Thursday, June 7, 2018

Crossing the Gulf Stream

As a quick prologue to this post, I just wanted to let our local friends know that we have made one more change to our homecoming!  We will be coming through the John's Pass bridge at about 3:00pm tomorrow, Friday, June 8th.  If you happen to be caught at John's Pass bridge around that time, it'll be us passing through ~ give us a wave! 

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Getting from the Bahamas to Florida, should, in theory, be a “piece of cake”. A little over 50 miles separate the two countries, the closest point of entry/exit, are the small islands of Bimini, and further south, Gun Cay and North and South Cat Cay. In between, in this small stretch of Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Stream current brings warm water from the south, to cooler waters in the north, ripping at a rate of up to 3 knots. This makes it a stretch of water that needs to be crossed with care.

The flow of the Gulf Stream current taken from our weather routing program.  The intensity of the current, and the position of it will change, but there is always a strong current between Florida and the Bahamas.  The red arrow on the lower pictures shows roughly the relatively short crossing that we needed to make.

We left the Berry Islands on Memorial Day, May 28th, in rainy, overcast weather, the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto still in the air. We had to cross the shallow Bahama Bank to get to Cat Cay, about 80 miles away. On a sunny day, it would probably have been beautiful, the shallower water always reflecting so blue on a clear day, but we had the far outer storm bands still moving north, resulting in fresh winds and grey, heavy skies.  It was an uneventful day, a little bumpy at times, but roughly 12 hours later, we arrived at tiny North Cat Cay, to anchor for the night, and make the Gulf Stream crossing the following day. 

Arriving at Cat Cay

Lighter wind was forecast, as often is the case after a storm passes, and we were OK with that. Heavy winds, even in the right direction, can whip up the waves, and with the strong Gulf Stream current, make for unpleasant, if not hazardous conditions. Wind in the wrong direction, fighting the strong current, make it an absolute “no-go” zone. Light, southerly winds were forecast, so we had wind with current, and were set to go.  Leaving Cat Cay we still had a couple of squalls to negotiate, and we put a reef in the mail sail and furled the jib to 60%. 

A stormy start to the Gulf Stream crossing

 After a few hours, the storms passed, and the wind died. We shook out the reef and unfurled the jib, but it was still not enough to keep us going…and we started to feel the effects of the current. With no wind to help us, even motor sailing, we were starting to be swept sideways! We pointed further south than our intended destination of the bottom of Key Largo, but the current swept us to points north of Miami!

This shot of our chartplotter shows how we were being swept sideways.  The yellow circle with the "X" in the middle is where we were trying to get to (our waypoint).  The red arrow shows the direction the boat was pointing in (our heading), and the green arrow points to our COG (course over ground), ie. where we would end up!  The purple is bad weather that is being transposed from our radar (top left).

Gaby was the first to cry “Land Ahoy!” when she spotted the high rises of Miami sticking out like building blocks far on the horizon! We also knew we were back in US Waters when we heard the transmission on Channel 16, of Coast Guard Cutter 04, warning vessels in the area to stay clear. They were conducting live fire gunnery exercises, and after providing their position, gave a radius that had to be clear: 5,000 yards for vessels, 10,000 feet for any aircraft. We were passing to the north of them (we had a visual of the cutter, but they had turned off their AIS signal). Dave radioed them to make sure we didn’t have to change course. They said we were fine, but if we wanted to alter course slightly away from them, that they would appreciate it (increase the safety zone slightly, they said!). Soon we could see the plumes of smoke as they conducted their exercises. 

The Miami skyline appears on the horizon and plumes of smoke are seen as the Coast Guard Cutter conducts live fire exercises

This went on for a few hours, and certainly kept us entertained and passed the time. In normal conditions, 50 miles, depending on our speed, would take anywhere from 6 – 8 hours for us to cover. Due to the current, we were, at times, making speeds of 2 – 3 knots VMG (velocity made good) to our destination. That means, although we were going 6 knots through the water, our calculated speed to get to our end point, was half, or less of that! In other words, it was taking forever!!!

We eventually managed to cut free of the current at about 6:00pm, about 12 hours after leaving the Bahamas! And we still had about 12 miles left to go to get to a channel that would allow us to get to the inside of Key Largo, where we could safely anchor for the night! We had daylight until about 8:00pm, so once free of the current, we motored south until we found the channel at Angelfish Creek, where we negotiated some shallow water, and saw some beautiful spotted eagle rays in the water, and stoic, white egrets standing like statues in the mangrove edge. This was all familiar. We were back in Florida. We were home.

Our actual track across the Gulf Stream and down to Key West.  The red dotted line shows the route we would normally have taken.  The blue line shows our actual track, and how the current swept us sideways towards Miami!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Quickly the Plans Change

Our return home keeps getting earlier and earlier!  Originally, it was going to be end of June, then we moved that up slightly to the second last weekend in June, and then, once we arrived back in Key West, we settled on a leisurely 2-week cruise up the west of Florida, our old stomping ground, and planned a homecoming for Saturday, June 16th. 

A few days ago, when we were anchored in the Dry Tortugas, we did a weather download for our trip across the Gulf of Mexico to Sanibel Island.  The forecast models started showing another closed cell low-pressure system forming in the Gulf, and we knew we'd have to watch this one too, so decided back then to accelerate our departure from the Dry Tortugas.  This morning, Dave downloaded the weather again, and this is the outlook for next week!

Forecast of the location of the low-pressure system next Thursday, June 14th.  The grey in the center of the system shows winds of 60+ knots!  We were planning on coming home on Saturday, June 16th.  We're speeding up!!

This system shows winds of 60 knots in the grey area in the center of the circle, and according to this model (GFS), its heading our way!  Now, again, its just one model showing this intensity, but we don't take any chances.  Something is out there, so we are accelerating, and getting to shelter!  We are currently in North Captiva, near Fort Myers.  We will now be safely tied up at our home dock, in Madeira Beach on Saturday, June 9th, another week earlier than planned.  The pull of home is strong...the weather just gave us a little push to get there more quickly!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Bottle That Went Around the World

When we left on our circumnavigation in April 2016, our first stop (or our last stop in the USA), was the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles west from Key West, Florida. Anchored off the magnificent Fort Jefferson, we saw another Lagoon catamaran, a Lagoon 440 anchored not too far from us. Dave and the kids went over to say hi, and chatted for a while, and so we met Gary and Brenda aboard s/v Pandion. Before we left, Gary dinghied over and very kindly presented us with a bottle of champagne and wished us well on our journey around the world.

s/v Pandion (left) and s/v Cool Runnings anchored in the Dry Tortugas, FL in April 2016

We had planned to drink the champagne on many occasions: when we crossed the Equator from North to South; on our first year anniversary; when we crossed the Equator the second time from South to North; on our second year cruising anniversary, but the timing was never right, and the bottle remained in our small locker that safely holds a few glass bottles.

