Home again, home again, jiggety jog

We have been home now for 18 days! One of our friends chastised us for leaving our blog “unfinished”…asking us not to be like so many other adventurers who never complete the story once they get home! And although it was never our intention to do that, I can see why so many people aren’t able to get back to blogging.

After 6 months away, returning to our “real” life feels a bit like stepping into a whirlwind. We want to be very intentional as we return to make wise choices in what we pick back up and what we leave behind. Life was too busy before we left, and we would like to slow things down. Or, if we can’t slow things down, to focus the action in a particular direction, rather than feeling blown from crisis to crisis. It is quickly becoming apparent that this won’t be easy. But then again, most things worth having aren’t easy to attain! We have faith that God will guide our steps.

So, today will be a little reprieve for me – a chance to look back to last month… and re-enter a simpler time when our world was small (29 feet) and our decisions basic (what will we eat today?, what will we do today?, where will we go today?).

Black fin tuna  - caught just before leaving the Gulf Stream

Black fin tuna Shad caught just before leaving the Gulf Stream

We spent the month of April working our way slowly home. Our port of arrival in the USA was West Palm Beach. The density of people, crazy amount of selection in the grocery stores, flamboyance of advertising, endless cheap dining options, amount of private property (meaning no place to get to shore) and rules regulating boat traffic were all quite a change! Our first meal out was to a sports bar called “Duffy’s”. That night was one of the college basket ball final games and the restaurant was packed to overflowing with cheering fans. There were at least 10 large screen televisions broadcasting different channels. It was quite fun to sit back and enjoy the over-stimulation of all our senses (including the free refills on drinks)!

Sunset behind Peanut Island

Sunset from our Peanut Island anchorage

We anchored near Peanut Island a couple nights and I thought it was worth mentioning. In the midst of all the fees and fancy private shore-line of the decadent Palm Beach area, this city-funded island park was an oasis of freedom. Day use dockage was free and boaters of all varieties were anchoring their boats any old where, some swimming to shore while dodging the ferries bringing picnickers back and forth. A protected snorkeling area had been created and public washrooms and rinse off showers lined the beach. Lovely walking trails and boardwalks crisscrossed the island…and it was all free of charge. Thank you Palm Beach for keeping some natural beauty open to the public.

As an aside, as soon as we were back in Florida, we began seeing Dolphins regularly again. I really enjoyed all the sightings and encounters we had with them during our trip.

Travis had really been looking forward to checking out the ICW (intra-coastal waterway) and crossing through Florida on the Okeechobee waterway. It is a motoring trip, along a connected network of rivers, estuaries and canals. Our route took us past Jupiter Island, the richest zip code in the USA… the Atlantic bank of the ICW was lined with beautiful homes, towering trees and sweeping lawns (and more swimming pools than I have seen in my life). The grand scale of it all made the shore look deceptively close. When Rachel and Shad took the dinghy to a small beach one evening, they looked like ants and we laughed because we had been worried that we had anchored to close to shore!

A modest house along the ICW

A modest home along the ICW

At Stuart (where the kids and I spent a lovely afternoon at a Oceanic conservation centre learning about sea turtles and game fish and patting rays) we left the ICW to head east. The Okeechobee Waterway cuts right through Florida, by way of Lake Okeechobee, a large freshwater lake famous for bass fishing. Besides saving us a couple hundred nautical miles, Travis was excited at the opportunity to go through a number of locks, bascule and swinging bridges. We had to communicate with the lock and bridge masters via VHF radio. This was quite stressful for me, because when I would request passage through on their next lift or opening, I would hear back “Snnrflk blerbl crflfk”. I did not like the feeling of passing under a bridge wondering if the bridge master had said yes or had said “Don’t come any closer or we will close the bridge on you!”

The kids handling the lines in a lock

The kids handling the lines in a lock

Bascule bridge

Bascule bridge

The Okeechobee Waterway is in ‘gator country and we did see quite a few as we motored through the wetlands and rivers. This made swimming out of the question and so as the weather heated up we were sweltering. So, the first afternoon we checked into the Roland Martin Marina, where we knew they had a pool and showers…ah, refreshment. And we got to try Gator tail at their restaurant. The next day was really hot again, but this time our refreshment was brought by a wonderful downpour in the late afternoon. Rachel and I got on our swimsuits and sang in the “shower” on our deck. That night we watched the movie “Singin’ in the Rain” to complete the experience.

