Thursday, April 25, 2019

Going Eastward - Crossing the Gulf to the Bahamas

Crossing the Gulf Stream from Port Everglades to West End

After all of the preparation, we actually left the dock around 18:30 on March 31st  2019 for our crossing the Gulf Stream from Port Everglades to West End Bahamas.

We expected the trip to take about 12-13 hours, and considered stopping for a few hours at Lake Sylvia, but re-considered with the prospect of a potential work out anchoring and hoisting the anchor within a few hours and then having to manage the boat for the 12+ hours transit to the Bahamas.

West End Customs and Immigration open at 9am, as does the Old Bahama Bay Marina. We expected to arrive early and anchor just to the North of West end or tie up at the Fuel Dock until the Marina Opened. Well, that didn't quite workout! The trip took 15 hours! (dock to West End). Our route planning was ok, but we strayed off the planned course by 6 miles as you can see in the dip in the track just over half way across. Lesson learnt there! Keep an eye on the Distance Off Course. 

Also of note is the pretty large drift North (as expected) where we hit the Gulf Stream. Most of the drift was in the 1st 1/3rd of the transit. We pretty much kept on our Course of 89ºm until around 03:40 when we realized we were off track by 6nm yet probably out of the major influence of the Gulf Stream's Northward flow. At that point we changed course to 65ºm. Looking at the track shows that we still did have some Northward drift as our track is more like 45ºm.

We put the sails up when clear of the Port and comfortable about the sea state which was 1'-2' - nice!
By 23:00 the wind died down to about 5knots so we motor sailed from that point on. Despite my urging for Peggy to take a break, she was awake most of the trip even when off watch. Not me! I slept but awoke at the slightest call from Peggy at the helm.

The trip was pretty uneventful, not a lot of AIS traffic, slight cloud cover, an easy passage.

Moonrise April 1st 2019
Around 05:00 we could see a few boats in the distance, their lights showing under the broken cloud cover to the East. Then we saw MoonRise! Our first ever Moonrise on the ocean. It looked like an Alien ship coming down through the clouds. Sorry for the meager image, the Camera was just not up to catching the moment, but it was a image we will always remember. Just Beautiful!

With our Quarantine flag flying on the Stbd Speader, we arrived at the entrance to West End around 08:50, and found the channel easily in the daylight. We hailed the Marina on #16 and switched down to #12, confirmed our slip. There's a small lagoon between the inlet channel and the Marina, so we slowed while they dispatched  guy to help us tie up. Peggy did great at the helm and we easily tied up without incident. As we were tying up, another Catalina 34 was at the Fuel dock and tied up in the next slip as I was getting ready to head over to the Customs & Immigration office to check in to the Bahamas.

Checking in was easy, the efficient and cheery team quickly helped me complete the forms. I had done most of them on the boat, but was a little uncertain about some of the entries. I paid the $150 fee and they gave me the Receipt, Fishing Permit and Temporary Cruising permit. 

They very specifically asked about which items we had on the boat, ie. Bicycles, Kayaks, Paddle Boards, Dinghies, Out Board motors, etc. I was a bit surprised when they asked, and we had none of the items they mentioned. I wondered about it afterwards. Was it because those items are potential targets for theft - or - would they check to see what we checked in with if the Bahamian Defense Force ever stopped us on the water to see if we had more than we checked in with? Just a thought.

Customs asked about which stores we had brought in with us. I had a spreadsheet listing everything, but all they wanted to know was the types, eg. Wine, Beer, Food, Water, Drinks. So I expanded my list on the Form from 'Ships Stores' to Wine, Beer, Food, Water, Drinks.

At the end of the jetty where the Customs and Immigration office is located, is the Old Bahama Bay Marina Office. Caviar was bright and cheerful and quickly completed our registration. We were booked in for just one night, but the weather over the next couple of days was forecast to be rugly, so we bit the bullet and for two days with the option to stay an extra day if weather prediction was correct. The two nights cost $304 including a 5% discount, probably because the Marina only reopened on Saturday (3/30) The daily fee included a $15 Mandatory Water service fee - it's not metered - and the Electric fee, I think it was $23.80. 

Once cleared through Customs and Immigration as well as the OBBM registration, I returned to the boat and pulled down the Quarantine Flag and hoisted the Bahamian Courtesy Flag which stayed up until we were close to Lake Worth on our return.

We were tired from the trip, but our neighbors, the C34, were up and about and so I did the right thing and requested to come aboard with a bottle of Rum in my hand. I wish I had gotten a Boat Card from 'Bob' the skipper, Ricky & Phil were crew and they were doing some extensive cruising from their home port near Pensacola. Bob has made some very nice mods to his C34 Mk. 1.5 including a really nice Bimini & Dodger. They were headed out to dinner and I had hoped to take some pics in the morning, Sadly, they left the dock before dawn strayed into my eyes after a really good nights sleep.

