Tag Archives: Wind

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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The Motion of the Ocean

Yesterday we moved from the Spanish Wells Mooring Field about an hour away to Royal Island where we anchored for the night to make today’s trip a little shorter. This morning we left that anchorage and a little under eight hours later arrived at Chub Cay in a string of islands called The Berries.   We have a nice three day window of calm seas and almost no wind to get us back to Florida so we left a few days before our month at the mooring field was up to take advantage of it. The wind never got above 10 kts today but since that resulted in almost flat seas, we didn’t mind going a little slower. The wind speed for the next two days is even lower, therefore the conditions should be great as we cross the Gulf Stream and arrive in Lake Worth on Saturday.

It’s been awhile since we have been on the move, and Sailor is still a fair weather sailor. The best way to keep him from panting and worrying about the sounds and motion of the boat is to take him into a bed. As long as he can touch me he relaxes, but he won’t stay in the bed alone. So, we went to the bed in the forward cabin, as far away from the diesel engines as we can get, and while I read from my Kindle, Sailor slept.

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As the day went on he became more relaxed and slept in the salon. Perhaps he was anticipating rougher weather and realized it wasn’t going to happen.  Twice he rang his “poochie bell” and Mark walked him up to the trampolines on a leash to “go.” This is only safe to do when the seas are this calm.

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Once we got close to shore at Chub Cay we let him come up on the deck while we looked for a good place to drop the anchor. In Sailor’s mind, land equals beaches and I suspect he was checking them out hoping to get off the boat soon.

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Shortly after we dropped the anchor, Mark and Sailor dinghied over to a nearby beach. While Sailor doesn’t particularly like the motion of the ocean on a 42 ft sailboat, he loves riding in a 12 ft long dinghy, which is a much rougher experience. Perhaps that is because he knows at the end of most dinghy rides he gets to run up and down a beach and swim out to fetch his wubba.  Lately he has started hanging over the side of the dinghy with his face almost in the water looking at the sealife. In this clear water there is a lot to see.

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Chub Cay is not our favorite place to anchor because it has a marina filled with motor vessels, most of them here for fishing, ranging from small powerboats to large million dollar plus sportfishers.  The larger boats generally slow down in the short channel leading into the marina. The smaller powerboats, however, race in and out of the harbor creating huge wakes.  The anchorage is on either side of the channel and of course they don’t think they should be slowing down to keep us from rocking. We feel like we are back in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.  Actually, some of the boats came over from Florida for Memorial Day Weekend.  Other people leave their boats here and fly into the Chub Cay airport.  In less than an hour we saw five small passenger planes land at the airport, all appeared to be able to carry at least 12 passengers. The majority of Chub Cay is an upscale resort and marina. There are private homes by the marina, as well as a restaurant and a huge clubhouse.  Sadly, there is no shore access for those of us anchored here.  A pretty beach near us is marked “private” on a sign, although all beaches up to the high water line are public in the Bahamas, even this one on the marina property. Sailor goes to a beach on tiny deserted Crab Cay adjacent to Chub.

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We spent the day on the ocean and it was so calm we didn’t have to put anything away to keep items from falling off shelves, yet now we are rocking back and forth and have to rearrange breakables. Notice the difference in wake from the small powerboat speeding by and the large sportfisher slowing down in the channel. Believe me, we feel the difference.

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Tomorrow we’ll motorsail almost 12 hours to anchor near Bimini. The marinas there are mostly full and have raised their prices for the holiday weekend.  We heard that at Brown’s Marina in north Bimini their usual 90 cents a foot charge is $2.50 a foot for the next few days. Shortly after leaving Chub Cay, we’ll leave the deep water of the ocean and be on the shallow “bank.”  Many people anchor overnight on “the bank” in calm wind and sea conditions, away from the route of the boats going between here and Bimini.  We’ve never done that, but I’m beginning to think it would be much more relaxing than Chub Cay.  Then again, Sailor wouldn’t get his beach time and that’s important too.

Here is the view from the boat as the sun was setting over the ocean in Chub Cay. We only have one more Bahamian sunset to watch after tonight.

