One of THOSE Days!

A nice king mackerel. They make great sushi!

Some old sayings have more truth in them than others. One of the most true is, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working.” By any objective measure, our day fishing wasn’t great, but it was still a great day.

We sailed out of Georgetown two days ago, anchored on the west side of Long Island, and then tried to sail further east yesterday. We were frustrated by light and contrary winds and currents, and ended up motoring down the east coast of Long Island to Grand Harbor. We did managed to catch a nice king mackerel on our trolled lines.

Today we bought fuel at the local marina, and took a break from traveling, and went out for a day dedicated to fishing instead.

We started out trolling. No specific target in mind, but a wahoo would have been nice. About half way out, we got a bite on the deep wire line outfit—the one we specifically use to target wahoo. It was a big fish. What it was we’ll never know…. The line broke. For all you non-fishermen out there this really shouldn’t ever happen in open water. I missed something. Maybe a kink in the wire, maybe a badly tied knot. Something went wrong… something I should have not allowed to happen. But, heck. I lost an expensive lure, but there are more fish out there!

Now we are several miles offshore, and the water here is about 250 feet deep, and drops off rapidly to several thousand. The edges of those drop offs are a great place to target a lot of different fish. We pull in the trolling lines, and set up for bottom fishing. I pick a jig suited for these depths, and set the boat up to drift with the current.

In just a few minutes, I have hooked a fish. A big fish. It’s tough getting him up off the bottom and away from things he can tangle me on, but I am making progress. It’s a heavy fish, not dashing around, just pulling like a tractor. I am already tasting grouper fillets. A few minutes in and (I’ll bet you saw this coming) the line breaks. Arrrgh!

The taxman takes his bite…

Back to it. The next drift I have another fish, not nearly so big. This one I get up off the bottom and moving my way pretty quickly. When you are pulling fish up from these depths, at some point they become incapacitated by the huge pressure changes, so it is not unusual that the last half or so is struggle free and just involves reeling in the inert fish. In this case there was an extra reason the struggle stopped. The Bahamian fisherman would say “The Taxman” had taken his cut. A shark bit off the back three-quarters of the fish. I landed a fish head, and nothing more. Sigh.

Back down to the bottom. Another bite, and other big fish. This time a REALLY big fish. I am using 50 pound test line, and it’s all I can do to get him started up off the bottom. Up about 50 feet, and he decides he has had enough of this, and races back down, peeling line off the drag. I hold on until he slows and I start lifting him back up as fast as I can. This I get maybe 75feet of line back before it screams back down toward the bottom. The fish is pulling line so fast off the reel the drag is hot to the touch. The process repeats, I lift him up—again. I get a lot further this time. I have him beat—NOT. The rod bends down, and the drag screams as he dives toward the bottom. This time, he makes it, and manages to tangle me on something. I’m stuck, nothing to do but break off. At least this one the fish won fair and square. Nothing I know of that I could have done differently.

A nice sized silk snapper.

Another drop, and another hookup. At least I am finding the fish! Certainly not the biggest fish of the day, but this time he ends up in the boat! A nice sized silk snapper. All of these very deep living snapper species are REALLY tasty table fish and we are always happy to welcome them onboard.

By this point the “taxman” was circling the boat. A BIG shark, over 8 feet, was cruising around waiting for us to bring up dinner for him. It was time to head back.

It a few ways it was a rough day. Certainly I lost a lot of expensive fishing tackle. But, importantly, fun was had and we DID end up with more fish in the freezer than we had at the start of the day.

The day ended pretty nice too.
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“Super” Georgetown

On our random walk through the Bahamas we passed through Georgetown, the largest town in the Exumas. It is a very different place this year, and in strange ways.

Last time we were here, there were close to 200 cruising sailboats in the harbor. This year, less than a dozen. On the other hand, a trend we have noticed everywhere in the Bahamas this year, the number of super yachts is far larger than we are used to.

Our definition of “super” yacht is a bit arbitrary, but would be boats bigger than about 100 feet. What we expect is happening, is boats of this sort would normally have scattered all over the Caribbean, but travel restrictions have confined them to these waters where travel has been more open than a lot of other locations.

