Geronimo is a voyage of self-discovery. Student crew members discover the joys and challenges of life aboard a 69-foot cutter as they sail along one leg of a tour that in 2017-18 will take the boat along the eastern coast of the U.S., from Rhode Island to the Bahamas and back. As they live, learn and explore together, classmates discover what it truly means to be a crew.
Warderick Wells, the hub of Exuma Land & Sea Park, is one of my favorite places in The Bahamas. We started the day off with Marine Science class, followed by a snorkel near the mooring field off park HQ. Off to shore, we climbed the highest point on the island Boo Boo Hill (only about 65 feet), then back across the island to a shallow beach. We dropped off the students for a brief cross-island walk where they found Capture Beach. Here we had another drift snorkel and relaxed on the beach before returning to Geronimo. Grace C. made chicken curry that was quite good for dinner, followed by an outstanding Valentine's Cake by Ms. Finkel.
Having arrived in the evening, we woke up at anchor to see Highborne Cay and the Exumas beautiful landscape of turquoise water and sandy islands. With less than two weeks left in our trip we commenced the JWO (Junior Watch Officer) phase of our trip. Each student rotates through the responsibility of running a watch. Among other things, they are responsible for sailing us on an off the anchor, sail maneuvers, navigation and managing the crew.
Ben was the first JWO, and did a fine job sailing us off the anchor, gybing around on our way southbound. Cheka took the watch about halfway through and sailed us up to the anchor off of Norman’s Cay. We stopped here to snorkel on the wreck of a DC-3 airplane – it was an interesting stop, with lots of Sergeant Major fish, conditioned to be fed, looking for food that we didn’t have. Back on board, Caroline set the main and sailed us off the anchor on our way to Shroud Cay. She passed off the watch to Grace H. at the halfway point – just as we sailed into Exuma Land & Sea Park. Grace tacked Geronimo up to the lee of the island and all the way up to anchor.
Next, we prepared for our last adventure of the day. We loaded up both of our small boats and made the trip into the north creek on Shroud Cay, through a winding creek that bisects the island and ends up at a magical place called Camp Driftwood. A soft-sand beach, a sand bar and a deep blue creek to swim in. It was hard to convince the crew that we needed to leave. We arrived back on board at sunset and Grace H. commenced dinner of chicken quesadillas, assisted by Ben and Matt who grilled up chicken. After dinner, Alex came through on his promise to make brownies to round off the day.
We made the trip across to the Exumas in good time. The breeze was SE at 18-20 knots for most of the day. C-Watch (Ben, Grace H., Cheka and Ms. Juber) short tacked us through Fleeming Channel. Just outside of Yellow Banks, A-Watch (Dallas, Matt, Lizzy and me) took over and we navigated our way through the coral heads and south toward the Exumas. At 1600 B-Watch (Caroline, Alex, Grace C. and Ms. Finkel) took the watch and tacked our way closer to Highborne Cay. C-Watch took the last hour and sailed us up to the anchor in the lee of the island. We had all-hands dinner at anchor, and Dallas made everyone cookies for dessert as the crew moved into quiet study hall.
A much-welcomed late wake up started off the morning. Lizzy was the cook Saturday and made muffins for breakfast that were a hit. The morning was spent catching up on schoolwork and in Marine Science class. After a lunch of chicken caesar salad wraps, we went ashore to explore the tiny Current Settlement. We stopped in at the local variety store for some snacks, wandered to the park, waded around an offshore sandbar and then capped off our trip with a drift snorkel through Current Cut. Back on board we enjoyed a pleasant starry evening on board.
This morning we woke up at 0630 to get underway for the Exumas. B-Watch is on watch right now, and they just gybed over to a port tack and we are sailing at a 7-8 knots on a beam reach bound for Fleeming Channel.
Early Friday morning we moved Geronimo to Pelican Cay Land and Sea Park, for a snorkel on one of the best accessible reefs in The Bahamas. It did not disappoint - really healthy coral, sponges, hundreds of fish - and even a hawksbill turtle, a green sea turtle and some sort of shark (the crew is still debating the species).
By 1000 we were underway out of North Bar Channel and sailing south on a close reach toward North Eleuthera, a good place to stop on our way to the Exumas. We were back in exposed waters, but the crew felt fine and we cruised along at 7-8 knots through the deep blue ocean waters of the Northeast Providence Channel. Ben put together grilled cheese, tomato soup and kale salad for dinner, and we arrived to our peaceful anchorage off of Current Settlement at about 2030.
