05/12/2012, Harbortown Marina, Ft. Pierce, FL
Chris Parker, our weather guru, put in a recent email that today was a good day for salty sailors to make the crossing from the Bahamas to Florida. I don't consider myself a salty sailor, but this seemed the best weather for at least a week, and since the wind and waves would be towards the stern, they wouldn't feel as strong and big as if you were running into them. We decided to try it.
We left West End at 6:20 this morning, a little later than our 6 AM target, but not too bad. We started out with two reefs in the main and a full jib, but once we got out on our point of sail we pulled out first one reef, then the other. The further we got from the protection of Grand Bahama and the Little Bahama Banks to the north of it, the choppier the water got. After about 10 miles we were in serious chop, 5 to 6 foot waves coming 5 seconds apart. We were sailing more to the west than our rumbline because we knew once we got in the Gulf Stream we'd be carried north by the current. At the point of sail we were on it was impossible to keep the jib full, even in 20 knots of wind. The action of the waves kept knocking the wind out of it. We ended up pulling it in for about 10 or 15 miles. At that point our speed was down and we wondered about making it the 82.5 miles to Fort Pierce by late afternoon as we'd planned.
28 miles from West End we hit the Gulf Stream. We changed our course, pulled out the jib and went from 6 knots to 9 knots. At times we were doing over 11 knots. We would have gone faster but the waves slowed us down. We've been in bigger waves, but not with such a short period. This was the roughest water we've sailed in for any length of time (Cape May Inlet still wins the prize for worst waves, but that only lasted until we got out of the inlet). The waves were coming up on our stern quarter. Sometimes they would sort of slide underneath without much motion, sometimes they would roll the boat about 20 degrees, and sometimes they would slap against the aft part of the boat. Bud and I each got soaked while standing at the helm, so we were definitely salty sailors today. It was a challenging and tiring point of sail, but the boat handled well and we made great time. With our detour west we sailed just over 84 nm to just outside the inlet at Fort Pierce, and we got there at a little after 5 PM. That's an average of 7.8 knots for the trip.
As we came up on the marked entrance channel Bud asked me to start the engine. Nothing happened. I checked the fuel and battery; both were on. I came up on deck and we pulled in the jib and put out the staysail and tacked out away from land. I held the boat close to the wind so it would sail, but not fast, and Bud went down and checked the fuel in the filter (full) and primed the fuel to the engine. Now we could hear the engine try to turn over, but it was turning over so slowly it wouldn't start. Bud came back to the helm, then he engaged the autopilot and he tried the key while I wiggled wires on the starter. No change. We called TowBoatUS. We spent the next 35 minutes sailing back and forth in front of Ft. Pierce as slowly as we could manage waiting for the towboat to come and get us. I tried once more to start the engine. It was turning over a little faster now, but still wouldn't start.
We saw the towboat come out towards us. He was really bouncing, as there was still about 15 knots of wind and 5 foot waves. Once the towboat reached us the captain told us to take down the sails and he'd throw us a line. He was so calm, he kept saying, "Don't hurry, you have all the time in the world." The main came down quite nicely, and then we turned downwind and furled the staysail. I went up to the bow and put his towline around one of our bow cleats and he started taking us in. He towed us northwest, and then southwest, because our course was west, but the wind was from the east, and he didn't want the wind pushing us up into him. He did have a lot of line between us, as you can see from the picture. Since we were now an hour-and-a-half later than we'd planned, the current was running out of the inlet pretty strong and setting up nice breakers as it met the wind driven waves coming in. Earendil went through them and barely noticed, but the towboat captain had a rougher ride. He got us in with no problems, shortened up the line and towed us in to the marina where we had a reservation. He pulled us around in a u-turn and Bud slid right up to the face dock where the folks at the marina had told us to go. I never got the name of the towboat captain, but I will call TowBoatUS and find out, because he was so good and so professional he was a pleasure to work with. And, since we have unlimited towing insurance, the bill, which would have been about $750, was nothing.
