We've spent three years cruising to the Bahamas on Pegu Club, our Bristol 29.9. Time to switch it up a bit and head to Southern California for the winter, tent camping our way across the United States.
Of our three cruising seasons, this is the earliest in the calendar that we have headed north, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s been the most challenging as far as weather is concerned. Winter and spring are still battling it out, so the trip has been filled with starts and stops. Chris Parker has been saying in his emails that this pattern has been more reminiscent of early spring than of May. Great.
We are currently in Belhaven, NC and have yet to be able to travel for more than three days in a row before having to stop for weather. And believe me, some of those days have been less than comfortable. We had a particularly rolly, rollicking ride north on the Neuse River with the wind blowing 20+ knots – fortunately behind us. It wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any fun.
We had hoped to hop outside when the opportunity presented itself, but so far those times have been so infrequent that it has made more sense just to keep moving north on the ICW vs. sitting and waiting for a window to maybe open up. At times my frustration level has been high, to put it mildly. I am SO OVER the ICW. Continue reading “Will we ever make it to Norfolk, let alone Connecticut?”→
I think it’s almost inevitable. If you do anything long enough, you start to get a bit complacent. The only problem with doing that on a boat is Mother Nature will give you a smack in the face to bring you back to your senses. Fortunately the repeated smacks we experienced over a a few weeks didn’t do any damage except to our psyche.
Leaving Red Shanks turned out to be the first of a series of poor decisions for Pegu Club’s crew. After a rolly motor sail to Lee Stocking, we enjoyed a great day anchored in front of “our” beach, doing some snorkeling and swimming. The water was already warmer than it had been just a few weeks ago which was a welcome development – it will only get warmer as the days go by!
Looking at the weather forecast, the wind was going to clock more to the south-southeast which meant that the anchorage in Lee Stocking would be fairly exposed. We decided we would ride it out the next day – our first poor decision. The winds ended up being substantially higher than forecast so that by mid-morning it was honking in the steady low 20’s with higher gusts, bringing 3+ foot waves onto a lee shore. For non-sailors, that means the wind was blowing towards the land – not good. We raised the anchor and motored over to Rat Cay – a much better decision.
The next day we took a look at the tide tables and the weather and decided we should move north in anticipation of a front that would be arriving in several days. It was a long day but a very nice sail, and we ended up back in Pipe Cay where we anchored in our up-to-that-point favorite spot in Pipe where we planned to wait out the front. Our second poor decision. We dropped the anchor slightly west of where we had during our previous visits – something that we would find out later was our third poor decision. Continue reading “A series of poor decisions.”→
This will sound like sacrilege to some, but I’ve decided that New England is far superior for sailing compared to the Chesapeake. And that’s saying something given that we have only sailed in southern New England. We haven’t even gotten to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Buzzards Bay, or Maine which is renowned for incredible cruising grounds.
But the Chesapeake? Meh. Yes, there are plenty of anchorages. But they are generally up rivers so it can be a pretty fair distance off of the Bay. You don’t have to go five or ten miles up a river to get to great anchorages in New England.
You can’t swim in the summer in the Chesapeake because of the plethora of jellyfish unless you head up to the far northern part of the Bay where the water is more fresh than salt, and the visibility in the water is lousy. The water in southern New England is too chilly for swimming until late June/early July but the clarity is significantly better, and while there can be jellyfish, there are about a tenth as many as we saw this summer. Continue reading “The Chesapeake Giveth, and the Chesapeake Taketh Away.”→
We had debated spending the summer in Vero Beach, FL, then Beaufort, SC, rejecting both because of the hurricane risk. Not wanting to travel as far north as southern New England this year, we settled on the Chesapeake with the rationale that it rarely gets hit by a hurricane. Well, by the time Isaias arrived in Maryland he wasn’t a hurricane anymore, but he was a strong tropical storm. And wouldn’t you know it? Cambridge, MD was right in his crosshairs.
Our friends on S/V Minx are cruising in New England and several days before Isaias’ arrival they had kindly offered us their slip located in a true hurricane hole in the upper Chesapeake. We debated taking it but the slip was 75 nautical miles away and we foolishly thought, “What are the odds?” Ultimately it turned out the odds were very good, but by the time we figured that out it was a bit too late to make the trip. With that option off of the table and the marina wide open to the Choptank River, we decided to take our chances in a local anchorage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.