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.