Onward’s Cruise Journal 2008-09

Cruise from Maryland to Bahamas via ICW & Return

April 2009

1 April 09

  • We set sail in the morning for the short trip from Conception I to Cat I. With fairly light winds from the stern, we motorsailed until we rounded Hawks Nest Point and set course for New Bight. The wind picked up to ~15 kts from the SSE - possibly due to a land effect - and we had a great sail into the anchorage off the Government Pier where there was one other cruising boat at anchor.
The Hermitage Sits Atop the Highest Point in the Bahamas.
We made dinner reservations at the Blue Bird Restaurant on the shore near the pier and then took the dinghy in for a hike to see the Hermitage. A visit to the Hermitage alone is worth a trip to Cat I. It was built in the 1940s by Father Jerome an Anglican minister and architect / builder who converted to Catholicism, served as a bush priest in Australia, built churches in the Bahamas and then retired to Cat I to build the Hermitage where he lived out the rest of his long and dedicated life. It is a scale model of a typical monestary - scaled to one-man size with everything in proportion. He exploited his architectural and building expertise to produce a sturdy edifice that exploits trump ‘l oile to appear to be a much larger building when viewed from afar or from the base of the steep climb up its hill. It consists of a chapel, bell tower, 3-room living space, and mini cloister - all scaled to one man in size. The arduous clime up the hill takes you by the stations of the cross he built. The view from the top and from each room is spectacular.

The Residence, Chapel, and Bell Tower of the Hermitage

After the walk back from the Hermitage we stopped in at the Blue Bird Restaurant for a much needed cold beer followed by dinner. We ordered the grouper dinner -- and experienced the best dinner we have had in the Bahamas. The restaurant is operated by three sisters: Neacker Knowles, Grace Dorsett, and Jennie Dorsett - all natives of Cat I.
Neacker , Grace with Ed and Tina - and Our Great Dinners

2 April 09 New Bight to Fernandez Bay
  • At the end of the evening, I invited the other boats in the Fernandez Bay anchorage aboard for cocktails. Joe & Ann from Resolution, Ned and Kathy from Journey joined Merlin and Onward for nice social hour. I made seafood Gumbo for dinner and the crews from Merlin and Journey were able to stay for dinner while those from Resolution and had to leave to get ready for an early departure.

3 April 09 Friday; Fernandez Bay to Black Point
  • The wind was 10-15 kts from the SSW and we left Fernandez Bay at 0700 to sail back to Black Point across Exuma Sound. The sea was calm - a far cry from the conditions on my trip E across the Sound last Sunday. I sailed and motor sailed at ~ 6-7 kts for an uneventful crossing. Dotham Cut was calm and the passage was easy. Onward and Merlin anchored at Black Point at ~ 1530. I went ashore to get water and then decided to join Tina and Ed for a burger at Loraine’s Cafe.
  • I was able to get wifi from the boat so I investigated what new web authoring software was available for my Mac and downloaded RapidWeaver. I then converted the prototype Bahamas Cruisers Guide website to a new format using it and then uploaded it. It looks great.

