Archive for December, 2009

Experiencing the Exumas

December 22, 2009

Dec 19 – Warderick Wells

(posted from Staniel Cay, Dec 22)

We stayed one night in Nassau. Our marina was on the east end of town. There was a small shopping plaza across the street. Down the road to the west were a few marine related stores, a couple marinas and a couple restaurants. An OK place, but not that exciting. Maybe there was more farther down the road. We wanted to leave by 10 on Saturday, Dec. 12, but we left too many errands and chores for the morning to be gone by then. We finally got out of the slip, stopped at the fuel dock next door to top off the tanks, and were on our way around noon.

Laser Depth Sounders

We started out of the harbor into a strong wind. I had the chart next to me, but was having a little trouble finding landmarks and picking a route. Jackie was down below getting the computer and GPS fired up so we could use our electronic charts. Sometimes the computer can be a little cranky when first booting and trying to deal with the GPS input, and this was one of those times. In a moment of anal-ness, I had entered a waypoint for the harbor exit in the GPS at the helm, but it turned out that I entered it wrong and it pointed us back the way we came. I thought we were doing OK, but I saw a large motor yacht heading out on the other side of the harbor. I wished he would pick up speed so I could swing in behind him and follow him out.

Up ahead a fleet of Lasers (small, one-person racing boats) headiing directly at us. We could claim right of way if we were constrained by the depth, but they limited our options in that running over a small boat with a 25,000 pound yacht is not considered sporting. I held our course and tried to decipher the chart. The first laser sailed close by and the young man called out, “You’re running out of water.” The sailor on the next boat chimed in with, “You’re OUT of water.” As I looked at the depth gauge it dropped into the five foot range and kept going down. Compass Rose only draws 4′ 6″ but we were about there. I cranked the wheel around and looked for darker (deeper) water. I spotted a skinney channel and headed for it as Rosie’s keel kissed the bottom. Somehow we slid through and I dropped in behind the motor yacht, which had finally pulled out ahead.

We worked our way out and put up some sails. The breeze was nice, but a bit on the nose. Just before leaving the day before, Mark and Michelle told us they planned to sail Reach to Highbourne Cay. Mark gave me a SSB frequency to call on the next morning if we wanted to check in. I misplaced the note with the frequency, so I wasn’t able to confirm that Reach was at Highbourne Cay. No matter, they usually monitored VHF channel 16 so we would sail to Highbourne and call when we were in VHF range.

The wind angle was such that we couldn’t sail towards Highbourne. We were tired of motoring and we could make just as good time to weather sailing, so we plugged in a waypoint for the next island south and headed for it. We figured that we would later change our heading and motor the last few miles to Highbourne.

The sailing was great. Rosie was going to weather much better than would be expected of a heavy, full keel boat. It looked like the bottom job and feathering prop were really paying off. Soon we approached Yellow Bank. It is an area with coral heads that are pretty shallow. Jackie stood on the bow and kept lookout. When she saw anything that looked like a coral head she guided me around it. This went on for about half an hour.

As we neared the end of Yellow Bank, we spotted a squall directly ahead of us. We didn’t know how much wind to expect so we doused the sails and began motoring. We changed our course and headed for Highbourne Cay. The squall passed by us, but soon another one appeared ahead. This one was moving into our path. As we entered it the rain started and the wind picked up a few knots. We played with the radar a little to see how the storm looked.

We motored out of the storm and neared the waypoint for Highbourne Cay. We hailed Reach and they responded. They had stayed elsewhere the night before, but moved to Highbourne that day. It was dark by the time we made the turn at the last waypoint so we used their anchor light and our charting software to ease into the anchorage. We dropped the hook and settled in.

There was a third boat in the anchorage. We found out the next day that they had a very entertaining approach to anchoring. They dropped the hook and then motored around the anchorage until it finally dug in.

The next day we comissioned the new outboard that we bought in Nassau. It ran great. It had so much more power than the old motor that we could plane out even while running it in the conservative break-in mode.

