05/09/2013, 40 miles off coastal Georgia
Mary Adele, a Shannon 38 who motored up the ICW with us from Lake worth to St Augustine
After a week of waiting, we are finally off again. Well we have been moving, but inside the ICW. We motored for over 200 miles over four days with mostly north-west winds. Offshore and further north, gales were producing 11-16' seas, so we just chugged on up in the shelter of the ICW. After four days, it was time for a break in St Augustine, where we picked up a mooring for two nights as the weather finally began to improve.
St Augustine is North America's oldest city, founded by the Spanish. And its architecture still has a very Spanish flavor to it. And much of it has been preserved. So we spent a day wandering the old cobblestone streets, busy with tourists. But there is no grocery store downtown, so we walked back to the boat with just a few bananas and avocados from a convenience store.
Back aboard, we tucked in down below, out of the dying, but still cold north wind. In fact, we have had the heater on a couple of cool mornings. But with the return of the southerly winds, the temperatures have improved.
With a forecast for winds of SSW@15-20, we headed out the sometimes tricky St Augustine inlet. In rough conditions it can easily become dangerous to impassible. There are no charts showing buoy placements because they are relocated so frequently. But today we had mild conditions and had no problems locating all the buoys. And a couple of other sailboats followed us out as well.
Once out we bore off to the NNE and began a nice quiet sail in 12-15 knots and 2'-3' seas, very mild conditions.
The most excitement was spending the afternoon trying to avoid a navy live firing exercise. The ships would periodically announce their position and require a 15 mile exclusion zone. I altered course, and we were clear. But the next position announcement showed them to have moved towards us. So we altered course again and called them. And on it went through the afternoon. At one point they called us and instructed us to sail east. I pointed out that this would have me heading straight for them. After a few minutes, I gave them our position. They had mistaken another boat for us, so we just carried on. By the end of the day, we stopped worrying, but they came to within 2 miles of us, with no comment. Who knows??? But at least we have made it out of Florida!
Through the night the winds lightened, so we were motor-sailing for much of it. At one point I was busy watching 4 container ships passing around us within 3 miles, but with radar and AIS, we were safely through. Tomorrow will bring us to Charleston where we will store the boat until mid-summer. We'll haul out, strip the sails and canvass off and generally put Estelle in lay-up mode. Then we'll fly home next week until late June when we'll finish the trip. Our original plan was to get to Virginia where we left her a few years ago, but weather delays have changed that plan.
05/02/2013, North Lake Worth, Fla
On Tuesday, I called Chris Parker as usual. In past years, we have sailed directly from Miami to Charleston in light sunny winds, using the gulf stream to speed us along. But not this year. Chris' forecast was for a full week of squally weather. And Tuesday was the least bad of all, so we decided to head for Lake Worth, a 45 mile trip along the coast. From there we could head up the ICW until conditions improve. The morning went as planned, light southerlies with enough following current to move us at 8-9 knots. But by afternoon, things changed... We watched two squalls bear down on us, dump some rain, but no lightning close. Then the wind dropped. Then swung to the north into our path, then the engine stopped pumping cooling water, still 15 miles from the nearest inlet. Running at low rpm's produced enough cooling water to maintain the engine temperatures, but we shut it down just in case. After all, we are a sail boat, so we sailed. Slowly the wind swung east, giving us a beautiful close reach to the Lake Worth inlet. Arriving to face an outgoing tidal current of four knots, we were thankful for the freshening wind to push us through the currents and chop. Inside we turned on the engine and eased our way into the anchorage, and dropped anchor. Wednesday, I spent most of the day trying to sort out the problem. First check the raw water impeller; it looked fine. Re-assemble the pump. Now no water at any speed. Check for air lock, nothing. Again I removed the pump and decided to replace the impeller in spite of it looking fine and having less than 200 hours on it. AHA! Problem discovered, the impeller had broken between the metal hub and the rubber outer ring. The damage could not be seen without removing it. So new impeller installed and pump re-installed, all was well. In mid-afternoon we headed north to North Lake Worth where we anchored for the night, settling in as the first squall of the day hit. The night was quiet with just a couple of minor showers. Today has been just about constant rain with winds and thunder in squalls rolling through every hour or so. The forecast says this will continue for two more days. So today we dinghied ashore between squalls to do some shopping, and tomorrow we'll head up the ICW for the duration of the bad weather. The latest plan is to motor inside up to Port Canaveral and head out for an overnight sail to Charleston. But as we have seen, our plans are subject to change.
