Drifting through Paradise

Part 1 – Tampa to Nassau


November 8, 1999

Worthington, Minnesota


Our adventure has begun.  Well, in truth, our adventure began a long time ago.  Today is the advent of our dream, which would be sailing to foreign ports.


I quit my job last week, we packed the dog and cat into the car, and drove north to Minnesota.  Our first stop was at Mitch’s sister Pam’s.  Pam and Tom were going to take care of Alfie The Dog for the winter while we sailed to the Bahamas.  Pam’s dog Sam, however, had other plans.  Sam’s plan was, in fact, to have Alfie stay anywhere but in her house.  So, we headed down to Worthington where Mitch’s mom Esther has graciously and generously offered to take care of both Alfie and Hannah The Cat.  It seems to be working well.  Sadie the 12 year old cat and Callie the Neurotic Cat are not too bothered by their Florida cousins.


Having Mitch’s family nearby will be an extra benefit for Alfie because he’ll have five boys to play with.

Mitch and I will miss them a lot but thinking about being offshore with the dog and cat just doesn’t sound good.  They deserve room to play and snooze – they don’t deserve to be closed up in the boat wishing we would stop.


We’ll be having an early Thanksgiving dinner today and then Friday we’re off to Chicago to see my mom, Carole.  And then, much to our relief, we’ll head back home to Hetty Brace.


November 27, 1999

Fort Myers Beach, Florida


We had a perfect sail south.  Ten knots NNE, full moon, beautiful!  We’re now trying to decide on whether to sail south tomorrow.  Forecast is 10 to 20 knots with seas up to 6 feet.  Could be a bit too strong for a comfortable ride in the Gulf.  There’s also the Okeechobee Waterway canal across Florida.  There would be no weather there but not much sailing either.


I’m starting to relax a bit.  I think that Mitchell is feeling more relaxed too.  I am excited to see new ports.


November 28, 1999

Capri Pass, Marco Island, Florida


We’ve anchored for the night after a decent sail from Fort Myers Beach.  My stomach felt tight on our sail today.  Not queasy, but I didn’t have an appetite and now I have heartburn.  “The anchorage” is just behind Coconut Island.  The channel is well marked and deeper than what the chart shows – 16 feet where 12 is on the chart.


We’ll be leaving early tomorrow – probably just before dawn.  We’re bound for East Cape Sable where we will throw out the anchor until morning.  We’re traveling with Blue Star (Ken and Dorothy).  They are very nice and Dorothy is a great cook.  We’ve been traveling with them since Bahia Del Sol in Tampa.  We were originally going to take off for an overnight to Key West but Dorothy prefers to sail during the day and anchor at night.  After having showered and eaten, I’d say she’s got the ticket.


Now we’re watching a sailboat try to navigate the channel in the dark.  We can commiserate with them.  It’s not fun trying to get into an anchorage in the dark.


Coconut Island is a small spit of sand with some beautiful sea oats.


November 30, 1999

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


Two days feels like forever.  Last week sitting at the marina feels like a lifetime ago.  We up anchored from Coconut Island at dawn on 11/29.  We sailed and motored to East Cape Sable where we arrived in the dark.  It has no protection from the wind or waves.  It was like stopping mid ocean to put down the hook.  The depth was 8 to 10 feet with a 5 foot shoal nearby, according to the computer chart.  The waves were uncomfortable and the 5 foot shoal kept Mitchell awake most of the night.  At 3AM he wanted to get going, but I wanted to wait until first light.


We up anchored at first light.  The waves and wind were so strong we had to motor forward to get the anchor up.  Once underway we saw a mine field of crab pots.  We put up the main and set for a run with the engine a bit above idle we were able to do 5 to 6 knots.  With the cold front forecast to arrive about noon, we wanted to be snug somewhere by then.


Unfortunately when we talked with Blue Star last night, they reported that the bridge into Marathon harbor wasn’t working so we wouldn’t be able to get in.  Very sad news indeed.  So I began calling on the VHF to see if I could get some local knowledge.  Maybe we could get into a marina or someone knew of a secure anchorage outside the harbor.


