The Calendar Waits For No One

When we left Long Island, we’d planned to work our way north through the Bahamian Out Islands to check out some places we hadn’t yet seen. But when 10 days of stalled fronts degenerating into troughs bringing day after day of thunderstorms required us to keep pushing off our departure, we finally ran out of calendar. Hurricane season starts in just a couple of weeks, and it was time for us to start our journey back to Florida. It has been a short cruising season for us this year, but after shattering my kneecap in January and undergoing surgery to repair my leg, we didn’t initially think we were going to have any season at all, so we’re happy that we were able to salvage at least a couple of months.

A brief break in the weather let us jump from Long Island to Rat Cay in the Exumas, and then on to Big Majors Spot just off Staniel Cay (home of the original Bahamian swimming pigs) the next day.

Anchored off what we call “Pig Beach,” home of the original and world famous Bahamian swimming pigs.

We’re now back in the land of megayachts and mini-cruise ships, we’re sad to say. When we pulled into Big Majors, it looked like a major fleet exercise was underway, with dozens of 100+ foot yachts and their collections of associated water toys filling the bay. M/V Wheels caught our eye, so we looked it up online. It stood out because it was 164 feet long and came with what looked like a 70 or 80 foot sport fishing boat, a 35 foot center console tender sporting four 350 hp outboards, a large dinghy, and the usual assortment of smaller water toys. It apparently belongs to someone who owns a NASCAR racing team, and it can be yours for seven days for a mere $200,000, tax and gratuities not included.

Needless to say, we already miss Long Island…

Anyway, we’ll be here at Big Majors Spot for a few days waiting out some more thunderstorms, and then it appears that we’ll have a two or three day window to get back up to New Providence and the Nassau area before a big blow with 30+ knot winds starts early next week. We weren’t originally planning to stop there again, but we’ve been having a bit of trouble getting our engine to start, and I suspect our starting battery has met with an early death. When trying to crank the engine, I’m only reading 6 to 8 volts on the starting battery, and when I take the cell gravities they look pretty screwy. Replacing the three year old battery seems like a good place to start, and that means back to Nassau we go. If it turns out to be something more than a battery, I feel a lot better about yanking the starter and installing our spare if we’re in a nice marina where we can actually get parts and don’t have to worry about having to start the engine to deal with a dragging anchor in the middle of the night. We’re just hoping we don’t get stuck there for a week to 10 days again, as seems to happen every time we enter Palm Cay Marina!

Salt Pond, Long Island—The Un–Georgetown

We’ve said before that Georgetown, Great Exuma, is something every cruiser should experience at least once. It’s one of the great gathering places for our tribe of sea gypsies, salty dogs and scalawags, and joining the hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes swinging at anchor within Elizabeth Harbour affirms your place in this community. The sight of the night sky illuminated by a constellation of anchor lights, each bright sparkle representing a person, couple or family that shares a common dream and experience, is truly something to see.

But we’d had just about enough. We immensely enjoyed attending our second National Family Island Regatta. But after eight days at anchor, we’d had all we cared to handle of loud music booming from beach bars until 3 or 4 AM, boats roaring through the anchorage at all hours throwing wakes, and constant radio traffic on the VHF. Some people enjoy water aerobics at 0930, volleyball at 2PM, and beach yoga at 4 o’clock every day. But to paraphrase the great Jimmy Buffett, we don’t need that much organization in our lives. We were craving some peace and quiet.

We found it on Long Island. It was an easy six hour, 35 mile journey to Thompson Bay and the little town of Salt Pond. It was a beautiful day on the water, and during the passage we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, putting us once again in the tropics.

Approaching Long Island

We dropped the anchor in clean white sand in 8 feet of clear water, turned off the engine, and then marveled at the stillness of it all. The gentle lapping sound of water against the hull and a distant crowing of a rooster was all we could hear. We shared a bay that’s easily over a mile across with less than a dozen other boats. The radio was blissfully quiet. It was the un-Georgetown, and just what we were looking for to decompress from the past frenzied week.

True to its name, Long island is a very long island. It runs about 80 miles roughly north to south, but averages less than a mile wide. A single two lane road runs the entire length of the island, passing through a handful of resorts and a string of a dozen or so small settlements, and the island is most easily toured by car. Tucked into Thompson Bay behind the broad finger of Indian Hole Point, just off the settlement of Salt Pond, we were well protected from forecasted high winds that were expected to arrive within the next few days.

Thompson Bay, Long Island, Eagle Too in the center distance.

Salt Pond offers almost everything a cruiser needs. It has a well-stocked market (mailboats arrive weekly), a liquor store, a well-equipped marine supply store, a rental car agency and Sou’ Side Bar and Grill, which can all be accessed from a conveniently located private dock that the owner graciously allows cruisers to use to come ashore.

The dinghy dock, right down the hill from the grocery, restaurant and liquor store.

The market.

Small but well stocked, Rhonda even found the orange marmalade she was looking for to make a marinade for chicken.

Perusing the produce section.

Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

Stopping for lunch at Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

A 10 minute dinghy ride across the bay takes you to Tiny’s Hurricane Hole, a cute beach bar and restaurant run by a couple from California. It was there that we met Penny, a part time Long Island resident who runs the local VHF cruisers net. She lives ashore, but loves interacting with the cruising community by running the morning net. The season being basically over, she’d packed away her radio and was getting ready to fly back to the US for the summer. But she was a wealth of information about things to see and do while we were on the island.

Tiny’s has free WiFi!

Happy hour at Tiny’s. Penny is on the right. She runs the daily VHF cruisers net.

It had been almost a month since we had last done laundry, and it was high on our list of priorities. Tiny’s offered a pair of washers and dryers for cruisers to use, but at $5 per load per machine, we thought we were looking at $30 or more to wash clothes. Plus it was sort of implied that if you were hanging around the bar for three hours doing laundry, you should probably be ordering some food and beverages, so we were contemplating a $100 laundry run. But we heard of a place in the settlement of Deadman’s Cay where you could drop off laundry, and pick it up the next day. It was too far to walk or dinghy to, but we wanted to rent a car to see more of the island, and so a plan was born. We made arrangements to pick up a car at 11 AM and head south to Deadman’s Cay, find this rumored laundry, drop off our clothes, and then go sightseeing. We’d either pick them up on the way back to Salt Pond, or early the following morning, since we had the car for 24 hours.

Loaded down with laundry.

Our ride for the day. Glad I can still drive a stick shift!

It took a while to find the laundry. The locals know where everything is, and so you don’t see a lot of signs on businesses.

It worked out really well, as Nadia, the woman who ran the laundry, only charged us $2 per load to wash, dry and fold. The total bill came to $17 for two large plastic bags of clothes. We felt that we saved enough to pretty much cover the $65 car rental.

One of our sightseeing priorities was to see several of the churches of Father Jerome. He and his churches really deserve their own post. He was an early 20th century renaissance man who learned architecture, became an Anglican priest, converted to Catholicism at some point, and made it his life’s work to rebuild Bahamian churches that had been destroyed in hurricanes. His designs featured stout concrete construction that was intended to withstand future storms. Long Island has several Father Jerome churches, and we went in search of them.

Another island highlight we visited was Dean’s Blue Hole, which claims to be the world’s deepest saltwater blue hole at 663 feet deep, although apparently a deeper one was found a few years ago in China.

Dean’s is the site of the international free diving championships, where divers set world records descending to incredible depths (greater than 300 feet) while holding their breath. We brought along our snorkel gear so that we could explore the site, and since there was no one there the day we visited, we even swam out to the platform the divers use to train and compete. Entering the hole from the beach, it was amazing how in less than three or four paces the water went from ankle deep to bottomless.

After swimming at Dean’s Blue Hole we stopped for a late lunch at a little roadside bar and grill called Max’s Conch Bar…

and then crossed the island to explore several of the beaches on the Atlantic side. We saw an occasional footprint, but otherwise had the east coast of the island all to ourselves.

The island also has several large cave systems that can be explored. We’d hoped to see at least one of them, but we just ran out of day, parking the car and dinghying back out to Eagle Too shortly after sunset. Next time maybe. Because I think we’ll probably want to pass this way again next year to finish exploring all Long Island has to offer.

Full Contact Racing

Twenty-eight sailboats came to the starting line. They formed up abreast of one another, dropped their sails, set their anchors, and waited for the starting gun.

Everything was quiet for a moment, the crews tensely waiting at their stations. Then the loud report of the gun kicked everyone into action. The anchor men started furiously hauling in the rodes, pulling the boats across the starting line while the line handlers begin hauling up the sails.

The helmsmen tried to lay in a course that would avoid the jam of other boats twisting to find the wind while giving them each an advantage off the line. Everyone was shouting orders, warnings, insults. It was pure pandemonium!

This was our second year attending the National Family Island Regatta. If you haven’t been following us for long, please go back and read this post from last year’s Regatta to better understand what an awesome event it is:

The Family Island Regatta: The Reason We’re Here in Georgetown

This year, though, the races were taken to an entirely new level. Gusty, variable winds challenged the crews to maintain control of their vessels. Some would set a reef in their mainsail, others wouldn’t, and it was anyone’s guess which decision the fickle winds would favor. The boats seemed to stay bunched tighter together, resulting in high drama while rounding the marks. And to top it off, we decided this year to anchor Eagle Too in Kidde Cove, closer to the race course. At times, wind shifts actually put us inside the course, with race boats coming down both our port and starboard sides. How close were we to the action? This close!

A dozen boats tried to round the mark where there was only room for half that many. Boats were colliding, crew members were yelling, pushing other boats and in some cases jumping or falling from one boat to another.

Then boats began to sink. Whether from collisions or wind gusts, boats were tipped on their sides, emptying their crews into the harbor and disappearing underway, leaving only their masts visible. Then unbelievably, other boats actually started running over the sunken vessels with their crews treading water. It was literally a waterborne train wreck. Damn it was fun to watch!

A cruiser chasing the boats in his dinghy gave color commentary on VHF channel 72. Blow by blow, turn by turn, he excitedly called out collisions and sinkings and strategic moves like a professional horse track announcer. His excitement was infectious. Full contact demolition sailboat racing. If ESPN would broadcast this, I think the ratings would be phenomenal!