I hope to be able to get in contact with 'Bob'. He also had a significant upgrade in his electrical system. Most obvious from the outside, besides the Dodger & Bimini, he had installed some really good Tank Rails on the lifeline stanchions on both sides of the boat. He also only used the tall slim tanks rather than the short and stubby cans easily available in Auto Stores for the Diesel. So they (the tanks and the tank rails) are both on my 'To Do' list.

Before getting turned in for the night, I started my written blog notes. There's no way I could recall most of what we experienced, so those notes are important, to me at least!

Next - Old Bahama Bay - And what did we forget?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bahamas 2019 - My Navy

Heading to the Bahamas

The Beach at Old Bahama Bay Resort - Bahamas 2019
We had been planning our trip to the Abacos Bahamas ever since we purchased 'Eximius' from the Previous owner that hat cruised that area many times. I saw it as an opportunity to put all of the work over the past 3 years to good use, as well as some enjoyable sailing.

As this is our first 'big' boat - although we had pushed the limits with our previous Catalina 250 Water Ballast 'Joint Decision' or 'JD', we have had to, and enjoyed the learning of new systems and different sailing techniques. The past three years has included our retirement which gave us the opportunity for longer sailing trips. Our 2019 Bahamas Cruise set out with a Twenty One Day time frame, simply because Peggy did not want to be in my 'Navy'.

The planning began with reading as much as we could about the options for cruising the Bahamas and whittling them down to a realistic 21 day out and back cruise.

Step One: Where?

We selected the Abacos - there's lots of places to stop, Marinas, Moorings, Anchorages and each has it's own Bahamian Charm. Realistically, we could make it to Hope Town, and either turn back towards Florida or from Hope Town continue South across the Tongue of the Ocean and head Westward to the Berry's, Bimini and then back to Florida.

With only 21 days, the trip to the Berry's would demand no delays and pushing on in order to make a deadline - not a good option when trying to enjoy the trip. So we ditched that idea. Then we added a simple idiom to reduce any stress about making it to some distant location: If we like some place, then we might stay a day or two, and if that means we don't go as far towards Hope Town, that's just fine. Someone in our sailing club, of whom I have the greatest respect when it comes to sailing, has told me on more than one occasion: "When we are cruising, we don't have any plans, we're Cruising!"

Step Two: When?

Deciding when to go is not that easy. Asking any experienced cruiser is not particularly helpful. Someone that has done the same trip multiple times will have stories of how great it was one year and how awful it was another even during the same season. Rolling the dice, we picked Late March and Early - Late April. It really does seem to be down to luck.

Step Three: Preparation

What did we need to do to prep the boat for a three week trip, how about taking care of the house while we're away, what would the trip cost and a multitude of other things. We decided to just do it!

Anyone that knows me, knows that I'm far from OCD, but during my 25 year Navy Career, I did learn the value of a good List, if you make them and use them!

I started by making a spreadsheet on Google Sheets in the cloud listing everything I thought of for the trip: Provisions, Equipment, Supplies, Spares, House Prep, Communication Information.

Peggy took on the House Prep: She setup auto payments for all of our anticipated bills during our trip and figured how we would finance the cruise. Despite me being the one that does the cooking, Peggy also took on the Provisioning part of the list. In the weeks leading up to our departure, we cooked extra meals and used our Freeze-a-Meal kit to vacuum pack them and freeze them. We even shaped them so that they would fit efficiently in our boat's freezer.

We included things in the House Prep list such as having someone check on the house regularly, that was easy, our Son In Law is a Police Officer and drives past our house on his way to work, plus our neighbors are a very close bunch and we watch out for each other all the time. 

For years I've known about the value of a Ships Log but never had one. Also, in the past we have always given a float plan to our family so that they know where and when we're going and when we should check in. Wouldn't it be great of the two things - Ships Log and Float plan were combined. Among other things, it would reduce the need to keep re-entering the same info.

I asked my FB friends what they used for their log book and received an Excel spreadsheet, suggestions for various Brand log books. I also spent hours following Goggle clues. In the end I decided to design my own. I've posted about that design here.

As a result of this trip, I'll be making several changes to the log book design.

Once we had a date and a list (ok, many lists) of things to do in prep for the trip, we worked  a bit each day to get our act together. The plan was to be ready by March 22nd and to leave on the first good weather window on or after that date.

A group of other club members left for the Abacos on the 25th but we held out for better weather. We finally loaded the perishable foods and our clothing on March 30th for a 6pm departure from the dock in Fort Lauderdale.

Next: Crossing the Gulf

See you on the Water.