Jimmy, Mike, Dad and I left from Morehead City on Dec. 1 and made it down to Ft. Lauderdale by Dec. 11. I plan on writing quite a bit about that adventure later on but I figured I better start with just a few days ago and work my way back as I can.
Mark drove down from Panama City on Wednesday Dec. 21. He arrived around 9 pm. I had been on my own in Ft. Lauderdale for about five days since Jimmy and Mike flew out. I didn’t have a whole lot to do so most of my time was spent hanging out on the beach and prepping things on the boat. The last three nights I had spent most of my time at Dirty Blondes Sports Bar. They had pool tables and a bunch of games including a great pinball machine (World Poker Tour). There weren’t a lot of customers since it was the week before Christmas so a couple of the bartenders and I shared some great conversations thanks to a fairly empty bar.
Here’s a quick background about how I met Mark. I purchased my boat in May 2010 and had it stored at Deaton Yacht Sales out of the water. The broker called me one day and asked if it would be ok if someone came aboard and took a look at the boat. I said sure no problem and Mark left a note with nice compliments about the boat. In February of 2011, right after returning from Ft. Lauderdale last year, Mark gave me a call and said that he was back in town from Florida to check out another boat. We decided to meet for a cup of coffee and see each other face to face. We met in Oriental and it happened to be that I needed someone to help me bring the boat out to Ocracoke. I had brought the boat down from Morehead City to Oriental by myself and he agreed to help me bring the boat over to Ocracoke. We met up and started the trip over to Ocracoke. It should have been about an eight hour trip but we had a nasty head wind in our face the entire way and ended up taking about fourteen hours. It was about 40 degrees and we had sporadic showers that drenched us every few hours. We were making such slow time that we had to come into Ocracoke harbor at night, freezing cold, with a light rain shower to top it off. Not the best trip in the world! We tied up and headed into town to start the first Ocracoke chapter of my life (which was awesome!).
I was at Dirty Blondes when Mark came into town Wednesday night. I had just completed the pinball game of a lifetime! I had been working on the machine the past few days and began to figure it out. The free game is set at 18,000,000 and my previous high score was 52,000,000. That night I managed to get 80,000,000 in one ball and a total of 93,000,000 for the high score on the machine! I decided to end on that note and wait for Mark to come into town. He called and I headed out to meet him at the marina. He had been driving for most of the day so we got him settled on the boat and decided to have a welcome aboard pint at Dirty Blondes. I had met some really nice people throughout the week and wanted to say farewell to one particularly lovely bartender named Alma before heading out. We talked with a nice guy named Tommy for awhile and enjoyed a free few drinks from the ever generous Frank and received some good advice from a guy that had lived on Bimini for a long time before heading back to the boat.
Armed with Mark’s truck, we took off into town Thursday morning to take care of a few loose ends (bitter ends?) and purchase some provisions. We went to Sailorman, an awesome local consignment store, to pick up a few parts and pieces. The cashier at the store wants to learn web design and buy a sailboat to travel around with. Great idea! She has just started working on the plan and I told her the details about how it has come together for me. We left there and headed to Publix to stock up on provisions. I have never purchased groceries for a two month span before so it was a pretty interesting experience. Mark had some good insight and I ended up buying a lot of Progresso soups and Pasta Sides with can chicken and tuna to put in along with several other random things. The bill came to a whooping $354 but I should have more than enough food to make it for the whole two months and more. We unloaded everything at the boat and Mark took off to drop his car at the airport.
Jimmy gave me a good piece of advice about storing the canned goods. He recommended labeling each can at the top so that you can identify each one without having to pull it out and it also keeps you from having a mystery dinner if the label happens to fall off. So I spent the next few hours cleaning out the cabinets, repackaging anything in cardboard and labeling a bunch of cans!
