The experiences of the S/V Twisted Sheets and a totally green Crew as
they travel through the Bahamas on their way Home from Florida to the Turks and Caicos Islands.
(and please note that this is not normally a sailing blog. It just temporarily looks that way to the untrained eye, while we move this boat home. If you'd like to look at TCI photos instead please go to any of the previous 270-something posts.)
In our blog post last week we moaned about still hanging around various marinas in south Florida while waiting for a good weather forecast. Things were a little complicated weather-wise with Tropical Storm Beryl just north of us. We were getting calm periods and then one of those bands of intense squalls would rip by and we'd have lightning and gale force winds for an hour or so. Fun stuff when you're on a boat in a marina. Not so fun if you're on a boat out in a big empty stretch of water. For one of those few rare times in my life when I followed advice, we kept in port until we had a good forecast for more than a single day. I know this is going to shock the mothers of weather forecasters everywhere, but the truth is that they don't always get it right.
We had spent the entire month of May buying a sail boat, moving aboard, and then traveling southward to a point from which to sail across the Gulf Stream and enter the Bahamas. It took us a lot longer than we had thought it would take. Even after we rounded up to the nearest whole number. And added in a fudge factor. And some slack. It still took longer than we thought. By far. Oh well.
At last we have some good news for those who would like to see us stop whining and move on. We wanted to be able to start this next post with a tropical photo, right? Well, will this one suffice?
This is the view of a protective stone jetty on the north side of the beach bar here at the Old Bahama Bay Marina and Resort on the West End of Grand Bahama Island. We arrived here yesterday afternoon, after a 9 hour crossing from the Lake Worth Inlet in Florida. We came into the marina with one engine misbehaving and quitting on us every few minutes. La Gringa was standing by the inside helm at the restart button while I tried to look professional and nonchalant as I sweated internally and chewed the inside of my cheeks off. We could only get both engines running for a few minutes at a time, so we had to time those brief periods of semi-control of the boat for when we really needed them. As opposed to those times when it would just be nice to be able to to do things like make sharp turns. Stop. Go. Little procedural things that people in marinas and insurance companies like to see happening. And this was not a straight shot in, like we've lucked out with a few times. We somehow managed to make the turns, slow the boat down, squeeze our little boat between some really expensive big boy fiberglass (John Travolta owns a home here) and get it tied up to a dock in a nice secure slip inside this protected marina. It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that we are really glad to finally be here. In the several weeks that we've been doing this, I think we've made maybe two or three of what I would call controlled landings. And another two dozen of the "Oh we're all gonna die, run for your lives, protect yourselves!" variety.
I tried to find a good aerial photo of this place to show you where we are, and could only come up with this low-resolution one from a real estate site. Sure looks different from the ICW, doesn't it?. I also wanted to show you the path we had to take to dock the boat. I know it doesn't sound like a big deal now that we're sitting here timing the next pina colada, but for a new boat owner to get into this slip in a catamaran that only wants to turn in one direction is kinda tricky. I've discovered a technique that helps, though. If I build up enough momentum to carry me through a turn, and then put the single working engine in neutral, it helps by removing the asymmetrical thrust issues that just so complicate things. The rudders will make the turn if they don't have to work against the single engine torquing the boat over. It also helps with that panicky feeling that makes it hard to concentrate when all that screaming is going on during these difficult dockings. I just have to learn to control my screaming. It's scaring the other boat owners. And the crew.
I also have simply GOT to get to the bottom of this latest engine issue. I think I have all the fuel problems sorted out, and now I'm looking at overheating as a possible problem. I guess I should look at the bright side of all of this. By the time we get this boat down to the Turks and Caicos Islands, I bet I'll know a lot more about the engines than I did when we started out in Jacksonville about sixteen heart attacks ago.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself, in my desire to get the blog back to tropical scenes. We have a few more photos of the trip down through Florida that we wanted to show you before we move on. We take so many photos that never get published because they're obsolete by the time we get around to writing another post. We spent a lot of time in marinas on the ICW coming down. We used the time to get caught up on a lot of small chores that are hardly worth mentioning, and some not so small chores like engine repairs that I have already mentioned. Repeatedly.
