Some Days are Like That…

Today started like most of our days. It doesn’t really matter if we’re planning on sailing or if staying in the same anchorage, we wake up at 6:30 am to listen to the weather report on the Single Side Band radio and make our morning coffee + tea. Last night we enjoyed a lively happy hour on Civil Twilight with Mar-a-Lago and Scheherazade. We were all talking about making a trip to Long Island and lamenting that with some strong west winds later in the week it wasn’t looking like we could go anytime soon. The harbours on the west side of Long Island offer little to no protection from Westerly winds.

Overnight, the winds here in George Town had moved to a more southerly direction and we were no longer completely in the lee of the land. The wind was light, so it wasn’t really a problem, but wind would be building over the course of the day and might cause some wind driven waves to build in the harbour by sunset.   We started to think about moving to a different anchorage within the harbour for the upcoming night.

As we listened to the forecast I was studying the charts for the harbour, trying to decide where we could move to and be able to stay in one place for four or five days. The harbour here is kind of NW-SE oriented, so depending on the wind direction you might find yourself doing what’s called the George Town shuffle – moving your boat 1-2 miles back and forth up and down the harbour every few days looking for the best protection.

I looked at what I’d written down from the weather forecast and considered the charts, I decided we COULD go to Long Island today, stay for three nights and ride a southeast wind back to George Town ahead of the westerly winds. We started to chat with Civil Twilight, Mar-a-Lago, Scheherazade and Bluejacket… they were all game to go this morning! Grace V needed some water and to unload trash, so Tim zoomed off in the dinghy stopping by the other boats to answer questions, consult on the plans and take Poppy ashore. We all aimed to have anchors up between 10 and 11 am for the 25 mile trip to Long Island.

Shortly after 10 am we had our anchor up and were heading south towards the cut, Civil Twilight came on the radio to give a sea state report as they were about 25 mins ahead of us. The report was not favourable, the wind was approx. 30 degrees off the bow for our plotted course (not the 60 degrees we’d mapped based on the forecast) and the seas were 3 feet on the nose with spray on the deck. While it was not dangerous, it wasn’t going to be the pleasant trip we’d all planned. After a quick consult on the radio, we all decided to abort the trip.  After all, we don’t HAVE to go today, we can wait and pick better weather.  Bluejacket was still preparing, Mar-a-Lago was still at anchor, Scheherazade had just stowed their anchor and we were about 5 mins from the anchorage, only Civil Twilight had to re-transit the cut and come all the way back. We were all really grateful for their fact finding mission and saving the rest of us from the extra saltwater on the decks.

Grace V used the opportunity of being underway to choose a new anchorage for the day and found a great spot in front of Chat ‘N’ Chill right beside Bluejacket.

Our consolation prize for NOT sailing to Long Island today is that there is a scheduled meeting of the A.R.G. (Alcohol Research Group – aka a Happy Hour get together) this afternoon on Honeymoon Beach. I guess we’ll have to just sink ourselves into some research this afternoon.

Some days are like that…

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Chat ‘N’ Chill

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Provisioning for the Bahamas

Provisioning for four months is a huge job. How am I supposed to know what I will want to eat in three months time? I don’t know what I want for my supper tonight!!

It’s not like you can’t buy food in the Bahamas, of course you can!  However, you won’t find the type of grocery store you’re used to at home. I know of only four places in the Bahamas where you can find American type grocery stores.  The rest of the stores are more similar to convenience type corner store we’d find at home in Toronto, and even then, they are not that well stocked!  Many people who live here in the Bahamas tend to order their groceries ahead of time and they are then either flown in or brought to their island by the mail boat.  Because of this the shops don’t carry a huge amount of stock.  Because of this and the increased cost of food (transportation and the duty on goods entering the country greatly increase the price of food) boaters stock up on food before leaving the US.

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The Pink Store in Staniel Cay – yep, that building is the whole grocery  store!

Some cruisers are very accurate in their planning and count out how many dinners they will need (120 suppers for 4 months) then make a list of standard meals they like and figure out how many times they want to make each meal. We were a bit random in our planning but did workout how many times we thought we’d make spaghetti or curry or have steak over the four months and made sure we had enough canned tomatoes, curry paste and any meats that we know are hard to find or just plain expensive in the Bahamas.

Dry and canned goods are pretty easy to store on the boat, it the meat that is tricky…

Our freezer is not huge, but we’ve learned how to make the most of the space.  First of all, meat with bones takes a lot of space.  It’s better if chicken breasts have no bones and certainly, no whole chickens!

We hesitated on buying too much meat all at once as it doesn’t freeze efficiently if too much goes in at once and as a result we didn’t leave with as much as last year.

This is what was in the freezer when we left the states early December…

11 chicken breasts (not enough…)

1 beef stew (we had three but ate two before leaving the US)

1 country captain chicken stew (same as the beef stew, it doesn’t last long on the boat!)

