The weather in the Northeast continued to worsen, with strong northern winds bringing freezing temperatures to Norfolk. After biding our time through a couple particularly nasty storms, we made our way south on the ‘inside’, cruising along the system of rivers, canals, locks and waterways called the Intracoastal and somewhat affectionately referred to as ‘the ditch’.
Running this route keeps us out of the notorious Cape Hatteras and allows us a stop at Coinjock for cheap diesel and the purportedly famous prime rib. Needless to say the fish special with green curry was quite good.
Navigating the narrow and shoal ridden ditch is a challenge in a boat with 7-foot draft even though the locals claim that the hefty barges passing day and night are 10-12 feet, we dragged our keel a number of times.
At the notorious Alligator river, where I wrote earlier in the year about running aground, we were behind two very slow sail boats which were running dangerously close to the shoals well within the marked channel. We notified them on the radio and squeezed by at their insistence, in the worst possible spot. This quick passage put us steaming hard for the open bridge and saved us waiting on the next opening.
Another anchoring on the Neuse river that night and morning run through the canal into Beaufort was a rare, late fall day that felt more like spring. We secured a slip and OneWheeled to an excellent lunch and then prepared for an overnight to Charleston.
The weather was in our favor that night and around noon, we docked behind the massive, triple mast sailing vessel Adix. They like to pack them tight at the Charleston City Marina, with the stern flag pole extending nearly over our bow and their colors licking the bird’s bulb!
Thanksgiving was upon us and I flew home to Oregon to surprise my family while Luke did some improvements and repairs, including starting the daunting task of replacing the air conditioning compressors. It seems the previous three, installed just three years earlier, had all failed, likely due to improper installation; either a fouled fluid line or power grounding causing corrosion.
I had a few days after my return to provision and explore Charleston, a beautiful city, and we finally found a restaurant that exemplifies everyone’s tendency to call this city a foodie town. Magnolia’s had southern, homestyle cooking with subtle twists and an elegant flair. Highly recommended.
A series of heavy rains, lightning and wind passed through and we were stuck on board for several days, watching the weather closely, looking for an opportunity to move further south, if not all the way to Fort Lauderdale.
Finally a reprieve gave us a chance and we planned a route to Cape Canaveral where we thought we might opt to duck back into the Intracoastal and make the last 140 miles inside. We left at 1AM after Luke had secured the engine room and took roughly 4 hour shifts through the night, the following day and next night.
The winds were from the North and Northeast for the better part of the second day and third night so we rolled out the starboard headsail and for a while, the mainsail as well. Now we can comfortably say ‘yes we do’ when people ask, do you use those things as they stare quizzically at what is perhaps the only trawler with sails.
The predicted, growing winds in Southern Florida had pushed back to Sunday which gave us a solid window to reach Fort Lauderdale, so now, as I type this, it’s just after midnight and we’re just under 5 hours from the port entrance. Running up the New River early, before any weekend traffic should make it nice and easy, with a slack tide, albeit low.
Definitely first on the agenda: O-B Breakfast House, after securing the lines of course.
There’s a song that says something about living in New York, but not so long that it makes you hard. After a month at Chelsea Piers I understand what that means. The location is prime but the wave action, which they warn you about explicitly, is incessant, calming slightly in the evenings. It was so bad that our bowline, which we didn’t realize was against a steel piling, broke under the constant friction. The rest of our lines saw a year’s worth of wear in the 30 days there.
I also realized I’m a west coast boy at heart. The city is amazing, vibrant, intense and frustratingly agro. As we made our way up and down the west side bike path there seemed to be more electric board devices daily, clearly to the chagrin of the cyclists barreling down the path at top speed, their huffs and curses not restrained and their middle fingers occasionally thrown, all while blowing past the ‘yield to pedestrians, it’s the law’ signs. Even a leisurely ride down the Hudson is an angry affair for a native New Yorker.
Being along the west-side bike path was ideal for us; with the OneWheels we could travel anywhere in the city in less time than it would take to Uber, Taxi or take the subway, given the 20 minute walk to the station from the pier.
Between work and some maintenance, we spent the time exploring Manhattan and living like natives, getting to know friends and new acquaintances and flying through the city on the OneWheel. One day I pushed the limits of the board, riding from Chelsea Piers, at about 23rd, up to 110th, cruised some dirt, wooded trails near the Blockhouse, an old fort and the second oldest structure in the park, and wound my way all the way back, racking up about 14 miles in the process and ending with 15% charge.
There were the typical tourist sites as a few people visited, but the highlight was time spent with friends: Jacob’s extended visit, Broadway on the Hudson with Bob Eichler on the beautiful sailing vessel Altair, a going away cocktail party for him on Wanderbird, meeting the very talented Mike Ryals, running into TJ and Jason randomly and hosting Graeme and Daniel and their rambunctious son Jackson who was enamored with the boat, particularly the anemometer, used to measure wind speed. I certainly can’t say I knew what that was when I was 4!
As hurricane Michael made its way around Florida and headed for the SouthEast we departed New York, out the harbor as we had arrived around 3 months earlier and up Delaware Bay, through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (C&D) and down the Delaware towards Washington DC to meet Luke’s mom, Carol Anne and her boyfriend Jim for a few days site-seeing. After a full night and day, with Michael about to make it’s way just south of us, we ducked into Middle River and set anchor with as much protection as we could find, given that a passing hurricane can mean dramatically shifting wind directions.
At ten PM I stood up top and looked around at the peaceful waters and still shoreline and I understood fully the phrase ‘calm before the storm’. At 2AM I woke to the sound of heavy lapping and wind whipping the lines. I headed to the flybridge to make sure things were secure and the winds were sustained at 35 with gusts reaching 50 knots but the anchor was holding solid and things were secure. With the anchor alarm set to go off if the boat moved from a specified zone, we drifted back to sleep and woke to sunny skies and calming seas.
