Author Archives: Robert

Happier Hour And The Very Good Deal

We first heard about Emerald Bay Marina (or The Marina at Emerald Bay as they like to call themselves on the VHF) from another cruising couple we met in Nassau. During our travels we often learn of places that weren’t originally on our radar from talking to other boaters. I’d go so far as to say that probably half the places we’ve made a point to visit were places we’d never even heard of when we set out for the Bahamas last December.

When another couple we were having sundowners with several weeks later, this time at Allen’s Cay in the northern Exumas, also mentioned Emerald Bay, it cemented the notion that maybe this was a place we should visit. And when weather delays kept pushing back our arrival in George Town, and we found ourselves staring April 15th in the face and needed to find some reliable internet to do our taxes, the Marina at Emerald Bay sounded like a very good option since we were in the area.

ebm

So we pulled in for a few days. To do our taxes. And catch up on laundry. And grab some provisions and restock our liquor cabinet. And then the weather closed in.

We’ve been here now for two weeks, listening to the wind blow. A steady 15 to 25 knots from the northeast, with gusts on some days into the 30’s. But before you tell us to suck it up and not let a little wind scare us, I should point out that the marina entrance faces northeast, and runs close to a shallow reef. When the wind blows strongly from anywhere north of east, large breaking waves sweep the inlet.

breakers

We watched boats try to leave. And the breakers stopped them dead like they hit a wall, and then tossed them around like a cork in a tempest. There just wasn’t anyplace we needed to be that merited chancing an exit through those waves. As I said to another boater who thought he could impress or inspire us with tales about worse conditions he’d endured in the past, we had no reason to deliberately put ourselves in a situation where one little engine hiccup could cause us to lose the boat.

But here’s the good news. If you’re going to be stuck somewhere for a while, it would be hard to beat The Marina at Emerald Bay. Because it would be hard to think of a place that was better at serving the needs of cruisers like us.

There’s pretty good, free WiFi, and a strong cell signal. The shower room is among the best we’ve seen in our travels, with individual rooms each containing a sink, toilet and enclosed shower, all cleaned daily. Modern floating docks in very good condition. The laundry facility? Several washers and dryers, all late model front loaders, and they’re totally free! Yes, free. A free DVD lending library with several hundred movies. A pleasant, professional staff. And probably the nicest clubhouse we’ve ever seen. Even nicer than any yacht club we’ve visited.

The front desk check-in.

frontdesk

The reading room.

library

The coffee bar, replenished daily.

coffeebar

The boater’s  lounge.

lounge1

More of the boater’s lounge.

lounge3

The TV room, with American satellite TV.

lounge2

Even a complimentary internet-connected computer for those who don’t have their own laptop.

computer

We forgot to take a picture of the fitness center and weight room, but we did grab a shot of the billiards table.

poolroom

Now none of this would surprise many of you if I told you that we were paying $5, $4, even $3 a foot to stay here. But get this. Our charge to stay at The Marina at Emerald Bay has been 50 cents a foot. That’s right. Half a buck per foot per night. So for our 37 foot boat, we have the free laundry, free WiFi, free DVD library, showers and coffee bar and lounge and computers for less than $20 a day.

But wait, there’s more! It’s called Happier Hour, and it takes place every Monday at 5:30. You see, The Marina at Emerald Bay is owned by Sandals Resort, and to make us feel part of the family, they throw a free weekly party for the marina guests.

sign

Just be sure to be on time, because the rum punch and food goes fast once the bell rings!

happierhour1

happierhour2

Not enough for you? Well, there’s a Greg Norman designed 18 hole course right next door that wraps along the shore like Pebble Beach, and of course, the Sandals Resort that I mentioned in our previous post is just a few minute’s walk down the beach. They’re not free, of course, but with all the money you can save by staying at the marina, well, maybe you can afford to splurge a little!

What’s the catch, you ask? Well, there are two. First, in order to secure the 50 cents per night rate, you have to stay a minimum of three nights (but honestly, why would you want to leave after just one or two nights?). The second is that the bargain rate dockage comes with no services. That’s no water, no power, no pumpout. Just a space at a dock to tie up your boat. But since we make our own water and power, and the temperatures are still cool enough to be comfortable without air conditioning, this hasn’t been a problem for us. But if you absolutely need power and water for air conditioning and the ice maker, well, the rate is $2.75 a foot a day, plus metered utilities.

