Kiteboarding in Cabarete

If there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I have a passion for throwing myself into extremely expensive sports that require years of practice, tons of gear and very specific geographical conditions to master.

So, imagine my excitement when I discovered that just down the road from where we were in Luperon was one of the world’s Top 10 Kiteboarding (aka Kitesurfing) Spots.

You see, not only is Cabarete home to the most famous kiteboarding beach in the whole of the Caribbean, but it also hosts the World Kiteboarding Championships each year in June. So if there’s anywhere in the Dominican Republic to learn kiteboarding, Cabarete is the place.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t I a little old to start taking up new and complicated sports like kiteboarding? Maybe. But, hell, I figured the last five years have seen me learning to sail, slamming myself into slalom gates on skis, driving my butt into the ice learning to snowboard, swallowing oceans trying to surf, and breaking my collarbones playing roller derby. Why not kiteboarding? It seemed exactly like the kind of sport I could spend an obscene amount of time, energy and money on. So, I was in!

And after a week of hanging out in Wendy’s Bar in Luperon, Ryan, our friend Morgan, and I decided it was time for a change of scenery and a little adrenalin fix. So, we hopped in a taxi to Cabarete and booked ourselves a cheap hotel room overlooking Kite Beach, along with two days of kiteboarding lessons at Kitexcite.

And since there wasn’t much difference in price between group and individual lessons, Ryan and I decided to book our own private instructors so we could accelerate the learning process and hopefully be up and running in the water as soon as possible. After all, we’d had a heads up from Morgan, who was an experienced kiteboarder, that the first day of lessons is mostly spent on land just learning how to control your kite. The second day involves learning to drag your body through the water using your kite. And the third day is when you finally start to get up on your board in the water. So, like snowboarding, you really need a minimum of three days of lessons to get a real feel for the sport.

And, sure enough, the three-day minimum was no lie. I’d hoped I would be up on my board and cruising through the waves like a born surfer chick by the end of Day 2. But it seemed the only thing I was really good at by the end of Day 2 was launching myself into the air while shrieking, then promptly throwing myself head first into the water while my instructor laughed and said clever things like, “You see? You didn’t turn your body enough.” Or “Remember, do a figure eight with your kite, balance your board, then turn. But don’t forget to let go a little, and keep the kite at two o’clock…”

Right. I’d enthusiastically nod my head “yes,” then promptly forget what to do with my feet, hands and shoulders as soon as I was launched into the air by a kite that had a nasty habit of dive-bombing any time I took my eyes off it.

So, it would appear, from our Day 2 performance, that Ryan and I really did need that third day of lessons. Except when we woke up in the morning on Day 3, there was no wind. Nada. Which meant we’d have to postpone Day 3’s lesson in “How to launch yourself in the air with a board on your feet while turning your body, controlling the kite and staying upright when your brain is screaming, holy shit this is crazy!!!”

That lesson would have to wait for another day when we could get ourselves back to Cabarete to continue our adventures in kiteboarding with our amazing instructors from Kitexcite.

So, stay tuned for more lessons from Turf to Surf on How to drag yourself uncontrollably across the ocean while inhaling enough salt water to fill a fish tank…

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Whenever there’s wind, hundreds of kites dot the sky over Kite Beach, Cabarete

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Kitexcite’s instructors are all certified and highly professional – I had a great experience with them

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If you’re not into kiteboarding, you can spend the day touring on horseback

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Day 1: Learning to control and steer your kite on land before bringing it into the water

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Day 2: Yeah, right. In my dreams! I’ll have to come back again so I can get to this.

Photo Essay: 27 Charcos, Damajagua, Dominican Republic

It’s amazing how drastically the demographic of cruisers can change between leaving the Bahamas and arriving to the Dominican Republic.

Cruisers who’ve sailed beyond George Town (aka “Chicken Harbor”) told us this would happen but, even still, we were surprised when we arrived to Luperon to find a harbor full of sailors in their twenties and thirties on small, barely-held-together boats who were willing to go anywhere so long as there was the promise of adventure.

To name a few of the characters we met, there was Ben, Nacho and Kavour, three young guys on a mission to get Ben some boat-delivery experience by sailing a beautiful, yet slowly unraveling, double-ender called Skookum from Florida to St. Thomas free-of-charge, where its owner awaited their arrival…which never came to pass after Skookum limped into Luperon with a rotten-through bowsprit and some structural problems, essentially ending their journey in Luperon.

