Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Made It To Nassau! What A Trip

We left Bimini at 7:30 A.M. Sunday morning. We left a couple of hours early but when we woke up and the wind was calm with the current flowing in the right direction we decided to get out of the slip while we could do it easily. Of all the maneuvers we need to do sailing Pearl, getting into and out of slips are the most stressful and dangerous. We were in a slip close to shore with the wind blowing us against the dock when we went to bed. I thought it was going to be very difficult in the morning to get us off the dock, out of the slip and facing out to the channel in a strong wind. When we woke up to a light wind we shoved off immediately making a safe exit. We were on our way east to Nassau.

Our new friends on Echo II were going to go along with us "buddy boating" and shortly after we got out of Bimini harbor they caught up.

All boats travel at different speeds and wind angles so its almost impossible to stay together so we do our own thing. It is nice to know that there is someone around that you know to talk to on the radio even if they become out of sight. We kept each other company by checking in occasionally.

We sailed north until we were past Bimini and turned east. This was going to be a long run east/southeast to Nassau. The wind was not the greatest angle yet so we had to motor sail the first couple of hours until it swung to the south when we went full sail and no motor for the rest of the day. Along the way we were chatting on the radio with 3 other cruising boats we spent time with in Bimini. They had left a day earlier and anchored south for a night to take the southern route that would eventually merge with our track. It made the day go by comparing notes on each others progress. It was choppy and rolly but compared to the Gulf Stream crossing it was comfortable.

We struggle to get exercise when on the boat so when the bobbing of the bow was right I went forward in my exercise attire and did a little "deck surfing" to exercise the quads.

On board Pearl we have a few navigation devices but up at the helm we have a Garmin Chart Plotter that shows the nautical charts and our position within several feet. You can also plan your trip on it marking the turns in your route and it will calculate when you will arrive given your speed. We were making great time sailing and just before dark it said that if we continued on through the night we would arrive in Nassau at 5 A.M. in the dark. Of course we don't want to enter any new harbor in the dark, or even familiar ones so we decided to drop anchor while still on the shallow Bahamas Banks and have dinner and rest. We dropped anchor in 15 feet of water in the middle of nowhere about a mile south of the line everyone travels on. We made dinner and I went to sleep for about 2 1/2 hours. Gayleen stayed in the cockpit slightly napping keeping an eye out for other boats coming by in the dark.

After anchoring we radioed our friends on Echo II and they were still traveling behind us as we sail a little faster than them. Right after we get a call on the radio from one of the boats from the other group that took the southerly route. I said "hi Mike you sound like you are right next to us." He said,"that's because we are!". They listened to us give our position to Echo II and it turns out in the dark the three other boats were anchored about a mile south of us. We could see their anchor lights all lined up. They were going to sleep there for the night and make a stop at another Island the next day before going on to Nassau. We lost touch with Echo II as they passed us while we were asleep.

At 10:30 in the pitch black moonless night we raised anchor and started the overnight passage to Nassau. The first two hours while still in the shallow banks were uneventful. The first challenge was going through the narrow channel that led to the deep waters that we had to cross to get to Nassau. Since you can't see anything you just have to trust your GPS/Chart Plotter and go through. We weren't alone as another sailboat under full sail passed us in that channel as we went through. At night with just Gayleen and me on board I prefer to not raise the mainsail. Having too much sail up to worry about if a storm comes in or the winds pick up. Leaving the cockpit in the dark is dangerous, even if you tether yourself to something. We rolled out the jib and supplemented our progress with the motor to maintain our speed for a mid-morning arrival at Nassau. We take the time to plan our trips in detail and we knew there is a strong current flowing through the channel in Nassau where all the marinas are. A mid morning arrival would get us there at slack tide so we could get into our slip without having to deal with swiftly moving water pushing us one way or the other.

The trip across the deep waters was rough but was manageable. There was no moon so all we could see were some occasional boat lights. Otherwise, all we could do was keep ourselves awake. Gayleen caught up on some of the sleep she missed earlier and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open and watching the clock to see how much longer before the sun came up. Fortunately the autohelm did the hard work of steering Pearl keeping us on course. The sunrise on the horizon was a welcome sight.

