“It took us three months just to get from the Bahamas to St. Maarten.”
These are just a few of the not-so-encouraging things we heard from cruises who had chosen to take what is known as the “Thorny Path” from the Bahamas down to the BVIs.
November, 2019 – Spanish Wells, Bahamas:
Phillip and I had been poking at this debate for years: taking the offshore “I65” route from the Bahamas down to the BVIs versus the “Thorny Path.” While many of you are likely familiar with these two routes, to put it very curtly, the I65 route is essentially an 8-9 day offshore run (on our boat) heading directly east the first few days out into the Atlantic, and then turning around the I65 longitude to ride the trade winds down to the BVIs, whereas the Thorny Path is a series of day hops along the coasts of Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the USVIs on the way to the BVIs.
While Bruce Van Sant (and his infamous G&Ts!) might claim a gentleman can sail a thornless path to windward along the Thorny Path, the many reports we received from cruisers who had actually done it did not agree, calling it “brutal,” “awful,” “a bad idea” even. There were several reasons, in addition to what we had heard from fellow trusted cruisers, the Thorny Path did not appeal to Phillip and me:
We like to sail offshore. It’s not foreign or frightening to us. With the right weather window and good working systems, offshore passages have by far been some of our more memorable and rewarding voyages. However, we can completely understand for couples or cruisers who have not done much offshore or overnight sailing, the thought of their first 8-9 day passage completely offshore could be frightening. We could see how the Thorny Path could have more appeal for cruisers who fit that bracket; that’s just not us.
We do NOT like to sail to windward. Period. Even if it is just a day hop. Beating to weather is just not fun. It’s not good for the boat or crew, and it always increases the risk of gear failure or breakage. I’ve written before about sails I have just wanted to end, even though it was just a short day-hop to weather. Phillip and I would take a downwind—or simply any wind more favorable than a head-wind—offshore any day over beating to windward.
Entering new ports and trying to make dicey daytime arrivals stresses us out. I’ll take days on end in comfortable conditions in the Atlantic any day over continually navigating new inlets, anchorages, or marinas, potentially in a headwind. For us, passage-making is like flying—the hardest part is usually the takeoff and the landing. Once you’re up in the air (or out in the ocean), you just cruise.
For this reason, Phillip and I set our sights on the trusted “I65 route” offshore. In preparation for the passage, we contacted Nanny Cay Marina to reserve a slip when we expected to arrive in the BVIs in early December.
We chose this marina in Tortola because we had heard great things about it from fellow cruisers, particularly Brittany with Windtraveler, an inspiring mother, sailor, and writer whose blog Phillip and I have been following for years. If you’re on Instagram, check out Brittany’s frequent posts from Nanny Cay, which are just stunning!
With our destination and reservation secured, our next task was to prep the boat and start looking for a weather window.
As this was the longest offshore passage Phillip and I were about to undertake—just the two of us on our boat—one thing we decided to do differently was to increase our diesel provisions by adding three more five-gallon jerry cans on starboard, in addition to our standard three on port. We moved the whisker pole (which usually rides on the stanchions on starboard near the bow) back near the cockpit (to move the weight of the diesel aft to offset our chain on the bow) and strapped the diesels to it.
Also, our ability to purchase and add these last-minute jerry cans was attributable to one of the many great aspects of Spanish Wells, which I touched on last time during the virtual tour: numerous marine vendors on the island who offer a wealth of supplies, tools, even repair services.
It is a common rule on our boat, that if you pack the spare, that just ensures you won’t need it. Our hope was, if we packed extra diesel that would just ensure we’d be doing more sailing than motoring.
As lawyers, we should have read the fine print of that bargain. The promise wasn’t sailing over motoring; it was diesel you wouldn’t end up needing. That is, in fact, what we got. Just wait …
The extra diesel was also just one item on our list of offshore prep. For those of you curious, this is a rough bullet-point of what Phillip and I usually do to convert our boat from comfy floating-home to offshore-thoroughbred:
Break-down the dinghy and stow it below
Install the jack lines and pull out the harnesses and tethers
Change the oil on “Westie” (our 27A Westerbeke) if necessary, and top all fluids
Fill the diesel and water tanks, water bags, gallon jugs, solar shower, and all Jerries
Tie and secure the Jerry cans on deck
Swap the genoa for the working jib (if applicable)
Install the inner forestay for the storm sail (if it’s not already installed)
Set up the lee cloths
Unpack the foulies
Wash the boat
Washing the boat is almost always followed by a beer!
Oh, and then we throw a little below-decks party (complete with disco ball)! It’s good for the offshore mojo.
Once all of that is accomplished, we are ready to go! All we have to do is watch the weather and pick a window. For the I65 route, Phillip and I were hoping for good winds on the beam or following to let us sail several days directly east, with an anticipated few days of motoring in the middle as we made our way toward longitude 65, with the hope the traditional trade winds would then kick in and allow us a nice beam reach south all the way down to Tortola. Here is what we were seeing on the GRIBS at the time.
In addition to our own weather routing, Phillip and I also decided to experiment with another new tactic for this voyage. We had heard good things about Weather Routing, Inc. We also had the opportunity to speak with them at the Annapolis Boat Show back in 2019 and were impressed with what they could offer. (They also offered a discount at the show, so … lots of benefits to purchasing marine items at a boat show, I’ll tell you!)
When we learned about the scope and quality of their services at the show, we decided we wanted to give them a try when we began routing our I65 trip in November, 2019. Guys, the data they sent us is still the most impressive weather routing I have ever seen. I am a very visual person, so I found the Meteogram they put together for us—showing the exact amount of wind and how it would quarter or beam on the boat for each day of the anticipated passage—was a stellar product in my opinion. I mean, check this out!
While Phillip and I have stared at many GRIBs, this visual just instantly “clicked” for me. It’s like I could then see the passage playing out in my mind. (And it looked like a mighty fine passage!) We were definitely pleased with the WRI service. Not to mention they were pretty near spot-on with the wind speed and direction. WRI even advised we push our departure date back one day for a better window, advice we followed and which served us well. But, that was a bit of a tough decision, just because we were SOOOooooo excited to go!
