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Retirement to Bahamas
Mike and Judy have been sailing for some 25 years. We have dreamed for years about retiring and sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean. We are living our dream!
Welcome to the US
04/16/2009

So, we're about five miles off the Lake Worth entrance and the conditions are looking foreboding. Lots of boats of all sizes are now converging on or leaving from this very busy harbour. This evil looking storm cloud seems to be sitting on West Palm Beach and lightning is now regularly cracking down the sky. I check on my radar which if you tune it properly will show very precisely storm clouds. Sure enough, it's right on top of the entrance and seems to be stationary. Some boats are turning around to outrun or outmanoeuvre it - easy enough if the storm is localized and contained. I've done this many times in Grand Lake on hot, late summer afternoons where the thunderstorms course across the Lake. With skill, some guts and a bit of luck, you can literally wend your way around these storm cells.

We're tired and anxious to get to the shelter of the harbour so we turn up our engine as high as possible and hope to make the entrance before it gets too bad. Just as we get into the fairly long channel which leads into Lake Worth, all hell breaks loose. The seas turn tempestuous, rain comes pelting down, lightning is striking all around and the wind howls. We're committed so with life jackets and rain gear on, we continue our way into the channel. The rain is so heavy that we cannot see beyond the bow of the boat, and this is entering a very busy and complicated harbour which we've only been in once before. Not much we can do except try to keep from running into something, hope no one runs into us and hope we do not get hit by lightning. One might strike hit's the water so close to us it seems I could have reached out and touched it (not a smart thing to do) and you could smell the acrid, ozone smell if the sound and sight were not enough. Google tells me that a lightning bolt can reach 30,000C, five times hotter than the sun and that air can often smell 'burnt' after a lightning strike.

My Canadian Power and Sail Squadron training tells me that sailboats present a "cone of protection" so long as you are within a 60 degree cone from the mast and not touching metals. If you get hit the boat may blow apart and you can drown but you won't fry - a small consolation. So I order Judy to turn off as much of the switches and instruments we can and still run the boat, and to not touch anything. I use the autopilot as much as possible so I don't have to have my hands on the metal wheel but I do need to maintain the ships heading.

The wind and the rain are whipping us and our bimini and dodger, which have been exposed to the sun (and I meant to treat with conditioner to restore their waterproof ness but didn't get around to) are leaking like sieves. We had closed all the ports and hatches excepts those for the aft cabin which are in the cockpit and virtually never allow water in because they are protected by the bimini. Rain drives in so hard, coming sideways that we get a good dose of water in our cabin and bedding.

The best I can do is try to keep the boat stationary and wait it out. We cannot see well enough and it's too winding to try to anchor, so I head the boat into the considerable wind (don't know how strong because I've turned off the instruments) and rain and keep it at an idle speed such that we're just holding our own into the wind. Judy and Chopin are justifiably scared but we've been through this before. I must say that Judy has great confidence in me and I've learned over the years that even if I'm terrified, if I don't show it and remain calm, Judy will also. Chopin gives us one of his usual baleful looks as if to say, "so, you're doing this to me again, you ba#$%^&d".

After a while the storm starts to abate and while it's still quite wild, we can see a bit and the wind and lightning lessen. We work our way into the anchorage and Judy does a great job of bringing the boat into good position so I can deploy the anchor. It catches first try and we feel relieved and exhausted. By this time we're soaked despite wearing foul weather gear and our cabin is also soaked.

We hear later that the torrential rains washed away roads, that boats were dragging anchor in Lake Worth North and that various boats were hit by lightning.

But, we're back in the US, having made the crossing safely and while it is bittersweet in that our journey is approaching an end, we feel content and satisfied with ourselves.

The Crossing
04/16/2009

As you may recall from our blog entries when we came over to the Bahamas, the big deal is crossing the gulf stream, the river of water flowing along the coast of the US at around 3 knots. There are lots of things that can go wrong and in the least, it may be uncomfortable and at worst dangerous. Picking your time, conditions and weather for the crossing is critical for a safe, comfortable passage, and even so, there are lots of things that can happen to throw the proverbial spanner into the spokes - we encountered one of these monkey wrenches.....

