04/17/2013, Cayo Costa, Boca Grande Pass, FL
Welcoming Committee April 17, 2013
As planned, we departed Marathon just before 7:00 on April 15. We dropped the mooring pennant and slipped quietly into the morning to start the long journey north toward Charlotte Harbor. Our first stop was the anchorage on the north side of Indian Key in the Everglades. We prefer the anchorage to that in Little Shark River because (a) it is further north and gets us farther along on our journey, (b) it is not so desolate - there is open space, an island with sandy beaches, and often other boats, and (c) it is not so buggy - but if the winds are off-shore and light, watch out! The sail to Indian Key was hot - light air and downwind - so when we arrived and anchored, we got in the water to cool off. There was quite a current so we stuck close together and by Gratitude. Fortunately, there was a good breeze so no mosquitoes!
Tuesday morning, we dawdled and left Indian Key "late" - at about 8:00 AM. The trip to Naples (our next stop) is less than half the distance as from Marathon to Indian Key, so we decided we could relax a bit. Although it was shorter, the trip was no less hot. Light winds from over the aft deck and hot sunshine left us languishing in the cockpit. Lauren got a pail of fresh water and towels so we could cool ourselves off while underway. There would be no swimming in Naples. The water is not very inviting (the canals do not really get well flushed), although there is a fair amount of wildlife so it probably is not too bad. We anchor in the midst of multi-million dollar homes, so we try to be respectful of other peoples' back yards and vantage points. Our anchorage this time was a bit further into the canal system, closer to the downtown, so we could visit a friend and that enabled us to see some different homes (one probably close to 20,000 square feet) and locales.
Because of doctor appointments, our friend John was not able to meet with us on Wednesday morning, so we got an early start (7:00 at the breakwater) to make the long leg to Boca Grande Pass into Charlotte Harbor. We set all sails upon departing Naples and enjoyed a wonderful broad reach at over 7 knots all the way past Sanibel Island and the turn north. We had to start the engine to head into Boca because the wind was in our teeth. We pulled into Pelican Bay in Cayo Costa state Park, one of our favorite places, and, after launching the dinghy, hopped in the water to cool off from another hot day.
As we passed the north end of Sanibel Island, we saw a lot of birds and heard a chirping sound, which we thought was from the birds. It turned out to be a huge pod - the biggest we have seen - of dolphins. While they undoubtedly were there feeding, we like to think that they were welcoming us back to our home waters. Several swam alongside and did body rolls so they could look up at us. It was quite a sight and very heartwarming. They are wonderful creatures and especially delightful in their natural environment. We both were reminded of the pair of dolphins that escorted us out of the Myakka River on our very first cruise. Hopefully, they will join us on our future trips!
04/14/2013, Marathon, FL
Marathon and the Keys April 14, 2013
From West Bay, we sailed to the NW Channel (where the deep water - over 3000' - meets the Bahama Banks - only 14-20' deep) and thence on to the Banks, where we anchored overnight in the shallows behind Mackie Shoals. En route from West Bay, we traveled with Onward, until just before Mackie Shoals, when Joe turned northward to anchor out near the Great Isaacs (he is heading on to northern Florida and wanted a better and shorter angle of approach for his crossing). One Eyed Parrots anchored about one hour after we did - it was nice to have company. For our anchorage in the "middle of nowhere", we selected a spot just west of a shallow (about 7' at low tide) ridge to try to get some protection from the waves. Although the day was pretty benign, at 10-12 knots, the wind can build some pretty rocky waves and conditions given enough time and distance. We did not roll, but we rocked fore and aft all night. The trip from West Bay to Mackie Shoals took 12 hours, all hand steered.
At 5:30 the next morning (April 9), we departed Mackie Shoals at just after 5:30 AM. It was pitch dark. Although we were not worried about hitting other boats (we could see the two there - one came in well after dark and anchored nearby) or any rocks or reefs (there are none out there), it was disconcerting to try to get one's bearings in such deep dark. Compass and GPS soon cleared the way and we were off, with all sails set, for the pass between Gun and Cat Cays, south of Bimini. We passed through there (madly using up the last of our Bahamas air time) and pressed on to Florida. Because the Gulf Stream flows North, one normally sets a more southerly course than the direct leg to the east coast destination. We set ours too far south (the Stream must have been flowing more slowly) and we had to turn back north as we approached Florida. We anchored in No-Name Harbor on Key Biscayne 12 hours after our early morning departure - another 12 hour day of hand steering. We welcomed sleep that night.
