Monday, February 27, 2017

Nassau, Rose Island, Allen's & Norman's Cays

Well, on second thought maybe Nassau doesn't get its own post. Everything you'll hear about it is basically true. It's crowded and dirty, crime is a problem, much of it is crumbling and shambolic except for the faux-tropical parts that have been gussied up for the cruise ship passengers (of which there are too many) where there is little but jewelry stores and souvenir shops. From a boater's standpoint the marinas are fairly basic and expensive (except Atlantis which is deluxe and ridiculously expensive), and the anchorages are crowded and wake-ridden with fair-to-poor holding. But that said, the people are pretty friendly, there are good supermarkets and liquor stores for reprovisioning, the chandleries are well-stocked, there's a free dinghy dock with trash disposal and wifi (!), there's good cheap air service back to the States, and it's a convenient jumping-off point to Exuma. So all in all Nassau is a tolerable place to get stuff done and get out.


Unfortunately we ended up spending close to a week there, or at least Dawn did. We arrived the morning of Saturday Feb 18th to take advantage of a weather window and because Steve was flying out the 19th; we put Windbird in a marina and I flew to Atlanta on the 20th for some more medical appointments on the 21st and 22nd; and then we had to wait for a weather window on the 24th to cross to Exuma. But it all worked out rather nicely, as I'll relate below.

Regarding all these medical appointments - it's nothing serious. If you read my other blog you know I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease four years ago and have been on Remicade ever since. It kept me completely asymptomatic but beat down my immune system to the point that I was getting persistent skin, eye and ear infections. Finally my Minnesota gastroenterologist took me off Remicade late last year - just as I was transferring to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. So while I've been busy preparing the boat and now starting to cruise, I've also been busy getting to know a new team of caregivers, undergoing various tests, and establishing a new care routine that keeps me asymptomatic and able to work and sail with minimal side effects. I'm now on a drug called Stelara, with which I will inject myself every 8 weeks (instead of going to a hospital for an infusion as with Remicade - way more boat-friendly). I'm also seeing a dermatologist and ophthalmologist to clear up the lingering effects of my time on Remicade. Obviously actively cruising in another country presents some significant scheduling challenges, but so far everyone at Emory has been enormously accommodating (if a little bemused over my unique requests). My next appointments are on March 24th, which coincides with my parents flying out of Georgetown, my next FAA physical examination, and a 4-day trip I've bid to reset my landing currency and replenish the cruising kitty.

While I was in Atlanta I stayed with our friends Kevin & Jeannie Heine. Kevin is a Delta MD88 captain who was my training partner when I was a newhire; we've since become good friends and they've been on sailing trips with us twice before. While there, I discovered that Kevin had the next two weeks off work and they were belatedly deciding where to travel, which was an unbelievable coincidence since our friends Brad and Amber had just canceled their own visit to Windbird in early March (they're still hoping to make it in early April). So with the V-berth free, I proposed that Kevin and Jeannie fly to Nassau in two days time and stay with us until March 6th, when they'll fly out of Staniel Cay. And that's what they decided to do.


Kevin & Jeannie landed in Nassau on Thursday and showed up at Harbour Club Marina just before noon - right in the nick of time as I was preparing to take Windbird off the dock before the stern current made that too tricky of a maneuver. We repositioned to Rose Island, a few miles east and a world away from Nassau. We tucked behind the reef in the north anchorage there but it was still quite choppy and rolly all night. At least we got in some great snorkeling on the reef and a few nice walks ashore.


Friday morning we were anchor up at 9am and soon headed southeast amid an entire flotilla of boats that had been holed up in Nassau all week. Among these were Bret and Teresa on Elusive, whom we had met in Great Harbour Cay and ended up docking next to at Harbour Club. The wind was initially out of the west at 12-15 knots and we got in several hours of sailing before it faded; we motorsailed the last three hours. The dreaded Yellow Banks turned out to be a rather easy obstacle: we never saw less than 13' at midtide and the coral heads were widely scattered and easily seen and avoided. We entered Allens Cay just after 3pm and found the main anchorage quite crowded already. I didn't even bother trying to find a spot to anchor on the shallow margins, and instead tiptoed over the shallow bar into the deep channel just west of the main anchorage. There were a few Bahamian workboats anchored there, but just north of them we found a nice spot with good holding. As the day went on a few other boats anchored in the same channel, but not too close.


Dawn and I launched the dinghy, loaded up Piper, and went looking for a spot to take him potty. You aren't supposed to take your dog to Leaf or SW Allens Cays because they are home to endangered Exuma Iguanas - but there were no landable beaches on any of the other cays except for a small one on the main Allens Cay, and it had iguanas on it. At last we just went around to the backside of Leaf Cay where there was a nice beach with no iguanas visible, had Piper do his business, cleaned up after him, and scooted him back to the boat. No beach time for the pup here, which is one reason we only stayed one night.

