by Mindy and Dave Bulduc email@example.com
Chipping the ice off the makeshift plastic shelter, we
freed LITTLE CRUISER and her groaning trailer from the clutches of winter.
It was January, and already there had been several major winter storms in
the east. Like snow birds, it was time for Mindy and I to head
Our fifteen foot sailboat was crammed full, almost to the point of
bursting, with what we hoped would be enough supplies for three month's
worth of cruising in the Bahamas. The million and one small details
with the house and the boat had finally been completed, and we were both
exhausted by our efforts. In anticipation of the fine weather to
come, we wore shorts despite the biting cold outside. It was
fourteen long hours before we could leave the comfort of our car.
Last winter we had sailed LITTLE CRUISER for a month on the west coast of
Florida followed by another month's worth of cruising in the Bahamas.
This year we were looking forward to sailing with the designer and builder
of our boat, Matt Layden. Already he was waiting for us in Key
Largo, Florida. While Matt had taken roughly six weeks to sail from
Connecticut to Key Largo via the Intracoastal Waterway, we were able to
trailer our boat in a single day. Sixty five knots to windward;
now that's fast!
We launched LITTLE CRUISER at a local
boat ramp in Key Largo, and then we spent the rest of the day rigging the
boat and admiring Matt's fifth home-built sailboat, PARADOX.
Measuring only thirteen feet, ten inches long and four feet wide, this
sharpie was different from ours in that she had no centerboard.
Designed for solo sailing, PARADOX'S ease in handling was immediately
There were only three running lines on the whole boat: One to raise
sail, one to reef and one to sheet. What could be easier?
Mindy and I were a bit envious since LITTLE CRUISER had twice the
number of lines. Like our boat, PARADOX was designed for shallow
water cruising as well as for short offshore passages.
The next evening, favorable south winds were predicted, and both boats
left Florida, bound across the notorious Gulf Stream for Bimini. Out
in the ocean, the seas were sloppy and running five to seven feet.
Matt led the way. We followed. From a hundred yards behind,
Mindy and I watched PARADOX, brightly lit under her masthead light, bob up
and down like flotsam in the confused seas. PARADOX looked more like
a child's toy than a real boat, and it made us realize how small we really
At daybreak, we found ourselves becalmed twenty-five miles out and only
half-way across the Gulf Stream. Our progress had been hindered by
easterly head winds instead of the predicted beam winds. Exhausted
and a bit seasick, Mindy and I decided to motor the rest of the way; but
Matt, always the sailing purist, refused our tow. He preferred to
sail or to scull. With mixed feelings, we left him behind, making
Bimini that afternoon after twenty hours. Matt turned up a day
Relieved by his safe
arrival, we sat on the dock and took in our tropical surroundings.
Coconut trees rocked gently in the cool morning breeze. Pelicans and
seagulls sat on pilings preening themselves, while below, tropical fish
swam lazily around our boats in the crystal clear water. On the
roadside, Bahamian women prepared their stands with souvenirs, while the
others braided the tourists' hair to the beat of island music. We
relaxed. We soaked in the warmth of the sun. We knew we had
cheated winter once more.
By the time Matt had returned from customs, we were entertaining a small
number of local and visiting sailors. They were quite interested in
our little boats, and Mindy was giving them guided tours, though only one
person at a time. A few people thought we were trying to prove
something or set some sort of record, but in reality we were traveling
light to fit our budget and our needs. We wanted to sail now while
our health was good and our interest in sailing was keen. Most
understood our reasons.
Later, Matt guided us up a narrow mangrove creek on the north side of the
island to reach a small secluded lake. Protected from the wind by a
stand of Casuarina trees and isolated form the town's noisy generators,
this anchorage was an ideal site to rest and to await good weather for our
trip across the Bahama Bank.
With the arrival of fair winds a few days later, we left for the Berry
Islands some seventy-five miles away. That night a full moon lit our
way across the shallow banks as we left a luminescent trail of bubbles in
our wake. Everything was deathly quiet as the boats ghosted along in
the light airs until a lone dolphin broke the silence, surfacing next to
LITTLE CRUISER and blowing loudly. Then, as suddenly as it had
appeared, the dolphin was gone.
