Friday, December 18, 2009

Report on Sail from Exumas to Key Largo

On a Mooring, Boot Key Harbor, Florida Keys

I was analyzing my charts a few days before my intended departure from the Bahamas and discovered a channel, called the Decca Channel, that runs due west right from Sampson Cay. To explain: The standard trek to and from Florida, toward the Exumas is via Nassau. Kind of pain and out of way if your just in transit. So I was most excited to find that the Decca Channel was a viable option. The graphic below gives you a satellite view of my route.

As per usual weather analysis was key prior to departure and especially in this instance as I needed to slip in between two cold fronts. I was concerned about this trip as I was in the grips of "channel fever", having nothing to do with the Decca Channel. Channel fever is well known to Naval types. After a long cruise, the desire to get home makes the preceding 48 hours prior to arrival very difficult. Bad things can happen while in the grips of the fever. I wanted to get to Florida before the arrival of a series of cold fronts that would have meant extra time in the Bahamas. I know what some of you are thinking, poor baby has to spend time in the Bahamas. Somebody get me my buppbee. But you simply can't argue with my feelings.

A cold front had just passed the northern Bahamas and was due to lift the morning of my departure, with some easing of the northeast wind. So consult the chart above. Sampson Cay departure forecast was east north east at 15 knots and "gusty." Near the NW Channel and north, the wind was 20 to 30 knots out of the northeast. Yikes! But it would take me 24 hours to reach the NW Channel and by the then the forecast was for easing rapidly of the wind. These computer models are pretty accurate within 48 hours, but even an hour or two screw up could mean a terrible pounding for me.

I had made the decision to roll at 3am. But friends from SV Woofie came tooling into Sampson Cay on their beautiful and phat Lagoon 41. It was like a condo! Anyway, it was such a delight to spend an evening with Mark and Nina. We had spent Christmas together my first year out in 2007. I was terribly tempted to stay and hang out with Woofie. But I have "the fever."

I did not get much sleep, maybe 4 hours tops before I left the next morning for the 48 hour sail. I was like a pilot on instrument take off, I couldn't see a thing. No moon and pitch black. I just followed my electronic charts out the cut and onto the banks. By day break I was in the Decca Channel and under sail. By noon, I had entered the Tongue of the Ocean and make the turn to the northwest. The wind picked up. I was under a double reefed main and staysail in 20 knots plus with a due east direction. We sailed just fine under these conditions, however I was unable get any rest during the afternoon as hoped for.

By nightfall I was getting tired and the wind had continued to tick up and come more from the east north east. Yup, the cold front was lifting a little slower than the models had predicted. To hedge against this, I made sure I stayed as far east as possible, so in case I became headed I  had some room to fall off. Very thankful I did this because that is exactly what i did. Around the west end of New Providence, the conditions were miserable and so was I. The sea was still running high from the 20 to 30 knots of NE breeze and now I had lost the protection of the Exuma Bank and the island of New Providence itself. On top of the weather I had multiple ships, tankers and cruise ships to deal with. Thank god for my AIS system. Thing works like a champ.

The misery really only lasted for 2 to 3 hours. As I neared the NW channel, I could continue to put the wind and seas closer to the beam and quarter and slowly the wind was finally easing. It was now close to 2 am and some sleep would have been nice. But no, the NW Channel is the entrance to the Bahamian Banks, and as such has reefs I either side with little margin for error. I needed to be on my navigational game.  Once through the cut and on the banks, I'd have plenty of room and I also could simply anchor on the banks itself. By 3 am I had made it safely onto the banks and exhaustion was upon me. It had been 24 hours since I had departed, and only 4 hours of sleep within the past 48 hours. Livin the dream. I dropped the staysail, sheeted in the main and hove to and went to sleep.

I awoke with a start at 9am, bright sunshine, light wind on an emerald sea. With the banks only 8 to 10 feet as far as the eye can see, it literally lows;  I was back in the saddle. While coffee was brewing I got Christa underway again and pointed in the correct direction, south of west for South Riding Ride. By nightfall, the wind was going very light and I was now making under 4 knots. I fired up 51 horses of Yanmar and entered the Florida Strait and the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream. Another very long night, with traffic and wind coming and going. But thankfully and as predicted the Gulf Stream was very tame. The GS can be a very nasty and dangerous place.

At sunrise, I was still fighting the 3 knot current, but was so close to my destination. I still had the fever and was blessed again with a beautiful southern Florida day. I had my anchor down by 11 am, just south of Key Largo. I slept and slept some more.

That brings all hands up to date!

Capt Chris

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Dingy Ride in the Exumas

On a mooring Boot Harbor Key, Florida Keys

Capt Chris

Home of the Brave

On a mooring Boot Harbor Key, Marathon Florida Keys
Click on the link to check the Live webcam!
Sailed 43 nautical miles yesterday

  I was chatting with my mom yesterday, trying to explain exactly how happy, relieved and excited I was to finally be stepping ashore back in the United States. She urged that I write up a blurb about it. Not easy to do, because I'm not sure, but figured I'd flush out my feelings as I write. I'll try and  remain objective.

