Friday, May 3, 2013

Sailing to Georgetown Exumas

Our destination: Georgetown Exumas, Stocking Island Beach
March 4, 2013, 0700.  OneEighty is back in the water after her haul-out and ready for our planned sail from Gulf Shores to Georgetown Exumas, a round trip of around 2000 miles.  Our first leg of the trip would be a short sail of just 100 miles to Port St Joe Florida, and would serve as a good shakedown after the haulout. It is a good thing we did that because we found a problem that had to be fixed.  At 2100 hrs I noticed that the tachometer wasn't working, and that the amp meter was registering zero.  If we shut the engine down for an hour it would heal iself, then after running two hours, it would repeat. That was a sure sign that the alternator was going out. The night was rough with winds at 27kts and big seas so we all ready to get into a safe port and get some sleep after being up all night .  We got into St. Joseph Bay at about 0830 and dropped the anchor. I then got on the phone and started calling for information about a new alternator.  In about 1 hour I had found the perfect replacement part in Panama City Florida and then called the local Port St Joe cab company (Billie Dixon) and as it worked out, his son was already in PC delivering a customer so he was able to just run over to Panama Alternator company (Jeff) and bring it back.  By the time we were able to get the anchor up and motor 5 miles to the city marina, the part was there waiting for me.  That night I put the alternator on (everything fit perfectly, even the pulleys).  Now maybe I could catch up on that sleep.  After waiting a day for a cold front to pass we were off the next morning early, headed South past Cape San Blas and East down towards Tampa, about 250 miles of open Gulf.  That run would take us about 50 hours, and soon we were approaching the Tampa Ship Channel.  Fortunately it was daylight so we could see the ships that were lighting up our AIS and Radar screens.  There were at lest 10 large ships in and around Tampa Bay entrance, and luckily most of them were anchored.  Instead of heading in to Tampa Bay or Clearwater channel (which is safer; no ships) we reviewed the weather reports and decided to ride the Easterly winds right on down the Florida coastline about 20 miles offshore without stopping.  That would put us far enough out to miss the crab-pots and fishing boats, yet still be able to enjoy the flat seas protected by the land mass with the wind out of the east.  We sailed past Tampa Bay and continued on down the Florida coast leaving Naples, Sanibel and Fort Myers to our port.  For the next 50 hours, non-stop we were able to sail all the way down to the Everglades, past Shark River and into the Keys, and at 0700 Sunday 3/10/13, right at daylight, we approached the Bullard Bank light in the Keys.  We could now navigate through the shallows to 7 mile bridge in daylight hours.
On a mooring ball in Marathon City Marina
3/11/13 We arrive Marathon after snagging a crab-pot line on the prop going under 7 Mile Bridge. Had to sail out towards Sombrero Light and dive on the prop and cut it loose. Tied up at Burdine's Marina for two days, then went over to Marathon Municipal on a mooring ball for 3 days waiting for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.  It is very important to cross only when there is no Northerly in the wind direction.
3/13/13.  Talked to West Marine about our dinghy bottom falling out, and for the next several days we had conversations with them that validated our warranty and they have agreed to repair or replace our dinghy or give us a store credit towards buying a new, better model.
Water in the dinghy.  Floor coming out
3/14/13. Changed both fuel filters while we were waiting. That should have us ready for the longest part of the trip that will have very limited access to marinas and maintenance supplies.
3/16/13.  We have been at Marathon City Marina for several days now on a mooring ball (R-10) at $100 per week and that includes showers, internet, work and rec room, and meet and greets.  It really is a retirement community
setup. We  had 2-3 meetings and various discussions on weather with other sailors waiting for a weather window for crossing to the Bahamas.  We met several other sailors, two of which  we will see later in the Bahamas.  They were Shay and Elizabeth on Escape, and Dave and Emma (Brits) on FiveFlipFops. Today is the first open window.  Wind is from the East at 10kts and coming around to SE, maybe South, perfect for crossing the Gulf Stream, but it is a short window of about 30 hours.We are leaving today, Shay and Dave will leave tomorrow.
0800.  We are up and having coffee and getting ready for the crossing.  Fueled up at Burdines and topped off with fresh water.
1300.  Motored out to Sombrero light and finally set sail at about 1430.  This will allow us to reach the Bahama bank at South Riding Rock (125 miles from Marathon) after daybreak the next morning.  Keep in mind that sailboats are slow, and we plan on 5 kts speed while underway.  Usually we beat that and average 6 kts,  but we have to plan for varied speeds, and always plan to arrive at a landfall or critical site during daylight hours. Also, when crossing the Gulf Stream you have to vector in the Northerly current of the stream that runs 2.5 to 3 knots. That means that if our rum line was 60 degrees, we would have to actually sail about 107 degrees to make our mark and compensate for the current that is taking us about 30 miles off our course over a 10 hour period.  We did not want to arrive at the coral reefs at South Riding Rock in the dark. Just the name of South Riding "Rock" as your destination puts a knot in your stomach when you have never been there before.  On this particular crossing the wind was about 30 degrees off our bow which is too close for us to sail, so in order to make our course and speed, which is time sensitive due to the weather window, we motor-sailed with enough sail up to keep the boat planted on the water as we beat into the waves.
Anchored at Russell Light on Bahama Bank
3/17/13 0630. We are about 20 miles from So. Riding Rock and the engine just quits. I checked the oil, filters, coolant, water pump and everything else I could think of and saw no problems.  We are sailing towards the Great Bahama Banks known for its shallow water and coral reefs.  After waiting an hour to cool down, I cranked the engine.  It started easy, no problem at all and ran it for several hours until we had crossed the reef. I have no idea what the problem was. By then it was late morning and we were able to shut down the engine and sail East across the Great Bahama Bank towards Northwest Channel, entrance to the Tongue of the Ocean, which is about 60 miles away.
3/17/13 1900 hrs.  We have sailed beautifully all day across the bank, and have decided to anchor on the bank about 13 miles from NW channel.  We have anchored 1.8 miles from where Russel Light used to be, but the light is missing.  It is a strange feeling anchoring on the bank in 20 feet of water, totally out of sight of land, but after being up for the last 36 hours, we decide we needed some rest.  During the early morning we were passed by two of the boats, (Escape and FiveFlipFlops) that left after we did, but caught us while we were sleeping.
3/18/13 0800 hrs. We are up and have coffee and check the weather and routes to NW Channel, and then South down to Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island.  Winds are from the SE at 20 to 26 knts and we are in big seas in the Tongue of the Ocean.  This is what we call Blue Water Sailing.  The TOTO is several miles deep, and this can give you some pretty big seas, especially with strong SE winds.  I reefed the mainsail and during the day it ripped in one of my reef-points.  I would have to repair that at the next port, Andros.
Going up on the wave. Main up, no jib
Going back down

