4.26.2011

Spring Break, Good Friends, Tuna and Grits

Guest Blog by Mike DeGeorge



Every year during December and January, our family (Mike, Carol, Rob, Alex) starts getting a little impatient for Spring. Really, I am the impatient one. I start thinking about what we can do as a family during Spring Break, because this may be the last time we are able to go on a vacation together. The kids (they are men, not kids any more) will soon be out of college, focused on their own lives AND this may be our last opportunity. As it turns out this year, the Spring Breaks (Alex: University of Missouri and Rob: Iowa State) for our sons did not align, and Rob really wanted to do something with his friends for a change, since they are getting close to graduation and wouldn’t get many more chances. Carol and I had already decided to go to Mardis Gras in Louisiana at the beginning of March which also did not align with either Spring Break. This year we all seemed to be going our different ways. Alex didn’t have any plans, but last Fall, he expressed that he would really like to go ocean sailing sometime. I got to thinking that Alex and I had never gone on a father/son trip before and this could be the opportunity. Every year since Don and Lana left Kansas City, I am always thinking about how to get down there (where ever they may be at the time) and spend a little time visiting with good friends and get in some good sailing and sun after a long cold winter. After trading a few emails with Don and determining that they could meet us in Nassau, the two ideas came together and Carol graciously agreed to let us boys go. On a side note, I came to the realization that airfare during Spring Break to The Bahamas was not cheap….duh. I decided that this was something that I would regret if we didn’t do it. There might not be another chance. So it was settled…. Alex and I were going to do the Spring Break thing, father/son sailing trip, and get to spend some quality time with good friends. The combination would certainly make for some good memories which is one of the important objectives in life.

Alex and I arrived in Nassau in the late afternoon. We walked out of the airport and we were greeted by a middle-aged Bahamian woman named Kim holding a sign that said “Alex & Mike, welcome to The Bahamas”. She led us to a white Lincoln Town Car with a giant red and blue bow for a hood ornament and took us on a 30 minute ride to the other side of Nassau where the Harbor Club Marina was located. Alex is thinking…..”chauffer, harbor club marina…..what’s next a massage, lobster diner, cocktails at sunset, partying till dawn?”. We arrived at the Harbor Club Marina and were escorted to the dock where Mary Rose was parked. We no sooner walked up along her starboard side and Captain Don rose from the deck below with 3 ice cold Kalik (Bahamian beer) in hand welcoming us to Nassau in style. Admiral Lana was at the Star Bucks nearbye doing some email, so we headed over to find her. Lana let me use her laptop so I could let Carol know that we arrived safely, but after that, we would be out of internet or phone range for the next several days. I love being “connected” to friends and family, but after being “disconnected” (from work) for 6 days, I was reminded that the simple things in life can be quite remarkable and relaxing.


We finished our beer (in Star Bucks). I quickly determined that I need a little cocoa and caffeine help get me through the evening. The night had just begun and the Captain was on a mission. I was pretty sure that it was going to be a baptism of sorts in celebration of our reunion before heading out the next day and following the wind to a place we would decide on only minutes before casting off. We caught up on the current adventures of the Captain and Admiral, and attempted to solve only some of the world’s problems, saving the rest for another night. We vowed what happens in The Bahamas, stays in The Bahamas.


Sunday (Mar 27), we set sail for Allen’s Cay about 30 miles South of Nassau in the northern Exumas. As luck would have it, the wind was from the South and just off the nose, so we had to motor-sail most of the day. Not having had much sleep in the last 48 hours on top of the baptismal reunion celebration in Nassau the night before, I decided to retire below deck and attempt to catch up on some sleep. As luck would have it, I still could not sleep. Don and Alex made several attempts to put up all the sails and shut down the diesel. Later I found out they were just trying to heel the boat over enough for me to fall out of bed. I am pretty sure they had a few laughs courtesy of yours truly. Lana has to put up with these kinds of antics every day. I am nominating her for sainthood when we get back. After about 6 hours of motor-sailing, we reached Allen’s Cay.


Allen’s Cay is a bunch of small low-lying uninhabited islands that provide great shelter from almost every direction.


We set anchor, lowered the dingy, put on our skins/masks/fins, and began the afternoon ritual hunt for dinner (lobster, fish, conch). We motored just to the North of our anchorage and began the search. We looked around many coral heads and rock ledges, but it seemed that someone else had gotten their before us and stole dinner. The clear water, coral, and small tropical fish were not disappointing. The swift current was a little hard to swim through, but made for a good workout. Before we headed back to Mary Rose, we took a quick detour over to the beach area near our anchorage. As soon as we hit the beach, hundreds of Allen's Cay Iguana came out to greet us. The larger iguanas were bolder, but only came so close.


