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.
The crew of Geronimo has spent the last two days in Charleston, SC. This was our first stop in a city since the students joined the boat in Puerto Rico. Our transit north from Georgia was very smooth and had us arriving late in the afternoon on Sunday. The crew of the Spirit of South Carolina was on deck to greet us and catch our mooring lines when we arrived. We were also pleasantly surprised to see the Swedish sailing training ship Gunilla also docked nearby.
Monday morning was dedicated to wandering around Charleston enjoying local shops and food. In the afternoon we had a marine science class at the South Carolina Aquarium where we looked at the exhibits which related to the ecosystem presentations the students have made throughout the trip. Afterwards we had the opportunity to tour the sea turtle hospital associated with the aquarium. This was particularly interesting after our hands-on experience with sea turtles in the Bahamas. In the evening we were given a tour of the sailing school vessel Gunilla by some of their students. This was a great experience as Gunilla is also a high school program at sea and the students were able to directly compare experiences on very different style vessels.
Tuesday was the Charleston Scavenger Hunt, an activity that has become a tradition for Geronimo students. Broken into two teams the crew was given a list of 40 tasks to complete in 3 hours. Most of which focused on the history and culture of Charleston. In the evening we got together with the crews of the other vessels for a potluck dinner and soccer match.
We are now underway for Cape Lookout on the North Carolina coast. We plan to arrive there tomorrow afternoon where we will decide when to make our push around Cape Hatteras. Everyone is already settled back in the underway routine. We have a light easterly breeze and are making 6kts motor sailing. Most students are up on deck reading or journaling while enjoying the nice weather.
Cumberland Island is a barrier island on the Georgia coastline and is only accessible by boat. Once predominantly owned by the Carnegie family the southern half of the island is now mostly managed by the National Park Service. On Friday morning we hauled back the anchor and made the short 5nm trip from Florida to Georgia and tied up to the dock at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. This island is a favorite stop amongst the professional crew on board and we were eager to share it with the students.
Over the course of our twenty four hours there we explored what seemed like a never ending beach and sand dunes, climbed live oak trees covered in Spanish moss and walked the trails of the island. Often we would encounter a wild horse or armadillo on our path as we went. Everyone enjoyed being at a dock for the night, a reprieve from anchor watch, and the ability to stretch their legs. Also on the island is a camp site complete with showers, albeit only with cold water. Many students still took advantage of the fresh water and rinsed 4 weeks worth of salt water off.
Currently we are making our approach to Charleston Harbor where we plan to tie up alongside the Spirit of South Carolina, another sail training vessel that will play host to us for the next few days. A Watch currently has the deck with Natalie and Jackson sailing us up to the harbor entrance. Then it will be Mary and Zoey’s turn to pilot us to the marina.
A quick note to share that Geronimo is back in the contiguous United States for the first time since the summer of 2015. We had a great passage from the Exumas over to northern Florida covering more than 500 nm in a little more than three days. The students planned the entire trip including where we would enter the Gulf Stream and where to exit it to make our leap to Florida. Hallie was the final JWO of the transit bringing Geronimo up the St. Mary’s River to our current anchorage. They all did a great job, and I am proud of their achievement. Tomorrow we will make the short jump to Cumberland Island in Georgia.
We are underway for Florida! Our departure from the Bahamas was delayed by a day as we waited for some unsettled weather to pass, but now we are sailing along the coast of Grand Bahama Island pressing on for the Gulf Stream.
Jackson organized his fellow shipmates to get us underway from our anchorage at Highbourne Cay. The first leg of the voyage was westerly across the Exuma Banks eventually reaching the Tongue of the Ocean. This was the first deeper water we have transited through in days. It wouldn’t last long though as we next had to pilot through the North West Channel and Mackie Banks. Natalie remained focused on the helm as she steered Geronimo both onto shallow water and in close proximity to other vessels also using this route. In the early hours of the morning Mary and her watch brought us off the banks and into the North West Providence Channel opening the way to Florida to the west of us.