I always start singing a certain John Denver tune right about now. “Our Jerries are packed, we’re ready to go. Standing here, by the galley stove … “ Phillip loves traveling with me! : ) Next up, we’ll take you along with us on our I65 voyage followers, out into the big blue! Please leave a comment below if you’ve ever had to make the decision between the I65 route or the Thorny Passage, which one you chose and why, and how the voyage turned out for you. In the meantime, we’ll be …
“Leeeea-vin’ on a small boat. Don’t know quite where we’ll up and float. Leeeea-vin’ … ”
Since we are all pinned down at home unable to travel, I thought you might enjoy a virtual tour of what has now become mine and Phillip’s favorite island in the Bahamas: Spanish Wells! While this island definitely impressed us the first time we came to Eleuthera in 2017, earning our “favorite beach in the Bahamas” award, Phillip and I now know we didn’t stay quite long enough to truly let the spirit of Spanish Wells sink in. This time, however, in November of last year, soon after my scariest moment underwater in the Berries, we were able to spend a solid week in Spanish Wells while preparing to make our run offshore to the BVIs, which allowed us to uncover more of its hidden gems. Spanish Wells has both the non-touristy, untouched “local feel” of the Bahamas—where you can (and usually do) walk the entire island every day and interact with the locals—while still offering several diverse and delicious little bars and restaurants (even an ice cream stand!) where you can indulge on their island-inspired treats as well as plentiful groceries and marine supplies. This balance of authenticity, bounty, and beauty has made Spanish Wells our favorite stop in the Bahamas so far. Here, let me show you. Take a virtual trip with us and tell me:
Where else in the Bahamas can you …
Make a beautiful overnight run from the Berries (probably our second favorite stop in the Bahamas) to be greeted by “Buddha” himself at Buddha’s Snack Shack along with infinite words of wisdom on the walls? If I wore pants instead of a bikini, I’d tuck a leg, too.
Watch two stunning African grey parrots give each other “big love?”
Stumble upon a craft gallery right on Main Street filled with incredible pieces all made by the local children?
Hold a setting Spanish sun? I mean …
See such a dizzying array of island colors while walking to Mimi’s Beach Hangout to lounge in a Lazyboy on the beach?
Venture out at night for a cold sweet treat from Papa’s Scoops, a walk-up ice cream shop (and take photos you won’t remember the next day)?
Make Phillip reconsider his law firm hours? : D
Challenge one another to a cannonball contest by jumping off the famous Russell Island bridge (a rite of passage for all local kids in Spanish Wells)? Tell me … who cannonballed best? : )
Then, post-jump, get surprised by and treated to fresh, hand-made ceviche at this local’s little pop-up stand on the Russell side?
Enjoy Christmas decorations (at our favorite restaurant, Wreckers) for months, instead of only weeks, as the locals in Spanish Wells put them up the day after Halloween? Gotta love their Christmas spirit!
Have flaming cheese brought to your table? I mean …
Cook up fresh-caught strawberry grouper and massive lobster tails bought from a local fisherman at the docks who loves to share all kinds of stories from his forty years of fishing around Spanish Wells?
Get to walk past this awesome store-front painting every day? (I actually started to miss it after we left, and it gives me a great feeling of nostalgia every time I see it again).
Stroll a shore this beautiful?
KITE a shore this beautiful? Annnnddd almost get “kilt” (Annie term) by Phillip – watch till the end! : )
I’ll tell you, it was really tough for Phillip and I to leave Spanish Wells, but we were excited to venture out on what we expected to be our longest passage yet on Plaintiff’s Rest on an 8-10 day run offshore on the “I65” route from Eleuthera down to the BVIs. Boy, do we have some doozies to share from that trip. There was more than one casualty. And many lessons learned. Next time! We hope you enjoyed this virtual island trip! Stay safe followers.
Ahoy followers! We’ve got some exciting news! Captain Yannick, whom we crossed the Atlantic Ocean with in 2016 on his 46’ Soubise Freydis s/v Andanza, just launched his own YouTube channel, sharing he and his family’s adventures aboard Andanza. I made a movie from our crossing in 2016 that has garnered quite a viewing. 1.7 million … still blows my mind just a bit. If you haven’t seen that movie (and since many of us are home now with time on our hands – you have no excuse not to!), go watch that first!
Then, you’ll have a lot of fun context for the launch of Yannick and his family’s adventure. “Life + Kids + Gear = Breaking and Fixing Stuff” Yannick has cleverly coined it! The Piart crew has sailed in northern Europe, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and explored the Caribbean islands on their way to the States. Warning: the kids are beyond cute! Pop up some popcorn, go check it out, subscribe, and enjoy the show!
It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to take the privileges and good fortune we have for granted. While the fact that travel, dining out, attending concerts, plays, or other fun events, even meeting up with friends, old and new, for happy hour are no longer options for the foreseeable future, never have I craved and cherished so deeply simply my health and home while Phillip and I were on our wild impromptu passage from the Bahamas to Pensacola.
It was an unintended passage. Certainly not one we had planned to undertake on such short notice. But, with the world seemingly shutting down port after port, door after door, in our wake, it felt like we were running on a bridge that was crumbling behind us. Phillip and I simply wanted to get back to Pensacola, secure the boat, and go home. That’s it. Each day of the passage, however, definitely offered up its own set of challenges that put the possibility of that happening in question. While there are dozens of smaller stories to share from this passage—some frightening, some fun—to give you all a broad strokes update on what just turned mine and Phillip’s world upside down, I believe a timeline will be the most telling. Looking back on this, it frightens me a little still to see how lucky we were to have made it. But, the point is, we made it! Phillip and I are healthy and home now, with our baby girl safely in our fold for hurricane season. But, that was nowhere near the case three weeks ago when we were over 700 miles away on an island in the Atlantic.
US: In light of growing coronavirus fears, the NCAA cancels “March Madness.” New York issues a statewide ban on gatherings of 500+ people. In the weeks prior, Trump has issued a ban on incoming travel from certain countries in Europe to the U.S. We learn after we land in Eleuthera in the Bahamas that Trump had declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, freeing up nearly $50 billion in disaster aid.
