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Dec '96   July '97   January '98   July '98   March '99   June 2000

July '97

January found Ventana in Charleston, South Carolina.  With freezing temperatures and no efficient heating system onboard getting south fast was a priority. We spent 10 chilly days underway down the Intracoastal Waterway and finally took off our long underwear when we got to Melbourne, Florida. 

While in Melbourne we toured the nearby NASA Space Center. Seeing the Space Shuttle on its launch pad being readied for its next mission was very impressive. But the space shuttle looked like a child's toy compared to NASA's newest exhibit which had just opened a few weeks earlier. The massive Saturn 5/Apollo Rocket which took our astronauts to the moon was 365 feet long- more than the length of a football field. Seeing this giant rocket from a few feet away and realizing it is nearly all highly explosive fuel was a sobering thought. It certainly brought back memories of 1969 watching fuzzy pictures on TV as Neil Armstrong walked down the steps of the lunar landing module and man first walked on the moon.

In West Palm Beach, Florida we waited for a "weather window" to cross the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is like a northerly flowing river of water in the ocean just off the east coast. With a north wind blowing opposite the current the waves become very uncomfortable, so we waited for a southerly wind or light west wind. After a week the weather got better and we departed at 3 am (or zero dark thirty as sailors sometimes call it) for the Bahamas. By 3 pm the next afternoon we were tied to a dock in the Bahamas. Within minutes of arriving some cruisers on a nearby boat had given us 4 good size fish for dinner. That night with fresh fish on the BBQ rum drink in hand and Jimmy Buffet singing in the background, we knew we were back to our cruising life. After four months the nightmare of Dee's accident seemed to be receding a bit from our lives.

In the typical fashion of cruisers we quickly became friends with 2-3 other boats we had talked to on the radio during our Gulf Stream crossing. Together we had a great evening out in Lucaya (near Freeport, Bahamas) The highlight of the evening was watching a limbo performer we had seen the year before. He starts his show with a waist high limbo stick and ends by going under a burning limbo stick perched only 8" in the air balanced on two beer bottles!!

From Lucaya we sailed south to the Berry Islands. On the way there we assisted via radio a young Canadian couple on a very small boat who had broken their mast while crossing the Gulf Stream. Without a mast their boat had no s ails to propel or steady them and the boat was pitching wildly in the seas. They began motoring with their outboard and were hoping their fuel would hold out until they got to the Berrys. As our courses merged we were able to guide them into an anchorage.

We spent the next week again waiting for weather but the wait was spent anchored by ourselves off a beautiful white sand beach where we passed several lazy afternoons reading and sipping green coconuts. A green coconut is about 10" in diameter and contains about a quart of sweet delicious water. What we get in the US is the inside nut of a mature coconut.

After a few days in Nassau we were back in the Exumas where we had spent the previous winter. One morning coming into the anchorage on Highborne Cay Rob spotted a 10' Colorado flag flying from an Island Packet (same type boat as ours).

Aboard was a Denver family we had met in the Chesapeake in 1995. They had just recently sold their Denver home and were living aboard with their two young children. Phil Robinson, the owner was a masterful musician (guitar, violin, mandolin) and that night began what was to be many blissful evenings sitting on a beach under the stars listening to Phil sing and play. We snorkeled for lobster and. grouper and enjoyed days of exploring with Phil & Jennifer's kids Mike (4) & Phil Jr (5).

Returning to Georgetown, Exumas was like a homecoming of sorts. As we had in 1996 we spent over 6 weeks there with old and new friends. Since we had departed there in May of 1996 we had sailed nearly 5,000 miles. The highlights of Georgetown were visits by Rob's brother Marty & Family and our friends Phil & Karen Freedman from Vail. Georgetown is the winter home of many cruising families with children being taught through home school programs. This year for the first time a graduation ceremony was held on the beach for four seniors. It was the most moving graduation either of us had ever attended. In addition to a keynote speaker each of the parents and each of the students also spoke on what the day meant to them. The most insightful was one student's remarks of how she had met other cruisers some of whom were bank presidents and others who were mechanics- and how she never knew which were which- nor did it matter.

Rob's friend Jack was on a 25 foot boat he bought for $ 2,000 and since he started receiving his small social security check last year he commented that he didn't have a care in the world. In fact he was one of the happiest people in Georgetown and from his $ 2,000 boat he saw the same glorious sunsets as everyone else.

Going from the Bahamas to the Caribbean is directly against winds and currents and we had a long haul ahead of us. It was nearly May 1st when we left Georgetown and we had to go almost to South America before hurricane season started July 1. Leaving Georgetown we sailed for 6 days and 5 nights in the Atlantic to make a landfall on the West coast of Puerto Rico. This was our longest passage so far in Ventana.. It was the first 6 days of what was to be nearly a month and a half of strong
winds and heavy seas right on our nose. Puerto Rico was a big change from the Bahamas. Real grocery stores and shopping malls just like the US. We even ate at a Burger King. It was nice to rent a car to tour the island and stock up on groceries at US type prices. From Puerto Rico we worked our way east to the Virgin Islands and a reunion with friends who had inspired us to go sailing several years before. After a week of snorkeling and scuba diving in the Virgin Islands we made a very speedy trip south through the northern Leeward Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis & Montessarat. The volcano erupting on Montessarat was quiet the day we got there but just a week later it erupted again, further burying the town closing the airport and unfortunately killing people in nearby villages.

