Fitness Afloat: Learning to use our TRX

Like many a sailor preparing to transition to a life of cruising, I spent countless months in New York devouring sailing blogs, reading books and listening to tales of the disasters and triumphs of many old salts who once lived on the high seas.

From stories like Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi, I took comfort and gained confidence; if a young girl with no sailing experience could sail the world single-handedly, I could probably sail it with a smidgen of experience and a partner on board. From books like Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey, I got the importance of studying the weather and maintaining good communication aboard (both for our safety and the sanity of our relationship). From blogs like Bumfuzzle, I absorbed the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to, if you can ignore the naysayers who’ll say you’re being foolish and suicidal. I followed Windtraveler’s posts for inspiration, fun and a photographic catalogue of the beautiful things cruising has to offer. And I was encouraged by Zero to Cruising’s ability to stay incredibly fit and active while living aboard.

From all of these cruising viewpoints, I started to form a picture of what I wanted my life aboard to be like. And at the top of my list of must-haves was fitness and staying active. My worry, though, was that sports and fitness would become elusive while life onboard revolved around maintenance, chores and navigation, and as we fell out of a regular routine. After all, routines have played a large part in keeping me involved in sports: between marathon training with running clubs, Saturday morning races in Central Park, roller derby practice three nights a week, cycling to and from work, and slalom ski racing every weekend in the winters. Looking at this list, I knew when we sailed out of New York, I’d have to give up most of these sports. But I also wanted to keep as much of it in my life as I could.

Okay, so obviously skiing and roller derby were out. It’s hard enough to stay upright at sea as it is. Imagine if I tried it on roller skates? Running and biking would stay, but probably not with any regularity. After all, some islands seem to consist of mostly sand and rocks with not much in the way of paths. Where there are roads, though, you can be sure I’ll be there with my sneakers on.

What we really needed was something on board to help us build strength and release those addictive endorphins when running and biking wasn’t possible. And then I read Zero to Cruising and learned how they used their TRX on board. The TRX is a simple set of adjustable straps that allow you to use your body weight as resistance to work specific muscle groups. And it looked perfect for the boat because we could hang it from the mast and use the small space on our foredeck to do a work out.

I have to admit, though, that it took us a while to get into a routine with the TRX. In fact, it’s traveled all the way from New York City to the Bahamas in an unopened box, buried beneath a dozen cans of cat food, while Ryan and I remained unmotivated to give it a try.

When we got to the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas, though, we started finding islands we couldn’t run or bike on. So on a breezy night in Allens Cay, when we craved some muscle burn and a little energy release, we broke out the TRX, watched the instructional DVD, and did our first 45-minute workout as the sun set over Hideaway in her secluded anchorage.

And it was good enough to make me regret not breaking it out of the package sooner. The TRX even comes with an easy-to-follow picture booklet that shows you easier and harder options for each exercise, so you can ramp up your workout any time you’re ready.

It wasn’t the kind of thing I would have chosen to do in, say, the basement of our house, or outside in cold weather. But with a beautiful view surrounding us, some music pumping from the stereo and a partner to keep me on task, the TRX suddenly became the perfect fitness accessory for our boat.

So here I am, like many a cruiser before me, trying to figure out what I want for my life aboard. It’s not always sunshine and sundowners, but I think we’re getting closer to understanding what our priorities are. And as Ryan would tell you, I’m a much easier person to live with once I’ve had a good sweat. So this TRX toy of ours may become more important than we ever realized.

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Sailing on a broad reach to…who cares?

I think there’s probably something in a sailing rule book somewhere that says you’re not a real sailor unless you have a favorite point of sail.

But to be honest with you, up until now, my favorite point of sail has been whatever got me to our destination the fastest and easiest. And, most often, that has been the engine, since it’s rare we get winds so perfect we can sail comfortably and quickly to our destination. Which, at times, causes me to wonder why we’re not motor-boat owners. Gas prices. That’s probably why.

