Monday, January 24, 2011

Bahamas is for the Birds! (and the iguanas and the swimming pigs!)

Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas - The sailing yesterday couldn’t have been more perfect.  We left Allen’s Cay (pronounced “Key”) early in the morning and sailed all day to arrive here in Staniel Cay.  We never used the motor, and sailed all the way at 8-9 knots.  Sebastian was in heaven and kept saying in Spanish, “we’re moving like a fire truck!”  Apparently, that means we were going very, very fast.  The water was smooth, sun shining… it was a 10!
Allen’s Cay was an amazing anchorage… there is no town or anything, just two islands full of iguanas.  It seems it an extinct breed of iguana germane to Bahamas.  As we approached one of the islands in our dinghy, the iguanas came out of the woodwork and onto the beach en masse to “greet” us.  Quite intimidating as there were so many and it was unclear what their intentions were.  I guess over time, man has altered their behavior by feeding these iguanas, so they are conditioned to come running out – for food – when they hear a motor approaching.  It turns out they were harmless and actually more scared of you, than you of them.  As soon as you approached them, they would scatter away.  We all had fun playing with them.
Here on Staniel’s Cay, there is a population of 100 locals, two yacht clubs and what seems to be a lot of tourists.  There are definitely a good number of sailboats at the anchorage where we are – about 20 – and yesterday after arriving we heard over the radio:  “This is the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, alerting you that the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers game is about to begin.  We have a two-for-one happy hour, so come on over!”  Who knew there would be such a good “marketing” strategy here… before we knew it, we saw many sailors board their dinghies and head for the yacht club.  By the time we got there to check internet, there was a room full of drunk people yelling at the flat screen TV.  It felt like a little bit of home right here in the middle of nowhere!!!
The other highlight of this Cay is that there is beach full of pigs that roam freely.  We saw 2-3 when we dinghied past yesterday, and since we were in a hurry to make it to the club before dark, we said we would visit the beach and the piggies today! So, lo and behold, we went to the island today but … where were the pigs?!  I was so excited to see them as we were told they like to swim in the water too… but to no avail.  From there, we took a little dinghy ride and found a very cool cave that the kids ventured into…
So, life aboard continues.  The kids are still finding creative ways to keep themselves busy.  Not once have they said, “I’m bored.”  I do have to admit that math is not a favorite subject and I keep trying to come up with creative ways myself to teach it (notice the math lesson using clothespins in the pictures below).  There is a lot of pushback and negotiation involved whenever we start the math lesson, and I can honestly say, I do not enjoy teaching in that way. 
We’ve gotten creative with the food preparation too! Benjie says he keeps craving some grilled chicken and Sofia misses the food from “The Old Neighborhood Grill” in Evanston.  I am taking a break from preparing canned tuna, as we were very lucky to receive a box full of free vegetables from a local back in Morgan’s Bluff.  We were thrilled… inside were two heads of huge cabbage, a huge squash, yucca (which they call “casawa”) and some bell peppers.  Does anyone have a cabbage recipe to share?  I would hate for it to go to waste.  The extent of y knowledge of cooking with cabbage is a cabbage salad and also some stuffed cabbage—one of my mom’s recipes.  (Speaking of my mom, today marks the first anniversary of her passing, so we plan on going into town to say some prayers at church in her honor.)
The weather has still been a little chilly.  Even though the sun is shining, it is too cold to go swimming or snorkeling.  Unfortunately, we don’t have wetsuits.  The other day is rained like crazy and McGyver (Sebastian) rigged a little tube that emptied into a jug, to catch some of the water for us to drink.  One full gallon!!! Sebas was very proud of himself, and the water was delicious!
The plan is to stay here a few days.  Next Destination: Farmer’s Cay or perhaps all the way to Georgetown.

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From the Bahamian Capital

Nassau, Bahamas - The capital city of Bahamas is a vibrant town.... lots of the familiar chains (Starbucks, where I am sitting now to use internet, KFC, Winn Dixie - a Florida supermarket chain) you would see in the States.  It is quite a departure from Bimini, which sadly is quite poor and rundown.  There is an abundance of trash strewn all over Alice Town - even on the pristine beaches.  The people are extremely friendly giving us rides on the many golf carts going back and forth (on the opposite side of the street!! Very British!) on the one main dirt road that exists.  I think they especially "take care of us" because we are with little ones.  What I do appreciate about the people is their "joie de vivre."  The general outlook apprears that the people of Bimini don't have a care in the world.

