“Never cross with a north wind!” Can you hear it? Pam Wall’s little energetic voice? She repeated this warning many times when we first saw, heard and met her at the Miami Boat Show back in February, 2015. I had no idea that amazing little enthusiastic woman would soon thereafter change my life.
Love that bubbly little lady!
After listening to her inspiring “Cruising the Abacos” seminar (and finding ourselves in dire hunger soon after for some “fresh baked Bahamian bread,” Pam always squeals when she says it) Phillip and I had originally decided back in 2015 that the first place we were going to cruise our boat to outside of the states would be the Bahamas. And that decision held firm for a long time until we heard Cuba had thankfully opened up for American cruisers. Heck yeah!
While the Bahamas were hard to pass up, we knew they would be there waiting for us the next season, and with the tumultuous state of American-Cuban relations, we weren’t sure Cuba would be. That was when we decided to set our sights first on Cuba, and it was a fantastic decision. Mine and Phillip’s cruise to Cuba in December, 2016 was a monumental, memorable voyage for us both. It was our longest offshore passage (five days) just the two of us and it was the first time we had sail our beautiful little boat from the shores of one country to another. What an incredible feeling! I still remember when we watched the sun come up over the horizon on the fifth morning.
“That’s a Havana sunrise right there,” Phillip said and he played “Havana Daydreaming” most of the morning as we made our way towards the inlet to Marina Hemingway, singing heartily along as his late Uncle Johnny would have, who had also wanted to sail to Cuba but he unfortunately was not able to do so before he passed away. I know Johnny was there with Phillip in spirit and I can still hear Phillip’s voice from that morning as he sat on the foredeck and sang. “Oh he’s just scheming … his life away.”
Thankfully, we’re not just scheming. We are going! Our voyage to Cuba was a phenomenal trip and only told Phillip and I that we are ready to travel further and longer, just the two of us, on our boat. So, in 2017 we decided we would set our sights on the Bahamas this season and enjoy the wonderful pristine patch of islands we have so close by. It’s amazing to think that jewel-toned paradise is really only a 12-hour sail from the states. How lucky we are! All we needed was just a sliver more luck to give us a nice “no north wind” window of favorable conditions to allow us to sail from the Keys and across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.
In the months before our departure date from Pensacola, Phillip and I (well, and I will admit Phillip far more than me) spent many hours studying the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas making decisions about where we planned to enter the Bahamas, where we wanted to check in and what islands (called “Cays” in the Bahamas, pronounced “keys”) we wanted to sail to and visit and in what order, although knowing every plan is and will always be weather-dependent. Having just recently completed my first Bahamas article for SAIL Magazine (thank you again, Peter Nielsen, for requesting more articles from me!) which will focus on preparing and packing for a trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I both agree an intense study of the Explorer Charts and determinations as to where you want to go in the Bahamas and what route you want to take to explore them is a great first place to start when preparing to travel to the Bahamas. Much of what you will need aboard will depend on how you are planning to traverse the Bahamas and what you are planning to do there as supplies are readily available in some places, limited and altogether unavailable in others.
After talking with fellow sailors back home who had cruised the Bahamas many times and taking into consideration what time of year Phillip and I were going (during December-January, when we knew we could expect many sudden and intense north fronts, the “Christmas winds,” and some chilly water and weather), we decided to make our way as far north as possible first and check in at West End.
We would then start dotting our way along the Sea of Abaco seeking protection from the northerly islands as needed when storms and heavy north winds were expected. (And boy did they come. I recorded 36 kts of wind on the boat one afternoon in Green Turtle Cay. Just wait.)
With the plan to enter the Bahamas at West End, Phillip and I knew we wanted to “ride” the Gulf Stream as far as we could north before jumping out to make entry into West End. Initially, we weren’t sure we would get a window large enough to allow us to sail all the way from Key West to West End. If we did not, our plan was to dot along the Florida Keys to Marathon then perhaps Rodriguez Key while waiting for a good window to make the jump. But, when we saw a beautiful two-day window blooming on the horizon, we started to top off the provisions and ready the boat to make way. While we had a ton of fun in Key West (we always do!) meeting the new Geckos and getting to spend some time with them, seeing our old pals Brittany and Jeremiah and getting to watch their beautiful Alberg splash, as well as enjoying the many great restaurants and poolside views, we are always eager and excited to get back underway.
On Wednesday, December 20th, with expected 10-12 kt winds the first day (which would offer us a fun, comfortable sail around the Keys) and light, fluky winds of 5 kts or less the following day (which would allow us to at least motor safely across the Gulf Stream), Phillip and I decided to toss the lines and seize the window! You’ll see in the video, Annie de-docked like a boss (I tell you I’m getting much better at this), and we then had a fantastic cruise all the way from Key West to West End, just shy of a two-day run.