Twenty-eight boats came to the starting line. By the end of the race, four were sitting on the bottom of the harbor, and six more had been towed off the course, unable to complete the race. But no one was hurt, so in the end, it was just an exciting place to be.

We enjoyed some of the finest sailboat racing you can imagine. From little Class E dinghies with a crew of one or two:

to the stars of the show, the big Class A sloops, with their crews of 14 or more:

it was four full days of fast action and high drama on Elizabeth Harbor. If you love sailing and you haven’t attended a National Family Island Regatta, you really should put it on your short list of things to do someday! We’re so glad we had this opportunity to experience it again.

We have some videos to post, but it will have to wait for a time when we have a better internet connection. For now, here’s just a sampling of the hundreds of pictures we took.

How We Broke The Boat

In a head-to-head battle between a boom vang and a topping lift, apparently the boom vang wins. Now I have to admit that there is a certain logic in this. You see, in the ongoing adventure that is a life afloat, Murphy’s Law reigns supreme. Breaking the boom vang is something that could be safely addressed from deck level. But the topping lift? Repairing that means that someone has to be hauled to the top of the mast, six stories above the water. So obviously, the one that requires the greatest physical danger to repair is the one that will cry Uncle.

Some background: a boom vang is used to pull downward on the boom to control mainsail twist. A topping lift is a line that pulls upward on the boom to keep it from falling downward when the sail is lowered. In our case, we use our topping lift to keep the boom elevated to the optimal angle for unfurling and furling our mainsail, which rolls up into the mast like a window shade. If the boom angle is off, the sail won’t roll in and out smoothly, which can be kind of a PITA.

Here’s a picture I found online of a vang in case you’re not familiar. Pulling the line on the vang shortens it, pulling the boom downward.

So there we were in 10,000 feet of water, crossing from the Great Bahamas Banks to New Providence, and the wind was dying. We’d started off moving along well, cruising at 6 knots in an 8 knot (apparent) SW wind. But as the wind lightened, our speed started dropping into the mid-5’s, and at times our knotmeter would read 4.9. We were trying to delay starting the engine for as long as possible, because damn it, we’re a sailboat, and we should be able to do more sailing! But we wanted to make it to New Providence by dinnertime, and we still had over 30 miles to go.

Since we’re cruisers, we don’t normally obsess over sail shape like racers do. As long as the boat is moving along at 5 knots or more and we’re not heeling excessively, it’s a happy day. But since we had places to be, I started fine tuning the mainsail to get everything I could out of what wind was left. I noticed that the top of the mainsail was twisting off to leeward (downwind) enough to spill air from the top third of the sail, costing us speed, and I wanted to fix it. So I tightened the vang, pulling down on the boom, and reducing the twist in the top of the sail.

But I forgot to loosen the topping lift. Because it’s set to a particular boom angle, I hardly ever touch it. And because we don’t race and aren’t constantly looking for ways to wring out another tenth of a knot, I usually don’t mess with the vang much. So I just didn’t make the connection when I noticed I had to winch really hard on the vang to pull the boom down. I didn’t think about the fact that I was stretching the topping lift. Not making excuses really, just a mea culpa.

A few minutes later, a cascade of line rained down onto the port side deck. “What the hell was that?” Rhonda and I asked each other, until I looked up and saw we didn’t have a topping lift any longer.

“Crap.” That’s about all I could think to say.

We were in the middle of a pretty good weather window, one that was supposed to last for several days, and our plans were to stop for the night in New Providence, and continue south the next day to the Exumas. But now we had a change of plans. It looked like we’d be heading to a marina in the hopes of finding a rigger who could fix our broken boat.

We learned an interesting thing about Nassau in the next few days. While it seems that there are sailboats all over the place, it turns out that there aren’t actually any people here who work on them. No matter where we called, looked or searched, we couldn’t find a single business that did rigging repair (note: I see a possible business opportunity for someone who wants to semi-retire to the Bahamas). I even texted our rigger back in Pensacola to see if he had any connections here. He suggested a person in Miami, who referred us to a contact on the island, who passed us on to the same local sailmakers loft that I had already called and who told me they didn’t do rigging. It took two days of phoning around just to find someplace that sold the line we needed, and then they only had it in red. (Red’s fine, red will work, we’ll take the red thank you very much. How much? $190? Sigh.)

We finally felt that we were making some progress when we approached the operators of NavTours, the local sailing charter base here at the Marina. “Sure, we have some people that can help, but you’ll have to talk to them and arrange something, and they’ll have to do it on their own time after they get off work,” we were told.

The next three days were spent talking to a succession of NavTours employees who all claimed they’d be happy to help, but then always failed to come through for one reason or another. Finally, we met Yasmin, the wiry French-Canadian, who said that if we’d move the boat at 7AM to a slip on the other side of the marina that faced into the wind and then take down our mainsail so he could use the halyard to ascend the mast, he’d do it for us. We shook hands and a plan was finally in motion.

We settled on the 0700 appointment for two reasons. Yasmin had to start work at NavTours at 10, which would give him three hours to help us. Also, the winds have been lighter in the morning, picking up significantly in the early afternoon.  Dropping and then reinstalling our huge mainsail would be impossible in any kind of significant wind. So underway at 0700 it was. But that meant the alarm had to be set for 0530. Being retired for several years now, neither of us had been up that early in longer than we could remember. But we rose to the challenge (and the alarm), and at five minutes after 7, we were sliding into the designated slip that faced into the wind, and I started taking down the main.

