By Henk and Wendy DeVries

Excerpts from a letter from Henk and Wendy in May, 2000:

"The sun is shining, it is warm, there is a brisk breeze blowing, we are heading North, and a submarine has just passed us! Another one of the amazing sights we have seen since leaving home nine months ago.

We are in the intra-coastal waterway in Georgia and the sub was coming out of the Naval yard in St. Mary’s and heading out into the Atlantic. It was enormous and took up most of the with of the narrow channel. A Coat Guard boat was ahead of it and pointed to us to gout out of the channel – we didn’t. We know from past experience that as soon as we deviate from the marked channel we will run aground. Not as serious a problem as it sounds, as it is soft sandy mud. We just lower the dingy, drop the anchor and chain into it, row at right angles to the boat, drop the anchor, then winch the boat over and back into the channel. Simple when you have had lots of experience. We are actually grateful to be back in sandy mud as in the Bahamas, running aground is an all together different matter. The coral lies in wait to rip your hull apart, so all sailors take navigating the crystal clear turquoise water very seriously. The guide books say it is easy because you can see the coral. This is true, but you cannot judge the depth of the water just by looking at it, so we spent many tense hours gliding over cruel looking black coral hoping that the chart was accurate and praying that we were on course.

Once you have run the gauntlet of the reefs, the rewards are endless. Perfect horseshoe shaped beaches with white sand and waving palm trees. Clear water for snorkeling multicolored reefs and as much fish and seafood as you care to eat. But nothing comes without a cost – there is wind – a lot of it – all the time. I was not a person who paid much attention to the weather when I lived in a solid brick house. I was aware that it rained and snowed, but it did not govern my life. When you live on a boat – weather rules. Everyday you have to know what the weather will do to you by the minute. If the wind changes direction you must move to a different anchorage. If a norther is blowing you must be prepared to be stuck in one place for up to five days, and it had better be a safe place with good holding for the anchor as many boats have broken loose in the middle of a dark night when it is blowing a gale! And you think going to work is stressful – Hah!!

We have met a lot of great people and have been sorry to say goodbye to them. There is a great camaraderie among people who live on their boats – a feeling of we are all in this together – so everyone is very helpful when you have a problem.

Although our destination was the Bahamas, we were both looking forward to traveling down the intra-coastal waterway to Miami. We were not disappointed. Each stop along the way had something different to offer, from the huge Naval shipyards in Norfolk to the great marshlands of Georgia with narrow channels wending their way through the grass and reeds. We have seen Manatees, dolphins, pelicans, eagles and buzzards along with all sorts of flora and fauna that we can’t even begin to name. Being a land person at least I particularly enjoy looking at all the homes and gardens along the way. Charleston, SC is the most beautiful place, so well cared for and so many flowers. And all along the waterway I have been able to feast my eyes on all of the different styles of houses that perch along the edge. Some of them are mansions, others are shacks on stilts, and we have been privileged to view them from an angle that not many can share.

From Key Biscayne, south of Miami, we crossed the Gulf Stream and entered Bahamian water at Gun Cay through a small opening in the coral. The waves were crashing onto the rocks and the sea went from indigo blue to turquoise and the sky was violet – what a sight! We will never forget the feeling of elation to know that we had crossed the "dreaded" Gulf Stream and had "arrived".

We island hopped to Nassau and then crossed the Yellow Banks to the Exumas, a chain of "Robinson Crusoe" type islands that extend 140 miles to the south. It is possible to sail either side of this chain - to the West on the banks, with shallow clear water dotted with coral heads, or, to the East on Exuma Sound where the water is 350’ deep and indigo blue. We preferred the sound as the sailing is better and you can make long straight runs without zigzagging around coral. The only disadvantage is that you must enter and exit the Cay through narrow cuts and in certain conditions when the wind and tide are opposing, you get a "rage" which is a wall of confused water that you must pass through. We heard of one boat that got caught on the sound side when a "rage" started, so rather than risk passing through it, he circled outside for 48 hours!

There are several small communities along the Exumas where one can buy the basics, but there is only one town that has a supermarket and a bank – Georgetown is almost at the bottom of the chain and has become the Mecca of sailing yachts. It has a large, safe harbor with good holding and lovely beaches. We spent six weeks there enjoying all it had to offer before starting the trek north. We returned via Eleuthera and the Abacos. Unfortunately, Eleuthera is suffering an economic slump and was badly hit by hurricane Floyd. There were some large resorts, but they are now closed and the area is somewhat desolate. At the north end, Spanish Wells is still very active, as it is a self contained community of people descended from the early loyalists. They have a thriving fishing industry and are very well off, but they will not allow any black people to live on the island so it is not typical of the Bahamas. We preferred Harbour Island on the north eastern tip of Eleuthera. It is a very mixed community of blacks and whites with beautiful houses in the New England style with white clapboards and shutters and front porches. Again a remnant from the loyalist settlers. There are some lovely hotels and a lot of homes of the rich and famous, but it is a very friendly island and we felt welcome.

We then moved northward to the Abacos to sail in the protected waters between Great Abaco and the Cays to the west. An area of water that is between 1 and 2 miles wide. It is possible to make very short hops between some very attractive places, but we did not enjoy this area as much as the Exumas as it is more commercial and caters to the big sport fishing boats. We found it very expensive and busy.

So here we are on our way back north after a truly remarkable trip. It has been everything we thought it would be and more. But we are ready to go home now. We missed our kids desperately and are longing to see them and we are longing to own a telephone again so we can pick it up and call family and friends without worrying about finding a pay phone and paying $1.50 per minute!

Will we do it again? Maybe, one day."

Best regards,

Wendy and Henk