Same cay, completely different experience.

There are some people who return to the Exumas year after year. It’s not surprising given how beautiful it is, but last year part of me wondered if they didn’t get a little tired of revisiting the same cays. Now that we are repeating some of the same spots ourselves, I can see why they do it. We’ve discovered that simply by anchoring in a different area in the same cay it can be like going to an entirely new island.

This really became clear when we finally arrived at Lee Stocking. After two aborted attempts to get south of Staniel Cay (a steady 18 knots+ dead on the nose with accompanying chop had us turning back – no need to beat up ourselves or the boat if it’s not necessary), the third time was a charm on a windless day. Yes, we would have preferred to sail, but at this point we were beggars who weren’t going to be choosers.

Continue reading “Same cay, completely different experience.”

Hiding out in Pipe Cay.

The water in the Exumas is unquestionably gorgeous, and it feels like you could spend months here in a different anchorage each night. But one thing it lacks is an abundance of anchorages with good all-around protection from the wind. As a result, you will generally find yourself sharing one of the decent anchorages with a bunch of other boats. Not a big deal if nobody drags, but as we witnessed in Norman’s Cay, you can’t necessarily count on that. So with those events fresh on on our mind and another front coming in, we decided to head to Pipe Cay.

Pipe Cay was one of our favorite anchorages last year. A quick five mile hop from Staniel Cay, we decided to head over there just before high tide to see if we could sneak into the back on the northwest side of Little Pipe Cay. Last year we had seen one boat anchored there, and it looked skinny but doable on the charts.

It was a cloudy and windy morning and we were keeping an eye on a big squall heading our way as we motored over. Fortunately it dissipated before arriving, but by the time we were entering the Pipe Cay channel I was out of sorts.

Continue reading “Hiding out in Pipe Cay.”

It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.

After several days of traveling in sportier conditions than we prefer, we were more than happy to wait out the next cold front in Norman’s Cay.  The protection was o.k. and the holding was very good, so we spent a few days relaxing and playing in the water before the front moved in.

The cold front was predicted to arrive in the evening bring steady winds of 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40 for around 24 hours before “dropping” to 25-30 without the 40 knot gusts for another 12-18 hours.  There aren’t many good options for protection from westerly component winds in the Exumas, so as the day progressed the anchorage steadily filled until there were 23 boats that had joined us.

Boats were spaced apart pretty well so we were feeling pretty good until just after sunset when we took one last look out of the cockpit.  Where the hell did he come from?  A sailboat had parked himself a bit too close for comfort off of our starboard bow.  Hmmm.  Well, we had been there for two days and had gone swimming over our anchor earlier so we knew it was well dug in.  The anchorage had a reputation for good holding and the sailboat’s chart plotter was still on so we figured he was paying attention.  We decided to take a calculated risk by not moving.  Nevertheless, given his proximity we were going to keep a close eye on the situation.

Around 11:30 p.m. the winds really started picking up, so I got up to take a look around.  The latecomer was definitely closer and I could see someone on the bow with a flashlight.  O.k., he’s dragging but he knows it.  After nothing changed for a few minutes, Jeff shined a flashlight on his boat to get the boat name and I called him on the radio.

Continue reading “It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.”

I’ve found my maximum latitude.

As Jeff and I were walking to an auto parts store in North Miami to find carburetor cleaner for the dinghy outboard (the subject of another post), I took note of the fact that it was December 29th and I was warm.  It was cloudy but there was a warm breeze, and I was perfectly content.  I turned to Jeff and said, “I’ve found my maximum latitude.”

I’ve written before that we are chasing the warm weather.  We aren’t going to live on our boat forever, and something we frequently ask ourselves is where we might want to live when we’re finished.  Annapolis is great, but it’s too cold in the winter.  We love Beaufort, SC but again, it can get pretty chilly.  St. Augustine?  Getting better, but it still occasionally has lows in the 30’s.  Vero Beach?  Better still, but the average low in January is 51 degrees.  But now we’re in the Miami area and I can feel it in the air.  If we’re living on the east coast, this is the furthest north I want to be.

