Saturday, May 21, 2011

Homeward Bound: Lucaya to Beaufort (May 6 - May 15)

Crossing Summary:
The trip back from the Bahamas was a mixed bag of winds and sea conditions, but overall we couldnt have asked for much better weather. We avoided storms (except for some periods of rain), and never saw winds greater than low 30's, or seas more than about 10'. We were treated by numerous dolphin shows, spotted a huge sea turtle swimming by and we had hitchhikers three times (two small shore birds, and a tired sea tern). Becca (our Monitor Wind Vane) steered 90 percent of the time - just can't say enough about that machine! We came into the ICW at Beaufort (South Carolina) Sunday morning - tired and salty, but safe and healthy.
(We have a video of some of the porpoise show, but wont be able to post it until we are back home.)

 What follows is a more detailed description for any of those interested.

Despite the old sailor's superstition about never leaving port on a Friday, we decided that was the best weather window for us to return to the states from Grand Bahamas. The next potential window looked like it wouldn't be through until at least the following Wednesday; all this according to the guru Chris Parker, and of course input from Windfinder and NOAA. All of the sources agreed that the east coast of US was experiencing a series of 'weak cold fronts'. The characteristics of a 'weak cold front' passage: as the front approaches, the winds shift to the south, and then builds out of the southwest to 10-20, then clocks on to the west, then northwest, where they weaken significantly, and finally peter out with very light northeast winds. These were suppose to be occuring about one every 36 hours. Sounded fine - we would get strong southwest winds for 8-12 hours to move us north, and then we could work east or west on the light northern winds - or just motor thru them. Perfect, right?

Friday, May 6
The first day out, the plan worked to perfection. When we left Lucaya, the winds were ENE, but the first cold front was expected to reach us that night. We managed to clear Southwest Point on Grand Bahamas in the lighter ENE. We had some entertainment dodging all the cargo and tanker ships in and about Freeport. The expected shift to the south appeared, and the wind picked up - right on schedule. We turned the boat northwest, set full sail and entered the Gulf Stream. We trucked all night, averaging 9 knots, with speeds up to 10.5 in some of the stronger gusts. The Gulf stream current boost was 2.5 to 3 knots. Life is good when a plan comes together.
Saturday, May 7
Just before dawn, the apparent wind had piped up to high 20's. Our genny had started to show some signs of sun damage on some of the reinforcing at the clew, so we wanted to protect it - had to make it last the rest of the trip - so we furled it in to about 40%; just enough to help keep the boat balanced so Becca could continue to steer for us. We were still averaging almost 9 knots. By breakfast time, the wind had clocked around so far to northwest that we decided to reef the main, honk it down tight, and add some engine to keep us heading as north as possible. At this point we were still headed about 15 degrees on the compass. We were just waiting for the wind to lighten as predicted. No one wants 20 knot breezes out of the north in the Gulf stream for too long. At this point the seas had not built, but it wouldn't be too long if this wind continued. Finally by midday, the north wind started to abate (weather forecasters looking pretty smart). We tacked over to the west, unreefed the main, and unfurled the genny and headed back into the heart of the Gulf Stream. The wind continued to clock to the northeast and became very light (again, just as predicted). Now, all we had to do is motor along and wait for that next little cool front that would give us the southwest wind again. Even with this light wind, and a little motor we were doing 7+ knots in the stream.
Sunday, May 8
Around 0200 the next morning (Happy Mother's Day), a little breeze started to return out of the west. It wasn't the expected 15-20 out of the southwest, but still very welcome. We could kill the engine, and still sail and head back to the center of the Gulf stream again. But then the clocking started. Much sooner than expected, and never got the strong SSW we were hoping for. By lunchtime we had born off to ENE- and the wind was building. Before long we had 20+ and the seas were building. Late afternoon, a tack back to the west. Seas had started to become ugly. All the southwest winds of the previous day had set up a southwesterly swell, and now the northerly swells were competing, and it appeared they would win soon. By early evening we were taking water from bow to stern and slamming pretty hard - too rough to even boil water. We decided to bear off to the west and run for the western edge of the Gulf stream in case this northerly wind continued - which it did. By early morning hours we were beginning to see the end of really rough stuff; the wind had started to die and getting out of the middle of the Gulf stream helped reduced the steepness of the waves. At this point we were about 40 miles off from St Augustine.
By daylight the wind had all but disappeared, but at least it had come back out of the southwest. We motorsailed pretty much due north, hoping for the SW wind to fill in some more. At this point we still had some help from the stream. By the time we reached the north border of Florida the wind had started moving north and building again, and we had to decide whether to head back east and into the heart of the stream and get a speed lift, or head closer into the coast, and avoid the chance of another beating. We took the chicken's way out - headed northwest.
Monday, May 9: Landfall at Beaufort, SC
The next day was a mixed bag. It started with a light northwesterly breeze, so we sailed east. Thought maybe we could get some stream boost again. But the wind died out, so we motorsailed due north. We were close enough to shore (35 miles or so), so we could get a weather forecast on the VHF. The forecast was for strong NE by tomorrow morning, then going east. That wouldnt help us at all, since we had painted ourselves into a corner, so to speak (up under the Georgia/South Carolina coast). So, we decided to head for some anchorage on the Georgia coast to wait out the NE. By the next morning, the forecast had changed to light NE breeze, becoming southeast by afternoon. We could live with that, so we ditched our plan for making port, and headed more easterly, away from the coast. At this point, the breeze was NNW, and only about 10 knots. By mid morning, the wind started clocking - but we expected that - we just bore off a little more. By noon we were headed due east, and the wind was building. Was the first forecast right?? By 1300, we were back in 25 knots of breeze, and reefed down to jib and single-reefed main. Ok, time to bail. We tacked over and headed for Beaufort, SC (pronounced Bew-fort, as in beautiful). Weather: 1, Alexandra: 0. We know when we are beat. We lucked out and caught the tidal current right going into Port Royal, and got in before dark. Had time to go out for a dinner, then collapsed and slept like the dead.