4 April 09 Saturday; Black Point to Sampson Cay
  • In the morning I decided to convert www.onward.ws using the new web authoring software I bought to produce the Bahamas Cruisers Guide. It will take me a while to convert over all the existing pages from the original format. Unfortunately, wifi wasn’t available this morning so I will have to look for the next opportunity to upload the site in the new format.
  • It was a very hot and humid day - the worst of the season so far. We decided to move N to Sampson Cay. The wind had shifted to the W - WNW and after motoring out of the anchorage, we puttered N under sail -- doing a leisurely 3 kts. Somehow the anchor chain had gotten tangled around the secondary Bruce anchor and the main anchor when weighing anchor. So, as I approached Sampson Cay I had a challenging job of getting it all straightened out. This turned out to be one of the warmest nights with high humidity that I have experienced here in the Bahamas - sort of a Chesapeake August sweltering night.
5 April 09 Sampson Cay to Cambridge Cay
  • At 0800 I put into Sampson Cay Club for fuel and had an “interesting” experience as I turned 180º to approach the fuel pier port-to. The current going out through the little cut to the inner docking area suddenly grabbed the stern and Onward bounced its rub rail off a piling before pulling up to the pier. To make it even more interesting, the tide had gone out enough and I had taken enough fuel on that the port wing of the keel was on the bottom and had to be wiggled loose when I left.
  • Merlin and Onward then set off for Cambridge Cay and we decided to take the “conservative” route around Bell Island vice in and out of the cuts. As I approached the most challenging spot at the NW corner of Bell I, I decided to warn Merlin about it. The battery of my handheld VHF went dead in the middle of the transmission. I looked down for just a few seconds to find out what was going on and ended up grounding on the side of the channel. The slope had come up so gently that even at low speed Onward pushed up enough so I couldn’t make the Chesapeake Ass Wiggle technique work to allow me to back off. Merlin went safely around to the mooring and Rick and Elaine from Movin’ On came out in their dinghy to help. They were then followed by Ed & Tina in their dinghy along with a third dinghy. With a lot of help from my friends, Onward got off and proceeded to the mooring. Tina had come aboard to help while I was getting off and on the way to the mooring she related that Ed had been thrown out of his dinghy with the outboard going full throttle. He was fortunate to dodge it and the dinghy caught itself up in the mooring lines after bouncing off the side of Merlin where a passing dinghy was able to shut it down. Too much stuff goin’ on today!
  • The crews of Onward and Merlin spent the afternoon quieltly recovering from the morning of excitement. I made pizzas and the crews of Merlin and Movin’ On came over for cocktails and dinner.

6 April 09 Monday; Cambridge Cay
  • Winds and seas were calm so it was a great day to explore snorkeling sites by dinghy. I visited Rock Dundas for the first time - having passed it up on previous visits because of rough seas. It is a small cay just inside Conch Cut S of Cambridge Cay. It sport great corals around its perimeter with lots of fish life. There are two large caves with entrances that can be easily entered near low tide. The caves are large ~40-50’ across and almost as high. The water is shallow and one can stand up inside to see the stalagmites.
  • After lunch and a short nap the day of physical exercise continued with a long hike on Cambridge Cay. In the evening I baked a fresh loaf of rosemary / olive oil bread and a batch of pepper biscotti. I also made my first attempt at bagel baking. The experimental batch tasted good -- but I’ve got a lot to do to get it right. Tina and Ed joined me for a light dinner centered on the fresh bread.
  • The day was overcast and windy as we waited the passage of a cold front. The anchorage here is very protected so there was little swell when as the winds clocked around from the S to the NW and then NE. I enticed Ed to come over to help me install the audio cable for my Sirius radio. Ed did a fantastic job of splicing audio cable to make one long enough to install and then he helped me snake the cable through. After a bit of work and a couple of tries, I was able to make a Globalstar satellite phone call to get the satellite radio service turned on. I can now listen to Margaritaville channel along with a lot of others.
    • Time to change engine oil and filter - one of my favorite tasks. After completing the task, I rewarded my efforts by going off with Ed & Tina to hike. Skip & Harriet brought Moon Dance in at mid day and we then took Harriet snorkeling. We topped off the day with cheeseburgers by Skip aboard Moon Dance. We discovered that my rosemary olive oil bread is great for burgers.

    9 April 09 Thursday; Cambridge Cay
    • A gem of a day: clear, sunny, light wind, dry, cool. We took the dinghies around the S end of Cambridge Cay to the beautiful beach we visited yesterday afternoon by hiking across the island. The water was so clear, blue and inviting I had to go for a swim before we left. We then hiked the trail at the N end of the island where I got to place cell phone calls to my children from the top of the hill. I also go to see Le Grand Bleu, a 352’ yacht at anchor off Staniel Cay.

    Captain Chill
    • Merlin moved off to Warderick Wells. Compass Rose then came in to pick up their mooring so I got to see John and Pam Loving again. After a nap, I finally had the energy to put the boat back together after my escapades of installing the Sirius audio cable and changing engine oil. I had enough energy left over to cook the eggplant I have been carrying around since the visit of my vegetarians. This is only the 2nd time I’ve cooked eggplant: breaded and fried in olive oil. I wished I had watched my mom all those times she made them. I discovered they were more tasty when I fried them until they were more crispy. I then sprinkled the hot slices with grated parmesan & romano cheese. I invited John & Pam along with Skip & Harriet over for a meatballs & pasta dinner. The eggplant was a hit as only a few slices from what had been a large eggplant were left after dinner.
    • It was great to catch up with John & Pam who had been liveaboards for a time in a nearby slip in Annapolis. They were also key players in helping me to make my final break from the pier to start cruising in June 2007.
    • 10 April 09 Friday; Cambridge Cay to Warderick Wells
    • I made a leisurely move to the N anchorage at Warderick Wells where I found the flotilla on the moorings: Merlin, Moon Dance, Lady of Lorien. We joined Moon Dance for Cocktails where I got to meet Julie & George from Seaquel.

