Tuesday, March 31, 2009

North Bimini

We've been enjoying our quiet stay in Bimini (there aren't even any shrimp to crackle-pop in the night). There is little to do here but relax and explore. It's nice :)

North Bimini is a long, skinny island, about 7 miles long and 700 feet wide. There is a main road that traverses the length of the island. Since I jog about 5 miles it was a great way to explore. I ran through both towns, Bayley Town and Alice Town and then returned. Bimini is pretty underdeveloped. It's definitely not a "touristy" area. Everyone seems really friendly, almost everyone I passed smiled and said hello. Of course, it may also be that no one here jogs (I didn't see anyone else...) so maybe I was a bit of a novelty :) But everyone at the resort is really friendly too.

The Bimini Bay Resort is huge and located at the very northern end of the island. From what I've seen I think it's the most upscale place here. I think it's been open for about 2 years but it is still largely under construction. It's really beautiful with colorfully painted buildings, 3 restaurants and 2 pools. It seems that it would provide a lot of jobs for the local people. Unfortunately, there's no one here so some of the restaurants are not open or they have limited hours. It's almost eery that there are so few people. Martin and I got a cocktail (the Pain in the Ass is called a Miami Vice here) and walked to the west side of the island/resort to the infinity pool to watch the sun set. We were the only ones there! (See pics of the day...) I can't describe how gorgeous, calm and quiet it was and we were alone! This place is a honeymooners dream...

I don't think that Bimini is a destination location for boaters but more of a stop over between Florida and the rest of the Bahamas. There are 2 marinas at the resort. We're at the far north one and there have been 3-5 boats here on any given day. Most stay a night and then leave. No doubt, the developers of the resort are trying to change that and draw people. With it's proximity to Florida I would think that it's doable but I think they are charging quite a bit for the rooms and with the economy what it is... The marina is pretty reasonably priced. We were offered a golf cart to rent when we got in but we declined - for $90/day we thought we could walk or bike the island! (oh, and the next boat in the marina - right next to us - was offered $70/day (!) but he declined as well.)

We took the tender out for a tour of the area. We headed south along North Bimini to South Bimini. We toodled around the north side of South Bimini and found a waterway that went into the island a bit. This part of the island, from where we were on the water, looked abandoned. Old marinas falling apart, boarded up homes. There were lots of birds (see pics) and it looked like it had once been really lovely. We didn't visit the island proper and I wonder what Port Royal is like on the south side.

The waters around the island are too beautiful. We haven't gotten out to do and snorkeling and unfortunately I don't think we will. We've suffered a big blow - the water maker has broken just as we need it. Martin will blog more about this. He is working away trying to diagnose the problem. If he can, we could order parts to be shipped to Nassau, or we could pick them up in CA when we're back. Water is terribly expensive here (.45/gallon in Bimini and .25/gallon in Nassau) and of course, we can't anchor out for any length of time without a watermaker. Our tank holds 120 gallons. Martin and I go through about 30 gallons/day when we aren't being overly "conservative". So we could probably do 5 days comfortably with no boat washing. If we can't get it fixed before my Mom comes it should be okay too. We will still be able to anchor out for a few days with 3 people.

We're planning on leaving at dawn tomorrow for our 120 mile trip to Nassau. It will be our longest passage by far and should be pretty calm and easy going. The rest of today is for working on the water maker, battening down (with lessons learned...) and making lunch for tomorrows trip... Hopefully we'll be able to walk the island again and catch another gorgeous sunset.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Broadcasting From Bimini!

We made our first blue water passage! We left this morning at 7:00am even thought the forecast had gotten a bit worse, calling for 4-6 seas for sure, with higher waves in areas of squalls. Our plan was to get the heck out of dodge early before the winds started picking up and the thunder storms were to begin (early afternoon). It took us about 3 hours, door to door.

It is at times like these that you learn things about yourself. I learned that a) I am stoic (meaning I don't shriek) in the face of fear, b) I close my eyes when frightened, even if that means for 30 minutes at a time, and c) I'm thankful that Martin does not close his eyes in 6 foot seas as well! I also learned that you can pee in 3-5 foot seas without killing yourself even though it severely tests the efficacy of seasick pills.

In truth, I don't think the passage was all that bad but also in truth, I was really scared. This part of the learning curve required grappling hooks for me. We hit seas as high as 6 feet and it was "choppy". Martin assures me that I have yet to experience "rollers" or rolling seas. I think it would be nice to roll rather than smack... One in particular was memorable because it hit us "beam side" - meaning at 90 degrees and we then kind of slid down it sideways. I think that's when the air freshener and dish detergent took flight, or maybe that's when the cabinet door came unhinged and spilled it's contents across the floor :) Maybe why the heavy plastic crate tipped over, saved an ill fortune by falling onto our store of potato chips and pretzels? The constant banging also loosened a faucet handle and door handle, both of which we found rolling across the floor. The shower caddie took a dive as did the hand held shower head. Poor Lucky looked ravaged by the time we got in. I think Martin and I only earned a "C-" in Battening the Hatches 201. Well, now we know...and I'm sure we can by chips in the Bahamas, though I don't know that they'll be baked...