The Okeechobee Waterway empties out at Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico. After 3 full days of motoring across Florida, we took it easy and anchored by an island off of Captiva Pass. We had a lovely afternoon swimming, walking the beach, fishing and people watching. Shadrach caught a mullet while standing in the water. This was pretty amusing, as they do not go for lures and he hooked it in its body when it swam past him! A local guy told us how to cook it….but it was not our favourite. From the beach and our anchorage, we could see dolphins swimming and playing. I began swimming out to them, but chickened out knowing that the people beside us had been fishing (successfully) for shark! It was a pretty idyllic evening. We ate our supper in the cockpit and watched fish jumping, dolphins fishing and birds diving! That night, a knocking noise was keeping us from sleep. Rachel got up and went out on the deck to try to figure out how to stop it and then Shadrach realized it was a drum…a Red Drum. The male fish of this species makes the noise to attract a mate by hitting its air bladder with a muscle! Pretty cool.

Now it really felt like we were on the homeward stretch. We took a couple days sailing north back to our starting point in Tarpon Springs. On the way, we stopped at Madeira Beach.  At the tourist trap at John’s Pass, we purchased the mandatory saltwater taffy and had a great time watching pelicans and other birds fight over scraps thrown by fishermen cleaning their catch.

Hungry bird at John's Pass

Hungry bird eyeing the fresh catch below

Ah...the tacky joys of tourist  traps!

Ah…the tacky joys of tourist traps!

At the end of our sailing journey, we anchored near the docks and boat ramps of the Anclote River Park. It was a busy park on the weekend…Travis had fun watching all the chaos as hundreds of boaters loaded and unloaded their boats in the strong current! My aunt and uncle came out for some boating and to help us pick up Sesame (our van). Rachel was very glad to be reunited with Sesame! We enjoyed taking a couple days to shop, clean the boat up, pack up etc in preparation for taking our boat out of the water.

Up she goes!

Up she goes!

Without too much drama, Schemma’s mast was taken down and she was lifted back onto the trailer. We set out the next morning for our week long van-ride home. We really enjoyed this trip. We visited restaurants on our list of “must-tries”. We watched the scenery change from summer back to early spring. We counted road kill again (over 60 deer this time, 15 armadillos as well as a wide assortment of birds, reptiles and rodents). It was apparent that more animals were active (thus run over) in spring! We wandered around the Opryland Hotel one evening in Tennessee and stayed at a hotel with an adjoining waterpark and ride park in Wisconsin Dells. This was quite a change from the Truck stops where we spent the rest of our nights!

We continued retracing our steps with a lovely visit with my Grandpa, aunt and uncle and cousins in Wadena. We crossed the border without incident…which greatly surprised Travis who had envisioned them tearing the boat apart. To re-acclimatize ourselves to Manitoba, we spent two nights at our family’s cabin in the bush. It really did feel good to take time to unwind, and to reclaim our identity as prairie Canadians!

The family cabin

Last stop: the family cabin

We arrived home in Winnipeg on the evening of April 30th. We expected to spend the evening at my parents’ house and kind of sneak back home one night early.

But the kids were far too anxious to see Daisy (our dog). So, we moved the party to our house and had a really warm welcome from both Daisy and (more importantly) the lovely friends we live with. I came home to a really clean house, which was great. Reconnecting with family, church mates and other neighbours made the first week home pure joy! Both our kids have found it easy and enjoyable to jump back into school and have picked up with friendships where they left off. This is a huge blessing. And although Travis and I are wading through the post-sabbatical blues right now, we definitely feel confident we are returning to a life filled with loving community and purpose. It has been gratifying to see that while we were away our community functioned without us and met challenges with wisdom and teamwork. We are so grateful to our friend Dave and his wife Hannah, who took on much more than we had predicted,  looking after our housing business while we were away. They were quite happy to give back the cellphone and keys when we returned!

It feels strange to have this adventure, which we dreamed of and planned for for so long, be behind us. There is a sense of accomplishment mixed with some sadness. We have definitely fallen in love with the cruising lifestyle and left a little of our hearts in the crystal clear ocean waters. It won’t be soon, but we are already dreaming of when we will return!

Rachel’s Last Post

We are back in Florida now (middle of April), but there are some things that happened in the Bahamas that nobody else has talked about in their blog posts yet.

We went to islands (Alan Cay and Leaf Cary) that had giant iguanas on them. Some of them were 3 feet long! They are orange, yellow, green and some red and they are scary! They are scary because tourists go and buy iguana kibble and feed it to them. Then they get very, very aggressive.  They run up to you…they get a little too close and then get closer and closer. A group of people we met had a bunch of bananas on the ground and the big aggressive iguana took a good clean chunk out of one with one bite. When we were first seeing the iguanas, a small Bananaquit, which is a kind of bird, hopped up very close to us on the ground, jumped onto Shadrach’s shoe and then from there jumped onto my hand! It was really cute and light. Later, when we went to Exuma Land and Sea Park, another one landed on my hand!

