Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Course Correction

One of the lessons we have learned over the last few years traveling on SeaClearly is - if you have any questions about your chosen path, change your path. Our track on the 'Where are we now' link tells our story. We are back in Florida after less than 30 days in the Abacos.

It seemed like many aspects of our trip were conspiring against us. We were having a good time. We were enjoying the travels and the sailing. But, the weather was problematic. We had about 2 days of good weather followed by 5 days of bad. Every week. Ever since we started south from Charleston. We were constantly looking for the next good anchorage to hide from the next round of bad weather. Consequently, the 2 days of good weather each week were spent running to a place to hide.

We kept thinking that, once we got to the Bahamas, things would improve. The weather did not improve. The places to hide from the weather did not improve. The Abacos exhibit a different environment from the southern Bahamas in both weather and attitude - and neither suited us very well. It was too cold for snorkeling (for us, at least). We were spending far too much time in marinas because they had the best protection from the, supposedly, uncommonly bad weather fronts.

So, after only a couple of weeks, we were ready to move on. The question was, where? Should we go through the Abacos and south to Eleuthera as planned? Stay the course and, eventually, make it back to the Exumas? Or do something else entirely? In the end, 'something else' won. We turned ourselves around and headed back toward the USA.

The beach at Grabber's, Fiss=her's Bay, Abacos
We spent our last few days in the Bahamas with friends Bo and Joyce visiting some cool spots - Grabber's at Fisher's Bay and Nipper's on Great Guana Cay. We met up with fellow Cabo Rico 42 owners and friends Jim and Wendy on 'Patty Jean' also in Fishers Bay. Then, we made the passage back west through Whale Cay Cut to begin the journey home. Or somewhere in the US, anyway.


Two beautiful Cabo Rico 42's - SeaClearly, Patty Jean - at
Fisher's Bay

Flowers

Famous Nipper's Beach Bar - Great Guana Cay, Abacos


Oceanside near Nipper's


Junie and Tilly relaxing in the shade by the beach

Powell Cay

There were dozens of starfish in the shallows
just east of our anchorage at Powell.













Our intention was to take our time, visit a few nice spots along the way and wait for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream back to Florida. However, common sense and reason were totally overwhelmed by the desire to move on to the next thing. Albeit, we had no clear idea what the next thing  might be yet.

Against the advice of our weather guru and despite some obvious signs that we were making a poor decision, we made a fast move from a very nice anchorage at Powell Cay all the way back to Great Sale Cay to stage for a crossing. Even after double checking the weather and finding that it was, still, a bad idea to leave on Friday morning, we left anyway.

We had a fabulous, if spirited, sail for the first 10 hours of our trip. We had reefed the mainsail (shortened it to about half of its full area) before we left Great Sale, subconsciously acknowledging that we were headed into bad weather even if we wouldn't admit it to ourselves. That, with just the staysail gave us a nice ride in the 20 - 25 knot winds from the south. Of course, that wind was predicted to switch to the southwest and then west - which would put the wind directly on our nose for the entire trip across the Gulf Stream. Then, it was predicted to veer to the northwest - directly on our nose as we turned toward  our chosen destination, Port Canaveral. How, you might ask, does that sound like a good plan?

If you have not grasped the gravity and stupidity of our decision yet, please stand by. It gets better. As we approached Mantanilla Shoal late in the afternoon, the winds were gusting to 28 knots. The tide was coming onto the Bahama Banks and drove the waves into steep 8 foot waves with crests on the top. SeaClearly rides this stuff pretty well but it became obvious that we were on the verge of a no-turning-back situation. We were now hours past any good anchorage on the Banks. The Gulf Stream was in front of us. And it was getting dark. Tilly was already nervous (clearly the only smart entity on the boat, at this point). We were still holding out hope that the weather would settle down as evening came.

That did not happen. We started the engine to give us a bit more control and motor-sailed into increasingly big waves that, relentlessly, moved more on our nose. By the time the sun went down, several things had become very clear. First, no one was going to be sleeping and certainly not in the cabin. Second, there would be no meals served in any class on this evening's flight. Third, Tilly was not going to get her evening trip to the fake grass on the bow to pee. Fourth, and most significant, we had made an error in judgement and were going to pay the price.