Bahamas (BH): The Bahamas records their first case of COVID-19, a 61-year-old Bahamian woman with no recent travel history.
Plaintiff’s Rest (PR): With the status of travel changing day by day it was a tough decision for us whether to go at all. The purpose of this two-week trip to the Bahamas—when we booked it back in Pensacola in January—had been to put our boat back together by replacing the fresh water pump on our Westerbeke that failed when we attempted to sail to the BVIs back in November. (We are now incredibly grateful for that failure as it kept our boat within safe sailing distance from home so she could rescue us from this pandemic.) Once operational, we planned to sail the boat from Spanish Wells where she was secured at a nice, but highly-exposed dock back to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Bahamas, where she safely rode out Hurricane Dorian in 2019, button her up there for the season, then fly home from Great Harbour Cay to Pensacola on March 26th. With increasing travel restrictions, we saw two options:
1) cancel the trip, stay home, and try to fly over sometime in May or early June to secure the boat (an option we all know now was never going to happen), or not secure her at all and risk losing Plaintiff’s Rest if a hurricane swept over Spanish Wells; or
2) risk the trip in hopes we would be able to move and secure the boat and fly home just fine on the 26th (that also was not going to happen but we didn’t know it at the time) or—this was considered only in jest in the beginning—if all travel restrictions continued to mount, sail the darn boat home.
With those options, we chose to go. Despite the frightening news we received upon landing, we were happy to find the boat was floating happily waiting for us, ready to be put back together.
US: The Trump administration bans travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
BH: A Braemar cruise ship carrying five persons who tested positive for COVID-19 arrives in Bahamians waters but is not allowed to dock.
PR: Phillip and I set to work on the engine and spend a sweaty day holed up in the engine room putting the new fresh water pump on. Unfortunately, even with the new pump, the engine continued to overheat every time we let her rise up to 180 degrees. We turned in that night feeling defeated and worried about our prospects for moving the boat at all.
US: The CDC advises no events of 50+ people for the next eight weeks. New York, which is seen as the epicenter for the coronavirus at the time with near 1,000 cases announces it will close schools the following day and all bars and restaurants in New York must close by 8 p.m. the following night. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders hold theirfirst one-on-one debate in the Democratic primary to a crowd of zero.
BH: Prince George Dock closes as cruise lines world-wide suspended their operations amid the pandemic. The US Embassy cancels immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments indefinitely. Officials also announce the closure of all schools. The Office of the Prime Minister announces as of Thursday, March 19, all foreign, non-Bahamian nationals who have traveled in the United Kingdom, Ireland or Europe in the last 20 days will be prohibited entry to the Bahamas at any point of entry.
PR: After successfully figuring out how to effectively prime the fresh water pump (a story for another day) we finally got the engine running to temp. After scrubbing the boat thoroughly, and replacing a transducer that was giving us trouble back in November, Phillip and I shower up and watch the debate at Wreckers, a fantastic little restaurant and bar in Spanish Wells that was, thankfully, still open and serving.
US: The White House issues guidelines for social distancing, urging Americans to avoid restaurants and bars, limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people, and work and engage in schooling from home when possible. Airlines say they will need a $50 billion bailout as signs of how serious an economic crisis is resulting from the coronavirus become more apparent.
BH: The Bahamas Department of Corrections suspends visitations, commissary and all public activities. The Braemar cruise ship, with over 600 passengers who have been stranded at sea for weeks with infected passengers aboard, is redirected to Cuba where passengers will be flown home through a Cuban airport.
PR: Phillip and I start to seriously consider sailing as the most reliable option for us to get home without being quarantined or otherwise locked down or exposed to great numbers of potentially infected people at the airport. Ironically, as soon as we start to truly embrace the idea and start testing all systems for an offshore passage, we find the batteries are showing their age (seven years) and not holding a sufficient voltage (12.3 or lower) soon after being removed from shore power. We set our goal the following day on determining whether we can acquire new batteries and replace the battery bank ourselves in Spanish Wells in time to take advantage of a favorable window the day after.
US: With thousands in the hospitality and food industry filing for unemployment, the White House begins discussing direct payments to Americans to lessen the economic impact of the virus and tells GOP senators in a private meeting that unemployment could reach 20 percent without serious steps taken. The number of cases reported in Florida is 166, and the U.S. death toll from the virus hits 100. Florida’s Governor orders all bars and nightclubs be shut down state-wide.
BH: Governor General CA Smith signs a proclamation declaring a public state of emergency.
PR: I receive a text from my niece, who is in her first year of college at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, telling me she and her fellow students will not return to class until at least mid-April. The Plaintiff’s Rest crew is now fully committed to sailing home in light of the rapidly-changing pandemic situation. Thankfully, we find a marine service center in Spanish Wells that promises to be able to have four new 6-volt golf-cart batteries sent over by boat the following morning (March 18th) so we can install them on the boat and leave the next day (March 19th) under a good weather window of light east winds. With the shut-down of all bars back home, we hit up Wreckers again and again, knowing it may be the last restaurant we eat at for months.
US: The Trump administration closes the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential traffic. Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of medical equipment in a worst-case scenario. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Housing Finance Agency suspend foreclosures and evictions. By mid-afternoon the Dow has erased all of the gains since Trump took office.
BH: Governor General C.A. Smith declares a state of public emergency in the Bahamas due to the presence of COVID-19 in the country. Two more cases are confirmed in the Bahamas.
PR: Phillip and I squeal when we see a golf cart pull up to our slip that morning to drop off four new batteries for the boat. We tackle the install and squeal, again, to see the new batteries holding better than the old bank already with their off-the-shelf only charge. We make one last provision run to the store. In Spanish Wells, people (tourists mostly) are starting to buy and hoard toilet paper and paper towels. We buy one extra pack of each just to be safe, along with a slew of non-perishable provisions for our passage.
