Thankful for the ICW
18 March 2019 | Cumberland Island, GA
Edward Schwiebert | Overcast, cool, and windy
We returned to the USA on March 12, 2019 after about two months in the Bahamas. We love the Bahamas, the people, the crystal clear and turquoise waters, the fish, and the wonderful cruisers we meet. However, in view of the fact that dear friends could not join us for health reasons and other sailing friends have returned their boat to FL to sell her, we had no real reasons to stay (other than to continue enjoying ourselves!) and we decided that we would head home to HHI a bit earlier than planned. (We barely got moved in before we took off on this cruise, so there still is more to do (e.g. pictures to hang, etc.) and we decided we missed HHI and wanted to get back.) As well, we had a terrific weather window to cross the Gulf Stream — no wind (which is not great for sailors) but no waves to boot!
Shortly after our return to the States, the weather clocked around, as it is wont to do, and the winds have been strong and from the wrong quarter (i.e. the North). So, it was a good thing we left when we did because (a) we would have been in the Abacos, where the weather is forecast to be awful, and (b) we would have been delayed (not beyond our original calendar, but later than we now prefer). Of course, winds from the N mean we cannot go “outside” and sail up the Atlantic coast to HHI, which is a more direct, and thus faster, route than the Intracoastal Waterway (“ICW”), where we now find ourselves.
As described in Wikipedia, “The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, running from Boston, Massachusetts, southward along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. Some sections of the waterway consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, and sounds, while others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.” (Cited March 18, 2019)
The ICW is an incredible resource as evidenced by its use by boaters, fishermen, commercial ventures, and the myriad of communities that have sprung up along its shores. The maintenance of the waterway (primarily dredging) is funded by fuel tax. Again, per Wikipedia, “Today, federal law provides for the waterway to be maintained at a minimum depth of 12 feet (3.7 m) for most of its length, but inadequate funding has prevented that. Consequently, for larger ships, shoaling or shallow waters are encountered along several sections of the waterway, with these having 7-foot (2.1 m) or 9-foot (2.7 m) minimum depths from earlier improvements.” Indeed, on our various trips up and down the ICW, we have encountered depths much less than 12, 9, or even 7 feet. Today, we were stopped dead in our tracks (and we draw 5’2”) at a spot notorious for its shoaling. Meanwhile, we encountered dredges up and down the offending sections, making new channels or old channels deeper. It is a never ending task, but one so worth the undertaking.
And so, despite its shortcomings, and underfunded efforts to maintain it as provided in law, the ICW is an essential resource and one that will enable us to get home.
The Fish, pre meal
08 February 2019
Good Sport Award
08 February 2019 | George Town, Exumas
EVS: clear, windy
We spent two full days in Lee Stocking Island, where there used to be a marine research center. Unfortunately, the buildings are pretty much abandoned. Sad to see someone’s dream gone to ruin.
We arrived in Lee Stocking after another two day stay, this one near Cave Cay and Musha Cay, the latter owned by David Copperfield. Van tried hunting for lobster but came up empty handed. The cuts, where the lobsters like to hang out (or so we are told) run very big currents, so there is only a short window to hunt before running the risk of being swept away. We tried on the inside too, at various coral heads, but no luck. So, we moved on southward to Lee Stocking Island. We visited here on our first trip to the Bahamas in 2010. We took a hike to the ocean side (having missed the trail to the reputed highest point in the Bahamas — that and two others so identified) and marveled at the plants growing in what could be sidewalk material. On our first visit, we took a mooring near the research center. The moorings are all gone now, so we pushed down the west coast as far as we could go to enjoy a different area. Here too we hiked across to gain a slightly different vista, and to stretch our legs. And, Van tried lobster hunting again, but again, we came up short. So, we decided to try fishing for a change. Friends Sue and Mac, who took us under their wings in 2009 and who no longer sail, had marked our charts for fishing and lobster haunts. The latter have proved not productive, but we trolled and caught three nice fish — one yellowtail snapper and two jacks. The jacks are fun fish to catch, but they are bloody and not very tasty (or we have not found a way to prepare them to our liking), but the snapper is a delicious fish. We fileted the fish, dredged it in flour, egg, and bread crumbs and sautéed it in butter. It was served with green beans and Bahamian “peas and rice”, a staple. Delicious!