We did our best to secure the boat. We dropped the mainsail entirely and reefed the staysail enough to keep it from harmonically beating itself to death in the high winds. The only purpose it served, at this point, was to provide some stability as we rolled, pounded into, and cyclically fell off of, steep 10 foot waves. We actually had one wave break over - yes, over - the top of the full enclosure of the cockpit. And, we were just reaching the Gulf Stream.

SeaClearly is an amazing vessel. We never felt scared but we felt bad. We felt bad that we were putting our poor puppy through this maelstrom. We felt bad that SeaClearly was under such stress. All because we made a hasty, poor decision based on irrational optimism rooted in a desire to wrap up our trip early and head home. It sucks being responsible.

This same wave action and wind went on for the next 16 hours. It was a very long night. We contacted multiple large ships to make sure they knew we were there. We talked to a Disney cruise ship whose female captain (perhaps understanding what we were going through) wished us a safe passage through the night. More than once we agreed that this had been a bad idea.

Tilly could not find a comfortable spot. Of course, being comfortable in a lifejacket and tether is never easy but it is especially hard with the boat pitching and rolling incessantly. She finally ended up on the cockpit floor looking just pitiful. At one point, as she tried to move around the cockpit, she accidentally (or not) stepped on the iPad and triggered the SOS on our InReach satellite tracking app. Junie had to cancel the call. Once again, perhaps Tilly is smarter than us.

This is the screen that Tilly would have
quickly confirmed if Junie had not intervened.

So, now, it has become April 1st. April Fool's Day. The dog has tried to call for help. Even the Disney ship 'Fantasy' has wished us luck. How much more confirmation do you need that you have chosen poorly?

None of us slept for more than a few minutes all night long. Even if you could wedge yourself into a corner of the cockpit, after a few minutes the anti-syncopation of the boat and the waves would jar you awake. Saltwater was everywhere. SeaClearly is a stable boat in heavy seas but she is not a 'dry' boat. She ships water over the rails and it cascades down the sides and around behind the cockpit. We stay dry but we are surrounded by seawater many times. During the night, we managed to save two large Flying Fish that had ended up on the boat right outside our cockpit. We could just reach out and pick them up to toss them back into the sea. We hoped that would buy us some good karma with the sea gods.

As morning came, we started to see a little lessening of the wind. By 8:00 am, it finally got under 20 knots for the first time in the entire trip. Junie and I both managed a quick nap in the cockpit - not at the same time. Tilly passed out from exhaustion. About 10:00 am, we slowed SeaClearly to a crawl and I took Tilly to the bow. Still in 4 - 5 foot waves that caused the bow to rise and fall sharply, she could finally, after many hours, pee.

The calm that we had anticipated would happen sometime around midnight was finally delivered on the last leg of our trip as we approached Port Canaveral in the afternoon on Saturday. We motored into Cape Marina a beaten and salt-encrusted boat and crew. Once again, our fine ship had saved us from our poor choices and delivered us safely to port.

We parked at the fuel dock and Junie called into US Customs and Immigration. Our pre-filed Float Plan with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) allows us to check back into the US via telephone. By 4:00 pm, we were officially back in the USA. Alive and well.

So, now what? In a total Course Correction, we are parked here for a week. We are one hour from Orlando. Believe it or not, we are going to Disney World.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Abacos Photo Montage

March 11 - 13 Great Sale - Crab Cay

Leaving Great Sale Cay. Really not much to stay for
as far as we could tell. Just a place to stop.
Crab Cay (one of several Crab Cays in the Bahamas) was
a good stop and had some cool stuff going on. Dolphins,
rays, turtles, barracuda, starfish - fun. 

It also had some neat ledges. We looked for lobster but didn't
see any hiding in the holes.

Tilly got her beach time and a dinghy ride.

