While here on Bimini, we have explored and enjoyed some different locations and points of interest. We visited and toured the Dolphin House, built of stone, cement, tile, flotsam and jetsam found on the beach, old bottles, pieces of ceramic, etc. One man, Ashley Saunders, built it - two stories so far - by himself. He comes from a long line of builders and he decided to build something that is hurricane proof. Whether it is so, we cannot say, but the decorations, particularly on the interior, are pretty incredible and speak of a labor of love and dedication, for 20 years.
Standing on the roof of the Dolphin House (which contains the beginning of a mosaic of compass points around the world - New York, London, etc.), we had a spectacular view of the ocean, and right across the side street, a former hotel, now on the market. Mr. Saunders indicated a pretty wise view of investment properties: the place was poorly constructed (he claims the balconies are falling off) so it would take a huge sum of money to restore it, the rooms (and balconies) face north and south so have no water views, the property is set well off the harbor so there is no boat access, it is well away from the beach and has no beach access, and there is no pool. From that came the discussion of how to make a small fortune - start with a large one.
We also located and toured the Bimini Museum. There is not a lot contained there, but what there is is interesting. It obviously notes Ernest Hemingway's influence on and involvement in the islands, but there is much more regarding the locals and (primarily) Americans who loved the islands, came here to fish and invested huge sums in houses, hotels, and docks (much of which is gone), the visits of British royalty (The Bahamas became independent in about 1972 but still claim the Queen as their monarch), a visit by Martin Luther King, and a whole assortment of letters, photos, and odds and ends about local folk, nurses, teachers, land claims, etc. Virtually none of it is under glass, so its longevity is open to doubt. See it while you can!
While on our walkabout of North Bimini, on the Queens Highway, we saw a relatively new power boat up on the rocks. It sort of looked like people had come to shore to picnic, but it was well up and on the rocks, with waves washing over its transom. We later learned (from Sherry at her Beach Bar down the road) that the boat had been driven onshore only a few weeks ago by some Germans who were fleeing the authorities. After they crashed on the beach and ran down island, they were apprehended by the local police and determined to be wanted for murder in Germany. Sherry believes they now are in prison in Nassau. Let's hope.
A short water taxi ride from the Government Dock took us to South Bimini, where we explored the Bimini Sands Resort. Several of the boats entering the Bimini Islands when we did went in there for its "hurricane hole" protection, floating docks, and various amenities, including island tours, ecological tours, shark feedings, etc. An nice and protected resort, but without the local flavor of Alice Town, where we are. We walked the beaches looking for sea glass, but found none that is ready. We wandered north along the beach adjacent to the entrance channel and had to climb up, over, and around the dredge pipes en route back to the water taxi dock. Along the way, we found another excellent (?) investment opportunity with a beautiful water view. As the sign says, they are asking $2.9 million, but it is negotiable. Another small fortune in the making?
We plan to depart Bimini today, after attending a local Methodist Church service (which we have been assured will not take more than 45-60 minutes!), and make an overnight passage to Nassau. The winds are forecast to be light and variable, so likely a motor trip all the way.
We made the crossing to The Bahamas yesterday from outside of No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne to Bimini. We had arrived in Biscayne Bay on January 14, having come up the inside route via the Intracoastal Waterway. We had not attempted that in the past because we feared our draft was too deep, but Steve, on Living Well (which draws more than Gratitude) said they had made it, going aground only once. Also, the tide was forecast to be rising and high throughout most of the trip so we decided to make the effort. We are glad we did as the winds continued high on the outside and "on the nose" so it would have been a wet and bumpy ride.
We had only one spot where the water was too "thin" and we "plowed new ground" and that was just SW of Pidgeon Key in a sharp bend where we might have gotten too close to the channel marker and the sands that shift in that area. We arrived in lower Biscayne Bay and headed toward Miami, but anchored to the south off Elliot Key along with several other boats seeking a lee shelter. We spent a pleasant night there and were most impressed with the cleanliness of Biscayne Bay. (Actually, all of the water we have been in - even in Marathon - appeared cleaner than in the past. Not sure if it is weather or pollution control, but good to see.)
