Well this was one of “those” days! You know, the day you had planned where everything was going to be awesome and it went to hell in a hand basket?
Our plan was to run from No Name Harbor to the anchorage off Elliott Key. Spend two nights there before heading off to our next stop in Islamorada. It was only a short two hour cruise south, so we eased into the day.
Paul checked the weather. It showed 15 knot winds from the west. That would be directly into the anchorage but he felt it was a moderate breeze and nothing that would bother us on Sonas. Hmmmmm.
We got into the anchorage with a really nice wave action. We had to anchor about a half mile from the Ranger Station as it was too shallow inshore from there. Surprise, surprise, the wind gauge showed a steady blow at 26-27 knots! We soon learned that the fetch from the west, all the way from Turkey Point 8 miles away, resulted in steady three to four foot waves, with a five thrown in now and then! We were only anchored in 7.5 feet so the shallow depth probably didn’t help. Once the anchor was down Sonas settled bow into the waves and was comfortable enough. If it was just the two of us on board we would be quite OK sitting there.
BUT, we have Bella, and her expectation was, once the anchor was down, she gets to go ashore!
So we had lunch, and waited to see if the bay would calm down. It didn’t. So we decided to launch the dinghy and take the pooch ashore. We managed to get the boat launched and all of us on board the bouncing dinghy – everyone with PFDs on! And the waterproof and floatable VHF radio we had recently bought! Going ashore was relatively easy as Paul kept the dinghy speed aligned with the waves, which were surfing us to shore.
We got ashore to the Ranger Station to find that it was abandoned with not a soul to be seen and everything locked up. We suspect they did not expect anyone ashore due to the forecast! We tied up at the ranger dock and Bella immediately jumped off. It was then that we realized that in our struggles to get on the dinghy we hadn’t brought her leash or any poop bags. However we were NOT going back!
We had an extra length of rope on board so tied that to her collar and Sian found a plastic bag near one of the BBQ pits, so poop collection was back under control!
So off we set on one of the trails, and then realized that, even though we had read that Elliott Key was rife with mosquitos, we had not sprayed! 45 minutes later we emerged from the trail back at the dock with dozens of bites apiece! Sian was especially disappointed as usually when she has Paul with her the bugs attack him and leave her alone. We guessed that there were enough mosquitos to go around!
We got back on the dinghy and now had to pound the half mile back to Sonas directly into the wave action. By the time we got back on board all three were saturated. A check of the updated weather told us that the wind was to continue like this all night. Bella still needed her evening walk and another one first thing in the morning. On the way back to Sonas Sian looked at Paul and said “when we get onboard we are going to have a “DISCUSSION” about what we do next.”
Within five minutes of getting back on board the engines were started and we headed back to No Name Harbor to ride out the weather. We really need to start training Bella to go on the boat, something we didn’t think we would have to do on this trip!
When we got into the harbor we were pleased to find that there was plenty of space for us to anchor, but with the gusting winds it took three or four anchoring attempts until we could get ourselves somewhere where we felt comfortable that we would not swing into another boat’s water – especially with Sonas’ large windage.
It was low tide when we took Bella ashore and she tried the high jump, leaping from the dinghy to the top of the sea wall and missed! Paul was able to grab the handle on her life jacket and drag her back onto the boat. Then he helped her up! We were getting all the mis-steps out of the way today!
With the anchor down, Paul with a cold beer, Bella with an evening walk, and Sian with a hot shower all seemed to be good in the cruising world yet again!
Until Paul went up top and put the steak on the grill. When he went to turn it over a gust hit the grill mat tossing the hot fat over Paul and the boat deck. A small blister on a finger and ankle. and one totally ruined t-shirt!
It was a DAY! And since conditions were so bad we didn’t get any photos or video!
We had been hoping that the pandemic would have cleared up enough to allow us to go to the Bahamas for our regular three month cruise. While it is possible to go with pre and post COVID testing we felt that it was just not a sensible decision at this time – more from the standpoint of us getting COVID while out there and having to deal with either getting back or dealing with Bahamian healthcare.
Plus our eldest wrapped a snowmobile around a tree in Montana (hi Claire!) and is scheduled for surgery at the end of April, reducing our cruise time to two months.
So we discussed whether to take a spring cruise or not. Even considered waiting until later in the year and doing the Down East Loop. The latter was dismissed as we had no idea when Canada would open up again, and we really don’t see the value in doing the Down East Loop without being able to visit our northern neighbor.
So we landed on going ahead with a spring cruise down through south east Florida, through the Keys and, if the weather was conducive, out to Boca Grande, the Marquesas Keys and the Dry Tortugas. Then either returning the same way or heading up to Marco Island, Naples, Fort Myers and back across Lake Okeechobee.
We aimed our departure for February 21. For no other reason than it seemed a good time to meet the warming weather south of us!
Day 1, February 21st.
We like to exit our lock and get out through the channel at half tide or better. This meant being away from home dock at 7:30, having walked Bella and put the last things on board. It was blowing 15-20 from the NE as we left, with temps around 50. So as soon as we got to the ICW we headed down to the pilothouse and ran from there.
As we passed through palm Valley a vessel called Nomad hailed us. They read and enjoy our blog! They were on their way to Brunswick Georgia to have their boat hauled for hurricane season before heading back home to Canada. Nomad had been badly damaged by hurricane Dorian while in the Abacos and they had only just returned her to the US after repairs.
As two months gives us plenty of time to do what we had intended we have decided for this trip that we were going to do much shorter days, and take our time. Today we ran for 6.5 hours, and were tied up at Palm Coast Marina by 2:30. Vic and Gigi from Salty Dawg, also members of the DeFever Cruisers Owners group, helped tie us up and we had a long chat with them after getting settled.
We like (always!) stopping at Palm Coast Marina on the first nights of our cruises as it is a nice length of run AND there is a really good Indian restaurant at The European Village The Fifth Element. We highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. After Bella got her afternoon walk we tidied up and headed off for a Lamb Rogan Josh and a Chicken Korma, with poppadoms and butter nan bread – plus a couple of beers each!
Day one successfully under our belt and Sonas is running really well!
Day 2. February 22nd.
In keeping with our plans of short and more enjoyable runs on this cruise we are aiming for New Smyrna today. This is only 43 statute miles down the ICW, taking about 4.5 hours. We really prefer to anchor out as much as we can as we find the quiet of an anchorage much more preferable to a marina. Plus some of the scenery and beaches to walk are often wonderful.
While Sian took Bella for two mile walk Paul completed an engine room check, including changing out the bilge pads and checking fuel tank sight glasses.
Our plan was to anchor in Rockhouse Creek, just inside Ponce Inlet. There are plenty of sandbars there and even a dog beach to walk Bella. However the forecast called for rain starting late afternoon and going all evening and night, so we decided to call the New Smyrna Beach City Marina and book a slip.
We had an uneventful trip through Daytona and into New Smyrna. We arrived off the city marina around 2;00pm and radioed for our slip assignment. The dockmaster indicated the slip and walked down to help us tie up. As we entered the channel a small catamaran cut in ahead of us and radioed the dockmaster. The conversation went something like this;
Boater: I just entered the channel, can you direct me to my slip?
DM: I cannot help you right now, I have another boat coming in.
B: that slip you are standing at, that was the slip I was in the last time I was here, can I have that one?
DM: No, that is for the vessel coming in now.
