Friday, December 16, 2016

Where have we been?

Dolphins lead us across the Little Bahamas Banks.

In the last post we ended with saying we were at home and Layla was “on the hard” in the boat yard in Beaufort, NC.  Much time has passed since that post – we need to catch up.  Despite our lapse in posting, we want to re-assure y’all that we and Layla are doing just fine.

We re-cap here the last of the sailing adventure from the Bahamas to Beaufort.

Crossing from Bahamas to St. Augustine, FL

As many of the other cruisers, we also decided it was time to leave the Bahamas.  Hurricane season was upon us, and for us, the safety of the boat yard in NC seemed to be the best idea - despite the required long travel north.  That plan would prove to be a very good plan as we would discover weeks later as we watched Hurricane Matthew churn up the Bahamas, and the US east coast.

We were pleased to be joined by Robyn and Tony on Alleycat Too on this passage.  We departed the Abacos, passed over the Little Bahama Banks, and crossed from Memory Rock on a 260 mile, 3 day/2 night passage to St. Augustine.  It was comforting to have a “buddy” boat with a working AIS to alert us to boat traffic.  We had a wonderful trip motor/sailing most of the way, with clear nights highlighted by hourly check-in on the VHF radio with Alleycat Too.

 "Buddy boat" crew for the passage from Bahamas to St. Augustine:  Tracy and Bud with their South African friends, Robyn and Tony from Alleycat Too.

Several bands of rain greeted us on the Little Bahamas Banks. 

We took 2-hour watches at the helm for much of the passage.  Our autopilot, our third crew member, performed effortlessly, requiring few small adjustments to the course.  We were free from the prison of the wheel, allowing us to watch for other vessels, and gaze at the stars and the sleeping mate in the cockpit.  We could wander about in thoughts about sailing, oceans, travel, life, and endless paths for us to follow next.  When not on watch, we fished, watched for dolphins, made snacks for the mate on watch, or continued our daydreaming.  It didn’t take long before the exhaustion of watches caught up with us.  After the first night when we weren’t on watch, we spent most of our free time napping in the cockpit. 

Sunset over the open sea signaled the beginning of night watches.

Sleep was our treasured time when relieved of being on watch.

We chose the departure primarily based on the weather forecast.  Weather reports are notorious for being undependable, particularly about the wind - both speed and direction.  We put in our request to the sailing gods for 10-15 knot southeast/southwest winds to give us a nice push north to sail into the Gulf Stream.  While the weather report granted our wishes, we actually received shifting winds, primarily from the north, with south to southeast swells.  We endured hours of irritating rolling with insufficient wind for sailing.  We kept the sails up to help maintain more comfortable motion with the seas.

Seas were calm but the swells across Layla’s stern kept us rolling most of the way.

We were thrilled to see once again the wonders of the Gulf Stream - our increased speed, the deep cobalt water, and the little explosions of flying fish leaping above the waves and scattering before the bow.

We arrived in St. Augustine mid-day on a rising tide.  We grabbed a mooring ball at the St. Augustine Marina, put the dinghy in the water, and joined Tony and Robyn for the required “passage celebratory” rum and coke. We returned to Layla to sleep, and later, to find a big juicy hamburger for dinner. 

Customs and Immigration were our first tasks after arriving in St. Augustine.   There is no other way to express our experience - customs and immigration darkened our very souls.  We expected difficult entries in visiting 2nd and 3rd world countries, but never expected it from our own country.  The process was made more difficult by the fact that St. Augustine is not a primary port of entry.  Although there is a customs officer at the local airport who can clear arrivals into the country, he was on vacation when we arrived.  Our first call to Customs and Immigration did not go well.  We were scolded as if we were toddlers because we did not call immediately when we moored the boat.  We called back later to clarify our options and this time we connected with the exceptionally kind and helpful Officer Mother Teresa.  It sometimes just depends on who you get to answer your call.  We also assisted Robyn and Tony with their visas which involved hours of travel by rental car to/from the main office in Jacksonville, endless paperwork, serious interviews, and “yada, yada yada” it all got resolved days later when the agent returned from vacation. 