8 steaks

7 pulled pork meals

3 pork skewer meals

2 pork chops

2 pounds ground beef (not enough!)

6 hot dogs

5 sausages

½ pound Havarti

3 pounds cheddar (easy to find and cheap in Bahamas)

2 pkg shredded mozzarella

3 wedges of parmesan

3 soft cheeses

5 baguettes (Pillsbury)

2 cracker cheeses (this is sliced cheese already cracker size, so easy to put out for happy hour)

We also have a mountain of canned goods and snacks for sharing on the beach with others. We brought some long life milk, but found last year it was pretty easy to find fresh milk, so just bought a couple of tetra packs for when we run out unexpectedly. Candy is also expensive, so we have dark chocolate bars and dark chocolate covered blueberries for treats. Cereal is expensive here in the Bahamas so we picked up Raisin Bran and my fav Go Lean Crunch in jumbo versions from Sam’s Club.

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These were the results of just one of our three major shopping trips.

Since we are also traveling with our dog, Poppy, we needed to consider her food supply as well.  Bags of dog food are not typically well sealed and since we don’t want to encourage any bugs on the boat we repackaged all her food for 4 months in vacuum packed bags.  Tim measured out the food so that each package would fill the plastic bin we keep within easy reach for her twice a day meals.

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However, one of the most important considerations in planning this trip is the booze! A case of beer in the US will cost $20 bucks (I know, it’s nothing compared to Canada!) but in the Bahamas it will cost $50 and up for 24 beers. Wine that costs $10 in the US can easily cost $20 and up here.  We have at least 10 cases of beer stowed plus 15 boxes of wine in various nooks and crannies of the boat. These supplies are rounded out with some craft beer and bottle wine for special occasions. We believe this to be more than needed for a four month stay, but should we happen to run out, Rum in the islands is cheap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Town again…

I awoke in the cockpit on Sunday morning just before 4:30 am when the fridge turned on. Since the pump died and Tim jury-rigged a replacement, it makes a crazy loud noise and vibrates. It was very still and hot in the anchorage when I went to bed Saturday night and decided to sleep in the cockpit and wait for the wind to kick in. The clock in the salon struck 4:30 and the lightening commenced in the distance, just as anticipated.

For the last week we’ve been preparing for a big front to move thru the Bahamas this weekend. The forecast predicted winds of 30 knots and gusting to 40 (roughly 60 km and 80 km respectively) from the north and it was suggested this could be one of the biggest blows of the winter season. Looking at the charts we made the decision to sail two days south to George Town to find the best protection from the wind.

We arrived late on Thursday afternoon and anchored in Kidds Cove close to town. We chose this spot for two reasons. First it’s a very short dinghy ride into town and we needed to top up our water tanks – a job that typically takes a few runs, so being close to town is a time saver. The second reason was we had arrived at low tide and the anchorage we wanted to ride out the blow in would not have enough depth for us to enter. Once inside the anchorage there would be plenty of depth for Grace V’s 5.5 foot draft, but to get inside we needed to wait for high tide. The next high tide would come after dark, so next daylight chance would come Friday at mid-day.

We went into town to get our water and stock up on fresh veggies. The really huge winds were predicted to last roughly 36 hours and after that we were told to expect strong winds for about another 4-5 days… Strong winds don’t make a comfortable or dry dinghy ride so we were prepared to be stuck on the boat for 7 days. Town was hopping and the grocery store was packed. Everyone had the same idea and business was brisk!

At 11:00 we picked up our anchor and motored over to the area known as Red Shanks. We’d never been in the anchorage before, but knew that it was a very protected spot from both wind and waves. We arrived at 12:50 with high tide expected for 1:00 pm – perfect timing!! As soon as we entered it was obvious there was lots of room. We easily found a spot and settled in. Looking around we assessed the perfectness of this spot, nice big hill to the north where the winds were expected from.

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Red Shanks Anchorage

 

Two hours later a dinghy approached and invited us to a dinghy drift at 4 pm. This is a sundowner event where everyone meets in the middle of the harbour and ties all the dinghies together for Happy Hour. It’s a bring your own drinks event and snacks get passed from boat to boat. About 15 boats showed up with at least 4 of them having kids aboard. The kids were like little monkeys climbing from dinghy to dinghy and making polite conversation. I was asked by a eight-year-old how long I’d been sailing and where were we heading! The organizer thought it would be good to meet the neighbours ahead of the forecasted wind event in case assistance was needed during the bad weather.

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Sunset Dinghy Drift

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The next day, Saturday, was a lazy day. We made one last trip to town to download movies from Netflix, check for milk, eggs and yogurt (shelves had been empty the day before) as well as one last water trip. By sunset, the harbour was like glass and the boat was floating quietly in the dark.