B: Well can I have the one right next to it?
DM: No that is already assigned as well. Can you please wait.
The boater just carries on into the marina and starts backing into a slip a couple down from us. The dockmaster helped us in and immediately apologized and ran off to corral the other boater. He did come back later to check that we had everything we needed.
Some boaters are strange creatures!
We took Bella for a three mile walk around town, during which time we realized that we had crossed south a some imaginary line which separated north Florida from central Florida, and further identified when we should shed our jeans and long sleeved shirts for shorts and t-shirts – we had arrived in the warmth!
Enjoyed some apps and cocktails at the River Deck bar and grill. Then back to Sonas for chicken enchiladas.
Day 3. February 23rd.
We really are focused on started each day of this trip off at a leisurely pace. In many prior trips south we get up at the crack of light, quick walk for the dog if we have one, untie and get going, having breakfast underway and cruising ten plus hours to our next stop. The destination, usually somewhere in the Bahamas,so get there as quick as we could was the focus! Not this time! This trip we planned on shorter more relaxing days.
We didn’t even set an alarm but just woke up when we woke up! Sian took Bella for a one hour stroll while Paul did the engine room check, prepared the fruit for breakfast and uncovered the flybridge helm and seats. We has a leisurely breakfast and were still off the dock at 8:30.
We cruised south through Mosquito Lagoon, the Haulover Canal (where it is clearly still too early for the hoards of Manatees that live there during warmer water times), past Cape Canaveral, through Titusville and into Cocoa, arriving right at 2:00pm.
Our plan was to tie up at the free dock right by town which we had used before. When we got there it was pretty full. A small sailboat had tied up at one end and left a gap. If he pulled up next to the other boats we could have fitted on the end. But not to be. We called Cocoa Village Marina to see if they had a spot for us but they were full. So we dropped anchor just south of the Hubert Humphrey Bridge. We launched the (still new) dinghy and went ashore. Sian took Bella for yet another walk while Paul went to the famous hardware store for a few things we wanted.
While grilling on board this evening a nearby boater came over and warned us that two boats had been stolen from the free dock last night, one with an outboard and one without – his! So finally before bedding down we did something for the very first time – we put a cable and lock on the dinghy to keep it safe.
Day 4, February 23rd.
There was not a sound in the anchorage overnight and we awoke to a glassy anchorage, with a great sunrise. Paul took Sian and Bella ashore for their morning walk and returned to Sonas to complete the engine room check. Paul changed the fuel valves over so that we ran from the port tank so as to keep the boat balanced.
After dog walkies we lifted the dinghy and headed south again. We transited Eau Gallie, Melbourne, Sebastian, and into Vero Beach City Marina. It was an easy six hour run in warm sun and light winds.
We had one little bit of excitement around 10:20. Our radios picked up a DSC call. Paul took a note of the coordinates and called the coast guard. Coast Guard Miami answered and took details of the transmission. The transmitting boat had properly set up their radio and their coordinates were sent. After a short time Coast Guard Miami got back to us telling us that Coast Guard Station Jacksonville had received the distress call and had all the details. Paul entered the received coordinates into our chart plotter and saw that the distress was sent for a vessel approximately 18 miles in the Atlantic off Daytona.
Vero Beach is Bella’s favorite, because there is a dog park right by the marina. This was the first dog park Bella ever experienced and she gets an afternoon and a morning run here every time we stop!
Late afternoon a couple of teenagers came into the marina fuel dock on fumes. Unfortunately the fuel dock was closed but the boater next door to us had a small three gallon tank to give them and we lent a funnel. After getting the gas they hung around and fished the marina dock.
Day 5. February 25.
Paul checked the offshore forecast for today and it indicated 2 foot seas. So after the morning walk we left Vero Beach and motored the twelve nautical miles down the ICW to Fort Pierce inlet and turned left towards the Atlantic. The seas were calm, making us wish that we were heading across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas instead on turning south and heading for Lake Worth Inlet.
We ran the five hours to Lake Worth, with the seas getting up slightly as the day wore on, but it was an easy and uneventful cruise. We entered the inlet around three pm and were tied up at Sailfish Marina in short order. The marina used to be all fixed docks but they have recently installed excellent floating docks with wide walkways and we were happy to get a slip there.
We took Bella for a long walk around Palm Beach Shores, got back to Sonas for showers and ate dinner at the VERY busy marina restaurant. We walked around outside until our table was ready and were fortunate to get a table in the far corner of the restaurant, so avoiding as many people as possible.
Day 6. February 26.
The weather for an outside run was again very good so after the morning walk we were away from Sailfish by 8:00am. It only took 15 minutes to be through the inlet and turned south towards Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale). We angled east to get outside the three mile line to empty the holding tanks then headed directly for the next inlet. It was another beautiful day outside, and getting much warmer the further south we got.
During the run we heard two DSC (distress) calls over the radio. Both times Coast Guard Station Miami also heard them and called the vessels. One ship they continually called without response was the MSC Barbara. Paul found this strange as it sounded like a commercial ship. He went onto MarineTraffic.com and entered the ship’s name to see if it was transmitting AIS. He found that Mediterranean Shipping Company ship Barbara was actively transmitting AIS, AND was securely tied up at Port Everglades.
Paul called the Coast Guard and gave them that information. They asked him to confirm what he just said, and thanked him. About a half hour later the ship came on the radio, gave their location, and cancelled the DSC! We suspect they called the port and had someone go to the ship or send a CG small ship to sort it out!
Then when we were passing Pompano Beach we heard a single very short transmission from a plane saying he was landing to the east. The Coast Guard came on again and advised that there was suspected plane crash landing and gave the coordinates about 12 miles east of Pompano Beach. They were asking people to keep a look-out and assist if possible. They continued to transmit that message but we never heard or read the result.
We were tied up in slip number 20 at 17th street Yacht Basin by 2:00pm. We were staying here in Fort Lauderdale for three nights as we really didn’t fancy the idea of cruising through Miami and anchoring off Elliott Kay during a weekend!
Tonight we walked the ten minutes to The Boatyard seafood restaurant to find a one and a half hour wait. We booked a table for Sunday evening instead and ate at a nearby Indian restaurant. Since it was a Friday in Lent Sian had a vegetarian meal and Paul had shrimp.
Day 7 and 8.February 27-28.
We awoke to find police at the marina. The center console two boats over from us and another one four boats over had been broken into overnight and their electronics stolen. The police asked if we had heard anything and we said no, neither had Bella made a noise. They think the thieves had come by boat. The poor owner of one stalked the docks all day looking lost. The other, a Yellowfin, was the tender to a mega yacht called Stay Salty tied up at the outer dock.
We took advantage of the non-traveling days to clean both the inside and outside of Sonas.
We also had an excellent meal at The Boatyard on Sunday. Though we did feel a bit aggrieved to see that they had added a 2% COVID charge.
We hadn’t been out on Sonas since we returned from Fort Myers mid December. We were looking for a decent weather window but kept getting thwarted. Finally we saw that Tuesday through Friday (and potentially Saturday) this week (Feb 9-12) looked good. So we provisioned up until Saturday and got ready to leave on Tuesday.
Tuesday arrived with rain, and more rain! So we sulked and stayed home.
Wednesday arrived hopeful so we decided we would put up with whatever the day threw at us, untied and left. We had a great run north, with light winds all the way to Cumberland Island. It was a bit chilly so we ran from the pilothouse.