But honestly, who would have believed you could find such value here in the Bahamas, land of the $18 hamburger and $45 case of beer?

Yes, I Am (Or Theoretically Could Be) A Pirate, 200 Years Too Late

So we’re currently stuck at Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma Island waiting yet again for weather. We’d heard a lot of good things about the marina here at Emerald Bay and what a first class operation it was from cruisers we met on our way south, and we’ll have more to say about that in another post. But today we want to talk about the enjoyable time we had yesterday.

Emerald Bay Marina is owned by Sandals, which also operates the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort that’s just down the beach. Rhonda and I decided to go for a walk on the beach yesterday, because we’d heard that it was a shortcut to a local bakery in Roker’s Point where you could order fresh Bahamian bread for pick up the next morning.

So we’re strolling along a typical Bahamian beach (beautiful clear blue water and nice almost-white sand) when we happened across the beach-side entrance to Sandals.

s12

There were water toys scattered about and pretty little cabanas full of Sandals guests relaxing and enjoying the day, and one of the first things I noticed is that there really didn’t appear to be any sort of control over access to the resort from the beach.

s11

So I started looking a little closer at the folks on the beach, and the second thing I noticed is that no one appeared to be wearing any sort of wristband or tag that identified them as guests of the resort.

So I turned to Rhonda and said, “You know, I’ll bet that in theory, (since this was a purely hypothetical conversation, after all) we could just walk right into Sandals and check it out, since there really doesn’t seem to be any type of gate or fence or person checking IDs.

It actually seemed like it would be a reasonable thing to do, because the marina, being an extension of Sandals Resort, offered a resort day-pass for $160 per person, and we’d discussed possibly buying a day’s access for my birthday next Tuesday. Surely they’d understand if we wanted to first take a quick look to see if it merited $320 for a one day pass for the two of us?

And then I said to Rhonda (purely theoretically, of course), “And you know, since the resort is an all-inclusive, I’ll bet if we just walked up to the pool bar like we belonged there and asked for a couple of beers, they’d more than likely serve us, because I doubt the wait staff checks room keys or anything.”

“Do you think so?” Rhonda asked apprehensively, as she is not a natural born pirate and somewhat uncomfortable with such speculation.

“I dunno for sure, but I’ll bet you the servers don’t care, particularly if you throw a couple of bucks their way,” I offered hypothetically.

s3s13 s10 s14

“And I’ll bet we could even enjoy some of the activities and perhaps even relax by the pool. If we were to try, that is,” I conjectured.

s6 s17 s18

s4 s20 s2

Let’s just say that it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable day.

s16 s7

s19 s15 s9

Were we pirates? Well, who’s to say, really? Maybe the title of this post reveals a hidden truth. Or maybe it’s all just an opportunity waiting for someone with a sense of daring and adventure to exploit. We’ll never tell… 🙂

s21

The Bahamian Ghost Town

We first heard about Lee Stocking Island from some cruisers we’d met further up the Exumas. It was an odd place, they told us. It had been home to a large marine research station that had been suddenly and completely abandoned in 2012. The crew just got on boats one day and left, leaving everything behind. As recently as two or three years ago, they said, you could still find computers sitting on desks, outboard motors on skiffs, and equipment in the labs.

It sounded like an episode of Lost. This we had to see.

It was a short trip from where we had anchored at Rudder Cut Cay to see David Copperfield’s underwater sculpture The Piano. Only 12 miles or so.  Of course, we had to thread our way out Rudder Cut and then back in through Adderly Cut. Navigating cuts, which are the breaks between the Exuma Cays that provide passage between the Banks and Exuma Sound, is one of the most dangerous navigational challenges you face down here.  Huge volumes of water stream through the cuts, generating strong tidal currents. The tumultuous reversing seas and standing waves that sometimes arise, as well as numerous reefs and rocks, have ended more than one cruiser’s journey. We then had to ride a rising tide to clear a large shoal in order to get into the anchorage. But hey, it was only 12 miles or so.

