Easy Passage to the Bahamas 🇧🇸

I just reread last years passage to the Bahamas. Thankfully this years passage was nothing like that!

We left Beaufort, NC at 9:45AM on Sunday, November 3rd. Clear blue sky, almost 60 degrees, 10-15 knot ENE winds. Forecast for the next 3-5 days was for light to moderate winds generally behind the beam, nearly perfect sailing conditions for heading south.

This time there were three people to stand 4 hour watches on Lone Star. With 8 hours off between watches it was almost too easy.Brian on Watch When anyone is on deck they are tethered to the boat, our deck naturally slopes toward the sea. Rolling off is not allowed, haha.

We reached the Gulf Stream before sunset the first evening. It was a little bouncier here and the wind slowly veered from a reach to on the wind, then it died down for a couple hours. We motored as needed and made it across around daybreak on Monday. The stream was an unusual 90 miles wide this year, though the fast running part was only about half that.Video courtesy of BrianMovie watching, they also enjoyed a game of Barricade and some Cribbage too!The WindPilot, now called Herman, dons a purple ribbon in light winds to react quicker; it works! Everyone liked using Herman, he’s a lot quieter than the electric autopilot now called Greta. Can you tell we had a German resident on board to name our helmsmen?

Our passage was blessed with beautiful sunsets, some clouds now and then, and a waxing gibbous moon. Not a lot of star gazing, but some.Sunsets Courtesy of Brian

Tom managed to give our daily position report each morning on the Waterway Ham radio net and on SSB with Marine Weather Center twice daily for the latest weather report and weather routing suggestions. Long range radio provides an added level of communications and comfort for us and our families.Our more direct course this year. Tom hit our top speed of 10.5 knots in a short squall.

Our comprehensive overhaul this past summer paid off. Tom discovered a worn soft shackle during his daily deck check. He modified the way the boom vang connects to the mast step to prevent future chafe. The only other minor difficulty was the engine wouldn’t start twice. Tom fixed it each time by bleeding air out of the fuel line. He might have left a little air in the lines when he replaced the primary fuel filter in Beaufort.

On the afternoon of Friday, November 8th, Anita shouted, “Land Ho”! Eleuthera is a long skinny island that took most of the day to pass. We quickly connected all our electronic devices to our island WiFi hot spot. Ah the joy of being connected; while still at sea!

We arrived at Conch Cay Cut, the entrance into Exuma Sound and Georgetown at 3AM on Saturday, November 9th. Still quite dark, moon was setting just before we entered the narrow channel. Anita hand steered the remaining two hours to arrive at Sand Dollar Beach just before sunrise. After the anchor was down, bridle put on, and the sails covered Brian took this pretty picture of the pre-dawn sky.We all attempted to get some rest as we’d stayed up all night, but soon decided sleep could wait another day. Talked with family and sent messages and just admired the view!We sailed 740 miles in 6 days 19 and a half hours; motored less than 32 hours. Easy passage. It is 82 degrees for a high and 72 at night. Jimmy Buffets tune, “The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful” is constantly playing in our heads!

We motored over to Georgetown on Monday to check in with Customs and Immigration. Then took a tour of the town and a celebratory drink at the Peace and Plenty outdoor bar. Lunch at Jillian’s Jerk Chicken and Ribs, mmmm good!

Pictorial highlights of our walk around Sand Dollar:Pudgy all alone on the beachWe found a cavePath to the oceanBrian climbs a Palm TreeFirst view of the windward side of Stocking IslandFound this sign laying in the sandTom and Anita, morning sunStocking Island

On his last afternoon in the Bahamas, Brian rigged the Portland Pudgy and went sailing:The winds were too light. Tom sailed too, but promises to try it again when there is more wind. All too soon we were saying farewell to our nephew and thanking him for sharing in this fabulous, memorable, and easy passage to a favorite winter island.

