01/23/2011, Sunrise Marina, Lucaya, Grand Bahama
Well, we've decided not to go to the Abacos at all. Bud was worried that none of the anchorages we could reach by Tuesday would be secure enough for the storm that's in the forecast for Wednesday. They are saying the NW Bahamas will get 30 to 35 knot winds with the possibility of 50-knot winds in thunderstorms. Since these winds will be from the west, and since most of the harbors in the Abacos are on the west side of the little islands just off Great Abaco, and since we were afraid we'd have to hold off to leave until tomorrow to go north to get there, we decided to go along the south side of Grand Bahama today and then leave early in the morning and head south again to reach the very secure harbor where Jon and Arline spent a month fixing their engine.
I was reluctant to come this side of Great Bahama Island because there are no anchorages, and I didn't want to spend another night in a marina. But we were going to have to spend the night at Old Bahama Bay before we could take the northern route, anyway. So off we came.
Before we left we got to help out one poor crew on about a 70-foot ketch. They started out of the marina and had their engine stall. The 20-knot wind was blowing them up against the end of a dock and another boat. We helped them get lines out and fend off the end of the dock and get the boat secured alongside the dock. They got a scratch along their hull, but nothing else was hurt. That made me worry about us getting out. It seemed the wind was blowing our bow over against the dock, but it was mostly astern and in the end Bud said it was about as easy a disembarking as we've had.
We also had a really fine sail. The wind was stronger than we thought. We sailed a close reach with 14 to 16 knots apparent for most of the way. We ended up using just the main and genoa. We were getting some really strong gusts and decided not to try to add the staysail. Besides, we hit 9 knots at one point, so how could you improve on that? The wind was out of the northeast so the island was keeping the waves down. There were maybe one-foot waves.
It got a bit tense as we crossed in front of Freeport. There were about three freighters anchored, two of the small island freighters came out, one turned towards us and passed fairly close on the starboard side, the second came out and turned more sharply and passed on our left. Meanwhile, a big tanker was headed in and it looked like it might be close getting in front of him, but we figured he'd have to slow down. Then another freighter came in view off the starboard bow and he seemed to be headed our way. What a busy harbor. Meanwhile the wind was getting a bit fluky. It would die down, and then blow strong again. Suddenly it shifted around in front of the boat and we were being back-winded. It never changed enough for us to change the sails. It always came back to where it had been.
The most exciting part of the sail came after we had the sails down. We were approaching the entrance to the marina. I had called them on the radio and was getting the dock lines and fenders set up. Bud asked me to quick finish the dock line I was working on, and go up on the bow and tell him which way to go up ahead. I looked down and saw rocks here and there under us, but I couldn't tell how deep. I tried to direct Bud to the deepest part, but what we needed to do was go backwards and go the other side of the unmarked post that was there and not on either of our charts. We hit the rocks. We stuck. Bud tried to back off and the boat moved a bit. I thought we were going to have to get a tow, but every time a little wave came it lifted us enough to move. We found a bit of deeper water to the right side and managed to wiggle the boat into the channel. After that, docking was a breeze. Once we were secure and checked in Bud got to take his first swim in the Bahamas. It isn't really warm today, only about 70, and the water was cool, so it's not one he made by choice, but he put his snorkeling gear on and went down to check the keel. He said there is about a 4-inch square scrape on the front at the bottom, but it's just cosmetic. We knew that the charts aren't accurate in the Bahamas. We heard that the markers aren't reliable. Now we experienced it first hand. From now on I won't set lines until I know we're safely in. I'll take a post on the bow earlier and try to see and direct.
Happily, this marina is less than half the cost of the other one, so even though we've had to stay at a marina, it's better than being back at Old Bahama Bay. And there is a little grocery store nearby with reasonable produce, so we bought a few fresh fruits and vegetables to replace those we'd eaten up because we thought you couldn't bring them in (nobody asked, nobody looked). Now we've had our supper and Bud is off to try his luck fishing off the jetty.
We went almost 24 nautical miles today in about 3 and a half hours. Another fast run, the average speed about 6.8 knots. I added a few photos of today's activities to the gallery. Of course I was much too busy to get a photo of the grounding!
01/22/2011, West End, Grand Bahama
Well, we did make the weather window. Even if we arrived in a rainstorm, the wind was nothing like it is tonight. This morning it was still blowing at over 20 knots and had been all night. Bud had decided when we arrived we'd stay two nights, because of the forecast. Now it looks like we'll stay three. The wind really increased in the late afternoon and hit 30 knots at around 5 PM. It's now 9 PM and it's still blowing at 30 knots for much of the time. The boat is heeled over 4 degrees in the slip! So Earendil is still in the slip in the picture (where Bud is checking the dock lines, good thing, too). And we're still paying for a marina, but happy to do it.