Man, that’s living …
So, is that. With all the work comes all the rewards.
There’s the entry to West End!
Don’t tell Pam this, but we totally broke the rule because you know what kind of winds we had throughout the entire Gulf Stream? That’s right. North! We crossed with a north wind, Pammy. I’m sorry! But, when it’s howling at 3 kts, a north wind isn’t really going to affect the boat that much, particularly when it had been blowing from the south for a short time before. Meaning, the sea state was just starting to turn around and we essentially crossed on a smooth, glassy lake. It was beautiful though. While I always prefer to have wind to sail, there is nothing that can replicate the beauty of a hull sliding through silk at sunrise. It’s just stunning.
I hope you all enjoy the video. I have had such a great time filming just for pleasure and putting these videos together for you all, just for pure fun. Not to make any money from them. Not in hopes they will get a lot of hits so I can get YouTube ad money. Just because our views were amazing, so I clicked the camera on occasionally, and because the videos are such a vivid personal scrapbook for us. I really will be excited to sit down when I’m 70 and watch my Atlantic-crossing movie. Can you imagine that? I wonder if YouTube will still be a “thing” then? Who knows. If any of you have read Dave Eggers’s The Circle (one Phillip and I both read in the Bahamas), apparently we all will soon be be filming and uploading every moment of our existence for all the world to see. Heck, with the immediacy of Instagram and Facebook these days, we’re almost there.
But you know where you can truly unplug and get away? Out there. On the big open blue. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be out there, nothing but satiny water all around you and nothing you have to do but eat, sleep, mend the boat and read. I could sail offshore forever, happily, I do believe. I hope you all love this bit. As always, I try to capture the beauty of the voyage, the work and maintenance it requires, and the reward of having your beautiful, strong boat carry you from the shores of one country to another. Next up, we’ll begin sharing the Bahamas with you, one Cay at a time. Be ready to pick your jaws up off the floor because it’s breathtaking. Stay tuned!
There were! Everywhere we went. More than we expected. Geckos here. Geckos there. Geckos extraordinaire! You’re right, not real geckos. I’ll admit I know not the native local habitat of geckos. The desert, I would imagine? This was—as I mentioned—a different breed of geckos. The cruising kind! Of all the fun, exciting things we were expecting to find in the Keys, a gecko overload was not one. But that’s the beauty of chance and fate. He stopped me by the pool in Stock Island with a sentiment I’ve heard often: “I know you from YouTube,” and there it happened. We had stumbled upon a pair of newbie cruisers who were about to purchase, splash and move onto their first liveaboard sailboat the next day and it just so happened they had bought the s/v Lazy Gecko. It’s amazing the happenstances that can happen out there and it is a constant reminder how truly small the cruising world is. Fun video for you all of the lazy splash below and a surprise visit from a rather famous cruising couple. But first, let’s get back to our Bahamas-Bound saga.
If you caught the video from our five-day voyage across the Gulf, you’ll know I got rather sick on that voyage. The sickest, I can easily say, I have been in my adult life. In true Annie-style, I spent the first few days of our trip trying to hide it from Phillip, telling him it was “just a sore throat,” “a little head cold, it’s almost gone.” But every time I swallowed, it felt like a fresh layer of skin was ripped off of my throat and swallowed down, leaving it raw and seething. Day three my voice began to go out so there was no more hiding it. I sounded like Patty and Zelma from the Simpsons. You remember this fun clip:
That’s one sexy rasp! Day four, my throat having been way more than “just sore” now for almost a full ninety-six hours, Phillip and I were both pretty sure I had strep throat. And every day began with a clattering cough trying to hack phlegm up and swallow it down. Appetizing, right? Just wait. Day seven, I woke in the middle of the night to the odd sensation of my eyes oozing. I would wipe some gook out of my tear ducts, but then I could feel it puff back up under my lids, ooze out of my duct, pool up on my nose and literally drip off the bridge of my nose onto my pillow. Nice. Several hours in I could mash it out of my eyes by running a thumb across my puffy lids and squeezing it out like a tube of toothpaste. Did I find it odd my eyes were oozing? Sure! Worrisome? Nah. All told, my sore throat had healed and my morning cough wasn’t too taxing. I figured whatever nasty shit was in my head was finally making its way out—albeit out my eyeballs—and I chalked the drainage up to be a good sign. Annie didn’t take a lot of selfies during that phase, but here was one pic Phillip snapped of me my first red-eye morning and you can see it’s not pretty.
Waiters and waitresses seemed to be afraid to serve me, or at least touch anything I had touched. Probably smart. While waking up several mornings in a row with lashes caked so heavily with snot clusters I had to manually pry my lids open was not fun, it did prove to be the last of my wicked strep-bronchinus-infection (we called it) and finally, somewhere around Day Ten, the Captain considered me fully-healed. Hooray!
Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because gross bodily stuff is really cool and interesting. At least I think so. But, really, I wanted to share all of this to pass along another important cruising lesson on first aid and medication: ANTIBIOTICS. When Phillip and I shove off on an extended cruise, we like to try to get a couple of rounds of preventative antibiotics prescribed so we can have them on-board in case one of us gets a wicked infection in a location where we are not close to a clinic … like 100 miles offshore in the Gulf. Did we have antibiotics aboard to treat Annie’s wicked illness? Yes. Points for us. But, was Annie too stubborn and stupid during the first four days of her illness to take them? Yes. Take back those points. I hate taking medication and I really thought it was just a pretty bad cold that was I was just about to overcome. So, I waited. I felt like taking antibiotics for “just a head cold” would be a waste. I usually have them prescribed for a UTI, which I am known to get every couple of years and I wanted to be sure I had them for that if one of those flared up while we were crossing. I would much rather have the gnarly shit I did than days and days of an untreated, raging UTI. Any ladies out there who know the feeling would probably totally agree. But when Phillip finally won out and I did start taking the antibiotics, I made another mistake. (Me? Stubborn? Noooo … ).
I am always a ball of sunshine!
You can probably guess what it was. Obviously, I’m trying to spare as much medication as possible and I still believed I could kick that thing on my own. So, I did what I often do when taking antibiotics: stop-mid dose and save the rest. That has often proved helpful. Here, it proved decidedly detrimental. I took the antibiotics for two days (the last two of our voyage), and I started to feel better, so I stopped. “Must save the rest now for a burning bladder, Annie,” I told myself. Then what happened? My eyes started oozing and my morning cough began and my illness lasted an extra five days. As Phillip later pointed out, if you stop an antibiotics regimen too early, the illness isn’t eliminated but, rather, educated on how to fight that particular antibiotic and it rears back twice as strong. Mine certainly did. So, two lessons for you here fellow cruisers (all lessons are free today): 1) carry preventative antibiotics aboard on long passages (as I mentioned, my ob/gyn nurse prescribes them for me for potential UTIs); and 2) take the whole damn dose. Don’t pull an Annie. Oozing eyes are not sexy.
But, back to our saga. We made it to Key West! Stock Island, rather, as this was the marina where we kept our boat most of the spring last year after returning from Cuba while we flew back and forth to work in Pensacola and play in Key West and we were very pleased with the security, cleanliness and efficiency of the marina at Stock Island Village. While it is a little pricey, it is also a fabulous facility, now with a completed hotel and nice pool, lounge and bar area available for free to all marina residents that we highly recommend.
We heart Stock Island!
And, we were so glad to see it had not been damaged or wiped out entirely by Irma! One of the really fun things we discovered about this marina, immediately after our return from Cuba, was that there is a little Cuban restaurant within walking distance that everyone claimed was “very authentic.” Having just sailed 90 miles from that wonderful island last December, with plenty of Cuban ropa vieja, picadillo and plantains still making their way through our tummies, we were highly skeptical, but definitely intrigued. And the little Cuban gal that runs that tight ship at Deluna’s did not disappoint. We got a mojo pork, with beans, rice and fried plantains that definitely held its own up against our high Cuban standards. And, when we came back to Stock Island this time, we were pleasantly surprised once again by this little Cuban cuisine gem.
“We’re having a little dock party tonight over at Deluna’s to announce our Christmas parade winners,” one of our new boat neighbors told us after he helped us dock and tie-up. “Ahh … cool. Maybe we’ll check it out,” Phillip and I said, not knowing whether we would in fact as we had been planning (and talking, and dreaming, and drooling) about it for days. Our first dinner ashore after crossing the Gulf we had both agreed would be Roostica, a fabulously-decadent little pizzeria bistro in Stock Island that makes delicious wood-fired thin-crust pizzas with names like The Diablo, The Island Pie, Truffle & Mushroom. Are you getting hungry yet? We were. Phillip and I—splayed out wet, exhausted and salty in our stinky foul weather gear sloshing around on passage—had been daydreaming about every oily, buttery, cheesy bite for four days. After our first hot shore shower, it was the first place we were planning to go. But then our dock neighbor said:
“They’re serving food and drinks, too. For free.”
Free?! That’s “cruiser” for “We’re going.” So we did.
And turns out by “food” they meant a tantalizing Cuban feast! Braised pork shoulder, black beans, succulent yellow rice, yucas (Cuban-style mashed potatoes), fresh Cuban bread (“Pre-buttered? Shit yeah,” Phillip said) and sweet, fried plantains. As much as you could eat, with a full wine glass coming every 15 minutes? All for free?! The decision was immediate and mutual. Sorry Roostica. We knew it would be there for us another evening. The Delunas folks had tip jars out and we gave generously then hopped in line to fill a heaping plate.
