We only slept for half the night at Great Sale Cay, by 0300, the wind had shifted so that it was blowing from the west, and gradually increased to 20 miles per hour. Great Sale now offered no protection whatsoever. It was Memory Rock all over again! By dawn the anchorage was entirely untenable and I feared that Les Miserable would drag her anchor and end up on the beach! However, as with most of the things I worry a out, this did not come to pass. Using our "marriage savers" again, with Merry at the helm, I pulled the anchor up and once again we got underway with no difficulty.
We headed north to clear Little Sale Cay, before we could turn SE toward the entrance to the Sea of Abaco. Other than an anxious moment, when I strayed into an area of submerged rocks, causing the depth alarm on Fernando (our Chart Plotter and Navigation computer) to go off, it was an easy day. Merry reminded me that Fernando shows those submerged rocks as little x's on the chart- avoid them. After we made the turn, we were on a "run" (sailing with the wind behind us) with very moderate seas (2-3 footers) and our old boat began to "surf", attaining speeds over 7 knots - faster than her hull speed! We were screaming! We passed a succession of sailboats - all going in the other direction. Everyone else, it seems, was going back to the USA, while we were just getting here!
Merry entered five different waypoints on Fernando. It was a sunny, clear day and at one point a dolphin passed right in front of Les Miserables, so close I feared that I would hit it. It was a great change from the months we spent on the brown waters of the ICW. No more bends, twists and turns, no more constant watch for channel markers, no more brown water; instead, just navigating from one waypoint to the next. We are learning to "read" the water. The darker areas are either grass bottomed (and can be very shallow) or reef. The brilliant aqua means we are over white sands and the clear water is all you see. We weren't sure if we could make it to our objective Green Turtle Cay before dark, however by 1650 we had entered the White Sound entrance and made our way up the narrow and skinny watered channel to a slip at the Green Turtle Club Marina, with its great restaurant, swimming pool, and a dive shop right next door. I thought that the human body was not designed to survive the incredible speed of 7 knots for a whole day, and that this immense speed had caused pressure to build up against our skulls so that our brains suddenly exploded, so that we instantly died, and beautiful Green Turtle Cay is, in fact, heaven. It is that cool here!
04/08/2012, Great Sail Cay, Bahamas
It is (we are told) common for sailboats to sail across the gulf stream, and then anchor at Memory Rock. Although Memory Rock is a small speck of nothing which offers no protection whatsoever to anchored vessels, we are sure that in calm seas, this probably works out fine.
The problem was that by the time the sun began to show its influence upon the darkness the seas were anything but calm. Waves ran at 4-6 feet, and when I went forward to pull the anchor in, the pull of the boat on the rode was so great that I couldn't pull the line in at all. This meant that we had to get the anchor in by having Merry at the helm, using the boat's engine to drive the boat up to the anchor, while I pulled in the anchor rode (we have 200 feet of 1" nylon 3 strand line and 60 feet of 3/8" chain) and stuff it into the anchor locker. This is common practice for sailors but after an experience getting the anchor rode tangled around a prop years ago I am hesitant to use this method. For only the second time on our journey we wore our geeky "marriage savers" - microphone and earphone sets that enable us to hear one another over the noise of the wind, waves, and engine. I would say, "go port" or "go starboard", "more power" etc. and be understood. The whole thing went amazingly well. In minutes, the anchor was up and secured on its roller, the anchor rode was packed in the locker, and we were off to the races!
Winds were out of the SW at 10-15 knots - a broad reach - after we turned to head for Great Sale Cay. The seas were such that there was no prospect of our being able to locate dolphin, anchor the boat, go over the side to swim with them, and then spend a second night at anchor on the Little Bahama Banks. We did head north toward White Sand Bank, but only to get a deeper channel to navigate to the east. We motor sailed with the jib up all day. We averaged six knots - a fast passage for Les Miserables, or any other 30 foot sloop. We had been anxious about whether we could get to Great Sale Cay before nightfall, but we made it with time to spare.