The Bottle that went around the World!

 Fast forward two years, and we were heading back towards the USA. One day, not long after we arrived in the Bahamas, we received a really nice email from Gary and Brenda aboard s/v Pandion. In the 2 years that we had been gone, they had retired, sold their house, moved aboard Pandion and were now cruising in the Bahamas! All this time, unbeknownst to us, they had been following our journey around the world on the blog! They had hoped we could possibly meet up somewhere in the Bahamas, but we were on opposite ends…they were cruising the Bight of Abaco, and we were down in George Town on Grand Exuma. We said we’d stay in touch, and hopefully meet up along the way.

When we made the decision to skip the Abacos, and go to the Berry Islands, we thought that unfortunately we would probably miss meeting up with s/v Pandion. Amazingly enough, we received an email the day we were leaving Nassau for the Berries from Gary, letting us know that they were heading to the Berries, and they were thinking they would probably miss us, since we’d said we were going to the Abacos! And so luck would have it, we were both heading to the Berry Islands from opposite directions!

We finally met up with Pandion on Thursday, 24th May, 2018 in Bullocks Harbor, Great Harbor Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas! We were both sheltering there from the tropical cyclone Alberto, that had been threatening to come our way for the last week, and we were still unsure of its track. On our second evening together, we finally uncorked the bottle that Gary and Brenda had given us two years earlier, and that had accompanied us the whole way around the world! There was no better celebration to finally drink the champagne, than to share it with the wonderful couple that had given it to us! Thanks, Gary and Brenda for the great time we spent together in Great Harbor Cay! We are so glad we were finally able to meet up, and to share the special bottle with you! We wish you all the very best with your future cruising, and we’ll be following your blog (www.pandionsail.blogspot.com )!!

CHEERS!  Finally drinking the Champagne with Brenda and Gary


Cruising the Berry Islands

Prior to our rendezvous with s/v Pandion, we had spent a week exploring the Berry Islands. After anchoring off Rose Island, near Nassau for one night, we left on the morning, Friday, May 18th and headed towards Bond Cay in the Berry Islands. The wind was blowing 15 – 20 knots and the sea was quite rough. We still flew our spinnaker, as the wind was directly behind us, and we made good speed towards the Berries. Prior to arriving at the pass in Bond Cay, we snuffed the spinnaker and motored the rest of the way in. We had wind against current, with the tide ripping out through the pass creating some uncomfortable seas and rough conditions. We carefully motored in, and were happy to find shelter behind Bond Cay as soon as we turned the corner.

Top:  Entering the pass at Bond Cay.  Bottom:  Outside the pass, the waves break onto the rocks, inside, we finally find some calm water

But the outlook for the foreseeable future was bleak…the rain and wind that we had experienced in the Exumas looked set to continue for the rest of our time in the Berries. Since we couldn’t control the weather, we decided to make the best of what we did have, and that was a weak cell phone signal, so we spent the following day anchored off Bond Cay and did blog updates, caught up on email, did school, read and watched movies. There was not much at Bond Cay, so even a dinghy ride in the rain and wind wasn’t warranted!


A screenshot of the weather outlook when we arrived in the Berry Islands!


The lee of the Berry Islands is extremely shallow, but we’d checked the charts and it looked like we could stay on the inside from Bond Cay to Hoffman’s Cay. On Sunday, May 20th, we relocated from Bond to Little Harbor Cay. The weather was slowly improving, and it was here that we explored the beach that prompted the kids’ reports on plastic. We stayed anchored here for 2 nights, continuing to do schoolwork in the mornings, and exploring in the afternoon. We were enjoying the Berry Islands. Although not as stunningly beautiful as the Exumas, they were still very pretty, and we were loving the solitude! There was nothing out here, including very few other boats.

Exploring Little Harbor Cay.  The image on the bottom left is a satellite image of the Berry Islands.  The light blue / white areas are the shallows and sand banks...as you can see, there are many!  And, by the way, don't the Berry Islands look like a Conch Shell?!  Gaby displays this beautiful Conch that we found on Little Harbor Cay

We were also closely watching the weather. There was a closed low pressure cell that we had been monitoring ever since we had first seen it on one of our weather models back in Cambridge Cay in the Exumas. What was frustrating us was that none of the weather models were agreeing on its path. The GFS model had it moving in a westerly direction, directly over us, with winds up to 45 knots. The European model showed it as a weaker system, moving eastwards. The other 2 models didn’t even show it at all! As the days went on, we learned that it had become a named storm, Alberto, an early storm forming outside of the “official” hurricane season. It looked like we would experience its impact on Friday and Saturday, May 25th and 26th. As a precaution, we decided to book a berth in the Great Harbor Cay marina, which had the reputation of being one of the safest marinas in the Bahamas, due to its location in a hurricane hole.

While the storm was looming, the weather where we were was actually improving! (the calm before the storm?!). We moved neighborhoods once again, and edged our way through the shallow banks to anchor off Hoffman’s Cay, a really beautiful spot! Getting there proved to be an adventure all in itself, when we decided to take a short cut, close to the edge of the Cays. The charts did show some shallow water, but it looked to be doable. And it was, except for one hairy corner where our master mariner Dave went around backwards! Yes, backwards, the reasoning being that if we ran aground, we would have some better thrust in forward gear on our engines to go forward and get us off the sand bank, as reverse thrust is not as powerful. We bumped a few times on the sandy bottom, but slowly edged our way (backwards) around the corner, and then executed an impressive 3 point turn, coming within touching distance of the extremely sharp, jaggered rocks that line the shores of these islands! Fun stuff! There were a few other boats at Hoffman’s, but it seemed that, with the geography of the cay, each boat could have its own little bay and beach to anchor in! Originally we had planned to meet up with Gary and Brenda on Pandion here at Hoffman’s, but with the pending storm, they had decided to also stay in Great Harbor Cay, and go into the marina if necessary. Since we were heading that way to weather the storm, we planned to meet up with them there.

