Well, the adventure has begun. We left New
Bern, NC at approximately 6am on Saturday, September 29th on our way to
George Town, Bahamas in the Exumas. The flight out of New Bern
left about 40 minutes late because they had a flight attendant call in
sick at the last minute. We arrived in Charlotte a scant 15
minutes before our next scheduled flight to Ft. Lauderdale and only an
"Amazing Race" - OJ Simpson style airport run saved us from
missing our second flight. We arrived at the gate at the last
minute, and were the last two passengers to board the jet - WHEW!
The rest of the flights went smoothly, but our 6
hour layover in the Nassau airport was less than desirable.
Regardless, we arrived safe and sound at the airport in George Town
right on time at 7pm, which also happened to be just right to catch a
We had made it safely, but as we soon found out -
our checked luggage had not. We weren't told that we needed to
claim and recheck our luggage at the first port of entry, which was
Nassau, and as a result, our bags were left in Nassau. Willie, our
taxi driver, waited patiently while we filled out the necessary forms
and made the necessary apologies and pleas for help. On the way
into town, Willie offered to meet the 7am flight in from Nassau the next
day to see if our bags had been forwarded on that flight.
This was the situation that we had most feared, as
we were pretty sure that Capt. Mark would be ready to "beat
feet" very soon after we arrived, and waiting on luggage would not
be a good enough reason to wait around, especially during hurricane
season. You gotta get it while the gettin's good, as they
say. Knowing this, we had packed the most important items in our
two backpacks, which we did not check, and carried on all the
planes. But, that didn't mean that the two small bags that were
lost didn't want to be seen again.
After a 30 minute taxi ride, we arrived at the dock
and made our way out to meet the boat. It was a happy reunion with
hugs and handshakes all around - it was good to see Capt. Mark and Stray
Cat again. We met Stuart, Ryan and Bradley, all of whom had been
aboard since Miami, and had spent the previous 7 or 8 days making final
preparations for the trip, crossing the Gulf Stream and then working
their way through the central Bahamas and down the Exumas chain to
We told Mark about our luggage issue, and he
informed us that Bradley wasn't flying out until 3pm the next day, and
that, combined with the fact that we still needed to go to Exuma Market
to restock the boat with essentials for the next leg, would be reason
enough to spend most of the next day in George Town before
leaving. So, we breathed a small sigh of relief and began praying
that our bags would be put on the 7am flight and be in our hands before
we had to set sail.
When the introductions and greetings were behind us
and we had all of our things on board, we cast off the lines and headed
out to the anchorage to spend the night at anchor. Stray Cat has
all the necessary equipment to be self sufficient, and to stay the night
at the dock would have cost $100. Now that's an easy decision.
That night, we settled into the boat and began to
get to know the rest of the crew. Stuart has sailed with Capt.
Mark before on a long trip to the Dominican Republic and has a good many
years of sailing experience. In his shore side life, he is a laboratory
scientist who works on cancer research. Ryan and Bradley are
brothers-in-law who grew up in the same town in Missouri, and took this
trip together hoping for a little adventure. Ryan is an USAF F-16
fighter pilot and Bradley is a professional photographer based in
Hollywood. They were all pleasant and welcoming. We talked
and laughed that night over a few rums and then turned in early to get
enough sleep for the next day, which was likely to be a big one.
The next morning, we were relieved to here
"Stray Cat - Stray Cat - Taxi One" call on the VHF at about
7:15am. Willie had asked Taxi One to call us on the VHF and let us
know he was on the way with our luggage. We eagerly got dressed
and jumped in the dingy with Capt. Mark and motored into Victoria Lake
and the George Town dingy dock. Willie was waiting and walked down
the pier, but there was only one problem - he only had one bag.
Luckily for us, it was the one bag that had the most essentials in it,
so if it had to be one or the other, we were happy to see this
bag. Willie said that the next flight in was at 2:30pm and that he
would be there to check for our other bag at that time. We told
him that we weren't sure if we could stay that long, but that we would
The rest of that day was mostly spent grocery
shopping, stowing groceries, and trying to get Internet. We moved
Stray Cat back onto the day dock to make the days tasks a little
easier. It was a Sunday in George Town, and everything was closed,
except Exuma Market, which only stayed open until 11am. We were
lucky to get there in time and be the last people checking out as they
were locking the doors. Bradley was all packed up and ready when
his 1:30pm taxi arrived. We all wished him a safe trip and watched
him walk down the dock, on his way back to Hollywood.
