We left Friday morning and used the AICW to St Augustine. Coming back on Sunday we went out through St Augustine inlet and back in at Mayport. Friday and Saturday’s weather was great (sunny and low seventies), Sunday was chilly in the low sixties, so we came back running from the pilot house.
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May 11. [See engine issue in last post here] Basil the mechanic promised he would be with us before nine, and he did show up on time. He added a diode to the part that he had installed yesterday and we tested the windlass to see if it was still starting the engine – and it was not! So we felt that the issue was finally resolved. Paul took Basil back to shore and came back ready to lift anchor and motor over to Fisher Bay on Guyana Cay for the night so we could make the Nipper’s pig roast tomorrow.
Sian lifted the anchor and the port engine started again – the same issue we thought was resolved. We quickly shut everything down and called the mechanic. We waited and waited until finally he called but told us he had nothing further he could try. We believe that we tested the fix by using the windlass to lower the anchor, which does not put as much of a draw on the batteries as lifting it. When we lifted it the increased battery draw fed to the port engine start relay.
So we decided that it was time to skip the rest of the Abacos and head back to Jacksonville to get the problem rectified – all this over a $60 part!
Paul turned off the engine start batteries so Sian could lift the anchor without causing an issue then once the anchor was up he quickly turned the engine start batteries back on and started the engines to leave the anchorage. The weather was good to cross the sometime treacherous Whale Cay Channel so we set our waypoints for the anchorage at Angel Fish Cay/Crab Cay. Along the way we let Paul and Michelle on Nagari know that we would not be joining them for the Sunday pig roast at Nippers.
We made the anchorage late afternoon and had a very pleasant and calm night.
May 12. We had planned to use the same process to lift the anchor and start the engines as the day before, only to discover that neither using the windlass to raise the anchor or using the key to start the port engine worked – it seems the brand new installed start relay had totally gone!
So we now started the starboard engine as normal on the key, Paul used a jumper cable on the start motor to start the port engine and we could just go ahead and use the windlass to raise the anchor without any issues. Totally losing the relay actually helped the process! (We know, confusing for those who don’t have to worry about marine engines!).
We cruised in great weather to Mangrove Cay, our jumping off point for crossing the Gulf Stream back to Florida the next day. There was another trawler in the anchorage when we got there and the couple from Allie Dee came over for a chat. We agreed a departure time before sunrise the next morning and to buddy across the stream together.
May 13. We had a SW wind during the night and were anchored off the NE of Mangrove Cay so had a comfortable night. We were off the anchorage before light at 5:30 and soon started to feel the wave action from considerable wind. Allie Dee followed us out and also expressed surprise at the seas. However it was comfortable enough and we crossed White Sands Ridge at left the Bahamas, crossing into the gulf stream, at which point we lowered the Bahamian courtesy flag. As the day wore on the seas sat down and it continued to be a very comfortable crossing.
We were about 12 miles out of Fort Pierce when NOAA broke into our VHF radio warning of a severe storm running from Port St Lucie to Sebastian. That was exactly on our path into Fort Pierce. We contacted our buddy boat and we focused our radars on the storm. We thought we could outrun it so both sped up, but when we were a couple of miles out from the start of the inlet all hell broke loose. We lost all visibility, and we had winds up to 40 knots, with cloud to sea lightning. We decided to bail on trying to enter the inlet and we did big circles in big seas and winds making sure to keep out of each other’s way as we couldn’t see each other on the storm cluttered radar.
We finally saw the weather clearing to the north of the inlet and both headed that way, and an hour after aborting our first approach we got in through the inlet. Allie Dee anchored right inside the inlet, but we decided to go on for an other hour or so to our reservation at the Vero Beach City Marina. We had already called them and made them aware of the delay due to the storm. They wold be closed by the time we got there, but gave us permission to tie up at their fuel dock, which was easier to do that a slip without a dock hand available. Once tied up we walked across to the Riverside Cafe right by the marina for dinner.
May 14. We added some fuel at Vero and then headed north. We had fine weather and smooth waters. We had originally planned to stop at the NASA Causeway Bridge anchorage but got there early so went on and anchored off Titusville, saving us an hour on the next day’s cruise. On the way we encountered a black snow fall of love bugs. They swarmed the boat and blanketed the fly bridge and us! After anchoring we spent an hour with the hose getting rid of the mess. Then we set a table and had our last meal on board for this trip!
May 15. We were off at first light and through Haulover Canal, past the huge NASA rocket buildings, into Mosquito Lagoon, New Smyrna, Port Royal, Daytona, and our evening dock at Palm Coast Marina. After cleaning up we went over to the European Village (as is now our return ritual) and had a nice Italian dinner at La Piazza Cafe.
May 16. Due to the tides at the channel into our home dock (we can only transit in at mid tide or better) we had a lazy morning at Palm Coast and set off at 10am. We transited the Matanzas area and into St Augustine. We then went outside from St Augustine to Mayport as we wanted to get outside of the three mile zone for a final flush of our holding tanks. As we transited up the coast we saw the smoke from a large fire. We checked the local news but didn’t see anything, we decided it was a controlled burn at the Guyana State Park. just south of Ponte Vedra.
As we approached Mayport inlet we received a lot of military naval radio traffic. A number of US and Canadian vessels were coming out. So we managed our approach to keep out of their way.
We entered the St John’s at Mayport, got to the ICW south and our channel for Queen’s Harbour. We were tied up at Home dock by 5:00pm.
Another spring Bahamas cruise completed. A week or so after we arrived Nagari paid us a visit before continuing on north.
May 1. We were safely tied up at the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina as the wind blew and the rain fell all day. The storm had popped up out of nowhere and we had folks in the US contacting us to make sure that we were OK, as the weather had been on their news. We chatted to people on the docks, including a young couple who were in a catamaran called Sea Monster (which we later found out was the name of their on board dog!). It was their first boat and they had taken a few months off work to cruise the islands, learning as they went! Later we went back up the the marina restaurant for a beverage, Paul looking forward to the Sky Juice in a coconut he was promised – but sadly, still no coconut!
May 2. We were still tied up in Cape Eleuthera. We again walked the four mile loop which we measured via phone GPS and found was really 4.4 miles! The wind was still howling but the forecast was for calming the next day. So, knowing that we would be leaving and would be at anchorage for the next week or so, we had another nice dinner up at the Harbour Pointe restaurant.
May 3. We finally left Cape Eleuthera and headed into the anchorage at New Bight just to the north. We wanted to get some fresh fruit and veggies from the supermarket there so dinghy’d ashore, tying up at the dock at The Frigate restaurant for lunch before groceries. A elderly Bahamian gentleman greeted us and introduced himself as Smooth Groove, who played the guitar for tips. We met two other couples, one staying at a place further up the coast called Ten Bay. After getting our groceries we decided that New Bight wasn’t the nicest of anchorage as it did not have a beach. So we upped anchor and headed up the coast to the pretty fishing village of Tarpum.
We went ashore and walked the colorful village. We found a little church called St Columba’s. St Columba founded a monastery in Derry, N.Ireland, where Paul comes from, before setting out to bring religion to the Scots and further afield.
We saw a man cracking conch on the beach, with a pile of about 60 shells to work on. Further along we watched at the fish table as the local fishermen prepared their very extensive catch for sale.
May 4. We set off after breakfast for our lunch stop at Ten Bay. We had read that this remote village had a great beach. After a slow two hour cruise up the coast we turned into the picturesque town, with its long sandy beach. As soon as we had the anchor down and shut down the engines, Sian had the paddle board ready off our stern! She paddled into the beach as Paul followed along in the dinghy. We then walked the long beach, and met the couple that we had talked to at The Frigate restaurant in New Bight yesterday, their vacation cottage was right on the beach!
After lunch we headed further up the coast as we wanted to visit Governors Harbour, the first capital of the Bahamas. Reading the charts and cruising guides we learned that the harbour itself is not a great anchorage because of the grass on the seabed. So we stopped just short of the harbour and pulled into Long Point behind Pigeon Cay. We found a calm spot right up against the rocky south shore.
We now had to go outside and around a headland to get into the harbour, so we put on our PFDs and ran the dinghy around. We found a half dozen boats in the anchorage and spoke to a couple about the holding, which they said was “OK.” We anchored the dinghy off the beach and walked through the small town. We had a couple of Sands beers and a conch salad at the Buccaneer Club, chatting to a pilot who had flown in a group for a location wedding.
May 5. We were out of the anchorage early and on our heading to Current Cut. This very narrow cut joins the Eleuthera bight to the bay south of Royal and Russell Islands, and the current really rips through there. It is best to be there at slack tide, and if not make sure to have the current with you. We got there with the current pushing us along and we pulled the throttles well back but still went through there at eleven and a half knots (our normal cruising speed at cruising RPM is between eight and nine knots).
We then headed across the shallow bay towards Spanish Wells. This village got its name from the time Spanish galleons plied back and forth between the New World and Spain. They had dug fresh water wells on the island to put fresh water on board the ships before crossing the Atlantic. We entered the narrow channel and tied up at Yacht Haven Marina. After a quick swim in the marina pool we went for a walk along the waterfront to the west of town. As we walked along we noticed how very well maintained the large fishing fleet was, comparing them to the sometimes rusty vessels we see around Mayport and Fernandina back home.
Later that evening we walked along the waterfront to the East and had dinner at the Shipyard restaurant. At first we sat on the deck but as soon as the food arrived so did dozens of flies! So we scurried back inside to finish our seafood dinner! Back at the marina bar we had a night cap, with Paul deciding on a frozen margarita to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!.
May 6. We were leaving Spanish wells this morning via the east, which entailed going through the fishing fleet and then following waypoints that took us through a very narrow gap in the shallow reefs to the north. In fact the cruising notes said to only try this in good weather conditions with good visibility, and we had both this morning. Getting through the reef we pointed our bow towards Abaco – 45 miles and six hours away. We entered through North Bar cut and headed around Tilloo Bank, anchoring in Tilloo Pond right by our sister ship Nagari, and were invited over for dinner.
Later in the afternoon we went to start the generator to launch our dinghy and found that the generator was not pumping cooling water and the exhaust was dry. We quickly turned it off before it could overheat and Paul checked raw water strainer and found some weeds. He cleaned that out and checked that there was good flow from the through hull. Next to look at is the the impeller in the raw water pump. That takes some time and our concern was if we found that was not the problem we would have lost daylight and would be sitting all night without any way to charge our batteries. So before looking at the impeller we decided to head to the nearest marina, where we could plug into shore power, and get everything right with the generator.
So we started the engines, the starboard started fine and the port would not start at all! We had just run fine from Spanish Wells and the engine ran fine until we shut it down on anchoring, so this was really confusing. So we went over to Boat Harbour Marina on one engine, where they were helpful in getting us onto a T-Head using the one engine and bow thruster. Paul immediately put a new impeller on the generator and that ran fine.
He next reached over and took photos of the outside of the port engine, which is hard to get at. Looking at the photos he found that the wiring for the engine starter solenoid/relay was all salt corroded and it seemed to be from a leaking exchanger drain right above it. So we are hopeful that correcting the leak and then getting all of the corrosion off the starter relay wiring tomorrow morning will resolve the issue without needing to call the yard.
May 7. immediately after breakfast Paul got into the engine room and started cleaning up the mess that was the solenoid. He made sure the leaking hose was well secured by adding a second clamp. He then started brushing the solenoid connectors to get rid of the rust and corrosion. Unfortunately the solenoid was too far gone and the connector posts were ruined.
So Paul called Marsh Harbour Boat Yard. Their mechanic was backed up but they gave Paul the name of someone else who could do the job. Paul called him and he asked for photos. Paul sent off the photos – and then we heard nothing from him, even after some text follow up. After lunch we called the local parts store who said they had some 24V solenoids and we could come see if one would work. We walked the mile and a half into town and found that the solenoids they had were all 12v. Sigh. We tried a couple of other places with no luck. More sighing.
Pul then called our Mechanic back home in the US. He had previously told us that he would be able to ship us anything we might need to where ever we were cruising.. He said he would get on it and to call him back first thing in the morning to arrange shipping. After that conversation the local mechanic called back and told us that he had these in his inventory. He was going to come by first thing in the morning to have a look and let us know (hooray).
We went over to the Abaco Beach Resort restaurant for a couple of black fin grouper dinners – just to help us relax!
May 8. The local mechanic came by, looked at the problem and told us he did have the part we needed in stock. We told him we would motor around to Marsh Harbour on the one engine rather than stay at the marina and would let him know when we are there. Once in the harbour we called him and he said he had a restaurant generator problem he was working on and would come to us once he was finished. And so we waited. Sigh
Of course hie generator problem lasted all day and he called to say he would not be able to make us today, but by 11 am tomorrow! Sigh and hooray!
During the day we watched some folks on a sailboat struggling to raise their anchor. After a while it became clear that they had an issue. Paul jumped into the dinghy to see if he could help. When he got there he found that they were an elderly cruising trio. Their anchor had been fouled. At first Paul couldn’t see what it was fouled on, so was careful in case it was a power cable. He got them to raise it enough that he saw it was an abandoned mooring chain. He got a rope from the boat with a shackle on the end for weight, and dropped it through the back of the anchor and grabbed it on the other side with their boat hook. Now he could lift it backwards off the chain. As it came towards the surface Paul was able to grab the back of the anchor and after three or four tugs the chain fell off the anchor. and off they went!
We went ashore and grabbed some fresh produce at the very well stocked Maxwell supermarket, which is pretty similar to a supermarket in the states. They even had diet tonic water, which we had not been able to find anywhere else in the Bahamas!
May 9. Basil Wilmore, the mechanic came along this morning and installed the new starter relay. He also found the source of the leak that corroded the old relay, it was a hairline crack on a heat exchanger drain pipe. So he also took that off and took it back to his shop and put epoxy on it. That will be fine until Sonas goes into the yard this fall when I will have them replace that drain pipe in both engines.
After seeing Basil back to shore Paul went into town for a couple of things. On his way back a young man on the dinghy dock asked him if we had any spare fishing line. When Paul told him that we could probably find him some, he then asked if we had any hooks and lures we could give him! Paul came back to the boat and went down to where we store the fishing gear. We have two heavy offshore Penn rods and reels on board but also two light combos that we had probably bought at Wal-Mart. Paul grabbed one of the light rod and reel combos and a small tackle box that we had with a decent number of hooks and suitable small plastic lures, and took them ashore and presented them to the boy, whose eyes lit up.
As Paul left the dinghy dock some larger boys came over and looked like they were going to take the rod. So Paul turned around and read them the riot act. Back on Sonas he watched through the binoculars and saw one of the bigger kids casting with the rod. So back into the dinghy he went and after getting the rod back to the kid he reamed the others out – to the extent that another boater at the dingy dock looked a bit shocked, until Paul explained what was happening. In a short while the boy trotted off home with his prize.
While all this was happening Paul and Michelle on Nagari, our sister ship, had anchored beside us and invited us over for dinner. We met Michelle’s sister Deb and had a lovely grilled steak dinner and some beverages on board.
May 10. Now that the part had been replaced on the engine we were finally ready to move on. We were going to nip around the corner to snorkel on Mermaid Reef before heading to Hope Town for the night.
Sian we up on the foredeck to retrieve the snubber using the windlass, while Paul nipped down below to use the toilet. Hmmmm, Paul heard an engine running! He opened the engine room door and sure enough the port engine, the one we had just been working on, was running without us starting it. Paul told Sian to stop with the windlass and went up and turned the engine off at the helm.
He then went into the engine room and asked Sian to run the windlass again and sure enough the relay got power from the windlass operation and started the engine! We got everything shut down and left a message for the mechanic to call us back. Meanwhile Paul called our mechanic in the US and chatted to Paul on Nagari, bouncing ideas around as to what might be happening.
Basil the mechanic finally called us back saying that he would finish up the job he was currently doing at a nearby marina and come right over. However he again called late in the day to say he wouldn’t be making it and we were first on his list tomorrow at 8:30am. Frustrating to say the least!
We will cover what happened in the next blog entry, we are currently on our way back to Florida early, but safely!
April 25. We left GeorgeTown this morning, saying good bye to the Cruisers Net and headed towards Cat Island. We had planned to leave by the north Elizabeth Harbour entrance but there were a few rain squalls up that way, we so went out the south entrance and managed to head to Cat behind the squalls. Crossing the Exuma Sound we were in a couple of thousand feet of water so Paul decided to get the fishing gear out and try his luck. After about 30 minutes he got a bull mahi on the line, and fifteen minutes or so fighting it he got it to the back of the boat. It ran across our stern and as Paul tried to get it to the cockpit gate it threw the hook! Ah well, we needed to either defrost something for dinner or find somewhere to eat once we put the anchor down!
We got to the anchorage off the beach at New Bight, on Cat Island. We saw what looked like a small blue painted bar/restaurant on the beach, looked at Trip Advisor and saw that it was a place called Hidden Treasure. So we waited until just before dinner time and launched the dinghy to go ashore. We first walked up to check on the place and confirm they were serving dinner, then went for a walk along the beach. We first went south and found the beach strewn with pieces of glass, turning around we headed the other way and found the beach in much better condition. We ordered a couple of grouper dinners and then joined another couple at the only table! They were on a sailing catamaran, and we shared cruising stories over dinner. Just before dinner was brought out a young lady grabbed a big handful of the pine needles from the beach and lit them by our table, billowing smoke over us, which was a bit surprising. She then told us that it would keep the flies off our food as we ate!
April 26. The next day we went ashore to visitThe Hermitage, which we found extremely interesting. You can read about Father Jerome and The Hermitage by clicking here. The Hermitage sits on top of the highest point in the Bahamas, at a dizzying 206 feet! As we got to the beach we found that the switch on the dinghy console that lifts and lowers the outboard had stopped working. There is another switch on the motor itself so we have a workaround for the rest of the trip.
Getting back to Sonas we lifted the anchor to head around the corner to a small bay called Fernandez, where there was a nice beach. When we got there we found it was rolling with the swell, so we carried on to Alligator Point and turned into the anchorage off the beach at Bennetts Creek. There was only one other boat there, so we had the beach all to ourselves and watched another great sunset!
April 27. We decided to stay at Bennetts today. The one other boat left so we had the place to ourselves. We walked the beach and swam, did some small chores on Sonas. In the evening the wind died away and we had a very quiet night.
April 28. After breakfast we ran slowly north west towards Little San Salvador. The forecast was for thunderstorms passing through all day, but we arrived off the island without meeting any bad weather. In fact Sian was able to do some yoga on the boat deck. On the way we called Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina and booked a slip beginning Monday for four nights. There was some bad weather coming through and now seemed a good time to tie up to a dock for a few days As we approached the Little San Salvador anchorage we saw a large barge, crane, tug and other boats working. So we slowed down to minimise our wake. They didn’t have a diver-down flag displayed so we felt we could pass by relatively close. They then came on the radio and told us they did have divers down and were about to raise something large from the sea bed and could we give them wide berth – which we did. We went around them and into the anchorage.
Little San Salvador is owned by the Carnival Corp. and they use it as a private island for their cruise brands, including Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival, and Princess. We had previously been there on a Norwegian Cruise ship, where Sian took yoga on the Half Moon Cay beach. We swam to shore but our walk was curtailed by some thunder in the distance, so we turned around knowing it would take some time to swim back. There were storms around the island but not over it for most of the day. We watched the salvage crew working and listened to them on channel 6. We were extremely surprised at what they lifted from the water. When they were completed and ready to leave we radioed them and congratulated them on a job well done! There were only three boats in the anchorage that evening and we experienced strong thunderstorms as a weather event started to form We also saw at least one water spout. We didn’t know it then but this was to be the start of the first tropical disturbance of the season!
April 29. Around three in the morning an absolutely amazing electrical storm came through the anchorage. We went up to make sure we were not dragging anchor with the winds to see the whole bay lit up time after time with the lightning. It was a pretty restless night.
It finally calmed down and we got a few hours sleep, to awake to the sight of a Carnival cruise liner coming onto the anchorage. When this happens the ships tenders start to work, and we knew that they would throw wakes about the anchorage. So we had a quick breakfast and headed out for our next stop at the Cape Eleuthera Resort And Marina where we planned to ride out the coming storm.
We got into the well protected marina, which is still being developed. So far they have the marina, swimming pool, cottages and villas. After getting everything squared away we went up to the Harbour Ponte restaurant for drinks and dinner.
April 30. At 5:45a.m.mph and Paul woke thinking “did I just feel a bump?” He lay for a while and there it was again. He got out of bed and saw that the wind was howling and the rear of Sonas was up against the dock. After much pulling on lines and tightening the bow using the bow thruster we were able to get her where we wanted her. During the day the wind got even stronger, blowing over 40mph. We kept a close eye on our lines, but Sonas stayed tight in her slip. The weather stations were now saying that a tropical event had appeared over the Bahamas and, while they did not expect it to turn into a numbered storm, it would be a windy and rainy event!
We felt confident enough that we could leave Sonas and go for some exercise. There was a marked four mile trail, so we set off on that. The “trail” took us on miles of some very overgrown asphalt roads that we heard conflicting stories on – that these were the roads of an abandoned US military airbase, or the roads of a more recent abandoned housing development.
Just after lunch a Nordhavn 47 entered the marina basin and made the turn for the slip next to us. After a couple of failed approaches due to the extremely high winds, Paul, who was on the dock with some others to lend a hand with lines, advised the marina staff that these boats only have one engine and, given the wind, couldn’t they find him a bulkhead to go against rather than trying to thread it into a slip with major cross winds. They eventually did just that and got him secured against an end dock. We later walked across and chatted to the couple on board. They had sold their home and were now off on their Nordhavn on the adventure of a lifetime. They planned to be at the Panama Canal by December, and then cruise the south Pacific – for starters!
Paul spent the afternoon walking the docks and chatting to many of the other boat owners, including Tim on a 40 foot cat and Ray on a 75 foot Fleming. We went up to the Harbour Pointe bar for a couple of pre-dinner cocktails, met a young man from London and another from down the road from us (Ponte Vedra) in Jacksonville. He worked at the Lexus dealership and in fact we discovered we had some friends in common! Paul asked bar lady Kenell for one of their cocktails – a Sky Juice. This required a coconut, which they didn’t have. Paul suggested they wait a while, given the wind, and one would land outside! Kenell told him to come back tomorrow and she would make sure that the coconut was in place!
April 16. We had a wonderful day at Galliot Cay. The beach is about 1.5 miles long. We walked it and then paddle boarded. We basically had a lazy day off a wonderful beach. We got in touch with the Cape Santa Maria (named after Columbus’s boat) resort as we were planning on staying tomorrow night and would go in for dinner. They told us no reservations required, just come on in.
April 17. We had a horrible night at anchorage. There was zero wind but there was a swell coming in, rolling Sonas around (they call this a surge on the charts). We wanted to stay another night, have dinner at the resort, but not in those conditions. So we walked the beach, lifted the dinghy and set off for Elizabeth Harbour and George Town. We followed a few other boats who had also left Galliot Cay and overtook them before we turned into Elizabeth Harbour, We anchored off Sand Dollar beach, not needing to go across to the anchorage off the town until tomorrow for provisioning. We got everything secured then went in to Chat n’ Chill for a couple of beers. We were disappointed as the staff were very surly. They were more focused on their cell phones than the customers, were rude in their responses, and service was extremely poor. Sian left a very negative TripAdvisor review.
After leaving Chat n’ Chill we dinghy’d into the two hurricane holes and had a look around. Most of the boats looked like they had been sitting there for a long time, and many were unoccupied. We also saw some property for sale – with a very appropriately placed for sale sign!
April 18. After breakfast this morning we moved across to George Town. We had seen the provisioning boat come is and tie up at the Government Dock. We rode the heavy wind and waves into the town dock and first went to a little souvenir store to buy birthday cards for Paul’s brother Paschal and Sian’s aunt Cath. After posting Paschal’s card at the post office Paul headed off to the bank to get some cash from the ATM while Sian started the grocery shopping. We then grabbed some items from the liquor store, got everything into the dinghy and pulled away from the dock.
CLUNK, and the outboard quit! What was that? Paul lifted the engine and we saw that our stern painter (rope) was wrapped around the prop! Luckily another couple were coming in on their dinghy and got us back to the dock. They were from New Zealand and on a round the world trip on their sail boat. We got the rope untangled, hand a long chat with the Kiwis, and then had a horrid ride back to Sonas getting totally soaked in the process – the wind and waves were building quite nicely.
April 19. The wind built to around 24 -26 knots today, meaning a mess of waves in the anchorage. So we stayed put on Sonas for the day, mostly reading! We did have one incident first thing during the Cruiser’s Net. The boat anchored next to us, name redacted, broke into the Net and said that his dinghy had broken free, could he have help getting it back! A guy with a 26 foot center console said he was on his way. We watched them search the harbour, finally disappearing into the far northern edge before returning with the dinghy. This suggests that it had broken free during the night and not just when he noticed it missing!
By the way, we “double bag” our dinghy every night. We cleat it by the main bow painter and then have a length of half inch rope which we also tie down loosely. If one goes then the other should hold until we realize we have an issue! We do this even though there are light winds when we go to bed, as things can get wild during the night! [Now read on, to see how we were humbled!]
April 20. Finally the wind died down, and we had a nice calm anchorage. We ran to the new resort development at February Point for lunch at the Rusty Anchor. Given its name, it surprisingly turned out to be a rather posh restaurant, especially given we were in swimmers. However lunch was enjoyable and Troy our waiter was very attentive. Later that afternoon we took the dinghy across to Sand Dollar beach and walked a few laps of the beach. The wind had died away to nothing and we had to leave the generator and air conditioning on tonight so that we could sleep comfortably.
April 21. Today is Easter! All this week we had been calling St Theresa’s Catholic Church to confirm the time for Easter Services, with no joy in getting through. We see from different sources that it is either 10:00 or 10:30. So this morning Paul asked on the Cruisers Net if anyone knew, the answer back was that they also had same conflicting information. So we decided to get there in time for the 10:00 start and, if we were early, say an extra few prayers!
We were there an hour early! So we sat quietly and thought our own thoughts. As the time for mass came near the little church became noisy with a surprising number of boys and girls in their Easter finery. The chapel held maybe 150 people max, and it was standing room only. Father Reggie was one of those happy boisterous priests, with a great singing voice. We had an organist accompanied by a man on a bongo drum! At the time of sharing a sign of the peace with each other there was pandamonium. People moved all over the little chapel hugging everyone and father Reggie walked among us and tightly hugged every single member of the congregation! We left there with the message of Easter ringing in our ears – he died for us, he rose from the dead, so now how do we walk in his footsteps!
We went back to Sonas in our dinghy, dressed in church clothes! Got changed, had lunch and then moved Sonas across to Sand Dollar Beach. Unless there is a need to be off George Town itself, like grocery shopping or church, we prefer to be across the harbour where Sand Dollar Beach is a quieter anchorage and somewhat away from the madness of the larger anchorages. It is also a lovely beach to walk and paddle board from. However it is still close enough for us to dinghy across to where they will have the regatta races on Wednesday!
Sian got on the paddle board, of which she was becoming quite proficient , and headed off for the beach. Paul took the safer route, using the dinghy! We walked the beach, Paul had a go on the Paddle board AND DID NOT FACE PLANT this time!
Back on board we prepared our traditional Easter dinner. A leg of lamb with aspharagus, roasted potatoes, home made mint sauce and gravy made from the lamb juice! We ate at the well set table in the pilot house looking out towards Sand Dollar beach. A delicious meal and a fine way to end Easter day.
We grabbed an after dinner drink and sat out on “our patio,” the boat’s cockpit. Around 9pm we saw a host of red, green and white lights descending on our stern, with searchlights flashing everywhere! It looked like aliens were landing. We saw that there was a catamaran in the middle of the pack and thought “why would anyone want to come into tricky Elizabeth Harbour in the dark?” After a period it all calmed down and went dark, what the heck was that all about!
April 22. We work up today with the catamaran anchored behind us. Listening to the 8am Cruisers Net we got the answer to the puzzle. The French flagged catamaran Liladhoc has tried to enter the harbour by a route they had on their Navionics software, and not using well publicised waypoints. They hit a reef and were holed. A MayDay went out and the local salvage company, along with a good number of center consoles from the cruising community, went and got the vessel secured. They brought her into the anchorage safely. Those on board did not speak very good English so a call went out for translators and someone found them a hotel room for the night.
Later this morning, seeing them on board, we motored over and offered the young couple the use of our washer and dryer, assuming that everything on board had received a good soaking. At first they seemed surprised that a boat had these facilities, but then thanked us and told us that they were going to go into George Town and use the laundry there.
We got after some boat chores and then dingy’d into the Sand Dollar beach for an hour’s walking. While ashore we met the owners of Nordhavn 68 Kava and their dog Penny. Australians Mike and Katie bought the boat in San Diego, came through the Panama Canal and were now working their way north to the US east Coast.
April 23. While listening to the Cruiser’s Net this morning the yacht “Bear” came on and said that they had snagged a runaway dinghy! Sian took a quick peek outside to make sure it wasn’t ours knowing of course it wasn’t because we double tie our boat – and the dinghy was gone! We got back on the radio and confirmed that it was our little duckling that had wandered in the night! We arranged to have it returned and when the crew of Bear brought it over we rewarded them with a nice chilled bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc! Well, so much for thinking we had her well secured – we still have no idea how she came loose, as it wasn’t even a blowy night!
The rescuers reported that she was bumping against some coral when they found her, so Paul took her to the beach and checked her out, engine and hull, and everything was fine. What with getting the line caught around the prop a couple of days ago and now this, we were having some issues with our little boat – all operator error of course!
We went over to George Town and found the dinghy dock totally full. We managed to squeeze little us in and went to the grocery store for a couple of things. We got back to Sonas and after putting our purchases away we took ourselves off to Sand Dollar Beach for a long walk. Tomorrow is the start of the Family Island Regattas. We are going to watch the first day’s races, get some photos, and then on Thursday head off to Cat Island, another new-to-us destination!
April 24. The Exuma Family Island Regattas, the oldest regattas in the Bahamas, start today. There are three classes. C Class, the smallest boats with the smallest number of crew, B Class, the middle size, with slightly more crew, and A Class, the largest boats with around ten crew on board! Our plan was to wait for the Class A race, film the start and follow them in our dinghy for some photos.
Since the A Class was not scheduled to start until 3:30 we took ourselves over to Sand Dollar beach and waked both trails across to the “ocean side.” One trail took us to a long beach, with waves crashing onto the shore. Retracing our steps the second trail took us to an overlook, where we again saw waves crashing against the rocks below, but also a good view of the boats, including Sonas, anchored off the beach.
We decided to treat ourselves to a dinner ashore tonight, but wanted to avoid the madness of George Town during the regattas. So we called The St Francis Resort and booked a lobster meal for Sian and a snapper meal for Paul.
We got ourselves in great position to film the start of the A Class. We got a great view of the start gun and the crew pulling in the anchor and raising the sails. Then followed the race . See below for video and photos!
After tidying ourselves up we went over to The St Francis for dinner – and found ourselves the only ones there apart from some of the boat crews! It seems everyone else wanted to go to the regatta madness over in George Town! We nevertheless had a nice dinner, and got back to Sonas in enough light to lift the dinghy onto the boat deck, ready to bid George Town farewell first thing in the morning.
Early today we checked the wind and wave forecast as we would be running for two and a half hours outside in the Exuma Sound to Georgetown. Everything looked decent so we upped anchor early and headed out past Lee Stocking Island, where there is a defunct marine research institute, and back out through Adderley Cut. Once we had Sonas on her waypoint to Georgetown we found pleasant conditions all the way into Elizabeth Harbour. As we passed Emerald Bay we looked to see if there was anything left of the disasterous Fryer Festival from two years ago, but everything had been cleaned up and there was no indication that anything had ever happened there – or more accurately, not happened there!
We entered Elizabeth Harbour by the pretty complicated north entrance, which necessitates navigating five waypoints past reefs and rocks. Once in the harbour we anchored right off Georgetown to make getting to the store easier. We were only planning on stopping for the night to provision before continuing south. We launched the dinghy and went to the Exuma Market and then the liquor store for some more Captain Morgan for Paul! We will be returning to Georgetown later for the Family Regattas.
When we got back to the boat the crew of Maerin contacted Paul via the Trawler Forum (where Paul and Steve had often chatted) saying they had dinghy’d past Sonas while we were ashore. We then realized we had passed by them and their two dogs outside Exuma Market and sadly had not realized we “knew” each other.
Paul had been noticing that our engine start batteries were being drawn down while underway, which should not happen as the engine alternators should keep them charged. He suspected a piece of equipment called the Automatic Charge Relay. After researching how it works and starting a conversation on one of his boating forums, he was able to identify the issue and get it rectified.
We were also having trouble with our fridge freezer. Even though it is equipped with locks it still works its way open in heavy seas. So Paul came up with a hack that we can use when we know there is potential heavy weather.
April 10. We upped anchor before breakfast today as we were running the four and a half hours to Long Island. Still part of the Bahamas but not part of the Exuma chain. We tried calling Maerin on the VHF to chat with no success.
We headed out of the south channel of Elizabeth Harbour and set our heading for Long island. A coupe of hours later, watching our location closely, we crossed the Tropic Of Cancer – we were now officially in the Tropics! I told Sian that all of a sudden I fancied a Margarita! I was denied since it was only mid morning, I got a cup of green tea instead! And a chocolate digestive biscuit! It was a celebration after all!
The weather forecast for the area was for scattered thunder storms, accompanied by high gusting winds. We had a very calm cruise for the four and a half hours to the turn into Thompson Harbour. Just as we turned in large black clouds gathered and as we laid the anchor out we had strong winds followed by heavy rain. This continued for most of the afternoon, but then laid down in the evening. We did not bother launching the dinghy or try to go ashore. We had chosen to anchor in the north part of Thompson Harbour as there was some protection from a headland. The three boats that later followed us in chose to do the same. As we sat at anchor we looked across to the beach and saw a building well lit up indicating that it could be a bar/restaurant – and worth investigating for tomorrow!
April 11. We had a restless night on board as the wind and rain swung around 180 degrees during the night creating a bit of anchor and snubber noise. Then later it swung the 180 degrees back again! It was still raining in the morning so after breakfast Sian went up and washed the dinghy, allowing the rain to rinse it. She then got busy making bread, and Paul got after a couple of small chores he had been putting off – like adding velcro to the bottom of all of our wall hangings to stop them moving around as we cruise. The forecast is for the rain to move off after lunch and the wind to move to a favorable direction for going ashore.
After lunch the weather did improve as forecasted and we launched the dinghy. We ran to the dinghy dock at Salt Pond. Tying up we walked up to the top of the hill and found the location of the car hire as we planned to hire a car to see the island. We then went into the market which we found really well stocked. We will revisit tomorrow to get some provisions. While in the market we asked them if they knew of someone who would give us a tour of the island in his car, we wondered if it would be better to use a guide rather than go around the island in our own car. They made a call for us and we met with David. He said he would put a tour together for us for tomorrow and call us with the price. He later did call and give us an itinerary with a reasonable price using his car. However we decided that we would rather do it one our own, so we thanked David and called the hire place and reserved a car for two days over the weekend.
We then went to the Sou’ End Bar and Grill for a quick beer. Getting back into the dinghy and leaving the dock we decided to go and have a look at the place we saw from the boat last night that looked like a bar/restaurant. We pulled in through a small jetty and Sian jumped off and went up. And yes, it was Tiny’s Hurricane Hole – restaurant and bar!
After cleaning up on board we took the dinghy across to Tiny’s Hurricane Hole bar and grill and had drinks and grouper dinners. We talked to a couple from Ottawa who were staying at one of the cottages there and met the owners, Michelle and Jason, who were very receptive and friendly. They had just found out that their location had made the top ten in a list of best beach bars on the Out Island Blog along with Nippers in the Abacos and Chat and Chill in Georgetown! Quite the achievement!
April 12. Today we decided to so some small chores on Sonas in the morning and then walk the beach on the NE side of Thompson Harbour. After lunch we went into Salt pond and picked up a few things from the grocery store. Paul then got in touch with the local Catholic Church and found out where Palm Sunday services were this weekend.
We had heard on the local Cruisers Net (transmission over the VHF every morning) that there was a Happy Hour at the Sou’ Side Bar and Grill starting at four, so around 4:30 we dinghy’d in and went up to see what was going on. There were folks there from three other boats anchored in the harbour along with some long term boaters staying on their boats off Long Island. Added to that were some locals – so all in all a very interesting conversation over a few beers! We did get some tips of where to go on the island with our rented car.
April 13. Every Saturday from 8 until 12 there is a well know farmers market in Salt Pond. The Cruisers Guide raved about it and we had heard about it from a couple of people. We were also warned to get there early as the produce sells out quickly. So promptly at 8 we were in the dinghy and off to the market. We returned to Sonas 30 minutes later disappointed in the market and having bought nothing!