The next morning, Tuesday, we sailed (jib alone) to Dinner Key Marina, on the west shore of Biscayne Bay, to take on fuel, water, and to acquire a replacement macerator pump for our aft holding tank. Although we tested the old pump when the tank was installed, and it seemed to work then, it would not evacuate the tank and that is a much needed function. We had been in contact with Dave and Mary (Sanity II) and told them of our need. Dave called around, found the necessary pump, and then they picked us up and drove us to get it. We enjoyed lunch out with them and then they dropped us off to do more errands for other friends who are awaiting them (and the "barge" of spare parts they are transporting) in The Bahamas. The old pump was out, the new installed, and tested before 5:00. It was nice to have a task that took the time it should have and not four times as much despite the unexpected dip into the cruising kitty.
On Wenesday, we departed Dinner Key and motored across Biscayne Bay to anchor outside of No Name Harbor, on the southern end of Key Biscayne and a favorite jump point to go to cross the Gulf Stream. From the forest of masts, we could see that No Name was packed. Other boats arrived and several of us were anchored out to depart the next morning.
We did so, at 6:00 am, but not without some difficulty. With the strong current dictating our position, we were swung stern to the wind. We usually raise the mizzen sail before we up-anchor as it is one less sail to deal with once underway. I thought that, by raising the mizzen, we also would have more control by the wind and one wants to raise anchor into the wind. (Lauren asked whether the mizzen might not prove to be a problem, and she was right, despite my bravado assurances.) We proceeded to sail downwind, up current, and with the anchor chain beneath us. After much reversing and turning in tight circles, we got things under control and the anchor up, but it took longer than in should have, or would have without my putting up the mizzen.
We followed another sailboat out and soon were exiting the protections of Key Biscayne and entering the ocean. The winds were SE at about 13-15, so we were close hauled once we set our course to Bimini. Although the seas were not bad (1-2' chop), they were on top of a 4 second ocean swell of about 4', so we were very glad for the enclosure and protection from wind and spray. Although we tried to proceed under sail only, we were not making good enough speed to get to Bimini at a proper hour (when the sun is high so you can see the water colors and hence depths). Also, the tide would be high at noon in Bimini and by the time we were estimated to arrive, the outflowing current would be in full force. We ran the "iron genny" to boost our speed to about 7.5 (from just under 6) knots and that made our ETA a much more comfortable 1:30 PM.
As we approached Bimini, we heard boats calling the Bimini Harbor Dredge to get directions into the entrance, and to avoid the dredge and its paraphernalia - including a pipeline strung across the entrance. (That was the reason we avoided Bimini last year.) There were no responses but some excited shouting to the effect "you are doing fine, come straight in", which did not offer much precision in direction. Finally, I saw (on AIS - see below) a vessel leaving the harbor and I called it to ask directions. It was an inter island freighter and the Captain told me to stay outside the dredge but pass between it and the large float. Great, I had a path. When we actually arrived, however, the dredge was being towed back into the harbor. We could see the float, but had no idea where "between it and the dredge" might have been. There was a workboat nearby, so I hailed the Bimini Harbor Dredge - no response. Because the float was to the west side of the channel, near the shoals over which the ocean waves were washing, we thought we must proceed inside the float (which is where the "preferred route" is shown on the charts), so we headed that way. Suddenly, our radio blared the same excited voice we heard before telling us "you cannot go that way, there is a pipeline there; go outside the float". In terse terms, I advised the dredge that we had tried calling, repeatedly, but got no answer and "thanked him" for the information. We did a quick course change and proceeded into the harbor with no further issues.
We tied up at the docks of the Bimini Blue Water Resort and I then went to customs and immigration to "clear in". We had chosen to come to Bimini for that purpose because we had such a helpful clearing procedure the last time here, in contrast to a very short term (30 days) clearance in Nassau last year. When the officials asked me how long we might be staying, I said maybe to the end of April to attend the Family Island Regatta. They cleared us, and gave us permits to, April 30! Best of all, Thumbelina (our cat) was cleared in too, no questions asked, even though a vet is supposed to check the animals within 48 hours of arrival. (Because one can wait weeks to get a weather window to cross, we do not know how anyone can satisfy that.)
