A Month of Boat Work in Georgia

After an epic winter sailing season in The Bahamas, we crossed back to Florida and made our way up the Intra Coastal Waterway to Brunswick, GA for a month of boat work.

Northbound on the ICW just above Cape Canaveral
Free Beer!

Why Brunswick, Georgia? Well, we’d be lying if we told you it didn’t have anything to do with the free beer at Brunswick Landing Marina. (Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings only, which is probably for the best.) A grocery store, a West Marine store, a hardware store, a liquor store, and an abundance of restaurants are all within easy walking or biking distance. The marina offers free laundry. And perhaps most importantly, Brunswick promises good working weather in March–not too hot, not too cold.

Grapenuts came out of her chrysalis and spread her wings in Georgia accomplishing many tasks.

Sundance has held up well and no major boat repairs needed our attention. But after 9 months of sailing, we came to realize some additional boat gear would make our lives better. In recent weeks, that gear has been moved off our wish list and onto the back of the boat.

Sundance gets some new junk in the trunk

The Work List:

  • Hydrovane self steering. The thing in the photo with all the pipes, a rudder and a red sail. This contraption will steer the boat to a constant wind angle using zero electricity. It also serves as an emergency rudder.
  • Watt & Sea hydro generator. The white fin with a propeller in the photo. Like a windmill, except in our wake instead of in the wind. When rotated down into the water, this device will charge our batteries when we’re sailing.
  • More Solar. 500 watts was plenty for us in New England in summer, but in The Bahamas in winter, we needed more. It’s counter-intuitive. You would think solar would work better in the sunny tropics than in not so sunny New England. Nope. Length of day is the reason why. (Also, the fridge runs harder in warm tropical waters requiring more power.) We now carry 7 @ 100 watt Sunware panels for a total of 700 watts of solar.
  • Starlink. Elon Musk built a thing he calls “Dishy McFlat Face.” We installed one and it promises to provide high speed internet when our cell phones won’t. In the photo, look for the white pizza box atop a pole. (This post went live from a rural corner of South Carolina with plenty of alligators but no cell service. Thanks Elon!)
  • Balancing an energy budget is a big part of life on the boat. The four items above are all a part of this balance. The Hydrovane saves power because it allows us to cut back on the use of our power hungry electrical autopilot. The hydro drive and solar panels produce power. Dishy McFlat Face is a big consumer of power. We will use our engine to move the boat when we need to, but we are committed to avoid using it just for battery charging. (We have no diesel or gas generator aboard.) We’d love to have a freezer aboard, but have decided it would consume too much power so we do without. These are the sorts of things we think about as we manage our energy budget.
  • 3rd reefing line. We have a new mainsail on the boat with three reef points. The problem is that our boom was only equipped with two reefing lines. Problem solved. Now, there are three.
  • Permanent preventer line back to the cockpit. In the old days, rigging the preventer was cumbersome and required a fair amount of foredeck work every time we needed to set it up. Now we have a permanent system that always stands at the ready. (We copied the system from Ariel. Thanks for the inspiration, Doug.)
  • New blocks for the jib furling line.
  • New cockpit shower. The old one worked but it wasn’t great. The new one is great.
  • 3 New i70 Raymarine data screens and new autopilot control head. Same functionality but better displays.
  • Paint Heidi the dinghy. There was no great place to set up for this work. In the end, it turned out to be more of a touch-up effort for now…
  • Varnish oars and Heidi seats. Rotate spare oars into service. Renew dinghy painter.
  • Purchase charts and cruising guides for Canada. Nice to have a mailing address.
  • Upgrades to our life vests, jack lines, harness tethers, and ditch kit.
  • Sewed new boat leather onto dodger grab bar.
  • Engine service. Changed engine oil, oil filter, fuel filters, belt and impeller.
  • Winch service.
  • Provisioning. We rented a car one day and used it refill propane and load up with a major food shop. Great to have a car for bulky/heavy things like canned foods, paper towel, beer, and dog food. We also needed the car to go pick up the Hydrovane which, long story short, was in temporary storage out on St. Simons Island when we arrived (thanks Quinn & Kathy).
  • Bilge cleaning. Pulled the anchor chain out of the anchor locker and cleaned the bilge from stem to stern.
  • Interior clean. We took everything out of every locker and cleaned the inside of the boat from stem to stern. Threw out a lot of junk too.
  • Exterior clean and wax. The Bahamas delivered a few boat cleanliness surprises: 1. The boat bottom and boot stipe stayed exceptionally clean with little or no effort other than sailing the boat. 2. With no rain and no hose water, the entire boat was always covered in salt. (Water maker water is too precious to use for washing.) It was a great relief to get to a dock with hose water where we could really clean, wax, and polish the boat thoroughly.
  • Varnish. Never ending, but we did our part to advance the ball while in Georgia.
  • Under water. Cleaned the bottom and changed the prop zinc. (Thanks Tyler & Tyler’s partner@ Burning Reels!)

Boat projects are always hard. They are borderline impossible in The Bahamas with no dock, no water, no mailing address and no access to basic fasteners and miscellaneous supplies. So we didn’t work on the boat much in The Bahamas.

When we did get to a dock in Georgia with unlimited fresh water, trash disposal and an address for parts, it felt like we could build anything.

This simple kneeling workbench built from found items in the boatyard proved to be helpful.
In boats, everything is ALWAYS upside down and backwards. Lanyards on everything and a tarp under the work area just in case.
Coming soon: Look for a full write-up on the Hydrovane plus Watt & Sea install in an upcoming issue of SAIL magazine.

Exploring a new corner of the world

A Dukes of Hazzard sort of place

We’re not from around here. This is the Deep South. Fascinating to be here long enough to truly soak it all in. Old friends who live here helped us get our bearings. Chris went for regular runs in the neighborhoods around town. Alex went to daily yoga and almost as regularly to her new favorite local grocery store, Schroder’s Market. Lots of friends were made in all places.

Yachting! Bugs are problem in so much of the world. Especially in Georgia.

Brunswick Landing Marina is a major crossroads in the sailing world, and as such is full of all sorts of people from all over making their way from one place to the next. It was great to swap stories with this group. In the process, we developed a new boat crush: The Hallberg Rassy 43 (Thanks Claude and Sophie). Not to worry, just a mid-life crisis sort of idea…

Where to next? We had tentative plans to cross The Atlantic to Europe via Bermuda and The Azores this upcoming summer. That plan has been put on hold and Bill the dog is the reason why. He is old, poorly trained, and not capable of crossing an ocean. So instead, we will continue our coastal sailing with a cruise north to Nova Scotia and perhaps Newfoundland this summer. Not such a bad consolation prize!

Bill the Dog

Bill’s health has been frail in recent years, and we frankly didn’t think he’d make it to the start of this sailing trip. But now, nearly a year in, he looks to be aging in reverse. The Bahamas were good to Bill and he’s running strong.

Some say were crazy to sail with this old dog and should give him away. That won’t happen. He trusts us completely and we’ll honor our commitment to him. If you haven’t already, read Chris’ story about sailing with Bill in the March issue of SAIL Magazine: Old Dog Rules

Onwards to Canada!

* * *

The Bahamas, A Review

Our time in the Bahamas has come to an end. It was one hell of a cruise. Tears flowed when we headed west into the Gulf Stream towards Florida leaving the beautiful waters, islands, and people of The Bahamas in our wake.

That water!
Those beaches!