Getting to Hoffman's...executing the 3 point turn and coming rather close to the rocks!  A private anchorage with beach for each boat!  Cool Runnings at the Hoffman's Cay anchorage as seen from the beach

There is a “blue hole” (some called it a “black hole”) at Hoffman’s that was quite famous, which we set out to find. After a few wrong paths, we found the correct one, and came upon this hole. It was quite incredible. We saw 3 turtles swimming in it, and wondered how they had gotten there…this deep, landlocked hole, filled with water, in the middle of the island! We decided it had to somehow be connected to the ocean via an underwater tunnel for the turtles to be there. How else could they have gotten there? We hadn’t known what we would find, so we didn’t have our swimming gear with us, and it was late in the day, so we decided to come back the following day to swim in the hole.

Our drone captures this image of the Blue Hole (the front, round hole), with Cool Runnings anchored off Hoffman's Cay
Photos of the Blue Hole


The next day, after school and chores were done, we headed back to the blue/black hole, this time armed with swim suits and snorkels. The first dip revealed cool, clear water. A short dive down into the black depths, revealed hot water!! It was usually the other way around! We had fully expected to feel the water temperature decrease the deeper you dove. But with warm water underneath and cool water on the surface, we could only deduce that it was being fed by thermal vents from within the depths of the earth. How deep the hole actually is, we didn’t know (and have not had the opportunity to research), but it was a weird sensation swimming in this hot/cold water, and not knowing where the bottom was. Being used to swimming in the crystal clear Bahamian waters, and always being able to see the bottom, swimming in this never ending blackness was a little creepy for me! My imagination ran wild thinking of the monsters that lurked below!!

The kids are already in the water, coaxing me to get in!

The kids decided it would be fun to jump from a cliff ledge, perched about 30 feet above the edge, into the water below. Gaby was the first to suggest it, but Dave was the first to jump. Then Gaby got up the courage and jumped. Benjamin was next, and they loved it! They urged me to jump. “C’mon, Mom, you can do it! We all have to jump!”. Ugh…how could I be the scaredy cat? After all, hadn’t I almost sailed around the world? Hadn’t I weathered storms and big seas? Hadn’t I once before bungee jumped (yes, I had!). What’s jumping 30 ft into an inky well of nothingness?! I remember doing this when I was a kid and our family would spend summer holidays at Uvongo on the south coast of Kwa Zulu Natal, about 2 hours drive from our family home in South Africa. There was a cliff we would jump off of into the lagoon below. The higher we could climb and jump, the more fun it was. Strange how age and being a parent changes you from a carefree cliff jumper into an apprehensive, nervous Nellie! My heart was pumping and it took some coaxing from the rest of the family, but I did it…I jumped! And it was fun, but once was enough for me! The kids kept running from our cave below to the ledge on top and jumped a couple of times each, just as I had in Uvongo, so many, many years ago!

Ben gets ready, looking over the edge....and then jumps!  Gaby's view as she looks down at Ben in the water and Mom and Dad looking on...and then she's also in mid-air!

To get from Hoffman’s Cay to Great Harbor Cay we had to negotiate some very shallow patches. We also had to exit the shelter of the Cays and sail on the “outside” because the inside route was too shallow. We had listened to, and then spoken to, a small boat with a shallower draft than ours, who had attempted the inside route together with another boat the day before, but they both had to turn around after running aground too many times. Just getting to the pass to get out was a challenge, with us having to turn around once, after our keels gently kissed the sand below, and we knew we couldn’t make it any further!

Shallow, shallow water...but oh, so pretty! 
Dave scanning the shallow waters as Gaby stands in the sail bag to get higher up and spots a safe route out

But once out, we had a great sail around the rest of the islands and over the top of Great Harbor Cay. The very top island is called Small Stirrup Cay, and is used by the cruise ships as a stop over. There was one cruise ship anchored off when we sailed by. Little boats ferried the passengers to and from the ship, while its occupants enjoyed the sandy shores and warm waters of the Cay. Hundreds of umbrellas and chairs lined the beaches and the contrast of what we had just left behind, complete isolation & natural untouched beauty, to what we were seeing now, took a little time to comprehend! But this was their paradise, if not ours, and we realize that we are so very lucky to be able to experience the solitude of the uninhabited islands, to move our little home to wherever we want, whenever we want.

The cruise ship and its occupants

Our fishing lines were out and we trawled as we sailed on by. Other than the mackerel we caught just as we were coming into the pass at Bond Cay about a week earlier, we had not had much luck fishing. All of a sudden, we had a fish on the line! Dave reeled it in, and it looked to be a great fish! It was a good size, but we were unable to identify it, and being a little weary of ciguatera poisoning, we decided to let it go. Ciguatera poisoning is quite prevalent in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas and is a result of consuming larger fish that eat the smaller reef fish that eat the coral. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, very low blood pressure, joint and other pains and a host of other ailments. It can be dangerous and possibly deadly, depending on the degree of poisoning. About an hour or two later, we had another fish on the line…another great size and good looking fish! We quickly scanned our fish identification books and although we were not 100% sure of the exact type, we were pretty certain it was a snapper, and decided to keep it. Photos were taken and sent to more experienced fishermen (nephews back in Florida) for further identification, and confirmation of its type came back as a mutton snapper…good to eat!! Yay! (Thank you, Ashton!).

Dave with the catch of the day!
 
By this time we were now around the corner and once again in the lee of the island, Great Harbor Cay. All traces of the cruise ship and its passengers were gone, and we were faced with a calm, open bay with only one other boat anchored there. It was the boat we were looking for: s/v Pandion. Gary and Brenda had let us know that they were out on their dinghy, so we knew they were not aboard. We anchored next to them and Dave went about the task of cleaning and filleting the big fish. Not too long after, a dinghy came to our stern. It was Gary and Brenda returning from their excursion! It was so great to see them again after all this time since our brief meeting in the Dry Tortugas just over 2 years ago! Gary also identified our fish as a mutton snapper, and told us that he had had ciguatera poisoning after eating a fish in a restaurant in Nassau a few years prior! He said it took a couple of years for the symptoms to completely go away. If he was happy to eat the snapper after having suffered from ciguatera poisoning, we knew it was definitely fine to eat!!

