Bahamas and Cold Fronts
07 April 2021
Russ Whitford | cold but sunny
We hardly expect sympathy from our northern friends when we complain about a cold front in the Bahamas. But anyone sailing in this area should know about these weather gifts from North America and be advised of their passing.
During the winter, cold fronts come off the US, east coast every five to seven days. These cold fronts often travel down to the Bahamas. As spring approaches, these cold fronts weaken and don't reach as far south.
The problem with cold fronts is not the temperature, it's the strong and clocking winds that can be tough on a cruiser. Trade winds are normally from the east or northeast in the winter. As a cold front passes, there is an abrupt and strong 180 degree shift in the wind. Wind clocks to the south, southwest, west, northwest and then north. Wind speeds are often in the 30 knot range, sometimes higher! After the cold front, north to northeast winds remain strong for about three days.
Anchorages are mostly protected from east winds and open to the west. Here in the Abacos, there is a five mile fetch across the Sea of Abaco to the popular anchorages. West wind can be very dangerous and produce uncomfortable seas.
Last week we had a cold front. April is the time when cold fronts diminish in strength. The west component of the cold front was worrisome in our Fisher's Bay, Great Guana Cay anchorage. But the west wind was predicted to be just strong enough to counteract the east trade winds. We stayed in this anchorage and crossed our fingers for the 12 hours it took for the wind to clock to the north and start really blowing. West winds never reached uncomfortable velocities. But when the wind went north, it really blew, 30+ for two days, then gradually diminishing.
When we were here in 2015, we anchored in Marsh Harbor for a January cold front. Marsh Harbor is pretty well protected in all wind directions. It blew over 50 knots. Two dinghies became airborne and flipped over in the strong gusts. One charter boat was forced to stay at the dock for five of their seven day charter!
In February we rode out a cold front in Royal Harbor, also protected from all directions. It blew so hard we couldn't leave the boat for three days. Ten miles away, a Jack Russell Terrorist, like Sophie, was blown off the deck and drowned!
The moral to the story is don't cruise the northern Bahamas in the winter! If you are leaving the US after hurricane season, in November, sail right to the southern Bahamas, Exhumas, etc. Then work your way to the northern Bahamas.
If you are chartering a boat in the Abacos, northern Bahamas, you are in for a treat. We love it here. But don't come before April! Even better, wait until mid-April to sail here.
And yes, it is cold here. At least compared to French Polynesia. We shiver under two blankets in the 60 degree nights!
You Race This?
29 March 2021
Noah Alberte, nephew, age 15, wanted to do his first ocean passage. Sailing has been a big part of Noah's life on Lake Michigan. He has been in junior sailing/racing programs for about seven years. Noah and a partner own a 19 foot Lightning sailboat they race on Tuesday nights. Other times he races Lasers and 420's. But Noah is no stranger to big boats. He crews on a very fast Farr 49 and NM 36.
Paul and Erin, Noah's parents used to have two houses on Great Guana Cay. Hurricane Dorian wiped them both out. Paul has spent the past few months rebuilding one of the houses and Erin was flying in with Elouise, Teaghan and dog, Lulu for Spring Break.
To make the passage on Uproar, Noah had to leave from school a day early. Erin, insisted he have all A's on his recent work to make the trip. Congrats Noah! Lisa picked him up at the airport the Tuesday before we departed.
Noah brought his bag aboard and said, “I haven't been on a strictly cruising boat for a long time, I'm mostly on racing boats.” I mentioned we actually have done quite a bit of racing on Uproar.
“.......You race this?”
We told him about our racing record on Lake Michigan, Bahamas, Caribbean and French Polynesia. He may have been mildly impressed but still skeptical. Lisa and I had a good laugh. We would show him.
The passage to the Bahamas involves crossing the Gulf Stream. We have done several crossings and know it can be a challenge. But weather forecast was for SE winds, 11 knots, ideal as our course to Memory Rock Pass was NE and the current from the Gulf Stream is south to north. We would have a comfortable reach on a fast moving current stream, in our favor.
We decided to leave in the late afternoon on Wednesday, March 24th, to arrive at Memory Rock by dawn, 80 miles away. Night passages are the best. There is just something cool about sailing at night and arriving in the morning. We wanted to arrive in daylight to transit the shallow Bahama Bank.
Motoring through the Ft Lauderdale canals is a treat, seeing the mansions on the water and superyachts. It is fun going through the bridges and dodging the heavy traffic. Uproar is very easy to maneuver as a powerboat.
