Saturday, March 23, 2024

No Foreign Land

Every once in a while, you stumble upon some website or application that makes cruising life easier.  In the past I've written about a few.  On my current Bahamas trip, I was introduced to another that replaces an older standby that (in my humble opinion) isn't as good as it once was, so I thought I would share.

I don't remember when I had first learned of the old standby Active Captain, but when I did, it was a game changer.  It was quickly apparent that crowd-sourced data could be much more timely and up to date than relying on the limited guide books, paper charts, and other traditional sources of sailing information.

Unfortunately, as often happens when a large company finds out about a popular and good idea, they purchase it and try to figure out how to make it an advantage for themselves and not their competition.  And, in this case, I think the new owner effectively reduced the size of the "crowd" and the quality and timeliness of the data.  I don't blame the creator of Active Captain, he did a lot of work and deserved a reward.  So, while I occasionally still looked at Active Captain (when I could get the site to work), it was no longer a go-to place for good boating information.

In steps

I was initially asked if I was on NoForeignLand by another cruising couple in Bimini.  I said I was not, and frankly, I thought to myself that I didn't really want another social platform to deal with.  I almost didn't bother looking into it.  But I was told it included the ability to provide position reports on a map and I thought "hmmm...well, maybe that would be good for our parents and friends to follow along on where we are".  So, I decided to give it a look.

Boy am I glad I did. It is a website with apps available for Android and Apple. Yes, it has a social function and can track where you are (if you want it to). But more useful to me, it has a wealth of crowd-sourced data on marinas, anchorages, places to visit, sources for supplies and provisions, boat yards, navigation hazards, and more.  Since we started using it, we have found a few nice anchorages and places to visit.  We also used it to find provisioning stops and parts.  I'm still learning all of its features, but so far I am quite impressed.

Screen capture of the NoForeignLand
site with our boat highlighted

The app and website were created and are maintained by a couple of active cruisers and seem to have many participants all over the world.  So, if you are looking for a replacement for what Active Captain used to be, I would highly recommend giving it a look.  Like me, I think you will be glad you did.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Smilin' Like Eleut'ra

 If there is one thing to say about the sailing lifestyle, it is dominated by the weather.  On a good day, it propels you to where you want to go with good speed and minimum turbulence.  On bad days, you hunker down and do your best to hide from it.  The rest of the time it wavers somewhere in between.  And most of the time, the wind seems to be coming from the direction you want to go.

Our short trip from the Glass Window anchorage to Hatchet Bay was no exception.  To sail straight there, the wind would be within 15 degrees of right on our nose.  Our boat can go about 40° into the wind, but is faster if you bear away to about 50°. If we wanted to go straight there, we would have to motor.  But we are a sailboat and diesel is around $6/gallon here, so we tacked our way down to Hatchet Bay.

The entrance to Hatchet Bay 

The Hatchet Bay entrance is interesting.  The "bay" was actually an inland salt water lake near the rocky shoreline, and someone decided to make a cut through the rock so it could be accessed by boat.  The cut is narrow, but once inside, there is excellent protection from the wind in all directions.  If memory serves, we decided to go there, in part, to hide from an approaching cold front.  We squeeze through the entrance and find a spot to drop the anchor, alongside several other boats that were doing the same.

Not a wide cut through the rocks

A fair amount of room once you are inside

There are a few interesting things to do here.  There is another inland salt water lake you can walk to and go snorkeling.  It was said there was some interesting life in this lake, including a large number of sea horses.  We made the walk and went snorkeling there.  After the walk on a warm day, the relatively cool water felt good.  We saw a number of starfish, some interesting coral, and other creatures.  I thought the seahorses would be easier to spot, but they were quite elusive.  I did see one, but our friends on ICat were better with the underwater photography and managed to snap a couple pictures of them.

Can you see the horse?

Alice Town, a small settlement, sits at the southern shore of the bay, and we decided to visit there.  We figured we would check out the town and grab dinner while we were out (we also needed to drop off a little trash while we were there...on a boat you try to minimize trash production,  but it can't be entirely eliminated).  Unfortunately, it was Sunday and just about everything was closed.  We wandered about town for a bit and ended back at the dinghy dock and one of the few places that opened around 4pm.  