Getting the anchor down we had a quick cuppa (tea), then took Bella for nice long walk. We launched the NEW RIB!!!! and tied up at Sea Camp dock. We walked through to the beach and walked along it for a mile or so.
Later in the day a heavy fog rolled in, and by the time Bella had to go ashore for her nightly we could barely make out the light on the Sea Camp dock.
The next day, Thursday, arrived with dense fog. We were glad we were staying in the anchorage! We took Bella ashore and walked the river trail down to the Ice House and then back along Grand Avenue (which of course is just a dirt road!) and back to the dock.
After lunch the fog had burned off and the sun had come out warm and bright, with temperatures in the low seventies. Paul had read about the Plum Orchard Mansion and we decided to take the dinghy and go see it. Off we headed and after 45 minutes or so we were only half way there. It was further than we thought. So we turned back, deciding to leave that for a day when we could anchor Sonas closer to the mansion and make it a shorter dinghy ride.
Instead we walked the parallel trail and the beach, three miles in total.
On Friday morning we checked the latest weather and found that rain was coming in for all of Friday afternoon and all weekend, so we high-tailed it back to home dock.
Enjoy our highlights below from our Voyages Of Sonas YouTube Channel.
The day after Thanksgiving we untied from Fish Tales and slowly worked our way through the small marina. The bridge tender at Big Carlos Pass was pleasantly chatty as he opened the draw for us, and we exited onto a very calm Gulf of Mexico.
We went straight outside the three mile limit and ran north towards Matanzas Pass and the marina at Pink Shell Resort.
The marina at Pick Shell Resort has been voted Top 25 places To Tie Up In North America. The marina has a row of slips facing open water, so are easy to turn and back into. Once checked in each person is given a rubber wrist band that allows access to all parts of the resort. This includes three restaurants and three heated swimming pools. Marina guests also have complementary beach chairs and umbrellas as well as stand up paddle boards. Overall the resort if a family location, with lots of young children. There is a constant stream of boats passing the marina!
There was a city park right beside the resort so we decided to take Bella for a walk. When we got there we found that no dogs were allowed! We suspect it was because there were a lot of birds and it could have been a bird sanctuary. So we took a sharp left and walked along the beach. From then on we walked Bella one way along Estero Blvd and then walked back along the beach.
During our stay we used the adult pool for lunch and drinks, chatting with other guest from the frozen north! We ate at both of the restaurants and at a good seafood restaurant in town.
Our original plan was to leave Fort Myers Beach and go south to Naples and Marco island before retracing our steps. However the weather was forecast to turn cold (for Florida) with a decent blow from the north. Since you have to run outside in the Gulf to and from Naples, we decided it was time to just turn and head for home, and Christmas.
We left Pink Shell Resort at first light on Monday, November 3oth. We had decided to stop at the Glades Marina at Okeechobee Water Way (OWW) mile marker 89. Once underway however we found that we were not as impacted by the westward flow of the river as we thought so decided to go on to Moore Haven at MM 78and again tie up at the city dock. This would shorten our run tomorrow by an hour.
There was a Fleming 65 tied up nearby and Paul chatted with the owners. They were on their way to Stuart to leave the boat for a month for some work. Paul mentioned that on the way west bound we has seen a dock on the St Lucie River with a dozen or more Flemings. They told him that that was the site of the South East Fleming brokerage, where boats were commissioned and worked on.
Next day, Tuesday December 1st arrived very chilly (for Florida!). We were again off early and transited through the Moore Haven Lock and southeast to Clewiston.
As we made the turn at Clewiston Paul noticed white caps out on the lake. We had been in the well protected calm waterway so had not expected a blow in the lake. Sian went below and stowed for sea and we headed across a pretty rough lake with winds gusting to 28 from the north. We even had waves follow us in to Port Mayaca lock, but were ready for that as the lock tender had warned us after we called him.
An hour after leaving the Port Mayaca lock we pulled into Indiantown Marina at MM 29 and tied up at their bulkhead.
We had bought Bella a Doggie Advent Calendar, with treats behind every door. She got to open her first door this evening!
On Wednesday we had an uneventful run from Indiantown to Vero Beach, beginning to retrace our west bound route from three weeks previously. On the way we passed a large number of Fleming yachts tied up at the Burr Yacht facility, the southeast distributor for the model.
As soon as we turned onto the Atlantic Intra coastal Waterway (AICW) we soon realized that by going north, we were going the wrong way for this time of year. Dozens, if not a couple of hundred boats would pass us going south over the next four days with very few going our way!
We also saw an interesting way to inspect and work on bridges over the AICW. We have learned that these vehicles are called Snoopers!
Arriving at Vero Beach Bella got to enjoy a couple of visits to the dog park right by the marina.
On Thursday we headed north to Cocoa. The AICW immediately exiting Vero Beach takes you at exactly 000 degrees (north) on the AICW.
We had planned on staying at the Cocoa Village Marina again but on our last visit we had walked by the new free dock in Lee Wenner Park, right downtown. There is no water or power but it was cool enough in the evening that we did not need AC or heat so didn’t require the generator. We walked across to Murdock’s for dinner on their back patio.
Next stop Daytona and the Halifax Harbor Marina. Again another uneventful day’s boating north through Titusville and New Smyrna. We were tied up mid afternoon in plenty of time for showers and putting on our glad rags for dinner booked at The Cellar – a restaurant we had used before on a trip back from the Bahamas. We were not disappointed, and had a wonderful meal with a bottle of red from their award winning cellar. A young lady was waiting for us by the front door, took our temperature and asked us to use hand sanitizer before entering!
On Saturday we headed off to St Augustine. We could have made it all the way to home dock but the tides were not right for our entry through the channel and lock at home. So we tied up early in St Augustine and took Bella for a long walk through the south part of town to avoid the crowds. After dark, rather than go into town to see the Nights of Lights which we do every year, we opted to stay on board for dinner and drinks.
The last day of our trip Sunday, December 6th, we gave a couple who were interested in Grand Alaskans a tour of Sonas before heading out. The weather was perfect for a run outside so we exited St Augustine inlet. It was a bit confusing at first as a number of the inlet markers were no longer there then we realized that they had been dredging the inlet for the past month or two so we could head straight for the sea buoy then turn north for Mayport. We had hoped to see a SpaceX launch while offshore as it was a clear day. The planned launch went off on time but we didn’t see anything. We ran well outside the three mile line so give the holding tank a final cleanse. It was a very calm day offshore.
Ahead of us a tug towing a barge came out through Mayport and asked boats to stay clear as it dumped spoil from the dredging that is going on in the river to accommodate the larger boats from the new Panama Canal. Went went in through Mayport, and as we prepared to turn down the AICW for home a car carrier came through with a dolphin playing off its bow.
We went through our lock and were all tied up at home by 3:30. Just before it started to rain!
Photos in the gallery below. Click on the first photo to enlarge it and then you can run this as a slide show or click through them one by one. Once enlarged you can right click and save and image you want to download.
After we saw the last of the Queens Harbour fleet leave Cocoa Village Marina we untied Sonas and headed off southbound. The wind was still blowing a steady 34 knots but the run through Eau Gallie, Melbourne and Sebastian is one that we have done many many times before and it was very uneventful. We pulled into Vero around 2:00 and backed into our slip.
