Monthly Archives: February 2011

Homeward Bound

February 20, 2011

If you can imagine the perfect day after being gone from home for a long time, that was my day yesterday. We reunited with good friends at the House of Pancakes in Marathon, spent the morning with them, then went out for pizza at our favorite local joint, the Hurricane. Jay and the kids went back to play and do laundry at our friends’ house while I headed to Publix. I nearly wept to see cantaloupes 2/$3.00, not to mention fresh berries! I didn’t even try to control myself. While we’re traveling, I try to keep everyone happy and comfortable, so I filled all requests, from animal crackers to Haagen-Dazs ice-cream bars. I even bought a couple of boxes of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese (gasp!). We can go back to our home-made, organic diet in a couple of days. It was a fun day.

After living in France for half a year during college, I know about reverse culture shock. I appreciate certain things about my homeland because I’ve been away from it, and I am likewise appalled by certain things, whether I’ve been away or not. We already know what we will miss about cruising, and what we will appreciate before we go “back out.” There’s nothing like a life of self-deprivation to make you really thankful.

Over the last few weeks as we’ve made our plans to return to Florida, I began talking to the kids about what’s coming next. Every time I mentioned the prospect of coming “home” they corrected me—“you are home!”  I guess we have really convinced them that this boat, and where their family is, is home. I had a hard time explaining what I meant by “home,” chiefly because I mean different things by it. That made me reflect on what that word really means.

In returning “home” from the Bahamas, I meant to our homeland, the U.S. “Home” in Florida for me means friends and family, the Gulf Coast where Jay and I grew up together, and even “home” to the marina where we kept our boat for two years. Yet, coming to Marathon felt like a homecoming, too. We lived there for six months, getting our feet wet, so to speak, in the cruising lifestyle. Our friends there make it feel like “home” to us. In a previous blog I talked about always feeling homesick for somewhere. They say that home is where the heart is, so if we leave a little piece of our hearts everywhere we go, then we are also always at home. That’s no small comfort in a world where so many feel disconnected.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Update: Spice found after 8 days.

As we prepare to add a new crew member, it looks like we’ve lost an old one.  One of our cats, Spice, apparently has decided she’s had enough of the cruising life.  Ironically, between the cats, she was the one who seemed to adjust to it the best.  We arrived here on Wednesday, and Thursday night was the last time we saw her.

We’re saddened and anxious for her welfare.  It is easy to assume the worst, but we prefer to think she’s found a new home.  Its better this way than if she went missing at sea, or doubt was otherwise removed.

Spice was a simple cat and very sweet.  We used to joke that she rode the short bus.  While almost 14 in human years, mentally she was just a kitten.  It is possible she’s up a tree or under a bush somewhere and may yet find her way home, but I think the odds are against us seeing her again.

Spice and her sister Sugar were our first kids.  We got them from the pound when they were six weeks old and we were six weeks married.  We brought them home in the car with Tanya holding one in each hand.  We marked their birthdays by our anniversaries.  

When Spice was a kitten she used to play with balls of yarn, as kittens are apt to do, except Spice swallowed the end of one.  As newlyweds it seemed frivolous to shell out the $600 for surgery to remove the yarn from her intestines, but looking back it was money well spent.  She provided 13 years of companionship and amusement.  Even though she was getting some gray in her whiskers, she would still occasionally chase her tail.

Fair winds Spice.



Best Seat in the House

We’re safely ensconced in our new slip at our old marina.  

For having so few choices about places where we can fit, we have amazingly good luck.  Our old spot had a beautiful view of the river and was very private, but it was an end-tie and the boat would grind against the fenders when the breeze picked up.  We also had boats going around us which sometimes made me nervous.  We were never hit, but the seawall was.

This new slip can’t be beat for convenience.  It is the shortest distance to the pool, laundry, and where the packages are delivered – all the important stuff.  Since we’re in a real slip the boat is secured away from the dock which cuts down on noise.  We don't even have fenders out.  We’re also backed in, instead of being sideways to the dock.  This allows us to simply walk down the transoms and step onto the dock, which is great for those of us carrying a few extra pounds.  We have a little more road noise, but a lot less privacy.

Re-entering the US was painless.  They didn’t even know we were gone.  For all our security and big federal agencies, the US is surprisingly lax in this regard.  

