Friday, January 30, 2015

Well, fridge works...really well

Fridge - Soda Bomb

Today, Thursday Jan 30th I left Austin after work and drove down to Kemah for a little quality time with BABOO.  She's due for an oil change after the trip home from Maryland and my plan was to knock that out tonight, work from our Houston office Friday and then spend the weekend knocking out a few other projects.

Projects to include:
1) Measuring for new companionway doors.  The company we've been planning to use is running a special through the end of the month for a saving of $300.  Since that's 30% of the total cost, that was significant enough for me to justify the trip.
2) Need to treat our fuel with Biocide to ensure we keep the tank nice and clean since she'll be sitting again for a while, and treat the water tank to keep it from getting funky as well.
3) I also wanted to address a few of the sticking doors we have.  Evidently Island Packet builds these boats to such tight tolerances that big changes in humidity really make a difference.  Since BABOO has spent the last 15 years in the Chesapeake, Houston is a big change and we have a few sticking doors.  I'm planning to plane them down a tiny bit and then sand them a bit to address this issue.

Anyway, after fighting some nasty Houston traffic, I finally made it down to the marina, carted a load of goodies down the dock and said hello to BABOO after leaving her alone for a couple weeks.  Everything aboard was as it should be, or so I thought.  I changed out of my work clothes and into something comfy and boaty, unpacked a few things and decided I'd treat myself to a cold beer before starting the oil change.

That's when I discovered that leaving our SeaFrost freezer block running, with a load of beer and soda, while we where gone...maybe wasn't the best idea we ever had.  We had a handful (6-8) of sodas left in the fridge about a foot from the freezer block and every single one of them had exploded...violently.  So the entire inside of the fridge, and everything else it it was covered in nasty frozen soda.

I thought it was crazy how it blew the top of the cans right off.

So instead of the oil change and a well deserved beer, I spent the night emptying the fridge and cleaning everything.  Not too horrible, but not the productive night I was hoping for. Sounds like we'll have to add another item to the todo list.  We need a divider in the fridge to separate the freezer from the fridge.  I knew that block was super efficient once it got going, just didn't realize to what extent.  Overall a good problem to have though...I think.

Anyway, time for bed.  Tomorrow I have a full day of actual work that they pay me for and then it's time for that oil change and hopefully the rest of the ToDo list on Sat.

Not the most exciting night, but thought I'd share!

Goodnight folks,

Friday, January 23, 2015

GoM passage Day 6 - Wed Jan 14th

Our last day of the passage is by far the coldest.  I don’t think it ever got above the mid-40s.  Kara and I have talked about it and both agree that the worst part of this passage has been the cold weather.  It’s so cold that you really don’t feel like being in the cockpit if you don’t have too, which results in all watches being solo watches, which is a bit of a downer.  Usually, during the day we’re both up in the cockpit enjoying the view and the fresh salt air, chatting and just relaxing in general.  For this trip, if you’re not on watch, you actually need to be down below warming up so you don’t freeze on your next watch.  The overall sea state has been fine, and even our little 30 knot gale with the 10ft quartering waves, while it made us both nervous since it was our first time in these conditions, wasn’t really that bad.  But having to do it all solo, in 5-6 layers, in the cold wind just wasn’t that much fun.

We never expected this passage to be fun, and it lived up to expectations.  What it really drove home for both of us was that there’s a good reason why most passages have a recommended time of year to undertake them.  We knew we where choosing to cross the gulf outside that time but it was time to get BABOO home.  Now the worst time of year would have been during hurricane season and there’s no way we where going to do that, but winter in the gulf, while not overly dangerous, is far less than comfortable.  The next time we cross the gulf (Mexico…New Orleans ?) it will be in warmer conditions, so that it’s actually enjoyable.

Anyway, we followed the safety fairway all the way into Galveston.  The closer we got to Galveston, the more shipping traffic we began to see.  It really is amazing how big some of those ships are and how fast they’re moving.  25 knots may not seem like much but when you’re moving at 6-7 knots…that’s freaking fast.

We made it to the ship anchorage outside the Galveston jetties about 2 hours before sunset.  It was incredible to see the massive number of ships that where anchored outside.  I really wish I’d gotten more pictures, but it was so cold that I just didn’t feel like taking my gloves off to mess with the camera.  I did get one short iphone video that I’ll post if it’s not too crappy, we’ll see.  We motorsailed just outside the channel and up between the jetties and made the turn north towards Trinity bay and Clearlake.  As the sun set we opted to continue to the marina since we had captain Blaine with us and he’s pretty comfortable with this kind of thing.  To be clear, if it had been just Kara and I we would have found a spot to anchor and just waited until daylight to continue.  Since we where inside the water was super calm and even though the wind had shifted to pretty much right in our face, we where able to motor at 7+ knots pretty easily.  As always we left the main up to stabilize us, but also used it to increase our visibility, hitting it with a light every time one of those tugs, pushing the massive barges decided to bee-line straight for us.  It was nice, for the most part as soon as we lit up the sail, they would adjust course around us.  I’m still not sure if that’s because they didn’t see us before or if they realized we really where a little sailboat, and new we could exactly get out of there way quickly.  We where almost always outside the red side of the channel, having to duck in briefly to avoid a couple shoals but then got right out.  We’d had a close encounter with a ship a couple days prior and did everything possible to avoid a repeat of that.

As we got close to the Clearlake area it was all hands on deck with someone always monitoring the depth sounder, someone spot lighting and helping look for the unlit markers while Blaine piloted us through.  On a related note, we really need to move our instruments off the binnacle and over the companionway.  We almost never drive from the helm when offshore.  It’s nice to be up behind the dodger out of the wind and spray and since our trusty B&G auto pilot has a wired remote we can adjust course from anywhere in the cockpit or even down below.  The problem is with our wind instrument, knot meter, and depth sounder all mounted at the helm, you have to walk back every time you want to check any of them.  We’ve seen many other IPs with the instruments mounted just above the companionway and really like this setup, since you can read everything from anywhere in the cockpit.

