Monday, December 30, 2013

Tongue in Cheek

From Bimini to Chubb Key we did our longest passage to date over the very shallow Bahamas bank (avg. depth only 15ft) and then into the very deep Tongue of the Ocean (over 3000ft)

As the wind direction was not conducive to sailing a direct route fast we detoured a bit  to get a better angle on the wind. We were flying at 7kts sometimes. When night fell we dropped sail and motored directly into the wind and waves for hours. There are are almost no lighted navigational aids in the Bahamas so we were navigating blindly by GPS. Once arrived at Chubb Cay anchorage our friends on Oceane helped guide us in on the VHF radio and by flashing their spotlight. Even still we came within 10ft of hitting the red unlit channel marker! FULL STOP! At about 4:30am we fell exhausted into our berth. 

The following day we woke up late (understandably) and spent the day recovering, going about our daily chores and working on projects. I installed a new autopilot flux gate compass and am really looking forward to trying it out! I went for a first swim in these crystal clear waters. A little shark hung out under our boat.

That evening an ocean swell from the south east rounded the corner of the cay into the anchorage. The wind had us pointing north so this swell was hitting us from the side making our boats very rolly. No one slept well, if at all. It was bad. The next day we moved over into a slightly more protected area. We also tried an anchor bridle, a new practice for me that worked quite effectively. Basically when already at anchor you secure a rope to you anchor chain (we used a carribeener) you then secure the other end of the rope to the stern of the boat. As you let our more anchor chain the stern rope pulls and rotates your boat. We adjusted it so that we were pointing into the swells instead of taking them on the side. Much more comfortable.

Our buddy boat Brin de Folie

ALL hangs on this

See the rope attached? You can see the side of our hull further

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Crossed Off

It was tight, 20-25 knot North winds would start creating 8-10ft waves in the Gulf Stream Tuesday at noon but the window of opportunity was there and we took it. We crossed to the Bahamas. Actually more than just crossed, we essentially squeezed two pretty significant legs into twenty four hours.
Woke up early in Fort Lauderdale to take advantage of the forecasted light weather to take the ocean down to Miami. We had planned to head to Miami and then cross with Lilly Pong. They are now a crew of six on so it would be mutually beneficial for both boats; we'd gain a hand and they'd have slightly more room. Unfortunately at the last minute Lily Pong had a refrigerator equipment issues and couldn't leave. We were torn but decided to continue on, we've made it this far as a crew of two haven't we? The weather was not as settled as forecasted for our ocean passage to Miami and we considered just taking the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Our two weeks at anchor in Fort Lauderdale had dulled our seafaring senses though so we felt that we needed a refresher before the upcoming crossing. Out into the ocean we go. It was pretty rough (as usual) but no engine problems (thank goodness). Cassy got seasick again and was pretty comatose but still helped with tacks. It took us longer than expected to get to Miami and we entered this major port in darkness. The weather window was holding so we planned to fill up on diesel, pump out, take on water for the last time (in the US), find an anchorage, sleep for a couple of hours and depart at midnight. We stopped at the marina closest to the inlet but only after tying up to the fuel dock did we discover that it was actually closed until 7am the following morning. Griffin, the dock hand, was a hero and provided us with a free pump out, water fill up and allowed is to use the shower facilities. While not completely topped off we actually had plenty of fuel for the crossing. We would be the furthest offshore we've ever been. This would be our first night time navigation. We had planned to cross with a buddy boat but would be alone. Two hours later at 23:30 we checked the updated forecast and the window was still holding. We threw off the dock lines and headed out the inlet.

Passed the channel markers, in very little wind we raised sails. Even if it could give us only a half knot of extra speed over 45 nautical mile distance to Bimini we had to travel it would get us there that much earlier. Fortunately, relatively minor, this ultimately turned out to be our biggest error of the whole trip; we were so focused on getting the sails going that we were distracted to the effects of the northern flow of the Gulf Stream. I was actually surprised how soon the Gulf Stream flow started pushing us north. The forecasts showed the Gulf Stream located about five miles offshore of Miami (it moves). I think we started significantly sliding about two miles offshore. To make matters slightly worse we wasted our time dithering with the sails early in our crossing the Gulf Stream thus amplifying its overall passage effect. Once we realized the wind would not help propel us and that we were already in the Gulf Stream we had been pushed north a few miles and thus would have to aim further south to hit our destination. Having to point our bow further south reduced our speed toward Bimini by about 30% and would extended our passage by about two hours. Not good when a weather window is about to slam in your face.

The darkness and solitude enveloped us. The depth sounder was incapable of reading the two thousand foot deep waters below us. Beyond the territorial waters of the USA. No more Tow Boat US. Our only company was the regularly repeated US Coast Guard radio broadcast about a 6'5” male overboard in a 17ft vessel with a 4horse power engine in the vicinity of some far off creek. Our autopilot is non-functional so we hand steered the whole way. Eyes on the compass every 10 seconds. Move the wheel 3 degrees. Smell of exhaust. Tiring. 4:00am. Been up since 7:00. Pushed myself but when I started seeing things and nodding off I woke Cassy up to take over. Two hours later she woke me up to see the beautiful sunrise.

