Friday, February 24, 2012

Alaska or Bust part II

Day 8, January 24, 2012 Flight to Austin, Texas: Jim booked a humane 10:30 flight and drafted stalwart driver, Mark Talbott to drop us off. Joyce insisted on boarding a shuttle to the long-term lot where Bounder placidly awaited to favor her tender left heel from pounding across pavement. This spring’s wet weather encouraged the Master Gardener of 4153 to uproot the Pampas Grasses whose ornamental plumes extend up to the 2nd floor windows on the Canvasback side of our residence in lieu of using hedge clippers to administer their annual butch haircut. The grass blades have serrated edges that will cut one to ribbons unless care is taken; two years ago a slip with the hedge clippers nipped a finger requiring stitches. Master Gardener elected to excise these specimen plants which are problematic for her 65 years of age. Having overtaxed elbows and wrists eight years ago M.G. prudently relied upon firmly driving her garden spade beneath the deep-set gnarly, intertwined root masses. Surprise! Apparently the vigor of these labors bruised a nerve in M.G.’s heel dramatically curtailing mobility while the enflamed nerve takes its time simmering down. I am experimenting with double sets of $44 shoe inserts and heel cushions to both absorb shock energy from footfalls on hard surfaces and shift weight onto the ball of the foot. I also purchased a cane. I don’t plan to sit in the Bounder while Jim has all the fun.
And fun is in the offing with our arrival in the state capitol of Texas, Austin located on the north-south trade axis parallel to the rise in elevation to the western high country and the east-west trade routes between historic Texan cities.
I dissolved in guffaws reading Jim’s account of the first week aloud to Rosemary. His detailing of frustrations with mechanical systems both unfamiliar to him and at the end of its useful lifespan are a “reality check” for those who might be lured into hopping hastily aboard a dated unit of their own: constant vigilance and prompt attention to deteriorating items will be needed to meet our goal. Jim’s struggles did not amount to adventure that was very “adventury,” and the 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. departures exceed his classic firing of the diesel’s at 5:45 which serves as crew’s alarm clock. Joyce has never yet slept prone while Jim drives, and missed neither those ungodly departure times nor the layovers in repair facilities.
The skies were slate grey at 5 p.m. when we exited the Long-Term parking lot and Jim returned to self-check-into McKinney Falls State Park. With Joyce shining a flashlight for his recently installed back-up camera to trace we settled into the first vacant paved campsite available and delved into our stores of canned soup intended for our supper and an anticipated early bedtime. “Knock, knock, knock.” “Folks, I’m going to have to ask you to move,” said the camp host making his rounds. In the pitch black Joyce had not anticipated finding a tent pitched just yards beyond where our Bounder sat. Seems the tenter had been sited along the bottomland of Onion Creek, the focal point of the park, and the night’s forecasted heavy rains put him at risk of being swept away. The motor home lot is located on higher ground. Oops. Just as well we moved. Five inches of rain fell on us in three hours, a Texan temper tantrum of rain that spawned a tornado northeast of the city that tore a 1 mile swathe of destruction in 7 minutes, a rare January event with a maximum rain concentration of 9“. It’s a wonder the tenter didn’t beg admission to our shelter off the ground to put a solid roof over his head.
And our solid roof to which Jim had applied a longitudinal and lateral coatings of a rubberized sealant admitted nary a drop. Among the cosmetic improvements undertaken by Joyce was using a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide to mitigate water stains and black mildew stains in the ceiling around the two vents, the air conditioning unit, and along the edges along the port side. Tedious, but dramatically improving the interior ambience whose décor favors tans and browns. The driver’s and passenger’s seats both have lifting arms and easy-chair cloth upholstered styling. Behind the passenger seat, which could be swiveled, is a snack table flanked by a recliner. On the starboard side continuing toward the rear comes the entry doorway, double sink, gas oven/stove, microwave, brand new refrigerator with freezer top, a pull-out room divider, clothes closet with double doors, another room divider, and twin bed across from its companion twin in the rear port corner. Both beds raise up with spring-loaded supports giving access to storage. Jim removed the “bundling board” night stand to the right side of the closet which will allow conversion of the twins to a double bed for the newlywed spirit still alive in the oldlywed soul. The bathroom with mini-tub/shower, vanity sink and head lie across from the closet and between the two moveable room dividers. The dinette seating is across from the galley and features a light oak style wood floor which extends in the aisle all the way to the front for a feel of luxury. A full size pull out couch faces the door and recliner and abuts the driver’s seat. Three three-way reading light sconces with lamp shades supplement the more numerous functional ceiling lights. Two TV’s are located at the ceiling level between the driving seats and in the bedroom for the final homey touch.. Jim succeeded in linking up our cable TV for coverage of the previous night’s storm and his evening’s entertainment as I type to you.
We brought along our recently acquired GPS to help locate stores as well as assist in tracking down sight-seeing destinations and campgrounds. Grocery shopping at a very well-stocked chain store, H.E. B. filled the bill after we departed from McKinney Falls State Park. Jim offered to off-load the bicycles to tour the grounds, but I’m going to ease back into exercise having been side-lined all this summer and fall by my tender tootsies. We departed in the motor home for a farewell tour of the upper and lower falls of Onion Creek in this park 13 miles outside the capital that was the former homestead of racehorse breeder Thomas McKinney who was among the 300 original settlers brought to Texas by Stephen F. Austin in 1820. Flood waters filled the picnic area and converted Jim’s gentle bicycle portage into a raging rapid with tree trunks being swept past our vantage point cut off from the mansion and mountain biking trails. Flood waters swept at 6 knots past trees with swirling waters lapping the juncture of the lower branches. Power was knocked out closing the visitor center.
McKinney began forming 100 million years ago with the deposition of calcium shells in the sea bed, the future Texas limestone. The upper and lower falls are the product of subsequent volcanic activity. Erosion of a limestone ledge along a portion of the creek provided shelter for the aboriginal peoples 1400 years ago. Swimming in the pools below the falls and the blooming Blue Bonnets draw city dwellers in warm weather.
Our afternoon sightseeing goal after checking into the only available space in Midtown RV Park 5 miles closer to town was the Texas Capitol building which houses all the branches of government. While skies were leaden the heavens remained continent as we saddled up the Kawasaki for our sortie into downtown Austin, and the 60 degree high made for pleasant riding, that is with one exception: Joyce’s rain suit pouch bounced out of the open rear storage bin, our loss and a passerby’s gain. Austin solved the problem of government office building sprawl by digging a Texas-size subterranean labyrinth for offices, conference rooms, an auditorium and cafeteria on two levels beneath park-like grounds above setting off the entire edifice to advantage. The exterior is stunningly done in Texas native red granite block. The interior has inlaid marble floors depicting the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto where Austin defeated Santa Ana; 6 historical state seals beginning with the Louisiana Purchase Fleur de Lys; intricate geometric designs, oil portraits of Boone and Crocket as well as the battles; and full size statues of Austin and Houston awaiting the arrival of guests. Chamber ceilings are coffered in Italianate-style and eschewed the gas lighting of the plans in favor of the latest technology, Edison’s electric lamps whose bulbs cleverly spell “Texas” as they surround a central star framed by a wagon wheel. Even the brass door hinges are emblemized with “Texas State Capitol.” At the time of its construction from 1885-88 naturally it was the largest in the nation, but several states have had the cheek to build taller domes just for spite.
Y-a-w-n. Between the short-shrift sleep on the eve of my departure attending to last minute bill-paying and the King-size thunder, lightening, and relentless rain beating down on our tin roof scant feet above our heads last night I’m plumb tuckered. Think I’ll hit the hay, y’all, and see what else Austin has to offer tomorrow.
The Texas Travelers
Day 10, Thursday January 26: Returned to the Capitol Complex Visitor Center which featured a room devoted to the life of William S. Porter, a writer all of whose works found a publisher. His number one rule was to write to please himself; there was no rule number two. A convivial soul whose money ran through his fingers as quickly as he earned it, a widower with a daughter upon whom he doted, found himself imprisoned for 5 years for embezzlement. Perhaps he ran through money faster than he earned it. To help support his young daughter in the care of friends for his 5 year term in the Ohio State Penitentiary he forwarded his works for submission to publishers to a friend who dealt with rejections by forwarding to another publisher thus concealing his personal circumstances. We know him as O. Henry, a pen name with many potential origins including OH for the state followed by “en” and “ry” from the institution housing him. He once worked in the land office in the capitol building in Austin.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and Imax Theater kept us enthralled. To quote one poet Berta Hart Nance, “Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.” Mexico invited empressarios, or colonial organizers, to bring industry and people to the province of Tejas. Immigrants agreed to abide by Mexican law, and to convert to Catholicism. Wishful thinking on the part of the Mexicans met the implacable independence of Austin’s 300 settlers and others who admired American independence and freedom. Funny thing, Spain was not inclined to agree, and the war for independence was born. Joining the union was no “slam dunk,” however. The Manifest Destiny supports were ready to “bring it on” while the abolitionists opposed the addition of another slave state. Spain barred slaves. Southern plantation lured by exceptional cotton prices moved into Tejas in droves. Santa Ana’s defeat at San Jacinto and the Texan revenge killing of 600 Mexican prisoners in retaliation for a reciprocal slaughter of Texans captured at Goliad prompted continual strife along the border set at the Rio Grande by The Republic of Texan and at the next river to the east by Mexico. Acceptance of Texas into the Union meant Federal Troops coming in aide of the beleaguered former residents of a republic, and in the ensuing skirmishes Mexico lost New Mexico and California to the U.S. Early pioneers built log cabins with two single rooms separated by a similar size breezeway, a “Dog House” with one wing for the owner, one for the slave and the dog and other livestock in the middle. We capped our museum tour with an Imax Texas film that opened with a herd of wild horses thundering across the big screen.
Mild, sunny 70 degree weather encouraged riding the Kawasaki along the banks of the Colorado River whose sections in Austin are designated lakes to walk through the outdoor Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a local watering hole and Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner when rush hour traffic came to a standstill. The guide book’s proffering of more wonders has Joyce pining to stay another day; the driver of the bus has loaded motorcycle and bikes. Our evening is spent pouring over historical and wildlife pamphlets from the Visitor’s Center. 
Yee Ha! Its westward ho!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Alaska or Bust