And there was Alex from Maryland, whose boat had gotten washed off its mooring in Florida several months earlier. When it came to rest on a private dock, the dock owner contacted Alex to claim salvage for the boat. But since the rules of salvage state that a claim can be made for either money or the boat, Alex told the dock owner to keep the boat, and figured he’d washed his hands of the problem. That is, until the local environmental protection agency got in touch and informed Alex that since the owner wanted money, and not the boat, he’d have to come to Florida and deal with the boat.

So Alex quit his job in California and flew to Florida to examine his damaged boat, which turned out, surprisingly, to still be seaworthy. Which prompted Alex to say “What the hell,” board his boat, and sail it south until he reached Luperon, where we met him long after he’d lost his engine.

And, of course, we can’t forget our buddy boat Senara, home to our friend Morgan, a film-set designer from Paris who sailed alongside us all the way from the Bahamas to the D.R.

What do all these characters have in common?

For starters, we all met in Luperon in Wendy’s Bar and agreed to cram ourselves into a taxi one day so we could go out and explore the nearby 27 Charcos, which could be loosely translated as “27 Puddles,” but are probably better described as 27 rivers, rock slides, waterfalls, and cliffs, naturally formed in a rural, Dominican area called Damajagua.

And being excited to meet each other in this unique corner of the world, the motley crew we formed on a day’s outing from Luperon also pub-crawled our way back to town and finished the night with a nine-person party on Hideaway.

And, yes, it is true that we set off for the 27 Charcos in Damajagua with six crazy cruisers in our pack. But we returned to Luperon with nine crazy characters, having picked up a few more on the way.

After all, travel brings you to the world’s most interesting places. But it’s the people you meet that make those places truly memorable.

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6 sailors geared up to hike some waterfalls.

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It was 25-minute walk up into the hills and over bridges.

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Sliding down rocks and jumping off cliffs got my adrenalin pumping, for sure.

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The walks through natural canyons to get to the slides and waterfalls were fun, as well.

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As we climbed up to our first jump, I had no idea what I was in for.

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My brave face, after the scariest jump of my life.

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Some passages required swimming from one point to another.

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The walk down the hill was as beautiful as the walk up.

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“Anyone know the way home?”

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It’s always a good sign when you can see lunch hanging outside the pub.

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Nothing like a little Dominican rum to help get you home safely…

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It was worth taking the slow route home for the view alone.

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“How far to the next pub?” asks Nacho.

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No pubs here…

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“We got rum! We don’t need a pub!”

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We enjoyed the creekside view, while some boys worked hard to net some dinner.

Time to go: Sailing from the Bahamas to the Caribbean

Our passage to the Caribbean from the Bahamas didn’t work out quite the way we expected.

Unlike most of our passages so far, where we’ve hoped for light winds to make for calm sailing, we found ourselves waiting in Little Inagua, Bahamas for the winds to increase and come from the north so we could unfurl our sails and cut through the prevailing easterlies to sail to the Dominican Republic.

Studying weather forecasts has become a major part of our lives at sea, which means we usually consult at least three online weather sources, a few books and several sailors headed in the same direction to ensure a safe and comfortable journey onwards.

And this trip was no different. Our upcoming passage to the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be nearly as long as the calm, comfortable 240 nautical miles we sailed from Long Island to Little Inagua, but we still carefully studied the weather gribs our friend Morgan downloaded using his satellite phone, while we waited for the right weather window.

And just as we hoped, the grib files showed the winds would turn to the north and give us 10-15 knots on a beam reach only two days after we’d arrived to Little Inagua. Which was lucky, because we weren’t sure at the time we’d arrived how long we’d be stuck on this uninhabited island.

Truth be told, though, it was a little sad preparing to leave the Bahamas after so many great experiences in these beautiful islands. But the time had come to say good-bye and move on to a new chapter in our adventures. You know what they say: “All good things must come to an end.”

So we made our plans to depart Little Inagua just before sunset, when the winds were calm. And once we’d rounded the headland, we’d unfurl our sails just as the winds were forecasted to pick up.

The forecasts were pretty accurate with regards to the first 8 hours of our journey, giving us the 10 knots we were expecting. But by the following morning, we no longer had calm sailing. The wind had kicked up to 25-30 knots, we were doing 7.0 knots under sail with both the main and genoa heavily reefed, and our ETA to Luperon was about 12 hours earlier than we’d planned.

