Thursday, April 1, 2010

Snowbirds Fly North

I think that is an apt title, as that is what snowbirds do, and although I didn't exactly fly south, my trip down was hampered by cold weather which brought on a lot of stops, but in comparison it does seem like I am flying north. Or as my friend Sven would say, zooming.

Over the course of the past few days I have put some miles behind me, some over new territory, I avoided the interior of Georgia on the way down, but could not avoid it on the way north, thanks to the weather, and some of it tracking back over the course I followed south. On Saturday I left Dernandina Beach and put Florida behind me. I set off a bit late after walking Spook and refueling, and I was in the company of Galena, a Beneteau 36 out of Ontario, that was one of the boats in the pack I sailed with out of St Augustine. We made for Georgia, and held a fairly good pace for the early part of the day, motor sailing through the southern part of Georgia, and winding up and across as the ICW does there. Larry and Roberta were some where behind me having stopped the night before 10 miles shy of Fernandina, but I figured they would catch me sooner or later.

By early afternoon we were at Jekyll Creek, and Galena pulled off, expecting thunderstorms, but I kept on going as the weather seemed to be holding and thanks to the wind and current I was making good headway. Jekyll Creek is one of those areas on the ICW that sailors dread, and one of the reasons I skipped Georgia on the way down, at low tide the channel there gets very narrow, and, extremely shallow. As fate would have it, what time do you think I arrived there? At low tide of course. I was still under sail as I entered the creek, and as I made my way through it, I could feel the rudder vibrate the way it does when the boat is in very shallow water and the prop seems to cavitate. I was watching the depth guage, and keeping my fingers crossed. Its not like it would have been a disaster if I got stuck, the tide goes out, and it comes back in, so refloating would have happened, but, the question would have been when. That would be the big problem if I were to get stuck, just how much time would I waste waiting on the tide to float me free. All that worry was for naught, even though I felt the boat ooze through the silty bottom a few times, I never did get stuck, just slowed a bit by the mud, and then I was into deeper water. Well, ok, I was actually floating and not sitting in pudding.

Out of Jekyll Creek and into the St Simon sound, where another familiar boat, Patina out of Annapolis, pulled off for the night. They asked if I was stopping, but there was 4 or 5 more hours of daylight, and the rain hadn't started yet. So I sailed on. 40 minutes I heard Roberta on the radio calling the marina on St Simons Island, and shortly after that she called me on the phone. I told her I was going to keep going until I either ran out of daylight, got caught in a downpour, or made it to the anchorage I had picked out on the chart further on. As it turned out, it never rained, I made great time, and I didn't stop at the primary anchorage, I made it further, in daylight, to an anchorage about 6o nautical miles from where I started. What a day.

I drifted on anchor that night in a creek that had a strong current, and I figured that the Bruce was having trouble holding in the mud, even though I knew it should do really well in the thick bottom goop. Aftetr the alarm went off for the 10th time I went up and dropped the CQR, wich does not do so well in mud, but I figured just by sheer weight of the anchor and the all chain rode I would hold, and I did. When I got up in the morning I had a beautiful sunrise, and I was soon hauling up the Bruce anchor, and what a suprise I found. Out there in the middle of nowhere, in a forgotton creek in the center of Georgia, my anchor had dropped right onto an abandoned crab pot and got fouled. No wonder I dragged, who would have figured that there would be something like that right where I decided to drop the hook. It took a bit to get it untangled, and then I pulled the CQR and was off again.

The morning was beautiful, and as I sailed along I got a bit of sun, and had a pretty uneventful day. I put down some miles, but due to some adverse currents I did not have the pace of the day before. But what I did have was luck, even if I didn't have the tide. I came to the second choke point in Georgia, another shallow, narrow cut in the ICW aptly called Hell's Gate. It was low tide again, and I used the same logic as before, if I get stuck the tide will come in and float me free. The channel in Hell's Gate was not well marked, one of the channel markers had come free of it mooring and was washed up on shore, and I shot the middle of the channel as best as I could figure it to be. I was really pushing through mud, and I could feel the tiller stiffen up as I pushed through the slop that made up the bottom of the channel. I came really close to getting stuck, but as before Arden pushed through, and then the tiller freed up as I cleared the worst of it. Off again, and before long I was having to decide if I was going to try and catch the draw bridge at Causton Bluff and get to the border before dark, or if I was going to stop and anchor with an hour or so of daylight. Common sense prevailed, and I pulled in to Herb Creek and dropped the hook.

I had a great night on the anchor, this had to be one of the best anchorages I have been in on this trip. Good holding, extremely protected, the only thing I was lacking was internet. Oh well, sometimes you can't have it all, and this night I did have it pretty good.

In the morning my dad called for the 5am wake up, and at day break I was off again. As luck would have it that was all for nothing, I was 7 minutes late for the Causton Bluff Bridge opening, and I had to waste 53 minutes anchored waiting on the next one. Once the bridge opened I was off, and on my way again. There was nothing really remarkable about the trip this day, I motorsailed, made pretty good time, and by 1030 I was clear of Georgia and into South Carolina. Up through the ICW, several rivers, the Calibogue Sound and then up to the Port Royal Sound and the Beaufort River. Beaufort, SC was the next stop, and I pulled in to the municple marina around 430 to top off on fuel and go out on the hook. The dockmaster there was great, as as they weren't too busy, he let me stayed tied up while I got Spook off for a walk, and then gave me the passcode for the facilities there. As I went up to shower he and I talked a good bit, mostly about Beaufort history and the Civil War, and before I knew it, he basicly tols me to stay over night. As`I was walking back from my shower I bumped into the crew from Galena, they were tied up there, and then I got a call from Larry and Roberta, they had sailed outside from St Simons and were just getting in.

This morning I got another wake up call, and I had to get moving quick to make the last opening of the Lady's Island Bridge, if you don't get through before 7 you're not getting through until after 9. I made it through the bridge at 0645, and day was breaking as I sailed for the Coosaw River. I didn't see the bridge open for Roberta and Larry, so I figured they did not get through before 7. Lo and behold, about an hour later I saw that familiar catamaran nose around the last bend behind me, and here comes Symmetry. They trailed me all the way until 1030, when Larry was finally able to overtake and pass me. I was travelling over familiar ground now, alot of memories on this leg of the trip for me, past Sam's Point where I had anchored before and gpot great pictures of Arden, past Ross Marine where I refueled, got stuck on the dock and baked bread while I froze. We pulled up short in Wappoo Creek, the current that we fought all day shorted us on the bridge opening by 20 minutes, and we were going to have to wait 2 1/2 hours until the next one.

I made popcorn as I waited, read my book and got a bit more sun. I knew that once the bridge opened I was going to have to boogie, I needed to get across Charleston Harbor and up to the Ben Sawyer bridge before dark. Once again it is a matter of restricted hours, the bridge is closed from 7 to 9, and there was no way I could get up in time and underway to make a 7 mile run for the bridge before 7am. So I plowed on, and slipped into the ICW on the north side of Charleston harbor just as the sun set. I made it to the bridge and was through by 8pm, just as darkness fell, and then I was picking my way to Isle of Palms in the dark by my GPS track from the trip south. I was in and tied up at the dock by 930, tired, sunburned and ready to call ity a day.

Over the past 4 days I have made 244 miles north, from the top of Florida to the lower 1/3 of South Carolina. It has been a long 4 days, but easy sailing for the most part. I feel a bit driven to get north, and try to figure out what I will do once this trip of mine is over. Tomorrow I set out early again, the goal is Georgetown, maybe even Buskport if I am lucky and ride the tides, and maybe, if the weather is good, Friday will be an outside day taking me all the way to North Carolina.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poised to Leave Florida

I left St Augustine at day break this morning, after my new alarm clock, my dad, called to make sure I was up around 5am (I was) and I made my morning carafe of coffee and started to get the boat ready to go. I checked the engine again, oil and coolant were good, no leaks, nothing loose, and I hauled the dinghy aboard to deflate and stow it. What a pain in the butt that is. I almost went in the drink twice as I pulled it over the lifelines, the wind was pulling on it almost as hard as I was, but in the opposite direction.

As`soon as the sun was up I was off, North bound again, and making good time. I have to say I was the first boat out this morning, and I was alone for the first hour and a half, and then the exodus caught me. I was passed by 3 boats that were north bound and that I recognized from the marina and the anchorage, and there were another 3 trailing behind, but catching up quickly.

Around 11 or so that group of three boats caught up, and after letting the first 2 pass, I dropped in behind S/V Heron, which belonged to Tom and Margaret, out of Maine. Heron is a Westsail 32, very similar to Arden, and I had met Tom and Margaret yesterday at the marina. We spoke for some time yesterday, and it was good to travel with them today.

I had luck on my side again today, the voyage was 62 statue miles, and I thought it would take around 12 hours. I figured on making Fernandina Beach sometime around 7pm. For once the tides and currents were really in my favor, and we never really did run into an opposing current or tide. There are many inlets that indent the Florida coast, many of them are not navigable, but, they all influence the ICW with the in flow and outflow of tides. If you catch it right, you can get pushed by an incoming tide, or pulled by an outgoing one, and you might get lucky where the inlet influence overlaps and catch a slack tide. We did all of the above today. When we made it to where one inlet stopped pushing, we rode on a slack tide, and then got pulled by the outgoing tide of the next inlet. I don’t think my speed today ever dropped below 4 knots, well except in the current of the St john’s River, which has a very strong current of its own, and at one point I almost hit 10 knots. I was not able to sail at all today, the wind was on the nose all day, and, it was blowing pretty hard, 20 kts and then some all day. It was definitely not a day to sail out on the ocean, I probably would have been soaked, exhausted, and lucky if I would have made Mayport by dark.