Here in Nassau, we are at a marina where hot showers and laundry facilities have been in much need!  We left Bimini on Sunday with the idea we would power through the night to arrive here the next day.  The weather started out wonderfully, but as the night progressed, the waves got a little higher, the winds a little stronger and the pounding on the bottom of the catamaran was getting tiresome, so we anchored right out in the middle of the bank at about 2am.  Prior to this though, we had a bright beautiful moon and we were doing our night watches.  Night watches are incredibly peaceful.  The idea is that you need to lookout for other boats around you and make sure you are on course, even with an auto pilot and GPS. 

We left Bimini with a man named Dave who was traveling solo in a 20 foot mono-hull.  A very small boat.  He had a 7 horsepower motor and even though he tried to keep up with us... we kept trying to reach him by radio and he was not answering.... he ended up getting further and further behind us.  I was a little concerned about him, especially when the weather turned tricky.  This morning, by radio, we asked the other boats we knew were leaving Bimini today and taking this same route to look out for him. 
Monday was a rough sail as well, so again instead of heading to Nassau, we cut into a protected anchorage at Morgan's Bluff on the Andros Islands of the Bahamas.  We spent a night there and picked up two other boats who all travelled together yesterday here to Nassau.  We will travel together tomorrow in caravan to the Exumas, another set of islands on the eastern end of Bahamas.

The highlight of this passage was that Sebastian caught his first fish... poor Sofia and Benjie felt so sorry for the fish and wanted to throw him back in the ocean.  It gave us a chance to talk about food and where it comes from - that even the nicely wrapped chicken and beef we buy in the store comes from an animal that has been killed.  I have a feeling both of our kids will now become vegetarians... they both were quite sad about this topic and teary-eyed! Neither of them were keen on eating the fish and I have to honestly say that I had a little tinge of guilt for filleting the poor thing and consequently eating it.  I mean, it is very different to see your food alive, actually kill it and then fry it up. Sofia kept sneaking behind her Daddy's back pouring water into the bucket where the fish was to try to keep it alive!

Another highlight is a boat that came in right next to us at the marina... from Quebec with three kids right aorund the ages fo Sofia and Benjie... The kids were thrilled to see little guys their own age and I was very impressed to see them practicing what little French phrases they know.  Sofia was the first to welcome them when she the kids pull in... "Bonjour!" 

We are leaving Nassau today.  Next stop:  Allen's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas.  We met another boat about the size of ours who are travelling with 6 homeschooled kids... they will be an Allen's Cay and we are looking forward to catching up with them!

