Saturday, May 13, 2017

Passage Log - Day 3.5

Still Wednesday, May 10th.

By late afternoon the wind has backed southwest and filled in, and we've finally picked up a little fair current; it's looking like we'll get in before sunset after all. Dawn and I are in a really good mood and talking about what a nice passage it's been, though I would have liked to motor less. No sooner do I say this than the engine overheat alarm goes off. Crap. I reduce the throttle - and the temperature keeps climbing, above 210 degrees. There's plenty of water coming out of the exhaust. Ugh. I shut down the engine and roll out the Yankee - our first priority is to keep sailing. The wind is actually strong enough that we can do just over 4 knots dead downwind, wing-on-wing, though it's not ideal with no spinnaker pole. It seems we're always going downwind ever since we broke it on the sail from Rock Sound to Governor's Harbour, and on this boat it's supremely useful. A new inboard fitting from Rig Rite is one of the first things we'll order back in SC.

Down below, I remove the engine access panel and find coolant dribbling out from where the water pump joins the cylinder head. I also find a broken hose clamp on the raw water side of the heat exchanger, though the hose is still attached. I put a new ABA hose clamp on but this clearly isn't the problem. I check the coolant overflow canister, as I do every day before starting the engine...and it's showing completely full! Hmm, something doesn't add up. I wait for the engine to cool, and then remove the heat exchanger cap and start adding coolant. It takes over half a gallon. I try to tighten the bolts holding the water pump outlet to the cylinder head but they're quite snug. So apparently the O-ring let go, we've been losing coolant for umpteen hours, I never detected it because I haven't had reason to check the engine while it's running lately, and there's some sort of blockage in the hose to the overflow canister so the loss of coolant hasn't been reflected there. Once I've finished adding coolant I have Dawn start the engine. Yep, it continues leaking from the same spot - but at a rate of 10 small drips every 30 seconds. We can easily make it into port. The water temp heats up to its "normal" figure of 190 degrees (actually a bit warmer than it should run, which is why I''ll be reconditioning the heat exchanger) and stays there. We continue to use the engine, and I go down below every 30 minutes to make sure the leak hasn't worsened.

We enjoy a spectacularly red sunset thanks to some inland fires, and it's the later stages of dusk when we reach Little River Inlet. The safe water, entry, and exit buoys are all well lit but there are a few unlit & uncharted temporary channel buoys that get moved as the deepest channel shifts; Dawn lights them up from the bow with our spotlight, and the entry is perfectly easy. We drop the mainsail and ease into the Bird Island anchorage. There's one boat in there already, leaving room for us and maybe one more. It's just past high tide and the current is just starting to oppose the 15 knot south wind, plus the full moon isn't very high yet, making anchoring a little tricky. We drop the hook once and belatedly realize we're a bit too close to the reedy shoreline; we're in 11 feet of water, which will be only 6 at low tide. We pick up and relocate two boatlengths westward. Perfect. I'm suddenly very tired, hungry and thirsty, with a distinctly windburned, headachy feeling. We make up some celebratory Dark & Stormys and eat a simple meal of gourmet meats, cheeses and crackers, catch up a little on the news and facebook, and collapse into our beds - which are still the seaberths (salon settees with lee cloths). It feels odd for the boat to be so still. I set my drag alarm and immediately fall asleep into a deep, deep slumber.

Thursday, May 11th

I don't get up at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker, and for once I miss the sunrise. It's a beautiful morning in the still anchorage. I make egg-cheese-and-kielbasa sandwiches on Dawn's homemade habaƱero-cheddar bread for breakfast and brew up some coffee. John Schwab calls to let us know that he's somehow come up with a slip at the usually-full Lightkeeper's Marina, and we tell him we'll be in later today. The tide is already outgoing and we don't feel like motoring 7 miles against a fierce current. On deck we find a prodigious amount of poop on the foredeck - it's only Piper's 2nd time pooping since the passage began, though he urinated on the foredeck fairly regularly. Good dog! Now that he's over the mental hurdle of going on the boat, we need to get another grass mat and teach him to go on that for easier cleanup.