We picked up our rental car by noon and were glad to find that the little Toyota had air conditioning that worked really well! We decided we would go visit the south end of the island first. We had heard about some supposedly spectacular caves on the island, so we called the guy who owns the land they are on and made arrangements for a tour at 3:00 this afternoon.
Looking at the small tourist guide put out by the Long Island Chamber of Commerce Sian identified a potential for lunch – Max’s Conch Bar and Grill on Deadman’s Cay. We hadn’t had a conch salad so far on this trip, so time to rectify that! We found Max’s easily enough as it was well represented by flags on the roadside! We enjoyed a beer, conch salad and red snapper in a real Bahamian out island location!
After lunch we swung by the meeting place for the cave tour just to make sure we knew where we were going, and then drove to the south end of the island and the Long Island capital, Clarence Town. We saw from the tourist guide that there was a neat Catholic church atop a hill overlooking the town with an altar and windows that should be seen. We got there to find the church locked up. We drove over to the Clarence Town marina and found a brand new facility with pool, ships store and restaurants. There were some boats anchored in the bay and a few in the marina, well protected from the angry Atlantic broiling outside.
Leaving Clarence Town we headed over to find Dean’s Blue Hole. This blue hole is the second larges in the world at over 660 feet deep. We found it at the end of a private two mile long sand road. We didn’t have time to snorkel it but planned to go back after our cave tour.
It was time to go meet our guide Leonard and visit the caves. We got to the meeting point, met our guide and owner and his young grandson Austin. We followed them to the entrance to the caves, not knowing what to expect – and were astonished at what we were shown. These were huge caverns, full of stalagmites and stalactites. Five species of bats use the caverns, with three in residence right now. There have been excavations of the caves, used by the Lucayan Indians hundreds of years ago, and artifacts found of pottery, bones etc. We will let the photos show how awesome this place is. If this was on an island visited by cruise ships, or otherwise popular with tourists, this would be a gold mine for the owner. Though when I suggested this Leonard didn’t seem over enthused o the idea!
Saying our goodbyes to Leonard and Austin, we headed back to Dean’s Blue Hole. We put on our snorkeling gear and swam out. We have to tell you that it is a really eerie feeling, to swim from less than two feet of sandy water to a slope rapidly falling to a rough edge of limestone, and then to darkness. You can’t help but think, while floating there looking down, what is down there looking up!
Heading north back to Salt Pond, we parked the hire car by the dinghy dock and, after a quick beer at Sou’ Side we headed back to Sonas. It had been quite a full day!
April 14, Palm Sunday. Today arrived with a bit of wind and quite a chop in the anchorage. We were clearly going to get wet going to shore in the dinghy. So we put on shorts and tees and packed all of our church clothes in a black trash bag. We got to the dinghy dock to find the female crews of three powerboats standing chatting. Paul warned them to avert their eyes and there was going to be some change of clothing happening – involving trouser dropping! We got into our church clothes and headed off to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Hamiltons.
We got there in plenty of time, and as we gathered at the front for the palm procession who did we see – Leonard and Austin (from the caverns) , who were Eucharistic Minister and altar boy. Leonard’s other grandson was a second altar boy! The service in the pretty little church was enjoyable and we bade our farewells and headed to see the north side of the island.
We had decided to stay in our church clothes until we got to Stella Maris. We saw that there was a resort there with two restaurants. We would have a posh’ish lunch and then change into our casual clothes to explore the rest of the island. When we got to the resort we decided to go to the beach bar and grill instead of the main restaurant – so nipped into a restroom and changed into shorts and tees before having lunch overlooking the wild and raging Atlantic!
Leaving Stella Maris we headed to the very north of the Island and drove along a very rough sandy and rocky road, if it could be called a road, to the Columbus Monument. As we went out to the monument we saw that they were building what looked like a new road to it. When we arrived at the monument we also saw that they were redeveloping the monument site itself. We later read that there was a large expenditure assigned to improving the area as a tourist attraction.
We got to the monument, walking the last half mile as we were concerned that the “road” would soon rip the bottom off the engine! The monument signifies the landing point of Columbus’s longboat n the new world. There is also a plaque embedded in the sea floor off the coastline indicating where he laid anchor. The headland is named Cape Santa Maria.
Leaving the monument and slowly, very slowly, driving back to the main aphsalt road, we pulled out a list of recommended beaches that we had been given by Michelle at Tiny’s Hurricane Hole. There was a beach that she recommended at Galliot Cay, so we swung off the road and went to have a look at it. The beach looked spectacular, and there were a number of boats anchored in the bay. We decided, after leaving the hire car back tomorrow, we would head up here to anchor and enjoy the white sand and clear blue waters.
April 15. We had planned to use the car again this morning to hit one of the East side beaches and snorkel some near shore reefs. However the morning brought clouds and rain, so we took the car down to the gas station and filled it up along with a gas can for our dinghy. We left the rental back, upped anchor and headed off to the beach we had seen our drive yesterday.
We motored for two and a half hours to Galliot Cay and anchored in the clear blue waters about 150 feet off the beach. We swam to shore, walked the one and a half mile long beach, and swam back to Sonas. Sian got on the paddle board again. Life was good!
Tonight the wind completely died away. The water was so clear and still that we were able to see the anchor chain loop back under Sonas and see the anchor sitting off our swim platform! Paul took the opportunity to grab some drone footage, including seeing a number of small star fish on the bottom.
And tonight, for the first time on this trip, we had to leave the generator running for the cabin air conditioner since there was no breeze for the Breeze Boosters and it was very warm.
April 2. The shallow water by the beach at Cambridge Cay was perfect for more paddle board practice. Plus we wanted to visit the coral garden at the entrance to the cut. So we decided early that we would stay a second night. As we had breakfast another mega yacht came in a and picked up a mooring, making three in the small anchorage. Later a fourth came in but there was no more “big boy” moorings available so they had to turn and go back out.
The winds were very light so Paul took advantage and sent the drone up for a quick video shoot. Then we put our snorkel gear in the dinghy along with the hand held VHF radio. We were running out into deep water and to the edge of the cut from Exuma sound. There were enough boats in the anchorage that if we needed help we would get a response via the VHF.
We ran through the cay and turned towards the inlet and Honeymoon Beach. We anchored the dinghy in the corner of the beach and snorkeled out to what we saw named on the charts as a “coral garden.: We were not disappointed. The coral reef was stunning and ran for quite a long way out. See the video below. As Paul was coming back to the boat he was shadowed by a barracuda. Paul wasn’t sure who was keeping a closer watch on who – and he kept his ring finger clamped to his side so as not to attract interest!
We had a very pleasant day at Cambridge, with more paddle board practice, and watching the charter guests play off the big yachts.
April 3. We headed out of Cambridge Cay, and left the Exuma Land and Sea Park for the last time this year. Our next stop was Sampson Cay, another stop we had never been to. Sampson is a private cay owned by the telecommunication billionaire, John Malone. It used to has a decent marina, restaurant and villas. But once it he bought it the marina was closed down. He has huge signs all over the area reminding everyone that the island is private. As with everywhere else in the Bahamas, all beaches below the waterline is public property and accessible, so we dinghy’d past the closed marine into the beautiful sandbars in the interior.
April 4. As we left Sampson this morning we noticed trash being burned on one of the beaches. We hoped that the owners were good stewards of the waters and that the remains were removed before the tide came in.
While at Sampson Paul tried the back flip routine as a way to get out of the water and into the dinghy. The problem is, this works well with an inflatable dinghy that does not have a center console – and the console is pretty hard when hit by your shin!
We cruised around the corner to Staniel. We know that the supply boat comes in on an Thursday (sometimes Friday) and wanted to be there to get fresh vegetables and fruit as well as milk. There is a great little anchorage right beside Staniel Cay Yacht Club that only has room for three boats, so we were aiming for there first in the hope that there was room. Plus we wanted to go into the Yacht Club for drinks and a dinner treat! If there wasn’t room we would go back to the large anchorage at Big Majors and take the long dinghy run into Staniel for the provisions.
We were in luck. there were only two boats in the little anchorage so we squeezed Sonas in! We went ashore and up to the joint laundry and liquor store, grabbed some beer, white rum, and Captain Morgan. Then around noon we saw the supply boat come in. It left around 2:00, so we gave the supermarket an hour to get the delivery up and went in. A number of others had the same idea and it was a bit of a zoo. Poor market people were trying to get the fresh stuff on the shelves but we were taking it off them as soon as it was out of the boxes!! All good though, and we got the fresh stuff we wanted! And, to say it is shipped from the states, via Nassau, it was excellent quality!
The restaurant at Staniel Cay Yacht Club has two seatings – 6:30p.m and 8:30p.m. You call to make reservations by 4:00 and tell them your food order! We called and confirmed a 6:30 reservation and ordered two lobster dinners! In we went at 5:30 to the bar for a couple of Sands beers, and promptly at 6:30 the dinner bell was rung and we went through for a delicious lobster dinner!
We had recently bought a couple of Breeze Boosters. These are gadgets that you out out of your cabin window that deflects the breeze into your sleeping area. Since the evenings were starting to warm up, and we really wanted to hold off on using the generator and AC during the night for as long as possible, we deployed them for the first time. It took us a little while to get the adjustments right for our port holes, but we got there. And found that they worked very well indeed. In fact a couple of times we had to partially close the windows to keep the gale at bay!
April 5. Next day we decided to head over to Big Majors and see what was happening over there. As we approached we saw plenty of boats on the AIS system! We tucked ourselves well into the land and well away from the nonsense that is Pig Beach! We had previously visited the pigs a couple of years ago and felt no compunction to do so again. We took the paddle board over to the beach and added to our experience. Sian is becoming more and more proficient while Paul still has the occasional watery face plant! We have found that the blow up version of the SUP, being lighter, makes it harder to get back on when you fall off than a heavier fiberglass SUP would be. So we play in the shallow waters so as to be able to get back on without exhausting ourselves.
April 6. The large busy anchorage at Big Majors, with the dozens of boats and constant tourist boats visiting the pigs, is not really what we enjoy. So we left early today amid strong rain squalls. We headed around Harvey Cay and set our course for Black Point. There is a busy fishing community on the north side of Black Point which we had visited before, but we were aiming for the beautiful quiet anchorage off the sandy beaches on the south side of the point, right by a house that was designed after a bucket-built-sandcastle.
We anchored a hundred yards or so off the beach. Once we were set Sian did some strength building exercises on the fore deck, then we dinghy’d into the beach and walked up and down the 1/8 of a mile beach a number of times for some more exercise. Sian then swam back to Sonas. We had lunch and took the paddle board in for some more play time! We were later joined by two other boats, one a charter,and had a lovely quiet evening in this beautiful anchorage with just the three boats.
April 7. Back to the beach today for some more walking to get in our daily quota! During the morning an interesting vessel came in. Called Mirage, she had a thin monohull with a large outrigger. After anchoring she put out a half dozen kayaks and off they went. Paul Googled her and found out that the couple who owned her run kayak adventures in the Bahamas and Caribbean. Around lunchtime Nagari, our sister ship, with Paul and Michelle on board, came into the anchorage. We went over and said hello and grabbed a beer. When we asked them if they had paid a visit to Pig Beach while they were in Big Majors Michelle shared her horror story. She had been feeding the smaller pigs some carrots when a big sow chased her down, pushed her over and bit her on the butt. She showed us the bruising and it was quite substantial.
Later we met on the beach for a paddle board and chat while sitting in knee deep crystal clear Bahamian water. They came over and had dinner on board in the evening.
April 8. After breakfast we lifted the dinghy and paddle board as we would be going out into Exuma Sound for a portion of our trip this morning , and it was still quite windy. We left Black Point and Nagari and headed south again.
This morning there was a pre-sale of a concert we wanted to go to back in Jacksonville which was sure to sell out. So right on time at 10am we jumped on line and got our two tickets to see Celine Dion! Then we headed south past Farmers Cay and in behind David Copperfield’s Musha Cay to Rudder Cut. We went through Rudder Cut and out into Exuma Sound. The water at the cut was pretty severe but once through and heading towards Adderley Cut eight miles away, we faced four foot rollers which wasn’t too bad given the short distance. Sian then decided to go below to check on the fridge freezer, to make sure that it wasn’t swinging open with the seas. The fridge was fine but she found that we had forgotten to close the windows in the forward guest cabin, right on the bow. The heavy seas were bringing water in both sides. So she closed the windows, and threw down some towels. We are not quite sure how we missed this as we have quite a robust “prepare for sea” process every time we go “outside.” The decks are totally cleared, nothing loose. The living quarters are prepped, with anything that could fall down placed on the floor or sofa (like lamps), fridge/freezer clamped, and all windows closed. We would have to clear up the watery mess once anchored!
Again at Adderley Cut the water got up as the SE wind bumped up against an outgoing tide, but we got through with no issues.
We were heading for another one of our favorite anchorages – Williams Cay. We had hoped to spend a couple of nights here, but a change in wind direction to the SW and West is forecasted for tomorrow meaning wind straight into the anchorage so we will be moving on after only one night.
After anchoring Sian stripped and laundered the forward bed’s linen, and cleared up any water on the floor and window areas soaked as a result of leaving the forward ports (windows) open during our Exumas Sound run. We were all squared away by mid afternoon, so swam to the beach and back, before grilling dinner on board.
March 25th. Day break brought a beautiful calm day. We upped anchor and drifted slowly south to Long Cay. We navigated the north entrance by VPR (visual piloting required). This is a term used on charts and guides to indicate that there are no published waypoints and you must use your eyes in good light to work your way past the coral head and shallows. We had not visited Long before and found a beautiful anchorage and beach. We walked the beach and took some drone footage when back on Sonas. We slept the night through without a murmur from the water.
March 26th. We cruised slowly from Long Cay to Normans Cay, entering from the north navigating through numerous coral heads. Once safely anchored we radioed McDuff’s Bar and Grill to make sure that they were serving lunch and received no response. So we dinghy’d in and walked over to the restaurant, where they told us that the whole Island had been privately reserved and closed to the public for the week. So we had lunch on board and then dinghy’d over to the south east side of the island. We had a look at the new marina that is currently being built there, and motored past the sunken plane left over from the islands past as a drug lord’s haven.
March 27th. Today we were hopping one island south to Shroud Cay, another island we has not previously visited. Shround is the northernmost island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, the world’s oldest national marine preserve. There is no fishing or taking conch in the park. Since the water was a flat calm we ran the dinghy up over the top of the cay and ran down the Exuma Sound side, passing numerous unspoilt beaches. Stopped at the beach below Camp Driftwood and climbed the hill. This is a spot that was created by Ernest Scholtes who permanently anchored his boat in the creek and built steps to the top of the hill. The tradition was that visiting boaters had to find some gift to take up there, shells, driftwood etc. Nowadays the park rangers warn not to take anything as it will be removed so as not to ruin the area. The view from the top of the hill was splendid. At the top we met another couple, Jim and Pam who were admiring the views and then going to dive the nearby offshore reef. We took the opportunity to have photos taken of each couple!
That night an unexpected wind kicked up from the North West, driving straight into the anchorage. This brought four foot swells, tossing the ten or so boats in the anchorage around. We watched other boaters drag their anchors and then reset. We stayed awake during the night, taking turns to nap in the salon, along, we suspect, with everyone else in the anchorage! Our ground tackle held well with no issues.
Sian: As the wind got up we saw the sailboats around us swinging erratically on their anchors and in the dark watched the anchor lights sway like metronomes, slightly out of time. Even watching a boat of a similar size to us corckscrew around with no rhyme or reason., knowing we must be doing the same. It was a very long night but we were happy to see all our anchor mates still present and accounted for come the light of day.
March 28th. The weather forecast was for winds clocking from NNW to NE and then E. We upped anchor early and went to Hawksbill Cay north anchorage. One of our favorite places in the Exumas and a good stop for the forecast winds. We saw a power catamaran already in the anchorage and we watched about ten people on board dinghy to the beach, noticing how very well dressed they were for playing on the sand! Then realized that we were watching a wedding! We later walked the beach and chatted to the newly weds and family. They were engaged on this beach last Thanksgiving and had now returned to be married here!
March 29th. We awoke after a solid night’s sleep. Most likely because of zero sleep the night before. We did a couple of hours of boat chores by which time the wedding party had departed and we had the anchorage all to ourselves. We spent a relaxing day (aren’t they all!) walking the beach, then going back in with our beach chairs to watch the sun set over Sonas!
March 30th. The day started off cloudy and rainy. We stood by the radio and called the Exuma Park 9am broadcast. They come on air at this time every day to ask which boats are leaving the mooring and which boats require a new mooring booking. We reserved a mooring for tomorrow in the northern mooring field. The day cleared up so we took the dinghy north and cruised the beaches on the Western side of the cay, seeing lots of green turtles. We went ashore and walked up to the ruins of a loyalist settlement from 1785, then we had a short walk into the interior of the cay.
Later we snorkeled over the small coral reef at the north end of the anchorage, seeing lots of varieties of coral and fish. On our way back to the dinghy we disturbed a huge ray and followed him for a bit (all the while thinking of Steve Irwin!).
March 31st. Today we said a fond farewell to our favorite anchorage and motored for a couple of hours to the north anchorage at Warderick Wells to pick up mooring ball number 16. After a quick lunch we put on our snorkel gear and swam from Sonas the short distance to the reef behind us. We found a turtle eating the grass underneath the boat! After that we prepared the Stand Up Paddle board that we bought just before we left Jacksonville. It was time to learn how to SUP!
We towed the SUP over to the beach on the Western side of Warderick so as to be able to get on the board more easily when we fell off! Paul went first – though not successfully. First on his knees, then finally he stood up, wobbled, and then a magnificent face plant! After a couple of more attempts he finally relaxed and got it – paddling the board, turning it, and not falling off!
Now it was Sian’s turn. She clambered on, started paddling and off she went. After five minutes making sure she could do it, she paddled the board all the way back to Sonas!
Sian had prepared a joint of lamb in the slow cooker, which was delicious served with roasted potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts – AND HOME MADE MINT SAUCE!!
April 1. Before the day got too hot we walked the Causeway Trail through Warderick Wells, across to Boo Boo Hill and back to the Park HQ, a hour and a quarter’s exercise. We paid for last night’s mooring ball, and the three nights anchorage at Hawksbill. Getting back to Sonas we went for another snorkel at the nearby reef, before untying from the mooring ball and leaving this beautiful anchorage.
We ran for an hour and a half to the south entrance to Cambridge Cay. This is a tricky entrance and quite shallow. Most boats prefer the longer north route. We got through with no issues. We were planning on anchoring but the anchorage was quite crowded so we decided to pick up another mooring ball. Paul then went on-line and paid Exuma Park for the ball.
Sian: There is definitely a knack to picking up a mooring ball and today was my most successful “grab” to date! With an audience on the catamaran next door I might add! Acknowledging Pauls expertise in maneuvering Sonas into perfect position I still think the cat people could have given a ripple of applause for a job done right!
We had seen on the charts and read in the cruising guide that there were a couple of great snorkeling spot at the south end of the cay. So we went off in the dinghy to explore those. They were off Honeymoon Beach which is quite open to a SE breeze, so there was pretty good wave action over the reef. We snorkeled for 30 minutes or so then gave it up for today. We will plan on going back tomorrow morning if it is calmer.
We felt pretty good in our exercising today – a long hilly walk, and a couple of snorkels!
There are plenty of big mega yachts where ever we go, with the toys for their charter guests. We passed one yacht yesterday that was over 300 feet long!
Monday March 18th found us still in Lucaya with a busted water heater.
It rained heavily all day, just to compound our misery at not being able to move on to Exuma. Charlton Knowles from the boat yard, as promised, swung by Sonas on his way home on Monday evening. He took a quick look at the water heater and agreed that it was done for. He told us that there was no chance of getting a replacement on the island and he would have his contacts back in Florida look for one. After he left we donned our rain jackets and headed for the pool bar to drown our sorrows. We had started to become good friends with Kelli the barman!
We just hung around the marina on Tuesday waiting to see if a replacement heater could be found. Paul took a cold shower on the boat while Sian went up to the marina and used their shower. Charlton reported back that a direct replacement could not be found at short notice and would have to be ordered. Paul told him that, for now, we didn’t need an exact replacement for what we had, any manufacturer would do, and it didn’t need to be a 20 gallon model, just big enough to get us through our cruise.
Finally on Wednesday he informed us that he had a heater put aside in Florida. He would fly over (on his own plane) and have it in hand by end of day. So we made plans to leave the Grand Bahama Yacht Club marina and get to his boat yard down the coast as soon as he opened on Thursday morning.
We pulled into his yard around 8:30 the next morning. He had the water heater and two of his guys waiting on the dock. They came aboard, ripped out the old unit (emptying it of all of the sediment when they got it on the dock) and put in the new heater. We were away from the yard at 10:15. They were efficient and courteous and did a great job. A yard we would highly recommend if you need one in the area.
Since we got a late start on the day we could not make our planned first stop at Cabbage Cay half way down the Berrys, which gives an easy hop through New Providence and into Exuma. So we aimed for Great Harbour in the northern Berrys.
Half way down we saw a cruise ship approaching from the south east. Our AIS told us that we would be passing within a half mile if we continued our course. Amazing that across hundreds of miles of water we would bump into a cruise ship! So we adjusted a couple of degrees and passed by the stern of The Disney Dream by over a mile.
We then passed through some heavy rain squalls and arrived just as two more cruise ships had completed getting their passengers off their “private islands,” and were getting under way. The Great Harbour anchorage was well protected and we had a comfortable night.
The next day, Friday 22nd, brought a weather forecast indicating that the run through the Northwest Passage and into New Providence would be rough. So we spent the morning at the anchorage doing some cleaning and engine room tidy up. Sian took the opportunity to keep up with her yoga, and do some laundry.
After lunch we ran a couple of hours down the Berrys island chain to Cabbage Cay so as to get a jump on our trip to Exuma the next day. There were two other boats in the anchorage, and we watched as they took their dogs to shore. We have been thinking a lot about Grace this trip as she was with us the last time we were in the Exumas and has been gone exactly a year.
We checked the forecast again on Saturday morning and we were good to go. It was calling for only two foot seas into New Providence and one foot seas from there to Exuma. Perfect!
We were awake and up before first light on Saturday, eager to get going. The night before Paul had taken a nice moon rise shot of the sailboat anchored behind us, and got another again this morning of the sunrise behind it.
We were out of the anchorage at 7:15 and headed south east. As forecast the seas were calm so we rode from the fly bridge. It always amazes us how quickly you leave the Bahamas Bank and get into really deep water.
As we approached New Providence we saw a Carnival cruise ship leave Nassau heading back to Port Canaveral (based on their AIS) and right behind us came a Royal Caribbean cruise shop heading into Nassau.
The first time through here we called Nassau Harbour Control and asked for permission to transit the harbour. Then we wanted to pass through and see the cruise ships and take photos as we sailed past Atlantis. However it can take some time to get permission and then it is a slow zone all the way through the harbour. So now when we pass through New Providence we use a cut to the east which avoids the harbour altogether.
We were through New Providence by noon and set course for Allen’s Cay at the northern end of the Exumas. We arrived at the Allen Cay waypoint around 3:30 to find a number of boats already in there. We tried a couple of spots but found them too close to the rocks given we had an easterly wind pushing us that way, so we opted to go back out and down to the more open and safer anchorage at Highbourn Cay.
We had our anchor down by 4:30, amid a number of other sail and power boats and a few mega yachts with their toys. The end of a longish day, but worth it – because we are here! And to celebrate Sian put the swim steps down and completed her inaugural swim around Sonas! Though when we threw some bread out the next day and a number of baby sharks chomped down, she was less than thrilled!
Sian: I had promised steak for our first night in Exumas and even went as far as suggesting the blog entry be titled “Tonight We Eat Steak in Exumas!” Well, you know about pride and what it comes before!
I defrosted steak after breakfast and was quite surprised when I went to marinade it to discover it was pork! Never mind, time was on my side so I pulled out another parcel of steak and left that to defrost. Only to discover that too was pork! And yes, I had written that on the package! Oh, and guess what we had just eaten for lunch? Yep, left over port!At this point it felt like we had a version of the Monty Python skit going on but instead of “spam,spam, and more spam” we were doing pork!
During the evening the wind got up into the low twenties and stayed there through Sunday. So we remained at the Highbourn Cay anchorage tidying up the boat, checking the engine room, and planning our stops for the next month or so. We also took the opportunity to use our new watermaker to top up the tanks. We had some milk that would be going out of date and, for those that follow our blog, we treat milk like gold dust. So we froze the remaining milk in usable portions to use for bread making.
Sian: AND I finally found the steak buried deep in the chest freezer!
We had originally targeted Monday to leave for this year’s trip but, since we were all ready to go, we decided to set off Sunday instead. The Queen’s Harbour lock opened at 8:am, and we aimed for a 9:00 am start. We radioed the lock shortly after 9 to find that there were gate sensor problems and we had to wait at our dock. The lock had just recently been upgraded with new electronics and I guess they needed some bedding down. We finally got through around 10:15.
Our plan was to stop briefly at Palm Cove Marina and get sufficient fuel to get us to our marina in Lake Worth. That way we wouldn’t be unnecessarily carrying full tankage on our trip south. We called the fuel dock to make sure that their fuel dock was up and operational and were told that it was. When we got there we were then told that only one of the diesel pumps was working and that was going very slow. A boat had just pulled in ahead of us and was taking on fuel. After waiting a half hour we found he still had a long way to finish, so we decided to leave and head to our next stop, and get fuel there. I guess their definition of “operational” is different to ours!
Apart from navigating through a large boat sailing race north of St Augustine, we had an uneventful trip to Palm Coast where we arrived just after 5:00. We went up to the European Village for dinner at Lisbon Nights, which was becoming our tradition for trip “first nights.”
We got back to Sonas and found that the salon AC had stopped working. The pump would come on for a few seconds, then go off. We found that by turning on the pilothouse unit it would fire up the pump it shared with the salon, and then the salon would be fine – as long as the pilot house AC was running.
Next morning started off foggy. We took on the fuel we wanted and were away by 8:00. It was again an uneventful trip through Daytona, New Smyrna, Titusville and into our anchorage just south of the NASA Causeway Bridge at 5:00. Sian was hesitant to launch the newly galvanized anchor and chain, as she knew it would never look as good again!
While under way we contacted our AC company and he suggested the issue was a pump trigger. he offered to send his guy to us at Palm Coast but we were already underway. We called a company in West Palm and arranged for them to fix the issue when we were down there, and before we crossed to the Bahamas.
The anchorage was peaceful, this was the second time we stayed there and both times were excellent. We upped anchor at 8 and headed south through Cocoa, Melbourne and into Vero. We found that the diesel at Vero Beach City Marina was an exceptionally good price ($2.90) so decided to top up our tanks there rather than Lake Worth. We were really surprised at the number of boats that were sharing mooring balls – sometimes three to a ball. We had thought that Tuesday would not be busy – but Vero was jumping. The dock master was lining people up on the radio and on the fuel dock, with more arriving as we fueled. We went over to the Riverview restaurant for dinner, which offered deck seating and a typical bar menu.
We left Vero at first light. Ran through Fort Pierce, Stuart, St Lucie, Jupiter down into Lake Worth. For choice we would rather leave out of Fort Pierce which works well for the Abacos. But since we were heading to Lucaya and then further south we needed to leave out of West Palm to avoid bumping up against the Gulf Stream flow. Our peeve with running from Fort Pierce south to Lake Worth is the number and different types of slow zones, some of them are pretty long. This adds significant time to the trip.
We also passed an international sailing regatta at Jensen Beach.
We had planned on staying at Sailfish Marina, which is right inside the inlet. But there was a sports fishing tournament on and the marina was fully booked. So we arrived at Lake Park marina and tied up in some gusty wind. We used Trip Advisor for restaurant suggestions and walked a mile or so to a grubby looking run down windowless crab shack with a single car outside, which had been listed as a top 4 pick! We kept walking and eventually ended up at the more up-market Pelican Cafe where we had a lovely dinner.
Steve from Gulfstream came and replaced the bad AC pump trigger. He had another in the van so I asked him to leave it with me, and we put it into the spares inventory.
The conditions were not right for a crossing on Thursday, with Friday looking good. So we went to the Boat Owners store and got a new filter for our holding tank vent which Paul installed. We also paid a visit to Publix supermarket for some more fresh produce. That night we went to Frigates for dinner. We still weren’t making much of a dent into our on board supplies!
The weather from our sources told us that it would be good for crossing the Gulf Stream on Friday. In fact NOAA used the word “benign!” So at first light Friday we set off. The first challenge we faced was exiting the Lake Worth inlet with a strong outgoing current facing a SE wind. It certainly got lumpy.
Once outside we put the waypoint in for Grand Bahama to the ESE. The weather forecasts had called for 2-3 foot seas with a 2 foot swell. We don’t know if going nose into them made them feel worse, but we basically “hobby-horsed” across for 7 hours until we got out of the stream. We were also getting a strong ammonia-like smell from the cabin area, which needed to be investigated once tied up.
As we got closer to our destination we realized that we would not make the marina by their closing time so radioed for directions. When we got there a few guys on the dock came and helped tie us up. We were puzzled for a while as to why we didn’t make it in time as we had done this exact same trip two years ago and made it with just under an hour before closing. We then realized that last time we had gone before daylight savings time, this year after. So we were basically an hour later before leaving West Palm due to light, therefore an hour later getting to the marina in Lucaya!
The folks at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club had contacted customs and immigration on our behalf (who also close at 5!) and they gave us permission to come ashore and check in the next morning. So once cleaned up we went up to the pool bar for drinks and dinner.
We had originally planned on staying just one night, but now needed to clear customs and immigration the next morning. This could happen anytime between 8 and 10! We decided not to set out for our next stop in the Berries that late in the day, so stayed an extra night at the marina.
Plus we found we had an issue! And in investigating that issue, we found a second! When we woke on Saturday morning we heard both the fresh water pump cycling and the forward bilge pump going off. Paul turned off the fresh water system while he searched for the culprit. He quickly found that water was pouring out of our water heater. At first it seems to be coming from the heat exchanger outlet so he put plenty of silicone on that, left it to harden and turned the water supply on again. The leak had slowed considerably.
Next he started to investigate the ammonia smell – which got worse when we turned on the AC for the master cabin. So he started with the bilge area. When he lifted the hatch by the VacuFlush system he found that the bellows had failed and sprayed toilet material everywhere creating a right royal mess! He has a photo but not to be shared!! So for the next hour or so he cleaned up that mess and got the bilge as clean as he could. We turned off that toilet and used the guest from then on. We could replace the bellows with one of our spares while we were continuing to cruise.
His reward was going up to the bar and grabbing a few beers while watching Manchester United get knocked out of the FA Cup. Not the best day he has ever had!
So with the water heater somewhat operating and the bilge cleaned up we set off at first light Sunday. About two hours out we checked the water heater again to make sure it was behaving, to find water pouring out again!
The choice was, continue cruising and do without hot water for three months, or turn back to Lucaya and have it replaced. We turned back, and into the same slip at Grand Bahama Yacht Club. Since it was Sunday we knew we could get nothing done today. Instead Paul jumped into the bilge and, after three hours and many scraped knuckles and cursing, got the bellows on the the Vacuflush replaced and the bilge fully cleaned. We now have two working heads again!
First thing on Monday we called the local boat yard. Owner Charlton Knowles came over on his way home from the yard and agreed that the water heater needed to be replaced. He doubted that one could be found on the island so would probably have to have one flown in from the mainland.
So now we sit in Lucaya and await further developments! AND it is raining heavily! Though one benefit is that Sian had time to make some scones – great with butter and jam!
Now we kinda know what they mean when they say “maintained with an open check book!”
Water Maker; we
had Hansen Marine Service out of St Augustine install a Blue Water LGD 475,
fully automatic water maker that is capable of 20 gallons per hour. We also has
a remote screen installed in the Pilot House.
Pilot House wood; when we bought Sonas she had a thin mesh screen for the pilot house windows. Over time this had allowed the sun to badly damage the varnish on the beautiful wood work. We contracted with a painter we had used on our home to re do the wood. He sanded, stained, poly’d, wire-wooled and poly’d again. The result was spectacular.
To see the before, during and after photos click here.
New chart plotters and AIS; the RX on our AIS failed last year, and one of the buttons on the fly bridge chart plotter stopped working. We replaced the AIS with a Vesper XB-8000 with Wi-Wi and dedicated antenna. We also replaced both the fly bridge and pilot house chart plotters with the latest Garmin 8610 models. We had the chart plotter feeding the Green Marine 17” screen in the pilot house which replicates on the fly bridge.
Anchor and Chain; during
a January trip we lowered the anchor to find rust dust on the deck. So when we
got back to home dock we removed the anchor and the 400 pounds of 3/8 inch
chain and took it up to the galvanizers. Easy to write, but quite a job to get
it off the boat, up from the dock, and into the SUV! The anchor and chain was
hot dipped in zinc and any fused links loosened by hammer. The results were
Cockpit speakers; the original cockpit speakers had seen better days. The rubber inside was falling apart and the metal face plates were rusty. So we replaced them with a pair of Pyle waterproof speakers.
Radar arch downlights;
the original lights had the small two prong halogen bulbs. We find that these
can no longer be replaced as the receiving hole in the fittings are worn too
large to hold the bulbs. So we replaced both downlights with LEDs. While these
are in and working we are not happy with the overall quality of the fittings
and will keep looking for better quality and will likely replace these next
New laptop and GPS
puck; we decided to buy a dedicated lap top for Sonas rather than bringing
the older model we had at home. We also bought a GPS puck which allows us to
use the laptop as a back-up chart plotter should we have to. However the main
use will be in route planning and blogging while on our cruises. We will also
link this to our phone’s hot spot for Wi-Fi.
Canvas work; one of our frustrations as we cruise was having to close the pilot house doors because of bugs. Since Sonas usually sits bow-into the wind this significantly impacted the amount of air movement we get through the boat on balmy Bahamian and Floridian days. So we had our canvas guys install roll-up bug screens on the doors. At the same time we had them make a Sunbrella hatch cover for the fore hatch over the guest bed. This has helped darken that cabin.
Tender updates; our Novurania tender’s seat had seen better days. It was worn and discolored. So we had the canvas guys redo the seat. We also had them put a large zipper on top of the dinghy cover, so that we can now attach the davit wire and put the cover on before we lift the dinghy out of the water. Much safer and easier than walking around the edge of the boat deck. Additionally we cleaned off the old painted-on registration numbers, acetone cleaned the whole boat, painted new bases for the numbers, and replaced them.
Lazarette washing machine; during our Chesapeake trip last year the washing machine starting screeching like a banshee! OK while anchored on our own, but a real annoyance in a busy anchorage. It was either fix it or replace it. We pulled it out and took the back off to look at the belt to find that it was direct drive. Paul did some Google research and found one source of the squeal could be stones in the input filter – the water squeals as the pump pulls it past the partially closed filter. Hoping for the best we took off the hose and pulled out the filter and a number of small calcium stones fell out! We put it all back together and no noise!
Hatch push locks;
we have these black push locks on all of our exterior lockers. About a third of
them were broken or jammed. We found a source for the exact replacement and now
all locks are working!
Lazarette handle; we had a little accident with our lazerette, leaving one of the handles protruding from the side of the hatch and then dropping the hatch. We were able to find the exact replacement.
Portlight chain for
master bath; the strut for the master head port light was not connected
when we bought Sonas. We contacted the manufacturer to find that these are
welded on and the whole window would have to removed and taken to a welder.
Rather than risk compromising the window seal we spoke to the supplier who
suggested a port light chain. We installed this and it works great!
SMXII AC key pads;
we continue to replace these control pads with replacements from Flight
Systems. We initially bought two new pads for non-fully working ones. Since
then we always like to have a couple in the spares inventory, so bought two
PH Door seals;
our purchase survey for Sonas indicated that the pilothouse doors did not have
seals. We weren’t too concerned about this aa we have a Portuguese Bridge
protecting the doors. However we found that the doors did not “dog” fully
because of the lack of seals, and could rattle while underway. Also we felt that
having gaps around the doors would allow little buggies in. So we installed
seals that now have the doors solidly tight.
Engines and generator service; including exhaust tube replacement; Control Master Inc, completed the annual service on the twin Luggers and Northern Lights generator. There was a crack in the semi-flexible exhaust tube outer coating, so they replaced that for us as well.
Hansen Marine Services serviced the AC units, and replaced a faulty reversing
valve solenoid on the master cabin AC.
the camera in the engine room got knocked free and broken. These Swann cameras
were on close out so we bought two, replaced the ER camera and put the other
one into the spares inventory.
Spare tender prop;
While running about the Bahamas we often accidentally bump sand before raising
the engine, and sometime hear the potentially fatal “clunk!” So we decided to
add a spare prop and hub to the inventory.