Since the wind was mostly from the south as we approached Great Sale Cay, we decided to anchor on the NW side of the island. As we anchored, we saw a big (45-50 foot) Hunter sailboat anchored with is furling mainsail out, and it soon became evident that they couldn't get it to furl into their mast as it is designed to do. They struggled with it for perhaps an hour before they fixed whatever was wrong and finally got it furled up inside the mast. It could have been a very bad problem for them if this had happened just before the onset of a storm, when it is important to "shorten" sail. Our lazyjacks, an inexpensive, simple system for flaking the mainsail back onto the boom looked like a better deal than the expensive and complicated mast-roller furling main on the big yacht sharing our anchorage. Simplicity often rules - especially with sailboats.
The sea was calm in the lee of Great Sale Cay, and I used mask fins and snorkel to once again "dive the anchor", finding that our Bruce anchor was well buried in a sandy bottom. It started to lightly rain and we went to sleep confident that we would have a quiet night.
04/08/2012, West End to Memory Rock
We settled in at Old Bahama Bay at West End and became quickly accustomed to the beautiful waters, great pool, Tiki Bar, and friendly people. We snorkeled in the beautiful shallow white beach/bay area noting the many southern stingrays (Yikes! - be careful when entering the water! - Thoughts of Steve Irwin!!), juvenile angel fish, schools of grunts, many bright red/orange large starfish, lots of spiny urchins, etc. We also found a couple of Lionfish. Lionfish, while fascinating to see, are a problem in that they are not native to these waters. They have arrived as a result of aquarists in Florida releasing them into ocean waters after they no longer wanted them. They are an invasive species and in June there is a Lionfish contests to see how many can be killed. Otherwise these creatures (lacking any natural predator) destroy the balance of life on the reefs. The days are spent swimming, snorkeling, and eating... our evenings have been spent stargazing - the constellations are spectacularly clear.
We reveled in having "arrived" and enjoyed watching boats entering the harbor, going through customs, and celebrating their arrival at West End. We were delighted when returning from snorkeling we spied our friends Barbara, Merle, and Mozart, and their big trawler Endurance with its yellow Q flag flying. We found them walking Mozart along the beach. Endurance, made crossing the gulf stream seem easy - though even they waited an extra day for some weather to pass before crossing. We loved having the opportunity to share another "sundowner" with them before retiring for the night.
We quickly made friends with Mary at Teasers' Tiki bar - (she makes the best Yellow Bird rum drinks! ) and Harold the manager of Teasers Tiki Restaurant. Harold has a 100 Watt smile, the manners of a gentleman, and the skill of making everyone feel special. Wiley shared many conversations with Harold about politics and he was always eager to respond. There are two main political parties in the Bahamas, a liberal Peoples Liberation Party and the conservative party, the Free National Movement. However, while there are many disagreements about the best way to govern the Bahamas there seems to be less political tension and animosity than in the United States. It is interesting to note that they represented by districts with proportional representation in their Parliament and many of their issues are the same as ours. A couple of issues that seem to prevail is the difference between the support areas like Nassau and Freeport receive and what areas like West End receive. There is certainly a division of the "have" and "have nots". The current Prime Minister is from the FNM. Harold, however, is active in the PLP party. He is well known on Grand Bahama. When John Travolta's son died near here, Harold was the first person he called. He also knows Lady Gaga! Harold gets around and is working to get his political message out as well.