Having posted on Facebook about this, I heard from my High School buddy Chad. As we would be in Annapolis the next week, we planned to meet.
Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial made for an impactful but not exactly uplifting first day. The next day was the Hirschhorn Contemporary Art Museum and the American History Museum followed by a get-together with our good friend Dave, his friend of 40 years and a couple of Carol Anne’s former students, one from High School and one from Camp Mead-O-Lark, both successful and delightfully personable.
Back down the Potomac, we briefly brushed the bottom in the middle of the channel, which was a surprise, but the Potomac, while navigable, isn’t a deep vessel river. An overnight put us right outside of Annapolis and in the morning we discovered the rigging company had not arranged a slip for us, so we scrambled to find a spot in Chesapeake Harbor Marina until things were sorted out in back creek, where we had the sails rigged. In the interim, Chad took us on a tour of Annapolis Naval Academy which was a real treat. I never imagined I would witness people saluting Chad – it’s a wonder he survived the high school hijinx he, Liam and Jeremy got into, let alone being thrown off a snowy, mountain cliff on an innertube behind my dad’s truck, but that’s another sordid tale.
With the head sails back in place we departed Annapolis for Norfolk, down the Chesapeake over night. With the wind at our backs and a following sea, we were finally able to test them out. We launched the out-riggers and rolled the sails out. The wind filled them both and seemed to even out the shifting caused by the seas driving at us from behind. We sailed into the night as the seas grew from a foot to about four and in the early morning we rolled them up and prepared for what was sure to be an adventurous turn west, putting those four foot seas hard at our beam.
Sure enough the boat was rolling hard for an hour until we came into the protection of the James river and set anchor near our next port-of-call, Portsmouth, Virginia. In the morning, the winds were diminished but still pushing off the dock, along with a bit of current. We threw a bowline to the dockmaster who secured it to a piling and attempted to apply power on the line to pull us around. This failed to bring us in so threw a second line to the dock and once secure, used the stern winch to haul the boat into the dock. Certainly not the easiest landing!
We found someone from a local yard to watch the boat and ensure the power remained on and headed to California to catch up with Paul and Jacob for Halloween in Los Angeles and our friend Nick’s birthday just north of Ensenada in Mexico. Ten days later, we were back at Tidewater Marina to discover that two of our three air conditioning compressors have failed, so now, we wait on replacements as the temperature has fallen from a high of 80 several days ago to a high of 47 today. Thankfully the heat still works!
Hopefully we’ll be moving south again with a week or two – those mid-eighties temperatures in Florida are sounding very enticing right now!
Luke and I headed back to Washington for a few weeks to catch up on things at home while I had a short film to shoot with the fine people at Olympia Film Collective. We left the boat tied to a dock in Marblehead, Massachusetts with the intention of having the brightwork done – the name given to the wood railings and rub rails. We had issues arranging the work we wanted done so Luke flew back across country to move the boat slightly north to Salem.
When we returned in early August the power had been out for a couple days and the battery bank was fully depleted. Letting this happen is very bad for the health of the batteries but fortunately we have plans to replace them shortly.
Some local workers finished a few minor repairs and buffing half the boat and we headed north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire with my best friend Joe aboard. It was a perfect day with calm seas as we weaved our way through the mess of lobster traps that litter the east coast.
Coming into Portsmouth with Joe was a treat as he grew up in the area and had boated out to the Isle of Shoals many times in his youth. The tide was ebbing which made for a slow run up the river to Badger Island, but we discovered this current was far better than the alternative for docking, as a flooding tide pushed the boat hard off the dock.
Over the next week we would watch the boat snug against the dock as the tide moved out and it was pushed out firm against the lines in the flood. The first shift our lines were a little loose and the boat was a good four feet out from the dock, secure, but quite a jump to shore!
Joe and his family were incredibly accommodating and we reveled with them, celebrating Joe’s brother’s birthday and hosting brunch and dinner on the boat.
While it felt like we were with close family, Maine was calling and we made an eventful departure from Badger Island as our friend Jacob joined us from back home. I thought we might run a looped line near the stern but Luke thought the spring would suffice as the last line. With the tide pushing us hard out, the stern immediately swung out hard and we had to cast off fully as the boat was in danger of being swept into the bridge.
Luke made a couple passes to pick me up from the dock and at one point, without a clear view of the situation, insisted I jump. Knowing, even with my long legs, I could not make that distance, I faltered and ended up in the swift moving river, just for a moment.
On the third try he was able to get the stern within a few feet and I was on board. We motored north, once again weaving through a maze of buoys marking lobster traps. The prop on Wanderbird is thankfully well protected and we believed it posed little danger for fouling from these traps. We would test this theory into the night as the buoys failed to dwindle off shore and the sun set for a long, overnight run north.
In the early morning hours the number of traps thickened significantly as we approached the first islands off Maine. Eventually we resolved to the fact that the prop was not in danger and began to pass over the buoys without harm.
By mid-day we anchored off Eagle Island where our friends Stephen and Michael have a summer cottage or cabin – the definitive title is still pending. Our friend Bob just happened to be sailing south and anchored in the bay next to us, arriving just 20 minutes after us. We picked Bob up and went ashore so Stephen could give us a walking tour.
About 15 families live on the island, most of them descending from one family who have lived there for over 200 years as I recall. At the end of the day we bought some lobsters trapped by a local fisherman and retired to the Wanderbird for a very memorable dinner.
The next morning we headed for shore to say goodbye to Stephen and as we approached a floating dock, an elderly woman came running. My instinct was that she was waving us off, telling us the dock was private. As we approached we realized she was trying to warn us of a rock in the area and she was the most delightful personality.
