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Madcap Sailing
Island Time
09/12/2007/10:44 am, Manjack Cay, Abacos

We hauled anchor and started off from Great Sale Cay right after listening to Chris Parker's weather net on the Single Sideband Radio at 6:30 am on Friday. (This broadcast has become the way we start our days Monday - Saturday.) Our intention was to get to Green Turtle Cay in time to check in with Customs and get the formalities of the entrance over with. It was while we were checking the wind speed and the distance on the charts and realizing that we probably would not make it, and thinking about where we could go instead and whether we would make it in time, that Jim said, "Why are we doing this rushing?" Our stated intention was that after steadily pushing ourselves a little farther every day down the ICW, we would change the rhythm once we reached the Bahamas. (Lest I give the wrong impression, we thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the ICW; it has been only in the last few days that we have felt impatient to be done with it.)

Several people have told us that as long as we flew the yellow quarantine flag, didn't flagrantly go off about town, and did get ourselves into a customs office at a reasonable opportunity, we would not be hassled by Bahamian authorities. So, when Jim asked this question, it was like turning off an alarm clock - or ignoring the summons of a blackberry - or responding "When I'm ready" to a call for attention. Why indeed? With that new sense of freedom and release from the clock, we looked again at the charts - this time with an eye to interesting anchorages.

We pulled in behind Crab Cay, just off Great Bahama where our Explorer Chart showed a good anchorage in an East wind. We dropped our trusty CQR anchor in white sand about 3 feet below our keel, dug it in and put our feet up. Jim BBQ'd a pork tenderloin and I made Bahamian Peas 'n Rice for dinner. We watched the sun set and the stars come out, and then went below to watch a movie. It was an island time evening.

On Saturday morning, we woke up to a glassy calm, aquamarine sea. After listening to Chris Parker tell us that the wind would be from the East for the next few days, gradually increasing in intensity, we dropped into 28 degree water for a swim and a cleanup. This is a surreal experience. We heard that it is minus 15 in Ottawa. There is enough snow to shovel in Moncton and Amherst. ... and we are swimming.

With the swim and breakfast over with, we up-anchored and headed back out around the corner toward Manjack Cay (pronounced Munjack Key and sometimes spelled Nunjack)- our next stopover. Once again, we had to do the re-thinking exercise - this time on wind direction and sail-ability. The main was up but our course was into the wind and so it seemed like we'd have to motor all the way. Then we remembered - "Oh yes - island time... direct route unnecessary." So we turned out of the wind enough to put up the yankee. The engine stayed on for an hour to charge the batteries and then off it went while we sailed quietly onward at about 4 knots. Interestingly enough, the wind shifted just enough to mean that we didn't need to do any tacking after all.

Our only diversion in course came when we crossed a clear line in water colour. This business of watching colour for depths is a real learning experience. Colour can mean differences in depth, composition of the bottom, reflection of clouds. We had been in that colour before, so I watched the depth sounder carefully and moved onward. The figures dropped rapidly from 8 ft below our keel to 7,6,5,4ft... At that point I was heading out toward the edge of the line again, and when we reached 1 foot, I let out the sail all the way, turned a sharp right angle and had us into 8 feet (below the keel) again. The chartbook had mentioned that there were shallow areas through the charted route between Angelfish Point and Manjack Cay, and it was right. So now I'm getting my eyes trained to see variations in that lovely green colour! Hmmm - it that 8ft green or 4 ft green?

We anchored in the little bay at the SE end of Manjack Cay where a few houses nestle in one corner. There was lots of depth and a few boats already there. Several more boats came in after we did - some Canadian, some American - one more with the yellow flag. A dinghy ride around yielded a pleasant conversation with a fellow on the dock. He told us that we were welcome to land our dinghy on the beach here, where to pick up the trail to the large beach to the North, that we can walk along the eastern shore of the Cay and have rays and little sharks follow us along - preferably with them in the water and us on the beach! A most delightful piece of news is that we can pick up excellent and free wifi during the day when the tower is turned on. Yippee! We have no cellphone coverage, but this connection is most welcome. It was amusing for Jim to collect his e-mail and find one from David on Calamity letting us know that we can get wifi in this very cove. Pretty good timing I'd say!