So instead, I headed up the ICW, and made 52.9 nautical miles in 9 hours and 25 minutes. I was in Fernandina Beach by 5 pm, on the anchor and stowing gear.

So here are a few numbers to throw at you. So far I have sailed 1703.1 nautical miles on this trip of mine, that is 1958.56 statute miles. I have been sailing for 4 months now, 129 days since I left Maryland, and 93 days since I seriously got underway and left Manteo. I have covered more ground in the past week and a half than I did in the entire month of February, when I was bebopping down through Florida. I am now back in Fernandina Beach, the place where I entered Florida after a 22 hour sail from South Carolina. I will leave Florida in the morning, and unfortunately, it looks like the weather on the ocean is not going to be good for sailing to SC, so I will slog through Georgia on the North bound leg. (128 miles via ocean, 150 miles via the ICW. On the ocean I sailed it straight, 22 hours, but on the ICW I will make at least 2 stops in GA, perhaps more if the tides nand currents conspire against me) I have no idea when I will have internet again, or, how long my cell service will last once I head into Georgia. It looks like there is a lot of barren marshland on this leg, so I have no idea how cell service will be. Worst case scenario, I will be back online when I get to Beaufort, SC, where I will probably break for a day or half day and rest.

As a footnote: the pizza I made was surprisingly good, not bad considering it was a crust mix, I substituted cheddar for mozzarella, and the only meat I had aboard to put on it was canned ham. I was either that hungry, or, it wasn’t half bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stir Crazy in St Augustine

As I mentioned the other day, I was stuck in St Augustine for the past few days, and in ways, it was fortunate I was.

I was changing my fuel filters early Wednesday morning when I noticed water dripping from my exhaust, not something that should be happening , at all. I checked things out, and my exhaust, which is a water jacketed pipe, was leaking internally, and could have potentially ruined my engine. As luck would have it, and perhaps thanks to a bit of oversight from above, I caught the problem in time., and, thanks to the bridge being closed, I was still in St Augustine, and had access to a welding shop that could and did turn the job right around. I had to walk about a mile and a half carrying this 70lb pipe to them, but it wasn't bad, and, I am sure I needed the exersize. What was bad though, when I got the new pipe installed and was running the engine, I noticed that the pipe had a few pin hole leaks in the welds, so I had to remove it, hike back out and back again, carrying this pipe the whole time. Quite a good bit of walking, and my shoulders are still sore from carrying the pipe. The good news is that the exhaust is now fixed, the old pipe was not only leaking, but over 50% obstructed with rust and scale. Now the engine is not on the verge of being flooded with water, and, it is running cooler as well.

Last night out on anchor we had one heck of a storm, and let me tell you, the anchorage south of St Augustine marina is a mess, I drug anchor last night, and when I was raising the anchor to relocate, I found that my anchor was fouled on some old abandoned anchor and chain. From the looks of it, when I dropped anchor it bit into the old chain and never dug in, and during the blow last night that old chain and anchor broke free. Once again I was extremely lucky, but I did not sleep all that well after that.

This morning I motored in, got a shower in the marina, and then Larry and Roberta treated me to breakfast. We went to a Greek restaurant that was close, but we had an all American breakfast, Larry and I had pancakes and Roberta had an omelet, nothing too Greek about any of that, but it was good and not too God awful expensive. On the way back from browsing around downtown I heard that the bridge was opening at 10 (over with), 1030 (over with) and 1130. I wanted to refuel, but there were 3 other boats in the queue, so I went through the bridge, anchored where I had anchored on the way south, and then ferried in my jerry cans to refuel. I am now topped off, and regardless of which way I go, outside or inside on the ICW, I should be able to make it to South Carolina on the fule I have. With the weather as it is, it looks like I will be inside tomorrow to Fernandina Beach, and maybe, hopefully, outside from Fernandina to Beaufort. From there it is about 4 or 5 days to North Carolina, if I go on the inside. Again, weather and wind permitting, I will do as much as I can outside, that should cut down the total miles and the number of hours and days travelling. I am thinking I am 12 days out from Elizabeth City, but maybe, just maybe I can cut that back down to 9 or 10 days. 60 miles a day, 690 miles on the ICW.....

I have gotten the boat squared away, all the parts and supplies are stowed, and I am thinking about trying to make pizza tonight for dinner. Who knows, maybe I will, I'll let you know how it turned out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Retracing Steps

Its been a few days since I posted, so once again it is time to play catch up.

I have been, as Sven would say, zooming northward. Because I have not been stopping for days at a time in each port, I have made in 3 days as much progress north as it took me two weeks to do on the south bound leg. I am following the same route I took headed south, so I am most certainly retracing my steps, and the track on the GPS is like my trail of bread crumbs. It is definitely time for me to get back up to where I call home, and I have been pouring on the throttle to do so. However, that all came to a screeching halt yesterday when I got to St Augustine, the Bridge of Lions is now finished, and they are dismantling the temporary bridge, so the channel is closed to boat traffic until Saturday, at the earliest. I suppose there could be worse places to be stuck than St Augustine, but, here I am, itching to get home, and I am sitting still. In 3 days I will be stir crazy, and I sure hope the progress on the bridge goes as announced.

I left Cocoa on Monday morning around 8, I was up with the sun, but I let Spook run around the park there and dumped my trash, taking it kind of slow that morning. I was tied up at the public dock, and didnt have to use the dinghy, so I was taking advantage of it. There is a publication called Skipper Bob's that gives tips and pointers for the ICW, and when I had been looking at it with Larry and Roberta on Saturday, I was amazed to see that the public dock at Cocoa was in 5 feet of water. When I got there I crept in, not wanting to run aground, but all was good, I was able to tie up and secure the boat no problem. The docks there all have signs that say you are not allowed to tie up for more than 3 hours with your dinghy or your boat, but last time I was there I spoke to a few of the boat residents, and they said no pone ever checks the docks, and in the foul weather we had Sunday night, no one did.

Monday I motorsailed, I was holding a good average of over 6 knots as I went past Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, and then once I got to Mosquito Lagoon the wind picked up and I was fairly racing up to New Smyrna Beach. The plan was to hold up in New Smyrna, but, the ocean was still raging, seas of 4-5 feet and winds 25 knots plus, so I decided to keep going. I was under sail as I approached the Coronado Beach Bridge, and I was 7 minutes early for the opening. Most bridges on the ICW open on request, this bridge opens every 20 minutes if there is boat traffic. So I swung up into the wind, made a few PB&J sandwiches, and just did loops in the channel waiting for the opening. When the bridge sounded its horn and started to open I swung Arden around and began to head for the bridge, and wouldn't you know it, we got a huge gust of wind and I was going way too fast for the bridge. I let the jib and main sheets fly, but I was still holding too much speed, with no room to turn and bleed it off. So I threw her into reverse and held on as the propeller dug in to slow me down, and I don't think I breathed until I cleared the bridge and was through to the other side, it was close, really close, and for a moment I was sure I was going to hit the span with the mast.

When my heart began to beat again, after it dropped out of my throat, I got all the sails under control and headed for Daytona. I was only about 15 miles south of there and I figured I’d be there by 6pm or so. I made good time, and was back at Loggerhead Marina by 5:45, and I hailed them on the radio and got no answer. There was a stiff wind and a current running when I pulled in, and docking by myself was tough, but I managed to get Arden to the dock and tied off. I called the number on the marina sign, and got an answering machine, so I gave up on trying to get permission to dock, there was no one there to give it or deny it, so I just figured on staying. I called a few friends of mine I had met when I was in Daytona before, and we made plans to meet at the bar for a few drinks and catch up on things. I grabbed a shower, got cleaned up and headed for the bar. It was good to see friends I had made along the way, and we had a good evening, and before long the bar was closing (they close at 10 when business is slow) and I was headed back down to Arden. As no one was really there in charge of the marina, I stayed tied up and went to bed. The original plan was to meet my friends and then go anchor out, but heck, if they weren’t going to have anyone there from 5pm to 7am, I figured I’d stay and then cast off before daylight. So I stayed tied up to a dock for the 2nd night in a row, not something I have been able to do much on this trip, and got in a good nights sleep.

Tuesday came, and I was away from the dock just before daybreak and headed north again. The goal for the day was St Augustine, and I figured that I would be there late afternoon at the latest. Once again I was motor sailing, but as the day wore on the wind shifted, so I had to take down the sails as the wind was right on the nose. When I got to Flagler Beach I saw a guy running out onto his dock as I approached, it was Joe Barefoot, a resident there that has been following the blog. We yelled greetings across the ICW as I slowed, and he said he has been following the blog and my progress on the trip, and was glad to see that I did make it to the islands. After a bit I picked up speed, and headed on, but it was cool to actually meet someone that has been following me.

