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Month: March 2017

First Days in the Bahamas! Exploring Alice Town, Bimini

First Days in the Bahamas! Exploring Alice Town, Bimini

We made it! We motored into the crowded anchorage as the sun was getting low. We were relieved, excited, tired. All the work, planning, and preparation to be ready to leave the US, and now here we were ready to explore this chain of islands called the Bahamas. But the Bahamas would have to wait. As the forecast predicted, the next day brought strong winds with gusts in the 30 knot range. Not the worst we’ve experienced, but poor weather for island exploring. We decided at least to explore a jetty of nearby rocks and survey the anchorage by dinghy.

While we waited for the winds to stop howling, we passed the time getting together with the crew from s/v Banana and s/v Totem, whom we sailed with from Ft. Lauderdale.

Haven with Behan from s/v Totem

Finally, the winds quieted, the waves calmed and we decided to explore the island of Bimini. A small island, the north end where we anchored, is home to a large resort and casino, so it didn’t feel like we had traveled to an exotic little getaway. But it still had its treasures: the water being one of them. An array of blue, green, clear and turquoise jewel tones, the water absolutely beckons to all who have the privilege of seeing it.

The day before we planned to leave Bimini for The Berry Islands, we decided to take a day to walk around Alice Town and swim in the sparkling turquoise water. Our walk proved to be very interesting. The stark contrast between the resort section of the island where we happened to be anchored, and Alice Town was surprising and a little uncomfortable. On one side stood a towering resort; popular music flowed out of the casino, a beautiful fountain gushed in the middle of a pool. As we walked to the other side of the island, we walked through an arced entrance separating the resort section from the rest of the community.

Alice Town is beautiful in its own way. It has the flavor of a town straddling two worlds: it’s an easy jump from the United States, but it’s also it’s own country, with a distinct island culture.

We walked through the narrow streets, stopping for cars or golf carts driving by. The buildings were small, but colorful. The people were very friendly, smiling and waving to each passerby was very common. We stopped by a house with a bakery sign posted in the window. We opened the door and walked in to see a lady at her kitchen table, food simmering in the background. She greeted us and we bought a loaf of bread stored in a plastic tote under her window. As we left, she gave the girls a warm chocolate chip cookie, fresh from her oven. A very different experience for us- but wonderful and tasty too!

We heard their was a library nearby, something I was eager to see, but this was not the kind of library the girls and I were used to!

I was really glad we took the time to see more of the island before we continued on our journey. The Berry Islands was a long hop from Bimini, over 80 miles, but we were looking forward to an island more isolated from such a busy port.

Bimini was only the beginning of our sojourn, but I am really glad we got to experience this little island!

Our Gulf Stream Crossing

Our Gulf Stream Crossing

Sunrise on the ocean

Wednesday, March 22 was the day. The seas were forecasted to be calm, winds almost nonexistent. Our provisions were bought and stored in lockers, our belongings stowed securely, the engine check was complete and we were exhausted…but ready to embark on a new leg of our journey- to the Bahamas!

We set our alarm for 6:15 am, plenty of time to get ready for our 7am departure from Ft. Lauderdale to meet a bridge at its opening at 7:30am. Unfortunately, we awoke to the emerging sun and a dead cell phone at 6:55am! We scrambled, but were able to pull up anchor and leave the anchorage just a couple minutes past the hour. It was a sleepy cool, calm morning; a perfect day to cross the gulf stream.