We finally got into the Waterford harbor marina about 9:30 PM, found our slip and tied up.  Then it was time for a nice LONG hot shower and some rum.  Now that we where on shore power we saved the propane and fired up our electric space heater to take some of the chill out of the air and got some sleep.

Kara and BABOO - Glad to be home!

GoM passage Day 5 - Tues Jan 13th

Howdy folks,


Writing these entires from the saloon on the passage has been fun for me, since it will function as part logbook for Kara and I down the road.  I’m sure we’ll look back on our 30 knot (storm…ok gale) and the 10ft seas that came with it later and laugh but at the time, it was 1 part stressful, and 1 part exciting.

Still writing this I wonder if anyone else will find it the slightest bit interesting or helpful. So do us a favor and if you’re actually reading my meandering commentary and are still awake, drop us a comment or something to let us know you’re out there.

--OK back to our regularly scheduled program--

We’ve been sailing since last night around 10:30-11 when Kara noticed we had enough wind to unfurl the jib and shut off the motor.  We actually keep the main out pretty much the whole time, even when sailing since it stabilizes the boat and keeps us from rolling.  This makes the motion much more comfortable, particularly when dealing with a beam sea as we have been for the last day or so.

It cooled down quite a bit late last night/early this AM and today has remained cold and cloudy, but with a nice wind out of the N to NE.  We’ve been making between 5-7 knots all day and are getting close to make our turn to the NNE so we can follow the safety fairway all the way up to Galveston.

Yours truly from the cockpit on a cold nasty day.

Kara and I just had our watch change, so I’m down below enjoying the hot chocolate she made and trying to warm up while she’s in the cockpit making sure we don’t hit any uncharted rigs or get squashed by a super tanker or container ship.  Houston is a massive shipping port and we’ve been noticing more and more ship traffic as we get closer.  The safety fairway is pretty much the only sane way to approach, particularly once it gets dark, so it really focuses all the traffic into a little 2 mile corridor.  We typically try to stick just outside the corridor so we don’t get run down but since in many places the rigs are actually right on the line, we’ll have to duck into the actual lane from time to time, always nice in a tiny 40ft sailboat going 6 knots when surrounded by massive tankers and cargo vessels running 25 knots.  BABOO is likely pretty tough for them to pick out when they’re really focused on the rigs and other ships, so we follow collregs and always keep in mind the rule of gross tonnage.

Tonight, looks like it will be another cold one.  Which stinks but then again, no-one ever said the Gulf of Mexico would be fun in January.  Probably a big reason why most folks take the ICW for this trip, and go when it’s a bit warmer…stupid work.  At this point we’re just hoping the wind will allow us to sail up the fairway to the Galveston entrance vs having to motor.  We’re much faster under sail but if we don’t have enough of a wind angle, it can make maneuvering around ships and rigs a bit challenging.

Stay tuned, we’re hoping to make the entrance at Galveston tomorrow in daylight, so we don’t have to wait outside.

Thanks and more to come,

GoM passage Day 4 - Mon Jan 12th

Morning update.  Last night, right around the time Kara was starting dinner, the seas began building and the wind really picked up.  We where seeing 25-30 knots out of the SW and with so much fetch, the seas where getting big (by our current standards) 8-10ft.  BABOO was doing great but surfing some of those bigger waves really got…exciting.  We reefed down a bit on both sails to slow us down a bit and speed our recovery as we had a tendency to round up a bit when we surfed.  Of course right about then I spotted our first oil rig (drilling platform for you non-Texans).  Fortunately, we where still on a broad reach, so we had plenty of steering options and altered course to port (slightly more southerly) to help keep us out of the bulk of the platforms.  From that first rig, it was like a dam broke, we where seeing anywhere from 12-15 rigs at all times and gradually altered course more and more to port (S) until we seemed to be taking them all on our starboard side (NW towards shore).  It was going to be an exciting night for Kara and I since this was by far the most weather we had seen.  The winds weren’t too bad at 25-30 on our beam to port quarter depending.  But the seas really made it a challenge to judge our course relative to the rigs.  We also started seeing lighting all around, for the most part it was just cloud lightening, not much actually striking the surface, but it added to our overall feeling of apprehension.

Fortunately, the rigs are huge and for the most part super well lit, so seeing them was easy.  Choosing a course that allowed us to miss the greatest number of them with the minimal amount of course corrections, was a bit more challenging.  I see now why so many people consider radar, essential equipment for sailing the gulf.  The added visibility for course selection would have been great last night, and today, and tomorrow…oh and possibly Wednesday.

Over the course of the night we got hit with some pretty heavy rain showers, so it was a fun introduction to as Blaine likes to call it “moderate weather sailing”.  I actually think the weather alone would have been fine but adding in the stress of having to maneuver, under sail in those conditions around 100s of oil rigs, in 10 ft seas, in the dark, in a driving rain, with lighting all around, was fairly stressful for both of us.

Still, we did fine and this is exactly the reason why we wanted to be here, on the boat, standing our solo watches bringing her home vs. just paying someone to drop her at the dock for us.  If we’re going to do some cruising, it’s time to start building up some relevant experience.  I have to admit though, I was glad to have someone aboard with plenty of experience who could look at those conditions and say, meh no big deal y’all got this.  I’m going to catch some sleep, wake me if you need me.

Which brings us to today.  We’re now motoring WSW, because the light NW winds we where expecting finally showed up around  0430 this morning.  The seas have calmed significantly 1-2 ft.  Kara, and I just had a couple cinnamon raisin bagles with peanut butter for breakfast, cleaned up and got ready for the day.  My 4 hour day watch begins in about 30 minutes, so I need to get hoping here.  I’ll do my best to get some pictures of the rigs today. I tried last night but the conditions and the fact that we try to avoid them by a wide margin, made it tough to capture the moment with my iphone.