The forecast included a line of squalls and possible thunderstorms that would begin about two hours ahead of the front. The fridge turning on in the early hours woke me just in time to watch the first rain storm approach. I knew we had prepared the boat for this blow and so wasn’t worried about what was to come throughout the day, but rather, would there be enough rain to wash the boat? Could I put boat soap on the deck and be assured the rain would rinse it off? Since Tim was still asleep, I let go of the idea and instead read my book until I drifted back asleep.

By 10 am we were seeing winds of 28 knots sustained and gusting 36 knots. The radio was alive with boats calling out wind speed from various anchorages around George Town – Sand Dollar, Monument, Volleyball Beach and Red Shanks. Biggest gusts were in the 44 knots range. One boat in our ‘hood started dragging and neighbouring boats were offering help and extra anchors. They quickly had it under control and were once again anchored safely. A call went out on the radio regarding another boat who had its main sail come loose and flapping in the strong winds, the crew had gone ashore??? It seemed like a strange thing to do in the first few hours of a wind storm when you didn’t know how strong the velocity was going to be or if your anchor was going to hold…

By late afternoon we were looking for something to do. We played three games of Yahtzee, two games of Battleship and 2 games of House Wrecker. We read our books made dinner and re-watched an episode of Sherlock before bed.

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Battleship

 

One day down, only 6 more to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island is part of the barrier islands that line the east coast of the United States.  We’ve heard other boaters sing the praises of this National Seashore Park but have never made it a priority to visit when in the area.  Our travelling friends, Ron and Deb on s/v Scheherazade, wanted to visit and since we were much further south, much earlier than we were last year, we decided it’d be a perfect opportunity to take some time and visit the park.

The park encompasses a maritime forest, undeveloped beaches, wildlife marshes and sand dunes which separate the ocean side beach from the dripping spanish moss covered forests.  The dramatic landscape changes from one area to the next was remarkable as we only had to walk less than 5 mins to find ourselves with a completely different backdrop in this beautiful park.

Deb’s mission was to see some of the wild horses that inhabit the island.  It turns out that was easily accomplished and she saw a couple the very first night when she joined Tim and Poppy on their evening shore visit.  (Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed.)

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This is from the National Park Service Website…

“The National Park Service has conducted population surveys since 2003 that have returned counts ranging from 120 to 148 horses a year. These numbers are not considered a total count of all horses present, but rather they are a measure of abundance. The total number of horses on the island could be 30 to 40 animals higher than the annual survey results.

Cumberland has the only herd of feral horses on the Atlantic coast that is not managed (no food, water, veterinary care, or population control). The herd is affected by all the natural stressors faced by native wildlife.

The lifespan of horses on the island may be as long as 9 to 10 years. Causes of mortality include high parasite loads, drought-related stress, age, natural accidents, and suspected eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.”

Sadly, while we were walking along the ocean side beaches, we saw a cluster of vultures circling the dunes nearby, Tim and Ron went to investigate and discovered (as we had all feared) a dead horse.  It wasn’t the highlight of our day.

We also saw a number of crabs that were hiding in the shallow pools of water as the tide was starting to recede.  Tim tried to engage one, but he didn’t want to play and just kept backing up and snapping his claws in defence of his territory.  There were hundreds of broken shells on the beach (not so great for shelling) and the whole remains of horseshoe crabs.

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Horseshoe crab shell

Once we crossed back into the forest, the other predominate wildlife we saw was the armadillo!  They seemed to be unafraid of us for the most part and would continue forging for food close to the walking paths even though we were talking and not making any efforts to hide our presence.

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They only scurried away when Deb, in her mission to get a good photo, would follow them in the woods.  Eventually she got the picture she was after and abandoned stalking the poor creatures.  🙂  Seeing these wild mammals scurrying around was very strange.  They have a prehistorical look about them and did not fit into the vision I had of a southern Georgia seashore experience. It’s a great experience to have you perceptions shook up once and a while!

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Deb stalking the armadillos.

 

This special park is only accessible by passenger ferry or private boat.  The ferry prices are $28 for adults and $18 for children and would make for an expensive day visit for a family of four.  We are lucky to be travelling on our sailboat and be able to ferry ourselves to shore.  I think the way to maximize a visit here (and the cost of the ferry) would be to stay in one of the three campgrounds for overnight camping.  We saw a few late season campers while we were there and their campsites made me feel nostalgic for our camping days.  I would love to someday come back here and spend the night in this beautiful forest.

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While we were exploring the island I got turned around and started guiding our group north though the park instead of south…  I’m guessing we walked an extra mile and a half before Tim finally insisted we were going the wrong way and Ron pulled out his phone to check our location, we indeed were going the wrong way!  Whoops!  While Tim doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction, he was right on this occasion.  We returned to the spot where we’d made the wrong turn and stopped for a quick lunch to fortify ourselves for the three miles we still had to hike back to our boats.

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The return trip was rewarded with more horses, armadillos and spectacular forests.

