Friday, November 30, 2007

Life In The Bahamas

North Bimini, Bahamas
25 43.35'N 79 17.92'W

So after a 1000 miles of sailing this month, most of it on cold fronts with temperatures regularly below 10 degrees, 6 nights at sea and a lot of planning and preparation it was all brought home as to why we did it today.

We woke up this morning, walked to the beach for a swim in warm crystal clear water, walked on the beach for a while, lunch in the sun, snorkelling in the afternoon, a few drinks for sun down and then dinner of lobster from the local fisherman at $25 for half a dozen - and no we weren't dreaming all this!

We really enjoyed the USA east coast, but this is very much what we came cruising for, and is what we loved about the Australian coast - we have the added spice here of a different culture (that said have you ever been to Queensland!).

We will have another day here and then head off on yet another overnight sail, to the Berry Islands where we will hopefully be able to put down the anchor in an uninhabited spot and spend a week or two getting the hang of the Caribbean.
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

We Have Arrived In The Bahamas

Alice Town, Bimini, Bahamas
25 43.35'N 79 17.92'W

We're In The Bahamas!

We left Palm Beach at 5pm yesterday and sailed south down the Florida coast for about 50 miles, making great progress in about 15 knots from the East. We had to stay much closer in that we had thought as we were picking up a good 2 knots counter current from the Gulf Steam only a couple of miles off the coast.

That was about as good as it got, because then the wind went SE so we could no longer sail down the coast and we decided to head east and get across the stream while still 15-20 miles north of Bimini. A mistake in retrospect, we ended up motor sailing all night and well into today pushing a lot of current, or getting swept north away from Bimini, as the mood took us. Frustrating but that was all.

We arrived at Bimini very excited just after lunch and followed a new, well buoyed channel into the harbour, with about 5 metres of water under us which was reassuring. The anchorage area was a bit shallow so we promptly gave our keel its first taste of Bahamian sand. We anchored up for a while in the channel but the holding was dreadful so in the end we decided to tie up to a dock so we could sleep peacefully.

Clearing Customs was a breeze, I had to tear the immigration guy away from looking at a fishing net being emptied and then we conducted the whole process to a sound track of Jerry Springer from his TV so almost exactly as I expected. We are now cleared in and unlike the USA don't have to phone customs every time we move the boat somewhere new which will be a nice relief.

Once that was done, the only thing left to do was have a drink in the sun, with our Bahamian courtesy flag flying from the spreaders, and an early night.
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's Warm And The Bahamas Are Near!

West Palm Beach, Florida
26 45.53'N 080 02.60'W

We've done it, we had a cracking sail from Fernandina Beach to Palm Beach, 250 miles at 7 knots sailing the whole way, arriving here on Saturday night a couple of hours after it went dark, so we got to spend a night at anchor in bed rather than sailing which was the original plan.

Best of all, it's finally hot, temperatures in the high 20s, palm trees waving and 60 miles away lie the Bahamas our first Caribbean destination. We are finally south of the cold fronts, we will still get the winds but not the temperatures, so hopefully no more balaclavas. Linda has just finished the arduous and skillful task of making sides for the cockpit that join the bimini and dodger and give us full protection from the weather, we wish it had been higher on the to do list, as we won't need it anywhere near as much now!

We felt that a 60 mile sail for our first international voyage was a bit pathetic after years of focusing on leaving Australia, but after a thousand miles this month, 5 nights at sea and all in what is for us, freezing conditions (and in fairness on one occasion it literally was freezing) we are content that we have earned a cocktail in Bimini this weekend.

Hope to leave tomorrow night for the trip across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, so should be snorkeling by Friday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back In Florida

Fernandina Beach, Florida
30 40.50'N 081 28.10'W

We are now safely back in Florida, at the home of the Beard Competition (see earlier posts) Fernandina Beach. The sail down from Cape Lookout was uneventful, some good sailing, too much motoring and too many false dawns of warm weather.

We celebrated my birthday with our friends Roy & Doon from Bold Endeavour at Cape Lookout, complete with birthday cake, presents and alcohol. A warning to all visitors, Linda bought me a guitar for my birthday (inspired by Gareth and Fred's efforts) so be prepared for camp fire sing alongs to Three Blind Mice and Ode To Joy (slowly).

We sailed the 205m from Cape Lookout to Charleston leaving just before first light on day 1 hoping to arrive before dark on day 2 and therefore only having one night at sea given the low temperatures. It was balaclava helmets all round for the first day and great sailing in 20-25 knots from the NW. Roy & Doon left the same day, so we had some company for the trip south.

The wind died out around sunset so we had to motor all night and we woke the next morning to sunshine and warmth, I climbed from bed after a lovely 3 hours of warmth and started putting on thermals again and then realised it felt warm, went on deck and it was t-shirts and shorts weather! 24 hours earlier it was balaclavas and ski gloves! We motored on all day in glorious sunshine with pods of dolphins joining us regularly thinking we had finally cracked the weather and arrived in Charleston just before sunset as planned.