It took a radio call to boats already in the anchorage for guidance on navigating our way in. An hour of seeing a foot or less under our keel left Rhonda craving a stiff drink by the time we finally dropped the anchor. But we obviously made it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Three or four weeks ago, we would have just passed on by. But after dozens of Cays and weeks of navigating the shoals and channels of the Banks, I was sure we could do it.

So what did we find? Here, have a look.

station

station5

station7

station2

station4

station3

stationlab1

stationlab2

station1

station6

station8

I can’t believe Hollywood hasn’t made a horror movie here. We walked about the property for an hour, the only people there, feeling a bit uncomfortable and out of place, as if we shouldn’t be intruding in this Bahamian ghost town. It definitely wasn’t your typical Exumas experience. But it’s a stop I’m glad we took the time to make.

And by the way, you may have noticed that it’s been darn near a month since we’ve updated our blog. That’s entirely due to how rare it is to find a decent internet connection here in the Exumas. While we’ve occasionally been able to get a good enough connection from a nearby BTC (Bahamas Telephone Company) tower to do a quick Facebook update and sometimes even upload a few pictures, it has been over four weeks since we’ve had WiFi with enough bandwidth to do a blog post. But we arrived today at Emerald Bay Marina on Grand Exuma Island, where it looks like we’ll be hanging out for at least a few days, maybe a week, to wait for some windy weather to blow through. We’ve seen and done some amazing things in the last four weeks, so maybe we’ll have to do a mother-of-all-update posts to catch everyone up!

Amps In The Bank, Water In The Tank, And Spending A Day In Nassau

After four long days, the winds have finally stopped howling, and Rhonda and I are getting ready to make our next move. It’s about time, as 96 hours of listening to the rigging hum and feeling the boat rock and rub against the pilings was just about all we could stand. It’s a little over 30 miles from Palm Cay Marina to Allen’s Cay at the northern end of the Exuma island chain. Our plan is to settle our tab and throw off the lines in the morning and skirt Yellow Bank as we head southeast. The charts say the Bank is 12 feet deep with numerous coral heads that reach to within 3 to 4 feet of the surface (our keel is 5 feet deep). It requires visual piloting, which means we have to make sure the sun is high and the sky is clear so that we can read the water and dodge the keel munching stacks of coral. We’re thinking we’ll probably take the scenic route, skirting the edge of the bank rather than cutting straight across. It will add a few miles to our sail, but it should be quite a bit easier on our nerves.

To prepare, we spent the day giving Eagle Too a much needed bath. I also ran the water maker to fill the tank, and turned on the battery charger to top off our house bank with plenty of fresh electrons. With everything full, we’re basically ready to go.

So I mentioned in my previous post that Palm Cay Marina has a little car available for running errands. Your use is limited to two hours, and since it takes 20-25 minutes to get into Nassau and the same to get back, you have to plan your trip to make the most of the just-slightly-over-an-hour that’s left to do whatever it is that you need to do. On our grocery/pharmacy/liquor store runs, we literally plot our movements in advance and head into town with lists in hand to make the most of every minute. But the other day we had an idea. We wanted to spend an afternoon just sightseeing. More than you could fit into a two hour window. But we didn’t want to have to rent a car. So when we found out that Bob and Wendy on S/V Journey also wanted to play tourist for a while, a plan was hatched. We signed up to take the car from 11AM – 1PM, and they took the 1 – 3 PM. And like that, we had a ride for half a day!

We headed for The Queen’s Staircase, which was hand-carved by slaves from a hill of solid limestone in the 18th Century.

qs1

qs2

qs3

We hiked up to Fort Fincastle, with its commanding view of the cruise ships in the harbor.

fincastle1

fincastle2

We wandered through the grounds of the government buildings.

nassau2

nassau5

And stumbled upon a rum distillery.

watlingrum4

watlingrum

watlingrum3

watlingrum2

We explored the former gracious manor home Graycliff, now operated as an exclusive hotel. We were in awe of their lobby “tree” made entirely of wine bottles!

graycliff3

graycliff2

graycliff1

graycliff5

graycliff4

Graycliff has its own cigar factory, which I had to see (and sample the wares).

cigarfactory3

cigarfactory2

cigarfactory

We took in the general sights around town.

nassau1

nassau3

nassau4

nassau6

And then stopped by the Rum Cake Factory, where they sell absolutely amazing cakes for only $5 each. They were better than Tortola Rum Cakes for a third the price.

rum-cake-factory

rum-cake-factory2

A quick stop to pick up some “takeaway” street food to bring back to the boat for dinner later.

food1 food2

And then our time ran out and we had to return to the marina. But we packed a lot of the sights, sounds and feel of all that is Nassau in four short hours!

