Returning Home….and What We Learned

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April 27

We finished dinner underway and discuss night watch assignments. As usual, we also went thru safety measures, set up our jacklines (heavy duty straps that we can clam into if we need to go forward in the night or in rough weather) and retrieved all the safety tethers and life jackets from below. It was dark quickly, and we lost our partially full moon a few days before. It was amazing that once our eyes adjusted to the darkness…there is some light. You can actually make out the waves and some of the horizon in general. It is comforting to be able to see that there you are not headed for any unlit obstructions. Again the hours pass on watch. This time is consumed monitoring the AIS (ship identification program) , radar and visual check of 360 degrees around the boat for other vessels in the area. We also monitor the engine and direction of the wind and speed. So we keep busy enough for a few hours.

As we approach the middle of the Gulf Stream, about 2:00 or 3:00 am in the morning we find that our speed with the wind and the Gulf Stream current reaches 8 or 9 knots! This is almost twice as fast as we usually travel and we are clicking off miles like a teenager with an allowance to spend at the mall. The previous watch can’t wait to tell the oncoming watch of the ship events and speed record.

 

 

Morning mid ocean awakens us with a few more waves and action. This is nothing Lost Loon can’t handle, just a little more caution required going below. We are thankful for all the handholds that make transit forward and back non-traumatic. Hot coffee is welcome in the morning along with whatever breakfast food we are able to manage in the current seas. And at some time during late morning of fishing, reading, or resting we realize, that with the acceptable time we have made thru the Gulf Stream current, we may manage to arrive 24 hours early! Of course this also depends on the weather holding in the direction of our heading this could be possible.

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That afternoon we celebrate the Abacos trip with one last Captains hour before our last night at sea, we are about 16 hours from landfall at St Simon’s Lighthouse and we discuss the educational aspects as well as highlights of the voyage.

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In no particular order…..

When pulling the fresh Mahi out of the water, slit the gills over the water, this prevents a blood bath on board and 2 hours of scrubbing and cleaning the bright work, canvas, lines and decking

A week in the Bahamas on a sailboat is not enough. The island chain is enormous.

Two Raymarine electronics that are SUPPOSED to work together, sometimes done….Neither wants to be the repeater, they both want to be the Master…as in life.

You cant depend on the wind, you need a diesel much of the time.

Navigation by GPS is awesome, AIS is the cat’s meow to navigating at night. (When the Master and Repeater decide to work together).

How liberating it is to live on a sailboat for a week!! Yet how nice it is to set foot on a deserted beach, explore the reef and ruins left behind by so many others whose footprints have since washed away.

Captains of 1000 ft cargo ships will re-route their ship so as not to run you over. However much trouble that may be, makes me feel safer they’re watching and not napping.

The painter on the dinghy need to STAY OUT of the dinghy Mercury prop in order to maintain forward propulsion.

Night shift sailing can be the most relaxing or the most nerve wracking.

Rubber protector tips on spear guns protect you, your gear as well as the fish , if you fail to remove before shooting. Just gives the fish a headache and provides fodder for jokes months to come.

Trust your instincts, as well as the professional opinion of the paid weather routers when making the decision to cross the Gulf Stream after days of delay.

Conch bites are better than conch fritters, but never as good as lobster bites in the Bahamas.

Unfortunately small birds don’t fair too well taking a bath in soapy dishwater, the do however provide hours of entertainment when they decide to catch a ride with on your sailboat across the ocean.

You can take all the picture in the world of sunsets on the ocean, but to capture the true beauty you have to be there and experience the changing intensity of color, the taste of salt in the air and the sounds of a light breeze passing through the halyards as night begins to take hold.

Stealing a quick swim at the marina pool or in 2000 ft of ocean water after a long day of sailing can feel like heaven.

Putting up the sails and turning off the engine is …priceless.

Ham radio operators are the kindest and sweetest when you are in the middle of the ocean trying to connect with family across the miles or obtain weather information.