Merle, Barbara, Wiley and I decided to use the bikes offered at the resort and ride into town. We thought we might purchase a few things at the local grocery store and find a great spot for lunch. As we rode toward the town we noted that many of the buildings were boarded up, stores closed, dogs running loose, and humungous piles of conch shells piled near the beach areas along the way. The Teaser's restaurant serves conch fritters, conch salad, and conch dinners and we now know what happens to all of the shells. It takes away your appetite for ordering conch. Along the way we stopped to purchase some stamps at the post office and found that they did not have change for a twenty dollar bill. The lady at the P.O. stepped out of the building to ask some local people in car that was parked outside of the P.O. if they had change. It all worked out. One of the things we are learning about the Bahamas is that things are not always accessible and patience is key. The Bahamians are used to 'making do' with whatever is available. If something is not available - the attitude is "oh well". The further we rode toward town the less there seemed to be and the more litter we noted. Flotsam from boats is a problem - especially plastic and styrofoam. The bakery we had read about in our Bahamas guide was closed and so were the restaurants. However, a beautiful church that had a well cared for garden stood out as we pedaled along the main road. Most of the stores we did see sold liquor and the signage along the way focused on Kalik - Bahamian Beer. We bought a couple of bottles of wine, beer, and some gin. I ducked into a small grocery store along the way and bought a 1/2 gallon of milk. Everything is, as expected, much more expensive that in the states. The milk was $5.00 for 1/2 gallon. Everything is imported. Taxes and duty increase the prices of most things.
While staying in beautiful Old Bahama Bay Marina in West End we discovered that our radio was not transmitting. We found a full- service marina in Freeport that would come out to the boat to repair what we thought at the time to be a faulty connection. However, it turned out that it was not only a faulty connection but a faulty radio (a 20 year old radio that decided that it preferred listening rather than sending information). We kind of liked the idea of being able to send out info - especially if we should need help. We therefore purchased a new radio and had it installed. We waited to receive the bill the morning we planned to sail to White Sand Ridge to snorkel with dolphins. However, Bahamian's live by a slower clock - the pace is S-L-O-W - so we did not get the bill until later than expected. We debated the bill with the service provider ( a US company based in Florida) to no avail (a radio that would cost $120. in the US was about $340 in the Bahamas) and, of course, we were billed for travel time and mileage to and from Freeport (two trips) and even for electrical tape (the tech probably used 6"). The result is that when we get home, we will have the only $1200. $120. radio on J Dock.
So, we left Old Bahama Bay and headed west and then then head northward to try to meet up with dolphins and to take our minds off of the money we had spent. After all, as we keep telling our kids, it is only their inheritance that we are spending. We got as far as Memory Rock (which is literally a rock with a 'nonworking' light on it) and decided that we would anchor. The water was a beautiful crystal clear aquamarine blue. We would then head up to White Sand the following day. The weather reports were for very calm seas, clear skies, and low winds. It was a good plan.
We sailed around the shallows to a suggested anchorage in white sand and set our anchor. We watched the anchor and chain clearly settle on the bottom. Wiley dove it to be sure it was set and then we both jumped in to swim in the crystal clear 85 degree water. Since it was later in the day we donned our masks and fins to spend some time scrubbing the boat's bottom while we looked around for any interesting creatures in this shallow water. We are constantly amazed by how quickly barnacles, other creatures, and fauna attach themselves to the boat even though the boat has anti-fouling bottom paint. We scrubbed for about an hour and then dined on the boat looking out at the beautiful waters anticipating a good night's sleep..
SURPRISE! The wind shifted and the waves picked up as we prepared to settle down for the night. The later it got the more the current pushed one direction and the waves another. The boat responded by leaping up and down. I did not sleep a wink and Wiley slept for a mere few hours. It was like trying to sleep inside a washing machine that was being thrown up and banged down about 4-6 feet every couple of minutes while at the same time someone was banging on the lid. The main sail halyard runs through the main cabin and clangs against the mast support below deck when the boat is thrown about. Dimples added to the cacophony of sound effects with one of my favorites- "her loud gum chewing noise" that she makes when she sloshes up and down near the boat. Wiley offered to switch berths with me so I might sleep - but it didn't work. I laid awake watching stars appear and disappear through the hatch as we jumped up and down and listened to the ships clock bell chime as I counted the hours until daylight. When light broke we decided that while we were very motivated to snorkel with the dolphins there was NO WAY we could spend another night at an anchorage like this.