She thanked us for anchoring on that day, for the afternoon prior her extended family had held a memorial for her seafaring husband. She said the presence of the boats, just off the coast of their summer cottage, had been a real treat.
A half day’s run and we reached Bar Harbor. We anchored off the edge of the town mooring field and the next morning the fog lifted, giving way to perfect weather for hiking Acadia National Park’s, granite speckled mountains, though on the west coast, we’d hardly call them hills.
The second day we moved to a mooring at the request of the harbor master as a cruise ship came in to anchor not far from our original spot. At $35 per day, cash only, to be paid to the mooring’s owner, we were happy to be slightly closer to shore and more secure for our day excursions away from the boat.
One afternoon as we headed back to the boat, I spotted someone waving frantically from a boat in the distance. We motored our tender over to find two teenage girls on a dilapidated boat with a couple lobster traps on board. Their motor had died and one had started to swim to shore but thought the better of it against he ebbing tide and head wind.
We rigged up a towline and pulled them back to their mooring and they thanked us by offering some of their catch. Seeing as how our tender has seen better days, we thought it good to contribute to the sea-faring karma pool, as we may someday be on the receiving end of a tow, likely without any lobsters to offer our saviors!
We made our way south again, stopping for a few days in Portland, Maine and then on to Provincetown for a long weekend. It turned out this was perfect for a small bit of winds that passed through and our travel days were exceptionally calm and peaceful. We discovered the annual Labor Day White Party at Provincetown Inn and met new friends Jason and Adam from Connecticut along with their son Xavier and very kind and endearing friends Harvey and Carl who have been together more than twice the time Luke and I – 40 years!
Another calm day of travel put us into Newport Shipyard where a crew pulled the headsails and hydraulic furlers to be overhauled. Next stop: back to New York City.
Our insurance policy dictates that we are north of the state of Georgia by the end of June. We had heard great things about the cruising in the NorthEast and we were anxious to start heading that direction. We had planned to travel as far as Virginia to have the bottom painted and some other work done but after weeks of stalling from the yard there, we heard from a friend that a wooden boat had fallen apart on the rail system they use for haul out and their schedule was jammed up as a result.
We resorted to a local search and Fort Lauderdale Marine Center, a massive, local facility, indicated they had the capacity to take us in. We worked our way up the narrow, New River and hauled out for what was supposed to be a few days repair, but as is typical, ended up being almost two weeks.
With the bottom freshly painted in vibrant blue, minor cracks in the foredeck repaired and improvements to the air handling and the water cooling system, we prepared to head north, having heard the conditions had been mint for the last week.
The night before we left, some workers were finishing some painting and rain was threatening so the yard moved us to a covered dock. We were excited to be tied up next to Beothuk, a 102 foot VRIPACK we have admired for years. The crew and captain were quite friendly and offered a tour, but we were scrambling to depart.
By Sunday afternoon we were ready and spotted the ‘big suck’, our name for the Jungle Queen, a hefty stern-wheeling tour boat that plows up and down the New River a couple times a day. We threw off the lines and jumped into the queue behind her, headed for open seas.
Listening the the radio, we could heard the ‘JQ’ calling for bridges and courteously noting to the bridge tenders that there were two to pass, with Wanderbird just behind. This made for quick and efficient passage under the three bridges needing to lift for us to reach open waters. At a couple points there were unexpected currents from small, merging side waters, one pushing us right towards a large, black and gold yacht. It’s a harrowing trip down the river but Luke was calm as ever under the pressure, though I kept a hand on a bumper, just in case.
We traveled through the night and the next day, with a decent wind at our backs, we thought we might try the head sails. Wanderbird has two, hefty sails that mount from the foredeck to the mast. Quite unusual for a trawler of such weight and very often the focus of many a passing sailor to yell ‘do you use those things?’
Once out in the Atlantic we proceeded north and about an hour into the trip we heard sailing vessel Altair call for a bridge opening. Our friend Bob’s beautiful 97 foot sloop headed for the same destination. Once again, the coincidence of finding friends on the seas – what a pleasure. Try as we might though, we weren’t able to establish radio contact but we weren’t too worried, knowing we would see them in New York.
We launched the poles, also useful in rough seas as passive stabilization, and I manned the tension line while Luke rolled the furlers. Having never done this, I kept the tension too snug and the webbing loop that holds the corner of the sail to the out-rigging poles broke. Now we were at full stop, in the open Atlantic with a wild line fluttering in the wind.
The dilemma now: how to thread a line from the upper deck through the extended pole in the open ocean. Fortunately the seas were placid and I’m always up for a climbing challenge. I crawled out to the end of the pole over the cobalt blue water, grabbed the free line, and fed it through the pulley. I was about to shimmy my way back when Luke suggested I simply jump in and swim back.
I’m not sure why, but I have an irrational fear of swimming in wide open waters. I swam nearly every morning in the Bahamas and often several times a day. When the dive ladder fell to the sea floor with sharks swimming about, I didn’t hesitate to dive down and retrieve it. But for some reason, in this open water, which is far more deserted of life, it makes me nervous. I also anticipated it being cold.
I dropped into the sea to find it was nearly 80 degrees, granted we were in Florida, but we had been running nearly 24 hours, I expected the waters to have cooled significantly. Fortunately the Gulf Stream was carrying warm Caribbean waters to my advantage.
We traveled through the day and by evening we entered the harbor at Beaufort, North Carolina and quickly found a spot to anchor. The next morning we cruised up the foggy river, following the same intracoastal route we had taken south roughly six months earlier.
The ‘ditch’ as it’s called by boaters, is a mix of rivers, bays, lakes and quite often, very narrow, shallow canals that run up the east coast. At times we’ll be running with less than a few feet of water below the keel and only a stone’s throw on either side a person could wade, less than knee deep!