Tanya and I have registered through the Local Boater Option program.  We appeared before a Customs and Border Patrol officer before we left and were issued a 6-digit ID number.  Upon return, we only had to give this number over the phone and we were done.  Unfortunately, they don’t issue these numbers for kids under 14 so I had to read names, birth dates, and passport numbers for all of them.  Then I was told the kids needed to be seen by a CBP officer.  Can you guess how happy we all were about that?  I called the airport to set up an appointment, but was told by the officer there that it wasn’t necessary.  It took a few phone calls, but our arrival was processed without seeing anyone.

Tanya’s van situation was cleared up with similar ease.  I could buy insurance online with a credit card in a matter of about 10 minutes and print out an insurance card.  Unfortunately, the electronic processes that so efficiently communicate a lack of insurance to the DMV don’t work in the opposite direction.  I had to go into a tax collector’s office and show proof of insurance in order to renew the tags, but that wasn’t too bad.

Right now our days are consumed with readjusting to shore life.  It isn’t difficult, but there’s a lot to do.  The boat needs to be unloaded, cleaned inside and out, and then reloaded with the stuff we *really* need.  We need to select contractors for our upholstery and carpentry work and get those projects underway.  Plus a hundred other things, large and small.  And that’s just the boat list.  The kids have their own, and it’s a doozy.  And then there’s visiting with all the people we’ve missed.  In short, we’re slammed.

But it’s all good.  We’re really enjoying our time back.  We’re going to my mother’s house tonight so she can see the kids and Tanya and I can get some downtime.  Sam wanted to know how many miles and if we could sail, or if we’d have to motor.

Welcome to Planet Earth

What is planet Earth like? Imagine for a moment what it would be like to come here from another galaxy for the first time. All the movies about extraterrestrial landings here are about Martian invasions of New York City or rendez-vous in the desert. Sure, we have mountains and valleys, vast plains and deserts, huge rainforests and swamps, continents and islands. But most of planet Earth looks like the view out my galley window for the last two days. Liquid water for hundreds of miles in all directions.


I’ve begun to think it likely that if anyone ever did come here to investigate, they would arrive somewhere in the middle of an ocean and get the impression that the planet is a vast wet wasteland. Or, better, they would make the acquaintance of dolphins or whales and never even see a human city.

There are folks who never leave their hometowns, people who have never seen a beach, much less open ocean. There are scientists who know more about outer space than about what’s below the surface of 75% of their home planet. As for this sailor, I don’t think you can say that you’ve seen what the Earth is like unless you’ve been out here in the middle of liquid nowhere. It’s an immense, eerie, beautiful, mercurial world, and a very humbling experience to explore it.

The Scenic Route or The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

This has been the most boring passage we have ever made, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. (Our kids are not actually allowed to use that word—they actually think that boring is the “b—“ word.) But the opposite, “exciting,” we had on the first day out of Georgetown and none of us wants that kind of excitement again any time soon. At the moment, we are motoring at about 4.5 knots across a glassy Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles from the entrance to Tampa Bay. It’s so smooth I can’t tell the difference between the reflected starlight and the phosphorescent sparkles in the water.

Just out of Key West yesterday morning, a motor yacht passed us at a shocking speed and left us rocking in its wake. Jay and I laughed about his gas bill, as we sailed gently (for free) with spinnaker flying. Jay said they’d probably be in Sarasota in time for lunch. Here we are, still at it, a day and a half later, and I’m thinking there’s something to be said for just getting there. Of course, that guy didn’t get to see the spectacular vermilion moon rise last night, or hear the dolphins puffing and blowing around the boat at four this morning, and he definitely did not have time to play Scrabble, Dominoes, Number Factory, the Allowance Game and Candyland with four charming children. Not to mention baking cookies and doing art projects. We’re definitely taking the slow, scenic route, and there are advantages to that as well.

Typically, travel days represent a break from regular routines—the kids know they can expect around-the-clock snacks and a break from schoolwork and most chores. But the last 36 hours have been so calm and, well, boring, we really could have done all the regular things. I’ve never arrived after being at sea with the dishes done and the cabin tidied and even swept. It’s kind of nice to be coming into port without the usual chaos.

So, what is passage-making like? We get this question all the time. If it’s turbulent, then I try to prepare ahead—plenty of ready food like nuts and fruit and cheese and crackers Usually at least one of us feels the effects of mal de mer and spends most of the time lying around. I, thankfully, rarely succumb even to queasiness, so that explains why I take more night watches. For some reason, the disorientation of darkness irritates Jay’s symptoms, but I find it to be pleasant, even when the boat is moving a lot. But really, unless something exciting is happening (like reefing the mainsail in the rain in 20 knots of wind), passage-making is really boring.