With Piper back on the boat, Kevin & Jeannie joined us on the dinghy and we visited the front side of Leaf Cay, which was positively overrun with iguanas. We had heard these ones could be aggressive, and indeed one ran up to Jeannie and bit her on the finger. No major damage done, though. There were quite a few cruisers on the beach, including Chris and Ariel, a couple on a Morgan 44 "S/V Someday" who we had met in the Berries along with their cute dog Zoey. They have the Nautical Dream YouTube channel that looks pretty good though I haven't had bandwidth to watch much yet. We invited them back to the boat for sundowners and chatted till late after dark.


The next morning Kevin, Jeannie and I dinghied over to Flat Rock Reef to snorkel. At first glance it was disappointing - more scattered coral heads than an organized reef system. But as I snorkeled back into deeper water, I found quite a bit of good stuff with a ton of fish. Once we got back to the boat we raised anchor and made our way gingerly through several cuts and a couple shallow areas to the Exuma Sound. It was about the same distance to Norman's Cay as going via the banks, and with no wind to occupy us sailing, we decided to try our hand fishing. We fished a green & yellow ballyhoo on about 80 feet of 80# test from a Cuban yoyo setup, trolled at 5.5 knots under power between the 80- and 100-foot contours. I got a few probable nibbles and one definite strike, but no bites until a few miles south of Norman's Cay cut. At first as I started reeling it in, it felt like something small...and then it started to fight HARD! It made a run to starboard, so Dawn slowed down and turned the boat to port to keep the fish on my side - and then the line went virtually slack. I thought I lost it, but as I reeled it in I could see a limp fish at the end of my line...and a much bigger fish still following closely behind! I stopped reeling for a bit to see if I could tempt the monster with its now-dead prey, but no such luck - it lost interest and dropped behind. So our hour of trolling yielded about 60 seconds of excitement and a small bonito with a good chunk out of it.

Norman's Cay Cut is fairly narrow but easily followed as it is quite distinct from the shallows on either side. We came in about an hour after low tide and there was already quite a current running onto the banks. We snuck across a 7' spot and anchored towards the west side of the channel in about 10 feet of water with lots of room to swing. It was a gorgeous anchorage - the only downside was nearby excavating equipment apparently working 24/7 to dig a channel to the new marina being built just east of the airport. Speaking of the airport, I landed my Piper Pacer here (and Kevin landed his rented Cherokee) two years ago. Pretty cool to be back by boat. It's a gorgeous anchorage and we were near the most picturesque little cay with a sandbar awash at low tide and a memorial bench on its bushy hillock. Soon after arrival we piled in the dinghy to check it out, and I visited it with Piper several more times over the next couple days.

OK - sorry for the long post, I'm going to end it here & resume in a day or two. We haven't had reliable internet access since Nassau (and there only by going to Starbucks) so I'm a bit behind. I'll update this post with photos tomorrow (Tuesday), if the internet here in Warderick Wells stays usable.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Week in the Berries

We weren’t planning on coming to the Berry Islands originally; the plan was to cross to Bimini and then hightail it to Nassau and beyond to the Exumas, ASAP. But then schedule and weather dictated a departure from Ft. Lauderdale, and my brother Steve flew in to do the crossing with us and didn’t have to leave Nassau until Feb 19th. So when we got a good long weather window the day after he flew in, it made perfect sense to cross all the way to Great Harbour Cay and then spend the week in the Berry Islands before heading to Nassau.

It’s kinda cool that we came back to the Berry Islands, actually. It was a high-altitude sighting of the Great Harbour Cay airstrip and sailboats around the island that gave me the idea for our 2015 flying-sailing trip to the Bahamas. Great Harbour Cay was the first out-island we landed at on that trip, after clearing in at Freeport. The Berries don’t feature heavily on most cruising itineraries (the Abacos and Exumas are far more popular), and thus are fairly quiet despite being the closest cruising grounds to Florida.

Our first morning in the Berries was spent in the Great Harbour Cay marina, on Valentine’s Day, and it started off with a bang. I launched the paddleboard and paddled the perfectly still outer harbor; upon my return Steve and Dawn excitedly informed me that there was a giant manatee just down the dock. I paddled down, they turned on a water tap that reportedly attracted said manatee, and right on cue he appeared. He was massive, every bit as long as our 11’6” paddleboard, with a chunk missing out of his tail attesting to at one close escape in his long life in the harbor. Not an hour later, after I stowed the paddleboard on our forward port lifeline, another manatee appeared alongside – this one a juvenile, but still a good 7 or 8 feet long. Steve jumped in along with Hans, one of the crew of the Swiss RM12 in the next slip. The young manatee proved extremely friendly, even allowing swimmers to ride on his back; in short order, Dawn and I and the ladies on the Swiss boat were in the questionably clean marina water and petting our first manatee. Amazing! Even Piper got in a swim, though he didn't pay the manatee much attention.