US: The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. Cases in the U.S. top 10,000 as the virus quickly spreads. Trump says the FDA is accelerating testing of treatments for the coronavirus. The State Department urges American citizens to avoid traveling internationally. California directs residents to stay in their homes. Weekly jobless claims jump by 70,000 in the wake of thousands of restaurant, bar, gym and other business closings.
BH: U.S. citizens who are abroad are advised to arrange for immediate return to the U.S., unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. Many airlines cancel international flights. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announces emergency orders activating partial nationwide shutdown and nightly curfew.
PR: Plaintiff’s Rest gets the heck out of dodge! Our first day under sail from Spanish Wells to the Great Bahamas Bank is, thankfully, a fantastic, easy downwind run.
US: The Trump administration closes the U.S.-Mexico border to nonessential travel. Governors in New York and Illinois urge residents to stay home. The Treasury Department pushes back the tax deadline from April 15 to July 15. There are now 563 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida. Florida’s Governor orders all restaurants to switch to take-out and delivery only.
BH: The Prime Minister announces a 9pm to 5am curfew, restrictions on private gatherings, and closure of most in-person businesses, with limited hours for food stores and farmers’ markets, pharmacies, gas stations, laundromats, banks, construction, and restaurants (limited to take-out only).
PR: Phillip and I sail beautifully across the Bahamas Bank and enter the Gulf Stream around sunset with plans to cross the Stream overnight and drop the hook somewhere in/near the Keys the following day.
US: The FDA approves the first “point of care” test for the coronavirus that can generate results in about 45 minutes. The news tells us 706 cases have been confirmed in Florida, with twelve deaths reported statewide.
BH: I hear from a fellow cruiser via Facebook Messenger that they are in the Exuma islands staying distant from other cruisers but they are grateful to be able to go ashore on the uninhabited islands just to be able to walk around and get some exercise.
PR: As soon as we gain signal after the Gulf Stream, Phillip receives an email from Delta advising our flights from Nassau to Atlanta and home have been cancelled. A friend texts us and tells us the Florida Keys have banned all incoming travel and that the marinas are shut down to transients. I find I’ve never felt more grateful to have a capable boat and ground tackle that enabled us to continue moving safely toward home, even while distancing.
We text a friend (shout-out to Russell and Lynn!) who sends us directions for a little anchorage just after the Channel 5 Bridge near Marathon called “Jew Fish Hole.” After a two and a half-day voyage from the Bahamas, Phillip and I are thrilled to be stopped and secure for the night. So thrilled it doesn’t bother us, too much, that the auto-pilot gave us trouble all day, frequently letting go and crying out “rudder response failure.” With no visible issues or bad connections, we feared the computer was simply going out and faced the reality that we would likely have to hand-steer the boat home. Knowing that, our plans then changed from a five or three-day passage mostly offshore, we decided to do day-hops as much as possible to avoid exhaustion from hand-steering. Phillip set his alarm to rise early the following day so we could motor our way up to Shark River.
US: Trump mobilizes the National Guard and says makeshift medical facilities will be built in New York, California and Washington, the three states hit hardest at the time by the outbreak. We learn all state parks in Florida, including many beaches, have been closed.
BH: Health officials announce they have tested 117 people in the Bahamas for the virus.
PR: Phillip and I set a schedule for hand-steering shifts and spend the day dodging crab pods and making our way through Yacht Channel and up the ICW. Shark River was another new anchorage we had heard good things about but had never tried, although we had also been warned the bugs there come in alien-like swarms. “They are huge, angry, and hunt in packs. You will not survive without screens,” one friend told us. While we do have screens, when the bugs started to mount in the cockpit as we simply approachedthe mouth of the river, Phillip and I decided to stay further out, to avoid the swarms and to keep us closer to our track the following morning. Thankfully, no bugs or cruisers were harmed during our visit.
US: Total confirmed cases in the U.S. reach 82,404—the highest in the world—surpassing China’s 81,782 and Italy’s 80,589. Trump announces FEMA was providing aid to the states, saying 73 pallets of personal protective equipment had been shipped to New York City.
BH: Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a 24-hour curfew and border shutdown among additional measures that expand the emergency powers regulations.
PR: Phillip and I weigh anchor at dawn and motor-sail our way up to Naples. We say several times during this trip how grateful we have been for calm, sunny weather. Although we are having to motor a good bit, it at least allows us to make way everyday and inch closer to home without being pinned up anywhere (that would likely be shut down for isolation) waiting on the weather. Phillip and I also love this little anchorage nook in Naples because it is a very easy in-and-out via a well-marked channel. It is also nice to nestle in among the rich and wealthy, without having to be one! The height and scale of some of the yachts here, as well as their pool statues never ceases to surprise me.
US: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee agree to postpone the Olympics until 2021 in light of the outbreak. Worldwide cases of COVID-19 surpass 400,000. Confirmed cases in the U.S. rise to 25,665. Miami-Dade, Alachua, and Orange Counties in Florida issue stay-at-home orders.
BH: All ports of entry are closed to pleasure yachts. A fifth COVID-19 case is confirmed on Grand Bahama. The patient has no relevant travel history.
US: We weigh anchor under a dazzling pink sunrise in Naples. Captain Annie has the brilliant idea to leave early (4:00 a.m.) to ensure we make it all the way to Cayo Costa before sunset, but I forgot about the damn crab pods in south Florida. It was a horrendous shift for me 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. hand-steering in the dark while trying to spot those stupid floating bombs in the water. I have never been happier for sunlight and my shift to be over that morning. I hate crab pods!
US: The White House and Senate leaders reach an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus deal to offset the economic damage of coronavirus, one of the most expensive and far-reaching measures in the history of Congress. The UN launches a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to assist vulnerable countries in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The first case of COVID-19 is reported in the British Virgin Islands.
BH: Traveler health questionnaires and a screening protocol is implemented at ports, hotels, and rental properties to identify guests who may require surveillance or treatment.