The relief I feel is overwhelming. We crossed the golf stream so that big "first" is over.
We are 1/3 of the way to Nassau but it's the toughest third. The winds should die down over the next few days, the banks are shallow and our 2nd leg of the journey shouldn't be bad at all.

We've now checked in at immigration and the marina. Ate lunch. Now there is a pool, thatch-covered chairs and a bar that awaits us...


We are in Bimini.  We'll blog later at greater length but, for now, here are the bare details.  We left Fort Lauderdale at 7:15 am and arrived in Bimini at 10:30 am, so not a long passage.  It was rough.  Rougher then either of us were really expecting.  4 - 6 seas in the stream that hit off our starboard bow.  Enough spray was thrown to require the use of the windshield wiper for most of the trip.  As we neared Bimini, the seas became rougher, with white caps in evidence, and they came from the starboard side.  This made for a pretty wild ride for the last half an hour.

Once we passed into the channel it was easy and we made our way to Bimini Bay resort without incident.

Clearing was exceptionally easy - having the paperwork all filled out before going definitely helped - and we got a 12 month cruising permit.

More later, but for now we both need to go get a drink (or three!)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


We've been compulsive weather watchers for the last few days and tomorrow is looking likely:


NOAA is pretty optimistic when it comes to forecasting weather more than a few days out, so those less than 2' seas always seem to transform into 2 - 4 and then 4 - 6 with a small craft advisory the closer it comes.  Sunday's weather, on the other hand, has been pretty consistent since Thursday.  So we're hoping nothing changes before the next update during the night.

We've "battened down the hatches" and have prepped for an early departure tomorrow.  Unless there's a small craft warming in effect, we'll leave at first light - or as soon as we can get up, anyway!  If conditions get too sketchy, we'll turn round and come back.  The marina here in Ft Lauderdale is prepped.  If we're here at 3pm on a day, we get charged for the night.  If we're not, they'll check us out and email me the final amount.

We'll have wi-fi in Bimini, so whatever happens, you'll hear it here first!

Holding in Fort Lauderdale

I can't believe it's been a week since I posted last. We've been in a holding pattern and are now at the point where we are packed and ready to go every night, checking the 10pm then 3am forecast to see if it's safe to leave. NOAA is always overly optimistic and as the time approaches, wind speeds seem to increase along with the seas. Right now we're planning on leaving tomorrow...unless conditions worsen...

We've done a few fun things this week. We went out for a dinner cruise on the Jungle Queen the other night. The Jungle Queen is docked right across the way from us and every day, 3 times a day, we hear the captain talking to the tourists as they leave and the horns as they come and go. So we decided to go for it! You take a 45 minute boat ride north, up the river to an island. There you have a barbque dinner and a short (30 min) talent show (ventriloquist and magician...) It was very sweet and we and we had a good time.

We have a really nice new neighbor at the marina. Andy is from Sausalito, CA and is cruising in his 43 foot Nordhavn. Oh my God, is that a nice boat! He gave us a tour and I melted. The Nordhavn is more of a "ship" than a boat and it's gorgeous. I had to wipe the drool off my chin. I had to post a pic on the pic of the day. Andy is a very experienced sailor and just recently moved over to the trawler (he just got this boat). It's been great talking with him!

The beach has been busy this week too. There is a Christian Hard Rock Concert going on right now across the way so we don't need to play the radio ;) We walked up to take a look and talked with the police there. The other day we went for a walk and there was a bit of mob scene on the beach. Martin (and a few other men) got accosted by a group of kids so we came back to the boat. The police today explained it was a 1/2 day for local high schools and there was a "throw down" planned between rival schools on the beach. It turned into something quite nasty. They said it happens fairly regularly, sigh.

Last night we took the water taxi to downtown and got tickets for the IMAX theatre to see Monsters v. Aliens, in 3D. We enjoyed the movie and then had a really nice dinner downtown. Between buying the tickets and waiting for the movie we had a couple of hours so we walked along the riverwalk to look at boats. We happened by a 43 foot motor cruiser similar to ours with a different set up for their tender and the owners came out while we were looking. Joslyn and Simone are from Montreal and have been cruising the coast. They have long-term cruising plans. We had a wonderful conversation about the pros and cons of different kinds of motor yachts. They are sold on the Nordhavn 43 trawler - exactly like Andy's. They seem like a really fun couple, I wouldn't mind bumping into them again in our travels and getting to spend some time getting to know them! It was fun to find another couple that had a similar idea as ours (long-term cruising though they are longer term than us!) and who also started out in a similar boat.