We’d read in Bruce Van Sant’s Passages South that Luperon’s entrance is dotted with shoals and reefs and therefore we should avoid coming in at night, so we were trying as hard as we could to slow down and arrive in daylight, so we’d have good visual on any obstacles in the harbor.

But the winds continued to build, causing our auto-pilot to creak under the stress while our boat was permanently tilted at a 35-degree angle, and Celia, the more squeamish of our two cats, wailed loudly as she searched for a calm place to hide from the chaos.

And that’s when things started to go wrong on both Senara and Hideaway. First, Morgan’s auto-pilot belt broke, forcing him to hand-steer for the rest of the journey, then our own Raymarine auto-pilot gave up on us, flashing a message that read “drive stopped,” and then, later, “current limit,” after which it shut down completely. Even with two of us on board, Ryan and I were exhausted doing heavy-handed two-hour watches through the night, so I felt really sorry for Morgan, who was single-handing without an auto-pilot and getting very little sleep.

I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. It’s true, we wanted strong winds…and we got it.

But, then, one advantage of going so fast was that we arrived to Luperon about 5 hours early. Which meant, after 30 exhausting hours at sea, both Hideaway and Senara could heave-to outside Luperon harbor until sunrise and get some much needed sleep before our arrival.

And, boy, when the sun rose overhead, were we ecstatic! Tired, but ecstatic. It was clear we had arrived somewhere new. The barren, white-sand miniature islands of the Bahamas had been replaced by green mountains and lush forests in the distance on an island so large it would require months of overland travel to fully explore.

And it would seem, upon coming to shore to check in with immigration, that our cruising life had intersected with backpackers’ territory. Which felt altogether familiar and exciting. I was thrilled to be in a Spanish-speaking country again, and a place I could sink my teeth into. There were gritty, Dominican towns offering cheap food, excellent beer, friendly locals and the kind of rough-around-the-edges travel that I remember from my days running around South America.

We’ve arrived to the start of a brand-new adventure… and with Bachata and Reggaeton playing in the background, it seems we also had a soundtrack to this new chapter.

Bienvenido a la Republica Dominicana!

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Little Inagua’s beaches, not yet picked clean by tourists, were teeming with sea treasures.

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Captain Morgan’s boat, Senara, getting ready to depart before the sun goes down.

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Red sky at night, sailor’s delight?

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In rough conditions, both the cats and the crew prefer to sleep in the salon.

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Having checked into Luperon, it’s time to lower the quarantine flag and raise the Dominican flag!

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We made it to the Dominican Republic!

Weather, SSB and the 21st Century

We’re lucky that our French buddy boat, Senara, wanted to travel with us from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic for a few reasons; (1) Captain Morgan was great company, and (2) he had a satellite phone.

And if it weren’t for Morgan’s sat-phone, we wouldn’t have had any access to weather reports in Little Inagua, where we waited for the right weather window for our crossing to the Dominican Republic.

Throughout the U.S. and the Bahamas, we’d had regular access to weather information via the internet and sources like PassageWeather.com, Zygrib, Pocket Grib and Wunderground.com, to name a few of our favorites. Mostly, though, we’ve preferred to download weather gribs using Zygrib on the computer, or Pocket Grib on the iPad because (1) we can update the reports any time we want, granted there’s internet, (2) we get fairly accurate forecasts for up to five days, (3) we can study the gribs offline, and (4) they don’t require a degree in meteorology to read.

But in the back of our minds, we knew we’d find ourselves in a situation eventually where we’d need to get weather forecasts and couldn’t get internet access. We just didn’t know what the best tool would be to have in those situations.

Most cruisers have recommended that we buy a single-sideband (SSB) receiver, which costs about $100 and would supposedly give us weather forecasts anywhere in the world, as long as we are tuned into the right frequency at the right time. And, being susceptible to peer pressure, we followed their advice. But in all honesty, with the technological advances of the last few decades, we couldn’t understand how the SSB hadn’t become obsolete. After all, GPS had so quickly become an essential household tool, existing in phones, watches and computers. So, surely, in the years since World War I, someone must have developed something more advanced than the SSB?

