At 0910 on Wednesday the 23rd of May we left our slip in Sun Bay Marina, Fajardo, Puerto Rico and motored the short distance to the marina's fuel dock. There we filled our tanks, taking-on 125.02 US gallons of diesel at US$4.10 per gallon, which works out to 484.85 litres at CA$1.06 per litre. It is so good to again have the First-World convenience of easy fueling.
At 0958 we slipped from the fuel dock and headed out. There was a very light easterly breeze and we motor-sailed. Quickly we were in traffic as three large catamarans, each with at least two dozen partying deck passengers went motor-sailing by. One of them managed to squeak by ahead of us, while the other two took the more prudent route under our stern.
We had exchanged several emails with Eddie Breeden, Director of Customer Service at the Hunter Marine Group in Alachua, Florida. He had recommended we go to Saint Augustine Marine, which is owned by the Luhrs family, of the Luhrs Marine Group, which owns Hunter. Introductions and more emails had Sequitur scheduled for repairs and servicing beginning in early June. We figured the safest and least hassle-ridden route would be to avoid the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Turks & Caicos. The first three because of their politics and the reported rampant crime, the last because of the bureaucratic clearance hassle about which we had read. It is 470 miles to Little Inagua, the first anchorage in the Bahamas.
The wind remained either side of east through the day, mostly blowing 9 to 12 knots, so we motor-sailed. The engine at 1300 rpm aided the wind and the west-setting current in moving us along at 6 knots or slightly above. For dinner on Wednesday evening we had half of the shrimp quiche, garnished with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, sea salt and shredded fresh basil.
We had spent our first day without squalls in several weeks, and there were none overnight. Sunrise on Thursday occurred behind a screen of cumulus, which offered a dramatic enhancement to the event. The cumulus soon dissipated and we enjoyed near cloudless skies much of the day.
After Edi had arisen from her post-watch sleep, she prepared a delicious brunch. She opened the last package of British back bacon we had bought in the Falklands and served some of it with basted eggs on toast lapped with sauce Béchamel and garnished by sliced beefsteak tomatoes and fresh basil.
Our first overnight had been crossing the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, our second overnight was past the shallows of Navidad Bank, preferring to be closer to the well-charted shoals than to the risk of unknown boats along the Dominican Republic coast. Our third overnight was well off the coast Haiti, again much rather being nearer the predictable shoal water than unpredictable coastal activity.
Shortly after midnight we crossed the declination of the sun as it made its way north for the solstice. At 1338 on Saturday we came to 35 metres on the Delta in 8.5 metres of water, tucked around the southwestern point of Little Inagua. We were a bit less than two cables off the beach in very clear water.
The anchorage is on a narrow band of sandy shoal less than two cables wide, with a steep drop-off into the abyss at its edge. With the clear water, we had easily seen the beginning of the shoal, and we had settled in with Sequitur's stern hanging over the edge. The anchorage provides shelter only in winds from north-northeast through south-southeast. Fortunately this is the prevailing direction and with the gentle easterly breeze, it was very comfortable. The island very low, its highest point being lower than the top of Sequitur's mast, so it would afford only wave protection in a strong blow.
The entire island is a National Park, and it is apparently unpopulated. There is certainly no place to clear-in with the authorities, even if that had been our intention. This had been the prime factor in our choosing it for an enroute break. We were claiming innocent passage through the islands with no intention of landing. We hoisted the quarantine flag and began to relax.
For dinner I sautéed mahi-mahi filets in butter with diced portobellos, shallots and garlic and served it with beans almandine, basmati rice and sliced roma tomatoes with shredded basil. We were pleased again with the quality of the 2011 Carmen Chardonnay, which continues to drink well above its price.
There was little wind, so we decided to spend another day. Sunday afternoon I prepared another quiche for enroute dining, and while the oven was hot, Edi prepared three pizzas; one for dinner and two for lunches along the way.
At 0623 on Monday, with the assistance of the cockpit sheet winch, we weighed and then continued northwestward. There was a light easterly breeze, so we motor-sailed with mostly flaccid sails. Our intention with the early departure was to sail overnight and arrive the following afternoon at the anchorage on the western side of Conception Island, about 200 miles distant. Before we had left Puerto Rico, I had marked on the iPad a selection of good anchorages along our proposed route, incase the weather turned adverse and we needed shelter.
