Irma and Maria!!

The first hurricane, Irma was a bust. We had everything ready, water, beer, candles, flashlights. The car had been topped up with gas, plus we had a spare can with another 2 1/2 gallons of fuel. We had extra propane cartridges for the barbeque and our “bug-out” backpack contained passports, checkbooks, cash, medicines, computers. We were set! Irma swerved slightly north at the last minute and our first indication was a squall line with a solid wall of cloud and rain. The wind howled for about ten minutes and the palm trees thrashed. On several occasions, we had been in worse conditions at sea. That was it. The wind died down, the sun even briefly reasserted itself. A few hours later it began to rain and the wind stayed from the north as the center of Irma made its way along the north coast of Puerto Rico. At noon that day the building generator came on, indicating that the city power had failed and around 7:00 p.m. we lost cell phone, cable and internet connections. We were hunkered down in our apartment at the southern end of the east coast and the shoreline here runs at an angle, south west to northeast. For us the result was that the wind was blowing from the land and blocked by the El Yunque mountains laying in a solid barrier between us and the capital San Juan towards our northwest. When we were bored of movies, books, television and “Mexican Train” dominoes, we made the pilgrimage down the inner stairwells (the elevator had been shut off for safety reasons) to the basement garage and parked our golfcart just inside the entrance, so that we could watch the storm with its flying coconuts and storm debris.Irma Radar image

Our apartment is on the northeast corner of the third floor of a five story concrete building. From our balcony, you can pitch coconuts into the Caribbean Sea and ten miles off to our east lies the island of Vieques, the southernmost of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Today the island was obscured by bands of rain beating down on an angry sea, yet Neptune’s wrath was directed away from us by the wind and we were in the lee of the building. Puerto Rico has strict building codes and these require that the modern homes be built of steel reinforced concrete with concrete roofs. Older homes may have wooden roofs but these are no longer allowed for new construction and we were told that the banks will not provide mortgages for other than concrete construction. Our apartment building is located inside a community called Las Palmas del Mar, a development of several square miles extent, that was begun over thirty years ago and contains a golf course, yacht marina, tennis club, equestrian center, bank, school, stores and restaurants plus 3,500 homes and apartments. The association has its own restrictions and regulations and these require that all buildings be roofed with terra-cotta roofing tiles, just like Mediterranean homes have been traditionally clad for the past several thousand years. The difference between the Roman version and these, is that the latter are cosmetic only. The sloped concrete roofs are sealed with a heavy tar like roofing felt and the roof tiles are then glued to this impervious substrate with giant dollops of “mastic”. The significance of this as far as we are concerned is that if these tiles blow off with the hurricane force winds, the waterproof integrity of the roofs will be unaffected but the ceramic tiles will form lethal projectiles before spraying shards of ceramic shrapnel in all directions. We watched from the safety of our concrete bunker as the storm worked its course.

The following day, we emerged from our slumber to blue skies and sunshine once more. We wandered out into the complex to discover that there was again cell-phone coverage and by noon, we could receive calls in the comfort of our apartment, plus the cable and internet sprang back to life. The Las Palmas complex has its own water treatment plant and we never lost service throughout the storm, who’s evidence of passage was just a few trees down here and there. If this wasn’t a five star hurricane it was at least a three. On the second day, the city power was restored and the giant diesel generator that had been thundering for days, providing power for the three resident families, was finally silenced. The landscape workers had begun their clean-up operations the morning after the hurricane had passed and by the third day, there was little evidence of the event. Then came Maria.

The week of respite between the storms, was spent in an effort to “get back on track”. We were wrapped up in the process of buying a house here and the various inspections were scheduled for Thursday. In addition, Puerto Rico’s recovery was not equally shared, in that although the nearby town of Humacao had power and was back to normal operations, the next coastal town north, the town of Fajardo, was still without electricity and this was causing additional hardship in that few gas-stations and grocery stores were operating from portable gas generators, if at all. Our catamaran “M/Y DoodleBug” was being stored at the marina Puerto del Rey on the southern outskirts of Fajardo. I knew that our vessel was undamaged by Irma since I had received e-mails to this effect from the boat tending company we were using but I was also concerned that the batteries would degrade without their weekly charging. Over the next two mornings I drove to the boatyard, installed the last two solar panels on the fly-bridge roof of Doodlebug and completed their wiring. The solar array fired up immediately and began to output 30 amperes, so much power that I turned on the refrigerators to give it some load.