Our route took us from Key Biscayne, FL to Bimini, to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands, to Rose Island off of Nassau, down to the Exumas with a stop in George Town for a full month. Then on to Long Island, The Jumento Cays and Ragged Islands, back to Long Island, up to Cat Island, up further to Eleuthera, west to The Berry Islands again, further west to Grand Bahama, and the ultimately back across to the Lake Worth Inlet in Palm Beach, Florida.

A lot of miles under the keel

A few facts from the log book:

  • Days underway: 37
  • Days in country: 92
  • Distance logged: 1084.7 NM (Plus day sails around George Town.)
  • Nights at the dock: 7
  • Nights at anchor: 85
  • Top three Anchorages:
Shroud Cay
Cambridge Cay
Lee Stocking Island
George Town. “Sammy, check the bar. Your food is ready. Sammy, check the bar.”

Yup, all in The Exumas.


Biggest question: Why doesn’t everyone live here? It is truly paradise.

Biggest challenge: Bugs. We enjoyed an unusually warm and calm stretch of weather in The Bahamas over the past three months. But with this still weather came bugs. We had a few lazy mosquitos, but the biggest problem were the tiny little beasts. some people call them Black Flies, others call them No-See-Ums, or Midges, or Gnats, or Sand Fleas. Lots of names, but we’re somewhat sure they all refer to the same tiny devil with wings. We have screens on the boat, and they do a great job keeping the typical Maine mosquito out. But the little No-See-Ums slide right thru. Bastards! When we come back next, we’re bringing our own custom made bug nets to drape over our bunks.

Biggest mystery: An abundance of engine blocks at the low water line on popular beaches. This airplane engine in the photo below was at Double Breasted Cay in The Raggeds. Flamingo Cay had a pair of boat engine blocks. Just north of Governor’s Harbor on Eleuthera is another one. All without plane/boat. All at the same point of the beach at the low tide line. Must be used to anchor some fishing system. But we haven’t figured out what that would be?????

Best Tender in The Bahamas: Heidi.

Everyone said we would never make it in The Bahamas with a rowing tender. Wrong! People have been saying that for years about our tender. But with 40,000 miles rowed and towed under her keel over the past 24 years, we’re here to say that the mighty Heidi is capable. What about the 30 knot winds in the Bahamas in the winter? Bill never missed a walk. What about the long trip from Socking Island to Georgetown for provisions? Running out of beer can motivate a person to pull on those oars. And we did. What about getting out to the dive sites? We’ve seen some fish and we will see some more.

Delighted not to be carrying any red tanks on decks of Sundance. We’ll keep rowing.

Best meal off the boat: Thanksgiving dinner at the park headquarters at Wardrick Wells. Free, and all were welcome, and it was a feast.

Best meal aboard: There may not be an abundance on the shelves in the Bahamian grocery stores, but there is usually pork, and Alex can cook the heck out of rice and beans.

Biggest surprise: Lack of birds. When we returned to Florida, we were struct by all the birdlife. And it dawned on us, birds are relatively scarce in the Bahamas. No idea why. Maybe this guy ate them all?

Most heart warming moment: The kids come to visit us on Christmas Day.

The boat: Running strong! No major problems. Thankful. We were surprised to note that winter sun in the Bahamas produces far less solar output than does June sun in Maine. Length of day trumps tropical sun for solar power production.

Most thought provoking stop: Long Island. We yearned to put down roots and stay forever. The place is magic. But the place is hard, and we wondered if we could do it…

Best hike: To the top, of course! We huffed and puffed our way up to the highest point in The Bahamas. (208′ above sea level.) And spent a memorable afternoon exploring the old hermitage situated there on Cat Island.

Biggest temptation: Cuba. We could tune in Cuban radio from this beach on Hog Cay in The Raggeds. We wanted to take an easy trade wind sail over for an in-depth visit. But we didn’t. maybe next time.

Keep sailing

We’ll be back.

Where to next?

We have big plans for the summer ahead which require us to get an early start heading north. Our first stop will be Brunswick, GA. where we plan to add some new equipment to the boat. The climate there should be nice for working in March, something we need to consider because we have neither heat nor air conditioning aboard the boat. We found a marina in Brunswick within easy walking distance to a grocery store, a marine store, a bar, and a hardware store – handy! This same reasonably priced marina also offers free laundry and free beer 24/7. We might not leave.

Starting to think we may have seen a green flash or two. We now believe the phenomenon to be more subtle than we had originally thought.

On April 1, we decide on our summer sailing plans.

Stay tuned.


Long Island, Cat Islands & The Raggeds

To understand The Bahamas you need to appreciate how big a country it is geographically, 3,100 islands and cays spread out over a 760 mile long archipelago. You also need to grasp how small the country it is in terms of population, only 408,000 residents. That, dear reader, is only about twice the summer population of Martha’s Vineyard.

The Nation of The Bahamas is divided up into 32 Government districts which are a form of local government that function in a similar way as States do in the USA. 70% of Bahamians live in the capitol city, Nassau. The rest of the country is sparsely populated or uninhabited. The 365 islands that make up the Exumas District have a population of 7,000. The 57 mile long Long Island District has a population of 3,000. Neighboring Cat Island District has a population of 1,500. The Jumentos Cays and Ragged Islands District has a population of 72 (Yup, 72! And you thought Wyoming was sparsely populated!) These islands are empty. We read in a cruising guide that the Ragged Islands have no human history. Where else on earth can you say that about?

With George Town in our wake, we headed for the Ragged Islands. Good downwind sailing was in the forecast and we were all rigged up to catch it, but the breeze never filled in out on the swimming pool that day. Fun to watch the bottom go by in 20-40 feet of water.

Our anchorage in Hog Cay would be the southern most point in our winter cruise of The Bahamas. Down there, we were only about 60 miles from Cuba. Wendy said she could see the glow from the lights of Cuba when she last dropped anchor there. We didn’t see any glow over in that direction, maybe the Cubans are using lower wattage lightbulbs these days, but we were able to pick up a staticky spanish-speaking radio station on AM710 that must have been from Cuba.

Hog Cay is under the southern most white dot.
The places that little red rowboat goes…

The cruising community built this cool little hut on Hog Cay which is otherwise uninhabited. During the first COVID winter some famous sailing YouTubers parked themselves there for over three months. The videos they posted brought a lot of attention to the Ragged Islands and a lot more boats are now making a pilgrimage down to these beautiful and isolated cays. Some of the old timers are less than thrilled about the influx of new boats. There is no fuel, food or water down there, in fact you have to sail over 100 miles for any of the above, so you need to be pretty independent. I doubt it will ever become George Town South the way some fear it might.

There’s a great network of hiking trails on Hog Cay. We went for daily walks. There are also 20-30 goats roaming free on this island. We saw them but didn’t get any photos. Apparently, they don’t like dogs and have killed a few with their horns, so we tried our best to keep clear of them.

The beaches on the windward side of the island face into the easterly trade winds, and with that regular wind comes a current of plastic trash from the Eastern Caribbean and Africa and beyond. Its hard to see. Even sadder, Haitian migrant boats wash up on this beach with depressing regularity as well. A crew from a Bahamian military base on a neighboring island patrols these waters regularly.

In addition to Hog, we also stopped to visit Double-breasted Cay, Buenavista Cay and Flamingo and Water Cays up in The Jumentos. Great sailing along the way.

In The Bahamas, tourists can pay to swim with the pigs, swim with the dolphins, swim with the turtles, swim with the sharks, and swim with the rays. Could “Swim with the Poodle” be Eagle Seven’s next business venture?

