Last Thursday was a very big day. After an incredible 7 months of living aboard our Gemini catamaran, we tied Mavis to a dock and left her there. We unloaded the tons of things we had packed aboard for our trip down the coast and over to the Bahamas and then… Just like that… We went home! We slept in a real bed and we took real showers. Cindy did loads of laundry and didn’t even need any quarters! I sat at my desk, flanked by huge monitors and enjoyed being able to start the process of getting caught up on things. Freed from the responsibilities of being the captain, I found myself able to concentrate and get business and technology tasks done much more effectively than I could on board.
We got to see our family and friends! While we maintained contact electronically with our loved ones, there’s just no substitute for being in the same place with your people. We still have people to catch up with and I’m looking forward to it.
Before we left, I knew this trip would change us. Any time you take yourself out of your comfort zone and live life in radically different ways, you can expect your thoughts, opinions and perspectives to change. We learned a great deal about ourselves as individuals and as a couple, as parents, as entrepreneurs and as adventurers.
We learned that we love cruising but that life on board isn’t always easy. It’s not all sunsets and rainbows out there. But an adventure without challenges and some adversity isn’t much of an adventure, now, is it? Being out on a boat and vulnerable and exposed to the wrath of nature is also really humbling. And being a tiny ship on the ocean surrounded by absolutely nothing and no one really drives home how insignificant we are.
After leaving Annapolis, MD where we had spent a few days, we sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and into the C&D Canal where we stopped for the night in Chesapeake City. The next morning at 4:30am we were underway to finish transiting the canal and to sail down the Delaware Bay to Cape May. We spend the night in Cape May and left thinking we would try to make it all the way home despite a forecast of seas building to 6 to 8 feet. Once the seas started getting to around 5 feet, things got uncomfortable enough for us to consider plan B. We ducked into the notorious Barnegat Inlet fighting breaking waves and the full strength of the ebb tide. Once inside, we dropped the anchor and departed the next afternoon for an overnight sail to Fire Island Inlet. We arrived, right on time at the FI Sea Buoy and waited about 20 minutes for enough light to safely transit the newly dredged inlet. And just like that we were home and sailing under the Robert Moses Bridge, passing the Fire Island Lighthouse and Atlantique. Willow seemed to recognize her “home beach” as we sailed by.
It’s nice to be dirt-dwellers again! Here on land everything is incredibly easy, convenient and safe. I don’t have to worry about the weather and where we will be and there’s no chance that we will “drag our anchor” and return from the store to find our house not there!
I’m really enjoying sleeping late instead up being up and underway before dawn each day or sailing around the clock. It’s also nice to be in the same place for a while. On our trip down and then again on the return, it would sometimes be difficult for us to remember where we spent the night before. It’s hard to explain the strange feeling of having to look at a chart to try and remember where “home” was just 24 hours ago. It seemed sometimes like no sooner would we remember and laugh about it before we were untying the lines or hoisting the anchor to sail on.
I’m much cleaner since being back home! I turn on the faucet and an unlimited supply of water comes out. The water that comes out of the tap is clean, clear and even drinkable! And with the flip of a lever that water gets instantly hot. Instead of taking 5 minute, 5 gallon shower every few days, I stand in the stream of hot water from multiple shower heads for 20 minutes, wasting over 100 gallons of water in the process. But I do this completely aware of how incredibly fortunate we are and how even the lower middle class in this country live like royalty. We carry only 60 gallons of fresh water in our tanks aboard Mavis… And here, in one shower I would have depleted it all. Yesterday, I took two of these ridiculous showers. I flush the toilets without any regard for pump-outs or being at least three miles offshore. I’m not concerned about running out of electricity. Everything we need is a convenient car ride away. When out cruising, if there was a supermarket within a few miles of where we docked, we considered ourselves lucky and got walking!
I think we learned a great deal about living off the grid and being self-sufficient on this trip. We also learned valuable lessons about what we “need”… and what we don’t — both for life in general, and specifically for a cruise like this one… (we brought too much on board and we have too much in general.)
We travelled comfortably on board for over 3,000 miles and Mavis safely carried us over oceans, bays, gulfs, seas, sounds and lagoons. She took us up and down rivers, canals, creeks and cuts through swamps and in and out of lots of inlets. And now, after all that travelling she’s just sitting here tied up at the marina and ready to go on her next big adventure. Her hulls are dirty and stained with the brown ICW mustache we had to scrub off in Florida. She’s overdue for a waxing and It’s been a while since her decks were properly scrubbed down. Her sails could use a washing as well. That mustache is a badge of honor and it will stay until it’s warm enough to get in the water and scrub it off…
The last seven months on board have changed us forever in ways we may not even fully understand. I’ve developed confidence in my seamanship for sure. But I also feel better prepared to to take on challenges of all kinds.
We have met interesting and amazing people and made many new friends. We’ve become close with with people of all ages, from all walks of life and from all over the world. We’ve been influenced by the local cultures of small towns, little cities, and the out-islands of the Bahamas.
We’ve discovered new ways to overcome the challenges of operating our business on the go. We’ve also experienced just taste of what real freedom can be like and we want more. We are determined to design an extraordinary life.
We’ve grown closer as a couple and as a team. Living and working together in a 476 square feet for months at a time can stress any relationship but we made it work wonderfully.
I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for the sheer size of the eastern seaboard of the United States. A trip down I-95 at upwards of 70mph doesn’t let you experience the incredible diversity of culture and life along the coast.
But I think most importantly, we’ve confirmed our conviction that anything you can dream you can have, be and do. I wanted to have a cruising catamaran. I wanted to be a captain. I wanted to go on a grand sailing adventure. Mission accomplished. Our next adventure is already starting to take shape in my mind.
Thanks to everyone for following along. There were some challenging times when the words of encouragement we got from our friends and supporters really helped get us through.
Gemini 105mc #816
When I last updated the blog, we were in Georgetown, SC after another overnight offshore passage from Hilton Head. Since that post a little over two weeks ago we have covered about 550 nautical miles and finished the official Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway! We spent two nights in historic Georgetown waiting for weather. When we are in port and not sailing we try to take Willow for lots of long walks to make up for all of the time she’s spending stuck on board while we are underway. We explored the quaint little town. Georgetown harbor is an interesting scene. There are a few marinas and some boats anchored out in the harbor. We noticed many derelict boats and a few clusters of them where three boats were all tied together and anchored as one. We later learned that some of the local liveaboards have taken to rafting up several derelict vessels and making themselves more comfortable… It’s like adding on to your house. I completely understand the desire to live a life free of property taxes, rent, mortgage, power and gas bills, etc… But honestly, many of these people are essentially hobos in floating shanties. After seeing so much of this in various spots up and down the coast, I understand now why the term “liveaboard” has negative connotations.
Georgetown has a really interesting southern charm and we enjoyed our stay there but when it was time to move on we departed, as usual, just before sunrise. The plan was to motor up the ICW for a full day and anchor on the Calabash River just south of the North Carolina border but when we arrived at our planned anchorage we discovered that things were not as charted. Where I expected to find 8′ of water and lots of room to swing on the anchor, we discovered a sand bar… And where there actually was water deep enough for us to anchor in, we discovered that this was where the channel had been re-routed. Anchoring in a channel is a no-no and we saw lots of larger commercial fishing boats coming through there so we decided to press on into North Carolina where we found an awesome restaurant at Shallotte’s Inlet called the Inlet View Bar and Grill. This place had good food and excellent dockage. After filling our bellies we turned in for the night and were underway again the next morning at first light.
On our way south we had stopped in the Topsail, NC area at a place called the Harbour Village Marina. There, while walking Willow we met Penny who was out walking her dogs. Penny is a warm and funny woman from New Jersey and we quickly hit it off. The next day we had dinner with her and her husband Ken who turned out to be every bit as awesome as Penny was… We had planned to visit them on our way back North but didn’t realize we would be in their area so soon. By pushing into NC the day before it put us in perfect position to stop there for the night. We quickly got a hold of Penny and made plans to get dinner together that night… We had planned on going out with them but Penny instead prepared an amazing meal. You could taste the love in every bite. We enjoyed the company of our friends and talked about all sorts of things over dinner and drinks before it was time to say goodbye again. Penny and Ken are very cool people and we’re so glad to have met them.
After leaving Harbour Village, we continued motoring northbound on the ICW. Some foul weather was coming in and we wanted to make it to Morehead City, NC where we would get a slip. As the sun began to rise I realized there was quite a bit of patchy fog around… At times we found ourselves in less than 1/8 of a mile visibility. Even in the narrow channel of the ICW I could not see the shoreline much of the morning. For hours I would follow the course I had plotted on the GPS and strain my eyes looking forward until a navigational aid would appear out of the fog. No sooner would we pass it until I’d start looking for the next. This went on for hours until finally, the fog lifted and we had glorious sunshine… For about an hour. As the Southeast winds picked up, the fog started rolling in from the ocean. For the rest of the day we motored in this soup. We were in the middle of Bogue Sound and the winds were whipping up a steep chop. There was noplace safe to anchor and very bad weather was coming so we motored on. At one point I began hearing a large droning sound off our port quarter… Soon a US Army Landing craft appeared out of the fog and slowly overtook us. About an hour later another landing craft did the same. When we made it safely to Morehead City, I radioed the Morehead City Yacht Basin where we had a slip reserved. I was told to dock on their face dock behind the landing craft. It was nice to be tied to the dock again.
