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We left on a Friday – Who believes those old superstitions anyway?

Sailors are a superstitious bunch.  Some of those superstitions include such things as bad luck to have bananas on board, don’t change the name of your boat (at least without a full ceremony and offerings to Neptune) and never, ever, leave on Friday.  On top of these superstitions, the Bahamas happen to be smack dab in the Bermuda Triangle and, of course, everyone knows bad things happen there.

Superstitious minds

So, that being said, at 6 pm on Friday we pulled anchor at Black Point Settlement heading for George Town.  This was expected to be a 10 to 12 hour trip to cover the 55 or so nautical miles.   Since in sailing you can’t always go from point A to point B in a direct line our plan was to head out about 10 miles offshore then angle back in toward Georgetown so the winds would be on our beam (side) instead of directly on our nose. 

Beautiful view leaving Black Point Settlement

Russell took first watch and off we go motoring away from land while I tried to nap so I would be awake for my 9 to mid-night watch.  By the time I came on watch, he had put out the fishing lines and already made the turn to head toward George Town.  Just as he was getting ready to get some rest, the auto pilot suddenly had us heading in the opposite direction.  He started the motor and got the boat turned back around but we really couldn’t figure out what had happened.  Everything seemed to be working fine so I took over and he went to sleep. 

My watch was pretty uneventful except the winds were not exactly as we hoped so I couldn’t maintain the angle we had wanted.  We would need to tack again and go back out a second time.  Hopefully this would get us there.  

Russell had the mid-night to 3 am watch and by the time I took over again he had already tacked and we were headed back offshore.  He let me know that the auto pilot had turned us around again, we think due to the wind switches and current, so I would need to watch for that.  He also found one of our lifelines had broken.  The seas were a little rough and it was hot inside, so he lay down on deck for a while before going inside to sleep.  Meanwhile I was focused on the radar because it was showing a number of storms popping up around us and I could see lightening in the distance.  Fortunately, none of these storms got closer than a couple of miles from us.

At 5 am everything kind of went haywire.  The instruments started beeping an alarm and showing a low battery error.  Seems our house batteries, which run all of our lights and instruments, including the autopilot, had run down.  Russell went to start the engine and NOTHING.  The starter battery for the engine is in no way connected to our house bank so it shouldn’t have been down.  He started the generator instead (which also has an independent battery) to recharge the house batteries and began looking for his glasses so he could try to figure out the problem with the engine.  They were nowhere to be found.  He had left them on the seat and seems they had bounced off the boat.  He got his spare pair of glasses and found the issue with the starter battery was corrosion on the cable.  A quick fix and the engine was running smoothly.  Only it still wasn’t charging the batteries.  Not the end of the world since the generator can charge them but something that will need to be fixed when we get to George Town.  

By this time, it was after 6 am and I was officially off watch so I went in to get some sleep.  Every now and then I would hear him moving around on deck and see him out the window but he never yelled for me to come up so it wasn’t until later I found out that when the sun came up he finally figured out why the lifeline was broken. 

A block for the sheet (rope that is attached to the bottom) on our jib (sail) had broken so the sheet was pulling up against the lifeline.  Since the lifeline had broken, the sheet was then pulling against the handrail so needed to be fixed before that also broke.  He went forward and managed to fix the block but then had to run the sheet back through.  This meant loosening it which caused the sail to flap around.  Since the sheet is attached to the sail, it was whipping through the air and beating the crap out of him, including hitting him in the face.  He was finally able to get it under control, through the block and tied off.  It was only after the got back to the cockpit that he realized he was no longer wearing his glasses.  They had been knocked overboard when the sheet hit him in the face.

We still weren’t able to get the right angle into George Town so instead of tacking back out to sea for a third time, we motor sailed a direct route the rest of the way.

A few hours later we had the hook down and were resting up.

Land Ho

Summary of our issues:

  1. our fishing lines tangled when the autopilot turned us in a circle causing us to lose line and another lure
  2. we broke a block on the jibsheet
  3. alternator not charging house batteries
  4. battery cable on starter battery had corrosion causing engine not to start
  5. we broke a lifeline
  6. lost both pair of Russell’s prescription glasses
  7. 55 miles as the crow flies but took us 16 hours to sail/motor sail

Was any of this due to the fact that we left on a Friday?  I really can’t answer that but am pretty sure we’ll think long and hard before tempting the fates again. 