Every morning I have checked the internet news, our e-mails and the marine weather. We had watched Irma head north towards Florida with the US media gleefully predicting tens of thousands of deaths, “much worse than the 1900 Galveston hurricane” and howling triumphantly that this was proof positive that global warming was real. When Irma missed the peninsula and the predicted deaths failed to materialize, this apparently was not due to global warming. Out to the east Maria was forming southwest of the Cape Verde Islands and looked low enough to possibly impact Puerto Rico. As each day passed, the predicted cone seemed to have Puerto Rico and in particular, Las Palmas del Mar, directly and firmly in its sights. Although we were a little complacent, we had filled the car up with gas, bought an extra couple of cases of beer and some groceries. The truth is, we were still ready from Irma, with storm shutters in place and our “bug-out” bag still packed. We had talked with a neighbor, a long term resident and one of the two other apartment occupants “sheltering in place”, who recommended moving our golf-cart and car out of the basement garage to the surface parking lot, as she assured us that the garage had flooded in the past and would do so again. We gauged the sea level, eyeballed the parking lot and estimated the altitude of the basement garage before deciding to leave the vehicles just where they were parked. If the basement began to flood, we thought we might have the opportunity to move them up the slope of the entrance ramp while still maintaining some level of security from flying objects. And so we waited.

Maria passes St. CroixMaria South of ViequesWater under doorThe dragon poolThe kitchen drawer

The weather forecasts had predicted that the eye of the hurricane would arrive just slightly south of Palmas del Mar at around 5:00 a.m. The winds which had begun to blow from the north as the hurricane approached, would strengthen, swing to the east as we caught the top rim of the “eye” and then go to the south as the eye passed overland. Our apartment faces towards the southeast, matching the angle of the coastline and this would mean that we would take a direct hit on our most vulnerable windows from around 4:00 a.m. onwards and even after a couple of hours, we would still be getting the backside of the hurricane winds at an angle to the balcony with its four section sliding glass door. These doors are floor to ceiling and 15 feet across but protected by an accordion type storm shutter, bolted above and below the doorframe. Each of the three bedrooms plus the kitchen were protected by shutters, built into the walls, power operated and these slide down from the overhead, just like the security shutters at a shopping mall. In addition there were other smaller windows in the apartment but we had been assured that they were fitted with safety glass that could withstand 150 mph. winds.

We went to bed with the wind blowing from the north and a smattering of rain. At 2:00 a.m. the wind had increased significantly and we got up, fixed coffee and tea but could see nothing outside in the darkness. The internet and cable were off but our cell phones would still receive some signal when held near a small unshuttered window facing into the inner courtyard of the apartment building. The cell phones showed that the eye of the storm was still east of us, SSE of the island of Vieques. We decided that a tour of the basement garage was in order to see if it was flooding and sure enough there was about 4 inches of standing water when we arrived. Minutes later our next door neighbor also arrived in the garage with the same goal in mind. He however knew where the manual override switch for the sump pumps lay and he threw this to start the pumps. Together we raised the floor inspection cover to see the huge pumps emptying out to the storm drain.

By 4:00 a.m. the eye was due south of Vieques, a mere 10 miles away and assuming it continued to move in a northwesterly direction, we would receive the full brunt of the eye winds within 40 minutes. At this point two things happened. First we lost all cell phone signal and then minutes later, the impressive looking accordion shutters protecting our most vulnerable window blew away. We could not see how the unprotected patio doors would survive and retreated to the back room of the apartment. This has a single small window opening to the inner courtyard and a single door. It was also adjacent to the front door and assuming we were able to open that, where our escape route from the apartment lay. From the doorway we could see the patio windows bowing with the force of the wind. Then Annette pointed out that the furthest door had slid open a few inches admitting a fire hose of water and plant matter. Water fountained from under the door and began to flood across the floors. I did not want to walk in front of these doors in case they blew out so I detoured through the laundry room and guest bedroom to approach the open section from the side. Somehow I managed to retrieve the curtain that had blown outwards and slid the the door section back in place. It would not lock as the lock was defective. Twice more it slid open but on the last occasion, it also jumped out of the lower track. What was holding it in place I don’t know but we abandoned all attempts to keep it closed and retreated to our redoubt in the back room, fully expecting to hear it give way. We could hear crashing, banging and the sound of breaking glass all around us. We had moved a large couch into the most protected corner of this room and with our backs to a reinforced concrete wall, we waited out the storm.

