We finally departed Jacksonville on Monday, February 9. As departures go, given that we hadn't been off the dock for 7 months, this went pretty well. We got up early, anxious to get going immediately. So we detached all our umbilical lines, cords and hoses and drove boldly out into the Ortega River. For those of you in the know, you will remember that there is a railway bridge just beyond the marina, between us and our goal, the St. John's River. We had watched this bridge go up and down (mainly staying up) for over two months, without a hitch. Unfortunately, that Monday morning, a hitch appeared, namely the bridge keeper was absent until 8AM. So there we sat, maneuvering around in the current, for more than a hour, waiting for the bridge. Quite an auspicious start to the day. Our kind neighbor, Captain Jimmy of Class Act, came down to wave goodbye, and, after watching the bridge for a bit, suggested we get close to the bridge tender's hut and fire a warning shot from the family shotgun, in the hope of provoking an opening. Fortunately, while we were considering this option, the bridge tender appeared, opened the offending span and we surged forward into the St. Johns..
Regular readers will recall that we had carefully planned to spend some time on the St. John prior to starting south, to ensure that all systems (including ours) were working properly. As with most, if not all, of our plans, this one went out the window upon contact with reality. We headed straight out the St. John's inlet bound for somewhere south, at least St. Augustine and possibly Miami, depending on our how we, and Duet, held up. Duet settled immediately into her usual reliable cruising behavior. We, on the other hand, were feeling a bit green by the time we reached St. Augustine, in late afternoon. The St. Augustine inlet, which has always had a fierce reputation among boaters, is now straight, deep and easy, according to Captain Jimmy, who often commences fishing runs from there. We considered turning in, but the weather window was wide open, there was a bit of an onshore sea running and we felt it was better to push on through our seasickness than to try to enter an unfamiliar inlet in less than perfect conditions.
This turned out to be the right decision, as our internal difficulties settled down, the weather calmed and we rounded Cape Canaveral overnight in fine style. We pushed on to Ft. Pierce during the following day but decided to take our winnings off the table and stop there, rather than continuing another night to Miami. This also gave us a chance to catch up with Bill and Julin Lynn, previous owners of Duet, who are based at Ft. Pierce on their trawler Oceantide. Our timing couldn't have been better, as the day after our arrival turned out to be Julin's birthday, so we were able to celebrate in fine style. We slept in the following day and departed that evening on an overnight run to Miami, as the weather window was only open briefly. The trip to Miami was uneventful, with calm seas and very little breeze.
Upon arrival at Government Cut (the main entrance to Miami Harbor) we were forcibly reminded of the sheer volume of ship traffic into the big sea ports of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. We tend to give way to anything larger than us, particularly in big shipping situations. After Nancy followed this policy three times at the Cut, Ron finally exerted his Captain's prerogative and pointed out that "if we keep doing this we'll still be here tomorrow". So we (Nancy mainly) gritted our teeth and joined the line of small, medium, large and truly huge vessels entering the Cut. Miami is usually a very easy entrance, except in this case a large tug had apparently caught fire and sunk right in the center of the channel. Recovery efforts were underway, forcing traffic to detour around the rescue tugs. We passed quite close to this exercise and were privileged to see the stricken vessel emerging from the deep, huge pumps pouring water over her sides, as one of her colleagues waited to take her into tow.
Once into the long channel leading to the Miami ship basin, we jogged right past the Coast Guard station and headed up into an anchorage we'd heard about from our friends Bob and Sandy aboard the Nordhavn 35, Gusto. Just north of the MacArthur Causeway are a series of manmade islands, which incorporate some of the most expensive real estate in Miami. The building of these islands, each reached by a private causeway, created a nice set of sheltered anchorages. We chose to anchor off Star Island, near the Flagler Monument. This placed us about 300 yards from the back garden of Gloria Estaban's $36 million estate. We didn't see her (or anyone else for that matter) while were there, but we did feel that we had truly anchored among the rich and famous. Even better, our timing was such that we caught up with Bob and Sandy, who were also waiting for a weather window to cross to the islands. They kindly directed us to the local shops, including Publix, where Nancy picked up a few more provisions to cram into Duet, and the hardware store, so Ron was able to add even more spare parts to our burgeoning inventory.