04/29/2013, Miami, Fla
Mandy, our bartender in Bruce's bar
In spite of Key West's attractions, we got up Saturday morning and changed plans. Winds were in the south and due to shift east for an extended period, so it was the ideal day for a nice sail on our first leg up the keys to Miami. We called Espiritu, who were planning on leaving on Sunday with us, and they agreed. So the plans for biking around Key West were abandoned.
But in the five days we were there, we enjoyed ourselves with lunches in open air cafes, two organ concerts and catching up on internet stuff and the world in general. I had contacted an outfit in Marathon that specialized in fuel polishing... cleaning water and gunk out of fuel and cleaning the tanks, so it was set up for Monday morning.
Our sail up was ideal, beam reach in 10-15 knots of breeze and sunny skies. Arriving off Marathon, we called the city marina to arrange a mooring. We passed through the narrow entrance with instructions to locate ball T-4, and after a bit of wandering, we picked it up in the crowded mooring field. Marathon is an odd sort of place. The mooring field fills the harbor with hundreds of mooring balls. It attracts many boaters who arrive in the fall and stay the winter. There are lots of organized activities, and lots of rules... a few too many of both for us. But we managed to fill the days with projects and touring. And on Monday morning, we headed into Marathon Boatyard, and came back out three hours later $300 poorer and with two clean tanks. In the process we had about 5 gallons pumped out, full of water. We're still not sure where it came from, but its gone. Swinging round to the fuel dock, we heard a call saying "We're from PEI!" At the dock we met Joyce and David Livingston, Islanders now in Halifax, and planning on cruising in the near future. After a short chat and another few hundred dollars of fuel, we were back to the mooring ball for the night. In the morning, it was time to move on again. We dropped the mooring and heqaded out. There are two ways to get to Miami from Marathon, up Hawk Channel, exposed to the ocean seas, or up the very shallow back side in sheltered waters. Rather than take the crashing of a few days of sailing to windward in strong winds, we elected to head up the inside. So we motored through Seven Mile Bridge and headed north. By days end, we found a nice sheltered anchorage, and dropped the anchor just as a 25 knot gust hit, setting the anchor firmly. In a breezy but warm evening, we had dinner in the cockpit, watching a manatee surface for air periodically. As evening descended, we headed below to the quieting winds. During the night, I was awakened by a heavy thump on the hull, followed by a burst of air. I think the manatee surfaced from beneath us in the dark and hit the hull, hopefully with no harm done! By days end, the anchor was down in No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne, a favorite anchorage in Miami. It is a beautiful anchorage, and, in mid-week, a quiet spot in the heart of the city. And with a short walk to the center of the beautiful village of Key Biscayne, a great spot. Next morning, we motored round to Crandon Marina, a city run marina on Key Biscayne, and picked up a mooring.
We left the boat, picked up a rental car and headed to Naples to visit ur friends Bruce and Dianne MacDonald. Since we were both celebrating 40th anniversaries, we went out for an excellent dinner in Naples. and after, Bruce took us out to an entertaining bar... A great break, it was the first night in three months we slept off the boat. Bruce and I did some surf fishing and Jeannie and Dianne did some shopping.
On Monday, it was time to head back. Back aboard, time to plan our departure for points north.
04/19/2013, Key West, Fla
40th Anniversary Dinner
We arrived here on Sunday after a crossing that gave us a bit of everything, wind, and lots of it, light airs and everything in between. We left Isla Mujeres on Friday morning in company with Chris & Liz on Espiritu and with Tension Reliever with Rick and Roseanne aboard. Rounding the northern tip of Isla Mujeres, we quickly found ourselves in SE@18-22 kts and in the grip of the Yucatan Current sweeping us north at 2.5 knots. So with wind and current boosting us, we saw our speed surge to a max of 12.5 knots... excellent.
By sunset we were well across the Yucatan Channel and trying to sense the strong eddy in the Gulf Stream north of Cuba. The trick was to pass north-west of it to avoid being on the back side, and to cross above it without getting swept into the Gulf of Mexico.