The older model EarTec headsets were wired to a waist band transmitter. As Sian
moved about the boat and docks the transmitter kept falling off, and eventually
stopped working. The new model are fully contained in the head set so we upgraded
to a pair of the EarTec Ultralites, plus a lanyard for Sian as she moves
Manta Hook; When we anchor we always put the snubber on. Previously we simply shackled the snubber to the chain. We decided to buy a Manta Hook, a specialized snubber attachment which is quicker to deploy and remove, critical if you have to raise the anchor in a hurry. This turned out to be much larger than we thought and we need to work on the process of getting it past the anchor roller to see if this is going to work for us.
Projects coming with us to the Bahamas!
We have a few projects that we haven’t been able to get to
so we are taking what we need to the Bahamas with us and will complete as we
Wood rail poly; I lightly sanded and put two coats on the rails last year. So far this year I lightly sanded and touched up any bare spots, but before I could add another full coat or two the pine pollen arrived. Since I don’t want pine pollen embedded in my bright work I will have to do while on our Exumas trip!
Davit maintenance; We have a new cable and hook for the davit. The current one is serviceable but has little loose strands so time to replace. I also notice little metal pieces under the davit motor so I want to wire wool that, coat with Rustoleum, and finish with a coat of enamel.
Guest head; the
VacuFlush pump for the guest head is directly under the floorboard in the guest
cabin, and can be clearly heard. Not an issue during the day, but can be
annoying when flushed at night. So we have bought a Whisper motor upgrade kit for
the guest head.
When we first got Sonas in 2016 she had white fine mesh covers for the pilot house windows, which allowed in a significant amount of sun. Over time the sun had bleached the finish on a lot of the interior wood. We knew sooner or later we would have to have the wood refinished. At the start of 2018 we asked our yard for some recommendations for people who could do this. One declined the project over the phone, the other came over and looked at the job. She later called and said that it was not something that she was interested in doing. It seems that people would prefer to work on more straightforward pieces of wood – like rails etc.
After the season’s cruising we finally contacted the guy who did all of the interior and exterior of our home when we bought it in 2014. We were very satisfied with his workmanship so decided to see what he thought of this project. Mike came over and checked out the pilot house. He then told us that he would be honored to be trusted to do this work. He told us that his dad used to build wooden boats and they would both finish them. In fact, that is how he got started on his career!
He laid out his plan. Hand sanding to make sure the sanding went with the grain. Then staining with a matching stain, in our case Pecan. Then a first coat of poly, followed by a fine rub with wire wool to take the first coat into the stain. Finally another coat of poly, and a third where necessary. The floors would be last. He would use a horse hair brush for the stain and apply the poly with rags. The estimated time was three to four weeks, it ended up as around five weeks elapsed. Below are the before, during and after photos.
Plus we had our canvas guy make us a new set of lined Sunbrella covers for the pilot house windows!
The joys of being retired! We decided to make an effort to blow away the post-holiday blahs so planned a mid-week run to the nations oldest city Tuesday January 15th through Thursday 17th. We were joined by three other yacht club boats and their crews. Frank and Julie on Escape, Ed and Cindy on Tally II, and Gary and Carol on Dog Days. George and Carolyn drove down and stayed on board Wednesday.
We actually had to leave on Monday afternoon as the tides were wrong for going through the lock and out the channel on Tuesday morning . We just ran a mile south and anchored off the ICW north of the Atlantic Blvd bridge. Next morning, Tuesday we ran south to St Augustine, noticing while passing the Beach Blvd area that some of the liveaboard boats were now sinking. Until about three years ago there were no liveaboards anchored here, now there are ten or so.
Two of the faster club boats passed us just north of the Vilano Bridge.
St Augustine Municipal Marina was hit pretty hard by the 2017 storms but we found the marina totally up and running, with all docks fully repaired after the storms. They have a large crew working on the Bellingham dock’s piping and woodwork. They have upgraded their WIFI network with ten separate SSID transmitters on the docks and transmitters dedicated to the north mooring field and the south mooring field. The office staff were at great pains to point out this WIFI upgrade, and it worked really well with strong signal and speed. They have pump out facilities right at the slips, plus a free mobile pump out tender to the moorings on request weather dependent. They also have a free water tender to the mooring fields – all 365 days a year. They also provide the pump out boat to anchored boat for a modest fee. No pre-payments and cancel at any time! Staff walking the docks 24 hours a day! A municipal marina doing it right. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRrutH8jDcY (By the way they also have this video in French for our northern neighbors!)
We walked the docks and chatted to the other club boats. Then arranged for a pump out as we wanted to start the new year with an empty holding tank, and this should last us now until we head across to the Exumas in March.
On Tuesday evening we hosted everyone on Sonas for a pot luck dinner and drinks. We had brought a folding table in hopes of being able to eat on the dock, but it was too chilly. However there was plenty of room in Sonas’ salon.
Next day, Wednesday we did some small chores and then got together as a group and walked through George street, finally arriving at Prohibition Kitchen for lunch, and were joined by George and Carolyn who were joining us for the night on Sonas. This is a relatively new restaurant with an extensive beer list and simply awesome burgers!
After lunch we all walked over to the Lightner Museum. We had heard that there was a special exhibition of model boats by a St Augustine native, Thomas Rahner. Not a big exhibition, but his detailed work is worth seeing.
That evening we had hoped to eat at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grill, right on the waterfront. They don’t take reservations, but we thought it would not be busy on a January mid-week. Boy were we wrong! Got there to find an hour and a half wait. We waited for a while but even the bar was full, so we headed across the street to the A1A Ale House and got seated right away. Good food and the waitress was excellent.
Thursday morning and more clear skies but chilly temperatures. We were the last boat out as we didn’t need to be back at the channel to the lock until late afternoon. As we cruised back north we saw a number of police, rescue, and FWC boats off to one side. As we slowed down to pass them a Coast Guard helicopter came over. They then proceeded to do what looked like interdiction exercises. The helicopter first went after Ed and Cindy in Tally II ahead of us, chased by the small boats. Then it was our turn, the chopper came to us circled, and then I saw the small boats chasing us using the rear camera. No stops, just exercising.
August 20th. After the run through skinny water yesterday we really wanted to run outside to Georgetown. We looked at the three sources we use for weather and found that it was calling for two to three feet, with swells possible to five. Since it hard to know what impact the swells would have on our ride we decided to head out through the Little River inlet and turn south. We prepared Sonas for sea and headed out behind a shrimper and a number of fishing charters. It was really lumpy through the mouth of the inlet because we had a strong outgoing tide with a southwest wind running across it .
As we were going through that Paul decided to stand up on his seat and have a look at the anchor to make sure it was secured. And it had slipped out a bit (only a foot or two). We clearly hadn’t put the pawl (lock) on it. Sian offered to go onto the bow and fix it but Paul said it was alright , he could use the remote control on the bridge to bring it back in. He pushed the up button and heard more chain running out. Realizing his mistake, being confused by the button indicators, he quick revered and brought the anchor back in. Then he wondered if the anchor had been swinging onto the bow with the wave actions and damaged the gelcoat.
We ran south in really lumpy conditions for a half hour. The GPS indicated that we would be running for another six hours to Georgetown. We decided it was just not worth being uncomfortable for that long and turned around to come back in through the inlet. We then turned south again on the ICW.
We went through Myrtle Beach, which seemed to go on forever, and because it was low tide we again had areas, mainly where there were small inlets into the sea or marshes where there was very skinny water. We had now realized that this was because it had been blowing hard from the south for at least a week and the water had been blown out of the ICW in places. One three mile stretch, ,formally known as Pine Island Cut, but locally known as Rock Pile, is cut out of rocks and the cruising guides quite accurately advise you to keep to the middle, lest you need the services of prop and strut businesses that have grown up nearby!
Also on this stretch we saw some interestingly painted houses and, given the steepness of the backyards wondered how on earth they cut them. Then we saw a gentleman cutting his lawn, with a mower on a rope!
We then hit the Waccamaw River and had a very enjoyable ride through the Waccamaw State Park, with its lush trees and vegetation.
We also saw an individual with one of those “jet packs” driven by a jet ski!
Exiting the park we looked at where we were on the run and decided to tack on another two hours to make our run to Charleston tomorrow a short one. We targeted a couple of anchorages on the Minims River. The one to the West of the ICW had decent reviews on the Waterway Guide so we opted for that. We got to the anchorage and found crab pots all the way up the middle of the anchorage. We picked a spot between two pots and dropped the anchor. We had the wind and tide against each other which pushed Sonas sideways across the anchorage and near the crab pots. After waiting to see if it would sort itself out we finally gave up and went across to the anchorage to the east of the ICW. Here there was little current, wind protection from a stand of trees AND what crab pots there were, were placed along the edge. It turned out to be a very safe and peaceful anchorage.
We awoke today to find that our AC was out in the salon. We usually leave it on at night but raise the temperature to 74. The breaker was also off. Paul reset the breaker but there was still no power coming to the control pad. We had a spare pad so he switch them out and still no power. So this issue must be with the AC unit itself. Paul went below and had a quick look to see if he could find a breaker on the AC unit itself with no success.
Our anchorage was at mile marker 415, and Charleston City Marina was at mile marker 469, so we only had 54 statute miles, or 46 nautical miles to go today. Again we were running along at low tide so had to be very mindful of the depth sounder. We had a few spots where we had to pull back on the throttles and zig-zag a bit until we found better depth, but we made it out into Charleston Sound safely, watching the big ships pass by first, and made our way west of Fort Sumpter and into the Ashley River. On our way down we often saw hardhats and other stuff mailed to markers. We had read somewhere that there were in memorial to someone who worked the waterways and had died. [Though also see comment from David below].
Earlier the Coast Guard had warned us that one of their cutters was doing diving exercises by the Coast Guard station and to pass with caution. The Coast Guard station is right before the marina, so we went to idle as we passed, and saw the divers in the water.
During the morning Paul called the Charleston City Dock and requested an AC tech. We got tied up on the marina’s Mega Dock and checked in. Paul then went into the Charleston City Dock mobile office right on the marina and filled in the order form for the AC Tech. He would be coming to look at the system at 9:00 tomorrow morning.
We called Stella’s Greek restaurant and tried to book a table for this evening but they were fully booked. At 6:30 we got the marina shuttle into the restaurant and took one of their walk-in tables on the back patio. The food and wine were fine, unfortunately there was no breeze on the patio and the single wall fan wasn’t much help, so we were quite hot out there.
Thankfully when we got back to Sonas there was a cool breeze blowing across the cockpit so we were able to sit outside rather than in the stuffy salon.
We had a walking tour booked for today starting at 10:30, so we would have to be away from the marina at 10. We were hoping that the AC tech would be on time and would be able to diagnose the issue in time for us to go on the tour. By 10 the tech still had not showed so we went to the yard office and left the key for them, and we took the marina shuttle to the tour starting place in Washington Park.
The very interesting walking tour lasted two hours and fifteen minutes and covered the original walled city as well as the “new” area down by the harbor. The lady giving the tour was a Charlestonian and her family had been there for over two hundred years. She was very knowledgeable, and seemed to know everyone we passed!
Midway through the tour the yard called and advised us that the AC unit, the capacitor, the evaparator, the compressor and the mother board, was dead. So I sent an email to my Florida mechanic asking if he could send someone over after we get back next week to put in a new one.
We had lunch at Cru, right on the corner of Motely Street, a very popular Charleston lunch spot. Afterwards we walked over to Harris Teeter for some fresh veggies before calling the marina shuttle and going back to Sonas.
When we got back to Sonas we had a bit of a surprise, the salon AC was on and blasting lots of cool air! Paul sent a text to the yard guy saying “OK, you got me!” He replied with a “???” He wasn’t in his office the rest of the afternoon so finally we connected by phone. He was as surprised as we were that the AC was running. His AC tech had told him that is was dead, that he could get it started but because of the amps it was trying to pull and the bad capacitor, it would not restart. He assumed that the tech got it started one more time and left it for us. We told him that we were going out to dinner but would not leave the air running when we not there just in case, We would turn it off at the breaker when we left and then try and restart it when we got back. He told us to let him know what happened
We turned off the AC and got the shuttle into Slightly North Of Broad (SNOB) for dinner.
A little anecdote on SNOB. Many US cities have a rail line running through them. And the cities are divided into the “other side of the track,” meaning there is a good part of the city and a not so good part. Charleston does not have a rail line through the city, but Broad Street does divide the city. It was the case that South of Broad was the “nice” part and North of Broad not so nice. When this restaurant set up it was Slightly North Of Broad – so called itself that, otherwise known as SNOB, to thumb their nose at the South side of Broad!
We had a wonderful meal with Jenna as our waitress. Afterwards we got an Uber back to Sonas.
While Paul went below to watch the faulty AC unit, Sian switched it on at the breaker. And it started up with no issues! It remained on and delivered cool air for the rest of the evening. Paul sent a text to the boat yard manager asking him for a full write up on the issue and what was done to the unit so that our own mechanics can have a good starting point when we get back. For safety reasons we tuned off the unit before bunking down.
In the hope of running outside we again checked our weather sources. It still did not look good, so we opted to stay in the ICW again. We had an easy run south from Charleston, passing Briney Bug in the anchorage (we first saw her in Deltaville on the Chesapeake), through Beaufort (pronounced BEWfort, whereas the NC version is pronounced BOWfort), past Parris Island, which is the boot camp for the US Marines, and towards Hilton Head Island.
Along the way we saw dozens of dolphins, sometimes in large pods. At one stage we had three or four jumping on the starboard side of the boat and at the same time three or four jumping on the port side – quite the escort on our way home. We even had a group playing off the back of Sonas after we anchored! We also noticed that the tidal drop up this way is a lot larger than in the Chesapeake and even in Florida.
We arrived at the anchorage in Skull Creek, Hilton Head around four. Paul had a quick look on Google Maps to see what was around and we saw that there was a ClubCorp country club about a half mile away! Because our own country club is owned by them we get to use the facilities AND get a free entrée due to our membership level! We were sorely tempted to launch the dinghy and go in, but then decided to just relax and enjoy the anchorage since we just had a couple of evenings in Charleston!
After we started the generator Paul went into the lazarette and watched the salon AC unit again as Sian turned it on – it started without issue and ran fine! What the heck is going on?
As Sian was preparing the flybridge to get underway a large shrimper passed us very close! She grabbed a quick photo.
After lifting the anchor this morning Sian turned around with a smile on her face – no mud, we were back in the country of soft sand! We headed south again through Hilton Head and down to the Savannah River. As we approached we could see the huge container ships going both ways on the river. As we got to the ICW-Savannah River intersection we had a ship crossing in front of us going downriver. We held Sonas steady inside the ICW as the big ship passed, before running quickly across and back into the ICW.
We ran through Wilmington Island, Skidaway Island, Ossabaw Island, and then across St Catherine Sound, where the wind was howling and the chop pretty substantial.
Running through St Catherine’s Sound:
After transiting St Catherine Island we were passed by a Tow Boat US boat, who later hailed us on 16 asking for a slow pass around the next corner. When we got there we saw them successfully dragging a sailboat off a shoal. We turned for our anchorage for the night, to see a shrimper had also tucked himself in there waiting the winds to die. We passed them and went a further half mile up the Wahoo River to shelter behind a stand of trees.
One thing worth mentioning is that we passed quite a number of “Slow, No Wake” signs put up by residents or marinas, not the Coast Guard (CG signs have the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) number at the bottom). What was different about these signs was that they referenced the state code about obeying all CG posted signs while not official signs themselves – a cute way of making boaters think that they were official signs! Most of them were so old that they were illegible anyway.
We haven’t had rain for months and Sonas was getting a bit “dusty,” so Paul broke out the boat bucket and hauled in water to swab the decks. Not the perfect job, more of a “lick and a promise” as we say in Ireland!
We are anchored at Mile Marker 630, on the Wahoo River, tomorrow’s stop will be at the anchorage of Cumberland Island, Mile Marker 711. Then by Sunday lunchtime we will complete our journey at home, Mile Marker 742!
We were off again shorthly after 7:00. Headed south across Sapelo Sound, down the Mud River and across Doboys Sound, past Wolf Island and then across Altamaha Sound. This took us to the inside run to the West of St Simons Island, across St Simons Sound, and down through the very skinny water of Jekyll Island. After Jekyll we had to head out into the Atlantic for a bit to pass the shoaling in St Andrew Sound, which took us to Cumberland Island. Even from the ICW side you can see the beauty of this island. It is also a surprisingly long island, taking over 20 miles to pass! We saw a large buoy washed up on the island, probably from a recent hurricane. We also got to watch some of the wild horses grazing.
As we came near the south end of the island we came to a really shallow area where we intersect with the Brickhill River. The markers were really confusing and we slowed to go through. Just as well as we softly bumped the sand. We reversed off and got around the corner. We passed the submarine base at Kings Bay and approached our planed anchorage off Cumberland Island.
It was only three o’clock and we were about three and a half hours from home. It had been an easy enough run today so we decided to carry on. As we crossed Cumberland Sound towards Fernandina we decided to see if they had a tie-up for us where we could go in for dinner and maybe stay there for the night. The city marina there was badly damaged by Hurricane Matthew but we had heard that they had some spaces now open. When we hailed them they informed us that they only had four spaces and only for boats 45 feet and under. So we continued on.
We approached the home port lock at Queen’s Harbour at 7:15 and hailed for a lock in., to be told that there was another boat in the lock and we would have to wait. A two thousand mile round trip, and we had to wait another 20 minutes!!
Well today we left the Chesapeake. Heading South West from Cape Charles we went through the fifteen large cargo ships anchored waiting their turn for Baltimore or Norfolk. As we neared the channel into Hampton Roads we saw a military helicopter off towards the mouth of the Chesapeake lower something into the water and then drag it through the water at speed. This went on for about an hour before the helicopter went off to the naval base where it seemed to drop whatever it was towing. We have no idea what it was doing.
As we crossed into Hampton Roads we stayed to the north of the channel as warship 55 was exiting. After she passed us we crossed the channel and made our way past the Naval Station and down to Norfolk. We backed into our slip at the Waterfront Marina, right downtown.
The last time we were in Norfolk we had tried to get a boat tour of the shipyards and the naval station, but since it was the July Fourth week everything was booked up. So yesterday Paul went on-line and booked us onto the 5:30 tour. Since we were all tied up by one o’clock we went over to the ticket booth and changed our tickets to the two o’clock sailing.
As we waited we visited the Armed Forces Memorial. This very well done memorial consisted of 20 bronze cast letters from service people who fought and died in all the major wars, the Revolutionary through the Gulf War. They were replicated on bronze and placed on the ground as if windblown.
Some of the letters:
We boarded the Victory Rover which took us on a narrated tour of the shipyards and navy base. Each of the ship names and types were indicated along with the cost to build each. We were surprised to learn that most of the non-fighting ships, while owned by the navy, were managed and manned by civilian companies.
This evening we walked over to the Waterside complex and had Cioppino seafood dinners at Stripers.
Today was one of the few days where we were staying in the same location for a couple of days. So we decided to get in some exercise. We put on our walking shoes and walked the Norfolk waterfront and the Freemason district for an hour. We had lunch on board and then headed over to Nautilus.
The Nautilus is part museum, part hands on for young adults and also home of the battleship Wisconsin. The museum was very well done, starting with the history and data on the Port of Virginia and the Norfolk Naval Base. It then covered ships communications and weaponry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), sealife in a small aquarium, plus 3D movies titled Blue Sea and Aircraft Carrier. We then toured the upper decks and deck two of the huge Wisconsin.
The museum also had a special exhibit underway called Shipwreck, with 500 artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, though we chose not to visit this.
Overall a very great value at only $16 – less for us seniors!
We got back to Sonas to tidy ourselves up and then walked the half mile to Freemason Abbey, a restaurant Sian picked up from TripAdvisor. This restaurant is in a refurbished church, with the original interior roofing and some of the original stain glass windows. The food and wine were excellent and economical. Our server Jordan was delightful. A very good meal indeed.
Now it was time to head for home. We got out the charts and cruising guides and laid out our plan for the run inside to Beaufort and then, hopefully, outside to Jacksonville. We had two things we wanted to do along the way. Stop in Wrightsville in enough time to have dinner with cruising buddies John and Suzie Mc Carley, and also stop in Charleston for two nights giving us an evening and full day to enjoy that beautiful city.
Today we aimed to do 61 miles, timing the lock and bridge at Great Bridge, and passing Coinjock to anchor in the North River. We made the Great Bridge Lock at 8:30 which was perfect timing to get through the lock and straight onto the nearby Great Bridge bridge for their 9:00am opening. Just like clockwork.
The next challenge was the Centerville Bridge. It opened on the hour and half hour. Since it was just 3.2 miles away and we had 25 minutes to make it we pulled back on the throttles with the aim of getting there right at the 9:30 opening.
Then a power catamaran popped out of a marina and fell in behind us. As we got to within a mile of the bridge I switched to the bridge channel 13 and advised the bridge tender that we were approaching southbound and would be standing by on channel 13 for their 9:30 opening. He acknowledged.
A minute or two later it got a bit weird!
Catamaran on 13: “Bridge we are the catamaran behind Sonas wanting to pass them to get to your bridge, but we can’t raise Sonas on channel 16, they must not have their radio on.”
Bridge on 13: “Just pass them then.”
Me on 13: “This is Sonas, we had already contacted the bridge and were monitoring the bridge channel 13.”
Catamaran: “Ok, we will come behind you.”
Catamaran a minute later: “Actually Sonas can we pass you on your starboard side?”
Me: “Roger I will move to port to give you room.”
Catamaran: “No sorry, we want to pass you on your port side.”
Me: “Roger I will move to starboard to give you room.”
The catamaran then passes us towards the bridge. We continue at our decreased speed timing the bridge opening.
Catamaran to bridge: “Bridge we are approaching, do we have to wait for Sonas before you will open the bridge?”
Bridge: “I will be opening the bridge in a few minutes.”
Catamaran slows to wait for the 9:30 opening, which by the time the tender drops the road barriers and open the span, is more like 9:33. By which time we go through the bridge right behind the catamaran. I smile broadly at the bridge tender and he smiles back.
And on we went! Some of us smelling the roses, some of us burning the diesel!
We got to the anchorage at the North River at two o’clock so decided to keep on going as the weather was perfect for crossing the Albemarle. We crossed the sound in glassy water and anchored just the other side at mile marker 81 on the Little Alligator River along with three other boats.
Under way at 7:00. We decided to do another 80 miles today, which would get us to anchorage inside Bear Creek just north of the Neuse River. Our plan was to give us a half day run to Cape Fear the next day where we would anchor and have a relaxing beach day.
Our first challenge of the day was getting through the Alligator River Highway Bridge. This is a swing bridge with only a 14 foot clearance when closed. We radioed the bridge tender as we approached. He told us to come on down and he would open it. As we approached he asked us to stand by and they only had one lane of traffic open, and there were men at each end of the bridge releasing traffic in alternative directions. We waited until the traffic flowing eastbound passed by. Then we waited until traffic flowing west bound passed by, then the bridge opened and we were told to continue. Thankfully this was to be the last bridge opening request today and, if we can run outside from Beaufort, the last one of the trip!
We continued south through the Alligator River and arrived at the Alligator and Pungo Canal. This canal is 21 miles long and is probably the most boring part of our trip (as it was on the way up!). We got through the canal without incident, seeing a young deer along the way, transited the Pungo River and across the Pamlico. We arrived at our anchorage at mile marker 161 around 4. We managed to get the anchor down and get below before a lighting storm hit, which passed without causing any issues. It was blowing quite strongly so we laid out one hundred feet of chain just to be on the safe side.
Jacksonville is at ICW mile marker 734 – so only another 573 miles to go!!
Today we aimed to get to the Beaufort Inlet, nip out there and across to the Cape Look Out Bight. Inside the bight there is a great anchorage, well protected from wind from any direction, with wonderful sandy beaches. We could swim and walk the beaches. Then the next day we can pop out from the Bight and head south west on the outside for our next anchorage at Wrightsville Beach.
Well, it didn’t take long for that plan to unravel. By the time we have crossed the Neuse Rived and north of Morehead City the wind was blowing a gale. Paul checked the weather and found that North Carolina was sitting right between a high pressure a low pressure trough, and would likely be so for most of the coming week! We checked the sea conditions and found that the waves were 3-4 feet, building to 4-5 feet tomorrow running from the south west! The boat would be fine, but who wants to spend seven or eight hours pounding straight into five foot waves?
So we decided to stay inside. We grabbed the charts and cruising guide and targeted Swansboro as a good stop for today. We got to Morehead City, turned into the AICW south and continued to Swansboro buffeted by 20 knot winds. We called the town docks and reserved their T-Head, which was open.
We urned into the creek leading into town, and saw that there were two center consoles taking up the T-Head. We held off the T-Head in a strong current (and still strong wind) until a guy sitting in his Ranger Tug saw us. He went off and found the boat owners and got them to quickly move their boats. He then came down to the dock and helped us tie up. When we were all secure Paul went over with a six pack and our thanks. Dave introduced himself and they chatted about the area for a while.
We then went for a walk around the quaint waterfront area of Swansboro. There are a number of unique stores, a candy store, and a café that sells beer and wine making products, craft beers and wine. They also do evening wine tastings.
After cleaning up we left Sonas to go eat at The Ice House. On our way up the dock Dave called us over and introduced us to Michael, who runs a sailboat for hire out of the dock. He does sailing education cruises and sunset cruises.
After dinner we sat on the back cockpit with a glass of wine, later joined by Michael and his “crew” Shannon.
This morning we had to pour over the charts and cruising guide and work out our plan for getting from Swansboro to Wrightsville Beach, out next stop. While it was only 54 miles in distance it was complicated by the fact that there were four low bridges that we had to go through that were restricted to either half hourly opening or hourly openings. We had to time our departure from the marina to meet the first bridge and then the run between each bridge. Another potential complication was that Marine camp Lejeune was also on our route and they could have live fire exercises that would close the ICW to traffic.
Six miles after leaving Swansboro we saw the control tower for Camp Lejeune, and the warning signs. The good news was that there were no exercises planned for today. As we passed through the camp we saw additional warning signs and the results of their previous live fire practices!
Then we started our timed runs through the bridges!
The Onslow Beach Bridge 11 miles away (0nly 12 feet clearance when closed) opened every half hour. So we got under way at 8:15 to make the 9:30 opening. Which we did without issues.
Then it was the Surf City Highway Bridge, 20 miles away (12 feet clearance) which only opened on the hour. We gave ourselves a relaxing two and a half hours to get there, again done without issue for the 12:00 opening.
Now the Figure Eight Island Bridge, 17.5 miles away (20 feet clearance) which opened every half hour. We needed to get there on the half hour because the bridge after that was 4.8 miles away and only opened on the hour, and we only needed a half hour to do that final run. So we gave ourselves two and a half hours to make the Figure Eight and made it with plenty to spare for the 2:30 opening.
Then we had a problem. We hadn’t factored in the fact that it would take five minutes or more for the bridge to open and for us to get through. Meaning we didn’t have a full half hour to do the nearly five miles to the next bridge! AND we got hit with a bit of a head current! We usually cruise at 8 knots (9.2statute miles). If we missed the opening we would have to hang around another hour for the next opening! So we cranked up the RPMs and prayed! At 2:55, when we were about a mile and a half from the bridge Paul called the bridge tender and told him we were a mile out and standing by for the opening. He acknowledged. Four minutes later he called us back and asked us if we would make it as he could not wait! We cranked some more (and maybe went a wee bit too fast through a congested area!). The tender then raised the bridge and called us to tell us that there was a boat coming the other way so by the time he got through we would be fine! In fact he did keep the bridge open for a couple of extra minutes for us to get through, especially since there were a number of smaller boats ahead of us that we had to slow down for! We radioed and thanked him profusely!
On the way through all this we ran aground at the junction of the New River and ICW. This is a three way junction. The inlet coming in, the ICW crossing it, and the river continuing to Jacksonville, North Carolina. There are red buoys going in all directions. The Coast Guard have placed two red can buoys there so that they can move them around with the shoaling. We bumped the nose of our keel aground when our depth sounder was showing eight feet (the transducer is on the middle of the boat) so we were able to back off easily, then in the supposed middle of the ICW channel between the two can buoys we passed one point with only one foot under the keel. With the help of a couple of folks fishing and a passing jet skier we were able to get past the confusion and on our way.
After tying up at the marina we contacted John and Suzie McCarley and told them we had arrived. We arranged to meet for dinner at six and had a nice meal at Bluewater Grill.
One thing we discussed at the end of this day is that we also have tricky areas in the ICW where we live but we move around with confidence because we know the waters and have local knowledge. We watched today as dozens of other boaters flew around us as we worked our way around some very skinny water, and it certainly has brought home to use the immense value of local knowledge.
We decided to stay inside again today as it was still blowing hard. We set off from Wrightsville Beach, southbound on the ICW. Our aim today was to get to the Anchorage on the Little River, just inside the inlet and below Calabash.
The trip along the ICW was uneventful except for the fact that we were running during low tide AND the tide times are later going south so we were following the lowest water as we went along! This really didn’t give us much of an issue except at the intersection of inlets. Every time we got to one of these there was shoaling and we had to go slow and search for the deepest water. It got to be very tedious.
At one inlet intersection we were behind a small trawler who hailed us as we came to the inlet, and asked to switch to a working channel.
“Sonas, this is XYZ ahead of you. If you like we can give you water readings as we go through here?”
Of course we said yes! Then all of a sudden:
“Sonas we are seeing three and a half foot!!!” Then they swerved to starboard.
“Sorry about that Sonas, we mistook the inlet markers as the ICW markers and were cutting the corner. We are fine now!”
Looking at the markers we can certainly understand how they made that mistake and, as Sian said “we’re glad you are leading the way!”
We ended up passing through in 12 feet of water! Soon after passing the inlet intersection we overtook the small trawler.
The rest of the day was uneventful, we saw some sky divers parachuting down to a field beside the ICW, and saw dozens of “Slow, no wake” signs put up on private docks with the requisite red circles, and not one of them legal! We reached the anchorage for an early stop at 2:00. We are checking the weather for tomorrow and it looks like we can finally run outside to Georgetown Inlet to anchor and then afterwards to Charleston.
Before we cast off this morning John and Paul walked over to J M Clayton Company just by the boat. This seafood processing company claims that it is the “World’s Oldest Crab Company” and has been in business through five generations. They bought three pounds of fresh crab meat, one of which went into the freezer as a gift for some friends back home.
We cast off and proceeded back out through the Choptank and into the Bay. We rounded Tilghman Island and into Eastern Bay, and ran the two hours into St Michaels. As we approached our lunch anchorage a sail boat with green canvas passed us going in the opposite direction. Suddenly Paul shouted “hey, look at the name!” And there it was, in Irish script on the side of the boat –Sonas! Paul grabbed the radio: “Sonas, Sonas, Sonas, this is Sonas.” No response. He tried a few times more with no response. So sadly we drifted apart, none the wiser of their story! So if there is anyone in Annapolis who knows them, point them here!
We stopped just short of the town and dropped the anchor for lunch and a swim. Our plan was to go inside to the anchorage in the town. But as we approached we found three other boats already there in tight anchorage, so went back out to the open anchorage just outside of town.
We launched he dinghy and went in for a walk through the town. It is quite a lively town with lots of art galleries and stores. We bought a souvenir Christmas Tree ornament and had some ice cream to help with the day’s heat – which was a “feels like” 97 degrees! We also found the small grocery store and bought a fresh lettuce!
However a nice cooler breeze came through the anchorage in the evening so we grilled the dinner and ate on the fly bridge watching the sail boats taking sunset cruises on the Miles River.
Later that evening we were surrounded by electrical storms that passed around us but did present us with some magnificent dark skies and forked lightning!
We woke this morning to a boat covered in small flies! So much so that we could not use the back door but had to go out and in the side pilothouse door. The number of flies got progressively worse as the day went on, and the number of spider webs appearing to snag them increased as well! We also noticed little green spots appearing on the fiberglass. We will be tying up alongside tomorrow night in Rock Hall so will get to work with the hose and soapy water.
After a lazy morning swimming and reading in the sun we went ashore. We had lunch at the Carpenter Street Saloon before walking down to the St Michaels winery for some afternoon wine tasting. We found the wines there to be very acidic so did not buy any bottles. We considered paying a visit to the Maritime Museum but were driven back to the boat by the heat.
Returning to Sonas we all had a nap to allow the wine to wear off!! Then we made good use of the crab that we bought making crab spaghetti with lemon gremolata.
Paul was interested in taking a direct route to Rock Hall via the Kent Narrows. Last night he had used both the charts and the GPS to look at the depth through the channel, and it looked pretty shallow. He went on to the Trawler Forum and asked for local knowledge and received a good deal of input – in summary, due to the skinny water through the Narrows, it suggested taking the time to go back out through the East Bay and take the long way around. Which is what we did.
We went North past the large ships waiting their turn for Baltimore, then raced a tug and barge to the Chesapeake Bay bridge (until Sian told Paul to slow down and let the tug win!).
Immediately past the bridge we made the turn to the North East and the channel into Rock Hall. First we went past the entrance to Rock Hall and entered Swan Creek to anchor for lunch and a cooling swim. As we turned the corner into the creek we were surprised by the number of large marinas back in there. After lunch we backtracked and entered Rock Hall harbor. There are two way to get across the harbor. Around the well-marked edge of the harbor, or straight across. Paul had received some local knowledge from the Trawler Forum advising us to go around the edge as the cut across only had a starting and ending markers and was very shallow out of the channel. We passed the blow up Waterman at the harbor entrance and got to our T-Head dock at the Waterman’s Crab House, and found that we had no power pedestal! We walked over to the restaurant and found the general manager, Ken, busy getting bushels of crabs ready for the evening dinner crowd. He pointed us to the only slip that had a 50 amp power. So we backed Sonas down to slip number 5 and we tied up stern onto the bar and restaurant – about five steps away!
John and Anne Marie went for a walk into town but found most placed closed by five. They had an ice cream as a reward!
We had originally planned to grill some steaks on the boat deck, but as the breeze was blowing towards the restaurant we thought it a bit cheeky having the smell of privately grilling steaks waft over the guests there! So we decided on dinner at the restaurant where we had the crab pots; crabs, mussels, clams, potato, and sweet corn, with the requisite brown paper table cloths. Our waitress Tiffany showed us how to professionally clean the crabs, and Ken, the general manager, came and sat with us for a chat. Overall one of the great evenings of our trip.
This morning we ran back out the Rock Hall channel and then across to the northern extension to the Brewerton Channel towards Baltimore. We passed through the Baltimore docks and entered the inner channel, slowing to 6 miles per hour as per the signs downtown. We found the Harbor East Marina and were directed to slip A10. We had a little bump on the way into the slip as the slips have long fingers on both sides and are only 18 feet wide –and Sonas is 15.5 feet wide!
We would describe the marina as nothing short of magnificent. It is a brand new marina that has only been open for a month. The walkways are very wide and safe, they had slip-side pump outs, and best of all it is right downtown beside Piers 4 and 5. There were Adirondack chairs and tables spread among the slips for our use.
After checking in we went to visit a couple of the Historic Ships. First the WWII submarine Torsk, which sank the last enemy ship of the war. Then we went on the tall ship USS Constellation. We thought two was enough so did not visit the Coast Guard cutter (last surviving ship from Pearl Harbour) and a lightship. It was getting very hot again so we paid a visit to the Tir na Nog Irish bar afterwards John and Anne Marie did some more sightseeing while we went to Fresh Market for some groceries.
That evening we grilled our steaks and set up one of the tables on the dock. We ate and drank wine under the lights of downtown Baltimore. Stephen Bisciotti’s Winning Drive mega yacht was docked next to us as the Ravens had a pre-season game tonight. We chatted and watched the river traffic until late, before bunking down, the final comment from John; “this is the best marina I have ever been to!”
For some reason Paul woke up this morning and fancied a breakfast out. He Googled breakfast places and lo and behold found an Irish Pub, The Slainte, only a fifteen minute walk away, AND they did a full Irish breakfast! So we walked over to the Fells Point area and walked through the cobbled streets of the old port district to the pub. As promised Paul had his breakfast of bangers (sausages), egg, mushrooms, bacon, baked beans, black pudding and white pudding, topped with toast! The rest of us had a more modest fare, though John and Anne Marie did start their day off with large Mimosas!
Back on Sonas John and Anne Marie finished their packing. They booked an Uber for one o’clock and we saw them off to Philadelphia airport. We left the marina and “made the turn”, beginning our journey south towards home port. We promised ourselves that we were going to take it slow and continue with short days, rather than long days in a rush to get home. We went under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, past the Severn River and Annapolis and entered the Rhode River. We anchored inside the river by the large marinas in there, as dozens of sailboats passed us on their Friday evening sails.