Interestingly, we were all on the same track that the 43ish foot fast motor yachts make excellent weekend cruisers but for seriously long-term liveaboards, they may not be optimal. The discussions we've been having lately revolve mostly around the pros and cons of displacement speed boats v. planing boats, the comfortability of the types of boats at varying speeds, how well stabilizers work, benies of fore and aft cabins, etc. I'm getting into the boats :) I can't wait to see more as we go along!

Okay, back to battening down the hatches, gently storing the gin and vodka I bought today, doing yet another load of laundry... Maybe we'll be writing you next from Bimini!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Or maybe not

We were getting a little suspicious last night as, while we made our final preparations for the passage, the wind was still howling.

Low and behold the forecast was updated during the night to conditions unfavorable to crossing.  Can you say "Small craft advisory"?

This morning's forecast confirmed we're going nowhere today:


It's looking possible for tomorrow:



Of course, there's always the possibility - the more pessimistic would say probability - that this will change.  There is a front coming through Sunday and that usually gives a small window just before it passes when the winds veer to the South and then to the west.  Then the front passes and the winds come from the north.  Right now they're predicting Monday for northerly winds.

So I think we're on "day-by-day" standby.  We must be ready each day to go the following day and check the forecast before we leave.  Not easy.  A lesson in patience for us both.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tomorrow is the day!

We're "going for it".  We're crossing the gulf stream and going to Bimini.

At least, that's the plan.  The NOAA forecast is less than ideal:


While we're not happy with the conditions, we're a little under the gun and have decided that it's doable.  Our ace in the hole is the fact we can always turn back if the conditions get too much.  It's 55nm (about 60 statute miles) "marina-to-marina".  So about 50 miles of open water.  The gulf stream is about 15 or so miles off shore so we'll get a good feel for conditions well before we're in the middle of it.  According to the charting software I use, it's a 3 hour journey, so hopefully we'll be done by lunch.

The marina here in Fort Lauderdale is OK if we come back, so we have our fall back plan in place.

We're going to be staying at the Bimini Bay Resort while in Bimini.  It's at the north end of the island at the end of the channel, about 1.5 miles north of Alice Town.  We'll be there until Tuesday or Wednesday.  We're due at the Marina in Atlantis on Wednesday.  We can make it in one (long) day from Bimini.  Alternatively, we'll leave a day earlier and spend Tuesday night in Chub Cay at the south end of the Berry Isles.  That knocks about 50 miles off the trip.  We'll decide based upon how much we like Bimini.

We'll have internet there, so we'll let you all know where we are tomorrow!

Meanwhile, I've filled the tanks with the last free potable water we're going to get (water maker water from now on!), we've stocked up on fresh fruit and are battening down the hatches!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Water emergency resolved!

Who was it said that you should fix an emergency every day before breakfast?  Robert Heinlein probably.  It's the kind of thing he writes.

Well, I fixed mine for today.  I was sat on the "L-couch" by the helm with Stephanie.  She had just got back from her run and was having a drink and finishing up the podcast she was listening to while running.  I was having my breakfast prandial cup of tea.  We heard a "thump" that sounded like it came from inside the boat.  I popped downstairs and heard the water pumps going.  Uh oh.  Not a good thing.  Opening the hatch to the hold I was greeted by a cloud of steam and the sound of running water.  Uh oh.  

Quickly turning the water pumps off at the breaker panel, we emptied the hold.  As it was wet, we had to move everything outside.  Once emptied, I could get down there and dry it out and look to see what had happened.  Regular readers will remember our shower leak episode.  I didn't mention it, but I solved the problem by re-plumbing the shower.  Yes, you've guessed it.  My repair gave out.  One of the hose-to-joint connections had given out on the hot water line, explaining all the steam.  I effected a repair, this time using two hose clamps.  I'm surmising that the heat from the hot water made the clamp less effective as none of the cold water connection - of which there are many in my water maker installation - have broken loose.  Of course, I may not have tightened the hose clamp enough in the first place.  There is one other joint in the hot water line, behind the shower fitting, which I'll look at later today and double clamp.

One advantage of having to empty out the hold.  I got a good look at all the stuff I've been putting down there.  Quite a lot.  It needs reorganizing.  A job for later this week, I think.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rainy days in Fort Lauderdale

I thought I would post a quick update though it's been a very quiet few days. It's been raining (hard) and in a way it's been very nice. We've been staying inside reading, gaming, quilting and relaxing. I think it's especially welcome after the intensity of last week.

We had a lovely evening last Thursday that was very unexpected. There was a party here at the marina, it was a vendor-style party that was set up like a wedding reception. We took advantage of the open bar, got a tour of a beautiful 74-foot Fairline power boat and enjoyed a capoeira demonstration and aerialist performance. We also met and spoke with some other cruisers that are here at the marina.

