01/31/2013, Exuma Cays Sea and Land Park
We've now been in the Bahamas for two weeks, and I am finally feeling the restful and relaxed feelings that I've been waiting for! As John and I dinghied around today, I said to him that I felt like we were on vacation! That probably sounds strange to those of you following our journey, as it may all have seemed like a vacation to you, but not so.
Since I last wrote, we spent two nights anchored in the bay just outside Chub Cay (pronounced "key"), and then moved on to Nassau for two days with Allure. While the time in Chub was very relaxing, our Nassau time was very list oriented and productive: provisioning, laundry, zinc changing (all of them!), supply buying, buying a Wi-Fi extender, etc. and so on. Oh yes, Deanna and I got pedicures, too! We left Nassau without really seeing it. Good thing we've been there before!
We had a lovely sail to Highbourne Cay in the Northern Exumas and spent two days there. This is where we said our goodbyes to Allure as they needed to "high-tail it" to pick up family in Georgetown. We decided to continue our meandering, as we don't need to be in Georgetown until Feb 12.
We've spent almost the last week in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, several days in Shroud Cay, a day on Hawksbill Cay and now three days at Warderick Wells. You MUST look up these places on Google Earth to get a glimpse of what we've been doing. These cays are so beautiful. Must be disappointing if you're a fisherman (which I'm not) as there's no fishing within the confines of the park. However, they have great hiking trails on the islands, with trails that lead through old coral, palmetto forests and mangrove swamps. Some of the trails are through tidal flats which require wading (and hopefully good timing with the tide!) The snorkeling has been good, too. The coral heads are smallish, but when you get out of the dinghy and put on the mask, WOW, the coral and the fish swimming around are amazing. Small, big, silver, colourful, it's all there! The beaches have confectioners' sugar type sand, and the skies have been blue as can be. Who could ask for more? Certainly not me! I feel like I'm in heaven.
There is only one glitch here, and it lies in the communications arena. Either there is phone or internet, but generally not both. The internet you get is not the swiftest, and is expensive. For example, my connection to post this blog was slow and spotty, yet cost $15 per day. Ouch! We need to learn how to be in touch less. Of course, the reason why communications are spotty is that we have been in fairly remote areas over the last week or so, which means that there won't be phones, internet, groceries or ice cream! I must say, though, that these sacrifices have been worth it!
Right now, the wind is unusually still, as we await a cold front, which we expect to come in tonight, followed by strong northerly winds (20-25KN) in its wake. We hope to visit Cambridge Cay tomorrow, then onto Sampson Cay, Staniel Cay, and finally Georgetown, as we arrive in time to pick up my brother and his wife. Can't wait!
01/20/2013, Chub Cay
We moved Sunkissed to the east side of Biscayne Bay at No Name Harbor on Tuesday the 15th to be ready to cross the Gulf Stream with Allure as soon as the weather was right. We spent two days at anchor there along with about 10 other boats with the same intention. Crews dinghied from boat to boat to discuss the weather and routing with one another and determine whether anyone else had better weather information to plan with. John and Ken (from Allure) had been listening on the Single Side Band radio (SSB) or webcast every morning at 6:30 to Chris Parker who is a weather router. Each day they would discuss what the forecast meant for us and when we might leave.
Finally, the forecast seemed to be good for a crossing on Thursday, and at 3 AM, 10 boats pulled up anchor to go. For the first hour, there was a lot of rock and roll. In fact, one of the boats, a catamaran, decided to turn around. We continued, and as the water became deeper and we put the main sail out, it settled quite a bit. We motor sailed with the main only as the wind was a little too much on the nose to put out the genoa or use sail alone. We arrived in Bimini in time for lunch. How civilized!
As we approached Bimini and the water became shallower, I was amazed at how clear the water is. The depth sounder showed 30 feet, but the bottom was so clear it looked like we'd run aground! At the entrance, the chart plotter showed various (and shallow) depths, so John moved up to the bow to spot the water for me. But it's clear that the two of us need to learn how to "read the water" to use "VPN" (Visual Piloting Rules) as we weren't sure if the dark spots were coral heads or grasses. Did it mean the water was getting shallow or not??? Everyone assures us that we will get the knack of reading the water. I hope so. How long will it take??