Wandering the quiet streets
of Alice Town

Boaters Haven is a cruiser focused business that runs(?) the dinghy dock, a convenience store with some supplies, a small restaurant, and a bar with a patio that overlooks the bay.  The food and drink prices were quite reasonable, particularly by Bahamian standards: $2 sodas, $4 bottled adult beverages, and a $9 fish sandwich that was quite tasty.  But the best part of this place is Emmitt (the owner?).  In addition to running the business and apparently a small farm, he is also a musician.  He entertains his guests with some original songs and covers and truly makes an evening there memorable.  To Emmit and crew, thank you for a wonderful evening and meal!

Emmitt entertaining at Boaters Haven

One other thing we wanted to check out after the weather passed was a small cave you could dinghy into if the weather and tides were right.  It sits outside and just south of the bay.  It was interesting to take a dinghy into a hole in the side of the island.

A dinghy in a cave

After a few days in Hatchet Bay, we decided we wanted to find a bit less crowded anchorage and left to visit the Pineapple Cays just off of South Palmetto Point.


Monday, March 18, 2024

Spanish Wells, Windows, and Baths

We moved the boat from the more protected anchorage by Hoffman's Blue Hole and back to where we anchored the first day so we could get an early start heading for Eleuthera.  We made our way out the cut between Hoffman's and Devils cays, raised the sails, and pointed the bow towards Eleuthera.

Since arriving in Bimini, we have done our best to sail and not motor, and this was no exception.  The ideal wind would be from the side, or beam, of the boat.  This day, like many, it was a little forward of that, but still a decent angle and we made reasonable time without having to burn any diesel.  Still, we sailed a bit slower than we wanted, perhaps because we are a bit loaded down with supplies or that the bottom of the hull could stand a light cleaning.  This wouldn't have been bad, except a bit of a thunderstorm had developed and moved in right as we got into the shallow waters on the approach to Spanish Wells.  At one point, we considered diverting to an alternate anchorage, but decided to push on through so we would be near the town in the morning.

The winds clocked around until they were right on our nose, so we dropped the sails and started the motors.  Then the heavy rain started.  It reduced visibility to about a quarter mile and we were using sound signals and the chartplotter to navigate through it.  I was starting to wonder if we had made a mistake by not diverting, but the storm eventually passed and we were able to see boats and the Meeks Patch island where we intended to anchor.  The storm had further slowed us, so we dropped anchor at dusk and settled in for the night.  It wasn't until we were done that we noticed we actually anchored about 200 yards from iCat.

The weather improved overnight and in the morning we repositioned our boats to an anchorage just outside the entrance to Spanish Wells harbor.  From there we launched the dinghy to explore town with the crew of iCat and do a little shopping.  Spanish Wells, although smaller than Bimini, had much more to offer.  A couple grocery stores (one very well stocked and reasonable prices, at least by Bahamas standards), hardware store, liquor store, and several restaurants. They even had a boatyard and 2 marine stores, one of which had the hose I was looking for.  In addition to the hose, we picked up some fresh produce, eggs, and a couple other items on our excursion.  We had lunch at a local restaurant on the waterfront.  It was a successful trip.

The next day we left Spanish Wells and headed south around Current Cay to Glass Window and the Queen's Baths.  We unfortunately got a late start and missed slack tide at Current Cut and had to go the long way around through Flemming Channel.  Although wider than Current Cut, the current and wind made the channel a bit of a rough ride as the current opposed the wind direction.  We arrived late at the anchorage after once again sailing all the way (except for a brief bit in the channel), dropped the hook, had dinner, and went to bed.

Glass Window Bridge

The following day we visited the Glass Window Bridge and the Queen's Baths.  The bridge is the thinnest point on the island and shows the vast difference between the shallow waters of the Bight of Eleuthera to the west and the deep Atlantic ocean to the east. The Queen's Baths are pools formed in the rocky shoreline that are heated by the sun.  The water in the pools is saltwater, although I'm not sure how they are filled as many seem to be well above the coastline.  I guess I could see a queen taking a soak here, there were several visitors doing the same.

The crew of Rover and ICat

Small pools at the Baths

The waves crash at the Baths

Since the anchorage we were at had nice clean water surrounding the boat, we also decided it was time to break out the watermaker and replenish our fresh water supply.  We last filled our tanks a couple days before leaving Bimini and one was now empty.  Since it had been a while since we used the watermaker, I also wanted to make sure it was working.  We fired up the generator and proceeded to slowly turn Seawater into fresh until our tanks were once again full.  I wondered if the inverter could run the Rainman watermaker, but it didn't work.  Too bad, it would be nice to be able to make a little water when we had excess solar power to burn.  We also gave the underside a little cleaning.  There was some soft growth and our friends suggested using cut-resistant gloves to brush it off and that worked well.

