Friday, November 29, 2013

November 28. 2013.

While we were sitting at Big Majors Spot we listened to the VHF as a drama unfolded. It was late in the afternoon as listened to a conversation about a boat that had run aground 17 miles to our northwest.

We could hear both sides as BASRA ( Bahamas Air Sea Rescue ) spoke with a US Coast Guard helicopter. The boat was reported to be a “Haitian sailing freighter”, about a forty footer. It was blowing 30 knots and at first it seemed to be a simple grounding. It soon became obvious that the boat was destined to end up as another of many shipwrecks that dot these beautiful waters.

The only local Bahamanian boat was way to small to handle the rescue as the “sailing Freighter” had over a hundred people aboard. Thats right, over a hundred people on a forty footer.  The Coast Guard chopper plucked close to a dozen people off the boat before darkness set in and delivered them to Staniel Cay. They also dropped food, fresh water and multiple liferafts down to the stricken vessel.

By the time dawn broke the freighter had capsized. People were clinging to the hull, floating away in rafts and swimming in the water. A 108 foot Bahamian cutter arrived at the scene and continued the rescue process. The US Coast Guard had both a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft on station guiding the Bahamians rescue boats where they were needed.

More than a hundred people were rescued in very trying conditions while more than 30 didn't survive the ordeal. To listen as the US Coast Guard and the local authorities worked together was more than interesting. I Googled up an article about the wreck. You can see some pictures and read the official account here.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

November 23, 2013.

We're sitting here at Big Majors Spot waiting out 2 fairly serious cold fronts. One will bring gale force winds to the Abacos but we're far enough south that we shouldn't see anything more than 30 knots.

There’s 3 beaches along the west side of Big Majors. The southernmost is Pig Beach. The big attraction is the wild pigs that roam the beach looking for handouts. They're pretty good swimmers and will come right out to the dinghy as you approach.
Picture of the pigs shamelessly stolen from my friend Steve on Fine Lion

The northernmost beach is Honeymoon Beach. Its a stones throw from Fowl Cay.
You know a place is exclusive when they have their own rainbow....
The resort on Fowl Cay is a very pricey vacation resort with its own private beach and all the water toys you could want. Its not unusual to see couples in small Whalers head over to Honeymoon Beach for some privacy. I figure they crawled out of their cubicles long enough to get married and head to Fowl Cay on their honeymoon. They're usually snowflake white and , I dunno, awkward.

Then there’s the center beach. Bills Beach. No not me, some other guy. We were on this beach years ago and we helped some other cruisers pick up all the flotsom and pile it up and burn it. We burned the crap below the high water mark so that when the tide came in it removed any evidence that there was ever a fire there. It was pristine when we left. Every year when we come back through I've noticed a disturbing trend. Junk.

There are several places in the islands that once cruisers arrive they just kinda sit there. There’s so much time to kill if you're not traveling that they need an outlet for their energy and building things is a good way to burn that energy off.

Pipe Creek is a perfect example. There are several boats that make Pipe Creek the destination. Over the years they've collected the detritus of society that floats up on the windward beaches and fashioned the Pipe Creek Yacht Club.
Its a clever little building built from crap that was already there. Its a good place to have a happy hour and strikes me as being “clean”. It adds to the landscape.

Down in Georgetown there’s another example of this type of structure. As with the Pipe Creek Yacht Club it seems to make the place more picturesque.
Its a nice place to congregate and get out of the unrelenting sun.

Down on Hog Cay in the Jumentos there’s a place known as the structure. Its made completely of things found on the beaches. Its the only shade on the beach and a great gathering place no matter what time of day.

Bills Beach on Big Majors Spot is the exception. It looks like a hobo encampment. People have been bringing “improvements” from home and adding them to the beach. “Hey, I've got these deck chairs that are too shitty to have on my boat so I'll bring em” down and leave them on a formerly pristine beach so everybody can use them”.