The view from our cockpit
As we leave the inlet, heading out into the sea
The gulf stream is a current of fast moving, warm water in the ocean that flows north along the east coast of the United States. It flows at an average speed of three knots, and can be tricky to cross. Winds from the north can create large dangerous swells, winds from the east means your boat will be beating into the wind, both scenarios create a very uncomfortable ride and should be avoided. We wanted winds from the south or west, and we had a very light west wind, which was perfect. However, Thursday was forecasted to bring in high winds, so we had just one day to cross and find a protected anchorage to wait out the coming nasty weather. One day would be more than enough, since we were anticipating the trip to take us about 10-11 hours.
As we left the inlet and headed out into the ocean, the waves gently rocked our boat, a unique motion that we were becoming familiar with.
The sea
Mommy and the girls relaxing in the cockpit
s/v Totem up ahead
 So what do our passage days look like? I (Brittany) have come to really enjoy passage days, provided of course I have taken a little motion sickness medication. Passage days, whether on the ICW or the ocean are different from our normal days. Chores are put on pause, cooking is light, school is done only if the girls want to. Mostly we spend time in the cockpit, keeping Daddy company, excitedly looking at all the new scenery, keeping our eyes peeled for birds, fish and especially dolphins.
Passage days on the ocean are especially laid back. The motion medication makes Marlee and me drowsy, so I take time for a couple of short naps and the girls will usually sleep longer in the afternoon too. I like to spend most of my time in the cockpit, feeling the rush of the ocean breeze on my skin, watching the waves and documenting our adventures with my camera.
This trip, the girls were really excited to try out their new tethers and harnesses. The harnesses we bought, but we made their tethers out of very strong webbing. They loved being able to roam the cockpit without the bulkiness of a lifejacket, but still feeling secure.
Marlee, deep in thought, watching the sea
The harnesses wrap around their torso, and the tether is attached to a jackline running along the floor of the cockpit. The tether is attached to the harness in the middle of their chest with a strong, locking carabineer.
Hannah with her harness on
Our little monkeys
Besides having small toys out for them to play with in the cockpit, I’ll have play dough or coloring books ready to go on the table. I’ll also usually set up a movie for them on our computer during ocean passages, and they also love reading books on my Kindle.
Reading a book in my Kindle

On this trip we got a fun surprise! It was still morning, we were motoring and enjoying the sapphire blue water when we saw something flutter over our heads. At first we thought it was a butterfly, but then Mike spotted it, a tiny bird that landed on one of our lines!

Hello little bird

This adorable bird stayed on our stern for about a half an hour. We wondered where he had come from and what he was doing so far from land. But soon enough, we saw another little bird, just like himself, fly towards us and they flit and fluttered off together. We had fun the rest of the day making up stories about this cute little creature!

Soon we noticed we had lost speed; we were entering the gulf stream. Because we were going east, we anticipated that we would lose a little time in the gulf stream; its fast moving current would hinder our movement. But since our winds were from the west and very light, we didn’t have the large uncomfortable swells that would have formed in different conditions. It was a very pleasant ride.

Later we noticed that we were gaining speed once again and could assume that we were leaving the push of the gulf stream.

As we finally neared the island of Bimini in the Bahamas we raised a little yellow flag on our starboard spreader: our quarantine flag. This displays to all that we have just arrived and have not yet reported to customs to check in.

As we rounded the little island and began looking for our anchorage, we couldn’t believe the bright turquoise clear water! It was shades of light green, blue-green and clear turquoise. It was like looking at a swimming pool, and we could spy sea grass all the way at the bottom! The girls were exclaiming in delight over the bright sparkling sea.

It took us more than an hour that first evening, to find the perfect spot to drop anchor, but eventually we did and we could relax after a long day of travel. But we were here! We had made it to the Bahamas! We knew strong, high winds and rain were coming our way, but we hoped that soon we could experience all the treasures this island, and others could offer!

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Just a fraction of our total provisions

It’s crunch time! We’re making lists and checking them twice, and no we’re not getting ready for the Christmas holiday. We’re getting ready for our first jaunt out of the country and into Bahamian waters! That means for this family of five, we’re shopping and storing all kinds of food and other items to use while we are there. But why? Don’t they eat in the Bahamas? Don’t they have grocery stores? Yes!