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Due to the damage here from Hurricane Matthew, we were unable to use the dinghy docks and had to beach our dinghy instead that morning.  The tide was fully out by the time we arrived back at the Sea Camp and our little tender was high and dry.  Poor Tim and Ron had to drag it back to the water about 80 feet away.  Everyone agreed that despite some of the challenges of the day, it was well worth it and we’d all return to visit this cool place again.

And of course there is always a beautiful sunset to look at.

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Speeding Up to Slow Down

We’ve been speeding up this fall as we make our way from the Chesapeake to the Bahamas for the second time and the result has been that we feel we’ve slowed down a bit.  We’ve made two off shore overnight jumps instead of sticking with the ICW this time round.  This means when we get into port, we stay a while and aren’t too concerned about making miles every day.

Our first jump was from from Beaufort, NC to Charleston, SC on November 6th.  The trip took 34 1/2 hours from anchor up to anchor down. We had pretty strong winds from the north for the entire trip for a fast down wind sail.

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It was a new experience for us to be sailing down wind for such an extended period of time.  In fact, we’ve rarely ever sailed down wind and knowing that the wind would be behind us and possibly moving across our stern during the course of the trip made us seriously start looking at a preventer for the boom.  A preventer is a line which is run from the end of the boom to the bow of the boat and back to the cockpit.  This line allows you to secure the main sail and “prevent” it from Gybing unintentionally.  Since there is only ever one person in the cockpit during the overnight hours, this seemed like a prudent safety measure, one we never needed before.  All we required was a block to run the line through at the bow and a length of line that would be long enough for the job.  Strangely, we had both on board ready to be put into service.

Tim rigged the line the night before we left and it was INVALUABLE to our comfort and safety on this passage.  One of the unexpected bonuses of running this line was that there was no SLAMMING of the rigging!  When the wind was lighter in strength and the main sheet would typically slack, the preventer held the boom out, so when the force of the wind was put on the sail again, there was silence, no slamming.  This has always driven me crazy when we were sailing on a broad reach in lighter winds.  The preventer is awesome at eliminating this jarring noise.  The only downside was that we did have to Gybe, twice, during the passage and because we only had one line for this job, after a Gybe, it needed to be re-run on the other side of the boat outside the shrouds.  Tim had to go forward to the bow twice in very rolly seas and the pitch black night to complete this task.  Tim is always very careful on deck and always clips into the jack lines that are secured on deck to prevent him going overboard should he slip.  I don’t fancy either of our chances should he go overboard!!

It was a pretty great passage, even though the winds picked up earlier than expected and the seas built earlier than expected.  We ended up sailing for 12 hours + in winds that were 20-30 knots and seas that eventually grew to be the occasional 7 foot waves.  A couple of times, I looked behind us and could only see a wall of water, no sky to be seen until the wave slipped under the boat and lifted us to the top.  It was unnerving, but strangely not too scary.

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Our friends s/v Scheherazade as the sun sets.

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Stunning vista after the sun has slipped below the horizon.

Our next weather window to sail from Charleston to Florida would not come for another week, so there was no choice, but to slow down, enjoy Charleston and complete a few boat chores.

 

 

 

 

 

One year and three months…

It’s been just over a year since we sailed from Toronto on our boat and changed how we lived.  A WHOLE YEAR HAS PASSED,  that seems incredible to me.

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Grace V under sail on the Pamlico River.  Photo by Scheherazade.

Over the course of the last year we’ve met many people who tell us we’re very lucky to be able to do this at our age. (“Out here” we’re babies, teenagers, newlyweds in the eyes of many cruisers we meet. It’s totally awesome to be made to feel like we are so young on an almost daily basis!) I’ve always replied, “yes, we are lucky, we know we’re lucky.”

But that’s not really the truth, we’re not lucky.  Luck played no role in it. We made this happen.  We’re here, because We Made It Happen.  And after a year of living on our sail boat and traveling over 4,000 miles by water, I’m proud of what we we have achieved. We planned, made sacrifices, saved and planned some more.  We’ve made mistakes, been scared, learned so much about our boat, about ourselves and best of all, we’re happy.

They say, we’re living the dream.  But it’s not THE dream.  It’s OUR dream.  It’s the dream where we get to travel, how and when we like and take our home with us.  The dream where I still get job offers from back home and have friends and family willing to take me in so I can work for a few months.  Some people think that going home to work spoils the dream.  It doesn’t, it makes the dream better.  I like to work, I love to be part of a team that makes great television, I like being useful and needed.  I love the company I work for.  It’s all part of the dream.

How did we get here?  Baby steps.  Like any big dream, it seemed overwhelming and un-achievable in the five year timeline we set for ourselves.  While I would love to say I had a giant excel spread sheet outlining the plan with regular goals and to do’s that were met on time… that wasn’t the case.  I did have some Excel spreadsheets that helped with the financial planning and the boat upgrades/maintenance, I also read tons and tons of books that helped to keep me focused and inspired and passionate about what we were trying to achieve.  We had benchmark goals that were spaced about one year apart, so each year was focused on one big goal that was achieved by a hundred little tasks.  That’s the way to make any big dream happen.  A hundred or a thousand or a million baby steps, all the while believing it’s possible.