This story begins years ago with TV programs showing the grandeur of Alaska. And friends were making the trip. Dick Wilds and Sandy drove in tandem with another couple each in their own pickup living in a camper whose top raises up mounted in the bed.  Dick said it was about 13,000 miles that they covered in three months with lots of driving. Joyce and I purchased a similar unit and tested it on a trip to Branson, Missouri and again on a trip to Key West. Joyce claimed we were driving a “cruck” and living in a “cramper.”  We would need dual wheels on the rear axle heavy duty truck to support carry a fixed height camper in the bed for us  to go that route. We have owned several motorhomes previously and we gave that a whirl next with the purchase of a 22’ class B motorhome, one that has both a driver’s and passenger’s side doors.  We liked it a lot for its maneuverability and ability to park in a standard car spot if the “bustle” could hang over a grassy lot perimeter. Because of the enormous driving distance I hatched the plan of taking an older unit one way, figuring if it was cheap enough we could sell it in Alaska and fly home.  No need to ditch the 22’:  that’s what my annex, or the “toy box” as Joyce calls it is for.  It will await our completion of the Alaska trek and serve us well for less ambitious jaunts in the future, or possibly an overnight with the grandkids on the “Ponderosa” portion of the yard overlooking Janet and Duncan’s pier.  There’s even a fire pit where we enjoy sheskabobs, dogs, and S’mores and nobody has to sleep in a tent.

We bought a 1989 27’ class B, a unit that has a van front, for $3,000, put another $1000 into it, and it was ready to go. About that time nephew David was building a house and had to move out of his rental home before the house would be completed. Cheryl and David planned to “camp out” in the unfinished upstairs while finishing the work. I remembered that when Allen built his waterfront house he and Carol bought a camper and used it on site.  I also recalled how much David and Cheryl had admired our little motorhome when we visited previously. Allen, how about it?  Let’s split the cost on this old motorhome and give it to the kids.  Allen was all for it.  On a date that suited both Allen and me we drove to Shannon Farms in Virginia and happened to “drop in” on Cheryl and  David which we usually do when we travel south.  David’s attention strayed back to the tasks yet undone on his construction project as Jim proceeded to show him—in great detail-- “our” latest ride.  To David’s relief we asked to see how their house was coming along which gave David a chance to hit a few licks before the sun set.  Jim even pitched in tacking in place part of the rustic ceiling for the master carpenter to hammer solidly in place later.  Driving back to their rental home we passed another car heading up the hill toward David’s site.  It was Carol and Allen looking for all of us.  They just happened to be coming that way that day too.  We all went back to where the kids were.  Jim quietly removed our Maryland tags and personal affects from the motorhome while David chatted with his Dad. Jim returned, handed the keys to Allen who in turn handed them to David, saying “Here, it’s yours.” Best Christmas present ever!  A napping Indigo on Cheryl’s lap was flung, well laid in a chair and the whole family flew out the door. The kids moved aboard immediately. Cheryl and David have movie “dates” there when they can oust the kids. “Excited” doesn’t encompass the mood.  And Cheryl and David have taken their family on trips, not such an easy thing to do when there are eight in a vehicle with the youngest ones required by law to be in bulky child safeties and boosters:  they took the whole brood camping on the Atlantic coast with their camping friends in Ocracoke that summer.  Couldn’t have turned out better.