For grown-ups this is not really a problem. Jay and I, swapping shifts at night, are tired during the day, so we alternate between reading, napping, and snacking. The older boys usually keep themselves busy with Lego creations and reading, but occasionally get in trouble for boyish mischief. It is hard to be cooped up in a boat with your family for days on end, so I can understand it, but it doesn’t really make it less annoying. They like to play “boat soccer” a game that uses the companionways down into the hulls as goals and has several convoluted rules and intricate scoring, but that usually ends in arguing, and we have to confiscate the ball. Sarah occupies herself well, and sometimes Sam, too, but they seem to need more attention and guidance to stay busy. So I read aloud, and we play lots of games and put on movies and pop popcorn.

What I have come to realize is that although I dread the long passages—the fatigue inherent with only getting cat-naps and the challenge of keeping everyone comfortable and busy—I also look forward to them, and really appreciate the sense of our own self-sufficiency and the accomplishment of covering all those miles.  Sure, you could hop on an airplane and be in Georgetown, Bahamas tomorrow, and it took us ten days to cover the same distance. But where’s the fun in that?

Marathon to Tampa Bay

February 19

Our day of rest in Marathon was amazingly recuperative.  Despite the marked lack of anchorages on the ocean side of the Keys, we managed to find a tiny little place we could tuck into and enjoy a couple nights of peace.  Our standards for anchorages are also much lower than they used to be.  Basically, if the waves are less than 2 feet and the boat lays into them, we’re good with it.

We gave very little notice that we were coming.  Well, as little as possible for people with a satellite tracker posting their position to a website every 20 minutes.  When we knew there would be a stop in Marathon, we called friends and made plans for breakfast.   They’re the custodians of our truck, so we had the use of that for the day, and they very graciously allowed us use of their laundry machines, for all of which we are immensely grateful.

There were two other coincidental reunions with Marathon friends.  For one of them, we were driving down the Overseas Highway when the backseat suddenly exploded with shouts of “Cameron!” as the kids spotted a good friend riding his bike.  Grownups and kids each got to chat and play for a few hours and had a thoroughly good time.  Then it was lunch at The Hurricane with pizza and beer, something I’d been thinking about for months.

Tanya took a therapeutic trip to Publix (something she’d been thinking about for months) and did herself proud.  She restocked us on Belgian beer and even got a little Kalik, just because she could and it was cheaper than in the Bahamas.

Getting it all home was another matter, though.  The boat was 2 miles upwind from the dock.  It was the longest, wettest, most miserable dinghy ride to date.  We were so loaded with groceries and clean laundry that we couldn’t even get on a plane to end the misery sooner.  Sam expressed it for all of us when about halfway he just started to cry.  Despite being cold and wet, we got our goodies home with minimal loss.

February 20

Not much happened as we moved from Marathon to Key West.  We sailed for awhile and then motored when we couldn’t do that anymore.  We wanted to arrive before sunset since we weren’t all that confident about finding a place to anchor.  All my previous trips to Key West have been to a marina.

We did our fuel calculations in earnest since Key West was our last planned stop, we had 180 miles left to Tampa, and the forecast was looking very light.  I think we have 30 gallons left in the tanks and another 8 in jugs.  That would allow us to motor about 50 hours and we should be able to make the trip in less than 40 on one engine.  So I’m declaring us good on fuel.

There are no fish between Marathon and Key West.

February 21

It is indeed light today.  The forecasted 10-15 is looking more like 6-8 from where I’m sitting.  We’re under spinnaker only and it is so flat we can actually carry it, though we’re only moving at less than 3 knots.  This is the first time we haven’t fired up an engine in light air on this trip.

We’re resigned to one night underway on this leg.  It would be nice to avoid a second, but it is so peaceful we’re content for the moment.  We’ll have plenty of time to motor later.  

Tanya didn’t handle our last overnight as well as she expected to and usually does.  Between getting kicked all night and having to get up several times, she doesn’t rest very well even on a good night.  Having to stand the 3-6am watch just kills her for the next day.

A while later…

Our enjoyment of sailing wore off quickly as the breeze got softer, the day got hotter, and our ETA stretched out farther.  We don't motor well in the best conditions, which these were.  Yet we could barely make 4 knots on one engine at RPMs where we usually get 5.  