One of my favourite and inspiring quotes is from Mark Twain ~ Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So here we are on the US east coast heading south for a second time, reconnecting with boating friends we made last year and making new friends.  We’re also getting the boat ready for what comes next.  What’s next?  The only thing I can say for sure, is that we’ll head south and cross to the Bahamas again.  Anything beyond that is too far away to think about right now.

I know it been a long while since I posted, I’ll try to do better.

Cheers from Fernandina Beach Florida!

Sewing in Lieu of Air Conditioning

We pulled into Marsh Harbour last week for the Lay Day Regatta Party that was to be held Tuesday night.  As we headed for a spot close to the Union Jack Dinghy Dock, we noticed a Canadian Flag on a sailboat – CANADIANS!!

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Not only was the boat Canadian, but they were from Toronto too!  Tim peered at the boat name and realized we knew them.  We’d spent a week being dock neighbours back in Toronto at Marina Quay West when we’d arrived for our first winter living full time on the boat.  Suncast was stuck in Toronto at the time waiting for the Erie Canal to re-open after repairs so they could head south for the winter.  Now, here we both were anchored in Marsh Harbour in July some two and a half years later.  This kind of stuff amazes me.

Tim stopped by their boat to say hi as he was taking the dog ashore and they invited us for drinks the following night.  We had a great time picking their brains on all sorts of things.  They have been travelling south on their sailboat for 17 years and always taking the boat back to Canada in the summers.  This was the first year they decided to not make the long journey back and stay south for the summer season.  We both were commenting on how hot it has been and how even the locals seem to be saying it’s hot.  We think it’s hotter than normal for July.  The bad news is July isn’t the hot month!  August and September are worse!

We both had been considering air conditioning for our boats but the cost to purchase a unit and the means to keep it running were challenges neither of us could manage.  I noticed that Suncast had a wind scoop on their forward hatch and I asked if it made much of a difference, YES, I was told.  “It’s a must have.”  They also had shade curtains around the cockpit which made for a pleasant evening as the sun was getting lower and beaming directly into the cockpit.  The curtains diffuse the sun, blocking 70-90% of the light while allowing you to still see through them.

We returned to our boat and within a couple of days had I had made shade curtains for the cockpit and sewn a wind scoop too.  All in lieu of air conditioning.

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When I returned to the Bahamas at the beginning of June I had brought shade fabric with me.  We’d been planning to add these side curtains for sometime and I jumped on a sale back home to get some material at a decent price.  To manage our sun exposure we’ve been “pining” the fabric around the cockpit using the kind of clips you keep open bags of potato chips sealed with.  In any kind of a breeze these clips would come shooting off with an alarming projection.  While I had also purchased UV thread back in Canada, I did not buy any other supplies for the project, we hadn’t made a firm plan on how the drapes would be attached or held out to the lifelines so I didn’t know what I needed.  Now we were desperate to get this project sorted and as always necessity helped move the planning along.

Ideally I wanted the drapes to be hung with zippers and I thought we could use the same attachment points that our plastic side curtains are hung from the bimini with.  Great idea, but when we went to town to the sewing and fabric store, they didn’t have any zippers that large.  We talked about adding snaps or grommets to the bimini and then tying the drapes on, but it seemed like not a perfect or elegant solution.  It would be time consuming every time you went to put them up or take them down.  Finally we decided to remove the zippers from the plastic side panels and reuse them on our shade panels.  It will be months before we need those plastic ones again and by then we’ll be back in the States and can buy new zippers.

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The fabric is really easy to use, you don’t need to hem it as it doesn’t fray and a lot of people go this route as it’s very easy.  I wanted a more finished look and so I hemmed all sides and attached the zippers at the top.  I pinned the zippers on and then zipped them up to make sure the zippers were correctly placed.  Volia!  Shade!

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As it turns out I didn’t buy enough fabric and we’ll need to purchase some more in the states.  We want to add a triangular piece to either side of each panel and some strapping to the bottom with clips that will wrap around the lifelines to hold the drapes out at an angle.  We’ll also be making a third panel that will hang across the back of the cockpit.  When you sail in an area with easterly trade winds, the sun is always setting off the stern!

The wind scoop was actually a more pressing matter.  We have shade tents for over the hatches, and they do a great job keeping the sun out.  unfortunately they also keep the breeze out too.  I’d read a few blogs about making the “perfect” wind scoop and had planned on making one based on the trial and errors of others.  I looked at nylon fabric back home, but decided it was too expensive and did not buy.  So here we were in the Abacos needing some inexpensive fabric to sew a wind scoop.  We decided if we could find a fabric shower liner, it would be perfect!  Tim went off to the hardware store and came back with a white shower curtain for $25.  Back in the States, we could have got this kind of thing for $10, but we thought $25 was a deal for the location we were in.

