Saturday, November 30, 2013

New friends and the cusp of leaving for the Bahamas

Sorry for the long post today, but it's been a little while since I've had internet access :-)

We spent the last week anchored in Lake Sylvia, a small lake off the intracoastal waterway in Ft. Lauderdale crowded with other boats on stopovers heading to various exotic ports. Lake Sylvia is a pleasant place with lots of nice folks anchored about. It's lined with fancy houses and palm trees. I practiced some fishing here and finally caught something other than a couch cushion (the best I could do back at the last marina). Nothing was big enough to cook up for Dana, but it was good practice for the mahi mahi, tuna, and grouper I'll hopefully be hooking once we're out in the open ocean. In little Lake Sylvia, I landed a catfish, pompano (I think), and even a small puffer fish who blew himself up once I brought him aboard. They all made their way back to the deep, but their big brothers better watch out.

It saves us money to anchor instead of staying at a slip in a marina. The downside is, you have to be pretty self reliant. You're on your own reserves of electricity, water, etc. Also, instead of stepping off your boat onto a dock and walking to land, you must hop into your dingy and motor (or row) to the nearest place where you're allowed to dock said dinghy. Usually, zipping around on the dinghy is fun, but recently, it's been a bit of a headache.

Our 4 stroke, 6 horsepower outboard engine on the dinghy started acting up a couple weeks ago. It tended not to start right away and occasionally died, usually right in fun spots like crossing a busy channel full of boats. A few days ago we finished some chores in town and had a drink at the restaurant that allows you to tie up your dinghy. The weather forecast was not good, dark clouds were building and the wind was starting to kick up. I suggested to Dana that we get moseying, and she concurred.

We stepped into the dinghy with all our crap (two folded bicycles, grocery bags, backpacks, extra gas I got at a gas station) and I started yanking on the starting rope. Nothing. Eventually it started for a second and died. Meanwhile, the whole restaurant was watching us struggle, clearly entertained, wanting to see how this escapade would unfold. A friendly older gentlemen who came to the restaurant on a power boat and docked next to our dinghy (as this is a dock and dine restaurant) came out and started offering advice. After taking out and inspecting the spark plug, adding extra fuel to the tank and various other tweaks, he suggested "just let it sit for a while." And we did.

After a few minutes, it started to rain. Not just rain, but a Florida deluge. I waited patiently and then pulled at the starter again like mad to no avail. The kindly advice-offering gentleman came running back out and suggested that we tie up to his boat and he tow us back to Lake Sylvia. Like I've said before, boating folk are incredibly selfless. His girlfriend rushed out of dinner early and they ferried us as far as they could before we had to cross under a low bridge into Lake Sylvia.

At this point it was pitch black, the winds were howling, and it was raining like a monsoon. I started rowing directly into the wind and rain toward Eventyr as if my life depended on it. After about ten minutes, I noticed that we had made it a couple hundred feet and had about a half mile to go ... sigh. As we rounded a bend, we could see that Eventyr was right where we left her, which was good. I was mildly worried that with the near gale-force winds she might have dragged on her anchor, but she had not. After what felt like another decade, we were slightly closer to our floating home, but I was losing steam.

Out of dark, I heard the high whine of a small outboard, and someone yelled "you guys need some help?" I looked over my shoulder and saw someone approaching on an even smaller dinghy than ours, with an even smaller outboard than ours. He was wearing foul weather gear and said as he got close, "This totally sucks, man, it's happened to me, and I can't leave you our here like this. I'll tow you back to your boat." He towed us back to Eventyr, tucked down in his small dinghy to lower his wind profile and dropped us at our swim ladder. We thanked him profusely, and he replied, "No worries man, we're boaters, we have to look out for each other," and then he motored back to his boat.

The next day we went to visit our dinghy savior and learned that his name is Jarred. He and his friend Alex sailed their relatively small but seaworthy Ka' Imi down from the Thimble Islands in CT and eventually plan to head down to the keys. We spent the next several days hanging out with Jarred and Alex. Turns out Jarred makes his living doing fiberglass work on boats, in addition to delivering peoples boats from one place to another, and various other boat-related activities. He even did some amazing fiberglass work on Eventyr, replacing a faulty depth sounder that was built into the fiberglass in our cockpit.

The four of us went out for a sunset sail on Ka' Imi the other day, and Dana and I got our first taste of the open Atlantic. We were heeled over quite a bit in moderate winds, but it was exhilarating.

We plan to head back out for another run into the open ocean for a practice run on Eventyr tomorrow, just the two of us.