At 545 AM in the middle of the Atlantic Gulf Stream you can have a night sky to port with a full moon and daybreak to starboard with a sunrise. Never imagined I would ever see that.

Returning home stirs mixed emotions…Like any vacation it wouldn’t be a vacation if you weren’t returning home. We look forward to this being our routine…someday.

 

 

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The night is fraught with thunderstorms surrounding us noted on radar, that luckily never come close enough to affect our travel. We follow a few cruise ships across the Stream, then realize they We arrive at St Simon’s Inlet in Georgia at daybreak.

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We are welcomed by shrimpers and fishermen heading out to sea for a days work. We pass container ships waiting in the high seas for daylight to head into their dockage in daylight.

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It is about an hour and a half trek from open ocean to Brunswick Landing and our slip on dock 15. We arrive by 9 am as the fog and clouds are lifting. We hear calls on the radio about the unfortunate loss of life the night before during the storm we watched from a distance out at sea. It is a small fishing boat that is turned over and 3 persons are missing. It is a strange feeling to know that we have come hundreds of miles in some of the deepest ocean and lives can be lost in local shallower waters on a whim.

 

 

Our final task on arrival, aside from cleaning out the boat and making preparations to close for the season, is to contact US customs. We make a call to the local authorities who indicate that they will arrive before noon. We begin clearing off the deck, taking down sails and organizing equipment. Customs arrives in triplicate. We have the cruising paperwork and passports ready for them. They inspect the vessel and aside from giving us a lecture on not bringing back fruits and vegetables (which we originally purchased in Jupiter FL) as well as opened cheese meats, we are cleared….back in the USA

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Thanks for visiting! I love your comments! Come back soon…Lost Loon adventures continue!

More Bahamas….

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April 24, Day 4

(I have added a link to an interactive map of the Abacos, for readers see travel locations) http://go-abacos.com/theabs/theab_map.html

 

We woke at Manjack Cay to a beautiful Sunday sunrise solitude. We decided to head off for an early morning spearfishing. I agreed to manage the dinghy while Mike and Jeff would snorkel – spearfish.

 

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In the Bahamas, you cannot SCUBA and spearfish, you must only use snorkel. This mandates excellent diving skills along with the ability to shoot a speargun. I had mentioned in a previous blog something about a user failure in spearing a supposed great fish. With greater knowledge that morning we set out on a flat sea for more. The “fishing” was uneventful. The morning ended a bit early due to an approaching squall. We watched waterspouts and dark clouds as we motored the dinghy back to Lost Loon. After relaxation time, an afternoon meal, we motorsailed for Green Turtle Cay.

Green Turtle Cay

We had decided to obtain fuel as well as tour the island on a Sunday. It was a very hot day that afternoon as we made our slow approach through the narrow but adequate channel to Green Turtle Club Resort and Marina.

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We initially tied up at the fuel dock, procured island transportation and then anchored in the marina to have lunch and secure the boat before we took off for the day.

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Our tour took us by beautiful beaches that were absolutely beautiful. We made our way to Gillam Bay Beach and then onto New Plymouth (primary town or settlement on Green Turtle).

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Gillam Bay

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Being Sunday we only found one restaurant open, McIntosh Restaurant and Bakery. A welcome respite from the heat, we devoured lobster bites, conch bites and ceviche! And cold beers! We procured some famous coconut bread for breakfast onboard. This was a lazy-Sunday town where kids were playing in neighborhood lots and the adults keeping cool in the shade of porches.

 

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We were surprised to find most of the beaches deserted…I guess you live there it’s the same paradise everyday. We made our way back to the Green Turtle Club Resort, returned the golf cart, and headed for quick dip in the pool before returning to Lost Loon. The pool was deliciously refreshing following a hot afternoon of “beach hopping”.

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We pulled the anchor and headed out to our next stop in the Abacos, Powell Cay, which was located mid way between Green Turtle and our final stop before heading back to the US Great Sale Cay. Once out of the small harbor we were sailing!

