Category Archives: When?

Anything that impacts the schedule for our departure or travels, including searching for another boat.

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part Two

The area on the northwest side of Pensacola has grown explosively in the last few years. The primary driver has been Navy Federal Credit Union’s decision some years ago to build a sprawling corporate campus there for their southern headquarters. The complex has grown to over a dozen large office buildings where thousands of people work. The sleepy little two lane state road through the area is in the final stages of being converted to a four lane divided highway with direct Interstate 10 access, and an adjoining section of land (640 acres, or one square mile) that the Navy has used for helicopter flight training is in the early stages of being converted to a major industrial park. People have flocked to the area for the better-than-average wages, good schools and semi-rural surroundings, and homebuilders have taken note, with new subdivisions popping up like spring flowers.

It had been quite a while since Rhonda and I had visited the area, and with little to do while waiting for the weather to improve enough to let us start the trek south for the season, we decided to take a drive one afternoon and see what was new.

With no specific destination in mind, we just let whim and impulse dictate our course as we wandered along rural back roads, investigating all the new construction. In the back of our minds was the recognition that while our Life On The Hook™ had no set end date, we knew we wouldn’t be liveaboard cruisers forever. At some point, maybe in a couple of years, or maybe four of five, we’d want to buy a house and reestablish a home base rather than live as full time gypsies of the sea.

A sign caught our eye. It was a new gated community called Antietam. It sat at the top of a ridge with a western exposure. We loved the location. Most of our lives it seems the homes we’ve owned have come with water and drainage problems, and high on our list of must haves if we ever moved back ashore was a place on high ground with good drainage. If you’re at all familiar with Florida, you probably know that ridge-top property is almost non-existent. At 130+ feet of elevation, Antietam practically sat on a mountain top by Florida standards.

The name resonated with us. Rhonda’s family had strong ties to northern Virginia. Her grandfather’s farm had sat on the edge of the Bull Run battlefield. A development named after a major Civil War battle, with streets named after famous generals, had a familiar feel.

The model home was open. We stopped and took a look. And we learned that Antietam was Northwest Florida’s first Freedom community, a development concept D R Horton designed for what they termed “active adults.” Briefly, the basic idea was to allow the homeowners to travel extensively without having to worry about their homes.  All lawn service was provided by the Home Owner’s Association. The houses were all built as Smart Homes, fully internet connected with remotely monitored intrusion and alarm systems. And as a gated community, it was access controlled. So you could just lock the door and leave on extended travel with no worries.

It was as if it had been designed just for our needs.

We were blown away by the model. Somewhat small and almost non-descript from the outside, it opened up to enormous interior spaces with room to spare to swallow everything we’ve had in storage for four years. At just a little over 2,000 ft2, it felt larger than the 2,500 ft2 home we’d sold in 2014. A house with the same floorplan was already under construction at the highest point on the ridge.

It got us to thinking. Maybe this was what we would want when the day came to move back ashore. We could still cruise, maybe two to four months at a time, but with a comfortable home to return to. A home that we knew would be well looked after in our absence.

We returned to Eagle Too and pondered the possibilities. Now probably wasn’t the time. The boat was ready to head south as soon as the weather broke. We really planned to keep cruising fulltime for at least a few more years. And the numbers didn’t quite work out. The price was just a little bit out of our reach. Maybe we’d check back next season, or the season after that. The most desirable ridge-top lots would all be gone by then, of course, and we’d end up further down the hill, but we’d still have the Freedom Community amenities.

We put the idea aside and refocused on preparing to leave.

Then my phone chimed, and an email arrived that profoundly altered our plans…

Caution: Detour Ahead — Part One

“When are you leaving?”

It was a question we heard fairly often as October gave way to November. We had commitments in Pensacola that held us here until November 5th, but our plan was to depart in order to start our 4th cruising season whenever the next weather window opened after that.

With that in mind, we prepared Eagle Too to get underway. All the gear we’d put in storage for the summer came back onboard. We finished our final provisioning runs and stowed a season’s worth of supplies. We topped off the fuel tank, and filled the Jerry jugs with extra gas and diesel. We settled up with the marina, the diver, and the canvas shop. We had our final meals at our favorite restaurants, and said our goodbyes to friends and family.