We had planned on two nights in Morehead City but decided to take off the next morning despite some pretty high winds in the forecast for the afternoon. The run from Morehead City up to Oriental was mostly in protected waters and only about 25 miles. In a few hours we found ourselves back in Oriental, NC where we had broken down on our trip south and spent three stressful weeks having our new engine installed. It was nice to be back in this friendly town that was familiar to us… And to Willow. While out for one of our long walks she started pulling and I realized she wanted to go to the beach she had enjoyed swimming at in the fall. It’s amazing what she seems to remember.
After two nights in Oriental I was pleased that Mavis roared to life when I turned the key. We left without any drama and sailed to Bellhaven, NC where again, we had planned on spending two nights due to weather. The next morning was every bit as windy and disgusting as it was forecast to be with a small craft advisory and a gale warning already issued… But we really wanted to keep moving. We had such great momentum established and I was very much looking forward to being done with the ICW and getting into the Chesapeake Bay. We decided to make a run for it despite the challenging weather. As soon as we pulled away from the dock in Bellhaven I wondered if I had made a mistake. Getting the boat to turn into the wind required almost full throttle and For the first hour or so of our run for the day we were headed directly South into a 30 knot wind. Very steep chop had formed on the Pungo River and the waves were smashing into our hulls and sometimes washing right over them. The windshield was covered in spray and the ride was pretty unpleasant but once we reached the canal things smoothed out completely. The Alligator River/Pungo Canal runs mostly East/West and the trees on the bank protected us from the winds. For a few hours we motored through the glassy canal oblivious to what was going on on open water… But as soon as we exited the canal into the lower Alligator River we again found ourselves in very steep chop and uncomfortable conditions. Fortunately the wind and seas were behind us now so we opened up our headsail just a bit and turned off the engine. We surfed at 7 knots northbound for hours on the brown waves of the Alligator River… They literally looked like chocolate milk. We needed to go through a swing bridge that would not open if winds were 35 knots or more. I had seen 38 knots in the lower river and I was very relieved when the tender opened the bridge for us. We immediately turned left to make our way into the Alligator River Marina. Now, with the winds and steep waves off our port side, Mavis’ bow was swinging wildly back and forth as I struggled to keep her lined up to enter the narrow inlet for the marina. The waves were about 3′ and very steep and as each one passed underneath us our bow would move 30 to 40 degrees back and forth. After our 5 minute approach I was exhausted from turning the wheel back and forth so many times… There were very daunting looking rock piles on either side of the entrance and I was relieved when we passed through them and found calm waters and protection from the winds inside the marina’s basin. After taking showers and enjoying a dinner of the marina’s famous fried chicken we were finishing up a glass of wine and about to turn in for the night when we heard the drone of very large engines and saw spotlights darting around the marina… Two US Army landing craft had entered the marina. One pulled in alongside us and amazingly shoehorned itself in between us and the boat behind us on the face dock. After the excitement of the Army invasion, we turned in for the night and found them gone when I got up at 5 to ready the boat for departure..
From the Alligator River marina it was only about 35 miles across the Albermarle Sound to Coinjock, NC. The Coinjock Marina is famous for it’s 12o0 foot dock which runs along the ICW and for it’s prime rib dinner. We didn’t stop in Coinjock on our way south because we had taken the alternate route through the Great Dismal Swamp. After getting set up on the dock, we took Willow for a walk. She got to play with one of the marina’s dogs… A young retriever. Both dogs had a ball chasing sticks and running around like crazy. For dinner, we hit the restaurant. The Captain’s Cut Prime Rib lived up to the hype.
The next morning… At dawn (of course) we departed Coinjock and sailed into busy Norfolk. We had to deal with several drawbridges and a canal lock but soon we were in Norfolk, passing lots of Navy ships, cargo ships, tugboats pushing barges and all sorts of other commercial traffic. Norfolk marks Mile 0 of the ICW and it felt good knowing we had conquered the ICW but it was not time to rest on our laurels just yet. We still had about 400 nautical miles ahead of us… The entire Chesapeake Bay, the C&D Canal, the infamous Delaware Bay and a 130 mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean before we would be back in the Great South Bay.
I had initially planned on sailing from Norfolk to Deltaville, VA which would have been a full day of travel but once out on the bay and underway I decided it would be better to continue overnight up the bay and go straight to Annapolis. Doing it this way, it would save us about 2 days. There are lots of ships transiting the bay overnight. We encountered several tankers, 4 container ships and a few passenger ships. The bay was choppy and the winds were strong but would change direction every few hours. I motored about half the time on this overnight but sailed whenever I could. Instead of stopping in Deltaville, Solomons and then Annapolis we arrived in Annapolis about an hour after sunrise and picked up a mooring ball about 400 feet away from the Naval Academy. We really love this city. It’s got history and charm and it’s a real sailing town. Tonight will be our third night here. The weather isn’t cooperating and it’s frustrating me. We are so close to home but are presently under a tornado watch and gale warnings… And it’s raining. Tomorrow isn’t expected to be great but there’s a chance we can finish up the Chesapeake and make it to the C&D Canal where we can anchor in Chesapeake City for the night… If not we will stay one more night here.
I’ve learned that while we were gone the Fire Island Inlet was dredged. They just finished and the Army Corps of Engineers completed their survey but the Coast Guard has not yet put the buoys that mark the inlet back in place. This inlet is tricky and I wouldn’t think of approaching it from sea without the buoys on station. I called the Coast Guard and they advised me that they need a day or two of good weather to get them put back in. I am hoping this happens in the next few days. If they’re not back in place before we leave Cape May, NJ we will have no choice but to sail 40nm further east on the ocean and enter the Shinecock Inlet. From there, we will have to travel back West 30 miles in a shallow channel that will require several drawbridge openings. Fingers crossed.
That’s it for now. Sorry for the long update. I’ve been busy keeping the boat moving. We are a few days away from home. We just need good weather and hopefully some buoys in the Fire Island inlet and we’ll be wrapping this cruise up. We’re looking forward to being home but I think it’s gonna take us a while to get accustomed to being dirt-dwellers again.
I’m sitting here alone in the cockpit on yet another long offshore overnight sail. As planned, we’ve been avoiding lots of the Intracoastal Waterway and are doing much more offshore sailing than we did on the trip south. In fact, we have taken a good chunk out of the return voyage to Long Island already. As of this moment, we have sailed about 2200 nautical miles since leaving Long Island at the end of September.
Cindy and Willow went to bed hours ago so it’s just me and Mavis now. The winds are too light to move us along at an acceptable speed so we have been motoring since leaving Hilton Head some 14 hours ago. The mainsail is up but isn’t doing much. It’s dark. Very dark. There’s no moon and we are many miles out off the coast out of sight of land. I can see the sky is light in the area of Charleston but can’t see the shoreline. The light of the electronics and instruments cast a red glow throughout the cockpit and our navigation lights project a tiny pool of light around Mavis’ hull but other than this it’s complete darkness except for the sky which is full of stars.
I’m wishing I was able to see better right now because I just received a report that a container ship lost 16 shipping containers off it’s decks near here last week. Some of them have been found floating just below the waterline. Hitting one of those could easily hole us. I keep thinking about Robert Redford in “All is Lost.” and don’t want to end up that way. I’m keeping watch but I’m really only looking for other boats. The chances of us encountering one of those loose shipping containers is fortunately very small. There’s a whole lot of ocean surrounding our tiny little boat.
A never ending parade of small waves roll by, gently rocking us. The conditions out here are really very calm with seas of about 2 feet. It’s like a calm day on the Great South Bay. In fact, I sort of keep forgetting I’m not in protected waters. The droning sound of the engine is remarkably hypnotizing and relaxing. I’ve pulled the throttle back to 1800 RPM and we are slowly putting along at around 5 knots. Any faster and we’ll arrive at the inlet too early. I’m hoping to safely and comfortably slide into Winyah Bay at the first signs of light and ride the flood tide into Georgetown.
We have about another eight hours or so before we reach the inlet. I’ve made myself a pot of coffee and gotten comfortable in my helm seat with my laptop. There’s not much to do but keep an eye on the gauges, manage our fuel and make sure the ship is on the course line I plotted. I haven’t touched the helm since we got out into the ocean. The autopilot is doing an excellent job maintaining course. Every few minutes I scan the horizon 360 degrees looking for the lights of any vessels that aren’t showing up on my screen. I see no traffic within 25 miles of our current position. Sometimes I go out on the deck and strain my eyes into the darkness… It’s impossible to see anything at all. If we were unlucky enough to encounter one of those shipping containers I wouldn’t see it until we hit it. It’s been hours since I’ve seen another vessel. A few ships were leaving Charleston as I passed by but they quickly went out of sight and dropped off my screen long ago.
We spent a few days in Hilton Head after another offshore overnight passage from St. Andrews Sound, GA. Arriving just as the terrible weather that was forecast began to roll in, we tied Mavis up at the Skull Creek Marina as the winds really picked up. We could feel the temperature dropping rapidly as the cold front came through. We had a few unseasonably cool — actually cold days in Hilton Head with temperatures dipping down into the lower 40s overnight. We were glad to be at a marina so that we could take advantage of the unlimited supply of electricity and run our space heater. Even though it was rainy and cold, we were very comfortable on board. After running the engine to enter the inlet and arrive at Skull Creek Marina, there was plenty of hot water on board for me to take a much needed shower before heading out for dinner with friends.
