Monday, April 26, 2010

Home Again

When I read this blog to Lynn he commented that it sounds like it was a tough crossing and everything went wrong, but it really was a good trip with only a few outstanding events. It's just that the calm times are not particularly good fodder for storytelling and make for boring reading. Keep in mind as you read this that most of the trip was quite easy and if I seem focused on the more challenging aspects, it is simply for the dramatic, here we go...

Yes, we arrived safely after about 53 hours crossing the Gulf Stream. Most of the trip was, quite literally, a breeze with less than 10 knots of wind and relatively calm seas. This may not be desirable conditions for die hard sailors I suppose, but we prefer calm water and it was perfect for us. Around midnight on the second night the wind picked up to about 25 knots and so did the waves. The wave height wasn't too bad (4-6 feet), but the direction was hitting us from the side, which causes some pretty drastic pitching and rolling. We angled a bit further north and hoisted the Genoa to increase our speed and to steady the boat a little. We stayed in the Gulf Stream a little too long (because we were greedily enjoying the good speed resulting from the help of the 3 knot current) which meant we had to cut across about 80 miles with the waves on the beam in order to get to the inlet. In our defense we had been hedging our bets hoping to make landfall further north at Beaufort SC, but decided that between the waves beating us up, and the fact that we would probably get there after dark, it would be more prudent to stop a little short at St Mary's inlet on the border of Florida and Georgia.

Our slow, 5-6 knot progress westward on the tailend of the journey felt like the longest 12 hours of our lives (how soon I forget the last longest 12 hours.) The trip was never dangerous, but somewhat uncomfortable, and resulted in only one fairly minor injury (other than a few bruises here and there). When the wind picked up to over 25 knots, Lynn decided we had too much sail out, so we started to reef it in. As Lynn was pulling in the line we were knocked sideways by a rather large wave, which caused him to topple over. He put out his hand to catch his fall and jammed his middle finger back against the winch. He said he thought it was broken for a moment but, thank goodness, it was not. He just had a larger, swollen and bruised finger for a few days afterward. It's a good thing he has strong hands.

This time I had done a better job of stowing our stuff. The only mishap was forgetting to tie the pantry doors shut and discovering food all over the cabin floor, luckily all dry stuff. Lynn and I have not quite mastered the shifts watching the helm and both opt to sleep in the cockpit. We tried a 2-hour shift rotation, but that just means you get a few catnaps through the night. It is OK on the first night but becomes sleep deprived hell by the second night. We have decided that longer than one overnight passages are not for us unless we have more crew.

As I said earlier, it was an uneventful crossing (just the way I like it) with some long hours to get through, although it is quite cool to be out there during the day when you can see nothing but indigo water all around you. We were also lucky to have a half moon illuminating the sky which makes a huge difference in the dark night. One brief break in the tedium was when a bird hopped on board as a hitchhiker. He was a little black and yellow guy and roamed about the cockpit in search of food or maybe to just rest a bit and say hello. He did gobble up a fly. It seemed amazing that such a tiny bird would be so far off shore. Stangely Kathi and John had a bird join them for a while too...maybe the same freeloader?

While we finally approached and entered the inlet we were both finding it very hard to keep our eyes open. I thought it would be ironic to run aground after so many hours off shore. But we managed to navigate our way in without incident, that is until we anchored. I was DONE and all I wanted was to fall into bed, but the windlass (the automated motor that lowers and raises the anchor) jammed and we were not able to use it. As we hovered around the anchorage Lynn was unable to make it work. He resorted to manual deployment. Keep in mind that we have a 90-pound anchor and all-chain rhode. He dropped it OK, but as luck would have it, the anchor did not hold. He then tried to pull it up but was being overpowered. At that point, our friend John from our buddy boat Makani lowered his dingy and came over to help...this being no small favor as he was equally exhausted. Probably due to mental fatigue, it had not occurred to us to use the winch and so, at John's suggetion, Lynn rigged a rope to the winch and they were able to get the anchor up again. They then redeployed and it stuck...thank God! We have often debated the pros and cons of a buddy boat, but this time we are definitely glad we had a buddy to help.

After that we settled down a bit, I got the boat organized and some dinner together while Lynn investigated the windlass problem. After about half an hour I went to call him to eat when I discovered he had crawled into the chain locker where the windlass is mounted and was lying there gazing at the motor with a lit flashlight in his hand. I jokingly said "Have you fallen asleep in there?" when I heard the unmistakable snores of his deep slumber...he had indeed fallen asleep in the chain locker on top of 300 feet of chain! Well, after that we finally climbed into bed around 8 PM and didn't get up until 13 hours later. We did discover in our clean up that SPOT had stopped transmitting somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic...we don't know why, maybe it was a result of all the tossing and turning. But, I know a few who were following were concerned for a while because it looked like we had been swalloed up in the Bermuda Triangle, but all is well!

