Saturday, March 25, 2017

North Palm Beach to Punta Blanca Island, FL

Total Miles Traveled 2232

We left the North Palm Beach Marina and traveled less than a mile to anchor for a few days in a nice quiet spot off of the ICW.  After being in the Bahamas for a month, we needed to catch up on paperwork and a few maintenance tasks.

As we continued north, we passed the Jupiter Inlet Light, first lit in 1860.  The tower is 105 feet above the water and can be seen for 25 nautical miles.

We passed through the St Lucie lock at Stuart and stopped at the River Forest Yacht Center along the Okeechobee Waterway.  We left the boat there for a little over a week while we drove to Cocoa to visit family and friends, then flew to Indianapolis for a follow up doctor appointment (which resulted in a clean bill of healthJ).

The weather was kind to us as we continued west crossing Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida, and the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States.  Its maximum length is 36 miles long and 29 miles wide with a surface area of 734 square miles.  This is a huge body of water, with an average depth of less than 9 feet and a maximum depth of 12 feet.  A windy day can make this crossing very uncomfortable.  There are two marked navigational channels to follow, one cutting across a portion of the lake, and another channel, known as the Rim Route gives some protection from the open water.   When traveling east in January, we took the lake route and planned to take the Rim Route on the way back.  An emergency repair to a bridge on the Rim Route was not going to be completed until March 31st so we took the lake route coming back.

After crossing the lake we stopped at Clewiston Florida, the location of Roland Martins Marina. Roland Martin is a professional sport fisherman and is the host of “Fishing with Roland Martin” on the NBCSN television channel.  Roland Martin was the first professional bass fisherman to be inducted into all three Halls of Fame (IGFE Hall of Fame, Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, and the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame).

To enter the marina, we had to pass through the Clewiston Lock; the lock is normally open unless the lake level rises to a point that could cause flooding.  The marina is mainly designed to accommodate fishing boats, but a long dock, along a narrow canal is provided for larger boats.

The only problem with the long dock is we have to back out from the dock and pass between the rock shoreline and other boats tied to the dock.  Backing up a narrow channel is not my favorite mode of operation……but we made it without any issues.

We continued on the waterway then passed through two locks on our way to La Belle, Florida.

The La Belle City dock provides boat slips, power, and water without a fee.  This is a good stop to provision and to visit local restaurants.  It’s also a good place to hang out for the weekend to avoid weekend boat traffic on the waterway.

We left La Belle and stopped about 9 miles from Ft Myers to visit our friends David and Barbara Dolye from “Miss My Money”.  They have a house along the waterway with a dock, so we stopped for a great visit and spent the night at their dock.  The next morning we continued on to Ft Myers a calm sunny day without a cloud in the sky.  The smell of grapefruit was in the air as we passed a few groves along the waterway.

We approached a railroad bridge located a few miles from Ft Myers and after passing through, noticed what we thought was fog, but instead was smoke.  This area of Florida has been very dry and several fires have plagued this area over the last few months.  We’re not sure if this was a control burn or not, but it defiantly engulfed the city and waterway.

We reached the city marina just after the smoke cleared, and met our friends Merrill and Jan from Terre Haute, for lunch.  We had a great visit, and topped the afternoon off with ice cream at “Scoops on First”.  Our plan was to leave Ft Myers early the next morning and head to our favorite anchorage at Punta Blanca Island, but when we woke up, we were surrounded by fog.

After a couple of hours or so, the fog lifted and we were on our way.  We arrived at Punta Blanca Island with our fingers crossed that no other boats would be anchored here.  Luckily we have the whole place to ourselves.  This is a small anchorage, room for two or three boats; we anchored here in January and saw a huge crocodile, a sea otter, Manatee’s, and Dolphins.

We haven’t seen the crocodile yet, but saw a shark, dolphins, a Manatee and her cub, and the Ospreys we watched in January now have little ones in the nest.  What an awesome place to anchor……we are on day 4.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

West End, Bahamas to North Palm Beach, Fl

Total Miles Traveled 2033

We left our mooring at Settlement Harbor February 16th with an excellent forecast for crossing Whale Cay and I am glad to report it was an uneventful experience.   I read an article at the Bluff House Marina “Disaster at Whale Cay” that told of a sailboat that planned the crossing on a clear sunny day in April 1986.  As the sailboat approached the Atlantic Ocean, the seas began to rage making it difficult to navigate around the Cay to safety, luckily they made it.  Little did they know a Bahamas freight boat was also approaching the passage when the rage seas arrived.  The violent seas tossed and turned the 160 foot freighter causing it to capsize losing two of its crew members.   

The disaster was the result of a major storm system several hundred miles away in the Atlantic Ocean creating ocean swells approaching 20 feet to arrive at the passage several days later. 

