Saturday, July 6, 2013

Homeward Bound

We reached Georgetown, Exumas 3/25/2013.  I always thought that was our goal, until we got there.  Now I realize that our goal is to get there and then return home, safely, with the same boat and same crew that we left with.  When Susie and Helen flew in to Georgetown to join in on the adventure we welcomed their company.  Now they were back on a plane and would be home that same day.  We, on the other hand, were still on a slow boat and were about a thousand miles from home.  We had a long trip ahead of us.  Our plan was to slowly work our way back up the Exuma chain of islands with stops in Black Point Settlement, Staniel Cay, Waderick Wells Cay  and then when we got back to Highborne Cay, we would set a fast track home. 
Leaving Georgetown in our wake
Craggy rock and coral bluffs
Tuesday 4/9/2012.  0900 hrs.  We have left Emerald Bay with full fuel and water tanks.  Hopefully this will get us all the way back home.  We set sail on a beam reach to Dotham cut and hope to reach it at around 4:00 pm so that we will catch a rising tide and ride it into the cut with an Easterly wind behind us.  When you are in big and deep water like the Atlantic and have to make an entrance to a bay through a small cut, you really have to pay attention to the tides.  With so much water all the way from Africa being pushed with South Easterly winds, you effectively have a whole ocean trying to get into a 1/4 mile wide cut onto the Bahama Bank.  Tides can rush in at 7 knots, and with a bucking (opposing) wind, they call it "raging" tides, where the waves can be dangerously large, fast and steep.  We hit it just right and rode the wind and tide through the cut at precisely 1600 hours, right in the middle of the rising tide.  We had been under sail all day to make the 50 mile run, and turned the engine on just before entering the cut.  I always like to do that....just in case.  A milestone was met.  With that tide and wind going through the cut, One Eighty was sailing at 10.4 knots, almost 2.5 knots faster than her hull speed although we can't record it as our sailing speed record because we had the engine on. We could do that because our universe, the ocean, was flowing our direction at 5 knots.  Our friend, David, on Five Flip Flops had come through that same cut the day before with sails only (no engine on) and half way through the cut they were running full speed sideways in the strong current with no steerage.  As experienced as Dave is, he was scrambling to turn the engine on and get some steerage away from the rock bluffs that adorn the sides of the cut  (side note: it is interesting that we really have no pictures of the exciting stuff, that's because the photographer is also the captain and crew, and of course that's when they are most busy).

Hansel and Quinn at the Staniel Cay YC
We spent one night at anchor at Black Point and then headed out the next morning to Staniel Cay, a beautiful, fairly small private island about 30 miles to the north.  Staniel has a small airport, and we will pick up Hansel, my nephew, who is flying in to meet us via Watermaker Air.  We anchored about a mile off from the Staniel Yacht Club which did have a small dock, but it was filled with big luxury yachts in the 70 to 120 foot range.  We didn't want to have to compete with them for dock space in our little boat.  Our anchorage was next to an island that has a beautiful cave called the Grotto.  It was made famous from the James Bond movie Thunderball.  We took the dinghy over to the Grotto several times and snorkeled into the cave and in the beautiful water.  So many beautiful fish that looked like they were hand picked to be in an aquarium.  Though we were in a near perfect place, it was not with out it's problems.  While we were working on the age old diesel fuel problem, we discovered we had a stripped banjo bolt that goes into the mechanical fuel pump.  When the engine ran it spewed fuel...not a good thing to have happen in the middle of nowhere.  We met other sailors at the YC and they were full of suggestions and help.
Swimming inside the Grotto
One sailor, Tom, who gave us some old parts to try was owner and captain of the 75 foot sloop Kahuna.  A real super-yacht in my book and he was nice enough to try to get us going with his supply of parts and tools.  It didn't work, and we decided we needed to order a new fuel pump and have it shipped in next day.  That's hard to do on Staniel Cay.  We were able to get it in 2 days, and it was a lesson learned on how to pay $900 for a $400 part.  We actually rigged an old electric pump I had on the boat and it took us all the way back to the Florida Keys. 
Window looking out the Grotto
Swimming outside the Grotto
I must say that the water in and around the Grotto was the prettiest I have seen anywhere.  HOWEVER, when we saw some of the creatures that live in the water, we may think twice about snorkeling there again, especially when someone is cleaning fish.  They said the Nurse Sharks were friendly and would not harm humans, but I would rather not give them that option.

World famous Pig

With the boat fixed, we could now leave and continue our trip, this time with an additional crew, Hansel.  We sailed a short way over to Big Majors which is one of the must see anchorages.  When we got there and anchored, we could hear a rooster crowing on the peopleless island.  We took our dinghy over to discover the Island and were able to see the "famous" swimming pigs that live there, and swim out to your dinghy to get fed.  The only problem with that is that a 500 pound pig could do severe damage to a rubber dinghy if he got too excited about whatever food you might or might not have for him. 
Anchorage at Big Major
Sunday 4/14/2013 0900 hrs. We are now getting ready to leave Big Majors and we will spend the day sailing to Waderick Wells Cay which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  First of all it is pretty remote, very undeveloped and has some of the prettiest water and beaches ever.  It is part of a Bahamas federal land protection park, and remains pretty pristine and natural except for a ranger building and a bunk house with a power generator for the Island.  We had visited here on the way down, and I didn't want Hansel to miss it.
Anchored at Waderick Wells Cay

Ashore at Waderick Cay. Whale found on the beach. 


