Thursday, December 26, 2013

Alice Town

Some of the shops along King's Highway, Alice Town
We are getting ready to leave Bimini tomorrow to cross the Bahama Bank and may be out of Wifi for a while. So, here are some pictures for now at least. We will update when we can!

Feeding time at Bimini Big Game Club. Shark cage, anyone?
Company has arrived!

Bull Sharks. 

Roux was happy to stay safely behind this dock box

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Bimini!

Merry Christmas from SeaClearly!
Merry Christmas to everyone!   I hope that this morning finds you happy, healthy and enjoying Christmas and all that goes with it. We will miss all of our friends and family. Our Christmas is a little different this year. We are at the Bimini Big Game Club Marina in Alice Town, Bimini, Bahamas. We made it!

We actually arrived here on December 23 but it has taken this long to get ourselves straightened out and settled to the point where we could kick back a little. We dropped the mooring ball at Dinner Key at 6:00 am on Monday morning. But leaving was, really, the end of the beginning of the trip. The Sunday before was an interesting mix of stuff.

Anybody got one of these
in stock?
I was frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the weather. Why couldn't we have a perfect Gulf Stream crossing forecast? The winds and seas were expected to settle down during the day. But, if we waited for that to happen before we left, we would not make it to Bimini before dark. So, do we take our chances with 6 - 8 ft waves with a 5 second period on our nose the whole way? The next crossing window looks like it could be more that a week away. Would we be stupid and risking our lives if we decided to go?

Fortunately, as a distraction, the galley foot pump failed at just around noon on Sunday. Now, we are getting ready to leave for the Bahamas and expect to anchor out quite a bit. It is kind of important to be able to conserve our batteries and not use the water pressure pump.We spent the next 4 hours locating a West Marine that had a replacement, dinghying in to the dock, riding the bus, walking a couple of blocks to get there before they closed, returning to the boat and installing it. OK, done.We made our final decision to go in the morning, prep'ed the boat and took Roux in for his late afternoon shore trip.

Lobster Bisque
Then, we came back and took quick on-board showers and dinghied back in, in the dark, to go out to dinner. Jeffrey and Alyssa had given us a wonderful Christmas gift of a certificate to the Chart House restaurant right at Dinner Key. Guys, you have no idea how much we appreciated this. It was very nice of you to understand our route, know where we would be and set this up. After a week of being on a mooring, we felt like real people again, sitting in the AC, sipping wine and eating great food. It was fabulous. As an added bonus, the Coconut Grove Christmas Boat Parade went by while we were dining.

Chocolate Lava Cake
Macadamia Crusted Mahi

 But, we weren't done yet. When we got back to the boat, we needed to run the generator for a while to recharge the batteries while we completed the preparation for an offshore run. About 30 minutes later, the generator quit. Hmm. Also kind of a necessary piece of equipment. After a bit of troubleshooting, we got restarted. At that point,I said, "OK, one more negative sign and we pull the plug on this trip". It was almost 1:00 am and we had an alarm set for 5:00.

No more issues came up before morning so we got up, left Dinner Key behind in the dark and motored across Biscayne Bay towards where the sun would be coming up shortly - in the direction of Bimini. It was grey morning light as we went back out through Stiltsville and, at 7:00 am, we entered back into the ocean. We had about 5 or 6 other sailboats accompanying us.Obviously, we weren't the only ones anxious to get going. Several of them pointed more north, probably to go around Bimini and on to the Bahama Bank. We just wanted to make Bimini.

Entering the ocean at sunrise

We got exactly the weather we expected. Instead of a picture perfect sail to the islands, we had an uphill slog with the wind and current conspiring to keep us from even raising a sail. The Gulf Stream pushed us about 30 degrees north from our course and took away about 1.5 knots of our speed. We took several nose dives that sent water rolling down the sides of the boat and into Roux's spot on the afterdeck. He looked at us like,"Hey,you see this, right? I am sloshing around in seawater here."

Land Ho! Bimini.
At 4:00 pm, we passed through the markers for Alice Town harbor and started hailing the marina. In typical island fashion, they didn't respond. We were sitting right next to the dock when someone finally came out waving and pointing to a slip. We backed SeaClearly into her slot with limited drama in the strong current (once again, confirming our decision to get bow thrusters) and tied her off. Arrived!

