I just finished uploading a bunch of new pictures of the sights of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas.
Check out the 2017 Photos page!
I just finished uploading a bunch of new pictures of the sights of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas.
Check out the 2017 Photos page!
Sitting on a mooring at the park headquarters at Warderick Wells, waiting out the weather, I thought I’d do a quick update. In the two weeks we have been in the Bahamas we have had several opportunities to wait out fronts with moderate winds and welcome rain showers. It seems every time we get the boat all salty, the next day it rains and gets all washed off. Between the frontal passages the weather has been perfect. This year’s Gulf Stream and Bank crossings were ideal including a night at anchor near the Northwest Shoal on the Bank with tons of stars and a full moon. As always, the Exumas don’t disappoint with the beautiful water colors for snorkeling and the wonderful opportunities for hiking along the rocky shoreline and among the ruins from a time when the Loyalists left the American Colonies and attempted to farm the rocky islands of the Bahamas. It’s unclear if it was the lack of good soil or the pirate activities in the Islands that brought an end to the farming but all that is left are piles of rocks indicating the former location of homes and rock walls.
There is a tradition on Warderick Wells at Boo Boo Hill where cruisers can leave signs with their boat names on pieces of driftwood in a large pile at the top of the hill. We hiked to the top of the hill and found Stormy Petrel’s board from the last time and brought it back to the boat and added ’17 to it and placed it back atop the pile.
This year we are again cruising in company with Tom and Sue onboard Sandcastle, a Catalina 42, and hoping to catch up with Scott and Donna onboard Saltine when they get a window to cross from Miami.
Ron and Kathy
S/V Stormy Petrel
This year’s run down the ICW from New Bern seemed a little different. Maybe it was the fact that we were much later than normal since we returned to NJ for Thanksgiving and some doctors’ visits for Ron or maybe the difference is just the fact that this was our 15th trip and the sights are quite familiar. Our first night underway in December, anchored in Taylor Creek Beaufort, NC the morning temperature was 25o F as a drone watched Kathy raise the anchor. Few boats were this far north on the waterway and we had most anchorages all to ourselves and a quiet radio.
What we love to experience are the changes. Nature is ever changing with the weather, flora, fauna, and our spotting of wildlife. Over the years, we’ve watched derelict or abandoned boats slowly break apart and/or sink and have seen many changes including new bridge construction and updated town waterfronts.
Visiting friends along the way is always a high point for us and this year we added a new stop in the Wilmington NC area which led us to explore the Carolina Beach State Park Marina, a very nice park with hiking trails and a clean friendly marina.
Boat maintenance is an ongoing effort especially with the mileage we put on our 49 year old boat. As the days get longer and now being in south Florida, the project list Kathy keeps is getting smaller even with the added items for a few months of cruising the islands of the Bahamas. All the thru hull fittings, all hose clamps, the steering gear, the rig, and the engine have been inspected. The spare parts have been replenished with, hopefully, the only parts that will be needed. The varnish has a fresh coat applied and some painting has been completed. There is a saying that goes “Cruising is fixing boat parts in exotic places” and that describes us well.
So here we sit in Miami Beach, our grocery shopping is done, fuel and water tanks are full, while we wait for two fellow cruisers and a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini and the resort of Bimini Sands to “clear in” then on to the islands of the Exuma chain for fun in the sun snorkeling and enjoying the beautiful colors that are the waters of the Bahamas.