Pretty water at the anchorage 

Next we decided to check out Hatchet Bay and Alice Town....

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Berries, Beaches, Blue Holes and Cruise Ships

The weather was calling for light winds during the morning and early afternoon that would pick up overnight, so we decided to leave Bimini around noon.  Our choice was to sail to Mackie Shoal, anchor there (in the middle of the Great Bahama Bank) with no land in sight, and then continue on to Great Harbour Cay in the sail overnight and arrive in the Berries the following day without the stop at Mackie.  Since the wind was supposed to pick up a bit overnight, I wasn't sure we wanted to anchor on the shoal and decided to make the overnight passage.  The winds were mostly as predicted and the first half of the sail was slow, but picked up overnight as we passed north of the shoal, and we had better winds the rest of the way to the Berries.

We hadn't decided if we wanted to stop at a marina or just anchor out, but as we listened to the radio traffic in Great Harbour, we found the decision was made for us.  The marina was booked and they had a waiting list.  We made our way around the north end and anchored behind Great Stirrup Cay in a location where we should have decent protection from the higher winds expected the following day.  This is where we got to experience the impact the cruise lines have had on The Bahamas.

Royal Carribean and Norwegian Cruise Ships

Great Stirrup Cay was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Lines, and its little neighbor to the east was renamed Coco Cay and is owned or leased by Royal Caribbean.  These are the private stops the cruise lines advertise about.  The Royal Caribbean island looks like a carnival with amusement park rides and all sorts of other entertainment.  The Norwegian setup was a bit more subdued.  They obviously had jet ski rentals, and there was a brigade of them that circled the more protected anchorage any time a cruise ship was present.

We found one other boat, Féale, there when we arrived.  As we searched for a good spot to drop the hook, the other captain came out on deck and shouted over to us that the whole area had about 10 foot depths and sand with some grass spots (we were trying to determine if the dark spots were coral or grass...still getting used to even seeing the bottom as it is uncommon on the eastern US coast) which was very helpful.  We dropped anchor in a nice sandy spot.  The  crew of the other boat came by and introduced themselves.  We chatted for a bit.  They are a French Canadian couple out cruising.  Stéphane and Brigitte, it was very nice to meet you.

A short time later, Whisper also showed up.  When they left Bimini, their plan was to anchor on Mackie Shoal and then continue on to Chub cay, so it was a nice surprise to see them again.  The next morning, we all repositioned our boats closer to Great Stirrup as it would better protect us from the forecast winds and waves that day.  Before Whisper had moved, we saw a bunch of jet skis zipping past their almost looked like a rodeo.  When they moved, I don't think they ran over any of them, but I don't know that I would have blamed them if they did.

After repositioning the boats, Stéphane and Brigitte joined us to go check out the lighthouse on Great Stirrup as several guides said it was a nice walk.  Shortly after we landed the dinghies on the beach, two security guards stopped by and informed us that the entire island was now private and we could not.  Thanks Norwegian.  They did say we could stay on the beach for a bit (and took our pictures), so we sat there on the beach and chatted a bit more.  A second security guard came by, took our names, and told us again (a bit more politely than the first) that it was private and we were only allowed to be there up to the high water line.  Before a third round of security might show up, we decided to go back to our boats.  Later that evening we invited them and the crew of Whisper over for sundowners.  We had a nice evening in good company as the sun set.

Petit Cay

With the cruise ship circus, the crews of Whisper and Rover decided to sail around the east side of Great Harbor and anchor behind Petit Cay before heading further down the island chain to Hoffman's Cay.  This proved to be a good decision.  No cruise ships in sight and Petit wasn't private, so we could go ashore and enjoy the beach.  The anchorage was calm and there were only a few cruising boats anchored at the other side of the bay.  We took the dinghy to shore and stretched our legs walking along the beach.