I dove under the boat to make sure we weren’t dragging anything and the props were reasonably clean.  We weren’t, and they were, though I did find a small bit of poly rope on the port propeller from that float we hit in the Keys.  The hulls, however, have a pretty uniform coating of slime, which must be our problem.  I’m not willing to do anything about that.  For starters, the water temp is somewhere in the 60’s.  That’s too cold for me, even with a wetsuit primed with warm water.  Secondly, I’m a chicken about getting in the water when I can’t see the bottom.  Getting that knot back would shave 8 hours off of the trip, but spending 2 hours in the water to clean the bottom is just not going to happen.

I can’t push the boat harder because the fuel calculations are based on a fixed RPM.  Today was supposed to be a sailing day, but we started motoring much sooner than expected.  We’re going to be on fumes when we arrive, but I still expect to make it.  I have enough in reserve to get us to a fuel dock if I’m wrong.

February 22

It was a long boring day of motoring.  We put a sail up for awhile, but it didn’t help much.

We arrived at Tampa Bay after midnight and in fog.  The channel itself wasn’t a concern, but the crab pots were impossible to see.  I just had to risk it and got lucky.  

We’re not heading to our normal anchorage in the river since I don’t feel confident maneuvering around other boats with only radar.  We’re heading to a spot outside the river that should be empty, and hopefully where nobody will run us down in the fog.  We’ll move to the marina in the morning.

Feels good to be here.

New Providence to Marathon, FL

February 17

I’d been regretting my gripe about perfect days yesterday.  Yesterday really was a beautiful day, and the whole spinnaker fiasco was probably my fault.  Today, however, really was perfect.

We left New Providence around 7am.  It was light and rolly until we got away from the island, then something like ENE 15-18 settled in.  There was a north swell that we didn’t get rid of for a couple hours, which had the kids grumpy and lethargic.  Eventually we set the spinnaker and had a great downhill day.

It was about 40 miles from New Providence to the Northwest Channel.  We put some lures out as we approached the banks, since I figured that was the best place to find the fish, and the presence of sportfishing boats seemed to concur.  Nada.  The lines stayed out onto the banks and I caught my smallest barracuda to date — not even 2 feet.  He went for a lure about half his size.  Typical barracuda.

There were no confirmed whale sightings as we crossed the Tongue of the Ocean, but Sarah saw something that was likely a pilot or beaked whale.  She said it was bigger than a porpoise and had a very blunt nose.

The spinnaker started getting a little high maintenance as we bore off for a 50 mile leg to the South Riding Rocks.  It seems happiest with the wind around 120 apparent, and we can get it as high as 90.  150 is about the deepest we can carry it, though.  At least without constant adjustment for wind shifts and Otto’s steering.

Otto has been giving a lot of trouble lately.  This is not good since he is a crucial member of the crew.  His best trick is to silently switch from Auto to Standby mode.  We had a nice accidental jibe today because he took a nap at the wheel.  We’ve decided he’s narcoleptic.  The primary job of the person on watch is to keep him company and make sure he stays awake.

We took the spinnaker down at dusk and decided to go with just a main.  After an hour or so we put a reef in.  After the accidental jibe Tanya was a little shy about sailing deep on her watch, so we ended up a little north of our line to the Rocks and had to put in a couple (intentional) jibes at the end to clear them.

From the Rocks it’s 50-something miles to Florida.  I was hoping for a full moon for this crossing and we nailed it.  I don’t particularly like sailing at night and moonlight helps a lot.  I don’t know exactly how far the crossing is because we’re not there yet and I’m not sure where we’ll end up.  The stream is really making itself felt.  I don’t want to fight it, and the breeze is about E 17-21, so I’m heading 275.  The GPS shows us going about 285 over the ground.  If it keeps up, we’ll end up about 10 miles north of our waypoint.  

February 18

It was a pretty uneventful night, which is exactly the way we like it.  Tanya had to contend with one cruise ship.  It crossed about a 1-mile ahead of us by her estimate.  That’s a little close.

The wind stayed E 17-21 and we stayed with a single-reefed main.  It was slow, but predictable.  The course deviation did keep up and even increased for awhile, and we did end up well north of our waypoint.  This was somewhat expected, and the reason we chose to a longer, but more southerly route from the South Riding Rocks, rather than Bimini or Cat Cay.  The Rocks were also much easier to negotiate at night.

On the midnight-3am watch I got disgusted and started jiggling Otto’s wiring.  I found a loose one and he appears to be cured.  By the time we get home we can be sure.  It will be nice to scratch a large and expensive project off the summer list.

