Early in the morning on June 6, 2018, Pilots’ Discretion eased out of her slip at the Old Bahama Bay Marina, on Grand Bahama Island, and pointed her bow west for what would be her final international leg of our 4-year Caribbean odyssey. There were brisk winds of 15-20 knots out of the west, as we passed the breakwater heading out into the Gulfstream. The resultant seas were not particularly large (4-6 ft), but the period of the waves was a very short 2-4 seconds, giving us an uncomfortable ride. I don’t think anybody aboard was really looking forward to this day, and it just felt appropriate that the sea conditions were not unsafe, but not pleasant either. We pressed on through early morning showers and passed several other yachts going the other way, heading east toward the Bahamas.
When we were about 20 miles west of Grand Bahama Island the seas flattened out and the skies cleared. Florida was already clearly visible on our radar, but not yet on our visual horizon. Four hours after our departure, the waterfront condos of West Palm Beach became visible as we headed for the Lake Worth Inlet. After cruising for days at a time seeing few boats at all in various parts of the Caribbean, the high level of traffic off the coast of Florida was just one more subtle reminder that we were reentering our home environment.
As if on cue to reenforce that point, a U.S. Coast Guard 33′ patrol boat pulled along side of us and advised us that they would be conducting a routine boarding of our vessel. Those of you that have followed our blog in the past already know that I am a former Coastie. What many of you may not realize is that Theresa served as the Vice President of a major maritime safety organization for many years. As part of her duties there, she interacted with the Coast Guard at the highest levels (she counts several past US Coast Guard Commandants among her personal friends). Some boaters are put off by the Coast Guard boardings, that is not the case with the Pilots’ Discretion. Our entire crew has a tremendous amount of respect for the work that the men and women of the USCG perform each and every day. For me personally, and my family, having the Coast Guard board us as we approached our home country represented an important symbolic welcome home. Click photo below for video
The young Coast Guard boarding team came aboard our vessel and reviewed our paperwork and our safety systems. Happily, they did not find any discrepancies. After they had completed their official duties we had a chance to share stories of “The Guard.” It was a lot of fun to compare notes since long ago I had served on many Coast Guard boarding teams in the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea. Ryan and Ronan were fascinated by the patrol boat and wanted to know how much power it had and how fast it would go (40+ knots). The Coast Guard crew was thorough and professional at all times. I hope those Coasties sensed how proud our family is of their organization and the individuals that serve our country via the USCG.
After the Coast Guard departed we entered the Lake Worth inlet, then turned north on the ICW toward the North Palm Beach Marina. One hour later, we pulled alongside the fuel dock as a thunderstorm broke out with a torrential downpour. Soaking wet, the crew of Pilot’s Discretion refueled her and cleared inbound with US Customs. Pilots’ Discretion is now back in the United States, our journey is nearly complete.
It is hard to believe that our family odyssey aboard Pilots’ Discretion is almost at the four year point. During our time aboard we have put in excess of six thousand miles under our keel, that is a lot of traveling by boat. We have seen and experienced so many diverse and unique places and cultures that it is now the norm for us to begin our day wondering what new adventure awaits. Florida is now nearly on the horizon and in just a few more days, we will be reinserting ourselves into our land based world, but for now we still have some traveling to do.
Our last port of call, Atlantis Marina, Nassau was not typical of the places we have visited along the way. Atlantis, to me, represents a combination of Las Vegas and a water based Disney World on steroids. Ryan and Ronan wasted no time finding the various water slides, while Theresa and I really enjoyed the front row seats we had at the marina as the various megayachts came and went. Click photo below for video:
It was a lot of fun to see, and certainly worth the visit, but it could not be more different than our next stop, the Berry Islands. The Berry Islands are a group of small cays that generally run northwest of New Providence (the island that Nassau calls home) for about 60 miles. The Berrys are largely undeveloped, or owned by private individuals and cruise ship companines, so they are about as far away from the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Atlantis as you can get.
