Another Step Closer Ep. 56

Since the beginning of April, we have been heading northwest and this week, we have taken another step closer … to home. I pick up where Tom left off, with Thalia tied to the dock at Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay, one of the out-islands which separate the Atlantic Ocean from the Sea of Abaco in the Bahamas. The four of us and our two guests from San Francisco (Martin and Nancy) wait, somewhat patiently, for the poor weather to pass. All told, we spent two nights here and were lucky to get some breaks in the weather which allowed for walks around the island. It is a treat for the kids to be able to jump off the boat onto solid ground without the complexities of using a dinghy! Our youngest, at nine years old, seems to burn off their energy with less all-around anxiety when we are tied to a dock!

Once the weather finally cleared, we eagerly departed Orchid Bay for an anchorage off of the more isolated Manjack Cay. What a beautiful anchorage. Finally, we have found one of the gems that we knew the Bahamas had to offer! Because the winds were still out of the south and southwest, we needed an anchorage protected from that direction and, once again, these were hard to come by. So when we combed the charts and eventually spotted an anchorage off the northwestern tip of Manjack Cay with two tiny islands on the Sea of Abaco side and the barrier reef on the Atlantic side, we set sail. On the final approach to Manjack Cay, we assumed our now familiar stations in order to view the water, watch the depth, check the charts and chart plotter and steer the desired course. Maybe we are getting the hang of this. We entered and anchored without incident! Here is a picture of youngest on the beach of Manjack Cay. My free spirited child … if only the world were as free spirited!

It is such a different experience to visit a place from a dock like the one at Orchid Bay than from an anchorage like Manjack Cay where you swim or dinghy ashore. I know my preference is to be on the hook! It affords freedom to explore at will, more serenity and an infinitely better view. Ok, I admit it is pleasant to have a shore-side shower; and the ability to walk less than a quarter mile to a washing machine has a certain appeal. However, nothing can compare with awakening to sounds of nature and little else. Martin and Nancy equally enjoyed this treasure. They are right at home with wildlife and nature and showed Zachary where some sea birds had made a nest on shore and were feigning injury in order to detract the humans from their eggs! And, below you can see a hermit crab walking along Martin’s arm.

While at anchor off of Manjack Cay, each of our family entered into a sentimental mood which was brought upon us by the realization that this island was very likely our last anchorage in the tropics (or sub-tropics, as is the case with the northern Bahamas!). When I swam ashore with Zachary and we snorkeled along the way, I reminded him that this may be our last opportunity to snorkel for some time. We took our time getting to shore and appreciated each colorful starfish along the way.

Here is our dinghy, “Hermes” — so named for the god of travel, among other things! I think he looks right at home pulled up onto a beach. Isn’t Manjack Cay’s beach lovely?

After two nights at anchor off of Manjack Cay, we made the difficult decision to depart for our crossing to Savannah, Georgia — a 380 mile trip. Just a few days before, the wind was a bit too strong for us to have a comfortable passage. Now, the winds were predicted to be nearly non-existent! Hum? Knowing that we could motor the whole way if we needed to, we opted for the current clear weather window for what might come after it!

With a tug at my heart, we lifted the anchor on the morning of Tuesday, June 5th, and wove our way out into the Atlantic Ocean and set a course for the southern coast of the US. Another step closer to home. Another mix of emotions. As I’ve told many people, this trip was four years in the planning and, now, nearly one year in the living of it. With such a great portion of our recent life dedicated to this one event — our year-long sailing adventure — seeing it draw toward a close puts it in a strange light. Did we receive all we could have from this experience? Was it worth the energy, money and time we put in to make it happen? Will our children walk away from this with a greater appreciation for culture, diversity, nature and the wide, blue ocean? How have our lives been affected, long-term, by this experience? Some ponderings require the passage of time before a true answer will surface. Some may never be answered, and some may not be asked right now, yet we might someday find inside each of us a new spirit born from the seeds of this adventure.

… back to our passage …

The adults worked out a staggered night-time watch schedule which paired woman with man in an overlapping manner. This was nice as I was on watch with my husband for part of the night and with Martin for the rest. Nancy and I had time to be together during meal prep while Tom and Martin talked boating stuff. During the day, one person was assigned to each slot in the watch schedule. Of course, others were available to provide assistance between resting and daily tasks. What a luxury to have two additional sailors in our watch schedule. We so appreciated our friends making the trip to be with us and it was terrific to get to know them even better.