As the sun rose, we could see and smell Florida (yes, from upwind).  The water was noticeably less clear, and there were seabirds plying the waves.   There were also hundreds of what I initially thought were plastic water bottles floating on the water.  If I passed one within 50 feet or so, I could see that it wasn’t really a bottle, but had a ridge on it, like a sail or fin.  It wasn’t until later in the day when I pointed one out to the kids that I learned they were in fact Portuguese man o’ war.

Other things that remind us we’re in Florida are actual, honest-to-god navigation channels.  With all the markers too!  And big sportfish boats that buzz right by sailboats thowing the biggest wakes possible in those channels.  And crab and lobster fishermen that think marked channels are a great place to put their pots.

The crab pot situation in Florida is something I’ll never understand.  They’re a hazard.  Navigating a marked channel in Florida requires more diligence than an unmarked one in the Bahamas, and it is highly unwise to run a boat at night in the Keys.  I hit two pots in broad daylight.  One I hit with my port propeller and broke up the float.  Another I snagged with my starboard rudder.  This has happened to us several times.  The pots drag along in our wake until I cut them loose with a knife.  I’ve gotten off easy (so far); poor Niels wrapped one around a propeller, tore up his transmission, and had to spend a week in the Marathon Boat Yard.

We crossed the reef into Hawk Channel and began a long day of working down the Keys.  We stopped near Marathon and will take a day’s rest, then continue to Key West and finally head north for Tampa Bay.  Crossing to Florida only represents the halfway point of our trip from a distance standpoint, but we already feel home.

Black Point to New Providence

February 14

Picking up from my last post, we did leave Black Point and continue north.  But not before getting boarded by the Royal Bahamian Defense Force for a check of our cruising permit.  They were nice guys, but I’m always a little bit nervous during these encounters.  They did ask if we have any weapons and asked several times how many kids we had, possibly having lost count.  Tanya sent them away with Valentine’s cookies hot out of the oven.

We anchored near Pipe Cay around sunset.  Our plan the next day was to make 70 miles to New Providence, where we’d stage for the last 140 miles to Florida.

At bedtime we discovered that one of our cats had been seasick… in the bed.  It wasn’t a pleasant discovery.  After all the water we took down the hatches the other day, we’re running low on clean sheets.

February 15

We can only imagine the entertainment we must be providing for the armchair skippers watching our SPOT track.

We left Pipe Cay at sunrise this morning and headed off toward New Providence.  Winds were about 14-18 from the NNE, but a couple sustained gusts to 20 obliged me to put a reef in the main.  

An hour or two into what was looking to be a 10 hour day, we lost luff tension in the jib.  Initially I assumed the halyard broke, which really ticked me off because it’s practically brand new, and wasn’t cheap.  No matter, I figured we’d just switch to the spare halyard.  We luffed up and dropped the jib.

The sail came down without any difficulty.  The webbing at the head was still intact.  There was a little damage along the first few inches of luff tape, but it didn’t seem like a big deal.  Still, something didn’t seem right.  It wasn’t until I was getting the spare halyard ready and looked aloft that I realized the top swivel of the roller furler was still at the top of the mast.  So much for going to New Providence today.

We were going to have to send someone up the mast to get that swivel, and we needed sheltered water for that.  So we turned around and headed to Warderick Wells.  Eli did the honors.  The swivel came down without difficulty.  I expected to find a twisty shackle with the pin backed out or possibly broken.  Instead I found a 3/8” stainless bow shackle.  It wasn’t just broken: there was a section missing from the bow. 


There were no markings on this shackle, but others that size I have onboard are marked 1 TON WLL (working load limit).  I don’t think we put anywhere near a ton of pressure on it, I think it was just a piece of junk and probably failed from crevice corrosion.  I usually throw unmarked shackles away.  I had no idea one was holding up my jib.  Shame on me, but it would have been nice if my rigger had mentioned it.

Tanya didn’t like the looks of the luff tape and set about repairing it.

In the excitement with the broken shackle, nobody noticed the tail of the jib halyard slip up inside the mast.  Tanya had the idea to go ahead and pull the primary halyard out and replace the old secondary with the better line.  I’m sure my rigger can reeve a new secondary halyard, but it’s a tricky thing to do with the mast up.  I’m developing a list of things to do when the mast gets pulled next.  In the meantime, the kids have lost their swing.  They probably weren’t going to be doing much of that in the marina anyway.

With the jib back on the furler, we got back underway with the intent to get further north up the Exumas for jumping off to New Providence the next day.  