We left the dock at 11:30 and arrived at a cove (whose name I don’t know) on the east side of the island just after 3, having motored well around the shoals and cays to the north. We decided to stay here two nights because the wind was forecast to get strong out of the south before daybreak on Wednesday and then get stronger from the southwest that afternoon before a cold front passed early Thursday; this is one of the few anchorages in the area with complete S-NW protection. It turned out to be a gorgeous first anchorage, with beautiful clear water and a sand bottom that reflected aquamarine. We launched the paddleboard soon after arrival, Steve got some spectacular drone footage, and we later took the dinghy to the beach to explore and so Piper could run and play and poop.


The next morning the wind was indeed strong out of the southwest, but we were quite snug in the cove. We started our day exploring Shark Creek by dinghy. It supposedly goes to the west side of Great Harbour Cay but we never made it…must’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. Regardless, it was quite pretty and there were a ton of sea turtles and stingrays in the creek. Afterwards we went to have lunch (and get some internet!) at The New Beach Club on the south side of the cove. In the afternoon we explored Hawksnest Cay, which has some sea caves, tide pools, and a spectacular, deserted half-moon beach facing the ocean. Piper greatly enjoyed running around off-leash but balked at getting in the water to walk around the last point of our circuit of the island. It took some coaxing but he finally did it…only to be rewarded with a drenching during the very wet dinghy ride back against wind and sizable choppy waves…and then a seawater drunking to wash off latent sand before reboarding Windbird! He was not a happy puppy about that.


The wind continued to howl throughout the night and several small squalls passed overhead in the early morning hours. Just after sunrise the wind swang sharply to the northwest, and then started to settle down a bit. We waited until after ten before raising anchor and heading out of the cove, where there were fairly big swells from the north. The wind outside was still averaging 22 knots, and we scooted quickly southward under yankee alone. Dawn got an hour of practice steering with following seas, then Steve took over for the 2nd hour. Approaching Hoffman's Cay we rolled up the sail and started the engine, then worked our way into the winding, current-swept anchorage between Hoffman's, White, and Devil's Cays. Our first attempt at anchoring out of the current resulted in immediate dragging in weeds; by the time we hooked we were too close to a boat behind us, so we picked up and moved over into a sandier spot with much stronger current. This time the anchor set immediately, and continued to hold when we swung with the current every six hours.


The Swiss boat (Cadences) arrived soon after us, and Steve and I went over to talk to them. We all wanted to hike to the Hoffman's Cay Blue Hole, but the trailhead's cove is exposed to the northwest. Steve and I took the dinghy to a more protected cove on the southeast side of Hoffman's but couldn't find a good trail across the island, so we scouted through the cut to the west side of the island. As expected the waves were big and choppy and landing would have been all but impossible. So we were resigned to not going to the Blue Hole on Thursday. Instead we picked up the Swiss crew with our dinghy and we all went over to the protected beach on White Cay. Steve brought his drone and (rather bravely) flew it the mile or so across to the Blue Hole. Afterwards we went to Cadences for sundowners, then came back to Windbird for dinner.

Cadences left for Nassau early Friday; we had considered doing so but decided to do a night sail departing early Saturday instead. Thus we were able to dinghy and hike to the Blue Hole in considerably calmer conditions. In fact it was eerily calm up at the Blue Hole, with barely a ripple on its deep, dark surface. The water is quite clear so you could easily see the sides plunging downward, but no sunlight reaches the bottom - it's well over 100 feet deep. Steve and I took turns flying the drone and filming each other jumping in from the cliffs (only 15-20' tall). Afterwards we came back to Windbird, got her ready to go, and picked up the anchor to reposition another couple miles south to Little Harbour Cay. There was very little wind but we sailed anyways, making an average of 3.5 knots. 


At Little Harbour we tucked in deep behind Cabbage Cay to get out of the easterly swell, dropping the hook in 9.5 feet at high water. As the day progressed we drifted into somewhat shallower water and I thought we might bottom out at low tide, but we never did (we were departing just after high tide anyways). It was a beautiful, wonderfully calm anchorage, and we had fun paddleboarding and snorkeling with stingrays and a lone small reef shark. We later learned that there was a 8 or 9 foot hammerhead shark spotted in the anchorage, but we never saw him. Steve got out his drone and flew it while perched at the masthead in our bosun's chair, which yielded some pretty spectacular footage. This ended up being Dawn's favorite anchorage in the Berries...I think Hoffman's Cay was just as pretty, but this was certainly a calmer, less current-swept anchorage. In the afternoon we took the dinghy over to Flo's Conch Bar for conch fritters and rum & cokes, then returned for sundowners aboard and Boom-Boom Shrimp Tacos for dinner. 


