Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Frazers Hog Cay to Nassau

The weather forecast for this morning was still the same. Stiff winds until around 0700 then they should subside, and start clocking around to the east. There was a trough moving through and the wind was supposed to be fairly calm in the center of the trough. The idea was we would move south along with the trough to try to stay in the calm area.

Lone Palm was ready to head out right behind us. A couple of other sailboats were going to make the run to Nassau, as well. While we had originally planned on bypassing Nassau, and clearing in at Morgan's Bluff in Andros, this would require backtracking. Not willing to do that we decided to just push on to Nassau and clear customs at the government dock there.

As we moved out into open water the seas continued to build. Initially they were coming from behind us and the ride was pretty good. As we progressed further south, however, they started coming from the east, and hitting us broadside. That, in addition to many squalls kicking up the winds, made for a most miserable ride. To add to the discomfort it was pouring rain necessitating closing all windows and doors. This resulted in it becoming quite warm and stuffy inside.

Poor Duke was miserable. He could not find a comfortable place on the boat anywhere. As much as he hates to be wet he went out on the bow in the pouring rain to lay on the cushion up there. We were pitching around pretty good and I was afraid he would fall overboard so I made him come inside. It made my heart ache to see how miserable he was. Heck, Paula and I were pretty miserable, too!

It took us slightly over 7 hours to get to Nassau.  It was a welcome sight to see the towers of Atlantis in the distance, once the rain stopped. An hour later we were entering the harbor and calm waters. It felt wonderful.

We called the marina we had decided on staying at to see if they had space for us. They did. It is a bit of a run down place, and difficult to find, but the cheapest thing in Nassau, by far. But, they said we could not clear customs there (I don't know why, since customs goes to the marina next door).  We called customs directly to confirm this. They asked where we were located and we said just passing the cruise ship docks. They directed us to come to the customs dock there and they would clear us in.

The customs dock is a large concrete dock primarily for commercial vessels. We had to get out our big ball fenders to protect from the rough concrete. There is no one to help you tie up, you are on your own. Thankfully, our boat is tall enough that I did not need a ladder to get off here.

I entered the customs building and was directed to an office down the hall. There I met a very nice customs officer who would be clearing me in. He started to give me the forms to fill out, but I indicated I had already printed them off from the web site and had them filled out. He was pleased that we could get right to business.

Everything was going smoothly until we got to the list of weapons aboard. We had four pistols, but they only allow three weapons. I was unaware of this law. The officer tried to let me slide by, but his supervisor was in the room and said "the law is the law!". So, that was that. They said they would detain one weapon and gave me the option of choosing which one. Since we would have to return here to pick it up on our way out of the country (which we may choose not to do) I picked Paula's revolver, as it was the least expensive of the bunch. So they took it, and all the rounds for it, and gave me a receipt. Then it was on to immigrations which went smoothly.

An hour later I was cleared in, had my cruising and fishing permits, and we were on our way. We called TPA Marina for instructions on how to get to their marina and it sounded easy enough. However, upon rounding the mailboat docks I could not see TPA. Calling them on the radio elicited no response. As we idled around the harbor we were hailed by another marina. They told us we were getting close to shallow water and needed to turn around. We did so. Then called TPA on the cell phone to get directions. They came out to the dock to direct us in. The first slip they tried to put us into was far too small, and in an area we would never be able to maneuver into the slip. They finally decided to put us into the slip along with the owners 70' Burger motor yacht. They pulled it back a few feet and we tied up in front of it. The bow is sticking out past the dock by 20' but that's okay. We get off from the boarding gates about 15' forward from the stern.

They only had 30 amp power available, which is fine with us. We have been living off the grid for the last 2-1/2 months so 30 amp power was a luxury. That's enough to run two air conditioners, or the water heater, or to bake and use the cooktop. We are in hog heaven here. Plus, it is only $1/ft per night, which is much better than the $3-$4/ft per night from most of the marinas in Nassau.

It feels good to be tied up at a dock again. The weather is supposed to be crappy until Saturday, so we we will be here for a while.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Frazers Hog Cay

When we got up the next morning the wind was blowing pretty good, but the anchorage was calm. There was quite a current flowing, though. I needed to dive under the boat to check the port prop, but decided it would be best to wait until slack tide.

We could see the docks for the Berry Islands Club, and a couple of mooring balls there. Apparently, the club is now closed. So no fuel, no power, and the restaurant is shut down, too. The wind was still kicking pretty good and was forecast to do so at least until later tomorrow. So it looked like we would be here until then, at least.

