Another ass kicking…but we made it to the Exumas!

3/7/19
Sampson Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: 24 12.424N, 076 28.562W
Posted by Bill

While in Palm Cay Marina, the forecast showed 2 days of 10-15 knots of wind and seas of 1-2 feet both out of the SE, then a calm day, then 4 days of 20 knot plus winds out of the north as a front passed through. Overnight in Palm Cay, the winds picked up over 15 and the sea state was looking nasty. Our choices…leave now, make it to the Exumas and find a place to weather north winds, which is not easy in the Exumas, or stay in expensive Palm Cay Marina for a week. We opted to leave. One of the bad things about Palm Cay is that it is a very tight marina with not much room to maneuver a boat like ours. We had to back out of our slip with winds on our stern quarter with barely enough room to get the boat out of the slip and turned around to get out of the marina. I was concerned that as we backed out the wind would grab us before we could get the bow turned into it, pinning us down in the fairway, and that is exactly what happened. Fortunately, the boats on our port side were resting inside the outer pilings, and unfortunately, the boat on our starboard was sticking out into the fairway about 3 feet. I couldn’t clear the boat on the starboard side and we ended up pinned to the pilings of the slips that were on the port side. Thankfully, Tricia was able to push off the bow with a boat hook, and I got the stern off the piling by me just enough to clear the boat that was sticking out, but it was not fun! We motored out into the Banks heading SE, directly into 3-4 foot waves, with occasional 2 footers, all hitting us every 2 seconds. The 2 second wave period was the bitch of it all. We were bashing directly into it. We would get our speed up to 6 MPH briefly and then a series of 3 waves would bash into the bow, throwing it up and slamming it down, slowing us to 3 MPH. Winds were primarily 15-20. This turned a normally 6 hour trip into almost 9 hours of getting slammed. It was absolutely miserable. We anchored at Normans Island in position: 24 36.206N, 076 49.243W. We had cocktails and watched the sunset on the beach.

The next day we left and tried to get into the Warderick Wells north mooring field. This is a great place to sit out a frontal passage, but it was full with a waiting list. We executed the backup plan and went to Cambridge Cay, one of our favorite places. The moorings were all taken and the anchorage was nearly full, but we were able to find a place to drop the hook…position: 24 18.254N, 076 32.444W. Cambridge is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is a nature preserve. You can’t take anything (like shelling or fishing) and you can’t leave anything (like trash). It is absolutely beautiful. The weather calmed down and we enjoyed a couple of days there, snorkeling the Aquarium…a really cool reef that looks just like an aquarium (think like Columbus Zoo aquarium exhibit), a sunken plane, and a couple of caves in the Rocky Dundas. The day after we arrived, several people left and all 3 of us were able to get mooring balls, so we decided to weather the first couple of days of the frontal passage at Cambridge. We had decent protection from the winds as they clocked from north to northeast, but there is a strong current that runs SE to NW and put our boat sideways to the wind and waves for a good portion of the days and nights, making us roll side to side.

The winds died a bit on 3/7 and we decided to make a run to Sampson Cay, our absolute favorite anchorage in the Exumas. There is usually no one there, it is very well protected from all winds except west, there are great beaches within a short ride, and if you really need fuel or groceries you can take a long dinghy ride to Staniel Cay. We arrived just before noon and anchored in position: 24 12.424N, 076 28.562W. We were shocked to find the anchorage stacked full of boats! Apparently, our secret anchorage has been discovered…that sucks! I think part of it is that there are a lot more people cruising the Exumas. Normans Island was crowded, Cambridge was very crowded, Warderick Wells is croweded, and we are hearing that Big Majors/Pig Beach is packed full of boats as well as Georgetown. We have noticed this as a trend each year we travel here, with more people every year, and more mega-yachts every year. The mega-yachts are taking over the Exumas and making them a playground for all of their toys. In my opinion, this is ruining the Exumas for the normal cruiser and it is sad to see.

We played bocci ball on the beach in the salt flats of Sampson and had happy hour on Sofia Jeanne and have a very comfortable and protected position for the strong east winds we are expecting for the next 3 days. Then we are expecting a day with winds around 10 knots, immediately followed by several days of 20-25 knot winds. We are going to have to stay hunkered down or travel short distances in protected areas for the duration.