Our friends Dave and Mary, and their friends Don and Charlotte, on Sanity II departed from Miami's Government Cut at 7:00 the next morning, and we were just ahead of them out of Biscayne Bay. Next stop, about 7 hours later, was the north anchorage at Rodriguez Key. We all welcomed a swim, shower, and dinner aboard Sanity II.
April 11 was another day with no rest for the weary as we picked up anchor and departed Rodriguez for the 7 hour trip to Marathon. As we were weighing anchor, we decided to sail under mizzen and jib alone as the winds already were blowing 15+ at 7:00 am. We are glad we did because the winds increased to 20+ and we had stormy conditions and rain on the trip south. With a smaller sail plan, we had much less weather helm and a more comfortable (i.e. less taxing) sail than otherwise would have been the case. Sanity II also sailed under reefed main and jib and experienced a twisty trail nonetheless. We arrived Marathon and took on fuel and water to replenish supplies last filled in George Town. The crews of Gratitude and Sanity II dinghied to a nearby restaurant for dinner and fell contentedly to sleep by 9:30 pm.
After shopping and cooking on Friday, April 12, we joined the crew from Sanity II on Sombrero Beach and enjoyed soaking in the water and keeping cool. Dinner aboard Gratitude was Chicken Marsala topped off with a Rum Raisin Tira-misu. The Admiral outdid herself on that one.
Sanity II departed on Saturday and Gratitude stayed put to do laundry, catch up on email, paperwork, bills, etc. before resuming our northward course to Charlotte Harbor, where we will put Gratitude to bed. We plan to depart Marathon on Monday, April 15, and arrive in the yard the 20th, after spending a day sailing and playing with Tracy and David, Jona, Elise, and Dane Christensen, who are living in Tampa and exploring the waters and wilds of Florida. (Tracey is one of our God-daughters and we have known her since she was born.)
While hand-steering is a lot harder than pushing the button on the auto-pilot, we have learned from the experience to pay more attention to sail trim to balance the boat and not make the auto-pilot do all the work. Not only is that hard on the auto-pilot, it consumes a lot of electricity and is hard on the rigging. So, a good lesson has come from a failed system.
04/07/2013, West Bay, Nassau
Farewell Exumas, Until Next Year April 7, 2013
We waited around Staniel Cay for several days for our replacement parts for the thrust bearing for the auto pilot. The parts arrived on April 2 on the 4:00 flight and we started the installation. It took several attempts to get it right, or as close to right as we could because Raymarine changed the dimensions on the parts since out unit was built. The linear drive functioned fine manually, but the true test would come when installed. It failed that test, so we hand steered north to Cambridge Cay, where we rejoined friends Burt and Pru on Exuberant and met a new host of cruisers, including Pike and Linda on Tioga, a Hinckley 51. We really enjoyed them and Burt and Pike, both having experienced auto pilot failures, came over on the morning of April 5 and helped troubleshoot. We think the computer on the AP has failed, so we are resigned to hand steering home.
On April 6, we departed Cambridge early in the morning, after having bid farewell to our friends there. We decided to go to Highborne Cay to anchor on the west side, in the lee of the East winds. The sail up the outside was easy (actually, it was a motoring day as the winds were very light and on our nose, and then built to worthwhile, but still on the nose. En route, we chatted with Exuberant (heading north) and Tioga (heading south). It turned out that Burt and Pru decided to push farther than they originally planned to shorten their legs to the Abacos, and they ended up anchoring right next to us. We had cocktails and dinner aboard Exuberant ant then really said goodbye this morning. Their first stop today was Royal Island, outside of Spanish Wells, where our trip really began this season. We headed to West Bay on the west end of New Providence (Nassau) Island because it provides a shorter route to the banks and the USA. While it is not a lot shorter, every mile helps when one is hand steering.