Back to Craig’s List to search anew for an old beater that wasn’t yet beaten to death. Most retirees who use motorhomes get a large class A (Greyhound-bus style) of 34’ or better, and with such a long trip I thought a larger unit would be more comfortable (you have to be newlyweds and have a limber body to live for 2+ months with floor space ½ the amount in a powder room as we did in 1969 in our VW.)  With gas prices up and used motorhome prices down we settled on 1995 34’ Bounder from an estate sale with 46,000 miles, well used and dirty, with several mechanical issues, but priced right. Well, the Bounder turned into a money pit, with problem after problem, and about $9,000 later it was more or less ready. Oh, and while advertised as a 34’ it turned out to be the 31’ model. Still huge compared to the 22’ B, and the largest motorhome we have owned, the previous ones being 21’, 24’, 29’, 22’, 27’, and 31’.  I think of it as a “trainer” class A. Since this trip will be a partial re-do of our original trans-continental trip in ’69 in the VW camper that had a 100cc (red) street/trail motorcycle on the rear bumper, I decided to take along a 650cc (red) Kawasaki motorcycle on a rear hitch carrier, and two bicycles, none of which will make it back to the lower 48.

Joyce had just finished with a 50 guest 90th birthday party for Aunt Rosemary, and we had an upcoming baby shower for daughter-in-law Sarah for which she wanted to sew so she stayed home while I took advantage of the good weather and headed south and west on a “shakedown” trip which will also knock off some of the mileage through familiar territory.  It was the official start, Day 1of “Alaska or Bust” on Tuesday January 10, 2012.

Day 1, Tuesday 1/10/12:  First stop was the gym for a last cardio workout before those many hours sitting behind the wheel. Drove over the Potomac and down 95 past Richmond to one of my favorite I-95 stops, the Smithfield Cinema parking lot in mid-North Carolina, fixed some dinner aboard and took in a movie. The free night’s “sleep” was, of course, occasionally disturbed by the mournful whistle of a passing train on the nearby tracks.

Day 2, Wednesday 1/11/12:   Up at 4 a.m., fix coffee, and pound down the highway into South Carolina, then right on I-20 to Columbia where I linked up with niece, Tricia Perrie Durham. She manages an upscale Holiday Inn, and treated the hungry traveler to breakfast and a tour of the facility. Rain was pelting down when I drove into Georgia and stopped near Augusta where I had completed my Basic and Advanced Military Training in the Army in the summer of 1969 at Fort Gordon, leaving a tearful bride of a year behind.  Augusta is located at the headwaters of a canal that was built in the mid 1800’s to bypass the rapids of the Savannah River and provide hydro power for early 19th century industry. The rain let up long enough for a walk along the river. A bicycle path wound seven miles to a visitor center in downtown Augusta, but that will have to wait for a dryer day. Continuing west I spotted a state park sign with camping and by 4 p.m. I was unloading the bikes and motorcycle for a tour of the Alfred H. Stevens State Park. Stevens was a multi-term congressman from Georgia and later Governor who served as the vice-president of the Confederacy with Jefferson Davis. His restored antebellum home is a centerpiece of the park and is open for tours but only on weekends. I was the lone occupant of the campground. An elementary school built in what is now park land is forlornly surrounded by chain link with scruffy trees sprouting on its former lawn.  Too bad the Jefferson Davis memorabilia that had been housed in the house where he sought refuge on the Gulf Coast following the defeat of the south could not have been housed in the abandoned school.  All that remains of the Gulf museum which we toured pre-Katrina is a set of marble steps that once led to a house.  The park is near the town of Crawford which is just about defunct: a couple businesses, bank, post office, police station, senior center, courthouse, numerous vacant structures, and mostly rundown older homes. With the interstate diverting traffic around it it has become the town that time forgot. The railroad tracks run straight through its center but freight largely moves by now by truck.
On the way to Steven’s Park I had passed numerous homemade signs for “Heavy’s Bar-B-Q”. The repeated messages had the desired effect, and I hungrily followed the path four miles back, to find a quaint little place with antique cars and tractors decorating the yard, and two pit bulls snarling and snapping, guarding the property which was, I now learned: only open weekends. Oh well! Back to the camper for dinner, a movie on the VCR, and a lovely, quiet evening sans trains. Safely out of the freeze zone I de-winterized the water system, filled the water tank, turned on the hot water heater which had worked fine last fall:  no hot water! That was then.  This is now.  Oh well, this is what a shakedown trip is about.

Day 3, Thursday 1/12/12: Everyday a surprise. No propane at the stove. Re-switching the electric propane switch seemed to restore the gas flow, but this could be the harbinger of a future problem. Mostly driving today, but stopped near Birmingham, Alabama at a Wal-Mart to get two new batteries for the motorhome interior lights and jumper cables so I could charge them from the engine while driving. Noticed transmission shifter getting recalcitrant, to the point that when I stopped in Eutaw, Alabama for the night  behind a “Piggly-Wiggly” grocery store I left the engine in neutral, jumped out and set wheel chocks rather than shift into park, sprayed WD 40 on the transmission linkage, and hit the sack.

Day 4 Friday the 13th!: No trains but the trucks were noisy so up at 2 a.m., blitzed through Mississippi in the dark and arrived in Shreveport, Louisiana at 9 a.m., and fetched up at a truck repair facility to attend to the shift problem. Got lucky and arrived during a lull in business, so was underway in three hours with a nicely shifting shifter and a shockingly low tariff.

Having had luck with the shifter I stopped at an RV dealer to have the hot water heater checked out and a couple other electrical problems besides. Three more hours and $427 later I found the nearest RV park, Diamond Jack’s Casino, ceremoniously hooked up the cable TV for the first time and got what?? two channels? One was Seinfeld re-runs, so it was OK. Whoops! What was that rumble? Typical luck! The picturesque old railroad bridge 100’ behind the camper was the busiest in the state, with a train every 30 minutes. Luckily, they slowed down to a crawl later in the evening and blew no whistles, so I could sleep through it. Frustratingly enough, still no hot water, despite all efforts, so had to make do with a sponge bath with water heated on the stove.

Day 5, Saturday 1/14/12: Up at 6 a.m., tested the toaster, ok, tried to figure out cable TV, but with the cable hookup, antennae, switching box, signal converter, and VCR, all connected to two TV’s it was too complicated to sort out, then played with the hot water heater, trying different wiring when suddenly it dawned on me that this heater had a winterizing bypass valve to allow draining the hot water tank rather than filling it with anti-freeze. I had forgotten to open the valve: there was no water in the heater and the RV technicians didn’t catch on either since this is an uncommon but highly desirable feature. A quick turn of the valve, the tank filled, heated, and “Hooray!”  Hot water at last!