Yesterday afternoon/evening there was a break in the rain so we turned Lucky around and took off the tender. Then we drove downtown via the river for dinner. It was so nice! We learned that there is a dock master downtown that moves/watches the boats. You tie up and are off... It's so much easier (and safer) than riding the bikes.

We were going to go explore the ICW and the river via tender today but we're waiting out the second rain so far. Tomorrow may be a better day for that. In the meantime, Martin got an antenna for my computer and it's so much easier/faster to surf!

The update on the home front is all good. Ghislaine said that Bean is getting stronger every day, eating well, and has learned how to use the little pet stairs to get up on the bed and couch. George is over his tantrum, sleeping next to Bean and also using the stairs. I'm very happy :)

The gulf stream is high through next Wednesday but the trend is going in the right direction. We're hoping for the end of the week...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back on the boat

I left Tuesday night and arrived this morning back to a rainy Fort Lauderdale and a warm Martin. It was really, really hard to leave and say goodbye to Bean & George. Knowing how wonderful Ghislaine is with them made it even possible. It also eases my mind that we'll be back in just a month. George is having a time of it - he's so mad at me he growls. I guess leaving him in January, returning and giving evil-vet-smelly anti-Christ Bean so much attention and then taking him to the vet to boot put him over the edge. Luckily, he has his French Mom whom he adores. I'm sure he'll have forgotten how irritated he is with me by time I return! Bean's recovery continues. She's our little miracle kitty for sure. She can walk, jump, and climb, all very carefully and weakly but without pain and is improving daily. She's using the litter box, has an appetite, fights getting pilled and voices her very strong opinions once again - all good signs that Sweet Bean is back. I have some picks of her on the pic of the day. Looking at them I just can't believe how bad off she was and how quickly she's recovering.

So we're off - NOT! It's rainy and gray in Ft. Lauderdale and the marina in Boca is full so we're staying put til or through the weekend. The 8 to 10 foot seas in the stream might be a bit too much for us. We'll keep watching the weather and at some point head to Miami to await our passage.

Learning to be flexible is an important lesson for both Martin and me on this trip. You can't control the weather, your health, the health of your loved-ones or pets... How bad can it be to be "stuck" on a beautiful boat in Florida for a few weeks? ;-) We're planning on keeping a low profile for the next few days. I'm going to rest up, chill out, start running again and get rid of the hives that mysteriously appeared this weekend. And Martin is just thrilled to have me back, his boat-bachelor days were a bit boring (or so he tells me, it IS spring break in Ft. Lauderdale...)

I think I see a bit of wine and sangria in the future too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


That's the sound of a weather window closing in your face.

A front is moving in today.  While it dissipates mid week, it's allowing a region of high pressure to build north of here.  This is going to cause strong winds from the north for the rest of the week and over the weekend.  Really, really bad news.  By Friday NOAA is forecasting rough seas in the gulf stream and a brutal day on Saturday.  9 - 11 feet waves.  According to NOAA "waves are expressed in the terms of the significant wave height, the mean or average height of the highest one third of all waves", which means there will be even bigger waves out there.  In fact they estimate 1 in 100 waves will be 50% bigger than this estimate.  So we're talking big waves out there this weekend.

I'm not sure what we'll be doing yet.  Steph and I will talk it over when she gets back tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bean's Progress

Here is the latest on Bean! It's been a crazy week of up and down emotions and lots of uncertainty but as it stands today, things could not be better with Bean. She has beaten the odds and is on her way to recovery.

To sum it up: Bean got a fever and was then found to have severe heart disease. While at the vet, she threw a clot to her spine. She was paralyzed and in pain. We brought her home and in 3 days she has made an incredible recovery. She is far from out of the woods and not 100% but the clot has dissolved. Her long-term prognosis is still not very good, her heart disease will not improve. But for now, she has a quality life and is a very, very happy cat. And I'm very, very happy too!

Here's what the past few days have looked like:

Sunday: Ghislaine takes Bean to emergency vet. 106 fever, given lots of fluids. No diagnosis

Monday: Goes to regular vet. Fever, fluid in lungs, needs oxygen tent. In critical condition. Viral or infection of heart or pancreas?

pm: Goes to specialty clinic. In oxygen tent, light fluids.

Tuesday: Fever coming down, still needs oxygen, light fluids, spiked glucose. Stable condition. Viral infection?

Wednesday: Fever resolved, glucose spike resolved, very weak. Stable condition but concerning that she still won't eat. Begin force feeding. Viral infection?

Thursday: Fever resolved, paralyzed back legs. Won't eat. Critical condition. Diagnosis: Severe heart disease has thrown clot to the spine. No clue what caused fever. Some chance that clot may dissolve in time. Prognosis extremely poor. Steph comes home.

