Category Archives: Where?

Places we’ve been, are presently at, or wish to go to.

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.

A Delightful Surprise

Before my recent injury, we’d ordered the new Waterway Guide to Cuba in order to start doing some detailed planning for our anticipated return there in February. We met the author, Addison Chan, at Marina Hemingway in Cuba last year, and we spent a couple of months buddy-boating with Addison and his wife Pat, traveling together from Cuba to Mexico and then to the Florida Keys. We didn’t know it at the time, but Addison was doing research for the guide as we traveled along the northwest Cuban coast toward Mexico.

The chances of our returning to Cuba this year are now looking pretty slim, but since I have some time on my hands while I recuperate, I’ve been browsing through the Cuba Waterway Guide. So imagine our surprise and delight when we realized that Eagle Too makes two appearances in the book!

More than just a cool reminder of our trip, I think this will also give us something to point to if the USCG ever questions our claim that we travel to Cuba under the Journalism license, doing research for a cruising guide to Cuba’s north coast.

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 Trip To Fantasyland

Rhonda and I have never been to a major boat show. We’ve attended some local hometown ones, but never one of those major metropolitan on-the-water tributes to nautical excess. So when we found out that the St Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show, billed as the largest boat show on the Gulf Coast, was happening right next door shortly after our arrival here in St Petersburg (purely a coincidence, as we had no idea it was in the works), we decided to attend. Particularly since they were giving free admission to military veterans.

It was amazing to watch the progress as a huge marina appeared from nowhere in the empty basin just south of where we’re docked. In a few days, docks and slips for hundreds of boats were set in place, complete with utilities, while several enormous exhibitor tents bloomed.

Once complete, hundreds of vessels of all shapes and sizes, dressed in their boat show finest, motored into the harbor and took their places along the piers, while hundreds of smaller boats were trailered into line along the shore.

There are probably a lot of things I could say about the experience, but the biggest takeaway was a general amazement at how much money there must be floating around waiting to be spent. Because the prices on these vessels were jaw dropping. We saw center console fishing boats that cost over $750,000. Oh sure, they had some nice LED lighting, plush upholstery and every form of marine electronics known to man, but they were still basically just tricked out 34 foot fishing boats. Or for a cool $1.5 million, you could pick up a 42 foot flybridge cruiser, with an outdoor galley on the swim platform and a 55” TV in the salon. But not to worry, financing was available with easy-to-make payments of under $6,000 a month.

You may have heard of Glamping? Would this be considered Gloating?

Prices in the seven figure range were the norm for anything larger than 40 feet, or not much bigger than what we currently own. It felt at times like we were on a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” excursion, taking a peek at a world filled with people who own private jets and have personal chefs (provided we first took off our shoes and filled out a customer contact card listing our personal info). It was pretty sobering.

Fortunately, the exhibitor tents offered purchasing opportunities for we mere mortals. From dinghies to new engines, water makers to yachting wear, there were definitely deals to be had.

We delayed pushing the button on a Defender order we’d been assembling just in case we could find some of the things we were in the market for at the boat show, and I’m glad we did. For instance, we saved over $80 on a new set of dock lines that we needed, and Eagle Too now sports a shiny new set of earrings that we picked up at the Garhauer booth for only $35 each.

3/4″ x 40 ft dock lines for only $55 each. Yes, you get excited about things like this when you live on a boat.

 

OK, they’re not really earrings, they’re spinnaker turning blocks, but we told Eagle Too that she looked really pretty wearing them.

After chatting up a character known as Bob Bitchin’ from Cruising Outpost (sort of a celebrity in the boating community), we snagged a pair of complimentary passes gaining us entry into the Cruising Outpost party, with live music and free pizza and beer.

Bob Bitchin’, our host for the evening.

So when you factor in the savings on the items we purchased and throw in a party with free beer and dinner, I feel we came out comfortably ahead financially.

We also had a nice long chat with David Marlow, the owner of Marlow Hunter, which is the home of Hunter Sailboats. It was pretty interesting to pick the brains of the guy who owns the company that built our boat.

The show was a lot of fun, and I do think that if we ever need to make a major purchase like a new dinghy, waiting for a show like this one can save a bundle. It’s pretty clear though that if we ever hoped to purchase a new boat (i.e. floating palace) like the ones we saw lining the docks, we’ll have to start buying lottery tickets.

Who doesn’t want a pink outboard?

By the way, I’ll have more to say in another post about some of the things we saw which convinces me that sailboats are now being designed by people who have never actually been sailing.

