A Wet Crossing.

We untied from the docks at Bimini early this morning, and set out course for Grand Bahama Island, one of the major commercial and tourism locations in this country.  Mostly the passage was uneventful, except as Karen noted, it was a very “un-Caribbean” looking day.  Meaning… overcast gray skies and gray water.  The closer we got to our destination at the Grand Bahamas Yacht Club, the more the gray skies poured rain down on us.

I was hopefully that we would snag a wahoo on the run over here, but it was not to be.  We arrived–fishless at the yacht club at about 5, and just after we tied the last line to the dock, the heavens opened, for real.  It rained so hard, I am pretty sure if someone stood looking up at the sky they would have been at risk of drowning!

It’s an early night for us after a tiring day.  The weather for the next couple days looks like on-and-off showers.  Time to break out the umbrella!  We have a project to do while we are here:  find a fuse for one of our battery chargers that is on the fritz.  I am hoping that the fix will be that simple…

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Fast! Faster! Fastest!

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Key West to Bimini.

Joining the 200 mile Club

We finished our passage from the anchorage at Key West to the dock here in North Bimini in record (for us!) time.  The actual over ground distance we covered was 201 nautical miles, and we did that in 22 1/2 hours for an average speed of 8.9 knots! Wow.

Even in a boat this size you can sail for a very long time and not do 200 miles in 24 hours.  Now, we did cheat a bit (OK, more than a bit) traveling with the Gulf Stream that gave us a push from behind of 2 knots for much of the trip, but we were on a fast reach almost all the way, and routinely saw speeds through the water of 8.5 to 9.5 knots.  That was the good news!

Now there is a saying with certain types of sailors, “Fast is fun!”  I am sure they mean it, but they were not with us on this trip.  The waves were not big, I doubt we ever saw any over 6 feet.  Certainly, not the biggest waves we have sailed in, but this was the least comfortable sea we have ever spent this many hours on.

Because of the fast current, the waves were short, steep, and seemed to come from all directions at once. Moving around the boat was a constant challenge to keep our footing. We could never predict which way it was going next. Both of us were seasick for at least part of the way, and that doesn’t happen often! For those of you who might routinely sail in San Francisco, imagine sailing in the washing machine of waves that is the Golden Gate on a strong ebb tide–for 18 hours…

Normally the AMEL hull shape is very “sea-kindly,” meaning it has a smooth, gentle motion through waves.  Normally.  On this run, about every 15 minutes or so we would come down off one wave, and crash into the next with a great thud, and water would pour across the deck.  Fortunately, we were warm and dry under the dodger, but it is not often we see green water pour over the dodger windows!

Surf to the Left of Me, Surf to the Right…

Arriving for the first time at the entrance to the harbor in North Bimini with significant surf running is… interesting.  You see on the chart where you are supposed to go, but what you see from offshore as you approach is a continuous line of breaking surf…  Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 12.00.07

You have to run straight into what looks like a solid wall of breakers, then make a sharp left, just before you run up on shore, to run the channel behind the shallow bar where the waves are furiously churning. The chart tells you that all around is “Shifting sand” that you know has not been surveyed since well before Hurricane Irma stirred up these waters. Just to add to the fun, there is a powerful tidal current flowing in, so pretty much once we commit, there is no good way of turning back.

As we were circling, trying to make sure we understood what the chart and buoys were telling us, we had the good fortune to have a local tourist dive boat come out of the harbor.  Watching him gave us the confidence that the approach we were planning really was the correct one.

The final challenge was getting the boat into the marina slip, while fighting a current of 2 knots.  Even that came off without a problem, although I have to admit my first approach had to be aborted when I didn’t get the current judged quite right.

Welcome to the Bahamas, Mon!

Karen took our paperwork to customs and got us checked in.  We have our cruising permit, fishing license, and are good to stay in the Bahamas for the next three months.

Bimini is still a bit rough after the hurricane, many of the local businesses are still rebuilding, and lots of buildings are torn up, but basic services are functioning. Speaking of basic services, “Bailey the Lobsterman” came down the dock this morning and greeted us offering his wares.  A dozen fresh caught local lobster for:  $50. Good thing we have room in the freezer 🙂

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And, We’re Off!