Well, not quite officially. Technically, only the captain can get off of the boat until all of the customs and immigration paper work was completed. Roux didn't like this rule much. I scurried off to get us cleared in, worried that we might miss them for the day and be stuck on the boat overnight. It took about 30 minutes to get it all straight, including filing the Roux papers but we got cleared in. We were in the Bahamas!

Some kind of fish. Not the sharks. They are huge Bull Sharks.
Junie is afraid Roux will fall off the dock.
The water is clear, the sun is shining and we can Sea Clearly now. Right to the bottom. And see tropical fish. And game fish. And sharks! Oh my!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Split the difference go to Coconut Grove

Here we are, in Dinner Key, right next to Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida.  We are waiting for a weather window for a crossing to the Bahamas. The longer we stay, the more we like it.

There is a Circulator Bus that you can ride for a quarter. The Coconut Grove Sailing Club has classes for the kids. Watching those little kids out in Biscayne Bay tacking the Optimists back and forth as the sun is setting is just a joy. The CocoWalk is just a few blocks away with restaurants, shops, etc. 

We got a recommendation for a burger restaurant called LoKal. But the waitress said the best thing on the menu was Chicken and Waffles.  They were incredible. The waffles were dusted in powdered sugar with a strong hint of cayenne pepper. The chicken was coated with a crispy, almost tempura batter. And, they recommend getting the side of sliced strawberries, bananas and fresh whipped cream to top it all off. Amazing. The burger was good too but paled in comparison.

Roux, waiting for Daddy to bring the car around.
There are a few minor negatives about our stay in Dinner Key. The dinghy dock is always crowded. You have to weasel your way in between a pile of rubber boats to find somewhere to tie up. Because of SeaClearly's size and draft, we are way out in the mooring field which makes for a long dinghy ride, sometimes in pretty choppy water.  That can make getting Roux in and out of the dinghy interesting. It is a team effort and everyone, including Roux, has to do their part. Coming down from the boat into the dinghy is not too bad since gravity is working for you. Going up requires Junie pushing, Roux climbing and me grabbing his life jacket handles and hoisting. He seems to understand that the timing is critical to the safety of all involved. So, when, in between bouncing, rolling waves, we say ‘Now, Roux’, he starts up or down the ramp even though it is tough on his old legs.

While there are several shops and restaurants close by, the only grocery within walking distance is a Fresh Market. Which is not a bad thing. But they are a little pricey and they don’t carry all of the bulk supplies we would look for to hang out in the Bahamas for months. They do, however, have great produce, fresh breads, rolls and muffins. And sushi.

Junie hung outside the Fresh Market with Roux while I shopped. She struck up a conversation with some people she met (can you imagine that?).  Faith and Joe are from Martha’s Vineyard and are down here visiting. By the time I got back, they were trading contact information and we had a list of places we need to visit on Cape Cod.  Great folks.  We will be waving at them when we sail in there sometime next summer.

Another very positive attribute in the area is Crook and Crook Marine Supply (motto: We don’t try to live up to our name). They have all sorts of marine supplies at OK prices. And, they were able to order a replacement circulator pump for our refrigeration and have it in the store the next day. They are right on the bus route. Nice.

For dinner tonight, we had shrimp. We had passed some small fishing boats in the marina on our ride to the dinghy dock. They don’t look exactly like North Carolina shrimpers so when Junie asked what they were fishing for, they said shrimp, she said we would love to buy some. Aaron, captain of Hat Trick, replied that he only had a wholesale license so he couldn't sell us any. But he would be happy to give us some! Turns out, they actually supply these as bait shrimp and they keep them alive. He dipped down into a big circulating tank and pulled up a net full of jumping, lively shrimp and dumped them into a bag. A very short time later, we were cleaning live shrimp (a little creepy) and had the freshest shrimp possible. Thanks Captain Aaron!
Captain Aaron of Hat Trick

Fresh as it gets!

