Seven years ago this month we moved onto Cream Puff to live full-time. On May 4th, 2015 we departed St. Petersburg, Florida to set sail and travel the globe. Above is the picture we took as we departed wondering what lies ahead and over the horizon. Now we know what was over the horizon. We have owned Cream Puff now for 11 years. Both Cindy and I have been reminiscing this month and are taking some time to look back at our adventure. This is slightly out of character for us since we both are looking forward people. It’s amazing the amount of stuff we’ve done that we’ve already forgotten about. We tend not to look over our shoulders much but are apt to be more curious about things ahead. But, since we are reminiscing, we thought we’d share.
During the past 7 years we stopped at 7 states in the USA and have visited 20 countries.
Wow! Seven years. Where has the time gone? The old adage, time flies when having fun, comes to mind. Yes, we are still having fun. We decided to go back and look at each of the seven years. Both Cindy and I will pick our favorite two pictures of that year and our favorite port of call. Our favorite port and picture might not be of the same place. And, we might have differing favorites. There are a ton of links to click if you want to read more about the areas we mention. Let’s see how this goes.
Favorite stop: Green Turtle Cay, Abaco Islands, Bahamas
A dear friend, Paul, highly recommended we visit Green Turtle Cay. His parents took him to Green Turtle Cay when he was young. He took his kids and is now taking his grandkids. We decided this would be our check-in point for the Bahamas.
We arrived just as 2015 was ending. We spent a peaceful Christmas and joined in the Junkanoo festivities on New Year’s Day. We were surprised by a knock on our boat on Christmas day. Paul had contacted his friends in Green Turtle Cay (GTC) to surprise us with a bottle of wine to celebrate Christmas. It was wrapped and decorated by the Bluff House staff and delivered to our boat in the marina. Good friends like Paul are treasures.
Also while in Green Turtle Cay we met a couple who also own an Amel like ours. We soon became good friends and still are today. In this lifestyle we meet a lot of new people. Few become long term friends that hold a special place in our hearts as these two couples have.
GTC was everything we had hoped to find in the Bahamas. Beautiful white sand beaches where we were often the only people walking or swimming. We met kind people who told us about the Abaco Island’s history and made us feel welcomed. It is a very quiet, laid-back atmosphere which was much appreciated after a busy year. GTC gave us a lot of good memories.
Birds of all sizes find Cream Puff and hop on for a ride. We welcome them with fresh water and bread. They doze, hang out and take off again. We call them stowaways and enjoy the entertainment they give us while they are along for the ride.
Chesapeake Bay Cowboys. Who knew there was such a sport? A really fun afternoon learning about something we had no idea existed. This is what it is all about!
Favorite stop: Florida Keys – The Dry Tortugas National Park
This was our first stop leaving St. Pete and for me was a goal accomplished. Around 2005, Cindy and I were on vacation in Key West and a friend suggested we take the high-speed ferry Yankee Freedom to Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park. We followed their advice and it resulted in us having a wonderful day exploring Ft. Jefferson.
As we walked about the fort, I vividly remember standing at one of the windows looking at the boats in the anchorage. This was as our savings were starting to mount and we thought perhaps the sailing dream had a chance of happening. I stood there thinking, one day we need to sail here and anchor in this area.
At the time, we lived in Georgia and didn’t own a boat. So, we had no start point for our planned adventure. It kinda sorta happened that we purchased Cream Puff in Florida and decided on St. Pete as a place to learn the ins and outs of her. This means, our first port of call was purely an accidental confirmation of a dream come true.
It stands to reason one of my favorite pictures of this year is the window where I look out at Cream Puff in the anchorage below knowing full well ten years before I had stood in a similar spot dreaming of this event.
My other favorite picture of 2015 was taken just after sunrise in Annapolis MD. We spent our first summer aboard the Puffster cruising about the Chesapeake Bay. We picked up a mooring in Annapolis Harbor and stayed there for about a month while I attended a diesel mechanic school. Every morning for me, weather permitting, starts with a large cup of tea and a crossword in our cockpit. This was a particularly beautiful sunrise. One of the many to come during my morning routine over the next few years.
Favorite stop: Exuma Land and Sea Park
I loved the Bahamas. I like the peacefulness and solitude I could get but when I was ready for people we could go to the more popular spots as well. My favorite spot was the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We visited again for an extended visit in 2017. The mantra in 2017 was, “We are not leaving the park until we run out of food!” And that is what we did.