The first thing we did after tying up was put a hose and muffler on the dinghy outboard to run it. We hadn’t run it for over four months. It cranked but would not start. A guy on the dock heard us trying to start it and said he was a Yamaha tech, We decided, since the engine hadn’t been run for a length of time, the carburetor probably needed cleaning or rebuilt. At this point we had not decided if we would stay in marinas all the way or mix in some anchoring out. With our dog on board we needed the dinghy to get her ashore. Easy decision, no dinghy, marinas it is! We’ll get the problem resolved when we get back to Jacksonville.
Next up was to take Bella for a nice long walk. We saw that there was a dog park right by the marina. Since we rescued Bella we were always very cautious with her around other dogs, never quite sure if she just wanted to play or was being overly aggressive. So we took her into the park but kept her on the leash. She seemed to be very interested in playing.
During the afternoon we had a visit from Eric and Lyn, folks that Paul had met on Trawler Forum. We had a pleasant chat with them and after they left we decided to try Bella at the dog park again.
This time we let her off her leash and, to our amazement she ran and played and raced the other dogs, clearly very happy and content, with no aggression whatsoever. The owner of the biggest dog, Bandit, even asked us if she was a herding breed after he saw how she behaved with his dog!The next morning, Saturday the 22nd we again took Bella to the dog park where she again behaved impeccably.
We left the marina and headed for our next stop at Indiantown, on the St Lucie River, just to the East of Lake Okeechobee.We passed Fort Pierce, and down to Stuart. You have to run about 5 miles past Stuart and make a 180 degree turn back up the St Lucie River to begin the transit to Lake Okeechobee.
We continued up the St Lucie River, having to wait fifteen minutes for the Florida East Coast Railway bridge to open as it opens every twenty minutes not on request. We then passed American Custom Yacht, the marina and yard where Sonas was based and where we surveyed and bought her.
Next we passed a dock where there were about a dozen Flemings tied up. It could be that is where they are built?
We went through the first lock on this trip, the St Lucie Lock, part of the system that manages the water level in Lake Okeechobee.
We soon passed what seemed to be a large port project, but it seemed to be suspened. The equipment was abandoned and overgrown with grass.
We arrived at Indiantown Marina mid afternoon. This marina and yard is where hundreds of boats are hauled to wait out hurricane season. We chatted to another couple in a downeaster called Jenny Rose who tied up next to us and who were also heading to Fort Myers.
The plan for the next day, Sunday 23rd, was to run across the Lake and tie up at Roland Martin Marina immediately on the other side. We headed west again and through Mayaca Lock and into the massive body of water.
There are two routes across the lake. The shorter Route One across the middle, and Route Two along the south rim of the lake. We chose Route One as there is more water and less twisting and turning. The rim route may be of interest another time. There isn’t the usual series of markers showing the way but one eight miles away away on the horizon. The route is well marked on our chart plotters though, so it was an easy transit across a very placid lake. There were at least a half dozen controlled burns going on along the south bank as we crossed.
As we neared our exit point at Clewiston we saw an unusual concrete structure just sitting on its own in the water. We did some Googling and discovered that it used to be the fresh water source for the town of Clewiston.
There is a lock at Clewiston that protects the town from high lake water, and you need to pass through it to get to Roland Martin Marina. Most of the time it is open. Today it was closed. Since it was only 12:15 we decided that we could go on and make tomorrow’s run to Fort Myers shorter. So we called Roland Martin Marina to cancel our resevation, aiming for the town dock at Moore Haven about 15 miles further on.
We ran along the canal at he western edge of the lake, with large pieces of equipment working on raising the Herbert Hoover Dyke and got into the Moore Haven Town Dock before three and tied up. This is an unmanned dock which is on a first come basis, no reservations. There was only one other boat there so we had plenty of room to tie up. We walked Bella though the small town and we have never been barked at by as many yard dogs as we did in Moore Haven!! Around six pm a guy turned up in a city truck and asked us the length of our boat was, and we handed over our dock fee of one dollar a foot, water and electric included!
The next day, Monday the 24th we were off as soon as Bella got her morning walk – with plenty of town dogs yet again barking at her! We started off in a morning fog, which caused enough wet mist that we ran from the pilot house.
We met very few other boats going east or west on the river. We transited the Ortona Lock and the W.P Franklin Lock, and made Fort Myers Yacht Basin by three pm. We bunkered fuel before backing into slip East 44. An elderly gentleman on a interesting looking yacht in the next slip came out to greet us. He introduced himself as Captain Harding of HMS Turtle, meaning His Metal Ship Turtle, a small steel tug.
We got everything tidied away and took Bella for a walk to the large Centennial Park just south of the marina. We were disappointed to find that the entire park was closed off for redevelopment. There was another large park just north of the marina, but that too was fenced off. All in all we did not find downtown Fort Myers very “green,” which was surprising given the large number of dog owners and joggers we saw during our two day stay.
We did take the time at the marina to relax, do some boat chores and ate at Izzy’s seafood restaurant (just OK) and at Firestone which was excellent.
Paul needed a part from West Marine, which was seven miles away. We were chatting to Captain Harding and telling him we were going to get an Uber down to get the part. He told us that he was going to lunch with a friend and was quite happy to go pick it up. Paul called West Marine, paid for the part, and Captain Harding duly delivered it to the boat that afternoon. You meet many kind people while cruising!
We had identified Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) as somewhere we wanted spend Thanksgiving weekend. It had a marina that by all accounts was top class and well run. In fact they state on their website that it has been recognized as one of the top 25 marinas to visit in North America. We had been trying to book it but the marina was full, Paul kept trying, hoping for a cancellation, but with no luck.
So we booked into small marina at the south end of Estero Island called Fish Tale for the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day. On Wednesday we ran slowly from Fort Myers to the south end of Estero Island where we had to enter though Big Carlos Pass and the low drawbridge there. When Paul looked at the charts of the area and the chart plotter, even though there is a marked channel, the depths showed nothing but one to four feet. Paul is a member of Trawler Forum and they have a new function where people identify themselves as Port Captains of the areas that they know. Paul contacted Larry who was a Port Captain for the Fort Myers area. With the feedback he got we felt more confident going through the pass. In fact we saw nothing less that 10 feet all the way through and the bridge tender was very accommodating when opening the draw.
Fish Tale is a very tight marina, the approach and the marina itself. Plus they had tucked us into the back of the marina. But we took it slow and got into the slip with no issues.
We were only a block from the beach so took Bella over for a walk and went later for the sunset with drinks at Pinchers! That evening we had a very nice pavement dining meal at South Beach Grille. We would recommend both the food and the service.
The next day was Thanksgiving. We walked the beach and had early afternoon drinks and shrimp at the Fish Tale restaurant. In fact for a couple who love Mayport shrimp, the gulf shrimp that we were served were large, moist and delicious!
After watching another glorious sunset and back on Sonas, Sian cooked up a wonderful Thanksgiving meal of Turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, swede and carrot mash, and gravy! This cruising life ain’t so bad afterall!
We had a nice couple of days over Thanksgiving walking the beach. Next it will be off to Pink Shell Resort for a few days and then making the turn back east and home.
The first part of this year’s fall cruise was with four other boats from the Queen’s Harbour neighborhood. The plan was for everyone to run to Halifax Marina in Daytona on the first day. Since we are the slow boat of the fleet we decided to leave a day early and run to Palm Coast first to get a jump on the other boats.