In the light of day the waters were so blue. You know just from that you've crossed into another realm.

Our entrance into Bimini inlet went smoothly. The small inlet was well marked. After going the length of the main channel we actually found our friends Brin de Folie and Oceane anchored. In their last communication before crossing a day earlier they had said they intended on staying in a marina but as it turns out they found this good little anchorage. We anchored near them and celebrated the reunion. Entering the anchorage a float plane actual came directly at us while landing in the channel. It followed us into the anchorage propeller spinning at off our stern. That's never happened before! Too cool!

First things first. When entering a country by boat you raise the yellow quarantine flag. Theoretically only the skipper goes ashore with all documentation and clears into customs. Brin de Folie however told us that the previous day they both went ashore to clear in. We all dingied ashore, found the customs office, completed a multitude forms, got chastised by the officer for all being there (Cassy stepped outside to right things). The funniest thing for me was that out of the six free wickets available the customs officer called me over to the only one with a Christmas tree half in front of it. For the next fifteen minutes I answered questions, produced papers and paid fees with trees branches & ornaments literally in my space. I don't think he was conscious of it or did it on purpose. I thought the whole situation was hilarious and surreal but contained my amusement as an ode to the gods of administrative bureaucracy.

So this was our crossing. Under a bright moon and rising sun we motored on lake calm waters. Thirteen hours we motored. A 10knot Southwest wind would have been perfect, but given the rare opportunities to even get across (many boats are still waiting) we are very happy with our crossing.

Later that evening the strong north winds did pick up and the window slammed shut. As happy as I was to have arrived my thoughts and prayers were with anyone possibly still out there.

Almost there...

Hard day's night


Our wake was the biggest wave


Cleared in

Now I will smile more!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Window Shopping

A weather window, a weather window my kingdom for a weather window! While we have been content and very productive here in Fort Lauderdale we are ready to move on.

The guys from Lilly Pong have actually come back up to Fort Lauderdale from Miami. Apparently Miami was too much. There are about 20 boats here in the anchorage and we're all debating weather windows, routes and crews. Head down to Miami and jump off from there?

My proposal is to take the small window this Monday with Southeast winds 7 to 12 knots. Seas 2 to 3 feet. Dominant period 4 seconds.A slight chance of showers.
We'd cross over from here (Fort Lauderdale) but skirt the US coast due south within 3 nautical miles (so not in the north Flowing Gulf Stream which is 5 miles from the coast). Halfway top Miami we'd hang a left an head south east to Bimini.

Tuesday the window slams shut hard with North winds blowing over 20knots stirring up the Gulf Stream with 8-10ft waves. Then who knows when the next window will open (forecast don't go out that many days). Likely after Christmas.

We'll watch how things develop.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Solar Polar

I'm very happy to report that we now have 200 Watts of solar panel installed and feeding sweet electricity to our power hungry needs. After much research online we found a Miami eBay seller who was willing to deliver the whole kit here to Fort Lauderdale. Panels, charge controller, wiring, connectors. I got two 200W panels and JP from Brin de Folie got a 100W panel to add to his existing 135W panel. A trip to ACE Hardware and a full day's installation work in the sun now has the electrons flowing. Installation was my primary concern but JP's knowledge, experience and extraordinary energy got both our installations complete. Everything goes better with cooperation, two sets of hands, two sets of eyes, and a pair of heads. He was like a surgeon and I was the attending assistant. Ratchet. Bolt. Measuring tape. 1/16th drill bit. All in French of course because JP speaks hardly a word of English - I learned a lot of new French words & expressions. We worked very efficiently & effectively together and were both proud with the results.

There are still some finishing touches left to be done but as I said the electrons are flowing! We've been running the refrigerator for the last 24 hours but it takes up to 48 hours to get to its minimum temperature. We are looking forward to keeping fresh food longer and having cool, dare I say cold drinks. Energy independence. Going off the grid. I'll let you know how it ultimately works out. Unfortunately our super efficient cabin LED bulbs are still missing somewhere in the US postal system, please keep you fingers crossed that they turn up before we jump over to the Bahamas.

A huge thanks to JP for help on the panel installation. I don't think I've ever met anybody with his limitless energy and joie de vivre!! I'm embarrassed to say this but at almost twice my age I had trouble keeping up with him. An inspiration.

Working hard

We weren't the only ones working hard that day, this guys going up the mast.

Everybody's working hard. Here hatch screens are being crafted. So crafty.
Presentation is everything

Friday, December 13, 2013

Yachting Capital of the Galaxy

Fort Lauderdale bills itself as the yachting capital of the world, spelled out in large letters at the first city lift bridge. Without any other major reference I'll have to agree. I've never seen so many boats, big & very big. This coming weekend is Fort Lauderdale's holiday boat parade and apparently it's to dwarf the Boca Raton parade we saw last week.