I paused for lunch just north of Flagler, and then I was off again, headed for Matanza’s Inlet and the current and the shoaling there. Just before I reached Matanza’s I had 2 dolphin play with the boat, they followed me for about a mile or so, surfing my wake and blowing hard when they broke the surface right beside the boat. I got a lot of great pictures of them, and then they broke away and went back to feeding. I love seeing the dolphin, they are so graceful and beautiful, and it really picks me up when they run with the boat as these two did.

When I got to Matanza’s I was prepared to bump bottom, the channel shoals up bad here with the way the current runs, and on the way down I did bump over 3 sand bars. By now Spook was out on deck again, and just as I was trying to get her to lay down in the cockpit, knowing how she reacts to hitting the sand bars (for some reason it terrifies her, and she gets panicked when we brush bottom) when we bumped hard. She went into a tizzy, running up and down the deck and for a minute I was worried she was going to go over in her panicked state. I got her to go down below, but that was it for the shoals, and before long she was ok and out on deck again.

It wasn’t long before I was approaching St Augustine, and the bridge master at Crescent Beach bridge confirmed that the Bridge of Lions was indeed closed until Saturday.

So here I am, anchored just south of the Bridge of Lions, twiddling my thumbs and waiting until Saturday. There is going to be a mad dash for the bridge on Saturday morning, there must be 20 boats here waiting to go, and I can only imagine the chaos as we all jockey to get through and continue on. If it weren’t for being stuck, I would be well into GA by Saturday, or even into SC if I were able to do a good bit of the run outside, so now I am fighting the feeling that I will be running behind. It is totally an internal and mental thing, but I definitely feel that I need to be up there by the first or second week of April, and barring any problems, it now looks like the 2nd week in April for sure.

I received an email from Tom down in Ft Lauderdale, things down there are going well, and he passed on greetings from Brooke and Sterling, and their 3 dogs. Tom was instrumental in my route planning for the trip over to Bimini, and he was glad to hear that I had made it over and back ok.

Now I will sit and wait, get a few more projects finished on the boat, maybe do a bit more touch up on brightwork, and try to occupy these next few days.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Compass Points North...and...Ferral Parrots

It has been a day or so since I wrote, so I have a wee bit of catch up to do.

On Friday morning the fleet of two (Symmetry and Arden) left the perfect anchorage and headed up to Vero Beach. It was a bit of a late start, I think it was around 10 or so, but we only had 15 miles to go, and there really was no rush. For once I took the lead, and as we left the protection of the anchorage we were soon in a really strong current that lead to the Ft Pierce channel. I looked back at Symmetry, and I think it was all Larry could do to keep her between the marks, the boat was crabbing sideways in the current, and I am sure Arden looked the same to them, as I was bucking the current and feeling it push and pull on the boat, it was definitely hard to keep a straight track.

Around noon or just a bit after we pulled into the Marina at Vero Beach, and it is a really nice facility. More mooring balls than slips, but very protected and really nice facilities. I topped off the fuel, I was a bit lower than I thought, taking on 37 gallons, and then I broke down and paid for a mooring. There is no open anchorage here, so to stay here you have to pay here.

I have never hooked to a mooring before, having always tied up or been on the hook, and I was suprised that each ball here had a tether, so it was much easier than I had thought. Heck, I even managed to snag the tether and get Arden secured on the first try. After than it was time to pump up my leaking dinghy, and get Spook ashore. We took a long walk, the neighborhoods here reminded me alot of Southport, NC - but a bit more tropical. I mentioned this to Roberta later, and she agreed, quite a similarity between the residential areas here. It was here that I encountered the ferral parrots, I heard a bird in the trees and thought to myself "now that sounds just like a parrot". Sure enough, it was an Amazon parrot, not sure exactly what breed it was, but definitely an Amazon. ( I had one once) Later on in the day I saw a few more, I am amazed they survived the cold snap of January, but, otherwise I am sure this is a perfect climate for them. Spook and I went down and went for a walk on the beach, and it never occurred to me that dogs were not allowed on the beaches here. A lifeguard came up and was really nice about asking me to leave, and as we walked to the boardwalk, I was telling him "I'm not from around here...". I had noticed alot of folks looking at me strangely as I walked down the beach with my dog, and tyhe lifeguard told me it was because they were jealous that I was daring enough to bring my dog to the beach. After getting Spook taken care of, and a bit of sun for myself, I returned to the boat and gave the engine a tune up, or valve lash adjustment. This is much like changing the spark plugs and distributor on a gas engine, it can dramaticly increase the performance of the engine and its economy. It didn't take all that long, and then it was in for a much needed shower.  Later in the evening Larry and Roberta treated me to dinner at a really nice pizza place, and that in turn reminded me alot of a place in Elizabeth City, Tony's, where I had been so many times with Gary and Alice. Quite a nice day, and a great way to end it.

Saturday was kind of a lazy day, I took Spook in and we went to the farmer's market where I got a few veggies for the trip north, and then it was back to Arden to clean up a bit and get a bit of a tan. Yes, I actually laid out and didn't burn, and I got quite rested and relaxed. I did laundry and read some, clipped Spooks toe nails and gave her a good brushing - she is shedding bad -  and then that evening there was a boater get together in one of the picnic pavilions there at the marina. A nice get together, met some really nice folks, and even met a guy that was familiar with my boat design, well the other brand of boat built on the same hull, the Roughwater 33, but to date he is the only person I have ever met that even recognizes the design. After the rendezvous I took my computer, the dead one, over to Symmetry to see if Larry could work a bit of magic on it, but he couldn't. That laptop is dead, and will require major surgery when I get back to someplace that has a computer shop.

This morning I was up before 5, and got everything set to go - hauled the dignhy aboard and deflated it, secured all the loose gear on deck, checked out the engine - and then it was off the mooring and underway. It was just at sunrise when I left, and what an incredible display it was. It didn't look like Roberta and Larry were up when I went by, so I gave them a call a bit later and thanked them for all their hospitality, and to find out if they were underway or not. My goal for the day was Cocoa, and they were going to go into a marina in Melbourne so they could top off with water. So it look like I won't see them until later on up the ICW, or sometime in Oriental.

I made a few phone calls today, spoke with Clay and Mary (from my trip down), they are in Marathin, FL and will be turning north soon, having had a good trip so far. I called SVen, they are wrapping up work in Ft Lauderdale and will be heading to Cuba in a week. I called Jim and John from Calvert Marina, and I got an email from David and Peg, who are enjoying their sailing in the islands.

I made pretty good time up to Cocoa, I averaged about 6 knots and made it here motor sailing in about 8 and a half hours. I had called Bill Knoight, a fellow I had met on the way down, and once I tied up at the town dock, he swung by and ran me over to West Marine for patches for the dinghy, and then over to a grocery for a few items. It was good to see him, and it seems he is doing well. I think it always rains in Cocoa, at least it does when I am here, when I arrived today it was pouring down and I am sure glad Bill was able to give me a lift.

So tomorrow I cast off again, I am set to go another 54 miles up to Ponce Inlet, where I will anchor and debate whether to wait for a weather window (I hope there is not a wait for that) or head up the ICW. The goal is St Augustine, and if I go outside it is just about 64 miles, not too hard a day if I get an early enough start. I hope I can do it on the outside and stretch my diesel supplies out a bit, but we will see what the weather holds and how impatient I am.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Turning North

Tuesday night I had dinner with Larry and Roberta - the rest of the boaters in the marina had left that morning and we had bid goodbye to David and Peg, Matt, they had followed John out and were headed for Cat Cay, and onward from there. Larry cooked steak on the grill, and Roberta had fixed fried potatoes and coleslaw, and so over a great dinner we discussed our route back to the States. Larry had planned on heading north to West Palm Beach, and had the same idea on the trip as I did. After a really nice evening I headed back to Arden, time to stow the gear and get ready to leave.

I woke to an overcast day, with daylight savings it was dark when I got up, fixed a quick pot of tea and then raised anchor. The sky did not look promising, but we were going, as this was the best window available until Saturday. The sun was rising as I l,inked up with Larry and Roberta just outside the marina, but thanks to the overcast all sunrise really amounted to was a lightening of the sky. The channel entrance and the ocean beyond were calm as we motored out, first time it had been like that in days, so it seemed out crossing would be easy enough, and probably done by motoring.

Clearing the channel we turned North West, and our two boats motored on and headed for the States. We passed a few power boats, some headed for Bimini, some headed for the US, and some heading out for a day of fishing. Soon we were in the Gulf Stream, and our speed picked up as we got a good push North. We had raised sail by now, picking up what little bit of breeze that had been forecast, and thanks to the northern current we were making about 7 knots. I am going to pause here for a second and back up a bit. Larry and Roberta sail a catamaran, and I did not expect to be able to sail with them for long, as catamarans are usually faster than a similar sized monohull, but Arden surprised me and we were able to keep up, at one point even gaining ground on them, I took a course that was a a fe3w degrees different than theirs, but was better sailing for Arden. The forecast was for light winds from the west and a 50% chance of rain as we approached the Florida coast. All things considered, this looked like it was going to be an easy crossing. As the morning wore on we made tremendous progress, and in about 2 hours Bimini disappeared from view, and we were out on the open ocean.

