Offshore Passage to the Caribbean

Half moon rising at 22:30 our first night

The stars aligned, though the moon was waning, as Lone Star and crew were ready for a passage from Beaufort, NC to the US Virgin Islands. We left on a cold (36 degrees F) November morning the day before Thanksgiving, with a favorable weather window. Sadly, we missed out on Anita’s family’s annual zoom call and individual chats with Tom’s folks on this special holiday. We are so thankful for our family and friends that mentally support us on our chosen adventurous lifestyle on the sea. We are so grateful for our health and happiness at what we do. Most importantly, we’re very thankful we are finally ready to head south! Looking forward to more than 9 hours of daylight.

Crockpot beef stew for dinner

We were bundled up in many layers of clothes including hats, long johns, down vests, windproof layers, and the dreaded socks and shoes. For the first night we had to dress warmly indoors too!

Bundled up in the cold!

Unfortunately, we can’t run our diesel heater when under sail because the smoke stack blocks the boom from swinging. Well the boom can still swing, but the stack would lose in that battle and likely be swept overboard. The air temperature warmed to the low 60’s after passing the Gulf Stream our first night out.

First cold front approaching from the west

Our third day at sea we double-reefed the main in preparation for a cold front. This was a quick passing weather system with southwest winds before and favorable northwest winds on the backside. We experienced a short 29 knot gust in a rain squall. Really enjoyed the next day surfing down the long rolling seas and sailing on a broad reach. We had our best daily run of 167 nautical miles in a 24 hour period. This is an average of 7 knots.

Reaching along, very pleasant sunrise and sail

We quickly adjusted to our four hour watch system, often having meals together. Occasionally, one of us didn’t sleep well during their night time off-watch so might sleep through meal time the next day. We generally slept 6-7 hours in a 24 hour period, though not all at once due to the watch system. Dishes were done only once a day but rarely by the Captain. This practice is occasionally broken.

Captain Tom doing the dishes, note the wide stance

Soon the wind settled to 5 knots or less. We sail beautifully in 10 knots, not so well in 5. It’s too early in the passage to burn up our limited fuel supply. So we took this opportunity to drift around and do a bit of boat maintenance.

When it’s this calm there is time for rest and…
… maintenance, replaced a discharge pump

The maintenance job on the head took two and a half hours. Tom will rebuild the pump. He needs to replace a very small bearing and some seals. Thankfully these are cheap parts, no need to buy the whole expensive thing. Sorry for the disgusting work picture, but such is life during maintenance.

Captain doing his daily deck check and rig inspection

We also reorganized things that shifted in heavier seas. Here’s an unusual thing to do in a calm: I gave Tom a haircut before he grabbed a hot shower.

Sunset, rain showers approaching

On our sixth day we experienced a second cold front. The morning sunrise above was beautiful. This cold front had mild winds and a full day of steady rain. This storm was a slow mover, in fact we sailed south to get out of it and it meandered east.

Sailing toward a squally weather trough

To get to the Caribbean this year one needs to sail through a zone with variable weather conditions before reaching the steadier and predictable easterly trade winds. Luckily during our passage there were squalls with wind and rain, but no convection (lightening and thunder).

Land ho!!

There be land on this ocean. It’s the Virgin Islands.

Hello Virgin Islands

We experienced three mild weather systems in our 1320 mile, 11 day and 4 hour passage with a period of calm after each one. We used about 18 gallons of fuel and motored for 31 hours.

The track of our offshore passage
Sunset over St Thomas, moored in St John

Goodbye cold winter, hello 11 hours of daylight and an 80 degree tropical winter!

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Does anyone recognize this 1980’s song by The Clash? The line: if I stay there will be trouble, if I go it will be double, may be particularly poignant for us this month.

It’s November, the clocks have been turned back, daylight is diminishing, cooler weather is here. Yikes, we need to escape winter! Should we stay in Hampton, VA to wait for the next offshore weather window to the USVI or just go a bit south around Cape Hatteras? Or should we go down the ICW to Beaufort, NC to get warmer weather and wait for the next weather window?