It will take two days to arrive at our proposed first destination, Nassau, Bahamas. It’s always a good idea to have extra food on board for a passage, since it takes time to get where you are going and get acquainted with the nearby stores. But what we have heard and read about the Bahamas is that their food is expensive! We’ve heard cruiser horror stories of a single bell pepper costing $8.00, and a few meager vegetables costing as much as a entire cart full back home.

Friends of ours, a family of three cruising the Bahamas currently on their sailboat, s/v Sandflea, gave us some interesting advice. He said,

“Go to the store and don’t come out until you’ve spent $1,000.”

He warned us of small jars of peanut butter costing $9.00, a simple loaf of bread for $6.00 and a package of Oreos for $12.00! We’ve read especially that snack foods can be very expensive so we were told to be sure to bring your own with you. (Check out all the adventures of s/v Sandflea here!)

We’re planning on exploring the breathtaking islands in the far Bahamas first then possibly making our way back to the Abacos. We don’t want to rush, so we’re expecting to use up the remaining months of cruising season in the Bahamas (2-3 month trip) before finding a protected nook to wait out hurricane season, most likely on the east coast. So our food buying has been based around this number- at least 8 weeks of provisions.

We were able to make one trip to Sam’s with the help of a friend’s car
Getting it on board is not the easiest!

So what are we storing and where do we store it? Besides the non-food items like sunscreen, bug spray, motion sickness medicine (as well as a medical kit with bandages and other medicines), toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaners, we are storing mostly non-perishable items plus some cold items in our freezer. Our freezer doesn’t truly freeze so we’re not stocking up on fresh meats. Our freezer is currently stocked with a ridiculous amount of cheese in all forms(shredded, bar, sliced), a little turkey sausage and butter (with a bag of ice on top). Our fridge holds the rest of the butter, lots of eggs, fresh vegetables and a little meat, as well as condiments.

For those who wants more detail, here are some amounts of things we have stowed:

Non-perishable:

  • 15 boxes of cereal (variety)
  • 3 boxes of pancake mix
  • 4 canisters quick oats
  • 2 bottles of honey
  • Peanut butter, 6 jars of crunchy and 5 of creamy
  • 3 packages of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 16 Tetra paks of Almond milk
  • 29 cans of fruit (variety)
  • 5 large jars of unsweetened applesauce
  • 5 packages of raisins
  • 1 large bag of almonds
  • 2 large family size boxes of Ritz crackers plus a box of saltines
  • 9 cans of chicken breast in water
  • 19 cans of black beans
  • 16 cans of corn
  • 7 cans of baked beans

This doesn’t include staples like flour, sugar, rice, juice, other canned meats and vegetables, plus a few packages of cookies, graham crackers, dried fruit, chips, and granola bars.

Plus perishable items like:

 

  • 5 dozen eggs
  • 9 boxes of butter (4 sticks in each box)
  • 2 half gallon containers of cold Almond milk

We also have a large gear hammock stocked with fresh produce: a bag of apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, plus avocados, onions, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and spaghetti squash. In the fridge we keep carrots, sliced cantaloupe and broccoli.

You can quickly tell what is important to us! Peanut butter, butter, beans, fruit and cereal! Every family will have their own things that they like and want to have while cruising.

Counting, sorting…
I have the best helper!
Moving the rice into zip lock bags

So where do we store all this food? We have a good amount of storage on our boat, but it’s an art to learning where and how to store things safely and easy to get to.

Under the cushions on our settees, there are lids that open to deep lockers where we store almost all of our non-perishables. We have storage under both our settees on either side of our table.

One of our settees
The lockers where we store our food

We also have a tall locker in the “hallway” before entering the girl’s v-berth, where we store some food items, white vinegar and the many diapers and wipes we keep on board.

We are the rarer breed of cruiser in that we have two small children and an infant on board. That means a lot of diapers. We keep diapers for Haven (1 year old) Hannah (3 years old) for night and nap time and even for our oldest (6 years old) occasionally for nighttime.

On board we have stocked over 1,500 wipes, over 250 infant diapers and almost 60 pull-ups! I’m hoping this is enough!