We stayed at the Blue Water Marina, "Home of the Hemingway Fishing Tournament". Not too much there, but they had showers and Wi-Fi. Who needs more than that? The guide said there was a pool, but it was empty, cracked, and generally looked pretty abandoned. At the office, they said they only emptied it a few weeks ago. Too bad.
John and Ken went to check us in with Customs and Immigration, and then we all went to get some fried conch and French fries at the best place in town. While they were good, I'm not really a fan of conch. I just think the shells are pretty. The following day, we got our new SIM card for our unlocked phone. The rates locally are about $0.40/minute, but to the US and Canada the rates vary from a $0.80 day rate to $0.64 at night. Clearly we won't be talking a lot on these phones! They told us that texts are $0.15, so John and I will need to become more comfortable with that. We also visited the Dolphin House Museum. It's a home owned by a man who has spent the last 20 years building and decorating it. He pretty much uses all found materials, from beach glass, liquor bottles, shells, coral, tiles from houses being demolished, etc. When you first look at it, it seems quite a hodge podge. But as we began to walk around more of the house, it's clearly pretty amazing what this man has accomplished. Friday was also John's birthday (!) so Ken and Deanna joined us for dinner and cake (yes, made in my oven).
On Saturday, Sunkissed and Allure set off (just after Chris Parker's forecast) to cross the Great Bahama Bank, a 50 mile wide tableland of water that's about 15-20 feet deep. The wind was just off the bow (again!) so we motor sailed. John put his new fishing rod out and experienced good luck; he caught a 20 inch fish! We think it was a Jack, at least that was the closest to the picture in the fish book we have. Ken gave John some filleting instructions via VHF. John skillfully filleted the fish (John says butchered) and we had fresh barbequed fish for dinner. It had a delicate flavor, but needed something more than its own self. We will need to experiment with recipes.
There was a 2-4 foot swell that slowed us up a bit, so we anchored as the sun set in 20 feet of water on the Bank. It's very strange to anchor with no land visible at all, nothing but water all around you. While the forecast called for light and variable winds, the wind seemed to pick up at dark and the swell was at least 4 feet. What made things wonky for us was the combination of wind and swell with the tide; the tide positioned Sunkissed broadside to the swell which made for lots of rolling around. Thankfully, by 1 AM the seas calmed down so we were able to get some sleep.
Now we are on our way to Chub Cay to refuel, water up, have a beer and grab some Wi-Fi. We should have a day's R&R here before moving on to either Nassau or direct to the Exumas. Details at 11!
01/14/2013, Dinner Key mooring ball
Lake Sylvia ended up being a semi-restful, very productive stay. We finally pulled out the Honda generator to use for the first time, and ironed out some wrinkles on our new charger by calling the manufacturer who was very helpful. John also did some work on our propane system after speaking to many people on the phone and it all worked out great. As you know, the first time you try to do anything new, it takes 10-20 times longer than it would if and when you have to do it again. Of course, there was the inevitable laundry and grocery shopping, too. It wasn't all work, though, as we also met with our good friends, Irene and Gary, who drove over from Naples to see us. We had a great visit with them, and had a great lunch at a creperie on Las Olas Blvd. Thanks!
Due to a 57 foot clearance on one fixed bridge between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, when we raised the anchor in Lake Sylvia, we had to take Sunkissed out into the ocean and off the ICW for the first time in a long time. It was a nice sunny day with SE 20 knots winds and 4-6 foot seas. We put up the mainsail and motor sailed. Not too bad of a ride until we came to the Miami inlet with a strong outgoing tide with an opposing E wind. The water was very messy and it was difficult to keep steering control. It felt like we were in a big bathtub being sloshed around. In the narrowest part of the entrance channel, our speed slowed to 2 knots with the RPMs at 2900. And then we were in!