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Blowin’ in the Wind

Last year we were boat buddies for several weeks with some new friends traveling on a trawler.  They had been cruising for a few years but told us that they were selling their boat…..and they did last summer.  They were simply tired of always having to adjust their plans due to weather.  We hear that frustration from fellow cruisers often, especially in the Bahamas.  There are so many advantages to cruising in the Bahamas, but there is no question that you have to know the weather forecast and be ready to move, or not move, when the wind direction changes.  We subscribe to Chris Parker’s “Marine Weather Center Services.” He broadcasts a weather forecast for the Bahamas Monday through Saturday at 0630 and 0800 on SSB (Single Side Band) radio, and on his webcast viewed on a computer or with his iPad APP. His Caribbean forecast is at 0715. We usually listen to him on the iPad.  After his forecast, subscribers can ask specific questions about weather in their area or request recommendations for when to move to their next destination. Anyone with an SSB can listen to his forecast, but only subscribers can ask questions, view his webcast, or receive his daily email weather reports.

In The Exumas, each island has a shallow side (“The Banks”) on the western shore and a deep side (The Exuma Sound) on the eastern shore. We are always anchored on the Bank side. Very few islands in the Bahamas have anchorages good for all wind directions but most have several anchorages with protection from some wind directions, and if not there is usually another nearby island a few miles away where protection can be found.  If the wind is from the west, often it is difficult to find a protected anchorage since most of the islands are open to the west. When the forecast is for very strong winds and possible squalls, the VHF radio is busy with calls to the few marinas to reserve slips and the mooring fields fill up quickly.

Last week we were at Staniel Cay in the Big Majors anchorage, where most of the boats stay…..until the wind clocks to the west when there is no protection in that area.  We knew the weather would be changing, so a few days before the wind direction was due to clock, we moved to a different anchorage in the Staniel Cay area which has great west wind protection.  We were alone in the anchorage until the day the wind direction was going to change.  Beginning in the morning, boats migrated over to us from Big Majors and other nearby anchorages.  Most followed good anchoring etiquette and spaced their boats well away from others hopefully putting out plenty of chain so they wouldn’t drag.  One of the last boats that came in anchored right between us and another boat, even though there wasn’t room.  There was plenty of space behind us, but apparently they didn’t want to go there. We knew as soon as the wind clocked from the south to the west we’d be in trouble.  That happened in the middle of the night during a squall with 30+ kt wind.  We watched as the boat passed behind us with only a few feet to spare.  The squall continued as their boat floated back and forth very near us so finally I went into the cockpit and shouted back to them to let out more rode (chain) since they seemed content to stay on top of us.  The young French woman (in her bikini) simply shrugged her shoulders. (I’m not sure if they didn’t understand English, which is doubtful, or she just didn’t care.)  Finally, they did let out some more chain and then got too close to the boat that had been next to us before they squeezed in between us. Below is a photo I took through our salon window during the storm.  They were even closer to us when they crossed behind us.

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In Georgetown, where there are many available anchorages for all wind directions, some boats shuffle from one place to another every time the wind changes directions.  We usually stay in one place unless the forecast calls for squalls with over 30 kts of wind since holding is excellent and we don’t mind a little rocking and rolling.

Of course, wind is also a big consideration for us when moving from one island to another, or crossing to and from Florida.  When it comes to wind, there seems to be two types of sailors.  One group loves to sail and waits for lots of wind, in a direction that will fill their sails.  Also in this group are the sailors who don’t want to use fuel unless absolutely necessary.  The second group, which we belong to, likes wind but not if it brings big waves. Therefore, we always wait for lighter winds and a calmer sea and then motorsail to our next stop.  Of course no cruiser likes to sail directly into the wind, so if you are going south and the wind is from the south, you wait until it changes or drops unless you love plowing through waves and making slow progress.  Further, crossing the Gulf Stream off the US East Coast, one never wants to leave with a wind from the north because this kicks up large waves going against the northerly flowing Gulf Stream. Right now, scores of cruisers who have spent the winter in the Bahamas are waiting for favorable wind and sea conditions to get back to the States and in a safe place for hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Finally there is one other reason we watch the wind speed and that is for power to our batteries.  When the wind gets above 10 kts, we start to get good charge to our batteries from the wind generator.  This is important overnight when the sun isn’t shining on our solar panels.  With an overnight wind, we are assured that our batteries will stay charged sufficiently to keep our refrigeration running, which is our main power draw. If the battery charge drops too low at the buss, the freezer automatically turns off. (This is complicated by our voltage drop between the batteries and the buss, which I’ve mentioned in earlier blog entries.)

Sailor doesn’t care which direction the wind is from or the speed. But like all dogs,  he loves to feel it blowing in his face.

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