Bahamas

 

March 8, 2009

At 0700 hours, Florida "corrected for daylight savings" time, it was light enough to see the channel markers and we raised anchor and sailed out from West Caicos Marina basin. The sky was shrouded in clouds and it was cold for us at 75 degrees F. We were soon under full sail on a 50 mile leg to Mayaguana, our first landfall in the Bahamas. The wind held all day in the range of 16 to 23 knots and the seas held just behind the beam in the 8 to 9 foot range. For us this was a fast beam reach and DoodleBug sailed at 8 knots or better, despite the lumpy seas. The anchorage we had selected lay just over a mile inside the western entrance to Abraham's Bay, Mayaguana. This is almost a rectangular lagoon, with the low island of Mayaguana on two sides and fringing reefs on the other two sides. The settlement lies at the east end of the bay but water depths there are too shallow for us. We dropped anchor at 1350 hours at position N 22 19.6' W 073 01.9'.

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We had assumed that there would be access to a road and we could get a ride to the settlement to check in with the authorities but the binoculars showed a barren shoreline with white sand beach, a mile from where we were anchored. Annette had been looking forwards to shelling the beaches so we launched our dinghy and braved the towering swells towards the shore. OK the waves were only two to three foot high but that is towering to a dinghy. We motored through the fringing reef until our replacement outboard propeller was at risk and then paddled the rest of the way in. The beach was almost devoid of shells but we beach combed nonetheless. We kept finding small plastic bags filled with sand. I don't know what uncut heroin looks like and the movies I have watched show cocaine to be white. This was definitely sand and no, I didn't taste it.

 

March 9, 2009

This morning we watched as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon in a rosy dawn. The sky had a few puffy cumulus and we hoped that the reflected glare of the morning light would be driven away by the weak sunshine.

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We remembered a sizeable coral head on our approach to the anchorage last night and knew also that we must pass it again close by. At 0715 hours, we raised anchor and set sail for Attwood Harbor in Lady Slipper Cay.

We motor sailed until we had cleared the western point of Mayaguana and then turned northwest under full sail to clear the twin islets of the Plana Cays. It was a cool morning but warmer than yesterday's 75 degrees, perhaps because the sky was no longer overcast. The wind stayed in the range of 15 to 20 knots for the morning, dropping to the 13 knot range in the afternoon. We still had huge swells on the beam, up to 10 feet in height but not as steep as yesterday.

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At 1550 hours we passed through the protecting reef and anchored in Attwood Harbor at position N 22 43.3' W 073 53.0'

 

March 10, 2009

A long run today to Clarence Town on Long Island. We left the anchorage in near darkness and edged carefully 

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past the reefs guarding the dog-leg approach to the shallow anchorage, based upon our inbound GPS track. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, we were surprised to see that SV Sea of Tranquility had already departed and were nowhere in sight. The day began with 7/8 ths cloud coverage and a couple of light showers. The winds gusted back and forth in the range of 11 to 17 knots, lighter than yesterday but we held onto a beam reach with full sail, slowing slightly as the wind slipped behind the beam. The waves were still huge, with occasional 10 foot swells but we took them at an angle on the stern and they were no problem, unless we slowed down. Then DoodleBug would roll back and forth and we adjusted our heading to put the fickle winds nearer the beam.

By early afternoon the clouds had dispersed and we were sailing in sunshine with a temperature of 80F, still under full sail. Because of our course adjustments, we had wandered over a mile off the rhumb line course and for the final hour of our approach, we motor sailed on a near dead run. We had contacted the "Flying Fox" marina by radio and had requested berth space as well as Custom's clearance and they had assured us they had room for us on the their dock. They did warn that the marina approach was very shallow but the sea bed was soft sand.

Around 1600 hours we made a heart stopping approach, with the day's large swells now directly on the beam and crashing spectacularly on the reefs on either side of us. We gratefully made the turn into the marina and did not touch bottom on the now rising tide. At 1615 hours were tied up in the marina at position N 23 06.1' W 074 57.6'.

