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A Perfect Way to Say Goodbye to the Bahamas

A Perfect Way to Say Goodbye to the Bahamas

Spanish Wells was amazing, but our two weeks at the private dock was coming to an end and we had a decision to make: Keep going south (knowing that meant a longer return trip to Florida) or start heading back to the States.

Since the conception of this idea to go cruising in January of 2016, we have always sought to hear the still small voice of God and lean on any direction he was giving us at the time. You may think God doesn’t care about cruising plans or whether we go north or south, east or west. Many people think his guidance only matters if you are a missionary, traveling the world carrying Bibles in your backpack. But that is a perspective we do not share. Our goal isn’t to over spiritualize every little thing, but at the same time we don’t want to disregard the obvious presence of God in the details of our life. God definitely cares about the details, and we believe that means more than compulsory attendance to a religious service. It means more than dropping an offering in a basket, and it means more than trudging through an earthly life hoping to get to a heavenly one.

Like a tour guide, we know we can point out the presence of God to others wherever we happen to be. We believe God can direct us to people we are supposed to meet, conversations he wants us to have, a place he wants us to see, a city he wants us to pray for, an opportunity he wants us to take part in. We’ve seen God do amazing things in the smallest of circumstances, and we’ve seen God bring small things together in a really big way. It’s a life we would not want to have any other way. Because of this, we try not to have solid plans, plans that make it impossible for God to redirect us.

Getting ready to leave Spanish Wells, I (Brittany) began feeling uncharacteristically unsettled. As much as we loved the Bahamas, and even though we had plans to meet another cruising family, I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that we shouldn’t continue our travels south. Mike and I prayed about it and waited to see how the next few days would unfold. Would we even have the weather windows to travel back to Florida? Would the other cruising family understand that we wanted to change our plans? (They did, of course). It turns out the week ahead of us held a wonderful weather window for traveling west. Very little wind and calm seas were the forecast, and we knew if we didn’t take that weather window, we would have no idea how long we would wait for another. We didn’t feel like waiting, so we decided to begin the four day journey back to Florida’s east coast.

Egg Island

Our first day leaving Spanish Wells was a short day, positioning ourselves off Egg Island to shorten the next day’s mileage. There we met another kid boat anchored near us and we invited them to Egg Island’s beach for the evening. The evening turned out to be a magical night (except for the incessant NO-SEE-UMS!) talking with the Mom and Dad on s/v Salt Shaker, hearing their stories and watching our kids play freely on this unpopulated island.

A tree swing, a sign of past cruising kids on the island

The mom on s/v Salt Shaker showing Haven the water

My husband, Mike, surprised me by making a little fire on the beach, something I told him I really wanted to do while cruising. We made very messy, but delicious s’mores on the beach using the half bag of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars I was saving especially for a night like this.

Everyone helped to make the fire

Each cruising family we meet is special!

The crew on s/v Salt Shaker brought a treat for us too, firecrackers!

Firecrackers!

A spontaneous gathering with another sweet cruising family, decadent s’mores, sparkling fireworks…all on empty beach with the sun sinking behind dense trees- every bit of this night was beautiful.

We didn’t plan this night, and that made it even more perfect. A perfect gift to us as our last time on shore in the Bahamas. The family on s/v Salt Shaker were also headed back to the States, their cruising journey coming to an end and their life on land resuming. A beautiful night for us all to remember. A perfect way to say good-bye to the Bahamas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Sunset near Great Harbor Cay

Bimini would soon be behind us as we set off for our longest day passage yet- 83 miles that took 12 hours of motor sailing. We were ready to discover a more unknown side of the Bahamas, the Berry Islands. They are less traveled and underestimated as a cruising ground, but worth the stunning views.

