24 Feb 2016

24 February 2016 - Feeling a little deflated ...

The last few weeks have been somewhat frustrating for me. When we returned to the boat in Cape Canaveral after the Christmas break one of the inflatable tubes on the dinghy had sprung a leak. No problem,  I thought, I have a repair kit, I will just put a patch on the leak and that will be that. No such luck! I duly put a patch on the affected seam that had given up the ghost with plenty of overlap for good measure, allowed it time to set and then pumped it up again. A few days later, it was soggy again, obviously I hadn't covered it all. So I put another patch on next to the new one because the leak had moved along the tube. Still not enough. Several more patches and the dinghy is looking like a quilt, and I am still having to re-inflate every day. It is so annoying.

We have decided that we need a new dinghy, and the new one will be a rib with a solid floor, but this one needs to last us the next 4 weeks until we haul out for the summer. Let's hope it does.

The sailing has been a delight lately, with brisk winds and sunny skies, and the calm turquoise waters of the bahama bank. We have really enjoyed our visits to some old haunts, particularly Warderick Wells in the Exuma State Park, and Big Major Spot, near Staniel Cay. We have made new friends along the way and caught up with some longer standing ones too.  Everyone is very friendly and the cruisers events we've attended good fun and a good source of information.

The colour of the water in the Bahamas on the bank is simply awesome, we have seen huge stingrays gliding around in lazy circles and sharks resting on the seafloor below the boat in crystal clear waters. It doesn't get much better than this.

Over the next couple of days we'll head south to Georgetown at the bottom end of the Exuma chain in readiness to pick up Jon and Hannah on Saturday night.  For once it looks like the winds will actually play ball and be from the right direction!

19 Feb 2016

18/2/2016 : Haircut madam? Staniel Cay, Exuma National Park

After 48 hours riding out yet more high winds tucked behind Highbourne Cay, Tuesday saw us tacking south to Shroud Cay in the Exuma National Park. It was a beautiful day with winds from the south so very warm and for the first time in nearly a year the bikini came out!

Shroud Cay is home to a vast mangrove which we explored in the dinghy. Surprsingly we didn't see much wildlfe but it was a great afternoon.

That evening we were invited for cocktails on a neighbouring boat and ended up staying for dinner!  The Canadian couple who's boat it was were nearing the end of their 3 year trip around the Caribbean and had some interesting tales to tell.

We sailed on down (slowly!) to Warderick Wells and picked up a mooring ball for the night.  We'd been without Internet connection for over 36 hours but had been told there was a chance of a weak signal if we climbed Boo Boo Hill so off we went and true enough were able to pick up and reply to our emails, whilst being bitten to death by sand flies!

Whilst we'd have liked to stay at Warderick another couple of nights we were sensible and headed down to Big Majors Spot next to Staniel Cay and a Bahamas Telecom mast .... Internet on board once again!  As it turned out we picked a good day to arrive as the mail boat had been and the small grocery store had just taken delivery of fresh produce.

It's lovely to be back at Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot, home of the swimming pigs. The colour of the water is the most incredible turquoise and the natural beauty of the area beyond compare .... truly stunning.

We'll be here a few days as yet another front is blowing through .... we're beginning to wonder if they'll ever stop!

This afternoon was hair cut time.  With the lack of an hairdresser ashore, Paul got out his scissors once again and I bravely let him set to on my crowning glory.

He actually did a pretty decent job.  I then returned the favour with his clippers giving him a number 5 all over .... A good sailing hairstyle if ever I saw one.

14 Feb 2016

Highbourne Cay 14/02/2016

Having spent 2 very enjoyable nights in the marina at Great Harbour Cay during which we cycled around the island, walked on the beach and dined out at a "chat and grill" event where we ate barbecued food (lobster for Paul, chicken for Debra) and were the last people to leave the gazebo at the end of the evening - who said we are not sociable??? Sometime late in the evening I volunteered to cut someone's hair, and did so for Dean, the brave soul in the morning before we left. As it turns out it seems I did a pretty good job of it. Maybe a new career opportunity!

We navigated our way successfully out of the marina, the lagoon housing it and the narrow entrance which even in daylight was tight.

The sail across the bank from Great Harbour Cay was really good at first, the sun was shining, the winds were constant and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Later in the day as we neared the edge of the bank the winds dropped to nothing and we had to motor for a while.

Then last night, we crossed the "Tongue of the Ocean" - it is the strip of ocean that goes between Andros and the Exumas, a deep very stretch of water that we were reliably informed is used by the US navy for training their submariners. Thankfully we didn't run into any periscopes that may have been proud of the surface on our trip. We did however see a whale which was nice - the first one of 2016.

