Day 92: Wed 11 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 05' Lon: W 080° 06'
It was another warm night, but not too bad with the fans running. The forecast was for a high probability of rain yesterday and we got none. Today is forecast to be the same; we'll see.
We both had a few hours of boat chores to do today, so we got to them after Dennis and Karen left to work at their rental unit. Other than that, it was a day of rest, reading, and relaxation.
When our friends returned near 1700, we sat and chatted a bit in their air conditioned efficiency apartment, and later under the chickee while we made dinner plans. Their recommendation for our preferred eating style (good food, inexpensive, and casual) was a former Waffle House converted into a diner which serves Mexican specialties three nights a week. We were very pleased with the taste, portions, and price and enjoyed a great meal.
It was an early night for all, so after a short time under the chickee, we said our goodbyes, gave our thanks, and all hit the sack. Tomorrow we continue south and will not likely get another Internet connection for at least a few days.
Day 90: Mon 9 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 27' Lon: W 080° 13'
Diane lay down for a nap a bit late in the afternoon and it wasn't long before Dennis was back from his toils and we needed to get ready for the evening. First, we had drinks under their chickee overlooking the water on the Atlantic side. With a gentle breeze blowing, as is typical, it is a delightful place to be.
Next, we drove down the Overseas Highway to the Lorelei restaurant. Our friends from home, Toby and Almut, were wrapping up their cruise and had anchored there earlier today. We had arranged via cell phone to meet there for dinner. Everyone else ordered a fish sandwich or seafood dish, but I was craving chicken wings. They were exceptionally good. After a nice visit, during which we really didn't get to trade cruising stories all that much, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Key Largo for a nightcap under the chickee.
Day 91: Tue 10 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 27' Lon: W 080° 13'
It was a rather hot night for sleeping. When you are at anchor, usually the wind is blowing through the open hatches. At a dock, it would only be chance that the wind direction coincides with your boat's alignment. At least we had the fans to keep us comfortable.
Dennis and Karen have been leaving very early to work at their rental unit, and then have come back for breakfast before going back to work. When they came back at 0800, Diane had the laundry and shopping list ready. Dennis drove them all to the unit; Diane started laundry, and then took off in the van to get provisions. Meanwhile, I got out the hose, soap, and brushes and gave the boat a good exterior cleaning.
She arrived at the boat at 1110 with a lot of stuff to carry and stow, and then we rushed to pick up Dennis and Karen at the unit to go out for a quick bite of lunch. We ate at Mrs. Mac's and it is a great local, keysie kind of place. Back at the rental unit, Diane stayed to continue the laundry and help them with some of the cleaning chores while I took the van to finish getting supplies. I got everything on the list and returned to get Diane.
Once back at Diva Di, Diane stowed all the stuff while I attempted to get the air conditioner running for the first time in well over a year. We don't use it, so I just try to test it once a year. To make a long story short, it kept shutting down due to overheating, and I traced the problem to the cooling water flow but was not able to see a solution (more on that later).
I went out to the nearest gas station and got four jugs of diesel and gas filled up at very high US prices but still a lot cheaper than in the Bahamas. Once they were back at the dock, I drove to the rental unit to lend a hand with a few minor tasks for an hour or so until they called it quits for the day.
We found Diane lounging under the chickee and she made refreshing drinks for us all while Dennis felt the urge to tackle the AC issue. We both agreed the water flow seemed too low and too hot as it exited the condenser. When we shut off the unit, the water kept flowing (with the overboard discharge hose detached), which was very unexpected. We puzzled over that until Dennis figured out the pipe was below the waterline and what we had was a natural flow. It turns out the pump is not working. I may tackle that tomorrow if I have nothing else to do.
We assembled under the chickee with drinks and a few snacks. Gravity must have been working overtime because we never left, expect to get more ice. We were joined by one of their tenants, a pleasant young man who captains a dive boat just a few blocks away from here. What a great job and experience. He lives in the keys only a few blocks from work and gets to drive a boat for a living.
We don't know what time we broke up, but it was late. Using the fan allowed me to get to sleep comfortably. Diane was in the v-berth and said she was fine all night, too.
[Photo: This is the contrast to being in an anchorage in the remote Bahamas vs the crowded environs of Ft. Lauderdale.]
[Photo: Pool at Old Bahama Bay Resort]
Day 86: Thu 5 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 55' Lon: W 078° 38'
Our quest ashore bore great fruit. We got to dispose of trash, connect to the Internet, have a nice lunch in an air conditioned restaurant, and then adjourn to the pool. Actually, Diane left me in the hot lobby (no air conditioning) to do all the blog and email stuff while she took off to the pool. Due to the slow connection, it took me over an hour to get it all done, and then I looked for the pool.
While the signage was not great, I followed the live band sound until I found the pool. Our stuff was on a lounge chair, but Diane was not to be seen. I continued seeking the source of the music until I spied Diane sipping a diet coke at the pool/beach bar listening to the live band. We stayed at least an hour, dancing to a few songs, and then we went to the pool.
Diane noted that there was a pair of barely senior gentlemen across the pool and wondered aloud if they were from Anticipation, the other sailboat that anchored at Mangrove Cay last night. It turns out they were, and that they intended to cross to Lake Worth, Florida tomorrow also.
Both Mike and Tom were friendly and interesting guys, but what was really fascinating was that Tom had been a high-level manager at Picatinny Arsenal in NJ where I had worked for 10 years just before moving to Florida. We had never met, but had mutual coworkers, of course. It was quite an interesting few hours that we spent with them.
It was close to 1800 when we got back to Diva Di and then started all the preparations for the big passage tomorrow. The wind picked up as the night progressed and the strong tidal current sometimes worked in the same direction and sometimes opposite the wind. It does not make for the best night's sleep when you have conditions like that.
Day 87: Fri 6 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 42' Lon: W 079° 00'
We slept fitfully through the night due to the higher winds and strong reversing current. At 0530, Diane awakened me and we set about quietly (and competently, we hope) performing the last checklist items before departure.
The tide was almost ready to turn, but we were still facing into the wind at the time, so we hoisted the mainsail and then weighed anchor and turned 180 degrees to our course by 0600. We looked for Anticipation to follow, but did not see them for a while. We connected via VHF radio a while later and it turns out they had a mainsail problem and had some re-rigging to do before they could get underway.
I'll describe our passage by saying it was safe, but not much fun. When we left, I was using a heading to account for the leeway of being under sail and the gulf stream which would be pushing us northward with varying intensity as we crossed. That angle did not put the wind in a good place to sail effectively and the heavy wave action (3 to 5 ft with the occasional 6 footer) from astern kept the boat rolling heavily with sails flogging around.
At that point, I came up with a strategy to head farther south, putting the wind at a better angle to get more speed and stabilize the boat better. Once on this track, I realized that while it would add a few miles to the day's run, we could skip Lake Worth and make landfall farther south, saving a whole day of travel the next day.