One of the reasons we wanted to stop in Hilton Head was to visit our friends Chuck and Reneé. These guys are really cool and they share our love of travel and adventure. We did drinks and dinner out one night and they also had us over for a delicious home cooked meal. During dinner we were discussing the strange fact that even though we have travelled up and down this coast for almost 2200 miles already we haven’t seen a single alligator. As soon as dinner was over Chuck had us in his car and we went to a local park with a body of water that is crawling with alligators. He was determined to show us an alligator but probably because of the ridiculously cold weather, the alligators that normally line the banks basking in the sun were not present. We did see lots of signs warning park visitors not to feed the gators… And I saw a big pile of what I’m pretty sure was alligator poo… but no gators.
I was resigned to the fact that I would not be seeing any alligators that night. The sun was down and dusk was waning quickly when I saw a set of eyeballs and a snoot in the water. As I reached into my pocket to grab my phone to take a picture this enormous alligator flipped its tail violently and swam into deeper water where he floated… Judging by the size of the creature’s head, we estimate he must have been 7 or 8 feet long.
Cold is quite a strange feeling. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it. Having spent the winter in bathing suits and flip flops I think we got a bit thin-skinned. We still have many hundreds of miles of northbound sailing to do. I’m sure we will toughen up along the way. The weather is funny this time of year… Couple that with the fact that we are constantly changing latitude and it makes it difficult to know how to dress sometimes. People who live up north have a routine they do twice a year. In the spring, all of the sweaters, coats, and winter clothes get put away and the shorts, swimsuits and summer stuff comes out. We kind of did that on our way south. Because we took longer getting south than expected, winter was nipping at our heels all the way to South Florida. But when we arrived in Stuart and realized it was going to be in the mid seventies to low eighties every day, we put most of our cool weather clothing away into bins in our closet. Drawer space aboard Mavis is limited so we only (barely) have room to keep the stuff we actually wear out. Leaving northern Florida we already started to feel the difference in temperatures so we again did the switcheroo. I begrudgingly put away my swimsuits and shorts and replaced them with long pants. I’ve even been wearing socks… And underwear sometimes! It’s weird. As we continue north we are hoping that spring arrives and temperatures up north begin to warm up. I’m hoping to get back into shorts and flip-flops soon.
There’s not much else to report. The crew is happy. We continue to enjoy this grand, crazy adventure we are on. Cindy is still taking millions of photos and we are appreciating seeing every single sunrise and every single sunset from aboard our happy ship. Willow has been dealing with the long offshore passages very well. She still refuses to go to the bathroom on board. We are also really starting to get excited about being home soon. By the time we arrive we will have been on board about seven months and travelled about 3,000 nautical miles yet sometimes it feels like we just started our journey.
Update: We arrived safely in Georgetown, SC this morning, entering the Winyah Bay inlet on schedule at dawn. We’re expecting a full day of rain tomorrow so we’ll hang here until Saturday morning before continuing north. We are only about 50 miles from the North Carolina state line. Georgetown is a quaint little town but the gnats and noseeums here are ridiculous. You can’t be outside more than a few seconds without a swarm of them forming a cloud around your head. I’ve breathed a few in and I’m pretty sure I ate about 200 of them with my fish dinner. Protein is protein, I suppose. We are otherwise happy and comfortable on board thanks to screens and Deep Woods Off!
Today marks our 181st day on board and in the past half year we have grown very accustomed to life aboard Mavis. We have largely figured out where things go and how to live comfortably but we are always refining things. We’ve gone from spending a few nights on board here and there to living aboard this tiny ship and it’s remarkable how comfortable we are. We know how to make life work out here and that’s a great feeling.
Right now we are moored in St. Augustine just off the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest and largest masonry fort in the United States. We have been here since Monday and we’re presently trapped on board riding out the passage of a series of cold fronts that are converging to make things a bit uncomfortable for us. The winds have been howling at around 30 knots for the last 15 hours or so and Cindy says being aboard Mavis right now is like being in a washing machine. The waves are throwing the boat around and SLAMMING into our hulls. Every few seconds the entire boat shudders and the sound of the wind and the water against the boat is getting old. We expect this to continue for at least another 15 hours or so before calming down a little bit. Unfortunately, it’s not safe for us to attempt going to shore in the dinghy in these conditions… While getting ashore to the dinghy dock might be doable the return trip upwind and into the large, steep waves would not be good. So we’re stuck aboard our floating home. Willow was ashore last night. We took her for a long walk around the city and stopped to have a few drinks and some appetizers before returning to the boat for dinner.
About 10 days ago we left our beloved Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas and sailed across the Sea of Abaco to Great Sale Cay. The sailing was incredible with 3 foot seas and about 20 to 25 knots of wind off the starboard stern. We zoomed along all day under full sail and by the time we arrived at Great Sale Cay the sun was almost ready to set. We quickly dropped our anchor and dinghied ashore to let Willow do her business. We hunted around the beach for a few conch shells to take as souvenirs and took a good look around at our last Bahamian beach. I knew we would leave before sunrise the next day and didn’t want to chance landing the dinghy in the dark. Great Sale Cay has lots of very sharp limestone and coral heads around it so safely arriving to shore in an inflatable boat is something I wouldn’t chance without good visibility. We love our new dinghy and don’t want to be buying another anytime soon! Unfortunately, this meant that this would be Willow’s last chance to use the bathroom for a solid 36 hours until we arrived back in Florida. Despite seeing some enormous pig footprints, we let her run around the beach for a bit before boarding the dinghy and motoring back to Mavis as the sun began to set on the Little Bahama Bank.
I think I wrote about some of our anchoring challenges in an earlier post. Basically, I don’t sleep well on the anchor because of the constant fear of dragging. In some places, this isn’t a big deal. In others though, dragging just 100 feet could be disastrous. Before we left Florida for the Bahamas I added an additional 75 feet of chain to our anchor rode. Now, in most circumstances we anchor on all chain and once the anchor grabs, we seem to stay put. I still set an anchor drag alarm on the ship’s plotter as well as my cellphone.
That night at Great Sale I slept like a baby. Right after dinner I turned in and fell fast asleep and didn’t wake up until it was time to sail on at 4am. While anchored in the dark I raised the mainsail and we sailed westward in following seas and 15 knots of breeze. As the sun rose we found ourselves in the middle of the bank in crystal clear waters. Approaching the end of the Bahama bank we watched as the sea bottom sharply dropped away from about 30 feet to over a thousand feet deep in the space of half a mile.
Even in 30 feet of water, we could very clearly see the bottom… And as we watched the bottom drop away the water color turned from that incredible green and turquoise to a deep blue. Some dolphin swam in our bow wake escorting us out of the Bahamas.
As we left the territorial waters of the Bahamas I begrudgingly took down the Bahamas courtesy flag we had flown for our month in the Abacos. I felt sad to be leaving this beautiful place but grateful for the opportunity to have sailed her waters and stayed for so long. As I stowed that flag away I couldn’t help but wonder when Mavis would fly it again.
Some hours later we found ourselves in over 2500 feet of water crossing the gulf stream. We had some moderately steep 4′ seas hitting us on the port stern but nothing terribly uncomfortable. Occasionally a steep wave would wash up on the lower aft steps and I wondered how Mavis would handle considerably larger seas. As I develop more confidence in the boat’s offshore capabilities and gain more experience at sea, I find myself wanting to (carefully) try out larger seas. I think it’s important to know our limits and that of the boat. But from what I understand from other Gemini owners, Mavis can probably handle more than we can. I’d rather intentionally go out in large seas that are expected to diminish than get caught in large and developing seas by accident. And when (not if) we DO get caught out, I think it would be good to have had a small voluntary taste. Mavis is a light coastal cruising boat and not a “blue water” boat. Although they have safely crossed the Atlantic, I personally would never attempt that in this boat.
But I’ve wandered off topic again… After some time the winds calmed down and shifted and began to blow from directly behind us. At 8 to 10 knots there really wasn’t enough wind to sail directly downwind in 4 foot seas. So we fired up the engine and motored for about 12 hours until the wind clocked around to the south and intensified. By now it was nighttime again and I started thinking it would be a good time to turn in and get a few hours sleep. I left Cindy at the helm and had been asleep for about 20 minutes when Cindy woke me.
A half hour into her watch, she was seeing ships on the plotter and was having trouble avoiding them. Looking at the ships on the screen I saw three very large targets, all converging on our position fast. The closest was the Disney Fantasy. She was about 4 miles away but approaching very rapidly. The second was a tanker and the third was another cruise ship who’s name I’m forgetting. I hailed Disney Fantasy who altered course for us and still passed less than a mile off our bow — a littler closer than I would have liked, particularly at night. We were able make out people dancing in one of the on board clubs. It was like watching a small city coast by. And as I adjusted course slightly to pass behind this giant cruise ship, I spotted another sailboat’s lights about 1/8 of a mile away. I altered course to avoid a collision. The tanker also altered course and passed many miles from us but the second cruise ship passed as closely as the Disney Fantasy did. Those were pretty much the only vessels we saw between the Bahamas and Fort Pierce, Fl. I think it’s interesting that we all converged in the middle of the gulf stream in the Straights of Florida.