Until next time, wish us luck and above all – Excellent weather

--Evening update--

We motored most of the day and once we worked our way into the “safety fairway”, a two mile wide corridor with no rigs, life got much simpler.  Once the wind shifted a bit and with by adjusting our course to stay in the fairway, we where even able to raise sail...WOOHOO.  It’s not the most direct route, forcing us to continue WSW off the coast but it makes up for it in lack of stress dodging all those freaking rigs, and the fact that we can continue to sail.

Tonight, we had a very simple dinner, frozen family style meal warmed up on the stove.  Not our favorite food, but it was easy and relatively tasty...and hot.  If you’re prepping for a trip like this, a supply of simple, easy to cook in any conditions meals are a great idea.  For lunch though, Kara made an excellent shrimp ceviche that we scarfed down in the cockpit.  It was great with lots of fresh Florida veggies, so we did have a nice fresh meal...don’t worry mom!  For the most part we eat really well on our trips.  While we ate lunch in the cockpit, we actually had a pod of very small dolphins (porpoises) drop by to play in our wake and bow wave.  They didn’t stay more than about 5 minutes, but it was a nice surprise.  I broke out the gopro and hope to have gotten some footage of them swimming, we’ll see how it turns out once we’re back home.

Our one nice sunset during the crossing came at a good time.

GoM passage Day 3 - Sun Jan 11th

Last night we cut across the De Soto Canyon (SW of New Orleans) and after having to motorsail for a few hours early this AM, to keep our speed in the 6 knot range, we’ve been sailing since around 10 AM when my day watch started.  It’s now 1430 and we’ve been doing a confortable 5.5-6.5 knots with the wind ranging from a broad reach to a beam reach out of the NE.  The seas have gotten larger at 4-6 ft but since they’re now on the port quarter it’s been very comfortable so far today and we’re making good time.  We’ve had a few little rain showers, but so far have been lucky and the big stuff has missed us (knocking on wood as I type this).  BABOO, as always is handling the seas with ease, so it’s very comfortable both in the cockpit and down below, where I’m sitting now while Kara’s on watch, enjoying some chocolate chip cookies that I decided to break out for us as a snack.

It’s been calm enough today that Kara made us a great cucumber, tomato, and onion salad to compliment the turkey sandwiches and if it holds out, she’s promising a little king ranch chicken for dinner, fingers crossed.

Our goal today has been to head a bit to the ESE in an attempt to stay outside (offshore) of the bulk of the oil rigs off the Louisiana coast.  We don’t have radar (yet) and are wishing we did since it would really improve our visibility when sailing at night.  Unfortunately, moonrise isn’t until 11:30’sh tonight and of course gets about an hour later each night, so we’re going to have some dark nights sailing and I’m sure we’ll be straining our eyes when on watch to make sure we no rigs sneak up on us.  Our plan is to head down the coast following the 4000 ft depth contour line to get us outside the majority of the rigs.  There’s still a few we’ll need to watch out for here, but it seems a good compromise between staying (relatively) close to shore and minimizing our oil rig exposure.  We’re still about 2 days (hopefully less) away from where we’ll make our turn to the NW to pick up the “safety fairway”, read rig free zone, that leads into the shipping channel at Galveston.  From Galveston we’ll head north into Galveston Bay to Trinity Bay.  Then West towards Clear lake and finally into our Marina.  They'reth.  Since we had to wait in Tampa for 2 days to let the weather improve, we’re a bit behind what we where hoping for.
supposedly holding a slip for us, though we where originally hoping to be there around the 12-13

This afternoon, while I was on watch, Kara and Blaine fired up the SSB (long range High Frequency radio – short for Single SideBand) for a weather update out of New Orleans.  Looks like tonight should be favorable, with the wind gradually switching over to NW at 5-10 sometime tomorrow morning.  NW wind means it’ll be right in our face, which means we’ll be motoring.  So, heres to hoping that forecast is the worst case scenario and if we have to fight the wind, the lighter the better.

In the meantime, I have a couple hours to relax and maybe catch a nap, while I sit here enjoying the feel of BABOO surfing downwind on the 4-6 foot seas.  Great day so far, here’s to hoping it stays that way.

-       I’m sure I’ll check in again later –Erin

GoM passage Day 2 - Sat Jan 10th

This morning the seas where still pretty rough and rolly but the wind was still good and we where making good time.  As the day progressed the wind dropped to 5-10 knots out of the NE and then shifted to E and dropped to about 5 knots.  So we where sailing on a broad reach with almost no wind doing a sad 3 knots with a good bit of roll due to a beam sea and finally decided to fire up the engine and start getting some miles.  Motor sailing, we’ve been getting somewhere in the 6+ knot range, we can easily do a bit more but are motoring at 1700 RPM, which allows our little 50 hp Yanmar to sip diesel so we’ll have it for later.  The seas actually calmed down too, so we decided to take advantage of the conditions cook some turkey burgers for dinner. Nothing fancy, but a nice hot meal was appreciated.  We actually had a nice hot breakfast too, oatmeal is a great option on a boat.

Overall, it’s been a good but slower day than we’d like.  The models are showing the wind picking up tonight and tomorrow.  We’re hoping it won’t be too much when it finally gets here, but being able to sail and get our speed up a bit would be great.  We really need to look into some good downwind/lightwind sails and a whisker pole for BABO  I’m still surprised the previous owner didn’t have a whisker pole?
O to get the best out of days like today.