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Lost Loon anchored Green Turtle Cay

We had a very relaxing sail to Powell. This was a 3-hour sail, in which we were rewarded with another great swim to cool ourselves off after anchoring sand then a dinghy ride to another idyllic beach.

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We hunted for shells and unfortunately saw the washed up ocean debris. Always a joker, Mike was able to share the humor.

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Barbie washed up in a tree

 

Our evening meal was galley prepared chicken and rice accompanied by the compulsory homemade bread, following another sweet sunset. The mundane sailing life had set in just as we were to make our home journey. We were fortunate to have such great weather to escort us through our Bahamas sailing tour.

April 25

Shortly after sunrise we were up took the dinghy to shore for long awaited hikes across the island. We followed a pretty well marked trail up an unusual “hill” on these flat islands.

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We had a beautiful view of the anchorage and Lost Loon sitting patiently waiting for another travel day. We made our way back to the beach to find another well-marked trail from the bayside to the oceanside of the island.

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Well marked with single crocs or flip-flops hanging precariously from the trees. Washed up ocean debris like marker buoys or plastic containers.

 

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The trail moved through thick tropical foliage and open grassy ravines. We could hear waves crashing long before we arrived at the empty beach that stretched north to south. We commented that the setting was so desolate and remote that at any moment we expected a triceratops to appear out of the thick palms or pterodactyl to swoop down from the sky as if a scene from Jurassic Park.

 

We were quickly brought back to reality on the littered trail back to the anchorage. We found signs of a healthy ocean with numerous live starfish that inhabited the bay.

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photo taken in 3 ft of water

 

Our travel goal that day was to get back to Great Sale Cay in order to push off for GA early the next morning, eventually making our way back to the US. Once we were organized for the morning we were off sailing.

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We had a Southwesterly that gently headed us northwest on a calm ocean. We spent the day aboard navigating, reading, cleaning, and discussing our planned 3 day passage across the gulf stream the following day. Great Sale greeted us with a host of other passage-makers that afternoon.

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A quick swim to refresh and bathe followed by Captain’s hour was much welcome after a hot day’s trip. I made the predetermined 1600 radio contact and through several ham relays was able to get a reassuring weather report for our Gulf Stream passage the next few days: clocking winds 10-15, SE moving to SW and possibly W by day 3. We had hoped we were closer to Brunswick by day 3 as Westerly winds would again be on our nose (but we were used to this by now and had confidence in managing the boat into the wind).

We rested well as usual, waking to calm seas and East-Southeast winds. We were headed west (young man).

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And knew we could be motoring or sailing for 3 full days. To pass the time we spent several hours rigging our sails for a wing on wing configuration.

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This is used when you have following winds (at your back) that truly now push the boat through the water. What was unfortunate was by late afternoon –early evening our wind had died approaching the Gulf Stream and we lowered sails for motoring.

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Wait , what day was it? Tuesday? Where had the week gone?…despite our desire to stay and enjoy more of the Bahamas we needed to be back by Friday morning, clean the boat , and pack her away for the summer, to get on the road for our 23 hour trip back to Wisconsin.

 

It was our luck to find an uneventful, but hot day sailing across the Bahamas Banks. We encountered a few porpoise and attracted a stow-away bird.

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At some point during our stay at Great Sale, we acquired this passenger who would fly out and away from the boat and return to sit on the combing of the cockpit. I’ll spare other details, but this gentle creature ended up in some oily dishwater, unable to free himself. I placed him on the combing to dry out, he flew away (I would guess to dry out his wings), but never returned.

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We made a brief stop in the late afternoon that day, mid-ocean before hitting the Gulf Stream to refresh ourselves in the still Bahama blue waters. We experienced another sunset partially clouded, but it was a enjoyable as the rest of the great ones we had experienced this maiden voyage to the Bahamas.