Friday am: Bean comes home. Very weak, paralyzed. Licked tuna juice but won't eat. Vet not happy we're taking her home. Bean, on the other hand, seemed very happy to be home - purr-baby.

afternoon: Won't eat. Drinking well. Pees on doggy diapers. Purrs lots.
pm: Back legs are warm again. Ate tiny bit. Peed when put in litter box.

Saturday early am: Back legs are moving, able to curl up.

am: Wobble WALKED to corner of room and peed. My bad, didn't have litter box nearby. Licks food, not really eating. Drinking well.

pm: More alert. Ate a tablespoon of food. Try to guess when she needs to pee, she goes when put in litter box.

Late pm: Left downstairs for 5 minutes before being brought up to bed. Was found on stairs. Walked across entire house and up 5 stairs. She had no intention of sleeping downstairs alone at night!

Sunday am: Walking around a bit - not wobble-walk now but old man strut. Stretched back legs weakly. Drank tuna juice. Won't eat.

afternoon: Using litter box on own. Licks food, won't really eat.

pm: Walking a bit. Alert. Won't eat.

Monday am: Bean is hungry! She ate more than a tablespoon of wet and then went for kibble. No pain meds required today. Vet visit. Vet staff can't believe recovery. Bean showed off by jumping onto the couch seat in office! They took the tubes out of her paw. Vet says Bean is one of a very lucky few. Happy, Happy, Happy.

So Ghislaine and I are trying to plan out the next week or so while she gains her strength. She is still weak and can't navigate going down stairs too well and jumping is limited. So we have a kitty condo where she can be kept safe and sound (will post pic when back to FL). Thank you Anne! And we have pet stairs for the bed and couch for when she is ready to use them.

I can't even describe how grateful I am to Ghislaine for taking such good care of my kids and for being so willing to go the extra mile in taking care of Bean! And thanks to all my friends for caring so much, it means A Lot :)

My plan is go back to Fort Lauderdale on a red eye tomorrow night. Unfortunately, I've noticed that George is limping on his back leg, it's subtle but it's there. So we're going to the vet this afternoon. Please let it be a muscle strain... Will report back on George when I know more.

update: just a muscle strain for George we think. Sigh of relief.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bro!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish recent follower and long time brother Edward a happy 43rd birthday.  Happy Birthday, bro!

Cheap Flights for the Taking!

While we were looking for flights for Steph we noticed a few things.  The flights are incredibly cheap if you're leaving within 24 hours.  We were seeing flights for as little as $150 one way to San Francisco.

We also  noticed was Expedia wouldn't let us book a flight within 5 hours of departure.  We had to go to the airlines own website and book directly through them, which pushed the price up significantly.  It's worth it.  Steph will be home by 10 tonight and will be able to go to the vet and see Bean first thing tomorrow.  

As best we can tell, there's pretty good availability, so if you can deal with a little uncertainty, wait until you travel day to book you flight.  You'll save a bundle!

A Bean Update

We got a call from the Vet today.  Bean's condition deteriorated overnight.  She has partial paralysis of her rear legs, most likely caused by a blood clot in her spine.  She's also in some pain.  While the blood clot and pain may be treatable, the prognosis is not good.

Steph flew back to California today to be with Bean and make some possibly tough decisions.  She'll stay there until things have been resolved.  Not easy and my thoughts go out to them both.

What this means is we don't know when we'll be leaving the US for The Bahamas.  Steph will take all the time she needs to get through this before coming back.  There's a front passing through next week, so there's the possibility the window will close before we can make the jump.  Then we'll just wait for the next opportunity.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A slight delay


We didn't leave Fort Lauderdale today.

One of Steph's cats, Bean, caught a virus last weekend.  Like with most virus infections, Bean has had a temperature, lack of appetite and other, more serious, symptoms like water in the lungs and a heart murmur.  She's been at the Vets since Sunday.  Yesterday she turned the corner, her temperature came down and her heart and lungs are back to normal.

She is not out of the woods, however.  She still has a slight temperature (103) and hasn't eaten yet.

As we're not sure of the connectivity in Bimini, we're staying here until we're sure Bean will make it through.  That way Steph can talk to vets and our house sitter, Ghislaine, and keep informed.  We're hoping she'll be released home today and that the comfort of home minus the stress of hospital will calm Bean down enough so she'll eat.

The weather window still seems open through Sunday, though winds are beginning to pick up.  Hopefully we'll be off in the next day or so.

Fingers crossed for Bean!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Man, A Plan - The Bahamas

Nope, doesn't quite work.

We've been getting ready to go for a while now.  Today was the final few tasks.  We filled up with Diesel and did a huge shop of groceries.  Mainly Seltzer water, chips, wine and Smirnoff Ice.  As you can see, we have our priorities straight!

Tomorrow we leave Fort Lauderdale and head to Cat Cay.  It's a small private island just south of Bimini.  We'll clear customs and immigration there, refuel and have a celebratory meal at the swanky  restaurant there.