AIS is a new system we installed this year. It stands for Automatic Identification System (you can look at vessels at sea here: http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/). Although private vessels are not required to have it, commercial vessels over 300 tons are and it displays a wealth of information on your chart plotter - vessel name, course, speed, destination, etc. We got a transponder system (i.e. we not only can receive, we also transmit our own information) so others can see us too. Because crossing the Gulf Stream requires crossing the sea lanes, which often are full of ships, having AIS onboard enables us to identify the ships, determine whether we are on a collision course, and (a) contact the ship by name and (b) take appropriate action to avoid collision. En route, our AIS showed a 600' vessel moving in our direction at about 14 knots. We could not see it over the horizon, and our chart plotter told us we would miss each other by over 2 miles, but still I called the tanker and spoke with the Captain. It was most reassuring.
So, what does all this have to do with the title? Like the kitty in the picture, despite the fact that unexpected expenses pop up, weather gets in the way, people do not respond to radio calls, and other challenges arise, etc., sometimes the best thing to do is curl up, relax, and close your eyes.
01/13/2013, Channel 5
Wow, we have been delinquent - in more ways than one. Our last posting was when we left the boat yard at the end of December; much has happened since then. We anchored for a short visit in Cayo Costa, our favorite spot near the yard both coming and going. It is a welcome and peaceful respite from other, more chaotic places, and it gives us a chance to get things "finally" ready to head out, or to begin breaking things down and doing projects while on the anchor and cool (as opposed to in the yard) when we return from a cruise.
We departed Cayo Costa on the afternoon of December 31, catching the high tide to exit. We had light winds, but still were able to sail / motor sail south. Our normal first stop would have been Naples, but we would have arrived too late to enter in daylight. So, rather than try to find an earlier spot (near Fort Myers Beach) we decided to press on and do an overnight passage. Instead of watching (more like not watching, since we never stay up so late) the ball drop over Times Square, we watched the sunset on 2012. We carried on through the night (see, we could have watched the TS ball after all!) and chose to anchor off of Cape Sable, just north of Sandy Point, at the very southern end of the mainland of Florida. We had to delay our approach because it was too dark to see and we did not want to come face to face with an Everglades Park marker (a 6" square steel I-beam, many of which have no signs on them and are hard to see even in daylight). We could have relied on radar, but decided that eye contact was better. We dropped the hook at about 7:00 am and did some work on Gratitude, preferring to stay awake rather than get our internal clocks all messed up. We celebrated the first of the New Year with a dinner of roast duck, red cabbage, and champagne. Not too shabby.
On January 2, 2013, we departed the Capes and sailed / motored to Marathon Harbor on Boot Key. We arrived mid afternoon and took a mooring. After checking in, and checking for packages we were awaiting, we showered and returned to Gratitude. By the way, the showers are much improved - freshly painted and with thick, well drained floor mats so there is no more standing in puddles! Also, rather than the dinky little spring loaded levers (that turn off the shower to conserve water and that were nigh on to impossible to reach with eyes full of soap and one's back turned) spring loaded push knobs that stay on longer have been installed. (We even found a couple of shower rooms where the knobs did not turn off the water!)
This year, to support the Boys and Girls Club (on whose Board Van served), we had auctioned off a 4 day / three night cruise aboard Gratitude. Bruce and Nan Bentley, from Rutland, won the bidding, so we welcomed them aboard on January 4. Although both were known to Van, Lauren had met them only once (at a "planning dinner") last summer. One really gets to know people while living on a boat! It turned out to be a fun trip; Bruce and Nan have done a good deal of sailing, know the ropes (literally), and were very easy to have on board. Bruce monopolized the wheel and Lauren was in her prime serving wonderful dishes - shrimp in coconut milk and cilantro; filet mignon; loin lamb chops; etc. We sailed / motored to Key West and tied up at the Galion Marina / Resort, right off Mallory Square so we could see the sights. The first night, we took a "tour train" to be introduced to the area and learn some of the history. The next day, the two couples went their separate ways as Van and Lauren had been to KW several times and we wanted to see things we had not seen before and not interfere with what Bruce and Nan wanted to see and do. L & V first went to the Trinity Presbyterian Church that they had attended Christmas Eve three years ago and the same blind woman pastor was there. She delivered another great message of hope - which not only seems to be her theme, but wonderful to experience given what could have been her approach to life with her handicap. She was very pleased to hear that we had been there before and we were most warmly received by the largely African-American congregation. The choir came in dancing and it was a fitting re-introduction to what we will experience in The Bahamas. We also went to the "Southernmost Tip" of the US and had our photos taken, thence to the Butterfly Conservatory, which was really neat - literally flocks of butterflies fluttering by as we walked through. Each of us was landed upon several times, and we were assured that means good luck. We walked the rest of the way back to Gratitude, checking out lots of stores on the way, arriving feeling the need to rest our weary feet. We checked in with Bruce and Nan, who were enjoying the view over Mallory Square, and they came back to get ready for dinner out. We dined at El Mason de Pepe right off the square and each had an excellent Cuban dinner, topped off by Tres Leches for desert.