 

 

 

 

Our “Bahamas Bash”

Our trip April 2016

As previous blogs have described, our maiden trip to the Bahamas this past April that Mike and I made in the Caliber (on our own, with no help…ok a little help from Chris Parker…weather router) was delayed a few days leaving Florida, due to northerly winds against the Gulf Stream. We had finally made our way to the blue waters of the Bahamas. Our plan was to pick up friends (Jeff and Cynthia) off Green Turtle Cay, make a few island stops, do some fishing and then return to GA. Much of our first 2 days was spent motoring into the wind, for every small change we made in the direction of the autopilot toward our destination, the wind seemed to follow right on our nose. We were fine with that, we remembered John’s advice for patience with the wind so knew the sails would be ready when the wind was. First stop was Great Sale Cay.

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Our first anchorage in foreign waters. The island was mostly scrub bush and rock, but it was gorgeous to us. We had just completed an overnight sail out of West Palm Beach, 60 open ocean miles, then another 30 miles crossing the Little Bahama Bank. We found others there as well, sailboats and trawlers. As we anchored I wondered what their stories were. Where were they from? Had they done this before? Were they as excited as we were to be sailing? In the Bahamas? I would say that after that first 24 hours we could have shouted “we made it!”. I will also admit that this crew of 2 did some definite high fives that day.

We made our 4 pm radio contact with family to report our safe position. I was also enlightened to listen to radio traffic from as far away as North Dakota that afternoon in trying to make family contact.

We prepared a great dinner that night in celebration and shared a few glasses of wine as well. We slept soundly (no critters on the hull here!) regenerating our sleep batteries for another day of sailing (or motoring, depending on the decision of the wind gods as to which direction they will blow)  to come. We slept well with the knowledge that all systems worked well. We had made a full day without any failures or malfunctions!

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We awoke early the next morning to a beautiful sunrise across the bay. How great to arise rested, in peaceful waters. No cell phone alarms hailing the start of a new work day, no teleconferences, no appointments. It was a wonderful feeling…vacation. Thinking…. isn’t this is what vacations were made for? But we did have a destination and an appointment the following day to pick up friends who were making their way from the Midwest, and Florida our way. We needed to make hay while the sun shines as they say. We raised the anchor and were on our way. As usual, coffee was steaming not long after we made our way from the anchorage. Now this is not made in the usual fashion. We use a stainless coffee press, but of course must boil water on the stove while underway. Under good conditions this works well with fat seas, but with active waves and any wind this may be a challenge. We unlock the gambled stove and she moves with the motion of the ocean , as they say. So we can be at a 30 degree heel or take on a few waves or swells and we can successfully make hot coffee.

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We passed several sailboats that day and made radio contact with a few inquiring about our boat and us about the conditions and weather reports. We played a game of guess that boat. We tried several times to get close enough to spy with the binoculars to identify the sailboat maker. Aside from keeping a navigation log, monitoring the clouds and wind, its what you do on a long day motorsailing. We tried to share nap time in the cockpit and below thru the day, resting up from our previously long sail out of Florida.

We had managed to travel about 50 miles that day, before we dropped anchor at ManJack Cay. (remember pr. “key”) We had read up on the hiking trails to the Atlantic side and up the bluff, but we were restricted to the boat because we had not checked in at customs yet. So, we planned instead to make this a stop on our way out of the Bahamas in several days. We finished our day planning our short sail to customs on Green Turtle Cay the next day.

We had a shorter sail the following morning to Green Turtle Cay where we planned to check into customs. It was a cloudy morning, and there was little wind as we motored into the anchorage on the west side of Green Turtle.

We spent part of that morning repairing a broken cockpit speaker. We had noticed it was not functioning several months previous, but it was probably the lowest on the list for repairs…get to it when we have downtime. Not an essential. More on fixing things to come in a future blog…..Once that was completed by noon Mike had decided it was time to head for customs.

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We deployed the dinghy and he set off as I made preparations for guests that afternoon. He arrived during lunch hour and had to wait for their return. He presented our papers (passports, US boat documents, completed Bahamas cruising permit application ) and received our first cruising permit for the Bahamas!! We felt it quite ceremonious to be official cruisers of the Bahamas. It is then customary to raise and display the flag of the country where you are traveling as you take down the yellow quarantine flag (which you must display until you have cleared customs.)