We enjoyed a boost from the current and eventually from the wind, and we were making a consistent 6.5 knots as we rounded the Castle Island lighthouse at 1910. From there we headed northward past the west coasts of Acklins Island, Long Cay and Crooked Island.
At midnight we were abeam the southern end of Long Cay and through the night continued at or above 6 knots past the east coast of Long Island. At 0913 we crossed the Tropic of Cancer a little to the south of Rum Cay.
At 1343 on Tuesday the 29th of May we came to 20 metres on the Delta in 4.5 metres of water in the bay on the northwest side of Conception Island. We had come 198.5 miles, averaging a little above 6.3 knots.
The anchorage has a rather extensive shoal area 3 to 10 metres deep, with sufficient room for several dozen boats. There are a few coral heads marked on the chart, but mostly the bay is clear of obstruction with a white sand bottom, and it appears to offer good protection from northerly, easterly and southerly winds. The island is another uninhabited National Park.
It was Edi's 65th birthday, and to help celebrate her becoming a senior, we had the last of our Puerto Eden king crab. I gently warmed it in a butter sauté of diced portobellos, shallots and garlic and served it with basmati rice and green beans almandine, garnished with beefsteak tomatoes and complemented by a bottle of Cava Segura Viudas.
We spent the following day relaxing aboard, enjoying the peacefulness of the anchorage and catching-up on sleep. In the evening we were rewarded with a splendid sunset; with our increasing distance from the equator, the twilights are becoming longer and the sunsets more slowly evolving.
It was glassy calm as we weighed at 0620 on Thursday morning to head out on another overnight passage. Among our potential destinations was another national park, this one on the southwest side of Great Abaco Island about 186 miles to the northwest. It remained calm through the day and overnight, with occasional ripples on the sea from a knot or two of gentle breeze. We motored with furled sails.
On Friday afternoon we passed Half Moon Bay on Little San Salvador Island and watched as a huge cruise ship shuttled passengers to and from their private day resort on the beach. The cruise lines use places such as this to work around the Jones Act, which prohibits foreign-flagged commercial vessels from going directly from one US port to another.
Late in the afternoon the southern and western sky began filling with taller and darker clouds, and a ripple appeared on the water.
By 1800, as we were picking our way between 1 and 2 metre patches and shoals approaching our anchorage off Cross Harbour Point, Great Abaco, a westerly wind had built to above 20 knots, with gusts into the 30s in squalls. We were hit by torrential rain and the seas began to heap. We didn't like the idea of anchoring in an open, shoal-dotted roadstead in 3 to 4 metres of water on a close lee shore in a building storm. We turned and picked our way back out through the shoals and shallow patches.
About 27 miles southwestward across North East Channel is a semicircular bay on Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. We headed toward it and its appearance of affording protection from everything but northeasterly winds. At 2348 we came to 25 metres on the Delta in 3.1 metres of water in the southeastern quadrant of the bay.
We slept-in on Saturday morning. When we finally arose, Edi prepared a splendid international brunch with the last of our Falklands back bacon, basted eggs from Saint Croix lapped with Béchamel sauce and dotted with capers from Martinique, lightly toasted split baguette from the artisanal bakery in Les Saintes and Roma tomatoes from Puerto Rico. With it we drank coffee we had bought in Callao, Peru.
At 1133 we weighed and headed out in a light breeze with just sufficient strength to fill the sails. We were bucking a slight current, which to my best guess was a branch split from the Gulf Stream by Grand Bahama. We motor-sailed, making between 5 and 6 knots into the current. Along the way we passed two cruise ships doing their passenger landings on non-US soil, so they can head to another US port.
We had a beautiful, but ominous sunset as a huge cumulonimbus cell moved in to engulf us in twisting winds and torrential rains. We continued through the evening with staysail and deeply reefed main, motor-sailing in westerly winds, mostly 10 to 12 knots, but well above 20 in the frequent squalls.
We motor-sailed as close to the wind as possible, but the current contrived to push us on a track east of our making the western edge of Grand Bahama. In the early evening the current finally allowed our course to begin bending more to the west, and by 2000, we were making good a track to clear the island. By midnight the current had increased to reduce our headway to under 4 knots, and then, even with turns for 7 knots and sails pulling, we were slowed to near 3 through the small hours.
