Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Trying times

We are still anchored in our beautiful and comfortable spot at Big Majors. We've now been here a little over a week. This is now the second uncharacteristic update from the same anchorage, where normally I would have waited until we were back underway to type. But now I don't know when that will be, and I know our family and friends are eager for status with the situation here fluid.

In my last post I shared that we were under some limited restrictions here, but with things seemingly worse back on the east coast of the US, we had decided to wait right here while we gathered more intelligence and contemplated our options. After two weeks in the Bahamas, we had come to the end of our supply of fresh veggies, and with the future a great unknown, we tendered over to the government dock and walked to the Blue Store to stock up. We found everything we wanted, including lettuce, peppers, and milk.

We settled in to a routine on board, with Louise spending time in her quilting studio while I worked on charts, minor projects, and keeping up with the flurry of information (and speculation) coursing through the cruising community. Lots of cruisers still in the anchorage seem to be socializing, mostly in contravention of local orders, and we even saw a bonfire on the beach last night.

Yesterday we learned the PM would be speaking again in the evening, and we got wind that he would be shutting down even more services. We decided to take advantage of what time we had left to go to the Isles General Store, where I was able to pick up a roll of teflon tape, and we replenished our supply of liquid hand soap that had been inadvertently under-provisioned before we left the states. Afterward we strolled around the island a bit, in what would turn out to be our last recreational walk for the foreseeable future.

On our way back to the tender at Isles' dock, we ran into our next door neighbors, Diana and Duane from the motor yacht Bella Donna. We introduced ourselves and had a nice ten-minute chat about cruising and the current circumstance, all while standing the required six feet apart. It was great to have some human interaction, even if we can't follow up with cocktails or dinner as things currently stand.

These fantastic sunsets here never get old.

The press conference happened while we ate dinner on the aft deck; we did not have reliable enough bandwidth to stream it. But afterward I downloaded the transcript, and things were a bit grim. The PM is a medical doctor, and he knows all too well that the country is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic anywhere close to the scale of what's happened in much wealthier and more developed nations, and he put it exactly in those terms.

Consequently, effective at 0900 this morning, the country closed the border to all incoming visitors whether by private boat or any other means, and increased the curfew, which heretofore had been 9pm to 5am, to round-the-clock. All persons were ordered to remain in the confines of their home or yard except to obtain specific essentials such as food, fuel, medicine, medical care, and the like. Bahamians are permitted 90 minutes of outdoor exercise per day, whereas boaters are not to disembark other than to obtain essential items. All beaches, parks, and other public outdoor spaces are closed.

Movement of private yachts has not been explicitly curtailed, and especially they are allowed to make their way out of the country if needed. But the orders not to disembark or go ashore except for essentials means there is no legitimate reason to move save for one of three circumstances. To wit, leaving the country. taking shelter from weather, or moving to obtain essential services like fuel, water, or to discharge waste.

Unsurprisingly, the new orders caused another flurry of activity today at the Staniel Cay fuel dock, which has been a zoo all day if radio traffic is any indicator. Lots and lots of people are confused about what they may or may not now do, and cruisers, especially first-timers here, want more clarity than a government like the Bahamas can provide. As I am fond of saying, ask five officials a question, and get five different answers.

In the meantime, the situation in southeast Florida has worsened considerably. Monroe County, which comprises the Florida Keys, has closed to non-residents entirely. Boats already in slips or on moorings were told to leave the county, and marinas were not permitted to accept new transients. Miami-Dade closed all marinas and boat ramps, and Palm Beach county followed suit, leaving Broward County as the only place south of the St. Lucie River to dock, get fuel, take on water, or pump out waste.

The closures were, in large part, a response to ongoing spring-break-mentality crowds, who, after being shut out of bars, clubs, restaurants, and even the beach earlier in the week, took to the water to continue the party on sandbars and boats rafted ten abreast. Full-time cruisers are the baby discarded with the bathwater, with local officials, seeing all of boating as a discretionary recreational activity, missing the key point that some boaters can only shelter-in-place on their boats. They can't simply "go home" because they already are home.

Another dinner on the aft deck. This doesn't really get old, either.

Any thought that we might have had to leave the Bahamas for the US because anything at all might be better for us there has faded away. Strict quarantine here, including keeping the rest of the US out, means they will know unequivocally in two weeks whether the virus has spread to the family islands. And here we can still get fuel, water, groceries, and supplies, whereas we can't even get ashore in southeast Florida.

We do have enough fuel on board to bypass the shuttered counties and come back in further north in Florida, or even north of the Georgia line. But we have no reason to believe the closures will not continue to spread to other coastal Florida counties, possibly mid-crossing. Miami-Dade, at least, in a moment of clarity and after pressure from full-timers, carved out an exemption to the closures for those who live aboard and for vessels returning from an international voyage. It remains to be seen, though, if those exceptions provide enough traffic for marinas to remain open.

So after careful consideration and much deliberation, we have elected to remain right here where we are until the situation improves. Until our waste tank is full, or the wind shifts significantly, we don't even need to move the boat an inch. We can continue to go ashore on Staniel as needed for services.

Today the needed service was trash. The SCYC wants $6.75 per bag to accept trash, but carrying it to the dump is free, and so I tendered ashore to the long-shuttered Thunderball Marina, clambered up onto the decaying remains of the dock, and walked the quarter mile to the dump with three overloaded trash bags that have been accumulating since Bimini.

This afternoon new neighbors on the sailing cat Koa, Marina and John, came by to say hello. They hovered off our stern in their tender, in keeping with protocol, and we chatted for perhaps 15 minutes. Again it was nice to have some human contact, and everyone here is looking for validation just for being here. They are Canadians who were headed back to the US, but, like us, they've determined it's better to be here right now.

Our decision to remain here is not without consequences. For one thing, we are now 100% committed to staying with the boat. One of the "easy" things about cruising the Bahamas is that you're never really all that far from Florida, and there are enough airports, such as one right here on Staniel, that things like going back for an emergency dental visit, or to appear in person before a notary, or even to travel back to get some critical part for the watermaker or the engine, is at worst a few hundred dollars and an inconvenient round-trip flight. Long-time readers may remember we docked in Nassau for a week so I could fly to a meeting.

The view over the dock of the defunct Thunderball Marina. The island on the right is Thunderball Grotto, made famous by the eponymous James Bond film.

Now, of course, that's not an option. It's not an option for one of us to fly back for a family medical emergency, either, not that we'd even be permitted to see them if one of our relatives contracts the disease. Any trip out of the Bahamas right now is one-way, but, realistically, airlines don't fly empty planes into a country to service one-way flights out. Air travel is, essentially, halted.

In a dire emergency, we can make a non-stop run from here back to Florida. It's a 40-hour trip to Fort Launderdale, and somewhat longer to Palm Beach. Longer still, of course, to Canaveral or Jacksonville or anyplace in Georgia. But it's an option for a medical situation on board, albeit an uncomfortable one -- running overnight through as-yet undetermined sea state.

We don't expect to have to do that, and it would be a last resort for almost anything. Nor do we expect to be asked to leave the country. But we are keeping an eye on our fuel reserves and making sure we have enough in the tank for any serious option, just in case. Conserving our remaining fuel is one reason we are not contemplating moving the boat until some circumstance mandates it.

If anyone reading this still doubts the gravity of the situation in the US, let me share this: I worked in telecommunications and I have many friends still in that industry. They have now received Covid-19 specific credentials from CISA that identifies them as maintainers of critical national infrastructure, so that they can pass through roadblocks and security checkpoints should we get to that point. I hope we don't, but if the continued behavior of spring-breakers is any indication, we can't rule it out.