The entire island covered in low lying vegetation and home to a huge iguana colony…very cool. Although, we came up empty handed from the snorkel/hunt, Lana was prepared with fresh lobster that they had caught in the Abacos (North of Nassau) in the days before we arrived. Alex was thinking, I could get use to this….chauffer from the airport, sailing, remote islands, clear water, lobster dinner.


Oh yeah, and let’s not forget Admiral Lana (a.k.a., Master Chef). She has a pressure cooker and she’s not afraid to use it. If I forget to say it often enough…..Thank You, Lana, for all of the wonderful meals. We ate like KINGS the entire week!!! After a wonderful lobster dinner, we retired topside for the after-dinner ritual of watching the sunset, cocktails, and star gazing. At sunset, we heard the much talked about conch horn medley from the others anchoring nearby. We quickly retrieved 2-3 conch shells from below. The Captain (full of large lung capacity) proceeded to blow a nice low tone in response.


You see, this is not just a peaceful echoing sound over the open water and clear air. For the captain, this simple gesture of musical talent from the other boats was really a challenge to see who could outdo each other (you think I am kidding?). Don and Lana couldn’t wait to enter Alex into the competition after previewing his talents several months earlier in Kansas City. Alex proceeded to hit a high note never heard before in that part of the world. The other boats did not respond. Alex did it one more time just to show it was not a fluke.


Mary Rose clearly took the trophy. The Captain was smiling. Don’s secret weapon (Alex) had won him the title of King Conch. OK, I just made that up, but you have to admit it works well in this situation. The Captain welcomed all challengers at every anchorage, but none came close.












Monday (Mar 28), we took our time getting moving. Hey, we are on island time. Besides we were only going 3 miles from Allen’s Cay to Horseshoe Bay on the North side of Highborne Cay.













We were determined to find coral heads that would produce a seafood jackpot. We set anchor, made a giant stride off the port side of Mary Rose and swam to the coral.











It was a fairly large coral head with a moderate current. The four of us fanned out and began the hunt. It was great snorkeling with beautiful tropical fish. We swam, drifted, and searched the entire reef…..no lobster, no conch, no grouper.












If you think we were disappointed, think again. We didn’t catch dinner, but who could complain about the underwater sites and tropical paradise. Later in the afternoon, we decided to go ashore and follow the road across the small island to Highborne Marina.











We heard that there were nurse sharks there that you could get close to. The Marina had a beautiful beach and was setup to accommodate large motor yachts. Near the end of the dock there was a fish cleaning station. We look down into the water near the fish cleaning station and there were 10-20 nurse sharks just hanging out waiting for the scraps.










The dock sat up high out of the water, so we couldn’t get close enough to touch the sharks, but that was probably fine. Nurse sharks are pretty docile, but you never know, since they are use to being fed right there. As we were standing there watching the sharks, looking at the beach and rock formations, and drinking a cold Bahamian beer, a very large motor yacht pulled in called Mustang Sally. It was from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. There was crew of 6 or more for a small handful of passengers. It was a private, personal hotel on the water. I stood there thinking, how cool is that (I am a tech guy, I can’t help it). Personal chef, private quarters, surround sound, and probably a hot tub and exercise room onboard. But, reality is that they were missing the adventure that we were happily experiencing. I am pretty sure they did not visit the iguana nor hunted a coral reef in the last 24 hours. We were on an adventure, while they were deciding what to wear for dinner. It was not even a choice in my mind. Mary Rose had Mustang Sally beat without even entering the contest.









Tuesday (Mar 29), we pulled the anchor, left Allen’s Cay Cut, headed out into the Sound southward to Norman’s Cut determined to find coral heads and sea life suitable for consuming. As luck would have it, the wind was again dead on the nose, so we motor-sailed for about 12 miles. The weather was perfect.






It was a relaxing mid-day ride to our next stop on the tour of the Exumas. When we arrived, there were only a few boats at anchor. We dropped anchor. Captain Don took Alex and Lana in the dingy to the beach on the East side of the island to hunt for sea glass and other lost treasure.