Can’t leave without a trip to the Bakery for a couple cinnamon buns, and one Boston cream donut. All those little ones were free, honest!

Our friends on Wild Iris and U’Jamin picked November 8th as their weather window to head offshore for the Caribbean. They left from Deltaville, VA; the former heading for Dutch Ste Maarten, the latter for Puerto Rico. A cold front had just blasted through for days and the seas were higher than we wanted, plus the forecast was for multiple days of light or no wind, and some south winds. Not our kind of window, but we were really bummed to give it a pass. Note: both boats arrived safely at their destinations after 11+ days at sea.

Go outside around Hatteras

We saw an opportunity to go offshore 240 miles to Beaufort, NC by leaving the following morning. We had a prediction of a whole day of pretty good winds, then light winds for 12-24 hours, then building winds from the south. We hoped to get around Cape Hatteras before the wind died, motor around the next corner, then use those south winds to sail into Beaufort.

Becalmed near Oregon Inlet

Five and a half hours out of Hampton, we had exited the Chesapeake. It’s 8:30 at night. Tom had just settled into the bunk for a rest. Anita was contemplating setting sails. The engine oil alarm blipped, then beeped. Anita immediately shut it down and started raising sails. Tom took a peak in the engine room and saw black engine oil in the bilge. The bottom of the oil pan was wet and slippery. He turned the automatic bilge switch off, so we don’t accidentally discharge this small amount of oil. Then Tom helped finish raising the sails and heading south. Tom wondered aloud if we should head back to Hampton, but the wind was dead against us for that scenario. We sailed 104 miles in the first 24 hours, but we’d lost the wind about 12 miles south of Oregon Inlet.

The afternoon of our second day at sea, Tom called the Coast Guard to advise them of our non-emergency predicament, becalmed near Oregon Inlet with a disabled engine. They commented that they could assist with arranging a tow if required. We were still hopeful the wind would fill in overnight to get us around the cape. It didn’t.

Sipping my morning coffee and watching Dolphin frolic in the fog off Oregon Inlet

Trouble

Due to the expected south east winds, we decided that it would be unsafe to continue to try to round Diamond Shoals at Cape Hatteras. For the first time in 43 years of ocean sailing, we called for a tow. We also want the help of a mechanic, not something we do very often as Tom is very handy mechanically.

Starting the tow, we centered the boom right after this picture was taken

Anita was hand steering to keep Lone Star centered behind the tow boat.

Oregon Inlet is a massive sand bar with 65’ bridge clearance, we need 55’

The breaking surf heading in the inlet was nearly a solid line. Our Sea Tow captain Stuart, at one time informed the coast guard via VHF that he may need them to take us through the surf and under the highway bridge where he would pick up the tow. However, Stuart persevered and we made it through. As we were driving just 100 feet off a beach, his comment over VHF, “My pits are dripping (sweat) to my waist,” made me laugh and broke my tension and the strong grip I had on the steering wheel.

Quick video clip right after the worst part

Stuart switched to a working VHF channel after the bridge. In the next 2 hours of this tow, he provided an awesome tour of our surroundings. The first tidbit of news is that the rusty metal bits of the old bridge that was being deconstructed and removed was dumped in the exact location he picked us up. Next was how the islands on either side of this narrow channel were created by dredge spoils. Some of these man made islands were 20 feet high covered with flora and fauna and a home for multiple species of wildlife. There were a few more stories, you get the picture.

Safely docked in Manteo on Roanoke Island, Sir Walter Raleigh ship replica and Lost Colony museum across the channel

Having never experienced a tow before, I was very impressed by the professionalism and helpfulness of both the Coast Guard to engage a tow and the Sea Tow Captain who arranged the Marina dock and provided recommendations for a mechanic. A few days later, we received another big dose of southern hospitality when our Tow Captain brought us a couple Carolina barbecue dinners from a local fund raiser on Sunday. Pulled pork, crispy fried chicken wings, cole slaw, baked beans and a dinner roll. Delicious!