So, we are adjusting to the Bahamian life. It is absolutely a simply breathtaking place to be and at a pace that allows for conversation as well as relaxation. Along with this come a few challenging times where we have learned to just hold our breath for a while be patient and wait for them to pass. In the end the Bahamians are right - oh well,...
03/26/2012, West End, Bahamas
Opening a bottle of bubbly to celebrate traveling for 8 months at 5mph and perhaps 2,000 miles - finally arriving in the Bahamas was a dream come true! We made it to the Bahamas - Woo Hoo!
The passage took us about 12 hours. We left at 2AM on a moonless night and arrived shortly after 2PM. The night passage out of the inlet was exciting and a bit nerve wracking for the two of us because it took us a while to get our night bearings - looking for the green(starboard) and red (port) lights to the channel and avoiding other boats.
Once off proceeding down the channel we encountered a couple of power boats deciding to have a chat in the middle of the channel at 2 in the morning! They moved aside (thankfully!) and we were off /out of the channel.
It is a great inlet to leave from as it is well marked and a short distance from the anchorage near Peanut Island where we spent the night. Prior to our exit from Lake Worth we had traveled from Old Port Cove Marina to East of Peanut Island. On our way we almost hit a man in a small Zodiac with a "dead" outboard. We could not see him because of Dimples on our foredeck. We heard him shout - and altered course at the last second. We missed him by maybe 3 feet. When we set our anchor near Peanut Island we were in the company of 13 other boats waiting for the crossing. Moonsplash, Ubuntu, Celebration, Indulgence, Southern Journey, and Folly were some of the boat names we jotted down, so that "just in case" we needed help we would have some names to call out to.
We were out onto the Atlantic Ocean and near the inlet and for a short distance the waves were around 4 -6 feet. It settled down as we continued East. The stars became more and more brilliant as we loss the ambient light from Lake Worth. It was absolutely gorgeous. It took us a little while to set our course and have Fernando (our self steering) take over for us. We studied every light in the distance with our binoculars to understand what type of vessel it was and if it was coming toward us, crossing our path, or traveling ahead of us. The waves settled down but unfortunately the wind was "on our nose" so we were not able to sail or motor sail. We relied on our "iron Genny" (Yanmar Engine) to get us across. During the early morning hours it start to rain and the wind picked up a bit. The sad part was we lost our view of the stars that were overhead. However, it was shortly after the light rain that we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. The sky changed from the early morning warning of daylight coming to brilliant orange.
We were thrilled by the color of the waters that ran from indigo, to royal blue, to aquamarine, and finally teal blue. At points during the crossing we were in waters that were over 2,400 feet deep (deep indigo) and as we entered the Bank the waters changed to these multiple beautiful hues. We were greeted on the radio by a young woman Laquel, her Bahamian accent was a delight as we listened for directions to our slip. Jamal, the dockhand, greeted us at our slip and brought the necessary paperwork to clear customs. We had run our yellow Q flag (quarantine flag) up about 3 miles out from the islands.
Most of our paperwork had been completed since Mark, a dock master at Old Point Cove Marina, had provided these in advance to our crossing. We finished up the final paperwork and Wiley went ashore to customs. He greeted the officer with an announcement, "We have come all the way from Chicago and ask permission to enter your beautiful country." A smiling Bahamian responded back with a laugh, "Permission granted!" Once the paper work was complete we raised the Bahamian flag and then we both went ashore to complete the paperwork for our stay at the marina. The Old Bahama Bay Marina is not inexpensive (about $2.00 a foot, $15.00 for all the water we want, and an electrical fee). However, we have access to all that is offered for those who stay at the resort - health club, large swimming pool with a waterfall, a Tiki bar (that serves Yellow Birds our favorite rum drink!) and of course showers. As we look out from where we are staying we see the ocean in all of its hues, the beach, and swaying palm trees. It truly is paradise and we are eager to go snorkeling. We have arrived!