This morning we biked over to the inlet. I started a new album in the gallery for the Bahamas. I put in a photo of the inlet; it's pretty narrow to come in at about 6 knots with a triple reefed main. I also took some pictures of the area, the wind and waves and one of an island trading ship with truck trailers on its deck. We took a second ride this afternoon down to the little settlement here. I didn't take any pictures as we never stopped the bikes and I can't take a photo while riding, especially since I have Fuzzy in a front pack. There wasn't much to see other than the thousands of conch shells, the guy selling conch and another guy zooming around in a little center console boat. He had nine-tenths of his hull out of the water and was doing circles and jumping his own wake and obviously having a good time.
We also spent time looking at the weather and the charts. We want to get down to the Exumas and try to catch our friends Jon and Arline. But we also want to be able to anchor and snorkel and enjoy the Bahamas as we go. So we've decided to head across to the Abacos and go south along them and then figure out the best route from the southern tip of the Abacos to the Exumas. We need to be in a protected place (particularly from the west) by Wednesday as another front is coming through that's possibly stronger than this one. We wanted to leave tomorrow, but the wind is clocking around to the north before it dies down and our route takes us north of Great Bahama to get to the Abacos, so we will probably wait one more day. Not only do we have to go on the north side of the island, the beginning of the route has shifting sand bars, so you need good visibility to see the way, not likely if it's wavy.
Once we leave here it may be a few days before I find Internet access again. I'll write the blog and take pictures every day, and the next time I get access to the Internet I'll post it all.
01/21/2011, West End, Grand Bahama
Well it was and it wasn't just another day sail like Bud said it would be. For one thing, once we got out a few miles the water was pure blue. I went down and looked out the forward port on the low side where the waves were splashing against it and the water was the color little kids make it in their pictures. Not the aquamarine of the tropical shallows, but pure sky blue. Looking out from on deck it looked dark blue. No hint of green or brown, just dark blue.
Other than that it started like a typical day's sail. We left the dock at 6:45. We got hung up a bit waiting for a cruise ship to dock; I put a picture of that in the gallery. I also put in a picture of our last view of Florida, and you can see the blue water.
I was worried about making it across in daylight. I had read how the Gulf Stream would carry you north. Our direction of travel was just four degrees south of due east. But we would have to head much further south to end up where we wanted to be because of the current. I didn't know how much that would add to the 55 nautical mile trip and wasn't sure how fast we could get there. When we started we didn't feel we were going fast enough, so we had the engine on and all three sails (main, genoa and staysail) out. Gradually the wind built until we were doing 8 knots with just the sails.
It was good sailing but not an easy point of sail. The wind was a little uneven and the waves were coming from just aft of the starboard beam, so there was quite a bit of rolling. We tried again with the windvane, but still couldn't get it set. Bud went back to adjust it and left the boat on the mechanical autopilot. He asked me to shut the autopilot off, steer it by hand for the few seconds it took and engage the windvane. I went to do that and suddenly I got an error message on the autopilot. It confused me; Bud thought I was crazy because I told him I needed help. Then he saw and he couldn't get the mechanical autopilot to work either. Now both our steering mechanisms were not working. So the boat had to be hand steered for the rest of the day. Bud did almost all of it, and it was a lot of work. The waves would really roll you, then the wind would pick up and the boat would head up a bit. I probably took the helm for an hour and a half total, and it was a good workout. I'm supposed to do weight bearing exercises and I thought while I was doing it that this was certainly going to help.
Just after 11 AM I went down to make sandwiches. As I started up the companionway, Bud called me. "You better leave the sandwiches. We need to reef the main." Bud calling for a reef! No, actually, we put two reefs in the main. The good news is that the reefing system we installed that could be done from the cockpit worked flawlessly. Let me tell you, I was grateful for that because it was a real challenge to walk around the deck. The boat was more balanced after that but we still couldn't get the windvane to steer.
We were making great time according to the GPS. We never dropped below 7 knots speed over ground even with current against us. Our boat speed was up around 8, and above when we slid down the waves. The wind moved towards the back of the boat and the staysail seemed to block the genoa so we took that in. Now we were using just the genoa and a double reefed main and still we were doing between 7 and 8 knots.