Big Major/Staniel Cays and Black Point Settlement – these pigs are famous!

We generally attempt to sail but this time of year the winds seem to always be coming from the wrong direction so we usually end up motor sailing.  For the trip from Exuma Land and Sea Park to Big Major Cay we were able to sail about half the way before starting the engine.

Big Major Cay is famous for pig beach.  These pigs come running onto the beach when you pull up looking for handouts.  They’ll even swim out to your dinghy if you don’t land.  Most of the pigs were asleep in the shade when we got there but a couple of them showed up looking for food.  We brought carrots to feed them but neither of us wanted to lose a finger, so we basically just threw them down and let the pigs scarf them up.  They’re so used to people you can pet the sleeping ones and they never even move.

We’ll keep our fingers, thanks
They swim right out

Staniel Cay is right next to Big Major.  Russell and I had both been hoping for a place we could walk around and find local food and culture.  We found that on Staniel.  Our first stop was the Staniel Cay Yacht Club which caters to tourists and we found to be very expensive – $15 each for mixed drinks! But the next day we took a walk through town, found some local color and a restaurant for a burger then made a few purchases at the grocery.  We found everyone to be very friendly. 

walking through town
Can you hear me now?

That afternoon we snorkeled the famous Thunderball Grotto from the James Bond movie.  It’s basically a tunnel through a small rock island that has openings you can swim into that opens up to a cave once you’re inside.  The sun shines through holes in the top and down into the water.  It is a pretty amazing place and easily accessed by dinghy.  However, since the current was pretty strong we didn’t get to explore around the back side.

The next morning, we packed up our laundry and headed back into town.  After leaving Puff at the dinghy dock we walked a short distance to the most interesting laundry facility I could image.  It was actually a laundry/bar/liquor store with great internet.  A few cold beers makes doing laundry a lot less painful!!  Just wish I had remembered to take a picture.

After hauling our clean laundry (and alcohol purchase) back to the boat it was time for a second try at Thunderball Grotto.  This time the current wasn’t nearly as strong and we actually remembered to take our underwater cameras so we could get some footage.  Here too the coral seems to be pretty healthy  with a good population of reef fish.  If you ever get an opportunity to snorkel here, I highly recommend it.

Inside the grotto
Sunlight streaming through the water
Healthy underwater life just outside the grotto

Next up was a short (6 mile) sail to Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay.  This is a decent sized little island and from what we understand it’s where a lot of the service workers for the neighboring islands live.  We would see small open boats leaving each morning and returning in the afternoon which we believed were the equivalent to the car pool back home.

Black Point isn’t a real touristy place but has a number of little bars and restaurants that are locally owned and operated.  The prices here are much better than in other places we’ve been but they are totally dependent on the supply boat.  When we first got here the boat was overdue so a lot of items on the menus were not available.

We found the people to be open and friendly and we felt perfectly safe roaming around the island.  While wandering through town we happened to meet up with Matt from Sailing Good, Bad, and Ugly.  He and his girlfriend, Kristen, have been hilariously honest while documenting their cruising life and Russell and I have been following them on YouTube for a while now.   Go subscribe to their YouTube channel at Sailing Good, Bad, and Ugly.  I think you will really enjoy it.             

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSpPCvsStba64VTs-dy2sRw

That day one the local restaurants was on the VHF radio advertising happy hour and dinner so we decided to head on over.  We ran into some other cruisers from Louisiana as well as Matt & Kristen and Andrew & Jazz, a couple we met earlier at the Land and Sea Park on SV Villa Veritas.  We all had drinks but when it was time for dinner we noticed them putting up a sign that the kitchen would be closed for 4 hours.  Oh well, that’s island life.  We just walked down the road to the next place.

Next day we slept in then went snorkeling after lunch.  Russell took his spear along but we didn’t find any fish.  Lucky for us Matt dropped by and was nice enough to share some of his bounty!

One more day here at Black Point Settlement then we plan to do an overnight sail to Georgetown.