We ended up at Shroud Cay for the night.  We missed this one on the way down.  Warderick Wells is really the only part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park we’d seen.  But every part we have seen has been amazingly beautiful, and Shroud was no exception.  The interior is a kayaker’s paradise, much to Tanya’s chagrin since we didn’t have time for her to go explore.  We all went by dinghy instead and still managed to enjoy it.

Dinghy Captain

It should be a broad reach, and only about 40 miles tomorrow, so hopefully an easy day.

February 16

Today was a beautiful day for crossing over to New Providence.  Conditions were about NE 14-18 in the morning and gradually softened to about ENE 10-15.  It was a little brisk for the spinnaker to start, so we sailed above our course with the jib for about the first half, expecting the wind to clock and moderate.  It did and we bore off to set the chute.  

This is family blog, so I can’t accurately describe what the sail did or any of my thoughts on the matter.  Basically it wrapped itself around anything it could.  I could not get it up or down.  We tacked, we gybed, I shouted curses.  The mess just got bigger.  Eventually I was able to drag it down, not caring if it tore, and stuff it down a hatch.  I waited awhile for my temper to cool and strength return to my upper body, and then began the chore of untangling the sail and repacking it in its sock.

We were doing okay without the spinnaker, but I needed to show it who was boss.  I was also counting on using it the next day.  The relaunch went much smoother and we carried it all the way to New Providence.

We just can’t seem to get a perfect day on this trip.

The Blessing of a Broken Shackle

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” –from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

We seem to be having no shortage of adventures on this trip back to Florida. I thought it might be too much to ask that we would have as uneventful a trip home as we did on the way to the Bahamas in the fall. But, of course, nice days do not make for very good stories.

Today’s adventure involved three mishaps: a broken shackle, a brand-new jib halyard made five feet too short, and damage to the top of the jib. We were headed straight for New Providence, our jumping off point for the leg across the Gulf Stream, sailing along nicely, when a loud noise and sudden flapping got our attention. I thought the jib sheet had broken, or that the jib itself had blown. Quickly we realized that it was actually the top of the jib that was hanging limp; our minds jumped to the conclusion that the brand-new, $500 jib halyard (which we replaced for this trip) had broken.

We got the sail down as quickly as possible, diverted to a quiet anchorage off of Wardrick Wells, and sent Eli up the mast. Upon further inspection, it appeared that it was actually a piece of faulty hardware that had snapped, and Eli was able to bring the halyard down with ease. A little too much ease, it appears, because the end of the halyard disappeared like a rabbit into its hole! Where was that stopper knot they teach you in sailing school? It turns out that the halyard is just a tad too short, and without the figure-8 knot in place, it just goes bye-bye. To top it all off, so to speak, the top of the jib where it slides into the roller-furling track was beginning to suffer some damage, and looked as if it might tear all the way down the sail without some attention.

If you’re going to be stuck somewhere making repairs, I can’t think of a nicer place to be than Emerald Rock on a sunny day. As Jay fed the kids and rummaged for a spare shackle the right size, I sat on the foredeck with sail tape and needle and thread repairing the head of the sail. I don’t know if I did it “right,” but it was, all the same, a very satisfying job, and it made me feel like a real sailor. I hope it holds until we can get the jib to a loft, and I hope the sailmaker doesn’t laugh at my awkward stitches! Jay then used the spare jib halyard, which was damaged recently due to over-use as the kids’ swinging halyard, to run the new one back up inside the mast. With new hardware in place, halyard running smoothly (complete with stopper knot), and sail repaired, we hoisted the jib in a stiff breeze—putting that repair to the test—and furled it as quickly as possible. It was just after noon, so we weighed anchor and pressed on toward home.


The upshot of this diversion is that we stopped about forty miles short of our goal for the day, and anchored at the southern tip of Shroud Cay. This is someplace I had wanted to go kayaking when I had read about it in the guide book, but we had passed it by on our way South. It’s in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, and is a far lovelier a place than any of us imagined. I was picturing the miles of mangrove estuary and intertwining creeks as they would appear in Florida—cool, dark, murky places, but this was mangrove forest at its most beautiful—clear aquamarine water in wide, easily navigable ribbons leading to snowy ocean beaches on the other side of the Cay. I could easily spend a week here with my kayak and never get bored. We took the dinghy and went on an Explore, thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Shroud Cay

As we returned to the boat, the sun was preparing itself for bed and the waxing moon was just waking up for the night watch. With a glass of wine in hand, Jay and I toasted our “last day in paradise” as the sun went down in fiery glory. I felt so happy to be alive—to be soaking up days like these to remember years down the road. And when I thought about why were so lucky to be here, I realized we owed the pleasure of this happy ending to our three-month cruise in the Bahamas to a broken shackle. Isn’t life funny?

