Tag Archives: Boat Repairs

Preparing for Bahamas Cruising Season 5

Our usual cruising schedule is to leave Stuart after Thanksgiving, head south to Miami stopping in Lake Worth and Ft. Lauderdale, and wait at Dinner Key Mooring Field to cross the Atlantic to Bimini. Invariably we get stuck in Miami waiting for weeks to cross with favorable weather conditions and have never made it to the Bahamas before January 1. This year we are leaving in November and hope to have better results.

Once we are back in Stuart at the dock in June, we are no longer spending our days sailing, moving from island to island, anchoring, enjoying the beaches of the Bahamas and connecting with cruiser friends old and new. Very quickly we get back into our land mode and the boat becomes a floating condo tied to a dock. No longer do we have to depend on our diesel Onan Generator, gas Honda Generator, solar panels, and wind generator for power. Since we are plugged into shore power at the dock, we can once again freely use the microwave/convection oven, blow dryer, curling iron, toaster, coffee grinder, air conditioner, have unlimited TV watching, and use everything else that has to be plugged in without using up the power stored in the batteries. We could and sometimes do use all of these appliances while cruising, but the generator must be running for anything that creates heat. We don’t have to make reverse osmosis water while at the dock, and have unlimited city water to fill our tanks with a hose, wash the boat, take longer showers and give Sailor much needed baths. We have fast free wifi at our marina so we don’t have to pay for the more expensive data in the Bahamas or use much of our Sprint and AT&T data. A pumpout boat comes to us once a week to empty the holding tanks for free. In Georgetown we pay between $20 and $30 per pumpout and that is the only place we visit that has a pumpout boat. We get our car out of storage and have all the stores and shopping we need within a few miles of the marina rather than going to mostly small stores with limited and expensive food items in the Bahamas. Ordering by mail becomes possible again and our Amazon Prime purchases start arriving at the marina before we do. We can have items sent to the Bahamas, but shipping is very expensive and we pay a high customs fee based on the cost of the item. Yoga studio classes and water aerobics are back on my schedule, and instead of walking Sailor on sandy beaches, Mark and Sailor are strolling on the streets and in nearby parks in Stuart. Mark makes the dreaded “to do list” but doesn’t feel rushed to complete it quickly. Our marina is 10 minutes from the ocean so Sailor still gets to visit beaches, just not twice a day, every day. He has lots of Goldendoodle friends in the area and we get together occasionally for beach romps. Luckily, Stuart is a very dog friendly area.

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We quickly fall into new patterns and forget about boat chores for awhile. However, soon the lists start to be checked off and there are always repairs to make and new things to buy. This year our radar unit had to be replaced, new shower and sink faucets were purchased and installed, as wells as zincs, a gear box for the anchor windlass, and 200 feet of new anchor chain. Our Honda generator needed to be repaired, we had to buy a new jib sail, and the list went on. However, just as Mark would start on a new project, something else had to be fixed, like a bilge pump suddenly wasn’t working so that went to the top of the list. Parts are much easier to get here by mail or in stores, so we try to bring extras of everything we use or might need to repair along the way. At the top of this list are parts for the watermaker since almost every year some part fails.

When Mark replaced the radar unit, he first went up to take the old one down, lowered it in a bag to me and then came down. After resting, he went up again to install the new one which I raised in a bag to him. Thankfully when he came down and turned the radar on at the nav station instrument panel it worked! He went up in a bosun’s chair, with two lines tied to it. I brought him up using an electric winch, first raising one line, locking it, and then raising the other, reversing the process on the way down. The winch is controlled by foot pedals so it takes no strength on my part. We went very slowly and it’s as safe as we can make it, but very tiring for Mark to keep his legs wrapped around the mast. It’s not a job he enjoys.
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One of the greatest things about cruising is the friends we have made. We always make it a point to meet sailors on other Lagoon 420’s and share new items to buy or ways to improve things on the boat. We have gotten many suggestions from friends Karen and Matt on SV Where 2, including the Amazon link for wonderful new shower heads and sink faucets. 

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We got a nice break from the Florida summer heat when we drove to Duluth, Minnesota in July for a class reunion. Actually our classmates turn 70 this year so it was a birthday party. Taking advantage of the fact that a group of us who have been close friends since elementary school were all there, we took a road trip up the north shore of Lake Superior and spent several days together in Grand Marais, Minnesota. We had a fantastic time sharing memories and making new ones. There is nothing more special regarding friendships, in my opinion, than the ones from childhood. I would say we are all looking pretty good as we reach 70 years old. The first photo was taken in Grand Marais and the second at one friend’s house in Duluth. The eight of us have stayed in constant contact for over 50 years, first with snail mail “chain” letters where we each added our letter to the rest and sent the fat envelope on to the next person who replaced her letter with a new one, and now we communicate via email, regularly updating the group with our latest news. This was the first time in many years we were all together in one place.

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While in Duluth we stayed at a Sheraton Hotel with a gorgeous view of Lake Superior. They allow, and in fact welcome, dogs up to 80 pounds. I could stare for hours out at the lake watching the big ships come through the canal in the the harbor and smaller boats sailing and motoring near shore. We were able to stroll along the Lakewalk and stop at the beautiful parks along the way, including the Rose Garden pictured below. Duluth has changed a great deal since we left it in the late 60’s and has become a popular tourist destination. The lake views were all from our hotel room.

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The months ticked by and soon it was September and then October. As we were going along crossing things off our lists, Hurricane Matthew formed. Until the day he arrived in southeast Florida, we were predicted to be exactly where he would make landfall with CAT 3 or higher winds and a storm surge, in the so called “cone of uncertainty.” At the last minute Matthew turned slightly east and we only got tropical storm force wind. We had no damage from the hurricane, however while putting the dodger (aka windshield) back on after the storm passed, the wind caught one panel and it fell to the deck and cracked. Fortunately we had the dodger made here in Stuart, so they were able to quickly replace that one panel for a mere $600.

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As the hurricane approached Florida, days and days of preparations began, including moving the boat to a more protected floating dock at the marina, removing everything from the deck and putting it inside the boat (including sails and two kayaks), and adding additional lines from the boat to the dock as well as more fenders to protect us from banging on the dock. The day before the hurricane hit Florida, we left the marina and stayed with friends Marilyn and Rich, who live nearby in Port St. Lucie. We were very grateful for their hospitality. Their Goldendoodle Tater and Sailor, who share the same father, had fun playing together and we all slept through the hurricane.

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We then began the task of putting everything back where it was previously kept. One advantage, however, was it became an opportunity to give everything on the outside a good washing. All around the marina, most boats were being cleaned, not from the hurricane effects, but due to the relative ease of cleaning when there was nothing that had to be moved. 

As we were taking down the jib for the hurricane, we discovered it needed a few repairs and brought it to Mack Sails in Stuart. Surprise, surprise, we were told it was not worth repairing and we needed to buy a new one, which we did after the hurricane passed. In the photo below, Mark is attaching the new sail.

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As soon as everything was put back, it was time to start preparing to leave. A big part of that is provisioning for a seven month cruise. Spreadsheets are made after determining what we need. For several weeks, I went shopping almost daily, bringing back bags full of provisions and then storing them. It’s not just food that has to be purchased and stored. We also buy paper products, toiletry items, cleaning supplies, office supplies and of course replacements for the many systems on the boat.  If we use it, we buy plenty to take with us.  Many items can be bought on Amazon or by mail order. Naturally this year I made sure I had plenty of hot chocolate and Sailor had abundant treats since we ran out of both of these last year. We get a new courtesy flag for the Bahamas every year, and we also had to get new paper charts for the Bahamas since ours were from 2008 and several revisions have been made since then. Of course we have a chart plotter with digital charts for the areas we travel in, but the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas are not available for our navigation system in digital format. Courtesy flags are not well made and rarely last a season so we have started buying two of the “premium” courtesy flags and are then able to have a flag flying for six months that isn’t shredded by the wind. We always bring an extra US flag too so we can replace it if it tears. This summer we bought an inflatable stand-up paddle board (iSUP) to add to our two kayaks for water exploring.  Sailor will now enjoy going with us on the iSUP. OK, I know the photo is sideways, but I can’t rotate it and we have deflated the board for storage so until we are in the water, this is the only one I have. Note the “pup deck” at the front for Sailor’s traction.