Exuma Land and Sea Park – This place is gorgeous!

We arrived at Exuma Land and Sea Park on Wednesday, May 1st.  The park encompasses a number of islands with the park headquarters located on Warderick Wells.  We anchored near the Emerald Rock mooring field and after settling in dinghied to the office.  We paid our anchoring fee ($23 per day for our sized boat) and checked out the gift shop.  Our cruising guide said you could buy internet however that didn’t turn out to be the case.   But the nice lady at the office told us if we turned right from the gift shop and went down to the third step we should be able to get a couple of bars.  It worked!  We were able to at least get a message out to the family that we were alive and well.  We took a short walk on the beach and found the whale skeleton they have on display before returning to the boat.

Poor guy

The next morning we decided to hike up to Boo-Boo Hill.  This place is famous with cruisers who leave offerings for Neptune and ask for his blessing.  These offerings are normally something on wood identifying their boat. 

From all the cruisers before us

The park asks that you stay on the marked trails which isn’t always easy to do because their marking system leaves something to be desired.  However, we found the trail and made the climb to the top of the hill.  The views are stunning!!  The trail to Boo-Boo Hill looks down over the North mooring field and the colors of the water are really unbelievable.

Clearly marked trail
North mooring field

We didn’t have anything with us for an offering so picked up an old piece of driftwood to bring back to the boat to decorate.

The park gives out maps to good snorkeling areas so that afternoon we checked out a couple of the spots.

Our second day, we hiked a different trail up to the Davis ruins, where we found we could get internet at the top of the hill!  We also found a great little snorkel area just off one of the many little beaches that dot the island.

view from the top

The next day, we dinghied around to the southeast end of the island and found some really great snorkeling.  We saw numerous fish, turtles and even a spotted eagle ray!  Of course we didn’t bring underwater cameras with us. The park appears to be supporting some healthy, young coral reefs which we were very gratified to see.

On Saturday, we took a different, longer, rockier trail back to Boo-Boo Hill to leave our offering and request Neptune’s blessing for our travels and for gathering bounty from the sea – we need all the help we can get!

Our offering to Neptune

That evening there was a gathering on the beach for the boaters and park workers.  If was interesting to meet different cruisers as well as the guys in the Bahamian military whose job it is to help protect the park.

I cannot express just how beautiful this place is.  The colors of the water, the rugged limestone of the island and the plant filled interior, it’s just spectacular.  I am so grateful that the government of the Bahamas is preserving this pristine area for future visitors.

Absolutely amazing
just a walk on the beach

Sunday morning we pulled anchor and headed to the Big Major/Staniel Cay for the next stop on our big adventure.

The Bahamas – do they really want us here?

We spent three weeks in Key West and, if you haven’t been there, you should go.  We were very impressed with how accommodating the town is.  Everything is either within walking distance or accessible via the bus line.  This is especially important for cruisers who typically have no form of land transportation.  We enjoyed exploring during the day and we did the obligatory pub crawls on a couple evenings as well.  At some point we both realized we were beginning to see the same people on the bus.  Once we started recognizing the locals it was time to go!

We scheduled a visit by the mobile pump-out boat, made a trip to the fuel docks to top off our diesel tanks, stocked up on groceries and on April 20th, headed for the Bahamas.

We had heard horror stories about crossing the Gulf Stream and I’m sure it can get very rough, but we followed a cold front and actually had a great crossing.  Our forecast was for moderate to very light winds, so we expected to have to motor most of the way.  Turns out we had great winds with calm seas and were able to sail almost the entire trip.  Ddraig is a big, heavy boat but at times we were actually doing over 10 knots with help from the gulf stream currents

We put out a line and caught our first keeper – a dolphin fish (Mahi Mahi).

it’s a keeper!!

We dropped anchor almost exactly 24 hours after we left Key West at North Cat Cay.  Since it was Easter Sunday, we were pretty sure Customs and Immigration wouldn’t be open, so we raised our Q flag and settled in.  After a bit of research, we discovered Easter Monday is also a holiday so we didn’t attempt to check in until Tuesday. 

