Another trip to the Bahamas comin’ up

A little more than three years ago, Barbara (Edelberg; my spouse) and I sailed from our home dock in Clearwater Beach, FL, to the Bahamas and back (see To The Bahamas, Part 1: Start of a Real Cruise). We had intended for that trip to be followed with a year or so by a trip sailing down to the Virgin Islands and perhaps further into the Caribbean, but “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley”, as Robert Burns famously wrote.

However, I managed earlier this year to persuade one of the technical groups on which I work to schedule a meeting in the Bahamas! (It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, eh?) Naturally, it was my intent to sail to that meeting, and it now looks like it is likely to happen. The meeting is scheduled to be held in Freeport, on the south coast of Grand Bahama Island (actually at Port Lucaya, but that’s a minor detail). This time, we will again take a guest with us: my friend, fellow sailor, and technical group co-chair Andy Coleman. There was earlier a possibility that another friend and colleague, Norm Walsh, might sail with us, but Norm’s schedule ultimately didn’t allow him to spare the time.

We expect to set sail early in the morning of July 8 (2015, of course) and our current sailplan suggests that the sail to Freeport will take about five days. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the possibility of having to wait for an appropriate weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream, so the necessity of arriving no later than the afternoon of July 14 (the meeting starts on July 15) forces us to leave a couple of days earlier than we otherwise might have to.

Before we leave, we have a significant amount of work to complete on Dream SeQueL. In fact, in early June, we’re scheduled for a haulout, during which we’ll repaint the bottom with antifouling paint, replace a through-hull, and — a fairly common problem on Passport 40s — replace the mild-steel (and rapidly rusting!) “cage” that supports the upper rudder bearing. There are more things to, of course, but most of the other tasks don’t require the boat to be on the hard.

So, watch this space for more entries that document our preparations for the Bahamas trip, and, of course, the trip itself!

Just to give an idea of what we’re planning to do, here’s a chart that I’ve prepared using a wonderful plotting tool, Open CPN:

Chart of 2015-07 trip to the Bahamas

November/December on Dream SeQueL

It’s been almost six months since I last wrote (To The Bahamas, Part 16: Lake Worth Beach to Clearwater Beach — the End of the Journey), but that doesn’t mean that nothing’s been going on.

I spent the first 16 days (including two travel days) of August down in Clearwater Beach, FL, working on Dream SeQueL. There were a number of jobs that I needed to get done, but Barbara was not able to get away from her Sheltie Rescue responsibilities and join me. Instead, I took my Sheltie, Abby, as my helper and confidant ♥ In the two weeks we were there, we got quite a lot of work done, the most significant of which (at least in terms of time spent) was a near-complete reconfiguration of our instrument system.

A word of advice: If you’re planning to upgrade a generation X instrument system to a generation X+2 instrument system, don’t try to do it in bits! There are so many gotchas involved when, as in our case, one mixes Raymarine’s Seatalk(1) and SeatalkNG networks, particularly when there are also a SeatalkHS network and an NMEA 0183 network involved. Suffice it to say that, has I the cash in hand, it would be far, far simpler to simply rip all of the generation X devices out and replace them with corresponding generation X+2 devices.

Sadly, we worked so many hours every day we were there (yes, Abby was helping!) that we did not take the boat out for a sail even once. That’s not a huge loss, because August on the Gulf Coast of Florida is brutally hot and humid, but there is very little wind with which to sail. A 5 kt zephyr is about as good as the winds usually get.

Tomorrow, I leave for two weeks of business trips — one in Lyon, France, and the other in Jeju, Korea. I return from those trips on Sunday, November 11, and will have but two days to recover from the travel and get some stuff done around the house. On Wednesday, November 14, Abby and I will fly down to Florida, “wake up” the boat, and start getting some work done. Barbara will join us on Thanksgiving day, November 22. We’ll spend a couple more days getting some work done, but then we intend to go cruising for a few days!

Our tentative plan is to sail south about a hundred miles to Boca Grande Pass, the entrance from the Gulf into Charlotte Harbor. Once inside, we’ll spend two or three days exploring the area, using our dinghy to get to places without sufficient draft (6′) for Dream SeQueL. Believe it or not, this will be the first time we’ve really cruised in the sense of not really having a firm destination or a deadline, but merely exploring places that look interesting, whether a little town or an uninhabited island. After those few days, we’ll head back to the Tampa Bay area in time to attend the St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show. We attended this show several years ago and benefited enormously from several of the (free!) seminars they offered, and we hope to do so again this year. With a lot more miles under our keel than we had then, we’ll also benefit a lot more from the vendors’ booths, too. Once the show’s over, it’ll be time to thoroughly clean our boat and put her back to sleep until our next trip to Florida. We fly back home (Utah) on December 6.

Here’s a sample of the kinds of work I want us to complete on this trip:

  • Take our liferaft, Mom (man overboard module), and EPIRB (electronic position indicating rescue beacon) to be serviced.
  • Remove the old dinghy (that came unglued during our Bahamas trip) and replace it with our new (ordered today!) Hypalon, welded dinghy.
  • Service at least one winch, and perhaps all five winches.
  • Refinish the caprail, the handrails, and other exterior brightwork.
  • Thoroughly clean and re-oil the teak in and adjacent to the cockpit.
  • Remove several boards from the teak deck, removing the screws that hold them down, fill the screw holes with epoxy resin, redrill them, and replace the boards (actually two or three of them might have to be literally replaced because they’re split or broken). In fact, we have at least two known leaks in the decks that must be fixed pronto.
  • While we’re at it, repair numerous chips and cracks in the gelcoat on deck.
  • The deck port to our holding tank is “frozen” and I’ve been unable to unfreeze it chemically and using brute force, so we’ll either succeed or replace it completely. While we’re working on this, we’ll completely clean the holding tank (ugh!) and accurately measure its capacity.
  • Complete the work on the instrument system, which might mean spending time on the phone with Raymarine. Once the instruments are all working properly, we have to recalibrate all of them (electronic compass, depth, speed, temperature, wind direction, wind speed).
  • We need to repaint several interior surfaces with good waterproof (e.g., epoxy) paint: the interior of the refrigerator and freezer compartments; the interiors of the lockers beneath the galley sink and the head sink; and the headliner in the saloon.
  • Replace the loudhailer that was ripped off the mast during the Bahamas trip.
  • Completely and thoroughly clean the bilge (especially the sump), and repaint with a good waterproof paint. Evaluate whether the primary bilge pump’s float switch should be replaced (it occasionally sticks in the off position!); otherwise, just clean it and the pump thoroughly. Re-engineer the mounting system for the primary bilge pump and its float switch, the new high-capacity bilge pump’s electronic sensor, and all of the bilge pump wiring.
  • Make up lines necessary to utilize our newly-repaired whisker pole.
  • Repair various pieces of canvas (e.g., sail maincover, windlass cover, handrail covers, etc.); get a canvas shop to measure and prepare a bid for other (new and replacement) canvas pieces, especially for a cockpit enclosure.
  • Replace several pieces of fuel hose that are not USCG approved with approved hose.
  • Better organize our spare parts and supplies storage areas.