The weather forecasters got it wrong yet again, we were expecting 20 knots of wind, but inevitably were pounding along in 40 knots. The boat can take the high winds, but the problem is that the waters around the Bahamas are incredibly shallow (average depth 5 metres of less) and sailing in the dark means that we need to stick to well marked channels to avoid running into any of the myriad coral heads that frequent the Bahama Bank. Despite being well reefed so that we had mere handkerchief sized sails exposed to the wind, we were still screaming along at over 8 knots, not a speed to hit a coral reef at. Thankfully, because we were on a well tracked route, we could relax about the coral heads, but high speeds in pitch dark in shallow waters are still pretty scary.

We arrived at Highbourne Cay just as the dawn was breaking and we were able to see the rocky bits in the anchorage that we need to avoid. We will stay here and ride out the next weather front that is due this evening and tomorrow before heading further south through the Exuma chain.

12 Feb 2016

12/2/2016 : Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas, aka paradise

After 37 hours at sea, the middle 12 of which were pretty unpleasant as we crossed the Gulf Stream in rough seas and high winds, we arrived in the Berry Islands as darkness was falling.  The last 4 miles on the approach was shallow so we had to be careful, no more so than at the entrance to the channel into the marina when we had only 10cm below the keel, and that was 3 hours after low water when there was already an increase in water depth of 40cm.  With Paul on the helm and me on the bow with a spotlight, vainly trying to find the channel markers, we made our way into the marina safely.  The welcome we got from the marina staff, and neighbouring boats, was wonderful and made it all worthwhile.

Our route from Key West to the Berrys had taken us east along the Florida Keys (good sailing) and then north east across the Gulf Stream to Bimini (of which more later) and then east from Bimini to Great harbour Cay (great sailing).  In 37 hours at sea we only had the engine on about 3 hours, and two of those were departing and arriving.  And now back to the Gulf Stream.  We know that crossing it when the wind is from the north is not easy, nor recommended, as with winds blowing to the south and a strong current running to the north, the resultant effect on the sea state is not great.  The stronger the wind, the bigger the seas.  Well the forecast was for pretty benign wind conditions and so we decided to go for it.  As usual the forecasters got it wrong and the 15 knots benign winds actually were 30+ knots gusting up to 40.  I'll leave the sea state to your imagination but even Paul described it as an unpleasant and uncomfortable crossing, and so speaks the man who is normally very positive about everything.  Tumi handled the trip brilliantly, no worries there, but neither of us got much sleep and so arrived last night exhausted.  Long trips with just two people is never easy but in rough conditions with a lot of commercial traffic plying the Gulf Stream, it was tough.

Today however feels like a different world.  From the warmth of the welcome to the unspoilt beauty of this little-visited island, everything is perfect.  The weather, the atmosphere, the marina ... nothing to mar a great day. We've cycled a fair bit of the island and visited a couple of beaches, caught up on a few chores, chatted to our fellow sailors in the marina and are very soon heading off to a chat 'n' chill lobster BBQ.

The BBQ was great fun chatting with other sailing couples and the food not bad at all.  One thing we discovered was the marina and surrounding properties were developed in the late sixties as a luxury resort, frequented by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Jack Nicholson no less.  Sadly it fell out of favour and is far from the luxury of those days but it's still a great little island and place to be.

11 Feb 2016

10/2/2016 : On our way to the Bahamas

We're about 20 miles off the coast of Key Largo en route to the Berry Islands in the Bahamas.  After having watched the weather forecast for the last few days it looked like a decent window to make a passage to the east, initially,  and the north east with north westerlies at between 15 and 20 knots.  Typically within 6 hours of setting out the wind veered to the north east ... great!

Fortunately for us, 4 hours later it did back to the north west so we're in business again but not making as much progress as we'd hoped .... I think we'll be arriving after dark tomorrow. It's a 250 mile trip but with the help of decent winds and the Gulf Stream we had hoped to make it in 36 hours but are start this morning was delayed dealing with emails from home which needed to be answered.  Sailing just offshore today has meant our wifi hub has continued to work which has been very useful ... As soon as we get to the Bahamas we plan on buying a Bahama Telco sim card so we can continue to have comms access.

I'm now an hour through my 8pm to 11pm watch whilst Paul tries to get some sleep. We've just passed a big motor boat heading for Key West and there are quite a few fishing boats about so I need to keep alert.  We'll be crossing the Gulf Stream before dawn .. hope it is reasonably calm .... and will be sailing across the beautiful Bahama bank tomorrow daytime, admiring the turquoise waters which will only between 3 and 5 metres deep .... watching out for coral heads!

All for now, next report from the Berry Islands on Friday all being well!

7 Feb 2016

7/2/2016 : Wind's up in Key West

The weather this year is very unsettled, as everyone keeps telling us, and every few days a cold front comes ripping through from the north.  After a settled day and incredibly calm evening on Thursday ... we're talking almost no wind on Thursday night, at just gone midnight it was as though someone turned on a giant wind machine and a wall of wind hit us with wind speeds going from almost zero to over 50 knots in a matter of seconds .... it was quite bizarre.  Fortunately for us we're in a mooring field with another 100+ yachts and we all rode the storm out safely, maybe with the possible exception of the old yacht on the ball next to us which was there on Thursday evening as darkness fell but not there on Friday morning!  Strangely it had reappeared by Saturday morning looking undamaged, but quite where it had been for 24 hours, and why it was moved under the cover of darkness both times, escapes us.