Anyway, it’s about an hour after dinner and my first night watch 8-10 starts in about an hour.  I’ll be back to add anything relevant tomorrow.  See you soon – Erin  

Motoring through relatively calm seas

Gulf of Mexico Passage Day 1 - Friday Jan 9th

When my phone roused Kara and I from our nice comfy berth, in our very cold boat, we grabbed our stuff and hiked down to the marina showers, which where very nice and heated.  While Kara was showering I checked my phone and noticed the weather was still a bit confused but was looking slightly better with the wind shifting sooner from NW to N to NE later that day and Saturday afternoon shifting to East.  It still looked like it would be a bumpy uncomfortable ride but at least we could get NW across the Gulf instead of having to head due W and pray for a shift.  This meant we’d probably be leaving today, and that it was going to be a cold trip.  High’s around 50 degrees F and lows in the 40s and possibly even 30s as we got closer to home…of course this was the time for Texas to have our once a year arctic blast.  I mean what better time than when we really need to get Baboo back home?  Kara and I need to get back to work and have some chance of actually having enough cash to ever make this dream of some full time cruising, actually happen.  We’re both very cognizant of the fact that the most dangerous thing to have on any sailboat, is a calendar but unfortunately the reality of our lives right now include having to be back at work…hopefully by the 15th.  If we run into issues with the weather, the goal is to be close enough to shore that we can be in a marina within a day or so.  We always have the option of finding BABOO another temporary home while we go back to work and find another block of time to finish the return trip – but we’re hoping not to go that route.

So, Blaine meets us at the boat around 9 we review the weather and opt to head out while we can, motor to the mouth of the bay, 2-3 hour trip, and stick our nose out and see what we see.  If we can do WNW we’ll go, if we’re stuck with straight W we’ll drop back in and wait for a shift.

So we fire up the iron-geni, Untie The Lines (great youtube channel) and motor out of the marina and down to the mouth of the bay.  As we leave the bay, it’s my watch so Blaine goes below for a bit of a nap and Kara and I watch apprehensively as the wind and waves start to build.  We pretty much always have the main up (reefed at this point) so we have options if the engine quits in a bad spot, like a shipping channel surrounded by shoals in a 25 knot wind...  So as we’re heading out, we can really feel the wind and know that we’re in for an exciting ride.  As we pass the final shoal, we start our turn to Starboard NW, slow the engine and unfurl the jib (about 2/3rds of it anyway).

Leaving the shipping channel outside Tampa Bay

Up until this point we had the equivalent of a single reef in the main (about 1/3 of the sail is still furled in the mast) and had been comfortable.  However, once we started our turn up into the wind and killed the engine, our inclinometer and the, shall I say pucker factor, let us know we still had too much main out.  So we furled in another couple feet of main until the boat was more comfortable and we where still clocking a good 6.5-8 knots up into the wind.  The seas where steep and blocky 3-4 foot waves with period of maybe 3-4 seconds and it was blowing a good 25-30 knots, but Baboo can do this all day long, we just needed a little time to get comfortable (?) with it.

Not our actual route but this was as far North as we could point leaving the bay.  The wind shifted as expected and we adjusted our course about 30-40 degrees further N later in the day.

Unfortunately, Kara wasn’t feeling great most of Friday and it was super cold in the cockpit.  Typically she and I are both up most of the day talking and just enjoying the view from the cockpit, regardless of who’s on watch.  With the cold and rolly conditions we agreed that the best bet was to get below when you’re off watch and warm up and relax a bit.  This all amounted to us not seeing much of each other outside of watch changes.

We didn’t cook dinner since it was so rough and not everyone was feeling up to a meal.  My dinner was a PB&J during my 4 hour afternoon shift followed by a granola bar and a yogurt for my night watches.

The winds actually shifted a bit to the NE over night and we where able to point pretty much due NW or just East of New Orleans and then just settled in for what turned out to be a 140sh mile day.  That’s 140 miles closer to home.

(Planning) Gulf of Mexico Passage – Tampa Bay Florida to Kemah Texas

The weather gave us a slight breather Thursday afternoon, so we met Blaine at the marina bar broke out the laptops and worked through a series of weather planning sites.  For this one, we used Sailflow (excellent visual representation of wind, pressure, and sea state.  This appears to be gathered from a variety of sources, including NOAA and the way it’s displayed is easy on the eyes).  We also used the NOAA site ( most of the information you need is there but it can be hard to sort through.  They use a completely different format for the offshore forecast and the various coastal areas that I find cumbersome to navigate.  Once you get to the info it’s a very simple text format.  Not much granularity but good for the big picture.  We also used, which is a recommendation I got a while back from Cruisers Forum and find useful.  Yes it’s gribs files, and yes I understand that gribs are not always the be all end all of weather forecasts but, so far they’ve been good for things like wind/wave direction, as well as a general feel for strength.  Our concern was that we really wanted to get across in a generally North West direction from the Tampa Bay channel to somewhere just off shore of New Orleans or Mobile.  In a sailboat this can be a challenge in a strong North wind since most boats don’t like to sail upwind closer than 45-50 degrees on the wind.  We’ve noticed that in a light sea 50-55 degrees is doable but 60 is more comfortable if the seas are a bit heavier.  We didn’t sea anything huge (or we wouldn’t have gone) but where seeing regular projections of 3-5 and 4-6ft seas.  This alone isn’t all that big but unfortunately the period (time between successive wave crests) was showing to be in the 3-5 second range.  All that really means is it was going to be a very bumpy ride and with the waves so close together we would likely struggle getting our comfy 25,000lb boat to come close enough to the wind to get the NW route we’d like.  It was looking like WNW was about the best we could do.  Some of the models did show the wind shifting from NW and N to a more NE direction late Friday and then on Sat shifting to East, which would be close to perfect, minus the seas.  But as they say, welcome to the Gulf…in January