Then another …
And another. I’m not kidding.
Yes, thirds. We had thirds. I don’t think I’ve had thirds since Thanksgiving 2009. Holy smokes did we eat. But it was the perfect “Welcome back to Stock Island” event. And then we were just stumbling distance from our boat. Our bellies so full we could have rolled home. It was a great way to end our first night ashore.
The next day we were planning to walk or jog to Key West. The beach stretch on the south side of the island is really beautiful and we’ve enjoyed trekking from Stock Island to Key West on foot before.
We wanted to eat at one of our favorite places in Key West, a little French creperia that makes (don’t tell Yannick) better crepes than we had in France. Sorry, but it’s just true. Savory ones with mushrooms, chicken and beschamel sauce. Or sweet ones with dark chocolate and bananas foster. God, can you tell we’re foodies??
Another item on our agenda while in Key West was a reunion visit with an old friend from Pensacola. Our buddy, Russ, who worked at www.PerdidoSailor.com in the shipyard under Brandon for a while, had left Pensacola a few years back on his 1969 42’ Pearson to begin his own cruising adventure and he had landed, as many do, in Key West where we heard he was working on one of the charter schooners there. There are only like a thousand charter schooners in Key West.
But I must share one little secret Russ and I had. Back at the shipyard in Pensacola, Russ and I … we got really close. Physically. I mean it! We did. The two of us were cramped in the bilge of our Niagara 35 for a week together rebuilding our rotten stringers back in the winter of 2015. There’s not a lot of room in there and there was a lot of work to do. We had to get close. Roll that fabulous shipyard footage!
Ahhh … good times with Russ. It was very fun to have a reunion with him and hit up a few of the dive bars and delightfully tacky joints around Key West Harbor. Everyone loves Schooner’s Wharf! Say “Hey!” to Russ! Cheers!
Another item on our to-do list while we were in Key West was give our baby some TLC. Plaintiff’s Rest had worked quite hard chugging us across the Gulf, particularly in those gnarly conditions outside of Tampa, winds of 25 kts and 6-8 foot seas. She had done a fantastic job and definitely deserved some pampering. We gave her a good scrubdown right after we docked, which we usually do every time we make a passage and come into a marina.
Oh, and I did mention that bilge pump in BV1 … we discovered our forward bilge pump, a 500 gph Rule, had gone out. For whatever reason. Just quit working. We figured that probably contributed to the bilge water accumulation I mentioned in BV2. Ahhh … that explains a lot. Good thing we brought a spare! We popped the new one in, not too bad of a chore. Re-wired her and we were in business.
And, Stock Island has a West Marine there so we were able to get another “spare” to replace the now-used spare. Good to keep stock of your spares! We also changed out the oil in Westie. He’d run a good 38 hours bringing us across the Gulf and we usually change the oil every 50 hours, so we figured an early rotation wouldn’t hurt. Our previous owner made a few small modifications to the engine which make it rather easy to change the oil, and a much cleaner process. He rotated the oil filter from sitting horizontal that it now screws up and down vertically (containing the spill) and he put in an extended tube we connect to our manual pump catch-bin to pump the old oil out. All told, this chore only takes about thirty minutes and isn’t too bad at all. Westie certainly deserved it.
Chugging 38 hours across the Gulf had burned a little bit of oil:
And some coolant, which we topped off as well:
Using a mirror to check the gasket around the thermostat in our raw water system to make sure there wasn’t any green ooze around it signifying a leak. “Nope! All dry!” shouted Diesel Mechanic Annie.
And, Stock Island has a nice facility where you can dump your used oil, making this chore even easier. Always good to properly dispose of your nasty fluids.
We also noticed some additional rust that had creeped into our stainless since we last polished (in July) and, while we had time to do it in Pensacola, we literally didn’t have the right weather for it. The Spotless Stainless recommended the product not be used in temps less than 78 degrees. “We’ll do it when we get south then!” the Captain decided and it was done. We gave our gal a beautiful spit shine at the dock in Stock Island and she was glistening!
One thing we would have never expected to happen while we were there in Key West, though, was an unlikely run-in with a pack of geckos! Do geckos run in packs? Perhaps it was a herd, or a flock, but it was way more than we expected to find in one place. FOUR! And, I’m not talking about reptilian geckos. We’re talking about the human kind. Here’s how it went down.
Phillip and I had been lounging by the pool at the Stock Island Marina our second day there (Roostica night! Shit yeah!) and I had a guy stop me by the awesome little tiki bar they built there. “Hey, I know you from YouTube!” he said. I smiled and laughed, because I do get that quite often, and promptly apologized for my Patty-and-Zelma voice. While I did feel and sound like crap most of our Key West days, I never let it stop me from having a good time or meeting fun new cruisers! “I’m Steve,” he said. “My wife and I just bought a boat. We’re going to splash tomorrow then move aboard.”