Then we smelled electrical burning. The Gulf Coast hurricanes in Texas are often accompanied by burned buildings, impossible to save in the high winds. We were in a concrete building which couldn’t burn but the huge diesel generator was still thundering away and we had power for lighting and air-conditioning. We likely weren’t going to burn but it was probably prudent to take a look. That is when we found out that the door would not open. It was not wind pressure. The window in the room had already blown open on its hinges since the frame was skewed and the top latch did not engage but we could push on the door to relieve the pressure on the lock. The bolt would not retract however and the handle just turned uselessly. I had a large box of tools from Doodlebug, safely on the other side of the substantial door. What then? We were trapped in a room with a single window that opened above a thirty foot sheer drop to the courtyard below. The open window was occasionally admitting shrapnel from the roof tiles that were blowing off the roof and shattering on the walls above us. Not a pleasant prospect. Then I remembered that we had brought the “bug-out” rucksack into the room with us. In the side pocket was a flashlight and a stainless steel multi-tool from the boat’s abandon-ship bag. The Phillips screwdriver attachment removed the doorhandle but the bolt slide would still not move. With the pliers I dismantled the lock mechanism and was finally able to grab hold of the doorbolt. We were free! It was a short piece, spring loaded into the “locked” position and to prevent further mishap, I unscrewed the mechanism completely from the door. The wind was still howling but amazingly, the patio doors still held. We threw all of the power breakers into the “off” position, just leaving the lights on. By now the wind had moved to the south and although there was still a torrent of water and plant material coming into the apartment, we knew that the eye had passed and we were on the downhill slopes.

Throughout the storm the only light outside was from the underwater lights in the nearby children’s swimming pool. This was visible from one of the few small windows that held through the storm and provided a rain streaked view of a frothing, wind whipped pool that still sprouted three ten foot tall dragon heads. I don’t know if the dragon heads are made of concrete or fiberglass but these serpents were in their natural environment and presented an eerie scene of defiance that only magical reptiles can manage.

Dawn brought a scene of destruction. The angry sea still threw itself at the shore but the line of flotsam on the lawns showed that the surge had never exceeded a few feet. The trees were shredded but most of the coconut palms were standing, albeit a bit light on coconuts. Most of the other trees did not fare so well and were either snapped like twigs or if standing, without a single leaf. Every surface was covered in shattered roof tiles as well as palm branches, pieces of windows and patios. None of the buildings showed structural damage, just missing roof tiles on the windward sloping roofs. The cars and golf carts parked in the above ground parking lots were a sorry sight. The golf carts were tumbled by the wind and crushed by falling branches and trees. The cars all showed multiple impact damage with shattered windows. As we gazed around in wonder, a single human figure approached us. It was an elderly lady, clutching a very large plastic bag of carrots and weaving slightly. She looked shell-shocked and Annette asked her is she was OK. She insisted she was and stumbled off to see a friend, her carrots still clutched to her bosom. She did not look OK and we hope that her friend perhaps raised rabbits.

Our apartment was still about an inch deep in water but we unclogged a utility room drain and began to squeegee the water in this direction. We still had water and power, no communications capability however and we began to clean up.