Nevertheless we launch the dinghy, since we want it on the davits while we're on the dock, and take Piper to shore for a slightly more civilized bathroom experience and a good hard run on the beach and up a few sand dunes. Back at the boat we put together a monstrous order based on a list that Dawn's been compiling all season long. I call RigRite and order our spinnaker pole fitting - nearly $650, ouch! John and Beth Schwab stop by the boat on their jetski, and we make plans for sundowners later this evening. At 3:30pm we top off the coolant, start the engine, pick up the hook, and motor the last seven miles to Lightkeeper's Marina. The last time we were here was September 21st, when we left on a planned 3-day cruise that ended up detouring to Charleston. James is on the dock to help us into slip S-5, which is beautifully located near the head of the dock just across from the bathrooms, laundry, and pool. We tell him about our winter in the Bahamas and almost immediately people start dropping by to introduce themselves and check out our boat. I forgot how friendly people are here. I'm not much of a marina guy but this one is pretty tops - very well protected, nice floating docks, immaculately clean facilities, extremely friendly and helpful staff, and very reasonable monthly rates. This will be a great place to pause for a month or so while I work, Dawn visits home, and we get some boat projects done including, perhaps, our canvas.

So that's it. Our first long(ish) passage: 411nm, 61 hours enroute, 6.7 knots average SOG, 24 hours sailing, 2.5 motoring, 34.5 motorsailing, ten 3-hour watches apiece, four fish caught, three incredible sunsets, three beautiful full moons, one minor breakdown, and two grateful sailors that really enjoyed the experience (plus one salty dog that seemed to have a pretty good time, too!). The ICW is interesting in its own way, but I think we definitely prefer going offshore - and Windbird clearly does, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Passage Log, Day 3

Day 3 - Wednesday, May 10th

I alter course for an oncoming big freighter out of Charleston just before sunrise, which puts us on a truly broad reach in which the headsail flogs a bit every minute or two. I hate doing this - not just because it’s hard on the sail and sheets, but because it’s quite loud down below for the off-watch crewmember. But when confronted with a ship doing nearly 20 knots, there's typically only one way for a slow sailboat to go to get out of their this cast it's further east. I could gybe but in this wind that's much easier done with two people on deck.

At 6:30 I turn on the HF to listen to Chris Parker weather. Today his part-time sidekick Stormy is broadcasting, and he gets quite flustered when a regular caller, “M/V My Position,” calls in to request assistance. They lost a crewmember overboard last night at 8pm in the Tongue of the Ocean between Nassau and Andros, with no life jacket, and are asking for someone to call BASRA so they can begin a search. Not good at all. With Dawn and I doublehanding and standing solo watches we have a rule about wearing our life jackets whenever abovedecks after dark and not going outside the cockpit unless the other person is up top. It’s way too easy for a weird wave to knock you off balance while you’re preoccupied – and once you’re in the water at night, the odds are against you even if someone saw you go in. And if nobody saw you, forget about it.

Anyways Stormy/Chris forgets about us again but I understand given the circumstances (Chris is calling BASRA in the background while Stormy fumbles ahead with the weather). After the weather and breakfast I head to bed, telling Dawn that it looks excellent for getting into Little River Inlet before sunset. I should've held my tongue. When I get back up at 10am the wind has veered NW and faded markedly, and we have a 2.1 knot current nearly on the nose! Yuck! I fall off 20 degrees to keep a hot angle and get across the current which I suppose is outflow from the Waccamaw River / Winyah Bay, but it persists well past the river outlet. Meanwhile the wind continues dying and I start the engine at 10:30. By 1pm there's only 4 knots true wind speed and I furl the yankee. We creep along at 5.3 knots with barely 4 over the ground. My hopes of getting in before sunset fade.

I think back to the daysail from Little River to Southport that I did with my friend Lance Lindsay last September, and realize I remember the route we took out of the inlet. There was plenty of water, and tonight we’ll be arriving near a high spring tide. The inlet is lit, and there’s a nearly full moon to help us get into the Bird Island anchorage (which is fairly straightforward from the inlet, but trickier from the ICW). So I’m actually feeling reasonably confident about doing this after sunset.