We departed Key West on Monday, 1/7 and motored (into the wind) back to Marathon. We did sail a while off the entrance to Marathon, but finally succumbed and motored in to pick up a mooring for Bruce and Nan's final night aboard. On Tuesday, after breakfast, showers, and a brief electrical experiment with the solar panels, our guests departed to finish their vacation on the Keys and in Miami before returning to VT. It was fun to have them aboard, and we missed them when they left!
But, not to feel too bereft, we got to work on needed projects - our VHF radio, that had been repaired after not working last year, still did not work, so we ordered a new one and took about 1½ days to install that - no wires go in straight lines on a boat, and some of these are hair size in diameter, and very important to get right. As it was, wiring the remote microphone to the bridge required that we order an additional cable (they come in 20' increments) to make the last 2' needed to complete the job. The new radio works great! We also took off, dug out the old compound, and re-bed the chain plates we had not re-done earlier in the trip. (Because one chain plate broke last year just before crossing to the Bahamas, we had all checked and replaced this year and the compound used just did not hold up, so we had some leaking issues to correct.) In all, we spent about a week in Marathon, doing projects, meeting our good friend Bill Ross for lunch (and to ferry us on a couple of long errands), reprovisioning, doing laundry, etc. Meanwhile, the winds have kept up a heady pace from the East, which is where we are trying to go.
Last night, Living Well (Steve and Mary Anne) and Midori (Brian and Lynne) from our boat yard came into the harbor, so we all went out for pizza to celebrate. One dampener on the reunion was the apparent loss of a cruising friend, Patrick Cornelius, whom we met last year in the Bahamas while cruising with his wife Lisa. They live on their boat (Gaia), an older sister to Gratitude. They were staying in Cape Canaveral where Lisa was doing some consulting. We had heard from Pat just a few weeks ago when we started our cruise. According to news reports, Pat had gone out in Gaia, called the Coast Guard complaining of chest pains and tingling in his arm. The CG located the vessel, but not Pat. After three days, and thousands of square miles of searching, they called off the effort and now are investigating. We do not know what happened, and hope for the best, but are saddened by the likely loss of Pat and the suffering and uncertainty Lisa must feel.
This morning, Lauren and Van decided to depart from Marathon, despite the strong winds, because they are forecast to diminish over the next several days. Unfortunately, they did not diminish this morning, so after several hours motoring into strong winds (some gusts over 25), we decided discretion indeed is the better part of valor, and we ducked in behind the Channel 5 bridge for the afternoon and night. If the winds are calmer tomorrow (as they are forecast to be and from the SE), we will push on toward the NE as we make our way toward Miami. We hope to cross the Gulf Stream on Wednesday, when the winds are forecast to be light and variable. We may make the crossing with friends Dave and Mary, on Sanity II, who are behind their intended schedule waiting for the winds to lie down.
Happy New Year!
Merry Christmas! We have had a whirlwind of activity here at the boat yard and beyond, so we spent a quiet Christmas morning all to ourselves (with Thumbelina, our cat). Then we jumped right in again.
As we have mentioned in past blogs, this is a very social boat yard. Since Saturday, we have had a progressive dinner (including dinner for 8 on Gratitude), Christmas Eve breakfast (at the home of the husband and wife team who work at the yard), Christmas Eve dinner at the yard, Christmas morning breakfast (which we passed), and Christmas dinner at the yard. The food has been overwhelming - both in taste and quantity - so we need to plan our departure before we cannot get through the lock, never mind Gratitude!