Track of Lone Star on this passage, Beaufort, NC is at the southern tip of this map

We arrived in Manteo on Thursday, Veterans Day. The earliest we could schedule a mechanic was the following Monday. That gave us time to hike, explore the town, do laundry, and catch up on computer logging and blogging 😁.

Fabulous miles of boardwalks around Manteo

Tom had purchased a new oil pan, gasket and hardware this summer as he noticed some corrosion in the area. We engaged a mechanic and helper to lift the engine and replace the oil pan. There was no proof this was the source of the oil leak, just a strong suspicion. Raising the engine off its mounts then tipping it to one side allowed easier access to the oil pan. There were 21 fasteners and a few were rusty and hard to remove. It took the mechanics 3 hours to remove the old oil pan.

Surprise! The oil pan is still half full

After lunch, they installed the new oil pan, remounted the engine and hooked everything back up, topped up engine oil and coolant, primed the filters, then started her up. Uh oh, she’s squirting clean engine oil from a high pressure metal tube that wraps around the back of the engine. We immediately ordered the new part and requested overnight shipping.

The leaky part!

Go inside

Two days later, the new part was installed. The engine runs with no leaks, although shifting into reverse is a little difficult. We elected to continue our journey south via the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW). Winds were too strong and from the wrong direction to go south and west through Pamlico sound, so we went north, west, then south. We left Manteo early Thursday morning, a week after we arrived.

Manteo Town dock, playground, and shopping

We had a pretty tough first day of ICW traveling. There is a super shallow channel leaving Manteo, Anita remembered going aground briefly here 3 years ago. There were more crab pots on this northwest stretch than Casco Bay Maine. The crab pots plagued us all the way to the Alligator river entrance. Many were small, dark in color and hard to spot. Thankfully, we didn’t hit any. Just lots of hand steering to avoid them all. We were definitely making a snake wake, not something I’m proud of. Next we had to motor-sail all the way south directly into the wind in the Alligator river. However, on the positive side; we are 41 miles closer to Beaufort, NC. We made it to our chosen destination for the night. The anchor was down just after sunset. We saw a mini 🌈 as we entered the harbor.

Enjoying the autumn colors in the Alligator-Pungo river canal

The next day was very close to ideal conditions. We raised the jib right after the anchor. In the less sheltered area of the canal it gave us an added 1-2 knots of boat speed; 5-7 knots is acceptable.

It was actually a very windy day, not in the canal.

Double Trouble

Beautiful sailing conditions continued past Bellehaven, crossing the Pamlico river, and south down Goose Creek, 49 more miles done. As we turned upwind to drop the mainsail in our chosen Gale Creek anchorage, the engine was revving, but we had no forward momentum? “Tom, drop the anchor now, no propellor or forward thrust from engine!” He lowered the anchor, then finished the mainsail. Turns out the transmission cable broke. It was bent by the mechanic stepping on it. Bending it back only works for a little while. Tom was up until 1AM replacing that cable. Yes, we had a spare on board.

Sailing in Pamlico Sound to Oriental, NC

The next day we enjoyed another beautiful 19 mile sail to Oriental. We assembled our Pota-bote dinghy and went ashore to walk around and shop in the Provision Company. Then stopped for refreshments at the coffee shop.

Anchored in Oriental

Our final 21 miles to Beaufort was under motor. Light to no winds and mostly through narrow bodies of water. We chose a more direct route this time through Town creek to Taylor creek rather than around Radio Island. Nice shortcut, much less traffic too. We had scheduled appointments for a drive through COVID test, required for USVI entrance. So soon we were on shore calling Old Town Taxi and on our way to Walgreens and Lidl for our final stock up.