We took Piper to shore around 8pm and then prepared the boat for departure before retiring to bed much earlier than normal. We woke up at 1:30am and had the anchor up at 2am, and were still steaming out to sea through the wide, easy cut. The wind was ESE at 10 knots, later increasing to around 16 by the time we approached Nassau. We could have sailed close-hauled and come within 10-15 degrees of laying the rhumb line, but I knew that by midday the wind and seas were forecast to come up quite a bit so we just kept the engine running and motorsailed lickity-split. We got to Nassau harbour entrance by 9:30am and followed the Carnival Victory ship in. We were anchored in the east channel by 10:15am, ended up deciding to anchor a second time, and then were browbeat into reanchoring once more by a rather rude Canadian sailor (who knew such a thing existed!) last night. But Nassau merits its own post, so I'll wrap this one up. We left Ft. Lauderdale a week ago today, and thus far we've really enjoyed our cruise of the Bahamas. We're really excited to continue southward to the Exumas.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Hello, Bahamas!

We left the mooring in Ft. Lauderdale at 10:10am yesterday and we docked at Great Harbour Cay Marina in the Bahamas' Berry Islands today at 9:50am. It was a nice, easy crossing with somewhat choppy confused seas in the Gulf Stream for only the first couple hours...after that it was darned near lake sailing. Ahem, make that lake motorsailing. There was only enough southerly wind to sail for a few hours late last night, and then only because we had picked up a rocketing fair current that was going to put us in way too early. After a while that wind, too, faded and veered northwest so we again motor sailed at low RPMs. I didn't want to get to the last shallow part of the banks before 9am - any earlier and the sun would be in our eyes, making water reading impossible. In any case the approach was pretty straightforward, and once inside the entrance cut the harbor was nice and calm, making docking easy.

The "S-turn" planning for the Gulf Stream crossing worked really well. We started out at 135 degrees for the first hour and then held the 117 degree magnetic heading that I calculated would compensate for average 2.5 knot drift (vs. TC of 94 degrees M). As we got into the strongest part of the stream - 3.7 to 4.5 kts - it set us from 1.4 miles south of the rhumb line to nearly two miles north, but then as the current faded we were able to easily lay the Great Isaac waypoint. From there we turned southeast on a 122 degree course and picked up that nice tail current that more than made up for our slower-than-planned Gulf Stream crossing (only 40 mins longer than planned, actually).

We had several cruise ships pass quite close by during the evening and early night, and early this morning I had to divert about 30 degrees starboard to avoid a freighter that was on a direct collision course. Our other close encounter was much more serendipitous - we met Sea Turtle coming out of Great Harbour Cay cut! This is the Island Packet that was Windbird's dockmate in Myrtle Beach; her skipper & Admiral, Lee & Linda Kaufman, are friends of Mark & Judy Handley going back some 30 years and buddy boated with them in the Bahamas in 2015. So it was neat to have the two boats pass.

After docking we cleaned up the boat and waited for customs, who came straightaway from their usual post at the airport. I had already filled out all our paperwork, which made clearance quick and painless. After hoisting the Bahamian flag on our starboard spreader we took a quick walk around the marina and environs, ate lunch, I had a one-hour nap, and then we took the dinghy back outside & around the point to Bullock's Harbour settlement where we walked around & enjoyed ice cream cones. The school kids were just getting out for the day and it was hilarious watching them react to Piper. Many were genuinely frightened by him - the least threatening dog ever - but we were able to coax some into petting him. I'm guessing the kids here are more used to aggressive guard dogs than coddled pets. After coming back I did some planning anchorages for the next few days and then we went to a cruisers potluck here at the marina.

Our plans to spend a little time cruising the Berries have been complicated a bit by an unsettled weather forecast for Weds-Thurs (cold front passage). I'll be up at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker tomorrow morning & then we'll decide where exactly we'll anchor for the next few days.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Here We Go Again

The Gulf Stream is one of the world's strongest ocean currents, and it is strongest just off the coast of southern Florida. Therefore, any crossing from Florida to the Bahamas or vice-versa must take it thoroughly into account, on several different levels. First and most obviously, there is the drift to consider. The Stream flows northward at up to 4-5 knots, but over the course of a crossing one can count on an average of 2.5 knots northward set. This is not inconsiderable against an under-power speed of 5.5 knots, as we do on Windbird. It will take us roughly ten hours to cross 52 miles to the Great Bahamas Bank, during which time we can count on being set northward a good 25 miles! Our rhumb line is 86 degrees magnetic from Port Everglades Inlet to Great Isaac light, 109 degrees corrected for drift, but it would be foolishness to try and maintain it. Instead we will follow an S curve: make greater southing at the beginning, come down to cross the stream at a right angle as quickly as we can once we're into the strongest part of it, and then regain some southing once we're on the east side of it.