In any case, we decided to do some sailing just for fun, after spending a few days at the crowded anchorage at Big Major Spot, near Staniel Cay, and thought it would be nice to skip north (a little unorthodox to backtrack, but why not?) to see the underwater Sea Aquarium at O’Brien’s Cay. And with the winds in our favor, we were able to just relax and enjoy the ride, rather than treat our boat like the transport mule we often think of her as.

And the weirdest thing happened… we set the sails for a broad reach and sailed almost all the way to O’Brien’s before I said to Ryan, “This point of sail… what is it? It might just be my favorite point of sail.”

The seas were calm, Jimmy Buffett was playing on our portable stereo, the cats had found their perches under the dodger and we were moving along at 5.5 knots with no engine.

Ryan said, “Yeah, this is pretty nice. But a beam reach would be even better. Less roll.”

And I thought about that for a while.

“But this is really, really nice,” I said. “The wind is just…perfect. If I ever had a favorite point of sail, this is it. Does that mean I can finally call myself a sailor?”

This question hung in the air as heavy as the hesitation I had about sailing around the world back in October.

“You can call yourself a sailor if you like,” Ryan said. “But a beam reach is nicer.”

“Well, I think I can say this broad reach thing we’ve got going here is my favorite,” I said. “This is the nicest this boat has sailed since we left Fort Lauderdale. For sure.”

Ryan wasn’t going to argue with that. After all, having a favorite point of sail surely meant I had finally fallen in love with sailing. As in, I had fallen in love with the act of sailing without a care as to what our destination might be. I was starting to care less about arrival times the longer we lived on the water. There was no turning back from here.

Even if a beam reach was better than a broad reach, in Ryan’s mind, it didn’t matter. His wife was finally hooked.

What’s the best point of sail? Whatever she says.

Yeah, mon. Don’t argue with the lady.

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Hideaway, on a lovely broad reach.

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To see photos of where we sailed on a broad reach from, visit Turf to Surf’s Photo Album of Staniel Cay and Big Major Spot.

Travel and Fitness: Running in the islands

One thing I’ve always loved about running is how simple it is. It doesn’t require any equipment — just a pair of sneakers and a stretch of road or beach in front of you. Of course, a little sunshine and a spectacular view doesn’t hurt, either.

Except back when we were constantly pushing Hideaway further and faster south to escape the cold, getting off the boat for a run was difficult. Ryan and I would go for days on end where we’d weigh anchor first thing in the morning and drop anchor in another cold harbor just as the sun was setting, leaving little time to stretch our legs, let alone go for a run.

But now that we’ve slowed down, the weather’s cheered up and each island is a mere two or three-hour sail away, we’ve found plenty of time to get off the boat and jog to the far corners of the most idyllic islands. And when we encounter an island that lacks paths, we don’t sweat it; we get our snorkel gear out and explore the underwater world around it instead. After all, there’s always plenty of time to go running on the next island.

The best thing for me about running, though (aside from the obvious health benefits), is how much you see when you lace up your sneakers and just go out exploring. And if you’re at all like me and you’ve been blessed with a terrible sense of direction, you’ll often find yourself lost, which is when you find some really interesting things. Sure, you may never be able to find those amazing spots again, but then that just enhances your experience of living in the now, right?

Staniel Cay turned out to be a great island for running (and getting lost on). There aren’t many roads, but there are some little-known trails that meander up hills to the highest points of the island, across an airport runway, off to hidden beaches and through the backyards of private homes.

The first day we went out running, I kept mumbling “Wow” under my breath every few minutes, as we would turn a corner and find ourselves on an empty beach, or as we reached the crest of a hill where I could see the entire island from one end to the other. And there was never another soul in sight. So, the next day we went running, I made sure to carry my old pocket camera with me, so I could capture some of what I was seeing.

These views are what get me excited to lace up my sneakers and get to shore as often as possible. I just never know what I’ll find out there on those trails. The most beautiful spot I’ve ever been to may be just around the corner, a few miles down a dusty trail.

And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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A nice little spot to stop and rest before running on.

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Running brings me to spots like this.

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What a view from up here.

