Monday, June 30, 2008

Ft. Pierce to Charleston, SC

The leisured pace of the Abacos and the delays in Fort Pierce had put far behind the weather curve. In order to leap frog some of the delay, Jan and I chose a long leg offshore from Fort Pierce, Fla. to Charleston, SC--a journey of 320 n. miles. I chose a course about 40 miles offshore and well inside the west wall of the Gulf Stream

The trip was a total success in that we made it in about 60 hours without any breakage or significant problems. Weather planning was excellent until the forecast fizzled out at the end of 3 days. The first day was light reaching and motor sailing in light southerly breezes. The thunderstorms stayed inland on this day as predicted.

The second day was had slightly more wind pressure as predicted, but the thunderstorms came off the beach as they often do in Florida in June. We caught the edge of one but handled it easily by taking off all sail and turning away from it.

The third day brought even more pressure than predicted but from the right direction. That direction was SW and we wanted to go NE. By late afternoon we were headed to South Carolina at 5 knots under bare poles only. But that day the thunderstorms were exploding off the beach. We were cuffed by one and missed the worst ones. More unsettling was to watch the "power of God" lightning displays out over the Gulf Stream. That night the wind was over 25 knots and the 6 to 8 foot waves were really pushing the boat around. The watches were difficult and off watch worse. As dawn broke the jetties of Charleston were a welcome sight. The SW wind built to over 30 as we were safely motoring into the harbor.

We are docked at Charleston City Marina which seems nice, but we are to exhausted to tell. Bedtime is projected for 7:30 pm.

Regrettably we do not have any good pictures. However, I do not believe that any camera I know of can really display the eerie colors of a building thunderstorm if the sun gets behind it. It is like a rainbow, but one from another world. There are metallic blue greens and odd yellows that do not other wise show up in everyday life. Plus the menace (which usually does not pan out) just adds to the weirdness.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

There's a Good Battery Store in Fort Pierce

"There is a good battery store in Fort Pierce," said a cruiser after beach church on Volley Ball Beach last April. On such small things, great plans are made. I had never heard of Fort Pierce, Fla. prior to that very brief exchange. I did learn that Fort Pierce has a first class very safe inlet and a reputation for marine services. Being well north of the Bahamas and not being Fort Lauderdale were added advantages. The name of the battery store is St. Lucie Tire and Battery.

After securing a slip at Harbortown Marina and clearing in, we retained the service of an excellent marine electrician--William Rhoads (772) 812-1722. He suggested more batteries in a house bank. Eventually, we settled on a single starting battery which was one of the Odyssey batteries and a house bank. The house bank is now a hodgepodge of batteries--one of the Odyssey's, the two group 27's that I bought in Georgetown, and a new group 4D from St. Lucie Tire and Battery. He replaced the long broken shore charger with a heavy duty unit from MasterVolt, and replaced the 30 amp Hitachi alternator with a 70 amp Balmar coupled to an AR-5 smart regulator. It took a while and cost plenty, but I am hopeful that this is a good start to solving White Pepper's power problems. Later we will add solar and wind power.

Other chores included replacing the leaking front hatch, fixing the propane bottles, and ordering or mailing off a half dozen broken parts. New charts and a Reed's Nautical almanac were purchased for the Atlantic portion of our trip.

Fort Pierce is industrial and agricultural. It seems oddly downtrodden, esp. considering the glitter of the South Florida coast. Jan and I rented a car for the weekend. After all the chores were done, we headed for West Palm Beach on Sunday. The opulence and wealth there is staggering. The Fort Pierce city father's have not given up however. They have redone the old city center quite well. The library is at least as nice as Corpus Christi. There is a nice farmer's market every Saturday morning. The restaurants are charming and refreshingly cheap.

The high light of our stay was Father's Day. Kristi and Pat flew to Florida for a visit to his relatives in Tampa and Miami. They were able to swing by on Saturday and Sunday. We all had a marvelous visit which included a dingy ride from Harbortown to the City Marina and downtown.