3/18/13/1630 hrs.  We arrived Morgan's Bluff, Andros.  The charts showed us that there was a clearly marked channel into the bay.  When we got there, there were no bouys at all except for one oil drum  that was anchored in the channel... I think. Thanks to our Explorer charts, we were able to pick our way into the channel and anchor in the beautiful and protected bay.  At Andros, we met up again with Escape and FiveFlipFlops which were anchored there also.  We took our dingies into the town dock, and there we met the Customs and Immigration officials.  When you arrive in a foreign port, you must fly a yellow Quarnteen flag on your starboard spreader before you go ashore, and then only the captain goes ashore, and must have the ship's papers and passports for all the crew. Clearing customs at Morgans Bluff was a breeze. The customs officials (Ms. Oliver)  met me in the bar and we filled out the paperwork on a picnic table and talked, and we were done.  Much easier than Nassau would have been.  Anchoring in the bay was not so easy.  I have used  a CQR plough type anchor for many years with no problem at all, but in this hard, packed coral sand, I could not get it to set.  After three attempts, we changed to the Danfoth style anchor, and it stuck the first time.  That's why you carry spare anchors.  When Dave anchored FiveFlipFlops he had the same problem, and switched to the Danforth style with the same good results.
Looking at the bottom in 20 feet of water
3/19/13 1300 hrs. We pull anchor and depart Morgan's Bluff headed 27 miles east to New Providence Island.  At 1730 we drop anchor at West Bay and get some rest for the long trip tomorrow to Norman's Cay, our first island of the Northern Exumas chain.  The Exumas are a chain of islands that span about 130 miles from just South and East of Nassau, down to Great Exuma Island which is South and East of Andros.

Now we are crossing a part of the Bahama bank that is fairly shallow, and the clearest water I have seen.  The wind is totally calm this day, and with no ripples on the water it looks as though we are suspended in air.   We are running with two other boats, Escape and FiveFlipFlops and will run with them off and on all the way to Georgetown.  There is comfort and camaraderie in finding other nice boaters to travel with.  Also it is good to have someone else checking the sanity of your chart plotting and weather reads.