Just before dusk, the Bahamian Custom's / Immigration officer arrived to check our papers and after a payment

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of US $ 300 for a cruising permit (!!), we were legally here and lowered the yellow "Q" (quarantine) signal flag for perhaps the last time on this voyage. There was but one restaurant open nearby and Lonnie and Phyllis joined us to feed our respective crews and celebrate Annette's birthday.

 

March 11, 2009

Last night I dropped my sunglasses overboard as we tied up. The water was very shallow and I thought I could even see the glasses on the white sand bottom below. The reason I did not dive for them was that the boat next 

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door was filleting fish on the dock and casting the stripped carcasses into the sea. The carcasses were being actively devoured by a pair of 8 foot Bull sharks and this particular breed is known as dangerous and aggressive towards humans. I checked our spares stash and now have a replacement pair of clip on sunglasses.

Today we did boat chores; catching up on laundry, tightening alternator belts and refueling from our jerry jugs, that contained $1.95 per gallon, Puerto Rican diesel. No $4 per gallon Bahamian diesel needed! We made a trip into "town" to check out the two churches, both designed by the same architect, Father Jerome, the so called hermit of Cat Island. He first designed the Protestant church, St. Paul's. He then converted to Catholicism (probably found out that Catholics can drink booze) and built St. Peter's. We climbed the spire of St. Peter's which provided a splendid view over Clarence town.

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We hit the local craft shop and then shelled the beaches on the return to DoodleBug but there were slim pickings amongst the debris cast upon a lee shore.

 

March 12, 2009

The wind was blowing at 20 knots when we awoke this morning but DoodleBug was near level with the dock, indicating that we were at high tide and had an extra two feet of water to play with. Getting off the dock was easy. Lonnie (SV Sea of Tranquility) helped us drop the bowlines and we simply drifted clear of the pilings we had been tied to. We eased between the reefs guarding this harbor and were soon under sail, reefed down and close hauled but making better than 8 knots in 6 foot seas. The day was clear and the bright sunshine was welcome, to partially offset the morning temperature of 75F. By noon, the wind had clocked to the east slightly and dropped a little and we close reached under full sail. We dropped anchor at Conception Island at 1350 hours, position N 23 51.1' W 075 07.2 in West Bay.

The anchorage is fabulous. This is a National Park and is thus uninhabited. The white sand beach is very fine and feels more like a slurry when shelling on the strand. We had been told of a mangrove river that we might dinghy up to see dozens of sea turtles and rays swimming and basking in the lagoon within. Nobody mentioned the little detail about entering the river at high tide and our approach after a two mile dinghy ride was anything but high

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tide. We waded a little, pulling the dinghy up the mangrove river but Katherine Hepburn's voice in my head kept repeating, "Tea, Mr. Allnot?" (re: "African Queen") . The water was rushing by us towards the sea and the thought of carrying a couple of hundred pounds of dinghy suggested a hasty retreat. No turtles then; sandwiches for supper. Bob and Trish of 

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SV Bristol Rose joined us for sundowners and Bob sounded the conch horn to signal sunset. They are friends of Gerald and Diane aboard SV Whisker. When we last visited with the crew of Whisker, we had swapped stories of anchorages and talked about Bea and Diane at Cocos Keeling Island (October 2006). Last night we received an e-mail from this pair who are in transit to Cocos or Christmas Island as I write this. What a small world!