PR: The sun is a blazing pink ball rising as we lift the anchor and begin our leg from Cayo Costa up to Venice, Florida. We are grateful to speak to the harbor master on the phone and learn they are open for business and accepting transients. While we definitely could have continued hopping along toward home, without sufficient wind to sail, we would not have had enough gas to motor the rest of the way, and we wanted to change the engine oil. “Westie,” what we call our Westerbeke engine, was running up on 60 hours at that point, and we did not want to set off on another potential 30-40 hours of motoring home without giving him fresh oil. So, knowing Venice would afford us safe dockage, hot showers, laundry, and a complete top-off of all supplies was very comforting.
We were also able to successfully check back into the U.S. via the Small Vessel Reporting App while underway, which was a huge comfort getting that last step behind us without having to set foot in an airport or a crowd. The trip that day was also a nice run up the ICW. The occasional ill-timed bridge opening was the only annoyance, but on the bright side, it allowed me some exceptional opportunities to work on my boat maneuvering skills in tight places. We (I!) docked in the early afternoon, allowing us time to wash the boat before calling in some Carrabba’s via Uber Eats for dinner!
US: Italy reports the highest single-day death toll for any country of 919. Confirmed cases in New York rise to 37,258. Cases in the U.S. surpass those in China and Italy—making it the new epicenter of the pandemic. Anguilla reports its first cases of COVID-19.
BH: Four additional cases are confirmed on New Providence, bringing the total number of cases to nine. Health officials say country experiencing a “surge.”
PR: It is a full day for us in Venice, changing Westie’s oil, dumping the fuel jerries into the tank and walking them to the dock for a re-fill, washing everything possible on the boat, and getting an Uber around town to provision up on food, oil, and antifreeze. The grocery store is a bit haunting seeing folks in masks and gloves, wiping down all of the carts before handing them to you, and so much white empty space on the shelves, particularly the you-know-what aisle. We crash back at the boat as the sun sets and order up another Uber Eats from Papa John’s.
US: The news tells us more than one-third of humanity is under some form of lockdown. The World Health Organization (“WHO”) announces that the first patients will shortly be enrolled in Norway and Spain in a trial called the Solidarity Trial, comparing the effectiveness of four different drugs or drug combinations against COVID-19. Across Florida, we learn 3,198 people have contracted the virus, 46 of whom died.
BH: The Bahamas go into “lockdown.” Any cruiser on a boat in the Bahamas is allowed to stay until their visa expires, however, they are only permitted to go ashore for essentials like fuel, medical, or food. Any cruiser ashore after 9:00 p.m. can be arrested by the Bahamian Police. Bars, liquor stores, some marinas and restaurants are closed; cruisers must call ahead. There are now nine cases in New Providence and one in Grand Bahama.
PR: We’re off the dock early headed up the ICW to DeSoto Point, an anchorage we had never been to before but had always wanted to try. Phillip and I find ourselves uncovering many little silver linings like this along the way. Hand-steering is tiring, but it proves very do-able for short day hops. After navigating some frighteningly intense fog in the morning while trying to time the bridges, we make it to DeSoto in the early afternoon and drop the hook. Phillip and I give our baby girl a quick bottom job to speed us up for our anticipated 30-hour passage offshore to Apalachicola.
US: The Zaandamn cruise ship, which had over 130 passengers with flu-like symptoms aboard and two reported COVID-19 deaths, had been out to sea for two weeks and denied access to various ports is permitted to cross the Panama Canal and proceed to Florida for dockage and quarantine. We learn New York is now being considered the epicenter of the pandemic with over 700 cases and 12% of the workforce sick. Trump recommends a strong travel ban on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
BH: A 35-year-old woman with no recent travel history tested positive for COVID-19 on Grand Bahama.
PR: Phillip and I rise early and head off at sunset to make our way up to Clearwater to stage up for our offshore crossing. Motor-sailing into Clearwater proves anything but boring as scores of boaters of all shapes and sizes zip and whizz around us in the channel, while thirteen knots of breeze tries to push us out of it. It was very telling, though, that many people were using boating as an escape from being cooped up in their houses. There were scores of people out! But, the traffic finally settled out around sunset and the rolling ceased, allowing Phillip and I to fall fast asleep on the hook, eager to get our longest, likely most arduous offshore passage started and behind us. While the trip definitely offered us a fair amount of fun and enjoyable moments, it also felt like a marathon as we pushed each day to go as far as we safely could. Typically when we are cruising we stay longer at certain places. We rest, and explore, and don’t wear ourselves out as much, but this trip was definitely different in that we had to, every day possible, keep going, keep working, keep the boat moving toward home.
US: Trump extends the federal guidelines on social distancing for another 30 days after a top public health expert warned deaths from the coronavirus could reach as many as 200,000 in the U.S. We learn the virus count in Florida is 4,950, with a current death toll of 60. Friends from home send us reports of continued closures of restaurants and businesses. They gripe about having the kids home 24/7 and tell us downtown Pensacola looks eerily desolate, but that the anchorages are full and cheery.
BH: Three more cases are confirmed in New Providence. We hear from fellow cruisers in Eleuthera that they made it safely to Cape Eleuthera Marina and have been able to get provisions, but they advise us Great Harbour Cay is not permitting any cruisers to leave their vessels.
PR: Phillip and I weigh anchor around 6:00 a.m. and start our first offshore leg of this voyage without an auto-pilot. With very little wind, we are reliant primarily upon our engine, which makes me nervous as I always fear something can easily go wrong there, just as it did when we were trying to make it to the BVIs. Any slight beep or knock or odd sound makes me jump in fear that the engine is breaking. But, Westie holds strong and motors an impressive 34 hours all the way across. Other than navigating a few Behemoth ships during our night shifts, we have a nice run but find ourselves sore throughout our backs, arms, and shoulders from the steering.
US: Florida’s Governor asks retired first responders and health-care workers to return to the workforce as hospitals are anticipating becoming overwhelmed with virus victims. The Department of Education announces that in-person classes will not resume in Florida schools until at least May 1st.
BH: Returning Bahamian residents must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon re-entry if they have traveled to other countries. The islands are closed to all tourists.