Saving The Worst For First

Some say that for cruisers, the voyage is the destination. But I guess we’ve never really thought like that. As we approach the start of our third year of cruising, we’ve definitely learned that for us, getting there is usually just something we endure in order to be there. We put up with cold food, fight seasickness and suffer the physical and mental fatigue of a 24 to 36 hour passage so that we can spend weeks exploring an interesting new town, drop anchor in a pristine cove, or immerse ourselves in the culture of a different country. Maybe if we had more idyllic, balmy tropical crossings under the light of a full moon we might feel differently, but it very seldom turns out that way. Our overnight passages have generally been cold, dark, unpleasantly tiring experiences.

Cruising Up The Gulf County Canal

We call Pensacola, Florida home and spend the summers there waiting out hurricane season. Unfortunately, because of its location, when the time comes to head south, our only choice is to do a pair of overnight passages, the first from Pensacola to St Joseph Bay, and another from Apalachicola to Clearwater.  These legs are by far our least favorite parts of voyaging, and we always approach them with reluctance and a touch of anxiety. It probably has something to do with the fact that when passing through these waters, we’ve either just departed Pensacola for what we know will be at least half a year away, and the sweet sadness of wishing friends and family farewell still weighs heavily, or we’re on the last leg of a long trip back home, and we’re generally suffering from a major case of “are we there yet?”

Tied To The Wall In Apalachicola

Contributing to our dislike of these legs are the short, choppy seas common in the northern Gulf in anything but the calmest conditions.  In order to have smooth seas, there has to be virtually no wind, as it only takes 10 to 12 knots of breeze on the shallow northern Gulf to start stacking up the waves.  No wind means 24 to 30 hours of motoring for each leg, and the constant drone of the engine can really wear a person down.

Welcome To St Petersburg!

With a rest stop for a 5 hour nap in St Joseph Bay and a night spent tied to the wall in Apalachicola, we managed to make Clearwater about 76 hours after leaving Pensacola, and motored over to St Petersburg Municipal Marina, our home for the next six to eight weeks, the following day. We had been pushing to take advantage of a three day weather window that would allow us to cross the Gulf in advance of an approaching cold front bringing rain and higher winds, and we made it to St Pete just as the window slammed shut.

After spending the holidays here in St Petersburg, a town we really enjoy, we’ll once again start working our way south. But for now, we’re just happy to be here, the trip from Pensacola to central Florida now comfortably behind us.

Making Space

If you’ve spent any time around boats, you know how valuable storage space is. There’s never enough room for all the “stuff” you want to bring onboard, and being a cruiser and liveaboard means life is a constant exercise in possessional triage, where every item has to have enough value and utility to make the cut and find a home on board, with the rest ending up stored ashore or disposed of. Things are even a bit worse when you own a Hunter, like we do. Hunter put a great deal of effort into packing the biggest living spaces possible into the hull, which makes the boat live like one that’s significantly larger. But it comes at the expense of little things like storage lockers. You get a lot of room to lounge on a Hunter, but not a lot of places to store stuff. So when we find a way to turn an unused area into a locker, we jump on it.

While waiting around to see what Hurricane Irma was going to do, we decided to start pulling out our cabin sole (interior floor) to apply some coats of polyurethane. When we unscrewed the chart table seat from the deck and removed the sole panel, we found this vacant, completely empty, totally unused void. There’s probably two whole cubic feet of potential storage there! Enough to allow for a significant expansion of our wine collection, an additional case of beer, or possibly even something practical, like groceries and spare parts.

locker

We know a really good, reasonably priced marine carpenter here in Pensacola, so I immediately gave him a call to ask him how busy he was at the moment. As things worked out, his truck was at the repair shop and he was just puttering around his shop working on this and that. Could he do a quick plunge-cut on a sole board to put in an access panel, I asked him? Sure, drop it on by, he said. So we dropped the panel off, and four hours later we had a newly cut and trimmed out access panel, opening up this formerly sealed void that probably hadn’t seen the light of day since April of 1997 when Eagle Too was built.

locker1 locker2

Cutting the hole took a lot of the strength out of the panel, so before reinstalling it we attached a cleat to the head bulkhead to support the edge of the sole panel. I’m actually surprised the factory hadn’t put a support cleat here since that was such a large, unsupported span, and it explains why that particular floor board always creaked when walked on.

cleat

Do you own one of the hundreds of Hunter 376’s (or possibly a 380 or maybe even a 386, which are later versions of the same boat)? Then you might want to look into opening up this enclosed void. Because it’s an easy way to create a couple of cubic feet of that most valuable of spaces, a place to store your stuff.

There’s No Place Like Home!