After a couple of days in Charleston enjoying the sun another cold front came through and we left on the winds accompanying it, and yet again it was freezing cold! We had some problems raising the anchor culminating in a major chain jam so we must have made a worryng sight for the big coast guard cutter we passed them on Charleston Harbour as I stood on the foredeck in an IRA style black balaclava brandishing a crowbar and a lump hammer! We had a great sail down to Florida, despite the record lows being set for Charleston and Savannah that night, sailing most of the way before the wind died late at night and yet again the motor was on.

So here we are, it's about 250m from here to Palm Beach and then about 90 miles from there to Port Lucaya in the Bahamas where we plan to clear customs, we are waiting on a weather window and some post but hope to leave tomorrow or Friday so next blog update will hopefully be from the Bahamas!
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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Round Cape Hatteras

Cape Lookout, North Carolina
34 37.52'N 076 32.87'W

We made it! For five months whenever talking with other cruisers and conversation turned to plans for winter, our new found friends would say - Bahamas/Caribbean wonderful, and then take a concerned look at our mast and ask the question "will you have to go outside round Cape Hatteras?"

For most sailors in the USA the first leg of the long trip south from Chesapeake Bay to the Tropics is taken on the Intra Coastal Waterway a system of canals and rivers, and they pass the cold November nights securely anchored in a little town, maybe eating at a fireplace warmed restaurant, before snuggling down to a nights sleep under the doona 50 odd miles inland of the wind swept Cape Hatteras.

For the few sailing lepers like us with masts over the magic 65' we must spend 2 nights at sea in temperatures nearing freezing and sail round the charmingly known "Graveyard Of The Atlantic" or Cape Hatteras. The reputation of Hatteras comes from hundreds of years of ship wrecks on the sand shoals that extend 30 miles out to sea from it, the area is swept by major weather systems and has the added bonus of being the point of closest approach to the mainland of the Gulf Stream, a fast northerly flowing river of warm water (four knots in the middle) that heads from the Caribbean up the east coast before crossing the Atlantic to Europe - you may remember from school geography that's why Britain doesn't have the same climate as northern Canada.

The first problem is to find the right weather. Hurricanes run up this coast throughout summer and fall, we had one pass by last weekend, so you can't really head south until at least November, this is of course when those lovely North American winter storms start, snowfall begins and serious bone chilling cold gets going. So you can't leave until regular strong northern storms are here, and what sort of conditions don't you want to be sailing south round an exposed cape with a fast north setting current - why yes a northerly storm!

The second problem is psychological, in your head it will be like something out of the Perfect Storm so any excuse to delay it 24 hours for a better forecast is gleefully accepted. We had planned on motoring round in a calm, but that was never likely to happen so finally after sitting around for a week watching the temperature plummet and hearing news of the first snow falls, we bit the bullet and left in a 15 knot norther, which promptly became 20-25 knots and stayed there for the whole trip.

Now for the good news, thanks to the marvels of GPS and modern charts you can stay a lot nearer the Cape than you used to be able to which keeps you out of the worst of the current and so as long as the wind doesn't go NE you aren't battling big seas. Obviously you don't want anything to break while threading the needle or to lose concentration for 5 minutes. During our trip a 48' power boat cut it too fine and ran aground on the shoals where it filled with water and was destroyed - nice to hear on the VHF as you attempt the same passage.

Our trip was safe, but of course the wind being what it is just as we got to the 1 mile wide gap between the abandoned, semi destroyed, outer light house (got blown away allegedly) and the buoy marking the end of the sand banks we had to gybe the boat and you do all this at 4am on a moonless night during the one period when we had sustained 30 knot winds, so we have to put two reefs in as well! But never mind at 0430 on the 8th of November we were through and now had only 72 miles to the next Cape to worry about a NE shift before finally being clear of the Gulf Stream and back to normal sailing.

Because of the wind speed and the excellent speed that Matsu can make, we managed to make the whole 220 mile trip to the anchorage at Cape Lookout, with only one night at sea, averaging just under 7 knots for the passage. Only having one night at sea was a real bonus, as can see from the photo for this entry, sleeping bags were deemed clothing for the trip - I wore thermals, fleece trousers, track suit bottoms, 2 pairs of socks, ugg boots, long sleeve T, thin jumper, thick jumper, hat, gloves and full foul weather gear for all but the glorious 5 hours I got to spend under the doona during two off watch periods!

We arrived at sunset yesterday dropped the anchor in a fabulous spot surrounded by sand dunes (well worth a look on Google Earth) and after hot showers and a few beers got some well earned sleep, knowing one more relatively simple passage to Charleston and then we should have warm weather again! 550 miles to the Bahamas!
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