31 January, 2008


Location: North Biminii, Bahamas
Position: N25 43.469 W079 17.864

The crossing to the Bahamas went well, except the wind was forecast to be from the south and it actually was northeast. North wind is not good for crossing the Gulf Stream, but the winds were light and we motor sailed across into a pretty good swell. We arrived in Bimini Wednesday afternoon, got a slip for $30 a night, and cleared through customs and immigration into the Bahamas. Several of the boats that crossed over with us are in the same marina – the price was too good to pass up and the anchorage is reputed to be fair to poor holding.

That night (at about 2:00 am) a barge that was being towed into the harbor ran aground. The tug was working on it for about an hour, throwing prop wash through the harbour. We woke up bouncing then heard a loud “clunk” and felt a shudder. Mark jumped out of bed and rushed on deck. The prop wash from the tug was pushing Rachel’s stern away from the dock, forcing her bow in. He hung three additional fenders to protect her. The captain of the boat across from us also got up. One of the cleats on the dock his boat was tied to had ripped nearly all the way out of the dock. We figured that was the clunk. The tug finally got the barge off the bottom and proceeded up the channel. Not a very relaxing night.
The next morning we had a lovely long walk around Bimini. Everyone was friendly and said ‘Good Morning’ to us as we walked by. As we passed a school the kids were out in the playground. We love the colourful school uniforms: boys wear bright purple trousers and white shirts; girls wear yellow and purple plaid skirts, white shirts and bright purple vests.

North Bimini is only 7 miles from top to tail so transportation is mainly by golf cart. We were surprised however how many cars and trucks were on the roads also. Today happened to be the day that the mailboat arrived, this is the lifeline for all the islands. We saw trucks full of fresh produce, TVs, parts, anything that anyone may have ordered from the mainland.

In the afternoon we rented a golf cart with another couple to tour the island. We got most of the way out to the uninhabited end and the batteries started running down. As we headed back to town, the cart was running slower and slower. Whenever we got to a hill Mark would hop out and push a bit to help it over. Still slower. Only about a mile to go. Mark pushed with one leg like he was riding a skate board. Half a mile to go. He gets out, pushes, and jumps back in. Rides for a few seconds, jumps out, and pushes again. OOH! A small downhill run to the rental place! We made it back just as the battery gave it’s last gasp, having just enough juice to get us off the road. Mark negotiated a half-price deal, the trip only costing each couple $5.

A bunch of us made a package deal with a local fisherman for some lobster tails, delivered right to our boat. As a result, we decided to have a ‘seafood soirĂ©e’ Thursday evening. We all got together and grilled the lobster and had a pot luck dinner, sharing crossing stories and favourite Bahama stops.

The weather looks like it will cooperate for us to cross the Bahamas Banks tomorrow and then on to Nassau on Saturday, so we’ll probably head out at dawn and spend the night on the banks, then get up early again and head to Nassau. More later.

27 January, 2008

Preparing to leave for the Bahamas

Position: N25 47.560 W080 08.814
Location: South Beach, Florida

We moved yesterday (Saturday) so we could do some last-minute provisioning. The plan was to go shopping in the morning, then go for a sail in Biscayne Bay in the afternoon and anchor in No Name Harbour (how about that for a name?). When we dinghyed in to the store, we met some other cruisers and they told us there was a happy hour gathering on Monument Island in the middle of the Venetian Islands between Miami and Miami Beach. Being good cruisers, we remembered that plans are made to be changed, and we ended up sticking around for the party.

It was on a lovely beach on a tiny island, and we met several other people who will also be crossing to the Bahamas at the next opportunity. We all agreed that, if we leave in the same weather window, we’ll stay in touch via radio during the crossing in case anyone runs into trouble. And, while it’s a bit early to tell yet, it looks like we may get that weather window on Tuesday evening or Wednesday. We’ll keep you posted. Woohoo!

25 January, 2008

She IS a sail boat!

Location: Marine Stadium anchorage, Miami, Florida
Position: N25 44.727 W080 10.116

We’d been wondering for a while if we and Rachel all still knew how to sail. Turns out we do, even though our skills have atrophied somewhat. How long has it been since we’ve sailed her? Too dang long, that’s for sure.

We leave Lake Santa Barbara Thursday morning and make our way slowly through the fog down to Ft. Lauderdale. The vibration problem is all gone, thank goodness, with Mark’s removal of the plastic bag from the propeller. We rush to make the opening for the last bridge before the inlet, hard on the heels of another sailboat. We call the bridge and no response. There’s a ton of VHF traffic on the bridge channel – the tow boats are using it, someone else is chatting on it, and there are several bridges in range, with everyone requesting opening times, etc. We try a couple more times, but the bridge tender doesn’t answer.