It turns out, they had. It’s called a satellite phone. And yet the SSB lingers on as an old-school necessity. For some reason, cruisers cling to the SSB the way my father clung to the vision of Beta-Max video players, long after the rest of the world had converted to VHS. Gosh-darned-it, he’d spent good money on that Beta-Max, so as long as we had “Karate Kid” and “Back to the Future” on Beta-Max tapes, I would watch those movies until someone either invented DVDs, or I left home. Whichever came first. End of discussion.

But unlike our Beta-Max machine when I was a kid, our SSB has never actually worked, though we persisted in trying to get Chris Parker’s weather reports in every port from New York to Nassau. And all we got was something that sounded like muffled Morse code transmitted from the moon.

A couple we met in Nassau even tried to help us out by using their SSB transceiver to transmit to our radio from just two boat lengths away. But all we heard was, “Bzzzz wah WAH wah WAAAHHHH bzzzzzz.”

I was so determined to make it work, though, that I threw out our first SSB and bought a second one after reading the Amazon.com reviews for the Kaito KA1103 SSB receiver. According to the reviews, “even ham radio operators love it.”

But ham radio operators must have some kind of secret decoder to understand transmissions like, “ssshhhh northwest ssshhh Sunday bzzzzzz front ssshhh west at bzzzz knots.” Because it didn’t matter if we ran the antenna up our mast, if we stood on the bow pointing our radio at the sky, or if we smacked the SSB on the deck whilst cursing 20th century technology like SSBs and fax machines, wondering why they refused to die like their relatives, the cassette tape and the rotary phone.

It was clear the only thing our SSB was good for was raising our blood pressure at 6:30 in the morning, the ridiculous hour at which Chris Parker supposedly transmits forecasts…though we wouldn’t know for sure, since we’ve never heard him.

Our SSB-certified friends in Nassau encouraged us to keep trying, though, arguing that no cruiser should travel without an SSB. “We heard this story once…” the wife said. “…About a captain who’d had a stroke on his boat off the coast of Mexico. His wife used the SSB to ask for help on the net and a ham radio operator in Vancouver picked it up and got them the number of a doctor in Mexico. The SSB saved his life,” she said earnestly.

But, all I could think was, “What, do we live in the age of telegrams? If that woman had had a sat-phone, she wouldn’t have had to bounce some message off the atmosphere hoping that someone on the other side of the world might hear it in the middle of night and help her. She could’ve just Googled a doctor and called him. Right from her sat phone. Pronto.”

But what about the cost, you ask? It’s true, satellite phones aren’t cheap at $1500 new with an additional $750 for a year’s worth of minutes. But it both receives and transmits, whereas an SSB receiver only receives. If you want an SSB transceiver (which can transmit and receive), it’ll cost around $4,000 including the installation and a boat-specific set-up, not to mention that you need special certification just to use your transceiver.

So when Morgan showed us his Iridium satellite phone, which he uses to make phone calls and download weather grib files in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world, whenever he wants, we nearly fed our SSB to the sharks on the spot. And we decided to look into getting a sat-phone for ourselves.

After all, a sat-phone isn’t fixed to a particular boat; you can take it with you backpacking, fishing or onto your next boat. Plus, it’s portable and it’s from the 21st century.

What more could you ask for?

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Portable Iridium 9555 satellite phone, which can be used for phone calls, internet, downloading weather files, updating your blog, etc., with no installation, for about $1500.

Icom MC710 SSB

*For more info on price comparisons, www.macsailing.net posted this helpful info in 2010. It appears the prices haven’t changed much since then.

Spearfishing in Little Inagua, Bahamas

With absolutely nothing on the island of Little Inagua to entertain us, we entertained ourselves by exploring the water around it and trying our hand at spearfishing to see if we could catch ourselves some dinner. We were inspired by our last fishing trip to Hooper’s Bay, where we watched our friend Brian spear two lionfish and a lobster while Ryan and I mostly flailed around, scaring the fish away.

Except this time we didn’t go home empty handed. I speared my first fish, which turned out to be too small to eat (I swear, the fish shrink as soon as you get them out of the water), and I caught a 2-pound parrotfish, which turned out to be the perfect dinner-sized fish. And our friend Morgan speared another parrotfish, and a brown-spotted fish we think we identified as a rock hind.

