Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shroud Cay, Exuma Islands, Bahamas

Simple Life on a screaming reach
 The sail from Nassau beyond the dreaded Yellow Banks sprinkled with coral heads the size of 56' Chevys was nothing less than exhilarating. The swift passage over the Banks came with a recommendation to transit the area at high noon in order to have maximum visibility of the ominous dark splotches of coral heads that mar this notorious section of the journey. They were easy enough to spot from the bow although with wind speeds in the range of 20-25 knots and above along with wave action at times hindered our visibility. The good new was that we didn't hit any and the 40 mile fast reach was a great ride. Almost akin to our passage over the Great Bahama Banks only quicker with speeds of seven knots and above accompanied by four to five foot seas on the beam.
Joe speeding through the mangroves in the dinghy.


     Our friends aboard Kismet recommended a stop at Shroud Cay in the Exuma Chain rather than our original plan for an overnight anchorage at nearby Norman's Cay. Shroud Cay offered a wonderful serpentine dinghy ride through black mangroves with varying water depths emptying into Exuma Sound. We along with Jim and Laurie from Kismet packed a picnic lunch for an arrival at the idyllic setting on a deserted beach overlooking the multi-colored
watercolor vista of Exuma Sound.
Jim and Joe securing the dinghies before a walk on the beach

     This section of the Exuma Islands is remote. There is no Internet, TV, phone, water, stores, food or people other than cruisers. When cruising in this area one needs to be fully prepared with water and provisions. I was astonished at the lack of ambient noise pollution. The melodic song of a Bahamian mocking bird in the shoreline bush, a random fly buzzing by, lapping water against the hull, the hum of the wind generator, an occasional dinghy engine off in the distance and sounds of laughter carried over water from cruiser get togethers at sunset. When darkness descended over the anchorage stars filled the night sky. There was no light pollution in this outback and from Simple Life's bow we marveled at nature's night time spectacle. The Bahamas is truly a cruisers' paradise. One that we are fortunate enough to enjoy and one of the most pristine places on the planet.
Gin clear waters of Exuma Sound

I just want my followers to know that I will share posts as often as possible. Internet service in the Exuma Islands is  expensive and sporadic at best. Hopefully, service will improve as we make our way down island. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gulf Stream Crossing to the Bahamas

Art Deco Festival at South Beach, Miami
by Joe Boulay
     Decisions are made, unmade, questioned, pondered, remade and after a time settled upon when staging for an upcoming Gulf Stream crossing. Fellow Island Packet owners and full time cruisers Jim and Laurie aboard Their Island Packet 350Kismet stopped by while both boats were anchored in South Beach. We went out for lunch at the Japanese Buffet and chatted about potentially crossing together. Jim is a sailor and he prefers heavy air...he did not want to motor if at all possible. We on the other hand, prefer sailing in moderate winds and if it happens to pick up during the sail that's OK because Simple Life is a plus size model and we're confident that she'll handle rough conditions. If there's a choice for Gulf Stream crossings we'll choose the lesser of "two weevils" and even motor across with hopes for benign conditions. Since Simple Life and Kismet are both Island Packets of similar size a simultaneous crossing would have been ideal for both safety and friendship during the wee hours of the morning when a passage can challenge a weary mind and body. However, it's still each skipper's decision as to when the timing best suits their comfort level.   
A classic Chevy on display during Art Deco Weekend, Miami
photo by Joe Boulay

     With a mild weather window fast approaching Joe and I decided to leave on a solo passage from Miami leaving behind all of its captivating charms to venture east toward the Bahamas on Monday morning with a departure at 8:00 AM and an ETA arrival in Nassau on Tuesday afternoon at I:00 PM. Kismet opted to wait for brisk conditions on Tuesday morning. Alas, the compromise. Should we stay or should we go? We went.


      The weather predictions for Simple Life's Monday morning departure called for calm winds during the day and evening. Conditions in the Stream were calm for our crossing. At sunset after exiting its indigo waters wind freshened and Simple Life carried full sails throughout the night skipping along at 6.5 knots and above for the duration of the evening and into the following morning and afternoon. It was a total of 18 resplendent, engineless hours under sail. At times it was akin to riding the subway. Streaming forward in darkness hearing the whoosh of the waves on her port side. A slight side to side mesmeric motion and the sensation that someone else was at the controls. Ideal conditions such as these rarely last. However, throughout the evening we experienced a steady breeze with no gusts in the range of 12-15 knots, flat seas on the Great Bahama Banks along with a bright orange waning moon to light our our way marking this the most memorable passage thus far. The near perfect transit made me feel slightly guilty for complaining about...anything. Our crossing couldn't have been better unless it took place entirely during daylight hours. Glistening moonlight lit our way throughout the darkest hours making the overnight passage much less daunting. 