Last year we only went as far south as West Palm Beach, FL before crossing over to the Bahamas.  This year the weather systems have been much stronger and more frequent, with crossing opportunities proving to be few and far between.  Rather than hang out in Vero Beach or the Palm Beach area while we wait, we decided to head farther south.  We’ve never been to Miami and we wanted to check it out, and given that we plan to focus on the Exumas this time it made sense to make some more southerly progress while we wait.

Continue reading “I’ve found my maximum latitude.”

Putting the hammer down.

We were poking along the ICW as we did last fall, content in knowing that we were three weeks ahead of schedule compared to last year and hoping that would be enough to keep the cold weather at bay.  We had enjoyed a beautiful, leisurely trip down the Dismal Swamp, spent a few nights in our favorite small town of Belhaven, and stopped in Beaufort, NC for the first time where we waited several days for a strong weather system to pass.

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Blazing a trail through thick duckweed on the Dismal Swamp.

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Continue reading “Putting the hammer down.”

I wish I could get used to “sporty” sails.

After cruising full-time for fourteen months now, I’m getting frustrated by the fact that I still get so nervous when conditions get “sporty.”

Since leaving Annapolis we’ve been trying to high-tail it south so we can stay warmer than we were last year.  The last few weeks have shown me how much better we’ve become in some ways (like picking good anchorages for boisterous weather), and how far I still have to go with others (like embracing the sailing conditions that are created by said boisterous weather).

An example of getting better at picking good anchorages would be our stop in Mill Creek across from Reedville, VA to wait out a few days of near gale-force winds.  We rode out some weather in Mill Creek last fall so we knew it would be a good hidey-hole.  But this time we used our knowledge that we had gained from our friends Jay and Tanya on S/V Minx, combined with our experiences over the past fourteen months, to find a particularly well-protected spot.

With winds predicted to turn clockwise from south to north, we found an area with many tall trees blocking the wind from the south, west, and north, and tucked ourselves close to the land on the southwest side of the creek.  There was barely a ripple on the water for the duration of the weather system and we were incredibly comfortable.

That comfort changed when we decided to leave Mill Creek as soon as the small craft advisory was lifted at 1:00 p.m. Continue reading “I wish I could get used to “sporty” sails.”

A tale of two passages – part one.

We spent several days waiting out a weather system at our hidey hole by Green Turtle Cay before moving to Great Sale Cay where we would leave for our crossing back to the U.S.  We have spent approximately one week in this Green Turtle anchorage during our time in the Bahamas, and we really do love it.  We have had it to ourselves every time except for one night, and the protection is superb.  Turtles and rays come by every day and we discovered some nice snorkeling on this last stop.  However, it was time to go so we sadly waved goodbye until next time.

Why hello there!
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A beautiful sunset.

After many discussions over the past few months, Jeff and I agreed that we were ready to try a multi-night passage.  Up to now we had only done two single overnights.  We had the awful one down the New Jersey coast, and we had a mostly wind-free 20 hours when we crossed from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay in early February.  We had gained a lot of confidence while sailing in all kinds of conditions in the Bahamas, so it was time to push our comfort zone a bit more.

We set up custom weather routing with Chris Parker who is well-known among cruisers for his forecasting.  Although we wouldn’t have cell service off shore and we only have an SSB receiver, he would be able to send detailed forecasts through our inReach device.  When a good weather window opened up, it was time to go.

Our hope was to go from Great Sale Cay to Georgetown, SC or even Beaufort, NC if the stars aligned, but we agreed that we wouldn’t hesitate to bail out early if we wanted to.  That proved to be a very good plan. 

We left Great Sale on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. and had good wind for sailing all day.  The wind angle was a bit different than forecasted so right away we weren’t going to be able to aim for one of Chris’ suggested waypoints, but we kept chugging along with Bob (our Monitor windvane) steering like a champ.  

Continue reading “A tale of two passages – part one.”

So what IS a swell bridle?

A few people have asked me about our swell bridle, so I thought I’d write a quick post describing what it is and how we set ours up.

Anchored boats point into the wind and typically rock at the bow and stern (hopefully gently, but if it’s really windy and wavy it can be quite the ride!).  We can typically fall asleep even when the anchorage is sporty, as long as the wind and the waves are coming from the same direction.

When the waves come from the side, however, the boat rolls from side to side due to the fact that it’s still pointed into the wind.  This can happen if the waves wrap around a point of land in the anchorage.  It can also occur when a strong wind changes direction because it takes some time for the direction of the waves to shift with the wind.  As you can imagine, rolling from side to side makes it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to sleep.