Sunbathing Bahamian Iguanas

Sunbathing Bahamian Iguanas

 Bananaquits love Rachel!

Bananaquits love Rachel!

When we were on the island with iguanas, we met a group of people and we had two campfires with them. We had marshmallows, popcorn, hobo dinners, fish, potatoes, noodles and rice mixed together.

After we left the iguana island, we went to the swimming pigs!!! They were running free on a white, sandy beach. When we got there I needed to get to shore right away because I’d been waiting the whole trip to see those little guys. But some of them weren’t so little. There were some piglets (hoglets!) that weren’t even a foot tall and some pigs that were three and half feet tall! There were three huge ones. We named the biggest one Big Mama. She was mean and nasty. She almost attacked Daddy and she bit Shad’s shirt. The first day there were only seven or eight pigs, but on the second day, more came. A nice big pink one and three little baby piglets. And then we found this other very small piglet. We don’t think he had a mama because he was wandering around all by himself – we named him Snuffles (Snuffles was actually a she). Two more medium pink pigs came and they liked to sleep all in a row with another pink pig. We called them The Three Little Pigs.IMG_6276 IMG_6251 IMG_6249 IMG_6244

Near the swimming pigs island there was a big natural hole inside a small island. It was called The Grotto (Thunderball Grotto as seen on the James Bond movie). You could snorkel inside it and see lots and lots of fishes. There were also little side caves you could swim into. It was very cool! The end

Life’s good 

 Wow! We have been blessed with a great few days and I’m completely in awe of this place.  The water, the colour of it and the abundant life in it is astounding. When spearfishing I’m often distracted by all the beautiful little fishes, it’s like swimming in a fully stocked aquarium, that is until I see a nice grouper who’s thinking he’s camouflaged, then the thrill of the hunt and the prospect of those fillets sizzling in our big cast iron frying pan with salt and pepper and a splash of lemon snaps me back to the task at hand. The trigger fish has become one of my favourites. They both look and taste beautiful. About half their body is their head and they swim kinda funny. They have very tough skin and are a little tricky to clean (a good trick is to peel them with pliers like a mahi mahi) but you are rewarded with firm and tasty meat. Snapper and hogfish are also very delicious. I tell you,we freshwater folk, we are learning all sorts that I couldn’t have guessed.

Turn it around

Anchored at the bottom of the Exumas off of Leaf Cay, about to turn our boat around and point our bow towards Winnipeg, I’m feeling quite a bit of internal struggle. I didn’t mean to experience this. We have full tanks of water and diesel and are stocked up with food from Georgetown, there are so many more islands (the Raggeds are so close and then Cuba, Haiti/DR and follow the path all the way to Grenada) to explore. It seems like it’s all within reach and yet we turn around. Although we’ve never had a destination and are enjoying the journey (and it’s not over yet), it feels strange to turn around. It would seem more natural to just keep going. Perhaps I’m emboldened by the fact that we will not sail further that I can think so flippantly about these passages. But the truth is this does seem very doable. I suppose I’m planning our retirement already!  Rachel has been enjoying swinging around in the rigging with the bosuns chair and took a few photos from aloft today. 

Bye bye Bahamas!

We have been without internet access since my last post – over three weeks, I think. In that time, we slowly and leisurely made our way to the southern tip of the Exumas, and then made our way slowly and leisurely back up. Something about the knowledge that we are drawing closer to the end of our sabbatical has made each day feel precious.

We have stopped in at so many beautiful islands and had so many fascinating encounters with life around and under the sea. I am the kind of person who likes to experience things with as many senses as possible. Snorkelling through reefs, walking hot, sandy beaches, clambering over rocks, swaying in my hammock – they have all been great ways of immersing myself in my surroundings.

On our way up to the highest point in the Exumas...Schemma is in the backgrounder.

On our way up to the highest point in the Exumas…Schemma is in the background.

We have eaten well –with a number of our meals coming, in part, from the ocean. I have had the opportunity to fry crack conch, although I was very clear that I would not be cleaning the conch, only cooking it! Shadrach and Travis were both very diligent and persistent in learning this complicated, slimy process!

the conch - freshly pried from its shell

the conch – freshly pried from its shell


Crack conch ready to enjoy!