We really wanted to ensure we didn’t get stuck out in the gulf for an extended period of time waiting for a wind shift, so we decided to wait for the morning weather update to make the final call.  Kara and I made it an early night, filled tanks and just organized everything for the passage so we’d be ready if we could in fact leave.  We also needed to be worried about the tide.  Thursday AM thanks to that strong N/NW winds in the 30-40 knot range, Baboo was actually sitting on the bottom in her slip.  Glad we don’t have a bolt on keel.  We talked to several of the liveaboards in the marina who where also aground in their slips and evidently this was a very uncommon occurrence.  The day before we backed Baboo into her slip (really cleanly I might add) right at low tide and had plenty of clearance.  Evidently the heavy winds Wed night and all day Thursday had literally blown the water out of the bay, so that low tide was much lower than normal.  The conditions had been improving Thursday afternoon and we suspected Friday AM we’d be clear of the bottom.  If not, we’d be in our slip until later in the day, regardless of what we wanted to do.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bahamas to Florida Passage

Early the morning of Jan 3rd, we untied Baboo from her slip and motored over to the fuel dock. Filled the tanks, paid our bill with the marina and headed south passed Pete's Pub and out into the Atlantic.  Our course took us through the tongue of the ocean and across the Grand Bahamas bank.

Leaving Abaco, for the tongue of the ocean we had about 25 knots out of the SE and 3-5 ft seas.  Which was great for our course towards Florida.  We made great time, sailing at anywhere from 6.5-8 knots with nice sunny weather.

Tongue of the Ocean - Atlantic to Bahamas bank 1000s of feet on 1 side and 10-12 on the other

We left the banks early the afternoon of the 2nd day, had an uneventful Gulf Stream crossing, our second now aboard Baboo and made it into Florida early the next morning.

Sailing the Bahamas bank - Wild to be so far offshore in only 10-12 ft of water.

Sailing into the sunset - Bahamas bank to Florida

Moonrise off the stern

Boca Grande -local fishing flotilla.

Our original goal was to stop in Marathon for fuel and the stock up on provisions.  Food and fresh veggies are super expensive in Abaco, so we left with enough to get us to Florida plus a couple days cushion, but not enough to get us all the way to Texas.  As we sailed into the Marathon area we called 3-4 marinas and got the same story from everyone, they wouldn't be able to fuel us up for the next couple hours due to super yacht traffic.  In addition to the delay for fuel, non of them where willing to let us tie up anywhere long enough to go ashore and grab provisions...essentially they where being a-holes.  So that combined with the weather outlook for the week made us re-evaluate our plan.  Essentially what we where seeing was 30+ knot winds out of the N-NW all along the gulf coast from the afternoon of Wed Jan 7th through Thursday Jan 8th.  In addition to relatively high winds from the wrong direction, they where also expecting temps in the high 30s to low 40s.  All this added up to us needing to find someplace to hide for a day or two.  It looked like we had enough time to make it to Tampa, find a marina and wait out the general nastiness.  Since we had packed enough grub to cover those cushion days and had plenty of fuel left...just in case, we decided to cut through via the 7 mile bridge south of Marathon and push through to Tampa.

The weather was still great when we turned away from Marathon and headed towards the 7 mile bridge.  I hand steered us under the bridge and to the gulf coast of Florida.

Crossing under 7 mile bridge from the East coast to the West coast.

7 mile bridge from the West as we head north towards Tampa.

Which reminds me, all through the keys and up the gulf coast of Florida, we where completely surrounded by fishing buoys, for fish/crab pots.  We talked with Blaine about these since they where so dense it was pretty much impossible to miss them all, particularly when moving at night like we would continue to do.  The issue was that once we made the turn up the gulf coast, the wind would be against us and since our goal was to get to Tampa by Wed afternoon (morning even better) we'd be motoring.  Anyway, to make a long story short he said be thankful you in an Island Packet with that protected prop, the gap on all IPs between the rudder and keel is protected via a large steel bar in an attempt to keep the prop clear.   In his words, in the several 100,000 miles he'd done on Island Packets, he'd never had a problem with a fishing buoy and just ignored them.  This made us feel slightly better as we continued up the coast, but it really was amazing to see how many of these freaking buoys where around, they where even right inside the market was crazy.

So, of course the afternoon of Jan 6th, as we continued North, Kara was on watch and heard a clunk-clunk under the keel followed by an odd sound from the engine.  Thankfully, she immediately bumped the transmission into neutral.  We all knew what had happened, so I grabbed a pair of goggles and my trusty knife and swam down to check the prop.  Yep, it's wrapped the the remainder of a fishing buoy, about 10-12 inches of nylon line.  It was pretty easy to cut it free and them climb back up the ladder for a quick fresh water rinse and we where underway.  Apparently, BABOO was non the worse for the experience and we continued to power through the growing waves towards Tampa.

Here's the piece of fishing float line that wrapped our prop.  Pretty uncommon for something like this to happen on an IP, guess we're just lucky!  Oh-well, no harm no foul.

We arrived at the Marina around 4AM on Wed Jan 7th.  Since it was too early to figure out which slip they had reserved for us, we'd called ahead and booked a slip for two nights, we just tied up at the fuel dock and got a couple hours sleep.  We knew the fuel dock opened at 7AM so we set our alarm for 7 and got a couple hours sleep.  When the alarm went off...WAY too soon, we topped off the tanks so we'd be ready to go when the weather cleared, found our slip, secured BABOO, called customs and immigration since this was our first official landfall since leaving the Bahamas, grabbed a nice warm shower and a breakfast that we didn't have to cook ourselves, picked up a rental car and began the process of trying to complete the check-in process.

Since the marina was on the Manatee river and we where closer to Sarasota than Tampa we needed to check-in with customs at the Sarasota airport.  So we several phone calls and many transfers later we where finally able to leave a message with customs at the airport requesting to schedule an appointment to check-in.  This was before breakfast, since after breakfast we still hadn't heard back, we called and left another message (2.5 hours later) and when we hadn't heard anything, decided to grab a rental car and head to the airport to try our luck in person.  When we arrived at the airport, we discovered that the only customs guy in Sarasota had been called away to Tampa for a couple hours so the told us to go grab some lunch and come back later.  Since Blaine is from the Tampa area he suggested a nice little tiki bar on the beach that wasn't far, so we drove over and enjoyed some wings and a few cold Pacifico's in the sun while we waited.  At this point the weather was still pretty nice but it was cooling off fairly quickly.  As we finished our lunch, the customs officer called and was apologetic about having missed us and was really a super friendly guy, which was a nice surprise.  We agreed to come in and hour later, drove to the airport and the actual check-in process was a 5 minutes long, a few questions and passport checks later...we where officially back in the country again.  This beats the hell out of the lines and stress of the typical airport check-in process associated with air travel.

Not a bad place to wait for customs

From there we headed back to the marina, enjoyed a few beers and a nice sunset.  Blaine headed home for a night on the town but was kind enough to leave us the car, so Kara and I did some yelp'ing and found a good local restaurant close by and enjoyed a nice quiet late dinner.

Floating wedding chapel at the marina

Sunset from the marina bar.

Drinks at the marina, now it's getting and windy.

By the time we got back to the boat, the wind had definitely picked up and it was cold...really freaking cold.  So we piled the blankets on the bed and turned in for a full nights sleep...nice change after several days of night watches.

We got up early the next morning, cooked the last of our Bahamas eggs and jumped in the car to provision for what we anticipated to be an uncomfortable passage across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas.  The last couple passages we'd done, we actually cooked a good deal and did a fair bit of meal prep under way, so almost everything was fresh and delicious.  Since we where expecting this to be a rough rolly trip, we decided to make it easy on ourselves and bought several pre-packaged frozen family style meals, pasta, pre-cooked and sliced chicken breast, you know easy stuff.  Since we where buying food for 3 people for a week, plus a couple days of what-if...we where fairly loaded down when we left the store.  Really puts it in perspective what it must be like to provision for months at a time, but baby steps.

We rolled into the marina and loaded a dock cart with our provisions, right about the time Blaine was coming back to grab the car from us.  He helped us get everything aboard and then took off while Kara and I packed everything away and re-organized the fridge.  While we where unloading the cart, we noticed that BABOO was actually sitting on the bottom in her slip.  We'd come in at low tide the day before, so this seemed weird.  Then from talking with several folks in the marina we realized that today's low tide was much lower than normal due to the NW wind blowing all the water out of the bay. As a result BABOO and many of the other boats where aground in their slips.  Since the IP hull and keel are all once giant piece of hand laid fiberglass, with a well protected rudder, we weren't the least bit worried but some of the other boats with less protected rudders and bolt-on keels where a bit stressed out to say the least.  As they say, everything on a boat is a compromise, most of these boats are considerably faster upwind than BABOO, but at the moment we where pretty happy with our side of that compromise, heavy very sturdy construction.  In all fairness, I don't think any of the boats where damaged but the piece of mind for us was nice.

Once the provisions where stored we grabbed showers cooked some lunch, topped of the 170 gallon water tank, did laundry and headed to the boaters lounge for some internet.  When that was all done we walked the docks a bit, talked with our neighbors and just checked out all the boats.  By this time the weather was starting to look better and it was time to start planning our departure and the Gulf of Mexico passage.

but more on that - next time

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Christmas in the Abacos

Our first anchorage with Baboo - Great Guana Cay

As I write this I'm sitting in the cockpit motoring north along the Gulf coast of Florida.  It's a calm day (currently) with a very light 5-10 knot breeze pretty much straight on our nose. 

The weather was great when I started on this entry but the wind kicked up to 18 knots and the seas in the Gulf of Mexico are quick to overreact at the slightest provocation, so it got lumpy quick and I had to head down below to finish up.

Our goal is to be in Tampa late tonight (Tue Jan 6th) or early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon and evening, it's going to be nasty out here with 40-45 knot winds and lows in the mid 30s-20s degrees F.  But more on the trip home later.  First, let's catch-up on our Christmas in the Bahamas.

As mentioned previously we had a bit of a comedy of errors actually getting out of Texas and to Abaco. Once we arrived, a day late (Christmas day), we really enjoyed ourselves.

Kara and I ended up, randomly being on the same flight into Marsh Harbour, as our delivery skipper (Blaine Parks).  Blaine was flying down to enjoy the holidays in Marsh, actually staying with the folks who own the marina where we kept Baboo (current name) since sailing her down with Blaine in October, less than a week after we bought her.  So we all bummed a ride from another Marina resident, and returned to Marsh Harbour Marina and the Jib Room (restaurant) for the tail end of their Christmas day potluck dinner.  Kara, and I headed down to drop our bags and check out the boat, which was in great shape and just as we left her.  We also emptied our little cooler back pack of the frozen meats and cheese that was my carry-on.  Everything was closed on the island and we knew the stores would be closed on Christmas day and the day after...and we like to eat. So we kicked on the fridge and stocked it, just about the time Capt. Blaine showed up with a big platter of Christmas potluck dinner, so we stuck that in the fridge also for dinner and went up to the Jib room to meet our neighbors and enjoy a few home made Margaritas.  The ritas where courtesy of Pete and Sharon from EMERALD LADY, a beautiful tug style trawler.  These guys are the real deal, the kind of cruisers you read about and hope to meet one day.  Super friendly and helpful folks who owned a nice 40 ft sailboat (Caliber I believe) for about 15 years and then decided they wanted a little more room and comfort so moved up to EMERALD lady.  We also met a great group from Norway who was in the Abacos for 3-4 months babysitting an amazing 80ft motor yacht (Heartbeat) for some family friends.  It's a rough life, but hey I guess someone has to do it and if it can't be us, it might as well be them.

Christmas in Marsh Harbour Marina - A neighboring boat

Kara and I where able to sneak away from the party for a while and take advantage of the Marina's WiFi to try a little Facetime video chat with Kara's family.  We have a Christmas tradition with them that includes a White Elephant gift exchange that's usually a great time.  One of the problems with us being gone for the holidays this year was that we'd miss out on all our family Christmas traditions which is typically Christmas eve with my family and Christmas days with Kara's.  We celebrated Christmas the weekend before we left but we really wanted to participate in the white elephant thing again this year, so we bought our gifts and wrapped them, and then left them with Kara's mom for Christmas day.  Unfortunately the marina WiFi wasn't super fast and there where quite a few folks trying to facetime and skype with their family's, so video was out of the question.  We ended up going with text messaging, which worked surprisingly well, thank to Kara's brother Ryan for the running play buy play and relaying our messages for which items to steal.  Thanks again Ryan, that little bit of home made a big difference to us both.  After the gift exchange we stayed up late sitting around the marina and drinking cold beers on a nice warm evening with our new friends from Heartbeat.  We then retired to the boat for our first evening aboard in 3 months.  I'm still impressed buy how comfortable that forward Pullman berth is.

The day after Christmas (boxing day in Abaco), we spent most of the day getting the boat ready for some cruising.  Took a break late that afternoon and dinghied across the harbour for dinner and drinks at Snappa's.  Snappa's is a little bar and grill right on the water and is open year round.  A cool place to relax and enjoy some local music, and a few rum's not bad either ;)

Boxing day Sunset - Marsh Harbour

Saturday morning we put the finishing touches on the boat and then enjoyed the local scene with steak night at the Jib room.  The food was excellent and the crowd was festive, with a 'local' bluegrass band coming to liven things up after dinner.  Who knew we'd head all the way to Abaco and get to enjoy some down home banjo music for the gotta love it.

Steak night - time for some tunes!

Early, in the evening we met up with our friends and they gave us a limited tour of Heartbeat, which was truly beautiful inside.  I mean the crew quarters/kitchen area where very impressive with inlaid wood and granite counter tops.  Literally all the comforts of a VERY nice home. It's amazing what a mere $4.5 Million will get you.  So after steak night, and a few Bilge Burners from the Jib room, we invited them to join us aboard Baboo for some cold beers and a few rum and crystal lights.  Probably not what they where used to but they seemed to enjoy themselves and we ended up staying up way to late and being slightly over served that evening.  Which made it tough to get up and moving the next morning, at least for me.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, our departure was delayed from 11 AM to closer to 1 on Sunday but we had a nice 90 minute trip over the Great Guana Cay (pronounced key) for a late Sunday Brunch at Nippers.

Sunday brunch at Nippers

Kara - Taunting the Poisonwood tree

We then headed down to Grabbers, on the beach right near our anchorage to enjoy the sunset, and since I was beginning to feel human again a few rum and diets.  If you ever find yourself in Abaco, check this place out for a beautiful anchorage and the sunset from their beach is not to be missed.  The great thing for us was that since capt Blaine was down for the holidays and was boat-less, and we had a spare bunk he joined us and played local tour guide.  Since brunch at Nippers is pretty much the thing to do on Sunday's, we where also able to catch-up with the folks from Emerald Lady and Heartbeat that night. Nippers was fine, but Grabbers was a great place to relax, chat and just enjoy life for a while, along with a great sunset.

Sunset at Grabbers on Great Guana Cay

The next morning we got up early, hand ground some coffee and enjoyed sunrise from the cockpit. Waved good bye to Pete and Sharon from Emerald Lady and headed over for a little snorkeling at Fowl Cay. 

Fresh ground coffee in the cockpit, with a beautiful wooden schooner in the background.

Unfortunately, when we got there the wind had picked up and the Sea of Abaco was actually fairly choppy, so we decided not to snorkel.  The plus side to the wind was of course that we where able to enjoy a really nice sail down to Treasure Cay.  We really enjoyed the sail, once we got comfortable with the idea of "deep water" meaning 10-12 ft.  We only draw 4'8", so this is not a problem, just a bit of a challenge to get used to being able to see grass and coral clearly on the bottom as you sail over it.  But hey, there are worse things in life and it was a great day. 

Sailing in the sea of Abaco - The water here is about 10ft deep

Sailing to Treasure Cay - jib and main only (staysail furled)

 We topped it off with a few drinks on a beautiful Sugar Sand beach, followed by dinner over at the Tipsy Seagull.  Where we ran into a captain friend of Blaine's, who was working a charter aboard a sweet Neel trimaran.  He was super friendly and even better his guests had excellent taste in music.  Always nice to enjoy a few drinks at sunset in tropical location with Poison, Guns and Roses, and Motley Crue songs in the back ground...but maybe that's just me.

The next morning we got up just before dawn to beat the tide out of the inlet and headed for Hope Town.  There was no wind at all for most of the trip so we just motored down.  Even with the motor running, it was an incredibly peacful trip.

Calm morning on the sea of Abaco, as we motor towards Hopetown.

Speaking of shallow water, when we got down around Hope Town it was about 2 hours after low tide.  The charts show water depths as around 4 feet for much of the approach and we where seeing about 5.5-6 on the way in.  Even though Blaine had done this a million times before.  Kara and I where a bit nervous, so turned around to anchor for an hour and wait on the tide.  We decided to fire up the grill and cook the good old Texas burgers we had brought with us. So we anchored in 10 ft of gin clear water, dug out the grill parts and just as I was mounting the grill, it rolled over and I watched the cooking grate and thermal briquettes (it a magma gas grill) plop into the water.  Oh well, as I mentioned the water was nice and clear, warm'sh, and I could clearly see everything so grabbed a pair of goggles, a swim suit and jumped in to retrieve them.  That done, Kara rinsed everything while I took a few minutes to inspect the hull, which was surprisingly clean after her 3 months relaxing in Marsh Harbour.  Now based on my...vast years of boating knowledge...I'm not sure what I was expecting or why, but suffice it to say Baboo was much cleaner than I had pictured in my mind.  So, I climbed out of the water, rinsed of with a fresh water shower on the transom and dried off to grill some burgers.  Once we had finished eating, the tide was in enough that we could 'comfortably' navigate the approach and channel to Hope Town.  This would be Kara and I's first experience grabbing a mooring ball on our own, but we reviewed the hand signals we learned in the BVI's and had been using for anchoring and where able to grab the ball on the first attempt very easily.  If anyone was watching, they probably thought we had years of experience and where super salty sailors....suckers! 

Hope town proved to be a great place and we spent the afternoon exploring the views form the lighthouse, enjoyed some Ice Cream at the sugar shack, a few drinks a very pretty little beach with a super friendly bartender, and dinner. 

View from Hopetown lighthouse.  Baboo is hidden by my giant head

Kara and the results of a cup of "C is for Cookie" ice cream at the Sugarshack in Hopetown.

Cold beers on the beach

That afternoon Kara and I decided we where ready for low key day and would just stay another day and enjoy New Years Eve in Hope town vs heading to Green Turtle Cay which had been our plan previously.

Sunset in Hopetown

Baboo anchored in Hopetown

I got up early the next morning to take drop Blaine off at the ferry dock so he could enjoy New Years back with his friends at the Jib Room and went back to the boat for coffee and breakfast with just Kara and I in the cockpit.  Then we dingied out of the harbor and around the corner to Tahiti Beach, where we snorkeled and just relaxed a bit in the sun.  As you may remember, our dingy is a bit of a junker and with that little Tohatsu 6hp, it took us about 30-40 minutes to get there.  They great news is, that after falling off it's motor mount on the way down from Maryland (previous post) it still runs great.  We opened it up before leaving in October and it looked like it had stayed dry despite swinging around on the lock cable and trying to take out our davits.  So we thought it would be fine, and so far (knock on wood) it's been very reliable...but I digress.  Since we where getting hungry, we dingied back to the boat, cooked some lunch and then headed into town to check out the youth Junkanoo (essentially, Bahamian style carnival), hit the beach for a bit and then head over to the Hope town Inn and Marina for our New Years extravaganza.

Kara, chauffeuring me back to Baboo from Tahiti beach

We got to the place right around 6:30 ordered a couple drinks and they sat us at our table.  It was super windy 25 knots or so, which made keeping things on the table outside a bit challenging but it was a really nice place.  I little bit on the fancy side for our taste but it was New Years and we wanted to really enjoy it.  Unfortunately, the place had some of the best Internet access of our entire trip, and while we where waiting Kara check her email and noticed email from her mom letting us know that the cat sitter who was taking care of our cats had called and one of them, Kara's cat of almost 15 years, Abby had died while we where gone.  This wasn't totally unexpected, but as you can imagine really put a damper on the evening, so we ended up pushing our food around on our plates and heading back to the boat for a very early New Years.  We did wake up when they started the fireworks at mid-night and went up to watch them from the cockpit which was nice.  Anyone, who's ever lost a pet knows what a huge whole it leaves, we'll miss you Abby.  Hope you're in a better place and comfy and happy.

We'll miss you Abby

Abby and our other cat Boxy - pretending to ignore each other while snuggling for warmth

The next AM we got up early to beat the tide, and when we got out it was really blowing 25+ and neither of us was really in a mood to go sit in an anchorage and be alone so we headed back to the marina to get a jump on prepping the boat fro the return trip home and be around folks to take our minds off Abby.  On the way to the marina we realized it was going to be some pretty challenging conditions to back the boat into our slip particularly given the fact that we had docked the boat exactly zero times on our own.  We did a slow cruise by the marina to make sure the coast was clear and plan our approach and then went and anchored while we prepped our lines, bumpers and courage.  Fortunately, we where able to speak with Blaine who came down to the dock, I dingied over and we chatted about the approach.  He agreed it was very challenging conditions having to swing the boat head to head in 25 knots, in a narrow space and then back her in and offered to do it for us and I was SO close to just letting him do it.  But dammit, she's our boat it's not going to get any easier unless we start doing it so we planned the approach and then I headed out to the boat, tied the dingy up nice and tight on the stern, we rehearsed the plan verbally and then headed in.  We made a couple of practice runs outside the marine to rehears that head to wind thing (thank you bow thruster) and then lined up for the final approach.  As we headed in with a full audience (including the owners of another IP40) who showed up while we where away, I swung the boat head to wind as we'd rehearsed and while it wasn't a perfect backing procedure we got in fine with no yelling or damage to anyone or anything, so I'll consider that a win.  Thanks again cap't Blaine for the willingness to talk us through it and be there to fine tune our maneuvering from the dock.

Baboo - ready for the trip home

That night (New Years day), Kara and I just relaxed and took the dinghy to dinner for a few drinks.  The next day we spent most of the day doing laundry and getting the boat ready for the return trip home.  Made a provisioning run (by dingy) and a mile walk to the store and then met a big group of folks from the marina for dinner and lots of good conversation.  It was cool to talk with folks who've been out cruising and about there reasons for going and hearing all their little tips.  We friended several of them on Facebook, so we could keep in touch and then said our goodbye's and headed back to the boat to get a little sleep before our early morning departure.

I'll give you all the details on that later but right now I need to head back up to the cockpit.  As I've been typing this I've actually had to put on pants (gasp) for the first time on this trip, it's getting chilly out there.  I also had to come down below to get out of the wind since the seas have been building and I was getting worried about being able to keep the laptop dry.

So until next time...