Our plan was to leave sometime around midnight or so and head for Bimini. We needed to leave at night so that we put ourselves in a good position to arrive at Bimini in good daylight (the guides recommend arriving between 10 am and 2 pm for the best water visibility). We double checked that everything was ready and Mark made a few last minute repairs that were good preventative maintenance items that I had overlooked.
Right before sunset we went over to visit my new friend Albert Wall aboard his ship, Jonathan III. I met Albert in the marina lounge area a couple of days earlier when I was looking over my Bahamas books. He had taken a trip to the Bahamas for four months on a 40 foot sailboat when he was about my age. He showed some good information on the charts and he invited me to see his boat later that evening. What an amazing boat! It is an 83 foot classic wooden motor yacht built in 1958 for the Jim Bean Distillery. Albert has been refinishing it for the last three years and it is absolutely stunning (see the attached slideshow for pictures)! It has lots of wonderful teak features and is truly an amazing ship. He invited me to bring Mark aboard when he came into town. We went over to the boat and Albert gave Mark a tour. I talked with a really nice guy named Kai who works on the boat for Albert and is working on getting his 100 ton Captain’s License. He was very close to being a third crew member for us but does not have his passport yet so I’ll have to give him a call before the next big trip.
We said our farewells to Albert and Kai and headed back to the boat to make our final steps to leave. Mark ended up changing a cracked alternator belt right before we left that probably would not have survived the journey. We double checked everything and planned to shove off in time to catch the 10:15 opening of the Las Olas Bridge. I was fairly anxious since this would be my first offshore passage without Jimmy.
We talked through what seemed to be a simple exit from the dock and proceeded to head out. This turned out to be one of the worst docking experiences I have ever had! As I was backing out, the boat began to go in the opposite direction that I expected. No big deal, we reeled ourselves back in, talked through the plan and tried again. We attempted round two and this time committed to the exit. All of a sudden I start drifting right back into this other boat. I increased the throttle and could not steer out of it! Mark was able to run back and fend us off the boat. We pushed off and had plenty of room but as we started to pass another boat we began to drift right into them as well. We were pressed right up against two boats and had to inch our way along. There was very little wind and we decided there must be some sort of crazy current. We had to fend off of three different boats and one guy on the dock had to help us before we finally made it into the channel. With both of our hearts racing we look at each other and wonder what in the world happened. We hailed the bridge and proceeded to head out of the inlet. As we make our way along we are making about 4 knots with the engine just above idle! Aha! I made a mental note to be much more conscious of current influence before docking next time!
We made it through the canals of Ft. Lauderdale just fine and started our way out of the inlet. I have never been a big fan of inlets. You usually get a decent amount of surge coming through the inlet and it can be fairly difficult to keep your heading. This proved to be the case for our exit this time. We did not run into too many issues but it was not easiest exit I’ve ever had. On our way out a pilot boat passed us with his monstrous tanker buddy close behind. Even when we see it coming, this is a very scary sight at night time!
Based on the advice from our Dirty Blondes friend we set a course for 140° towards Bimini. We needed to aim much further south than normal to account for the influence of the Gulf Stream. We had E-SE winds of about 14-17 knots in our face and began to make very slow progress. Mark took the first shift and we decided to rotate out every three hours. I went to bed and woke up to find that we had made very little distance over the past three hours. The wind and the waves slowed us down considerably and we were unable to make good progress south. This carried on for a few shifts and we began to become frustrated as the Gulf Stream kept pushing us farther north.
There was also a strange problem with our GPS bearing that I could not explain. The bearing on the GPS and the compass had always been fairly close. Now they were off by nearly 60 degrees! I began to suspect that the Magma grill that I had just mounted right next to the GPS receiver had skewed it. The next shift I pulled out Mark’s handheld GPS and it matched exactly with the chart plotter. Hmm…ok…well I remembered that I had two hand held compasses in my bag below the v-berth. Not the easiest thing to get to in rolly seas but worth the effort to figure out the problem. I pulled those out and both matched with my binnacle. It took me a while to figure out the issue with no sleep at 4 am in morning but I concluded that everything was actually correct and that the GPS made a bearing based on what progress was being made and the hand held compasses were an actual magnetic reading. That brought around an entirely new problem. The GPS was basically telling me that we were making a course 60 degrees to the north of what we wanted. I altered the course to see what progress we could make if we headed even further south.