Now we are patiently waiting for the wind to fill back in from the South so we can make some more progress to the West and join the Gulf Stream to give us a boost to the north.
Spirits are good aboard Geronimo. Everyone is enjoying the pleasant weather, calm seas and fresh fish for dinner.
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park covers 176 square miles of the Exuma Islands. The crew of Geronimo has spent the last few days exploring this special part of the Bahamas. Here fishing is prohibited and special attention is given to where boats can and can’t anchor to better preserve the underwater environment. B watch, composed of Hallie and Chris sailed us through narrow Dotham Cut to reach the Exumas Banks where we would start our trek through the Park. Natalie was at the helm as we sailed on to the anchor at Big Major Spot, our first anchorage here. The following morning we set out in our small boat for Thuderball Grotto to check out a unique snorkeling location. Once inside the grotto we viewed the brightest coral we’ve seen to date on the trip as well as rays and one large docile nurse shark.
After lunch, Hallie, Chris and Mary, sailed and piloted Geronimo to Wardwick Wells where we picked up a mooring for the night. The three of them executed the planning and sailing conscientiously and we were tied up to the mooring well before sundown. For the first time on the trip jackets and sweatshirts were broken out to keep us comfortable while having dinner together on deck. Afterwards, the students turned their attention to schoolwork for the rest of the night.
This morning, it was Port watch’s turn to move the boat. Zoey stepped up to be the first Junior Watch Officer of the voyage. This phase of the Geronimo program requires the students to take charge and put what they have learned over the past three weeks to work. Zoey set a great example for future “JWOs” and sailed Geronimo on to the anchor off of Norman Cay. Here we made a quick stop to check out a sunken plane that has become a habitat for sergeant majors, damsel fish, cuttlefish and other species of reef fish that we got to swim with.
Next it was Chris’s turn to be JWO and orchestrate sailing Geronimo to our anchorage for the night at Highbourne Cay. With the help of his watch Chris sailed Geronimo on and off of the anchorage, timing our arrival right with sunset.
The crew of Geronimo has spent the last two days anchored off of Pigeon Creek at Cat Island. We came here especially to resume our sea turtle tagging and research program which Geronimo has been involved with for over 20 years. Working with University of Florida’s Archie Carr Sea Turtle Research Center and the Bahamas National Trust, Geronimo collects data used to better understand sea turtle population, growth rates and their general well-being in the Bahamas. This part of the Geronimo voyage is a highlight for many students as they get to interact directly with these impressive animals.
Today all our energies were focused on catching and documenting Green Sea Turtles. Every student caught at least one turtle and participated in the measurement and tagging of the animals. Jackson and Rachel were naturals at it and each caught three. It was, however, truly a team effort and without everyone’s contributions spotting, swimming, and jumping in the water we would not have been so successful. Three of the turtles we caught today had previously been tagged so we will be able to look back at the data that was collected on the animals earlier and understand more about their growth rate and if they’ve been spotted elsewhere.
This evening aboard Geronimo, Mary cooked a hearty and spicy jambalaya for dinner to refuel us from the big day. Tomorrow we will get underway very early for the Exuma Islands and the Exuma Land & Sea Conservation Park. In preparation for the snorkeling we plan to do there, Natalie and Rachel gave a presentation on Coral Reefs after dinner. Thus far we have had a great introduction to the Bahamas, especially its natural side, which will continue as we make our way west.
We are safely anchored off of New Bight in Cat Island. It was a great sail from Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas. We averaged over 8kts for the whole passage. The wind almost seemed to follow us around as we sailed on a starboard tack the entire trip.
Both nights were very clear and provided opportunities for star gazing and learning more about constellations and navigational stars. We were even still able to see the Southern Cross. There was also twinkling coming from the water as we passed large sections of bioluminescence that glowed as the tiny organisms were agitated by the ship’s hull.
