Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
Crossing The Gulf Stream – Florida to The Bahamas
Tuesday evening we left the Marina in Fort Lauderdale to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. The winds were coming from the south-east at about 25 knots. These conditions are not exactly the perfect “weather window” that most cruisers sit and wait for. Some cruisers wait weeks for the perfect conditions, but we did not want to waste any time. In addition, our friend Andrew had a flight booked out of Marsh Harbour leaving Saturday, December 13th.
After putting the kids to bed we had a chance to finish preparing the boat for the crossing. At 12:00 am midnight, Wednesday morning we left our slip and headed towards the Atlantic. We purposely planned to leave at this time so we would arrive in the Bahamas while it was still daylight. As we left the channel at Port Everglades the 15+ foot rolling waves with white caps were on the nose of our boat. Immediately I said, (Roxane) “lets turn the boat around!”. I was extremely stressed out as Ed and Andrew set the sails. I know that we needed good wind to sail across, but the waves were more than I could handle. Twenty-five knots of wind on the ocean is definitely not the same as twenty-fives knots on Lake Ontario!
Once we were on open water the waves were more manageable at 10 feet and the wind was a steady 20 –25 knots. Our boat handled the wind and waves really well. All of us started to feel confident in how well the boat was handling these ocean conditions. Although Ed and Andrew didn’t handle the large rolling waves so well; both guys spent the entire trip with severe sea sickness. I sat and watched the horizon most of the night while the boat was on auto-pilot, the auto pilot took us all the way to the Bahamas without a problem. The guys were wiped out with nausea and vomiting. The skipper was sleeping, and Andrew the sailor who came to help us from PCYC, was also out cold on the cock-pit floor. I suddenly realized, hey these guys are suppose to be doing this, while they are out cold, I am up all night on watch. I noticed that every once in awhile the jib sail would get hammered with a wave, and the water would just run off. I thought about waking the guys, but it did not really effect the boat. I soon noticed a pattern of it every once and awhile, so I just let them sleep off the sea sickness.
We saw several cargo ships throughout the night. Our AIS system notified us that one of these ships was headed right for us. We actually thought he was a lot further away, seemed like a couple of miles. He actually didn’t see us as well, he was bow on headed right for us, only about half a mile off our port beam. It is very common that these container ships may not be able to see you at all. Our navigation lights are at deck level and is almost impossible to see at night in any kind of sea. Earlier in Jacksonville, Florida a container ship only about a quarter of mile behind us, could not see us at all.
In these situations sailors often try to hail the boat with no luck. They seem to be ignoring you. But actually, our AIS would often show as many as 10 to 15 boats in the area, your eyes may only spot one or two. So when you are generically hailing the boat, he is looking at his screen, and sees 10 to 15 boats, and has no idea you are hailing him. So he does not answer. But with our AIS system, it actually gives you the name of the ship, which allows us to call him by name, and there is no ignoring that. So when Ed hailed him, and told him that we were the sailing vessel about a half a mile on his bow, he responded that he would alter his course immediately to 230 degrees to avoid us. Don’t want to think about what could have happened had we not had AIS installed. That was a little too close for comfort.
After traveling through the night at an average speed of 7 knots per hour, we arrived in the shallow waters of the Bahamas at 10:00 am, Wednesday. In calmer seas, everyone quickly recovered from the nausea and sea-sickness. Each of us were able to enjoy a large bowl of cereal. We were in 10’ depth of beautiful aqua-blue water, but to our surprise there was no land in sight for another 4 hours. We arrived at Mangrove Cay, a very small island on the north side of Grand Bahamas Island. This is where we anchored for the night, and enjoyed a good nights rest.
Thursday December 11th, 2008
Fox Town, Little Abacos Island
Ed and Andrew woke up at 6 am to raise the anchor and we started heading east. The weather was warm and sunny as we trolled two fishing lines behind the boat. We successfully caught several small Barracudas, which was especially exciting for the kids.
We arrived in Fox Town on Little Abacos Island where we anchored for the night. We enjoyed swimming and snorkeling off the back of the boat before dark. The bay in front of Fox Town has a sandy bottom surrounded by rocks and shoals on all sides. We decided to drop two anchors off the bow, one a Danforth and the other a Bruce for extra holding. This is called a Bahamian Mooring. We were in about 10 feet of water, and let out about 30 foot of chain and 50 feet of rode on both anchors. The Danforth holds exceptionally well in a sandy bottom. But the Bruce is less likely to let go in changing current or winds. While we slept a storm passed through. This same storm passed over the Gulf Stream the night before, where we could see up to 60 knot winds and thunderstorms on our Sirius Satellite weather system. As the storm passed over us, there was heavy rain and the wind was at 25 to 30 knots. We got up during the night when our anchor alarm went off. We checked our chart plotter and it seemed that one of our two anchors let go and re-set itself fifty feet away, due to a change in the wind direction and the tidal current. All was good and we went back to sleep, without any problems.
