Monday, June 11, 2018

Florida's Forgotten Coast

From Marco Island, we did a reverse bounce back up the FCYC Yacht Clubs - once again, making the most of our free nights at reciprocal clubs.   These included: Naples Yacht Club, Naples Sailing and Yacht Club, Venice YC, St. Charles YC, Bradenton YC, Sarasota YC, Clearwater YC, and St. Andrews YC.  All were great stops, some were fantastic, and a couple were exceptional in their own ways.  To mention a couple of the most positive attributes  is appropriate I think:

  • Dockmasters were great at all, but were exceptional at Naples Sailing and Yacht, Venice, Bradenton, St. Charles and Clearwater;
  • Friendliest YC members - St. Charles and Clearwater without a doubt;  
  • Fanciest YC - Sarasota of course, but a bit stuffy (only beaten on the trip by Royal Palm on the east coast - but the members there were really stuffy);
  • Best Food - Clearwater was a clear winner on this front.  Their food, wait staff, and chef were amazing.






Its always a nice touch when a yacht club displays burgees for visiting clubs on its yardarm.  A couple of clubs made this effort and it is very welcoming - these included: Royal Palm, St. Charles, and Bradenton.  The other nice touch is when they recognize you in the dining room. Thank you St. Charles!  


Although this is yacht club etiquette/tradition, it seems to have sadly fallen off the radar at many clubs.

Big Bend

Sunset - Big Bend
Crossing the Big Bend of Florida is one of the longest hops when we go or return from the Bahamas.  Most people are surprised by this, assuming that the jump to the Bahamas from Florida is longer.  We typically try to minimize the distance in open sea, especially when we have Salty with us.  Although he has been brought up on the boat, he will not use the bathroom on the boat.  We have tried all the trick - grass, artificial grass - you name it.  He chooses to hold it until dry land.  He has held it for well over 24 hours in the past, but we try not to do this to him.  I guess if he really has to go, he will go.  So our Big Bend crossing was timed with a stop at Anclote Key (just north of Clearwater) and a stop at Dog Island, making the rhumb line about 130 miles.  

There is always a little anticipation before setting off - weather checks, boat checks etc.  And of course, the forecast was not as advertised.  Wind on the beam quickly changed to 15 on the nose making progress slow and bumpy in the shallow Gulf waters.  The forecast was right in that the wind died down overnight - in fact to about 3-4 kts from behind.....which is essentially no use at all in terms of sailing.  The result was that we motored for 98% of the way.  Bummer - but at least it was an uneventful crossing.  Except for a VHF call from Witchy Woman and Sea-Esta, two boats that we know from the Pensacola area.  They saw our signature on AIS and passed us at about 2 am headed for the Bahamas.  What are the chances of that!  Two boats that we knew from home were about the only vessels we came across other than some small fishing boats when we approached Carrabelle/Dog island. We had a good conversation and gave them a few suggestions on places to stop along their way.

After making a potty stop for Salty at Dog Island, we continued on to Apalachicola.  Always one of my favorite stops and this time was no exception.  No YCs in Apalach, so we got a slip at Apalachicola marina - well a dock on the river just inside the bridge.  In the past, we have used the "municipal dock" which is the sea wall near the fishing boats.  There are no facilities or power there, but they used to charge $20 per night, which the local cop collected - if he remembered.  However, the local marinas have apparently pressured City Hall to increase the rate to the same as the marinas, so now nobody stays on the sea wall. - why would you when you can get a marina with power and bathrooms at the same price!
Anyway, Apalachicola is a wonderful little town and it was the Plein Air painting festival.  During this festival, artists from across the country congregate to compare their work and compete in a number of contests.  We were there for the "Blessing of the Easles", and got to see several artists in action.



From Apalachicola, we moved on to port St. Joe.  We stayed in the marina a couple of nights and had a couple of nights off the boat on Cape San Blas.

Once again we were reminded that this IS one of our favorite places in the world.  and that is no exaggeration.  The tranquility, beauty, beaches, and wildlife around St. Joe's Bay and Cape San Blas are in my mind second to none in the US and rank way up there in all of the places we have visited throughout the world.  We did note however that the area was busier than we have seen it in past years, and while this is great for the local economy, I sure   hope it does not spoil things!