Super cool, right? Well, wait until you see the boat they bought! This vessel has quite the following.
Steve told me that afternoon at the bar—he and his super cool wife, Ashley were there having their necessary “Holy crap, we just bought a boat” drink—that the boat they bought was the s/v Lazy Gecko, so Phillip and I knew they were getting an awesome 1985 Alberg 37. And, Phillip and I had planned to come watch them splash, hand over a bottle of champagne and enjoy seeing two newbie cruisers launch their cruising dreams. But, what we didn’t know was that the geckos. THE GECKOS. Jeremiah and Brittany were going to be there, too. They had flew in just for the day to finalize the deal, make sure the engine ran for the new geckos and help get Steve and Ashley secure on their new boat and safely off the dock. When Phillip and I were walking toward the shipyard and I saw Brittany pushing Rhys in his little stroller, I jumped for joy!
It was so fun to get a spontaneous surprise visit with the Geckos. We have only been able to connect with them in person on very few occasions. One time they were coming through Pensacola and stopped to get a quick tour of our boat. It was very fun to finally meet them in person.
Then we got to spend another millisecond together when we were all at the Miami Boat Show in February last year. Say Hey to Teddy J with SailLoot!
We had also collaborated remotely doing a virtual tour of their beautiful Alberg, which you can watch here. You’ll see Steve and Ashley are getting one heck of a bluewater boat. In all, we’ve always enjoyed hanging out with them and it was a lot of fun to have a quick impromptu reunion in Key West. We’re very excited for the new geckos, sailing under the name “Bella Vista” and we’re eager to see where their plans take them. Phillip and I had some influence on their first destination. I’ll let some of you guess where we encouraged them to go! For now, meet the new Geckos and say hello to some old friends. Jeremiah, Brittany, we’ll sure miss seeing you guys on the beautiful Alberg, but we’re really excited to see what the sailing future holds for you. I’m sure Bella Vista is going to take the Alberg to many new and exciting places!
Love these crazy sexy two!
“I need an Annie selfie!” Brittany said. “You got it!”
Bon Voyage Bella Vista!
So, tons of fun in Key West, right? We love that quirky little colorful town. Tons of great restaurants and tiki bars, too. Not to mention sunset at Mallory Square. The street performers. Boat parades. Pool parties. All kinds of perks.
But, Phillip and I had our sights set on the Bahamas for a reason. It was time to go! But, one must never be in a hurry when cruising. We knew one of the toughest jumps we might have to make on this journey would be across the Gulf Stream. Pam Wall and so many other experienced cruisers had advised (very harshly but necessarily) against crossing the stream in any kind of north wind. The Gulf Stream is a powerful current that runs south to north along the east coast of the United States and trying to cross it with any kind of north wind we had heard was like trying to run on a treadmill while someone is spraying a fire hose in your face. Very lumpy seas and forceful current-meets-wind conditions.
When Phillip and I left the dock in Pensacola we were prepared to sail straight to the Bahamas if the weather would allow, we figured it was unlikely but possible. When we got the weather data our fourth day of the journey across the Gulf from our router, it showed a front coming through the next couple of days with steady north winds, so a complete Pensacola-to-Bahamas passage was not advised.
We also knew we might be holed up either in Key West, Marathon or some other key (we had heard Rodriguez Key makes a good jumping off point) possibly for weeks waiting for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream, which would not be ideal but totally tolerable. We were thrilled to find, however, that just a few short days after our landfall in Key West, a wonderful weather window was opening up soon that would likely allow us to make the jaunt from Key West all the way up to West End in the Bahamas. Here is the window we were watching:
We checked the GRIBS, checked with friends and confirmed with our weather router this was our window! On Wednesday late-morning, December 20th, we tossed the lines in Key West headed for West End. Next up on the blog, we make the jump! BV4: Crossing the Stream – Key West to West End. Stay tuned!
Go offshore with us, followers! As Phillip and I sail our Niagara 35 five days across the Gulf of Mexico in some sporty bluewater conditions. This was one of our more intense offshore runs with 24 hours of 20-25 kts of wind and 6-8 (to sometimes 10) foot seas, but the boat and crew proved more than capable and we had a helluva time laying another 500 nm under our keel on our way to the Bahamas. We can’t wait to share the rest of the voyage with you through blog posts, photos and more fun videos! Hope you enjoy this first offshore leg! Buckle up! It’s one heck of a ride!
The cruising community is really very small. Meet cruisers in one port and you know you’ll likely run into them somewhere on the other side of the world. It’s also a very giving community. Lend some cruisers a hand here, and you’ll likely have a hand held out for you in the next anchorage. As the salty crew of Andanzahopped off the boat in Key West, we were greeted right there at the dock by a couple of cruisers we knew from back home in Pensacola.