On Tuesday morning, we gathered up our paperwork, passports and money, put the dinghy in the water and headed in.   As soon as we pulled up to the marina, a gentleman in a golf cart comes driving up demanding to know what we wanted.  Once we explained that we needed to check in he told us it would be $112 for the marina fee.  Seems Cat Cay is a private island and there’s a fee to go onto the island.  This is above the normal fee for a cruising permit which for our boat is $300.  We decided not to pay and told him we would check in elsewhere.

We chose to sail to Chub Cay for our check in.  Between Cat Cay and Chub Cay is the Great Bahama Bank.  The banks are very shallow but there are well documented routes that are used to safely cross.  We left Cat Cay on Tuesday afternoon with very little wind.  We motor sailed until around midnight then took down the sails.  We ended up anchoring for a few hours out on the banks which was actually pretty cool.  At sunrise we pulled up the anchor to finish our journey to Chub Cay. 

At Chub, we anchored just outside the marina entrance off a beautiful little resort beach.  Once we were confident the anchor was holding well, we headed into the marina in search of Customs and Immigration.  A very nice gentleman took our dinghy line, tied us up and promptly informed us that within the last two weeks Chub had also instituted the same $112 fee!  Well crap!!  At least this guy was friendly and said we could drop off our trash and they would provide a ride to the airport.  We decided to pay up and get it over with.  Afterwards I asked if there was a restaurant where we could eat.  I was informed they did have a restaurant but only for marina guests.  Our paltry fee didn’t afford us access.

At least we were now legally in the country and could leave the boat.  For the next couple of days we explored two nearby uninhabited islands and snorkeled.

Private resort on Chub-guess who is in all their sunset pics!

Next stop was Highborne Cay where we found some of that Bahamian hospitality we’d heard about!  Highborne is also a private island but has a marina with a dinghy dock, trash disposal ($5 fee per bag), a small (and very pricy) store, fuel dock and a restaurant that is welcoming to visitors. There was also internet access until lightening struck the tower while we were there.  A short dinghy ride from Highborne took us to Allans Cay.

Allans is famous for the Iguanas that live free on the island.  The adults are about the size of a small dog and since visitors feed them, they run out onto the beach to greet you when you pull up.  I found it a little bit creepy but very cool.  There are a number of small islands that make up Allans with numerous beautiful little beaches and some decent snorkeling.  After a couple of days, we headed off in search of internet so we could upload our blog and let the family know we were still alive.

Allans Cay Iguanas

Our next stop was Normans Cay.  Unfortunately, they are on the same cell tower as Highborne so still no internet but beautiful beaches and a bar!  McDuff’s is hidden behind some vacation rentals and is also a restaurant offering lunch and dinner.  After a few very, very expensive drinks we dinghied back to Ddraig for dinner.

Our normal routine in the evening is to turn on the generator for an hour and make water.  Once we turn off the generator, we leave the engine room door open to allow everything to cool before I make dinner.  We have to remove the galley steps in order to open the engine room door leaving an approximately 3 foot drop from the saloon to the galley.  That night our timing was a little off.  I made dinner when we got back to the boat and we ate while we were running the generator.  After dinner, I made some rum and pineapple drinks and we went on deck to watch the sunset.  When I came back down it was after dark and I didn’t realize we had never put the galley steps back in.  I usually go down the steps backwards if I’m carrying anything (I had our drink glasses in my hands) so I suddenly found myself laying flat on my back on the galley floor.  Fortunately, I didn’t really hurt myself but we both realized it could have been very bad.  We’ve now added a rope that goes across the entryway any time the stairs are out.

The next day brought pretty high winds so we stayed aboard and enjoyed the view of the mega yachts at anchor.  Rumor has it the 358 foot yacht in the distance belongs to the owner of the Miami Dolphins. 

this thing is massive!!

Time to plan our next hop which will take us to Warderick Wells and the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

Key West – WOW!

We enjoyed our time in Fort Myers Beach.  While the choice of anchorages is limited, there are mooring balls available.  We were anchored just outside the channel in Matanzas Pass.  This is a very busy pass that provided lots of entertainment without causing the boat to rock too much to be comfortable. 