Sea Trek answered our call.  She said she was inside the harbor and the bridge was working!  Praise God!  Turns out the bridge had some lights out and therefore would not operate in the dark.  Meanwhile a sailing vessel named Sunshine called in to say they were stuck 2 miles from Bullard Bank.  Seems they got a crab pot tangled in their prop.  Chuck on Sea Trek suggested they tie a knife to a long pole and try to cut the pot loose.  It worked and Sunshine was able to get into the harbor in time for the front.


As were we.  We put the hook down at 1315 hours and were so glad not to be rocking and rolling around.  Then, that night, the winds blew hard and strong.  The wind instrument recorded a steady 22 to 28 knots.  Our wind generator was producing a steady 7 amps with spikes over 14 amps.  We were the electric company!  More power than we needed.


December 1, 1999

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


I giggled to think that I lost a day somehow.  We put up our Christmas tree that Esther sent us.  It has cute colored bulbs on it.  The fuzzy ducks that our friends on Chez Nous gave us to travel with are sitting next to the tree humming Christmas carols.


Mitch thinks we need a portable depth sounder.  Now in the past, I would normally poo poo this idea and try to convince him that we don’t need one.  I’ve done this all along in an attempt to keep costs to a minimum.  A trawler lamp, pressure water, refrigeration, radar – I tell him “we don’t need those”.  But guess what?  Without radar we would be uncomfortable in the dark.  The trawler lamp is great – it lights up the whole salon and keeps us warm too.  Mitchell has been right about every purchase for the boat.  If it were up to me, we wouldn’t be sailing with all this stuff and we probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much.  All the stuff he’s selected makes sailing very nice.


We have charts on the computer – the computer plugs into the GPS.  So the computer shows us where we are on the chart.  It’s really neat.  Especially in Florida Bay where the depths are 8 to 9 feet with shallow shoals.


My lesson learned is that it’s worth some expense to make our adventure more fun.


So we got the depth sounder and Mitchell slept a bit better after being able to sound the depths around Hetty.


Tomorrow we have a big day of showers, laundry, and re-provisioning.  For $3 a day we can go and tie up our dinghy at Sombrero Marina.


The forecast is not good.  Strong winds N to NE 20 to 25 knots until Friday.  Sunday it looks like another cold front will blow through.


December 2, 1999

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


Laundry, groceries, and water….what a big day!  We emptied our jugs into our water tank, threw them and the laundry into the dinghy and went to the marina.  $2 to wash and $2 to dry per load (and people in Ruskin complained about $1.50 total).  The water was $0.05 per gallon and we got to shower for $1.50.  Mitchell did return to the boat once with our water jugs and some laundry.  Then we went to the post office to pick up a package that Alfie and Hannah had sent (through Grandma, we assume).  It was two angel pins.  An angel dog and an angel cat to watch over us.  Then we had lunch at Wendy’s.  And finally, grocery shopping.  I found myself less inclined to buy a lot knowing that we had to walk it back 1 mile to the marina.  So Mitchell and I are walking back, fully loaded with our provisions and he says “wouldn’t it be great if someone stopped and gave us a ride?”.  Yes, that would be nice, and soooo likely, huh?  I was very surprised when a Ford Explorer pulled over and a guy got out and asked if we wanted a ride!  Turns out they too are anchored in Boot Key Harbor.  And, of course, they know Blue Star (doesn't everyone?).  Steve and Ann – I don’t know their boat name.  But their dog left last week with Steve’s mom – seems he’d rather hang out on a couch than in the Bahamas.  We also met a few other people.  Everyone was very nice.  Then it was back home to make pizza.  The pizza was all right – Mitchell called it a success. 


Winds are a bit lighter, yet still too strong – 15 ENE.  Blue Star is talking of going to Miami to make a better crossing.  I’m not excited to go to Miami.  Mitchell’s not sure we could do the ICW with our draft.  He returned the portable depth sounder today and ordered weather fax software.  Our current weather fax software isn’t working.


