shoes.  It took the help of Matt and Stephanie, but finally they were clean of ankle biters and we could get on our way again.  Not only had Matt been fed up with the trail by this point, but I was more than fed up.  We wished Brian and Stephanie adieu so they could continue at whatever leisurely pace they felt like, and ran the rest of the trail to get out of there as quick as possible.  Watch out Stephanie, your responsibilities of activity coordinator is now on very thin ice.

mastic trail - ants on boardwalk

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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It almost looks pretty here.

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And I even found a turtle under a non ant filled boardwalk.

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Finally, a way out.

 

 

For a view of this trip through the rose colored glasses of Brian and Stephanie, check out their account of it here.

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A Three Hour Tour – Day 2: Roger, We have Stingrays in Our Sights

Thursday May 30, 2013

5.30.13

There was something very strange about being anchored in the North Sound last night.  It wasn’t that we had four people packed into a West Sail, getting tipsy on a game of Settlers of Catan, that’s actually quite normal, it’s that we were on a boat that was absolutely still.  It was so calming that I almost told Brian and Stephanie that this would be Rode Trip’s permanent location until Matt and I decided to make our next passage, and hey, by the way, we’ll be staying here every night until then.  Having enjoyed ourselves way too much at our little slumber party the night before, alarm clocks didn’t go off until after 8, and even then we were rubbing weary and bloodshot eyes.  Brain took the remaining leftovers from the previous night of chicken and potatoes, and tossed them around in a skillet with a few spices and an egg on top.  I really must try this thing that people call cooking.  Spirits were high as we had full stomachs and the sun was shinning.  I think the words ‘perfect day’ were uttered too soon though, and as soon as that phrase fell into the air, more dark storm clouds rolled in overhead.  We’ve noticed that when the rain actually does come, it passes by fairly quickly, so we’d just wait it out in the cabin before traveling the few miles across the sound to the shallow banks of Stingray City.  Settlers of Catan was broken out once more, without the distilled sugarcane and molasses this time, but Matt decided he wouldn’t get suckered into playing again.

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Beautiful morning we’re having!

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I think Settlers of Catan was too much for his brain to handle.

 

When the rain finally let up, even though the sun was never looking like it was going to make it’s way out, we upped the anchor and began making our way to Stingray City.  Visually we could see right where it was by the plethora of other boats packed into one tiny area, but we did still have to keep our eyes glued to the charts since the North sound is full of shallow areas only 5 to 6 feet deep (with the sandbars around the rays at only 3 feet).  Still keeping a safe distance, we dropped the hook in a patch of sand and lowered the dinghy in the water.  Maneuvering our way through jet skis, we dropped the much smaller hook on the dinghy and fell back into the water with our snorkel gear on.  For a few minutes we floated around only staring at sand and the occasional conch, until a few dark spots began drifting our way.

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It’s a stingray floating by us!

 

As soon as one came by, the rest of them began to swarm over as well.  Since we weren’t part of a group and didn’t get the ‘swimming with stingrays’ lecture, I was still a little unsure of what I could or couldn’t do around them.  Both the guys told me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground so I wouldn’t accidentally step on one, but with the waves that were just rolling in enough from outside the sound, keeping my feet flat on the sand was much harder than I thought.  So I instead floated at the surface, watching the stingrays swim by and weave in and out of people like they were cones for a drivers test.  It wasn’t long before Matt and Brian wanted to go a step further than having the stingrays just swim around at their feet.  They wanted to feed them.  So pulling out some squid that Brian had picked up at the marine chandler the previous day, they wiggled the tasty treat between their fingers….until the stingrays came to suck it out of their hands.

I tried to hover for a bit with the camera as swarms and swarms of them came by, the whole time worried that I was going to accidentally kick one and end up with a stinger through my food.  In the end though, it wasn’t me who got hurt.  Brian had a nice little chunk taken from his hand when he let the stingray suck on it for too long.  Maybe it was more of a bite than a chunk, but it still looked pretty nasty, and we’re pretty sure he’s going to mutate into some kind of sea creature.  It didn’t keep Matt and I from feeding and playing though, and even I had my turn with a feeding, trying to hold my ground as the ray literally kept pushing me back with it’s force.  I decided I was better off with the camera than feeding them, and went back to taking pictures of the guys until one came up to me and basically suctioned itself to my back as I floated there.  Sneaky little bastards…

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I’m sure I would have been stabbed by this point.

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Here fishy, fishy, fishy…

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Like sharks being drawn to blood.

