Monthly Archives: February 2017

Back in ‘da Islands mon

South Bimini, Bimini Islands, Bahamas
Position: 25 42.634N, 079 17.984W
Posted by Bill

We left Marathon on the 23rd and cruised up to Tarpon Basin (Key Largo area). We had good wind and wind direction, and got to turn off the motor and sail a good portion of it. As we neared the entrance to Tarpon Basin we had a visitor swim right beside us for about 15 minutes:
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We love it when they do that! We anchored in position 25 07.174N, 080 25.849W and enjoyed a quiet evening.

The next day we were up at dawn and cruised up Biscayne Bay to No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. It is a convenient departure point to the Bahamas with close and deep access to the ocean. It is not a very big harbor and gets really crowded with Miami locals on the weekends. Since it was a Friday, we didn’t expect to get into the harbor and figured we would be anchoring outside the entrance. We had just enough room to get all 3 boats inside, and we all got together for dinner on Sofia Jeanne. Our anchored position was 24 40.633N, 080 09.821W. The forecast called for light winds and a 2-3 foot swell from the north, caused by a low pressure system off the Carolinas. The wave period (time between waves) was supposed to be 9-10 seconds, so we figured the swell would be tolerable even though it was hitting us on the beam, which makes our boat roll unless we are sailing. Along the way from Tarpon Basin, we ran into some 30 speed boats that were participating in a race from Miami to Key West. They came in groups, sometimes with long time periods between groups. Here is a picture of one that passed us in Key Biscayne:
They were moving at around 70 MPH, maybe more. We intersected a large group of about 30 of them in a channel that is 3 boat widths wide. The channel is lined with mangrove trees and has several blind curves. We have often encountered small fishing boats sitting in the middle of the channel fishing. These guys came by a full speed, about 15 feet from our port side, water spraying us…one right after another! I couldn’t believe that they didn’t slow down, especially in the blind curves. It is a miracle that they didn’t hit anyone, and fortunately there were no fishing boats in the middle!

Saturday, we woke before first light so that we could leave as soon as we could see. Unfortunately, we had dense fog, which wasn’t supposed to lift until 9 AM. We waited until we had a little daylight, and decided we could still depart. There were several sport fishing boats that passed us in the channel at full speed, which was nuts! After we got into the ocean, the fog started to lift and we increased our speed. The trip started out pretty calm, but quickly became 3-4 foot beam swells with occasional 5 footers, and a 6 second period. That lasted most of the trip. Sofia Jeanne and Byrd Ketcher seemed to be taking the swells much better than us. I think it is a function of boat design, and ours is very susceptible to rolling side to side in a beam sea. We were getting thrown from one side to another and I could hear stuff being tossed around in the storage lockers below in the cabin. I tried going slower (which was way worse), faster, different angles to the seas, using sails (which didn’t work because there was very little wind), all to no avail. I finally found a speed that minimized the effect, but it was a miserable passage. We will NEVER again travel in beam seas like that unless there is enough wind to put up sails (the boat does not have the roll problem under sail). After 9 hours we arrived at South Bimini and pulled into the marina at Bimini Sands Resort. Here is Tricia hoisting our Q flag as we approached the island (island in the background):
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When visiting a foreign country, it is protocol to fly the Q (meaning quarantine) from the starboard side of the boat, until you clear customs. You then fly the country flat in place of the Q. We took a taxi to the airport and cleared customs, and came back to the boat, all of us getting together for dinner. This is a really nice marina by Bahamian standards, and we enjoyed the beach and infinity pool yesterday. I’ll post some more about it in the next days. We are waiting out weather until Wednesday, and will then depart to move east…either the Exuma Cays, or the Berry Islands, depending on weather.

Movin’ on

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

Well, Tricia made it back from Ohio on the 20th, and the family event went very well. I got up early that day, walked 3.5 miles to the Marathon Airport, and rented a car for a day. I picked up Shirley, from Sofia Jeanne, and Sharon, from Byrd Ketcher, and we went to Miami to provision at Walmart and Costco. It took longer than we expected, and Tricia’s flight was a half hour early into Fort Lauderdale, so mid-shopping, we went and picked her up. Then we finished off provisioning and escaped the insane “real world” and beat it back to the Keys. We then spent the last 2 days finishing the boat prep for the Bahamas, as there is a decent weather window to cross over coming up. It has been a crazy couple of days, but we are ready!

I always find it true that things happen for a reason, and since I didn’t get to go north with Tricia, I was wondering what the reason was going to be. While she was gone, I came back from the grocery and found that our refrigerator was not on and had defrosted. It does that about once a year for some unknown reason, and all I have to do is switch it off and back on, and it works fine again. So I did the normal off and on and all was fine, but, had I not been here to catch it, we would have lost all the food in the refrigerator, which is a lot of food!

