Successfully Escaped Winter

Our passage from sunny Atlantic City to our home base at Shennecossett Yacht Club in Groton, Connecticut took 36 hours. At three different times we were able to sail at 5 knots. However, that amounted to only 5 hours of the passage. So we motored on a calm sea the majority of the time. Thankfully, our electric auto pilot did all the steering of this open ocean passage. About 4 hours south of Montauk, Long Island we were surrounded by thick fog. Thankfully we are equipped with radar, and AIS positions of most commercial and some pleasure boats appear right on the chart plotter. We also recently added an automatic fog horn, so it was automatically blasting our position to boats as an auditory signal. We were disappointed that the fog never lifted all day. We had to slowly feel our way into our own little harbor and trust our instruments!A big thank you to Bill Hooper for taking this photo of us from E deck! It made us smile to hear the cheers of fellow club members that were on a boat at the nearby dock. Thank you for the welcome home at 7:00PM on Saturday, June 1st.

About a half hour later we caught a brief glimpse of shore, yes we are in the right place! We were still outside covering sails, setting up our porta-bote dinghy, and stowing our offshore gear.Spring was cool and very wet here in New England. However, after a cold front blasted through the next day, the long range forecast looks pretty good. When we first arrived we were enjoying sleeping in slightly cooler weather: high 50’s and low 60’s rather than 70’s. Daytime highs have been in the 60’s or 70’s so quite comfortable. Summer weather finally arrived at the end of June.

The first project Tom worked on was a used Burley Travoy Trailer. Soon he was attaching it to his bicycle and pedaling to the hardware store with the empty propane tank strapped to the trailer. Tom said he had to keep looking back to be sure it was still there. He used to commute to work on this bike, so he feels right at home. Tom’s current project is replacing our inverter.

Anita is back into the groove of a morning exercise walk around the nearby UCONN campus. Tom signed up to use the UCONN pool this summer.

We are learning about grocery delivery via Instacart and Loving the convenience of placing Amazon orders too. We are currently hauled out at Essex Boat Works, more on that in the next blog. We are making lists and ordering parts for various projects.

It’s good to be back in familiar cruising grounds, meeting up with friends and family.

Statistics for our round trip to the Bahamas:

Total miles: 3822 nautical miles

Total Engine hours: 368 (note: 47 hours were for charging purposes only, solar day was too short to charge batteries through clouds; add more solar)

Total hours sailing: 355

Nights at sea: 18

Nights at anchor: 226

Nights at a dock: 8

Total days away: 253

We plan to sail south again in the fall; we loved escaping winter! Summer weather is so much more pleasant when living on a boat.

Passage from Beaufort, NC to Atlantic City, NJ

We enjoyed our stay in Beaufort, NC. A bit of boat maintenance, cooking, and restocking interspersed with walks in this neat seaside village. Anita also did laundry behind the General Store, and got a haircut by Beverly; who gave her a great cut last fall. We had a delicious dinner at Aqua to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary; we were at sea on the 17th.Yes, you see three mini desserts: creme brûlée, chocolate cherry torte, and banana custard. All were fantastic!

On the first day of the long Memorial Day weekend; Saturday, May 25, we motored down the busy channel and out to sea. We had a good forecast for the next 3-5 days. Although we were directed to stay coastal in case something developed after 3 days. Winds were light until 4PM. Then we had fair winds and following seas to round Cape Hatteras! We enjoyed a steady 8-9 knots during the overnight hours. The first days 24 hour run was 151 nautical miles, the way life should be!

The next day, the wind became lighter so we motor-sailed. On our third night out, we were surprised by a sudden windy squall with lightning and a brief light shower at 3AM. Anita took the sails down in 30 knot winds and noticed the jib would have to be repaired in the morning. The trailing edge of a batten pocket was shredded from chaffing on the radar dome. We had lost a short batten. Anita applied two stick on patches to the area and hand stitched them to help keep them in place.