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We have three queen size bed cabins and one is devoted to food storage when we cruise. Everything is placed in plastic containers, labeled and stacked. Catamarans are known for their storage, so cabinets are full as are the storage areas under the salon couch and bench. The bookshelves Mark built in the office became a pantry after we bought Kindles and gave away most of our books. We have deep storage lockers on the foredeck and under beds there is more space for storage. Under one bed we have four large bags of dog food, many cases of Coke for Mark and other miscellaneous items. Of course the freezer is full as are our two refrigerators, one in the cockpit and one in the galley. Before we leave Miami, we’ll get fresh fruit and vegetables and again when we stop in Nassau we’ll restock what we need at a fantastic, but expensive, Fresh Food Market. The next good grocery store we will be near is when we reach Georgetown. The grocery stores in the small islands of the Exumas are usually a few shelves in someone’s house. They are stocked once a week when the supply boat arrives from Nassau with items from the States. 

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The storage locker below is one of several on the foredeck. It is just under five feet deep and is full of paper products which are ridiculously expensive in the Bahamas. Yes, we probably buy more than we need and it does add a lot of weight to the boat. Just today someone watched me bringing supplies aboard and said, “They do have groceries in the Bahamas you know.” Yes, I know that, but what if I want a certain brand of peanut butter and don’t want to pay twice the price I got it for at Sam’s, Walmart, or Target or it isn’t even available where there is limited stock? What if I need rechargeable batteries and can’t find them in the Bahamas? What if I use a certain brand of face lotion and I can’t get it there? A one gallon container of Rotella engine oil is $12.97 at Walmart and $53 at a NAPA store in Georgetown. However, in most cases it’s really not about money. It’s about choice, and we choose to eat and use the brands we like. The fact that we save money is an added benefit. The fact that we have a boat with a lot of storage available makes it possible.

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Another thing we have to provision for is our meds. Mark takes several prescriptions and I am on thyroid medication. Luckily, I can buy a three month supply, without using insurance, for $10 at Walmart and they have no problem if I get six months for $20 or even a year at a time, as long as it is on the prescription. Mark, on the other hand, has a huge problem getting what the insurance companies call a “three month vacation waiver.” It’s fine with the doctor and OK with the pharmacy but it is pulling teeth to get the insurance approval. In the end, after weeks of sending in forms, numerous phone calls, and much waiting, he gets them. This year it was particularly difficult. It’s hard to explain to someone that you don’t have a cruise ship itinerary to send them, or a receipt for a tour in Europe to prove you are going to be out of the country. They don’t understand that we can’t go to a pharmacy when we cruise, although there is one in Georgetown and also in Spanish Wells. One year I ran out of thyroid medication and purchased some at the pharmacy in Spanish Wells. I recall it was quite a bit more expensive, although that may not be true in all cases. After calling every day for over a week, and spending four hours on the phone last Friday, today Mark finally got a call saying his Medicare provider had approved it. That’s fine, but we had actually planned on leaving yesterday and this afternoon our car is going into storage. So at 2:30 today he picked up the last of his meds and now has a seven month supply. 

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As we do all of this, we are also watching the weather. We subscribe to marine weatherman Chris Parker and get daily email updates on sea conditions in the US and Bahamas. We can also listen to his morning weather reports for the US, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean, broadcast on SSB and webcast. Our route when we leave takes us from Stuart to Lake Worth on the ICW. Then we have two days on the ocean, first to Ft. Lauderdale and then on to Miami. This means we have to wait for two days where the ocean is fairly calm and wind is in a favorable direction for sailing or at least not on the nose. Once we arrive in Miami the wait begins again for “crossing weather.” Chris Parker has reliable stats and recommendations for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. It is about 50 miles on the ocean from Miami to Bimini where we check into the Bahamas. The route is complicated by passing through the Gulf Stream where seas can be huge if the wind is from the north and meets the Gulf Stream which is a strong current flowing north up the US East Coast. There are many weather sites we can check but invariably our best source is Chris Parker’s crossing forecast. It usually takes us about eight hours of motorsailing to get from Miami to Bimini.

We originally “planned” to leave Stuart on November 3. Insurance requires us to stay here until November 1. However, last week passed with no weather window to leave. We are hoping to head south on Wednesday, November 9. Thursday and Friday are predicted to have relatively calm seas and we won’t be headed into the wind. The wind is from the north but it is “light and variable” by the end of the week. Inclement conditions are returning over the weekend when a front passes through Florida, so we will be in Miami for at least a few days, possibly more. Last year we spent three weeks in Miami on a mooring ball waiting to cross. As they say, “Cruising plans are written in sand at high tide.” Another one is, “The most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule.” 

To follow our cruising route, there is a link in the menu at the top of our website page. It is under “Location” and called  “Spot Tracking.” Whenever we are moving it is turned on, updating our position every ten minutes. I tend to post photos and updates more often to my Facebook page than to this website and there is a link to that at the top of the right column on the Seas the Day website. 

We plan to leave Sunset Bay midmorning on Wednesday (tomorrow) and take the ICW to Lake Worth/Palm Beach. It’s an easy motor with quite a few bridges that have to open for us, but all timed well. We have reservations at a marina in Ft. Lauderdale for Thursday and Friday night, in case we want to wait until Saturday to go on to Miami. 

Finally, we miss many things about living in the US when we are gone. In particular, there is one thing I can’t provision for and can’t purchase anywhere we visit, other than Nassau. Goodbye, Starbucks. See you in June! (I actually have a picture of a frappuccino in my car cup holder but it appears most photos I take with my iPhone are sideways when I upload them to this website. A sideways photo of Sailor on an iSUP is OK, but a sideways photo of a frappuccino just isn’t right.)

We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Ask any person on a boat what their favorite part of cruising is, and it will probably be the people they meet. We are still in contact with friends we met in 2008 on our first year living aboard Seas the Day. Each year we cruise, we make new friends and connect with old ones.  Sometimes we don’t see them for years, and sometimes we’ll never pass near them again, but they are friends for life. 

If you need help at your home port or at a marina or anchorage you are visiting in the States, you have lots of options on shore. Same thing if you want to socialize. You have friends onshore and friends at your home marina or anchorage, but probably don’t say more than a quick hi to cruisers passing through. There is also a tendency to get to know the same “type” of boater as you are, be it sailor, powerboater, or megayacht owner. This is certainly not true in all cases, but it does seem to happen fairly often, especially when you are away from your home port. 

That all changes when you cruise offshore and from our experience, especially in the Bahamas. Once at Cambridge Cay we had sundowners on the beach and the owner of a large yacht joined us. Of course, the sailors scarfed up the gourmet snacks from the yacht owner a little faster than the salsa over cream cheese with Tostitos we brought and the similar snacks from the rest of the people. Another time we stopped at a a restaurant in Eleuthera and the only other people there joined us at our table. We had a nice conversation during which they told us about some repairs they were working on. When asked, they said they were on a motor yacht and at the end of the meal we found out they were staying in an upscale marina at nearby Harbour Island on a 100+ ft yacht. They live in Palm Beach right on Lake Worth where we often anchor and they invited us to stop in to see them (in what we saw later was a large mansion) the next time we were there. Regardless of  the size of boat or type of propulsion people on the seas are living on, when cruisers meet the camaraderie is instant.