I read a bit as we sailed along, the Gulf Stream was a bit lumpy from the west wind but pretty calm compared to the sail to Bimini, and I was able to utilize the tiller lock and get a break from steering, checking the heading now and again to make sure I was tracking well. Things remained pretty calm and even, we had made great progress, and by 11:00 we had made just over 30 miles. I will mention here that the distance from Bimini to West Palm Beach is just over 76 miles, and we had figured that it was going to take a bit over 10 hours to get there. Around noon the winds began to pick up, and the we were in that 50% that got rained on. The seas began to pick up as well, soon the lumps formed into waves, and the waves grew in size. By one o'clock we were in good two to three foot seas, and the winds had increased to about 10 mph. We were on a beam reach, which is great for Arden, and I was able to ease off the throttle and sail more than motor. On we went, and the winds picked up even more and it wasn't too long before I had to ease off and then put a reef in, as Arden was holding a consistent 30 degrees of heel, and when a wave would pass her, there were times that we went past 45 degrees. I pulled up and reefed in, and in the process of that I lost sight of Larry in the rain and mist. Roberta kept in contact with me on the radio though, and soon I was off again, I had put the in the reef in good time, and just in time as well, because that light wind that was forecast was soon topping 25 mph. Arden was moving, between the Gulf Stream current, surfing the waves and sailing, I was averaging over nine knots, and at times was well over 10 knots. Thank God for a favorable current. I spoke to Roberta, they were by now a few miles ahead, the winds favoring their catamaran and they had picked up speed just as I had, more speed in fact, thanks to their hull design.

With the rising winds I was working hard at the tiller keeping Arden on course, and the rain mixed with spray as we plowed through the waves. I was holding 9 knots easily, and I realized that Arden is a very wet boat. She does not ride easily in these conditions, riding the waves or following them, she plows through them, keeping the decks awash constantly. We were fast approaching the coast, and soon I saw a freighter ahead on the horizon, the only one I had seen all day. By 3:30 I had land in sight, the skyscraper hotels and condos of Palm Beach were in sight and I knew that this day would be over soon. Roberta called on the radio, they were just about to enter the channel, and were as it turns out only 5 miles ahead. I was right on course, and ended up sailing directly into the channel, it is amazing how the GPS has simplified navigation. I lowered sail as I entered the Palm Beach channel, and soon I was in calm waters and headed for the anchorage.

I looked for Larry and Roberta, and did no see them in the anchorage I had stayed in on my way down, so I radioed over and learned they were in an anchorage just south of me. So without consulting a chart, I headed that way, and after turning into what I thought was the ICW, I ran aground. Hard. I went below and got my chart out for the ICW, and it turns out that the 3 green markers I followed were not marking the same channel, but were marking different points of different channels. I tried to motor off and reverse course, but that was not working, so I waited a bit for the tide to come in a tad more, and then I raised sail, sheeted in hard, and with Arden heeling over I broke free and sailed around to were they were anchored. I was there in no time, and as I lowered sail and dropped the hook we compared notes about the crossing. We`had sailed a total of 81.8 miles in just over 10 hours, and we all considered that very good progress for a day. I think given the window we had to cross we did quite well, I don't think I could have spent another day in Bimini, knowing I needed to start north and getting a bit antsy about it all. We were all exhausted, so we did not get together that evening, and after a quick dinner and cleanup, I was bedded down and asleep fairly fast.

There was a beautiful sunrise Thursday morning, and I was up and making breakfast as the day broke. We had agreed to set off fairly early, and as soon as breakfast was over we got underway. The weather reports did not sound good for a sail outside on the ocean, the west winds had turned north north west, and there was a northern swell running as well. That was making for 5 to 6 foot seas, not something I, or Larry and Roberta, was up for this morning. So we turned up the ICW and headed for Ft Pierce, and the first of many bridges. I think we went through 6 draw bridges yesterday, but luckily we did not have to wait long at any of them. As we were passing through Jupiter Inlet I noticed that the tone of Arden's exhaust had changed, and the engine was running a bit warmer than normal. I eased off on the throttle, but I knew something was wrong. I radioed up to Larry and Roberta, and told them that I was going to have to stop and check her out. I was really apprehensive about what might be causing the problem, so I anchored and began to check out the cooling system. As it turns out there was nothing wrong with either the raw or fresh water side of the coolant system, but rather, a piece of scale had clogged a water port in my muffler. Arden's exhaust system is, for a large part, regular steel, and over time she will build up scale inside the muffler. One of those pieces of scale had clogged the water outlet, and as I fired her up to check water flow through the heat exchangers, it must have let go, I heard a poof and a pop, and when I looked out there was a huge ring of carbon on the water, and my exhaust was back to normal. I checked the temp of the engine, it was back to normal, so I was soon underway again.

I motored on again, and as with yesterday, Larry and Roberta were now 5 miles or so ahead. I poured on the throttle, and by the time we reached our agreed upon anchorage, I was within a mile of them. We anchored last night in Coconut Cove, Larry had not anchored there before and Roberta called me about it. I had anchored there on the way down, just about 3 weeks ago, and I told them what a great and protected anchorage it was. By far, it is the best place I have anchored during this entire trip, a small cove, well off the beaten path, and extremely protected. The holding here seems to be very good, and I would rate it as a 9 as far as anchorages go. The only draw back is that there is no where really to land and get Spook ashore, but I did what I had done during my earlier stay here, once the dinghy was inflated I motored over to a dock on a property where the house that was there had been demolished, and the property was vacant. After getting Spook ashore and a good walk completed, I was invited to dinner aboard Symmetry again. This time I brought Spook, and she was well received, Larry and Roberta are dog people, but are sailing with their cat, as their dog is staying with one of their children.

This morning we are taking it easy after 2 long days, we are going to head up to Vero Beach, where they are going to re provision, and I am going to refuel. They plan to stay there 2 nights, and I am torn on whether I should stay and go to the farmers market on Saturday, or if after refueling and a good days rest I should head north more tomorrow.

I am definitely north bound now, I am sailing on waters I have sailed through before, and in ways I am saddened by the fact that the adventure, although not over, is now taking place over territory I have been through before. I feel a bit apprehensive about my return north, I am not sure where or what I am returning to, but it is definitely not to what I thought it would be when I left.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Island Time

Sunday night was a pretty interesting and heart stopping for me, I went out to Arden to get some things to throw in for the barbeque we were having at the marina, and when I got out to the boat, I wasn’t on board for 5 minutes before something just seemed out of place and I looked out of the companionway, only to see the shoreline going by at an alarming rate. I first thought I was just swinging on the anchor, but, I wasn’t, I was drifting on the anchor and fast. Up into the cockpit I went, started the engine and got her in gear, and then proceded to haul in the anchor rode. The chain on the rode had tangled in the flukes of the anchor, and had pulled it free. Even though it scared the heck out of me, it could not have happened with better timing, as just a few minutes prior I was ashore and in the marina. Arden would have grounded for sure, and I would have been in some very dire straights, but good fortune smiled on me once again. I got her back in position, and put out both anchors, and called in to say I would be skipping dinner ashore. I spent the rest of the evening aboard, monitoring the GPS very closely, but she did not budge and seemed to be holding quite well. I am actually really fortunate that things worked out as they did, because later in the night the winds picked up and blew us all over, and had I drug anchor while sleeping, the result could have been very bad indeed.

Daylight savings time has come, and as usual my internal clock is all messed up. It seems to me it was not long ago that we changed the clocks in the fall, and I remember complaining to a friend of mine just how messed up the time changes get me, it takes me a good while to adapt to the new time, and she and I were both down about how the days were getting shorter and winter was fast approaching. Now it is some months later, and spring is finally on the way, so it is not nearly as traumatic a time change, but it does kind of underscore for me just how long I have been out and about on this trip of mine.

I have spent the past few days doing odd boat work jobs, the day before yesterday I helped Matt straighten out an electrical problem on his Beneteau 285, and today I worked with David on his refrigeration and fuel system. It is really a good feeling being able to help them out with their problems, Matt has had electrical issues for some time on his boat, and it really boiled down to the fact that some time ago some one put a redundant wire in there that bypassed all of his battery switches, and his batteries were constantly dying. I found the problem, eliminated it, and then went through his electrical system and made sure everything was ok. He was truly relieved to have this problem resolved, it has plagued his boat for some time, and it would strand him at the most inopportune times. Afterwards, he took me to breakfast at Capt Ron’s, a near by breakfast stop that is a a favorite of the locals and tourists alike, and I saw pictures on the wall of a distant relative of mine, Ernest Hemingway. More about that later.

Yesterday I helped David get the fan for the refrigeration on Journey repaired, it started as a fairly straight forward job, we were going to simply replace the fan with a spare he had, but true to my inquisitive nature, I had to disassemble the fan to see why it wasn’t working. Come to find out, there was a wire that had come off a circuit board on the inside of the fan, and as the spare was not quite as large as the original, we repaired the broken one, and reinstalled it. I also helped David change his fuel filters, and went over how to properly bleed his fuel system after a filter change, or, if for some reason the boat ran low on fuel or had a fuel problem. I think this gave Dave a much better understanding of how the engine worked, and will potentially help him out down the road.