As a huge and fast moving winter storm powers up the frozen Atlantic Coast of the USA, we are getting ready to hop on the back side wind of that same weather system to have a fast and easy ride from Key West to our planned landfall in Bimini, Bahamas.  We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, and it looks to be a 20 hour trip, more or less.

Looking at the weather reports up and down the East Coast, we are REALLY glad to be far enough south that we are out of the cold.  This evening the US Coast Guard closed the entrance to Chesapeake Bay because of ICE!  They actually had cutters out along the Virginia shore on ice breaking duty.  Geez.  We were actually thinking about how chilly it was going to be on our sail tomorrow.  It might get down to 60ºF overnight!

Here are some pictures from around the island…


Ibis (Ibises? Ibi?) are locally pretty common in open country across a lot of Florida..


Non-native iguanas are very common in all the warmer parts of Florida.  Younger animals and females are green.  The mature males tend to be more flamboyant.


Like the kid in the candy store!  Oh, wait… it IS a candy store!


Interior battlements at Fort Taylor


The parade ground at Fort Tylor


Historic Fort Taylor on the southernmost part of Key West.


The moat around Fort Taylor.

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Holiday Interruption…

We had expected that the package of mail from our forwarding service would have arrived today,  so we could get out of Dodge before the New Year, but somehow in the post-Christmas rush (is there such a thing?) delivery of our package got held up a day. Which, because of the holiday weekend, actually means 4 days. It won’t be available to us until Tuesday afternoon.  Oh well, there are worse places to be stuck for a few days.

So the newly revised plan (weather permitting) is to dart out of here on Wednesday morning and head up toward Bimini to check into the Bahamas for the next phase of our adventure.  That will be a 24 hour run, more or less, moving fast, “downstream” in the Gulf Stream.

In the mean time Key West is keeping us entertained.  Yesterday’s boat fun was rearranging the storage of some heavy items on the boat to see if we can improve our trim a bit.

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A Crappy Problem with a Solution.

You learn all kinds of things when you have a cruising sailboat.  You are away from basic services, so you have to be your own electric company, your own water company, your own sewage company, among many other things. Today I am writing about our LEAST favorite utility from that list: sewage disposal.

There is one problem in particular that plagues boats in salt water.  Salt water is not compatible with human waste. When you mix the two, a small amount of hard, stony material precipitates.  Over time this hard stuff collects on the inside of pipes and tanks, gradually clogging them.

IMG_2DA9191A009F-1This stuff is called many things by sailors, usually names not printable.  But when in polite company, it is usually called “calcium”.  Many sailors assume it is calcium carbonate, the material that seashells are made of.  It is not. It is a complex mixture of various things, likely mostly calcium oxalate, a primary component of some kinds of kidney stones. The photo on the right is what we found in the hoses in our aft head.  Not a disaster–yet.  But the diameter of the hose has been reduced by almost 25%, and every narrowing of the hose makes a truly messy clog more likely.

IMG_7161A7CC719A-1One common myth about this stuff is you can prevent its formation and/or dissolve it away with vinegar.  Nope.  Doesn’t work.  This is one of those things that gets repeated so often people start to believe it. It is told to beginning sailors, and becomes part of what they “know” to be true.  “Experts” say it all the time.  A simple experiment shows that vinegar has almost no effect at all. After the “Before” picture was taken, we emptied the hoses of all water, and filled them with straight, undiluted vinegar, and left them to soak for six hours, then flushed through with seawater.  The result was, as you can see, not worth the trouble. The stuff lining the hose was just as hard, and just as intact as it was before.

The traditional way of cleaning this stuff out is to remove the hoses, take them to the dock, and beat them against a piling until it breaks up into little pebbles and falls out.  It is effective, but not exactly a great way to spend your afternoon. It also does not do any good at all for tanks, and piping that you can’t remove.

Trac Ecological Sew Clean  to the rescue. While at the Annapolis Boat Show in October we found a product that claims to make this problem go away from a company called Trac Ecological that specialized in this kind of cleaning. I am always skeptical of things that work “like magic,” but given the hassle of the alternative, this stuff looked worth a try. It’s a concentrate that you dilute 5:1, so you don’t need a lot of it.

IMG_39A7B60BE435-1I am happy to report, it worked, and not just a little, but perfectly. The picture on the right is the same hose after a 6 hour soak in SewClean followed by a saltwater flush.  Pretty impressive.