Eagle Too ready for departure

Then we waited. We had a reservation at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina beginning November 15th. We intended to spend the holidays in St Pete, and then start heading further south after the first of the year.

Everything was ready except the weather. As the first week of November came to an end, a stalled front settled over the area, generating significant rain, rough seas and unfavorable winds.  For almost a week it wagged back and forth, settling a little south of us, and then retreating a bit to the north.

Then a series of winter cold fronts stacked up one after another. The strong north winds they brought finally blew the stalled front away, but produced freezing temperatures in their wake. If you know us even a little bit, you know that we can’t stand sailing in cold weather. And 58 degrees is cold to us. When they say the lows are going to be in the 30’s, well, you can just forget it. We do this to have fun— it’s not some kind of personal endurance test.

We almost left during the second week of November. It looked like a 48 hour window with predicted mild temperatures, gentle south winds, and calm seas would give us just enough time to motorsail directly across the Gulf from Pensacola to Clearwater, Florida before an extremely strong winter cold front blew through. We were so certain we should take the window that Rhonda pre-cooked underway rations and I stopped by Subway to pick up two 12” subs (an easy underway snack). But when we woke up on what would have been departure morning, things just didn’t feel right. While we believe Eagle Too is in excellent shape, she’s sat mostly stationary for five months now, and I just didn’t feel comfortable depending on the engine to wake up from its prolonged slumber and propel us for 48 straight hours across the Gulf. If any little hiccup at all had occurred, we’d have been caught 75 to 100 miles offshore with a huge front bearing down that was predicted to bring 35 knot winds and 6 to 8 foot seas. Better to wait for a longer window so that we could break the trip up into several smaller leaps and slowly reintroduce the boat to cruising again.

With all our preparations made and little left to do except wait for weather, we found ourselves with some time on our hands. So one day, we asked our dock friends Stephen and Beth on S/V Cattywampus if we could borrow their car to take a drive, run a few errands, and get off the boat for a few hours. They happily obliged.

We had no way of knowing at the time how profoundly their little gesture of kindness would affect the trajectory of our lives…

Weather Karma

It wasn’t much more than six or eight weeks ago that I was smugly telling my brother that I could count on one hand the number of rainy days we’d experienced since leaving Pensacola last November. While the folks back home were being soaked by an endless succession of cold fronts, we were living in a climatic bubble in St Petersburg, where some curious quirk of geography brings endless sun. In fact, at one time the St Petersburg Evening Independent, the town’s afternoon newspaper, offered copies for free after any day that the sun didn’t shine. Over its 76 years of publication, they only had to stand by their “sunshine guarantee” three or four times a year.

Even once we left St Pete and finally started heading south, good weather seemed to follow us. We were pinned a few times by some blustery days, but hardly ever had to deal with wet weather.

Everything changed on the 1st of May. The day after arriving in Salt Cay, Long Island, the sky turned cloudy and threatening, with occasional rumbles of thunder, and it’s stayed that way ever since. Four weeks later, we’re holed up at Bimini Sands Marina while heavy weather generated by TS Alberto blows through. During those four weeks, we’ve been dogged by squalls, chased by thunderstorms, besieged by blustery winds, and tossed about by swells and chop, forcing us to seek refuge in marinas to get some relief.  We’ve had a boat near us hit by lightning, ridden out 35 knot gusts, and sat at anchor trying to sleep while the boat pitched up and down at least five feet. I’m not really sure where my sunglasses are as I haven’t needed them in weeks, and I believe our tans are starting to wash off.

I think we’re experiencing weather karma. Some cosmic retribution for being so smug about how fabulous things were initially.

It’s currently blowing 15 knots gusting to 25 with occasional heavy rain, compliments of Alberto. Our best guess is that it will be another couple of days before things calm down enough to let us resume our journey homeward. Yesterday afternoon we walked over to look at the entrance to the marina, and watched breaking waves sweeping into the channel.

A center console fishing boat nosing its way out was launched at a 45 degree angle by the surf. Not a chance we’d try to push our way out through a swell like that. Today is Memorial Day, and the seas are supposed to be running 5 to 8 feet in the Gulf Stream. But they’re calling for two foot seas and 10 knots of SE wind by Wednesday, so we’re making preparations to head back across to Florida. I think we’ll try crossing from here to Fowey Rocks near Miami, and then hang a left in the Hawk Channel to start working our way down the Keys. It’s not the route we would have initially picked, but the weather has pushed us further north than we’d normally want to be for a Gulf Stream crossing.

