Category Archives: Where?

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

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.

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.