5 reasons to visit Staniel Cay, Bahamas

When we first started making our way down the Exuma chain, we were a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of islands there were to see. 365, apparently: one for every day of the year. So to help us sort through which islands to visit and which ones to skip, we jotted down a list of 5 criteria for what we’d want in an island (with the baseline assumption that every island has a stunning beach). And if we could check off two or more items on our list, we’d stop for a visit.

Tasha & Ryan’s Island Criteria (in no particular order):

  1. Trails or roads for running
  2. A well-protected or secluded anchorage
  3. A point of interest (iguanas, sunken plane, swimming pigs, etc.)
  4. A bar (or restaurant)
  5. A store, laundry and/or WiFi

According to our criteria, Staniel Cay scored a whopping 5 out of 5. So, as soon as the winds died down over Warderick Wells, we let go of our mooring ball and made a bee-line for the burgers and social interaction we were so badly craving after a week on the boat with just each other.

And Staniel Cay did not disappoint. Well, that’s not exactly true; we couldn’t find anywhere to do laundry. But we’d heard that Black Point on Great Guana Cay was home to an amazing woman named Ida who offered laundry, hot showers, haircuts, homemade bread and coffee. It had been three weeks since we last did laundry, so what was another couple of days in dirty clothes, anyway?

In any case, Staniel Cay turned out to be the perfect place to stop after a period of isolation. Not only did we soak up our share of burgers, rum punches and cruising stories in the bar at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, but we ran the island from top to bottom and sweated out any dregs of cabin fever left in us. We also did all the touristy things, like snorkel at the Thunderball Grotto, a cave named for the James Bond movie it was featured in, and swim with the pigs at Big Major Spot.

We love disappearing and having a secluded island to ourselves as much as the next cruiser, but it’s also nice to find an island full of amenities after being out on your own for a while. But even the busiest islands out here in the Exumas are still, by no means, urban. You won’t find a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, for example, or even an island with a population of over 100 until you get to Georgetown. But you might find a little old lady who sells vegetables and does laundry for you in the back of her house. Or you might find a clapboard shack on the beach that serves grilled fish and conch salad.

And it’s those moments, when I’m eating conch salad on the beach, watching the sun set over Hideaway in the distance, that it feels like my soul is being fed, more than my stomach.

And I’d have to say, Starbucks would really struggle to compete with that.

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Could Ryan be the next grandmaster?

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Walking up to “The Blue Store,” where you’ll find a modest selection of grocery items.

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Swimming pigs are the main attraction at Big Major Spot.

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These pigs appear to like apples and lettuce, but careful when you feed them!

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Underwater world at the Thunderball Grotto.

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Enjoying the view of the harbor at sunset

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The sun sets over the pristine beaches of Staniel Cay.

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For more photos of Staniel Cay, visit the Staniel Cay Photo Album on our Facebook Page! Like Turf to Surf’s page while you’re there if you want to keep in touch with us as we travel.

Photo Essay: Warderick Wells Cay, Bahamas

I was all set to write about Warderick Wells Cay being the dullest island in the Exumas chain and how we would have moved on more quickly if it weren’t for the gale-force winds that kept us tied securely to a park mooring ball.

But then I downloaded our photos and had to laugh out loud. Who would ever believe my ambivalence towards an island so ridiculously photogenic that it belonged on the glossy pages of National Geographic?

So, rather than mention the unwalkable “trails,” the mediocre snorkeling, the park headquarters shop which sells nothing useful, or the island’s famous pirate landmark, which is really just a circle drawn in the sand next to a brackish well with a sign labeling it “Pirate’s Lair,” I’ll just leave you with this photo essay and the knowledge that even the most boring islands in the Exumas are laughably beautiful.

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Hideaway in the south mooring field.

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The island’s sharp, craggy rocks make for difficult and slow walking.

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A friendly island native.

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The north mooring field – the most popular of the island’s three mooring fields.

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Moorings in front of Park Headquarters.

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Boo Boo Hill, the main “attraction” on the north end of the island.

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“Hideaway was here February 2013.”

