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.