Waiting Out Weather

We originally planned to stay here at Palm Cay Marina for three or four days in order to make a grocery run and catch up on our laundry. But then we looked at the weather. The forecast called for wind. Lots and lots of wind. Gale force wind. The kind of wind that makes sitting at anchor damned unpleasant.  So we decided that we’d much rather wait it out here in this snug little harbor tied firmly to a pier. And like that, our three to four day visit is now entering its second week. And there are at least two, possibly three more days of this wind yet to come.

While we may be sailors, we’re the leisurely cruising sort. There’s nothing about heading out under a gale warning that we find appealing. Since I often tell people that we have no place in particular to be and all the time in the world to get there, we feel no urgency to get moving until the conditions are right. Besides, this is a pretty nice place. There’s a bar, a restaurant, a beach and a pool. The washers work in the laundry room. They even have a little Toyota that you can check out for two hours at a time to run errands. We’ve used the time to do some shopping and a little sightseeing, and we’re taking advantage of the pretty decent marina internet to catch up on our banking and start our taxes and do some software updates on all our various devices. We’ve even been able to catch up on a few of the TV shows we’ve missed since leaving Florida by streaming episodes (which is not as easy as it sounds, but I’ll have more on that another day).

But still, our marina fee of $80 a day really starts to add up after a while. It’s putting quite a dent in our cruising budget. So hopefully in the next few days this wind will blow itself out and we’ll be on our way. From here, we’re jumping over to the Exumas to start working our way south towards George Town.

But for now, let’s take advantage of the fast WiFi to catch up on pictures!

We’ll start with this taste of what it’s like to wake up after a night spent anchored in the middle of the Great Bahamas Banks. No land in sight, but only 18 feet deep!

On the second day of our trip from Bimini to Nassau, we tucked into what we thought was a nice little anchorage between Chub Cay and DIamond Cay. Chub Cay has been a major mecca for sport fishermen that want to hunt for the big ones in the deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. Unfortunately for them, it was clobbered by hurricane Matthew last year, and is only now starting to get back on its feet. And the nice little anchorage turned out to be a mirage. When I dove on the anchor to check its set, I learned that the nice big patch of white sand that we’d settled over was actually a flat table of white limestone, and the anchor was just sitting on top of it. Fortunately, extremely light winds were forecast overnight, so we just put out a hundred feet of chain and called it a night. Besides, there was an unlocked WiFi network available that let us check weather and update Facebook.

chubcay chubcay2

The next morning we rose with the sun and pointed Eagle Too towards Nassau. The day started dead calm.

calmmorningdeparture

We tried to motor-sail, but there just wasn’t any wind to be had and we eventually gave up. When it did finally start to blow, it was dead on the nose, and since we needed to be at Palm Cay Marina before they closed the gate in the evening, we continued motoring. Rhonda put out a couple of fishing lines, but only managed to add to her collection of seaweed.

seaweed

By mid-afternoon, we passed Atlantis on Paradise Island, which anyone who’s been to Nassau will recognize.

atlantis

Dodging the cruise ship and mega-yacht traffic, we hooked around the eastern end of New Providence Island to reach Palm Cay Marina, our destination, where we quickly settled in and made ourselves at home.

palmcay1

palmcay3

palmcay4

palmcay9

palmcay8

palmcay2

palmcay7

palmcay5

Among cruisers, Nassau is considered a bit of an armpit. The main harbor is crowded and dirty, and crime is rampant. Even marinas with security have had problems with thieves approaching at night from the water on paddle boards to burglarize yachts. Palm Cay Marina is several miles from Nassau, and has security both from the land side, and from the water as well. To enter from land, you have to get past this guy.

guard

And believe it or not, they pull up a chain barrier to lock the waterway into the marina at dusk.

palmcaygate

It’s a shame it has to be this way, but it is what it is, and as the Capitol of the Bahamas, Nassau is the best place to run parts, obtain stores, fill prescriptions, or send and receive any type of mail. So we picked a place where the security is tight enough that many people don’t even lock their boats. And did I mention the free loaner car?