In mid-afternoon we drove the golfcart carefully between the piles of debris, over the fallen palm fronds and shattered roof tiles until we made it to the main drive way. Here I walked ahead of Annette who was chauffering the cart, through the standing water so that she could see how deep it was, pulling the limbs and palm fronds to the side to clear passage. From the entrance to the Marbella Club complex, the road became four lane and someone else had already cleared away a path through the debris, presumably the security patrols. We drove over to see our prospective home on the far side of the Las Palmas development and apart from a few roof tiles missing, the property looked intact. The landscaping was another story however and most of the trees were damaged or rather shredded. We continued our exploratory “walk-about” to the “Palmanova Square”, the commercial center that houses the various real estate offices, restaurants, bank and post office. The grocery store was open, as was a gift shop with racks of clothing outside. I could smell food cooking and amazingly enough, one of our favorite restaurants was open for business. The menu choice was limited and we ordered flank steak with fries and salad, always a good hurricane standby. We discovered that Puerto Rican law does not permit the sale of alcohol until 48 hours after the passage of a storm and although they would not sell us beer, they were able to provide shots of tequila to go with our Sprite and ice. We sat at a table outside the restaurant, discovered that it lay just off the beach and we enjoyed the revised ambiance now that the storm had removed all of the vegetation that previously blocked the view. The shattered ceiling and light fixtures which would have previously been above our heads had been stacked against the far wall. Puerto Rico was already back at work.

September 27, 2017

Today we visited DoodleBug, laid up at the Puerto del Rey marina. She was undamaged by the hurricane, just covered with dirt and weed.


Doodlebug had survived the wrath of Maria, virtually undamaged and the solar array I had installed two days before the hurricane, was operating perfectly and churning out power for the batteries. The storage yard at the marina was another story however. A few of the stored monohulls had been toppled by the storm but most of the vessels stored “on the hard” were dirty but otherwise unscathed. We had previously decided to sell Doodlebug from her current location but without power, internet, water, available hotel rooms and difficult transportation, Puerto Rico was not an attractive destination for prospective buyers. I had queried the marina folks as to when they could splash her and was told that it would be 3 to 4 weeks before they had cleared the sunken vessels from the slips and could begin launching the land stored boats. The bottom paint contractor had indicated that he could not begin work painting anti-foul on the hull for another 4 weeks, due to prior commitments and assuming of course that he could obtain the necessary paint. It was a bit of a surprise when three weeks later, he texted me pictures of the completed work. I had been asking hypothetical questions as to work completion and he had already finished the job! The decision had been made for me. Doodlebug was going into the water and the question remained, where to locate her for the purposes of selling her?

The options were, Puerto Rico, where she already lay, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, some 60 miles to the east, or Florida lying a 1,000 miles to the west. Tortola would normally have been the obvious choice but Irma had devastated their yachting industry and the same conditions of lack of infrastructure existed there as in Puerto Rico. Florida then. We would move Doodlebug to a slip near Fort Lauderdale.

For the next week we slaved away to inspect the boat systems, clean the dinghy and attach it to the davits and make a run to our storage unit in the nearby town of Juncos to retrieve boat equipment. The challenge here was that Juncos was without power and although the storage facility was air-conditioned via generator power, there was no lighting within and flashlights mandatory. We had worked hard to clear Doodlebug last June and now we were again hauling bedding, tools, lifejackets, flags and all of the necessary equipment to allow a long sea passage. We had also restocked the spare parts such as engine fuel and oil filters as well as generator supplies.

November 15, 2017

The travel lift arrived to lift Doodlebug and we decamped to the launch site to await her arrival. The engines started immediately, much to our relief, as it was not possible to test run them in the yard due to the absence of a water supply for coolant. We eased out of the launch slip and slid into the fuel dock where we topped up on diesel. Another move to a regular slip and we tied up without hitting anything. So far so good! The generator fired up, ran and after it had been warmed, I changed the oil and filter. The dinghy was launched - I even remembered to put in the drain plug so it wouldn’t sink - and after installing my last set of new spark plugs, the outboard engine ran smoothly. We were set and ready to sail!