I really do know better, but what eventually happened was that once we got near the gulf stream, my course was angled too much in opposition to the strong current and the boat speed dropped a lot. Continuing like that would add many hours to the passage and ensure we would arrive after dark, so I turned much more west and then the current swept us north.
Our landfall was Delray Beach and the closest safe inlet to protected water off the Atlantic coast was Hillsboro. That meant we still needed to head due south another 14 nm just off the beach (to escape the gulf stream, which come quite close to the coast there). That run was fun in that we were beam reaching in 20 kt winds and making 7 kts or more, but we still had 3 to 4 ft waves on the beam to contend with.
What I should have done (besides just continuing to Lake Worth in the first place), was to go much farther south in the beginning of the passage before getting to the gulf stream. Then I could turn due west, perpendicular to the stream, and make landfall where I wanted. In the end, we had just over 13 hours underway in somewhat challenging conditions.
We had to steer by hand almost all the time as the waves kept pushing the stern around and put the boat so far off course that the autopilot could not cope with it. As I said before, you need to keep the boat's heading pretty steady to keep the sails at the proper angle to the wind. Once you get out of that narrow "groove," the wind pressure changes and pushes the boat in a different way, too. A competent human can anticipate the motion and keep a steady heading, but it gets tiring after 13 hours.
Other than a radio contact with Anticipation to inform them of our change in plans, and seeing two ships as we got within 10 nm of the coast, it was a very lonely passage. Just us and the flying fish that dart out of your way. It was quite strange coming back to a land of high-rise buildings. I can't say the run down the coast was pretty, but the sight of the beautiful lighthouse at Hillsboro inlet was very welcome. We just made it in by 1930, a half hour before sunset.
After turning into the inlet, you immediately see a draw bridge and a small cove before it. There is plenty of room for just a few boats to anchor, but there were already a few boats there. We tried to anchor in the only remaining spot which put us too close to the park fishing pier and the channel from the inlet to the bridge. Before I had time to reconsider other options, the nice captain of the sailboat nearest us hailed us on the VHF and offered to let us raft up to him. We quickly accepted.
What followed next was almost surreal in some respects. We readied the fenders and lines, got up the anchor, and rafted with them. Quick introductions followed, and then Diane offered them cold beer and they were grateful. Starting in a somewhat numb state, we gradually came back to life as we went about our tidying up of the boat and gear. All the time, we chatted with our new buddies, and then gave them another beer while we went below to shower and change - boy, that felt great.
Once we were settled, barely a half hour later, we had Josh and Jason over for nachos and later a dinner of leftovers. They are both young friends who decided to do some cruising now, rather than later. All Josh owns is the 35 ft boat (a rare Trident Warrior) and its gear. Interesting guys and very generous in spirit. We were very grateful for the offer to raft up and they were appreciative of the beer and food we supplied.
I interrupted our time together to try making radio contact with Chiqui and Invictus, but only got through to Chiqui. We will now suspend our radio checks with them and stay in touch via email. I will call John on the cell phone tomorrow to let him know we are safe.
Considering the long and tiring day we spent, it surprised us that we stayed up conversing with Josh and Jason until 2300. We said good night and they got into their dinghy to go ashore for more entertainment.
Day 88: Sat 7 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 15' Lon: W 080° 05'
The night was very restful, which was much appreciated. I slept until almost 0700 and awoke to the noise of boat engines and people talking all around us. When I popped my head out the hatch, I was stunned to see perhaps 20 fishing boats ranging from about 22 to 40 ft in length, all keeping station against the wind and current or slowly circling. I thought perhaps there was a "traffic jam" getting out of the inlet after some problem up ahead, but Diane had the right answer. It was a fishing tournament and the boats were waiting for the signal that they could proceed out the inlet and start fishing.
After so many nights in relative seclusion, it is quite a shock to wake up with another boat right next to you, towering condos on the shore, and a fishing pier crowded with fishermen just yards away. But, the major benefit of being here was cell phone coverage within our US plan, so we started making phone calls to our relatives and friends who need to hear from us.
We said goodbye to Josh and Jason after a short tour of Josh's boat, and then broke up from the raft. I should have raised the mainsail in the short time before we hit the inlet because once we left the little cove; it was way too rough to go on the coach roof to rig the sail for hoisting. It could have been done in an emergency, but it was not worth the risk. So, when the headsail alone only gave us 4.5 kts, I reluctantly turned on the engine to boost our speed to 6 kts.
It was a short, but very rolly ride down to Port Everglades inlet past all the high rise condos littering the beach. Once inside, the ride was sedate as we motored in the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) past the large commercial shipping port, through a draw bridge, a few marinas, and then lots of very large and expensive homes with matching boats. Following the information from a local Sea Tow captain whose advice I had solicited over the VHF radio, we made our way into Sylvia Lake. It is a nice lake just off the ICW where many locals and the occasional cruiser (like us) can anchor in all-around protection. Right now there are about a dozen boats here and another dozen could squeeze in, if needed.
Once settled, Diane prepared a nice lunch while I lowered the dinghy. We got out the charts and made tentative plans for tomorrow's passage. There is quite a show here. It will sound like I am stereotyping, and maybe I am, but these east coast Floridians seem to like "toys." It's not enough to be on a boat and enjoy nature. They have to have rafts and floats, tubes being pulled behind the dinghy, loud stereos, jet skis, etc. They all seem to be having fun, though, and that's good.
Diane just raised the point that many waterfront communities in Florida have been trying to pass and enforce ordinances against people anchoring too close to their homes or for too long, and she can see why. We don't agree that they have the right to do that, but we can see where certain behaviors by boaters could make the nearby residents intolerant of their presence.
I caught up on some things aboard and Diane tidied up the boat. A little later we took the dinghy under one of the many low auto bridges linking the canal streets and cutting off the canals from Sylvia Lake to all but very small craft (like our dinghy). It was a great shortcut to the area near the bridge and Lauderdale Marina where we first came into the ICW. From there it was a short ride down a canal to the Southport Raw Bar, where we docked the dinghy and walked across the road to the grocery and liquor stores.
We got our few items, stowed them in the dinghy, and then went into the restaurant for dinner. What we had was good and the prices were quite reasonable; much lower than we were used to paying in the Bahamas. It is a bit of culture shock to be back in the good ol' USA, but there are many advantages, of course.
We weren't long back on Diva Di when sunset came and Diane hit the sack. I read for an hour and then crashed, also. The breeze died down a few times and I needed the fan for comfort, but overall it was a very quiet, comfortable night's rest.
