Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Back To The Beautiful Bahamas

10th –16th February  2014

The day had started just the same as any other when there was a short passage involved. Wanting to arrive before dark we were up early  and on the move. Ahead of us lay the gulf stream and 50 miles of ocean separating  Miami from Bimini in the Bahamas. It was bright  and sunny with a just a zephyr of breeze, not enough to hoist the sails. Looked like we’d be motoring until the breeze came up later in the day.

About 20 miles out things started going pear shaped. Our depth sounder was the first fatality. Instead of giving a readout of numbers it showed only grey dashes. Not good when you are headed to the land of shallow water and reefs. This was followed closely by our log / speed readout pulling a similar stunt. More grey dashes of death. What the heck was going on? And not to be left out, our navigation program on the computer also jumped on the bandwagon. It had decided that one of us had fallen off the boat and put itself into the man overboard mode and frozen. I swear I could hear the voice of the computer from the movie Space Odyssey saying “don’t touch that, what are you doing?” every time my fingers reached out toward the keyboard to try to rectify the problem. Oh, and did I mention that our Raymarine plotter also decided to play dead! Had a black cat crossed our path, had we walked under a ladder or smashed a mirror? Was it Friday the 13th or had the CIA somehow beamed us up and dropped us down into the Bermuda Triangle? Ok so what to do. The only logical thing was to turn around and head back to the ponderosa. Or at least to somewhere we could get a phone signal and call a technician. Reluctantly that’s what we did.


By 2pm we were back on the anchor in No Name Bay, yes that’s actually it’s name, but in truth it should have been called noseeum bay, as we were attacked with vengeance by these invisible creatures come sunset. On the way back just as weirdly as the mornings events had unfolded the depth sounder and plotter sprang back to life. The tech guy offered no solutions as to what might have caused the problems and we were bereft of ideas other than that some strange electrical spike had happened. .


Next morning we headed out again, take two. The seas were flatter this time and the breeze a little stronger so up went the sails and we clipped along nicely under main and jib.  Around noon the wind had come around onto the nose and we fired up the motor, time to put the sails to bed. The jib furled up nicely but as we dropped the main the outer core of the halyard shredded, jamming the main  2/3 of the way down.


Liam hates going up the mast even when the boat is as still as a millpond and he really hates going up when we are at sea. But today there was no option, the only way to get that sucker down was to cut the halyard and that couldn’t be done standing on the deck.

With a plan in mind up he went and attached a second halyard to the headboard, cut the main halyard free and we lowed the sail back down to the boom. Just as well we’d bought that new halyard while we’d been in Fort Lauderdale!

The upside of the day was that we caught a good size Mahi Mahi. The first catch of the season, way to go.


By 5.30 pm we had arrived in Bimini and had the anchor down. It was great to be back in the Bahamas again. With a not so great forecast coming up we knew we’d be in the anchorage for a couple of days. After completing our entry formalities and parting with US$300 we were officially allowed to go where we pleased for the next 180 days.

The first place we hit was the beach. We’d forgotten how fabulous  the water colour is over here. There just aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. We were mesmerized and could have stayed there for hours but there was a major job waiting for us back on the boat .

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Most of the afternoon was taken up with Liam up the mast installing our new main halyard, which for some unknown reason happened without a hitch. By late arvo a line of squalls marched across the the sky and the rain and wind hit hard. Our anchor was dug in solidly and we felt very snug.

The heavy weather continued through the evening and night and at 1am something woke us, maybe it was just a feeling but we leapt out of bed and up to the cockpit. Horizontal driving rain and howling wind greeted us and not a foot away  was a neighbouring trawler which was bearing down on our port side. It had dragged anchor and the captain was standing in his cockpit looking like a deer in the headlights. He must have knew that he was going to hit us as he had already tied his dinghy to our bow . We quickly put out our fenders and suggested that to save any more grief he should side-tie to us until morning.

Including GWTW there were four boats in the anchorage. The other three all dragged their anchors. In the light of day the damage to our port bow was minimal, but it still would need repairing. Sadly, the couple involved in the incident offered no compensation for the damage and left the anchorage without even saying goodbye.

Once the weather settled down, we headed out over the Bahama banks to Chubb Cay, a run of 70 miles, The banks on average are around 12 ft deep and that , even for us, takes a bit of getting used to. On a clear day the aqua blue water seems to stretch out to eternity. The water is so clear that you can see starfish and turtles glide by under the boat. It is simply awesome. Being so shallow there is no fishing to be had so we busied ourselves with other projects. Yours truly did the washing while Liam started on creating a fish trap.

