Category Archives: Where?

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

Workups and Breakdowns

It’s the peak of hurricane season, but November is only six weeks away. That means it’s time for us to start waking Eagle Too up from her lazy summer slumber and start exercising systems and gear to make sure we’re ready for our next cruising season.

In the Navy, a ship and crew preparing for deployment go through a series of increasingly complex exercises called workups. The purpose is to get the crew out of their casual in-port mindset and once again thinking and acting like sailors, as well as testing the ship’s systems to verify that it’s ready for an extended voyage. This past weekend, we got underway for the first time since mid-July to begin our own workup. The plan was to spend four nights at anchor in Little Sabine Bay at Pensacola Beach in order to attend the annual Taste of the Beach culinary event. The plan didn’t include soul crushing, energy sapping heat. But that’s what we got anyway. Four days of temperatures in the mid-90’s with humidity that pushed the heat index above 110 degrees.

It was not a fun four days. The crew of Eagle Too was sweaty, tired and cranky. But we stuck it out in order to give everything onboard a thorough checkout.

The verdict is that we’re not quite ready for sea. While most everything onboard did fine, it looks like our 42 month old house battery bank is on its last legs. Bus voltage was just too low for the number of amp hours expended. And our usually trusty outboard gave us fits. Even though I’ve run it regularly to keep the carburetor clean, it apparently suffered heat stroke and quit running, causing us to have to resort to rowing at one point. Ah, outboards. They truly are moody beasts. I mean, they’re really no more complex than your garden variety lawnmower. But they seem to be 10 times more temperamental.

Back in our slip, plugged into shore power with the air conditioning blasting away, we started working though the issues we discovered. We may have solved our outboard problem. It seems like it was a stuck float valve that eventually worked itself free. But we’ll have to test the house battery bank again at anchor for a few days to see if the equalizer charge we performed upon returning from the beach has jolted them back to life. I’m only mildly optimistic. Personally, it makes more sense to suck it up and replace the batteries while we’re here in the US where it’s easy and fairly cheap. If we try to make them last one more season and they end up expiring while we’re somewhere south of somewhere, we’ve learned it can be a long, long way to someplace that sells batteries, and they’ll be priced like they’re made of gold with diamond and emerald accents.

Eagle Too anchored in Little Sabine Bay, Pensacola Beach, Florida taken by Annie Dike from www.HaveWindWillTravel.com

Ditch Sense

I was going to call this post “Bitchin’ Ditching,” but with four active tropical systems in the Atlantic right now, I just couldn’t make light of what really is a serious subject.

Like many (hopefully all) cruisers, we carry a ditch bag with some essential stuff in it that we think we might need if we ever have to abandon ship. And like many (hopefully NOT all) cruisers, we’ve probably overlooked a bunch of things that we’d need in an actual emergency. We’re working on that, trying to add some things to make the bag more useful. But one thing I know we didn’t have right was its location. Our ditch bag lived on the back corner of a shelf in our aft cabin—a spot that would have required one of us to crawl back on our hands and knees and move other things to reach it in an emergency.

And then I saw a picture of someone else’s ditch bag. It was under their companionway ladder. It was a palm-smack-in-the-middle-of-the-forehead moment. So guess where the new home for our ditch bag is.

To be fair, we’d already been living on the boat for a year before we bought our bag, and this area had already become home to some other items. Since our ditch bag was something we hoped we’d never need, it seemed OK to stick it in an out of the way spot. But now that we’ve been cruising for three seasons and have several OMG weather experiences under our belts (or under our inflatable life jackets, I should say), the need to be able to grab-n-go in a crisis has moved up the priority list considerably.

Another thing I like about this spot is that if we ever end up being boarded by the Coast Guard for a safety inspection, our emergency strobe and distress day signal are easy to reach.

If you’ve been along for the ride long enough, you may remember we wrote in the post Overcoming Tyranny about how we hate being held hostage to arbitrary expiration dates and thus don’t depend on flares to meet our USCG emergency signaling requirements.

Space blankets, a sharp knife, some sturdy shears, a day’s worth of bottled water, some energy bars, copies of our USCG documentation, insurance and passports, a bright flashlight—just a few of the items in our bag or on the list to be added before we head out again this fall. So what’s in your ditch bag? And more importantly, where do you keep it?

It’s Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy—Ferries & Forts

For a variety of reasons, we think that Pensacola is a wonderful place to spend our off–season. In addition to having family and friends here, we have some great marinas with affordable rates, and unlike most of Florida, many have no waiting lists to obtain a slip. There are some pretty good marine tradespeople around to help with those projects that are just too much for us to handle alone, and many of the boatyards will let you do your own work, which can save a ton of money. But the thing that really makes it shine is that it also offers a good variety of interesting things to see or do while we wait out the season. For instance, here’s how we spent last Saturday.

This past June, a new ferry service began that runs between downtown Pensacola, historic Ft Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Pensacola Beach. The cost is $20 pp for an all-day, hop-on-hop-off ferry ride between the three destinations.