It looks like our weather window is Monday. Several other boats also have the same plan as we do - be at the Gulf Stream at sunrise. That means leaving in the dark. Seems fitting since we arrived in the dark. If it goes as planned, we should see the conditions get milder as we travel and we should make Bimini by early afternoon. Then the wind starts back up again so we may have to sit for a few days. Looks like Bimini for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bienvenidos a Miami

The plan was to leave the North Palm Beach anchorage on a schedule to make the slack tide leaving Lake Worth Inlet at 2:47 pm (Junie likes to be punctual). So, in the morning, we got moving but not very early. We dinghied in to the spot under the bridge at the north end of the anchorage and walked up to Publix grocery store. We picked up paper towels, some cheese danish thing and some sourdough bread. We were pretty excited about the upcoming offshore trip. Because of the hiatus for traveling north, it had been over a month since our last ocean trip. It had been over a month since the last time we had even anchored out or gotten Roux into the dinghy. We had some refresher work to do to get back into the swing.

We had a friend in North Palm. Way back in the summer, when we were having our bow thrusters installed, we met Captain Ted on Ann Warrick. Junie (the communications officer) had kept in touch with him so we knew that he might be around the area and, sure enough, he was in the marina at the other end of the anchorage. He gave us the scoop on the weather, including his run in with the inlet the day before that cracked a window on the big sportfisher. That gave us pause for thought.
The anchorage at North Palm Beach

We had a pretty good weather window for the trip down the coast from Lake Worth, past Fort Lauderdale and into Miami. We had a long discussion regarding the possibility of just sailing near Miami and turning left toward the Bahamas sometime in the middle of the night. The final decision was that there was too much risk of the wind switch to the north getting to us before we finished the crossing. So, Miami is the destination.

We finally got too antsy to sit around and weighed anchor at about 1:00 pm and headed toward the inlet. By the time we reached the inlet, it was pouring down rain. In a clear indication of just how much more comfortable we have become as sailors, neither one of us even made note of the fact. Our weather window was open, the rain didn't matter and we were headed out the inlet on the tail of the tide. Of course, it doesn't hurt that we have a full enclosure that keeps the rain away.
First sail set. Headed south to Miami!

The rain, as is typical in Florida, didn't last very long. The sun came out, the breeze filled in from the southwest and we put out the first sailset - staysail and reefed main. Remember, we hadn't been in the ocean for a while. It wasn't long before we shook out the reef, added the genny and were flying the full cutter rig. With 15 to 20 knots of wind, 2 - 3 foot seas, clear skies and a full moon rising. Are you kidding me? We have waited forever for this kind of evening. It was awesome. Wish we could have gotten more decent pictures. We did get a large batch of memories.

We sailed on like that until it was nearly dark. Then, as per our agreement made long before our first ocean trip, we backed the sails down to the staysail and double-reefed main. We have heard too many stories of people getting caught with too much sail out in the middle of the night. Why take the chance? Especially when we have a predicted wind increase and switch to the north in the 3:00 am time frame?

Beautiful water in right-up-against-the-Gulf-Stream blue.
We, predictably, started to drop speed so we decided to motorsail through the night. This probably meant we would get to Miami just around 3:00. Better to be there before the weather change and wait for daylight.

It was a gorgeous night on the ocean. The full moon was with us almost the entire trip. To the east, there was constant lightning over the Gulf Stream - confirmation of our decision not to try the crossing to the Bahamas on this night. We were very close to shore, although in 300 -500 feet of water. In fact, we only past the Three Mile line once all night so we had great views of the lights along the coast. We past Port Everglades at Fort Lauderdale just after midnight, weaving through the tankers and cargo ships in the commercial anchorage area. Not nearly as scary under a big, bright moon.

By the time we reached Government Cut, the big channel into Miami, is was just about 3:00 am as planned. So, now what? We could wait until daylight. We could go into one of the busiest working ports on the east coast in the dark.  We could go an hour further south and go in to Biscayne Bay. Yeah, that's it! Let's go into a poorly marked channel, that we have never been through, that has ruins of old houses standing out in the middle of the water- in the dark. When I write it now, it seems like that should have been an obvious 'no'. But that is exactly what we proceeded to do.