Hansel Posing for Hollywood, Waderick Cay
And of course, RTR.  This is for Margaret and Sam

Checking the anchor with a view-bucket in 15 feet.
Tied up at Highborne YC
Highborne Key Street
Our neighbors from Florence, AL
   Today we are headed for Highborne Cay.  Highborne Cay is one of the islands on the top of the Exumas chain which is noted for its private club with a  4 star restaurant. First we anchored about a mile and a half up the coast from the club, but the waves were a little too rolley and we pulled anchor and went in to the Marina.  The island is owned by the Barcardi (rum) family.  Fortunately the restaurant was closed and we were forced to eat on the boat.  We thawed out some steaks and grilled them on the back deck.  We then went up on the pier to eat with several other boaters that were tied up at the marina. There were two other sailors there, Don & Elizabeth in a Benateau 42 and James Smith in a 49 foot catamaran, "Playing Hookie" from Orange Beach Alabama. All the other boats were large power yachts, the largest being about 150 feet in length.  There was one "small" 65 foot power yacht that we met from Florence, Alabama.

It was here that I got the news from Susie that her sister, Ann, had passed away.  She had been sick for a long time with Parkinson's so it was not a total surprise, but it was a very sad occasion.  Susie was home by herself and here I was out at sea.  We looked at several options for ways for me to get home in time for the funeral, but in the end we just ran out of time with too many miles to cross.  We left Highborne the next morning and sailed to West Bay on the far western edge of New Providence island.  We went ashore that evening and were able to fanagle our way to the Yacht Club at Lyford Cay and had dinner at the Captain's Table Restaurant.  What we didn't realize at first was that this was an exclusive and private part of the island with homes owned by billionaires from all over the world.  We met a guy, Richard Simms, in a dinghy that had just come from one of the big homes, and he suggested that we might try to go ashore at a vacant lot and walk over to the Clubhouse and hail a cab there.  By doing that, we might not be noticed.  When we got to the Clubhouse, there was a wedding going on, so we were noticably shabby and when we got to the concierge he was beginning to ask questions.  Just then a car pulled up and it was Richard and his girlfriend who yelled at us and said, hey neighbor, hop in.  We then set it up with the cabbie to pick us up at the restaurant about 10:00.  We were verified. Hansel arranged to have the cab pick him up at 0630 the next morning to take him to the airport.  I had to get the boat home.

Green water on the Bahama Bank
4/17/2013 We are up and sailing at 0700, headed across the tongue of the ocean to NW channel and then we would be able to sail across the bank to South Riding Rock, about 110 miles.  Then we would be across the Bank and ready to enter the Atlantic to cross the Gulf Stream 124 miles to
Marathon.  There is no port between here and Florida, only rocks and reefs...and water. We are on a mission to get back to the states as soon as possible.  So we sail straight through.  Fortunately the winds are in our favor and we are making good time and burning no fuel.

4/18/13 0015 hrs.  We have sailed straight across the tongue of the ocean and the bahama bank and we have just come up on the passage into the Gulf at South Riding Rocks.  It is now 15 minutes after midnight and we have decided to go on.  What good would it do us to anchor here till daylight.  We would really just lose a day, though this is the last spot shallow enough to drop an anchor.  Once we get into the Gulf it is all sailing until we get to the Florida Keys.  We will sail all night, and all the next day and plan to arrive at Molasses Light just above Key Largo early afternoon. The key to making this work is to watch the weather, which at the time is in our favor, and to get some sleep when you are not on watch.  A rested sailor is a safer sailor. 
1430 hrs.  We arrive at Molasses light right on time, although it felt as though we would never get here.  The Gulf Stream is passing very close to Florida, and is only about 2 miles off of the Molassas light which means that for us to make any Southern way, we must buck the stream.  Our speed has dropped from 6.6 knots to 4.6.  The engine quit again just as we were trying to make a tight passage by Molasses reef.  We sail throgh the passage and about 5 miles up Drake Channel and drop anchor on the lee of Rodriquez Key.  We are back in the states and only thirty miles North of Marathon.  We can make that tomorrow. At about 9:00 that night I called the special number we were given for US Customs, and was able to clear customs by phone.  This was only possible because we had pre registered with the Coast Guard and US Customs and had filed a float plan that they knew about.  Oh, and the $27 fee. 
Sunset at Marathon
4/19/13 We are up early and off the anchor at 0800 and making our way South to Marathon, compass on 180 degrees.  By noon-thirty we are making our way into Boot Key Harbor and we tie up at Burdines Marina.  We have made it this far.  Only 500 miles to go, and as we were to find out later, about $2000 worth of engine work in Marathon.

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