Well, I’m intimidated!

To The Bahamas, Part 16: Lake Worth Beach to Clearwater Beach — the End of the Journey

2012-04-30; 21:00 — Clearwater Beach, Florida, Home Dock

Whew. We’re back at our home dock for the first time in nine months — ever since I sailed the boat down to SIBW for what I expected to be a week-long bottom paint job.

Our time in Lake Worth Beach was fairly relaxed. We did a bunch of work on the boat, fixing things that we already knew were broken before we started the trip and things that broke during the trip. Remember, “cruising is just boat repair in exotic locations.” We took advantage of the marina’s showers. Frank and I walked across the beach connecting Lake Worth Beach with Palm Beach on the mainland to a Publix supermarket (and got drenched to the bone on the way to the market). And we generally rested and recovered from the 48-hour sail back from the Abacos.

The second night we were at Cannonsport Marina, the storm we’d been racing to beat back across the Gulf Stream finally arrived. With a vengeance! I have no idea what the wind speeds were, probably not gale force, but the wind was strong enough to overcome some of our dock lines and bash our bow-mounted primary anchor against the concrete dock. When we heard — and felt — that, we all threw on some minimal amount of foul-weather gear and raced up on deck to get the boat far enough back to prevent that contact. It took a tremendous effort, involving me going onto the dock and loosening the bow lines a bit, while Frank and Barbara put a stern line onto a winch and struggled to move the boat aftwards against the wind. We finally succeeded, but the rain was coming down so hard that we were all drenched to the skin. Brrrr…. All’s well that ends well, and we had no more problems of that sort.

On Monday, 2012-04-23, I took a taxi to the airport and flew to Phoenix, then took an actual stretch limousine(!) to the hotel where the INCITS meeting and award ceremony were being held. (No, this wasn’t splurging. It happened that the limousine driver needed a fare and he ended up charging me about $5.00 more than a taxi would have cost. What a strange experience, though!) I checked into the hotel and touched base with my good friend Keith Hare, who was there at the meeting representing the Chairman of our standard committee, Don Deutsch. (Don had to have emergency eye surgery and was — is — not allowed to fly for a while.) Of course, I dressed in my usual formal business attire for such an auspicious occasion; Keith lent me a very conservative, understated tie, as I had none on the boat with me.


I’m also rather proud of the little acceptance speech I gave. Here’s a link to the video for your amusement: Jim’s Award and Acceptance Speech

The trip back from Lake Worth Beach was, unfortunately, the long way around. I checked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers web site dealing with the Okeechobee Waterway the night before we were going to head up to the St. Lucie River to begin that crossing and it said that the controlling depth was 5.77′. As I’ve said earlier, we draw a solid 5.75′, and I wasn’t about to attempt to traverse that system with only 0.02′ of water under my keep. Heck, the ripple cause by a minnow swimming past would cause us to bounce on the bottom! Barbara phoned the Indiantown Marina (on the Waterway) to see if they had any better news to offer, and they said that they wouldn’t even think about doing it under these conditions. (Later on, conversations with the first owners of Dream SeQueL, who are also our “docklords”, informed us that she’ll never traverse the Waterway — either her draft will be too much or her mast height will be too much (or both!), and there’s no compromise depth that would work.) So, the night before we were to set sail to return, we had to revise everything to sail around the southern end of Florida — reversing our trip down, basically.

So, with some disappointment and not a little urgency, we cast off our dock lines on Wednesday morning, 2012-04-25, at around 10:30, motored out of the Lake Worth Inlet, and turned south. The winds were fairly light, so we motor-sailed. In fact, the winds would have probably let us sail at around 5 kt (SOG, or Speed Over Ground), but we really had to make better time than that or Barbara wouldn’t make her flight back to SLC on Sunday. Motor-sailing allowed us to make 6.5 – 7.0 kt SOG, which was much better (but still a bit tight).

There was a ton of traffic out in the Atlantic Ocean that day! I mean, it’s a madhouse compared to the traffic levels in the Tampa Bay area. Lots of ships, going in and out of inlets that I wouldn’t have considered suitable for anything larger than Dream SeQueL. (Have you seen Port Everglades’ inlet? Astounding what goes through there!) Outside of Port Everglades, and then again outside of the Port of Miami, there were several ships at anchor, apparently waiting their turn to be taken into the port for loading. And our AIS “target list” was never empty until we were well, well south of Miami. We motor-sailed deep into the night, feeling the pressure of time slipping away, but confident that the Hawk Channel was well-surveyed and -charted. We finally stopped for the night about 02:30, just off Old Rhodes Key and dropped the hook just outside of the main channel, behind red daymark #22. We figured that few boats would deliberately get outside the channel markers at night, so we were relatively safe; in any case, we had our anchor light on, of course.

We awoke reasonably early on 2012-04-26 and actually weighed anchor by 10:30 and started motor-sailing farther on down the Hawk Channel. Some time during the day, the port fuel tank went dry, so we switched over to the (much larger and still full) starboard tank. The sail was very pleasant, nothing to do but watch for other traffic, which was really quite light. In fact, we saw only a very few sailboats and a handful of larger power boats the whole day. At about 21:00, we decided we’d done enough that day and dropped the hook in the lee of Boot Key (in the lower middle Keys). There was just enough of an east wind to make anchoring out in the open uncomfortable, so being in the lee of the Key proved to be a very good idea.

We set sail again bright and early (09:00) on 2012-04-27, planning to make it at least to Key West, where we could refuel and might even spend the night anchored out with all of the other sailboats. The engine behaved rather badly, pretty much all day. It stalled a few times when we started it, and we noticed a fair amount of white smoke coming out of the exhaust through-hull. Maybe we picked up something undesirable (like water) when we last filled the starboard tank? There are a number of possibilities that can cause the white smoke we were seeing, so we hoped that switching back to the port tank after refueling in Key West would make the problem go away.

When we got to Key West, we hit a fuel dock right away and refueled, filling both tanks. The port tank was, of course, nearly empty, and the starboard tank only took a few gallons! The man operating the fuel pumps told us that we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re using so little fuel. He said that his experience in similar-sized (to ours) sailboats with similar-sized engines was that 0.5 gallons/hour to 1.0 gallon/hour is pretty typical. Once we were fueled and both of us had used their head, we decided that we needed to keep on going and couldn’t afford to spend the night anchored or moored or docked anywhere. So, we switched back to the port tank and off we went, heading out Key West’s NorthWest Channel.