We made the 3:30 opening of the 17th street bridge and sailed out into the ocean. Seas were slight and there was a moderate breeze as promised. We unrolled the genoa and found that we could sail at almost 6 knots. We decided that speed would get us to Memory Rock right at dawn. But the wind died a bit and Uproar just wasn't happy. We hoisted our brand new mainsail and she came alive. In no time we were up to 8 knots!
We normally sail via autopilot. Noah asked if he could drive. Of course. He took the wheel and exclaimed, “This steering is very sensitive!” He settled down and kept Uproar in the groove.
When we entered the Gulf Stream, our speed would occasionally top 10 knots. “Wow, this boat is fast!” “We are flying!” Lisa and I smiled.
No matter how hard we tried, Uproar just didn't want to slow down. If we reduced speed, the GS would just take us N instead of NE. Plus, who wants to sail slowly? We got to Memory rock by 2:30 am in the dark. No problem, the charts are good and it is a well known channel.
The next 90 miles were a combination of sailing and motoring to follow safe routes. Our plan was to stay overnight at Little Sale Cay. We arrived there by 11:00 am. Let's just keep sailing. We sailed another 30 miles to Powell Cay and arrived at dusk. Noah joined us in the traditional anchor beer. (Note to Child Protective Services, this blog may be a work of fiction)
All slept soundly and we had only 10 miles to get to our clear-in spot, Green Turtle Cay. Wind was on the nose for that 10 miles, about 12 knots. We were now in the Abaco Sound with a lot of shallow spots. We seldom saw depths of over 14 feet. Uproar draws almost 8 feet under the keel. Welcome to the Bahamas. We could have just motored. But we put up full sails and beat to weather.
The channels are narrow in some places. We had to do extra tacks and wore Noah out grinding in the genoa. Uproar was just loving it. We were getting up to 8 knots of boatspeed and tacking at 42 degrees to true wind! Race boat performance. We were all loving the rail-down sail in the beautiful turquoise waters.
We sailed through the dreaded Whale Cay Pass in flat conditions for a change, re-entered the Sea of Abaco and arrived at Great Guana Cay by early afternoon.
Noah is a great crew and we were delighted to have him aboard. Noah, you are welcome anytime, who knows, we may even enter the Hope Town Regatta, racing!
28 March 2021
I'm not talking about tackling daunting waves. We couch surfed all over Florida, had a great time and didn't even get wet.
While Uproar was in transit from Tahiti to Ft. Lauderdale, we flew to Milwaukee. It was great to visit family and friends after cruising for almost six years. But Wisconsin in January and February is not for the faint of heart....or those whose blood has been thinned out in tropical paradise. We planned to leave about a month before Uproar arrived in Florida and visit friends along the way. We are so lucky to have great friends who rolled out the red carpet for us.
First stop was Indianapolis to visit Theta Chi brother and roomy, Larry Fortress. Larry and Mary had just moved into a new home. Very nice place! Of course we visited a brew pub and shared a famous Indiana pork tenderloin sandwich. Larry and I played pool well into the night and even sang a few bawdy songs.
Next stop was New Orleans. Laura Livermore was giving a felting demonstration at a local craft store. We were planning on visiting Glyn and Laura at their home in Pensacola, FL but why not add NO to the journey? We stayed in an old apartment near Frenchman's Street and had a great time in the much subdued NO fun zones. Lisa and I were also able to have lunch with Jay Peterson, also Theta Chi brother, and his wife Joan. Jay is also a sailor and showed us around the marinas and his beautiful boat.
We followed Glyn and Laura back to Pensacola and stayed a week with them. This included a lot of exploring of this area and a sail on their boat, Peregrine. They have made Pensacola their winter home but we will surely see them back in Wisconsin this summer.
Next stop was a weekend in Apalachacola. Not sure I spelled it right but we enjoyed this touristy/fishing village and stayed at the ancient, Combs Inn. Lovely place and we enjoyed the local color.
Gregg and Jo Fettin are friends we met in the Caribbean about four years ago. They are now living in Ft. Myers, FL and loving it. They have a beautiful condo and gave us a weeks worth of fun in the area. We spent a lot of time at beaches and exploring the adjacent islands. Gregg and I spent a fun half-hour while the ladies were shopping, sitting in the chairs outside the shop and waving at the slow traffic. We got smiles and giggles from most of the cars and seven even honked a greeting at us. At least we thought they were amused. This is perfectly in line with Gregg's favorite expression, “Stay Crazy!”