Anchored in Beaufort, NC, final stock up done

We Should Go

The temperature was 39 this morning, November 23rd and predicted 33 on the 24th. We should go south. The weather apps we use and our weather router agree there is a good weather window to head for the USVI starting tomorrow morning. We should be warmer as soon as we cross the Gulf Stream. We and Lone Star are ready for a passage to escape winter and enjoy the Caribbean this season. Please no more trouble. As you can see like the ocean, we roll with whatever comes our way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Heading South for our Fourth Winter Season

Above picture: Requisite shot of Race Rock as we leave home waters heading south

While making preparations to sail south for the winter we were delayed by an international shipment of our new Aquanaut Dinghy. It was very disappointing to finally have the dinghy arrive, unboxed and damaged. We can’t even assemble it to see what it looks like. Oh well, we’ll take it with us and have replacement parts sent to Hampton, VA.

Bent poles, bolts, washers, and pins for new Aquanaut Dinghy

Passage: Groton to Hampton

We finally set sail from Groton on September 29th. So much fun to have Alex, Jenna and Nani motor with us to the club fuel dock for final fuel and water top up. We almost sailed away with Nani. She loves the boat and wanted to come back aboard.

Saying goodbye for our fourth winter – we miss you

Our weather window suggested an easy run straight to Hampton, Virginia. So we headed for Montauk, Long Island then south, south west. We keep four hour watches on Lone Star. We quickly settled into the routine and rhythm of life at sea.

Sunset at sea, peaceful and pleasant sailing

We lost all wind for our final day, so motored quite a bit. This was a 357 mile journey that took 66 hours. We had the engine on for 31 hours. Yeah, it’s warmer in Hampton than it was in Connecticut!

Deja-Vu

As we approached the north anchorage near Hampton town dock, we both commented that the only other anchored boat looked like an old Prout Snow Goose 34, like our first cruising boat.

Our first cruising boat in 1987

We assembled our Porta Bote dinghy and rode around her and discovered it was our exact boat that we sold in 1992. We could see many of the changes we made to her still there. Unfortunately, no one was aboard. Wow! So cool to see her again. Looks like she has some nice upgrades, like a cockpit awning, and painted coach roof. Not bad for a 1976 built boat.

Finding her anchored in Hampton, VA

We verified the shipping address here, ordered some parts and sailed north to Deltaville, VA to meet up with cruising friends. We enjoyed several cookouts and musical jam sessions. We met Steve who’s a really good flute player. It’s always good to meet new and old cruising friends.

Hampton at sunset

After a trip to a local clinic, it was suggested that Anita get to an Orthopedic Hand Surgeon as she may have a ruptured tendon in the palm of her right hand. After a week of fun, we sailed back to Hampton to be closer to the specialist. Uber rides are plentiful and reasonably priced here. Thankfully, this was the wrong diagnosis. Trigger finger and a tiny cyst were treated with a cortisone shot. Pain was gone in another day. Anita started exercises to improve dexterity and hopefully avoid future surgery.

Lone Star in Hampton with light air roller-furl sail

This is a fun time to be in Hampton: two organizations have Caribbean rallies that depart from here. We are members of the Salty Dawg Group, but have not yet joined a rally.

Gorgeous Hammerhead trimaran in Salty Dawg rally to Antigua

Emergency

One breezy afternoon, we were on shore. Tom stopped to chat with the crew on Flying Fish, the trimaran pictured above. Someone ran to their dinghy announcing, “my boat is dragging anchor.” Anita had just entered our dinghy, looked up and saw that Nero was dragging into Lone Star. Oh no!! “Tom, come quick!” By the time we arrived on Lone Star, Nero was across all three bows and we were dragging anchor too with the added weight of a big monohull. Soon we were pinned to dock pilings and tangling with an abandoned power boat in the first slip. We could not start our engine without bleeding the air from the lines. So we concentrated on raising our anchor; which of course had a jam, and fending off and giving dock lines to cruisers who were assisting via dinghies. Several dinghies pushed Nero most of the way off our bridle line. In order to get them off the final starboard line, we pulled the pin attached to Lone Star. Unfortunately, Anita called out as soon as it was free, Nero promptly spun up their propellor in the dropping line. Within a minute the captain of Nero was in the water in full wetsuit and cut the bridle line from the propellor. Then they quickly motored away and anchored. Four dinghies surrounded us and towed us to a safe anchoring spot and we dropped anchor as well. Then we bled the air out of the engine fuel line, started it, and set the anchor properly. I counted eight dinghies assisting us. What a great community of cruisers! We spoke with Nero’s owner twice, he felt responsible. He has a quarter sized divot where our bowsprit hit him. We have scrapes and scratches and a bit of damage to the Wind Pilot we think. Nothing major, phew.

