In the Tropics now

In Georgetown, I pump up my birthday present from Blair, a 12-foot Sea Eagle standup paddleboard. It comes neatly packed in a good-sized knapsack but, despite the size, it weighs only 22 pounds so it’s easy to carry up to the deck for assembly. I tried a few different boards out this past summer – I even did a paddleboard yoga class (not to be repeated as there’s very little ohm involved, just mostly struggling to keep your balance). Blair did the research and the Sea Eagle meets all our requirements; compact enough to fit in Strathspey’s aft cabin, light enough for me to lift and firm enough to provide a stable paddling platform. I paddle and explore the shoreline all morning, enjoying the gin-clear water here so early in the season. We’re early to Georgetown this year and it’s great because by mid-February, with the influx of 400-600 cruising boats, the waters become cloudy and definitely less inviting.

Blair plumbs in the last errant bit of the water maker. He runs the fresh water tube down through Strathspey’s interior over top our port water tank and through our forward locker, hiding the hose behind walls and under settees. He connects the tube to the bow tank fill pipe. It’s a long job but nice and tidy by completion. He also dives under Strathspey to replace the zinc anodes on our propeller. We’re a little concerned now as Strathspey has only been in the water for 35 days and those small circular anodes are almost completely gone. We think it may have been 11 days of stray current in the water while on a mooring ball in Vero Beach. No matter the cause, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the new anodes going forward.

After two nights in Georgetown, we up-anchor and sail 40 miles south to Long Island. At 3:30 pm, we drop anchor in Thompson Bay and dinghy into Long Island Breeze resort where we purchase showers. What a treat they are … unlimited fresh hot water showers, our first since Vero Beach. We shower aboard Strathspey, but those showers are always short, usually lukewarm and always with a niggling worry in the back of our mind as to how much water we’ve used and when and where we’ll be able to make more water. With only 60 gallons of water aboard and, of that, only a paltry 11 gallons in our hot water tank, we are definitely miserly when it comes to long, hot showers.

Sponge 'factory' in Thompson Bay, Long Island.

Sponge ‘factory’ in Thompson Bay, Long Island.

Unlike Georgetown, Long Island is pretty deserted except for locals right now. It’s not a tourist destination and not a big favourite with cruising boats until February usually. That’s just fine by us and we enjoy the solitude here. We walk across the island to the Atlantic side and walk the long deserted beaches over there. On our way back one afternoon we stop to chat with sponge fishermen and to admire their catch. Over a three-day trip, the fishermen have gathered wool and grass sponges from the ocean floor. The sponges are black when harvested and brought back to shore but once they dry out, the ‘meat’ falls away and all that is left is the soft skeleton used for expensive bath sponges. This was a pretty rudimentary business set up on a side street close to the government dock but the main customers were high-end distributors in Europe. We wondered what those European customers would think if they saw the men standing in deep wooden stalls, pumping their legs up and down, as if on treadmills, to tamp the sponges down into square bales so they could be shrink-wrapped for shipping.

Blair is keen to catch some fish now that we’ve slowed down a bit and, when we stop into the Hillside Grocery for some fresh vegetables, he waylays owner William who has given us much good fishing advice in our past visits. William recommends frozen squid for Blair to use as bait. When Blair mentions we are going out to Indian Hole Point to fish with that squid, William tells us that someone caught a barjack out there just yesterday. He actually shows us the fish and insists that we take it. We look up barjack in our ‘Sport Fish of Florida’ book and it tells us that the food value is ‘Excellent’ – Bonus!

Our free samples from the sponge fishermen.

Our free samples from the sponge fishermen.

Here in Long Island we’re on a quest for propane; we want to top up our two 10-pound propane tanks before crossing to Cuba where every household uses butane. We’d toyed with the idea of strapping an extra propane tank to Strathspey’s stern but just couldn’t determine how to do it using good engineering, never mind finesse. This too is the last location with good Internet as we head further south into the Ragged Islands so we make a Skype call to Sandy in Vancouver, text constantly with Brooklyn in Ottawa, catch up on all our emails and do a little banking. Once we leave Long Island we will only have access to our SSB emails and anything that comes in via our satellite phone. It will be an abrupt end to all the chatting back and forth with our children and friends and I know I am going to definitely miss it.

As we sail south to Long Island we pass the Tropic of Capricorn so we’re officially in the Tropics now and the weather has definitely warmed up since we left Florida. The first two days in Long Island are too windy to do any paddle boarding but we are anchored in eight feet of water and, with the anchor well dug into good holding sand, we aren’t too worried as Strathspey swings with the wind through a 40 foot arc.

One day while out for a hike, I lose our Coolpix underwater camera. We take it everywhere we go because it’s a sturdy little thing that tucks easily into a pocket and can withstand a drop in the sand or the water and, on top of everything, takes excellent photos. I retrace our steps back and forth between our various stops, kicking up the brush at the side of the road, asking at each store we’d stopped at, searching under the dinghy dock and under Strathspey in case it is lying on the seabed. Three hours later I give up, disappointed. We have another bigger digital SLR camera but it’s expensive and far more delicate so we’re more careful with it. What I hate most is that we’ve lost all the photos taken so far.

A Money Bat sleeping over my head!

A Money Bat sleeping over my head!

With the continued lovely weather we eat in the cockpit every night. But one night huge black moths with three-inch wing spans join us. They flutter in our face and constantly try to light on our plates and ignore our efforts to scare them away. The next morning I wake up with one of those moths two inches from my nose on the wall beside my pillow. Blair captures it with a glass and releases it outside where, probably disoriented from the bright sunlight, it flies in circles and then heads over to one of the far-off islands.

A few days later, one of the locals tells us that this moth is called a Money Bat and, if they land on you, it means you will come into some money shortly. Well, we didn’t come into actual cash but we did have our little camera returned to us that day. One of the young children living nearby found the camera on a path and his father looked through the photos and recognized us as we walked past his restaurant that morning. Just another reason we like Long Island.

But, as much as we like Long Island, now that we’ve found a source for propane to fill our tanks tomorrow morning we move further south down into the Ragged Islands.

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