The other boat goes through. We have about 100 yards to go and the bridge starts closing!! AARGH! Now we have to wait another half hour for it to open again. We try to figure out what went wrong and finally get it. We used the wrong name. It was the correct name when our 2007 guide was published, but it’s not the correct name any more. Some bridge tenders are really nice, and others are on power trips. This one decided that, since we didn’t use the new “correct” name, he’d ignore us. What a rotten thing to do! Especially since we really wanted to make that opening so we’d have more time to sail!

We finally get close enough to read the new name on a sign, hail him on the radio and he puts us “on his list”. We circle slowly, waiting for the 10:30 opening. The bells start clanging, we line up, ready for the bridge to open, and … nothing happens! After about 5 more minutes he hails us on the radio – his barricades aren’t working and he has to call a mechanic to come fix them. AARGH!

Another 45 minutes and the bridge is fixed. We finally get through (bridge tender a bit apologetic) although it’s over an hour after we arrived, seriously cutting into our sailing time. AARGH!

Anyway, we have a nice sail down the coast of Florida to Miami. Our current anchorage is right across from downtown Miami. And we’re not only close to Miami, we are surrounded by a park with trails and trees, and the local rowing teams are out practicing in the evenings, too.
We sit in the cockpit in the evenings, have dinner, enjoy all the lights from the skyscrapers. In this new life of ours we savour these precious times and wonder how much it would cost in ‘the real world’ to buy such a great dinner with this awesome view.

23 January, 2008

Captain redeemed

Location: Lake Santa Barbara, Florida
Position: N26 13.421 W080 06.018

We finally got going again! A late start (last minute laundry, paying our bill, etc.) resulted in a relatively short day yesterday, ending with us dropping the anchor in the North Lake Worth anchorage for the night (N26 50.363 W080 03.298).

We were really looking forward to going out of the Lake Worth inlet and getting down to Fort Lauderdale on “the outside”. Unfortunately, the predicted 5-10 knot easterly winds didn’t happen. Some ominous clouds were building offshore, and the weather forecasters couldn’t make up their minds what that meant. So Captain overruled Navigator and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. So we (one more time!!) began slogging our way “down the ditch”.

Of course Navigator took every opportunity to point out that it was not raining and the sun was shining gloriously. And of course Captain took equal opportunity to point out that the wind was indeed coming from exactly the wrong direction and what about those really big clouds that were still building out over the ocean? So the day progressed. Interspersed with the 17 (“Go ahead, count ‘em!” says Navigator) bridges we had to negotiate today.

One was tall enough to go under, three were “on request” (meaning that the bridge tender will open for you as you approach the bridge when you ask nicely – most of the time….) and the rest were on a fixed schedule. It appears that if you can maintain between 6 and 7 knots, you can make the openings on time. That is, assuming that one bridge doesn’t open late and the next doesn’t open early. Or, if you are barely late and there are no other boats waiting for an opening, the bridge tender can say “you’re a minute late – you’ll just have to wait a half hour for the next opening.” Even if (and this happened to us today!!), by your GPS time you’re 2 minutes early. Grrr. If it weren’t for Rachel’s glorious new engine, we’d have been out of luck for much of the day.

Once, as we were waiting for a bridge to open, slowly drifting toward it with the current (Captain, having timed it about as close as humanly possible to arrive exactly at the opening time) a 70 odd foot power yacht tried to pass us about 15 seconds before the bridge opened.

Capt.: (shouting across 20 feet of water and up about 20 feet to the bridge of ‘Big Yacht’) “What the heck are you doing?”
‘Big Yacht’: “We can either pass you now or we can pass you after the bridge.”
Capt.: (Appropriate Language Toolbox (ALT) accessed, but not documented) “After the bridge would be fine.”

Our captain was once told that he was intimidating. And who knows, maybe it’s true. ‘Big Yacht’ backed down and let us, and the ‘small trawler’ following us, pass ahead.

We felt vindicated at every bridge after this. ‘Big Yacht’ was made to wait for us and ‘small trawler’. Every single time until we stopped at around 4:00 pm without exception – that was very, very cool.

The low point of the day occurred when we were waiting for a bridge to open - we had arrived early. We had to do a bit of “fancy footwork” to keep the current from bringing us down on the bridge too early. After we cleared the bridge:

Capt.: There’s a new, funny vibration.
Navigator: What do you mean? And why aren’t you laughing if it’s funny?
Capt.: Feel the wheel – there’s a vibration in the drive train.
Navigator: Oh… My… God… Last time that happened we spent 3 months on the hard!!!
Capt.: I (Appropriate Language Toolbox) know.

The high point of the day occurs when, after the anchor is dropped, the Captain dons flippers and goggles, dives on the prop and finds a garbage bag wrapped around it and the prop shaft. A few minutes with a knife (and, of course, the ALT – “blurble bub blub bubble fweet foont!!”), and we manage to avoid another 3 months on the hard. Captain is redeemed and is rewarded for his valiant efforts with a hot shower, a big umbrella drink, and a tasty dinner.

