Bahama Bound

Mary and I are busily wrapping up loose ends today, getting everything ready for our trip across the gulf stream tomorrow. Loose ends mean laundry, propane, fill the gas cans and put away everything aboard that may move around underway. Tomorrow we will haul the dinghy and clean the bottom.

We are 140 nautical miles south and west of Bimini and our trip should take approximately 20 hours. Departure will be around 1300 and we will sail overnight, arriving sometime midmorning on Tuesday.

Our stay in Marathon has been a delight as always. We arrived on the 13th of December and that weekend our friends from Rockford, Illinois arrived. The first week involved reacquainting ourselves with many of our friends here in the harbor. It was good to be back in familiar surroundings.

Shortly before Christmas I returned to Wisconsin for a quarterly checkup. I got the green light to go to the Bahamas. What a relief! I had a chance to spend some time with friends and even got some snow to remind me why I moved south.

I arrived back on the boat shortly before Christmas. We decorated our wreath and on Christmas we celebrated with fellow cruiser’s with a potluck dinner at Dockside Bar and Grill.

The holidays are no time to have work done on the boat so we delayed having the boat hauled until after New Years. Earlier I had retrieved a large piece of plastic that was wrapped around the prop.

Little wonder why the boat had been shaking so bad. The boat was hauled after the first and it was not surprising that there was more damage. The cutlass bearing was deformed, the dripless shaft seal was badly worn and the strut had cracked loose from the hull. Best case we had hoped that the we would change back to the old stuffing box after repacking and be back in the water that afternoon. We had the yard crew at Marathon Marina replace the cutlass bearing and re-bed the strut. Two and half days later we were headed back to our mooring.

The following weeks were filled with trips, flea markets, package deliveries, Bahamas paperwork and lots of visits with friends. It’s hard to say goodbye but adventure calls. Cruisers get good at goodbyes.

Fair winds, we’ll see you on the other side.

The Final Leg to Marathon

As darkness spreads over Boot Key Harbor and the wind begins to die, we settle in for another night on the water. Hooked up to our mooring the routine becomes a little less stressful; for a while anyway. The trip to this point had been anything but stress free.

Thanksgiving in Vero Beach was quite the event. Wonderful food surrounded by great friends is reason for anyone to express gratitude. Out on the water, especially in transit, you miss direct contact with people, especially friends. This opportunity and our stay in Vero Beach gave us a chance to recompress a bit. We had an opportunity to meet some new folks as well as catch up with old friends we haven’t seen in over a year or more. There was even a chance to play a little poker!

Louise and Chris from “No Keys” came to visit and we had a great time driving around in a real “car” and enjoying sights we don’t normally see by boat.

Cruisers affectionately know Vero Beach as “Velcro Beach”. You can get “stuck” there. We broke that bond on December 7th. Weather outside in the ocean continued to be rough. It seems that the east wind has been blowing hard for weeks if not a month or more. This pushes the Gulf Stream close to the Florida coast and makes for bigger waves. Our choice was to continue south to Lake Worth at Palm Beach and then venture off shore to Miami.

The homes as seen from the ICW are pretty spectacular but once you get to Jupiter they go up exponentially. You pass Greg Norman’s “house” and shortly past Tiger’s (or was Tiger’s). The yachts docked along the way are also pretty impressive.

After anchoring for the night in south Lake Worth we rose early for our outside trip to Miami. Weather forecasts gave no hint to the actual conditions. As our boat crashed its way through the swells we wondered if we had made a good decision. A half mile out we turned to parallel the coats with the waves on the beam. The boat heaved from one side to the other and then back again. This was not to be a good ride. We chose to abort and return to Lake Worth. As we did, a 100’+ mega yacht also opted to return. You don’t feel so bad “chickening” out when the big boys join you.

Once inside we are faced with the unpleasant option of an inside trek in the ditch facing a total of 21 bridge openings. This stretch to Ft. Lauderdale is extremely developed and the boat traffic can be tenable at best. With little choice, we headed for bridge number one.