Afterwards I went for a swim, and snorkeled a bit in the marina, there are all kinds of tropical fish right around the pilings and under the boats, and it was much like dropping into the saltwater reef fish tank that I had many years ago. There were Damsel fish, and Tangs, a few Wrasse, and there are Amberjacks all over. Matt went spear fishing not long after and he spent a good few hours in the water, and pretty much came up empty handed, he hit a few, but the type of spear he was using requires the user to be very close to the prey, and it just didn’t turn out to be his day. He did manage to spear what he thought was a skate, but it turned out to be a small stingray, so when he got up to the dock I got it off the spear and let it go. The last few nights we have seen Bull Sharks swim in to check out if there are any scraps from the fish cleaning tables, it seems these same 3 sharks do this every evening, they have become accustomed to having a free meal in the evenings, and we have had the pleasure of watching them cruise for dinner.

Last night we had another boater get together at the marina, it was the last night that all of the group that we have formed will be together, today many of the boats here will set sail for islands further east, and those of us that are heading back west will be leaving tomorrow. I will say goodbye to David and Peg shortly, they have been very kind to me, and I will miss their company. I am sure we will bump into one another again, no matter where on the east coast I end up, they will be passing my way on their way back to Annapolis. Matt is leaving as well, and I will miss his company too, he is a very interesting guy, and a good sailing partner, and I will certainly moss his fresh out look on things. There is a couple here from Oriental, NC, Larry and Roberta, and I think it is only our 2 boats that will stay until Wednesday, when we will begin our journey back to more northern reaches. It is the current plan for us to sail out together, but as they are on a catamaran, I am sure they will out pace me very shortly, but, we will have radio contact, and I think our initial goal of Palm Beach is the same.

As`for Ernest Hemingway, somewhere down the family tree, there is a branch that goes over to the Hemingway family. I know that my great aunt Mary was related someway, somehow, and I know that my mother could clear that up for me and set me straight on just how related we are. But the connection is there, and I am now in one of his more favored haunts, he spent quite a good deal of time here in Bimini fishing, and appearantly drinking as well. The marina we are based out of is across from the remains of the Complete Angler, a famous restaurant that he was known to frequent, and his picture is in the restaurant where Matt and I had breakfast just the other day.

So here we go, some of us are continuing our journeys and adventures, and some of us are starting that trek back home. I am certainly glad to have met the folks I have, and to have made such fast friends, but it will be bittersweet as well, leaving these friends behind as I return to the real world here shortly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

birds eye view

so what you see here are some tiny little rectangles which are sunrise/sunset photos from John on the coast of Miami, and then across from Miami is North and South Bimini in the Bahamas.  Emily just looked up the flag for the Bahamas!  We are having a great time with maps and flags.  Thanks, Uncle John! Thanks Google Earth!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

All Conched Out

I really do hate having to do a post like I did yesterday, trying to remember all the interesting details of 3 or 4 days worth of sailing and sightseeing, but I suppose that is the way it has to be when you don’t have an operable computer and have to borrow one and write the post as fast as you possibly can.

I’d like to make a few comments on the sail we had over here, some of the more interesting facets of that, and some things that I learned before I move on to the events of yesterday and today. Prior to leaving Ft Lauderdale, David and I had both pored over the forecasts for sailing across, and we were both convinced that a) this was the one good window for crossing for the next week or so – all the forecasts said this, and b) that according to these forecasts, which we trusted so much, the wind that was going to be on our nose when we started was going to shift and come in from the south which would speed us across. I learned two things from this. #1 – plan and sail to the wind you have now, and not to the wind you are supposed to have later. It is much easier to adapt and change your sailing plan once you are underway and the wind becomes more favorable, if it does change at all. #2 – do not under estimate the strength of the Gulf Stream, which I think we all did. As I wrote yesterday, the forecasts and models we looked at had the Gulf Stream running at about 2 ½ knots, when in fact the current we ran into was measured by another boat at 4 ½ to 5 knots. We did indeed make it to our destination, and did well at it, but we probably would have been here much sooner and sailed a much shorter distance if we had followed these two observations.

The wind we did have came from the east for most of our sail, and that seemed to really chop up the Gulf Stream. You have a situation where the current and the swell it creates is headed north, and the east wind adds in a cross chop, this makes for a very bouncy sail. Not really rough, but I can see where it would get very bad in the right conditions, but a steep chop that is very close together. I would imagine that with a southerly wind the stream would have moderate rolling waves and swell, but I can see where a north wind would build the waves and the chop to very large proportions.

The amount of drift we encountered was incredible. We were making one knot north for every knot east, and so despite our heading of 90 degrees, due east, our true course was almost an exact 45 degrees. In the future I will definitely over compensate for drift, and sail much further below Miami before I turn east. On the way back this current will help me though, I intend on letting the stream take me just as far north as it will, I hope to hit the Florida coast somewhere around Ft Lauderdale, or perhaps even Palm Beach.

So back to current events.

Bimini is the western most island group of the Bahamas, and is 47 miles off of the coast of Florida. It sits right on the edge of the Gulf Stream, and has 2 main islands, North and South Bimini. North Bimini is where most of the folks live, it is about 7 miles long and 200-300 yards wide. Alicetown is at the very southern tip of North Bimini, and is the heart of the island. It is where the government buildings, the cargo dock, the school and the power plant are located. It is also where the few hotels and the islands primary marinas are located. There are other towns on the island, but they all butt up against one another, so when you are walking each town kind of blends into the next. We have walked about 2 miles north, so we have really only explored the lower 1/3 of the island, but that was enough walking for one day in this heat. It is quite warm here, most days have been in the high 70’s to mid 80’s, but today seems a bit cooler. The wind here seems to be constant and consistant, no matter what the time of day, or the temperature, there is always wind.

The airport and water plant is on South Bimini, and that is also where there seems to be a very large housing development that, from here, looks newly constructed. We have not ventured over to south Bimini yet, but that seems to be the plan for the day. There is a ferry that runs back and forth from north to south Bimini, and it is an old US Navy LCM, or landing craft. The main resupply ship that comes to the island is an old US Army landing craft, I am not sure of the actual type of vessel it is, but I have seen similar boats at Ft Story in Va beach. The resupply boats come every day, they bring in everything to the island, from food and water, to fuel and building supplies. Water here on North Bimini is expensive, 60 cents per gallon, not the place you want to resupply, and I am glad I am completely topped off.

Since we have been here we have met a ton of really nice folks, there is Larry and his wife Roberta from Oriental, NC, John and Sylvia from Denmark, Josh and Samantha from Hilton Head, SC, their friend Eric from Rhode Island. Josh, Samantha and Eric are traveling together on 2 smaller boats, and it looks like Matt may join them and form another small flotilla. We meet new folks everyday, and it seems that every evening we have some sort of get together here at the marina.

The Omni Present Conch
Island food is based on seafood, there is great fishing here and the water is full of marine life. It seems that the local staple though is conch. There are millions of conch here, all you have to do is walk out onto any one of the reefs or banks here and you can find them. Where we as Americans find the conch shell to be such a rare treasure, here they are piled up by the thousands. There are piles of conch shells everywhere, and so many of them are so beautiful. So far in our quest to sample local life we have had conch salad, conch fritters, and fried conch sandwiches. Anthony Bordain would be jealous of all the local food we have sampled so far. It seems that you can fix conch in as many varieties as Bubba Gump had variations for shrimp. Last night we gave a try at making our own conch salad, Matt and a few of the other boaters in the anchorage went out on the reef and looked for conch, you don’t really catch them, you just shuffle along and pick them up, it not like they can make a speedy escape from a determined conch hunter. You have to knock a hole in the shell to release the vacuum that holds them in their shell, and then you just pull them from the shell. If you have a conch shell with a hole right at the crown in the first set of whorls, like all the ones I will be bringing home, you know the inhabitant was removed for someones dinner.

Conch salad is diced up conch, the smaller ones are much more tender than the large ones, and then you add chopped vegetables, the standard mix seems to be onion, tomato, green and or red pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic. You drench this mixture in lime juice, sprinkle it heavily with garlic salt, and voila, you have conch salad. Pretty tasty, and pretty easy to make.

I went on walk about with Spook yesterday, and we went down on the beach and collected a ton of shells. After lunch, where we had conch fritters at a sea side restaurant (to call it a shack would demean it, but, it was a very small restaurant in a very small building) and while David, Matt, Larry, and Roberta talked at the table, Peg and I went looking for shells and sea glass. Many treasures to be found, the beaches here are littered with shells.

Today I helped John with his alternator belt, he has a situation where his old belt was worn, and the replacement belt he was given was a bit too long, but he made a minor alteration to the set up, and it seemed to work well with the new belt. Matt has had an on going problem with his charging system, so I went through the entire DC electrical system, and got his issues worked out. He is now charging properly, and not constantly discharging and running his batteries dead.

We are planning to go over to south Bimini today and see what is there, and maybe check out a place here that belongs to a friend of Peg and David. It is a huge private compound that is reported to be very well landscaped with a great view of the ocean, and its own private lagoon.

Tonight we are going out and probably eat some local fish, and more conch as well. From the weather forecast it looks like I will not get a good wind out of here until Saturday evening, so it seems like I am going to be "stuck" here for another week. I am starting to feel the pressure to get going, but, if you have to be stuck somewhere, I suppose there are many places that are worse than this little slice of island paradise.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In the Islands at Last

I suppose I have a bit of catching up to do, as yesterdays post was not overly informative.