Some pics…..
We had these turtles visit us every day at Cambridge Cay:
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One of the views from our mooring in Cambridge Cay:
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Sights traveling around Compass Cay on the way to Sampson. The water colors are amazing and the pictures can’t do it justice:
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We are anchored in front of this house on Sampson Cay, and another view of some of the boats here:
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Breaking Bimini’s hold…and averting a disaster at sea

3/2/19
Palm Cay Marina, New Providence, Bahamas
Position: 25 01.254N, 077 16.460W
Posted by Bill

We finally got a weather window long enough to make our way to the Exumas. The forecast was showing winds around 10 knots for a couple of days with 1-2 foot seas, all out of the south, but by noon on the third day it was going to blow up to 20 knots. Since Larry was single handing on At Ease, we knew we needed to stop for periods of rest and break the trip up into 3 days, anchoring on the Bahama Banks by the Northwest Channel on day one, stopping at Palm Cay Marina on New Providence Island for day 2, and then make the Exumas on day 3. The first 2 legs are 75 mile and 12 hour passages, and the last leg is about 45 miles to Normans Island in the Exumas. The plan was to get to Nassau Harbor by 1 PM the second day before the winds started to build, and then wait in Palm Cay Marina a few days until the winds subsided.

We shoved off on 2/24/19 at about 7:33 AM and headed south to Triangle Rocks to enter the Banks. The seas were really rough, way above the forecast, so we took an hour ass-kicking bashing into them until we got on the Banks where it was on the high side of the forecast. Winds were stronger than forecast, but we could sail so it was comfortable and fast. About 32 miles into the trip, one of the boats started taking on water! We were in the lead and immediately turned around. The three boats drifted as they tried to determine the cause and remedy. After about 30 minutes, they discovered they were not taking any more water on, but needed to get all of the water out before they could continue, which was great because we thought they might be sinking. Water was above the floor boards in the cabin and had covered the drive train, making it impossible to use the motor. Just prior to all this, the winds picked up and the seas built to 3-4 feet, hitting us every 3 seconds…not a fun sea state. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, no other boats, no Coast Guard to help…it was pretty scary. Fortunately they could sail, so we turned back toward Bimini. Cat Cay is on the way back about 20 miles away and we could get assistance there, and maybe make it back to the marina we left in South Bimini, which is what we did. Unfortunately for us, we were going to get to the marina at sunset and also at low tide. There is a rock shelf at the entrance to the marina that carries less than 5 feet at low tide, making it impossible for us to enter. The other 2 boats have a shallower draft and made it in. We motored around in bashing seas for an hour and a half waiting on tide, and by that time it was pitch black. The marina entrance is narrow and surrounded by rock jetties on each side. There is also a short dog leg to the route in. I couldn’t see anything, but I did have a track on my chart plotter that I could follow which was the plan. Unfortunately, when I zoomed into the level I needed, the track would disappear! I radioed Sofia Jeanne and Crabshack H2O (Kurt and Sharon’s new boat) and asked them to lead me in on one of their dinghies. They came out, but we had to abort the first attempt because a fishing boat was coming out of the marina shining a spotlight, blinding me completely. On the second attempt a large swell grabbed the boat at the entrance and pushed us to the right, heading for the rocks, and at the last minute I gunned the engine and pulled out of it, coming really close to a major disaster. We made it in on the second attempt, grabbed a slip, and had several strong cocktails. A really bad and scary day on the water!

Our next weather window was 4 days later. We patched up the boats and waited. This time we had a 4 day window of light winds and calm seas. We left Bimini on 2/28/19 and went about 10 miles to Honeymoon Harbor, just inside the Banks at Gun Cay. We have anchored here before and it is a cool stop…secluded beach, and this is where the stingrays come up and swim around your feet looking for food (people feed them here). We anchored in position 25 35.015N, 079 17.877W, played with the stingrays and had a very nice evening, happy to have broken the hold of Bimini.

The next day we said goodbye to Kurt and Sharon as they were heading to their condo in the Berry Islands, and we motored 68 miles to the Northwest Channel and got an anchor down behind the Northwest Shoal just before sundown in position 25 31.095N, 078 13.148W. We had dinner and drinks watching the sunset. The winds and waves picked up around 2 AM, making the boat roll and making it difficult to sleep. We had planned to leave at 3 AM so that we could get to the Palm Cay Marina before they close at 5 PM, and we departed at 3 AM. The forecast wasn’t accurate, but it was fairly comfortable motoring into the wind and seas until the last hour and a half, where it got really rough. We made it into Palm Cay Marina at 4 PM, fueled up and topped off water, and got some well needed sleep.