Finally after about 11 hours from pulling up our anchor on the banks Nassau was in sight. With the huge Atlantis Resort off our port bow.

We had to radio Nassau Harbor Control to get permission to enter the harbor. We motored into the channel to be welcomed by the huge cruise ships that frequent this popular tourist destination.

These ships always amaze me in their size. They are like a small city with thiings on them that you wouldn't think should be on a boat. As we passed the Disney ship we could see people going through a big tube waterslide on the top deck of the ship. I wish they had this when I was a kid.

All in all the trip was 26 hours including our 4 hour stop on the banks. We continue to run into cruisers we had met in the past and at our dock last  night our neighbors from Tango that were next to us all summer in Vero Beach came by. They pulled in just down from us.

When we arrived, our friends from Echo II started out with us were nowhere to be seen. About mid afternoon I thought I would give one more try on the radio. It was so nice to have them reply immediately telling us that they were just coming into the harbor and would join us at the marina shortly.

OK, enough typing. It's time to get out and explore Nassau and get prepared for the Junkanoo festivities to come tonight. More on that later.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nassau Bound

Its finally time to move on from Bimini. Tomorrow we have the right winds to do a passage east to Nassau. We will leave the dock in the morning and the plan is to do an overnight crossing across the Bahamas Banks which is about 75 miles of water that is about 10 to 15 feet deep and then across the deep waters of "The Tongue of The Ocean" another 35 miles. The total trip is about 117 nautical miles and will take us approximately 22 hours.

You can follow us real time on our spot page here.

Last Sunday was another weather window for crossing to Bimini from Florida and about 5 new sailboats with other cruisers arrived at our marina. It was fun having such a nice group of friends to spend Christmas with. Most of them are making the same trip on to and through Nassau as we are tomorrow so our paths will continue to cross as we all continue our adventure.

Gayleen is excited that we will make it to Nassau for New Years. Evidently they have a huge parade at 2 A.M. called Junkanoo with music and floats and wild costumes.

Like always, sunsets are the highlight of the day. The cruising group met on the beach to have cocktails and watch this magnificent sight (thanks to our new friend Amber for sharing her photos with me)

I did manage to land my first catch with my fishing pole right here off the dock. It put up a good fight but I managed to get it in before the sharks got it. Amber was very happy to have here rug back that blew off the dock 2 days earlier.

Time to rest up because I'm sure we won't get much sleep on the overnight passage tomorrow.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Anniversary to The Adventures of Pearl

Last night was our 1 year anniversary on Pearl. December 21st was our first night on Pearl. Where did the last year go? Even though our lifestyle is a slow one without the hustle and bustle of land based life, time does seem to slip by.

The past year has been full of firsts for us. The list is huge and it seems every day brings more new experiences.

What do we miss in our old lifestyle?

The biggest thing we miss is seeing family and Northborough neighbors on a regular basis. Brandon and Trevor have visited us on Pearl this past year but we haven't seen Evan since the day we moved out of the house. The good news is that he and Ashley are coming to meet us in Nassau in 3 weeks! We miss Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas get togethers with the White's / Sargent's and the Taylor's. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch with video Skype though.

We will also admit that at times we miss unlimited hot showers, trash removal, unlimited laundry facilities and toilets that you can flush and flush and flush without pumping and pumping and pumping hoping that they don't clog. Frost free refrigerators are also a convenience that's taken for granted these days. Its a chore to defrost ours especially when it is full of provisions.

We don't miss television at all. In fact we have purposely not put one on board and probably will never join the part of the cruising community that has the satellite TV system on board. Every time we sit in the cockpit and look around there is a show going on. When we go ashore and walk around there are always new and interesting things to see. Unplugging from the grid really opens your eyes to the wonders around all of us every day.

We are currently relaxing in Bimini waiting for the next weather window to head east. Right now it looks like that will be at the end of the week. In the meantime, here are some pictures we took as well ramble around the area.

Gotta love the boats with the underwater lights. Our neighbor kept the water looking just as blue in the evening.

The Bimini Public Library. It is amazing some of the vintage books you can find if you dig through the shelves.