Things actually went pretty well from that point on. Yasmin fixed up his bosun’s seat to go up the mast, and I cranked him up while Rhonda tended the spinnaker halyard, which he used as a safety line. Of course, it was 10x harder than it sounds. About 50 turns on the winch to lift Yasmin was all my poor heart could handle before I’d have to stop, gasping for breath, and then take a break. It took at least seven or eight episodes of winch, gasp, pause to rest, then resume before he was finally at the top of the mast.

Going Up

Almost There!

Finally At The Top

Rhonda manning (womaning?) the safety line.

It was then that we discovered that I hadn’t just snapped the line. It looked like I had overloaded the topping lift masthead sheave (small pulley) so severely that I’d bent the axle, rendering it unusable.

That shaft is supposed to be straight!

The topping lift normally runs from the end of the boom to the top of the mast, over the sheave, down through the mast to deck level, and then back to the cockpit so it can be adjusted underway. But with the sheave destroyed, there was no good way to run a replacement. So it was on to Plan B. I passed a length of 3/8ths line up to Yasmin, and he tied it to the top of the mast. I could then tie this to the end of the boom, effectively acting as a replacement topping lift. Only it wouldn’t be adjustable. It would have to be set to a specific length and tied off. But that’s OK. We can work with that. It will allow us to keep sailing the boat, until we can make it back to Pensacola, land of readily available parts, overnight delivery, and easily obtainable rigging services, and have a proper repair done.

Yasmine came back down, the mainsail went back up, and a little after 9AM we were slowly sliding back into our original slip, all before the winds started picking up. A $100 bill changed hands, I tied off the new temporary line at what looked like a good height, and we were back in business.

Of course, it took five days to work out a solution, it caused us to miss what had been an excellent weather window, and it now looks like it will be about three more days before the winds again turn favorable for us to continue south.

And that’s the story of how we broke the boat. A simple little cautionary tale about how a brief lapse of judgement led to a week’s delay and over a thousand dollars in unanticipated expenses counting parts, labor and marina fees.

Just another day in the Bahamas, mon!

Time For A Recap

We broke the boat while crossing from the Great Banks to New Providence in the Bahamas. We’ll have a bit more to say about that soon, but for now, things could be worse. We’re hanging out here at Palm Cay Marina:

Since hanging out in places like this is exactly why we do what we do, well, you won’t be hearing any complaints from us. In the meantime, the downtime while we work on fixing Eagle Too actually gives us a chance to do a little catching up.

First let me say that if you want to see more of the day-to-day details of our travels, along with lots of pictures of sunsets and beaches, you really should follow our Facebook page. Its much easier to quickly post a “here we are” message there than to write a blog post, especially in this land of intermittent WiFi. Eventually we see the blog focusing more on general information for cruisers, especially if we move forward with our tentative plan to put all our lessons learned into a book.

OK, so let’s get caught up. As we’ve mentioned before, when leaving Florida for the Bahamas, we like to move up to the area of Angelfish Creek and the Ocean Reef Club in north Key Largo. Doing so cuts our transit of the Gulf Stream down to just a little over 50 miles, which we can easily do in daylight. After waiting a few days for southerly winds, we raised anchor at 0800 and headed out into the North Atlantic.

This is what’s known as a BAB, or a Big Assed Boat. It shared our anchorage off Ocean Reef Club in Florida.

The charts said it was 54 miles at 063° to our destination, Bimini Sands Marina. Calculating a 15° offset for the effects of the Gulf Stream, once clear of the outer reefs we set the autopilot to 078°, hoisted the sails, and settled in for the ride. Motorsailing in a light SE wind and with the help of the powerful current, Eagle Too was flying, averaging 8 knots speed-over-ground. Here’s Rhonda hard at work piloting the boat.

We saw quite a few sails on the way across, as apparently a lot of traffic had stacked up on the Florida side waiting for good weather to cross the Gulf Stream. As you may be aware, in a mild south wind the Gulf Stream can be as tame as a kitten, but in a strong north wind it can be worse than a bull ride on a rollercoaster.

We passed this vessel about halfway across, and just had to take a picture. You don’t see very many Chinese junk-rigged sailboats around these parts.

The 15° course offset turned out to be absolutely perfect, as in less than seven hours our autopilot had driven us directly to the entrance to Bimini Sands Marina.

An hour after arriving, we had taken the shuttle to the airport, cleared in with Customs and Immigration, and took down our yellow “Q” flag and hoisted our Bahamas courtesy flag. We’d finally made it back to the Bahamas!

While waiting for good weather to cross the Great Banks, we spent the next few days doing some typical Bahamian things, like stopping at Joe’s Conch Shack for some fresh conch salad.

Check out the conch shell pile behind the shack. There were some beautiful shells there, but we honestly don’t know what we’d do with more conch shells!

Another priority was to pick up some fresh baked Bahamian Bread from a little place we know on North Bimini.