But that’s a concern for another day. For now, we have some good books on our Kindles, we can pick up TV and FM radio from Miami, and being plugged into shore power means it’s cool and dry onboard since the air conditioning is running, so I think we’ll just have a couple more fruity rum drinks, relax, and wait for the sun to come back out. I mean, it has to eventually, right?

Dear Bahamas: About Your Weather—We Need to Talk.

Over coffee this morning, Rhonda and I discussed just throwing in the towel and becoming permanent residents here in the Bahamas. Staying here and embracing the fact that we can’t leave because we can’t seem to get a break in the weather would not only give us a jump on next year’s cruising season, but also put an end to our continual weather frustrations. It was a tempting notion, but we ultimately decided we’re not quite ready to surrender. Almost, but not quite.

Our daily weather in the Exumas

Thunderstorms and squalls started over three weeks ago. Then the wind started blowing. It’s been raining or blowing (or sometimes both) every day since. We’ve been trying to work our way back to Florida for a while now, but it seems to be just one weather thing after another standing in our way.

For starters, we spent a week or so working our way up the Exumas from Long Island, dogged by thunderstorms the entire way. We were chased into Warderick Wells to wait out a line of storms, and while we were there, the boat on the mooring in front of us was struck by lightning. All their electronics were blown out, and they couldn’t get their engines started afterwards. We felt terrible for them, but we counted our blessings that it wasn’t us. We got out of there as soon as we could.

That’s the boat that was hit by lightning. Too close for comfort.

We’d been having increasing difficulty getting our engine to turn over, which left us feeling pretty vulnerable. We knew if we were out on the water and got overtaken by a storm, we’d need to be able to start the engine and turn up wind to get the sails down and then motor through the squall. Maybe salty sailors would just batten the hatches, lash themselves to the wheel and ride the whirlwind, but we’re a little old (or maybe just too sensible) for that kind of thing. We needed to know that when we needed it, the engine was going to start, no question. And that wasn’t the case. I suspected a dying starting battery. It was only three years old, which is a bit premature for it to expire, but it was also a potentially easy fix, so I was hoping that my suspicion was correct when my diagnostics pointed to that as the culprit. There aren’t many batteries to be found in the Exumas, though, so we decided to head back to New Providence and Palm Cay Marina. We knew we’d be able to use the marina’s free courtesy car to hunt down a new battery or anything else we may need. If you’re looking for repair parts in the Bahamas, Nassau is the place to be.

We joked on the way into the marina that we hoped we wouldn’t get stuck here yet again for 7 to 10 days. It seems that every time we decide to go to Palm Cay, circumstances conspire to trap us here until we’ve spent at least a thousand dollars.

The good news is that our problem did turn out to be the battery. They have a large NAPA store on New Providence, and it was an easy errand to borrow the free marina courtesy car and go pick up a marine starting battery. It cost twice what we would have paid in Florida, but they had five in stock with a date code of April 2018 and we were able to walk out the door with one, so there are no complaints. After swapping the new battery for the old one, a quick turn of the key resulted in the engine firing right up. She was her old self again. Problem solved and confidence restored!

Unfortunately, I guess in the great cosmic ledger, we still owed Palm Cay Marina some more money, and it was our fate to remain until we had surrendered it. Even though we were able to fix our problem in 24 hours, for the next few days the wind blew way too hard for us to get out. We thought we saw a window after a couple of days, but then Mike’s Weather Page, an amateur weather resource a fellow boater introduced us to, began warning that advance models showed a possible low forming in the Caribbean and moving north toward Florida.  It looked as though if we left Palm Cay, we’d be heading right into the path of a potential tropical storm. In addition, a persistent strong southerly flow sucking moisture up from the Caribbean has erected a wall of squalls and thunderstorms between the Bahamas and Florida, which we had absolutely no interest in trying to sail through.