Marathon is a nice stop, but we are ready to move on. There are some crazy, as well as shady, people here living in the harbor on boats. The guy next to us is a great example. Here is the boat:
And here is the guy in a crazy outfit:
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His is by himself on the boat. He has a little black dog that attacks him, and he yells constantly at him. He also talks to him, and if you closed your eyes, you would think he is having a 2 way conversation with someone answering. The other day he was, as Matt says “slinging buns in the air” at the gulls and pelicans. They were mooching and cawing at him when they wanted more. He talks to them like the dog, and finally says, “You all are lazy beggars. You don’t have Obama any more….you need to get a job!” What a hoot! He is very entertaining. So are the many people that do not know how to anchor properly. The anchorage is a constant source of entertainment.

So the plan is to leave tomorrow, travel up the inside (Florida Bay side) of the Keys, stopping at Tarpon Basin, and anchoring Friday at No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. Then cross to south Bimini on Saturday. It may be more difficult to get blog posts posted while in the Bahamas, but I’ll keep you posted.

A couple of other pics from Boot Key, our friends Matt and Shirley taking Grady for a Frisbee excursion ashore, and a great sunset:

Singing the mooring ball blues…

Marathon FL, Florida Keys
Posted by Bill

We have found and seen that one of the most difficult things to do when living like this, is plan a land based trip around a definite schedule. A significant, milestone, family event, popped up on the radar a couple of months ago, scheduled for February 18th, in northern Ohio. This is one of those things that you really don’t want to miss, so while we were in Key West, we started to figure out how we could make it happen. Our original plan was to go to the Bahamas as soon as weather allowed, after we left Key West in mid-January. So, we thought about two approaches: 1) Leave the boat in the Bahamas and fly back to Ohio, or 2) Find a place to leave the boat in Florida and fly back to Ohio, delaying our trip to the Bahamas until we return. As with everything else in our lifestyle, weather is the primary factor in decisions, so we favored option 1 if weather allowed us to get across to the Bahamas. We could leave the boat in 1 of 3 places, based on our planned route and our experience with those areas: South Bimini, Nassau/New Providence, or Georgetown in the Exumas. There were marinas in those areas that we felt comfortable leaving the boat, and there were regular flights back to the States. It really depended on how far we could go in the time we had before the 18th of February, and that depended on the weather. If we left the boat in Florida, we could try to find a marina in Miami or the Keys, or we could get a mooring ball in Marathon. If we could get a marina, we would have shore power, but if we used a mooring ball, someone would have to run the generator for us for a couple of hours every day unless it was really windy (in which case the wind generator would keep batteries topped up). Our traveling partners on Sofia Jeanne graciously offered to look after the boat and run the generator. The one thing we didn’t want to do was leave the boat at anchor…for obvious reasons if you read the last post!

If you read the blog, you know that we ended up staying stateside. The Miami boat show is the same weekend as the family event, so every marina in the Miami area was packed full. The marinas in the keys were also booked, as most of them get filled up 4-6 months in advance of the winter season. There was also a fishing tournament in the Marathon area, which put further demand on the marinas. Our only option was to go with a mooring ball. We put our names on the wait list when we arrived on January 18th, thinking that a month was plenty of time to work our way down from our 38th position in the queue. The mooring field employees figured we had a 3 week wait. We set the trip to Ohio up so that we left on the 14th and returned on the 20th. This gave us time to help buy and prepare the food, and help with setting up the venue for the event, and gave us a short window to see our kids and grandkids. The cheapest flights were out of Fort Lauderdale. We had 3 reasonable options to get from Marathon to the Fort Lauderdale airport: Shuttle service, limo service, and rent a car. The cheaper of the 3 was renting a car. Since it is a 2 ½ hour drive, and our flight was at the “butt crack of dawn”, we needed to go the night before and stay in a hotel. The day before we needed to leave, we were number 4 on the mooring wait list. The weather was really good, so we thought there would be plenty of people leaving , and we had a great chance to get one. We find out around 2 PM that we didn’t make it. Since the family event is on Tricia’s side of the family, she has to go without me, and I stay with the boat. I went with her to the hotel and left the next morning, dropping her off at the airport on the way back to Marathon. Three hours after I get back, the marina calls and says “you have a mooring”. I think: great…I can fly to Ohio on Friday and return with her on Monday. However, we find that the cost of the flights have tripled, the cost of the shuttle and limo has gone to close to $300, and because of the boat show in Miami, all of the cheap rental cars are taken. I could probably do it, but it will cost over $600. On top of what we were already spending, this is beyond our budget, so I stay in Marathon.

The really frustrating thing, as if the whole thing isn’t frustrating enough, is that the mooring we were given was open on the day before we actual got it, and that would have allowed us to stick with our original plan! I don’t know why it took the marina another day to assign it to us, especially after we told them our dilemma and asked for as early a notification as we could get. The good thing is that Tricia made it! I am working on getting the boat ready for the Bahamas trip, and will do some major provisioning in Miami on the day I pick Tricia up at the airport. We will hit the high seas for “da Islands” as soon as weather permits when she returns.