One plain and one cinnamon raisin, please! If you’ve never had fresh Bahamian bread, you’re really missing something special. The closest I think I can describe what the regular loaf tastes like is to imagine that a vanilla cake and a King’s Hawaiian dinner roll had a secret love child.

And the cinnamon raisin? It’s like a whole loaf of Cinnabon without the frosting!

While on North Bimini, we took the time to tour the Dolphin House, which we’d missed the last time we were here. This house deserves a dedicated post (we spent over an hour there and took over 50 pictures), but for now, here are just a few highlights.The Dolphin House is this amazing piece of functional art that is a hand built labor of love. The gentleman you see in the picture is Ashley Saunders, and he has spent his entire life constructing this architectural wonder. It’s made entirely of cement block and hand-mixed concrete, and virtually every single inch is adorned with shells, salvaged tiles, and found objects that Ashley selected and placed by hand.

What’s truly amazing is when you lean in to take a closer look. Then you see that much of the decoration on a wall like this…

is exquisitely detailed. How many hours of hand labor do you think it took to cut each one of those spirals from individual conch shells and then apply each shell petal to this flower?

We finally made it to the third floor, which is still under construction. “Do you think you’ll ever finish it?” I asked Mr. Saunders. “No,” he replied, “my son will have to finish it for me,” he said poignantly.

But just imagine what it will be when it’s finally done. And look at the location!

Before we left, Mr. Saunders asked if we had a boat card we’d like to add to his collection. He has devoted one corner of a room to displaying the cards of visitors that had toured the Dolphin House. We were happy to add ours to his collection.

Do you see anybody we know?

Our card joins the collection.

We were amazed when we awoke the next day to see that sometime in the early hours of the morning, a Bahamian mailboat (the generic name for the small inter-island freighters that travel the islands) had managed to squeeze into our marina to make a delivery. Disappointed that we had missed watching it pull in, we made sure to hang around in order to see how it would manage exiting through the small channel entrance.

And then it was time to leave. The prediction called for a brisk south wind, and while the seas were expected to be a bit higher than we liked, it looked like we could make a quick transit of the banks. Having never seen 20 knots of wind on the banks, we really didn’t know what to expect, but since the whole area is so shallow, averaging only 12 to 15 feet deep for the entire 75 miles of the crossing, I thought it was more likely that we’d just see a short chop rather than the 3 to 5 foot seas I’d expect on the Gulf from winds that high.

See that narrow channel behind us? That’s the one the mailboat came through!

Eagle Too was once again flying, averaging over seven knots under wind power alone as we enjoyed what for us has been a truly rare event—making way towards our destination without having to run our engine! We made such good time that rather than anchoring about 2/3rds of the way across the banks as we’ve had to in the past, we made it basically all the way to the eastern exit point, the NW Channel, in a single day.

We spent a night at anchor on the banks, which is always a little weird because their’s no land in sight except for straight down, where you can clearly see seabed 15 feet below you. It looks like you’re anchoring in the middle of the ocean, but it feels like you’re sitting in a lake. Because of the rapid progress we made, we were able to start early the next day and make it all the way to New Providence (Nassau), where we stopped for the evening in a lovely little spot filled with white sandy beaches called Old Fort Bay.

It was on this passage where we broke the boat. Well, a little part of it, anyway. We were motorsailing along (the wind had died and we were once again having to run the engine) when all of a sudden a pile of line (lubbers would say rope) came cascading down onto the deck. “What the hell?” we both said, before figuring out that our topping lift had just expired and fallen to the deck. It’s a line that’s used to set the angle of the boom, and losing it would make sailing a bit more difficult. Our plan had been to keep moving south towards the Exumas. We have a deadline, after all. We’re trying to get to Georgetown by April 24th, when the Family Island Regatta, the national sailing championships, kicks off. But now we decided we needed to find a place where we could repair our broken topping lift. So the next day, we pointed the boat toward a place we’d been to before, the place where we are right now, called Palm Cay Marina. We sailed along the north coast of New Providence, past the docked cruise ships and resorts, to round the eastern end of the island and pull into a slip at Palm Cay.

Our AIS identified this as the Carnival Glory, which we’ve sailed on several times.

Sailing past the Atlantis resort.

And that basically brings us to now. We’re here at Palm Cay Marina, trying to find a way to fix our broken topping lift. It’s turning into quite a little story of its own. But that’s a tale for another day…

 

 

 

We Don’t Do Force Five

Eagle Too and the boats around her dance at their moorings as the winds blow steadily from 25 to 30 knots. Whitecaps dot the harbor. We listen as gusts howl through the rigging, our bow lines creaking as they strain to hold us in place.

It’s our fourth time stopping in Marathon, Florida, but it’s the first time we’ve picked up a mooring from the Marathon Municipal Marina in Boot Key Harbor. Even though there are over 200 mooring balls in the harbor, the location is so popular with cruisers and liveaboards that there is typically a 30 to 50 boat waiting list for a mooring at this time of year. Things don’t usually start to open up until after April, when cruisers from places north, their winter season over, start their seasonal homeward migration.

