Sunday, October 2, 2016

Return to Florida

June 28th, 2016

The days of June were wrought with brief unpredictable pop-up storms that thwarted our attempts to return to Florida. The nights, however were calm and clear so we decided to set sail from Bimini across the Gulf Stream in the late evening, hoping to reach the Palm Beach inlet by sunrise.

A 36' sailboat points towards the horizon crossing the gulf stream.

Rain falls from clouds onto a deep blue ocean horizon.

sailing towards an ocean horizon at sunset. Orange and yellow peek through a cloudy sky.

Sailing through the night varies wildly depending on the phase of the moon.  When the moon is full and the sky is clear, night sailing is magic.  The light of infinite stars dances across the waves illuminating the horizon. The moon casts shadows and your eyes easily grow accustomed to the pale glow needing no additional illumination to pace the deck. 

We were sailing on a cloudy night with a waning crescent, which is an exercise in trusting your instruments and physical sensations.  With no visibility, our vessel plowed blindly through the inky blackness.  

We were able to see the lights of the Florida Coast many hours before sunrise.  In the dead of night, you can see Miami and Lauderdale all the way to Palm Beach.  First as a glow, then eventually, as full points of light breaking over the horizon.  As we had hoped, the night was both surreal and uneventful.  Around 3 am we slipped into the inlet and sunk our anchor into US sand for the first time in 4 months.

The next morning we awoke to the bustle of the West Palm inlet and started down the ICW towards Stuart.

Sailing the ICW. Bow faces an open bridge.

After a night on anchor in Stuart, we continued motoring up the Okeechobee to Indiantown.

Contrasting dark grey and white clouds hover above sandy river shore.

Through the hours of the late afternoon, beautiful contrasting rain clouds were all around us but somehow never upon us.

Heavy storm clouds above green Okeechobee shore

A white bird is sitting on the back of a black cow that is standing in the river.

We hauled out at Indiantown Marina.  After a few days of cleaning, packing, and preparing Robin for dry storage, we returned to Arkansas to wait out the summer.

1969 Cheoy Lee Luders docked at Indiantown Marina.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Back in Bimini

June 26-28, 2016

We woke up in Nixon's Harbor to windless flats reflecting the clouds. There wasn't even enough disturbance in the surface to obscure the view of the seafloor.

A flat calm turquoise ocean stretches to the horizon and bleeds into the turquoise sky.
Sailboat floating on clam flat turquoise seas, facing the shore of Bimini.

Low wind is terrible for sailing, but glorious for swimming.  By noon, the tidal current arrived generating swells that created velvety emerald luminescent swirls on the otherwise undisturbed surface of the water.

Vintage sailboat anchored in swirling translucent turquoise seas of Bimini Bahamas.

3 image collage. 1. sailboat anchored in swirling turquoise seas. 2 & 3. Images taken underwater of the boat hull.

Underwater pictures of a man swimming underwater around the hull of his sailboat.

Sailboat anchored in clear turquoise water  of the Bahamas.

The next day was almost as calm. I sat on deck and watched light rainfall off the coast of Bimini. The ability to see full weather systems move across the sky is my favorite thing about being on a boat. I grew up in a densely forested mountainous region where you can barely see the stars through the trees. I'd never seen rainfall anywhere but above my head until I moved to the level lands and seas of Florida.

Flat turquoise ocean horizon meets shore of Bimini. The sky on the left is clear blue. On the right, rainclouds encroach.

With no wind for our sails we went ashore, took a short bus ride across the south island, then took the water taxi to Alice Town on the north island.

Top Left: A docked water taxi. Left: View from water taxi through life preserver. Bottom: and Island in the sea.

Town streets with pink buildings, blue picnic tables and a cute beach access sign.

We were looking for a liquor store to buy a couple cases of our favorite Bahamian exclusives before we left.  If you told me that a grapefruit beverage was delicious, or even drinkable, I wouldn't believe you. But it's true. It's light and sweet, and perfect to drink in the heat. Sands Pink Radler is brewed by Sands Bahamian Brewery, who, as far as I know, does not export. I already miss it.  Guinness Foreign Extra was formulated over a century ago with extra hops for global export to the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, which are just about the only places you're likely to find it. Although, I hear that the surge in interest in craft beer in the UK and US has lead to occasional limited releases. So it could be coming to a city near you.

A bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra, A bottle of Sands Pink Raddler.

After acquiring the beer and returning to Nixon's Harbor, I went to comb the beach for keepsakes brewed by the sea. The public beach at Nixon's harbor was just as deserted as it was the last time I was there in March. There is definitely no shortage of the private beach experience in the Bahamas. In fact, I'd say it's harder to find company than it is to find an empty beach. There are 700 islands in the Bahamas, of which only 30 are inhabited. That's 670 islands that are almost guaranteed to be void of human life. With only 394,000 people spread across the 30 inhabited islands, chances are still good no one is going to be at a particular beach on any given day.  Even on the inhabited and touristed Island of South Bimini, on June 27th, it was just me and the trilobites.

curvy palm trees on a beach in Bimini with broken wooden path leading to a turquoise building.
 Beach Umbrellas made of palms litter large empty beach.

A view of sailboat sitting on abhor through overhanding palm leaves.

Dried palm beach umbrellas on peaceful empty beach.

Left image: shadow of palm tree stretches across the sandy beach towards to ocean. Right Image: Iron shore meets the ocean.

While I was wandering the beach, stirring up the sand looking for fans and shells, I was taken by surprise when I looked down and saw that I had company.  A stingray was right next to my feet and appeared to be looking up at me.  He/She seemed more curious than aggressive so I stayed in the water and went about my business. He/She stayed close and fluttered around me for a while, before finally losing interest and gliding away.

a stingray hovers in cleat shallow water.

After I found a few sea fans and took in the novelty of being alone in such a beautiful place for the last time, I joined AJ at Mackey's Sandbar to discuss the weather and the Gulf Stream crossing game plan.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When the Wind Dies: Sailing from Andros to Bimini

June  25, 2016

After eight days in Andros waiting for a weather window to continue sailing, the radar was finally clear of sporadic red dots.  We departed during the best wind window, that evening around 5pm, and sailed gracefully into the sunset. 

Sailing remained as pleasant through the night and into the morning.  We were able to use the windvane and take turns keeping watch. But the sun rose higher the wind blew lighter until there was none at all. By noon we were adrift in the doldrums. The sails flopped, the water was calm enough to swim in, and we were going nowhere.  

A vintage sailboat's sails flap in the windless doldrums. They are surrounded by glaring flat turquoise ocean.

While I wasn't elated to be delayed, I was glad to see doldrums before our journey ended; for the same reason I'm retro-spectively glad we were caught in storms. Because it is now forever part of my mind's landscape, and before it certainly was not.  Whether it's 360 degrees of raging water, wind and darkness, or 360 degrees of glaring windless flat crystal sea bleeding into the sky, it's not something you get front row seats to every day, even if you are in the habit of losing sight of land. So, as our voyage was coming to and end, I felt terribly appreciative to have seen so many varied seascapes in only four months. 


We waited for the wind to pick up for a few hours. The sun was so severe that the cockpit was getting too hot for bare feet.  We clipped a bed sheet to the dodger for shade while we waited. We really didn't want to burn fuel all the way to Bimini. However, preferring to reach Bimini before dark, we eventually gave in and started chugging, breaking the beautiful silence.

Luckily we were reunited with the wind along the way, and shut down the engine promptly.  Bimini was in our sights about 25 hours after leaving Andros.  As we sailed into South Bimini we passed the shipwreck of the SS Sapona.

The SS Sapona is a concrete cargo ship that ran aground off the coast of Bimini in 1926 during a hurricane. It was used as a warehouse for booze supplying Miami during prohibition. During WWII is was used as target practice.  In 1965 it was featured in 007 Thunderball.  Now it is a popular site for divers.

The ruins of SS Sapona  and large sailboat sit on the ocean horizon

28 hours after leaving Andros, we dropped anchor as the sun set in the familiar pillowy sand of Nixon's harbor, South Bimini, about 100 yards from the first place we anchored when we arrived in the Bahamas four months earlier.

Sailing into the sunset

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