Throughout the day our GPS had been jumping 100 metres and more. We surmised the United States must have perceived an increased security threat, and had degraded the signals from the satellites. The normal 5 or 6 metre accuracy was gone.
By sunrise our speed was under 4 knots in a countercurrent, and our main fuel tank gauge was bouncing around one eighth. I had tried transferring from the auxiliary tank, but although the pump whirred, there was no movement on either the auxiliary or the main fuel gauges.
At 0730 we were still making under 4 knots and were burning a lot of fuel trying to make progress into the wind and current. The Navionics chart on my iPad showed a fuel dock at the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End, Grand Bahama, only 6 miles to our northeast. I headed in, and at 0855 we secured temporarily on a wharf to await the 0900 opening of the fuelling station. There was a line-up ahead of us.
Because we had touched land in the Bahamas, we had to clear Customs and Immigration. Fortunately, there is a Customs office next to the fuel dock. Unfortunately, there is a $300 fee for a mandatory cruising permit. Fortunately, it is valid for a year from date of issue. The clearance process was quick and simple; one officer covering Customs, Immigration and Health.
We took on 113 US gallons (427.75 litres) at about $1.41 per litre. At 1025 we slipped and continued northward. Because we had not planned cruising this area, I had no charts of the direction and rates of the currents, and instead, I had to try to figure-out their pattern. The wind was northwest, and the starboard tack gave us a southerly component. At 1300 I tacked, but the wind and current conspired to force us toward the shoals to our north. At 1500 I tacked again, and gradually as we made our way westward, the current began bending our course slightly northward. By 1800 we were making 7 knots, directly toward Saint Augustine just under 200 miles away. By 2000 we were touching 9 knots.
We had another spectacular sunset as we enjoyed more of the pizza slices Edi had made in our anchorage at Little Inagua and frozen. She reheated them in a covered frying pan, which crisped the crust and steam-heated the toppings.
There was a steady parade of shipping as we progressed up the coast of Florida. Many were cruise ships parading slowly between ports to stretch-out the passengers' onboard experience. Among the other vessels we saw were bulk carriers, likely tankers carrying crude to a refinery or refined product to a market. Most passed visible on radar only or just peeking above the horizon, but some came within a few cables.
As we moved across the main axis of the Gulf Stream, our progress slowed, and by mid morning on Monday it became obvious that even with a strong push from the engine, we would not make Saint Augustine before sunset. I phoned Saint Augustine Marine on the satellite phone and asked about entering after dark, and they advised against it. There is ongoing dredging in the channel and there are temporary unlit buoys. I slowed the engine and calculated a course and speed to take us overnight to arrive at the entrance to the channel an hour before high water slack on Tuesday morning.
Overnight we were hit by a frontal system with thunderstorms and 25 to 30 knot winds. At 0830 we arrived at the entrance A buoy and tried to decipher a route in past the dredge and barge, which we assumed were in the channel. We had seen two sport-fishing skiffs come out between them, so I decided the channel lay there. Wrong! About a cable out we got 5 short blasts from the dredge: "You are standing into danger". The dredge then came up on Ch 16 and advised that the channel lay close to the north of the small barge. Once we were past the dredge and barge we spotted small temporary red and green buoys nearly lost on the horizon among the background of the shoreline. We are glad we had chosen not to enter in the dark.
On the tail end of the flood tide we motored through the inlet and into the Intracoastal Waterway. We passed Castillo de San Marcos, which had been built by the Spanish between 1672 and 1697, and is considered the oldest fort in the USA.
The fort is just to the north of the Bridge of Lions, which has a charted vertical clearance of 25 feet (7.6 metres). The centre span has a bascule opening, and with Sequitur's 21 metre mast height, I deemed it prudent to wait for the next scheduled opening of the bridge, due at 0930. During the ten minute wait for the bridge, we sculled in the current just off the anchorages I had marked incase we had come in overnight.
At 1014 we secured alongside the south float at Saint Augustine Marine. We had come 9375 miles from Puerto Montt, Chile in a little under six months with 47 ports and 111 days at sea. Sequitur, our Hunter 49 had safely and comfortably brought us through one Force 12 storm, three Force 11s and several Force 10s and 9s. We had bucked adverse winds, currents and bureaucracies. We were tired.