That same evening our weather router told us we should pull in on the New Jersey shore no later than noon tomorrow. We chose to head for Atlantic City. We had to motor-sail the last 17 hours in light winds. With light winds and near shore we were invaded by biting flies and other little insects.

The wind picked up as we entered the inlet and the skies were looking mighty dark. Tom had a hard time lowering the mainsail as one of the plastic slides had broken and was wedged in the sail track. Somehow, he managed to muscle it down. We found a snug and secure anchorage in a good size creek on the eastern shore, just around Rum Point. We arrived here at 10AM on Tuesday, May 28 and plan to stay a few days until the weather settles down. Look at the progression of the weather in this series of photos.

SunriseApproaching Atlantic City At our anchorageOur statistics for this passage: 370 nautical miles, 71 hours total passage time, engine on for 38 hours.

We took the time to catch up on sleep, fix the main sail slide, and inspect and retune the mast.

One night a nearby single-hander had come by for a visit at sundown. He was only aboard about 10 minutes when a big thunderstorm came up with lots of wind and rain. There was also a tornado watch. He raced back to his boat. We were anchored directly in front of him and suddenly we were dragging our anchor. The wind shift happened so fast it plucked our anchor out of the mud. We started the engine and held ourselves into the wind with the engine in gear while raising the anchor. We reset it in our original spot, and put out lots more anchor chain. Eric came back aboard the next day for a visit before heading up the ICW toward New England. Hope to see him again this summer.

Ocean passage from the Bahamas to Beaufort, NC

We had an extra week to prepare for our voyage from the northern Bahamas, known as the Abacos, back to the U.S. We had attempted to leave Thursday, May 9th, but realized that morning that the weather window was closing. Although we were already underway, we didn’t feel comfortable committing to a three day-500 mile passage to arrive in Beaufort, NC at the beginning of a gale. Four days for that length of passage is more predictable in our boat. So we anchored at Great Guana Cay and the next day moved on to Green Turtle Cay.

We continued to make the boat better for the ocean passage ahead. Tom took the time to scrub the bottom on two different occasions. He ran out of sunlight the first time. A smooth surface under water will improve our speed, especially in light winds! Anita spent her time cooking and baking, filling the freezer with vacuum sealed meals and treats to make meal preparation super easy at sea. We caught up on laundry and house cleaning, recharged batteries on a bunch of items like handheld radios, spot light, and battery jump packs. We also reviewed and organized ditch bags and medical supplies.

The Bluff Point Cay anchorage on Green Turtle Cay was a beautiful, secluded location with a few birds twittering and only a few houses occupied at this time of year. We were the only boat at anchor in the harbor for four days.

Our last night in the Bahamas some local swimmers out for their morning exercise invited us to dinner at one of the houses on shore. A group of 9 or 10 guys were sharing the house at the time. They even picked us up on board as we had folded up our dinghy in preparation for our passage. Delicious marinated chicken and rice, great fellowship and swapping of stories. They took some drone pictures of our boat in the harbor and measured the height of our mast, so cool!We gave them some dehydrated peanut butter as a thank you gift, something we still had in stock and they had never tried.

We prefer ocean passages to inland waterways for several reasons. Fewer obstacles is a given. Amazing night sky especially now with a full moon (though the stars and Milky Way are beautiful when there is no moon). This time of year, nights are relatively short, even shorter as we head north. The rhythm of the four hour watch system is easy for us to adapt to. We have the same watches each and every day forming a pattern.

We left our lovely anchorage at 7AM on Thursday, May 16 and sailed nonstop to Beaufort, NC in just over four days; arriving at 1PM on Monday, May 20. We anchored across from Beaufort Docks; the same place we left from last November.

The passage was super easy! The full moon made it very easy to see at night.We had one bedraggled bird sleep on our lifeline all night. He flew away at dawn and was a long way from land!Fun to see a pod of dolphin play with us in the Gulf Stream.