Restaurants here are still permitted to sell carry-out food (and alcohol), and it is considered an essential service of which we may partake. After many nights on the boat, we're going to take advantage and head over to the hastily-concocted carry-out window at the yacht club this evening for some dinner. I have been told we are allowed to consume it on the patio, with proper social distance. It will be nice to have a change of scenery.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Big Majors Update

We are anchored at Big Majors Spot, in the Exumas, Bahamas (map). This is a familiar and comfortable stop for us, which is good, considering what's happening right now. We are safe, well-provisioned, and very comfortable, but plans for what to do next are a very large question mark.

We arrived Monday after a very nice and uneventful cruise from Norman's Cay. We picked up Internet about two hours out, and after uploading the last post, we caught up on email and the news. Fortunately, all of our friends and family are thus far safe and well.

Shortly after dropping the hook, we splashed the tender and rode over to the Staniel Cay Yacht club for dinner. At that time, the virus had not yet made it to the Bahamas, and while there was some risk in eating out, we decided that the risk level was only going to increase and we'd be better off going out sooner rather than later. It was good to finally get off the boat after five nights aboard. We strolled a little bit afterward.

One of many beautiful sunsets from our anchorage at Big Majors.

While at the yacht club we learned that Tuesday they were having a big St. Patty's Day party in the bar, complete with green beer at $3 apiece (beer here is typically $7 a bottle). We were glad we went Monday instead -- there was no way we were going to risk the amount of contact involved in a party.

Tuesday a pair of Nordhavns arrived together, a 57 and a 63, and a short time later their two crews arrived at Vector in a tender. It turns out that the skipper of the 57 had run into us in Kentucky Lake, on a completely different boat that he was delivering. We remember talking to him, because he knows the owner of our only sister ship, which is in San Diego. Small world. Other than exchanging boat cards (but no handshakes), they hovered off at a safe distance while we chatted. It was very nice to meet Gale and Mary aboard Worknot and Nora and Karl aboard Bravo. Both boats are still here.

The anchorage was quite busy when we arrived, perhaps 50 boats or so, normal for here at this time of the season. Consequently, cell service was a bit spotty. Both my Google Fi and my T-Mobile are connecting to BTC at HSPA+ on Bands 2 or 5, whereas Bahamian phones and SIMs connect at LTE on Band 17. I think BTC is turning us off intermittently to conserve bandwidth, and now I'm sorry I did not pick up a BTC or Aliv SIM in Bimini. I might yet go in search of one someplace.

Cheers, from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

By Wednesday morning we had high-confidence information that our pain reliever and fever reducer of choice aboard Vector, ibuprofen (such as Advil), should not be used to treat Covid-19 symptoms, and instead we should use paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). I rummaged through our first aid kits and our enormous offshore medical kit, and only came up with seven doses, barely enough to get started if either of us developed symptoms. By contrast, we have hundreds of ibuprofen.

We decided to go ashore ahead of dinner time and canvas the stores not only for meds, but also to asses the provision situation in case we had to hunker down here. We found both groceries, the Pink Store and the Blue Store, nearly next door to one another, open for business and actually fairly well stocked. The fresh veggies were lacking because the mail boat had not yet arrived. The Blue Store is the larger and better stocked of the two, and we found 24-dose packages of Tylenol on the shelf. We picked up two packages before heading back over to the yacht club again for cocktails and dinner. The WHO has since walked back that guidance, but now we have some anyway.

We've now been here five days. When we have not both had our heads buried in our computers trying to make sense out of what's been happening, I have spent every waking minute working on our water supply. By which I mostly mean the watermaker, which has not been operating properly since the minute we left the US.

All the paracetamol (acetaminophen) I could find aboard. We prefer ibuprofen.

When this problem reared its ugly head and I contemplated what it might cost to fix it here in the Bahamas, by ordering parts or spending lots of time on the phone at 20 cents a minute to troubleshoot, I decided not to worry too much because water is widely available in the islands, running from 30 to 50 cents a gallon. But as the worldwide situation worsened and the Bahamas started contemplating measures, it became clear that marinas might close and water could become a challenge. So I renewed my focus on the problem.

It was pretty clear to me that, whatever else might be wrong, I was getting a lot of air in the system on the suction side of the feed pump, which is above the waterline. The system is more than a dozen years old, and most of the plumbing comprises vinyl hoses, nylon fittings, and plastic parts. Just like the problem with the plasticizer oozing out of our inflatable kayak, all of these parts have become stiff and brittle. And, of course, I have almost no spares for any of it aboard.

After four solid days in the engine room in my skivvies, I have completely disassembled every hose and fitting on the suction side of the system, re-taped every joint, replaced what fittings I could, eliminated unnecessary parts (and thus joints), and replaced old vinyl suction hose with newer vinyl hose that is not rated for vacuum, but should get us by for a couple of months. I proceeded very carefully and deliberately, knowing that snapping the wrong brittle nylon fitting or stripping the wrong threads could be the end of the watermaker until parts can be flown in.

The watermaker torn apart mid-project, with tools everywhere. What looks like a cup of coffee was hot water to soften the ends of the vinyl hoses to slip them on.

The end result of all this is a system that starts out making 7 gallons per hour (out of a rated 13) first thing in the morning with the generator running, and tapers off over a few hours to around 4 gph. We shut it down when it drops below that, both to protect the pump, and because it's using a lot of battery power to little effect. If I can sustain this rate, we can make 20-30 gallons per day, which is a little more than we use. With a little luck, that should hold us as long as we're here.

With water in short supply, the other project I knocked out is a "hot water recirculation" system, a project that has been on my list for seven years, but, as a full day effort, always got preempted by something more pressing, important, or useful. Of course, I had not planned on this project here, and with no access to a hardware store, I had to make do with parts on hand.

Very long-time readers may remember this system from our bus. We built the bus systems from scratch, and so had the luxury to include an extra water line at every fixture for it, and we had solenoid valves and pushbuttons located at the galley sink, the shower, and the bathroom sink. It saved us gallons and gallons of precious water when we were boondocking in the desert. Now was the time to implement it on the boat.

This unassuming blue button sends hot water back to the tank until it's hot enough to shower.

The way this works is simple. No one wants to get under the shower head until the water is warm, and it takes time for hot water to make its way from the water heater to the shower head. All of the cold water sitting in the pipe needs to get out of the way. Instead of running that right into the drain, which on the boat means overboard but on the bus meant filling up the gray water tank, or into a bucket for use elsewhere, the recirculating valve lets that standing water run right back to the fresh water tank, so it can be used later.

On the bus these valves were literally right before the fixtures, so once you were done using the valve, the water would be hot at the fixture right away. Since I don't have access in the walls to add a water return line to every fixture, instead I installed a single valve at "the end of the line" for the main hot water pipe running through the below-decks bilge. That gets the hot water to within seven feet or so of the shower head, cutting off another 25' or so of pipe run. It also gets it within five feet of either bathroom sink, cutting off 30', and within ten feet of the galley sink and dishwasher, cutting off 20'.

It's not perfect, but it helps. It saves about a half gallon getting the shower usably warm, and somewhat less for the galley. But that's a gallon or so per day that we don't have to make with the anemic watermaker. I put a nice pushbutton in the master head to operate the valve, and I may add buttons in the galley and guest stateroom in the future. And when we get back to the US, I will go to the hardware store and replace the hokey combination of parts I used to insert the valve into the PEX plumbing, including a female-to-female garden hose adapter, a 1.5" long piece of vinyl hose, and five zip ties.

The actual valve, in the forward half of the midships bilge. Pay no attention to the tip of the beer iceberg. If you look closely, you can see the valve mated to the plumbing with a short piece of vinyl tube and some zip ties.

This anchorage at Big Majors Spot with the nearby Staniel Cay was intended to be just a way station on our cruise south through the Exumas to George Town, and then perhaps onward to Eleuthera. Lousy weather, combined with the fact that parts can easily be flown here from Fort Lauderdale, as regular readers may remember, had us planning early on to stay here at least until this morning, when weather would be good for moving on.