We had Alex and Jarred over for Thanksgiving dinner on Eventyr and Dana made a seitan faux turkey with all the trimmings followed by pumpkin pie. Our guests humored our vegetarian meal, and Jarred even asked for seconds!

Now, we're back at a marina in Ft. Lauderdale enjoying wifi, hot showers and walkable access to things we need. The weather forecast is looking good for us to leave for the West End on Grand Bahama on Monday. We'll have to leave about 3 am to make it there while it's still light. We finally have our weather window (I hope!). Now is last minute provisioning, fixes, etc., to get ready to leave the country for almost a year. Jarred plans to join us on the crossing before ferrying back to Ft. Lauderdale, which will be some much needed help!

Wish us luck!!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Holding pattern

So another week of the adventure has passed. We planned to be out of this marina in Ft. Lauderdale the day after Hanna and Boyle left, on Monday, but we're still here. Not to complain about hanging out a couple blocks from the beach in southern Florida, but it seems like the world is conspiring against our push across to the Bahamas.

The first few days we got here would have been perfect to make the crossing to Grand Bahama. The winds need to be light and from the south. Since Tuesday they've been howling from the north or east with occasional thunderstorms. So we sit. The ten day forecast doesn't look good either.

Also, we called a boat maintenance company to complete a few fixes for us. Of course, no one was available right away, so we sat. When Roland from Sun Power Diesel eventually showed, he identified an oil leak and a cracked fuel line resulting in both diesel and engine oil basically gushing down into the bilge. That's in addition to a water leak, of which we were already aware. After a couple days of work, parts delivered, and credit card charged, we're up and running again!
I spent the time doing some boat work as well. I think once the weather turns favorable, Eventyr will be in great shape for a year in the Caribbean away from easy access to boat maintenance folks and large American grocery and hardware stores.

So what other activities have allowed us to pass the time while we're waiting to get to the Bahamas? Well, I guess we try to have some fun :-) We've also been meeting a ton of fantastic people and hope to keep in contact with them throughout our travels! It's just amazing how generous, helpful, and interested people are, especially when you tell them you're taking a year off to sail through the Caribbean.

Tomorrow we'll pull out of the Las Olas Marina and anchor in Lake Silvia to save some money while we wait for the winds to turn to the south again. Hopefully, that will happen soon and we'll get this show on the road!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A beautiful wedding and VIP travel companions

It's been a whirlwind of activity over the past few days! Matt and Lauren's wedding was a wonderful time of good friends, camaraderie, awesome music, delicious food, and general good times in a breathtaking locale. Dana and I really had the time of our lives.

The rehearsal dinner was fantastic as well, and I got to give a heartfelt toast to my good friend Matt. Thanks again Panorama Toastmasters, I miss you guys and appreciate all your support improving my public speaking! 

Everyone seemed to be having such fun during the wedding, it was hard to say goodbye the next day. Matt and Lauren will soon be leaving on their own adventure, heading to Vietnam and Thailand for their honeymoon.

And what's better at the end of a night of dancing, imbibing, and catching up with old friends than a late night snack?

Whoever put this here was genius
Departing the Boca Raton Resort and Marina, Dana and I were joined in our travels by some VIPs. Chris Boyle, my freshman year roommate, with whom I created the idea of the adventure, and his love Hanna, hopped on board Eventyr for a trek down to Ft Lauderdale. Unfortunately, they can't join the adventure in a more significant way at the current time because he started a super exciting company that's bound for greatness He can't just walk away at the moment.

Boyle and Hanna stayed on Eventyr last night and we got to have a relaxing beach day today. Then they both left to get back to their real lives, Hanna to work in San Antonio and Boyle to meetings and such for his company. It was time well spent together, and I'm sad we're not sojourning the way we initially dreamt.

Over the next week or so, Dana and I will bounce around this area getting last minute stuff done to get Eventyr ready for offshore sailing. We'll also practice sailing out in the open Atlantic, as it will be a bit different than the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay :-). Then, we wait for a window of favorable weather to make the 60 mile crossing, passing over the gulf stream, to Grand Bahama and the next leg of our eventyr.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Boca Raton, the lap of luxury

We made it! Thirty days (27 travel days), 1248 nautical miles (1436 normal miles), and dozens of gallons of diesel later, we're in Boca Raton.

We arrived yesterday afternoon and enjoyed some celebratory champagne, courtesy of our Philly friends.

We've definitely stepped it up a notch by staying at the Boca Raton Resort and Marina. Eventyr is a bit out of her league.