We then had to make our way to Beaufort and once again waited for the wind to die down so we could jump off shore for another 24-hour passage. It's a toss up whether another overnight at sea is better or worse than the shallow, winding stretch of the ICW in Georgia. While waiting we prepared the boat and Lynn did some troubleshooting on the windlass. I am pleased to report that he found the blown fuse and, once replaced, all is functioning properly. We left on Wednesday night and arrived in Beaufort on Thursday afternoon. This time the ocean hop was PERFECT in my books (even though there was not much wind to sail.) We had a full moon to light our way and only gently rolling waves. I even watched a few movies on our portable DVD player to pass the time during my watch.

Although we are no longer in the Bahamas and that is a bummer, we are home and that is wonderful. We have continued to enjoy our surroundings, including exploring the nature trails and beaches on Cumberland Island. The Live Oaks are spectacular and the wild horses are beautiful. The water is no longer turquoise but a dull brown, but that's OK...we are still on it! As Kathi commented, it is tough to be home when we have to spend the day picnicing and roaming the beach! We had a fabulous time in Beaufort with Gini and David and once again enjoyed their warm hospitality. We are now touring Charleston for a few days. We have continued to have fun with Makani eating great meals and playing killer euchre matches. But, I'll save the full descriptions of our exploits along the ICW for my next blog. Right now Lynn is cooking eggs and biscuits for breakfast and my stomach is calling me!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lookin' for the Window

Well, as it has been all winter, the weather is making it tricky to choose a good window to get back home. We have transitted the Whale (uneventfully) and are hopping around in the Northern Abacos. These islands are much less developed and so far we have really enjoyed Munjack Cay where we explored the forest pathways and some excellent snorkelling. More on that in our next blog. For now I just wanted to update you on our plans for our homeward trek. I get up each morning at 6:30 AM to listen to Chris Parker on the SSB and make a daily decision on where to go and how to stage for the passage across the Golf Stream. As of this morning, we are hoping for favorable weather around Wednesday next week and, if that appears to be long enough, we will cross all the way to Beaufort, South Carolina. If not we will hop inside somewhere south of there, like northern Florida. Of course, all that can change by tomorrow morning. We are travelling with Makani so have the comfort of a buddy boat (not to mention excellent shared meals and brutal euchre matches most evenings!).
So, after today and until our arrival in the US we will not likely have Internet access. You can still track our progress on the SPOT link on the right...if we don't appear to move for a bit it just means we found an island we like and have stopped for a little fun. Today we are headed for Powell Cay, a new place for us...we miss all our friends and family and are very much looking forward to getting home now...till then, we are stuck in a very lovely place.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Bahamian Birthday and Other Perfect Days

What a great way to spend my birthday! It started early when I arose at 6:30 AM to listen to the weather forecast by Chris Parker on the single sideband (SSB) radio. He is considered somewhat of a weather God by the cruisers and we have started to pay attention as we determine how and when we will start to move north. Lynn and I then spent a few hours organizing the boat for the pending Gulf Stream crossing and then he took me out for lunch at the Harbour’s Edge, where we dined on coconut grouper fingers and their house specialty drink called an Over the Edge. After lunch came a romantic stroll along the beach and sea glass hunting. Then it was back to the boat to prepare for a little birthday party that night. At my party were Chuck and his friend Steve, who is here to help him crew his boat home. They brought along cheese and sausage balls, which was very sweet because it took them several hours to find a recipe, buy the ingredients and prepare the tasty nuggets. Luisa and Jay from Airborne also joined us and brought my birthday cake, a delicious chocolaty confection. The evening was perfect…lots of fun chatting, little umbrellas in our drinks and conch blowing at sunset. We wrapped the festivities up with a euchre match between Driven and Coyote and Lynn and I won all three games…maybe they let the birthday girl have her day. Before I hit the sack I logged on to call Mom and Dad so they could wish me a happy birthday. I found lots of birthday wishes from friends at home on facebook and e-mail, which was a lovely surprise. All in all it was a fabulous day!