On Schedule to Escape Winter

Last year we arrived in Beaufort, NC on November 21st and left for the Bahamas on November 29th; the temperature was 31 degrees. It felt like winter. This year we arrived on October 23rd with plans to head for the Bahamas around November 1st. Daytime temperatures were in the 70’s and lows were in the 50’s. Only two boats in the anchorage when we arrived. More yachts populated the docks and anchorage on the weekend.Bird landing on the water atThe public dinghy/fishing dock, directly across from the anchorage.

We are very impressed with our new super quiet Torqueedo long shaft electric outboard motor. The driver can feel a slight vibration in the tiller. However, it is SO quiet it is difficult to know if it’s turned on! Listen to this short clip:On Saturday we walked up to the Farmers Market. They were celebrating Halloween a few days early.Many of the vendors wore costumes and had candy for the children. Yummy Bacon twist!

Delicious meat pies and farm fresh fruits and vegetables!!

Although we did a lot of provisioning in CT before we left; it was time for the final stock up before heading to the Bahamas. We rented a car for two days, rather than borrow an hour at a time from the local marina. No rushing through the stores this year.First run to Walmart, hardware and pharmacy.

The first half-day of having a car we made the first shopping run. Then Anita picked up our nephew Brian at the bus stop 4 miles away. He flew in from Germany and had been traveling for at least a day and a half. Brian wants to sail to the Bahamas with us and experience an ocean passage. We arrived on Lone Star just at sunset and the insects were feasting on us! After a good nights sleep, a big breakfast and a cup of coffee; Brian spent hours going through our three medical supply boxes and compiled a shopping list to bring them up to snuff. We threw away a lot of old stuff that was no longer sterile or usable. After a light lunch, Brian and Anita went shopping for another round of provisions and filled the small dinghy again. Meanwhile, Tom worked on replacing the electric autopilot motor with our spare and preparing the deck for the replacement rope clutch. He found the old electric autopilot motor had three bolts that were all very loose. It still worked but squealed a lot before the bolts were tightened. Therefore, we still have a working spare, yeah! Unfortunately, once again the shoppers returned right at sunset and again got caught feeding a variety of insects. Guess this is the down side of being here early. No frost yet to reduce the insect population.

The final half-day with the rental car Anita shopped to top off the freezer and refrigerator. Before leaving she put all home-made frozen food for the passage in the cooler. She was satisfied when all the groceries neatly filled every available cold space. We are provisioned to the max! And the black boot stripe at the waterline is still visible; not over loaded.Picture courtesy of Brian

Our weather window was originally Friday, then Saturday. It finally settled into a firm Sunday morning departure. This gave us time to do our remaining chores slowly and enjoy Beaufort a bit more. Like going out to eat at a local barbecue place and doing laundry one last time. Brian volunteered to go up the mast to lubricate and inspect the mast track and rig.He wore our GoPro camera; so cool to see what he was seeing remotely on the iPad. We could snap pictures from the iPad! Pegu Club is featured in the center of this next photo from the top of our mast.Despite our busy days we really enjoyed playing Hearts with 5 players for a couple evenings. So glad Jeff and Kimberly could join us and see a bit of Beaufort, NC.

On Saturday afternoon we started our last project before the passage south: making the Portland Pudgy into a lifeboat and storing it on deck.We are so blessed and thankful to have Brian’s help these last four days of preparation. He was very quick to pitch in and do just about anything and he’s a great cook too. Chicken jambalaya, is on the menu during our passage. A big pot of chili has been made, so it must be time to sail away.

On Sunday, morning November 3rd we raised the anchor and headed out to sea. We did it; left America without running the diesel cabin heater!

Next up; Passage to the Bahamas.

