To Mutton Fish Point, Eleuthera

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We left the Berry Islands after a day’s delay due a misbehaving autopilot.  In the end it was a matter of pressing two buttons at once to reset the computer.  This came hours after Captain Swearsalot took the motherboard apart, rewired many connections and tickled parts at both the receiving and sending ends.  The autopilot is like cruise control on steroids.  Auto is very good friend who allows me to sit in my princess seat and look for dolphin rather than stand at the helm paying attention to fussy coordinates with a large wheel going back and forth in my hand.  Auto is also important as he steers for us as we put up sails or in times when four hands are needed, like making cocktails (kidding).  Also, I am cheery to report that crab pots are mostly nonexistent in the Bahamas so they are no longer getting between Auto and I.

The following day was an eight to nine hour motor sailing day to the southern tip of the Abacos.  One could spend years exploring all these beautiful Bahaman Islands and it was hard to skip the Abacos.  However, we did so because we chartered a boat and sailed the Abacos with our sons about ten years ago.  On that trip we dove and snorkeled with enormous eagle rays, accidentally hooked our anchor on a truck someone had dumped into the sea and our youngest was bitten by a stray dog.  That resulted in him being held down by two nurses (he would appreciate that more now at his current age of twenty) and shot with fifteen needles of rabies prevention.  Our favorite family story of the Abacos is from Man of War Island.  The boys wanted ice cream and asked the waitress what flavors they had.  Oh, we got any flavor you can imagine.  We got chocolate berry hot dog, pineapple black olive, coconut pot roast, anything you can imagine.   We got almost fifty flavors.  Great! said the oldest, I’ll have vanilla.  Sorry, she replied, We ain’t got no vanilla.  The Braatz family laughed uncontrollably and she just frowned and walked away.

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B.P. at work

We anchored in seclusion at the southern tip of the Abacos after a long day of bouncing off of waves.   Someone must have had sand in his crevices the whole time as he was categorically cantankerous.  I briefly contemplated shoving Captain Thatpartoftheanatomywhereexcrementexits into the sea while he was going winky tinky off the transom and moving along on my own.  Instead, I dove headfirst into a novel and read through sunset, nonexistent dinner and until I could barely keep my eyes open for the last page.  I emerged from that book a better human being for it.

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The following day had tidy bowl blue skies and sparkling seas.  We were escorted off the Abacos by a pod of Atlantic Spotted dolphin playing in our wake.  Captain Learningfromlocals trolled a line and caught a Cero Mackerel.  Mack was twenty four inches, fun to catch and sad to kill.  It was another eight to nine hour motor sail to the northern part of Eleuthera.

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Eleuthera was settled in the mid 1600’s by a group of English and French in pursuit of religious freedom.  They sunk their ships on the reefs that surround the island and settled there.  There is a cave with a large rock pulpit in it where they lived.  We anchored by Current Cut and marinated Mack in soy sauce, Saracha, lime juice and ginger.  Captain Grillmaster did his thing.  (He invented a tube that attaches under the grates of his grill that smoke wood pellets for extra flavor.  He ordered twenty pounds of pellets.  We have no room for clothes but we have wood pellets to last ten years.)  We thanked and then ate Mack with white rice, a tomato salad and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  It was my favorite meal yet.

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Current Cut has a very strong current that runs through a somewhat narrow opening with touchy tides ebbing and flowing.  The current alone can run to an excess of ten knots.  Echoes can reach a wee over seven knots with our fifty five horse Yan Mar.  We needed to time our passage at slack tide or we would be at the mercy of the current who could take away our steerage and power and toss us where she may.  Large Kraken feed in Current Cut and there are skeletons of boats along her craggy shores to prove it.  The tide tables are noted in a variety of islands and Eleuthera generally follows Nassau’s tides with a delay of one to two hours.  This was vague but the best we had.  The following morning we watched several boats leave for the cut and Captain Verythorough contacted them via VHF to ask what the current was like, what speed they reached with what type engine, etc.  We ended up passing after the sailboat Defiance gave us a details and warnings.  He said the cut was not much of a problem but the washing machine seas, shallow reefs and mighty winds following it would give us a ride for our money.  He was most accurate.  We passed with success and dumped out into crashing seas.  They settled after a couple of miles into merely irritating punishing seas.  The winds were pissed off and blowing again.  Five buck board hours later we tucked into Mutton Fish Point by ourselves to spend the night.