We decided to move to a new anchorage at the south end of the island where we would be protected from the swell that rocked us to sleep the night before. It was an easy move. Once the anchor was down we got out our snorkeling gear and went for a swim. The water was warm and clear. I looked around and could see Compass Rose’s hull – a truly novel experience for someone used to the murky waters of the Chesapeake. Then I swam to the bow and out over the anchor. I could see it buried in the sand. I have no idea how many times I’ve dropped the hook, backed down on it, and just had to have faith it would hold. Here I could see exactly how it was dug in.

Hawksbill

We stayed over night and then headed for Hawksbill Cay on Dec 14. An easy trip, but an interesting entry to the anchorage. Lots of water in the six foot range and even dipping down into the fives at times. Jackie took her place on the bow to make sure we didn’t hit any coral heads. She only saw one that could have been a problem.

Reach and Compass Rose anchored in 6 ft of water at Hawksbill

We anchored in just over six feet. I took a swim and and checked the anchor and the view of Little Rosie’s hull. It had been interesting to see her underwater the first time, but now her keel was floating only one and a half feet above the sand. A bit unreal.

Mark and Eric rest on the "geezer bench"

Hawksbill is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. No fishing or shell collecting, but nice hiking trails and some old ruins to see.

Warderick Wells

The next weather forecast we got included some strong wind out of the south and west. If you look at the Exumas you will see that they run NW-SE. The anchorages are typically in shallow water on the west side of the islands where they are protected from the trade winds. Seldom is there any protection from west or south winds.

Warderick Wells from above. We moored by the X

We decided to move to Warderick Wells because it is one of the few natural harbors that is protected on all sides and it has moorings for $20/day. It is the home of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. It has lots of trails to hike and some coral heads for snorkeling.

Bridge to and from nowhere - looking for the trail

Following the trails is sometimes a challenge. We found parts of them to be less “trail” and more “path of least resistance.” We hiked to the top of Boo Boo Hill where cruisers leave pieces of driftwood carved or painted with their boat names.

Boat momentos on Boo Boo Hill

We enjoyed the park for a couple days and then hunkered down for the blow. We had a couple windy days separated by a very windy night. We did fine and took the time to work on some boat projects. The wind let up and after five days it was time to leave Warderick Wells.

Next stop, Big Majors Spot/Staniel Cay.

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Across the Stream and Banks to Nassau

December 16, 2009

Dec 11 – Nassau (*Note we are posting this from Warderick Wells on Dec 16, but it only covers the trip as far as Nassau.  We will try to upload another post in the next couple days.)

I heard a voice calling my name. It was 2 AM and Jackie waking me to take over on watch. I got my act together and climbed up into the cockpit. There was Jackie sitting in the command spot where she could see the sailing instruments, the GPS, and the radar as well as reach the VHF and the autopilot. Her binoculars, the log book, and sailing charts were nearby as well as her book. After every page or two she would scan the horizon to check on Reach and look for other boats. Just another night on watch. She briefed me on what was happening and then went below for some rest.

We left Miami about 6 AM the previous day, Thursday, Dec. 10. We followed Reach out of Government Cut – the main shipping channel for Miami – and headed east for the Bimini Islands. It was a beautiful morning with clear skies and calm seas, but little wind. We had the main and jib up to get a little push as we motored east across the gulfstream.

The gulfstream spans the ocean between Miami and Bimini. The current is weakest at the edges and strongest in the middle so you need to correct your heading periodically to keep heading in the desired direction. Pretty easy sailing – until the depth guage switched from showing numbers to showing three dashes. This was disquieting to say the least because we were headed for some of the shallowest cruising grounds in the world. I took half the floor out of the boat to trace the depth sounder wires looking for breaks, but all looked fine. Then I found out that we were “off soundings” meaning the water was too deep for the depth sounder to read. It stops at about 400 feet. We were sailing in 500 – 800 feet of water. All we had to do was wait until we reached the Bahamas Banks and see if we got depths again.

Once that crisis was postponed we could get down to serious business, so we tossed a line over the side to see if we could find a fish looking for breakfast. I tried the lure we used to catch the yellow jack, but with no luck. We switched to a different lure and finally got a hit. I had all the gear ready and we were starting to get the drill down. I grabbed the rod and tightened the drag while Jackie slowed the boat. I worked the fish in, gaffed him, and dropped him into our “fish cleaning station” – a big plastic storage container. By then Jackie had the camera and the fish identification book. We looked through it and found that it was a Wahoo.  A bit small as they go, but enough for a meal. I commenced to clean the fish and can proudly say that the process went much better than with the last fish.