We left on Sunday November 15th and ran down through Palm Valley. As we entered the cut a blue hulled DownEaster named Meridian passed us. I recognized the make so asked for a chat on 17. I told him that we used to have a Vicem in our marina but that it was sold and the new owner took it to Rhode Island. He told us that this was the same boat, they had renamed it and were now on their way to their winter home in Key Largo! What were the odds that they would pass us a few miles from the marina it used to reside in! In fact we had just had dinner with the previous owners a week before! We chatted for a while before they took off.
The tide was as high as we ever saw it through Palm Valley. Most of the docks were under water. The dock at the Palm Valley Outdoors Bar And Grill restaurant was busy with every table full.
We passed through St Augustine and arrived at Palm Coast Marina in time to get spruced up and go over to the European Village for an Indian meal. The restaurant was not doing any table service, we had to give our order at the door, then wait to pick up our takeaway which we ate at a table outside the restaurant.
Next day we took on some fuel, walked our dog then meandered to Halifax Marina in Daytona well in advance of the other boats.
Under way we were again hailed on the radio by Meridian, the Vicem yacht who had stopped over in St Augustine. We had another long conversation.
The four other boats and crews eventually joined us one at a time during the afternoon. This evening we looked around for a restaurant that could serve us outside. We found most restaurants were closed or very limited. We found an Asian Fusion restaurant, Ichi Ni San, that had a courtyard and booked a table for ten. When we got there they had moved the table into an inside room which made us somewhat uncomfortable, but we were the only diners in the room. They were not quite staffed for a large group and the service was somewhat slow, but the food was very good.
Next day we left as soon as Bella got her walk and again got a jump on the group. We went through Mosquito Lagoon and past Cape Canaveral.
They soon overtook us though and they were made an audience on the Cocoa Village Marina dock watching us back into our slip on a gusty day! We got into the slip without incident.
That evening we had an outdoor docktail on the balcony overlooking the marina. The wind was still gusting and making things chilly, so we tucked ourselves into a corner and had good conversation and good food which we had all brought to share.
We were staying in Cocoa for a couple of days. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. It blew like the dickens and rained often. We chatted about our boats and had lunches and dinners in the open air restaurants. We ate at Murdock’s, Tapas and Tacos, and Ryan’s Irish Pizzeria (who knew such a thing existed!).
On Friday morning the rest of the fleet left for home while we headed off further south to continue our fall cruise.
We provisioned Sonas for a ten day fall trip from Jacksonville to Hilton Head, South Carolina and back.
Because the tides weren’t right for us to leave our home dock early in the morning of Saturday Oct 10th we left the previous evening and tied up at the local free dock at Sister’s Creek.
The next day we headed north on the AICW. We looked to see if we could go outside but today the weather was calling for five footers so we decided to stay inside. We cruised through Fernandina (where the massive crane that will be cutting up the Golden Ray still sat). Knot Fast the Great Harbor that had visited with us in Queens Harbor the previous week was also tied up at the marina.
Then past Kings Bay Submarine base where we saw a nuclear sub in the maintenance bay.
We carried on up to St Simon’s and our overnight reservation at Morningstar Marina. On entering St Simon’s Sound we saw the Golden Ray car carrier laying on its side on the shallows right off the pier.
After tying up at the marina we took on 250 gallons of diesel, which would easily see us through this and the next couple of trips. We had booked a table at the Coastal Kitchen Restaurant and had a really nice socially distancing seafood meal.
The next day we left soon after first light, which these days is around 7:30am, and continued north. Our aim today was to stay at the marina in Sunbury GA. The wind was still blowing some so offshore was not an option. In the past we have been able to run directly from St Simon’s Sound to Calibogue Sound in Hilton Head, but with the heavy seas and shorter fall days we would have to break the trip into two, albeit shorter, days.
We had a nervous half hour as we hit the notorious Mud River right at low tide. This part of the AICW shoals badly and we were showing as low as 0.8 feet beneath us as we went through – slowly!
We arrived in the rustic village of Sunbury mid-afternoon. That evening we dined at the Sunbury Crab Company restaurant. We had heard good things about the restaurant, but found it just OK. With the pandemic it was very quiet. We ordered a bottle of cabernet and were told that the bar man was using the last bottle for bar pours. But she had a bottle of Merlot. OK we said, and she turned up with a one and a half liter bottle.!We sent it back and stuck with beer. Clearly wine is not a big seller in these parts!
The next morning we headed out through St Catherine’s Sound into the Atlantic. The wind and seas had died down enough that we could run outside today. We had a very comfortable run into Hilton Head.
We had wanted to stay at the Shelter Cover Marina as we had stayed there before and found it handy for all of the restaurants and stores. However they had a waiting list for all of October. So instead we had booked into Windmill Harbor Marina.
Windmill Harbor is similar to our home set up. It is a marina in a neighborhood with a lock. When we arrived at the lock we found it narrower than our home lock. At 19 feet wide that gave us less than two feet of clearance on either side! As we got into the lock Paul went to use the bow thruster and found it wouldn’t respond. Rather than take Sonas down an unfamiliar fairway and reversing into an unfamiliar slip when we didn’t know what was going on mechanically, we asked if we could have a “lay-along” tie. The marina did not have one available but the harbormaster called over to the South Carolina Yacht Club asking if we could use theirs and they were fine with it. So that’s what we did!
We had planned on staying there for three days and had actually arranged reciprocal amenities with the yacht club from our club. We walked the neighborhood with Bella a few times a day and ate at the yacht club every evening The food was wonderful and we met some very nice people!
Paul had tried to get a mechanic to come look at our bow thruster with no luck so we would have to leave that until we got back to Jacksonville.
On the day we had planned on leaving, Thursday the 15th Paul went to start the engines and found the batteries depleted. We had been plugged into shore power and charging so this was a surprise. Paul checked the start batteries and found them dead. They were only five years old. We arranged with the yacht club to spend another night and Paul found a company to come check the batteries and swap them out for new ones.
We finally left on Friday with new batteries. Though this was not quite the end of our mechanical issue!
Our aim today was a small remote village in Georgia called Kilkenny. It was the perfect distance for a short day’s run. We again were able to run outside and back in again at St Catherine’s, then a short trip back up the ICW.
Kilkenny marina was interesting. We watched as small shrimpers came in and offloaded. We also watched as they used a crane system to launch and lift small boats. The banks were so steep here that a ramp was out of the question. The marina charged a dollar a foot for a launch and retrieval! The marina did not have cleats but low wooden pieces that you wrapped your lines around.
We had booked into the Market 107 Restaurant next door and had another seafood dinner, but we reckoned that the meal we had at Coastal Kitchen in St Simon’s was the best of the trip.
Next day we were off again. We had originally planned on staying at Morningstar Marina in St Simon’s again, then Cumberland Island the next night before home. But decided to go on to Jekyll Island Marina today and then go straight on home the next day, Sunday the 18th.
We passed by the Golden Ray again and entered Jekyll channel on low tide. We eased our way to the marina, often with less that two feet beneath the keel! We cooked a couple of steaks on the boat deck grill this evening!