Now, there is one thing you have to be careful of.  Not all of the hard chips will fully dissolve, especially if you have a really thick layer.  It is possible that they can lodge somewhere in your piping and cause a problem.  In our case, everything either dissolved or broke up into small enough pieces that  it just flushed through.  It is best if you can arrange for the cleaning solution to circulate through your system, but there was no way we could figure out to do that, so we had to settle for a simple soak.

We are going to add this to our regular maintenance program and do this soak every 6 months.  A gallon of diluted SewClean costs about 8 times as much as a gallon of undiluted white vinegar, but it works 100 times better.  The vinegar is staying in the galley–where it belongs.


We have no association with Trac Ecological, other than being satisfied customers.  If you buy through the Amazon link, we get a small fee back to us that doesn’t change your price.  There are many other dealers than Amazon. We only review and recommend products we actually use.
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A Short Key West Stroll

Merry Christmas to everybody! I know that many of our readers in the US Mainland are experiencing cold, snowy weather, so I will resist the temptation to gloat about the weather here right now…

DSC_2032A pretty place is Key West.  Some parts of town are a bit overrun with tourists and the various ticky-tack businesses that pop up to cater to them, but other places are just plain pretty. There is a pretty steady stream of cruise ships that make port calls here, but they tend to be the smaller ones, and there is only room for one at a time so they don’t quite totally overwhelm town like in some places.

DSC_2031When the United States acquired Florida from Spain, Key West was pretty much uninhabited. The U.S.Navy developed a base here in the early 19th century that was initially used to “discourage” the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The Navy is still here, although in a greatly reduced capacity.  Just a few hours before we arrived, an Amphibious Assault Ship arrived at the Navy dock.  We were told she is the largest Navy vessel to make a port call in Key West since World War II.

Much of the housing stock is 100 to 150 years old, and of a style know as “Carpenter Gothic.” I can only imagine the amount of care it takes to keep a wood frame building healthy for over a century in this climate! Here we saw relatively little serious hurricane damage.  Much more prominent were holiday decorations that tend to have a distinctly tropical flavor.


An interesting stop that we almost passed by was the US Coast Guard Cutter Ingham. She was the longest serving ship in the US fleet, in service for 50 years from convoy duty in WWII through drug interdiction service ending in 1988.  She was rescued from the scrap yard by a bunch of dedicated (or crazy!) guys who turned her into a museum.  It was a much more interesting tour than I expected, and if you have any interest in such things is well worth a stop if you are in the area.


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If you do visit the ship, be sure to take some time to chat with her caretakers.  They have lots of fascinating stories. Like the visit they had from the German U-boat Captain who had her targeted in his periscope but shifted at the last minute to fire his torpedos at a larger ship nearby.

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The End of the Road…


A lighthouse in the Keys.

Well, not the end of OUR road, but we are now at the very southern end of US Highway #1 that stretches up the entire length of the east coast. Only a few months ago we were anchored in Maine, near the northern terminus of this highway. We are now anchored off Key West.  I’ll leave it to the people of Florida and Maine to decide who has the beginning and who the end.

We spend a couple of nights at Big Pine Key visiting a former sailing school associate of mine who now runs the Outward Bound sailing program there. A great adventure program where people learn a lot about themselves and what they really can do when they have to.

Navigating in the Keys is more than just a minor challenge for a boat like Harmonie who needs more than 6 feet of water to float.  Last year we managed to sail Harmonie for about 4 hours before we managed to bump her freshly painted keel on the bottom.  This time it was two days…  What LOOKED like a tight–but doable–channel to get into a nice protected anchorage turned out to be shallower than charted.  We scraped and bumped a few times, and then got stopped dead and had to turn around.  The weather was fine and settled, so we anchored in a more exposed location.  The only problem with the spot was the 10 mile dinghy ride to Alicia’s place. That new, more powerful, outboard we picked up in the Virgin Islands last spring showed its stuff.


Hurricane casualties being hauled away.

Here in the keys the damage from last summer’s storms is unavoidable.  The clean up is still underway, and rebuilding is going on all around. Here in Key West there are still three large cranes hauling sunken boats out of the water an loading them on barges.

A few days here, and they we will be off again to the Bahamas.



A Miami sunset from the edge of the Gulf Stream.


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