The engine seemed to behave a bit better for awhile, but we started getting larger rolling seas (actually, four-foot swells from the south) and winds were hitting 25 kt or so. Naturally, that’s when the engine decided to stall. It would start losing RPM and then stop entirely. Repeatedly. Each time, we would hit the engine-start button in the cockpit, and would be relieved to have the engine start immediately without problem. But this was certainly worrying…would we lose the engine when we really needed it?

Some time on 2012-04-28, I noticed that the engine water temperature gauge was showing 200°, a full 50° higher than its normal operating temperature! Clearly, the engine was having problems keeping itself cool, because we weren’t pushing it hard at all. In fact, we were motor-sailing with the engine running about 2200 RPM and the sails picking up the rest of the load. I first slowed the engine to about 1800 RPM, which of course reduced our SOG, but we can’t afford to destroy the engine! When that didn’t help enough, we killed the engine and let the boat lie ahull (meaning that it had no ability to be steered — losing forward speed means losing steerageway — and was just doing whatever the sea wanted it to do). And then we started trying to find out what the problem was and fix it.

With all of the patches of sargasso and other sea grasses we’ve been hitting, I suspected that the raw water intake was probably fouled. Unfortunately, I was completely unable to get the cap off of the raw water strainer with any of the tools we had on board! Frustrating! Since we couldn’t do anything about that, we checked various other things. We opened up the raw water pump to check whether the impeller was in good condition and whether the pump had debris in it. (It was OK and there was no debris.) Barbara remove the air filter and washed it thoroughly, dried it, and replaced it. But none of this helped. We decided that the wind had picked up enough for us to sail for a while and not use the engine at all. But we were making only about 4.5 – 5.0 kts SOG, which was threatening our timely arrival back at our home dock.

When we were about 10 or 11 hours away from good old Egmont Key, late that afternoon, we decided that we had to run the engine and make better SOG. The engine still stalled every now and then, but we were surprised to see that the engine temperature was really holding to 170°, even when we raised the RPM to 2200. So we motor-sailed through the night. At 01:40, while I was on watch and Barbara was asleep, I wrote the following in the log:

I’ve been on watch since about 22:00. I feel so lucky to be here tonight. There is a strange sort of not-quite-fog enveloping everything. I can see shore clearly to starboard and I can see the moonlit sea clearly to port. But forward and aft are dark and invisible. The sea is oily, glassy, with slow, gentle waves, but utterly calm. There is but the tiniest breath of air movement — a cat’s sigh. It’s the most incredible night. Earlier, around midnight, the moon was literally green! Is it because I’ve been reading my Kindle using a red LED headlamp? I don’t know. It all feels so strange.

I’ve encountered such oily, glassy seas on wee-hour watches previously, but I’m always astounded at how beautiful it looks by moonlight or starlight. The sea can be so violent at times, but it can also be incredibly peaceful. Lucky, lucky, lucky!

Shortly after I made that log entry, the engine started acting fuel-starved again, so I hopped below and switched back to the starboard tank again. She started right up, and didn’t stall a bit for the rest of the night.

By 03:00, we’d reached the green marker/light/horn that marks the SouthWest Channel into Tampa Bay. I’d been seeing the flash of the Egmont Key Lighthouse for a long time and was looking forward to the end of this multi-day sail. I awakened Barbara shortly after passing through SouthWest Channel and let her know where we were. We decided to go all the way into the Manatee River and, if at all possible, right into Snead Island Boat Works’ little tiny “harbor”, where we’d been told we could use our good old slip #86.

If you’ve sailed in that part of Tampa Bay, you’ll know that the marker light situation can be awfully confusing. The approach to the Manatee River (and, indeed, the route within the river) requires several turns and great care, as there is very shallow water on one side or the other — or both! Our electronic charts showed two fast-blink red markers to guide us along one particular leg of the entrance, with a 3-second iso marker (meaning three seconds illuminated and three seconds dark) between them. We saw one fast-blink marker from a long way out, but simply couldn’t find the second one, nor the iso marker. When we actually got there, we figured out that the iso marker had been replaced by a fast-blink light and the two charted fast-blink lights were simply not there at all! Now, we’re entering a shallow river with a narrow channel, so the fact that our charts were completely wrong about the markers gave us quite a bit of indigestion!

But we muddled through without running aground. We soon spotted SIBW, but it took us a good 10 minutes of creeping around and using our very bright LED spotlight to locate the entrance to their private water. (Now that we’ve done this, we can recognize it much more quickly the next time — it’s marked with a green light to starboard and a red light to port!) We ghosted in through the opening in the seawall and slid quietly into our slip. It took only a few minutes to tie us up — we weren’t planning to be there for more than a few hours, after all — and then we headed off to use their head. Once that chore was behind us, back to the boat and to sleep by 04:45 or thereabouts!

The heat of the morning awoke us fairly early (09:30?), so we headed up to the head again to take showers. We cheated and both went into the women’s bathroom to shower together. Ahhh…how nice it was to actually have plenty of hot water in which to shower. Feeling all clean and somewhat rested, we started back to the boat. Along the way, we encountered good old Steve, the SIBW yard manager, who welcomed us back and wanted to know how we liked the Bahamas and how the trip went. We told him about our engine overheating problem and asked if we could borrow a pipe wrench (a/k/a Stillson wrench) so I could remove the cap off of the raw water strainer. With wrench in hand, we went back to the boat and, with one quick movement, removed that cap! Sure enough, the strainer was clogged with grass, so we used a probe and screwdriver to get some of it out and loosen the rest, then opened the through-hull and let the water pressure force the rest out. Once this was done and the cap back on, the engine ran at normal temperature at all RPMs that we tried! (Yes, we’ll buy a pipe wrench right away and keep it on the boat for future use!)

After all that was taken care of, Barbara got into the Honda (which we’d left at SIBW for the month we were gone) and headed towards our home dock. I fired up the engine, backed out of the slip, eased out of SIBW’s inlet, and single-handed Dream SeQueL all the way back through familiar waters to her home dock. The last time I was here, back in late July 2011, I single-handed her to SIBW, thinking what progress I’d made in being able to single-hand my boat all that far (25 miles or less). This time, it didn’t feel even the littlest bit noteworthy that I was single-handing her or that it would take five or six hours before I’d have her docked. It was just routine. I’ve come a long damned way on this trip!