We remained in Miami for over a week, while the wind howled down from the North. For those of you who haven't crossed the Gulf Stream, the key is not to go when the wind opposes the current. The Stream flows north, so any even vaguely north wind causes a considerable wave build up. Weather forecasts during our wait included statements such as "waves higher in the Gulf Stream, building to 15 to 22 feet". Fortunately, Gusto was just around the corner so we had convivial friends to spend time with, and the Flagler Monument island was uninhabited so Tristan and Maggie had somewhere to run off their excess energy. We will say that this anchorage is quite energetic, crowded with tour boats blaring Cuban music and lots of folks cruising about on the family boat for the day. Next time we will take Sandy and Bob's advice and anchor further off the beaten path, even if means being a little closer to land than we usually like.
Finally, the crossing day dawned. The weather was predicted to be flat calm with almost no wind. The window was at least 3 days long, which gave us time to get to Nassau, at a minimum. So, at the crack of dawn, with Gusto leading, we set off to the islands. Our crossing was completely uneventful, prompting Nancy and Sandy to decide that there are two kinds of offshore journeys, uncomfortable ones where you can't wait for it to be over, and calm ones, where all you do is eat. This was definitely the latter type. We pulled into Cat Cay at around 2PM, Duet cleared at Cat Cay Marina (Gusto had to stop in Nassau anyway so they waited to clear there) and we both dropped our hooks for a few hours to relax before starting our Bank's crossing. Our clearing in this year, while much more expensive (the Bahamas raised fees from $100 to $300 in late '03 and Cat Cay Marina raised it's clearing rates from $50 to $100) went extremely smoothly.
We departed Cay Cay around 10PM, led again by Gusto, who conveniently draws 4 feet and thus acts as an early warning system for Duet's 5 foot draft. We traveled in tandem, about 1/2 mile apart, across the Banks, headed for the Northwest Channel, with our arrival timed at dawn. The night was relatively quiet, although every time Ron was on watch he was besieged by unlighted sailboats or boats with lights which made no sense. Bob and Sandy are both licensed captains and Bob had recently completed his refresher course, but even he was stumped by the boat with multiple white lights, which seemed to designate a ghost ship. No one ever figured out what kind of boat it was, but at least our two watchstanders were awake and alert when it passed by. During this journey Nancy was able to fulfill a personal dream, based on a story quoted in Robert Beebe's famous book "Cruising under Power", where a crew member crossing the Atlantic on a small powerboat never removed his bedroom slippers. While Nancy may never cross the Atlantic in her slippers, she did cross the Bahama Banks in her pajamas, which was a new record for Duet. Nancy's pajamas, for those of you interested, consist of a sweatshirt from her brother Tom's tree company, baby blue flannel pants adorned with little pink and yellow sharks and athletic socks. As Ron said, you've got to see it to believe it.
Pajamas aside, Gusto and Duet arrived right on time at the Northwest Channel as the sun was rising. We then turned southeast for Nassau, arriving there about 3 in the afternoon. Gusto went on into Nassau Harbor while Duet anchored off Rose Island for the night. We both traveled onward to the Exumas the next morning, meeting up at Norman's Cay the next evening for drinks aboard Gusto. As the weather window was beginning to close, we hustled on the next day, Bob and Sandy to take up their jobs as marina managers at Compass Cay Marina while the owner goes on vacation, and Nancy and Ron to anchor in their favorite Exumas anchorage, Little Cambridge Cay to start island life.
Our regular readers will remember that last year Duet remained at Cambridge Cay for quite some time. This year was no different, Duet sat anchored at Cambridge for over a month. Cambridge is a beautiful completely sheltered anchorage, but we were also determined to finish the entertainment center project prior to departure. This multi part exercise included the installation and wiring of the stereo equipment, VCR, DirectTV box and flat screen TV, all in the salon. While this sounds relatively simple, anyone who has ever tried to wire anything on a boat knows it is far worse than it sounds. First, the proper course for the wires needs to be determined. The simple choice, just tacking the wires on the wall and leaving it at that, is obviously not the right choice for Duet. So the wires all need to be concealed, either behind the bulkheads or in the ceiling.