Sunset on the Great Bahama Banks:
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Chillin’ in Bimini

2/21/19
South Bimini, Bahamas
Position: 25 42.539N, 079 17.953W
Posted by Bill
We finally got a decent weather window and broke the hold of Marathon. On 2/15 we departed Boot Key Harbor and went up the inside of the Keys to a favorite anchorage right off of a bar/restaurant in Islamorada called Lorelei. Back when we used to come here via land, this was our favorite bar in the Keys. It used to be primarily a locals hangout, which appealed to us, but they have succumbed to the tourists and it has lost some of its charm. Still good food and a good time, and not a bad happy hour! We anchored in position 24 55.573N, 080 38.153W. The sunset was fantastic that night, but the mosquitoes tore me up!
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The next day we upped anchor and went to Pumpkin Key on the north side of Key Largo, anchoring in position 25 19.801N, 080 17.087W. It was our first time here and it was a nice anchorage. There was nowhere to go ashore which didn’t matter because we had to prepare for crossing the Gulf Stream and Atlantic Ocean to Bimini the next day. It is also right next to Angelfish Creek, which is one of few cuts between the Gulf side and ocean side of the Keys. In the past we had been told that we could not get through there because of our 5 foot draft, but in Marathon we talked to some people that confirmed we could, as long as we had tide to help us. It is a little further from Bimini than Key Biscayne where we usually cross, but we don’t have to fight the Gulf Stream, so we figured it would take the same amount of time. We departed on the 17th. The forecast called for light winds from the south building to 8-12 knots in the afternoon, and 1-2 foot seas which were going to hold as we went further along the route. We took a compass heading of due east which allowed us to actually sail, which is something we rarely get to do!!! The passage started out great, but in the last 1/3rd of the trip the winds built to 15-20 knots and seas 3-4 feet on the beam. If we hadn’t been able to sail, we would have gotten our asses kicked and would have been thrown side to side for 9 hours, but with the sails up our boat is very comfortable and we had a fantastic sail. There was still a mess to clean up down in the cabin from miscellaneous stuff that had been thrown about, but we actually enjoyed this passage.

We didn’t have a weather window to head east until the beginning of the next week so we are hanging out in Bimini. The marina is part of a resort so we have 2 pools and a great beach to enjoy while we wait.
In spite of the many times we have been here, we still marvel at the clarity and color of the water here.
Our second day here, we took the dinghys over to North Bimini to buy a Bahamas SIM card for our phone. Usually you buy one, put it in your phone, and you are good to go with voice and data throughout the Bahamas. Unfortunately, Shirley and I both have new iPhone 6s which we have never used in the Bahamas, and while trying to activate the SIM we got a message that the phone was not unlocked, which was a requirement to activate. After many hours on the phone with Verizon and Apple, and much research the next day via internet, we found out that our model of iPhone is USA only and will not work outside of the States. Here we are, wasting 2 days, with much frustration, trying to get a phone to activate. There was nothing that told us the phones were USA only when we bought them and we are pissed. Fortunately, Shirley had her old iPhone which worked fine with the SIM, and we used ours in Tricia’s phone instead of mine. We usually use mine because of the weather and navigation apps that I use when cruising, but I can hot spot to hers and get what I need.

It was nice to see that North Bimini is cleaning up their act. The other times we were hear there was trash all over the streets and a general attitude of not caring, but things have improved. Hopefully that will help get more tourism here and help the people living here. The next weather window is short, but we are planning to leave here Sunday and travel first to New Providence and Palm Cay Marina, and then to the Exumas as weather permits.

A shot of the marina:
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The beach at the marina:
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Radio Beach on North Bimini:
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Last days in Marathon

2/13/2019
Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

After a 2 week wait we finally got a mooring ball. The waiting list is now 38 boats…crazy! We have had a couple of weeks of great weather after getting the mooring. Figures…you have the nasty stuff at anchor and good weather on the secure mooring ball. But life has been pretty good. Hi temps in the upper 70s and low 80s and for the most part sunny days! We feel for the people up north. Life has been hell for them weather wise.