View of the town dinghy dock from Lone Star’s stern

Tom has been chasing the source of the engine air leak for about six months. If the engine sits cold for a while it won’t start because of fuel starvation. He completely changed the housing of the secondary fuel filter. He also recently tightened one of the bleed screws above that filter. Our fingers are crossed that the fuel system air leak is fixed now.

Hampton anchorage, Lone Star just left of center

We missed the sailing window that the Salty Dawg boats left in during the last weekend in October. We needed to wait for one more vital package: our replacement Caribbean chart chip. The defective chip was delivered a week before. It took a while to convince C-Map to replace it. We hope to head to the USVI this winter with planned stops in Puerto Rico, perhaps the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.

So we wait for a weather window and continue to ready the boat for the next passage.

Oh Lord, what a passage!

We left Beaufort, NC on Friday, November 20 just before noon. Superstitious sailors say never begin a passage on a Friday. There may be some merit to this! We started out with very light winds and expected we might need to motor for most of the first 24 hours.

Ready to leave Beaufort from fuel dock

Less than 11 hours into the passage we were slowly drifting north in the Gulf Stream; no wind and no engine. Around 10:30PM the engine suddenly slowed, then stopped. Tom could find nothing wrong in the engine room and the motor ran fine, though it stopped immediately when put in gear. Anita thought the steering was also sluggish. We learned in the morning a rugged fishing net was wrapped around the propellor and rudder. Tom donned a wet suit and used an air tank (left on deck) with a long hose. He tied a rope around his waist tied a knife to his wrist and gripped it as he lowered himself into the warm Gulf Stream water. Anita laid on the aft deck (alternately praying and crying) and watched the boat bash up and down 1-2 feet while Tom worked to cut away the net and ropes for about 35-40 minutes. Sorry no pictures or video of this harrowing experience, focused on praying for a successful outcome. Tom said his hand hurt for two days after; from gripping the propeller shaft so hard to hold himself in place.

Captain Tom to the rescue, he deserves a rest!

At 9:30AM we were once again under power motoring SE across the Gulf Stream. The wind was still less than 5 knots. Once across the stream we finally had a bit of sailing off the wind. By the next morning we had 4-6 foot seas from several directions and gusty winds in squalls. Thankfully, thunderstorms stayed distant. Tom experienced some heavy rain on his watch.

Squally weather

On Anita’s mid-day watch the weather changed dramatically from squalls in the distance to beautiful clear sunny skies.

Seas calming, no rain over us
Same watch, just two hours later

The wind calmed enough that we turned on the engine to charge and make hot water for showers. Uh oh, the sea water cooling alarm won’t shut off. We drifted around a bit while Tom dove in the engine room and eventually pulled out the raw water pump and changed the okay looking impeller. It worked, but he’s not sure that was the problem. We both enjoyed some moonlit watches.