Approaching the mooring field, Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

Usually on our trek south we end up anchoring outside the harbor while waiting for good weather so that we can move on. This year is different though.  There are actually moorings available. As we look around, we can see several empty ones near us. The reason is Hurricane Irma. When the storm hit the Florida Keys last September, there were over 250 boats moored or at anchor in Boot Key Harbor. After the storm passed, only about 50 remained. Most of the permanent residents were wiped out, and many seasonal cruisers who would have normally filled the vacant space in the harbor decided to skip this season in light of how hard the local area was hit. The result is that when we hailed the marina, they were able to immediately assign us a mooring ball.

Hurricane damage in Boot Key Harbor. This was an abandoned marina, but the last time we saw it the building was intact.

Once the strong north winds in Ft Myers Beach blew themselves out, we experienced a near perfect three days of mild and sunny weather to continue our trip south to the Keys. This is the third time we’ve made this trip in the last two years, and we have a well-established route. From Ft Myers Beach, we head down the Gulf coast to Marco Island, and anchor in Factory Bay.

Thick smoke in Factory Bay, Marco Island, Florida from nearby brush fires.

Smoke so thick it was difficult to breath.

Next, we continue south past Cape Romano and then turn east towards the Everglades, to our next overnight anchorage at a spot called Little Shark River. It’s a great place to park for the evening because if the wind is from the typical easterly direction, you can anchor a mile offshore in 10 feet of water, protected from any wind-driven swell and far enough out to be left alone by the mosquitoes and no-see-ums. But if winds turn westerly, you can head up the river to anchor (in depths of 12 to 14 feet once you clear the entrance bar) and have a peaceful evening. Just be sure you have good screens!

From Little Shark River, it’s an easy seven hours across Florida Bay to the Seven Mile Bridge and the Florida Keys. Well, it’s easy except for the millions of lobster pots that dot the Bay in the winter. Making this crossing at this time of year is actually a lot like running a slalom course, with constant course changes to avoid running over one of the lobster pot floats and potentially wrapping its line around the prop and shaft.

Once in Marathon, a look at the weather forecast convinced us to head to one of the available moorings in the harbor rather than anchor out. We’d originally been hoping to just stop for a day, maybe two, and then be on our way for the Bahamas. But a building high pressure system to our north was predicted to bring us several days of strong east winds, in the 20 to 30 knot range. On the Beaufort scale, that’s what’s known as a Force 5 to Force 7 wind. If you’ve followed us in the past, you know we have a philosophy here on Eagle Too that features something we call the suck-to-fun ratio. We like cruising in calm seas in warm sunny weather in 8 to 12 knots of breeze, because it’s fun. We don’t like bashing into six foot swells in 25 knots of wind, because it sucks. It’s strictly Force 4 winds or below for us. We travel with purpose, and that purpose is to enjoy ourselves. The weather forecast we were looking at did not have a lot of potential fun in it. So we elected to pick up a mooring and wait it out.

Life On The Hook isn’t all glamour and sunsets. Filling a water jug at the dinghy dock to transport back to Eagle Too.

The wind blew for three days, but things finally died down and we were once again on our way. We slipped our mooring and moved to the anchorage outside the harbor to stage for an early departure the following day, stopping at the fuel dock on the way out to top off the tank and fill our reserve jerry jugs.

Sunset over the Seven Mile Bridge

In one of those “it’s a small world” funny coincidences, we learned on the way out of the harbor that we had been moored for four days right next to Penguin, another boat from Pensacola, who was also heading for Bimini. They actually keep their boat right around the corner from us in Pensacola. We spent the next two days leapfrogging past each other as we headed up the Keys, and are now anchored 100 yards apart near the SW shore of Rodriquez Key, just off Key Largo.

It’s Easter Sunday, the first of April, and we’re having a relaxing day doing some writing and weather research. We’re not liking the east winds that are currently blowing for a Gulf Stream crossing, as we’d be heading right into them, but they’re supposed to veer to the southeast in a couple of days. Tomorrow we’ll probably make our last coastal jump north to Angelfish Creek and an anchorage we know off Old Rhodes Key, and then make our crossing to Bimini when the winds turn southerly on Wednesday. Again, if you’d like to see where we are, you can locate Eagle Too by checking our mapshare page at share.garmin.com/EagleToo.

Hopefully we’re just a few days away from a couple of cold Kaliks and some warm Bahamian bread!

The Interrupted Journey, Resumed

While this picture may not look like much, it actually speaks volumes. Just a little over two months after having the tendons in my left leg surgically reattached to what was left of my kneecap, I was back on my bicycle, and able to once again help Rhonda make grocery runs. At my nine-week checkup, my doctor, visibly impressed with my progress, released me to resume normal activities.

It was time to move on.

We went for one last walkabout to say goodbye (for now) to St Petersburg. Spring here is beautiful. If you follow our Facebook page, you’ve seen these pictures already, but for those who don’t or haven’t, here’s a taste of what you’re missing.

Rhonda had one last sit-down with her adopted pets. These guys started out four months ago just randomly swimming by looking for a handout. Within weeks, they started showing up regularly and quacking for Rhonda to come and feed them (who was training who?). After four months, they knew her so well that they’d come by to visit and hang out, and let her hand feed them.

We named them George and Martha. Rhonda misses them already.