OK, it’s not really much of a car. And the steering wheel is in the wrong place. But the streets get a bit narrow and they drive on the wrong side of the road here, so it works. With Rhonda helping remind me to keep left (especially at traffic circles), we made it into town and back without incident. My biggest problem was my tendency to turn on the windshield wipers whenever I wanted to signal a turn, because the control stalks were reversed on the steering column.

car2

loanercar

driving

If you’re weeks out from seeing a major grocery store, we discovered you’ll find everything you need at Solomons. And the prices weren’t even that bad. Some things were a bit higher than we expected, but the meat and vegetable prices really weren’t much more than we were used to paying at home. And the selection was terrific. And we could even buy beer by the case! In Bimini, we had to purchase by the can or bottle, as the stores didn’t want to give a case price, but rather protect their margins by charging by the can.

market1

market2

market3

market4

market5

So if ever there’s a reason to deal with all that is Nassau, the opportunity to re-provision at a well stocked grocery store is right up there.

Our groceries stacked on the pier waiting to be brought on board.

groceries

In our next post, we’ll go a little bit rogue in order to use the loaner car, which is really for running short errands, to do some sightseeing.

 

That Went Well

Maybe we’ve learned a thing or two in our first year of cruising. Or maybe we just got lucky. It was probably a bit of both. But I had a plan to move us swiftly and safely from Marathon in the Florida Keys to Bimini in the Bahamas. A plan based on a careful analysis of the winds, currents and predicted weather. And it played out perfectly.

First, some constraints. I promised Rhonda when we left Pensacola that we’d only sail overnight if absolutely necessary. She really doesn’t like it, and the truth is I’m not really a big fan either, although I’m willing to do it when it makes sense.  But our weirdest occurrences have always happened in the darkest of night, like the time a flailing jib sheet rolled open the valve on one of our deck-stored scuba tanks and I thought a bomb had exploded, or our encounter with the fleet of weirdly lit UFOs (unidentified floating objects) in the middle of the Yucatan channel. Things that go bump in the night are always much less frightening if there’s no night and you can plainly see what’s bumping.

Some people sail a single leg from Marathon to Bimini or Gun Cay. But it requires you to leave in the afternoon and travel through the night for arrival the next day. So I knew we needed to move closer before crossing. I’d made a promise, after all. I wanted to stage the boat where we could make it across the Florida Straits in the span of a single day’s light. The first step was to hop up to Rodriquez Key, a trip of about 45 miles. The moderate cold front that had just blown through Marathon and cost us a night’s sleep promised a day of 15-20 knot winds from the northwest. Normally this is a bit sportier than we would prefer to head out in. When the winds get to 20 knots or higher, things can break on a sailboat if you’re not careful. The margin that allows you to make a few mistakes without hurting anyone starts getting a bit thin. But I knew that because it would be a broad reach (wind from behind the boat), it would be easier, and traveling up the Hawk Channel on the southeast side of the Keys, the islands would block the wind some and the seas would be flat. And it worked! While it wasn’t a pretty day, we had a rip-snorting sail under reefed jib and double reefed main, regularly topping seven knots even though we were towing our dinghy, which was 1/3rd full of water from the following seas.

sailingeast

A brisk downwind sail in flat seas. In case you noticed, don’t worry, Rhonda fixed her harness shortly after I took this picture.

We sailed the entire way, arriving well before sunset and tucking in between Rodriquez Key and Key Largo for shelter. Even though the wind was still blowing 15 knots or more, the water was like a calm lake, and we had a good night’s sleep.

