Monthly Archives: February 2014

Yup, leaving Ft. Lauderdale today. Crossing to Chub Cay

It’s Thursday morning and yes, indeed, as planned, we are heading out today for an overnight run to Chub Cay in the Bahamas.  We plan on leaving mid day, after stopping for fuel and water, to cross the Gulf Stream and then on across the Bahama Banks.  Brenda is a bit nervous about being out overnight but the weather is expected to be very mild with hardly any wind at all.  Under power, we will push along over smooth water for nearly 20 hours to get there.

As we don’t want to arrive in Chub in the dark, we can’t really leave until mid day to early afternoon.  At 6-7kts boat speed and the 150 mile distance, we can’t leave too soon lest we get there before daybreak.  However, if we go too fast, we can always slow down as we get closer to ensure a daylight arrival. You really don’t want enter a harbor in the Bahamas in the dark, as there aren’t many markers for channels, you have to be able to “read” the water.

Interestingly, the best way to tell the water depth is to observe the water color with the darker blue meaning deeper water.  This photo gives a good example of what this looks like.  Note the deep blue water where the boats are moored.  That’s pretty deep and the white area, very shallow, perhaps less than two feet deep.   Pandora “draws” just under 6′ so to stray into the white areas would mean a sudden stop.

This morning Brenda and I went for a walk before it got hot.  For those of you in New England, it’s plenty hot here, in the upper 80s I’d guess by mid day.  We took a ride to shore in our dink for a coffee run.

Along the way, in the middle of downtown Ft. Lauderdale, we spied a whole neighborhood of iguanas lounging around waiting for something tasty to present itself.  They look pretty fierce and the biggest ones are up to 4′ long.  It’s a good thing they don’t get bigger than that as I can only imagine what sort of mischief they would get into if they were 100lbs or more.  They do look fierce though and I don’t think that they would take kindly to anyone disturbing their vigil. It seems that the largest ones had the best real estate.  I guess that’s what life is all about.

It looks like he, and it’s definitely a “he”, is behind bars.  Not so.  It’s just that he happens to be on the other side of the fence.  What’s more remarkable is that he spends his time right across the street from a major shopping mall.   Where else in American can you see a Macy’s and Iguanas at the same time? Some of the smaller ones were spending their time up in a tree.  This guy was one of perhaps a dozen hanging out in a single tree over the water.   Looks pretty comfy, doesn’t he?Well, signing off for now.  Next post, Chub Cay.  Wish us luck.

Thursday’s the big day. Crossing to the Bahamas

It’s Wednesday evening, dinner’s done and the dishes put away.  So now my thoughts are turning to our crossing to the Bahamas tomorrow on Thursday afternoon.

The original plan was to leave Ft. Lauderdale early on Thursday morning and clear in to the Bahamas at Bimini, a mere 50 miles from Florida.  However, when it comes to weather, it’s up to God to decide and he has determined that the “window” for getting to the Bahamas is going to be short.   This means that instead of a more leisurely run to Bimini, a run of about 50 miles, followed by a second day run to Chub Cay, another 75 miles, we will have to do a run to Chub from Ft. Lauderdale as a single overnight run.  The problem is that the “benign weather we want for the crossing will only last for a short time and if we stop in Bimini along the way, the weather will likely turn against us.

The problem is that the “prevailing” or “normal” winds for this area are from the east and that’s the direction we need to go.  You can’t sail into the wind so that means that we will need to motor all of the way.  That’s not bad except when the wind is blowing hard against us.  And, believe me, we don’t want to motor into strong easterlies. That would make Brenda sad.  And, we don’t want a sad Brenda.  Not good at all.

As Pandora’s normal cruising speed will only allow us to complete a run of about  75 miles in a single day of daylight, we will have to make this run overnight in order to make about double that distance.  Brenda’s not too keen about being under way in the overnight hours, but it makes sense given the weather.  While we are expecting light winds and a motor boat ride, there are supposed to be strong winds filling in from the east (a bad direction) by Friday afternoon.  If we were to stop at Bimini instead of continuing overnight, we would miss the light winds and end up stranded at Bimini for days, perhaps longer while waiting for good conditions to return.  Last winter our friends stopped in Bimini and were stuck there for a full week.  We’d like to avoid that.

As we want to be further along on our trip without a long wait in Bimini, we decided to just go for it and motor overnight.

So, the plan is for us to get fuel and water on Thursday morning here in Ft Lauderdale and head out shortly after noon.  Given a speed of about 7kts, we should be able to complete the run by mid morning on Friday.

