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!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Weather Windows, Whether Windows

As predicted, we are sitting in a windy anchorage in Melbourne, Florida - because, as predicted, a weather front brought northeast winds of 20 knots, gusting higher and expected to be even higher tonight. But, we are in a good place. We are tucked behind the Melbourne Causeway so we get a lot of breeze but the waves are small, if a little choppy. It is really a good combination for us at anchor. The wind cools us off and keeps our wind generator humming along. It has been sunny, so the solar panels are doing their thing, as well. We have, in fact, been making electricity all day instead of draining the batteries sitting here. Gotta love free energy.

Anchored south of the Melbourne Causeway. Boat ramp
is just out of frame to the right.



There is a small boat ramp along the causeway that is perfect for taking Tilly to shore. A walkway along the causeway goes all the way to the ocean. We walked over there this morning and got pizza from Bizarros for lunch. The ocean is whipped up nicely by the wind but, due to the sunny conditions, it is shining and colorful. Not a bad place to wait for a weather window.






We spend a lot of time talking about weather windows, I guess. It is a favorite topic among cruisers - especially when they are stuck somewhere because they don't have a window. Our friend Jack asked for some clarification on what, exactly, we are waiting for, weatherwise, to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. So, Jack, here it goes.

Deciding whether a weather window is acceptable is like any good decision process. You feed it basic parameters, process the current variables and then see if the answer falls into a viable range.


  • We calculate our rate of travel on SeaClearly to be 5 to 5.5 knots. We often make better time but this is a good average. So, if we need to make 120 nautical miles, we need between 20 and 24 hours of acceptable travel conditions.

  • We also have a range of wind and wave conditions that we are willing to endure. Sailing or motoring stops being fun when waves are 4 to 5 feet on your nose, 6 - 7 feet on your beam or 8 feet from behind. You can travel in more (and we have) but we don't want to start off expecting worse than that. It will get worse on its own.

  • Wind is usually directly proportional to the waves. Anything above 10 on your nose is bashing. Thirteen to about twenty knots (not on the nose) is our sweet spot for sailing. Twenty - twenty five from the stern can be surprisingly comfortable unless the waves are from a different direction.

  • The normal Tradewinds coming across the Caribbean blow from the east constantly. On a fairly regular basis, the weather fronts coming across the U.S. dampen the east winds long enough for slow boats like us to jump across the Gulf Stream. For the past 2 months, the fronts have passed so quickly that the crossing conditions only lasted for 12 - 18 hours.

Current Gulf Stream position and currents. This picture
doesn't tell the story of the current weather - which
is absolutely atrocious.
  • The Gulf Stream is, as they say, a huge river that runs through the ocean. The volume of water that  moves north out of the Gulf of Mexico and up the east coast of the U.S. is astounding. The current flow varies, averaging 2 - 2.5 knots but can be as high as 7 knots. The stream is around 20 miles wide with wider parts, eddies and branches spinning off. When the wind comes from the north and hits the opposing current of the Gulf Stream from the south, the result is a washing machine. It creates its own weather with huge, steep waves, local squalls with high winds and, generally, nasty conditions. This is one of those weeks. The northeast winds that we are sitting in here at Melbourne have tossed the Gulf Stream into a frenzy of 30 - 40 foot waves with 35 - 45 knot winds - well outside our window. Outside most people's window.

  • Then, of course, there are tides. Especially leaving the east coast inlets, you need to ride the tide out. If you start off by bucking an incoming tide you will be off to a very slow beginning. And, while possible to leave in the dark and arrive in the dark, daylight is best for both. Traveling at night is not so bad.


So, if we intend to leave Fort Pierce, Florida to go to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas (our current target, around 180 nautical miles) a weather window, for us, means winds have dropped to between 10 and 15 knots from somewhere south - preferably southwest but we will take south or southeast if not too high. The forecast has to call for conditions that remain steady or get even lighter for 24 to 36 hours. Squalls need to be minimal or non-existent. The Gulf Stream needs to have had time to settle back down from the last round of north winds. And we need to have the Tradewinds stalled long enough to get us safely into our destination before we get hit in the face with east winds again. We want to leave at daylight on an outgoing tide and be across the Gulf Stream and onto the Bahama Banks by nightfall, arriving someplace the following morning.

That's what keeps us up studying charts at night and listening to Chris Parker, our weather guy, in the morning. We have hoped for a long enough weather window since Day One of our trip this year. I think we may have tried going directly from Charleston, Port Royal, St Marys or St Augustine if the circumstances had presented themselves. Instead, we have slowly worked our way south. With each move, the required window gets shorter as we get closer. Hopefully, this next one, on Wednesday, will be the ticket to Paradise!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Moving towards Melbourne at Manatee Speed

We are in a waiting place. The weather wants to keep us from crossing to the Bahamas for a little longer. We have hung out here in Titusville for a week and we are ready to move on but we won't be going very far or very fast. We could probably have been moving down the ICW the last couple of days but we chose to take care of a few things while we were parked in the marina. It makes stuff a little easier. Things like carting groceries to the boat, changing oils and fluids, laundry (always) and, of course, dog walking.

Tilly at the park - desperately trying to retrieve two balls at once.

Dolphin show in the fairway.

I drug out my guitar again to join a second local jam session. The group grew to seven and included a mandolin this time. What we were lacking in talent and skill we made up for with reckless abandon and humor. It was fun and good to play with other folks.

View from the picnic tables right out the channel.

Walkway from our dock towards the dogpark


Now, we are set to move in the morning. We can't see a long enough weather window to even go out into the ocean to move south so we will start down the waterway towards Melbourne, Vero Beach and, eventually, Fort Pierce. The wind is supposed to kick up Friday through Sunday so we may just anchor someplace and sit out the blow. Hopefully, by the time we make Fort Pierce, a crossing window will appear and we can finally leap across the Gulf Stream. If not, we will make one more leap south to Lake Worth.

We have been visited by several manatees during the week. They are odd creatures. Sometimes, they just sit - well, float - wherever. Sometimes they are swimming, with resolute purpose, to nowhere in particular. They are always looking for fresh water from any source. Some of them are huge. Most of them have scars across their backs from encounters with boats. I wouldn't call them pretty or cute, exactly, but they are interesting.

Manatee drinking water dripping from the hose.
They are so weird.


This guy was just lounging between our boat and the next.
Manatees do everything reeeaaalll slloooww.

Even so, it is hard to get a good picture. And they get boring
to watch fairly quickly. Tilly wasn't quite sure what to
make of them. Not as fun as dolphins, for sure.

We are having a good time so it doesn't really matter if our progress is slow. We found some good restaurants (El Tucan on Merritt Island - great Mexican / Cuban). As always, we have met great people - our slip neighbors Jack and Julie, Don and Rocket (Chocolate Lab) whom we met previously in St Augustine, my guitar buddies. Oh, and one a**hole at the dog park but that is fairly typical. A**holes are not indigenous to any particular part of the country - they're everywhere.

Our next update will probably come from a windy anchorage somewhere along the ICW. But, at least we will have moved! We will keep you posted.