For our final leg this season we would be covering ground familiar to us from the three prior years we spent cruising in the Bahamas, but that final leg would still involve a big jump. The trip from Nassau back to Brunswick, GA, for hurricane season storage would still entail well over 500 additional miles. As Yogi Berra once said … it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and the trip wasn’t yet over for us.
4/23/2013 – Nassau Departure
Wednesday morning at shortly after 9:00 a.m. we cast off our dock lines at the Nassau Harbor Club Marina and pointed Jubilee’s bow out of the harbor past the docks chock full of visiting cruise ships. Our weather advisor, Chris Parker, had forecast an easy passage … perhaps too easy, with very light winds over the next several days. As usual, he was right on.
After a short delay waiting for a small container ship to enter the commercial docks at Nassau Harbor’s west entry we set sail to a light easterly, allowing us to do about five and a half knots in flat seas in the direction we wanted. But that wasn’t to last. After about three hours the wind went away and we had to fire up the trusty diesel. It would run for the next 45 hours, sometimes motorsailing and sometimes running only under engine. We docked at Port Canaveral’s Cape Marina Friday morning, almost exactly 48 hours after our Nassau departure.
When cruising you are constantly meeting and making new friends along the way. In Nassau we met a wonderful and fun couple, Bo and Joyce Chesney who cruise and live aboard their beautiful Beneteau 49 Dream Catcher full time (see Dream Catcher under sail at right). Although they most recently lived in Annapolis before cruising, Joyce was originally from Iowa, living in Spencer and Ames before moving east. Small world.
Leaving Nassau at close to the same time, we remained in visual and VHF contact with Dream Catcher throughout most of the trip to Port Canaveral. Having a “buddy” out there to chat with and confer with about navigation tactics is not only helpful but also comforting. This was particularly true during our two long nights offshore with next to no moon to light our way.
That is not to say that our passage was uneventful. We’ve always encountered heavy commercial as well as pleasure boat traffic when rounding Great Stirrup Cay in the NE Berry Islands, as well as at Freeport, Grand Bahama and, in fact, in all the waters in between Great Stirrup and Freeport. This trip was no different. If we encountered one boat that night, we certainly encountered forty or more (we didn’t keep a complete record).
Thank goodness for the AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiver we had installed back in 2008. Almost all commercial vessels plus many pleasure boats now carry AIS transponders that digitally broadcast vessel name, heading, speed, vessel size, vessel destination, and other information continuously. Vessels with receivers such as ours use software to display that data in both graphical and tabular form. On Jubilee that task is handled by the FUGAWI navigation software we run on our laptop whenever we’re underway. FUGAWI not only displays this data on our electronic charts and in tabular form, it also computes important information such as closest point of approach (how close would we would approach each vessel given our and their current courses), the time to that closest point of approach, and more. All this tabular information is augmented with color displays to differentiate vessels that should be of no collision concern (green or yellow) vs. those that we need to be concerned about (red). Click the associated image to see a larger view of our FUGAWI AIS navigation screen at one point off Great Stirrup Cay that evening.
On this night our screen was literally lit up with ships. Usually we had enough information about a ship to know they posed no collision threat, but when the potential for a collision was identified we called the other vessel via VHF radio to ensure they were tracking us on their radar and to discuss what they’d like us to do to assure safe passage. When called, the commercial captains typically indicate that they can see us on their radar and will slightly adjust their course for us (their radars and navigation systems are very sophisticated in helping skippers plot courses safely around other moving boats). In addition, commercial vessels are usually travelling much faster than we are, and as such can often effect major changes in a potential collision situation with only a small course adjustment. Occasionally they also request us to adjust our course.
And then there are also the non-AIS vessels … typically pleasure vessels like ours without transponders that need to be tracked and avoided visually and by radar. All this made for a very busy first overnight out of Nassau.
By around 6:15 in the morning we had finally passed Freeport and the heavy traffic. We would still be encountering the occasional commercial or private vessel, but would no longer feel like we were the game ball in a pinball machine trying to successfully dodge obstacles.
Jubilee had crossed the Gulf Stream five times prior to this trip, plus Bill had also crossed the stream up near Norfolk, VA, during his two Caribbean 1500 trips offshore to the Virgin Islands. The steam is something that deserves respect, particularly if one is in the stream during a wind opposed to current situation which can quickly create dangerously high and steep seas. That said, the stream isn’t something to be feared. Each of our crossings has been uneventful. Timing is everything. Plus if one can “ride” the stream northward for any distance you’re sure to enjoy an incredible boost in speed over the bottom … more miles & less time … a win/win.
We used two sources to determine the current location of the stream. Since the more southerly position of the stream tends to be fairly stable, our weather router Chris Parker sends an email about once a month to his subscribers with coordinates roughly defining the east and west walls of the stream plus where the stream’s fastest current lies. We plotted that information on our FUGAWI charts as a planning guide. In addition we use a color graphic published by the US Navy which shows the same information with the current’s speed color coded (see associated graphic).