The only mar in the perfection of my birthday was a little radio mishap. As I mentioned earlier, I was listening to Chris Parker on the SSB radio in the morning. After he finishes his weather synopsis he opens the channel to boaters who call in for advice on how to make various transits. To get his attention you say the call sign of your vessel (Coyote in our case) and he responds when he hears you. I had been trying to get his attention for about 45 minutes and feeling very frustrated and disappointed that he didn’t seem to be hearing me when I realized I was using the mike for the VHF radio and not the SSB radio. In my defense, the two radios are located side by side at the nav station. I laughed out loud when I noticed my folly…Lynn just shook his head with that I-can’t-believe-my-wife-can-be-so-ditzy look on his face. I didn’t think much more about it until later in the day when I was informed by friends that I actually had the VHF radio tuned in to the cruisers net and was interrupting their morning broadcast by announcing “COYOTE” every ten minutes! As I reread this paragraph I realize that it may be kind of like the plumber’s convention joke and only funny to cruisers, but, trust me, it was a rather embarrassing blunder that definitely didn’t go unnoticed by the thousands (OK, about 50) listeners!

Now, back to my reflection of perfect days in the Bahamas, we have had many and a few maybe a little less than perfect. Actually, how we spend our days is a common question we get from people at home. Some days are filled with boat work and others are spent pleasantly wandering the beach or some such activity, but all of them seem to pass by quickly and we are never bored. But, living on a boat is not necessarily easy and is definitely not all pina coladas under an umbrella on the beach. Normal chores, like doing the laundry, taking out the garbage or getting groceries, can occupy most of a day. Climbing in a dingy to run an errand is not nearly as easy as hopping in a car, not to mention the challenge of parking a dingy (I still have nightmares of the runaway dingy at the dock.) Little things like water cannot be taken for granted since there is obviously a limited supply from the tanks on board and it is very expensive here…about 25 cents per gallon. No more letting the water run while brushing teeth or rinsing dishes. Definitely no daily showering, and when you do take a shower it must be done military fashion with the water running only to get wet and rinse off. I have calculated that we use about 12 gallons a day…not bad. Even so, we did run out once on a Saturday and had to wait until Monday to fill up since everything is closed on Sunday in the Abacos. A minor inconvenience but open stores on Sunday are something we have all taken for granted for some time. Not to mention the banking hours, which are 10 AM to 2 PM on Tuesdays in Hope Town and NO ATMS! But, I digress; getting a short-term water supply required Lynn laboriously lugging water jugs back and forth in the dingy. After the better part of a few hours he had managed to add about 40 gallons to the tanks. My role in this task was to tie the dingy alongside the boat and help lift the very heavy jugs using the motor hoist. When we were finally done Lynn climbed aboard Coyote and I tossed the line into the dingy…oops, the dingy was not secured to the boat. It was a particularly windy day and the dingy had already floated a good 30 feet away when Lynn said…”Where is the dingy line?!”, plus a few other expletives. Luckily, a passing boat kindly retrieved our runaway craft and calm was restored.

At the top of my outstanding day list are four fabulous days of diving expeditions with Kathi and John. We met up with them a few weeks ago at their favorite anchorage on the south end of Guana. It was the first time we have anchored Coyote there and it was a great spot. No other boats and easy access to the ocean side. Kathi and John are avid divers and have a compressor on board. They kindly offered to let me use their equipment so I could experience diving in the Bahamas. I was feeling a little trepidation as it would be only the eighth dive of my life (including my three certification dives) and I had not donned diving gear in over seven years. But, it was a perfect opportunity to get more experience and I couldn’t pass it up. So, off we went and it was fantastic! I do have trouble clearing my ears and it took me some time to reach the bottom on the first day, even though it was only 30 feet down. Although it was exciting, my thoughts were mostly on maintaining buoyancy, breathing and how much air was left in my tanks. However, by day four I felt much more relaxed and was able to appreciate the beauty around me and even ventured into tunnels in the coral. Some lead to coves surrounded by coral, which felt like being in a cave but open to the surface. I did see lots of cool sea life, including an octopus (apparently a rare daytime sighting), squid, huge parrot fish, southern rays and tons of beautiful colored fishes. The coral was spectacular in some spots with huge elkhorn coral and pretty sea fans waving with the current. Kathi was proud of me and said I went from being barely able to get submerged to a cave diver in four days! I am so appreciative of both Kathi and John for loaning me their stuff and taking the time to help me discover that I definitely love to dive!

So, that is all for now…we are departing Hope Town for good in about half an hour and I must go help Lynn get the boat ready. Our destination for today is Guana Cay where we will join Makani again and then around the Whale tomorrow as we move north and head for home. I am looking forward to another perfect day!