Day 89: Sun 8 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 06' Lon: W 080° 06'
It was very still and quiet as we weighed anchor and motored slowly out of Sylvia Lake at 0700. All the noise from yesterday was gone. We knew the draw bridge would not open for us until 0730, but we left early so we could slowly cruise by the lovely homes and boats to admire them. Today, we thought ahead and raised the mainsail as soon as we could inside the protected waters; this way it was ready when we went into the ocean with all the big waves.
The winds were great for sailing parallel to the beach and we averaged a good speed in mostly comfortable seas. The autopilot would not hold a good course due to the wave action, so Diane and I took turns steering. It was a strange sight passing hundreds of high=rise condo complexes and the occasional low=rise community as we went south. We elected to exit the ocean into Biscayne Bay below Miami through Biscayne Channel and sailed all the way through wing=on=wing with the wind at our backs.
Once inside the bay, we could turn south again and had a glorious sail with nice wind in protected waters so there was little wave action. We called our friends from Punta Gorda, Toby and Almut, who knew we were back in the area again and wanted to link up on our cruise. They were only about 20 nm south of us, but were committed to the "inside" route along the Florida Keys, while we needed to be on the "outside" to stop at our friends' home in Key Largo. They provided us with some good info and we agreed to try to join them along with Dennis and Karen by car for a dinner on Islamorada in a day or two.
Our great sail continued through the narrow channel at Featherbed Bank. We could curve around to the east and north to anchor by Sand Key, or keep angling SE to a less crowded spot. As we sailed along Elliott Key, there were masses of boats. In one spot, our binoculars show a line of about 80 small boats abreast near the shoreline, and another 40 larger boats in deeper water. From a distance with the naked eye, it did not look like discrete boats; it looked like one continuous mass. It is our understanding that this happens frequently on weekends with boats from Miami.
We had no desire to close to anything like that, so we kept going until we found a spot with no boats within 300 yards and anchored there about a half mile of the shore. We were quite warm, despite the breeze, so the first order of business was to lower the dinghy and hang off the swim ladder with a cool beverage in the comfortable water. It felt pretty good to us at 85 F, but I'm sure that would not be refreshing to many people.
One advantage of being so far away from other boats is that we did not need to get our swimsuits salty, and we could shower at the transom 'au naturel'. The balance of the afternoon was spent relaxing and reading. Diane made many phone calls while our cell phone signal lasted.
I was just dozing while reading when I heard Diane speaking to someone topside. I looked out the port and saw a powerboat drifting within 2 ft of our side. The cover to the single outboard engine was off and someone was looking at it. Diane was amazed that they got so close and didn't say a word to us. After she was them and realized they were just barely going to avoid a collision, she asked if they needed any help. They replied in a heavy Spanish accent that they did not.
We kept the VHF radio on most of the time until after dinner and heard 3 distress calls from people running out of fuel, taking on water from being in too small a boat in rough seas, and having an engine quit. I can only imagine that most of the hundreds of boaters anchored here in just a 3 mile stretch were all liquored up and have little knowledge of good seamanship.
For dinner we grilled a flank steak we had frozen a few weeks ago, which Diane marinated in Caesar salad dressing, some fresh boiled sweet potato, and a fresh green salad. It was great. By that time (1900), the hundreds of boats had dwindled to just a dozen, all very far from us. Presumably, they need to go back to Miami to get ready for work tomorrow.
As it got dark, there were three major sources of light: a power station to our west that is lit up like a metropolis; the skyline of south Miami to our north; and the cloud=to=cloud lightning in the towering clouds over the mainland to the NW. A rain shower would be welcome, but we could do without lightning.
Day 90: Mon 9 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 27' Lon: W 080° 13'
When we awoke, there was only one other boat in sight. It was mostly overcast, but that's OK; we have had almost non=stop sun for three months. It did not take long to get underway and we enjoyed an extremely comfortable sail in a moderate breeze making an average of just under 5 kts. We exited the "inside" route via Angelfish Creek (a pretty area) and were soon sailing south along the Atlantic side in the Hawk Channel.
We had been in the Hawk Channel on the way north in March and had much different conditions. This time it was rather sedate, although enough wind to sail a t a decent pace. That's what you hope for and rarely get. By 1300 we started getting rain from a passing shower. We hoped it would pass us by, but our much hoped=for shower came just as we entered Port Largo and motored to the dock at Dennis and Karen's house. We had called them in advance and they were awaiting us at the dock. We rafted up to their boat, R's, and got ashore for hugs, a cold beverage, and a brief visit.
They have been down here for a week already doing repairs and refurbishing to a rental home they have nearby, so they interrupted their work to greet us. Dennis was suitably motivated to return to the job while the rest of us took care of our own affairs. After showering, shaving, etc., I brought Clyde ashore to let him enjoy a bit while we chatted under the Chickee hut. Diane tried to keep him in a harness, but he was having none of that. After three escapes, I took responsibility and let him roam with me in close proximity.
When it was time to go back to the boat, he went back into his cage to be carried across the decks. Diane took a nap while I was able to connect to the Internet to check email. I will have time tomorrow to make replies and post to the blog.
[Photo: Commemorative bronze sculpture garden in New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay.]
Day 78: Wed 28 May 08
Lat: N 26° 46' Lon: W 077° 20'
My last blog entry said I was going to try to get Internet access, and I did, in a fashion. First, I dinghied over to the beach near the house that shares its signal; no signal was received. I then went over to a small sailboat with a single senior aboard and we had a nice chat about all kinds of things, ending with Internet access. He mentioned that the home owners were very cruiser friendly and would not mind at all if I tied up to their dock for another try. I did so and that got me barely usable access.
Allow me to describe what it has been like more often than not when we are away from a civilized area: My laptop detects a wireless connection is within range and I try to connect. Over half the time it will not, or it will take many minutes trying. If I connect, the signal strength is usually low and the speed is less than 6 Mbps; that's about 1/10th the speed of the old dial-up, and almost 1/500th the speed we get at home via cable.
I first download email using MS Outlook which will do a good job if the speed isn't too much less than 6 Mbps. If there is anything I need to reply to, that's where the problem starts. I did not discover until too late that Comcast will not allow my email client to send messages when I am away from home; I am sure it needs special settings but I am not able to find out what they are here in the boondocks. So, if I want to send an email, I have to first log into the Comcast web page, and then load the web mail page. At less than 10 Mbps, that never works. The servers think we have a connection problem and abort before I get connected. That's why we have received a few emails that did not get a reply; it is a lot of effort that fails most of the time.
Next priority is to post to the blog so that those of you following us know where we are and how we are doing. Beyond that, I try to reply to questions in the blog comments, check our bank account and credit card charges, and lastly see what news of the world I might glean. It is rare that I get all of that done, and it is also a race with the laptop's battery power. Finally, it is more than just connecting to some Wi-Fi hotspot. Often, the Internet service for an entire cay or island will go down for long periods. I'm not complaining, just explaining why email is not usually a simple thing for us.