At 2pm Dawn sees a line of splashes across the horizon, which we assume is a pod of dolphins. Sure enough, soon a rather large pod is swimming in our bow wave! Piper goes absolutely ape, running up and down the side decks yelping excitedly, tail wagging. He pokes his head through the bow pulpit and I think he's going to jump in to play with them! There are 12 or 13 dolphins in all, including two juveniles and a baby; two the adults hang around for a good 10 or 15 minutes before taking off. This is the first time that’s happened on our boat, and it's quite a nice welcoming committee back to SC!

I take a nap from 2pm until 3:30 or so and then get up to relieve Dawn a little early. The wind is light and dead behind us, and the day is fairly sweltering so both Dawn and I strip down to our skivvies. We put on some tunes, put the fishing line back out, and are kicking back enjoying a nice day on the water. Later we’re planning to grill up some more fresh Mahi for dinner, and now it’s looking like we’ll be coming in the inlet at 8:40pm, still the later stages of twilight. Bird Island is the very first place we anchored Windbird, back in August, and I’m looking forward to a nice quiet night with plenty of sleep before we take Windbird to the dock tomorrow morning.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Passage Log, Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, May 9th

At 6:30am I listen to Chris Parker's weather broadcast on the HF radio; he apparently forgets to give us our own forecast though I had sent him an email requesting one. It's not a big deal as the general forecast is as expected and there is another boat on the same route a half-day ahead of us; I copy his briefing. I'm still pretty tired after Dawn starts her shift at 7am so I head back to bed and sleep until my watch starts at 10am. When I get up the wind has backed WNW and freshened to 10 knots; Dawn already has the Yankee out and we are finally able to kill the engine after 25 hours of motorsailing. We eat a little breakfast, put the fishing lines out, and enjoy the close reach at over six knots, with speed over ground occasionally hitting 9 plus.

Just before noon a fish hits the handline – yet another Mahi, a good fighter but a bit smaller than the first two so we let him go. The Mahi seem to love that green squid skirt lure, so it’s a bummer when the line snaps a bit later and I lose the lure. I have the handline rig set up on the port side, and on a port tack it's elevated enough that the line rubs on the prop of our dinghy outboard, which is on its mount on the aft port side. This is the first time I’ve lost a lure that way, but I have seen lines get tangled there before, so obviously I’m going to have to rethink where I rig the handline. The starboard side would be the obvious solution except that it’s a much better place for the rod & reel.

At noon I calculate our noon-to-noon mileage: 179nm! That’s gotta be a record for Windbird or close to it. At this point it is obvious that we are going way too fast for our planned Thursday morning arrival... but if we're able to stay in the Gulf Stream all of today, I reckon that we can possibly make it into Little River inlet before sunset Wednesday. Once inside, there's a great little anchorage at Bird Island. So I adjust our course to the east to more closely follow the predicted Gulf Stream path, and then Dawn goes further east on her shift while I'm napping because she sees the water temperature falling and the current easing. Smart girl. Later the wind starts backing WSW and then SW, which makes us have to chose between keeping a hot angle or staying in the current. I decide to dig out the spinnaker, which let us do both. We're only able to fly it for 2.5 hours until the wind picks up to 16 knots, at which point we're doing over 7 knots STW and hitting an incredible 11.3 SOG! That’s pretty much the sailboat equivalent of breaking the sound barrier, at least in a heavy cruising boat like Windbird.

Alas, 16 knots is near the limit for our spinnaker and the sun is going down so we hurriedly finish our delicious Mahi dinner and doused the chute. At sunset we see the “green flash” (more of a momentary greenish pinprick) and I head downstairs to nap before my 10-1 watch. Since yesterday's sunset we have logged 188 nm and we are now nearly abeam the Georgia/South Carolina border, with only 147nm to go (140 to Little River Inlet).