I got to our home dock just as it was getting darkish. The sun was down, but there was plenty of twighlight. Barbara met me on the dock and tossed some lines to me. We got her tied up nice and snug and went below to fix dinner, which we’ve just finished. Needless to say, Barbara didn’t make her flight back to SLC today! Conveniently, which I neglected to mention earlier, she’d figured out that we would probably not make it in time and booked a separate one-way flight back on Tuesday. I think she did this even before we left Palm Beach! Smart lady!

So, now, we’ve got tomorrow and half of Tuesday to put the boat back to sleep until our next trip to Florida (probably not before late July) and get any absolutely necessary work done on her. Barbara’s flight is Tuesday afternoon and mine is Wednesday around noon. And there’s a lot of things we have to do! And we’ve just discovered that the air conditioner isn’t working — it’s not getting its raw water for cooling! “It’s always something,” right?

<<Photograph Copyright © Keith Hare, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 15: Marsh Harbour to Lake Worth Beach, Florida

2012-04-20, 11:00 — Lake Worth Beach, Cannonsport Marina

Wow. We set sail roughly 48 hours ago, rather later than we’d planned, but it all worked out perfectly. We didn’t throw loose the dock lines until about 10:30 on 2012-04-18, because the dockmaster had to read our electric meter and he took his sweet time coming around. Of course, we’re all on island time, so we just waited, reading, talking, entering waypoints into the chartplotter, things like that.

Not much sailing today, unfortunately. Most of the trip down the remainder of the Sea of Abaco and out through North Bar Channel into the Atlantic Ocean was in very narrow strips of water, so we motored until we got out into the Ocean. We’re really feeling the time pressure because of our flights, so we didn’t really need the delay that going aground would have created. Besides, even though the weather reports showed outstanding conditions all the way back to Florida, a delay of even one day would have put us into a much less favorable situation, with higher winds moving around to the north and higher seas to boot. The pic below is of Channel Rock just off to the north side of North Bar Channel. It seems like almost every pass or channel between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean has a Channel Rock (by that name); certainly, Whale Cay Passage had one.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 165 -Channel Rock on the north side of North Bar Channel out into the Atlantic from the outer Bahamas Cays

Once we were out through North Bar Channel and into deep water (that’s what our depth gauge displayed: DEEP), we raised the sails and turned off the engine. We had a nice beam-to-broad reach all the way south to Hole In The Wall and SouthWest Point, where we turned westwards towards West End and Florida. We still hadn’t made a firm decision whether to stop at West End or not. I was leaning heavily against it, because of the possibility that our weather window might close on us if we do, but Barbara was in favor of breaking this otherwise 2-day, non-stop sail into smaller chunks. We decided that we’ll decide some time on the second day.

The sail down the outside to Hole In The Wall was great. We sailed fast in 18-22 kt winds and did little but read and watch for other traffic. We saw large patches of a reddish or brownish substance all over the sea. Some times, the patches were all around us, and at other times they were sparser. We eventually decided that they must actually be Sargasso (as in “from the Sargasso Sea”).

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 168 -A patch of plant material flaoting on the Atlantic surface -2

We sailed well beyond Hole In The Wall because of a very dangerous reef that sticks out to the southeast several miles. We were quite surprised that we never saw a light marking Hole In The Wall. There’s supposed to be one there (it’s on all of the charts, at least). But, as we’ve seen and read, many markers and lights in the Bahamas go missing or dark and aren’t restored for long periods of time. I guess the Hole In The Wall light was one of those.

Frank made spaghetti with a meat sauce for dinner that night, but nobody (not even Frank) was up to eating it, so we bagged it and put it into the refrigerator for consumption another night. I modified our previous watch schedule slightly so that watchkeeper “i” would stay up and overlap with watchkeeper “i+1” only one hour and watchkeeper “i+2” would get up only one hour early to overlap with the end of watchkeeper “i+1″s watch. This really worked well and gave each of us plenty of time alone in the cockpit during the night.

I’ve learned that I really, really love late-night watches. Things are just amazing. There’s lumenscence in the sea from where the passing of the boat disturbs plankton and other small critters. There’s billions of stars in the sky. And it’s so peaceful (as long as there’s not bad weather, which can spoil it all in a hurry). Frank and Barbara both enjoy the late-night watches, too.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 174 -Frank on watch in the cockpit -3

Plus there’s all the cruise ships going by with walls of light blazing! Grrrrrr…the cruise ships have so many lights all over them that they can be seen for what seems like forever. Worse, they don’t have any discipline about their lights’ colors — we saw cruise ships from their port side with loads of green lights and from their starboard side with loads of red lights! (For those readers who don’t understand the importance of this, let me explain: running lights must be red on the port side of a boat and green on the starboard side, thus allowing other boats to know the direction in which a boat is actually traveling. It’s a safety thing.) The actual running lights were usually completely unnoticeable because they were overwhelmed by the conspicuous consumption of electricity to light up everything else! And, of course, the cruise liners were there during the daylight hours, too.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 171 -A cruise liner overtaking Dream SeQueL -3

Unhappily, not too long after we turned westward, the wind became enfeebled. We were rarely getting wind as great as 10kt, which isn’t going to push the boat very fast — especially when it’s directly behind the boat. Which it was. So we tried motor-sailing for a couple of hours. However, it was too difficult to keep the jib from thrashing around every time the boat rolled on a swell (roughly every six seconds), so we furled the jib. (One of these days, sooner rather than later, I’ve got to learn now to use our whisker pole to pole out the jib in situations like this!) We did have a preventer set up for the mainsail, so we left the main up, although with a reef in it for safety.

We motor-sailed throughout the night of 2012-04-18, through the day and night of 2012-04-19, and right into Lake Worth Inlet this morning. No weather problems whatsoever, unless you count light and variable winds as a weather problem. But the weather reports are predicting heavy rain and high winds by tonight, so we made the right decision to cross the Gulf Stream right away without stopping at West End.

Once we got here (in the Cannonsport Marina, where we are berthed), we telephoned U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear into the United States. They asked me (as Captain) a bunch of questions based on the Local Boater Option (LBO) registrations we’d all three done as part of the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) registration I did for Dream SeQueL. But they granted us clearance without a personal interview, which was something of a relief — none of us relished getting into a taxi to go several miles to some place where we could be questioned in person, as tired and unkempt as we were. All that trouble registering in SVRS and in LBO actually paid off!

Well, the adventure is, for all practical purposes, over. In three days, I will fly from PBI (Palm Beach International airport) to PHX (Phoenix Sky Harbor airport) to attend the INCITS award banquet where I’ll receive my Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ll return the next day, but won’t arrive back in Palm Beach until after Frank has taken at train down to Ft. Lauderdale to catch his place back to Buffalo, NY, where he stashed his car for the duration of this trip. And then Barbara and I will have to sail the boat back to her home dock in Clearwater Beach.