There is no better example of “getting by with a little help from our friends” than what happens in Georgetown, Bahamas. Every morning on the Cruisers’ Net, there is a section called “Boaters’ General” when people can “buy, sell, trade or give away something or ask for help.” Earlier this week, we had a reason to ask for that help. To prepare for our departure, on Monday we let go of the mooring ball that we had been attached to for almost three months, and motored across Elizabeth Harbour to the Exuma Yacht Club Marina to fill up our tanks. The entrance to our mooring field is shallow at low tide, so after getting our fuel, we crossed the harbour again to anchor until we could get back into the mooring field. We have an electric windlass with a remote handheld to raise and lower the anchor. Mark was at the helm and I was in front ready to drop the anchor. I touched the “down” key and nothing happened. No problem. This has occurred before and we just need to reset the circuit breaker for the windlass. Didn’t work this time! That was a big problem since we were leaving in a few days and needed to anchor. We went back to the middle of the harbour and floated around for a few hours while Mark checked everything he could think of to fix it. Mark had installed a new windlass two years ago, and knows the mechanics and electronics of our boat well. He worried that the problem could be somewhere in the wiring or in the circuit breaker. Worse yet, he thought he might have to tear the windlass apart. When the tide was up, we went back to our mooring ball (thank goodness we had this option) and he continued to troubleshoot. As they say, cruising is making repairs to your boat in exotic places. We posted our problem on the Lagoon Owners Facebook page and got several suggestions. 

The next morning on the Georgetown Cruisers’ Net (on VHF radio station 72 every morning at 0800) Mark explained our problem and asked for help. We got several responses, but the most promising was from a friend on another Lagoon 420 named The Norm. Bruce and Rhonda had the same problem recently and the cause was the wiring in the remote device. They had put in a switch to fix it and then ordered a new remote from the States which their son brought to them in Georgetown. They kindly loaned us the repaired one to try and when we plugged it in, presto! Down went the anchor!! So Mark headed to town to buy a switch, however when he opened the remote he saw the loose wire and decided to try soldering it back on. This worked!  We also ordered a new remote which we’ll have forwarded to us at one of our next stops and will also order a new circuit breaker for the windlass, since several people said theirs had cracked. 

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On a daily basis, the cruisers in Georgetown help each other. Whether it is rescuing a dinghy that came loose from another boat and floated by them, coming to the aid of other cruisers with electrical or mechanical problems, answering questions, helping with an injury, etc. cruisers answer the call for assistance. They are some of the most giving people we have ever met, especially considering that help is often offered to total strangers. A few days ago a cruiser on a boat in our mooring field went to make tea, and the can holding the tea bags had a long snake wrapped around it! (They believe it climbed aboard when they spent a few days at the marina a week ago.) They called someone they knew in the harbour who had worked with snakes. He came, captured the fellow, and released it on land. Last night while we were at anchor, someone came on the radio calling the St. Francis resort. They had found a black lab swimming in the harbour and thought it had fallen off a boat named Second Chance. They had called them on the radio with no answer so they called the resort to see if the dog’s owners were there playing poker. They weren’t but eventually were tracked down. In the meantime the dog was safe on someone else’s boat. Georgetown is not unique in this way. Gather any group of cruisers together from 2 to 300+ and if you need something, ask for help and you will get it. 

Another positive feature of us being with cruising friends, especially in the Bahamas, is they get us involved in activities where we make more friends. The perfect example of this happened last year when we boat buddied with friends Cathie and Tom (SV Interlude) and they taught us to play Texas Hold’em poker. Twice a week at the St. Francis Resort for the last two seasons, we have played in the “International Texas Hold’em Tournament” with a $5 buy-in. For $10 a time, we have had great fun and, even better, made new friends. We go there to eat dinner and play cards, but it’s also a social event. Cathie and Tom also encouraged us to take a ball in Hole 2 last year. Not only did we enjoy the calm weather in the protected hole, but we made another set of good friends who are on the other boats in the mooring field. We have enjoyed many get-togethers and bonfires on the Hole 2 beach, had  sundowners or meals or just visits on each other’s boats, talked on the beach when other dogs were there to play with Sailor, and of course had friends over every Saturday night for poker on Seas the Day. The photo below was last year’s group, all of them from Hole 2, and this year, since half of these cruisers didn’t return, we invited others and made more friends.

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Several of our Hole 2 friends have been on adventures with us, and I know we wouldn’t have done them without their invitations. A few weeks ago we went to Mariah Cay, a long dinghy ride from where our boat is, with friends Jean and Art (MV Interlude) and their visiting friends. What a fantastic day we had eating our picnic lunches, swimming in the crystal clear turquoise water, floating with the current on a natural “Lazy River ride,” walking on the beautiful deserted beach, and of course talking. 

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DSCF2425DSCF2369Another day, Christina and John (HB Oasis – that’s HouseBoat) invited us to go with them on their Carolina Skiff, about 18 ft long, for a day of snorkeling. We hadn’t been snorkeling in Elizabeth Harbour so we were thrilled to have the  chance to visit the coral gardens they knew well. Even Sailor got into the act, as he was unwilling to stay in the skiff alone and joined us in the water. After some excellent snorkeling, we explored a nearby cave. Next we motored to Santanas, a very popular restaurant south of us in Great Exuma. As we anchored the skiff, a dog we assume belongs to the owners of Santana’s swam out to greet Sailor. We had two delicious lobster tails for $14 and some conch with sides. A perfect Bahamian lunch. Next door we visited Mom’s Bakery and bought rum cake and coconut bread. Mom used to bring her baked goods to downtown Georgetown, parking near the Exuma Market, and sold her cakes and bread out of her car, but she is getting older and doesn’t make the trip now. She still gave us the hugs she is famous for, however. Santana’s was too far away for us to go in our 12 ft inflatable dinghy, so we really appreciated going with Christina and John. The underwater photos below are from Christina’s camera. 

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We left Georgetown as soon after sunrise as it was safe to go on Friday, April 8, after anchoring out the last night at the Monument anchorage in Elizabeth Harbour. The first part of the day we motorsailed on the Exuma Sound, part of the Atlantic Ocean, in water over 300 feet deep a mile offshore. We waited several days until the seas were calm, and we had a very smooth sail. Then we entered the Bahamas Bank through Galliot Cut and sailed in shallow water, about 14 feet deep, to Staniel Cay where we will wait for guests to arrive from Florida by plane in less than a week. The photos below begin with the sunrise over the Monument anchorage as we left Georgetown and end with the sunset at Big Majors anchorage near Staniel Cay.

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Sailor knew it was going to be a calm day at sea when he settled under the helm seat instead of running inside to the bed to hide from the big waves. He didn’t move from this spot for 8 1/2 hours until we arrived in Staniel Cay.

imageHere we are leaving the Exuma Sound at Galliot Cut and entering shallow water.Sometimes this cut is very rough, and today it slowed us down 3 kts since the tide was going out, but it was a smooth ride. 

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imageThis is the sunset from our boat in Big Majors anchorage. 

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Waiting for a Window in Miami

On December 10, 2015, we arrived in Miami and picked up a mooring ball at Dinner Key Marina and Mooring Field.  Expecting it to be a few days’ wait before a favorable weather window to leave for the Bahamas, we settled in. When it was time to take Sailor ashore that afternoon Mark climbed into the dinghy and oops……..”Something on your boat is broken….you just don’t know it yet.” Before we left Stuart, Mark transferred the outboard motor from our old dinghy to our new one. While doing so, the motor tipped and some fuel got into it. Mark assumed he could fix it when we got to Miami. He couldn’t. It always happens when we are ready to leave that something important breaks. We ordered a new outboard motor and missed the window to cross to Bimini.