Back on the road and into Texas, left I-20 for Rte. 79 South towards Austin. Lots of flat, fenced ranches with cattle. Finally made it to McKinney Falls State Park near the Austin Airport where I was graciously directed to their overflow lot. Seems the park is popular with locals on the weekend and it was packed. Unloaded the bikes and motorcycle and headed to the local watering hole for a couple beers to celebrate my arrival in Texas.  Recalls memories of a rodeo/stock show we attended in 1969 in which I quizzed members of the Chicken Club if their entries laid more eggs, grew to maturity faster, or had more tender meat.  “Eat them! We don’t eat them.  We breed them for their variety of plumage to enter into competition for recognition at rodeos.  That’s what Chicken Club members do.  All I had heard on the radio for days were quotes on what the various animals at specified ages were bringing at market, or the “Sow Bones Report” as I dubbed it.  Never occurred to me that there were animals bred on ranches just for fun.

Day 6, Sunday 1/15/12:  Happy Birthday!  Jim turns 65 today: “Hello, Medicare.” Used to be a big deal but it has muted somewhat since the “retirement age,” the age at which you could collect full Social Security benefits has been moved up to 66 to avoid penalty. How did I celebrate all on my own? First with a three mile bicycle ride on a paved path, whew! Then over to the airport to check out RV parking and get a ticket home. Being newly 65 did save me some $s on the ticket. With the day to kill I road into Austin and took a meandering ride around town to get a little more familiar. The capitol building looked awesome, then saw the creepy  ”Texas tower” at the University of Texas where on August 1, 1966 Charles Whitman shot 48 innocent students, killing 16 and wounded 32. After a BIG Tex-Mex lunch it was back to the camper for another bicycle ride, this one over three miles over much more difficult terrain, including portaging a rocky streambed. Returned to the camper exhausted; definitely grateful for the hot shower; time to load up the bikes and prepare for an early morning departure flight back to Maryland. The motorhome will await my return to Austin next week, and Joyce’s debut to life aboard the S.S. Bounder. Wait, that name would be for a sea passage. One thing my friend Wally Szot taught me though applies land or sea:  when you are done packing take out half the clothes and put in twice the money.  In fact the word “Boat” is an acronym:  Break Out Another Thousand.  But, I better let Joyce continue telling our tale so I don’t have to keep details like what to name our Conestoga wagon straight.  Say, didn’t our ancestor’s head west on Prairie Schooners?  A good thing or I would be a fish out of water.  With enough duct tape, Wal-Marts, hardware stores, garages and banks, God willin’ and the cricks don’t rise as Paul Svenson was fond of saying, you can sit back and enjoy the ride with us from the comfort of your easy chair.  Mark Talbott will pick us up at 9:45 to head to BWI for our flight to Austin, and we’re on our way.

And in case you are wondering how two “oldly-weds” will fare in 31’ of space for months on end I’ll let you in on Joyce’s secret.  She made me a sign with the two phrases guaranteed to make any marriage hum along:  “Yes, Dear,” and “What else can I do for you, Dear?”  Puts me in mind of the gentlemen who shared his secret for his 50 years of marital longevity thusly, “When we got married we agreed that I would make all the major decisions, and she would make all the minor decisions.  So far nothing major has come up.”

Schooner Cap’t Jim and His Bouncing Bounder Betty

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gemini Catamaran Dual Delivery

Ahoy Sailors - Capt Jim headed down to Pensacola Fla. Veteran's day to help move a 2005 Gemini Cat to St. Petersburg Fla. and retrieve the new 2012 Gemini replacement. With just the owner and I aboard we departed Saturday am with favorable east winds on a closehauled point for St. Pete, 286 miles across the gulf. Favorable conditions lasted 2 hours, then the wind shifted to the SE, right on the nose at 10-15kts. We flogged the engine, pounding into increasing waves, using more fule then planned. Switching tanks, the engine stalled. "I haven't been using the port tank", said the owner, so water and crud partially clogged the fuel filter and pickup, leaving us limping into Apalachicola for fuel and repairs, and a delicious oyster lunch at Caroline's restaurant. Two more days of pounding upwind put us into St. Pete, where we made the switch and headed back ASAP, due to unfavorable weather forecasts. 
The new boat was great, with a generator and dual A/Cheat units. These boat are now built by Hunter Marine at their factory in Alachua, Fla. We had one more day of pleasant SE winds while heading north, but when the wind switched to the NW at 20-25 kts we again bailed out at Apalachicola, arriving in a rainstorm, and anchoring behind a barrier island about 11pm. We stayed inside on the GICW (Gulf inland coastal waterway) for a very pleasant 125 miles back to Pennsacola over the next 3 days, while the Coast Guard weather reported 6-8' seas and small craft advisories out in the Gulf. It's amazing how quickly you recover from the effects of upwind pounding after a couple days of pleasant lake and canal cruising, some of it quite scenic.
I had been joking with the owner about finding a 'Hooters" restaurant "just around the next bend" during the long canal portions through undeveloped areas to goad us into making a few more miles each day before dark, and was happy to find one in Pensacola Beach for our farewell dinner last Saturday evening.
Back home I'm hoping to catch a rockfish or 2 before thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a pleasant Holiday.
Cheers! and happy sailing from Capt. Jim

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Philadelphia - Bermuda - Puerto Rico

Ahoy Sailors - Hope everyone has found some time to go sailing, in between torrential rains and beastly heat, and now "early winter". I just returned from a delivery to Puerto Rico on an "old fashioned" 40' monohull, a Tashiba 40 double ender. The owner, his brother, and brother's 22 yr old girlfriend and myself made up the crew. The boat was well made, strong, lots of attention to interior finish and other details. Major shortcoming is small cockpit ( suppossedly safer at sea) and cruelty of cruelties, no cockpit cushions! That teak seat got really hard after a few days!.
A recently installed fleming windvane worked ok in windy conditions, but wandered badly in lighter air. We mostly used the electric autopilot, although it managed to unscrew itself from the quadrant at one point, and had to be reinstalled. We departed in a great rush 10/14 @ 8:30 pm, first time ever for a night departure for me, but we were trying to beat bad weather coming north along the coast. We had 2 days of 15-30 kt winds close to beam reach, almost perfect sailing but choppy and uncomfortable - we survived well thanks to "Mom" for pre cooked dinners and cookies, also thwarting my plan to lose a few pounds on the trip.  Capt Jim got a taste of "Mal de mer" but recovered in a day. Everybody heaved at some point (such fun!) last 2 days to Bermuda were motorsailing in light winds.
The crew partied hard in Bermuda for 3 days, then set off for Puerto Rico in 10-12 kt headwinds, sailing close hauled 30 degrees off course. After a day the winds lightened and switched to exactly on the nose, requiring motorsailing for several days. Then an abrupt 180 degree switch, but only 7-8ts of wind, so still motorsailing. Finally had the best day, day 6 and 7, reaching in 15-20 kts, warm enough to stand night watches in shorts and Tee shirt, but sweaty sleeping below. The younger crew periodically threw themselves overboard (once at 5kts!) and hung onto a line, then pulled hand over hand back to the boat and scrambling up over the rail, not easy. I insisted we slow down after that display of (bravery?).
We hustled the last bit motorsailing at 8 kts to make it to an anchorage at Palomino Island at dusk, a few miles from the reef in Fahardo Bay, and stopped at Puerto del Rey Marina next morning, 7 days, for a total of 11 1/2 days at sea. The young folk are still there, but old Cap't Jim had other things to do besides sit next to a sweet thing on a beach and drink rum (what things???) so came back a few days early ( at great additional expense, damn the airlines!) in time for yesterdays weather to cancel the flight from Miami ( oh well). When the bar tab equalled the room bill, I figured I had drowned my sorrows enough.
There might still be a delivery or two left, and maybe a little rock fishing before thie winter sets in in earnest.. Cheers, Happy Sailing and Happy Halloween from Capt Jim and first mate Joyce ( who hung out and kept the home fires burning this time)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Great Loop Completion