Wahoo! Another fish!

We trolled the rest of the way to Bimini, but didn’t have any more luck.

The waypoints on our cruising charts put Bimini a bit over 50 miles from Miami. It was pretty cool to see Bimini emerging from the sea on the horizon. But even more impressive is the water. Three things happen as you enter the Great Bahama Bank. The first is that the water changes from deep blue to aqua. I now know why people paint swimming pools the color that they do – it looks like you are swimming in the Bahamas. The second thing is that you can look down and see the bottom as you sail over. It’s very cool except that it looks closer than it is. It is truly amazing. The third thing that happens is that the depth guage begins to display depths again – very comforting now that the bottom looks so close.

We rounded the light at North Rock about 1:30 PM and pointed Little Rosie across the Banks. After a while the wind filled in a little and we were able to cut the engine and sail. Mark and Michelle had stopped Reach’s engine and were sailing, too, but Compass Rose slowly reeled them in and passed them by.

Compass Rose on the Bahama Banks

Rosie was in her element and slid across the banks. Jackie and I went up on the bow and enjoyed the moment. This is why we were here. It is hard to describe the feeling of Compass Rose surging forward beneath your feet as she powered her way through the beautiful, clear water.

We were sailing our boat in the Bahamas.

But as the afternoon faded, so did the wind. We finally switched back to motor sailing after Reach passed us. Jackie and I switched into our formal watch rotation where we take turns doing 4 hour shifts. The night was pretty uneventful. Just after midnight we left the Great Bahama Bank through the Northwest Channel and entered a deep area called the Tongue of the Ocean. In less than a mile the water dropped from about 15 feet to over three hundred feet deep. In a few more miles the charted depth was over 800.

A little after dawn New Providence Island appeared on the horizon. Nassau is about in the middle of the north side of the island. The good and bad news is that the west entrance is a Class A channel and accomodates large commercial vessels and cruise ships. It’s easy to find your way in, but you might have to contend with a cruise ship. And almost if on cue, One of the Disney ships appeared on the horizon. Luckily it was going quickly and it entered the port ahead of us.

We were entering a foreign country and had to follow their procedures. The first step was to hail Nassau Harbor Control and request permission to enter. They ask a few basic questions including boat name and destination so they know where to send the customs and immigration people. The next step is to raise your Q flag – a solid yellow flag – to signal that you are a foreign flagged vessel that has not checked into the country. In Nassau you tie up in a marina and the Customs and Immigration people come to you. We had planned on staying over night so this worked out well for us. Mark and Michelle planned to head for the Exumas, so they tied up to the fuel dock at the marina next to us.

Jackie raises the Bahamas courtesy flag

The Customs and Immigration officials arrived at the marina and we were able to clear in without any trouble. We went back to the boat for our own little clearing in ceremony. We lowered the Q flag and raised the Bahamian courtesy flag – the one Jackie so carefully sewed for the occassion.

We could now go anywhere in the Bahamas. The first place we went was to take a shower at the marina facilities. There we were reminded that we were after all, in the Bahamas. There was no water in the showers and no one knew why. Luckily the marina complex includes a small hotel and they were able to find us a vacant room that had a light in the bathroom and a shower curtain. We felt human again. We then set off on our mission.

When cruising your boat is your home and your dinghy is your family car. Our car had a 1960 vintage outboard engine that was given to me by a friend and was really too small for our dink. It was like driving your car and never getting out of second gear. Then in Miami we started to have fuel delivery problems. I tried a lot of things and even thought I had the problem fixed, but it came back. We had strongly considered buying a new engine in the Bahamas and the fuel problems pushed the issue. We already knew that engines were cheaper in the Bahamas and there is no sales tax. We did some shopping and ended up with a 15 HP Yamaha for less than we would pay for a 10 HP in the states. And they delivered. I shrewedly traded the Johnson to someone at the marina for a fresh papaya so it will end its days pushing a little skiff around the Nassau waters.