Back on Diva Di, we had a little lunch, and then took the dinghy through a "mangrove swamp." I don't know if that is the best name, but it is a wide swath of low sand with some grass which is lined with mangroves and has a few small mangrove islands, as well. At low water it is mostly dry, but when the tide comes in it may have 1 to 2 ft of water in most spots with deeper water in some areas. It was fun to dinghy through at low speed. We saw a few birds, fish, and starfish, but not much else. The best part about it was that we were alone for a while. We were tiring of the civilized Abacos where there are buildings, people and noise every where you go. I think these out islands will remind us more of the pretty Exumas, but we shall see.
When we returned to Diva Di, we got ready to weigh anchor and move around to the northern end of the cay. It was a nice broad reach at 4 to 6 kts for about 2 nm, and then we anchored again. The cruising guide is not too clear, but it appears there may be an interesting nature trail to the ocean beaches. We are in no hurry right now, so that is our goal for the morning.
We did not find the anchorage empty as we hoped; there were three sailboats and a trawler there, but plenty of room to spread out. We found out later they are all cruising together from a club on the east coast of Florida and spending only three weeks. I guess they will be rushing through the Abacos.
Knowing we would be exploring tomorrow morning, we were content to relax on the boat for the mid-afternoon. Near 1700, we got Clyde into the dinghy and landed at the pretty beach a few hundred yards away. The reasons for it were not apparent, but there were many things left over from some previous encampment of sorts: framing and torn screens from some hut, a clearing inside the numerous pine trees, wooden tables, and some litter which was quite out of place. We found the head of the nature trail, so we will do that tomorrow.
Clyde had perhaps his best walk on this cruise. He loved the soft pine needles and shade, and we liked that he could walk in the big cleared areas without tangling the lead around a tree or bush every 4 feet as usual. While Diane spent most of the time walking Clyde, I strolled the beach with my feet in the clear and calm water.
I saw a small stingray working parallel to the beach a dozen yards ahead and then a 3 ft shark patrolling in the opposite direction about 20 ft from me. Shortly afterwards, a stingray perhaps 3 ft across came in my direction about 20 ft from the surf line. I waded out about 10 ft to get a better view of him as he passed, but when he got near he changed course to glide right up to my feet. I wasn't scared, but didn't relish the thought of him passing over my feet, so I slowly backed up and he followed until I was in less than 3 inches of water. I don't know if he is used to being fed by visitors, but it was an unexpected behavior.
The only reason we left our enjoyable shore visit was that the biting flies and mosquitoes appeared. Back at Diva Di, we had a nice dinner of pasta with meat sauce and vegetables, and then enjoyed the sunset. We played a few games and then I had quite an SSB session. First, I made contact with John on Invictus and reported our position and status. He has his hands full with the Boy Scout summer session in full swing. Right after that, Antic hailed me when he heard I was clear with John. They are not enjoying the best passage in that there is either too much or too little wind, but they are safe and that is important.
Immediately following that session, Vern from Chiqui hailed us and we had a chat about his day: the steering cable broke as they were transiting the Whale Cay passage. Fortunately, he was buddy-boating with Dreamer and they took him in tow. Also fortunately, they were not too close to the rocks when it happened or it might have been a disaster. Amazingly, they were able to get a cable and fix it up in Green Turtle Cay in just a few hours. We may see them later tomorrow.
I read for an hour before going to bed. Andree from Antic had lent Diane a book entitled "Winds from the Carolinas" about a Loyalist who fled the new USA a few years after the Revolutionary War was won to escape the persecution and try to rebuild the plantation lifestyle in the Bahamas under the protection of the Crown in England. I am finding it fascinating on many levels, but especially because it describes in detail so many of the places we have recently visited, but as they were two hundred years ago, of course.
Day 79: Thu 29 May 08
Lat: N 26° 50' Lon: W 077° 23'
The early morning SSB weather indicated a slight upgrade in wind strength for the next few days, but nothing too much to handle. Antic called in for their customized forecast and was disappointed to learn they were not going as well as we all hoped. When the session was over, I hailed them on the same frequency and we spoke very clearly for a few minutes. They are safe, but not having very cooperative weather.
We tried to listen to the cruisers net, but we must be mostly out of range at this point. We took the opportunity to dinghy ashore around 0830 to hike a long path to the Atlantic beach side. Unlike the Exuma Park paths, this one was mostly flat and hard sand, so it was an easy walk. We strolled along the beach, which was natural and primitive except for a large amount of human trash which had washed up here over time.
Back aboard Diva Di, we readied for our short passage of the day to Powell Cay. It was approaching low tide and the short way out to deeper water took us through depths that were less than a foot under the keel. It was all sand and we made it with no problems. Once in over 6 ft of water we set the headsail and had a nice sail at 4 to 5 kts. There were some rolly seas when we passed between the cays and were exposed to the ocean swells, but it was pretty nice overall.
We had hoped for something pretty remote, but Powell Cay is a popular spot. By later in the afternoon there were about a half dozen boats here. Several boats, including two we had met before, Dreamer and Chiqui, were in the process of anchoring when we arrived and it became obvious they were not getting their anchors to set well enough. We were fortunate that our heavy Delta set well the first time in the sand and grass bottom.
After checking on our friends, Diane and I dinghied over to the beach near the large shoal area to look for shells. We did find a few keepers, but it was disconcerting how much sharp broken glass there was along the beach and in the shallow surf. Diane spied a large fragment of clear glass which would have made a severe cut if stepped on.
On the way back to Diva Di, we invited Chiqui and Dreamer aboard for Happy Hour at 1730 and they accepted. After a nice lunch by chef, Diane, we did a few boat chores, read, and napped. At 1700, it was time to get ready for the gathering.
Vern and Rose and Lenny came over about 1730 and we started our party. I was below making the pizza and showing Lenny (who lives on an older Catalina 34) around our Catalina 36. The most impressive thing to him was that we had the energy generation capacity (solar panels, in our case) to keep our refrigerator/freezer really cold. He cannot make ice; only keep purchased ice from melting very fast.
We had a fun early evening sharing stories and jokes; they are all good folks. They had a good day catching small fish at a local wreck, so they invited us all to have a fish dinner with them tomorrow night. I think tomorrow is the time for me to break out the pole spear and see what I can do with it.
After a conch horn duet with Lenny on Dreamer at sunset, Diane and I spent quality time with Clyde on deck in the balmy evening breeze. At 2100, I spoke with Antic on the SSB radio; they are not able to sail to any of their alternative destinations without tacking slowly into the NE wind (a slow and inefficient process). At this rate, they will be lucky to make landfall in four full days, and they will still be short of their preferred destination by quite a lot.
I am really enjoying "Winds front the Carolinas" for the reasons previously described, and will resume reading now before bed time.