But winds were no problem. By early morning, we were again romping north-east in 20-25 kts of wind and some very sloppy seas knocking us around pretty well... the washing machine effect. Although we didn't know it at the time, we took some salt water in our starboard fuel tank, a problem that didn't show itself until late afternoon.
By noon, the winds had lightened to just 15 knots and the seas, in the shelter of the Cuban coast, quickly fell away.
By late afternoon, Espiritu reported their autopilot had failed and so they would be hand-steering. As the winds were forecast to freshen from the south-west, we decided to modify our course and, in the light winds, motor-sail through the Rebecca Shoal Channel, past the Dry Tortugas, then north of the string of keys separating the Dry Tortugas from Key West, a distance of about 45 miles.
As we approached in the late afternoon, the wind lightened and we began to motorsail. All went well for a few minutes when the engine began to surge then die. A check showed a very dirty fuel filter after only 20 hours running time. Filter changed, we were off again. But shortly after, the engine began to smoke and stall. Another filter check indicated the fuel filter full of water. Our first suspicion was that when we filled up in Isla Mujeres, we had gotten some bad fuel. If so, we had a problem as we put it in both tanks. However, we decided to change tanks to see, and our problem disappeared. Hourly checks on the fuel filter (with a water separator) showed all was fine. So our only conclusion was that in rough seas, we must have gotten water in through the vent.
So as the sun set, we motored into Rebecca Shoal Channel, with Espiritu following our stern light while hand-steering. Bydawn we had cleared the shoals and turned east for Key West.
As forecast, the wind had piped up, so we were happy to be in the lee of the Marquesa Keys, knocking down the ocean swell for us. And by early afternoon we had picked up a mooring in the Key West mooring field.
Monday morning was check in with Customs and Immigration. All went slowly but well, and early afternoon saw Estelle, Espiritu and Tension Reliever all seated in an outdoor restaurant for some good junk food. With strong easterlies forecast for the rest of the week, we settled in to Key West, enjoying its unique culture... Home to the last of the hippies.
By weeks end it was time to move. We have made arrangements to have the fuel tank cleaned in Marathon, so Saturday we'll be off, weather permitting.
04/19/2013, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Lunch at Mangos with Gerard Watts & Helene Robichaud
We never did get to El Cid Marina. Sailing up the coast on Easter Monday, we were having such a good sail, that we decided to keep going, arriving at Isla Mujeres Marina just after noon. Off the outer harborr to Isla Mujeres, we dropped our sails and motored in through the anchorage. We were surprised to see Paul and Natalie Schnider on Renegade with the yellow flag flying from their halyard, indicating they had just arrived. We last saw Renegade in Providencia where they left heading north. And we swung past Espiritu with Liz and Chris Chesney, who we last saw in Panama.
The marina is normally full with sport fishing boats from Florida, but the season is over so it was pretty well empty. Tying up, the dock assistant said to wait until tomorrow to sign in and clear customs & immigration. After a long sail, we were grateful to take his advice and just tided up and relaxed for the day. Next morning, with coffee in the cockpit I looked out to see Paul and Cabot Lyman approaching by dinghy. We last saw Chewink with Cabot and Heidi in Roatan. So three boats whose plans like ours, change, and we meet again!
Paul and Cabot borrowed our hand-held depth sounder to check depths for Renegade's 7' draft. Hours later we had two dock neighbors as Renegade and Chewink tied up. After some waiting, some writing and some money exchanged, we were all checked in.
Then the following day, Lynn and Howard on Swift Current arrived from El Cid. Finally, Hugh and Anne Jenings aboard Serendippety arrived. So we had a full marina and had lots of rounds of lunches and dinners around the town.
But all the time we were watching for a weather window, and after a week we were ready to go. Chatting daily with Chris parker, we thought we could see a three day window beginning Friday. Chewink and Renegade, both big heavy boats, left Thursday and reported back boisterous seas and strong winds, so we waited and on Friday morning, we lefy just Serendippety alone on the dock and slipped out of Isla Mujeres in the early morning light.
04/01/2013, Yucatan Channel
Cay Caulker, Belize
We woke before dawn yesterday morning to make final preps for our overnight hop from Belize to Mexico. First check was the wind. We have been waiting for it to clock to the south-east as our course for much of the way is NNE. And sure enough, is had a bit of south in the light airs. So dinghy lashed down, breakfast eaten and cleared away and we were ready to head out.