As for the 'small' ones, some of them were simple DIY stuff, like buying an old flag stanchion and sanding it down and varnishing it. We are a US documented vessel, and by golly we wanted to be able to fly Old Glory properly. Now, we can. I got this old mahogany stanchion for ten bucks at the Sailor's Exchange in St. Augustine.
Some of the DIY stuff was not so simple. I wish I had taken more photos, but it was non-stop for quite a while. Wiring, plumbing, carpentry, repairs, modifications. I'll just pick out one that was particularly vexing, and limit it to that. We had been annoyed for weeks with the fuel filler fitting for the starboard side fuel tank. This sucker was stuck. And stuck solid. This was a problem. We have some serious stretches of open ocean to cross and it would be really nice to be able to start out with full fuel tanks. We had tried dribbling various lubricants and magical un-stick chemical concoctions into this thing. WD-40, PB Blaster, 3-in-1 oil... we tried a bunch of it. We bought a propane torch and tried heating it. We completely deformed a steel tool trying to force it. Please remember, each of these attempts consumed hours of time. I'm not going to document them all. You'd get bored and hang up on me. I hit every West Marine store in eastern Florida, but nobody seemed to stock new ones in the 2" size. Every body offered to order them. But then it was wait for delivery or just trust it would meet us somewhere eventually. We wanted to be able to grab the first decent weather window. In frustration and running out of time, I came up with one last idea. We picked up a set of taps and dies at a Sears store somewhere near West Palm, and I drilled out and threaded two holes in the cap. I drilled two corresponding holes in the end of a piece of aluminum I found on board the boat. We bolted the aluminum bar across the top of the troublesome, frozen fuel cap. And by golly we fabricated a tool that I could get some serious torque on. After two weeks of gentle attempts at coercion and trying commercial solutions, in the end brute force finally did the job.
How's that for for a prime example of 'necessity being the mother of invention'?
In addition to the DIY and other chores, the long trip down the ICW also gave us the chance to hone our boat handing skills and practice blood pressure elevation. The drawbridges were the biggest challenge, and the further south we got the more numerous and nerve wracking they became. Some of them only open on pre-set schedules. This one, for example, only opened on the half hour. If you get there just past the last closure, you have to hold position in a moving current among a lot of other boats until the bridge opens again a half an hour later. For a few minutes, with the bridge operator on the radio telling you all to hurry it up. They have two lines of important cars waiting. Good thing for us that they have to open. If it were left up to the operators, I got the feeling that some of them would just as soon sit there watching soap operas on television or reading and leave the bridge closed. . In a narrow channel full of boaters of various types, this jockying for position really gets interesting. Counting Twisted Sheets, there are a total of ten boats in this photo, trying to get through the narrow bridge opening. We were the third sailboat in the group, and of course the masts have to go right through the middle of the bridge opening. You can see what would happen if you got swept off to one side or the other.
We had about a three knot current coming at us, and I don't even know how many power boats there were behind us all trying to crowd through at the same time. Oh, and the best part is that we had to make a hard right turn just past the bridge to get into the marina where we were headed. Fun, fun, fun.
Back to the subject of marinas we have known, and getting back on track with this narrative section of the blog, this is the view from under the dinghy at the last marina we were staying at over in Florida. This is the Lake Park Marina. As you can tell from this photo, we pretty much had a straight shot into that one from Lake Worth. We were extremely happy to know that at this point we had no more drawbridges to deal with, if we decided to head east from this point to the Bahamas. We could also have continued south to Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades. This would set us up for a shorter trip over to Bimini. But we elected to make the longer crossing to Grand Bahama. We'd pretty much had enough of Florida's ICW by this time. We wanted elbow room, open ocean, and tropical islands. After several hundred miles of navigating these channels I was seeing square green and triangle red channel markers in my sleep. mile after mile of them. Enough. We decided to take a hard left and head for the Bahamas at the next opportunity.