My first picture is Mark making the driftwood sign to take up Boo Boo Hill. Mark had read about Boo Boo Hill in a sailing article a few years before we set sail. The article explained how sailors would hike up Boo Boo Hill with driftwood signs. The signs have the name of the boat and the year the crew visited the park. In 2017 we returned to Boo Boo Hill with tools to add 2017 to the sign.
My second picture is Mark standing on White Point Beach on Great Guana Cay, Bahamas with Cream Puff in the far distance. We had the island and anchorage all to ourselves for an entire week.
Favorite stop: Exuma Land and Sea Park (ELSP), Bahamas
I have to be honest here; I didn’t care much for most of the Bahamas. Yes there are a few incredible places like Green Turtle Cay, Staniel Cay, and Hope Town which I loved. I’m certainly not saying I hated it there. The Bahamas offers a lot for cruisers, especially for those just starting out. The sailing is pretty easy and the clear turquoise water is incredible. For me, after reading about places on cruising guides and other people’s blogs there was a constant disappointment as we got to these places ourselves. Who knows, perhaps my expectations were too high. However, the one standout that didn’t disappoint is the ELSP. 2016 was our first visit to the ELSP. When we returned to the Bahamas the following year, we made a beeline straight for the park.
One of the great benefits of a vessel like ours is we can be self-sufficient for a very long time. When moored in the park we make our own fresh water using desalination, we have 3 refrigerators/freezers, and ample room for provisions. The second time we went to the ELSP we stayed for 4 months.
So why did we love the park so much? The park looks pretty much the same today as it did back when it was established in 1958 covering 112,640 acres of land and sea. It is all natural meaning, whatever you take in you must take out. Fishing is completely banned and for those willing to risk the consequences, the fines are very steep.
None of the animals are threatened by humans and because of this care must be taken not to step on lizards. Some of them just look up and will not move. The same is true under the water. We once had an experience where a family of giant spotted rays circled us a few times checking us out. Feeding the Bahamian iguanas is allowed in certain places. And, if you are lucky an elusive hutia might be sighted. I was lucky. I was extra especially lucky as I had my camera ready. The picture (above) I manage to snap is published in a couple of scientific magazines. I was told by the researchers how rare it is to see one at dusk and also they told me my picture captured the characteristics of the hutia.
My first favorite picture of this year is Kayaks on the beach at Staniel Cay. This is currently the background on my PC. I never seem to get tired of looking at this one.
My other favorite picture of this year is a pink sand beach on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. We got totally lost trying to find this and when we got there it was so worth it. This picture reflects the true sand color. It hasn’t had the color adjusted nor has it been photoshopped.
Favorite stop: Martinique
2017 added many of the Caribbean Islands to our route. It is hard to pick just one but when pressed I have to pick Martinique. We enjoyed the comradery of so many Amel owners. Who, like us, stopped at the Amel facility to have work performed.
We spent a lot of time exploring the mountainous island in our tiny rental cars.
My first picture for 2017 is Mark in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was very happy about completing the first portion of a repair in the engine room. With the help of our friend Paul, the repair was complete in about a week. All part of the adventure.
This picture is on our blog post header and probably many other places as it is a favorite. The picture was taken in St. John’s Island, US Virgin Islands. It also reminds me of the texts we were getting from our friends making plans to meet us in Grenada for hurricane season which was just a month away.
Favorite stop: Puerto Rico.
It was a tough decision between this and Turks and Caicos. The T&C islands are stunningly beautiful. T&C is also a stop point for cruisers heading west and east. We met some awesome people there many of which we remain in contact with today. However, Puerto Rico edges out T&C. Here’s why.
In my opinion, PR has a bad rep thanks to the entertainment industry and stereotyping. The country is stunning and the people are friendly. The mountains remind me of central Europe and driving the narrow roads often yields views that just cannot be captured by a photograph. The history of the islands is still reflected in the older building and towns. When walking about Old San Juan, it is not hard to imagine how it looked in 1521 when it was first founded. The old buildings are so strongly constructed they have survived years and years of hurricanes.
