Bells Island Deja Vu

A front usually brings rain, wind and a temperature drop

A front usually brings rain, wind and a temperature drop

Wednesday found us anchored behind Bells Island (some charts say Bells Cay) awaiting the arrival of a cold front that would bring up to 25kt winds out of the SW to West. With some exceptions, most of the Bahama islands and cays offer no west protection during the clocking winds that often occur when a cold front passes over or comes very close to your location. Last year just after Valentine’s Day we hid here from a front, and now here we are again.

We had plenty to keep us busy all day Thursday: defrosting the fridge was tops on the list, backed up the laptop to the hard drive (way overdue), cracked open our coconuts and baked coconut bread (near perfect loaves this time), baked chocolate macaroons and got frequently distracted by the T-storms that passed by- rain, lightning, thunder- quite the show every time.

Two cuties- Russ tries to imitate the cute coconut face

Two cuties- Russ tries to imitate the cute coconut face

I prepped photos for the blog but that’s about all the blog work I could do.  Entries are way behind because lately I either haven’t had good enough cell service to tether, no WiFi or just been having too much fun to spend time in front of the laptop.

Getting a blog post ready to publish requires more steps than your favorite lighthouse.

  • download photos from camera, crop and fix as needed, label and add tags
  • select the ones for the blog and make them “smaller” for easier uploading
  • open Firefox and WordPress and upload the chosen pics to the media library
  • close Firefox,open IE and WordPress and copy and paste the text from Word
  • select photos from media library and hope they go where you want them
  • proofread, edit the publish date to be close to the event date, add tags
  • click Publish and then review the suggested corrections, etc
  • OK now click Publish again and this time the post is done and published

All these steps rarely occur during one session and if the internet connection isn’t lost once or twice during the process I feel luckier than a lobster in the Land and Sea Park.

Friday we sailed 15nm south to Staniel Cay where we’d spend a couple of days and meet up with s/v Makai.

Little Halls Pond Cay is owned by Johnny Depp

Little Halls Pond Cay is owned by Johnny Depp

We left Bells Island by rounding it counter-clockwise and looking right, a bit north of Bells, we could see the privately owned Little Halls Pond Cay. We’d thought we’d watch a Pirates movie, but alas, our other family pirate member has the DVD.

Presto- One week becomes two!

A certain magic occurs when a boat has been stationary  more than a few days so….no surprise, this extension. Not only do we continue to wait on Yanmar to.. can I say this? Shit or get off the pot, we have time to kill before needing to return to Miami Beach by Dec 19. Tiny progress has been made and finally on Thursday, one week after we got here, the southern distributor gave the go-ahead to enter the work ticket in the system. If Yanmar gives the OK for the seals to be replaced (it’s a bad thing to have both drives with the same problem) Marathon Boat Yard will fit us in next week; hopefully Tuesday or Wed.

Boot Key Harbor is an easy, pleasant place to be. Everything, except a good nightlife is here, much of it within a mile’s walk north or south on AIA. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation for the cruisers here; 5 bike racks are filled at all times, and that doesn’t count the bikes kept aboard. Bus service is available; for $4 one away you can ride from Marathon at mile marker 51 all the way to mile 0 at Key West. There you will find the night life and superb people watching you can’t get in Marathon. Plans for a Key West jaunt on Friday got squashed by too great a chance of rain.  The boat parade is Saturday evening, Sunday has showers so Monday could be our day in Key West. See why you need so much time to accomplish everything? 🙂

Key West and boats aground remind us of our friends Chris & Tracy on s/v Sanuk.  Key West was their favorite place and going aground was simply another opportunity to kick back and toss down a few shots! We miss having instigators of fun times nearby.