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There goes Brian, getting his hand eaten off.

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But they still ended on good terms.

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Mmmm, finger licking good.

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 ’I swear, if I feel one tooth on my finger, I will eat you for dinner!’

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Before long, another storm started making it’s way in and we made our way back to the dinghy so we could get to Rode Trip before a downpour let out.  It seemed like once more for our trip, we had to hide out for bad weather.  I thought this was supposed to be paradise?  I guess that’s what we get for staying in the tropics at the beginning of hurricane season.  When it finally let up we started the long trek back home, making a few light bumps on the sandy bottom while trying to get to the deeper waters of the sound, but clearing any coral through the channel this time.  Once all eyes were not needed on deck anymore, I was put below with a cup of tea, soon zonked out with the wonderful memories of our trip to see the stingrays swimming in my head.

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A Three Hour Tour – Day 1: We’re Gonna Need a Faster Boat

Wednesday May 29, 2013

  5.29.13

Can you believe that in all the time Serendipity and Rode Trip have been together, we’ve never sailed on the others boats?  Sure, there have been plenty times spent hanging out on one or the others, making dinners, playing games, or just enjoying a bottle (or two) of wine, but never had we all been together on one boat while it was in motion.  And probably for good reason too, if you’re traveling together you can’t very well leave one boat behind.  But it also means that we’ve forgotten the meaning of a ‘pleasure cruise’.  Any bit of traveling we did on our boats was because it had to be done, not just because we felt like going out for day to enjoy the water.  So today, we decided to change that.  With Brian and Stephanie ready to leave Cayman as soon as the next weather window pops up that will carry them North and then East around Cuba, they needed to top off Rode Trip’s fuel and water tanks.  There don’t seem to be any marinas in the West Bay where we’re anchored, only in the North Sound, about 12 miles away.  Another thing that happens to be in the North Sound is Stingray City.  It’s a series of shallow sandbars just inside a reef where fisherman used to clean their catches and throw their scraps in the water, causing the stingrays to come feed on them.  Soon it became a tourist attraction, and now plenty of charter boats visit there every day, bringing herds of cruise line passengers to watch, feed, and play with the stingrays.

Getting to Rode Trip bright and early in the morning at 7:30 am, we figured the trip up would take 3 hours, we’d play with the stingrays, fuel up the boat, have a little lunch, and be back to our mooring before dinner.  Matt and I tied our dinghy to the mooring ball so the spot would be saved for when we got back, and we were off.  Matt worked with Brian to raise the main sail, and then with Stephanie to raise the headsail.  I took it as a vacation and sat on the coachroof, watching us now ‘racing’ the pirate ship that’s moored by us and also decided to head in our general direction at the same time.  Brian made some coffee to perk us up and help us get over the dreary, overcast morning that was on top of us.  Tropical storm Andrea, what we had been keeping our eyes on a few days earlier, wasn’t coming close enough to us anymore for us to be worried, but she was forecast to bring lots of rain our way.  While we were sipping on coffee, Stephanie showed me these baby crabs she said they’d been finding all over their boat, mostly likely climbing up from the mooring lines.  At first I expected hard shelled crabs in miniature form, but these looked like they had just hatched that morning, big buggy eyes, but still cute nonetheless.  I tried to keep one as my pet until he started to run away and I accidentally squished him while trying to get him back.  No one ever give me kids.

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Come on Matt, you have to earn your position on this boat.

pleasure cruise - Matt n Jess coffee

It’s 8:00 in the morning and we’re out of bed.  Cheers!

pleasure cruise - baby crab

RIP Herman.  5/28/13-5/29/13

(Above two photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

The remainder of the morning was calm and uneventful.  We kept a close eye on speed, and even though we were hoping to keep an average of 4 knots .  We were doing ok for the most part, but once we passed all the fancy hotels on 7 Mile Beach and were ready to start heading around the corner to the North Sound, the wind was coming closer and closer to being on our nose, which was really slowing down speed.  In the end we decided that the only way around it was to fall off the wind, meaning we’ll have to eventually tack back in, and add a few miles to our journey.  That’s ok though.  It was still early, the sun was not quite shining, but we had coffee and music and good friends.  Another hour or so on the water wasn’t going to hurt us at all.

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Ok, so we’ve managed to commandeer Rode Trip……..now what?