Thursday afternoon, however, the proverbial wrench was thrown into the works. By proclamation of the Prime Minister, effective yesterday, all businesses in the Bahamas were ordered to close to the public, with a short list of critical exceptions. The proclamation also forbid inter-island travel on mail boats or commercial transports, a statement that was so poorly worded that numerous cruisers took it to mean their boats could not be moved from their present locations.

Knowing the weather would keep us from moving at all yesterday, we knew we had a day to ruminate about it. Lots of cruisers, of course, were in a full panic by the end of the day, and the anchorage was restless yesterday, as were the Bahamas cruising forums on the Internet. I spent most of the day getting the watermaker back together and the engine room in "at sea" readiness, just in case.

Today's weather was perfect for moving, and I would summarize this morning's menu this way:

  • Original plan: continue south through the Exumas toward George Town.
  • Post-proclamation panic plan: Head back to Norman's as the first step to getting out of the Bahamas ASAP.
  • Cooler-heads-prevail plan: Sit right here in our cozy anchorage until we have more clarity.

Cooler heads prevailed, and here we sit, still at Big Majors Spot. The anchorage cleared out today, at one point down to perhaps 20 boats, although a few more came in this afternoon, possibly northbound boats bailing out of points south. The fuel dock at Staniel Cay was abnormally busy, as lots of boats fueled up in preparation for who-knows-what. And some people seem surprised that anything might be closed.

A view of just about a quarter of the anchorage, before the exodus.

Continuing to stay right here means we are compliant with even the strictest interpretation of the PM's order. And it's not a bad place to be: one of the most comfortable anchorages in the Exumas, with fairly well-stocked stores a short tender ride away, decent Internet access, and a community of cruisers who can provide emergency assistance in a pinch. Plus an airstrip nearby for emergency parts delivery or evacuation.

Things here are, in a word, eerie. None of the usual daily high-speed tour boats arrived from Nassau taking tourists to see the swimming pigs. No dinner reservations were made on the radio at the yacht club or the tony Fowl Cay resort. No megayachts deposited a horde of entitled visitors into the anchorage on jet skis. At some level, it was blissfully quiet and subdued.

We're not entirely certain what our next move will be. At some level, we are safer here than back in the US. It's more isolated, and the weather is more comfortable. On the other hand, the rules here will be more restrictive with harsher penalties, provisions are limited, I have minimal access to hardware, and if the worst happens we are far from the standard of medical care we would need.

The infamous swimming pigs. The busiest the beach got today.

We are hedging our bets by continuing to try to fill the water tank, and planning numerous escape routes for various weather scenarios. By our "normal" means, it takes us five days to get back to Florida from here. But the reality is that we can proceed on the most direct route, non-stop, and be there in a little over one full day, about 30 hours.

The current order from Nassau extends through the end of the month, March 31. It would be hubris to think that, when it expires, things will return to the way they were. But what comes next is as yet unknown. We are keeping all options open. If we choose to remain in this neighborhood, we might move some six miles south, to Black Point, where we have access to a different set of services, including a bakery and a laundry (not normally needed, but might be if we can't make enough water of our own).

In the meantime, our thoughts are with our families and friends, many of whom are in lockdown of their own. We are very fortunate to be here in our self-sufficient, easily-isolated bubble. Our hearts go out to those whose very livelihoods are now on hold, and for whom the future is even less certain.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Ides of March have come

We are under way southbound on the Exuma Bank. It's good to finally be cruising in the relatively protected waters of the Exumas, after days of bashing into head seas to get here. We are in familiar waters, and it feels comfortable to be here.

After my last post we continued to have a bumpy ride all the way to New Providence. Entrance to West Bay is through a narrow, unmarked channel, and I hand steered to the GPS route line through the skinniest section. Once inside the bay, things quickly calmed down, and by the time we were toward the eastern end we were in flat water. We dropped the hook in ten feet amid a dozen other boats (map); I counted 18 boats total by sunset.

It was a lovely anchorage and we had good high-speed Internet; we could easily have stayed another night or two, and perhaps tendered in to stroll the beach in the tony Lyford Cay neighborhood. And by "tony" I mean a gated community of waterfront homes owned by wealthy white foreigners, and not actual Bahamians. But we wanted to get across the bank while we still had a window of relatively good passage weather, and so we weighed anchor after coffee in the morning for the trip across the bank to the Exumas.

Sunset from our quiet anchorage at West Bay.

We worked our way out a different narrow unmarked channel, a bit wider and deeper than the one we had come in, and crossed a short piece of the deep water of the Tongue of the Ocean to find ourselves back on the bank, just a bit south of where we had anchored on our first pass through here back in 2015. We followed our previous track line around the shallow part of the White Bank.

Three very large megayachts were anchored outside the entrance to the Albany Marina, possibly too large to enter this superyacht facility. Our route had us passing the $180M DreAMBoat fairly close aboard; the odd capitalization is a play on the initials of the yacht's owner, Home Depot billionaire Arthur M. Blank.

Our previous track ran all the way to Highborne Cay, but we had no need of stopping there, opting instead to enter the Exumas further south, at Norman's Cay. When our track intersected the established sailing line to Norman's Stake we made a slight turn to starboard to pick it up. We would have entered the Exumas even further south, perhaps at Hawksbill Cay, except that would have put us in the National Park, where there is a fee of $0.50 per foot per night to drop the hook.

Our lovely anchorage off Norman's Cay.

We had a bumpy trip across the bank, but seas steadily diminished as we got closer to the Exuma chain. By the time we were rounding the stake, the ride was comfortable, but there was still a good bit of swell. We had a planned stop just inside Wax Cay, but instead we turned north along a visual piloting route into the more protected anchorage west of Norman's Cay, where we dropped the hook among a dozen other boats (map).

We had Internet coverage for several hours after departing West Bay, and it disappeared as expected about a dozen miles off the eastern point of New Providence. No worries, because I expected it to return when we came within a few miles of Highborne, and I even plotted a ten-mile circle around the cell tower there. The cell on Highborne is very low power, however, and even at our closest point of approach of just over six nautical miles, we never had a usable signal. We very briefly had low-speed coverage, but with ping times in the several second to over a minute range.

Having no Internet made it impossible to look up what the latest status was on Norman's Cay, which, for as long as we have been coming to the Bahamas, has been in a perpetual state of arrested development. But I saw dinghys heading to the beach from the anchorage, and it was more than just the usual dog walkers. I eventually learned from an offline review on my chart that the beach bar and restaurant re-opened last month. We ate aboard, but it's good to keep in mind for the next time we pass through.

While we were still back in New Providence I had the foresight to bang my head against the wall with the DirecTV web site to get our TV service "refreshed." Thus I at least had the TV to provide some news, weather, and all the movie and Law and Order reruns that I could handle. It was a very pleasant and quiet anchorage, especially knowing there is now a restaurant option there, and we would have spent another night if we could have gotten online.

The massive Bravo Eugenia. Yes, that's an inflatable slide.

As it was, we had to wait until 11am to depart this morning, in order to have enough water under the keel at the entrance. I made the mistake of again turning the TV on to catch some morning news, just in time to see trading halted as the markets collapsed. Hogan's Heros looked like a better option, but instead I turned it off and worked on the pedal for the sewing machine. This way we'll be ready when we have to start making our own clothes out of homespun.

When we finally made it out of the anchorage, we passed the enormous yacht Bravo Eugenia at anchor. The design of this yacht, with a long, featureless bow, belies her actual size, and from a distance you can believe she's just another yacht. In fact she is 360' long, well into "ship" territory. Last night we watched her guests tender ashore for a beach party that included several canopies, a volleyball setup, tiki torches, beach chairs, and a bar, all brought ashore from the ship.