Our next learning experience came during the night (Saturday). We have always felt great confidence in our CQR (plough type) anchor and while we have a Bruce and a Danforth on board, we use the CQR exclusively. We also hedge our bets by setting the anchor drag alarm most nights. The wind was blowing about 10 knots E when we went to bed. We had been settled in for over 7 hours before that. So it was with a start that we woke up about 1:30 to hear the anchor alarm sounding. This is not overly unusual - it does sound when tide or wind causes us to swing about to a different direction. Jim went out to check and soon called me for a second opinion. Though the wind had increased to 15 knots, we were still facing the same direction so he knew it wasn't a swing that caused the beeping. It was as we watched, peering into the darkness at the other anchor lights, that we realized yes - not only were they in different positions, they were still changing. Then, alarmingly, we realized that we were seeing a boat on our starboard stern ever more clearly! We were not only dragging, but the momentum was increasing. We both leaped into action - engine started, snubber off anchor chain, navigation lights and windlass turned on, hand on throttle, one eye on compass and another on surrounding boats. Jim pulled the anchor clear and I put the boat in reverse with about 6 feet to spare. We circled back behind all the other boats, anchored again, and debriefed.

Besides being happy that we hadn't hit anything, we were pleased that neither of us had panicked. There was no shouting or commotion - in fact we never saw any sign that all our action had woken up the people on the other boat. What was odd was that the anchor had held well in 10-knot winds for several hours and then seemed to have let go and not reset itself. The tide changed around that time but the wind was strong enough to keep us pointed in the same direction. Perhaps that was enough to cause the lift, although we were fine during an earlier tide change. We doubt that setting two anchors would have made a difference. According to our Explorer book, such a practice does not necessarily limit the strain, and can sometimes complicate things by increasing the chances of tangling rodes. Clearly, this business of anchoring in sand is different from what we have been used to. One thing that concerns us is that always before, when the anchor had been set for a few hours, we felt confident in leaving the boat. Now, we will be a little wary about doing that. It's a problem we'll solve though, because we are not about to confine ourselves to mooring balls or marinas, nor to sit aboard all the time. The learning continues and we're interested in hearing from others who have experiences to share.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and windy - E 10-15 knots with Madcap still in the same place - yeah! We'll sail to Green Turtle Cay later today and will probably stay put for a few days while we explore the island. We can return here to Manjack when the wind beckons us back. Oh joy! We're free to go where "wind, weather and inclination take us". That is Jim's famous line; he's been giving that answer to the question of "Where will you go in the Bahamas?" ever since we left Ontario, and now here we are - doing it.

Because the wind is going to stay E or ENE and increase to 20 knots for most of this week, you can be sure that we'll be where there is reasonable protection and space to put out lots of chain!

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13/12/2007/2:30 pm | Nancy Simpson
I am so glad and relieved that you had such a smooth crossing of the gulf stream and am as green as the water with envy of the blissful swimming bays while I sit here watching the white flakes swirl around. The mature ladies now in winter coats and boots hope that you have a good Christmas and offer to boat sit any time!! Nancy and Mona
Safely & Happily in the Bahamas
Beth- in bathing suit!
06/12/2007/10:40 am, Great Sale Cay, Abacos

Oh what an absolute thrill to be writing this from the Bahamas!!

To give you a more precise idea of where we are, the Abacos are the northern part of the Bahamian chain of islands and are part of the Near Bahamas - the islands closest to Florida. That group also includes Grand Bahama, and the Bimini, Berry, and Andros Islands. Further down are the Exumas.

There are several jumping off places in Florida to start the crossing, and several arrival spots in the islands. The route we used, Lake Worth to Memory Rock (as our waypoint on the Bahamas Banks) with our first stop at Great Sale Cay worked well for us. We left Lake Worth at 11pm on Wednesday, arrived on the Banks around 8am Thursday, and had the anchor down at 3:30pm Thursday. People usually leave at night so as to arrive on the Banks (shallow water) in daylight. It truly was amazing to see the depth sounder move from "last measured depth 510 feet" (really over 2000 feet) to "15 feet" so quickly. The water changed colour and all of a sudden we had arrived even though there was still no land in sight.

Despite the forecasted wind and waves, the crossing was a bit anticlimactic. We had everything carefully stowed and tied down in anticipation of 4-6 foot waves and 15 to 20 knot winds, and we put the mainsail up just before we emerged from Lake Worth inlet. The waves were no more than 2 feet and the wind didn't hit the double digits till around 5 in the morning, so our mainsail was up more for looks than for power. The waves were the corkscrewy kind however - a little this way and a little that way in a following sea - the kind that means we don't spend time below decks unless we are sleeping. Fortunately, neither Jim nor I are prone to seasickness, and we each sleep quite well when the other is on watch, so it was a straightforward crossing for us. (It's quite different from our first overnight in Lake Ontario when we were so excited that we both stayed up all night and were totally exhausted the next day!)