 The simplest reasons about my excitement are I will be able to see my peeps, friends and family, and not have to dash off and gather up the boat and move on to another port of call. Another reason is my excitement in opening another chapter in my life (college, back to San Fran) is overriding my diminishing enthusiasm for reaching another island. More on that in a moment.  Up until recently I really had not been doing any real open ocean sailing. But since leaving Grenada, I finally had a chance to do some longer legs and on balance love the longer trips. Strip everything else away, and I truly love the actual sailing, trade wind beam or broad reaching sailing. Many times I was whooping it up on deck, all by myself as Christa was trimmed, on her feet and moving at 6.5 knots. Like I said before, there really is nothing like it, a boat being powered only by the wind. With the backdrop of difficult times, the moments of trade wind sailing were that much more intense. However, in the overall picture, at least for me, these times were few and far between.

I have no idea what the statistics are, but word around the campfire is few Americans travel overseas. I understand why, but do think that is a shame. It is a fact that beauty is all over the world. But also, America is crammed with beauty itself. But, what I have learned is when you travel outside the United States, you gain a frame of reference, a context which gives you an entirely different level of appreciation. You learn or are reminded of exactly how good we have it in America. It is fitting to explore this now, given the level of economic uncertainty gripping the US. When I compare the conditions to say Marathon Florida to the islands I have just came from, all I can say is it is stark. I was thinking about this last night, walking back to the boat. The utility poles here in the Keys are as stout as supports for the Golden Gate Bridge, with wire bundled properly and the symmetry of the system is pleasing. Now, Luperon Dominican Republic loses power every single day of the year and further more, the times are unpredictable and no one knows why this occurs. St John USVI, a US possession, has similar issues with power, but to a lesser degree. In my two months on that island I'd look from my anchorage and see a darkened island periodically. These are small examples and comparsions. Now, today we have some paranoid Americans who say this could happen in the United States. At least in the near term that is BS. Americans would not stand for it. We get impatient standing in a fast food line.

There is a concept called American exceptionalism. The President in a speech recently made reference to said concept. The first to touch on the concept was the observant Alexis de Tocqueville. I give it my full throated endorsement. It generally means that America is a special place and we have a special spot among nations. This is not to assume we have a lock on every great idea, that we should kick other nations around, but a fair review of history proves America has been a power house of progress. I bring this up, because I found myself defending America and her ideals many times, sometimes against attack from Americans themselves. Recently while in a taxi in Mayaguana the Bahamian driver, who spent every available moment trying to extract every penny in my pocket, simply stated to me that times were tough but he was expecting money from America soon. What? I shouldn't have, but couldn't let it go. I said to him, that's funny because I was waiting for the Bahamians to deposit money in my account. He was speechless. He finally said that was impossible, America is rich and Bahamians are poor. Just as some Americans lack perspective because of the bubble we live in, he lacks context because he lives on an island with 260 other people, but has a big ole satellite dish. How could he not arrive at such a conclusion? I gently pointed out that car we were driving in was invented by an American, the phone on his hip and even the electricity that flows all can be traced back to America. And that America's wealth doesn't arrive out of thin air. We had a culture class.

And that is just my point. I love my American culture. I love that you can get what you want, pretty much when you want. While, many people complain about the lack of customer service these days, lack of personal attention, America simply delivers. Down island you'll get plenty of personal attention, plenty of run around but delivery is always in question. While I may not like the prices of some things here in America, at least the prices are always published. Down island, many times you have to haggle, the attitude of extracting maximum coinage and the undercurrent of the feeling that your always ripping off the locals. And of course you are, because your a rich person from America. In many places, especially in the poorer nations, they can't even make change. And some places use that as a tactic to maximize profit. Many cruiser will scoof at this and say, well that is there culture. Fine. I'll take my American culture everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. This is not to imply at all that I don't feel pangs of sympathy when confronted with such abject poverty and no prospects of upward mobility. But it is my opinion that it is a lack of their own exceptinalism rather than America's demonstrated exceptionalism that keeps them from rising.

So with my new found appreciation for the Home of the Brave, I will endeavor to prevent my appreciation from slipping and when it does, maybe another sailing trip may to in the offing. I'll see you in traffic, where I have lost my appreciation for how maddening that little aspect of modern day America is.

Capt Chris

PS: Still one more 90 mile stretch to Naples, but two cold fronts are moving toward me. Doesn't look like I have a chance to move at least of until the 22nd. Also I have tons of video footage that I need to compile so be on the lookout. And, I still need to report on my sail from the Exumas! So much to do!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Florida Keys

Anchored Tavenier Key, Just South of Key Largo
Distance covered since Exumas, 283 nautical Miles

Thrilled to be back in the United States! It has been over two years since Christa has swished through her home waters. The sail from the Exumas was not an easy one. I'll have a full report in a day or two. Tomorrow will be another sunrise anchor detail. I intend on a 45 nm sail down the Hawk Channel, inside the reef to Marathon, where I'll hunker down and see what is what and who is who.

Capt Chris