Gregg and Jo took us to the downtown Ft. Myers gallery night, a great street celebration that happens every two weeks. Good music and food. We ran into Chas and Karen Volmer....of course in a bar! Chas and Karen are snow birds from Milwaukee who we have known for years (and sailed with). We knew they were in the area but didn't contact them, knowing we would get together in the summer. They spent the rest of the evening with the four of us, a great time and unexpected bonus.
Then we drove across the Tamiami Trail to Fort Lauderdale. At one national park, we hiked a boardwalk over the everglades swamps and saw what we have seen in movies about the swamp. Very cool trees, birds, turtles and of course gators.
Lance, best childhood friend, and his wife Laura hosted us in their condo in Fort Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. What a fun area. Lance and Laura Moll have lived in south Florida since college and entertain a lot of visitors. They treated us to the sights and food of the area for two weeks! Highlights were all the beaches. Hard Rock Hotel and just hanging out with them, watching the boats on the Intercoastal. During the last week, Uproar arrived and we had a lot of work to get her ready to sail. Lance and Laura were our supply base. They had been receiving Amazon packages for weeks and even received our new mainsail months before. They helped with logistics of storing and moving a lot of stuff around their pool store and condo. We couldn't have done it without their help. They even drove us to Port Everglades for the moment we had awaited, for Uproar to arrive on Yacht Express, the ship shipping ship. Everything went smoothly with their help.
In Ft Lauderdale we were able to have lunch with Jen Wirth and her fiance, Joe. Jen started sailing on our race boat, Veloce when she was a teenager. She is now three years running, Blue Water Sailing School's best instructor of the year. We met several sailors in the Caribbean who she had taught sailing. We met several others who requested her but she was booked. If you want to learn to sail a cruising boat and learn all that is needed to charter a boat safely, spend a week sailing with Captain Jen!
Sheilah Holznagle worked with Lisa on IT projects for years in Milwaukee. Being on the front lines of these projects formed a fast friendship. Sheilah and her husband Steve now live in Ft Myers. We had dinner with them in Ft Myers and they drove to Ft Lauderdale to go for a dinghy ride in the canals and have lunch at 15th Street Marina.
Steve and Lili from S/V Liward have sailed in French Polynesia for years. They spend cyclone season in Jupiter Florida. We visited them there for a tour of the area, Steve's favorite surfing beach and a few outdoor venues where Steve plays guitar with a singer. They served us heaping plates of stone crab claws for dinner! Friends we make cruising truly become friends for life.
Lance and Laura met us two years ago in Fakarava, French Polynesia. Lance and Laura were on their 40th anniversary cruise on the Paul Gaugin, joined by Laura's sister, Chris and her husband Mark. We had a fun time with them in Fakarava, sailing to a reef to snorkel with the sharks. Chris and Mark along with their friend Nancy visited the Lance and Laura Lodge for a long weekend while we were there. We did move into a hotel for the four nights against their insistence that there was room for everyone.
We enjoyed more fun times with them including a dinghy ride through the posh, Ft. Lauderdale canals.
Uproar spent a week at Cooley's Landing Marina after unloading from Yacht Express. I can't properly describe the work needed to re-rig sails, canvas, solar panels, etc. Provisioning for three months in the Bahamas is an unbelievable task. Our poor Fiat was loaded to the gills when we left Milwaukee and loaded several times over with supplies. It took only three or four trips to liquor stores to fill the bildges with wine and spirits.
Noah Alberte, our 15 yo nephew, joined us for the passage to the Abacos, his first ocean passage. Lisa picked up Noah at the airport, got covid tests done and a long list of logistics to resume living aboard Uproar. Lance helped with the final step, following me to a storage facility where we parked the Fiat 500L to rest for the next three months. When he dropped us off, we were ready! And we made it here!
Thanks to everyone who not only entertained us for over a month but who helped us make the transition from dirt dwellers to cruisers again.
Au Revoir French Polynesia
09 January 2021
This will be my last blog from French Polynesia. It is a sad day for Team Uproar. But we have had almost three years here and they have been magic.
FP is among the most beautiful places we have cruised, visited or even imagined. The people here have been not only friendly but welcoming. Many of the people we have met, especially in outlying areas, want to share fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. But most of all they want to share stories and get to know us. Seems we are a bit of a curiosity to them, even though cruisers are abundant here.
The scenery graces many a calendar page. FP has mountains, waterfalls, perfect beaches, abundant reefs and turquoise lagoons. The French have spent a lot of money here. Roads are mostly smooth pavement which makes for great biking.
But it is the water that is most striking in FP. Some of the lagoons are vivid turquoise that reflects a beautiful turquoise color on the bottom of clouds. The snorkeling is the best we have ever enjoyed. Fish, coral and sea critters are plentiful. Sharks are everywhere and exhibit the typical FP courtesy. They are curious and gentle. We have enjoyed getting to know them.
