Saturday, December 28, 2013

Florida to North Carolina 2013

19th June –31st July 2013



An overnight sail took us from our final anchorage in the Berry islands, Bahamas across the Gulf Stream and into West Palm Beach in Florida. It was a pretty uneventful sail with the wind coming from the ESE at 10 – 12 knots. Our fishing lines had been trolling behind us for hours without a single nibble and then, just on dusk, Liam landed a really good size Mahi Mahi. He was over the moon, but I sure don’t think that the poor fish was. After the usual tasks of dispatching, filleting and freezing our catch we were on our way again, not that we had slowed down at all during the whole process.


It was a darkish night with a couple of ships about and the odd thunder head, with lightening flashes on the not too distant horizon. Ships, but particularly storms, always keep us on our toes and as a precaution all our precious electronic gear was hastily put into either the microwave or the oven. Now you might think that’s a bit of a loopy thing to do, well actually it isn’t. In the case of a direct lightening strike, or even one that hits the water not too far away from the boat, the static electricity generated in the air will often “fry” modern gadgets that run on battery power. That includes cameras, phones, chargers, back up navigation and communication systems and spare computers. The theory is that the microwave will act as what is known as a “Faraday case”, and stop the destructive static electricity from coming into contact with the essential things we need for our everyday use living on a sailboat. Not ever having had to put the microwave oven theory to test, we religiously unplug it from the power point and cram it full of stuff, always keeping our fingers crossed when there are storms nearby.


West Palm Beach is one of our favourite places in Florida. Everything is in easy reach. The Publix supermarket is just a 10 minute stroll away and the free trolley bus stops right outside, making carting all those heavy groceries home to the boat a breeze. There is always something to keep us entertained, whether that be the Saturday morning farmers market in the park across from the anchorage, or Duffy’s sports bar to keep you-know-who up to date with all the football games. For me it’s the choice of well priced restaurants, good window shopping and the excellent Mandel public library.


We spent just over two weeks here and amongst other things caught up with friends Bob and Lorraine from S/V Scaramouche, and were lucky enough to have front row seats on the bow of GWTW for the spectacular 4th of July fireworks.




Our next stop along the coast was Fort Pierce just 40 miles up the road. We hadn’t stopped here before and were looking forward to visiting somewhere new. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of town as the weather was not that inviting to go exploring. Listening to the TV news that evening came something that we didn’t want to hear. Hurricane Chantal was heading our way and if she didn’t change direction was due to make landfall in Florida in a few days. Fearing the worst we made enquires at the local  boat yard as to whether they could haul us out at short notice if it came to that.  Luckily in the next 24hours Chantal turned right and headed back out to sea, much to our relief.

A very unexpected surprise  came when we tried to lift our anchor the morning of our departure. During our short stay we’d been anchored in very shallow water, 6.5ft, just outside the Harbourtown Marina. We were just about on the bulls eye where the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) meets the ocean inlet to Fort Pierce. As fast flowing currents rip through this area GWTW was rarely still, sailing around her anchor at each turn of the tide. The result was a massive tangled knot in our anchor chain which prevented us from getting the anchor back on board.



After launching our dinghy, Liam, with the aid of a fellow cruiser, had to disconnect our anchor from the chain while yours truly motored the boat in circles. Between them they man-handled the mother of all metal knots until all the twists were gone, and that’s not an easy thing to do. With the mess straightened out they reattached the anchor so that it could be stowed properly on the bow roller. So much for an early start to our next destination .






St Augustine was a mere 150 miles further up the coast which meant an overnight sail. Conditions were pretty good. There was no moon to light the way but a nice ESE breeze of around 12 knots gave us flattish seas and a comfortable ride. We arrived into St Augustine at sunset the following night as a huge storm was about to hit. Grabbing hold of one of the municipal marinas’ mooring balls the squally winds hit us and the bay became a total whiteout. We spent 3 days here, did a city tour and beached the boat to remove the plethora of barnacles that had taken up residency on our hulls. The three coats of Micron 66 antifoul we’d put on just six months earlier in Trinidad had proved to be totally useless.





Two more stops were on the cards before reaching Beaufort Nth Carolina. One was a day sail of 70 miles to the St Mary’s inlet where once inside the wide river entrance, we pulled off to the side for the night.For company we had a fishing trawler that followed us in through the inlet. No doubt he was glad to be out of the rough conditions as we were.


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From there it was a walk in the park to cover the 25 miles to St Simon’s Island, which sits a few miles short of the township of Brunswick in Georgia. Anchoring in a backwater off the Golden Shores Marina again we were  affected by rushing tidal currents. It seems to be the way wherever big rivers merge with inland creeks, marshlands and the ICW and once again we had anchor problems, but this time of a different type. We were fine for the first two days, leaving the boat during the day and walking to the supermarket and into town for a spot of lunch and a little sightseeing.