“Thats great, I've got a barbecue grill that is such a rusted piece of shit I gotta get rid of it so I'll bring it to Bills Beach and abandon it there”.
“Hey look at all the amenities we have on our beach”. They bring crap they wouldn't have at home and leave it on a beach like they're doing something positive. The place looks like a run down trailer park.

One of the basic tenets of the Seven Seas Cruising Association is to leave a clean wake. These people are starting their own landfill....

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 20, 2013.

We arrived in Nassau right at dusk. When asking permission to enter Nassau Harbor they ask “What was your last port of call?”. If it was anywhere besides the Bahamas you have to go into a marina so Customs & Immigration can come and check you in. The issue was that we had arrived so late in the day that the marina was closed and it was getting dark. Unfamiliar concrete fixed docks and a solid current running through the marina made attempting to get in by ourselves an unattractive proposition. So we dropped the hook in the harbor and waited for morning.

After a well deserved night of sleep the Fine Lion's and we both hit the fuel dock at the Nassau Harbor Club around 0830. After fueling we were both tied up in our respective slips by 0930. The dockhand who handled our lines gave us our Customs & Immigration paperwork and told us that the woman from Immigration was already at the marina checking in another boat.

We filled out our paperwork quickly and Steve & I headed up to the marina sunporch to deal with the officials. And it couldn't have gone more splendidly. The woman from Immigration teased and joked with us and then gave us all 180 days. Eureka! The woman from Customs was quick, efficient, very pleasant and we were soon in the country with no drama. Wow, fueled up, tied up and through Customs & Immigration with 180 days in my pocket all before 1000. Things are going exceedingly well.

The next thing on our dance card is dealing with Batelco. Last year getting the phone and aircard for internet up and running involved a lengthy hike, a cab ride and some dumb luck. We had budgeted 4 hours for this years “adventure”. We heard that a new but very small Batelco office had opened at the strip mall right across the street from the marina. It was a glimmer of hope so we headed over.

Steve explained to Cameron what we were trying to do. There were aircards, SIM cards, cell phones and laptops involved but in 15 minutes viola, all Fine Lions shit was working like it should be. Steve actually sainted Cameron on the spot. I walked up to the counter and said “anybody can get lucky once, lets hold off the sainthood until the miracle is repeated” as I pushed our pile of technology at Cameron. 15 minutes later we were all good too. All hail Saint Cameron de Batelco.

Damn, its still not 1100 hours and we're running out of chores to do. We decided to walk across the parking lot to the new Fresh Market. We are stocked to the gills but another head of lettuce never hurt anyone. The building has always housed a decent grocery store but the Fresh Market is new. We walked in and were shocked. Christy hopes heaven resembles this place. It was like the best grocery store you've ever been in and a Whole Foods combined into one. An amazing selection of foods and more organic crap than we seen since leaving Annapolis. Of course it was also expensive as hell too.

After that we washed the boat and counted the minutes until tomorrows departure.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 19, 2013.

We finished last minute chores and provisioning for our trip offshore while in Vero Beach. We also attended a cruisers get together and had dinner with groups of friends while there. But as always, the weather rules.
The obligatory Vero mast climb.

On Sunday we headed down the ICW to North Lake Worth to stage for a possible crossing. The wind was to be light before completely disappearing for 2 days. We were expecting a long motor boat trip through flat seas. We motorsailed down the coast until we were abreast of Miami before turning east. This gave us a nice angle for crossing the stream to North Riding Rock. We never dropped below 5.5 knots and it might have been a boring crossing if not for the extracurricular goings on.

It was dark and we were just about at the middle of the Gulfstream when Fine Lion hailed us on the radio. They were about a half mile behind us and off to our starboard side. Steve was wondering if we knew what the flashing lights on the horizon were. He said they were in front, to his south side and behind him. At first we didn't see them and then he realized that the lights weren't actually out on the horizon but much closer to his boat than he thought.

When we looked back at his boat we could see dozens of green and red flashing lights all around his boat. He hit them with the spotlight and said that they were wrapped with reflective tape as well. I figured that it had to be drugs. Bales of weed dropped over the side of a mothership and floating north in the Gulfstream waiting to be picked up later. We talked about it for a little bit but we had a more pressing issue just off the bow.