The population of PR is only about 3.2 million meaning the vast portions of the islands are undeveloped. But, amenities are there if you need them. Sadly, PR is in serious trouble with its infrastructure. It’s a long story but the US changed some tax laws. It was once a haven for manufacturing but the new laws make it unfeasible for manufacturing companies to invest there. Jobs are hard to get and many of the younger people move to the USA mainland.
Out of the cities, small towns are scattered in the tall mountains. Each is unique. While the cities have the US influence of chain stores and fast food, the smaller towns feature locally owned markets, restaurants, and shops. We often rented cars in PR and would spend days just aimlessly driving the inland areas. “Wow” was the most common word we used as new vistas appeared.
Both Cindy and I agree PR would be a great place to live in retirement once the traveling extravaganza is over. But, it would have to be in Old San Juan in a house with a history of surviving massive hurricanes. And alas, that’s probably out of our price range. It’s hard to find a property there for under a million. I guess there are quite a few other people who also love Old San Juan.
My two favorite pictures of 2017: The first one was taken in St. John, USVI. We spent some time there swimming with turtles. They weren’t hard to find and really didn’t care about people getting close to them. We got some great pictures of turtles. But, one day a movement below me happened to catch my eye: an octopus. It is the very first time for us to see an octopus in the ocean.
My second favorite picture is actually one of my all-time favorites. It was taken during Carnival in Grenada. Carnival is a photographer’s dream come true. The vivid colors and costumes are candy to the lens. I did a post just on carnival and (tooting my own horn) the pictures are some of the best I have ever taken. Click here to see them all.
Favorite stop: Bonaire
My happy place is being in the water. My second happy place is watching wildlife.
In Bonaire, there are mooring balls for dinghies to tie at different snorkel and dive locations around the two islands. These balls are also used by dive boat companies for their dives. We bought a park pass that allowed us to dive or snorkel as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted. Can it get any better than that? We checked out most of the spots over our stay. A few became favorite that we visited many times.
There was plenty of wildlife to entertain me as well. I was in heaven!
It was a very windy day. The birds were at the far end of the pond at the very extreme of our telephoto lenses. And, we had forgotten to take the tripods. It was a really great day watching the wild flamingos coming and going from the pond.
One of the best parts of the adventure is trying new things. Even better when friends come to visit us and we try new things together.
My third picture is of our first ride with our newly purchased outboard motor. In late 2016 we purchased a new dinghy while in St. Petersburg, Florida. We really needed a more powerful outboard motor for the new dinghy. We found a good deal on one in St. Lucia and set sail to go pick it up.
The reason this is one of my favorite pictures is because the new outboard motor gave us confidence that we had the power to travel further distances safely. We could now anchor further away from shore, away from other boats, and longer distances from towns/villages. We often go as far as 10 miles away from Cream Puff knowing we can get back without issue (but we carry assorted tools just in case). 🙂
Favorite stop: Îles des Saintes
My favorite port of call in 2018 has to be Îles des Saintes (Isles of Saints). In fact, this quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. We visited in 2017 and 2018. The funny thing is I really can’t explain why. I woke up in the mornings made my cup of tea, printed the crossword and took a comfortable spot in the cockpit. From this vantage spot on our mooring ball, I watched the town come alive and listened to the roosters crow. Later in the morning, we’d head to the bakery and buy the best bread we’ve ever tasted in our lives. If we’re lucky they’d have croissants too. The trick was to get into town before the first ferry of tourists arrived.
The main village of Terre-de-Haut is one street of shops. This includes the ice cream shop, bakery, a couple of grocery stores, and several fantastic restaurants. The islands are mostly a day attraction for tourists coming from Guadeloupe. They arrive on the ferry in the mornings and after the last ferry leaves about 4 pm, the town goes back to its sleepy status. Very few tourists stay overnight.
It is entirely possible to see most of the island in one day especially if you rent an electric car or scooter. This includes a self-guided tour of Ft. Napoleon where from the top of the hill the views are incredible. This brings me to my first favorite picture of that year.
It is taken from Ft. Napoleon looking down on the town of Terre-de-Haut. I believe this is one of only two selfies posted on our blog.
My second favorite picture of that year is a lady on Guadeloupe who had a kiosk selling scarves. She wasn’t happy about having her picture taken. I love the colors.