Traffic was light but the weather sucked. It rained off and on all day. Even with the rain the sights were pretty impressive. The houses and the boats docked outside just kept getting better. We chose to stay in a marina in Pompano Beach and so to take advantage of some shore leave. This means cocktails and food prepared by someone else. The outside bar at the Sands Marina and Hotel serves up some of the best wings we’ve ever tasted. Four thumbs up!

We finished up our trip to Fort Lauderdale the next day and the quality of housing and yachts went up several more notches. We were now waiting for bridge openings with 200’ mega yachts worth many millions. In Ft. Lauderdale we learned that money has the right of way. As the last bridge slowly receded we turned to port and headed out to sea. A short 25-mile trip to Miami was ahead.

The winds blew a steady 15 to 20 from the east (where else) and we were actually enjoying a real sail. Many fishermen were out as the sailfish were biting. It’s their custom to set their lines and let the boats drift. Intent on watching the lines they don’t pay much attention to boat traffic. We kept adjusting our course to avoid one small boat but it kept drifting into our path. I figured we had plenty of room but had failed to notice their kite. The kites are used as outriggers and I snagged theirs. Since they don’t use VHF radios, much gesturing and yelling ensued. Mary started the engine and let the sail luff as we turned back towards them. They frantically reeled or let their lines spool as we maneuvered trying to free the kite. After some artful maneuvers we were able to free ourselves and continue on our way. I don’t think they shared in my humor of the whole event.

Later that afternoon we slipped into Government Cut and proceeded to our anchorage at Marine Stadium so of Miami.

The forecast looked bad with east winds increasing to 25 knots and above. This forecast extended for a week. It looked like we would need a place to stay in Miami. I have a doctor’s appointment in Madison on the 20th of December and plane reservations have already been made. On the plus side the plane leaves from Miami, on the negative side there are no inexpensive places to stay.

We agonized for a day before making the decision to at least try to make it out Cape Florida Channel and hopefully Hawk Channel inside the reef would be better. Small craft warnings were out and forecast seas of up to seven feet awaited us. Fortunately for us, none of this materialized. Winds were light and we had a delightful trip to Rodriguez Key near Key Largo. Rodriguez Key has no protection from the east but there was little wind as we anchored. A squall blew through after 2100 and the wind shifted to the north. Now protected by the island we slept comfortably the remainder of the night.

At dawn the race began as five boats left heading west to Marathon. You are never sure whether there are enough moorings for everyone (this time of year there always is) so you want to be first in. Light winds turned to brisk as the day wore on. By 1200 it was blowing about 25 knots from the stern. With the headsail out we surfed along in the waves at a steady 7 1/2 knots.

About an hour out of Marathon we both felt the boat shudder. The vibration could be felt underfoot but there were no lobster pots trailing us and the speed stayed up, we sailed on. As we took our mooring assignment in Boot Key Harbor the wind was now gusting over 30 knots. Picking up the mooring line became difficult especially since the vibration now was very bad. The third try was the charm and we were secured to the mooring. I immediately went below to check things out. No water was in the bilge, which is always a good thing. The dripless shaft seal, a replacement of the traditional stuffing box, appeared to be in the process of disintegrating. It looked like it had overheated. A total failure generally means a LOT of water comes in the boat and you better be confident in your bilge pumps. Once again we were unfortunate to have something break but extremely fortunate to have it break where it did and when it did.

The boat will be hauled out for inspection after I return from Wisconsin. Until then we won’t know the full nature of the damage or what caused it. In the mean time we plan on relaxing with friends and enjoying our southernmost “home”.

Charleston to Vero Beach

The “trips to get there” are getting repetitious. I apologize for the infrequent posts but there just hasn’t been anything “new”.

Weather turned ugly after we anchored in Whiteside Creek, in the ICW about four hours from Charleston so we decided to head into the marina at Isle of Palms. While the weather didn’t get as bad as we expected, we did enjoy a great meal and happy hour at the restaurant there. The appetizers were unbelievable.