After avoiding all of the traffic that suddenly popped up there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. Cindy turned in and for once Willow wasn’t on deck with me, choosing instead to catch some Z’s with mom. It was nice being on night watch alone. I began to see the lights of West Palm Beach off the port bow and had to reef the jib to slow us up so that we could make landfall at the Fort Pierce inlet at dawn.
I hadn’t considered the fact that we would be arriving on a Saturday. But this soon became apparent as I lined Mavis up at the sea buoy to begin our approach into the inlet. It was still dark but suddenly I found myself blinded by a bright light in the inlet pointed directly at us. And soon, another… The “weekend warriors” were out. Before the sun was up I identified about 25 private fishing boats of all sizes… All heading out of the inlet. Many of these captains demonstrated no knowledge of the “rules of the road” or any common maritime courtesy. Many of them insisted on blinding us as we made our way into the inlet. Once safely between the jetties, more boats approached from seemingly everywhere. A small boat obstructed the very center of the channel and was selling bait. Around this boat about 4 or 5 other small customer boats had congregated. The result was a large chunk of the middle of the inlet being blocked while on either side of this mess, large sport-fishing boats throwing off huge wakes passed on either side of Mavis… One of them directing a searchlight right into my eyes. It was early dawn and the sky had just begun to show some light but the sun was 20 minutes away from rising and many of the boats I was trying to avoid were showing no navigation lights. I tried reaching one vessel in order to coordinate our passing each other safely but these guys apparently don’t monitor the radio either. It’s one thing dealing with weekend warriors inside the protected waters of the ICW — they’re just a nuisance. I really didn’t appreciate them at all when approaching from seaward after a long open sea voyage.
My experience dealing with this insane and apparently common lack of professionalism entering the Fort Pierce inlet made me really appreciate the fellow cruisers we share the waters with. Most of the long distance cruising captains and their crews are extremely professional, courteous and safe. I wish I could say the same about the local sport fishing captains.
After entering the Fort Pierce inlet we had to pass through a drawbridge that operates on a schedule. While waiting about 20 minutes for an opening, we used the ROAM application from the Customs and Border Patrol to clear customs back into the United States. You launch the app on your smartphone, answer a few questions… last country visited, anything to declare, etc… Then a CBP agent initiates a video call with the boat. After a very brief chat and having him look at our faces we were cleared back into the USA! It couldn’t have been easier.
Vero Beach was still a few hours away and Willow really needed to use the bathroom, having held it again for about 36 hours so as we passed a small spoil island off the ICW we dropped the anchor and took the dinghy ashore for a few minutes before getting back underway to Vero.
We arrived in Vero Beach and booked a slip for the week. I had left my car with my sister before we left Stuart and she delivered it back to me. We got to visit with her and her husband for a bit and a few days later I was in my car heading home. We needed to get the car home and I had a flight voucher I needed to use so I drove home to drop the car off and stayed there for 2 nights. It was very strange to sleep on land for the first time in almost half a year. I slept very well in our comfy bed and flew back to rejoin Mavis, Cindy and Willow… We soon got underway.
We motored inside the ICW for two days to get here in St. Augustine. We anchored in Titusville and then in Daytona before fueling up and grabbing a mooring at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. I had hoped that after this front passes we could jump offshore and sail up perhaps to Charleston but it looks like the seas will barely have a chance to settle down before another strong front makes its way into our area. I’m about to start planning the next few days of travel for Friday, Saturday and Sunday but think we’ll need to be somewhere safe by Sunday afternoon. We should be able to easily make it as far as St. Simon’s, GA by then but I have to take a closer look at the weather and the route.
Before the weather got nasty we had a day and a half of nice weather to get out and enjoy being here. St. Augustine is such a beautiful, clean and lively city with tons of fantastic restaurants, an art scene, and lots and lots of history. We hope to be able to get to shore tomorrow to do a provisioning run before taking off again. We all also need to get off this boat. Especially Willow. But for now, we are safe but getting tossed around pretty hard here in St. Augustine.
Wednesday, March 13th Leeward Yacht Club Green Turtle Cay
It’s mid-March already!?! Where has the time gone? I was just getting settled in and used to being here in the Bahamas and suddenly I find myself preparing Mavis to go to sea again.
Over the past few days I had begun to think seriously about the (very) long journey home. As a loose plan was beginning to emerge for leaving the Bahamas and sailing up the coast, I found myself already missing this incredible place. I know that I’ll soon be longing to be back here and something tells me this isn’t our last visit to Green Turtle.
We had planned on staying here for another few weeks before sailing back to the USA but some rather crappy weather is expected to move in and stay most of next week so this afternoon we went from “staying for a few weeks” to going… Like NOW. Friday and Saturday look like good days to cross the gulf stream so tomorrow morning at dawn we will leave this island we have called home for the last month and sail to Great Sale Cay where we will anchor for the night before crossing back to Florida. This will allow Willow to get one more bathroom trip in and we will get to feel some Bahamian sand under our feet again before crossing Friday morning into Saturday.
We want to be home in early May. If we want to sail conservatively and still have some time to explore places on the way back we really need to get going! We also prefer to do ocean passages on the weekend because when we are without mobile data we can’t speak to customers, handle emails, and deal with our normal day to day operations. And if we stay past Friday, we really don’t know when the next good crossing window will open up and chances are it won’t fall on a weekend. So off we go.
We are expecting calm seas for our overnight passage Friday morning into Saturday morning with winds at about 15 to 18 knots from the East. We hope to be able to sail the entire way across the Straits of Florida and arrive at the Fort Pierce inlet around dawn on an incoming tide.
I’ve been paying careful attention to the weather patterns and poring over the charts again… plotting various courses and doing numerous calculations. I have worked out about 10 different hypothetical routes back to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. But it looks like we’ll have a good window to sail from Great Sale Cay to the Fort Pierce Inlet. We plan to dock at Vero Beach and deal with the Customs and Border Patrol process of clearing back into the country. There’s a new app called ROAM that allows private yachts to check in via a video interview with a CBP agent instead of having to clear in at a port of entry. Hopefully it works without any issues.
Once tied up in Vero Beach, I’ll get my car from my sister and hit a REAL grocery store and pack the boat up with all the things we need for the long trip home. Food, paper goods and other provisions are quite expensive out here in the islands and lots of things we take for granted at home we just can’t get. But I’m glad we won’t be buying any more $7 cucumbers! So after a run to a Walmart, a grocery store and West Marine, I’ll leave Mavis, Cindy and Willow behind while I drive our car home and then fly back to Palm Beach. Once I’m back on board, Mavis will begin heading back up the coast. We hope to be able to do much more offshore sailing on the return trip. Due to lots of poor winter weather and the need for internet on weekdays, we found ourselves stuck inside the ICW the whole way down. This is tedious and requires us to run our engine and to hand steer the boat. We’re hoping to run offshore more on the trip home so we can use the auto-pilot and cover 120 to 170 miles per day. This is a lot better than the 40 to 60 miles a day we average on the ICW and it also gives us time to relax in more ports of call. Overall a much more relaxing way to travel if the seas aren’t hairy.
We went into town tonight and enjoyed one last dinner while watching the sunset on the Sea of Abaco. Although we are looking forward to being home Cindy and I both feel pretty emotional about leaving this place. It’s not like the feeling you get at the end of a great vacation in a resort… It’s different. In the month we’ve been here we’ve fallen in love with this charming little island and its people. After dinner we stopped by our friend Kyle’s house to say goodbye. A group of friends had gathered there and it was nice to get a chance to say farewell properly as our decision to leave was pretty abrupt. Last night we were having a few drinks with Kyle at Pineapples and telling him that we would be around for weeks and this afternoon that all changed. Kyle’s lovely wife Novi works at the Leeward Yacht Club where Mavis has been docked for the month. We only learned that they were married a few weeks ago. It seems everybody is related on Green Turtle.
So a little side story… Kyle and Novi have a son Kyle Jr. who everyone calls KJ. KJ is 8 years old and he’s a real personality. He’s also really afraid of Willow… And all dogs for that matter. I remember the first time we saw him before I knew who his father was. He was walking on the opposite side of the street and went waaaaay wide to put as much distance between himself and the dog as possible. One night while talking to Kyle he told me his son is terribly afraid of dogs because he was chased by one years ago. I was pretty sure I knew that the boy who avoided Willow was KJ. A few days later I saw the boy again and left Willow with Cindy and went over to talk to him. I confirmed that he was Kyle’s son and I told him that his father really wanted to get a dog but wouldn’t because he was afraid. I told him that before I left the island, I’d like it if he would be able to pet Willow. He said “No way!”… I shouted “Ok. But think about it!” as KJ ran back to his house. The next day as Cindy, Willow and I walked past Kyle’s house on our way back from the market the door flew open and KJ appeared on the porch and yelled “Hey! I’m thinking about it!” We laughed and walked on. I figured we had 3 weeks or so to get him warmed up to the idea. That was about a week ago… Tonight we tied Willow up on Kyle’s front porch and after chatting with Kyle and some of his friends and family who we had become friendly with, I went over to chat with the young man and to say goodbye. I told him that Willow was a good dog and that she would never bite him. I explained that just like there are good and bad people there are good and bad dogs and it would be a shame if he remained afraid of dogs his whole life just because of a bad experience. He didn’t seem convinced at all. Then I told him we were leaving the island early in the morning so if he was ever going to pet Willow it had to be now. He said “Ok! Just cover her eyes so she doesn’t know it’s me.” I was really happy to see him get a few quick pets in… If we had more time they’d be buddies.
