Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Exuma Park

The short blog I wrote yesterday worked fine so here goes again.

We received e-mail but so far can’t send any.

There is a morning weather report at 6:30 eastern time which begins with emergency traffic, if any. We listen to the report almost every morning on our SSB receiver. So the quickest way to get an urgent message to us is to have your local ham radio operator tune to 4045khz at the above time and pass the message to Chris Parker who operates the weather net. If we miss the broadcast, some friends will undoubtedly get the message and relay it to us.

I found the fittings required to install the new filter, and then we left Nassau and anchored for the night on the south side of Rose Island. Very nice anchorage. Then we left late morning in order to cross the Yellow Bank during the mid-day sun so we could see the coral heads. They are very black and stand out strong in good light so we weaved a few times and made it through easily. I stood on the bow and called out course corrections to Kathy at the helm. Wouldn’t want to try it in bad light though. We motored 20 minutes and sailed 5 hours and 10 minutes to cover 30 miles at an average speed of 5.4kts. Winds were NE 10-15. There were a few other sailboats around but we weren’t traveling with anyone.

In the Allans Cay anchorage we met up with Cat Lady (Mike and Jan on a Gemini Catamaran) and Shamrock, and had dinner on Cat Lady with an additional couple as well. We prepared sushi using a Little Tunny I caught on a silver spoon, and added that to the potluck of Barracuda and sailfish. Rum, beer, and wine completed the evening with Mike performing a wonderful recitation from The Chocolate Factory. Rachel followed that up with her latest memorized poem from schoolwork.

The next day, Wednesday the 21st, we saw the famed iguanas. Took photos from as little as 1 foot away. You could grab one and throw him on the Barbie before he knew what was up if they weren’t protected. The big ones probably weigh 5 pounds. I bet they taste like chicken.

I cleaned the hull in 200 feet of visibility. Shot 5 squirrelfish for dinner with the new polespear. Bony but tasty. The grouper and snapper were very wary as there were other spearfishermen about and this is a heavily visited reef. Kathy and Rachel finished school and then joined me on the reef for more sightseeing. We didn’t see any lobster.

Thursday it blew 5-10 from the north, but this is a good anchorage with calm water. The 3 of us snorkeled on the reef again, and I shot a schoolmaster snapper and a glasseye snapper for dinner.

On Friday we took the dinghy to SW Allans Cay to see more iguanas. They looked the same as on the other island. Prehistoric. You could use trick photography and shoot a movie with Raquel Welch in it here. (Am I dating myself?). Departed at noon for Norman’s Cay and had a nice downwind sail with jib alone in the north 10. We went ashore on a small island with an old drug runner lookout. There is a crashed drug running plane in shallow water here, but it looked too rusty and dangerous to swim around. This area was a hotspot of cocaine smuggling about 20 years ago.

Saturday morning we toured Norman’s Cay, walking along the beach then across the airport and back to the dinghy. Winds were shifting to the east and this isn’t a good anchorage in an east wind so we left for the west side of Shroud Cay only 5 miles away as the east wind increased to 15. We had a comfortable night with a few other boats, and then went ashore to visit the well. The water tasted good so we rinsed off the saltwater from out swim on the beach and carried a 5 gallon jug of water back to the boat. Then we took the dinghy on a cross island trip up a shallow mangrove canal to the breakers on the east side of the island. It was blowing east 15-20. We stayed too long and had a tough dinghy ride back through the shallow water in poor light, but made it back to Stardust in time for happy hour and Rachel’s blowing of the conch at sunset.

The wind shifted more to the south and our anchorage became rough so we left the next morning for Warderick Wells Cay. This is the most beautiful place yet. Great anchorage (mooring for $15/night, actually), beaches, reefs, hiking, history, water, fish, lobster, and friendly rangers and boaters in this national park.

It didn’t rain yesterday, but the weather will be unsettled for a few days so we’re still hoping to catch some rain to replenish our tanks.

Our next stop will be Staniel Cay, and we want to figure out the mail protocol and have mail sent there if possible. Also, if this long report goes through I may try to send a photo or two.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Warderick Wells

We've been to Allans Cay, Normans Cay, Shroud Cay, and now the Exuma Park. There is a slow satellite connection to the internet, so I'll keep this short and try it out. More to come later if this works.

Everything is great with us. The new fuel filter seems to have solved the engine problem. We saw iguanas, I've managed to shoot fish for dinner, and the weather has been fantastic. We're even hoping for rain to replenish our water tanks!

There is no fishing or spearfishing allowed in the park, so wouldn't you know it, there are grouper, snapper, and lobster everywhere just thumbing their nose at us! I just watched a 4 foot stingray jump 3 feet out of the water next to our boat!