Right now, I’m hopeful that the water levels in the Okeechobee Waterway will allow us to cross Florida instead of having to sail back around the southern end of the state.

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 14: Green Turtle Cay to Marsh Harbour

2012-04-17; 22:30 — Marsh Harbour/Boat Harbour, Boat Harbour Marina slip #422

What a great day! We had a wonderful time all day, although it got a little bit tiresome at the very end of the day. But I should start at the beginning.

We actually got up fairly early and threw off the docking lines just after 09:00 this morning. The wind seemed really very nice, but we were all a little anxious about Whale Passage (sometimes called Whale Cay Passage), because it has such a fearsome reputation. There is a weather/sea phenomenon here on the Little Bahama Bank called a “rage”. This occurs when wind and waves combine from a particular easterly direction and at such a size and force that all passages opening between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean are impossible. In fact, a cruise ship company had dredged a channel deep enough to get one of its ships through Loggerhead Pass (less than a mile south from Whale Passage…just on the other side of Whale Cay, in fact) and up to a dock on the next cay south, but found that it couldn’t even get the cruise ship in and out safely when a rage was in progress! Talk about serious stuff!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 148 -Whale Passage description

So, we motored out of White Sound and out into the Sea of Abaco, then southward past NoName Cay, turning easterly towards Whale Passage. We noticed that there were a number of other boats seemingly headed out the Passage, some of them ahead of us and others behind us. We also saw a (smaller) number of boats that had just come in through the Passage, and they looked none the worse for wear. In the event, the wind was perfect and the waves ran less than one foot high all the way.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 150 -Entering Whale Passage

As soon as we were out the Passage and into the Atlantic, we decided to raise the sails and shut off the stinkpot. We sailed over to Loggerhead Pass and then back in through that Pass into the Sea of Abaco. Conditions were absolutely perfect. The sky was almost completely clear, with just a very few, mostly wispy, clouds showing, the seas were very calm, and there was a perfect 15-20kt wind coming in from the east. So we sailed down the Sea of Abaco towards Marsh Harbour. And I still have this enormous grin on my face from realizing that, here we are, actually sailing our very own boat, in the Bahamas, in perfect conditions. What a rush!! We tacked back and forth as needed, sometimes coming within 30 meters of shore before tacking away. Once, unfortunately, I botched a tack and we had to quickly start the engine to ensure the boat didn’t go onto the rocks, but as soon as she turned away we killed the engine and continued to sail on.

Along the way, we passed by a group of islands called the Fish Cays. They were essentially “in our way” and Frank was more than a little frustrated that we’ve been in the Bahamas for several days now and he hasn’t even been into the water. So we stopped beside one of the Fish Cays for a snorkle.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 154 -One of the many Fish Cays -I tried to snorkel here

Sorry, folks, but the water was simply too chilly for me. I’m strictly a warm-water kind of guy, I guess. And Barbara felt the same, so Frank went in by himself. He didn’t stay in too long, but not because of the water temperature. He had some difficulties with his snorkel and decided that he’d rather solve them later on in fresh water, not salt water. But at least he got to go into the water! Barbara and I really wished that the water were warmer, but it’s only April, after all.

On a fun note: For the very first time, I dropped the anchor and set it under sail only (no engine), and when we were done, I sailed off the anchor and raised it also under sail alone! Gee, maybe I’m starting to get the hang of this!!

Too soon, we neared Marsh Harbour. But we’d decided not to go into the actual harbour at Marsh Harbour, but to go instead to the opposite side of the peninsula and into Boat Harbour. That required that we tack to the north and go up about four miles to round Matt Lowe’s Cay (named after the famous pirate…of whom we’d never heard until we read the Cruising Guide), then back south about four miles to the entrance to Boat Harbour. Barbara radioed ahead to the Boat Harbor Marina and had a slip reserved for us, so we gently motored into the marina entrance and into slip #422.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 155 -Boat Harbour Marina, Bahamas -1

Late in the day, as we were dropping the sails in preparation to enter the marina, there was a sudden thump atop the bimini! I accused Barbara of accidentally releasing the line clutch that held the topping lift (to keep the boom higher than the bimini top), but it turned out that I was too hasty in evaluating what had happened. In reality, the quick-release shackle at the business end of the topping lift (attaching it to the end of the boom) had broken! Actually, the pin that held the shackle closed was missing. (A few days later, we found part of the pin in the cockpit.) So, naturally, the boom fell down and went, well, boom.

Once we were safely in our slip, Frank and Barbara hauled me up the mast (almost to the masthead) to retrieve the topping lift, which had gotten itself wrapped around the backstay. Once we had it back down to deck level, I rigged a loop of line onto the aft end of the boom to which I attached the topping life with a knot. “It just goes to show ya, it’s always something,” as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 161 -Jim in the bosun's seet being pulled up the mast

After that little task was completed, we headed off to see what we could of Marsh Harbour. The marina in which we are berthed is part of a kind of fancy resort complex, complete with gate and guard. Once out of the complex, we hit the main road and rather arbitrarily turned to our left. (Well, it wasn’t quite arbitrary; I turned us left because I recalled from the map I’d seen that the main part of the town was in that direction. For Frank and Barbara, though, it probably seemed arbitrary.) We strolled along for about a kilometer or so, but just about everything we encountered was closed — even the liquor stores.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 162 -Some homes in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas

Marsh Harbour is reasonably attractive, but very obviously driven primarily by tourism (which, we’ve come to learn, is actually the Bahamas’ only significant industry). We saw many stores selling very upscale jewelry and other luxury goods that would have been remotely affordable to the locals. That doesn’t really set well with any of us, but it’s just about universal these days, isn’t it?

Eventually, we came to an interesting-looking restaurant called “Snappa’s” that overlooked the Marsh Harbour harbour, thus looking westwards. As it was close onto sunset, we decided to go in for a drink. I ordered us a round (“big ass margarita for me, iced tea for the lady, and a beer for my mate here”) and we grabbed us a little table out on a sort of deck over the water. Unfortunately, it smelled like there was a running sewer beneath our table, so that didn’t last too long…just long enough to get a few pics of the sunset (alas, no green flash).