The night passed slowly.
Mindy and I entertained ourselves with the shortwave radio, and every hour
was marked with a call to our friend to compare notes on our progress.
By dawn we had reached the shoal waters off the Berry Islands, and in a
few more hours we found ourselves a snug anchorage up a mangrove creek on
The next day the weather was nice, and we left, riding a twenty knot
breeze in six foot seas across the New Providence Channel to Nassau.
We had an unusually swift passage, and we kept pace with two larger
sailboats. After finding a suitable anchorage amongst the local
fishing boats in Potter's Cay, we settled in for the night.
In the morning all three of us went ashore in PARADOX, which now served as
our dinghy. On reaching the town landing, a "dock master"
insisted that we pay him a dollar to watch our boat, and we did.
Then we went off in search of fresh fruits and vegetables at the local
market. When we returned, we were surprised to find yet another
person watching PARADOX, and he too wanted to be paid. To avoid be
cheated, we jumped aboard PARADOX.
As Matt began sculling us away, this would-be con man put his foot down on
our boat to stop us. Matt continued to scull, and soon the fellow
found himself in the awkward position of having one foot on land and the
other on the boat with an ever widening gap in between the two.
Just before he fell into the water, we pulled him aboard. Then to
our amazement, he resumed his demands for money as he precariously
balanced himself on the fore deck.
In an attempt to regain control, we began rocking PARADOX from side to
side, which forced our unwanted guest to sit down and behave himself.
It wasn't long before we had him back on shore. we later called our
antics the "Bahamian Deck Roll," in the hopes that should we
ever be boarded in the future, the intruder could be dislodged easily by
simply rocking the boat.
Having had enough of Nassau, we headed off for Rose Island, dodging
double decked catamarans packed elbow-to-elbow with tourists. At
Rose Island, we anchored in a foot of water, and then waited for the tide
to fall so that we would be happily aground on our flat bottomed boats.
We rested peacefully that night as the other boats in Bottom Harbor rocked
steadily in the northerly blow, telltale signs of the bad weather
Our next destination was the Exumas, a
chain of beautiful islands stretching southward some ninety miles.
We first visited Allan's Cay to see the endangered Bahamian Iguanas, and a
day later we had fun sailing around a half submerged DC-3 airplane near
Norman's Cay. The snow white beaches on Shroud Cay enticed us to
linger a few days longer in the northern Exumas before heading farther
south to Hawksbill Cay to explore the ruins of a Loyalist Plantation.
Over the next few weeks, Mindy and I came to appreciate the unique
geography of the Exumas. Because the islands were only a few
miles apart, easy anchorages were always at hand, and our nine inch draft
allowed us to negotiate the shallow waters between the islands and to bump
over the ever present sand bars. When the weather became foul, we
stayed in the lee of the island, under conditions Matt called
Continuing southward we next stopped at Warderick Wells, the
headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park and a favorite gathering place
for cruisers. At the park office, which also includes a nature
science center, we passed our time learning about the local fauna and the
island's history as well as feeding some small yellow birds called
Bananaquits. We had fun luring them onto the palms of our hands with
sugar, and it wasn't long before a small flock of these hungry birds were
dancing on our finger tips. At the traditional Sunday potluck
dinner, Mindy and Matt impressed everyone by baking two delicious
breads on PARADOX'S tiny kerosene stove. Many new friends were made
After nearly a week at this wonderful place, we left to explore more of
the islands farther south. When we reached Staniel Cay, Matt called
home and found out that his girlfriend had decided to join us for two
weeks in Georgetown, Great Exuma. The cold weather back home had
finally convinced Karen to come.
Picking up the pace to meet her on time, we
sailed past dozens of deserted white beaches and perfect anchorages over
the next sixty miles. When we reached Georgetown, the final
destination for hundreds of cruising boats wintering in the Bahamas, we
had two days to spare. Karen was fortunate to leave New York on
schedule as a snow storm threatened to cancel her flight. After her
safe arrival, we spent a few days sailing together around Great Exuma
before Mindy and I decided to venture farther offshore to see some of the
less visited Out Islands.