PR: We watch the sun rise over Dog Island as we make the East Pass the following morning and listen to a bit on NPR about how many thousands of people are watching the movie Contagion right now and spend the day motoring from the East Pass into Apalachicola, thankful that Westie is still running so strong and steady, and tie up at the City Dock around 5:00 p.m. We look for signs to see if dockage is prohibited but see none and we receive friendly greetings from residents, further than six feet away, who are walking about. Feeling as though we will be able to stay, Phillip and I further secure the lines knowing a hard north wind will be coming through in the following days. We’re grateful, however, that it will be blowing us off the dock, rather than onto it. However, our good luck proves short-lived when we get a knock on the hull later that evening telling us we have to leave the dock due to isolation orders. While we completely understood the reason, being banished to the river with storm-winds of potentially 40+ coming the next day was not a happy moment for this crew. We dropped 175 feet of chain with our Mantus snubber and hoped for the best.
US: We learn there has been another jump in Florida cases, which now total 6,741 with 85 deaths. Sumter County issues a stay-at-home advisory. We hear hospitals are running out of sedation drugs needed to intubate COVID-19 patients. Over 80% of the U.S., more than 262 million citizens, are under stay-at-home orders.
BH: A new case of COVID-19 brings the total number of cases on Grand Bahama to three.
PR: A different kind of storm is brewing over our heads where we wait on anchor in the Apalachicola River for the winds to build. I spend the afternoon in the cockpit watching the wind gage, the anchor, and the snubber, as the boat heels, groans, and careens on anchor. It is not a pleasant afternoon on the boat. However, the highest wind speed we see is 36 knots, and our ground tackle proves up to the task. We are still very pleased with our decision to purchase the Sarca Excelanchor. The storm finally passes around 5:00 p.m. and we immediately begin happy hour celebrations. We spend a cozy evening on the hook and set the alarm for an early rise and motor up “the ditch” the following day over to Port St. Joe. We are surprised to find a tiny little marina, Captain’s Cove Marina in the ditch, is still open for business, so we set our sights there. Sadly, we heard Port St. Joe Marina, which used to be one of our favorites, was wiped out by Hurricane Michael and has not yet been rebuilt.
US: Florida’s Governor, although reluctant to do so, issues a statewide stay-at-home order that is set to go into effect on midnight of the evening of April 2nd, the night we expect to arrive in Pensacola.
BH: Six new cases are confirmed in New Providence. A report from Staniel Cay advises no travel is permitted between the islands except for emergencies.
PR: I think Sleepy River would be a better name than “the ditch” for this part of the river. It makes you feel like you’re floating along like Huckleberry Finn would have done on his little raft. It really is a beautiful river. Unfortunately, the winds are still blowing 18-25 most of the morning and sometimes, working against both the current and the wind, our boat can only make 2-2.5 knots, a slightly scary speed when you’re motoring a tight channel. But, the current finally loosened its grip when we turned a bend in the river, and we were able to then make good speed of 4-5 knots. We tied up at Captain’s Cove Marina around 4:00 p.m. and were happy to find fuel, simple but operational hot showers, even ice. It’s the little things, you know? We set our alarms for another early rise anticipating an 18-24 hour offshore run from St. Joseph Bay home.
US: Ironically, the U.S. is now getting large shipments of masks and other personal protective equipment from China as the Chinese were thankfully able to beat the curve and are beginning to recover. Total COVID-19 cases in the world surpasses one million. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is telling us on NPR how to sanitize our groceries, which only tells us just how really weird things are going to be back home.
BH: All boaters are to remain on board their vessels. If provisions are required, they are instructed to contact local grocery stores for delivery to the nearest dock. We hear reports locals in Spanish Wells have been instructed to watch for cruisers leaving their boats and going ashore and to report them to the Bahamian Police. No domestic travel by plane or boat is permitted within the Bahamas. Three more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in the Bahamas, the youngest is nine years old.
PR: Phillip and have a very real fear we could be stopped in Pensacola Bay while coming in and sent away or sent to a quarantine, or forced to endure some other outcome we couldn’t even predict at that point. We are hopeful, however, that the “worst” thing that could happen is they tell us to dock and go straight home to quarantine. That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do for weeks, so we considered that to be a potentially great outcome.
We shove off the teensy dock at Captain’s Cove Marina around 6:00 a.m. and begin motoring out into the St. Joseph Bay. Thankfully, the wind allows us to motor-sail and make 6.5 knots average throughout the morning. It dies off in the afternoon and into the evening as we hand-steer and continue under motor. Phillip whips up a chorizo jumbalaya dinner that we eat under red head lamps and settle into hour-long steering shifts expecting to get to the Pensacola Pass around midnight or 2:00 a.m. Although the news reports continue to make home seem like a new frontier, Phillip and I cannot wait to get there after a long day offshore with still a long night ahead.
US: We learn Florida’s case-rate is 10,268 total cases with 170 deaths. The global economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is now estimated to be between $2 and $4 trillion, that is if the pandemic is contained by the end of September. The United States now has the highest number of cases in the world, over 245,000.
BH: The Prime Minister’s Order is interpreted by cruisers to mean once your visa expires, you are to leave Bahamian waters. There will be no extensions. In the coming days we hear cruisers trying to go ashore for provisions are being stopped by un-uniformed “Bahamian Police” and sent back to their vessels. We also learn that of the few grocery stores that remain open, many have implemented a schedule where you can only enter during certain hours according to your last name and ID must be shown and checked at the door.
PR: Phillip and I see the masts of our friends who are anchored up at Ft. McRee as we come in and, while it feels good to be in familiar waters, we both know we are actually in probably the most unfamiliar waters we’ve ever been in before with the current state of things. However, we are thrilled to see our marina on the horizon and find no other boats, no Coast Guard vessels, no Fish and Wildlife, no one out there to stop us. We motor in and dock in our designated slip under the black of night. Phillip and I walk home in our foul weather gear probably looking like we’ve donned haz-mat suits in light of the epidemic, which may not be a bad idea. We see no one, and we’re grateful for it. With that arduous journey behind us, we sleep the sleep of Gods even as the sun rises over a new day. While we have no idea what lies in store for the remainder of this year, particularly with respect to travel, I have never felt more grateful to simply have the boat safely in our fold, with the two of us healthy and back home.
We hope you all are staying safe and well out there.