We have found the local travel to be pretty simple and straightforward. Read the rules, follow the rules. If you are considering coming here, we’d definitely encourage it. Especially if you are vaccinated, it is pretty simple.

We stopped in Georgetown for the grocery store, and to do some repairs. Those chores are now done, and we are off to more remote locations. Tonight, our stop is the northern end of Long Island. A place with some high end resorts and a lot of peace and quiet.

We did promise to post some photos from our stop at the Exumas Land and Sea Park, and since we have a decent cell connection here, here goes!

Harmonie on her mooring in Wardrick Wells, the headquarters island of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.
A green sea turtle is ready for his close up.
A mahi-mahi made the mistake of accepting our dinner invitation…
If Bill is here to catch fish, Karen is here to find shells!
The view from the top of Harmonie’s mast How many different colors of blue are there????
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Over to the Park

Pretty much a perfect day out of Cape Eleuthera on our way to the Exuma Land and Sea Park on the island of Wardrick Wells. We landed a mahi-mahi to restock the freezer, we sailed without needing to motor at all, we arrived in a beautiful place, and we were visited—close at hand—by several green sea turtles.​ We even picked up our mooring ball here, in a cross current and contrary wind, on the first pass. Not exactly a HUGE accomplishment, but we haven’t done it for two years, so it’s good to know we still have the teamwork going!

One of the downsides of these more remote places is that there is little, or no, opportunity to connect directly to the internet. So, even though we have some great pictures, and we will to wait to post them until we have a real internet link and not just satellite email.

We have been struggling a bit with what we hope is a minor issue on our furling system for the jib. I’ll need to get up to the top of the mast tomorrow morning to make what I expect to be a final diagnosis (and fix!) of the problem. Except for that, everything has been working perfectly, which is always a good thing! It is nice when all the time and resources we put into preparing the boat pay off.

We will spend tomorrow here, and then head further south and east toward Georgetown. We haven’t yet decided if we are going to do that in one 14 hour jump, or stop to break it up into two days. It’s a decision we don’t have to make until we are well underway. The expectation is for a quick stop at Georgetown to visit the grocery store, and then continue on to the more remote islands where Karen wants to comb some virgin beaches, and Bill wants to catch some fish.

Wish you were here!

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Bahamas Islands

Bahama islands come in three flavors. “Out Islands,” “Family Islands,” and then the others. The “Others” are pretty easy to pick out. The are the crowded, urban, islands with the big cites. New Providence (which has Nassau) and Grand Bahama (which has Freeport) are the examples. Out Islands are pretty much all the others. Family Islands are a subset of the Out Islands that are inhabited. Some of the smaller more remote islands are populated with just two or three families who have lived there for a hundred years or more.

We are at the very southwestern end of the island of Eleuthera in Cape Eleuthera Marina. The staff here at the marina remembers us from the few times we have been here before. That’s part of what makes it a Family Island. A delightful place, although a bit isolated. Karen loves the remote beaches where she can find unusual and interesting shells. Although right now the marina is relatively empty, they tell us that they have been packed full up until last week.

Our plan is to leave here tomorrow morning, and sail to Wardrick Wells, a beautiful national park. We’ll spend a couple days there, and then move to Georgetown where we’ll take advantage of the larger market to reload on our fresh food, and then head to the the uninhabited islands further east.

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Back in The Bahamas!

Moving south and east from Florida is frequently a challenge. The usual direction of the wind is from the East or Southeast, right on the nose. This trip was no different. You have a choice of a lot of tacking and a slow passage, or motoring to go upwind. We choose to motor, running our Volve diesel for 43 of the 48 hours it took to get from Hollywood, FL to Spanish Wells in the Bahamas.

Check-in went smoothly, although it was all done on “Island Time.” Our Health Visas were handled smoothly, and made everything easy. When traveling by private sailboat, we have found that it is always very helpful to have carefully done your homework ahead of time. Know what the rules and options are.