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It had been three days since we had been off of Echoes.  This does not bother Captain Couldspendmylifeatsea but it makes me itchy.  We deployed our dinghy to go gunkholing.  (What do you think of the name Tip Sea as she is rather tipsy…and sometimes so are her passengers?)  The beaches were private so we couldn’t go on land but at least I was on a different boat with beautiful cliffs and caves to explore and a beer in hand.

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Great Harbor Cay Marina

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We had been on the hook for eleven nights.  I cut us extremely short in my earlier post about water usage.  We pulled into the marina on the twelfth day with over an eighth of our water left.  As Captain Hardlymodest says, You learn to really not care if another sailor decides to watch you wash your ass crack.  We soap up and bathe in the sea water and use a transom shower head to rinse off with fresh water.  Clean is clean.

Our sail over from Soldier Cay was glorious.  We trolled a line with Captain Supersticious’ favorite daisy chain.  He had a nice size Wahoo on the line that he wrestled with for ten minutes but the fish got away.  He gave us a good jumping show before he got off the hook.  It is hard to catch a fish trolling on a sailboat under full sail because it is difficult to slow down and maneuver the boat conducive to landing a big fish.  Also, you have to deploy the swim ladder to attempt to get the fish on board.  Not too much later, we lost the end of the daisy chain, hook and all, on another hit.

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We sailed around the most northern point of the Berry Islands and past a cruise ship.  Echoes really enjoyed herself as the wind hit her on a beam reach and she seemed to fly along.  We reviewed the charts and cruising guides regarding our entrance to the marina and directions to fuel dock.  The guide said the fuel dock was one of the more difficult to land.  The Kraken stirred.  A large tentacle popped out of the water with its middle suction cup waving at me.

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We squeaked through a beautiful, narrow, coral cut channel to enter a safe and calm harbor.  The fuel dock was merely a few pilings and short dock surrounded by jagged coral and shallow shoals.  We skulled around a few times studying it and Captain Threadtheneedlelikeaman eased her right in.  Kraken be damned.  Next we zig zagged further into our marina and slip.  Like.  A.  Boss.  We were tied up and Echoes was as calm and serene as I am after two glasses of wine.  No more roly poly after eleven nights of it.  Internet!  Cell coverage!  Laundry!  Restaurants!  LONG, HOT, PRIVATE SHOWERS!

The very friendly Great Harbor Cay Marina service went above and beyond.  The dock master, Steve, gave us a lift to a recommended local flavor restaurant.  The owner and chef was at a wooden stand on the beach taking his frustrations out on some conch.  He said he wouldn’t be in the kitchen for another hour.  So Steve drove us all around the island on  back roads giving us the history of Great Harbor.  He showed us an old, falling apart stone hotel that the rat pack frequented and many movie stars used to visit.  We spent the evening with Steve at the Until Then restaurant feasting on conch and lobster.  The after picture is what Captain Fullofit could not finish.  We had diced lobster and scrambled eggs the following day at the chef’s suggestion.

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We did laundry and two weeks worth of bills, business and email correspondence.  I soaked up our boys and loved ones’ voices on Valentine’s calls.  We ventured down the dock to watch the fisherman come in with their catch.  It was glorious.  They spend about three or four hours fishing, spear fishing and collecting traps and then another four hours cleaning the fish with the help of several other men.  Captain Doinghisresearchthingaboutcatchingfish spent a lot of time picking the exceedingly friendly fishermen’s’ brains.