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We decided against trying to sew the luxury 4 way wind scoop for now.  (If the wind shifts or your at the dock and the wind is not directly on the bow, you don’t have to readjust the scoop to match the wind direction.). Eventually we’ll probably make one of these, but first we’ll see how long the shower curtain fabric lasts in the sun before investing more time and money in a more complicated design.

We looked at a couple of simple designs on line and blended two together for ours.

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Our first attempt had the scoop coming down into the salon and tied off in a few spots to keep it in place.  After living with this for a week, we decided to alter it and have it wrap around the hatch with a bungie cord to hold it in place.  This decision was based on seeing various scoops on other boats that had this kind of set-up.  We’ll see how it holds up, but for now, there is a breeze in the salon which is greatly appreciated by all the crew.
 

 

Night Passage

We FINALLY did an overnight passage. I’ve been avoiding this for a long, long time.

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In the end, I really almost had no choice.  While there were ways and means of getting from Nassau to the Abacos without an overnighter, I saw the trip as an opportunity to finally get this “first” out of the way.  We figured it was an 18-22 hour run and since it was late June, the nights were as short as they were ever going to get, less time sailing in the dark!  Weather was also in our favour, we had easterly winds forecasted for 10-15 knots, seas less than 3’ and a half moon with mostly clear skies.  It wasn’t going to get any better than this.

We spent three days watching this perfect weather window approach, discussed it daily and made the boat ready in case we decided to go.  Saturday morning came and with the good weather confirmed, we completed our chores, hauled anchor at 13:30, raised the sails and within 15 minutes were under full sail doing over 5 knots towards the Abacos.  I could not believe I was doing this.  On the one hand I was confident in the decision to go and on the other, I really didn’t know how I’d like being on deck in the middle of the night by myself.

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Within 45 minutes of departure, the wind kicked up from 14 to 17 knots and shifted as we pulled away from New Providence Island.  We had to make a slight course alteration to keep the crew comfortable and hoped the previously predicted, veering winds would arrive later in the trip.  We now had speed over ground around 6 knots.  Sweet.

We read, napped and had a pretty laid back afternoon.  We watched cruise ships and freighters pass, both with our eyes and watching their track on radar.  Only one cruise ship came close and it was during daylight hours, so we didn’t freak out.

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Cruise Ship in the distance, are we on a collision course?

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We can see the ship on our radar and it looks like they will pass in front of us, just…

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They passed about a mile and a half in front.

As the sun was starting to lower we put one reef in the main, just as a precaution, and left the Genny out full, knowing  it could be reefed later from the cockpit if necessary.  Tim had prepared a pasta meal before we left the anchorage so it only required heating up.  We ate in the fading light of the setting sun and planed our watches for overnight.  I picked the second watch and headed to bed at 21:00 so I could hopefully get three hours sleep before my midnight watch.

In order for the other person to have any hope of getting a good rest we have certain rules for being alone in the cockpit at night.  1) You must wear your lifejacket and harness.  Ours are one in the same and we are always clipped into the cockpit when alone in rough weather or at night.  2) If you need to so much as put a pinkie outside the cockpit, you wake the other person.  I’d rather be woken and drag myself into the cockpit in the middle of my off watch than find out hours later something untoward had happened on deck while I was sleeping… 3) You clip into the jack-lines on deck even if the seas are calm flat.  I fell off the swim platform once, at anchor, in flat water so anything is possible and as it would be very difficult to find a person in the water in the dark if they were to slip off, we’re better safe than sorry.

We were headed into the wind (close hauled) and the boat was bouncing in the 2-3 foot waves, so it was a bit rocky.  We’d set up the lee cloth in the salon, but I choose to try the aft cabin as Tim thought there would be more air back there.  There was a great breeze, but the motion back there kept me from getting any sound zzzzz’s.

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Poppy was a trooper on the trip and went down below with me after the sun set.

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Our sea berth in the salon.

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Our position at 20:02.  If the veering winds kick in we will be able to stay on our same tack and miss hitting the southern tip of Abaco.

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Another lovely sunset. They never get boring.

At midnight my alarm went off and I headed onto the deck.  Tim was ready with his end of watch briefing.  There was a ship in the distance far behind us, looked like approx. 16 miles away on the radar and not heading in our direction.  The flashing light to the port side was in fact on shore, it was the Hole in the Wall lighthouse, we’d already made it to the south end of the island!  Just before Tim went down to bed, I noticed another “ship” on the horizon, I looked for it on the radar and could not find it.  Five minutes later, I realized the bright light on the horizon was the rising moon!

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It’s hard to take a good picture of a rising moon on a moving sailboat with an iPhone…

My three hours on deck flew by.  I scanned the horizon every ten minutes.  Checked our chart plotter every 30 minutes.  Wrote our position, speed and other navigational details in the cockpit notebook every hour. In between tasks I listened to podcasts to keep me entertained.  While I can’t say I loved being alone on deck, I really didn’t mind it.