All was good as we made our way down to Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove, on the west side of Biscayne Bay south of downtown Miami. We wanted to fill up our water tank before moving onto a mooring ball, and who should appear to help us dock than Allure and Silver Fox II from QCYC! Allure served a beautiful dinner (Thanks Deanna and Ken!) and we stayed up far too late. Back to the mooring field we went, getting soaked along the way. We also pitched and bounced in bed for most of the night with the still-strong winds. Next day we did the obligatory West Marine/Home Depot visits to pick up last minute items. We also did a bit of planning for our Gulf Stream crossing with Deanna and Ken, who are headed in the same direction. Now we will move over to the east side of the bay to position ourselves for a quick exit as we wait for the right conditions to cross. We hope they will exist for us by mid-week.
01/09/2013, Lake Sylvia
It's pretty much exactly 150 miles from Melbourne to where we are now in Ft. Lauderdale. It doesn't seem like that much, does it? But how about when you throw in 29 lift bridges, all running on a slightly different schedule than the cruising speed our boat can accommodate? It took us 3 ½ days to do the journey. There are memories of those days other than bridges, bridges, and more bridges. On Sunday, we anchored in Lake Boca Raton, a real party place on weekends. There were at least 80 boats, many rafted up together, but all anchored within 50 or so feet of one another. The music from one set of 6 rafted boats filled the entire anchorage as guys and bikini clad girls drank and danced on the decks. By the time sunset came, it felt like a different world as the silence descended and the anchorage emptied of all but 5 boats. This trip also took us through parts of the ICW with homes that had to be 20-25 thousand square feet. Some of the homes looked more like museums from the outside! In fact, we could see that what was happening was that normal sized homes on normal sized lots were being razed, and two or three lots were being amalgamated to accommodate the building of these palatial homes.
We're anchored now in Lake Sylvia, a fully protected bay in downtown Ft. Lauderdale along with 6-7 other boats. It's a pretty anchorage surrounded by luxury homes. (Take a look at the Google Earth map on this website. I learned from Morgan over the holidays that you need Google Earth installed on your computer to see the "pins" I've placed on the maps. Install it if you haven't already; it's very cool to look at places this way.) If you look around on the Google Earth map around where we are, you'll see the hundreds of miles of canals that cover Ft. Lauderdale. Zoom in and get a load of their boats, too! The bridge at the entrance to Ft. Lauderdale states, "Welcome to Ft. Lauderdale Yachting capital of the world". The boats are HUGE! And I don't mean one or two or even ten boats like this. There are hundreds of multi-million dollar boats here! Needless to say, we feel pretty small by comparison. It's hard to believe there is any problem with the economy in this neck of the woods!
01/04/2013, Eau Gallie Yacht Basin
Happy New Year! We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. We sure did! It's been almost a month since updating the blog, so lots has happened. I will try to "give it in shorthand" as my Dad likes to say!
We spent more than a week in Melbourne, with a weekend spent at a SSCA GAM. What's that? A Seven Seas Cruising Association weekend get-together. There were speakers on such topics as weather, route planning, provisioning, SSB, etc. The best part was meeting with like-minded folks and sharing experiences. A wonderful example, Joan came aboard our boat to help us get our SSB working more effectively. How's that for mentoring and help? For anyone thinking about cruising, I'd recommend joining this club. Their website is http://www.ssca.org/cgi-bin/pagegen.pl?pg=home&title=Home . John and I also took a short weather course with Lee Chesneau (http://www.marineweatherbylee.com/ ) who really makes weather more understandable. We can now look at a NOAA surface forecast with a little more understanding about what's happening and what to expect. Thanks, Lee!
After the GAM, we "parked" Sunkissed at the Eau Gallie Boat Basin in Melbourne and spent some time cleaning her up before our journey by car over to the West Coast to visit with my family in St. Pete. What a great funky little place that is! They have pot luck dinners every Wednesday, and within 10 minutes of docking, had been invited by 2 people to join in the fun! They hold the dinners in a gazebo built by members that they affectionately call the "Temple of Knowledge". Who knows what insights can be gleaned during a pot luck!