December 5, 1999

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


What a day yesterday!  Mitchell went to Ft. Lauderdale.  We ran into our friends Bob & Elaine on Snug (who it turns out is the famous Skipper Bob of the anchorage guide fame!) and there was a Christmas boat parade!


Trying to get weather fax has proven to be expensive and difficult.  Wednesday we ordered a certain weather fax product – it wasn’t good at all.  Since there might be a window on Monday, the only chance to get a better product, Coretex, was to exchange it on Saturday.  In person.  In Ft. Lauderdale.  So Mitchell rented a Ford Tempo with 100,000 miles on it and drove to Blue Water Books.  Friday, when I was dinghying, I saw Snug tied up in a canal down the harbor from us.  So Saturday when we went by, Elaine and Bob were there.  We got to catch up on old times.  They are selling Snug to some friends and moving up north to care for Elaine’s dad.  Elaine was so nice to call around and help us get a “cheapo” rental car.


So I just came back to Hetty and did some sewing.  At night the parade started.  Blue Star, Ken & Dorothy, came over to watch.  It was a beautiful parade.  There was one small boat that flashed various lit images – a dolphin, a manatee, a Christmas tree, a star, even Santa.  It was my favorite.  As the parade ended Dockside marina called to say Mitch was there.  Ken wanted to go with me, since the parade boats would be judged at Dockside, the crowds might be enormous.  On our way in the dinghy, people applauded and waved like we were in the parade.  We were in the parade, I guess as the last boat.  We picked up Mitch, no problem.  We also got a call yesterday on the VHF from the boat anchored next to us - the Rambling Rose.  Turns out it’s Margo from our local West Marine and her new husband Byron.  Small World!


Coretex isn’t working on Mitch’s notebook but it works on mine – a new mystery.


December 6, 1999

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida


Well, we have our window.  We’ll have 24 to 48 hours of calm conditions to cross the gulf stream.  Lady Catherine, Blue Star, and Sea Treat are all leaving today too.  Rambling Rose will work their way north to Rodriguez Key and then across.  They have no engine except for their 8 hp dinghy outboard.


I was a bit nervous but we got a weatherfax that looks good so I’m less so.  Bob & Elaine on Snug are much the same – it was really nice to see them again.


December 8, 1999

Cat Cay, Bimini Islands, Bahamas


Yesterday, or rather Monday, was the “Mechanical Failure from Hell Day”.  We set out and found the engine throttle was slipping.  So we stuck pennies in there to get it to stay.  Close to shore (25 miles out) we had large waves 5 to 6 feet and very close together.  Then our fuel pump died.  Mitch was working very hard to get our engine happy again.  We have a fuel tank that supposed to be gravity fed, but with the waves, air got in the lines while heeling.  So once Mitchell installed the spare fuel pump and rebuilt the throttle, we caught a fishermen’s net in our propeller – 6 x 6 feet of polypropylene mess.  Since I did absolutely nothing while Mitch worked so hard on our engine, I volunteered to dive the prop and cut the net loose.  When I got below, all I saw was a big ball of rope where our prop used to be.  Cutting it loose was very scary.  I cut myself in the process – we didn’t mention sharks to each other until I got out of the water.  The last cut I made was discouraging because the net was still securely stuck to our prop.  We both agree the hand of God loosened the last bits.  Mitch was pulling on the excess as I was resting with my feet on the prop.  Suddenly, the net just floated free.  Thank you, God!


All this activity took us into Monday night.  Monday night was uneventful, but being exhausted made it a bit stressful.


The Stream, however, couldn’t be more calm - light winds and flat seas.  We lost Blue Star and Sea Treat sometime in the night.  The plan was to get to the Bahamas Banks near South Riding Rock and anchor until daylight.  From there, we’d planned to move across the Banks to Chub Cay.  We were so far behind and so tired we changed course and checked in at Cat Cay.


Cat Cay is a very nice marina – and very empty too.  We bit the bullet and paid the $2.25 per foot and rested for the night.  I saw a 4” rat (tail excluded) on the dock.  The best thing, however, was free showers!  Water would be $.22 per gallon so we didn’t opt for water – we didn’t even ask about electrical hook ups.


