St Maarten to Florida - Job Done!

Good Company
Richard and Janet
Tue 14 Jul 2015 20:08
Apologies for the extreme delay but here at last is a blog update and it is from Florida – job done!

We motored out of Simpson Bay lagoon in St Maarten on Thursday 30 April at 4.30 pm. The wind was light and we ended up using the ‘iron sail’ all the way to Virgin Gorda, a good test for the engine, which didn’t miss a beat. The auto helm worked well and it was wonderful to be able to relax while on watch and just look around for ships every twenty minutes. We did have a close shave with a container ship in the early hours when one missed us by about 350 metres.  After doing 88 miles we checked in at Spanish Town the following morning where the officials were very friendly and we spent the night there.

The next day, 2 May was our 34th wedding anniversary and we motored for an hour over to Marina Cay and found a perfect spot to anchor. After we had fitted the awnings we dived into the crystal clear water to cool off and then relaxed on the boat in the heat of the day. We snorkeled twice in the afternoon. The first area was too shallow and we didn’t see much but the second one was beautiful and it was like being in an aquarium with lovely coral and lots of sea life. Unfortunately there were also what we call ‘sea ants’ and they sent us back home sooner than we wanted.

In the evening we visited Marina Cay (all of eight acres). It has two bars, a shop and small hotel. This little place has a fascinating past in that it was purchased in the 1930’s by a young American couple, Robb and Rodie White who tried to make a life for themselves there.  We looked at an interesting photographic display of their time on the island. Now, they were real adventurers! He later became a fairly well known writer. We had an enjoyable braai back on the boat with a bottle (and a bit) of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We pulled up anchor the next morning and motor sailed for two hours to our next stop, Brewer’s Bay. We snorkeled mid afternoon and besides one turtle didn’t see very much until we went closer to the beach where we could see pelicans diving. We then swam in two to three feet of water in an amazing shoal of bait fish of all sizes. When we got back to the boat the volume of the music which had started earlier at the beach bar had risen a good few decibels and we decided to move on again. We set off for ‘the quintessential Caribbean anchorage’, according to the guide book and got a good spot between Green Cay and Sand Spit in time to have a peaceful sundowner on the foredeck.

We spent two nights there and had a lovely time. The snorkeling wasn’t marvelous but we had an entertaining time watching all the comings and goings. This is a day anchorage visited by many charter yachts and it is a standing joke amongst cruising yachtsmen that they have no clue how to anchor. We had quite a few laughs at their expense and also rescued one from certain disaster. We had snorkeled to tiny Sand Spit and were taking a walk around the island (5 minutes at most) when we saw a catamaran making its way towards the reef between Green Cay and Sand Spit. We waved madly and pointed them away in the right direction and fortunately they took heed. We also enjoyed watching an accomplished kite surfer weaving his way around the boats in the anchorage and saw afterwards that he was being filmed, for what purpose we never discovered.

We were keeping an eye on the weather to leave for the Bahamas and it was looking good. We even started putting waypoints in the GPS but somehow our hearts weren’t in it and we realised that we just wanted to get to Florida and the family. We had a very rolly final night at anchor when the southerly wind picked up and I took sea sick tablets for the first time since leaving the Canaries (and the first time ever at anchor). On Tuesday 5 May we motored for half an hour to Great Harbour on Jost van Dyke, bought a loaf of bread and a few tomatoes and peppers, signed out, again with very friendly officials, and at noon set off on our way. This was our first long sail alone and we were a little nervous to say the least. Richard had also woken up in the middle of Monday night in pain with a kidney stone. He had kidney stone problems in 2000 and then nothing until now! Luckily he passed the stone in the morning and felt fine, and has had no more since.  I was however still worried that he might have another attack during the trip.

We headed off and passed the most western island of the BVIs, interestingly called Great Tobago. We cut the engine after an hour and started sailing well in 15-20 knots of north easterly wind. Our nerves settled and we had a good first day, logging 123 miles.  We passed an oil rig off Puerto Rico and a cruise ship passed us in the middle of the night.