This evening's destination is Big Majors Spot, a familiar and very popular anchorage. It is famously known for its beach with swimming pigs, and is tender distance from Staniel Cay, whose Yacht Club has a nice bar and restaurant. There is also a cell tower on Staniel, and I expect to be back in coverage a bit under two hours out, at which time I will upload this post. I will not be checking the financial news; our defibrillator batteries are only good for a single use.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Exclusive club

We are under way across the Tongue of the Ocean. There is 8,000' of water underneath us, and we are about half way to our destination of West Bay, New Providence. Seas are 3' on six seconds, making for a bumpy ride. We lost Internet coverage a short while ago, but I expect it to return within an hour.

Yesterday morning we awoke on the bank to just as much motion as when we turned in. We gulped down a cup of coffee and got under way; not the most comfortable ride, but a lot better with stabilizers than resting at anchor.

As we were returning obliquely to the sailing line, we saw a familiar boat approaching visually and on AIS. It was Salty Paws. a 28' Rosborough. We had met Bill and Molly at Mel's Riverdock in Hardin Illinois back in September. They were past us so fast I could not get even a distant photo, but we hailed them on the radio and had a brief chat before they passed out of range. At their speed they would finish crossing the bank and make it all the way to Lauderdale by day's end, and we passed along some of our anchorage knowledge.

The ride got a little bumpier as we crossed off the bank and into the deep water of the Northwest Channel. Lots of big sportfishers were out fishing "the pocket," known for big game fish. We gritted our teeth, and as 2:00 rolled around we had our anchorage at Chub Cay in sight. The anchorage is often tight, and so I peered at it through my binoculars.

Barefeet at anchor. I snapped this pic this morning, after the anchorage emptied out.

Somewhat to my surprise I spotted another familiar boat, the 47 Selene Barefeet belonging to good friends Chris and Erin. A quick check of the AIS confirmed what I thought I had seen with my eyes. We've been following their blog as they've cruised the Bahamas, and we were pretty certain we were going to miss them entirely, but just by a day or two. We were very happy to find them in the anchorage.

We arrived at the anchorage around 2:30 to find more than a half dozen boats crammed into the tight anchorage. Fortunately, we had sounded this anchorage on our first visit, and had no fewer than four previous anchor tracks on our plotter. We could see the best spot was still available, much closer to shore than anyone had yet ventured. We drove through the line of anchored boats like a linebacker through a line of scrimmage and dropped the hook in 7' in the calmest spot in the anchorage (map).

It would have been lovely to meet Erin and Chris ashore for cocktails and dinner at the nice restaurant there, but I'd heard that the Chub Cay Club had changed their policies since our last visit to essentially exclude any anchored cruisers from dining ashore. And this, after all, is the meaning of "exclusive," a word which has positive connotations for many, right up until they are on the business end of an exclusionary policy.

Since I am bound to come back to this post the next time through, to remind myself of what happened "last time," the new policy is that no one may land or disembark on the island unless they have purchased a marina slip. Those run $4.75 per foot with a 40' minimum. $190 to land a dinghy? No thanks. They will, however, sell you a day pass good for everyone on the boat, but you must leave the island by 5pm. The rate varies by date; yesterday's cost was $42.50 plus VAT.

The exclusive Chub Cay Club. A nice stop in years past, but now off-limits. Dinner would have been at least $200 so I guess they did us a favor.

Instead we made dinner aboard and had them over; they brought a home-made pizza for appetizers with cocktails, and Louise made a nice stew. We spent hours catching up and laughing. It turns out that they are having transmission problems, which delayed them enough that our paths crossed. They are leaving this evening for an overnight run all the way to Fort Lauderdale, where they hope to effect repairs.

We had left open the possibility of staying at Chub another day if there was some way I could help Chris with the issue. But after a couple of back-and-forth rounds of troubleshooting on the radio, we determined he needed a new heat exchanger and his best option was to nurse it along to FLL or run on his wing engine as needed until they were back in the US where parts could be obtained.

Once we made the determination this morning that there was little I could do without parts, we bid them farewell and weighed anchor. We're hoping to see them in their home port of Boston later this year.

As I wrap up typing we are about an hour away from New Providence. NP is home to Nassau, and Nassau is a major cruise port, so we are giving it a wide berth. We'll anchor for the night but remain aboard, and continue in the morning toward the Exumas. My laptop's keyboard gave up the ghost this morning, so I have this evening's project already cut out for me.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Accidental Preppers

We are under way eastbound across the Great Bahamas Bank, after just a bit more than a week in Bimini. Today was our first window where we could expect a relatively comfortable night at anchor mid-bank. We lost our Internet connection a short while ago, and we won't see a signal again until tomorrow afternoon. The news we left behind was gloomy, and we're almost nervous to see what we'll find in our inbox after a full day offline.

When we arrived in Bimini eight days ago, seas were already building, winds were high, and a big blow was forecast out of the north, lasting several days. We were happy to find space at the historic Browns Marina to shelter from the storm, next to our good friend John aboard Division Belle. John snapped a photo of the two boats together.

John had rented a golf cart to run his hired crew up to the seaplane base on Thursday, and he lent it to us in the afternoon. We took a spin around the island, refreshing our memories of Alice Town, Bailey Town, and the enormous Resorts World complex at the north end of the island, where we had stayed briefly in the ritzy marina on a previous visit.

Thursday evening the three of us drove up to the Bimini Big Game Club, also historic, for some dinner. We had talked about stopping into the famed End of the World Saloon, also known as the Sand Bar, for a beer first, but we all found the place to be too loud for comfort. In fact, our aft deck was just perhaps 20 yards from their patio, and so we never missed out on any of the music, which seemed to be the same sound track daily. The place was dead the whole time we were there.

Division Bell and Vector at Browns Marina. Photo: John Samford

Browns is historic in large part because it's where Hemingway docked when he was in town. He was also known to stay at the Compleat Angler hotel, the charred remains of which can be seen on the walk to Big Game. John remembers it from before it burned down in 2006, and shared a few of his memories with us. You should check out John's blog post for more information and pictures.

Big Game was our last meal ashore while we were at Browns, but we did try to get off the boat each evening and stroll through Alice Town. Friday, John dropped by and gifted us a loaf of Bimini bread after he had hiked up to the bakery and back. That loaf was our breakfast for the next four days, and I also made rum cake out of it for desert Friday evening, when we had John over for dinner. He supplied the wine, so we got the better end of the deal.

Saturday John bid us farewell, taxied up to the seaplane base at Resorts World, and flew back to Fort Lauderdale, where he rented a car for the drive back to Savannah. He is understandably avoiding commercial flights right now. Their overall plan for this season's Bahamas cruise had been to do stints of a couple of weeks or so on the boat, flying back home between excursions, but now that plan is in question. We wish them the best of luck and smooth motoring whatever they decide to do.

As the news has gotten more and more dire each day we've been in-country, and the real scope of the pandemic becomes evident, we have found ourselves thankful for our current situation. While sitting in Bimini for a week, at a dock we would not need save for the weather, was tedious and expensive, the last-minute scramble to provision the boat for a three-month cruise could not have been better timed, yet completely accidental. Our final provisioning runs at Costco, Walmart, and Publix found the stores well-stocked with everything, and yet by our third day offshore we were hearing about critical supply shortages of everything from bottled water to toilet paper.

John also took this screen shot of our two boats on Marine Traffic, after departing our respective ports.

I myself am pushing the lower bound of the high-risk age group for this virus, and before we made the decision to continue east from Bimini, the thought did cross our minds that we are getting further and further from easy access to good medical care. But we have balanced that with the fact that there is hardly any better "social distancing" than to be on a boat at sea with an occasional stop at a sparsely populated remote island with no airport or cruise terminal.

