There is something about a bar set low that can make for a surprisingly pleasant experience. Based on what we had heard about the city of Nassau, we weren’t looking forward to spending time there- shame on us for judging a book by its cover. After dropping our friends off at the airport, we intended to stay only long enough to restock on food, fuel and water, however just as we were about to haul anchor, Elan noticed a bolt rolling around under the engine. Apparently two of the eight bolts that hold our shaft coupler on had broken off. No biggie, I thought, just replace the bolts and go, right? Nope. Turns out that the bolts were an odd metric size that we did not have stocked in our massive spare bolts container (Elan’s pride and joy). And it was also a Sunday, Easter Sunday to be exact, and apparently Bahamians celebrate Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday as well, so we waited an extra 3 days to finally be able to buy two 36 cent bolts. This also meant that we missed our weather window to the Berry Islands, and spent an additional 5 days anchored in Nassau. A 72 cent fix cost us 8 days… All footloose and fancy free out here, huh?
Having bonus time in Nassau as we waited for the next weather window, Élan and I set off on foot to see a few of the sights. We walked all over glamorous Paradise Island, and explored the massive Atlantis Hotel. We discovered a free movie theater at the hotel and saw four movies in three days. We sometimes feel a little media deprived (though, that’s usually a good thing). so we got our fill. We also explored The Cloisters, built for monastery in the 14th Century in France, and transported to Paradise Island in 1968.
Massive Atlantis Hotel
We visited one of Elan’s childhood friends who crews on a mega yacht stationed in Nassau, and discovered too late that two more friends, also from Tonasket were on a cruise ship there at the same time. If you count our friends that just left, that’s 5 Tonaskans in Nassau the same week, for such a small home town, that’s pretty impressive.
Speaking of cruise ships, we were anchored right next to the cruise ship dock, capable of holding seven of those monsters at the same time. Our last day there, we woke up (literally looking up) at Oasis of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship on Earth.
Oasis of the Seas
Cost of Living in the Bahamas
Tourism is the main industry in the Bahamas, and unfortunately that means everything, everywhere is tourist priced. Diesel is $6 a gallon, freshwater is 40 cents a gallon, and pretty much any item of produce is $1+ each! I was floored by a $6 grapefruit, a single 8oz granola bar for $8.50, and a pint of maple syrup for $48! However, we did discover that things from other commonwealth countries like New Zealand were cheap (less duty). So, quality cheese, butter and lamb were less than $3/lb. If you add a few $7 fifths of good Bahamian rum, and we weren’t feeling so poor after all.
Goodbye Bahamas, We’ll be Back Again Someday…
After the delay in Nassau, we decided to skip Chub Key and the Berry Islands, and do a 110 mile overnight run straight to Bimini, our last stop in the Bahamas. True to our entire Bahamian experience, Bimini provided us crystal clear water and a long, shell-laden beach all to ourselves. We only spent one night there because the weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream was closing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears as I watched the last of the Bahamas fade into the horizon. We still have lots of miles to go, and many adventures to be had, yet somehow as the international portion of our trip comes to an end, it feels more like “going home” than “going places”. It’s not that I’m not looking forward to the next chapter, it’s just that the last chapter has been so amazing.
We have covered a lot of miles on this trip and the Bahamas have been some of our favorites. It seems to have the best of everything: beautiful beaches, clear turquoise water, spectacular snorkeling, access to good food, perfect temperate weather, availability of boat parts and repair facilities, and the nicest people on earth. I can see how some cruisers spend years here, we may just have to come back again!
At anchor off of Bimini, our last night in the Bahamas.
Crossing the Gulf Stream and Entering US Waters
As is typical for us, when we are braced for an infamously rough section of water, we have a peaceful passage. I guess that is the difference between being prepared or being surprised. We chose a good forecast when the current and a light wind were running the same direction. The Gulf Stream runs south to north along the E coast of Florida at anywhere from 2-6 knots. Many 6 knot sailboats like ours run north with the current at 10 knots. We expected to be pushed north to Fort Lauderdale, but halfway across decided to “feel out” a more southerly course. Rather than sail northwest a 10kn, we motor-sailed due west at 4.5kn and made landfall in Miami instead. In case you haven’t noticed by now, we are not sailing purists, and will happily motor or motor-sail if it means not spending an extra day backtracking south again.
Hangin’ out with my friends the dolphins.