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All was looking ok for us to start making our way into the North Sound.  We were running parallel to it and just when we’d start navigating through the narrow channel, the engine would be turned on and we’d motor in the rest of the way.  The channel isn’t supposed to be very wide, or even very deep at 8 ft, but with coral reefs on each side we wanted to make sure conditions were perfect before making our way in.  So when we spotted some very dark storm clouds off in the distance, threatening us with not only some nasty winds and showers, but waves that would probably do everything in their power to keep Road Trip on her straight and narrow course.  And since we don’t want Rode Trip to suffer a fate like Serendipity, and I didn’t want to ruin my afternoon by abandoning ship due to a coral wreck, we changed course to head out into open water instead while the storm blew by.

As the sky grew darker, the winds picked up as well.  Matt and Stephanie quickly doused the headsail while Brian put a reef in the main.  The haze of rain on the water advanced closer to us, I didn’t even wait for it to hit before scrambling below.  The boat was already leaning at a pretty good heel, and with much more cockpit space than I’m used to, I couldn’t find my normal footholds to brace against, and I figured a storm and a man overboard drill at the same time was probably more than Brian wanted to deal with at the helm.  Once the rain did come though, everyone else was quick to join me, and we let the windvane do it’s job as we tried to stay dry and warm.  The storm was fairly quick and as soon as it passed, it was all hands on deck again.  Except my hands.  They stayed nice and warm as I napped on the settee.  Where I was told to stay by Matt so I wouldn’t get in the way.  ”There’s no reason for you to be up here right now.”  That’s fine.  You won’t hear any complaints from me about not being able to sit in the remnants of the chilly rain.

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 I think….yeah….I’m pretty sure it’s gonna rain.

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Captain Brian, keeping us on a safe and steady course.

5.29.13 (8) It’s hard being me.

 

I let everyone do their job for the next hour or two while I caught a few winks of sleep.  I did want to see what going through this dangerous channel was like though, and I was hoping someone would come wake me for that part.  And I was in fact woken up while passing through the channel.  By Rode Trip.  As she hit some of the coral and stopped moving.  I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse by running up on deck yelling, “Oh my god, what happened?!  What did you do?!”.  So instead I peeked through the portholes below and kept my mouth shut until we were moving again.  Which was pretty soon, and no one seemed worried about any damage since it was a relatively minor bump, and Rode Trip has a big ‘ol honkin keel.  I slowly made my way up anyway, where all of us had the discussion that we knew was coming by now anyway after our now extended trip up to the sound. There was no way we were going to make it back to our mooring that night.  It was already after two, we hadn’t done anything we’d started out to do, and even if we turned around that moment, we may not even make it back by sunset.  What we could do, was make it into the marina to make sure Rode Trip was topped off for her Atlantic Crossing, see the stingrays if there was still time, and then tuck into a cove for the night where we’d have a crazy slumber party.  Cause even 30 year olds like to dress up in jammies and have pillow fights sometimes.  With the decision made, we hurried into the marina so we could get at least one thing checked off our list that day.

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This marina had the coolest little island vibe to it.

5.29.13 (10) And at only $0.90/ft, we should have stayed for the night!

 

After all the tanks were full we made our way back into the sound to find a good anchoring spot to make it into town.  There was a ship chandler where we needed to buy things for both boats (a $250 bill for epoxy and resin plus a few other minimal things, ouch!), and then a run to the grocery store so we could get something for dinner.  Along the way we followed a channel in the dinghy that led by plenty of nice homes, many with sail boats and motor boats docked out front.  And strewn along every lawn and boat was a blue iguana, supposedly one of the most endangered animals on earth.  To us though, it looked like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park, with a million reptiles leering at us, ready to pounce any moment.  We even had one swimming toward us in the channel, although he ducked below the water as soon as the camera phone was pulled out.  Seeing that dark clouds were also on their way, it was a mad dash through the store as we acted like contestants on Supermarket Sweep, throwing various items into our cart and trying to make it to the check out as quick as possible.  Back into the dinghy, we zoomed back through the channel as fast as we could.  Getting to the open bay, the somewhat building waves of another storm on it’s way would crash over the bow, drenching everyone inside.  The cold air would send a chill down your spine, until the next wave of warm water would come crashing over.  Looking over at Stephanie who was up front next to me, I smiled and yelled, “This is our life!”.  Somehow it had much less enthusiasm than it did back in the Bahamas.  The rain never did come, but all the clouds that piled in made for one of the most amazing sunset’s we’d ever seen, the sky illuminated into bright pink and blue colors.  It almost didn’t look real, and as we motored the big boat over to our anchorage for the night, no one could keep their eyes unglued from the horizon until every bit of color faded.

