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Steve, Jose and Debbie in Key West, FL

GULF OF MEXICO CROSSING - March 1 - 7, 2003:  We, and friend Jose, an experienced sailor and racer, left Clear Lake, TX at 8:00 Saturday morning, March 1, 2003, sailing the rhumb line straight across the Gulf to Key West, FL - 800 miles away.  We were fortunate to have strong, favorable winds (20 - 30 knots) for most of the trip, and with Jose tweaking the sails to the max, we arrived in Key West 6 days 4 hours later - a day earlier than expected!  For the first 3 days, it was cold/cool, overcast and seas rough, as we picked our way through the many oil rigs and platforms offshore Texas and Louisiana, and the various freighters, barges and fishing boats.  Our radar was indispensable at night, as our depth perception was about nil.  Day 4 brought us warm temps, clear blue skies, and cobalt blue waters turning turquoise green, which remained with us throughout the rest of the trip.  We had no mishaps nor major equipment failures on the crossing.  We spent 2 nights at Key West - treated ourselves to a marina as we cleaned up boat, body and did laundry.  Jose headed back to Houston and we left Sunday (3/9) and are spending a few days in Marathon / Boot Key, Florida Keys visiting a friend and doing minor boat projects.  We will leave for the Bahamas when a good weather window opens.

North Cat Cay, Bahamas:

Steve waiting on Debbie to get in the dinghy;  (picture doesn't do water justice)

Sunset at happy hour

GULF STREAM CROSSING from MARATHON, FL. to BAHAMAS - March 14 - 15:  We left Marathon, FL early in the morning, and ventured into the Gulf Stream, en route to the Bahamas, late afternoon.  The Gulf Stream can be very "challenging" to cross, as the current travels northeast at several knots, and with northerly winds can create a chaotic sea state.  The first part of our trip was calm seas and gentle winds.  We, however, had to steer a course 30 to 50 degrees south of our destination, to compensate for the pushing affects of the Gulf Stream.  About 2:00 a.m. thunderstorms developed that stayed with us until morning.  Winds picked up to 30 knots and seas became wild.  ARGO handled it very well and we stayed pretty dry in the cockpit.  Amazingly enough, and with effort, we were able to make our landfall destination on the mark.  The entry between Gun Cay and North Cat Cay, being very narrow and bordered by submerged rock, was made further tricky with the tumultuous seas.  Sorry, no time to take pictures!  Behind the islands lay calm, clear turquoise waters.  The water gets even better the further south we go.  North Cat Cay being a private island [for the rich Floridians] doesn't offer much, other than a view from ARGO of a beautiful palm-tree saturated island dotted with "quaint" houses here and there.  Not bad.  Oh yeah, we have been reminded what a hassle it can be to check into Customs and Immigration in the islands - a truly nonsensical experience where everybody is on "island time".  We are waiting on weather to leave for Nassau and places south.    

BERRY ISLANDS, BAHAMAS - March 18:  Had a delightful beam reach sail from N. Cat Cay to Chub Cay, Berry Islands, 70 miles east across the Great Bahama Bank, with 15 knot winds and emerald waters.  Moved over to Frazer's Hog Cay.  Thoroughly enjoyed dinner at the Berry Island Club (small but popular little house/bar where we met other cruisers).

Nassau / Paradise Island, Bahamas 

Coming in to port:  Cruise ships; Atlantis Resort

NASSAU and PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS - March 22:  We timed our departure day so winds would be favorable, and as a result once again had a wonderful sail down island to Nassau.  This port is busier than we like, but we are waiting for a boat part (our control unit on the windlass - the powerhouse on the bow that raises and lowers the anchors - is malfunctioning).   Keep running into the same cruisers, so starting some good friendships that will probably continue down island.  Some of them will stay in the Bahamas; and others will continue down to the eastern Caribbean as will we.  We will wait for good weather (i.e., favorable winds) and then take off to the Exumas.  The Exumas are a key destination for us and we plan to spend a lot of time there leisurely.   According to many cruisers, this is their favorite cruising ground of any place.  