Gary and Brenda had invited us to dinner aboard Pandion that evening, so we were happy to be able to contribute! We decided to bring the fish, and Brenda made rice and a green salad, something we had not seen for quite a while!! And of course, we brought the famous bottle of champagne! It turned out that we had so much fun and did so much talking, that we forgot to drink the champagne that night!! It stayed on Pandion until the next night, when we got together again for dinner, this time onboard Cool Runnings. Before our dinner of hot dogs that Gary and Brenda brought over, we finally popped that well-traveled bottle of champagne and toasted to a new friendship borne out of a short dinghy ride to say hi in April 2016!

Another shot with the now famous bottle of champagne!

By now, Alberto had made its path more well known, and we looked like we would be spared the brunt of it, as the storm would move into the Gulf of Mexico and up the west coast of Florida and into the pan handle. We cancelled our marina reservations, but decided to stay anchored off Cistern Cay with Pandion and wait for the weather to pass. We had 2 days of torrential rain, and wind gusts up to 30 – 35 knots, but we were sheltered and safe.

To pass the time, we went on a rain-soaked walk and explored a drug lord’s house that had been abandoned and left to decay. How quickly they abandoned it was evidenced by a car still parked in the garage, now stripped and rusting in the elements. In its day, the house must have been grand, but the termites have ravaged the wooden beams, and the elements have found their way into the house through the holes in the roof. There was even a ramp for a seaplane. How easily they would have been able to smuggle the drugs in and out of the Bahamas back in the day!

A once beautiful house left to decay

By Monday morning, May 28th, the worst of the storm was over, and, after having said our farewells to Gary and Brenda the evening before, we decided to leave as planned. We had a long day ahead of us, about 80 miles from the Berry Islands to North Cat Cay, the jumping off point for our trip across the Gulf Stream and back home to the United States of America.



Friday, June 1, 2018

We Did It!

CIRCUMNAVIGATION: ✔ Check! 
(or as they say in Australia and South Africa, "tick the box"!)

Today, May 31st, 2018 at 12.07pm, we crossed our wake in Key West, Florida, officially making the 4 of us circumnavigators!  We have been away for just over 2 years, traveled 33,021 nautical miles, visited 39 countries and crossed 3 oceans!

Circumnavigators!!

We also experienced the fastest, easiest and most efficient check-in of our entire journey.  The US Department of Homeland Security / Customs and Border Protection have developed an App called "ROAM" for check in.  We pre-loaded information about the boat and the crew and uploaded copies of our passports to the app.  When we arrived, we created a trip notification, and submitted it.  Within seconds, we received an email telling us that our submission was being reviewed, and we should stand by for a video call with an immigration officer.  That call came within a minute.  We could not see him, but he could see us.  He first spoke to David, confirmed where we had been, and asked if we had anything to declare.  He then asked to see me, then Benjamin and then Gaby.  He greeted each of us and then it was done.  He said "Welcome Home"!  And that was that.  We received a confirmation that we were now officially checked in to the USA.  All in the comfort of our own home, over the phone.  Brilliant.  THE. FASTEST CHECK-IN. EVER!!

A screenshot from Dave's phone immediately after our video call..we're officially home!
We also decided to treat ourselves and stay in a marina for one night.  We had a number of things we needed to get done, and being at a marina was helpful.  The boat got a really good scrub down, inside and out.  I did 5 loads of washing at the marina laundry:  bedding, towels, blankets, mats, clothes...everything got a good, hot wash and tumble dry!  Dave got a US SIM card for his phone, so we have a local number.   And we each had a big, fat cheeseburger and fries for lunch! 

Cool Runnings gets a well-deserved break at a dock.  She's taken us safely around the world!
Celebrating our accomplishment and enjoying our American sized cheeseburgers!
We plan to take another 2 weeks before docking back at home.  Weather dependent, we will spend the next couple of days at the Dry Tortugas, which was also our first stop on this trip two years ago.  We will then slowly make our way up the west coast of Florida, and plan to dock at our home in Madeira Beach on Saturday, June 16th!

I have a few more blog posts to do before then...an update on our time in the Berry Islands in the Bahamas, the rest of our journey home, and a cool story about a bottle that went around the world...stay tuned for that!

We Did It!


Friday, May 25, 2018

Cool Runnings Special Report: Plastic

Cool Runnings is currently in the Berry Islands, a small, remote group of islands in the Bahamas.  On the one end of the string of islands is Great Harbor Cay, where there is a marina and a small settlement.  On the other end, on Chub Cay, there is another marina, where many of the big sports fishing boats go when they come over from the USA to go Bonefish fishing in the Bahamas.  In between, there's a whole lot of nothing...which is what we love.  The little islands (Cays), are uninhabited, wild and solitary.



A few days ago, we anchored off Little Harbor Cay, about half way between Great Harbor Cay and Chub Cay.  We had gone exploring on our dinghy and found a path that led to the beach on the ocean side of the small island.  At first sight, it was beautiful:  rugged, wild, unspoiled.  But as we looked closer, and walked down onto the beach, we saw the reality.  Plastic everywhere!  It was not the first time we had seen it, but somehow, it just suddenly really made an impact on the kids. 

Plastic Beach:  From afar it looks beautiful, but close up, the pollution is heart breaking

We decided that the following day, the school assignment would be to write a report on what they had seen, how it made them feel, and what could be done about it.  I am pasting both Ben and Gaby's unedited reports below.  We encourage you to read them, and share them, especially with kids.  The problem seems overwhelming, and often you feel that you, as one person, can't possibly make a difference.  But we strongly believe that if each and every person just makes an effort, the effect will snowball, and the impact will be great!  I have lots to say on this subject, but this post is about how our children reacted to it, and they are the future, so what they think and how they react, is critical. 


