Not to blow the surprise, but we’ve arrived in the Bahamas. Jenn is on her way here in a couple days, so we’re moving up from where we entered to Freeport where she’s arriving. So, we decided to move out of the protection of Alice Town on Bimini so we’ll be able to take off early tomorrow for the long run north. It’s actually longer from where we are to Freeport than it was from Florida to Bimini. I expected to be able to tether to my T-Mobile phone… I’d tried yesterday and it seemed to work. But, now that we’re out here… no go, sort of… I get a little connection, but not enough to do work. So, that makes for an unscheduled down-time for the rest of the day. I suppose it’s OK… I’ve been working pretty steadily for the past several weeks. But, there’s a lot going on there, and I don’t want to do any while Jenn’s here, so it’s a little frustrating. Anyway… you’re not here for the frustrations, you’re here for the fun stuff. That’s what bloggers do, right? Write about the fun stuff?! Here goes…
Florida for Months
Since the last episode, we’ve moved south through Florida on the ICW. We stayed at a free dock in Sisters Creek for a couple days. There’s a retired couple who had done lots of cruising that come to the dock daily to check if anyone needs anything, because it’s far from everything. Our propane for our grill ran out that night, so they were kind enough to take the tank and get it refilled. The kindness of strangers, and the reliance you realize you have on such kindnesses while traveling is humbling and encouraging… there may be hope for the human race after all.
One day, while Gabe was on skipper duty, he saw a pelican skimming just inches above the water, as they do. They look so graceful and smooth, for such a large and awkwardly shaped creature. As it banked for a turn, one of its wing tips dipped a little too low, catching the water. This resulted in a rapid unscheduled deceleration of one side of the bird, who proceeded to roll into a ball of feathers and spray. So much for grace.
St. Augustine was a place one could easily get stuck. They have a cruising community there that I’ve not found the likes of yet (though I’m sure they exist). Every morning there’s a radio program on the VHF welcoming some, saying goodbye to others, and giving general news. One of the restaurants, Anne O’Malleys, have a free dinner for cruisers every Wednesday. Unfortunately, they were closed for two weeks while we were there, remodeling after the hurricane damage as soon as high season ended. With the holiday vibe, the good music and nightlife, and cool, walkable old town area, we got stuck for a little while.
A Little Excitement
We had an interesting near-miss when we came in to St. Augustine. After getting tied up to a mooring ball, we started to get the dinghy ready. This includes pumping it up some, lifting it up into the air to clear the decks and then down into the water, pumping it up the rest of the way, and attaching the outboard. While doing that, we were letting the diesel idle to let it cool nice and even, improving its longevity (it’s almost as old as me… gotta treat it nice). I started to notice it sounding a little different, so opened up the engine compartment and smelled gasoline!!! That’s bad. One should never smell gasoline, let alone in a confined space with a hot combustion engine. I immediately shut down the engine, or should say, I tried to shut down the engine. It just kept going. Now, I’ve had old engines that “diesel” before. The “Thunder Pig” camper in New Zealand never shut off… you had to kill the engine by popping the clutch. But, this engine doesn’t do that. The gas fumes in the engine compartment were strong enough to keep the diesel going even when the fuel was cut off. Yikes! When the fuel tank for the outboard was taken out, one of the spare tanks got turned over… normally it should be tied upright, but it wasn’t for some reason… and enough fuel dripped out of the not-quite-tight air vent before we noticed it to cause this. With lots of airing out and cleaning, we got things safe again. But, had we turned the diesel off earlier, who knows how long it would have been until we noticed it… perhaps not until later that night after returning from dinner.
At Cocoa Beach, we rented a car and went to Kennedy Space Center for a day. If you ever get the chance to go, do. It’s a little pricey, but totally worth it. I’ve been three times, and every time has been great. It’s a fabulous place to learn about some of the true American heroes… the men and women who have made such tremendous contributions to our species. Not just the guys who landed on the moon, and not just the men and women who have been to space, but also all of the ground crews, the brains behind the program, and the workers who made it all happen. Without them, the technology we use daily and take for granted, from cell phones to medicine, wouldn’t be what it is.