Ahoy Sailors - Joyce and I just returned from 2 weeks on Lakes Michigan and Huron, thereby completing the 6700 mile "Great Loop" around the eastern and middle states. We trailered the 24' Bayliner, sporting a new engine and rebuilt outdrive, about 600 miles up to a convenient launch ramp in Portage, Indiana, about 24 miles SE of Chicago. Turned out to be one of the few bargains on the trip, $10. to launch the boat and store the truck and trailer for 2 weeks.
    The bright lights of Chicago beckoned, and our first taste of Lake Michican awaited. Calm enough at first, the early afternoon breeze built to about 15kts, giving us a rough, slow ride with spray into Chicago. Stopping again at Burnside Harbor, (where we began last fall's trip down the rivers to Tampa, Fla.) we got a slip and set off by bike to explore. The Navy Pier shops and eats, art galleries, botannical garden, landscaped pathways and competing evening free band concerts are what makes big cities special.
    Back at the boat we were amazed by the parade of yachts leaving the harbor after dark, then learned they were all anchoring in front of the concert venue just a mile away. The late evening breeze nearly caused a problem when a cabin cruiser returned on one engine, then turned sideways and stalled out, drifting towards us while a crewmember was frantically pouring fuel into the tank.
Restarting just in the nick, they managed, with difficulty, to maneuver back to their slip.
    Departing early am, which was to become our modis operandi, as the calmest hours were at dawn, we motored next 29 miles to Waukegan, Ill. Having been a Johnson outboard motor dealer for 19 years, it was interesting to finally see the factory, now owned by the Sea-Doo jetski folks, and maker of Evinrude e-tec engines. Then 24 miles to Racine, Wisconsin for lunch, and 22 miles to Milwaukee. We learned of the 'German Fest" beginning that evening, so hung around for German music , beer, and ethnic foods. Most of these small towns are useful mainly as a break from the lake, but all were unique and worth visiting. In calm conditions about an hour seperated them, 24 miles to port Washington, 25 to Sheboygan, 30 miles to Twin Rivers, and 34 to Algoma. The salmon fishing tournament in Algoma attracted dozens of boats and space was tight at the marina. The launch ramp opened at 4am and continued to 11pm. Up at 4 Saturday 7/30, we had plans to cross the 75 miles to Leland on the Michigan side of the lake, and had just popped up on a plane in perfect, calm conditions when a sudden screeching noise and nasty grinding sound locked up the outdrive, just 20 hours after the rebuild!! Lucky it happened then and not an hour later in the middle of the Lake. 
    We anchored to await rescue, which came in the form of a Dad and son team on a small aluminum boat, who were kind enough to tow us back to Algoma. So now we had to get back to the truck so we could retrieve the boat and find a mechanic in the nearby town of Kewaunee. This involved a cab ride 40 miles to Green Bay, one way rental car back to Indiana, and 200 miles back to Algoma. 6 days later all is well ($2300) and we are again heading across Lake Michican to the other side. But this time it proves too rough, so we go further up the coast to Sturgeon Bay instead, which has a canal connecting lake Michigan with Green Bay itself. This is a very busy boating area. We stayed at a luxury resort type marina, beautifully landscaped, and tried again next day, this time sucessfully, to South Manitou Island, now a park, then the tiny fishing village of Leland, then to the amazing port of Charlevoiux, with its entry canal into a small natural lake, which opens to a much larger inland lake (over 10 miles long) with its own cruising and fishing areas and destinations. Then off to Beaver Island, another 15 miles out into the lake.
    Beaver Island, the largest Island in Lake Michigan, was once claimed as an independant kingdom in the 1850's by "King" Stang, and his band of Morman followers. The Kingdom lasted 5 years, when a US gunboat was sent to arrest him, but he was shot by disgruntled islanders, who preferred to take the law into their own hands.
    Blessed with continued calm conditions, we buzzed the 35 or so miles to Mackinaw straits, and Michigan City, where we purchased charts for Lake Huron, the north Channel, and Georgian Bay.
The continued calm allowed us to zoom past Mackinaw island and enter Canadian waters at the little port of Meldrum, on Manitobin Island (largest in lake Huron, over 100 miles long). Next day the wind was up so we slogged at 6 kts many hours to the next few parts, ending at Killarny on the north shore. There are numerous islands, many with "cottages", and an entire industry supporting the hermit-like lifestyle of these"cottagers".
    Next day we entered the unique Collins inlet, a very narrow slit about 25 miles long, and only a hundred feet wide at its most narrow. Then back out on the lake another 25 miles to Byng harbor ( named after a British revolutionary war general- these were loyalists, after all) and finally to aptly named "Snug Harbor", with well known and packed fish restaurant. It certainly looked like all the inhabitants were there, we just squeezed in and there was a line out the door when we left!
    We followed the "small boat channel" the remainder of the way through Georgian Bay. They call it the thirty thousand Island area ( to differentiate it from the thousand Island area of Lake Ontario) but who's counting. At times the well marked channel was only yards wide, twisting and turning among the rocks, with deep water right next to granite. You can anchor anyplace, but we worried about uncharted rocks. We were probably in a trickier place than I had prepared for. I would not go back without a backup engine, or twin engine boat.
    But in due course we made it to Midland, on a rainy day, just a few miles from where we ended the prevoius trip through the Trent-Severn waterway, and where it was reported we could get a rental car to go back for the truck and trailer, now in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. Alas, no rentals available, nearest airport was Toronto, 2 hours by car. I thought of buying a motorcycle, which could be put into the truck bed after the 600 mile trip back, but purchased a small, 10 year old Mazda instead, for $1000., which we used with no problems to retrieve the truck. We planned to sell it in Kewaunee, but found out there were some details to importing a car legally into the US, the most inconvenient was an inspection during which the customs people kept the car for up to 72 hours (looking for drugs, no doubt) So we had to return it to Canada, which Joyce did by following me back. We sold it to a used car dealer in Sault St. Marie for $500. This guy and his son (two Randys) could have been on TV like the 'Pawn Stars" crew. They were really funny.
    Back in midland we retrieved the boat and set out for Toronto, traveled along the north shore of Lake Ontario, then back down interstate 81 through New York and Pennsylvania. Very nice drive, arrived back home before dark, with two trailer tires almost down to the cords, just worn out since bought new in January of '09. Truck milage was about 2750, boat about 375 on Lake Michican and 300-400 on Lake Huron. We burned up a frightfull amount of fuel, enough to make me reconsider those Macgregor powersailors we used to sell. Maybe one 4th the expense, with a little sailing thrown in. There are charter boat available at several locations along this route and I greatly recommend a summer sailing trip among the many and varied islands and cities of our wondrous Great Lakes.- Cheers and Happy Sailing from Capt Jim and First Mate Joyce