Some Googling introduced me to the concept of a swell bridle.  A swell bridle allows you to move the boat so that it’s pointed into the waves instead of into the wind.  With the boat once again rocking at the bow and stern, you can mercifully fall asleep again.

To rig our swell bridle we took an old halyard and attached it to the chain below the bow roller.  In our case we still had a shackle attached to the halyard, but if we didn’t we would have simply tied the halyard onto the chain.  We then determined which side the wind would be when the boat was pointed into the waves, and ran the halyard back to the cockpit winch on that future windward side, keeping the halyard on the outside of the stanchions.  After that we let out an additional 30 feet of chain (the length of Pegu Club) and then tightened the halyard until Pegu Club’s bow was pointed into the waves instead of the wind.  Letting out the additional chain (thereby giving you more scope) will help to make up for the increased windage from being beam to the wind.

As soon as we set it up the effect was immediate.  No longer rolling from side to side, we were now bobbing fore and aft and would be able to sleep again.  Hooray!  If you search “swell bridle” under Google images you can find some good pictures that illustrate what I’m describing.

As one final tip, make sure that you have enough space around you in the anchorage before doing this.  Letting out additional chain and turning the boat will change your position in the in the anchorage, and you won’t be pointed the same way as everyone else.  Not being sure how close we would end up to the boats around us is the primary reason why Jeff didn’t want to set it up for the first time in the middle of the night.  When daylight came we saw there was a trawler fairly close to us, so it turned out to be a good call.

We really don’t see people using a swell bridle in rolly anchorages which is surprising given how helpful it is.  I suspect that they aren’t aware of such a thing, just as we weren’t.  Hopefully someone will find this post to be useful when the time inevitably comes that you’re frustratingly rolling from side to side instead of bobbing to and fro.  Sleep well!

It takes a village to change a fuel filter.

After leaving St. Augustine, our next planned multi-day stop was Vero Beach.  We left early on December 29th, anchoring in a place known as the Cement Factory and at Callilisa Creek the next night.  

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The Daytona Beach area was a zoo with motor boats zooming past with no regard for their wake.  Jerks.

On New Year’s Eve we were motored down Mosquito Lagoon and then the Indian River.  Although the forecast had called for 10-15 knots, we were instead getting a steady 20-25 knots, right on the nose.  The water was rather choppy and the channel was narrow with depths of about 2 feet right outside.  

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Looking back at the entrance to the Haulover Canal.  The fishing boats made a hole for us as we went through.

Because there are never any engine issues in calm conditions with plenty of room all around (it’s always in rough water, or when you’re going through a narrow cut with rocks on either side, or trying to dock), at that moment the RPM’s on the engine dropped, almost to the point of stalling.  Almost as quickly as it had dropped, it went back up again.  A few minutes later, it dropped again, but not quite as severely as the first time.  Once our heart rate returned to semi-normal, we decided to siphon our remaining diesel from the jerry jug into the tank on the off chance the choppy water was interrupting the diesel flow from the tank.  Continue reading “It takes a village to change a fuel filter.”

Solomons and south.

There wasn’t as much VHF chatter on our way from Annapolis to Solomons as there had been on our previous leg.  At one point on our way to Annapolis someone (presumably a fishing boat) was calling for a radio check and when no one responded he asked, “Am I all alone out here?”  “I can hear you.  You’re not alone” came a response.  After a few beats someone else came on and said in a solemn voice, “We’re all alone.”  That cracked us up. 

Anyway, after motor sailing for 45 nm from Annapolis, we were happy to drop the anchor in Solomons, MD.  Solomons is an extremely popular destination for Chesapeake boaters, but being late in October we didn’t get a real feel for it.  It’s kind of like being on Block Island after Labor Day compared to the height of summer.  A lot of places were closed for the season, but it was o.k. because we knew we would definitely be coming here again.  

One place that wasn’t closed was the Calvert Marine Museum.  The museum had several great exhibits, including many fossils, an outdoor habitat for river otters (so cute!), the Drum Point Light (which had been relocated from its original location), and indoor aquarium exhibits.   Continue reading “Solomons and south.”