Tuesday - Friday, May 10 - 13 ICW to Edisto Beach, SC
We motored up to Edisto Beach along the ICW, and anchored at a point for easy ocean access.  Next morning the wind had come back to the south and we headed back to sea. Winds were scheduled south for next several days.  First day back out, the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect - the winds were up to 20 southeast, and the seas were relaxed.  It's true that Friday, May 13 is John and Cindy's lucky day!  We made really good time. During the night the wind lightened, but still enough to make progress. We were treated to a light show most the night, as the heat lightning was in the sky all around.

May 14-15 (On to Beaufort, NC)
The next day the breeze came back to the 20's, and we continued to make good time. Perhaps we could sail around Hatteras if this continued. About mid-morning we heard reports of severe storms popping up around, mostly south of us - heavy hail and winds in excess of 60. We would keep our plans open but consider going in at Beaufort, NC (this one is pronounced bow-fort). The next night we were sailing dead down wind in 25-30 kts of breeze with just the genny. The seas had built to 7-9 and working on the boat had become difficult. (Cindy still managed to make us all a hot dinner though, and Becca continued to steer flawlessly.) Once it got dark, the storms around us were obvious - lightning and rain storms everywhere. The wind prediction was for 25-30 with gusts (and stronger in storms), so we decided to hit port. We came in at Beaufort channel, arriving at first light. We entered on a rising tide, and used it to push us on up to Oriental, where we took a slip and everybody crashed for a few hours.  The rest of the trip will be ICW now.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lucaya/Freeport, Grand Bahamas (April 20 - May 6)

We left the Berrys when the tide was up just before sundown for an overnight sail to Lucaya, Grand Bahamas.  Wanting to make it a slow ride, we reefed the main and just let out a bit of the genoa to balance the boat.  "Becca" steered all the way to the channel leading to the Ocean Reef Yacht Club.  We arrived as planned the following morning just in time to catch the high tide. 

The swimming pool 10 yards from our slip was a welcome sight, and this low-key resort had every amenity you can name, plus lots of fun activiites for visitors.

After a day of rest, we rented a car for our stay here, and ventured past Freeport to West End.  There were plenty of rain clouds while we were here - maybe that explains why there are so many lawns of green grass on Grand Bahama Island.

The annual Coconut Festival was the day after Easter (which they observe Friday through Monday).  Holidays are times of big celebrations here, and we were lucky to be able to join in the festivities hosted by the town of Pelican Point, about an hour's drive east of Lucaya.  A shot of rum was offered to everyone at "check-in", and was in abundance, along with traditional Bahamian foods, including coconut shrimp, ribs and grilled chicken.  We took home some homemade Potato-Coconut bread that was unique and quite tasty!

This was a festive, family, community affair.  Games, prizes, marching bands, and friendly people made this a fun place to be for an afternoon.