At Kyle’s, we also got to see Brendan and Pearl who are fellow cruisers aboard S/V Sendem. They’ve been to Green Turtle before and we actually met them through PJ and Jim. Those guys all met up in Deltaville and while out for a walk one day with PJ and Jim we ran into them. They all looked so shocked to see each other. Imagine running into somebody you met in Virginia on this tiny little island! That’s kind of what happens in this crazy community of cruisers. Brendan and Pearl are really cool people and I’m very glad we met them. They introduced us to some great people and gave us some tips and pointers about the island. I wish we could have spent some more time with them before taking off.
Speaking of PJ and Jim from Hail Mary. We love these guys and feel terrible for leaving the Abacos without saying goodbye in person. I’ll call them tomorrow and I know they’ll understand. It’s hard to sail on a schedule but I know our paths will cross with them again… Perhaps in Florida. 🙂
I think Betty and Bill from Sea Mist will be also heading north soon. I really hope we get to see them again too. So it’s bittersweet to be leaving this amazing place. It sucks saying goodbye to new friends who we were just getting to know. It stinks skipping out on PJ and Jim. We’ll always remember this time we shared in the Abacos.
I don’t know how it happens but sometimes I sit down for a few minutes and when I look up, I’ve filled the screen with thousands of words. I try not to edit things too much, but leave it in its pure, stream-of-consciousness form. You’ve been warned.
Hello from the charming and beautiful Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos. Today is March 6th, 2019 and we have been aboard Mavis for 159 days since leaving Long Island. It’s hard to believe its March already! Spring is right around the corner and this is usually the time of year that I begin making final preparations to launch our boat and start our season… I get a real kick out of knowing that we don’t have to worry about any of that this year because our season never ended! In fact, I find myself super excited when I realize that our Spring/Summer 2019 season will be starting soon. It will be nice to be back in our home waters on the Great South Bay. I’m happy to announce that we just signed the contract for a slip Sunset Harbour Marina in East Patchogue. This is a bit further east on the bay than I would have liked but at this point a few miles really doesn’t matter. Our voyage here including various side trips has put about 1700 nautical miles under our keels and I imagine our round-trip will be about 3,000 nautical miles… That really changes my perspective on an extra twenty minutes to get to Atlantique, one of our favorite spots on Fire Island!
The weather here in the Abacos has been absolutely perfect. With the exception of one rainy day and a few stray showers it’s been wall to wall sunshine and 76 to 82 degrees. At night the temps dip to about 70. I’ve only wished for air conditioning a few times on this trip. The trade winds keep us comfortable and move the boat along very nicely. We’ve had a few stray showers that pop up out of nowhere and deliver torrential downpours for a few minutes and then… Back to perfect weather. We got caught out in a downpour on our morning walk today and by the time we got back to the boat we were absolutely drenched. Do you like Pina Coladas??? When its 80 degrees I don’t mind a refreshing downpour and getting caught in the rain to cool us off. 30 minutes later it was sunny again.
Last weekend we took a side-hop over to Manjack Cay which is about 5 miles north of us. Mavis and Hail Mary spent the night on the anchor under a star filled sky after a delicious dinner served up by our friends. Dark here is DARK. It’s amazing how many stars you can see when you’re this far out and away from big cities and towns.
We got to do some snorkeling on a wreck that was very close to where we dropped the anchor. Cindy had discovered it while paddling around on our kayak. The next morning, we threw our gear onto the dinghy and headed over. We didn’t need wetsuits because the shallow water was probably around 75 degrees. We stayed in the water on that wreck for about an hour.
We found an idyllic beach that we had all to ourselves… Or so we thought. We discovered a very large set of hoof prints that belonged to what we suspected was a big pig. We were having a great time and it was a beautiful beach and there was no pig in sight so we hung out for a while. I had heard the wild pigs around here can be a bit aggressive because the cruising boats feed them and pig bites are common injuries. I wasn’t that concerned for us but I had reservations about Willow who was running around the beach. Thankfully we didn’t see the animal that made those prints!
That evening, while having dinner aboard Hail Mary with friends, we saw a giant animal wandering along on the beach. Jim, Hail Mary’s captain grabbed his binoculars and as he panned around he suddenly stopped and said “Holy Shit!”. We all took turns looking at a giant pig through the binoculars. Cindy and I really wanted to check him out so we left Willow with our friends and zoomed over on the dinghy. As soon as we got close to the beach this thing started wading out toward the dinghy. We didn’t have any food for him so we let him approach a bit and took off. As we did, he realized there would be no meal and he turned sideways… Only when I got a look at him from this perspective did I get a true sense as to the size of this beast. I estimate this thing weighed around 350 pounds.
The next morning we got up early and Willow jumped into the dinghy for her morning bathroom trip. As we approached the shoreline, I scanned the beach looking for the giant pig we saw the night before. It looked like the coast was clear so as we got in close I turned off the engine and gave Willow the “Ok Free!” command. She immediately hopped off the bow and scurried up to the beach. Looking back at Cindy and I who were still in the dinghy she squatted and started to pee. That’s when we saw the pig slowly coming out of the brush and lumbering toward Willow! She looked over her shoulder at the thing and nonchalantly continued to urinate… Just as she finished, the big boar was probably about 20 feet from her and continuing to approach slowly. I called Willow back to the boat and we quickly helped her clamor aboard. As the pig waded out to our dinghy we started the engine and took off. Again, the poor giant boar looked disappointed as we left without feeding him. Later that day, Cindy and I returned to the beach with Jim and some scraps from the boat and fed this thing. We had drifted in close into shallow water so I had to climb out of the boat to pull us out. While I’m doing this, Cindy and Jim are tossing food to the pig to keep him away from the boat… As we ran out of food, however, he tried to climb into the dinghy. It was pretty comical but a little scary. I reminded myself that I had my pole spear aboard the dinghy in case this boar needed a reminder that boarding someone’s boat without permission was a no-no. We escaped the pig of Crab Cay without any injuries.
We had a series of minor business challenges that kept me glued to my laptop for a full day putting out fires, modifying software and websites, and dealing with some customer issues. I also had to change some configurations on our telephony server. I was pretty aggravated. Just a few days ago I posted Set Yourself Free, a blog post about designing your business so you can be free and here I was, in paradise, stuck in the boat working. But when the fire was put out, I reveled in the accomplishment, even more convinced that a true digital nomad can handle some rather challenging business problems without having to give up this incredible lifestyle. In just a day I had accomplished what could have taken a solid week of work. How is this possible, you ask? I highly recommend reading The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I don’t agree with everything Tim says in the book but if you’re at all interested in changing the way you think about work, give this gem a read!
Island Wifi has been outstanding! I wish this kind of internet connectivity was available back home. We have been in the Bahamas about 15 days and already burned through 300 gigs of data and coverage has been remarkably good here in the Abacos!
After enjoying the company of our new friends Jim and PJ from Hail Mary and Bill and Betty from Sea Mist, who we met in Stuart they all left us today to move further south. We will catch up with them in 10 days or so when our month here at Leeward Yacht Club is up.
In the meanwhile, we’ve really been enjoying walking around this fantastic island and exploring. There are a number of breathtaking and pristine beaches that we have been visiting. Walking along the shorelines here is like walking through a postcard or a travel brochure. I’ve said it before — things are so perfect here that they almost look Photoshopped.
We are slowly depleting the ship’s stores of shelf-stable and canned goods. There are a few markets here that stock vegetables and frozen meats. Everything comes over on the mail boat on Thursdays. We have the basics available here but food is pricey. Some things seem to be only slightly more expensive than home. Others are highway robbery. $21 for paper plates? $7 for a bag of ruffles potato chips? $11 for a can of pineapple juice?
Although we can get the basics here I’m looking forward to a big re-provisioning when we get down to Marsh Harbour. There are a number of good grocery stores there and if you shop carefully you won’t get clobbered. I did, however, recently hear a story about a fellow cruiser who got back to his boat and reviewed his receipt to learn he paid $45 for a box of Archer cookies that go for $2 in the US. This is sadly pretty common. Caveat Emptor!
A few nights ago we had some lobster tails for dinner. I got 6 small tails for $15. They were delicious but I think next time instead of grilling them, I’ll steam them because I found that the flesh got stuck to the shell in spots. Our super-expensive “infrared” stainless-steel Magma grill that we have only used a handful of times has some hot spots that make cooking a challenge. The thing is really small to begin with so having to shuffle food around on it’s surface is a royal pain. It works, but $650 is a lot of money for a gas grill for a boat. Lesson learned. You don’t always get what you pay for. Especially when it comes to marine stuff.
Life here on Green Turtle is interesting to say the least. The rich history of this place is evident everywhere you look in the town. Columbus… Pirates… British loyalists… Freed American slaves. Lots happened here.