The first evening, daylight was slowly fading and we didn’t have enough sun to make our way into the anchorage, so we anchored just off the island as the sun was setting. There was nothing but ocean behind us and gorgeous clear waters beneath us. It was probably the most magnificent sunset we’ve seen, and I’m not sure any other will top it.

sunset on the ocean

Our first couple of days on the Berry Islands were a whirlwind of activity. We met a another family through s/v Totem and we tagged along as they showed us the island. We dinghied through dense mangrove canals, sometimes just wide enough (barely!) for one dinghy. We went through a broad, clear turquoise lagoon where sea turtles swam around and under our boat. We walked along beaches, saw waves crash over rocks and found some beautiful shells. It was quite the introduction to the island, and we have s/v Mahi to thank for that!

Mangroves! photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The next day, Mike and the girls followed along with s/v Totem and s/v Mahi as they explored the island by car, while I stayed on the boat with Haven. They visited a shallow beach cave, gorgeous beach flats and found some beautiful marine life.

when the tide is out, the beach is dry and beautifully pattered by waves
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The island is fairly remote. In 2010, the population of the islands was about 800 people. The town near Great Harbor Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “key”) is small. There is no bank, only two small grocery stores (about the size of a gas station mart back home), plus a couple of small restaurants and a marina which brings a lot of boats to the area.

visiting the first local grocery store with Carla from s/v Mahi and Behan from s/v Totem
the second store

I bought a bag of fresh fruits there and felt content that we still had more than we needed. After all, we had a fridge stocked with butter, plenty of cheese, some sausage, vegetables and a freezer that kept things even colder for longer. Plus we had lockers packed with canned foods, grains of all kinds, desserts and snacks.

After a few days at Great Harbor Cay, we traveled around to Hawk’s Nest Cay to be closer to our destination of Eleuthera when we were ready to cross. We met another boat family and decided to hang out on the gorgeous, pristine beaches for a few extra days. There was no marina there, just nearby a little restaurant on the other side of the beach. And that is where our fridge catastrophically broke.

a rough passage to Hawk’s Nest Cay
the waters at Hawk’s Nest Cay were breathtaking

It had been showing signs of malfunction back in Florida, and Mike, being the handy man that he is, had been tinkering with it since then, trying to get it to begin functioning normally again. It was cycling too often and not maintaining a cold temperature, but eventually, it would always get cold again. It was a minor annoyance until we were anchored in a beautiful, but remote part of the Berry Islands. There, its temperature skyrocketed and it was officially done being a fridge.

We quickly gave the bulk of our cheese (one huge block, one huge bag of shredded, and a few blocks of cream cheese) to our friends traveling with us. We kept a little cheese that we knew we could eat. We started eating through the 2 dozen eggs we had left and decided to keep the butter, even though we still had a ton. It seemed like the old saying “Cruising is just boat maintenance in exotic locations” was absolutely true, but the fridge finally dying meant that there was one less thing we had to figure out how to fix with only the supplies we had on board. Truthfully, we were relieved!

From our experience so far, embracing the unexpected is an integral part of happy cruising. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Being flexible, changing plans, embracing set backs is all part of this life. It’s a part of every life, but traveling on a boat, it’s a much more daily, in our face reality. One that we are choosing to accept.

Many cruising boats do not have fridges and they get along just fine without it. Now we are experimenting to see if we can do without one too. Bonus for us: we get to keep way more power now that we don’t have a fridge! The fridge and freezer used a lot of power that we made from our solar panels and wind generator. Now we can use that extra power to keep lights and fans on a little longer, and even use the TV that came with the boat!

our favorite recipe that doesn’t need a fridge: energy balls made with peanut butter, oats, and dates

We are buying ice and keeping a few items in the section that used to be our freezer. For now this works for us: keeping a few eggs, a little cheese and butter from melting is all we really need. We mostly cook up pasta, hearty vegetables, rice and beans, potatoes, breads, Mexican dishes using flour or corn tortillas, canned fruit or some fresh fruit and soups with biscuits or sandwiches. Meat is a treat now. When our ice is cold, we may buy meat for one night or eat it when we are out at a restaurant. We certainly appreciate certain foods more now than before!