Heading South in the ICW

October 16th dawned cloudy with the promise of rain. A cold front was predicted with strong winds behind it. We elected to motor through the rain for two hours to find a more protected anchorage than Hospital Point in Portsmouth, VA. We were the only boat to anchor in a small cove at statute mile marker 10 in Chesapeake, VA. The highest wind we saw in this protected anchorage was less than 20.Picture courtesy of Tammy Merritt from her house

There are two routes south at the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway or ICW. You may recall last year we chose the Dismal Swamp and suffered propellor damage when a thirty foot tree was kicked up by the wake (waves created by a boats forward motion) of the boat in front of us. The depth of this man-made canal has shrunk over the years from ten feet to perhaps six foot deep as there are years of debris from the overhanging trees.Dismal Swamp 2018

The width seems narrow in spots, especially for sailboats with masts; due to the overhanging trees. We’ve read that there is a large amount of duck weed floating in the swamp this year. Engine raw water filters have to be cleaned often.

This year we chose to transit the ever so slightly shorter route, sometimes referred to as the Virginia Cut. We found depths from 10-16 feet most often and the shorter canals merged with rivers and were often quite wide. There were a lot more birds this year as well. Larger flocks and more of a variety of species. Great Bridge Lock is only a 2 foot rise, quick and painless.Great Bridge LockLooking back to the lock entrance, this crane was dredging near the entrance. Don’t you think the below picture of the winding North Landing River looks wider than the Dismal Swamp?North Landing River

We anchored in Shiloh, NC after nearly 9 hours and 50 miles. It was a long day at the helm, too narrow and many twists and turns to use autopilot. We had the engine on all day. Though the jib gave us a boost with the wind behind us for about 10 miles in Currituck Sound. I was surprised that there were so few boats migrating south at this time of year. However, our night time anchorage had about a dozen boats.

The next day we sailed downwind across Albemarle Sound and down the Alligator River. This Alligator river swing bridge was closed for a couple weeks this fall. So glad it was repaired by the time we arrived. It’s a long way around this stretch of water! We anchored for the night just before the Alligator/Pungo canal and enjoyed this beautiful sunset.Alligator/Pungo CanalMorning fog in the beginning of the canal.

We chose Pungo Creek rather than Belhaven Marina for our next stop-over as the remnants of a tropical storm was predicted to race by. We found good holding near the Marina and enjoyed a walk on shore before the blow. Locals were extremely friendly and the neighborhood was filled with very friendly dogs.A TriStar 46 docked in Pungo Creek. Similar design to our Lone Star which is a TriStar 39.

On Monday, October 21 we sailed south to one of our favorite spots: Oriental, NC. This historic town is so welcoming and we love the unusual and practical supplies at the local consignment store. Last year we sold a Porta-Bote that was too long for our davits. This year we dropped off a gasoline outboard and a series drogue. They were replaced recently by a Torqueedo electric outboard and Shark drogue (sea anchor.)Bringing the Series drogue to the consignment store in Oriental, NC. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at the restaurant behind Tom.

We motored the remaining 24 miles to Beaufort, NC two days later. We completed our southern trek down the ICW in only a week. So excited to have reached our final destination before heading offshore to sail south to the Bahamas!

Next up Preparations and Passage to the Bahamas.

Sailing the Chesapeake

It felt so good to kickback and relax for a couple of days in the Bohemia River. Click the link to see that this is located in the very northern part of Chesapeake Bay, only a mile or so from the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) canal. We had one windy/rainy day then woke up to fog. On the third day, October 4th, we were well rested and ready for a downwind sleigh ride to Annapolis, MD.The anchorage on the Bohemia River.Sailing south with Miles.