We went the hour south, past Cape Florida Light, dropped the sails, got out the spotlight and went through the channel and the creepy Stiltsville (remember the ruins of the houses?) in the dark. Of course, the clouds came in, the moon went away, the wind came up and we were tired. Nether of us got much sleep just because the weather and the trip had been so nice we didn't want to sleep. (Well, Junie's pains may have kept her awake.) In retrospect, not the brightest decision but we, actually, did not have any problems. We motored into Biscayne Bay and hung out with our bow pointed into the north wind and did a slow crawl towards Dinner Key channel waiting for daylight.

Roux spotted a dolphin on the dinghy
ride in toward Coconut Grove. Check out
his new, double-handled life jacket.
By 7:30 am, we were on a mooring ball. At 8:00, we caught the first water taxi of the morning to get Roux to grass as quickly as possible. If he had to wait for us to 'un-oceanize' the boat, unlash the ramp, get the dinghy and motor together, et cetera, it would have taken another 45 - 60 minutes. By 9:30, we were back on the boat and we all took a nap.

Tonight, we have Miami as our backdrop, Coconut Grove is right at our dinghy dock and we are only 43 miles from Bimini. The next weather window may not be until next week but that's OK. We have some chores to take care of, a watermaker issue to troubleshoot and, apparently, quite a few good restaurants to hit. Including the Chart House at Dinner Key where, thanks to Jeffrey and Alyssa, we have a gift certificate for dinner.

From what we see in the mooring field, Canada must be a very lonely place because they all seem to be here. Pretty smart, I would say.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Moving south again

We are on the move again! We had been at the Loggerhead marina in Stuart for over three weeks. Of course, two of those weeks we were traveling for Thanksgiving and stuff. We got back to the boat on Wednesday, December 4 and found SeaClearly in good shape. Our friends, Doug and Betty, had been watching out for her. Apparently, there was a good bit of wind while we were away but no issues. I had this recurring fear that something would happen to the refrigeration (or, more specifically, the shore power) and we would come back to find rotted food. Nothing like that occurred.

Now, it became serious provisioning time. We had extended the rental car for a week so we were off to Walmart, Home Depot, West Marine, propane filling and dress shopping. That last one is not always on the list but Junie needed to find a mother-of-the-groom dress for Jeffrey's wedding in March before we left for the Bahamas. So, while we had a car, we shopped. Junie is actually a lousy shopper and hates the process. So much so that she looks for other things to do. We ended up with a new phone but no dress.

We did a ton of laundry at the big laundromat in Stuart. Now, laundromats are interesting places that can attract some sketchy people. But, at this point, I probably look scarier than most of the other patrons so they were probably thinking, 'Boy, laundromats attract some sketchy people'.

We were both getting anxious to get underway again and Junie discovered an interesting possibility regarding the Loggerhead Marina group. Loggerhead has a series of marinas down the Florida coast. One of the options they offer is 'reciprocity'. Which means that, since we still had 4 days left in our one month marina contract, we could move to a different Loggerhead marina further south and use those days there. Nice feature that probably doesn't get used a whole lot. But it worked perfectly for us. The Stuart marina worked out very well for us and we were comfortable leaving SeaClearly there by herself. But, we needed to move on - literally and figuratively.

Sunny Florida!
We moved down the ICW to Palm Beach Gardens just north of Palm Beach. It was a very short 5 hour day but it got us moving south again. It was a good restart cruise to make sure we remembered how to run the boat. Roux was not thrilled at us dragging him out of bed for an early start. But it was a gorgeous morning, the tide was right and it was time to go.
I think it is still a long
way to the grass...

So, a few bridges later and past Jupiter Inlet we arrived at another Loggerhead marina just north of Lake Worth which is a major departure point for the northern route over to the Bahamas. Roux seems to like this marina better since it is not so far from the boat to the grass. We like it because it is progress. We are still intent on getting further south and crossing via Bimini to make the Exumas. I think that is where Junie wants to be by Christmas. I'm not sure that the weather will cooperate.

I like turtles!

On Wednesday, we got a ride from one of the folks at the marina to the Loggerhead MarineLife Center just over the bridge in Juno Beach. They care for, and rehabilitate, sea turtles. They have these big tanks where they can treat them, administer medications and, in one case, applied weights to the turtle's shell to help with a buoyancy problem. Just a great place.