Looking at the charts and cruising guide we saw that there were no good anchorages on the Western Bay between Rhode Island and the Solomons/Potomac River area. Plus we were aiming to get to Cape Charles tomorrow, so decided to put in a longer day today to make tomorrow a short run, getting us to Cape Charles early in the day to visit the town. We set the course for the Great Wicomico River and the protected anchorage on Cockrell Creek. The day stared much cooler than it had been, though thunderstorms were forecast for later in the day.
We made the anchorage in about eight hours. Along the way we booked our slip at Cape Charles and also booked two nights in Norfolk, the next stop.
As we turned into our anchorage we saw the large north Atlantic Menhaden fleet tied up just north of us at Reedsville. Menhaden are an oily fish that are harvested for their Omega 3 oil.
We headed south east to Cape Charles. The day started out cloudy and cool, which was a welcome relief after the recent very hot days. Our GPS showed that we would be at the channel for Cape Charles at 12:30. It was a short four hour run. As we neared noon the breeze died away and it got hot and steamy again. Then just as we passed off shore Cape Charles we were hit by a swarm of little black no-seeums. They flooded the fly bridge and were a ticklish nuisance. We were glad when we hit the channel and turned back north into whatever breeze there was and the flies got blown away.
We pulled into the fuel dock at the City Dock and topped up with enough three dollar diesel to see us all the way back home to Jacksonville. We also pumped out the holding tank. Then we went over and tied up at the Dock B T-head. We had a cold beer and a nap before taking a walk into the small quaint town of Cape Charles. Paul got an ice cream at Tim’s Convenience Store and Sian got some milk and lettuce!
This evening we went up to the restaurant by the marina, Shanty, for dinner. But found that there was a one hour wait. So we walked across to the town and had a good crabcake dinner in the Gingernut Irish Pub.
Today was to be our last full day in DC. Paschal and Margaret were aiming for the American History Museum and then the monuments and memorials on the Mall. The four of us on the boat set off for a walking tour of the Capitol Building. We watched a movie about the history of the Capitol and the process followed to decide the political structure of the country. We then visited the Crypt, the Rotunda and the hall of statues. After lunch at the Capitol we took the tunnel connecting the Capitol to the Library of Congress. We had a look at the Guttenberg Bible, the Reading Room overlook before walking back down the mall. We returned to Sonas where John and Anne Marie packed, leaving Sonas the next day for a few days on the beach at Ocean City MD.
Later that afternoon Ocean Dancer, an Ocean Yacht 48, pulled into the T-Head behind us. Paul went out to say hello and found out that we had previously spoken to the owners on the radio while in the Exumas last year! We swapped cards and, since Bill and KelliRae would be following us to our other destinations, we hope to catch up later.
This evening we all met up and took an Uber to Chinatown and had dinner at Reren. This was one of the top picks on TripAdvisor and the food was excellent, though one or two of us (well really only one of us) didn’t realize that bean curd was tofu and got a shock when it was delivered!! We were eating family style so it really didn’t matter!
First thing we put on our backpacks and walked the half mile to Safeway and reprovisioned with milk, veggies, fruit, bread and necessities. Then we said goodbye for now to John and Anne Marie and hello to Paschal and Margaret who were coming on board for a four day trip to Annapolis. John and Anne Marie were renting a car for a few days and then meeting us in Annapolis.
We headed back down the Potomac, keeping a close watch for flood debris. Surprisingly we saw very little. Our target anchorage was Chapel Point on the Tobacco River and we pulled in and were anchored by mid-afternoon. Sian and Paschal went for a swim and we had a blissfully quiet night in the anchorage.
We were out of the Chapel Point anchorage by eight as we wanted to get to our next anchorage off Historic St Mary’s in time to go ashore and visit the old city, parts of which have been restored. Again it was an uneventful trip, with no sign of any debris, although the coast guard came on regularly to warn of debris in both the Potomac and Chesapeake.
We dropped anchor off St Mary’s around one thirty. We launched the dinghy and went ashore to walk up the historic village. Since it was closing at four we got reduced admission. We quickly headed down to the dock and went on board the Maryland Dove – a recreated 17th century sailing vessel. We took the tour below and above decks and chatted with the reenactor. We then headed off to the Indian village and then the chapel. This was all we had time for before the historical village closed for the day. Definitely a worthwhile stop, if you can fit it in.
Back on Sonas Paul decided to have a look at the guest head which had been leaking a little previously but had gotten much worse in the last couple of days. He dismantled the Vacuflush commode and identified the issue. He replaced the vacuum breaker but then struggled to get the head back together again – in the end requiring three pairs of hands to hold all the parts together while he tightened everything. So far so good and the toilet is now behaving!
The anchorage at St Mary’s is very well protected from any wind from the south, and we awoke to a light wind. When we turned the point to leave the anchor we found an eighteen knot wind on our bow. It was from the south so was quite warm. We got to the Potomac and headed east towards Point Look Out. As we were leaving Mary’s River a blue hulled Kady Krogen was behind us. As Invictus passed us on the Chesapeake we realized that we had shared a marina in the Abacos in the spring. We radioed them and had a pleasant chat about the Abacos, where they been and where they were going.
We arrived at our overnight stop at Harbor Island Marina in Solomons and hailed the dock, with no luck. Another boater advised us to call on the phone instead, which we did, still with no luck. We continued to radio and call until we stood off the marina. Still no answer. So we tied up at the long fuel dock. About a half hour later a dockhand came along and moved us further along the fuel dock for the night.
AND… the guest toilet got plugged up. So while Paschal and Margaret went for coffee and Key Lime Pie, Paul got busy with the plunger and got it freed up.
This evening we went to the Lighthouse Grill for an excellent seafood meal.
We tried to sneak off the dock without using the bow thruster this morning so as to let Paschal and Margaret stay in bed. However once they heard the engines start they got up to help us set off! We went back out into the Bay and set a course to Thomas Point, just off Annapolis. The GPS showed that it was 35KM away. Our course took us diagonally across the bay which curves from a north west direction to a north east direction. So we headed towards the east bank and then back gain to the west bank! We passed a few barges and bulk carriers on our way. We also were passed by three beautiful restored 1920s Chesapeake Oyster skips.
Once at our mark Paul took Sonas into the river. We were surprised at the number of crab pots and clam lines that were strung across the river entrance, given that Annapolis is such a busy river. As we went further in Paul realized that there was not a city ahead of us. Slowing Sonas and checking the paper charts he realized that we had turned directly east before Thomas Point and entered the South River. We needed to go past Thomas Point light and then turn to the north wast to enter the Severn River. That explained all the crab and clam lines we saw!
We backed out and went around Thomas Point light and past the big ships that were waiting there for their turn into Baltimore. As we made the turn for the Severn River we saw plenty of boating. Entering Annapolis we had to made our way slowly past three different sets of children in small racing dinghies, followed by the well laid out mooring field. We then called Yacht Harbor Company for our slip assignment and were assigned the 104 foot long slip number five.
After tying up Paul arranged an Uber for Sian and Margaret to go to the supermarket while he checked in. By the time they got back John and Anne Marie had rejoined us and we took a walk through town, and had dinner at Red Red Wine. After dinner we walked over to the Naval Academy to find where we were starting our walking tour, planned for the next morning.
John and Anne Marie brought their luggage from their hotel as Paschal and Margaret were leaving us today to fly back to Ireland. We then went over to the US Naval Academy and took a guided walking tour of the impressive facility. We heard about how the 4500 midshipmen are selected, go through Plebe Summer, and later shed their dixie cup hats and move to third class midshipmen. We saw their training facilities, the dorm, Memorial Hall, chapel, and heard about the various traditions.
After lunch on board Paschal and Margaret bade farewell and caught an Uber to Dulles. Just before they left some old friends of ours from Yardley PA, Jim and Eve, who had run their sailboat down from the Bohemia River, came to visit.
We went to Saturday mass at the beautiful St Mary’s church before the four of us who were left had a light dinner at Harvest.
We left our slip and went over to the fuel dock and pumped out the holding tank, then set out for our next stop of Cambridge, Southbound on the Eastern shore. There was not a breath of wind and water of glass. We made very good time so decided to go into the very pleasant Lecompte Bay, drop the anchor and have lunch and a swim.
We then continued into Cambridge. We read on the cruising guide that we could tie up at a bulkhead wall in front of the county building. This was easy to find and there were no boats there when we arrived, so tying up was simple. The cleats on the wall are quite small and in need of repair so would be suspect in a blow. Also there are no power pedestals there so we turned on the generator.
We walked through the small downtown and, due to the heat, we were the only people on foot, meeting no one else on our walk. We discovered that Cambridge was a key stopping point on the Underground Railway.
We were so hot that we decided to stop in at the RAR microbrewery for a beer. Afterwards we walked through the graveyard of the Grace Episcopal Church, which was previously one of the original Church of England churches set up by King William and Queen Mary in 1693. Buried here are five Maryland governors with graves dating from 1674, including many revolutionary war dead.
We then decided we were still a bit hot so walked past Sonas to Snappers restaurant and Tiki Bar for another round!
Meanwhile, back on Sonas, Sian had a joint of lamb cooking in the slow cooker and when we got back we added roast potatoes, asparagus, and some onion and mushroom gravy to it for a great meal back on board.
Today our planned anchorage is at Mattawoman Creek. Before we left Paul went on line and checked the chart. He got confused when the whole creek showed depths of only 2-3 feet. So he looked at the paper charts and saw 7-8 feet. After some more investigation we found that there are two Mattawoman creeks, one off the Potomac (our planned stop) and one off the Chesapeake Bay proper! It took us under three hours to make the anchorage, again passing through debris fields of serious sized pieces, some large tree trunks and pieces of dock.
We slowly went into the anchorage a hundred yards off the shore which gave us nice protection from the southerly wind, though it stayed a light breeze most of the night. After anchoring we saw signs along the north bank telling us that it was a restricted area. It had a number of objects laid along the shoreline. After it got dark we saw that these were large bright lights pointed upwards. We have no idea what that place was so will do some research later.
Today was without doubt the most stressful of our cruise so far. Maybe even the most stressful since we got Sonas!
Our plan was to run the three hours to Alexandria, tie up at the city dock there, and have a walk around and dinner. Then tomorrow head for the Capital Yacht Club right downtown for a six day stay.
We left the anchorage and immediately started seeing more and more debris fields. Again some pieces were very large. We pulled back on the throttles and took our time keeping a close watch on the water. As we got to the final bend before seeing the Alexandria Bridge Paul saw a huge piece of tree right on our bow. It had a grey bark and had been well hidden by the water. He immediately threw the helm over and took the tree down our starboard side. When it got half way down the hull he threw the helm the other way to try and spin the stern of the boat away from the tree. As we waited for what seemed an age but was only a second or two we heard and felt a number of quick crunches, then the tree passed behind us. Paul slowed down the boat and went below to check everything out. Thankfully all seemed fine. He then slowly increased the engine revs listening and feeling for any vibration, fortunately there was none. He moved the helm and the rudders responded as they should with no vibration. We believe the tree had branches and one was low enough that the prop cut it, but was fine enough not to do any damage. Making the turn towards Alexandria Paul went to cruise speed for a while and all was good.
As we went under the Alexandria Bridge we hailed them for our docking assignment. They assigned us a T-Head. As we approached we saw that the T-Head was only about 25 feet long, requiring us to also tie up both bow and stern to remote piles. The second issue was that the dock was absolutely full of debris, including large pieces. We slowing went in, pushing the debris to one side. The wind was pushing us on to the dock, which usually is a help. This time however, because of the small dock length and we could only tie to one pile at a time, or stern was pushed around a pile. We decided to leave the dock and go back out and come in again. When we left the dock we decided that it generally was not a suitable dock and the debris field was worrying so we radioed them and told them we were going to look for somewhere else.
Sian then called the Capital Yacht Club to see if we could come in a day early. No one answered the phone so she left a message. She kept trying with no luck. It was 11:30 so we assumed they had gone to lunch.
None of the three marinas in downtown sell fuel and we weren’t sure that they had holding tank pump out facilities. So we popped into James Creek Marina and took a pump out, and topped up with a small amount of fuel. We didn’t really need the fuel but since we were there anyway for the pump out we took advantage to save time later on.
Meanwhile Sian kept trying CYC. Still no answer. When we left James Creek we then tried them on the VHF. Still no response from the dockmaster. We slowly cruised down to The Wharf and stopped right off the marina, calling and radioing. Still no answer. There is a small anchorage just south of the marinas so we decided to anchor there until we could get in touch with them. No sooner had we put the anchor down than they answered the phone and confirmed that they had space for us. We lifted the anchor and tied up at the T-Head on dock A, within view of The Washington Monument.
We checked in and were given a tour of the private yacht club facilities and electronic key cards. The club was founded in 1872 but had just moved into these brand new first class facilities last October.
After tidying up we walked along the Wharf District. We had friends coming in tomorrow night to have dinner so we were scouting out somewhere to eat. We went into the Anchor, a ships store, and saw that they had a selection of wine. Since they deliver to boats we ordered some wine which would be delivered on Thursday. We then had a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Later that night we had dinner at Hank’s Oyster Bar, before settling in for the evening.
After breakfast we walked the half mile to Safeway supermarket for some supplies. Because we had bought some heavy things like bottles of milk and vinegar we grabbed an Uber back. After putting away the purchases we walked over to CVS as Paul wanted to replace our small flashlight. As we checked out Sian looked at the name tag of the manager who was checking us out and thought she recognized it.
“Did you use to live in Yardley PA?”
Yes, this young lady was friends with our daughter when we lived there and we were friends with her parents. We hadn’t seen them in at least eighteen years! What a coincidence, especially since she told us she had just moved to DC a week ago. So Paul took a photo of Sian and Emily and sent it to Claire and asked her if she knew who this was – about a minute later she came back with her name! They were 11 when they were last saw each other!
We had lunch at Taylor Gourmet before heading back to Sonas. Paul wanted to give the boat a soapy wash and scrub to get rid of some of the mud from the anchor area on the foredeck and wash away all of the salt and dirt that had gathered on the boat on our run up. We then got ourselves tidied up as we were having an early dinner with friends.
Chris and Paul worked together at Johnson & Johnson and Chris had retired from the company one year earlier than Paul. He was spending some time in Baltimore so suggested that we get together for a tour of Sonas and an early dinner. He and his wife Nancy arrived and took the brief tour of the boat and then we set off for dinner at Landini Brothers in Old Town Alexandria. We had a delicious Italian dinner while the rain poured outside yet again. It was so heavy that at one stage all of the cell phones in the restaurant went off with a local flash flood warning. Afterwards Chris and Nancy dropped us off at our marina where we ran through the steady downpour to the boat!
We decided to try and get some exercise in this morning. So after breakfast we walked towards the National Mall, planning to briskly walk a half hour out then back. As we walked in the warmth of the bright sunshine we saw lot of ladies in light sun dresses. Sian regretted not packing any as they would have been perfect for this upcoming hot days in DC. So we Google mapped some stores and off we went to do some dress shopping!
After a successful shop we had lunch at Kilwin’s Irish Pub then swung by the Anchor ship store to ask about our wine order. It had just been delivered to the store and they would soon be delivering it to the boat, and sure enough fifteen minutes later it arrives dockside.
After storing the wine we went up to the wharf and has a drink at Kilwin’s where we could watch the yacht club building. We have family joining us for the next few days. John and Anne Marie arrived by train at Union Station We needed to meet them to get them access through the secured gate. They arrived and after hugs they joined us for a drink before stowing their luggage on Sonas.
Afterwards we grabbed an Uber and went for an evening walk on the National Mall. We had the Uber drop us off at the Air and Space Museum around seven. It was closing at seven thirty so we just walked through from the rear entrance through the lobby, briefly showing John and Anne Marie what was there, and then immediately exited the front entrance. We walked down the Mall to the World War II memorial and then caught another Uber back to the boat, where we had dinner on board.
Today would be our first full day as tourists! We grabbed the free bus that runs from the District Wharf to the Mall, then walked across to the National Archives. We waited until it opened at ten and then visited the Rotunda to see originals of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the Constitution. We also went through the Freedom and Vietnam exhibits there. Heading towards the Air and Space Museum we grabbed lunch at Quiznos before all four of us took in the Journey to the Stars IMAX movie. We then split up, with the ladies going off to the Newseum, the story of journalism and the reporting of major world events, while the boys stayed for hours at the air and space museum. Meeting back at Sonas we got cleaned up, had a cocktail on board before having an Asian dinner at Kaliwa on the Wharf.
A second brother and sister-in-law, Paschal and Margaret, had arrived late afternoon from Ireland. It took them over two hours to get through immigration, and then an hour and a half to get into the city from Dulles airport due to heavy traffic. They checked into their hotel and later in the evening Paschal came down to visit and lay out our tourist plan for the next day.
John and Anne Marie set off for the Newseum, while Paul bought six tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus that does the circuit of DC. We had to go up to Union Station to convert the E-Tickets to boarding stickers, so we all met up there for lunch at ROTI Mediterranean, and to join the next bus. We took the narrated tour by the Capitol Building and along the south side of the National Mall. We got off at Arlington National Cemetery and transferred to the tour trolley that would take us around the cemetery. We visited the Kennedy eternal flame and then got off at the amphitheater to watch the emotional changing of the guard at the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier.
Changing Of The Guard at The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier
We returned to the transit center at the Lincoln Memorial and grabbed an Uber back to the Wharf. After relaxing and a couple of cocktails we headed off to The Pearl Street Warehouse as we had tickets to see a young female country trio Maybe April. We had bar food at the venue and were out of there and back to the boat by 10:30.
Today Paschal and Margaret headed for The American Indian Museum, The Air and Space Museum and The Sculpture Garden. The rest of us walked over to the White House Visitor’s Center, which was very well done, before taking some photos in front of the iconic building itself. We then walked over to the World War II Memorial, and along the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam War Memorial. Following that we walked up the steps into the Lincoln Memorial, finishing at the Korean War Memorial.
We then split up with John and Anne Marie off to do some shopping while we headed back to Sonas for a well deserved nap.
For this evening we had reserved a table at the upscale Del Mar restaurant right at the Wharf. We had a delicious Spanish meal with lots of Paella before night caps on Sonas.
As soon as the post office opened in Onancock today we were there to send off our passports to get visas for a trip we are doing in October. We couldn’t do this before we left home as the visas are only valid for 90 days and doing it then then would have been too early. Afterwards we walked to Ker Place, a mansion and grounds preserved by the Eastern Virginia Historical Society. The house itself was not open on a Monday but we were able to walk around the gardens and the large fishing canoe that they are restoring.
We returned to Sonas, lifted the dinghy, and headed back to the Chesapeake Bay and towards Tangier Island. As we went down the river we saw some beautiful houses with even more beautiful views!
Tangier Island is from a time past. Rather than us trying to describe it clicko HERE to read about the history of the island and the threat to its future.
We ran at 1400 RPM and around six knots as it was only 17 miles from Onancock. We also wanted to get there at a minimum of a rising mid-tide as the channel is quite shallow. We pulled into the eastern channel around 1:15 and slowly passed the watermen “shantytown” on stilts, with crabbers unloading their catch.
We tried calling Parks Marina multiple time to no avail. We like to call early enough that Sian had time to get the lines and fenders ready on the correct side. We didn’t get an answer until we were right on top of the marina. Then he answered and told us he was in the house and would be right out. Mr. Parks, about 80 years old, soon appeared. He then spoke animatedly into his handheld radio but we heard nothing. Paul signaled that he wasn’t coming through so we then shouted at each other, enough to work out that we were taking the T-head. We also needed to tie the bow to a pile out in front of the bulkhead. Since we had not been made aware of the tie-up we had no line ready and Sian scrambled to get a loop made and the line around the pile. It took a while but we were soon tied and double tied to the bulkhead.
Paul paid Mr. Parks in cash – $70 ($30 per night for the boat and $5 per night for the power)! This is a pretty inexpensive place!
After ensuring ourselves that Sonas was well secured we started to head into town. On the dock we met John, an Englishman from Norfolk – the one in England. He lives over in Crisfield but comes to the island to help out once a week. He gave us an overview and then told us that there was a crab festival in Crisfield on Wednesday that we would enjoy.
We walked up the main street of Tangier and read the many historical signs. We visited their small but very well done museum, and called into a couple of little one room stores. We bought a postcard and a Christmas ornament. Everyone we met along the way were happy to chat.
We had been given a recommendation to try the stuffed flounder at the Fisherman’s Corner restaurant. Walking past just after four we saw that it closed at six. So we stopped in to ask is that meant last food orders at six, or out the door at six. They told us, because the ferries had not brought many tourists over today, they were just about to close! We also discovered that the island is dry, so no beer or wine with dinner! The only other restaurant right across the corner already had a closed sign up!
So we planned on eating on board this evening. We then watched as a neatly dressed couple left their boat, which was tied up beside us, and headed into town looking like they were off to dinner! So Paul took a walk in and found the other restaurant now open. He went in and found that they were serving until nine. We got cleaned up and off we went to Lorraine’s for dinner. There we bumped into another John, from Leister in England this time, who we had previously spoke with over in Onancock. He was cruising around alone in his cuddy cabin boat. He had his food delivered to our table and joined us for dinner.
Plan was to spend a very relaxing day here at Tangier Island. We walked the marsh side of the island past some splendid houses, but also past some very low lying areas of the island where both the houses and the golf carts needed to be stored on elevations because the high tides came in across the properties. Even the school playing field was tidal!
We visited the lovely Methodist Church, wondered at the gravestones that people had in their front yards (because they needed to be buried in elevated areas that would not be flooded), waved and chatted to everyone we passed.
We went in to Fisherman’s Corner for lunch – Crab Cake salad and Crab bites no less! Then back to Sonas for some light maintenance . We then spent a relaxing afternoon reading on board. During the afternoon a Kady Krogen 52, Kay Dee Anna, came down the channel. Knowing the challenge they would have contact Mr. Parks, Paul turned in the radio and we helped them connect with Mr. Parks – which included Paul shouting to him and Sian telling him that he wasn’t on the right channel on his handheld VHF radio. We got onto the dock and helped them tie up.
Also during the afternoon some sail boats crewed by boy scouts came in looking to tie up. They hung about off the marina trying to raise Mr. Parks. At one stage one of the sailboats ran aground over by the crab shacks and had to be towed off by some watermen. They eventually gave up and went off somewhere else.
We planned to leave today after breakfast. We noticed a golf cart with some scouts on board watching us. When we started the engines they came up and asked if we needed some help. They were waiting to move into our spot on the dock. Which we were getting ready to go the folks on Kay Dee Anna told us that Mr Parks had a bad fall off the little scooter that he rides up and down the dock. His foot had been in a cast and his hands bandaged up and he was likely going back to the mainland with his daughter. He had earlier told us that he had just recovered from a broken hip bone. We suspect that the old marina will not be around much longer.
We headed back out into Tangier Sound and followed the chart heading towards Crisfield. Suddenly we were running out of water, not indicated on the chart. There was a shoal off to our port which we suspected had spread. So we headed further away from the shoal and the depth improved.
We ran along the outside of a number of crab pot lines, eventually having to nip between a line of pots to make the Chrisfield channel. We backed into slip G3 at the Somers Cove Marina. After checking in we walked past the thousands of people attending the crab and clam bake. We decided at $50 a head, we wouldn’t go there for lunch. We walked up Main Street and noticed a lot of the building were empty, and those that did contain a business were not in great condition. The overall impression we got is that this is a town in serious decline. Even the marina, with 450 slips, was only about 20% occupied. We finally stopped off at Capn. Tyler’s Crab House and had a nice, what else, CRAB CAKE lunch!
Returning to Sonas we did some small chores and then spent the afternoon and evening relaxing on the back deck. There were a couple of transient boaters in the slips around us and we chatted to one owner who owned a boat dealership.
Paul went up to the main dock to drop off some recycling and while he was away a gentleman from a nearly boat knocked on Sonas and asked if he was around. He told Sian that he knew Paul from the Trawler Forum. So when Paul got back he went over to his boat and Ted and he had a good chin-wag! We then cast off and went over to the fuel dock to pump out our holding tank. We have a holding tank monitor and it had just gone to two thirds full. We had another week to go until our next marina in DC, so we decided to pump out today rather than take the risk of it filling up.
We then headed out and across Kedges Channel towards the mouth of the Potomac River. We passed the rusted out remains of the Hannibal, which was scuttled on a sand bar near Smith Island and is used for firing practice by US Air Force jets and helicopters.
We entered the Potomac and turned into St Mary’s River, going all the way up to anchor off the Historic City of St Mary’s along with a half dozen other boats. Once the capital of Maryland before it was moved to Annapolis, it is now a historic site with some restored buildings and a lot of archeological sites. St Mary’s College is also there, and there were a number of school racing dinghies practicing with their coach when we got to the anchorage. When we looked up the college on the Web we found that they do a concert series and the next one is tomorrow night. We were planning on heading out tomorrow but decided to stay and attend the concert.
Our dinghy had a leak. We first noticed this in the Abacos earlier in the year and had put up with it by pumping it up on a daily basis. We decided it was time to find the leak and fix it. We raised the dinghy and turned it in the boat deck so we could wipe the hypalon tubes with soapy water. The resultant bubbles told us where the leak was – and it was a long scratch along the bottom of one tube – probably from a Bahamian Beach! We cut pieces of hypalon repair patches to match the scratch and put on two layers of glue. We will know within 24 hours if we have fixed the issue. [Update: no, still leaking. We will have to have another go at fixing this later].
By the time we got up this morning the majority of the other boats had left the anchorage. We got going on some more boat chores. Paul tightened some head bolts, got the transfer pump primed and transferred fuel, and cleaned out the forward bilge. Sian cleaned windows, and added vinegar to all of the shower and AC drains to keep them clear. Then she made the boat smell delicious by baking a loaf of bread!
After chores we lounged on the back deck reading until it was time to launch the dinghy and go to the concert. We got to the College green and bought some dinner from one of the numerous food trucks. The concert was billed as classical music with Dancing Under The Stars. Unfortunately the bright sun was setting right behind the stage and it was hard to see unless you had something to shade your eyes. After about twenty minutes of sitting on our blanket with the orchestra playing pieces of Swan Lake, we decided this was not our cup of tea, so headed back to Sonas.
The forecast called for serious gale-force winds and rain all day today beginning late morning. So we were off the anchorage shortly after seven.
Since we arrived on the Chesapeake we find that every time we lift the anchor it brings up loads of mud, which ends up covering the deck. Sian now lays out a hose and cleans the chain and anchor as it comes up.
We retraced our path back to the Potomac and turned northwest past Piney Point and towards Breton Bay. Not one other vessel of any size passed us, and none appeared on the radar. We followed the bay north to Leonardtown and anchored close by the high banks there which would give us solid protection against any wind. We laid down plenty of chain and added the snubber.
It did rain all day and into the night, sometimes very heavily, however we felt nothing of the wind due to our protected spot. The forecast had called for potentially over two inches of rain today. We took the time to do a couple of small boat chores, of which there always seems to be plenty! We watched a movie – Sweet Home Alabama and read as the rain hammered down.
We woke to calm winds and blue sky, but with another nasty weather forecast for this afternoon. We got underway quickly and headed out to the Potomac. We again headed north toward Tobacco River and our next anchorage. Suddenly we were in the middle of a debris field, with hundreds of pieces of wood, some a decent size. We slowed down and navigated our way through it.
We went under the Route 301 bridge and headed for Tobacco River on the Maryland side of the Potomac. As we approached the mouth of the river we saw that the anchorage was exposed to the Southeast – and that was where the wind was coming from. So we quickly looked at the charts and saw a potential good anchorage just ahead on the Virginia side, behind Mathais Point Neck. During the trip we also saw some houses up on the high banks, with some innovative ways of getting to their boat docks.
We pulled in there as far as we could before we reached the huge crab pot field. As we were anchoring we listened as a boat just ahead of us on the river put out a Securite call on the VHF warning all boaters that there was another significant debris field at his location “with pieces of wood large enough to damage a boat!”
After getting the anchor down we used the Internet to find that counties up river had over five inches of rain yesterday with flash flooding, and flooded roads. Clearly the debris fields were the result of that movement of water into the river.
We re-scanned for TV channels on our digital antennae and watched the last couple of hours of the British Open golf. Thunder storms continued to roll through for the rest of the day, and a warning came over the radio advising people to stay indoors in St George and Charles Counties on the Maryland side of the river, but we were snug in our anchorage.
We watched as a Hampton crab fisherman came by in the early morning and cleared his pots. He lifted and moved the one that had been placed near the middle of the anchorage and was bothering us. We then lifted our anchor – leaving it dangling in the water for a while to get the dark mud off it before bringing it on board. We radioed in to the Hampton Public Piers dock master to thank him for his hospitality and help with the drifting boat and headed back out to Hampton Roads.
As we cleared the channel and headed out into the Chesapeake we realized that storm Chris was still sending stiff winds and swells our way. We had the stabilizers on and Sonas took us comfortably north towards York River. Two hours later we turned towards the river and Yorktown.
Along the way we saw all of the big ships sitting off Cape Charles waiting for their pilots to take them to Norfolk to the south and Baltimore and other ports to the north.
We had called the Yorktown Riverwalk Marina earlier and asked them about their mooring balls. They were first come first served. As we approached the town we called again to get directions to the balls. We were somewhat concerned as the NE wind was blowing straight up the river and causing quite a chop. When we got to the mooring field we found heavy metal cans, well encrusted with shells at the waterline, and no pennant (the piece of floating rope that you pick up to tie off to). There was a piece of metal in the shape of a cross on top that looked like it needed to be lassoed or cleated to using a dinghy. We went alongside but it was clear we were not going to be able to tie off to the mooring as it was set up.
We considered the Yorktown City Marina, but there were no boats in there so we decided against it. Later, on visiting Yorktown, we saw that the marina was closed down and the power pedestals all covered over.
So we had a close look at the cruising guide and decided to go across the river to the York River Yacht Haven and tie up.
We went ashore to check in and have lunch at the marina’s restaurant, the York River Oyster Company, then called the Yorktown Shuttle as suggested by the marina.
We were transported into the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown and spent a couple of hours there. When we went to pay our admission Paul asked the lady if we could get a discount because Sian was English. That didn’t work!
After visiting the museum we caught the free Yorktown shuttle tram that took us through the town. We got off at the Victory Monument by the Yorktown Battlefield and walked back into town by way of the historic main street, with houses that remain from the siege.
We had beer and tapas at the Water Street Grill before getting an Uber back to the marina. We reserved a car with Enterprise Car Rental in Gloucester for tomorrow, with arrangement to pick us up at the marina. We planned to go see the colonial towns of Jamestown and Williamsburg!
We had a car reserved with Enterprise from 8am this morning to 8am tomorrow morning. I called them yesterday and told them that I would need to be picked up at the marina. They said it would be around 8:30 since they didn’t open until 8. When they hadn’t showed by 8:40 we called them, finally getting them to show at 9:15. We headed off to Williamsburg, getting there around 10:15. We had an interesting six hours there, visiting all of the homes, the stores, the foundry, coopery, Capitol etc. We had lunch in the Shields Tavern and then met our tour lady for a history walk. We were the only people to sign up so had a private one and a half hour tour!
After leaving Williamsburg we went to the store and bought some fresh veggies and fruit, bread, and milk. We then drove to Newport News and picked up some wine at Total Wine. We had planned on going to have a look at Jamestown, but passed as there was not a breath of wind and it was really hot by now, and we frankly had enough history for one day! We returned to Sonas, put the purchases away and returned to the York River Oyster Company for dinner.
After breakfast Paul took the rental car back to Enterprise and got a ride back to the marina. He then filled the bucket with hot water and soap and gave the port side, which was against the dock, a good wash down. Sian meanwhile topped up the water tanks, did a laundry load, cleaned the galley and heads. We were ready to set out again for the next stop!
We headed out to the York River and found about eight coast guard vessels running exercises. There is a Coast Guard training base right here on the south shore on the York River. We held our breath hoping that vessel boarding for safety checks was not part of the morning exercises. It wasn’t, and we passed by uninterrupted!
We cut across to the entrance to Mobjack Bay, which is north of the York River. Based on the cruising guides the East River, running north from Mobjack was a place with beautiful vistas and safe gunk hole anchorages. We wanted to get there in plenty of time to set the anchor and watch the World Cup match between England and Croatia. We motored passed the village of Mobjack and pulled in behind green market #7, dropped anchor in 11 feet depth and he anchor held on first asking.
It was a delightful anchorage, with soft winds, no current, and beautiful landscaping in the shoreline.
After lunch we sat and watched the soccer match, which sadly England lost. Sian then got her swimming costume on and swam six laps around Sonas while Paul set the snubber. We had a very tasty fajita dinner and then sat in the foredeck seats and watch the sunset.
Unfortunately we had left both our Chesapeake Chart Book and Cruising Guide on the fly bridge and while we were watching the soccer game a rain storm had come through and they were soaked. We will dry them out and hopefully save them!
Our plan today to is to do a bit of tidying on Sonas, clean some stainless, wash the fore deck to get rid of the mud and dirt that the anchor brings up, and clear some of the “cruising items” to their respective storage lockers (like weather gear). While Paul swabbed the fore deck Sian used Never Dull on the swim platform staples, swim steps, and on the cockpit cleats and other stainless.
Paul then went below to do an engine room check. This is just a regular check on the engine oil and transmission levels, a general look around the engines and the bilges. On lifting one of the bilge covers he discovered about a quart of “red!” For non-sailors, marine diesel has a red coloring in it to differentiate it from road diesel as it has a different tax treatment. It is not a good sign to have diesel in your bilge compartments!
Paul cleaned up the fuel, putting it into a container as we did not want it being pumped overboard by the bilge pumps. He grabbed our strong LED flashlight and walked around the fuel lines, engines and generator, and could see nothing amiss. We then started the engines and ran them for 30 minutes and watched for any leaks. We did the same with the generator. And found nothing.
There was one other consideration. The fuel transfer pump. As mentioned we had been transferring fuel from one tank to the other to balance the boat. Given that we had found noting with the rest of the fuel system, and had used the transfer pump a few days ago, Paul suspected that the pump might be leaking.
So we switched on the transfer pump and watched it – and it was leaking! We turned it off and Paul took some photos of the pump from all angles. He saw that there were three small screws holding a face plate on the pump, and it seemed to be leaking from that plate. He got the right size ratchet and tightened the screws. After we ran the pump again –and no leak! Problem resolved! No more fuel in the bilge – which is a good thing!
By the time we had resolved the issue we didn’t feel like launching the dinghy to go visit the village of Mobjack, which we had planned to do. So we broke out our Kindles and had a relaxing evening reading with cool light winds across the anchorage.
We had decided, now that we were in the Chesapeake proper and we were only doing short two to three hour runs when moving locations, that we should take an hour or so each day and keep Sonas clean and tidy. So today Paul washed the Portuguese Bridge and pilothouse while Sian tackled the stainless on the foredeck – which is quite substantial. We paused to watch as a ladies rowing crew went past in the early morning light.
After that Paul upped anchor while Sian was on the helm getting some practice maneuvering Sonas out of anchorage. As the chain and anchor came up they were covered in grey mud, good for holding the anchor on the bottom, not so great when it comes aboard a freshly cleaned foredeck!
We ran for two and a half hours out of Mobjack bay, past Port Comfort Lighthouse and into the Chesapeake. We went north passing Wolf Trap light. Turning into the Piankatank River, we then navigated the narrow channel into Jackson Creek at Deltaville, our next stop. Along the way we had to keep focused watch for crab pots as we passed endless row upon row of the things. While Sonas has line cutters on her props, we certainly don’t want to be cutting some guy’s livlihood away.
Deltaville is known as a boating destination, with the main concentration being in Broad Creek on the north east end of the peninsula. Unfortunately there are no good anchorages in there, only marinas and boat yards. Since we love anchoring out we chose Jackson Creek. From what we read there was a public dock that we could dinghy to and then only a three block walk to town. We launched the dinghy and went over to the public dock to find that there were no ladders to get up. We tried a couple of times but finally gave up. Instead we went over to Deltaville Marina and Boatyard and tied up to their dinghy dock, went and paid the $5 fee and then had to walk one mile into town! Paul says he may consider writing to the town suggestion they install a couple of ladders to facilitate cruisers and their dinghys.
The town of Deltaville proper is basically one road with a few buildings. We went to the post office and posted some mail, then to the hardware store to buy a new mop as Paul had worn out the old one! Then we looked to see if we could sit somewhere and get a cold drink and maybe an ice cream. The little coffee shop had closed at three and the restaurant didn’t open until five thirty! So we were out of luck, and headed back to Sonas. Clearly the place to be in the Deltaville area was Broad Creek. Perhaps we will visit on our way back south.
We also had zero connectivity as here was no AT&T signal. Now and then it came in as “one bar”, and we received emails but didn’t stay long enough for us to reply. Paul was able to get a quick read of the Trawler Forum to find that the other boat in the anchorage, Briney Brig from Miami, was a member and had earlier given us some information on the channel into the anchorage.