After Ron spent a lot of time crawling about under the settees and in the lazarette, the best choice was to run the wires from the new entertainment center (on the starboard side of the salon) under the starboard settee, into the lazarette, across the lazarette, back into the salon under the port settee, up the air conditioning vent on the port aft side of the salon and across the ceiling under the roof panels to the TV, which is installed on the starboard aft corner of the salon. The new speaker wires (one speaker had to be relocated to make room for the TV) traveled a slightly shorter course. In addition, the wires for the satellite dish, which had previously terminated in the washer/dryer closet in the hall next to the master stateroom, had to be spliced and drawn through to the entertainment center via the ceiling of the guest stateroom and through the engine room, to emerge into the new cabinet from underneath.
All of this was accomplished by Ron, who was forced to assume various pretzel like postures with extensive use of the "see around corners" mirror. This installation also necessitated replacing all the insulation between the ceiling panels with saran wrap. This prevents moisture from getting up into the overhead. For our more technical readers, the flat screen was installed using a Ram mount, with an aluminum backing plate to reinforce the valance. After what seemed like forever, the entire project was completed in a truly professional fashion and we celebrated by watching "Prime Suspect" with Helen Mirren, on our very own flat screen in the salon. The new reading lights and overhead fan, installed at the same time, make the salon much more comfortable.
Nancy busied herself with installing new Cantalupi lights throughout the boat. Duet was originally built with non marine quality Guest lights, most of which were now corroded to the point they no longer functioned. Soon after Duet was completed, Nordhavn switched to Catalupis. Huckins was able to get us a decent price on 40 Cantalupis, including reading lights for the saloon and new lights for the galley, so the cost of this upgrade, while considerable, wasn't truly horrific. We were also able to do the installation ourselves, which further reduced the expense. Actually the installation process was reduced to an assembly line, with Nancy doing all the patient prep (remove old light, draw template for cut for new light, strip wires, etc.) while Dr. Ron did the tricky bits like cutting the new hole and crimping the new wires. In this fashion we completed the job relatively quickly, rather than waiting for Ron to have time to do all the work. The new lights are super, Duet now looks like a megayatch. Further, we installed all Zenon light bulbs, which are supposed to be less sensitive to voltage fluctuations than halogens, and cast a beautiful yellow light.
So there we sat at Little Cambridge, alternating a project day with a play day to avoid any semblance of work. Our play days consisted mainly of honing our free diving skills, with our new wetsuits. We purchased these wetsuits on the advice of Bruce and Janet on NoCall, both experienced divers. The suits are made by Henderson of a 1/2MM weight light rubber called Microprene, and are designed for use in warm water. They keep out the cold, allowing us to stay in the water longer but aren't overly buoyant, so we don't need to wear a lot of weight. They are even quite fashionable; Ron sports an all blue ensemble, while Nancy stuns all observers with a purple striped suit, pink fins and a neon green mask and snorkel. Cambridge has a completely isolated pool, surrounded by sand banks, which has no current nor large predators, making for a perfect practice area. We spent quite a bit of time diving on the dinghy anchor until we were confident we could descend and ascend 12 feet or so without looking like a submarine conducting an emergency surfacing exercise. Then we did some nice snorkeling/diving at the Coral Aquarium, which is one of the nice diving sites near Cambridge. We even once encountered a large barracuda, something which last year would have produced lots of anxiety but this year was a relatively stress free wildlife observation. Speaking of barracudas, regular readers will remember the sharks in Little Cambridge, which Ron helpfully named Beavis and Butthead. While they did return this year, we had an even more constant visitor, Barry the Barracuda, who hung hopefully off Duet's stern every evening, waiting for scraps.
