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Senior Correspondent

So, it's about 15 degrees outside here in the Blue Ridge, about 1 degree early this morning, and the weather folks tell us it's going to snow maybe 8 to 12 inches tomorrow. Gonna go up to 15 or 16 tomorrow. First chance this week to be above freezing is Saturday, when the forecast is for 34.

All right. I asked for this. Like it, in fact, most of the time.  But we got a nice break this winter, what with a family wedding in Hawaii in January and an invitation from boating friends who live just a couple or three ridges to our west in Dugspur VA, but who keep a boat down near the N.C. coast in Whortonsville (the Whortonsville Tractor and Yacht Club, in fact) and who move down the Intracoastal in November each year, spend about three months in the gentle climes of the Bahamas, and head north again in March.

We flew into Marsh Harbor on Greater Aboco Island a couple weeks ago and for the second time in our lives (and second time within two weeks) put on T-shirts and shorts and sandals in the dead o' winter and enjoyed temperatures that average something like 40 to 60 degrees warmer than what we usually see outside our windows up here in what is sometimes called the Blew Ridge. Loved every minute of it.

Don't get me wrong. I like cold weather. I like being able to see 500 feet into the leaf-free woods, to be able to follow the logging trails that the Woods and the Conners carved into these hillsides in the late 19th and much of the 20th centuries, like being able to hike down to the stone foundation ruins of an unknown pioneer family on the North Prong of the North Fork of the Smith River maybe 800 feet from our front porch, and contemplate what it must have taken to carve out a small homestead in a gorgeous but challenging countryside.

But we weren't  thinking  about hardship and fighting the elements too much the other evening in Hopetown Harbor on Elbow Cay (always pronounced key, the guidebooks tell us) at 6 p.m under the first glimmerings of a full moon. There's a tradition of Tuesday evenings (or was it Monday?) when boaters bring their inflatable dinghies over to the northerly side of the harbor as the conch horns begin to celebrate the setting of the sun. Everyone ties on to everyone else, begins passing around snacks and uncork whatever it is they are wetting whistles with that evening, and the weekly Dinghy Drift begins. As the sun sinks below the horizon beyond the Elbow Cay Lighthouse, the Drift moves slowly across the harbor, passing sportsfishermen and Gold Plate sailing vessels and trawlers and battered scows and lovely motor vessels, and every now and then someone cranks up an outboard to move a raft of maybe 15 dingies carrying maybe 35 congenial folks a couple feet out of the way of somebody's hull. It is a most civil gathering.

In the following days we cruise the waters of the Abaco Sea, putting into anchorages at Man-O'-War Cay, Orchid Bay, around the terrible ship-killer Whale Cay, briefly on Green Turtle Cay for wonderful conch fritters for lunch and then on to the pristine Manjack (pronouced Munjack, we are told) Cay, where we meet folks who have carved out their own paradise on an island that has no facilities or utilities other than what they have been able to fashion from their own hard work and ingenuity. Amazing what a big bank of solar panels and, oh, 15 or 20 years of backbreaking labor can produce.

There were some moments of sheer hilarity — dinghying back from a calm Atlantic-side beach into a 30 mph-wind that had waves breaking into our dinghy as Theresa Palmer (one of the Caribbean's finest boat cooks) was pumping water back overboard and Capt. Brian Palmer was getting lashed with bullets of salt spray. I am happy to say he took it like a man and a Scot. But I repeat myself. The admirable Ship's Dog Martini was taking it all in with her generally calm demeanor — and an expectation of a hefty dinner once aboard the Motor Vessel Intermission.

As I sit and write, in a frigid landscape in need of some gentle Out Island breezes, I do believe I'd go back to that Bahamas storm anchorage in a, what,  Manjack Minute?

And, as sailors of my acquaintance say, Splice the Main Brace.*

*From Wikipedia: "Splice the mainbrace" is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with a drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog."

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