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We made it to Chubb in time to watch the sun set and a beautiful full moon rise. It was Valentine’s day so we decided that dinner ashore might be nice. Bad decision, the food was terrible, we should have stayed home.


Athol Island near Nassau, a distance of 40 miles, was our next stop. In very lively conditions we left Chubb Cay under jib alone. Along the way we landed another two good sized Mahi Mahi. No prizes for guessing what was for dinner. From Athol another 30 miles east took us to Ship Channel Cay, a place we’d been told by friends that there has an abundance of lobsters just begging to be caught. An afternoon of hunting delivered no booty, bugger!

We were now in the Exuma chain of islands and we would be gunkholing all the way down to Georgetown. In our opinion the Exumas are the prettiest place in the Bahamas. Internet is hard to come by in these parts, so  my  next blog posting might be a few days away.  So stay tuned.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Fort Lauderdale to Miami.

23rd Jan – 10th Feb 2014

With a  forecast of a nice gentle north easter,  we set off for the 25 mile sail down to Biscayne Bay and the glitzy lights of Miami. Finally we felt like our cruising season had begun. A warm breeze, flat seas and bright sunny skies brought a smile to our dials all the way down. We even partook in a celebratory beverage up on the bow as GWTW sailed herself merrily along.


Arriving late afternoon we stopped at Key Biscayne for the night, next morning we checked out the National Park end of the island. There were a couple of  trails to follow along  the waterfront  leading to an old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters.

From what we could see there was only a sole occupant, a very laid back iguana sunning himself on the keeper’s roof.

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A little way off shore in the middle of the bay  we could see  some wooden structures which looked very similar to the large fish traps that we’d seen when sailing through Indonesia back in 2006. We were puzzled as to what they were.True to form the National Parks Service can always be relied upon to fill in the gaps with informative signage as to what the structures actually were. Stiltsville, as it was called ,got it’s start in the 1930’s when  a guy named ‘Crawfish’ Eddie set up a bait shop in the middle of the bay. The area takes it’s name from the seven houses built on stilts above the water. By the 1950’s and 60’s, it was a popular gathering place for fisherman, boaters,club goers and well known citizens of the area. The homes have long since been abandoned and are now part of the Key Biscayne national park.

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Friends Donnie and Judy, who we’d met in Deltaville back in 2011, had their boat in the Dinner Key Marina. We had quite a few days catching up with them during the 3 weeks that we spent in Miami, including a really fun night at a local sports bar watching the Superbowl, the grand finale of American gridiron football. It’s a huge event in the States, and the atmosphere in the bar was terrific. We especially loved the national anthem and it was pretty neat seeing the locals upstanding with hands on hearts. The Yanks are seriously patriotic and we love it. For the record, Seattle smacked the Denver Broncos, big time.

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The World Cup sailing regatta happened to be on while we were there with over 550 competitors in various classes, and a number of Aussies competing as well. As the yachts slipped by us each morning heading out to race, the Aussie contingent would give us a friendly wave while we shouted encouragement and waved the Aussie flag. Naturally, the Boxing Kangaroo flag was also flying proudly. Team Australia performed well overall, scoring a number of wins in what turned out to be a very light-wind regatta.

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Miami was also an excellent place for shopping and Donnie,it’s actually Judy’s car, very kindly lent us their car, a  very flash SL550 Mercedes. It was a stunning set of wheels. Jet black, retractable roof, bucket loads of power and it made for a really cool shopping trolley! It was the perfect pose machine for these parts, and we certainly made the most of it.

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After lots of visits to the various shopping outlets we managed to fill most of the nooks, crannies, fridges and freezers onboard, provisions to last us the best part of 3 months we figured. With Cuba and parts of the western Caribbean on our radar, we knew that getting many basic items there would prove a major challenge.


Finally the day to depart came around and after some hugs and kisses and goodbyes to friends, GWTW weighed anchor, next destination Bimini in the Bahamas.









West Palm Beach to  Fort Lauderdale Florida.

1st - 23rd January 2014.


With the new year’s celebrations done and dusted now it was a case of sit and wait until all the marine business reopened after the holiday break. After many phone calls, taxi rides and bus trips, Liam found a guy who could make up a replacement hose for the hydraulic steering system, it wasn’t something that you could just rock in and buy off the shelf. Ably assisted by Terry from Cristata and Peter from The Southern Cross, Liam and the boys had the new system installed and up and running within a few days. At last we could move off the dock and go out to anchor once more.

We’d had a few 2am revelers  jump on board while we’d been tied to the dock. They were out for a good time and thought nothing of just hopping on to the transom and up the steps into our cockpit for a look around. I guarantee if our doors had not be closed they would have come right into the saloon. They got the a real shock when Liam jumped out of bed and asked what they wanted. 