Crack conch ready to enjoy!

We have eaten a number of different types of fish – on two occasions they were given to us by other boaters.

We have read good books and had fun reading aloud as a family. We recently purchased an autobiography, Out Island Doctor by a man in his forties (and in the 1940s) who left his life as a teacher in the USA to start again as a Bahamian resident. His descriptions of the beauty, isolation, swarming sandflies, razor sharp rocks and eccentric, friendly people have been easy for us to envision. Don’t worry – we are not getting any ideas about staying down here. But it is fun to imagine!

It has been fun getting to know our kids better. A tourist we met in Georgetown asked us who we have learned the most about on the trip and I think for me it is Rachel, followed close behind by Shad. We are seeing our kids respond to very different situations than ever before…and sometimes we are surprised by them. Like the time we were snorkelling and a shark swam between Rachel and the rest of us (about 10 feet away from her). She called out to us “There’s a shark over here!” and we all swam over right away as she swam hastily towards her Dad and the dinghy! She was done with snorkeling for the day, but I was really impressed to see her swallow her fear and give it another go the next day.

Rachel has shown us how accommodating she can be, spending a fair bit of time in the dinghy without complaint when she gets cold and the rest of us are not done snorkeling/spear-fishing. She gets really excited whenever we spear a fish or have a fish on the line, even though she doesn’t eat fish. She has also continued to show us how creative she can be. On her own initiative, she will pull out the art supplies and start working on a wide variety of projects, from painting and paper doll cutting to starting to write her own mystery novel.  We are especially pleased to observe howmuch this trip is strengthening her friendship with her brother. Samurai Sam (aka Rachel)

Shadrach has impressed us with his diligence in researching and putting into practice all kinds of details in fish identification, spearing techniques, outboard motor maintenance etc. He has proven to be quite a careful, calm fisherman – taking his time and only spearing a fish when he is sure it is the right size and one he knows we can eat. He has been a valuable crew member, willingly putting his muscles to work and swallowing his complaints when there is still one more chore for him. And he is really great at choosing to enjoy whatever game his sister wants to play! We see his social maturity in his enjoyment of meeting other boaters and as he listens and takes part in conversations with people we meet. We truly have wonderful kids!

We are now in Bimini – our last port of call in the Bahamas. We plan on setting out at 3 am tomorrow morning to cross the gulf stream back to Florida. We are truly on our way home! When we got here and were able to connect to the internet again, it was surprisingly good to hear news from Winnipeg. I did not have to convince myself that I am happy that I will see everyone soon! We have such a wonderful community of friends, family and neighbours to come home to. That night my dreams were filled with people from home (and a baked potato that started beeping…it woke me up and I realized our anchor drag alarm was going off…but I digress). I am glad we have time to leisurely make our way north to Winnipeg, but feel confident that we will be excited when we get there. For now, we have one last evening to watch the sun set behind crystal clear turquoise waters as we bid farewell to the beautiful Bahamas.

Our last Bahamian sunset.

Our last Bahamian sunset.

A word from Shad pt 2.

Hi this is Shad. The day before the day before yesterday we had our best fishing day ever. We got 2 triggerfish a grouper a porgy and 2 conch and we recorded the spearing of the triggerfish before the camera died. I do not know if I will be able to upload the high res video so we might post it when we get home.  Today we are in Bimini and have Wi-Fi. Bimini has pools which we have enjoyed hours in. We still have not caught a Mahi but with Wi-Fi we learned how to tune our cedar plug for maximum fish. Please pray that we can catch a Mahi when we cross the Gulf Stream. Can’t wait to come home! {update} we did not catch a mahi we caught a tuna! post pictures later.}

Two conch, two trigger fish, a grouper and a porgy.

Two conch, two trigger fish, a grouper and a porgy.


Trouble in paradise!

A couple days ago we took our dinghy up a salt water stream, spanning across Shroud Cay. As we rounded the last bend we came upon a breath-taking scene. I do believe it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Pristine white beaches, turquoise water in many shades, sheer cliffs and a forest of palms on the hills. And we had it all to ourselves (for quite a while)! I think we were all filled with joy and a bit of awe as we took it all in. We are so blessed to be here and so blessed to live on such an amazing planet.

Interestingly (and disappointingly), the pictures and video that Travis took that afternoon really did not do it justice. Something was lost in the translation. It got me thinking about something I have been pondering lately…even living in paradise isn’t perfect! There are many small glitches, stresses and discomforts that can dim my view of the beauty all around me.

