Island Hopping (2)…

Windsong II and Tranquilizer left our slips in West End about 8:00 am on Wednesday, March 16 heading for Great Sale Cay. We motored about 25 minutes and entered a narrow shallow cut in the coral called Indian Cay Passage. The passage took one and a half hours.

While motoring slowly, we used our depth sounder and chart plotter to find the deepest water to go through and watched the bottom only inches from our keel — just over five feet. Having done this last year and the year before, we kept our previous tracks, and these gave us confidence. We were on an incoming tide so if we did get stuck we would just have to wait for the tide to lift us off. Once through, we where on the Little Bahamas Banks — 10 feet of water! Lots! And all of it turquoise!

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Given that we were heading northeast and with a brisk wind on our beam, it was a perfect time to put up both sails and run at an average 7 knots. With this nice turn of speed Windsong II got us into the anchorage earlier than expected.

We anchored with over a dozen boats, some going east like us, and others going west, back to the U.S. Marco and Beatrice came over for sundowners and snacks and we discussed our plans for the next few days. After a nice dinner of BBQ chicken and roasted asparagus, we enjoyed the glorious sunset and then fell into bed and slept soundly. Eight hours in the sun and wind can knock a person right out.

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great sale cay for cover

Sunset at Great Sale Cay

The next day — St. Patrick’s Day — we set out for Crab Cay, a large isolated anchorage with a nice beach. The winds were WNW, and we had a great sale to Crab Cay, often doing over 7 knots. We noticed a huge difference in our speed from having our bottom painted. We just slid through the water.

After four  enjoyable hours, we arrived at 2:00 pm and had plenty of time for play — and work (Bob washed our very grungy dinghy bottom). We all had a refreshing dip and went back to the boat for a delicious dinner of strip loin steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. Another great night’s sleep and we were off to Green Turtle Cay to find a snug anchorage to wait out the coming cold front.

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Island hopping (1) …

The fog was so thick the morning that we planned to leave Stuart, Florida, to begin our cruise on Windsong II to the Bahamas, we could hardly see the sailboats moored next to us at Sunset Bay. We were scheduled to meet our buddy boat, Tranquilizer, with Swiss friends Marco and Beatrice aboard at 9:00 am. One thing was clear though — we would be late! We weren’t going anywhere in that fog.

We contacted our friends to let them know, and we all waited for the fog to clear. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before we were heading down the St. Lucie River to the “crossroads” of the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida’s inland waterway.

bob and fog 1

What we woke to on departure day…

As we left the anchorage, we saw a dolphin swim by our boat, which I always take as a positive omen when beginning a trip on the water. We met up with Tranquilizer and all went smoothly as we motored together down the ICW toward Lake Worth, where we planned to anchor beside the Palm Beach Inlet overnight as we had done before our two previous crossings.

We had been studying the weather for weeks and Tuesday seemed like an ideal day to cross the mighty Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. The Gulf Stream is a river in the ocean that moves warm water from the Gulf of Mexico north along the coast of North America. It’s several thousand feet deep and 40 miles wide. The current in the centre can be more than 4 knots. Crossing it is nothing to trifle with. Vessels are pushed north even as they head east. When winds are brisk and northerly, there can be huge waves. So it’s important to wait until conditions are favourable to cross.

meeting tranquilizer

Meeting up with our buddy boat, Tranquilizer…Beatrice and I taking pics of each other.

bridge opening jupiter federal-2

Tranquilizer going through the Jupiter Federal Bridge.

The particular part of the ICW from Suart to Palm Beach has about seven bascule or lift bridges, which must be raised for sailboats with tall masts (ours is 55 feet) to go through safely. A number are opened on demand and the rest open on a set schedule, such as the hour and half hour. We radio the bridge operators as we approach and make sure they know we are there and would like to go through when the bridge opens.