After breakfast (thanks, Paula!) the current had lessened considerably. This look like as good a time as any to get under the boat to check things out. I got my mask, snorkel, and fins on and hopped in the gin clear water. Yikes! It was a bit cool at 75 degrees.  As soon as I ducked under the boat I could see the problem. We had passed over several large mats of Sargasso grass and one had wrapped around the port shaft and prop. A few minutes later I had all of it pulled off and hope that would solve the problem.

 For the rest of the morning we had a leisurely day at anchor. It was nice to just relax and not worry about getting to our next destination.

In the early afternoon we noticed that a small sailboat had tied up to the Berry Islands Club dock and strolled up the dock. Not long after, a yellow hulled sport fishing boat, Hip-Nautic, tied up just in front of the sailboat. A short while later a  woman came on the VHF calling for the police. She said someone had just broken into "Island House" which was apparently the main building for the closed Berry Islands Club. The owner of the club responded that he was heading over there and would meet the police there. Once he arrived the suspects apparently entered the building again, at which time he threatened them with "Mr Mossberg" (shotgun) and they departed, post haste. We saw them running down the dock and hopping into the boat. They pulled away and headed out to sea.

In the meantime the small sailboat left the dock and anchored near us. He called across to me and asked if I was aware of what was going on. I said yes, but it would be easier to chat on the radio. He called back that he did not want to do that as everyone would hear. He proceeded to tell me the story of them trying to walk up to town and encountering the suspects. They told him they needed to purchase some diesel as their fuel tank was almost empty. The sail boaters decided these guys (native Bahamians) were decidedly flaky and cast off from the dock to get away from them.

There was lots of radio chatter all afternoon as the local land owners tried to track down the bad guys. The police did not arrive for almost two hours. Someone ashore called to any anchored boats to let them know which direction the yellow boat was going. I responded that I had eyes on them and would track them as long as they were in sight. They eventually disappeared behind another island and everything settled down.

Jeff and Belinda from Lone Palm stopped by late in the afternoon. They came aboard and we talked about weather forecasts and plans to depart tomorrow.  They had no cell phone service so we used my phone to get weather forecasts. It looked the wind would start to subside around 7am tomorrow. So the plans were to get underway in the morning. They headed back to their boat to get the dinghy loaded before it got too dark.

Sorry, no pictures today.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

North Cat Cay to Frazers Hog Cay, Bahamas

The wind picked up during the night, and was blowing 30+ knots. It woke me up around 0200 and I came up to check on the anchor. Especially since this is a new anchor to us I wanted to be sure that it was holding well.

As I came up I could see lightning flashes off in the distance. I checked the weather radar on my phone and could see a line of thunderstorms approaching from the north. But they were quite a ways off. The anchor was holding fine, but I let out more chain to be safe, and I went back to bed.

Around 0500 loud thunder woke me up. I came up to the pilothouse and it was raining pretty heavily, with lots of lightning around. No sooner had I gotten up the stairs we were slammed with 50 mph winds and pounding rain. I was thankful I had let out more chain on the anchor rode when I was up earlier. Nevertheless, I decided to start the engines, just in case.

Just as I was ready to put the engines in gear to ease the strain on the anchor the wind died as suddenly as it had come up. It was starting to get light so we prepared to get underway. We had an 80 mile trek to make today, across the Grand Bahama Bank. This is a large expanse of relatively shallow water, 12-15', with a mostly sandy bottom. Pretty much featureless, no land in sight, and no place to go if the weather gets nasty.

We got the anchor up by 0730 and headed east. Looking ahead it appeared we might not have the best day for getting across the banks.

Thunderstorms ahead
The day actually started off pretty well, even though the conditions looked bad. Throughout the day we passed through several thunderstorms but they generally did not last long. Seas did not get too uncomfortable.

Around 1500 something happened and the engines sounded strange. Then I noticed the port engine was not running smoothly. I pulled the throttle back and shut the engine down. We continued ahead on one engine while I went to the engine room to see if I could find the problem. I checked oil, coolant, and transmission fluid levels and all were okay. I could find nothing amiss on the engine. Back up to the pilothouse and started it back up. It sounded fine. I put it in gear then slowly increased the throttle. At first it seemed fine, but then Paula and I both noticed a vibration that was not there before. Rats!

At this point all I could do is to reduce throttle slightly to ease the vibration. I was hoping that we had just picked up some trash or something around the prop. The weather had deteriorated to the point I did not want to attempt diving under the boat. It would have to wait until we got anchored somewhere.