Beaches near Ft. McRee - Salty enjoys a swim!
After this stop we were truly on the last legs of the trip.  An overnight stop in St. Andrews (yes another yacht club!), then a full day back to Pensacola.  As we arrived in the Pensacola inlet, shortly after sunset, we were surprised at the amount of shipping in the channel so late - it turned out that dredging operations were in progress and also some commercial fishing.  Thankfully I have been in and out of the pass enough times to know where the hazards are and we were able to avoid the traffic.  Some friends of ours heard us talking to the ships on VHF and told us that they were at anchor in Ft. McRee adjacent to the pass.  Since it was now dark, we accepted their kind offer to raft up for the night.  It was great to see Kristen, Cliff and family and exchange some stories about our trip.  We were also ready for a rest.  The next morning, we made our way home - just a couple hours away.  It was nice to be home, nice to see friends and neighbors.  Relief that the trip had gone well with remarkably few and only very minor maintenance/repairs.  But also a sense of sadness that this was the end of another fantastic trip on Midnight Sun II.

What next?  Stay tuned......we do have some news to share soon!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Homeward Bound and Cocodrilos

Sometimes the wind blows a slightly different way than we expect and plans have to be put on hold or change.  There have been a few people that have claimed this quote and a few variations on the theme of:

Salty Says - I don't know...I just want my hamburger!



"You can't change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust the sails to reach the final destination" - Jimmy Dean, Elizabeth Edwards, et al..............or was it Salty that said it?


Unfortunately we have decided we must cut this trip a little shorter than planned.  our last plan was to move on to Cuba and Mexico before returning home, but we have instead decided to head back home from the Keys.  No single issue has caused this decision, more a culmination of some personal/family matters; work-related items; logistics of long-haul passages with Salty on board; and seasonal planning (hurricane season is almost upon us).  So we broke the news to our buddy boaters and  best friends, Larry and Tracy.  Being the wonderful people that they are, they understood and supported our dilemma and decision.  This decision was made in Marathon, so we were actually at a good position to make this change.  Larry and Tracy could continue on to Key West, Cuba and Mexico (which is what they have subsequently done), and we could go coastal up the west coast of Florida to home.  Its a bitter/sweet feeling.  The bitter side being the realization that this cruise will soon be over; the sweet being that its always good to be home - especially in the area where we live.

Since I have covered most of the ports of call for this return voyage several times now in my blog, I will try to keep the rest of this post to the highlights of the return trip adn to emphasize places we have maybe not stopped at previously. OK, well sometimes I am not too good at that and get a little carried away - so bear with me, please.

Oh No - Cocodrilos!

Our first planned stop on the return journey was Cape Sable.  For anyone that has tracked our blog and journey, recall that we stopped here on our outward journey and just loved the place.  I still have to say this beach, the location, and remoteness certainly rivels most places in the Bahamas.  So we were actually looking forward to returning there.  Leaving Marathon (we stayed at Marathon YC), we crossed Florida Bay doing our best to avoid the web of crab pots.  We did hit a couple so goodness knows what my prop looks like.

We arrived at Cape Sable mid afternoon with a south wind.  It was forecast to be from the southeast - but it was not.  This made the exposed anchorage quite rolly.  We spend an hour or so going up the coast to see if we could find some protection - but short of going to Little Shark River, we did not find anything.  We ruled out Little Shark River due to issues with getting Salty ashore and decided to just deal with the rolling.  We went ashore by dinghy.  On the way in, we commented on two large logs that were washed up on shore about 100 yds away from us.  As we secured the dinghy I noticed the logs were gone.  By now Salty was enjoying a run on the beach. Hmmmm....










Scouring the shoreline and water, I saw the head of a very large crocodile (cocodrilo - spanish....I love that word!) looking at us.  I felt sure he was he scoping out human or canine for dinner....and where was the other "log".  He swam towards the dinghy starting to cut off our return path.  We quickly scrambled to grab Salty, get to the dinghy and get off the beach.  Yes, it would have been great to have more photos -  but not being the great outdoorsman that wrestles crocodiles......this was just damn freaky scary..  We made it to the dinghy, went about 1/2 mile down the beach, allowed Salty to take care of business and returned quickly to the boat.  Through the binoculars, we saw the "logs" return to their spot on the beach.  Should we draw straws as to who takes Salty for his nightly walk.......or do you want to just sail overnight to the yacht club at Marco Island?