We thoroughly enjoyed St. Augustine mainly because of our growing extended family of South African ex-pats.  From more catamarans we met Alison and Andre, and Bret and Gideon.  We shared dinners, sundowners, stories, as well as, assisted in boat projects and more visa paperwork.  Two weeks flew by and then it was time once again for tearful goodbyes.   

St. Augustine, FL to Charleston, SC on the Outside

We decided to go on the “outside” to Charleston.  The weather said to go now – 3 days and 2 nights.  We were going solo.  On the morning of our departure, we almost did not make it out of the harbor.  We called the “Bridge of Lions” bridge operator on the VHF radio to request an opening.  We saw ahead of us that two other sailboats were waiting.  After the first boat passed through the bridge, we moved behind second boat in line for the bridge.  The second sailboat passed under the raised spans, but as we approached the bridge we saw the spans beginning to come down.  We were stunned.  Bud grabbed the VHF and called the bridge. 

“Bridge of Lions, this is Layla, the third sailboat going through the bridge.  Are you closing the bridge?  We are underway.  Do you want us to stop?” 

His reply, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I have stopped the bridge closing.  I’m holding it open for you.  You may continue through.  Only two vessels requested an opening and I saw two go through.  I’m sorry.” 

We took a deep breath and lined up to maneuver through the partially open spans.

“Have a good day Captain”, said the bridge operator when we made it to the other side. 

Bridge of Lions looks like this when open. Picture the spans much, much closer when the operator partially closed the bridge as we approached. 
The beautiful morning helped us shake off the “near miss”.  The next three days and two nights were among our finest hours aboard Layla.  For about 36-40 hours we had only the wonderful sound of the sea against the hull, and the breeze in the rigging as we sailed through the day and night without the engine.  While we were in the Gulf Stream, we put out a couple of fishing lines, and caught and released a beautiful mahi mahi.  We entered Charleston soon after sunrise and anchored in the familiar anchorage off of the City Docks and treated ourselves to eggs benedict on crabcakes at the Marina Variety Store Restaurant. 

Beautiful mahi mahi caught and released in the "stream" - Too much effort to clean it and the decks this time. 

Spotted dolphins joined us in the Gulf Stream from St. Augustine to Charleston.

We met up with an old friend, David Knott, to share a beer and savory duck-fat fries at the Tattooed Moose.  We then started watching the weather to plan our departure.  We did not see any reasonable weather windows for our passage north to Beaufort over the next week or more.  We did not like our options.  We could wait to see if the weather would improve, or we could just suck it up and face the challenges of slow day travel, shoaling, possible groundings, and obnoxious boat traffic offered by the intracoastal waterway (ICW).

Tiny sailors in tiny boats from the Charleston Sailing Club sailed through the anchorage nearly every day.

Charleston, SC to Beaufort, NC on the Inside

Most of our misgivings related to this route on the ICW were fulfilled.  We planned our days according to the tides as we aimed to avoid the shoaling, while heeding the warnings provided by the social network on “Active Captain”.  We still went aground several times, with two of those grounding requiring professional tows assistance.  Fortunately, the TowBoat captains were capable, professional and gracious.  To help with our bruised egos, they offered, “Great boat.  It’s OK. With that draft, it was inevitable.” 

Our friendly TowBoat captain to the rescue. Santa Claus lives in NC during the summer.

The stresses of the ICW compelled us to be focused on simply the process to get us back to Beaufort rather than to be connected with the environment around us.  However, at the end of the day after we anchored, we did find solitude that reminded us why we love this lifestyle.

Dusk at one of our favorite anchorages on the ICW on Thoroughfare Creek.

Dusk at our anchorage in Milliken Cove near Calabash, SC.

Sunset at our anchorage just off of the ICW near Ocean City Beach, NC after being towed off the shoal on the other side of the ICW.