The other big consideration is the wind and waves that the Gulf Stream can generate. The water is several degrees above surrounding waters which tends to add energy to the atmosphere; the wind in the Gulf Stream will often gust 5-10 knots higher than outside it. Furthermore, any wind at all with a northerly component against that mighty current will result in big, steep, bruising seas. So to cross the Gulf Stream in the wintertime, you have to avoid 1) the prevailing northeasterly trades 2) the periodic cold fronts that interrupt them. At times you can wait weeks for a good window; that happened last year. This year, thus far they've come with some regularity. The best scenario often involves a weak, stalling cold front that brings a few days of reduced flow clocking from east through southwest. And that's exactly what we have on tomorrow and Monday.

My brother Steve flew in this morning; he was delayed a bit by a faulty starter motor on one of my airline's A320s. Oh well.  We took Piper to the vet and he has a clean bill of health as the Bahamas requires. Great! We took one last run to Southport Raw Bar and the Winn-Dixie behind it, and I got in some paddleboarding on our new SUP when we got back...I even got Piper to ride calmly on the bard! This evening we hosted two of Steve's Miami friends for a nice dinner of salad & kebobs and then we talked in the cockpit fairly late. We have a number of things to do when we get up, but the passage planning is at least done.

I mentioned to Steve that I have butterflies in my stomach for this crossing, which I really haven't had for any other passage thus far. Maybe some of it is crossing the Gulf Stream for the first time, but I think it's mostly just excitement that we're crossing over to the Bahamas at long last. I'm really excited. Just one final morning of work to buckle down on, and then we'll be out Port Everglades Inlet around 10:30am tomorrow!

Friday, February 10, 2017


It's been a long, at times frustrating day - or I should say it was, as it's now after midnight - and I'm dog tired, so this will be a short update. Here's the gist of it: there's a good weather window to cross from Ft. Lauderdale to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands on Sunday and Monday. My brother is flying in tomorrow morning, and I'm not sure when the next window will be, so I really wanted to make this one. In order for that to happen, we needed two things to happen today: 1) Get Piper's pet import permit from the Bahamas Department of Agriculture and 2) Complete our SSB repairs, or at least get the radio back on the boat. And I'm happy to say that both of those things happened. The pet import permit was finally faxed this afternoon (they received our re-application via FedEx on Tuesday and I called every day this week); at 10am tomorrow Piper has an appointment at the local vet clinic to get his certificate of health. Atlantic Radio Telephone tested out our SSB in their shop and found absolutely nothing wrong with it, the only problem being that their shop is in Miami. They sent it north tonight with one of their employees that lives nearby, and I have it installed. The tech said I should look very carefully at my grounding system, so that's what I'll do over the next week or so. We have two grounding systems, actually: one for the autotuner, which is a KISS counterpoise, and one for the radio itself which is a homemade copper foil strap connected to a seacock or two. I'll see what I can do to improve that and hopefully it'll fix our reception & especially transmission problems. Heck, simply leaving Ft. Lauderdale might do wonders - there's lots of RF interference in this anchorage, I'm sure.

Other things worth mentioning: we moved from the dock back to the mooring yesterday and did a damn nice job of picking up the ball in strong wind and current if I say so myself; we got our SUP and it's currently bungeed to the port lifelines and looks great but I haven't had a chance to use it yet (due to the long frustrating part of my day); our friends Jack and Linda on Lani will make the crossing during this window, from Key Largo to Bimini but potentially continuing on to Great Harbour Cay; Dan and Isabelle on Epiic will be a bit further behind as they're staying in Miami for the boat show; our old dockmates Lee & Linda on Sea Turtle just crossed from Miami to Great Harbour Cay and may still be there when we get there; we'll have a nearly-full moon for the nighttime portion of our 22-hour crossing if we make this window; it's been one month since we left Charleston. Ok, time for bed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Double Life

I love flying, but I have to admit I rarely think about it while on the boat, if only because there's been so much boat-sailing-cruising stuff to think about. While in Ft. Lauderdale we've been moored a few miles northeast of FLL - which I've flown to and from quite a bit - and every so often a jet would pass overhead, and it'd seem completely surreal that I fly those for work. And then on Sunday I started a three-day work trip - my first in over a month - with layovers in Tampa and Orlando, and after a few legs it was Windbird that seemed a world away. It's like I'm living a double life. In one I don't shave, wear shorts and flipflops and ragged t-shirts advertising scruffy sailor bars, go days without bathing, get grease under my fingernails tinkering around with boat projects, guess and bullshit my way through unfamiliar tasks, make extensive lists in a hopeless quest to keep myself organized and on track, watch the sun go down over the water every night with a beer or cocktail in hand, and enjoy the company of my wife and dog and friends in our packed little 42 x 12 foot world. In my other life I shave and shower daily, wear a crisply ironed uniform with wings and name plate properly centered over the left breast pocket, spend my perfectly choreographed day complying with the ironclad dictates of the airline's schedule, perform highly technical tasks with easy precision honed by long experience, am often flying well before the sun rises or after it sets, cap off many days with a convivial beer or cocktail while socializing with a rotating cast of fellow itinerant crewmembers, and then go "home" to a palatially large, empty, charmless hotel room. Both experiences are far outside everyday 9-to-5 humdrum existence; both involve skill and judgement, close intimacy with the elements, and moments of exhilaration and gobsmacking beauty shared with only a select few. I love both of these lives and would hate to give either up...but sometimes it's hard to believe they're both my life these days.