A cruiser’s tantrum: Things I hate about living on a boat

Looking over our photos of idyllic beaches and topaz blue waters, you’d think that life aboard a sailboat looked like a Chanel perfume ad. You can just see me swinging in a hammock on a sun-drenched foredeck as a breeze lifts the hems of my white linen trousers. And in my lap is a puppy. There’s always a puppy. Not a cat who likes to wake me up by clawing me in the head.

Then again, I’m sure you also know that living aboard a small, tipping weeble-wobble of a vessel is not all sunshine and Prozac commercial takes.

For starters, completing a simple task just takes longer on a boat than it does elsewhere. You need a roll of toilet paper? Well, you’ll have to remove your entire mattress and bedding first, then pull off the slab of wood covering your V-berth storage and pull out several items you don’t need so you can reach the toilet paper. Then you have to put all the items you pulled out back in storage and cover it up so you can put your mattress and bedding back together. But at least you now have toilet paper.

You just wish you’d realized you were out of toilet paper before you started doing the bathroom dance.

I guess that part got cut from the commercial with the hammock and the puppy.

Of course, I realize these are petty, insignificant complaints. After all, sometimes I do get to sit on a hammock and I often get to walk on beautiful beaches. Who wouldn’t trade a little comfort for the view I have each day?

But when the waves are tossing pots and pans onto the floor, my hair is crusty and there isn’t enough water for a shower, the little things start to eat at me. And then my mental monologue can sound a little like this:

Shit, are we out of water?

Where is that rattling coming from?

Music. That will drown out the rattling. Crap, are the speakers broken again?

What is that smell?

Has it really only been 4 days since we filled up our water tanks?

I need to use the computer. But the batteries are low.

Seriously, what IS that smell?

Did we put blue stuff down the head?

Where is the blue stuff?

It’s probably under the settee cushions, under 15 cans of coconut milk. I’ll get it later.

Wait, the smell is coming from the bedroom. What is that?

Can’t I just sit and read without that list of boat projects staring at me?

I need to get off this boat.

Is it just me, or do Ryan’s jokes get less funny the longer I’m on this boat?

I need to go for a run.

Damnit, that smell! It’s cat pee in my sneakers!

I NEED TO GET OFF THIS BOAT.

Crap. The waves are choppy. Can we get this dinghy down?

Okay, dinghy’s down. How am I supposed to balance on this bouncing surfboard of a dinghy to get the engine on?

Ouch! Damnit! Who moved that boom over here?

Ugh. My shorts are moldy.

Dinghy’s ready! We’re going to shore.

I am so ready to SWEAT.

WTF? The guidebook said there are “trails” on this island. These aren’t trails! They’re jagged lines of spiky rocks conspiring to throw me on my face.

Ooh. That rain cloud looks ugly. And it’s coming this way.

Damnit. Dinghy’s out of gas. Row faster.

How the hell are we going to cook dinner with the boat bouncing around like this?

Ramen for dinner?

Shit, we’re out of water.

Crackers for dinner?

What happened to Camp Driftwood?

It’s always a little unsettling when we pull into a popular anchorage to find it completely empty. All I can think is “Why is no one else here? Is there something we don’t know?”

We got our answer, though, as we bounced and jerked in the waves trying to get Hideaway tied onto her mooring ball in Shroud Cay. The winds were blowing 20 knots from the west and we had no protection in the mooring field on the west side of the island. We knew this would be the case before we left Norman’s Cay, but we were counting on the winds to die down to 5 knots that evening. And as long as the forecast was correct, we would be comfortable again by nightfall. Getting to shore during daylight hours on a bouncing dinghy in the meantime, however, was a challenge.

The plan was to stay one night in Shroud Cay and get to a protected harbor in Warderick Wells Cay early the next day before the gale-force winds in the forecast blew through Saturday night and kept us tied down again for a while.