As indicated in the last post, we left Nassau, finally, about mid day on Sunday, March 29 to start our multi-day journey back to the US. Our first leg is from Nassau, across the New Providence Channel to Frazier's Hog Cay in the Berry Islands. You may recall that we did this leg on our way down in January and had a pretty lumpy sail. This passage is in open water, very very deep and can be uncomfortable.

We leave around eleven in the morning when the tides are favourable to exit Nassau Harbour. The day starts off quite easy but as we move away from Nassau and get out of the protection of New Providence Island, it gets quite bouncy. Nonetheless, we are sailing and making great time. While we are travelling alone, there are numerous other boats out here, some of whom we know casually including a trawler called Margaret Lee. They are ahead of us and give us a sea state report. It is comforting to have some radio contact.

Anyway, after a brisk and exciting sail across the channel, some 35 miles we make it, just before dark to Frazier's Hog Cay where we anchor for the night. Several other boats are here, obviously planning a crossing like us.

Up early and underway the next morning just before daybreak. We talk to Margaret Lee and they agree to maintain radio contact from time to time. It had occurred to me that no one would know where we were or where we are going and given our long periods of communications silence, if anything happened to us it could be many days before we'd be reported missing and, even then, it would be difficult to determine our plans. Sounds a bit melodramatic, but this is serious sailing and lots of things can go wrong. So, we're happy that Margaret Lee is in relatively close proximity to us.

This is a very long day but also pleasant. We are heading west and will cross the Little Bahama Bank aiming for Bimini. As we leave, we are still in water that is thousands of feet deep, but when we get to the bank, it abruptly shoals to 10 to 15 feet and will remain at this depth all the way to Bimini (hence the name Bank - it essentially is a very large sand bar). There is little wind and I put the sails out a couple of times but they are more nuisance than good as they slat around. But, it is warm and comfortable. As we motor along, I stand on the bow in perfectly calm waters and can see the bottom as clear as a bell. It is really weird to be out of sight of land and be in such calm, shallow waters. After a long day, we arrive at Bimini at dusk and anchor on the east side of the Island. Margaret Lee arrived a half hour before us. We have a bit of a swell from left over seas but we're tired and go to bed early.

Up early again on Tuesday for the crossing to the States. The weather forecast looks good, although there's not likely to be enough wind to really sail. If you recall from my posts coming over, there is some navigational planning to do here because you have to consider the effects of the Gulf Stream which push you north at speed up to three and a half knots, half the forward speed we can maintain under full sail or motor. So the trick is to take this into consideration and aim somewhere lower (more south) than where you want to end up and let the stream "help" you get to your planned destination. The straight line distance from Bimini to Lake Worth entrance is about 65 miles and we expect to get a good "lift" from the Stream - and we do.

While we are travelling along with Margaret Lee, we hear many other cruising boats making the crossing, although we cannot see them. We do see many large freighters as this is a very busy shipping channel. But we track them on the radar and wend our way across.
When we started sailing in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine, it used to be unnerving if not down right scary to be sharing the waters with these behemoths but the combination of CPS courses, good electronics and lots of experience (much of it in pea soup fog back home) makes this now almost routine. In passages like this when we're likely to encounter large, manoeuvrability-restricted vessels, I have the radar on in standby mode. Every now and then, I'll have it scan and if I see a blip, which I can now recognize as a large vessel as opposed to a pleasure craft or land, I'll place an electronic point on it. To simplify, what you then do is monitor where it is relative to you over time and you can tell how it progresses compared to you. If it maintains the same bearing but the range closes in, you are on a collision course and you should do something, otherwise it'll pass in front or behind you.

If you are on a collision course, I usually try to call the vessel on our radio by citing it's position, which I know because my instruments not only show it on the screen but indicate it's latitude and longitude. Very often these huge vessels will not reply unless you know their name. There is a really nifty new device called Automatic Identification System (AIS), principally for identification and locating vessels. AIS provides a means for ships to electronically exchange ship data including: identification, position, course, and speed, with other nearby ships and VTS stations. This information can be displayed on a screen. Commercial vessels are required to have this but more and more pleasure vessels are getting it as it allows you to determine not just that there's a vessel out there but what she is, how big, her position and speed and course, etc.

