This year we are going back to Abaco, where we have not been since 2019. We do prefer Exuma and the Far Bahamas now that we are retired but we have a number of guests flying in and getting to the airport at Marsh or Treasure Cay is much easier than trying to time the weather and running Exuma Sound to Georgetown.
We had originally planned on leaving Jacksonville for the Bahamas on Tuesday March 21st. Before leaving Paul wanted to find the source of a water intrusion in the engine room. He finally lifted the floorboards over the dripless shaft seals and found that they were leaking. So off to the yard she had to go for a haul out and shaft check. Both shafts were found to be badly pitted under the seals. The shafts were sent off to Brunswick GA to see if they could be machined but they reported back that they were too far gone. So we ordered new shafts and put our departure date on hold. The shafts were delivered and installed and we reset the departure for Friday March 31st.
A few days before leaving we tested some of our critical systems including the anchor windlass and the dinghy davit. Unfortunately we discovered a pin had broken off the davit remote controller rendering it inoperable. We did have a spare on board however the upgraded unit wasn’t a direct replacement so meant an internal rewiring. Paul and our good neighbor Jack spent a several few hours on it and got it resolved. We were finally good to go!
Next step, book the marinas we required as we run from Jacksonville to West Palm. In years past we only needed to book the first stop and then reserve slips for the next night as we motored south. However two events have changed this substantially. First, because we were leaving later than before, we were sailing south as it was the time of the year for those boats who wintered in Florida and the Bahamas to move back north. Secondly, during the pandemic thousands of people were introduced to boating and bought new boats which required slips. So marinas were full, and slips were hard to come by unless you planned ahead. And we couldn’t plan ahead due to our shaft issue! However we managed to book everywhere except West Palm. This was the most important booking as it was where we prepare Sonas, ready to cross the Gulf Stream to West End Grand Bahama the next day
Friday March 31st. Jacksonville to Palm Coast Marina
We were off our home dock ten minutes before our lock opened and were professionally handles through by Steve and Jason. We had an uneventful run to Palm Coast Marina. In fact without planning we hit the Bridge of Lions bridge in St Augustine right at opening time.
Palm Coast is always our first stop on the way out and our last stop on the way back from our cruises south. There is a really good Indian restaurant there at the European Village and we do enjoy the food there!
We still do not have a confirmed marina slip in West Palm. We finally asked Safe Harbor North Palm Beach if we could use their fuel dock if we arrived after it was closed and they agreed. So at least we had somewhere to tie up.
Saturday April 1st – Palm Coast to Titusville.
Since we retired we made the decision to run shorter days given that time is no object, Our regular run from Palm Coast is to New Smyrna. However all of the marinas there were full, So we had to run through New Smyrna, along Mosquito Lagoon, through Haulover Canal and into Titusville City Marina. There is a dog park right beside the marina so Sian took Bella for a run. Unfortunately there was a big dog who wanted to bully Bella and another dog who tried to get in between them. Sian stayed just long enough for Bella to do the necessary then headed back.
We had been using WaterWay Guide to monitor fuel prices along our route. Titusville came out as the least expensive on our trip south – though still a dollar a gallon more expensive that last year’s pre-crossing fill up! However we filled up our smaller forward tank which holds 125 gallons. We lock this down and do not use it as it is our emergency “good stuff” should we get bad fuel in the islands. That fuel would get us over 200 miles to somewhere to rectify the issue if we needed to.
We added an addition 600 gallons to the main tanks, giving us a total of just under 900 gallons.
One concern today was Paul finding an oil leak on the bilge pad under the port engine while doing the morning engine room check. However after further inspection it was coming from the hose connection used for the Reverso oil change system. We had the engines serviced prior to leaving and the oil left in the extraction hose had leaked out. He changed out the bilge pad and decided that this fix can wait until we get back home.
This evening we walked to the Pier 220 Restaurant near the marina and had seafood dinners.
Sunday April 2nd – Titusville to Vero Beach
The next two days would be the easy runs, while still long days at eight hours. The ICW between Titusville and Vero Beach is wide and easily navigated, and the weather forecast for tomorrow indicated that we could run outside to Lake Worth Inlet. Even better the forecast for the Gulf Stream crossing on Tuesday had firmed up and looked very good.
We got safely tied up on the north dock at Vero. There is another dog park right by the marina. In fact this is the very first dog park that Bella ever went to, during our return from Fort Myers a couple of years ago and the first year we rescued her. She now visits at least twice a year on boating trips. Sian reported that as soon as she was off the boat she knew exactly where to head! She had a much better visit this time compared to Titusville!
We had signed up with an organization called Hope Fleet. They have a number of programs, Hope Buckets being one program. These are big blue buckets containing seeds and other products that allow people to grow back garden vegetables and use the bucket for irrigation. We had agreed to take some buckets but also school supplies. Our contact Danny turned up with three others and loaded twenty buckets and a full guest cabin full of school supplies; teaching kits and sports equipment.
We also discovered that we had left our Soda Stream machine behind! AAARRRGGGHH. We do not provision any soda or tonic water so as to reduce the recycling we have to store and bring back. Danny had offered to give us a ride if we needed it, so off we went to Target and bought a new Soda Stream.