Amanda and Saunders are live-aboards who had just started their cruising adventure a few months prior. They were living out on the hook in Bayou Chico while Phillip and I had our Niagara on the hard during the big repair/re-fit earlier this year, and it was cool to see them now actually out there, doing it—exactly what Phillip and I would soon be doing—living on their boat and cruising to different ports and cities.
Amanda and Saunders were definitely earning their good “cruising karma” that day by making the two-hour run with us n Key West like pack mules, lugging bags, schlepping supplies, even offering their bike if we needed it as we made our way quickly to the local West Marine, the grocery store and the hardware store.
We tried to grab lunch at one of mine and Phillip’s favorite spots in Key West. Phillip and I discovered it when we cruised down to the Keys in 2014 and it was the only place in Key West we were willing to sacrifice two meal cards for and dine at twice: Paseo’s. We kept talking it up to Amanda and Saunders who had only been in Key West for a few weeks and hadn’t experienced this gem yet for themselves. “The bean and rice bowls are as big as your head!” I assured them, “with gooey melted cheese, fresh tomatoes, avocado, corn, sour cream, like eighteen different ingredients in every single bite.”
I was getting a little carried away. But it is an awesome little Caribbean joint. And, they have whole roasted ears of corn slathered with butter and dusted with salt, pepper, paprika and fresh parsley. Easily the best corn I have ever had (even over my grandma, Big Mom’s, famous BBQ corn).
Paseo’s is also (although Phillip hates when I use this word) super cheap! A $12 bowl can easily be split between two people and have you both waddling away absolutely stuffed, which is why I knew Amanda and Saunders, as cost-conscious live-aboards, would LOVE it too.
But I think our desperate Caribbean love jinxed us because when we finally made our way to Paseo’s, it was closed that day. Dag nabbit!
But we grabbed some samiches at another little bistro, “To go!” Phillip said, and started lugging all of our goods back to Andanza. Then a guy with a golf cart pulls up and asks if we want a ride. We had ventured about 8 blocks out chasing the Caribbean cuisine so we said “Sure!” and hopped in. He seemed so excited to play even just a tiny role in our offshore adventure when we told him we were about to cross the Atlantic. Amanda and Saunders felt the same, like they were sharing in it just a little by joining us for a brief moment in Key West. It was heart-warming to see people so ignited by our journey and willing to help.
When we made it back to the boat, we found Yannick had just completed the daunting fuel top-off back at the boat, having filled not only the two fuel tanks, but also the additional jerry cans we had brought along that we had dumped in while motoring across the Gulf. He was a hot, sweaty mess, but sporting a smile as he helped us bring the goods aboard, stow them away and get ready to toss the lines and head back out.
We waved goodbye to Amanda and Saunders and the folks at the dock and were back out in the Gulf in a matter of thirty minutes, munching our sandwiches and talking about our next waypoint. The stop in the Keys was so fast, it almost felt like it didn’t even happen because we were excited to be back underway. Out there, holding our shifts, traveling across a bounty of blue water, is where we wanted to be. The crew of Andanza had been five days at sea and it had only fueled our desire to stay out longer and sail further. “To France!” we cheersed that evening over dinner in the cockpit.
I held the 2:00 a.m. shift that night and learned, or I guess taught myself, a good lesson in offshore sailing. While I had considered myself a fairly alert sailor, before setting off on this voyage, I realized I was fooling myself. I would often read during my night shifts, listen to music, write stories in my mind, which is fine, intermittently, but you should make yourself—for the entire shift if you are able, but at ten or fifteen minute intervals at least—focus entirely on the boat and your surroundings. Entirely. You got that? Ask yourself: How is she doing? How are the seas treating her? How is the sail trim? Where is the wind coming from? What has its pattern been the last half hour? Are you on your heading? Is she holding steady? If the engine is running, what’s the temp? The oil pressure? What is the sea state? Do a 360 around the cockpit, looking in every direction. Check for chafe on every line. Force yourself to not be complacent, not for one minute.
Once we made our way around the tip of Florida and started to turn north up the east coast, the winds finally found us. They were on our stern during my shift that night and threatening to kick the boom over into an accidental jibe. I had brought my book up with me to the helm, out of habit, but that is the last time I believe I will ever read on a night shift at the helm. Because I was worried about a jibe, my thoughts crystallized into acute focus on the boat and I found myself, early during the morning hours of June 3rd, asking and answering all of those questions, quizzing myself almost, on the status of the boat. Once I was able to answer all of the questions, it was time to start the inquiry again and after six or seven rounds of this, I found an hour had passed rather quickly and I had thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of being intimately connected with the boat and her surroundings the entire time.