    11 April 09 Saturday; Warderick Wells Cay to Normans Cay
    • This year I decided to buy the great set of books with color photos of fish, coral, and reef life so I will be able to identify the many things I have seen and will see on my snorkeling excursions. Merlin and Onward then headed N to Normans Cay where I wanted Ed and Tina to see the beautiful hardwood bar at Mac Duff’s. We anchored off the SW corner of the cay - just offshore from Mac Duffs.
    • We took a dinghy tour of Norman’s Cay. I found 4 boats anchored in the internal lagoon on the edges of the channel. All had had plenty of water to get in and found good holding in the sand at the edges of the channel. We stopped to talk to Pelican, a family of 4 who are out for a year of cruising. They were looking for other “kid boats” and that brought back a lot of memories of my travels with Jubilee, Coxily, Patience, and Kwitcherbitchen last year. I decided a kids boats index is another good thing to add to the Bahamas Cruisers Guide. The E edge of Normans has many undeveloped small cays and fantastic beaches. The blue and aqua color of the water and the white sands were gorgeous - one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in the Bahamas.

    12 April 09 Sunday; Normans Cay to Highborne Cay
    • On Sunday morning we made a leisurely trip N and anchored off the NW side of Highborne Cay. The number of megayachts we have encountered has been amazing. It seems there are a lot of charters out for Easter vacation period from the US. After anchoring we took our dinghies N to explore Allens Cay where we fed the Iguanas. In the afternoon we visited Highborne Cay Marina to get some fuel. It was a very hot and airless day - a good day to read in the shade.

    13 April 09 Monday; Highborne Cay to Current Cut, Eleuthera
    • Merlin and Onward weighed anchor at 0700 and headed out through the Highborne Cut to Eleuthera. We chose the route to Powel Point and thence to Current Cut. A more direct route that is only about half as long was up to Ship Channel Cut and then N to Current I. The only problem with this route is that it required crossing some shallow banks with coral head - several hours of visual piloting that we decided against. The winds were ~ 10 kts from the ESE so we motorsailed to make good time on the long trip. We arrived at Current Cut an hour before sunset and found the current near slack so it was an easy passage. We anchored just E of the cut on the N coast where we had good holding in sand and protection from the SE winds. Merlin and Lady of Lorien came in from their passage from Warderick Wells and joined us in the anchorage.