After five days, we were anchored back in downtown Morehead City, just two blocks from our home.  We were excited.  The downtown was exceptionally lively, with several new restaurants that had opened since we had left, now more than 7 months ago.  The proximity of the City Docks to our house made it convenient for offloading a lot of gear over the next two days.  We then took the quick jaunt up the Newport River to the Beaufort Marine Center. Once again, Layla was safe in the boat yard.

Layla coming out of the water at Jarrett Bay.

Layla "on the hard" at the Beaufort Marine Center.

Next postings – Life back on land, Another road trip out west, Hurricane Matthew, and Big decisions on what’s next.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sagas of the Dinghies

Dinghies take you to remote places such as Hawksbill Cays. This is dinghy #2.

A few of you have been asking about this so it is time for the telling of the sagas of the dinghies.

Dinghy #1

The story begins back in Palm Beach, Florida earlier this spring where we were anchored for a protracted stay while we dealt with a variety of paperwork issues, including renewing a passport, renewing Layla’s documentation, and taxes. It all demanded a post office, time and patience - endless patience as documents were lost, re-sent, and bureaucracy frustrated all reason. We were anchored between the Flagler Memorial Bridge and Royal Park Bridge in an area known to have strong tidal currents that would reverse 180 degrees with the flow of the ebb and flood tides.  When combined with storm winds, these currents can challenge anchoring skills. On one of these occasions, Bud saw a trawler galloping toward a recently anchored motor vessel. He shouted to Tracy that he was taking the dinghy to alert the captain about the danger. Bud called the captain on deck and together they attempted to fend off the trawler as it became tangled in the anchor chain of the motor yacht. The trawler lost part of the stern swim platform in the event but otherwise did no damage to the other vessel. Soon, a Sheriff Patrol boat assisted as the trawler continued dragging towards the Flagler Bridge while Bud departed. The trawler was retrieved soon after by the owner before the Tow Boat contractors arrived to salvage the vessel, and before the boat impacted the bridge. Back at Layla, Bud saw the dinghy was leaking water around the transom in the area that had been repaired previously on our trip to Marathon, Florida. It was apparent that the aggressive maneuvering had opened the repaired seam. Such repairs are common on older inflatable boats and they seldom last. If we wanted to have trouble-free boating, we would need a new dinghy.

Dinghy #1.  Daily bailing of the leaky dinghy became old very quickly. 

Dinghy #2

A HUGE boat show was coincident with the dinghy problem. Imagine a boat show where they bring in docks to accommodate hundreds of boats including 200+ ft. mega yachts! We found a brand new dinghy at a good price (Highfield 310) and the company (Inflatable Boat Pro) agreed to take the old dinghy for repairs and to sell it on consignment.

The new dinghy proved its worth some weeks later in another wandering boat incident. Bud and the local sheriff rescued a sailboat that had dragged anchor and was headed toward the Royal Palm Bridge. The owners, who were not onboard, later showed their appreciation for saving their boat by paying for a couple of nights at the Pier 66 marina when we sailed south to Fort Lauderdale! We dearly loved our new dinghy. It was fast, dry, stable and lightweight.

Dinghy #2.  Our beautiful brand new, non-leaking, fast, dry and gorgeous dinghy.

Dinghy #3

Move now to July and the Abacos, Bahamas. We were living the cruiser’s life as we had connected with a number of other sailors and began to have quite an active social life. One evening we joined our South African friends and others for a “braai” (Afrikaans for barbeque) on the beach at Lynyard Cay. Along with several other dinghies, we secured our dinghy by burying the anchor high on the beach. After a good time of dinner, fireside chats and frivolity, it was time to head back to our boats, at about 11:00 pm. Our dinghy was gone! We found the anchor in the water about 20 feet from where it had been buried on the beach with no dinghy attached. There was no frayed line to show that the line had been cut. Although the anchor had apparently dragged, the line had come “untied”. We searched in two dinghies until 2 am with no sightings. Early the next morning, we searched again for hours in the coves and bays, and anywhere as we tried to guess, with wind and current, what was the most likely path of the wayward dinghy. 

