Monthly Archives: February 2019

Chillin’ in Bimini

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!

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:

The beach at the marina:

Radio Beach on North Bimini:

Last days in Marathon

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

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:

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:

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:
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.
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.
Step 4 – Install the Loxx ring and use their special tool to tighten the ring snuggly.
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.
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.
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:

And the underside:

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!