We were now down to the crew that would
take Stray Cat to Jamaica - A crew of five - Capt. Mark, Mike, Kate,
Stuart and Ryan.
Capt. Mark was kind enough to wait until the next
flight from Nassau came in to see if our other bag was going to make it
in. The 2:30 flight time came and went with no VHF call from
Willie, and we were preparing ourselves for the fact that we were going
to lose that piece of luggage. About 2:45pm, we called "Taxi
One" on Channel 16 and found out that no bag had arrived for us,
and that Willie was sorry, but he had found out nothing. We
thanked him for his efforts, drafted a note with our contact info, and
left it with the local gas station attendant, who kindly agreed to pass
the note on to Willie.
With our business in George Town completed, we made
preparations for departure and by 3pm we were slipping the lines to make
way. We headed East between Stocking Island and Great Exuma before
making the cut out to Exuma Sound. Our direction at that point was
going to be determined by the draft of the boat and the direction of the
wind. We considered a southerly route through Hog Cay cut (DON'T
TALK LIKE A GRINGO TIP #1 - Cay is pronounced "Key" - not
"Kay"), but because that cut is an extremely shallow one, and
the tides were not suitable, Capt. Mark decided to head Northeast for
the northern tip of Long Island.
Another factor in that decision to head up around
Long Island was the wind direction, which was South. The decision
ended up being the right one, because as soon as we rounded the
northeast tip of Long Island we were able to cut the motors and sail at
an average of six or seven knots. The sky was cloudy and we
encountered several squalls full of rain and wind, but we were able to
use each to our advantage by skirting the counter-clockwise sector,
constantly changing course to stay close hauled - not being over powered
or under powered - and keeping the bow to the ever growing swells.
Each one lasted less than an hour - each one soaked us to the bone - and
each one was somewhere between "amusement park fun" and
"close to death terrifying".
This weather stayed with us as we moved down the
coast of Long Island. By this time, night had fallen, and we had
settled into a watch schedule. Stuart and Ryan took the 10pm to
2am watch, and Kate and Mike woke up for the 2am to 6am. We didn't
see a lot of traffic and besides the squalls, not much else.
We continued past Long Island and stayed to the
north of the Acklins on an easterly heading. The wind was still
out of the South and while that was surprising, we were able to use that
wind to make a lot of easting. Our hope was that the trade winds
would fill in eventually from the east making it possible to make our
turn south towards Great Inagua.
We skirted the Acklins closely to take advantage of
the lee of the island and the resulting calm waters, and as we made our
turn around the east end, we got our wish. The winds began to blow
out of the east, and we trimmed the sails accordingly, hoping for a free
ride to Matthew Town.
With wind dictating
much of our route, we weren't sure if we would need to stop
or not, how far out of our way it might be etc.... The east winds
fell off and became more southeast, and as a result, we ended up
motoring more than expected. Capt. Mark thought it would be prudent to stop
for fuel before continuing to Jamaica. Mark had never set foot in Matthew's Town, but had
anchored just off of it many years ago. None of the guide books
for that area had any information at all on Matthew's Town and Capt.
Mark had remembered that they may have fuel, but it would have to be
carried in jerry jugs.
Our first stop since George Town and we pulled in
to anchor 2 miles around the island from the point of Matthew's Town at
10pm Tuesday. We had been underway for 2 days and 6+ hours.
It was really not bad to go such a long way, because we had so many
people to stand watch. We did hit some really bumpy seas and that was
about the worst of it.