Marita, Holli, and Shirley enjoy "Sundowners" at the braai.

Collection of sailors gathered for the braai on the fateful night.

Good food and fun at the braai. 

It is devastating to lose a dinghy, not just because of the cost, but because we were stranded - No beachcombing, no snorkeling, no shopping, no fun.

Our friends came to our aid in the true spirit of cruisers everywhere. They called us on the VHF radio each day to pick us up to go ashore for walks, beachcombing, snorkeling, and sundowners. They looked after us and kept us with the group.

But we did NEED a dinghy. We made repeated announcements on the VHF, the local cruisers’ net and the pubs popular with boaters alerting everyone about the missing dinghy. As the days passed we realized we needed to go to plan B. We called marinas and boat repair shops to ask about used dinghies for sale. One day, we received a promising response from Edwin’s Boat Yard on Man O’ War Cay informing us that they had “one inflatable boat for sale”. The “gang” was eager, hopeful and assembled for a trip to town. 

We were led to a building with dinghies stacked one on top of the other. The upper dinghy from one stack was hauled out. It was an older West Marine inflatable with a removable floor. It had “a slow leak” we were told. “Water or air?” we asked. Probably both, we surmised as we got no clear response. It was quickly re-inflated with an inverted vacuum cleaner hose and, you know, it looked pretty good. White glue trails around the seams told us it had been repaired in much in the same manner as our old dinghy. Well, at least we understand that problem. “Does it have a motor?” someone asked. (It was so great to have a team to back us up.) Yes! A Nissan 5 hp 2-stroke motor was pulled off a stand and transferred to a tank filled with water. After a couple of quick pulls on the starter, the motor smoked but sprang to life. The carburetor might need a little attention. We discovered the internal fuel tank was secured by only one of three bolts, but that was OK as long as the engine cover was on. The gas cap required duct tape to keep it from falling off as the threads on the tank were stripped. We would need some more duct tape for the cap. But, we are in the Bahamas and we need a dinghy. The “gang” began to nod in agreement, “This is OK”. 

The "gang" (John, Alan, Bud, and Tony) checking out the "new" old dinghy (#3) just purchased in Man O' War Cay.

We walked to the office and, as advised by the collection of sailors, we made an offer $200 less than the asking price. The friendly office lady said, “The owner won’t take less than $450”. We said, “Well, $450 it is. Will you take a check?” The office folks had a short discussion and said, “Yes, we will take a check, but it will be $5.88 for the bank fee”. We smiled, agreed to the fees and wrote the check.

Consider this - we are in the Bahamas. Man O’ War Cay has ONE bank and it is open only on ONE day, Wednesday, from 11:00-1:00! We were buying a boat on Thursday, which meant that it would be DAYS before they could cash that check - a check that was from ANOTHER COUNTRY and from people on a SAILBOAT - from people who are on the move and can skip out of the country anytime! The wonderful people at Edwin’s Boat Yard did not even question that! They are clearly from another time when people are trusted on their word. We love Man O’ War Cay!

Bud taking Dinghy #3 for the first ride.  Actually, it wasn't as bad as it looks.
The engine did run, he just needed to get into deeper water to lower the motor.

Dinghy #3.  It was a wet ride, but when she warmed up, she was fast if no one else was in the boat!

It remains a mystery where dinghy #2 is. Possibly, it is wandering the open Atlantic Ocean with a full fuel tank, a good-running 9.9 hp Mercury outboard, a 25 foot anchor line, and two pairs of our favorite flip flops. Clearly, someone will be very pleased to find this little boat.