Day 80: Fri 30 May 08
Lat: N 26° 54' Lon: W 077° 29'
I was not very happy with Chris Parker's weather report this morning. I carefully recorded the forecasts wind strengths and directions for our area over the next week, then when a sailor asked for specific weather along a route passing through our area, the forecasts were somewhat different. I don't know how that happens.
While it was still cool enough, I polished all the stainless steel in the cockpit area, and then washed the cockpit free of all the party droppings. We took Clyde ashore in the dinghy to walk the firm, pretty sand in mostly full shade as the sun was still low on the far side of the cay. A tender from a 100 ft motor yacht had just dropped off two ladies to power walk the beach, but otherwise we had it all to ourselves.
Back on Diva Di, I took the opportunity to use the clippers on my hair and beard to get back to the standard 1/8 inch length. Even out here, I can't stand to go much more than a week without a trim.
Today was the day for me to try the pole spear. Our friends told us there is a small wreck a short distance away in protected water so we readied our gear and dinghied over. We put the dinghy on the beach with an anchor to guard against the rising tide, and then Diane looked for shells while I snorkeled with the spear. I saw a number of edible fish that were large enough to spear, but of course they don't get large enough by being incautious, so they kept their distance.
With a pole spear, you loop a tubular rubber piece around your thumb, and then draw the spear back to tension the rubber, which is attached to the rear of the spear. Loosening your grip on the spear allows it to shoot forward. I am a complete novice at this, but it's fair to say the tip of the spear only flies 3 to 4 feet with any speed at all, so you need to be real close.
Lenny, from Dreamer, joined me after a bit and he got one small fish at the wreck. His spear has a multi-pronged tip which would prove to be the better choice. He and I worked along the ledge where the rock met the sea and many holes were to be explored. I surprised a 2 ft Nassau grouper and missed the shot. I later saw two large ocean triggerfish, stalked them until I could get close enough to one and took a shot from about 3 feet. The tip bounced off the center of the fish, leaving a small scar but no hole. I do not want to harm a fish unless I can kill it for food, so I resolved to take shots from less than two feet away, which will prove difficult.
Meanwhile, Diane found some great shells and had a long hike to ocean side with Vern and Rose. She wisely brought her book and reading sunglasses, since by the time I exited the water, it was over three hours later. I was enjoying the exercise and the thrill of the hunt, but I had a nasty abrasion on one of my left toes where it chafed against the rubber fin; that was distracting.
Finally giving up for today with no fish, Diane and I went back to Diva Di to shower. The water in the solar shower bag had gotten well above a tolerable temperature, so we tempered it with room temperature water. It felt great to be clean. We didn't realize how hungry we were after all that exercise until we had leftovers for lunch about 1300.
Vern and Lenny went fishing with rod and reel to add to the fish from yesterday, while we spent the afternoon totally relaxed, and not feeling too guilty about it. We arrived on Chiqui at 1800 with a fresh green salad Diane had prepared, our beverages, and a contribution of ice for the evening's dessert.
Vern and Rose bore the brunt of the load getting dinner ready, but what we had was a feast: freshly-caught barracuda (small enough to be safe to eat) and other pan fish, cheesy grits, baked beans, and green salad. Vern had coated the fish fillets in a nice meal and fried them gently so they were perfectly cooked. Diane and I had eaten barracuda in Aruba before, but it was somewhat disguised in its presentation. This barracuda meat was plain except for the nice coating and we all really enjoyed it.
For dessert, our hosts brought out an ice cream maker! Can you believe that? They added the ingredients, and then layered the rock salt and precious ice, and 20 minutes later we had a fabulous chocolate ice cream. it was soft enough to be a heavy milkshake, but delicious and appreciated all the same.
After many stories about cruising and mostly fishing, we left their company with a promise for me to try my hand with them tomorrow. Back on Diva Di, our 2100 check-in with Antic over the SSB radio was great. They and Our Whim arrived safely in North Carolina; we are so happy for the news after their four day passage.
Clyde was very eager for company tonight, so I spent time with him on deck in the breezy, beautiful night. Sleeping was great except for an annoying rattling of metal upon metal from some halyard shackle. It must not have been too annoying because I did not get up to fix it.
Day 81: Sat 31 May 08
Lat: N 26° 54' Lon: W 077° 29'
I finally got up a bit before 0600 to enjoying the pre-dawn with Clyde and I fixed the offending loose halyard. After the early SSB weather report, I read for a bit, and then got out my sparse fishing tackle. I have more shiny lures than I remembered, but I fear they are a bit big for the light spinning rod I have.
When I saw that Lenny had been up in his cockpit for a while, I dinghied over to ask him how he ties his knots in fishing line. My friend, Dan, showed me a while back, but I haven't had to do much of it and needed a refresher. The lesson was a good one and after a brief, enjoyable visit, I went back to Diva Di to get ready and wait for our three-dinghy flotilla to depart.
We tried to duplicate what they had done yesterday with little success. The only fish caught was Lenny's 30 inch barracuda. It gave him quite a fight and he was satisfied. We all know there is a toxin which can be harmful to humans by eating fish that have accumulated enough in their flesh. The conventional wisdom is to avoid eating barracuda which are over a certain size since they are older and have more chance to accumulate the toxin. Lenny cooked and ate a piece for lunch, so if he is feeling fine by dinner, then he will cook the rest of it.
Shortly after returning empty handed after fishing with the rod and reel, I left the gear in the cockpit and got my pole spear to go back to the wreck. Sure enough, the larger fish all depart the instant they sense you coming. I had one shot at a decent fish, but missed. It was a good hunt, but same result - nothing.
I prepared the macaroni and cheese, a canned vegetable medley, and made a pizza with the leftover crust from the other night's appetizers; we'll have that for dinner soon. Lenny came over a bit early with the fish all ready to be baked. Vern and Rose brought freshly-baked brownies for dessert. The fish was great, as were the brownies. Our fruit salad wit mostly fresh ingredients was good, too. The rest was just OK.
It was a pleasant evening together, if a bit subdued. Dreamer and Chiqui are looking at three long days of sailing/motoring to get back to Florida. We could have joined them, but elected to continue exploring the last few cays in this northwest section of the Abacos before heading to Florida. Hopefully, we will not regret the decision. It is always possible for us to get to the last cay and then not have good weather to travel the two long days to reach Lake Worth, FL.
Day 82: Sun 1 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 54' Lon: W 077° 29'
It was a warm night for much of the time. At one point I went into the cockpit to sleep for few hours. It isn't that the air temperature goes up much, it is just that the wind dies from over 10 kts to under 5 kts and that is enough to make it uncomfortable.