The next day we continued on to Hoffman's Cay.  Whisper arrived first but couldn't determine how to go in safely so they headed to an alternate anchorage to the south.  When we arrived, we were able to enter the cut and weighed anchor behind the adjacent Gaulding Cay.  We wanted to get to a different anchorage that was better protected, but it was low tide and we weren't sure we could make it until the next days high tide.  We also wanted to go to that anchorage, in part, because the Swiss friends we met in Charleston were there.  A short time after anchoring, Stéphane rowed over in his kayak and said hi and that they too decided to come to Hoffman's. He said he was able to skirt near the southwest shore of the key and saw reasonable water depth.

So, in the morning we tried their route, but the water got uncomfortably shallow for our wide boat and then we ran aground trying to back out (after the port engine developed a lack-of-thrust problem).  A good samaritan helped pull us off the sandbar with their dinghy, and we motored on the other engine back to the spot we just left.  I let the engine cool down a bit and go investigate.  The shaft coupler had loosened and while the transmission would turn, the shaft was not.  I check the shaft and retighten the coupler and it was once again behaving normally.  We debate if we should attempt to go to that anchorage again or just stay put.  Whisper arrived a short time later and anchored near us.

Hoffman's Blue Hole Anchorage with iCat

Eventually we did try again, but this time we took a longer route that our friends on iCat used and we successfully anchored behind Hoffman's near a beach and a blue hole. We spent the next few days exploring the island and hosted a couple dinners for our friends.  

Dinghy ride to the Blue Hole
trailhead on Hoffman's

A few interesting things on the beach

Hoffman's Blue Hole

The eastern shore of Hoffman's Cay

On one excursion, we came upon a wrecked boat that had been washed up on shore for a while.  There wasn't much left of the boat, but surprisingly, it had a piece of hose that might work should my radiator hose patch fail. So we made a second trip to do a little beach savenger "shopping" and returned with a piece of hose that isn't in too bad of shape.  Amazing what you can find laying around on a beach.

This was more like it.  Beautiful water, tropical islands to explore, friends to share with, and no pesky cruise ships. We did find out that several of the islands, including Hoffman's Cay, were for sale.  I do hope the Bahamas doesn't sell off all their islands as this is the attraction for cruisers visiting this place.

After several days, it was time to move on, weather permitting of course.  We, and the crew of iCat, decided the winds would allow us to head to Spanish Wells on Eleuthera.  Our original plan...if you can call our musings a plan...was to head to the Exumas, but that would be directly into the wind, so next stop Eleuthera.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

A Few Days in Bimini

I can't say I was all that impressed with North Bimini.  The water is the clear blue and turquoise that you see in pictures of the Bahamas.  The island itself seems to serve two purposes.  It is a convenient place for cruisers to clear in with customs and immigration and a relatively easy weekend getaway for those in Southern Florida.

The beach at the south end of North Bimini

The southern half of North Bimini is the older town.  Several marinas, liquor stores,  bars, and a few grocery and other stores.  The northern end of the island is being developed as a resort.  The Hilton, the cruise ship port, a couple of nicer marinas (including where we checked in), the passenger ferry terminal, and the sea plane base are all there.  There is a definite and visible difference in the economic status of the two ends of the island.  Money is being spent to make improvements in the north, and much of the south is being left behind.  The north end shops and some of the touristy south end shops are only open when a cruise ship is in port.  There was a bar at Fisherman's Village that closed at 4pm after the ferry and cruise ship left.

Not every day you get waked by a plane a no wake zone.

There is a small store called Dolphin Electronics that we visited first.  This is more of a cell phone store than electronics shop.  We were there to pick up an Aliv wifi hotspot device and a BTC sim card for the phone.  The hotspot was reported as being an economical option for internet ($90 for the device and $90/month for 125gb of data) with decent coverage in the Bahamas.  Starlink seems to be the better choice for internet, but at $500 for the device and $150/month, it is less economical.

My quest to find a replacement radiator hose did not go well.  Despite there being numerous cars, boats, and golf carts on the island and many transportation options for delivery of merchandise, I was unable to find any suitable hose.  The hardware store, two general stores, a place called Moon Glow (which, despite what the name might suggest, is the closest thing they have to an auto parts store) had none. I even found a couple of 'shade tree car mechanics" who tried their best but didn't have anything appropriate.  Fortunately the rescue tape repair was holding up well, so it will continue to be used until a better replacement can be found.

The "main road" in North Bimini, near
The electronics store.