After some last minute provisioning  were were all set to go. Fort Lauderdale and Miami beckoned and with the former being just 30 odd miles away we decided, as a novelty, to try the Intracoastal Waterway route and see how 90% of yachts  that travel the east coast live, so to speak. As our air draft, that’s the trendy term for mast height these days, is 76 ft off the water we always have to sail up and down the coast in the ocean. No nice calm waters or going from A to B regardless of the weather for this pair of brown ducks. Those pesky 65ft bridges strategically placed along the waterway take care of those ideas. That is except for this one short stretch where every bridge is an opening one.

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Nineteen bridges lay ahead of us between West Palm Beach and Ft Lauderdale and we knew that timing the bridges right meant that you could make the trip in a day. Our good intentions of a 7am start went by the wayside and a 10am departure seemed more realistic. By the time we got to the eleventh bridge the novelty of travelling along the ICW had worn off. It’s quite mentally intense watching the channel markers, the depth sounder and keeping the rev’s up to make the next bridge opening, and just to keep you on your toes the bridges aren’t all in sync. You miss one, as we did, and you are snookered. By late afternoon we decided to cut our losses for the day and anchored amongst the homes of the rich and famous at Lake Boca Raton. There certainly are some impressive mansions lining the waterfront in this neck of the woods.





Next morning we hit the road early and arrived at Lake Sylvia in Ft Lauderdale just after lunch. Friends from Good Trade had been anchored there for nearly 3 weeks and it was nice to catch up again. American friends Steve and Karyn from Thresold, whom we met years ago when we were in the Med, live on one of the canals not far from Lake Sylvia. They invited us over to their place for a BBQ one evening which was a lot of fun and helped us out on a few shopping trips including a couple to the mother of all chandleries, West Marine. Our mainsail halyard was starting to get a bit long in the tooth and West Marine happened to have one day sale on ropes while we were in town. Never one to miss a bargain, Liam was out there early ordering the length we needed before they sold out.

As an added  boost to the Florida economy, or more to the point West Marines’ bank balance, we also became the proud parents of an additional freezer. It now occupies the front bed in our starboard cabin and will come in mighty handy when we are cruising in remote areas this year and especially when it comes time to cross the Pacific. Just when we thought we’d spent enough dollars in the sunshine state, our Mase generator went on the blink. A couple of hours and a few hundred bucks later the mechanic had it fixed  and it was all good to go.Next stop Miami.


Monday, February 10, 2014

A Chilly Start to the Cruising Season

27th November – 31st December 2013

Arriving back to GWTW in late November was not the smartest decision we’ve ever made. North Carolina was in the grip of a very cold snap, actually most of the America was. A “polar vortex” was the word of choice by the TV weathermen. Unseasonal for this time of year, we kept being told. Temperatures at night plummeted to near freezing and daylight hours weren’t much better. We were just glad that we weren’t living on board while we got GWTW ready for the water. We’d had enough foresight while back in Sydney to book a car and a room at the Beaufort Harbor Suites for a week for when we arrived. It had all the luxuries that we needed. A bathtub and kitchen for yours truly and a widescreen TV with cable and wi-fi for his nibs. We can highly recommend this accommodation to anyone thinking of storing their boat at Jarrett Bay Boatworks, Beaufort NC. For more info contact us.

Now you never know what sort of gremlins you’re going to find when the boat has sat on the hardstand for a few months over hurricane season. To our  relief she was in excellent condition, no mould, no leaks, just a grubby cockpit and a recalcitrant clock that would only work once the sun had warmed up the saloon each day. With the icy temps, icy decks and rainy days, sometimes we didn’t go out to the boat at all. It was just way too cold to do anything on board without heating. After a few days of forced total inactivity we gave in and bought a small gas heater from Wal-Mart. Buddy, as we affectionately named our heater, saved our bacon. At last we were able to get on with the business of getting the boat ready for the water. The weather had put us way behind schedule and we had to revise our launch date several times, but the yard was very easy going and it wasn’t a problem.


Friends Mark and Amanda from Balvenie  arrived in town after sailing from the Chesapeake and were moored down at the Beaufort town docks, easy walking distance from where we were staying. Along with other Aussie friends from  Koza we got together to celebrate Mark’s birthday.That same night a mini tornado hit an area not far from town,  homes lost their roofs and cars were smashed by flying debris. We were all glad that neither GWTW, Balvenie or Koza were in its path. Thanksgiving also fell that week and Amanda and Mark joined us in our apartment for a turkey dinner complete with pumpkin pie.