All for now, more tonight if this works.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stormy Nassau

The wind is howling at up to 40kts on our mast top anemometer and Stardust is rocking on it’s doubled lines in the marina. The huge charter catamaran left 2 hours ago bound for Allans Cay, so they must be getting whacked out in the middle of the bank somewhere. Can’t be much fun to start off that way, but if you charter a trip, you go when you get onboard, times a wastin and if you are the captain of the charterboat, time is money. The front will produce wind for the next 24 hours and since we want to leave the marina (and the slip space fee) tomorrow, we’ll anchor nearby and then leave for Allans Cay on Tuesday morning. I’ll try for one last blog in the morning before we leave the marina since we won’t be online again until Georgetown, and that might be 2 weeks away.

We toured Atlantis yesterday which is the over-the-top resort on Paradise Island. It features a gigantic aquarium with rays, sharks, lobster, and many, many fish. We watched the fish for an hour or so and it was really something. I can’t wait to get to the reefs and see the real thing. Atlantis has a huge casino, plenty of sculptures and statues, shops with high dollar offerings (Kathy tried on a $1500 emerald bracelet), waterfalls, and totally outlandish architecture. We discussed the Atlantis myth and the underwater Bimini road which is supposed to be part of the ancient road to Atlantis.

I bought a Skype phone and downloaded the software from the internet. This phone can call out from our computer when we have an internet connection for about 2 cents a minute. Much better than a local phone card for a dollar a minute. My Skype name for those of you with a Skype phone is jgleejr2. Unfortunately only Skype users can call us and then, only when we are online. So the phone is mainly for us to call out on. More computer magic. What’s next? I called Mom and it faded in and out due to the quality of the internet connection, I’m told, but it did the job.

Our fuel tank is clean. I sampled fuel from different locations in the tank and found only clean fuel. The fuel pick-ups were then blown out, but didn’t seem to have any restrictions. I found a nice big fuel filter in a local store, but no fittings to make it work. Tomorrow may bring success and then we’ll have a better fuel filter and hopefully the end to our engine problems. I’ll leave the pick-ups reversed since that seemed to cure the problem at least temporarily.

Our next stop, Allans Cay, is special because it is populated by hundreds of iguanas! They are protected, and you aren’t allowed to “molest” them, so Kathy says I can’t eat any. There will also be patches of coral reefs, so I should be able to shoot dinner, since the local Fisheries Department Head, Mr. Lloyd, stamped my fishing license with a pole spear stamp!

Rachel is taking her last exam right now, and Kathy will mail off the packet with 8 exams in it to Calvet tomorrow. They have both been working very hard with reviews and then testing. It was nice for the three of us to play tourist yesterday.

We enjoy getting comments on the blog, so if you like what you see, drop a line. As long as someone is reading this I’ll keep it up!

Friday, February 16, 2007


Photo #1: Bimini doorway to the ocean.
Photo #2: Kathy and Rachel in front of a pile of conch shells.
Photo #3: Stardust in Miami 2 days before departue for the Bahamas.

We motored into Nassau yesterday afternoon after crossing the Tongue of the Ocean which is part of the Northeast Providence Channel between Chub and Frazer Cays and New Providence Island. The crossing was made with 4 other sailboats from Frazer Cay, our last anchorage of the night before.

Our departure from Alice Town, Bimini was made at 9:20am on Sunday, traveling with Jim and Pat on Shamrock, built by Endeavor. Shamrock was one of our buddy boats from No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne, and is on the same route as us down through the Exumas. We sailed up the NW coast of Bimini, rounded North Rock, and then motored into a 10kt headwind across the Grand Bank to Mackie Shoal, arriving 6 hours later with an average speed of 6.3kts covering the 39 miles. I caught a small Tuna, which we rolled into Nori with rice and carrot for a sushi appetizer. Yum! The wind increased to 15-20 out of the east, and the shoal did very little to calm the sea. We had a very rough night of it with not much sleep. In the morning some big fish hit on the piece of tuna on a hook resting on the bottom, and took the hook, line, and sinker with it.

The wind was once again right on the nose, so we motored through building seas of 4-5 foot swells in the East 15-20kt breeze. It wasn’t pleasant, and Rachel got seasick. But she handled it like a trooper, and felt better afterwards. A few miles out from the entrance to the Northwest Channel the engine died. This has happened so often to us when motoring in rough water that I half expected it. We quickly put up a reefed jib and continued to an area of 10 foot depth north of the channel and anchored there with Shamrock providing moral support next to us. I changed the Racor primary fuel filter and the engine ran fine. I still didn’t trust it though. We had covered 36 miles in 7.5 hours for a 4.8 average speed due to the slow final portion and lower speeds due to the swells. Lucky Stars called us from the Frazer Cay anchorage to ask how we were doing, and let us know that they were well protected from the SW winds. There was fairly good protection from the strong winds overnight from some surrounding sand banks so we had a comfortable night of sleep. The day had covered 36 miles at a speed of 4.8 kts.