Enough waxing philisophical; here's what we've been up to the last couple days. On Friday our friend Ivy Rivera (fellow airline pilot & occasional sailing companion) visited from Homestead. We left our mooring around 1:30pm, headed out of Port Everglades Inlet, and put up the sails to beat eastward in light northeasterlies. Our "mission," other than just going for an enjoyable daysail to celebrate Dawn's birthday, was to get three miles offshore so we could empty our holding tank. Well, three miles offshore was also where the current increased to 3.5 knots, the water temp went up two degrees, the wind piped up above 15 knots, and the waves got big and confused. No doubt about it, we found the Gulf Stream! After "pumping the pooper" we headed back inshore, Dawn taking the wheel as we gybed through the cargo ship mooring field just north of the inlet. We made it through the 17th Street Bridge on the 4:30pm opening and were back to our mooring in time for sundowners. After dark we dinghied in to Coconuts Restaurant for Dawn's birthday dinner. While waiting to be seated, we had a round with Jack, Linda and Nya, the crew of the Leopard 40 cat moored next to Windbird.

The next morning I got up early and made Dawn breakfast in bed, and then we met Aileen of Ft. Lauderdale Stand Up Paddleboard for a SUP lesson/rental. Actually the lesson took only a few minutes - it's quite easy & I had done it before, though Dawn hadn't - and then she turned us loose. It was really beautiful and calm at the start, and we had fun exploring the areas canals. We worked our way back via the Middle River and ICW which involved some pretty decent wakes as the Saturday boating got underway, and they knocked Dawn off her board twice, but she still really enjoyed it. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we decided to buy a SUP of our own to carry aboard Windbird on our explorations of the Bahamas & Caribbean. It should arrive tomorrow.

After the paddleboarding we returned to Windbird for lunch and to prepare to move her to the dock at Hall of Fame Marina. First we stopped off at the swanky (and expensive!) Bahia Mar marina to top off diesel and dinghy gasoline in preparation for the Bahamas crossing. This involved docking between Savannah, a 285-ft superyacht, and a "mere" 110-foot motor yacht. Both the docking and undocking went very well (in the later case, we reversed against a stern spring line to swing the bow out into the current, which worked pretty slick). And from there we went straight to slip 219 at Hall of Fame. This involved a sharp 90 degree turn into the slip but it was wide and there was little wind or current, so it went without a hitch. These are fixed docks and there's about three feet of tide so it required a bit of rearranging of fenders and lines to make sure Windbird would stay secure. It was a warm afternoon so I tested out our air conditioning for just a little bit - works great! - and did other tasks to put Windbird "to bed" for the coming week. Then I took a shower, put on my "monkey suit" (i.e. pilot uniform), and caught an Uber to the airport to fly up to Atlanta.

Sunday I flew up to Minneapolis (brrr) and down to Tampa, where I watched the craziest Super Bowl comeback ever seen in one of my favorite sports bars anywhere (Hattrick's). Yesterday I flew up to Detroit (brrr) and down to Orlando, where I spent the afternoon running around getting an international postal money order and then FedExing it to the Bahamas (more about that below). And today I had three legs: up to Atlanta and then one tumultuous, delayed, weather-battling New Orleans turn. We held for about 30 minutes waiting for severe storms to pass New Orleans; turns out they spawned several tornadoes. We arrived in Atlanta over an hour late, and I barely got to my airline's badging office (drenched from torrential rain!) in time to get a parking pass for my truck in the company parking lot. I'm at an airport hotel tonight; I have medical appointments at Emory the next two days.

Meanwhile lots has been going on at the boat. On Monday Patagonia Yacht Division came out and fixed our nav lights. Turns out the wiring was just fine, the short was within the nav light fixture. Hmm. I misdiagnosed that, and could have repaired it myself. Crap. And a Yanmar diesel mechanic took a look at our engine and pronounced it sound, but according to Dawn it was a rather perfunctory inspection - probably not much beyond what I've looked at already. While they were working Dawn did quite a bit of cleaning on the boat's topsides, canvas, issenglass, cabintop, and decks. In the afternoon Judy Handley had a long FLL layover; her sister-in-law & husband Sue & Brad picked her up and visited Dawn on Windbird. I facetimed Dawn while they were on the boat and got to see Judy in her old perch behind Windbird's helm. Later they went to dinner at Coconuts which was cut a bit short when Brad had a bit of a medical episode he attributed to vertigo. Sounds like he's ok. Today Dawn rented a car and spent the entire day running errands - she made a whopping 11 stops! - which included our final provisioning. It might take her a whole 'nuther day to put everything away!