Thursday we'll leave Cat Cay and head the 12 miles north to Bimini.  We're going to be docked at the Bimini Blue Water Resort.  I'm not sure how long we'll be in Bimini.  We'll try to go diving and use the Snuba.  I've booked us in through the weekend, but I'm sure we can stay longer if we desire.

Our next date to hit is the Marina at Atlantis in Nassau on the 1st of April.  This is quite the resort.  It'll be like pulling up and tieing up to the Bellagio in Las Vegas!  The smallest vessel allowed in the marina is 40', so we're definitely the small fish in this pond.

Between Bimini and the 1st, I think we're going to explore the Berry Islands.  There's not much there, so we'll hang out on the hook a lot.  Maybe more snorkling and snuba.

Steph's mom will be visiting us while we're in Nassau and we'll plan on heading over to the Exumas for a few nights to give her an "on the hook" experience.  Then we'll head back to the Bay Area for a couple of weeks to catch up on mail and stuff.

We're being kicked out of Atlantis on the 29th, so we'll be back in time to head out.  Probably back to the Exumas.   We're hoping to reach Staniel Cay by May 11th to meet up with Richard.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Life in Fort Lauderdale

We've been in Fort Lauderdale for a week now. I waited a few days to blog to get a real sense of the city and see how we felt about it. Fort Lauderdale is the biggest city we've been to so far (Naples and Key West being the only other two...)

We are at the Bahia Mar Marina, located directly across the street (A1A) from the Fort Lauderdale Beach. It's a beautiful location and makes for a lovely morning run. The marina seems to have more local boats than cruisers. This means that we don't have the "neighborhood", or community that we experienced in Key West. So there's less "gophering" opportunities for Martin and less interaction with other boaters. The city is pretty big and spread out so without a car we have limited to access to the area. Both streets and drivers are not particularly bike/pedestrian friendly so I'm a bit stressed getting around here. It feels more like a "real" town with some vacationers rather than a vacation destination. People don't say hello on the street but do a lot of looking on the beach :)

Fort Lauderdale is called the "Venice of the US" and is also known as the pleasure boating capital of the US. You see this most from "inside" the city where there are beautiful channels/canals lined with mansions and filled with megayachts. The waterways - ICW, canals and river are absolutely gorgeous. Then there's the eastern edge, touristy side of the city. There are the several miles of beautiful beaches with A1A running along side. The road is lined with bars, restaurants and beach-ware shops. Cars crawl down A1A "thump, thump thumping" while bathing beauties strut their stuff. Oh, and spring break starts next Saturday so I'm sure we haven't seen anything! I need to get out and get some pictures asap for the pic of the day.

Our time here feels less like a pleasure visit and more like a prep stop. We have a list of things that we need to get done before we can head out to the Bahamas. This includes things like: fix the shower leak, finish the bimini top, make some future travel arrangements, purchase spare boat parts, fuel up, pump out, and complete an inventory of our food stores/stock up on anything we feel we may need. The plan is to leave Wednesday if the NOAA forecast doesn't change.

What we've been up to...

Our highlight here was last Tuesday when we spent a really nice afternoon with Bradley and Debra (whom we met in Key West). It was so nice to talk with them! We were really lucky to catch them just before they headed back home to Santa Monica.

We've also been swimming a few times. We were really excited to find out that the Swimmers Hall of Fame is a block away and there is an aquatic park there open to the public with 10 25-yard lanes and 10 50-meter lanes. I've never swum in 50-meter lanes - it's awesome!

Last night we took the water taxi into downtown and had dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. The taxi ride was really interesting, the driver gives a commentary, explaining who lives in what mansion you're passing and a bit of trivia about some of the mega-yachts.

The next couple of days we'll spend researching the Bahamas and finishing up a few tasks. I think we're both feeling nervous, and very excited to cross the gulf stream and see the Bahamas!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Waiting for the weather window to open

We're in fort Lauderdale, waiting for a weather window to jump over the Gulf Stream into the Bahamas.  Waiting for a weather window is a pretty common thing when you're a coastal cruiser.  In fact, you've heard us talk about it ever since we were stuck in Naples for an additional week.  If we ever head further south than the Bahamas, you're going to hear us talk about it even more.

So I thought I'd explain it a little, so you get an idea of what its all about.

When the wind blows, it generates waves.  If the waves are too big, we don't go.  There are a few rules that seem to determine what kind of waves a wind will generate.  The stronger the wind, the larger the waves.  The larger the stretch of water the wind blows over, the larger the waves.  The size of the waves aren't the only factor.  Their shape has a big effect as well.  When there's a chop, the waves have steep sides and are closer together.  This makes the boat bang around and can be pretty scary.  Shallower water tends to make choppier waves.  As does a current, when the waves are moving opposite to it's direction.  Which explains why going out underneath the Golden Gate Bridge when the tide is going out and the westerly wind has picked up can be very dangerous and yet in other conditions its flat enough for kayakers.