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Then on the third day we somehow snagged something on the bottom, a submerged object that our chain wrapped around so many times it eventually pulled the anchor out. We dragged a couple of boat lengths and then it reset itself. This had a bad feel about it and either way we couldn’t stay where we were. Trying to raise the anchor was fruitless, we were stuck fast on whatever lurked on the muddy bottom. Liam donned his scuba gear to investigate but the current was so strong he couldn’t even swim to the front of the boat. After waiting for slack tide, which seemed to take an eternity, he felt his way down through the murky waters doing everything by brail till he literally bumped into the problem, some sort of derelict pole. We toyed with the idea of marking where the anchor was with a buoy and dumping the whole 300 ft of chain overboard, but after much discussion and on his second attempt he managed to free us. With shattered nerves and an afternoon storm fast approaching we did the smart thing and went into the marina for the night. As we were leaving for a two night sail the next morning we sure didn’t want the same thing to happen again. It was a good move accompanied by a good night’s sleep.



The following two nights at sea gave us a mixed bag of sailing conditions and weather. We went from flat gentle seas to choppy and rough to big following seas of 6-8ft in height. The moon was full so we could see the direction of the waves and there were plenty of squalls all around us. As much as we are pretty used to it the odd thump of flying fish landing on the decks and in the cockpit, it still gives us a fright, and there were plenty of thumps. At 0400 on the second night or rather morning we hit speeds of 15+ knots. With only 50 miles to go we were both looking forward to getting into the protected anchorage of Cape Lookout. We have stopped here a few times before and knew that it was a lovely spot to spend a few days. Just a few hours later we dropped the pick in the calm horseshoe shaped bay. This would be where we’d start decommissioning GWTW for the season. It was also our last anchorage until we’d return four months later.





We spent five lovely days anchored at Cape Lookout, doing chores, swimming and walking the long beaches. Eventually it was time to leave and head inland up the ICW to Jarrett Bay Boatworks where GWTW would be hauled out for the remainder of the hurricane season. After having two days on the dock at Jarrett Bay tidying up some loose ends, haulout day was upon us. Lifting GWTW went well. The yard and travellift operators were very careful with our home and very professional. The hardstand area was huge and there were at least ten other cats around our size already in the yard. 




We spent our last night on board and next morning, after the usual last minute rush, said goodbye to our girl and headed to the New Bern airport. The big silver bird would deposit us in  Portland Oregon where we’d catch up with long time cruising friends Bob and Becky who we sailed in company with since leaving Australia in 2006. 


Friday, December 27, 2013

Bahamas : Georgetown to the Berry Islands.

4th –18th June 2013

Ahh Georgetown, the memories of a fun filled two weeks during the 2012 cruising regatta came flooding back. At that time over 200 yachts were anchored off Lee Stocking Island just across the bay from the metropolis of George Town, and this is where the funky beach bar, the Chat ‘n Chill, was the centre of the universe. Maybe we’d hyped it up too much to Ross. This was to be his last night with us before flying out to Pennsylvania and we were really hoping to show him a good time. Being the end of the cruising season, there was now only a handful of boats anchored  off the beach and we were worried that the place might have shut down. Either way we piled into the dinghy to investigate further.



A short stroll down the beach brought us to the Conch Shack, the best place in the Exuma Islands to eat conch salad. It was close to 4pm and it was still open. We’d got lucky. A good looking young man with a great tan was in charge of the kitchen, actually he ran the whole place albeit it’s pretty much just an outdoor bench with a roof, a pile of conch out the front and a couple of picnic tables, but  man does he know how to make a mean salad or what!. The boys watched attentively while he removed and cleaned the conch at lightening speed. Then he made us three bowls of delicious conch salad while Ross fed one of the local stingrays some conch scraps.


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With the threat of rain we decided to hang out in front of the Cat ‘n Chill bar in case we needed to make a hasty retreat to cover, which in the end we had to, but not before Ross got to have one last rum punch in paradise. Next morning, after nine weeks on board, we said farewell to our friend and crazed fisherman Ross, he’d had a ball since he’d got on back in the BVI’s, well at least that’s what we think.


Above are some cute park benches that we spotted in George Town the morning we dropped Ross off and by 10am we were all provisioned up and  ready to head out for the 35 mile sail east to Conception Island. Having heard the merits of this national park island it was added to our must see list. Two reefs in our mainsail and a full jib along with a romping 15 knot SE wind had us anchoring in solid sand beneath 15ft of clear water at Conception by mid afternoon. The anchorage was very beautiful and the following day we explored the mangrove lagoons by dingy and walked some of the beaches on both sides of the island. A spot of offshore reef snorkeling in pursuit of our favourite dinner ingredient proved hopless. Whatever had been there for the taking was now is someone else’s tummy.

