Cruising with Grace

19 January 2018 | Anchorage between Whale and Bird Cay
15 January 2018 | South of Frazier Hog Island
11 January 2018 | Browns Marina, Bimini, Bahamas
07 January 2018 | No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne
04 January 2018 | No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne
31 December 2017 | Anchored off Key Biscayne
12 December 2017 | Needham MA
07 December 2017 | Vero (aka Velcro) Beach
03 December 2017 | Cocoa Beach
27 November 2017 | Sister's Creek
24 November 2017 | St Marys River, south of the Georgia/Florida state line
19 November 2017 | Duplin Creek - very nice spot
14 November 2017 | On a mooring at Beaufort SC
10 November 2017 | Price Creek
05 November 2017 | Osprey Marina, Socastee
02 November 2017 | South Harbor Village Marina (5+ miles from Southport)
29 October 2017 | Beaufort Town Docks
26 October 2017 | River Dunes Marina and Resort
23 October 2017 | Dowry Creek Marina
20 October 2017 | Great Bridge VA

Whale Cay

19 January 2018 | Anchorage between Whale and Bird Cay
high 60s, broken clouds, 10-15 kt winds from the NE
Two days ago, we raised anchor, planning to move up the Berry Island chain. I was glad to move on from Frazier's Hog Cay. The previous day I'd explored it some and found it a bit eerie. The beach where I pulled in was in front of an abandoned beach front restaurant. I followed a road into the island, and found old construction equipment, including a large crane, rusting away. I also stumbled on to a small settlement of houses and buildings - all abandoned and open to go inside. I even saw a laundry room with washer and dryer, and laundry piled on a table. Although I didn't see anyone, I did at one point here a voice. Thinking it might be a duppy (west indian term for ghost), I quietly walked away, looking over my shoulder.

Wednesday, Faith Afloat and I headed out, with a target of Little Harbor Cay, where there is a well-known beach front restaurant and bar called Flo's Place. But as we turned to the northeast, the wind picked up to the high teens, and there were 4 ft swells on our nose. In order to get to the Little Harbor anchorage, we'd need to pass through a cut between islands. Our charts had a warning that under the wrong conditions (northeast winds and swells) the cuts would have something called a 'rage' - seas so rough they are like a washing machine, and regarded as 'impassable'. Sadly, we turned around, and then went to an anchorage between Whale and Bird Cay.

In one sense, we were stuck here - waiting for the weather to improve. But what a place to be stuck! We had a wonderful soft sand beach to ourselves. There was the remains of a gazebo with two lawn chairs. There were shells. The water was that fabled turquoise, due to the sand bottom.

(Note: beaches with lots of shells are dangerous. You can't move 5 ft before finding another special one and eventually your pockets (and your boat) get filled with shells!)

Yesterday, Tom and Luke from Faith Afloat, and I went exploring on some roads that went into the island. We met three separate people who live on Whale Cay - one West Indian, and the rest from Canada. They were each very hospitable, and said we were welcome to explore the original owner's mansion. One even said 'the doors are all locked, except by the kitchen, so go in that way'!

It's a small mansion, but still largely furnished inside - dinning room table and chairs, crystal chandeliers, four-poster beds, pictures on the walls, etc. There was the owner's side and the servants side. Take a look in the photo gallery to see it, as well pictures of another building we went into. The purpose of this other building - a round tower, with one large room surrounded by a balcony, is a mystery - perhaps some sort of religious one?

As nice as this spot is, there are more places we'd like to see, so we plan to try again today to move up the Berry Island chain.

Crossing the Great Bahama Bank

15 January 2018 | South of Frazier Hog Island
Scattered clouds, 74, 15 kt winds from the north.
If you look at a map of the Bahamas, you'll see that it consists of groups of islands separated by great distances. Sometimes these groups are separated by deep water, like the Northwest Providence Channel, which is over 8000' feet deep. Other times they are separated by shallow - 8-20' deep, banks. The Great Bahama Bank is the largest of these - stretching from Bimini on the west to Andros and the Berry Islands on the east, and going hundreds of miles south. The Bimini islands and the islands south of Bimini mark the very edge of the Great Bahama Bank - if you go a mile west of Bimini (towards Florida), the water is already over a thousand feet deep.