The highlight of the stop here were the nice locals we met.  The customs and immigration people were professional, yet friendly and welcoming. Josh, at Fisherman's Village marina was very helpful on our arrival with advice and recommendations.  Al, at the second marina we stayed at (after determining the first marina was no bargain once all the resort fees were added to the dockage rate), was very friendly and chill.  And then there was Anton at Smitty's Beach bar, who wins the award for hospitality.

The crew of Whisper and us went to Smitty's the second night and had a few drinks and a nice dinner.  Toward the end of the evening a crazy wind started blowing everything around and we pitched in to help him get things secured and chase menus and placemats around.  As a thanks for the help, he bought us a round and then insisted we not walk back to the marina and instead drove us there after closing up shop.  Anton, thank you!

After a few days in Bimini, it was feeling that it was time to move on and find the real stop, the Berry islands.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

What a Long, Strange, Trip it has Been (part 3)

We made it to NoName harbor on Key Biscayne.  This was to be our staging point to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.  I had considered other staging points and, honestly, this was not my first choice.  Yes, many people cross from here to Bimini, but I'd also heard that clearing in at the usual spot in Bimini isn't as smooth as other places and I wanted my first time to be smooth.  You can reach West End on Grand Bahama from Ft. Lauderdale or even Lake Worth (fighting current or backtracking).  But we were picking up our crew member Doug in Miami, so it made sense to be in the Miami area.

Just a couple boats waiting at NoName Harbor

We had a few tasks to complete before we leave.  We needed to do some final provisioning, get the health checkup for our dog (Bahamas says it needs to be within 48 hours, but some leeway is given when arriving by boat), and we needed to complete the Bahamas entry paperwork.  Doug had access to a car, which made provisioning easier.  But if you stop at Biscayne, there is a service called FreeBee that provides free shuttle service to the local businesses on Key Biscayne and we made use of it to go to both the library (to print out paperwork) and the local Winn Dixie grocery.

Of course, weather had to mess with us a few more times.  Shifting winds and cold fronts had us move anchorages 4 times.  The anchorage at NoName is not protected from the Southeast through West, so we moved to hurricane harbor for a couple days.  We tried getting into a marina in Miami at one point, but they were either full or prohibitively expensive, so we anchored out near Coconut Grove for a couple days, then moved back to NoName when things calmed down.

Coconut Grove and Miami in the distance 

The long range forecasts showed a possible weather window for the crossing a few days out, so we made that trip to the library to complete the Bahamas online Click2clear process and prepared to leave.  Naturally, after completing the process (in which you are supposed to provide your date and time of arrival as well as port of entry), the weather window closed on us.  The next weather window was about a week away, but the just submitted paperwork said we would arrive the following day.  The Click2clear site didn't specify what to do about changes other than an ability to cancel.  And, of course it was a Sunday, so we couldn't call anyone to ask.  Eventually we (actually Chuck) did call and found out all you had to do was go back into Click2clear and update the arrival date and save it (not resubmit, only click save on that one page) and it would work.  We could then take the printouts we already had and they would just mark them up or reprint as needed.  I wasn't sure about the health certificate for our dog, but hoped they would grant sufficient leeway for him too. I also wanted to change the arrival port to a different location on Bimini due to those few reports of less cordial receptions at the one most people use there.

We had noted the weather windows that had presented themselves often came with more easterly winds, and this would mean we would beat into the wind and waves and likely have to motor across.  Since we had a bit of time, we decided to move further south and anchor near north Key Largo.  This would give us a slightly better wind angle to cross and the gulf stream as it will push us north anyway.  We anchored around the privately owned Pumpkin key.  We also made a day run to a nearby marina to top off fuel and they let us dock long enough to make a quick run to the nearby Winn Dixie via Lyft.

The weather window was arriving as predicted, so the day before we departed, we made our way out of the Angelfish creek inlet and spent the final night on a free mooring ball at a keys reef dive site (some allow overnight stays).  It was an interesting night to be moored well off shore with the Atlantic on one side of us and Key Largo in the distance behind us.  Near first light, we drop the mooring ball, maneuver around the reef, and start heading east.  Next stop, the Bahamas.

Mooring at Carysfort reef

As we depart, and start motoring out, suddenly my starboard engine alarm went off.  I look down and the engine is overheating.  I quickly shut down the motor and we raise the sails.  The wind was from the Southeast, so we were beating into it about 35 to 40 degrees off the wind with the port engine running.  I let the starboard engine cool off a bit and then go down to investigate.  I find a lot of engine coolant in the bilge.  I look for a leak, but could not find one.  We had some jugs of tap water on board, so I use one to refill the coolant tank.  This is when I discover the leak.  One of the hoses between the coolant tank and the heat exchanger (radiator that uses sea water instead of air to cool) had a slit in it on the side that was facing the engine block where it could not be seen, only felt.