Plastic Oceans
By Benjamin Hibberd

Yesterday I walked along the sea shore, looking at the beauty of the ocean… and the heaps of plastic covering its shores.  We are in the Berry Islands, a small group of islands in the Bahamas, and yesterday we took a walk to the ocean side of an island that we were anchored off of.  The amount of plastic on the shore was staggering.  I saw tires, sunscreen bottles, fishing nets, oil containers, light bulbs, and hundreds and hundreds of bits and pieces of broken down plastics.  It was saddening to see such a beautiful coastline polluted.

            This is not the first place we have seen it.  Having almost completed our circumnavigation, we have been to many different places and have sadly seen it almost everywhere.  The worst of it being Indonesia.  Here, rivers were used as trash cans, and the people didn’t even think twice about littering!  The streets and gutters were brimming with trash, and the beautiful landscape was so polluted that the entire place looked like a trash heap.  And for the rest of our time in the Indian Ocean we saw evidence of this problem.  In fact, we saw it in every ocean we crossed:  the Pacfic, the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans.  Even in Chagos (in the Indian Ocean), one of the most remote places on earth, and completely uninhabited, we found rubber flip-flops, plastic bottles, and fishing buoys and nets, on the otherwise pristine beaches.  We picked up what we could and had bonfires to burn it.

            Seeing all of this pollution saddens me.  I think about the effect it has on our environment.  We have seen so many turtles on our travels and love watching them, but since some turtles’ main diet is jellyfish, many of them mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.  Over time plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes plankton sized micro-plastic.  I wonder what effect this has on whales, who get their food by filtering through the water.  Seabirds are also effected by plastic. They either eat fish who have ingested plastic in their bloodstream, or mistake a piece of plastic for a fish.  They can get tangled in fishing line and plastic six-pack rings. When we catch fish we wonder how much plastic we are in fact eating!

            What can we do about this terrible substance known as plastic?  For starters we can follow the four R’s.  You’re probably familiar with the three R’s, “reduce, reuse, recycle” but there is another part that is key to this cycle.  REFUSE!  Refuse plastic straws, refuse to buy plastic bottles or containers, and refuse the store’s plastic bags…bring your own reusable bag to the store!  Use or buy glass when possible! Spread the word!  Tell your friends and family how they can help reduce plastic usage.  The more people are educated on the problem, the more chance we have of stopping this once and for all!  Don’t feel like you can’t make a difference! Together we can and will make a difference!  We must make a difference, or we face looking out onto plastic oceans…         


Pieces of plastic make for a colorful, but saddening mosaic in the dried seaweed on the beach

This huge fishing net (top) stretched all the way to where Dave and Ben are standing (they are holding up the end of it).  You can only imagine the turtles, birds and fish that can get caught in this when it is floating freely in the ocean.  Bottom left:  the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces, making clean up difficult, and ingestion by sea animals easy.  We found a big part of the problem was from fishing paraphernalia:  fishing nets, especially the nylon type, buoys and rope

Plastic Planet
                                                                BY Gaby Hibberd

  Plastic is a huge problem. Sailing around the world for 2 ½ years has truly opened my eyes to how much trash is really out there and getting thrown, blown, and washed in the ocean every second. I am writing this because I want people to be aware of this problem that we all face, and that we can only fix together.

How does it get there?
  Small pieces of trash tossed into the street are often washed down storm drains during rain storms, which deposits the water – and the trash – into the sea. Rivers and other waterways can also wash into our bays and oceans. Then with the help of ocean currents, that trash gets traveled around the ocean and deposited somewhere else, with animals such as birds and fish eating some of it along the way. L


The contents of a seabird’s stomach: plastic.

The real awakening…
  Ever since I was little I was aware of garbage and pollution. But this trip around the world has opened my eyes to the frightening truth. Indonesia was particularly scary of how much plastic was produced by the 266,794,980 people living there. In one town called Wera, we were walking on a bridge and looked down to see the river below us. But there was no water at all. It was a river completely filled with hundreds of bags of trash. It seems that that “river” was where the town dumped its trash. When it rained, all the plastic would get washed out into the sea and “disappear” from the town so they didn’t have to worry about it anymore.


Indonesian Beaches… L
  
We once went to a beautiful bay on the coast of Flores in Indonesia. We swam in the beautiful water and watched some little boys paddle around on their wooden boats. They came by our boat and said hello, and then my mom gave them each a lollipop. They paddled away saying thank you and eating their lollipops. I was devastated when I saw them throw their lollipop wrappers in the water. I tried to swim after them and tell them not to do that, but they spoke very little English and didn’t understand. It just shows that you have to educate people for them to know not to create bad habits like what I had just experienced. I have countless stories of experiences like that, but it would get boring telling them all.

Single-use-plastics
  There are many things you can do to stop the use of plastic. For example, refuse that straw in your drink, or skip that little tasting spoon on your ice-cream cone, because you will end up throwing these all away after using it once. These are called single-use-plastics.
  Instead of buying plastic one-time-use water bottles, use a reusable metal one. The water that comes from a plastic water bottle is the same water that comes from your tap. Also, try and by foods with less packaging on them when you go grocery shopping.

Microplastics & microbeads
  Plastic is everywhere. A lot of it ends up in the ocean. Most plastics in the ocean break up into very small particles. These small plastic bits are called “microplastics.” Other plastics are intentionally designed to be small. They’re called microbeads and they are used in many health and beauty products. They pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean. Aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food.  Avoid microbeads in health and beauty products, because when you wash it down the drain, it leads to the ocean. Fish eat the microbeads, and then we eat the fish. Fish are becoming toxic, because they are eating these plastics, and if we don’t do something about it, by 2050 people who regularly eat seafood will have plastic in their blood streams…


A baby turtle mistaking plastic for food

The Facts
~ There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean L
~ By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean if we don’t do something about it
~ The equivalent of one garbage truck full of trash is getting dumped in the ocean every minute
~ 2.5 billion Disposable cups are thrown away in the UK annually
~ 1 billion toothbrushes are thrown away in the USA – that is enough to span the globe x4
~ 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the USA
~ Of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10% ends up in the ocean
~ Over 100,000 marine mammals and 1,000,000 seabirds die each year from ingestion or entanglement in plastic litter
~ A plastic bottle will last for more than 450 years if left on a bench
~ Over the last 10 years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century
~ 50% of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away
~ China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are spewing out as much as 60% of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas
~ Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth 4 times
~ Every piece of plastic ever made is still around today

What you can do to help J
Bring your own shopping bag.
Use a reusable water bottle instead of multiple plastic ones.
Pack your picnics in reusable containers.
Say NO to plastic straws and disposable cutlery.
Do not use products with microbeads found in face wash, soaps, and toothpaste.
Use biodegradable sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone – a chemical that kills coral.
Buy products with less packaging on them.
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Spread the world to your friends and family!