Marco Island Yacht Club won.....the winds were favorable in direction but light.  But we were in no hurry as we wanted to enter Marco at daylight - so we elected to sail overnight.  it was a gorgeous sunset; winds were light but we were making about 5 kts.  The moon came up later in the night making for some nice "light night sailing".  And best of all - no
cocodrilos in sight!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Northern Abaco and Back to USA

Northern Abaco

Its been 4 months now on the boat and we have seen some beautiful parts of the Bahamas, but at the same time we have been astounded at the amount of trash on the beaches - plastic, plastic, plastic! - everywhere and especially on the Atlantic beaches.  It is so so saddening.  Yes, we saw plastic on the beach in 2014, but not to this extent.  It has become a major issue and I don't know how it will get resolved.

But back to the bright side......our trip back to the US took us back to the Green Turtle Cay area, but this time we anchored at Manjack Cay and really enjoyed the time there.  Here once more, we sat out a modest "blow" but the area was pretty protected.  We stayed a couple of nights and took the walk across to the Atlantic side of the island.

Pensacola Cay

From Manjack, and after the blow, we sailed a short hop to Pensacola  and Allans Cay making a short stop at the almost deserted Spanish Cay for fuel.  Spanish Cay has a large marina - but not a boat in the harbour.  Charging $3/ft per night will do that!  Apparently, they make their money off the sport fishing boats later in the season.  So onwards we went to Pensacola and Allans Cay.  The
anchorage we chose was on the  bank side and I guess technically that is Allans Cay.  It was a nice protected anchorage and there were a few boats already here.  We had heard about a "signing tree" on the atlantic side, and had already recovered an abandoned life ring for use at the signing tree. 

What's a signing tree - I am glad you asked!  Simply a tree where you hand a sign with the name of your boat.  ideally you are creative and make the sign from driftwood or other items found locally.  I guess in a way, it may help contribute to cleaning up these beaches of some of the trash if you can use that......and that is what we did.  We had recovered an old life ring from a nearby beach. 

So we set off on a trek to find the signing tree.  The trail starts in the bank side of the island at a "structure" where some joker had placed a Walmart parking sign.  We followed the trail which was marked by plastic debris that had been decorated and hung in trees.  Well at least it had been put to some use!  Once on the other side, we found what must have been several generations of "signing trees", with signs dating back about 10 years.  Some boats had left signs on consecutive years recording multiple visits to the island.  I must admit it was pretty cool!  also pretty cool looking for boat names and people we had met along our way.  We found the perfect spot for our ring and Larry wend tree-climbing to get it in the spot.  one side decorated by Midnight Sun's artist - Janet; the other decorated by TraSea's art director, Tracy!
Midnight Sun II's side

TraSea's Side
Our side  has boat name, crew, and yacht clubs - Pensacola and Point of course!, and similar information on TraSea's side.  I wonder how long it will last?

From Pensacola Cay, we started the trip back to the US in earnest.  our next stop was a quick overnight at Great Sale Cay.  This is a good overnight stopping point when crossing the Little Bahama Bank, but there's not a lot there, the beach is small and not too interesting, so it was just a short stop.

From Great Sale, we moved on to the Marina at West End, named old Bahama Bay.  I had stopped here in 2014 on our first trip to the Bahamas.  This time, the marina was much busier and I believe they have added some nice houses and condos to provide accommodations for guests. 

It was our last night in the Bahamas as we planned to cross back to the US the next day, headed for West Palm Beach.  I must say, I was sad to leave.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lazy Sailing and Meeting Friends in the Abaco

Lazy Sailing

Spoil Island  - near Bakers Bay
In terms of length of sails - we have certainly slowed down in order to enjoy our time in the Sea of Abaco.  For the past few weeks, 10
miles in a day has been a big day........and do we really need the "main"......when we can go almost as fast and more comfortably on Jib alone?  Wow - are we sailing lazily or have we just become real cruisers?  either way, I have to say its not a bad thing when we get totally off a schedule and don't worry about making 50+ miles in a day.