Favorite stop: Panama
In 2016 we fulfilled a checkmark for Mark to go up Boo Boo Hill and put a Cream Puff sign along with the other sailors who visited the Exuma Land and Sea Park. One of my checkmarks was to visit the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala Comarca). Also on my list was to try to find the Master Mola Artist, Venancio and buy some of his artwork. Karma was with me because only 10 minutes after anchoring at Chichime Island, Venancio motored up in his small boat. We made an appointment for the next morning for him to visit.
Venancio was accompanied by his nephew and brother. I was told his presentation would take a couple of hours. I was ready with cold mango juice for all and a comfy spot to watch the master at work. It was quite the presentation and what an array of products. There was a price group so that anyone could afford one…or two…or three. Did I mention Venancio is a Master Salesperson as well?
I made a deal with the veggie boat guys to get them to visit Cream Puff first on their route. They were teaching me the Spanish names of the produce I bought as well. I could not have the item until I remembered the correct word. It was a fun way to learn. I still remember most of the names.
Of course, a big highlight of the year for us both was transiting the Panama Canal on our own boat. In 1990 a close friend gave me the book ‘The Path Between the Seas’ by David McCullough. Since reading the book it has been a place I wanted to visit. I had hoped one day to transit the canal on our own boat but if it did not work out, I would be happy just to visit the old and new canals for tours. In 2019 we did both.
My absolute favorite picture of the canal. Cream Puff waiting to enter the last lock before entering the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
Favorite stop: Colombia.
This is another place that has a bad rep thanks to stereotyping and the entertainment industry. No, it isn’t all cartels and cocaine. It is a place where we felt perfectly safe walking the back streets after dark returning to the marina after a fantastic (and very inexpensive) meal out. People don’t carry guns nor do they instantly shoot someone over a trivial dispute.
We found everything in Colombia to be very inexpensive. A taxi all the way across town equated to about US$5. And that included a very nice tip. A three-course meal for two with wine at the best restaurants with fabulous food and service can be had for about US$45. Price is not all that Colombia had to offer us. It is rich with history, the people are friendly, and it is colorful. We kept Cream Puff in Santa Marta and traveled to Cartagena by bus and this is a place that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. If it isn’t, add it.
Needless to say, one of my favorite pictures of the year is taken inside the old walled city in Cartegena. I actually took this picture about five times on different days and wasn’t happy with the contrast and exposure. The sun in Colombia is brutal and the shadows are harsh in comparison. Finally, I managed to get this shot.
After Colombia, we were off to Panama. A part of Panama is an area called Guna Yala that includes the San Blas Islands. I met a friendly monkey who loved mangos on a small island near our anchorage at the Coco Bandero Cays. He loved mangos so much he totally befriended me. After the fruit was gone, he gave me a monkey hug buried his head into me, and then took off into the trees. I’m pretty sure the monkey was a pet of one of the local Kuna people because he was so tame. I’m just glad we found each other that day.
Favorite stop: It’s hard to pick
In 2020 we only planned to visit two stops, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and French Polynesia. It would be hard to pick only one when both were spectacular in their own way and both were places we dreamed of visiting.
We were told that seals love to lounge on boats in the Galapagos. We barely had our anchor down five minutes when a seal was on our transom. Later that afternoon, another came to peak through the hatch. Late at night seals would climb aboard our boat and party on our cabin top. Often waking us up with their antics. Mark would go out to shoo them away and readjust our seal deterring ropes and cans. The seals were quite crafty and could figure out most of the things we tried. The final idea was so good at keeping the seals off, it kept the crew from being able to get on and off the boat as well.
Most tours in Santa Cruz take tourists to the wildlife reserves to see the giant tortoises. Our guides took us off the tourist path to see tortoises in their natural environment. We saw several tortoises walking along the roadway. Our guide told us it was mating season for the tortoises. Tortoises will travel several miles to find a mate. Such a cool thing to get to see.
Favorite stop: Galapagos
Galapagos is a destination on many people’s bucket lists. It was on ours. It now has a checkmark. At one point we were hesitant about traveling through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Ocean because on the side of the Americas everything is much further apart and the sailing can be challenging crossing the Pacific. Our passage from Panama to Galapagos was 5 nights. This is not the longest we’d sailed but while in Galapagos there is the daunting passage ahead of us consisting of 20+ days to French Polynesia.