The people here are warm and friendly and any serious crime here is rare. We feel safe walking all over the island at night even though it gets incredibly dark — “like holy shit it’s freaking dark” dark! When you live in a city or in suburbia, it’s so easy to forget what it feels like to be standing in complete darkness under a sky filled with stars. I’m glad it’s something we get to enjoy out here. It’s just one of those simple things that you don’t realize are missing from your life until suddenly it’s there. I’m having lots of those realizations on this trip… And conversely, there are all sorts of things we take for granted at home that seem like ridiculous luxuries to me now. But back to feeling safe…
The fact that there is only one cop on the island confirms my belief that some places just don’t need tons of police and government services to maintain order. I say “some places” because our experience here is in stark contrast to what’s happening in Nassau. The U.S. Department of State just released a travel advisory due to high rates of violent crime, robbery and sexual assault over there. But the out-islands are a completely different experience. Even though the vast majority of the population of this country live on New Providence Island (Nassau)… These family islands are the REAL Bahamas, in my opinion.
Last night, while feasting on our lobster tails, we heard a very strange sound. Sirens! The last time I heard sirens we were in Florida. It’s so quiet and peaceful here at night. There’s no traffic noise… No trains going by. Just the sound of the water against our hull and the breeze in our rigging. Occasionally a boat’s engine or bow-thruster will break the silence but the nights here are pretty silent. All day long, the roosters crow but I’ve learned to tune them out. But sirens? Sirens are something very strange indeed. Cindy and I looked at each other like “WTF?” as we listened to this alien sound move from one end of the island to the other.
Today I learned that spring break season is starting. It seems rich kids who’s parents have vacation homes here come to party and last night a young girl got herself into some drugs and/or alcohol and crashed her golf cart. The island nurse stiched her up and from what I understand wanted to sew her mouth shut during the procedure. I hear the injuries were minor. Kids! Golf cart crashes are not-surprisingly commonplace here but it’s almost always tourists at the wheel. I suppose it doesn’t help things that they drive on the left side of the road here. Last year someone managed to make it completely off the road into the harbor on one. But despite all this craziness, the island still feels quaint and peaceful.
There is a bank on the island… But not really. It is only open on Thursdays from 10am to 2pm and I understand they take a 1 hour break for lunch. I think the bankers just come over on the mail boat and spend a few hours. Same thing with the cellular telephone company, BTC. If you need to purchase a new sim card for your phone, pay your bill, get a new phone or any of the things you can easily do at home… Thursday is your day. The post office is open 3 days a week for a few hours each day. Starting to get the idea?
All of this inconvenience makes Green Turtle feel special. We are after-all, on a barrier island off another island in an island nation. Even though we are only about 180 miles from the Florida coast, sometimes it feels like we may as well be on the moon.
Even though we are only about 180 miles from the Florida coast, sometimes it feels like we may as well be on the moon.
Although many services are limited here, one thing that does seem to be reliably open are the bars. There are lots of really good places to kick back and grab a drink. This island runs on rum and Kalik, the Bahamian beer. My favorite place so far is The Liquor Store. This is an actual liquor store with walls lined with bottles of Rum, Wine, Gin… And more rum. Lot’s of rum. Just like any liquor store at home… But unlike the stores at home, there are also tables in the middle of the place and they serve drinks and food. They make an amazing rum punch that they refuse to give me the ingredients to but I think the primary ingredient is rum. This concoction went down extremely easy but it packed a hell of a punch that got the first mates pretty buzzed. The food there is great too!
I find the drinks at our marina’s pool bar to be a bit light on the booze but I watched as the bartender at another great spot called Pineapple’s poured all sorts of rum into a milk jug and shook it up… Then she carefully sniffed it and poured in ridiculous amounts of more rum. Then she sniffed it again and poured in more rum. There was an insane amount of rum in this milk jug and I thought for sure she was going to pour it into some juice or something to dilute it. But no. She poured it into a cup and served it to me. After she poured out a few servings she stopped, sniffed again and added… Yes. more rum. It seemed that as the night went on this rum punch got progressively more potent. We had a goodgreat time that night and it seems we met half the island there. All of the locals we talked with were incredibly proud of their island. And they should be. Green Turtle Cay is a very special place.
Leeward Yacht Club Green Turtle Cay Abaco, Bahamas
I love it when a plan comes together. For years, Cindy and I have dreamed about buying a cruising boat and taking off for the islands. At first it seemed like an impossible dream — an irresponsible fantasy. Responsible adults don’t do these things! But soon the conversation changed from “Can we do this?” to “HOW can we do this?”
How could we afford to do this? What about the business? We couldn’t really just take off for 7 or 8 months and go sailing, could we? Would the house be ok? Will the kids be ok? What about the cat? Ok… I honestly didn’t think too much about the cat.
After the long trip down the coast from New York, we felt pretty good about being in Florida. It was nice to just be somewhere warm and to stay put for a while. I was feeling accomplished and had said to Cindy that even if our cruise ended right there in Stuart, FL and we sailed home in the spring, I would be happy. I meant that when I said it but I knew the plan was to get to the Bahamas. Even after all these months on board and all these miles sailed, I often found myself suffering from a sort of impostor syndrome… I didn’t really think of us as “real cruisers.” We were just “faking it until we make it.” I thought… I was reasonably competent as a skipper but I didn’t really think of myself as being particularly salty or capable.
Trying to leave Stuart was a comedy of errors. There were all sorts of administrative hoops to jump through to get Willow’s paperwork in order. We had our car and had to get it up to Vero where it would stay with my sister. There was the normal pre-cruise provisioning and boat preparations… Cindy’s passport was due to arrive on 2-14. We wanted to leave on 2-15 so it was a real nail biter hoping that everything would work out and that the passport would arrive in time. A few days before departure Cindy and I were relaxing on the bow when my phone slipped out of my hands and went BLOOP. Right overboard! Our diver, Shane retrieved it for me the next day and cleaned Mavis’ bottom for us but after having spent 24 hours submerged, the phone was toast. So I ordered a replacement phone which was supposed to arrive on the 14th or 15th. When it didn’t arrive on the 14th I figured we would just wait for it on the 15th… Unfortunately, Fedex had some weather issues so it was delivered today, 2-18 in Stuart, FL… But we are now in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas… So I’m using an ancient toy phone until I can figure out how to get my new device over here. From what I understand, the easiest way to do this is to have someone fly it over into Treasure Cay airport and take the BOLO Ferry to the island… Any volunteers?
As if all this wasn’t enough… The night before we were supposed to leave Stuart, as we left the dinghy dock to head back to Mavis who was now on a mooring ball, I bounced the boat off the dock and immediately heard a hissing sound… Our dinghy was leaking air.
This inflatable dinghy is about 10 years old and I’m actually surprised it hadn’t failed yet but to fail just as we were supposed to be leaving for the Bahamas really got me crazy. We had dropped our car off at my sister’s house for safekeeping until we returned to the USA so we had no car. We were sitting in a sinking dinghy with the dog. I was starving. It was dark and our floating home was waaaaay out in the mooring field. It was Valentine’s Day. We were supposed to have a nice steak dinner on board and leave for the Bahamas in the morning. I didn’t want to miss our weather window because we didn’t know when our next opportunity to cross the gulf stream would appear.
I frantically started calling the local West Marine in Stuart. I mean frantically. It was about 6:30 and the store closes at 8. They had no dinghies in stock but they offered to order one. That didn’t work because I was going to the Bahamas in the morning! I could go without a phone but over here a dinghy is pretty important. I asked if I could purchase a floor model but was told no. Finally I called the Jensen Beach West Marine who were happy to sell me their floor model… We ubered over to the store, lugged the dinghy to the dock and inflated it… I transferred our outboard motor from the old dinghy and we were back in business by 10pm. We haven’t registered it but the Bahamas doesn’t seem to care about U.S. registrations for tenders. We’ll deal with registration numbers when we get back. So at least it failed in Stuart and not out on some remote island… One less thing to worry about but this trip is getting expensive.
So after all of this craziness I was so happy to be underway again. I get stressed out before any major voyages. I suppose it’s anxiety because as soon as we get going I feel great again. About an hour and a half after leaving Sunset Bay, we were exiting the Saint Lucie Inlet and turning right to follow the coast of Florida down to Delray Beach which I had calculated as the right place to begin heading east across the gulf stream.
Remember that impostor syndrome thing? That all went away the other morning. I have a hard time finding the words to properly express just how I felt as we made landfall in West End, Grand Bahama. It was surreal and incredible and emotional. I was exhausted and exhilarated and proud and happy and excited all at once. Just as I had planned, the sun began to rise and Grand Bahama appeared right where it was supposed to be. Maybe we aren’t impostors after all? Maybe we actually know what we are doing?
I felt myself getting a little choked up as we entered the marina and tied Mavis up to the customs dock. Just like that, in that moment, as I cleated the line off… after years of dreaming, a solid year of planning and then 5 months on board, all of this became incredibly real. We were actually in the Bahamas.
If you get nothing more from reading these words, it is my hope that you’ll realize that anything you can dream you can do.
If you get nothing more from reading these words, it is my hope that you’ll realize that anything you can dream you can do. It doesn’t matter if your dreams seem impossible. Just want it bad enough and be prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen. It doesn’t hurt to have the right partner by your side. I’m very fortunate to have someone equally as passionate and just crazy enough to do these things with!
By the time we were tying up in West End, I had been awake a solid 24 hours but I was full of adrenaline and caffeine. I left Cindy and Willow on the boat and proceeded to the customs office to check in, a binder full of paperwork in my arms. Customs needs to see passports for everyone on board, Willow’s pet import permit, her health certificate, the boat’s coast guard documentation… A few forms… ok lots of forms later and the customs officer started stamping passports and forms. He took our $150 fee for Mavis’ cruising permit and with a warm smile he said “Welcome to the Bahamas.”
