57 Exumas to Vero Beach, FL,

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Cape Eleuthera provided an unexpected dividend. We met up again with Camelot and The Lady Hamilton. They were just heading for the Exumas at a leisurely pace. We said farewell to our Eleuthera sailing companions and at first light left for Royal Island. As we neared Royal Island, our small widely spread cruising community connected again. We heard Tanarive on the radio and swapped notes. They were also heading for the Exumas.

After many months of frustrating tries, I finally found the right combination of antenna (our main halyard), SSB receiver and computer interface to receive weatherfax pictures. There on our computer screen was the wind and wave predictions for the next two days. The weatherfax, coupled with being able to receive NMN high seas weather forecasts finally gives us long-range weather forecast reception. The forecast was accurate. We ended returning to the Abacos, the way we had left-motoring.

Returning to Hope Town was like coming home. Dick and Sheila welcomed us back with a grand dinner on Patriot along with Joe and Tanny from Harms Way. It was a fun evening, but we were all itchy to move. Harms Way was heading south, we and Patriot were heading back to Vero Beach.

The door of the Hope Town School opens directly into a multigrade classroom. We entered to join the Commonwealth Day Celebration and discovered a time machine. It started just as we entered the room. Hello’s and small talk went on as normal, but deep down inside there was a sense of years rolling back. The time shift became complete once we sat down and could absorb our surroundings. We were back 50+ years to first grade! Everything was complete. The alphabet stretched proudly along one wall just above bulletin boards bright with pictures and their corresponding words. A droopy-eared bunny rabbit sat in a cage in the back of the room quietly watching the proceedings. Giggles, whispers and squeals from children sitting on the floor impatiently waiting for the ceremony to start filled the air. We were back to a time and place where what is important is how to make a small ‘a’ and that 2 follows 1.

The Commonwealth Day ceremony completed the 50-year transformation. Activities long absent from school were back. A prayer was said. We all sang a hymn. Our hearts broke when one of the kids struggled to recite lines carefully memorized and then shared his joy as he completed his piece smiling broadly and walking off happy. The enthusiasm of the kids was infectious, as was their spirit. We left the classroom feeling years younger.

Time flew and activities were a blur as we made ready to leave the Abacos. Last walks on favorite roads and paths blended in with a leisurely breakfast at the Hope Town Lodge. That jammed against getting fresh baked bread at Vernon’s, doing laundry, and other get ready to leave chores. This time we said good by to our many friends in person and took off. We only made it to Man-O-War, because it wasn’t fun pounding into a head wind. We did our last walk of the entire Cay, got one last loaf of bread and cinnamon rolls from Lola on her golf cart and were off again the next morning.

It took 3-4 tries to find good holding at Powell Cay. We’d just settled in and Ruth was starting on dinner when we heard a banging sound against the hull. It sounded like the rudder hitting against its stops. I went up to lock the wheel and found it spun freely in my hand. We’d lost our steering. We quickly discovered one cable had worn through at its attachment point to the rudder shaft steering quadrant. We rigged the emergency tiller to stop the rudder from banging and to make it safe to work around the quadrant and went to work on a repair. An hour later, using a short piece of stainless cable obtained from Patriot, we had jury rigged the steering and felt comfortable that it would hold for the Gulf crossing.

The plan had been to move on to Mangrove Cay, rest until midnight and then head out for our crossing back to the States. Once at Mangrove, we realized we were too keyed up to get any rest. After dinner with Patriot, we took off for a night crossing of the remainder of the Bahama Bank and Gulf Stream. Patriot remained behind to enjoy a full nights sleep and then with their greater speed make a day crossing back to the States.

Phosphorescence of our boat wake was our only companion on our quiet, moonless, starless and windless crossing of the Gulf Stream. Our boat wake had a faint green glow and bright sparkles as we moved into the Atlantic. Cruise ships, glowing like brightly-lit cities passed by on the horizon adding something to keep track of as we alternated 2-hour watches through the night. At 8 AM we entered the Ft. Pierce inlet and headed up the ICW to Vero Beach.

It was nice being back. Mom welcomed us with a wonderful hug. Jim and Doreen gave us our 3-month accumulation of mail. A package from Living Aboard magazine contained a T-shirt and a letter indicating they had published our travel map making method. It’s the second time they have published us.

A proper fix to our steering was a priority. We pulled both cables and replaced them with new ones. The job was straight forward, but not easy. We attempted to attach messenger lines to the cables as we pulled them out of the flexible conduit guiding them back from our center cockpit to the rudder aft. The messenger lines parted from the cable. We spent hours getting a fish wire through the conduit and finding a method of attaching the cable that would withstand the pull back. Once we figured out the procedure, the rest was easy.

The nurse guided my head under the laser head as I eased myself into what looked like a reclining dentist chair. Sights and sounds were straight out a science fiction movie. I’d been given a Valum earlier and my eyes had been numbed so it didn’t seem too bad when the doctor put the machine on my eyeball that sliced back a lens flap to expose the cornea. Even with Valum, the sound of the machine slicing my eye was a little unsettling. Just as in the movies, the nurse verbally confirmed the machine settings, gave a count down and my left and right eyes got 130 and 300 pulses of laser light. The light is invisible, but each pulse of the laser makes a sparking noise as it hits the cornea. A faint singed hair smell confirmed my cornea was being burned to a new shape. The doctor placed the flaps back and my vision is forever changed. The procedure is known as Lasik, but “flap and zap” seems more appropriate. My eyes are still heeling and adjusting. My distance vision is not quite as good as before, but I can now see to legally drive without glasses. Having distance vision without glasses is a real plus in stormy weather when one lives on a boat. Now I use non-prescription-reading glasses where before I could read without glasses.

Sometimes cruising is just plain yucky. We traced down an odor and found we had an overflowing holding tank. The last pump out a few days earlier had not been done correctly. As we did the pump out again, we traced the problem down to a bad seal at the marina vacuum connection giving a false indication that the tank was empty. Clean up took a few hours. Not a fun job before breakfast or at any time.

One by one, cruisers we’ve enjoyed have headed out. Gwylan, our mooring mates for a week headed south. Jazz started north. A few days later, Cutaway started north. We too are itchy to head north. Staying in one place doesn’t seem to be in our bones anymore. We’ll clean up a few loose ends and leave at first light.

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