Our next stop will be Highbourne Cay in the Exumas.

Bahamas Bound

December 9, 2009

Miami, Wed Dec. 9

Just a quick update.  We had planned on leaving earlier this week, but our buddy boat had equipment problems and we waited with them for parts to come in.  The good news is that the weather forecast is much better now in that we should have favorable winds for sailing instead of having to motor much of the way.

We have moved to an anchorage closer to the Miami inlet so we don’t have to go so far to get to the ocean in the morning.  We will cross the gulfstream, probably go just north of Bimini, and arrive in Nassau Friday afternoon.  The whole trip should take about 30 hours.

One big impact is that we will lose cell phone service, so we will turn our phones off Thursday morning.  Hopefully our next update will be from Nassau!

MY OH MY-Miami

December 5, 2009

Lake Worth, FL

We anchored in Lake Worth just as the sun set.  We both often end up on the bow to see how the anchor is setting.  If we see the anchor chain pull straight and tight and the boat stays put, then we figure it has set well.  We looked down the chain and realized the water was so clear that we could see the anchor digging into the bottom!  A far cry from anchoring in the muddy Chesapeake.

We were close to other boats, but doing OK. Then the tide changed.  Rosie was dancing with the wind and tide, but her heavy anchor chain kept her in check.  The boat behind us had a rope anchor rode and wandered all over.  After reading in the cockpit and watching the other boat for a couple hours, I was satisfied we would be OK and went to bed.

We got up at three AM and prepared to leave.  By 3:30 we were motoring out the inlet headed for Miami.  We estimated the trip would take about 12 hours, so the early departure would bring us in mid-afternoon.  There was a little wind so we put up the sails and motorsailed down the coast.  The Gulf Stream runs close to shore in this part of Florida, so we stayed in close, keeping the depth gauge around 30-50 ft.  Even then we were fighting about a knot of current.

After sunup the wind worked its way around to the south so we rolled in the genoa and continued motoring. 

We had been collecting fishing equipment and decided to try it out.  After a short time dragging a lure the line began running out.  I dashed to the back of the boat and began bringing the fish in.  As I got it to the boat I realized I didn’t have anything ready or even a plan of how to land the fish.  I looked down at the fish and tried to figure out what to do.  The fish stared up at me with a look that could only say, “Amatuer!” then he spit the hook and was gone.

The one that didn't get away

I put the line back out and began to collect my gear on the back deck.  Soon the line began to run.  I grabbed the rod and began to bring the fish in.  This time when it got close, I pulled out my gaff, lifted him aboard, and dropped him in a plastic tub.  I won’t go into all the details, but soon there was a nice chunk of Yellow Jack in the reefer that was destined to be an appetizer when when had dinner with friends in Miami.

Once I finished cleaning the fish, I tried trolling some more, but without any luck.

Miami

Soon we entered the Port of Miami.  The main channel goes straight in and there are also two channels that branch off – on right and one left.  A couple ferries crossed in front of us, a cigarette boat blasted by.  Straight ahead we could see a row of six cruise ships docked.  Clearly we weren’t in Kansas any more.

The main Miami ship channel

We had heard that there was a security zone in effect by the cruise ships that morning, but had heard nothing else the rest of the day.  We got about halfway up the main channel when someone called the westbound sailboat.  That would be us.  It was the security patrol.  We turned around as directed and went back to one of the side channels.

We motored up the side channel past the container ship terminal, around the far end of the main channel and into the area south of the Venetian Causeway.  Our friends Mark and Michelle had arrived the day before and had reach anchored just south of Belle Island.  We found our way over and dropped the hook.  We had motored for 12 hours.

The Miami skyline

Off to the west was the Miami skyline.  Pretty impressive.  Just a stone’s throw to the east were the apartments and condos of Miami Beach.  Mark and Michelle had anchored here last year and knew their way around.  We could dinghy up a couple different canals to fill our water, gas, and diesel jugs.  There were also a couple convenient grocery stores near the canals.  A little more walking took us into the business district where there were all manner of stores.  And of course, we could walk up Lincon Rd and along the Ocean Drive and be part of the South Beach scene.