Moon was a bit more than half and waxing

The cold front that passed by us several days earlier was still blowing from the North. As seas had not subsided we elected to avoid Whale Cay Cut and chose wider northeast exposed Man of War Cut instead. To avoid a night time entry we hove-to overnight, drifting at 1-2 knots rather than actively sailing. The constant motion and dropping off the waves slowed, but never stopped. It was very hard to sleep or even rest. I kept thinking some people pay for amusement rides like this. Sorry to say, I was not amused. This is the third time we had to deliberately slow down; sure hope family members that are watching our track are not worried about us. Despite these pauses in our progress we made the passage in less than five days. We used the engine for 26 hours and were more or less adrift for nearly 24 hours. The last day and a half we sailed under jib alone due to a lot of wind and the need to slow down and arrive during daylight.

Followed small freighter into Man of War Cut

We arrived in Marsh Harbor before noon. There are at least 30 wrecked boats strewn about the harbor left by Catagony 5 hurricane Dorian more than two years ago. Some floating, some on shore. We hear lots of generators on shore which means power is not yet restored to all areas of the shoreline. The best cell service we could obtain via T-Mobile high speed international on BTC towers was 3G. There are no landline phones working here.

BTC tower is half normal height

First we worked on completing our health visas. Thanks Kimberly for stepping in to help when we had no data service upon arrival. We eventually learned T-Mobile had a block on our account even though they sold us a high-rate International plan. The folks managing the Health Visa system were very helpful and friendly. We were originally denied because the lab report needed to be attached not a picture of the email saying we had a negative COVID test result. Phew, that’s a relief!

Government dock on left, floating wrecks

We tried all afternoon to locate Customs and Immigration. We were finally successful the next morning after calling Nassau. They told us to go to Government Dock. Customs officials confirmed they do NOT have a phone in their office trailer. We were processed by Immigration in the parking lot outside the Customs trailer.

Customs office on Government Dock in Marsh Harbor

A short walk into the commercial district after checking in showed us the Bahamians are hard at work restoring power and property in Marsh Harbor. Maxwell’s Market is huge and well stocked so food is readily available here.

Power lines and construction crew

Not all passages are easy. Cruisers like us do not like to sail with a schedule. We had to arrive within 5 days due to Bahamas COVID-19 protocols. Thank you Lord for answering my many prayers on this challenging passage from Beaufort, NC to the northern Bahamas. We have arrived safely and we are so thankful and happy to be wintering in the warm, beautiful and friendly Bahamas.

Next up cruising the Abacos.

Passage South to Hampton, Virginia

Looking back at the nearly empty docks as we leave

We left Groton, CT on Monday afternoon, October 19. This was later than we planned for many reasons. In a nutshell: the weather, boat and crew were not ready. The cooler autumn weather encouraged us to set our sights on a more southern destination, Hampton VA; rather than our normal Delaware Bay. We hope to bypass the longer inland sailing route, ie. up the Delaware and down the Chesapeake.

Nearly empty mooring field as well

We have had more than our fair share of southerly winds lately, some of them quite strong. So as soon as the forecast did not include winds from where we were trying to go for a couple days; it was time to go! This year that meant leaving with very light winds.

Sunrise at sea
Really calm winds and seas

We used our normal four hour watch system around the clock. Thankfully, we both were able to rest/sleep well on our off-watches. No on-deck drills to disturb our rest.

Sunset at sea

When we entered the mouth of Chesapeake Bay near dawn on the third day, we had approximately 20 miles to go. Unfortunately we faced a few challenges: fog, low fuel in the two main tanks, very light wind and a contrary current for at least an hour. Luckily we have radar, spare cans of diesel, and patience. Such is the life of a sailor.

Refueling at sea

We arrived in Hampton, VA after a 69 hour 360 mile ocean passage south. Yes, our average speed when motoring is only 5 knots, so sad. 61 hours of motoring and a few hours here and there of peaceful sailing. Wow, it’s quiet when we turn off the engine. It’s a lot warmer here; 80’s rather than 50’s for a high. Yeah, back to shorts and tees.

At anchor in Hampton, VA by the chiming clock

We added a Garmin InReach Mini to Lone Star this season. Sorry, we choose to share the link with only close friends and family. No need to let the whole world know where we are. It sure added a new level of fun, safety and peace of mind to the passage.