We had good winds all the way and sailed - all sails, even - right to the entrance to West Bay. En route, we passed Steven Spielberg's 235' (+/-) motor yacht as well as several others anchored off the SW coast of Nassau. The area is Lyford Cay and its associated marina, very high end and where the truly rich and famous play. Johnny Depp (who owns an island in the Exumas) keeps his boat there as do John Travolta and several other names we dare not drop (but the initials of one are YSL). Our trip north was accompanied by Onward and One Eyed Parrots (whose owners each lost an eye as youngsters, hence the name), whom we had met in George Town and islands north. So, we invited them for cocktails aboard Gratitude. On the way, we caught a fish, which Van filleted, and Lauren made ceviche.
Because all of us are heading back to FL, we discussed our planned routes and the fact that none will be doing overnight passages (we, because of no auto pilot, Joe, on Onward, because he sails single handed, and Ken and Leigh, on OEP, because they simply do not like overnights). The plan is to depart at "Oh-dark 30" and press on as far as we feel comfortable onto or across the banks. If we can, we may cross to FL on Tuesday. If not, then Wednesday before the next front nails us down.
While we do not like to see these trips come to an end, and we really do not like leaving the Exumas - where the water is incredibly beautiful (the photo is not from Nassau!) - end they must and so we press on. Once we get to FL, we probably will find a place to do a lay day and sit for a spell before heading up the west coast to the boat yard. We will write more, but the Bahamas soon will be behind us. Stay tuned for what FL has in store!
04/02/2013, Big Majors Spot
Big Majors Spot, Staniel Cay, Exuma April 2, 2013
Because we have had no internet for some time, we are very far behind in our blog posts. Here is a quick itinerary to here: We departed George Town and headed north to Rudder Cut Cay, then to Little Farmer's Cay, then up to Black Point (where everyone stops to do laundry as it is the "best Laundromat in the Bahamas" - no joke!). From Black Point, we came up here to await our auto pilot part.
Our good friends Dave and Mary, whom we first met several years ago upon our return from the Bahamas and with whom we have cruised since, have a trusted - and responsive - Raymarine representative in Virginia, so they ordered the part from them. The part was available in the warehouse in New Hampshire so it was to be shipped to VA and thence to Dave and Mary in Florida. As we have come to expect, Raymarine did not ship the part when initially ordered, so it was delayed getting to VA. It arrived there last week and they were to ship it to Dave and Mary for arrival yesterday or today. (No word yet!) Then, Dave and Mary will deliver the part to Watermakers Air in Fort Lauderdale and it will be flown to Staniel Cay. The good news is Dave and Mary and Watermakers are primed and ready to go; the bad news is the part has not yet arrived. Hopefully tomorrow.
In the meanwhile, we have not been at a loss for things to do. When we first arrived here, we were astounded by the size and number of mega-yachts. There were maybe 5 sailboats in the harbor (usually, sailboats outnumber power boats) and there were literally dozens of huge motor yachts - several of 125, 130, up to 200 feet long. While we do not begrudge them their fun in the sun, often it comes with jet skis and high-powered and fast "dinghies". Now, we are not talking little inflatable's here; we are talking 20-25' powerboats with upwards of 150-200 horsepower on the transom. Makes for getting to shore so much quicker, don't ya know? Other sailors in the harbor decided to have a party ashore, so we all gathered for a nice bonfire and gab fest.
The day after we arrived, another sailboat entered; she was Stormy Weather, whom we had met several weeks ago in Pipe Creek. Ian and Elaine had taken us snorkeling / hunting for lobster then and Ian taught us a lot about lobster and where and when they may be found. So, when he came over to say he was going hunting and asked Van whether he wanted to go along, opportunity knocked. We had bought weights and a weight belt in George Town and Van had tried snorkeling with that to get accustomed to it again (he had been SCUBA certified years ago). So, Van and Ian took off just before low tide and went to a nearby inlet where there are many coral heads, rocky shelves, and other reef systems to try their luck. Ian got a nice lobster right off. Then he pointed out a large spider crab to Van, who speared that. Then, after moving to a new location, Van located and speared a nice lobster, but it backed out of the hole and Ian acted as back stop to capture it. In the process, Ian pointed out the Moray Eel that had been hiding in the hole with the lobster. On the surface, he explained that they commonly are found together and he warned never to reach in after a lobster because the moray will grab hold of one's hand and pin one down until one drowns. He has seen it and seen the scars on divers who have had to cut themselves free. Van readily assured Ian he had no intention, lobster or no, of reaching into a hole. They moved to several other locations, but the waves and surge were too great to make for comfortable diving, so they returned for a photo opportunity.