That's a decent marina, although it's right at the very edge of some fairly exciting neighborhoods over in Riviera Beach. I am using the word 'exciting' to describe them because I don't quite know what other words to use. We met some really nice people in that area, and we also heard gunfire two of the three nights we were there. What's the word for it when you're living in a fiberglass boat and hear guns being fired nearby in the late evening hours? I'm going to stick with "exciting" for now. We also caught the distinctive smells of what I would bet was an automobile burning on the morning we left.
On the positive note, we had a couple of absolutely outstanding meals at a place called the Reef Grill, and a great burger at a pub called the Brass Ring. And there was no gunfire in either establishment while we were there.
The first day we pulled into that marina we were quite surprised to be tied up just ahead of the S/V Kari Bela. This is a boat we had seen and admired back on Provo a year ago. There are some photos of it at a South Side Marina 2011 post. We got to meet the owner this time. Nigel was very gracious, and came on board Twisted Sheets and went over our Bahamas charts with us. He showed me a lot of 'hurricane holes' he knows, in case we need to duck into some place to wait out a storm. A bit of a reminder that we are getting pretty late into the season for sailing in these waters.
Shortly after showing me some good spots on the charts, he went back to his boat for a nap. Seems they had just made the trip over from the Bahamas and had a horrible crossing in rough seas and high winds. Great. Just what we wanted to hear. He also strongly advised us to wait for a better weather window. I was starting to see a pattern here.
We spotted this unusual mast configuration while at Lake Park. Do any of you other sailors out there know what this is for? I'm sure it will make perfect sense when it's explained to us, but I couldn't figure out what was going on with the bent section at the top.
Was this guy too slow getting through a draw bridge or something?
Finally, yesterday morning we had a forecast for the Gulf Stream that we liked. Calm winds for an entire day, and seas of two feet. We'd been warned by Nigel on Kari Bela not to believe the forecasts, especially with Tropical Storm Beryl just north of us, but it was the best one we'd seen in days. So with a mixture of excitement, fear, and desperation, we decided to go for it.
Dawn at the marina, with calm winds and a nice sky. Good omens for a crossing, albeit not much light for photography from a moving boat Oh well, you get the idea.
We had about two miles to go from the marina, around Peanut Island, and then we were finally at the Lake Worth inlet with direct access to the marine world outside the control of south Florida drawbridge operators.
Here we go passing through the inlet and saying goodbye to the Intracoastal Waterway and hello to the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond.
And almost immediately we were made aware of what we had traded for the congestion of the drawbridges. The tip of our mast wouldn't reach the shuffleboard court on this baby. I decided this was probably as good a time as ever to turn the radar on and make plans to someday read the manual.
We had about 60 nautical miles to go. I had calculated our course the day before, and rechecked my calculations about sixteen hundred times in the intervening hours when normally I would have been asleep. Instead of vibrating like a tuning fork. The true bearing to Grand Bahamas West End is about 94 degrees, if I recall correctly. But we have to take into account that we are going to be getting swept north by the Gulf Stream at an average speed of about two knots. So at our projected speed of a blistering six knots in this little sailboat, we would be spending ten hours in the Gulf Stream current. So I set a course to a point about 20 miles south of where we actually wanted to hit the Bahamas. It's similar to swimming across a fast moving river to hit a specific place on the opposite bank. If you miss it, you'll be in a world of hurt trying to swim against the current to get back to it. Another analogy would be kind of like an ant planning to cross the moving walkway in an airport to get to a candy wrapper on the other side. He either has to start way upstream of the wrapper or figure out an angle to cross with. If he misses it, he's got to overcome the speed of the treadmill just to stay in one spot. These kinds of endeavors take some planning, if you're slow. Like a swimmer, or an ant, or a sailboat.