Three weeks later as we listened to Chris Parker’s morning weather report we confirmed that we could finally leave Miami and cross to the Bahamas. Chris Parker is the marine weatherman we subscribe to who sends us daily email marine forecasts and broadcasts a morning weather report starting at 0630 on computers and tablets (for subscribers) and SSB radio for subscribers and anyone else who wants to listen. Since we subscribe, i.e. pay him money, we can ask a question about our particular route. We did that on December 30 and he replied that Friday, January 1, would be the best day to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini. We knew the weather would be comfortable for crossing the Gulf Stream on January 1, having listened to his forecasts the previous days and weeks and read his emails in which he recommends crossing weather windows as well as conditions in all parts of the Bahamas. What we learned from him on December 30 was that we would have to stay in Bimini for at least a week. We generally like to stay a night at Bimini, go to the Berries the next day, then Nassau, and then to the Exumas which is our destination for most of our winter/spring cruise. We can make it to the Berries on Saturday, but Sunday’s weather is not good for getting to Nassau. In fact, a gale force weather system is arriving in the Bahamas on Sunday and Chris Parker advised no travel for anyone from Bimini to the Exumas until at least Friday, January 8. 

While in Miami we made good use of the time. Each day Sailor got to go to a fantastic dog park in Coconut Grove. It has astroturf instead of grass and the walkways are recycled tires, so even when it rains there is no mud. On the short walk to the park we would stop at Starbucks. Several blocks past the dog park there is a Home Depot and also a very nice IGA store named Milans. We did some additional provisioning there, mostly for fresh fruits and vegetables since our pantry shelves on Seas the Day have enough food to open a store of our own. We also did some shopping at Home Depot and of course West Marine, also within walking distance.

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Unfortunately for the entire three weeks we were on mooring ball 157, the weather was very windy which made the water in Key Biscayne where the mooring field is located extremely  rough. Some days the large water taxi shuttle couldn’t come out to pick up people who didn’t want to go ashore in their own dinghies. This was a problem for us because for the first week we were there we had no dinghy motor. Even on a calm day, it would be a long row into the marina but impossible with the waves crashing through the mooring field. We got accustomed to rocking and rolling on the boat. Frequently we heard loud noises as waves pounded the hulls, sounding almost like we had been hit by another boat or large floating object. Sailor was particularly upset and wanted to spend almost all of the time while on the boat in a bed with one of us next to him. We read numerous books on our Kindles while we took turns in bed with Sailor. There was not a break in these weather conditions the entire time we were there. Once we got our new dinghy motor, we stopped using the water taxi and got used to getting wet going ashore and coming back to the boat. It was easier than waiting for the taxi which runs on the hour and sometimes cancels pickups midday or starts late due to the wind and water  conditions. One time Mark and Sailor got caught ashore when that happened and had to pay someone from a kayak rental company at the marina to take them back to the boat.

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All was going well while we waited for good crossing weather until three days before we were going to leave. I went into the freezer, which is full of six months of frozen food, and noticed that some of the food was thawing! A quick check confirmed that indeed the freezer temperature was going down. We transferred most of the food into several large insulated  cooler bags we use for shopping and also into a large cooler. We moved the meat into the small freezers in our two refrigerators and put some of the food in the refrigerator sections. Since this happened in the early afternoon, we were able to purchase large bags of ice for each cooler and put several bags in the freezer where we left some food thus keeping everything cold overnight. Our freezer is made by Vitrifrigo and luckily for us their headquarters are an hour away in Ft. Lauderdale. They gave us the phone numbers of three repairmen we could call and we were able to get someone out to the boat the next morning at 10 am. They didn’t even make us come to the dock, but rode out in our dinghy with their tools. The two repairmen who came checked everything and couldn’t find a problem until they discovered a great deal of dust where Mark hadn’t been able to reach when he cleaned it before we left Stuart. With their industrial strength blower, it all came out and the freezer temperature dropped immediately. Luckily cleaning people don’t charge $140 to come out to dust one item. For us, it was worth every penny to save many hundreds of dollars worth of frozen food.

With the freezer working, we hoped that was the end of the problems. On a boat, the repairs and maintenance are constant. Over the past few months we have replaced the dinghy, the outboard motor for the dinghy, the two trampolines on the foredeck, two of the four air conditioning units, the water maker pump, the two small seats at the front of the hulls on the foredeck (originally made of wood for some stupid reason and obviously were doomed to rot), the chart plotter, the radar unit, and numerous other small items. Because of these major expenses we didn’t get the one item we were determined to buy after our freezer went out for a day last winter in Georgetown, Bahamas, and we needed to store the frozen food. A neighbor in the Hole 2 mooring field loaned us their Engel 12V freezer which can also be used as a refrigerator with a different setting. That time the problem was caused because ice had formed over a thermostat and once thawed all was well. We could have used an Engel this time, but it remains in the Amazon.com cart where it is “saved for later.” Since it is about $900 it will be there for awhile.

While it seems like we might have had a miserable time in Miami, we didn’t. We never expect to get there and leave immediately and having rough water and repairs are all part of cruising. Below are two photos from the deck of Seas the Day. The first was on Christmas night with a full moon above Biscayne Bay. The second is our boat under one of many beautiful sunsets, taken by our boat buddies on the next mooring ball, Renaissance II. 

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After one last trip to Milan’s for fresh food, another to the nearby Fresh Market for their homemade cookies, a visit to the marina laundry, a stop at the fuel dock to top off the tanks, a last time at Blanche Dog Park for Sailor, followed by a bath at a hose at the marina, and one last frappuccino, we settled down to get a good night’s sleep before leaving for Bimini on January 1, 2016, hoping the midnight fireworks wouldn’t be too loud. They weren’t and at daylight January 1, we released mooring ball 157 and headed east.

Cruising Season Eight Begins

After a few delays for weather we finally left Sunset Bay Marina on Tuesday, December 8, 2015. We had a great group helping us get off the dock and as much as we want to get to the Bahamas we will miss our friends in Stuart.

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We were worried about getting under the 65 ft. Roosevelt Bridge as we exited Sunset Bay because due to all the rain, tides are extremely high. Our mast is 63 ft plus the instruments at the top and we did get under without touching. The next day we weren’t so fortunate. 

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We had a pleasant motor on the ICW to North Palm Beach and stayed at the North Palm Beach Marina. As usual lately, it rained part of the day. Still this was the best weather in awhile and there was a train of boats traveling down the ICW. We were in a group of eight each time we waited for a bridge opening but after we arrived in North Palm Beach we watched many more boats passing by to get into marinas or anchorages in the area and no doubt continue south the next day or perhaps head east to the Abaco Islands.

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The next morning, an hour after high tide, we approached the Riviera Beach Bridge and saw the board showed 62 1/2 ft clearance. We decided to wait as we watched the board. An hour and a half later the clearance was just a little over 63 ft and we decided to go……very slowly. As we started under the bridge our antenna started to drag on the bridge bottom. It has never done that before, but we continued and made it under with the antenna dragging the whole way. No pictures here as we were both watching the mast very closely.