November 17, 2017

At 0730 hours we motored slowly out of the slip and set course for Providenciales Island in the Turks and Caicos group, some 450 nautical miles away. Annette did not join me on this trip and instead I was crewed by friends Mike and Lynn of Las Palmas. It was a sunny day with 4/8 ths cloud cover, light winds from the south and less than 2 feet of chop on the water as we passed north, up the east coast of Puerto Rico before turning WNW on a course for Caicos. Four hours later we were running on the starboard engine only at 1800 RPM producing a boat speed of around 7 knots. The autopilot held the course easily without a lot of rudder to compensate for the unbalanced application of power from the single engine. We began to receive Coast Guard warnings over the radio of a floating, 20 foot long rusty tank, as a navigation hazard but determined that it lay to the south of us. By mid afternoon we began to see rain pods and at sunset we had steady rain. We had now left the shelter of the Puerto Rico landmass and the waves had increased to the 3 to 4 foot range.

November 18, 2017

0115 hours and we changed course to avoid very heavy rain. Dawn found us with complete cloud cover and rain pods all around. Lynn pointed out that we had picked up a large moth as a hitchhiker and it was sheltering from the rain inside the main cabin along with a large dragonfly with similar intent. Later that morning a swallow flew into the flybridge where I was sitting, landed on my arm and then recoiled in horror and took off again. I found it looking decidedly miserable on the deck below, near the salon door. This bird is an insect eater and the only thing I could find in the meat department was some smoked ham. I cut some up into tiny portions but it shuffled away looking at my offering suspiciously as though to say, “That’s not a bug!” By 1405 hours we were passing south of the Navidad Bank, a large area where the Atlantic Ocean rises from a depth of 18,000 feet to within forty feet of the surface. The wind had clocked around to the northeast and we were getting waves in the 4 to 6 foot range and I increased the RPM’s on the engine we were using to 2100 RPM, which pushed our speed up to 8 knots. We had been alternating between engines, running a single engine and swapping them every six hours of operation. This was of course to save fuel and extend our range.

My feathered passenger had continued to regard me with deep suspicion, even though I walked around the boat doing various chores and giving it a wide berth. It was still raining when a large Frigate bird flew over. My swallow guest immediately shot up and landed on the crook of my elbow. There it sat whilst I chided it gently for its previous attitude and it perched there for perhaps ten minutes until the Frigate had departed. It then flew off my arm and sat inside the cabin on top of the fridge.

Mid afternoon and the swallow began to chirp madly and bounce up and down on the fridge. It rocketed into the air, did two circuits of the cabin and shot out of the door. Flying on the port side were a couple of other swallows and it joined its buddies. I don’t know where they were headed but wished them safe landfall. The moth provided no such entertainment.

By nightfall, the sky had begun to clear, we could see stars and a sliver of moon. We passed over the southern edge of the Silver Bank, another huge shallow area but the depth sounder refused to acknowledge its existence.

November 19, 2017

0350 hours found us at 20 36.4 N 070 31.5 W with clear skies. Waves in the 4 to 6 foot range. By dawn the clouds and rain pods were back and we had changed course to Cockburn Harbour on South Caicos. The reason for our destination change was that our estimated arrival time in Providenciales would be at sunset and we needed good light to make the approach to the marina. The weather did clear later in the morning and we were visited by several pods of dolphins, including one that must have been a hundred plus.

By 1315 hours we were anchored at 21 29.492 N 071 32.330 W with Mike and Lynn doing a great job of operating the anchor windlass despite a total lack of experience in such matters.

There was almost no sign of life ashore but signs of hurricane damage everywhere. We finally did spot a couple of guys fishing from a dock and I launched the dinghy and went over to visit. The local I spoke with said that everyone, excluding the sinners who were fishing of course but including the Customs lady, were in church. He suggested a return in a couple of hours. This I did and a local man drove me around the island to the Custom Lady’s house. She dragged out her paperwork and I filled out the forms using the trunk of her car as a desk. After she had relieved me of a a bunch of cash, I had a stamped form saying that we were legally cleared into the islands. We hadn’t cleared immigration of course and I deliberately avoided bringing up the subject before taking down the yellow quarantine flag. I would have flown the Turks and Caicos courtesy flag but we hadn’t been able to find it in the dark recesses of our Juncos, PR storage unit.

November 20, 2017

0830 hours and we retrieved our anchor without drama and set course for South Side Marina in Providenciales, West Caicos. The course lay over the shallow Caicos bank with its amazing crystal clear water that was in the 10 foot depth range for the next 40 miles. The seabed is white limestone and the effect is that of an enormous swimming pool. Although there were dark patches indicating weed or coral heads, I always get the impression that the area is sterile and devoid of life.