We headed out through the reef at Long Cay Cut, just 5 miles south of Cay Caulker where we stopped Saturday for a few fresh supplies and a walk. Easter weekend is a big affair in Belize and Cay Caulker was making the most of it. Its tiny dirt streets and beaches were crowded with people of all descriptions from lots of locals of all ages to backpackers from all over, plus a few Yatties like us. But there were only eight boats in the anchorage, so we weren't too many. Our trip so far can be best described with one word... accelerating. The further north we get, the stronger the Yucatan Current. By the time we run between Cozumel and the mainland we will have 3.5 knots of current driving us north. As I write, we are 68 miles to El Cid resort and marina, where we will check in to Mexico and spend a few days. Then off to Isla Mujeres, just 35 miles up the coast where we will wait for a weather window for Key West. Looking out the stern I can see the Southern cross as it recedes towards the horizon on a daily basis, while off the bow, the North Star rises to greet us as we work our way north. A few more miles north and the Southern cross will be below the horizon, not to be seen until we return south. Not sure when that will be.
03/28/2013, Bluefield Range
Jim with Lynn and Althea Young on St George's Cay
As the sun rose behind us, we watched as the depth sounder came to life. Approaching a reef is always a bit un-nerving as you go from ocean depths to "on-soundings" then watch nervously as the depths rapidly drop. And they finally settled out at about what the charts said. And "about what the charts say" is as good as it gets here in Belize. The only official charts (government charts) are such large scale that they are just about useless. We have two others, one paper and one electronic that purport to have more detail, but they need to be treated with caution too.
So with the sun rising behind us, we slowly entered Gladden Cut. The small ocean swell quickly disappeared and in the light winds, we wound our way through the opening. At Gladden Cut, the reef is about 20 miles off the mainland. So we slowly headed for Placencia where we would check in.
After eight miles, we intersected a former track we had taken when here in 2009, so we were able to relax. Passing Laughing Bird Cay, we rounded up and headed west for Placencia. We anchored in the small harbor in company with 10 other cruisers and a few charter boats. As we had made such good time, we headed ashore to check in. That means a short trip in the "Hokey Pokey Water Taxi" over to Mango Creek, where we were met by a taxi waiting for just the likes of us.
Checking in in Big Creek requires a taxi ride, first to Immigration, then Port Captain, and finally Customs. But all was done in a friendly and efficient manner. In fact, among the changes we have noticed is the improvements in the check-in procedure. All is now courteous, efficient, and absent the "extra fees" for which receipts are not given. by 3 pm we were back in Placencia, had an excellent ice cream at the Tutti-Fruti Ice Cream Shop, and back aboard for an early evening.
Next day we headed in to town for a few items, an internet fix and to stretch our legs. The forecast of bad weather had been delayed, so on Friday we headed out to the cays. Our destination was South Long Coco, a cay about 1 mile long. As we arrived we saw three boats anchored closely together, and we soon learned why. Normally cruisers try to space themselves to give everyone some privacy, but at South Long Coco the available anchoring space is tiny. Other than one small sand patch the water is either 70' deep or hard rocky bottom. We made one failed anchoring attempt, but gave up and changed our plans to nearby Wippary Cay. Here the owners run a very small sport fishing operation and a small bar. They also maintain two free moorings. So we picked one up and went in for a "Belikan" and a chat.
Next morning we headed for North Long Coco, a few miles (not surprisingly) north of South Long Coco. We spent two beautiful days here, snorkeling a beautiful coral patch, and walking on the cay.
One of the big changes we have seen from 2009 is the amount of development, both ashore and on the cays. Previously, there were a few resorts on some of the larger cays, but today, most cays have either a small resort or a private home on them, preventing cruisers from landing. South Long Coco falls into this class. But North Long Coco is different. It has been bought by a huge development on the mainland that keeps the cay for owners and guests to visit. But they allow cruisers to land, and are happy to chat. The caretaker is happy to see you too, and is equally happy of gifts of beer and food, we found. So we spent our time snorkeling and strolling the beaches chatting with visitors. By Sunday night, the anchorage had swelled to eight boats from the two there when we arrived.