  I went to the bow of the boat and took a picture of my shadow of me waving from the bow. The shadow was off the bottom in the crystal clear water.
My shadow off the bottom in 20 feet of water
"Escape", 49 ft Defever trawler with us
Anchored at Sunset at Normans Cay
3/20/13 1700 hrs. Anchored by airport on Norman Cay.  This is a nice anchorage but not protected from West to North winds.  At midnight the winds picked up to 15 to 17 knots from the North, which made for a rolley night.  Shay from Escape called me and asked if I heard the radio call on Channel 16 from a boat named River Rat, calling for OneEighty.  River Rat is a boat of a couple that we met in Virginia several years ago.  They were in the islands and had heard from a mutual friend, Jim Hatch in Virginia, that we were in the vicinity.  Jim had seen our location from our satellite tracking device and sent an email to River Rat (Carl and Debi Isbrandtsen).  From that contact, we were able to talk to them via the VHF and we agreed to rendezvous at Waderick Wells Cay, which is a beautiful Land and Sea Park of the Bahamas located in the middle Exumas.  
Anchored in Waderick Wells Park. Ranger station on right. 
Sailors have been traveling to this destination long before it was a National Park.  There is a hill on the island called BooBoo Hill that sailors have tradionally brought boards and planks with their boat names inscribed and planted them on top of the mountain, I would guess for good luck.  Now there is a pile of wood plaques that is several feet high and 50 feet long that is the result of many years of voyagers leaving their wood signs.  We on OneEighty now have our names on the roll.
BooBoo Hill; Collection of ship's names over many years
OneEighty's meager contribution, SV/180
Carl preparing dinner on River Rat
Carl and Debi invited Quinn and I over for dinner on their boat that night.  They are gracious hosts and good chefs.  We so much enjoyed their company.
3/23/13 0700.  Up, had our coffee and off the mooring.  Headed South to Black Point Settlement which is about 27 miles South. Talked to Shay on the VHF today and they are already in Black Point.   We should be there by 1400.  
1400 hrs.  We are at Black Point Settlement and the anchor is down.  
1600 hrs.  Dinked to town dock , walked the streets and met the people.  We went to Loraine's and found out that you get free internet if you order a beer.  How hard is that? Called Susie on Skype and then sent some emails.  We had been without internet and phone service since we left Marathon, FL. We walked down to the city park which has a pavilion and a dock and this is where they hold their town sponsored regattas. There we met James "the shell man" who is a slightly retarded young man that wanted to talk and show us his pretty shells.  After looking at them, he asked us if we wanted to buy some.  After some serious negotiations, we gave him $2 for a couple of shells.  Then we talked to him some more.  Soon we had to leave so we parted ways.  As we were walking back to the boat James caught up with us on the road and wanted to give Quinn another shell.  When we said we didn't have any more money, he just smiled and said that he just wanted to say thanks because we were friendly to him. I thought: you never know when angels are among you!
We went back to Loraine's to find out if she was open on Sundays.  She said yes, but invited us to Church first.  
3/24/13 Sunday 0730. Up and having quiet coffee.  Had a swell night last night.  Swells rolled the boat all night, and I slept swell.  
Gethseminie Church, Black Point, Exumas
1030 hrs.  Quinn and I took dinghy in to go to church.  We got to Gethseminie Baptist Church and who should we meet but Shay and Elizabeth from Escape, and sitting across the aisle, on the end of the other pew was....James, the shell man. We gave him a nod.  We missed Emma from FiveFlipFlops because she had gone to the other church in town.  What are the odds that three random boats from different parts of the world would all be in church in Black Point Settlement?  We made an interesting observation that all the church leaders were women.  Of 30+ people there, only 5 were adult men. We were told later that the young men often go to Nassau after middle school.  Nassau is seen as a bad influence on the young men, as they aspire to be like the "gangstas" they see on TV .  One of the mom's asked me to pray for her 28 year old son who is in Nassau now.  So many are killed as young men in the streets. If you really want to know the hearts and souls of the natives, church is a great place to get to know folks.  What you begin to see is how much we are all brothers.
Loraine made a special Sunday supper for our sailing group
Island racing boat of yesteryear

This is Loraines.  She also has rental houses

We will be planning our departure from Black Point and on our way to Georgetown, our destination town.