So we are fine, we are back in the US, we have unlimited water and TV and the restaurant served vegetables. But, we've got an engine that won't run. (I think that's where we were last December in Vero Beach.)
05/11/2012, Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, Grand Bahama
Bud snorkeled down and checked the prop today. Everything still looks fine. The vibration doesn't seem to be having an effect on the prop, the shaft or the nut. So we looked at our weather options and decided that we should try to go the 82.5 nm to Fort Pierce tomorrow. The wind is supposed to be around 20 knots, but it will be aft of the beam. If we wait until Sunday, the wind will be lighter, but it will be almost astern, and that might make the crossing too slow. The waves will not be quite as high on Sunday, but there is a chance of squalls to 30 knots Sunday, and there are no squalls predicted for tomorrow. Next week just doesn't look good at all without motoring. We shouldn't have any trouble making it in a day, we'll be helped by the Gulf Stream, if we can average 7 knots it should take us just under 12 hours, and we'll likely do better than 10 knots in the Gulf Stream.
I'm nervous none-the-less. I'm nervous because it is a long sail, because we need to get there in the daylight and most of all because we still don't like to run the engine. And I'm not looking forward to 6 to 7 foot seas, even though I know sailing down wind with the seas mostly behind us will probably be fun.
This is a beautiful marina and a beautiful resort, but this place is expensive (about $130/night with our discount) which is another incentive to leave the beautiful Bahamas behind. So it's up before dawn to sail with first light. Hopefully you'll read a happy report of a good sail tomorrow.
05/10/2012, Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, Grand Bahama
Today was the day we had thought we'd sail to West End, but the forecast had changed and although there was supposed to be 14 to 16 knots of wind from the southwest (good angle) all night Wednesday and all day today, there were also isolated squalls predicted and the intensity of the squalls increased today. So we decided to leave last evening. That also would give us no real deadline for getting the 88 miles up to West End. If we left at sunset and we had a great beam reach we'd arrive about 7 AM. If we went a bit slower, we'd arrive later in the morning. It made sense, so even though I don't like night sails, I agreed that it was the best plan.
This picture was taken as we were sailing on the first leg away from Great Harbour Cay. We are literally sailing into the sunset. Not long after this our course turned a bit more north and the wind was more behind us and we slowed down. The moon is in its last quarter, so it was not yet up at sunset. There were scattered clouds that covered the stars on the horizon. It was difficult to steer a straight course. We'd set up the wind vane for this trip and before it got dark we tried to get it working, but failed. Just after dark our speed dropped to between 4 and 5 knots. I was discouraged about that, normally at that speed we would just run the engine and motor sail, but Bud said we were in no hurry, we were sailors, we should just enjoy the lovely night and sail. I tried, and the wind was soft and the temperature was perfect and the ride was comfortable. But there were squalls out there that I couldn't see (except the lightening ahead of us that Bud said was going to pass to the east before we reached it), and there was the worry about power, and the need for radar and AIS to track the freighters and cruise ships all using the Northwest Providence Channel, that we were cutting across.
Bud stayed at the helm and let me go down and try to sleep. I couldn't sleep, but I did lie down on the berth in the salon and try to rest. I got up every hour or so and checked on Bud. He was still at the helm and still doing fine. At one point I took the helm for a half hour or less to give him a little break. Otherwise, I kept him supplied with food and drinks and in between tried to rest.
Finally the wind picked up, and then it really picked up. We had over 15 knots of wind and the helm was getting hard to handle. We decided to reef the main. Bud turned into the wind and we brought the main down part way, as it came down I pulled in the reefing lines (fore and aft). When I'd gotten the forward lines all pulled in as far as they would go I winched up the halyard and winched in the aft reefing line and it was done. Again, the reefing worked well and it was all done in the cockpit. We now had four-foot waves and at night with any kind of waves we don't leave the cockpit without a tether. We already had on our life jackets, because we always wear them at night.