So I figured out our true heading taking into account the effects of the current on us over ten hours, and then added in the magnetic variation to come up with the magnetic heading to an imaginary point that would be moving as we approached it. Am I making this better or worse? But you can see why I lay awake all night thinking about it, right? I would have been SO embarrassed to have to tell La Gringa that we were headed for Bermuda because her dummy of a husband totally missed the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
The west wall of the Gulf Stream is about 18 miles out from the Lake Worth Inlet. We could tell we were approaching it when we saw the line of low clouds that form over the warmer water of this fast, north running river in the ocean.
And then after weeks of worrying and planning, we were in it. And it was a piece of cake. We had lucked out and picked an almost perfect day. We had mixed clouds, and the largest waves we saw were maybe six feet at most. And there were only a few of those out in the middle. Most of the seas were probably more like 2 to 4 feet. A lot more than the two foot seas predicted, but it was great to see how easily Twisted Sheets rode over them.
We would have liked to put the sails up, but we had very light winds from directly astern. Putting up the sails would have slowed us down, and we didn't want to slow down. We were averaging seven knots with the engines, which is a pretty good clip for a sailboat under power. I set my calculated heading of 121 degrees magnetic into the autopilot, and we just spent the next nine hours watching the ocean. Well, some of the crew napped through parts of it. I think she was wondering what I had been so concerned about. With the motion of the boat and the drone of the engines, it was like a double shot of NyQuil.
But not for me. I didn't nap. I did yawn a lot.
And that was pretty much it. Anticlimactic after staying awake the night before in anticipation. My heading brought us to within a mile of our target at West End on Grand Bahama Island. The first thing I spotted from about fifteen miles out was this water tower. I didn't think to take a photo of it as we approached, mostly because I was worrying myself silly over whether or not the engines would still both be running when we got into the marina. I shouldn't have worried. Of course they weren't both running. Worrying about it didn't change a thing. We just handled it. Again.
But later, from the beach bar at the Old Bahama Bay, I did remember to take this photo of the water tank that was our first view of the islands after our first Gulf Stream crossing in our first time in the open ocean, aboard our first liveaboard sailboat, right before my first customs and immigration clearance as the master of a sailing ship and us as cruisers. That's a lot of firsts in one go. But don't you find that you actually like the 'firsts' in life? Firsts are good. Keep the blood flowing. The trick is to keep it flowing where it's supposed to flow. Recirculating it is good.
And that brings you all up to date with where we are at the moment. We're in this marina using their WiFi for a day or two while we take care of some things like getting set up for mobile broadband as we continue south down through the less populated parts of the Bahamas, and trying to figure out what's up with our unhappy diesel. We met a fellow boater at the marina last night who gave me some ideas on that. We are also in the middle of some unsettled weather that we'd just as soon wait out.
We had dinner last night at a beach restaurant here that was highly recommended by our friends the Shafers (of Windmills Plantations on Salt Cay fame) and I have to tell you, it was the best cracked conch we have ever tasted. And we've eaten a lot of cracked conch. La Gringa also had some fish that was so good that we asked the chef what it was. It was Queen Snapper.
So, I guess there are worst places to wait out a couple days of bad weather while making plans for better. It's a huge relief to have that crossing behind us. And after the canals and bridges of the Florida ICW, the open blue ocean was a welcome change
Can you see the little stingray cruising along the clear water just off the beach here? It would never have occurred to me that seeing a stingray at a swimming beach on a cloudy day would be a familiar and comforting experience.
We should be able to start taking some more tropical photos from this point on. I'll try to keep the blog up to date for the rest of the trip, even if it's only a few photos at a time. We still have 500 miles of islands between us and home, and today is the first day of Hurricane Season. Stay tuned.