We're basically 100% ready to go to the Bahamas at this point with two exceptions: the SSB radio (currently at the shop) and Piper's pet import permit. The first we can do without if necessary - there are VHF and internet sources of weather available in the Bahamas - but the second we really should have in order. We applied way back in December and never heard anything back. We've called several times and the Bahamas Dept of Agriculture never received it. Our guess is it was either lost in the mail, opened to steal the $15 cash inside, or the Dept of Agriculture just dropped the ball. So now at the last minute we finally realized we need to take quick action and did it the more expensive but recommended way: got an international money order and FedExed it overnight. At least I have a FedEx discount which made the shipping $13 rather than $98. It got there this afternoon and we hope the permit will be faxed tomorrow. Then we can take Piper to the vet and get a clear bill of health.

If everything goes well at Emory, I should be back to my Windbird life on Thursday. If so we'll try to move to Miami on Friday, and then my brother Steve flies in on Saturday. At that point we're playing the weather game, waiting for a good window to cross to Bimini or possibly Great Harbour Cay or even Nassau.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Busy Days in Lauderdale

Our week in Fort Lauderdale has flown by as we've made the final push to get ready to cross to the Bahamas. We won't actually be going until Feb 11th or later (weather dependent) but I'll be flying to Atlanta on Saturday and won't be returning until the 9th, so I really had to get all my stuff done this week.

Sunday was indeed a planning-and-organizing day; otherwise we took it easy and explored around Ft. Lauderdale a bit by dinghy. I've spent a bit of time here with my airline but I gotta say it's a whole 'nuther town on the water...a much cleaner, much richer, much more exclusive place. Some of the megayachts docked on the ICW are simply obscene; at this point they don't really even catch my eye until 150 feet LOA. Windbird is a bit of a bath toy here. And yet, we get the same peaceful water views as those with apparently bottomless pockets....

Monday we rented a car from Enterprise and made a ton of stops picking up miscellaneous things we never got around to getting in Charleston and have been making a list of ever since. We stopped at a cool old hardware store, NAPA auto, 84 Boatworx (to drop off our MOM8 man overboard unit for service), West Marine, Bluewater Books, Electronics Unlimited (to inquire about changing our VHF MMSI number), Walmart, and Southport Raw Bar for lunch. At West Marine we ordered several more new pieces of running rigging: our main halyard that we should have replaced in Charleston except we forgot it was still on the mast (off the boat), our staysail furler as the 3/8 line was a little too big (we got Samson 8mm furler line instead), and a longer reef 2 clew line as our new mainsail has slightly deeper reefs than the last one. On Tuesday I dropped off our car and caught a ride back to West Marine to pick up the rigging with Jack, who along with his wife Linda and their granddaughter is on Lani, the Leopard 40 cat right beside us here in the mooring field. We've also made friends with Tony and Michelle on a Prestige 42 cat whose name escapes me at the moment. We're all in our first year and scrambling with boat work to get in a few months in the Bahamas.

Also on Tuesday Leandro from Patagonia Yacht Division came out to the boat to do an estimate on our nav lights / bow pulpit, and I found contractors to look at our SSB and diesel (the former has had very weak reception and even weaker transmission; the latter has nothing wrong, just inspecting it). Yesterday I tightened some engine belts that had loosened up before we ran it a bit to top off our batteries, and later in the day I replaced the exhaust mixing elbow. There was nothing wrong with our current one persay - it actually turned out to be in pretty good condition so I saved it for a spare - but the cast aluminum Yanmar part is known to have a service life of only about five years, so I replaced it with a stainless steel version crafted by a shop in Vancouver, WA. Dawn and I ran the new halyard up the mast and put the new furling line on the staysail but saved the reef line because we knew our new stackpack was on its way from Doyle, and we'd have to take the mainsail off to put that on. Later we took the dinghy all the way to Southport Raw Bar - a good 2.5 miles down the ICW and up a side canal - to go to Winn-Dixie just across the street. You pay $10 to tie up your dinghy but can use it as a same-day credit towards food or drinks. Dawn had a glass of sangria and I had a Yuengling, which came to $10 exactly. This is one of the few options for dinghy dock access in Ft. Lauderdale, believe it or not, one of the reasons we've been paying a ridiculous $40/night for a mooring (which comes with dinghy access at nearby Las Olas Marina - a must to take Piper ashore a few times per day). We only went to Winn-Dixie for fresh produce and other interim provisioning; we still have to do our last major provisioning, and Dawn will be taking care of that while I'm gone.