After cruising for six months and traveling over 2,000 miles, we’re happy to be back in Pensacola for the summer. We’ve seen and done some amazing things since our departure last December, but for now we’re looking forward to a few months of downtime. No worrying about whether the anchor is well set, or if we’re in a protected location for the next passing front, or how far it will be until we see another fuel pier or grocery store. Just a chance to relax, reconnect with family and friends and get reacquainted with our home town.

We truly threaded the needle on our passages across the Gulf and back to Pensacola. While persistent unsettled weather generated widespread rainstorms, we were able to pick windows that let us navigate from the Florida Keys all the way home to our slip at Palafox Pier without encountering a single drop of rain.

clouds

While still in the Bahamas, when we first made the decision to point our bow north, we called Palafox Pier and Yacht Harbor and inquired about our old slip. We had lived on E dock in slip 6 for a year and a half while getting Eagle Too ready to cruise. It was vacant, and the terrific folks at the marina made sure it was available for us when we slipped quietly in just after sunrise this past Thursday. So if you’ve visited with us before at Palafox Pier, then look for us in our old location.

homeagain

It’s been quite a journey, but now we’re home.  We’ve already started the process of converting Eagle Too from a proper cruising boat back into a fair weather sailor, offloading some of the gear we carry that we won’t be needing for leisurely sails in local waters. Our water maker is pickled and ready to be put in storage, our satellite tracker has been deactivated (which will save us $69 a month while we’re here), and we’ve begun to tackle some of the little tasks and chores that we never seemed to find the time to attend to while cruising.

With this latest cruise now behind us, we’ve traveled a combined total of over 4,000 miles and have sailed our boat to three countries (the Bahamas, Cuba and Mexico). Our tentative plans have us here until November. It’s too soon to say where we might go next—we’ll just see how we feel after the summer (and hurricane season) winds down.

We’ll post something on our Facebook page soon about a little get together here at the marina. So please stop by if you’d like to say hi and catch up, have a glass of wine, see a few pictures, and help us enjoy a sunset. 🙂

A Cruiser’s Passage Planning Primer

There’s a lot of time to think about things when you’re spending 32 hours motorsailing across the Gulf. One of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during our recent jump from Clearwater, Florida to Port St Joe was the issue of picking a suitable weather window for offshore travel. The criteria for planning a comfortable and thus enjoyable ocean passage is a topic I wish we had known more about before setting off on our Life On The Hook™. But there’s no teacher like experience, and after over a dozen offshore passages of a hundred miles or more, many involving the crossing of a major ocean current, we’ve come up with a list of criteria that we apply when determining whether or not to make a jump. This list reflects our priorities and ours alone. You may have or learn to develop your own list of what’s important to you. But since it’s always good to share knowledge and experience, I thought we’d pass along what we feel makes for the most comfortable passages.

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Leaving Clearwater Florida Bound For Apalachicola

Number one on our list by a wide margin is sea state. When we first started cruising, I’d have considered the wind forecast to be the top concern, but something we’ve learned is that the winds don’t matter if the sea state doesn’t work. When making a go/no go decision, we’re looking for forecast seas of one to two feet. If everything else is perfect or we absolutely have to get moving (which seldom happens because as cruisers we don’t travel on a schedule), then we’ll consider two to three foot seas. But if we see that the forecast calls for three to five feet or more, then forget it, we’re staying put, even if the winds and weather are favorable. High seas make for a miserable passage, which often means missing out on an otherwise nominal weather window because the seas are still too high from a previous weather system.

Now we’ve met some cruisers that will laugh at that. “Three to five foot seas? That’s nothing!” they’ll say. But here’s what we’ve learned. The forecast wave height is for the average sea state. If the forecast is for 1 to 2, you’re going to experience quite a few 3 footers. If they’re calling for 4 to 5, well, you’ll have more than a few 7 footers hitting you. And for us on our boat, this would be dangerous. Not because the boat can’t take it, but because the chance of one of us getting hurt increases exponentially with sea state. In 1 to 2 footers, it’s not too hard to move around, as long as we’re careful and always keep one hand on the boat. It’s possible to put a pot on the stove to make coffee or heat up a meal. Above 3 feet, the boat will start pitching and rolling enough that going below and moving around can be dangerous. The stove gimbal is hitting its stops, which means pots won’t stay put, so it’s strictly sandwiches and water rather than hot food and coffee.  Spending hours holding on to the stern pulpit to keep yourself upright is tiring, and fatigue leads to loss of focus. Then you try to go below, miss one of the ladder steps, and fall into the cabin and get hurt while 50 miles offshore.  Following 5 foot swells cause the boat to roll 25 to 30 degrees or more, and beating into them causes the bow to bash into the waves. It can be tolerated for a few hours. But a day or more? No thank you.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Rhonda Caught A 24 Inch Little Tunny. Related To Tuna, The Gulf Was Full Of Them.