We're experiencing luxury, the likes of which we haven't seen this whole trip and may not again! Last night, Iron Chef Morimoto himself prepared my wahoo sushi at one of the resort restaurants.

Then we had a key lime martini at Cielo, the penthouse restaurant at the top of the resort's tower.

We also got to hang out with Matt and Lauren along with many others who will be at the wedding. We're prepared for an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Another day, another gale

Who would have thought that sunny Florida was such a stormy place? Twice in less than a week the national weather service has issued small craft advisories warning of extremely high winds. We heeded it last time and took a day off, but decided to push forward today. Having anchored last night, we woke frequently to the sound of the wind absolutely howling. I got up five or six times to make sure we were still in the same spot. In the morning, warned of gale force winds in the vicinity, building throughout the day.

Staying put would have been miserable, so we decided to raise the anchor and push south. The winds were already at 20 knots at 6 am, predicted to get up to 35+. Raising the anchor against the wind and waves was no easy task, but we got that done and were underway. Luckily, the wind was at our back, making our boat much faster and the waves with us. Conditions weren't so bad at first, but as tends to be the case, the situation rapidly deteriorated. In addition to high winds, it began to rain buckets. The water was rough with white caps all around and spray flying over the deck. No other boats were out aside from those at anchor, and they were really getting tossed around.

I was not a happy camper.

To make matters worse, today happened to be a day where we were to encounter 14 swing bridges that opened on various schedules, none of which corresponded to our boat speed. That meant every mile or two we would have to wait and circle for 5 to 30 minutes for the next opening. With each one, we were optimistic we could make it, only to be told by the bridge tender, over the VHF radio, we were too late. Circling is fine on a nice, calm day, but in gale force winds with choppy water, it's not so easy. Especially when you have to stay in a narrow channel with shallow water on both sides. After one bridge that took over 30 minutes to open during a particularly windy stretch, we threw in the towel and pulled into a marina. We still managed to make it 50 miles or so today, but it was probably ill advised. A fellow cruiser we met at a marina up in South Carolina warned us, "a deadline is the most dangerous thing for a sailor."

As if to add insult to injury, upon finally pulling into a marina to fill up on fuel and get a slip for the night, I accidentally put several gallons of gas into my diesel tank. A miscommunication with the dock master over the phone prior to entering the marina ended up in the following conversation with the dock hand who handed me the fuel pump. While I was pumping the fuel, I noticed that it was not the typical pink color required by law for marine diesel.

Me: "Hey man, this is diesel, right?"
Dock hand: "No, it's gas."
Me: "You're kidding right?" (laughing, since I was desperately hoping he was pulling my leg)
Dock hand: "No." (deadpan)
Me: (expletive deleted)

That lead to an hour of splicing into the fuel line, pumping out the entire fuel tank, and refilling all 25 gallons with diesel.

A positive of today's weather was that we got to wear our offshore life jackets for the first time. Dana said wearing it reminded her of the "thunder shirt" (a tight fitting coat for anxious dogs that helps them feel more secure). Apparently, she felt a little more at ease wearing the life jacket ... but not much.

Yesterday was like a different world. A beautiful day, we stopped around midday in Vero Beach to meet quickly with a relative, Beverly, who lives there. We had a brief but fantastic visit catching up on family news and discussing our plans for the future. Beverly crocheted an afghan that she gave us as a wedding present. That afghan is currently my blanket on board! Hopefully we can have a longer visit on our return trip.

Aside from treating us to a great lunch on the boardwalk by the ocean in Vero Beach, she also surprised us with some local oranges. These are like no oranges I've ever seen! They are huge and look like grapefruits, but are sweet like an orange with a slight tart grapefruit bite. I'll have to find out what they are!

Tonight we're holed up in Boynton Beach, just north of Boca Raton. We should be at the Boca Raton Resort and Marina in the am tomorrow. However, this time I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Finally warm

It feels like we've finally made it to the tropics. The last couple days have been in the 70s and today topped out at 80. Nice sunshine as well. The wool socks are put away for good.

We're at a marina in Melbourne, Florida tonight after making great time the past two days. Mile 900 of the ICW flew by this afternoon, and the Boca Raton Resort and Marina (our first scheduled stop) is at mile 1048. We're in great shape to make it to our reserved slip by Thursday morning to have a whole day to chill and get ourselves together for the wedding weekend.

The scenery continues to be delightful, ranging from large houses with docks jutting into the ICW and huge high rises to serene beaches with palm trees.