New meaning to Blue Water Sailing

  3/25/13 0600.  Up and had breakfast and coffee.  Pulled anchor at 0630 and we are headed to Dotham cut, which is a pass from the Western shore on the reef bank out into the Eastern shore side into the Atlantic.  Here it is 3000 feet deep just a mile offshore.  From Dotham cut to Conch Cut, which is the entrance to Elizabeth Bay at Georgetown, is 50 miles.  Today was the best sailing day of my life.  The winds were 15 knots from the West, which was from the land side, and therefore there was no large sea buildup.  Seas were calm and we were on a beam reach all day.  We had the full jib, full main and mizzen up all day and sailed at hull speed (7.5knots) all day, in the Blue Water.  This crystal clear, very deep water gives new meaning to Blue Water Sailing.  It is ink blue.
1530 hrs. We have entered Elizabeth Harbor and have dropped the anchor just off Chat-n-Chill on Stocking Island.  Georgetown, town, is about 1 mile east on the other side of Elizabeth Harbor.  Most of the cruising boats find safe harbor and good holding anchorage on the Eastern side of the bay and either dink over to the town or take the Water Taxi, owned and operated by Elvis.  We are anchored in and about 100 other boats.  In the winter season, this is filled with over 300 boats from all over the world, though I bet that Ottawa Canada has the largest population.  They really don't like their winters in Ottawa.

3/26/13 Tuesday.  We are safely anchored in a little cove close to the Chat-n-Chill.  This is a quaint little restaurant/bar on the beach that has one of the prettiest beaches and is a daily meeting place for the boats that are anchored nearby.  The only other building on the island is the St. Francis Hotel which has a view of Elizabeth Harbor on one side and the Atlantic Beach on the other.  Both are beautiful.
Looking at Elizabeth Bay from St. Francis Hotel
The Atlantic Beach from St Francis Hotel
Susie and Charlie on the Atlantic Beach

Chat-n-Chill on Stocking Island
Our dinghy that brought us to the beach. We are anchored out there

Sail-On is my old car tag, on the Chat-n-Chill wall. We are famous now. 

Helen, Charlie and Quinn, chatting and chilling
Dinghy ride back to the boat
3/29/13 Friday.  We have been on the anchor for several days now, and this morning I noticed that the water pump is running very slowly. Either the motor is worn out or the batteries are so low that they can't drive the motor.  I checked the batteries and learned that we have an almost dead battery bank in the House bank of batteries.  The cranking batteries are totally separate, so we can always crank the engine, which we did.  The engine has a high-capacity 130ah alternator (new, remember we replaced it in Port St Joe) and we are able to run the diesel a couple of hours and get the batteries back on track.  I had done a bad job of battery management while living on the hook and from now on we will run the auxiliary generator for one to two hours every day and hopefully never let the battery bank get below 50%.  If we do much of this type of cruising, it will be smart to add solar panels and a wind generator that will be a more green way to keep the electricity powered up on the boat.  Most of the die-hard cruisers have all of that, but we are learning. What I do know is there is no stopping at what you can spend keeping a boat state-of-the-art, so we have to be prudent.
 **** I have found that the spend priorities go from: 1. float, 2. safe, 3. sail fast, 4. comfort, 5. pretty.  If you spend too much on pretty, the boat could end up not floating****.

Emarld Bay Marina Clubhouse
4/1/13 0900.  We pull anchor at Georgetown and are headed to Emerald Bay Marina which is on the North end of Great Exuma Island and is the marina of Sandal's Resort.  It will take us about two hours to get there, and then we will have shore power to ensure that our batteries get a full charge back up to full.  Susie and Helen are flying in to Georgetown on Monday, and we will be at a nice marina for them to ease into the sailing life.  Here they will have abundant electricity and water so they can transition into the austerity program that we must have when at anchor.  We carry about 150 gallons of water so showers have to be short.  Fresh water in the Exumas is rare since there is no ground water.  It must either be shipped in from Andros or made with reverse osmosis of seawater.  Either way requires diesel power which  runs the cost up. Water at the marina is probably more pure than the water we have at home.  It is all made from RO (reverse osmosis) from the clearest seawater in the world.  It will cost .40 per gallon to fill the tanks. This marina is one of the nicest in the entire island chain, and offers an upscale clubhouse with TV lounge, internet access, desk and computer, nice showers, free laundry room with upscale frontload washers and dryers, floating docks, and of course,  water and power.