We exited the Lake Worth Inlet to the ocean and turned south to Ft. Lauderdale. Even though there weren’t even white caps, the seas were rough and confused (coming from all directions). Sailor is a fair weather sailor and always lets me know he wants to get into the bed by going down the steps to the companionway and staring at me until I come.
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We were very happy to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale and motor up the New River to tie up at the New River City Marina along the Riverwalk. We walked across the bridge and had dinner at Briney’s Irish Pub and got a good night’s sleep.IMG_2659

Thursday we left under the 17th Street Causeway bridge opening and again turned south to Miami. This was a pleasant, calm motorsail and we arrived on ball 157 at Dinner Key Mooring Field after filling up with fuel at Crandon Park Marina for the trip to the Bahamas.
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As mentioned in the previous post, cruising plans are written in sand. The next good weather window to go to Bimini is next week and that’s when we hoped to cross. That was the plan. However, Mark had to work on the dinghy motor because when he moved it to the new dinghy before we left Stuart it tipped and oil got in it. Despite his best efforts to repair it, the motor is dead and we have to buy a new one. Mark was able to find exactly what we wanted in the Miami area, but it has to be ordered and won’t get here until next Wednesday or Thursday. The good news is we found out before we left, although we could have purchased a good outboard motor in Nassau. Also, this is a nice place to stay. One year we spent most of the winter on a mooring ball at Dinner Key when we were waiting for the boat to be converted to twin diesels from an electric hybrid system. There is a Fresh Market a few blocks away, lots of great restaurants, the best dog park we’ve ever seen nearby, and the marina has been updated with a new three story building and all new facilities inside. Also, there is a water taxi shuttle that comes to pick us up and drop us off from 0800 to 1700 so we don’t need our dinghy while we are here unless we want to be off the boat after 5 pm. This is good for us because until next Thursday we can’t use our dinghy. We could row in but being on Biscayne Bay, the waters are rarely calm and there is almost always a brisk wind. 

The shopping and eating area of The Grove has many choices. We headed straight for this one. Once we are in the Bahamas, Nassau is our last chance to go to a Starbucks.

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Below is a photo of Blanche Dog Park in Coconut Grove, a six block walk for us. The astroturf and recycled tire walkways make this the perfect dog park because even though it rained the morning this picture was taken, no dogs got muddy!

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Chris Parker, the marine weatherman whose forecasts we subscribe to, says next Tuesday and possibly Wednesday are good days to cross to the Bahamas and there might be one more opportunity before Christmas on December 24. I suspect we’ll be celebrating Christmas in Miami. Nothing new here. No matter how early we start, we have never made it to the Bahamas before New Years’ Eve. Weather and boat repairs always hamper our plans. One year we were almost to Bimini and our previous hybrid propulsion  system failed. We had to be towed back to Ft. Lauderdale and we made a successful run to Bimini a few weeks later. We’ve talked to a number of other cruisers who are here at Dinner Key waiting to go someplace. Almost every person has either said they aren’t quite sure where they are going or not quite sure when.  We know there are many people who would like to have this “problem” and we realize how blessed we are.

Cruising Plans Written in Sand

There is a saying that “Cruising plans are written in sand at low tide.” Once again that has proven true for us, but this year it wasn’t our electric windlass that broke or our watermaker that needed a part the day we left on a cruise as in years’ past. The “plan” was to leave on Monday, November 30, when our slip reservation at Sunset Bay concluded. However, the weather has been rainy and windy for weeks, and it looked like the best weather window to get to Miami would start Tuesday, December 1. Unfortunately, Sunday night we spent four hours in the emergency room when Mark had intense pain. It was diagnosed as a prostrate infection, and he has an appointment with a urologist on Thursday. The antibiotics and pain killers they gave him in the emergency room stopped the pain but also made him very tired, keeping him from doing some last minute projects. We decided we had to stay and now the weather window is closing Friday. Also, today (Tuesday), I got a phone call with the results of a recent bone density scan. It came back with a diagnosis of osteopenia in both of my hips. Luckily someone had just canceled an appointment today and I got in to see my doctor shortly after the phone call. Now I have to get some medications to keep it from getting worse and developing into osteoporosis. We are incredibly lucky that these two health issues occurred before we were in the Bahamas where health care would not have been what we got here.

We have had a very busy six months in Stuart. Another popular saying is, “Everything on your boat is broken, you just don’t know it yet.” Some repairs we knew we had to do, some we didn’t. This summer and fall we replaced the trampolines, which were rotting. We also knew the watermaker needed a new pump. It was no secret that our dinghy had seen better days and after having to add air everytime we used it last winter, we replaced it this fall. The radar wasn’t working and we were able to find a new unit, which has been discontinued but works with our current Raymarine navigation system so we don’t have to replace everything. We have four air conditioning units on the boat and two of them needed to be replaced. We were able to have the salon one custom built locally, for about half the price of the same one we had. We didn’t replace the one in the master cabin yet but cool air from the other cabins and a fan keeps it comfortable. Our TV stopped working several months before we returned to Florida last spring so a new one had to be purchased. Luckily we had a warranty in effect and the replacement was basically free. Even our “marriage saver” headphones died and new ones were no longer available. The new bluetooth ones were more expensive but also much better. We use these to communicate when one of us is in the cockpit and the other dropping the anchor and approaching or leaving a dock or mooring ball. Also, when Mark goes up the mast it is easier to communicate using the headsets. Since the new ones are bluetooth, we can listen to music from our phones or computer on them and even talk on the phone. In addition there were many smaller projects, such as marking the anchor chain for depths so we know how many feet we are putting out. In fact, Mark was doing that when the pain began this past weekend. 

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A few weeks before we are “planning” to leave, I make an inventory of the provisions we have on board. I itemize this on a spreadsheet by category and make a list of what we need for the next six months. Then, let the shopping begin!  Most of the items are purchased at Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart. Apparently we haven’t spent much money at these stores this year, because after a number of multiple hundred dollar purchases, an attempt of charging over $1200 at Sam’s was refused but another try at $1000 on the Sam’s card with the rest of the purchase on another card went through. We knew we weren’t near our credit card limit so when I checked the account online, I couldn’t get to it and was prompted to call the company. That resulted in a number of questions to answer about the purchases and they even sent a text with a code I had to repeat to the agent. All was well, and I profusely thanked her for keeping a close eye on the charge card, as they obviously thought someone had stolen it. Many of our provisions are bought online and delivered to the marina. Sailor gets six months of food, medications for heartworm and flea and tick, vitamins, treats, dental chews, etc.

As the provisions are brought on the boat, the organizing begins. A few years ago we decided to remove the bedding and mattress from the starboard aft cabin and stack plastic boxes labeled and filled with food on the platform. Most of the paper products are stored in one of several   large watertight holds on the forward deck. Also a few years ago we both got Kindles and stopped reading paperback and hardcover books. Those we were storing on the book shelves in the port companionway were given away or placed in our storage unit, and food now resides on those shelves. In addition, items are placed in cabinets, drawers, closets, in benches under salon cushions and under beds. To store under beds means you lift a mattress, remove a section of the platform, and put items in the storage area under the bed. Ingredients for rum punch, gin and tonic, and wine are under a bench in the salon, and a large supply of juice and pop (or soda for those of you who aren’t from the Midwest) are under a bed or tucked away on the floor.

Overkill? Perhaps. Yes, people do eat in the Bahamas, but the stores are few and far between and the selection of products is limited and expensive. Some Bahamians order their food in bulk from Nassau and it comes on weekly boat deliveries.  In the Exumas where we spend most of our time we can get some items in Staniel Cay at the Blue Store, the Pink Store, and Isles General. These are all in people’s houses, and if you don’t arrive at the door soon after the weekly food is delivered on a supply boat from Nassau, the pickings are meager. In Blackpoint there is another store in a house that has limited provisions. Georgetown has several stores that have fairly good supplies including the Exuma Market which is similar to a small US grocery store,  but in many cases the items are quite expensive and of course the selection of products is more limited than US stores. Some food, especially dairy products, are subsidized by the government so they are reasonably priced. One could easily live on food purchased in Georgetown, but if we want our favorite brands at a discount price, Sam’s, Target and Walmart aren’t there. Snack items are very expensive. One year I craved red Tootsie Pops and Mark craved Sweet Tarts when we ran out early in the cruise. We finally found some in Spanish Wells in May just before we came back to the States. My Tootsie Pops were in a small bag where half were red and half were green and the price was about a dollar a pop, so you can guess how long they had been on the shelf. We do buy fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products in the Bahamas, although this year we are bringing four dozen eggs from my yoga teacher and friend Kim’s free range chickens and they will last awhile since we got them so fresh. We also have a large cherry tomato plant that is full of green tomatoes already, nine strawberry plants in a strawberry planter, and quite a few leaf lettuce plants.  

