05/01/2011/12:17 pm, New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay
Tuesday, Jan 4 was another day of motoring - with a sail up to boost us a little - as we made our way from Great Sale Cay to Green Turtle Cay. We weren't in any hurry - already on Bahama time - and we made our way along past Grand Bahama Island and Centre of the World Rock. I love that name for a chunk of rock that sits all by itself out in the water between Little Abaco Island and Allans-Pennsacola Cay.
We passed by Manjack Cay and could see several masts, but we didn't stop this time. I hope we'll meet up with Greynorth somewhere while we are in this area! Instead, we dropped anchor where we have been several times in the past - just off the government dock at the pretty little town of New Plymouth. Green Turtle Cay is where we checked in on our first trip, back in December 2007 and here we are to do the same thing on our third Bahamas trip. It was almost 6 o'clock before we got settled, so we had a short little happy hour of our own before dining in the cockpit on a stirfry of chicken, broccoli, and peppers and a nice glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. Then it was time to sit back and look at the stars, take in the lights of the town, bask in the warm air and feel so glad to be back here.
This morning (Wed, Jan 5/11) we woke to a clear warm day and the warnings from Chris Parker of heavy winds to come. Accordingly, we dinghied in to see Kevin MacIntosh at the Other Shore Club in Black Sound to arrange a mooring. Yes, yes, I know - we still needed to check in, but first things first! We can get into Black Sound on a high tide and that was around 9 and the Immigration Office didn't open till 9 so the boat came first. Kevin had nothing open, but like all Bahamians, he has friends! We went in on the tide, seeing no less than 7'7" through the channel and tied to a somewhat suspect mooring ball. Once his buddy comes back from fishing, we'll switch to a more secure one. In the meantime, we are in Black Sound where we want to be! Our old friend, David Allin (Solitaire 1) came over to welcome us to the neighbourhood and we saw lots of Canadian flags flying.
Next stop - the Customs and Immigration office where check in went relatively well too. There has been much talk recently about the length of time cruisers have been given before having to check in again - and the latest word was that all offices would be giving 30 days - a serious inconvenience. We asked for 120 days and got 90 - the same as last time we checked in here. That allows us to do some moving around before we have to present ourselves again.
So here we are at Pineapples, the little bar nearest our dinghy dock. The wind is picking up, the waves roll in, and the sun is high overhead. The water is aqua blue and the tables yellow like the colours of the Bahamian flag, and we truly do feel like we are in a home away from home.
03/01/2011/11:31 am, Great Sale Cay
After our fast decision at the coffee shop on Sunday morning to try a crossing that day, we hustled our little bodies through all the preparations and did it, arriving at Great Sale Cay about 4pm on Monday!
Once we made the decision to go, we returned the rental car, picked up our fridge and freezer contents from Nancy and Jim, loaded the dinghy, fueled wand watered up and pumped out and at 12:15, let go the mooring ball that has been Madcap's base for the last 28 days. We headed down the ICW to Fort Pierce in what was supposed to have been light winds. They averaged 15 knots instead and we wondered what we would face outside the inlet. We had an ebb tide that would have swept us out beautifully if not for the waves coming in! Instead, it was a pretty rocky passage out through the inlet with sea water sloshing over the bow, but we persevered, thinking it would probably be better outside - and it was. Unfortunately, it was too rough and the wind too much on our nose for us to hug the coast down toward Lake Worth as we had planned before striking out across the Gulf Stream, so after making about 6 knots in 2 hours, it was decision making time again. Go back to Ft Pierce? Keep slogging south the way we were? Turn out toward the Bahamas and start our crossing from further north? We opted for the latter and it worked well.
We set a waypoint for Little Bahama Banks, and then aimed 25 nautical miles south of that to counteract the current. Doing it this meant that we spent longer in the Gulf Stream than is normally advised, but it was preferable to pitching and slamming down the coast. (We found out later that it was also preferable to going down the inside because of the many pleasure boats roaring by on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the difficulty of timing bridge openings!)
The water stayed fairly sloppy for a few hours - Jim and I both popped motion sickness pills that kept our stomachs level and we stayed above decks for the first few hours to avoid problems. The wind still wasn't at a good angle for sailing and then it eventually died to just a few knots so it wasn't a sailing trip, but it was just fine all things considered. We each got some sleep through the night - taking roughly 3 hour watches - and we saw very little other traffic. We knew there had to be pleasure boats out there because of the weather window, but because they all left from farther south, we didn't see them except for one power boat that passed us in the morning. We altered course to avoid a couple of cargo ships during the night and saw two cruise ships go by in the distance. (The night before, we might have seen our daughter, Mary Beth's, cruise ship, the Norweigan Pearl cross in the other direction, albeit further south - so I'm only imagining that we might have really seen it...) A couple of fishing boats kept us alert as they flew along, and stopped and then flew along again. Along with our radar, the AIS that we installed last year is so handy for night time crossings. Between these two instruments and our own eyes, it is pretty easy to see what is out there.