Remember we can only conquer the problem together. Let’s not let our beautiful Blue Planet become our Plastic Planet! J




Saturday, May 19, 2018

Exquisite Exumas


We saw these words on a wall at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, and thought that they captured the essence of the Exumas perfectly. Even though the weather has been terrible, with primarily cloudy, windy, overcast days with plenty of rain and thunderstorms, during the few moments when the sun did peek out, we saw the beauty of the Exumas. Although we have not seen the rest of the Bahamas to make a comparison, we can’t imagine them being more stunning than the Exumas. We feel blessed to have this beautiful playground basically on our doorstep, and can’t believe that we had never before made the short trip over from Florida. Maybe it’s a good thing we hadn’t been here before…we may never have left on our circumnavigation! Out of all the places we have now seen sailing around the world, the Exumas are right up there as one of the most beautiful!

We left Norman’s Cay on Friday, May 4th, having said our farewells to Moby the night before. It was a strong north east wind that blew that day, the perfect direction we needed to head back south, and with 2 reefs in the main, and about 60% jib out, we were fine to handle the often 30+ knot winds that came our way. It took us about 5 or 6 hours to sail back to Black Point, a small settlement along a nice, protected anchorage on Great Guana Cay. There was some not-so-nice weather coming, and we wanted to be secure to hunker down for a few days. And hunker we did! We spent a windy, rainy weekend at Black Point, catching up on all things that needed internet, as we now had access again! When there was a break in the rain, we took the dinghy ashore and explored the small town.

Top:  Ben and Dave walk down the one and only street in Black Point; Middle:  the clinic (it was closed), one of the boats we had seen racing at the Island Family Regatta in George Town, and Gaby and Dave take in the view of Exuma Sound from the top of Great Guana Cay

When Monday morning came around, we decided it was time to move on. The weather was still not great, but it showed no signs of improving, and we couldn’t stay in Black Point forever! Next on our agenda was Staniel Cay, just a few miles further north. As we headed in that direction, the weather seemed to improve a little, and by the time we anchored near “Thunderball Grotto”, the sun made one of its rare appearances! Thunderball Grotto is a spectacular skylit underwater cave that has featured in several movies, one of them being the James Bond movie, Thunderball. We were excited to snorkel there, as we had heard a lot about it from both SandStar and Moby. We were dreading the many tourists and tour boats, but luck shone upon us, and when we arrived, we were the only ones there! Having the Grotto all to ourselves was wonderful, and only a few people arrived during the time we were there. There are numerous way to enter, and we found one, where we dove under the rock through a tunnel, and when you came up the other side, you were in the cave! The fish were glad to see us, obviously used to being fed by the many visitors, but we didn’t bring any food for them. They still hung around in hopes of finding a scrap or two, but soon went about their business as usual.

Gaby enters the grotto through one of the entrances, making a striking image.
  Ben enters through another, narrower one, inside the grotto, you can see the skylight, and the fish swim merrily in and out

Once our snorkeling expedition was done, we moved Cool Runnings around the corner to Big Majors Spot, another big bay, and secure anchorage for the wind direction we were expecting. But the weather has a mind of its own, and during the night, the rain poured down, the thunder rolled and the wind blew…from the west. We found ourselves on a lee shore, facing into the waves that were rolling in from the Exuma Bank. It was a rough night, but our anchor was secure, which was the main thing. The following day was still grey and rainy and for a while, the wind still blew from the west. We considered moving and finding a better anchorage, but anchorages with shelter from the west are few and far between in the Exumas, and since we were only mildly uncomfortable, we stayed, and soon conditions improved. It rained all day, and only late in the afternoon, after being sequestered on the boat all day, did we finally have enough and we launched the dinghy. Although it was raining on and off, we went exploring, through a narrow cut at Fowl’s Cay resort where we watched as the current pulled us and then turned us in the many whirlpools that were created!

The current rips, pulling us in the dinghy.  Even in the grey weather, the landscape is quite beautiful, the water still crystal clear

Big Majors Spot is the place where the famous swimming pigs are located. The kids and I had been so excited to see these swimming pigs…and I’ll go on record as saying we were sorely disappointed! We’d seen plenty of videos that made it look like they were all over the Bahamas, in the most remote locations, no other boats or people around, swimming happily up to the boat. Not so. There are some big, fat pigs on the beach, that is aptly named “Pig Beach”, but they know they are going to be fed by the stream of boats bringing tourists to see them, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a pig to go knee deep in water to take a carrot from you, if you wait long enough, and dangle it long enough. But we were here, and a visit to Pig Beach was sort of mandatory.

Hi Big Piggy

So after our little exploration trip on the dinghy, we took along our “expired” vegetables, and went ashore at Pig Beach. Because of the time of day, and the weather, there was no one else there. A small, brown pig came up to greet us, to see what we had to offer. I had some sweet potato that I had hung on to for too long, that was now more suited to pig food. A much larger pig then ambled up and also enjoyed some sweet potato. And that was probably the extent of our “swimming” pig visit. We watched with fascination the next morning, when the weather was a little better, as boat upon boat arrived with their guests: our favourite name was “swimmingpigtours.com”. We even heard the one guide tell his guests: “You’ve paid a lot of money to see swimming pigs, so make them come to you. You can feed pigs on a farm, but you can only make them swim here. So stay in the boat, make them come to you”…and so on. Poor Pigs…

Pigs on Pig Beach

The weather the next day, Wednesday, May 9th, was looking a little better and Thunderball Grotto was calling our names! We all really wanted to snorkel there one more time, so we left Big Majors Spot, and went back around the corner to Thunderball Grotto. Perhaps because we are late in the season, or because someone was feeling bad about all the bad weather being sent our way, but we had the Grotto to ourselves again! We relished in the solitude of the place, and enjoyed swimming around one last time. 