Faith Afloat - my buddy boat, and I left Bimini on Friday morning. We had two restful days in Alice Town on Bimini, with swimming, couch salad, and shopping for food when the supply boat came in (the grocery stores are pretty bare before the supply boat comes in, and after, they are chock-a-block full of vegetables, fruit, meat, etc). I made french toast Thursday morning with the bahamian bread.

Our destination on Friday was Honeymoon Cove on Gun Cay, south of Bimini. We had a great sail in 10-15 kt south winds and 2-3' seas. However, as we tacked back and forth, we found we were making little progress towards our destination. The culprit - the gulf stream, which comes within a mile of the islands. When we sailed on a close reach southwest, the chartplotter would show our actual course bending towards the east - and the converse as we tacked back towards the islands. After four hours of this, we cranked up the 'iron genny' - our engines.

Honeymoon cove is a very nice cove for anchoring and swimming - except when the wind and seas are from the south. As we felt our way in through the sand banks, we could see waves crashing on the beach and one lone sailboat at anchor pitching back and forth. Clearly, this was the wrong day for Honeymoon Cove. So we motored west into the banks, then south to Cat Cay.

Cat Cay is the island equivalent of a private gated community. The community is the Cat Cay Yacht Club - and when you go ashore, one of the first things you see is a board saying which club members were on the island. This is a word away from seedy, but authentic, Alice Town. We anchored off Cat Cay and I a swim around the boat, followed by a lovely pasta dinner on Faith Afloat.

The next day we started out early across the Great Bahama Bank, with north winds 10-15 kts. The water - 8-15' deep, was a pale emerald color. Our destination was the Berry Islands - 80 miles away. This meant we'd need to spend a night anchored out somewhere in the middle of the bank.

Now this whole cruise, from Hingham to where I am now, is an adventure - and adventures aren't always fun. Anchoring out in the bank when the winds are light and the skies clear can be a wonderful adventure, with nothing between you and the stars. Unfortunately, the sky clouded up, the winds strengthened to over 20 kt and the seas built to 3+ feet. You've heard of the 3 axis of motion - Grace went through all of them all night long: pitching (front to back), rolling (side to side) and yawing (turning left and right). It was hard to move, and of course hard to cook. Sleeping was OK, except for the sound of the waves against the hull and the sounds Grace would make as she rocked back and forth.

Yesterday we rose to grey skies and rough seas. The wind strengthened to 20+ kts, and the seas to 4'. Faith Afloat and Grace motored the rest of the way across the bank, into the Northwest Providence Channel to the Berry Islands. This was actually a more grueling run than across the gulf stream!

Presently I am anchored in 12' of water on the south side of Frazier Hog Island. While it is still windy, we are somewhat sheltered from it and the sea is 'relatively' calm. The water is a deep emerald color. The island itself is not very attractive - all austrialian pines, and the beachs are smooth limestone, not sand. We'll be here for two days, and then move up the Berry Islands chain to find more attractive places to stay. I plan to be here in the Berrys until next Wednesday.

Note to readers: Because of the spotty - and costly, cell phone coverage, blog updates will be somewhat less frequent. Updates to the photo gallery will wait for when I'm ashore and can get WiFi. Sorry!

Bahamian Courtesy Flag

11 January 2018 | Browns Marina, Bimini, Bahamas
Beautiful clear day, temps in the lower 70s
The picture above is of the Bahamian Courtesy Flag flying from Grace's starboard spreader. When you enter a new country, you fly a yellow flag called a Quarantine flag. After you clear Customs and Immigration, you take it down and raise that country's courtesy flag - in this case, the Bahamas.

Yup, Grace and I are in the Bahamas!