The ICW can be very narrow in places and it is shared by all manner of watercraft, including large power boats with huge wakes, jet skis and people on stand up paddleboards. One particularly idiotic man was fishing in an inflatable canoe right beside a bridge. When the bridge opened, we proceeded full speed ahead. As we got to it, he decided to cross in front of us. We couldn’t stop and we couldn’t go around him. So we gave him five blasts of our air horn to indicate an emergency. He quickly realized his predicament and moved aside. Whew!



house on ICW

Scenes from the ICW

before the crossing

Near the Palm Beach Inlet the night before the crossing, we toast to a good one!

The crossing from Florida to the Bahamas is 56 nautical miles and took us 10 hours. Our points of departure and arrival are circled in black.

The Gulf Stream crossing went just fine although the beginning was “a bit traumatic” in Bob’s words. When we lifted anchors and moved through the Lake Worth Inlet at 4:00 am, it was pitch black — there were no stars or moon visible at all.

To put it bluntly, it was really hard to see. As we came out onto the ocean, there was a lot of commercial boat traffic going in both directions. It was like trying to cross a busy highway. There were so many lights — some clear, some coloured, some flashing. What did they all mean? You have little depth perception in the dark. It is difficult to judge who is closest to you and who is farthest away.


Heading east, and leaving in the dark, we had the chance to see the sun rise over the open ocean.



What a difference a week makes…

map flrodia to west end and sunrise-3

Windsong II and its crew (Bob and me) left Stuart on Monday, March 14 with buddy boat, Tranquilizer (with Marco and Beatrice). We crossed the Florida Straits and the mighty Gulf Stream on Tuesday, a journey of some 10 hours. The black circles show where we left from in Florida and where we made landfall in the Bahamas. The image above is of the sunrise over the ocean as we crossed, having left Palm Beach Inlet at 4:30 am.

cover green turtle8

On Friday, we reached Green Turtle Cay. You can see how protected the anchorage is and we are also on a mooring ball. We will spend enjoyable time here as we wait for some bad weather to pass over. Yesterday, we had a relaxing breakfast (for a change) of pancakes and pea meal bacon (aka Canadian bacon) given to us by a kind friend before we left Florida.

More to come on the details in between Monday and Friday…

Back on the boat, Part II…

So, what is it like to live on a sailboat on a mooring ball in a Florida anchorage while waiting for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas?

When I’m too old to do this, I’ll be able to look back on my photos and be reminded of what daily life was like. I will remember these days fondly..

Cooking and eating

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Getting things ready on the boat

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Some projects that have been installed:

  • new bimini that Bob sewed up at home
  • motor lift crane for the outboard
  • a new VHF radio with GPS, AIS and DHC, interfaced to chart plotter and new mike at helm
  • two new cockpit tables Bob made at home
  • new AM/FM stereo radio at nav station
Hanging out with friends

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Enjoying the environment

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Back on the boat, Part I…

in the cabin

The propeller that you see on the cabin wall to the upper right is not only an item of decor and conversation, it is our actual back up propeller.

For the last few years, we’ve lived in our sailboat in the winter and spring, starting out in Florida and cruising through the Abacos in the Bahamas. Well, we’re now back on the boat…in our “happy place”…

It’s compact living to be sure, but we love the simple lifestyle and freedom. You can see more pictures of Windsong II, our sailboat, here. It’s a Hunter 356, which is just short of 36 feet long.

As Bob has put it: “Windsong II is so much more than our winter home. She connects us to mother nature. With her we can see, hear and feel the wind, the waves, the tide changing, and wonder at the number of stars so bright from our bed at night.We watch the sunrise and the sunset from her cockpit. On her you can feel very small and full of awe. The wind can move her along so quietly — you can tell she loves it when the engine stops and the sails are full.  She takes care of us in bad weather. She is our mother ship — she allows us to swim in the clearest water, explore and photograph remote beaches, shorelines and settlements in her tender. She is just big enough we can have friends visit to share these experiences with us — what could be better than that? And those are just a few of the reasons we love her…”

Scene from Charles’ last trip to the Bahamas.