I had a radar contact 4.5 miles off the bow. The issue was that there was nothing to be seen, no lights what-so-ever. It wasn't a drifting piece of debris as it just sat there in front of us in spite of the northward flow of the Gulfstream. We got to within a mile and a half of it before it slowly started making its way south to avoid us.

With the binoculars Christy was finally able to spot a large, blacked out boat steering a semi circle around us. I figure it had to be either the DEA watching to see who would be making the pickup or it was the bad guys waiting for us to finish stumbling through so they could make their pick up in private. Either way, I'm glad neither one of us felt the need to investigate the flashing floaters.
Dawn breaks over FAC (Flat Ass Calm) seas

Fine Lion anchored off Paradise Island

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 13, 2013.

On Monday we woke up with a short 30 mile day planned. The goal was Vero Beach where we always have such a great time seeing people and putting the final touches on the boat before crossing. We once again pulled the hook at first light and motored down the ICW.

It was a perfect morning until Granga, granga, grang....A HUGE vibration. I quickly chopped the throttle and slipped the transmission into neutral. The vibration was instantly gone. I ran the engine up to cruising RPM's and it was silky smooth. Good, its not the new engine.

We were in a section of the ICW that is cut through a very wide but shallow section of the Indian River. We pulled out the genoa and ghosted along at 2.3 knots. Once I was sure we were able to have steerage and stay in the narrow channel I went below to check out the rest of the drive train while Christy sailed along.

The shaft coupling was still intact and everything looked as it should. I reached in and grabbed the prop shaft and tried to turn the shaft by hand. Nope, couldn't do it. Thank God. That meant that there was a very good chance that we got a line wrapped around the prop. We tried a low RPM reverse to see if we could clear the obstruction by unwinding it. It was a long shot, but no luck.

We had to sail very slowly for about a mile until there was deep water adjacent to the channel where we could pull off and drop the hook. Once there we rounded up, furled the genny and dropped the hook in 8 feet of water.

I quickly donned my snorkeling gear and slipped over the transom. I found myself hyperventilating a bit before ducking under the surface. I was hoping for an old forgotten crab pot line wrapped around the prop. Visibility was only about 3 feet and I couldn't see anything until the silhouette of our shaft, skeg and prop materialized in the murk. It turned out to be a six foot long palm frond spine wedged between the shaft and skeg and wrapped into the folding prop. I cleared it quickly and checked that the prop still cycled easily and climbed back onto the boat. In 8 years I believe thats the first time I've ever had to clear something from the prop.

We had the engine running and the hook up 2 minutes after I climbed out of the water. We arrived before noon yesterday and today we sit on a mooring while a hoolie blows outside. And as far as “last one in the waters a rotten egg” goes, I've got that one covered. Its the rest of you I'm worried about......

November 11, 2013.

Last one to pull the hook has to sweep up the anchorage before they leave so we were up and underway before anyone today.
Honey, I swear it'll be up soon....
Technically before dawn.
Semi rare white Pelicans
We had excellent depths all day, the bridges all cooperated and we dropped the hook 71 miles later in Eau Gallie.
Either tide is REALLY high or somebodies run over Red # 20

Along the way we passed numerous sailboats in their death throes. A half dozen anchor lines, sails and canvas missing or in taters pretty much signals the death of a dream to me. Its sad to see but more common as you get to warmer climes.
Along the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

As we were passing Titusville we overheard conversation between boats 6 miles behind us. Because Wednesdays weather was looking so grim they were opting to stop in Titusville, sit out Tuesday and ride out Wednesday and Thursdays weather on a mooring there.

Christy and I both looked at each other when we heard the “plan”. With big winds from the north, Titusville would not be an option. Titusville is at the southern end of a 4 mile wide spot in the Indian River. About a mile north of the mooring field a train track bisects the river.
No wind break for several miles and about a mile of fetch to the train tracks doesn't sound like a good time to me. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I'm betting “craptastic”.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 10, 2013.