Meeting Friends

We have had the great fortune to be able to catch up with friends in the last couple of weeks,  First off, we were joined for a week by great friends Ron and Julie from PYC.  We enjoyed sailing with them and enjoying some of the areas we had already seen in the Abaco together with some spots that were new to us all.

We visited Noname Cay to see the Abaco version of the swimming pigs!  Wow seems like everyone is trying to copy the success of the Exumas famous swimming pigs at Big Major's Spot.  Well it seems to be working out - there is a beach with a bunch of little pigs and mamma pigs running around.  They did seem less aggressive than their Big Major counterparts, and have not quite figured out how to beg for food.....or well....even how to swim. 

Piggyville!  Really????  Some farmer has got a good thing going.....tourist fatten up the pigs for free!




Kelley, Jason and Zoe join us for a ride in the Mangrov
We were also able to meet old friends from our last Bahamas trip here at Noname.  We had arranged to meet up with Jason and Kelly from "Sailing Chance" with their new crew member Zoe.  it was so great to be able to catch up with them.  Jason and Kelly live in New York on their boat now, but we met them and buddy-boated with them in 2014 for the passage down to Spanish Wells.  incidentally, they have a great blog at www.Sailingchance.com.

So, during the week with Ron and Julie, we were able to take them to Green Turtle Cay, Nippers, Treasure Cay, Noname Cay, Hopetown, Marsh Harbour, and Tahiti Beach - not bad for a week of easy sailing.  And we were able to spend a day with Jason, Kelly, Zoe, and their friend Taylor at Snake Cay.  Now that is an interesting spot - with a beautiful mangrove river ride (by dinghy), its a pretty well protected anchorage from west and north winds and a small beach where we could take Salty.  We had a great day here exploring the mangroves and walking the beach.  We saw some huge Rays in the deep hole that forms the entrance to Snake River.  in fact one brave sailboat made it in to the mouth of the river and anchored for the night.  Not a whole lot of space but great protection in there!
Green Turtle Cay

So from here we headed south one more time to Pete's Pub and hoping to do a dinghy ride to the nearby blue hole.  Unfortunately we were not able to catch a free mooring ball, so ended up anchoring at Lynyard Cay........but that's not a bad spot.  We had hoped to meet up with friends Tom and Christie, but unfortunately we were not able to make that happen.  Oh well - next time!

After that, we started to head north, starting the trip back to the US......more on that in the next post.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cold Fronts and Things that Go Bump in the Night!

So - this will be a brief post I think...I never really know until I start writing!  We are currently in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, sitting out yet another cold front.  January was bad - one after another.  February was great with no big issues, and here we are in March with two back to back.  We just spent 6 days in Treasure Cay (very protected for 6 days), and are now back in Marsh Harbour.  We like the Abacos in that there are "facilities" and its short, protected hops between destinations.  We enjoyed Treasure Cay and its fabulous beaches.

Marsh Harbour has many facilities including 3 hardware stores, marine parts, numerous restaurants, liquor stores etc.  So we have been taking this little down-time to catch up on a couple of projects.  our fridge was not cooling completely, so I topped off the refrigerant, fixed a leaking hatche etc.  You know - the definition of cruising?  Fixing boats in exotic locations!....but thankfully nothing major.

I did want to write about one thing that happened while we were in the Exumas....now several weeks ago.......read on!

Things that Go Bump in the Night

While we have become very comfortable with our new Mantus Anchor....yes, we love it!  you never know what your anchoring mates are using, or how well they know how to anchor......what shape their equipment is in etc.  That's why its nice to be up towards the front of the anchorage.  We were in Black Point, Exumas waiting out a blow - 30+ kts.  It was actually relatively calm and we were on our friends boat TraSea.  Just finished dinner...of course it was night and pitch black, when suddenly BAMM!  What the hell was that.  We all dashed to the cockpit and sure enough, we had been hit on the side by another boat.  they were on deck and disoriented.  What happened?