We went into Key West yesterday morning to meet up with sailing friends Dan and Jackie once again.  On the dinghy ride in we passed one sunken yacht with just it's mast showing that hadn't been there on Thursday so obviously was a victim of its anchor dragging in the storm.

Paul was hoping we'd find a bar showing the England Scotland rugby game but he was out of look and so, with the rain lashing down outside, we spent several happy hours with Dan and Jackie enjoying a drink or two and games of pool, well for the guys anyway.  The rain was set in for the day and so about 4.30pm Paul & I decided to head back to the boat ... a one and a half mile dinghy mile away.  There must have been a couple of inches of rain water in the bottom of the dinghy when we got back to it and the self-inflating life jackets had inflated themselves because of it!  New gas inflation cylinders needed!! Needless to say we were absolutely saturated by the rain and sea spray almost before we left the shelter of the harbour ... hilarious!

The next cold front is passing through as I type .... it started about 7am this morning and once against was almost instantaneous stormforce wind conditions.  Paul switched on the instruments and it was measuring 56 knots, so over 70mph so it will be another day on board.  I don't know whether it is the El Nino affect or what, but the weather patterns are pretty wild.  Looking at the wider and longer-term forecast, there are a series of lows trying to push south towards us but a high sitting over the Caribbean is deflecting them, meaning we only are being hit by the edge of the weather .... 70mph is the edge, heaven knows what it's like in the middle of it.  Anyway, another one will push through on Monday night and then it seems to be reasonably settled for a few days and so we're hoping to head off to the Bahamas at some point on Tuesday.  Surely settled weather has to be just around the corner?!!!

4 Feb 2016

4/2/2016 - Key West

Three full days in and we're still loving Key West in all its colour, helped of course by the fabulous weather.  It's a busy place, especially when the cruise ships are in town, but still seems to retain an unique character unlike any other places we've visited.

A bit touristy, yes, but charming and full of life.  Our exploring on Tuesday took us out to Fort Zachary Taylor, the southernmost fortification in the US dating from the early eighteen hundreds.  In those days it was three stories high but is now a more modest one storey and a state national park.  Not one of the most impressive forts we've seen on the east coast, that prize goes to Fort Macon in Beaufort, North Carolina, but one with great views nonetheless.

We hired a car yesterday with a view to exploring some of the Keys we hadn't been able to reach by boat, plus we wanted to drive over the Seven Mile Bridge between Bahia Honda Key and Marathon which we duly did.  We were trying to decide whether this was the bridge used in Mission Impossible III but having watched last night, found out it wasn't!  The old railroad bridge built by Henry Flagler in the early 20th century still runs alongside, although it is no longer in use.

Apart from being a pleasant drive along very low lying and wet land (the highest point in the whole of the Florida Keys is only 18 feet above sea level, or maybe it's the top of our mast at the moment?!) there didn't seem to be a lot to see other than that so once we'd crossed the bridge we turned around and returned to Key West visiting the official southernmost point of the "Continental United States"and strolling to see Ernest Hemingway's house.  All in all a great day.

On the more practical side on things, the dinghy has sprung a slow leak which Paul thought he'd fixed in West Palm Beach but which has returned two weeks later, maybe a result of the warm temperatures.  He's tried patching it but as yet things aren't looking too hopeful and so we're travelling with the foot pump to hand when we go ashore.  It should see us through the rest of this season but I think we'll have to invest in a new one for our return in October.  More expense!

It's looking like we'll be in Key West until early next week as there are a couple of fronts coming through this weekend but by Monday we'll be on our way to the Bahamas all being well.  In the meantime we'll continue to explore the area, relax and get the laundry and maintenance done too!

2 Feb 2016

2/2/2016 : Key West .... what a difference the sun makes!

After a night of heavy rain we awoke yesterday morning to clear blue skies and temperatures in the low eighties ... at last it feels as though we're back in the tropics!  So suitably attired in shorts and T-shirts we headed ashore to register with the marina and go an explore.

Unlike the uninspiring anchorages / mooring field which seem to be littered with derelict boats, the old town itself is great, quirky but with a buzz about it, a bit tourist trashy on the main street (Duval Street, apparently the only road that runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic in a straight line ... it's about a mile long!) but some attractive wooden houses and a nice waterfront where we enjoyed a local beer or two whilst Paul watched the rugby sevens.

We also had a great lunch sitting in a pretty cool restaurant on Duval Street, enjoying the great cocktails .... the best mojito I've had since Puerto Rico in March 2013!  We'll definitely pay another visit to it before we leave.

The weather for the next couple of days is forecast to remain warm and sunny so another day ashore exploring old Key West, including the fort, beckons and then tomorrow we're hired a car to drive down the keys to places we were too deep to stop at.  One of the linking bridges is 7 miles long so we'll definitely get as far as that.