There is a dinghy dock nearby and we only had to walk a few blocks to catch the free trolley that basically circles the island.  We were able to catch the trolley to a Publix for grocery shopping and to the laundry.  There are several restaurants nearby with dinghy docks as well as marinas with fuel and boat stores.  The beach is gorgeous and was very busy as it was spring break time.  There are lots of little shops, restaurants and bars where you can sit with a drink and people watch.

We tried fishing in our anchorage without any luck but were able to stag some coconuts as they floated by.

Catch of the day

After a week, it was time to head out.  We left for Key West on Friday, (I know, I know, leaving on Friday is supposed to be bad luck) March 29th, since according to Predict Wind the wind conditions would be perfect. 

We had a good downwind sail for about 2 hours, complete with a dolphin visit, before the winds started to die.  After bobbing along at 3 knots for awhile we started the motor.  We ended up having to motor the rest of the way as the winds completely died.  On the plus side, seas were flat, so we were very comfortable.  We put out a lure but had no luck catching a fish.

It was getting dark as we approached Key West and since we never want to go into an unfamiliar area after dark, we decided to stay out over night and go in the next day.  There were numerous fishing and shrimp boats around, so we actually went back out quite a way to avoid them.  We ended up heaving to (which means using your sails and rudder to basically stop the boat) and waiting until morning.  As we were approaching Key West the next day, we had to dodge a lot of crab pots, so we were really glad we hadn’t attempted it in the dark.

Key West is one busy place!!  There are all kinds of boats taking tourists out sightseeing or fishing, pleasure craft and sea-doos zipping around everywhere.  There are even floating tiki hut bars.

Busy Key West

There are two main anchorages, one off Wisteria Island and one off of Fleming Key.  We had heard Fleming Key was the safer of the two, so we headed there and dropped our anchor.  I’m not sure why but both of us sort of felt that getting to Key West is a major milestone and in some strange way marks the real beginning of our cruising life.

The Blue Angels were in town putting on an air show, so we enjoyed the show as well as a beautiful sunset view from the boat.  The next morning, we put the dinghy in the water and motored around the anchorage taking in the sights.  My first time seeing a boat with a portable storage building alongside!  Seeing this did make me feel better about hanging our laundry in the cockpit to dry.

There goes the neighborhood

We made our way to shore and purchased a temporary tag that allows us to use the dinghy dock (along with dropping off garbage and getting fresh water if needed) and started to explore.  We decided to get a one-day trolley ticket and ride it around the island to get a general idea where everything was located.  The trolley driver provides a narrative as you go along so we learned a lot about the island.

Key West is a very interesting place!  The island seems to be divided in half with Old Town being the tourist area and New Key West being the “normal” side of the island – meaning that is where you will find the Home Depot, Publix, etc.  We go ashore at least every other day and explore the Old Town shops and bars.  If you don’t mind walking, you can get to everything in Old Town by foot.  Don’t worry, if you get hungry or thirsty there are restaurants and bars everywhere you turn!  Evenings on the boat are normally spent with a glass of wine enjoying the breeze in the cockpit, watching the sunset, listening to music and reading.

Evening view from the cockpit

We’ve also tried fishing from the boat, but we must be anchored in a fish nursery since we can only catch baby fish.  One day we took the dinghy to fish near some mangroves and Russell caught a shark! We threw it back but later realized it was one we could have kept and eaten.  Oh well, next time.

SHARK!!!

So far since leaving Kemah, we’ve gone 1374 nautical miles but as always, we’re starting to think about where we’re going next so we’re beginning to look at routes and watch weather conditions. 

Next stop?   Probably the Bahamas!

Fort Myers – only a month late

Pensacola was great and we were even able to meet up with some old friends I went to school with who now live there.  But we needed to get moving.  We pulled anchor at 5 pm on Thursday, March 17, for a short overnight run to Panama City.  Winds were light and seas were calm so we had to motor almost the entire way.  On the plus side, I wasn’t seasick at all (yeah me!).   We anchored in Bunkers Cove off St Andrews bay which was beautiful and well protected.  We didn’t go ashore but could still see a lot of damage from hurricane Michael. 