Getting to the Islands of the Bahamas involves a 50 mile trip across the Gulf Stream current which flows northward at 3 to 4 knots. If there is a north wind blowing against the flow of the current, the waves can get quite steep and short making for an uncomfortable ride. The trip across the open ocean and the Gulf Stream gets you to the tiny 9 square mile island of Bimini. The island is known for its great fishing along the wall at the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream where the depths go abruptly from several thousand feet to the shallows. Sailors tend to use Bimini as a place to rest after what may be a rough passage and savor the wonderful colors of the water as it goes from a deep purple to turquoise to white in the shallows. The Bahamas consists of over 700 islands while most to
urists see only the resorts of Nassau or Freeport, the two largest cities, though some cruise ship lines have purchased a few smaller out islands. Most people don’t get to experience the friendly relaxed lifestyle of the out islanders. Those of us sailing on small boats can look forward to a 60 mile sail leaving Bimini in our wake and crossing the Great Bahama Bank where the depths average around 10 feet for miles as we wind our way around coral with no land in sight. Leaving the bank we can choose to explore the Berry Islands or continue on to the Exumas, southeast of Nassau where many of the islands are part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and the rest are home to small settlements. Once we reach the out islands, destinations are no longer important and we begin to enjoy each day’s sail or dinghy ride, beach walk or snorkel trip with the pace that is “Island time”! This is where we plan to spend most of our time for the next few months, possibly making it to Georgetown or out to Long Island or Cat Island and maybe even looping around the Abaco chain on our way back toward the hustle of civilization on Florida’s east coast with happy memories of the quiet beauty left behind while at the same time looking forward to our own beautiful east coast and another sailing adventure north to reconnect with friends and family in New Jersey.
We wish everyone a peaceful and joyful 2016 Holiday Season and a healthy 2017 as we begin our sixth year of living aboard and cruising all the east coast has to offer.
We’ve been off the boat for a while. Ron had to go back to New Jersey for some doctors’ appointments; all is well now and we are back on board working our way south toward warmer climes. Being in NJ during the beginning of the holiday season we shared a fabulous Thanksgiving and many Christmas activities with our family.
Stormy Petrel waited patiently at our friends dock in Fairfield Harbor near New Bern, NC from November 2nd till December 13th. The waterway is quiet this time of year as most of the snowbirds have already reached Florida and points south. On the plus side this gives us plenty of room in the anchorages; on the down side we are using a lot of propane for our Cozy Cabin heater which does a good job of taking the chill off. Our first night out the overnight temperature dropped to 25 degrees but rose quickly as the bright Carolina sun warmed our cockpit enclosure.
Stopping at Carolina Beach we enjoyed the trails of the State Park and the wonderful company of good friends and a visit with Kathy’s cousin in Southport, NC. Making our way along the ICW behind the barrier islands of North Carolina, with views of the ocean and the surrounding marshes, we are looking forward to our next stop for a visit with friends in Charleston, SC.
Our New Jersey visit while docked at Cedar Creek Sailing Center seemed to fly by with our nephew’s wedding, hauling our boat to add more fiberglass to the quick repair we did in Lake Champlain, visits with family and friends, and the annual cruise on Lucky Charm this year cruising the western Erie Canal for five days.
Unfortunately, our plan to visit Washington D.C. by boat was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew and our late departure. We are still hearing of closures along the ICW in North and South Carolina as those areas hardest hit by the storm quickly rebuild to be ready for the southbound migration of us cruising boats.
As I’m writing this, we are anchored in the Ware River off Mobjack Bay on Virgina’s Middle Neck in one of the multitude of peaceful, quiet anchorages for which the Chesapeake Bay is known. The largest estuary in the United States with over eleven thousand miles of shore line and one hundred and fifty rivers the Chesapeake Bay provides thousands of coves and gunkholes for enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Herons fishing along the banks, eagles and osprey soaring overhead, a cormorant flying away with its freshly caught fish breakfast are some common sights while we slowly motor out to the bay as the sun rises over the eastern horizon and the full moon sets astern. During our transit down the bay we had the opportunity to sample just a few of these wonderful stops, Worton Creek, The Rhode River, and Mill Creek off Ingram Bay near the fishing town of Reedville, Virginia. The bay also provides you with a chance to get away from nature and visit places like Annapolis, the sailing capitol of Maryland, Baltimore, Washington D.C., one hundred and twenty miles up the Potomac River, and as you exit the Bay to the south, the bustling ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. You could cruise the Chesapeake for a lifetime and not run out of places to explore and enjoy.
I have always been amazed by the size of the Chesapeake watershed. The Susquehanna River starts with the headwaters in upstate New York and flows through Pennsylvania and finally empties into the bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland. Entering the bay from the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal the waters are mostly fresh and as you travel south, the water becomes more salty, the bay gets wider and the tidal range increases as you near the entrance to the Atlantic Ocean between Cape Henry and Cape Charles on the eastern shore.
