Friday, May 20, 2011

Bahamas to Florida

Our little hitchhiker on Anything Goes
and below on Scott Free

The cruise ship that asked us to please get out of their way.

Anything Goes tied up behind us in the Port Canaveral lock

Petty, Mitch and Diane on their new Freedom

On the ground sitting, Peter, Scott, Heather, Graham, Julie and Diane

And it's a perfect lift off!

Anytime we are facing a longer passage, weather is a major factor. This time we were looking to cross the Gulf Steam from the Bahamas to Florida. Scott and Peter checked a number of weather web sites like and NOAA. I really like to talk to Chris Parker at the Caribbean Weather Service. We have subscribed to his services for almost seven years now and rely on his personalized forecasts. We get an email from him every day with general weather in our area, right now the Bahamas/Southern East Coast. In the morning we can hear this forecast and talk to him on the SSB at various times and frequencies. Recently he has added a webcast and that is great while at marinas or when we have access to wifi (we have a WIRIE system bought in St. Martin which has been terrific).
You can take a look at his website at We highly recommend him!
So Chris warned us that some possibly severe squalls would be coming in late that day and overnight, possibly from the west. The next day there would be large swells from the north but good wind for the passage to Great Sale and then overnight to Port Canavarel.
We decided to get around Whale Cay and over to Green Turtle Cay before the swells became a problem but then we had to face possible severe squalls. Anything Goes was able to leave early and go into White Sound's secure anchorage for the night but we couldn't leave Hope Town until 1:30PM.
It was an easy trip until out to sea around Whale Cay when the skies turned dark and ominous. Anything Goes called on the VHF to tell us that they had just tied up to the Bluff House Marina two seconds before the skies opened and the wind howled.
Too late for us. The wind hit 33 knots and the rain made for hard visability but our strong motor and boat plowed through everything and came through the cut successfully. Still it was a miserable looking anchorage we picked out near the ferry landing near Treasure Key (protected from the west). Scott dove on the anchor to make sure it was set and later the wind died down and we had a pleasant evening.
In the morning I talked to Chris again and all looked pretty good for the next few days. There were possible squalls on the morning we approached Florida though. Anything Goes pulled out of White Sound and we sailed down to the harbor at Great Sale for the night. They had a really nice time a the Bluff House Marina. The cost was $1 a foot but they subtracted that from the restaurant or bar bill - nice!
Great Sale is the departure point for many making the trip to Florida or further north. It's a large well protected harbor where it's possible to wait for weather, but there is nothing else there. The next morning we heard from Chris again and this time he used the word "benign" - nice word for weather crossing the Gulf Stream. We were off at 7:30AM motor sailing at first but later sailing alone. A tiny bird joined us and stayed with us for hours, moving from one boat to the other. Once off the banks the waves increased and were a bit choppy. We saw only a couple of boats on the crossing. With our AIS (automatic identification system) we have info on all boats anywhere in our area along with our closest point of approach, and they have that info on us. When there is a chance of a close call, we radio them on the VHF and make adjustments. Two freighters made adjustments to pass further from us out on the Gulf Stream and a cruise ship near the entrance to Port Canavarel asked us politely to get out of his way. "Yes sir!"
Peter, Julie, Diane, Heather, Scott and Graham our last night
together on Anything Goes

Outside the channel to Cape Canaveral we made some calls to marinas looking for a place to tie up. Unfortunately we didn't make advance reservations and had to go further up the canal, through the opening bridge and locks to get spots for both of us. Harbortown Marina was a comfortable place with a restaurant, pool, laundry and nice personnel. We stayed three nights until the next weather opportunity to move further north. At this point we were to part. Peter and Julie (along with Diane and Graham who had bravely agreed to make the crossing) were going to St. Augustine Marina via the inter coastal. We were headed off shore to make a two day, one night passage up to the St. John's River, past Jacksonville, to Green Cove Springs.
Sunset over the old docks at Reynold's Marine Center
But meanwhile we had the great fortune of a scheduled shuttle launch on that Monday morning. It was a postponement of a previous attempt two weeks before. And this time it went off perfectly, at least for the shuttle. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud cover, so a few seconds after the liftoff it disappeared in the clouds. Still it was a great thrill.
We rented a car on the previous day and drove down to Ft. Pierce to see our good friends Mitch and Diane. They have bought a new Freedom 38 so we were able to have drinks on board before going out to dinner. Diane and Mitch were role models for Scott and I. They sailed around the whole Caribbean basin for ten years, returning and selling their Freedom 44 "Segue" before we left for our trip.
It was heart wrenching to say good-bye to our good friends and buddy boat the next morning. We had been together almost 2 months. We so enjoyed getting to know them and sharing so many adventures! They put their boat up on the hard and returned to Australia a few days later.
Our passage went well at first with the expected WNW wind but in the evening the wind shifted more ahead of us and picked up. We were bashing into the waves and could only keep our main up sheeted tightly. The motion must have stirred up the diesel because suddenly the engine shut off. We set the sails as close as possible and sailed while Scott changed both sets of fuel filters, the inner one being very hard to access normally, let alone in a jolting boat. It took awhile but finally he got it going again and we turned on a more direct heading. What a relief!
We were both exhausted and glad to see the sun come up and the St. John's channel appear.
The trip up the river was a pleasure; sunshine, calm waters, well defined channel and lots of interesting scenery. We hope to spend more time exploring Jacksonville when we come down next January but now we needed to get to the Fletcher Marina Center. We had only three days to get the boat ready for hauling and wanted to get started.
Scott Free in the sling at Green Cove Springs with Heather
at the wheel. Notice the new solar panel at the stern
Our boat was being hauled at the Green Cove Springs Marina and stored there on the hard until January, but they didn't have a spot at the dock with enough water for our boat for the preparation time. Only a short distance away the Fletcher Marina had deeper water and adequate facilities. Getting in and out from the river channel to the dock was a bit scary. We basically gunned the boat and plowed through the mud! But it worked!
Preparing the boat means taking down the sails and folding them, washing the boat inside and out, emptying and cleaning the refrigerator, laundering everything, changing the oil, winterizing the outboard, etc. It's hard physical work and unfortunately it was hot! The crew running the travel lift was very professional and solved several problems particular to our boat. Scott had to take down the wind generator and the split backstay.
We rented a car from Avis one way, returning it to the Jacksonville Airport. Our last night we had a very pleasant tasty meal at Latinos Store La Casita. We saw several people from the marina there and the staff seemed to know everyone. The food was good and a great value. The next day we flew to Washington DC to spend time with our two sons there and then on to Boston to see our oldest son and family. A few more day later and we were home in Vermont.
We'll be back on the boat at the beginning of January and plan to head down to the Keys, the Dry Tortugas, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. If all goes well, we'll leave Scott Free in the Rio Dulce next summer.

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