InReach track for this passage

Next we need to decide if we will motor down the ICW or sail around Cape Hateras? Destination: Beaufort, NC. Not yet sure where we will go after that?

Ocean Passage Georgetown Bahamas to Groton Connecticut

Spring 2020

We are so thankful to have been allowed to shelter in place in the anchorages surrounding Georgetown on Great Exuma in the Bahamas. Lone Star was our quiet refuge during the first three months of the global pandemic known as COVID-19. As of this writing the island of Great Exuma was still blessedly free of this flu. We were in no hurry to head home where the virus was prevalent. However, hurricane season was approaching and early this year.

Ahh the view!! Ruins Bay Anchorage, Crab Cay

We consulted with Chris Parker at Marine Weather Center and twice abandoned a planned departure. It was quite ironic that we left Georgetown when there was a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico, a stalled ridge with severe thunderstorms off Cape Hatteras, and the potential for another tropical depression near Bermuda. What? Why? Sometimes things are not as bad as they seem.

Life boat and jacklines

Final preparations for an extended ocean passage on Lone Star include:

  • Bring Portland Pudgy on deck and rig as life boat, add gear bags, and cover
  • Top off diesel tanks and two gerry cans, secure in port cockpit
  • Fill two gerry cans of water and secure in port cockpit
  • Rig jacklines for safety harness tethers
  • Charge all batteries for safety and navigation equipment
  • Secure portable electronics in floating bag
  • File a float plan and share with emergency contacts
  • Last run to grocery store to top off on fresh food (as we have a freezer it is pre-stocked with vacuum bagged homemade meals well in advance)
  • Send out family email with contact info
Sunrise at sea

Tom is a HAM radio enthusiast. Radio schedules determine our watch system on Lone Star. With just two of us on this passage we prefer four hour watches. As many boats travel in late spring to leave the hurricane belt, the radio nets were very active. Tom is a net relay several times a day now and he enjoys speaking with and assisting boaters.

The front mentioned below as seen at sea

On this passage we checked in with several nets twice a day so our family could manually track our progress. Our son, Alex did a wonderful job keeping our group of family and friends well informed via a group email. He provided handmade charts of our progress and discussed the weather where we were. We even spoke with Alex via a phone patch one morning using our ham radio and KPK. Thanks Glenn!

Alex’s plot of our progress

From Georgetown we headed north between Cat Island and Eleuthera. Then straight north until we swung a bit west to pick up the Gulf Stream just south of Cape Hatteras. The weather was cloudy the first few days, but the winds were behind the beam so very easy sailing.

Weather report provided by Alex

The last 50 miles proved to be the most challenging of the trip. Just after we left the Gulf Stream to head straight north for Montauk, the fog rolled in and the wind became very light. In the early morning hours, we were motor-sailing when multiple engine alarms sounded: charging and over-heating. The alternator belt was missing. After installing a new one, Tom found the original in the bilge and surprisingly in tact. When the engine was turned on again, it promptly threw off the belt again. Tom quickly found that the water pump had seized up. Hmm, no spare on board, so we are now an engineless sailboat. We can do this! We can make it home under sail. It required patience and perseverance, dealing with light shifting winds and contrary currents. As the ocean water in New England is cold, Tom determined we could use the engine for the 10 minutes it took to drive into the harbor. We arrived in our home port just before sunrise on Saturday, June 13. Yep we were tired, happy and satisfied that we had made it in on our own. No rest for the weary however, as it’s a summer weekend and boats were bustling by our mooring all day.

Arriving before sunrise

Statistics for the Passage

We sailed 1200 miles from Georgetown in the Exuma chain of Bahamian islands; to Groton CT. We were at sea for eight and a half days. We ran the engine for only 19.25 hours, which consumed approximately 11.5 gallons of fuel. Each day had more and more daylight; 13.5 hours to start and 15 hours nearer our destination. On our fastest day in the Gulf Stream we did 178 miles.

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.

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.