The seas were choppy as we headed south and wind gusts were in the high 20’s when we decided to lower the mainsail and continue at 5-7 knots under jib alone. Miles did the same. We wondered if they had an advantage as both their sails are roller-furled while ours are the old style hank on. Our self-tacking jib has a built in wishbone shaped boom, you can’t roll that up! However, self-tacking means we have no lines to pull when we turn or tack the boat. Near the end of the day, we both anchored in Back Creek just south of Annapolis. Miles found an anchoring spot half-way down the creek, near all the Marina’s and dinghy docks. We were directed by a local to a beautiful and quiet anchorage at the head of the harbor, a bit further in. The annual power boat show was underway and we wanted to avoid the crowds and boat wakes in Spa Creek. We met the crew from Miles on shore the first morning to take a much needed mile hike to the Giant food store, a large grocery store. It felt great to stretch our legs and get some exercise! So glad we had the Burley Trolley with us, so much easier to wheel our groceries rather than carry them.That evening we went to a nearby pub to celebrate Helen’s birthday. Great dinner and fun time with them and another cruising couple.

The following day we took our dinghy, laundry, and shower bags down to a marina near where Miles was anchored. They charge a small fee to tie up the dinghy and use the showers and coin laundry. Unfortunately, Miles received a message that their boat was dragging. It wasn’t, but they did re-anchor right in front of us. Much easier to play cards or enjoy afternoon tea!Steve and Helen in their dinghy near their boat, anchored in front of Lone Star.We were literally anchored at the end of the navigable creek.

We were able to rendezvous with Jeff and Kimberly on Pegu Club one day. We last saw them in July at SYC in Groton, CT. We are looking forward to Christmas in Georgetown Bahamas with them!

The Annapolis Sailboat Show started Thursday, Steve and Helen acquired some free tickets and spent the day browsing the show. We elected not to go to remove the temptation to buy more stuff. However, Steve had shown Tom a nifty new device he recently purchased and Tom asked him to buy one for us if they were discounted at the show and they were. So now we own a Bushnell imaged stabilized monocular.After a week in Annapolis we saw a weather window to head south. Can’t pass on fair winds and following seas! On October 11th, we enjoyed a fast 48 mile sail to Solomons, MD.A Chesapeake Lighthouse.We elected not to go ashore here as the full moon tides, called king tides in this area; resulted in flooded docks and the main street too.

We left Solomons just before noon and motor-sailed 35 miles to Little Wicomico River, MD. A fisherman’s haven and a beautiful spot on earth. We entered the narrow entrance channel at sunset, against the current, and through a small fleet of local fishing boats.Such a peaceful and beautiful anchorage.

After a quick warm oatmeal breakfast, we fought the current once again to leave the river. We sailed 26 miles to Jackson Creek in Deltaville, VA. We had a quick lunch then went ashore at a nearby Marina. We had a surprise guest jump in the Portland Pudgy dinghy on our way ashore: a fish jumped into the boat, trying to escape a bigger fish most likely. Tom threw him back in.

The next day we hiked across the peninsula to Norview Marina to take pictures and video of a Seascape custom 55′ trawler cat Tom has listed on yachtworld.com

That was our last stop in the Chesapeake for this year. On October 15th, we sailed the rest of the way down Chesapeake Bay and across Hampton Roads into Portsmouth, VA. We anchored at mile marker zero of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). This is also known as Hospital Point on the Elizabeth River. We only spent two weeks in the Chesapeake this year compared to just over four weeks last year. We had fewer stops waiting for good weather this year. The goal is to not run the cabin heater, which means getting south earlier.

Next up transiting the ICW.

Passage to Cape May and Delaware Bay

We left Block Island before sunrise on September 29, 2019. We expected a boisterous downwind sleigh ride as a strong cold front had passed overnight. Rather than 15-25 knot North winds we experienced 10-12. As the wind was still behind us, sometimes the apparent wind was not strong enough to fill the sails. So we motored whenever our speed dropped below 5 knots. We had a wonderful overnight sail at sea with only occasional ship traffic. Just enough to keep the on watch person from boredom.