On the way to Galapagos, we crossed the equator. A screenshot of our navigation computer as it happened:
Arriving in Galapagos, word of a new virus in the world was starting to spread. We were taken aback just a little bit when the inspectors for our check-in procedure all arrive wearing masks. Every day while there, our local phone received a text from the Ecuadorian government asking if people have a fever, headache, or flu-like symptoms. Little did we know at the time what lay ahead. Two months later, we departed Galapagos for French Polynesia. Halfway through our journey, the world went crazy and we were rerouted by the French Polynesian government to Tahiti rather than our planned destination of Nuku Hiva. Total nautical miles sailed: 3862 (7152 km, 4,444 miles) Total days at sea: 29.
Obviously, Galapagos is a highlight because of the animals. The animals didn’t disappoint. We spent some extra money and did private tours taking us off the regular tourist path and it turned out it was money well spent. An agent in Galapagos set up the guides for us and made sure they spoke English.
We took some wonderful pictures in Galapagos. Picking from them is very difficult. If you wish to see more pics of the wildlife open the links on this page.
Because of Carlito taking us to a place waaaay away from everything, I got a dream picture. A pic that I really really really wanted from Galapagos; blue-footed booby. It was the only one we saw whilst there.
A trip to Galapagos wouldn’t be complete without a picture of a giant tortoise. Thanks to Marcella who took it for us. The best thing about these animals is they don’t move very fast so you can take your time posing without fear of them running off. Besides, this 125-year-old lady never stopped eating.
Favorite stop: Tahiti. Well, it was our only stop. As everyone knows, COVID happened to the world. The pandemic really changed cruising life as well. We have said before in our posts that we are very fortunate to have been coming to French Polynesia when the pandemic happened. I am also thankful we took the time to get our Long Stay Visa while in Panama, The Long Stay Visa is the first step toward the Carte de Sejour (CDS).The CDS is a temporary residency Visa for French Polynesia.
The CDS can be renewed annually meaning the crew can stay as long as the CDS is renewed. When we entered French Polynesia, private vessels were given a 3 year cruising permit to stay. However, the rules were changed to 2 years shortly after we arrived (we are grandfathered with a 3 year permit). With these two very important documents, we were allowed to stay in French Polynesia during the pandemic. We could stay and wait to see what would happen and make decisions from a safe port. After many years of moving from country to country it was nice to stop in one place for an extended time.
When the borders closed there were no tourists. We met many local people during this time who befriended us. They taught us a lot about their culture and islands.
I took this picture on a trip to the Botanical Garden in Tahiti.
Getting high in Tahiti. Cream Puff is below in the marina in the port. The sister island, Mo’orea, is in the distance.
Favorite stop: Tahiti
Tahiti French Polynesia has to be the choice for 2021. We spent the entire year here due to Covid except for a brief side-trip to Mo’orea. Being re-routed to Tahiti was a blessing. While the world has suffered with various forms of lockdowns and curfews, our life here has been somewhat normal. Yes, there were a few restrictions as cases sharply rose but for the most part we’ve enjoyed our freedom with limited interruption.
Of all the places in the world to be stuck for Covid, I think we hit pay dirt. We’ve had a lot of time here to really explore this island and I can honestly say I’d probably qualify for a job as a tour guide. We often rent cars and roam about armed with cameras and have become regulars at a few restaurants. We have managed to do something here very few people in the world can claim. We have experienced Tahiti without tourists. And, it’s been wonderful.
During the time when the borders were closed, the locals looked at us like we were aliens. Because of this, conversations often began due to curiosity. We explained how we live on a boat in the marina and are stuck here. We met a lot of local people and made friends. Now today as we walk into a popular restaurant, we are recognized and treated like locals often involving a welcome kiss on the cheeks. Polynesian people hug and kiss all the time.
We attended an event called Heiva for the second time. It resembles a Polynesian Olympics. The event wasn’t canceled as it fell between Covid variants. There were very few tourists. The previous year there were no tourists at all and we basically roamed about taking pictures and meeting the contestants. The traditional garb makes interesting photos.
Everywhere we go, we like to pick up a local ornament for the Christmas tree. We’ve done this for years since we used to take vacations toward the end of the year. When we decorate the tree, we are reminded of some of the great memories of our lives. I like the Santa picture just because it makes me smile.
Well, that’s it. If you made it this far you are to be commended for your dedication to our blog. The adventure will continue for a while longer. After all, we are only halfway across the Pacific. Thanks for taking the trip down memory lane with us – Mark and Cindy