We were less than ten miles from the waypoint in front of the harbor at West End, Grand Bahama and we couldn't see a thing except the ocean. Now I started to worry that we'd missed the island because of some error. I double-checked the waypoint I entered and it was correct according to the chart. Finally, at about 6 miles out I spotted a structure. "Land, ho!" I called. Bud told me it was probably an illusion, but it turned out to be the water tower. I was doubly glad to see it because the front that was dropping down and making this the last weather window for several days seemed to be coming faster than we thought. Either that or several of the isolated thunderstorms that were in the forecast had gotten together and decided to chase us. There were some nasty looking black clouds to the north and west of us. The photo above was taken around then.
Now it became a race. We were still doing about 7 knots but the clouds were getting closer. We started to prepare for a squall. We had the lines ready to reef either the main or genoa or both. Bud put on his rain jacket. Just before we lost the race with the storm we put Fuzzy below. Poor dog hadn't made a peep all day. He got moved from his usual seat on the cockpit cushions to the floor of the cockpit and finally to the floor of the salon right next to the mast where the boat is most stable. Once Fuzzy was set and I had my foul weather jacket on we put a third reef in the main. Then we tried to reef the genoa. I started to pull on the furling line to wind the sail up. I felt it start to move until Bud turned the boat more towards the wind. Then I couldn't budge it. We switched places and I took the helm. Bud couldn't budge it. Then we lost way so Bud had me fall off the wind. As a bit of wind filled the sail Bud was able to start it rolling up. At that point there was wind and rain everywhere and he just rolled it all the way up. Bud took the helm, I secured the one sheet that had been left flying around as we struggled with the sail (a sheet is the line that controls the sail, the genoa has two, one on each side) and started the engine. We were only about 3 miles from West End but the rain was coming down so hard you couldn't see a thing. Bud was considering just going south and then north along the shore. I told him there were no obstructions in front of the harbor entrance, but there were shoals in the open water to the north and I thought it would be safer to just head in. I checked the chart again and saw there was a basin inside that had good depth everywhere (and didn't allow anchoring) so we could just leave the triple reefed main up and turn into the wind to take it down once we were inside. Now I started to see lighting. A huge bolt struck not too far in front of us. We kept heading towards shore hoping to see the entrance to the harbor. There were supposed to be lighted markers on either side. We could see for about a quarter to a half-mile at this point and finally spotted the marks. They weren't lit, but they were there. We came flying in the harbor, as soon as we had room, Bud slowed down and brought the boat into the wind and I let down the rest of the main.
We called the marina (I'm so glad we had decided to stay at the marina and not try to anchor!). I had a bit of trouble understanding the man, so we had an interesting discussion. He asked if we just wanted to wait until the rain stopped. I asked if there was somewhere, not too difficult to get to, to tie off. In the end they gave us a slip that we could come straight in to where the wind would be blowing us away from the dock. The marina guy came out to help and we got it tied up. We did readjust the mount on our nice new grill on the post between the slips. Oh well, it needed to be leveled better anyway.
So, we are here and safe. We did almost 66 nautical miles today, and even with the fooling around with the squall, we were here by 4 PM. We averaged about 7 knots, and that includes the two miles out the channel in Lake Worth. Bud and I were both completely drenched, but now the boat is more or less picked up, we've cleared in through customs, poor Fuzzy finally got off to pee in a new country and I am tired! Bud is already sleeping. This retirement thing is exhausting. Sorry there are no pictures of the Bahamas, yet. It did stop raining, but by the time we got the boat squared away it was dark.
01/20/2011, Second Day in Lake Park
We are getting ready to leave for the Bahamas. Having learned from the St. Lucie Inlet mistake, I researched Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) for accessibility and marinas. Since it's generally considered better to get further south to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas I wondered why so many we talked to left from Lake Worth rather than Port Everglades. As it turned out, I couldn't find any marinas that took transients or any place to anchor in the area where you didn't have to go through a lift bridge to get out the inlet. Additionally, it is the busiest port on the East Coast for cruise ships. Finally, the marinas I did find were expensive. We had come here with the intention of sailing south one more day to Port Everglades and then heading for Bimini. Given the information I found we decided to stay here one more day and change our destination in the Bahamas to West End on Grand Bahama Island. I figured all of this out at 2 AM last might because I couldn't sleep. I'm a bit anxious about the crossing.
It was probably a good thing we just stayed here. We had a lot more little things to do to get ready. I set up Skype accounts so I can call US phones from my computer. I also added some minutes to call Bahamian numbers. I tried it out and called a marina at West End. Although we will anchor 90% of the time in the Bahamas West End doesn't have a great anchorage, according to the guidebook. Since we'll be coming in late in the day I wanted to make sure we had somewhere secure to go. Skype worked great and it was very reassuring to talk to the woman at the marina who said that they could accommodate us and just call on VHF 16 as we entered the harbor. I also suspended service on our Verizon broadband device, so from now on I'll be limited to using the computer and updating the blog when we have WiFi access. Fortunately, the marina we will stay at tomorrow night (hopefully) has WiFi, so I plan to let you know how the crossing went.