“Wow!” I thought. “Did that guy really say that?” I started feeling choked up again. I left the customs office and happily made my way down the dock to Mavis where I found Cindy and Willow waiting on deck for me. We took down our yellow quarantine flag and hoisted the Bahamian courtesy flag to the top of our starboard spreader. Every time I have doubts about whether any of this is real I look at that flag… And the same flags on all of the other cruising boats around us. This is real. We are in paradise.
After topping up Mavis’ fuel tanks with Bahamian diesel which I was surprised to see was clear and not dyed red, we headed back out the inlet and around Indian Cay onto the Little Bahama Bank. Heading out this inlet we were back out in the Atlantic Ocean and the waves were steep and about 5 feet. We caught a few waves on the bow before turning right to go around Indian Cay. The water on the bank like all the water in all of the Bahamas is crystal clear. The bank is only 15 to 20 feet deep and its sandy bottom is visible as you sail across the waters. For miles and miles and miles, as far as the eye could see was crystal clear water. It looked like the world’s largest swimming pool! We saw only one other boat the whole day as we sailed east watching the bottom go by… The water colors varied from a crazy surreal emerald green to turquoise to deep blue.
A solitary dolphin swam along our starboard side and made his way into our bow wake where he swam and looked at the strange people on the bow looking back at him and taking pictures. He hung out with us for a few minutes and then darted off. After motoring across the bank all day, we arrived at Great Sale Cay where we would drop our anchor for the night. We took Willow ashore on our new dinghy and for a few moments we found ourselves on our own island in the Bahamas.
After a much needed night of sleep on the anchor and another trip ashore for the dog, we hoisted the anchor and headed toward the Sea of Abaco. My plan was to try to get to Spanish Cay but if things were looking good and we could make it by sundown, we wanted to get to Green Turtle Cay where our friends PJ and Jim from Hail Mary had set up camp a few weeks earlier. After about two hours of motoring the winds picked up and we raised the sails and turned off the engine.
This was by far the best sailing experience of my life. The water was amazing… But the sailing was pretty awesome too. We had 15 to 20 knots on our beam which allowed Mavis to easily glide along at around 6 to 7 knots. I had such a smile on my face that after the 50 something mile cruise my jaw hurt! I’ll never forget that sail on the Sea of Abaco.
We arrived in Green Turtle Cay and were welcomed by our friends who helped us get tied up in the amazing slip we’re in. We are so happy to be here on GTC at the Leeward Yacht Club. We’ve booked this slip for the month, so this will be our base of operations for a while. Here at the marina we have a really nice pool with a restaurant and bar. We’ve been gorging on lobster bites and conch fritters. We may be fat but we are tan!
This morning, we took a walk into town to explore and were really happy with what we found. We didn’t really know what to expect. The settlement of New Plymouth here on the island is incredibly quaint. Far from the glitzy casinos and mega-resorts of Nassau, this is the real Bahamas. Chickens roam around this island everywhere. In fact, Willow got a mouth full of feathers in a dramatic altercation with one of the buggers this morning. After Cindy got a hold of Willow, the chicken got away unharmed but upset.
After returning to the marina we went for a swim in the pool before walking to the beach to meet our friends PJ and Jim and Betty and Bill, all of whom we met at Sunset Bay in Stuart. The beach here is incredible. I’ve been to a lot of beaches in a lot of places but this has to be the most fantastic stretch of sand I’ve ever seen. Photos don’t do it justice.
It’s really beautiful here. We’re taking lots and lots of photos. It’s crazy to think that someday this will all be a memory. I don’t want to leave this place.
Even though I could see myself staying here forever, I find myself simultaneously looking forward to enjoying a month or two here in the Bahamas and also looking forward to sailing home to the Great South Bay and Fire Island. As awesome and amazing as this trip has been and I’m sure will continue to be, it will be nice to be home for a while. I’ve given thought to leaving the boat here and flying home. It would be pretty cool having Mavis down here in paradise waiting for us to come down. Sort of like having a floating condo in the Bahamas… Our insurance company would really hit us hard for leaving the boat in the hurricane belt over the summer and we REALLY need a boat at home. We would be lost without her. I’d also be super nervous about leaving her. I’ve loved this boat since the moment we bought her but this trip and these miles we have shared have made her so much more than a boat and a home to me… It’s hard to explain the relationship a captain has with his ship but trust me when I say it’s complicated.
That’s all for now. Thanks for following along on this grand adventure of a lifetime.
The weather window that was supposed to open up for us for this evening isn’t panning out but the good news is it looks like tomorrow night will be favorable for an overnight gulf stream crossing. We are keeping an eye on things…
It’s a common situation in cruising. And extremely common on these crossings from Florida to the Bahamas this time of year. The boat is loaded to the gills, the course has been set, the crew is excited and ready… But the winds and seas must cooperate. According to our weather router, Chris Parker at www.mwxc.com things will settle down tomorrow but there may still be a “lingering swell” that may make for “uncomfortable travel” until tomorrow afternoon.
I’m still waiting on a package that was supposed to arrive today but is now expected tomorrow. The moment I have it we will set out!
We left the slip today and are now back in the mooring field on a ball waaaaaaaaay on the far side of the field. It’s a long hike by dinghy back and forth to the marina so we’re really hoping everything goes well with our departure tomorrow.
Our relaxing days at Sunset Bay Marina are winding down fast as we make our final preparations to depart for the Bahamas! We’ve enjoyed our time here. After the formidable journey down the coast, just being in one place for a while has been something we’ve appreciated. Add to that having our car, unlimited access to dining and shopping and we found a much needed sense of normalcy. Soon we’ll say goodbye to this special place, our car, unlimited water and power and the other comforts of home as we head back out to sea and get back into cruising mode.
Presently we are waiting to see if we will get a weather window to cross the gulf stream tomorrow night. It’s all up to the front that is passing through the area. This is a serious stretch of blue water and we need the conditions to be just right. Our fingers are crossed.
As you may know, a major concern for us making this trip has been our ability to operate our business on the go. We need reliable data. Lots of data. And it needs to be relatively high speed and low latency.
In talking to other cruisers bound for the Bahamas both in person and online we discovered a company called Island Wifi that offers excellent 4g LTE service throughout the Bahamas. After speaking with Leo Tripp, I was confident that they provide this much needed data. For an unlimited hotspot plan we are paying $75 per month. And unlike “unlimited plans” at home, we won’t get throttled after we use a certain amount of data. I hear the service is very good. We received our hotspot yesterday. Between our international service with Google Fi and this new device we should be pretty good to operate our business from the Islands of the Bahamas.
We’ve been stocking up the ship’s stores with dry goods, canned food and shelf-stable items. JWe’ve made what we hope will be our last run for meats, fruits and vegetables. The boat is sitting lower in the water with all these provisions aboard.
Things are starting to feel very real and I find myself full on anticipation much the way I did before we left home to begin this grand adventure… You can read about that HERE. There’s so much to do!
A few days ago my mind was reeling… I was feeling a little anxious about about being prepared for the trip. It was another beautiful day with lots of sunshine and a warm breeze so Cindy and I decided to relax on the bow and have a relaxing afternoon cocktail. Heck, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right? Shortly after our relaxation began I managed to drop my phone overboard… It slipped from my hand, bounced on the deck in SLOW MOTION and began to tumble and spin until it entered the water with a rather depressing “bloop.” Mavis was due for a last minute pre-departure bottom cleaning so I called our diver Shane who retrieved my phone. Even though it still worked for a while… It’s toast. I hope to have a replacement device in hand by tomorrow… 2/14. Argh!
A few days ago we got Willow’s pet import permit from the Bahamas Department of Agriculture. Yesterday I took her in for her final vet visit just before departure. Her health certificate is complete and Willow now can legally enter the Bahamas.
Cindy, on the other hand cannot. She is still waiting for her passport. We used an agency to expedite the process and we expect it to arrive at the marina tomorrow. Talk about cutting it close…
Crossing from Florida to the Bahamas this time of year can be challenging. The trade winds blow strong from the east (where we are going) and there are frequent cold fronts that bring strong north winds. When crossing the gulf stream you really don’t want any north component to the wind as this can create large, dangerous waves. Mavis is a tiny, light ship so we pick our days at sea carefully.
On the 15th we need to leave this slip that we have called home for the last month. If we can’t depart directly for the Bahamas, we plan to return to the mooring field and wait for a weather window to cross.
We’re using Chris Parker from the Marine Weather Center https://mwxc.com/ to provide us custom weather forecasts and routing for the crossings to and from the Bahamas as well as while we are over there. As a pilot, I’m pretty comfortable understanding and interpreting weather data but it’s good to have a professional on our side. We’re still new at this, after all and winter, despite what many think, is NOT an ideal time to visit the Bahamas. The winds frequently blow hard and the water temperatures are only in the low 70s. There’s a lot of deep blue water out there… But we don’t plan on waiting until spring to arrive in the Bahamas.