While Don was gone, I prepared the snorkeling gear. There were coral heads on the charts and we were again on the hunt. When Don returned, we headed out. With only two in the dingy that little 5 horse motor (wink, wink) really flies across the water. We headed West, then South, then back East through Norman’s Cut, then North again till we had come full circle. We spent about an hour and a half riding a dingy like a jetski across the waves looking for coral heads and sea life for the taking. Let’s just say, we had a fun ride, but we didn’t find a spot worth putting on the mask/fins/snorkel. On the way back to the boat, we motored around a sunken airplane in the shallows.












It had obviously been there a while since coral had begun to grow on the fuselage. I guess if you had to do a water landing that would be the perfect place since it was shallow and near shore. It made a great snorkeling attraction for those anchored nearby. We returned to Mary Rose for an afternoon cocktail and waited for Alex and Lana to call to e picked up on the beach. “….Mary Rose to Mary Rose mobile, Mary Rose to Mary Rose mobile”……nothing. I guess they are not done treasure hunting and we have time for another cocktail. The captain agreed with little resistance, but we were getting hungry. Just then.….”Mary Rose mobile to Mary Rose, Mary Rose mobile to Mary Rose”. Alex and Lana were ready for Captain Don to pick up the treasure hunters. On their way back, Captain Don took Lana and Alex for a quick tour of the sunken airplane. Lana had found an old Green Tint Almaden Wine Pony Bottle on the beach. Sunset was approaching slowly. We had another unbelievable dinner, buy Chef Lana.











As the sun was setting, we were getting the itch to go ashore and look for Margaritaville. Just then, the dive boat that we saw in Nassau came cruising through the anchorage. The Captain got on the radio and hailed the dive vessel. We discover that they had caught several lobster and fish leaving their last anchorage. We also found out that there was a watering hole on the island just up the road beyond an old dilapidated dock near shore. Alex was pretty well roasted from the sun and he decided to stay on board and read his book. Don, Lana and I took the dingy and headed for the dock. Just beyond the dock, there was a gravel road through the woods and a sign that said Norman's Cay Beach Club at Mcduff's pointing up the road. We walked up the road with some of the people from the dive boat and across the runway. McDuff’s has planked floors and a thatched palm roof. Just the kind of place that you would expect to find on a secluded Bahamian island. It was an interesting crowd from the dive boat and the owner/bartender was about as laid back as anyone that I have ever seen. It was a fun place. We decided to leave while we still had a chance of finding our way back. We forgot one thing…..a flashlight. We walked out of McDuff’s and it was pitch black out except for the star filled sky. We slowly found our way back to the runway. Somehow everything looked different in the dark. The Captain located the gravel road which was difficult to see even after your eyes adjusted to the dark. We learned that the Admiral was having trouble seeing in the dark. So, the Captain thought it would be funny to keep leaving her side without someone to hold onto as we walked down the road. Captain.…for the record….not funny….don’t do it again! While writing this blog post, I did a little research on Norman’s Cay and found out that once upon a time a Columbian drug dealer named Carlos Lehder use to live on the island. You can visit his old house on the North end of the island. He is currently imprisoned in the US. In the 2001 movie Blow, the character Diego Delgado was based on Carlos Lehder.




Wednesday (Mar 30). The night before, the Captain check the engine and oil so that we would be ready to go. He found that the “new” raw water pump he had just changed before leaving Nassau was leaking sea water into the oil of the engine…again. Read a previous blog by Captain Don to understand the history behind this. The weather report indicated that we would have South winds for the next two days. This meant that if we went any further South we would have to motor into the wind before heading back North to Nassau. The spare pump was being serviced in Nassau so we didn’t have a spare on board. We decided to spend the next two days sailing back North toward Nassau. With winds from the South, we would attempt to only use the engine for getting in and out of anchor, thereby reserving the engine in case the wind shifted or we really needed it. We knew the problem was only going to get worse with further time on the engine. We pulled anchor at Normans Cay Cut, motored for only about 10 minutes out into the Banks and set the sails.








We sailed 18 miles back to Allen’s Cay. It was a beautiful relaxing sail. When we got back to Allen’s Cay, we motored another 10 minutes and the anchor was set. It was a gorgeous little half-circle bay island, 10 feet deep, and big enough for only three boats. It was just a quarter mile south of our first anchorage there. This island was also inhabited by iguana. It had a single lone Palm tree near the white sand beach. We are persistent, so we put on our gear and went on the afternoon snorkel/hunt. It was a beautiful bay with many coral heads, rock ledges and protected from the currents. We found many conch shells, but no lobster.





