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

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