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Dinner was very enjoyable since we had someone who actually knew how to cook preparing it.  When we were finished. we cracked open one of the extra coconuts from our day snorkeling, and added the sweet water to some pineapple juice and rum.  Then it was on to one of the favorite things for three of us on the boat to do, and one of Matt’s least favorite.  Playing Settlers of Catan.  It’s not that he necessarily hates that game, he just hates playing any kind of game.  So after the first round when most of us were ready to go for another one, but we were quickly losing Matt’s interest, we found a way to make it more interesting.  Since the game is focused on building a settlement, we thought we could spice it up by making a person take a shot of rum each time they wanted to build something.  Which you hope to do on every turn.  And since that would put me out of the game and passed out drooling on the floor after about two roads and one settlement, we brought down the ante to only a 1/4 shot for each item built.  We had much more fun the second time around, although probably drew out the game even further initially, each person collecting cards and not wanting to build anything.  But since this might be the last time we play Settlers of Catan with Brian and Stephanie, we all soon decided to go three sheets to the wind.  Game on!

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 Brian knows he has it in the bag before he even begins.

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This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let it Dim

Monday May 27, 2013

5.27.13

No motion of the ocean in this boat.

 

I am slowly going insane.  It started about three days after we arrived at Grand Cayman, and it’s taken me a little while to figure out why.  We had Burger King at our disposal, snorkeling right off our boat, internet.  I just felt a little off, and unhappy, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Then it dawned on me.  Our boat is never still.  Not even close.  Being at anchor is supposed to be your safe haven after passage.  Other than a very light back and forth motion that rocks you to sleep, being at anchor should almost make you forget that you live on a boat.  (Because, after a few months, living in about 200 sq ft actually becomes quite normal).  So, when you’re in your ‘safe haven’, but being thrown about like you’re still on passage, it can make one a little….irritable.  I don’t know why it even took me as long as it did, maybe because we’ve actually been off the boat most of our days running around town, but I should have been tipped off when I’d go to make dinner and I’d get seasick.  No joke.  There’s something about this spot we’re in, where even though the wind is coming out of the East and we’re situated on the West, a fairly nasty, or at least very uncomfortable swell, will roll through each evening and night, completely opposite to the direction the wind is holding us at our mooring ball.

I think I would have been much happier not knowing what was causing my misery, because once you know what’s driving you insane, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.  It’s non-ignoring.  We couldn’t make any kind of movement in the boat without my entire focus being drawn to it.  Matt has been able to remedy the situation a little bit by making a bridle.  We have two lines tied to our mooring ball, both having been tied to our front cleats at the bow for our first few days here.  To make the bridle, Matt has taken one of the lines and tied it to the cleat at the stern, now putting us beam to the mooring ball.  What this also does, is put us head on to the waves.  So instead of rocking back and forth, we now rock front to back.  Most of the time.  These swells never seem to come from the same direction and we can’t always get ourselves bow into them, but something is better than nothing.  I still want to get off the boat at any chance possible though, so when Stephanie called me on the radio today to see if I wanted to spend an afternoon with her at the library using their internet (she knows Burger King offers that, right?), I jumped at the chance to be on firm land.

Matt and I did quick stop in for lunch at BK, we’re only human after all, but then it was time for Stephanie and I to get to work.  The guys weren’t as interested in being cooped up all day and stole one of the dinghies to go snorkeling.  When they came to pick us up a few hours later, we were already famished again and ready to get more food.  Making a stop into one of the duty-free liquor stores on our way down the street, Brian and Steph wanted to do a little more beer stocking.  As they searched the coolers, Matt and I wandered to the back where the hard liquor was.  They had everything imaginable, and all of it was dirt cheap.  In the back of the store was also a counter where a woman came over to greet us and ask if we’d like to try and samples of their Tortuga rum.  There were two different flavors being offered, Pineapple and Mango, and none of us were about to turn down that offer.  Both were very sweet rums that everyone else seemed to be able to throw back without a problem while I just slowly sipped mine, savoring the taste.