Now, I have a bunch of hose on the boat, so I begin looking through my inventory while I ask Doug to go try and remove the leaking hose.  I have about 30 feet of 2 inch hose, 8 feet of 3/4 inch hose and smaller pieces of 1 inch hose, but no hose that is 1 3/8 to 1.5 inches in diameter that would be suitable as radiator hose.  I think about any other places where I might have some hose stashed or if there is a non-critical system it could be scavenged from, but come up empty.  The only semi-suitable option I have is the wet exhaust hose on the generator...but it is wire reinforced and I doubt I could bend  it enough to install a 7 inch piece in the space on the motor.

I started pondering if we should turn back.  We are already in the Gulf Stream at this point and conditions are about as good as they get there, we are in no danger, and the boat can be operated just fine under sail or on a single engine.  The only time both motors are really needed are when maneuvering in tight spaces such as marinas.  While I know parts and supplies are hard to find in the Bahamas, they would surely have a piece of radiator hose somewhere as there are many boats and cars there.  I also have one trick left, to attempt a temporary repair of the hose.  So we press on.

Doug had managed to get the clamps loosened before the heat of the engine room and the mildly rolling seas made him feel queasy.  So, I went back down in the engine room and completed the removal of the hose.  I found a slit in the hose that was a few inches long and almost looks like it was made with a knife, and part of this slit was what had ruptured.  There is this stuff called rescue tape and I decided to give it a try for the repair.  It is a self bonding silicone-like tape that supposedly can withstand up to 500 degrees F and 950 psi.  I cleaned the hose up, placed a bit of duct tape over the slit as duct tape has fiber reinforcement (I didn't expect the adhesive to hold, just wanted the fiber) and then wrapped the hose with 2 layers of rescue tape.  When complete, it seemed like a reasonable repair, so I went back into the engine room and reinstalled the hose.  I filled the coolant tank with coolant and water and gave it a test.  It seemed to be holding.  There was a tiny seep, but it should be sufficient for shorter term use if we kept an eye on it.

I spent much of the crossing in the engine room, but even there I could tell we picked a good window for the crossing.  It would have been nice if the winds allowed for pure sailing, but the long period small waves were a far cry from the conditions we could have had and have been reported by others.  It was sunny and winds were fairly light and, other than the motor issue, would have made for a lovely crossing.

Fisherman's Village Dock

We arrived in Bimini a bit later than planned due to the motor issue and needing to motor-sail to make a reasonable time crossing the Gulf Stream.  As we entered the Bimini channel, the sun was setting.  I had been listening on the radio and heard reports of where the entrance channel had shoaling (the shifting sands at the entrance there mean it is constantly changing, so local knowledge and reports are a must).  There was actually a boat that had run aground when we arrived, but did manage to free themselves and confirmed the shoaling reports I had heard.

We make our way up the channel to the Fishermans Village marina and dock after their normal business hours.  Fortunately there was one dock hand that was still around and they helped get us squared away for the night.  When I queried about customs and immigration, they said they were closed and would reopen at 9 am the next day.  So, we all stayed on the boat with the Q flag raised, and waited until morning.

I was a bit nervous about my first check in, but after a shower and putting on a bit nicer clothes (a button front shirt and better looking shorts) off I went to customs and immigration in the morning.  Both were in the same building, nearly on site at the marina.  They gave me the immigration forms you get when flying and as I began filling them out, the gentleman from customs came and asked me if I filled out the forms online.  I said yes and he asked me for the cruising permit printout.  I gave it to him and he walked back to another room for a moment, then returned and asked if we had our dog on board.  I said yes and gave him the approved paperwork and health certificate and he went back to the other room.  Before I was done filling out the immigration cards, he returned with the stamped cruising permit and fishing permit and said we were good to go and welcome to the Bahamas.  I finished filling out the immigration forms and handed them in.  They looked them over briefly, noted that I forgot to sign them, and once signed them also welcomed me and hoped we would enjoy out stay.  Professional, yet very friendly and welcoming.  We chatted just a moment, I forget about what, and I thanked them and that was it.  We were now officially cleared into the Bahamas.