03/22/2012, Lake Worth - West Palm Beach
It took us 2 fairly short days traveling south on the ICW to reach our next destination, Old Point Cove Marina on Lake Worth.
Vero Beach is at mile 951 on the ICW, and on the first day we traveled as far as the Peck Lake anchorage, which is at mile 1014. It has been our practice to get to the marina or anchorage where we will spend the night by mid-afternoon to avoid having a situation where there is no room for us when we arrive - something, by the way, that has never happened. Upon arriving at Peck Lake at 2:50 we spotted ten boats already at anchor and thought maybe our luck had run out. However it was a roomy anchorage and we put the "hook down". We rowed Dimples ashore and walked a short distance through a beautiful state park to the gorgeous tropical aquamarine blue watered beach (previously unseen on this trip) with a high white foamy surf rolling in. We took our triathlon swimming wetsuits but found that the surf was to high to enjoy swimming. After a walk on the beac we rowed back for a sundowner glass of wine and dinner. During the night the wind came up and blew hard, but our Bruce did not drag an inch.
The anchor came up without difficulty the next morning, but we had a brief scare upon leaving the anchorage because we got out of the channel and almost ran aground. The second day was marked by rain/sun showers and bridge openings - a total of 7 of them. Most of the openings were "restricted", which means that they only open at certain times, usually twice an hour), and not "on demand". We did our best to time our passage to reach each bridge at the right time. In once case, a bridge opened early to let a big barge through and the bridge tender then closed the bridge before we could reach it. He announced on the radio that the next bridge opening would not be for a half an hour. While we were in the channel, waiting with the engine in neutral, a 70 foot yacht, Serenity, moved slowly past us; just then a small powerboat passed us on the other side, making a wake that caused Les Miserables to slide sideways, almost hitting Serenity, an outcome we avoided only with going "full ahead" on the engine and "hard to starboard" on the helm. Serenity now....serenity now!!
At 10:45, we passed ICW mile 1,000, representing the distance our little sailboat has traveled since October 16, 2011 when we passed the buoy off Norfolk, VA which marks the start of the ICW.
We spotted an Osprey nest, with a mother bird feeding her young babies. Other than this, our two days were marked by the works of man rather than the wonders of nature. The ICW from Vero Beach to Lake Worth is marked by huge, multi-million dollar mansions, often with multi-million dollar yachts tied to private docks behind the mansion.
The opulence continued after we reached the Old Point Cove Marina, following a minor incident when we got into some shallower water after we passed on the wrong side of a marker marking the channel into Lake Worth.
The marina is part of a huge "gated community" which includes a bunch of high rise condos, each costing more that a million dollars. Our introduction to the marina was delightful. We had a fairly strong wind behind us as we docked (violating Captain Jack Klang's rule - NEVER DOCK WITH THE WIND BEHIND YOU!) and I had to put the engine "hard astern" as we entered the slip. "Prop walk" caused the stern to move to port into a piling, so it was not pretty. Suddenly we saw our 83 year old friend from Vero Beach, Merl, dash across to our slip. He took the bow line Merry threw him and in seconds had it secured to a cleat. His movements were as lively as a keen teenager dockhands! It turns out that Merl and his lovely wife Barbara and their great dog - Mozart, with their big trawler Endurance are docked right across from us. We have been delighted to join them in nightly "sundowners" - wine +! We have been to dinner on Endurance multiple times by the gracious invitation extended to us by Barbara, who is a fabulous chef! Merry and Barbara went on a shopping expedition using the boat bikes the Endurance carries. They ended up coming back with 2 neat folding chairs Barbara bout strapped to the back of Merry's bike along with groceries. They had a good laugh about hauling their loads rather than riding their bikes back to the boat. We have had some great runs along the waterfront, dined at some nice restaurants, and spend whole days walking 8 + miles round trip to John D. MacArthur State Park (that's right! - the guy from Chicago donated a portion of his huge estate to the park!) and to a big shopping mall.