And Shroud Cay seemed like as good a stopover as any, since it was highlighted in our Cruising Guide to the Exumas with a long paragraph devoted to the history of “a very special place” there called Camp Driftwood, which was described as impossible to describe. Apparently Camp Driftwood has been on Shroud Cay since the 1960’s, when a sailing hermit named Ernest Scholtes stayed on his boat in the anchorage and built the place, little by little, with pieces of driftwood, shells, seabeans, floats and colorful bits found on the beach.

But all we found were two totem poles, presumably marking the path up to Camp Driftwood, and a string of discarded beer bottles leading us up the hill like some kind of alcoholic bread crumb trail. Except when we got to the top, there was nothing there but a gorgeous view of the beach. No picnic table made of driftwood or works of art made from shells and seeds. Just a wooden frame that looked like it once held a plaque of some kind and some more trash.

We wondered if we’d somehow missed a secret path that led to the camp on the other side of the hill. But when we read the description again, it definitely said it was on the ridge at the top of the hill. After all, the U.S. DEA had a camera parked up there from which to spy on Carlos Lehder’s activity on Norman’s Cay. You can’t see Norman’s Cay from the bottom of the hill.

We were stumped. Did someone steal Camp Driftwood? Pack it up to bring back to Ernest Sholtes as a nostalgic gift wherever he resided now? Or did it all blow away in the storm that took down McDuff’s bar on Norman’s Cay?

It didn’t matter, I guess. In the same way that we went to Norman’s Cay to find a burger and instead found a sunken plane to snorkel around, I guess we went to Shroud Cay to find Camp Driftwood and instead found a beautiful, completely secluded beach.

But if anyone knows what happened to Camp Driftwood, please do tell…

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Arriving to the end of the creek in Shroud Cay

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Mighty Mouse, beached near Camp Driftwood, at the end of the creek

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Just us…and our footprints in the sand

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If only this totem pole could talk…

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Yep, this one’s not talkin’ either

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No Camp Driftwood up here…but the view is gorgeous!

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Nope, no Camp Driftwood over here, either. But the view is still gorgeous!

Looking for Drug Runners in Norman’s Cay, Bahamas

As soon as we dropped anchor, we were eager to get to shore and explore for bullet holes, severed fingers, buried bags of cocaine, loose hundred-dollar bills…you know, the kind of thing you’d expect to find on your average, abandoned drug-running island. After all, we were in a heavenly little spot just south of Norman’s Cay, the island made famous by drug-runner Carlos Lehder (aka Diego Delgado in the movie Blow with Johnny Depp).

But it turned out all there was to see was a partially overgrown runway, where Carlos Lehder’s planes used to come and go with their cargo as the U.S. DEA spied on them from the hilltops of neighboring Shroud Cay. And there was the run-down McDuff’s Beach Bar & Grill, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations.

There were rumors that McDuff’s had been damaged in a storm, but since it was still mentioned in our guidebook, Ryan was keen to find out if they’d recovered enough to serve their Manhattan-priced $18 hamburgers and $6 beers again. (You know you’ve had one too many Ramen noodles when you’ll visit an island just to indulge the improbable hope that you might get an overpriced burger.)

My carnivorous husband seemed not to be deterred by the “Under Construction” signs or the dusty workmen as we made our way past McDuff’s faded multi-colored picket fence and into the bar. The place was definitely closed, but we were invited in by a friendly construction manager from Yorkshire, England who was happy to chat with us.

Apparently, the bar had been closed for nearly a year with the new owner planning a bigger, better, more beautiful version of the former burger shack. Personally, we’d have been tickled with burgers and beer on a bare patch of sand, but construction wasn’t stopping for us. We’d heard about McDuff’s from a number of long-time cruisers and they always said the same thing: “It’s an interesting place.” With a lot of emphasis on interesting. We like interesting, so it was a shame the place was closed.

It wasn’t much of a day for sight-seeing, but we got to hear to the island stories of the Englishman in the bar who seemed just as enthralled with Normans’ sordid history as we were. Apparently, during the height of his reign, Carlos Lehder tried to take over as much property on the island as he could. But when one of Lehder’s neighbors refused to sell, he came home to find his roof caved in by his own yacht, which had been dragged out of the water and dropped on his house with a heavy crane. And according to our storyteller, the house is still there with a boat lodged in the roof.