The good thing about a catamaran is there is lots of storage space. The bad thing about a catamaran is there is lots of storage space. The result is we overbuy and always come back with enough to live on for most of the summer and fall. The freezer and two refrigerators are both full now and most of the freezer items are in Food Saver bags so they will keep for many months. Below are some of the items we have stored for the next six months. The boxes on the bed are two rows deep. Right now there are 30 boxes, but I do have an additional few days for more shopping! Many of the snack foods are for sundowners where we get together with other cruisers on beaches for drinks, snacks and conversation. We also need snacks for the Texas Hold’em games held on Seas the Day every Saturday evening while we are in Georgetown. 

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Besides boat repairs and provisioning, we have to get in all of our doctor, dentist, hair, dog grooming , veterinary, and medical test appointments before we leave. This year I also got involved in months of chiropractic care when an x-ray showed I have severe scoliosis. Last year, Mark was diagnosed with spinal stenosis shortly before we left, although it doesn’t seem to be very advanced. Sometimes trying to get this done doesn’t work, like this year I tried to schedule  my yearly eye exam and my insurance wouldn’t cover it until December 1, since that’s when I had it last year when we stayed later than normal. That is today, and we were supposed to be gone so I had canceled it. 

There is a great deal of work and planning that goes into leaving the country on a boat for six months, especially to a third world country. One worry has always been what would happen if one of us got sick, or even died, while in the Bahamas. This year we planned for that by getting a nautical policy from SkyMed that in the event of a serious injury or illness will fly us back to a hospital of our choice in the States by Lear Jet, even picking us up from a remote island in a helicopter, paying for our boat to be returned to our home port in Florida if we can’t return to it, flying us back to the Bahamas when we are well, paying someone to watch our dog or flying him back with us, ground transportation in an ambulance from a US airport to a hospital is included, and flying a visitor to stay with us in the hospital if needed. Physical remains are recovered and returned to the States if the worst happens. It is worth every penny for the peace of mind that if one of us was sick, injured or worse, we could get help in a US hospital quickly. We also pay for daily email, SSB and online live forecasts from marine weather forecaster Chris Parker. Another yearly expense is our SPOT device that tracks our progress when we move. In addition we pay for a mail forwarding service that scans envelopes and posts them online so we can see if we want to have the mail sent to us, shredded or the contents scanned. This is essential when we are out of the country for so long.

Sailor, of course, knows something is going on. He got suspicious when he saw some of his toys being washed. A visit to the vet for an exam, shots and paperwork we bring for immigration further confirmed it. When five bags of dog food and enough snacks to cause him to drool arrived, he got dressed in his sailing clothes.

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Sailor is ready to take over his responsibilities as First Mate. This is his third Bahamas cruise and as soon as we arrive, he will start running on deserted beaches and swimming in crystal clear water. While we have trained him not to bark, he does woof a few times if a stranger comes past us in an anchorage or mooring field. Some of our followers on this blog and on Facebook have commented that they would like to have Sailor’s life.

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After Mark’s appointment on Thursday, we could leave Friday morning, but the weather window closes that day, according to current forecasts. Hopefully we can leave early next week. Our cruise to Miami, where we wait to cross to Bimini in the Bahamas, takes us first to Lake Worth/Palm Beach on the ICW, then to Ft. Lauderdale on the ocean, and finally to Miami on the ocean. We need a three day window of good weather that doesn’t create big waves on the ocean before we will leave Stuart.

It’s been a wonderful six months in Stuart, but we are anxious to get to the Bahamas. Each year something seems to happen just before we leave, and hopefully these medical problems were  it this time. While we wait, we can enjoy having our Christmas tree lit all evening without using up the power in our batteries that our solar panels, wind generator and diesel engines give us when we are no longer plugged into shore power. In the photo below the smoke is coming from a diffuser with an essential oil called “Christmas Spirit” making our salon smell like the holidays are already here. Hopefully we’ll be opening our presents in the Bahamas.

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Miami to Bimini

The distance from Miami to Bimini is about 50 miles. We arrived at 1900 on 12/27/14, pulled into a slip and settled in for a few days. The first part of the trip was a little lumpy but about halfway across the seas flattened and it became more comfortable. We were motoring directly into the wind. We have been in Bimini a number of times so we knew the channel into Bimini Sands in South Bimini but they have changed the markers since last year. A new large unlit channel marker went between our hulls and popped out under the dinghy.  No damage to the boat, but sure sounded bad!

We enjoy Bimini Sands because it is so quiet here and the marina has wide slips and floating docks. It is the only Marina in South Bimini. In the photo below we are between a large powercat and Interlude. There are other marinas in North Bimini, but they aren’t this nice. Also the current is strong at the other marinasmaking boats rock in the slips. Today we watched a sportfisher try 4 or 5 times to get into a slip with a strong current at Big Game Club Marina. Bimini Sands Marina is surrounded by condos and there are two pools, a tennis court, and several restaurants here. The beach is nice for walking, and Sailor certainly loves running on it.

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We are staying three nights and leaving tomorrow, December 30.  As always, moving around on a sailboat is dependent on the weather. We are hoping to get to Chub Cay tomorrow and Nassau on Wednesday. If the good weather window continues we’ll go on to the Exumas, probably Highbourne Cay on Thursday. While here we had some delicious pizza last night at the Beach Club on South Bimini.  Today we went to the phone company office.  No matter how hard we try to activate our phone and iPad ourselves, something always seems to require a visit to the Batelco office.  We took a colorful bus to the Beach Club and a water taxi to North Bimini.  Lunch at the Big Game Club and Marina was excellent.  (If you look closely, you can see the scars on my knees from the knee replacement surgeries in September and October.)

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Mark had several jobs to do here. It seems that when we have the mast taken down for hurricane season, there are electrical repairs to make. This time, the  anemometer (wind vane) at the top of the mast is not working. Also on the mast, the radar is not getting the information to our chart plotter.  Much to his dismay, Mark had to climb up to the top of the mast to fix them.  It is easier to climb a mast at a dock than when bobbing around at anchor. Still not a sailor’s favorite activity. After all this work he couldn’t get either one to work. I’m sure he’ll be back up again, perhaps at our next and last marina in Nassau, until we are headed home in May.

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Sailboat With a Mast But No Sails

This morning we motored the short distance from Old Port Cove to Cracker Boy Boatyard.  At 1200 we entered the tight slip and the riggers arrived.  A crane raised our mast and the riggers carefully positioned it back in its place on our deck.  Then they asked for our sails.  Hmmmm. They had our sails since June stored in their sail loft in Ft. Lauderdale.  The riggers said they didn’t know that but they could work tomorrow, Saturday, and since we had planned on going to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow that would work for us.  Mark called the scheduler and he said they hadn’t planned on putting the sails back on today because we could only stay in the slip for two hours and they wouldn’t have time to finish. Apparently someone forgot to tell the riggers about the sails and now they are going to pretend this was the plan all along.

Very obviously they forgot they had our sails. The workers had already told us they could come to where we will be in Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow and put the sails on. The scheduler did not like that plan and said we needed to be at a boatyard in Ft. Lauderdale Monday morning at 10 am. Our plan was to be halfway to Bimini by then if the weather window was still open. We know for sure it won’t be on Tuesday. We are used to plans being changed due to weather or if something breaks on the boat. When it is a person’s fault, like a rigger scheduler or an insurance representative, that’s hard to take. The two riggers who worked on the mast were excellent and did their job perfectly.  Below are some photos of the process of stepping a mast.

