Overnight to Bimini

We had the notion to make the 95-mile trip from Chub Cay to Bimini on Wednesday, but we knew we would need every minute of daylight and then some. We tried to tried to weigh (raise) anchor well before sunrise so that we could arrive at our destination and make a docking or anchoring decision during daylight, but the winds were very strong, and we ended up scrubbing the entire idea and going back to bed. We decided it was easier to weigh the anchor around 5:00 pm and travel Wednesday night. We made good time, taking shifts at the helm, and arrived at Bimini as dawn was breaking Thursday morning. We dropped our anchor in Honeymoon Harbor, which is a beautiful and uncrowded anchorage, and we immediately had a visitor come swim to greet us!

A sea turtle – just like the one in our logo

The wind has been quite strong, and because we are close to numerous rocks, I swam our anchor (once at high tide and then again at low tide). Our Rocna anchor had dug in to the sea bed perfectly and had not budged an inch. I will sleep better tonight knowing that.

We are headed back to Fort Lauderdale to have one of the ship’s antennas relocated, which is a definite kink in our plans. About that… the one significant modification we made to Gratitude was installing more solar panels. A. Lot. More. Solar. That just fit the vibe we were going for. We have a water maker which desalinates sea water and makes fresh water, and having a lot of solar capacity seemed like we were closer to being off the grid and self-sufficient.

The trouble is, we were not in Florida when they did the work, and the contractor relocated the large KVH TracPhone satellite antenna directly into the path of the sheets (ropes) that adjust the main sail. These sheets come under a jaw-dropping load at times, and if they get accidentally wrapped around that antenna, it will happily deposit the whole system into the ocean in about a quarter-second, and that would be a very costly mistake.

The Antenna Problem

After a short time of sailing on our own, Karen and I decided that disaster was only a matter of time, and we scheduled an appointment to return and have the antenna moved. Right now, we are about ¾ of the way back to Florida from where we started, with only the notorious Gulf Stream left to cross tomorrow morning, and forecast conditions appear favorable for that.

One more note – I caught my first (edible) fish!

First mahi-mahi caught aboard Gratitude. I didn’t have time to get properly dressed.

Just before we set sail, my friend, Dan, gave me three beautiful salt water fishing rods and reels as a bon voyage gift (and an epic one at that), and he and I went shopping to stock up on the necessary tackle and lures. I rigged everything the best I could (I’m not going to be nominated for any knot-tying awards just yet), and after having my confidence shaken by pulling up three consecutive barracuda (non-edible monsters with ridiculously long, sharp teeth), I caught a beautiful mahi-mahi. It was a thrill! I cleaned it on the back of the boat, and Karen marinaded it in salt, mirin, and sherry (we didn’t have sake), and we grilled it for dinner that night. We enjoyed four large, delicious servings.

Same mahi-mahi. The best tasting fish is the one you catch. Right?

One fisherman commenting about trolling a lure through the Gulf Stream in the days and nights surrounding a full moon wrote “the fun is, you never know what you might bring up.” That’s the conditions we are headed for tomorrow morning when we sail to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll have my lines out. I’m hooked!

Nassau to Spanish Wells

Well last week we finally left Nassau. It’s been an eventful two weeks so I thought we might fill you in.

Nassau was not our favorite locale. It is a great place to grocery shop and eat out; but it is also crowded, touristy, and very expensive. One thing that frustrated us a little there was that there are not really any good anchorages. We found a couple that provided adequate shelter, but not much to do once you arrived. Perhaps you could take your dinghy to shore, but then it would be a $20 cab fare each way to the grocery store. To get close to things like Starbucks or restaurants or provisioning, you had to stay at a marina- with its daily fee and extra $$ for electricity and water.