This wall of thunderstorms persisted all week

So now it’s a week later, which means we’d once again pulled in for just a few days and ended up staying until our bill exceeded $1,000. The low that the amateurs started talking about almost a week ago has finally attracted the attention of the professionals at the National Hurricane Center, which is giving the system a 40% chance of development over the next several days.  But it looks like we have a few better days coming up in which to move the boat before conditions are predicted to deteriorate (still rainy, still windy, but not so much that we can’t make a go of it). We’ve decided to cross the Great Banks back to Bimini and then hole up in a well-protected marina we know there to wait out the approaching low and the predicted 40 knot winds. At least that way we’ll only be a single day’s travel from the Florida Keys when things finally settle back down. Whenever that may be. Possibly next month.

Since we had some time to kill, we did manage to have some fun while here.  A couple we befriended back in St Pete (who offered Rhonda and I a lot of support and assistance when I had my injury) were in the marina also, and we got to play tour guide and take them to some of our favorite places in Nassau. Here are a few pictures.

The Queen’s Staircase

Historic Fort Fincastle

The Governor General’s House

The famous Greycliff Estate

The parlor at Greycliff

The restaurant at Greycliff

In addition to a hotel and a restaurant, Greycliff has factories for both hand-rolled cigars and hand-dipped chocolates.

Our friends had heard of an area called The Fish Fry, which featured dozens of locally owned Bahamian restaurants. We checked it out and selected one for lunch.

Great food at a really good price

The Conch shell pile behind the restaurant. There is apparently an infinite supply of this Bahamian staple.

And of course, when in Nassau you have to pay a visit to Atlantis.

In a final note, we got to meet this fellow the next day, swimming around our boat. He (she?) had latched on to a water hose and was happily sucking down gallons and gallons of fresh water, and didn’t seem to mind a bit when people swam over to pet him.

As always, we’ve enjoyed our time here on New Providence. It’s nothing like the majority of the other islands we’ve visited in the Bahamas. But sometimes you just need a dose of civilization or ready access to spare parts. Tomorrow we’re departing for the Berry Islands, and then on to Bimini. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can make it safely in to Bimini Sands Marina before the weather goes south.

It’s our Cruise-iversary!

Today is a significant day. It’s the anniversary of the latest chapter in our life together, the start of our Life On The Hook™. It was December 27th, 2014 that Rhonda and I first moved onboard Eagle Too and became full time liveaboards. That means that today marks the beginning of our fourth year of this latest stage of our lives.

How did we spend the day? Helping another newly minted cruising couple better understand their new-to-them boat and some of the challenges (the unknown unknowns) that they have ahead of them. After thousands of miles of cruising and three years as dwellers-upon-the-sea, we feel we’ve learned quite a bit about this crazy and unconventional life. Enough so that when asked, we feel comfortable sharing some of that knowledge and experience with others now embarking on a similar path. We’ve gone from being the sponges that eagerly soaked up all the wisdom more experienced cruisers were willing to share to being those who are (occasionally) asked for guidance and advice. It’s help that we’re happy to provide, as we feel we’re paying forward the kindness and wisdom of those who helped us in the past.

Who knows, maybe that would be a great subject for another book … 🙂

So what’s next for the crew of the good ship S/V Eagle Too? Well, after the holidays, which we’re spending here in St Petersburg (because it’s 76° here, while it’s 49° back home in Pensacola) we’ll start working our way south. We’ve received permission from the Coast Guard to once again travel to Cuba, and we hope to make the jump across the Straits of Florida to that island nation in mid-February. So stay tuned, for there appears to be yet more adventure ahead as we begin our fourth year of this cruising life!

A Merry Cruiser’s Christmas

One of the first things we learned when adjusting to our Life On The Hook™ is how little space there is onboard for extraneous stuff. If we can’t eat it, it isn’t related to safety or security, serve multiple purposes, or address an ongoing need, then there just isn’t room for it on S/V Eagle Too. For that reason, our initial plans to pack along a small collection of Christmas lights, decorations and a modest artificial tree so we could celebrate the season quickly collided with our new reality, and it all ended up in our storage unit.  We just couldn’t find space onboard for things that would only be used once a year.

Because she misses her garden, Rhonda tries to maintain a few small herb plants onboard. It gives her something to grow and nourish, and also spices up our cuisine. So when she found a small rosemary plant shaped like a tiny Christmas tree at the grocery store, we gave it a home. It provided Santa a place to leave a few presents, and once the holidays are over, it will supply savory spice for our steaks and stews. It checks the boxes of being multi-functional and edible, and so a new tradition is born!