Navigational charts do their best. We have two systems on board, a series of Garmin screens, on which we had run updates before departing, a newly updated TimeZero computer system. As we cruised through the Alligator river we discovered that all charts are not the same. Relying on the Garmin, which had repeaters in the upper flybridge, which has far better visibility for these conditions, we suddenly ran aground. With the Wanderbird’s bulbous bow resting heavily on a sandbar, I ran around turning on all the water, hoping to reduce our draft, while Luke worked her back and forth, full throttles in reverse. After a few, stressful minutes, we broke free, tried again, in what we thought was the channel, only to get hung up again.
After breaking free with the same tactic, I ran down to the TimeZero computer and compared the charts, referring to the Active Captain notes – a very useful community driven system that allows individuals to GPS based notes directly on the charts.
Using some kind individuals comments from a similar experience we navigated our way through a poorly marked channel and found an anchorage for the night. The next day we ran to Coinjock, fueled and stayed the night. As we headed towards Norfolk we encountered the only lock along this stretch, a quick and easy lift or drop of less than a few feet. As I prepared the lines my phone rang and it was our captain-friend from Fort Lauderdale. With my hands full, I was unable to answer, but a few moments later I heard someone calling my name. There, aboard a beautiful Feadship, was Jonathan.
He provided us a great tip about a little bay right near the entrance to the sea where we staged a few things before heading into the Atlantic again, bound for Manhattan. Another 40 hours: a two full nights and a full day. At 4AM I woke to give Luke some rest. He pointed at the screen and said ‘wake me when we get here’ – a spot outside the wiggles, a curving channel that runs into New York Harbor. In my bleary eyed state, I replied ‘OK’ and set to out watching for passing ships and distant markers.
So focused on navigating was I, that I ran us right into the harbor and it wasn’t until I saw the statue of liberty that I realized I had better wake Luke!
Our friend Bob with his beautiful sailing vessel Altair was waiting at our favorite dock in New York. We worried the currents make for a tricky docking experience but Luke matched the current perfectly and we eased up against the pilings for a gentle landing. Paul and a friend arrived a couple days later and we spent the next couple weeks enjoying all that Manhattan has to offer, including pride week.
While back in Florida we ordered two OneWheels. As we ride them around, everyday except those when we are at sea, we are constantly stopped by people asking what they are, and how they work. About half the enquiring folks think they look like great fun while the other half comment on how they would likely break their necks if they tried one. It’s become a great way to explore and a useful mode of transportation without taking nearly as much space as our electric bikes. Cruising through Central Park, crossing from pavement to grass and dirt trails is like snowboarding in the forest, in the city and one of my new favorite past-times.
We had planned to have some work done on the boat in Norfolk, on our way up to spend the summer in the Northeast. The yard, which we’d heard good reviews about from multiple people, seemed to be stalling and my friend Jonathan gave us the real story, apparently a wooden boat had come apart on the rail system they use for haul-out.
We started looking around locally in Fort Lauderdale and the big yard right up the river, Lauderdale Marine Center was able to schedule us in. It’s quite a circuitous and narrow trip up the river – the reason we see so many boats under tow headed that way.
Their massive Travel-Lift used to haul us out, named Brutus, got the boat a few inches out of the water when it refused to go any further, demanding an additional strap for the 115 plus tons of Wanderbird.
For the past week we’ve been ‘on the hard’ having the bottom painted, the keel coolers ‘speed-propped’ along with the propellor, repairs to some leaky windows, fiberglass repairs to the bow and Luke has been working long days repairing hoses and fittings in the cooling and refrigeration systems.
We were scheduled to be back in the water Wednesday the sixth, but they’re wanting to push us to Thursday or Friday – has any shipyard project ever finished on-time? We’re anxious to head north, the plan now being a push directly to NYC where we’ll pick-up Paul, then a week there for pride and on up to Provincetown for the fourth.
Here’s hoping the weather is cooperative once we finish the yard work.
Every time we researched ‘things to do in the Exumas’ the number one hit was pig beach. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a beach on an island called Big Major that is occupied, dare I say infested with, pigs.
Rumors fly about the origin of said pigs, including something to do with shipwrecked pirates, but the most plausible is that they’re there to lure in tourists — and lure they do, as there is often in excess of 20-40 boats in the well protected bay and at least as many hungry pigs of all sizes.
We avoided the pigs for as long as possible, instead exploring the natural beauty of the Exumas over transplanted farm animals that some claim are ‘incredibly clean’ but I can tell you first-hand, from raising one as a kid for FFA, pigs are not clean animals. In any case, my sister was visiting and wanted to see the pigs, so we obliged.
She, her husband Cliff and my niece Evaline came for about a week and they picked the absolute best possible stretch of days. The intermittent winds we had experienced since December completely gave way to just a few knots here and there – I think the wind meter peak memory may have logged a whopping 10.
Our first stop was a night at the Exumas Land and Sea National Park just off Shroud Cay where we spent the next day cruising in the tender through the northern cross-island, tidal river, from the banks to the sound.
We followed up the peaceful float with an exhilarating free-dive through a narrow channel at maximum ebb tide – something my friend Lucas thought up while visiting a couple weeks before. Luke dropped us off on the up-stream, banks side of the channel and followed us as we drifted with the fast-moving tidal flow. Looking down at the terrain flying past and diving 15-20 feet with the tidal push, I think we got a taste of what it’s like to be a dolphin!
The timing works out perfectly if you do the river float at high slack tide and then cruise to the channel north of Shroud and float from the banks to the sound side when the flow is moving at top speed.
That afternoon we headed south and slightly back west onto the banks and found one of those dark spots between Nassau and the Exumas and dropped anchor off a pretty large reef about half the size of a football field.