EXUMAS, BAHAMAS - March 26 - April 3:  So far in the Exumas we have been at 8 different islands and anchorages making our way down south to George Town where we are now.  These include:  Allan's Cay is home to an intriguing, albeit ugly, prehistoric iguana (right).  We then spent a week at Exuma Land & Sea Park (Warderick Wells - south anchorage) waiting for the big front to pass.  Meanwhile there, we visited BooBoo Hill (left) where all cruisers leave a remnant of their visit, and so we siliconed our boat card to a stone and dated it (right); Pirates Lair (left), with it's own fresh water spring, is where the pirates of old hid out;  Steve taking a break from his boat projects (right).  Then it was time for Debbie to try her hand at cutting Steve's hair - her first ever attempt. It was going OK until Steve said it had to be shorter, then he grabbed the mirror and scissors and went "chomp, chomp, chomp" (left).  He now wears a hat.  I'm not letting him near my hair.   ARGO at anchor (right) at Exuma Park - south anchorage, and north anchorage (left).

 

Further down island at Black Point, Great Guana Cay, we meet Willie Rolle, self proclaimed best artist in the world and his Garden of Eden (right) - a rather large collection of driftwood that resembles everything from ballerinas to dolphins to boats - use your imagination.  The one beach has a couple of pigs that literally charge you dinghy if you get close to shore looking for food (left)..

Don't have too many more pictures, but what follows is interesting enough.

The Bahamas are made up of limestone and coral, and are very low lying islands.  The Bahama Banks surrounding the islands are very shallow, and with the white sand give the clear water the very light, turquoise color that it's known for.  However, it also makes for very tricky navigation:  ARGO draws 6'3" so many places we cannot go as it is too shallow, and we have to plan entering and leaving some anchorages around high tide.  Everyone runs aground sooner or later, and our experience was over sand, not coral, and we were able to get off quickly.  It is also very important to be able to visually "read the water", i.e., know how to read shallow vs. deep, sand vs. grass vs. coral heads and reefs.  The current is very strong between islands and cuts, so it is necessary to plan departures and arrivals around slack water to avoid the "rage" (east-moving current meeting the easterly winds head on).  We have been anchored many times where the boat is dominated by the strong current over the strong wind. - really odd to have the boat abeam to the wind when anchored.  We have done night anchor watches on several occasions due to strong winds (30 - 36knots), and the flukey current has each boat swinging a different direction in the anchorage.  We now have more confidence on our anchoring strategy and ability.

We have met many cruisers (both sailboats and trawlers) and are loosely traveling with one boat south, and a dozen others we keep meeting up with along the way.  It's a small world out here.  It's great because we can help each other navigate tricky waterways and can share know-how, and loan parts and tools when necessary.   We are able to stay in communication with them via VHF radio (short distance) and SSB radio (long distance) via nets, or relay through other boats.   (At right: having dinner with Seanote (Diane & Jim) at Sampson Cay)

We have also met the Bahamian people.  They are very friendly, take pride in their work and are always there to help you out.  We're amazed at how many of these tiny islands have their own RO water making systems, and everybody has DirectTV dishes.  There have been no personal security issues (except in Nassau there was a report of theft from a cruiser).  It's still very frustrating trying to get stuff done.  We have many boat projects to do, but the marine stores and local knowledge is shockingly sparse.  With Nassau and George Town being big cruiser destinations, we were expecting some selection, but have been told that we'll have to wait for Puerto Rico to do our marine shopping and servicing.  Just goes to show you that you have to be pretty self-sufficient, and other cruisers help out.  We have been able to find fresh bread and a fairly good selection of produce along the way.  Our biggest mistake (friends had warned us) was not stocking up on more beer before we left Florida.  Kalik Beer (the Bahamian beer that tastes like Natural Light or Corono and is good and the cheapest) costs as much as $60/case.  Other brands may be as much as $75/case.  We found Kalik here for $38/case, so have loaded up the aft cabin.

