12/05/2010/4:14 pm, Vero Beach, FL
The "S" word can be applied to both our sailing and my blogging lately ... not that we've been in much of a hurry this winter at all.
We came in to Vero Beach on Friday morning, thinking it would be for a day or two and we're still here.
Just as it has happened every other time, our leisurely pace has proven to be comfortable and enlightening. Yes, we are in the USA with all its busyness and opportunities, with its automobile-based patterns of movement, with stores and TV and Coast Guard and Sea Tow and other chatter on the VHF. But we are still on a boat, and still living a cruiser's life. We still read books rather than newspapers. We listen to birds and waves rather than TV or radio (admittedly, the no radio part is because ours doesn't work). We still meet people on the dock or in the boaters' lounge or when our dinghies cross paths rather than through planning or formal invitations. We watch dolphins play by the side of the boat as we sip our morning coffee and admire parrots in the trees. We are remembering again to relax and shrug off bureaucratic blundering.
I'll tell you first about the "bb". We thought we were being so smart last fall, by arranging our cruising permit (given by US Customs and Border Protection) so it would expire while we were out of the country. We had asked for a 6 month one that would expire automatically, but the very nice officer in Baltimore said she preferred to give us a 1 year one, and told us send it to her when we left the country and she would cancel it. Well, that sounded fine to us. When we left in January, we mailed it in. The trouble is that she didn't cancel it.
The permit runs until November 2, 2010 so we are fine to move about on it until then. The difficulty comes 15 days after that time when, as happened last trip, an officer might say, "Oh no, I can't give you a new permit because you are not just coming in from foreign." On the other hand, we may find an officer who has no problem with disregarding that requirement and we'll be fine. The nice but non-sailing officer at Ft. Pierce told us off-handedly, "It's no problem, just go over to the Bahamas one day and back the next and you'll be eligible for a permit." Right.
One would think they would be interested in a system that is clear, standard across the country, and requires a minimum of effort to enforce. They have so many complications and variations from region to region that it makes it very difficult for a cruiser to comply. At least this time all the folks we dealt with were pleasant and attempting to be helpful, and rather than informing us sternly that we were misinformed, this officer told us that we should be aware that not all offices interpret the "rules" in the same way. Right again.
One nice thing about USCBP is that checking in personally is very straightforward. Jim called them and gave our vessel number, passport numbers, address, date of departure etc. and got our confirmation number very quickly. No questions about how many bottles of alcohol or cartons of cigarettes or fruit or vegetables we had on board, or any of the minutiae that consume Canadian Customs and Immigration.
We dropped the anchor just off the Pelican Yacht Club in the first little bight off the south side of Ft. Pierce Inlet on Friday night. We came in the inlet at 10pm and didn't want to go searching around for deep water any further along. Since we planned to be in the area for a couple of days until the winds were better for a trip north, we headed up the ICW for the 15 miles to Vero Beach on Saturday morning.
Jim and Nancy (Solitaire) came in soon after us, and we were able to celebrate the safe arrival of both boats over champagne and pizza (a winning combination!) at their lovely condo that evening.
In the days since then, we've enjoyed lunch at Riverside Cafe near the marina in Vero (blackened scallops on caesar salad), a stellar lunch at Cobb's Landing in Fort Pierce (juicy grilled shrimp on spinach and goat cheese salad), Mother's Day happy hour chez Aadland with Nancy and Jim - also including Jay and Di (Far Niente) and Judy and Greg (My Destiny). We picked up a bagful of quality books at the Friends of the Library store ($1 apiece for hard cover and $.50 for paperback.) We bought and savoured strawberries and asparagus and plump shrimp and Ghirardelli chocolate and robust coffee at the Fresh Market. We've powerwalked the boardwalk and the beach, strolled the tree lined residential streets, and dinghied around the mooring field to see who's here.
We enjoyed meeting Ruth and Mark (Witchcraft) - a boat we'd seen in several Bahamian anchorages but never got to meet, and John and Jan (Solitude) and we chatted again with Chris and Frank (Melodeon). It was a joy to see Bruce (Zingara) again. In fact I had a blast one afternoon shopping for boats on the internet with him - boats for Bruce, not for us!! That guy is a real sailor - he used 5 gallons of fuel on his trip from Staniel Cay to Vero Beach - that's at least a couple of hundred miles!!
Oh - and how could I forget the showers? We've showered every single day - with lots of water! My shower on Saturday was the first one using more than a litre of water since Fresh Creek, Andros on Feb 14th!! Oh what luxury!