After a few days of trying to find a good anchoring spot, we gave up and headed to a marina in anticipation of our son Clint’s visit. He and his girlfriend Sierra arrived in Nassau February 7, after their cruise celebrating her birthday. This was our first visit from home! We decided we would do some sailing and anchoring at an island off the coast near Nassau, then return to the Atlantis resort marina for the final part of their stay. This allowed them to manage their luggage and cab rides with ease. It also gave us all some variety throughout their visit. Atlantis, while expensive, was still a good value compared to renting a room there. The price of the marina stay included access to the pools, restaurants, and water park. We had a very enjoyable Sunday there cruising the water slides and trying out a few of the restaurants. I don’t know that I’d rush back there, but it was fun to try once. I will say that the marina was top-notch. Docking was relatively easy, and the ambiance around the place was upscale. Definitely a step up from your average marina.

I must confess that I was a bit blue when Clint and Sierra left us. It was a wonderful visit, and it made me not homesick, but perhaps family-sick. I did really soak up the time with people who know us and love us. It made me look forward to the next visit with family.

The next morning we cast off the lines and motor-sailed all day to Eleuthera. It was a little bumpy; we were sailing into the wind and the seas, which is not comfortable as compared to sailing with the waves coming from behind you. But we really, really wanted to get somewhere other than Nassau. And we were glad we did! It took us about 6 hours to reach an anchorage at Royal Island, an uninhabited island on the northern end of Eleuthera. The next morning we did some laundry, worked out, cleaned up, and motored one more hour to Spanish Wells, where we picked up a mooring ball right near the town.

For our non-boating friends, a mooring ball is like an anchor that you sail up to rather than bring with you. It’s usually a heavy object (stone or concrete) with a buoy and a line attached. The line has a loop at the end, and you attach to lines from the bow (very front) of your boat through the loop and back to your boat. It is usually very secure. It is also, we discovered, difficult to pick up with just two people.  We got a line attached to one side of Gratitude but were having trouble getting a line in from the other side. (We decided we need some longer dock lines for occasions such as this, to make it easier.) Fortunately, a guy in the boat moored next to us got in his dinghy and paddled over. He ran the second line through the loop for us. Turned out he was a fellow Mariettan! His name was Thad, and he lived in Marietta for about 11 years. We dinghied over later that day with some beer and our profuse thanks and had a nice visit with him.

Our time in Spanish Wells was very laid-back. We checked out the local restaurants and rented a golf cart for a few hours to explore the town. It is the opposite of Nassau – a working town, no glitz and not touristy, except for some rental properties for a few families who vacation here every year. No resorts, just a quiet secluded beach. Great seafood, because their primary industry is fishing. Two supermarkets, but not like Publix back home – more expensive, less selection, but you can find almost everything you really need.

You may have seen on Facebook that we took one day away from the boat and visited Harbor Island. To get there, you go to Pinder’s Supermarket the day before and tell them you need a taxi to the ferry dock. They’ll tell you what time to be back there the next morning. The water taxi takes you across the channel to North Eleuthera. The captain ties up his boat, gets off, and disappears for a few minutes – he’s gone to get the passenger van. You transfer yourself into the van, which takes you to the public ferry dock on the other side of North Eleuthera. The captain tells you what time he’ll be back at that public ferry dock, and that if you are even one minute late he will be OUTTA THERE. (He’s quite emphatic about this.) Then you get on the government ferry boat (one is always leaving or arriving within about 10 minutes of each other) and you ride over to Harbor Town.

Our captain (a very crusty elderly gentleman with some interesting stories) told us that Harbor Island was Sin City and that he guaranteed we would not want to stay long. What does it say about us that we absolutely LOVED it? Ha! It is clean, full of friendly people, and has the Pink Sand Beach, at which I could happily have stayed for a week. You rent a golf cart right across from the dock. You drive that cart about three long blocks to the public beach access. At the end of the access road is a fabulous (albeit crazy-expensive) restaurant and a little shack that rents chairs, umbrellas, towels, snorkel gear, paddle boards – anything you might need for a beach day. And bottled water. And Cheetos.