As usual in a popular anchorage, we met a number of folks during our stay. In particular, Skip and Kathy of Traveler (a beautiful 46 foot Amel Maramu ketch rigged sailboat) stopped by. They are good friends of Bob and Sandy on Gusto, and are beginning a multiyear multi ocean journey. Skip is the retired President of the American Boat and Yacht Council (AYBC), which is the standard setting organization for boat building in the US. He is also a judge in the Cruising World Boat of the Year Contest and a very experienced boater. Prior to their visit, Ron spent some time carefully finishing any obvious projects, which might not be up to standard. Skip, needless to say, was the perfect guest, admiring everything he saw.
This year at Cambridge Cay will always be remembered as the project month, but it also stands out as the time Ron FINALLY fixed the generator's overheating problem. This issue has plagued Duet since her survey. Readers will note that this problem was supposedly fixed in Jacksonville, but it reappeared the minute we got into warmer water. Much time was spent disassembling, servicing and reassembling various bits, but finally it dawned on us that the problem was an electrical gremlin of some kind, not a real overheating issue. So Ron carefully tested all the electrical connections between the temperature gauge in the pilot house and the temperature sender on the generator. He discovered that the temperature gauge was inaccurate because the generator was not properly grounded: the generator consists of an electrical dynamo bolted to a diesel engine. Although the dynamo was wired to the ship's ground, the diesel engine was not. There is obviously some resistance between the two components, since the voltage potential of the diesel engine side was substantially different from the dynamo and the ground. This was enough to make the temperature sender read 5-10 degrees high. Once Ron grounded them together the generator began to run at 189 degrees (cooler than it has since we owned the boat) and now purrs along with little,if any, temperature variation, regardless of load. A true triumph for Mr. Science. Finally, prior to departure from Cambridge Ron equalized the batteries, which had been running below expected levels, and installed hydrocaps to reduce the need to add water to them. Unfortunately, the engine start battery couldn't be reinvigorated, and will have to be replaced upon our return to the US. In the meantime, it can function well enough to start the main (much to Nancy's relief). This has also given Ron a chance to rethink our electrical system and our needs. One of the major issues we've noted during 3 years of cruising is the alarming failure rate of rechargeable items, including one cell phone, a Palm Pilot, a razor, our Iridium phone and laptop (both of which now work only if plugged in) and, most recently, the electric toothbrush. The toothbrush, in particular, represented something of a crisis as it failed just after we departed Miami. We have multiple toothbrushes on board but, due to marketing tactics on the part of Braun, new toothbrushes (of which we had several) only work with new charging bases, of which we had only one, which was toasted. Fortunately, the Dremel came to the rescue and Ron was able to alter an old charging base for a new toothbrush so our oral hygiene was no longer threatened. Anyway, back to the destruction of rechargeable devices. The cause is easy; our inverter does not produce pure sine wave electricity, which today's sensitive rechargeable devices require. A new inverter, which can produce pure sine wave electricity, is quite expensive. So Mr. Science is working on alternatives, which will be reported to our readers in due time. In the meantime, we try to remember only to recharge our remaining functioning rechargeable items only when the generator is on. Finally, Nancy cleaned the dinghy. This may sound like something that should be done on a regular basis, but this wasn't just an ordinary wash. Bob from Gusto had tactfully mentioned (after he saw our dinghy) that he'd had good luck with a special cleaner named Tuff Enough. Nancy, who can take a hint, bought a large container of the special blue stuff and set to work. It turns out that the dinghy (shown here with only one side cleaned) is actually not a dirty grey but a beautiful light grey/white color, but who knew until the advent of lots of miracle mix, water and elbow grease. Now the dinghy, having also had a ultraviolet light protectorant slathered on, positively gleams. Further, since the watermaker is now working flawlessly (after a truly astoundingly expensive replacement