In St. Pete, we had a great visit with our kids, my parents, my brother and his family, my sister-in-law and her two sons and some "New Year's friends" who we see every year for New Years eve! (Thanks Bob and Chris!) There were lots of good meals, laughs, camaraderie, Christmas sing-a-longs, movie watching (Les Mis, Lincoln), margaritas and Cuban sandwiches on the beach at sunset and for John, golf. Thanks to Mom and Dad for putting up with us for such a long visit! In addition, there was a meeting at the fledgling Green Bench Brewery which included an awesome stout, IPA and amber ale. Look for more about Green Bench Brewery, first craft brewery in St. Pete, in the coming months and year, as the brewery gears up for production. Towards the end of our visit, there were also quite a few shopping expeditions as we began our major provisioning exercise for the Bahamas since we had a car. Many thanks to DJ and Patty for their help in that regard!
Now we're back on board Sunkissed and ready (sort of) and excited to get going again. We will head towards Miami where we will make our crossing over to the Bahamas within the next week. How exciting!
OK, I failed at giving it in shorthand...sorry, Dad!! Again, Happy New Year to everyone. Many of you contacted us with your best wishes for us, and we return those same good wishes to you and your family. We hope 2013 is a good year for everyone, with fair winds and following seas!
12/07/2012, St. Augustine
It's hard to believe how fortunate we can be sometimes! John and I arrived in St. Augustine for the first weekend in December, just in time to view TWO parades: their annual Santa Claus parade on Saturday morning and, in the evening, the annual Colonial Torchlight Parade.
St. Augustine is a beautifully preserved city from the 1500's. The origin of St. Augustine follows. In 1513, Ponce de Leon, whose name is generally associated with the Fountain of Youth, landed near St. Augustine and claimed all North America (pretty cheeky, eh?) for Spain, calling it La Florida. Ponce de Leon is also credited with discovering the Gulf Stream. Very quickly, sailors experienced how helpful the Gulf Stream and ocean currents can be in crossing oceans. (Remember, no fossil fuels to push them along then!) Thus, Spain felt control of Florida was crucial to shipping. So in 1564 Phillip II sent troops to Florida to expel French invaders and establish outposts to protect Spanish shipping. St. Augustine is one of those presidios, or fortified towns. From there, it's hard to keep the history straight, since St. Augustine bounced around between Spain and Great Britain for over a hundred years.
We spent several days in St. Augustine and would highly recommend it for a visit. Although it is very touristy, it is done in a low key, inoffensive way. We took the Old Town Trolley tour of the city which we also highly recommend. We have taken this company's tours in cities across North America, and they always do a quality job of taking you through the highlights of the city in a digestible format. These tours always provide us with a good background of the city to form the base of our own further visiting.
While John went to the suburbs to buy a pair of shoes, I went downtown to watch the Santa Claus parade. Please take a look at the pictures in the Gallery. I had so many (inside my head) chuckles at what I saw: the local beauty queens waving from convertibles, a group of 8 year old twirlers continually dropping their batons, a group of teen twirlers tossing their batons up in the air 20 feet high, the Newfoundland Society of Florida (dogs, not people) walking about 100 identical dogs along the parade route, the PT Cruiser Society of Florida, a group of around 15 PT Cruisers all decked out in holiday finery, a tattooed Harley rider in the Motorcycles for Jesus group, even Customs and Border Protection had a float! It was overcast as the parade began. By the end of the parade it was pouring, though it didn't seem to matter to those participating in the parade. It must be a highlight of their year.
We also saw the Castillo de San Marco and watched a number of historical "re-enactors " load and fire the cannon. The fort also had great displays of the history of the city and fort. In the evening, there was a parade of a fife and drum band and these same re-enactors carrying torches, lanterns and candles for the annual parade of lights. And of course, a highlight of each city or town was to try the local craft beer, which we did at the A1A restaurant. Good stuff!