Thursday, November 1st
Carolina Beach, N.C. (mile 295.1)
Another day of dashing for bridge openings and staying on the straight and narrow left us pooped. Noel was forecast to pass by our area tomorrow. We heard from Skip & Cherylle on Eleanor M. They suggested a little known dock in Carolina Beach to wait out the storm. After a few calls we wound up finding an even lesser known dock and tied up for the second time on our trip. The Mona Black Marina is mostly liveaboards but rents dock space to transients when it's available. On approach we were greeted by Randy the Dockmaster and several of the tenants who were there to catch our lines. Also in attendance was Matie the yellow lab and a large calico cat. Within ten minutes we had been invited out to the local seafood restaurant for dinner. We decided this was a fine place to wait out Noel.
Friday, November 2nd
Carolina Beach, N.C. (mile 295.1)
Our dock neighbors at the Mona Black were Paul & Sandy. They had purchased their Hatteras 58' in May and moved aboard full time. Like them, we had recently changed the name of our boat and neither of us had performed the denaming/renaming ceremony which is supposed to keep you in good favor with Neptune. At our fish dinner the previous evening it was decided that it was time to rectify this. We dug up the ceremony wording which had been provided to us by Fred & Pat on Marianna. The required red wine and sprigs of greenery were secured. While it was still light we headed onto the foredeck of each boat and performed the rights. In the 30+ knots of wind provided by Noel it was a somewhat messy affair as we were required to splash a bit of red wine on the bow. Some clean-up was definitely required immediately following. Celebratory cocktails and appetizers were consumed aboard Knot Worried (formerly Wilma's Idea) while Shango (formerly Kiva) was happily ensconced next door. With luck we'll catch up with Paul & Sandy in the Spring.
Saturday, November 3rd//Sunday November 4th
Overnight from Carolina Beach, N.C. to Charleston, S.C. (Mile 467)
After our recent trying days on the ICW we had had enough. We didn't care how long we had to wait for a weather window, we were going outside. In this case we didn't have to wait long. The day after Noel passed offshore the conditions calmed dramatically. At 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning we untied our lines at the Mona Black Marina and headed down the Cape Fear River to the Ocean. There was a little bit of confused sea as we turned south from the Cape Fear sea buoy (sorry Kitty) but after that it was smooth sailing, literally. We hadn't had a sail like this in as long as we could recall. We were able to sail from the Cape Fear sea buoy almost all the way to the Charleston Maritime Center where we would tie up. That's about 160 miles without having to turn on the engine. The overnight was really beautiful. It was our second moon-free overnight of the trip so the stars seemed especially bright. There was almost no shipping traffic, with the only excitement being a Coast Guard search and rescue underway off the Winyah Bay Inlet. As we entered Charleston Harbor Sunday morning we listened to a phone message from David & Donna on Merlin saying they were arriving in Charleston that morning via the ICW. As the Harbor entrance intersected the ICW channel we could see the claret red hull of Merlin ahead. We had last seen them as they departed from D.C. on October 17th. As Donna said later, "practically a photo finish."
Monday, November 5th - Wednesday November 7th
Charleston, S.C. (Mile 467)
David & Donna have reached their destination for the Winter. In past years they have continued on to the Bahamas but this year they are sticking a little closer to home. Charleston is a beautiful city with lots to do. From museums to cooking classes to walking the streets full of wonderful architecture. The Charleston Maritime Center where they will call home for the winter is an intimate spot within easy walking distance of the City's many sites. During our short three days in Charleston we were able to watch a Patriots game, take several walks, eat several dinners out and get a haircut as well as complete a variety of boat chores. The oil was changed, the laundry was done and we were able to do the bulk of our Bahamas provisioning thanks to a conveniently located Harris Teeter Supermarket and Donna's two wheeled cart. All in all a fine time was had by all.
Thursday, November 8th/Friday November 9th
Overnight from Charleston, S.C. to Cumberland Island, GA. (mile 710)
Thursday morning we prepared for another offshore passage. We finished the process of cleaning and filling our water tanks and securing the boat for sea. We had originally intended to get fuel at the Maritime Center but their fuel dock was feeling the full brunt of the ebbing tide. After one drive-by of the fuel dock the Captain decided that discretion was the better part of valor and fuel would be obtained around the point at the City Marina. We waved goodbye to the Merlins and were off. Roger says this overnight was boring. I disagree. Any overnight during which you don't hear "Savannah Pilot, this is the motor vessel Urban Concrete" is a good overnight as far as I'm concerned. True, the wind was dead astern and not strong enough to put the sails up but the stars were lovely once again and we encountered just one tow boat and he wasn't even towing anything. The cat suggests that it was perhaps the tiniest bit rolly but all in all it was a quiet night.