While we snorkeled around, showing my niece how to free dive and observing sea turtles, skates and abundant fish, Luke busied himself by catching a massive yellow-tail Jack. The fish, combined with the lobster we snagged the previous week on the last day of the season, made for a meal fresh from the sea.
I prepared the jack the same way I had a couple days earlier using some snapper: baked with salt, pepper and paprika and then topped with a lemon-herb butter, but the fish was quite dense and hearty, more akin to swordfish or the like and may have been better off thinly sliced and done up another way. A couple days later I treated the family to the last of the snapper for comparison and we all agreed the flakey, delicate, white fish was better with that preparation.
As we prepared to pull up the port anchor an odd noise came from the winch. You become accustomed to the various ship noises how things should sound. A strange drip or motor draws immediate attention. This clunking, grinding sound was bad news. Luke and I spent the next hour-and-a-half using a hand-cranked come-a-long winch to pull the 400 pound anchor and 75 feet of heavy chain up. Luke would pull winch the tackle up a few feet and I would turn the massive chain reel, lock it down, then we’d move the hook a few feet down and start again. Thankfully Wanderbird has two of most every system otherwise we’d have been headed right back to port.
We carried on down to Bitter Guana where we gave the family a taste of island life on Staniel Cay with some lunch and light provisioning at the Pink Pearl. We realized that the tide was right that afternoon for Thunderball Grotto and everyone agreed that snorkeling through the cave, with the beam of light streaming through the opening above, was quite a treat. The cave was filled with fish and the coral outside the east entrance was still abundant, though clearly suffering a bit from careless boaters and snorkelers.
Sunset on Bitter Guana with a short hike amongst the Iguanas rounded out our day and we were free the next morning to head north, back into the Exumas Land and Sea Park, this time picking up a mooring ball at Warderick Wells.
Arriving at Warderick we radioed to the park headquarters and were assigned a mooring ball directly in front of the office. This meant we needed to navigate the narrow, populated channel to ball 17. Tide was in our favor at slack high tide, but it was tough to tell which route we should maneuver around the other boats. We asked for advice from the ranger but she was unable to provide any advice as the shifting tides dictate the best route.
We worked our way in, past the first stretch along the right side and as we shifted to the left for the second line of boats, I found Molly laying on the floor of the upper deck – her way of dealing with the stressful situation.
We made our way around the shallow shoal in the middle of the bay and spun 360 to line up with the mooring ball. A couple of attempts with the hook – a bit of a challenge from the high bow of Wanderbird and we were tied up in a beautiful spot, close to a brilliant snorkeling area.
While checking in we were happy to discover that Saturday evenings the park hosts a pot-luck and we really enjoyed meeting folks from all over and learning about their travels around the globe.
We spent a couple days exploring Warderick Wells and left our mark on the famed Boo-Boo Hill. On the far side of the island, I was lucky to experience a low tide that allowed me to swim into the caves that drive the blow holes. A tiny, private, sandy beach accessible only by jumping off a cliff into the sea and lit only by a skylight in the sandstone, formed by thousands of years of pounding waves.
Our last night there I made a batch of spaghetti using some ground, grass-fed beef. The scent of the blood from the beef attracted some attention below the surface and we discovered a black-tipped reef shark and a large school of jack swimming around the back deck.
We made our way back, stopping for a night at Allen Cay where we watched the Yankee Clipper sail off in a spectacular sunset. With much sadness my sister and her family departed the next afternoon and Luke and I headed immediately back to Fort Lauderdale via brief stops at the Berry Islands and Bimini for rest and to allow a massive storm to pass.
We waited for the north wind to shift around to the east before we attempted to cross the Gulf Stream and while it was likely far better one day later, it was still a wild ride with a healthy northern swell.
Back up the river, the Fort Lauderdale New River docks welcomed us back into our same slip near Avenue of the Arts and the next morning we couldn’t wait to get back to our favorite OB Breakfast House where the staff greeted us like old friends.
Perhaps it was a different tidal shift or more favorable weather – or it could have been the company, but the beach we found off Norman’s Cay was as picturesque as the finest postcard on the revolving rack at the best gift shop in Nassau. If it wasn’t for Paul’s penchant for routine, tracing the same pattern step-for-step, I may not have realized we had visited this beach before, only last time it was littered with garbage washed by the prevailing Eastern wind off Exuma sound and an excessively low tide had rendered the sand with an unpleasant odor.
The ocean has a way of constantly changing, both itself on the surface and the shores it touches. Paul’s two top company employees had joined us with their wives and we spent several days back on the northern Exumas, first anchoring between Allen Cay and Highbourne. We picked that spot because the winds were predicted to shift from the south and it provided better protection. That evening everyone decided they wanted to try Xuma, the restaurant on Highbourne, though as we made the crossing I worried they regretted the decision.
The only reservation available was 8:30 which meant a pitch-dark ride with a cross wind and a potentially treacherous run, part-way through the cut to reach the marina, or at the very least, a very wet ride. Donna was quick to realize that her seat, on the front, left of the rigid-inflatable tender, was the wettest and Lisa did her best to stay low in the bow of the boat. While we had the Garmin GPS to find our way, we found that the iPad with Navionics was better suited to work our way between the rocks and shoals that provided protection at the popular anchorage and before long we were winding our way between mega-yachts to the docks.
Dinner at Xuma’s was quality as expected but we were disappointed our friends couldn’t get the full experience of the view in the dark. The tender ride back was equally wet but everyone enjoyed the sense of adventure you get from successfully charting across a dark expanse, until we could find the lone, incandescent anchor light in a web of LEDs, then clamor off the dinghy back into the security of the Wanderbird at anchor.
The next morning the winds had indeed shifted and we made our way along the sound where we tried our hand at anchoring south of Norman’s, between it, Wax Cay and Boot Cay. We weren’t sure just how the Bird would shift in what we expected to be fairly strong tidal currents given the deep and narrow channel so we anchored slightly out from the crowd.