The approach to the South Side marina was tricky and we came in at low tide with very little water to spare below the keels, tying up at the dock at 1330 hours, position 21 45.641 N 072 13.444 W.

November 22, 2017

Mike had not enjoyed the motion of a small vessel at sea and he and Lynn decided to stay on Providenciales to vacation, leaving me crewless. After first consulting the Admiralty regulations for the penalty for desertion, I asked the marina manager if he knew of anyone who could accompany me as crew for the remaining 530 nautical mile leg to Fort Lauderdale. If I could find someone to make the trip with me, there remained a 72 hour weather window before the prevailing winds switched to the north over the Gulf Stream. The relevance of this is that when the wind blows against a current, the waves become steep, short and breaking. The Gulf Stream is one of the great currents of the earth with peak flows reaching three and a half knots in the fifty mile channel between Florida and the Bahamas. At this time of year, the mass of cold Arctic air pulses south producing “cold fronts” and strong north winds on an 8 to 10 day cycle. The resulting breaking seas can be ship killers and the wary sailor times his passage carefully here.

Bob the marina manager recommended a professional delivery captain who agreed to work as crew. He did all of the correct things like interviewing me as to my experience as “captain” as well as inspecting the condition of the engines and safety equipment. I explained that this would be a non-stop run at a speed of about 200 nautical miles per day. I had refueled Doodlebug and it had taken 147 gallons to do so. We had run the generator for 42 hours (about 1/2 gallon per hour) and motored on both engines for 10 hours or so. The two fuel tanks take 150 gallons apiece and so our range was something like 1,000 miles. The plan would be to run the final 50 miles across the Gulf Stream on both engines at around 10 knots. He agreed to this and thus this morning found us setting course for Fort Lauderdale at 0743 hours.

For this trip we again alternated port and starboard engines every six hours. The engines we ran at 2,000 RPM and produced a speed of around 8 knots. The day was sunny with perhaps 3/8ths cloud and once we had cleared the Caicos platform and were again in deep water, the waves were in the 3 to 4 foot range. By sunset the clouds had moved in again and we saw occasional rain pods. We had passed close by the Bahamian Island of Mayaguana during the day and were now exposed to the longer Atlantic swells. My crewman and I alternated 3 hour watches, just as Annette and I have done over the years and it was a pleasant experience that I was able to sleep soundly for three hours knowing that an experienced sailor was at the helm.

November 23, 2017

My watch had begun at 0200 hours and with waves of less than 2 foot, we passed one of the few other vessels we were to see, a Cruise Liner, moving down the chain of Bahamian Islands off to our starboard.

By 1700 hours we were traversing the Exuma Sound, a body of deep water that is like a long sack, open to the southeast but then ringed by shallows and reefs on three sides. My plan was reach the northwest corner of the Sound and then cross the Yellow Bank, another huge platform of shallow water sprinkled with rocks or coral heads, and further, to make this journey at night. My crewman began to get very concerned about this plan and as I detailed the route seemed unconvinced. In 2009 we had crossed this same bank from Sail Rocks to north east of Nassau. That run was in daylight but tonight I planned a different route, entering the shallows at Beacon Cay and then heading west along “Ship Channel”, leaving Nassau to our north. This route showed less rocks on the chart and apart from the entrance, was relatively straightforward. I would navigate the entrance route and then my crewmate could monitor the balance of the run across the bank. He still seemed concerned.

2226 hours found us at 24 45.8 N 076 38.9 W approaching the entrance to Ship Channel with complete cloud cover, rain cells all around and the night sky flickering with lightning. The beacon at Beacon Cay was out, probably a casualty of the recent hurricanes but we were making the entrance at high tide, slack water. The chart had warned of rough water and strong currents around the entrance rocks which make nighttime navigation even more tricky but we had timed this right for a change. I had the radar set to a 3/4 mile range as we eased in between the rocky outcrops of Bluff Cay and South Dog and could “see” the radar echo of Beacon Cay rocks directly ahead. These we left to port and then made a wide sweeping turn to the west and were “in” the Ship Channel, running at 259 degrees magnetic for the next 35 miles until we again found deep water in the “Tongue of the Ocean”, southwest of Nassau.