We left the anchorage near 0730, just as Chiqui and Dreamer were departing. At first, we stayed close together, but they had a long passage ahead and needed to motor sail at a faster pace. We had only 13 nm to go, so I left the engine loaf a bit more for better fuel economy. When we turned off the engine, the speed ranged from 1.9 to 2.7 kts, and when it stayed below 2 kts I turned on the engine until we were at anchor. I hated to do it, but I did.
Despite being very slow, the sail was quite comfortable in the flat seas. We both read quite a bit with the autopilot maintaining course, and we maintaining a good lookout, of course. Near 1100, we anchored at the northwest side of Allans-Pensacola Cay.
I wish I could say the day was a pleasurable one, but it has been a bit disappointing. We arrived at low tide and soon thereafter tried to take the dinghy exploring. Everywhere we wanted to go, the shoals prevented it. I then tried fishing from the dinghy for an hour or so with no luck at all. Then about 1500 we got over the shoals to visit the calm Atlantic side of the cay to find there was nothing there of much interest. We fished the incoming tide through the cut; again, no luck.
For dinner, Diane made a nice salad and served the pizza I made last night. I finished "Winds from the Carolinas" and agreed with Diane that the story dragged on quite a bit toward the end (like this blog!).
After an hour of games, we prepared ourselves for a hot, uncomfortable night. To our great delight, the air temperature and breeze (stronger than forecast) combined for a very comfortable sleep.
Day 83: Mon 2 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 59' Lon: W 077° 41'
It surely seemed to Diane that I was in an even greater hurry than usual to get moving this morning, and she was right. I have noticed a pattern the past few days where the light wind is somewhat stronger for about two hours after sunrise, and then it dies down. We only had 6 nm to go today to Moraine Cay, but I wanted to have enough wind to sail. I was too lazy to fuss with the cover and put up the mainsail for the short passage, but we were able to make an average of 3 kts under headsail alone in calm seas and sunny skies.
Moraine Cay is small, private, and very nice. We are the only boat here as of 1030. There are three homes that appear to be boarded up for the summer storm season, so we will go ashore without worrying about intruding on someone's privacy. There is a reef just off the cay which offer nice protection from waves out of the north and east. The beach appears very nice from the boat, too.
Once we got settled, we went out to explore the reef and found most of it awash, so we decided to come back closer to high tide when we could snorkel over it. On the way back, we stopped at the beach near the three shuttered homes. I was able to find two nice coconuts in their outer shells: one for us and one for the Jorgensens who requested it via a comment in the blog.
We secured the dinghy and walked the entire length. It was a decent beach, but what thrilled Diane was the discovery of a dozen really nice sea biscuits. I haven't had the opportunity to research them, but by description they are oblong and about four to five inches long with a five-pointed flower-like shape on the top.
Within the next two hours, two other boats joined us in the anchorage. So much for our secluded spot. After a brief lunch, we relaxed and read for a while, and then we dinghied over to the reef to check it out. We found a sandy spot to anchor and I got into the water while Diane waited in the dinghy. There was a squall on the horizon and it looked to be heading our way, so Diane elected to stay in the dinghy.
The current was a bit strong, and it was all I could do to make progress up current. The reef was pretty impressive; it had lots of vertical development (from the surface down 20 ft) and lots of fish. The corals were nice, too, but suffered from the dingy green/brown covering that we see too often.
I only saw a small portion of the reef because of the current and the impending squall. For the 20 minutes I was there, however, I did get to see a 6 ft shark (probably a reef shark) twice. The first time, I was scanning the far edges of my vision for interesting fish when I noticed a small school of good-sized yellowtail snappers. I was thinking about getting my spear gun from the dinghy when I noticed the shark patrolling slowly behind them. I really respect these animals, but I don't have any fear of them unless circumstances dictate. I watched it swim out of my vision, but toward another dinghy which had anchored just before us. I casually let them know of its presence, and then went back to my exploration.
Sensing that Diane was not happy to be loitering there, I headed back to the dinghy, where I told her of my findings. I kept my mask below the surface for a while longer, just watching. When some more dinner-type fish appeared, I got out the spear gun and hung on the anchor rode waiting. Within a minute, the shark (I assume it was the same one) reappeared much closer to us and I took that as a sign not to be spear fishing at this time.
I climbed back into the dinghy and we got back to Diva Di to batten all the hatches. A fresh-water shower was in order for both of us, which always feels good. Within an hour, it was obvious that the squall had dissipated before getting to us, so we opened everything up again to try to get some airflow through the boat. Our friends on Jus Dreamin came into the anchorage and we chatted for a while. They could not accept our invitation to visit us this evening, but maybe another time.
Our early dinner was quesadillas and a green salad, which were both quite good. Diane went below to rest and we received a visit from Slow Mocean, a 42 Manta catamaran. The young couple (40ish), Blake and Sonny, just wanted to say hi as they took their old Chihuahua ashore for a bit. We chatted for a while and then when Diane was up and about, we took Clyde ashore, too. The bugs were quite bad in the still air, so all of us were eager to leave.
I'm sure it is true of most travels, but the impression one takes away from a visit is often colored by factors like weather and the things that influences. We will remember Moraine Cay because of the reef that was calm enough to snorkel, but we may also remember how hot and buggy this place is because the lack of wind lets the heat and bugs predominate. Taking the bad and the good together is what it is all about.
A half hour before sunset, a 27 ft sailboat came past us with two fifty-something guys aboard. We chatted for a few minutes as they glided slowly past on their way to anchor. We were playing a dice game in the cockpit and Diane lost one off the table. As cold be expected, it bounced a few times under the table, then bounced again near the open transom, then 'ploop' into the water. The funny part was we could almost make out what number landed up in 7 ft of water.
When sunset came, one of the guys on the 27 ft Bristol blew a long, good note on a conch horn. That was met by another boat's horn, and finally by mine. It was the first time we had more than two boats participate.
I had thought it would be stifling and buggy aboard when we tried to sleep, but it wasn't too bad. It was only in the very early morning (around 0300) that I had to go topside to adjust a noisy halyard and then could not get back to sleep due to the warmth and stillness. I stretched out in the cockpit and the slightly better breeze there allowed me to sleep again until dawn.
Day 84: Tue 3 Jun 08
Lat: N 27° 02' Lon: W 077° 46'
The early SSB weather forecast called for 8 kts out of the SE, so we knew it would be a long, slow, hot day moving from here to the Double-Breasted Cays, about 32 nm away. We had enough wind when we left at 0730 to sail at over 3 kts, but for much of the day it was so light that we needed to use the engine, too. I had rigged the spinnaker and used it to good effect for perhaps one hour at most. At least it was good practice.
There was a lot of navigation around shoals on the way, but we got there at 1520 with no problems. There are protected anchorage spots in between some of the larger cays and rocks making up this group, but we elected to anchor out in the open to get every breath of air we could.