Luke and I dropped our friends at the beach and headed back down to Highbourne with the tender to fuel up. Along the way, as we cruised at top speed, two globs of dark, black ink shot up from the shallow water, nearly hitting us in the face! We circled around to see if we could tell what sea creature had fired a shot across our bow, but found nothing and speculated it was an octopus startled by our passing.
At the marina our tender continued to give us grievance and the fuel line broke. The helpful dock attendant gave us a rag to allow us to run the fuel line directly into the can, which worked surprisingly well and we made a quick stop at the boat for repairs before picking everyone up.
The sea floor in the area looked less than ideal with some rocks so the next morning I donned the free-diving kit and jumped in to have a look around. The current was indeed significant and it was a struggle to swim forward where the chain was along some rocks but the anchor appeared well seated. As I drifted swiftly past the boat, admiring the fish and terrain below, I saw two enormous antenna leering from a small cave. Our friend Dustin had instructed us to watch for this tell-tale sign of a lobster and this one looked to be large enough to collect free-diving, albeit about 25 feet or more below the boat in a strong current.
The next 30 minutes are a saga best illustrated by photo and followed up with generous application of butter and garlic. Lisa and Donna took care of preparing an excellent lobster appetizer while I worked on dinner and I think we all enjoyed being provided for, at least the first course, by the surrounding sea.
The next day we explored the aforementioned pristine beach and snorkeled the nearby drug-runner plane wreck which was quite a treat – alive with a plethora of aquatic inhabitants. A popular but highly recommended stop if ever in the area.
As evening approached we put forth the idea of trying the nearby MacDuff’s restaurant. The guidebook suggested either a walk around the airport to the west-facing beach or a short ride around the point where we could beach the tender. We opted for the latter and encountered small waves hiding a consistent smattering of rocks.
Once we had everyone wet, but onto shore, we were presented with the task of securing the tender for a couple of hours for dinner. Beaching it was out of the question and anchoring past the waves and swimming in would prove for a wet and uncomfortable dinner in the cool evening air.
Luke and I headed back around the point where a marina was under construction and we found a quiet corner to stash the boat and walk along the runway back to the restaurant.
After a pleasant meal we all proceeded back in the dark along the air-strip, myself now bare-foot having donated my flip-flops to Paul whose shoes had been left behind. Unsure about the sea conditions rounding the point, we tried to find a route to the beach on the leeward side and while searching, we stumbled upon a Doosan trackhoe which delighted Pat and Todd who insisted on getting a photo for their heavy equipment dealer, even while in the dark, wind-swept shores of Norman’s Cay.
As he posed for the photo, the ground gave way under Pat and he fell some eight-feed into a hole, thankfully filled with soft dirt. Once Pat had been pulled from the ditch we found our way back to the tender, loaded everyone up and skirted the shore, barely dodging the break along the rocks.
We wrapped up the trip by motoring back to Nassau where everyone wanted to make generous donations to the Atlantis casino, ride the not-so-lazy river and engage in the comforts of the massive Nassau resort.
My parents arrived in Nassau with a few days overlap before Paul returned to the bitter cold spell passing through Washington State. Dad was particularly excited about visiting, having already wished people ‘happy holidays from the Bahamas’ a month earlier, while still in Southern Oregon.
Once provisioned we departed East from Nassau just as the winds let up for the first time in a few days for a nice, calm run across the bank towards the Exumas. We pushed a little further south than our last excursion, directly to a spot off Pipe Cay. We spent a couple days exploring the area – the waters between Pipe and the other nearby Cays is shallow and was a good spot for Mom’s first attempt at snorkeling, though there isn’t a great deal to see in that particular spot.
After pouring over the maps we found what looked like a better protected anchorage further south off Bitter Guana Cay, but we’d be relying heavily on the navigation charts to work our way past an outer shallow shoal to the slightly deeper spot closer to the island. We approached the cut from the north then turned south towards the visible cliffs on Bitter Guana, hugging the shore within about 100 feet, which is a little nerve-wracking in a large boat in 25 knot winds, though they were fortunately easterly, pushing us off-shore, albeit towards the shoal.
All went as planned and we scooted in with just a couple feet below the keel to drop anchor in what turned out to be one of the most lovely spots we’ve stayed yet.
The next few days I felt like we might have been in the Galapagos. The island is home to rare Iguanas that surrounded our afternoon beach encampment and the snorkeling along the rocks brought the folks closer to fish, coral and other sea-life. I crossed the island to the east side and marveled at the heavier seas crashing on the harsh limestone shores.
It was here that we first encountered the invasive Lion-fish, several of which were hovering around the coral heads near shore. Having recently purchased some Hawaiian slings, a legal type of spear-fishing pole, Luke cleared one fish which was hanging out near a very full fish trap that we left untouched. Had we done the research earlier, we would have taken it back for Lion-fish tacos (more on that later).
After enjoying Bitter Guana and the food and grocery stores at nearby Staniel, we moved further south to the bay at Black Point off Great Guana Cay. We indulged in some Pizza at Dushaun’s and the next morning went looking for the bread maker we’d read about. On the way in I helped retrieve a local man’s bicycle which had rolled off the pier into the sea as children gathered around a man cutting slices of coconut for a Saturday morning treat.
At Lorraine’s Cafe we asked a local woman about the bread and she pointed to the small, white house behind Lorraine’s and instructed us to knock. A voice beckoned us into the small, homey kitchen of an elderly Bahamian woman pulling fresh bread from the oven. Several loaves were lined up on the counter, of which we purchased two at $7 each, one supposedly coconut and one cinnamon, though in the incredible French toast they produced the next few days we tasted both coconut and cinnamon in both loaves.
