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Jascat to the Bahamas
Happy tax day from the Bahamas
04/15/2014, Tied to dock at Bimini Blue Water Marina

Looking out at a passing sailboat from the Alice Town beach

Yesterday's 60 nm crossing from Angelfish Creek on Key Largo to Alice Town, Bimini was about as easy as crossing the Gulf Stream ever allows. Other than right around the Gulf Stream axis, the seas were easily handled at less than three feet. The axis gave us some five footer's but that was only for about an hour. We made a relatively fast crossing too. We averaged a solid six knots for the 10 hour crossing.

Unfortunately, we had to motor sail the whole way. The wind angle was too far around on the nose to allow us to sail with any speed, so the motor, running at partial throttle, was needed to help out.

The boost from the Gulf Stream was as always, impressive. The speed of the current can be estimated by comparing the ground speed calculated by the GPS and the boat's speed through the water calculated by the speed log. We first noticed the ground speed increasing about 9 nm off the shore. At its peak, perhaps 30 nm off shore, the increase was up to four knots. We were still seeing .2 knots just a couple of miles off the Bimini islands. The guide books say the Gulf Stream adds an average of 2.5 knots to the typical, well planned crossing.

That note about a "well planned" crossing brings up a sore point. Ann has mentioned to several of you that I was unhappy with my navigating on this crossing. That I was, but this being my blog, I don't have to fess up to everything in print. I'll just say that I did put together a well thought out plan for the crossing but I didn't implement it as I should have. I probably ended up adding about an hour to the crossing. Such are the trials of the lonely navigator.

Bimini has surprised both of us. We had assumed that since Bimini is just a nautical stone's throw from Miami for the big sport fishing boats that it would be a sleek, sophisticated port catering to millionaires. Well it may be in the exclusive resort further north up the island or down in South Bimini, but here in Alice Town where us plebeians stop, it's just a typical small Bahamas island. The main grocery store here would be considered a convenience store in the US and shopping consists of only a few small curio shops.

As is becoming typical for this cruise, the weather forecast may be trapping us here for a few days. Another front from the north is passing through tonight bringing in unsettled weather for the next several days. We are still evaluating several conflicting forecasts for a possible departure date.

Plantation Key to Key Largo
04/13/2014, Anchored next to Pumpkin Key

Egret in the mangroves along the ICW in the Florida Keys

Just a quick note because tomorrow is the day and we are going to bed early. We'll be getting up at 6am for what we hope will be a 10 hour crossing to Bimini. The wind and wave forecast looks just perfect (knock on wood) - winds 6 to 11 kt out of the SE and seas around 2 feet. The wind is actually a little light so we may end up motor sailing most of the way.

Today's run from Cowpens to Pumpkin Key was mostly motoring in light winds. We did have a nice sail across Barnes Sound but that was only an hour of the just under six hour transit.

This anchorage off Pumpkin Key is another of our favorite stopping spots in the Keys. When we sailed in here at 2pm, we had the place to ourselves. About two hours later, sailboats started coming in from the north and anchoring around us. Turns out a boat club is having a rendezvous here. We now have six boats anchored around us. So far, they have been pretty quiet so we guess it's ok.

Marathon to Plantation Key
04/12/2014, Anchored in Cowpens Anchorage

Sunset from the Cowpens Anchorage

Motored all day into a 10 to 20 kt direct headwind. Left Burdines fuel dock in Marathon at 8:25am and arrived in the Cowpens Anchorage off Plantation Key at 4:45pm. Made quick stop at the Plantation Key Marina to top up the fuel tanks before finally plopping the anchor down in Cowpens Anchorage at 5:30pm.

One more 35 nm hop up the Keys and we'll be in position to make the crossing to Bimini. Monday is looking more and more like the day.

Getting ready to leave Marathon
04/11/2014, Tied to mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor

Tightening up the solar panel

We have now been sitting in Boot Key Harbor for 4 days, which is twice as long as we had planned to be here. As predicted, a cold front blew in the late afternoon of the day we arrived bringing north winds up to 25 kts and a small dowsing of rain. The winds stayed in the 15 to 20 kt range for the next two days gradually shifting from the north around to east. This has kept the seas stirred up with waves 5 foot or more in the Hawk Channel and much higher in the Gulf Stream.

All this time, we have been comfortably moored on one of Boot Key Harbor's mooring balls. The Harbor is completely ringed by the city of Marathon and a tree covered island which blocks the worst of the winds. The only time the weather has had an impact on us has been when we rode the dinghy over to the dock. The speed had to be kept slow to keep spray from blowing over the bow.

Our forced stay here has had its benefits. We would have been hard pressed to complete our planned "to do" list here in just the two days we originally planned to be here. We washed six loads of clothes at the excellent marina laundry, walked one mile to the grocery store for provisions, walked another mile in the other direction to West Marine for odds and ends (twice), refilled a propane tank across the street, ate at Key West Fisheries just up the steet (twice, love that Lobster Reuben), walked a half mile to Home Depot for more odds and ends, and did a little banking just up the street. I spent the better part of a morning checking out the engine's vitals, greasing the drive leg retract mechanism and some other small tasks. We also took parts of a couple of days to rest and read.