Many sail from Rodriquez Key to Bimini as a day trip. But to do it in a boat like ours, which usually travels at six to seven knots, requires leaving at around 4AM to get into Bimini by late afternoon.  With sunrise currently occurring at about 7AM, this means several hours of travel in pre-dawn darkness. While we’d normally take that deal in order not to have to spend a night at sea, there was a big problem. This time of year, the entire area is heavily mined with crab traps, since it’s the season. And a 4AM departure meant one of us (probably me) would have to spend several hours sitting on the bow with a spotlight searching for a clear path, until we made deep water or it got bright enough to see the traps. Miss one crab trap, sail across it and tangle the prop, and then we’d be drifting until it got light and we could break out the dive gear to cut ourselves free. No thank you.

So we had to move even further toward our goal to stage for our crossing. At this point, we were only 24 miles southwest of Angelfish Creek at the northern end of Key Largo, a popular jumping off point for people headed to the Bahamas. An easy four hour trip, especially since the weather for the second day of our trip was supposed to be calm with a light southeast wind. So we took advantage of the conditions and motored though mostly placid seas, arriving in mid-afternoon.

loadingeaglet

Bringing our dinghy on deck gains us an extra half knot of speed when traveling.

leavingrodriquez2

Negotiating traffic off Key Largo

This is where I decided to take a bit of a gamble. Entering Anglefish Creek from the Atlantic Ocean side to reach the protected anchorages within requires clearing a shallow bar. Our cruising guidebook said to be extremely cautious if your draft exceeds four feet, and with our five foot draft and a dropping tide, it was a chance I just didn’t want us to take. Instead, we decided to anchor north of the mouth of the creek (off Old Rhodes Key}. It’s not marked as an anchorage in any of the guides and it was a location that was completely exposed to the south and east, but the prediction was for 5-10 knot southeast winds through the night, and the sandy bottom meant our anchor would set well. So counting on the mild conditions, we basically dropped anchor on the edge of the ocean off a lee shore (wind blowing toward the land, which can be dangerous). Not only did this save us from having to cross a shallow bar twice at low tide (once to enter the creek and anchor, and again on the way back out), but it put us almost an hour closer to Anglefish Pass through the offshore reef to gain the open ocean the next day. And that extra hour made a daylight-only crossing to Bimini very doable!

The prediction was accurate, the winds blew sedately from the southeast, and we had a pretty decent night. Getting up before the sun the next day, we were underway at 7AM, and had about 45 minutes of avoiding crab pots and crossing the reef, and then we were in two thousand feet of water with nothing but 54 miles of open ocean between us and our destination.

leavingangelfish

Departing the US for Bimini

A mild southerly breeze calmed the northward flowing Gulf Stream, and we motored-sailed in two foot swells as the miles flew by. We pointed the bow about 15 degrees south of our destination, and let the rapidly moving stream sweep us northward, the current adding to our speed, which topped 8 knots at times.

inthegulfstream

Passing time while crossing the Gulf Stream

We saw humpback whales. We saw the purple-blue crest of a sailfish broach alongside us as he checked us out. We saw the ocean change colors from blue to bluer to bluest. We clearly saw freighters crossing our path from miles away rather than as colored blobs on our radar and AIS screens. In the end, it was worth it. We enjoyed so many things that we would have missed traveling in darkness. All the routing and planning and waiting for suitable weather resulted in our having the easiest Gulf Stream crossing we could expect.

Unfortunately, others were not as lucky. The VHF crackled with calls from boaters requesting offshore towing or assistance. We listened raptly for an hour as a sportfishing boat sank 20 miles off Bimini, and the 300 foot mega-yacht Tatoosh (apparently owned by Paul Allen) vectored to their position to rescue three people in the water. We heard the next day that a sailboat sank in the darkness after our crossing. A friend of mine and fellow cruiser recently commented that those of us who chose this life sometimes don’t realize how close to the edge we actually live. I prefer to think that this life rewards the cautious and punishes the foolhardy. Maybe all of our careful planning and weather analysis paid off. Or maybe we were just lucky.  But to paraphrase something a famous man once said, we feel we’ve been very lucky in this life we’ve chosen, and we’ve found that the more we plan and prepare, the luckier we get.