Joe completing paperwork for
Customs and Immigration.
         At dawn on Tuesday morning we'd negotiated the Northwest Channel Light passage (it's the Bahamas and of course the light was missing) exited the Great Bahama Banks, bypassed the Berry Islands and were on the final leg of the journey through The Tongue of the Ocean headed for Nassau. During the night we'd monitored VHF radio chatter from several other cruisers who were also sailing on to Nassau where they also planned to clear customs and move on toward the Exuma Islands. Right on schedule at noon on Tuesday Simple Life was on final approach into Nassau Harbor where she was granted entrance permission from harbor control. She was secured to her berth at Nassau Yacht Haven Marina by 1:00 PM. Upon arrival in the Bahamas all vessels and crew are quarantined until clearing in with Customs and Immigration. The dock master arranged for the authorities to meet Joe at the marina office where they reviewed our passports and vessel documentation. After some discussion we were granted a 180 day visa and cruising permit. The cruising permit will allow us to freely explore all of the Bahama Islands for the duration of the visa including a fishing license as well as a license for spear fishing with mask and snorkel and a Hawaiian sling. Now that the most challenging part of our jaunt is behind us we hope for mild, front free conditions this winter while exploring a cruisers' paradise and one of the most remote places south and east of the continental United States.
After clearing customs Joe raises our Bahamian courtesy flag.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fun in SoBe, Miami

South Point, South Beach, Miami
      Cold fronts have been plummeting south along the the eastern seaboard this winter causing wave pile ups in the range of 15 feet on occasion in the Gulf Stream and delaying crossings for many cruisers with their eyes on yonder horizons. A few have made the hop across this month only to experience postponements for several days and even weeks in Bimini and Nassau.

Latinas enjoying a day at SoBe
by Joe Boulay
     While enjoying the pleasures of South Beach anchored in the protected confines of Sunset Lake we have been monitoring weather router Chris Parker's Bahamas forecast each morning with hopes of hearing good news for an upcoming crossing. As of Saturday morning's forecast, it looks as though a favorable crossing may come round early this week on Monday or Tuesday. In anticipation of our departure we have been stocking Simple Life each day with provisions. I have been going through my favorite recipes and buying ingredients that I may not easily come by in the Bahamas. I've also printed numerous lobster, Mahi and grouper recipes and downloaded The Boat Galley Cookbook recommended by Hayden and Radeen Cochran's, Island Spirit blog. Joe has certainly been feeling the pressure, too. He's visited local dive shops in SoBe, buying dive gloves, nets and checking out a new handle for his Hawaiian sling. His previous sling is ten years old now and will probably fail after a few underwater extensions...If he spears it I will cook it. 

Ménage à Trois
by Joe Boulay

Jim and Bentley from Salty Paws
      Simple Life
has been anchored in Sunset Lake, Miami Beach for three weeks. It seems impossible since it feels as though we'd just arrived. I suppose as the saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun." Our neighbors on boats in the lake are mostly cruising friends. Jim and Bentley on Salty Paws, Elaine and Lawrence from Elle and I and Jim and Laurie aboard Kismet. A couple of days ago we all met at a nearby vacant lot to secure our dinghies and walk into town for lunch at Fuji Japanese Buffet. Cruisers are a resourceful bunch when it comes to getting the most bang for the buck. The buffet was probably the best deal in town. A veritable feast of "all you can eat" sushi and other Japanese delights for $9.95! Being a sushi fan, Joe made good use of the reasonable price.

Joe and Michele
by Jim Austin
     With so many last minute departure chores looming Joe researched the local boater option for Simple Life's return to the States in the Spring. We'd spoken to Jim and Bentley and Jim and Laurie who recommended hopping the bus across the MacArthur Causeway to Miami then walking across another bridge the to the Port of Miami where the Homeland Security office is located. The authorities interviewed and fingerprinted us for documentation. This effort will facilitate our reentry upon return to any port on the eastern seaboard in the States.