We anchored next between Little Farmer’s Cay and Little Galliot Cay and set about hunting for Lion Fish, with the intention of indulging in fish tacos while basking in the good deed of clearing reefs of this invasive fish. Apparently a single fish can reduce the reef population by 70% or more, as it has no natural predators in these waters.
Luke was successful our first evening and came up with a large, red striped specimen which he set about carefully cleaning, avoiding the toxic spines that protect the fish from nearly every conceivable angle. After removing one very nice looking, white fillet, the fish slipped off the back deck, so our dream of fish tacos was relegated to a tasting.
I marinated the fish in lime, cumin, garlic powder, salt and a dash of chili powder for 15 minutes, then pan fried the fish for 2-3 minutes per side until opaque. It was excellent and we were hungry for more!
The next day we tried again, first in the same location then scouring the local area but came up empty handed. Disappointing since our first encounter up north we had seen at least 4 among their rocks and reefs, but equally comforting that the area is not entirely overrun.
At one point I noticed a tender hovering near the back deck and emerged to meet a couple from the sailboat Foxy Lady. The husband in this duo had apparently been a captain-representative of George Baker, the original builder of Wanderbird. What a surprise it must have been for them to see her profile across these azure waters, thousands of miles from their last sighting: a boat show in Rhode Island many months earlier. And to see her now fulfilling her mission of exploring distant shores after having been intricately involved in her build so many years ago. We chatted a bit and they headed off to tag sea turtles for the University of Florida on a nearby island. What a wonderful way to spend the day!
We’re now two weeks into my parent’s 3-week visit. The tidal current shuffled us around and last night we moved a hundred feet to deeper water before the very likely event that we’d end up sitting keel-in-the-sand. We’re now contemplating Georgetown or Long Island before making our way back to Nassau next week.
It had been a rough week, the kind that seemed like a nightmare and as I’m scrubbing diesel off my hands and talking the police, no amount of pinching seems to do the trick.
We’d also run aground, this time in a more significant way. After fueling at the city dock (we highly recommend the fine people at Anchor Petroleum), I had cast off the lines, called ‘all clear’ and realized we had a significant list to the port side. Glancing down at the waterline, the growth on the hull was already visible and just then Luke looked down and confirmed my suspicion, the ebbing tide had left us stranded.
Fortunately the city didn’t have anyone else scheduled to fuel that afternoon – if they had it wouldn’t have mattered. No amount of coaxing was going to get Wanderbird into deeper water and back up the river to our slip.We left her there, ran some errands and returned up river to our temporary home by the 4th Ave bridge in the cover of dark.
Paul arrived the next day and we started the painful process of provisioning for a month-long-or-more trip. In addition Luke was caching parts for various repairs he hoped to make along the way. Software and computer updates for the navigation, bilge pumps the surveyor checked off as working but were in various states of repair and countless other tasks.
Late at night, on the eve of departure we finally made it to Whole Foods for provisioning. I’ve since decided that in the future, we need to save an entire day for that project. After loading three carts beyond capacity, and learning that they have ‘yacht boxes’ at the grocery store, we got back to the boat and I proceeded to empty every cupboard and food store in order to organize and re-stock in my own way.
A last minute schedule change put our guests, Damon and Gina, joining us in Fort Lauderdale rather than meeting us in Nassau, giving us a leisurely voyage to the Bahamas rather than a frantic run, which was ideal since Luke was now on antibiotics to fight off an earache and nasal infection.
We cast off at slack tide around noon, made our way out to the Atlantic looking at a forecast of calm seas and Westerly winds. This was one of those times when the forecast was way off. With winds from the Northeast clashing with the Gulf Stream we slogged our way towards the Bahamas at a mere 6 knots. This put us onto the bank in the dark and we chose a spot just south of our previous anchorage, off South Bimini, protected from the East and North.
In the morning I woke before the others, as usual, and headed up to wipe down the boat and consider breakfast. As I worked my way back from the bow a small sailing vessel was passing about 50 yards towards shore, standing on the bow were two figures whose wave was unmistakable: arm fully extended, moving from both the shoulder and elbow, a welcome the likes I have seen only once before from a passing vessel.
My reply was half-hearted, mostly from shock. A moment later the radio crackled to life with the words ‘Velocir, Wanderbird, come in’.
It couldn’t be! What are the odds? Over a month had passed since meeting this lovely family of farmers from Ohio in the Northern Exumas over 100 miles away and now here they were, arriving in the same spot, a day apart in a chain of fortuitous chances that brought us together.
We made plans to congregate and do some fishing. Dustin was a farmer, with no prior fishing experience, but had taught himself and his girls to fish, in order to feed his family.
Late morning the next day we picked Dustin up and headed out, first to some grassy seabeds to find conch for bait, then to a rocky, coral area where we found a large school of Bahama Chub cruising around. After a some attempts at spear fishing we positioned ourselves over the school and resorted to the slightly more laborious method of cutting chunks of conch and hand-line fishing, or as the fish seemed to interpret it:free lunch.
After some trial and error we found that smaller pieces of bait, positioned well on the hook would snag us our dinner and ended up with 7 fish, one lobster and a about 12 welp, a type of sea snail.
Converting freshly caught fish into read-to-cook fillets requires some skill and Dustin, having taught himself over the last couple months, set at the task while I willingly provided a glass of his favorite rum, Krakin. The scent of fish drew the sharks we had seen earlier to the back of the boat. Being circled in this way certainly added a level of excitement to the dinner preparations and I was glad he waited to clean the fish until after Luke and I had done a quick cleaning of the bulbous bow and waterline as a couple of reef sharks had joined the docile nurse sharks for the chumming. A local in the harbor told us these were Bull Sharks, but I’m pretty convinced they were the former.