Mini-lesson on AIS:Zoom in on the chart plotter above to see what AIS (Automatic Identification System) targets look like directly on our chart. See the green triangles those are clickable links that show details about a ship or navigational aid. Details for ships include length, beam, tonnage, speed, direction, etc. and most importantly “closest point of approach” or CPA. The computer tells you whether you’re on a collision course or not. We currently have an AIS receiver built into our VHF and it is networked with our Chart Plotter. Soon we will install our own transmitter, so other ships can see our boat statistics.

Ironically it took us 39 hours, the same as last year; to sail 220 miles to shelter in Delaware Bay. As we began our passage in the morning this means we had a nighttime arrival. When crossing the Delaware Bay ship channel at night, Anita noticed an AIS target (ship) on the Chart Plotter on a perpendicular course with the name CG Eagle. We recognized the name of this cadet sail training ship. Their home port is right next to ours at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. She called them on the VHF to verify their preferred direction for us to pass. They were heading out to sea into a strong current and the same current was pushing us sideways up the bay. We paused by heading into the bay to let them by.Our buddy boat Miles (at sea in the above photo) led the way into the Harbor of Refuge at Cape Henlopen on the south shore of Delaware Bay at 9:30 pm. Yeah, we get a full nights sleep and successful passage completed. Amazed and pleased that we managed to keep our boats within VHF radio range for this ocean voyage.

We both headed out again early the next day to ride the current and the wind up the Delaware Bay with a gentle southerly breeze. Early morning clouds soon gave way to a deep blue clear sky.Cape Henlopen ferry.A Lighthouse in the bay.Salem nuclear power station.

We managed to have the current with us most of the day and through the Chesapeake Delaware Canal. We anchored in the Bohemia River on October 1st just before sunset., pictured below.We traveled 75 miles in 11 hours. We’ve earned a lay day! Miles and Lone Star plan to stay put for a day or two.

Next up exploring the Chesapeake.

Countdown to Sailing South

Last year we only had two and a half weeks after Tom retired to settle our affairs, load the boat, and head south. It was fast paced with long days to get everything on and off the boat as needed. It was also exciting to be following our dream of going south and cruising full time once again. This year we planned for specific maintenance and upgrades to be done during our July haul out. Sure, some boat projects have kept us busy this summer. However, we’ve taken the time to enjoy ourselves and even sail a little.

This year September was all about spontaneity. In the last blog I mentioned that we have been looking for a life raft. An emergency device we might need, but hope and pray that never happens. Tom suddenly found the perfect lifeboat for us. It is NOT an inflatable raft people sit in and hope to be rescued. A concern we have about these expensive and heavy rafts are that only qualified inspectors can and must service them every 2-3 years. Our lifeboat is a Portland Pudgy rigid dinghy. Checkout the link to see more details. This well designed short boat can be used as a row boat, motor boat, sailboat and most importantly to us it’s a lifeboat. We hope that by using it every day we will also be more familiar with how to use it in an emergency.

Tom found a slightly used 2016 Pudgy in Eliot, Maine for a decent price. Soon we were driving to Maine to inspect and purchase it. Yeah, it fit easily in the back of the van! Phew, that’s a relief. We were not looking forward to trying to hoist 125 pounds on to the roof.

We continued driving north to visit Anita’s sisters in Newcastle and Nobleboro, Maine. After all, we were less than an hour away. I can’t believe I have no pictures of our visit. How disappointing! Fun dinner hosted by Eva, with Linda and Janet and all our spouses too. Tom had a few days to catch up on computer work while Anita pitched in to help Linda get ready to move to a cottage in Nobleboro.

Next stop was Portland Pudgy itself in Portland, Maine. We met with the owner and filled out an order for the remaining equipment needed to fully outfit our Pudgy as a sailboat and lifeboat. We actually decided to leave our Pudgy there to have the sailing hardware installed by them.

In the mean time, we drove to the middle of New Hampshire for a last visit with Tom’s Dad. A generous helping of chili and corn bread was welcome after a walk around Wellington State Park. Thank you Ilse for the fresh Blueberry pie, blueberry crisp and jelly too!