In the next day or so we’ll be leaving the bay and headed for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and on to North Carolina and with any luck we’ll be able to take our favorite route through the Dismal Swamp Canal if the flooding from Hurricane Matthew has abated and the reported 60 downed trees removed.
As I write this, we are sitting onboard Stormy Petrel hauled out and on land waiting to be put back in the water this afternoon. A few days ago while motoring up the Otter Creek to visit Vergennes VT I managed to find the only submerged rock in the creek. When you hit a rock in a sailboat going 5 knots, it stops very quickly; our cabinet door in the head opened and the sliding door slid forward a few inches. A quick check below showed no water coming in so with the help of a friendly Canadian sailor we heeled the boat over and were off the rock in no time and back underway to the town dock at the foot of the Vergennes falls. After sitting at the dock for a few days we saw a very small leak so I made the decision to haul out to see how bad it was. I found a section about 6×8 inches where the fiberglass had been damaged so I got out my grinder, epoxy resin, and fiberglass cloth and went to work. Now we are all patched up and ready to go back out to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the lake.
Lake Champlain is the valley between the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont. The views as you sail up and down the lake are just magnificent. The sun rises over the Green Mountains and sets over the Adirondack Mountains and the water is clear, fresh, and a little cool. The winds seem to always be blowing gently and ideal for relaxed sailing. The anchorages all provide an opportunity to either enjoy the mountain views or get close up and enjoy the rocky cliffs of the shoreline. Lake Champlain is deep and in some spots you can sail right up to the rock cliffs and still be in 100 feet of water. Anchoring can be a challenge at times in the deep water sometimes anchoring close to shore and tying to a rock or tree. One of our favorite things about sailing in the lake is the fresh clean water is that if you get hot, and we’ve had a few 90 degree days, you just jump overboard into the 75 degree water and you are cooled off immediately. Hiking the trails of Valcour Island, biking the Burlington Bikeway to the Colchester Causeway and around Plattsburgh NY, as well as swimming almost every day has kept us active the past month and a half.
We had a nice visit with our son Scott and his friend Sara a few weeks back and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our daughter Dawn and son-in-law Juan this afternoon. They head back on the 21st and we will then begin our return trip down the Champlain Canal and the Hudson River back to New Jersey for a month or so before heading south again. We anticipate a stop in our nation’s capital in the fall.
Lake Champlain! How did we get here?
That’s a good question. The Erie and Champlain canals are part of the New York Canal system that covers 524 miles of inland rivers, lakes and manmade canals including parts of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Cayuga, Seneca, and Oneida lakes. The canal system connects the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario with Lake Champlain and the lower Hudson allowing travel by boat from New York City to Buffalo NY and on up to Canada. The sections we traveled brought us from Albany through the first lock at Troy then turning left to the Flight of Five locks at Waterford which is the highest lift in the shortest distance of any canal. A total of 169 feet in only 1.6 miles! The canal was first opened in 1825 and then in 1918 in an attempt to compete with railroads, the canal was rebuilt wider and deeper using dams on the rivers to create pools between the locks. This is the canal that is still in use today mostly by recreational boats, like us, as well as a newly created bike path along its entire length. When the canal was first opened, many towns grew up along its banks at locks and junctions. These towns, full of historic nineteenth century buildings, offer free docking along the canal with nice parks to walk or ride along the towpath of the old original canal and wonder at the effort it took with picks and shovels to dig that first canal. The early barges that plied the canal were not very tall so the bridges crossing the canal have an average height above the water of 18 feet which is too low for our 45 foot tall mast. For sailboats to be able to travel the canal marinas near the ends have gotten good at un-stepping masts, it took only 2 hours to un-step and re-step our mast. It’s common to see sailboats with their masts supported on deck as they pass under the low bridges.