March 9 and 10, 2010
On Tuesday March 9th Matt and I (aboard Anticipation and Arden respectively) left River Bend Marina and set off down the Little River towards the ICW, where we were to meet David and Peg on board Journey. I had been watching the tide, and it was not quite at full low when we left, but we were approaching 11am, and we needed to get underway. So we bid goodbye to Sven, Gabi, Julia and Carlos - they had followed us out to see us off - and down river we went. We had a great run down river, having to hold up for only one of the four bridges. When we got down to the ICW we turned north and shortly met David and Peg.

Our flotilla formed, we turned south and headed for the Port Everglades channel. We cleared the channel just after 12:30, and made our turn south and raised sail. We were off! All day and into the evening we sailed south, we made for Miami, and then went out a bit to clear Fowey Rocks just south of the Government Cut (Miami) channel. It was good sailing, on a beat or close reach most of the afternoon, and as evening fell we were leaving Miami behind, and I figured we needed to make about another 20 miles south before we turned east and headed to the islands.

We sailed on, our rough time for our turn was 10 pm, but after looking at the charts and our position, I decided we needed to make at least another hour south, and David and Matt agreed. So on we went, until 11, and then we made our eastern turn. On Passage Weather it was forecast that the Gulf Stream was running at 2-3 knots, and that was the info we had to work off of for the passage. Turns out that this forecast was wrong, and we were to find this out not only as we sailed, but also after we made it to Bimini and spoke to folks that were there. So my calculations and plan took into account a 2-3 knot current, and a wind that was supposed to shift from east southeast to south southwest. The actual current in the Gulf Stream was more like 4.5 to 5 knots, and this really affected how far we had to sail, and we never did get the wind shift. As we sailed into the night, I saw that our northern drift was equal to our eastern progress, so we were holding a course of 90 degrees (east) and sailing a course of 45 degrees. (north east) by 4 am we were even with Bimini, and we were still making way too much progress north, but there was nothing we could do.

The Gulf Steam was a washing machine, all of us were plowing through waves and cross chop, and bouncing around all over. Matt seemed to be getting the worst of it, but all of us were getting tossed around. Sometime shortly after we made our turn east, the dinghy hit something and I heard a change in the sound of its wake. I got the flashlight and looked it over, and I could see that the port pontoon was deflating, and fast. I went down below and fired up the stove to make coffee, and again I was cursing the kerosene stove. Having to preheat it, popping up to check course and my distance to Journey and Anticipation was a complete pain, and I really needed the caffiene. I put a pot of water on, and half of it got sloshed all over, as Arden's stove is not gimballed, and does not swing to compensate for the waves or heel of the boat. That is going to get fixed very shortly after I get back north. As the night wore on we passed four or five freighters, some were off in the distance, but 2 were really close, and one of these was very poorly lit. Matt said he saw nav lights on her, but I saw none, and it was not until we were passing that I could really see what direction they were heading. That one was very close, almost too close for comfort. Not long after that, in the fatigue of early morning, I lost track of David, but I thought I could see Matt. There were also a cruise ship and a freighter in the distance, so I was getting the lights of the boats confused. I got on the radio and called Dave, and asked him to blink their mast head tricolor light, and I realized I was much closer to them than I had though, and we were sailing parallel to each other about a mile apart. I felt really relived to see them, and know that they were that close.

As the morning wore on, and the day was about to break, I figured we were nearing the edge of the stream, 20 miles north of Bimini, which matched the observed speed of the stream, at 5 knots. Dawn came, and we were still sailing northeast, and then, out of nowhere, we suddenly started making a turn to the east. The Gulf Stream was releasing its grip on us, and soon we were able to turn to the south. The wind shift we had been counting on about 5 hours earlier finally came, and once again we were sailing nose on into the wind. We were 21 miles north of our goal, and I knew we had one more long day of sailing until we got in. Just about this time the dinghy really looked like it was about to capsize totally, and it was definitely slowing me down a lot. I called David, and told him I was going to heave to and pull the dinghy out and get it on deck. I was getting bounced around a good bit, but I was able to pull the dinghy alongside. As I leaned out to get the motor off the dinghy the pull cord to my life vest got caught on something, and WHOOSH the damn thing inflated. I had to take the vest off and go get my back up harness, as I had my tether hooked to the harness in the lifevest, and I was not about to be pulling the dinghy aboard and not be clipped in to the boat. I got the motor loose and onto Arden, and then pulled up all the floor boards and the paddles. As I was getting the dinghy pulled on deck I heard a crunch, and I looked down to see my favorite sunglasses flattened on the deck. What a circus this was turning into. I finally had the dinghy on deck, deflated and lashed down, and was able to get underway again. David was amazed, I picked up just over a knot of speed not having the dinghy dragging me back like a sea anchor.

South bound we went. Matt was on out ahead of us, his lighter boat making better time in the wind state were in. He had also made a few tacks we did not, and that put him on a bit of a different course than David and I were on. We held 4 - 5 knots for a good bit, and just after 2 pm David called me on the radio with a very excited Land Ho!. We were close, and on course, and it is really a motivating thing to have made a crossing like that, and actually find the little piece of land that you were shooting for. Even in today's age of GPS and radar, seeing land for the first time in 30 hours is exilherating. Matt made the anchorage just after David and I saw the island, and he said the channel was a bit tricky to get into, so he was going to come out and guide us in. I was dying to have a cigarette, and with Peg at the helm, Journey pulled along side Arden, and David tossed a pack of cigarettes over to me. The pack hit my main sail, and then slid down into the cockpit, quite a good toss in the conditions we were in, and I was greatful for the underway replenishment.

Around 430 we finally made the Bimini channel, and I was quite mezmerized by the color of the water here, it is a turquioise coilor and just incredibly clear. Amazingly beautiful. We had dropped sail a bit earlier and raised the courtesy and quarantine flags, so we were motoring into the channel and up to the marina and the anchorage. Dave and Peg pulled into the Bimini Blue Water Resort, and I proceeded on up to the anchorage where Matt had settled in. I set both anchors, and as the dinghy was out of comission, Matt took me in and we spent the evening aboard Journey with Peg and Dave.

That was the entirety of Tuesday and Wednesday, and all of us were exhausted. All of us had clean up and storage issues. I think all of us were on the same plan, clean up, bed down, and get going in the morning. We bedded down for the night, there was good wind and it had cooled down a bit, and we had made plans to meet up in the morning to do a bit of exploring and sight seeing, after Matt and I checked in at Customs and Immigration.

Thursday, March 11th, 2010
Dawn came on the 11th and I was excited to get ashore and get a bit of exploring done. Matt picked me up, and we went in to get cleared and checked in with the authorities. After that was done we all got together and went on walk about. We were met by a guy on a bike selling lobster tails, and we bargained with him until we got them for 5 bucks a piece. God they were good and fresh, and cooked to absolute perfection. Unfortunately, all that served to do was entice our hunger, and soon we were looking for a place to actually get lunch. As we walked along we seemed to be the only tourists out and about, and we must have just looked like easy marks. Everyone wanted to sell us something, and we finally gavce in and bought conch shells from this older fellow for a buck a piece. There millions of conch shells piled everywhere onm the island, there is an endless suplly of them and they are part of almost every meal here it seems.

We finally settled on a conch shack run by an very informative and interesting guy named Joe. He told us all about the island as he fixed us conch salad, a tangy mix of Conch, onion, pepper, tomatoes and doused with lime juice. It was new and different, and pretty good, I was really suprised by just how good it was, as I am really conservative at what I eat. Joe was closing down soon, as he had to go to a wedding on up the island with his Junkanoo band. Junkanoo is an island music style that is mainly drums and percussion, and they were going to be practicing and then heading to the wedding. As we were walking back from our explorations we heard them practicing, and we went up and watched. Joe was super friendly, and was very entertaining as he and his group played.

We made our way back towards the marina, and stopped at a placve and got some Bimini bread, a local favorite that is a reallt sweet bread made with coconut and it is delicious. I think I ate my loaf pretty much in one evening.

Matt and I hung out a bit, and then we we heard about a boat aground and sinking right at the harbor mouth. We went down and watched the recovery effort, the boat luckily had skated over the rocks and was stuck on a sand bar just off shore. There were a couple of local boats involved in the recovery attempt, and it was everything they could do to get the boat off the sand and into deeper water. It looked like the boat was a Swan of about 53 feet, quite a good and expensive boat, and none of could figure out how they had gotten in so close and run aground. The seas were heavy and it was quite obviouse where the channel was just by the differences in the condition of the water. I am not sure if it was a matter of fatique or inexperience or inattention, but regardless, the boat was heavily damaged, and I think that the keel may have separated from the hull, as she was obviously taking on water as they towed it in.

I had internet when I got back to Arden, and I checked mail and was going to make a blog post in the morning. I went to bed, and then woke up around 1 am, and tried to turn the computer on, and it was dead, I could not get it to turn on at all. I think it finally gave in to the sea air and died. I hope I can get it fixed when I get back to the States, but right now I feel blind without a computer and internet.

Friday, 12 March, 2010
Friday was another day of exploring, and then Matt and I brought my dinghy in and I was able to repair it. We had to hike way up the island to find a hardware store and hopefully an inner tube to make patches out of. The hardware store had inner tubes, but they were $22 a piece, and I wasnt about to pay that. I found a guy changing tires just north of there, and he gave me a used inner tube that had been cut and gave it to me for free. We walked back and David and I got the dinghy fixed. Later that night we had a get together around 6 at the marina patio, all the boater came and did the BYOB thing, and we had a great time talking and sharing sea tales.