We'll be off in the morning - I think. The plan is to go down the ICW to Ft Pierce, out the inlet and then set our course for St Augustine. We think it will take 35 hours or so. We'll visit there for a day or two and move on to Fernandina Beach, where we are hauling out at Tiger Point Marine. Till then... Thanks for your comments, support and good wishes!
09/05/2010/9:58 am, Vero Beach, FL
Despite our plans to end up much further up the Florida coast, we ended up coming in the Ft Pierce inlet and then 15 miles north to Vero Beach. I'll write more details later, but the combination of no wind and warnings of thunderstorms made us decide to just motor across to the US as fast as we could. It was hot, boring and fossil fuel consuming, but we are here and legally checked in.
We went to renew our cruising permit yesterday only to find that once again, one branch of USCustoms and Border Protection does not know what the other is doing. We thought this time it would be straightforward. Wishful thinking. At least they were nice at Ft Pierce airport. We now have to wait till Tuesday when they might have a guy who knows how to help us, or Mon when we can get in touch with the Baltimore officer who said she would make everything work fine, but didn't.
and now for the details...
You know what they say about cruising and schedules - they just don't go together very well. When we went up to Manjack Cay, we thought we were looking at a Monday departure and would have a few days to explore the cays further along.
We had a fabulous slow sail up there from Green Turtle Cay - just an idyllic evening despite the smoke drifting over from Great Abaco. Nancy and Jim stopped by for a visit on their way home from Savage Son and we made plans to go over to Solitaire at 6:30 the next morning to listen to Chris Parker's weather broadcast, and then to join the group for a 10 am walk to Ocean Beach.
After listening to Chris, we thought that we'd stand a better chance of getting north if we left on Thursday because we needed to be in off the water by Saturday night, and the next window might not be coming until later the next week - not on Monday. Solitaire was planning to leave on Friday for Ft. Pierce, and Sapphire said they and Savage Son were waiting for the next window.
So ... we went to the beach with Nancy and Jim - had a lovely walk through the trees, past the hand painted signs and under the leafy overhang. This is one lovely beach. The island residents keep it clean, and make it available to visitors. It was a hot morning and a dip felt wonderful before we made our way back across the cay to our waiting dinghies.
At one time, free wifi was available here but that is no longer the case. We understand that they were asked to refrain from offering this service to cruisers so that the folks who are in the business are able to get cruisers to sign on. (It is still free at Pineapples bar on Green Turtle Cay though!)
We said our goodbyes to everyone and headed out about 1 pm toward Great Sale Cay - sails up and engine on at low rpm's. Sapphire and Savage Son changed their minds and went roaring by us - headed for the US with all sails flying.
Just before dusk, we enjoyed a tasty farewell to the Bahamas dinner of tuna steaks, baked potatoes with sour cream and green salad with a ginger/orange dressing. Mmmmmm. I've learned from Nancy that freshly baked chocolate chip cookies make a good "crossing treat" so I pulled a pan of them from the oven to top off our meal.
By the time we got to Great Sale, we thought that perhaps we would just keep on going. We made that decision last time and wished we had stopped to rest, but we went and did it again!!
Starting at about 9, we could see lightning flashing in the sky ahead. As we travelled along, it stayed off to our starboard side for many hours, and by 4 am was pretty much behind us. I had the 12 to 4 shift and watched it on the radar as well as in the sky. The huge blob on the radar stayed off 10 to 12 miles and was never a threat to us, but it kept me alert! By 4, the light show was stunning. It lit up the sky behind a tower of cumulous clouds and was as dramatic as any I've seen. At watch change, Jim and I both sat in the cockpit marvelling at it for a while. We had regular radio chats with Sapphire until they got out of range, and after that we just watched and motored. At night, we usually use our staysail (which doesn't give us much speed in light winds), and we kept the engine low so that our fuel consumption would also be low.
Unfortunately, by the time we crossed the last of that beautiful aqua water of the banks at Matanilla Shoal and got into the deep blue water of the Straits of Florida, we had another decision to make. We picked up the NOAA weather forecast and discovered that it was calling for thunderstorms off Cape Canaveral for Friday evening. With the luck we've been having, it made us nervous. The light show the night before had been spectacular - from 10 miles away. We had no desire at all to be caught in the middle of one. At another time, we might have kept on going and taken our chances, but we are a little more apprehensive right now and we decided to play it very safe and head straight across to Ft Pierce. It was a real drag because we had no wind helping us in that direction, and we were working against the Gulf Stream. As I said in the first part of this posting, we were hot, tired of being anxious, and disappointed at ending up still that far south in Florida.