Things kept getting better, and after the rum was drank the woman pulled out three sheets of Tortuga rum cake for us to sample as well.  Holy crap, these are the best things ever.  Each being a different flavor, she loaded up napkins for each of us with one slice of pineapple, chocolate, and coconut.  Pineapple was by far my favorite, but each one was moist and delicious.  She could see our constant drooling and told us to help ourselves to however much more we wanted.  Now normally with eating so many samples we’d feel obligated to buy something, even if we didn’t have the money to spend on it, but then she uttered some of the best words we could have heard that day.  All orders or purchases from this store were duty free and could not be walked out of the store, but were instead could only be delivered to the cruise ship.  Which we were not on.  Which means that we couldn’t buy anything.  Free food without the guilt to purchase.  I know I’m probably coming off very cheap by saying that, but this island is expensive!  So I smiled gladly as she loaded up napkins full of cakes for us to take on the road as we made our way to our real dinner, which was KFC.  Healthy day, I know.  But while eating we were treated to a rooster roaming around outside, eating fallen pieces of chicken, and then getting into a cockfight with a competitor that tried to move in on his turf.  In the parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I can’t make this stuff up.

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This is the best cake I have ever tasted.

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Now what would you mix honey vodka with?

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Cause everyone should taste….nope.  Not gonna go there.

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‘Hi!, I’m a cannibal!’

 

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Back’s Against the Wall

Sunday May 26, 2013

  Jess snorkel 2

One thing I have to say about Grand Cayman, is they have some world class snorkeling and diving areas.  Seeing all the coral heads under us as we brought Serendipity to her mooring ball last week, we took a little little snorkel our second morning here just to see what we could find.  And lo and behold, there was a whole amazing underwater world right off of our back porch.  All of it is a protected area with no fishing allowed in depth under 80 feet, so there was a plethora of every kind of imaginable fish swimming under our feet, unaware and non frightened of any humans bobbing around a few feet away from them.  Unlike the Bahamas, where not only did they fish know they were your dinner and made a mad dash in the opposite direction any time you started to move near, there also wasn’t the wide expanse of sandy patches between coral heads.  This area was all coral, no sand.  Swimming further and further, we came to a ledge where we looked down to find a spotted eagle sting ray below us, and schools of large jacks darting in and out of caves.  It was easy to become lost in this underwater world, and we even got a nice scolding from a dive boat that passed by since we had now swam a few hundred feet away from the boat with no dive flag up.  A few days ago I collected Matt and Brian in the dinghy so they could explore a shipwreck just off the shore, and keep an eye on them and other boats while they swam.

Rode Trip - snorkeling - fish

Brian - snorkeling ship

(Above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

Today the four of us planned on another snorkeling trip together, and when Brian and Stephanie came to pick us up in their dingy, we had some important information from them.  Ren, from s/v Nila Girl, had just sent me a few links to weather sites showing there might be a tropical storm headed in our direction.  Brian and Stephanie are getting a new stay made for their boat, but were planning on leaving as soon as it was ready, in the next few days.  But from this forecast, we’re looking at some pretty nasty weather from the 28th to the 6th.  Which means none of us have time to get anywhere else without the chance of being caught in this storm.  Ren also sent us a map to a creek in the North Bay that we should be able to tuck ourselves into if things get bad, so we’ll really be keeping an eye on the weather for the next few days and moving our boats if necessary.  I let Brian take over my computer for a bit, since we were now able to use our long range wifi to pick up Burger King’s signal, and let him spend a little time researching site after site to see what might be coming our way.  While this was going on, Stephanie and I amused ourselves by finally getting an American radio station in again and jamming to the tunes.  When one song came on I could see her cock her head to the side, and as she looked at me, I blurted out before she could ask, “This is Fun”.  She just looked at me, “Yeah, we’re going to have a lot of fun today, but I just wanted to know..”.  “It’s Fun”, I broke in again.  ”Jessica”, She sighed, “I love spending time with you guys, but sitting on your boat, checking the weather, isn’t that fun.  I just want to know who sings this song”.  By this time, Matt and Brian were cracking up with me.  “Stephanie”, I slyly smiled, “The group…is called Fun”.

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I keep trying to tell you woman…this is Fun!!

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Our weather guru, making sure we’re safe in Grand Cayman.

 

Fifteen minutes later we were satisfied that we couldn’t do anything about the weather except keep checking it for the next few days.  Piling the four of us into Rode Trip’s dinghy, we thought we’d go up towards 7 Mile Beach (which is actually only 4 miles long), to see if we could find any good dive sites there.  The boys also really wanted to check out ‘The Wall’, an area that drops off from 30-40  feet to hundreds of feet deep in just the span of a few meters.  Getting a very wet ride in their low sitting dinghy, we roared on near 7 Mile Beach and all the fancy hotels with their high class customers sipping on fancy drinks while sitting in shade covered lounge chairs (Ahem, J & N! (don’t worry, they come in later)).  Tying off to one of the dive balls in front of The Ritz and watching wave runners and hobie cats race by us, we put on our gear and flipped into the water, gearing up for some great coral and fish sightings that day.  While we did have a fun time (See Steph, you were right!), this area didn’t seem to offer as much as where we were anchored and all the dive shops are located.  I’m starting to think that they know something…

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I swear, I’m not a Trekkie.  I have no idea what’s going on with my hand.