So just like that, we are back in the good ol’ US of A. As sad as I was to leave the Bahamas, it feels good to be “home” again too. A good side-effect of travel is making you appreciate home more than before. If there is one thing this trip has taught Élan and I, it’s that we are uptight snobs. That’s right, I said it. We have it pretty good in the states, and particularly so in the PNW, so our expectations were all set high. This applies across the board: from marina facilities, to food quality, to beer selections, to efficiency in business, and the list goes on and on. I laugh at myself as I look back at our reactions to things on this trip… “you want me to tie my boat to that?”; “what do you mean the only coffee available is Nescafé instant, we are in Jamaica/Mexico/Panama, they grow coffee here!”; “so, its illegal to pump our grey/black water overboard, but the nearest pumpout facility is 2000 miles away, hmmm”…
Clearly, we have adjusted our expectations, and have enjoyed every good-natured, eye-rolling minute of our travels, BUT we aren’t less snobby for it, we are more. Now we can add new things to our list of snobbishness: all non-Caribbean water looks like mud in comparison; I won’t want bother going to beach if I have to share it with anybody else (or worse, if there are no cool shells to be found); and “lobsters that cost more than $1, I don’t think so!”. I’m being a little facetious here, but its true, we have been totally spoiled. Spoiled by a good life back home, and spoiled by great experiences out here. We are grateful for everyday we get to enjoy these things and find delight in the humor of our own foiled expectations.
An Introduction to the ICW
Interested in new boating experiences, we decided to take the ICW, the Intra Costal Waterway, as we made our way south from Miami. The ICW connects New York to Texas via rivers, canals, bays, etc, and sounded like an interesting twist on sailing. What we didn’t realize was that when they say the controlling depth for the ICW was 7 feet, that number is used loosely… as in, it silts up to 4.5 feet in some places (we draw 5). We also didn’t realize until it was too late to get out, that that particular stretch of ICW is the shallowest of the whole darn thing. We inched our way south towards Marathon Key, taking it slow and timing the shallowest areas at high tide, and thankfully made it without going aground. Apparently that’s quite a feat. We talked to several people who say they run aground all the time, but since its soft bottom, they just call it “cocktail hour” while they wait for the tide to float them off.
Not so sure how we feel about these narrow, winding, shallow creeks…
“Spread my wings and fly away”
We spent a night in Tarpon Basin before I figured out what a tarpon was… man those are some BIG fish, weighing up to 200lbs! Somehow we managed to make it all the way through Everglades National Park without seeing a single alligator or manatee. You win some, you lose some.
People feeding tarpon by hand in the Everglades.
We saw a lot of Osprey on the ICW. The navigational markers make great perches for their messy, twiggy nests.
Sunrise in the Everglades.
We spent a few days on Marathon Key provisioning and taking a bike ride out the Seven Mile Bridge which spans its way from key to key and eventually leads towards Key West. What is it that makes those Florida Keys sunsets so stunning? The sun seems bigger, closer, and so perfectly round as it sinks off into infinity.
Seven Mile Bridge to Key West
Happy to be off the boat and bike riding.
Sunset from Marathon Key
Sunset in the Keys
Close to the southernmost part of the US, we turned north again and ran 120 miles overnight to Fort Meyer’s Beach on the west coast of Florida. It was a high maintenance kind of run because of the obscene number of crab/lobster pots that littered every inch of the way. I spent most of the day on the bow calling out instructions to Elan so we could carefully weave our way through them. Often, they were less than 50 feet apart. If there are any crab left out there, there wont be for long.
Not long after we set out, we answered a distress call from another sailboat who had picked up TWO crab pots on their propeller. They were an older couple, and the man was so exhausted after freeing the first pot that he couldn’t keep diving any longer. We located them, and after about 30 minutes of taking deep breaths and diving down with a bread knife, Elan was able to cut the tangled crab pot free from their prop, shaft and cutlass. That rescue put us behind schedule by 2 hours, but it was the right thing to do, and they were very appreciative. In our experience, those good deeds seem to pay off two-fold, and we have certainly been the recipients of many kind acts along the way.
Dodging crab pots under sail… We started calling them ‘boat pots’ since they probably catch more boats than crab.
Fort Meyers Beach turned out to be a really fun stop. Not touristy, but definitely a ‘vacation-y” vibe. We picked up a mooring ball in the middle of town, whose fee included access to shower facilities. Wonderful, blissful, unlimited hot showers. And we needed them bad. I’m pretty sure our last hot showers were in Jamaica… in early January… Guess who is a happy girl now!
For the first time ever, we saw another Seafarer 38, who just happened to be on the mooring ball right next to us. We enjoyed chatting with it’s owner and comparing our refits and modifications.