6 Foot Bull Sharks swimming around the marina slips feeding on the fisherman's fish cleaning discards.

5 foot wide Rays cruising through the marina. These things jump out of the water several feet in the air. It's quite a sight but hard to catch on camera.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spot Messenger - The New Toy

We have a new toy. It's called a Spot Messenger. The Spot Messenger has a few functions. When we are on the move it transmits our GPS location to a satellite network and our movement is plotted on a map in real time. In addition, we can send two pre-programmed email messages via the same satellites to a list of email addresses. The two we have chosen are "we are OK and still traveling" to let our family know that although we are delayed, everything is fine. The other messsage is "We have made it to our destination OK". We make sure to provide our itinerary to our family each time we make an extended crossing just so folks know our plans. The Spot Messenger can be used for sailing, hiking, roadside assistance etc. In addition to real time plotting of our position, the Spot Messenger acts as an emergency device. If we are in trouble we can press the S.O.S. button and it will alert an emergency center that we are in trouble and tell it our GPS location. They will then call our on shore contacts who can notify the coast guard or other emergency service of our whereabouts. Our SSB and VHF radios on board are our primary way to call for help, but this is another tool to use as well. It's better to have several ways to get help instead of none.

If you know we are on the move, you can follow our travels in real time on this site. Here is what you would have seen during our recent trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini, Bahamas.

By the way, the sag north in the middle is due to the effect of the north flowing Gulf Stream. Our trips are kept for 30 days after our arrival on the Spot site.

I am currently trying to figure out how to have the Spot information automatically update to a Google Map and be held there forever. If anyone knows how to do this please let me know.

Our next passage will probably be on Sunday and/or Monday. Follow us here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Zip Zoom, Just Like That and .... We Are In The Bahamas!!!!!!

Yes..we are finally out of Florida and in the Bahamas!!! But, lets rewind a bit because it has been a very eventful and fun filled week.

Tuesday afternoon we told the Harbor Master at Harbortown Marina that we will be leaving in the morning, very early in the morning because we planned on sailing outside in the open ocean instead of motoring down the ICW yet again. We wanted to leave early enough so if the weather was right we could sail all the way down to Ft. Lauderdale. He let us leave our slip while it was still light out and tie up at the fuel dock to fill up and be in an easy position to leave at our planned schedule of 5:30 A.M.

We are going to miss all our new friends we met at the marina the past month. They have been so generous to us lending us their car to provision for our trip and giving tons of advice. Our neighbors, Paul and Karen invited us to dinner last weekend to meet some of their cruising friends. These people have been everywhere all the way down the island chain, to Venezuela and Panama and many places in between. They were rattling of names of exotic place that sound familiar but we spent the next morning looking at the map to see where they were. They inspired us to expand our horizons a bit.

At 5:30 A.M. we left Harbortown Marina to exit the Ft. Pierce inlet and sail south. As we pulled out we said whoa!! even though we were familiar with the inlet, it was all together different in the pitch black. The new spot light was put to good use finding the markers and we made it out into the open ocean safely. I will admit it was stressful though. The winds and waves were perfect and we headed south as the sun rose.

It was a beautiful day to sail and it was especially sweet to not be motoring down the ICW dealing with all the draw bridges. Unfortunately the winds subsided in the afternoon and we were only able to make it to Lake Worth, but the best part was that we did two days of ICW motoring in one day of sailing with just the wind moving us south. We found a really nice anchorage in South Lake Worth to rest for the night.

The next day the conditions were too rough to sail outside so we left in the early hours to brave the MANY bridges in the ICW down to Ft Lauderdale. These bridges are on a schedule so that the car traffic over them can plan to not get stuck. Some open every half hour, some open at the quarter and three quarter hour and some open on demand. If the current isn't in your favor or you get stuck behind some slow boat traffic you may just miss the next bridge opening. This happens once or twice a day. You get to the bridge 3 minutes late and have to idle there for the next 30 minutes waiting for the next opening. We weren't the only ones at this bridge.

There is always something to see wherever we travel. This boat evidently had a bad day on the ICW.