When I come up for my 10-1 watch the wind has continued to pick up and is now blowing at 17 with occasional gusts into the low 20s. I consider reefing down before Dawn heads to bed but as we are on a very broad reach the boat is still well in control, so I keep up the full main. Over the next three hours the seas build considerably, but after midnight the wind slacks off to a steady 17-18 knots so I again keep full sail when Dawn comes on watch. This whole time the wind has been at 210-220 degrees which keeps us from going directly the way we want. We initially gybed to stay in the Gulf Stream but that was taking us quite a bit further east than we wanted to go so we've gybed back onto the port tack and hold that the rest of the night. The wind slowly shifts westward through the early morning hours, letting us slowly veer back towards our course line. It also picks back up between 1am and 4am, but Dawn doesn't want to interrupt my sleep so she doesn't call me up. As I'm preparing to go on deck for my 4am watch, Dawn tells me to “get up here!” with some urgency; she later admits that we really should have reefed an hour previously (if not at 10pm). Regardless, we're able to reef under sail pretty painlessly though it involves turning the boat into some rather large, steep seas. We take one good splash over the bow but Dawn somehow escapes most of it at the mast.

Once reefed, the boat scarcely slows down but the autopilot does a much better job of keeping things under control. It's fairly cold out and palpably humid, so I spend my watch hunkered down in the lee of our forward port enclosure panel, facing backwards and watching the big moonlit waves overtake us. There are two distinct swells and every once in a while they join to form a bigger wave that rises above the level horizon. Windbird rides really well in these kind of seas – which is the whole point of having a heavy-displacement boat with a modified full keel – and so it's not scary at all, but rather mesmerizing. I watch each wave racing in, lift the stern, and roll under us with a deep hiss, a spritz of spume splashing over the toerail. It's beautiful out here.

Passage Log, Day 1

Day 1 - Monday, May 8th

I am up at my usual time, 6:25am, to listen to Chris Parker. I submitted our itinerary to him via email and asked him to keep us updated on weather every day since our HF transmitter is still on the fritz (it receives just fine). The forecast has not changed substantially and it still looks like a good window all the way to South Carolina as long as we get in before Friday afternoon – though Chris does warn that we will be motoring into light northerlies for at least 24 hours and possibly 36. After that the wind is forecast to fill in from the south, west, and southwest, making for a pleasant downwind approach to the Carolinas.

While I take Piper to shore one last time Dawn prepares the boat, and we are essentially ready to go once I return and we stow the dinghy on our foredeck. I use the last few minutes to take care of some emails and details before we lose contact for several days. We're anchor up right at 9am, exactly as planned, and I'm glad I finished working on the fuel system last night instead of continuing to tinker with it this morning. It's a quick smooth ride out of Ft. Pierce inlet, and the ocean is practically lakelike as we hoist the mainsail and turn to a 042° course for the first 15 miles. There's  quite a lot of traffic, most of it sportfishing boats plus a few ships here and there. Nearly every ship we’ve run across in US waters has AIS, which makes dealing with them considerably easier.

The wind is initially NNW at 5 knots, and it backs a little further as we turn northward into the Gulf Stream just after noon. We start out with 2 knots of tail current, which increases to nearly 4 knots as we ease our way into the stream. I've had both fishing lines out ever since the inlet (both rod and handline) and at 2pm we hear the snap of the clothespin signaling that the handline has been hit. At long last - a Mahi! At first glance he doesn't seem that big but once we get him onto the boat he turns out to be big enough to keep – in fact we get some decent meat off of him. And then just before sunset, another Mahi hits the handline, and shortly thereafter we hook a fat Bonito on the rod and reel. A three fish day – the drought is over! I think my previous mistake was trawling the lures too close to the boat. This time I'm letting them out much further, and it seems to make the difference.

By 4pm the wind has shifted NNE and we begin to tack back and forth across our course. I want to stay in the Gulf Stream but intend to ride its western edge in case it gets too rough and we have to duck out. North wind under 10 knots is usually ok, but anything over that and the stream starts to get rough. The waves actually start kicking up before sundown – I later learn that there had been 25 knot north winds well to the north of us, and this is the messy leftover swell. We are at slightly reduced power due to an overtemp alarm on our engine this afternoon…it hasn’t done that since last year. It is putting a normal amount of water out of the exhaust, but I do know the heat exchanger is due for a going-through. It's fine at 2200 rpm. At that power setting in the chop we are averaging little over 4 knots speed through water, but 7-8 knots speed over ground.