Corvette on Ocean Drive South Beach
by Joe Boulay
     As of now after checking and rechecking grib files it looks like the weather window may be tomorrow. This morning it was time to leave Sunset Lake and South Beach to stage for an early morning Gulf Stream crossing from No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. Our friends Jim and Laurie aboard Kismet an Island Packet 350 will also make the crossing along with at least twenty other Bahama bound cruisers. With any luck we'll be enjoying the islands sometime tomorrow afternoon. Where will we end up? That's a good question. The loose plan is to cross the Stream in daylight, possibly anchor out for awhile during the night on the Great Bahama Banks (it's shallow about 10 feet deep) then sail on to the Berry Islands or even Nassau. For now we'll leave South Beach with fond memories and  look forward to a wonderful winter sailing the waters of the Bahama Islands.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weather Delay In Sunset Lake, South Beach, Miami

The Art Deco area of South Beach, Miami
       This morning at 6:30 AM I drifted in and out of a last night's slumber barely hearing the amber, hypnotic voice of our weather router's SSB radio broadcast. In contrast, Joe crawled out of bed early sans alarm clock in anticipation of Chris Parker's Bahamas forecast. I vaguely remembered hearing, "Good morning all stations. This is Chris Parker on
Bel Amie from Marine Weather..." and apparently drifted off into a sound, weather verbiage induced sleep. Toward the end of the broadcast it was the aromatic hazelnut coffee along with the familiar tinkling of the spoon against a ceramic mug that had the power to rouse me. Remember Pavlov's dog? I awoke attempting to recall anything that was said. "Approaching cold front, stalled trough, squalls, the Euro model, the GSS model," are all words that I vaguely recalled but, in my drowsy state failed to process in any logical order. After downing my first cup of coffee I asked Joe for the highlighted condensed recap of the morning forecast. This is how each day begins aboard the Simple Life.

A dolphin off the coast during the sail to Miami
    The broadcast was grim as Chris advised listeners in the South Florida and Bahamas area to find a safe anchorage because depending on your latitude, conditions would turn nasty with squalls and high winds on the verge of gale force beginning at midnight tonight. He said that the next possibility for a Gulf Stream crossing may be early next week. Possibly on Monday when a milder stretch of weather may take charge.



The dinghy dock on Collin's Canal, Miami

 One positive feature of having a weather delay in Miami Beach is that there seems to be no shortage of activities or opportunities for sightseeing. Simple Life has been anchored in Sunset Lake for nearly a week. The lake offers great protection in all wind conditions and has excellent holding. 

Simple Life's anchorage in Sunset Lake, Miami Beach

     We've dinghied to nearby Collins Canal where there's a dinghy dock across from a Publix Market! Great provisioning while staging for the Bahamas during this weather layover. The local bus which cost $.25 travels throughout South Beach. We've done a fair amount of walking but, it's nice to hop the bus when carrying chairs and umbrellas after a day on South Beach where so far there have been no celebrity sightings. Not even one Kardashian.

Our neighbors in Sunset Lake
Jim and Bentley from Salty Paws

    Our neighbors in Sunset Lake, Jim and Bentley aboard Salty Paws invited us to join them for delicious tuna roll ups and spring rolls. They caught the tuna while sailing with a hand line! Delicious treats and great company. Joe and I invited them over to Simple Life last night for Shrimp Mozambique one of our Portuguese favorites from back home.


Art Deco architecture 
     During our first day in South Beach we went on a bender when it came to sightseeing. Joe steered us toward Lincoln Road, a well known highlight during any visit to Miami. He must have read that somewhere. It's a trendy outdoor mall with shops and inviting alfresco cafes where the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Queen Latifah have reportedly braved paparazzi and adoring crowds.

An array of colorful lifeguard towers
on South Beach, Miami

Bold colors are everywhere in Miami

An iconic lifeguard tower on South Beach, Miami
photo by Joe Boulay

      No one adored us as we navigated the crowds at the mall we simply saw all types, ages and sizes of people watching people. Heading east at the end of Lincoln Road is South Beach where we planned to take a short stroll just to check it out for the future. The short stroll became a longer one that led us to its end at South Point at Nikki Beach another favorite of the rich and famous where Ferraris and Bentleys seem to be the transportation of choice. I personally wouldn't recognize a Bentley from a Ferrari but, Joe certainly took notice. It was nearing sunset and it quickly became apparent that as usual we'd overdone our first day in town. One thing we need to work on when arriving in a new port is pacing ourselves on our first day of "shore leave." Although, it seems that we'll not be bored or lacking activities during our stay here in Miami Beach and I'm sure Joe will be researching even more ways to keep us on the verge of vacation saturation.
A crowded day on South Beach, Miami
photo by Joe Boulay