This afternoon we walked out to a marine store. As we were leaving the dock we saw a huge manatee. We'd seen a few of them yesterday (the first we'd seen) but in a part of the marina that was murky and it was hard to see them. As you can see from the photo, this huge one was just lying on the surface of the water. He or she was at least 8 feet long. I'm glad we got to see one before we left Florida.
We bought a grill for our rail and set that up when we got back. We also fixed a leak in the inlet to the water heater, aired the two rear deck lockers and repacked the dock lines and Bud did his usual engine checks. We made sure everything on deck was stowed, and repacked some things below. So I guess we are ready.
It's only 55 nautical miles across, but we will sail further than that because we have to head south at first to compensate for the distance the Gulf Stream will carry us north. Then we'll probably have to head south again on the other side of the Gulf Stream to get back to West End, which is directly east of here. It shouldn't be a huge day, but I'm still very nervous. The weather is favorable, so hopefully all goes well.
01/19/2011, Lake Park, Florida
We left Stuart as planned at about 7:30 AM. We had originally intended to sail the next leg to Lake Worth. The canal across Florida to the west coast starts from the St. Lucie River, which is where Stuart is, so I think I assumed the inlet was big. Note to self: don't assume anything about a route. Luckily, we mentioned our intention to a couple we met who also have a Norseman and they said we probably shouldn't try the inlet without local knowledge. We certainly don't have that. I looked it up in my sources, and sure enough, it had about the worst description of any inlet we've encountered. Definitely not something we wanted to try.
So we had a short trip on the ICW with 8 lift bridges! The last four were restricted; they only opened twice an hour, three of them on the hour and half hour, the last on 15 and 45 minutes after the hour. We had some issues at 3 of the bridges. At the second bridge, the bridgemaster kept us waiting for about 15 minutes for a slower sailboat to catch up. That's an unusually long time to hold up one boat for another. At the second to the last bridge, we hurried to make the 12:30 opening and ended up being 7 minutes early because the current was with us. That current made it hard for Bud to hold the boat in the channel. He ended up having to reverse several times before the bridge finally opened and we made it through. We got to the last bridge of the day about 6 minutes early. Again, we had the wind and current moving us towards the bridge, but it wasn't as bad there. There was a sailboat coming the other direction that came up after we had called the bridge. They also called and asked to come through on the next opening. Since we had the wind and the current pushing us towards the bridge, and thus had less maneuverability, we had the right of way (the bridge openings are narrow enough that only one boat at a time can pass under). We saw that boat start to approach as the time for the bridge opening got close. Bud tried to hail them on channel 16 twice, but they must have had their radio on channel 09, the bridge channel. The bridgemaster hailed them twice and told them to stand down until the bridge opened. In the end, they came through first and Bud had to continue to hold back until they were clear. Bud was really glad to get though that bridge and out on Lake Worth.
I had called a marina in the morning to make sure we would fit and that they could take us. They said our 5' 8" draft would be no problem. I called our friend Roger Gifford, who lives in Lake Worth and was coming down to see us and gave him the name and address of the marina. When we got close, I called the marina again. They gave me directions and said they'd have someone out to show us the dock when we came in. We found their marked channel and headed in. It was windy which makes docking difficult. Bud commented that the channel was really shallow. He touched bottom once. As we approached, we couldn't see anyone on their docks. I called them back (they wanted to be contacted by phone) and they said they'd send someone out right away. Bud held the boat in their shallow, narrow channel against the wind for a couple of minutes more until finally we saw someone come out and indicate the slip we were to use. I was quickly adjusting fenders, and switching to a longer stern line because of the configuration of the docks. Bud turned the boat into the slip and we went aground. The marina guy said that was impossible, it was a particularly low tide, but they had at least 7' of water there. Well we draw less than 5' 8" and we were stuck! He suggested we go in the slip just to the outside of the one we tried. I switched all the lines and fenders because the boat would now be tied on the other side. He sent for one of the marina boats to pull us off. Bud felt the boat move a bit, gave it some power at an angle in reverse and got us off. Meanwhile, the marina guy said he'd put us in a different slip where a deep draft sailboat usually docked. That boat was gone for a while, so we could use his slip. The lines I had were good for that slip, too. We started over to the new slip. Bud kept the boat close to the slips at the end of the marina as per their instructions and we went aground again! This time the marina boat did have to pull us off. We told them, thanks, but we thought we'd try another marina. I had listed two marinas to try that morning, so I got on the phone and called the second. He said he had just 6 feet in the entrance channel, but if we kept to the center we should be OK, and once in the marina we'd have no problem. So we headed over there as soon as we figured out that green buoy 35 was one we'd already passed and Bud got the boat out the shallow channel and turned around in the ICW to head back the way we'd come. We were towing the dinghy and I'd shortened the tow lines during our maneuvering, so I had to adjust that and found that one line was stuck on the wind vane and had to get that free. Then I changed all the lines and fenders again! And I called Roger to tell him we weren't at the marina I said, we had to move to Lake Park Marina. When we got to the second marina, I called them back for directions to the slip and we headed in their channel. Bud carefully steered the boat up the middle of their channel, we saw the boat we were to turn in behind, we saw the guy from the marina and he indicated the slip. We never touched bottom, and Bud got us into the slip with a lot of wind without a hitch. The marina guy caught the lines and helped us secure and we were in!
