Thursday, March 30, 2017

Taking a Break

We are taking a break from Breeze On while we visit my family in FL. Breeze On is safely tucked in at Ft Pierce Inlet Marina. It isn't a fancy place but it suits our needs for the time being. When we started out for Ft Pierce from Lake Worth yesterday there was very little wind. We expected to motor the whole way and planned our departure time and speed in order to arrive at Ft Pierce Inlet just past low tide, close to slack tide. We did motor all morning then the breeze picked up. We eventually raised both jib and main and turned the engine off. We were still going too fast so we furled the jib. If you were watching our Spot Tracker you might have seen us bypass the inlet and head north for about 3 miles. We weren't lost, we were just trying to kill time to avoid entering Ft Pierce Inlet against a strong current. We also wanted to be past dead low tide to avoid going aground on shoals outside the marina. We still had to fight against a fair amount of current and turbulent water but did not go aground. 
Tonight will be the first night we haven't slept on Breeze On in 150 days. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lake Worth

We had an unexpected bonus day of sailing today. The winds were predicted to be light and right in our nose. Instead, we had enough wind to sail for at least half the day. At one point we had 11 knots of breeze and we were moving at 9 knots (in the Gulf Stream, of course). We entered Lake Worth Inlet (just north of Palm Beach) and had a little trouble finding a place to anchor. We thought we would anchor just south of the inlet in what is called the turning basin. As we maneuvered around getting ready to drop the anchor we went aground. Turns out they dump the dredging "spoils" there so it was much shallower than indicated on the chart. Fortunately, we were able to get off of the shoal.
We eventually found a good place about 1 1/2 miles further south. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Key Biscayne

We had a day of smooth motoring/motor-sailing/sailing up the Hawk Channel to Biscayne Bay. We are anchored just inside the bay next to Key Biscayne. We hope to make a quick getaway before dawn tomorrow in order to make 80 nautical miles before sunset. On our way in we saw "stiltsville". A few scattered buildings on stilts in the middle of the bay. 
I forgot to mention yesterday that a pod of 4-5 dolphins was swimming
 around us just after we anchored at Rodriguez Key. We are still waiting for dolphins to come play in our bow wake. 

Rodriguez Key

We left Marathon yesterday morning, happy that we were able to get out of the marina without hitting anything. It involved some pretty tight maneuvering. We set out on a SE course to reach the GulfStream and take advantage of the current. Once we got there we found seas of 6' with 5 second periods. Really uncomfortable!  In fact, I got seasick for the first time on this trip. I hadn't taken any medication before we left and, by the time I did, it was too late. George steered back closer to land and we spent the rest of the day sailing in Hawk Channel, inside the reefs. That made a huge difference!  Seas were 1' or less. We had to tack the last few hours but we had the time so we chose to sail instead of motor. We anchored on the south side of Rodriguez Key, one of the only anchorages between Miami and Marathon that is deep enough for sailboats. Because of its orientation it doesn't offer much protection from easterly winds but it does offer protection from the surge. We had a surprisingly comfortable night. 
We set out this morning on our way to Biscayne Bay. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Preparing to Leave Marathon

The winds have eased enough that we believe we can leave Marathon tomorrow morning and start heading north. We plan to go to Fort Pierce and leave the boat for a week or two while we visit family in Florida. We plan to break the trip up over four days. Our first stop will be Rodriguez Key, near Key Largo. Next will be Key Biscayne (Miami), then Lake Worth (Palm Beach) and finally Fort Pierce. 
While we have been in Marathon I have enjoyed watching the numerous pelicans. One of the fisherman a few slips from us had even named one. It hangs around waiting for the scraps when he is cleaning his fish. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exploring Boot Key Harbor

The new lithium battery system is installed and working just fine. Alex from Sea Tek came by and had us run a few tests just to make sure. We have turned the shore power off and will monitor how much the batteries drop overnight and also how much our current solar panels recharge them tomorrow. We plan to eventually swap our semi-flexible panels for much more efficient rigid panels. 
In the meantime, George inflated the dinghy and we took it around Boot Key Harbor. It is actually a large, very nice harbor with 360 degree protection. There are 226 mooring balls and there is a waiting list for a ball this time of year. There is also limited space for anchoring. Too bad they have that power line at 65' stretched across the entrance. We also explored Sister Creek and saw a manatee!
There appears to be a weather window for us to leave here and head north
in a few days. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Lithium Batteries are Installed!