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After spending a little time in the extremely warm water and catching glimpses of what fish we could, it was back in the dinghy to take the guys to The Wall.  We really had no idea where it was, it was not an ‘official’ sight, we just needed to look for a dive ball where the water turned from aqua to a deep emerald blue, and hope we found something there.  The wind was beginning to pick up, and now that we weren’t extremely close to shore, the waves a current were getting a little nastier where we sat tied to the dive buoy we found.  While the guys jumped out to see what they could find, Stephanie opted to stay in the dinghy the whole time, and I did get in the water, but wouldn’t let go of the dinghy.  There wasn’t much to see anyway, at least from my vantage point.  Just a whole lot of blue, and then a whole lot more.  We were already parked in close to 50 feet of water which makes it hard to see the bottom anyway, but since we did happen to be right at the drop off, it was impossible to see anything after that.  It looked like an area that you did have to be in dive gear for, or at least like our friend Ashley, where you can hold your breath for six minutes.  Brian did take a few dives down, getting to about sixty feet, while Matt was just a little shy of him at 40.  They played around for a few minutes, but even with their diving skills there was nothing for them to see either, and we turned around for beaches and beers.

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The dinghy ride was so wet, Stephanie had to wear goggles just to see.

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Brian: ‘There’s a whole lotta nothing out here!’

 

There isn’t much public beach space on West Bay, but we managed to find a little spot of sand to beach the dinghy on where we could relax and enjoy the Red Stripes I packed for us.  I don’t always plan ahead, but when I do, it usually involves drinks.  We found a little wooden platform to park our butts on as we popped the tops on our beers and watched storms come in from the distance.  It took all of five minutes for Matt and Brian to get restless, and they began chasing iguanas up trees and hunting for coconuts.  Trying, and failing, to climb the trees themselves, they instead found old coconuts on the ground and used those to knock fresh ones from the trees.  When a pile of six or seven had fallen to the ground, they brought them back over to us to try and open…without any kind of knife or machete or sharp objects.  With caveman ingenuity, they took to smashing them on sharp rocks over and over again to split the husk, and then ripping it apart as best they could.  It took a lot of huffing and puffing and grunting, but each guy was able to open their coconut, passing it around to drink the water inside (don’t hate me, but I can’t stand coconut water) and then breaking the rest into smaller pieces for us to dig into the meat.  After multiple days of projects, and running around, and other ‘have to do’ things, I think a day like this is exactly what all of us needed.

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Da Fish Shack

Thursday May 23, 2013

  5.23.13

A couple days into Grand Cayman, and I think we’ve seen almost every supermarket or bulk food store they have.  This may have consisted of wandering around in 92 degree temperatures for hours, walking out as far as the airport and loading our backpacks full of Oreos and Mac & Cheese, but we made sure to spend some time out of the heat as well in such fine establishments as Burger King and Popeyes Chicken.  Don’t judge.  We know we have a problem.  And the first step is admitting it.

Having split up from Brian and Stephanie for a few days so we could each get our own work done, we met up for drinks tonight at Da Fish Shack.  It is among one of the many restaurants and bars along the waterfront on the West Bay, and Brian and Stephanie had gone in earlier that day for a drink after a sign outside caught their eye, ‘$10 pitcher of beer’.  Since the six pack of beer that had been the equivalent of Natural Reserve they had purchased the other night just about ran them $10 anyway, they popped in to enjoy a tall frosty glass along with the free wifi.  Coming by in their dinghy, Stephanie, on a very empty stomach but in a very happy mood, wanted to inform us of the special and ask if we’d like to join them that evening for another pitcher and dinner.  We skipped out on dinner, eating more of our Cuban meat and potatoes back at the boat, but we did join them later for our own pitcher of Caybrew.  They discussed their upcoming passage to the Azores while we went over the information of a marina we just made a reservation at in Guatemala.  Pretty soon will come the day where we’re not buddy boats anymore, so these last few nights of the four of us together need to be savored before they disappear.

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A front row seat to Serendipity.

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