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imageWith no other choice, we left Cracker Boy Boatyard and motored with our nice tall mast and no sails a short distance to the Lake Worth anchorage, which is apparently being dredged.  We are now anchored at the edge of a mooring field. As soon as we dropped the anchor, it all came back to Sailor.  Anchor down = dinghy down = Sailor gets to go ashore.  We had a few other things to do first, but Sailor stuck to Mark like glue. Finally, he got his wish and happily jumped into the dinghy.  A tired Captain and an excited boat dog motored off to Peanut Island.

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It hasn’t been the best of days, but we can’t complain too much when this is our view.

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Getting Ready For Our 2014-2015 Bahamas Cruise

We know that all cruising plans are written in sand, but we hope to leave Stuart in about a week to begin our fourth cruise to the Bahamas. Mark has a few jobs to finish and we have to start provisioning. Normally we would be ready to go by the beginning of November, but we were delayed due to the two knee replacement operations I had this fall. Briefly, my right knee was replaced on September 16 and the left knee was done on October 14.  They were supposed to be replaced in the same week, but I had a reaction to the anesthesia during the second operation on September 19 and the surgery was postponed.  Of course each surgery was followed by days in the hospital and weeks in rehab and then outpatient physical therapy.  I am now ready to continue the exercises on my own so we can leave Stuart. Unfortunately,  two surgeries sapped my energy for weeks and it’s frustrating for me to be so far behind in my part of the preparations. Normally I spend weeks provisioning and organizing everything on the boat in preparation for a cruise. Below is a photo of an X-ray of my new knees.

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Luckily, Mark had plenty of energy and made changes to help me maneuver more easily on the boat until my knees healed and I got my balance back.  The most important addition was to help me get on and off the boat since we are not on a floating dock.  He built a fantastic ramp with a boarding walkway that can be adjusted up and down with the tide. In the photo below, the walkway was not raised for the tide. Once adjusted it is level with the deck. Also, you can see the temporary wooden handrail he placed on the deck leading back to the cockpit.

IMG_1643 Mark also installed a folding teak seat in the master shower.  It works great and while I don’t need it now, I think it will be useful to sit on when taking showers while we are anchored with rough seas or when sailing.

As always, we have made a number of changes and repairs to Seas the Day during the summer and fall while we have been on a dock at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, FL.  Our dinghy got a leak during the last month of our Bahamas cruise last year, so Mark found the hole and repaired it.  He also added book shelves to the cabins (bedrooms), reworked the bookshelves in our office area so they could be used as a pantry, and added shelves to one of the hanging lockers also for food storage purposes. We are hoping all of these shelves will eliminate the need to use so many plastic bins to store our provisions while in the Bahamas.  Mark repaired the sliding door in the salon so it opens more smoothly. He put hinges on a bench seat in the salon which has massive storage, but only had a small opening before to get at what was in there.  In the photo the previous opening is shown on the wooden bench seat under the cushion.  Before Mark made this hinged seat, we had to remove the cushion (held on by velcro) and reach through that small opening to get items.  Now with the hinged bench seat we have easy access to everything stored in the bench and don’t have to remove the cushion to do it. Mark has also gotten all of the boat systems ready to go by performing regular maintenance. 

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After years of complaining about the fuel consumption of our current generator, we purchased a Honda generator this fall.  The Onan generator that came on the boat is huge (2100 kw) and was designed to work with the hybrid system we originally had on Seas the Day.  It uses about two gallons of diesel per hour.  The Honda generator is much more fuel efficient, using less than a gallon of gasoline per hour.  While we don’t need to use our generator for power very often, due to our wind generator and five solar panels, there are times when we need it and the Honda will be much more cost effective.

Hoping to leave Sunset Bay in about a week, it’s time to start shopping for food and other provisions. I use a lengthy spreadsheet to itemize what we have, what we need, and what we have to buy. Then lists are made and the shopping begins!  Prices for food and other goods are more expensive in the Bahamas, so we will try to buy everything we need for the next five months before we leave.  Also, some things aren’t available in the small stores we usually shop at when we visit the smaller settlements so if we don’t bring these items with us, we don’t have them until we return to the States. We’ll be buying food, paper products, dog food, everything that is in the medicine cabinet, cleaning products, etc.  Basically, we need to stock up on everything we use. Of course we still buy perishables while we are in the Bahamas and usually we realize we have forgotten something. Mark and I both take prescription drugs, so we have to get special permission from Medicare to get six months of them, rather than the three months we can normally get.

Due to my operations, this has been a very unusual season in Florida. I was either in the hospital or in rehab from September 16 until I came back to the boat on October 31, except for three days in between the two surgeries and rehab when I was home. During this time, Mark was usually visiting me, so he didn’t have the amount of time he usually has for repairs and new additions to the boat. Last year in the Bahamas we were somewhat limited because my knees started to hurt so much.  We’re excited to be getting back to a somewhat normal life now.

Boat Repairs in Exotic Places

Some say this is the definition of cruising: repairing your boat in exotic places. Tied to a dock for six months, we rarely find anything that needs to be repaired because we don’t use many of the boat’s systems when we aren’t sailing and are connected to shore power. A few days before we left this year we turned on the chart plotter and discovered the backlight circuit had failed. It was cheaper to buy a used display than to get it repaired. We found several on eBay and drove a few miles to pick one up. Once we leave the dock and all systems are running it’s not unusual to discover something needs to be fixed.  We hope that it happens before we leave the States where parts are readily available, but of course that isn’t always the case. There are old boats and new boats, but no matter how carefully they are maintained, repairs are a necessary part of cruising.  Seas the Day is only five and a half years old and she has been at a dock for over half that time, during hurricane seasons. Even with excellent care, there are many intricate systems aboard and eventually parts fail.

Several days after we left Stuart we arrived in Miami and discovered the watermaker wasn’t working. A Spectra Watermaker technician who lived nearby diagnosed the problem, ordered a new pump and in a few days the watermaker was working again.  When we got to the Bahamas, we realized that we were having a voltage drop between the batteries and the buss where the power is sent to everything that needs it. The batteries and buss are connected by a long cable. This was a major problem last year, but we hoped with the addition of a sixth battery and the new wind generator we would have plenty of power even with a voltage drop.  If the voltage is low the freezer turns off, even though there is plenty of power in the batteries to keep it on. In the middle of the night our voltage might be 12.2V at the batteries but the buss reads 11.7V.  Last season Mark made some changes which helped including putting in a better cable, but decided to take another look.  After checking everything he couldn’t figure out anything else to do so he started to put things back together and suddenly there was a burning smell and a cloud of smoke came out of the top of the inverter.  Mark has done the same procedure multiple times when working on the batteries and nothing happened. This time the inverter stopped working.  Without the inverter, we have no AC power so the outlets don’t work and we can’t watch TV, do laundry, use the breadmaker or ice maker, or charge electric toothbrushes and camera batteries.  We can’t use the microwave, the toaster, a blow dryer or a coffee bean grinder.  We have 12V chargers (cigarette lighter chargers) for our phones, computers and tablets, Kindle, etc. so we don’t need AC outlets for them. Most of the systems on the boat run on 12V and they don’t need the inverter either.  We didn’t panic, but realized if we weren’t able to replace the inverter, or repair it,  our living conditions on the boat would change.  Oddly, the next morning we noticed the inverter was back on!  Apparently when it overheats it turns off and when cooled down  resets itself. Broken parts rarely fix themselves so this time we were lucky.