The last few years we’ve stayed in marinas as we cruised with one or two salty dogs, our Westies, Angus and Charles — and being on the dock made it much easier to get them off and on the boat many times a day — but sadly, it’s just Bob and me now.  So we have the option of anchoring out or taking mooring balls, which require dinghying to shore.

Right now we are in southeast Florida in a mooring field. We’ve stayed here before and really enjoyed it. It draws a community of friendly cruisers from all over the United States and Canada, even other countries. As part of the modest fee, you have access to showers, tuck shop, lending library, lounge, laundry facilities, wifi, bikes to rent, a shuttle bus and special events. There are also lots of great restaurants in walking distance. And shopping if you have the need.

Leaving the mooring field behind as we dinghy to shore — this particular day it was early morning.

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On board, we have a 70 gallon fresh water tank, which we use for washing dishes and such, and to fill it we need to haul 5 gallon jugs to the boat. Once you’ve hauled a few of these heavy suckers, you find ways to minimize your water use! Last year we installed a solar panel, so this year we have been relying almost 100% on solar for our electricity — fridge, freezer, LED lights, computers etc. On rainy days, we run our diesel generator briefly to provide power. Many other cruisers have wind generators too, but we haven’t gone there at this point. All in all, we have a much lighter ecological footprint than we do on land.

Scenes from the Sunset Bay mooring field…

It’s called Sunset Bay for a reason. One shore faces east and the other west, so we are treated to beautiful sunrises and sunsets almost every day. I don’t have to go far…just a few steps with my camera and there it is. I never tire of this beauty.

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Stay tuned for Part II…



Above board…

boats black and white

The expression “above board,” meaning honest, originated in the days when pirates would hide most of their crew below decks in order to lure some unsuspecting victim. Those who did the reverse, by displaying all their crew openly on deck, were obviously honest.

Man o’ War Cay…

We headed over to Man o’ War Cay the other day to drop off our jib for repair. It was a 50 minute ferry ride from Marsh Harbour. We stayed for the rest of the day to explore the cay and have lunch.

The history of Man o’ War Cay began with a shipwreck and a love story. In 1820 16-year-old Benjamin Albury found himself shipwrecked on the cay. He fell in love with Nellie Archer, whose parents had settled there to farm in 1798.

They married and today the name Albury is everywhere, from on the ferry line to boat-building to a popular canvas bag-making enterprise.

Boat-building began in the 1880’s and today Man o’ War Cay is home to self-sufficient and resilient residents who are proud of their island and their boat-building heritage.

We loved this little unspoiled cay and here is just a brief taste of what Bob, Charles and I enjoyed recently. (You may notice a certain colour story going on here…I can’t seem to get away from it, but nor do I want to!)

Marsh Harbour Views

moon over marsh harbour

Moon over Marsh Harbour

When we arrived here in Marsh Harbour, we anchored out in the harbour for a few days while waiting for a slip. Then when a slip became available in the marina, we moved in there. It’s romantic out there on the hook but a bit of a pain to dinghy Charles in in rough weather, schlep our water out and also run the generator every day to supply our electricity. In the slip we have lots of power, water, and Charles has easy access to land. We can also get four TV channels! As we’ve mentioned before the only real downside is poor Internet access. Other than that we are in heaven.

Marsh Harbour is a large protected harbour in the Abacos where many cruisers spend the winter. There is a wide choice of marinas and restaurants and tons of charter activity. Catamarans are a popular rental vessel.

The marina we are in has a good restaurant called the Jib Room which also serves as a cruiser’s lounge. We’ve eaten here quite a bit and really enjoyed it. Lots of fish options for me. The house drink is a “bilge burner” which goes down so easy you can get into trouble very quickly if you don’t watch it.

We dinghy across the harbour to do our groceries and shopping. There is an amazing grocery store called Maxwell’s which provides the best shopping outside of Nassau. In fact we have to go there in a few minutes to get some coffee.

Marsh Harbour is centrally located to allow day trips to many of the popular cays around. This week we took a ferry to Man o’ War to drop off our jib sail for repair. Pics of that trip to come…


View of marina from next door

beach down the street

Nice little beach down the street…

ferns view