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As the days marched on December 25th was rapidly creeping up on us. No one does Christmas quite like America and with only a few weeks to go until the man in the red suit arrived, homes, streets and towns started to take on the festive look. If it could be lit up it was.


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Eventually our launch day rocked around and with her new bottom paint, which now matches all the other green on the boat, GWTW splashed without a hitch. She looked a picture sporting her new colours.


A weather window had opened up for a two night sail down to Charleston South Carolina and we took the baton and ran with it. Anything further south had to be warmer than where we were.



Sailing down the coast we were in loose company with another Aussie cat who had also been at Jarrett Bay, The Southern Cross with Catherine and Peter aboard. It’s always comforting to know there is someone else out there when you are on a passage even if you can’t see them.


Arriving at Charleston we quickly realised that the temps there were not much warmer than where we’d come from, and with another cold front approaching we would be staying put for Christmas. While here we caught up with other sailing friends from the boat Tiger. Having swallowed the hook they are now land based and we spent a great afternoon BBQing at their house.


Before we new it Christmas day was upon us. It was a very low key affair for us this year. Suffering the lingering effects of the flu we were both feeling pretty flat, the furthest thing from festive you might say.  The temperature again plummeted down to low 40’s F (8C) and we didn’t even venture out into the cockpit on Christmas day. It was a far cry from our previous Christmas’ down in the Caribbean where the heat drove us into the water to cool off.

Boxing day was still incredibly cold but we needed to get somewhere warm, fast. A southerly front was forecast for south Florida in two days time and we wanted to be all tucked up and thawing out in West Palm Beach before it hit. The next two nights were a mixed bag of sailing and motoring. Clear skies meant for cold nights but we were rewarded with beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

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As the miles slipped away the temperature began creeping higher and on our last morning we stripped off the layers to t shirts and shorts. Yee Ha! Twenty miles north from WPB the southerly winds started to blow and the seas became rough and confused. A few big waves slammed into the port side of the boat and water flooded into the cockpit like a mini swimming pool. It was time to rev up the engines and get into port before things got really ugly. The inlet to WPB was the roughest we had ever seen it and we’ve been in there several times over the past years. We were over the moon once we got inside to the calm waters and it was WARM.

We called West Palm Beach home for the next two weeks and apart from catching up with more friends, yes we seem to have a lot sometimes, there were plenty of niggly boat chores to attend to. As usual, the City of WPB always has some event on while we are there. This time it was a mini marathon and a “boys and their toys” car show featuring mustangs, corvettes, Maserati's, etc. Probably a couple of million bucks worth of cars decorated the waterfront area that Sunday.




New years eve was the next major date on the calendar and GWTW by default had front row seats. Earlier that afternoon the Marine Police had called around and asked us to move the boat further down the river away from the fireworks barge that was being set up.

When we started to motor forward to raise the anchor, suddenly we had no steerage, no matter which way the helm was turned the boat did not respond. So down went the anchor again ‘till we sorted out the problem.


Puzzled, Liam opened our port lazerett only to discover that all the hydraulic fluid had leaked out of our steering lines.There was a big pink puddle staring up at him from the bottom of the locker. Further inspection showed that the steering line had chaffed right through, a design fault from when it had been installed back in 2004. We thanked our lucky stars that it hadn’t happened in the rough conditions entering the WPB inlet a few days earlier! That would have spelt certain disaster and we more than likely would have lost the boat on the rocks.

As it is the way in the cruising world, when you need help everyone will rally around to lend a hand. With the help of the team from Gem, Cristata and some friendly Americans we were dinghy-bunted onto the town dock where we stayed tied up for over a week until businesses opened up after the holidays and a new part could be sourced, made and installed.

As everyone knows misery loves company and the same goes for system failures on boats. After ten years of faithful service our cockpit fridge also decided to give up the ghost. A mere $2,000 later and we had a new one . I’m pretty sure you’d get a pretty gucci household fridge with all the bells and whistles for that amount, not just a compressor and plate that runs a boat fridge measuring 16 inches x 16 inches with not a  bell or whistle in sight. 2013 has been a hard year on our pockets, hardest one for a very long time.


Despite our woes we had a great New Year’s Eve.

Maryvonne and Shane from Gem and Catherine and Peter from The Southern Cross joined us for an early dinner on board GWTW before watching the stunning fireworks from our front row position.

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So that was how we ended 2013 and the plans for next year? Well  at the moment it’s head to Fort Lauderdale and Miami to catch up with more American cruising friends. Then over to the Bahamas, and onto some new and fascinating destinations, Cuba, Belize and the Yucatan peninsular in Mexico. After that, wherever the wind or the engines take us. Roll on 2014 !