Now having spent all of our allowance, we are leaving Fort Pierce for Charleston, SC. on the outside. We will be glad to leave Fort Pierce but sorry to leave behind the many good people we met living aboard in the marina. Everyone was quiet friendly and some were invaluable in giving assistance. Thanks! The weather looks good except for usual afternoon thunderstorms which are typical of the June here. Our next post should be in 4 or 5 days.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Back in the USA

We wanted to stay in the Bahamas much longer, but electrical and battery problems were too pressing to ignore any longer. White Pepper slipped the mooring at Green Turtle Cay on Thursday 6-5-08 and headed NW. There was a brisk SE breeze that backed due E by afternoon. We were making such good time that we bypassed the planned anchorage of Hawksbille Cay and pressed on to Great Sale Cay in the very middle of the Little Bahama Bank. The Little Bank is slightly deeper than the Great Bahama Bank that we covered last December, but it does have shallow spots. We passed over a 7 feet depth about 3 miles offshore. Along the way we passed a rock with the wonderful name of Center of the World Rock. (see picture) I guess if you run into it while on autopilot the rock quickly becomes the center of your world.

Great Sale is well located and well protected from the easterly winds and seas. We got in just at sunset quite tired. We explored and rested all day Friday waiting for the winds to calm down and allow a better Gulf Stream crossing. There is not much there except a long strip of rock and scrub.

We socialized with our two neighbors--Alan on Artful Dodger and Jack and Lillie on Be Attitude. Lillie is the skipper and Jack competent crew. They had lost an anchor the night before and were light on ground tackle. I sold them my 20 kg Claw knowing I could easily replace it at West Marine. They would probably have to have had one shipped in on the mail boat.

Saturday dawned lovely and gentle. We raised the anchor by 6:30 am and sailed away at 280T at 6 knots. Fort Pierce was 115 n. mi. away. White Pepper crossed off the Little Bank using a wide deep cut at 27 degrees and 8 minutes north latitude at 4:45 pm. Soon we were in the Gulf Stream, but the wind and waves gradually subsided. By altering course to 270T we were making 6+ knots at 330M. I must have done the trigonometry correctly because we popped out of the west wall of the Gulf Stream due east of Fort Pierce 17 n. miles away. I was asleep when Jan raised the red flashers of the Fort Pierce inlet at 5 am. When the sun came up at 6:30 I lower the Bahamian courtesy flag and raised the quarantine flag (see pic). Thus ended White Pepper's 6 month voyage to the Bahamas.

Two hours later we were tied up at the Harbortown Marina and preparing to haggle with Homeland Security. By 3 pm we were certified as cleared. I had a 20 digit number to prove it. This number must be retained in the log book for at least one year. Back at the marina Jan and I had two beers each and slept till 7 pm.

Green Turtle Cay

After the Briscoe's left on Sunday 6-1-08 Jan and I did not feel like hanging around Marsh Harbor. We provisioned Monday morning and left for Baker's Bay in the late afternoon. Baker's Bay is the NW corner of Great Guana Cay. It is also the jumping off area for the notorious Whale Cay Passage. We arrived about 6pm. We were disconcerted by the contrast between such lovely clear water and the loud, illuminated construction ashore. Jan swam for about an hour in the cleanest water I have ever seen. But ashore a golf course is being built. The water and the reef will not do well once those tons of fertilizer start leeching into the sea. The locals have mounted an all out effort to get the golf course stopped, and case is currently being heard in the High Court in London.

The Whale Cay passage is 1.2 n. mi. route that takes you from the central Sea of Abaco, out into the N. Atlantic, and back into the northern portion of the Sea of Abaco. For our voyage it was a pussycat. Indeed we motored in flat seas. But often when there is any swell from the Atlantic the breaking seas form a dangerous state known as the 'Abaco Rage.' There is no other way around and traffic can stack up for weeks.