This morning, Saturday, brought us a beautiful sunrise into a sky without a cloud and glassy water. We saw Briney Brig already on her way out of the anchorage at six am. We contacted them through the Trawler Forum once we had connectivity and found that they were heading back south as we were heading north. So we would not be seeing other again on this trip.
We had originally planned on staying two nights at anchorage but had decided last night to move on today. We looked at the Chesapeake Magazine Cruising Guide to see where we might want to visit before making our way up the Potomac River at the end of next week. One creek and town caught our interest – Onancock. This was on the Virginia eastern shore of the Chesapeake so we would be cutting across the bay for the first time.
We left Deltaville. As we exited Jackson Creek we set our course directly for the mouth of the Piankatank river. We saw that this would take us through a series of crab pots, but we were not concerned as there was no wind and flat calm water, so the pot markers were easy to see. We waved as we passed a crabber busy at work, He yelled at us that the channel was “over that way,” and got really annoyed when we continued our more direct, and deep water, course. Seemed he didn’t like us navigating our way through his pots.
We set our auto pilot for the mouth of Onancock Creek and just short of three hours later we entered the creek. We then had a very pleasant cruise up the creek for about five miles, past beautiful houses with well manicured lawns. We tied up at the Onancock city wharf and, after getting the boat settled, took a walk through the historic village. We walked up Market Street and visited a couple of art galleries. Had a beer at the Blarney Stone Irish pub and then made our way back to Sonas. Paul had asked for restaurant recommendations when at the dock masters office and we reserved a table at Bizzotto’s Italian restaurant. We had a very nice meal there, and would highly recommend the restaurant and staff to anyone visiting this quaint Eastern Chesapeake town.
We wanted to get some things from Wal-Mart so we unloaded the bicycles and, like good riders, we donned our helmets and set off. It was three miles each way, but on pretty flat terrain. Along the way we noticed the office supply place that managed FedEx shipments as we had something we needed to send, and Ker House, a mansion and gardens that we planned on visiting.
When we got back from Wal-Mart Paul went to the dockmaster’s office to see if it was possible to stay a second night. We had originally asked for two nights but a catamaran had specifically booked the bulkhead for the second night and we were hoping they had cancelled. But no. There wasn’t a slip suitable for us, so we loaded the bicycles and went over to the anchorage. After anchoring we were visiting by the crew of Pelican which was anchored nearby.
Later that evening we went in to Mallard-On-The-Wharf for dinner – what else, crab cakes!
Of course no catamaran had turned up and the bulk head was empty for the evening!
The soft overnight winds again gave us a restful night and we were up and under way by 6:15. Our plan today was to run to the northern end of the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal (A&P Canal) and anchor off to one side after exiting the canal.
We went east on the Neuse River towards the Outer Banks, then the Intracoastal Waterway line out of the Neuse and into the A&P Canal. The canal is a 20 mile cut that, apart from a couple of houses early on, is devoid of any semblance of life – human, fish, land, or bird. The banks were lined with the stumps of trees that had long ago fallen and were sticking out like grisly sentinels waiting to catch the unwary captain. In fact I would vote it the best scenery for the next horror movie. It was hot, long and boring.
Now our opinion of the canal might also be clouded somewhat by the fact that we met a tug pushing a huge barge soon after we entered. It took up most of the channel. We moved to the right edge of the canal, being careful to stay away from the stumps while keeping a little headway to make sure we had steerage. As the barge got to us we watched our depth slowly creep down to very skinny territory, until finally we softly bumped aground. There was nothing we could do about it until the tug and barge had passed. After they passed we slowly put Sonas in reverse to take her back the way she came to the channel. Then our starboard prop hit the bottom and stalled the engine. We put her in neutral and restarted it, spun Sonas on her keel so that the stern was facing mid-channel and slowly backed out. We then got back on heading north up the canal.
There was a loud cheer from the two on board when we finally exited the canal onto the broad Alligator River. We had planned on anchoring right there for the night but since it was only two o’clock we decided to carry on up the river to give us a shorter day tomorrow. We then caught up with the sister ship to the tug and barge we had trouble with earlier, but because the river was wide with plenty of water we had no issues passing her.
When we were ready to anchor we turned to the east off the river and headed to Cypress Point. We then knew that we were getting closer to the Chesapeake because there were literally hundreds of crab pots in the water. We navigated these until we were within the shelter of the east bank, between two rows of pots, and dropped anchor. Now we only had a short 40 mile run to our stopping point tomorrow so we could have a relaxing start to the day and still get to tomorrow’s marina in time to watch England’s World Cup match against Colombia!
We actually sat and had conversation and coffee this morning rather than falling out of bed and making coffee on the way! However we were still away from the anchorage by 7:00! The light was more than sufficient to again navigate our way through the myriad of crab pots. As we raised the anchor a crabber can by in his boat working his pots. We wonder what he made of us, anchored right on the middle of them!
We continued on north on the Alligator River and through the “Middle Grounds” separating the river from the Albemarle Sound. This is a major sound that runs West to East towards the outer banks. It can get rather nasty in heavy winds. However today it laid down nicely. Along the way we passed quite a lot of duck blinds.
We had also been noticing that nearly every marker had as Osprey nest on it! Most of these seemed to be the male guarding the female as she sat on the eggs. We Googled the hatching time and found that it was coming up in the next couple of weeks. We did see one nest with at least one chick in it.
Just after entering the Albemarle Sound you have to decide on one of two routes to continue on the IntraCoastal Waterway. Route One, which we were taking, would take us through CoinJock, the Big Bridge Lock and up into Portsmouth and Norfolk. The second route takes you through Elizabeth City, and the Dismal Swamp into the Norfolk area.
We took the slight turn to starboard and turned into the North River towards Coinjock. We arrived at Coinjack Marina and Restaurant at 11:45. Our earliest stopping point on this trip. We had heard that Coinjack had the cheapest diesel prices in America! While I am not sure if they are or not, we did take the opportunity to top up our tanks at $3.07 tax included. We also topped up our water tanks.
Paul then disappeared to the bar to watch the England game. Sian was keeping an eye on the score via the internet and when she saw that it was going into extra time and potentially penalties, it was time to get to the bar – and see England win on penalties. We went back later for dinner and of course had crab. Something we believe will be happening a lot over the next couple of months.
After dinner we walked to dock and chatted with some of the folks in the big yachts that had pulled in. We talked crab pots, bridge opening times and locks!
We thought, given that we only had 40 miles to go to Norfolk, that we would take our time getting going today. Surprisingly by the time we had a lazy cup of coffee and went up to prepare the fly bridge for departure we were the last boat out! The eight or nine other boats who had checked in the previous day had already gone!
So we begrudgingly cast off and followed. We had a few challenges today. First there were two low bridges that only opened on the hour and half hour. Then we had a bridge that only opened on the hour and coordinated with a lock just beyond it. We thought it was too complicated to try and work out what time to leave the marina to tie into the bridge so we decided to just go and make it up along the way!
The only concern traveling today was that we heard and felt light bumps against the hull twice. It felt like some floating wood had run down the hull, but when we looked back we could not see anything. We suspect they were floating just under the surface.
As we got near the first bridge, the North Landing Swing Bridge, we realized that we had timed it pretty well, more by accident than anything else. We got there about four minutes before it opened at 9:30. The next low bridge was only 4 miles away do we decided that we were geninuses and we would also be there right when it was ready to open. And that worked out as well, and we made the Centerville Bridge 10:00 opening! Boy we were good at this! We then checked the chart for the biggie – the hourly opening Great Bridge which was right before the Great Bridge Lock we had to go through, which opened at the same time as the bridge.
Oh oh, it was only 3 miles away. And we had just passed 10:00, meaning the next opening was not until 11:00. Sigh!
So we pulled Sonas back to idle and meandered towards the next bridge. We still got there 40 minutes early. So we turned and meandered back for a while then turned again for the bridge. We basically sat around for 40 minutes waiting for the opening. And finally got through at the 11:00 opening. We were not so smart after all!
We entered the lock and tied to the bollards. The upper water level was not so far off the lower level so it was not long until they opened the lock again and moved us through.
We them motored the ten miles or so to Norfolk. As we passed through the naval shipyards and Norfolk Navy Base a series of rain clouds passed through. We put on our wet weather gear and got the lines and fenders ready for out reserved slip.
Around 1:45 we pulled into Tidewater Marina, which is right at Mile Market 0 on the ICW and tied up. After checking in we went for a walk through the old Portsmouth downtown area. We had a beer at the Ron Brown bar (local boy who made good in the NFL), and returned to Sonas to get ready for dinner.
We had dinner at the marina restaurant – Fish and Slips. Then we got the chairs set up on Sonas’ boat deck to watch the fireworks over Hampton Roads right behind us. We had an awesome view of the fireworks from our vantage point at Mile 0.
Fireworks Over Hampton Roads
Happy days! No coffee on the go, we are staying put today! First time in this trip we are staying two days in one place! The sightseeing plan was to tour the naval ship yards by boat (someone else driving and narrating), re provision fresh foods, check out the maritime museum, buy Mile Zero tee-shirts and eat out as it is our thirty eighth wedding anniversary.
So let us tell you how the day actually went.
Stopped in at the visitor center and were delighted to find there was indeed a narrated boat tour of the navy ship yards. With three times to choose from we didn’t book, figuring we would grocery shop then mosey over to the ferry with plenty of time.
To Food Lion we go, its early, not too hot, so we walked. And then it started raining. Thank goodness for our Helly Hansens (boat rain jackets). Never the less we were soaked by the time we got there and given the fierce air conditioning in Food Lion we feel pneumonia is only a few days away.
Excuse us while we knock on wood and up our vitamin C intake immediately.
It was still raining when we came out so treated ourselves to an Uber back to the boat. Stayed in until the rain stopped, got the exact change for the ferry and set off to Norfolk for the boat yard tour. An hour ahead of the tour time we were disappointed to find out it was sold out. Sigh.
We walked back along the waterway and a boat like ours caught Paul’s eye. In fact the more he looked at it the more he was sure he knew this boat. Turns out it is the Grand Alaskan, Nagari, which is the same model as ours. We first met this boat in the Exumas, when she was called Mint Julep under different ownership. We had previously had a few online chats with the new owners so popped over to say hello. They were out. We left a boat card and headed inside for a water break. Thought we would stroll back towards their boat see if they were back, they were not but we enjoyed a long chat with Walter and Jeanette on the Seline next door. The result of which was we missed the ferry. Sigh.
Caught the next ferry and headed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyards Museum. Which is closed for repairs. Sigh.
As more storm clouds loomed we beat a retreat to Sonas just in the nick of time.
Oh, we did get our tee-shirts though so not all was lost! If our restaurant reservation doesn’t work out it will be another beans on toast night,
No, the day was not quite done with us yet. We showered and changed, I even wore a dress and jewelry and we walked into town for our fancy pants dinner. Only to arrive at the restaurant and find another sign, saying Restaurant Closed. The fates were really stacked against us today! Paul saw movement inside, banged on the door and when a gentleman opened it we complained. They need to update their website, their phone message system and Open Table who took AND CONFIRMED our reservation. He apologized, recommended somewhere down the street and beat a hasty retreat. I wrote a dissatisfied review on Trip Advisor , that’ll show them! They do have two other locations by the way.
We followed his recommendation and had what can only be described as a mediocre meal elsewhere.
Universe 1 – Lawrances 0. We went back to Sonas and drank wine!
Our plan today was to cruise through the Norfolk Navy Base and turn the corner into Hampton River. We were targeting the anchorage right off Hampton Public Piers. We were tucked into a very tight dock in Tidewater Marina so it took a while to “wiggle and jiggle” our way off the dock so we could spin and head up the fairway. We got out of the marina around 7:30 and headed north on the Elizabeth River. We passed dozens of warships in the navy base, concluding with passing three huge Nimitz Class aircraft carriers – the Abraham Lincoln, The George H Bush and the Gerald Ford.
As we exited the Elizabeth River we saw two naval ships, a supply ship and a destroyer coming up Hampton Roads. We increased speed and crossed to the north side of the Roads to get out of their ay. We entered the channel into the Hampton River and navigated out way up the CG designated anchorage right downtown Hampton.
We used the davit to launch the dinghy and went across to the dinghy dock by the public piers. They are very receptive to anchored boats. The dinghy dock is free, and they offer all the facilities like showers for $1 a day. They take your phone number and will watch your boat and call you if needed. They even had a herb and veggie plant garden for boaters!
We then called an Uber to take us over to Newport News and the Mariners Museum. This excellent museum took us through the building of the first Ironclads which faced off in the Civil War. The finding and recovery of the turret and artifacts from the Monitor, and the background to how the Virginia and Monitor came to face each other. We also walked through the history of shipbuilding, ships used in various wars – Civil, Revolutionary, 1812, Spanish, WWI, and WWII. There was a very interesting display on Horatio Nelson and his strategies, all the way to the boats used in America’s Cup racing.
We caught an Uber back to Hampton and Sonas just as bad weather closed in. There was a pretty strong band of storm weather passing through, followed by rain off and on all night.
We were having an issue with the sump pumps on Sonas. These are the pumps that handle our shower water. Paul spent an hour trying to resolve the issue with no result. We will buy a new pump as soon as we can to make sure we don’t have a bad pump.
We awoke this morning to the news that Tropical Depression 3 had formed just off the cost. We looked at the forecast and found high winds for the next couple of days. So we decided to stay put at our anchorage off downtown. Paul went ashore as soon as the hardware store opened and bought some things he needed to resolve the issue with our shower sump pumps. He disappeared into the showers and got the guest shower sump working as it should be. The master shower, however, requires a new switch that we need to get from a marine store.
At 10:00 it was time to watch the England Quarter final World Cup match against Sweden. Which they won 2-0. After the game we decided to go ashore for a walk. As we were preparing to get into the dinghy Paul passed through the pilothouse and noticed the little trawler anchored ahead of us was getting closer, and closer with each wind gust. She was dragging anchor down on top of us. Her dinghy was gone so her folks were ashore. We gave a couple of blast of the horn just in case someone was on board but no response. Sian started getting some fenders ready in case we had to fend her off.
We called the dockmaster. When we anchor and dinghy ashore they ask us to leave contact details in case they need to call us. We told him what was going on and asked him to check to see if he had contact details for these people, he did – but he tried multiple times with no answer so left messages. We took our snubber off and laid out more chain to back away from the boat. The dockmaster also called the Hampton police who responded both on land and by water. A rescue boat and a police patrol boat showed up. They grabbed the runaway and held her ahead of us. The owners finally showed up and lifted her dragging anchor. They apologized to us before taking off.
We went ashore for dinner at Oyster Alley, then back on board for the evening.
It was cool enough due to the winds from the tropical depression that we were able to turn off the AC and generator and sleep in relative quiet. Or so we thought. A few minutes after hopping into bed we head a thump against the hull. Then a minute later it happened again. We knew right away it was the crab pot float that had been hanging by the side of the boat all day! We weren’t going to be able to sleep with that so we got up to take a look. Fortunately it was at our stern and by taking in about fifteen feet of chain and reapplying the snubber, we were able to pull in front of it! After that a quiet and solid night’s sleep!
Today, Sunday, we looked at Google Maps to see where the nearest Catholic Church was. Coincidentally the church was only a mile from the West Marine store. We needed a new bilge pump float for the master shower sump pump so that would work out nicely. An Uber to the church, an hour’s spiriualizing, a 20 minute walk afterwards, and an Uber back to the boat. Perfect!
We got to the church in plenty of time to be handed the day’s service. Uh oh. It seems that we have chosen to attend the final mass being said by their departing pastor. One hour and thirty-five minutes later we emerged. There were speeches, tears, wailing and gnashing of teeth. We were stuck in the middle of a row so didn’t dare sneak away!
We did get to West Marine and the part we needed. Paul disappeared down below and emerged an hour later victorious.
The weather looks to be clearing for tomorrow, so before dinner we lifted our tender back onto the boat deck. It is time to leave the safe anchorage of Hampton and make our way around to Yorktown tomorrow.
[This is a longer post than usual as we wanted to cover all of the run outside in one post]
So the day of departure was here. The lock opened at 8:00 and we called at that time and arranged for a lock out.
We headed north on the ICW to the St John’s River, then through Mayport, into the Atlantic, and set the new auto pilot on the St Simon’s waypoint. As we were passing Naval Station Mayport a Coast Guard Cutter came through the inlet.
Weather was light winds from the south and calm seas. Just off St Mary’s Sound three Coast Guard boats came running out on their way directly east, this was accompanied by two large military helicopters patrolling above. Given were we where we assumed that one of the big nuclear submarines from Kings Bay Submarine Base was heading in. We have been in the channel previously when one was coming in and they are quite the sight.
We had an uneventful trip to St Simon’s Sound entrance. Along the way we saw a basking shark and large turtle which dived before we saw which kind it was. Arrived at our anchorage just south of the Morningstar Marina at 3:00pm. This anchorage has been designated by the Coast Guard as a “Special Anchorage,” meaning that it was a recognized anchorage where boats staying there did not have to display an anchor light. Regardless we felt it safer to put our anchor light on.
We were really fortunate in that the weather this week calls for light southerly winds and waves around 2 feet all week. At 6:00am we made the coffee and headed back out through the St Simon’s Sound to the ocean.
We entered the Tybee Roads GPS waypoint leading us to Calibogue Sound and Hilton Head. Again we had calm seas. Because we were running with the wind we were not getting the benefit of any breeze and it was pretty hot. We arrived at Tybee Roads at 3:00pm and crossed into Calibogue Sound and our reserved slip at the Harbour Town Marina at the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island.
During the day John and Suzie Mc Carley, friends we had first met in the Exumas, and who had recently stopped by Queens Harbour in their boat Escape, a 49′ DeFever, got it touch via email. They were running the same track as us on the ICW and we found out that we would both be in Charleston tomorrow, so arranged to get together for dinner downtown.
Paul left the blowers on trying to cool the engine room as we had some work to do in there after we anchored. We needed to move fuel from our port tank to the starboard tank to balance the boat. This is because we have 12 heavy glass mat house batteries on the port side of the engine room that make Sonas lean slightly that way. The yard suggested that we could put in ballast to offset the batteries, but we decided that we had enough weight on board without adding lead! So we always keep more fuel in the starboard tank than the port and that resolves the issue. In fact, as we talk to other boaters, this is a common issue and a common solution! Also the camera that monitors our engine room had been knocked loose. Paul worked on that but could not fix it. Will need to have a replacement delivered during our trip.
After we cleaned up we went up to the Quarterdeck restaurant right by the marina. Paul had curried grouper and Sian had the pesto Salmon.
We were up again and away by 6:00am from the marina, retraced our path to the ocean and set our autopilot to the Charleston channel.
Looking along the track we found that we would have to head offshore for the first hour to avoid the Garvin Shoal just north of St Simon’s. After passing the shoal we then reset the track to head directly for the jetties at Charleston. During our run the wind died completed and we had glassy water for most of the way. We reached the jetties at 2:50pm and turned in.
As we passed Fort Sumter Paul went live on Facebook and gave some short details of the role the fort played in the American Civil War. Once past the fort we turned to the south and headed for our overnight stop at the Charleston City Marina.
As we came alongside John and Suzie came out from Escape and helped the dockhand tie us up. We were on the 1100 foot face dock and found that we were one of the few non-mega yachts on the dock. The rest were 100+ foot yachts.
We got all of the air conditioners cranked up and got cleaned up for dinner. The marina runs a complementary shuttle to downtown so, with John and Suzie, we arrived at Blossoms in time for our reservation at 7:00. The food and company were both excellent.
One thing we did notice today, which has hit us in the past, is that after a couple of days on board we have begun to switch from our shore routine to our on board routine. We rise earlier, each of us know our “jobs” without saying anything, and we run our cruising day in an efficient and orderly fashion. That included regular drinks to ensure hydration, meals at set times, and engine room and instruments checks. By now we are also reintroducing some exercise routines, Sian with her resistance training using bands and Paul with his core stretches so as to avoid the sciatica issues we had in the Bahamas earlier this year.
Our plan today was to run from Charleston to Georgetown, setting us up for a run to Bald Head Island on Friday. Since it was a relative short and easy run we thought we would relax and leave a little later than we had been. However our body clocks thought otherwise and we were still casting off the lines before seven! Several boats followed us out of the marina, including the Canadian boat Ennui, whose crew we had chatted to as we were getting ready to go. They were also going to our next stop. Unfortunately we watched them turn back and radio the marina to say they were returning with engine trouble.
About half way to the next stop we saw a Coast Guard ship dead ahead, which did not seem to be moving. Paul zoomed in on them using his camera and saw that they were working on a buoy. So we turned east a few degrees so as to give them a wide berth. About five minutes after doing so the CG vessel, Willow, called us on the radio and asked us to give them a wide pass to port, which we told them we had already changed course. She later passed us going south.
We ran the 50NM and pulled into the Georgetown inlet at 2:00 and were anchored by the lighthouse before 3.
John and Suzie McCarley joined us as Buddy Boats on our run as they are headed back to their home port of Wrightsville and our next two stops are on their way. Escape, their DeFever 49 arrived about 45 minutes after us and anchored next to Sonas.
On the way up the channel Sian checked the weather for Georgetown and found it was 93 degrees! We thought it would get cooler as we moved north!!
It got a bit blustery in the anchorage as the wind direction blew straight into the inlet but, like most days, after the sun set, it calmed right down.
Around 4:30pm Sian’s phone rang. It was our home cleaning company telling us that we had a major issue. Today was our cleaning day. We had decided to have them come in one more time to clean and then lock the house up until our return from this cruise. One of their cleaners knocked a print off a bathroom wall and it fell on the water feed pipe for the toilet – cutting it. Water was pouring out. We called our neighbors who quickly got over there. Paul explained how to turn off the main valve into the house. Bill and Sally then diligently brushed all of the water out of our wood-floored bedrooms and got an industrial drier to start the clean-up process. Meanwhile the cleaning company sent some supervisors to plan the full correction. We also called our plumber to have him schedule to fix the broken pipe. We owe Bill and Sally a major steak meal when we get back!
This is NOT what we had in mind for the first week of our cruise!
We had a great overnight under the Georgetown Lighthouse. Not a ripple was felt on board. We woke at 6:00 am without the alarm and got ready for the off.
Escape left the anchorage a half hour before us and we were off by 6:45. We did bump up against a bit of an incoming current but once outside we caught a push from the offshore current and at times were cruising at a whole 10 knots – supersonic speed for us!
The run to the inlet at Cape Fear River was 66 KM and again the winds were light from the south. While light winds are always a blessing when running offshore, the problem you get is that the boat is moving at the same speed as the wind so you get absolutely no breeze – and it was stifling hot. We brought the big fan up from down below and got some relief. The alternative is to run the boat from the pilot house and turn on the generator and AC. But we really like running from up above and seeing what is around.
Escape runs efficiently about 1.5 knots slower than Sonas so we passed them after a couple of hours but we were always had sight of each other and VHF connection.
We turned towards the inlet around 2:00pm and found a significant wave action. We had to avoid a large dredge and her auxiliary vessels which was spread right across the channel. We made the turn into Bald Head Island Marina and were tied up in slip 3A by 3:30pm. Paul got the power plugged in and all four AC units blasting cold air. He then went off to check in at the marina office and ten minutes after he left the power went out! When he came back he checked everything on the boat and couldn’t get it working. The boat was getting a bit steamy. He checked the breakers at the shore pedestal, switching them off and on. Finally he called the marina office out and they switched us to another supply and we were up and running! Whew!
Meanwhile Escape came in and tied up across from us.
Betty Robinson, who Paul worked with at J&J, keeps Li Li (For Living Life) her beautiful Kady Krogen 48’ at Bald Head Island Marina and lives on the island. We had both been in the Abacos earlier in the year but missed each other. We had been in touch and told her we would be stopping by the island. Betty had just returned from a trip to New York and Baltimore and was very generous with her hospitality. She gave us time to get cleaned up and then came in her golf cart (no cars on the island) and took us to her home on the dunes. We had some wine and nibbles, talked boats, retirement, travel plans, family, after which Betty blessed us with a golf cart for the evening and next morning along with a map and instructions on how to navigate the island.
We drove along the beach road to the marina. We plugged the golf cart into the charging area that Betty had pointed out earlier and went to Delphina Mexican restaurant for dinner. After dinner we swung by Escape to say goodbye to our travelling boat buddies. They were leaving early the next morning for their home marina 21 miles up the ICW in Wrightsville Beach.
[An update on the house. We have a great plumbing company who do all of our tile and plumbing work. They had people at our house at 9:00 am on Friday. They cut a hole in the wall behind the toilet and fixed and tested the pipe. They then suggested that they leave the water into the house off for the rest of our trip and also turned off the gas to the two water heaters. They told us to call them the day before we were due to get back and they would go in and turn everything back on. They also advised us to have someone run a moisture meter on our drywall to make sure that it was all OK and we didn’t have a mold issue in future. We have a neighbor,a general contractor who worked on major renovations on our last home. He was no longer in that business but we called him to see if he knew of anyone who could help. He volunteered to go over himself and run his meter on the dry wall. Later that evening he called us and told us that the insulation right by the break would need to be dried out and that we should open up a few small check holes in the rest of that wall just to be sure. He also suggested that, even though the moisture readings where fine on the other walls, we open up similar check holes in those to make sure. His argument was that dry wall is easy to open and then redo, whereas mold was not! We asked him to recommend someone who could do that and he said he would come over on Sunday and do it himself. He would also go and rent a couple of heaters for the wall he knew was wet. As I said before, having such neighbors is a God send!]
Today we were only travelling 21KM up the ICW to Wrightsville Beach to anchor right inside the inlet, ready to jump outside and run to Morehead City tomorrow. We had to run inside as going outside means going all the way around Cape Fear and the shoals there – which go straight out 15 miles! That would be a 50km mile run! So, since we did not have far to go, we decided to spend the morning at Bald Head and have a look around.
First thing after coffee Paul got the water hose out and gave Sonas a wash. He then moved some more fuel over to the starboard tank. After a shower we jumped into the golf cart that Betty had lent us and took our recycling to the recycling center on the island. Then we drove over to Betty’s home where she joined us and took us on an interesting tour of the island. She told us some of the history, how many actual residents there were compared to vacationers, where the children go to school, and generally how you live life in a small island community. Betty took us to the Turtle Conservatory where she volunteers and supports their graduate intern program and then we went to the beach to find the turtle nest that she had adopted! She explained the turtle nesting process and how the volunteers guard the nest and help the young on their way after birth! We visited the beach club, and then the very pretty little non-denominational church, and the nearby lighthouse, which has now been decommissioned. After stopping by the post office to post a card and to pick up some packages, Betty took us back to the marina.
Paul had a tour of Betty’s Kady Krogen 48 Li Li and we then said our goodbyes. We untied and followed the ferry out of the harbor. We went north on the ICW, through Southport and Carolina Beach and into our very sheltered anchorage at Wrightsville Beach. Being a Saturday and a hot day, there was a lot of boat traffic, and we even had a narrow call with a paddle boarder. We were able to anchor in 15’ of water just a hundred feet or so off the beach. Sian went for a swim and walk on the sand. We were visited by a number of other boaters who inquired about Sonas, and the trawler lifestyle.
We had a great overnight at Wrightsville Beach. There was not a murmur of wind and no wake or wave action. We hadn’t even bothered putting a snubber on and did not hear a sound all night. We were up and ready at our usual 6:00 am, and ground the coffee. Sian was a bit surprised to see an elderly paddle boarder pass the boat as she was preparing the flybridge for travel, of course she grabbed the camera and got the evidence! Who goes paddle boarding at 6:00 am on am Sunday?!
We Iifted the anchor and headed for the inlet, to be passed by dozens of small fishing boats headed out. Then we made the turn at the inlet and saw a couple of dozen people fishing off the shore – and it wasn’t 6:30 yet! What an active community!
We entered the waypoint to Beaufort Inlet into the GPS, and it advised us that it was 61nm. We would be at the channel at 1:30 and inside 45 minutes later. The run was completed uneventfully – and we had water like glass the whole way. We brought our Bose wireless speaker up to the flybridge and put on Margaritaville through Sirius. Jimmy Buffett himself was doing a two hour show from Florida. We made the Beaufort Inlet channel right on time and were amazed at the number of boats using the inlet.
Since it was early afternoon we then made the decision to carry on up the ICW. From Beaufort it was 178 miles to Norfolk and the start of the Chesapeake. We had planned to take four days to do this, but that would have meant we would have been sitting out in the country at a place called Coinjack on the Fourth of July. There was nothing else there apart from a marina and restaurant.
By taking another three hours to get to the Neuse River, then adding an hour each of the next two days, we would be able to reduce that by a day and be in the Portsmouth/Norfolk area on the big day. We entered the Neuse River and saw a nice anchorage on the south bank of the river. We anchored in 10 feet of water, again in calm waters, and had a wonderful evening.
We had now completed the Atlantic Ocean outside portion of our trip north!
Let us start off by saying we had absolutely no issues getting from Marsh Harbour, Abaco to 18 nautical miles south east of Fort Pierce. Then our challenges started. Stay tuned for the “rest of the story!”
Saturday May 5th. We set the alarm to make sure we were up, dressed, coffee made, and boat prepared for crossing Whale Cay. Finally the wind had calmed and move around to the south east. By our reckoning we were good to go.
We lifted the anchor and started out of the harbour. We had a number of people pop their heads out of their boats to see who was leaving, including a lady in her nice nightgown, but no other boat out of the dozens there made a move. Hmmm, were we sure we had this right? We put the waypoints into the GPS and put Whale Cay on our bow. Two hours later we were through. There were four to five feet swells rolling in from the Atlantic, but no waves or white caps. Sonas handled it perfectly. As we made the turn to the northwest we were contacted by two other boats asking us about the conditions, and then later another boater, still on his mooring in Green Turtle, asked us the same. We relayed the sea state.
From there to our first overnight stop at Mangrove Cay everything went as planned. Mangrove is one of the first cays you hit when you get onto the Bahamas Bank and one of the last you can stop at before you make the leap across the Gulf Stream. We arrived just before seven to find a half dozen boats already anchored and joined them. As we sat in the cockpit enjoying a cocktail we saw a number of sail boats come by and carry on into the gulf stream towards Florida. Because they move so slow many sailors chose to make the passage overnight, if the weather is cooperating, so as to arrive in Florida in daylight. We had just finished a twelve hour run and were pretty tired and can only imagine how worn out these good people must be by the time they make landfall.
Sunday May 6th. We had a so-so night’s sleep. Initially Mangrove protected us from the south west wind, but overnight it went to the south east.We were then exposed somewhat and the boat bounced around a bit. Nothing worrying, more annoying. We had our alarm set for 5am. Sunrise wasn’t until around 6:30 but the anchorage was easy to get out of in the dark and we wanted to get a jump on another long day. We got off around 5:15 and ran the first hour or so in the dark. Daylight brought us fine sailing weather, light winds from the SSW and a moderate sea. We managed to catch the WX (NOAA weather) station from West Palm so heard that our crossing would be pretty uneventful – 3 footers in the stream.
After four hours we crossed from the Bahamas Bank and into the stream, and pointed to the waypoint for Fort Pierce. The GPS told us that our estimated time of arrival at the inlet would be 3:30pm. We passed a few Bahamian fishing boats but very little other boat traffic. A few hours in a beautiful downeaster called Firefly crossed our bow and radioed us, saying “nice to see another boat out here!” We had a nice long chat before they continued on their route to Port Canaveral.
The rest of our trip across was uneventful, in fact we would say tedious – but that was OK given what we faced coming over!
Then, just as our GPS showed 18 NM to our destination, things took a wrong turn – literally!
A plane flew directly over us, then over the VHF came: “trawler at location XYZ, this is navy plane overhead.” We looked at our latitude and longitude and yep, they meant us! Paul replied and they took us to their working channel. The conversation went something like this:
“This is trawler Sonas to the navy plane.”
“Sonas, we are doing live fire exercises in this area. You are two miles into our box. We need you to turn to the south for two miles and then head toward land until you are within ten miles of shore and then you may proceed staying within ten miles of shore.”
At that time we were being pushed along nicely by the Gulf Stream. Turning south meants going directly into the stream. So Paul asked:
“Navy plane, can we head north until we are out of the box and then proceed towards land?”
“Negative Sonas. You must head south and out of the area.”
“Roger navy plan. Changing course now.”
“Thank you Sonas.”
We had been making around 10 knots up until that point with the help f the stream. Once we turned into it that help turned against us and we crawled to 5 knots. We finally got out of the “box” and headed towards St Lucie. And a number of rain squalls! We managed to use the radar to avoid most of the squall and finally were able to turn towards Fort Pierce again once inside ten miles of land. But now we started to get wind in the 23-25 mph range. It was on our stern so not really an issue – until we finally got to the Fort Pierce inlet. There was a strong outgoing tide, and the seas from the south were crossing this current, making for a very unsavory inlet. Paul turned off the auto pilot and the engine syncronizers and took manual control. We nearly made it through but just when Paul said “sixty more seconds to calm waters” we were hit by a huge wave that broached us sideways. Paul got control back but furniture went a-tumbling!
But we were in!
We eased back on the throttles as the inlet is a slow zone. We had originally planned to get in around 3:30 and then run a couple of hours north before anchoring and calling Customs and Border Patrol to process in. Since we had the navy detour we decided to anchor just off the ICW inside the inlet.
AND…. just as we approached the turn for the ICW a Coast Guard boat appeared and called us the VHF.
“Vessel Sonas, this is US Coast Guard vessel. What was your last port of call and where are you headed?”
“The Bahamas, and we are going to put down anchor right ahead and call CBP.”
“Sonas, we are going to board and do an inspection.”
And so they did. Two young men, armed but very polite, came aboard. While Paul kept Sonas steady on the ICW, Sian took them around the boat showing them flares, PFDs, bilges, engine room, Fire Extinguishers, Inland Rules to Navigation book, etc. etc. We passed the inspection and were given our “You Are Gold” copy. This supposedly helps keep us away from another inspection for six months or so – but is not guaranteed to do so!
Waving goodbye to our new friends we finally put our anchor down right outside HarboTown marina by the ICW. This is the same anchorage we used before we crossed to the Bahamas.
Next step was to call into the Customs and Border Protection 1-800 number. We are enrolled in a program called the Small Vessel Reportng System and had filed a float plan. All we needed to do was call them and, so long as everything checked out, we would not have to report in person at Fort Pierce airport. But there was a problem:
“Hello, we have returned into the US And have a float plan.”
“Sorry sir we no longer use SVRS. It was discontinued a month ago.”
“But I left the country two months ago, how was I to know.”
“We now have an smart device app called ROAM. Download that and fill in your information and we can process you.”
“Oh, OK. I will do that right away. Thank you.”
So Paul downloaded the app. It seemed pretty straight forward and intuitive. You enter the personal details of those on board , their passport number, their SRVS registration number, and a photo of the passports. You also add details of your vessel and answer the usual questions about where you have been and what you might be bringing into the country.
Well pretty intuitive until it isn’t!
Paul completed everything and then pressed “submit” to have the entry reviewed by a CBP officer. He received a screen back saying “pending review.”
So, that done, we went to he pilot house to have dinner.
After dinner and clearing up, Paul went back to the phone to see if the status had changed. He then saw that he had missed a video conferencing call with a CBP officer. He had also received an message two minutes after the video request saying:
Thank you for your recent U.S. CBP ROAM submission. Unfortunately, your U.S. CBP ROAM Trip ID XXXX has not been approved and you may not enter the U.S. at this time. You may contact the nearest Port of Entry for information or clarification.
Sincerely, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Paul called the 1-800 number back and it was explained to him that the app worked real time. When you submit an entry request an officer gets it right away and either accepts it or requests a video interview. Since we did not accept the video interview he rejected our submission. The officer told Paul to go ahead and resubmit and that he would pick it up (using our phone number) and process it again. Paul did so and we were successful.
Obviously there are still some teething issues with the process (for example the app user could be taken through a tutorial on first installing the app) but it is a very neat way of using technology to handle recreational boat traffic into Florida.
The winds melted away to light breezes which moved Sonas around the anchorage sedately. We sleep the sleep of the innocent.
And awoke the next day well aground!
Monday May 7th. We noticed that all of the other boats at anchor were pointing one way into the wind and we were pointing another. That was the clue that the tide had gone out and left us aground. We called Sea Tow (our AAA on the water). He said he would be there in 40 minutes. He arrived and spent about an hour trying to pull our bow into deeper water. He eventually gave up and told us that he would come back at high tide and try again. After about 30 minutes Paul walked to the bow and noticed that that the bow was jammed onto a mound of shale. He walked to the stern of Sonas and grabbed our long boat hook. He stuck the boat hook into the water until it hit sand and measured the depth. It was six feet, We only needed five feet to float It seems that the outgoing tide had placed our bow on a shallow shelf but the rest of the boat in water deeper water. So Paul started the engines and powered us into reverse and we were off!