Next, our 21KW generator (huge and left over from when we were a hybrid boat) stopped working.  We use it to charge the batteries if the solar panels and wind generator don’t give us enough power during the day.  We don’t run the generator often, but sometimes on a cloudy, still day we need an extra push to keep the batteries charged high enough through the night.  Mark tried several possible fixes, but in the end discovered that the repair is inaccessible without removal of most of the outer cabinet work and possibly the genset body, which won’t happen until we get back to Florida.  Our only alternative now is to run one of the diesel engines for a half hour or so to charge the batteries.  This isn’t a good practice because it puts unnecessary hours on the engines but until we repair or replace the generator this is our only choice. Luckily we don’t have use the engines while we are anchored very often since there is plenty of sun and wind in the Bahamas to keep our batteries charged.

One day in Georgetown, the dinghy motor died while Mark was crossing the harbor to go to town. The current pushed him along while he tried in vain to fix  it. A couple in an anchored motor yacht noticed his dilemma, lowered their dinghy to go rescue him, towing him back to our boat. After a few hours, Mark had repaired the motor. It would be a disaster if we didn’t have a dinghy motor because the dinghy is our “car” while we are here.

The next mechanical failure was the watermaker….again. Until this year, it had been working perfectly, making clean water out of sea water whenever we were away from a dock. The watermaker was running on our way from Williams Bay to Blackpoint but shortly after we dropped the anchor we ran out of water. I had done four loads of laundry on the way there that day, but this was not nearly enough to empty the tanks which hold 120 gallons. There is no gauge on the tanks but the watermaker makes 12 gallons of water an hour and the tanks should not have been empty.  Removing the floorboard over the watermaker, Mark saw water running out of a broken part and collecting in the bilge. Until we were able to get a new part, the watermaker would not work. Many cruisers here do not have watermakers and get along fine.  In reality you never make up the money it costs to buy a watermaker, but it is convenient to be able to have all the water you want, any time, any place.  We were near Staniel Cay so we brought the boat to the fuel dock, purchased 120 gallons of water at 40 cents a gallon, emailed the watermaker dealer in Florida and ordered the part. Then we went a few miles north to Cambridge Cay to get protection from an approaching front and waited for the part to arrive.  It’s very easy to get mail at Staniel Cay via Watermakers Air whose small airplane flies round trip from Ft. Lauderdale twice a day.  Within two days our new part was waiting for us at Staniel Cay.

The watermaker is fixed and all is well……at least we don’t know of anything that needs to be repaired. Another saying is “Everything on your boat is broken……you just don’t know it yet.”

Photos below are from Cambridge Cay and Staniel Cay where we have spent the last few days.

This was the view from our mooring ball at Cambridge Cay.  We were at the end of the field of 12 mooring balls, all taken by boats needing protection from a front passing through the Bahamas. Obviously this picture was taken before the strong winds and choppy seas arrived.

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Some dogs love to stick their head out of a car window.  In the Bahamas, our dinghy is our car and Sailor, like all boat dogs we’ve ever seen, enjoys riding in the dinghy and he doesn’t even need a window to feel the wind in his face.

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In Staniel Cay there are three grocery stores: the Pink Store, the Blue Store, and Isles General.  All three are in houses.  Isles General is on the bottom of this two story home.  (The Pink and Blue stores are much smaller.) There is a small room stocked with groceries and another small room with boating and household items.  For $39.10 today, we got two large cans of juice, some fresh broccoli, a package of frozen broccoli, and two large containers of yoghurt.   These prices are the reason we provision before we get to the Bahamas, but we still need to buy fresh food from time to time. The more populated settlements, such as Georgetown, have larger stores with more reasonable prices.

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One of the highlights of Staniel Cay, besides having the James Bond movie “Thunderball” filmed here, is Pig Beach.  Years ago a few pigs were left on Big Majors Island and every year there are new piglets.  People come close to shore in their dinghies or small boats and the pigs swim out to beg for food.  We didn’t get close enough for them to do that because Sailor might have jumped out of the dinghy to play with them and that would not be good!

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Most of the inhabited islands in the Bahamas have a Batelco (phone) tower.  Under it is always a Batelco store, which makes it convenient to find one.  These islands have strong phone and data signals, but the ones that don’t have towers and are far from islands with towers have weak or no signals.  Cambridge Cay is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park where there are no Batelco towers, thus there is a very weak signal coming from the tower on another island and sometimes no signal.  We have a Wilson cell phone signal booster and by placing our Bahamas phone in a cradle with a cord running to an antenna outside the signal went from no bars to five.

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We’ll be at Staniel Cay for a few more days and then will start north, stopping at a few islands before we leave the Exumas and sail to Eleuthera.

Ready, Set, Stop

Yesterday the riggers finished most of what they broke on the boat.  After they left Mark had to fix some more of the electronics that weren’t working.  Just when he thought all was well, he noticed the chart plotter screen getting dimmer and dimmer.  We don’t know if it had anything to do with the other electronic problems caused when cables were cut, but regardless we realized we had to replace it.  Unfortunately in the five years since we installed our Raymarine E120 chart plotter, the company has completely changed their chart plotters and they are now digital.  The only way to get the display fixed is to send it to Raymarine to be repaired, or we can buy a used one online.  We did the latter and located one about an hour and 15 minutes south of us near Ft. Lauderdale.  We purchased it and are driving down there to pick it up tomorrow morning.  That is one advantage to being on the east coast of Florida.  There were actually three displays on eBay located within an hour and a half drive of Stuart.  All were probably removed when the owners replaced their units with the new digital model.

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If we could have left this morning, we would have been in Miami on Monday and could have sailed to the Bahamas on Tuesday when the current weather pattern is good for going across.  Starting Wednesday, not so much.  We subscribe to Chris Parker’s weather forecasts, Marine Weather Center. He sends out detailed marine conditions for the US East Coast, Bahamas, and Caribbean.  He also does a daily weather webcast which is simultaneously broadcast on SSB radio.  Here is part yesterday’s email forecast.

Sat22-Tue25 should be OK for motoring BOTH Routes/Directions…but N Route may be mildest Sat22-Sun23, possibly Mon24 / S Route may be mildest Mon24 and possibly Tue25. Forecast confidence decreases Wed26 onward, with risk for inclement weather increasing dramatically late Wed26 or Thu27.

Miami to the Bahamas is the south route.  If we leave on Monday and get to Miami on Wednesday, we will have missed the current weather window.  It gets worse.  Here is what he said about the coming month of March:

OUTLOOK for MARCH:
Winter continues! S Branch of JetStream is active, and ColdFRONTs/possible LOs may form and/or track along GOMEX-FL-N Bahamas & waters N of Bahamas…and waters near or even S of Bermuda. March may bring a cycle which repeats every 7 days: 1-3 days of LO/FRONT/TROF with nasty weather (possible GALEs, at-least in squalls) along the axis detailed in previous sentence…forcing wind-less RIDGE S of 25N. 1-3 days of brisk N<E wind following FRONT in all of W Atlantic including ALL Bahamas & FL. 1-2 days of pre-Frontal clocking S<W wind ahead of next impulse mainly N of 25N / S of 25N moderate E<S wind. Then cycle repeats.

Miami is at 25N.  So we may be waiting for awhile in Miami, but that is not new.  Unfortunately if we could have left earlier in February, there were multiple days of good crossing weather.

Dolphins cannot help but bring a smile to your face and no matter how many times we encounter them, we have to stop and watch.  Today they were playing in the marina by our boat tossing fish back and forth to each other.  I didn’t get a shot of that, but I did get a picture of one dolphin diving. We needed a reason to smile.

IMG_4381Sailor has learned a new trick.  When a window in the salon is open, he likes to jump up on the couch, stick his head out and watch what is going on. He’ll have a lot to look at when we finally leave the dock. We’ll definitely need to keep him tethered and in a life jacket because he doesn’t get that he can fall in the water.

IMG_1363He does the same trick from outside standing on the foredeck and looking into the salon.  He hasn’t tried to leave or enter through that window……yet.

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