As always on our visit to Vero Beach we walked over to the Riverside Cafe restaurant for more seafood! We also got the good news that Safe Harbor North Palm Beach found a slip for us so we wouldn’t have to sit at their fuel dock!
Monday April 3rd – Vero Beach to Lake Worth
We ran from Vero Beach down to Fort Pierce and through the inlet and made the turn for Lake Worth Inlet. This allows us to bypass all of the slow zones on the ICW in this area. It also allows us to set the waypoint for the inlet and let the auto pilot do all the steering!
We made Lake Worth around 3pm and headed back up the ICW for four miles to our marina for the night. As soon as we had the boat secured and Bella walked we called for an Uber and headed off to Publix to replenish our fresh vegetables, fruit and bread.
We checked all of our weather sources and confirmed that the gulf stream crossing tomorrow was still a go!
Tuesday April 4th – Lake Worth Inlet to West end Grand Bahama.
We were out of the slip by 7am and out the Lake Worth Inlet by 7:30. We put the coordinates for the Old Bahamas Bay Marina at West End Grand Bahama into our autopilot, it returned an arrival time of exactly 2:30pm – a run of seven hours. Given that is is 56 nautical miles away this was to be an average cruising speed of eight knots at our set 1800 rpms. As we hit the north flowing Gulf Stream we found the bearing to the marina to be 103 degrees and our boat heading to be 125 degrees. An offset of 22 degrees to account for the cross-current!
The crossing was BORING! Which was awesome! We have had a couple of nasty experiences crossing in the past so two foot waves and minimal swell was refreshing.
We reached the entrance to the marina’s turning basin right at 2:30 and were directed to come straight in. We were given a slip just a few down from the grill and bar. After Bella was allowed her necessaries we headed off to the pool for a cooling swim followed by grouper dinners at the West End restaurant.
We had planned on spending just the one night at West End before heading off onto the Bahamas Bank. However we felt it was time to slow down after some long days running down from Jacksonville, so we booked in for another night.
We used the rest day to wash the salt accumulation off Sonas and do some chores. We walked the nice beach and used the pool. We met a number of pleasant boaters who were, like us, heading further on to Abaco.
Thursday April 6th – West End to Great Sale
We headed out of Old Bahama Bay and turned north towards the shallow Indian Rock passage onto the Bahama Bank. This channel only carries 6-7 feet at MLW. Not only were we transiting at near high tide but over the years we have become comfortable motoring over sandy bottoms with only a foot or two underneath the keel. This route save us numerous hours on the alternative route via Memory Rock well to the north. We slowly passed through the channel and then headed to Mangrove Cay, rounding that we set the course for Great Sale. Arriving we found a dozen other boats there before us with more arriving afterwards; both those starting their Bahamas adventure and those heading the other way for home.
Great Sale is a pretty desolate place. No buildings, no people and no beach in the anchorage, just rough limestone. It’s one saving grace is that it is half way between West End and the first stops in the Sea of Abaco cruising grounds. We did meet one couple in their boat Peace VI at west end and they were skipping Great Sale and running the 125 miles to Green Turtle in one day. They were out of the marina before light. That length of trip is no longer something that we plan.
There is a very nice beach on the outer north west side of the island about a 15 minute dinghy ride out of the anchorage,. The winds were favorable that we could comfortably use it for Bella’s requirements.
Friday April 7th – Great Sale to Powell Cay
Powell Cay is our first stop proper in the Sea of Abaco. We motored past Angel Fish and Spanish Cay and set the nose on the anchorage . This was to the south west of the island and would protect us from the light northerly winds today. We anchored over a sandy bottom a 30 second dinghy ride from the mile long soft sand beach. As was her habit now, as soon as the anchor was down Bella wanted the dinghy launched and to be taken ashore, and we duly obliged her.
Saturday April 8th – Powell Cay to Treasure Cay
Under normal circumstances we would have spent a few days at Powell. However we had two things to contend with. The first is Whale Cay Channel, the second is the imminent arrival of heavy wind.
Whale Cay channel is wide and faces the open Atlantic. It is notorious for being in a rage – that is huge breaking seas that make transiting the channel dangerous, in fact regularly impassable. Back in the late 90s a cruise ship company built a “private island” inside the channel at Baker’s Bay. Within a short time they had to abandon the playground as the Whale Cay channel was often to rough for even their cruise ships to get in!
We use a number of sources for our weather forecast. Windy, Windfinder, NOAA, Barometer Bob, and subscribe to Chris Parker’s twice daily regional updates. All were aligned that there was a significant blow coming in starting Sunday evening, with winds gusting to 38 knots! Sunday morning looked okay to cross Whale Cay Channel but we decided to do it on Saturday, just in case it came in early.
We crossed the channel without incident, with rolly five foot swells for an hour. We made the turn to the south west and the entrance to Treasure Cay mooring basin. There are four mooring balls left but we had no idea if they had been maintained since Hurricane Dorian devastated the resort and marina. So we chose to trust our own ground tackle and tucked ourselves up behind a row of condos.