 

March 13, 2009

This morning we awoke to a heavily overcast sky, rain and a temperature of 75 F - the kind of conditions that really make you want to go back to bed. Unfortunately, we had a 64 mile run to make and if we wanted good light conditions when we arrived at our destination anchorage, we really needed to get going. We raised anchor at 0705 hours and weaved between the reefs, bound for Little San Salvador Island. The forecast winds were to be light, in the 14 knot range and from the northeast, going to east later in the day. Instead we had winds of 20 knots from the southeast that stayed with us for much of the day, frequently gusting up to 25 or even 30 knots. The waves stayed correspondingly large, in the 6 to 8 foot range, even after we entered the shelter of Exuma Sound. The good news was that DoodleBug smoked along at better than 8 knots in these conditions, even reefed down as we were when the wind climbed towards 30 knots and our speed over ground brushed 10 knots. At around 1500 hours we could see two cruise ships ahead of us and assumed correctly that they were anchored just off our destination bay. The cruise ship company purchased the formerly uninhabited island in the mid-90's and have built recreation facilities there for their on-board guests. The passengers are ferried ashore so they can visit a "native crafts" store, swim from the beach and rent various water toys. I can't imagine there were many takers today for water sports and as we approached, the last few shuttle boats were being hauled aboard the huge vessels. They have some number of cruise company employees and security people living on the island. Presumably, these would be the island's native craftsmen. As we anchored, the cruise ships in turn departed, hopefully for warmer climes. We anchored at position N 24 34.6' W 075 57.3' at 1605 hours.

 

March 14, 2009

We raised anchor at 0400 hours this morning and set sail for the Fleeming channel, an opening through the reefs that allows exit from the Exuma Bank into the Atlantic Ocean. We were northbound on Exuma Sound and this is an elongated body of water that is open to the southeast but fringed by reefs everywhere else. We had selected the Ship Channel cut to access the shallow Exuma Bank and had timed our approach so that we would have reasonable light for spotting coral heads and rocks during our 24 mile transit back into deeper water. The day was reasonably clear, with light winds from the starboard rear quarter and we motor sailed with the mainsail, as we needed to hold an average speed of over 6 knots. As it happened, we arrived at the cut near high tide at around 1100 hours. The cut is shallow and the wind driven waves piled up behind us as we moved from the deep

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sound onto the shallow bank. There was a little residual current in our favor, for which we were very grateful. On a dropping tide and contrary current, the waves we were trailing could have become huge, steep and breaking. Our goal for the day was to try and find an anchorage near the entrance to the Fleeming channel. The guide books and charts were silent on this issue but we found a patch of sand surrounded by shallow banks and reefs on three sides and dropped the hook into 30 feet of water. A little amount of pitching but no rolling. This will do! Our position at 1450 hours was N 25 15.5 W 076 53.6'. A long day and supper of tacos with beer was well received. We are currently 185 miles from crossing our outbound track at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 

March 15, 2009

The wind increased slightly and the wave action in our impromptu anchorage increased accordingly. At times, it was more motion than wanted but still less than we have suffered at other anchorages. The action consisted of pitching rather than evil rolling and we both managed to get a little sleep, before raising anchor at 0705 hours and setting sail for Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The first leg of our course was a straight shot to the tip of Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands. This was a 64 mile segment and we sailed when the wind was strong and turned on the engine to motorsail, when the wind dropped in strength as the day wore on. We approached our waypoint around 1630 hours and found our course blocked by two large cruise ships, at anchor off Slaughter Harbour. We had moved from the deep water of the Atlantic to the shallow waters off the Great Bahamas Bank, hours earlier and had been escorted by a pod of a dozen or so dolphins as we made our way across the shallows. We maneuvered to pass the sterns of the cruise ships and just as at "Little San Salvador", the ships were retrieving their last few passengers from their contrived beach resort. Our course now lay to the west and at sunset we sailed onto the Great Bahamas Bank on a course that would take us just north of Bimini Island. It would be a long night and Annette went to bed early, as we would go to "night watch" mode for our overnight passage.