We plopped ourselves down on two chairs and beached, all day. It was heavenly. The only thing I neglected to do was take a picture of the pink sand. Truth be told, the pink is very faint. It is mostly white, with a pinkish tinge, from coral they say. But it is glorious, because it was the softest sand I have ever walked on. Not hot at all – cool and smooth beneath your feet. If I’d had a little more time, I’d have rented snorkel gear too and swum out to the reef to see if I could find some fish. That’s okay, though – I have already decided I will find a way to come back here.

The only bad thing that happened to us this day was having to leave to go back and meet Captain Crusty at the ferry dock. Oh, and our dinghy had some water in it when we got back. We don’t know why – it wasn’t alarming, but it’s yet another problem to solve. So we counted this as a very successful day.

Today we spent the day cooking and cleaning. We are going to start tomorrow sailing back toward Ft. Lauderdale. We knew when we left that we would need to go back in a few weeks to get some issues resolved with our newly-installed solar panels. And our time away has revealed a few other things (like that busted eye on the dinghy that sent Andy crashing into the sea!) that need repair. So tomorrow we will leave Spanish Wells for a series of day sails – back to New Providence (anchoring away from Nassau), then to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands, then a long sail to Bimini, where we will be only 50 miles from Florida. We hope to be back in Ft. Lauderdale on Friday.

After our return, the plans are to host some friends on the boat for the weekend, then for me to get a quick visit home. I’ll return to Gratitude with our son Kyle and Andy’s dad (“Papa”). They’ll be with us for a week, and I can’t wait! I’m also excited about touching base at home, seeing my family, and of course working out with my Crossfit III squad. Andy will supervise our boat work and see if we can get ready for a return to the Bahamas, Part II. But of course, we hold these plan loosely. We’re learning.

Dinghy Drama (A Joint Post)

Andy: Karen and I have both been surprised as to the way we have had to problem solve together. For example, the other evening after shore excursion and a nice dinner out, we lowered the dinghy into the water and inadvertently spooled the line all of the way off of the winch. No big deal, right?

Wrong! The dinghy is rigged to a heavy-duty rack called the davits, and this is connected with a system of pulleys and cables that all came undone when the line spooled off. Now we had a dinghy in the water that was far too heavy for us to lift by hand (I estimate at least 600lbs with the engine, but it could be much more), and the davits more or less collapsed on top of it. To add to the fun, waves were pounding the boat, causing the davits to bang violently against the dinghy steering wheel and console. Due to the collapse, the carbon fiber line that attached everything would no longer reach the winch.

We were up against the proverbial wall and had to problem-solve, and we had to do so quickly. We cut a piece of spare nylon line we had bought a few days earlier for emergencies and tied a sheet bend knot to the carbon fiber line to create an extension. We rigged up the davits again through the eyes and pulleys, and we were finally able to use the winch to hoist the dinghy up out of the water.

Karen: I want to interject that the time it took for all of this to occur was probably about 45 minutes to an hour, up to this point. We were tired, wet from riding the dinghy back to the boat, and eager to get inside and dried off. And, it was getting dark. Instead, we kept fighting the dinghy, the davits, the waves, and then the cables. Then running from locker to locker searching for the right tools and gear and lights to rig a solution. If all this sounds like chaos, trust me – it was!

Andy: Things were looking much better until everything just stopped. The winch breaker had blown. I figured that too much water had splashed into the dinghy, making everything too heavy. After all, water weighs 8lbs/gallon, so I leaned in to remove the dinghy’s drain plug to let the water drain in order to ease the load on the winch. Hilarity ensued when one of the steel connection points attaching the dinghy to the davits snapped clean, and the entire system fell suddenly into the sea – with me tumbling right in with it.

At this point, it was dark, some of our possessions were floating away with the current, and things had basically gone from really bad to worse. (Note: when I hit the water, my first thought was that I was so glad Karen was on deck, and I knew everything would be okay).