Next we look at forecast precipitation. We live under a 63 foot aluminum pole, and when we’re out on the ocean, we’re the tallest thing by far from us to the horizon. So if they’re predicting thunderstorms, we don’t go. It’s just that simple. Much better to just wait it out in the marina or anchorage, where at least we’re not the only tall aluminum pole around. If the forecast is calling for showers, but not thunderstorms, then it comes down to intensity. A little light rain isn’t that big a deal, we have foul weather gear for that. But if they’re calling for moderate to heavy showers, we’ll probably stay put. It might be different if we had a full enclosure for our cockpit, but we don’t, and there’s only so many hours of standing at the helm in the rain that we can tolerate. If it’s not a day that you’d consider riding a motorcycle, it’s probably not a good day for a passage.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Another Little Tunny. Only 18 Inches, So She Let Him Go.

Now we get to wind. You might think that as a sailboat, this would be higher on the list, but here’s what we’ve learned about wind in our 4,000 miles of travel. It almost never blows from the right direction at the right speed. It’s either too little, too much, or coming from the wrong direction. If we only traveled when the wind was right for sailing, we’d hardly ever go anywhere. So if the prediction is for force 3 or less (up to 10 knots), we’ll go, regardless of the forecast direction. We’ll consider going in a force 4 wind (11 to 16 knots) if it will be behind us, but we won’t go if we’ll be reaching into it, because the apparent wind will be in the 20+ knot range. Greater than force 4, we’re staying put. Even as seasoned a sailor as Bruce Van Sant, author of the cruiser’s bible The Gentlemen’s Guide To Passages South, says that there’s no point in traveling in anything higher that a force 3 wind unless you have no other choice. It’s not relaxing, it’s hard work, people can get hurt and boats can break, and that’s not why we cruise. It’s probably different if you have to be at work on Monday, but cruisers don’t sail to a schedule. We just don’t do it.

So here’s the dirty little secret about sailboats, at least as far as cruising goes. Seventy-five percent of the time, you’re going to be motoring or motorsailing. Only a quarter of the time or less will you actually be able to arrive at your destination under sail alone. So yes, make sure those sails and rigging are in top shape, but also consider adding that three bladed prop, make sure your engine alignment is spot on, and do whatever propulsion system upgrades you may need in order to feel confident about running your engine for days at a time without a break. You’ll probably need a spare alternator or water pump much more than a spare sail.

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

Good Morning, Apalachicola!

After considering the sea state, rain and wind, we like to take a look at the moon phase. Since you only get one full moon a month, it’s not something you can really factor in to your decision to go if everything else is in alignment. You just take what you get. But let me tell you, spending a night at sea in conditions that require sail adjustments or movement about the deck is infinitely better when there’s actually some light to see by and you’re not totally dependent on a headlamp. And it’s extremely comforting to actually be able to see a horizon at night, especially when crossing a shipping lane full of fast moving freighters or threading through a pack of fishing trawlers. The total darkness of an overcast night with a new moon, where you can hear the waves but can’t see them because the world beyond the lifelines is invisible, can be unsettling. So we like to make long passages during times when the moon is at or near full.

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Heading Up The Apalachicola River

Yes, the stars are breathtaking out in the middle of a calm sea on a clear, moonless night while ghosting along under sail in a gentle breeze. But in 14 months of travel, we’ve experienced exactly two nights like that. Every other of the more than a dozen overnight passages we’ve made have been cloudy, dark, rolly, windy, or some combination of the four, while the steady drone of the engine numbed our ears and physically wore us down.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

RIver Cruising. We Saw Alligators, Manatees, Turtles And Ospreys.

So those are the criteria that we evaluate when determining when to head out onto open water. If you’re one of those people whose response is “we go regardless of the conditions,” or “we sail through thunderstorms and force 7 winds all the time,” I have one simple question for you. Why? I’d like to hear what motivates you to do such a thing.

Crossing Lake Wimico

Crossing Lake Wimico

Since much of this discussion probably makes ocean passages sound less idyllic than you may have pictured, some of you may be asking the question, “Is it worth it?” My answer is “Yes, it is.” Passages can be a trial, a measure of determination and a test of endurance. But the return on the investment is that we get to spend weeks, even months visiting some pretty amazing places that most people are lucky to experience for just a handful of days. And in the final balance, that’s what cruising is all about.