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2011 Lagoon 400 Cat delivery

Ahoy Sailors - Capt Jim and First Mate Joyce set out for sunny, hot Ft. Lauderdale last Friday, picked up a new Lagoon 400 ( I think the 400 stands for the price, in thousands) 39 ft long and an astounding 23.5' wide, that had recently completed the transatlantic trip from france, and headed north amid the rain bursts on Saturday, 4/30. I didn't find out until we got there that the mast height was 69.5 ft, too tall for the ICW. We had expected to do some time offshore, but not the whole way!
The trip started well, beam reaching in 15kts, hitting speeds over 10 kts in the gulfstream just west of West Palm Beach, Fla., but the choppy motion when the wind shifted more to the north east made sleep difficult and we each got only about an hour the first night. Joyce had a can of cold soup for dinner, really deluxe!Feel rugged the next day, I abandoned the gulfstream and headed for the St. Johns River. Once out of the stream, you run into a counter current, so we went from 10 kts to 6-7kts with an 8 kt boatspeed. Conditions improved, we got more sleep, so skipped St. Johns and aimed for Charleston. Still more sleep and we skipped past Charleston and around Cape Fear and made for Beaufort. With fuel down to 1/4 tank it was time to fill up, and dinner at Clawsons in Beaufort(since 1905) was a hit.
Filled up next am, and with a tip from a local marina owner that Ocracoke inlet was ok , we set out against 20-25 NW, around Cape Lookout and into rediculous seas, bang crash, motoring the 10 miles back into 20' close to shore, where it was some calmer. Attempting ocracoke inlet, and lined up with the entrance bouys, I watched with growing concern the depth dropping. We were amidst breaking waves from the surge when, at 7', I bailed out and returned to deeper water. Calling the coast guard for some info, we were discouraged from both Ocracoke and Hatteras inlets, due to low tide and rough conditions. So I just said to hell with it and pulled close to shore in 20' and anchored. The 3-4' swell from astern gave us a gentle motion, and the 20kts west wind held us stern to, so we were comfortable enough. We gave our position to the coast guard and asked not to be disturbed bu "rescue' efforts.
Next day we soldiered on, bashing around Cape Hatteras,with gradually improving conditions untill about 6pm I had to drop the sails and motor along the coast. Jouce woke me at 2:45 am to announce " we are surrounded by ships!". We were indeed at the mouth of the Bay, 11 miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel. As the wind was picking up I hoisted the main, and we blasted up the bay with 20 kts from the southwest, making Solomons Island about 4:30 pm Friday evening, intime for dinner with friends at "Le Bistro" At Calvert Marina. They were having a wedding rehersal dinner for 70 guests, but managed to squeeze the 6 of us in.
Up at 4:30 am and packing, I noticed boats heading out about 5, so we got underway at 5:30 with the first streaks of dawn appearing. By then the outflux of fishing boarts was in full swing, with over 20 passing by with rolling wakes ( fortunately the big Cat was not fazed). We motored about halfway back to Annapolis before enough wind picked up to sail, shutting off the engines at one point for a pleasant 2 hours, then pulled into my daughters dock on lake Ogleton to unloasd our gear and clean the boat. Good thing we did. Arriving back at Performance Cruising on back creek, we had barely tied up when the sales staff boarded with prospect eager to look at the newest addition to their lineup. The trip was about 1150 miles and took 7 days, pretty good for a couple of oldies. I'm sure the young french crew could have shaved 2 days off by staying in the gulfstream and running non-stop to Annapolis. Anyway, thats the most recent adventure. Cheers and happy sailing to you all. - Jim and Joyce

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bahamas January 2007 26M Getaway

In 2000 my wife, Joyce, and I took a Macgregor 26X on a 17 day jaunt to Georgetown in the Bahamas. That trip is chronicled on this list as the “Millennium tour 2000”. It was a great trip so we set out to duplicate it, with a bit more time included to enjoy the Bahamas. Packing and equipping the boat took a couple of days, so all that’s left is our personal items and clean out the refrigerator. It was with high hopes that we set forth on our adventure.

12/28/06 Packed up and on the road at 1pm, traffic bad on I-95, eventually gave up and called friends who live in Fredericksburg, Va. Stopped by for tour of their new home and communal dinner. Back in I-95 crush, stopped at midnight for very cold nap. Frost on boat at departure. Brrrr..

12/29/06 15 hours driving to Ft. Lauderdale – provisioned – crashed, exhausted from long day driving. 1:30am Joyce doesn’t like the “neighbors’, noisy youths with souped up cars and pre-new years fireworks, so off to Miami – back in bed at 2:30am at Crandon Park Marina, with plenty of security and peace and quiet.

12/30/06 Rig boat – purchase season pass ($160.50) no more free launch here – headed to No Name Harbor, arrive 11am, too late and too windy (15-25) for Bimini today – lunch at the Boaters Grill Restaurant, then nice walk to lighthouse and trek up 190 steps to top, view worth the trek – back to boat for stores organizing and lounging in true cruiser fashion. Bimini or Bust tomorrow!

12/31/06 up dutifully at 06:30 – Wind East – 15-20 – rough – hoisted main in 400’ water – crash, bash – wind on nose, made poor time, 12 miles in 4 hours, bailed out at 10am, wild ride back to marina in 4-6’ seas, rinse cockpit, shower, dinner at Boater’s Grill. Relaxing evening aboard with champagne, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Try again tomorrow.

1/1/07 Back out at 06:30, winds down a bit, better – Miami disappeared at 11.00am, Bimini appeared at 1:30 – trolling rod in the water – arrive 3:pm - $150. Check in went smoothly, $70 fuel, Oh No! – The Complete Angler, Hemmingway’s favorite place, burned to the ground a year ago, and the “Red Lion Restaurant”, my favorite here, was closed on Monday, so it was ham sandwiches in the cockpit. Anchored with twin anchors in strong current, and hope they hold.