We enjoyed great weather the whole trip. Very few clouds, light winds, no rain. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets. We actually would have preferred a bit more wind. The highest we had was around 12-14 knots right behind us. We ended up motoring almost one third of the time: 29 hours of 102. We steered with the electric auto pilot exclusively on this passage, rather than the wind vane. There was not enough apparent wind for the wind vane to work well.

In contrast, the entry into the Beaufort inlet was sporting with following seas and a contrary current of a knot and a half. There was also a large dredge blocking off the entire deep water entrance channel at one point. The real entertainment began when we started the engine as we needed to turn up wind and weren’t sure if we could still sail. The alternator belt broke almost immediately. No time to fix it now! We sailed the last 2 miles up winding narrow channels, against the tidal current, and with a variety of small pleasure craft. There was a large motor yacht passing us at the last turn as we were sailing too slow (4-5 knots) at the same time that a larger fishing vessel was coming the other way. It’s understood they didn’t know our engine was out of commission. Fortunately, we never had to turn fully into the wind so were able to steer flawlessly! A sailboat stops when it points closer than 45-50 degrees (360 degrees on a compass) either side of where the wind is coming from. The same large motor yacht chose to block the entire channel right in front of the anchorage by spinning his boat around in preparation for docking. We managed to steer past his bow and avoid other anchored boats. Then we turned upwind into the narrow anchorage across from Beaufort Docks. Tom dropped the jib and after the boat stopped; lowered the anchor. Meanwhile, Anita dropped the main. Once we were sure the anchor was not dragging and the nearby boat was far enough away, Tom dove into the engine room to replace the alternator belt while Anita covered sails and stowed sailing gear. Once the engine was available, we re-anchored a little further from the channel and nearby boat and ensured the anchor was set by backing down with the engine. Exciting finish to an easy and relaxing passage. John, from the neighboring boat stopped by to chat in the evening and congratulated us on a well executed anchoring under sail. On our first cruise 30 years ago we had plenty of practice sailing on and off anchor. Good to know we still have the skills to make our floating home safe and secure.

Incidentally, we believe the underlying engine problem is a small amount of rust on one of the pulleys that chafes the belt. Tom has sanded/smoothed this area and we have been able to continue using the engine as evidenced by the twenty nine engine hours on this passage alone. We have a brand new higher output alternator, pulleys and serpentine belt waiting for us in CT. It will be the first of many new projects on Lone Star.

Check-in with U.S. Customs was a breeze with the CBP ROAM application (Yes, there’s an app for that.)

The weather is unsettled for the remainder of the week so we plan to stay near town for awhile. Perhaps do some walking, browsing and chores. Not to mention restocking on ice cream, chocolate, chips and brownie mix. Things we never bought in the five and a half months in the Bahamas. We hope to find another weather window soon to continue our passage north offshore.

Cruising in the Abaco’s

Cover photo: sunrise in Marsh Harbor.

We tried to leave Spanish Wells, following Pegu Club out of the harbor one afternoon. We had the main sail up and the anchor bridle off. When Anita turned on the key and pushed the button to start the engine nothing happened. Tom tried too, still nothing. We thought about sailing off anchor, but decided to drop the sail and trouble shoot the problem instead. This happened around 2PM. Tom had spent the day rigging the steering lines for the WindPilot self-steering out in the hot sun. Then he had to dive in the airless engine room. We took apart the engine control panel in the enclosed cockpit as well. Buffing wires and rerouting a few made it work, but the real problem is a couple broken prongs inside a wiring harness. No spare on board so we connected the wires directly and will complete the repair once back in the states this summer.

The next morning we left before sunrise at 6:00 AM to sail from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera 65 nautical miles to the northern Bahamas island group known as the Abaco’s. We had light winds, but were able to sail most of the way, only turning on the engine in the late afternoon. We crossed paths with this container ship…and Pegu Club who left from Egg Island at sunrise. Their towed dinghy is hiding behind a wave.We both anchored in the Lee of Lynard Cay shortly after entering Great Abaco Sound via Little Harbor Cut. It was an easy off the wind 11.5 hour sail and the WindPilot self-steering wind vane quietly and competently accomplished all the offshore steering! Yeah, another successful project completed!