We have met some other boaters staying at Ocean Reef, including Maggie and Jim from Nevada.  When we each found out we both played bridge, we knew we had a good way to pass some time.  The "Garden of the Groves" was a beautiful, shady place for playing bridge, having lunch, and celebrating Maggie's birthday one afternoon.  Here's Maggie and Jim with their dog, Jingles...

We also did some shopping at the Port Lucaya Marketplace, where we were frequent visitors of Frank's Ice Cream shop.  We got to hear a Calypso band play at nearby "Out Da Sea" one night.  Karaoke night with some of our resort neighbors was also memorable.   

On Wednesday, May 4, we picked up our friend John who came all the way from California to help us sail back to Reedville.  We'll be planning when to leave and where to go in the next couple of days.  The boat is stocked with lots of one-pot meals, and the water and fuel tanks are full.  So...that's all she wrote until next time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eleuthera, Abacos, and back to the Berrys (April 10 - 19)

From the hustle-bustle of Nassau, we were soon "in the middle of nowhere" with an overnight stop at an anchorage off of Finley Cay.  The green arrow on the map is pointing to our position.

From here, we sailed northward and stopped at Meek's Patch (below), another remote area, but still not as remote as Finley Cay.  If you look closely, you CAN see some land towards the left of the picture.  On a calm day, we maneuvered our dinghy through a cut in a reef and went to visit Spanish Wells, about a 4 mile trip.  You can just see Spanish Wells beyond the cut in the picture to the right.

We walked around Spanish Wells on a hot afternoon to find quiet streets, beautiful beaches, and a thriving fishing village.  After lunch, we headed back to the boat to swim and relax in the gentle breezes.

We left our remote anchorage at Meek's Patch to find better shelter for predicted windier conditions and found Royal Island a short distance away.  There isn't a community here - just a resort that has been under construction for several years and one hotel, long ago abandoned.  We found the remains of the hotel's dock and went ashore to explore the desolate, but beautiful landscape.

On the "ocean side" of the island, we enjoyed the peaceful beauty of an abandoned marina (below).

We spent several days here and were happy to meet other sailors who were seeking shelter as they traveled. Dave and Alice May (who had lived in Murray at one time) hosted an evening get-together on their boat "Alice May".  Dave hadn't lived in Murray for a long time, but he knew where we were from!

Finally, the weather was right for sailing again.  We went up to Sandy Point, Abaaco Island for a short visit before going back to Great Harbor Cay, Berrys.  One memorable moment was spotting a billfish (probably a sailfish) swimming at the surface as we neared the island.  The water was still very deep (300 feet) but not far off from the shore.

Ahh!  Great Harbor Cay, Berrys feels almost like home.  It was great to be back at one of our favorite places.  It was nice being able to use the internet from the boat with no time limits!  While we were here, we visited the beaches again and went to a dance at "The Backside" bar in the village.  There was a band playing that had horns, guitars, drums - the works!  We had fun meeting some of the islanders, AND dancing with them!

See my pet lizard to the right?  Two lizards shared their spot on the beach with us and became quite friendly!  He actually jumped up on me at one point.  I tried not to scream at him.  He was just trying to catch a fly, after all.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chad and Becca are here! Nassau, Highbourne Cay, Atlantis, Rose Island (April 2 - 8)

Chad and Becca arrived on Saturday evening, April 2.  We watched the UK/UConn game at the "Double D" restaurant that night (we almost made it!) and then set out for Highbourne Cay in the Exumas Sunday morning.  We spent that day and evening here snorkeling, sunning, eating fish, and playing some password.  It was nice to see our friends, Jewels and Jeff again.

Upcoming weather forecasts didn't look good for snorkeling, so we decided to take advantage of the southeast wind and sailed back to Nassau to visit the Atlantis resort the next day.  We were there for two nights and enjoyed 'snorkeling' the Mayan Ruins.  The kids spent the day at the water park the following day and treated us to some awesome ice cream cones that evening!

After two nights at Atlantis, we went back to the Nassau Harbor Club just down the block.  That day we took the bus downtown to shop at the straw market, and we walked to Arawak Cay for lunch at The Fish Fry (Twin Brother's). We enjoyed watching the UK vs Ohio State game that Chad brought with him on DVD, and we got in some more games of Password, Scrabble, and Boggle during their visit.