November 24, 2017

1335 hours and we were again crossing a shallow bank, this time the Great Bahama Bank. In 2009 we had made this entrance at dusk and it was a strange feeling to be passing the stark pole marking the entrance to the Northwest Channel, some eight years later. We had 2 to 3 foot seas and the water lay uniform in all directions, providing no clues as to the actual depth and the presence of rocks. For this we would have to trust the accuracy of the charting. Fortunately this is a popular route for small boats making the passage from Florida to the Bahamas and it was unlikely that a major hazard lay unmarked, provided we stuck to the recommended routes.

My crewmate confided in me that “professional delivery captains” never crossed these banks at night, in fact their modus operandi was to perform a series of high speed daylight runs, basically from marina to marina or rather from bar to bar. He had seemed unfamiliar with the radar and certainly seemed to have little concept of the use of Grib files, a compressed form of wind, wave and pressure data or weather forecast, delivered via high frequency radio, or in our case by satellite phone. As we headed into our final night of the passage, he insisted that it would be a good idea to put into Bimini, to “get a good night’s sleep” before making the final 50 mile run across the Gulf Stream in daylight. Bimini lays some 50 miles from Miami, about 5 hours at 10 knots. An overnight stay would require that I pay for a $300 Bahamian cruising permit, plus marina fees and clearance fees for the night, plus of course his daily fee. This made little sense. I again downloaded a weather forecast, noted that the winds were swinging to the north the following day and that the forecast waves were slightly worse than current conditions. We would continue with my original plan.

So it was that we approached the Florida coast just after midnight. My companion had shown no comprehension of the routing technique of crossing the Gulf Stream in a small boat. The current runs from south to north at around 1.8 knots, just off the Bahamian coast, peaks at 3.5 knots close to the Florida coast and then tapers down again rapidly. With a boat speed of 9 knots and an average current of 2.5 knots at right angles to the desired route, a rough vector triangle gives an offset angle of about 15 degrees. In other words we need to point the boat 15 degrees south of our desired destination and then the current would move us back north again giving a track in the shape of a shallow “S”. I set this course in the autopilot and went below, returning about fifteen minutes later to find my crewman had changed course and was heading us north again. He was going to attempt a “rhumb line” course. You can visualize that in an imaginary situation with a current gradually increasing to 5 knots and a small boat attempting to transit this and travelling at 5 knots, if the vessel tried to hold a “rhumb line” course, it would gradually slew and turn to offset the current; when the current reached 5 knots, the boat would be pointing directly into this current to hold the rhumb line and forward progress would no longer be made. Back to my computed course and we ran the next 50 miles with both engines and held a speed of 10 knots, arriving off the Haulover Cut at just after midnight. We were back in America!

November 25, 2017

0035 hours, Position 25 54. 250 N 080 07.555 W; We were tied up to a dock just inside the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) and my crewmate bailed to see if he could find a six pack since the boat had been “dry” for several hours. He returned about 20 minutes later looking disappointed. Nothing was open at this time. I called the Customs and Border Patrol toll free number but received a recording that someone would call me back, which of course they did not. I tried again at the same number shortly after daybreak and on my third attempt spoke to a gentleman who awarded us a clearance number. My various trials over the past few years with the SVRS (Small Vessel Reporting System) finally paid off in that once I had convinced them I was Ed and not Vivian, I did not have to report to Immigration in Miami. What an achievement!

0735 hours and we set course for our rented dock at Hallandale Beach. This was a run along the ICW and an hour later we were tied up at 25 58.685 N 080 07.829 W. My crewmate had not been so lucky with the authorities and after I had paid him off, he departed to check in. So ended a 980 nautical mile run and probably my last passage aboard Doodlebug.


July 24, 2018

The end of this particular adventure finally arrived. We have sold Doodlebug and she has headed north towards her new family and hopefully escaping any further exposure to damaging hurricanes.

We have enjoyed playing with her and pray that her new owners will enjoy her as much as we have.