I tried to give Tim four hours before calling him back on deck, but my sleep had been so poor, I caved at 03:15 and went below to wake him.

After updating him on our position and estimated time of arrival, I decided to try the salon berth.  I turned out to be way more comfortable than the aft cabin but also way more noisy and pretty hot.  Still, I slept.  Tim woke me at 06:30 as we approached our waypoint, it was time to drop the sails and head into the harbour!  Less than an hour later and we were settled at anchor.  Tim was in Little Harbour, Abaco with his parents 28 years ago on their sailboat and was excited to explore and see if he recognized anything from that trip.

From the beginning, Tim’s philosophy has been, if I have good sailing experiences, I will become more confident and want to do more challenging things.  This overnight passage was planned with that in mind and was a huge success.

After tidying up the boat, we headed ashore to the famous Pete’s Pub and celebrated with a Goombay Punch (or two).

 

Searching for Internet

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View from my picnic table where I spent a day working.

Lately we’ve had some rolly nights at anchor and were both starting to suffer from a lack of sleep. The wind was not from its usual, easterly direction and the unusual direction was creating swells that made most anchorages near us rolly. On top of this, the cell tower at Staniel Cay was having problems which lead to loss of Internet and phone service. Normally I don’t mind being cut off from the world for a couple of days, but since I am still finishing up the contract I went home for, not having internet was a problem. The service was out for a whole day and while a bit stressful, overall not the end of the world. But then it dropped out twice more for 20 mins or so over the next couple of days and then on Thursday morning was down when I woke up at 6:30 am and still not functioning at 9 am. This is a bad situation when you are trying to prove you can easily do your job, just as well, from a boat as from an office. We decided if we left now, we could travel the 40 nm north to the next cell tower before dark. It’s 40 nm to the next tower because you have to pass the Exuma Land and Sea park which is almost 30 nm long and has absolutely no cell service. With an intermittent and  weak cell link I was able to text my office and tell them our plans.

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Nurse Sharks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club waiting for fish scraps as the fishermen cleaned their catch.

Because the wind had been pretty light and out of the south and southwest for the last few days, we were able to head out of Rock Cut and into the Exuma Sound for our trip north. The sound can be a bit rough as it’s exposed to the ocean and the easterly trades and often the bank side is a more comfortable ride. As we were headed for Highbourne Cay, travelling the Sound was going to cut about two hours off our trip while also allowing us to avoid the numerous sand bars and shallows of the bank side of the Exumas. Six hours later I had two bars and a 3G signal! While we were still two hours from dropping the anchor, I started working and catching up on the day.

As we entered the Highbourne Cay Cut, I went on deck to help get the anchor set and secure us for the night. As it turned out, this new anchorage did not save us from the rolls and swells, but at least I had 3G. Within 30 minutes of setting the anchor, the dark skies that had skirted us all day had finally arrived over head and the wind kicked up. Twenty knots, 24, 29, 30 and holding at 34, gusting to 40 knots. The anchorage was open to the direction of the storm wind and the waves went from nothing to 3 feet in a matter of minutes. Over the last 10 months we’ve gotten pretty good at setting out anchor. We ALWAYS back down HARD once it’s set and rev the engine to test the holding. Our anchor was holding in the wind and wave but as a precaution we started the engine and began watching our location on the chart plotter, so if we started to drag we could act quickly. Anytime the wind starts to pick up like this and we can see a storm coming we start going through a check list… Engine on, horn close at hand to warn other boats, chart plotter with tracking on, someone in the cockpit at all times keeping watch and fenders ready to fend off approaching boats if necessary…

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This was a flat calm anchorage just minutes ago…

The Catamaran anchored next to us started to drag almost immediately. Thankfully the crew was on deck and responded fast. They were fighting the wind trying to keep control of their boat and passed by us very, very close. By the time the storm ended 40 minutes later we’d lost track of them. I don’t know where they anchored that night. We decided although it wasn’t the greatest anchorage, our anchor had held and was set well, we’d stay the night. If another storm came up, we’d feel confident in our holding.

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The Cat circling the harbour with their anchor still dragging as seen out our Port window.

In the morning, after no further storms, but another uncomfortable night, , I started looking at nearby options. Allen’s Cay was only 5 nm north and looked like it would be better protected. Since I had an hour before my first phone call of the day, we decided to move the boat. Tim wasn’t overly happy as it was just 7 am and he’d only had one cup of coffee.

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Iguanas on Allen’s Cay

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We motored over to the new anchorage, found a perfect spot between two boats already anchored and were happy with our bettered situation. I still had great 3G and was easily able to work out the day. Weather reports were suggesting we might not be able to get to Nassau the next day (Saturday) as planned and we started to think it was us and the iguanas (Allen Cay is famous for its rare species of iguanas) for the rest of the week while we waited out the next round of incoming weather. Over the course of the day another 5 or 6 boats joined us the bay and we knew we made the right choice to make the move early in the day as we had.