Here at Eagle Seven Sailing we’re passionate about watery beers of the developing world. In The Bahamas, two brands dominate the beer landscape: Kalik and Sands. For the past few months we’ve been casually musing over their character and wondering if we have a favorite. Then one day in The Ragged Islands, we decided to cut out the guess work and run a double-blind taste test. (We’re not sure what “double-blind” means but it sounds formal and science-y and that’s the connotation we’re looking for here.)


Size: The Kalik bottle at 335ML is 1.52% larger than the Sands bottle which contains only 330ML of beer. 335ML works out to 11.3 ounces. Better than the little 8 ounce bottles you find in much of the world, but still undersized in our opinion. Points off for both brands.

Alcohol: The smaller beer in volume packs a bigger punch. Sands: 5.3% alcohol by volume. Kalik: 5.0% alcohol by volume. Sands is 1.6% stronger than Kalik.

Feel: Even tho it’s smaller, the Sands bottle feels more substantial in your hand when compared to the more dainty Kalik bottle. Because of this it may provide superior insulation keeping the beer colder for longer.

Cost: Don’t ask. Both are super expensive. Both are also comparably priced. There are no interstate highways in The Bahamas. Goods get hauled around by boat and plane so high prices are to be expected.

Ownership: Kalik is owned by Heineken and was developed by Heineken for the Bahamian market. Sands was founded by a guy named Jimmy Sands in Grand Bahama. The Sands beer brand remains locally owned.

Taste: Everyone at Eagle Seven Sailing preferred Kalik to Sands. We found it to have a more complex flavor with a pleasing turn in the aftertaste.

On to Long Island. We rented a car and did laundry (a task we tend to about once a month), made some purchases at the grocery store and liquor store, then tracked down this awesome little beach that friends in Brookline have been raving about for years:

We also came across this peculiar monument built by an American: (Need to know more about the back story here.)


Long Island for us was both beautiful and hauntingly stark. Living here isn’t easy. The dentist comes once a week, same for the doctor. To get here by plane, you first have to change in either George Town or Nassau. Not many tourists make the trip. The island is a bit off the map. Who’s ever heard of Long Island in The Bahamas? Not many have.

But the people there welcomed us warmly and we sensed a real pride in place and tightness to the community. The expats from America, Canada, South America, and England that we met were colorful and strange. Chris thinks that with a bit more exposure this could become his favorite spot in The Bahamas. We’ll be back.

After a sporty sail in the unprotected Atlantic Ocean, we pulled into Cat Island at the Golden Hour.  We had heard about a local resort owned by Bahamians and so we opted to drop the hook in Old Bight for the night.  Rollezz Resort, owned by Carl and Yvonne Rolle, lived up to all the rave reviews we had read.  A collection of brightly painted cottages facing a long, white crescent shaped beach twinkled at us as we set the anchor.  We were one of about 7 or so boats sharing the anchorage and from the sounds on the beach it seemed a game was underway.

We’d no sooner tied off the snubber line than a dinghy appeared off our port side.  A lovely British fellow, Roy, wanted to let us know that bocce was happening on the beach with sundowners and we were welcome to come and join the fun.  It was the warmest welcome we’d had since Georgetown so we hopped in the little red dinghy and headed ashore.

Alex went to check out the bar while Chris and Bill stretched Bill’s legs a bit.  Rollezz Bar is on the honor system, so you make your mixed drink or pull a beer out of the fridge, write down what you took and your boat name on a yellow pad and settle up at the end of the evening.  After securing a rum punch and a Kalik, Sundance and her crew were ready to rumble.  Bocce, like volleyball, is harder than it looks. No one got hurt on the beach that night, but it wasn’t pretty. Despite the poor showing at sport, we did make some new friends and refreshed acquaintances with a boat full of Badgers from earlier in our travels. Breakfast plans were made for the next morning at the cafe. Perhaps when properly fortified with a Full English breakfast, we’ll perform better on the pitch?  So far so awesome, Cat Island.

After a hurricane in 1908 destroyed much of Long Island(Bahamas), The Anglican Bishop in England sent architect and priest John Cecil Hawes to the island to rebuild the 7 Anglican churches there. A lot of churches on that island! John’s strategy for beating future hurricanes was to build out of stone with thick walls and barrel-vaulted roofs.

Later in life he converted to Catholicism, took on the name of Father Jerome, and built himself a hermitage for his retirement on the top of Como Hill on Cat Island, the highest point in The Bahamas. The sun was high in the sky as we began our march towards Father Jerome’s retreat at the top. 

Now under the care of the Catholic Diocese of Nassau, the Hermitage is open to visitors and on Good Friday is home to a service following the Stations of the Cross (which were added to the property in the 1940’s).  Entering the buildings felt holy and it wasn’t hard at all to imagine a life lived in this way.  Views all around of the blue green sea and the island, accompanied only by the rustle of wind through the trees, birdsong and the distant crash of waves.  Sublime.

If you look VERY closely, you can just make out Sundance under the arch out at anchor in the harbor.

We eventually descended back to town where we sought out the famous Olive’s Bakery.  There’s nothing better than a freshly baked loaf of Bahamian bread!  In the village at the Fish Fry we found a beachside bar where we feasted on cracked conch. And ice cream.

Before heading back out to sea the next day, Alex set off on a long walk to find the bank and the grocery store.  Turns out the bank was A LOT farther than anticipated but her mission was accomplished thanks to the generosity of Siddelle (sp?), who gave her a ride to the bank and back, with stops at TWO groceries on the way.  Siddi, as she is called by friends, owns one of the restaurants on the water at the Fish Fry and so we have pledged to go back and see her there next time thru.   Cat Island is full of beauty in every sense – its land, sea and people.   

The Raggeds, Long and Cat share a lot in common. All three stand out in The Atlantic protecting the rest of The Bahamas from open ocean. Scrubbed down to their essential elements, they stand proud. They are strong like a good bulwark should be, spare like the tundra, and mysterious.


A Month In One Spot

We arrived in George Town on Dec. 12 and departed from George Town on Jan. 13. A Full Month! After moving the boat more days than not since June 2, it was a welcome break to stop and put down roots for a while.

We did zip around the harbor a fair bit during the month. Some little trips for touring and others for errands like food shopping and laundry. None of it felt worthy of an official log entry, but it did produce quite a messy collection of lines on our GPS tracking chart.

We liked the Moriahs: Moriah Point on the southern tip of Stocking Island, Moriah Harbor Cay in Moriah Park, and Pigeon Cay also in Moriah park. The long beach on the NE side of Stocking Island also produced some lasting memories. Walking the length of it, swimming in the sea off of it, daily exercise rituals on it, and just staring at it from Mike’s bench.

Our gym. Every day.

Christmas happened again during our time in George Town and we were lucky to have the kids fly in to celebrate with us.

You know you’ve sailed a long way when people have to fly by plane to visit.

Family Photo

Heidi said it was like parents weekend at college, except now reversed. She got to see all the places were we would hang out and all the people we hung out with. She said she was glad we were doing such a good job making friends. Her favorite was the Canadian guy with the conch horn, Ray. (We have indeed made some great friends here. Ray and many others. Thanks for noticing, Heidi.)

Before they left, we worked together to make a Tic Tac Video. Check it out: Video Link

Sister Julie came to visit also

As did sister Sarah

And dear friends Perry and Kyle flew in most recently
We’re looking at you Mitt Romney. #neverforget.

When you stay in a place for a while and wander around, you discover some interesting things.

Like this fancy bridge to nowhere. Someone was going to build a big resort here on Crab Cay. They started with the bridge and then they stopped. And that was 10 years ago. Crab Cay remains uninhabited and resort-free. The bridge did provided sister Sarah with a handy connection between where she was staying and where we anchored the boat off the non existent resort.