The thought of then picking up a book and reading while on watch felt a bit like driving and texting. Like I was going to miss something and cause an accident. I am not in any way saying reading during a night shift is dangerous or should not be done. What I simply realized, for myself that night, was that I enjoy my shifts more when I direct all of my mental efforts toward the boat. Time passes quicker and I feel safer. This discovery came to me merely the fifth night of our passage across the Atlantic and it marked a mental milestone for me as I spent each of the dozens of night shifts I held after (as I am sure I will hold each night shift on a boat in the future) in this fashion—in complete fixation on the boat.
After my shift, I crashed hard in our berth. Another benefit of exerting significant mental energy on the boat is exhaustion. I never found myself struggling to fall back asleep after my night shift was over, even in surprisingly noisy or rough conditions. When I groggily came to the next morning around 9:00 a.m., I found Phillip cheerfully making toast in the galley.
“We caught a mackerel,” he said with a smile. “It’s in the fridge.”
“Sweet!” I replied and thought I could sure get used to this lifestyle. But it’s all encompassing. My first cup of coffee in hand and I stepped out into the cockpit to find Johnny and Yannick had dissected the starboard engine once again. Rusty, greasy pieces were laid out on a tablecloth on the cockpit floor like they were playing the game Operation. Yannick turned to Phillip with a little stone that had come out of the elbow in his hand and said:
I admired Yannick for his resilience and his sense of humor, even in the face of what might seem to many a daunting boat project. Hearty are the French.
Johnny and Yannick were trying to solve, yet again, unsatisfactory performance of the cooling system in the starboard engine. Johnny said the flow coming out of the exhaust was too light while the stream coming out of the pisser was too strong.
And, I don’t know if I can take credit for that one as an “Annie term” as it seemed everyone called the tiny squirt stream out of the engine the “pisser.” After a few days on passage, and multiple conversations about the coolant systems in the engines, I found myself simply saying it, not knowing when or how I had learned it. While I did learn some French on the voyage, the first language I started to pick up was Diesel.
Johnny believed, because the pisser was strong but the exhaust was light, that there might be a clog between the two, so he and Yannick had removed the exhaust elbow from the engine and were now taking turns blowing through it, the grease from the piece leaving crusty black marks around their lips. I could tell Yannick knew I was trying not to laugh at them when he handed the dirty elbow to me saying I might be the most well-equipped crew member to “give it a blow.” Ha ha.
We were surprisingly able to have a pretty good time doing most anything on that boat, even greasy projects. I’ll spare you the days and details spent dicking around with the coolant system on the starboard engine as it seems it was a multitude of issues that converged into one big problem: the engine not holding temp. Once the elbow was cleaned out (as it was found to be partially clogged), Johnny also discovered the cap on the water pump was not fastening down tight enough to enable the system to seal. Having heard good things about them, Yannick had put SpeedSeal fast caps on his water pumps, in case the impellers had to be changed often or quickly during our passage, but it seemed the screws on the cap weren’t holding well enough to allow the pump to draw water in. Think of a straw with a hole in it. The suction was compromised. However, after some creative tapping in the cap and creation of a few “magic bolts” Yannick was able to fix the issue and the starboard engine had no more coolant problems after that.
Notice I said no “coolant problems.” Engines are such fun.
Thankfully, we were able to undertake all of this engine work while still making great progress up the north coast as the winds were holding steady and strong. It was somewhere off the coast near Ft. Lauderdale when we first broke the 10-knot barrier on the boat. Some fun raw 10-knot footage for you here:
Yes, it required a Whoo Hoo! You’ll hear plenty of Annie “Whoo Hoos!” in the 2-hour MOVIE. We’re only one week out now from the premiere! Get your ticket to view on Patreon.
The fastest I have seen our Niagara go is 8.3, and that was surfing down a wave. I’m confident I never want to see her go faster than 10 knots. Moving so fast on a sailboat was a wild feeling. It seemed no matter how much wind you put on her stern, Andanza could take it. No heeling, no groaning, she just went faster. It was strange, almost frightening to watch the wind climb to heights that would tighten my throat on our Niagara—15, 20, 25 and upwards—and the cat held fast. And it was a good thing, too, because a thick, blue wall was forming off our starboard bow as we sailed around the tip of Florida and right into our first storm of the trip.
“Let’s go down to second reef!” Yannick thundered from the mast. In the slick, glassy waters of the Gulf, we had barely raised the sails, much less had any need to reef them so this was our first time running a reef drill. Looking back, I’m sure every member of the Andanza crew will tell you we should have done this sooner, even if just for a drill. Or better yet, intentionally just as a drill. Safety was definitely a very high concern for the Captain and crew and we had talked many times about reefing often, every day at sunset, etc. but we had missed the all-important need to actually DO IT, several times over, so that we as a collective crew could reef quickly and efficiently, like a well-oiled machine. Now here we were, in 28 knots of wind, watching it increase and preparing to execute our first reef drill.