The gulf stream between Florida and the Bahamas is a 40 mile wide current going north at 2 - 3 knots.  A knot, by the way, is a nautical term of speed equivalent to about 1.1 mph.  When the wind is from the north, it's brutal.  Choppy waves 4 - 6 feet high.  It's not unusual for there to be a small craft warning in effect if the winds are anything above 20 knots.  When the wind is from the east to south-east, the seas are calmer, but then there's a head wind and we have to run straight into the waves.  Ideally, we want winds from the south or south-west.  By the second day of these winds the gulf stream will have calmed down and we'll have a window of opportunity to get across before the winds go back to the north - east quadrant.  This is our weather window.

Here's the weather forecast for the next few days, taken from the nws web site  :











So it looks like by Tuesday things are settling into good - though not ideal - conditions.  If, over the next few days, we see "UP TO 2 TO 4 FEET WELL OFFSHORE" continuing to extend through the week, we're off!  The key seems to be ready to go and then wait.  A catamaran sail boat opposite us couldn't leave last Saturday - someone had his boat keys - and he missed his window and has to wait.  He's ready though!

Not too surprisingly, the weather is a popular topic of conversation.  What's the weather doing where you are?  And by "weather", I mean wind.  And by "wind", I mean waves.  :-)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A mystery solved

Checking the bilge for drips

Since we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Stephanie and I have been concerned about a strange noise we've been hearing on the boat.

As you live on a boat you become accustomed to the little noises it makes and why. The sound of the fresh water pumps when you open a tap. The shower sump as it drains. The vacuum pumps of the heads doing their thing. As these sounds work their way into your psyche, you become alert when they run unexpectedly. Why is the shower sump cycling on and off? Turns out the check valve was leaky and needed to be replaced. That vacuum pump has been going on for a long time, better check that the toilet has sealed correctly. Uh-oh, the water pump is on. Where's the leak? You get the idea. A bit like that scene in Apollo 13 where Bill Paxton is scared by every little sound and Tom Hanks reassures him by explaining the source each sound.

So when you hear a strange sound, it's worrying. After all, a catastrophe on a boat means you sink and that can ruin your whole evening. Since Sunday night, we've been hearing a strangle crackling sound, very similar to Rice Krispies in milk. While hard to locate, it's definitely coming from "below". I thought we had a leak in the water system while Stephanie thought the hull was leaking. A thorough examination of the bilges proved both fears groundless. The bilges are dry and no pump has been cycling - we'd have heard that. In addition the water tanks haven't been losing water any faster than our normal usage would predicate.

So while the sound isn't an indication of an imminent (and cold) bath we were no nearer to finding where it was coming from. Sticking my head down every hatch just verified how direction-less the sound is. All I could determine was "outside". Chatting with a few mariners and doing some Googling has come up with a possible source - shrimp. Lots of shrimp clicking their claws under our hull. In fact, we are not the first sailors to hear the noise and panic.

Speaking of leaks, the source of the shower leak still hasn't been found. I've now put a zip-lock bag over all four joints behind the shower controls. It's stopped the leak going into the woodwork - now it all runs down the pipes into a bucket I put in the bilge. I'll give it a few days and then have another look. One of these bags will be wet inside. Then I'll have found the bugger!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Plotting our route

View Larger Map

With the magic that is Google Maps, I've created a plot of our route so far.   I'll keep this updated as we go.  I've added a link to the right which will go straight to map.  I'll keep updating the link so the map remains centered and zoomed correctly.

If you haven't downloaded Google Earth, I highly recommend you do.  Then you can follow the route from the Albatross' view.

Pic of Day Disaster...Rectified

I have a confession to make. Our last night in Key West I went to update the Pic of the Day album and I deleted it. Don't ask how, but I managed to because I'm talented like that. Soooo, I spent a few hours that night cobbling it together. But now I have rebuilt it and it's better than ever! I've also created a Picassa album w/ captions as a back-up so if it happens again, I can simply upload it. That would have been a good thing to do from the get-go but hind sight is 20/20, isn't it? Sigh. So all the pictures are up, in the right order, more or less. Why fess up then? Because I did lose everyone's comments on the pictures and I thought it best to explain where they went!

Arriving at Fort Lauderdale

Our blissfully calm night ended abruptly at 3:30am with high winds! We were up and ready to move by 4:00am but we waited for the sun to come up before heading out. We headed north through the inland passage (the ICW - Intracoastal Waterway) and ended up following 2 boats the whole way through, which was nice. We got to watch how they navigated and listened in as they talked with the bridges that needed to be raised (they were taller then us. At less than 16 feet we probably could have made it under the bridges we passed). We even used the radio a bit! When going to Biscayne Bay we had waited for a sailboat to pass through a very narrow channel. They hailed us to say thank you. It's neat to talk with passing boats and have some contact. So yesterday we did the same and hailed the boat in front of us as we broke off near Ft. Lauderdale to say hi and thank them for the guided passage :) As talkative as I am I'm a nervous about using the radio, I need to get over it!