Fortunately, we had leftover lobster from
our lunch back at Little Grand Cay. We carried
on our Maine tradition of Lobster Rolls!
These happen to be Connecticut style - sauteed
with butter and green onions.
Table with a view.


Laundry day at Crab Cay included Tilly toys.


Full moon rising.
March 13 - 16 Manjack Cay, Green Turtle Cay
The forecast for severe winds drove us to change anchorages
to Manjack Cay and, then, into the marina at
the Green Turtle Club. 

Our dockhand, Gary, was one of the
best we ever had. After we fueled up at the fuel dock, Gary
jumped on the boat with us to help us manage the lines
as we backed SeaClearly into her slip.
You can just see SeaClearly at center top of photo.
Later, the mega-yachts showed up and we disappeared behind them.


Tilly, smiling at the prospect of a few days at a marina.


An inter-island ferry.
We rented a Golf Cart to go visit New Plymouth Settlement
on the other end of the island with friends Richard and Robin. They
are fellow Cabo Rico owners on a 38 named 'Buiochas'. We ran into
each other a few days before as we were leaving Great Sale and
ended up in the same place a few times.

Lunch at Harvey's in New Plymouth

Table by the beach

Beautiful water at the end of every road.

We were quite the cart load since Tilly joined us for the day.

March 16 - 18 South of Green Turtle Cay
No, this is not a tropical drink. Junie started
re-sprouting the green onions after we cut them
off. Now, we have perpetual green onions.


When we left the marina, the weather still seemed a little unsettled to
make the trip through Whale Cay Cut so we just went around the corner
and anchored south of Green Turtle Cay. Beautiful beach. The next island,
No-Name Cay, is another Bahamian island with swimming pigs.
We skipped that one. Tilly enjoyed our beach until she was worn out.

White, soft sand.


Add dog to water. The very picture of enthusiasm.

The family car on South Green Turtle Cay beach

Homemade pizza night on SeaClearly!
March 18 - 24 Through Whale Cay Cut, Great Guana Cay, South of Marsh Harbour, then back up to Treasure Cay
We thought we had a great anchorage around Great Guana Cay with a cute little
beach bar only to be run off by wind from the wrong direction - in this case, west.
After a couple of days hiding from windy cold front conditions,
we finally sailed (the full cutter rig) back towards Treasure Cay to escape from yet
another predicted wind event - east, this time.
Friends Bo and Joyce, whom we have known since York River Yacht Haven,
joined us at the Treasure Cay Marina. We picked up a rental car to go shopping
at Maxwell's in Marsh Harbour, toured the island and then
dinner at Colors By The Sea!

SeaClearly, once again, impatiently waiting for us to move on.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Checking in and Checking Out Rosie's Place

Everybody warned us off of Little Grand Cay. ‘There’s nothing there.’, they said. ‘Just skip that and move on.’ So, being more than slightly anti-authoritarian, we made it a point to aim there to clear customs and check in to the Bahamas. It seemed like they had everything we needed – customs and immigration, a BTC office for a SIM card for Bahamas cell phone service and a restaurant for lobster dinners. What more could you want? Sure, there were rumors that the island is run by a former drug kingpin. Rosie, of Rosie’s Place, Rosie’s Marina, Rosie’s Store, etc. Rosie, by the way, is a guy. But, hey, why go if you are going to skip stuff? 


So, we arrived just west of Little Grand Cay, as described, at 4:00 am and dropped the anchor. By 8:00 am, the dinghy was in the water, I had on my ‘checking in attire’ in an effort to show some respect to the Bahamian authorities, and I was headed off toward the island. I had a dry-bag with all of our paperwork, passports, Tilly’s pet import papers and the required $300 the we needed to get into the Bahamas. We couldn’t get SeaClearly into the inner harbor due to the shallow depths so it was about a mile dinghy ride from out in the open water. A bit wet but not bad.