After spending 7 nights in Factory Creek we decided that we should try the $10 steak night at the Filling Station. We walked in and imagine our surprise when we found Kathy & Mike from Sapphire seated at a table. They've decided to spend the winter in Charleston this year and I thought we wouldn't get to see them this year. I never considered the fact that they have a CAR and they can travel at speeds in excess of 60 knots per HOUR. It was great to see them and it sucked saying goodnight.

The next morning we were up and underway for Florida. Along with the Fine Lions we decided to skip Georgia and dive down the coast of Florida to Fort Pierce. The following seas were still uncomfortable after the last few days of huge wind from the north. The wind was close enough behind us that it was usable but not the greatest point of sail. We sailed for about 13 hours before the wind veered enough that we couldn't keep the sail full. We were in danger of exploding the headsail so we had to start the engine and motor.

When dawn broke we were south of Jacksonville, FL. We weren't able to feed Tucker yesterday or today because it was just too rough to get him on deck to do his business. I also had an issue. Being a Flexitarian I don't really eat a whole lot of meat. Ever since we walked out of the Filling Station I had been in bowelular distress. I hadn't had a big juicy, dripping piece of steak in so long I think my body was doing its best to reject it. Thats right, the shits at sea. I'd rather have faced a Kracken in a hoolie at night with a plastic spoon.
Tucker and I are both old so we had to change plans. We hailed Fine Lion, told them we were diverting, wished them luck and turned for Saint Augustine.

The ocean didn't want to let us go. Five miles after altering course we hit something big enough to make the entire boat to shudder. We were in 70 feet of water so it might have been a log, a large sea turtle, a basking Shark, Right Whale or God knows what. We never saw anything before during or afterwards. Ten miles out of the inlet the Jacksonville Coast Guard had a Notice to Mariners. It was to inform everyone that a sailboat was breaking up in the Saint Augustine inlet and there might be a debris field. Great, just great.

When we could see the inlet the remains of a sailboat was the least of my worries. The tug Sega was towing a dredge barge out the inlet. The inlet basically runs east and west with a dogleg in it. The wind was from the north with 5 footers rolling across the inlet. The tug and barge were crabbing their way out the inlet at 1.8 knots while we were getting swept in at 9 knots. The tug was all the way to the red side of the channel. The towing cables to the barge were taking up most of the inlet and then the barge which is the size of a football field was coming sideways down the green side. Ugh. We were already committed so I arranged a port to port pass with the tug but it was a little nerve racking to cross his bow within a hundred yards at the dogleg. Once across his bow we turned tight against the red side and slid past the whole lumbering clusterf@#k. We never did see any sailboat debris.

Once the ocean was done being mean to us the ICW decided to be our friend. We wanted to push on to get south of Mosquito Lagoon before this weeks big blow comes through. So we'd have to cover some ICW miles today. We went through the 1100 opening of the Bridge of Lions. I decided to gamble a bit. Daytona was 50 miles away and we had 6 ½ hours before sunset. For the first 20 miles there’s plenty of places to anchor, for the next 30 miles there’s pretty much nothing. So it was Daytona or bust.

We rode the flood tide at over 8 knots for 2 hours just watching the miles click off. We never fell below 7 knots for the rest of the day. The three lift bridges we encountered were all on request due to it being Sunday. We dropped the hook in Daytona at mile marker 831 just off the ICW at sunset.

The ocean was mean to us, the ICW was our friend and between the 2 of them we knocked off 300 miles off the ICW.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 5, 2013.

We're still here sitting in Factory Creek awaiting a weather window. Thursday looks to be acceptable but after a few days of 30 knots from the east we'll give the ocean some time to mellow out. The wind has been strong all along the lower eastern seaboard resulting in some nasty inlet conditions.
The seas might be good enough for us to go but its the arrival at an inlet with crappy conditions that is our biggest concern. Saturday looks to be the start of a lovely multi-day window.