We entered the ICW and started our journey north.Paul grabbed he chart book and, given our late departure, targeted an anchorage just south of Titusville, to the south east of the NASA Causeway bridge. We arrived at the anchorage around 7:00 and hailed a Kady Krogen named Sweet Ride which was already in there. They confirmed that we would have enough depth so in we went and dropped the hook. The wind died to a light breeze overnight and we had a very quiet sleep full night!
Tuesday May 8th. We upped anchor just before 7:00 and again headed north through Titusville and towards Haulover Canal. On entering the canal we saw movement in the water ahead of us. Manatees! Then more manatees, and more again! We saw around thirty or forty mainly along the north edge of the canal, and quite a number right in the middle of the canal that we had to avoid. There was even one attached to a small buoy – we suspect that it had been tagged for research.
We left the canal and headed through Mosquito Lagoon, and into New Smyrna, then Daytona, and finally Palm Coast, arriving at Palm Coast Marina around 4:00pm. We had passed the Kady Krogen Sweet Ride in Daytona and a half hour later she also came in to the marina and tied up beside us.
We walked into the European Village and had a seafood dinner at Lisbon Nights. Sian has Sea Bass and Paul had the Portuguese version of Paella, which included a lobster tail! We returned to Sonas and sat on the back deck with a glass of red. Christopher and Alexandra, the owners of Sweet Ride, came by and we had a nice chat for a half hour or so.
Wednesday May 9th. We are on the last leg of our trip and on our way home today. Since it will “only” take us six hours today we had a later start, leaving the marina at 8:00. High tide at Queens Harbour was 6:00pm so we were looking to arrive at the channel around 3:00pm.
AS we passed through St Augustine we were passed by a half dozen Customs and Border Patrol go-fast boats, then we saw this coming in the inlet – seems they were having a bit of target practice out there!
We arrived outside the Queens Harbour lock around 2:30 and were tied up at home dock at 3:00.
Thursday April 26th, dawned with beautiful , clear blue skies and found us anchored underneath the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. After breakfast we motored VERY slowly to the south east, with sometimes less than two feet clearance beneath the keel based on both charts and depth sounder! We were targeting a visit to Tahiti Beach, a snorkel on the reef off Sandy Cay, finally anchoring in the bay outside Little Harbour for dinner at Pete’s Pub. We weren’t able to go into the harbour there as we can only cross on a high tide. High tide was at 6:00pm, great for getting in, but then it was at 6:30 am – not so great for getting out after a night in the pub! So we were aiming for an anchorage outside!
Well that was the plan, but the wind had other ideas. It turned to the south east and stared blowing hard. We were able to lay down a lunch anchor off Tahiti Beach and walk the soft sand there. After lunch we navigated our way around the shallows of Tilloo Bank and entered the anchorage behind Sandy Cay to find a strong surge from the swell rolling in from the Atlantic through North Bar Channel. So we skipped the snorkeling and headed on down to Little Harbour. As we approached the bay outside Little Harbour we saw big breakers hitting the beach and realized that there was also a strong surge running through there from the ocean inlet by Little Harbour. That meant an overnight anchorage there was out of the question. We backtracked and joined a dozen boats anchored in the shelter off Lynyard Cay. This unfortunately meant that we would not be making it into Pete’s Pub this trip as the journey across in the dinghy was simply too dangerous in the large swell. So we broke out the rum and gin and made do!
Friday April 27th. Next morning we headed back towards the hub of Abaco. The wind had tracked to the south so the anchorage behind Sandy Cay was more sheltered enabling us to drop the hook and get the snorkel gear ready – including the new full face masks we now had. Dive Guana had suggested we clean the masks with toothpaste, smear it on with finger tips, rinse and apply anti fog gel before rinsing again. We followed instructions to the letter and had great results. We dinghy’d out of the anchorage and picked up one of the small mooring balls placed there for people to tie up and get over the reef.
We snorkeled the reef for an hour before heading back to Sonas. Those of us with “adult bodies” struggled to get into the inflatable dingy from the water with any modicum of dignity but managed by clawing, pushing and pulling. Adam, young, fit and able gave one almighty heave and climbed aboard in a simple fluid movement, no problems. Auntie Sian pushed him in the back ready to throw him overboard, but like a good Auntie, restrained at the last moment, but only just!
Off we went for a little treat. We entered the shallow waters between Elbow and Lubbers again and anchored right off Cracker P’s! We went in, squeezed our tender in between the many others tied up, and had a great lunch with a view! And another few adult beverages!
We ran from Lubbers Quarters to Man O War Cay. After going through the very narrow entrance we turned right and entered the east anchorage. We picked up a mooring buoy, got into the dinghy and headed into town. Half way there the heavens opened but luckily the covered Albury’s Ferry dock was clear so Paul steered the dinghy in there and we waited out the heavy rain, praying that a ferry would not turn up!
We tied up at the Man O’War marina and walked through the town. We had hoped to grab an ice cream but the stand had just closed by the time we got there. So we walked up to the beach on the Atlantic side and then then bought a few things in the little store before heading back to Sonas.
Saturday April 28th. Adam was flying out from Marsh Harbour on Sunday, On leaving Man O’War we motored the short distance to the beach that sits between Scotland Cay and Great Guyana. There is no big boat anchorage so we had to anchor off the cay in an on shore wind so Paul stayed on board as anchor watch as there was quite a sea running into the beach. The others went ashore.
There was a rocky bar across the beach so Adam had to haul the dinghy across!
Leaving this beautiful spot we ran across to Mermaid Reef, just outside Marsh, and snorkeled the reef there. We first visited the reef way back in 2002 with our children and it is always a pleasure to go back. The reef is full of fish of many species, and we even saw a huge lobster. Paul had a bag of peas in his pocket so we gathered around him as he emptied the bag and we were engulfed in feeding fish!
Leaving the reef we headed into the harbour and anchored. That night, Adam’s last, we went into Snappa’s for dinner. They had a live band so there was dancing, with Peter providing a partner for the local single ladies!
Sunday April 29th. The next afternoon Peter and Paula said goodbye to Adam at the dock and we upped anchor and headed off.
We wanted to visit Matt Lowe’s Cay as we saw there were a couple of beautiful beaches there, and the anchorage was good for the wind we would get that night. After dropping anchor we took a cooler with beer and wine, deck chairs, and beach towels ashore and set up on the beach.
The island has been bought by a developer who has built a small canal system and is selling lots. We saw signs along the high water mark advising that the island was private and to be mindful of the guard dogs. No problem, we were fine just sitting on the beach.All beaches in the Bahamas are public up to the high water mark so we felt confident we were following the rules so all would be well. As we used the beach we could hear the dogs, which sounded like they were locked up somewhere. The constant barking was a bit annoying.
Sian and Paula had gone for a walk along the beach and Paul was wading in the water, when all of a sudden three large dogs came out of the treeline barking and heading for Peter who was sitting on one of the beach chairs. He jumped up and, using the chair as a shield , backed into the water. The dogs (one brown, one white and brown and the other black) stopped at the water’s edge. Paul went to the dinghy, grabbed the metal bar that’s used to support the dinghy cover and walked towards the dogs smacking the bar into the water and then the sand. They went back into the trees but they were never far away, and appeared now and then in the tree line. We decided to pack up and go back to the boat!Unfortunately Paul did not have his camera with him or he would have taken video which would have helped the proper authorities deal with this issue. We will be reporting it.
That night we had the wonderful experience of a sunset over the port side of Sonas and then, about twenty minutes later, a wonderful moon rise over the starboard side!
Monday April 30th. The next morning we set sail, yet again, to spend two days in our favorite spot in the Abacos – Treasure Cay. This time we picked up a mooring in the basin and dinghy’d in to walk the beach, have drinks at the beach bar, sit by the pool (and have more drinks). The well protected basin kept the still high winds at bay.
Wednesday May 2nd. Leaving Treasure Cay we ran the hub of Abaco, past Man O’ War, past Hope Town and into the well protected Sea Spray Marina. This was a very tight marina, and the wind was still howling, but maneuvering a heavy boat like Sonas helps as it does not easily get pushed around by the wind. So we had no issues squeezing her into her slip.
We were on a deadline as the team Peter supports, Liverpool, were playing an important soccer game that afternoon. He headed off to the bar where they put the game on the TV for him. He was a happy man when they won the tie.
Casualty of the trip was the herb garden which apparently did not enjoy the salty spray washing over them. Another time we will bring them in doors to shelter in rough seas but its too late now!
In the evening we got cleaned up and headed to The Abaco Inn for dinner. The Abaco Inn sits on a hill overlooking both the Sea of Abaco on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It is both a fabulous location and an excellent establishment. On the way up we were passed by a young man on a motor bike. A couple of minutes later he came back along the road and Paul put his thumb out. The driver was game and put Paula on the back seat and off she went to the restaurant. He then returned and did the same with Sian!
We had a wonderful meal and would highly recommend the Abaco Inn to anyone looking for a quality meal on Elbow Cay.
Thursday May 3rd. Peter and Paul’s time with us was coming to an end. They were flying out of Marsh Harbour on Friday May 4th. So on Thursday we untied from Sea Spray and headed back over to Marsh. After anchoring we walked through town and up to Abaco Beach Resort/Boat Harbour to have a look around, some drinks and appetizers. We had booked a table at Wally’s across from Harbour View Marina for that evening, but then decided that a quiet evening aboard was the order of the day, so cancelled our reservation, and enjoyed dinner, drinks, and card games on board!
Friday May 4th. Sadly Friday arrived. Our guests packed up and, wrapping their luggage in black plastic bags due to the winds and choppy water, loaded up the dinghy. They hugged Sian and then Paul took them ashore. More hugs and they were off on the taxi to the airport. Right on time their flight took off and did a fly-by right over Sonas in the harbour!
We had originally planned on starting our journey back to the US right after they left. However the forecast was calling for winds over 30mph and thunderstorms. Since these winds were from the NE they made Whale Cay Channel dangerous. We spent the afternoon readying the boat for sea crossings, hunkered down when the wind gusts were high and planned an early night for an early departure. Looking ahead the weather for crossing the Gulf Stream is decent for Sunday, even better for Monday and Tuesday, so we knew we could ride out the weather in Marsh Harbour and head off on Saturday when the forecast suggested some calmer weather..
Hooray! Today is the day Peter and Paula arrive! At last cleaning can stop and with some decent weather we can start having fun! Paul is making steady improvement, by no means back to full strength but in the land of the living.
The flight from Atlanta was on time with the taxi ride delivering them to Conch House Hotel and Marina where they got their first look at the beautiful clear Bahamian water and Paul’s new beard. Paula declared “he looks like Santa Claus.”
Now comes the hard part. Adam, their son, was flying in from Toronto where he is living, as a surprise for his Mum. He was due to arrive the next day so somehow we had to keep Paula in place but without arousing suspicion. So we told her that we needed some supermarket supplies in the morning so would have to stay at anchor in Marsh Harbour, and that we would go back ashore for lunch before we left. We had arranged with Adam to walk into the Conch House bar while we were having lunch.
Under cloudy skies we tackled the grocery shopping and considered ourselves fortunate we made it back to the boat before the heavens opened. It rained and rained and then rained some more! We were was beginning to wonder how we could insist we needed to go ashore for lunch when we would all have been drowned rats just getting there.
Fortune smiled, the skies cleared and in we went. Right on cue Adam bounded up the stairs hugged his Mum tight and there were tears all round. Most of them, we must admit, from Sian! What a lovely surprise! Mission accomplished we headed back to the boat, upped anchor heading over to Fisher Bay for a swim before cocktails ashore at Grabbers, a walk on the beach, a Spaghetti Bolognese dinner on board and card games before bed.
April 21st to April 25rd
The forecast called for scattered thunderstorms and wind for the next four days, but with plenty of sunshine. Plus we wanted to go to the Pig Roast at Nipper’s on the Sunday. So we booked into Orchid Bay Marina in Settlement Harbour, Great Guyana Cay for two days.
After docking and preparing the boat we walked over to town, bought some snorkel mask spray at Dive Guyana then walked to Grabbers to see if we could get the Manchester United FA Cup semi-final football match on TV – but no go.
A couple of sports fishermen from the Panhandle and Alabama came in, on their way to a tournament out of Boat Harbour and tied up next to us. After dinner we spent a couple of hours chatting with them. We also watched the 140 foot Palmer Johnson Lady J come in and tie up, struggling a bit with the wind.
On Sunday we went over to Nipper’s and walked the beautiful Atlantic beach, then going up to a very busy Nipper’s for lunch, some beers chased down by a couple of Nippers cocktails! We staggered back to Sonas for a nap and a light dinner, followed by more socializing on the dock.
Mid-morning Monday, still expecting another two days of wind, we untied and headed across the Sea of Abaco towards Treasure Cay. We tied up early afternoon and headed off to walk the beach, then lay by the swimming pool with a cocktail Later Lady J appeared again and tied up on the T-Dock next to us.
It was more of the same relaxation on Tuesday, beach, pool, drinks, and quick runs to the grocery and wine store for replenishment of the provisions! Lady J left and was soon replaced by Far Niente, a 130 foot Westport. Paul got to chat to one of the crew as he waited on the dock to tie her up and discovered he was from Durban but had lived in Belfast for a couple of years. He later joined us for a beer before dinner and we had a good chat about how he got into that business and what it would take if Adam wanted to do the same. The captain also stopped by for a chat – he was originally from Grimsby in England.
It was quite interesting watching the comings and goings of the crews and guests of these big yachts. In both cases we found that owners were on board rather than charter guests. Far Nuente was on its way to Nassau, where they were hosting a bachelor party for their son.
On Wednesday the 25th we untied and headed east towards Hope Town. We had called the three businesses who owned mooring buoys in the harbour but either they were not available or were not suitable for Sonas. So we anchored outside the harbour right under the famous candy stripped Elbow Reef Lighthouse. We took the dinghy into the harbour and tied up at the lighthouse dock.
Everyone went up the lighthouse while Paul chose to visit the gift store manned by lighthouse volunteers rather than risk his leg climbing the 101 steps to the top. We then crossed the harbour to the public dock and walked through the quaint town. We ended up at Harbour’s Edge restaurant and bar for snacks and drinks. Peter went and fetched the dinghy from the public dock and brought it to the restaurant so that we wouldn’t have to walk back through town. While we were there we watched a Kady Krogen 48 (overall length the same as Sonas at 53 feet) come in and pick up a mooring ball that we were told was not suitable for us. As we were leaving we spoke to them and they told us that they were always able to pick one up – go figure.
We went back to Sonas where Sian had a lamb roast in the slow cooker for a delicious dinner, followed by everyone sitting on the bow trying to identify the stars and constellations.
The weather had set into a pattern, thunderstorms and rain overnight, but plenty of sun during the day with absolutely stunning sunsets nearly every evening.
Our last post covered just two days. A night at Allans-Pensacola where our anchor dragged, then the trip back into the Hub of Abaco to anchor at Baker’s Bay. Sian ended that blog post with “Anyway I for one am thrilled to be tucked in (fingers crossed with no anchor issues) for a nice quiet night out of the north wind.”
Paul had started to take ill with the meds he was on. He was taking a muscle relaxer twice a day, one Tramadol pain med per day (he self-reduced from two), nine Motrin anti-inflammatory per day, and a prescription anti-acid twice a day. So he put himself to bed early with a tummy sounding lie Mount Etna about to erupt! Sian came down later, but lay in bed listening to the sounds of the boat, the waves, and the snubber. It ended up that she spent another restless night worried about the anchor! And that is what an anchor drag will do to you for a while – make you suspect your ground tackle
I was busy watching the shore line and hoping like mad that we could stay put and Paul could sleep,which we did but truthfully my nerves were fried from the worry and greeted the dawn thinking “we need to sell the boat, I cannot be anxious like this any more”I like to think that revelation prompted our swift entry into the marina and equilibrium has been restored.
Paul had a decent night’s sleep, but was violently ill when he got up. We made the decision that we needed to get into a marina, get tied up, and Paul was to stay pretty much boat-bound until we saw real progress. We had some options of marinas but decided to get back to our favorite – Treasure Cay. We could focus on Paul’s health whilst Sian could still enjoy the fabulous beach and marina-hotel amenities. High winds for a couple of days but I did meet some lovely people,and their dogs and even saw a dead shark washed up on the beach. Don’t know what happened to him, he looked fine, just dead!
We wanted to be over in Marsh Harbour by Tuesday to prepare for family arriving, so went ahead and booked a slip until then – 5 days.
Paul focused on his Priformis stretches, four sessions each day. By the end of the five days he had also weaned himself off all of the meds except the anti-acids. Sian walked the beach every day and did some boat chores. When we were ready to leave for Marsh Paul was finally feeling much better, even without the meds.
On Tuesday we set off for Marsh late morning. We were in no particular hurry so ran at just six knots and arrived to anchor off Marsh Harbour Marina and Jib Room. After launching the dinghy we went over and tied up at Union Jack dock, where the local Marsh Harbour Yacht Club had built and installed a dingy dock for visiting cruisers. We picked up a few things at the store, including a gallon of distilled water for battery maintenance. We visited the Jib Room for lunch the next day, but really spent the time, as planned, spiffing up Sonas for her visitors.
[Paul is still in pain with with Sciatica so this update from Sian]
April 10th – April 11th
We get up Tuesday morning, like always the first check is the weather. Winds clocking round ( whatever THAT means) but ending up in the North. So we study the chart, decide we have the morning where we are across from Manjack and then head to Allans-Pensacola to a nice safe anchorage suitable for a stiff breeze from the North for the next few days. The plan was to be sheltered, to walk on the beach, swim and really let the weather do it’s thing.
We motored up and found two other like-minded boats anchored where we were heading but hey it’s all good, we can share. Dropped the hook, it didn’t take first go so up she came and try again. This for me is a new experience. Last spring in the Exumas I don’t remember ever resetting the anchor but here its grassier and if the anchor rolls to the side it doesn’t dig in and hence the redo. Second try and all is well. We leave the snubber off for three hours just to be sure but are finally convinced we’re holding so I go to work.
Being responsible for the snubber is new to me this year. Paul is more under the weather with sciatica than he cares to admit so I am picking up some extra skills. One of which is the snubber. For our non-boating friends, the snubber is a rope or rope-rubber combination that connects to the chain and takes the load from the chain to the rope and then to both sides of the bow. This does two things. It reduces chain noise since it is now rope moving not steel chain, and it lowers the “pull point” on the chain helping the anchor stay buried. Earlier in this trip the strain on the shackle that attaches the ropes to the anchor chain bent the pin making that shackle unusable. But hey, we’re boaters so no problem, we improvised. I have become adept at attaching a clip to the chain, the shackle to the clip, tightening the ropes and taking the strain off the chain.
So snubber on, time to relax. Suddenly we are hit with rain and increased winds. Race round closing hatches and doors to hear Paul calling the anchor is dragging. Forget the windows, all hands on deck! He starts the engines, I race to remove the snubber so we can gather the anchor in. I need pliers on a usual day and now am trying to keep calm in 40 knot winds (recorded by our instruments). Is it righty tightly , lefty loosy and which way is up on this damn shackle anyway? Look up to see we are way too close to our nearest neighbor so put my head down, try to focus and keep trying. Paul abandons his post at the throttles, gets the shackle loosened for me, darts back while I get the ropes out of the way, lift the anchor and, as they say, disaster is narrowly averted.
Now, what to do? Choices are: use the engines to keep steady and re anchor when it’s all over, which will be after dark, or head round the corner to a more exposed anchorage but with better holding where we can anchor in twilight. We chose the second option. Now we worry, will the anchor drag again?
On our GPS we can set a drag alarm, well that seems handy so we did. Nothing happened for three hours so we went to bed. Well let me tell you it’s a very quiet little alarm, almost like it didn’t really want to wake any one! Heard it at 11.30 pm and both jumped up ready for who knows what.
Nothing bad was happening, swinging around a bit but Paul slept in the pilot house and I checked on him every couple of hours. Arrived at 7 am, exhausted but safe. Headed off to Green Turtle, our next safe bolt hole, looking forward to a long nap.
Arrived and entered White Sound to find no room at the inn for Sonas. There are spaces to anchor and mooring buoys and a couple of marinas. We called the private owner of the only open mooring buoy to be told that it could not accommodate our size, no room to anchor and the marina only had space for one night. After a brief tour of the harbor on we slogged on, finally ending up in Bakers Bay which has changed beyond all recognition in the last 20 years.
Bakers Bay used to be a stop for the Big Red Boat cruise line but it didn’t work out well due to rage that Whale Cay turns into in a north or northeast blow. The first time we came, back in 2002, the cruise line’s “Private Island” had not long been abandoned and we explored, as a family of five, this abandoned, sad space which was attractive in its isolation. There were kitchens, tables, tree top forts and all the other paraphernalia of a holiday cruise destination quickly being returned to nature. Today Bakers Bay is a private residential development with many houses on the shore line, and a member’s only marina and golf resort. Good luck to them boosting the economy here but it is somewhat spoiled, if you like the quieter side of the Abacos. Anyway I for one am thrilled to be tucked in (fingers crossed with no anchor issues) for a nice quiet night out of the north wind.
We left Great Sale and set off south east past Hawksbill, Fox Town, Moraine, Allans-Pensacola, Spanish, Powell and Manjack cays and arrived at the anchorage off New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay around noon. We plan to go back to visit some of these beautiful islands later in our trip. Along the way we passed dozens of boats of all shapes and sizes.
The bottom at the New Plymouth is grass covered sand. We had some challenges getting our plough anchor to set. It finally held on the third try, though looking at the anchor the next day as we were lifting it, it was sitting on its side rather than the point set in the bottom. Clearly the boat had been held by the weight of the chain only. We launched the dinghy and Sian headed off to town to get some fresh veggies and milk returning after a successful trip.
The next day was flat calm, a perfect day for crossing Whale Cay channel. This cut can be atrocious in a blow from the north through northeast, to the extent that a cruise line, which had built a “private Island” in Baker’s Bay by the cut, had so much trouble getting in and out they abandoned the area.
We crossed the channel with no issues and headed for Treasure Cay. Initially we had planned to either pick up a mooring or anchor in the basin there, but we decided to go into the marina for a few days to help give Paul’s sciatica a chance to clear up as it was still very painful. Those “few days” turned into a very relaxing week at the marina!
Our daily routine (if you could call it that) was breakfast on board, then off to the wonderful award winning beach where Sian walked on the fine coral sand and Paul walked in the water to exercise while reducing the weight on his periformis and sciatic nerve. Back to the boat for lunch and then over to lie by the marina pool for a couple of hours. Back to the boat for nap, finishing with dinner and drinks. If we had to be “stuck” somewhere this was as good a place as anywhere in the Caribbean!
We also scored a bag of lobster tails and grilled them up! There was also a little Saturday market that we walked around, but saw nothing of interest.
After four days we saw some improvement in Paul’s pain but not enough to leaving the marina. So on Thursday Paul walked over to the private Corbett Medical center. He was seen by Doctor Hull and had a quality conversation with him on his condition. Dr. Hull was not supportive of Baralgin and gave Paul two weeks supply of a muscle relaxer and Tramadol pain killer – known as Ultram in the states. Downside was no alcohol, so now Paul has to sit on his boat in the Bahamas for two weeks without a lick of booze!
For the month or two before leaving Jacksonville we had been trying to get Sonas cleaned and waxed, with four different businesses contacted, two coming to estimate the work, but zero follow up. So we decided that we would look to have it done will we were in Abaco if we could. We asked the dockmaster at the marina if he could recommend someone and he introduced us to Ray and his side kick Gary. We negotiated a price and Ray turned up punctually at 7:30 to begin work. They worked diligently for two full days, hand compounding and waxing and then a wash down. Sonas is looking spiffy, though I will probably run a buffer over her when we get home.
On Saturday the 7th, with a marked improvement in Paul’s condition, we finally said goodbye to Treasure Cay Marina and headed off through Whale Cay Channel again to visit some of the islands we had passed earlier. Our first stop was Manjack Cay, where there is a marine park. We spent a couple of days there and walked the mile through the mini-jungle to the beach on the Atlantic side. In the evenings we took Sonas the short run across the Sea of Abaco to the Great Abaco Island side to anchor, as the south winds were blowing straight into Manjack and creating quite a lumpy sea.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, we are going to continue to the North West with plans to visit the small anchorage at Crab Cay and then Allans-Pensacola Cay, where I hope the winds are calm enough that I can get some drone footage.
After satisfying ourselves that we has resolved the water leak/bilge pump issue we did one final check on the weather for crossing the gulf stream. We use a number of sources for this: NOAA, WindFinder, Windy, and Marvsweather.com. We had been keeping an eye on a front that was coming down from the North East. The forecasts were all pretty consistent, the front would arrive early evening, there would be 2-3 foot seas until 2pm, then gradually rising to 5 foot seas by 5pm, bigger by 8pm. Our planned course and speed would have us on the Bahamas Bank and shallow waters by 2pm. So the window was good to go.
The morning was warm with light winds from the north east so we rode out of the inlet on the flybridge. NOAA indicated that the west wall of the Gulf Stream was 14 miles east of the inlet. Two hours into the trip we entered the stream, with seas as predicted. About two hours later, and approximately 15 miles into the stream, the wind and seas started to get up so we moved into the Pilothouse.
The weather then turned really nasty. The wind was blowing 25-27 from the north east, gusting to 30 true on our instruments. The seas were pretty confused rather than coming steady from one direction. The stabilizers struggled to keep Sonas from rolling and it got really unpleasant. We had planned to cross onto the bank between 2 and 3, find calmer water and head to Grand Cay. We pounded for another five hours and finally made the bank at White Sand Ridge around 4pm.
However the blow from the east meant that the bank was nasty as well, with short seas right on our nose. We realized that our timing meant we would be entering the very shallow and tight anchorage at Grand Cay in the dark, so we opted to turn about 14 degrees south to take the seas on our forward quarter and head for Great Sale anchorage. We knew this anchorage from before and although we would be running in the dark for about three hours and entering the anchorage using only instruments, we felt it was the wiser option. Around 10pm, using GPS for depth and radar for other boat avoidance, we laid anchor at Great Sale.
Sian here, whilst the above narrative is factually accurate I feel it does not do our rough crossing justice! We thrashed about for hours, lunch had been made but I did not dare open the fridge. (Note to self: put it all in the cooler next time. Next time? Who AM I kidding) At one stage the fridge, although locked down, flew open resulting in soda cans, food and wine bottles rolling madly in high seas. Fortunately only one bottle smashed so I threw paper towels down, retrieved what I could and sat myself back down.
Sian went into the galley to prepare a late dinner and appeared with baked beans on toast – not our usual quality fare. Paul took one look and declared that he was being punished for one silly bad decision!
Sian again. Once anchored we had to restore order, furniture had rolled, broken glass needed lifting and yes the Captain did get beans on toast. At 11.30 pm after a sixteen hour day, he was lucky to see that!
The next day, Tuesday March 27th, the wind was still blowing in the mid-twenties, gusting to 30, so we remained in Great Sale with about 10 other boats. We used the time to tidy up the boat from the day before and unwind after our crossing. We also hoisted the yellow quarantine flag indicating that we had yet to clear customs. Paul was suffering from a pretty bad onslaught of Sciatica (actually Piriformis syndrome) so it helped for him to lie still for a day. He did have to quickly nip into the engine room to lock down the port stabilizer as it was moving with the wave motion and making a knocking noise. Paul does not think that it should be that loose so will be contacting Lambs boat yard after the Easter weekend and discussing it with them.
On Wednesday the winds finally calmed so we headed north to Grand Cay. We arrived at mid-day, launched the dinghy and Paul went ashore to clear customs and buy a Bahamas Telephone Company SIM card. While he was ashore he found the clinic and spoke to the nurse about his sciatica. She made him an appointment with the doctor for the next day. Meanwhile San put him on a stretching regimen, which including using a BBQ gas canister as a roller for deep tissue massage!
On Thursday we went ashore for Paul’s doctor appointment. The clinic was very busy as the doctor only comes to the island once a week. When it was Paul’s turn a man walked into the doctor’s office ahead of him taking Paul a bit by surprise. So much for their version of HIPAA! He was there to tell the doctor that his 10 pound bag of red snapper was 44 dollars! Paul thought about asking for a bag as well but he knew our fridge freezer on Sonas was still bursting at the seams as we had only just arrived.
The doctor wrote a prescription for Lyrica, and then told him that they didn’t have any. That we should take the prescription with us as we may be able to find it on other islands! He also prescribed, and supplied, a week’s supply of a pain killer, Baralgin. We Googled this as we hadn’t heard of it, to find that it was developed back in 1920 and had actually been banned from the US back in 1977! However, needs must, and Paul started shoveling them down his throat!
We headed back to the boat and took off to our next anchorage at Double Breasted. This island is one of the most beautiful in Abaco and we were looking forward to walking its sandbars and maybe taking some drone video. However, arriving at the turn for the anchorage we found that the wind was blowing straight in and it was not very sheltered. We really want to visit here so need to try again later on this trip! We turned south east and started our way towards the Sea of Abaco. We were aiming for Green Turtle on Friday and then Treasure Cay on Saturday, ready to attend Easter Mass at the little Catholic chapel there.
Our first stop was back at Great Sale, which was a nice short cruise and a good setting off point for Green Turtle the next day.
We had to wait until about 11am to be sure we had enough water to clear the channel at Queens Harbour.
We then ran south through Palm Valley, St Augustine to Palm Coast. On previous trips we had booked a slip at Hammock Beach, but this time we did not want to be bothered with taking the shuttle up to the hotel for dinner. So we tied up at Palm Coast Marina on the West side of the ICW, arriving at 5:30.
We made things ship shape and then walked over to the European Village for dinner. We chose the Lisbon Nights Portuguese restaurant which specializes in seafood – since it was a Friday in Lent. We washed down our seafood with a bottle of Malbec and then headed back to Sonas. Our plans this week were for early nights and early mornings until we got to the Bahamas.
On day two we got a long day under our belts to get to Fort Pierce in plenty of time the third day for fuel and water prior to crossing to the Bahamas. So we untied and were off the dock by 7:15am. We headed south through Daytona, New Smyrna, and Mosquito Lagoon, through Haulover Canal, past Cape Canaveral, Titusville and Cocoa. We dropped anchor offshore a residential area called The Point about six miles south of Cocoa around 6:30 for a total run of just over eleven hours.
We were off again at7:15am on the third day, March 25th. We ran down the Indian River through Melbourne and Sebastian to arrive in Vero Beach around noon. We went into the Vero Beach City Marina to filled up with diesel and water. Finally arriving at our anchorage just inside the inlet at Fort Pierce around 2:30pm. We made everything secure and then went below for a well deserved nap!
As we lay there we heard the forward bilge pump cycling. Not something you really want to hear when you are about to cross the Gulf Stream! We started the search for the source of the water. We checked all of the through hulls, and all of the fresh water lines, finding absolutely nothing. Paul watched the rate of water entering the bilge and decided that it was nothing to be overly concerned about, though a puzzle.
Later that evening Burntside, a Kady Krogen 39 entered the anchorage and dropped the hook right behind us. Then Paul’s cell phone rang and a gentleman by the name of Steve Park introduced himself and told us that he was on the Kady Krogen right behind us. We are both members of the Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA) and he recognized Sonas. He also had been following our blog. We had a chat about our immediate cruising plans. Steve was returning from the Exumas, leaving his boat at Brunswick GA before returning home to Minnesota for the summer.
We rose at 5:30 on Monday the 26th. The bilge pump had been cycling regularly throughout the night so we were determined to find the issue or delay our crossing until we did. Paul checked the fresh water gauge and it was lower. He then put the mop into the forward bilge and drew out some water, then gave it a good sniff to confirm that it was fresh water. We had already checked all the fresh water lines the day before which left he water heater or the tank itself as the chief suspects. The water heater checked out fine. Since the 350 gallon water tank is beneath the master berth we had to fold our mattress forward and then remove all of the totes with the cans of beer and soda that we store there! We then lifted the hatch and immediately found the issue.
Originally there been an ozone maker sitting on top of the tank feeing into the water via a plastic tube. Paul had removed this and plugged the tubing. Somehow the plug ad come out and the hose had fallen off the tank into the bilge causing a syphon effect, and the fresh water was running out through that. We secured the hose, planning to remove it altogether later, and were now clear to cross!
As always with boat ownership, there are plenty of things to do during the “quiet” fall and winter months, though here in Florida winter is relative! One thing we did notice after we had written this is that it doesn’t seem like a lot when you are doing these things one at a time, but looking back we got through a substantial amount – albeit some small general maintenance stuff.
Some we did ourselves, some we “outsourced,” and some were general ongoing maintenance.
We don’t have much wood on the exterior of Sonas, but all of the rails are teak. Over time the salt and sun take their toll and the varnish starts to flake. It was time for some light sanding and a couple of coats of Helmsman.
Sonas has a teak and holly floor. While not exposed to the elements as is the exterior bright work, it does get scuffed and scratched over time. We gave the galley and salon floor a light sanding and then two coats of Minwax polyurethane.
The salon walls were also looking a bit dull so we cleaned these and coated a couple of times with Murphy’s Oil Soap.
We also noticed that the varnish on one of the interior window sills and frames needed attention,most likely because the window was left open during a salty run. We sanded those down and gave them a couple of coats as well.
One of our biggest aggravations in the two years we have owned Sonas has been the 24 volt halogen ceiling lights. The bulbs on these go out on a frequent basis, and if they don’t go out they come loose and constantly need to to pushed back in. So we decided to replace all 34 of the lights with 24v LEDs.
Sonas had a very nice Ekornes recliner and foot stool which unfortunately was getting well past its best. With the two person sofa, this only provided seating for three in the salon (though we do have two stools at the galley counter). So we swapped out the recliner for two replacements, now we have plenty of seating for four.
We have three lights above the galley counter which are controlled by a resistor type dimmer switch. This had gone bad. Also, since we were replacing the lights with LEDs we needed a different type of dimmer. After searching high and low for a 24v dimmer, we decided to go with a simple on/off switch instead, especially since every time we switched those lights on we turned the dimmer to full anyway!
A couple of times in the Bahamas last year we tied to piles that were well in front of our spring cleats, necessitating tying two of our lines together to set the springs. So we decided to buy some 50 foot 3/4 inch lines to have on board for those times we have to do that again.
After a winter being pushed up against the concrete dock and sitting partially in the water the fenders were looking a bit shabby. After a good wash and spray with restorer they come up a bit more ready for the new season – though I do see some new fenders in our near future as they still look a bit tired.
We also added some new artwork – the nicest piece was a blown up drone photo of Sonas at Williams Cay! You will want to click on this photo to enlarge it – we are really pleased with how it came out.
For our three month trip to the Exumas we put a small freezer in the corner of the salon to ensure that we had enough frozen goods for the duration. Since in 2017 we will only spend about six weeks in the Abacos before three months in the Chesapeake (where fresh supplies are readily available) we removed the freezer and stored it in the garage.
One side benefit of a nice long cruise like three months in the Exumas is that you really get to know your boat. As things cropped up or were found we kept a log of the items we wanted our yard to work on. So we took Sonas over to Lambs Yacht Center on the Ortega River with the to-do list. We had divided these into must dos, the A list, and if time and cost allowed a B list. So we had the following completed:
Both fiberglass exhaust tubes in the engine room were ground down and re-glassed. The original survey had found spider cracks that allowed salt water to spray against the engine room bulk head.
The A/C unit in the guest cabin ran continuously so the control board need to be replaced.
All of the wet cell house batteries (12), and the two generator batteries were swapped out for no-maintenance gels.
The Halon fire suppression system was recertified.
The starboard stabilizer was leaking a small amount of fluid and squeaking. The yard had Naiad techs service both stabilizers.
We had a minor accident in the Exumas and damaged the corner of the swim platform. The yard brought his back to like new. And while they had it out of the water they replaced all the zincs.
The vacuum pump for the master cabin head was very inconsistent and the pump for the guest head was leaking so we had the yard totally replace the pumps and rebuild both head systems.
The PathMaker unit, which allows parallel use of house and start batteries to start the engines was malfunctioning and continuously connecting the batteries, meaning that the start batteries were being drawn down by house usage. This is a big no-no as you could end up with flat start batteries after a period at anchorage. We had the yard remove the PathMaker completely.
The Stidd pilothouse helm chair had seen better days. So we asked Stephen Mousa at Mousa Auto and Marine Interiors to redo it. We also had the metal powder coated to the same color. We are very pleased by the finished product!
Our galley faucet had corroded and siezed in one position. The faucet was one where you could extend the faucet end with a hose. This hose had also blocked up over time reducing the amount of water coming out. So we had Atlantic Coast Plumbing and Tile come and swap out the faucet for a new one, which did not have the hose extension. Sometimes simple is best on a boat!