The case here in Spanish Wells is a typical one. The officer who handles immigration and customs does so for yachts as a sideline. His primary job is as a customs duty collector for all of the supplies being imported to the island. His familiarity with the rules and regulations for cruising yachts is not broad or deep. By way of example, Karen had to specifically ask for him to make out the Bahamian fishing license. She’s also had to insist that he prepare a 12 month cruising permit, not a 90 day one.

These kinds of issues are not limited to the third world. Some of the customs officials who were most confused and uninformed about private boat procedures and policies we have dealt with were in the USA.

After checking in, we spent the night at Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells, and left with the rising tide this morning. We are making our way south on the east side of Eleuthera. We’ll anchor tonight, and tomorrow will continue south, probably as far as Cape Eleuthera.

Private boats are very few and far between here. Never exactly “crowded,” the local waters are close to deserted. The weather is beautiful. The water is all those amazing colors that never fail to amaze. All is excellent!

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And We Are Off!

We have been in an extended loop of mundane and boring, but all that is about to change!

For some time now we have been docked in Hollywood, Florida taking care of business. Doing some work on other Amel boats and getting Harmonie all up to snuff and cruising trim.

After taking on fuel, we will be pushing off here tomorrow evening, and head for the Bahamas. The plan is to run for about 36 hours straight out to Spanish Wells, clear customs there, and use that as our base for a couple weeks of exploring.

The Bahamas have what seems like a pretty straightforward way of dealing with COVID issues. They have a “Health Visa” which you apply for before you leave. You either show evidence of a negative test, or paperwork confirming that you were vaccinated. Ours were approved within an hour of being submitted online. We now have five days to get to our check in location. Being vaccinated also allows us to travel between islands without additional paperwork or testing. Assuming the physical check-in process goes as smoothly, they have things well sorted out. We were actually very impressed with the quality and ease of use of the online visa system.

Once we check in at Spanish Wells, we’ll be moving on to some of the smaller, uninhabited islands to explore for as long as we can. We need to be north of 30.5° latitude (about the Florida/Georgia border) by July 1 for our insurance. We are looking forward to being out away from the crowds again with blue water, and fish and birds as our neighbors.

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Where is Harmonie?

We have been a bit off the map for a bit. Not because anything is wrong, but just things have been a bit boring. Since sailing from Charleston down to Florida we have mostly been working on Harmonie and working with new owners of another Amel Super Maramu bring their “new to them” boat up to top shape. It has been kind of different from what passes for our usual routine, actually “commuting” to work every day!

Last week we took a break from that and left with Harmonie and our friends Aras and Vickers (from the Amel Sharki, Fiasco) and set sail for 10 days exploring. Our destination was Dry Tortugas National Park, about 50 miles west of Key West.

The most visited part of the park is Fort Jefferson, a very well preserved fortification from the mid 19th century that defended the United States’ access to the southern sea lanes between Florida and Cuba. It was never attacked, and with over 400 of the most advanced cannons of its day, it would have been essentially impregnable to any naval weapons of the time. It was built of 16 million standard red bricks that were sourced from all over the young United States. No, I did not count, I’ll trust the word of the park ranger. You can see across the structure the color variances of the brick, and the differences in quality of the mortar used as construction progressed.

For the Birds!

One of the delights of visiting the Dry Tortugas in the spring (or fall!) is it is located near the flyway of millions of birds as they make their way north for the summer breeding season. Birds of all kinds and from all over can be found resting here before resuming their journey. This is a problem for amateur and inexperienced birders like us: You can’t use geography to help narrow down the list of birds that are possible matches to what you are seeing.

There are very few types of birds that actually live or nest here, and they are all seabirds. Everybody else is just passing through.

Lots of Good Terns.

The Dry Tortugas might not have a large variety of birds that live here, but what they lack in variety they make up for in numbers.

Just Magnificent

The most dramatic of the local nesters is the Magnificant Frigatebird. A large and graceful bird that is a bit nasty. They are famous as “kleptoparasites,” making a good part of their living by stealing food from other birds. They also are nest robbers, grabbing eggs and chicks from nests while swooping by. This includes unattended nests of other frigatebirds!

The chicks are very slow developing, they are almost 6 months old before they fledge, and rely on their mother for food for almost a full year.