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Taking down the quarantine flag and deploy the Bahamas Flag

Our destination to pick up friends was across the bay. We needed to anchor off the ferry dock, deploy the dinghy (again) and retrieve our guests. What could go wrong, we were experienced in doing this….

Just a Reminder……Boating Basics

#1: Ensure the anchor is set before leaving the boat.

#2 : Avoid anchoring where you might drag into a lee shore (that is the shoreline to which the wind is blowing, and there may be rocks which could wreck your boat).

#3: Assure all lines are on the boat when you engage the motor (to prevent wrapping of the prop.)

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We had a bit of a south wind to tend with and headed off for the ferry dock on Great Abacos to pick up Jeff and Cynthia.

They had flown from Minneapolis to Orlando the day before. They then attempted to board a flight from there to Great Harbour, Abacos and were delayed (of course!), because they just had a one way flight, (they were leaving the country on Lost Loon back to GA, I guess not your typical expected departure mode) and being US citizens, they were not allowed to enter the country without proof of a way out.

We were out of contact (fixing things and actually checking into customs coincidentally) and could not give them any proof that we were transporting them back to the US. A simple refundable ticket out of the country sufficed to get them on board their final flight.

Although quite windy, we managed anchor successfully (we thought) just off the ferry dock and Mike went to retrieve them. Now, it is prudent to send the dinghy or a diver to check the anchor location to inspect the holding, but we figured we had a good hold and were only going to anchor for the short time it takes to retrieve our prospective guests. I will remind you again….it was pretty windy, and when there is wind in an anchorage , you worry about drifting or dragging anchor….

 

We all know, that as excitement takes over, the attention to detail takes second place and bad things happen. As Mike and the new crew approached I thought it funny they were coming in slow and to starboard, not where I thought they would land the dinghy. There was shouting…”Throw us a line!”, “Get the boat hook!”…now I know they were excited, but I can see the dinghy is loaded with gear, and I’m thinking, were all happy to be in the Bahamas…….saying to myself…(maybe out loud?) “don’t fool around, get the gear and people on board.” No, it wasn’t going to be easy. As they traversed the 200 ft from the ferry dock, the painter ( the rope from the bow of the dinghy) fell into the water and happily engaged itself to the dinghy prop. (this will invariably ALWAYS cause the forward motion of our secondary transportation to stall) The 2 became 1 and the dinghy was essentially helpless. The wind luckily sent them the way of Lost Loon where I was able to throw them a safety line and haul the wayward crew safely to the stern. Once aboard, we were stowing the new provisions and gear, I made notice out the starboard port that the trees were different on the shoreline, as I gazed to the stern and it seemed we were terribly closer to shore …….and I mentioned this to the Captain (Mike) that we were drifting and the anchor had come loose.  He wasn’t able to attend to this issue because he was currently wrapped up in getting the dinghy up on the davits.  So with Jeff at the helm,  I pulled the anchor and were successfully motoring. Unfortunately, as much as success comes in 3’s so does disaster. About the time we thought the dinghy was safely stowed, something came loose as we began to motor and the whole thing tipped caddy-wampus and we came close to ripping our only transportation from ship to shore apart. Well…..maybe not that dramatic, but close.

We did manage to re-tie and secure the dinghy to the davits, pull the anchor from the depths, find a place for all the new gear, and were able to head off for our anchorage that afternoon with sails up!!!!!! It was glorious. We finally had a heading in which we also had a favorable wind to the starboard giving us a great beam reach. We celebrated having friends aboard and headed for Manjack Cay. We had heard the snorkeling spearfishing was pretty good there.

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Sails Up!

We ended the day with a great meal aboard, beautiful sunset, and belted out Purple Rain in memory of Prince that evening.

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Lost Loon anchored in Manjack Cay
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Beach Walk

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Perfect setting sun