On day two we tried to fish but there was too much Sargasum (sea grass) so we pulled in the line. We had a scare in the middle of the night when a ship came across our bow about 200 metres away.  It is incredible how fast they come and trying to work out where your paths will cross is very difficult. It is also very annoying when you call them on the radio to ask them for their heading and you get no reply. This is one sure way to get the adrenlin pumping! Second day’s log was 114 miles.

On our third day we made great progress with the wind at 25- 30 knots for about eight hours and the wind veered to the south. We also had two knots of current with us and did 132 miles for the day. We were fishing again but caught nothing and think we lost a lure to a shark. We had two niggling boat issues. The new auto helm was working very well but we kept having to top up the hydraulic oil and were not sure why. Secondly, our batteries weren’t holding power and we had to run the engine a few times a day to top up our power.  Apart from this all was going well and we were enjoying our time sailing together. We were doing four hour watches and didn’t feel too sleep deprived. We had left the day after the full moon and still had light skies for a lot of the time. I was on watch from midnight to four o’clock and it was really beautiful (as long as a ship wasn’t bearing down on me).

On the fourth day we were delighted to catch a three kg Dorado (Mahi Mahi) in the early afternoon, enough for two meals.  We grilled two fillets for a late lunch (putting the already made chili con carne aside to eat the next day). We finally saw dolphins, this time spinners, and were treated to an amazing display of jumping and spinning for about half an hour just before dark. That evening the wind picked up to 35 knots and when the boat speed peaked at 14 knots we put a second reef in the main for the night. I had luckily just finished the dishes and packed away when we heard a might crash as a big wave hit the starboard side. A jar of olives jumped right out of the locker! Richard had a rough four hours while I slept peacefully. As well as the weather he had another even closer call with a ship. Having had no close calls on the Atlantic crossing, we were sure making up for it this time. We logged 137 miles.

On day five the wind shifted east-north-east and averaged 20-30 knots but the sea state was much better than the day before. Richard baked bread and we transferred 20 litres of diesel from a jerry can into the fuel tank, without spilling any. We are very pleased with our new funnel-come-filter which makes this task much easier. I washed my hair for the first time and we both showered comfortably on the platform. In the evening we put a reef in the main earlier so that Richard wouldn’t have to disturb me between eight and midnight to help. He had a great watch - saw a satellite, a falling star and a plane within a minute! I then had a bad time afterwards and had to wake him for a ship at 1.15. Again there was no answer when we called them on the radio and we had to put on the engine to avoid a collision. We passed about 50 metres apart, our closest call yet.  The biggest problem if they don’t communicate is that you don’t know if they will also suddenly change course to miss you and then you will hit each other! We did 129 miles.

Our sixth day was Sunday 10 May and I received a message from Stephen wishing me happy US mother’s day. Richard also gave me an extra hour to sleep! The winds decreased a little and went east and then east-south-east again. With the wind change, the sea became lumpy but we were making good progress so didn’t mind too much. Richard made a new fishing lure, I defrosted the fridge-freezer and we put in four new waypoints, taking us all the way to John’s Pass in St Petersburg.  During the night the wind died and with our batteries needing power, Richard switched on the engine and we motor sailed for seven hours. The day’s log was 124 miles.

The seventh day saw us entering the Old Bahama Channel at 10 am. Here we had to keep to the shipping lane and saw a good few ships, fortunately all in their right lanes! The sea state improved again and we were happily on our way, passing Cuba to port. Then at around 11 pm we were surrounded by the most incredible electric storm. For two hours the lightning and thunder were relentless and I was really afraid that the boat would be struck. I knew we would be okay but worried about our batteries and instruments. Fortunately we were not hit and afterwards I wished I could have enjoyed it more as it was an amazing spectacle. We were disappointed that there was no rain as we sorely needed it to wash our salt encrusted decks and windows. Early the next morning it began to drizzle lightly and we were really happy. It is amazing how soft rain quickly washes away so much salt. We did 120 miles.

Day eight was beautiful. The seas calmed as the wind went more north-east again. We cleaned the windows and also fitted our portable toilet which we would need in the USA where they are very strict about not discharging waste into the ocean. That night we had our first lovely sunset with a red sky. Richard stayed up with me until we reached our waypoint at Cay Sal off the Bahama Bank at 1 am. Here we changed our heading to go north to Marathon in Florida. We had a good day’s run, logging 134 miles.