Though the canals provided us with some wonderful cruising, getting there from New Jersey was a trip of varied experiences. Starting with the coastal inland sailing of Barnegat Bay, to a spirited sail in the Atlantic Ocean, followed by the busy Port of New York dodging ferries and tugs pushing barges in all directions having AIS onboard sure helps sort out the confusion. Leaving the salt water of the ocean behind and traveling north toward the brackish water of the majestic Hudson you pass under several historic bridges, George Washington, Bear Mountain, Poughkeepsie, and the Mid-Hudson. Beyond the wide Tappan Zee the river narrows as you pass through the Highlands region with Bear Mountain and Anthony’s Nose then on to the massive stone buildings of West Point. As the landscape becomes more gently rolling hills you pass the river towns of Kingston, Saugerties, and Catskill with their lighthouses guiding you along the way and finally, after 130 miles, to the port of Albany.
Ahead of us lies a month of exploring the many wooded anchorages and cool clear waters of Lake Champlain that we enjoyed so much back in 1997 on our family’s year trip.
From the Low Country of South Carolina to the Cypress trees of the Waccamaw, Alligator and the Pasquotank Rivers to the salt marsh of the Outer Banks and the wide open Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, sailing the Carolina coast provides the cruising boater with a wonderful variety either enjoying a peaceful ride along a narrow canal or a spirited sail across the sound. This year’s north bound transit for Stormy Petrel saw a fair share of Gale warnings as well as days of the beautiful cloudless clear Carolina Blue sky. The beaches of Cape Lookout Bight are amazing with miles of sand dunes and the horses of Shackleford Banks to the north of the anchorage. Beaufort SC and Beaufort NC, though as different as their pronunciations, are both great stops along the way. Many of the towns of North Carolina welcome boaters with free docks, such a contrast to Florida’s attempt to ban anchoring in several popular spots. Visits with friends along the way are always a highlight of our cruising life.
As we are getting ready to leave North Carolina and head for Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay, we look forward to our return next fall.
Georgia, from the wilds of Cumberland Island near the Florida border to the bustling port city of Savannah, provides a wonderful experience for the cruiser traveling the ICW. With the 8 foot tides creating vast mud banks and miles of open marshland wildlife abounds. The ICW meanders it’s way behind the Golden Isles that form the Atlantic Coast of Georgia alternating between wide open Sounds and narrow shallow cuts that were dug back in the 1930’s and now make it possible to enjoy watching the many waterfowl, including the rare white pelicans, dolphins swimming along or under our bow and the occasional alligator sunning on the nearby bank. Tonight we are anchored in the Wright River planning on visiting Savannah tomorrow. This is another awesome, quiet, solitary anchorage along the salt marshes with a beautiful full moon and clear skies.
As February comes to a close, our sailing adventures begin the northbound migration. The past several weeks have been filled with some good sailing, though most of it close-hauled made much more enjoyable by our new genoa.
Since our last post from Lake Okeechobee, we enjoyed the sailing of Pine Island Sound and the beautiful Gulf beaches of Cayo Costa and Don Pedro State Parks before sailing down the coast to the city of Naples, an often overlooked gem as a cruising stop. Moorings at $10 a night with a 4 night limit pretty much guarantees one will be available at the city marina, a short walk to the beach and a bike ride to several good grocery stores. Cruising often reminds us of the power of nature. Leaving Big Marco Pass on an ebb tide with 15 knots of Northwest wind and 3 to 4 foot seas, we looked out and saw only breakers all the way across the inlet. Prudence prevailed and we turned around, anchored, and waited a few hours for the current to slacken then had a safe passage into the Gulf and a great sail down the coast to Little Shark River in the heart of the Everglades arriving at midnight.
Our time in the Keys was mostly spent with the visit from our daughter and son in-law at Key West while at a marina on Stock Island where our friend Justin lives onboard his Pearson 35. Leaving the pristine waters of the Keys we spent a few days at Black Point Marina to visit with Ron’s brother and sister-in-law and helped out with a few projects and Ron got to practice his welding.
Anchored quietly enjoying the sights of Ft. Lauderdale from Lake Silvia, the location of a tornado last week that capsized two boats; we are making plans for stops along Florida’s Atlantic coast and a road trip to Pensacola to visit Kathy’s Mom and her two brothers.