On Sunday the 18th we were again off at first light and followed a small sailboat out of the marina. We caught up to her as we made the turn into St Andrew’s Sound. The AICW in this area can be problematic as there are shoaling sandbars right across the middle of the sound. Boats transiting the AICW have to go out pretty much to the mouth of the sound. Today it was blowing on shore and nice big rollers were coming it. The little sailboat tucked in behind us to help it with the seas and then cut across earlier than us as it did not draw as much. We rounded the buoy getting hit somewhat by quite heavy seas but it because easier once we had them on our stern quarter.
We again passed inside Cumberland Island, past Fernandina and we were tied up at home dock by 3:00pm. We did encounter an overcharging issue on our start batteries today. We suspect that one of our Balmar battery regulators has gone bad. We also suspect that is why we had the battery issue while we were in Hilton Head. Sonas is going to the yard for some new teak soon, so we will have them investigate the issue.
Click on the first photo below to scroll through them or start a slideshow.
For the third week in a row we had decent weather to do a mid-week mini cruise on Sonas. We left in cool conditions on Wednesday morning helming from the pilot house. Instead of using the small tender from our boat deck, which would have entailed using the davit to launch and retrieve it, we towed our larger 15′ RIB. This would make it easier to use and was much more stable for Paul getting off and on given that he is still limited by a back brace.
As we passed Fernandina we heard a Securite call over the VHF advising that a naval ship was on the way in through Cumberland Sound and to keep clear. The rule is no approach within 100 yards and go to steerage speed only within 500 yards. We had time to get across the Sound and into our anchorage before the Ohio Class submarine appeared and went towards the Kings Bay submarine base.
We were also passed by the mega yacht d’Natalin IV which we had seen just last week down in St Augustine.
We arrived at our anchorage off the Sea Camp dock in Cumberland. The day had turned warm so we headed off to the island for a walk across to the ocean-side beach. On landing Paul used the on-line National Parks payment system to pay our entry fee. It is $10 per person for seven days, under 16 years old is free.
Dogs are allowed on the island but not on the ferry so the only way they can get there is by private boat. Bella was the only dog on the Island! We had a gentle two mile walk through the sea forest and on the unspoilt beach before returning to Sonas.
Just before Sunset Paul launched the drone and took some video of the anchorage and the island.
The next day, Thursday, we again walked the beach in the morning before breakfast and some boat chores. After lunch we headed across and tied up at the Fernandina Harbor Marina. Some friends had come up in their boat and we were going to spend the evening with them.
We went to Joe’s Second Street Bistro and had an excellent meal in their courtyard before heading back to Sonas for conversation and wine!
We had left our plans open for Friday. We were either going to head home or down to one of our favorite anchorages on the Fort George River. Instead we decided to return to Cumberland Island. We again walked the island and beach, with Bella meeting wild horses and deer for the first time!
Saturday turned up very breezy, with 20 mph winds, but we returned to home dock without incident.
Click on a photo below to enlarge or to start a slideshow of the photos.
We had planned on the short cruise up to Fort George River and anchoring out for a couple of nights. But, since I was still restricted after my back surgery, Sian had concerns over my ability to help out should there be any issues with the dinghy (especially the outboard) if she got into trouble. During the day would not be an issue as there usually were other boaters around, but the last trip ashore in the evening with Bella would be the issue.
So on Wednesday as we exited the channel from home dock we turned right on the AICW instead of left. Sian contacted St Augustine Marina and asked for reservations for two nights. We had an uneventful trip to St Augustine, tied up by 3:00. After a doggie walk and a nap, we went up to O.C. Whites for dinner. They have a nice sized courtyard for safe dining.
The next day, Thursday, a couple of mega yachts arrived, joining the two already there. This is the first time we have ever seen more than one of them at the marina when we have been there. We spent a relaxing day at the marina, walking the town, enjoying an ice cream, and general people and boat watching!
Sian completed a couple of boat jobs that Paul hadn’t been able to do. Replacing a bilge pad, replacing the fresh water filter, and a swapping out a 12v power receptacle on the foredeck.
We walked over to Harry’s Grill which also had a sizable courtyard and had dinner there.
We delayed our departure from the marina on Friday until late morning as we needed mid-tide or better to enter the channel into our home dock. Because we were running ahead of a light wind in 87 degree weather the trip back was hot but uneventful!
We may not have been able to enjoy a three month trip on Sonas this year but we are trying to squeeze in as many days as we can now!
After four months tied up due to both COVID 19 and Paul’s back surgery we finally got to take Sonas up to Fernandina for a couple of nights. Frank and Julie Proctor on Escape joined us. We had dinner on board the first night and then a birthday dinner (Paul’s) at Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro on the second night. The weather called for rain but we didn’t really get any – though there were plenty of clouds around as you can see from the photos!
This was Bella’s first over night cruise and she handled it like a champ, in fact she loved it. Seems we have ourselves a new boat dog!
Social Distancing – Fortunate To Have Sonas At Home
Well COVID-19 certainly put paid to our annual spring three months cruise to the Bahamas. Initially, like everyone else, we didn’t know how long we would be tied to the dock, and we were optimistic that the delay would only last a month or two. As time dragged on I began to complete one boat project, then another, and another, and I even thought we might get to the job that was on the very bottom of the project list – giving the engine room and bilges a good cleaning and repainting parts of the engine that needed touching up!
We were anchored off Cumberland Island for three nights back in March and Sian noticed a new sound when raising the anchor. When we got home I had a look at the Maxwell HWC 3500 and saw that two of the bolts that held the shaft to the port side gear box had either come loose or sheared off. They were grinding against the manual retrieval plate.
My mechanic dismantled the windlass and found everything well greased and easily came off the port side of the windlass, until he got to the clutch cone. It was seized solid to the shaft. No amount of cajoling, prizing, wedging would get it to budge. He decided to remove the starboard side of the windlass and see if he could remove the shaft to work on the port side, and found the starboard side clutch cone stuck as well.
Next he used a heat gun to heat up the bronze cone to try and pop it from the shaft. After quite a while that did the trick. When he removed the manual retrieval plate he found that the four bolts holding the shaft to the motor housing had failed. One had sheared off completely, the three others were loose with two of them bent. We simply cannot remember an incident that would have caused that damage.
So the mechanic got the windlass off the deck and took it completely apart to full investigate what was going on. He found the gear housing plate cracked and the bolt holes worn, allowing the windlass to become loose. So we ordered all of the needed parts and rebuilt the windlass. It was obviously a catastrophic failure but we still don’t know what caused it.
Teak swim platform and steps
Over the past couple of seasons the caulking on the swim platform teak had been coming off. I asked the yard if anything could be done and they told us that the teak was so worn that it was now too thin to re-caulk. We had been finding that it was also uncomfortable to walk on in certain areas. The yard had given us a couple of names of people to do the work but they were busy and couldn’t get to our project. I was finally directed to a company called Teakdecking Systems out of Sarasota.
Teakdecking were very responsive, although they also said that they had a lot of work on the books they would schedule us as soon as they could. They gave me a quote based on a measurement sheet I sent them and then in early May they advised that they had a team going up to Savannah who would stop by Jacksonville on their way to take the measurements.
Ron stopped by on his way to an installation on a large Viking in Savannah to make the template. He took it back to Sarasota where they made a digital pattern and are currently fabricating the teak. They said they could send an installation team but recommended I use Huckins here in Jacksonville as they do tear out and installs and that would save me the travel and lodging. Huckins is waiting for the final shipping date before scheduling Sonas.