All in all, it was a successful day, made all the more so by a few things I learned on our last outing, as well as some new tricks I picked up this time around:

  • It’s better to fish without a wetsuit. I was less buoyant this time, making it easier to dive and swim along the ocean floor.
  • It’s very difficult to spear fish in open water. If you can find fish sitting under rocks or in coral heads, they’re much easier targets.
  • Once you’ve hit a fish, push the spear in deeper to keep the fish from wriggling off the spear. I learned that after losing two fish.
  • Lift the fish immediately out of the water after you’ve speared it so as not to attract any sharks.
  • After 4 or 5 catches, it’s probably a good idea to move on to another area in case any sharks picked up the scent.

That last lesson was learned at the end of the day when Morgan spotted a shark nearby and we decided we’d rather go home with dinner and all our limbs. But the sharks must have known they’d get their fill sooner or later because 5 or 6 of them suddenly appeared and circled Hideaway while I cleaned our day’s catch and threw the guts overboard.

So I guess we all got dinner that night — three lovely fried fish for us, and a load of entrails for the sharks. Needless to say, though, there was no after-dinner swimming in Little Inagua.

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The messy job of cleaning fish is best done on the foredeck.

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Morgan, using his fishing book to try to identify his fish.

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Before gutting my parrotfish, I descaled him…

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…which was a messy job

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But not as messy as gutting the fish…

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…which was disgusting

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All that mess got washed overboard with a little sea water…

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…which brought on the sharks

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Time for a swim?

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The best part is — once all that cleaning, gutting and cooking is done — you get to eat!

Sailing the Bahamas: Long Island to Little Inagua

For me, there’s a certain rhythm to traveling by boat; an ebb and flow of movement that requires periods of stillness to balance out my universe.

Whenever we’ve stayed too long in any given harbor, I start itching to unfurl the sails and make headway towards the sights, sounds and smells of a distant, foreign land…any land. And I always feel relieved when we start moving again, like I’ve scratched a hard-to-reach itch.

But then, after several days of constant movement, sleeping for 3 to 4 hours at a time and operating at a 30-degree angle, all I want to do is park our floating home in a still harbor for while. Just to be still.

Then my satisfaction ebbs, and after weeks of squeezing sight-seeing in between boat repairs, I start itching again for the quiet solitude that comes with manning the helm on a beam reach in 15 knots of wind. And the pattern repeats itself…

After three weeks in George Town, I started to feel that familiar itch again, though I should have felt nervous about embarking on what would be our longest passage to date (240 nautical miles from Long Island to French Cay, Turks and Caicos). But perhaps George Town had numbed my nerves; I was so eager to move on, I would have sailed out into a storm just to gain some distance.

Luckily, that wasn’t necessary, as we’d watched the weather carefully and made plans with our friend Morgan on s/v Senara to sail together to the Dominican Republic as soon as the winds clocked round to the north. And together we agreed on a course to French Cay, where we hoped to anchor and rest for a few days until the winds could take us further.

The night before our departure, though, I dreamed I was on a trampoline, being launched into the air by Ryan’s old rugby teammates, who were jumping up and down near my head. Then I woke up and realized the V-berth was my trampoline and it was the boat that was bouncing, not a bunch of rugby players.

Apparently, I was the only person who got any sleep that night. Ryan woke up at 1 am when unexpected winds turned Calabash Bay into a washing machine, and Morgan spent the night resetting his anchor every few hours as he dragged closer and closer to Hideaway.

As tired as we were, though, the sooner we got out of the rolling waves and set our sails to a beam reach towards French Cay, the better off we would be. So, as Hideaway’s bow was lifted and yanked underwater while Ryan held on and screamed into the wind and spray, we wrestled the anchor on board and gunned the engine out of the harbor.

Just as we expected, once we rounded the headland and trimmed our sails for a beam reach, the winds calmed down to a sane 10 knots and we hummed along the glassy waters at a comfortable 4.5 knots. All I had to do was set the autopilot and sit back with a cup of tea and some podcasts to entertain me through my night watch.

Except the winds didn’t continue to blow from the northwest, as forecasted. They started blowing from the northeast, which meant it became harder and harder to point Hideaway towards French Cay. So, after 24 hours, we checked in with Morgan and decided rather than motor, we would head further south towards Little Inagua, an uninhabited island at the bottom of the Bahamas chain. That way, we could continue to sail on a beam reach and we’d still get a few days’ rest on anchor while we waited for the winds to come around to the north again.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned on this trip through the Bahamas, it’s that smooth sailing only happens when you give up control and go where the wind wants to take you, when it wants to take you. If you’re rigid about your schedule and your desired stops, you may find yourself beating into bad weather, causing you and your boat a great deal of stress.