Dallas was the cook today and started us off with breakfast sandwiches. Waiting for the tide to come up, we had class in preparation for our day of turtle tagging. Mid-morning we loaded up our boats and departed for the Cormorant Cay area. We had a successful morning, with each boat capturing three turtles each. Matt was the first one on Thunderchief and Grace caught the first one on Liquid Hoss. By the end of the day, everyone got their hands on a turtle and the students became quite good at capturing, measuring, tagging, weighing and releasing. The final count for the end of the day was 13 Green Sea Turtles. Not bad for our first day. The population in this area seems to have grown considerably since our last visit. All of our data gets sent to our longtime collaborator the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. Back on board, we had chicken, couscous, brussel sprouts and vegetables for dinner.
This morning we started off the day with a Marine Science quiz. It was quick, hopefully painless, and we set sail soon after. Dallas was at the helm as we sailed out of the anchorage at Man-O-War Cay and on toward Elbow Cay. The rest of port watch, Caroline, Cheka and Matt executed a few tacks and navigated us to our anchorage near Elbow Cay. They all did a great job.
We loaded up the boat and headed in for Elbow Cay. Our first stop was to the Elbow Reef Lighthouse - any amazing view atop the only hand-cranked, kerosene burning lighthouse in the world. Next we ventured into Hope Town and the crew explored, had lunch, ice cream and stretched their legs. On the way back to Geronimo we spotted a manatee.
Back on board we set sail toward the south end of Lubber's Bank. Lizzy steered us out for the first leg of the trip, then was relieved by Alex for the second leg. Grace H., Grace C. and Ben were also on watch and helped to execute seven tacks on our way through a tight passage. We anchored up, cleaned up the deck and jumped in the turquoise water for a much-welcomed swim call. Cheka made a delicious spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread dinner. Ben ate what can only be described as a massive helping of pasta and Lizzy and Grace C. just put brownies in the oven. The smell like they might be just about done.
Plan is to spend tomorrow turtle-tagging and at one of our green sea turtle study sites.
Many thanks to Captain Hughes, I was able to rejoin the ship yesterday after a few days of rest. The crew had a good day on Great Abaco, visiting a blue hole and going for a freshwater swim. Back on board for study hall followed by a brief sandbar exploration on our 19' Boston Whaler "Liquid Hoss." It was a beautiful starry night and Alex, Matt, Ben and I slept out under the stars.
This morning, Alex made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. After Marine Science class we were underway for points east. We tacked our way in the Sea of Abaco all the way to Fowl Cay Preserve, where we dropped the anchor and went out to snorkel on the reef and go ashore on this uninhabited sandy island. We returned to Geronimo and sailed off the anchor a few miles to our overnight anchorage off of Man-O-War Cay. Grace C. was at the helm the entire way and did a fine job, while Grace H. and Lizzy navigated, Ben handled the jib sheet and Alex started cooking burgers and mashed potatoes for dinner. It was a full day and we are about to sit down for dinner.
Saturday morning we woke up to grey skies and strong easterly winds. With this in mind, we had a slightly later breakfast and a study hall to start our day. Afterwards, the mates taught a class on reefing sail before tucking a single reef into the mainsail. Grace H. was on the helm for our departure and mindfully kept us from accidentally gybing as we departed Spanish Cay for Green Turtle Cay. Starboard watch took the deck for the remainder of the 15 nm sail. With the breezy conditions we made great time, maintaining above 8kts, scooting along the east coast of Great Abaco Island. This passage was also the first opportunity for the students to get a taste of upwind sailing and living life on an angle.
In the evening, we traveled ashore to Old Plymouth to explore and have some ice cream. Old Plymouth being a small community, our 12 person crew was quickly noticed and many residents stopped and asked us questions about our vessel and program. This quickly led to the students starting a game of tag and basketball with the kids from town.
This morning we woke at 6:30 to sail for Treasure Cay. Now it was Port watch's turn to navigate and sail us to our next destination. After an hour and a half of short tacking we finally cleared Whale Cay and were able to fall off for Treasure Cay. With ease, Matt steered us through a very narrow channel and right up to the mooring ball where we would spend the night. Once secure, most on board turned to cleaning up the boat. Meanwhile, Grace C. cooked a fantastic lunch of ribs, pasta and salad. Afterwards, the crew went ashore to the beach and enjoyed the improving weather. Tonight we will go to the marina restaurant to watch the Super Bowl.
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