Well - I had not heard of this before, hence the reason for the story.  The other boat had not turned off thier windlass breaker...in fact they didn't seem to know they had one!  The "up" switch had apparently shorted and while they were in thier cabin, the anchor raised itself and they were  adrift......if fact, the owner said when he came on deck he was confused by all the other boats in the anchorage moving.  Well I'm sure that woke him up quickly.  Fortunately no damage was done.  We helped them get secure for the night using our dinghy (and making sure he didn't hit our adjacent boat).  But anyway - a little anecdote about cruising and when you get that dreaded "Bump in the Night".
Happy Hour - thank you to Tom and Judy on Destination Unknown - Treasure Cay.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Now in the Abaco

Its March 1 and it's a gorgeous day here in the Abaco....or is it Abacos?  There seems to be some confusion over that, so if you can shed any light on it, please share!

I am writing this from the very sheltered and lovely anchorage/mooring field at Treasure Cay.  Our trip from Harbor Island was as follows:

Harbour Island to Little Harbour

This was a longer leg needed to get us from North Eleuthera to the Abaco Islands. 
Sailing Buddy TraSea passes us
Our route took us in the open Atlantic crossing the Northeast Providence Channel, headed north and offshore from Great Abaco Island.  Unfortunately there is not much civilization or anything in the way of an anchorage that we could see before Little Harbour - so this forces a 60 mile sail.  We were joined by good friends Dave and Tracy who flew in to join us at Harbour Island.  The crossing was "sporty" with winds from the SE at 18-22 and some pretty big seas (8-10 ft).  Notwithstanding this, the boat and crew did well.  With reefed sails we were averaging 7-7.5 kts.

Little Harbour - Odelisque moored behind us
As we approached Little Harbour we were hailed by new friends Dean and Marie on Prairie Two.  They had made the crossing the previous day.  Their report of breaking waves across the entrance to Little Harbour was good information and on their recommendation we continued a little farther north to the North Bar Channel.  This still had some breaking waves, but was wider and deeper.  The entry was challenging, but OK.  Once inside the reef, we elected to anchor at Lynyard Cay as we were loosing daylight.  This proved to be a nice anchorage with a nice beach for Salty to explore.  

The next day, we made the short hop south to Pete's Pub and the mooring field in the very protected bay.  We came across our friends boat - S/V Odelisque on its mooring outside Pete's Pub.  the owners are friends that live near our home and have recently bought a house at Little Harbour.  We hope to catch up with them in a couple of weeks when they will be here.

Hopetown

The following day, we headed north again, but this time with the protection of the outer Abaco Islands.  We headed north on the Sea of Abaco to the wonderful town of Hopetown.  Although we tried to get a mooring in the harbour, all were taken, so we anchored on the outside.  We took the opportunity to .......well of course visit a bar, re-stock some provisions, and get dinner ashore.  The following morning we also made a trip to the Hopetown Lighthouse.  This impressive lighthouse is reportedly the last remaining operational kerosene powered lighthouse in the world.  I have not validated that claim - but it was a really interesting visit!

While in Hopetown, Salty made a new friend....a Manatee.  What an experience!  He came nose to nose with this magnificent animal and they actually kissed. Neither were afraid or intimidated....it was just pure curiosity from both of them.  what a moment!
Salty and the Manatee!


Nippers and Marsh Harbour

From Hopetown - another short hop.  This time to Nippers and a stopover in Fishers Bay.  Then on to Marsh Harbour and a stay of a couple of nights in Mangoes Marina - probably the friendliest marina in Marsh Harbour, layed back, and at less than $1 a foot, a bargain.  Dockmaster Ray made us very welcome and was a great source of advice and local knowledge.  It also happened to be Junkanoo that night (Saturday), we we simply had to visit the local festivities.  The carnival was very layed back and certainly unrushed!  People lined the main street to watch the passing parade.
Crew on the beach at Nippers
















Dave and Tracy.....another bar!


It was a great experience and extremely colorful.  There was street food available so we sampled the local pork chops........very good!