Through West Palm Beach we passed water that was clear blue, warm and beautiful. The amount of traffic on the water increased, and the activity changed. There were people in bathing suits instead of sweaters, and people in the water on purpose. The ICW gets very narrow, and is surrounded by lawns and houses, with cuts going off the waterway like cul-de-sacs in a housing community. Many with huge boats parked along them. It’s like taking a lazy river ride through Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
At the end of January we were in Oleta State Park, north of Miami. It was a great little anchorage and a nice park and beach. The boys and I went in to Miami to be part of the Women’s March. There’s much that could be said, and has been said, about this, but I’ll take a moment to say why we made the 2 hour walk/bus ride to the march. We have mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends who are women, and whom we expect to be treated fairly, equitably, and respectfully. I live my life in such a way that I try to do this in all of my interactions, whether in the presence of women or not. However, the outrage of the president’s treatment of women, the fact that enough people were not outraged by this to allow him to still be elected, combined with the ongoing facts regarding the inequities between the sexes in America (a woman will make 70% of the pay that a man makes for the same job; the only law in the US that puts men and women on equal footing is the right to vote; discrimination against people of varying races, creeds, or sexes is still rampant; men’s “ownership” of women, especially as seen in religious groups of all sorts, is accepted; etc.) have caused this to come to a head… and I think it’s overdue.
One night I was awakened by an alarm on my phone at 3:50am with a tornado warning. I turned on the VHF radio to get the weather and NOAA was giving details of a line of strong wind that radar indicated having rotation, and the positions they were giving was right where we were! The rain increased to the point we couldn’t see the 100 yards to shore, and when I went out as fast as possible to get life jackets out of the hold for everyone to don, I came back soaked. In the end, nothing happened. The front passed over and, short of some drenching rain, some crazy wind, and lost sleep, all was well.
Jenn arrived for a week visit. The plan was to continue to stay at Oleta, but it became obvious we were not supposed to be landing the dinghy there, and she’d not have a place to park the car, so we moved to Pelican Harbor Marina. The boys and I made the move while Jenn and Gabe were out looking for him to get a job by visiting marinas while she had the car. To our surprise, he not only got a job, but said job needed him on board that very night. So, they were off to get things purchased that were needed, we packed up his stuff while underway, they met us at the marina, we had dinner, and dropped him off at his marina. Suddenly, we were one crewman short. We spent the rest of the week in the marina on a mooring, running errands while we had a car, and enjoying time with Jenn.
The Florida Keys are Waiting for You
At the beginning of February, we moved out of Miami and passed the last drawbridge on the ICW, crossed the Biscayne Bay and moved into the Florida Keys. We stopped a few places, but eventually landed in Tarpon Basin off of Key Largo. There’s a free dinghy dock at the county community center, and it’s a short walk to a library, Publix grocery store, and other necessities, but a long walk to a laundromat. We ended up hanging here for quite a while. There were issues with Gabe’s newfound job, so we waited to see whether he’d be able to get it worked out. Going to the library to work, with fast internet, desks, and chair, then picking up fresh chicken from the grocery just got to be too easy. Gabe came back to the boat, and we took a weekend and drove down to Key West so he could put in applications on many yachts there, based on recommendations he’d been given. We had a really lovely couple days there. Then, waited for a weather window to open to give us a safe and, hopefully, easy passage to the Bahamas.
The Window Opens
February 24 it looked like that window would open the following day. We took off that morning to move from Key Largo up to Pumpkin Key, then out the inlet to the open ocean. We went out to Shark Reef, which is one of the reefs that is part of the John Pennekamp State Park, and tied on to a mooring ball there. We swam, scrubbed the bottom of the boat, ate, and went to bed early for little sleep (at least on my part). The reason we went out there was because we could be out to the ocean when we leave in the dark, rather than needing to navigate a narrow inlet and various reefs in the dark. At 2am, we slipped the line and set sail to the east.
The plan was to go due east, according to the compass, and the current of the Gulf Stream should take us north such that we’d land at Cat Cay south of Bimini for check in. Well, it worked a little too well, probably because we’re slower than those who gave this advice, and we ended up north of where we had planned. So, we adjusted course and made our way back to Cat Cay. It ended up adding about 5 miles to the trip. But, other than that, everything went according to plan. The weather was calm, seas were calm, and we didn’t have any issues. It is amazing to ride these swells that swallow you completely, then ride right up over the next crest.
It’s true what they say about the clarity of the water here. We came in to 30ft of water and could clearly see the shadow of the boat on the bottom. Blues ranging from aquamarine to indigo, with lots of sapphire (think Bombay) and water as clear as gin (now you’re thinking Bombay, right?).
If anyone is reading this for advice, don’t enter at Cat Cay… you get charged an extra $107.50 for arriving there (it’s waived if you stay the night, at $4/ft, making it $108 for us). We paid the extra $0.50 and stayed and had showers, but there is nothing there worth coming to see. On the other hand, if you go to Bimini, go to Brown’s Dock and land there. It’s $1.25/ft, you can walk over to the customs check-in, there are ATMs for the required cash payment for entry if you happened to come short of cash, and the dock master sells lobster at $30/dozen. So, for the amount you spent to check in at Cat Cay, you can spend a couple nights and eat lobster until you feel bad about it… well, maybe not… I’m feeling pretty good about it!