Mike from MPG Electronics resolved some issues we were having with the electronics. The Autopilot was not getting a feed from either of the GPS systems, or the computer. Seems the J300X computer had gone bad so had to be replaced by a used part as they no longer make these. Also the flybridge monitor was not working so that we could monitor the engine room and rear cameras while underway. The power supply had gone bad so we had to order a replacement from the original manufacturer in Canada.
Because we anchor out a lot a fully working and reliable tender is critical. We took the Novurnia RIB and its 25 horse power Yamaha to Isle of Palms Marine at Palm Cove Marina for a service. This included emptying out the fuel tank and cleaning it, as well as replacing the fuel hose and bulb.
In early February I had Ryan from the Pier 88 Diving franchise here is Jacksonville come and give the bottom a good clean and replace the zincs.
Josh from Control Master Inc, the mechanics that we use on Sonas, came and completed an annual service on the Lugger engines and Northern Lights generator. He de-gunked both engine heat exchangers, replaced a generator fuel injector valve and the generator fresh water circulating pump.
One area we are struggling with is getting the boat compounded and waxed. We have had three people around to look at her and so far so one works on boats this size. Asking around it seems there is a dearth of detailing companies in Jacksonville. Still waiting to get this completed.
All-in-all, we are more than ready for the season!
It occurred to us as we prepared for our upcoming trip to the Abacos that we never shared what needs to be done prior to leaving (and returning) from the Bahamas as far as paperwork. So here are the things we have to formalize before we leave.
Annual DTOPS Decal
“Decals are stickers that are placed on all private aircraft and private vessels (30 feet or more in length) as proof that the User Fee for entry into the U.S. has been paid for the calendar year. Any arriving vessel or aircraft that does not have an annual decal will be required to pay the non-refundable User Fee and complete an application, which will be forwarded to the processing center. The application will be processed, and a decal will be mailed from the processing center. A decal expires on December 31st of its issue year. A new decal is issued whenever the decal is renewed.” https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/main/#
Small Vessel Registration System SVRS [Edited May 2018, as of April 2018 this system is no longer active for Florida Boaters. Check status for you. It has been replaced by the ROAM App]
ROAM (Reprting Offsite Arrival – Mobile) App
ROAM was brought in for Florida boaters in April 2018 to replace the Small Vessel Reporting System. You will still need to register for a SVRS number or have another expedited entry program such as Global Entry.
It works as follows. You down load the App. You will need to have or establish a Login.gov account. You then add the people who will be checking in. This includes the names and passport details as well as taking a photo of the passport photo page using the App. It will also ask you for your SVRS number or Global Entry number etc. You also add in details of the vessel you are coming in on. These detail are saved in the App for future use. You then enter details of this particular entry – which countries to were in and then you answer the standard questions regarding anything you may be bringing in.
You then press submit. And this is the critical part. The submission will be reviewed real time by an officer. He/She will either approve the entry or request a video interview. You must keep the App open and watch it for the response. If you do not respond to a request for a video interview you will shorty receive an email telling you that your entry was not approved and you must report in person. This real time process is not intuitive and there is not a tutorial set up yet taking you through the process. So make sure to watch the App after submission.
Before 9/11 US boaters going and returning from the Bahamas could do so on an original US Birth Certificate – with a raised seal (stamp). Post 9/11 this is no longer the case and you should have your passport with you. Another option is using a US Passport Card. This is not valid for international air travel but can be used for travel by sea (and land) between the US and Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean and Bermuda.
Using Your VHF To Communicate With A Foreign Shore Base
US regulations dictate that any individual communicating with a foreign shore based station have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit. Additionally any vessel communicating with a foreign shore base must have a Ship Station License. The Operator’s permit is lifetime, whereas the Ship’s license is for ten years. To obtain your licenses you must first register on the FCC’s CORES system. You will get a FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password. Using these you can then get your operator’s and Ships radio licenses.
Entering Bahamian waters you must fly your national flag as usual, and a yellow quarantine flag until you clear customs and immigration. This is usually flown off the starboard side of the boat. Once cleared you must then take down the yellow flag and replace it with the Bahamian (courtesy) flag. BE AWARE the penalties for taking fish prior to clearing are severe.
When traveling to the Bahamas by boat you may anchor out prior to clearing customs. Usually when running from West Palm to West End this is not necessary. However when running from Fort Pierce to the northern Abacos or from points further south to the Berries or Exumas for example, this may be necessary for slower vessels. While I have not personally heard of any issues with boats anchoring for two nights before clearing I would not recommend it as it is hard to justify. BE AWARE that no one from the boat can go ashore if you chose to anchor prior to clearing customs.
You must clear at your first port of call in the Bahamas. So take care to make that an island that has a customs and immigration officer. You can see the list of locations here:
Also, only the person checking in is allowed to leave the boat until the process is completed. [Though last year when checking in at Lucaya after an 11 hour run we asked if Sian could take the dog ashore while Paul met with customs and they gave the OK].
We also strongly recommend that you print out a complete set of customs and immigration documents prior to leaving home, and fill them out. This will save a lot of time in the customs office. In fact we had not done that recently and had the customs lady severely roll her eyes at Paul! It looks like a lot (well it is a lot!) but they are not difficult to complete. As of the date of writing the forms required are: Bahamas Customs Clearance, Inward Report – Pleasure Vessels, Maritime Declaration of Health and Appendix, Inward Passenger and Crew Manifest – Pleasure Ship.
You can find a full set of these documents in the link below. The second link will also get you the “Application for a Permit to Engage in Foreign Fishing for Sporting Purposes.” You should also complete this even though you may not plan on fishing as you are paying for it anyway. I have also provided a link to all Bahamian government documents later in this post so you can get any other documents you need. Remember, all of these will also be available when you get to the customs office, you are just looking to expedite things (also make sure that you have either used A4 size paper or resized the text on the forms to get the signature places on the bottom of each):
And don’t forget you $300 cash entry fee, which includes your fishing license. ($150 for boats under 35 feet). This covers three people and is good for two entries within a 90 day period. Each additional person is $20. The only other cost would be if you requested out of hours processing when they may be overtime costs for the extra time.
We have heard, but not confirmed, that the customs office in West End is now taking cards in payment for the entry fee.
BE AWARE that you must declare any firearms on board and have them secured. You must also declare every single round of ammunition on board. This is critical as if you are later boarded and found to have more ammunition than declared they will assume you planned to discharge. If they board you and find that you have less ammunition than declared they will assume you have already discharged!
One more point before we leave the customs and immigration process, and that is around tipping the customs officer after he has provided the services expected of him. We will not suggest that you do it or not do it here, but we would recommend that you use on-line search tools and forums and based on your findings make your own decision.
Taking a Dog [on vacation, permanent import has a different process]
If you want to take your pet to the islands with you you must first apply to the Bahamian Department of Agriculture (Veterinary Services Unit) for a permit. This is a pretty straight forward process, just make sure to do it well before you plan on leaving. Currently the fee is $10, plus $5 is you want a fax or emailed expedited copy of the permit.
There are certain breeds that are not allowed. Also you will need your vet to give you a declaration of health for the dog as well as confirmation that the dog is up to date on all of its rabies shots. BE AWARE that they ask you to have your vet complete the health form within 24 hours of your departure! This is impossible if your home and vet is multiple days away from your crossing point. However we have not had an issue with “very recent” dating on this form.
You will find the application form, with instructions here, along with many, if not all, of the forms you require for your trip. Just use the Search Form menu item and enter Dog.
One of the most frequent question we see asked about going to the Bahamas is around the limits for bringing in food and booze. While we cannot speak to doing so when flying, there is absolutely no issue with bringing in as much food and drink as you require for your cruise. Clearly this must be for your own consumption. Just state that on the Inward Report – Pleasure Vessels form under B(2) Stores Onboard “Sufficient Food and beverages for master and crew consumption only.”
BE AWARE that your boat will obviously have spares for maintenance of your boat for the duration of the cruise. These will be on board as you arrive and depart. However if you are bringing parts for another vessel these will need to be reported. You will have to pay a stamp tax on those parts BUT, based on latest information, if they are replacement parts, you should not have to pay duty. Obviously check the latest rules on this prior to bringing in replacement parts for someone else.
Taking an Unmanned Aircraft (Drone)
If you want to use a drone in the Bahamas you will have to either have it registered with the FAA in the US and then apply for an Authorization To Fly In the Bahamas Airspace, or register it with the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority and ask for the authorization. Since it is now a rule that you must register in the US it makes sense to go ahead and go the US registration route. BTW, new in the US is that you must have your FAA registration on the outside of the drone, no longer allowed just inside somewhere.
The Bahamian authorization request process is very straight forward. You simple email Mr. Gregory Edwards, at email@example.com requesting the authorization. In that email you will need to provide a copy of your FAA certificate, your drone model number, your drone serial number, and proof of ownership. (For the latter Paul sent a photo of his FAA registration numbers on the drone itself since we did not have a purchase receipt).
Once Mr. Edwards processes your email you will get the authorization back.
We hope this help anyone planning a trip to the Islands! They really are a paradise!
After a pretty cold January (for Florida anyway) February has brought spring! Today, February 25th, we got into the mid 80s up here in North East Florida.
We have been putting a lot of time into Sonas getting her ready for the upcoming cruise to the Abacos and to the Chesapeake. So today we decided to treat ourselves and (after Paul watched Manchester United beat Chelsea in the Premier League!) we jumped into our RIB, Little Sonas, and headed out for a few hours.
We had ten yacht club boats and eighteen land-yachters head down to St Augustine for the first weekend of the 2017 Nights of Lights. There were a number of new members we got to meet and introduce to the QHYC lifestyle! Due to the damage to the St Augustine Municipal Marina from hurricane Irma we had to spread the boats between the city marina and Comanche Cove Marina. Even then, not all of the boats at the city marina had a power supply and some had to rely on their on-board generators. The club had reserved specific private times with the the water-taxi between Comanche Cove and the city docks to make sure that people could get over easily to enjoy the town and the events we had planned.
Our schedule for the weekend was:
Boats arrive before sunset 5:38PM
Dinner at the Columbia Restaurant.
During the day explore St Augustine
At 6:00PM gather at City Marina for pre-lighting drinks and walk into town for the Lighting Ceremony
The Countdown for Light Up to start at 6:30PM
Pizza Dock Party after the Light Up (7:00PM)
Leave at your leisure
Sonas had a slip one in from the fuel dock. Initially it was supposed to be with no power. But we noticed that the nearest boat to us on the fuel dock was just using the 30amp. So we asked if we could use their 50amp. We were able to piggy back a 50 foot and 25 foot cord and get power to our boat.
Due to good planning and excellent volunteers, the weekend went to plan. The staff at the marinas, as always, were top notch. We had also set up a WhatsApp group specifically for the trip so people where able to stay connected to what was happening, find out where others were having lunch, and what they were doing during the day. It was also helpful to answer any questions and get information.
We could not have asked for better weather on Friday and Saturday. Most of us were able to stay in shorts and t-shirts during the day. Sunday, for the return trips, started off cloudy, cold and rainy. But improved by afternoon.
The food at the Columbia was excellent (although one paella meal went astray for a while (the one Sian and I were sharing), but we got that sorted out!).
Friday evening and overnight was calm with no winds whatsoever, resulting in restful nights for those in the condos at Camanche cove and those staying on board.
Saturday arrived with a wonderful sunrise, and bright blue skies.
On Saturday members walked through town where some had breakfast. Sian organized a group to visit the Lightner Museum to see the Downton Abbey exhibition currently underway there. Most members had lunch in town before heading back to the condos and boats to prepares for the Docktail and the Lighting ceremony.
Sian and I had lunch at the Prohibition Inn. The beer list was awesome, and the burgers were too!
Everyone got to the meeting place on the dock on time, had a warming drink, before walking into Constitution Square where a band was playing on the stage. Amazingly promptly at 6:30 the MC introduced the VIPs for the lighting, including those who led the recovery from this year’s storms. There was a short ten second countdown to turn on the Christmas tree lights first, followed by another to switch on the millions of lights throughout the city.
Fleet Captain Dan and willing volunteer Russ setting up the Docktail!
Click below to run the video of the lighting.
After the ceremony we all headed back to the marina and got the docktail underway. At 7:00 the Pizzas arrived, we added the cheese plates, dips and fruit, and we ate and drank our fill listening to Christmas music until around 10:00, at which time the last water taxi took people back and the boaters retired happy to perhaps one final night cap and bed!
During the evening Paul chatted to Winky and Cindy aboard Vagabond, which tied up in the next slip. They were on their way to Hope Town in the Abacos to spend the winter months. We told them, if all things worked out, we would see them there next March!
Click below to run the video of the Docktail.
An excellent day’s fun and entertainment.
Sunday arrived cloudy and cold, with a promise of rain. All of the boaters left early and everyone was safely back in home port by lunchtime. All of the land yachters meandered their way home safely as well.
Rain on the ICW
Even the St Augustine birds clustered together to stay warm! Click below to run the video of the birds on the dock.
Some more photographs of the weekend in the gallery below.
The annual Jacksonville Air Show alternates between Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach (where it is an Air and Sea Show). The 2017 event was at NAS JAX.
Hundreds of boats anchor off the end of the runway on the St John’s River. Previously, when we had a faster boat, we would go over there for the day, then back to our slip the same day.
Now that we have moved to a trawler we cannot make the round trip to the NAS show and back before dark, unless we leave before the Blue Angels – and what is the point of doing that!!
So we decided to run down there in our 15′ AB RIB. There were some other boats from the Yacht Club going so we would be able to raft up to them and go on board.
The day was warm, with blue skies and a light breeze.
So we packed a soft-sided cooler with some lunch and drinks, and ran up the ICW to the St John’s, turned to port (left) and headed up the Mighty St John’s River. We passed under Dames Point Bridge, past the Carnival Elation that was boarding passengers, past the container terminals, and then into downtown Jacksonville.
A yacht club boat passed us just as we got downtown but then was held up by a train crossing the railway bridge. Because we were in the small boat we were able to sneak through using the small boat access!
It took slightly over an hour to run the 25 miles to the show.
We then headed south to where there were literally hundreds of boats anchored watching the show. Thee was a tiki boat and a converted tug boat!
We found One Moor and Escape already rafted up and we tied on behind. We went on board and enjoyed good company and an excellent show by the Blue Angels in clear skies.
After the Blue Angels finished there was a mad dash by boats of all sizes back towards downtown and home ports and slips.
All in all a very pleasant day on the water.
For a gallery of all of the days photos see below. Click on the first photo to enlarge and scroll through.
Rewind to September 2016. Sian was taking Grace The World’s Best Boat Dog to the vet’s for a regular visit. Paul was in Prague on business. The vet dropped the bombshell news on Sian – “Grace is a very poorly dog, she only has a short time to live, probably weeks.”
After the shock had worn off Sian spoke to the veterinary assistant asking if there was anything at all that we could do. She was told to try giving Grace a steroid every other day (along with an anti-acid to prevent stomach issues).
Meanwhile we simply accepted that our three month trip to the Exumas, which Grace was originally coming on, would now just be the two of us.
Well, for those that read our Exumas posts, Grace clearly was not listening to the vet. Not only did she come with us to the Exumas, but she thrived. Maybe not as sprightly off an on the boat and dinghy as she once was, but she had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
However soon after we got back from the Exumas at the end of May Grace started to struggle. She now has severe limps and moves very slowly. Her steroids are now once a day and every four weeks she goes for an Adequan shot to help with her stiffness.
We continue to check for signs of pain and discuss with the vet, and so far Grace still is enjoying life and seems happy. Even though her morning walks around the neighborhood are now more morning staggers to the end of the street!
We do like going up to the local river for weekends and we have a trip to St Augustine coming up. We were debating whether or not Grace was up to these, or was the kennel the best alternative. So we decided to do an afternoon-one night-morning run to Fort George river to see how she coped.
Overall she did fine. She can no longer get herself to the flybridge where we like to run the boat from. So Sian spent more time in the salon keeping her company. However sitting at anchor, as soon as we grab her life jacket (which is used to lift her up and down), she heads for the swim platform. And getting onto the dinghy for evening and morning ablutions, and getting onto the salon couch when we went to bed, was not a problem for her.
See gallery of photos from the overnighter below.
So Grace, The World’s Best Boat Dog, still has a few short trips in her. She will be coming along to St Augustine for the Night of Lights trip, and perhaps a trip downtown Jacksonville while we attend the Symphony, and even another night or two up at Fort George River.
The jury is still out on our longer Abacos and Chesapeake trips next year though. But that is a story for another time.
After three months at sea we had a list of items we wanted worked on over at Lamb’s boat yard. Some of these were left over from time of purchase and had been raised by the survey. Others were general maintenance items, and one (the swim platform that we dinged in the Exumas).
So at the end of July we took Sonas over to the yard with a list of A items that we definitely wanted to get done, and a list of B items that I wanted to discuss with the yard.
The A List.
The survey found last year that the port fiberglass exhaust tube had hairline cracks that was allowing raw water into the engine room. The yard couldn’t see this last year when we asked them to look at it. When we were in the Exumas I saw salt accumulating on a bulkhead so investigated and found the cracks on the inside top of the tube – which you could not see unless you put a camera behind the tube (which I did with my phone). The yard ground out and replaced the fiberglass on both exhaust tubes.
Both Vacuflush heads were giving us issues while in the Exumas. The master cabin head would prime inconsistently and the guest cabin head had a leak in the vacuum cylinder as well as a fresh water leak behind the toilet seat itself. We had the yard do a full service on both heads.
We found that the bank of twelve wet cell deep cycle house batteries would drain overnight when maintaining the house without the generator. We do have a full size fridge freezer and another chest freezer, and a few other things like lights and heads flush running off the batteries. However they should have enough to manage that. The yard checked the batteries and found that they were on their last legs, so switched them out for twelve low maintenance AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) batteries.
Sonas had a PathMaker system. What this allows you to do is link all of your batteries together to support starting your engines if your engine start batteries were too low. When turned on it would link the house batteries with the start batteries to give them more amperage. The Pathmaker was not working, and in fact was continuously linking the batteries. Which meant that we were also running everything off not only the house batteries but also the engine start batteries when at anchor. This is not the best idea as you could end up running your start batteries too low to start the engines. Rather than try and fix the PathMaker, we had the yard remove it altogether to keep the batteries always separate.
Sonas has stabilizers. These are fins that stick out of the side of each side of the boat and are managed by gyros. As the gyros feel a wave they move the stabilizers so as to keep the boat on a more even keel, which makes for a much more comfortable ride. While our stabilizers worked fine, the starboard one would move and squeak while we were at anchor and asleep as waves rolled across it. This was so annoying that we had to manually lock it down at the end of every day. We had the yard bring in a stabilizer tech who had to replace a few parts and resolve the issue.
Repair swim platform damage. For those that read our posts from the Exumas you read about our incident with the Glendinning Controls, resulting is a bashed swim platform. The yard did a great job repairing this back to new! See here for that story.
To fix the swim platform dent the yard had to haul Sonas. So we had them replace all of the zincs, including bonding zincs.
We have a large automatic halon fire suppressant system in the engine room. This has to be re-certified every few years. The yard had the local tech come in and re-certify our system.
Finally, the fan for the guest cabin A/C System was running continuously even when the A/C was not running. The yard found that the A/C control board had gone bad and replaced that for us. Now our guests can sleep in quiet!
We also had a secondary list of item that we wanted completed if time allowed. Unfortunately hurricane Irma appeared before that list was started. The yard still had Sonas up on the hard and offered to keep her there for us during the storm. However we felt that she was safer in Queen’s Harbour at our fixed dock, and protected from storm surge by our lock. So we had them launch her and we went and brought her home.
The B list will have to wait for another year.
Below is a gallery of some photos of the hurricane preparation work we saw on the St Johns on our way home.
Once Sonas was home we stripped off the canvas and doubled up on the lines and fenders. We cleared off all loose items and window coverings. We also bungee-corded the helm covers and seat covers down. The storm came through but she rode it out with no difficulties. Unfortunately downtown Jacksonville did not fare so well as the storm surge flooded the city pretty badly.
One lesson we learned was that we should have made sure we had plenty of diesel on Sonas. So that when the power went out at the house we could use the boat generator to keep everything frozen and use the TV, radio, and even sleep on board with the A/C if we had to. We probably only had enough for a few days in the tanks when the storm came through. Fortunately we only lost power for a few hours.
It has become a bit of a tradition that the Queen’s Harbour Yacht Club run down to Hammock Beach Resort for the Fourth of July weekend. This year we had twelve boats and, with those who stayed in the condos and hotel, over 40 people in attendance!
After tying up we got Sonas ready for the weekend!
We started off the weekend with a Saturday Docktail party in the ground level common area of the condos at Yacht Harbor Village & Marina. With a kitchen/bar area and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the pool. We had taken along the mobile bar and had prepared a Mexican buffet. It was a very successful evening.
Days were spent walking the beach, lazing at the resort pools (including a lazy river), the pool by the marina, or playing golf.
On Sunday we had dinner over at the European Village, at La Piazza Cafe. We had enough land yachters with cars that the boaters were able to get rides over. Another very enjoyable evening of camaraderie, and libations.
The resort had their July Forth fireworks on the Monday. This was preceded by a fine BBQ under the main tent where we had reserved tables for those of us who were BBQ’ing. Others eat at resort restaurants and joined us later for the fireworks.
On Tuesday everyone headed back to Jacksonville after a very successful weekend. We took Sonas out through the St Augustine inlet and back in at Mayport . Passing a very busy Huguenot Beach and a helicopter carrier at Mayport Naval Station.
So, this is the last one from me, at least for this time around. Here are some of the things we learned along the way.
Starting at the end it’s important to make the journey home part of the trip. Plan places to stop and things to enjoy along the way. I have been heading for the barn door since we made the turn in Georgetown which has left the days at sea long and tedious “just getting home” Yes John Lawrance you were right, we should have taken more time…
In the Islands avoid shopping around lunch time – a one hour lunch break can be very flexible, there is a good reason for the expression “Island time Mon!”
Provisioning has been worth all the planning up front. We head home with only fixings for four dinners available, not bad out of three months. However, the gentleman who said not to bother with celery in the freezer was right! The celery left home, and the celery came home too!
When preparing for sea always lock the fridge down, yes even when its flat calm because you just never know. Oh, and close the toilet lid for the same reason, it stops the towel from falling in!
If you forget to use the fresh herbs at home you will forget on the boat as well! Even though the galley is twenty steps from the garden I still managed to forget. Sigh.
Rusty Wilson was a bad boat dog. He will not be invited again! He fell over breaking the television, and also chipped the floor when he bounced in rough seas. I don’t want to hear it folks, it’s not his owners fault he misbehaves!
On the other hand, Grace, The World’s Best Dog, can come cruising any time she likes! What a trooper!
When preparing for this trip we knew we would spend most of our time in swimmers with the occasional shorts and t shirt dinners but even so we packed too many clothes! Keep it to the minimum and then leave ten percent of that at home anyway!
This trip has been a great experience, we are already talking about the next one! Many thanks to our friends who helped make it great, from those who were able to join us and those who gave us Tupperware to t-shirts to bowls, tea towels and plate covers. You know who you are and these touches of home were appreciated more than you know.
Thank you for taking the time to read our story, can’t tell you how tickled we have been to meet people who are familiar with the adventure even though we have not met in person before!
Finally (this is like the movie credits, right?) A huge shout out to the skipper. All the planning, care and consideration made for a fabulous trip. I appreciate you waiting until the last week to say…”the boat has done everything I asked of her” and I will come with you again my love. Even though there were days of rough seas when I threatened to fly me and Grace home!
It was a great three months and, looking back, I have to say that things went mostly to plan, even though we only had Sonas for ten months before starting out. Some specific lessons learned:
Fly guests into Staniel or Norman’s. Having to be in Georgetown on specific dates meant going out into the Exuma Sound in weather which we would have chosen to avoid. We would have made one trip to Georgetown to see it, but at a time of our choosing. Having folks fly in to central Exuma would also have meant less fuel burn.
As for the weather itself, more than a few times the forecast called for wind from one direction and, after anchoring with that direction in mind, the wind shifted 180 degrees and blew into the anchorage. There is not a lot that can be done about that apart from lifting the anchor and moving, but often it is too late in the day for that.
I also learned that “surge” on the guides and charts does not mean what I thought it meant – a quick rise in water levels. It means that there will be a swell running into the anchorage. Plan for this accordingly!
As an addendum to the above issues, I should also have practiced and become more comfortable deploying dual anchors.
I should have paid more attention to connectivity and planned a bit better there. We had planned to get a Bahamas SIM when we got to Lucaya. When we got there we were talked into getting a SIM from a new company called ALIV rather than BTC. That was a mistake as, while they have good coverage in Grand Bahama, New Providence and the Abacos, coverage in the Exumas in non-existent. When we got to Staniel we had to buy a BTC card and data. Also I considered a wireless booster before we left but decided against it mainly because I didn’t have enough time to research the best options properly. Reception in the islands was fine, and the only time we really missed this was around Exuma Park. There is a BTC tower in Highbourne with the next one at Staniel. With the Exumas Park being right in the middle it did not have reception. The park has WiFi you can buy at $15 per day, but you need a booster to get that on the boat. While people may think it is wonderful to be disconnected for a time, when you rely on this connectivity to get the weather and so that family can contact you in an emergency, it is pretty important.
On the positive side, I had never really used the tethering feature on my phone before, and I was really happy with the simplicity of the process and how it allowed us to have one phone on a data plan and the other phones and iPad connected to it.
Looking back at the specific issue I had with the controls leaving Exuma Yacht Club, it was then that I realized that I should never rush things. (see story here: http://atanchor.com/?p=1318 ) We were there on a three month trip. We had all the time in the world, why save a few seconds by hurrying things along? You can be sure this will never happen again.
Practice picking up a mooring ball, would have not only got more comfortable doing it but also realized that all three of our boat hooks were too short for our bow to waterline distance.
When it comes to the equipment I would say there is only one thing that I would have done differently. We have a Pathmaker installed. This separates or links all of my batteries together. The house batteries, the generator batteries and the engine start batteries. This should always be off unless I need to link them to give more power to the engine start batteries. I knew before I left that this was not functioning. I assumed it was in the off position, but discovered during the trip that it was locked in the on position – meaning all my batteries were linked together. As we used the batteries at anchor not only were the house batteries draining down, but so were the generator and start batteries. Not a good scenario. I should have had this fixed before we left, no question. I managed through this by closely watching battery levels and recharging when necessary.
One regret was that I just wasn’t able to get in the fishing that I had planned. I made sure to upgrade my fishing gear before we left with the plan of getting some Mahi, Whaoo, or Yellowfin. However the wind basically howled for the three months we were there and fishing was nearly impossible in the Sound, where the deep water was. Ah, well, next time.
On a more positive note I now know for a fact that Sonas is a well found vessel. She kept us safe and ran beautifully, her engines not missing a beat, and her equipment fully up to the job of long term boating.
I also know what I knew before, that my crew is more than capable of long term cruising as a couple – with occasional guests!
It surprised me, when we got back, the number of people who asked if we had relationship issues while “cooped up together” for that long. This was something that did not occur to either of us and I was taken aback somewhat by the comments. I can honestly say that, for us, this was never an issue. We had plenty of together time and lots of opportunity for quiet time where we wanted. I would say that this trip had proved to us that we can go ahead a plan for a similar trip next year and others further out in confidence. Will there be bumps in the road, probably. But unless you experience bumps you will never recognize what a smooth path feels like.
So that’s it for the Exumas trip. A few local trips coming up and then planning for the Chesapeake next year!
We can start this post off with admitting that we had a difference of opinion regarding our trip back to Jacksonville. Let’s call it a “discussion,” rather than a disagreement!
Once our last guests left for the airport it was always our plan to immediately depart the Marina at Emerald Bay and start making our way home. However as the day got closer Paul started dropping hints that maybe we could swing by the Abacos for another few weeks on our way home. Sian was not impressed and was of the opinion that three months away was enough for now and that we could visit the Abacos at a later date.
The most critical part of leaving the Bahamas and coming back to Florida is crossing the gulf stream. We had been watching the mid-range weather forecast, and, while the forecast could not be relied upon 100%, it did look like Tuesday May 23rd would bring winds from the south (moving with the gulf stream) at around ten knots. Perfect for a crossing.
Given that we were leaving Emerald Bay on the 17th, we could back into that date, giving us five days to get to our jumping off point of West End, Grand Bahama Island, overnight there and cross the next day.
So we made a plan to do a couple of long days to get to New Providence Island and stay at a resort marina there called Palm Cay, where there was a restaurant, a pool, a spa if we wanted a massage, and just chill for a few days. We ran from Emerald Bay to Emerald Rock on the Wednesday. Then we ran from Emerald Rock across to Palm Cay on the Thursday. We arrived at the marina mid-afternoon.
We stayed at Palm Cay until Sunday. We used the pool, beach and beach bar each day, and ate at the restaurant each night, finally taking a break from on-board dining (and cooking!). Our slip was at the furthest end of the marina, and the marina staff recommended that we launch our dinghy to access the facilities. We decided that the walk would do us good, so each visit over to the beach and restaurant was 1.5 miles round trip!
At first light on Sunday we untied, called marina security to lower the chain that blocked the marina entrance every evening, and headed off for the Berry Islands, where we would then jump across the North Providence Channel towards West End. We had another long two days ahead of us.
We first ran to the northern tip of the Berry’s. We had a choice of two anchorages. Great Harbour or Slaughter Harbour. We would wait until we got there to see which would give us best protection from the swell which was coming in from the North East Channel. The best anchorage turned out to be the more north facing Slaughter Harbour.
As we approached the anchorage we saw two huge cruise ships anchored. The anchorage sits behind two cays, Great Stirrup Cay owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines and Cocoa Cay owned by Royal Caribbean. The ships were the Norwegian Sky and The Monarch Of The Seas.
Since we would be going shore-side the NCL ship which was running cruise guests on tenders back and forth, Paul radioed the ship to confirm whether it was OK to continue between them and their guest facilities or if they wanted us to go outside of them. They thanked us and said it was fine to continue inside.
We anchored in Slaughter Harbour and launched the dinghy to take Grace to shore. Unfortunately the best beaches were full of cruise guests and their paraphernalia so we ended up on a sandy roadway, which did the job but was not the prettiest! Later on a nice blue-hulled Selene joined us in the anchorage. We would be following each other the next couple of days to West End and then to Fort Pierce.
After the cruise ships left we saw a huge pall of black smoke come over the island. We soon realized that this was the way the Bahamian workers got rid of all of the trash accumulated by the cruise guests.
On Monday we sailed north across the North East Channel and arrived at Old Bahama Bay resort at West End. We delivered our departure cards to the customs office, had a lovely meal at the Dockside Bar and Grill restaurant, where the staff were extremely pleasant.
After overnighting there we crossed to Fort Pierce Tuesday morning, arriving mid afternoon. The crossing was uneventful – which is just what you want for this particular leg of the journey! We had a slip booked at Harbortown Marina, but after taking on some fuel we were offered the fuel dock, which was an easier departure the next morning so we took that.
While Paul was taking on the fuel Sian called the Small Vessel Registration System 1-800 number (also known in Florida as the Local Boater Option or LBO) and checked us back in through immigration and customs. This new system allows boaters to apply to SVRS prior to leaving and then, after a interview with Customs and Border Protection, we were each assigned a SVRS Boater’s Registration number. You can then use that to file a float plan and, on arriving back in the country, you make a call to a 1-800 number and you are processed without needing to turn up in person (in most cases).
Leaving Fort Pierce (Wednesday) we went up to Cocoa and the Cocoa Village Marina. Our son Matthew drove over from Orlando and had dinner with us at Cafe Margaux in the town.
Thursday we traveled to Daytona, tying up at Halifax Harbor Marina. We noticed extremely low tides during our trip (and into the next day). It seems that there had been a series of strong west winds blowing the water out eastwards so, along with spring tides, it was the lowest we had ever seen it. To the extent that we bumped the bottom slightly at New Symrna even though we were right between the markers in the ICW.
And just as they escorted us on our way to the Exumas in March, here they were again escorting us home! IT JUST NEVER GETS OLD WATCHING THESE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES HAVE FUN WITH US!
Once in Daytona we did some research and decided to treat ourselves to another nice restaurant since this was to be the very last night of our trip. We chose an excellent Italian restaurant called The Cellar, and had a lovely meal and conversation with the lady owner.
Finally on Friday we arrived back at our home port in Queen’s Harbour, Jacksonville. We arrived outside the channel exactly on low tide and, again because of the very low water, we had to anchor for a couple of hours before proceeding in through the lock and to our dock.
So after 12 weeks, 83 days, many adventures, much wind, and a lot of fun, we were finally home!
On Tuesday May 2nd we were in Georgetown awaiting the arrival of our final guests, Paul’s brother John and sister-in-law AnneMarie. Around the time their plane was to land we went over to the Exuma Yacht Club marina for a small fuel top up, gas in the dinghy tanks, and most importantly, to fill the water tanks, which we down to less than 50 gallons and wouldn’t last a crew of four for very long. When we got there we found out that the main water pipe feeding the marina was broken and there was no water. The dock master told us it would be about 45 minutes to repair. So we loaded the fuel, got a few things from the store, and waited. In the end it took over two hours to get the water flowing – and even then it was leaking at the newly mended joint as we filled the tanks.
John and AnneMarie arrived safely and we headed out of the marina. We had an issue as we left which turned out not too serious in the end, but could have been a lot worse. See previous blog entry about this here:
We left Elizabeth Harbour and into Exuma Sound. The winds were light which made the trip outside comfortable for once! Paul took some photos of the site for the doomed Fyre Festival, with dozens of trailers lined up above the beach and work going on to dismantle the site.
We went back into the Exuma Bank side via Adderly Cut and on to Williams Cay. We had light winds all day and evening and for the first time this trip, since March 2nd, we had to run the generator for AC during the night! Since it is one of our favorite anchorages we stayed at Williams for two very comfortable days.
On the fourth we exited Adderly Cut for the short eight mile run to come back in at Rudder Cut. We then had a slow leisurely motor past Cave Cay and Musha Cay and on into Little Farmers Cay.
We anchored right off the Government Dock. Sian, AnneMarie and John went ashore for a few things (including some more Captain Morgan and some tonic water to go with the gin)! We called the Ocean Cabin restaurant and asked what seafood they had for dinner to hear that they only had tilapia. Certainly not a fish we wanted to eat here in the islands! Next we called Little Farmers Yacht Club and were told that they had grouper, so we ordered four meals for 7pm.
As we were eating our dinner, the only guests in the restaurant, and chatting to the owner Roosevelt Nixon, we saw a small coaster come in to his dock. We then watched as they unloaded an F150 right onto the end of the marina and drove it along the marina and up onto the road. The process was pretty interesting – so we had dinner and a show!
Leaving Little Farmers we went to Big Majors Spot. Our intent was to go through the little cut to get behind Fowl Cay, since there was a swell running into the Big Majors anchorage. However the current was running through the cut pretty hard so we decided to anchor and wait for slack tide. After a couple of hours we went through and anchored in very calm conditions.
It was at this point that John looked for his wallet, which was in the pocket of his nice Musto sailing jacket, and realized that he had left it on the ground back at the Exuma Yacht Club in Georgetown. We immediately called both the marina and the nearby restaurant and they did not have it. Luckily John had kept all of his cash separately so got busy calling to cancel his cards and order new ones.
Then of course we took John and AnneMarie over to meet the pigs!
Since it was May 5th and Cinco De Mayo, we made a pitcher of margaritas and sat on the boat deck watching the sunset!
The next morning we made sure to be by the radio when Exuma Park came online to see if we could get a mooring buoy at Warderick Wells for that day – and we were successful! We upped anchor and headed to Warderick where we got assigned the same mooring ball as our last visit – # 17.
And finally the weather changed to blue skies and very light winds – and even better it was forecast to stay that way for the rest of our time in the islands. We walked up Boo-Boo hill and John and AnneMarie continued and walked the longer trail.
As we got back on board Mint Julep came into the mooring field and picked up number 18 right by us. They were on their way to Nassau to visit with a dentist as a crown needed some work.
We stayed at Warderick for two days and then we warned our families back home that we would be out of communication capability for a few days. We motored north to the anchorage off the beach at Hawksbill Cay, still in the Exuma Park. The big yacht Alder was still there. Paul had a chat with one of the crew who said that the owner just wanted to stay in place for a month before heading back to Florida.
We stayed there a couple of days, snorkeling the reefs, with plenty of turtles and rays surrounding the boat. We also watched as a Seaplane came in each day and motored up on the beach to allow the passengers to play.
This was as far north in the Island chain that we were going with our guests. So on Wednesday the 10th we motored down to Cambridge Cay. We had been told that it was easy to dinghy from there across to the small Rocky Dundas cays where there were some amazing caves. The Cambridge Cay anchorage was another simply beautiful anchorage, with long sandbars to walk on.