Two days ago, I was in No Name Harbor at Key Biscayne, watching the weather forecasts like many other boats there. I'd been eyeing Thursday as a good day to cross the gulf stream. On Monday, we had a captain's meeting to talk about the weather, crossing plans, and a bit about the Bahamas. One person - Alex from Meridith II (who is here with his family from Three Rivers, Quebec), said "tomorrow looks good, and I know other boats planning to go." We all consulted our weather apps and websites, thought about needed preparation, and, at 5:45 pm, decided we would go the NEXT DAY, leaving somewhere between 3-5 am. We all rushed back to our boats to prep.

I awoke at 4 am, planning to leave at 5. Feeling pretty pumped and confident, I started the engine at 4:45. The new alternator (I'd purchased on Monday) wasn't working - it wasn't outputting voltage. Mad scramble, seeing if I could use my backup alternator (I couldn't), thinking 'crap, I'm not going', sending texts to all the people I had earlier sent texts saying I was going. And then at 5:20, I figured out a workaround so the alternator would work! (for those interested, it seems my Sterling Smart Charger decided to stop working. The Smart Charger optimizes battery charging, but is purely optional. Taking it out of the charging path made the alternator work. No idea why.)

Heading out in the dark, intending to go 45 miles across the gulf stream, is not for the timid. You follow the channel purely by chartplotter. You use a flashlight to see marks, and use radar to look out for other boats. As you leave the land, the boat starts rising and falling from the waves that you can only see when the bow lights illuminate them. The east sky starts to slowly lighten up as you head out into the deep blue.

Our crossing was somewhat, but not too rough. It was a gray overcast day, and we'd have periodic downpours of rain. Several times we saw flashes of lightening, followed several seconds later by thunder. In the intense rain downpours, we could only see about a mile. I got soaked. Grace kept forging through the waves, as spray and water flowed over the deck. My friend Tom and his son Luke on their boat Faith Afloat was my buddy boat - we kept within a quarter mile of each other and periodically talked on the VHF.

Two impressions from my crossing. First, when we were about 15 miles from Bimini and the Great Bahama Bank, the distant clouds had a faint turquoise tint to them. I thought it might be the turquoise waters of the Bahamas reflected off the clouds. It may not be the truth, but it was a real motivator! Second, you know how sometimes a song will keep running through your head? Well, during much of the crossing, this song for me was Talking Head's "Stop Making Sense"...

We arrived in Bimini before 3:00, hailed the first marina on the channel, and were tied up in a slip by 3:00. Exhausted. After a short walk into town to Customs and Immigration, we stopped at a liquor store to buy some Bahamian rum (and rum really is cheaper here). Then back to the boat, dinner, and going to sleep.

Today was my first full day at Alice Town on North Bimini island. Alice Town - and all of North Bimini as far as I can tell, is a typical, somewhat run down, Caribbean town. Tiny grocery stores, bars, etc on one side of the main street, and some marinas, resort marinas on the other side of the street. Bahamian bread is excellent - baked and sold, still warm, from people's houses. There's a really nice beach facing the Straits of Florida on the west side. The waters are turquoise, glass-clear, full of fish and warm.

My first day here was spent cleaning up the boat, going to the top of the mast to install an LED anchor light, going for a snorkel by a wreak, and exploring the town. I bought a loaf of bahamian bread from a man who cooks and sells it from his house. Excellent! And that evening, after a light rain, a double, full across rainbow appeared - a great omen for the rest of my Bahamas stay.

I plan to spend two more nights here, generally relaxing. After that, who knows? My only deadline is to be at Nassau Jan 26 to meet my sons.

No Name Harbor - Still

07 January 2018 | No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne
Sunny, and gradually getting warmer.
As the title suggests, I'm still in No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. Someone used the word 'stuck', but it's too pleasant a place for that word. None-the-less, I and the cruisers on the other boats are waiting, and a bit impatiently waiting, for 'The Window'. This is when the wind and seas cooperate to make crossing to the Bahamas feasible.