Because the weather is supposed to worsen over the next couple of days, we decided to leave Lee Stocking and make our way to George Town, where there can be (and indeed are) hundreds of boats. We meandered down the inside of Lee Stocking, past Children’s Bay Cay (lovely spot), and exited to the ocean on the south/east side of Rat Cay. The cut takes one back north, which made it very comfortable in the east winds. No breaking waves and a gentle transition at near high tide.
The outside, however, was altogether different. The winds were somewhat higher than forecast (17-18, gusting 23 knots), but the direction was considerably different from what we had expected. Instead of E/NE winds, they were from the E/SE and just about right on our nose. So, it was a very rolly ride in 4-6’ seas, with some 8’-ers thrown in for fun. Because we were motor sailing into the winds, which were blowing at high teens and low 20s, our speed was much reduced, so the trip took considerably longer than expected. Thumbelina, our “sailor cat” was not impressed or happy, and neither were we. Lauren suggested she and Thumbelina deserved good sport awards!
We arrived in George Town and anchored close to the “downtown” area so we could get groceries and water without a long, wet slog back to the boat. Van put 40 gallons of water aboard (two trips with 4-5 gallon jugs each trip) while Lauren went shopping to replenish our depleted fresh stores. After that was accomplished, we moved Gratitude to the lee shore of Stocking Island (not to be confused with Lee Stocking Island, which we left this morning). We do not like to have so many boats around, but we are happy to be here, and glad to issue the good sport awards to all who earned them.
Testing, Testing, Testing!
01 February 2019 | Great Harbor Cay
EVS: Post Blow
It is common to test systems (e.g. sound systems) before putting them to use. “Testing, testing, testing” is a common predicate to many procedures or operational tasks. We try to emulate this before using Gratitude, but sometimes, our good intentions fall by the wayside.
This year has been no different, but has been exacerbated by the fact that Gratitude sat unused for over a year and a half. In a prior post (“There’s always something”) we wrote about performing deferred maintenance on Gratitude in Stuart, FL before we departed for the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it seems we did not do enough.
We left Stuart intending to sail south down the coast toward Lake Worth both to make some southward distance to obtain a better angle to cross the Gulf Stream and to experience the weather. We decided if it was too rough, we could tuck into Lake Worth and await another weather window. The seas were relatively calm, the winds fairly benign (at that point, less than forecast), and we were making good time, so we decided to “go for it” and head across the Stream. We were traveling with Burt and Prue on Exuberant and they made the same choice. The conditions soon changed, however, and we encountered strengthening winds and our angle of approach to the Stream was less than ideal. We crabbed along trying to go up a down escalator, which appeared to move faster as the winds increased. After being slowed more than we wanted, both vessels decided to make a turn to port to get a better (i.e. more perpendicular) angle on the Stream. That, however, put us at a worse angle to the waves and the winds continued to build. About 9 hours into the crossing, Van noticed one of the sail track cars had pulled out of the mainsail track. Because the boat was doing fine and the winds were not extreme, we decided we could “soldier on” and deal with the main later. “Later” came in an hour when Van noticed that several more track “slugs” had pulled out, almost as if the mainsail had become “unzipped” from the mast. We had no alternative but to round up, head into the wind, and wrestle the mainsail to the boom. By now, the winds were quite strong (approaching 20 knots) and the seas very lumpy. Although Van was wearing a harness and was hooked to the boat in multiple locations, the pitching and rolling of the boat made the task of getting the sail down (it normally slides down the track by itself, but remember, very little of it was in the track, so it had to be helped manually) far larger than was comfortable. Indeed, Van had to practice the “one hand for the boat and one hand for himself” rule in spades, so the task was doubly hard. Finally, the sail was retrieved and lashed to the boom with sail ties (try tying knots one handed while being tossed about) and we resumed course with just the jib and mizzen sail.
The next day, in the comfort of the marina in Great Harbor Cay, Van was “cranked up” the mast to inspect the track, only to find multiple, uniform hairline cracks the length of it and several locations where the track had been deformed when the sail was unzipped. Research on the internet and in sailing forums turned up information that the situation was not uncommon and is due to UV damage. We have been in contact with the manufacturer and a “fix” is in process, but in the meanwhile, we are moving about without a mainsail. That is not a huge hardship as we often sail with just the “jib and jigger”. It does look somewhat funny however.