Cruising friends we have met here have become life-long friends. Anyone who sails to FP is fully committed to the cruising lifestyle or they wouldn't make it here. We have met a lot of cruisers and enjoyed getting to know them. This past year we have sailed mostly with Kjell and Kaia on 2K. We are now even adopting some Norwegian expressions. Love you guys!
Now I have to really thank the French Polynesian government for how they have accommodated cruisers during the Covid 2020. FP has been the only country in the South Pacific who allowed cruisers to enter. That is a huge and important statement. Imagine sailing from Panama and no country would allow you entry. You might just have to keep sailing for half-a-year to reach a safe haven. But FP put in place protocols which allowed all boats to enter! They recognized that the two plus weeks it takes to sail here make for an effective quarantine. And they recognized a responsibility to care for those who would otherwise be in peril.
Cruisers and the entire FP went through a lockdown during mid-March to mid-May. Cruisers were told to stay in place and stay on their boats. There were exceptions for medical or grocery needs. We were in a large anchorage in Tahiti we called Hotel California. Helicopters and patrol boats visited daily at first but any communications we had with officials were as polite as can be. We were allowed to swim around our boats even though local residents were forbidden from swimming or boating!
I can't express how grateful we are to the way FP government have treated us during these difficult times! New Zealand could sure take lessons!
Lest one thinks I am looking at FP through turquoise colored glasses, there are a few negatives. First of all, the sailing can be difficult, both to get here and between islands. Distances are far and weather is not the consistent trade winds we enjoyed in the Caribbean. The cruising ground in the Eastern Caribbean all fits inside Lake Michigan. The cruising area here is the same dimension as all of Europe, after you sail 4,000 miles from Panama just to arrive!
Weather can be a challenge. Wind changes direction which can cause a scramble for a safe anchorage. Maramu winds can cause three days of howling winds up to 40 knots. We did not witness any cyclones but we did survive a tropical depression in Gambiers. Believe me, it was not fun! We have even had several days of continuous rain and gray. But sun and balmy temperatures are more the norm.
There has been much talk about animosity toward cruisers in the past year. Part of it stems from the lockdown where 40 of us were in a favorite reef area and locals were not allowed to boat or swim. There was concern that we were polluting the reef. A few articles in local papers spread the concern. I can tell you that our effluent was minor compared to the cafe-au-lait that flows out of the rivers after rain. A map showing water quality problems did not show problems in any of the anchorages visited by cruisers. But there are also a few anchorages in Moorea and Raiatea where local people just don't want to see cruisers. This has led to some hard feelings. Bora Bora has taken the hardest line. They do not allow anchoring, cruisers must pay $30/day to rent a mooring! We did spend a month at Bora Bora with a special rate of $300/month and enjoyed it. Still, we prefer areas without that kind of control.
None of this can take away from the open welcome of the local people we have met. Imagine waking up and finding a fresh fish in your dinghy. Or people who insist on giving you fruit for just walking by. We have been invited to numerous meals and shared in pot-luck dinners. We have had a few local friends join us for dinner on Uproar too.
I can't possibly express our love and appreciation for French Polynesia and her people. As Dorothy states, it gets into your blood. We can only say maruruu roa (Thank you very much)!
Duck Hunting in French Polynesia
04 January 2021
One would think you need a gun to go duck hunting. Well, according to the French Polynesian Customs Agents, we have one on Uproar. We were boarded by customs agents almost two years ago in Tahiti. Five, courteous agents sat in our cockpit and asked for our documentation, entry papers and passports. All was in order, we are diligent about following our host country's rules.
The agent who spoke English asked if we had a flare gun. “Yes, we do.” There were anxious looks, “Please show it to us.” I produced our trusty flare gun and cartridges.
He said, “This is a gun, why didn't you declare it on your entry papers?” I replied, “No, it is a signaling device for emergencies, not a gun. If it was a gun, I would have declared it.” This went forth and back for awhile. Then he made a cell phone call. I could understand much of it, “Oui, plastic. Oui, orange.”
He hung up with a sigh of relief. “If you add that you have a signaling gun to your entry papers, it will be OK this time.” I added it and we both initialed it. Then they gave us “yelp” forms to rate their conduct and courtesy during the boarding. French courtesy and we gave them high marks.
Just how do I blast ducks out of the sky with my flare gun? Well that's not exactly what we mean by “duck hunting.”