We made it to Ft Lauderdale in mid afternoon on Friday and proceeded to look for a place to anchor. This is the time of year that many cruisers are trying to cross to the Bahamas and Ft Lauderdale is one places where they stage. There hasn't been a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream in some time so our worst concern was realized. Our three favorite anchorages were more than FULL with no room for us. Fortunately, as we were entering Ft Lauderdale there was an anchorage we never tried next to a place we sat waiting for a bridge to open. We took a run in and talked to a guy on the only boat anchored in it. He loved the anchorage and it was the right depth for us all around. Although it would give us one more bridge to go through when we decide to leave, we headed there to anchor.

After a good night's rest we woke up and spent the day getting Pearl ready for the potential Bahamas crossing window coming up the next day. Gayleen has turned into quite the sailor and is now ready for everything. Here she is testing out the safety harness that we clip on the boat if we have to leave the cockpit in rough weather to fix something on the deck fore or aft. I think she gets many style points for this move with the yellow tether going from the harness to the lifeline.

Pearl was ready to go mid afternoon and we noticed that several boats were anchoring near us. We came to find out that we scored a front row seat to the Ft Lauderdale Holiday Boat Parade that would go right by our anchorage that evening. It was sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe and had many fully decorated sailboats and mega yachts passing by us with live entertainment for a couple of hours. What a treat!

So...after the evening fun we got to bed knowing that we were going to get up at 3:30 A.M. and get through three bridges to exit the Ft Lauderdale inlet and head to the Bahamas. The weather window to cross the Gulf Stream was short and had lots of uncertainty. We figured we would go out and see what it was like. If it was too uncomfortable to cross we would either head south to Miami for a better crossing angle or come back into FT. Lauderdale and wait for the next crossing window in 4 days to a week or maybe more.

3:30 A.M. came quickly and we raised anchor and made our way through the 3 draw bridges to get to the inlet. Of course, due to a strong current we missed the last bridge by a couple of minutes and had to kill a half hour waiting for the next opening.  The 17th Street bridge opened, Pearl went through and we were on our way to the open ocean. We just needed to round one bend, go through the cruise ship turning basin and head to the open ocean. Just as we were about to reach the bend a small tug appeared right next to us and told us to keep to the left. Not knowing what he meant we rounded the bend and HOLY CRAP! there was a cruise ship in our face!! We could have spit and hit this thing!

Who brings a cruise ship into port at 5:15 A.M.??? Well after some more stress we passed it and thought we were in the clear only to see yet another cruise ship ahead of us entering the inlet!!!! I raidioed it but I guess they didn't care to respond to the flea sized sail boat that was heading towards it. Fortunately, we made it to deep water and turned south out of the channel before the next encounter with another beast.

It was a little rough heading out into the Gulf Stream but we were still in our comfort level and decided to go for it. Our previous crossings were so calm we were spoiled. Although this one was on the edge of uncomfortable it was uneventful and except for several face slapping wave baths and a few waves that tossed everything off the shelves down below we made it across to Bimini in 8 hours.

After a couple more curve balls like yet another cruise ship sitting exactly across the Bimini channel entrance that we had to pass super close to AND a freighter coming out that we had to share the narrow Bimini channel entrance with. It seems that we were being tested with all these challenges today.

Here we are in the clear blue waters of the Bahamas again waiting for our next weather window to make our way west to Nassau to meet up with Evan and Ashley. It's so nice to finally be out of Florida. It's also fun to see our friends at Brown's Marina that we spent time with last spring.

Time for bed...we are exhausted.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nighttime Cat Fight and Getting Ready To Shove Off

Once again it's time to catch up with what Pearl has been up to. After enjoying a month at Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce we are preparing to start making our way to the Bahamas some time next week. While we were here we have accomplished many things that were on our to-do list as well as made some new, very good friends that have given us tons of advice about the parts of the Bahamas we are going to head to. Cruisers and ex-cruisers never cease to amaze us with their generosity. Several folks have insisted we use their cars whenever we need to and if you need a tool, just ask as someone has it and will get it right in your hands.

The marina is one that works for us. It's clean with great showers, a nice Captains Lounge for Gayleen to do her jigsaw puzzles and there is on site everything. There is a West Marine store, supermarket, pizza place, CVS and Dollar Store all within walking distance, or a couple minute ride on our bike that we will be leaving for some friends to use. There is a small restaurant at the start of our dock that has live music during Happy Hour and most of the folks are on a first name basis with everyone. It feels a lot like the set of "Cheers".