As we entered back in to the Sea of Abaco, we stopped at No Name Cay, an island that is the home of wild pigs.  We planned to take the dinghy in for a close look and feed them a few scraps, but the wind direction on the water made it too rough for the dinghy ride.

We continued to Green Turtle Cay and visited the town of New Plymouth founded in the 18th century.  The village can trace their roots back to the Loyalists of the American Revolutionary War.  Green Turtle Cay was officially settled in the 1770’s by Loyalists to the British flag and named it after the many green sea turtles that once nested there. 

Green Turtle Cay was located near the shipping routes to and from the New World and was lucky enough to face a continuous stream of wrecked ships. New Plymouth once hosted one of the largest wrecking harbors in the Bahamas.  Over a dozen schooners were geared and maintained for the business of salvaging wrecks. The Wrecking tree is where the wrecking vessels used to bring their salvage to sell.  From here, under the shade of the tree, the loot was cataloged and prepared for shipment to Nassau.  The wrecking tree restaurant was built around this tree preserving the history of the island.

We left Green Turtle Cay February 17th and anchored at Great Sale Cay, a great day of cruising and an awesome sunset.

We arrived at West End February 18th to prepare for our return to the United States.  After looking at five different weather forecasts we decided Tuesday February 21st would be a good day for a crossing indicating the wind would be at our back with 2 to 3 foot seas…..about our limit.  We would be crossing with 3 other boats in case one of us had any unforeseen issues.   Another weather system would be approaching Wednesday and the next seven days would be impossible. 

We left the marina at 7 a.m. with ideal conditions to start our crossing.  About 2 hours after our departure, we noticed ship AIS targets showing up on our chart plotter.  It almost looked like a game of battleship and they were all heading in our direction, although at this point they were not visible.  The black horizontal line is our plotted course; the large black boat symbol on the line is our boat.  The blue triangles are the ships.  The small triangle on our boat is one of our buddy boats and it is actually about ¼ mile ahead of us but I am zoomed out to show the ships, and yes those numbers on the chart are the documented depths at those locations.  

We were the last boat in the group and at our speed; we didn’t have to alter our course, the ships crossed in front or behind us.  I can select each ship on the chart plotter and see the ships name, length of the vessel, direction of travel, and speed.  We also transmit our vessel information so the ships can see our information.  All vessels monitor VHF channel 16 and can hail a vessel by name if needed.  Two of these ships were cruising at 15 mph.

If you look close, you can see one of our buddy boats "The Lower Place" changing course to pass behind the ship.

This container ship looks like a small city in the middle of the ocean, it was only moving at 2 mph.

The last 15 miles or so was pretty rocky, the wind blowing over 40 miles of ocean behind us caused a few 3 to 4 foot waves.  We learned last year, our boat can handle a lot more than we can….thank goodness.  We arrived at Lake Worth near West Palm Beach Florida and had to report our arrival to the US Customs and Border Patrol. 

South Florida is not nearly as organized as Michigan, we waited for an hour to talk to a real person on the phone, was given an arrival number and an address to report to within 24 hours?  We’re on a boat; don’t you have a dock we can report to?  No you must find transportation to the office at Rivera Beach with the arrival number and your passports.  We were fortunate to have crossed with a boat from this area and they picked us up today in their car and took us to the check in facility.  When we crossed into Michigan from Canada last year, we pulled into a marina with a border patrol office and were met at the dock by customs officers.  It appears it would be very easy to enter this country undetected by water.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Little Harbour to Great Guana Cay

Total Miles Traveled 1816

We had windy weather moving in so we cruised back to the protection of Treasure Cay for a couple of days, then moved to Great Guana Cay on Saturday February 11th .  We grabbed a mooring ball then took the dinghy to explore the town.  Our first stop was the Guana Dive shop to pay for our mooring.

Underwater scooter, you sit on the seat with your head inside the bubble, then you are lowered into the water.  An air tank keeps the bubble full of air.  The scooter travels about 4 mph and a buoy on the surface keeps you at 15 feet of water.

I don't think so......

We walked down the main street to Grabbers, a local bar and grill located on Fishers Bay.

After a well-deserved cold drink we continued to Nippers, another local bar and grill  overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 

Path leading back to town.

Today we explored Settlement Harbor and Fishers Bay by dinghy.

This is how you snorkel without getting wet.

This shark is why you snorkel without getting wet.

After returning to the boat, we prepared to grill out on the fly bridge and noticed another shark moving around our mooring.

The water is crystal clear and we can easily see bottom in the 8 foot depth that we are in.

This is the anchor that holds our mooring ball in place.

Another blast of wind is coming in Tuesday so tomorrow morning we will get back around Whale Cay before the Atlantic Ocean kicks up again and spend a few days at Green Turtle Cay.

Sunset at Settlement Harbour, Great Guana Cay.