For now we have opted to stay the course and continue our cruise to the Exumas. With nearly three months of provisions on board, and a full medical kit including two oxygen cylinders, we've decided that, for us personally, this is the best course of action. We have no schedule and no commitments, so it is subject to change at a moments notice, should an even more conservative course of action become indicated.

As long as we were pinned down in a marina with nothing much to do in the neighborhood, I set about getting some work done around the boat. And first up on the project list is the ever-problematic water maker. We had, in part, diverted all the way to Fort Lauderdale on this trip to have JT-the-watermaker-guy take a look at it, and I even spoke with him at the Miami show. He's pretty booked up, but we agreed I could maybe pull the pump out and bring it to the shop.

Prior to doing that much work, I wanted some real data to give him about performance, and so we ran it in Miami for a few hows. Of course, it worked perfectly. Knowing the impossibility of diagnosing problems that can't be reproduced, we waved off disassembling the system in Fort Lauderdale. That made it inevitable that production would fall off dramatically on our crossing to Bimini.

Angel in her new under-seat box. We bought this string of plastic LED lights at Costco to replace older glass incandescent ones. We run these from the bow, over the flybridge, to the stern, like on a cruise ship.

It seems pretty clear after a few hours of troubleshooting that I have air coming in on the suction side. Probably what I really ought to do now is to replace every hose and fitting on that side of the system; it's all plastic, and now a dozen years old. The loss of suppleness in the plastic is probably at least part of the problem. But that's not really possible here in the Bahamas, and so I will continue to tweak things and tighten them down here and there to try to make an improvement.

The other big project I started was to replace the navigation lights on the dinghy. After being flagged down by the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg when they could not see them from their vantage point, I finally decided to do something about the poorly positioned side lights. These are affixed to either side of the steering pod, which means they can be blocked by the high bow of the boat if we're both sitting in the back. The port one can be blocked by anyone seated forward. And they are off-center to starboard.

Before we left the US, I had collected most of the parts to replace these with a single combination light right at the bow, which involves a glue-down mount for the forward tube. I fabricated an adapter plate to mount the single LED fixture to this, and ran wires all the way through the bilge to the stern and back forward to the steering pod, where the light switch is located.

While I was inside the pod wiring it all up, I discovered that the retrieving tube for the cable steering had slipped off, which explained an odd clunk we'd heard on hard left rudder the last couple of times we took it out. I had to cobble together a new retrieving tube from some vinyl hose I had in my spares.

The newest anchorage on Bimini, already seeing plenty of use.

The forecast winds arrived as promised, and we had a wild and woolly afternoon and night on Saturday. Sunday morning the super-moon spring tides made for a low of -0.5', and that combined with north wind blowing water out of the bay had us brushing the bottom in our slip.

By Monday the winds had laid down some, but still not enough, at least in the morning, to persuade us to leave the dock. But by Tuesday morning things were much better, and, tired of paying for a marina we did not need, we dropped lines and headed north to the anchorage. The marina was very kind, and for cash payment charged me at the weekly rate rather than the daily one, even though it had been just six nights. If we need a marina here again, Browns will be our choice.

The anchorage is two miles north, past the Resorts World marina. This anchorage did not even exist on our first visit, having been created since then by dredging for resort expansion. There is room up here for maybe a dozen boats now, perhaps the best-kept secret in Bimini. Like many such things, it won't last, as the same development activity that created it will some day make it unusable, or at least smaller.

On our way up the channel we could see an enormous cruise ship across the island, tied up to the cruise/ferry pier that the resort had built a few years ago. AIS told us it was the Scarlet Lady, which I later learned is the first in a planned fleet of cruise ships operated by Virgin. It has not even officially launched, with the inaugural cruise planned to depart Miami on March 26th.

The Resort World "mega" marina from our anchorage. Mostly empty.

What on earth, I wondered, was it doing here? A bit more digging revealed that Virgin contracted with Resorts World to build them a private oasis, to be called The Beach Club, and Virgin plans to have all their cruises stop here, in much the same way that Princess has a private area on Eleuthera called "Princess Cays," Holland America has a private island they call Half Moon Cay (really San Salvador), Disney has a beach in the Abacos, etc.

The Beach Club area is down by (but separate from) Resort World's "beach club" restaurant, where we tendered in from anchor a few years ago. I presume they will shuttle passengers from the pier using buses or trams. Since Virgin is not carrying any passengers yet, we can only assume the ship was here for some sort of dry run, or maybe as part of getting things set up and procedures worked out. She left some time during the night.

The newer, more recently dredged section of the anchorage seemed full when we arrived, with a half dozen sailboats in it, who had probably ridden out the blow there. We dropped the hook closer to the resort docks (map). This would prove to be a mistake later, but it looked innocent enough with the resort docks nearly empty.

We splashed the tender and I explored all of the new dredged areas for the new villa development, stretching northward perhaps another mile now. I also dropped by the dockmaster's office to get permission to tie the tender up for dinner. We came back in the evening and tied up right in front of the new Hilton hotel on the property, where three of the restaurants are located.

The Hilton as seen on our way out. Too early for the frat boys to be partying at the rooftop pool.

I'm not sure why we did not expect this here in mid-March, but the resort was running week-long Spring Break promotions, and the hotel was packed with 18-20 year-olds in board shorts and thong bikinis. The "proper attire required" dress code was right out the window, and they wandered through the lobby, the bars, the restaurants, and the casino. We ate at Hemingways in the casino, because it was the only venue where we could even hear each other. We were the oldest patrons in the room by a factor of at least two.

We enjoyed strolling the grounds a little before returning to Vector. On our way home, we noticed stage lighting outdoors at the pool area near where we were anchored, and a bit of digging online into the Spring Break event schedule revealed that Tuesday night was dance music from 10pm-3am with a lineup of DJs. By this time it was pitch dark in the anchorage and too late to move the boat, so we just endured it. It was actually not too bad, considering how close we were.

Tuesday night was the first test of the new dinghy lights, with the mounting pad just taped in place. Yesterday I made final adjustments and glued it down. With no music scheduled for the pool deck in the evening, we just stayed put. After our experience at the Hilton the previous evening, we decided to tender down to the other end of the marina, which used to be known as "Fishermen's Village," to eat at the pizza joint there that we remembered from our last visit.

Even though the pizza place was still listed on the web site and the resort maps, it's clearly been closed for a while, along with most of the rest of the Village. We stopped in the little convenience store to find they still have milk, eggs, ice cream, and other hard-to-find items, so at least the resort is still trying to cater to their marina guests. We ended up right back at the Hilton where we ate in the sushi bar. The spring breakers, now on day three, were looking a bit more shop-worn; the only reason to come to Bimini for break is because the drinking age is 18.

Fishermen's Village marina on our way out. Nearly empty save for the Nordhavn 76 "Take 5" at right.

Update: We are anchored on the bank, a mile south of the sailing line (map). With an early start this morning, we arrived at Mackie Shoal, our usual stopping point, a bit early. Seas had built into the afternoon, and we opted to continue on until cocktail hour to get the benefit of our stabilizers, and make it a shorter day tomorrow. It's quite bumpy here, and we'll have a bit of pitch overnight.

After dinner we decided to get some news by turning on our DirecTV. Even though I had fired it up in Bimini just to keep it synched, we got the dreaded "refresh receiver" error after it acquired signal. There is no way to refresh the receiver without access to either the Internet or a phone call, and so we remain in blackout tonight. It's too bumpy to do much else, so I watched Ender's Game from our DVD collection (not recommended) and Louise played solitaire on her laptop.

In the morning we will weigh anchor early and get back under way to get the stabilizers working again. We should be back in Internet coverage in the afternoon, when I can upload this post, and I expect to be anchored off Chub Cay mid-afternoon some time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

March fourth, to foreign shores

We are under way in the Straits of Florida, crossing the Gulf Stream on our way to the Bahamas. Miami is some 13 nautical miles behind us as I begin typing, and we are off-line, so I will be uploading this later. We are approaching the average location of the principal axis of the stream, and we are crabbing by 40°, steering a heading of 140° (magnetic), but making a course-over-ground of 100°. Our speed-made-good is just 4.5 knots (making turns for 6.5), which has us arriving after 5pm.