Anyway, once you do make contact with the ship, you usually ask the Captain what their intentions are and if they would like you to alter course. Essentially, you make such arrangements with that ship so at to ensure it does not run you down. We've had some interesting discussions with boats in fog in the Bay of Fundy and have always found them to be extremely proficient (as they should be if they're responsible for boats up to 1000 feet long) and courteous.

But, I digress, while we had lots of large vessels around today, we came no closer than about a half mile from them. The seas were quite flat and the Gulf Stream benign. It is clear and bright and warm. We call a few boats on the radio every so often just to have aural company.

About mid-afternoon, we approach the coast of the US, and start to see the land features, mostly tall condominium buildings which clutter the entire coast line. Pretty soon, we start to be able to make out Palm Beach, where our entrance to Lake Worth is located. In standard progression the clear skies of the morning make way for the fluffy, cumulous clouds of mid day which start to stack up into the towering cumulous with their "anvil-flat tops) and, ultimately the storm clouds. As we approach Lake Worth entrance, on the horizon, is a huge, black, malevolent, storm cloud. See next post (and I'm glad to say not "last post" (you can take that both ways)) for the adventure....

Leaving Bahamas
04/16/2009

So, in our last message, "Nassau Redux", I reported that we had moved to a Marina, Nassau Harbour Club and expected to be stuck here a few days because of heavy winds and lumpy seas. Well, as it turns out, we spend a week at this marina; way longer than we expected and hard on the budget (remember, it cost about $75 US a night to tie up and, of course, you are closer to shopping and stuff so money flows like the Gulf Stream).

We meet lots of folks on the docks and it begins to feel like home. I go for a couple of runs, not having run very much at all in the last two months or so. We stock and prepare the boat for the journey back to the US and now are anxious to get underway.

So, on Sunday, some ten days after arriving in Nassau and after a week at the marina, we decide to start our trip back. We plan a different route home than the over. Our planned trip is to leave Nassau and head over to Frazier's Hog Cay in the Berry Islands, then across Little Bahama Bank to Bimini, then finally, across the Gulf Stream to Lake Worth/Palm Beach. Lots of folks do some or all of this in one fell swoop by doing over-nighters but we're travelling alone and have enough time that we can do it in day, albeit long day, trips.

While we are anxious to leave Nassau and get on with our journey, we are sad to leave the Bahamas; the warm waters, beautiful scenery, great people and exciting lifestyle.

Alive and Well
04/14/2009

So sorry, dear readers. We've been so busy since we crossed back to the US that I've not had a chance to update the blog. I will fill in the blanks, I promise but in the meantime, we've stored Sea Sharp "on the hard" (out of the water), purchased a vehicle and are on our way home. We're in South Carolina tonight and expect to be in New Jersey tomorrow where we'll visit Judy's family for a few days before returing home.

I already miss Sea Sharp!

Promise to fill in the blanks when I get a chance.

04/15/2009 | Frank and Audrey
Good to hear all is well. Looking forward to your missing updates. Have a safe journey back home to NB. F&A
Back in USA
03/31/2009

A very quick note to let you know Sea Sharp is safetly back in USA (after an interesting adventure). Stay tuned,

M

04/01/2009 | Chris
Greetings! A friend back at MD told me they found your site (going to sail next year) and forwarded me this site. So you're back in the states? When did you cross? We crossed on Saturday-it was really a crazy day-but we made it. Stayed in Ft. Lauderdale and now at Vero Beach-so glad to hear you're ok. Been wondering. Email if you want. Take care and good luck.
Chris and Rowan
04/03/2009 | Keith & Janice Steeves
Have been following your blog all along and enjoyed it immensely. It seems you have had a great trip. Be safe going hone
04/04/2009 | Suzanne, Geneviève et Alexandre
Hi Judy, Mike and Chopin....