of all three membranes) Nancy has taken to washing not only the dogs (much to Tristan's disgust) and the dinghy after every journey, but Duet as well. This is paying big dividends in maintaining the teak treatment and the compounding and wax job from Jacksonville and Nancy is feverently hoping she won't have to do much other than reapply the wax and Cetol when we return. During our rather extended stay at Cambridge, the weather had been difficult. The fronts had moderated by early March and no longer had a significant westerly build up, but the highs which filled in behind the lows were supercharged, resulting in what seemed like endless days of N/NE/E winds in excess of 20 knots. We did manage to sneak out of Cambridge as the next low was building and made our way to Staniel Cay for dinner at Fowl Cay. Upon our arrival we found that Fowl Cay's fortunes have deservedly improved, and no reservations were available for at least a week. So we continued on to Black Point, the largest town in the Central Exumas, about 6 miles south of Staniel. We had not visited Black Point before and were looking forward to sampling Lorraine's Cafe. Predictably, on our arrival the high began to build, the winds climbed to 25 knots and we felt that traversing the anchorage after dark would be a wet and wooly exercise, so we ate aboard the first night. Tristan and Maggie enjoy eating aboard, as they serve as the cleaning team for all dishes, but we were beginning to feel somewhat anti weather. Little did we know that this particular high was to last for over a week, with winds in excess of 25 knots for sustained periods. Fortunately, Black Point is very sheltered in N/NE/E winds so we were quite comfortable. Also, after a couple of rather wet day trips ashore with the dogs, we figured out that traveling in the dinghy in our trusty wet suits was the way to go, so after that we buzzed around with abandon. During our time at Black Point, we had one of those great cruising moments which we, at least, particularly enjoy. One afternoon we were sitting in the salon, contemplating another evening in each other's company, when Nancy chanced to look out the back door. Entering the anchorage behind us was a Nordhavn 46, easily identifiable by it's dry stack. Ron manned the radio and within minutes we heard the familiar tones of Bill Bane, aboard his new Nordhavn 46, Satchmo. Our regular readers will remember we first met Bill and Ellen aboard their older Nordhavn 46, Chicory, in the Chesapeake Bay several years previously. Satchmo was returning from a trip to the British Virgin Islands (via Turks and Caicos and Georgetown) and aboard were not only Bill and Ellen, but their son and his girlfriend, who had joined them in Georgetown. These two young adventurers were new to cruising, and our hearts went out to them: Satchmo had traveled 50 miles that day in significant headseas and they spent the voyage lying on the floor to avoid serious seasickness. Getting the hook was down did much to restore their equilibrium however, and we joined Satchmo's crew for champagne and caviar. We also braved the wind and seas to visit Lorraine's Cafe and enjoyed an excellent meal of conch and mahi mahi. Satchmo bid farewell the next day; she is participating in the May Nordhavn Atlantic Rally and needed to return to Florida post haste to prepare. We look forward to hearing about this epic journey when Bill and Ellen return to Northern Virginia this winter. Soon after Satchmo's departure the weather eased and we left Black Point bound for Compass Cay to visit Bob and Sandy on Gusto. We had not been to Compass before, as the entrances from both the Sound and the Banks sides are rather shallow. Reassured by Bob (anyone can do it with a 5 foot draft) we approached cautiously at high tide from the Banks side, as the Sound side was still rather stirred up from the recent weather. It may be true that anyone can do it, but they need to make sure that they see all three red marks, not just two red marks! So Duet ingloriously bumped sand, leaving a stripe of red bottom paint, but was able to power off and take another shot, this time with all three red marks in line. Once we got that straightened out we entered with no problem and anchored just off the marina entrance. Compass Cay (www.compasscay.com), is touted as one of the most beautiful Cays in the Exumas, and we must admit that we agree. It is owned by Tucker Rolle, whom we were fortunate to meet on his return from vacation. He has improved the island with paths, a rental house, several apartments and a well built set of marina docks, where Gusto was serenely tied up, awaiting our arrival.