Judicious use of all this information can add 3½ knots or more to boat speed over the bottom if one is heading in the direction of the stream, as we were. The net result for us was over 10-knots over the bottom during a substantial portion of our trip north (see associated snap of nav information taken from FUGAWI on our PC). Kewl!
Arrival at Port Canaveral
As we approached the Cape more and more boats began converging. Most were pleasure boats returning from the Bahamas and Caribbean and using Port Canaveral as their US customs and immigration check-in location, but there also were two cruise ships returning that morning. Slowing the boat down to assure arrival in good daylight but after the cruise ships had entered and docked, we made our way into Port Canaveral’s deep and easy entrance and quickly tied up at the Cape Marina fuel dock. Using our small vessel reporting system numbers for customs and immigration (we had previously filed our arrival itinerary via internet from Nassau), check-in required only one simple 5-minute-or-less phone call with no on-board inspection. These new procedures have certainly made check-in simpler. In no time we were officially back in the states!
Shrimp and Grits to Celebrate
Bo is originally from Texas and had a mean recipe for Shrimp and Grits. Not generally being grits fans, we were pleasantly surprised as they treated us to a celebratory evening meal in Dream Catcher’s cockpit Friday evening. Rest assured we now have their recipe!
4/26/2014 – Lay Day in Port Canaveral
We had only planned to stay at Cape Marina one night, but you might recall that our SSB radio was inoperable for our entire cruising season this year. Zach Duy at Duys Electronics in Port Canaveral had repaired and bench tested it for us last year after it originally went on the fritz, but after sending it back to MN, and we in turn sending it to Puerto Rico via UPS truck, ship, and then truck again, it never worked when re-installed. Something must have shaken loose in the multiple transits.
Zach said he’d come into his shop on Saturday morning to take a look, and his look was successful. It turned out the bad capacitor he had replaced last year had leaked some caustic liquid when it failed. That leak had eaten through most of another connection below the circuit board. While the radio worked when Zach had bench tested it, the shipments apparently fully opened the now-etched/partially broken circuit. Once found, the fix was a simple jumper wire to bypass the bad part of the circuit board. We were back in business, but the repair took us far enough into Saturday to miss our preferred departure window for daytime arrival at our next destination. We decided instead to remain at Cape Marina an extra night, leaving Sunday morning instead.
Saturday night we went to the nearby Millikens Reef seafood restaurant for excellent seafood dinners with Bo and Joyce. New friends, repaired radio, wonderful dinner, good weather forecast … what more could sailors ask for?
4/27 – 28/2014 – Port Canaveral to Cumberland Island
A sailor could and does ask for favorable winds, of course, but that’s something we didn’t get. We continued to sit in the middle of some very weak weather systems, making for excellent powerboat days and poor sailing days. What wind we did have tended to be from the south or south southeast … putting our course almost directly down-wind in only 8-10 knots of breeze at best. A direct downwind sail in those conditions would mean running at only about 4 knots or less in less than 6 knots of apparent wind. On the other hand, motoring or motor-sailing in the low to mid-6’s would put the apparent wind at about 4 knots or less, meaning virtually no boost from the sails. As some of you know we’re exploring selling Jubilee once we’re back in Brunswick, ultimately to replace her with a trawler to meet our needs for the next 10 or so years of cruising. Our travels from Nassau to Brunswick this year provided us an opportunity to see what trawler life is like as we powered away hour after hour, albeit trying to get a little boost from the sails whenever we could.
One special highlight was the welcoming pod of Dolphins who came out to join us as we closed on the St. Mary's river entrance. Dolphin sightings are always fun, and being joined by a pod of dolphins is one of the special things we so enjoy about cruising. (see associated youtube video)
Timing is Everything
Our timing into the St. Mary’s inlet at the Florida-Georgia border was terrible. We had forgotten how one has to be focused on tides and tidal currents at inlets and in the ICW. In short, we arrived at the St. Mary’s at max ebb, meaning we faced about 3 ½ knots of adverse current most of the way from the entry buoys to our Cumberland Island anchorage. Not fun … and S_L_ O_W! Tomorrow we vowed to pay more attention to the timing of our transit both out the St. Mary’s inlet and into Brunswick.
4/29/2014 – Cumberland Island to Brunswick Landings Marina
Slack tide on the St. Mary’s Tuesday morning was a little after 10:00 a.m. … too late for us to arrive at Brunswick during a reasonable tidal current while also beating the marina’s closing time. Our solution was to “compromise” our tidal timings. We pulled the hook up and embarked against a weakening flood current (slightly adverse for us) by about 8:30 a.m. We ended up seeing an average of 1 knot adverse current most of the way out, with peaks of about 1 ½ knots … much more reasonable than our in-bound timing on Monday and not too bad a compromise.
The conditions outside hadn’t changed a bit since the prior days. Our final leg of our return trip to Brunswick would again be under the engine with less than 5 knots of apparent wind. Of course we couldn’t complain. We could have been facing 20-knot or more headwinds, or thunderstorms, or any number of nasty situations. Instead we continued with our easy motor-sail to the north (with emphasis on the word motor).