Speaking of weather. We had a couple day window of some really nice weather forecast and Tricia’s sister Diane and her husband Mark were RVing with a spot 40 miles north of us in Siesta Key. We decided to go up and anchor off of the RV park and spend a few days with them. We kept our mooring paid up so we could return to it. We had a great time partying with Mark and Di and the RV park is really nice there. Then that night the wind kicked up out of the north and we got soaked trying to dinghy back to the boat. After checking the forecast, it looked like it was going to continue to be rough and we reluctantly decided to head back to the protection of Boot Key Harbor the next day. The forecast was wrong and just as we got to Marathon the wind died and the weather was fantastic for the next day….we were pissed. That’s how it goes….

In the mean time we have been dealing with dinghy engine issues. The day after we get back to Boot Key we are heading out in the dinghy to see the manatees at the end of the channel and the dinghy engine makes this whoop, whoop, whoop sound. Not something I have ever heard before. Further experimentation shows that it only happens above 1/3 throttle and in forward gear only. I talk to Matt and we call our known outboard engine resources here and in Southport. They suggest replacing the water pump components and see if that fixes it. I find a water pump kit in walking distance and pick one up. I have never dealt with the lower unit of an outboard where this is installed, but Matt has, and he pretty much did the work for me as I helped and learned. As it turned out, the impeller was in bad shape so good that we replaced all of that. After a test drive we get the same result, plus, the faster you rev the engine, the slower you go. Ahhhhh….a spun prop. Propellers for outboard motors have a rubber bushing between the prop and the prop shaft on the motor, protecting the lower unit from running aground. When you do go aground, the bushing is sheared and the prop shaft just spins without the prop following it. I don’t recall going aground, but it is what it is. So, I can’t find a prop locally, so we order off the internet with 2 day delivery. Our dinghy is the only way to shore and fortunately we can go just above idle speed and the prop will bite. We go painfully slow for a couple of days and install the new prop when it arrives. Now all is good! Just glad that didn’t happen in the Bahamas!

We are waiting for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas, and I think we finally have one. We leave Marathon Friday, jump to Islamorada, then to Anglefish Creek, and cross to Bimini on Sunday. There I will buy a BTC sim card for my phone and we can continue the blog in the Bahamas.

New solar panels for Island Bound

2/13/2019
Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

In March of 2015, we installed 4 – 100 watt flex solar panels on our bimini canvas. We were staying at a private marina with access to a really nice work area, and Tricia did the sewing on the canvas. 2 of the panels had zippers attached to the sides, and the other 2 were plain. She sewed zippers into the canvas along with a protective flap, as we were not sure if the panels would chafe through the bimini due to wind movement and/or vibration. She also sewed Velcro and a protective flap for the other 2 panels and we attached Velcro to the underside of those panels. The design of the installation worked very well, and when the panels had to be removed for hurricane prep or maintenance on the bimini, it was really hard to get the Velcro ones off! The surface of the panels crazed and degraded after 3 years and so we needed to replace them. We bought them in Marathon FL from a reputable dealer and we had a 5 year warranty, and even though the manufacturer had gone out of business, the dealer honored the warranty and ordered us new panels from a different manufacturer. We could not get zippered panels, and the size of the new ones was slightly bigger, which made the existing bimini modifications unusable, so we needed to change the way the panels were attached.

Our bimini and dodger canvas is on it’s last leg. Tricia has been making repairs for the last 5 years and the canvas is not holding new thread. It will be replaced at the end of this cruising season. We feared that if we had to remove the bimini and do a bunch of sewing, we would have bigger issues than just the failed solar panels, so we needed to some up with a solution that did not involve removing the bimini, and something that could be done on the boat in the mooring field we are staying at. Tricia had been looking at some fasteners called Loxx that she saw in a Sailrite catalogue. They have a top and bottom component, and you pull the top to lock or unlock the connection of the two. Both the base and the top have a ring that screws on to them, which sandwiches the component to whatever material you are working with. They also have little spikes on the components to hold them in place when you screw the ring on. So we thought this would make a great solution given our restrictions. Here is a picture of a top component:
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We first confirmed that they could be attached to the new panels and then we placed the panels on the bimini to determine the best strategy to use in attaching them. As it turned out, the protective flaps from the old installation still protected the bimini, except for the outer ends of the panels, which were longer than the old ones. Here is what remains after removing the old panels:
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Tricia used squares of Velcro for the outer ends to remedy that and provide chafe protection for the outside edges. As you can see in this picture the panels have 6 holes to use for mounting:
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We did one panel at a time and one or two holes at a time, installing the panel before determining the location of the next hole.