For those of you who may be wondering if cruising the Bahamas has any “flies in the ointment”, here is a list of a few of my least favourite things!

  • Losing our new fishing lure the first time it hooked a fish
  • Losing Rachel’s new flip-flop overboard
  • Losing our lemon squeezer overboard
  • Losing our cherished carrot cake overboard (when our Backpacker Oven tipped over on the BBQ while baking it)
  • Leaving our backpack (with the dinghy navigation light inside) in a car when we were hitchhiking
  • Leaving a fishing line and lure behind somewhere
  • Spending 3 days waiting for the company providing us with a satellite weather service to reconnect our service (we had to stay where we could access wifi until it connected)
  • Having alternator problems (the alternator is what charges our batteries when the engine is running)
  • Not being able to use a fan at night because we don’t have enough electricity
  • The alternator dying
  • The new alternator we purchased in Rock Sound burning out (after Travis had already spent almost two weeks trying to figure out our alternator problems)
  • The old spare alternator not charging the batteries either
  • The fridge smelling gross when the frozen squid (for bait) melted as the freezer thawed (because of the low batteries)
  • The water maker refusing to take all the salt out of the water (probably because of the low batteries)
  • When it’s too windy to go where we want to go
  • When there’s not enough wind and we have to use the engine all day to get where we want to go
  • When there was no wind, and no-see-ums attacked us relentlessly (flying right through our screens) all night
  • Asking the kids to wash the dishes for the fifth time
  • Asking Rachel to do her math for the fifth time
  • Rachel asking for a snack for the fifth time (before lunch)
  • Asking the kids to settle down and stop making annoying screeching noises (for the fifth time)
  • Paying way more than we expected when treating ourselves to a meal at a restaurant

Whew…if you made it all the way through that list and have not given me up for a completely petty whiner, then thank you! The point I am trying to make is that even when in the middle of having my “dreams come true,” I can find plenty of reasons to be discontent. It has shown irrefutably that entertaining thoughts such as “If only (person or situation that bothers me) would change, I would be totally happy”, is a huge waste of time. There will always be reasons I can choose to be worried, grumpy and stressed. And there will always be reasons I can choose to be grateful and content. It has been very good exercise for my “choosing-happiness” muscles to let each of these unpleasant things go and direct my focus to the wonderful God who loves me, the wonderful people I am travelling with and the wonderful adventure I am on.IMG_6151IMG_6155

Unexpected experience

It’s interesting how one thing leads to the next. After replacing our alternator in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, we thought we were finally on our way to the Exumas. A powerful cold front coming in fast changed our course. We reluctantly paid to stay at a marina in Cape Eleuthera where a wahoo fishing tournament happened to be taking place. When the boats with the fish came in to be photographed and weighed, it attracted all sorts. Locals, curious transient sailors like us, marine biologists and sharks. That’s right, when the cleaning of fish begins, the predators circle. First a guy doing research on plastics in the ocean asks where the fish were caught and if he could keep the stomachs. He’s a friendly fellow from Chicago working on a study of the affects of ingested plastics in fish and how it affects them and their food quality for humans. Then from the Island School (islandschool.org), a whole team of folks were asking to take the fish remains. They were measuring, dissecting and labeling lots of ziploc bags to place various fish parts for further research and study. Then with what was left of the fish, a research team began “fishing” for bull sharks. They invited us to join them on their boat to capture one to measure, tag, take blood and tissue samples and implant a transmitter under its skin. I got caught up in the hunt and pointed out when I saw the Bulls come up from the depths as the nurse sharks (about a dozen) mostly swarmed near the surface as they threw in fish carcasses. What an experience! The team was super friendly and eager to talk to us about what they were doing. Some facts I learned about the Bull Sharks include: They have the most testosterone of any animal on earth, are very territorial, can swim in both salt and fresh water, are responsible for most human bites (note to mom: mostly because of mistaken identity in murky water, or people doing stupid things. The water in the Bahamas is the clearest I’ve ever seen and I’ll promise not to be stupid). Part of this project is to see where these sharks all travel. The shark they tagged while we were on board was a 270 cm female. The first one this year! Everyone cheered as the shark swam away after its procedures and surgery. It didn’t really hit me until later what we had just experienced or how special it was.
The cold front that rerouted us here hit us with a dramatic and instantaneous 10 degree drop in temperature as we were in the research boat and it began to pour. They were very apologetic that we were getting wet although they couldn’t really control that could they?
I wonder what tomorrow will bring? Our plans are to leave for the Exumas in the morning. We’ll see if that actually happens as I ponder who’s really in control.