It is also a mystery as to what actually happened on the beach at Lynyard Cay. It is a puzzle how the anchor ended up 20 feet from the beach. Possibly, in the chaos of one of the groups departing and boarding their dinghy earlier in the evening, someone tripped on the anchor line which contributed to the dinghy breaking free to wander the planet. Regardless, one fact remains - the anchor line was free, not cut, and so the simplest explanation is Bud’s knot on the anchor failed. So be it.

The “new” old dinghy, despite its limitations, gave us our mobility back. We did have to endure the good-humored hazing from the South Africans - “Don’t let Bud tie off your dinghy…Make sure that line is secure, Bud tied it” and many variations on that theme for days. They reminded us that among friends, it is “what we do”. Shirley shared “Come Back Dinghy” by Eileen Quinn with us one evening.  Some might call this our “theme song”. (Click on the picture for the link to the song.)

Click on the picture above for a link to the song "Come Back Dinghy".

Danke” (thank you) John and Shirley on Kaya Moya, Tony and Robyn on Alley Cat Too, Alan and Marita on Alley Cat, and John and Holli on Shiloh for your friendship! We look forward to meeting up with you again somewhere, sometime. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Meet the Locals - Abacos

 "Where are you going?"  Two very outgoing local girls (5 years old, just "friends") entertained us
as they chewed on "baby" coconuts. We had to talk them out of joining us on our walk around
New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay.

It did not take long to realize that the Bahamas and this extended travel had changed us. We discovered we were living with a new and full appreciation of all around us.  Each day we were rewarded with something to remind us to not take the day, the water, the critters, the people, each other or life for granted.

Angelfish, parrotfish, and friends on Mermaid Reef, Abacos.

French Angelfish (in 3 feet of water) off Man O' War Cay.

Midnight Parrotfish with impressive teeth on Mermaid Reef. 

White Sea Urchin (Tripneustes) found on the sandy bottom mixed with sea grass of Manjack Cay.

Fowl Cay reef is one of the more diverse and healthy coral reefs we visited. 

Red Cushion Starfish can be readily seen in the clear water moving (slowly) along the white sand bottom.

Diverse collection of reef fishes attracted to Tracy on
Mermaid Reef - the "Schnorchelparadies" as described our German friend, Michael from the sailboat, "Kassiopeia".

Grey Angelfish, Blue Parrotfish and others on Mermaid Reef. 

Feral pigs can be found on several cays. These two were foraging in the decaying algae found in the upper intertidal zone. As boaters often feed the pigs, these pigs became interested in joining us on the dinghy. 

Nerita snails found on the upper intertidal zone of many cays.
As you might guess, these guys are very tolerant of high temperatures.

Cormorants on a "break" off No Name Cay.

Juvenile King Helmet Snail (Cassis) found (and released) on the beach of Tilloo Cay. 

Bahamas Red Cushion Sea Star (Oresaster) found while snorkling Matlow's Cay.  

Mutton Snapper caught near Spanish Cay, Abacos. Beautiful, very tasty and fairly abundant fish.

Another Mutton Snapper caught while sailing near Crab Cay, Abacos.

Southern stingray cruising the reef off Sandy Cay, Abacos.

Tracy and Black Jack enjoying "sundowners" from the deck of Nancy and Lorry's cottage
next to the "narrows" on Man O' War Cay. 

Freshly made conch salad for lunch in Marsh Harbor.

A local fisherman was proud of this catch (grouper) from Man O' War Cay.  

Nancy and Lorry now live in the cottage on Man O' War Cay they started to build over 30 years ago.

Albury's Sail Shop is a much visited attraction on Man O' War Cay.

The seamstresses in Albury's Sail Shop continue to stock their shelves. 

An example of fine wood working artistry of local artist, Andy Aubury from Man O' War Cay.

What else can we say?

As you can see from the map (click on the map above) of our travels, we are back in North Carolina. Layla is "on the hard" in the Beaufort Marine Center yard waiting on the end of hurricane season and the oppressive heat to end and then...what's next? We are still thinking about that. We will post more "dispatches" of our time in the islands shortly. We do appreciate hearing from you. Let us know what you think.