We’ve definitely gotten into the spirit of the cruiser’s minimalist Christmas here aboard Eagle Too. Rather than an orgy of conspicuous consumption, our holiday has become  a day to relax, reach out to family and enjoy some scrumptious food. It’s almost embarrassing to look back at our first Christmas aboard! How far we’ve come.

Rhonda and I want to take a moment to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and extend our best wishes for your pending New Year.

Getting Ready For Round Three

November is upon us, and hurricane season is winding down. We’ve had a leisurely five months relaxing here in Pensacola while waiting it out, but now it’s time to prepare for round three of our Life On The Hook™.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember that during round one (our shakedown cruise), we explored Florida’s west coast and the Keys, northwestern Cuba , the Mexican island of Isla Mujures and the Dry Tortugas. For round two, we gunkholed through the Bahamian Exuma island chain. So where to next? Well, it’s already getting too darn cold here in Pensacola for our thin blood, so in the next few weeks we’ll be heading back to St. Petersburg, where we have a reservation at the Municipal Marina for the remainder of the year. Then? We’re not completely sure. We’ve only seen about 20% of the Bahamas, so there are a whole lot of islands left to experience. We know of at least three or four boats here in our marina that have plans to spend the winter there, so maybe we’ll meet up in a big flotilla.

But we’re also thinking about submitting another request to the Coast Guard to return to Cuba. During our previous two week visit, we barely scratched the surface of that interesting and perplexing place. We also long to spend some more time in Mexico. So we’ll see. That’s the great thing about cruising. You don’t necessarily need a definite plan. Just be ready for opportunities as they present themselves, and then follow your whims and impulses!

So now it’s time for the getting ready part. We’ve started bringing back onboard all the cruising gear that we offloaded when we returned home last June.

Our dinghy needed a new inflatable keel, so we ordered the part from Boats.net and dropped it off at the inflatable boat repair shop. It’s back now, and we’ve had it inflated on the pier checking for leaks in preparation for lashing it back on deck.

Our outboard is now five years old and still on its first water pump impeller. During several of our long dinghy rides down in the islands, the thought would cross my mind that it would really suck if the impeller failed and the engine overheated and I had to row all the way back. For peace of mind I wanted to install a new one.

Some people wait until the part fails before doing this necessary chore. But I’m Navy taught, and I have a strong belief in preventative maintenance. Considering how old it was, ours was still in pretty good shape. It had a definite set, but hadn’t lost any vanes yet. New on the left, old on the right:

We’ve had two persistent issues with our VHF radio and AIS sytem, which piggybacks on the VHF. We’ve been told that when we transmit from our remote mic, we have a bad buzz in our signal. Also, we get an intermittent AIS alarm that indicates a VSWR fault, which means a problem with the radio signal transiting the antenna system. I’ve always suspected that the problem was coming from the VHF antenna jumper that came with our AIS antenna splitter. It’s way too small in my opinion, and I wanted to replace it with a spare length of RG213 coax I had in the spares box.

Here’s the much-too-small jumper that I replaced. The new one is about as thick as my index finger (I forgot to take a picture) I took our handheld VHF and walked around the marina while talking to Rhonda, and everything seems to be working fine now. Hopefully this will also cure the intermittent AIS VSWR alarm.

While I had my arms inside the pedestal, I tightened the set screws on the autopilot drive gears, adding a lock washer to the lower one. Both top and bottom gears had worked themselves a bit loose and the steering was getting some slop in it.

Our batteries are approaching their third birthday, which makes them about 35 years old in people years. To make sure they still have what it takes to power us through another cruising season, I first turned off the battery charger for a few days, letting the batteries float on the solar panels. I wanted to run the batteries down until the amp meter read about 75% state of charge and then check the gravities in each cell.

All cells measured 1.250 specific gravity, which indicates about an 80% state of charge, and they were all equal. This tells me that our batteries are still young at heart, and we can trust the amp hour meter to give us an accurate reading.

Work continues on our dodger, which should be finished in the next few days.

Our sternrail sports a brand new barbeque. While the old one was only a little over three years old, the internals had started rotting away. Apparently when exposed to high temperatures, stainless steel loses its chromium and nickle, turning it into just plain carbon steel, which then rusts away. When we priced out buying all new internal parts, it was actually cheaper to throw the darn thing away and buy a new one.