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We bought a gallon ziplock bag stuffed full of trigger fish for $25.00.  It was delicious.  The following morning the fisherman stopped by our boat to ask Captain Thejokeswerenotoldtothem if he wanted to join them on their morning catch.  We were busy preparing to leave but Captain Shouldhave regretted his choice.

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Trigger fish or Turbot as the locals call it

Today we scoured the boat inside and out and massively provisioned (the wine bank is full) for another long stretch of wet wilderness.  We plan to go to Eleuthera, via a night on the southern tip of the Abacos, to spend about a week cruising south on Eleuthera and then over to the Exumas, our ultimate destination.

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It will most likely be a long silence (you’re welcome) and then a bombardment of blogs again.  Thank you for your enthusiasm, comments, likes, texts and emails.  I read, enjoy and appreciate every one.  Feel free to ask me questions and I will answer the best I can or at least make something up.  Until then, I wish you fair winds and following seas.

 

 

 

 

Soldier Cay

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See the Stingray in the foreground?

You would have to stay in a marina and go out once in a blue moon for a day sail to avoid small craft advisories.  Surely you are as tired of hearing about high seas and too much wind as I am of feeling it. We left Whale Cay to work our way north on the Berry Islands.  We set a portion of our jib sail out and made over five knots.  It was wwwindy and the seas were eight to ten feet.   Echoes barreled through with sea spray in a permanent mist.  There are not many choices of anchorages that are safe in these kinds of conditions so we researched charts, guides and weather to choose accordingly.  We sailed about twelve miles to Soldier’s Cay.  We settled in after setting and resetting two anchors repeatedly.  Anchors tend to slip and not hold if they land on seagrass or if you happen to be a person pretending to be a sailor having a hard time wrestling with the cursed B. P.  Finally, all set, the roly polys were tolerable.   However, I did lose one of my two glass wine glasses set out to dry overnight.

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There were a couple of other boats in this picturesque anchorage.  We deployed our dinghy and went ashore.  We hiked along the coral shores of the Northwest Providence channel watching the waves crash and break.  We swam at the beach on the west side and relaxed in the warm sun.  The princess was at peace.  Captain Thoughtful looked at me and my content dreamy smile and said, Let’s stay another day and take the day off.  We did not, and had not, had cell service in days so we couldn’t do emails, calls or bills.  No sailing, no anchoring, no business, we were just going to relax.

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Our day off started at 2:00 am when Echoes began suddenly rolling and spinning.  Danny, our second, danforth anchor could take it no more and gave up.  John pulled him on board and we went back to bed rocking and rolling.  No, not in the fun way.  The following morning we worked for a couple of hours at trying to deploy Bruce, another type of second anchor called a bruce (aren’t I clever?), off of our beam to try and hold Echoes nose to the waves.  We were somewhat successful.  We grabbed our fishing pole and snorkeling gear and went to the beach for the rest of the day.

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John fished and I snorkeled.  Some fishy rascals kept biting his lures off.   I snorkeled out to see if I could get a glimpse of the suspects but had no luck.  I enjoyed following a stingray though.  John decided to try some stinky old fish on a bobber after losing another lure.  Captain Needsmoretodo does not like bobber fishing.  I love it.  So we switched.  Another sailor on the beach commented, Kinda like watching water boil, huh?  By now you know that I am a world class daydreamer and this type of fishing is just my style.  I was standing in thigh deep, incredibly clear water watching my bobber and little fish ignore it.  I stood there contentedly for nearly an hour when who comes sniffing around not even fifteen feet in front of me?  Two sharks!   I screamed like a little girl and went running for land as they chased my stinky fish bait that was following me.  They looked like Reef Shark and were about six feet long.  They were a little over half the size of the Bull sharks on Bimini but menacing nonetheless.  I don’t want to catch a shark.  First of all, it was not the pole for it but more than that, do you remember my story of the black magic that comes with killing a shark?  However, I have never heard of being cursed for toying with them.  I commenced to tease them (from shore) with my bait.  It was fun.  But, maybe I was wrong.  Later I was checking out some canvas that had washed up on the rocks above me.  I picked up a corner of it and a crab lunged at me, slid down my body, on to my shoe and then jumped into the water.  I didn’t have my glasses on because I was snorkeling.  I thought it was a huge spider or a very small kraken.  It scared the shit out of me.  I will not tease another shark.