Last night we had a dinner gathering out on the Veranda. It was cold and drizzling outside but down in the salon of the Veranda things were quite nice. Steve and Kim from Fine Lion joined us for dinner along with Steve from Living Well. It was warm and dry inside, the food was terrific and laughter was the norm.

Coincidentally Starfish 9 and Puddlejumper both called during the evening so it was nice to semi catch up with them. Then Shenanigans and Alpha Mike 1 swung by to remind us that they were also in the area and headed south. One boat we were hoping to see but missed was Oscar Kilo. Thats the bad part about traveling by boat but I’m sure we'll cross wakes somewhere in the future.

Veranda, standing by and looking out the window.....

Monday, November 4, 2013

Basking in Beaufort, SC

November 2, 2013.

When you arrive in Beaufort, SC by boat there is a choice to be made. The problem is most people don't realize that there is a choice. You can go through the Ladies Island Swing Bridge and anchor just past the town or you can stay in the City Marina. The plus side to either of these choices is that you're right down town so the shops and pubs are only a moment from your boat.

One of the negatives with this choice is that when the wind blows there are a lot of other boats around and not everyone knows what they're doing when it comes to dropping the hook. My opinion might be a bit biased because we had a mental midget on an Island Packet drag into us here years ago when his paper clip anchor let go. He was very upset that his bow light broke when his boat raked down our starboard side and ripped our lifelines off. Yes, I wished evil upon him. There’s also the fact that anyplace you might want to provision at is quite a good distance away.

You know its a bargain if you catch the Veranda tied up there.
The other not so obvious choice is to turn into Factory Creek before going through the bridge. Factory Creek has no factories and is quite nice. You approach close to the bridge and turn to port giving the creeks Green #1 a wide berth and head up the creek. After you pass the Ladies Island Marina you can anchor right in the center of the creek for the next half mile or more. Or if a marina slip fits your needs you can stop at the Ladies Island Marina. The people there are awesome and the marina is clean and a bargain. 

According to one of the popular waterway guides the Ladies Island Marina is one of only six marinas on the east coast that only charge a dollar per foot. They have laundry
Clean, private showers are located off the laundry room.
and showers, Steve, Gloria and Will go out of their way to make sure your stay is perfect. They want your business next year so they do everything they can to make you want to come back. It's a nice business model.

They have lender bicycles, floating docks and shop space you can use if you have projects to knock out. There was a guy there with his dink in the shop sewing up some new chaps for his dinghy. It's a short walk or bike ride to a Publix grocery store, a hardware store, drug stores, bakery, fabulous liquor store and food. You can splash your dink and still be downtown after a 5 minute dinghy ride. Christy wanted to groom Tucker so Steve produced a folding table that was just the right height and she had her grooming salon open in no time.
Tucker gets the spa treatment

Steve told us about a place nearby that serves terrific food at a ridiculous price. We were on the fence about going when he insisted we accompany he and Gloria to The Filling Station for dinner. Later that evening Steve and Kim from the Fine Lion rounded out our group as the 6 of us made the very short walk to the nearby pub.

From the curb The Filling Station doesn't seem like someplace you'd stop for dinner. It looks more like a good place to drink some tequila and maybe score some crystal meth. Once inside though its a nice little bar complete with pool table and Southern Rock playing on the juke box. We walked straight through the bar and out onto the back deck. Wow, what a view. Off to one side is an outdoor barbecue based kitchen. There a small window in the side of the bar where you order your drinks.

We picked a table and settled in to decide what to order. Actually, I kid. You see, it was Thursday. Three nights a week there is only one choice on the menu. Wednesday is hot dogs and hamburgers, thats the choice. When you order, you get a hot dog AND a hamburger plus beans and another side. It turned out that Thursday was pork chop night. So I guess we're having pork chops.