The forecast for the next two days (Saturday and Sunday) still has waves in the Gulf Stream too high for us to cross. Neither of us wants to keep sitting here, so we are moving out tomorrow to head up the Keys on the bay side of the islands. Since the wind now is predominately from the south or southeast, the waves on the bay should be reasonably comfortable in the "moderate chop" category.

Another reason for heading north is that the Gulf Stream forecast looks better for an Angelfish Creek to Bimini crossing than the one we usually make via South Riding Rocks. So it looks like we are heading for either a Monday or Tuesday crossing to Bimini.

Little Shark River to Marathon
04/08/2014, Tied to a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor

This is what it means "to be tied to a mooring ball"

We are safe and secure in the Boot Key Harbor mooring field (ie Marathon) awaiting the arrival this evening of a cold front which should bring high winds and rain from the north. Unlike us, the locals are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the front. The Keys have been setting record high temperatures this whole winter. Key West sat a new record of 77 deg a night or two ago for the highest night time temperature in April.

Needless to say, this front is a mixed blessing for us. Sure, it is a little hot, but the winds are going to stir up the Gulf Steam just when we need it to be calm. The current Gulf Steam forecast has at least five foot seas for the next five days.

If we are stuck on this side of the Gulf Stream for a week or more, we might just run up the Keys to the John Pennekemp State Park. We had a great time there last year touring the Park by kayak. In any case, we are staying here in Marathon for at least the next three days, resting and relaxing. Maybe the forecast will improve by that time.

One reason we need the rest is that the last two days sailing from Marco Island to Marathon have been a little rough. The wind was relentlessly on our nose for the whole journey. The sails were out about half the time but since we were tacking, we managed to cover only about a quarter of the straight line distance under sail. On both days, we ran into the sailing cruiser's dilemma of not having enough daylight to make our destination if we kept sailing.

Running under engine wasn't a very pleasant option. Wind and waves have a pronounced effect on the speed that can be obtained. In no wind and flat seas, the Gemini can motor comfortably at six knots. Running into a 15 knot wind and three foot seas, however, drops the speed down to 4.5 to 5 knots. The slow speed coupled with the bouncing up and down the waves was tiring and unpleasant. The first day out, from Marco to the Little Shark River, we almost waited too long to fire up the engine. We reached the Little Shark right at sunset with only about 10 minutes of sunlight left to get the anchor set.

Likewise, the trip from the Little Shark into Marathon took longer than desired. The wind and waves were again on the nose just like the previous day adding at least two hours to the transit time. This time, however, we fired up the engine a little earlier in the afternoon allowing us to drop the anchor off Marathon's north shore at a more decent hour of 6:30pm.

This morning after a good night's sleep at anchor, we motored through the seven mile bridge around to the mooring field in Boot Key Harbor which is next to the city of Marathon. We feel like we are home. Boot Key Harbor is one of our favorite stopping places especially with bad weather approaching.

Marco Island to the Little Snake River
04/06/2014, At anchor in the Little Shark River

Another of Ann's spectacular bird pictures - a young Osprey nested on top of an ICW marker

Here are some notes that I wrote at about 10am during the passage from Marco Island to the Little Shark River: Left Factory Bay at 7:45am/Entered Gullivan Bay at 9:15/12 kt exactly on nose/Started tacking down bay at 9:30...

This trip we took the Big Marco River route (rather than swinging out into the Gulf) to get from the Marco Island Factory Bay anchorage to the Little Shark River. The river is quite shallow in spots so Jascat's swing keel was lowered only part way giving us a shallow draft of about 3.5 feet. We actually never saw any depths lower than around five feet due to our good fortune of picking a day when the tide was high giving us an extra two feet of water.

So here we are (at 10am), tacking down Gullivan Bay into a 15 kt wind that would be exactly on our nose if we were motoring. The chartplotter has us arriving at the Little Shark at 6:30pm but it doesn't allow for tacking. (The estimate is based on the boat's speed and the distance to go no matter what direction the boat is actually going - pretty dumb but then it was the cheapest chartplotter I could buy back in 2007). Unless the wind shifts to a more favorable angle (and I'm expecting it to in the afternoon), our arrival will be more like 7:30. Sundown is at 7:45pm so if we are running slow we'll have to motor give ourselves some breathing room. We don't like to enter anchorages, even one as wide open as the Little Shark, after dark.

[My optimism turned out to be entirely misplaced. The wind never changed direction and the waves got worse. I didn't mention the waves in the note above because at 10am there was only a light chop - nearly ideal sailing conditions. By noon, however, the waves had built to the three foot range, and like the wind, right on the nose. We did make the Little Shark by sundown but only just. See the 4/8/2014 blog for more info.]

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