Monday brought a forecast for three days of strong north winds and squalls, so with the other boats in the anchorage, we were underway heading for cover. After a quick trip through Placencia Harbor, determining that it was way too rolly for comfort, we headed for Sapodilla Lagoon, about 15 miles north of Placencia.
As we sailed north along the Placencia Peninsula, we were constantly gawking at the new development ashore. The change in four years is unbelievable. We had spent some stormy weather in Sapodilla Lagoon in 2009, and enjoyed its quiet tranquility and beauty. It isn't too difficult to get in to if you go slowly. But it has none of the easy markings of coral, so it is go slow. About half a mile off, we were surprised to find the best set of navigation marks in the Western Caribbean showing us our way in.
Inside the lagoon we anchored with five other boats, and found a gigantic development complete with monstrous marina ashore. Luckily the development is not on the shores of the lagoon, but behind it, accessed by a new canal dredged out. Sanctuary Belize is a development of 12,000 acres with 1,450 building lots, of which 400 have reportedly been sold. They have dug canals all over the place, and construction is underway. In the morning we headed in to the marina in the dinghy and were warmly welcomed by the Harbourmaster.
Over the next two days, we walked around, toured the canals by dinghy, saw the "beach" with its elegant hotel tents. There are some beautiful homes already built, but they still have a very long way to go before it is declared a success. Plans include hotels, condos restaurants and golf. We were assured they would have it up and running shortly, but the construction pace looked suspiciously casual. Time will tell. The Bahamas and the Caribbean are littered with abandoned projects similar to this, but it would be a shame to see this abandoned, leaving a huge scar on the landscape.
We left Sapodilla Lagoon this morning, heading north. The forecast for the week-end looks good for an overnight trip up to Mexico. So we're planning to see our friend Lynn Young at his property on St George's Cay, then up to Cay Caulker, where we'll wait to head out on Saturday or Sunday. Just over 200 miles and with the strong Yucatan Current boosting us along, it should be a trip of 36 hours or less to El Cid Marina, where we will spend a few days. We have left lots to see in Belize, so I guess we'll just have to return to this beautiful place, hopefully before too much more development.
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03/21/2013, 30 miles off Gladden Cut
We're not complaining about the heat, but we are having to keep it in mind. The nights cool off to the high 70's and by 9 am its just too hot for much but sitting and reading, limeing (talk with neighboring boats) or swimming.
And that about sums up our 5 days in West End. It is a beautiful anchorage, one of the nicest we have been in. To enter you run through a marked cut in the reef about 60' wide with depths from "off-soundings" (too deep for the depth sounder, meaning greater than 400') to 8' in about 200 yds, a nail biting experience. Then you pass through the reef with waves breaking on either side of you, and you're in... swell gone and flat clear water.
We picked up a park mooring and quickly settled in. We were in with two other boats we have met, and were soon joined by Chewink, with Cabot and Heidi Lyman aboard there Seguin 47' (built in Cabot's boatyard, Lyman-Morse, in Thomaston Maine).
All settled in the anchorage, we headed for the dive shop to arrange diving for the following morning. Next, we wandered the beach heading down to West Beach. Its a 2 mile walk with small resorts continuously lining the shore. By then it was time for sundowners on Appleseeds (Pete and Eileen, better known as Ace, from Vancouver), and the day was done.
The following morning we went diving off our dinghies, another beautiful reef. In many places we have seen reefs under obvious stress, but here they seem healthy with lots of healthy coral and great fish diversity. In mid-afternoon, Swift Current (Howard and Lynn from Vancouver) came in and picked up a mooring, so our fleet was complete. Swift Current had been delayed in French Harbour having their engine mounts replaced, Three had sheared off completely on the trip from Providencia. But all was now well. So dinner for all aboard Chewink, and we had managed to fill another day.
On it went with snorkeling, diving and eating until the weather forecast told us it was time to move. So early Wednesday (yesterday), Swift current headed out for Mexico. We delayed our departure for Belize until evening. The trip is just slightly too long to do in daylight, so we decided to leave at dusk, arriving at the reef cut at dawn so we would have plenty of excellent light for the required "visual navigation". In Belize, we'll check in with Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain, then play "Hide the Boat" from strong (gale force gusts) winds on the weekend. Then next week we'll head out to explore the beautiful offshore cays with more snorkeling. Hopefully our friend, Lynn Young, from Belize, can join us for a few days.