I couldn’t persuade Ron into the engine Room either!
I treated myself to a new floating dock for our AB 15 DLX RIB. Even though the water at our home is mostly fresh we still get white worm on unpainted bottoms. We were continuously lifting the RIB and storing it in the garage, which was not very convenient.
The blocks arrived and Sian and I put it together ourselves. We had a couple of missteps, mainly from not making sure we were on a flat surface, but once we moved the build to the flat concrete dock it went smoothly. Once together and in the water roped to the inside of our dock, we ran the RIB up onto it – and only got half way! Talking to Dock Blocks they suggested adding more water to the entrance blocks to lower them. We did that and still couldn’t get the RIB more than half way on. I then noticed that the chines were getting caught in the channel of the floating dock and that was stopping the RIB from coming on. It needed to be lifted higher on entry.
Dock Blocks had a solution – circular bunks that install into each side of the channel. They sent me links to other installs and to the process. I decided that I didn’t want to retro-fit these so asked if they could install next time they were in the area.
I can’t say enough about Mark Partridge from Dock Blocks. He was passing through Jacksonville returning from visiting family. His wife and child amused themselves in Jacksonville while Mark came and installed the bunks – charging only for the parts.
He stayed and watched me successfully load the boat after the install!
Next up was tidying up the davit. We had been seeing flecks of rust on the deck underneath the winch area for some time and saw that the outside of the motor had a coat of rust. We had also bought a new cable and hook set from Marquipt over a year ago and it was time to install that as the current cable had kinks.
I took the cover off and gave the winch a good sanding and a couple of coats of Rust-oleum rust converter. Then I gave the cable a yank from the top of the drum, it wouldn’t budge. Tried with pliers; wouldn’t move. I know on previous davits that a small piece is jammed into the drum groove to hold the cable in place so I turned the drum to punch a screwdriver from the bottom to dislodge the holding piece. Still nothing. So to get the cable out of the way I cut it and punched again. Still no movement. I sprayed with PB Blaster and tried again, and again. Finally I did what every red blooded man eventually does – I called the manufacturer for the Columbia 1000 winch!
They kindly sent me the schematic for the cable replacement, clearly showing a tear drop piece inserted into the bottom of the drum (not in from the top) holding the loop of cable! Once I saw this I quickly punched a screwdriver from the top of the slot and out popped the tear drop – and the cable replacement was a cinch – after a couple of days of trying!
I was trying to persuade Sian into the ER while I was handling this, with no success!
First up was selecting and having new shades installed. Sonas still had her original wooded venetian blinds. Some of the cords had snapped, and some of the head mechanisms had become worn and stiff. After we broke off a part of a slat on one of the blinds it was time to replace them.
We first selected roller blinds and the manufacturer came and measured. Unfortunately when the installer came to check things before they were manufactured we discovered that the roller heads would not fit behind the bug screen frame on the rear salon doors. After discussion we decided to go with honeycomb blinds due to the smaller footprint. Again she measured, again we paid and again the installer came to check and said that the honeycomb would not fit either.
The choice was to change out everything but the door windows or leave as it. Somewhat frustrated we told them that we would hold off for now and stick with what we had.
Then I was on Yachtworld one day looking at another Grand Alaskan trying to answer a question for someone when I saw a boat for sale that had Roman Shades. They looked great and because of the way they work there was no large head mechanism. We called the company back and after measuring, paying, and a final installer visit we found that they worked. So Sonas is now sporting new window treatments!
The next project, while it was still somewhat cool for Florida, was putting new poly on the cap rails. We had neglected to add a couple of coats last year and the relentless Bahamian and Florida sun had taken spots back to the teak. I decided to separate the rails into three jobs. One around the rear side-walks and the cockpit. The second around the Portuguese Bridge, and the third the fore deck. I spot scraped and sanded all of the spots back to the teak, filled with three coats of poly and finally went over all of the cap rails with an additional three coats.
I did some research on how I could get the brightwork to look uniform but the overall consensus was that unless you take everything back to the bare teak, the new varnish spots will show as the older teak has been discolored by the sun and elements over time. Eventually the spots will start to merge. Note to self – a light sanding and a couple of new coats every fall or spring will keep the bigger job at bay!
Thought for a second or two about cleaning the engine room next, but luckily managed to find other projects!
We have our own dock behind our home. The power pedestal, probably original from 1998, was looking the worse for wear. So I carefully power washed it, and gave it three coast of bright white with a light sanding in between. I was quite pleased with the result!
It was time to replace the arming on our two West Marine Coastal and two Mustang Survival PFDs. We decided to have a bit of fun with this and jump into our pool wearing them. This proved that they were still good AND allow us the experience of having them go off while wearing them.
They worked fine and are now rearmed!
So here we are in September and I still haven’t cleaned the engine room! I have found other ways to avoid it, including re-sanding the pavers around the house, re-painting the garden gnomes, and digitizing hundreds, if not more, old photographs and letters!
A mixed day today on our planned trip up to Bird Island off Nassau Sound. First there was a scheduling issue at the lock and we couldn’t get out at our planned time. So ended up staying at home for lunch. We finally got out early afternoon, but too late for our planned destination. So we went up to Fort George River for an hour or so instead. Plus again, the forecasted wind of 15-16 turned into a strong blow. However any day on the water beats any day in the office!
We left Quito and arrived at the airport on Baltra Island. The airport bus takes you to the ferry dock when you boat across to Santa Cruz Island. In the afternoon we went to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoises and watched as the local liquor was made (and sampled it) . Next day we took a boat to Santa Fe Island and visited with the seals and took a walk through the island. On the second day we visited North Seymour Island and the Boobies, Frigates and iguanas. We had a chance to snorkel the clear waters on both days.
Click on the first photo below and it will give you the choice to play a slide show of the photos or you can use the arrow on the far right to click through them one at at time.
We arrived in Quito from Lima and visited the Equator Museum and the church of the Virgen De Quito. Since Ecuador is the world’s largest producer of roses we went to a rose farm, and a humming bird sanctuary. We had lunch in the Cafe Plaza Grande and took the cable car ride up to thePichincha volcano.
Click on the first photo below and it will give you the choice to play a slide show of the photos or you can use the arrow on the far right to click through them one at at time.
We started off in Lima, and then flew to Cuzco, eleven thousand feet above sea level. We entered the Sacred Valley and visited Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Macchu Picchu, back to Cuzco before leaving Peru for Ecuador.
Click on the first photo below and it will give you the choice to play a slide show of the photos or you can use the arrow on the far right to click through them one at at time.
We had planned to take Sonas up to Cumberland Island again, this time for two weeks. We had even bought all of the provisions. Then on Friday April 3, the island was closed to all, including private boaters, which was disappointing. So today we packed a picnic lunch and took our RIB up to Fort George river. If there were too many boats there we were going to leave and go find somewhere quiet. When we arrived we found the place virtually empty and we grabbed our own beach! We had a nice couple of hours before returning home. We cleaned up and then at sunset we took the RIB around the lagoon to wave and say hello to any neighbors who were hanging out behind their homes.
We left our base in the Scared Valley and rode the train along the Urubama River to the town of Mariposario de Machupicchu. From there we took a shuttle bus up the switch-back road to the Belmond Hotel right outside the gates of Machu Picchu. We did an afternoon walk through the ruins and then we were back in there again before sunrise the next morning to watch the sun hit the buildings.