Movin’ on…to more anchoring woes

Marathon FL, Boot Key Harbor
Position: 24 42.217N, 081 06.083W
Posted by Bill

We wrapped up our visit with Tricia’s sister and her husband and headed back to “reality”. Our visit was great. Great to hang out with them and some friends that visited from Ohio while we were there. We found a great place to get fresh seafood, and the girls prepared a feast of lobster tails, shrimp and tuna, with fettuccine alfredo:
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Man was it good! We also enjoyed a few “drink and drift” sunsets. This is something we picked up in the Bahamas. Participants would take their dinghies out into the harbor, tie them all in a big flotilla, and enjoy cocktails and appetizers while watching the sunset. Here in Buttonwood Sound we used our dinghy, kayaks and a row boat. We had some great sunsets:

We stayed there almost 2 and ½ weeks, way longer than originally anticipated, and we needed to get back to Marathon as we were getting low on the wait list for a mooring ball. You have 2 hours to get to the marina office after they call, or the mooring is given to the next person, so you need to be close. The boat had been anchored out for close to 10 days in the same spot, and we visited it daily to charge batteries and open it up, but we were only there an hour a day. Around day 8, I started to notice a cormorant (sea bird) sitting on the bow, using the anchors as a personal toilet. Not too bad to clean up…but day 8 had 4 birds, and day 9 had 7 birds. Needless to say, the entire front half of the boat was an absolute mess, and smelled horrible. Before we departed on the 6th, we spend several hours cleaning the boat as best we could on anchor. Here is a picture of the bastards on day 8:
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We stopped at the anchorage where the Lorelai bar is on Islamorada, and spent the night. Lorelai’s was one of our favorite bars in the Keys, but they have cut back on happy hour drink portions and have no happy hour food specials anymore…damn! It still has a great view and live music, but we have that on the boat…including cheaper food and drink. Too bad. The next day we made it to Boot Key Harbor on Marathon. We were still number 12 on the waiting list, so we had to find a place to anchor. With over 50 boats on the waiting list, the anchorage area is jammed full of boats. Many are permanent residents, with dilapidated boats. The holding is not the best either, so it can be a crazy place to anchor. We found a good area with room for the boat to swing, put down 70 feet of chain and set the anchor well. I ask the guy next to us how much chain he has out, something you should do to make sure that neighboring boats swing evenly and anchor. It also lets you know if someone has too little anchor line out and they could possibly drag anchor and hit you. The guy says “I guess 60 feet”, so I am good. We are only expecting 10 knots or less of wind for the next 3 days, so I am not at all worried. The next day we dinghy to Burdines (restaurant) to get lunch, and in the middle of lunch the marina calls me. “A neighboring boat says you are dragging anchor…can you check it out?” The wind has just shifted from east to west, but there is less than 10 knots. You could almost hold on chain alone in that situation, not to mention the 60 pound anchor we have. We go back to the boat and sure enough, we are right on top of the boats next to us. We didn’t hit anything, so all is good, but the guy starts to lecture me about anchoring. I asked how much chain he had out (again…the same guy as the day before) and he says 6 to 1. That is “captain-ease” for 6 feet of chain for each foot of water depth. We are in 10 feet of water, so it should be 60 feet of chain. I didn’t like being next to this guy, so we moved further down the anchorage. After looking at the track we took while swinging at anchor, I realized that we did not drag at all, and merely swung on our 70 feet of chain when the wind shifted. If he had 60 feet, he would have swung too, and there would have been 150 feet between our boats. His boat had obviously been there so long, I don’t think he had a clue how much chain he had out. So, we pick this new spot and get a good set. We were expecting a front to move through with 25 knot winds, the typical Florida winter pattern. The anchorage is so crowded that I only put out 60 feet, because we don’t have room to swing with more than that. With winds in the mid to upper 20s, I put out at least 90 feet. As always, the high winds and major wind shifts occur in the middle of the night, and last night was no different. We shift from west winds to north and the speed picks up. At midnight, I go on deck to see how we are holding and we are ok, except the guy that was way in front of me with the west winds is now beside me, his boat still pointing west. All of the other boats are pointing north-east into the wind. We keep swinging closer and closer to the back of this guys boat, and I keep waiting for the wind to swing it away from us. At about 4 AM, a fender that is being used as a float for something in the water, pops out from under this guys boat, and the boat finally swings with the wind! We were as close as 15 feet to hitting him. I was watching all night, and if necessary, would start the engine and motor away from him until we could move our anchor. The wind is going to shift to the east, so I can see that this will place us in contact with this float. I don’t know what is under the water, and I know that it held the stern of his boat against 25 knot winds for 4 hours, so I know that I don’t want to get hung up in it! It is 6:30 AM, and I can see that we are also dragging ever so slowly…ugh! I get Tricia, and we pull the anchor up, move it forward so that we can avoid the float, and put out more anchor to keep from dragging. We successfully move and put out almost 90 feet of chain. We avoid the float, stop dragging, and as the wind shifts we see that the guy who we almost hit, has less chain out than the other boats. We swing about 30 feet in front of him in an east wind. If we had not moved, we would have swung into him. Ugh again!!!

Anchoring is almost an art. The benefits are worth the troubles, but in an anchorage like this, sometimes it can suck bad, for days at a time. We do have a nice view of the harbor from here though:
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