Sunday afternoon my parts arrived, and I used the Hollywood Circuit service to go down to the Amazon locker at a 7-11 near Hallandale Beach Boulevard to pick it up. This free service, utilizing what amounts to oversized enclosed golf carts, replaced the fixed-route free trolley service. You hail one with an app and they will take you anywhere in the service area. My driver was kind enough to just wait for me at the locker for the minute it took me to get the package.

Miami Beach from our anchorage last night.

That package contained a new pressure switch for the air compressor, as well as a new relief valve and a few miscellaneous couplings. I had discovered a small leak in the old pressure switch, which I was hoping would prove to be the problem. Of course, there was no way this thing was just going to thread right on. In fack, I had to bend parts of the housing of the old pressure switch to get it off, and the new one was a slighly different design where that was not an option.

I found a 45° elbow in my plumbing box, which let me thread the new switch on, and then I moved the relief valve, pressure gauge, and outlet fitting over to the other three ports on the switch housing. That's a lot of pressurized parts to be moving around, and tracking down leaks becomes a lot like playing whack-a-mole -- as soon as you stop one leak, another one pops up someplace else. I spent hours reconfiguring and tightening parts until I got no more soap bubbles in my leak testing.

Still the system was leaking down every 25 minutes or so, a number that had varied up and down by no more than five minutes no matter what I did. Now, with no leaks detected by soap solution, I had to conclude the problem was in the compressor body itself. This model has an internal check valve inside the body, so my options were to open up the cylinder head, or else just add an external check valve. The former entailed the risk of needing proprietary replacement parts to even re-assemble it, so I decided on the latter, a $7 item on Amazon Prime.

Tied up in my secret spot in Hallandale, between the last slip in a marina and an accessible bulkhead.

In the meantime, a new crossing window opened up for today, and Louise came down with some kind of crud that trapped her on the boat for two days straight. I had a medical need of my own, with a stye on my eyelid that has stubbornly persisted for months, and we both thought it best that I get it looked at and some meds prescribed before we left. So Monday afternoon I took the tender down to Hallandale Beach, tied it up at one of our old stand-by stealth landings, and walked a few blocks to the University of Miami clinic located in Walgreens, where I was able to make an appointment online.

The nurse practitioner wrote me up for some serious antibiotics, both internal and topical, and sent the script over to the Walmart near where I had left the dinghy. I had a short provisioning list of items that were out of stock at the last Walmart, so it was a productive trip. I passed two grocery stores, too, but we had not yet committed far enough to do final fresh provisioning, and it would have been a challenge to get it all to the tender.

We were still in Hollywood on Monday, but in order to catch today's window, we'd need to move down to the inlet by yesterday afternoon. After digging around a bit, I found I could order the check valve on one-day delivery if I had it sent to an Amazon locker or counter, and there was a counter in Miami Beach, where we could stage for a departure from Government Cut, rather than from Cape Florida a few miles further south.

The wonderful Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach. I love this town, but the feeling is not mutual.

I really wanted to get this horn fixed before we left the US, so I ordered the part to Miami Beach, and yesterday morning we weighed anchor for the 15 mile trip. We stopped in the middle at our old friend the Intracoastal Mall, where we tied Vector directly to the dock we normally use for the tender when we anchor nearby (map). That made easy work of our last-minute fresh food provisioning, where I could roll the grocery cart right up to the short flight of steps leading to the dock. After checking the passage weather one last time, Louise took her sick self to bed while I ran around the mall doing errands and the final shopping.

I came back with a grocery cart loaded to the gills with fresh food, and we spent another 15 minutes at the dock getting it all stowed. It was a two hour stop, and we arrived in Miami Beach at 4:15 after a pleasant cruise down the fidgety eastern channel. We had to anchor 20 minutes to wait for a bridge that our chart indicated was on demand, but turned out to be on a half-hourly schedule. We dropped the hook south of the Venetian Causeway, carefully avoiding the two charted cable areas and a half dozen ratty-looking boats (map).

With Louise still zonked out, I splashed the tender and headed up the Collins Canal to the dinghy dock adjacent to the vintage Publix store. A half dozen boats were tied up, notwithstanding the ominous tow-away signs they city has posted on literally every possible place to land. They really want the anchored boats out, and since they can't regulate anchoring, they're blocking shore access instead. It's a shame, because Miami Beach is otherwise a great town, with trendy outdoor eateries in pedestrian malls, and even a free trolley system that takes you all over town. Apparently, the only boaters who are welcome are those who will pay $7 per foot for a dock.

The dinghy landing near Publix, and unwelcoming signage.

I locked up the dink and hoofed it fifteen minutes to the GNC store in one of the aforementioned trendy outdoor malls, which is the local "Amazon Hub Counter." Spoiled by a couple of excellent experiences with the lockers, which are fully automated, I was disappointed when the staff at GNC could not find my package. I was in the store a good fifteen minutes while they hunted around, scanning Amazon packages with an app on a smartphone. Never again -- I'm sticking to the lockers from now on.

I stopped at the Publix on my way back to the tender and picked up an Italian deli sub for dinner, along with a couple of items that the Winn-Dixie at the Intracoastal was out of. We would have braved the tow-away signs to go out to dinner if Louise had felt better, but I was happy to have a Publix sub, the likes of which we will not see until we return to the States.

The Publix across from the dock, old school. There is a much newer, larger, and nicer Publix just five blocks away, but this one manages to hang on.

That left me working on the air compressor after dark, but I am happy to report that the check valve did the trick, and we once again have a working horn that does not leak. It's quite possible that the check valve alone would have cured the problem, and I replaced the pressure switch needlessly, but it was badly corroded when I took it apart, so that's probably 20 bucks well spent.

We rose early this morning for passage, but the first check of the weather showed the forecast had deteriorated. Oddly, tomorrow's forecast had improved, and it looked like we'd have a better ride by waiting a day. Given that the forecasted windows have, of late, often been disappearing altogether, we decided to poke our noses out and see for ourselves, with an option to retreat and wait for tomorrow.

A shot of the anchorage before departure this morning. Many of the boats look half-derelict.

Things started out auspiciously, once we were clear of Government Cut, and we had an acceptable if not perfect ride for the first two hours. But as we got into the more forceful part of the Stream, things got bumpy, and Vector pitched, sometimes violently, for the next few hours. The cat expressed her displeasure with various bodily fluids, and Louise, who is still recovering from her cold, spent part of the day in bed. It's possible we'd have been better off waiting, but it's also possible that wait would have been a week or more rather than a day.

Not long after we lost Internet coverage, we crossed paths with RocketShip, formerly known as the Delta Mariner. We came within a mile, crossing just astern of her as she carried rockets to Cape Canaveral. We've crossed paths with her before, on the inland rivers -- many of the rockets come from Decatur, Alabama. She's very squat, to clear under the inland bridges. At least, when she uses the correct span.

RocketShip from our CPA about a mile away.

No sooner had I finished snapping a photo of Rockethip than the US Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber overtook us off our starboard side. Those two vessels were our closest contacts, with several cargo ships crossing ahead or astern at much greater distance.

One of our contacts late in the day was good friend John aboard Division Belle, who also left this morning, but from Port Everglades. Starting that much further north meant he had to push against even more current, on a longer rhumb line. His boat is a fair bit longer than ours, with a correspondingly higher cruise speed, so he still arrived in Bimini a little ahead of us.