I have made a reservation at Chub Cay marina, the only business in Chub Cay, for Friday night so it will be fun to clear customs there.  I understand that customs is located at the airport and that the marina staff will take us there via golf cart to visit the customs officials.  That should be an experience.  So many of the islands in the Bahamas have only a few inhabitants and the only water and electricity available is precious and made on the island itself.  Not like the US where electricity and water is taken for granted. 

Today we finished provisioning Pandora with all the food we could stuff in the fridge.  Our fridge is more like an icebox with a small freezer that will hold about 25lbs of frozen meat.  The fridge is a top opening deal so it’s more like diving for food than in a normal refrigerator at home.   And, don’t forget, that all the electricity for keeping food is made by our solar panels.  In both the fridge and freezer you have to eat your way from top to bottom, very unlike in a home fridge where you can see about everything at once when you open the door.

This is a photo of our solar panels which measure about 8′ by 8′ and produce about 10 times the power of a car battery each day.  That’s not a lot of power by  “home standards” but the equipment is so efficient that this is still a lot of electricity and plenty for our purposes.

This photo was taken on the CT River not far from our “summer home” and clearly shows the solar panels on the top of the “bimini”.  Anyway, wish us luck on our trip.  I hope to post again once we clear in in Chub.

21 bridges and only 40 miles. Can you say “open the bridge?”

It’s hard to believe that it’s possible to pass through 40 miles of water and have to go through over 20 bridges, and to do all of that in one day.  As Iwrite this it’s Tuesday evening and while it’s not even 9:00, Brenda’s snoozing.  It may seem odd to you but motoring along all day and constantly having to adjust the speed of Pandora to arrive at a given bridge in time for them to open, is very tiring. 

In this part of Florida, the bridges are very close together and all are too low for Pandora with her 65’ tall mast, to get under.   As a result, we have to time our approach to each bridge so that we arrive at the appointed opening time.  Some only open up once per hour, some each half hour and some on the quarter hour.  The problem is that there is barely enough time to get from one to the next in the time alowed.  Pandora’s comfortable cruising speed is about  7 knots, about the equivalent of 7.7 MPH.  This isn’t very fast but typical for a boat such as ours.   This is a picture of one of the better looking bridges.  The bridge operators are plenty friendly but they won’t stray from their appointed schedule by much more than a minute and, if you are even two minutes late, you will have to wait till the next opening which will be at least 30 minutes later.  That doesn’t sound like much but you can loose hours in a day and spend a lot of time circling in the water with the boat while waiting for the next opening.

Happily, we timed most of our bridges pretty well and made it all the way to Ft. Lauderdale where we are now in a day.  40 miles doesn’t sound like much but when you combine that with so many bridges, it’s a long way and plenty of tiring as we had to be “on” every minute.

Enough about the difficulties of bridges.    At least it’s not snowing.  Did I mention that it was in the 80s and sunny?  I probably shouldn’t have.

This is the view that greeted me today when the sun rose.  Pretty nice. As we passed along the waterway, we spied an endless number of magnificent yachts.  I feel pretty good about Pandora but she’s a canoe compared to these babies.   This one is classified as an “expedition yacht” which means that she can go about anywhere in the world.  Some of these yachts even have their own submarines aboard.  We even saw one with a helicopter perched on the back deck.  Hard to believe that one person owns these. 

This beautiful yacht is more for coastal cruising as opposed to ocean crossing.  I also saw this one in Newport RI a few years ago.  She really gets around. This sailboat, Rambler, is quite famous on the ocean racing circuit.  She wins many races  and has competed in some of the world’s most difficult events.  In the “Fastnet” race off of England, a few years ago, she her keel fell off and she turned over in the water instantly. Pretty amazing boat though.  She’s about 100’ long. The keel is a massive lead part under the boat that helps balance the boat and provide resistance to the wind in the sails.  Without it, any sailboat will turn turtle right away.  Pandora weighs about 25,000 pounds and nearly 10,000 pounds of the weight is in the lead keel. Fortunately, when Rambler turned over she didn’t sink and was salvaged so she could race again.  Also, thankfully, none of the crew was hurt.  The odds of a keel falling off are very slim and thankfully, no boat like Pandora has ever lost a keel.

Along the waterway we passed one amazing home after another.  Some tacky and some grand but all really expensive.   I wonder what folks to do earn that much money.  

