05/07/2012, Indiantown, Florida
We spent our last night in the Bahamas at West End and it was rather bittersweet. On one hand, we were sad that we were leaving the Bahamas and Abacos but on the other, I was looking forward to my first Gulf Stream crossing. Wayne was able to cross this off his bucket list on the way over, but this was my opportunity. I had a sense of nostalgia at the West End Marina. Back in the day, it was a Jack Tar Village and my parents went there for a week's vacation in the late 70's. I remember them talking about how beautiful it was (at that time, they had never been out of North America). My father spent hours walking the beach and as Wayne and I strolled the beach on that last night, I could envision my dad combing the beach for seashells. If he were still alive, he would have been so excited to know that we walked the same stretch of beach that he did so many years ago.
Friday morning we awoke about 6:00 am, made the coffee and when everything was stowed, cast off the lines for our next amazing adventures. The dawn was just breaking and it was destined to be a beautiful day. The seas were relatively calm and the winds were about 10 knots out of the east so we through up our main sail and motor sailed out of the Bahamas. It was an exciting adventure for me, watching freighters transverse the Gulf Stream, other boats (although not many) going to and from the Bahamas and watching flying fish. I was hoping that we would see some dolphins like we had yesterday on our way to Memory Rock, but it was not to be. The water of the Gulf Stream was the most incredible royal blue and I was mesmerized by its beauty. The waves built to about 3 feet, but it was very manageable. The hours passed by and we each took turns watching for boat traffic. A few times, our trusted Hemslay (the autopilot) decided to go on his own little adventure and would lose his connection, but Wayne would unplug the system and plug it back in again and we would be back on track. As the Florida coast began to appear, there was more traffic, larger freighters, coast guard vessels and pleasure boats. We arrived at Lake Worth (West Palm Beach/Riviera Beach) at about 3:30 and tied up at the Riviera Beach Marina so that we could check into customs.
Our experience with US Customs and Immigration has, for the most part, always been good. Not this time. We were told that the customs office closed at 4:00 pm, so Wayne rushed over to the office only to find it closed (it was 3:50 pm). Unfortunately, the office isn't open on the weekend. When he got back to the boat, I called the Florida Clearance Centre and was told that we had 24 hours to appear in person at a customs office. The nearest one was at the West Palm Beach Airport. So, a $90. taxi ride later we were legal and back at the boat. We were told by the agent on the phone that we could get our cruising permit at the airport, but when we asked, they said they didn't process them there, but could get one on Monday at the West Palm office. They also suggested that we apply for a Local Boater Card. This is normally only available for US residents, but because we have our Nexus card, we could apply as well. This would make it much simpler the next time we check back into the US by water. They told us to go to the West Palm office on Monday and we could get the card and our cruising permit. Great. The winds were forecast to be fairly high for the weekend, so it would let us sit out the high winds in Lake Worth and then do this next bit of business on Monday.
Saturday morning we moved the boat north to the Lake Worth anchorage and settled in. The wind blew a steady 20-25 knots but our anchor held firm. Nobody moved, but we did see two boats come in that had made the crossing from the Bahamas. We were both glad that with the winds the way they were, that we weren't out there. It wouldn't have been very nice. Monday came and the weather wasn't any better, so we stayed hunkered down again and enjoyed the day reading and doing small projects. The weather was somewhat improved on Tuesday, so we ventured back to the Riviera Beach Marina and tied up at the visitor dock so that we could, once again, go to Customs and Immigration. We walked over to the office and told them why we were there. We were then told that while we could get our cruising permit, we had to apply on line for the Local Boater Card, be approved and then come to the office for an interview. Needless to say, we weren't pleased. We did get our cruising permit ($19.00 later) and went back to the boat shaking our heads. We untied the lines and once again went back to the anchorage for the night. We purchased some wireless internet access and applied for our Local Boater Cards online and scheduled the interviews for Friday when we would be back in Indiantown and had the truck.