There are at least 8 boats here who are also waiting. A family from Three Rivers Quebec, a smattering of older and younger couples, and at least one other single-hander - an 80 yr old who lives on a 32', mid-60s Allied Seawind ketch - see photo in gallery. His boat is called Sea Isle, and he joked with me that, now that he's 80, he's going to put an N in the name - 'Sea N ile'... I think he's told that joke before... Some cruisers are very experienced with going to the Bahamas, others are first-timers like me. We'll be getting together to discuss what day will be the best for our crossing.

I've spent my time here completing my project list, trips into town to get various supplies, and some exploring of the park, the lighthouse area and beach. Courtesy of my birder friend Gene, I now know I've seen a Black Skimmer (a type of bird - see gallery). There are bike paths and nature trails that crisscross the park. In my last post I included a picture in the gallery of houses on stilts - apparently this was once a thriving community. I've included a picture in the gallery of the plaque that describes it. I also tried snorkeling inn the harbor here, but the water is too milky to see anything. Note - I've been telling folks the water temperature is 75 - well, it's not. A bit more like upper 60s yesterday.

This next week, baring significant changes to the forecast, will be when I set my course eastward across the gulf stream. The 'best day' keeps slipping, but this week has winds from the east, south and southwest. Waiting too long increases the chance that the winds swing around northward, and everyone would have to wait even longer.

No Name Harbor

04 January 2018 | No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne
cold and windy, damn it!
I'm currently anchored in a harbor called No Name Harbor - how it got it's name, I have no idea. No Name Harbor is located in Bill Baggs State Park. No mansions around me - to one side are mangroves, and the other side a sea wall and forests. There is a restaurant at the end of this harbor called Boater's Grill - fair menu, terrible beer selection. The state park is at the tip of Cape Florida. There are beaches on the east side looking out towards the Bahamas (40 miles away), a lighthouse, and forests of sea grape, banyan and mangrove trees. You leave the park and you are in highly developed Key Biscayne, with high-rises and shopping malls.

No Name Harbor is a popular place for boats to wait before they head off to the Bahamas or destinations further south. Currently, there are 12 boats anchored here - most of which are headed to the Bahamas the next weather window. Some have been here over a week - and since the next weather window looks to be next week, they'll wait a bit longer. I arrived here Monday, Jan 1. Yesterday, a front came through, with wind gusts up to 30 mph and rain. The rain has ended, to be replaced by cold, and it is still very windy - 20 mph. The wind chill is in the 30s. I'm wearing long underwear and wool socks again.

Since my last blog post, I tried my hand at sailing again - a welcome respite from the drone of the engine. I sailed in light to moderate winds outside Key Biscayne towards the Gulf Stream - going out 9 miles. Didn't get to the Gulf Stream, as it is about 14 miles out from the coast. The color of the water as I went out is amazing - go to the Gallery to see what it looks like when the sea is 20 ft deep, and what it is when the sea is 1200 ft deep. Coming back, I went through a channel with houses perched on stilts on the coral reef. That night, I anchored in Hurricane Harbor, which is surrounded by mansions. There is no shore access, unless you feel daring enough to dinghy over to a mansion and walk through their yard - and since I expect all mansions have gates, you still might not be able to go very far. As this was New Year's Eve, I was regaled by music from a salsa band and the sound of people partying.

Monday, Jan 1, I went for a short motor to where I am now. I've met several other cruisers: Bill on Calico Sky, Tom and his son Luke on Faith Afloat. Tom brought his boat here from Minnesota, starting in August - a journey of 2700 miles so far! After the Bahamas, he'll be making the same trek back. My time here has been spent on boat projects - and almost all of them are done. I don't know what I'll do when they are all done. I'll have to slow down even more.

As I write this, the Boston MA area is being socked by a blizzard - which will be followed by intense cold with temperatures down to -10. While I am sorry I can't be there to help my wife shovel (and despite the cold here) - I am glad I am in No Name Harbor rather than 1500 miles north!