Mindy and I chose to visit Long Island first. On the way we noticed
how strange it was to be on our own after a month and a half with Matt. It
had been reassuring to raft up the two little boats at night, and we had
especially enjoyed sharing our evening meals together. When we
reached Calabash Bay, Long Island, there were only two other sailboats in
the anchorage. We made friends quickly with these cruisers, but it
wasn't long before they departed on their own adventures and we left for
From ten miles away we spotted the prominent hills on this island.
Then, as we got closer our attention became focused on the half dozen
large shipping containers high on the beaches. This sight reminded
us that we were no longer in the placid waters of the Exumas, but in the
rough Atlantic Ocean where cargoes are washed off the decks of ships and
thrown onto the beaches like driftwood.
Our fears were quickly forgotten, thought, as the sounds of music and
laughter were heard in the distance. As we approached Port Nelson we
could see that a party was in full swing. We landed on a nearby
beach to investigate, and we were immediately swarmed by a happy
crowd of native party-goers. We felt very honored when we were
invited to join the wedding reception we had just interrupted.
During our stay, we made friends with many of
the islanders. We were given fresh seafood and invited home for
lunch. To us this was the Bahamas of yesteryear, the unspoiled
paradise that we had dreamed about. Fish, lobster and conch were
plentiful. Everyone was friendly. We explored the old
plantations, and we went for long walks on the beaches.
However, all too soon, it was time for us to leave as we wanted to be back
to see Karen before she returned home.
On the way to Georgetown we stopped at Conception Island for a brief
visit. We found the island uninhabited except for a fierce
population of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and horseflies, who seemed
especially attracted to our red sail. We had planned to anchor in a
creek that pierced it's rugged interior, but the entrance was obstructed
by a rocky bar. After several risky attempts in the surf, we chose a
safer anchorage on the west side of the island. In the morning we
returned to Calabash Bay, and then we rejoined Matt and Karen in
Georgetown the following morning.
After Karen went home, both boats headed north to visit many of the
islands in the Exumas that we had missed earlier. One place in
particular, Thunderball Cave, amazed us. It was here that we were
told by locals some scenes from a James Bond movie were filmed. By
swimming through a hole in the side of a small island, Matt led us into a
dark cavern lit only by a few rays of sunlight peaking through a hole in
the roof. The cave was both magical and eerie. We explored the
other adjoining chambers and watched the colorful fish dart in and out of
the many passages. This was probably one of the most incredible
diving experiences of the whole trip.
We stopped once more at Shroud Cay, and then we went on to Saddle Cay to
visit one of Matt's friends who had a thirty-two foot sharpie which was
similar in design to our own boats. Chris and his family had lived
aboard HOGFISH for several years, making the Bahamas their winter home.
After several enjoyable days with them, we went on to Ship Channel Cay
where we left the beautiful islands of the Exumas behind to visit Spanish
There we met still another of Matt's friends
from an earlier voyage. He treated us to a home cooked meal, a
welcomed treat after months of our own cooking. It seemed that
wherever we went our little boats brought out the best in people.
The following day a lady gave Mindy some fresh home-grown tomatoes, while
another presented us with hand painted calendars.
It was now the middle of March, and two and a half months had
passed. We knew that if Mindy and I were to be home by April, we
would have to start heading back to Florida soon. Matt chose to stay
longer so he could visit friends in the Abacos. After a brief visit
to nearby Royal Island, we parted company. Mindy and I retraced our
path to Bimini before safely crossing the Gulf Stream.
In Key Largo we loaded LITTLE CRUISER on the trailer, and headed north
following the spring blossoms all the way to North Carolina. By the
first week of April, we were home after eight hundred sea miles and
eighteen hundred land miles. We were happy to see our friends and
family, and they told us of the cold miserable winter we had missed, the
worst that they could ever remember. Our dark tans and broad smiles
must have conveyed more than anything else the great times we had
experienced. It didn't surprise us, therefore, that everyone asked
us if we would be returning next year. Who knows? Maybe we'll
cheat winter again.....