Step 1 – Remove the grommets on the panel. The Loxx would not fit on the panel with the grommets on. We used a wire cutter tool, flipped the panel over, and worked the cutter tool under the grommet. Working all the way around the grommet and squeezing the grommet allowed us to form it to a size smaller than the hole, and then just pull it out the other side.
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Step 2 – The holes were still about 1/16th of an inch smaller than the Loxx components, so I used a dremel grinding cone to widen them.
Step 3 – Press the Loxx top component into the hole and use a pair of needle nose pliers to work around the component, pressing the teeth into the panel.
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Step 4 – Install the Loxx ring and use their special tool to tighten the ring snuggly.
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Step 5 – Create a hole in the bimini to put the Loxx base component. We used a hot knife tool to cut the holes. It turned out that the barrel of the hot knife was the perfect size for the Loxx component.
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Step 6 – Insert the base component into the canvas and screw on the ring on the top side of the canvas, using the special tool to tighten.
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Step 7 – Install the panel on to the base and measure for the next hole.
Step 8 through X – Repeat the process for all six holes and for the other panels.

Here is the top view of the installed panel:
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And the underside:
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We connected the wires in series and found that we needed an extension cable for one of the connections. The wires on the new panels were shorter than the old ones. We had the company we bought the panels from make us a 2 foot extension and we are making power with wild abandon.

We thought the Loxx base would leak water, but they have not. If we weren’t getting new canvas this summer, we would have opted to install the bases on a patch of canvas that would then be sewn into the bimini, which would not create holes and would provide support for the bimini canvas. We highly recommend the Loxx fasteners!

The Boot Key Anchorage Blues

1/26/2019
Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL
Position: 24 42.238N, 081 06.069W
Posted by Bill

I know…long time…no blog! It has been more difficult to write blogs more often for some reason this year. I think it is because this is year 5 of our cruising, and we have pretty much “been there…done that” from Southport to Key West and through much of the Bahamas. In the first couple of years, there were many new things to share. This time around, especially in the Keys, we have just settled in to our normal routine, and for those of you that follow the blog…you already know what it is like!

The blog left off in Key West just after Christmas. We continued our Key West routine of exploring the island, hanging at the pool, happy hours, entertainment every night, boat maintenance, and enjoying the luxury of being tied to a slip with fresh water and power. Here is a picture of Dante’s pool, which is directly in front of our marina:
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The weather was really nice while we were there, although very windy. Lots of friends visited us while we were there, so we naturally spent lots of time on Duval street, showing them the craziness. We spent New Years Eve outside of Sloppy Joes Bar and watched the big lighted conch drop. The streets were pretty packed:
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New Years Day we had a pot luck on the dock with some of the other boaters and Key West locals. After New Years we focused on getting the boats ready to leave. Just normal maintenance and provisioning. It takes several days to get provisions because we go by bike or walk, limiting how much we can get at one time. We had until the 17th of January to leave, but we saw a perfect weather window on the 13th, and we took advantage of it. It was a very calm day and I was expecting a comfortable passage. Turns out there was a 1-2 foot swell on the beam, which is not bad at all. Unfortunately, our boat does not like a beam sea with a short wave period, especially when you don’t have enough wind to get a sail up. The swell would start to roll the boat, and the next wave would hit just as the boat was starting its second roll period, thereby accentuating the first roll…and it just continued until you were getting thrown back and forth. If my speed dropped under 7 MPH, the motion was horrible, so we reluctantly pulled away from the group and maintained over 7. When we arrived at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon there was a waiting list of over 20 people for a mooring, which is normal this time of year. When a weather window opens up, a lot of people go to the Bahamas and moorings are freed up. So like everything else in cruising…it all depends on the weather, which began to deteriorate (winds pick up) the day after we get there. With no mooring, the only choice is to anchor and the anchorage was pretty full. We all squeezed into spots we thought were ok, and I thought we had a good one. As the winds shifted from NE to NW we noticed that the 2 boats that were tied together and anchored on our starboard side had the anchor line all twisted up. There are typically 2 types of boats in the Boot Key Harbor anchorage: 1) cruisers like us either waiting for a weather window or a mooring ball, and 2) people that live aboard permanently, and cannot afford any other type of dwelling. The liveaboards typically have boats that are very run down, barely floating in some cases, and most cannot be navigated. When they anchor, they typically put out at least 2 anchors and a normal amount of chain or rope (here we have 65’ of chain out) just like everyone else. However, over time and many changes in wind direction, the chain or rope gets twisted up effectively shortening the length. So, you anchor next to them expecting they have 65’ and will swing with the wind like a normal boat with 65’ of swing, and you space your anchoring so you will not hit anyone as the winds shift. As the winds did shift, we noticed that these 2 boats next to us had an effective swing of about 25’ due to the twisted lines, and we were coming very close to them. Thankfully, the winds didn’t shift any more to the west or we would have had to move, but I had several sleepless nights watching. After 3 days of stress, the guy in front of us left and we pulled anchor and moved further away. This is one of the reasons I hate this anchorage. I do feel bad for the permanent boats. It is so expensive to live in the Keys, and people who work the lesser paying jobs cannot make ends meet with any normal living method. That being said, these types of boats are anchored throughout the anchorage and effectively reduce the amount of boats that can anchor in here. Plus, when you anchor you aren’t really sure how they are going to behave because you can’t see their lines or anchors under the water.