This is a typical home and we saw plenty.This one was particularly impressive.  Quite modern.This earth mover was toiling away on a little sand island.  I have no idea how they got it out there as it was perched on the mound and yet there was no way to get to shore without going in the water.  I doubt that they float well.  I guess he will have to pile up sand to make his own island all the way to shore.With all the sunshine here in Florida, you’d expect to see solar panels.   We didn’t really see any but did see these wind generators or mills on the top of an apartment tower.  They look pretty wacky but were churning away making electricity.  Pandora doesn’t have a wind generator but she does have large solar panels that supply all of her electrical needs when we are at anchor.   The panels put out enough power each day to run our refrigerator, freezer, computers etc along with enough left over to power our desalination unit which makes fresh water from salt water.  In the Bahamas, fresh water is very precious and if you don’t have your own desalinization equipment you have to purchase water for about $.50 a gallon. That may sound like a lot for water but believe me, it’s a lot cheaper than making your own as the equipment is very expensive.  However, cost aside, having enough fresh water is worth most anything to Brenda who loves here daily shower.  And remember, keeping Brenda happy is job one.  As they say “a happy wife makes for a happy ship”.  Works for me.

We are now anchored in a small harbor in Ft Lauderdale and tomorrow we will head out for some last minute shopping as it looks like we will be able to head over to the Bahamas on Thursday.   The wind will likely be light so it will be a motorboat ride.  That’s fine as Brenda prefers that to more exciting sailing.  We will likely make Bimini our first stop.  Bimini became famous as the winter home of Ernest Hemingway.   I guess they still have plenty of rum there.

Well, I had better wrap this up and get to bed myself as after going through 21 bridges today I am ready for 20 winks and now’s a good time for that.

Casting off the lines and on our way. Monday morning we hope…

It’s Sunday evening and the rest of the world is watching the Super Bowl.   Me, I am writing a blog post.  Sorry, but I was brought up in a sports agnostic house. Whatever.

Anyway.  It’s been three plus days since we arrived in Ft. Pierce and we have just about added all the provisions we can to Pandora so we are about ready to head out.  So, Monday morning, tomorrow, we will cast off the lines and begin to head south to Ft Lauderdale to stage ourselves for the run to the Bahamas.

I am a bit uncertain about what will happen when I back Pandora out of the slip in the morning as I fear that the prop will be fouled with barnacles given the fact that she has sat in the marina for three months.  I am also wondering how the slime etc on the hull will be.  However, if we are really slow when we leave, I’ll just have to anchor, get out the hooka compressor and go for a swim to clean off the hull. I did call a diver this afternoon to see if perhaps he could come by to clean the hull today but I didn’t hear back.  I am not surprised with the “big game” happening this evening.

Perhaps I’ll get lucky and he will call me early in the AM and stop by to scrub the hull.  If not, I’ll just have to do it myself.   Here’s a shot of me with all my gear from last year, about ready to clean things up.  Pretty amusing look, if you ask me.However, the water here in the marina isn’t nearly clean enough for me to risk a swim so if I have to do it myself, I’ll wait till we are out in more clear water.  It’s pretty easy to clean the hull as I just use a scotchbrite pad on a plastic handle.  It’s not that bad as long as the fouling isn’t too bad.

Here in the marina the water is pretty murky but there is lots of wildlife.  This manatee swam right by Pandora twice today.  Well, that’s how many times I saw her/him.   Not too pretty looking.  Supposedly, early explorers mistook these guys for mermaids.  They must have been pretty lonely to have mistaken one of these “sea cows” for nautical beauties.   This shot shows pretty clearly the whole deal.  They are about 8′ long.  This guy’s back was completely covered with algae too.  Not the spic and span skin of a dolphin and plenty sluggish swimmers.  No wonder they get struck by power boats so often.  Amazing creatures. And, these guys aren’t the only wildlife in the area.  There is a mangrove stand near the fuel dock that is the evening gathering place for hundreds of Ibis birds and a few pelicans.  In the dark the white birds look more like litter sprinkled on trees.  It’s amazing to watch them fly in from all over as the sun sets.  And, this pelican was perched on a piling in the marina just outside of the bar area.  I wonder if he was looking for some fish and chips.  It’s funny, but to me pelicans look pissed off.  “hey bud…who you lookin at?  Yes, I’m talkin to you.”Well, the plan is to head out early or, if we are lucky, to have the diver clean the bottom of Pandora to get off three months of slime before we head out.  I guess I’ll have to see if the diver calls me back first thing.

One way or the other, we hope to be on our way Monday morning.   Fingers crossed.

Inching toward a departure from Ft. Pierce aboard Pandora.

It’s Saturday morning and we are now in Ft Pierce, having arrived in the driving rain on Thursday afternoon. It was an enjoyable ride down from CT and didn’t seem nearly so long as the 1,000+ miles would suggest. By breaking up the trip and making it more like a week on the road, verses a single hard push south, we had time to adjust to a slower pace, if you can call moving south at 70 mph for hour after hour “slower”.