A REAL Introduction to the ICW
We would have liked to spend more time in Fort Meyers Beach, but as usual, incoming weather kept us on the move. We chose the ICW route again because it was more direct, but were shocked by the number of boats confined in the tiny spaces. After surviving our previous run through the “shallowest part” of the ICW before, we managed to plant ourselves firmly aground early on in the day. In an effort to make room for 3 boats squeezing between two markers at the same time, we drifted just close enough to the edge of the channel to squish Silver Lining well into the soft muddy bottom. Fantastic.
Unable to reverse off the shoal, we moved all of our heavy gear to one side of the boat, hoping that getting it to list would decrease our draft by just enough, but to no avail. Finally, we dropped the dinghy, and Elan rammed the bow of the boat until finally we rocked ourselves back into the channel and we were home free once again. Fun times. That same day, we had another first: requesting a drawbridge opening so that Silver Lining and her 50′ mast could get by a 9′ bridge. We anchored in tiny Cape Haze for a peaceful nights sleep next to our new friends on the boat Night Music.
We were underway at first light the next day because we had a 55 mile run planned to Tampa Bay. Just after we set off, Elan and I were unnerved by a new rumble coming from our engine compartment. Worried that we had damaged something during our grounding, we stopped at the next spot wide enough to anchor. Elan dove in and checked our keel, rudder and prop; It all checked out. Then he noticed that the sacrificial prop shaft zinc was loose: aha! the source of our new vibration. Replacing a zinc is usually an easy 15 minute job, but this one was a corroded mess and the water grew murkier with each passing boat. My jokes about Elan being eaten by an alligator ended when he actually saw a chunk of hairy animal float by him. Eeeww.
Excuse Me, Coming Through!
Two hours later, we were back on our way, with not one but ELEVEN drawbridges still between us and our destination in Tampa Bay. It was stressful jockeying our limited mobility boat in tight channels with current and crosswinds as we waited for road traffic to stop and the bridges to lift, but after a few, I was flipping french toast and waving my spatula at the friendly bridge keepers. We arrived at the mouth of Tampa Bay just before sunset, tired but happy to have arrived safe and sound. We swapped bridge stories with Night Music and were relieved that ours wasn’t the only stressful day… they snagged a crab pot in their prop AND had to request an emergency bridge opening because the current and wind was whipping them toward a bridge. Never a dull moment, I tell ya!
After our bridge adventures, we spent two nights recovering and waiting out weather at De Soto Park in Tampa Bay. Next up was a 50 mile open water run to Tarpon Springs, the sponge fishing capital of the world. Then our last overnight of this whole adventure, a 175mi, 33 hour motor with zero wind to White City. I spent my night watches feeling nostalgic and sentimental about nearing the end of our adventure as I watched the full moon sparkle on the glassy seas. I’m going to miss this.
Glassy seas. Gold on one side and silver on the other.
When we were about 30 miles offshore, we had several small song birds land on the boat to rest. Twice they flew inside the boat, but Apollo made sure they knew that they had crossed the line.
I imagine these guys are tired, we were 30 miles from the nearest anything.
“Move it or lose it birdie!”
The last 20 miles of the run were all through narrow, grassy wetlands, which evolved into jungly thick swamp. The lush green scenery was a beautiful contrast to the scrubby desert islands of the last 3 months.
An abandoned swing bridge.
Jungly gator territory.
We spent a night on the inland river at a free dock in White City. We haven’t been to a dock, even for fuel, since we left Panama six months ago… Good thing we like being at anchor! We potlucked with Night Music and met some friendly locals who brought their “low country boil” to the dock to share with us. Delicious blue crab, shrimp, sausage and corn all spiced up and boiled together. This was our first taste of true “Southern Hospitality” and the night ended with hugs and “we’re sure gonna miss ya’lls”.
Tammy (from White City); Ashley & Elan; Nick & Stacy (from s/v Night Music); and Bob (from White City), feasting on a “low country boil”
The next day, we were skunked again on wind for the 40 mile run to Panama City, FL, but we did see a few sea turtles and had a dolphin escort several times. We spent a day in Panama City getting groceries, exploring (the mis-named) Shell Island beach and walking to Gator Lake, which still didn’t provide a single gator!
Ethan from Night Music and Élan on Shell Island.
Body surfin’ duo.
Ethan, Nick and Stacy
No gators at Gator Lake, just one very brave deer.
As I write now, we are en route to Destin, where we plan to spend the next few days. Still no wind to speak of, but a few angry-looking thunderclouds on the horizon which may forebode an interesting afternoon dodging squalls.
We are just a few more hops from Pensacola, where we hope to haul the boat in the next few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed that we can strike a deal on getting the boat home soon.
We hope you all are well. Until next time,
Ashley & Elan