Dave snorkels through the north underwater entrance to the cave; So many fish!;Iinside the grotto; Family selfie inside Thunderball Grotto!

 We then took the dinghy over to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, the happening place on Staniel Cay. A short walk beyond the boundries of the Yacht Club proved it was really the only place on Staniel Cay! We found a church, a small grocery store, and a few small guest cottages, but that was about it! Moby had vouched for the burgers at the Yacht Club, so as a treat, we decided to have a late lunch there. The food was great (any food I don’t have to cook is AWESOME!).

A view of the Yacht Club and Staniel Cay from the water; The Yacht Club dinghy dock/beach; A walk around the town revealed some lovely old trees and beautiful flowers; The Yacht Club napkin and the Church at Staniel Cay

After our late lunch, we upped anchor and slowly wound our way through the shallow waters between Big Majors and Little Majors, past North Gaulin Cay and Fowl Cay Resort, and finally past Dennis Cay and dropped anchor for the night at Sampson Cay. It was a great day.

The chart of Staniel Cay and surrounding area:  The circle at Fowl Cay Resort shows where we took the dinghy through with the very strong current; the circle at Big Majors Spot is where we anchored for 2 nights:  so with the wind coming from the west (or the left as we are looking at it), you can see there's no protection!  The pigs were on the beach in the corner just above the word "Majors".  The circle around the small islands indicated the position of Thunderball Grotto, and then Staniel Cay Yacht Club and the small settlement of Staniel Cay's position is also circled. 
On this chart you can also see the route described above (Dennis Cay is right at the top and cut off)

Having enjoyed our little sojourn through the shallow, narrow channels the day before, and with the day (Thursday, May 10th), again looking somewhat promising on the weather front, we decided to thread our way through the narrow channels from Sampson Cay up to Compass Cay. It was delightful, and although lookouts on both bows were needed most of the time, to spot for coral heads or shallow water, it was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We picked a beautiful spot between Pipe Cay and Compass Cay and dropped our anchor in crystal clear, shallow water.

Making our way to Compass Cay.  It's so beautiful when the sun shines!!  Checking the depths en route...when you have a 4ft draft and the depth meter reads 4.1ft, you know you don't have a lot of wiggle room!

We spent the afternoon swimming and snorkeling around the boat, the kids having a blast doing I don’t know what, but enjoying themselves tremendously for hours in the water! Sun-downers were enjoyed on the deck...this is what it was all about!

Dave and Gaby check the anchor; the water is so crystal clear, it blends right into the sky; diving to the sandy bottom; Ahhh...yes please!

The following morning, after watching a nasty storm pass by, Dave flew the drone, and got some amazing footage of the area.
The storm approaches

The water is so clear, the "blemish" you see on the bottom right, is a patch of rock under the water

A few more images captured by the drone

It was now Friday, May 11th, and time to move on again. We edged our way out of channel at Compass Cay and headed to Fowl Cay ready to snorkel on the “Rocky Dundas”, two more grottos we had heard about. We approached the beautiful anchorage at Fowl Cay (different from the Fowl Cay at Staniel Cay!), and anchored a bit off the beach with 2 other boats already there. Fowl Cay is a private island, and we were not allowed to go ashore there. We lowered the dinghy and headed over to the “Rocky Dundas”, where we found dinghy moorings and secured the dinghy. We had heard that these grottos were just as spectacular as the Thunderall Grotto, but maybe we caught them on a bad day. There was a lot of surge, and it was difficut to enter them. Although spectacular in their own way, we still thought Thunderball was much nicer!

One of the Rocky Dundas rocks - you snorkel under the edge until you find the opening; Inside one of the grottos with the skylight from a hole in the top; Looking from the inside out:  this is the gap in one of the grottos you swim through to get out;  We found a huge piece of coral just outside one of the grottos
After a dingy ride around the Rocky Dundas and Fowl Cay, we once again lifted our anchor and headed to Cambridge Cay. We had seen this anchorage when we had entered the cut into the Exuma Bank from the Exuma Sound, on our mission to catch up to Moby, two and a half weeks earlier. It looked beautiful, and I wanted to go there! Once again, we carefully edged our way through the shallow water and picked up one of the Exuma Land and Sea Park mooring buoys. It was our home for the next 2 nights.

The anchorage at Cambridge Cay snapped during a short spell of sunshine!

The next day, Saturday, May 12th, although overcast and grey in the morning, it managed to stay somewhat dry. Dave decided that a trip up the mast was a good idea, since it had not been done since Cape Town, South Africa, and he wanted to check the rig. Up he went and a “quick trip up the mast” turned into a 4 hour exercise. It was a good thing he went, because he discovered that the spinnaker halyard block needed some repairs.

Dave at the top of the mast from the bottom looking up;  Dave does a selfie, 70ft up in the air;  A view of the boat from the top down;  and an aerial view of the Cambridge Cay area taken from the top of the mast

While he was up there, the skies cleared and we saw patches of blue for the first time in a while! We were anxious for him to finish his work, so we could go and explore. We saw on the chart that there was another sunken plane, a mile or so from where we were anchored, and the chart also showed some coral gardens we wanted to explore. Get down from the mast, Dave!!

The chart showing, from the bottom, our anchorage area; the position of the submerged plane and the coral gardens

The plane was a small Cessna sitting upside down on the sandy bottom.  It was quite deep here and there was extremely strong current.  
Some of the very pretty coral we snorkeled on

Sunday morning dawned partly cloudy, and we were on our way again. It was Mother’s Day…who knew?! We certainly didn’t, until we received a quick Whatsapp message from Dave’s sister, Kim! With us now being back in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, cell phone reception, and thus internet access was sketchy to non-existent, so all Happy Mother’s Day wishes had to be done via text messaging, with a hope that they went through! Our destination today was Shroud Cay, about 12 miles north. We arrived and anchored sometime after lunch, and were surprised at the number of boats that were anchored there. When we had been there previously with Moby, there were only one or two other boats besides us there. Now I counted 10 or more! The other difference from when we had last been there with Moby, was the weather. Our first visit was in pouring rain, today, it was partly sunny!! We were excited…we wanted to do the river trip again, but this time in sunshine!