With virtually no traffic at any point once we were out of the NYC area, I guess you could call it slower or at least relaxing.  Now that we are here in Ft. Pierce, staying put for yet another few days sounds very appealing. Our $19/day rental car has come in handy and it’s been easy to say “OK, how about another day on that rental”.  Years ago, I would have pushed to get all of our errands done in a single day but now…

I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, on the radio today and he suggested that we might be able to cross to the Bahamas by mid week so I guess we will get moving on Sunday morning to head down the coast toward Ft. Lauderdale. (Remember that there’s a “where’s Pandora” button on the home page of this site where you can see exactly where we are most any time.)

Crossing to the Bahamas from Florida is easier from further south because you are working with the northern current rather than trying to fight it.  The current in the Gulf Stream runs as much as 5kts (about 5.5mph) toward the north, so in the day it takes to cross the stream, you get swept north quite a bit.  With that in mind, you have to aim further south than you would think in order to avoid missing your destination on the Bahamas side completely. 

So, I think that we will likely leave the marina in Ft Pierce on Sunday and begin making our way south via the ICW, on the inside as opposed to the ocean side. There are plenty of bridges to go through as we get closer to Ft. Lauderdale so it will take two days to make the 100 or so mile trip.  As you can imagine, the scenery along the waterway is very interesting and there are plenty of amazing homes packed along the shore.  Central Florida is certainly home to the 1% crowd.

I find that it’s plenty hard to get ready to leave Pandora for a few months and even harder when we return to her after she’s sat for some time unattended.  There is so much to do to get everything in place to head out again. You’d think that it would be easy to get the boat ready again after a few months away, especially since we have been doing this for years now.  However, it’s just not that easy because when things sit unattended, they don’t always work when you come back.  In spite of all my efforts in getting things “ship shape” when I left in November, there were bits of mildew here and there along with food in the fridge that I should have tossed but didn’t when I left. 

While we have a detailed list of provisions in a spreadsheet aboard, of all of the food and stores that we have stowed aboard Pandora, most of which was put aboard in CT, it seems that we are always a bit unsure of what we have and what’s now needed for our few months in the Bahamas. Shopping over there is uncertain at best as it’s a very rural country.

One particularly vexing example of trying to get everything aboard in preparation for a trip, is medications. While our list is not that long, it’s hard to convince the insurance company and pharmacy to fill orders for 4 months of prescriptions when they only want to send a 30 day supply. Prior to our departure from CT, we ordered several months and had them shipped here to the marina.  Alas, when we arrived, some of the items we had ordered were nowhere to be found.

The mail order pharmacy folks were happy to send the rest of the order, but it took an hour and a half of frustrating phone calls to get things resolved.  And, to make matters worse, we had to find a UPS store in Ft. Lauderdale to have them shipped to since we will only be here in Ft. Pierce for a few more days, not long enough for our order to get here.  However, we are certain that we will be to Ft. Lauderdale at some point prior to heading over to the Bahamas.  As you can see, it’s plenty difficult to resolve the logistics of not having a regular mailing address when you are moving from place to place on a boat. I can’t wait till all of these issues are settled and we are underway.

Our frustrations are not unique to Pandora as we had drinks last evening with another couple that we had met last winter who are also having a difficult time getting ready to head out.   And, in their case, it’s even tougher as when they leave the US they won’t be back for years as they are planning to go through the Panama Canal and across the pacific ocean on their circumnavigation.

It’s a long way around the world, believe me, at about 5mph, the speed of a cruising boat. To go around the world is about 25,000 miles and that takes a very long time when you go so slow. And that assumes that the wind is blowing from the right direction. 

As I wrote that last paragraph, I am struck by how normal their plans seem to us given the folks that we hang around with these days.  These are serious voyagers where taking boats across vast oceans is more of the norm.  Well, for me right now, I am more focused on just getting Pandora out of this marina so we can begin making our way over to the Bahamas, not far but it seems like a big move to us right now.

You’d think that just casting off the lines should be easy but it’s amazingly tough. While Pandora is not a big boat, there are an amazing number of details to attend to and places to loose things. Actually, without a detailed list, I expect that things could get lost for years. Pandora is 43’ long and 12’ wide. While that might sound big, believe me, it’s not. This is a schematic of what the boat looks like “down below”.  We sleep in the front bunk.This is what the main cabin looks like when things are “ship shape”.  Pretty nicel , we think. Think of spending time aboard a small cruising boat like Pandora as cramming into a spot about the size of a large bathroom with someone, for weeks at a time. Sounds confining? Perhaps, but the views are fantastic.  Here’s Pandora at a dock in Rum Cay last winter.  Pretty nice…Well, there are lots of chores to do today so I had better sign off and get to work or we will NEVER leave and that would be a bummer.