Karen: Ok, my first thoughts are a little too salty to repeat here, but they basically ran along the lines of “Are you ok? Are you ok? Let’s get you back onto this boat NOW.” And then I saw one of Andy’s shoes floating away, and thought, well, we’re kissing that pair of shoes goodbye. We gotta get Andy back on this boat!

Andy: I swam back to the boat (after chasing down that shoe), Karen helped me back onboard, and we regrouped. This development was not good, but we did keep our heads and were able to focus on the problem. Before long, we had the dinghy out of the water again and more or less held in place with a system of our own ropes and straps. Which meant we could finally go to bed.

The next morning, we reassessed the situation. Using spare rope, we made new lines and connections to create a greatly improved support system for the dinghy. It had occurred to both of us, overnight, that the last people to work on the boat had rigged the dinghy to the davits incorrectly. They were set too low for us to get the dinghy down to the water, and that was the root cause of our difficulty.

It became evident in the whole process that Karen apparently paid more attention in knot school than I did (we received quite a bit of formal training in sailors’ knots), and she was a rock star at making lines fast and tying knots that would not give or loosen under load. This saved the day!

Karen: Don’t let Andy fool you. He stayed way ahead of me in evaluating and assessing the situation each time it got worse. It was his idea to tie a leader-line onto the cable so that it would reach the winch, and I think THAT is what saved the day. But of course I’ll take his compliment on my knot-tying, all day long.

Andy: Several times in my life I have gone through team-building exercises where I solved problems together with my teammates, but being on a boat has dialed that up to 11 for us. We have had a couple of situations now where we had no choice but to keep our heads and work together. It took both of us to rig our dinghy safely. We are a team.

Karen: My lessons learned: Everything is harder, more complicated, and more time-consuming on a boat. Everything. My hope and belief are that we are on a learning curve, and that maybe things will get easier and quicker and more intuitive over time… and yet I can see that boat life is already very, very different than land life. As we say at CrossFit III: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Sails Up!

We had our first successful sail on Saturday (we sailed on Friday, but I would not describe that as a particularly stellar success – more on that another time).

Saturday, we climbed back on the horse (or the Leopard in this case), motored out to sea, and unfurled the jib. The jib is a smaller, but by no means “small”, foresail at the bow of the boat. We trimmed (adjusted) it, and the boat seemed so happy. You can feel when the sails are right, because the boat rides and performs just the way you want her to. Once the jib was fully out, we shut the engines off. That is when things truly felt amazing. She was making 7+ knots (about 8mph) on 13 knots of wind. The solar cells were generating over a kilowatt of electricity, charging the batteries. Everything was quiet, controlled, efficient, and… just perfect. We sailed around the ocean for hours, tacking into the wind to adjust our course.

We also spent our sail time desalinating about 80 gallons of water, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning the boat inside and out (or as cruisers put it, “keeping things yachty”). It was a fantastic day.

That night, we dropped anchor in a cove on the quiet side of the island where we would be sheltered from the wind, but I didn’t like the way the anchor addressed the seabed. I ended up “diving the anchor” to have a look at it, and I was still not comfortable with it. We tried three times to get it to dig in and set properly, but it simply was not having it with this floor. Consequently, I was up most of the night, checking to ensure we weren’t dragging. The one consolation was that the stars were brilliant. My worries turned out to be unfounded; by morning, we had not budged an inch. I think a lot of new boat owners have similar experiences.

Very limited internet has requiring a bit more adjustment than I expected. That said, I think it’s a good thing that I don’t have it 24/7.

Building Our Skills

Where to begin? It was only 10 days ago that we left our home in Atlanta and arrived to Ft. Lauderdale to move onto our boat. Honestly, it feels like 2 months. So much has happened, and we have been in constant motion, with very little time to reflect on our experiences. For this reason I’m grateful for this blog. It’s primarily a way to keep everyone we love up-to-date and reassured that we are safe. But of course there’s value in sitting down and remembering where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned.