Haven loves the beach too

We have since moved on to a different island in the Bahamas called Eluethera and are continuing to face challenges and joys. With cruising, there are always opportunities to practice embracing the unexpected!

 

 

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Cruising with our friends on m/v Wanderer

We left Fort Matanzas, taking one day at a time, and made our way south down Florida’s east coast, relishing the slow life. We anchored for one night in Daytona, then stopped for a day in Titusville, a quick rest in Melbourne then on to Vero Beach.

Stretching our legs on land

In Titusville, we were close to the Kennedy Space Center and debated paying to go visit, but with two adults, three kids, two cab rides and food- the price for an outing with the family quickly became cost prohibitive, so we did what we are learning to do best- find what’s free.

After stopping in Titusville for a few groceries and some frozen yogurt, our next stop was Vero Beach. The town touted a free public bus system, a beautiful beach, parks and fun playgrounds. We couldn’t wait to explore.

The first afternoon we arrived, we went straight to the beach. We were so pleased to find it was only a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the beach front. Upscale shops and restaurants lined the beach front streets. The water was sparkling deep turquoise and blue. The sound of the waves was absolutely intoxicating. We had finally found the beach! Coming down the east coast of the United States, this was only the second time we had visited a real beach- the last was in Virginia! It had been way too long since we had a large expanse of shore to run, walk and play. To really feel our feet sink in the sand and tickle our toes. To breathe in such fresh ocean air. There is nothing like it.

The beach!!

We knew right away we really liked this little beach town. Almost everything we needed was a 10- 15 minute walk away, which we have found is rare. Most communities here in the US aren’t made for people who need or want to walk. Upon coming into a port town, we’d look up the nearest grocery store or market. Typically they would be about a mile away, sometimes less, but sometimes even more than that. Since we don’t have a car, that’s at least one hour of walking there, then an hour of walking back, while carrying groceries back too. It became a frustrating reality: most places were just too far away to walk.

But walking is something I have grown to love. Really love. When putting my two feet to the earth, one in front of the other, finding my way to the nearest store or park, I realize I am free. I am free in a way all the drivers I pass can never be. I am not above them or above the traffic, I am beneath it. I can slip by all the noise, the lights, the lines of cars, waiting, waiting, and I can go when everyone else must stop. I can be slow when everyone else must be fast. I can notice the trees, the flowers, the rocks under my feet as I go past. I don’t miss them the way the cars do. I can hear the birds overhead, notice the cracks in the old brick building, feel the wind across my face. I get to know a place this way. I get to feel it. I get to walk across it, being fully present.

I don’t think I’ll ever want a car again.

A tree we found walking through a neighborhood

Every other day, after doing chores on the boat, we’d slather everyone with sunscreen, load up our backpack with hats, water and snacks and zip to the dock in our dinghy ready to walk to the beach. One day we stopped at a little pizzeria near the beach. A perfect afternoon!

Dancing!

Marlee’s sand castle
Being buried

We live a slow, unhurried life dictated by only two things: our desires God has put in us and the weather. Some people have told me that’s a little too much freedom. We don’t know where we’ll be next week or what we’ll be doing. We don’t have a schedule, no one to meet, no deadline. We’ve had to remind ourselves of this as we’ve traveled. We’ve had to remind ourselves to relax, take a breath, and not to rush. But switching to this frame of mind instead of the one we came from, the one most people encounter, takes a little practice. Learning to lean on God, our instincts, and the changing winds does not come naturally.

Sometimes I worry that the slowness is really just aimlessness. Do we really know where we’re going? Stopping for a few extra days (or weeks) in one place always feels a little scary. Will we ever pull up anchor? But in time I’m learning how to really enjoy each moment for what it is. Staying still, traveling, stormy winds, calm seas, having fun or washing laundry. And I’m still learning.

The slower life is not always the easier life either. Pulling up anchor in the middle of the night, waking up to stormy winds blowing your belongings off the deck, groceries soaked by the salt spray as you dinghy back to the boat…it’s all part of it.

But braving the challenges and relaxing into this slower way of life has been more than worth it.