We spent several idyllic days at Compass and highly recommend it. We found the anchorages on either side of the marina entrance a little narrow for us but they were OK while we had settled weather. We went into the marina for evening cocktails (held each night at about 5PM) and enjoyed these very much. In particular, we reconnected with Judy and Bill of Jubilee, whom we had met last year at Little Cambridge. They are from Potomac, Maryland, which was also our home town. We were able to determine that we had lived for over ten years less than a mile apart and never met, yet we managed to link up two years in a row here in the islands hundreds of miles from home. We were also fortunate enough to get an extended tour of Jubilee, a custom built 83 foot Burger, which has clearly benefited from Bill and Judy's 30 years of boating experience. The engine room in particular reduced Ron to speechlessness, at least for a minute or two until he started to ask extensive questions about everything in sight, which Bill patiently answered. Judy and Bill run Jubilee without crew and do most of their own work, which is quite unusual in a boat of 83 feet and says a lot about their depth of experience.
Compass Cay, in addition to a beautiful beach, also has a rather unique feature, namely a large group of different types of fish which live under the dock. Tucker has been feeding them for some years and fish, while they might look stupid, are actually able to identify a good thing when they see it, so they all stick around. Most notable of the denizens of Compass Cay's underwater world are a group of about 9 Nurse sharks, several of which are more than 6 feet long. Nurse sharks are the softies of the shark world, bottom feeders with small interior facing teeth. That said, they sure look like sharks. Both Ron and Nancy participated in the ritual high tide shark feeding time, although they demonstrated different approaches. Nancy tried to train the sharks by dangling the food (frozen hot dogs) to get them to jump. One did actually swim along with it's head in the air and it's mouth open; evidently it has learned that this differentiates it enough to get a disproportionate share. Ron, on the other hand, delighted in patting them, which they seem to enjoy. This led Nancy to wonder exactly what he does with the nurses back at his place of work. All too soon we were forced to leave Compass by a series of fronts, which Ron expected to generate significant squall activity. We couldn't drop enough scope at Compass to be comfortable that we could ride out a squall, so we moved back to Little Cambridge, our favorite hidey hole. Said fronts did indeed materialize, complete not only with squalls but several waterspouts, a phenomenon we had not seen before. Careful review of our premier weather text, Weather for the Mariner, by Retired US Navy Rear Admiral William Kotsch, disclosed the heartening words "Waterspouts are the same phenomena as tornados except that they form over the sea and are less violent." This didn't sound all that bad until we read on "tornados are the most destructive storm in the earth's atmosphere, with winds up to several hundred knots". Unfortunately said text didn't say how much less wind waterspouts might contain in comparison to tornados, and the concept of being spun about by a waterspout packing even a hundred knots kept us on edge throughout their passage. Fortunately, they passed well to seaward of us, and didn't encounter any other boats as far as we know. Actually, we figure the chances of being whacked by a waterspout are less in an anchorage as they tend to lose strength over land, but we were nevertheless very pleased when they disappeared over the horizon. So we remained at Little Cambridge another few days, waiting for a window. During that time, Nancy did what seemed to be endless loads of laundry, as the wind for once remained under 20 knots. Considerable experience has taught her that laundry deployed during winds in excess of 20 knots doesn't remain on the line for long. Ron, unfortunately, undertook the rebuild of the master head. This unit, a Groco K, has served us faithfully without complaint since we acquired the boat. Bill Lynn had rebuilt it just prior to Duet coming to us some 4 years ago, so it was time. Fortunately for everyone (particularly Ron) the head didn't fail, which is what usually happens, most commonly after a extended crew visit. Rather, Nancy noted that the pump handle action was degrading and Ron figured that preventative maintenance was the right way to go. So the head came to pieces, the gaskets throughout were replaced and Mr. Plumber took a well deserved break. Maggie provided assistance by guarding the pilothouse, while Tristan persisted in getting tangled in the gear lying about in the hallway. Finally, the head was restored to it's former glory and Ron went back to more interesting work, namely designing the new fuel transfer system.
Once the weather cleared, Duet and crew departed for Eluethera, having decided to skip the Jumentos this year. This was really a toss of the coin, but after talking to Bill and Judy on Jubilee about Dunmore Town on Harbour Island (and getting extensive restaurant recommendations) we thought we'd give Eluethera a try. These travels will be covered in Part II of this log.