(Side note – I tried to upload some photos to this post – but I had some difficulty. So if you’re on Facebook, you can see a video and some photos on my profile page. I’ll get the hang of photos on the blog, eventually. )

Our time with Captain Richard was a whirlwind. From the moment he arrived, there was a continuous stream of knowledge flowing from him to us: how to run the water maker, the gas stove, the shore power hookup, the generator, the air conditioner, and (believe it or not!) the heat! (I know, I know, you were much colder – but there are no heavy blankets on this boat, and I wanted to sleep rather than shiver all night long.) And then, as I wrote in the last post, we puttered around the Florida coast a few days, preparing to cross the ocean to the Bahamas.

What’s it like to drive a boat across the ocean? During the day it’s like regular sailing. The seas were calm, winds were about 10 knots (that means 10 nautical miles per hour), and we used both our mainsail and our foresail, which is called the jib. We kept raising, lowering, and trimming the sails as needed to accommodate changes in the wind. This part was pretty straightforward and gave us an excellent chance to practice what we already knew. It was after dark when things really got interesting.

Sailing at night (which wasn’t technically sailing, as we used only our engines) is like traveling at about 8 miles per hour down a giant interstate, in pitch-darkness, with no headlights. There is only starlight to guide you until the moon rises, and our moon was a slivered crescent that did not appear until about 2:30 a.m. During the day Captain Richard showed us how to find other ships on our radar. With the system we have, we can click on another vessel’s icon and see its name, size, speed, and – most importantly – the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) to our ship. And the TCPA – the Time to that Closest Point of Approach. So, for example, we can see when another ship is going to be a mile away in 28 minutes. Or .4 miles in 10 minutes, when we probably want to alter course a bit to put more distance between usand the other boat.

Doing this in daylight is a pleasant exercise. At night – well, it’s nerve-racking! Especially doing it for the first time. We took watches – meaning we all took turns sitting at the helm throughout the night, a couple of hours each watch. What this feels like is…

Every 3 hours or so you’re being roused from sleep to go take a solitary post. You sit there trusting the radar is working as it should, and that the other boats are using their radar too. You can’t immerse yourself in anything else, like reading; you have to stay alert and keep checking the screen for other ships traveling much faster than you are. And if you see a CPA and TCPA that is too close for comfort, you need to figure out whether you are supposed to get out of his way, or he’s supposed to get out of yours. There are rules about who gives way – but generally if that other boat is a great big freighter or cruise ship, you’ll be the one to move. With smaller ships, it can be dangerous to change course when the other boat is the one that’s supposed to give way. So you have to remember and follow the rules.

Can you see now why sailors are superstitious? I can only imagine how worrisome it was in the days before radar and GPS.

We arrived in Nassau an hour ahead of when we’d thought – top score! It is gorgeous here – clear turquoise water and temperatures hovering around 70-72. (The climate alone makes it worth the long trip.) Once we were docked at our marina, we showered, got some lunch, then said our goodbyes to Captain Richard. We were so incredibly blessed to have his expertise guiding us. And we were like sponges, soaking up everything he had to teach us. It was cool, because he let us get inside his head – showed us how he thinks about things, from boat maintenance to handling the lines and sails to navigating to choosing a spot to anchor. And now we are eager – and yes, a little nervous, but I think that’s healthy! – to put our knowledge to the test, on our own.

We’ll be heading out of Nassau this morning to go to Eleuthera. It’s a day’s sail away. We don’t have to do any more long or overnight passages for quite a while now… which gives us time to practice, gain more experience handling this boat, and build our confidence and our knowledge of these islands.

I spent some time praying early this morning, and the Lord reminded me that I am always dependent on Him… whether I am doing things I’ve been doing for years (like driving a car or living in a house) or doing things at which I am a beginner (like living and traveling on a sailboat). It struck me that being a beginner, at the sailing/cruising life, is an excellent way to get back into a daily – no, moment-by-moment – awareness of God’s presence and love for me.