 

 

It’s a lot of work: shopping, carrying bags back in the dinghy, wiping all cans clean of salt water and removing labels, stowing and keeping track of what’s on the boat. But it’s fun too! We’re gearing up for an experience, an adventure that we will remember forever!

{For those who want to know how we calculated how much food we needed, we used this spreadsheet here.}

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

 

Walking in Norfolk, Virginia

There have been a few stops along our journey cruising down the east coast of the United States, that my husband and I have paused long enough from traversing the constant challenges of this new way of being, to sit and stare at each other in amazement and ask “how did we get here?”

It was only one year ago. Only one year ago that the thought of sea, sand, salt and wind came into our hearts. The idea that God had more; more life existed just beyond the edge of our comfort zone. Just beyond the edge of the familiar. Something we couldn’t name, but only imagine. Something waiting for us to discover.

And now here we are. A family of sojourners on the sea.

Discovering the sea

Nearly five months in; just over 1,000 miles traveled and we’re still new and often clumsy, like toddlers learning how to walk. We’ve slowly made our way down Florida’s east coast, and now we’re preparing to leave the States for the first time as cruisers. Bahamas bound!

But what is our purpose here? What is the reason we call this boat home? What is the reason our sights are set on distant islands? Is it a selfish pursuit as some thought before we left? Is it dangerous as others claimed? Are we missionaries? Are we on a sabbatical? Are we running away from our responsibilities? We’ve heard it all.

The truth is, this wasn’t our dream. This wasn’t something we planned, or thought of, or dreamed about as the years of our life ticked by. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it was an idea birthed in us by God. An idea that sprouted and grew when it seemed leaving everything behind was against all common sense.

It was only 11 months from conception to reality. 11 months from hearing God whisper to unpacking boxes on a sailboat in Virginia.

Our little floating home

 

Our purpose at the beginning of this journey and our purpose now is to follow God wherever he may lead. To live our lives in reckless pursuit of the knowledge of God and to abandon our lives to what we discover in that pursuit. Living and traveling on a sailboat was the path God placed before us, and we followed. In doing so, we had to cling to our faith with each new step, and little by little, we saw evidence of God’s hand in the process. From the selling of our houses, to the finding of our boat, to the timing of our leaving, God was leading us deeper into trust in him, and expanding our vision of who he is.

Throughout the first few months planning this adventure, God spoke to me about Abraham. His story spoke loudly to me. God told him, “Go, and I will bless you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised him a purpose for his going, an outcome Abraham could not fathom at the start of his journey. But he believed God and became God’s friend (James 2:23). But first he had to obey and go.

Abraham’s story is my story. It’s the story of all people who are willing to believe God. To believe God can and will do incredible things for those whose hearts will trust him.

For me (Brittany), time away from all that is familiar has forced me to draw my comfort from other places. It has forced me to look at my weaknesses and required me to accept the things that are difficult, but I cannot change. This isn’t easy. I can’t change the way some may feel about our decision. I can’t tell them when we’ll be back because I do not even know that myself. I can’t reassure them that we’ll never get hurt, either. Cruising is not always easy. But I am using this time to draw deeper into God’s word, and I know with certainty that my purpose is rooted in exactly that. The more I meditate on his truth, with the beauty of his creation all around me, I am filled with a single minded mission: to tell others the story that God is telling. His story is a story for all of us, and it is overwhelmingly good. It’s his story, his purpose that I am on a mission to discover- in his word and in this journey. And everyday he writes a little bit more: Another gorgeous sunrise. Another day when a stranger becomes a friend. Another port left, and another one reached.

A fellow sailor

It required faith to leave. It requires faith to remain. There is much ahead, but we can only take one step at a time.

So far, we have been rewarded with sunsets akin to wildfires, playful dolphins leaping right before us, friendly faces, humbling generosity from others, and moments when we knew the presence of God was with us. We are challenged and inspired to be a family that can work together better, traveling the emotional seas of raising children, being a wife or husband and maintaining our own identity and space with grace and love.