On day nine, 13 May we arrived in Florida. We passed the Sombrero Lighthouse at 12.30 pm and made our way to Pancho’s Dock at Marathon to fill up with diesel and get more hydraulic oil for the auto helm. Everyone was very helpful and friendly and gave us advice on where to approach the bridge at Marathon to cross to the Gulf. We departed at 2.45 pm. This is one of the few places you can cross the Florida Keys and it is very shallow so we were somewhat nervous. Well, we got through under the bridge okay – you have to keep to the right to avoid the strong current. After that we missed the channel and almost got stuck on a sand bank! We then made our way in what we thought was the right direction, only to find ourselves in a constant seven feet of water. Good Company only draws three feet but this was still hair-raising. We calmed ourselves and using our chart plotter and the excellent ‘Nimble Navstick’  - - on our computer we SLOWLY motored around the banks and into open water, following the buoyage system where we could. Even the Americans tell us their system is confusing so afterwards we didn’t feel so bad! We were off the banks by 5pm and able to use the genoa with the motor. By 6 pm we were under full sail, still in only 8-10 feet of water, a very strange feeling for us.  The sea was like a lake and we enjoyed a shower but only after Richard had stabbed his hand tightening the bolts on the wind generator. We used some bandage and micro pore tape to dress it and it was fine.

We were rather tired by this time and glad that I had cooked savoury mince in the morning. Our watch keeping was somewhat out of sync so we shared watches until midnight. The wind turned to the north for a few hours which roughed the sea up but then it went east and the sea state improved again. At 4am I logged that we were in 39 feet of water and by noon we were in 60 feet. It never got much deeper than that for the next 24 hours! Our log for the day was 117 miles, pretty good considering the stop and slow passage through the shallows.

The tenth day started off beautifully with Richard seeing a gorgeous sunrise and then things became frustrating. Firstly the wind dropped and we had to start the motor to keep moving. In the afternoon it came in from the north-west and for a few hours we were pounding into horrid choppy waves. Then at about 8 pm it turned to the east and we were on our way comfortably again. As the sea flattened we had a lovely sail for the rest of the night. We had to keep a look out for fishing boats but they were easy to spot and we had no problems. We arrived at the bridge at John’s Pass at around 11 am and called the bridge operator to open the drawbridge for us. This was quite a moment as when we visited our family here last October from Gran Canaria, we had stood on the beach next to the bridge envisioning our arrival here, not knowing what the next seven months would bring!

Stephen, our son was able to meet us at a dock soon after we entered the waterway with Ronan and Finn, our two grandsons. They then motored up the waterway with us to their house where our daughter-in-law, Breehan was waiting on their dock to video our arrival… we had made it! Our final day’s log was 121 miles bringing the total for this leg of the journey to 1253 miles. Our journey from Brighton was approximately 6000 miles.

We arrived on Friday 15 May, Ronan's third birthday. We love being here and have adapted quickly to the very different lifestyle. We both help look after the boys some of the day and Richard works with Stephen in his rigging business. The boys are delightful characters and Ronan made my day when he asked if I was going away. When I said that I wasn’t, he said, “Good, I want you to stay forever”.  This was encouraging as I am certainly not averse to putting him in time-out when he is naughty!

It has become very hot over the past few weeks and we have had to invest in an air conditioner on the boat. The temperature averages 33C (92F) in the summer but after August it will be more comfortable. We do also have a pool in which to cool off and have lots of fun swimming with the boys. Richard loves fishing off the boat or the dock and recently caught two black drum and a red drum. This evening we watched two dolphins playing in the water way fifty metres from our boat and this morning saw a manatee swim slowly by. There are many birds to watch and I am amazed at how the boys already know an ibis from a heron. The beach is beautiful and we sometimes go down in the evening to see the lovely sunsets. Yes, life is good…

We still plan on doing more sailing but are happy to be using Good Company mostly as a house boat for the moment. Thank you for following along with us. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

I am just sorry to say that the water maker saga is still on-going....

On the dock in St Petersburg

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