Leaving the sand banks at 9:20, we motored 15 minutes and then put up reefed main and jib. Winds were more southerly and seas had calmed significantly so it was a good day of motorsailing until the engine quit again about 4 miles out of Chub Cay. It would run only at low (1200rpm) speed so we limped into Chub Cay basin with building wind and seas and surrounding storm cells. We couldn’t make Frazer Cay. The Delta anchor dragged initially then bit in so we put out the Bruce anchor as well, at a 45 degree angle from the Delta into the building south wind. Having just completed that chore, a strong cell blowing 35kts hit us hard with Stardust bucking at both anchors and Shamrock just a few hundred feet behind us in the small anchorage. Another sailboat was already there, behind us to the wind and closer to shore. We watched him drag anchor, pull it up, reposition and reset, which held. There were breakers coming over the bow for 30 minutes before things settled down some. I had kept a constant eye on the gps for any anchor movement but they held well on 80 feet of chain and 15 feet of nylon rode apiece. Now that the possible eminent need of an engine was over, I changed both the Racor (again) and the secondary fuel filter bolted to the engine. It was my last one of these, but I still had 4 more Racors. The engine ran fine. Soon after dark, another sailboat came into the harbor and slid in next to us. I then chased down every squeak and groan inside the boat to quiet it down as much as possible. After a light meal we tried to get some sleep but it was the roughest night yet for us. I spent 3 hours in the middle of the night reading in the cockpit and watching the gps. The mercury vapor lights of Chub Cay were way too bright as is the case everywhere these days, but the stars were out bright and I had Scorpio on the southern horizon to keep me company. Kathy came up the companionway to check on me and to make sure I wasn’t going to try going up on the bow to check the anchor lines in those conditions. We didn’t have any jacklines set up. Rachel slept soundly.

The next morning I put out a general call to any boats in the Frazer Cay anchorage and got Wake Robin who said that their anchorage was very good. We departed at 9:25 and sailed to the Frazer Cay anchorage 6 miles away, at 11am, but not before Shamrock ran aground on a sand bank, and then motored off 15 minutes later. I told Jim he was just trying to add some more excitement to an otherwise smooth day. Stardust ran fine but I still didn’t trust it and thought through different things I could try if it happened again. Frazer Cay had a nice sandy beach with 6 other boat anchored and the crews ashore. It looked like a party so we dinghied ashore with Jim and Pat so they wouldn’t have to unload their dinghy as well. Sure enough, rum and beer was being consumed and conversation was very spirited. We snorkeled and looked at fish, conch, and sparse coral amid the seagrass. Whitefoot went bonkers, running and swimming until she got sick from drinking the saltwater. Man we were having fun!

We left at 8am with Shamrock and 3 other boats the next morning, bound for Nassau, about 40 miles away. We were the last to leave and were only 6 miles away from Frazer when the engine died. We called Shamrock to report the dismaying news and to say keep going, if we didn’t solve the problem we’d turn back and anchor at Frazer again. Bad weather was expected the next day, and would last for over a week, so we’d be stuck at Frazer for a while. My first plan was to swap fuel tank pickups between the engine and the generator. The generator pickup is somewhat higher in the tank so if you run the generator out of fuel, you still have enough in the tank to run the engine to the nearest filling station. Swapping the lines only took 5 minutes during which we were sailing with jib only in a 3kt following wind making 2 kts. Restarted the engine and it ran fine all the way to Nassau without a hiccup. Yea! We even caught the other boats just as we entered the harbor. We did 44 miles in 7:40 to average 5.7kts with a top speed of 7.6 kts at 2200rpm. Winds were light and variable the whole way. It would have been a loooong trip on sailpower alone.

So now we’re docked at Nassau Harbor Marina with our other buddy boats, and will stay here through the next 2 cold fronts, leaving on Monday. Kathy and Rachel will complete a series of school exams, I can stock up on more fuel filters and we can resupply for the Exumas. There is huge catamaran next to us, 65 feet long and 30 feet wide, which does scuba charters in the Exumas. I’ll be getting a tour and info from one of the mates this afternoon. It is raining off and on and strong winds will come in tonight. It is supposed to blow over 30kts on Sunday according to Chris Parker on the SSB. But we’re safe and secure and feeling pretty good about our ability to get this far despite some minor skirmishes in mankind’s war with inanimate objects.

