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.

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