Since it just started operating a little over six weeks ago, we hadn’t yet made time to check it out. But when we saw that the National Park Service was going to be hosting the Walton Guard, a group of Civil War re-enactors, at Ft Pickens, with demonstrations of Civil War era camp life, music and live firing of cannons and rifles, we decided the time had come.

It’s only a three minute walk from our slip to the ferry dock. Since the service is brand new, their ticket booth and boarding area are still under construction. so we stepped up to their portable trailer to buy tickets for the 1130 crossing to Ft. Pickens. Located on the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, the fort was built prior to the Civil War and operated until after the Second World War. It was a trip of about 40 minutes.

Being full time mariners, we naturally had to visit the pilot house, and the captain let both Rhonda and I drive. We much prefer the feel of the helm on Eagle Too. With her blade rudder and fin keel, she steers like a sports car, while the ferry had a very heavy helm and felt like we were driving a tank.

We had a little over three hours to explore the fort and enjoy the demonstrations of Civil War life. Click on any picture in the gallery to enlarge.

It had been years since Rhonda and I had visited the Fort, and since we’re sort of history buffs, we really enjoyed it. The highlights were the live fire demonstrations of period muskets and a 10 pound Parrott gun.

 

There was still much to see at the fort, but our ride to Pensacola Beach arrived and it was time to go. Maybe if we’d had more time, we could have tried hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail, which begins in the park. It was a bit of a walk to the other end though, so maybe we’ll have to save that for another time.

We boarded the 3:30 PM ferry from Ft Pickens to Pensacola Beach with dinner on our minds. It was another 45 minute trip, and the weather couldn’t have been better. After several days of rain, the skies had cleared and a fresh sea breeze kept it comfortably cool on the water.

After swinging by a waterfront bar close to the Pensacola Beach ferry landing to order a couple of Bushwackers (a favorite local adult beverage similar to a Wendy’s Frosty with a kick)…

…we walked the half-mile to the Margaritaville Beach Hotel for dinner at Frank and Lola’s. It’s a favorite of ours, and since we still have our original local’s cards from their grand opening several years ago, we get 15% off our meals!

We had a relaxing dinner (and some excellent Mojitos!), and then it was time to catch the sunset ferry back to downtown Pensacola.

Our return trip turned into a ferry race, as the other of the two ferries that operate on the bay chased us down and eventually overtook us.

To cap off our day, once back onboard Eagle Too, we fixed some cocktails and retired to our cockpit, where we were treated to another fireworks display put on by the Blue Wahoos, our home town AA league baseball team whose stadium is right next door to our marina.

All in all, it was a busy, fun, educational and relaxing day, all of which was easily accessible on foot from our marina. Some folks would have to plan and save for months for a vacation like this. But when you live on a boat in the heart of downtown Pensacola, it’s just a Saturday. 🙂

Galley Notes—Stove Topper

Anyone who owns a boat knows that anything with the word “marine” associated with it commands a premium price. But did you know that a lot of the pieces and parts onboard are actually the same as the ones used in motor homes and travel trailers? It makes sense, since we tell people that our boat is basically an RV that floats to help them understand what it’s like to be a liveaboard cruiser. From water pumps and plumbing parts to locker latches and tank level gauges, power cables and hoses to LED lights and galley items, there’s a wide range of components that you can save a bundle on if you shop for them at your local RV store rather than at West Marine.

For example, the Seaward Princess propane stove on our Hunter 376 was also used in motor homes. So when we went looking for a stove top cutting board (which Rhonda won’t let me under any circumstances do any cutting on!), we found one at our local RV dealer for less than $40 that was custom made to fit.

I might not be allowed to chop and slice on it, but it does really extend the counter surface while we’re doing prep and cleanup, and it just looks great. So if you haven’t tried it yet, take a run down to your local RV dealer and wander around their parts department for a while. I think you’ll be amazed at all the things you’ll see that you’ll recognize and/or could use onboard, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the cost compared to marine store pricing.

Eagle Too Gets Some Bling

While in St Petersburg earlier this year, we noticed a boat on our dock that sported a long row of flag decals running along the hull just below the toe rail. Did they represent places the boat had been, we wondered? It would have had to be one well-traveled boat to have hit all those countries though, because most were European nations. and quite a few were landlocked countries. It sparked our interest.

Encountering the owners one day, we asked about the flags. It turned out that they owned a travel agency, and the flags represented the countries they had visited in the course of their business-related travels.

But they weren’t places they had actually sailed to.

It started us thinking though. How cool would it be to begin collecting and displaying the flags of the places we’d sailed our boat to! A quick online search turned up Flag Sticker Shop, which offers affordable and easy to apply UV resistant flag stickers for most countries. We decided our criteria would be that we’d display flags for the countries we had actually sailed our boat to, in the order in which we visited them.

So now Eagle Too has a little bling to show off. We think she wears them really well. I wonder how many more flags we might be ordering in the years ahead? We have room for quite a few!

Getting Things Lined Up

Starboard Side

Port Side

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!