Because we have no family with us this year, we decided to serve Christmas dinner at an area church. It is the "parent" church to the one near the yard that we attend while here. What an operation! The tradition of serving Christmas dinner there has been practiced for over 20 years. They serve over 1800 dinners, with 400 volunteers. There is no charge, but people are asked for a free will donation and those who can do. We served in the kitchen assembling the plates of food to the order of servers who waited on the tables. There were two teams (of 5 people each) preparing the plates for two different shifts from 12:00 to 3:00. We have no idea how many wait people there were, or pie tenders, drink servers, etc. It was run like a well oiled machine and it is obvious they knew what they were doing. Amazingly, the food and the people to be served ran out at about the same time at the end of our shift. We truly enjoyed the experience and it helped fill the void.
Speaking of serving, Lauren, despite her cold, has been able to participate in the Choir and Praise Team at the Methodist Church we attend. She felt most welcome and well used. She has sung for several Sunday services and Christmas Eve services, including a Christmas Cantata. Because she loves music and singing, it has provided her with a wonderful outlet and lift during the Christmas season.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, we were launched on Friday, December 21. We spent Saturday madly cleaning and organizing Gratitude and cooking the dinner to be served aboard that night. We had cocktails and appetizers at the hut (which some have chosen to call the Pavilion - sounds better) and on another boat in the yard, and dinner on board different boats, and then all rejoined at the hut for dessert and coffee. It is a fun way to meet people, especially because the organizers split up couples and familiar folks, so we all are forced to meet new people.
And so, Gratitude is becoming more ship shape (see photo taken from same vantage as the last one - of chaos). We have the booms up, the mizzen sail on, and (unless it is too windy tomorrow) we will mount the mainsail and the genoa. We have lots of errands to run: refill low propane tank, get gas for the outboard, buy some more hardware items, finish provisioning - we placed the meat order to be cut, wrapped (no Styrofoam), and frozen for pick-up tomorrow -- and get the engines running. If all goes well, we should be able to take off Thursday morning. If we need to stay a bit longer, we will have to raft onto another boat as we are blocking the launch well and more boats are scheduled for launch early Thursday. Stay tuned!
12/20/2012, Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage
We are working madly to get Gratitude ready to launch before Christmas (because the yard closes for several days and our departure will be delayed otherwise) and we keep encountering the Butterfly Effect. While I had heard of that in other contexts, it was Chip who pointed out its impact on our efforts. Chip is a wonderful, experienced boatman, rigger, and all around handy person who has helped us with significant projects on board. (He worked in the yard where Gratitude was built and he was involved in her construction, so he knows things about her and tricks I would never uncover otherwise.) But, I digress. The Butterfly Effect is so named based upon the philosophical concept that the flap of a butterfly's wings can set in motion unknown and unforeseen circumstances far away in time and distance. It even has been recognized (albeit in reference to sparrow's wings) in Vermont case law. In our case, the ramifications are much closer to home than the customary application of the concept.
For example, among other (of the many) projects this year, we decided to enlarge the holding capacity of the aft tank to receive waste for later pump out. The old tank would not carry us for very long, so we decided to move it to the forward head (replacing a virtually useless bladder) and install a larger tank aft. The combined capacity should about double our ability to "hold it" until a pump out is available. I won't bore you with all the details, but a simple example from today's effort will suffice: Chip installed the new, larger tank and began to fill it with water to leak test it. He noticed the tank bulging and concluded it was becoming pressurized, which it is not supposed to do. We deduced that the vent line (which allows air to be expelled as waste is introduced to the tank) likely was plugged. The line was old and stiff and we had no way to unplug it. To get the old line out, we had to remove a piece of wood paneling in the aft cabin. That revealed a low spot in the vent line, which we expect was the reason the line plugged - water, waste, atmospheric dirt, etc., gathered and settled in the low spot and, over time, crystallized to form a hard plug. It was impossible to remove the old, stiff hose, so we bought a new one, cut out the old, and installed the new line in a different fashion with no low spots. What should have been a relatively simple project, of "dropping" in the new tank to an area already plumbed for the purpose, ended up taking several hours longer than anticipated. Those darned butterflies were flapping happily today!