    14 April 09 Tuesday; Current Cut, Eleuthera to Snake Cay, Great Abaco
    • We weighed anchor at 0630 and headed N using a direct course from Current Cut to SW Reef and then Egg I waypoints to Little Harbor, Abacos. Winds were 15-20 from the SE and the initial sea state was almost like a pond until we rounded the NW tip of Eleuthera. There a NE swell set in along with an E component - both gentle. When the wind chop came in from he SW, the combination was very uncomfortable, like riding a stuttering cement mixer. With the winds almost dead behind and given the confusing seas, I motorsailed under main alone. In mid morning I made myself a mug of tea and I was just beginning to enjoy it when I made the mistake of setting the mug next to me on the seat cushion during one of the quiet spells. In the time it took me to reach for a biscotti on the cockpit table, one of the huge stuttering cement mixer cycles started. It lifted the mug in the air a couple of feet and then flung it across the cockpit. Tea everywhere. One of its prime targets was the Explorer Chartbook for the Abacos that I had just brought up. The violence of the tea-flinging caused every page of the chart book to get coated with tea! I spend the next hour drying off the pages - 2 times; thankfully the pages are plastic coated paper.
    • After 6 hours in the stuttering cement mixer, the passage through the cut at Little Harbor was a cakewalk. As soon as I got safely inside, I shut down the engine and sailed under the main alone N up the Sea of Abaco enjoying the peacefulness and rebuilding my Wa. Merlin, Lady of Lorien, and Moon Dance caught up to me after they got in, furled sails, and continued N on engine. We anchored N of Snake Cay in the lee of an abandoned rock jetty. Lady of Lorien could not get their CQR to set in 3 tries so they left to find a sandier anchorage. Both Merlin and Onward were able to get our Manson Supreme anchors to set the first try - part of this may have been the luck of finding good sandy patches. In any case where there has been > ~1’ of sand over the rocky bottom, the Manson has set immediately. It is the confidence in this anchor and the great Maxwell windlass with my remote control at the helm that makes my single-handed sailing of Onward a possibility.
    • Ed and Tina still had energy and Ed has his dinghy down, so they came over for cocktails. While we were relaxing and discussing the day, I decided I needed some comfort food so I talked them into staying for dinner. I made angel hair pasta with garlic and sweet peppers sauted in olive oil. Delish!
    • Around 2230, I experienced my first thunder squall in the Bahamas. Somehow I had avoided being directly involved in one last year and until now this year. There was a 180º wind shift and torrential rains for ~15 min; but the lightning stayed N. Good!
    15 April 09 Wednesday; Snake Cay to Marsh Harbor
    • After breakfast we headed off for Marsh Harbor to do some provisioning. The anchorage was crowded but we managed to squeeze ourselves in. It was likes St. Michaels on a holiday weekend. I made a trip into town to pick up essentials: $, fresh foods, rum. That evening we went to the Jibroom Restaurant for dinner and I had the best ribs I’ve had in years - incredibly tender and tasty.
    • On the sail up, I chatted with Mike and Angie who have considerable offshore experience including an Atlantic crossing. They related that the “stuttering cement mixer” effect was not a very common experience offshore. Mike agreed with my assessment that the effect was due to the interference pattern set up by 3 competing wave trains: NE and SE swells and SSW wind chop. When we were experiencing only 2 of 3, conditions were mild and pleasant. They have regularly encountered 2 wave trains with much larger amplitude but longer period and these were not nearly as uncomfortable as the stuttering cement mixer.
    16 April 09 Thursday; Marsh Harbor to Hope Town
    • At about 0300, the cold front we’ve been expecting came through with thunder squalls. I spent the passage sitting in the companionway watching how Onward danced around its anchor as the storm cells went through. I think we made 3 full circles. The anchor held and no other boat came close.
    • We made a quick trip into town and then weighed anchor and set off for Hope Town. This had to be timed so that we reached the harbor entrance on a risking tide - just before high due to the shallows. I was on the VHF trying to get local knowledge from the ferry boat captain when Steve aboard Fine Lion heard me and contacted me. He gave me good info for the passage. It went well and the minimum depth I saw was 7.2’ on the way in. After picking up a mooring, we went into town for lunch and a walk around. The Hope Town Harbor is as small as the harbor at Cuttyhunk with moorings just as dense. The town itself has all the ambiance of Nantucket - on a smaller scale and with sun and clear blue water. Beautiful.
    Well I finally did it. I have been intending to start working with my watercolor paints since I bought them last summer in Maine. I’ve read several books about watercolors since - and these have really enabled me to appreciate watercolor art I see. However I’ve been putting off the start of working with the paints. Well tonight when Tina and Ed went back to Merlin after we had some Vernon’s pie for desert, I finally started working with the paints. And, to my great surprise, produced a neat miniature of the Hope Town lighthouse. Beginners luck, I guess.

    17 April 09 Friday; Hopetown
    • In the early morning hours, the wind began to pick up and I noticed that my wind generator began to spin up and then the brake came on. It did this several times. it is the behavior it should exhibit when the batteries are fully charged. I was surprised that the batteries were fully charged so I got up to check the voltage. In stead of fully charged batteries, I found the main battery bank to have very low voltage and something was drawing > 20 amps. I traced this down to the windlass remote circuit and I turned it off. In the morning I found that the remote switch had gotten jammed in the retract position and the constant current draw had caused the solenoid of the relay to fail and it had been drawing 20 amps for hours running down the main battery bank. I found that the windlass and remote switch worked in the launch direction. The foot switches at the bow did not work in any direction. A puzzle...
    • We rented bikes and toured the Cay today. It was a perfect day: sunny, clear, cool enough to make biking comfortable. We went down to the S end of the Island and had lunch and then biked back to the N end. I probably won’t be able to use my legs tomorrow! On the return trip we found a great ice cream store too. Life is good. Ed cooked grouper with a recipe he is developing based on the great dinner we had at New Bight, Cat I. It was a great lite meal - just what we needed after the day’s activities.