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Between Whale and Bird Cays

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We pulled up anchor to move on from a roly poly two nights at Chub Cay.  The seas were choppy, the winds were blasting and it wasn’t a very pleasant ride to our next anchorage between Bird Cay and Whale Cay.  We were feeling a bit beat up.  There is only room for one keeled boat at this anchorage and we were lucky to get it.  However, it turned out to be a very roly poly anchorage.   I was above my limit on rolling.  My green light was coming on and green does not mean go.  We deployed the dinghy and went gunkholing to get off the boat.  A cay (pronounced key) is a very small island.  Besides the 700 islands in the Bahamas there are 2400 cays.  We pulled up to an expansive sandy beach, a deserted cay and spent the afternoon exploring.  There were stingrays in the shallows, lizards darting, crabs dancing and shells to knock your knickers off.  And if your knickers were knocked off no one would know!  This cay was amazing.  This cay is exactly what we have been planning and hoping for.

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See the crab and his bubbled eyes?

As soon as we returned to our roly poly boat I started to feel green again.  The boat was rocking and rolling so much that the dishes and provisions in the cupboards were banging around noisily.  You couldn’t leave a glass of water on the table.  I wouldn’t have dared set a wine glass down, not that I usually do.   It was going to be a long night.  Captain Therehasgottobeaway had an idea.  I unsnubbed Bitch Pussy and let out another twenty feet.  John maneuvered Echoes so that she would take the brunt of the waves on the bow instead of the beam.  He dropped a second anchor off the stern to position her.  Then, I pulled back the twenty feet of chain and resnubbed her.  Echoes sat bow to the waves (instead of beam to) and made life much, much more comfortable.  Captain Myhero came through again.

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That night we sat watching the infinite stars and our depth meter go down, down, down with low tide.  It started to come back up after a reading of 0.4 below keel.  We waited for a bump that happily never came.

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We stayed another day and night to let more of the wind blow through and because it was most excellent to be in such pristine beauty completely alone, or so we thought.  We took the dinghy out for a fishing trip.  We spotted a stark naked, Robinson Crusoe type of long haired man wading through the shallows.  We drifted for a moment to see if he needed help but he paid no mind and we went on our way.  I would imagine living primitively off of an island is not a bad option for those who don’t mind mosquito bites on their hoohas.  We fished the other side of the anchorage and John caught a Blue Runner.  He asked a charter captain once if Blue Runner’s were good eating.  The captain said, I’ve never been hungry enough to find out.  We threw him back.

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American Oystercatchers

 

 

 

The Bahama Banks

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The weather blew through and perfect conditions were predicted to cross the seventy five miles of the Bahama Banks.  It was a sailboat parade pulling out of the Bimini marinas as every sailor was waiting for the same opportunity.  Captain Alwayswasalittlebackwards reversed out of our slip and the marina like a pro.  We set our way points for the Mackie Shoal about half way across the banks.  Sailboats are slow movers and we could not have made it across in daylight.  Repeat after me, I will never sail in the Bahamas at night!  Not only are the waters shallow, navigational markers almost nonexistent and charts incorrect, but it is not uncommon that local boaters travel at night without lights and freighters do not have the best reputation for being alert to other boats.