And, while awaiting the infamous part, we decided to do some work on Gratitude that we otherwise would have to do in the boat yard, where it will be brutally hot when we return. We removed hardware, sanded, and (in the case of one area) stripped the varnish from various mahogany parts and then proceeded to apply new coats of varnish to maintain the protective coating on Gratitude's outside. It is a multi-day project and, while not fun, very rewarding once completed because she shines!
Now we are ashore, getting rid of trash, checking email and posting on the internet, and even enjoying a rum drink in the sunshine. We know - it is a hard life, but someone's got to do it!
03/24/2013, Little Farmer's Cay
Here is a shot from the cave walk.
03/24/2013, Little Farmer's Cay
Little Farmer's Cay March 24, 2013
We departed George Town the morning of March 22 and motored north on flat calm seas. We trolled, but like the rest of our fishing season, caught nothing. That has seemed to be the prevailing fish story this year among cruisers - none!
Because we are working our way north slowly to get to Staniel Cay about the same time our auto pilot parts arrive (we do not yet know when), we decided to stop along the way and visit places we have not been before. So, we pulled into Rudder Cut Cay, just south of Musha Cay. A couple of other boats from George Town were there so we felt at home. It was the hottest day we have experienced, so after launching the dinghy, we fell in to cool off. The water is crystalline these days - no storms to stir things up. Then, a dinghy explore was in order and we toured the interior pond (shaped like a rudder and reached through a cut, hence the name) and surrounding islands. We visited the Margaret Lee (cruisers about 5 years older than we - encouraging!) and learned about their success finding lobsters earlier in the day. We were invited aboard Onward by Joe Rocchio and had a delightful time learning about him and his cruising experience, as well as sampling deliciously refreshing rum and sodas and his spicy biscotti.
We thought we would try hunting the next (Saturday) morning where the Margaret Lee had informed us of their good fortune, but the winds were too high and the waves too big. As a result, we bid farewell to Joe and Rudder Cut and headed to the outside for a downwind sail to Little Farmer's. The day was delightful, with a light breeze (then 10-12 knots) and we arrived at the Farmer's Cay cut just at slack tide. One does not want to pass through some of these cuts at other than slack, and certainly not when the water is going one way and the wind the other, because of the potential for loss of control in rough water in tight spots. We arranged for a mooring from Ocean Cabin and hooked up. (We subsequently learned we had picked up the wrong orange mooring and had to relocate, but that was no problem - despite the intervening Ocean Cabin Rum Special drink, with 5 different rums and liqueurs.) Van checked the mooring to make sure the tackle was in good condition and found all was well.
This morning, we went to the local Baptist Church - St. Mary's Union - for Palm Sunday Service. The congregation (including a number of fellow cruisers) gathered at the docks and proceeded with a palm processional to the church at the top of the hill. Upon entering, we found it pleasingly air conditioned, which was good because it was hot outside and the service lasted 2¾ hours! It was what one might call a typical African American service, with a lot of singing (loud), praises, Amens, and Halleluias! Typical of most of the churches we have visited in The Bahamas, the visitors were asked to stand and introduce themselves to the congregation. When it came our turn, and we identified our boat as named Gratitude, and the dinghy named Attitude, the female pastor announced her pleasure because one of her sermon themes was having an Attitude of Gratitude. Also typical of the island churches, we all were greeted by each of the other congregants with hugs and blessings. This being a special service, the local women were outfitted - head to toe - in sparking white outfits, hats, pearls, etc. They take great pride in their appearance, which is not for show but as a form of worship and appreciation for what they have been given.
After the service, about 9 of the cruisers took a trip (with a local "guide") to a cave in the interior of a neighboring island. The cave was delightfully cool, contained stalactites and stalagmites, and a pool of brackish water into which most waded or swam. Because of the rough conditions and the low freeboard of the guide's boat (waves washed right over the bow and sides), most of the cruisers walked along the beach to an area that was protected from the winds and high waves before getting aboard. Now that we know its location, we can guide others, as well as to "lobster beach" so-called because the lobster congregate in the shallows off-shore in certain seasons and times of day. Worth a try? We'll see.