We arrived at the Bimini Sands Marina and Resort at 3:30 in the afternoon, two months and a day after leaving Pensacola (yes, we took the scenic route).

biminisands1

We had plenty of time to unstow and assemble our folding bikes and peddle the two miles to the airport to clear customs and immigration. Our Bahamas courtesy flag is now flying, and Eagle Too has safely delivered us to our third foreign country in the last year.

bahamascourtesyflag

Next up, we’re pouring over our guides and charts to work out how we will start working south towards Georgetown. There are literally hundreds of islands and cays to explore between here and there. It should be an interesting few months…

It’s Not All Fun And Games

While this Life On The Hook™ does provide its share of picture postcard moments, it’s important for any of you who are considering heading down the cruising path to know that every day isn’t straight out of a Jimmy Buffett song. Take today, for example. Eagle Too is anchored off Boot Key in the outside anchorage (just off the town of Marathon), with a beautiful view of the sunsets and the Seven Mile Bridge.

boot-key-anchorage

But the anchorage offers no protection from winds from the south through the northwest. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, as the winds are predominantly from the southeast here, with some north winds when a cold front passes. The past few days have been gorgeous, but today we’re feeling strong southwest winds, and we’re paying the price for our selection of anchorages.  There is nothing except a few reefs between us and Cuba to calm the swells, and two-to-three footers are pitching the boat like a rocking horse. Rhonda and I have spent all day hanging out in the cockpit, because it’s just too nausea-inducing to spend a great deal of time down below, unless it’s flat on our backs in bed.

Why not go into Boot Key Harbor to get away from the swell? Because it’s high season here in the Keys. There’s a 45 boat waiting list for a mooring (which means we’d probably be waiting until May), and the small areas to anchor inside the harbor are packed tight with boats. Many of these boats look worn and neglected, with several feet of sea grass growing from their hulls and sadly soggy partially deflated dinghies sitting awash alongside. I have no confidence that the ground tackle on these boats (anchor, chain, associated shackles, etc.) are any better maintained than the rest of the boat. So I just don’t trust them, and wouldn’t risk our boat by anchoring among them. Better in our opinion to suck it up and stay “outside,” where we can put out 100 feet of chain in 8 feet of water, and have a quarter mile of room to drag before we’d hit anything. Since we were only planning to be here for a few days before heading up the Keys to stage for our Bahamas crossing, it just made sense to hang out here. Besides, we love the sunsets. Just think how much these people paid to enjoy the same view as us…

megayachtsunset

So to cope with today’s conditions, I made of quick batch of Mac & Cheese with diced Spam, and a couple of Bacardi and ginger ales. It’s a great meal for a rolly day, the kind of thing you can just pop down below and give a quick stir occasionally and then go back above before vertigo sets in.

lunch2

The mix of carbs and protein settles the stomach, while the Bacardi and ginger ales really explain themselves. Meanwhile we’re reviewing our charts and doing passage planning.

We’re currently waiting for a line of thunderstorms to move through the area overnight, which is causing us a bit of anxiety. A storm on the water is always 10 times worse than the same store ashore. But tomorrow is supposed to be clearer and the winds are predicted to shift to the northwest at 15 knots, which means that if we head eastward tomorrow morning, we should actually be able to get in a day of sailing, something we’ve done entirely too little of since leaving Pensacola back in December (it’s been about 85% motoring or motorsailing). Our plan is to go at least as far as Channel Five, with the goal of making it all the way to Rodriquez Key to anchor for the night. Then we want to move on to Angelfish Creek. At that point, we’ll be about 25 miles south of Miami, which means we’ll be perfectly positioned to jump across to Bimini. If the predicted south winds develop over the weekend, we should be able to point the boat due east, and let the Gulf Stream carry us northward towards our destination. We learned during our passage from Cuba to Mexico and then back to Florida that it makes more sense to use a current to move you toward your destination rather than fight against it.

We’ve been working on a post for a couple of weeks that outlines our journey south from St. Petersburg to the Keys. We’ve made the trip three times now (twice south, once north), and we definitely have our opinion on places to stop along the way. I still intend to finish it, but truthfully, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to soak in all there is to enjoy and also spend a couple of hours hunched over a computer. When the writing starts to remind me of work, I just stop. Those of you who follow us on Facebook have seen our regular updates, and if you’re interested in monitoring our progress, we strongly suggest you like our page. Our internet access has been pretty spotty since leaving Marco Island, and we’re relying primarily on cellular data now, so it also saves us data to throw a quick picture and a few words on Facebook rather than maintain our blog site.