Friday, November 9th
Cumberland Island, GA. (Mile 710)
It was maximum tide ebb when we arrived at the St. Mary's River entrance. We really had to work for our last few hours before anchoring. It appeared that there was some dredging underway, with scary looking metal hunks anchored outside of the south side of the channel. The hook was finally dropped behind Cumberland Island at 2:00 p.m. It was as lovely as we remembered. Wild horses foraged near the beach, the trees were covered in spanish moss and the anchorage is surrounded by lovely marshes. A dolphin even came by to check in. Really a swell place. We spent a relaxing afternoon and finished the day with barbequed ribs fresh from the freezer.
Saturday, November 10th
Cumberland Island, GA (mile 710)
We heard from skip & Cherylle on Eleanor M yesterday. They were planning to arrive at the St. Mary's Inlet during the night sometime. We talked to them today and they were safely anchored upriver in the town of St. Mary's. We spent the day fixing the bow lights, working on the log, fixing the heater, and talking about our next hop(s) down the Florida coast. Busy, busy.
Sunday, November 11th - Tuesday November 13th
Cumberland Island, GA. to Miami, FL
We left Cumberland Island Sunday at mid-day, and headed out the St. Mary's River entrance. The tide was ebbing and the wind was coming out of the NE toward the entrance. Always an interesting combination. Shango was zipping out with the tide and launching herself over some fairly good sized seas. Add to the mix a dredge anchored in the channel and you have a nifty carnival ride. Once we were able to take a right out of the channel and towards Florida things improved markedly. The first twelve hours of the trip were fairly bumpy until the breeze dropped around midnight. The forecast 10-15 NE had finally arrived. By Monday morning we were passing Cape Canaveral. 24 hours to go. Monday the lighter air and the tightening wind angle forced us to motorsail but by Monday evening we were back to strictly sail. Tuesday night provided us with action in the form of rain showers accompanied by gusty wind. When the stars would disappear from the sky to the east we could look at our radar and see the distinct shape of an arriving rain cloud. To the west the sky was lit up by the beachfront cities of the Florida coast. Despite the weather it was a fairly comfortable night. Tuesday morning found us off of West Palm Beach angling slowly closer towards shore with 60 miles to our destination of Miami. Sailing down this coast is an eye opening experience. The horizon is an almost unceasing line of skyscrapers. You really can't tell where one city ends and the next begins. Because of the sameness of the landscape it almost felt like we weren't moving. After a fashion our chart told us we had arrived at Government Cut, the entrance to the port of Miami. By 3:00 p.m., 51 hours after leaving Cumberland Island we had reached our final U.S. destination. Now we had to wait for a weather window to cross over into the Bahamas. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, November 13th
South Beach, Miami, FL
While we were relaxing in the cockpit at sunset, going over the options for our upcoming crossing Roger's eyes narrowed and he grabbed the binoculars. "Isn't that Windborne?" Passing to our stern was my cousin Kevin and his family aboard their trawler. We thought that they were anchored at Dinner Key so we were surprised to find them directly under our noses. We had not seen them since Annapolis so it was good to finally reconnect. They are also waiting for a weather window so it's now a bit of a family affair.
Tuesday, November 20th
South Beach, Miami, FL
Well, as of today it looks like we have a window to cross over to the Bahamas on Thanksgiving. This will be the second time we will have been underway during this particular holiday. It's not such a bad thing. We'll have that much more to be thankful for after we get across the Gulf Stream. Cousin Kevin and Company crossed over on Sunday in an east wind. East was not our first choice and we still had errands to run so here we sit. With any luck they are chugging towards the Exumas and we'll catch up to them before Christmas.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone and we'll talk to you from the Bahamas!