Late this morning Alex and Dan from Sea Tek came by to install our new lithium house batteries. The worked all afternoon and into the evening installing the 400 amp hours of batteries, a computer and two battery monitors. One of the monitors can be paired with an app on a smart phone so it can be monitored anywhere within Bluetooth range. The only battery monitors we have had were those connected to our solar panels. We could tell how much solar power was going in but couldn't tell how much power we were drawing. These batteries are more efficient than our old ones so they should charge more quickly. If Alex has time before we leave here he will install new rigid solar panels. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Playing Tourist, Part 3

Today we walked 2 1/2 miles to visit Crane's Point. It used to be a private estate and is now a nature center. It is one of the few areas where native trees have been preserved. One of the interesting displays on the property was a small boat used to bring 8 or 9 refugees from Cuba. The boat landed in the Keys north of here. The sails appeared to be made of nylon bags used to hold 50 kg (110 lb) of rice. The sails were shredded. I can only imagine what the refugees went through to get here. We walked the 1 1/2 miles of trails on the property then 2 1/2 miles home. I think we are making up for time in the boat without walking much. 

Playing Tourist, Part 1

Since we are in Marathon waiting for our new batteries to be installed we have been playing tourist. The other day we took a wet ferry ride 3 miles to Pigeon Key. It was one of the 82 camps for workers who built the railroad from Homestead to Key West. Henry Flagler, who along with John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil, spent $30 million of his own money over a hundred years ago to build the railway. Pigeon Key is near the eastern end of the Seven Mile Bridge. After the 1938 hurricane destroyed part of the railway it was sold and converted to a two-lane road. A new road was opened in 1982. The old road still stands, but the spans for the swing bridges have been removed. I remember driving on the Seven Mile Bridge with my family in the early sixties. 
Several original buildings still stand on Pigeon Key, which I think is pretty impressive, considering their age and exposure to hurricanes.
*I had trouble posting this. Hence, Part 2 appeared before Part 1. 

Playing Tourist, Part 2

Yesterday we visited the Turtle Hospital. It was very interesting and a little sad. They claim to be the largest turtle hospital in the world and never turn a turtle away. At times they have had over two hundred sea turtles. Many turtles are rehabilitated and released into the wild. Some, though, remain there for their entire lives. One that has been there for almost 30 years is "Bubble Butt". He is so named beacause, after being hit by a fast- moving boat, he formed a large air pocket between his body and shell. The shell becomes deformed and the air pocket prevents him from being able to dive. There is no cure. The turtles with Bubble Butt Syndrome are treated with weights glued to their shells and they cannot be released to the wild. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We Are Legal Now

Yesterday morning we took a cab to the airport, rented a car and drove 43 miles to the Key West International Airport. We gave our passports and boat documentation to a very nice US Customs agent and, in less than five minutes, we were cleared in. The agent was confused about why we drove from Marathon, he said we could clear in at the Marathon Airport. We shared our saga and he said maybe it was because the Marathon Customs office is closed Monday and Tuesday. The law states you have to call Customs as soon as you anchor or dock in the US. Then, within 24 hours, you have to appear in person at a Customs office that will handle small boat clearances. I am guessing that if we had arrived on Tuesday, instead of Monday, we could have cleared in at Marathon on Wednesday. Not entirely sure of that, though. 
Since we had a rental car we ran some other errands, including shopping at a large West Marine and a Publix. We we like two kids in a candy store!  
In the evening we had sundowners with my brother's friend and wife. They cruised in the Bahamas for 12 years and it was fun swapping stories. 
This morning we had to move from Marathon Marina, a really nice place, to a different location. George found an available slip owned by a diesel repair shop. They will rent the slip if they aren't using it for repairs. It is the slightly less than we were paying at Marathon Marina but with practically no amenities (we do have electricity). We feel lucky to have anything at all, though. It is crazy busy in Marathon. We put our name on a waiting list for a mooring ball. If we clear the waiting list we would have to go under power lines which may be 65'.  Some people say they are higher. We will decide if we are going to try and squeeze under them at low tide if and when we clear the list. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Goodbye Bahamas, Hello USA

We took advantage of a favorable weather window and left Bimini just before sunrise yesterday morning.

 We were able to sail the first several hours of the trip, then motor sail then motor and finally sail again. From Bimini we turned southwest, then west, then northwest so as not to fight the GulfStream. As we approached Miami we discussed stopping there and clearing Customs but decided to press on through the night to Marathon. 