Unfortunately Dave and Tracy had to leave us to return to Houston on Monday, so we said our sad goodbye's....hoping they will once again join us later on our trip.  Hope you had fun guys!







Treasure Cay Beach

Treasure Cay

From Marsh Harbour, we again made a short hop.......everything is pretty protected and line of sight navigation in the Sea of Abaco.......this hop took us to Treasure Cay.  The enclosed anchorage and mooring field is very well protected and the beach here is reportedly one of the top beaches in the world.  Top beach in the world....well that's quite a claim, but certainly very nice and Salty loved it!








Well - there's supposedly a cold front coming in tomorrow.  We considered moving on to Green Turtle Cay....but when we checked its busy up there.  Everyone is hunkering down for the wind.  While I don't think it will be too bad, maybe 20s but not like we saw in the Exumas........this sure isn't a bad place to hole up for the next day or two!


More in a few days.....in the meantime, check out our realtime location at this link:





Monday, February 19, 2018

The Devil's Backbone....and Harbour Island

Northern Route to Spanish Wells
Goes through this area!
Over the past few days we have been moving north at a fairly leisurely pace, with the exception of one longer leg from Highborne Cay to Spanish Wells.  Studying the charts would give one sime cause for concern and perhaps second thoughts about our intended route.  I include a screenshot of the area in question.  Quite a lot of rocks! and the route goes straight through the middle of them!

Well actually it was not that bad and as I said, I would not have attempted this but someone gave me waypoints back in 2014 and assured me it was fine.  We made it through twice in 2014 and had a terrific sail though that area again this week.  Yes there are rocks....its generally 12-16 ft deep....and most look to have clearance.  The odd one has you worried.  We made the 50 or so miles from Highborne Cay to Royal Island and anchored in the well protected natural harbour there.  After a night, we moved on to Spanish Wells.  I can't give you one specific reason, but I just like this quaint, quiet little town.  The marina - Yacht Haven is now finished and we had a great stay.  A little pricey at $2.50/ft.  but that has become the new norm in the Bahamas.  They have a great restaurant and nice pool, and very friendly staff.

Today, we took on the challenge of the Devil's Backbone; known as perhaps one of the most
notoriously tricky passages in the Bahamas.  We hired the services of a local pilot "Bandit" and took 3 sailboats through the passage.  To be honest- - it didn't seem too bad and I think we could have done it alone.  However, the warnings on the Charts are enough to make you think that a pilot is definitely warranted.  We were also very fortunate to have excellent and calm weather.  I am sure its a different story in challenging seas, at the wrong state of the tide etc!  Anyway, Bandit did a great job - we negotiated a discounted rate for 3 boats and were joined of course by TraSea and also OnY' Va - new Canadian friends we met in Spanish Wells.

The passage through the backbone was very uneventful, but definitely scenic.  And this passage brings one through to the beautiful "Harbour Island" on North Eleuthera.  We had been told about a wonderful anchorage just north of Harbour island, inside the Devils Backbone called Man Island, so we decided to check it out.  Very glad to do so as this turned out to be a wonderful spot with great beach and access to the Atlantic Side of the island.  I have included a screenshot of the chart location. 
Man Island - Note Devil's Backbone to the North
We have spent the last two nights here and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and calm.  Although you can see through to the Atlantic there is no roll or swell here - its just an amazing spot - perhaps one of the best anchorages so far on this trip.  so thank you to Leslie and Ralph on "S/V Now and Zen" for sharing this spot with us!

Anchorage - Man Island, North Eleuthera
We are headed in to the marina at Ramora Bay today as we are picking up friends Dave and Tracy tomorrow.  Since things are quiet up here, we negotiated a discount rate with the marina - not quite as good a deal as Leslie and Ralph apparently got.......but not bad at $1/ft/day.  Definitely our best deal since Bimini.  We are looking forward to exploring Dunmore Town on Harbor Island later today.......and we will be cooking lobster for dinner - purchased from local divers yesterday at $10 each.

The plan from here is to head to the Abacos - likely Little Harbor.  Hoping that the great weather we have been enjoying the past few days will last for this next 50 mile leg.

Check out our current location at:
https://share.garmin.com/Midnightsunii