I slowed the dinghy down to a putter as I cruised up to a dock. I asked a couple of locals where I might tie up to find the customs folks and they directed me to tie up next to the fish cleaning station and walk up to Rosie’s Place. I found the spot, tied up the dinghy and walked up the back stairs to the restaurant and, apparently by island telegraph, the customs lady was already laying her stuff out on a table in anticipation of my arrival. She was very professional, efficient and formal. Friendly is not a requirement for customs agents anywhere in the world that I have ever visited. The paperwork was cleared and she even let me take Junie’s immigration card back to SeaClearly with me for Junie to sign and drop of later at – of course – Rosie’s Place.

View of the docks at Rosie's Place


I also asked her about the BTC office. She said Raquel would be the person I needed to see. Raquel, it turns out, is Rosie’s daughter. ‘Just ask anyone’, she said, ‘they can tell you where to find her.’ So, off I went, to ask anyone where to find Raquel. The first woman, inside the restaurant, pointed me to the landing dock. I walked that direction and, eventually, found a small, one room store with 4 or 5 people inside. When I asked about Raquel, one of the women said, ‘Hold on, I’ll call her.’ She did and then handed me the phone. Raquel said she would meet us at Rosie’s Place.

So, by now, I have been in town for 30 minutes and met half of the residents. I packed up my stuff, dinghied back to SeaClearly and said, ‘Come on, let’s go! We have to meet Raquel at Rosie’s Place!’ Obviously, I have forgotten everything I knew about island time. There was no reason to hurry. Junie, Tilly and I rode back across the open water, into the harbor and back to the little dock and went back to a table outside on Rosie’s deck and sat down. It is only 10:00 am. Junie asks if they can fix a lobster dinner for lunch. The woman, whose name we now have as Sabrina, says, ‘Sure, when you want it. Now?’ Sure, why not now.

We sat and watched the, fairly minor, activity in the small harbor as we listened to Sabrina start the cooking process. It was nice to just sit. I kept thinking the I must not have understood Raquel correctly since she wasn’t showing up. By about 10:45, the smell from the kitchen was clearly indicating that lunch was on its way. Sabrina pops out and says, ‘Raquel is here now. Do you want to talk to her or eat first?’  We, of course, not wanting to offend Raquel thought we should see her first. Sabrina then says, ‘She gonna be here all day now. The food’s ready!’ OK, let’s eat!

Salad, followed by two lobster tails each with peas and rice and potato salad. Cold Cokes. On the deck at Rosie’s Place, officially in the Bahamas. Sabrina did us right. Oh, if it wasn't obvious, we were the only people at the restaurant all morning. 

The view down the waterfront from
Rosie's Place. Well, actually, the cottages are
also part of Rosie's Place.
We finally saw Rosie. He was walking along the docks directing worker bees, a graying, slow moving man with huge hands. If rumors can be believed, he could probably still kill me with those hands and feed me to the sharks. We were very polite. It is his island, after all.

Raquel, from BTC, showed up, as if on cue, shortly after we finished our lunch. We really got the impression that there was a lot of background orchestration happening amongst the locals. Raquel did not like big dogs and was leery of Tilly. I took Tilly for a walk while Junie worked with her and got our Bahamas phone set up. 




Before noon, we were headed back to SeaClearly. We had cleared Customs, had a great lobster lunch, got our phone working on the BTC network - all at the same table on the deck of Rosie’s Place. Pretty Smooth. 
Great sail to Great Sale

We took down our ‘Q’ flag, the yellow quarantine flag you have to fly to indicate that you have not yet checked in with Customs, and replaced it with our Bahamas courtesy flag, the one you fly to indicate that you have. Now, we are official.


Since it was still early, and because we were anchored out in the open water, we decided to move on to a different spot. We pointed south to Great Sale Cay and, as soon as we set our heading, we threw out sails and sailed the entire 3 hour trip. We re-started the engine only for the anchoring process and settled in for the night. We gave Tilly one more trip to the beach before dark and then we all crashed hard after a long day/night/day. We are back in the Bahamas.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Gulf Stream Crossing - Fort Pierce to Little Grand Cay, Bahamas

We kept waiting and moving, waiting and moving. Baby steps south until we got a green light to head east across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. I think we were very patient. But, finally, we were sitting just inside Fort Pierce Inlet, looking at the ocean and ready to go.