Bud was exhausted. I was pretty tired, too. What a tense day. We immediately had to gather up our laundry. The laundry room was over by the marina office and, of course, we were about as far from the office as you can get. So we took the laundry with us when we went to sign in and pay. On the way over we met Roger who had just arrived. He walked over with us and we chatted while we got the laundry started. Then we went back to the boat, talked a bit more, but told Roger we needed to get the dinghy aboard. I asked him if he'd take some pictures while we did it, since we really needed to see if we could do this by ourselves. Roger helped here and there, but he also took pictures so we have the picture here of us hoisting the Tohatsu outboard using the preventer hung from the end of the boom. (The preventer is a block and tackle arrangement that is used to keep the main sail from swinging on certain points of sail.) That's Bud's leg as he hoists the engine; I'm in the dinghy keeping it away from the side of the boat and the lifeline. It actually worked quite well. I also put a couple of photos in the gallery of us getting the dinghy itself up on the foredeck. We hoisted it with the spinnaker halyard, and that worked out, too.
I went back and finished the laundry. Bud and Roger hung out in the cockpit. The laundry wasn't done until the sun was setting. Bud and Roger were still sitting in the cockpit, enjoying the warm evening. We decided to just go to a Chinese restaurant and order take out and bring it back to the boat. Of course the first Chinese restaurant that I found on the computer wasn't there when we got to the address. Roger used the navigation system on his new Dodge truck to find another one. When we got there it was run by a number of dusky skinned people who didn't look Chinese at all. Roger thought they were perhaps Haitian. Regardless, we were tired and hungry and we gave it a try. We took the food back and had a nice dinner on the boat. It wasn't bad for Haitian Chinese.
I walked out with Roger when he left and realized in all his picture taking I hadn't gotten a picture of him. So I snapped a shot of Roger by his truck in the dark, and that's in the gallery, too.
01/18/2011, Stuart, FL
Today my Uncle Al and Aunt Fran drove over to see us. It's almost a three-hour drive from their place to Stuart. I had mentioned taking Fuzzy to the vet yesterday, and Al said they had a little dog, too. I suggested they bring him along if they wanted and they did. Al called when they got to the marina and Bud, Fuzzy and I dinghied over.
We sat at the marina and talked for a bit and then we walked back down the riverwalk to the Pelican Grill for lunch. We took both dogs and it worked out fine. We were pointing out the lift bridges, the railroad bridge and the highway bridge right next to it. The railroad bridge is normally lifted for boat traffic. It's automatic and only closes when a train goes by. I told them in the time we'd been there trains had only come by at night. A few minutes later I noticed the railroad bridge closing. We all watched the bridge close; soon we heard the train coming. It was the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus train! I took a picture of it and put it in the gallery.
After lunch we walked back to the marina. We offered them a dinghy ride out to the boat, but since we wanted to fuel up and pump out the holding tanks, we said if they wanted we'd bring the boat over to the gas dock and they could board it there to see it. They both really wanted to see the boat (and you can barely see the mast from the marina) and I think if we hadn't offered to bring it to the dock they might have ventured out in the dinghy, but they opted to board from the dock.
It only took us a few minutes to go back out, drop our mooring and bring the boat over to the fuel dock. Uncle Al, Aunt Fran and Sammy all came aboard. They came down in the cabin for the tour. By then it was almost 4 o'clock and they still had that three-hour drive home. I took the photo of Fran and Al in the cockpit. Al is holding Sammy, but they are in the shade and Sammy is black so it's hard to see him. I took one last photo of Uncle Al and Aunt Fran on the dock and they had to go.
Bud and I finished pumping out and filling the water tanks and then went back and grabbed our mooring ball again. A nice day and the first visit from family since we left home.