Daytona Beach Shores

Dolphins continue to swim by on a regular basis, although they've never been as friendly as the first North Carolina dolphins we encountered :-) Now we're on the lookout for manatees, as we frequently see signs warning boats to slow down on their account.

Some side notes. We tied off to a mooring ball for the first time the other night at St. Augustine. Basically, it's like someone placed a permanent anchor for you, and all you have to do is grab the floating line with your boat hook and tie your boat off to it. The only trick is hooking the line from a moving boat. We were successful on the first try!

On my way back from my run today over the Melbourne bridge to take a look at the open atlantic, I stopped into a dive shop, Hatts Diving Headquaters. The guy behind the counter was super helpful, stayed open late for me, and didn't mind that I was a sweaty mess. I came home with a Hawaiian sling, a.k.a pole spear, used for hunting lobsters and smallish fish while snorkeling. He gave me tips on how to use it and a spare "paralyzer" tip. Looks like lobster will be on the menu once we get to the Bahamas!

One final note. After a few weeks of going native, I decided to shave. For a brief moment, I sported a very suspect-looking mustache. I thought you might get a kick out of it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Florida welcomes with gale force winds

Yesterday was a beautiful day of motoring from Georgia to Florida. Although we started in dense fog, it cleared after a couple hours and we ended up making good time.

I finally got a picture of a bald eagle. Typically skittish birds, this one allowed us to get a little closer, probably because of the fog.

After the fog cleared, the sun shone brightly and it was glorious. We passed through the St. Mary's River and entered Florida, where palm trees and white sand beaches abound.

After a bit of a traffic jam, we arrived at the Fernandina Harbor Marina, where we planned to stay the night.

Our intention, as usual, was to leave at the crack of dawn to make another good run. Unfortunately, mother nature had different plans. The dockhand who helped us into our slip warned of impending serious weather. Sure enough, a small craft advisory was issued for the next day. Upon waking, we had to make the call. The weather forecast warned of 40 mph winds building throughout the day, and one of the rivers we needed to navigate was expected to be ground zero.

It's a good thing we made such good time the last couple weeks, because we decided to take a day off. Discretion is the better part of valor. Instead, we wandered around the quaint town of Fernandina, rode our bikes to a Publix to load up on groceries, did some cleaning and organizing on the boat, and we'll head to the Salty Pelican in a few minutes to watch the UConn/Maryland game. Not a bad pit stop.

Tomorrow we'll be back to the daily grind ;-)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Georgia! And the wonders of nature

We're three days out of our debacle in Charleston, and everything is good, mostly... Currently, we're stuck in the mud just off the ICW channel in Buttermilk Sound, Georgia waiting for the tide to rise so we can move to an area with deeper water to anchor. No big deal.

This is our third day in a row of raising the anchor at dawn. motoring all day, and dropping it at dusk  to make good time down to southern Florida. It's paying off. We're just a day from the border of the sunshine state. During our long motor today, we were able to fly the jib for about an hour while crossing a wide open sound with good wind direction. It was a nice change of pace, since the last time we did any actual sailing was back in the Chesapeake Bay.

I looked back at my cruising log and realized we've been traveling every day for the past two weeks. But as I mentioned in the past, it's not all work :-) We've been amazed by how beautiful and secluded much of the journey has been. I assumed we would encounter houses, docks, bridges, and strip malls everywhere we looked all the way down. Not the case. Despite hugging the coastline of one of the most densely populated places in the world, the ICW offers a wide array of wildlife and scenic vistas.

For example, in Virginia, a bald eagle swooped down and caught a fish right off our bow. Our national bird has been plentiful all the way down. I delved into my Dad's Audubon Society Nature Guide for the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to identify some of the critters we've run across. We've noted gulls, terns, pelicans, egrets, herons, woodpeckers, osprey, and cormorant, to name some of the birds. In a bay in Virginia, there were thousands of jellyfish. We've seen goats living on islands and deer along the banks. Our favorite creature, though, is the bottlenose dolphin. Since first spotting one back in North Carolina, we've seen them on a daily basis. They never fail to brighten our mood.

We even met an unwanted guest who appeared to be looking for a new home. He climbed up an outflow pipe into our sink while we were in a swamp in South Carolina. Dana made me catch and release him back into the wild.

The shorelines along the waterways we've traversed are amazingly beautiful. Ranging from swampland and marshes to palm tree lined shores.

Upon reaching florida, I'm expecting lots more palm trees, sun, and warmth. I know many of you reading this are grappling with winter's cold breath, snow and all. I feel for you ;-)