The weather has not been good since we got here. In 2 weeks of being here, there have only been a couple of days where the winds weren’t blowing in the mid to upper 20s or low 30s. With exception of a few cold days (temps in the 60s) it has been very comfortable and very little rain, which is good. We dinghied to the beach a few times and have been doing our normal Marathon routines. You can dinghy and walk to many good restaurants and bars, and there are great happy hours every day. There are daily chores, including jugging water from the marina faucet via dinghy, managing power and running the generator, almost daily walks to the grocery store (about a mile from the marina), and of course…boat maintenance. There have been many days that it was so windy that we didn’t get off the boat. We only run the generator to charge batteries or when power is needed for projects, so we don’t have TV. Consequently, we have been reading LOTS of books. Looks like in a few days the weather is going to break. We should be able to get a mooring ball, and we will be able to enjoy the beach and other activities away from the boat.

One of our major projects is replacing our solar panels. We have 4 100 watt flexible panels installed on the top of our bimini. They are 3 years old and the acrylic finish has hazed over, so they are not working very well. They are under warranty and we purchased them here from a company called SALT, who has honored the warranty and is getting us new panels. They are not here yet and we really need them before we leave for the Bahamas. That plus the fact that all of us traveling together have tasks to be completed before we can go, means we have a couple more weeks until we can head offshore. It is looking like we will likely plan to depart Marathon the first week of February, work our way up the inside of the Keys, stop at some of our favorite places, then depart for the Bahamas from Key Biscayne. As always…it all depends on the weather!

Some pics!
The dinghy landing part of Sombrero Beach:
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The normal people part of Sombrero Beach:
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Boot Key Harbor at night…check out all of the anchor lights:
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Sunset from our boat in the anchorage:
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Merry Christmas from Key West

12/25/18
Key West, FL
Conch Harbor Marina
Position: 24 33.766N, 081 48.021W
Posted by Bill

The worst thing you can do when cruising is have a schedule, and we broke the number one rule heading to Key West. Our reservation in the Conch Harbor Marina started on the 13, and we didn’t want to miss any days in our one month reservation period, so we headed out in less than desirable passage conditions…to meet a schedule. It ended up being an all day ass kicking…even being behind the reef in the Hawk Channel. The boat was getting thrown all over, rolling back and forth from side to side. Stuff was flying around in the cabin below and it was difficult to keep from getting thrown around in the cockpit. I told Tricia…we said we were going to keep cruising until it wasn’t fun anymore…and if we have to travel in these conditions, we are on our last trip! We pulled in to the marina and got tied up late afternoon and were glad to be done with that trip.

Key West has lots of activities. Our usual daily routine involves hitting a good happy hour somewhere, enjoying the food and drinks, and then walking around in the evening to people watch and catch some good live music. We have been doing that pretty much every day. We also watched the Christmas boat parade in our marina, which was really good as always. We also spent a few days at the pool at Dante’s which is at the entrance to our marina, taken a few bike rides, rented scooters and went to Stock Island to have lunch at Hog Fish, and have taken walks every day. It is nice to be able to just walk off the boat without dealing with the dinghy, and the marina is in the heart of all of the action, which makes it easy to get into the vibe here.

