Dec '96 July
'97 January '98
July '98 March '99
Life aboard Ventana began on Thanksgiving day 1995. For us the fall always seems to be a time of new beginnings. Our first date was at Thanksgiving of 1979, our marriage was in the fall of 1982, Sailing Quarterly was launched at Thanksgiving of 1988, and in 1995 our cruising life began.
With the kayak and ski gear and a few mementos in storage in Denver and the boat ready after 4 months of prep, the final tie to be cut was selling the Jeep Cherokee in Florida. On January 30, 1996 we sold the Jeep and the slick used car salesman was so inspired by the thought of chucking it all to go cruising he stopped everything else he was doing to drive us back to the marina. We gave him a quick tour of the boat then he untied our
docklines and off we went. With numerous cold fronts joining us our trip south was a bit slow as we waited for weather. Nevertheless the west coast of Florida was beautiful
One highlight was Cabbage Key - one of about 500 restaurants claiming to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett's Cheeseburger in Paradise. We especially enjoyed journeying up the Little Shark River into the mangrove swamps. In a few places we took the dinghy up small mangrove lined creeks until the mangroves completely closed in overhead and we were in a sort of watery tunnel. After crossing Florida Bay we made our way to the Florida Keys.
There we spent a bit of time with our good friend and guidebook author Frank Papy. Then it was off to the Bahamas.
With good winds and a clear night sky we set off at 2 am so we could arrive in Gun Cay the next day in daylight. After clearing in through customs we spent time in Cat Cay, Chubb Cay, and then Nassau. Since our initial departure we had been sailing in company with Eric Root who was single handing his Island Packet 38. Eric- an ex fighter pilot and Rob found great company discussing flying and exchanging tools and ideas on solving the daily boat repairs that inevitably come up. Along the way we met other Island Packets (Ventana is an Island Packet 40), and several other people from Colorado.
Our first stop after Nassau were the uninhabited islands of the Northern Exumas and it finally felt like our cruising life had begun. The water was warm and crystal clear. The beaches were sparkling white sand backed by palm trees and we often had miles of beach to ourselves. We beach combed, snorkeled got chased by the iguanas, and got to know Ventana. At Norman Cay we had a reunion with our friends Roger and Carol Webster with whom we had spent 4 months at the dock in Florida as we outfitted our boat. Roger and Carol have been cruising for years and own an Island Packet 38 named Androsian. Carol is one of those inspiring women who can sail the boat as well as her husband, and Roger had helped Rob with many outfitting decisions for Ventana. Now it was a chance to learn more from them as they taught us how to find and clean conch and the finer points of mixing Bahamian rum punch.
From Norman Cay Rob was also able to finally use the long distance SSB radio to reach our friends Frank & Marina Buffer aboard Noella. Frank & Marina were at Norman Island 1,000 miles away in the Virgin Islands. Frank & Marina were featured in 2 issues of Sailing Quarterly and had been a big inspiration to us to quit the business life and go cruising. It was especially gratifying to tell them we were actually out there on our own boat living the life they had shown us was possible.
From there we continued south to our winter base of Georgetown Great Exuma. Along the way we made good friends with Tim & Cathy from New Moon. Cathy complained that she was sick of eating all the lobster Tim caught. Tim showed Rob how to troll for
fish and what a difference he made. Up til now we had bee n dragging a fishing lure nearly everywhere and had not even had a single bite. Finally Rob said, "Ok, I'm going to rig it exactly like Tim showed me." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the reel was zinging out as a 25 lb dorado hit the lure. From then on we caught fish nearly every day we trolled. Better still Tim next taught Rob how to spearfish for lobster, Nassau grouper and other delights of the sea. In Georgetown most of our days were spent with our many new friends snorkeling, fishing, exploring, playing volleyball and trying to enjoy every minute of every day. Our snorkeling expeditions usually resulted in plenty of lobster and fish which we cooked aboard with friends from other boats. Often we had more than we could
eat so we would invite other boats for a beach BBQ. Richard aboard St. Somewhere was an excellent chef - he kept his recipes a secret but was always on hand to apply his special marinade and supervise. The evenings often ended around a beach campfire with a few people pulling out guitars. If we were feeling a bit more lively it would be dancing at the Two Turtles or Eddies Edgewater cafe. Eddies excelled at dances called a "rake & scrape". As the name implies the instruments were made from washtubs, saws, washboards, and drums.
In Georgetown we were joined by two different groups of friends from Denver and it was fun to show them what our lives were like on board. Coming from Colorado's winter weather they basked in the Bahamian sun and relished the slower pace of life aboard.
In one anchorage we shared a beautiful cove with only two other boats. After a brief conversation we learned that the captain of one of the boats had also gone to Whiteman School in Steamboat Springs from where Rob graduated. Amazingly the captain from the 3rd boat was on the board of trustees of Whiteman and Rob had lived at the home of his sister & brother-in law. Considering the school only has about 50 students per year this coincidence was amazing.