Cruising is hard work, and it would be a lot easier going to the office each day.  But not nearly as interesting nor challenging!  Most immediately, we are currently dealing with a fuel problem.  Another cruiser has lent us his portable fuel polishing (cleaning) system which we have been running on our fuel tanks for 2 days now.  Eau de diesel fills the air.  Just as we were leaving an anchorage and were motoring out through a narrow cut in confused seas, we lost our engine and were headed for the rocks.  We pulled out a the jib sail and managed to sail out from the rocks and back into the anchorage, dropping the anchor under sail.  Another lesson to be learned is to always have your sail ready to be deployed, or up, when maneuvering a hazardous passage.  After our experience, the other 7 boats in the anchorage all had sails up when they subsequently left, so they learned from our experience.  The learning curve has been steep.  We have also had to deal with other things breaking or not working: fixed the windlass in Nassau after manufacturer shipped replacement control box; have issues with wind generator, monitor switch at helm and many miscellaneous things.

Because of the high winds and strong currents here, we have not done much snorkeling.  We did snorkel Thunderball Grotto, Big Majors where Thunderball (James Bond) movie was filmed.  We went at low tide and slack current so we could swim straight in.  It's kind of like a volcano inside, with an opening at the top where the sun comes in.  There are lots and lots of beautiful fish and corals there, both inside and out.  While exploring the outside, Debbie ran into a 5 ft. shark.  Although I have seen smaller ones from the boat, this was the first in-the-water encounter.  With women and children around, I hesitated to yell shark.  I yelled at Steve to drive the dinghy over to get me.  Not hearing a word I said, he just waves back at me and smiles.  So, then I have to yell "shark, shark".  Someone said, must just be a nurse shark.  I don't care.  At this point, a shark is a shark, so I yelled again at Steve to come get me and he finally did.  Looking up the shark in my book later, it was a nurse shark, that likes to hang around on the bottom and under ledges - like the ledge under my feet!   (This is NOT a  picture of THE shark, but of a small nurse shark seen from the boat - it shows how clear the water is!)

ARGO at anchor.

 

 

Landrail, Crooked I, Exumas

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[2]

[3]

[4]

EXUMAS, BAHAMAS, cont'd - April 4 - April 22:  We spent about a week and a half in George Town, Exumas alternating between the Volleyball Beach and Kitt's Cove anchorages, although there are many other large anchorages here, too.  We met Walt here who is single-handing Wally World - he has joined Seanote and ARGO as we have traveled south [1].   George Town is a very popular southern destination for cruisers from Florida.  It was almost too organized, and social, for our liking.  Again, we were shocked at the lack of marine services and goods here, especially when considering the cruiser population (400 boats in peak season, 100 when we were there).   We waited for a weather window and then headed south, on the move for 6 straight days until we got to the Turks & Caicos.  Our stops along the way included Rum Cay, Clarence Town (Long Island in the Ragged Islands), Landrail (Crooked Island), W. Plana Cay and Mayaguana.  Several times we would leave an anchorage around midnight so we could maneuver tricky areas (e.g., coral heads and reefs) in the proper sunlight conditions and make distance before the high winds kicked up in the morning.  We celebrated Easter at Landrail with boat drinks ashore on the lovely white beach [2] [3].  The next morning as Steve was pulling up the 2nd anchor, "snap", the anchor rode (rope) broke.  Even though we had anchored in sand, apparently the anchor rode got caught around a coral head during the night and chafed through about 35 ft. from the anchor.  Another reason we almost always set 2 anchors.  (The primary anchor is all chain, so chafing on coral is not a problem with it.)  Using our Position Report from the night before, and our Nobeltec charting software, we estimated where the lost anchor might be located.  Walt had dive gear handy and dove down, eventually rescuing the anchor and saving the day.  Thanks, Wally World!  In transit that day, we cut off the chafed rode and spliced the rode to the anchor - making use of what we had learned in Splicing 101 [4].      

From Mayaguana, we left the Bahamas behind and headed to the Turks and Caicos

      Landrail with lighthouse on reef

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