    18 April 09 Saturday; Hope Town to Great Guana Cay
    • With a little help from my friend Captain Chill, I got the windlass foot switches working, identified the damaged relay and rewired the windlass so the remote and foot switches now can be used to raise the anchor. Until I find a replacement relay, I will have to launch the anchor manually. But, I can retrieve it with the windlass!
    • Just before high tide, Onward and Merlin headed out of Hope Town for Great Guana Cay. Thankfully the passage was without incident. There was a 15-18 kt wind from the NE so once clear of the entrance channel I sailed under genoa alone on pretty much a straight line to the anchorage in Fishers Bay on the SW coast of Great Guana Cay. There were moorings available at $15/night so Merlin and Onward took advantage of them. We then went into town for a walk along he beach and then a great dinner at Nippers. Nippers is a local institution. It is a large bar and restaurant on the sand bluffs overlooking the N beach and reefs. Because of the NE wind and some cloud cover, very few people had taken the ferry over.
    • After returning to the boats, Ed and Tina introduced me to the TV series “House” on DVD. I had never seen it before and I enjoyed it.
    19 April 09 Sunday; Great Guana Cay
    • Today we visited another local institution, Grabbers, for lunch and a Rake & Scrape session with “Brown Tip”.
    20 April 09 Monday, Treasure Cay
    • Merlin & Onward timed our departure from Fishers Bay to make it to the channel at Treasure Cay near high tide. With the tide the transit was easy and we anchored in the harbor basin. For $10 a day, the Treasure Cay resort allows anchoring in their basin and provides access to the resort facilities - a good deal.
    21 April 09 Tuesday, Treasure Cay
    • We took a long walk out to the entrance to the resort and visited the local pottery. A kind soul gave us a lift back to the resort. I enjoyed the barbecue dinner at the beach club.
    22 April 09 Wednesday, Treasure Cay to Green Turtle Cay
    • Merlin and Onward departed the anchorage near high tide and had an uneventful passage through the channel. We then followed the natural channel along the shore N toward the infamous Whale cut. The water was so calm, it was hard to believe what a challenge this cut can be when there are strong winds with a N component.
    • The entrance into Sound to reach a slip at the Green Turtle Club was a bit of a challenge. Onward bounced off the bar right between the two signposts that mark the entrance to the channel - after that there was plenty of water.
    • I had a great lunch at the Green Turtle Club and then we took the dinghy to walk around town.
    23 April 09 Thursday, Green Turtle Cay to Bahamas Banks
    • An early departure to take advantage of the good weather window that opened up for the transit back to “the great shopping mall in the West” as the locals call Florida. We made such good time and the seas were so calm we decided not to anchor at Great Sale Cay but to keep on course toward a crossing to Ft. Pierce. We anchored for the night on the Banks just after sunset. Merlin initially rafted up to Onward for dinner. I baked fresh rosemary/olve oil bread and prepared my Italian spiced hamburgers - Delish!
    24 April 09 Friday, Bahamas Banks to Vero Beach
    • Underway at 0430 with very light winds from SE and a light swell from SE. Attempted to motor sail but it was mostly motor. Hit a Gulf Stream current of 3.1 kts immediately on crossing the edge of the banks at the Little Bahamas Banks waypoint. It then when up to a max velocity of 5 kts and held at 4 kts until Onward crossed the 100’ line about 12 nm offshore of Ft. Pierce Inlet and held to about 1 kt until in the inlet! The crossing was easy - the way I like to do Gulf Stream crossings. Ft. Pierce inlet was also easy but with the inflowing tide Onward hit a SOG of > 8.5 kts in between the breakwaters!
    • It took me a while to adjust to being back in such a complex and busy environment after the Bahamas - a real challenge. It also took a while before I got my “ICW head” on and got back into the swing of navigating the waterway - it really is a state of mind but it came back quickly.
    • Onward & Merlin continued up the ICW and picked up a mooring at the Vero Beach City Marina. On the way, a runabout named “Margarita” passed by and I immediately began craving a Margarita. After Onward & Merlin were safely rafted together, I invited Ed & Tina over for Margaritas (I knew I had been lugging that big bottle of Margarita mix around for a good reason). A fitting way to celebrate being back in the USA.
    25 April 09 Saturday, Vero Beach
    • Shopping!
    • I had some Bahamas Cruisers Guide business cards printed at Office Depot, They look Good!
    26 April 09 Sunday, Vero Beach
    • Another day of reprovisioning and errands. Sensory overload was a challenge after not having much to choose from in the Bahamas. I did my best to provide economic stimulus to the local economy.