After making only 0.9 knots in one hour we decided to change course and head north towards Grand Bahama Island. We could either go to West End or Lucaya and ended up choosing Lucaya because it turned out that we would have to spend another night out and come into port in the morning. Lucaya was a little bit further down than West End which would put us a little closer to our next destination.
The rest of the passage went very smoothly and was fairly uneventful other than a few large cruise ships that passed by in the night. I had the early morning shift and was greeted by an incredible sunrise with Grand Bahama Island in sight. The entrance into Port Lucaya consisted of one small safe water buoy and a few small day markers that were a little difficult to spot. We started into the channel and had trouble believing our depth sounder because of the clarity of the water. We made our way to Port Lucaya Marina to clear customs and find a slip for the night. Jeffrey, the Dockmaster, helped us tie up the boat and pointed us in the direction of the customs office.
Clearing customs and immigration was fairly straightforward. There were a bunch of forms to fill out and I had to promise that no rats with the plague were on board my ship. I did not have any cash to pay the customs fee so the immigration officer gave me directions to an ATM nearby. The marina is located in this fairly large shopping area with a stage, lots of bars, restaurants and a variety of shops. The ATM she pointed me to was out of order so I asked someone else and they directed me to the casino across the street. I withdrew some cash, finished up with Customs and Immigration and headed back to the boat having officially entered a new country by sail for the first time.
Mark and I went to the shower facilities to clean up and then wandered around the shopping center in search of food. We liked the looks of a Greek restaurant called Zorba’s and placed an order for two delicious pita wraps that were very filling. I needed to find a way to contact my parents to let them know that I had arrived safely (it was Friday and I told them if they had not heard from me by Sunday to start worrying, so I still had a little time:). I called the operator at a pay phone and asked about the rates for calls to the US. They were outrageous! They wanted $25 for 5 minutes of time. No way! I knew Zorba’s had a wireless signal so Mark and I made our way back there for a cup of coffee. I wrote a couple of emails letting everyone know that we made it safe and sound.
After that we went to a place called Rum Runners and had a celebratory piña colada. After a few rounds of cold drinks we went back to the boat to make dinner. A guy named Lance Rock came by and asked about the boat. I gave him the tour and we ended up talking for a while. He was thinking about buying a boat in Venezuela in January and begin sailing it around from there. Mark and I are both expert boat shoppers so we ran him through our list of things to look for and gave him some general advice. After Lance took off we made our way back into the square for the evening. All of the resort crowd had started to come out and there was live music right near our boat. We hung out in the area for awhile and ended up having a great night.
We woke up the next morning and formed our plan. After looking at the weather forecast, we made the decision to head to the Northern Berry Islands and begin slowly making our way down to Chub Cay in time for New Year’s. Mark’s flight out is on January 5th so we need to make Nassau by then. It is 56 miles from Port Lucaya to Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands. The Berry Islands are only 23 miles long so we can take our time and make short runs each day. The trip from Chub Cay to Nassau is about 36 miles so we can do that in another long day. The 56 mile run to Great Stirrup Cay is too far to make in the daytime so we decided to leave around 4 pm on Christmas Eve which would give us plenty of time to make the run and find a good anchorage in the daytime.
We had a little bit of time after lunch so I decided to head out and take a few pictures. As I am snapping a few of the boat, Lance Rock stops back by and we start talking about his potential boat. We needed to find a wireless connection to see the listing so we took off to Rum Runners where Lance treated me to a couple beers. We talked for a while about the boat and I ended up telling him it looked good to me. We parted ways and I pulled out my laptop to try and call my parents. I used Google Voice and successfully called Dad’s cell phone and talked for ten minutes at a rate of 0.1 cents a minute (a lot better than $5/per!).