There are 2 opposed sides of Nassau. On one hand, everyone is so friendly and says hello or good morning. Willing to talk or help out. On the other hand, everything is locked up. There are security guards in the fast food joints. Other businesses buzz the door open much like some banks back home. Homes are walled and gated. But it is a beautiful place with a good feel. Hopefully the banditos will leave us alone.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Photo #1 shows the Atlantic as we begin our crossing with the buddy boats ahead. Pretty smooth, huh?
Photo #2 shows Whitefoot checking out the local stingray under the dock at the Bimini Bluewater Marina.
Photo #3 shows the resident bull shark shortly after I got back in the boat after a little hull cleaning. Kathy reported that the fishing boats were back, and they were cleaning fish in the water, and I'd better get out. She was right!
Photo#4 is Kathy and Rachel on the Atlantic side of Bimini the evening we arrived (yesterday).

The Gulf Stream crossing to Bimini was a day of light winds less than 5kts. Seas were less than 2 feet, and we motored all the way at 2400 rpm which gave us a 7kt average for the 7 hour crossing. Our armada consisted of 5 sailboats with another group 1 hour behind us, consisting of 6 sailboats. One other boat followed us into Bimini, everyone else kept going over the north end, bound for Chub Cay, another 90 miles to the east. There is a brand new dredged channel with red and green markers at the entrance to Alice Town. However, upon entering the marina I had to cautiously edge my way in over a shallow bar. Another sailboat got stuck on the bar an hour later and was pulled off by a local who wanted $200. After some dickering, the price ended up being $60.

To make it easy to get to customs and immigration, we are docked at the Bimini Bluewater Marina in Alice Town for $35 a night with water and electricity extra, but we don’t need either one. Water is .50/gallon and electricity is $15/day. The permit to enter the Bahamas costs $300 which includes a fishing license.

The water has to be seen to appreciate the clear blue quality not seen anywhere in the States. We hopped off the boat onto the dock and promptly saw a 7 foot bull shark glide by underneath. Then a couple of stingrays with 3 foot spans, and a 3 foot barracuda. We walked over the hill to the ocean and saw a 5 foot sand shark in knee deep water. I’m still ready to go in the water, but I don’t think Kathy and Rachel are.

A couple of walks through town have shown us friendly locals, sleepy dogs, and narrow streets with 5 golf carts to each car going by. Kathy and Rachel are looking for bread right now. The first store to advertise “Fresh Bread Baked Daily” might have bread next Tuesday. A local pulled up next to us in his skiff selling conch. We’ll wait on that dish for later. The girls just returned with 2 loaves of bread, so lunch is forthcoming.

We’ll leave early tomorrow morning for Chub Cay on the south end of the Berry Islands. It will take 2 days, with an anchorage somewhere on the Grand Bank on the way. The weather looks fine for several more days. The NWS broadcast on marine VHF still comes in clear from the US, and we have a Grundig SSB receiver which can get the Bahama Cruisers Net at 7:45 each morning with weather and cruising news.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bimini Bound Tomorrow

Tomorrow (Friday) we’ll leave No Name Harbor bound for Bimini. The weather window looks very good with no strong fronts in sight. There should be plenty of boats in No Name waiting to cross. Some probably left today, but we’ll give the Gulf Stream one more day to settle even more.
Kathy is going to hoist me up the mast to change out a deck light and feed a new coaxial cable inside the mast up to the tv antenna. Then we’ll head out of Miami Beach to a marina to fuel and water up, then on to No Name on the south end of Key Biscayne.
Bimini has a newly dredged entrance channel with markers to lead the way in so it should be a very easy introduction to the Bahamas, where markers are few and far between and sometimes missing. Most of the navigation is done by eyeball to stay in deep enough water and avoid coral heads.
Our phone service will go on hold as of Feb 23, but the phones will stop working when we leave the States. We’ll buy Batelco phone cards and use them to call out. E-mail will depend on being near a wifi or from an internet café. We’ll do our best to stay in touch.
Today is a lovely day with few clouds and light wind. We’re excited to finally be on our way!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Superbowl Sunday

Today’s the big day! No, not for us, for Payton Manning and the Colts on Superbowl Sunday. Miami is nuts right now with tons of traffic, big name movie stars and sports figures. I’ve tuned up the tv antenna to get the best reception for tonight’s game.

Today is overcast and rainy and it will be blowing from the north for several days, so our next opportunity to cross to Bimini is next Thursday. We’re provisioned and ready, although there are always more things to do so the next few days won’t be idle. They never are. The water here in the bay is very clear and blue. Wonderful to see after so many months of brown water. I’m tempted to don a mask and see what the hull looks like. There is always some barnacle scraping to be done, even though I put on my scuba gear and cleaned the hull before we left Jacksonville.

GW sent us this photo of our anchorage in Miami Beach. We’re just south of the round island in the picture.

There was a huge fireworks display last night about 2 miles away. Kathy and Rachel sat in the cockpit wrapped in a blanket for the show. There is a new battleship in town for the commissioning, so the port is closed while it’s here to prevent another event like the bombing of the Cole.