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Many of you have wondered how I prepared to homeschool (or, “boatschool” like the kids like to say) onboard the Begonia.  I spent a good amount of time researching various pre-packaged curricula on the market for sale.  I also attended a meeting of the Evanston Homeschool Association back in Chicago, thirsty for ideas and suggestions.  On the one side, the Calvert School pre-packaged curriculum was pretty intensive and a little pricey since we would have had to buy the entire first and second grade packages, while Sofia was really only going to miss half of first grade and a smidgen of second.  On the other side, I found the homeschooling methodology of the people I met in Evanston a little too “open.”  Since I am not planning on homeschooling for the rest of the childrens’ academic careers I felt I needed a little more structure to make sure Sofia especially would stay on track returning to school in 2012.  
My concerns were greatly assuaged upon having a meeting with Mr. Michel, the principal at Sofia’s school, who really stressed the fact that the kids would learn simply through osmosis and being with their parents for such a concentrated period of time.  Still, I did want to have some structure on the boat, so I decided we would do 1.5-2 hours a day of true “academics” (reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, etc) at least 6 days a week.  Our schedule is to have “school” in the morning after breakfast and chores (sweep and make beds), eat lunch on the boat and then after lunch go on a “field trip.”  The field trip might be getting groceries, going to a tide pool to see the sea life we’re learning about, etc., or just taking a walk.
I did find a great website and downloaded a few (free) lesson plans that provide a theme to study and corresponding learning materials.  It’s help me be a little more focused on what to teach, rather than be all over the place.  I think I mentioned in a previous blog that our current/first theme is OCEANS so we are learning about all the animals in the sea, about the five main oceans, a little about boats’ and how they work as well as pirates!  It seemed like a timely theme to start out with and I was thrilled as we were pulling into Bimini and seeing the crystal clear water, that the kids could identify many of the animals they were seeing.  It was interesting to hear them debating whether what they saw was “a Portuguese man-o-war or a regular jellyfish.”
The piece de resistance was a visit to the Bimini Shark Research Center where they were able to see more species and ask questions to the university student researchers there (we had a very interresting ride back on a Bahamian school bus!).  These students come in for 10-week periods to study marine biology, specifically the behavior of the various shark species.  Apparently Bimini is one of the most perfect places to study because most sea animals can be found here.  The students were very nice to the kids.  Again, I was thrilled to hear the kids telling the students little factoids they had learned like, “did you know a starfish could regrow its entire body from just its leg if it were cut off?” I know all our children are sponges and learning all the time, but I think in everyday life back home, I never witnessed it.  All these things the kids are learning now, of course can be taught back home, but for some reason, our life always seems too hectic or something and I am sorry to say we don’t spend that quality time with the kids.
The last couple of days have been cold and rainy so we have spent a lot of time studying.  I do have to admit that I do get push back from the kids… some days they are reluctant to focus, so that’s where the flexibility ahs to come in, and I switch the lesson of the day to play a game or something.
All in all, it is very gratifying for me.... and I think the kids really like the on-on-one attention.  In fact, Sofia even started giving her own homeschool classes to all her dolls.  Hedy, if it has her reading, it's perfect! I am learning a lot about my kids and about myself.
So… we have been in Bimini for the last 5 days, awaiting the cold front to pass.  I think we will move on on Saturday... NEXT DESTINATION:  Nassau, Bahamas.

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TBIRDS Unite in Key Biscayne!

Alice Town, Bimini, Bahamas - Well, we now have officially started our great adventure after spending longer than expected in Florida awaiting a special part (motor mount) for our motor.  It all turned out well though because it allowed us more time in the Miami/Key Biscayne area to get together with a group of TBIRDS.  Imagine my surprise when out of the blue on Saturday I received a call from Janette and Jorge Uribe, who happened to be available to come visit us in No Name harbor on the tip of Key Biscayne in their boat.  Not only did they bring themselves and their 3 beautiful children, but Don Roberto and Daniel Maldonado (Andres' father and brother) and their families.  Janette had contacted Al and Polly Guerrero to give us a surprise visit as well, so they were aboard the Begonia with their 3 children as well.  I was floored when I saw my good friend Al pull up along side our boat in a little dinghy.
   The boat had never seen so many people... 21 total... all onboard to help us celebrate Benjie's 5th birthday.  Poor Benjie all along was thinking he would not have a big celebration, but we certainly did... and Sofia and I baked a cake on the boat for him too.  I was thrilled to know the TBIRD network is still thriving and even more thrilled that it seemed not a day had passed with all these great friends when in reality we all had not seen each other in about a decade.  We had a BBQ feast, which the Uribes brought and cooked.     
    The next day we were visited by Raul de la Renta and Renata and their 2 year old son Joaquin in the morning.  They had been kind enough to invite us to their home a few nights before and here we were able to return the favor onboard.  Renata always puts together a great spread and I was delighted to see their beautiful home, since lately we only seem to see each other in Chicago.  Poor Raul was a little concerned that he could not drop us off all the way inside the Park at No Name since it was already closed at the late hour .... instead he dropped us off at the closed guard booth and we climbed over with kids and walked back to the bay in the pitch black!  Luckily we had taken the path many times before and knew our way.... although I was a little concerned that a big iguana was going to fall out of the trees and onto my shoulders!
 Al and Polly also kindly had us over and Polly even offered for us to shower and do laundry while at their house.  I think next time, I might take them up on this offer.  I was just distracted eating the scrumptious food Polly cooked - that I don't cook aboard! - and doing the dancing competition through the Wii.  It was a fantastic weekend for us... a complete surprise to see everyone and made the goodbye even that much more special. Thanks to all of you who made the effort to see us... see Jorge?  You made the blog!!!!