In hindsight, we should have stopped in Miami. Apparently, US Customs no longer handles small boats in Marathon. We have to go to either Miami or Key West.  (We didn't apply for the "Local Boater Option" before we left.) Also, we didn't realize that it is extremely difficult to find a slip in Marathon. The marina we are in can give us a slip for just two days. Finally, person who is installing our new batteries won't be able to do the installation this week. (We had originally
scheduled the installation for next week). 
In hindsight, we should have stopped in Miami, cleared in, called about the batteries and slip availability in Marathon. Then we could have come here when everything was in place. Oh well, hindsight--it is 20/20. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Berry Islands & Bimini

We didn't see a lot of the Berry Islands but what little we saw we didn't like. It is extremely shallow throughout the islands and there aren't many protected anchorages. It took us five attempts to set the anchor on a grassy bottom at Bird Cay. It was very rolly even though there was practically no wind. We decided to leave yesterday morning and travel slowly overnight to Bimini. From here we will cross over to Florida. We arrived at Bimini Sands Marina at 7:45 this morning. The marina looks like it was once nice but has fallen on hard times. We were told that new management will take over in April. We plan to take advantage of a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream tomorrow and head to Marathon, FL. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Chicken Swill

It seems that we are in the midst of high boating season in the Bahamas. That means that, in addition to a lot of boats, there is a lot of chatter on the VHF radio. Boats that travel in packs tend to hail each other A LOT. One boat name that we hear over and over sounds like "Chicken Swill". It is pronounced with a French accent and probably belongs to one of the many French Canadian boats we have seen here. Every time we hear "Chicken Swill, Chicken Swill, Chicken Swill" we laugh. George recently got a glimpse of the boat and saw that it is actually "Chic n' Swell". We were still a bit confused until we spoke with someone who spoke with someone who asked the owner. (Apparently we haven't been the only ones wondering about the name). It means "fashionable but a little tacky".

Today we had a fantastic sail from New Providence Island to Bird Cay in the Berry Islands. At times we were sailing almost 8 knots under jib and main. We had some trouble getting the anchor to set on the grassy bottom and it is rolly here. Although we saw a nice green flash at sunset we plan to find a new anchorage tomorrow. Oh, and Chicken Swill is anchored nearby.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

We Made it Out of the Slip--Woo Hoo!

The strong easterly trade winds finally subsided a bit so we decided to leave Palm Cay Marina. We still had winds of 15 knots on our beam, pushing us toward the wall. It wasn't an easy decision to leave, especially after we saw the difficulties two boats that left ahead of us had. George did a great job planning our departure and asking the marina staff for help. We used one spring line on a piling and one on the next boat, held by the marina staff, (there was no middle piling between the boats) to hold us off the wall and help pivot the boat into the wind. It was quite a relief to get out of there without hitting anything.
We had a nice stay in the marina and made some new friends while we were there. We shared sundowners, a few dinners and played a few rousing games of Mexican Train.
Today we sailed to West Bay, on the western end of New Providence Island. The bay is surrounded by expensive-looking mansions. We plan to sail up to Bird Cay in the Berry Islands tomorrow.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Not Much to Report

We are still in Palm Cay Marina, waiting for the strong winds to subside. Our slip is up against a concrete bulkhead and the wind is on our beam blowing us toward the wall. George did a great job tying two bow lines to a piling that keep us off of the wall. 
The marina provides a courtesy car that guests can use for two hours. We took it to two real grocery stores on Friday and then I went again with some new friends yesterday. What a treat!  We hadn't been in a supermarket since November. We expect to be here a few more days and then go either to the Berry Islands or Bimini if we have to hide from another front. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

New Providence Island, Palm Cay Marina

Today we motor-sailed 36 nm to Palm Cay Marina, on the south side of New Providence Island. The big resorts and cruise ships are in Nassau on the north side. We hadn't planned to come to here at all but it made sense when we decided to replace our batteries in Marathon, FL. We have been wanting to add to the 330 amp hours we currently have for our house batteries. If we add batteries we have to replace the old ones, too. Since we are replacing them we decided to go with lithium batteries. Now, before you warn me that our boat will explodeI, I will say that marine lithium batteries are quite stable and safe. Lithium batteries are made with various chemical compositions. Some manufacturers choose a more volatile battery in order to gain performance. The lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo4) batteries we will purchase sacrifice some performance for stability. We spoke to someone who had purchased them from Seatek Marine in Marathon and highly recommended them. We plan to get 400 amp
hours of LiFePo4 batteries which will be equivalent to 800-1000 amp hours of our current AGM batteries. This is because we can only use a portion of the AGM's available amps but can use almost all of the Li battery amperage.
So, in order to make our way to Marathon we came to New Providence Island. We will be at Palm Cay Marina for 4 days to wait out a front, then visit the Berries (a group of islands in the Bahamas), then sail to the Florida Keys.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Normans Cay

Decades ago Normans Cay was overtaken by a drug lord, Carlos Lehder. He apparently ran drugs through here. Now, there is an airplane runway, a small restaurant, a few villas and a marina under construction on the island. George and I went ashore to walk around and spoke to a man who was watering shrubs from a water truck. He told us about the marina under construction and proudly said it will be the largest marina in the area. George asked if he lived here and he said he worked here for three weeks and went home for one week each month.
We decided to head northwest from here, to Nassau. I will explain why in another post.