As soon as we set the anchor, I lowered the dinghy off the davits and put down the swim ladder. Since we were alone here, we stripped down and hung off the ladder to cool off a bit. Then we used some fresh water as a rinse. Normally, Diane doesn't care for the temperature of the water as it comes out of the tank because it feels too cool; she didn't complain today.
After sitting below in front of some fans for a bit, we got in the dinghy to explore the large exposed sandbar since it was a very low tide. Along the way, we paralleled the chain of rocks on the southeast and were pleased to see a lot of coral growth on the bottom in the crystal clear water that ranged from 3 to 5 feet deep. Every time we passed an opening where the tidal current was flowing across and through the chain, the water would become very rough and you could sense the strong current pushing you sideways.
The sandbar was beautiful, but so gently sloped that we could only bring the dinghy to within 50 ft of the temporarily dry sand, even with the engine tilted up. I set the anchor and we waded in and then strolled to the northwest. We saw movement in the water just 20 feet off the surf line and both remarked that we had seen a fish. I was looking at what was obviously a barracuda about 2 ft long. When he came our way and I pointed him out, Diane said that was not the fish she saw. Then I looked over where she was pointing and noted there were three "large" sharks.
When we got closer, these three sharks (5 ft, 4. 5 ft, and 4 ft, we estimate) were swimming lazily around an area no bigger than a tennis court. The water depth ranged from 1 to 4 feet where they patrolled, so at times both dorsal fins and the top half of the tail were out of the water. We stood ankle deep and a few times the larger one came within about 10 ft of us. We made careful observations of his anatomy so we could identify him with our fish book on the boat. It turns out they were all lemon sharks, which the book indicated were not that common in the Bahamas.
Remaining alert to our immediate surroundings, we started scanning around and noted that two smaller sharks (maybe 3 ft) were patrolling near our dinghy. I wasn't concerned with them, but I would have been more hesitant to wade out to the dinghy if the larger sharks had been circling it. We watched the larger sharks closest to us in fascination for perhaps 20 minutes and then headed back to the boat to get out of the broiling sun.
Even though we had taken a quick shower to rinse off after our swim ladder cool off, we were both hot and sticky from the time in the sun, so we showered again upon return. At least with no one else here it makes it easier to shower on the transom.
We had some refreshments and read our books for a while. I laid out some possible passage plans for the next few days and our crossing back to Florida. If the weather forecast holds, we may try to cross Friday from West End on Grand Bahama Island.
We had a simple dinner of hot dogs, sauerkraut, and baked beans, then read some more since it was too hot to do much else. Right at sunset, it was time for the 2000 SSB check-in with Chiqui. They made the crossing today in dead flat calm seas. Vern said if the water were hard you could have skated on it. Guess what, though? That means they had no assistance from any wind, so it was motoring the whole way. At least they and Dreamer are safely anchored in Lake Worth, Florida.
Within the next hour, the wind picked up which made for a more comfortable apparent temperature. The bad news was that the wind was stronger than forecast and we were exposed to the open sea. We did gain a little protection from higher waves by all the shoals around, but it was still a night of much boat motion. I never take our security for granted, but I have developed a better sense of confidence in our ground tackle (anchor system). We may not have liked our situation much, but we did not fear for dragging anchor.
Day 85: Wed 4 Jun 08
Lat: N 27° 11' Lon: W 078° 16'
We were both glad for the pre-dawn light to come. Neither of us had slept well due to the motion. It's funny that nothing was different at 0600 than it was at 0300, but just being able to see around you made it more comforting.
The weather forecast was for a wind near 10 kts out of ESE; that was less than yesterday's forecast and meant a slow day of travel if correct. We got underway at 0730 and sailed nicely for a few hours, and then the wind died down to below the forecast. When our speed dropped below 3 kts, I reluctantly turned on the engine to motor sail. It was a very comfortable sail in calm seas and all was fine except for the drone of the engine.
It took just over 5 hours to get anchored at Mangrove Cay. It is a small cay covered with dead mangroves from hurricane devastation within the past few years (just like so many in our home area). It's only merit is shelter from wave action that might come if the wind picks back up.
We are not going to lower the dinghy off the davits as there is nothing to do here. We could have continued on to the relative civilization of West End, but that would entail another 5 hours of motoring. We will have plenty of long days underway ahead of us, so there is no need to do another one right now.
Sometimes the reality that there is nothing to do is perceived as a bad thing, and sometimes it is perceived a as a good thing. We chose to embrace the latter and just relaxed in what little breeze there was. A few times, we saw other boats pass close by and wondered if they were stopping here for the night. None did, except for the last one about two hours before sunset.
Dinner was a very nice meal of sautéed pieces of chicken breast tossed with tortellini, canned mushroom slices, a jar of pesto sauce, and some grated Romano cheese. We make a similar dish at home with all fresh ingredients and it is better, but this was surprisingly good.
Diane was weary from the heat and went to bed early in the v-berth where the breeze was best. I stayed in the cockpit listening to some comedy songs given to us on a CD by Chiqui; those I heard so far were quite funny. Thanks, Vern!
The sunset was beautiful, and as I watched it I realized that sunset was after 2000 and I was late for my check-in with Chiqui. I got the SSB radio on at 2004 and did raise Vern. The propagation was poor, so he could barely copy my transmission, but I was able to relay our current position and intentions, as well as theirs. We signed off quickly after agreeing to try again tomorrow evening.
Clyde and I spent some time in the cockpit as I listened to more of the comedy songs until a rain shower came over. It was brief, but welcome. At that same time, the alarm went off to remind me to contact John on Invictus. We chatted for a few minutes during which I relayed our position and intentions, found out how he was doing (very busy!) and agreed to resume nightly contact at the same time on the same frequency.
The wind is blowing nicely now at 2120; I would be tempted to leave now if it weren't so imprudent to do so. I can only hope to have such a nice wind tomorrow when we leave in the morning.
For no other reason than I am thinking about it right now, I want to mention that we are both really happy so far with our choice of boat for our type of cruising. Prior to this cruise, we had been out on Diva Di for no more than about two weeks. This time, we have been out for almost three months, made several 10 to 13 hour crossings in water thousands of feet deep, traversed very shallow spots, been caught in squalls, and anchored over 80 times. We have enjoyed the modest amenities she offers, the shoal draft for getting through thin water, and her ability to keep us relatively comfortable for all this time. There are hundreds of cruising boats available which are better suited for long ocean passages and handling really heavy weather, but we are quite satisfied with our boat for what we are doing.
Day 86: Thu 5 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 55' Lon: W 078° 38'
Diane thought the ride at anchor was a bit rolly, but I slept in the main saloon and thought it was fine. When the tidal current had the hatches facing somewhat crosswise to the wind, it got a little warm below, but it was comfortable enough.