After sleeping late, (Ben Sawyer bridge is closed until 0900) we left and timed our arrival for the 1000 opening. As we approached there was a small cruise ship crosswise in the channel. A call to the bridge tender explained everything. She had locked herself out of the bridge house. Luckily she had her radio. Keys were being driven over from who knows where. This bridge tender is a real piece of work. Her exploits are legendary. She has plenty of attitude and has been known to not open for someone she feels has disrespected her and has inadvertently closed on others. The fire department showed up but couldn’t break in. I don’t think they tried very hard. Finally the house was unlocked and we got our opening at 1115. We were followed closely by our cruise ship friend.

We had our quickest stay in Charleston, ever. We love Charleston but when weather says go, you go. Our original intention had been two nights out and go inside at Port Canaveral but things don’t often work out as you plan. The trip from Charleston was uneventful and the conditions were tolerable especially since we had an almost full moon. As we approached Fernandina Beach we decided to go in. Cumberland Island is always a great stop and we used Goliath’s need for some beach time as an excuse.

He was a very happy puppy.

Kings Bay Submarine Base is not far from Cumberland and as we left the anchorage we saw we were to encounter our first submarine, “up close”. The Coast Guard informed me to stay away and not point my bow at the sub. I chose to cross the channel and stay clear where I felt I had more room. The Coasties weren’t sure what I was doing so they rushed over to us in their “fast boat” with some recruit manning the machine gun on the bow. It looked very menacing and I wanted a picture real bad but decided pointing anything at these guys might not be the best idea. I waited until they chased off to menace some other boat before I got my sub picture. All in all, pretty darn cool.

Mary loves the ICW. I don’t. We both agree that once you get to Florida the opportunities for bird watching are phenomenal, so we proceeded south in the ICW. White pelicans, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, osprey, whooping cranes, blue herons and many egrets were seen as we made our way south.

As we made our way to Pine Island anchorage we saw our first manatees. Pretty cool. By mid day of day two in Florida we stopped at Palm Coast Marina to visit our good friend Per Hans Romnes. It was a great opportunity to catch up on news and we got to meet his new friend Brenda. She’s an artist and we picked up “One Happy Crab” to add to our collection. More of her mosaics can be seen here.

Soon we were heading south again. Normally we stop at Daytona but our stop at Palm Coast changed things a bit so our next day ended at New Smyrna Beach, where we stayed for three days. The City Marina was excellent and we walked and explored everyday. We loved the Little Drug Co. on Canal Street. They have an old time, lunch counter with real ice cream malts. YUMMY!!!

Mahoney’s Oyster Bar also deserves a mention. The food is great and the atmosphere friendly. The make seafood stews and pan roasts right their at the bar and they are delicious.

Needless to say we’ll be stopping again in New Smyrna Beach.

As we continued south we passed through Haulover Canal that connects Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River. This well protected stretch is home to many manatees and this time through the little boat basin was full of slumbering giants. At least a dozen were visible as we slowly passed by. For the first time we also saw several large alligators lurking along the shore. By midday on the second day after leaving New Smyrna we were in Vero Beach where we will stay until weather allows us to move off shore and on to Marathon.

Underway – Solomons to Charleston

Our renewed adventure began with an engine that would not start. I sat at the boatyard’s dock fiddling with filters, jumper cables, etc., while Mary waited patiently at Calvert’s Marina. She had the handheld VHF and was desperately trying to hail me. My bad, I had forgotten to turn the volume up on the boat’s radio. She drove over to see what the delay was. After a recharge of the batteries I was able to get things going and soon was docked at Calvert’s.