 1/2/07 – Last night there was a big parade, with the loudest drums I ever heard, which started and ended at a community building RIGHT NEXT TO OUR BOAT! Anchors held thank God, back out through the Bimini channel at 0650, past the concrete ship and on to Chub! Perfect day, light S.E wind 5-10, speed 12mph (10kts) Past Russel “light” ( lights in the Bahamas generally do not work) 1:45pm, out of gas 2pm, glad we brought the spare 5 gallon can, into Chub and fueled up with 3 gallons to spare, back out on the ocean at 4:30, not bad going and hoping for wind to die off, BAD CHOICE no such luck- steadily rougher and slower, deployed the “windshield, a piece of plexiglass c-clamped to the hatch, worked well as a dodger for one person, except caused salt water to drip into the hatch and onto my bed. Fortunately we had spare “boat towels” covering the area just in case. Finally arriving very salt soaked at 8:30. Tied to piling near shore, with barking sea lions? Boat jerked on bowline and when the tide turned the boat bumped the piling, we had enough by 3am and moved the boat to the anchorage, where a shoreside marina guard yelled at us “Don’t anchor there” so we moved a bit. Damn! – Had some problems anchoring correctly with the wind and current, finally settled down about 4am for some much needed sleep. Then noticed loud mast hum, caused by tight shrouds. Easily quieted by loosening the mainsheet. Jeez!
What a day! Bimini to Nassau in 13.5 hours.

1/3/07- Quick tour of Atlantis Harbor, home of the largest superyachts. We could have been someone’s dinghy. Entrance to the harbor apparently is by slip reservation only as we were shooed away. Hey, we could have rented a slip, if we got a mortgage on the house. We just moved to Nassau Yacht Harbor ($1.85 per ft). The inexpensive ($75.)marina motel with endless hot water showers beckoned so we splurged on a room. Pleasant day drying the boat and reading by the (chilly) pool. Lunch at “Sailor’s Choice” and Dinner at the “Poop Deck” restaurants. Off to the Exumas tomorrow.

1/4/07 – The “Starbucks” across the street had free wireless internet so we hauled the old laptop over for a session, fueled by Venti Mocha. The Island’s largest grocery store is there also so shopping is a must. After fueling and Ice we headed out directly into SE 15-20. It was a nasty chop, with a fair amount of crashing and bashing and the 30 miles took 7 hours. These are the prevailing conditions this time of year, and it does make one wish for a May or June visit. Drenched with salt spray (again!) we arrived at Ship Channel Cay at 4pm, negotiated the tricky low tide entrance (with the help of an exiting powerboat who showed us the way). We gratefully anchored for drinks and dinner. As the tide changed the stern anchor dragged and, as we were close to a rocky shoal, we moved the boat and rafted alongside a moored barge. The watchman noticed our change in position and came out in a dinghy to investigate, but allowed us to stay the night. At high tide the barge floated and jostled us a bit, but that was minor compared to the feeling of security we had being tied alongside. Yawn!

 1/5/07 –  Leisurely am watching the tide come in- finally departed and hoisted sail for the close reach to Allen’s Cay for Iguana feeding on the beach. Joyce was frightened by the aggressive behavior as the Iguanas fought over the breadcrumbs. We quickly departed for Highborne Cay for fuel. This is a very nice stop, first class marina. There are no restaurants, but locally cooked meals can be delivered to your boat. Then it was off to Norman’s Cay, looking for Murphy’s Bar. Sadly, we could not go back. Murphy’s was now “McDuffs” and closed for renovation. There were to be other minor disappointments on this trip compared to our 2000 trip, but the real reason we come here is the natural beauty of the water and the remote beaches, and the distances. In the Virgin Islands, you never feel like you go anywhere because everything is so close. The sails went up again for the close reach to Elbow Cay, and we settled in for the evening on a beautiful ½ mile deserted beach on Hawksbill Cay. We took a stroll, picked up a bag of beach trash, had dinner aboard, and watched an unbelievable Sunset with rum ‘n coke. Life is good! Little wavelets lap the shore, and little no-see-ums start eating us, so the doubled over screening came out and we hastened below for a quiet night’s sleep.

 1/6/07 – 7am motor putting outside our window was a friendly but early visit by the Park Police. We took a high speed run in the morning calm past Warderick Wells Cay to Halls Pond Cay. The landmark Exuma Keys Club, a long defunct resort, has now been totally wiped from the earth and the pier is gone. Oh, Well! It exists now only in our memories and photos of earlier cruises. On to Belle and Little Belle islands for a brief lunch stop and swim, then a quick tour of the Sampson Yacht club, a very well manicured marina/resort located, where else, on Sampson Cay, but just a few miles from Staniel Cay, which I prefer. At Staniel Cay we tied up at the Happy People Marina, but it too has fallen on hard times. No water, no showers, and right next to the town dock with commercial traffic. No thanks! Back to the Staniel Cay Yacht club for a tasty dinner and anchor out in the calm bay for a quiet and free night.

1/7/07 – Fueled up 9am and headed for Black Point, windy and choppy. We hugged the shoreline for some protection where we could. We bypassed Black Point, a dreary settlement with little to offer the visiting Yachtsman, except one burger joint, and slogged doggedly towards Little Farmer’s Cay. We followed another boat, a trawler, and after rounding White point he turned back. Too rough! Maybe he needed a MacGregor! As long as we are dead upwind with no water ballast, other than an occasional crash over a particularly large wave, we are fine. The boat sheds spray well out to the sides and the cockpit remains dry. We ducked into a little nook with a sandy beach but were unable to get the anchor to hold in the strong winds and after several tries gave up and continued on. Docking at Little Farmers was challenging, with 25kt winds, shallow water, and other boats at the dock. We backed up into the wind and grabbed a piling.
Terry Bain’s “Ocean Cabin” restaurant opened a bit early for us and we joined the locals for burgers and fries and Kalik, the local Bahamian beer. Then it was off to Cave Cay, scene of last trips Dog encounter. This time there was a beautiful new marina and clubhouse. We hurriedly departed the potentially expensive spot, past Rudder Cut Cay with another prominent landmark, a hilltop home with circular master suite on the top floor, blown away by a hurricane. As expensive as it is to build here, it must be devastating to lose your house. We ended up in Little/Big Darby cays, in an anchorage that appeared snug but was a highway for local commuter boats, which buzzed past at high speeds (not much wake) as late as 10pm in pitch darkness, often with no running lights. Needless to say we had our anchor light and used the third anchor to pull the boat over to one side of the anchorage.

