Green Horizons – Blog 9 – Coming Home
Uninhabited Powell Cay provided lush, rainforest-like walking trails to its desolate shoreline where only boaters are privileged to explore the beautiful white sand beaches. Jake and I encountered a friendly hummingbird along our walk back that hung out, buzzing close by for over ten minutes! After a couple of days of solitude we hoisted the sails on a journey toward a protected mooring that boaters call a “hurricane hole” on the southeast tip of Allan’s Pensacola Cay.
After “conch dragging” Jake behind the boat for most of the journey we neared the anchorage with a couple nice conch aboard! We dropped our sails and motored into the shallow mangrove estuary around 2:30pm just 30 minutes before full tide. The depth finder read 5’2” at the shallowest point and read 7’4” once we entered the mangrove hole. Plenty of room for our 3’5” draft even at low tide. There were vast groves of mangroves, and a schools of grey snapper everywhere as we set anchor in the peaceful hideout. There was nothing around for miles – just us!
That afternoon, we kayaked out the creek and into the Atlantic to search for some fresh fish and conch. With thunderstorms nearby we stuck close and dove the inner reef. The savvy snapper outsmarted us, so we headed into the channel to drift with the tide. We found a patch of nice reef off the tip where I shot a sweet hogfish and Jake picked up two fat lipped conchs. We kayaked back into the quiet empty hurricane hole happy with our catch and dinner on our minds!
We prepared fish tacos over our makeshift wood grill that we engineered at Manjack Cay. Homemade masa taco shells grilled on the Dutch oven lid along with steamed hogfish paired great with fresh sprouts and Bahamian hot sauce. The perfect way to end an adventurous day!
By sundown the no-see-ums had infiltrated our screened hatches to terrorize and torture us through the night. Nothing’s ever perfect, that’s just the way life goes . . .
The next afternoon we pulled anchor around 2:30pm to ride the tide out of the hole and motored 5 miles to the north end of the Island. At 4pm we set anchor in a large sandy patch 7’ deep. Our motor ran great and we saw 9 out of 10 bars were still lit up on the gauge of our renewable energy US Batteries. Every new test has boosted our confidence in this motor and power system!
That evening, while we cooked cracked conch with rice and lentils, a snorkeler came swimming behind our boat and asked. “how long have you guys been living off the grid?” We told our new friend, Mark, about our adventure and he was stoked about our mission. He explained that he had been contemplating a conversion to an electric motor on his sailboat. After he swam off, Jake and I were amazed at how small the world is and the connections we’ve made along the way. 30 minutes later, Mark came up in his dingy with a couple of cold beers and an intense interest in learning more about our electric motor setup and knowledge we gained along our journey. He was excited to see the solar electric powered motor in action and invited us over to his friend’s motor yacht named “Fueling Around” for dinner, and a chance to share stories with the crew!
We spent a fun evening sharing our sailing stories with Mark’s good friend, Captain Dave and crew. While cooking dinner, Dave pushed his generator to the limit creating plumes of noxious smoke from the stern of the ship that made us cringe. ”Fueling Around” was the complete antithesis to our developing philosophy, yet Capt. Dave was keenly interested in our solar setup and asked for advice on how he could better equip his boat. It was good to connection to share our message and inspire them to think twice about the way we live. We thanked the crew as we paddled off into the dark back to Valhalla.
The next morning we struggled out of bed and gathered our energy with some homemade coconut, sapodilla pancakes! After breakfast we met up with some sailors we befriended a couple nights prior who invited us on a spear fishing adventure. Joan, along with Jay (who had been visiting the Abaco area for over fifteen years) brought along first time visitors Geoff and Renee. Both couples originated from Florida and loved spear fishing the reef.
We teamed up and headed out to the reef off Umbrella cay just north off Allan’s Pensacola. The reef was sweet, yet Jay lamented how much more plentiful snapper and grouper once were on the reef.
We enjoyed filming the elkhorn coral heads and tiny tropical fish teeming within the reef, and spotted a couple of nice grouper deep in caverns that fooled with us. Sharks spanned the coral ledge watching our every move and waiting for a fresh catch. Geoff shot a big margay that I retrieved from under a deep ledge while a big reef shark circling closely added to the excitement. We moved on to explore different sections of the massive reef before finally heading back into the channel to search for more dinner. While cruising in, Jake and Joan spotted some conch in a sand patch in twenty foot of water. 10 minutes later we had a limit conch, even after releasing several smaller ones to reproduce in the future. After a fun day on the water snorkeling with new friends, we thanked the sailors for taking us along and headed back to the boat.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed off into the calm waters toward Great Sale Cay 30 miles west. Around 10:30am we motored off moving around 4.5 knots toward our destination. The 30-mile run took 7 hours leaving our battery gauge still reading at 3 of 10 bars left, another great test to raise our confidence in our electric motor system and battery power supply! The next day we worked on Valhalla installing a fan for the electric motor, tuning the rigging, fixing our compass light and organizing our equipment. With the summer sun blaring and no wind to sail Jake stated, “We will wait at the ‘sun station’ until our batteries our fully charged!”
A full day at the “sun pump” and Valhalla was charged up and ready to go! That evening we took advantage of an increasing southeast wind to sail 25 miles to Mangrove Cay where we anchored up around midnight. The glow of Freeport city lingered far in the distance as we fell asleep to a subtle sea breeze.
The next evening we sailed toward West End heading off the banks and into the Florida straits around midnight. A light south wind slowly pushed us along until it died around ten miles out. With Jake asleep and our sails luffing uselessly, I decided to turn back and wait for a better wind to cross instead of relying strictly on our motor – we didn’t know for sure how far our battery range would take us. By sunrise we were nearing Memory Rock with purple/blue water beneath the boat. The depth finder read 200’ and I could see reef cluster on the bottom! Absolutely gorgeous!