With a little luck, our next blog post will be from Alice Town on Bimini Island. That’s all for now, Eagle Too out…

Moving On

Rhonda and I have thoroughly enjoyed our month here at Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg, and we’ll probably soon have another post or two that talks about some of the things we’ve seen or done while here, but it’s time to move on. The engine checks are complete, the bikes are lashed down on-deck, the speed sensor is re-installed, and Eagle Too is ready to get underway. We postponed our departure by a day to allow an intense storm front to blow through, but tomorrow morning and the next few days are supposed to be beautiful, so after a quick breakfast we’ll be bringing in the lines and pointing the bow south. Next stop—Sarasota, where we’ll take a mooring for a few days. I hope that this time we’ll be able to linger long enough to visit the Ringling Museum!

marinanight

A Tale Of Two Shackles

I spent about 30 minutes today working on a little task that probably did as much to increase our safety and security here aboard Eagle Too as almost any of the many other improvements we’ve performed in the last few years. What was it, you might ask? Well, I’ll show you.

If you own a boat, you know how vital a good anchor and a robust anchor rode (chain and/or line that attaches the anchor to the boat) are. When you’re sitting at anchor and the wind picks up or a storm passes through, your boat’s safety is completely dependent on the ability of your ground tackle (anchor, rode and associated components) to hold up. A 20,000 pound boat like ours, being battered by 40 knot winds, can create hundreds, even thousands of pounds of force yanking on the anchor. But even though we carry a two-sizes-too-big anchor and almost 300 feet of high-test (G4) chain, I’ve always been a little concerned about the weak link in the system, the piece that ties it all together—the shackle.

shackle1

When it comes right down to it, no matter how over-sized your anchor or robust your rode, that little link of cast metal is all that stands between you and being dashed against the shoreline in a blow. The problem is that not all shackles are created equal. The 3/8ths shackle we’ve been using for the last few years was one we picked up at West Marine for about $5.

shackle2

If  you look closely, you’ll see that the shackle is stamped WLL1T. This means that it’s rated for a working load limit of one ton. Now a ton might sound like a lot. But when a really good blow gets the boat sailing around at anchor, jerking up short on the rode as it completes each arc, the shock loading can be pretty intense.

So today I replaced that shackle with a new one. It’s the same size as the old one. But look closely…

shackle5

It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but this shackle is stamped WLL2T. Same size shackle, but rated for twice the load of the previous one. Why the difference? Pretty simple really. Let’s look at the other side.

shackle3

The new one is stamped “USA”. Now go back and take another look at the first one. You’ll see that it’s stamped “China”. And that’s all you need to know. The new one is the same size shackle, but much better quality, resulting in twice the load rating. It’s a Crosby G-209A, which you can pick up from Defender for a whopping $15.

Here’s another look at the issue. I dug though our parts box, and found another shackle onboard with a 2 ton rating.

shackle4

The one on the left is another Chinese made item, and is way too big to work with our 5/16ths chain. But even though it’s much meatier than the Crosby shackle on the right, they both have the same load rating!

If all you ever intend to do is occasionally drop the hook to grab lunch, then any old shackle should do. But if your goal is to cruise, and you want to be ready for whatever Mother Nature might throw at you, then do yourself and your boat a favor, spend the few extra dollars, and just say no to cheap Chinese shackles.

Market Day

On Saturdays, St. Petersburg puts on a big public market in the parking lot of Al Lang Stadium, the waterfront home of the local soccer team the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It was a quick 10 minutes by bike from our marina, a popular form of transportation in this town where the sun seems to almost always shine.market1amarket1

It took over an hour to explore it all.

market6market5

There was a fabulous selection of produce…

market4market3market2market7

…and a wide variety of food and crafts, along with live music.

market8market9

It was yet another delightful adventure in this town that we’ve lingered in to explore in depth.

Ah, the life of a cruiser… 🙂