So now we have to set a course for Chub Cay and Nassau.  Oh, did I mention that Mitchell broke his little toe?  I didn’t have to reset it, luckily.


December 13, 1999

Nassau Harbor


Well, this past week has been more eventful than I care to think about.


We spent the night at Cat Cay and heard nothing bad about the weather so we untied the docklines and set out across the Bahama Banks for Chub Cay.  The day was quiet and nice.  We would have to anchor that night on the Banks so we could get to the Northwest Channel light during the day.  The advice for deep draft boats is to pass the mark just 50 yards to the north of the light.


We anchored with three other boats:  Alegria (a ketch), Katy (a trawler), and Tididi (a 28’ sloop).  The night was really rolly but nothing compared to East Cape Sable.  Alegria drug anchor for 2 miles – then when they tried to start their engine they found the batteries dead.  They couldn’t get their anchor up because their windlass is electric.  Cruisers encounter problems with either weather or mechanical failure – the stories are plentiful.


Alegria was stuck at Cay Cay with transmission problems for a couple of weeks (a tough place to get stuck since visitors are restricted to the marina grounds).  They left the marina just a bit ahead of us and now they’re stuck on the Banks and dragging.  Dragging anchor isn’t really a big deal on the Banks – there’s nowhere to drag to – just miles and miles of 12 to 18 feet of water.  Well, they realized their starter was the problem and were able to get their anchor reset for the night.  Katy (Tom & Karen) rolled a lot and felt a bit seasick.  We were OK – fairly comfortable.


Thursday morning brought a trough of storms and winds.  Since we were comfortable we thought we might wait the squalls out and up anchor later.  Well, everyone else left at first light.  We listened to them on the radio and they had to tack back and forth to the Northwest Channel light in order to make 2 to 3 knots (with engines running).  By afternoon they had made it to the channel and Mitch and I were beginning to regret our decision to stay.  They would be to Chub Cay tonight and we would not.  But it wasn’t so bad last night so tonight will be all right.


The wind stopped at 3 pm and we upped anchor and made 15 miles to the channel – tomorrow we would only have 15 or so miles across the Tongue of the Ocean to Chub Cay – not too bad.


The winds picked up again at dark.  More squalls came through.  The anchor alarm went off and the wind was gusting to near 40 knots.  The GPS clocked us at traveling 1.7 knots with our anchor dragging.


Mitchell was getting ready to go up to the bow to set another anchor.  I reminded him that he needed his harness and tether.  He laughed and replied “we’re at anchor!” and I said yes, and we’re dragging at almost 2 knots!


He threw the CQR and let out some chain.  The anchor bit hard and the bow dipped.  Mitchell was up to his thighs in water on deck at the bow.  He yells to me to go and check the chain locker so he can get a feel for how much chain he’s put out.  I dive below and throw the curtain separating the chain locker from our bed and what do I see?  A piece of wood floating in water that is level with our cushions – the chain locker is full of water!  OK, be calm and go up and tell Mitch what’s happening.  I do that and he runs below to check it out.  A few gallons of water funneled through the chain pipe when we got the waves on deck.  Hetty was still intact, thanks be to God!


So I grab a bucket and begin to bail as the locker is not emptying itself into the bilge fast enough.  Mitchell is telling me how he’s got to go back out on deck and cover the haws’l before we get another wave on deck.  No sooner are the words out of his mouth and I hear a deluge coming down the haws’l at my head!  Go!  Go!  I yell.  The gallon of water I had just bailed has been replaced now and the water level in the locker is at the same level as it first was.  I go out to the cockpit to watch him.  I want to make sure he doesn’t get tossed overboard.


He covers the haws’l.  We get the locker and bilges bailed of water and I’m wondering if we can hire anyone to get Hetty back to Florida.  I’m done.  I can be doing sooo many other far more rewarding things than sitting in 15’ of water being beaten by wind and waves!