Dawn brought that fabulous smooth, almost silky turquoise water flowing under the keel as we cruised along over the banks - 16 feet deep instead of over 2000. It also brought coffee and sunshine and the relaxation of knowing we had no more wondering to do about when to cross. It's curious that even when we think we aren't stressing too awfully much about the crossing, there is still a palpable sense of relief once it is behind us.
We were the 13th boat into the anchorage at Great Sale Cay in absolutely flat water. Our mooring buddy - Bonnie Lass - was there already and we had a great reunion with them at happy hour hosted by Linda and Wayne (Isla). Another boat must have come in after that because there were 14 of us when I counted in the morning. It was a true Bahama night - with a sky full of stars, the blessed quiet of no engine, no traffic, no partiers, and the gentlest of rocking as we crawled into bed .... at 7 o'clock!!
01/01/2011/8:19 am, Vero Beach, FL
I hadn't realized that this is day 1 of month 1 of year (20)11. It must be an auspicious day!
Our flights from Halifax through JFK airport in New York and on to Orlando all went well. I had never flown through JFK before and seeing it in person made the stories of the backups there all the more real. The Delta Airlines section that we were in was crammed with seats and the seats were all filled with bodies. We thought New Year's Eve might be slow but there was nothing slow about that place - it was teeming with people and must have been just beyond belief a couple of days ago when so many more folks were there waiting for flights. I'm grateful we weren't among them.
Because we arrived in Orlando at 10:30 pm, we stayed at the Best Western overnight and continued on to Vero Beach this morning. I must say, it was a bit of a comedown in terms of New Year's Eve celebrations! We crawled into bed about 11:45, watched the countdown in Times Square and then almost immediately fell asleep. We took the shuttle back to the airport this morning to pick up our Avis rental car and hit the highway. A note of advice to anyone renting cars - we rented from Budget on the way up simply because I came to that number first after trying Enterprise (our usual choice) and finding that they don't do drop offs. Going up to Orlando, it cost about $79 and they said it would be around $120 coming back because it was right in the middle of holiday season and an airport rental. Jim checked around and found that the Avis rate was much more reasonable. We paid $69 this morning for a 24 hour rental including the drop off in Vero beach.
We were surprised to find the grocery store open as usual today so we did our final shopping trip - stocking up on lots of fresh produce and the odd extras we hadn't picked up before (pesto sauce, another bottle of capers, pimentos for the conch fritters I plan to make, some more canned milk) and the ingredients for New Year's Dinner. Once back at the marina, we were delighted to find Madcap looking and smelling good. Apparently Valerie and Graham (Bonnie Lass) just left this morning so Madcap was in good company the whole time we were away. The marina has really cleared out - most mooring balls have only one boat on them and there are a few empty ones.
Bruce (Zingara) joined us for dinner tonight, and we dined on wonderful steaks cooked on the BBQ by chef Jim, and accompanied by baked potatoes with sour cream and green onions, green beans tossed in a garlicky butter sauce, and beets. We enjoyed a bottle of the very good Chilean wine we picked up in Fernandina Beach - and finished dinner with a few delicious chocolate truffles that I've kept hidden away. Oh so good. We have steak so rarely that it is a real treat.
When Bruce left tonight, the water was so still the masts were reflected perfectly. I can't wait till we have another still night like this away from all the ambient light - where the stars fill the sky and there is no light but those on the tops of masts.
We'll gather our fridge and freezer contents from Nancy and Jim in the morning and check the weather and make our decision on when to head out. The water across the Florida Straits is supposed to calm down well the first of the week and there appears to be a weather window for a calm motoring passage. We may leave Sunday afternoon to go down to Fort Pierce and then on from there on Monday, or, more likely, make an early start to Lake Worth on Monday. What remains to be seen is whether we go outside or in the ICW. If there is still some wind, the ICW makes more sense, but it would be awfully nice to go outside at Fort Pierce and then off Lake Worth decide whether to turn left to the Bahamas or right for a nights sleep just inside the inlet. We shall see ...
At any rate, it feels very good to be back on board our little home on the water - especially since it has warmed up here! As much as we both loved being home for the holidays, we also love being on this boat. We are so very lucky to be able to enjoy both a land life and a sea life. 2011 - we're ready to forge ahead and see what happens!
Jan 2 addendum -
We came in to the lovely little Panera coffee shop to check weather and based on what we found, we are now leaving today! We'll return the car, retrieve our fridge contents, get pumped out and fueled up and then go down the ICW to Fort Pierce. From there, we'll go outside down the coast until we are off Lake Worth (or somewhere thereabouts) and head across the Gulf Stream toward Great Sale Cay. It looks like good weather till Monday night and we should be well on the banks by then. Adrenaline is pumping!