And the usual suspects.

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And 1-2-3… We are there!

Modern weather forecasting and weather routing information is a real game changer for passage making sailors who take good use of it. In the “good” old days you made your best guess, and jumped out into the ocean and deal with what ever King Neptune threw at you. It is now so different.

Normal prevailing winds along the southeast coast of the US are from the southeast. Pretty much as bad as it gets if you are trying to sail from Charleston to South Florida. We waited, and waited, and watched… looking for an opportunity to “cheat.” When the models converged on a common solution and agreed, we grabbed it, and the result was a fast, fun, and most importantly, safe trip.

The winds were strong for most of the trip, 20 to 35 knots from the north or the northeast. The waves were, are times, large. But everything was coming at us from behind, so the sailing was fast and fun. We were moving through the water at over 10 knots for hours at a time. Our highest speeds, surfing down the big waves, was pushing close to 13 knots–measured both through the water and over ground! OK, it’s only for a minute, but still… bragging rights!

Our carefully planned trip was seriously disrupted and slowed down by the US Navy. We had our course set to keep west of the Gulf Stream. Just at the point where we were as close to the Gulf Stream as we were going to get we were hailed on the radio by “Warship 67” and told to turn east to avoid the live fire gunnery practice. For the next 60 miles we had to fight the north bound Gulf Stream in order to stay clear of the live fire exercises. Staying clear of naval ships firing guns with live ammunition always seems like a good idea! For what it’s worth, “Warship 67” is the USS Cole. Yes, THAT USS Cole. The guided missile destroyer that was seriously damaged in a suicide bomb attack in Yemen in 2000.

From untying our lines in Charleston, to anchor down in Hollywood, Florida was 2 day, 19 hours. Pretty good, especially considering we stopped to fish. Fishing wasn’t greatly successful, landing one amberjack before dark and building winds moved us on.

We are going to be based here in Hollywood for a week or two while we help some new Amel owners get dialed into their boat. If you are in the neighborhood, be sure to say “Hello!”

Our plans then are, hopefully, to run out to the Bahamas.

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Sailing again!

After way too long tied to the dock, Harmonie and her crew are finally ready, and our weather looks almost perfect for a trip south. We are headed to Fort Lauderdale where we will be helping introduce an Amel Super Maramu to her new owners. Kevin, one of those new owners, is along on this trip as pick-up crew.

The plan is to take on fuel here in Charleston, and then head out into the ocean with the ebb tide that begins about noon local time. We will sail southeast until we cross the Gulf Stream, then tun south. For the duration of the trip the winds are forecast to be from the north or north east, so we are expecting a fast and easy trip.

If the weather cooperates, there are a few places we hope to stop and fish.

After two or three weeks in Fort Lauderdale area, we will hopefully head over to the Bahamas for more of the remote cruising that we really enjoy.

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Wait, I Know That Boat!

The sailing world is a fairly small one. Especially when you are looking at boats that actually do sail around a lot The other day a new boat pulled in to the slip right across from us here in Charleston, South Carolina. As soon as I got a look at the graphics on the transom, my brain flipped though its internal card file and found a match.

XL was designed by Jim Antrim and was built at the Berkely Marine Center in Berkeley, California while I was working at the sailing school there. I literally had a front row seat as this boat was taking shape back in 2008. You can see pictures of the boat sailing, and under construction at Antrim’s website:

XL had been brought here because her owners were planning on running her on the spring and summer racing circuit on the east coast, and Bahamas. After several years in storage, she had a new paint job, new rigging, and a general refit. She had just sailed here from Miami.

There was one small problem… there was something missing:

The mast! Apparently some piece of the new rigging failed, just as she was coming into Charleston Harbor, and the whole rig went over the side.

Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of consequential structural damage, and nobody was hurt. With a initial delivery estimate for a new rig out well into June, it would seem their racing schedule will be significantly reduced.

We are getting ready to head to Florida, after being stuck here for too long. We are starting to watch the weather carefully, but the next week or so has a weather pattern that is resulting in wildly different forecasts. We’ll pick a day to leave once the various weather models agree on what we might encounter!

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