Friday December 12th, 2008
Spanish Cay and Green Turtle Cay
Navigating the shallow waters of the Bahamas, Ed does not rely on the chart plotter alone. He constantly monitors the depth along with the colour of the water, while plotting his position on paper charts. Ed then constantly compares the paper charts to the chart plotter for greater accuracy. There are virtually no red and green buoys in the Bahamas, this is due to the fact that the sand drifts and shifts. One year an area may be deep enough to cross, while other times it might be too shallow. With a draft of 6.5’ closer to 7 feet loaded down, we also have to pay close attention to the tides when making any sort of passage in the Bahamas.
Early 6AM in the morning we headed towards Spanish Cay. In Spanish Cay we cleared customs and stepped foot on Bahamas soil for the first time. In the guide books they listed all the towns and islands that you can clear customs. Explorer Charts is one of the best charts and guides for the Bahamas, we highly recommend them. A few of the places to clear customs in the Abacos are, West End, Spanish Cay, Green Turtle Cay and Marsh Harbour. Spanish Cay Marina will charge you $50 for the use of their docks for clearing Customs. So you might as well spend the night here. Excellent first stop, good provisioning for a remote island and an amazing beach! Clearing Customs was a very easy process. The customs officials boarded the boat, had a little look around, asked us for the ships documents, and passports. For a boat under 35 feet the fee is $150 and $300 for over 35 feet. So unfortunately we had to pay the $300, but it’s good for a whole year, and if you ask, they’ll include the fishing permit at no extra charge.
Spanish Cay is a small privately owned island three miles long by half a mile wide. We rented a golf cart and loaded it up with all of our beach gear and a picnic lunch. We toured this pretty island and found a beautiful beach where we stopped for the afternoon. Ed and Thomas went snorkeling and found a starfish, and a live conch in it’s shell. It was an extra thrill when we had a good view of a stingray that swam into the shallow waters at the beach. We tried to follow it, but it was frightened and it quickly swam aw
Black Diamonds Boat Bread Recipe!
I got pretty use to the galley oven, and was able to bake cakes, muffins, bread and home made pizza on the boat.
I also baked a loaf of bread on the boat for the first time. I used a Hungarian recipe which requires less ingredients than most other recipes. This bread is a bit heavier than some but it bakes well in the boat oven.
I made half of this recipe:
3 cups warm water
1 tsp yeast
6 cups flour
2 tsp salt
- Add yeast and 1 tbsp of flour to one cup of water until foamy (30 – 40 minutes)
- Using dough hooks add remaining water, salt and half of flour.
- Add rest of flour (should come clean away from bowl).
- Shape into a loaf, let rise (approx. 1 hour)
- Brush with water and bake for 45 minut
Later that afternoon we left Spanish Cay for Green Turtle Cay. We arrived at Black Sound Marina, at 5 p.m., and we walked into town before dark. The houses and businesses were all painted pretty pastel colours with little white picket fences. Most people use golf carts to get around on the small roads. With all the Christmas decorations it felt as though we were walking around Santa’s Village. We found a restaurant on the waterfront where we enjoyed a nice meal of conch, grouper and fried lobster. One of the best meals we had in the Bahamas. We came back to the boat and decorated our tabletop Christmas tree and we also hung bows and window stickers. When we were done we sat down to celebrate Alexander’s 5th birthday with a cake that I baked on the boat.
Saturday December 13th -16th, 2008
Saturday morning we left Green Turtle Cay for Marsh Harbour. We arrived at the Conch Inn and Marina where Andrew caught a taxi to the airport (back to Toronto). We spent the next few days at this cute marina. At 8:15 each morning we listen to the Cruisers Net in Marsh Harbour on channel 68 to receive updates on the weather, news and local events. The cruisers net, is like a live radio show broadcast on VHF channel 68. They have various hosts reporting on various information interesting to cruisers, there are even commercials where local restaurants come on the VHF and promote their establishment. They asked for a report from any boats around Whale Cay, this can be treacherous crossing on the out side of the keys to get to Marsh Harbour. Our boat’s draft is too deep to cross on the inside, so we had to make this crossing on the outside. There is a condition called rage seas, where the tide is going out, while large swells are moving in at the same time. Sometimes the seas can break surf at 20 feet high around this area. We crossed with 6-10 foot seas, they were not breaking, and we made it without trouble. When other cruisers heard our report, they decided not to attempt it. When we arrived in Marsh Harbour we were greeted by the host of the cruisers net congratulating us. After what I have experienced so far, it did not seem to bad, even Roxane and the kids were ok with it. Later we found out that people can listen to the cruisers net on the internet as well. We received e-mails from as far away as New York State, from people we did not even know, who have been following our blog. Unbelievable.
Once we arrived in Marsh Harbour there was a Christmas celebration in town with music, dancing and a jumping castle and photos with Santa. All the kids including, Thomas and Alexander received a wrapped gift. While there we bought Thomas a couple more books because he was getting low on reading material since he has read six novels on this trip so far!