Speaking of fun times, I finally gave in and did laundry. The machines at Marathon Boat Yard are only $1 on the honor system, so I’d planned to spend some quality time with them. Forget it, plus with my luck we’d get there and the machines would be out of order.  The City Marina has 6 washers and 6 dryers at $2 per load. You have to get a money card at the office; no lugging quarters here. The washers take forever, the longest time I’ve encountered at any marina. Oh, I can hear the groaning now. Yeah, you all should have such problems. I’m smilin’.  The washers do a fine imitation of certain hi-rise bridges- oh speaking of bridges- I have to confess that I love, love Jeff Bridges’ song, “Fallin’ and Flyin’”, from the almost as good movie, Crazy Heart. Anyway, when the washer display shows 35 mins, don’t believe it. I forgot that and had time to kill waiting around. Met a newbie cruising couple who are also new to sailing. See, we aren’t the only crazies out here.

This sight warmed up my sleepy camera

Thursday looked like new pilot training day as two military planes (correct me if I am wrong) spent five hours flying in huge ovals over Marathon. Marathon airport is a few miles north of the harbor. We caught a better look when we walked into town and the planes seemed to fly in low as if they were going to land, but then they lifted again and made another circle around. Taking those lessons one step at a time, kinda like me with dinghy practice. I am now able to start the outboard, a major accomplishment, although I need to pull 3 or 4 times when the outboard is cold. Heck, that’s the easy part. Forward, reverse, left, right, the wind, the waves- ugh. I came up with “right away” which tells me that if I want to go right, I have to move the handle away from me. Maybe when I’m 80 this will be second nature.

Bridges over the ICW

Single Bascule bridge- very roomy

Today, we began planning our trip to Miami from Velcro, I mean Vero Beach. We have easily fallen into the habit of saying “Velcro”. Rolls off the tongue so smoothly.  Our raft buddy. POLAR PACER, left today as did our mooring neighbor,  SANUK. I think the wind kicked up more than expected for them.

As I looked ahead in our ICW guide, I couldn’t help but cringe at the plethora ( yep, my word of the month) of restricted bridges and thought now was as good a time as any to describe these structures and their role in our trip.

The 1,095 miles of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW for short) contain 137 bridges of which 81 need to open for sailboats (and many powers too). In the last 130 mile stretch there’s 41 opening bridges of which 22 are restricted.

The styles of bridges are varied: swing, bascule (hinged and raises open from the hinge), fixed (non opening) – 99% have 65′ clearance at high tide, lift (railroad only) or pontoon. We’ve only encountered two lift bridges, both just south of Norfolk. They function as the name implies, they lift up parallel to the ground attached to metal tower-like structures on each side of the waterway. Massive describes them well.  The ICW contained one pontoon bridge which we show above. Two weeks after we went through, it was taken out of service having been replaced with a fixed bridge. The ICW also has one automatic single-bascule railroad bridge at Mile 876 (Titusville (NASA)) which we passed through on our way here. It’s usually open, but when a train in due, the green lights will change to flashing red and a horn continuously sounds four blasts for eight minutes. At that point the bridge will close as long as the scanning equipment shows nothing under the bridge.

If a bridge is of the opening variety, then life becomes more interesting and boredom can be greatly reduced.  The flavors are: restricted, on-demand or a mixture of the two. The flavors can alternate between weekends and weekdays.  If a bridge is always restricted to a set schedule you simply have to adjust your speed and take into account the myriad of factors that can influence your speed and ability to make the desired opening time. A common schedule we encountered prior to Florida was “Open on the hour and half hour”, but there were bridges that only opened on the hour. When you have several of these types in a 15 mile span, the calculator and chartplotter are your friends. Florida has a plethora of bridges, but we were recently on a joy run of no opening bridges for 79 miles!
On-demand bridges provide an opportunity to talk, however briefly, with someone new. If you want to communicate with a bridge tender, you call him or her on the appropriate channel using the VHF marine radio. Most states use Channel 13, but some like Florida use Channel 9. Channel designation is regulated by the Coast Guard. Channel 16 is the “monitoring” channel and the one used for distress calls.
A typical bridge hailing would go something like this: (first be sure you are on the correct channel) “Wappoo Creek bridge this is the southbound sailing cat requesting an opening.” With any luck you have another boat or two behind you. The bridge will acknowledge your call and indicate that they will open when all boats are close enough. For some reason that we have yet to figure out, bridgetenders will often ask for the boat name AND where from. This occurs when several boats are making the passage. Once you are clear, most vessels will thank the bridge tender for the opening and say they have cleared the bridge.
Most bridge tenders are friendly and courteous.  One clearly enjoyed her job and she was a hoot! A real southern accent and she was talking to each boat like we were best friends.  “Keep it coming darlin’, watch that crab pot in front of ya. That’s it. Y’all have a good day now.”
The trick to ensuring a prompt response to your call is to use the correct name of the bridge, be polite yet confident and provide the necessary info clearly. If you see a boat a short distance in front of or behind you, indicating that you will slow down or speed up for the opening is always an appreciated gesture.
We can’t wait to do the bridge dance again, real soon.