So it seems appropriate that, as we tried to depart the Bahamas, we were forced to alter our course and sail to one last stop in this beautiful island chain for the sake of a peaceful journey.

As the saying goes, “You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.”

The only reason we found ourselves at Little Inagua was because the wind took us there. And, to me, that’s as good a reason as any.

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Morgan, trying to trim his sails to beat Hideaway

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What a difference a few hours can make…we went from 6-foot seas to this.

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Where’d the wind go?

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Charlie, enjoying the calm sailing.

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Long passages often come with beautiful sunsets on the open water.

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Our last stop in the Bahamas: Little Inagua.

For more pictures of Turf to Surf sailing the Bahamas, visit our Photo Albums on Facebook.

Photo Essay: Long Island, Bahamas

Since Long Island Bahamas has a relatively large population (4,000 people) compared to other islands in the Bahamas, we expected to see a string of developed townships as we drove through in our rickety rental car. But we were surprised and delighted to find that Long Island was as remote and sleepy as most of the other islands in the Bahamas.

With virtually one road running through its 76 miles of narrow island stretch, we set out to see as many sights as we could as we drove from top to bottom, using our Lonely Planet travel guide as a compass. Most of what we visited were long stretches of beautiful, secluded beaches, the number of which nearly rivaled the number of liquor stores on the island.

But where there are so many beautiful beaches, it seems appropriate to find just as many spots where you can enjoy the view with a stiff rum drink in your hand. Cheers to that…and the lovely sights of Long Island captured in this photo essay.

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We had a long walk down the beach to find breakfast and a rental car.

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The resort around the headland from Calabash Bay looked promising for breakfast…

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…and the Santa Maria Resort turned out to be a picture perfect stop

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We drove along the coast in search of the famed pink sand “Love Beaches.”

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We didn’t find any pink beaches, but we did find the world’s deepest blue hole: Dean’s Blue Hole.

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Ryan, Kerri & Macara (m/v Knot Yet), and Morgan (s/v Senara) watched as pro free divers tried to break records.

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We kept out of the way of the free divers as their crew filmed them.

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Morgan from s/v Senara contemplated jumping in with the free divers in his underpants…

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…meanwhile Kerri and her daughter Macara searched for shells on the beach

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Macara, showing off her beach finds.

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Macara, overseeing the day’s catch in Clarence Town, as the fishermen came in.

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We enjoyed sundowners on the docks in Clarence Town before heading back north.

Click here to see more photos of our road trip on Long Island, Bahamas, on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page.

A little land adventure on Long Island Bahamas

With only one day to explore 76-mile-long Long Island Bahamas before pushing on to the Dominican Republic, Ryan and I decide to make the most of our last stop in the Bahamas by renting a car with our friends on m/v Knot Yet and s/v Senara.

Our first day on Long Island, a local shopkeeper informs us there is a car rental about 3 miles down the road from our secluded anchorage in Calabash Bay, in the north of Long Island, and though no one knows its opening hours, she assures us it’s probably going to open some time the next morning.

So, the following morning, we beach our dinghy with four and a half passengers on board (one is an eight-year-old), and Ryan and I head out to the road to thumb a lift while our friends wait for us at the bar in the nearby Santa Maria resort.

We are picked up right away by two nice Bahamian boys who drive us to William’s Car Rental. But, unfortunately, when we get there, the place is locked up and empty. As the boys drive off, leaving us by the side of the road, they assure us they’ll let William know we are there, waiting. “Don’t worry,” they say. “I’m sure he’ll be back.”

So we sit down in the grass and wait patiently for William. After all, we’ve learned nothing happens quickly in the islands. But after an hour of playing fetch with William’s friendly guard dog, we start to wonder if maybe William has taken the day off. So we flag down the next car we see and explain to the driver that we are hoping to rent a car, but since the place is closed, could he give us a lift to another car rental?

“Oh, you need a car?” asks the driver, turning off the ignition. “I can help you with that.” And off the stranger walks toward the locked-up shack at the end of the driveway, jingling a set of keys and opening the door.

“Are you William?” Ryan asks.

“No, I’m Steve.”