The next day we sailed 20 miles northward to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco. This is one of the larger settlements on Great Abaco. We visited both a large hardware and grocery store, both the biggest we’ve seen all winter with the exception of Nassau. Then back aboard to enjoy the sunset.The next day, we stayed aboard and celebrated Kimberly’s Birthday by grilling steaks and hamburgers on the grill accompanied with parsley potatoes and carrots and brownies and chocolate malted milkshakes for dessert. So happy to have sailed so much with Kimberly and Jeff this winter. We wish them well on their return trip to CT. The next day they headed west, while we headed east for a nostalgic return to Hopetown on Elbow Cay. We cruised here nearly thirty years ago. We had a great walk to On Da Beach restaurant and enjoyed a relaxing and delicious lunch. Thanks for the tip Marcia!We had to wait out some nasty weather at anchor near Eagle Rock…Enjoyed more pretty sunsets …Explored the still operating kerosene historic lighthouse and the amazing view from the top…And a two mile walk on the beach, love the sound of crashing waves on a beach…We enjoyed our six days in Hopetown. Then we motored to Man of War Cay about six miles away. It was low tide when we left. Easy to see how shallow the water was; 4-6 feet deep for a mile or so. Interesting that the water color in this part of the Bahamas is a deeper green, some people call it emerald green, rather than the bright turquoise in the Exumas. This is looking straight down into six feet of water with a sandy bottom while sailing…After one rocking night with south winds; we decided to move back to Marsh Harbor for our final stock up before heading to sea, and north toward New England for the summer. There are other cruisers getting ready for their crossings as well. Always fun to compare plans and swap sea stories. On our walk to Maxwells, a large grocery store, we spotted a cruiser on a folding bicycle with a Burley Travoy trailer holding two ten pound propane tanks. Tom stopped him by asking a question so we were able to see what we purchased online last month. He said, it’s the best purchase he ever made! We’re looking forward to getting ours!

On Wednesday afternoon, May 8; we decided to get the boat ready for sea as we had a weather window to go offshore. We rigged safety lines on deck, disassembled the dinghy, secured a lot of loose items, bought fuel and water. We left at first light on Thursday, and listened to Chris Parker on SSB for a weather update as we sailed out of Marsh Harbor. We also checked a few apps we use to predict weather. Unfortunately, our weather window had diminished. We chose to abort this attempt rather than sail into a gale near Beaufort, NC nearly 500 miles away. We anchored on the south side of Great Guana and enjoyed another new beautiful Bahama anchorage. The next day we had a leisurely sail to Green Turtle Cay. Tom dove over the side to check the anchor as this is a grassy anchorage; labeled poor holding. He also scrubbed and inspected the bottom of the boat. The next day we went ashore to walk around this historical loyalist settlement. It is very neat and clean. It had the best new dinghy dock we’ve ever seen!How’s this for a front yard tree?After a couple days anchored here we moved into quiet Bluff Cay cove on Green Turtle Cay. We were the only boat in this small nearly enclosed harbor. The only sound here is the twitter of birds. The view includes sea turtles and beautiful houses hidden in the trees. One morning some locals were out for their morning swim and stopped to say hello.

We continue to enjoy sailing in the Bahamas as we prepare our boat and ourselves for the voyage back to Connecticut (CT) for the summer months. Yes, we plan to sail south again to avoid a cold winter and we love to sail year round. Looking forward to connecting with family and friends in CT.