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Our next destination was to be Cat Island, we were making very good time with a good ESE wind pushing us along and sitting on boat speeds of 10-11kts. By early afternoon our plans had turned to custard, as they often do. The wind was now fairly solid out of the east effectively wiping our plans for Cat Island off the board. As we were only 35miles from Little San Salvador, that got the guernsey.

It was a good call as Half Moon Bay was another excellent choice. The island was bought by the Holland America cruise line a few years back but they seem to have no problem with visiting yachts stopping there, providing they keep out of the way of both the ship and their guests relaxing on the beach. We timed it to perfection, arriving just after 4pm when the ship was leaving . For the rest of the evening and the following day we had this beautiful place all to ourselves.

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By now it was the 10th of June, ten days into the hurricane season. Most cruising boats had hightailed it either north or south of their insurance companies no-go zone areas by now. We still had a ways to go till we got to ours’ up in North Carolina.The weather was starting to change and we kept a watchful eye on anything that resembled something nasty heading our way.

Leaving Little San Salvador we planned on having a night at either Musha Cay or O’Brien’s Cay in the Exuma Chain, but that turned out to be a no go as the wind gods had other ideas. So we changed our plans and headed to Hawksbill Cay instead. Uh uh, that didn’t work either. Ok how about Allens cay?  We’d stopped here a couple of years earlier but this time there were a few boats already staked out in the prime positions. We snooped around  for a while but couldn't  find a big enough spot to give us the protection we wanted for the coming blow that was forecast. As a last resort back  we went to Highbourne Cay. So after a day of chasing anchorages we found a snug spot in the north bay of Highbourne tucked in under a high hill. Perfect.

The water was lovely and flat, not a ripple, a great spot to sit out the strong easterlies predicted for the following day.

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Feeling the need to stretch our legs a walk to the small marina was in order the next day. Highbourne cay is a private resort island with about a dozen high end villas for rent. The staff are all friendly and most guests get around by golf cart or on courtesy push bikes. There is a small general store, a restaurant and a book swap at the marina. That pretty much sums up the place.We got a lift in a buggy from one of the staff on the way to the marina but decided to take the long route and walk home after our little excursion. It was a tad hot but nothing a quick swim back at the boat didn’t fix.

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From Highbourne  we turned north west crossing what is known as the yellow banks before arriving at the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau. Aussie friends on the cat “Remi De” had just spent a week there visiting the theme park Atlantis, and we’d arranged to meet up with them at Green Cay, a couple of miles east of the town.




Having stopped at the cay on a previous trip north we new the area quite well. It is a real gem, a little castaway type island with clear aqua waters and loads of fish life on the many nearby reefs.

Needless to say the next two days were full-on water sport days for all of us. With the weather being warm and sunny, the visibility for diving and snorkeling was about as good as you could get. The lobsters weren’t bad either! We could even pick up wi fi from the Sandy Toes beach bar just across the bay. There was of course a fee, $10 for 24hrs. Not a bad price for the Bahamas really. From Green Cay our little convoy of cats motored back over to Nassau, and as Bruce and Toni still had a day pass for Atlantis, the five of us went in for an early dinner and a look around. It truly was an awesome place, especially if you are into the water park side of things.There are six different themed water slide parks, eleven huge swimming pools, five beaches, and  thirty one restaurants / eateries. Then of course  there are the casinos, nightclubs, theatres, shops, tennis courts, monster aquariums, the marina full of super yachts and the list goes on. The theme parks on Australia’s Gold Coast have nothing on this place. Put it on your bucket list.



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Saying goodbye to cruising friends is always hard, as who knows when we’ll meet up again, but it was time for us to keep moving. The Berry Islands were the next stop. White Cay was our anchorage for the night and with flat water and an easterly breeze of 12 knots we arrived just before 2pm. There were a couple of other boats in the anchorage and one fellow invited us along with the other boats for a beach fire at 9pm. We politely declined his offer as  we were anchored quite a way from the beach and it would be a bit too late for us to be venturing out on a black night in a strange anchorage. Watching the sunset and early to bed seemed a way better idea. Next morning we set out for Great Stirrup Cay in the north west of the Berry’s. It is a popular  last day stop on the cruise ship itinerarys’  and one of the Norwegian  cruise companies had  well and truly set up camp for their guests. As we rounded the point a giant waterslide, a tropical beach complete with deck chairs, palm trees and plenty of parasailing boats and jet skies came into view.



Apart from their little pretend piece of paradise there was nothing else there, and come 4pm the ship’s horn sounded and within half an hour the floating hotel had disappeared over the horizon. Once again this part of the Bahamas returned to the tranquil place that we cruisers love. Great Stirrup Cay was our last anchorage in the Bahamas, tomorrow we would be crossing the gulf stream bound for Florida once again.