Our plans had been to make it to Morgan's Bluff on Andros Island, and clear customs there. But it was getting late and it would be after dark by the time we arrived. We were trying to decide on an alternative when we got hailed on the radio. It was Lone Palm, a boat out of Houston. They were in Marathon at the same time we were. They had heard us on the radio earlier in the day and hailed us. We had told each other of our plans. They were going to Chub Cay, while we were heading in a different direction. They were moving faster than we were and had already arrived at their anchorage. They were calling to check on us as it was getting late.

Belinda, on Lone Palm, informed us that they had anchored just north of the Berry Islands Club, off Frazers Hog Cay. This was just a few miles closer than Morgan's Bluff. She said that they were well protected there from the increasing winds and it was calm. Sounded good to us and we decided to head that way.

Rainbow leading us to our anchorage at Frazers Hog Cay

We arrived at Frazers Hog Cay at dusk, and had to make our way up the narrow channel in the dark. We navigated past a couple of sailboats and up to where Lone Palm was anchored. We stopped a few hundred feet short of them and dropped the hook. It was 1830.

We were bushed. A quick drink, light supper, and we hit the sack!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Rodriguez Key to North Cat Cay, Bahamas

Today is the day. No, really... it is!

We were up well before dawn and checked the weather forecast. It was not a perfect day for crossing, but it was good enough. We quickly got everything secured and I headed to the bow to get the anchor up. This is the view that greeted me...

Beautiful sunrise, and calm seas. Good omens, indeed!
We had the anchor up and were underway by 0630. It was going to be a long day so we needed the early start. We needed to get to Gun Cay cut well before dark. It is important to be able to visually pilot the boat through the shallow waters on the east side of the island.

Conditions heading out to the reef were markedly better than yesterday. We had perhaps a 1-2' chop, barely noticeable in a 60,000 lb boat. Our excitement grew as we neared the reef and we could see good conditions on the other side.

As we entered the open ocean we started picking up some larger swells, but they were well spaced out and caused no problems. An hour or so after passing through the reef our speed over ground started slowly climbing. We had entered the gulf stream and were getting a nice 2.5 knot push. Our normal cruise speed is about 7.3-7.5 knots. Now we were making 9.6-10 knots. Our time enroute had been cut by well over an hour, and we would be arriving at 1500 or so, rather than 1630.

The water color changed to a deep cobalt blue. Flying fish were springing up everywhere. We saw several large turtles, and lots of dolphins. This guy spent a bit of time checking us out!

All in all, we had a pretty uneventful trip. We did get slapped with a large wave from time to time, but the ride was tolerable, if not particularly comfortable. But it was much preferable to yesterday.

We passed quite a few cargo ships plying the gulf stream. I was happy that I had installed an AIS transponder to they could see me more readily. These big guys really clip along. It was comforting to know that I was showing up on their chart plotters and radars.

Land ho!  At 1400 we spotted land, and our push from the gulf stream was lessening. A while later we could see the lighthouse at Gun Cay cut, and headed straight for it. As we neared the island we could see large waves crashing along the rocky shore. Checking the chart plotter I saw that the channel ran very close to that shore.  I would need to be especially vigilant passing through there.

When we were about 5 miles from the island our phones dinged with a text alert. This surprised me as did no expect to have phone service until we purchased a SIM card from BTC, the Bahamas Telephone Co. The text was from T-Mobile welcoming us to the Bahamas, and informing us we had unlimited data and texts while in the Bahamas. Phone calls would be 20 cents/ minute. I was pleased as punch!  I did not have to buy a BTC SIM card and data plan, and my regular unlimited plan would work over here. Woo hoo!

As we entered the channel I disengaged the autopilot. I did not want malfunctions in these tight quarters. I hand steered through the area, with the rocky shore not more than 30-40 yards away. It was nerve racking watching those waves crashing so close to us. In addition, the current was raging through the cut and making to boat slow to react to my steering inputs. Although it only took 10-15 minutes or so to get through, it seemed much longer. But we are still in one piece.

We proceeded to the anchorage near the airport. There were three boats there already, a large catamaran trawler and two small sailboats. We nestled in with them and got the anchor down.

We had done it!  Finally completed our Bahamas crossing, the first step to our winter cruising grounds. It felt good to have accomplished this, and good to be in a nice calm anchorage. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag, the promptly mixed up a sundowner. We took our drinks to the swim platform and dangled our feet in the beautiful, clear water.

Tomorrow we will begin the second of our three leg journey to the Exumas. Weather forecast looks good to cross the Grand Bahama Banks.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Taverneir Key to Rodriguez Key

Today is the day! We're crossing to the Bahamas!