    27 April 09 Monday, Vero Beach to Titusville
    • An early morning departure complicated by my fluxgate compass changing its alignment by 180º overnight! While moving up the ICW through familiar waters, I was able to do a quick realignment of the fluxgate compass to the GPS compass bearing. The fluxgate needs to be recalibrated by doing several 360º turns at low speed - something I could not do while navigating the ICW.
    • The winds picked up as Onward and Merlin came up the ICW and I sailed under genoa alone for the last stretch. I sailed through the NASA Causeway bridge on its last opening before shutdown for rush hour. This was not an optimal idea as the bridge was very slow in opening and I had to run the engine in reverse to slow down. The wind picked up to > 25 kts by the time I anchored off the Titusville Marina. That scratched any idea of going ashore for a visit to the town.

    28 April 09 Tuesday, Titusville to St. Augustine
    • We were still benefitting from the persistent High offshore with very settled weather. Onward & Merlin weighed anchor early and proceeded up the ICW to the Inlet and then headed up the coast. Ed has been looking forward for an overnight offshore sail up the coast. I limit my singlehanded sailing to daylight hours. Onward motorsailed up the coast to put into the St. Augustine inlet while Merlin sailed further N. The St. Augustine inlet passage went well and I anchored in the same “hole” as in Nov. The outside passage allowed me to avoid a long delay on the ICW which was shut during daylight hours while they lifted steel for the new Bridge of Lions into place.

    29 April 09 Wednesday, St. Augustine to Cumberl;and I
    • An early morning departure with Onward sailing alone for the first time since the Black Point to Conception I crossing. I went back out the St. Augustine Inlet and up the coast to the St. Marys Inlet. I anchored for the night off of Cumberland I, just N of the Park Service pier.
    • Note that transiting these inlets as this time of year is challenging due to the fact that when entering in the evening, the sun is in you eyes and the glare makes it hard to see marks. In the mornings, the sun is again in you eyes as you leave and glare is again a problem. Some of the inlets are well marked but there can be long gaps between marks and with the glare this makes them hard to see. So, waypoints in a well marked channel are a good idea!

    30 April 09 Thursday, Cumberland I to Walburg Ck, St. Catherines Sound
    • Another early departure and easy transit out the inlet. The passage through the St. Catherines Sound inlet was anything but simple. Merlin had put into Walburg Ck the previous night and Ed warned me that R2 in the inlet was not where indicated on the chart. There was some info from the USCG that it had dragged. I decided to follow the normal route from the RW offshore buoy in towards G3. I was coming in near high tide - this was good!. I found a section of < 9’ just W of G3. Not reassuring. The rest of the transit went well with the charts being correct.
    • At the entrance to Walburg Ck, I took advantage of the wide, calm, deep water to do a swing of the fluxgate compass to recalibrate it. This went fine.
    • I then spent some time on the VHF trying to find local knowledge of the inlet. The local SeaTow operator came up and informed me the shoal that R2 had marked had moved further S and that R2 had been moved. However, when I talked to Ed, he said he had just learned from the USCG that R2 had dragged position. The the USCG Notice to Mariners and the USCG US Light List gave conflicting results. What I finally worked out was that the route shown on the charts that went from the RW offshore buoy almost due W to between R2 and G3 could not be followed. Also, R2 - even if off station - needed to be honored. What a mess! I did leave WP along the way for reference on the way out.