It all started in Martinique, Caribbean. We were invited aboard Flip Flops for drinks. Drinks became dinner and we were treated to a fantastic duck curry. Flip Flops know how to cook! They have started an informative blog, www.becomeacruiser.com. Or facebook future cruisers. They have a lot about food on their website. Nikki, time for a duck article!
We learned from Flip Flops about the canned duck confit and horded it on Uproar. With it we make duck curry, roasted duck with carrots and potatoes, cassoulet, and our favorite, duck, duck bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwiches. In Martinique and Guadeloupe we could buy three pound cans of duck for under $10. Bonus! There is about a pound of duck fat in each can. I love the duck but if you simply threw away the duck, the $10 is worth it for the duck fat alone. Potatoes roasted in duck fat are the best. Duck fat popcorn anyone? Sounds gross but delicious.
Here in French Polynesia, we can buy canned duck confit but prices can be as high as $20/can. But if you look carefully, you can find the cans of manchons (drummies) for $10. We brag to Flip Flops when we find it and so do they. For us a successful shopping trip for duck confit is a successful duck hunt. Today in Papeete, we bagged only one can. But we will keep hunting. I can tell you a good supply will be stowed aboard Uproar when she is shipped back to the US.
Sorry, canned duck confit is just not readily available in the US. We have seen it on Amazon for $35/can but that's just too expensive. I am in contact with some duck product companies in France about importing it. Stand by.
03 January 2021 | Hotel California, Airport anchorage Tahiti
Russ Whitford | Nice
And you think laundry is a pain in the ….
Today we spent seven hours “doing” five small loads of laundry and it cost us more than $250!
There is more to the story.
Last week we were in Moorea and took our laundry to a “laverie” that we had used before. They always did a great job. Bet you didn't think about the laundry problems living on a boat. Well, it is either stomping your duds clean in a five gallon bucket or paying a bunch of money to have someone else do it. Especially in French Polynesia, it can be expensive.
We dropped off five small grocery bags of laundry along with two bags from our friends, Kjell and Kaia on 2K.This was five days ago. The lady at the laverie said it wouldn't be done until Saturday. She had a lot of hotel business and we would have to wait. Sailors have learned patience, our boats are slow. So we said, “Pas de problem, see you Saturday.”
We sailed from Cooks Bay to Haapiti Bay to be more protected from strong easterly winds. Haapiti Bay was a nice spot. But after a few days there we decided to sail to Vaiare Bay in Moorea where the ferry boats dock. From there we could get a bus to the laverie and pick up our laundry. On the way out of Haapiti, we had fantastic wind for a perfect beat...but winds favored the sail to Tahiti instead of Vaiare. We radioed 2K and they agreed, “Let's just enjoy this sail to Tahiti, we can take the ferry back to Moorea to pick up our laundry.
Today is Saturday, laundry pick-up day. Lisa and I dinghied the four miles to Papeete from our Hotel California anchorage at 10:30. We bought tickets for the noon ferry, $23 for the two of us. The ferry ride was a short 20 minutes. We then rented a car to get to Maharipa. That cost us $90!!! Cab fare is about $40 each way so even this exorbitant amount made sense. With the freedom of a rental car, we drove to our favorite pizza restaurant. Outside tables were full. Good thing, we sat inside just before a huge squall hit and drove everyone inside. Pizza was great and filling as usual.
With time to kill before the next ferry, we drove the long way around the 37 mile perimeter of Moorea to Maharepa. Indeed, our laundry was done. Each of our small bags of laundry cost $15 for a total of $60. I think a standard, US washing machine could have done all our laundry in two loads. Oh well, it was clean and nicely folded.
We drove back to the ferry dock, put $5 of gas in the car and bought tickets back to Papeete for another $35. After another short ride, we were back in Papeete. We toted our laundry and 2Ks the ½ mile back to where we had locked our dinghy, loaded everything and dinghied back to Hotel California where we delivered 2K's bags.
Back on Uproar, it was 5:30, cocktail time. Simple math, Ferry rides $60, rental car and gas $95, laundry $60. But wait, lunch was $35, ice cream along the way $9, and Lisa bought outfits for the two grandchildren for $75. I'm pretty sure my clothes were not worth what we paid to get them clean! Lisa's, perhaps and we did have two sets of sheets and pillow cases which are expensive.
I'm not complaining. We had a fun day and adventure. We met a nice family on vacation from Alaska and told them our favorite highlights on Moorea. Weather cooperated for our dinghy rides. If rough, those four miles can be a saltwater-soaked ride! Lisa did bring contractor bags so at least our laundry arrived in perfect condition.
Next time, I'll just get out the five gallon bucket and my (hopefully) clean feet!