Click on the first photo below and it will give you the choice to play a slide show of the photos or you can use the arrow on the far right to click through them one at at time.
Landed in Iquitos and took the boat to our camp at Ciera Tops. Visited the village of Indiana (named by a missionary), visited the Yaqui tribe, and walked the second longest canopy walk in the world. Sian was also “blessed” by a Shaman.
Click on the first photo below and it will give you the choice to play a slide show of the photos or you can use the arrow on the far right to click through them one at at time.
We returned from our trip to South America and decided during the second week of our self-isolation from COVID-19 to take Sonas up to Cumberland Island for a few days. The island is closed to ferry and other charter traffic but still open to those arriving by private boat. The rangers are still working though all contact centers are closed. We had planned on staying two nights but the weather was so good and the island so empty we made our provisions last another night!
We went on the beach on the Atlantic side and we were the only people on the 17.5 mile long beach! We also visited the ruins on the mansion built by the Carnegies.
The forecast was fine so we returned home running outside. The only issue from the trip was that our gear change cable on the tender broke – so we will look to get that fixed this week so we can get up to Cumberland again very soon!
[This should have been posted early last summer but we forgot Sian had written it (or maybe Paul didn’t want to be reminded in writing!) The good news is that we are now able to add resolutions to the original issues!]
From Sian, on board Sonas.
There is a new to me verb on Sonas this year. McGuyvering.
The Oxford dictionary describes it thus “To McGuyer is to make a repair in an inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand.”
There are those who would say that is simply boating! Others, like Paul, will define cruising as fixing broken things in exotic locations because there is always something breaking on a boat, you just don’t know what it is yet! For me, this has been a season where things, some big, some small, go haywire and I am not used to that!
Some of the McGuyvering that goes on is down right amusing.
For example a cockpit sun shield. In four years we have never felt the need for a rear sun shade but this year we definitely did. The prevalent wind in the Bahamas during spring is from the East. So the bow of the boat faces into the wind and the stern of the boat faces West – where the setting hot sun is in the evening! So rather than be forced indoors Paul rigged up a shade using the large old front window cover that we had stowed on board (but should have taken off the boat – Hooray for procrastination!), add clothes pegs and bungee cords, and it worked a treat. [Our canvas shop has now made us shades for the cockpit].
By the way what boat could possibly exist without numerous bungee cords and duct tape?
More seriously, the switch on the dinghy went bad so the work around wasn’t in the truest sense a McGuyer but we used the switch on the motor cowling to lift and lower the engine. Not such a big deal, really more of an inconvenience especially when running up on a beach. [Dingy went into the shop for a full work up and new fish finder/depth sounder. All good now].
Marine sanitation devices (MSDs), otherwise known as the heads or toilets, always give many opportunities to McGuyver. I shall spare you dear reader a rehash of previous posts or any nasty photos, but suffice it to say I have been promoted to bucket holder and feeder of paper rolls when an extra pair of hands is needed. A promotion I did not seek but as a dear friend said, it’s hard to hide when there’s only two of you on a boat! [Touch wood, all working fine since then!]
Our batteries are not recharging as they should, latest theory is the alternators need attention so we have to check battery levels and start the generator throughout the day, and even while we are cruising on longer (8+ hours) runs as the start batteries dropped close to the red. Again no huge deal but if the oven goes off while I’m making bread, heads will roll! [Alternators removed at yard and fully refurbished. Starboard one was not putting anything out at all due to bad wiring. Yard electrician went through the boat checking electrics , all good].
Earlier in our travels our hot water tank failed which meant an unscheduled lay over in Lucaya getting a new tank delivered from Florida and installed. Mission accomplished and off we went.
However the new, smaller tank seems to put out a higher pressure and impacts the dish washer. Now some purists would be scathing about a dish washer on a boat but I didn’t put it there and if you don’t use it you loose it so yes we run the dishwasher. However with the force of water from the new tank the first time we did so the hose came off spewing water all over the salon. Used every towel we own, mopped it all up and tightened the hose and thought it was fixed. It was not. After the second water incident we “McGuyvered” the water flow into the dish washer by partially opening the valve and then turn it off after every use. Means you have to remember to turn it off otherwise get up at 1.30am when you think about it and rummage under the sink trying not to wake the whole boat. [The hose was attached with a simple hose clamp which couldn’t handle the pressure. The yard has now fitted a high pressure connection].
And then we come to the windlass trouble. We had a slow drip onto the starter relay on the outside of the port engine from a raw water pipe. Because it was a slow saltwater drip that evaporated with the engine heat and never got to then bilge mats (diapers) we did not realize we had a leak. We found a mechanic in Marsh Harbour who located a 24v replacement replay and replaced it.
Then we had an interesting issue! For some strange reason the port engine cranked and started when we used the windlass to lift the anchor. After the mechanic came back a couple of times he could not solve the issue. We were reduced to wearing our communication headsets with Paul in the engine room turning off the start batteries, and me on the bow lifting the anchor while the boat drifted without power. Then telling Paul the anchor was fully up so he could turn on the batteries back on and starting the engine once the winch had finished and moving on without, hopefully, bumping into anything. Which , I must say, Captain McGuvyer managed very well. We have since refined this by bypassing some something [the start relay] and starting the engine manually with jumper cables, then lifting the anchor! Happy days! [By the time we arrived home this had stopped occurring. Our mechanic and the yard electrician could not recreate the issue. The yard did find the windlass loose and the battery switch for the windlass-shared start batteries badly cracked. So it could have been arcing at the switch].
So the point of this is, some of us are the natural McGuyvering type (Paul) who quite enjoy the thrill of finding solutions and puzzling through. And some of us (me) have no imagination for McGuyvering situations and frankly get a little tired of the “game”
Three boats from Queen’s Harbour took advantage of the unusual January weather to run to Palm Coast Marina for three days. It was sunny and highs in the mid eighties, just perfect to be on the water.
Paul and Sian on Sonas, Julie and Frank on Escape, and Martin and Marian on M&M. We ran down on Tuesday and were all tied up by mid afternoon. We even had the pleasant surprise of finding that the shoaling at Matanzas had been totally dredged away and now carries 11-13 feet at low tide.
Sonas cruised the last third of the trip with Never Say Never and Sea Tripper, two boats that were cruising further south together. They also tied up at Palm Coast Marina that afternoon.
We had pot luck dinner on board Sonas on Tuesday evening with copious amounts of wine, went to the European Village for a pizza lunch at MezzaLuna, and then back to the European Village on Wednesday night for an Indian meal at The Fifth Element.
We did have a little excitement on Wednesday morning when Never Say Never was leaving the marina and had a small electrical “meltdown” and had to be hauled to a T-Head while things were sorted out. A mechanic that the marina uses was called and turned up within the hour. After a new starter and new ground wires they did a test cruise and the boat was declared ready to resume. We have to say , based on the smoke and smell of burning, we thought it was going to be a good week’s work! Kudos to the marina and mechanic for getting them underway again quickly!
All boats returned safely and without incident to Queen’s Harbour on Wednesday afternoon.
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.
Click on the first photo and then scroll through using the arrow on the right of the page or start an auto play by using the arrow at the bottom of the screen. I would also suggest that you also click on the little “i” button at the bottom as well as this will display the photo descriptions.
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 largest 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 in 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!