Steve was telling us that the food was great and there would be plenty of it. He wasn't kidding. You have to walk over to the food area and tell them how many dinners you want. When it was ready the cook brought our food to the table and it was bizarre. The plates were cartoonishly large and covered with food. The pork chop was as big as my head. This pig must have been gargantuan. There was a heaping side of sliced potatoes in a cream sauce that I'm sure wasn't “heart healthy”, a couple of tablespoons of corn and a pile of grilled green beans. All 6 of us were still making jokes about the amount of food in front of us when the cook brought over a seventh plate. Evidently “pork chop night” entitles everyone to 2 pork chops. Since our plates were already overflowing with food she had a separate plate with another 6 pork chops for the table.

The price of this meal? Five dollars. No kidding. McDonalds costs more than that. Five freaking dollars for 2 giant pork chops and all the sides. Thirty dollars for dinner for 6. Drink prices were good too.

The most expensive night of the week is Friday. Its T-bone steak night on Friday and 10 dollars will get you a huge T-bone and all the sides that would satisfy Fred Flintstones carnivorous needs. Between the dollar per foot slip fee and the dinners at The Filling Station visiting Factory Creek can be pretty friendly to your wallet. And if you want to catch your own dinner bring a cast net and grab some shrimp from beneath the floating docks right there in the marina.
Tell them the Verandas sent you.....They'll probably let you stay anyways

Friday, November 1, 2013

November 1, 2013.

Who thought this was a good look for a cruise ship?  Looks kinda dopey to me...

The waterfront in Charleston is always beautiful.
David Geffen has the tenth largest private yacht in the world at just over 450 feet.  Here she is tied up at the Mega Dock in Chucktown.
I had to steal this picture from Steve on Fine Lion.  When you look at the size of the people on the swim deck, compare it to the size of the boat in the previous picture.  David Geffen's got a big damn boat.

Some people just have a different view of what a boat should look like.

October 31, 2013.

Probably the biggest benefit when traveling by boat is all the different people that you meet. The negative is the near misses in connecting with friends as you move through an area. The weather makes all of our travel decisions for us. Too cold, we flee south. Pleasant day with a fresh breeze from a good direction, sorry, we've got to be going.  You can't afford to leave those opportunities on the table.

We arrived at our friends Ken and Carols house in Oriental on Sunday afternoon. We have a short list of chores to take care of and a social schedule that we need to maximize. After tying up and dining with our hosts I checked the weather on the internet. We thought we would have a few days in Oriental but a window was going to open on Tuesday to go offshore. This forecast sentenced us to a very busy Monday.  A tiny book lending library in Oriental

I did the 50 hour service on the engine including it first oil change and then serviced the V-drive and transmission. Ken drove me out to Betas east coast headquarters where I bought a few spare oil filters and toured the facility. Once back at the boat I tuned the rig and serviced the watermaker. Christy did several loads of laundry and put a coat of oil on all our exterior teak and topped off the water tank. Then we drove down to the marine consignment shop to do some shopping.  And then there was a spontaneous cruisers potluck for 22 people at the home of a friend.

On Tuesday we left at 0700 and headed towards the inlet in Beaufort.  Pirates or not it was time to go.
After a quick stop for fuel we headed out onto a glassy sea. The forecast wasn't great for a sailboat but an extended period of strong breeze from the southwest was due to settle into the area the day after tomorrow.
So we jumped out and settled in for a 30 hour motor to Charleston.

The seas were flat and the trip would have been boring except there was to be entertainment. We ran straight through a naval training exercise.
It was fun to listen to “coalition” warships stop and board freighters at sea. We heard other boats being routed around the exercise but nobody said a word to us as we plodded straight through the middle of games. I'm glad that all the time I spent installing the new cloaking device wasn't a waste of time.

In Chucktown we usually anchor in the Ashley River across from the Mega Dock. Our friends on Ata Marie were in a slip on the other side of town so we decided to try dropping the hook in the Cooper River.

The nice thing about anchoring in the Cooper was the view of the bridge and the Yorktown. Dinner with the Ata Maries wasn't too shabby either. It was nice to catch up with them, next time we see them we should be down island.