So long Pensacola – thanks for the safe haven

On Thursday, the 22nd, we left for Ft Myers – which, of course, was our original destination when we left Kemah last month.  We pulled anchor at 7 am and made our way back out into the Gulf.  Winds were 15 to 20 knots with 3 to 5 foot seas from behind making for very rolly conditions but we were sailing along around 5 ½ to 6 knots with the main and jib. 

We were visited by several different pods of dolphins that would play by the boat for long periods of time before disappearing again.  We saw a large sea turtle that appeared to be sleeping on top of the water.  I guess we interrupted his nap because as we got closer he swam a bit and then dove.  We were also surprised to see a number of small birds that far off shore.  A couple of which landed on our boat and then died.  Russell tried to give one some fresh water and even though it drank some it didn’t make it.  Our best guess is that they were Purple Martins migrating up from Central America.

At one point we did, kind of, maybe, sort of, sail through a little bit of the bombing area used by the military.  At least that’s what we think the guy in the fighter jet was trying to tell us as he zoomed by.

On my 3 to 6 am watch Friday morning I was seasick again because I stupidly forgot to take another Bonine (will try not to let that happen again!) but thankfully the seas settled down and I was able to recover.  Unfortunately that was because the wind died. So after a few hours of poking along at 3 knots, we started up Old Blue and motor sailed what turned out to be the rest of the way into Ft Myers.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day of motor sailing.  We put out a lure and within a short period of time  caught our very first fish, a Mackerel.  Since our Florida fish ID book cautions against eating them (potential for ciguatera or parasites – YUCK) we threw it back.  Our next fish was a tuna!!! Well, it was actually a Little Tunny or Bonito which is only rated as bait fish in our trusty book so, back into the water it went.  At any rate, it was a beautiful fish.  As we got closer to Ft Myers we began so see crab pots so brought in the lure.

Beautiful fish too bad they aren’t good to eat

There are limited anchorages shown in the guidebooks but we choose Matanzas Pass which is directly behind Ft Myers Beach.  Since our mast is somewhere around 62 feet and the bridge clearance is 65 we planned to anchor just before the bridge.  We were coming through this very narrow channel just at sunset and the first thing I see is a sailboat laid over on its side.  Didn’t give me the warm fuzzies I have to say!  But we were able to drop our anchor in a small unoccupied spot barely outside the channel just as it was getting dark. 

Holy crap it’s shallow just over there!

Successful passage so now dinner of spaghetti with wine, lots of wine!

Figuring out life on the hook

Being newbies to this cruising life, every day is a learning experience. 

We’re currently anchored in English Navy Cove near Pensacola.  This has proven to be not only a beautiful but cruiser friendly anchorage as Shoreline Park has a boat launch where we can tie up our dinghy.

Shoreline Park

Due to the issue with the leaking window, we had quite a bit of damp/dirty laundry.   Way more than we wanted to hand wash aboard.  We were able to dinghy across the bay to a day use dock and, after only walking a little over a city block with our backpacks full of dirty clothes, found a coin operated laundry. 

We’re also big fans of Uber!!  We can schedule a pickup right at the boat launch for longer trips such as grocery shopping or the inevitable trip to West Marine.

Our days have been spent on the normal day to day chores as well as fixing the issues we had from our gulf crossing.  Russell was able fabricate and weld a new piece to fix the broken stay.  I’ve resealed all of the windows on the forward half of the boat.  We added latches to some of the cabinets that wouldn’t stay closed and I made lee cloths for the bunks.  We’ve also ordered a painfully expensive part for the autopilot. 

welding on boats

There is a full service marina across the bay so we pulled anchor, motored over and filled our tanks with diesel and fresh water.  We were also able to pump out the holding tanks. We came back and re-anchored in the same spot to wait for our autopilot part.  Unfortunately, there now seems to have been an issue with the shipping. Our original plan was to have it dropped off at a local UPS office near the park. When we called in the order the vendor told us they only ship FedEx so we changed the delivery address to a FedEx office. Turns out they shipped it UPS which will not be accepted at a FedEx office. We attempted to have it re-routed but for some reason just received an email shipping notice that it was routed back to the vendor. I guess this is just a small preview of what we can expect if we have to wait for deliveries once we’re in the islands so we might as well chill out here while we wait. Chill out being more than just an expression in our case as it was in the 30s last night! Ready to get moving south.