Jim had carefully plotted our course to take into account the strong currents of the Gulf Stream. It really is like a river running north through the Straits of Florida. Any boat crossing it tries to work with it rather than fighting it so we were pointing at a waypoint a fair bit south of where we wanted to end up. (I can remember doing the very same thing with our little sailboat at Amherst Shore 30 years ago. To end up in front of the cottage, I had to aim farther up or down the shoreline, depending on which way the wind was blowing. With the centerboard up on that Invitation, it was pretty much at the mercy of the wind). The current of the Gulf Stream was strongest near the Florida coastline, so we gradually adjusted the heading over the course of the trip, and ended up where we wanted to be at about the time we expected to be there. Our only entertainment besides watching the stars above and the bioluminescence below was meeting a cruise ship right in the channel as we were leaving Lake Worth. I hugged the green marker as closely as I dared, and someone called out a Thank You from the pilot boat as it passed. It felt like I could have reached out and shaken his hand, but he was probably a bit further off than that! We expected that there would be a number of boats crossing that night since the weather window looked to be a short one, but Strathspey's was the only pleasurecraft light we saw until early morning when we spotted another one.

I was on watch at dawn. I checked the gradually increasing wind and determined that it just might be possible to sail so I put out the staysail and then the yankee (the large foresail that we carry instead of a genoa), throttled down and then turned the engine off entirely. Ahhh, it felt blissful... the silence... the ever so gentle beginning of a new day. We hadn't had that engine off in weeks - in over 1000 miles. I had almost forgotten how absolutely wonderful it is to hear nothing but the waves brushing up against the boat as they swish on by. It is a totally different experience. And so I sat - perched on my preferred seat up on the stern railing in the starboard corner - knowing that my co-captain was sleeping below, that this trusty boat was carrying us on to the next stage of this amazing journey - feeling the warm wind on my cheeks, and watching the beginning of the day.

We arrived at Great Sale Cay (and by the way, Cay is pronounced Key, just so you know) to find only one other boat besides Strathspey there. Dragonfly, a catamaran with Cindy and Rick onboard arrived shortly afterward, and so after we jumped in the water for our first swim in this clear green water, Mary and Blair, Cindy and Rick joined us on Madcap for a celebration. The champagne bubbled, the conversation between old friends and new friends flowed easily, and we toasted our success in reaching this goal. It seems a lifetime ago that we sat around a table in Ottawa and said we four would sail our boats down the St Lawrence River and all the way to the Bahamas. After a year of planning, and almost six months of traveling, it was absolutely thrilling to say, "WE DID IT!"

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10/12/2007/4:22 pm | Phil McGovern
Good on you! Your wonderful description made the "crossing" sound easy and it gave Admiral Margaret and me the idea that we, too, can do this.

We still plan to leave Savannah aboard "Sunshine" in early January bound for Biscayne Bay (just South of Miami) where we plan to learn how to sail. From there, we'll probably head for Bimini and we will certainly look forward to meeting up with you over there. Save us a spot and enjoy the rest of your adventure!
Our Last Stretch of the ICW
05/12/2007/3:16 pm, Lake Worth, FL

Florida is a strange kind of a place. Mind you, this is a purely personal opinion based on one trip down the ICW. The northern part is interesting and mostly friendly; this last stretch has been interesting yes, but in a different way. There is not as much diversity in the rivers and land cuts, and the steering is mostly straight ahead, looking from marker to marker. We passed under far more bridges on Tuesday, including the PGA bridge right beside a lovely looking golf course - and right around the corner from where Tiger Woods reportedly keeps his boat.

We passed the 1000 statute mile point about 11:30 on Tuesday so we toasted the milestone and ate some chocolate!

We passed more estate style properties - but mostly without the property. Many filled almost the whole lot. Several had huge screened in portions of the yard. We are not talking screened in porch - we're talking screened in yard! To be fair, we also passed many lovely homes with beautiful landscaped gardens. In places, little canals ran off perpendicular to the ICW and they were lined with palm trees and houses and docks. Most of the land along this stretch of the waterway is highly developed - gone are the marshes and wild areas, although the wonderful assortment of birds is still present, and Jim spotted another alligator.

Most of the boats around seemed to be powerboats, and most with fishing apparatus, some of them very expensive, others simple runabouts. On the weekends, the fisherfolk roared past us in their fast boats, or sat in their little boats just off the channel.

The ICW is a narrow channel that runs down the centre of the rivers and is sometimes silted in. We bumped on a shoal going around a corner - at Jupiter Inlet. The buoys are frequently moved to indicate deepest water, but still there are sometimes shoals that run right across the channel. The good thing is that they are mostly sand so they are not damaging, and can often be backed off or plowed through. We even hit one in the dinghy as we crossed the Indian River in our futile effort to find a dock at Fort Pierce.

We have noticed that cruising powerboats almost always slow down to pass us, while local powerboats rarely do. Cars do not stop to allow pedestrians to cross, and people don't wave as often. Just as in Fort Pierce, here in Lake Worth we found a distinct lack of enthusiasm about making it convenient for anchorers to come ashore. We feel a bit like we are riffraff that they'd rather keep off their land. It is a strange approach for a town with expensive homes and cars and the kind of stores where we cruisers can spend a lot of money.

