Adventure Sail to Panama


George Town, Bahamas to Jamaica


September 30, 2007 - October 5, 2007

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 beautiful sunset.  

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 George Town.  

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 try.

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 through.  

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 in.  

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 settlement.

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 journey.

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 is Great!

New Bern Airport with John the flying guru, rearranging our luggage due to our scary liquids and gels -- ooohhhh...

John & Jan drove us to the airport and hung out until our plane left, they are the BEST!!

Finally on our first flight out of New Bern, NC

At the Nassau, Bahamas airport with a 6 hour layover ahead of us

On our layover we found a nice concrete bench.  Backpack makes a good pillow.

We had been up since 3am after going to bed at 1am, we reached Nassau at noon after 3 connections

We arrived at sunset in George Town - at last!  The Exuma islands in the Bahamas.

Ryan & Bradley are 2 of the other charter guests on board the Stray Cat.  Great Guys!!

Finally Peace......

Bahama blue waters as we exit George Town and start the first leg of our journey

Somebody needs a haircut! Miguel!!


Self portrait on the bow of Stray Cat - Mikey!

In his element

Leaving George Town

Stuart & Kate checking the sails, hoping for wind

Oh no! Trouble is at the helm.  Kate on watch. 

Ryan in wet weather, we had quite a bit from G Town to Matthew's Town

Kate telling Mike - "I Got It!"

Capt. Mark got the worst weather most of the time, oh the glory of being Capt!

More wetness

The dark clouds were close behind us

Stuart, one of the crew, he's a Mad Scientist from D.C. and has a lot of experience sailing and also sailing Stray Cat, he's a great teacher!


Our little bird has been landing on deck quite a few times, were not sure what kind he is, but he sure can fly long distances.  We have only seen him way offshore.

Little birdy friend

He would not eat the bread

Mike on wet watch

Capt. Mark reeling in a tuna

Ryan had one break the line

Capt. Mark wrestling for dinner

Here it comes!

Mike has it gaffed and it still has the hook in it's mouth

Tunas are bleeders!  Still holding the gaff...

Almost dead...  Doh!@%*%  he wriggled off and got away! 


Ryan at the helm

Stuart chillin...

Dinghy under cloudy skies

A dead flying fish that had jumped on board while no one was looking

Kate had been lying on top of the fish reading and had no idea it was there, it was a little stinky!  See the wings??!!


They can fly across the water a looooooooonnnnnnnngg way!

The next morning

Stray Cat's mainsail and the moon 



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