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 165 -Sunset over Marsh Harbour, Bahamas -1

As we were already sort of peckish, and nobody was volunteering to cook dinner once we got back to the boat, we eventually decided to eat dinner there at Snappa’s, but we did move to an inside table before ordering. We ordered another round of drinks, then ordered our food. I had a burger (adventurous, ain’t I?), Barbara had (I think) some sort of seafood salad, and Frank had fish. The food was OK at best and it wasn’t cheap, but at least we didn’t have to cook.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 164 -Frank, Barbara, and Jim at dinner at Snappas Bar and Grill in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas

And now to bed, because tomorrow we’re headed south and west — far west, at least back to West End, if not all the way to Florida. Our little adventure is almost over :(

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 13: Green Turtle Cay

2012-04-16; 22:00 — Green Turtle Cay, White Sound, Green Turtle Club Marina slip #14

We’d kind of planned to stay here only one night. We’re beginning to feel the pressure of time as the days drift past and the date of Frank’s flight back north (and that of my flight to Phoenix) race toward us. It’s obvious that our 2-night stay at Great Sale Cay and our decision to spend a night at Crab Cay after the night at Hawksbill Cays are going to make it difficult for us to stop at many more places. I’d already decided that we would have a chance to stay only at a couple more places, such as Marsh Harbour and Hope Town, but today’s events will cause even that limited itinerary to be revisited.

By the time Barbara and I managed to get out of bed this morning, Frank was already gone. He left us a note saying that he’d hired a bicycle and was off to do some sightseeing, including a trip into New Plymouth, the only “town” on this very small Cay. By the time we discovered the note, it was almost 10:00, and checkout at this marina was 11:00. Unless Frank showed up almost immediately, we’d have to pay for another night whether or not we stayed overnight.

Oh, well, we’re on island time and cruising isn’t about schedules or calendars, it’s about relaxing and enjoying ones self. So, instead of getting upset at Frank’s absence or being grumpy about the unintended change of plans, we just went with the flow. We hired a couple of bikes ourselves (from Brendal’s Dive Center…which was immediately adjacent to the marina buildings) and rode off towards New Plymouth with hopes to find Frank. The ride was a bit hilly (whomever said that the Bahamas were a bunch of flat, featureless islands clearly hasn’t biked on most of them) and we were using muscles we haven’t used in a while. But it was only around 3½ miles and we made fairly quick work of the first three. And there’s where we found Frank, heading back towards the marina.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 106 -Entering New Plymouth April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 110 -A street corner in New Plymouth

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 113 -A view of New Plymouth, Bahahmas taken from the beach

Frank turned back to go with us and we rode back into town and through the whole village (hamlet might even be more appropriate). It was definitely an attractive little place with a number of interesting buildings. The Bahamas seem to have the same philosophy about house colors that we’ve previously noticed in the U.S. Virgin Islands — they’re almost all painted in some lovely pastel color with no two of them painted exactly the same color. It’s really very pretty. The exceptions were mostly abandoned buildings, of which there were more than we’d expected. It would seem that the Bahamas are going through tough economic times just like the rest of the western world.

On our way back out of town, we stopped at a little restaurant for a bite of lunch. We wanted (a)to eat at a “local” place (not where only tourists ate) and (b)to sample some local food.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 130 -The Wrecking Tree Restaurant and Bar in New Plymouth where we ate lunch

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 132 -A little girl that Barbara befriended at luch

Well, the Wrecking Tree Restaurant certainly filled the bill! There were some other tourists there, but most of the clientele and all of the workers were locals. Some tables had families, while others had three or four men apparently on lunch break from whatever jobs they have. It was a lot of fun to sit and listen to them talking — not that we were eavesdropping, but just listening to local people talk about what goes on in their communities. Barbara made friends with a little girl whose grandfather brought her to the restaurant to say “Hi” to her mother (his daughter), who seems to own the place.

When lunch came, it was extremely good, too. As you might not be able to tell, Frank (and Barbara) had breaded and fried conch (pronounced “konk”) with fries and cole slaw. I, being not much of a seafood eater, had chicken fingers instead of the conch.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 131 -Conch, chips, cole slaw, and guiness lunch

Trust me, the chicken that contributed its fingers to my meal was breathing, clucking, and running around earlier that same day! (So, why did the chicken cross the road? Apparently, because she had the hots for the rooster!)

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 102 -Really free range rooster and hen crossing road on Green Turtle Cay

I’ve never had fresher chicken, and I’ve certainly never had breaded and fried chicken fingers that actually tasted that much like actual chicken. During the meal, I sampled some of Barbara’s conch and found that I really liked it and wished I’d ordered that instead. Mmmmmm….good. And the fries were done absolutely perfectly like I like them — thin and very crisp.

We struck up a conversation with a local gentleman sitting alone at the table next to ours at the restaurant, asking him a question about a sign that we saw hanging from virtually every telephone pole in New Plymouth (and elsewhere on the Cay as well). Turns out that there’s an election coming up really soon and the signs are election posters for the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party). That’s our kind of political party and we’d have been delighted to support the candidate if we had voting rights in the Bahamas! The man was wearing a tee shirt with the logo of what turned out to be another political party, which he explained was “like your Republican party in the States, nothing but a bunch of crooks trying to guarantee that only their rich friends get any benefit out of society”. We asked him why he was wearing their advertisement if he felt that way about him. A typical islander, he shrugged and said “Hey, a free tee shirt is a free tee shirt.”

After lunch, we headed back to the marina. Along the way, we stopped at a beach (“Atlantic Beach”) and then at a sort of overlook where we could see Whale Passage just north of Whale Cay, through which we’ll have to pass in order to go any further south…to Marsh Harbour, for example.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 133 -Jim and Barbara on a Green Turtle Cay beach

Eventually, we made it back to the marina, where we reveled in our tired legs (well, Frank didn’t have tired legs, ’cause he actually bicycles in his real life, while Barbara and I don’t manage it except on rare occasions) and our accomplishments.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 137 -Frank being silly on the dock with his rental bike

In short, our day here on Green Turtle Cay was simply amazing. Frank said that it’s definitely the highlight of the trip for him, and I can’t really disagree with that conclusion. The people are unfailingly friendly. The scenery is usually gorgeous. The food’s great. And they have decent beer here. What more could one ask?

Oh, before I close this post, I wanted to mention that the (very large) power boat across the dock from us has a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier puppy (about 8 months old) on board. What a cutie!

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 12: Crab Cay to Green Turtle Cay

2012-04-15; 20:00 — Green Turtle Cay, White Sound, Green Turtle Club Marina slip #14

Another very easy and pretty short day. We weighed anchor just before 11:00 after having our breakfast and doing a few boat chores. The wind was still from the east today (as it really should be most of the time), so we motored our from our little anchorage behind Crab Cay into “open water” (such as it is), and raised the sails. With the wind having the right direction and force (12 to about 18 kts), we sailed the rest of the way to Green Turtle Cay. Along the way, we passed by the famous Centre of the World Rock.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 072 -Centre of the World Rock in the Seabof Abaco, BahamasWell, we’d never heard of it before reading about it in the Cruising Guide, but they say it’s famous and we have no evidence with which to dispute the claim. Apparently, when viewed from the air, the rock looks a bit like a donut — a round bit of rock with a circular hole — or a bullseye. Why “Centre of the World”? To quote Bubble (c.f., “Absolutely Fabulous“), “Who can say?”