We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 11:30am and had a quick lunch. Then we both passed out for over 3 hours. 3 days/nights with the stress of traveling and sleepless nights from windy "slap-happy" waters took their toll. We're at the Bahia Mar Marina and it's sheltered and QUIET even with the winds blowing. Ahhhh. The beach is directly across the street from us - how nice! (Oh, and the wifi signal is strong and is free!)

The next week we'll spend exploring Ft. Lauderdale, getting some supplies and doing some work on the boat before we head out to the Bahamas. Top of the list is to fix a shower leak in the wall that Martin has been struggling with for a few days now.

On the Hook Again (Saturday)

We've spent the last 2 nights anchored out in Biscayne Bay. The passage was choppy but better once we crossed into the Bay itself. We even had 2 dolphins ride our wake for a little while. I don't know a lot about dolphins but one was either pregnant or in need of more wake-riding. I've never seen a chunky dolphin before!

It's very pretty here though not as stunning as our first anchorage (Little Shark River). The bay is very large and you can see Miami on the northern horizon. The water is amazingly clear and green, like cut glass. There are a lot of boats in the bay, mostly motor boats. When we arrived at an anchorage area (Hal had recommended it) there was no one here. After we anchored out a ways from shore we saw a dozen or so boats come in, all in the "designated no wake anchorage area" (we hadn't realized there was a designated area). We were about a 1/4 mile from there. I think it was more rolly where we were but less noisy too - some of the anchored boats were having a fun Friday night! I think picking the perfect anchorage spot is a real art, even if you know you can anchor in the area - what exact spot do you pick? Too shallow and you're grounded in a low tide, in the current or wind and you're rolly-poley, to close to a channel and you're rockin' in other boats wakes. We're trying to pay attention so we get it down asap.

We decided to test out the bimini top that Martin designed and made this fall. Though windy, it was less so than in Key West so we gave her a try. I LOVE the bimini (the pic above). It's basically an umbrella roof that covers the back area of the boat. It has mosquito netting on it for when we get buggy in the summer. With it up, we gain a whole seating area on a sunny/not-too windy day (neither Martin nor I enjoy sitting in the sun.) It's wonderful and gives us a lot more usable space on the boat.

We took the dinghy out and cruised through the anchorage area checking things out. Then we went to the National Biscayne Bay Park that is only accessible by boat. There's a camp ground and hiking trail so we went for a walk.

Tonight is it blissfully calm and not windy. I haven't slept through the night in 2 nights - that "slap-happy" sound can be mighty loud when it's windy. I'm looking forward to a quiet night but tomorrow we're expecting a low front that is bringing high gusting winds, rain and maybe thunderstorms with it. Our plan is to head out asap in the morning to get to Fort Lauderdale before the heavy winds do.

On The Move Again (Thursday 2/26)

Each of our 3 passages has been successively worse as far as comfort goes. I'm sure some day we'll travel on a day that is not windy and choppy but until then, I am developing a great distaste going anywhere in the boat. Stick me in a marina and call me Happy. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

We left Key West this morning and truth be told, part of my bad attitude is a genuine sadness at leaving. Saying goodbye to a goofy, perky, happy-go-lucky town and more importantly, to Richard, was a downright drag.

As we left this morning we had a little crowd of people who have made up our neighborhood for the past 2.5 weeks there with us, even at 7:30am. (Of course we were all wide awake after hearing a sailboat smack into a powerboat as it left - it was a very windy morning!) The couple from Quest with the 3 golden retrievers came by, Bill, Linda and their cat Lily came up to wave goodbye, and Moose. It was a nice send-off!

So, shaking off the doldrums (that's meant as an ironic play on words :) ...we are at Duck Key. It's not a destination location for us, but a stop-over on our way to Biscayne Bay. The island is very small and covered with beautiful homes and a large resort - Hawks Cay. The marina doesn't have wifi - this is my personal marker for a good marina, you've probably gotten that by now...

The marina has non-floating docks that we had to tie up to - here's that learning curve again :) If a dock floats, you tie up to cleats on the dock and the dock and boat move up and down with the tide. If it doesn't float, there are large pillars that you throw a rope around in addition to cleats and the boat goes up and down in relation to the dock. The line-tying is a bit different so it was something new to learn. It's very windy and bumpy but we're secure and not moving at all.

I have a new term for the "frwaping" noise of water smacking the boat silly - slap-happy. It's windy and really slap-happy here.

Okay, it's 5:00 and I only have an hour or so left if I want to see Duck Key - I'm off...we're going to bike around the island.