On Wednesday we left the anchorage in time for the first bridge opening at 8:45 am and made our way north through 8 bridges to Stuart. Stuart is one of our favourite places. The staff are very friendly and the town is just a short walk from the Marina. Our 24th wedding anniversary was on the 16th of April and because we hadn't yet had our "anniversary dinner", we thought we'd go to shore and have a nice dinner. We had stowed the dinghy on deck when we left West End and put the dinghy engine on the stern rail, so we had to launch the dinghy in order to go to shore. We thought it would be relatively easy to row to shore instead of putting the outboard on, but it was a real struggle for Wayne. First of all, you can't row an inflatable dinghy with any speed. Second, when the wind is blowing against you, it makes it even harder. Although Wayne was doing an admirable job, it was tiring. A fellow boater came along and we threw him a line to tow us the rest of the way in. Once we realized we needed more weight in his dinghy (I got in with him), we made it to shore in no time. After much needed showers, we walked into town and had a nice dinner and then strolled along the boardwalk back to the Marina. Fortunately someone came along again and towed us back to the boat so that Wayne didn't have to row very far. We settled in for the night and talked about our travels to Indiantown the next day.
Thursday morning we awoke to another beautiful day and after coffee tossed the mooring lines and began our journey to Indiantown, the last trip of the season. We made it to the lock at about 8:30 am and waited for the 9:00 lift. It takes about ½ hour to go through the lock because they actually open the gates slightly to let the water in. It wasn't long before we were out the other side and making our way further up the St. Lucie Canal. We arrived in Indiantown at about 11:00 and tied up on the main dock in front of the marina building. Once settled, we went up to check the truck to see how it had wintered and went into town for lunch. Wayne had booked lift out for Tuesday, so we had a lot of work to do before I left on Sunday. We thought it best to split up and get some chores done, so I took the truck into town and had the oil changed, tires and airbags filled while Wayne changed the oil and transmission fluid in the boat. With these jobs accomplished, we tackled some other jobs and then called it a day. It was hot - so hot you would sweat standing still. Time for a cold shower.
Friday morning we headed back to West Palm Beach to get our Local Boater Cards. Prepared for the interview process, we were quite surprised when we walked in and 5 minutes later had our cards in hand, sans interview! Not sure why they couldn't have done that on Tuesday, but we weren't complaining. Time will only tell if this system really works. We got back to the boat and started working on the rest of the jobs to get it ready to come out of the water. We chatted with people that we had met last year, friends Wayne had made in the fall when he was down and caught up on their adventures. Did I say it was hot? Good grief it was hot! We worked Friday and Saturday and accomplished a lot. Sadly, I had to fly home on Sunday. Wayne drove me to the airport for my 11:30 flight and then he headed back to the boat to finish up the job of putting Leeway to bed for the summer.
04/28/2012, West End, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas
I accused the Admiral of bringing rotten weather with her from Canada and, as she told you in her blog, we had to hunker down in the harbour at Man-O-War to wait out some high winds for a couple of days. While we were awaiting the passage of one of the strongest cold fronts to pass through this year we kept a close eye on the weather forecast hoping that we could get out for a few days of fun before having to head back to the States. Early forecasts showed a prolonged period of benign weather coming in after the front's passage but as time got closer it became apparent that this wasn't going to materialize. It seemed that the early predictions of a full week of good sailing weather was going to be significantly shortened to about 3 days. Late Tuesday afternoon we reluctantly made the decision to leave the Abacos tomorrow morning and make tracks so we could take advantage of the shortening weather window to make it back to the States.
Although we couldn't leave Man-O-War too early because of the tide we got everything ready for sea and departed the harbour about 8:30 am with the intent of making as many miles to the northwest as possible. The sky was virtually cloudless under a blazing sun and the light winds out of the south-east which made for ideal conditions for our trip.
We motor-sailed out past the North Man-O-Way passage and on past Fowl and Scotland Cays, skirting Great Guana Cay and proceeding out the sometimes treacherous Whale Cay passage into the North Atlantic. Today the 4' swell and slack tide made for rather gentle conditions although you always seem to bounce a little either coming or going through the pass. With the Whale cut behind us we carried on past Green Turtle, Manjack and Powell Cays on what was now an absolutely flat Sea of Abaco. We had thought of anchoring at Crab Cay (which is just north of Cooperstown) for the night but after a short discussion decided to take advantage of the good traveling conditions to carry on to Great Sale Cay.
In order to make Great Sale Cay it would take the rest of the day and we would just have enough daylight to get into the anchorage but we thought that by using the rest of the day to make significant miles it would position us to take advantage of the weather window that now seemed set to close on the weekend.
We steamed along with our sails flapping gently in the vespers and watched the landscape slowly changed from the closely-packed islands that surround the Hub of the Abacos to the more sparse and rugged islands of the northern Abacos. Slowly the miles ticked away and we made our way into Great Sale's anchorage at the last light of the day.