In Guadaloupe we had delightful scuba diving from the boat, and enjoyed a hike up into the steep green hills. On one hike we gorged ourselves on wild mangoes, coconuts, papayas & limes with plenty left to take back to the boat. Buying mangoes is expensive- maybe 30 for a dollar!  Iles de Saintes was one of the favorite places we had visited while filming Sailing Quarterly and we enjoyed several days there before moving on.  In Dominica we were able to visit Mike Cook who is going to medical school there.  Mike's family have become good friends who we visited on the Potomac near Washington, DC and have spent two winters with in Georgetown.

As we got into the Windward Islands of the Caribbean we-began to slow down a bit. Rob's birthday was spent in the delightful French Island of Martinique then we spent a week in St. Lucia, working on boat maintenance and enjoying this friendly inexpensive island. In St. Lucia we caught up with 2 other boats we had cruised with earlier in Puerto Rico and the group of us enjoyed comparing notes on our trips south. We quickly passed through St. Vincent and on to Bequia where we caught up with friends on About Time who we have corresponded with regularly but have not seen in nearly 3 years. Lee and Dee on About Time put out a newsletter like this one which had helped Dee & I stay focused on our dream of cruising.  From Bequia we head for the Tobago Cays, one of the most beautiful spots we have ever seen. We were here filming for the very first issue of Sailing Quarterly in 1989 and returning now in our own boat is sweet indeed. The cays are a horseshoe shaped reef that face the Atlantic Ocean. The reef breaks the seas so you sit anchored in a calm millpond while the wind howls in your rigging at 20 knots. In front of you past the reef the Atlantic Ocean stretches unfettered clear to Africa.

From the Tobago Cays we sail overnight to the island of Tobago. Tobago is a beautiful spot only a few miles away from Trinidad and the South American coast. The people here are the friendliest we have encountered anywhere in the Caribbean.  The island is very lush and dotted with bird sanctuaries, forests and beaches. Dinner ashore for two costs $ 10. We plan to spend the next 4-5 months in the Trinidad & Tobago area before heading north back toward the Virgin Islands.

A few excerpts from the log:
 Feb 14- we go around the anchorage putting little packages of valentines hearts in the cockpits of the other boats. 
Feb 24- shot a 5 lb. grouper and a goggle eye snapper.
 Feb 27- explore Shroud cay by dinghy ( our 10' motorized raft) find beach with sand like powdered sugar.
 March 3- snorkel in 3 places in Exuma Nat'l Park see 4 lobsters each 18" long or more. March 10- Spearfishing-  Phil got a 12 lb. grouper.
March 23- SPECTACULAR DAY- group of us spearfishing get 7 lobsters plus 3 fish (Rob got 3 of the lobsters and a grouper). BBQ lobsters on board for dinner while a sing-a-long on the beach 300' away serenades us. We watch the almost total eclipse of the full moon and it's so calm we can see starfish on the bottom 15 feet under the boat. 
April 9- a dolphin begins swimming around the anchorage. We don mask and fins and play with him for 20 minutes. Swimming within a foot of him he is unafraid. He is really playing with us as we spin and dive together but he can't understand why we need to surface for air so frequently. 
May 13- walk into town (Boqueron, Puerto Rico) mangoes free for the picking on every tree.
 May 23- rent a Cessna 172 and go flying around the Virgin Islands. Incredibly beautiful from the air. After traveling so far at about 8 miles an hour flying at 110 knots is exhilarating. Doing a circle over the boat Rob is in 7th heaven.
 June 1 - Leinster Bay while swimming ashore see 3 eagle rays and follow them for 20 minutes as they lazily circle the anchorage. 
June 12 Iles de Saintes- hike up to Fort Napoleon for the incredible view then lunch of French bread and cheese in the town square. 

Of course I've left out the numerous entries such as rolly anchorage, blowing 25 knots all night. Punch hole in dinghy. Spend 3 hours trying to make one phone call. Rebuild wind generator. Rebuild toilet for 3rd time. Depart at 3 am. Troubleshoot battery problem, etc.. etc. In fact rarely a day goes by without a screwdriver or wrench in hand for one maintenance task or another. But the truth is even these tasks provide the satisfaction of knowing we are self- sufficient and can maintain this complex machine. A boat is like a miniature city with its own electric company, water company, sewage company etc.

The reality is that our lives are better and happier than we ever imagined. Corny as it sounds we do pinch ourselves each day.  It's simply hard to believe we spend each day so happy. We focus on loving each other and enjoying every moment of every day. We spend time really trying to communicate with the people we meet.

We would love to share our lifestyle with our friends so join us aboard this summer or meet us in one of the Caribbean islands next winter. Stay aboard or in a hotel ashore while enjoying days exploring from Ventana. Our first Tobago visitor Muriel Leff arrives July I5 and we are ready for more so please check your calendars and plan to spend some island time with us.

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