Luckily, we had more winds than were predicted and so we enjoyed several stretches where we were clipping along at 8 knots or more. As we approached the gulf stream, the seas become noticeably choppier and a few storms kicked up. Nothing huge, but it was impressive to witness the influence the stream has over the local weather. Black storm clouds built out of no where and formed a solid wall. At night, lightening danced among the clouds but very little came toward the ground. A dazzling light show! While being pushed north by the stream, our over-ground speed indicator reached 10 knots. Yippee! We were moving through the water at a speed of 7.5, so 2.5 knots of our over-ground speed was derived from the speed of the current in the stream.

By the afternoon of our third day at sea, I scanned the horizon then issued the official “Land Ho”. We would make landfall before sunset. Before we got too excited, however, Tom reminded us that we had an additional 20 miles to travel up the Savannah River before we would be securing the dock lines to anything.

When we entered the Savannah River channel from the Atlantic, it was nearly dark. This was going to be a fun challenge which would require all four adults. The Savannah River is the fourth busiest port on the eastern seaboard, fifth busiest nationwide. Yet, by viewing our chart you can see that it snakes its way merrily inland from the Atlantic, through marsh lands and around islands until the bluffs of downtown Savannah come into view on the port side.

Our stations ~ 

Martin was in charge of interpreting the paper chart and matching it to the buoys and range markers we were seeing around us. Tom monitored our position which was relayed and displayed on the chart of out laptop’s screen down on the navigation station. I was at the helm and kept a keen eye on the depth sounder and our position as plotted on our GPS/chart plotter, while attempting to process all of the input from Tom and Martin. Nancy helped to spot and identify lighted buoys and ranges. The children slept peacefully! Ah, to be a child again?!

It took somewhere between 3 and 4 hours to navigate this river; yet the time passed quickly, as all our minds and senses worked overtime. We monitored the VHF radio for security calls and ship-to-ship conversations which alerted us to traffic in the area. Tom was in charge of deciphering the information to determine if it might have an impact on us. For instance, if we heard something like “Security, security … this is container ship XXXX departing River Street southbound on the Savannah River, bound for sea”, should we be concerned? It would be Tom’s job to determine if and when we might be meeting this vessel on our way up the river. At one point, we knew to expect three sizable vessels coming in our direction. This prompted us to be particularly sharp on approaches to narrow bends in the river. While nerve rattling, it was also very exciting.

The clock read 11 pm as we finished securing Thalia to the municipal dock in downtown Savannah, Georgia. We were all exhausted, but equally pleased that we had made a safe passage and were now all “off watch” for the remainder of the night. Another step closer … We were back in the USA after 7 months of being a foreigner in foreign lands.

Savannah, Georgia ~

What a city! Rich history, beautiful architecture, oak trees laden with Spanish moss, great food and a very alive waterfront district! We were all excited to have a full three days to explore Savannah before Martin and Nancy had to leave us. We cleared in through customs and immigration then headed for the tourist office for some maps and brochures! Savannah is what Tom and I call a good “walking” city, meaning that numerous great sights can be visited by simple foot-power! Below, Tom and I pose in one of the many public squares which dot Savannah’s downtown neighborhoods. It is easy to tell that the original city planners designed this city for the enjoyment of its visitors and residents.

Here is a great example of the famous oak trees with their Spanish moss hanging down. And, yes, this is in another of the many squares of the city.

The architecture was truly splendid and one example of it can be seen below in this brick building which was built in 1886 for the Savannah Cotton Exchange. This is one of the many old structures which either line the waterfront or sit atop the bluff which attracted the first settlers to choose this site among others along the Savannah River for the first settlement in what would become the state of Georgia.

Isn’t this a great home, overlooking one of the city’s squares? While there were a number of old brick homes like this one, there were an equal number of stucco homes from the same time period. (Pre Civil War) The stucco homes typically had a huge veranda on two sides of the house and tall, floor to ceiling windows which could be thrown wide open to let the cooling breezes in. All old homes had working shutters to help keep out the heat of the day — at least until a breeze kicked up and the shutters and windows both were swung open!

… and finally, Thalia happily tied along the municipal dock in Savannah. Yes, we are loaded down with far too much stuff … including some laundry. (oops!) This picture shows one small portion of the waterfront district. Most of the old¬†buildings from the time when cotton was king remain along this great cobblestone street.

Martin and Nancy left us on the morning of Monday, June 11th, bound for Maine to see family. We used the reminder of the day for school work, boat projects and laundry…lots of laundry! Tomorrow, we depart for the northbound ICW —Intracoastal Waterway — and expect to cross into the state of South Carolina.

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