The principal reason to hazard the 'Whale' is to get to Green Turtle Cay. Settled by Loyalists in the 1780's and accessible only by boat GTC has done development the right way. It has many homes tucked into the natural surroundings and small tasteful marinas and clubs. We picked up a mooring in the White Sound. Black Sound is too shallow even for White Pepper. There was so much to do in White Sound that we did not even bother to go into the main settlement of New Plymouth. We hiked and dingied about. We had the run of the elegant Green Turtle Club. Jan made a picnic lunch for our outing on the Atlantic side beach. We snorkeled for at least an hour on the near by reef. On Wed. evening we treated ourselves to an excellent meal at the Green Turtle Club and danced the night away listening to the "Roosters." The Rooster are an excellent local band. They were pumped up because their latest song was #1 in Nassau. We partied hard because this was our going away celebration.

The weather picture had become quite settled for the first week in June and strong easterlies were predicted. They were to blow us all the back to the USA.

Note: the picture is of Jan dancing to "Shake, shake, shake," something that I can not do. The church is actually the Methodist Chuch on Elbow Cay. We learned at the museum that a freed slave arrived in the Abaco's in the 19th century and was responsible for spreading Methodism across the northern Bahamas. The southern Bahamas are mostly Anglican or Baptist. The beach picture shows Whale Cay in the distance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hope Town and the Elbow Cay Reef Lighthouse

The image of the light house at Hope Town has been reproduced so many times that it is very recognizable to millions who do not even know where the Bahamas, Abacos, Hope Town or Elbow Cay are. It was built in 1864 and is operated by hand every night. It uses Fresnel lens and a kerosene burner designed in London in the 1880's. We all felt quite a thrill as the White Pepper came close enough to Hope Town to make out it's famous red and white candy stripes.

The approach to Hope Town is limited to 5 foot draft at low tide so mega yachts need not attempt it. White Pepper got in 2 hours after low tide with 9 inches to spare. Once inside she could not have been in a more snug, secure or picturesque harbor. We picked up a mooring ball and headed for the light house. The sense of height was extreme on the narrow windy catwalk around the lens. On the way out we met a class on a school outing and asked to take their picture. At night the effect of the light sweeping overhead was romantic.

Also in Hope Town is a nice beach, very quaint and well maintained old houses. The streets are quite narrow, lanes really, and motor traffic is forbidden in the old town. There is shopping, dive shops, two beach bars and a fine dining restaurant. As in all Bahamian locals there are interesting old cemetaries. Provisions are plentiful. All in all, it is cruiser's paradise. We visited a very well done museum (air conditioned even). Sadly, we had to leave after 24 hours because of the Briscoe's travel plans. Several weeks would have been a more appropriate stay.

The Sea of Abaco

The Sea of Abaco is a cruiser's delight. It is a shallow (3 to 12 feet) protected body of water with few hazards. There are destination cays and fringing reef protecting the sea from the North Altantic and 3 to 5 miles to the west is the Great Abaco Island. Sailing and sport fishing are so benign and pleasant here that the area has taken on aspects of a boom town with development on every little island and cay.

White Pepper started north from Little Harbor on Saturday May 23, 2008 as mentioned in the previous post. We met Kathy and Robert Briscoe on Tuesday. It was great to see old friends and open new mail. The wind was still blowing hard from the east so on Wed. we set of to the NW and Great Guana Cay. Great Guana is the 'last frontier' here for development. It has wonderful beaches and two famous beach bars--Nipper's and Grabber's. We devoted a day to each as well as long beach walks and snokeling. I saw the largest live conch I have ever seen just off Delia Cay in 2 feet of water--oh, for an underwater camera! Kathy photographed a ray in a very artistic way. As soon as I can get the band width I will post it.

Friday the wind had laid down enough to head for Hope Town, Elbow Cay. Hope Town is so cool that I am going to give it a seperate post.

Saturday was a lazy afternoon sail back to Marsh Harbor. The Briscoes have to leave Sunday which is far too soon.

Monday is reprovisioning day and a short sail back to Great Guana Cay. On Tuesday we will negotiate the famous Whale Cay passage and head for Green Turtle Cay