No, that wasn’t it. Let’s see … coming up on a sunken airplane and fearing I might find the dead pilot, all bloated and rotting still in the pilot seat?
That was a close second. I always imagine the dead bodies of those who may have been lost in the crash when I come up on a sunken vessel or plane. Viewing footage from the sunken Titanic really freaks me out.
But, I’ll have to confess that my actual scariest moment underwater up to this point was when I got spooked by a starfish. Yes. A starfish. Those super cute little critters that barely move at all and can’t hurt anything. I can blame that one on Phillip as he brought it up right next to my face when the water was murky from us scrubbing the bottom and we knew sharks could be around so I was on high-alert. Inches from my watery goggles, that thing looked like a carnivorous octopus. So, I felt highly justified in my momentary full-body starfish freak-out. But, that moment was recently one-upped when we were cruising this last November in the Berry Islands by my to-date scariest moment underwater.
Although our sail from Devil’s-Hoffmandown to Chub Cay in the southern Berry Islands, Bahamas was not a fun one, it was rough upwind romp in 18-22 knots of wind (yuck!), thankfully Plaintiff’s Rest handled it incredibly well.
Especially considering this was her first time sailing in six months as she had just weathered hurricane season astonishingly well hunkered down in Great Harbour Cay. She beat and bashed her way right down the Berry Island chain to the inlet near Chub Cay.
Phillip and I were both thrilled when we finally got some wind-block and felt the conditions ease up. We had decided to sail down this way before making our way over to Eleuthera to visit some friends of our who have a house on Frazer’s Hog Cay. The story of how we met Steve and Pat and our completely random but instantly un-severable friendship is always a fun one to share. Feel free to check it out in this fun blog post: Cruising Is About People: Steve & Pat, This One’s For You!
Steve and Pat are the type of people cut from the same cloth as Pam Wall, extremely well-traveled, resourceful, kind, incredibly funny, and wildly entertaining. They’re the kind of people you feel every moment spent with them was one not wasted. Phillip and I were excited for the opportunity to spend another memorable few days with Steve and Pat while on their ball there off of Frazer’s Hog Cay before we headed off to Eleuthera with the very loose plans to potentially take the “I-65 route” down to the BVIs in 2020. That was the plan … and those always work out to a “T” when cruising, right?
For the moment, we had no idea what future lay in store other than a few fun days likely spent snorkeling, spear-fishing, beach picnicking, kitesurfing, and often ending with a fun community dinner each night on the island followed by a rousing game of Mexican Dominoes which … can get pretty heated! That was how we spent our time last time at Frazer’s Hog Cay and it was actually Steve who taught us both how to spearfish back in 2018.
During that trip, I speared my first lobster! It was a thrilling crunch through this guy’s shell that got me hooked on spearfishing!
Especially for lobster as they rarely flee. Yeah, that’s right, I like prey that can’t run away. I’m that guy. Although, they can slide down your spear, though, which is exactly what this guy did, crashing right on my face, causing me to have an absolute flip-out. (Those are real.) I ended up dropping him down to the bottom in my thrashing and coughing, but thankfully he wasn’t able to get off the spear so I was able to retrieve him. I was told it made for an exceedingly entertaining show from Steve and Pat’s front row seats in the dinghy.
In light of that experience last time, Steve was excited to get us out again for another spear session in the Berries. Our first day, we dove right around their house and Phillip speared several lobsters!
Man, that was a tasty dinner. Although I got absolutely creamed in Mexican Dominoes that night, it was worth it for the fresh shellfish! Day two, the crew packed up on a fellow islander’s toot-around boat, lovingly named the Chub Tub and headed over to picnic and snorkel on Bird Cay.
Again, Steve had us armed with spears in case we spotted anything swimming around that could be equally tasty for dinner. That day, spearfishing in the Berries, however, left me with a lasting, albeit frightening memory. Who here is familiar with lionfish?
Along the Gulf coast, there has been a big push in the last 5-10 years encouraging fishermen to hunt and kill as many lionfish as possible, as they are invasive, unnatural predators in our Gulf waters. Sadly, lionfish are carnivorous with no known predators and the ability to reproduce all year long. As such, they stand as a deadly threat to native stocks such as snapper and grouper as well as algae-eating parrotfish. So, when the crew spotted a lionfish during one of our beach picnic outings, Steve was the first to hand me a spear. Any enemy of the mesmerizing ecosystem in the Bahamas is an enemy of mine, so I did not hesitate.
I dove down to where two lionfish had been spotted, just a few feet under water, hiding among some rocks and coral. I was nervous but excited as I drew back my spear, aiming directly for the body. Then the worst thing happened. I speared the first lionfish clean through on the first shot without issue.
Why is that the worst thing to have happened? Because it made me undeservedly confident. Then another terrible thing happened. I shot the second lionfish clean through. The crowd was going wild!
Then a terrible thing happened. A third was spotted and I went after him with reckless abandon, feeling like the true lion tamer I thought I was. If my head could have fit inside of his open mouth I would have stuck it in there just to hear the roar from the crowd. I was undefeatable! I was a champion! I was … delusional.
With my spear cocked and aimed at the third lionfish, I let it go and watched it pierce into the rocks around the lionfish. He wriggled and retreated but he was not speared. I followed down further, got closer, cocked and aimed but missed again and when I did, on the verge of my ability to hold my breath, that’s when my scariest moment underwater occurred.
As soon as the spear left my hand and struck the rock, that lionfish burst out of his hole, with all quills fully fanned out and he started steaming toward me.
It was just for a second before he turned back around, but I think my heart stopped. I know I pissed my bikini. I sucked in a mouthful of water and breached the surface hacking and coughing and flailing as fast as I could away from those rocks, envisioning an army of lionfish chasing me. Although I was, again, a wildly-entertaining flailing Annie mess, this time was far more frightening than the lobster-face encounter. I’m pretty sure all lobsters can do is pinch and snip you. But, the thought of being poisoned underwater? No thank you. The thought of instant paralysis and sinking earned that frightening fish the win for the day. Although I was brave enough to go back to get my spear, I couldn’t see that bastard lionfish anymore when I did and I’m not sure I would have aimed at him again … that day anyway. For the time being, he will be, for me, the one that got away. But, I was thankful for those I was able to spear. And, that I had at least killed two of those terrible predators.