Following your voyage through your blog has been such a delight! Not sure if your e-mail is working but sent you an message a few weeks ago...hope to hear from you. Take care. Love you lots! Suzanne, Gene and Alex xoxoxo
04/04/2009 | jerry b
......so He bringeth them into their desired haven. Psalm 107:30b

God bless you and thanks for keeping you safe.
04/09/2009 | Elaine
Glad to see you are back safe and sound, but man, I am really going to miss your blogs. They have been fun and informative.
God Bless
04/13/2009 | Dave
Did you by the Jeep?
Nassau Redux
03/24/2009

We had an easy crossing from Allan's Cay the thirty or so miles to Nassau. You have to cross what is called the Yellow Banks where there are scattered coral heads which can be only a couple of feet below the surface. So for a half hour or so, I stood at the bow of the boat and kept watch while Judy steered (actually the autopilot steered but Judy kept watch). We spotted a couple of heads but did not really have to alter course much to avoid them.

As we approach Nassau, there are big nimbus clouds with rain squalls. We get hit by one; it rained hard for a few minutes but the wind sheer was not bad. We anchor in the harbour not far from the series of marinas. Our plan is to anchor for a couple of days then to a marina to clean the boat, reprovision, and generally have better access to facilities.

We find a good place to "drop the hook" and while there is not much water behind us, we are secure. Later in the day, a boat comes in to our side and behind us and runs hard aground. The tide is falling so despite our best efforts we cannot get him off. He'll just have to wait until early morning for the tide to rise. And so it does and he's gone when we wake up.

We want to move into a bit deeper water so we start bringing in the anchor but to no avail. Obviously it is caught on something. Upon closer examination, we note that we're caught in some large chain and cannot extricate ourselves. I solicit the help of two guys on a neighbouring boat, Blue Moon, originally from Nova Scotia and now from Ontario. With their help we are able to get off the chain and move forward a hundred feet or so and re-anchor.

There is a lot of traffic through this harbour and we are constantly rocked by various boats; a bit annoying but this is a busy, commercial harbour.

As planned, we move into a marina, the same one we stayed at on the way down - Nassau Harbour Club. It's is in close proximity to a mall with good grocery store and other amenities and there is a pool on site. We are assigned a slip three away from where we were the last time and obviously Chopin recognizes this place as he starts to wander down the slip we used to occupy, figuring that this is home.

Our slip neighbour is Joy, a Beneteau Evasion sailed by Rowan and Chris from Maryland and we quickly start up a friendship with them.

I take advantage of the availability of water to give the boat a real good cleaning. There is so much salt over everything and rust starts to show so I delight in giving Sea Sharp a real good bath and I wax the topsides and clean the stainless steel. She gleams again!

I go for a run, the first in many weeks. It feels great even if I'm way out of shape and sore.

On Sunday we go to church in the company of our dock mates Rowan and Chris. A nice long walk in the afternoon across to Paradise Island, home of luxurious homes, Atlantis and upscale shopping places. I promised to take Judy out for supper and we finally decide on Outback restaurant. The fare was only fair.

Looks like we may be stuck here for a few days with big lumpy seas and high winds. From Nassau, we have to figure on at least three days for our transit to US and we don't want to get caught in a poor anchorage if the wind is strong. In the meantime, we're relaxing. I've done a lot of boat maintenance and am pleased that as shabby as she looked when we got here, a bit of elbow grease (and lots of cleaners and chemicals) can bring her back to Bristol condition.

03/25/2009 | David & Margot Russell
You guys must be shrinking from all your time in (and around) the water! Great stories and pictures...... we continue to follow your journey. Thanks, D&M
03/30/2009 | Stephen
Mike & Judy, Looks as though things continue to go well for you. I look forward to reading about your trip every so often.

Mark (my brother) and I, just returned from our supossed charter out of Marathon FL. The wind was too strong for them to let us take her out the entire week we were there! Unbelievable luck. It was blowing and/or gusting between 20 - 35kts. Their limit for insurance purposes is 20kts. Winds picked up the day we arived and just dropped back below 20 as we were leaving yesterday.

We weren't all that far from you, so you must have been getting some similar winds, yes?

We will have to try again next year. :-) Take care of yourselves. Hope to see you when you return! Stephen
03/31/2009 | Deanna
I really look forward to reading about your Journey. I was so please to find I had missed the last three updates. You make it so easy to visualize your experineces when you right on your blog and the great picturers you always post. Keep them coming. My thoughts are with all three of you. I haven't seen a recent picture of Chopin. :)

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Preparing for Retirement Trip
Who: Mike, Judy and Chopin (the boat cat)
Port: Douglas Harbour, NB, Canada
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