Four months is a long time to sit immobile at a dock. We called a diver to scrape the barnacles off our prop and shaft. It took hours to remove and stow the variety of lines and fenders we’d rigged to protect Eagle Too from the hard concrete pier. But finally, we were ready for sea. Various acquaintances we’d met during our time in the marina stopped by to wish us well.

And finally, we resumed our interrupted journey. We had a good three day weather window to move south before a strong cold front bringing thunderstorms and 30 knot winds was predicted to sweep down the Florida peninsula. It was just enough time to hop down the Intracoastal Waterway to Ft. Myers Beach, where we knew we’d be able to pick up a mooring ball in the well protected bay to safely ride out the weather.

A day to Sarasota Bay, where we anchored off the Ringling (of circus fame) mansion.

Another day to a little anchorage we like in Cape Haze that we call the Cul-de-sac. Most times we have it all to ourselves, but this time we shared it with two other sailboats.

Traffic on the ICW was crazy, like traveling a major highway on a holiday weekend.

And then a day to the municipal mooring field here in Ft Myers Beach.

After three days onboard, it was nice to relax ashore with pizza and beer.

We’ll be here for three or four days, and then once the weather settles back down we’ll be on our way south again. If you want to follow along, you can track us at share.garmin.com/eagletoo.

Galley Notes—Provisioning Tips

When it looked like our cruising season had been ended by my  recent injury, we began eating into our store of onboard provisions. But now that it looks like we’ll soon be on our way again, we’ve started restocking the pantry. Here are some provisioning tips we’ve learned for you current or soon-to-be cruisers out there.

First, before we leave the states we stock up on some essentials. We like to have plenty of shelf stable UHT milk (no refrigeration required until opened) onboard to make our morning lattes. While we’ve never had a problem finding bacon or some sort of breakfast sausage wherever we’ve traveled, we have had a hard time finding things like Spam and corned beef hash. Spam and hash can be scarce in the Bahamas, and when you do find them, they can run six to seven dollars a can, compared to about two bucks here at Publix.

Refrigerator space is some of the most valuable space on a boat, so in addition to buying UHT milk, another way we’ve found to stretch the limits of our cold storage space is to stock up on canned butter. We usually get a confused look from people when we mention it, and you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local grocery store, but it’s easy to locate online. This is really high quality creamery butter from New Zealand that tastes wonderful. Each can holds the equivalent of three sticks of butter, and can be stored in the pantry with the other canned goods. As we open each one, Rhonda transfers the contents to a small plastic storage container to keep in the refrigerator.

We’ve never had a problem finding flour and oatmeal wherever we’ve traveled, but all the flour or cereal products we’ve purchased in Mexico (even at major stores like WalMart and Sam’s Club) or in small groceries in the Bahamas have come with unwelcome guests in the form of weevils. It’s common in stores down in the islands to have to look for flour in the freezer, as it’s the easiest way to protect from infestation. A traditional cruiser’s way of dealing with this is to add a liberal amount of bay leaves to the containers used to store pasta, cereals and grains. Apparently there’s something about them that weevils just can’t stand. So we keep an ample supply onboard. It’s much cheaper to purchase bay leaves in bulk than to buy spice-sized bottles, and this gives us enough to let us throw a liberal amount in each container used for cereals or grains. Plus we have plenty onboard for soups or stews!

Believe it or not, mac & cheese is a major staple in the Bahamas. They serve it as a side for everything, along with a dish called peas & rice. Dicing a can of Spam into mac & cheese is an easy to make one-pot meal when underway that we’ve found is one of the few things that goes down easily and stays down when it’s rolly enough to start making us feel a little green around the gills. So when we saw this while doing some online provisioning, we decided to give it a try.

It’s apparently a whole pound of what’s in that packet of golden goodness that’s included in every box of Kraft mac & cheese. We always have plenty of pasta onboard, and usually have butter and UHT milk, so with this, we’ll no longer have to hunt for boxes of Kraft while we’re down in the islands. We’ll let you know how it turns out. Plus we’re all set if we decide to whip up some beer & cheese soup someday!

Right Place, Right Time—Our First Grand Prix!

Sometimes things just happen in a way that ends up putting you in the right place at the right time. If I hadn’t shattered my kneecap a few months ago, Rhonda and I would have long since headed to Cuba and the Bahamas. But since our stay here in St Petersburg had been extended for my recovery and recuperation, we’ve ended up experiencing some pretty interesting things. One we’ll probably always remember is this weekend’s St Petersburg Grand Prix. We’ve watched for a month now as they turned two miles of downtown streets into a Formula One race track. This past weekend, it was showtime.

If you’ve been with us long enough to have read our post “Yes I Am (Or Theoretically Could Be) a Pirate,” then you know we’re not above looking for an angle to exploit when trying to save a few dollars while taking in new experiences. In this case, we wanted to check out the race, but the tickets seemed pretty steep at $75 each. But we’ve been here long enough now to get pretty familiar with the layout of the town, and it only took us a short while to find a spot that hadn’t been adequately fenced, and from where we could see some of the action at the best possible price—free!

It’s been quite the scene here in the marina as our dock filled up with the expensive yachts of racing team owners, helicopters buzzed overhead, and the air was filled with the sound of thousands of angry hornets generated by Indy race cars roaring around the course at speeds up to 175 mph.