It is now Saturday, and we are all kind of kicking back, enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine. The is quite a breeze blowing in from the west, and the ocean is churning on the other side of the island. My computer is still dead, and I am posting this from Dave's. I have to help Matt fix his battery situation on his boat in a bit, but we are all having fun and enjoying the island, and I think I am going to go snorkling a bit later today.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the Bahamas - Great Sail, Tons of Problems, Incredible Island

I am going to make a really quick post to let everyone out there know that I have made it to Bimini and I am doing good. It was an incredible 35 hour sail, our little flotilla (Arden, Journey and Anticipation) sailed 135 miles to make a 47 mile crossing. It was quite an adventure, and a very intersting sail. In the course of the trip I had one trial after another - my dinghy got punctured and almost sank, in the course of rescuing it my life vest auto inflated and wasted a CO2 cartridge, I stepped on my sunglasses and crushed them, and the stove burner is really on the verge of dying. Last but not least, my computer succumbed to the damp sea air and died, so I am making this post from David and Peg's machine onboard Journey. I will post a more detailed and informative post tomorrow, but I am here, the weather is great, the water is incredible, and the islanders are extremely friendly and helpful. So I made it - and it is everything I thought it would be.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jimmy Buffet and the Cosmic Muffin

Catchy title eh? I read a book not too long ago that was written by Jimmy Buffet, yes, the songwriter, sailer, scalawag and drifter not only sings, produces and owns restaurants, but he also writes. And suprisingly, writes fairly well. The book I read, which is one of several actually, is "Where is Joe Merchant" and was pretty entertaining. It was definately light reading, and one of the more interesting characters in the book is a woman that lives on a house boat made from the fuselage of an old DC6. That boat was named the "Cosmic Muffin" and it, or a facimille of it, is tied up not far from where I am. I'm not sure if this boat was inspired  by the boat in the book, or if the boat in the book was based on this one, regardless, the "Cosmic Muffin" resides in Ft Lauderdale. I made a trip up this side canal today for the expressed purpose of geting a picture of this odd craft, just so I could share it with all of you here. By the way, read the book, it will give your brain a rest and keep you entertained.

Prep work for tomorrow's trip continued today, I finished up the courtesy flag for the Bahamas, and the quarantine flag as well. An interesting side note to the flag project - the book I have for making courtesy flags has the flag maker using fabric paint to do some of the smaller detail work on the flags, and one of these detail things was the Bahamanian flag that adorns the courtesy flag for the Bahamas. When I bought the fabric for flag making I did not realize this, and it turns out that I either need fabric paint, or some aquamarine colored nylon. I had neither. Sterling said he would look for some aquamarine nylon at the North Sails loft, and I figured I would hedge my bets and look for some fabric as well. There was no fabric store close by, but there was a discount clothes place not too far from where I am. So after walking up there, I was definitely suprised to find a pair of womens shorts made of-what else-aquamarine nylon. I bought them, and good thing I did, because North Sails did not have any nylon that color. The shorts were the perfect shade, and 30 minutes after I got back to the boat, I had my courtesy flag finished.

Tonight I said my goodbyes to Sven and Gabi, and Carlos and Julia. It will be sad to leave them behind, they have been really good to me, and we have all enjoyed each others company. I know Spook will miss Carlos and Julia, and they will miss her as well. Like so many other folks I have met along the way, it will be sad to leave them and finish this adventure.

I also stopped in to see my hosts Brooke and Tom, I was not sure of their schedule tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure that I gave them  my thanks and told them just how much I really do appreciate their hospitality. They have been great, and provided me with a place to tie up when I thought my stay here in Ft Lauderdale was done. I can't thank them enough for being so good to me.

So tomorrow is it. Some time around 10 Matt and I will motor down river and get to the ICW where we will meet up with David and Peg, and from there our little convoy will head down to Miami and then over to Bimini. I am finally Island bound, and am looking forward to clear water, island weather, and maybe a bit of snorkling and swimming. My next post will be from the islands, if I can get net. Until then...fair winds....

Preparations and the Second Guess

I am going to take a quick minute and get everything caught up to speed this morning, I am in the midst of getting ready to head to Bimini for a week or so, which will probably be the stop that signals the end of, well the turn around point, of this trip.

Over the last few days I have spent a whole lot of time working on Arden - sealing the chain plates, cleaning, bright work, some work on lines and rigging - you name it I have done it. The standing rigging is all back in tune after being loosened for the chain plate job, and the sealant looks like it has cured. I got my all chain anchor rode all measured out and stowed - 205 feet of G4 chain, should be plenty enough for where ever I go, and, it gives that extra safety margin of being chafe proof. That now makes 4 complete sets of rode on board, for 3 anchors. The only bit of ground tackle I am missing now is a good fisherman style take apart anchor for my storm anchor. I know where one is, and if the money is right when I get back to Oriental NC I will pick it up.

I spent a good bit of yesterday cleaning the boat and topping off the water tanks, I have a full 87 gallons on board, once again Arden is bow down, with the chain rode weighing in at about 275 lbs, and the water tank coming in at just over 320 lbs, her attitude in the water is right back where it was before I added the aft water tank, down by the bow by and inch and a half or so. Unfortunately, I am low on her marks all over, however, right now it is just an aesthetics thing, as her lines where I painted them are a bit below the manufacturer's lines. I will remedy that when I haul her out this summer or fall and repaint the hull.

I have also squeezed in every drop of fuel that I can on board, the fuel tanks are full well into the fill tubes, and the jerry jugs on deck are all full as well. I think that puts me around 47 gallons in the tanks, and 15 on deck, if I can catch a break with the wind, I will be good for fuel at least until I get to the upper end of South Carolina.

I went over to Sven und Gabi's last night, we had a barbeque for Elias' birthday (Elias is the Venezulean guy that owns the beautiful 105 foot sailing yacht) and everyone was there - Elias, Matt (who is leaving with me in the morning) Frank und Sabina, Sven, Gabi, Julia and Carlos. We had a great night, and it was also kind of a going away for Matt and I as well.

I am making my first set of flags this morning, I have made the Quaratine flag, (this is flown as you come into a foriegn port to signal the customs guys that you are requesting clearance into customs) and I am just about ready to start making my Bahamanian courtesy flag in just a few minutes. I have learned a bit about sewing nylon this AM, it is a real pain in the butt to sew out in the cockpit. It might also be that my sewing machine has a bit of age on it and may not be at 100%, but no matter, it is a bit harder to sew than say canvas.

I hope I have everything done, and am spending a bit of time second guessing things as I am often want to do, but I really can't think of much more that needs to be done, so I think I am ready.

I spoke to David and Peg this morning, they are aboard Journey and are making their last minute preparations to sail, and I outlined the plan that Matt and I settled on for our departure. We are going to leave here at about 1015 or so, that is when the tide is slack and starting to come back in. That will have us into the current at the bridges, which will give us a bit more steerage and control if we have to wait for bridge openings. I figure that it will take us an hour to an hour and a half to get down to the ICW, where we will meet David and Peg. Once we are all together, we will sail down to the main channel, out to the ocean, and hang a right and head south, the goal being south of Miami by nightfall. At sunset or just after, depending on how far south we are, our little flotilla will hang a left and head east towards Bimini. That should allow for a bit of drift due to the current in the Gulf Stream (which is at about 2 knots right now) and for some leeway as we will be running with a south/south easterly wind. If all works out as planned, we will make the Bahama Banks at or just below Bimini some time after dawn. If we get there before dawn we will lay off and wait, hopefully we will get there an hour or so after day break.

So here we are, all of us making last minute adjustments and getting set to go. I will post again in the morning, and then that may be the last post before I return to the States in a week or so, I have no idea what kind of internet will be available over there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Liz's retake on Arden

some things I did in photoshop class today....

A Waiting Game

The weather here in Ft Lauderdale has fallen into a predictable pattern, very cool upon waking up (40 something), warming up through the day to a great sunny afternoon, (60's or 70's) and then cooling slowly through the night. I am slowly working on my tan, no mom, I am not using sunblock, but yes, I am limiting my time in the sun. Suprisingly I have yet to burn, and maybe I just might be a light brown when I get back north.

Yesterday after walking Spook and a couple of cups of java, Tom took me out and about to get a few errands done and to get some supplies at West Marine. I finally found some liquid caulk, and just in time to do the caulking on the chainplate job. We hit a used book store, they had a great selection of authors I enjoy, but, they were a bit more pricey than I had expected. Oh well, seems like everything in Ft Lauderdale is more pricey than I am used to. Tom took me by a great Irish pub for lunch, Waxy O'Connors, and even though it seems to be a franchise, (they have them in Miami and a few other towns) the waitstaff was predominantly Irish, and a few of the customers sounded like they had just come out of the bog. They had a great Shepards Pie, and after a glass of two of Bass (Guinness is just a bit too stout for me) we made our way back to the house and it was time for boat work again.