Mitchell sees that my adrenaline is pumping and wants to know what I’m thinking.  I tell him.  I tell him I don’t want to do this!  Trust me, he says, things will be better in the morning and we’ll have a laugh about this later.  He’s right too.


The wind and waves calm.  We’ve got the radar on because we’re in a fairly busy area (fishing boats).  We’re about 4 miles from the channel which should keep us off of most of the traffic.  The radar has a guard feature.  We’re able to have it beep if anything comes into the area we set – which is a half mile radius.  Sure enough at 3 am, it goes off.  We’re up and able to identify a fishing boat crossing our bow.  The boat goes by.  We manage to get some sleep and the morning comes – with it, the wind and waves are less.


We get to Chub Cay and meet Katy in person.  They tell us that everyone has left today for Nassau.  They say just this morning the place was packed – now it looks empty with just 2 or 3 boats.  We’re in the marina and the showers are great!  So, Friday night we are listening to the weather.  We’ve showered, eaten, cleaned up the boat and my desire to go back to Florida is fading.  After all, the Gulf and the Banks are the hardest part, right?  All day Mitchell has been supportive in “our” decision to go back to Florida or press on.  I know he wants to go south.  I would like to see the sights too.  Tomorrow the winds are favorable for Nassau.


The sail is wonderful!  The sun is shining and the water is so deep it won’t read on the depth sounder (we’re in the Tongue of the Ocean).  The depth makes a gentle swell rather than short, choppy waves.  As we approach Nassau, we call Harbor Control to request permission to enter.  Nassau Harbor is a busy place with room for 7 big cruise ships, 50+ boats at anchor and ferries for the tourists along with small freighters and Bahamian fishermen.


The ferries are big with colorful paint jobs and loud music.  Some of them are catamarans without masts.  The cruise ships are awesome.  They are huge and the lights at night are very pretty.


We’ve been told that Nassau has high crime.  When you go to the bank or post office, you need to be let in.  Otherwise the doors are locked.  We didn’t encounter any problems but they do drive extremely fast….but I digress….


We contacted Blue Star and Charisma and got anchoring advice.  We threw the anchor down a bunch of times and dragged a bunch of times.  Finally, Mitchell was so tired pulling the damn anchor up so many times (we have a manual windlass) that we opted not to back down too hard on it like we normally would.  It worked.


On the way to Nassau, we discovered the engine mounts were cracked.  The engine was vibrating a lot.  This would be really bad for our prop shaft if we don’t get it fixed immediately.  Sunday, we discover it’s not the engine mounts that were cracked – the engine was bolted down with lag bolts (not the best way to do it for our engine).  When we hit/caught the net in the Gulf Stream, the force must have stripped the fiberglass around the screws.  The solution…fill the hole with glass and re-bed new screws.  Next summer we will haul Hetty and check out the prop shaft and cutlass bearing.


It being Sunday, no stores are open.  The pack-o-cruisers all looked through their stores of nuts and bolts in hope of finding 4 lag bolts big enough for our mounts.  No on has them but it’s touching that they all want to help.


Blue Star, Tididi, Katy, Sunshine, Sea Treat and Amphora are all here.  So is Alegria and Lady Catherine and Charisma.  We met Lady Catherine in Marathon. 


Mitchell did the glass work and then we went to the straw market downtown.  It was rather like a flea market filled with tourist stuff.  They had beautiful woven straw items and wood carvings and colorful sarongs.  The sales pitch was strong.  “You like it?  It’s yours, anything at all, I will sell you any of them”.  Or “look at my beautiful things.  Certainly you’ll want something”.  Sorry, I live on a small boat with room for nothing.  One little boy approached me and asked for a dollar.  It didn’t strike me as the right thing for a little kid to be doing.  The people here are poor but not akin to say, the people of Cuba.  Later I saw the boy with a family member – they were eating ice cream.


After the straw market we started walking for home.  I guess I also need to add that we took a jitney (bus) downtown.  The bus driver was listening to Bahamian gospel on the radio full blast.  To get the bus to stop people would yell “BUS STOP!”.  He would also race any other vehicles on the road as well as drive with his hands waving in the air to the beat of the music.  He was very friendly.