Passage to the Bahamas

We set out from Beaufort, NC at 6:30AM November 29th. Motoring out the inlet into the rising sun with many dolphin and sea birds playing along side us with clear skies and cold: air temperature – 31 degrees Fahrenheit, sea temperature – 61. Once clear of land, with sails and auto pilot set, we both took out our phones to text or call farewell to family members before we lost the signal. Thank you all for your positivity!! We know we scare you sometimes with our ocean adventure, but we are thankful for your support and understanding. We promise to keep in touch often.

Offshore we both wear an inflatable life vest and harness. We tether ourselves to a jack line that runs fore and aft on the boat whenever we leave the enclosed cockpit. That only happens for sail changes or deck checks. Not often! We alternate who is on watch every four hours and try to ensure the off-watch person does not contribute to meal making or cleanup as they should be resting. Our freezer and fridge were topped up and included some homemade meals that were easy to use.

By 2:00PM the same day we were in the Gulf Stream as evidenced by the change to sea and air temperature (on left in picture)

Our heading was not directly south (180) as it is best to cross the northeast flowing stream at a right angle to get to the other side as fast as possible. It was after dark, around 8:00 PM when we reached the far side and turned straight south.

By the end of the second day, the wind changed from light and behind us to moderate (10-15 knots) right in front of us. So rather than heading straight south we had to steer southeast further out into the Atlantic.

We timed our watches so that Tom would be on watch for the 7:30AM and 5:00PM SSB checkin with Chris Parker at Marine Weather Center. He would give the weather for our location and projected location 12 and 24 hours out.

There was one time we needed to go about 50 miles further south to avoid bad weather. We just didn’t make it in time. Just before sunset we elected to stop our forward progress into the ever building seas and attempted to heave-to (bows into the seas, slow drift backwards). We did not have the right sail combination so ended up dropping all sail and laying sideways to the seas. We are not sure how big the seas got as it was a very dark night. We estimate 12 foot seas. They would occasionally break over the deck and shove us side ways hard. It was an elevator ride! Winds were gusting around 30. By morning it had calmed down enough so we raised the jib and motor-sailed for the next 5 hours or so, until we could raise more sail and cut the engine. We were joined by a large school of playful dolphin at this time again very uplifting to have them play around Lone Star.

We sustained steering system damage during this blow. The boat is more difficult to steer. Thankfully, the auto pilot can still handle the boat. Tom checked the internal steering system under the aft bunk and all appears normal. Best guess is that the steering quadrant slipped on the ruddernn shaft. We have approximately 300 miles to go to our preferred destination of Georgetown on Great Exuma.

The seas steadily diminished and we were making progress southeasterly once again. At this point we were heading for the Dominican Republic and wondering if we’d ever get to lay our course southwest to the Bahamas? We made short tacks to the west on three occasions to avoid going too far to the east.

Yes, we have made it to southern waters! Here’s proof: flying fish that land on deck at night.

A large cold front covering the entire east coast of the US finally gave us the winds we needed. Well the right direction anyway, of course a bit strong (25-30 knots). We reduced sail to just the jib and sailed the last two days nearly dead down wind in 8-10 foot following seas. Well not quite following: as we were at the bottom end of the front the winds were clocking around from NW-N-NE. So of course the seas were coming from multiple directions as well. Another elevator ride!

The last night at sea:

The helmsman seat is on an arm and held in place by a stainless-steel pin. Unfortunately, the pin sheared in these big seas. Tom was able to make a temporary repair, but this will require some metal work to fix it properly. It’s a boat, maintenance is expected.

The downwind sleigh ride continued right into Conch Cay Cut where we needed to make a sharp left turn. So relieved to get past the first few islands and behind the bigger ones to get away from the rollers.

We anchored across from Georgetown off of Stocking Island at 9:30AM Friday, December 7. Amazingly three dolphin jumped over our anchor line as Tom was paying out the line!

We made it to the Bahamas after nine nights at sea. We think we sailed almost a thousand miles, 300 more than if we’d been able to sail straight south. We arrived exhausted, but oh so happy to have escaped winter and made it to these beautiful islands.