Captain Don speared a grouper and a trigger fish. This was enough for dinner and some for another time. Alex and I really enjoyed the snorkeling and hunting.








We saw many types of tropical fish and coral formations. You could spend hours and never get tired of watching the sea life. Later, we cleaned the conch, grouper, and trigger fish while Lana was preparing another gourmet meal with our fresh catch. As we were cleaning the catch, we noticed a giant stingray with about a 5 foot wing span was scavenging the discarded conch and fish parts just under the boat. That was very cool and unexpected. After dinner, we shared a sunset cocktail with a new friend (Steve) anchored near us. He had solo sailed a 26 foot swing keel boat from Florida recently. That is what I call adventurous. He was a professional photographer photographing the iguana. Steve and Don discovered that they had been to the same places in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan snowmobiling which is where Steve currently has his studio/gallery. It is a small world. We talked for a while, reveled at the star-lit sky, and participated in the nightly conch horn challenge (which by the way, I came in last…again). When it was time to retire, we watch Steve almost fall into his dingy and almost fall out of it (for the record, it had nothing to do with the Gin and Tonic…right). We told him to give us a sign when he made it aboard his boat safely and he did. We concluded another successful day and evening in paradise.






Thursday (Mar 31), we loaded up the dingy, pulled anchor, turned the boat and set sail right from the anchorage and out into the Banks headed for Nassau. Again, we only ran the engine for a few minutes. It was 30 miles from Allen’s Cay to back to Nassau We were going back a day early because of the failing raw water pump. While this was cutting our sailing a day short, we were not disappointed, because we would still be visiting with good friends in a tropical paradise. The alternative was to risk the engine failing without spare parts and potentially be stranded with an eventually shifting wind that would be unfavorable. It was an easy decision. It is all part of the adventure.






The wind and the seas were behind us. At times, we were making 8+ knots and keeping up with other boats built for speed. Mary Rose was giving them a run for their money all the way back to Nassau. We sailed for around 5 hours making record time.






Don, Lana, Alex and I took turns at the tiller. What a great way to end your last day out on the open water. We made our way back to the Harbor Club Marina, topped off the tanks, and tied Mary Rose off at the dock. We tidied the ship and headed to a long awaited fresh water shower.


Friday (Apr 1), we made our way to the auto parts store to get new oil and filters. On the way, we stopped at a local restaurant for breakfast to try the local fare. Lana had made Tuna and Grits for breakfast earlier in the week. Alex thought it was amazing and was ready for more. Alex ordered Tuna and Grits, and I ordered Stewed Fish and Johnny Cakes. Not your typical breakfast, but we didn’t come to the islands to eat something we can get back in the U.S. Many Americans travel abroad only to search for a restaurant serving a hamburger and a Coke. And when they don’t find a typical American meal, they complain and ask why can they be more like the U.S.? I’ll never understand that. The Bahamian breakfasts were delicious. Even after we got back to KC, Alex has been begging my wife (Carol) to make Tuna and Grits. Until you try it, you won’t understand how good it is. After breakfast, we picked up the spare water pump at the shop and caught a bus to the NAPA store to buy oil and filters. On the way back, we got a tour through some of the residential areas and the Downtown tourist area where the cruise ships come in. We got back to the Marina and helped (mostly watched) Don flush the engine oil and replace the raw water pump. Mary Rose was whole again and ready for her next adventure. We celebrated our last evening with a nice dinner at the Poop Deck restaurant down the street overlooking the Marina. While dinner was good, I have to say we ate better aboard Mary Rose…..Thank You, Lana.





Saturday (Apr 2), we showered, ate breakfast, and packed for the trip home. A whole we had gone by in a blink. Alex had a wonderful Spring Break in the Bahamas. For me, it was a very relaxing vacation and much needed break from the corporate world. Most of all, we got to spend some quality time with Don and Lana in paradise. Alex and I could have stayed another few weeks. We all had sad faces, so we said our quick goodbyes and left for the airport. We were leaving with great memories of friends and adventures that most people will never experience in a lifetime. I am very grateful for that. I wasn’t even on the plan yet and, already, I couldn’t wait till next time.




Thank You, Don and Lana. You are great hosts and great friends.




Mike and Alex

2 comments:

CaptainDon said...

Mike,
Great post! Thank you for all the kind words.

Don and Lana

Lou Pisani said...

Great trip, Mike . . . I'm envious. Once your boys get too old to go with you, just adopt me once per year and I'll join you in a heart beat! I'll even shag beers and you don't have to pay for my college! -- LOU