“Carlos is back in a few weeks, by the way,” said the Englishman.

“What?! He’s alive?” I asked.

“Very much so. And he wants his house back. He’s done his time. Thirty years or whatever. No joke.”

“Holy crap.” I said.

So, there may not be much to see on Norman’s Cay at the moment, but in a few months, cruisers passing through may find themselves having a burger and a beer in a newly-renovated McDuff’s, having polite conversation with a mysterious German-Colombian perched at the bar next to them.

You never know.

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Well, at least it’s not far.

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McDuff’s garden.

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The caves in Normans Pond, Normans Cay.

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I wonder if there’s any cocaine in here?

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No cocain, but look how pretty!

Video Valentine: Norman’s Cay, Bahamas

With no heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to exchange on Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to make our own valentine in Norman’s Cay by exploring our surroundings and taking our GoPro camera out for a little joyride.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Turf to Surf.

Normans Cay Bahamas Turf to Surf from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

Working weekend: Highborne Cay Marina, Exumas

Saying the W-word to a cruiser is like holding a cross up to a vampire.

Which is why I try not to mention it too often. I’ve learned othing scatters cruisers from a friendly happy hour conversation quicker than talk of w-w-work.

But, for us, it’s a necessity. Sometimes we’ll be at an anchorage, lolling happily on the hook in view of a white sand beach, swimming to shore, snorkeling and driving our dinghy up to other boats to invite fellow cruisers to Hideaway for sundowners…

…and then sometimes we’ll disappear to a marina where there’s internet and a phone connection (usually timed when the weather is also acting up), leaving our cruising friends to wonder where we’ve gone and if they’ve said something to offend us.

The answer is we’ve gone to work. And it’s always a little stressful, trying to face down hundreds of unattended emails in an Inbox and trying to make contact with the “outside world” when the very tall BaTelCo tower you’re staring at doesn’t actually provide a phone connection.

But, this is our reality. We’ve gone from a life of 100% work and 10% play to a life of 100% play and 10% work. I know, though math is not my strong point, that’s 110% either way. But that’s a pretty accurate depiction of the force at which we live our lives. It’s just that now we swap a few days of stress, now and then, so we can snorkel and run on the beach and meet new people and work on boat projects (more than I would like). Whereas, before, it was swapping a few days of sailing, skiing or what-have-you for endless weeks of 14-hour days in the office. So maybe we haven’t achieved a life lived “off the grid” just yet, but it’s certainly better than what we had before, so what’s there to complain about, really?

And, as it happened on Friday, the winds started picking up and spinning around to the south, giving us poor protection in our anchorage, so we decided to duck into Highborne Cay Marina and get some work done through the weekend. As we’ve learned, though, the winds in the Bahamas work on almost a weekly cycle, rotating clockwise… so if they’re blowing from the south, they’ll soon move to the west, then the north, the east, and so on. Which gives us a window each week to move quickly onward before we get stuck again, waiting out a front.

But Highborne Cay is hardly the worst place to get stuck doing work, considering we practically live on a harbor-sized fish tank, at the moment. However, with gale-force winds arriving this Saturday, we need to get a move on.

And as the Bahamians like to boast, there’s an island in the Exumas for every day of the year. Except with only a 130-day cruising permit, we don’t have time to see all 365-or-so islands. So, today, we push on to Norman’s Cay with a plan to get to a safe mooring in Staniel Cay before the gale blows through on Saturday.

And with a good chunk of work wrung out of us in Highborne, we’ll be able to enjoy the next few days of snorkeling, running along beaches and cave exploring with a little more gusto.

This is one of many possible ways to support a cruising lifestyle. Just, whatever you do, don’t mention the W-word at happy hour.

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If only sailboats had glass bottoms.

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Being here during low season means having the marina almost to ourselves

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My weekend office with a view…

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…The view from my “office”

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Free bike use, in case I need a distraction from work

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Just don’t wait too long for the bus to come.

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And, if you need someone to talk to, there’s also these little guys