We took Grace to the caves with us to stop her from disrupting the anchorage, barking non-stop after us as she had taken to doing. Paul and AnneMarie stayed with her in the dinghy while John and Sian snorkeled the caves.
On Thursday we went outside to Staniel and anchored just to the west of the yacht club. We took trash ashore and had a couple of beers as we watched the tour boat customers wade with the nurse sharks and rays. That night we went in to the yacht club for dinner.
On Friday we snorkeled the sunken plane to the west of Staniel Cay and then Thunderball grotto.
On the Saturday we started our run back towards Georgetown so that we would have our guests there in time for their flight on Wednesday 17th. Saturday’s plan was to anchor off Plain Beach just south of Black Point. The wind was stiff from the southwest blowing straight in to that anchorage with a swell. So we anchored at Black Point Settlement, and went into Lorraine’s Café for lunch.
Early next morning, Mother’s Day, we lifted anchor and set off for Elizabeth Harbour again, a six hour run. When we got there we anchored right off the town and went ashore to see if anyone had picked up John’s sailing jacket, with no luck. We had lunch at Peace and Plenty, got some provisions (including more milk!) before taking the boat over to Sand Dollar beach where we would spend a couple of nights. We made sure to have a couple of final drinks at Chat n Chill, and then on Tuesday we took Sonas over to The Marina at Emerald bay.
We had booked our final hurrah meal at the Pallapa restaurant in the Grand Isle Resort for Tuesday night. We had a really nice meal, a “few” cocktails and dancing to the live band.
On Wednesday morning we had a sad farewell with John and AnneMarie at the marina after which we left immediately to start the journey back to Florida.
I damaged Sonas, and it could have been a lot, lot worse!
We had pulled into the Exuma Yacht Club in Georgetown to take on water and to pick up my brother and sister-in-law who had just flown in.
We were tucked into the fuel dock, squeezed between two other vessels – see photo below from a similar set up at the same fuel dock the last time we were in there.
After we had the water and our guests on board we were ready for the off. I turned on the engines and all of the instruments. Then stepped off the boat to pay for the water. After paying I went back on board and as I entered the pilothouse I called to the two dock hands to go ahead and free the lines.
I walked up the six steps to the flybridge, had a look to make sure that the lines were clear, and put the starboard engine into reverse to take my starboard stern out first to go around the boat behind me.
And nothing happened.
I looked down and realized that I had not turned on the engine controls – which are on a separate switch on the pilot house panel. No real panic, the boat wasn’t moving. I put the control back into neutral and stepped back into the pilot house and switched on the controls. The controls in the pilot house blinked on as active.
I quickly went back to the flybridge and pressed “active” twice on the controls and “warm sync” once to give me control, and immediately put the starboard engine into reverse, and the stern started moving out. I then put the starboard engine back into neutral so as to slow the maneuver down – and the starboard engine kept right on going! I quickly tried again with the control, into reverse and back to neutral, no good.
Sian then told me through our headsets that we had cleared the boat behind us, I could now straighten up so the bow wouldn’t hit that boat. She of course wasn’t aware of the issue. I decided to go ahead and put the port engine into reverse and goose it a bit and that would straighten the boat up so that I could at least avoid the boat behind us. Then we could exit the marina, turn off the engines and sort out the issue.
Except the port engine would not respond to the controls either and stayed in neutral! Sonas was going astern and pulling to the left and the bow was swinging to the right towards the boat behind us. So I quickly hit the bow thruster taking the bow to the left and straightened her out that way. That took us past the other vessel but still yawing to the left going astern. I put as much urgency into my voice as I could and told Sian to drop the anchor quickly. Without as much as a comment she ran to the bow and did that. I ran to the pilothouse to kill the engines, just as she told me that we were about to hit the dock behind us, and a second or two later we did, striking our swim platform against a piling, where my brother stuck on a fender and line. With that, the engines off and the anchor out we were stopped, albeit it at an angle across the marina fairway.
I then went to start the engines again to see if I still had an issue, and the starboard engine would not start.
With all of the controls in neutral and the engines off I went into the engine room to see what was going on. I immediately saw that the starboard engine transmission was in reverse (why the engine would not start) and the port in neutral. Yet the controls were both set to neutral.
I then realized what I had done.
I went back to the pilothouse and turned off the power switch to the controls, waited about twenty seconds, and turned them back on. I went back into the engine room and both transmissions were now in neutral and responding to the controls. I went back up top and reassured everyone that I had identified what had both caused the issue and the resolution.
I started both engines, give them a little bump in gear to confirm all was well. We raised the anchor, released the stern and left the marina. Sian went back and checked the swim platform and reported damage, though pretty cosmetic along the stern rub rail.
Thinking over it afterwards I realized how fortunate we were that the dock to our left side was completely empty due to damage last year from Hurricane Matthew, and that no other boat or dinghy was coming up the fairway at the time, though I wouldn’t have started leaving if that were the case. I was also relieved that no one on board our vessel had tried to get between the boat and dock.
I also thought about what I could have done differently to avoid this (apart from the obvious of making sure that the controls were switched on along with the other electronics). Should I have waited until at the flybridge controls before calling for the lines to be released? I don’t think that would have helped because I would not have looked to engage the engine until after the lines were free, so I would have had the same result.
So what caused this issue?
When I ran down and turned on the power switch for the controls in the pilothouse, the controls in the pilothouse are activated. I then went quickly up top and activated the upper control and at the same time threw the starboard engine into reverse. The engine responded, but because I did not wait for even a second after activating to sending an order, I believe I confused the electronic Glendinning control system. Either it was caught between the two sets of controls or somehow, after I gave the reverse order, it reverted to the pilothouse controls. The fact that the starboard engine transmission stayed in reverse after I had the engines off and both sets of controls in neutral seems to indicate that I confused the electronics by not waiting a couple of seconds for the upper station to pair with the units in the engine room.
So now I make sure to check the power is turned on along with the other electronics AND I wait a few seconds after transferring the controls before I change gear. I have no issues with the controls since.
Reading the Glendinning manual it does not mention a wait period, though it does say that you can have the gears for the set you are transferring to already in the position you want before activating so as not to lose RPMs.
It’s All about Miss Grace – what it’s like cruising with an elderly dog.
We are travelling with The World’s Best Dog, Grace. She is a lab mix, rescued by our daughter who vowed to do all the work and then promptly left home for college! She is nearly thirteen years old. Last September our vet told us that Grace was a very poorly dog with weeks, not months, to live. With that bombshell we opted to do no further medical investigation, just enjoy what precious time there was left.
When we first envisioned this trip It was always our intention to bring Grace with us, but after getting the bad news we set about planning for it with the expectation that she would not be around when we set off in March. Grace however was not listening to the vet’s prognosis and like an Ever-Ready battery, and with a steroid every other day, she keeps on going, albeit at a slower pace. Our planning then changed to bringing her with us – but also included what our options were should she die mid-trip. We will not discuss those horrible options here as we are in the final two weeks of our trip and all is well (touch wood!).
So what is it like travelling on a boat with an aging dog?
Our anchorages are chosen with Grace in mind, is there a beach close to hand? Does it look suitable for the dinghy? Three times a day, and after checking for other dogs, we troop into shore, no matter what the weather. Mostly we have been very fortunate, occasionally not. Getting an elderly dog into a rocking dinghy is a challenge. We invested in a doggy life jacket with handles, mostly so we can lift her in and out. Often people ask me about the life jacket, I tell them it’s for my benefit more than hers.
Once on the shore it did not take Madam but a minute to realize the high water mark was a great place to find smelly things to eat. Resulting in her eating the remains of a bird and then an episode of vomiting and with blood in her urine many miles away from a vet. Luckily she survived but on shore we watch her closely and chase her away from the yucky stuff.
As diligent dog owners we leave the beach clean and bury poop under bushes or trees and away from where children might play, using a garden trowel that we brought along specifically for that purpose, and quickly before the flies swarm.
One thing we have noticed, for the first time in her life, Grace needs her nails clipped. Three months of only sandy beaches has left her with talons! We hear her clip-clopping on the deck and I think she finds these nails uncomfortable. I didn’t expect or prepare to clip her nails and improvising with a sandpaper just didn’t work! We will wait to get home for a day at the doggie spa!
Grace has taken to living on the boat and revels in the close quarters with her human pack, so much so that she believes she should never be left behind. And is very vocal in her objection to that happening! Sometimes in a quiet anchorage we have to take her with us on unsuitable dinghy rides just so our neighbors can have peace. For example she came on the long ride with us to the Rocky Dundas cays where we snorkeled in caves. We had to anchor in deep water with no available beach and she had to sit in the boat, with just a short dunk in the sea to keep her cool. Thank goodness we do not have to worry about her jumping in! As far as she is concerned, as much as she didn’t enjoy the trip, anything is better than being left behind!
When it comes time for meal prep Grace can be found lying on the floor in the galley, in the most inconvenient spot there is. Not a crumb does she miss! We have all become adept at stepping over her!
She accompanies me for most of my chores, and is a vigilant supervisor when we lift or lower the anchor. As stairs have become a struggle we have a routine when we are underway. Once the anchor is secure I help her up to the flybridge where she tucks herself in the corner to ride out the swells. I close the door to the steps and if we are up there she stays put. A broken leg at this stage would be a significant problem for us all.
On our walks along the beach Grace can usually be spotted at our heels and I love the gentle pace of these walks. She paddles to cool down and swims which I presume feels good to her aging joints. Seeing how happy she is on the beach you cannot doubt she is loving life regardless. What a retirement she is having!
I have absolutely loved having Grace with us on this trip and could not have left her behind. However if you are thinking of cruising with a four legged friend do not kid yourself, it adds to the work load, and does affect your cruising plans.
We left Emerald Rock and headed north to Hawksbill Cay. We had so liked the anchorage there we decided to return. We anchored right beside a nice 100+ foot yacht and watched the crew pamper their owners/guests. We also got an awesome opportunity to swim with some turtles that had come to inspect us!
After two VERY relaxing days at Hawkbill we headed north again to Normans Cay. When we got out to the Exuma Bank and made our turn north the storm clouds rolled in with plenty of rain. We quickly headed below and ran the boat from the pilothouse*. We prefer to run the boat from the flybridge* as we have better all-around visibility, and it is easier to see the bottom, especially when navigating the shallows. Thankfully the storms had moved over before we made the turn east for Normans – which was a good thing because the approach to the anchorage was VPR*. The anchorage at Norman’s was wonderful. We were able to take Sonas practically up to the beach. We anchored just off the small resort there as we knew that there was a bar/restaurant there called McDuffs that we wanted to visit.
Since we got there at lunchtime we decided to go in for lunch. When we got to the beach there was a sign saying that the restaurant was closed. But…. we are in the islands, so we decided to walk over to the restaurant and check. Of course it was open and they were happily serving lunch! We did tell them about the sign and they just shrugged!
Norman’s used to be the headquarters for a large Medellin Cartel drug smuggling operation, with lots of bribes to local police and officials to turn a blind eye. In fact there is one of their planes still sitting in the shallow water where it crashed.
The next day we were joined by a pair of DeFevers who were travelling through the Exumas together – Escape, a 49 raised pilothouse and Aries, a 44+5. We would bump into them a couple more times.
We stayed at Norman’s for a couple of days, then decided to head south to Big Majors and start to slowly make our way to Georgetown to pick up our next guests. As we got back out to the Exuma Bank we were surprised by how much wind and waves there were. If we had known how bad it was we would probably have stayed at Normans until it blew over. Again we had to run the boat from the pilothouse. Soon after starting off a cupboard door flew open in the galley and all the plates and bowls came tumbling out. Since they are plastic it wasn’t the disaster it could have been, only one smashed bowl. After about an hour of pounding the waves Paul, watching the rear-facing camera on the monitor in the pilothouse, saw our dinghy floating away from the boat. The tow rope had snapped in half. Paul quickly turned Sonas, and managed to lay her against the dinghy so that the waves held us against it. Using a boat hook we were able to grab the stern rope we also had on the dinghy, and walk the dinghy back to the swim platform. As Sian held the stern line Paul was able to grab what remained of the tow line at the dinghy’s bow and the piece still attached to Sonas and connect them using a reef knot. With that done we got back on course again, hoping that the knot held! About thirty minutes later the red warning light came on indicating that our stabilizers were overheating due to the work that they were doing in the seas. Enough was enough so we made the decision to turn into the nearest cay, which happened to be Emerald Rock again, and lick our wounds!
Because the winds turned south during the night it blew straight into the anchorage and we had a pretty torrid and bumpy night – but safe. Poor Grace could not get ashore to do her business, eventually having to sneak away to the bow of the boat and go there.
The next morning we got the news that Tom (of Tom and Jane from Elizabear who we met and visited with at Black Point) had a stroke the previous day. He was fast-boated to Nassau and then emergency flighted to Miami. We have not yet had an update.
Since the weather had moderated slightly we continued on to Big Majors. When we got there the anchorage was very rough so we went through a very narrow opening between Big Majors and Fowl Cay and anchored behind Fowl Cay in what turned out to be a calm well sheltered spot – and with another nice beach for Grace to visit! While we were there we dinghy’d over to Staniel for some Kalik and Captain Morgan rum – which Paul has become very fond of! We also went to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch.
It was Tuesday and exactly one week from the arrival of our guests in Georgetown. The forecast YET AGAIN was calling for high winds (and seas) Friday through Sunday. Since we would have to go out into the deep Exuma Sound to get to the harbour we decided to get there on Thursday to avoid the bad weather. So we aimed for Cave Cay as a half-way point. The cruisers guide also said that there was a nice grotto to be visited. We got there and went over to the “grotto.” Suffice to say Sian’s description was “a grotty grotto.” It was simply an indentation in the limestone rock, and the water was green and murky.
That night, guess what, storms rolled through with plenty of thunder, lightning and rain.
The next day we decided to make the run to Georgetown. We saw a couple of sailboats going out through the cut. Paul waited for 15 minutes then radioed them to get a read on the conditions. We were told that they were seeing three-foot waves. Sounded OK. Bob on Mint Julep radioed us and said that they were anchored nearby and were also going to go out and head for Georgetown.
So off we went. The first sign of trouble was a standing wall of water at the mouth of the cut. We hammered through that (later finding out that we had a seat cushion blow overboard at that time). We tried staying close to land, but the seas were building, so we headed further east to find deeper water to see if the conditions would improve. We got to five-hundred feet but the seas did not change. We kept in touch with Mint Julep who were also getting pounded. These were more like six to seven foot seas on the nose, no three footers as reported. After about an hour Mint Julep radioed to say that he was turning back. He was only going down to Georgetown to watch the regatta that was being held, so had no pressing need to endure four hours of pounding seas. We decided to go on as the conditions were forecasted to get even worse through the weekend. There was nothing unsafe, and Sonas was handling everything well, it was just severely unpleasant.
About one hour out from Georgetown and Elizabeth Harbour we saw a small cruise ship. Looking ashore at Emerald Bay/Steventon there were hundreds of tents up on the shore. We later found out that this was where they were holding the Fyre Music Festival, which from all accounts was a disaster and had to be cancelled after everyone had arrived.
Around 4pm we entered Elizabeth Harbor. We crossed immediately to Georgetown and found a nice anchorage off the town. Because it was Thursday, the day the supply boat comes in, we hit the market and re-provisioned with fresh veggies, fruit and lots of milk!!! The next day we hit the booze store for beer, wine and, yes, a couple of bottles of Captain Morgan!
Over the weekend we watched the Bahamian Family Regatta races, which are an amazing sight. The colors of the boats and the number of people on planks holding the keel even – as many as 13 or 14 on board!
We later crossed the harbour and anchored off Sand Dollar beach. From there we went to Chat n’ Chill for their Sunday pig roast dinner.
We also took the opportunity to give the boat a scrub and get rid of the salt that covered her outside and the sand that had been tracked inside!
On Tuesday John and AnneMarie arrive and we will immediately head north again!
The great news is that the forecast for the next ten days call for winds under ten miles per hour and nothing but sun, sun and more sun! Happy days!
Pilothouse: An enclosed area at the front of the boat from which we can navigate. We have big windows with wipers and air conditioning in there if necessary.
Flybridge (in full flying bridge): An open area on top of the boat where there are a second set of controls from which to run the boat.
VPR: Visual piloting required. This is where the charts do not care to have designated waypoints usually because of multiple challenges such as shifting sand, coral heads etc. Therefore we need to navigate the boat by sight.
Here we are across the half way mark and it is time to review the provisions and how we are tracking for meals.
Not sure if I mentioned it earlier but the game plan was to have enough meat in the freezer and dried goods that we could get by with minimal desperate dashes to stores out in the Exumas. Partly to keep our time frame flexible and partly there just aren’t that many stores to call into! See sign below for an example!
So lists have been made, I have a meal plan for our next guests (arriving next week) and Paul and I are eating around it. I have enough meat in the freezer but will be happy to get fresh fruit and veg in GeorgeTown and DON’T FORGET THE MILK (see previous post on this: http://atanchor.com/?p=1199)
True confessions time –some days I am delighted with myself that I am turning out decent meals, three times a day no less, and other times I am so fed up with what’s in the cupboard I could scream. I cannot tell you “Oh, I wish I had ……” I am just bored with the whole food prep thing. Maybe I should have done more complete dishes ahead of time, that way I could just pull out a meal on days where I hate the galley.
I am baking my own bread, I make the dough in the bread maker then knead it and bake it in the convection oven and so far have been very pleased with the results. Which probably means the next three loaves will have to be passed off as flat bread but such is life. I even made a loaf as a gift to another boater who had none and couldn’t find any in Black Point. Now that’s gutsy!
So, looking at the supplies, we should have brought more tea bags, cookies and paper towels (but don’t worry, I can get them in George Town) and will be taking 5lbs of sugar back home. Why I thought we needed 10lbs is one of life’s mysteries. All in all not too shabby an effort.
Water is also something to keep an eye on here. We have a big tank (350 gallons) and we are not forgoing showers or laundry but you need to monitor the levels so when you are somewhere with water supply you can fill up, not belatedly realize you should have done it yesterday. Many years ago we limped back to the U.S. from the Abacos with one gallon of distilled water between six of us, including the ability to flush the toilet, and I would be delighted to not repeat that day!
Anyway, this morning, feeling a little more like Martha Stewart, I have made potato salad and a pizza to freeze, I even remembered to use the fresh herbs! Did I mention that I planted and cultivated four herb pots before I left the US? Three have survived the salt air – the cilantro unfortunately did not!
As an aside, teabags in Georgetown this time is a no-go, no “proper” tea so my sis in law is bringing some from Ireland. Phew!
Monday April 10 through Wednesday April 19th, including Easter
On Monday we looked at the charts and decided that Black Point did not seem too far from our anchorage so decided to walk into town. The main objective was to replenish our dwindling fresh milk supply. More on this saga later!
We walked up the beach and past the marina basin and abandoned construction equipment that we described in our last post. They really did just walk away from this project.
We followed the construction road into town. It was heavy going as the “road” was crushed limestone. Half way to town Jane from Elizabear came along in a golf cart with Gus their dog. She was trying to get her laundry done in town but the lady running the laundry had gone to Nassau, so she had “borrowed” a golf cart from a guy that was minding the store and was, in good Island attitude, trying to do what she could!
We got into Black Point, and found no milk or anything else that we needed. So we stopped by the Scorpio restaurant for lunch. We again heard the story – “we have no fish.” So we had a couple of burgers and Kaliks.
That evening Tom and Jane from Elizabear came over. Paul and Tom disappeared into the boat’s bowels for most of the time, discussing engines and “stuff.”
On Tuesday we took a can of “Never Dull” to the stainless, buffing out all of the salt stains and other imperfections that tried to gain a foothold. Other than that we generally had a lazy day on the beach.
On Wednesday we made the difficult decision to switch to UHT milk for our coffee, with the aim of saving the fresh milk for our teas. We are aiming to go to Staniel Cay tomorrow to fill with water and to get milk as the Thursday supply boat will have come in – hurrah for the Thursday supply boat!
So on Thursday we lifted the anchor and slowly cruised to Staniel Cay. We hailed the fuel dock saying that we wanted to top up our water tanks and take on some diesel. We were instructed to wait until the fuel dock was cleared. This resulted in Paul keeping Sonas held off the dock in wind and current for nearly 45 minutes as boats moved around us. Mixed directions from the fuel dock also resulted in Sian changing fenders and lines twice – an annoyance which she soon expressed to the captain!
We finally got in and took on water and a small fuel top up. Sian went off to get milk and veggies, only to find that the supply boat had not come in and there was not much available. The grocery store even suggested that the boat may not come this week due to it being Holy Week!
We did think about anchoring off Staniel to see if the boat came in later that day, but decided to go as we had planned and visit Pipe Cay, about six miles to the north. Just as we finished anchoring at Pipe Cay we saw the supply boat heading for Staniel!!! Arrrgggghhhhh.
As we were coming into Big Major anchorage we aimed for a beach which did not have pigs so that we could easily take Grace ashore. After setting the hook off an appropriate beach we found that we had coincidentally anchored right beside Mint Julep – hull #2 of our own boat model, where we were hull #1.
As we were anchored right by the Fowl Cay Resort, and knew that they had a very nice restaurant we tried to get a table for dinner but they were fully booked. We did get our name on the list for the next day however- Easter Sunday!
On Sunday we got a glimpse of how the other half live as a sea plane landed in our anchorage, navigated its way through the anchored boats, and pulled right up to Pig Beach. The passengers hoped out to visit with the pigs, got back into the sea plane which then took off!
On Sunday evening we went up to the Hill Top House Restaurant on Fowl Cay Resort. It was a nice meal in a beautiful setting, but pretty expensive for what it was – even though it was an all-you-can-drink open bar! Staniel Cay Yacht Club was much better value.
On Monday we upped anchor to go island-hopping in Northern Exuma. We dropped anchor just outside the mooring field* at Emerald Rock in the Exuma Sea And Land Park. There was an absolutely beautiful beach just to our south which was a third of a mile of soft white sand and perfect for long exercise walks. First night there was a bit of a roll and some noise from doors rattling on board. So we used some ear plugs to resolve the issues- but not how they would usually be deployed.
We stayed at the Park until Wednesday, when we headed for Norman’s which has a very interesting history – more on that in the next post.
Mooring field: fixed anchors, usually big multi-ton concrete blocks or steel beams, which have a buoy attached. So instead of dropping and retrieving your own anchor you pick up a mooring. There is usually a nominal payment to whomever owns and manages the mooring. A mooring field is where there are a number of moorings – in the case of the Exuma Land and Sea Park each field has a couple of dozen moorings.
The weather forecast suggested another windy front coming in so we made a plan. Head up to Staniel Cay on Thursday, fill up with water and quick run to the grocery store (the mail boat comes on Thursday so fresh supplies) and then onto Hawksbill Cay to ride out the blustery weather.
Thursday dawns, walk the World’s Best Dog on the beach and off we go. Set up ahead of time for a starboard side tie-up at the fuel dock and feeling confident things are going our way. Ha! First the winds are kicking up when we get to Staniel and we have to hold off the fuel dock in the wind and current for other boats to finish fueling. But that’s ok. A wave from the dock hand to come on in and all of a sudden it’s a port side tie. Moving at speed to switch fenders and ropes assisted by said World’s Best Dog (not much help but good at getting in the way) we head in. “Oh wait” he says, “diesel or gas? “ “Diesel,” I shout. “Oh, other side”. What? WHAT? More scurrying and rope moving. Sweat dripping from my brow we tie up.
I hop off and trundle to the store. Closed. The weekly supply boat hasn’t come in yet, maybe tonight, maybe not this week.
We are almost out of milk which to an English woman is a crisis. What about the tea? Now, yes I know there is long life milk (disgusting) or long life half and half (okay in coffee but no good for tea) but anyone who has ever lived in Blighty* knows tea needs milk.
We head out and find a nice anchorage about six miles from town. Parse out the last of the milk, start drinking wine and wait for tomorrow.
The supply boat goes sailing by on it’s way to Staniel.
In the morning we three jump in the dingy and head into Staniel about a twenty minute trip by dingy and arrive soaking wet crashing through the waves as the only nutters running around. But hope dawns when I see a lady with shopping bags. ”If you run,” she says, ”you may catch her but she is on her way to church.” Of course, it’s Good Friday. I run. I do not catch her. I do not get milk. So we have another good soak on the six mile run back to Sonas and the island adventure is looking a little pale.
Eventually we move the Sonas closer to Staniel, and get a good sheltered spot to ride out the wind over the next few days. We return to Staniel to wait for the shop to open. Paul tells me not to return without milk, if not from the store then find a cow, a goat or a lactating mother! Advertised to open at 1.30 pm and open by 2pm. Not too shabby!
I buy milk, one for now and two for the freezer and, fist raised in triumph, I marched down the road to the dinghy. We return to Sonas for a nice cuppa tea. Ahhh!
If you are wondering, yes this did take all day. It’s hard work having this much fun don’t cha know!
*Blighty: derived from the Hindu word bilati, meaning foreign but specifically applied to the British.
Monday April 3rd through Sunday April 9th
Williams Cay was so beautiful and quiet that we decided to stay for a few days. We swam, walked, watched sunrises and sunsets, and generally chilled like we have not chilled in years. Most of the time we were on our own, but now and then another boat stopped by.
We had one annoying issue crop up and that was the starboard stabilizer* started to squeak while we were at anchor. Since this is right by the master cabin it disturbed our sleep. Paul hunted high and low for our can of WD40 but couldn’t find it – finally going over to another boat and borrowing theirs. He liberally doused the stabilizer and it worked for a while but then started squeaking again. This time he put the lock bar on it so it wouldn’t move at all. We just need to remember to unlock it each time we want to use the stabilizers.
Paul also used the time to get after some issues we had with both heads*, as they were not priming the vacuum properly. He was able to tighten the connections on the head for the master cabin and that is working fine now, but discovered that the vacuum bellows for the guest head may be punctured so it is not holding the vacuum. So that needs to be turned on and off at the battery breaker panel each time it will be used. Not a big issue as our next guests don’t arrive for another month. Both heads will need a good overhaul when we get back home.
Lee Stocking Cay used to be owned by John Perry, a rich newspaperman. He stared up a Marine Institute on the island to study Caribbean marine life. This was later taken over by NOAA. Around 2012 it was abandoned, supposedly because of lack of grant funding, and everything was just left there – including a pick-up truck! We tried to visit and walk around the ghost town but when we approached the dock there was a significant chop and lots of rusty bolts on the dock, so we decided not to risk the RIB*. We noticed a couple on men working on one of the buildings and later learned that the island has been purchased and was being refurbished.
The next day, Wednesday, we made the difficult decision to move on or we wouldn’t see anywhere else in the islands! We had planned on moving about an hour north to Rudder Cut Cay where there was a “pond” we could anchor in. It looked really interesting on the charts and on the satellite image, and somewhere that was well protected and quiet. The cruising guide did warn us, however, that it was well protected by sand bars on both sides of the approach and a shallow sand bar across the mouth. We did try to enter, but had not timed it well and arrived there at low tide. We started to churn up sand from our props so decided to give up on that idea and go further along to Little Farmer’s Cay which we had heard good things about. We will leave trying the pond for another day.
As we motored north towards Little Farmer’s we past the group of islands that are owned by David Copperfield. One of these, Musha, looks absolutely stunning, with palmed lined beaches and beautiful sand shallows.
We anchored off Little Farmer’s, just to the north of the Little Farmer’s Yacht Club, which is really just a jetty that could hold maybe five or six boats. There was a rusted ship wreck on the beach to the east of us. We went ashore and had a look around. Sian wanted a couple of post cards so we went to the grocery store. When we asked if they had any cards they simply said no. We then walked to the Ocean Cabin restaurant right behind the grocery store to find that he had plenty of cards for sale – why the lady in the grocery store could not have told us that! While at Ocean Cabin we ordered two grouper dinners for that evening and had a chat with Terry, the owner, who by all accounts, is a bit of a philosopher. The first thing he told us was that we should not have said “hello,” he would rather prefer “HeavenHigh!” We learned that Terry has worked in Libya for Gadafi in the 70s as a “facilitator.” We didn’t probe further as to what the actually meant!
We then walked down to the “post office” to get some stamps for the post cards. It turned out to be a small building that was securely padlocked. Asking further we were told to go to Little Jeff’s house as that’s where the post office now was. Sian poked her head in there and there was no one around. Then a guy turned up, she asked him if he had any stamps, he shouted to his wife and she said “no, we don’t have any stamps!”
We still have the postcards!
We went back in for dinner and found Terry mixing his secret cocktail at the bar. He poured Paul one, then Sian took a sip and was able to guess four out of the five ingredients, finally guessing the fifth after a clue. We think she left Terry with the impression that Sian liked a drink on a hot day!
We were the only two guests in the restaurant, and ate dinner as we chatted to Terry, as we were finishing six other arrived for dinner from another boat.
On the dinghy dock we bought a portion of conch salad, watching as it was prepared and the unused pieces of conch were thrown to the turtles and sting rays circling the dock.
Thursday we decided to move on to find another quiet anchorage. The forecast was for winds from the South East, so we tucked ourselves to the north of White Point in Jack’s Bay which would protect us from that wind. Surprise, surprise the wind came from the South West instead and brought a good swell for most of the day. It did quieten down some in the evening. But not as calm a spot as we thought. We rocked and rolled all night, and not in a good way. We were the only boat there though – so there was that!
Looking at the forecast on Friday morning we saw that the winds were going to move north and then east for at least the next week, so we had to move. We simply motored about four miles to the south side of Black Point. This would be a great anchorage in those winds and there were two beautiful beaches to play on. As we walked the beach we saw the remnants of a marina and resort development that they had started in the early 2000s, which was abandoned in 2006 as the global economy weakened. There is talk about it being started again.
At sunset on Friday a flotilla of a half dozen sailboats came into the anchorage. The next day it was clear that they all knew each other by the way their dinghies criss-crossed between the boats. That afternoon we were visited by a cruiser who invited us to drinks and food on the beach that evening. There were about a dozen folks there when we arrived, a fire was well under way and hot dogs were being prepared. We had or cooler of beer and rum with us and stayed for an hour or so, declining the food as we had sirloin steaks waiting for us back on board! A Californian couple who own a house right by the bay joined us and we heard the story about the unusual sandcastle design of their home, as well as what it was like living part of the year on the Cay.
On Sunday we decided to catch up on some of the never-ending chores that are a part of living on board. Sian got after the sand that had spread throughout the boat while Paul took fresh water and cleaning pads to the woodwork and stainless rails in an effort to hold off the impact of salt water!
Around lunchtime, Jan and Tom from the DeFever 49 Elizabear anchored by us came across and invited us over. So later on Sunday we dinghy’d over and had cocktails as we chatted about our boats, both designed by Art DeFever, our children and our health. All in all a very pleasant evening.
*Stabilizer: there are a number of different variations of stabilizers – all meant to help keep a boat stable in heavy seas. Ours are fins that protrude from the undersides that are controlled by gyros (for sensing the sea action) and a hydraulic system run off engine power.
*Heads: toilets on a boat. So named because in old sailing ships the toilets were placed in the head of the ship – in the bow.
*RIB: Rigid Inflatable Boat. This is an inflatable boat that also has a hard bottom, usually fiberglass. Much more stable than an all-inflatable boat and also more protection from rocky bottom beaches.
One of the things I wanted to pay attention to on this trip was keeping our boat trash to a minimum. In a small space trash and food waste become a real challenge.
Once we hit these pristine, beautiful waters the garbage issue took on a new meaning. In such clear waters (see any number of previous photos) it struck me forcibly that we have a responsibility to keep it that way. Previous cruisers in these waters have not always been diligent in waste disposal and have left a bad reputation, which takes time to overcome for those of us who follow. Some have seen a deserted island as an opportunity to leave a trash bag above the water line presumably thinking “what does one bag hurt?”
Here we pay for trash collection in some but not all places. Sometimes as much as $25 per bag so that certainly makes you think twice!
When provisioning before sailing, I took as much packing material off the boat as I possibly could. True it still is trash but I recycle cardboard and plastics back in the U.S.A. Here in the Exumas there is no recycling, so I feel a little better having done that responsibly.
One way to minimize trash is to buy in bigger sizes, think large bag of chips instead of individual packets. That is not wildly practical on a boat where shelf space has limitations and you also have to consider waste if you don’t use the whole supply before it spoils. Okay chips may be a bad example here as no one in the history of the world ever let a bag of chips sit to go stale! My compromise was to buy bigger and divide into usable portions
Which brings me to food storage bags. We use a lot of them. In the freezer, in the fridge, marinating tonight’s dinner, protecting money and phones on dinghy rides and so on. So how can we to reduce that? Out came the Tupperware, at least for the fridge, and whenever possible I reuse the bags. Yes I have even washed some bags and line dried them for another day! It makes me feel better and maybe helps just a little bit!
On board we have a trash compactor which we use frequently. I never thought I would find it useful, even suggesting at one point we could remove it and replace with a cupboard. But surprise, surprise, I find it very useful to shrink waste cans to a manageable size.
Degradable food waste is collected and when we transit deep water this is thrown overboard to feed the fish. One man’s waste is another fish’s dinner although I am probably promoting cannibalism when I feed them shrimp tails. Can you see how this is doing my head in?
Another activity is moving plastic washed up on the shore to above the waterline. If you spend time around the water you will have seen the damage done to wildlife by thoughtless waste disposal. Fish choking on plastic can holders, pelicans unable to fly snared in fishing line etc. So again a little plastic removal on our morning walks has to help some, right?
Is it perfect? Not by a long way but if we as cruisers make small efforts I believe they will pay dividends in the future. Balance is what we strive for, and by becoming more focused on the issue of minimizing trash on this cruise I hope we can do just a little to help.
As the line spools out, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, a cry goes up,”Fish,Fish!” and its action stations! I race to the helm and slow the boat down, Carolyn grabs the net, Paul runs back to help reel in the mighty beast and Hubert relays the instruction to slow down more as this one is a fighter! Even Grace, the Worlds’ Best Dog, is in on the act, peering through the hawser hole ready to serve in whatever capacity she is called upon.
We all knew what to do as this was our third fish of the day and by gum this one would be dinner! Hubert caught the first one, a healthy sized barracuda which we reeled in and let go to fight another day. The Bahamian guy on the fuel dock told us they were good eating but we wanted some mahi mahi or grouper, something we were more familiar with.
Fish number two was a no show when the line was pulled in. Grace meanwhile had a lovely time licking the deck where the barracuda lay, no wonder she was up for it when the line went the third time!
So here we are, fish number three. Great excitement all round, shouts of glee and huge effort from the men. The reeling goes on for a while until they catch sight of a beautiful bull dolphin fish (mahi mahi in Florida. No we were not catching dolphins!) and Carolyn grabs the camera to record it all for posterity. And then, in the wink of an eye he’s off the hook, dinner no more.
” What were you going to do with him if you caught him?” asked Carolyn. “Eat him!” they replied. ”Where were you going to clean him?” I asked. “In the galley“ came the reply. Not sure how I felt about that. I thought the swim platform would be a better option personally.
Alas, this is why it’s called fishing not catching.
Hubert and Carolyn were on a flight out on the Friday, so we left Hawksbill Cay on Monday and headed further south, planning on getting to Elizabeth Harbour on Wednesday in plenty of time to see what was happening there before they needed to hop on a plane to the US.
Reading the Exuma Guide, we thought that Black Point Settlement would be an interesting place to visit and perhaps have a meal ashore. So we followed the waypoints south and took the channel into Black Point. Black Point in the second largest populated town in the Exumas after Georgetown. Based on the guide it had three or four restaurants serving “authentic Bahaman food”, plus a good anchorage and a couple of nice beaches.
Unfortunately the guide was again WAY off the mark. First the beaches were either protected by a good layer of rocks or, as was the case with the largest beach, a sand flat which meant you had to anchor your dinghy about 200 yards from shore and wade. Not ideal with a dog. We ended up taking her to the very small rocky beach by the government dock and walking her up the street.
After dealing with Grace we all went for a stroll through the town, the idea was to have a look at the menus in the “restaurants” and pick one to eat in that night. Suffice to say we ate on board that night. We found the settlement downright grubby, and that is a kindness.
The next day we took the cut right there by Black Point and headed south towards Georgetown and Elizabeth Harbour.
As we were headed through the deep Exuma Sound at a nice trolling speed of around nine knots, Hubert and Paul decided to put out a line and see if we could grab some fresh fish for dinner. Before we left the US we bought a couple of Penn rods and reels, one with 30# mono and the other with 50# mono. We put out a red and white lure on the 30# line and after about 30 minutes had a strike. It turned out to be a barracuda, which we sent back in. It was quiet for an hour and then we hit again. This time we had a nice size bull dolp