1/8/07 Out at 7am and around Big Darby Cay, staring into the sun, and promptly ran aground on a soft sand bore, our only grounding this trip. Throttling down and raising the motor with the power tilt got us over the thin spot. Sped past more islands to Barraterre, on the tip of Great Exuma. We had a nice meal at the Fisherman’s Inn in 1995, but hard times hit again , their electricity was out and the restaurant was closed. Continued on past Rolleville to Steventon, very nice beach with popular local conch house “Big D’s”, but no dock. We fixed lunch aboard, then motored directly over the reef (5-6’ depths) onto the Exuma sound and headed for Georgetown, at last. The 15kts SE wind produced only mild crashing during the 8 mile trip but we were still happy to reach the famed “Chat’nChill" bar on beautiful Volleyball Beach. After a couple beers and needing ice we puttered over to Georgetown and anchored on the small town beach. We had cleaned it up in 2000 and it needed a good cleaning again. Usually I limit my efforts to one bag of trash a day but we got 4 which was most of it. We walked around the town lake with a stop at the Protestant church on the hill, resplendent with flowers and colorful trees, and stopped in at the Peace and Plenty for drinks. The original building was built in the 1700’s and has the 3’ thick walls and ancient hinged windows, still working a decent dinner could be had at Sam’s on the water overlooking the marina. The little town beach proved a bad spot to spend the night, as the commercial wharf is nearby and the ships operate with the tides, so if high tide is 1am there is a lot of truck and boat activity at that time. Live and learn! There are many secluded coves but few venture out after dark in these waters, so you need to be land based or use a dinghy to have dinner and then make it back to your boat.

1/9/07 – Very calm morning, a welcome relief. We got sweet rolls from Mama’s Mobile bakery truck. Yum! Then headed to Master’s Harbor where we have leased a waterfront cottage starting on the 13th, to check it out. Very cute, but with barely adequate water depth at low tide for the boat. Found another beautiful beach on Crab Cay, did our 1 bag of trash and took the first snorkel of the trip. It was a perfect, calm day, and, with all the nearby cruisers we could not believe we had the place to ourselves. Later we headed back to Georgetown for ice cream and the internet café, then back to the Chat’n Chill for chicken dinners and more Kalik. We stayed on the beach and watched a movie on our little 8” DVD player, then turned in.

1/10/07 - About 3am the wind shifted to the North and picked up to 25kts as a front roared through. It might have been a good idea to pay a little closer attention to the weather forecast. Our beach anchors dragged and we were pushed further up on the beach, very peaceful at low tide, hard aground on the sand. No use to fuss, just put out the main anchor and wait for high tide. We got off with some assistance from a nearby boat. They winched us out into deeper water and another yachtie retrieved our anchor for us. The next couple of days were spent pleasantly in and around Georgetown enjoying the cruising lifestyle, chatting with other sailors, lazing in the hammocks etc. The windy weather continued, thwarting our plans to sail to Long Island and Rum Cay , but we were ok right here. On the 12th we moved to the rental cottage dock and settled in ashore. Our daughter, son-in-law and 2 grandchildren flew in on the 14th to spend a week. The weather improved and we went sailing, snorkeling, and beaching almost every day. A rental car made for convenient local trips. It was one of the best family vacations ever, and too soon we were packing up the relatives for the airport and repacking the boat to head for home ourselves.

1/23/07 - Joyce returned the rental car and I met her at the Georgetown Marina. What! No Gas?? It could have caused a delay but the “downtown” station still had gas so we ferried our fuel in 5 gallon cans to the boat. Departing 10:45 for Staniel Cay we headed north with favorable winds. The boat felt a bit sluggish so we anchored for lunch and I snorkeled the bottom. Little barnacles and sea grass was appearing, requiring an hours scrubbing to clean off. 2mph faster now, we sped to Staniel Cay, arriving before dark and enjoying another delicious meal, with Key Lime pie! We anchored again in the calm, shallow bay.

1/24/07 – Fueled up ($102 @ $4.35/gallon) and headed straight across the banks for Nassau. The weather forecast was for another front to come through the next day so we took advantage of the calm weather and blasted the 75 miles to Nassau in 6.5 hours. Only a powersailor can do this trip in one daylight day. The “Sailor’s Choice” provides a free overnight tie-up for dinner guests (shallow draft boats only) and is fast becoming our favorite place in Nassau. Owner Willie is a friendly local sailor who races a traditional Bahamian sloop, the “Pieces of Eight”, and has many trophies on display.

1/25/07 – Despite the forecast it was pretty calm so we hightailed it for Chub Cay and would have made it easily, too, if we had left at 6am instead of 9am. As it was the wind shifted towards the west and picked up to 25-30kts, leaving us with about 8 miles to go against mounting seas and the worst spray ever, almost impossible to breathe. I should have worn my snorkel mask. Turning downwind into the Chub channel the waves were huge, coming off the ocean into the shallow bay. It was scary but we sped up faster to match the speed of the waves and scooted into the protected marina. The all new marina was a blessing and we certainly enjoyed the amenities and restaurant. Other sailors were waiting for better weather to go to Nassau, one in a Benateau 41. Hell, Nassau was DOWNWIND! It would have been a great sail in that boat. Many cruisers do not push themselves or their boats at all, preferring to wait for calm conditions. One of these days, when we are full time retirees, that may be us, too!

 1/26/07 – Depart 7am 75 miles to Cat Cay, winds N 20kts, course NW. We hugged the banks to keep the waves smaller and the spray lower. Made NW light about 10am and changed course more westerly. It was lumpy with occasional crashes and some spray but nothing like the previous day. Towards the afternoon we got a break as winds diminished and shifter more NE. Our arrival in Cat Cay was ahead of schedule at 4:30pm. After fueling we went over to nearby Gun Cay, which had a nice little beach, Honeymoon Beach. Again, sad to say, the hurricanes had washed away the beach and made the anchorage less appealing. With the swell coming in we headed back to the marina for an expensive ($2.50’) 30’ minimum but peaceful night. We cooked aboard, trying to use up some of our provisions.

1/27/07 Conditions improved, with 10kt East winds and our course almost due west. We hoisted full sail and sailed for an hour, making about 4 miles. In the old days, before the powersailor, we would have left at 4am and sailed across in 10-14 hours. With 40 miles to go, we again elected to drain the ballast and motor. The trip across the Gulf Stream was fast and fun, and a little exciting, as speeds hit 19mph surfing down the sides of the northerly 6-8’swells. The 3’ easterly waves were almost ignored. There was very little spray and the boat only “spun out” on a wave top (with engine cavitation and 90degree swings) a few times. We averaged 10kts or 12mph and arrived in No Name Harbor about 1pm for a 4-5hr crossing. The fresh fish cooking at the Boater’s Grill beckoned us for lunch. Later, we rescued the Astro van from the catamaran regatta boats surrounding it and hauled the Macgregor back aboard for de-rigging. I should have brought my powerwasher along but the salt encrustation was so bad I decided to purchase another one at a home depot north of Miami. Like we have done before, we stopped at a campground in Georgia to wash and wax the boat. Considering the beating we gave it from time to time it came through in good shape. These are remarkable little boats, tough, versatile, and surprisingly comfortable for extended cruises. We’re already thinking of the next trip.

--Cheers and happy sailing ( and powering) from Capt Jim and first mate Joyce!