Ryan looks at me and I shrug. I guess it’s feasible that on an island of only 4,000 people, everyone knows each other…and maybe everyone also has keys to all their friends’ business establishments?

“How much is it?” Ryan asks.

“Seventy dollars for twenty-four hours,” says Steve.

“What do we get for seventy dollars?” Ryan asks.

“That,” he replies, pointing to the only car in the driveway — a dusty, gray Nissan Sentra with tinted windows and a broken antenna.

Ryan looks at me and I shrug again. “Do you want to see my license?” Ryan asks.

“No, that’s okay,” says Steve, handing Ryan a set of keys. “Just bring it back tomorrow with a full tank.”

That’s it. No security deposit, no forms to fill out, no photocopying of our driver’s license. Steve doesn’t even ask us what our names are. He just hands us the keys to someone else’s car in exchange for $70 cash.

And, just like that, we are free to roam the island from top to bottom in a car that belongs to someone named William, who may or may not know we have his car.

But thanks to William, whoever he is, we have a fabulous day exploring the sights of Long Island Bahamas. And like the mindful tourists we are, we drop the car off outside William’s locked fence with a full tank of gas, leaving the keys in the ignition. Because, again, there is no one around for me to inform that I have returned their car with a full tank, like I promised.

It just goes to show how trusting small communities can be. And the communities here in the Bahamas are no different.

To see photos of Long Island Bahamas, visit Turf to Surf’s Long Island Photo Album on Facebook.

A lesson in spearfishing

Before we left New York back in October, Ryan did a lot of research into island life and what “water toys” we should have on board for our trip.

We didn’t own any snorkeling gear, since it wouldn’t have been much use in the brackish waters of the Hudson River. So, before we left, we bought ourselves some flippers, goggles, snorkels and wet suits so we could explore the underwater world of the Bahamas.

We also said we’d buy a fishing rod, so we could learn to catch our own food. But rods can be expensive and we didn’t want to start with fancy fishing gear since it seemed, with our lack of experience, that we’d be more likely to break or lose a rod than catch a fish. So we held off on buying fishing equipment until we hit the flea market in St. Marys, Georgia, where a local fisherman taught us a few basics and sold us a used trolling and bottom fishing rod for $35.

Whatever possessed Ryan to buy a spear, though, I have no idea. I just know that it arrived in the mail one day, along with our snorkeling gear, and Ryan was beaming like a little boy when he took it out of the package. It was like watching Ralphie open up his Red Rider BB Gun on Christmas morning in the movie A Christmas Story. “We don’t even know how to fish,” I’d said at the time. “And you think we’ll be able to spear our dinner?!”

The idea still seems ludicrous, since it turns out our fishing skills didn’t improve much even after we bought a rod. The possibility of spearing a fish seemed about as high as catching a fish with our bare hands. So, for the past five months, there sat our unused spear, hanging out beside the pile of shoes it turned out I would never wear, until we met up with our friend Brian on s/v Rode Trip in George Town. After confessing that we’d never even tried our spear, Brian offered to take us out and show us how to use it.

So, on our last night in George Town, we weighed anchor and moved Hideaway over to Hooper’s Bay so Ryan and I could chase the pretty fish in circles around a reef and watch them swim away while Brian expertly speared two lionfish and a lobster.

It looked like Ryan and I were going to need a lot more practice at this skill. So, over our lionfish, lobster and pasta dinner on board Hideaway with our friends from Rode Trip and Senara, I consolidated a few things I learned from Brian about spear fishing:

  • Wet suits make you more buoyant and therefore hinder you from swimming deep into the coral to go after fish. Note to self: Leave the wet suit behind next time.
  • Lionfish have no predators, so you can swim right up to them and line up a shot without fear of scaring them away.
  • You want to be about a foot away from the fish when you shoot. If you’re too close, the spear will just push the fish away. You need some space for the spear to gain momentum and pierce the fish.
  • Lionfish are poisonous, so you have to be careful not to touch the spines on their skin. 45 minutes after they’ve died, though, the poison also dies and then they are safe to touch and eat.
  • Lionfish are overpopulated in the Bahamas, so it is encouraged to kill and eat them. Which is fantastic because they are delicious.

Our spear fishing skills are about as poor as our rod fishing skills, but like any skill, mastery requires practice. And experimentation.