Back at the Wanderbird we joined Erin, Sierra, Morgan and Gina to cook up a feast. Dustin went to the messy task of cleaning the bounty with the skill of someone who had lived off the sea for months while Erin showed me a simple and delicious recipe for the fish, using ghee, salt, pepper and Bahamanian Ginger White wine. While I wasn’t up for eating the Welp, I have to say I did try the broth and it was phenomenal.
We talked into the night of family, the fortune of experiences, of increasingly connecting with other beings emotionally, physically and mentally, and when it came time to say good night they left us with a gift a local artisan had carved: a wooden dolphin with the date and location where we’d met written on it’s stomach.
Our first gift – from strangers with a willingness to wave and experience something unique, something blessed. Different families leading different lives, coming together and connecting.
I wonder why it is that I feel awkward and embarrassed when I wave at someone passing and get no response – chances are they simply didn’t see. When passing another vessel it’s often a courtesy to acknowledge the other with a friendly wave. We try to adhere to this gesture and sometimes the report is, let’s say, casual or non-existent.
As we cruised past one sailboat at a lone anchorage back at Norman Cay we were taken by the exuberance of the wave from those on board, not merely a raising of the arm, but a full extension, with articulation at the elbow – surely an invitation to say hello.
After a few minutes chatting; four on board, farmers from Ohio, out for three months; we left them with an open invitation to stop by – they had noticed the Wanderbird while out fishing, and being sailors, commented that if they did ever go “motor”, ours was the type of boat they’d go for.
The topic turned to weather, as is often the case for ocean travelers, and the impending weather system on the approach.
Two days later, south at Norman Cay, a tender approaches from the stern and we’re happy to see our Ohio friends and we happily entertain a tour. They talk about living off the sea and comment about ‘missing some red meat in the diet’ and we arrange a pot-luck; we provide the burgers and they bring the freshly caught conch ceviche.
The next afternoon they come calling with their two, teenage daughters and we’re quite pleased to offer what we can to a family traveling so far, for so long. The girls are quite excited about the showers and everyone seems to delight in the extra bacon I prepared that morning on their burgers from Bush Brothers Provisioners in Palm Beach. We can’t get enough of that conch salad and are excited when they leave the left-overs after several hours of conversation while the wind builds to gale outside.
When it’s time to bid farewell we have offer a very wet and windy shuttle for several of our guests back and Dustin (the dad) manages to coerce their under powered tender to their cozy, well selected anchorage much closer to the beach.
Wanderbird proves fabulously stable and comfortable in this weather but there’s something to be said for simplicity and shallow draft, as I watch the Velocir anchored calmly in her protected nook.
Our time at Norman’s Cay was spent in equal parts exploring neighboring islands, including Highborne Cay, the areas super-yacht marina of choice. The restaurant here is quite good and expectedly high-priced. Don’t expect to explore the island except via the marina and restaurant; our Ohio friends were told the island is private when the came ashore to a beach using their dinghy.
Once the winds died we started our journey back to Fort Lauderdale by running North and West, first heading through the cut at Highborne and across the bank, to the West Bay on Nassau, just off Clifton Heritage Park. I desperately wanted to dive the submerge statues here, but the weather and timing were not conducive and it was stressful just winding our way through very shallow, rocky waters to the anchorage.
Once there we called on the radio for advice on getting ashore and a friendly motor-cat nearby gave us general directions to the dinghy dock. We motored across the dark back on a hunt for a few provisions to last us until Florida. On the south end we found a small channel with a well-lit dock that lead to a dirty lot, that seemed to be at the fenced-in end of a cul-de-sac. We flagged down a passing security vehicle who provided us further instructions away from the private dock to the crumbling public one across the channel. He was kind enough to call a taxi, which was fortunate, as the public dock, on ‘Jaws beach’ was 30 minutes from town, down a dark highway.
Once Miss Dawkins, our taxi driver found us, we provisioned at the local equivalent of Whole Foods, Solomon’s Fresh Market and after Miss Desiree gouged us for $100 taxi, we were loaded the tender and crossed back to the Bird for a late night dinner.
The following morning we pulled the anchor and began a rough slog north to the Berry Islands. It was a good test of how well we had secured the boat as we listed quite heavily between the swell and 20 knot winds. By mid-day we had slipped back into our little anchorage between Little Harbor and Frozen Cays, launched the tender and set out to explore the Blue Hole on Hoffman’s Cay, about a 30-minute tender ride north.
Had it been a nicer day, the Blue Hole would have been a dream for me, with it’s high, rocky, volcanic ledges and deep, blue waters, but the strong wind and cooler temperatures from the weather system hammering the Northeast kept me from jumping into the deep. Instead we explored the shoreline and it’s scatter conch shells and numerous echinoderms.
After a night at the Berry’s we had a rough hour cruising to the protection of the North winds by Chubb Cay before we crossed into relatively calm waters of the Great Banks. We weren’t sure about crossing the banks in such winds but it proved reasonable and a good opportunity to deploy the passive stabilization system, comprised of a set of poles and ‘birds’ – metal plates on tethered lines that restrict the listing of the boat in heavier seas on the beam. We also tested the mainsail as a means of propulsion having only used it previously to orient the boat in a windy anchorage.
Into the night we rounded Bimini and looked at Nixon Bay south of South Bimini but the winds had shifted East so we considered the West coast before we decided the swell might be a little much, despite a mid-sized catamaran anchored in the area. We decided to have a go at the crossing, having reviewed the latest weather.
About an hour into the venture things were getting a little wild. I had things pretty well secured from our earlier battle with the winds off the Berry Islands, but the swell from the Gulf Stream was just too much. We turned back sometime before 2AM and joined the catamaran for a somewhat rocky but comfortable few hours at anchor off Bimini.
In the morning after employing the French ring for Croque Madame, I free dove along the boat with the most fish I’ve seen yet in the Bahamas and two nurse sharks at least as long as I am tall.