Making slow progress but still happy,

20 January, 2008

Still in Stuart

Location: Stuart, Florida
Position: N27 12.033 W080 15.688

Our first night here on the mooring we’re woken from a deep sleep and hear a sound in the distance – a sort of wailing siren that rises and falls. “What the heck is that?” we ask. Then we hear a low rumble that sounds a bit like a freight train. It grows louder. Could it be some sort of bad weather? “I think tornadoes are supposed to sound like freight trains.” We bolt out of bed, throw open the cabin hatch, and climb out on deck to see what the heck is going on. Oh. It actually IS a freight train. Crossing the automated railroad bridge - it’s usually up, and the alarm warns boats it’s getting ready to close when a train’s coming.

We are lucky enough to be at the edge of the mooring field that’s closest to the bridge and the freight trains rumble by two or three times every night. Now that we have been here for 2 weeks we rarely wake up any more.

“Still in Stuart?” we can hear you saying, “Sheesh!!” Yeah, yeah, we know. You might think we are just messing around. Well, we are, sort of, but this cruising life can be really time consuming, too. Not that we’re in any great hurry, thank goodness.

Mark had ordered some spares for the new engine and Julie had ordered some sewing supplies. We’ve learned that some vendors and shippers are not all that great at actually getting things shipped out and delivered as fast as promised at order time.

The good news is that, because we still haven’t left the US, we were here when Mark’s son Jeseph and his daughter, Tiger Lily, flew in from Hawaii. They had scheduled the trip a couple of months ago, but we thought we’d already be in the Bahamas and wouldn’t get to see them. As luck would have it, our delayed deliveries kept us here longer than expected. So we rented a car last week and drove up to Wilmington, NC for a quick, but very fun visit.

The last of our parcels finally arrived while we were gone. Now we’re finally ready to head further South and get positioned for our crossing to the Bahamas when we get a good weather window.

Of course now the weather here is stinky. A cold front is blowing through with high winds and seas so we are stuck here for a couple more days before we can leave. “Schedule” is a bad word in the life of a cruiser - “you can pick where or you can pick when, but you can’t pick both”. Leaving port in bad weather is one way you can run into trouble, so here we sit, hoping to be on our way soon.

Have we mentioned there are probably 15 or more different ways to play dominoes? We’ve been slowly working our way through the list.

Seriously, though, we have met some great people here and have had fun exploring, reading, walking, doing boat jobs, and generally getting in a bit of R&R.

10 January, 2008


Location: Stuart, Florida
Position: N27 11.517 W080 16.060

Not a lot of news. We headed south from “Velcro Beach” on Sunday the 6th bound for Stuart, FL. It was a beautiful morning that became rainy and windy and rather unpleasant. Topping off the day, there was a red mark missing at our turn from the ICW into the St. Lucie River and we managed to find the bottom again. We backed off easily and found the channel, much closer to the temporary green marks than expected.

We’re now in the anchorage across from the Southpoint mooring field in Stuart, once again waiting for some parcels – hopefully the last batch before we head to the Bahamas. We have some friends here from back in our “Raven” days (our previous sailboat). We hadn’t seen them for several years so we’ve been having fun getting re-acquainted and seeing the town.

The City of Stuart has revitalized the old downtown area, with lots of restaurants and shops in interesting old buildings. A wonderful park and boardwalk meanders from the dinghy landing all the way around to downtown, about a 15 minute walk. Since we arrived the weather has been great and we are making more new friends. Can’t ask for more than that!!

02 January, 2008

'Velcro Beach'

Location: Vero Beach, Florida
Position: N27 39.567 W080 22.290

We are beginning to see why Vero Beach has been renamed ‘Velcro Beach’ by the cruising community. What a great place!! We can stay on a very protected mooring here for $12/night, use all the marina facilities, laundry, showers, receive mail, get water, etc., etc. The town has a great FREE bus service which takes us to all the shops we want or need, picking us up right here at the marina and dropping us off at the dinghy dock so we don’t even have to walk very far with our purchases!!

We’ve been doing some last minute boat jobs, restocking the larder and making a lot of new friends. We never thought we’d get burned out on "happy hour", but, take it from us, it CAN happen. We’re spending this evening having a simple dinner together and listening to the wind that is doing at least two things for us – making it too ‘bouncy’ to go visiting, and spinning our wind generator to recharge the batteries.

We’ve been here for almost two weeks now (time flies when you’re Velcroed to the mooring) and we’re getting impatient to get going again. We have enjoyed sunny 80 degree days, walks on the beach and visits from our Virginia friends. A strong cold front has blown through here for the past few days, 20-25 mph winds gusting to 35 mph and nighttime temperatures near freezing – BRRR!. It looks like we’ll finally be heading out again on Saturday. Some parts we ordered haven’t shipped yet, so we’re having them routed to Stuart where we’ll wait (again!!) for them to arrive. At least we’ll be another 50 miles further South.

Happy New Year,

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel