Friday, July 28, 2017

2007 v 2017

A few differences
July 4 and July 14, 2017 (combined journal entries)
West End and en route between Allens-Pensacola and Maniack Cays

cooking dinner on the beach, fresh hog fish that Hans speared that afternoon.

homemade Bingo. Practicing for Cap'n Jacks in Hope Town

Trying to get the kids to do chores.
It's like pulling teeth and the amount of whining is insane.

My mom asked me the other day how this trip is different from life on s/v Whisper. Is it ever! It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s like comparing kale and chocolate ice cream. That’s to be expected though.

Not  only is it a comparison of powerboat versus sailboat, it’s a comparison of limited time v. endless time and life with kids v. pre-kid life. The differences go on and on. There are some elements of life on Whisper that I yearn for, whereas there are times now that I’m more relaxed and filled with more joy and content happiness than I was on Whisper.

Life on Whisper was alternately stressful and pure bliss. It was a hedonistic life where our only goal was to find fun and have fun. We sailed from one beautiful island to the next - drinking rum, hitchhiking, snorkeling, diving for lobster, napping, cooking, and reading books. These lazy, gluttonous, carefree days were punctuated by intense stress. We were new boaters and had a lot to learn. Sailing was easy; it was all the other seamanship skills that were hard. Navigation, weather watching, choosing safe anchorages, maintaining the boat - these are not all intuitive and we learned as we went. This naturally lead to disagreements since Hans and I both have the tendency to believe that we are right. We learned to trust each other, to let go, and to work together. We learned which decisions are worth arguing over and which are better to let go.

All this learning - both the nuts and bolts of boating and how to work together - has come to the forefront now. Boating with kids is a whole new ballgame. Thank goodness we’re at a competent level with our boating skills. We don’t need to overthink anchoring, navigation, or weather. One of us makes a decision and the other one trusts that decision. If something breaks, Hans (almost always) knows how to fix it. The stress that can come from the concrete skills of boating is minimal (not that we’re experts, far from it), which is good, because the kids provide enough stress to keep us busy. Stock up on ice because sundowners are a necessity.

It’s not just us anymore - we have two small humans onboard that we need to keep safe and healthy - and if they’re happy, that’s an added bonus.

In a more general perspective, the major difference between cruising in 2007 and 2017 is technology - specifically telecommunications.

Back in 2007 we more or less threw our cellphones (flip phones) overboard as we crossed the Gulf Stream. The only way to reach us was via email and the only time we checked email was when we took our computer ashore and found a wifi connection, normally at a bar. Our parents were a little concerned that every time we chatted on Skype we were calling from a bar. We were always at the bar? Always at a bar with a cold beer in hand.

We received our weather reports on our SSB (single sideband) radio - a dinosaur of metal and plastic that could tune in radio stations from all over. We could dial in Chris Parker, sailors’ favorite weather router, or chat with a HAM operator who was living in an underground bunker in Minnesota. (We didn’t, but we could.)

We connected our SSB to our computer with an auto line and downloaded weather faxes from NOAA. When I say downloaded, remember it wasn’t with an internet connection, it was through radio signals on the SSB. Very old school. Our favorite was a map of our forecast region that showed current weather trends - troughs, highs, and low pressure systems. We combined that information with Chris Parker’s daily report and local information to get the general weather gist. It was a great system, albeit labor intensive, and we always felt confident about our weather reports.

Weather forecasting has gotten slightly easier in 2017. Grab my phone, open up NOAA’s marine forecast and, after a minute or so (it’s only a 2G connection, already included in our Sprint monthly plan and available over the Bahamas cell towers), voila! There’s our weather report. For better or worse, we’ve had an internet connection the entire way through the Abacos. Search the horizon for a Batelco tower - one of the only distinguishable landmarks of most of the low lying islands - and do a quick check of the phone. It really can’t be easier. Not to mention the weather is the same very day. It is summer after all!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Six year old questions

Questions kids ask Freja about living on a boat, and her answers

Q. Where do you sleep? Where is everything?!!
A. It's like a house but floating on the water. I sleep at the front of the boat, inside.

Q. How does it not sink if it has holes on the side?
A. Because the holes are too far up.

Q. What is it made out of so it can float?
A. Well, I'm not exactly sure, but it's definitely made out of something that can float. I think it's made out of fiberglass.

Q. Do you have a TV and how does it work if its not plugged in to the electrical wire in the sky?
A. I do have a TV and we use it because we have little things that hold all our TV power and we plug it into our boat so it can work. But it doesn't work right now because when you're unplugged from the dock you can't watch TV.

Translation for that last one? The best I can guess is the electrical wire in the sky is satellites and internet. No idea what the "little things that hold all our TV power" are. Our solar panel maybe?

Fear and seasickness

July 9, 2017
at Allens-Pensacola Cay

lunch underway

 The combination of fear and a rolling, topsy-turvy boat is a guaranteed recipe for seasickness for me. Said seasickness precipitated our five mile, high speed (well, 20 mph is definitely high speed for our boat) boat ride at sunset. Boating in reef-strewn, unfamiliar waters at dark is certainly not recommended, but spending a night seasick at anchor because the anchorage is barely tenable is also not recommended. But let me back up a bit.

We left Double-Breasted Cays in the morning. The tide was rushing out and the current was swift, to say the least. In order to leave the anchorage, Hans had to drive the boat around a hair pin turn - sandbar on one side, craggy limestone rocks on the other and an outgoing tide that was trying its hardest to pull us into the rocks. Two days prior we saw a boat similar to ours in the same place, hard aground a few feet from the rocks. The owner feared a bent prop. Hans piloted us around that hairpin turn but it was scary to say the least. The current first pushed our bow out, Hans compensated for that just in time for the current to kick our stern out. It was white knuckle boating. Once we were out of the current, I unclenched my hand from a handhold, sat down and realized I was shaking all over. We were in control, sort of, but it was easy to see how our boat could be up on the rocks and our trip over in a few seconds.

The rest of the day was easy and calm. Straightforward motoring across the Banks looking for dolphins. Our initial plan was Allens-Pensacola, but halfway through we decided to try Moraine Cay. Our guidebook advertised a reef anchorage offering protection from every direction but the southeast with unobstructed ocean views. Our ideal anchorage and all true. The girls played on the beach; Hans and I went snorkeling. I played with Matilda on the beach; Hans and Freja went snorkeling. Back to the boat for dinner and the tide was coming in. We were losing our reef protection and the swell was coming from the southeast. 

the anchorage at Moraine Cay. Hello Atlantic Ocean!

Life aboard was uncomfortable to say the least. I was still feeling on edge from earlier and the rolling of the boat was making me downright miserable. I love being alone at anchorages and anchoring off undeveloped islands, but sometimes I like the security and camaraderie of other boats. After our close call with the current in the morning, I needed a protected anchorage with other boaters. I didn’t put that in words, rather just got sullen and decided we’d have to tough it out.

beautiful sunset, but you can see the swell entering the anchorage.
We were rocking from beam to beam.
As the sun was setting, Hans looked at me and said, “Let’s go. You’re miserable. This anchorage sucks. No one will sleep tonight.” The approach to the nearest anchorage was clear and deep so we weighed anchor after sunset, cranked on both engines, and burned down to Allens-Pensacola. It was thrilling to go so fast on the boat. It’s a heavy boat and with both engines at stop speed it just pushed the waves out of the way. I ran up to the vee-berth to check on the girls (they’d already gone to bed for the night) and they were shrieking with excitement. It was a like their own personal nighttime roller coaster. 

We entered the anchorage slowly and carefully, using GPS coordinates and visual cues and had the anchor down in flat calm water. I immediately felt better - buoyed in physical health and spirit. And also wishing I didn’t have such a stiff upper lip sometimes and thankful for a partner who can see through my stoicism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blue water paradise

7/9/2017 - Double Breasted Cays

We left Walker's Cay and made the five mile trek to Grand Cay. After 20 minutes in the very protected (read: windless) harbor, we moved to the marina and plugged in. Beautiful, cold, dry a/c - but in exchange for dock living with close neighbors and party music all night long from the handful of bars lining the waterfront.

We walked around town and found a restaurant - actually was an expansion of the bar we went to in 2007. Very friendly family, slow food because they literally cook it to order. We let the girls go outside to play while we waited and they were thrilled. Full freedom and autonomy. When the food came I had to walk pretty far down the road to find them - every person I passed all smiled and said, "Dey up de road." They squealed when they saw me and begged to do it after dinner and again in the morning.

The tiny island has changed dramatically in the past ten years. In 2007 we were there shortly after the hurricane that blew down Walker's Cay. We didn't connect the dots back then, but the atmosphere was glum, quiet, and impoverished. Ten years later, 2017, it was a bustling town with a full marina, brightly painted new guest cottages, and tourists wandering around the streets. The local residents were friendly and happy to see us. Our guess is that all the sport fishing boats that once frequented Walker's Cay when the resort was open are now bolstering the tourism and fishing industry at Grand Cay. 

It's not our scene so we were ready to leave in the morning. First things first: the girls had to watch Moana while we were hooked up to power (no TV at anchor!) and we washed the salt off the exterior of the boat. I cleaned out the fridge, we washed some clothes by hand in the bathtub and at noon we pushed off the dock, only a few miles to our next destination, Double Breasted Cays.

Gorgeous! A fast current runs through the anchorage, but the water is the brightest turquoise and white, white sand. We spent a couple days with another boat from Florida on summer vacation - the family is South African and have circumnavigated and have spent their lives living on and around boats. This time around it was the grandparents, their daughter, and her daughter - 3 generations. The granddaughter is 5.5 and a perfect friend for our girls.

Everything is working well on the boat -  though I'm jealous of the boats with generators and a/c, the bugs were insane last night. At least it was mosquitos overnight and our screens block those out.

Wishing we could do more snorkeling and diving, but we're limited by the kids. Freja loves it, but doesn't always want to go - and the best spots are challenging for a kid, especially a 6 year old who is just learning. Matilda doesn't swim yet so either floats with us in her life jacket, tethered to the dinghy, or just sits in the dinghy waiting for us to finish. She's a good sport about it thought. Hans has gone a couple times by himself, but that's not the best idea and not something we want to to do too frequently.

A benefit to the cruising life is all the quiet, downtime we have. No TV, no errands to run, no social responsibilities (for better or worse), slow slow internet discourages aimless surfing - it allows a lot of time to think. So you'd better be comfortable with your own thoughts! There's lots of time to stare at the horizon and meditate on life.

Welcome to the Bahamas

7/6/2017 - Walker's Cay

We've arrived. We've arrived in the Bahamas where our boat looks suspended over the sea floor - the water so clear that I can count every blade of sea grass just by looking over the side of the boat. And, slowly but surely, we are arriving in the cruising life mindset where minutes blend into hours blend into days and I'm no longer watching the clock or thinking about what I'm going to be doing next. That's a hard state of mind to achieve and one that - I know from experience - takes months, if not years. But we're settling into relaxation here on Walker's Cay, our first real Bahamian anchorage.

Six months ago when we started putting the gears into motion for this trip, when we first started looking at the charts and dreaming about where we would go, we immediately looked to Walker's Cay. A former marina resort island, it is the northernmost island in the Abacos and promises solitude and great fishing. We've found solitude - we're the only boat at anchor and, besides the island caretaker and a few prop planes that come and go, we're alone. Grand Cay, with it's all-around protected harbor, is a mere five miles away if we need to duck in for bad weather. We can pick up slow data from the Batelco tower to check weather and send and receive text messages. And all is good.

We spent the first day here exploring the island. We found a west facing beach lined with tall casuarina pines - perfect for a morning beach expedition. Shady and cool. Hans had a few dinghy projects so he set up his epoxy workshop and raised the bracket on the transom for the outboard. It was too low down and spraying water inside the engine. He installed a transducer for the depth sounder so we can scope out anchorages for the big boat and so Hans can go fishing and find the drop off. I went snorkeling with Freja and she got used to swimming with mask, snorkel, and fins in open water. The girls worked on their "secret hideout" and I looked for conch.

Back to the boat to relax in the shade in the middle of the day. After a fantastic dinner on the foredeck of sushi and ceviche (and macaroni and cheese per Matilda's request), we went ashore to explore more of the island. We tied up at the abandoned marina - the island was hit hard by a hurricane over 10 years ago and was subsequently abandoned. We hiked up the big hill to what I thought was the former lodge/clubhouse, but is actually a church. With new windows! Bahamian priorities. We found an abandoned swimming pool filled with green/brown water; we scrambled along the rocky coastline at sunset. Today we settled into the cruising life a little more. Homemade donut holes for breakfast, a relaxing morning at home while Hans did a few boat projects, Freja and I snorkeled on a sunken boat in the harbor, and Matilda played with her new PlayMobil set. We packed lunch and went to the beach for a couple hours. A beach afternoon turned into a conch bonanza-  we found so many mature conch. Conch fritters for dinner!

The one (major) drawback: the massive generator that powers neighboring Grand Cay is running all the time.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Crossing the Gulf Stream

July 2, 2017
Day 9 - Lake Worth to West End, Bahamas
06:30 - 15:21
approximately 65 miles

I woke up with the sunrise and looked out the hatch next to our bed. Glassy calm. I nudged Hans, “Hey, let’s go to the Bahamas.” He sat straight up, “Yup! I’ll go fire up the engines; you close the hatches.” And within five minutes he was pulling up the anchor. I’d say his doctor training combined with the excitement of leaving allowed him to jump out of bed without even rubbing his eyes. Meanwhile, I was groggy for at least another hour. With coffee.

leaving Lake Worth at sunrise, kids still sleeping
Here we go!
The girls were still sleeping as we motored out the inlet along with a handful of fishing boats. It was rough and rolly with smallish waves, only about 2-3 feet, but they were close together and coming from different angles so the motion was uncomfortable, to say the least. Freja and I both felt nauseous; Matilda wasn’t feeling seasick but she didn’t appreciate the rock and roll and was alternately grumpy and angry. She had a bowl of cereal at 8:15. There was no wind but still rough seas and intermittent rain storms. No fun.

morning storms and a freighter

I gave up and told the girls to come lie with me in the aft cabin. We put on the Charlotte’s Web audiobook I had borrowed from the library and I dozed in and out of sleep while the girls sucked down lollipop after lollipop. Then Freja puked. I gave her a zofran and she perked right up. 

Lollipop Team! (AKA the seasick crew)
Around 10:30 we were in the Gulf Stream and the seas moderated. It was so much smoother. We all sat up in the cockpit and blasted the Moana soundtrack. Hans hooked a couple fish - one huge one that broke the line immediately and a small barracuda that we let go. The water in the ocean is an amazing, indescribable color: aquamarine, navy blue, bright blue, sparkly. Matilda was mesmerized. 

finally, calm seas
cruise ship on the horizon
After she fell asleep in my lap while I was steering, I took her down below and she fell asleep on our bed. I went back up after 30 mins and found Hans and Freja steering the boat and Freja with new knowledge of how to use the GPS. She was having a great time.

again, lollipops FTW

14:49: only 1 mile out! We stopped at the drop off, around 100 feet and Hans threw a line overboard. Snap! He got a bite, that stole the lure! Snap! again! And he reeled in a golden hind (we think). Fish tacos for dinner!

arriving in Bahamian waters

Hans's first Bahamian catch

15:21 - anchor down in the Bahamas!! The water was clearer than we remembered. We found some empty conch shells under the boat and the girls were thrilled. I forgot how strong the current is - we need to keep a vigilant eye on the kids while they swim.

We couldn’t have asked for a better crossing. It was rough to start out, but as soon as we got into the Stream it became calm and smooth sailing. It was beautiful and fun. Of course we were a little nervous about the crossing. We knew if something happened to the boat we could call Tow Boat US for a tow, Coast Guard for something more dire. I packed a ditch bag. Our lifejackets were at the ready. Not fun facts, but necessary for any open water boating. What I had forgotten was the high volume of boat traffic between south Florida and the Bahamas. We always had another boat in our sights, once a big container ship and once a cruise ship, but the majority of the boats were open fishing boats. 

We certainly plan on crossing oceans in the future - much longer passages without resources like Tow Boat US and the Coast Guard and without short term bandaids like lollipops and zofran - but for our first “passage” as a family, it was a resounding success. The kids aren’t scared of crossing the reef (Moana reference for those readers without kids!), and nothing broke, AND we’re in the Bahamas! Win win win!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sea trial

July 1, 2017
Day 8 - Peck Lake to Lake Worth
08:50 - 14:20
approximately 26 miles

Our plan was to travel around 10 miles south down the Intercoastal to the Jupiter Inlet then head offshore for 10 more miles to Lake Worth. We wanted to sea trial the boat and ourselves. So we were eager and woke up early…..turned the key…nothing. Ooops, batteries are dead. But nope, that wasn’t the problem. Hans troubleshooted for about an hour while I gave the girls breakfast and tried to help. He called our mechanic who thankfully (thank you!) called us back at 8:30 on a Saturday morning and suggested it was the starter solenoid. He told Hans how to hotwire the engine, he did, and vrooom, we were off and running. So now Hans can add hot-wiring to his list of skills. Intubation? check. Suturing? check. Saving lives? check. Hot wiring an engine? check.

We headed down to the Jupiter Inlet passing gorgeous houses on the waterway. Expansive green lawns with palm trees, sandy beaches, and docks. Fun to see what a couple million can buy.

Right around this time Freja said to me,
"you know, I think I actually believe Matilda when she says 'I'm not scared of anything.'"

Out the Jupiter Inlet, holding our breath as the sea floor shoaled and it got really shallow really quickly. But it dropped off just as quickly and we were out in the ocean in blue, navy blue, aquamarine water. The girls loved it, until it got too rolly and they spent the two hour trip on our bed listening to an audiobook (the Boxcar Children) and then watching some you tube videos.

Poor kid, she was feeling out of sorts.
Rhumb Line takes to the open ocean!

We arrived at Lake Worth Inlet (Riviera Beach, West Palm) at the height of Saturday afternoon boat traffic. It was a lot of money and a lot of skin on show. We had a bit of a fiasco finding gas and water but after three different docks we were full on both counts and anchored just south of the inlet.

Hans jumped in the dinghy and ran a few errands. The girls watched hours upon hours of youtube videos because…no TV in the Bahamas! I’m excited and also dreading losing my free babysitter.

We plan on heading out the inlet tomorrow morning at 7AM. Bahamas, here we come!

Living the cruising life

June 30, 2017
Day 7 - Vero Beach to Peck Lake
07:15 to 12:20
approximately 41 miles

Again, we left at first light, escaping the no-see-ums. Biting gnats that have left my feet and legs covered in red welts. We motored, motored till lunch. We motored past beautiful sand spits and uninhabited islands till lunch time when we entered the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Preserve. Mangroves dotted with white sand beaches and an completely undeveloped beach on the ocean side. We stopped, and decided to stay for the rest of the day. We want to get to the Bahamas but we’re on vacation after all. 

We had a glorious day, swimming off the boat, swimming in the wild ocean, searching for shells, finding coconuts, eating said coconuts, and, generally, living the cruising life.

Hans rigged up a swing for the girls and it's hands-down both the favorite "toy" on the boat and also the one that causes the most fighting, tears, and heartbreak.

Cocoa to Vero Beach

June 29, 2017
Day 6 - Cocoa to Vero Beach
09:45 to 17:30 with a 1 hour fuel stop
approximately 54 miles

The closer we get to our jump off point for the Bahamas (Lake Worth inlet), the more we’re looking at weather for crossing. In a powerboat we want flat calm with no wind. It’ll be hot but the sea will be comfortable, it’ll be safe, and efficient on gas. We have to go as far south as we have patience for since we’re crossing the Gulf Stream which has a significant north running current, about three knots. Imagine standing on a fast flowing river and you want to reach an exact spot on the other side. To make it easy on yourself, you’d walk a little further downstream, jump in, and let the current carry you up to that spot on the other side of the river, instead of starting directly across from that point or further north and having to fight the current. That’s what we’re doing with the Gulf Stream. Working our way as far south as we feel is necessary to give us some push from the current and also have a short day. 

When we woke up in Cocoa at the marina we checked the weather and it’s still looking good for a weekend crossing. Instead of leaving first thing in the morning with our coffee in hand, I ran our dirty clothes up to the marina laundromat, taking advantage of the ease of being at a dock, possibly for the last time before the Bahamas. The girls were in heaven, lying around on the couch, eating donuts, and watching cartoons. Hans and I putzed around on deck, putting things away, organizing, and taking trash off the boat. 

Laundry clean and dry, water tanks filed, and we were off. Both our tanks were running rather low on fuel so we coasted into a marina in Eau Gallie and filled our tanks. Glug glug. The boat is thirsty and we were running on fumes. It takes awhile to fill up 180 gallons of gas but the girls didn’t care. They found a perfect climbing tree with a carved stone underneath. It was a fort, a secret hideout, an airplane.

Fueled up, we set off again. The Indian River is wide open and rather boring since the shoreline is so far away. Closer to Vero Beach it narrows and there are spoil islands and bigger islands with trees and sand spits. Dolphins swam with us again and Hans and the kids played on the foredeck, hoping for big wake from other boats and Matilda exclaiming, “Rhumb Line is like a big playground!” Thank goodness she has amazing balance.

We grabbed a mooring ball at the Vero Beach City Marina, snuggled up close to the mangroves. I swear I could see the no-see-ums swarming us. We all swam and went for a dinghy exploration of the mangroves next to the boat. (Because we wanted to be that much closer to the bugs.) Earlier in the day I had placed an order with Shipt, our local grocery store’s home delivery service, and while I was putting the kids to bed Hans rowed ashore and got our groceries. It couldn’t have been easier.

The boat is running well. The more hours we spend on the boat underway, the more ship shape it becomes and the easier travel becomes. We’ve been doing some long days and we have one more long one to get us to Jupiter, and then a short hop to Lake Worth. Matilda is doing well with being on the boat for hours upon hours, but she’s our homebody so that doesn’t surprise us. Freja is getting a little fed up and even declared yesterday that she didn’t even want to do art! But then Hans rigged up a swing out of a throwable PFD and some line and she was happy again. Her boredom is completely understandable and we’re doing our best to make the trip fun but also not be constant entertainers. 

Through the Mosquito Lagoon

June 28, 2017
Day 5 - Rockhouse Creek, at Ponce Inlet to Cocoa
07:45 - 15:00
Approximately 55 miles

life underway

We hoisted anchor at first light, leaving the beautiful, bug-infested anchorage in our rear view. **When I say we, I mean Hans. He took a hit for the team and braved the no-see-ums while the rest of the crew stayed down below eating breakfast.**

The day was pretty straightforward. The girls spent most of the day down below playing legos, drawing, fighting, whining, scavenging for treats, painting, reading books, etc.. Around lunchtime they emerged up top and we all ate in the shade of the bimini. Leftover pizza and veggies for kids, cold salmon burgers on bread for the adults. 

Most of the day was spent traveling through the Mosquito Lagoon -  a massive body of water just north of Cape Canaveral. Most of it is National Seashore, and it’s all swamp, tidal flats, and spoil islands. And it’s aptly named. We tried camping there in the fall and were run off by the bugs. To travel through it by boat, however, is amazing. Water birds abound and dolphins came to play in our bow wake all day. Since it was a Wednesday the boat traffic was minimal and we only saw a few fishermen. It’s not the Florida that most people think of - the Florida of high rise condos on the beach, strip malls, and highways. It’s untouched, protected wilderness and it goes on for miles. There’s actually this type of inland waterway in Florida all the way from the Georgia border to Titusville, almost 200 miles. While I get down on suburbia and the mass consumerism that is so prevalent in modern society, it’s so refreshing to see all this wild land and so many people out enjoying it. Small fishing boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and people fishing from jetties and piers.

The best part of the day for the kids was traveling through the small canal that connects the Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River. It’s narrow and was filled with wildlife that was easy for the kids to see. We spotted manatees, dolphins, jellyfish, crabs, herons, and, of course, pelicans.

We took a look at google maps and saw a satellite view of Cocoa Village Marina, complete with a  pool. Hey, we’re on vacation, let’s spend the night at a marina and let the kids swim in a pool! Until we pull up, get tied up and find out that the pool is only for condo residents. Ooops. Hans grabbed an Uber and ran some errands and the girls and I walked into town to check out the little shops. Of course we found ice cream and a playground. Almost as good as a pool.

checking out the shops in downtown Cocoa

Back to the boat, we plugged the a/c in and the girls watched some shows on Netflix. They were in heaven.

We checked the weather and it looks like we have two more 60 miles days till a good jumping off point to the Bahamas and the weather looks great too. Settled, calm wind and small seas. One day at a time, but fingers crossed!