Afterwards, we walked out to the beach, stopped for lunch (appropriately at a place called The Thirsty Turtle), and walked back over the bascule bridge that we passed under to reach the marina on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, our marina time expires so we will move to an anchorage in North Palm Beach. The plan is to leave there on Sunday for an overnight run to Miami.

Oh -  and Junie found a dress on-line, had it shipped to the new marina and it arrived about an hour after we tied up. She may not like to shop but she is good at logistics:)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holidays can be painful

I haven't posted anything for a while because I was having trouble 'singing a happy song'. This month has been a real mixed bag. We left the boat in Stuart, Florida to head up to NC  for some early and abbreviated holidays and then on to Virginia for granddaughter Reagan's first birthday party. Seems simple enough. Historically, our holidays are prone to calamity, disaster, unexpected revisions and, occasionally, disappointments. This year tracked fairly true to form.

I was having a little bit of a tooth issue so I managed to get a dentist appointment. I really didn't want to find myself in the Bahamas later with a dental problem. Turns out I had a tooth cracked to the root. Extraction. This was a bad start.

granddaughter Reagan
Our family Thanksgiving/ early Christmas at home in the Outer Banks plan fell through. Daughter Emily and her husband Tyler pulled together a nice dinner and celebration at their house on short notice but we sure hoping to get everyone to our place this year. Of course, we are the ones that are sailing off to the islands and you won't get any sympathy for that. Nonetheless, we thought it might actually work this year.

We did get to the birthday party. It was adorable, Reagan was precious, mom Holly puts on a great party and all the kids are hilarious.

Through all of this, Junie is suffering with this back pain that has been nagging her for months. And, of course, 1200 miles in a car doesn't help much. So, concerned nurse/daughter Emily consults with concerned friend/nurse on the neurology floor Rachel and gets Junie an appointment with a top neurosurgeon on short notice (Thank you, thank you, thank you). So, Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Junie gets confirmation of what we have known all along - she needs surgery. Doesn't have to be right away - as long as she doesn't mind the pain and discomfort. Junie thinks she can wait until spring. We'll see.

We turned the roadtrip around and headed back south to the boat. Between the trip, side trips (including lunch in Savannah), doctor trips and shortcuts, we put over 3500 miles on the Hertz car (thanks Dusty!). We managed to escape without seeing snow but it was pretty chilly a few days. The house was fine and is now re-winterized. We got to visit with the neighbors and got a sunset canal cruise courtesy of Jack. We had a much appreciated invitation for Thanksgiving dinner from Deb and Ron when our plans shifted. The mail has been changed from 'on-hold' to 'premium forwarding service'.

On the topic of mail, we had sent a form and $10 to the Bahamian Dept of Ag about three months ago to start the process of getting Roux certified to enter the Bahamas. We expected to see that paperwork when we got back to the home post office. Wasn't there. We assumed that somebody in the office in Nassau was just happy to get a letter with lunch money in it. But, a call to the Bahamas got the ball rolling again and, while we were traveling, we had the paperwork faxed to the marina.

Roux, in his prime, looking like an LL Bean ad.
If you read this blog, you know Roux is our 103 lb, 11 year old Chocolate Lab. He has been slowing down over the last two years. The strong dog he was is pretty much a memory now. But, he likes the boat, loves dolphins, enjoys hanging around marinas. He goes where we go. We accommodate his weakening legs any way we can. We had to go to a veterinarian to get a health form but we also wanted the vet to check him out. And to answer one basic, tough question - Is it ridiculous, cruel or harmful to take him to the Bahamas on a sailboat?
Boat dog since he was a baby

This office and the vet, Dr. Coffey, turned out to be exactly what we needed. First, she dealt the bad news as gently as possible. Roux is about 100 years old in Lab years, isn't likely to get better and we just need to manage his comfort. We knew all of this but it hurts to hear it. Then, she said, 'Bahamas? Absolutely! He will love it! It's warm, he can play in the water and he will have you to take care of him.' Bittersweet. So, Roux is going to the Bahamas.

We are loaded up with anti inflammatory drugs, pain meds and phone numbers - for Junie and Roux. We have been studying charts, checking weather, talking to all the cruisers and taking notes. We are ready to start moving south for a jump to Bimini. We have a few last minute repairs, provisions and acquisitions. Wonder where we will be for Christmas?