Fort Lauderdale will be our last major stop before jumping over to the Bahamas from Miami. It is just so convenient and allows for a lot to get done! We are anchored in small Lake Sylvia surrounded by expensive mansions. The best dingy dock option is at a Raw Bar restaurant. It costs $10/day but this can be used as a credit at the restaurant so it's not a total waste of money. We've been sharing dinghy runs with our neighbours Brin de Folie. Within walking distance are banks, grocery stores, dollar stores, hardware stores, liquor stores, laundromats. Within biking distance (making use of our new folding bikes - so much fun!) is the biggest West Marine in America and a famous discount marine store called Sailorman that had everything new & used.

Cassandra took advantage of the nearby Office Depot to have us boat cards printed up. Our cards include an original work by our artist in residence (Cassy).
The transient nature of the journey creates the need for an efficient way to exchange and remember the details of all the great people you meet along the way. When other crews would offer us their cards we could only reciprocate with our scrawled details on a napkin or crumpled piece of paper. Now we've got a branding campaign going! While there is now a electronic way of exchanging boat cards, there's just something more romantic in exchanging the paper ones.

We are about a two weeks behind our very loose schedule. Many boats have already crossed over from more northern points to the Abacos (northern Bahamas). We just were not yet ready to cross and have been staying stateside to get more stuff done on both our Things to Get list and our Things to Do list. Slowly checking the high priority ones off we'll soon be ready to go though and are very much looking forward to the next chapter in this adventure. We'll meet up with the “crossed” boats & crews in the Exumas (central / southern Bahamas) soon.

Historically accurate manger scene

You should see this place at night. Seriously. And everyday there are workers installing more more more
Our little neighbourhood

We have to go under this little bridge to get to the dinghy dock. Really have to duck at high tide!

We saw this boat in Savannah

Dinghy dock over on the left
Now we're legit

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Living la Vida Boca

They don't call it the Gold Coast for nothing! We've spent the last four days & nights on the hook in Lake Boca, a small lagoon surrounded by mansions, high rises and mega yachts! Last night there was the 36th annual Christmas boat parade, an hour of yachts big & small (& enormous) decked out in lights, Santas and reindeer sleds (and trophy wives as Mrs.Clauses). The lead boat launched a sustained barrage of fireworks. While our anchor spot was only about 500ft from the parade route we decided to get a closer look in the dinghy. Of course friends were made and other boats were partied on.

Boca has been a very productive stop. As usual, with the help of friends and family we have made significant preparations for our imminent departure to the islands. A trip to Costco with Cassandra's friends Zoe & Scott netted the bulk of dry food provisions for the coming months. For the last two months they have been receiving our packages. It was like Chanukah opening all the packages. Oh wait it was Chanukah!

We also got together with my cousin Richard, Anna and their budding baseball star son Mathew. Richard shuttled us to a myriad of local stores to get the wide variety of stuff on our list. After a tour on the boat we had a little pizza party for Anna's birthday!

A real treat was getting together with my Uncle Norman & Auntie Leonore. Long time snowbirds we brunched with them in Century Village, a retirement community here in south Florida. I liked what I saw and since Uncle Normy is on the board I got on the waiting list early. Hello shuffle board!!

Boca proper is very ritzy and well manicured, so well as to be almost plastic. Sometimes I felt like I was back in Disney World.

We bought two folding bikes off craigslist. Slightly older models, they both came with protective bags for a total of $100! Delivered right to the dinghy dock too! These will be very useful and allow us to see and do A LOT more. Even though they fold up now we need to find space for them. Sigh.

Here in the anchorage we've met many other great cruisers;
Swedes Hakan & Anna on Unicorn - very experienced (crossed the Atlantic 8 times) and on the perfect boat (18 years in the making, for anyone wondering that's how long it takes...)
Trevor & Tim on Knotty Boys - 18 year old Ontarians on a 28ft sailboat
Alan & Brenda on Haven - from British Columbia via Ontario headed south for the first times as well.

While here we've been shopping around for solar panels. Cassandra would like to have the luxury of refrigeration on board and our current electrical reserves are inadequate. More to follow in the coming days. I think it's bad luck to use the sun's power to keep things cool but alas.

Working all day is rewarded with a swim in the lake (after checking there are no jellyfish). It's great to finally be swimming. We're only in 15ft of water and it's so clear you can see the bottom. Our neighbours on Brin de Folie lost a dodger window panel overboard but the boys from Knotty Boys found it snorkeling. Pretty hard to find something transparent underwater but they go it it!

Yesterday was 29 degrees Celsius here. That's 32 degrees warmer than Montreal and 60 degrees warmer than Winnipeg. Just sayin... ;-)

Rafted up with Brin de Folie in Lake Boca

One of several cart loads

Piled high

Where will it all go?

Into every possible spot

World Series Ring

Mickey Mantle's game bat

Is that a manatee?!

Fresh water rinse off

2 RP's (Reindeer Power)

This "Sexy" mega yacht came weaving through the anchorage later blasting awful music.

I know... where's Dexter's lifejacket?