4/2/13.  Susie and Helen have arrived and have caught a cab from the airport to the marina.  The cab is owned by Margaret and is a nice big SUV Tahoe, a little unusual for this small island, but, comfortable and air conditioned.  Besides, we liked her, and decided to get her to take the four of us on an island tour the next day.  She agreed and we are set for a 3 hour tour, at $60 per hour.  After a nap on the boat and some down time in the marina, we decided to go out for dinner.  The restaurant that was recommended was Big Ds, which was just 2 miles down the road, one problem, we didn't have a way to get there.  Taking a suggestion from the harbormaster in the marina, we called the restaurant, and Quinten,  the chef, drove over in his car and picked us up.  We had a very nice dinner in a beach-front restaurant at sunset.  After dinner the chef left the kitchen and drove us back to the boat.
Susie and Charlie at the restaurant

 4/3/13.  We start at 11:00 am and travel from the North end of Great Exuma Island, and end up at the South End at Santana's, a restaurant located at 23 degrees 26 minutes North latitude which is the Tropic of Cancer. The ToC is the furthest North the Sun travels from the Equator, and is closest to the earth on June 3rd.  Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (Southern latitude at 23 degrees 26 minutes South latitude)  is the hottest area around the earth where the sun is closest called the Tropics.
Big D's Restaurant

We saw the old airport, drove through the town of Georgetown, some high-end home developments. some quaint low end home developments, salt ponds that are still worked, the oldest church in the islands and most interesting to me, some of the old failed plantations, cemeteries and townships that were remains of the old British plantations that had moved here after the Revolutionary war.  This was a period when sailing ships were king, and countries from all over the world (the new United States, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and a host of Pirates that claimed the high seas as their home) sailed these very seas and traded in these islands.  What impresses me is how they did it without the charts, electronics, and weather information that we have today.  No doubt, they were better sailors than us.
Helen and Margaret at the tomb of McKay, plantation
forman for the  British Rolle family
The oldest church in the Islands

Oldest Church Inside

Oldest Church, time creates timeless art

Ruins of old Plantation House. The black spot is an ant hive,  really!

Plantation House. Ceiling meets floor.

The tour was one of my favorite parts of the trip, maybe because I could see so much is such a short period of time, after all, we were now able to travel at 30 to 50 mph, and there was a lot to see.  On the boat it takes days to cover this much ground.  The meal at Santana's was the culmination of the trip, the crowning reward.  We were now headed back to the boat and will get ready for tomorrow's sailing trip from Emerald Bay back down to Georgetown.  This time we plan to go into the town and see how the city folk live.

Pictures at the old light that guided in the old Salt Shi

Santana's beach cafe.  
Fresh lobster on ice

What happens to a fresh lobster
View while eating lunch

4/4/13.  1030.  We have departed Emerald Bay and headed South to Georgetown.  The wind is off our nose so we will have to motor-sail to get there.  It takes about 2.5 hours.
1300 hrs.  Just as we are entering Conch Cut, which is the channel that gets you through the reef and into Elizabeth Harbor, the engine quits...just stops.  With the wind in on our nose, we now have to tack into the tricky harbor, sails are up.  Although tedious, we get there, after all, we are a sail boat.  We sail up into the anchorage at Monument point and anchor amoungst about 50 other boats.  This is when you really want your anchor to catch and hold the first time.  There is no second chance without the engine.  It holds
The next day I spent most of the day working on the diesel, finally with help from some smart friends, Bill on Jezibel, Shay on Escape and David FiveFlipFlops, we got it going.  Hope we have it fixed.

4/6/13 Today we called Elvis on the water taxi, and caught a ride across the bay into Georgetown.  We had some serious shopping and exploring to do.
One of the two main streets in Georgetown
We found the grocery store and then made our way to the Peace and Plenty Hotel for lunch.  This is a landmark hotel in the town and has been a popular hangout for about a hundred years.  The bar used to be the old kitchen area in a 1790's plantation owned by the Rolle family.  That is a very popular name in the Exumas.

Peace and Plenty Hotel

Susie and Charlie at Peace and Plenty

Straw market
Susie shopping

Get your hair done

Buildings are artful

1530 hours.  We catch the water taxi and Elvis brings us back to the boat.  Tomorrow we will just chill out at the beach...and the Chat-n-Chill.
Elvis brings us back to home-sweet-home

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