Thursday, November 22nd & Friday November 23rd
Miami, FL to Nassau, Bahamas
Let me elaborate a bit on a cruiser's constant quest for weather information. It's a bit like the old joke "Honey, the new phone book is here!" When you depend on accurate weather for your safety and your headway it's not unusual to hear a cruisers say "Hey, did you hear Chris this morning?" This is one of a myriad references to whether or not you are up on the current weather. Dull but true. At home you switch on Dick Albert or a reasonable facsimile and hope for the best. If there's too much snow you just stay home till the plows come by. On a boat you are living out in the weather constantly and if you don't prepare properly the consequences range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous. A cruiser's sources of weather range from NOAA weather, available in the US via your VHF radio to GRIB files pulled down from your satellite phone allowing you to see graphical wind and wave data. One of the more popular sources of weather among cruisers in the Southwest North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea is the Caribbean Weather Center which is accessed via your SSB radio. Chris Parker, voice of the CWC, comes on several times every morning on a variety of frequencies and gives weather forecasts for very specific cruising regions and takes questions from sponsoring vessels. Imagine being able to call Dick Albert to ask whether you would be better off weather-wise having a picnic at noon or a barbeque at five? Like any weather information you need to evaluate your boat's strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the forecast (boat size, speed, stability) but having a reliable source of data is half the battle.
We had spent more than a week in Miami waiting for the right forecast. Only forty-five miles across the Gulf stream? What's the big deal? The Gulf Stream is a northbound "river" flowing at 2-3 knots which, with wind blowing towards it makes for a VERY bad day of boating. There is a saying, "The elephants are marching" which describes the waves you see in the distance as you approach the Gulf Stream on a poorly chosen day. We were waiting, somewhat patiently, for a breeze with a southerly component which was long range enough to allow us to reach our preferred destination. The later in the fall you begin your wait the harder it is to find this "weather window." Happily we were on the early side. Those who try to cross after Christmas can wait many weeks for an opening.
By Wednesday both NOAA and Chris were saying that there might be a window in the Thursday-Saturday timeframe. As of Thursday morning Chris was suggesting that the too strong southwest wind would start to drop mid-day and that Friday ought to be fine to cross but that Saturday's wind would be fresher than expected and out of the east. Hmmm... What to do. We decided on a compromise. A mid-day Thursday departure from Miami. This would allow us to cross the Stream during daylight in dropping southwest wind and seas. We could continue on across the sixty miles of the Bahama Banks (shallow sand banks) through the night and arrive at the deep-water Northwest Channel at day break Friday. After that it was a fifty mile daysail to Nassau. This would allow us to check in to Customs & Immigration and scoot to the protection of the east side of the Exumas by Saturday afternoon's wind increase and shift back to the east..
We can report that all went according to plan. We crossed the stream in about seven hours, having left the outer channel marker of Miami at 2:00 p.m. Thursday. By nine p.m. we had rounded North Rock, above Bimini, and were headed southwest in light air under an almost full moon. It was wonderful to see the sand under the 15 feet of water lit up by moonlight. It almost appeared to be glowing. Of our six overnights of this trip so far it was worth waiting for this night to finally have a bright moon. During the night we saw a small inter-island freighter and a Spanish Wells style fishing boat. Other than that things were pretty peaceful. When we arrived at the deep body of water known as the Northwest Channel at 7:00 a.m. the wind was still light out of the southeast. this was a good thing since we were heading southeast. It the winds had been strong it would have been a distinctly nasty passage. There was so little wind in fact that we ended up having to motorsail. At shortly after 2:00 p.m. we entered Nassau Harbour. Yahoo!
Because we wanted to leave Nassau the following day we opted to tie up at a marina that had a Customs Office available. The alternatives didn't seem too appealing. If we anchored we would have to take the dinghy off the foredeck and get it inflated and might miss getting to Customs in time. If we tied up at the Customs dock and cleared in there we'd have to have to find a place to anchor later, in the dark. Sometimes strategic concerns cause you to cough up some cash. As we wound our way through the trash strewn but beautifully clear waters of the Harbor we spied in the distance a lone trawler with a blue bimini top. Could it be? Sure enough we had caught up with the troops on Windborne. Unfortunately their dinghy wasn't at the boat which suggested they were out exploring. We made our way to the Nassau Yacht Haven Marina and Roger hefted his package of official paperwork and headed to check in. Darkness fell. This check in at the marina idea was looking smarter and smarter all the time. I was bound to stay aboard till we were officially checked in. I spent my time looking for the local Bahamian radio station so I could hear the local obits (true, I swear!) and find out who owed money to what government office. I also listened to the father son pair on the next boat. They were headed for Cartagena Columbia. They had had quite a bit to drink and couldn't agree on what music to listen to. Dad liked reggae and son liked acid rock. Who knows. It's possible they'll get to Cartagena... On the other side of the dock was a high end power boat with four people on board. There was a fellow in his sixties one in his twenties and two women in their twenties. After nightfall the three twenty-somethings donned evening finery and left the last guy to watch TV while they hit the town. Grandchildren?
