Category Archives: Where?

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

Night Games

During our final night passage on our return trip to Pensacola, in order to reduce the anxiety caused by all the thunderstorms we encountered, we started playing a little game we called “I Can’t Wait To…” It worked like this. Rhonda and I would take turns saying, “I can’t wait to go to (blank) and have (blank).” We’d name one of our favorite restaurants in Pensacola and the meal we were most looking forward to having there. I guess it was partly a reflection of the fact that no matter the charms of the Bahamas, the cuisine leaves a lot to be desired. A few months of conch fritters, conch salad, cheeseburgers, French fries and baked macaroni and cheese, the most commonly available dishes in the islands, left us with some pretty severe food cravings.

Now you wouldn’t think that a little town like Pensacola would offer enough dining options to make the game interesting. But it actually lasted most of the night. When either of us would name a restaurant and meal, we’d both go “Mmmmm,” and then mentally savor the food for a period of time. Sometimes the other person would continue the game after just a few minutes. Other times 15 or 20 minutes would silently pass before the next submission. But regardless, it kept a smile on our faces all through the night, during some pretty unpleasant conditions.

We’ve only been back in town a little over 48 hours, but we’ve already checked three spots off our “I can’t wait to…” list. For lunch the first day, we went to the Oar House for their excellent fresh shrimp baskets. Last night, which was Gallery Night in Pensacola, the monthly downtown street festival, we hit the Sonny’s BBQ food truck for some savory pulled pork. And this morning, we made the hike up to Polonza Bistro for their weekend brunch and some of their excellent Cervantes frittatas.

One with grits and toast, and one with potatoes and a biscuit, please!

We’ll have to start pacing ourselves. At this rate, we’ll complete the entire night’s list in just a few weeks! #It’sGreatToBeHome

That’s A Wrap

Two thousand seventy-nine nautical miles traveled. Three hundred thirty-four hours spent motoring.  Two hundred twenty-three gallons of diesel fuel burned. Six hundred gallons of seawater turned into fresh water for drinking, cooking, bathing. Over a dozen islands, Keys and Cays visited. A mainsail repair, a broken topping lift, a deflated dinghy air deck. And of course, a shattered kneecap. But on June 15th at 9:20 AM, we tied up to the fuel dock at Palafox Pier & Yacht Harbor in Pensacola, Florida, and our 2017/2018 cruising season officially drew to a close.

It’s been a hell of a season. We made new friends, faced new challenges, visited new places, took thousands of pictures and created some wonderful memories. But for the next four or five months, we’ll be waiting out the bulk of hurricane season here in our hometown. The time won’t be idle. After over seven months away, Eagle Too is dirty and a little tired. We’ll be spending a lot of time in the weeks and months ahead cleaning, repairing, upgrading. Getting ready for our next season of cruising and whatever adventures life has in store for us.

Eagle Too and her crew have so far traveled over 6,500 nautical miles, with many more hopefully still to come. For those of you who have traveled with us on some or all of that journey, either in person or virtually via this blog, we’re glad to have you along and we hope we’ll stay connected in the future. While we may not be actively cruising over the next few months, we plan to try to write more about our cruising experiences and lessons and sharing useful info for those who may be preparing to follow in our wake. After all, it’s not pictures of pretty sunsets that prepare you for adventure, but hard information about what to expect and how others dealt with the unanticipated.

Has it been an easy seven months? Not at all. But I recently read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that spoke to me. It said, “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon.” To me, the worst thing possible is a boring life. But if there’s one thing we can confidently say about this Life On The Hook™, it’s that while it is at times difficult, uncomfortable, even frightening, it is hardly ever boring. And the horizons it offers are truly vast.

That’s all for now. We’re going to take a few days to relax and decompress from some pretty harrowing, storm plagued ocean passages. If you find yourselves in the Pensacola area, please look us up. Till next time, Eagle Too out.

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.

The Calendar Waits For No One

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, we already miss Long Island…

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

Salt Pond, Long Island—The Un–Georgetown

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

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

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

Approaching Long Island

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

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

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

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

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

The market.

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

Perusing the produce section.

Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

Stopping for lunch at Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

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

Tiny’s has free WiFi!

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

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

Loaded down with laundry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.