The next morning we set out for nearby Rose Island for some more snorkeling and "Island Time".  Chad and Becca ventured to the little island near the reef to snorkel and explore.  They brought back a conch!  Back to the marina that afternoon to relax and get ready to fly home early the next morning.  We're glad you came and we'll miss you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nassau (March 24 - April 9)

The Nassau Harbor Club became our next "home" for awhile.  The pool was quite refreshing after a day of tooling around the island.  We walked to some nearby places (Starbuck's, City Market, and Potter's Cay), and rode the bus (jitney) downtown and all-around.  We got to know some of the other sailors at the Marina, including Jeff and Jules on "Baka".  They are traveling with their two schipperke (pronounced skipper-key) dogs, Ted and Emily.  Jules treated us to some homemade pizza and gave us some dim-sum appetizers to share with Chad and Becca when they came. Getting to know a chef has it's advantages!  We also enjoyed spending some time with Lee and Susan on "Door Number Three".

The Nassau harbor is a bustling place for boaters on the water, and cars and people on the streets.  Potter's Cay is a place where there are many food "shacks" and markets for produce, fish, conch, and land-crabs.  We enjoyed sampling the Bahamian food at various resturaunts including Double D's.  A typical Bahamin meal consists of Conch, fish, ribs, chicken, or pork, served with Peas and Rice (Pigeon Peas), Macaroni and Cheese, and fresh coleslaw.

The workboats (right) are located near Potter's Cay in the Nassau Harbor.

 The tailor shop to the left is typical of many of the Bahama island's stores and shops.  At the market, rice is abundant, and evidently sold in large quantities.

To go downtown, we take the bus.  Walking down East Street, you see the cruise ships, cars, people, and the traffic cop. 

There are shops of all kinds downtown:  Tee-shirt/souveniers, luxurious diamond and emerald stores, clothing stores, and the "straw market" where local vendors come to sell their wares.

Chad and Becca joined us during Spring Break, April 2-8.  The Straw Market wasn't the first place we went with them, but it was a "must-do" activity before they left.

Past the Straw Market and downtown, we walked to Arawak Cay and ate at The Fish Fry restaurant.  On the way, we passed Junkanoo Beach (below), a popular beach for cruise ship visitors and local islanders.

And, last but not least, here's the current installment of "Potcake Says...".  Potcake is known for his words of wisdom, which he displays as he rides his wheel-cover vending bike around the island.  So popular, he has a regular feature in the local newspaper.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting to Nassau (March 15 - March 23)

From Great Harbour Cay, we hopped down the eastern coast of the Berry Islands chain, anchoring off of Frozen Cay in Little Harbour the first day, and then Bird Cay, the next.  We took a mooring ball at the Berry Island Club at Frazer's Hog Cay, where we spent some time in the breezy east wind.

The picture to the left is from our boat looking at the bottom in 15 feet of water at Bird Cay.

We enjoyed meeting Nevil, a Bahamian conch-catcher, at the Berry Island Club who had just brought in a boatload of conch.  His small work boat had a huge pile of conchs which he had scooped up using a pronged stick in just one hour.  We chatted with him and his niece for awhile and he treated us to some of his catch, including the "sinew" as the Bahamian's call it, or the "pistol", which he informed us was the American word for it.  It looked like a 10-inch string, and it tasted like a salty gummy bear.

The main road on Frazer's Hog Cay is shown to the left.  We found that this was a good spot for reading (Genghis Kahn was one of our favorites this trip), working crossword puzzles, playing scrabble, backgammon, and reading (napping?).

 We became familiar with listening to Chris Parker's weather-net each morning at 6:30AM on the SSB radio.  When the strong east wind calmed down, we spent one more day on nearby, peaceful Bird Cay before heading southeast to New Providence Island (Nassau).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands Days 2-6 (March 9 - 14)

We rented a car (the red Tracker) and put it to use exploring the island. It was a bit "rough" - just what you need for driving on coral roadways that lead to the beaches.  Distances are short - the island is about 7 miles long and 1 mile wide.

Dotted throughout the village are the police station, school, restaurants ("Until Then..." is pictured), two grocery stores, and the post office/government offices/hospital.  The population here is less than 800 people.  The airport is away from the village not too far from the marina and the "Beach Club" restaurant and bar.

We enjoyed meeting many of the friendly people who live on the island as well as other visitors.  Tammy, an islander who's been here for awhile, told us that the creatures here are very curious.  We had a sea turtle take us for a walk up the beach one afternoon, and at Shelling Beach the stingrays come right over to check you out if you splash around the shore.

The abandoned hotel was one of our favorite places to "beach it", but the caves of Sugar Beach, and the expanses of shallow water when the tide is out at Shelling Beach were also wonderful.

At "Until Then...", in the village, we found a 'cheesburger in paradise'. 
mmmm mmmm