Dawn naps a bit in the afternoon and I take an hour-long snooze after dinner (which is delayed for me to clean the two fish we catch just before sunset). I'm back on watch at 10pm and pass my 3-hour watch by reading a Kindle book. Just after midnight the wind starts to pick up above 10 knots and it gets markedly rougher, and I tack back inshore. When Dawn comes on watch at 1am I leave her with instructions to continue on a NNW heading until 5 nm west of course (W80°05’) and keep going if the ride hadn’t improved. When I come back at up 4am she is nearly back to our original course on a port tack; she reports that at W80°05’ the water temp was down a full degree and the current down to 2 knots. Back at W80° the wind is down a bit but it's still rough so I tack back inshore again, though not quite as aggressively, and as the wind shifts more NE I am able to parallel our course about 2nm west with a reasonable ride. As the sun rises the wind begins to die and the seas start to calm, and our speed over ground rises above 8 knots. Under such conditions, the Gulf Stream becomes like a magic carpet ride northward....

To be continued - Day 2.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Into The Blue

We spent three nights on the dock at Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce. Ostensibly we took a slip so that a local canvasmaker could do an estimate on our enclosure, but we stayed an extra day after meeting him so we could do boat projects more easily. We did make some headway on those boat projects - starting with giving Windbird a much needed dousing with fresh water - and buying needed stuff on Amazon and researching Annapolis-area marinas...but we also sat around doing nothing for quite a bit (at $75/day!). In all honesty I've been in a bit of a funk since we crossed from Abaco. I really enjoyed cruising the Bahamas and wasn't quite ready to come back. I'm excited to head back to the islands this fall but know there's a ton of work that needs to be done in the meantime, and a bewildering array of details that need to be sorted.

Today we got off of the dock and my mood improved markedly as soon as we were swinging at anchor. I'm just not a marina person, I guess. This afternoon I tightened the bolts on the stuffing box - it had been dripping at a faster-than-average clip, and is now back to normal. It was just repacked in Charleston & I figure I'll repack it again this summer. We also had a slow diesel leak from our low-pressure fuel pump, but on closer inspection it appeared to be a bad hose clamp - one of the only clamps on the fuel system I hadn't replaced with ABA (not sure why not). I figured I'd let it sit a bit to make sure it wasn't leaking before bleeding the system, and started a new project after a late lunch: tracking down the fault in the wiring to the V-berth portside light and fan. They haven't worked since we bought the boat, and I had previously traced the problem to the forward head aft bulkhead. Today I tried finding where that wire reemerged, and eventually found it once I took apart a few panels of the salon's ceiling. That revealed exactly where it went through the bulkhead, and by removing a single small trim piece in the head I was able to extract the bad section of wire and use it as a pilot line to run new wire.

I used heatshrink butt connectors for the spices and covered those with heatshrink tubing once I was done, so I had to use the heat gun which requires starting the engine (to avoid the inverter placing a high load on the house batteries). So I went back and bled the fuel system real quick, had Dawn start the engine, and noticed an unusually high vacuum on the Racor gauge. Aww, not this crap again! I turned back to the project at hand and finished the wire splices and mounting the light and fan, then went back to the engine compartment. I tried bleeding the system multiple times, and every time the vacuum quickly rose to the 5-9" Hg range (yellow cautionary range). Then I noticed the fuel pump still leaking, and this time it was clearly from the pump itself. By now it was 7pm and I realized that if I wanted to replace it today, all the nearby auto parts stores would be closing. So we loaded up the dinghy and headed to the marina, where Dawn walked Piper while I took uber to a nearby AutoZone. They didn't have a diesel-approved pump so I went across the street to Reilly Auto Parts. They didn't have the part but a nearby location did; they said they'd bring it over in the morning just in case I needed it.

Back at the boat I decided to reassemble the fuel system without the pump. It's really just a convenience item to make bleeding the system easier and allow for fuel transfer & polishing. While I was at it I figured I'd replace the Racor and secondary fuel filters. Well, the Racor filter was pretty filthy. It's been a few weeks since I looked at the Racor vacuum gauge and even then it was a little elevated so perhaps a dirty filter was partially responsible. But mostly I think it was air getting in through the leaky pump. In the absence of our low-pressure pump I bled the system using the little manual diaphragm pump lever on the side of the fuel metering unit, which works just fine. When I started the engine, the gauge was back down at its normal 1-2" Hg figure. Excellent.