We had a ‘going away’ dinner Wednesday evening, with our friend Bob, at Chuck’s Seafood right on the waterfront in Fort Pierce. It was an easy trip for us since we were anchored directly in front of it. Excellent fried shrimp. Then, it was back to SeaClearly for final preparations – lift the dinghy, secure the cabin, review charts and tide-tables and run through our ‘Ready for Sea’ checklist.
Chuck's Seafood at Fort Pierce Inlet

Our trusty dinghy waiting for us to finish dinner





















Thursday, March 9th, we were up at sunrise (actually, a little before), drinking coffee and counting down to an 8:00 am departure. That was when the tide would come slack and start to flow out of the inlet again. The wind had, pretty much, died and it was a beautiful morning. It was obvious that we did not have any patience left and the current was almost finished so, at 7:30, the anchor was up and SeaClearly was on the move.

We have been through this inlet a few times but there was never a passage any calmer than this one. There was barely any swell, no waves, negligible current, clear skies and calm breezes. A good start to a Gulf Stream crossing. And, we had dolphins to escort us out.

I could make up some stories about the challenging conditions and the fearless crew but the reality was very benign. We had waited for, and gotten, a good weather window. Several miles offshore from Fort Pierce, we reached the baffling blue waters of the Stream. I wear a start sapphire ring that is a remarkable match for the Gulf Stream Blue. I can hold it up as a color match when we hit the Stream.

Happy sailor guy
We certainly felt the effects of the Gulf Stream current. One minute we were cruising along at 6.5 knots at a course heading of about 107 degrees to achieve a Course Over Ground (COG) of the same 107 degrees. A few minutes later, we were driving a course of 153 to try and hold the COG at 107. Our speed dropped to 4.5 knots as we steered into the current. Realistically, we could have done some things to lessen the effects - driven more of an S-curve south then ride the stream back north, blah, blah, blah. Given the calm weather and moderate current on this day, it seemed like the time and diesel would work out about the same either way so we took it straight on.


Junie, consulting chart data as we drive into the morning sun

The only brief weather encounter of the day
was a 10 minute shower from this cloud












Sunset looking back towards the US as we
approach the Bahama Bank















Our goal was to reach Manzanilla Shoal, the northernmost entrance to the Bahama Banks, by sunset or shortly after. Not that there is much to see or celebrate when you get there. You are still miles and miles from land and there aren’t any significant features to let you know you have arrived. Except for the sudden decrease in depth. As we approached the Banks just after sunset, the depth gauge, which had last received a response hours ago, finally found bottom again as it rose from 2500 feet up to 36 feet in the distance of less than half of a mile. Suddenly, you are in the Bahamas – technically. Sitting at the helm, turning on all of the night equipment and preparing for an overnight run, it doesn’t seem that you have ‘arrived’ anywhere. We had another 10 – 12 hours to cover before we reached our chosen destination at Little Grand Cay.




We started settling in for the evening / night. We had thawed out some leftover Seafood Gumbo, from Christmas dinner with Emily and Tyler, to have ready for this evening and the seas were nice enough to allow us to eat in the cockpit as we cruised along. Seriously good dinner. Then, it was 8:00 pm - my time to head down into the cabin while Junie drove the big boat into the night.

Nighttime travel on a sailboat is a whole different thing. You are really reduced to driving by faith to some degree. You have to believe that the charts you have are accurate. You have to believe that your instruments are giving you good information. You spend a lot of time cross referencing what you see with your eyes versus what your charts, your radar and your AIS tell you. You are in your little cocoon wrapped in darkness with the dim glow of iPads, Raymarine and compass lights just ramming along into the night. You are out there by yourself and responsible for the safety of the ship and the crew. Stopping to dwell on it is not advised.

I couldn’t sleep much so I came up at 11:00 and took my watch. We had been making good time so our arrival at the anchorage outside of Grand Cay was estimated to be around 4:00 am. We would be coming into a strange anchorage, surrounded by some shallow water and rocks, in the dark. And, we were racing the moonset. The three-quarter moon that had been with us all night would dessert us If we were any later than 4:00, it would be the pitch-black right before dawn.