This shows where we were in relation to the action.

And here’s a cool little video we grabbed from the televised coverage that gives you an idea of the size of the marina (largest on the west coast of Florida) its proximity to downtown and the municipal airport, which is where the grandstands were set up for the race.

It’s now the day after and the show is over, so we took a walk on the empty track that just yesterday was buzzing with action.

We found what are called tire marbles everywhere, and picked up a few as souvenirs. They’re formed from the rubber that peels off the race car tires as they zoom along the course. I wondered why the cars were constantly in the pits getting tires changed, but now I understand. The rubber they use has the consistency of chewing gum!

While I don’t think it’s something we’d plan to try and attend again, getting to experience the St Pete Grand Prix was definitely one of the highlights of our stay here.

I Did It My Way—The Uncooperative Patient

“I expected you to come in on crutches,” my therapist said at my first physical therapy appointment.

I hadn’t. I was wearing the leg brace my surgeon had prescribed, but rather than locking it rigidly as directed, I’d released it to swing 30° so that I could move my injured leg enough to limp along without crutches.

While lying in bed recovering from the surgery necessary to put my left knee back together, I’d had plenty of time to surf the web, researching the procedure my orthopedic surgeon had performed. I was particularly interested in the discussions on recovery time. The listed recovery range for a partial kneecap removal and patellar tendon reattachment ran from six weeks to one year, with the average being five to six months. I thought six weeks sounded pretty good. I wanted to be that guy. So I started pushing myself pretty aggressively.

It started while I was still in the hotel room we stayed in post-surgery while waiting to regain enough strength to be able to get back onboard Eagle Too. First I’d use my crutches to get back and forth to the bathroom. Then I started leaving one next to the bed, using the other as a cane. Within a couple of days, I was able to hobble back and forth without them.

Once back onboard, I started taking a daily walk. At first I could barely make it to the nearby street corner and back, stopping to pat the corner lamppost in triumph before returning to the boat, holding on to Rhonda the entire time to steady myself. After a few days, I was slowly adding distance to my route.

Two weeks after surgery, at my first follow-up with my surgeon, he told me I could begin weight bearing on the leg. “Way ahead of you, doc,” I said. “I’m already walking around the block every day.”

Two weeks later I started physical therapy. That’s when I surprised them by walking in rather than hobbling in on crutches. They were even more surprised when after two weeks of therapy I showed up without my leg brace. I just felt it was doing more harm than good. I understood the need to protect my knee from being flexed excessively and tearing the tendon repair. But walking with a cage on my leg was throwing my gait off so much that my hips would hurt like hell after a 20 minute walk. I could see where if I followed the prescribed regimen and wore the brace for 12 weeks, I’d need to learn how to walk all over again once it was off. So I jumped on Amazon and ordered a Velcro knee support to wear instead.

“You need to put that leg brace back on,” my therapist sternly lectured me.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much not going to happen, it’s killing my hips when I walk,” I replied.

“Well you really shouldn’t be walking so much,” he said unapprovingly. “I want you back in that brace.”

Another week, another therapy appointment. I again showed up with just my Velcro support.

“Have you been wearing your brace?” my therapist asked.

“Not one time,” I replied. We just stood and stared at each other for a moment, and then he shook his head and started warming up my knee with an ultrasound probe.

Rhonda and I resumed our Tuesday walks to the local AMC theater for $5 bargain movie days. Then we started going a few more blocks to Starbucks. Another week, and I was once again accompanying her on the mile walk to Publix for groceries. I started walking back wearing 20 lbs of groceries in a backpack.

At my six week post-surgery follow-up with my surgeon’s nurse, she was as dismayed as my therapists. But when I showed her that I could stand, walk, and move my leg freely, she shrugged, checked with the doctor and then wrote me a new physical therapy prescription authorizing strength training exercises.

Now it felt like I was getting somewhere. Rather than just standing and waving my leg around at therapy, I could start using the leg press machine and ride the stationary bike. Another week went by and then I decided to test myself. I’d been using Uber and Lyft to get back and forth to my therapy appointments. I now decided to get a ride to my appointment, and then walk the 1.5 miles back to the marina afterwards. It went OK, and that became my new routine. Last week, I started walking both ways. You should have seen my therapist’s face when I said I didn’t need to do any warmups since I’d walked a mile and a half to get there and I was pretty sure the knee was warmed up already.

And now it’s been over eight weeks since my surgery. My knee is a long way from being all better, but it’s strong enough that Rhonda and I can head into town for a festival and go to dinner, covering three or four miles in the process. More importantly, I can move around on deck, climbing up and over the dinghy to get to the anchor locker, or down the ladder on the stern to access the swim platform lockers. A few weeks ago I just didn’t have the strength in my left knee to climb around like that. I figure in a few more weeks, it won’t even be that difficult.

My next follow-up with my surgeon is in another week. I intend to tell him that he did such a wonderful job that he won’t be seeing me again. We love St. Petersburg, but we’ve been here way too long. It’s less than three months till hurricane season starts again, and we want to try and do some cruising. So unless it voids my warranty or he sees some major reason why I shouldn’t, we’ll probably push on south and head for the Bahamas for a couple of months. It sounds like a great way to recuperate!