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This water is about 12 feet deep, so clear you can see the anchor chain lying in the sand.

Flame spurts, lighting sand and rodents of unusual size…

Our crossing last Saturday from Allen’s Cay to Nassau reminded me of the fire swamp scene from the Princess Bride.  Instead of flame spurts, lighting sand and R.O.U.S., our dangers were to be confused 4 foot seas, coral heads and water spouts.  Just like Wesley and Princess Buttercup, once you know what the danger is, you can avoid it or at least manage it.

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Our anchorage at Allen’s Cay.

Saturday morning came, 5 am, and we started to check weather sources to see if a crossing to Nassau was in the cards.  We wanted to get an early start as it seemed most storms of late were developing in the afternoons and we wanted to be tied up in port before the squalls of the day hit.  The National Weather Service, out of the US, made it seem like a reasonable weather window, so did Wind Finder (who we find to be pretty accurate most of the time) and now we were just waiting for confirmation from Chris Parker at 6:30 am on the Single Side Band Radio.  At this time, we are not subscribers, which means we can listen to his broadcast, but can’t call in for more details or advice about our travel plans.  Most often this is just fine, but there are days we wish we could.  Out boat came with a full SSB setup (a $4,000 value at least), but if it had not, we would have purchased a receive  only just for the purpose of listening to the morning weather (the receive only units cost about $130).

While we waited for the morning broadcast we used the time to make sure the boat was ready to go as soon as we had the all clear. Chris gave a weather report that sat just fine with our crew and at 7:01 we started the engine and prepared to haul the anchor.  We were followed out of the harbour by another boat which always gives me confidence in our decision.  We’d never leave just because someone else was leaving, but if another boat independently choses the same weather winder, we feel slightly better.

As soon as we cleared the entrance the seas were VERY confused and bigger than we’d hoped for (but no bigger than Chris forecast) and we  knew the weather pattern for the day was for wind to drop and seas to flatten, so we pushed on knowing it was only going to get better.  The confusing seas lasted about 2 – 2  1/2 hours before we started to notice a difference and our stomachs settled down.  Our first “fire swamp” test and we passed.

By 10 am the seas were way down and we were approaching the Yellow Bank, an area riddled with potentially shallow coral heads – our second “fire swamp” test.  We’d planned our crossing of the Yellow banks perfectly.  The sun was rising and behind us, so with Tim forward of the mast, he could easily see coal heads as we approached and direct me to navigate around them.  We were crossing about an hour or two after high tide and therefore we had some extra water under the keel to make it less stressful.   Plotting a  course to cross at the narrowest section, so the dodging of heads wouldn’t last too long, was another part of our successful Yellow Bank strategy.

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Black water is a coral head – we don’t take any chances and will divert around them.

As we left the Yellow Bank behind us, we started to relax, we were only 8-10 nm from Palm Cay Marina where we planned to spend a few days, another two hours before we were safely tied up in a slip with shower, laundry and a tiki bar close at hand.

Then Tim picked up the binoculars and started looking closely at the storms which had been skirting us for the last little while… What’s that hanging down under the cloud??

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Storm clouds on our port stern.

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A closer look – WATERSPOUTS!

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On our Starboard side, more clouds and more waterspouts.

Back on Lake Ontario, we often had warning of waterspouts on the lake in summer storms, but we’d never seen them before.  A waterspout is a tornado that is formed over water and some can be just as dangerous as a tornado. The best way to avoid them (so says my internet research) is to move at a ninety degree angle to their apparent movement.  We felt a bit helpless out there and since they didn’t seem to be getting closer to us, we stayed our course and kept heading for the marina on the south side of New Providence Island.

We made it safely into the marina and got ourselves tied up and comfortable in our slip.  I then made my way to the office to check in.

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Another spout, as seen from Palm Cay marina, this one much closer.

The sky was now getting very dark and larger water spouts were appearing in the not too distant skies.

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Boats start to head into the marina quickly.

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You can easily see the disturbance at the water level – I was happy to be a spectator on land.

Our third test of the day and we’d survived!  In reality we were just fortunate to have not been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was no drama on this crossing as we had done our homework.  We knew the weather and seas that were forecasted and planned for it.  We knew how to make the best crossing of the Yellow Bank and knew that if we wanted to avoid any storms we needed to get in early.  Check, check and check.

We’ll be staying in the marina while Tim replaces the fuel pump on our Perkins 4-108, just in case the services of a diesel mechanic are required.  I’ll be washing the boat, doing laundry and making use of the free courtesy car to do some American style grocery shopping.

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Poppy was very happy to have the day behind her and easy shore access for a few days.

On a side note, when Poppy came to live with us 7 years ago, we almost called her Buttercup (after Princess Buttercup), but couldn’t really picture ourselves yelling that in a park situation.  😉