Farewell to the Bahamas
05/11/2008, Vero Beach, Florida
May 8th and 9th Allans Pensacola to Vero Beach.
Although Chris Parker could transmit at 6:30 am as usual, we were unable to receive, so Nancy called him for a forecast for our potential Golf stream crossing. Everything sounded fine with winds of 15 from the south and waves at 4 feet so "Sapphire" and "Solitaire" said good byes to our Madcap friends, weighed anchor and were headed for the states with an overnight at Great Sale Cay which was out in the middle of the Banks about 30 miles away.
The sailing was perfect with the wind just behind the beam at 10 to 15 knots giving us a speed of over 5 knots all day. We ran the motor to charge up the batteries for 2 hours at a point were our course was more down wind, but that was the only time all day that it was running.
It was so nice in fact, that we all decided that we really didn't need to stop at Great Sale for the night and kept going. Reached the edge of the banks at around 10 pm where the wind freshened a little. From the point here the Bahama Banks meet the Atlantic it is 64 miles to Fort Pierce.
While it was still had daylight I double reefed the main sail, ran a jackline and organized the boat for night sailing which basically means getting out our inflatable life vests, tethers, and headlamps.
The wind continued to pick up and at about midnight when the wind passed 20 knots we rolled up the jib and a little later when we were flying along at 8.2 knots on staysail, double reefed main and mizzen, we rolled up the staysail as well. At this point things were uncomfortable. The seas were up and the wind was occasionally hitting 30 knots. We were making good progress but taking seas on the beam which produced enough of a roll to put Kathy out of action. She has never chummed, but the side to side lurching as we drop off the back side of a wave is more that her system can handle.
We were in sight of "Solitaire" at all times and spoke to each other regularly on the radio which is comforting when times are trying. Anyway, at some point at around 2am (I was too busy to look at clocks), Jim called to say that we must be nearing the Gulf Stream because was having to make regular course corrections to keep the autopilot on track. A few minutes later, he called to say that he had no control and may have lost his rudder. Not Good. I started up the engine and made Kathy get out of bed to handle the radio while I began the process of turning to double back.
I had a terrible time controlling the boat. The wind and waves combined to take us in every direction but the one that I wanted. I could see "Solitaire" changing colors in the distance from red to green and back to red again as I slowly circled about 100 yards away. After a few minutes they seem to be on course so we managed to get to a position to starboard and paralleled their course slowly. Kathy spoke with Nancy and confirmed that they seemed to be ok, were back on course and were going to run at between 4.5 and 5 knots.
With that message Kathy went back below to lay down.
The rest of the night was more of the same. The main and mizzen were worked as hard as they could as shock absorbers and reduced our roll by at least half... but there was still enough to make movement onboard almost impossible. I spent the rest of the night tethered to the mizzen mast where I had enough of a leash to tuck myself behind the dodger avoiding most of the constant salt spray, but still was able to move aft to check the instruments and adjust the autopilot without disconnecting myself.
At 4am the wind began to slowly subside and by 5am were back down to about 20 knots sustained. When the sun came up things were almost pleasant. We were still rolling but only had about 3 hours to Fort Pierce.
When we were 3 miles off shore I called Customs to tell them of our arrival. On the other end of the line was a person ... obviously new to the job, and also very clearly of foreign decent, who was about as helpful as a sand burr in bare feet. He spoke very quietly and would have been difficult to understand in normal circumstances ... we were at sea with the engine running and the wind blowing. I started out be apologetic and with the excuse that I was having trouble hearing, but about 10 minutes into the interrogation, I shifted to "I don't understand you." At about that point I lost the connection. Having had zero sleep in the last 30 hours probably didn't help matters but I was pissed. I called back, spoke with a supervisor and was directed back to my favorite junior customs agent. Most of the questioning had been completed, we just had a few things to finish.
We finally got around to any and all illegal items we were attempting to smuggle back into our home and first of the list was fruits and vegetables. My response was that we had no fruit and the only vegetable was a Dole romaine heart in the refrigerator. At that, he had to take 10 minutes off to check with his supervisor and hit the bathroom before resuming the conversation saying that we had to bag up the romaine is a sealed container and report to the address that he was about to give me.
By that time I was getting used to his broken English so figuring out the address and phone number after only 4 attempts. He gave us our 13 or 15 digit clearance code and a parting remark - "You have four hours to appear."
End of phone call...