Roger finally returned after six proclaiming we were legal but Milo was not. He said the health certificate was a bit aged for their liking and that they might send a vet to the dock later in the evening. Argh. Happily no one ever showed and we spend a surprisingly quiet night. We had been unable to reach Kevin & Myriam via the VHF radio so as we left the next morning (after Roger spectacularly saved an almost disastrous undocking) we headed back west through the harbor to give them a drive-by before going out the easterly entrance. Happily the radio was on this morning and we were able to see how their crossing was and let them know we were going to escape Nassau for the Exumas before the wind picked up in the afternoon. After checking out with Nassau Harbour Control and passing Porgee Rocks at the east end of the Harbour we were free and clear. Not long after we heard from Windborne and learned that they were also going to skip out towards Highborne Cay with us. The passage was just beautiful. We crossed the yellow banks, home to many coral heads, without incident. We were verging on giddy. The water was a beautiful clear blue, the wind was warm and the sailing was great. We anchored behind Highborne by 2:00 p.m. and basically just played for the rest of the afternoon. We went for our first snorkel and watched our first Exuma sunset. We had finally reached our long sought destination!
Sunday, November 25th
Highborne Cay, Exumas
It seemed fitting that we were all finally able to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the Exumas. Between Windborne and Shango we came up with two small turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, gravy, corn bread, squash and potatoes. At 3:00 p.m. Roger and I, Kevin, Myriam, Kevin Jr. and Daphne sat down to dinner in the "penthouse" (read: flybridge) on Windborne in a very thankful state of mind..
Monday, November 26th
Highborne Cay, Exumas
Windborne headed north towards Allen's Cay this morning. We did a few chores then went exploring north of Highborne with the dinghy. On our last cruise our dinghy setup included an 8' Zodiac and a 3.5 horsepower engine. In one sense it was nice because you could dismantle it completely if you needed to store it. Unfortunately that is not a need you have when cruising. It was too small to plane so we went everywhere slowly. When you can't plane your dinghy's bow can't rise above the waves so you drive through them instead. We were perpetually soaked. This time around we have rectified this situation. We now have a 9'6" dinghy with a 15 horsepower engine. It's really swell. It's like going from a Geo Metro to a Volkswagen Passat station wagon. No more never ending slogs or dinghy butt. I will admit it's a bear to haul into the basement. Today our nifty dinghy took us to the north end of Highborne for a walk on the beach and then over to a coral patch called the "Octopus Garden" for some snorkeling. We didn't see any octopuses so I'm not sure where the name came from. We did see lots of very colorful fish and a variety of coral though. The dinghy anchor seems to work fine. We may add the 12' of Miami theft deterrent chain to it to make it more secure in current. A fine afternoon was had by all. Leftover turkey for dinner.
Tuesday, November 27th
Norman's Cay, Exumas
We un-pickled the watermaker today. We hadn't been able to use it since going up the Potomac because our travels were taking us through some less than pristine waters. It seems to be working ok. At midday we headed for Norman's Cay which is about a six mile trip from Highborne by sailboat, shorter as the crow flies. Norman's was once the base of operations for a very powerful cocaine smuggler. It is now an extremely quiet place. There are a few houses on the Island as well as a restaurant and a few rental cottages. We went for a dinghy trip into the interior anchorage so we could see the semi-submerged plane wreck, left over from the drug hay days. We stopped to visit with the only folks anchored inside at Norman's. The couple, on a trawler named Halagain, have been cruising to the Bahamas for 23 years. Between their 3.5' draft and well honed water reading skills they can anchor almost anywhere. No worries. On the way back to the mother ship we stopped at MacDuff's Bar but sadly we were too early to get a beer. For dinner we defrosted the shrimp we had purchased in D.C. They were still quite tasty.