So, we’ll keep on practicing and experimenting until we get a fish on board ourselves. Until then, though, we’ll keep our fridge stocked with plenty of food. Because if we had to live off the sea alone, I’m pretty sure we’d starve.

spear fishing lionfish turf to surf

Brian (s/v Rode Trip) with his first catch of the day, a lionfish

lionfish spear fishing sailing

Brian’s spiny lionfish catch

lobster spear fishing turf to surf

Brian with his prized lobster catch

cleaning lionfish spear fishing turf to surf

Brian waits 45 minutes for the poison in the lionfish’s spines to die, then he starts cleaning the fish.

cutting off poisonous fins lionfish fishing

Brian uses scissors to cut off anything spiny looking, just to be safe.

lobster spear fishing catch turf to surf

Brian, getting ready to show me how to clean a lobster

lobster dinner turf to surf sailing blog

Cooking up Brian’s lobster…yum.

Heritage Festival: George Town, Bahamas

As much as I enjoyed the George Town Cruising Regatta while it was on, I have to admit that once it was over and the cruisers rally to Long Island shifted most of the long-term “stayers” away from Elizabeth Harbor for 10 days, the anchorage took on a very different feel. A much more relaxed one.

The voices that bickered with each other on the Cruisers Net every morning and filled the air waves with warnings (“Please make sure you secure your dinghy to your boat; we’ve had a lot of dinghies wash up on shore”), reprimands (“The boats anchored near the orange buoys need to move; you’re too close to the channel”), and concerns (“The town dumpster is full and I don’t want to pay $2 to drop my trash off at the yacht club…”) fell quiet for the first time in weeks.

Since our arrival, we’ve been fascinated with the stream of information each morning on the Cruisers Net — some of it useful, some not so much. For instance, we got lots of great advice on how to fix our dirty fuel tank. But, at the same time, every morning we’d listen to the same voices from the same boats congratulating each other on a job well done in this tournament or that contest, welcoming their niece who’s visiting for a week on Spring Break, or saying good-bye to their aunt who just left because unfortunately she had to get back to the States to file her taxes…though she really wished she could stay longer…because she met so many nice people here and is really sad to say good-bye… (Good lord, get off the radio already – we don’t know your aunt!)

Why would this information be broadcasted over public radio, you might ask? I have no idea. I would say it’s just part of the unique experience of being in George Town. And, mind you, I could choose to turn off my VHF any time I want and ignore the chatter… but then I’d miss out on all the weirdness. And that, too, seems to be part of the George Town experience.

But once the boats in Elizabeth Harbor thinned out and there were fewer organized activities being announced on the net, it turned out there was still plenty to do. We found ourselves meeting up with cruisers walking around town, comparing outboard motors at the dinghy dock (Ryan’s favorite pastime) and hanging out at random bars for the local “Rake and Scrape” music nights.

Which is how we learned about the upcoming Heritage Festival in George Town this past weekend…though none of the Bahamians knew exactly when it kicked off on Saturday. “Around 8 or 9,” they said. “I think.”

It turns out Bahamians love a good party, and to them a good night out includes Bahamian beer, rum, food and music. So, at the Heritage Festival, they made sure you got plenty of $2 plates of conch fritters, endless $3 Kalik beers and ton of hip-shaking Bahamian music blasting into the wee hours of the night.

And it wasn’t just a party for adults. Every Bahamian kid in town was running wild Saturday night, climbing on stage, eating BBQ ribs, getting scolded by their moms and dancing up a storm while their parents guzzled their Kaliks.

Hell, it was the best party in town…and not just for the Bahamians. We, too, drank our fair share of Kaliks and ate enough ribs to sink a boat. The only difference was that I didn’t hear twenty speeches at 8 a.m. the next morning thanking the George Town Bahamians on the Cruisers Net for the excellent party they threw the night before.

But after that party, I’m sure most Bahamians were still in bed when the Cruisers Net came on. I know I was.

turf to surf hideaway sailing george town bahamas

Ryan’s loves him some Kalik beer.

heritage festival music george town bahamas

Not to mention live music.

george town bahamas heritage festival

And don’t forget the dancing! m/v Knot Yet rips it up with s/v Hideaway.

heritage festival 2013 george town bahamas

No one’s quite as enthusiastic as this guy, though.

music heritage festival george town bahamas

All in all, a good night out.

post-line-divide

To see more of Turf to Surf’s travels in the Bahamas, visit their Photo Albums on Facebook.