Before I get into the things we have done while we were here I need to start with the funny story. A sailboat pulled in two slips away from us and they have a black cat that is almost identical in size to our crew member Turbo.

Their cat is named Verdi but they also call it "shit cat". I'm not sure what that name means and haven't asked. Well....two nights ago we went to sleep. At night we close our main hatch up and Gayleen was in the V berth with the overhead hatch open and I was in the aft berth. At 5 A.M. in the pitch black I hear Gayleen yelling my name and hear cats growling and screeching. With my eyes half open Gayleen says loudly, the other black cat jumped in through her hatch and is in our boat under the table....get it out! I find the black cat under the table, grab it, open our main hatch and toss it into the cockpit and quickly close the main hatch. Now that the problem was solved I went back to the aft bunk to lay down.

A couple of minutes later Gayleen starts yelling..something is wrong with Turbo, she may have hurt her neck in the fight. She felt something on Turbo's neck when she was petting her to calm her down. I come running forward and Gayleen turns on the light and to our surprise she was feeling the small rope collar on the other black cat! I threw our poor Turbo outside and the other cat was left laying on Gayleen's V berth bunk! Thinking Turbo was outside traumatized wondering what the heck just happened I quickly opened the main hatch and there she was in the cockpit with a look of confusion in her eyes. Poor Turbo.

Half asleep I went back into action. I grabbed Turbo and brought her in the boat and then grabbed "shit cat" and tossed it out and closed all the hatches. Phew...what a night. It wasn't funny at the time but has been worth a few laughs since then.

Earlier that evening we were treated to our first rocket launch sighting. While sitting down below eating dinner we hear lots of commotion on the boats around us. As we came up into the cockpit we realized we could see the SpaceX rocket crossing the sky that was just launched from Cape Canaveral.

We got to watch 2 stages separate and the final fuel tanks drop off. It was quite a show.

We continue to struggle with "stuff". One habit of land dwelling that's hard to break is accumulating "stuff". We try to stick to the rule of removing something from the boat whenever we add something but there seems to always be a reason to keep the things we already have. I got nervous when the guys painting the bottom of the boat suggested we may want to move our waterline up a little which meant we are floating a bit lower in the water. The latest addition was Gayleen's new kayak. She has wanted one ever since we bought Pearl and we finally found one that met her requirements. It was delivered here about a week ago. She likes to go rowing, now paddling, for exercise but our dinghy was very heavy and hard to row. She has been all over in that thing already, and as you can see it makes her very happy.

A couple of weeks ago we rode bikes a few miles to attend the annual "Muster" at the Navy Seal Museum. This turned out to be a bigger event than we expected with many high level military folks speaking as well as other dignitaries.

There were many interesting demonstrations.

As well as some hands on activities.

In the meantime we have changed all the interior lights of Pearl to L.E.D. lighting which takes about 1/12th of the power of the regular bulbs we had. We bought a hand held VHF radio to bring with us in the dinghy to call for help or communicate with Pearl if one of us stays on board. We bought a new hand held spotlight to find our way better in Pearl or the dinghy at night. The spot light was a must have after we visited some friends a 2 miles dinghy ride from us in Bimini and realized how hard it was to return in the dark on a night with no moon.

Now we are filling our propane tanks and provisioning to start making our way to the Bahamas. We have timed the departure to meet up with Evan and Ashley who will be meeting us in the Bahamas for a week in the middle of January..yay..we haven't seen Evan since the day we sold our house. Its been almost a year. It's always unwise to have a schedule when cruising because mother nature doesn't usually cooperate. Many cruisers have problems when they go in "not so great" conditions to get someplace on a particular schedule. We are leaving just over a month to get ourselves to the Bahamas which should give us plenty of buffer to get there early and not get caught in a timing issue.

We have a few more things to do here but plan on leaving mid to late next week. First we have to head south to at least Ft Lauderdale so as to be able to cross the Gulf Stream without being pushed too far north by the current. The trip to Ft Lauderdale will take a few days and then we sit and wait for a weather window to safely cross to the Bahamas.

After a slow summer, we hope to have lots of adventures to start writing about. Stay tuned.
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