Hauling groceries - one of the cruising challenges

Much of our time was spent at the laundromat and at the grocery, drug, and hardware stores.  This was our last chance to provision before leaving for the Bahamas. Each trip was planned based on what we would be able to haul back to the boat in our dinghy.  There were a couple times I wasn’t sure that Jackie and I would fit with all the provisions.

It’s close to being time to go.  We’ve been watching the weather and consulting our weather router.  A north wind can whip up the Gulf Stream, so we need wind out of any other direction and we need enough fair weather for the 30 hour trip to Nassau.  The forecast looks good for crossing on Monday.  The stream should be down, but there won’t be much wind, so it looks like there will be a lot of motoring.

Visiting Folks Along the Indian River

December 2, 2009

Cocoa, Fort Pierce, and Stuart, FL

We stayed at Merrit Island for a few days while we ran some errands and visited the Kennedy Space Center.  The Space Center was well worth the extra day, but it was time to move on.

Cocoa

We had known for some time that our friends Mark and Michelle on the Manta 40 catamaran Reach would be heading south on their way from Conneticut to tropical climes during the same general time frame as we planned.  We visited with them as they passed through the Chesapeake, but they got a head start on us heading south.  We were less than a day behind them at Oriental, but then we leap-frogged them when we sailed to Cape Canaveral.  It turns out that the people who bought their old Columbia 40, Echo, were staying in a marina in Cocoa, FL., so Mark and Michelle stopped there to visit.  We couldn’t pass up the chance to rendezvous with them, so we motored the few miles over to Cocoa and anchored there.

Reach Anchored off Cocoa, FL

We spent a few days in Cocoa exploring the town, running more errands, and hanging out.  We met Dave and Judy from Echo, and John and Barbara from the PDQ cat
Sam the Skull.

Mark and Michelle in Cocoa

CocoaOn Nov. 25, Reach left Cocoa, with Compass Rose less than an hour behind. We motored down the ICW without a plan for a definite stopping place. We finally decided to stop in a little anchorage before Vero Beach. Skipper Bob’s book on anchorages gave a description of how to find the right spot and as we rounded Pine Island and looked back into the anchorage there was Reach.We settled into the anchorage and I set about a task that required a quiet anchorage – going part way up the mast to install a new flag halyard.

Installing a new flag halyard

Mark couldn’t miss out on the fun, so he dinghied over to help. I got the job finished just before the sun went down.

Sunset at Pine Island on the Indian River

Fort Pierce

Thanksgiving - Florida style

The next stop was Fort Pierce.  We anchored just before the Fort Pierce inlet and Reach soon joined us there. Jackie’s niece, Jenny, and her husband and new baby live nearby.  They had us all over for Thanksgiving dinner.  It sure seems odd to be eating Thanksgiving turkey outside with a large fan blowing on you.
Stuart
We split company with Reach at Ft. Pierce.  They had a good weather window and jumped outside to head for Miami.  We motored on down the ICW/Indian River to Stuart, FL.   My aunt and uncle have a house on the waterway and I seldom get to see them, so we really couldn’t pass them by.  It’s fun to just anchor the boat and motor the dink in to visit. 
But too soon we had to leave.  Mark and Michelle decided to skip the weather window to jump to the Bahamas, so we wanted to catch them before the next crossing opportunity.  We motored down to Lake Worth and staged in the harbor for an early morning departure for Miami.  The trip had its moments.  First, we made a wrong turn and almost ended up in the Okeechobee Waterway.  Then we had to pass through a few drawbridges.   This gets to be routine – most bridges open on demand, so you hail the bridge tender on the VHF radio and ask for an opening.  They usually tell you to keep coming and they open the bridge just as you get close.  We got out of sync with the operator at the second bridge in Jupiter and found ourselves getting too close, too fast.  Putting Rosie in reverse just spun her in the wrong direction, but we got her under control and squeeked through as the bridge rose.  The next three bridges opened on a schedule and we had to motor fast to make them.  We got to the first one early and ran gently aground while waiting.  And when we got to Lake Worth we found the anchorages pretty full.  We anchored right by the inlet in close quarters with other boats.  When the tide changed it was against the wind and the boats went every which way, making for a somewhat uneasy night.
Next – Miami…..