Raising the courtesy flag

I returned to the boat, we lowered the Q flag and raised the courtesy flag.  First time crossing the Gulf Stream and first time visiting another country on our own boat accomplished. Now we were ready to explore the Bahamas...and find a radiator hose.

Monday, February 26, 2024

What a Long, Strange, Trip it has Been (part 2)

 So, we are approaching the St. Augustine inlet in the morning fog, my course on the chartplotter taking us straight to the inlet's marker.  Visibility is around a quarter to half mile.  I have the radar on and it finds the marker about a mile away, but I don't see any radar blips for the channel markers.  Then about a half mile from it I notice a shadow of the inlet marker appear from the fog.  About this time, the radar also starts picking up the channel markers.  Hmmm...maybe?

As we continue to approach the inlet marker, I keep looking to the right in an attempt to visually locate the channel markers.  Then I think I see a faint outline of the coast.  Is the fog starting to lift? Sure enough, by the time I reach the inlet mark, 2 to 3 sets of the channel markers appear from the fog.  We make the turn and start heading in.  We pass the first set of markers and visibility continues to improve.  By the time we pass the second set of marks, I can now make out much of the channel.  Whew.  We make our way in and dock at Camachee Cove marina.

A few minutes after we arrive, another Leopard 3800 enters the marina. At our home port we occasionally see another Leopard, but rarely the same model and vintage as ours.  We make their acquaintance, compare, and swap stories about our boats.  They are half owners from England.  John and Dorota on Eagle Song, it was nice to meet and share stories and I wish you safe travels...hopefully our paths will cross again in the future.

Rover and Eagle Song in St.. Augustine 

A cold snap was predicted and arrived, dropping  temperatures to near freezing in St. Augustine...I thought Florida was supposed to be warmer.  We took the time (and use of the marina’s courtesy car) to do more provisioning and some shopping at Sailors Exchange while we waited out the cold.  

A tiki bar boat anyone?

Weather wasn't predicted to be great, so we begrudgingly decided to again motor down the ICW and our next stop was Palm Coast.  One night there and we were moving on to Daytona.  During my morning check of the engine, I found one of the fan belts broke on my starboard engine (fortunately it has two and I had a complete set of spares).  I went to install a spare only to find that it was about a half inch too small in diameter (guess those cross references aren't that good, eh, Autozone? ).  We continued with the single belt on that side.

When we pulled into the marina in Daytona, we noticed a boat we recognized as a couple we met when they were stopped in New Bern. We visited a bit and found out this was their home marina.

The next morning, we got out the folding bikes and rode to Napa to get the replacement fan belt.  Unfortunately they only had one, so I'd have to pick up additional spares elsewhere.  I installed the belt without much fuss.  A check of the weather and again it looks like we will be trudging down the ditch. At least we are slowly making our way south, right??

So we made plans and the next morning headed south, down past the Kennedy Space Center and on to Titusville.  While tying up the boat, I noticed the boat behind us had a hailing port of Durango, naturally we had to make their acquaintance.  I’ve often mused that we should have made our hailing port Leadville, CO. as I find the thought of my boat somehow making it to Colorado funny. I also checked the Napa there and found they didn't have the belts but could get them by the next morning, so I ordered them and picked them up the next day.  While there, we also ran into a couple we had met months earlier at our new home marina.  Chuck and Tina sail a Beneteau 473 named Whisper.  They too were headed to the Bahamas, so we began traveling somewhat together.

The NASA VAB in the distance

The next two legs of the trip would also be down the ICW as Titusville is a fair distance from an inlet.  Since it was finally starting to warm up some, the next night we anchored out in a wide part of the ICW halfway between Titusville and Ft. Pierce that had several good spots for anchoring.  Not long after we set the hook, we noticed a catamaran that had been some distance behind us all day was also coming in to anchor.  As they got closer, we recognized the boat.  It was the Swiss couple that we met and docked next to in Charleston. We chatted on the radio a bit and found out they were heading to the Keys and then Bahamas.  So, if you are keeping count, we have run into someone we knew on the last 3 stops.  As big as the world and oceans are, it still surprises me how small it can all seem at times.