The reason there was some urgency to fix the fuel system tonight was because a pretty good window has opened up for going north - maybe way north, all the way to Little River, South Carolina. We decided to not get our enclosure replaced in Ft. Pierce and will likely do it with Sharp's Canvas in Georgetown SC. They can't start until after memorial day, so the current plan is to return to Lightkeeper's Marina, keeping the boat there during a 9-day international trip I have starting May 17th. If we can go all the way in one shot, it'll be just over 400 nm, so far the longest passage we've done. Departing tomorrow at 9am, we'll have light & variable winds for the first few hours, then light northerlies to motorsail against for about 24 hours. After that winds are forecast to fill in from the west and then the southwest all the way into the weekend, making for a potentially pretty sweet ride to the Carolinas. If that's the case we should arrive sometime Thursday. That said, an unusually persistent low parked off the east coast of the U.S. is making the forecasts a bit more shaky than usual, so we'll be listening to Chris Parker every day (he'll be giving us a customized forecast based on SPOT positions we'll send each morning) and if the window starts collapsing we can duck into St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston, or Georgetown.

I'll try to write blog updates on passage, but with our HF transmitter (and by extension, pactor modem) still on the fritz I won't be able to post them until we get back into cell tower range. I'm looking forward to our first multi-day passage, and actually so is Dawn. There was a time when she balked at the idea of any overnight sailing but has come to actually enjoy it over the course of our seven overnights thus far. And we have a 3/4-full moon, which is a pretty sweet bonus. Now we just need to catch some fish! We actually bought a good trolling rod and red (a Penn Senator Special) at West Marine the other day - thanks Mom & Dad for the birthday money towards that. So I'll have that and the handline out at all times, and hopefully will see some results. I wanna get really serious about fishing on passage. I'm sick of all sorts of delicious sea-creatures practically jumping into friends' boats while we get skunked.

If you'd like to track our progress, we'll be sending out updates every day at approximately 5am and 5pm. Here's a link to our SPOT tracker page.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whirlwind Week in Abaco

We docked at Fort Pierce, FL this morning at 10am, completing our nearly 3-month shakedown cruise of the Bahamas. Yep, we came back a little earlier than planned and spent less time in the Abacos than we were hoping. There was a good weather window and the long-term prognosis was not good so we decided to take it. Hopefully we'll be able to spend more time in the northern Abacos upon our return in November.

We crossed from Eleuthera to Abaco not even a week ago. We were anchor up from Governor's Harbour at 9am on Friday and anchored off Great Guana Cay just after 10am on Saturday. The first portion of the sail took us nearly due west (and almost directly downwind) - we motored until the wind picked up and then sailed, jibing downwind. Once we turned north at Fleeming Channel we put two reefs in the main and doused the yankee in favor of the staysail, as conditions were quickly becoming more rambunctious. The southeasterly trades were brisk, 20 gusting 25, and once we were out of the wind shadow of Eleuthera the swell and chop quickly built. It was a bumpy night with mostly 4-5 ft waves; we did get whacked right on the beam with a couple of 7-8 footers too. Because of the southeasterly swell we used Man-O-War Channel to enter the Sea of Abaco; it faces NE and is quite deep and wide, and therefore not prone to raging (we entered on a rising tide as well). After anchoring we swam and napped, and later went to Grabber's for a drink and Nipper's for an excellent seafood dinner.

On Sunday we beat 13nm back southeast to get to Hope Town. The entrance is quite shallow and narrow, and it was important to enter near high tide. We nailed the timing and never saw less than 7.5 feet on the way in. Hope Town was quiet due to the Sunday but we nevertheless enjoyed walking around the quaint town. We finally found an indisputably pink beach (most of the supposed pink beaches have just a slight rose tinge) and Dawn and Judy collected some of the sand for planned crafty projects. On the way back I shot some hoops with a local kid and then we stopped at The Reef bar (at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge) to enjoy the wonderful view of Elbow Cay's outer reef while sipping a cool beverage. Later we visited several cruisers around the harbour.