Actually, just about a half mile outside of the entrance to White Sound, we dropped the sails and fired up the engine. The entrance into White Sound is supposed to be very narrow and very shallow, so we wanted the positive control of the engine, and were going to really creep in. In the end, it took us more than 15 minutes just to find the entrance into White Sound!

Once we found it, we gently motored in, discussing the strangeness of the colored mooring balls we were seeing instead of the more common white ones. In fact the mooring balls all seemed to be on one side of the entrance and seemed to be a random mixture of red and green.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 146 -One of the bouys marking channel into and out of White Sound on Green Turtle Cay

Oops! Frank figured out, before I ran us aground again, that those “mooring balls” were, in fact, the channel markers and we were nowhere near the actual channel. I turned us hard to starboard immediately and took us directly to the first green (port side) marker, then turned hard a-port into the truly narrow channel. At times, the port and starboard markers/balls were less than 16 feet apart and our beam is 12½ feet!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 145 -Following the channel out of White Sound on Green Turtle Cay

Frank was pretty busy stationed at the bow and signalling instructions about turning this way or that to stay in the channel. Even so, and even though it was pretty close to high tide, we showed 6.2′ of water in a couple of spots (and we draw at least 5.75′). Obviously, we can’t get out except at or near high tide tomorrow.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 095 -Map of Green TurtleCay

The first thing we did when we arrived here was to fill our fuel tanks at the Green Turtle Club Marina‘s fuel dock. The fuel dock guy, Lance, was extremely helpful and patient (we refuel rather slowly, as do many sailboats). He even ran around to the pier where our slip was located to help guide us into the slip and help us tie up there. Except for the customs guy back at West End, he’s the first Bahamian we’ve actually met since we arrived. And he was very, very nice and helpful and friendly. I think we’re going to like it here!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 081 -Dream SeQueL tied up at Green Turtle Cay Marina

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 138 -Green Turtle Cay Marina -1

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 11: Hawksbill Cays to Crab Cay

2012-04-14; 17:00 — Tucked behind Crab Cay

We had a serious scare around 06:00 this morning! Barbara and/or Frank awakened with a start as they realized that there was an alarm going off. I raced to the nav station to look at the chartplotter and saw that it was, indeed, our anchor drift alarm that was sounding. We’d dragged, in spite of a very solid-seeming set this morning just after midnight. Worse, we’d apparently been dragging for some distance (and thus some time!) without anybody hearing the alarm. In fact, we’d dragged nearly a quarter of a mile, which could have easily put us badly on the rocks, at high tide no less. (Later analysis suggested that the wind had shifted from an easterly direction to a southerly direction, and our anchor set was apparently “good” only for the easterly wind. I know there’s a lesson here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.)

Happily, we weren’t in any actual danger, so we just started the engine, motored off a short ways into deeper water, and reset the anchor. This time, it held until we got started for the day at 10:30.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 067 -We re-anchored the ship off Fox Town at 6 am -1

We were all exhausted after staying up so late waiting for the tide to come up so we could get the boat ungrounded, then having been awakened by the anchor drift alarm at 06:00. So we just went back to bed after resetting the anchor and slept for another couple of hours. After that, we got up and had a leisurely breakfast and weighed anchor around 11:00, headed for Crab Cay.

Yes, our goal could, and perhaps should, have been Green Turtle Cay, but…well, as I said, we were tired. To make matters even less attractive, there was a pretty strong easterly breeze today (18 to 22 kts, almost always right on the nose) and the waters are rather narrow for longish tacks. I guess I’m a bit gun-shy after that grounding last night, so I didn’t want to risk running aground again today, and I was just too tired to do a long series of short tacks. So, proving that I’m not so much of a sailor after all, we motor-sailed the entire 3½ hours from our “final resting place” at the Hawksbill Cays to our current location tucked behind Crab Cay for a little peace from the wind. And, rest assured, I stationed Frank at the bow to watch for rocks in our path!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 075 -Frank guiding Jim away from any dangerous rocka when anchoring near Crab Cay in the Sea of Abaco

Tonight, we’re anchored in about 14′ of water with about 85′ of chain out on our Delta anchor. That’s about a 6:1 scope, which I hope will hold better than we managed last night! We arrived here around 14:20 and, instead of creeping really close to Crab Cay into a little patch of deeper water visible on (all of) our charts, we decided not to tempt fate again and stayed about a quarter mile away from shore in a somewhat larger patch of deeper water.

Tomorrow, it’s on to Green Turtle Cay. I’m especially interested in finding a dive shop there. The granddaughter of a Sheltie rescue colleague and friend of ours, Darla Duffey, told us about Brendal’s Dive Center and how great the proprietors are. If possible, I would like to spend at least part of a day diving and this shop sounds like a good choice to us.

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

To The Bahamas, Part 10: Hawksbill Cays

2012-04-14, 01:00 — Hawksbill Cays

Shortly after I wrote the preceding blog entry that documented our grounding off Foxtown, near the Hawksbill Cays in the Bahamas, I realized that we were starting to hear the occasional “bump…bump” beneath the keel. It took me several minutes to realize the implication — the tide was coming in, raising the boat enough that little tiny waves would cause it to bump against the rock(s) on which we’d run aground, and (undoubtedly) slightly moving the boat into even shallower water.

Once it hit me that (a) we were being raised off the rocks (a Very Good Thing) and (b) we were in danger of being jostled further into the shallows (a Very Bad Thing), I leapt up and shouted to Frank and Barbara that we have to start the engine and get moving! Barbara got the engine started while Frank and I raced up into the cockpit to see what was going on with the water. Indeed, the boat seemed to have moved slightly, based on Frank’s reading of the dark shapes beneath the water. I put the transmission into reverse, but she wouldn’t move backward, so I slipped her into forward and cranked hard to port, goosing the engine a bit. Dream SeQuel quickly(!) started to turn on her own keel and then slowly started moving forward under power, slipping right off the rocks. I headed us directly to where I knew (having finally read the paper charts) deeper water lie. After moving a scant 75 or 100 feet, I stopped the boat as still as I could and asked Frank and Barbara to drop the anchor.

They did so very quickly (although, at the time, it seemed to take forever) and I set the anchor as well as I could under the circumstances. Finally, we are off the rocks and back in some control over what happens to us!