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The Mackie Shoal is an interesting phenomenon.  It is a huge shoal just miles off of the Tongue of the Ocean’s depths that sink rapidly to over 1600 feet.  At the Mackie Shoal you can drop your anchor in about eight feet of water.  Captain Youcanneverbetoocareful had us go about forty minutes out of our way to be well off the direct magenta line of this northern route.  I grumbled about it as there were about seven other sailboats who anchored together closer to the magenta line.  I would have anchored with them.

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The next day we spoke with a couple who chose to sail the full seventy five miles in one shot.  They were sailing in the dark through the Mackie Shoals and keeping an eye out for any freighters or boats in the magenta line.  The helmsman spotted a light and was looking through the binoculars to see how far off and what kind of vessel it was.  He followed the light down and saw the small details of a sailboat directly in front of him.  He swerved dramatically just in time to miss a sailboat by fifteen feet anchored right in the magenta line.  Captain Rightagain shot me a sideways smirk as we listened to the story.

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It was a serene and mystic night full of a story telling sky.  The water and wind were a soothing calm.  The clouds were bold and changed shape as rapidly as the water changed color.  There was a reclining cloud elf enjoying a cookie surrounded by his bountiful day’s work of goodies.  There was a huge fish chasing another fish with his mouth open.  The little fish changed shape to escape and the big fish closed his mouth with a frown when he realized the shape shifter changed to manatee droppings.  We watched the demanding sunset and grilled the rest of our lobster and chased it with prosecco.  We watched the welcoming sunrise the following morning as we left early for a long motor sail to Chub Key.

 

 

 

 

Living Here in Alice Town

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I have learned that internet connection in the Bahamas, especially for a sailor, is a rarity. I write offline and post when I can. I apologize for blog bombardment. I have actually learned many things. My phone works but calling is expensive and texting is not. My cellular hotspot does not work. I have learned that people don’t cruise much in the winter because of the winds and conditions. I have learned that the tides here run over six feet and cause all kinds of hell on the way in and on the way out. I have learned that to listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on shuffle totally wrecks it. I have learned that it’s best to sleep with bug spray on, everywhere, if nothing else is on, anywhere.

How did I learn that about the tide, you ask? We left Cat Cay and trolled our way up to Alice town in Bimini. Captain Struckout got two good hits and a run for his money but no fish in the end. I stood on the foredeck watching the shallows as we came in the channel and saw a big shark lurking in the clear water depths. We dieseled up (that landing and takeoff went well) and headed for a marina to tuck into for a couple of nights. It was not too windy and the approach to the dock looked easy. But, I swear, anytime we dock my stomach is in my throat. It is nerve busting. The dock master and a pretty sailor were on the dock waiting to help us as Captain Thinksahead requested via VHF. We pulled up just as we should have and Echoes started swinging off course. Captain Letstrythatagain abandoned the attempt and made another swing around for it. Meanwhile, our friends on the dock were shouting that tide was coming in, causing a raucous current and to over shoot the mark and drift into the dock. Attempt two was abandoned at the last fitful moment. A new sailor had joined to help and suggested coming up to the dock from a different angle. The third attempt seemed to be going well until the current quite quickly and fiercely swung our stern and pushed us like a bully with a tooth ache perpendicular to the dock. There was some noise to it all that I hope never to hear again in my life. Yes, the Kraken was shrieking with laughter. Yes, it did leave a mark. Fortunately, we were pinned sideways to the dock and not on another boat. It was advised we just hang pinned for few minutes until the tide would be more willing to give us up. Apparently there is a fifteen minute window in which you don’t mess with Mad Clyde Tide and we were in that window. Finally, four of us pushed with all of our might and freed us from the dock. We decided to try a slip on the southern side of the dock and aside from having to dodge of ferry, slipped right in.

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We took a walk to check out the town and came across a man feeding a bunch of Bull Shark. He called them his daughters. This was a school of pregnant mothers and other females. No males are allowed nearby if one of the Bulls is pregnant. He said his daughters were angry. A local Bahamian man killed one of their sisters who was pregnant. This was very taboo. It invokes dark magic so no one was surprised when the man drowned two nights later. His friend drowned trying to save him. He was known as the conch man as he fished for, tenderized and sold conch to the local restaurants. He was a well liked man who was active in his church and known all over town for his smile. But, no one must ever kill a Bull shark and especially one with child. The man’s funeral was today. The island practically closed for the funeral and you saw people dressed in their best or with a t-shirt with his picture on it.