Wednesday, November 28th
Shroud Cay, Exumas
After the weather reports and a leisurely breakfast we decided that we would continue our meander south. If we didn't have another pound of shrimp to finish off we might have stayed for an outing to MacDuff's. Unfortunately, it is absolutely impossible to ignore the aroma of shrimp in a boat fridge. We faced yet another six mile day like troopers. Our destination, Shroud Cay, was to be our first stop in the Exuma Land & Sea Park. The Park is a chain of uninhabited Cays which have been protected by the Bahamian government since 1953. It preserves in a relatively pristine condition 176 square miles of Exuma Cays, both land and sea. No fishing is allowed in the park so you see a great number and variety of sea life here. We arrived at our destination by 11:25. After a quick lunch we headed out to explore one of several creeks which bisect this Island. The creeks lead through vast areas of mangroves which act as nurseries for a wide variety of fish. On our trip we sighted several small sharks, a ray and lots of bonefish. We made our way east through the Island ending up at the Exuma Sound side. The east, or Sound side is the more ocean-like side of the Exumas, while the west side of the Islands face what's called the "Banks," which is the shallow side. We walked the empty Sound beach looking at the flotsam that floats up on north-bound currents. It's amazing how many shoes you encounter. Light bulbs are big also. Also floating in with the trash are sea beans. They make their way up from South and Central America, eventually washing shore. I came upon only one of the coveted but elusive "hamburger" beans during this outing. Due to my bean induced dawdling we returned to our dinghy to find it high and dry. Much dragging was required to get it to a spot where it would float again. Despite that it was a great afternoon. Night two of D.C. shrimp had them disguised in an Indian sauce. Mmmm, good. Tomorrow I'll have to clean the fridge to get rid of the residual odor.
Thursday, November 29th
Shroud Cay, Exumas
After tackling a few chores in the morning we took the dinghy towards a creek at the north end of the Island. This creek was somewhat deeper and a bit shorter than the southern creek but just as interesting. It also exits out into the sound on the east side. The cut to the sound is like a beautiful blue swimming hole follow by what looks like a flume ride during a falling tide. We beached the dinghy before the flume ride and walked around the corner to the beach. The northern beach is angled in such a way that it doesn't collect the trash that its southern counterpart does. It is a somewhat shorter beach but it is protected by an offshore reef which makes the swimming wonderful. The bottom is nothing but white sand and the seas are really calm. Probably not so great for body surfing, but good for most anything else. For many years on a hill overlooking this beach was a place called Camp Driftwood. It was originally built as a lounge of sorts by a reclusive cruiser but in the more recent past others have carried driftwood and selected debris found on the beach up to the camp to create a somewhat eclectic "castaway" style of decor. Either we have forgotten where the camp was or it has been destroyed or dismantled since our last visit. Disappointing. We could have spent all afternoon at the beach but we didn't want to get stranded again so we made our way back to the dinghy. It was still afloat and we were back at the boat for sunset.
Friday, November 30th
Hawksbill Cay, Exumas
Hawksbill Cay, two miles south of Shroud, is the site of loyalist ruins dating back to 1780. It also has several long beaches facing the Sound. Shortly after our arrival and lunch we attempted to take the "Kat-man-du" path over to the northern beach but encountered an area of flooding about half way across the Island that prevented our passage. If you've looked at our photos of the Exuma landscape you can see just how impenetrable it can be. For someone to cut a path is quite an undertaking. In the Park the paths are kept especially narrow in order to preserve the natural state of the Cays. Walking these paths can be very interesting. A hat, sunglasses, long sleeved shirt and full length sarong are just about the right ensemble for me. To make the setting even more tropical no wind seems to penetrate the thick wall of growth while the sun still blazes down on you from above making the climate decidedly toasty. You have to hope your chosen path is leading to a beach so you can take a plunge to cool off. After our aborted trip to the Sound beach we were too hot to attempt the hike to the ruins. Later in the afternoon we took the dinghy to the northern tip of the Island to see if we could make our way around the end to the beach. After a somewhat circuitous journey involving some fairly sizeable sand flats we reached the Sound. Unfortunately the beach was pretty small but it was big enough for a swim. We had the northern anchorage at Hawksbill all to ourselves for the evening.