A Typical Cruising Day

Dinette table in cruising mode

Welcome to a sneak peek into the cockpit, command central aboard Ortolan.  This shot shows the dinette fulfilling its daytime role as nav station. We have roughly two different types of traveling days; one is when we are in the ICW traveling through the dredged channel in rivers, sounds, bays and man -made land cuts and the second is non-ICW travel which was the 622 miles before reaching ICW Mile 0  at Norfolk, VA and any day we “go outside”.

The primary difference is that with non-ICW days we use the laptop as a backup chartplotter to the one installed at the helm. If the main chartplotter were to misbehave, we would have the laptop already running.  I generally keep an eye on it and make sure it jives with the main.  The ICW is well marked and getting the laptop up and running wouldn’t need to happen in a blink.

A typical ICW day flows something like this:
Breakfast before departing (most nights we are at anchor) around 8 – 8:30am. Until recently we had to run the heat to warm up but the Florida mornings are warm, a balmy 50 so far. Russ is at the bow using the electric anchor winch to raise the anchor as I man the helm and move the boat in the proper directions based on hand signals. No shouting allowed so we have devised our own signals when we can’t hear the other person easily. No, we don’t use THAT one.  The anchor rinsed and secured, moving ahead slowly, we head off.

I am in charge of the log book and will make the “start of the day” entries as soon as we are underway. Then it’s on to washing the dishes, being careful to conserve water.  We carry 136 gallons of water, 2 tanks in each hull but getting water only occurs at marinas- either when you fuel up or spend the night. We don’t do much of either.

Our typically cruising speed, when not greatly affected by currents is 7 knots (8.06 mph). When adversely affected by current or tides, which in Florida’s ICW change frequently with all the inlets, our speed drops dramatically.

Electronics are great, but nothing beats paper for lack of susceptibility to malfunctioning. Therefore no sailor worth his salt will be without paper charts. For the ICW we use a great flip style one that shows pretty much only the ICW, marks every five miles and contains notes along the side about bridges that need to open for boats and the schedule, if any. Bridges- well that’s another blog entry by itself. We also have another booklet that lists, mile by mile: good anchorages with comments, marinas, bridges with opening notes if they are ones that open, inlet info, and other helpful notes about transiting the ICW. I follow along with the two booklets while Russ runs the boat. I take over from time to time.

Lunch is eaten underway and we take turns so that one person is always at the helm. The auto-pilot is often keeping the boat on course but in ICW close quarters, taking one’s eye off the road for too long can lead to running aground or into something.  Ok, I exaggerate a bit, but some sections of the waterway are very narrow, with barely room for two boats to pass. Most of it is not like that but keeping in the channel is important.
Most days we arrive at our destination by 5pm. Dropping the anchor is generally successful on the first try. Ours is oversized; dragging is near the top of the “never want to do” list.

I finish up the log, having made notes about our day, what we saw, who we met and other things we want to remember. We also record mileage, engine hours, fuel consumption and where we end up each night, both by name and the latitude and longitude.