Our good friends Rick and Barb (who have a boat next to us in Southport) came down for Christmas and stayed in an inn just a few blocks away, and we have been having a great time with all of us together again (like at home). We went to dinner at Mangia Mangia, a great Italian restaurant, for Christmas Eve, and then had an early dinner on the dock on Christmas Day. We had some friends on the dock and some we know that live in Key West join us, and we had a group of about 20 people. Everyone cooked/brought something and we pigged out!
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My favorite shirt in the Key West stores says “Key West…where the weird go pro!” It is pretty spot on, and a great example is this guy wandering the streets sporting his Christmas spirit:
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Also these pictures of street vendor food trucks:
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Mass quantities of alcohol are consumed here, to the extent that hang over treatments are a thriving business:
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And there is no lack of creative expression, including vehicles:
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There are some crazy boaters too. This guy pulled in on Christmas Day, when he knew no staff would be working the docks, and filled up his fresh water tanks with the marina’s water, then took off. Interesting that he had a Victorian couch and wing backed chairs on the back deck…lol!
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Hell’s Angels on scooters:
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A few shots of the Christmas boat parade:
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Cool Christmas lights in the palm trees:
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The weather was a little chilly for a few days while a front came through, bringing 40 plus knot winds, but other than that we have had excellent weather…nice and warm, with little rain. Given that we grew up in the north, it doesn’t give you the feel of Christmas like we know it, but I’ll take it any day over the cold!!!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!! I hope you had a good one! The blog will see you in the new year.

Marathon, Boot Key Harbor

12/6/18
Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL
Position: 24 42.316N, 081 05.585W
Posted by Bill

Well, the wind forecast was calling for winds in the mid to upper 20s for a few days, and 15-25 for as long as the 10 day forecast was projecting…sheesh! We upped anchor and took a bit of a beating in Biscayne Bay on 12/5. Seas were following, so it helped the boat motion a bit, and I got to put up some sails, which is always enjoyed. When we got into the northern sounds of Florida Bay, we had smaller bodies of water and less fetch, so conditions were pretty good. We made it to Tarpon Basin in Key Largo, and anchored in position 25 07.204N, 080 25.649W. Tarpon Basin is fairly well protected from winds in all direction, but we still had a moderate chop at the anchorage. Many parts of the basin are full of sea grass and it is known for poor anchor holding. We have dragged anchor there a few times in the past. All of us found some sand patches and got a great hold. Good thing too, because the wind howled all day and night. We had small craft advisories that day and for the next couple of days, so we debated about staying for another day or leaving. At dawn the next day, we made the final call and decided to venture out, and if it was too bad we could come back. It wasn’t as bad as predicted, so we found our way into Boot Key Harbor late on the 6th. One of the boats had transmission problems and sea grass clogging the engine intake about 5 miles from the Seven Mile Bridge, and we had about a half hour delay sorting that all out, but we made it in. The day after we arrived, we saw some manatees and then watched the lighted boat parade from Steel Away’s top deck. It was fun. Then we all spent a few days doing boat maintenance and resting up a bit. Since Stuart, we have been running long days in high winds, and everyone is exhausted. We have reservations for a month in Key West at Conch Harbor Marina starting on the 13th, and it looks like the 12th is the best day to travel there, with the 13th being pretty good too. So we are planning to head out…not sure which day yet. See you in Key West!

Sunset from Sunset Grille in Marathon:
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The push to Miami

12/4/18
Marine Stadium Anchorage, Miami FL
Position: 25 44.507N, 080 09.972W
Posted by Bill

We had a great time as always in Stuart. We hit all of our usual favorite places to eat and drink, and also did some grocery shopping. We also got to catch up with good cruising friends Hayden and Radeen on Island Spirit. We haven’t seen them in a long time, and it was fun to get together. I wish we could have had more time hanging out with them. We were watching the weather because we knew that we needed to run offshore (which cruisers call “outside”) to get from Ft Lauderdale to Miami. There is a bridge on the ICW in Miami that we cannot get under, so this is our only option, and actually, it is so much nicer than dealing with all of the bridges and crazy ICW boaters in south Florida. We were also considering running outside from Lake Worth to Miami instead of taking the ICW from Lake Worth to Ft Lauderdale, so a good couple day weather window was what we needed. We have run offshore in winds over 20 knots but have found that we much prefer a calmer sea state, so we shoot for max of 15 knots in our windows. The weather this year has been a lot worse than usual from a wind perspective. This year we have had 15 plus knot winds for a good 90% of the days we have been traveling…very uncharacteristic this time of year, so we ended up staying in Stuart for a week before we could get a window.