With a triple-reefed main and full jib the boat was handling well and we were making over 9 knots with the current. The wind generator was keeping up with the power needs from the sailing instruments and frequent radar use. It was rough, though. I had to clip in and go out and turn the dorades. They were facing forward and waves were coming high enough on deck to send water down them. Poor Fuzzy couldn't get off the couch in the salon. It was too rough for him to do anything but sit. We finally put a double reef in the jib, too. That slowed us down about three-quarters of a knot, but it also smoothed the ride a bit. Plus, we felt more ready if the squall Bud saw on the radar caught us. I offered to take the helm, but Bud said it was pretty hard to steer with the waves, so he kept on it. By now he'd been at the helm for about 10 hours with almost no break. He did let me give him a break again because he was worried about muscle cramps. I did fine, but it was hard work. Bud came back to the helm after only about a half hour.
We passed the harbor entrance at Freeport just as the sky was starting to get light. There was no real sunrise as by then there were a lot of clouds. I was planning to take the helm at dawn and let Bud sleep for a couple of hours, but just after dawn we started hitting the edges of squalls. I was needed on the sails. We tried furling the jib. For a little while we were sailing at about a knot and a half with just the triple reefed main. The wind had moved towards the front of the boat. There was a huge squall crossing in front of us and we didn't want to sail into it. It passed and we put the engine on, but we thought that sounded funny (prop vibration?) so we shut the engine off and put the staysail out because the wind was now close to the nose. That didn't work so we took that in and put the jib back out. We tried a full jib sheeted hard, but then furled it and went back to a triple reefed jib and main both sheeted hard with 22 knots of wind on the nose and 5 foot seas. Finally Bud said we would have to tack out or put the engine on. At this point we were about 2 and a half hours away from our destination and had been sailing for 13 hours. We both agreed to try the engine. So we started the engine and furled the jib again.
It was slow going with wind, waves and current all against us and Bud not willing to run the engine over 2000 RPM, but the vibration was steady, so nothing seemed to be getting worse, and the ride wasn't bad. Finally at 10:30 AM after a fifteen and a half hour work out we got to the marina. Just before we arrived the squalls cleared out and the sun was shining with less than fifteen knots of wind.
The experience made us realize that trying to do 36 hours with a mechanical autopilot that doesn't seem to work well without the engine running and an engine we don't want to run, in winds that are supposed to be around 20 knots and seas that are supposed to reach 8 feet is not something we're going to choose to do. Bud is going to dive on the prop again tomorrow to see if there's any change in the amount of play or the condition of the nut, cotter pin and shaft key. After that we'll figure out our next move. It feels great to be here, though.
05/08/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina
Sorry no photo today and just a quick update. Bud dove on the propeller and determined that the problem is that the nut has just one drilled hole for the cotter pin; that doesn't allow him to get just a bit more of a turn on it and there's not enough play for a half turn to line the hole in the nut back up with the hole in the shaft. Everything else looks fine and there is probably no damage being done, but the prop is very slightly loose and will stay that way.
Our plans now are to wait for sailing windows and do one 11 to 13 hour sail from here to West End on Grand Bahama, and then after a day or two to rest, about a 36 hour sail right up to St. Augustine. We just have to wait to see what the weather brings. I'm not looking forward to that 36 hour sail, but it does seem to be the best option. It will be hard on Fuzzy because although he will now pee on deck, he is getting so lame that standing on a rolling deck is very hard for him, especially on three legs. He may have to pee without lifting his leg; we're all making sacrifices.
05/07/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina
This morning our weather guru, Chris Parker, mentioned in his outlook that this week all the bad weather is north of the Bahamas, while the Bahamas have light winds. Next week he expects the situation to be reversed, with windy, squally weather in the Bahamas and light or no wind to the north. Bud and I looked at our options and decided to move to the marina at Great Harbour Cay today in preparation for staging a return trip in light air that would get us to Fort Pierce or Vero Beach on Thursday. The prop has been working fine, and while nice south winds would be perfect, you rarely get perfect, and as long as the prop is okay light wind is better than squalls.