Mark and I met back at the boat to start the next leg. We very carefully formed our plan for leaving the dock and had a perfect exit this time. Thank goodness! We needed to get fuel so we made our way to the fuel dock to fill up before leaving. We managed to dock and leave without any problems which helped us regain some of our maneuvering confidence. We left the channel right before sunset and set a course for Slaughter Harbor near Great Stirrup Cay.
We decided on three hour shifts again and I started us off. We were close hauled most of the way (sailing almost into the wind) with about 14-18 knots of breeze. The seas were pretty calm and we had steady wind most of the way. The outside temperature was just about perfect and we had clear skies to look at the majority of the time. Quite a few large ships passed by but we didn’t have too much trouble with any of them. I was on shift right at midnight for the start of Christmas and decided to sing a few Christmas carols to set the tone. Sometime early Christmas morning we decided that we needed to tack out and head east for a little bit so that we could sail up to the harbor. We were about 15 miles out around 9 am. We tried to make progress for several hours and ended up having to turn on the motor so that we could make the anchorage in daylight.
As we came in we could start to make out three large cruise ships right outside the harbor. The guide books warned us that the Royal Caribbean cruise lines used this anchorage as a playground for their guests. We weren’t too concerned but we could make out several parasails in the air a few jet skis zipping around. The water looked amazing and the temperature was fantastic and it looked like a nice spot to spend Christmas. We were talking through our entry plan when all of a sudden Mark’s hat flew overboard! I jumped behind the wheel and Mark ran up on deck to grab the boat pole. I disengaged the AutoPilot and Mark pointed out the hat in the water in normal Man Overboard fashion. After two passes we successfully picked up our lost crew mate and resumed our course for the anchorage.
There was a lot of boat traffic around the entrance to the harbor as all three cruise ships constantly ferried people back and forth to the island and back. We continued to make our way past all of the boats and set our course for the harbor entrance. The chart warned of several large rock formations outside of the channel entrance but Mark provide me with headings from the chart plotter and we entered the harbor with no problems. Mark has had quite a bit of experience anchoring so he ran me through his normal drill. We successfully set the anchor and sat down to the end of our wonderful passage. The harbor is absolutely beautiful! There is an opening on one side which allows the sun to drop right into the water. The water is crystal clear and we have about 6 feet below the keel. There was a little bit of traffic but we quickly agreed that we were glad we did not listen to the guide books warnings. All in all, this was one of the best passages I have made! Definitely a much better success than the Gulf Stream crossing!
Shortly after we set the anchor I rigged up a make shift swim ladder from a spare line and hung it from a cleat. We tied large fender to the end of a 75 foot line and I jumped into the water with a mask and snorkel to check out the bottom around the boat. Too beautiful! I saw Arcturus floating peacefully at anchor above the sandy bottom. I took a few laps to inspect the prop and bottom of the boat. What a way to spend Christmas! I made my way up the ladder and Mark jumped in for a swim. After we both dried off we made a traditional Christmas dinner of Turkey Noodle soup with bread that we enjoyed from the cockpit. As the sun went down we couldn’t stop smiling at how lucky we were to have the anchorage to ourselves in such a beautiful spot.
So here we are, Mark is outside sleeping in the cockpit tonight under the stars. I am sitting back finishing up this post listening to the quiet sounds of the boat and the anchorage. Life is good:) We plan on staying here for at least one more night so that we can just hang out and relax tomorrow. There is a beach about 250 yards away that has a cabana and seems to be the hub where all the cruise people are dropped off each day. We plan on snorkeling around for a bit tomorrow and maybe swimming over to the beach to see if we can purchase any cold drinks. We will probably head out the next day and find a new anchorage a little further south. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that you have exciting plans for New Years. I will post this along with a slideshow as soon as we find an internet connection. Thanks for reading! – Daniel