Prepping and waiting

31 December 2017 | Anchored off Key Biscayne
Sunny day, although weather will be changing later this week.
After a short, almost too short, time with my family and friends in Massachusetts, I'm back on Grace. Since coming back, my time has been spent preparing for the Bahamas. And, as I finish up preparations, I am waiting for a window to cross to the Bahamas.

Preparation consists of:

- stocking up on food - especially food that is expensive in the Bahamas. This leaves out rum and bread (Bahamian bread is reputed to be excellent), but includes most other things. For example, I ordered 36 boxes of Natral milk. I also have canned goods, rice, pasta, dish soap, paper towels, sun screen, etc. Grace is now packed to the gills!

- unpacking and trying out my new gas-powered Ryobi generator. The electrician I worked with at Vero Beach suggested this as the simplest solution to having enough electrical power. A gas generator is designed to run for hours on a gallon of gas, is quieter than the diesel, and spares the diesel from having to run to charge the batteries - something boat diesels aren't designed for (they are designed to run at 80% of maximum RPM under load)

- a visit to Westmarine to get a light for the dinghy, outboard oil, a spare prop zinc, a masthead LED light, a 30 amp to 20 amp cord, and 5 gal containers for gasoline and water.

- re-certifying and filling my spare propane tank.

The weather window is critical for crossing the gulf stream. When the wind is blowing from any northernly direction - NE, N, NW, it is blowing against the gulf stream current. The result is short, steep waves that beat up a boat and crew. Think of the seas I had traveling from Galeville to Norfolk - only more so and for a lot longer. A weather window for crossing is when the wind is not from a northernly direction - and the more southernly, the better. Every boat that is planning to go to the Bahamas is waiting for these conditions, and why, when the conditions are right, there will be a long line of boats heading out at the same time.

Right now, the conditions don't look right for at least a week, and so I will be waiting.

Since my last post, I went home to Needham for my mother's 90th birthday and Christmas. My sister and I organized a luncheon for my mom's birthday with 25 family and friends. She had friends from all her range of activities - friends whom she traveled with to Europe and Asia, friends from her church, neighbors, cribbage partners and friends from the Active Older Adults group. It was wonderful to see her with these friends.

I also was able to catch-up with sailing friends - who wish they were on this trip. And for Christmas, I got a Quarantine flag, a Bahamas courtesy flag, and boat cards (business cards with the boat name, type, contact info for me, and pictures of the boat).

Although I was to have such a short visit with family, it was good to see Grace in the slip at Las Olas Marina. This marina is in a great location - Westmarine, grocery stores, etc only 2 miles away, and Ft Lauderdale beach is only a 10 minute walk. But it's not a great place to stay - under a major bridge, and right next to the ICW with all the boats kicking up wakes that rock and slam into Grace.

Yesterday, I decided to escape the marina and head to Biscayne Bay. The motor down the ICW was like all previous motors - boring. I passed by the Ft Lauderdale and Miami cruise ship terminals. These ships are huge - 12 decks of cabins. And the weather was cold (at least for Florida) - I put on my wool socks! Wool socks - I thought I was done with them!

Currently, I'm anchored off Key Biscayne, where the shore is lined with mansions. This is a popular anchorage - the difference between the anchorages in New England and here is most boats are 40-50' motor yachts. It has a great view of the Miami skyline, but is, unfortunately, rolly.

Tonight is New Years. This will be the first New Years in 32 years that I have not been with my wife Laura. It will be strange.

Since I have at least a week, I will be trying my hand at sailing again... It has been perhaps two months since I had the sails up and even longer since I've sailed without the motor running. Again, you wee where I am on my SPOT tracking page.
Vessel Name: Grace
Vessel Make/Model: Catalina 320
Hailing Port: Needham MA
Crew: Alex Cullen
Extra: This trip will be my 'transition to retirement'
Grace's Photos - Main
From Dec 29th thru until March
26 Photos
Created 31 December 2017
September to December
93 Photos
Created 29 September 2017