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It’s not a vulgar heading, I swear. That’s the guy’s name. Bob Bitchin.
He’s the editor for one helluva sailing magazine – Cruising Outpost. So, the “news” is, back in January, I sent a sailing story off to another well-known sailing magazine, Cruising World, hoping they would pick it up for publication.
Yes, we documented it for the blog. We’re just that cool.
Well, as a writer, trust me, you have to get very used to the word ‘no.’ You hear it all the time. In the beginning, everyone and their dog is going to tell you ‘no.’ And, that’s just what Cruising World did, politely, yes, but still the answer was no. But, persistence is key. I wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. I dusted the story off and sent it on to Cruising Outpost. I just had a feeling this Bitchin character would get me.
And boy, did he! They’re printing my story in June baby! The summer issue. Be on the lookout for it and subscribe to get your very own copy.
And, more good news! After rigorous study of the charts and many sit-downs and sundowners with fellow cruisers who have been to the Keys, including the previous owner of our boat, Jack, who sailed our very own s/v Plaintiff’s Rest to the Keys, we have finally made a rough sail plan for our trip. Shallow waters and treacherous inlets have seemed to be our arch nemesis, so with our 5’2″ draft (which we like to consider 5’6″ to be conservative – plus, it probably will be that after all the wine, water and gas we load on the boat for the trip – in that order), we’ve decided on the following, weather-dependent, sail plan:
We are prepared to leave at any time on or after April 3, 2014, whenever a good weather window arises. Once underway, we would like to make the jump straight across the Gulf to Clearwater.
That’s approximately a two-and-a-half to three-day passage. A long jaunt for us, but one we’re hoping to get under our belts at the outset. We would like to spend less time getting TO the Keys so we can spend more time down there and make a slower trip back up the West Coast. So, Clearwater is the goal, but, if we run into bad weather or a rough sea state on the way, we plan to duck into Panama City, Apalachicola or Carabelle River to wait it out.
These are all places we’ve been before during the last leg of the Gulf Crossing and we would like to spend some time, particularly in Carabelle/Apalachicola, at some point during this trip – going or coming.
We will definitely rest in Clearwater, though, and keep an eye out for another good weather window to make the jump down to Marco Island/Capri Pass.
We plan to call in to the municipal marina at Naples on our way in to get a more accurate depth report, but from our review of the charts, it appears the inlet to Naples is too shallow for us to make it in easily there. Capri Pass at Marco Island seems to be an easier route, and some fellow cruisers recommended we anchor in there and take a day or two to tool around on a local flat boat and check out some of Florida’s famous 10,000 islands.
Once we’re ready to leave Marco Island, in addition to the weather and sea state (which is always a concern), we’ll need to also keep an eye on the Gulf Coast Loop Current, area of warm water that travels up from the Caribbean, past the Yucatan Peninsula, and into the Gulf of Mexico. Heading directly into that thing can be like jumping on a sailboat treadmill. Moving fast but going nowhere.
Once we get a good weather/current window, we plan to make the jump west all the way to the Dry Tortugas.
Making it to the Tortugas is one of the primary goals of this trip. They seem so pristine and untouched. Phillip and I both think the Tortugas will be a highlight of the trip for us. Not to mention the distinct possibility for some killer kiting there! (Yes, we are bringing the kites and boards, folks. True to the name of this blog, a great-many of our hobbies are rooted heavily in the wind!)
Then, from the Tortugas, we plan to make the jaunt over to Marquesa Island as fellow cruisers have recommended it as a great place for paddle-boarding, snorkeling, fishing, etc. But, we know, after making the trip from the Florida West Coast to the Dry Tortugas and anchoring out there for several days, we will be ready to power up, re-provision and wash every loving scrap of material on the boat – including the curtains. So, tucking in at a swanky slip at Key West will definitely be a priority post-Tortugas. We’re looking at the Galleon marina, but we will definitely check out the other options before deciding (A&B Marina, Conch Harbor, etc.). After a night or two (or three!) in Key West (depending on the rum intake) we will gunkhole our way over to Marathon (for those of you not familiar with that term, or think it is something akin to redneck mud fishing — click here). Post-Marathon, we will then make the cut across to the Gulf side of the Keys under the seven mile bridge then back up to Cape Sable or perhaps Little Shark River and on up the west coast of Florida.
This is, of course, all but a plan at this point, subject to change at any moment depending on weather, currents, sea state, boat performance, any potential mishap or malfeasance (which is likely), the health and condition of the crew, the remaining provisions, the lining up of the stars, the Ouija board readings. Just about anything – you name it – and the plans can change. But, we at least now have a PLAN and an available departure date. It’s now time to start packing the boat and provisioning.
Sometimes I can’t believe this is all really happening. The Keys … It’s amazing the places life will take you, if you only let it.