We came in right on schedule but it was somewhat unnerving. We approached the anchorage slowly, concentrating on the charts and the depth – two critical items in the Bahamas – and inched our way to our chosen spot in 10 -11 feet of water. We did a slow circle of about 300 feet to verify that we had good water all around our area and Junie dropped the Rocna anchor into the clear water. Even in the dark, I could see the bottom. We snubbed the anchor (hooked a line to the chain and tied off to a cleat to take the pressure off of the windlass), backed down on the anchor and declared ourselves landed. We set the anchor alarm and headed down for some sleep. Our total trip was just under 21 hours. We had no issues to speak of with weather, SeaClearly or us. All things considered, a very good crossing.
 

Next up – clearing customs and officially entering into the Bahamas!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Staged!

Just a short post. We were planning to leave tomorrow morning to jump to the Bahamas. Weather says otherwise. Our weather guy recommends sitting out one more day. So, we moved south to Fort Pierce to stage ourselves for a fast exit on Thursday morning. We are anchored, literally, in the inlet. We are next to the Coast Guard station and can see the ocean from SeaClearly. Looks like we're gonna go! I'll post some pics from here later.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Anchored at Vero Beach

We feel like we must be violating a local ordnance of some kind. We are anchored off of Riverside Park in Vero Beach just south of the Municipal Marina. We knew that the marina was very full. All of the slips are taken, boats are rafted up on the mooring balls - two, or more, boats on one ball. Nothing available. Not that we needed a marina visit and we surely were not interested in rafting up. So, we anchored. We can see the marina and mooring field, just north of the bridge, from where we are. But we are all by ourselves.

We are nicely protected from the easterly winds but still have the breeze. We have very little wave action or wakes from the ICW. The park, a short, short dinghy ride away, has little beaches tucked in between the mangroves to land the dinghy. Plenty of room to walk Tilly and a dog park within easy walking distance. There is a restaurant with a dinghy dock a few hundred yards north. There is another park, Veterans Memorial, just south of us flying a large, beautiful U.S. flag all the time. We have 10 - 11 feet of water. We are the only ones here. And, it costs us nothing. We must be breaking the law.

Restaurant...

..., park with beaches to land the dinghy...
... and a big American flag. Not a bad anchorage.

The run down from Melbourne was uneventful and scenic. We are not big fans of the ICW but we have been enjoying the trip. Maybe because it is mid-winter and the boat traffic is light. Maybe because we paid more attention to the tides and currents and, therefore, didn't see quite as many shallow spots.

I had tightened the packing nut on our prop shaft before we left the last anchorage. By whatever name it is called - packing nut, stuffing box, etc - it is what keeps water out of the boat while keeping the prop shaft cool by allowing water to lubricate it. It was was running cool but slinging a good bit of water - an indication that it has loosened up over time. One-quarter of a turn makes all the difference and we are back to running almost dry but still cool.

This is our first visit to Vero Beach and it is very nice. The marina (the one we are not staying at) and the town have a reputation of being very cruiser friendly. It has earned the nickname Velcro Beach because so many people come to visit and never leave. Our friend and local, Bob, treated us to lunch at the previously mentioned restaurant today and then gave us a ride to Publix for a few last minute items. Great to see him and catch up and we appreciated the lunch and the grocery run.

SeaClearly from Riverside Park.

This  move to Vero Beach puts us one step closer to leaping to the Bahamas as soon as the weather will allow. Tomorrow morning we will scoot into the marina fuel dock for diesel, water and pump out. Then a really short trip down to Fort Pierce to stage at the inlet in hopes that the weather does cooperate this time and we can cross the Stream to the Abacos. We have several friend-boats that are already there and wondering when we are going to show up.

Still, we are in no rush. All in good time. We can just sit here in Vero Beach and watch the dolphins, manatees, pelicans and boats. Life is good!