But it wasn’t all dolphins and rainbows…

Photo credit to @Mondaynever

A neighboring boat caught on fire and that was hard to see. No one was hurt, but it didn’t end well for the boat.

Then one day a curious thing happened on this spectacular public beach on Pigeon Cay in the Moriah Public Park. Sundance was one of three boats dotting the anchorage. We were alone on the beach enjoying a swim and a sit when a friendly crewman from the large yacht in the anchorage dinghyed in to join us. He explained that his boss, the boat owner, had an important phone call to make, and that he preferred to take his important phone calls in a beach chair under an umbrella on this very corner of this very beach. (Public beach, remember.) The friendly crewman asked us if we would please move over to the other end of the empty beach to allow his boss some privacy. For our troubles, he promised to provide us with a bottle of wine.

We were surprised and conflict adverse and the beach was gorgeous from one end to the other so we moved. But as the seconds ticked past, we became increasingly annoyed by the boorish request we had agreed to. Then the boss comes ashore from the big yacht for his phone call on the beach and we observe that he’s approximately 30 years old. Our annoyance factor suddenly shot up exponentially.

No one ever did bring us that bottle of wine.

If we had it to do over again, we would have handled things differently.

It was a spectacular spot tho and a few days later we returned to share it with our next group of visiting guests. The yacht was gone, but left behind was a power strip and an empty Perrier bottle. Apparently, the friendly crewman had failed to clean up the beach office completely.

An unrelated but fun photo sits here to serve as a story break.

A few days later, we’re anchored by town minding our own business when a small sailing catamaran motors past. The captain starts yelling at us with a long string of expletives. Apparently he’s not pleased about where we have chosen to anchor. There was nothing wrong with where we anchored. We anchored in that same approximate spot several times as did countless other boats. This guy was just looking to spread a little rage. We googled the boat name, as one does, and it suddenly all made sense. We won’t include any names, but it turns out that our new friend is from the Lake W. region of central New Hampshire and he’s into racing motorcycles and speedboats. A fellow New Englander! We know this type of guy! His brethren were an occupational hazard for Chris for the past 35 years! Expecting our new friend to be civil and polite is like expecting a mosquito to wait patiently at the foot of your bunk before flying away quietly at dawn. The more the encounter settled in, the more it brought out a sentimental reminder of home. Our new friend is a bit like Dunkin’ Donuts coffee; not good, but familiar and homey.

The Bahamas in the winter can be windy. But in our first two months here all was settled and calm. We only occasionally saw winds in the 20 knot range and never anything above 30. In fact the calm spells with the accompanying bugs were our bigger problem. That all changed today. Winds are now NW 25 – 35. Mike just texted to tell me he could see whitecaps on his morning coffee.

George Town can protect 500 boats from an east wind easily. But when the wind blows out of the NW, there are fewer places to hide. In these conditions, the harbor can only provide safe harbor to about 100 boats. The problem is that there are currently about 200 boats there fighting for those 100 spots. (It should be a field day for my new friend from the Lake W. region of central New Hampshire.)

We opted out. As the weather approached, we scooted 37 miles across the way to Thompson Bay on Long Island where we now sit with perfect protection in the company of just 4 other boats. We were planning to sail this way next anyhow and look forward to exploring here once the breeze drops down and we can all safely row ashore.

our view out the window

Goodbye George Town. We hope to swing back thru and visit you again soon.

Day in The Life – George Town

George Town is the largest town in The Exumas. It is also the only town that has an international airport with direct service to the USA. We’ll be here for a few weeks as various family members and friends use that airport to come pay us a visit. It’s a sweet little town centered around a beautiful church high up on a hill.

Saint Andrews Parish Church – Anglican/Episcopal
Alex attended an Advent service here while Chris tended to Bill the dog. Maybe they’ll switch places next Sunday.

Many sailors see George Town as their final destination for the season and stay all winter. The cruising boats in the harbor are counted weekly. When we arrived in early December there were 60 boats here. In February, peak season, that number will grow too over 300. The water is gorgeous, the weather is near perfect, shelter from wind and waves is good, idyllic beaches are plentiful, and most necessities can be found here. There are two grocery stores, a farmer’s market, free drinkable water (uncommon in The Bahamas), gas/diesel/propane, two laundromats, a hardware store, several liquor stores and a few restaurants.

There are also a few odd combo-stores here: The Napa store is more of a cross between an auto parts store and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. While shopping for spark plugs, you can also pick up a bedspread–sexy! And there is a fish market where you can get your hair cut while your grouper grows warm in your lap–less sexy.

Most cruising boats anchor in the lee of nearby Stocking Island and make the 1.1NM dinghy trip to town when they need something.

Blue dot is over George Town

All the action on Stocking Island is centered around a beach bar called Chat ‘n Chill. It’s a private establishment, but the grounds are sprawling and it functions like a public park.

Bills ready for a day of fun at Chat n’ Chill

A Day in The life – George Town:

00:00 – 04:00: Wake with mild panic every hour or so to make sure the anchor isn’t dragging. We have multiple anchor alarms set and have had zero anchor problems in the nine years we’ve owned the boat, but we still can’t escape some mild anchoring anxiety. Free anchoring has its cost.

Mooring anxiety is worse. Who knows if that white ball is attached well to anything of substance? And tying up at the dock can be the pits. You never get any breeze thru the boat there. No privacy either, and there can be a great deal of clanking and jerking of the dock lines. Hanging on our own anchor remains our preferred way to spend a night. Fortunately for us here in Georgetown, the anchorages are excellent.

05:00 : The alarm goes off and Chris starts the coffee and works on some writing projects.

07:00-ish: Alex wakes and puts together some breakfast foods to compliment the coffee.

07:58: A second alarm goes off reminding us to turn on the VHF so we can listen to The Net.

08:00: The Cruisers Net begins on VHF 72. During our time here, Michelle on Rascal has been the volunteer net coordinator. Journalism at its finest. Its a 7-day-a week job that puts her in a very public spotlight. She’s gracefully managed many sensitive things including a death in our community. After an intro, the agenda runs something like this:

  • Emergency: “Anyone with emergency or urgent traffic please come now,” usually followed by a long pause and then “Nothing heard.”
  • Weather: Michelle gives us a briefing on weather and tides and sunrise/sunset times. (As an aside, for today, Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, the length of day in Georgetown is 10:41 hours. In Boston, length of day today is 9:04 hours.)
  • Departures: Jill and Jody on Steadfast are off to Long Island. They tell us they will miss us all, and they promise to provide a sea state report once they clear the harbor.
  • Local business: Fran from Entropy chimes in to let us know that the farmer’s market had excellent cucumbers yesterday.
  • Community Announcements: Scott on Venture is organizing the Christmas potluck. 14:00 on the beach at Chat n’ Chill on 12/25. We’re all encouraged to contact him after The Net on VHF68 to discuss what dish we’re planning to bring. Mike on Harp announces that the boat count has been tallied, and as of last Sunday, there were 91 boats in the harbor.
  • Boaters General – Boaters Helping Boaters: Emma on Sea Buck is looking to borrow a multi-meter with an amp clamp. Contact her on 68 after The Net if you have one that you’re willing to loan her. Gill on Che Sporate’(?) is looking for a sourdough starter. Sinclair on Mosha is in need of a notary public.
  • Taxi Share: Terry on Golden Hour is headed to the airport and is looking to share a taxi. (It’s unclear if his flight is at noon, or if he wants to load into the taxi at noon.)
  • Trade or Giveaway: Sam on Moonshot has an older life raft overdue for inspection that he is willing to give to a good home. Kiki on L’Zequanoo(?) is looking for a high quality 2KW radar in good working condition. In trade, she is willing to part with six expired handheld flares. (That deal might not come together.) Martin on Calabash is organizing the next “Treasures from the Bilge” yard sale. It’ll be held at 13:00 on Tuesday at Chat n’ Chill, shine or shine. (Arid climate. Sun is always out.) All are welcome.
  • Kids Corner: Young Cal is building an addition to the treehouse (unsafe) and is looking for helpers. Kim(17) is looking to hang out with other kids on Monument Beach at 14:00 (The exact hour when all the parents will be far away at volleyball.)
  • New Arrivals: “Tell us who’s onboard, where you hail from, and a little bit about yourself” Lily on Nova responds: She’s sailing with her husband, Frank, and daughters Zoey(12) and Claire(15). They hail from Montreal and this is their 4th season in Georgetown. Ted on Moonraker then announces that it’s just him and his cat and they’re in from Galveston.
  • Final business: Someone with a heavy accent wants to know where something is in town. No one is really sure what he’s after and ultimately his question goes unanswered.
  • Thought of the day: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Frank on Local Knowledge