So, we left on 12/2. The winds had not died much at all, so we stayed on the ICW through Lake Worth and anchored in Lantana FL at position 26 34.824N, 080 02.861W. On 12/3 we found that one of our preferred anchorage in Ft Lauderdale was empty…amazingly…so all 4 boats got in and we anchored in position 26 08.576N, 080 06.571W. Here is a picture that I took of Island Bound at anchor, from the top of Kurt and Sharon’s boat:
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Every time we run the ICW in south Florida I am amazed at the array of multi-million dollar homes and boats that line the waterway…and it just goes one after another for pretty much all of south Florida. I can’t fathom how that many people can have that much money. Here are some sample pics:
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You do get to see some wildlife at times. Here was an eagle:
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And then this Jurassic Iguana on the bridge:
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On 12/4 we went offshore from Ft Lauderdale to Miami. It was a great day on the ocean and it was really nice to be rid of the damn bridges on the ICW! Steel Away ran offshore with us while Sofia Jeanne and At Ease took the ICW. We floated into Marine Stadium and dropped anchor. This anchorage was an old marine stadium where all sorts of water based competition took place decades ago. Now it is a great anchorage with an amazing view of the Miami skyline:
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Here is a shot from offshore looking at Miami Beach and South Beach:
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Here we are coming in the Government Cut Inlet at Miami:
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Kurt shot this view of Island Bound going into Miami:
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The winds are picking back up and we are trying to decide if we stay at Marine Stadium or tough it out on Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay, which are large bodies of water with pretty rough conditions in higher winds. We will check again in the morning and make a final decision.

Taking a break in Stuart

11/27/18
Stuart FL
Position: 27 11.716N, 080 15.720W
Posted by Bill
As you know from the last post, we waited a day to leave Cocoa because a gale warning was up, and the days afterward showed light winds. Well, we left Cocoa on the 24th expecting light and variable winds…suckers! We didn’t get gale force winds, but we had them in the 20-30 knot range the whole day. I can’t believe they can’t forecast winds any better than they have been. It sure makes passage planning difficult. At least it was warm, highs in the low to mid 80s…yay! We left around 7 AM and were treated to a beautiful sunrise:
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We cruised to Vero Beach and all of us were able to get a mooring ball, the sailboats tied together and the trawlers tied together. We went ashore long enough to check in and pay, and then back to the boats for dinner. We really like Vero and it has appeal to the general cruiser community with the bus system, close proximity to provisioning, restaurants you can walk or dinghy to, and a 20 minute walk to the beach. It is known in the cruising community as “Velcro Beach” because people get comfortable there and don’t want to leave. We opted to stay only one night and move on to spend more time in Stuart. It was a warm night and we sat out in the cockpit and chilled after dinner. We also got destroyed by mosquitoes and no-see-ums, which really sucked the days after!
We left the next morning and cruised the ICW to the St Lucie River, then turned right to go up the river to Sunset Bay Marina where three of us we were able to grab mooring balls (a difficult feat for 3 boats this time of year), and Kurt and Sharon opted for a slip so they could move stuff from their old boat stored in Indiantown to this new boat. Prices have gone up at the marina, probably because their popularity has increased dramatically the last 3 years. It is 8 miles off the ICW, but the marina is very well kept, has a shuttle service that runs every day, is a short walk to downtown Stuart, and a short walk to restaurants, Publix, and liquor store. It seems like it has become “the” place to go, and many cruisers stay for extended time periods, some the entire winter. We are spending at least 4 days here and will consider staying as long as a week. Here is a picture of the mooring field around sunset:
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People often ask, “what the hell do you do all day when you stay for days at a time?” Usually, we go ashore and explore, provision, or do boat work. Today I had to clean out the bilge as it was starting to smell rank! One of the only things I don’t like about the typical Island Packet sailboat, is that the anchor locker drains to the bilge. We anchor in all kinds of mud and sand as we move south, and although we have an anchor wash down pump, and use it religiously, ultimately some muddy water with all of the living creatures gets into the bilge. It doesn’t take long to start to decay and stink the place up.

Here is the Christmas tree in downtown Stuart…it sure doesn’t seem like Christmas yet, in spite of all of the decorations!
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