The situation resulted in many conversations to the effect “the mainsail is new, we never used it or tried it out before we left HHI, and we should have tested it before we started the trip.” While true, it is unlikely that any simple hoisting the main (indeed, we had done that several times at the dock back home) or even day sails would have uncovered the situation. It took the stresses of high winds and rolling seas to reveal the defects.
Of course, we were not alone in this discovery that systems should be tested. Other sailing friends had the same conversations when they discovered (as they were preparing to leave FL and then during the crossing to the Bahamas): their batteries were dead (replaced before departure), their freezer compressor had failed (replaced before departure), their SSB antenna wire had broken off (repaired at anchor), their anchor windlass remote had a fault (work in process), and their generator overheated (caused by a broken impeller— repaired). The “Admiral” insisted that she had told the “Captain” that he should have tested the systems before they were getting ready to depart.
Maybe that is why the expression is “testing, testing, testing” and not just “testing”!
There is always something!
31 December 2018 | Stuart, FL
Living on a boat is not all grapes and reclining in the sun with fans to keep you cool. In fact, we experience very little of that! It is almost always the case that something needs to be checked, tightened, fixed, or replaced. And that seems to be the case most often when a boat just sits.
When in operation, all systems are exercised and keep up their functionality — until they don’t. But, when a boat is not used, things tend to get creaky and stiff. (Sound familiar?) Because Gratitude had not been used for over a year and a half before this trip, we had a list of deferred maintenance items that needed tending. Our stop in Stuart, FL has provided a good opportunity to play catch up.
We arrived here December 17 and flew to LI, NY on the 22d to celebrate Christmas with our daughter, Kea, and her sons, Ethan and Hunter. We had a grand time with them, and even had the privilege of helping the boys (both teenagers) literally shovel out their room, which is set up like a dormitory, only messier. The good news is that they had no hesitation throwing away stuff (old pens and pencils, puzzles missing pieces, broken computer parts, etc.) and clothing that was too small was bagged for the thrift store. The bad news is we all had to spend the better part of a day on the project. However, once done, all agreed it was well worth the effort!
Returning to Stuart on the 27th, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner out with Nancy and Burger Zapf, sailing friends who have graciously loaned us a car for the myriad of errands over great distances while we are here. We have replenished the LP, done laundry, done some grocery shopping, been to the hardware store and West Marine for necessary parts, etc. We have washed the boat, checked the oil, tightened “fan” belts, bought and stored more oil for future changes, checked various fittings (only to find three hose clamps broken and in need of replacement; fortunately, they were backed up by others), tightened the “dripless” shaft gland, found a broken bolt on a head pump so ordered a new one, and a host of other items too numerous and boring to name. Suffice to say, it has been a worthwhile few days.
One item we had to attend was to move the boat to another marina to have the head holding tanks pumped out. (The county pump out boat utterly failed to provide the necessary service, so it was a significant undertaking to get that done. For example, along the way, we had to pass three bridges in close succession — one a railroad bridge that is closed by the railroad, so one must pay attention to the unscheduled train crossings, and another a highway bridge that opens on demand, much to the consternation of the vehicle drivers.) We took the opportunity to fill up on diesel while there, so we will have plenty for our ultimate trip to the Bahamas.
Now, we await the “weather window” for a safe and comfortable crossing of the Gulf Stream (that flows northward, so winds from the north [heading south] can build some fierce waves, nicknamed “elephants” for their shape and size. We saw enough elephants in South Africa and have no need to ride any now). While we wait, we are amazed periodically by the size of the trains that rumble through here on an unscheduled basis. Yesterday, I counted one with four engines, with fuel tank cars between them, hauling a train that took 5 minutes to pass at about 10-15 MPH. Many of the cars were filled with sand, and who knows what was in the tank cars, box cars, and assorted others. It was an impressive sight, and one we see repeated daily or even more often here in Stuart.
At the moment, it looks like we may be able to move on Thursday, but that is open to debate. When we can go, we will go. We are in no hurry and we have this slip for a month, so no one is pushing us out. Stay tuned!
Someone has to do it!
21 December 2018 | Stuart Florida
EVS: clear, cooler, and breezy
We often joke with people who remark about our chosen lifestyle (cruising on a sailboat to the Bahamas in the winter) that it is a tough life, but someone has to do it. Lest anyone be concerned about Thumbelina and her visit to the veterinarian, here is an updated photograph showing that life indeed is tough!