George Town to Black Point

February 12, 2011

Repeat after me: don’t play with cold fronts, don’t play with cold fronts …

We left George Town in the morning with the stated intention of getting out ahead of the cold front due in the afternoon.  The front would arrive with strong NNE winds, and the breeze would fill from the E in its wake.  This would make exiting George Town, travelling 40 miles NW up the coast in the Exuma Sound, and re-entering through a cut very uncomfortable.  Meanwhile post-frontal conditions would be ripe for a run to Florida.

I’ve stated that we can only predict the weather about 4-5 days with any certainty, and we could not see far enough ahead to sit in GT long enough for conditions to abate there, and still expect good conditions all the way to FL.  We’re eager to get home and hated the idea of losing this window.  When the morning forecast showed the front arriving later than previously expected and extending into the next day, we suddenly realized we were going to lose a day of our good forecast AND get hammered on the first leg.  In the space of about 10 minutes, we decided to go.  

Our bottom had not been cleaned in a few weeks, and I had planned to do that.  I also wanted to take our last load of trash ashore, get some ice for all the fish we were going to catch, and run some other minor errands and boat chores.  All were optional, and I opted to skip them.

It was a beautiful day; flat calm with about 5 knots from the NNE.  We can’t reasonably sail in less than 8 knots and the angle was a little tight, so we left an engine on.  I could feel the dirty bottom and props and estimated we were down about a knot of boat speed.  We did some fishing with three lures out, but only caught one barracuda.  We were happy with our decision to go.

The wind gradually built up to 10 knots, but went farther north, making it harder to use.  Around our half way point, the GPS was showing a 4:30pm arrival at Big Farmers Cut, but I wasn’t confident we could keep up our 6 knots that long.  The front would arrive earlier than the forecast as we travelled north to meet it.  I was not concerned about the front itself at this point, though I probably should have been.  What was on my mind was the cut, and that we would arrive in the middle of an ebb tide.

When we were going south on our way to George Town, we left through Galliot Cut (right next to Big Farmers) on an ebb tide and a light onshore breeze.  The effects of wind against tide on that day were mild, but still pronounced, and the current carried us through it.  This day we could have up to 25 knots opposing the flow and we’d have to fight our way into it.  It was not going to be fun, and possibly even dangerous.  Once we got to the cut, if we didn’t like it, we would have no options except to wait offshore until the current slacked near 8pm. Yuck.

Or, we could turn around and take the Square Rock Cut, which we had just passed.  It was a longer route since we would have to go around the large Galliot Bank on the inside, but that appeared to be the only downside.  The tide was currently slack, so the cut would not be a problem.  We expected the inside route to offer protection from wind and waves from the front.  We would have to motor upwind for about 10 miles, but did not expect that to be a problem.  So we turned around and headed for Square Rock.

It was about 2pm when we entered Square Rock Cut.  There were a couple boats anchored inside.  It occurred to me to join them, but I dismissed the thought.  It was still early and I had my mind set on getting up to Little Farmers Cay.  It would be dark when we arrived, but we were familiar with the area and didn’t see that as a problem.  We continued on, travelling south, then west, then northwest as we rounded the back side of Galliot Bank in about 10 feet of water.

The front arrived at about 4pm and the wind built quickly from 15 to 20 knots.  We had put a preventative reef in the main, so were not overpowered from a sail perspective.  The 20 knots turned into a sustained 25 and we rolled up a little jib.  We were moving at about 8-9 knots at this point.

The waves coming off that bank were quite surprising and we were bashing into them pretty hard.  Large amounts of heavy spray, and occasionally partial waves were washing along the decks.  At one point I was standing at the cockpit door and saw a wave come up from between the hulls and over the salon windows.  It came across the cabintop and heavy water dumped on me at the door.  In retrospect, we should have put another reef in the main, or otherwise slowed down.  We were being too hard on the boat, inside and out.  This went on for about an hour.

At some point I realized the trampolines were becoming detached from the boat.  I ventured forward to investigate and saw that the catwalk out to our crossbeam was also broken from the force on the trampolines.  We started the engines, but could not put them in gear because of all the lines in the water, and it was too dangerous to go on deck to get them.  In the ensuing chaos, we accidentally tacked the boat.  

Silence.  It was like everything stopped.  We were hove to and it was wonderful.  We were drifting at about 2 knots, I’m not sure which direction, but didn’t care since the wind was from off the bank.  I went forward and cut away the lines holding the trampolines, and hauled the tramps and the catwalk wreckage aboard.  While I was forward doing that, the port engine stopped.