We then returned to Portland, Maine to pick up our dinghy and accessories and drive back to Connecticut in the same day.

On our over night voyage from Block Island to Delaware Bay we carried the lifeboat upside down on the port bow.It fits well on our Davits and has a clever harness under the dinghy for added support and security.And it passed the test of carrying our first grocery run with our Burley Trolley. A versatile folding hand cart or bicycle trailer.A week later than last year, we saw a weather window for our first passage south. Similar to last year we were on shore when we saw the end of a rainbow over our home. A good sign it’s time to leave!Our sail to Block Island on September 28th was fast and fun; 26 miles in three and a half hours. We met with Steve and Helen on Miles and we both planned to leave for Cape May early the next morning. So happy to be heading south again!

Sailing, Shopping, and Socializing – Ahh Summer!

Lone Star anchored at Flat Hammock, near Fishers Island, New York in late August.

It appears our social calendar was as full as our project schedule this summer. Anita often took time for a brisk morning walk around nearby UCONN campus, sometimes with friends, always admiring the view! Tom preferred to obtain his exercise in the college pool and commute to and from on his bicycle.Avery Point Lighthouse on UCONN property.View of SYC from UCONN.

We first met British friends Steve and Helen Lawrence 32 years ago in Barbados after we each had crossed the Atlantic in our respective sail boats. Since then they have completed a circumnavigation. We were so happy to see them cruise into our harbor in their latest boat named Miles. Here they are after a tour of the Nautilus submarine museum in Groton, CT. We were so lucky to have use of a car this summer. Trips to Defender marine supply store, hardware stores, laundry and grocery stores whenever we needed to go were invaluable. We were prepared to use Uber all summer. Tom’s generous sister and her husband offered us the use of their van. Thank you, dear sister!! The car was also a big help when we decided to move into a better priced storage unit and downsize our belongings a bit more. We were also able to visit our son a few times and help them out with a garage insulation project. We were grateful son, Alex and fiancé, Jenna came to more than a few Friday night picnics at Shennecossett Yacht Club.

Tom’s next Project was installing a new lithium iron phosphate battery bank. He was so happy when he moved the old AGM’s off the boat!So sad that I don’t have any pictures of the beautiful blue inner cells, but here is the finished project. We still have a separate engine starting battery for now. So far we are very happy with the new lithium battery bank. It delivers a steady voltage consistently. We’ve even used the microwave and a heat gun with no voltage drop as our old batteries did.At the end of August Tom’s Dad and friend, Ilse came for a short couple night visit. We sailed to Flat Hammock and anchored for lunch and a walk on shore. What a beautiful day. So glad they made the trip!Our next event was to attend a 100 year celebration at the Montville, CT power generation station that Tom worked at from 1979 to 1987. Great time visiting, reminiscing, and touring the current facility. The food was fabulous as well. We decided to do the majority of our provisioning for the Bahamas right here. This was facilitated by the van we borrowed. This time we stocked up on some dried fruits: apples, peaches, and strawberries. Repacked in vacuum sealed bags for longer storage.Tom is always researching new marine products. We’ve been looking for some specific emergency equipment. Things we want to have on hand, but hope to never need. The first was an emergency rudder or perhaps a tiller arm. What he found is a very compact sea anchor: a Fiorentino Shark Drogue. It is deployed on a bridle off the stern and can be used to steer the boat by bringing it close in on one side or the other. The boat will turn to port if you drag it close to the port side of the boat. It doubles as a reliable sea anchor when the seas are rough by adding a weight to the thimble at the tail end; and once again dragging it behind the boat on a bridle.The item stores compactly in itself and is smaller in size than a basketball 🏀. Very well engineered product made of high quality materials. We purchased one and will practice using it as it is so easy to deploy. The YouTube videos for this product were fun to watch and informative.

Next up will be our second piece of needed emergency equipment: a life raft.

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