Early the next morning we were up for coffee,
conversation and plantains... Yum! At 10am we weighed anchor
and headed to Matthew's Town. As we got close we called in on the
radio for instructions on entering the harbor. The instructions
were cordial and fairly vague, very Bahamian. After a few minutes
of searching, Mike spotted a range and a narrow crack in a seawall, That
was it! Capt. Mark eased Stray Cat in through the narrow channel,
at 24ft. wide she's a big girl and he gracefully squeezed her
There was a gentleman to greet us and guide us
through the procedures. We informed him that we were looking for a
Starbucks and a Wal-Mart. He had a great sense of humor! He
got us tied off and took Capt. Mark to customs right away as we waited
for fuel. Before he departed Kate asked him about the flamingos
and he told us they were over 50 miles away. We knew we did not have
much time so figured it was not possible.
As we had pulled in to the harbor there was another
boat already tied up - the only other boat there in the harbor.
This was not an ocean going vessel. It was a Larson 32, much like
a Sea Ray, a motor vessel or a speed boat you would call it - something
that you would normally see on a lake. As we
were waiting Capt. Mark's return, the two latino gentlemen from the
Larson came over and asked us where we were coming in from. Ryan
told them from Miami. They said that's where they had arrived from
and we could not believe it. We had traveled through some very
large seas on our way to get to Matthew's Town and we would never want
to see waves like that in such a small craft like they were
These 2 gentlemen, one named Maruzio, we think, had
been rescued by the coast guard only days before. They went on to
tell us how the seas were huge and their GPS had failed. The boat
was being violently tossed back and forth when they ran out of
fuel. They were close to land at the time and almost decided to
swim for the land and try to make it on foot. They were told later
by locals that they would be dead if they had tried it. They did
have an EPIRB on board, a rescue beacon that sends a GPS signal off to
the Coast Guard with your coordinates, and they decided to press the
button. They retold the exciting tale how the chopper was overhead
in 30 minutes. The basket was lowered to take them to safety and
one by one they crawled into it. They told of the wild ride in the
basket and how it flipped and flopped and felt like they were going to
fall out of it. They were soaked to the bone and scared to death,
but alive. The Coasties took them to Matthew's Town the closest
Upon arriving in Matthew's Town the men paid a
local in a small aluminum boat to take them back out to the powerboat
with some fuel. They said it was a bumpy and X-treme ride,
that took them 46 miles! They were happy to get back to their
bosses powerboat and made way into Matthew's Town harbor, now in the
Larson 32. They had told us they were trying to deliver their
bosses boat from Miami to Venezuela. They had 2 55-gallon drums
for fuel in addition to the tanks on board. We thought, these guys
are Insane! They had a great story to tell and they were excited
to tell it to us.
Unfortunately, it turns out that these guys had not
checked into The Bahamas at all. You have to clear customs at the
first point of entry or the first land you touch within 24 hours of
entry. They had gotten fuel at 3 other islands in The Bahama chain
and never checked in with customs & immigration. They told us
that 40 police officers, immigration officers and even the DEA came down to meet
them. They were in BIG trouble!! The officers tore
their boat apart looking for drugs. They cut all of the seats,
carpeting and turned everything upside down. As far as we know
they did not find anything, but these guys were told they could be fined
$10,000.00 for not checking in, plus 30 days in jail, and also they
could take the boat and confiscate it. As we left the harbor these
guys were still sweating it out and had been there for 2 days. The
Bahamas is not the quickest pace to start with, that is part of the
attraction, but in the case of these 2 guys there was definite foot
dragging going on. Who knows maybe we'll see them again on our
Before we departed Matthew's Town we were able to
fuel up, find an internet cafe next door and were taken to see the
flamingos. We saw the beautiful pink birds from a distance.
We also saw a young couple of feral donkeys and learned that they had
wild cows, goats, donkeys etc... on the island from folks who had
lived there hundreds of years before. They have many fresh water
sources on Great Inagua.
It was strange that the latin men and everyone else
that we asked told us there was no market or store on the island and as
we went to see the flamingos we passed 2 stores a bakery and a liquor
store. It seemed no one wanted our business and we did not get to
explore much of this beautiful town.
We set sail on Wednesday at 3pm for a couple of
days sail to Jamaica-Mon. We passed so close to Cuba you could
smell the cigars. Down through the Windward Passage we go between
Cuba and Haiti, Travelin' South.
The crew & Capt. Mark have been great.
The camaraderie is evident and everyone is chipping in. It has
been a truly win-win experience with a great bunch of people! God