When we got in a little calmer water and I had quieted my diatribe on federal employees residing in foreign countries, Kathy called the number and spoke with the person in charge of agricultural imports to find that our romaine was not in fact one the banned items... but that we had to report anyway to the finish the immigration part of process.
Entering Fort Pierce was easy and we found an anchorage just off the ICW that was acceptable. We had to get the dinghy down and the motor lifted back on the dinghy before we were back in action. On our way out of the anchorage we saw "Another Adventure" who we had seen during the winter but never met. We stopped by for information and he was very helpful sending us to a restaurant that allowed patrons to park for free if they spent $12 or more. The dock master, at Harbor Town was also very nice and gave us the cab number. While we were waiting, a cab returned from customs with "Tell Tails" and another family who were both sputtering about the horrible way they had been treated there and offering their best wishes for our visit.
When our cab arrived we jumped in and were warned by the driver, who must have been poured in his seat a few years ago, that one of his tires was coming apart and not to be surprised if we didn't make it out to the airport where Customs was located.
Fortunately we made it, tire flapping all the way, and were dropped off outside the door while he somehow extricated himself to check the damage. We walked up to the Customs, door which was locked, and pushed the button for service. A very friendly man let us in, checked our passports and took our entrance number which he entered into a computer. He returned in a about a minute asking the whereabouts of our bag of romaine. Kathy explained that she had spoken with the person in charge of contraband agricultural products and was told that it wasn't necessary. The customs guy walked back to an office, to check out her story and was back momentarily to say thanks for stopping by and to have a nice day. We were there for 2 minutes max. and were treated very satisfactorily.
The taxi made it back to the Marina / Restaurant where we had lunch and returned to the boat. We weighed anchor and Kathy drove us the 12 miles up to Vero Beach while I worked on getting things back together (he was supposed to take a nap)....lines, sail covers and the like. Once on our mooring, while Kathy was talking to here mom, I went in to register at the marina office and to get a key to the showers. I returned and we both went in to take showers using as much water as we wanted. Kathy used her hair dryer for the first time in months. On the way back we stopped by "Solitaire" to say that we had to forgo the night's get-together on "Veranda" to get some much needed rest. We had a quick supper and I fell asleep on the floor in front of a fan while Kathy sat in the cockpit watching the sun set.... it had been a long two days.
05/11/2008, Allans-Pensacola Cay
May 7th...Allans Pensacola Cay
We sailed part of the way, but ended up motoring slowly the rest of the way. Allans Pensacola is a deserted cay where the U.S. had a missile tracking station during the cold war. There are supposed to be ruins and a nice beach to see, so after we got anchored and checked the anchors (Nancy dove on them), the crews of "Sapphire" and "Soitaire" headed out in our dinghies.
We found the remains of an old dock and saw "things" hanging from a tree. This usually means there if a trail there, and we were not disappointed. We followed the trail where a road used to be for about ½ mile to the other side of the island. We came upon a signing tree which is a tree where boaters have signed there name on all sorts of driftwood, old wine bottles, and other things that had drifted in from sea.
Nancy and I walked the beach looking for treasures while Mike and Jim walked the high water line looking for washed up junk and possible treasures. We found a few shells, Jim found one sea bean and we found some small sea beans in an odd place that must have been deposited by a hurricane. We also found some ruins and old wells. We did not drink the water.
We discussed leaving for the states tomorrow from Allans Pensacola, or possibly going to Great Sale Cay and leaving from there on the 9th. We would like to stay longer, but it doesn't look like we'll have the weather for a crossing for quite some time if we don't go now. "Madcap" finally arrived and they have decided they are not ready to go back and will be staying for a weather window in the next few weeks. We will be sad to leave them.
05/11/2008, Manjack Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Our plan was to leave today but didn't. "Restless" took off for Great Sale Cay and plans on making the trip back tomorrow. We just weren't ready to leave yet. In the morning we dinghied into the mangroves and found some nice conch. It was a neat trip motoring up as far as we could go, probably about a mile, and then floating with the ebbing current back to where we started.
Be the time we got the conch cleaned it was two o'clock and we decided to stay. I fried up some cracked conch for dinner and took a plate over to "Solitaire" which resulted in an invitation. So we spent most of the evening with Jim and Nancy.
The weather is not going to be conducive for a crossing until next Tuesday at the soonest but we will slowly work our way up a few miles every day beginning tomorrow.