Getting ready

Fri 22 Jan 2010 14:27

42:12:27N 74:36:05W

It’s January 22, and we’re less than a month away from our departure date. The Big Day is February 14, when we begin our trip south – towing the boat from the snowy Catskills to Miami; then sailing across to the Bahamas. We're very excited, and just a little bit nervous. A good amount of scared -- just enough to keep us on our toes, careful about everything, deliberate in our planning. We've never gone so far, or crossed so much open water, or stayed so long, on our boat before. Usually we take one-week trips aboard "Sea Fever," on Cape Cod, or in Maine, or at various other east coast locations. But now we're driving over 1000 miles, then heading out across the Gulf Stream (over a mile deep in places), and ultimately we will wind up several hundred miles away from our launching place, at times far from medical or mechanical help. And we'll live on the boat for 2 months, if all goes according to plan. So there is a certain amount of worry . . . but mostly we feel immense awe and gladness that we're going to have an adventure, all together as a family.

Here's our boat during the brief, splendid Catskills summer:

Here's a more recent photo of the boat, tarped and snowbound in the barn. . . .
We love winter here, and we'll miss the wonders of early spring, but we figure that we can miss out on it this one year.

Soon we'll uncover the boat, tow it out, and do a tricky three-point turn backing uphill to get it turned around and facing down our driveway. If it slips sideways, the trailer could jackknife and really mess things up. That, and getting down the steep first hundred yards of our icy driveway, may be the hardest parts of our whole journey. Tire chains will be involved, and lots of sand and salt. After that . . . smooth sailing (I hope).

We've been thinking and planning and preparing for over a year now. And we're finally ready . . . almost. Just filling in a few small items on our lists. Sunscreen, bug spray, and antibiotics have just been procured. We need to pressure-can a few more batches of chicken and beef. We need to figure out whether we can bring bread in some form that won't mildew immediately, or if we should make it ourselves on the boat. We have piles of supplies spilling out all over our house. Boxes of granola bars, containers of Parmalat milk, peanut butter, pasta, soups, stews, cereal . . . innumerable electrical cords, batteries, safety harnesses and tethers. And all the gadgets: GPS, VHF radio, shortwave radio receiver, satellite phone, cell phone, barometer, anemometer, laptop computer, etc. Nautical charts, books, folders full of information. We keep making lists of things to do, things to remember . . . then we work our way through the lists, cross all the items off . . . and start new lists. It all seems so simple in concept (Pack up the boat and go!), yet so complex in the doing. Our pet care is another complex matter (horses, cats, chickens, dog). They've all been provided for, in different ways.


So, our plan is: maybe on February 17th or 18th we’ll launch the boat at the Crandon Marina on Key Biscayne and wait for a good weather window to sail it across to Bimini, the first island in the Bahamas. It's about 55 miles to Bimini. We'll probably motor-sail to get across the Gulf Stream as fast as possible.  You don’t want to cross the Gulf Stream in any wind with a northerly component, as that will push against the water flowing up from the south and create dangerous waves. And we don't want to cross if the wind is southerly but strong, either, which would also make for rough water. So we may spend a week or more waiting for the right day to go.

Then the next leg (after clearing customs and refueling and maybe spending a day strolling around Bimini) is to Morgan's Bluff, on the north end of Andros Island. That's almost 100 miles, and more than we can cover in daylight hours at our stately 5.5 or 6 mph, so we'll probably depart around 3AM, and if we don't make it all the way, we'll anchor out on the Great Bahamas Bank, or tucked up among the tiny cays and sandbars north of Andros. The cool part of that leg is that the water will be about 10 feet deep the whole way. We'll be able to watch the starfish (sharks?) go by in crystal-clear water.

Then once we make it to Morgan's Bluff and refuel again (and seek ice cream), it's just one more long day across the Tongue of the Ocean, or two short days, to the Exumas. And that's where we'll stay for as long as possible, island-hopping among the small cays there. These few simple legs could take weeks to piece together, if the weather doesn't cooperate. We only intend to make our major crossings when the wind and waves are moderate.

Our boat is a water-ballasted shallow-draft yawl. That means we can go places many boats can't. We can float in 10 inches of water -- maybe 11 inches weighed down with all the food on board. . . . And the Bahamas have a lot of shallow water. So I'm very excited to have a purpose-built shallow-water sailboat in this shallow-water sailing paradise. Can't wait to explore every little cove, to park it on sandbars and let the tide run out from under us, to pull right up to the beach and hop out on land to walk and play. I like knowing that we can anchor in out-of-the-way places, too, if we need to seek shelter from stormy winds.

The boat is pretty spare as sailboats go, and we don't really think of this as a "cruise" -- it's more of an extended water-borne camping trip. We will bring enough food to be completely self-sufficient. Though I do hope to catch fish and lobster and conch to supplement our provisions.

Along the way we will be homeschooling the girls on the boat, and trying to learn as much about the world around us as we possibly can. Tropical fish species, conchs, iguanas, sea urchins, coral, and even sharks, which are fairly common there. Most of them, the smaller reef sharks and the nurse sharks, are not aggressive to humans, and you can snorkel with them nearby. We'll try to identify them, and not get too scared by them. However, if we identify a 14' tiger shark, we will levitate straight up out of the water and into the boat . . .  We'll snorkel every day, and walk on small islands, collecting shells and flotsam. We also look forward  to visiting some of the small towns along the way and meeting the local people.  And we look forward to meeting fellow boaters, especially boating families with kids the same age as ours.

Then in early April we'll point our bow back north and start for home. . . . We have to be back by the end of Roxbury Central School's April break, the 24th latest, but we'll probably aim for the 15th or so, to leave ourselves leeway in case of bad weather along the way.

That’s the general plan, anyway. It will be interesting to see if actually we do anything close to it. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "Plans mean nothing, but planning is everything."  I.e., learn as much as you can before setting out, but be prepared to scrap all your itineraries and be flexible as necessary. So if we wind up in Brazil, I'm sure there was a good reason for it. . . .

Check back here for periodic updates. We should be able to post at least a little news every day once we're sailing. And when we have a good wifi connection, we’ll be able to upload photos.