However, we feel "stuck" again, as we wait a whole week for a "weather window" to leave here and cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Our Les Miserables is the smallest boat in the marina. She is surrounded by vessels costing anywhere from $300,000.00 to $3,000,000,000.00, and further down are yachts costing 20-30 million, including Tiger Woods' yacht, Privacy (his ex and kids live in Palm Beach). Interestingly, we do not see many people on their yachts - we mostly see cleaning services and "yacht detailers" working on them. It is nothing like the thriving community of "J" dock at North Point Marina during our all too brief season in Illinois.
Frankly, we don't feel we fit in. Wiley has been stopped twice by security at the guardhouse gate when re-entering the gated community. The parking lots are full of cars that cost half of what our house costs. When we pass people on the sidewalk and say "hi", they sometimes look at us and don't answer back.
We have an appointment with Customs and Immigration, thanks to Barbara's help, to get a "local boater's card" to make it easier when we re-enter the United States. After that appointment early on Friday, if weather allows, we want to leave the marina (which is nice, but pricey!) and travel four miles down Lake Worth to an anchorage near Peanut Island. Our plan is to leave for the crossing to West End at midnight and figure it will take us 12 hours to get to our destination.
The sound of velcro being pulled apart has always annoyed me. My sons used to pull their velcro shoes tabs just for fun - a little habit that for some reason grated on my nerves. Well, here we are preparing to pull away from "Velcro Beach" and there is an annoying sound - the two of us moaning about leaving such a great place. Yet we know that it is time to move on - after all we have been stuck for a month! Vero Beach is truly wonderful; it offers a beautiful beach, fine dining, shopping, easy transportation and many new friends. The Thursday evenings sunset gatherings has allowed us to pick the brains of other sailors. This has been a great place to learn about preparing for our crossing to West End in the Bahamas. Additionally, we have had the lovely opportunity to get to know Ingrid, Erik, Connie, Alec, Jim, Peter, and many more new friends.
New learnings while here have included such things as: what happens when you overfill the oil reservoir in the motor for the dinghy (smoke, smoke, and more smoke), how easy it is to run the dinghy over your own mooring ball in the dark (me), and the fun of running in 85 degree weather with 95% humidity! We've had practice using our dinghy as our "taxi" to pick up supplies, water, laundry and fuel and figured out a few tricks for getting onto the boat when unloading. Believe me it doesn't look like dance moves as we attempt to move from Dimples to Les Miserables. Picture holding on to the back of the bigger boat while balancing as the little boat lurches up and moves away from the bigger boat as a result of your weight shifting. Crawling onto the dock has been known to happen- including in front of an audience. It isn't pretty. Finally, while no-seeums truly cannot be seen they can definitely be felt - scratch - scratch - scratch. That is at least for me while they have not yet developed a taste for Wiley.
However, our favorite part was watching a family of dolphins come in and feed right in the harbor; Dimples took us up for a close look. A dolphin turning to look up at you from the water conjures up feelings that somehow you are communicating with this wonderful, intelligent creature. It could all be the "pathetic fallacy" - but still there is a glimmer of hope that maybe it is not. The birds - pelicans, crane, parrots, woodpeckers, ibis, and more are all part of the joy of being here. There is even a small barracuda that likes to hang around the dingy dock.
While we continue to miss the cultural opportunities in Chicagoland we found that the art festival Under the Oaks at the Vero Beach Art Museum was fabulous as was the museum itself.
We plan on leaving early in the morning to travel to an anchorage prior to getting to Lake Worth. It sounds like a beautiful spot where we can take Dimples to the ocean beach. Our next stop will be at Old Port Marina in Lake Worth and it is here that we hope to connect with other boaters who are planning to cross over to the Bahamas. Our plan includes letting everyone know just before we leave to cross over the Gulf stream by using our Spot system that provides our longitude and latitude via e-mail - it also has an SOS button to push should we need help. So while we can barely tolerate the sound of the Velcro being pulled away - we are doing just that pulling away to our next step of our adventure.