It's just under 30 miles around the top of the Berry Islands and back down the west side to the Great Harbour Cay Marina. We decided not to put the main up because the wind was very light and we'd be changing course so often, we weren't sure how much of the time we'd be able to sail at all. We probably should have used the main, but we put the jib out and for the first 12 miles or so did fine. We were running the engine at about 1600 RPM and still going over 6 knots, with only about 8 knots of wind. For a while at the top of the island chain we couldn't use the sail at all, so motored. Bud still kept the engine to 2000 RPM as we were going to get to the marina by 4 PM and that was our goal. We hadn't left the anchorage until just after 11, because we decided after the weather to do this and we had to ready the boat, including lifting the outboard onto the aft rail and the dinghy onto the foredeck.
We got to the marina as planned, but Bud had noticed a vibration while we were motoring at 2000 RPM, so once the boat was secured at the dock he tried reverse again. There was a terrible rattle. The prop must be loose. So it looks like our plans have fallen through. We certainly won't be leaving at 5 AM tomorrow to try to catch this weather window. Instead, Bud will be diving on the prop again to see what's going on and try to see if we can fix it once and for all. Until we have damage assessment we don't know what we're facing.
At least we have Internet (and air conditioning, because the no-see-ums are bad here if the wind doesn't blow). I'll take advantage of this interlude to upload the pictures for the last few days.
05/06/2012, White-Devil's-Hoffman Anchorage, Berry Islands
We've had two nice days at this anchorage now, with almost no swell. At one point there were four boats in here. There are three of us left. The boat that came in first after us is still here, they are a couple from Germany who've been living in Florida for many years and are US citizens. They have a dog, it looks like a reddish, brown Scottish Terrier. The other boat is a couple from Australia, their 12 year old daughter and two little white dogs. When we went to the beach with Fuzzy last evening they were ashore. One of them is a Jack Russell Terrier named Sam. He seemed a bit aggressive and we were worried about Fuzzy. Sam was interested, but polite. Fuzzy was completely unaware until he turned around and Sam was right behind him. Fuzzy was unfazed and Sam continued to be polite. Sam was a bit skittish in meeting Bud and me, then Bud was petting him and leaned down close to him and Sam bit Bud's nose! By time Bud got his shirt off, to keep it from getting bloody, and his nose rinsed enough so the blood was slowing our dinghy had started to float away. That brought an abrupt end to the trip to the beach. This morning, Sam's owner, Ian, came over and brought "medicine" for Bud's nose, some nice fresh Red Snapper they'd caught and some home made chocolate chip cookies. Not a bad take for a misjudgment on Bud's part.
Earlier in the day yesterday, Bud had gone snorkeling on the reef outside of White Cay, that forms the eastern barrier of the anchorage. I went along in the dinghy and read while he snorkeled. He pronounced it one of the best reefs he's seen in the Bahamas, so today we went back and both went snorkeling. Bud took his spear both days but didn't get anything. Before Bud had even gotten in the water I saw about a 4 foot shark. I just looked it up and I think it was a Blacktip Shark. Once I saw the shark I was hoping Bud would not spear any fish. It's one thing to have sharks follow your catch on the line, quite another when you're all in the water together. It was a nice area. There was a lot of soft coral and fire coral, some hard coral and many, many fish. I'm always frustrated when I get back that I've seen so many specimens I can't remember details to identify them in our guides. I don't have an underwater camera, so I just try to enjoy them. Bud saw another shark that looked like it was sleeping on the bottom, that was a nurse shark. Then, just as he was snorkeling over towards the dinghy he saw a really big shark. He thought it was about ten feet long. That ended the spear fishing for him!
Tomorrow we'll listen to the weather report and try to figure our next steps, but for this interlude of light winds we're certainly enjoying where we are.