The next day we still needed to put on some significant miles and left the anchorage at 7:30 am so we could get to Memory Rock and then down to West End for the crossing to Florida on Friday. Again the weather was benign and we actually had showers on deck as the boat powered along with "Helmsley" our trusted autopilot at the wheel. We decided to go up to Memory Rock rather than taking the Indian Cay Channel (which we had used on our way over) because we were on a falling tide and would reach the entrance to the channel about low tide making passage even trickier than normal. By going north to Memory Rock and then turning south to ride the counter-current along the edge of the Bahama Bank we added some miles to the day's travel but managed to stay in (relatively) deep water throughout the day. We arrived at West End just in time to get to fuel dock before their 5pm closing. We then took a rather expensive slip (they have you over a barrel here) for the night and enjoyed a peaceful night in the beautiful resort resting up for our crossing of the Gulf Stream tomorrow.
We traveled over 130 miles in the last two days which in a sailboat our size is a very long way. We wanted to position ourselves for a good Gulf Stream crossing by taking advantage of a shortening weather window. But, what we had really done was leave paradise behind for another year.
04/25/2012, Man-O-War Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
We always say that our plans are firmly set in jello - you know, shifting, moving, flexible. It's a good thing that this has been our philosophy for cruising because this winter was not what we had thought it would be. I was planning on getting to the boat for a couple of weeks in February and then again in April/May but my work commitments made it impossible for me to travel to the Abacos to meet up with Wayne as we had hoped. After what seemed like an endless winter, I finally got away on Thursday, April 19th and flew to Miami and then on to Marsh Harbour, Abacos to meet up with my Captain. Both flights were on time and at 1:00 pm, I was walking down the dock, backpack over my shoulder, my heart racing with the anticipation of being with Wayne again. He had anchored in Marsh Harbour the night before and then moved the boat to a dock at the Harbourview Marina the morning of my arrival so that he could get things shipshape for the Admiral's inspection.
It always feels like home the minute I step on board and this time was no different. The familiar feel of the boat is what I look forward to each and every time. We took the afternoon to catch up and then went for a swim in the pool. Palm trees swaying, drink in hand, floating around the pool was my idea of heaven. We ended up staying another day at Harbourview so that we could put on some provisions. Wayne had done extremely well on the provisions we had put on board at Christmas, but there wasn't going to be enough for the two of us for 2 ½ weeks. Marsh Harbour is an excellent place to re-provision. With our cupboards, fridge and bar restocked we were ready to leave on Saturday morning to get to Man-O-War Cay ahead of the forecast high winds.
Wayne was eager to point out all of the islands and places that he had traveled over the winter and after a lovely 1 hour motor from Marsh Harbour and taking in the sights, we settled onto the mooring that Wayne had rented at Man-O-War Cay. I was anxious to explore this little island, so after lunch, we jumped in the dinghy and headed to shore to explore. I'm sure that Wayne had every street memorized, but I wanted to experience what he had over the winter. Man-O-War Cay is a very quaint island with the most friendly people. Everyone waves when they pass (on their golf carts - there are only about 6 full-sized vehicles on the island) and are very helpful. We wandered up and down the streets looking at the well kept houses and stores that dot the island. We picked up some gifts for our granddaughters and then headed back to the boat for drinks and a lovely dinner.
Over the next few days the wind blew at about 25 to 30 knots, but we were well protected and enjoying our time together. We went to shore again on Sunday and walked over to the ocean side to see the surf and then went over to the other part of the harbour to meet up with Vince Purcell (a guy Wayne had met earlier who keeps his boat in Indiantown as well, is from Halifax and a single-handler) and invited him over for dinner the following night. This is the best part of cruising - making new friends and meeting up with old acquaintances. Even though our boats spend the summer in the same marina in Florida, we had not met Vince. Monday afternoon Vince arrived and we had a great time getting to know him over some rum, wine and a lovely dinner. It's always great to share stories and hear of other's experiences.
We had intended to leave Man-O-War on Tuesday morning and start making our way back across the Sea of Abacos to West End Bahamas, but both of us were feeling a little under the weather. I think that we may have picked up some bad ice at the marina. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. We thought we had a good long weather window to get over to Florida and could take our time getting to the West End, so we weren't worried about spending the extra day. Little did we know that our weather window was closing in and we would have some long days ahead. But that's what cruising is all about and again, those plans set in jello certainly help keep us from getting stressed out when things change.