08:20: We drag Bill out of bed (That dog loves to sleep) and row to the beach where all three of us enjoy a walk and a swim.

09:00: On Monday/Wednesday/Friday there is beach yoga at Chat n’ Chill. Alex is a regular and has quickly been promoted to “Teacher’s Assistant” thanks to her proficiency and grace. All that time spent standing on her head is finally paying some dividends.

Bill would be inclined to nibble on the yoga people, and is also likely to get sideways with the local cat, so Chris keeps him on a tight leash and away from the action.

Alex sits up front and shows ’em how it’s done.

On Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday water aerobics takes the place of yoga on the other side of the tide line. We haven’t been to that. On Sunday, Beach Church fills this time slot. We haven’t been to that either, tho Alex did attend the 4th Sunday in Advent service at St. Andrew’s Parish, which was delightful and led by a lively, young Bahamian woman who preached AND celebrated.

10:00 Time for the main activity of the day. We may go to town to get groceries, or do laundry, or dump trash. Sometimes I even row over there to get a case of beer. If we’re in town around lunch time, we like the meat patties at the Shell station.

This time slot may alternatively be spent varnishing, polishing, or fixing something aboard the boat. Projects that are often fortified by tuna sandwiches.

Or, we may pull up anchor and sail off to a new nearby cove or island for a picnic lunch there. Many places are empty and waiting to be explored within an easy one hour sail of the Stocking Island anchorages.

Mariah Bay is a fine place to spend an afternoon.

12:00: A crucial juncture in the day looms. Time to asses our power situation and plan for cocktail hour. If solar output has been good and batteries are at 100%, AND we don’t need to run the water maker because we have plenty of water, AND the tools and vacuum batteries don’t need charging, we’ll plug in our ice maker in preparation of a proper cocktail in the evening. If we need to prioritize our power toward water making and/or tool charging instead, the ice maker stays stowed and it’ll be beer and wine from our fridge at cocktail hour for us.

14:00: Beach Volleyball. There are two courts at Chat n’ Chill and people are playing almost all the time, but at 14:00 it gets a little bit more organized. Before this month, Chris had never played volleyball, beach or otherwise. Here in Georgetown he decided to give it a try and concluded that it’s harder than it looks. He also notes that you aren’t much of an asset to your team when you go 0-12 on your serves and violate a handful of rules that you didn’t even know existed. Without adequate instruction, you can even become a danger to the nearby trees and to the people sitting underneath them. Later with a sore muscle in his foot and another one in his ass, he concluded that volleyballs are better used for knocking coconuts out of palm trees than for securing victory between the lines.

Photo credit to Mike on S/V Harp

As an alternative to team sports, we have taken to walking the beach in the afternoon. There’s a lush path to a perfect bench atop a hill not all that far from the cursed volleyball court.

On the path
On the bench
The View

There are in fact many such paths all over Stocking Island and long stretches of idyllic and empty beaches on both sides. This is oftentimes where we walk Bill and ourselves. Bill is like a camel. Two walks a day are plenty for him. Only rarely has he had an accident aboard the boat and he never seems to be too eager to get up from his favorite spot in the cockpit and go ashore. Once on the beach tho, he springs to life and runs and jumps and swims and will chases shadows, rocks and coconuts for hours. He’s living his best life down here.

16:00: Dinner time. If the wind is light, there may be bugs to contend with after sunset, best to enjoy the evening meal before they arrive. The beer is cold and the food is delicious at Chat n’ Chill. A notable favorite is the conch salad expertly prepared by Ronaldo–that man has mad knife skills!

But more often than not, we eat back aboard the boat. The beer is cold here too, and Alex routinely serves up a 5-star meal. At some point, she’ll go into detail in this space on the culinary side of our life afloat. In short: We eat well.

Preparing Wahoo gifted to us by our neighbor who caught it. Fed us for 2 nights.

17:22: Sunset is marked by a tinkling of cocktail glasses and a chorus of conch shell horns from all over the harbor. All crew on Sundance, especially Bill, prefer this to the startling blast of a yacht club cannon so common at sunset in New England.

17:30: There is probably a bonfire that we could row over to if we are feeling social. Everyone is extremely welcoming. Politics is strictly don’t ask, don’t tell. Logic tells me that the extreme ends of the political spectrum are better represented here than is the middle. Living on a boat is an inherently radical thing to choose to do. You can see how a radical libertarian would appreciate the self-sufficiency required by, and the autonomy provided by, a life out here free from the long reach of government. At the same time, you can also see how an extreme liberal might appreciate the opportunity to steer away from the greedy underbelly of capitalism and enjoy an eco-friendly, low impact life out here. Given the distance between these two positions in our two-party system in the US, I think it’s noteworthy that we all live as harmoniously in this anchorage as we do. It’s a testament to the value this community places on supportive relationships. And I must say, it’s very refreshing to talk about something other than politics.

18:00: Chat N’ Chill shuts off the music and closes down for the evening. We had initially feared that they might crank up the volume and blast music ’til late into the evening, but they don’t. Chat n’ Chill is a daytime only beach bar.

20:00: Bed time. 20:00 is also known as “Cruiser’s Midnight.” It’s pitch black out here and things get real quiet, real quick.

For logistical reasons, that I won’t bore you with, there are no charter boats down here in Georgetown. That simple fact makes a big difference. The “Credit Card Captains” that rent those things for week can be a menace. They are not familiar with the boat they’re sailing, and they tend to be less experienced and less cautious. They also tend to be the ones maximizing every hour of vacation (understandably) and partying ’til all hours. Without them, life is simpler and quieter. (You know you’re getting old when you put together a paragraph like this one.)

There is no fuel dock in George Town. Instead we lug diesel in jerry cans from the gas station via dinghy for our miserly fuel needs. Its a strange fact given that this is the largest town in the area, but it’s true. This reality gives the powerboat crowd great pause and they tend to stay away. Their fuel needs aren’t in the slightest bit miserly and the prospect of lugging 700 gallons of diesel in jerry cans lacks appeal. We find we don’t really miss their all-night generators powering their all-night air conditioning and their all-night TV News. It’s noticeable how much quieter a harbor can get without them.

No power boats, no charter boats, a sailor could get used to this…

21:00: We may break the bed time rule and stay up to read for an hour or so. Our phone data is limited down here, and that keeps our projector dark and our screens off.

21:01 – 00:00: Wake with mild panic every hour or so to check the anchor.