The day flew by as we covered the sails and stowed some gear. It took a while to get our phones connected. Then we informed family we arrived safely. After grabbing a bite to eat, Anita collapsed for a nap. Tom researched how to check in to Customs and Immigration. However, it was too late in the day to go once he finished with his nap. We will stay aboard until Monday when the offices open again.

Our cruising neighbors have stopped by in their dinghies to welcome us and we were welcomed on the morning VHF net so have learned a lot about the great cruising community here. We look forward to checking in tomorrow and joining in the fun soon!

Passage from SYC to Delaware Bay

Picture: Lone Star at the end of the rainbow while still on her mooring at SYC just minutes before heading south for the winter.

Our last day at Shennecossett Yacht Club (SYC) was a busy one!  We had a nice visit from our son and his girlfriend as well as a godson and his visitor from Germany.  Delivery of homemade chocolate chip cookies from Tom’s sister were much appreciated and are still being enjoyed!  We had a lot left to do before we could leave:  clean out our car, take it to the car wash, (we intend to sell it – anyone want a 2015 VW Passat TDI with under 15,000 miles? contact us by phone or email please!), pickup last mail at P.O., last grocery stop for fresh stuff, stow lots of gear, get ocean passage safety gear out and setup e.g. jacklines, life vests with integrated harnesses, and tethers to stay hooked to the boat; put on winter mooring, bring summer mooring to shore, put folding dinghy on deck, disassemble and stow it and the gear in it; finally, stop at fuel dock for fuel and water then head out to sea for two days.  Consequently, we left at 3:35 PM on Saturday, September 22, 2018.

We knew we had a small weather window to make the 225 nautical mile offshore passage to begin our journey south for the winter.  We had North winds from a front that just passed and another storm was coming to the shores off Cape May and along the New Jersey shore on Monday.  As long as we left by 4PM and maintained 5 knots of speed, we expected a good passage.  We each started with a 2 hour watch as we both still had things we wanted to complete when we were off-watch.  For example, Anita made up snack boxes for night watches.  We do not like opening wrappers at night, the crinkling noise can be bothersome and cumbersome.  Ours included dried fruit, nuts, fig bars, and an unwrapped dove chocolate in our snack box.  At 8:00 PM Saturday, we began alternating 4-hour watches.  The person on watch is making sure we are on course, at a safe speed, and avoiding all obstacles; floating, moving or stationary.

We had a good cell signal all the way out to Montauk so were able to send a few updates to family and friends.  We enjoyed steady downwind breezes and the quartering seas were far enough apart to be a gentle rolling motion.  Downwind is an easy point of sail on a multihull, because they do not heel or wallow.  Surfing down waves is a thrilling acceleration and a gentle up and down motion.  We were two days from the full moon, however it was mostly cloudy.  We each saw peaks of the moon a few times.  There were very few boats on the water; some commercial fishing vessels and a few big ships around the shipping channel entrances to major cities like New York and Atlantic City.

It was around Atlantic City that the wind started to build and stay above 20 knots, gusts were higher.  The electric auto pilot was having a real hard time steering Lone Star at 9 knots.  On Tom’s watch, around 1:30 AM on Monday, we decided to drop the main.  That improved our comfort, allowed Auto to continue steering, and we were still sailing above 7 knots under small jib alone.  We arrived at the Delaware Bay entrance at daybreak to a VHF (radio) weather forecast of small craft warnings for winds, rain showers, and 6-8 foot seas.  No, we didn’t beat the storm, but we have weathered storms before and we were prepared for this one.  They say Delaware Bay can be a nasty place and this time it was.  When the current turned against us in the afternoon we pulled out of the channel and headed for the nearest cove on the windward side (NJ coast) of the bay.  Nantuxent Cove near Money Island was a welcome and empty place to drop our anchor, enjoy a hot dinner, hot showers, a few quick calls or texts, and a good long snooze.  We are so appreciative of a safe passage, each other, and the partnership we have in handling the boat.