Jake spotted conch in 40’ of water and I decided to jump in for a morning swim. Four fat Conchs later and I was exhausted from the combination of free diving and a restless night. We motored around Memory rock onto the Bahamas Bank toward West End to find an anchorage and wait for the right time to cross. Fresh conch salad and sprouts for lunch made our day as we neared our anchorage on the sand flats just north of West End on Grand Bahamas Island.
For the next couple days the Atlantic Ocean became a lake, no wind and sunny as can be. The calm before the storm . . . fishermen flocked from West End to capitalize on the perfect conditions coming in with loads of conch and fresh fish. We pulled anchor to head into the Old Bahamas Bay Marina to extend our visa before resetting our anchor right outside the breakwater. We met some young sailors named Arie and Montana on an old English sailboat who were heading to school in our hometown of Melbourne, FL!
We spent the evening eating fresh caught fish and rice on their sailboat “Frodo” and enjoyed the young sailors enthusiastic spirits. That evening a hard west wind picked up and made the anchorage unsafe with a strong current that ran through the channel. The next morning we tried to set anchor around the breakwater but the holding was poor and the increasing west wind made our decision to head into the marina even clearer. We motored through the cut where the hard wind opposed the out going tide forming standing waves that broke over the bow. Valhalla pushed through the cut until we rolled our jib up and took a heading down wind into the marina breakwater. It was scary, yet, now we were safe in a marina for the first time during our entire trip. By midnight the wind had picked up to 35 mph and thunderstorms succumbed the area.
The brunt of Tropical Storm Arthur was forming right over us. By morning the winds had increased to 60 mph and non-stop down pour combined with continuous lightning created a lethal flood. Around mid-morning a few dive boats, along with a sailboat, snuck into the marina seeking refuge from the mayhem as our old anchorage was turned into a washer machine of waves and wind!
The storm brought us fresh rainwater that overflowed our tanks, so we collected water in every empty jug available. The flooding rain tested Valhalla, and little leaks popped up here and there. We hoped for the best. Finally, after 12 hours of strong wind, non-stop rain and lightning, a tiny bit of blue sky peaked in from the west! Everyone in the marina came popping out of the wood works to venture to the tip of the breakwater to see the wild ocean hard at work.
The sunset broke through with a beautiful pink light shooting through the thick purple clouds that lingered on the horizon. By morning time the sunshine and a brisk wind had quickly dried out Valhalla’s wet inside’s. We were blessed by having trusted our instincts to find a safe haven. We were blessed by trusting our instincts to find a safe haven!
On July 3rd, we took full advantage of the hard 30 mph South-south west wind and sailed out of the marina around 10:30am on a course due west back to Florida. Valhalla pounded quickly through a 5’ south wind chop mixed with a 5’ north groundswell. By 9:30 pm we were exiting the strong gulf steam current 10 miles out from the St. Lucie inlet ready to ride the incoming tide into the shifty inlet. Around 11:00pm the wind died as we motored into the inlet while fireworks were shooting off along the coast as if to welcome us home! After a three-month journey, with no fossil fuel aboard Valhalla, we completed our mission and made it back to Florida safe and sound.
This journey started long before we ever knew about sailing. Our father Rodney Smith was a fishing captain along the Indian River lagoon (IRL) coast, the most diverse ecosystem in all of North America. He taught us to appreciate the beauty the lagoon provided and we fell in love with everything about it. Thousands of creatures from Dolphins, manatees, pelicans, fish, plants thrive off the lush flora and fauna.
As we grew older we watched the lagoon change, its health diminished from a whirlwind of effects. Society has steered us down a one-way road that corrupts our minds with unnecessary “needs”. We all must fit in with the “American Dream”: a beautiful house with a lush green lawn, close to shopping where we can travel in our fancy vehicles . . . all in air-conditioned comfort. Time with our family is diminished from our busy lifestyle. We rush to the super market to buy food tainted with chemicals and toxins that plague our health. Not only has this lifestyle taken a toll on our own lives, but the lagoon and other ecosystems as well.
The beauty of Florida is the reason why everyone wants to live in the Sunshine State. Ospreys, pelicans, dolphins, manatees, herons, and other creatures you may see while traveling about can make your day. The IRL’s mangrove systems are the most abundant we’ve seen during our entire trip, yet the nearly stagnant, brown water makes me wonder how anything can survive at all.
Will the lagoon collapse and fall to our ill-fated effects? The lagoon is the reason why we fell in love with nature in general. The next generation is why we wanted to change the course of our lives and go on this adventure.Could we live without all of the unnecessary, contaminating “luxuries” and practices of society? Could we live in a sustainable way that won’t ruin the land and sea we love?
We proved to ourselves, that, yes we can! It may take hard work and motivation, but, if we can do it on a 1978 31’ sailboat, then we can definitely do it on land.
This journey is not over. We are constantly learning new ways to sustain ourselves with little or no environmental impact into the future. Next week we will be sailing to the Green Flamingo sustainable farm in Oak Hill were we will be filming and learning more about the benefits of organic farming. We want to thank everyone for believing in Green Horizons and connecting with us on our journey. Please help us spread our vision to everyone by sharing our blog with friends and family. The youth depend on us to give them an opportunity to enjoy what we’ve already had! How do you feel about our journey?
Where would you go on a sailboat adventure? Thanks again for inspiring us on our journey,
James and Jake Smith AKA- Vision and Truth Crew aboard the 100% emission free 1978 31’ Bombay Clipper “Valhalla”
Massive thanks to our Sponsor U.S. Battery company for providing us with the best renewable energy batteries available! Check out their article on how they partnered with Green Horizons and provided us battery’s that are both reliable and durable in all conditions of our journey!