Update: we are docked at Browns Marina, at the southernmost end of North Bimini (map). Normally we prefer to anchor, but wind and sea state over the next few days will make our usual spots untenable, and there's not really room for us inside the harbor. As luck would have it, we ended up in the slip right next to Division Belle, and we'll have dinner with John tomorrow. This evening he took his hired crewman to dinner; his wife had a work obligation back home and could not accompany him on the crossing.

USCGC Bernard Webber overtaking us fairly close aboard.

Of course, we ran into them at the one restaurant in stumbling distance from the dock, Big John's. None of us felt like going much further, especially after John and I hiked all over town to clear in -- Customs is a half mile from the dock and Immigration is another block further.

We're both pretty beat, as it has been a long day and a physically exhausting passage. Tomorrow we will sleep in and have a leisurely coffee before tidying up the boat, and seeing exactly what fell over in all the cabinets on passage. We'll probably do a quick rinse with water from our tank, as well, as the boat is encrusted with salt from the rough seas. There are spigots on the dock, too, but dock water is 30 cents a gallon here, more than it costs us to make our own. At 50 cents per kWh, electricity is also more than it costs us to make, but not by much.

It's not clear when we will get a window to continue east, probably to Andros. Whenever it comes, we'll jump on it. My next post will likely be typed under way and uploaded when we arrive.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

From the Keys to the Cape

We are anchored in a familiar spot, South Lake, in Hollywood, Florida (map). I last posted here on Valentine's day, and today is Leap Day, making it  little over two weeks. Notwithstanding my ambition at the end of that post that I might update the blog before we left for Orlando, we simply got too busy, and, in fact, we've been going non-stop the entire two weeks.

Back then it was also my hope that we'd be leaving for the Bahamas right about now, and until yesterday, it looked like we might have a crossing window on Monday. In which case, I'd have held off to type this up under way. That window collapsed by yesterday evening, and there is not another one in sight, and so we just settled in with some time on our hands here in southeast Florida. It would have been a mad scramble to be ready by Monday morning, so perhaps it's just as well.

Shortly after my last post, we crossed outside the three mile limit to test the macerator replacement. Sadly, it did not work, and I resigned myself to ordering yet another unit and spending another miserable hour in the bilge within the next week, installing the "spare" that I already had on order.

Miami skyline from our anchorage off Virginia Key.

We turned shoreward at the Biscayne Channel, locally known as the Stiltsville Channel because it threads through what's left of Stiltsville. Regular readers may remember we've used this channel before, snapping photos of the decaying stilt homes. Inbound from sea, the channel splits in two before reaching the stilts, with a branch turning northeast toward the Cape Florida light. With more detailed soundings available than on our last transit, we took this Cape Florida Channel and proceeded along the shore of the cape.

That took us past the lighthouse and also a small harbor called No Name Harbor, where many boats wait for weather to cross the gulf stream. We stayed in this harbor on our first trawler training cruise, way back in 2009, and we hoped to stay here the night before our crossing as well. As we passed, though, we could see that it was completely full, and, in fact some two dozen boats were also anchored outside the harbor and across the channel. In all, probably 30+ boats were stacked up waiting on decent crossing weather.

We made it through the skinny sections of the channel without issue, and are happy to now have bread crumbs that we can follow back out when we make our crossing. We rounded the SW corner of Key Biscayne and proceeded directly to the south shore of Virginia Key, where the Miami Boat show was in progress. There is normally a lovely anchorage at Virginia Key within the remains of the Miami Marine Stadium. But that's where they put the temporary docks for the show, and the anchorage is closed for several weeks each year.

Cape Florida and its lighthouse, on Key Biscayne.

With winds out of the north, we had no trouble anchoring south of the key. We settled in among a half dozen or so other boats, immediately across from the main entrance to the show (map). After getting settled in, I pulled the inflatable kayak out of storage and set about inflating it; the south shore of the Key is a swim beach, so no motorized vessels are permitted to land. Sadly, after a couple of years stored rolled up in a damp locker, the kayak was in bad shape.

It's a cheap consumer item from Intex that we bought on Amazon for less than a C-note nearly five years ago. Like many such things, the PVC skin has started to break down and exude plasticizer, making a sticky mess. The sticky plasticizer in turn attracts all manner of dirt, and the kayak was all but unusable, covered in black sticky filth and mildew. It inflated OK and was holding air, and I found that Purple Power removed a good deal of the mess on a test area. I figured I could clean it out thoroughly once it was in the water, and put a plastic sheet in it before I left for the show in the morning.

As I lowered the kayak over the side from the boat deck, the painter slipped through my fingers, and then I had a runaway boat on my hands. I raced downstairs as fast as I could, but by the time I got to the aft deck, 15 knots of wind had carried it too far to reach with the boat pole. I stripped down to my skivvys and jumped in after it; fortunately, the water here is 79°.

Vector at anchor in Biscayne Bay, as seen from Virginia Key. Rickenbacher Causeway and Miami at right.

With some effort I managed to catch up to it and clamber in, but, of course, I had no paddle. So I laid face-down with my arms over the bow and dog-paddled back to Vector, where Louise had thankfully deployed our swim line and buoy, so I only needed to get within 50'. The aforementioned black filth was, by this time, all over me, and I marched right down to the shower. Of course, once I cleaned myself up, I still had to clean out the kayak and get it ready for the morning.

The wind laid down by evening and we had a lovely dinner aboard, with the Miami skyline as a backdrop. I had no issues paddling ashore in the morning, but I made a strategic error in where we had anchored. The police were not letting anyone cross the street where the show entrance was located, since there is no traffic signal there, and I had to walk a half mile out of my way to cross at a signal.

The Miami show is an enormous affair, with indoor exhibits arranged throughout a half dozen cavernous tents, and hundreds of boats in-water at temporary docks. I had no need to see the in-water boats, although sometimes there are some interesting examples, but I did walk down the dock first thing in order to meet up with Jason and Nikki Wynn. We've been on something of a parallel journey with them and share a common circle of friends from the RV and cruising communities, but we've somehow just missed meeting in person for nearly a decade, from back in our RVing days.

After a lengthy and heated discussion about replacing our worn kayak after my little swim, I spotted these "kayaks" at the show -- jet drive!

After a very brief hello, I beat a hasty retreat into the tents, as it started to rain. It would turn out that pouring rain was the order of the day for my entire visit to the show, and that was the last I saw of the docks. No matter, because I had a good size checklist of vendors I wanted to talk to in the tents, including ACR (makers of our EPIRB and spotlight), Highfield dinghys, Spectra Watermakers, two radio manufacturers, and Northern Lights generators. I knocked out the whole list, and still had time to take in some new products before closing time. In a stroke of good luck, the rain let up just as I started walking back to the kayak.

I had hoped to maybe tender over to the Rickenbacker Marina for dinner at Whiskey Joes after the show, but the calm in which I had paddled back was short-lived, and the evening proved to be windy and rainy. We had another nice dinner aboard before spending our final night at Virginia Key. In the morning we motored two and a half hours to Maule Lake, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot (map).

We passed Haulover Beach en route to Maule Lake. There always seems to be a festival here, and on this very windy day the kites were also out in force.

I've written here before about the Maule Lake anchorage and all the services available at the nearby Intracoastal Mall, which has a day dock. On this stop we revisited many of our old standbys, and took advantage of the nearby grocery store to start some of our provisioning.

I also took the dink around through Dumbfoundling Bay and down one of the canals to get close to the Amazon locker where I had shipped a number of items, including the aforementioned macerator. I had one non-Amazon order arriving by UPS, and we arranged receipt with the UPS store across the ICW in Sunny Isles Beach. We took the free shuttle bus over, and while there we had dinner at the Mexican place we like, although it has changed hands (again).

I stopped at Mo's Bagels & Deli for bagels on my way to the Amazon locker. Nothing says real NY kosher bagels like the Hatzalah parked out front. And built on a scooter, no less.