Leaving Georgetown we headed off to the Exumas Land and Sea Park, Conception Island, Little San Salvador, Eleuthera and the Abacos. We often sailed in company with friends from Union Jock, Crimson Lady and Anakonda.
From the Abacos we had a 3 day sail back to the US where we met Rob's parents in Hilton Head. It was definitely a bit of culture shock but we did enjoy the fine restaurants and going to a movie theater. From Hilton Head we explored the Intracoastal waterway and east coast of the US. High points were Ocracoke Island for July 4th, and renting a plane to fly into the Wright Brothers memorial airstrip at Kitty Hawk,
N.C. Next it was sailing into New York Harbor and past the Statue of Liberty. After a few days in the city and several Broadway shows we motored past Wall Street the World Trade Center and up the East River to Long Island Sound.
Rob's brother Marty joined us for 2 days of sailing on Long Island Sound and a visit to cousins on Long Island. In Connecticut we were hosted by Bob from Anakonda who let us stay at his yacht club then drove us all over to find various boat parts.
We enjoyed sailing into Newport, Rhode Island the sailing capital of the US. After seeing friends there and hearing a waterside concert from our cockpit it was on to Maine. Sailing in the fog presented new challenges and we had lots of fun rendezvousing with Gary Jobson and racing aboard his classic wooden schooner Silver Heels. In Bangor Dee was able to see an old friend from college and visit her birthplace. In Camden Rob was able to look up an old friend not seen in 25 years.
Next stop was south to Martha's Vineyard for Dee's family reunion. 20 family members showed up and enjoyed seeing each other and going sailing. Just before we launched SQ we had gone for an inspirational sail with Dee's uncle Hugh aboard his boat. Now it was a real pleasure to return the favor by taking Hugh out for a sail on Ventana. Hugh and Dee's aunts had all been sailing on the waters of Vineyard Sound for over 60 years. We had over 250 years of sailing experience aboard Ventana that day!! With seeing family and our friends Eric & Adrienne & Jessica we had plenty of excitement on the Vineyard but little did we know more was on the way. Hurricane Edouard was headed right for us.
Fearing the harbor's crowded mooring field we opted to go inside Lagoon Pond and rely on our own anchors. We stripped the boat of her headsails and all the canvas and movable items on deck. Next we set 3 anchors including our 80
lb. storm anchor. For days we had been tracking the storm and now the eye was headed to hit Nantucket Island only 37 miles away from us. After spending 12 hours preparing the boat and ourselves we had done everything we could think of doing. Towards dusk the harbormaster came by and suggested we leave the boat and take shelter ashore. I was unsure what we could do once the storm started but Ventana is our home and had so far brought us through plenty -to desert her didn't seem right. From sunset on we alternated anchor watches so we would quickly know if we started to drag toward shore. Every few hours through the night Rob went on deck to check the lines for chafing. The wind built past 40 knots then 50 knots then over 60 knots. The weather reports said the storm was moving farther away from us to the east but then the wind topped 70 knots. Ventana bounced and pulled at her anchor lines but everything held. When the eye went past us it got calm and actually serene but then came the second half of the storm even stronger. Ashore some trees were down and some power out. We watched a few boats near us drag their moorings and get blown ashore. On the radio we listened anxiously as the harbormaster tried to save a few boats that were drifting and pounding each other badly. Toward dawn things calmed down and we felt we had made it OK. Then around 10 am it blew the hardest so far and people ashore reported
90 knots plus. By mid afternoon people were out and about and everyone -began the cleanup process. For us it took 2 more days to put everything together and head south to the Chesapeake Bay.
Dee enjoyed reading Michener's book Chesapeake while we cruised through the famous locales in the book. Especially enjoyable was sailing up the Potomac to Washington, DC and anchoring only a few blocks from the Smithsonian. Next stop was Annapolis for the big boatshow. Unfortunately our plans to head for the Caribbean on Nov 3rd were about to be changed. On the
1st day of the boatshow Dee was struck by a car while in the crosswalk walking across the street. She was taken to Baltimore where she spent 12 days in the critical care unit with a head injury. Upon leaving the hospital we decided that getting on the boat and heading offshore was out of the question. Fortunately we found "you can go home again". We went to Denver to stay with Rob's parents and so Dee could get back on her feet in a warm loving shoreside environment. It's now been nearly 2 months since Dee's accident and she is well recovered. We had planned to return to Colorado for Christmas so things are not too off schedule anyway. After spending Christmas week in Vail skiing we plan to return to our boat and head south. Fortunately Dee's uncle Hugh and cousin Pam volunteered to move Ventana south for us from Baltimore to Charleston. Our new plan is to head from Charleston to Florida and then back to the Bahamas by late January. After that who knows.... stay tuned.
One of the highlights of cruising is hearing from friends so please write, or leave a message on our voice mail. Even better we love showing our friends the exotic places we call home so let us know if you can meet us somewhere along the way.
Happy Holidays and have a great 97
Rob & Dee