For the first time since we left, I could not copy (understand) anything Chris Parker said in the early weather forecast, so I turned off the radio. We knew what the wind and waves were doing since it had been steady all night; plus we had the previous days' forecasts. Even Diane was eager to leave early, so we weighed anchor at 0700 and took off on a great beam reach for about 4 hours averaging almost 6 kts.
There was no excitement during the passage, although it did get shallow on the final approach to West End. We debated staying in the marina overnight and elected not to. Diane could have said yes and that would have been fine, but she saw no need. Obviously, had there been weather concerns, we would have taken a slip without hesitation. There was one other boat (a sailboat, of course) in the anchorage adjacent to the marina breakwater.
Our cell phones have not had a signal we can use for over 4 weeks, and they still don't here, so those of you who usually get a phone call know why we haven't. I expect we will be making a lot of calls once we get to Florida and back into coverage.
We do hope to be able to get Internet access here for the first time in a while, so I will explain our plans: We hope to cross the Gulf Stream back to Lake Worth, Florida tomorrow. From there, if weather permits, we will head south in the ocean close to the coastline to Port Everglades, then Key Biscayne, then Key Largo in three manageable days. In Key Largo, we expect to catch up on some provisioning, do laundry, refill the water tanks, and maybe wash down the boat properly for the first time in three months.
By the time we leave Key Largo, it will be about 11 Jun. We will need to decide soon thereafter if we want to head for the Dry Tortugas on the way home. A lot will depend on the weather and how we feel, of course. Once we are in Florida, our Internet access does not become simple or guaranteed, but will be more frequent than lately, we hope.
[This is the final installment of the questions my friend, Kate. asked. We may or many not get any more Internet until we reach Florida in about 2 weeks, so don't get concerned if this is the last entry for a while.]
What have you learned about yourself?
I have learned that I like cruising a lot, but am not quite as interested in extensive exploration as I could be. For instance, when we visit a cay, we are happy to hit all the highlights and perhaps a bit more, without needing to exhaust all the possibilities. We get eager to move on after a few days in any one place, even if it is nice there. Maybe that will change in later cruises and when there is no definite time limit.
What have you found to be the most inconvenient?
Let's just say the toilet bowl was designed for people the size of female gymnasts more than typical adults.
Do you ever feel claustrophobic?
No. As long as I am not overly hot, I am very comfortable on the boat. When there is no breeze and it is hot and humid, I am borderline miserable. Diane tolerates the heat much better, but she feels similarly once her threshold is reached. I don't think we ever had a time when the boat felt "too small" and that one of us wished the other was farther away. Of course, you'll need to get Diane's story on that.
What would you have changed with your preparations?
So far, everything we did to the boat worked out well. Next time, I would not need to spend so much time and money on the boat and could concentrate on little things to make life more convenient such as better, easier, and more reliable communication methods; and maybe an iPod device to have more songs available without carrying and changing CDs.
What would you have changed with your Boat?
Not much. Our Catalina 36 is a well-built coastal cruiser with some limitations for any serious offshore work. We really can't change the basic design, so between the previous owner and us, we added things to make the cruising life better, safer, and easier. We have: solar power to supply all our energy needs with a high-output engine alternator as a backup; davits to safely carry the dinghy during passages in unprotected waters, and an engine hoist to safely move the 90 lb engine on and off the dinghy; a large bimini to keep the sun off and removable dodger to keep the wind and spray at bay; a color chartplotter as our primary navigation method with a backup GPS device, plus paper charts; lots of good stowage locations inside the boat for gear and provisions; a VHF radio with handheld backup for short-range and an SSB radio for long-range communication; a stereo system with cockpit speakers; two good anchors and lots of chain and nylon rode with an electric windlass to haul it in easily and a salt water wash down pump to get the mud off; a monitoring system for our water tanks and waste holding tank to eliminate surprises; 20 gals of extra diesel fuel in four jugs; an extra propane cylinder; an 1800 watt inverter to convert 12VDC to 120VAC for certain appliances like the chargers for the camera, computer, cell phones, even the microwave if we want to; 78 gals of fresh water in three separate tanks; a 12VDC refrigeration system with a large volume in the refrigerator space which works pretty well; and more.
What would you have changed with your Route?
Not much. We crossed from Florida as much south as reasonable to do, and then headed south to get into warmer water early since it was only late March. We didn't start heading north until late April, to give the water a chance to warm up in the north. It may prove that the opposite direction would have been better for sailing efficiency, though. Getting to the Abacos from Florida lets the gulf stream work with you. Getting back from the Abacos means fighting the stream's current or making a northerly landfall and sailing south along the coast.
What would you have changed with your dingy?
We greatly appreciate the dinghy that our friend, Jim Carlile, sold us for a great price. It has been very reliable. What we have learned out here, though, is that the biggest hard-bottomed dinghy you can afford and carry is the best. You really want to be able to plane in substantial chop to avoid the wallowing and spray that you get going off-plane. Without the hard-bottom, you really can't plane well in anything rough and that makes a big difference. I also would not have less than the 10 HP engine we have for 80 per cent of usage we have seen.
Is this the best time of the year for this type of cruise?
Hard to say. Many people come to the Bahamas in late Fall and stay though March. Others come in mid-winter, or come (like us) in March or April. The earlier you come, the more northers (strong northerly winds) you will experience. Later, you can get afternoon squalls, and really late is hurricane season. We should be back in Punta Gorda before any named storms form - we hope.
What has scared you the most? Weather? Moorings? Safety (crime)?
The scariest time for me was being anchored upwind of power lines along the shore in the Florida keys when the wind was blowing 20 kts and more. I put out two well-set anchors to give me piece of mind, but I kept thinking it was a bad move to be in that particular location at that time. When I weighed the anchors, it was obvious the bottom holding had been incredibly good, but it was still scary.
We have not felt the least bit threatened by crime against our persons or our boat, but we did hear stories of recent thefts in Nassau. As a precaution, we locked our boat in Nassau and Marsh Harbor anytime we left it, but otherwise have taken no special precautions. From everything I have gathered in my years of researching the cruising life (books, Internet archives, message boards with other active cruisers), theft among cruisers is almost unheard of. If anything, another cruiser seeing something strange happening on or near your boat is likely to deter any crime.
What does happen, though, is that in higher population areas where the local culture has been infiltrated by a few with criminal intent (often immigrants), you will see theft from time to time. You have to realize that the value of a cruising boat can be more than someone on a small island may earn in their lifetime. It may give some a sense that theft from these rich people is not a crime.
What has been your favorite part so far?
For me it is probably seeing the beautiful, clear water all around (except in a few enclosed and busy harbors). The snorkeling has been good overall, with some incredible highpoints. Coupled with that are the generally better wind patterns and the time to wait for decent weather so that we are sailing a lot more here than we would be if we cruised back on the west coast of Florida.