It was Chris Parker's weather net on Monday morning that made me realize we should probably take the upcoming weather window or risk getting stuck in Abaco. I have a nine-day international trip that reports on May 17th; I'm planning to actually fly it (gotta rebuild the cruising kitty!) and accordingly need to get the boat in position. Judy was originally planning on flying out of Marsh Harbour the following day, but we invited her to stay for the crossing if she wished, and after talking it over she decided to do so. It was great having her these last two+ weeks - she's a wonderful guest and of course a fount of information about the boat. And on the overnight passages it's very nice to have a third crewmember to stand watch.

We left Hope Town on the high tide Monday at 11:30am and made the quick motorsail across to Marsh Harbour. We pulled up to the fuel dock at Conch Inn & Marina and filled our diesel tanks; we'd used 63.5 gallons in the ten weeks since last filling up in Nassau. After anchoring out in Marsh Harbour I fixed our big bilge pump while the girls made a reprovisioning run; later we all went out to eat in town. It was early to bed in preparation for a full couple of days.

Tuesday we were anchor up at 8:15am, before the Chris Parker net had even concluded. It was a light-air day and we spent most of it motorsailing, plus a few hours sailing almost dead downwind (at 4-5 kts) under spinnaker. The Whale Cay passage was dead calm when we transited it, a rarity in winter. From there we passed Green Turtle, Nunjack, Spanish Cay, and several other cays we'd originally intended to stop at. When we launched the spinnaker we were pleased to find it flew well even at very broad reaching angles despite our lack of a spinnaker pole (which I had broken in Eleuthera). Dawn had the bright idea that I should climb the mast while we were flying the chute and I immediately latched onto the idea. With light winds and calm seas, it was perfect conditions and not quite as crazy as it seems. We got to Allens-Pensacola Cay around 5pm and found it an absolutely gorgeous spot that got absolutely hellacious with mosquitos once the sun went down and the wind went calm.

We lathered up with bug dope before running Piper to shore at 5:30am yesterday and thus survived the onslaught. We were underway at 6:30am and motored in glassy water for the first four hours. After that the wind filled in from the northeast, allowing us to motorsail for a few hours and then pure sail on a beam and then broad reach all afternoon long. The forecast was for gusty NE winds but they never really materialized, otherwise it would have been another perfect day to fly the spinnaker (and we could have flown in all night too). Instead we went back to motorsailing as the wind faded and moved directly behind us. We reached Memory Rock at 10pm and entered the Gulf Stream shortly thereafter. My "s-turn" planning worked out well again, and this time we got quite a nice boost from the current as our route to Ft. Pierce was on a 300-degree rhumb line. I had a few ships on my watch but the girls saw little traffic on theirs. I woke up again at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker and then took the boat the rest of the way into Ft. Pierce inlet. The wind finally picked up to its forecast strength and we sailed the last three hours.

We arrived during an outgoing tide and the inlet was rather choppy with a nearly-4 kt current against the 20 knot wind. We got to Harbortown Marina and found it significantly shallower than advertised - as in, we were carving a groove in the silty bottom most of the way to our slip!! It's also a very tight marina and it took some delicate maneuvering to do a 180 degree turn in a narrow fairway and then shimmy into our rather small slip. I didn't hit anything though!

After docking I called U.S. Customs & Border Patrol to report our arrival, and they directed us to check in at a customs office within 24 hours. We decided to go right away and get it done at the Ft. Pierce airport, where Dawn and I had checked in the Pacer on our arrival from the Bahamas two years ago. The process was quite painless. Shortly after we got back to the marina, Judy's ride (family members Brad & Sue) arrived so we all had lunch at the marina bar & grill and then they headed to the West Palm Beach airport. Unfortunately flight prices had increased markedly overnight so Judy tried to get out on my Delta buddy pass, but both flights filled up and now it's looking like she'll buy a ticket on Spirit out of FLL for tomorrow.

Dawn and I took naps this afternoon and then upon waking took advantage of unlimited fresh water to give the boat a good cleaning - and to give our salty dog a much-needed bath! A big line of weather moved through with wind to 40 knots but it's gone now. I need to get to bed because we have another full day planned for tomorrow. We may be back in the US, but the cruise isn't over, and the next phase of Windbird's refit is just about to begin.