The instructions on the new one say that for maximum life, you should thoroughly clean the interior after each use. Rhonda and I got a good chuckle out of that. As in, “Yeah, sure, I’m going to dismantle the grill and scrub all the parts clean every time we grill steaks.” Not.

We’ve reactivated our InReach satellite communicator in preparation for offshore passages and have installed the latest updates. Garmin lets you turn off your account when you don’t need to use the device, which saves us $69 a month when we’re not out cruising.

And we folded up our bikes and zipped them into their storage bags. This time, we’re going to find a home for them down below when we get underway. We learned with our last set that living on the lifelines is fatal to bicycles.

We still have the last big provisioning run to complete, the one where we load up on several months worth of pasta and Spam and rum and coffee. But we’re almost ready to go, so it won’t be long before our bow is once again pointed south in search of warmer temperatures. As if in acknowledgment of our pending departure, we received a farewell fireworks salute from our neighbors at the maritime park.

It’s been a good summer, Pensacola, and we’ve enjoyed the time back home reconnecting with family and friends. But it was 45° F when we woke up yesterday morning, and that means it’s about time for us to go.

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.

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

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We wandered through the grounds of the government buildings.

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And stumbled upon a rum distillery.

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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!

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

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We took in the general sights around town.

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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.

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

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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!

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…

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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.

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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…

A Good Day For A Pot Of Spaghetti

After an overnight passage from Pensacola, Eagle Too is securely tied to the sidewall at Port St Joe Marina in St Joseph Bay.

dockside

Like seven of our previous eight overnight passages, it was not a fun trip. Even though we picked a window that promised warmer temperatures, it was still bone chillingly cold out in the Gulf, which only confirms our decision to go when the air temperature was supposed to be in the 70’s rather than the 50’s. Add five to six foot seas and winds from every possible direction, and it added up to a pretty miserable night.

cold

But as is always the case, once we arrived, that all fell away, and we are now just savoring the moment. It was an odd arrival, because up until the minute we pulled into the marina, we were in cold fog and cold temperatures, with moisture dripping from us and everything onboard.

fog

But as we cleared the final marker and made the turn into the marina, the fog vanished, the sun appeared, the temperature climbed into the upper 70’s, and people met us on the dock wearing shorts and T shirts. I’m sure we made an odd sight in our wet foul weather gear, hats and gloves. We quickly shucked our wrappings and hung everything in the cockpit to dry. And I just had to laugh when I got power hooked up and turned on the heat, only to have it start running in air conditioning mode. Twenty-four hours of shivering, waiting to get heat back onboard, and when we finally had power again, it was warm enough to trip the air conditioning on!

We’ve been to Port St Joe before, but it’s been a few years, so we decided to take a walk around to see what’s changed. Not much, apparently. The town in many ways reminds me of the mythical Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with its single street business district composed of storefronts from the 1940’s and 50’s. It seems like the type of place where life peaks in high school, with its social drama and school events and Friday night lights and Prom queen. Then you graduate, and life becomes about hoping to land a job in the meat department of the Piggly Wiggly or wait tables at Castaways, or if you’re really ambitious, open your own insurance business, repeat daily for the next 50 years.  Is the town really like that? I can’t say. It just feels that way to me. A nice place to visit for a few days, but I couldn’t imagine living here. There’s just too much adventure in our souls.

The cold front that chased us as we left Pensacola has now caught up with us, and it is about 50 degrees outside, with a chill north wind blowing. It’s a good night for warm comfort food, so we’ve spent all afternoon cooking up a big pot of sauce for a nice spaghetti dinner. Some red wine and a pile of fresh garlic bread also, naturally. Meanwhile, our Storm app tells us it’s 80 degrees in Clearwater, FL, a mere overnight Gulf crossing away. So our plans are to move to Apalachicola in the morning, and take advantage of a predicted good weather window on Wednesday and Thursday to jump over to central Florida. It should be about a 30 hour crossing. With luck, our plan to be in St. Petersburg by Christmas should play out perfectly.

It was hard to say goodbye this time, probably harder than when we originally headed out last April. But I have to admit, after five months of being tied to the dock, it feels really good to be moving again, out in the big blue, with exciting destinations and adventure ahead!

christmas-lights