Gaby's footprints are the only ones in the sand!
The Exquisite Exumas I was talking about:  Sandbanks at Shroud Cay

We launched the dinghy and noticed one other difference: when we had done the river trip with Moby, it had been high tide…now the tide was at the low end, and many sandbanks, that we had not previously seen, made themselves visible! It also proved a little more challenging getting up the river, but it was not impossible! We made our way through the mangroves, this time marveling at the beauty of the water colors, and enjoying spotting a few little turtles on the way. As soon as they saw us, they dove and swam away at an impressive speed! Soon we saw the ocean! And the colors were spectacular! We again climbed the little hill to Camp Driftwood, where in days gone by, authorities would perch and watch the drugs coming and going on at next door Norman’s Cay.

Quite a difference to the time we made this trip with Moby in the pouring rain! 
We enter the river on the Exuma Bank side, wind our way up through the mangroves, and eventually come out the other side:  we see the ocean!
The river spills out into the sea, which is much calmer this time around!

We just can't get enough of the beautiful colors!
On the top of the hill at Camp Driftwood
On return to the boat, we noticed one last difference: it was much rockier than it had been when we were there last. Even though it was about 4:30pm, we still had enough light to seek shelter elsewhere, and not wanting to endure an uncomfortable night, we picked up our anchor and headed to Norman’s Cay, about 4 miles away. Before the sun set, we were comfortably at anchor with 3 other boats, enjoying sundowners. I was treated to a Mother’s Day dinner (Dave made bangers and mash, and Gaby laid the table, adding the flowers). It was simple, but once again, because I didn’t have to cook, and it was the thought that counted, it was very delicious and very special!


On Monday morning, we left Norman’s Cay, having explored it pretty extensively already with Moby, and headed about 7 miles north to Highborne Cay. The wind was blowing and the day was overcast. We sailed with our jib only, and on approaching Highborne, we looked at the boats in the anchorage. They were rockin’ and rollin’ and we didn’t want to have any of that! We looked at the charts and noticed another anchorage on the north side of Highborne that looked like it would provide much better shelter. We had to weave our way through some pretty extensive coral reefs, but made it into the sheltered bay and shared it with two other boats. We edged our way as far as we could towards the beach, in order to get the maximum protection. During one low tide, we saw how close we were to the bottom…only inches between our keels and the sandy bottom!

The light blue color means shallow water ahead.  Ben is posted on the bow to keep a lookout.  

Once safely anchored at Highborne...our keels almost touch the bottom at low tide!!
Once again due to weather, we were sequestered at Highborne Cay. All of Monday was spent “indoors” as it rained and the wind blew. Tuesday was a repeat of Monday’s weather, and during a very short spell on Tuesday afternoon, the sun made an appearance and Gaby and I, suffering from a case of cabin fever, went for a swim off the back of the boat. This little expedition was cut short when we were joined by a big stingray, a creepy barracuda and a rather large nurse shark! Even though they would probably all be more afraid of us, we still felt better being in our own environment than in theirs!

Underwater Highborne:  the friendly stingray, tiny fish just under the surface of the water; we found so many sand dollars and some pretty shells
On Wednesday, May 16th, the rain stopped and it was partly cloudy. After lunch, we decided to take the dinghy over to Allen’s Cay, about a mile and a half away, to go and check out some Iguanas. Once again, we didn’t take food for them, but we know that people do feed them. We landed the dinghy on the beach and soon enough, they started appearing. At one point, there were 14 iguanas, big and small, that had made their way onto the beach to check us out! They are prehistoric looking creatures, but some I found quite beautiful, with green heads and shades of pink on their necks or legs.

We explored a little more and then on the way back, stopped at a coral reef and did some snorkeling. I had never really associated the Bahamas with good coral reefs, but we have found quite a few beautiful ones and have enjoyed snorkeling on them.

Top:  At Allen's Cay with the iguanas, more iguanas, the coral we snorkeled on on the way back, and Bottom: exploring the beach at Allen's Cay after our iguana visit

The rain and bad weather had given us a lot of time to think and talk. We had been discussing our next movements because we had reached the top of the Exuma Cays chain, and were at a crossroads. One road led us to the Abacos, the other lead us towards the Berry Islands.

Our original plan had been to sail over to Spanish Wells at the top of Eleuthera, then over to the Abaco group of islands, then back track a little over the Bight of Abaco (on the west side), then over to the Berry Islands, to Bimini, then to the Florida Keys and then home. We then started talking about possibly skipping the Abacos, and sailing to Nassau, then the Berry Islands and the same route home. We thought that maybe we were trying to fit too much into the time we had left. We thought that maybe we just wanted to get home. We thought that maybe we had just had enough of cruising. 

Maybe it was the depressing weather that played negatively on our minds, but in the end, we made the decision to skip the Abacos and leave them for another trip, when we would have more time to devote to them, and to enjoy them properly.   One thing we have learned while cruising is that you can't see everything.  Often we have had to make a decision to skip a destination or two.  Rather than try and "touch" every place, we'd rather spend quality time in one place, while missing another.  It has also taught us to be flexible.  We never quite know where we'll be when, and we often change our minds at the last minute. Living in such close proximity to the Bahamas certainly allows us the opportunity of going back to the Abacos at a later stage, and so the decision was made: skip the Abacos, head straight to the Berry Islands via Nassau and then back to Florida by the end of May.

The Islands of the Bahamas with our 2 route options home:  Route A via the Abacos (in brown), and Route B (in green), the route we ultimately decided on  (image from OnTheWorldMap.com)

On Thursday morning, May 17th, after nudging our way out again across the coral reefs, we hoisted our big blue and yellow spinnaker and had a great sail, 30 odd nautical miles to New Providence Island, Nassau.

Sunset at Highborne Cay.  Gaby's keen eye for photography catches the raindrops on our sail bag...rain has pretty much defined our stay in the Bahamas!
On a fun note, ever wonder what we are eating?!  ( I last went grocery shopping in the Turks and Caicos!).

I still bake break almost every day, sometimes it is Foccacia (pictured here with cheese, salami and a delicious chickpea salad made with tomato, cucumber and feta); We once traded 2 cold beers for this huge lobster tail!; We still fish:  Dave caught this Spanish Mackerel on the way to the Berry Islands, and from the ocean to the table doesn't take long: The Spanish Mackerel is grilled and served with rice and veggies!  We are not starving!!