Speaking of Spring… This trip has been awesome so far and we have much adventure ahead of us in the Islands but before you know it, it will be time to point Mavis north again and head HOME! We have completely adjusted to life in this tiny home of ours but it’s going to be amazing to be back in our enormous house with our family and friends. I’m getting anxious to make some business moves and get back to my comfortable office. We’re also looking forward to being back on the Great South Bay and on Fire Island. We are even planning to do a bit of cruising over the summer… Nothing like this crazy trip but maybe a few weeks up at Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. But heck, we are seasoned cruisers now… We could end up in Newfoundland. 🙂
I got to catch up with another old friend, Keith last week. and we also had a fantastic visit with Cindy’s uncle Mike and his better half Rena.
Today we signed a contract for Mavis’ slip for the summer on Long Island. We’re happy to announce that we’ve selected Sunset Harbour Marina in Patchogue for the season. It’s hard to believe we’ve been out here almost 5 months already… It’s exciting to think about being back in our home waters! See you at the Tiki Bar.
Over the last two months we’ve settled in very nicely at the Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage in Stuart, FL. In our last blog post I explained that we were floating comfortably on mooing ball #32 out in the anchorage. We were getting used to life out there and had adjusted to the the dinghy trips, power and water conservation, and being detached from land. But when a slip opened up a few weeks ago we grabbed it without hesitation!
We now occupy slip A29 and we’re getting spoiled with being able to hop on and off the boat when we want to. We are also loving having solid access to the marina’s excellent WiFi. Being on shore power is pretty awesome too. In general, life is much more “normal” now that we are tied to land. It’s not quite as peaceful and serene in the marina but I’m not complaining. It’s like having a waterfront apartment.
Sometimes when I’m out on a walk, I have to pinch myself when I realize I’m warm and in shorts and flip flops in January. I usually spend my winters dreaming about being able to go boating. It feels great to know that we have successfully extended our boating season!
We’ve had a few more visitors on board since our last update. Rob (aka Babou) came to visit in early January. An official member of the crew, Rob was on the boat’s maiden voyage, helping us sail our girl home from Deltaville, VA to Oakdake, NY last spring. That brave guy was aboard when I was just getting to know Mavis and learning how she handled, finding what was broken, and figuring things out in general. He’s been my best friend for almost 30 years now and it was so good to see him. We are working on getting him back down here with his less-salty wife Mary who’s also a dear friend. She doesn’t share Rob’s love for sailing and boating but now that we are on a dock I think she might actually enjoy “glamping” for a few days.
Rob’s a great friend and he doesn’t need much to be comfortable on board. He stayed with us for about a week and before we knew it, it was time to bring him back to the airport.
Our little starboard guest cabin is getting lots and lots of use and this makes us happy! Rob was only gone a few days before our next guest, my daughter Sophia arrived.
My father was also in Florida so he came by and for the first time I can recall, all cabins were occupied. The weather for Sophia’s stay wasn’t great with strong winds, lots of clouds, and high temps only in the high 60s most days but we still had a good time with her. We caught up with my sister who lives nearby and Sophia got to have a nice family dinner with her father, her grandfather, her aunt and three cousins as well as her evil stepmother Cindy. It really was great to see her. I hope she’ll visit us again soon but her work and school schedule make it difficult.
I’m enjoying getting to spend some time with my sister and my nieces and nephew. Hoping to see them some more and take them sailing before we shove off for the islands.
I’m hoping my son, Peter and Cindy’s daughter Samantha will visit us down here too… (Hint… Hint…)
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd.
I’ve started making final preparations to leave the safety and comfort of the marina to sail for the Bahamas. While the crossing won’t be our longest open ocean passage, it will take us farther “out to sea” and away from land than I’ve been before. In reality, it’s a pretty simple trip. After completing it, though, we’ll be able to call ourselves international sailors. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the challenge. Getting out of your comfort zone is critical if you want to broaden your horizons.
We have lots of provisioning to do. I need to do an engine oil change and go over all of Mavis’ systems but the boat is pretty much ready to go. Our screecher headsail was repaired by Mack Sails. We even had our bottom cleaned by a diver who got rid of the barnacles and slime that had begun to accumulate.
The plan is to wait for a good weather window right here in our slip. We need a window where there has been and will be no north wind. Ideally, a southwest wind of about 15 knots would be pretty perfect. It’s important that we pick our window very carefully as we will be crossing the gulf stream, a river of warm blue water in the Atlantic Ocean. This river is about 25 miles wide and flows northward at around 2 to 3 knots. When the winds blow from the north (very common this time of year) you often get nasty conditions and monstrous waves out in the gulf stream. The stream is only about 10 miles from the shore here and sitting on the beach you can often see what they refer to as a parade of elephants marching along. These are the huge waves that form in the gulf stream. 10 to 20 foot seas are not my idea of a good time. Needless to say we will be very careful selecting our weather window.
Once a window appears we will sail from here at around noon to the St. Lucie inlet and hang a right turn once out in the Atlantic Ocean. Even though we are just about directly West of our first landfall in the Bahamas as West End, we need to get considerably south before crossing to compensate for the strong current we will encounter in the stream which will push us north. So we’ll sail south along the coast of Florida until we are about 10 miles south of the Lake Worth inlet in West Palm Beach where we will make a turn to the East and head out to sea. Our overnight passage will take us across the gulf stream and as the sun rises, we should be in the crystal clear waters off Grand Bahama Island where we will clear customs.
The fee to bring Mavis into the Bahamas is only $150 because we’re under 40’. Boats 40’ and longer pay $300. This fee covers our cruising and fishing permits for up to one year. Clearing into a country works more or less the same wherever you go. Upon arrival, you fly the yellow quarantine flag which signifies that your vessel has not yet cleared customs. The captain is the only person permitted to leave the vessel and takes the boat’s documents, customs forms, and passports for all crew and passengers to the customs and immigration office. We will also need to bring Willow’s import permit which we hope to have in place soon. After completing a customs declaration form they may or may not inspect the vessel. Then, once we are officially cleared in, the quarantine flag comes down and we fly the flag of whatever country we have cleared into as a courtesy. As I’m writing this I just glanced over at the Bahamian flag sitting on a shelf. This is getting real! We’re going to the islands!
The weeks we spent on the mooring were a very good test of our self sufficiency in preparation for departure next month. The solar panel worked flawlessly keeping the battery bank topped up. I practiced and refined the process of refilling our water tanks from jerry jugs brought in on the dinghy. We ran our refrigerator for weeks on end using propane. I feel confident that we will be comfortable anchored out in the pristine waters of the Bahamas but I have some reservations about our ground tackle. A boat’s ground tackle is comprised of anchors, chain, rode, snubbers, bridles, etc. It’s the entire anchoring system and it’s what keeps the boat where it’s supposed to be.
We’ve got two anchors aboard. The Danforth that came with the boat and the Rocna Vulcan that I upgraded to when we commissioned last spring. Mavis doesn’t have an anchor windlass. A windlass is a machine that is like a winch that makes raising and lowering the anchor easy. You just hit a button to raise and a button to lower. Aboard Mavis, we do things the simpler, old-fashioned way and drop and hoist our anchor by hand. The procedure for manually hoisting an anchor is usually to motor the boat slowly toward the anchor while hoisting the anchor rode up into the anchor locker. Ideally, this requires somebody at the helm and somebody on the bow. The somebody on the bow is usually Cindy but It should be me. This became our procedure because our old Westerbeke’s transmission was a little finicky and at the idle-slow speeds required to creep up on the anchor it needed a very precise touch that I had developed but I never got around to teaching Cindy that skill. It was hard to know when the boat was in gear and it would rattle a lot at idle speed. As a result, when we needed to get the anchor up, Cindy would scramble to the bow and point at the anchor. I’d putt up to it as Cindy worked out her traps by pulling the line and chain until the anchor was all the way up. Because I didn’t want to make this manual job any more difficult by adding lots and lots of heavy chain, I skimped on chain and only went with about 25’. The rest of our anchor rode is 200’ of nylon anchor line. We dragged our anchor a few times in strong winds and I need confidence in our anchoring system so I’ll be heading to West Marine today to grab another 100’ of chain. It’s going to be more of a workout but we will sleep much better at night knowing we won’t wake up on the beach.
Also, because our new engine and transmission are silky smooth, there’s no longer an excuse for having to be the one at the helm. I’ll be the one on the bow going forward and Cindy will operate the boat.
We’ve met some really cool people here and made some good friends. Jim and PJ aboard the catamaran Hail Mary are heading to the Bahamas as well. We were neighbors in the mooring field and over the past month and a half have really enjoyed their company. Jim is a retired tugboat captain who built his own 64’ catamaran and sailed it to Hawaii. He’s forgotten more about all things nautical than I’ll ever know and he’s just a cool guy. His wife PJ is equally as cool and fun to be around. She’s a bit apprehensive about the crossing having experienced some rough conditions offshore but despite her concerns, she seems excited to be heading over soon. Together they make a great crew. They’ll likely sail over a few weeks before us but we hope to connect with them in the Abacos! We’re really happy to have met them.
We’ve had some business challenges out here and I’m realizing that even though the work is getting done, I’m not as effective out here as I am at my desk. I find it hard to work on complex projects that require me to lock myself away in my office for hours interruption free. I also just feel generally not “on my game.” I’m kind of looking forward to being able to sit in my spacious office and just work! I’m feeling like I need to reinvent myself and launch some new businesses ventures when I return in the spring. For now, I’m trying to keep the wheels on the bus and give thought everyday to what I want to be when I grow up.