With the foredeck cleared, we got back underway, now with the starboard engine, a second reef in the main, and no jib.  I went to look at the port engine and realized pretty quickly that the bowl of the fuel filter was full of water.  That meant the pickup was immersed in water at the bottom of the fuel tank.  I checked the gauge, and sure enough, we had about 5 gallons more “fuel” than we should.  It wasn’t going to be a quick or an easy fix.  

With only one engine, we weren’t going to be able to motor into this wind for the 10 miles to Little Farmers.  We needed to hunker down and regroup.  It was finally clear that we should have stopped in the vicinity of Square Rock.  So we picked a spot about an hour behind us where we could tuck up close enough to land where we could anchor comfortably, and once again turned around.

Sailing in 5-6 feet of very choppy water, in the dark, was a little bit nerve-racking.  We eventually dropped the main and just motored.  We found that we could not motor upwind at all.  The boat would slow to the point where the rudders stalled and we fell off, for some reason always to port.  With only our starboard engine, it was hopeless to bring the nose back up to the wind and we had to gybe around.  We did this three times, each time getting closer to some rocks marked “position approximate” on the chart, before we learned not to go upwind and instead just motor with the wind about 30 degrees to port.  With such limited maneuverability we couldn’t get to an ideal spot, and we were getting more and more nervous about the depth.  So eventually we decided we were close enough and just dropped the hook.   Putting the bridle on the anchor chain without the trampolines or catwalk took a little doing, but once done we settled down quite comfortably.

A quick dinner was made and the kids went to bed.  It was 9:45pm.

February 13, 2011

We rested today and waited for the cold front to pass.  We also cleaned up and got everything shipshape again (at least as much as it was before).

The catwalk is destroyed.  It was a box section and only the top layer and one side remains intact.  It can’t support any weight at all.  Neither of the trampolines was damaged and I have retied them to each other underneath the catwalk remnant.  Between the time when the catwalk broke and I discovered it, it was hanging in the water, and with each wave it was bashing the front and bottom of the bridgedeck.  I can’t see any serious damage, but I haven’t looked under the boat yet.

I pumped all the fuel from the port tank over to starboard and then opened port and cleaned the remaining water out.  That transfer pump sure comes in handy.  Then I pumped half of the fuel back, drained the water out of the Racor filter, primed the engine, and… it wouldn’t start.  The filter has a little ball that floats on water and shuts the fuel supply before the engine gets water, so that shouldn’t be the problem.  I’ve starved the engine of fuel a few times before due to plugged vents, but have never had any trouble getting it started again.  This time I had to bleed the fuel system, but eventually got it running again.

Our fuel and water fill ports are recessed below the deck for some reason.  The compartment drains, but not fast enough to cope with the water we were taking on deck.  We need a better hatch over the compartment to prevent water getting in that fast.  Since our water fill is in the same place, our port fresh water tank was also contaminated with salt water.  Unfortunately, that can’t be fixed as easily and we are the proud owners of 80 gallons of brackish water.  We probably won’t try to rinse and reuse the tank until we get to a dock with a hose.  Fresh water is too preciously made.

The interior was a mess.  We had lots of water come in through hatches that weren’t dogged tight, as well as things that were precariously stacked and fell down.  Our confidence in our stability allows us to get away with some bad storage practices… for awhile anyway.  But the boatbuilder bears some blame too.  The catches he put on the galley drawers were not enough to keep them from flying out.

February 14, 2011

Back on that horse cowboy.  

Conditions today are a clear sky with NE 14-18 and occasional gusts to 20.  We had to psych ourselves into picking up the anchor this morning.  We started with a just a reefed main, and gradually added the jib until confidence was fully restored.  Thankfully, the wave machine isn’t on today.  What a difference 10 knots makes.

Thinking back to our decision to leave Saturday, if we had not escaped George Town when we did, we would have been stuck there Sunday too, and just left (maybe) today.  It would have been a raucous day in the Exuma Sound and we probably would have ducked into the first cut and stopped, perhaps even at Square Rock, and perhaps with rage conditions at the cuts.  As it is, we’re now past the Galliot Bank and making an easy 6-8 knots toward Black Point.  We’ll stop there briefly to unload trash, update our weather forecast, and post this.  Then we’ll pick back up and keep moving north. 

Despite our missteps and wounds, I’m feeling pretty happy with our progress.