Our standing rigging loosened up quite a bit on the trip down here, which is typical of new wire rope, so I took a wag at tightening it by eye & feel yesterday. Windbird has a bit of a starboard list and always has since we bought her, which I attribute to the heavy tools and spares in the starboard lockers as well as the starboard-side galley, so it's a bit of a trick tightening the shrouds equally. Our friends Dan & Isabelle on Epiic arrived Tuesday afternoon, and today Dan lended me his Loos rigging tension meter which revealed the rigging was still quite a bit undertensioned. So again I cut off the rigging tape, pulled the pins, and tightened the turnbuckles. Our backstay was particularly lax on this last sail, allowing the yankee to sag considerably to leeward; proper backstay tension should improve our pointing ability by several degrees.

This morning Reggie from Atlantic Radio Telephone came by the boat to look over our Icom M706 SSB/HF installation. Our reception has been quite weak and interference-prone, even for HF; at times I've been unable to receive transmissions that boats right next to me were reading just fine. Worse, I've only been able to transmit in a (marginally) readable fashion only once. Reggie confirmed that there's nothing wrong our antenna or installation, but said that our problems were pretty consistent with internal damage to the radio caused by lightning. Earlier this week Yachtline finished adjusting our lightning claim (they were quite fair to us, considering how much we upgraded our electronics) but kept the claim open at my request...looks like we may have something to add. Reggie took the SSB with him to the shop to test it out...but given the time available, there's a pretty good chance we'll be getting a new M802.

Tonight we received our new stackpack from Doyle Sails. We were previously planning to make the old one last this season - and Dawn restitched the zipper in Daytona Beach two weeks ago - but ultimately decided we weren't sure it'd last and asked Doyle if they could make one last minute; they cranked it out in only a few days days and gave us a good price to boot. The result is gorgeous but there were a few miscommunications that resulted in a somewhat different stackpack than we ordered. First off, it has a boltrope that's quite incompatible with our mainsail that also has a boltrope. So for now we'll be going to a loose-footed main (which is what most modern boats have) until we figure something out. And it was also quite a bit longer than we ordered, which again we can work around with a few small modifications. We put it on tonight and naturally the wind picked up as soon as we were trying to feed the mainsail slides into our strongtrack. We'll finish running the reef lines tomorrow morning when it'll be hopefully calmer.

Dawn's birthday is on Saturday, but we'll start the celebration tomorrow afternoon with a daysail with our friend Ivy Rivera out of Port Everglades Inlet, followed by sundowners back at the mooring and then dinghying to Coconuts for a dockside dinner. On Saturday morning I'll make Dawn breakfast in bed (kinda funny as "bed" is all of 14 feet from the salon table), then we're doing a stand-up paddleboard lesson and rental. Around noon we'll move Windbird to her slip at Hall of Fame Marina, just catty-corner to here. And then I fly out to Atlanta at 6pm.

While I'm gone Dawn will rent another car for a day and do a number of errands including that final provisioning. On Monday Judy Handley (Windbird's last Admiral) will be on a long layover at FLL; her sister-in-law will pick her up and they'll visit Dawn on Windbird and then have dinner at Coconuts. That morning Patagonia will be working on our nav lights / bow pulpit and will hopefully get that done quickly. Also on Monday the diesel mechanic from Complete Yacht Service will inspect our engine. I was at their shop on Wednesday to pick up some spare part$ (raw water pump, starter) & decided since we never had an engine survey done and it's fairly high-time it wouldn't hurt to have a professional set of eyes on it, if for no other reason than to give me an idea of some improvements I can make over the next year.

A few nights ago I caught up our maintenance logbook to include all the improvements from the boatyard refit, and both the scope of the refit and the total cost was eye-opening. We've spent far, far more than we were planning when we started the refit; and yet our total expenditures are still somehow within the budget that we established when we started the search for "our perfect boat" (Windbird's purchase price was at the bottom end of our budget, but her refit made up for it). Of course this boat still has several things that could end up costing us a ton of additional money, namely a high-time engine and original teak decks. Our friend Lance Lindsay, who sailed with us from Charleston to Fernandina Beach and is planning on going cruising with his wife Amy within a few years, asked me if I have any regrets. I replied that I would have dealt with the refit & boatyard differently if I did it over again, but I'd still buy Windbird, absolutely. We really like this boat; she's proven quite ideal for us thus far, she's become our home, and I've come to really trust her as I've become more familiar with her hefty construction over the course of the refit. Quite honestly, a boat of this provenience - having been safely sailed around the world by people we've come to care about - makes us want to take care of her and make her better whether it makes economic sense or (more likely) not. The fact that this is our one and only home for the next several years, and we have virtually no other expenditures, makes it easier to put our money into her as well.

I've been meaning to do a "refit in retrospect" post for a while now but I don't think I'll get it done before I leave on my work trip; maybe I'll take the maintenance logbook with me and I'll get it done. For now, suffice it to say: prospective sailboat owners, take that "enlightened estimate" which you've padded with time and money beyond what you think is reasonable...double the money, triple the time, and then you'll be close. I base this not merely on our own experience but virtually every other new sailor we've met thus far in this journey. Still worth it, in my opinion, and the best is yet to come.