At 1945 hours my 10 minute "watch" alarm timer went off and I carefully examined the horizon for lights. The red trail of a rocket soared into the night sky in the northwest. A distress signal!!?? The rocket continued to

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climb leaving a bright trail, that became more white than red as it cleared the horizon. This was no distress rocket! This was the launch of the space shuttle from Cape Canaveral! I yelled loudly for Annette. The poor baby had just dropped off to sleep and must have assumed that we were simultaneously sinking and being boarded by villainous terrorists. The trail of the shuttle continued to climb into the night sky and we wished the crew, "Godspeed". The red trail deteriorated into a snake like zig-zag of red fire across the sky and hung there for the next hour, lit by the light of the hidden sun, while a bright cloud of white vapor dominated the upper atmosphere and cast a glimmering, reflected trail across the waters. Hey NASA! DoodleBug's crew are excited to be coming home but it wasn't really necessary to go to all that trouble!

The segment of our trip that ran across the shallow Great Bahamas Bank was 54 miles of white knuckle passage. Our route passed north of the Mackie Shoal and south of the "Gingerbread Ground", both notorious for ship busting, rocky, coral heads. The guide book did not say that there were potential hazards on this route but then again, it also did not explicitly state that there were not. Overall it seemed to imply that the route we had selected was "safe". To offset this feeling of confidence, the electronic chart carried a warning that this area was "daylight visual sailing rules only". Was this just lawyer stuff, or was there a real risk? As it was, we passed the highest risk area, with a minimum depth seen of around 30 feet of water and not the chart promised 16 feet. At 2335 hours our position was N 25 48.6' W 078 48.2' as we motorsailed in light winds from the port rear quarter.

 

Florida, USA

March 16, 2009

At 0325 hours we passed north of Bimini and the depth meter showed we had left the Great Bahamas Bank and were entering the deep channel of the Gulf Stream. This giant river in the ocean flows between Florida and the Bahamas Islands, at a rate of up to 4 knots. I had used an averaged figure of 2.5 knots to the north, in order to compute a course vector to offset this great current. Our heading lay fixed at 276 degrees magnetic and we watched the offset from our track reach as much as 2.75 miles, while the GPS showed our true course over ground to be as much as 25 degrees different from our heading. Just as yesterday, the conditions remained light. We sailed under full sail on a broad reach when the winds picked up and added the engine running at low RPM to the sail's efforts when the wind dropped again.

0730 hours: America is in sight! The skyline ahead, lit by the pale dawn, was that of Miami. This was our "heading", even though our course lay further north to Fort Lauderdale. The Gulf Stream runs strongly on this

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side of the channel and only drops in strength in the last few miles. Our offset from the "rhumb line" was decreasing rapidly as the current swept us along. Around 0900 hours I called the US Custom's service on my cell-phone and received a clearance number for my efforts.

0945 hours: DoodleBug crossed her outbound track, where at 1015 hours on 3rd. July, 2003, she had passed the end of the same breakwater, before turning then towards Key West. We have done it! We have sailed all the way around the world! 

We made the 1000 hours opening of the 17th. Street Bridge with seconds to spare and again with seconds in

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hand, made the 1015 hours passage under the Las Olas Street Bridge. At 1030 hours we were tied up at the Las Olas marina dock, after a trip around the world of 36,000 miles. Our position is N 26 07.3' W 080 06.5'.

 

March 17, 2009

We had looked forward to a leisurely sail, just forty miles up the coast to anchor for the night, before setting off for Fort Pierce the following day. The weather forecast had promised days of light winds and sunshine. This all changed last night. The stalled cold front was no longer stalled and was now to arrive in South Florida on Wednesday. The front would bring the north winds that create formidable waves when blowing against the current of the mighty Gulf Stream. We debated, decided we really needed to split, and reluctantly set the alarm clock for 0330 hours. At 0400 hours we were trying to raise the Las Olas Street bridge operator by radio. We had called the bridge last night to confirm that this was a 24 hour operation but in the darkness, as we bobbed around trying to avoid being swept onto the bridge piers by the river current, there was nary a crackle of response on the radio. We called the next bridge along, the 17th Street bridge and the operator confirmed that indeed the Las Olas Bridge was manned and further offered to telephone for us. A few minutes later a sleepy voice on the radio asked what we wanted. It seemed to take forever to get the bridge up and DoodleBug twisted at the last second to dodge between the open halves of the drawbridge. One down! We knew the 17th Street Bridge operator was awake, because we had spoken to him earlier and with the miracle of GPS indicating which of the myriad of dark channels to select, to both avoid running aground and find the sea again, we saw ahead of us the clean curve of the last barrier between us and the sea. We made the 0415 hours opening of this bridge and were soon heading northeast, to find the Gulf Stream.