I look forward to the connections we will make with people, cruisers and locals, people who we are always on the lookout to encourage and tell God’s story to. Connections that encourage us too. Connections that could turn into life long friendships.

We are grateful to be on this path. It is one that we hope to be on for a long time. We pray often that God will direct our steps, and we are confident that he is doing just that, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some may be thinking, do you need to sail around the world to follow the call of God? Of course not. You must hear his voice for yourself, walking in relationship with your Creator. He could speak to you in an office cubicle, in a minivan, at school, or at your kitchen table.

But…

There is something wild about God. He lives in the deep places; the places only arrived at by faith. He isn’t far away, but he isn’t safe either. He often calls his people to follow him, where he is, to places mysterious, perhaps dangerous, but always full of wonder. That is where we want to go. To the unknown places where there is more of God to be revealed. More exquisite beauty, more people to connect with, more creatures to marvel at, and more of everything that God wants to share with us.

 

Thank you for following us on our journey! Connect with me on Instagram @familyatsea or on Facebook! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Cost of Cruising: Our February 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our February 2017 Budget

Finally a budget I am proud to share! This is much more representative of where we’d like to settle in as far as spending money goes. We’ve also been so encouraged by YOU- your comments to us that sharing our budget with you has helped you plan for your own cruising adventure! Thank you! It can be so hard to plan for something when you have no idea what it will be like. Granted, it will be different for each family, but we’re glad we can share a little piece of what we’re doing, helping others realize that you do not have to be wealthy to go cruising.

Motor sailing about 1.5 miles off shore

The amount of money we’re spending each month is going down, which is exactly what we want it to do and what we’ve been told is typical. You’ll spend a lot in the beginning (maybe even more than we have) but that it will get easier and hopefully cheaper as the months progress. Here’s the details of the month of February:

All amounts are in US dollars for a family of five

Dock fees (actually mooring fees) $195.65 – After spending a crazy amount on docks in December, we vowed never to do that again. We anchored the entire month of January, but this month we ended up being moored for a short period of time. A mooring ball is a floating ball attached by rope to something really heavy in the water. It’s not going anywhere. Then, you attach your boat to a rope on the floating ball. Moorings are cheaper than tying up to a dock, but you still get access to the marina (their showers, lounge and washers/dryers). It’s a good compromise if you don’t want to be anchored, but don’t want to spend the money on docks. And dock fees in south Florida can be really expensive! The moorings we’ve used can be anywhere from $15.00 to $40.00 a day. We also spend a little on dinghy dock fees. Basically, when you are anchored and want to go to shore or use a nearby marina, they ask you to pay a fee just to tie your dinghy up. Sometimes this fee includes access to their showers and laundry facilities, sometimes not.

Ft. Lauderdale

Groceries $813.93 – This includes about $155 worth of groceries we put away in long term storage for our planned cruise to the Bahamas. We’ve heard food is really expensive there, so we want to stock up on some essentials and foods that might be hard to find.

Eating out $148.08 – This is a little much for us on eating out. We can usually comfortably have a couple of meals out a month for less than $100.

Boat parts and projects $207.87

Cash $50.00 – $20 of this was changed into quarters and used for laundry. This amount is typical if we do some laundry by hand on the boat as well. $12.00 of this cash was also used for two different dinghy dock fees.

Cell phone $80.04 – One phone for me and my husband with unlimited data plan.

Insurance $0 – Still in the market for an affordable travel insurance.

Marlee’s Birthday $26.76 – A few party supplies and a trip to Funderdome!

An indoor playground for Marlee’s birthday

Kindle books $12.83 – Paid for one month of kindle unlimited (kind of like a digital library service) plus a couple of .99 books.

Web hosting $12.74 – for our two websites, Family at Sea and my land based blog, The Gentle Home.

EZ pass $12.00 – an EZ tag fee we needed to pay.

Total = $1,559.90