One evening that we spent in Maule Lake found us glued to the VHF, as a search-and-rescue drama unfolded just a dozen miles away. You may have seen it on the news: a car launched off the end of the Fisher Island Ferry and into the Miami Ship Channel, where it sank in 50' of water. We heard the initial mayday call and followed the whole event; the ship channel was closed to all traffic until 1:30am when they finally recovered the car.

We had a number of car-intensive errands and provisioning to do, and I had booked a rental car at Budget, just a block down from the Intracoastal Mall. Budget called me at 8:30 to tell me the car I booked for 9:30 was unavailable, and would remain so for "hours." At noon we gave up waiting, but the last-minute re-shuffling of plans added to the workload.

The day before our marina reservation in Fort Lauderdale we weighed anchor and motored north up the ICW to better position ourselves to transit up the New River. Even though conditions on the outside were too uncomfortable for a passage or even a coastal run, we ran out the Port Everglades inlet and out past the three-mile line to test the macerator I had replaced, again, in Maule Lake.

Sunset behind a high-zoot condo from our anchorage in Maule Lake.

We would not normally bash three miles out to sea and back just to test a macerator; that's more the kind of thing we would reserve until the next time we went to sea, using shore-side pumpouts if needed. But a working macerator is a requisite in the Bahamas -- there are no pumpouts at all throughout most of the islands. It's important enough that we always carry a spare. In this case, I really needed to know if replacing the pump was all that was needed, or if we had some more insidious problem elsewhere in the system. I am happy to report that it is, indeed, working.

After coming back in the inlet we proceeded north past Las Olas Boulevard to a familiar anchorage known as the New River Sound and dropped the hook (map). As is our custom here, we splashed the tender and ran back under the bridge to Coconuts, one of our favorite restaurants in all of Fort Lauderdale, which has a courtesy dock.

Shortly after we returned to Vector, while enjoying a glass of wine on the aft deck, FLPD came by and made us move. They claimed we were in the channel, which we were not, but these sorts of arguments can not be won whilst afloat. Neither was it worthwhile to me to take a summons and argue it in court. A space further from the channel had opened up just before we went to dinner, and so we weighed anchor and moved 100'.

When the PD asked us to move I took this screen shot (in night colors). The channel is clearly shown at left in gray, with the sailing line in white. We are the green boat and our anchor circle is shown. The red lines are mostly old tracks. We were 100' from the edge of the charted channel.

In the morning we weighed anchor to make the 0845 opening of Las Olas, which put us at the series of New River bridges in downtown Fort Lauderdale just after the 0900 end of the morning lock-down. We had an uneventful cruise upriver, ending at Bradford Marine, where they first directed us to a slip under a shed just a tad too low for us at high tide. After I squawked they re-directed us to a different slip, under a slightly taller shed (map).

We were all secure in plenty of time to go to Enterprise to pick up our car at noon, but they had no drivers to pick us up. We ended up taking a Lyft, for which we have yet to be reimbursed. And then began the mad scramble to run some of the errands that we had planned for the non-existent Budget car down by Maule Lake. In quick succession we hit Total Wine & More for eight cases of beer, Costco for a variety of dry goods as well as bottled wine, and Walmart for 15 gallons of motor oil and as many non-perishable provisions as we could carry. We ended with dinner at an old favorite, Vignetto's.

We kept seeing this guitar-shaped building on our errands from the marina. It's the new hotel at the Seminole Hard Rock casino... we remember them from when they were tiny.

That did not leave us a lot of time to prepare for our road trip to Orlando. We ended up rolling out of the marina close to noon the following day, after thoroughly briefing security about the local miscreant who's already stolen two of our scooters (and all their contents), and thinks he has a key to the boat. He's a boatyard contractor, so no telling what yard(s) he might show up at.

The cat stopped complaining after the first mile, and we had a pleasant drive to Lake Buena Vista, where we checked in to the pet-friendly Hilton Garden Inn. They have a bar on-site with a happy hour from 5-6, and my cousins met us there for a beer before dinner at an unremarkable restaurant nearby.

That's Angel in the window of our 8th-floor room, looking at us and wondering why we left her.

We had a great time with them over the next two days, catching up over meals and generally relaxing. We spent one day driving out to Cape Canaveral to tour the Kennedy Space Center; it was a blast to do it with them, and so many things have changed there since our last visit that we got a good bit out of it, too.

Knowing we were going to be in Orlando for a couple of days, I had made tentative arrangements to connect with long-time good friends and fellow Red Cross volunteers Kathleen and Tom. When I texted him upon our arrival in town, however, Tom informed me that Kathleen had been admitted to the hospital for a heart valve replacement and coronary stents, a double operation, expected within a day or two.

In lieu of meeting up as planned somewhere between Orlando and their home in Wildwood, we instead ran up to Leesburg to catch up with them in her hospital room. We had a great visit, the sort where we had to close the door to avoid disturbing the other patients with our laughter and general carrying-on. We also enjoyed meeting their daughter, Erin, who had come in for the surgery.

As good a time as can be had in a hospital room. Photo: Erin Roberts.

We took our leave of family Monday evening after dinner, and Tuesday morning we loaded everything back in the car for the trip back. We made a quick stop at the VF Outlet before leaving town; these are few and far between and I needed a few items that I routinely purchase there. We arrived back at Vector in the afternoon, got the cat squared away, and immediately headed back out for more provisioning and errands.

We had been scheduled to return the car Wednesday and depart the marina shortly thereafter. But we simply ran out of time to get everything done, and since the car was on a weekly rate but only day five of the rental, we extended our stay another day.

A whole new look for historic Pad 39-A, with the SpaceX assembly building and launch gantry. This will likely be the site of the first humans launched from the US since the end of the Shuttle program.

Serendipitously, our friends John and Laura Lee arrived in town aboard their lovely Selene, Division Belle, Tuesday evening, and we made arrangements to collect them from their marina Wednesday evening and go to dinner at 15th Street Fisheries. Of course, one of the last errands I ran Wednesday was to fill 14 gallons worth of gas cans for the Bahamas, and the car reeked of gasoline on the trip to the restaurant and back, but we had a great time catching back up with them. They, too, are hoping to cross to the Bahamas at the next window, and we hope to lift a glass with them in Bimini.

We returned the car Thursday, once again having to Lyft back to the marina, and shortly afterward we dropped lines and came straight here. On our way downriver we had to do-si-do with two towboats and the Jungle Queen, but it was otherwise uneventful. We splashed the tender and headed ashore to one of our old stand-bys for dinner.

The VAB, with the mobile launcher for the SLS visible inside the open High Bay 3 Doors. Launch Control (the Firing Rooms) is visible at lower left. This photo defies scale; the union of the US flag is the size of an NBA basketball court, and the stripes are 9' wide.

Even after the whirlwind trip and the scramble to provision while we had the car, there was no rest for the weary, as I immediately launched into project mode in the hopes that the Bahamas crossing window would hold. That included repairing one of the SSB antennas, whose lead-in wire had corroded through and broken off the last time we lowered it for a bridge, and spending hours trying to repair a slow leak in the air horn system.

With this morning's decision to wave off a crossing Monday or Tuesday, I now have some breathing room. I have more parts coming tomorrow for the air horn, which I will pick up an an Amazon locker here in Hollywood, and we'll have a chance to stow lots of items that would have had to ride to Bimini loose for stowage after arrival. Sadly, there is no window predicted in at least the next week to ten days, so it's really a bit more breathing room than we'd like.

Sunset over our anchorage at South Lake.

We'll be right here in Hollywood until at least Monday. We like it here; the anchorage is comfortable and the Broadwalk is an interesting diversion in the evenings. At some point we will continue backtracking down to Miami, and whenever the window arrives, we will squirt out the Cape Florida or Stiltsville Channel and cross to Bimini. My next post will likely be under way on that crossing.