Because we no longer had to conserve fuel for a long passage, we pumped up the rpm's. The yankee was doing us no good at all so we had just the main up and the sea was so flat that we took turns having showers on the foredeck with the hot water from our solar shower. There was not another boat near us until we approached the Ft. Pierce inlet just before 10 pm. Large vessels usually call a Securite when they are about to transit a narrow passage to alert oncoming vessels so we knew it was coming our way. We could see it on our AIS, and a sport fishing boat that went in just ahead of us was also nice enough to call back to the "inbound yacht" (that was us) that "there's a big ship in the channel headed out!" We went slowly along just outside the channel till it passed and then headed on in. The inlet was pretty well marked - with the exception of a couple of missing lights - and despite the ebb current against us, we had no difficulty in making an after dark entrance.
The usual anchorages here have some shallow water and the tide was low so we weren't much interested in trying to get into them. I had read in one book that it was OK to anchor just off the Pelican Yacht Club, near the Coast Guard Station, in the inlet, so that's what we did. There weren't any other boats there and the holding was good even in the current. It didn't take long for us to get our anchoring chores taken care of and lay our little heads down for a good sleep!
In the morning, we woke up to find fishing boats absolutely everywhere - milling around us and heading out the inlet. Reveille sounded from the loudspeakers at the Coast Guard Station and we watched all the action as we drank our morning cup of java. By 8 o'clock we were on our way north up the ICW to Vero Beach where we planned to wait for a nice wind to blow us up the coast.
And I think that fills in the gaps of the crossing!
Nothing more has broken on the boat!!
05/05/2010/2:07 pm, Green Turtle Cay
After short stays in Marsh Harbour, Fisher's Bay and Baker's Bay (Great Guana Cay) we arrived back here in Green Turtle Cay - the place our Bahamas visit started in 2007.
Things are going well!! We're seeing lots of boats heading south, as the rest of us make our way north and west. I'll write a more interesting posting later - with luck, before we leave here - but this is to let you know that we are within a week of being back in the USA. It looks like we have a weather window starting Monday that will take us to Fernandina Beach, Florida - our planned landfall. We'll head north along the Abaco cays to the edge of the banks and then away we go.
Wish us luck!
And some more about our stay here...
We really like the village of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. It was home base for us for a month or so back on our first trip to the Bahamas, and it felt good to be here again. The houses are tucked in along the edges of narrow streets, with a jumble of flowering trees and shrubs overhanging fences and gates. These homes are mostly all occupied by locals who take pride in them so they are well kept and tidy. Sapphire, Solitaire and Savage Son were here too and we all gathered at Miss Emily's Blue Bee bar for the requisite Goombay Smash (mostly rum with a splash of fruit juice!) After a wander through town to check out the shops, we gathered again at Pineapples - the pretty little bar beside the pool at the other Shore Club in Black Sound.
The others headed back to their boats, but Jim and I took a stroll over to the dock in Black Sound to see if we could find Kevin MacIntosh - the dockmaster who was so kind to us on our last trip. Sure enough, he was there cleaning conch. He said the conch are not so plentiful in this area now - and we found that to be true ourselves up in the Manjack area. There are so many of them further south - we hope they don't get scarce everywhere.
On Wednesday, we joined Sapphire and Savage Son aboard Solitaire to celebrate Nancy's birthday with a Mexican brunch - stuffed jalapeno peppers, ouevos rancheros, tortillas, fruit, cinnamon rolls. The others left for Manjack, while we lingered here for a few more hours. We picked up a few groceries at Sid's - the family owned and so friendly little store close to the wharf. When we were here before, the matriarch of the family sat on the settee just inside the front door, chatting with all comers. I was worried when she wasn't there, but we discovered she is over in Marsh harbour for a visit with her other daughter. At 88 she still sits in the store when she is here. We bought some engine oil at Robert's Marine - chatting with Mrs Roberts who is still behind the counter.
Over at Pineapples, we checked email, munched on the best conch fritters ever (excepting maybe Marilyn's!) while we chatted with Bruce and Adam (Skimmer).
My heart had a little twinge as we walked past the public phone on the verandah by the post office where I spent so much time talking to the hospital and my Dad last trip when my Mum was ill. The same feelings welled up as we looked down the harbour in Black Sound where we left Madcap to fly home when Mum passed on, and when we sat again on the little rock wall where we begged the airlines to get us on flights to go home.
Green Turtle Cay will always be close to our hearts and we were glad to have even this little time here to soak up its warmth once more.