Our various projects this year have required virtually every cabinet to be emptied, every hatch and cubby to be opened and entered, and the entire interior to be cluttered to the max. (Photo demonstration.) Indeed, the entire process of commissioning Gratitude has taken far more effort and time than our prior experiences to the point that we wonder "why are we doing this?" I happened to ask that question today of a former sailor (he and his wife sailed for dozens of years, finally sold their boat about three years ago, but they still come back to the yard to hang out with their old sailing buddies). He said the answer is that "we are slow learners".
So, between being slow and the flapping of wings, we finally have progressed to the point that we can - and will - be launched tomorrow, December 21. We will stay on the dock in the boat yard while we rig sails, fully commission and provision Gratitude, and celebrate Christmas with the other denizens of the yard. So far, we have a progressive dinner on Saturday, a breakfast and dinner on Christmas Eve, and a dinner on Christmas evening. In addition, Lauren and I will be serving Christmas dinner at midday on Christmas to area families who do not have the privileges we do, including worrying about such abstractions as butterfly wings. Their worries are much more real and present and we will be privileged to serve them and hopefully share some of what Christmas is all about.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
04/21/2012, Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage
April 21, 2012
Gratitude is put to bed for the summer (hurricane) season and we are en route north. We left the yard yesterday (Friday) at 11:00, missing our 9:00 target by two hours, but we had much to do and we really never believed we would make it by 9:00 anyway.
Putting a boat to bed, properly, is a lot of work. All that is to be removed (clothing, canned goods, things to repair, etc.) has to be packed and put in the truck. While we used to try to fit all into big boxes, we have found that small, soft packages work better. Also, this time we decided to remove the aft cabin bunk cushions to get new mattresses made to ease our aching (and ever more elderly) joints so the pickup would be full, at least until we dropped them off at the "boat mattress" store. In addition, because we are having other work done on Gratitude, we needed to make sure work areas would be (reasonably) accessible over the summer and fall. That need imposed a requirement for even more order and planning than we customarily try to achieve. Also, in packing things that will stay on the boat, we use vacuum storage bags that not only keep things dry and fresh but reduce the volume of space required to pack. In short, it takes about a week to get off the boat while leaving it in good order. (We do know folks who pull into the yard on one day and leave the next, but we have no idea how they do it!)
The first year we were in the boat yard, we were in the fourth row about as far from the front as we could be put. New friends then teased us about being newbies and having far to go to move up to the front row. Well, we have "moved up" and now are in the first row, two boats away from the office. Location does not really mean anything, but now we are teased for "moovin' on up -- to the front row" in such a short time. As we have mentioned several times, the yard is a special place full of fellow boaters, many now friends, offering helpful support and friendly comment. Joe, the father of the two young men who own the yard and the former owner of the ship yard where Gratitude was built, consistently tells us "she is the prettiest boat in the yard". Of course, with as much conceit as his, we readily agree. Our pride in Gratitude is fed often by such comments. En route to the yard, we stopped for fuel at Burnt Store and, in the space of about 45 minutes, received four compliments on Gratitude, including one via a call from the harbormaster as we pulled away from the fuel dock. That is tough to resist.
From Burnt Store, en route to the lock and canal system providing access to the yard, we passed many small boats fishing for the massive Tarpon, several of which were on hook and leaping from the water. There were many flocks of shore birds as well as dolphin playing in the water; good omens all. We arrived at the lock and made it through without too much trouble despite concerns over the low water approaching the lock and low water inside the canal system. Gratitude draws 5'2" and we saw the depth gauge register 5'3" on a couple of locations, but mostly about 6'2". Because it was Friday afternoon when we arrived, we stayed on the docks (with 4 other boats) awaiting our haul out on Monday. We rinsed and removed the dried sails, changed the engine oil and filters and put both to bed, and began the process of closing up the boat until our next cruising season.
While at the docks, we noticed the little fellow (see photo) swimming near Gratitude and were reminded of the old rhyme that gives this blog its name. So, we pull away from Gratitude with thanks for a wonderful cruising season and expectations for our return and departure on our next adventure. Stay tuned ...