I see why people stay. It’s beautiful here and life is easy. It’s a utopia. But I think we’ll move on in a few weeks. We still have wanderlust and plan to keep sailing for the horizon.

Photo Credit to Ray on S/V L’Escapade

Arriving into The Bahamas

Crossing into The Bahamas on a sailboat takes a bit of coordination. First you need to fill your propane and diesel tanks and load 5 months worth of food onboard in South Florida. Then you need to make your way to a good jumping off spot like Key Biscayne. Then you need to wait for a good weather window. Once that comes into focus and a departure date is planned, you need to apply for your Bahamian Cruising Permit online. Then, no more than 48 hours prior to your departure, you need to get a vet to certify that your dog is free of disease and in good health. This last part can be the trickiest, because your dog is not in exceptionally good health and also not afraid to bite a vet that is trying to look in his ear. And because no South Florida Uber driver is at all interested in driving you and your smelly dog to and from the vet’s office. So you carry all 44 lbs of him for miles in the hot Florida sun with fingers crossed that he passes his tests.

He passed his tests.

A 40 mile wide, 3,000 foot deep, fire hose of 86F water known as the Gulf Stream is constantly hustling north between Florida and The Bahamas with great haste. If the wind is blowing against this current, huge seas build up between the two countries and sailing across can be extremely uncomfortable. For this reason, most sailors, ourselves included, are inclined to wait for a southerly wind, or no wind, to make the crossing. We ended up making the 52.7NM trip from Key Biscayne to Bimini with no wind.

The waters of Florida and The Bahamas come in so many shades of blue. The deep water in the gulf stream is a shade unlike any other. A pure dark blue without any trace of grey or green. Because we crossed with zero wind, the surface was glassy and the sun beams sent shafts of light deep down into the water. The effect was like a gentle, below-seas lightning storm. Exceptional.

With all our customs and immigration and dog paperwork filed in advance, our arrival into Bimini was uneventful.
A shark came by begging for a scrap. (Or a poodle?)

We didn’t linger long in Bimini. Our goal was the Bahamian island chain called the Exumas and we were determined to keep the pace up until we got there. Perfect weather for continuing on was forecast and we took advantage of it to move forward. After Bimini, our route would take us across the Great Bahama Bank to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands. It’s an 87 mile hop and there is nothing in between. Water Depth ranges between 10 and 20 feet deep along most of this route. Sailing across, you get the bizarre experience of not seeing anything on the horizon, but always seeing the bottom as clearly as if you were in a swimming pool.

Dolphins swam in our bow wave for a bit – always exciting.

Mileage was long and we were worried the dog might not do well with what we feared could be an 18 hour day. But a stiff North wind built, and we screamed across the bank at a steady 7.5 knots knocking the total time between ports down to 13 hours. We still left in the dark and arrived in the dark this being winter and all, but it was manageable and the dog was happy.

25 knot winds and 10 foot seas. Hard to capture what that feels like on camera.

We were expecting a fair amount of headwinds between Florida and the Exumas and were surprised to find good sailing with wind abaft the beam instead. The trend continued on day 3 where a stiff NE wind blew us down to Nassau and over to nearby Rose Island. We were in deep, unprotected water for the first 2/3rds of this day and the seas were large. Probably the roughest weather of our trip to date, but the sailing was fast and that wind was blowing us in the right direction.

Only 4 days out of Florida, we arrived into the Exumas. First with a stop in Highborne Cay (nice), then Norman’s Cay (nice), then into Shroud Cay where we felt as if we had finally arrived in paradise.

From the anchorage on the protected side of the island, we rowed down a river thru the mangroves and arrived at the ocean side beach at Driftwood Camp. I had read a lot about this place and feared it would be crowded and fail to live up to expectation. It was not crowded and it exceeded expectation. The anchorage was beautiful and we both agreed it was the finest beach that either of us had ever seen anywhere. So far, this was the best stop of our entire trip.

Shallow spots in the lazy river were not a problem
Trails up to the highlands afforded an excellent view of both sides of the island and the river in between.
The places that little red rowboat has been…

This section of the island chain is a national park known as the Exumas Land and Sea Park. The islands are mostly uninhabited and commerce is non-existent. Moorings are provided in many places to discourage anchoring and to protect the bottom. Fishing is not permitted anywhere in the park and fish stocks remain high throughout as a result.

When Matt and I spent the winter in The Bahamas 30 years ago aboard my red Tartan 30, Carina, Little Cistern Cay was a favorite stop and as far south as we ever got. I snapped a photo there and it hung on my shop wall for decades reminding me that some day I should go back. This is the same exact photo except the boat was red then and blue now, and the dog is an addition.

We had Little Cistern Cay all to ourselves–just like it was 30 years ago…
Not a bad spot.

We just so happened to arrive into The Warderick Wells mooring field at Whale Beach in front of park headquarters on Thanksgiving Day. And lucky for us, the good people in Park Headquarters were hosting a cruisers pot luck Thanksgiving dinner! Everyone was welcome, even Bill.

It was a feast and afterwards, we stayed late into the evening playing dominos with our new friends.

It was a pleasure to slow our pace and stay a few nights here where the hiking and swimming were excellent.

Booboo Hill

The Exumas are a nice place to linger. Distances are short. Sometimes 5 miles between anchorages, other times 8 miles. The water is exquisite and the islands keep coming.

Cambridge Cay had the elevation:

And the hiking trails:

And the burrs. Goat burrs kept filling the spaces between Bill’s paw pads driving him crazy:

The weather was surprisingly still and hot while we visited these past few islands and we spent much time in the water. For about a week, winds were light, daytime highs were in the upper 80s, nighttime lows were in the lower 80s and seawater temps were in the mid 80s. Doug Ryan told me that on any boat sailing the tropics, cockpit benches must be long enough to sleep on. He’s right, it’s just too hot to sleep in the cabin sometimes. What Doug didn’t tell me was how to deal with the bugs out there in the cockpit. I bet he’d coach me to look for the solution in a bottle of rum. Well, I tried that Doug. But when the wind is light and the night is still, the Mosquitos and no-see-ums have been relentless. No complaining. Self-inflicted adventure, people are scraping ice off windshields up north, etc. Just saying we need a bug net for sleeping on deck.

It’s an arid climate. We can leave damp towels and swim suits out on the lifelines in the late evening and they will be dry by dawn. That never happens in New England. This also means the whole boat feels dry and thats a big plus.

In recent days, the wind has finally come up. NE 20-30 with higher gusts for four days in a row. This was the winter weather we expected in The Bahamas and its done a great job of blowing all the bugs away.

Shelter in a storm

We found a perfect spot to wait out the blow. It doesn’t look like all the much in the photos, but it offers excellent protection and has been such an idyllic oasis for us, we are loathe to leave it. Cruiser’s beach on Big Majors Spot near Staniel Cay is where we now are.

This place is also known as The Bay of Pigs. Most anything you read online about the Exumas will be accompanied with a photo of huge pigs wading in the water on a white sand beach. This is the island where that happens. It’s a sort of pretty zoo and is wildly popular with visiting boats. We didn’t have much interest at first because we didn’t think Bill would do well with large pigs, and because we read that the pigs weren’t treated all that well and it was actually kind of depressing.

But after deeper research, I discovered that there is another beach in this same bay, off this same island, called Cruiser’s Beach that we might like. People have set up Adirondack chairs, a picnic table, a grill, a swing, a slack-line so you can move right in here, and we have.