We settled down about six miles offshore, gently motoring with a wind of a couple of knots from the stern and three knots of current sweeping us to the north. 0930 hours and we were off Palm Beach with smooth swells of less than 2 feet, 4 knots of wind, and eating up the distance at 9.4 knots over the ground. Annette was enjoying the blue skies and sunshine and proclaiming loudly to the world that this was her idea of sailing. The NOAA weather forecast was repeating over and over its mantra of light winds, 5 to 10 knots, everything great, no worries. All changed at noon. First we slowed down. We has passed Jupiter Inlet and from here, the coast swings to the west, whilst the Gulf Stream turns east and heads for Europe. We lost our boost of current. Then I noticed that the wind had switched from the south to the north and was increasing in strength. The cold front had already arrived! The wind began to build and I increased engine RPM to compensate. The NOAA radio was still chirruping its nonsense of balmy southern breezes but the computerized voice mentioned current conditions at Cape Canaveral of 20 knots from the north. The crap was coming towards us fast! For the next couple of hours, we crashed through the mounting waves and the wind howled from directly ahead. DoodleBug would run smooth and level until a combination of the short, steep waves would hit a certain frequency and DB would pitch violently,

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burying the bow, sending sheets of water along the foredeck and near stopping all forwards motion. The "Time to Go" on the GPS seemed frozen. After an hour it was still showing the same time as although the distance to go was decreasing, we were moving slower and slower as wind and waves increased. The NOAA radio now reported winds of 25 knots from the north at Fort Pierce but still carried the ridiculous forecast of 5 knots from the south, through Wednesday. Finally we decided we were just far enough offshore that we could cut at an angle for Fort Pierce. We were able to set a tightly sheeted mainsail and at about 25 degrees off the apparent wind, we cut through the 5 foot seas at a small angle and our speed increased accordingly.

We held our course as late as we could, so that when we made the turn into the Fort Pierce approach cut, we had the waves on our beam for the absolute minimum of time. The wind still blew strongly from the north but the relief from the waves was instantaneous as we eased into the dredged channel beyond the breakwaters. Our destination marina was a few miles along the Intra Coastal Waterway and the water quite shallow. We had received dire warnings of not cutting the corners as we made our turn into the marina approach channel. The water was barely deep enough to float us and we fought a cross wind while we crabbed along, trying to stay in the middle of the narrow dredged channel. Ahead of us was a man in a small sailing dinghy, tacking wildly back and forth and obviously struggling to control his craft in the strong winds. "I'm going to run the bastard over!", I noted to the First Mate in response to her query as to how we were to pass this obstacle. When the fellow sailor realized that our bows were looming over him, he dodged out of the way, giving us the clear channel. Unfortunately, the place he chose to dodge, was the marina entrance and we turned to put him under our bows again. He must have thought that this was the marine equivalent of the horror movie where an unseen driver of a huge truck, stalks and chases some teenage victims in a tiny car. He shot away again and this time hung out in an empty slip. Our slip. What saved him from a watery extinction was our need to back into the slip, allowing him time to escape before we could satisfyingly crush him. We tied up to the Harbortown Marina dock at position N 27 28.1' W 080 19.6' at 1645 hours and after a 100 mile passage from Fort Lauderdale.

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