We’ll get a decent night’s sleep tonight — I’ve set an anchor drift alarm, so we’ll be awakened if the anchor drags (I have no idea what the holding might be like here, not even whether it’s rocks, grass, or sand). Tomorrow, we’ll head on to the Sea of Abaco.


To The Bahamas, Part 9: Great Sale Cay to Hawksbill Cays

2012-04-13, around midnight — Just west of the Hawksbill Cays, Bahamas


Here’s what my logbook entry shows for today:

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 059 -Jim's log entry for April 13th

And, as the line from the Rocky Horror Picture Show goes, “that ain’t no jive”. So far, this has been a really, really, REALLY, bad day. Actually, in fairness, the really bad part didn’t get started until late in the day.

We’d started out a bit late (after 10:00) leaving our little anchorage in Great Sale Cay’s Northwest Harbour. We weighed anchor without problem and motored out of the Harbour. Because of a shallow reef extending several miles to the south-southeast of Great Sale Cay, we planned to sail about six or seven miles south, then turn directly east towards the Hawksbill Cays and then on to Crab Cay (one of many Crab Cays in the Bahamas). The sail started off quite auspiciously, with lovely east winds forming a nice beam reach. Sadly, as we turned eastward, the winds became less pleasant, being right on the nose. We tried to tack back and forth a bit, but the relatively shallow water had me somewhat intimidated and feeling constrained. The wind began to kick up short, choppy seas and we just got tired of beating upwind. So we decided to motor-sail instead.

Shortly after making that turn to the east, we encountered a phenomenon that we wouldn’t have been able to explain if we hadn’t read about it in one of the Cruising Guides to the Bahamas that we’re using. Just look at this shot of the water through which we’ve just sailed:

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 060 -A fish mud

See all that light-colored water? Water color is a key navigation clue in the Bahamas (and elsewhere, of course), and light-colored water is usually an indication of a shoal or reef — very shallow water in particular. But we knew from our charts and from reading the Cruising Guides that there was no shoal or reef here. Instead, this is what is called a “fish mud”:

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 061 -Fish mud explanation

Ain’t that cool? During this day, we saw about five or six fish muds, one of them at least a hundred meters wide.

By around 14:00, it became obvious that we couldn’t possibly make Crab Cay before dark. As Frank kept reminding us, the rule about navigating in the Bahamas after dark comprises a single word: Don’t! We figured we could make the Hawksbill Cays without problem and have the hook down in a sheltered spot well before dark. As it turned out, “well before” turned into “just barely before”. Our plan was to slip into a protected area of “deep” (for the Bahamas) water — about two meters deep — just off Foxtown (a/k/a Fox Town), as seen on the chart image below.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 066 -Chart of the waters off Fox Towm Bahamas

And here is where I learned one of the most important lessons a captain and navigator should know — do not navigate based on any single source of data. I depended on our chartplotter and its (six year old) Navionics electronic charts. And I apparently managed to just slightly cut a corner in my efforts to get to our sheltered spot before it got completely dark. I did not ask Frank to take his post on the bow watching below the water, because it was already too dark for him to have been able to see anything anyway.

And, just about 19:30, I felt it. Tap. On the keel. Followed quickly by a sort of dragging noise. Instantly, I pulled the throttle back to idle, put the transmission into neutral, and proclaimed “We’re aground!” No drama, no histrionics, no panic. Merely a statement of certainty. Within seconds, Barbara and Frank would have figured it out for themselves, because Dream SeQueL just slowly braked herself to a dead stop. Of course, I tried the usual tactics of slipping the transmission into reverse and revving up the engine, of trying to rotate the boat using the engine (in forward) and rudder, etc. But nothing worked. Grrrrrrr… Here’s roughly the scene around our little plot of “ground”.

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 071 -The rocks near where we ran aground (50 metres to right) where we ran aground -taken at 8;30 am

Barbara quickly got on VHF and tried to contact Sea Tow (we later realized that there are only a couple of Sea Tow franchises in the Bahamas, none of them in the Abacos) and then BoatUS Towing (which does have franchises in the Abacos, but none within VHF range of where we were). After calling a couple of times without answer, we gave up. However, another boat (“Rejoice”) did respond and bucked our spirits up a bit by reminding us that the tide was currently low and thus would be rising over the next little while. The person (whose name we never got) on Rejoice suggested that we could try to kedge off or just wait for the tide to lift us. We decided against kedging off (a maneuver in which one sets an anchor a distance from the boat and tries to winch the boat to the anchor and/or tries to heel the boat over by winching the top of the mast toward the anchor, thus reducing the boat’s draft enough to allow it to move), at least in part because our &$^#&* dinghy won’t hold air!

The chart image above is from paper charts that we purchased before we left Miami. Just north of Foxtown, there’s a little tongue of lighter blue. That’s where we were planning to anchor for the night. Above and a little to the west of that tongue, there’s a channel leading out to the west-northwest, which was the way we were entering our planned anchorage. If you look carefully, you’ll see some pencil marks — little plus signs (+) — that I made on the charts. The + in the darker blue identifies exactly where we ran aground. As you see, I was “only” 50 feet or so out of position. The paper chart clearly shows the shallow spot where we ran aground, while our electronic chart claimed that I was aground in eight feet of water!

But this doesn’t mean that the paper charts are better — far from it! At a different site in the Bahamas, the paper charts claimed that we were in two feet of water when we were sailing merrily along in ten feet according to both the Navionics charts and the depth sounder. The message is this: Use as many sources of information as you can find, then use your seamanly skills to decide what to do when they all disagree with one another. Once I learned that lesson, I really began to feel more confident about navigation.

So, anyway, being firmly aground, we fixed dinner (a very light meal, as none of us had much of an appetite after this misadventure) and “hung out”. At present, we’re waiting for the tide to come up enough to give us two or three inches of additional water, which I think will allow us to get ungrounded. Until then, we’re just reading and dozing.

Oh, one more thing: We’d refueled at the Miami Beach Marina before leaving Florida, and we’ve had to motor a large fraction of the trip since then because of very light winds. About 17:30 or 18:00 today, the engine suddenly started acting fuel-starved, so Barbara ran below and switched over to use the starboard tank instead of the smaller port “day tank” we’d been using. The port tank holds somewhere between 20 and 25 gallons only, so I’m pretty amazed that it’s given us this much distance! The owner’s manual for our Pathfinder engine claims that it should consume between one gallon per hour at lower revs (1800 or so) and up to four gallons per hour at high revs and high loads (3800 rpm). We usually run about 2200 to 2800 rpm, so I expect something like three gallons per hour consumption. But this is absurd — it’s more like one gallon per hour, or even less! Don’t get me wrong…I’m delighted to save money and reduce my carbon footprint by burning less fuel, but it’s very surprising to use so little fuel.

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>