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A local man pulled in fishing boat up to the dock beside us after we got back from watching the sharks. He cleaned his bountiful catch of fish and lobster tossing the scraps back to the sea. We bought a dozen lobster tails for $30.00. We grilled half the tails and gorged on them dipped in melted butter. I enjoyed my wine sedative. Afterword, we danced on the dock with our new Aussie friends who helped us land the boat.

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Soon, weather permitting, we leave for our next challenge, to cross the Bahama Banks. The Banks are seventy-five miles wide. Echoes can’t make that many miles in daylight. Remember, I will never sail the Bahamas at night! We plan to anchor out in the middle of the shallow banks, in the middle of nowhere. We should reach the southern tip of the Berry Islands the following day.

The Sky Pirate of Cat Cay

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The Island Nation of the Bahamas stretches over 750 miles with about 700 islands.  The population is a little over 300,000 and two thirds of those people live in and around the capital city of Nassau.  85% of Bahamians are descendants of West African slaves and the other 15% come from settlers from Bermuda or were American expatriates of the Loyalists.  I hope it comforts the spirits of the original slave descendants that their however many greats grandchildren live in a peaceful and absolutely beautiful country of their own.  The islands are quiet and natural.  We are grateful to be here.

We planned to venture back out the cut and nestle into an anchorage on a horseshoe beach off of the Cay after a rather expensive and worth every penny of it night at the marina.  Because we obviously must have pissed off some Sea God along the way, the winds were at 28 knots and gusting.  It was another small craft advisory.  Our bow was pointed to land and the north wind was pushing us hard on the beam and off the dock.  Reversing the boat down the long fairway would have been nearly impossible for us so we needed to turn the boat 180 degrees in a small, windy space quickly.  Captain Itsjustmath had an idea.  We would release the stern line, then the mid ship line and I would stand at the bow with a line singled on the dock cleat.  We would let the wind push Echoe’s ass end around 180 degrees swinging on the bow cleat.   Ready?  It went like clockwork.  The Sea Angels sang.  How’s your stomach now?  Captain Cool asked with a broad smile.

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We spent three nights on the hook off of the private island of Cat Cay.  We studied our charts and guides, read, fished, worked on projects, swam, made great food and drank pretty good wine.  The water was gin clear and we watched a curious and fairly large fish follow John’s lure around for about a half hour.  He wouldn’t bite.

Captain Obnoxious has a habit that puts me on edge and has for over thirty years.  I told you, he does not tire of his own jokes.  Ever.  He relishes saying the word broccoli while belching.  I know this is not entirely for the benefit of annoying me as I have heard him in the garage, or when he doesn’t know I’m around.  Anyway, add beer to the mixture and it is torture.  Brrooccoli, went Captain Gasses repeatedly.  Princess Glaresalot shot him the dagger.  A beer and some casting time later…BRRROOOOOOOOOOOOCOLI!  Oops!  Sorry!  I’m sure it’s not hard for you to imagine how difficult it is to live with any human being in this close proximity for very long, especially your spouse under sometimes intense conditions.  Statistically speaking, half of you couldn’t stand your spouse with all the room in the world to put between you.  Tension was building.  Later that evening, Captain Thinksoutloudandnotsomuch had one too many glasses of honesty juice and made a most unflattering comment with a subsequent suggestion to improve on a part of my personal countenance.  Princess TharSheBlows! went off like a pirate’s cannon.  The next day, Captain Probablyshouldn’thavesaidthat said, I was only kidding.  To which I replied, Right.  Sure.  So was I.  Man, he said, you kid loudly.

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