Even in the high winds, this place has been completely calm and we’ve had the little beach all to ourselves most of the time. We row in for morning exercise on the beach followed by a swim and a sit in the shade in those chairs with our books. Then we go back the boat for lunch for a few hours. Then back to the beach for the afternoon. Then sunset in the cockpit. It’s a fine pattern.

I understand this place can, and will, get crowded. I’ve been told there are usually over 200 boats anchored here in February and March. But we’re early in the season, and over the past five nights only 8-12 boats have anchored here with most of their crew over visiting the pigs. When these islands get busy mid-winter, we hope to be off into some more remote Bahamian Islands where fewer people tend to visit.

On our beach here, we thought we only had the sharks, rays, turtles, pencil fish, angel fish, and minnows for company, but then one day, in strolled a 400-lb pig! Didn’t know they could or would walk over here, but I guess occasionally they do! We hustled Bill into the dinghy and let the pig have the beach.

There’s been more. A snorkel through the Thunderbolt Grotto (amazing), a few days in cosmopolitain Staniel Cay (think Cuttyhunk, but with booze), a visit to Black Point Settlement, sailing, rowing, varnishing, making water, AND new Bahamian friends (Judy, Charmaine, Seymour and Sherrie), new sailing friends(Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma!), tales to recount about Bill’s antics, evolving opinions about boats, people and society, but this is a blog post, not a book, so I must stop.

A Day in The Life on The ICW

Sundance at anchor in Georgia

00:00 – 04:00: Wake with mild panic every hour or so to make sure the anchor isn’t dragging. Despite the fact that we routinely set two anchor alarms and the fact that we haven’t dragged anchor anywhere in years, we still can’t escape some mild anchoring anxiety. Probably better than becoming complacent. The prospect of us dragging up onto a beach, or our neighbors dragging into us sends a chill down the spine. Every switch of the current, or change in wind direction, warrants some observation.

05:00 – 07:00: The alarm goes off and Chris gets up to start the pre-prepared coffee without turning on a light. Alex and Bill continue to sleep while Chris works on various writing projects sitting up in his bunk with laptop on lap and coffee at his side.

07:00 – 07:30: Sunrise comes late on the ICW in the fall. This route takes us quite far west in the Eastern Time Zone. The days are getting shorter and the clocks don’t turn back until you’re nearly in Miami. (The flip side of course is that sunsets are later too.) Chris drags Bill out of bed in the dark (he loves to sleep in) and rows him ashore for his morning walk as the sun rises. While that’s happening, Alex wakes and prepares the boat to get under way. We sleep on the settees in the salon and every morning Alex puts our bedding away and converts the space back into a sitting area.

The Salon in it’s mid-day configuration.

Next, the garden needs to be stowed. The plants are not unanimously popular aboard the boat, but they are with us nonetheless. To keep them from crashing around the boat while we’re sailing, Alex puts them into the sink in the head for safekeeping before we get going. (Smart to brush your teeth before this happens.)

The Garden

We have 14 opening hatches on the boat. All of them have screens and we like to sleep with them open while at anchor for the ventilation in warm weather. When underway, we sail with them all closed 100% of the time to be sure to keep salt out of the cabin. This task of closing and dogging down all of these hatches is also on Alex’s morning to do list.

07:30: Pull up the anchor and get underway. Checklist:

  • Dinghy oars stowed
  • Swim ladder stowed
  • Anchor light switched off
  • Engine room check: Dripless shaft packing dry, no fluids under the engine, engine oil on its mark, engine coolant on its mark, no signs of obvious distress.
  • Navigational electronics switched on
  • Anchor wash-down pump switched on
  • Start engine

Chris goes to the bow to pull up the anchor with the electric anchor windlass while squirting the mud off the chain with the wash-down hose. Back in the cockpit, Alex is at the helm to get us off in the right direction once the anchor is no longer holding us in place. Bill is usually overseeing us from his favorite spot under the dodger in the forward corner of the cockpit, making sure we don’t mess anything up.

08:00: Alex finally gets to have her first cup of coffee as she prepares breakfast. We enjoy that meal in the cockpit while underway.

09:00: Before you know it, we’re at our first bridge. 130 bridges span the ICW between Norfolk and Miami. Some are fixed bridges with a 65′ clearance above the water that we can pass under easily with our 51′ air draft. Others are draw-bridges that we need opened before we can pass thru. Some open on demand, others open on a schedule. Some on the hour, others on the hour and half hour, others at 15 minutes after and before the hour. Some have exclusions for periods of rush hour car traffic. Some won’t open in high wind. All of them have human operators who we communicate with via VHF radio. Alex is our onboard radio operator and schedule coordinator. At one point between Hobe Sound and Ft. Lauderdale, she had 29 bridges open for us in a single day!

Alex is our radio operator and bridge coordinator.

10:00 Keep trucking ’til the next bridge. The ICW route from Norfolk to Miami covers 1089 statute miles mostly just inland from, and mostly just parallel to, the ocean. The Army Corps of Engineers built the route to protect commercial traffic against attack from German U-boats, back when that was a concern. The route is still maintained and in use today. It mostly consists of natural bays, sounds, and rivers that have been connected by man-made canals to form a continuous shipping route. Anyone can use some or all of this waterway as much as they want free of charge.

11:00 Stop for fuel. We carry 33 gallons of diesel and burn the stuff at an average rate or .72 gallons per hour. This gives us about 46 hours of run time for a range of about 275 miles at 6 knots of speed. We usually cover approximately 50 miles per day when working to clock miles on our way south (or north). In some areas, especially South Georgia, the fuel docks are spaced over 100 miles apart. We try not to run too low on fuel. A conservative schedule has us topping off the fuel tank every third or fourth day. The ICW is not a great place to run our water maker, so we usually take on water at the fuel dock too. Two full tanks of water will last us about 6 days. We just have to make sure to put the fuel in the fuel tank and the water in the water tank when at the filling station. In Coinjock, NC we (ahem, we??) may have mixed the two up and it took us about a month to properly sort out the collateral damage. If anyone wants a deep dive, we are now complete experts on how to get diesel, and the taste and smell of diesel, out of your drinking water. Happy to share details with anyone who’s interested in learning more about this fascinating subject. After a blind taste test, our water tanks are once again both cleared for use. That was right up there on the list of top ten stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life…

“Wait, I thought Sundance was a sailboat. Don’t you turn the engine off and sail her?” You ask. Yes, we do! But on the ICW, opportunities for good sailing are infrequent. The route is protected from the weather which has it’s advantages, but it also means the wind is usually light and that makes for slow going under sail. Also, the route is often narrow which makes for difficult upwind sailing. We did have three great, rip-roaring sails this year on The Ditch. They were pure joy. When we get going under sail, the boat will go a fair bit faster than she will under motor. More importantly, the silence of sailing is such a relief from the drone of the engine. You could sail the whole way from Norfolk to Miami, and people have done it. 30 years ago when I made this trip on my Tartan 30, we sailed a lot more than we did this time. Primarily because I couldn’t afford the fuel. You have to have a lot of patience tho. With a lot of time spent going nowhere while waiting for wind, I would expect average progress under sail alone to drop to around 10 miles a day. That would make for a 109 day trip. Most sailboats decide to motor 90% of the time and get there in less than 30 days of travel instead.