Take that Lionfish 1 and Lionfish 2. As for you, Lionfish 3. I hope we meet again someday beneath the deep sea.
Phillip and I will both eagerly, happily, readily admit it: We are 100% fair-weather sailors on our boat. While there are definitely longer, more intense passages we still want to make in our lifetime—sailing around Cape Horn, for example, sailing in the Indian Ocean, we’ve even thought about doing a leg of the Clipper Race—we probably will not do those in our boat and we will not do them because we like to bash around in rough conditions. Much like the Atlantic-crossings we have done, Phillip and I would undertake those because of the accomplishment it would signify. There is a lot of pride that comes into play when we both can say: “Yes, we’ve sailed across the Atlantic.” Or, when people ask, “How did you get to Cuba?” and we can say: “We sailed there.”
“Just the two of you?”
“Yes, just the two of us.”
I’ll be honest. That’s a pretty f&*king cool feeling. I love the look people sometimes give us in response. I feel like they are now thinking there are more things in the world possible than they knew, and that, if those two can do that, maybe I can do more than I imagined. I hope Phillip and I always inspire each other and other people to greater endeavors. When Phillip and I voluntarily embark on passages we know could likely become extremely arduous, we do it for that reason: to accomplish something rare, do something many others have not.
But, the only reward for a common day-hop where the conditions became gnarly is: You Survived! And your reward is simply a “Whew! We made it,” and an icy cocktail at the end of the day. I’ll be honest: I’m going to have a cocktail either way, so I’ll take it without the bash-about and potential broken-whatever.
Phillip and I would never take our boat out in 25-30 knot winds and big seas just for the sport of it. No, Ma’am. If Phillip and I find ourselves in that unfortunate situation, it’s because we didn’t know it was going to be like that out there and our weather prediction was off. (Because that never happens, right? ; ) Well, that was precisely what happened to us when we wrapped our magic dinghy ride to the Blue Hole at Devil’s-Hoffman Cay and sailed down to Chub Cay in the southern Berry Islands to meet up again with our friends Pat and Steve who have a wonderful rustic island home there. It was supposed to be an easy beam-reach day-sail.
Supposed to …
When we left Devil’s-Hoffman, Phillip and I were expecting winds of 15 out the east which would have put us on a nice beam reach heading south toward Chub Cay. And, recall this was going to be our first time sailing Plaintiff’s Rest—not motor-sailing as we did from Great Harbour to Devil’s-Hoffman, but pure sailing—in SIX MONTHS (Lord!) because we had just returned after hurricane season to pick up our cruising again in November, 2019.
We were so excited to get underway, in fact, and start sailing that day that we weighed anchor and set off in the pouring rain.
We didn’t care. We were going sailing! Our kind of sailing.
And, it definitely started out that way! See?
Nice 15-knot winds right on the beam. We were flying! Look at that. Making 7.3 speed with ease (and comfort). But, about an hour into our “perfect sail” the conditions started to deteriorate. Of course, the rain came back, in cold driving sheets.
But, far worse, the wind not only shifted—to where it was coming more out of the southwest, right on our nose as we tried to pivot onto a heading toward Chub Cay—they also picked up to 22-25 knots, which is just more than we prefer. Don’t get me wrong. Our baby girl is tough as nails, with all new wire rigging put on in 2016, her mast-step rebuilt stronger than ever before, and a super rugged but flexible balsa core throughout. She is fully capable of sailing in 25+ with ease, I just don’t personally want to see, hear, or feel her do it. The potential for breakage skyrockets and stresses me out. I’m not a shoe person but it would be like putting on a new pair of exquisite, shiny Louis Vitton heels and then running like mad through the streets. You are totally going to mess those shoes up. (And your ankles, too, in that scenario). Although I hear women do it …on a professional level!
But, there we were, three hours now away from turning back toward Devil’s-Hoffman, or two hours into the wind to get where we needed to keep our cruising momentum. What would you do?
We reefed up and kept trucking. It was kind of shocking to see how quickly the seas kicked up, though. I guess with no protection from the south, it doesn’t take long for the wind to impact the seas, because we were beating into some miniature monsters.
Every time we tacked thinking it would give us an advantage, I swear we were going backwards. Like we were on a sea treadmill and losing ground. I felt like the boat gave us a “Really guys?” each time we tacked and didn’t gain an inch.
In moments like those, I wish I could become this huge hand that comes down from the sky and just plucks her like a rubber bath duckie out of that mess and sets her gently down in the anchorage, still and safe, and on her hook.
Have any of you ever felt that way? You’re fine to bury the rails and beat to windward on anyone’s boat but your own? I wonder if I’m alone on this?
Although Phillip and I love sailing, we love cruising, we love being on our boat, there are just some sails I want to end, and, unfortunately, this was one for us. Our first sail of the 2019 cruising season, and we just wanted it to end. But, I must say the boat performed beautifully. She powered through, and that hellish beat was over in a few hours. I can’t tell you what a sigh of relief Phillip and I both let out when we turned into the inlet at Chub Cay and the seas finally loosened their grip.
I love that moment when the boat finally slows from a full-out run to a gentle gallop, then to an easy trot, and you know you’re going to make it. That day we (well, and by “we” I mean primarily Plaintiff’s Rest, with me and Phillip simply riding on her back) definitely earned our “Whew! We made it.” And, you remember what I said about the cocktail. Happy hour is not optional on Plaintiff’s Rest. : )
There she is! Anchored out safely (thank goodness!) behind Frazer’s Hog Cay after a rough beat.
Next up, we play around the southern Berries with some fantastic island friends and embark on our first lionfish spearing adventure. You never know, Captain Annie may still become a lion tamer yet!
It’s not just a rubber transport, it’s more of a magic carpet. Looking at the photos from our time at Devil’s-Hoffman in the Berry Islands, Bahamas, I felt inspired to share a little about … the magic of a dinghy ride.