Right now we are preparing for Sunday dinner. A tradition on ships where the crew puts on the cleanest of their clothes and gathers for a slightly more formal meal. This one being a little extra special as it’s Easter. With that said, all the crew of Geronimo wishes a Happy Easter to their friends and families back home and are sending warm Bahama’s greetings your way.
Geronimo has added a new country its two year Atlantic voyage with our stop in Turks and Caicos. Exploring Providenciales Island has been a great reward after our first major passage together. The trip was filled with both upwind and downwind sailing and one very damp rain filled night. It really poured! The students are becoming more and more comfortable with handling the vessel and navigation. All can now find the ship’s position with a three bearing fix and through deduced reckoning. Some of the students have even gone out of their way to learn new nautical tasks, like Rachel who has been calculating sunrise and sunset for us each day.
Coming on to Caicos Banks was an exciting moment. First because of its shallow depths and second because of the beautiful light blue water we began transiting. Julia, Mary and Zoey were selected to be the helmsmen for this tricky passage which demanded a lot of focus while on the helm to keep us on a safe route in. Chris, with the help of Jackson, made ready and let go the anchor once we arrived in Sapodilla Bay, our destination for the next few nights.
Today was our first day ashore. After a study hall this morning we drove to the north coast of the island to explore Grace Bay. After our time here we went to the Caicos Conch Farm, which specializes in farming Queen Conch. Here we learned about the life cycle of the mollusk and what is entailed to raise them. The students got to hold and lure the animals out of their shells. The conch were surprisingly curious and willing to come out and investigate as we held them. Tomorrow morning we plan to head to Smith’s Reef for some snorkeling and in the afternoon attend a Fish Fry gathering held in town with music and dancing.
The wind has finally filled in and we are making good speed toward the Bahamas. Over the past two days we have been mostly sailing downwind making ground to the west but at fairly slow speeds. Now we are skipping along at 7kts and leaving the Dominican Republic coastline behind us.
The students have done a great job adjusting to life at sea and the challenge of balancing watch standing and school work. Today on watch Mary and Chris helped decipher the weather forecast and put together a voyage plan for this passage that they presented to the rest of the crew. Currently in the galley, Zoey, Natalie and Rachel are preparing fresh Mahi Mahi for dinner that we caught earlier today.
Rumors are circulating that we may make a stop in Turks and Caicos on our way to the Bahamas. Given the current weather forecast and the route we are on it is quite likely that we will visit this small island country before continuing on to the Bahamas. All in all things are good aboard Geronimo.
We are underway for our first extended passage. With Puerto Rico growing smaller behind us we’ve set our sights on the the Bahamas. Students will be working in three watches to ensure the successful and safe passage of Geronimo as we operate 24 hours a day. Many are looking forward to standing watch in the middle of the night and getting into the general at sea routine.
Our last few days in Puerto Rico were filled with excursions ashore to supplement the Marine Ecology portion of the Marine Science class taught on board the boat. First we stopped in Jobos Bay where we were fortunate enough to be guided around the Nature Reserve that makes up much of the bay. Our guide Ernesto told us about what makes mangroves and the ecosystems they inhabit so unique. This was a great introduction to a habitat we will frequently see along the voyage and one Mary and Julia will be presenting on later in the trip.
From here we traveled to Isla Caja de Muertos about 5nm off the Puerto Rico coast. Here we had our first opportunity to snorkel, seeing schools of fish and rays along the beach. Next we were off to La Parguera on the southwest end of mainland Puerto Rico. Jackson kept his cool as he steered Geronimo through the obstacle course of reefs and mangrove islands that we had to navigate through to get to our anchorage for the night. After a short Marine Science class we all headed ashore for our last bit of land and Puerto Rican culture before saying goodbye to the Isla del Encanto, as it often known, and heading for the Mona Passage.
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