The caulk I got was liquid polysulfide, and it is the perfect caulk to do the job on the chain plates. Being a liquid, it flows into every crevice, and does not have to be forced into holes the way typical caulk does. Polysulfide bonds to everything, is flexible, and can be sanded once dry. It can also be painted over, which most caulks resist. The only draw back to it is that it can take 3-4 days to dry, and I usually do not have that kind of time with the projects I get involved in to wait on caulk to dry for days. This time I have the time, and this is definitely the application for it, so it all fits into place. I also did a bit more bright work (varnishing) yesterday, the companionway hatch was showing a bit of wear, as was the aft hatch, so I did a light sanding and gave them 2 coats of Cetol, I think when I get back up north I will sand them all the way down, re caulk the joints, and refinish them completely.

Sven came by later yesterday with a guy whos boat that is tied up behind his, I am terrible with names, truly, but I think his name is Matt (might be Mark) and he comes from up near Chicago. He is in a 28 foot Beneteau that he had shipped from Chicago to here for the remainder of the winter and into the spring. I hopped a ride back over to Sven's boat with them, it had been a few days since I had been over, and we talked about, what else, sailing. Elias was there, and it was kind of a gathering of sailors for the everning. Sven had told Matt that I was heading over to Bimini in a few days, and if we can get it all worked out, now there may be 3 boats making the trip. I am going to go back over there and discuss that a bit more this morning with Matt.

I recieved a comment this morning from Lynda in Arizona, the woman that I had met the first night I was in Ft Lauderdale, she and her boyfriend came aboard for a bit and had marvelled at my boat and how I am out and about on her. Thanks for writing Lynda, glad you made it back to Arizona ok, and I hope you keep reading.

Today will be a bit of painting, more clean up, and planning for the Bimini crossing. If all goes well and the weather cooperates, looks like Tuesday may be the day.

Friday, March 5, 2010

White Wine and Sailboats

After working all day on the boat yesterday I was invited to dinner by Tom and Brooke, and we had a really nice evening on their patio drinking wine and talking about boats. Spook was invited as well, and she had a great time playing with their dogs. Tom and Brooke have 3 dogs, 2 poodles and a (I think) Llasa Apso, all of which are boat dogs and enjoy sailing.

We talked about routes to take to Bimini, and how long it would take to get there, and we talked about sailing in general. Sterling has done a whole lot of sailing all over the world, and there was a ton of sailing knowledge sitting around that table last night. Tom and Brooke have a 42 foot ketch they are working on restoring, and as we talked last night I asked Tom what his plans are, and they are to retire ( I misspoke before, Tom is not retired-yet) and go sailing. Where? Everywhere, where ever the winds will take them.

Tom made incredible burgers on the grill and Sterling whipped up a great macaroni and cheese with shrimp. We had a great meal and good fellowship, it is nice to be welcomed into someones home like this and made to feel at home, and the thing of it is, a week ago I didn't even know them - I would exchange pleasantries with Tom across the canal, but had no idea that I would be welcomed into their home like I have.

Sterling is going to talk to the folks at North Sails and see if he can use their loft to put reef points in my main sail, and I hope we can get that done soon so that I can get under way again. If not, I will have to utilize a sail loft on the other side of town, and it will cost me a bunch more than I'd like to spend and take another week or so to get done. I need to get this done though, because as it stands, Arden's sail plan will not let me heave to, I simply cannot make the sails small enough to sail in really heavy weather.

So that is the thing about sailing like I am, the people you meet and the fellowship out here on the water. It seems no matter where I go, I have met some incredible folks, and have made some good friends.

Sven came by yesterday in the afternoon, I had gone over to the boat yard to see him and Gabi in the morning, but they were both out running errands. I hope to get over there today and visit, but Sven and I have both been busy with boat work, but I'd like to get over there and visit a bit, and I am sure the kids are missing Spook.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Boat Work Goes On Forever

The past few days I have spent a good bit of time doing what I seem to do most on board Arden, and that is work. Mostly it is work that is making forward progress, things that have been on the to-do list, and sometimes new things that just crop up from an idea or a whim. Then of course there is basic maintenance, and that is constantly on going. And cleaning, seems like I never catch up or get ahead, but I do what I can to stay on top of it.

Yesterday and today I have spent most of the day working on getting my chain plates to seal up. For those not familiar, a chain plate is a flat piece of metal, normally stainless steel, that is bolted to the boat and connects the standing rigging (the stays and shrouds to the mast) to the hull. On Arden there are 6 chain plates, 3 per side, and of the 6, 2 have been consistently leaking since I launched the boat. Talk about an on going project. Last year I tried to rebed them (caulk them and make them water tight) but my efforts only worked for so long before the seep returned and I had a mess inside my cupboards. I even went as far as taking the Dremel Tool and routing out a new area around them and then using 5200 caulk, but that lasted only so long as well. Then a few months ago, well heck close to a year ago, I saw an article in Good Old Boat magazine that had one guy's fix to this.

On a lot of boats the chain plates are mounted outside the hull and bolt through to timbers on the inside, and I had considered doing this to Arden. It is a lengthy and involved job, and I decided to try the method described in Good Old Boat first before I commited to making that undertaking. Arden is set up like most boats, the chain plates go down through the deck in a slot, and the slot is cut a bit larger than the metal of the chain plate itself. This extra room allows for caulking compound to be squeezed in, and theoreticly that will keep any water out and the boat dry. However, all of this is subject to a lot of factors, expansion and contraction of the various materials, the bond between the caulk and the hull, and the caulk and the metal. It doesn't help when the chain plate goes through a low spot on the deck that seems to always trap water, and this is of course where these 2 leaking chain plates are located.

So here is the fix. You build a raised area on deck, around the chain plate, that will keep pooled up water away from the deck penetration, and shed off rain water at the same time. How do you accomplish this? By building forms and pouring epoxy into the mold you have created.

To prepare the hull for this process I first removed the shrouds from the 2 chain plates in question. Then I removed the escutcheons and got down to the deck. I dug out all the old caulk, and then began the surface preparation. The bond between the new epoxy and the deck is key, and so to make sure I had a good bonding surface I sanded the deck and the bulkwark with 50 grit sand paper. I removed the paint and made sure to take the sanding well into the gel coat, there needs to be a very clean and rough surface for the epoxy to adhere to. Once the sanding was done, I drilled out the old screw holes for the escutcheon plates, and then vacuumed away all the dust and debris. Once that was done I wiped the entire area down and cleaned it up with acetone.

After clean up was complete, I laid out how I wanted the new bases to be formed, and marked it all out with a permanent marker. I then got out some modelling clay I had gotten a year ago for this expressed purpose, and sliced it into 1/2 inch thick slabs. I also cut off a slab that was about 1/8 of an inch thick, this I would use to create the caulking groove around the chain plate. In the article in Good Old Boat, this entire job was completed on a boat where the rigging was removed and the chain plates were being replaced. On Arden I could not take the time to remove the chain plates, so I made a slight adjustment to how the job was done. I wrapped the chain plate with a thin layer of modeling clay, this would provide the area where caulk would be applied once the epoxied areas had cured. Next I made a form, or mold, out of the modeling clay, the idea here is that the clay is strong enough to hold the epoxy, easy to form and work with, and once the epoxy had cured, it could be removed easy enough.

I made the forms so that the poured epoxy would make a raised area around the chain plate about 3/4 of an inch thick. This would now move the joint where the chain plate penetrated the deck up out of any standing water. I also tapered the form so that there would be a slight angle on the top of the raised area that would help drain water away from the joint. Once the forms were complete, I mixed up the epoxy. I used West Systems epoxy for this job, I have several different brands of epoxy on board, but I wanted the cure time to be fairly quick, and the West stuff was the only epoxy that I had fast curing hardener for. I do not particularly like using West System, it is supposedly the best, but, it has a mixing ratio of 5 to1, that is a real pain in the posterior when you are using measuring cups and doing it all by hand. For work such as this I much prefer MAS or Systems Three, both of which use a 2 to 1 ratio, that is easier to mix and a bit more forgiving if the ratio is a drop or two off. Once the epoxy was mixed up I added in a bit of chopped fiberglass to the mix to give the epoxy some strength, and I also added some Cabosil to it to thicken it up. Until it hardens epoxy is like wet concrete, it needs a thickening agent added to it to keep it from running or slumping. The Cabosil is a silica based powder that thickens epoxy much like flour thickens gravy.

I poured my epoxy concoction into the molds, and made sure to press it down into the holes where the screws used to go into the deck. I used a small screw driver to do this, pushing the epoxy in and making sure any trapped air got out. I then smoothed the epoxy, and waited for it to dry. And waited. And waited a bit more. I am not sure if it was the outside temperature, or if it was because my resin was old, but it took forever for the epoxy to set up and dry. Once it did harden though, the end result looked pretty good. It took a bit of work to get the clay off the chainplate and out of the slot for the caulk, but in the end it was not bad and could have been worse. I mixed up another batch of epoxy and filler to make fillets around the new pieces, this will help move water away from the blocks and blend them into the deck and the bulwarks.

Now it is time for paint and caulk, and the job will be complete, and hopefully, I will have a boat that is a bit drier now than it was before.

I spoke to David Schaake this morning, he and Peg are still here in Ft Lauderdale aboard Journey, looks like if I can get my sails done in time we may head to Bimini together, they are waiting on a few things and the right weather window, and I am doing the same. Our plan is to keep in touch over the next 4 or 5 days and see if we can't both be ready to go at the same time. I sure would like to hit the islands before I sail north, would kind of really cap off this trip.