Well, it was supposed to be the day, anyway. When we got up just before dawn the wind was blowing 20+ knots. I checked the marine weather report and there was a small craft advisory and forecast was for 20-25 knot winds with higher gusts. Not good conditions for crossing the Gulf Stream.

Where we were anchored was smooth as glass. We debated. Should we poke our nose out and see if the conditions were as bad as forecast. A prudent mariner would say no, let's stay put where we are safe and comfortable. But I was not in a prudent mood that morning. Too bad for us.

Calm waters at sunrise. At least, calm where we were anchored!

We agreed to give it a try. Pulled up the anchor and headed out. As we got out from the lee side of the island we started seeing the waves. At first they were not too bad. Then they got a lot worse, very quickly. We stuck it out for a little while, but it was darned uncomfortable. Just about the time we were going to give it up and turn around the seas eased somewhat. Just enough so that we thought we might be able to continue. I hoped that once we got through the reef and into deep water the waves would get more spaced out, and be tolerable. So we pressed on.

About 45 minutes after leaving the island we passed through the reef. That was our biggest mistake of the day. Rather than get better on the other side, it got significantly worse. The reef had been blocking the worst of the waves. Now we were getting tossed from side to side, and stuff in the boat was flying everywhere. The waves were so bad that it took several minutes before I find a good time between them to turn around. Then we had an hour ride back in. Rather than backtrack to Tavernier Key we decided to proceed on to Rodriguez Key. That would put us just a little closer to the Bahamas and we could make another crossing attempt tomorrow.

We had the anchor down by 0915. Then spent the next hour or so straightening up the mess. When done with that we thought we deserved a Bloody Mary. You know, just to calm the nerves. :)

Forecast is looking much better for tomorrow. So, now we know, TOMORROW is the day!

Later in the day I spoke with another boater that had pressed on and made the crossing. He said it was pretty miserable and said we made the right decision to turn back. He wished they had.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Marathon to Tavernier Key

We had planned on departing on Jan 8th but a weather window popped up a day earlier. This morning we had to hustle to get ready. Paula had to make a large grocery run and stop by the dive store to pick up the additional 100' of air hose and regulator we had ordered for her. I need to get the bikes back to the boat, go to the bank, stop by Home Depot for another gas can, then make a run to buy more gas for the dinghy. Fuel is much more expensive in the Bahamas so we're bringing extra.

 Once back to the boat I had to get the water collection tarp down and stowed.Then it was down to the engine room for prep there. Just as I finished Paula called to say she was ready to be picked up. I hopped in the dinghy and headed back to the marina. She had a huge dock cart of groceries, but no air hose. The dive store had been closed when she went by. I asked her to give them a call while I went up to the marina office to check for a package I was waiting on.

The package had not arrived yet, and we could not leave until it did. I walked back to the dinghy dock grumbling about the delay. Paula had contacted the dive store and they were going to dive over with our order. They arrived about 15 minutes later. Then I took Paula and groceries back to the boat so she could get the cold stuff in the fridge. Then back to the marina to await the package. As I walked in the office the mail truck was unloading. Perfect timing.

Back to the boat and we quickly got the dinghy hoisted and got underway. It was later than I liked (2pm) and we would not get to Rodriguez Key until 8:30 pm. I did not relish the idea of running through crab pots in the dark.

 The conditions were perfect for a run up Hawk Channel. Light winds and calm seas. The water was even more beautiful out here and we could see the white sandy bottom 20' down. There were crab pots but spaced out enough they were easy to dodge.

 The only problem to mar the day is the Furuno software on the primary navigation laptop was not communicating with the other Furuno electronics; GPS, depth, and heading. It was, at least, getting the radar input. I needed that for when we would be running after dark later. I'll have to give Furuno tech support a call tomorrow. The Furuno chart plotter is only backup, my primary chart plotter (Coastal Explorer) is working fine and is what drives the autopilot. So we can navigate just fine.

Sunset underway to Key Largo

It was a bit nerve racking running after dark with crab pots everywhere. I have a big spotlight mounted high overhead on the hardtop and kept it pointed far out ahead. I stood on the bow to allow me to see the pot floats sooner. After two hours I had had enough and decided to stop at Tavernier Key rather than push on to Rodriguez.

It was pitch black as we rounded the tip of the island. Radar showed one other large boat anchored back here. We continued past the boat and had the anchor down in 8' by 8pm. Time for a well deserved adult libation and then off to bed!