Soon after we arrived in the anchorage here, we dinghied over to the Old Port Cove Marina to visit Mary and Blair and find out where the dinghy dock was. They told us there wasn't one - the marina doesn't really encourage people to come ashore. Really! We asked about a dinghy dock close to a grocery store, and Mary gave us directions. We set off in the indicated direction, trying a channel or two before we found the right one, because of course it wasn't marked. There is no dock. The procedure is to run the dinghy up on a tiny sand beach beside a bridge. If there are lots of other boats, which there were when we got there, one must jump out and wade ashore. The dinghies must be locked to a wire running along a fence - because theft is apparently common here. Then one climbs the bank, crosses the highway and walks to the grocery store. I could not believe it. If we were in the Bahamas, I'd laugh and think it part of the charm. Here in this city where boats costing millions of dollars are moored, and where hundreds of cruisers set off to cross the Gulf Stream, it was annoying, ridiculous and beyond my understanding.

I made a call to the marina this morning to inquire how much they charge people at anchor to come ashore to do laundry and have showers, and where we should land our dinghy. The gentleman's reply was: "We don't allow that, ma'am." Their ad in the boating books says "providing spectacular service since 1972". When I said this did not seem like spectacular service to me, he said they offer services only to people who come into their slips. I tried one more question: "Would you please tell me where it IS possible for me to do laundry? I'm sure you would have that information since you must get lots of calls like this." The answer: "No ma'am. I have no idea and you are this only person this year who has asked that question." Amazing. We asked at the North Palm Beach Marina where we went for fuel and the answer was the same. No services offered and no idea where they might be offered. There were a couple of Laundromats one time but they closed.

Jim will tell you in another posing about his bizarre experience getting fuel.

Well - enough of the rant. The weather is hot and sunny. The anchorage is spacious. The lights on the buildings around sparkle and twinkle. Our SSB is working well enough to allow us to listen to Chris Parker give his morning weather report and answer questions of cruisers who sign on to his service. We got a call on the VHF radio this afternoon from David Allester - formerly of Little Gidding (a sister ship of Madcap). He is in Florida, playing about on his nephew's boat. David and Eileen (Quinn) are friends who have encouraged us since we met them in Belleville when they first returned from cruising, and it was great to hear his call. We picked up a load of needed (or would that be wanted?) items at the West Marine store. In fact we borrowed a little fold up box on wheels from Mary and then decided it might be practical to have one of our own. They were handy for toting jugs of engine oil and diesel, and that other liquid - the one we drink.

We did the last of the provisioning at the Publix store this morning. I'm happy to report that the people there were really helpful and friendly. The prices were reasonable enough and we are now fully loaded. We have tried to find a happy medium of having onboard what might be more difficult to find in the less developed Cays of the Abacos and Exumas, without getting caught up in a frenzy of carrying everything we could possibly need for the whole trip. The stores in Marsh Harbour apparently have everything we would find on the mainland. Jim and I love to experiment and eat what is available locally so we'll carry some staples and leave the rest open to possibility. We have our quarantine flag to hoist when we get inside Bahamian waters and before we have checked in. We have the Bahamian courtesy flag for after that, our passports, money to pay the entry fee, and enough food to make sure we don't starve. We may be wearing grubby clothes and be a little unkempt, but tomorrow we'll swim in crystal clear water, do the washing in a bucket and hang it on the rail.

The weather report for tonight is favourable for a sail across the Gulf Stream to the Abacos so our plan is to head out with Strathspey around 10 or 11 pm. A number of boats have left this anchorage to head out near the inlet so as to be ready for an easy trip out after dark, and we will do the same shortly. The wind will be up and there will be some waves but Chris Parker the weather guru says it will be a rare opportunity to sail across rather than motoring. We'll do it at night so we land during daylight. If the wind seems too strong when we get out there, we'll turn around and come back in. Otherwise we should be nicely tucked into Great Sale Cay by this time tomorrow afternoon.

I'll do a posting afterward to let you all know how it went. If you don't see anything here for a day or two, it just means that we have not yet found a wifi connection. Unfortunately the Winlink position report system is on the blink again so that's not reliable.

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12/12/2007/5:58 am | Sandra Markman
Good morning from Antigua. Your adventures sound fabulous. When would you like to drop in? You can reach me at the office at 268-462-0017 ext 377 or on the cell 268-785-7056. We will be away from 16 Dec until 1 January (although the friends who will be house-sitting are lovely we wold hate to miss you!)and expect Ian around the 10th January (at last!!)

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