As we worked our way up the channel and into St. Simons Sound toward Brunswick Landings Marina we began hearing about heavy rain and possible severe weather heading toward Brunswick. The front was anticipated to arrive around the same time we expected to reach the marina. Consequently we kicked up the revs., decided to forego a stop at the fuel dock, and instead went directly to our slip to meet Cindy from the Marina. In short order we were secured at our dock and ready for the front, but in the end only saw a few intermittent drops of rain. Even our final docking turned out to be benign on this trip.
Beginning Prep for Summer-Fall Storage
Longtime friends and work associate Sylvia and Bill Mueller on Eos joined us in the cockpit for sundowners once it was clear the rain wasn’t going to materialize. We had hoped to cross paths with Sylvia and Bill as they headed to Puerto Rico and we headed back, but unfortunately they ran into a pesky fuel problem that took several stops plus themselves and several mechanics to solve. Although their fuel problem finally did get resolved, unfortunately a good share of their transit window had evaporated in the interim. They also wanted to ensure all was indeed fixed before proceeding down-island where skilled mechanical help and parts would be scarce if needed, so instead they returned to Brunswick to defer their Caribbean leg for next season. Notwithstanding their disappointment in yet another year’s delay, it was good seeing them again. With Eos also in Brunswick Landings our arrival truly made it feel like we were coming home.
Tuesday morning we started working through our “to do” lists to prep Jubilee for storage. We expected to be in Brunswick about another week and hadn’t yet explored flight arrangements, but our return to Minnesota was now in sight. Hopefully the weather here will cooperate, although the forecast for the next several days calls for overcast skies and intermittent showers.
Reflections on our Return Trip from Puerto Rico
When talking about our sailing travels people always ask what we liked best. In reality there is never “one” best, but rather scores of experiences impossible to compare. For example, how does one compare viewing the North Star off your starboard bow and simultaneously sighting the Southern Cross off your port quarter in the Mona Passage against humpback whale sightings off Big Sand Cay or the close encounter with a southbound humpback while sailing to Mayaguana? Can one ever compare our enjoyable chat in Mayaguana over a Kalik with Scully, and our delightful exchange with an elderly Clarence Town convenience store owner… both men equally proud and enthusiastic about their different home islands. Was the green flash off Puerto Rico’s Isla Caja de Muertos more impressive than the sunset off Big Sand Cay? Was finding sunken Cannons off Fort George Cay in the Turks and Caicos more exciting than exploring the beautiful waters of the Exumas Land and Sea Park? No, there is no “best” … only a string of wonderful experiences shared with friends and crew-mates.
Which brings us to the common denominator of any successful voyage – your crew-mates as well as the friends you make along the way. For this trip we were blessed with the best and most compatible crews one could ever hope for. Our only regret with each crew is that they couldn't stay and sail with us longer.
Weather-wise ours was a relatively easy trip. Of course we expected the trip NW to be much easier than any trip down-island since the trip back is downwind with the trades, at least as far as the Bahamas where one starts to emerge from the trades and encounter the remnants of North American weather systems rolling off the US coast. In fact our sailing conditions were almost idyllic all the way to Georgetown. And luckily we didn't encounter any difficult weather from the central Bahamas to Brunswick either. That said, we did miss the consistent trades of the Caribbean once we reached the central Bahamas. And we also missed the lack of bugs in the Caribbean, where we never had to bother with screens or closing up at night. In particular we had almost forgotten how many no-see-ums one encounters at Brunswick (we’ll probably be itching for weeks after our return).
Distance wise our stateside return covered a total of 1,609 nautical miles including our side trips along the way. For those of you more familiar with statute miles, that translates to a total of 1,852 statute miles over the course of 56 days. Our three crews accompanied us for a total of 45 of those 56 days from Fajardo to Brunswick, and we were underway only 32 of those 56 days. The remaining 24 were days spent exploring ashore. Adding our 183 Nautical Mile Virgin Islands cruise to our 2014 winter totals made for a grand total of 1,792 nautical miles under Jubilee’s keel this year, or about 2,062 statute miles. Looking back you can see we were definitly on the move this winter's cruising season.
At this point we’re not quite sure what lies ahead for future cruising plans. We've listed Jubilee for sale through Whittaker Yachts, a step Bill continues to struggle with a bit. But Judy is probably right (she usually is) in her thinking about switching over to power (e.g. a trawler) sooner rather than later for the next ten or more years of our boating adventures. If Jubilee doesn’t sell you’ll likely be reading about our transporting her back to the Great Lakes sometime in the not too distant future, or perhaps exploring south Florida and the Keys next winter. If she does sell we’ll likely be found exploring our favorite Great Lakes hangouts under power next year. In any case be assured that the adventure will continue, albeit perhaps somewhat different than over the past eight years of our “post-retirement sabbatical cruise” aboard the good ship Jubilee. Do stay tuned to see how the next phase of our adventure unfolds.