12:00 Keep trucking. And watch for the shallow bits. In theory the ICW is 12 feet deep. Plenty of water to run our 4.5′ draft sailboat down. But shoaling happens, especially after storms. The Army Corps dredges constantly, but it’s a game of whack-a-mole that they can’t quite keep up with. As a result, shallow spots that we could run aground on are all over the route. There are navigational aids along the way, both floating buoys and fixed day markers, but they are not nearly adequately positioned to keep us out of trouble. Back when I made this trip 30 years ago, GPS was in its infancy. Displays were digital only and there was no chart-plotter to show where you were on a chart. Avoiding the shallow spots was educated guess work and we came to a sudden stop in the shifting mud and sand bottom with great regularity. Since then, the dredging hasn’t changed much, but the navigational electronics on most boats such as ours has improved dramatically. We use four different cartographies to plan and execute our daily runs: Government issued paper charts for planning the evening before. A Navionics app on an iPhone, also for planning the evening before. A Navionics Sonar chart cartography chip displayed on our chart plotter at the helm while underway, and an AquaMaps cartography app displayed on an iPhone at the helm while under way. The cool thing about these last two sources of intel is that they are crowd-sourced and get updated regularly. Volunteers and government survey teams submit data taken by sonar readings and it all gets aggregated in the cloud and then sent back to us at the helm in usable form to help guide us around the shallow spots. Now, you only run aground if you are absent minded. (Like happened to us once in Camp Lejune, NC when we were asleep at the wheel (again, we??)) Otherwise, anyone can easily avoid all the moving shallow spots and get down the ICW with ease. Just keep out of the dark red spots.

14:00 We see the ocean! Every now and then we come across an inlet where we can transit from the ICW out to the ocean and/or back in again. Many people who make the trip from Norfolk to Miami will venture out into the ocean in settled weather for much of their trip. The ocean route has its advantages. The sailing is better, the shallow spots are more well known, and the route is far more straight when compared to the serpentine inland ICW route. The ocean route also has its disadvantages. Its unprotected from bad weather and can be uncomfortable. The inlets are not evenly spaced and there may not be one where you want one. The inlets are not routinely navigable. In high winds and large seas, most are not safe to use. Getting off the ICW route and out to sea and then back in again takes time. When you add all these factors together, it usually only makes sense to go outside when you can run your boat for at least 36 hours straight in good weather. We can’t run our boat overnight at the moment because Bill, our elderly dog, needs to be walked every 12 hours. So for us, the outside route doesn’t make a lot of sense very often, if ever. We did give it a try twice this year for day trips along the Carolina coast. Both times, we got in hours after we would have on the inland route, and both times the sailing didn’t live up to expectations, and both times the inlets were dodgy. I must admit tho, it felt good to be at sea again those days even if the math didn’t make it feel like a win.

15:00: Only two more bridges to go. Sometimes Alex is at the wheel, But usually by now, Chris is at the helm and Alex is deep into dinner prep in the galley down below.

16:00: Drop anchor.

16:01: Serve arrival beverages for all.

17:00A: Dinner in the cockpit. We eat well and we eat early, because the bugs are no joke on the ICW..

A cockpit feast

17:00B: Or, if there is a town near by, we might instead go in for a meal ashore and/or attend to some laundry and food shopping.

Georgetown, SC

Sometimes we stay at a marina and can go grocery shopping with their loaner golf cart.

Captain of the grocery cart.

18:00: Row ashore for the evening dog walk at sunset. Always a joy.

Caution!: must avoid wild boar, snakes and alligators on this beach.

19:00 Screens are up and we’re down below. Reading most nights. Sometimes we play cards too. And one night a week, if we can find good cell service, we get our projector out and watch sailing videos on YouTube. Kind of geeky, I know, but we’re addicted.

21:00 – 00:00: Wake with mild panic to check the anchor.

The ICW is varied and magical

The history, culture and natural beauty is rich

The people we met will stay with us forever

But for us, the rhythm of the ICW life was the most powerful part of the journey

Like a marathon, the ICW keeps coming at you

The endurance factor is mesmerizing, and the daily rhythm is central to the experience

After lolly-gagging in the sublime joys of a New England Summer,

It felt good to mix things up and establish a pace.

Fun Facts:

Depart Norfolk: October 13

Arrive Ft. Lauderdale: November 7 ( We are 20 miles short of Miami waiting here for a few days while tropical storm Nicole burns thru.)

Engine hours used: 189.7

We spent two nights in Beaufort, SC for some R&R. Otherwise, like Sherman, we were on the march:

It wasn’t all quite as routine as I lead you to believe. We had a few longer days. And there were a few shorter days too. Like the day in Ft. Matanzas, FL where we decided to turn a perfectly good sailing day into an impromptu beach day. Worth it.

Now we provision and plan, because soon we will be off for The Bahamas, our next adventure.

Stay tuned.

The Chesapeake

Neither of us has spent much time in The Chesapeake Bay. Learning this place was a priority when planning our fall sailing schedule. After a memorable stop in Annapolis (covered in the last blog post) we headed to the Eastern Shore to explore.

We nosed our way up the Chester River and made our first stop in Langford Creek, where we found agriculture. Soybeans? We think? The farms were plentiful in number and beautiful to anchor next to and walk past on shore. In the photo below, the river is at the end of the road where there’s a boat ramp. Boat ramps have proven to be good landing spots for us, as was the case here. What a great place to walk a dog and go for a run! (Except for the many snakes.)

We crossed back across the Chester and up into the smaller, and charming Corsica River.

Bill loves shore leave.

Wendy Mitman Clarke, Chris’ editor at SAIL magazine, lives near the Corsica River. She encouraged us to visit, and we did. We met on the beach so our dogs could run. Wendy and her husband, Johnny, have done a lot of sailing including a four year live aboard voyage with their two young children. Friends of theirs, Jeremy and Nica, also sailors and also writers, joined us as well. We had lots to talk about. We didn’t manage to snap any photos of our gathering that night, but Wendy was good enough to take and share this photo of us rowing back out to Sundance.

The next morning, we sailed down through the Kent Narrows to Saint Michaels where the fascinating Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum dominates town. (And where they filmed the movie Wedding Crashers.).

We finally ate the famous crabs!

And generally enjoyed this charming and welcoming town.

A few days later, the Wye River provided shelter from a strong North wind. That same North wind blew a lot of water out of the river and we found ourselves aground for a minute the next day before leaving.

More agriculture up that way. Same mystery crop. Same great walking paths.

Once out of our hidey hole, we had a day of great sailing on the back side of the cold front.

Arrival in Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, MD was a homecoming of sorts. We were here last October (by car) for a blue water sailing workshop led by the masterful John Kretschmer. We missed him this time, but took a photo in our lecture hall for old time’s sake.

After getting a few boat projects done, we rented a car in Solomons and drove back to New England for a few weeks to tend to a variety of different things. Most notable among them was attending the Staten Island Half marathon to watch son Nate run and almost win the race. Must have been those red shoes.

Back aboard Sundance in Maryland, Hurricane Ian came and went without much issue. We used the rental car to load up on propane, dog food, booze and human food. Then dropped the car and dropped lines and were under way once again. South of Solomons, The Chesapeake widens noticeably. We had good sailing south past the Potomac. Then things got calm, really calm. I can’t remember ever seeing this much water this calm. With a slight haze, it was hard to find the horizon between sky and sea.

Deltaville, VA was a similarly tranquil stop for the night.

Long days of travel means we were up early. Sunrise rows and walks with Bill were a pleasure.

From Deltaville, we made our way towards the mouth of The Chesapeake and into the tight anchorage in Hampton, VA, college town and home of a perfectly situated riverfront brewery. Also, home to one of the nicest harbormasters we’ve met (and we’ve met some really nice ones!)

And from there it was only a short predawn run across to Norfolk, past half the US Navy, and on to Mile Zero on the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW). Another new and totally different chapter in our voyage. We missed a lot of The Chesapeake this time, and look forward to exploring more when we come through next.