So on the way home, we stopped at a duty free liquor store.  The had a bar set up, self serve, with little shot glasses for taste testing the rum.  Banana, coconut, mango, all kinds of rum.  I was tipsy when we left.  We also saw a band in a square doing a Christmas show.  We also went to Potters Cay – this is the fish market.  You can get fish or conch to take home or buy salads and fritters to eat there.  We bought some fritters to take over to Blue Star – they invited us over for cocktails.  We ran into Katy who wanted to have cocktails and dinner on their boat instead – so we moved the party there.  Tididi came by and joined in.  We had fritters and rice and fish.  A very nice evening.


Monday morning Mitchell was able to dinghy to the hardware/marine store and get the bolts.  I think the engine is down better than ever now.


Because of all of the power we lost not being able to run the engine, and because we wanted to go sight seeing without worrying about whether our boat was dragging out of the harbor, we up anchor and went to Nassau Yacht Haven marina.  Water, electricity, party!  After we tied up, I went to the grocery store while Mitchell went to the post office and the Methodist Church.  Mitchell thought maybe the church would know which islands might best use the church books we were hauling for our church.  However, he wasn’t able to talk to the minister – try again tomorrow, they said.  Mitchell says the church was locked up tighter than Fort Knox.


George, Betty, and Coffee the cat on Katherine B.Katherine B., Betty and George – Seven Seas Commodores that we met in Marathon arrived today and stayed at the Yacht Haven.  Betty loaned me her cart so the grocery store transport might be easier.  I got encouraged having the cart knowing that this is the last major provisioning spots.  So I bought way too much stuff to get back to the boat.  Dorothy from Blue Star went with me.  I get through the check out and realize that I can’t transport all this stuff – even with Betty’s cart.  Once the cart is to overflowing, I still have 3 bags left.  Dorothy, who is always so kind, offered to carry one and I grabbed the other two and the cart and away we went!  Incidentally, I met another cruising couple – Dorothy introduced us at the store.  Their boat name is Cahoots and they are close friends with Charisma.


The streets of Nassau are not wheelchair accessible – or shopping cart friendly for that matter.  Some of the curbs were six inches high.  Dorothy would grab one end and help me lift or lower the cart to the sidewalk.  To be off the sidewalk was certain death because they drive so fast.  Eventually my cart exploded all over the street.  One can of soda ruptured but otherwise we survived.  As soon as I’m back on the boat, Dorothy is over again and inviting us to go with a group to Atlantis on Paradise Island.  Mitch and I don’t stow any of the groceries – we just jump off and lock the boat to meet the group.  Atlantis is this opulent casino, hotel, spa, shopping, aquarium, resort place and Ken knows how to get into the walk through aquarium for free ($25 dollars per person otherwise).  It was a small marathon by the time we catch up to the group – I don’t know how they managed to get 1 mile ahead of us, but they did.


It’s an incredible place.  The statues and paintings and the chandeliers are extraordinary.  The aquarium was pretty neat too – not $25 neat, but neat.  They also built a freshwater and saltwater beach within this resort.  Pretty incredible.


So we made dinner plans with Katherine B.  We go straight from Atlantis to the restaurant that we’re to meet them at.  Dinner was nice – I really like George and Betty.  After that – home again to stow laundry and provisions.


Since we got here we haven’t stopped moving.  The crowd I’ve mentioned here travels very fast.  Today, (12/14/99) they left for Allens Cay.  Mitch & I had no desire to try and keep up with them.  I’m very glad to have spent today filling water & diesel, washing the boat and going back out to anchor in the harbor. 


No sooner do we have the hook down (which did drag the first time – Nassau harbor is tough) then 12+ boats come in and anchor very close to us.  We even saw a boat hit another boat while trying to anchor!


We will go towards Allens Cay or Normans Cay tomorrow.  We’ll try to get some info on the radio as to which place will be the least crowded.  If we can’t get away from the crowds, we may got to Mexico…