The sunrise one morning over Riverside Park

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Living on a Boat

The Beauty of Living on a Boat

I’m the first one to wake up every morning. I emerge from our nest of blankets and sleeping bags, all piled high, five sleepy people snuggled in one room at the close of each day. The dawn awakens me. It’s cold so I slip my socks back on my feet and peek out one of the port windows surrounding our cabin. The water beckons.

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The still of the morning

The water ripples, glistens. It is perfect in reflecting the beauty of the morning. Sun slowly breaks over the horizon, gently calls forth the new day in colors of pinks, purples, oranges and yellows. God calls to me at the ushering of the day, every day, wooing me to his side and I open my Bible to hear what he would say to me. I stop, I listen, I thank him for another day. If I dare, I brave the cold morning wind and slide back the hatch to sit topside with my Bible, journal and pen. I find refuge under the bimini in the cockpit; as soon as I peek out from its cover, the cold bites through me. But I long to find an unobstructed view of the sunrise. The marina brims with boats. Side by side, each dock is nearly full. I see the glory of the sun through another mast, another bow, another stern. But I see it. Beauty that fills up the soul, glory that heals the spirit. Sitting on this boat, something is healing within me.

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The new day

Eventually, little feet emerge from the cabin, looking for breakfast, looking for me. I put my Bible away, and start a pot of water steaming. Oatmeal will fill bowls and tummies, brown sugar sprinkles received with delight. My feet find their place in the corner where sink and stove meet and where I can look out my favorite window. The kitchen window. For now I happily watch the neighboring marina, their lights at night, the way the sun lights up the ripples in the water during the day, but soon, through my little kitchen window, I will see long stretches of beaches, forested shore lines; mysterious new places my eyes have never seen.

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The marina gives us a particular flavor of boat living. People come and go, boats get hauled out and put back in the water, the boat yard bustles with older men smoking cigarettes, machines grinding, docks empty and fill again. Like the tide coming in and going out, never ending, so is life at the marina. And one day soon, we will go out too, and another boat will fill the emptiness we will leave behind.

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The Boatyard Shop

Our children love the marina; they love boat life. Their youth softens the crustiness of the boat yard. Around scruffy bearded men with calloused hands they run around, saying hi to all. As we walk around the rocky yard, they exclaim in delight at the boats on the hard. That one is so beautiful mommy, they say, especially towards the ones that are not beautiful at all. Paint chipped, demasted, barnacle bottomed, neglected by their owners, but to a child, a wonderland.

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Fun in the boatyard
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Our marina

Most days you will find me washing something. Soft bellied babies, last night’s dinner plates, yesterday’s clothes in a five gallon bucket. It seems, my daily life is in keeping this clan clean. And it’s not as easy as it used to be. Pressing a button, turning a knob, flipping a switch- that’s the modern way. Here, I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and I know the day is ready to dry my towels on the stern. Here, I feel the bitter chill on windy days and know my hands will likely freeze while I rinse off dishes in cold water from the sink. Here, the sun and moon are not mere ornaments in the sky, something pretty to nod at now and then, they are tools and guides by which we live. Sailing at night? Best to do it on a full moon. Anchoring before sun down? Better leave early, that winter sun begins to set late afternoon. Rain on the way? Time to put away the baby clothes drying on the deck.

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This is a place where if you long to be insulated from the elements around you, you will be miserable. On the sail here, it was quite rolly. The seas were boisterous, the salty spray splashed in my face as I sat fixed on the beam, gazing into the horizon, trying to steady my queasy stomach. I loved it. I’ve lived my life in fear, I’ve lived clamoring to insulate myself from all the things that might make me uncomfortable. Not anymore.

There is so much beauty here. Not just in sunsets and moon rises, not just in Night Herons splashing for fish or Buffleheads bobbing up and down, and not just in the kind smiles and conversation from boat neighbors, but there is so much beauty growing within me. I am learning who I am. Barefoot, free, on the deck, wind in my hair- beauty.

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