We had figured on a couple of days to string the halyards, put the sails on, and provision the boat. A week later we would finally leave. The halyards were a real problem. The messenger lines had gotten jammed into the sides of the sheaves and ultimately broke. I would have to go up the mast to sort things out. Turns out, it was up the mast about a dozen times, as we tried all sorts of things to get the halyards pulled through. At a loss, I called my friend Scott in Milwaukee. He suggested we attach a length of bicycle chain to the halyard and fish it through the sheave with a magnet. Off we went to the bicycle shop and hurriedly sped home with our chain. By that afternoon all halyards were in place. We could not have done it without our new “assistant”.

A 28 volt angle drill with halyard winch bit

On the 24th of October we were finally able to let the dock lines slide and we were off. Our first night on the hook in almost eighteen months was spent in Pitman’s Cove off the Chesapeake. While the wind blew like stink out on the bay we sat placidly in our protected anchorage. It was difficult leaving in the morning knowing that the wind was howling elsewhere. The remaining trip to Norfolk was rough but uneventful. Anchoring at Old Point Comfort was not the best idea as there was surge from the river and the wind really picked up the next day. Crossing Hampton Roads was exciting. Crashing through four to six footers while avoiding barges and ships is always fun. After what seemed like an eternity we made to the ICW, mile 0. A large ship had passed us and we were now trailing it at a snail’s pace. We couldn’t pass as the two tugs filled the rest of the channel. At any moment we figured it would be pushed over into a dock but that didn’t happen until almost the Gilmerton Bridge. It took us four hours to get from Old Point Comfort to Gilmerton!

We chose the Dismal Swamp route and arrived early for the 1:30 locking. Even in this protected area the wind was a handful so we dropped the hook to keep our position. Locking has become quite routine for us and soon we were headed for the NC visitors center. We were the last boat in and rafted with fourteen other boats.

Last in means first out, so we up early the next morning. We locked through South Mills and headed for Elizabeth City. Figuring, due to weather, that the EC docks would be full we were surprised to find that there was room and soon we were safely tied into the pilings. EC is always a convenient stop so we stayed three nights. Mary got her birthday dinner and we went grocery shopping. What a fun couple!!!

Elizabeth City also offered us a chance to get new starting batteries. The situation after launch continually got worse. Several times we used the generator to “jump” the batteries. It was time for new ones. NAPA gladly delivered them to our slip.

Tuckahoe Point at the northern end of the Alligator River / Pungo River Canal was our anchorage after leaving Elizabeth City. The trip through the canal was boring as usual (which is a good thing) and by early afternoon we stopped at Dowry Creek Marina for Halloween. Goliath got dressed up in his skeleton outfit and was a big hit with everyone.

We chose to stay several nights in order to let the majority of the boats get ahead of us as well as an opportunity to do laundry. Dowery Creek is a great place and one of our favorites.

November 2nd, we left Dowry Creek headed for Cedar Creek south of Oriental, NC. That next morning we awoke early for a dawn start headed for Mile Hammock anchorage at Camp Lejuene. Dense fog greeted us. While debating whether to go or not we received a radio call from tug Pamlico heading northbound towards our position. We stayed put until he passed. The fog soon lifted and it was a beautiful day.

Weather on the oceanside has not be good. A series of lows have continually been marching up the East coast. This has caused gale conditions and the seas remain high. Wisely we opted to continue in the ICW and had a pleasant trip to Mile Hammock.

Our plan of letting all those boats get ahead of us backfired. About 35 boats anchored for the night at Mile Hammock. Crowded but still room for more.

A strong squall line blew through right at dawn. Air horns started to blare from different areas. Two boats dragged into other boats but we stuck well. There was a mass exodus of about 24 boats after the squall had passed. The weather was supposed to turn really ugly later and the thought of three timed bridge openings with all those boats was not comforting. We opted to stay another night.

For two more days the winds howled through our rigging. On the upside we did get to watch the Marines Ospreys practice, what an awesome machine.

We finally left after three nights on the hook. The anchor reluctantly came free after a great deal of forward momentum yanked it from the muck. Good to see that our Delta plow held so well.

With fairer weather we continued south with stops in Wrightsville Beach, Southport, Barefoot Landing (Myrtle Beach) and Charleston.