One of the things that immediately struck me as we approached the Berry Islands was that the water is absolutely crystal clear. The Bahamas, in general, are known for their beautiful clear water, but the Berrys take clear water to the next level. It was, at times, hard to believe that our depth sounders were reading 50-60 feet while we were looking over the side at various marine life such as star fish, sharks and rays gliding beneath the Pilots’ Discretion. Click photo below for video:
The Berry Islands feel like a natural spot to wrap up our family exploring. We all got to see things that were not part of our norm. Sort of the signature for what has been an amazing four years of growth for our boys, and Theresa and I as well.
We left the Berrys on a direct course to West End, Grand Bahama Island. Ironic, in that our first stop outside the United States four years ago was, the still charming, Old Bahama Bay Marina, on West End, Grand Bahama Island. Click photo below for video:
After our stop on Grand Bahama Island it was time for the Pilots’ Discretion to cross the Gulf Stream westbound. Additional updates to follow.
After Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, we pulled into port in Highbourne Cay Marina, where we were able to see nurse sharks, and reef sharks lurking around in the water right under our boat! After we were docked, we went bike riding around the island, found an isolated beach, and went kayaking. The next day, we took a short (5 minute) dingy ride over to Allen Cay, which is an uninhabited cay full of wild iguanas. There were none on the beach as we approached, but with the hum of our dinghy motor approaching, dozens crawled out from the brush seeking fruit and vegetable snacks. Click the photo below for a video (v-log) of our adventures!
We were advised to be careful because the iguanas have sharp teeth and will bite if you get too close.
Our next of port of call, after Highbourne and Allen Cays, was Atlantis, Nassau . . .
P.S. There are no buses on Highbourne Cay!
After stopping at Big Majors Spot, we headed north to Warderick Wells (the Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park). We spent a couple nights on a mooring ball and went hiking and kayaking during our stay. We hiked the main trail to Boo Boo Hill where we looked through the large pile of drift wood for boat names that we recognized. We kayaked past the park ranger’s station and hugged the coast until we got to the isolated Lucky Spot Beach. One morning while we were in the park, a nurse shark was hanging out behind our boat all morning. Click on the video below to check out our adventures at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.
Our next stop was Allan Cay …
Continuing with our video logs, after leaving Staniel Cay astern, we next stopped at Big Majors Spot, home to the infamous swimming pigs. (Click on photo below for video.) The three little piglets swimming ashore, 0.55 seconds in to the video, were absolutely priceless!
The pigs swim out to greet the arriving dinghies, aiming to have their efforts rewarded with snacks. Although most of the swimming/beach pigs were docile and friendly, there was one rather large and aggressive pig. The posted warning advised beachgoers to beware of the pig (pictured above and below) appropriately named “Big Mama Karma.” She was given that moniker because, like karma, she had been known to come back and bite individuals in the backside!
After Big Majors Spot, we next set a course north to Exuma Land and Sea Park…
Those following our journey closely know that we have been remiss in posting. In an effort to catch up to our actual present location, and still post updates on each of our stops along the way (for those following and planning similar routes), we will be posting a series of video logs (“V-LOGS”). Our first V-LOG covers Staniel Cay, in the Exumas, in southern Bahamas (hit the “play” button on below photo for the V-LOG). The sharks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club put on a spectacular show at the fish cleaning station and in the underwater lights directly behind our boat!
We had visited the Staniel Cay Yacht Club on our previous journey south, in 2014 [See [Staniel Cay, Exumas (2014) – by Randy] ].
One of the charming aspects of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club is that it has preserved its quintessential small cay essence for decades. On our latest trip, we had the pleasure of adding to the decades old ambiance of the establishment. If you ever get the pleasure of visiting Staniel Cay Yacht Club, look for the Pilots’ Discretion life ring hanging on a post, just to the left of the entrance!
We know some of you have already found it. You know who you are! If anyone else finds it, let us know. Next stop, Big Majors Cay …