The next morning we got an early start and made our way to Ft. Pierce.  We docked at the city marina along with Whisper. Here is where one of the downsides of having a cat can be seen.  The dockage rate for our cat was 50% higher than Whisper, even though we were both tied up next to each other on a face dock and their 47 foot boat takes up 10 foot more dock space than our 37 foot boat.  If it were a slip, I could understand an additional charge for our width, but at a face dock it seems silly as we take up less space.  

There was one thing that happened that made up for the overcharge though.  At many marinas, there is a space known as the "free table" where boaters can leave things they no longer need but may be usable by someone else.  We have picked up and left things at various free tables in the past.  Here, there was a working portable clothes washer and spin dryer that someone left when they upgraded.  We have a small bucket size washer that is good for a couple shirts or shorts, but this one is bigger and can handle jeans, bedsheets, and larger towels.  I've wanted to give one of these a try, but never could find one we could fit into one of our storage lockers.

Since the price was right, we figured why not take it to the boat and see if we could find a place for it.  We measured it and our largest inside locker door and it would just barely fit.  The problem was that once I shoved it through the door, I don't think I could get it back out.  But it is lightweight enough that we decided we could just store it in the shower and move it when we wanted to shower.  We had just done some laundry so we also gave the spin dryer a try.  Our small washer had a spin basket and so did a previous one we tried, but I found those didn't extract much water and I could hand wring better.  This one is a game changer.  It spins as well as our home front load washer and leaves things almost dry.  An hour or two hanging on the lifelines, even in humid Florida, and a sweatshirt and towel were dry.  This find mostly makes up for the overcharging of the marina.

The free clothes washer with spin dryer

Since the trip to Florida has taken much longer than planned, we again did a grocery run.  We had hoped to leave out the Ft. Pierce inlet and sail south to Key Biscayne/No Name Harbor, but the weather has been fickle.  It only seems to get better when we are trapped in long stretches of the ICW.  After a couple days in Ft. Pierce, we again decided we would take the ICW so we could make it a little further south.  At least at the end of this next leg would be the anchorage in N Lake Worth and another inlet near Palm Beach to try again.

Rover and Whisper head out the next morning, continuing our trek down the ICW.  I have to admit, I wasn't looking forward to this leg of the trip.  I've been through Jupiter before and I remember it to be a circus.  Several bridges in close proximity to one another, with jet skis and small boats that don't have a clue about right of way for boats with limited ability to maneuver (tall masts going through a raised bridge, for example).  This time was no different.  

The trip started out nice and we were making good progress.  As we approached Jupiter, more and more boats appeared.  Party barges with young sun worshipers, jet skis, motorboats with big engines driven by small minds all entered the frey.  It was like rush hour.  We wait at the bridges, trying to keep station in the current as we wait for the next scheduled bridge openings while small boats and jet skis zip around us in all directions.  With two motors set far apart, I have a fair amount of control. I feel for my friends on Whisper that have to contend with this mess in a single engine monohull.  At the last bridge before Lake Worth, a motor yacht passes us, Whisper, and a trawler waiting at the bridge so he can be first through when it opens.  I think it was the trawler that keys his radio mic with two stern words "back off".  Sigh.  If I ever think about coming down this part of the ICW again, please slap me.

We finally make it to the lake and drop anchor with about 40 other boats, undoubtedly also waiting on the weather to continue their journeys.  This will definitely be the end of my journey down the ICW.  Ahead are Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.  The former has lots of mega yachts and expensive marinas, the latter has a fixed bridge built by a dyslexic engineer who made it 56 feet high instead of 65 so we can't pass under it.  And both have rich NIMBY's that don't like us "poor boaters" anchoring and ruining their views.  Besides, I'm growing tired of being just a tall motorboat.

We wait a couple days and a weather window appears.  It isn't perfect, but at this point I'm not picky, I'll take what I can get. We head out the inlet and are met with a little wind.  We raise the sails and make an attempt to sail, but the winds are light.  We even attempt to fly the spinnaker, but by the time I get it rigged, the wind all but dies.  Well, at least I won't be motoring down the ditch anymore.  Whisper had followed us out the inlet and also attempted to sail, but gave up sooner than we did and had motored past us while we stubbornly tried to sail.  Later that evening, as we were passing by offshore of Ft. Lauderdale, the winds picked back up and we were able to sail the rest of the way to the Biscayne Bay channel on a nice reach.  Finally!

We anchored outside No Name Harbor, our intended staging point for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

The anchorage outside NoName harbor...
We are not alone.

Next stop, Bahamas?

(More to come next time)