Our cruising season start was later than usual, slower than usual, and was marked this year by changed/changing plans. Bill left for the boat by car during a beautiful Minnesota-Wisconsin warm snap on Saturday, January 24th, with dry roads all the way to Brunswick, GA. That driving trip turned out to be a lucky break on this year of front after front and storm after storm.
Judy followed by plane to Jacksonville, FL, on February 9th, after Bill had gotten the major boat systems all going and the boat again habitable. Our initial plan was to cruise to South Florida and the Keys this year instead of heading to the Bahamas. It was a great plan. We had purchased a cruising guide to the Keys, another for the Florida east coast, plus a Florida chart book. We were ready. But it was not to be. Plans changed, but more on that later.
On Judy’s arrival in Jacksonville we spent the night with our very good friends Al and Judy Potter, who rented a home for two months in the area, both as a winter respite and to help out their youngest daughter, Jenny, and family who had just moved from the Twin to Cities to Jacksonville with Jenny’s husband John’s new job at the big Mayo center there. It was great seeing all of them again, plus John and Jenny’s new home.
We should add that Al also had helped Bill bend on our mainsail in Brunswick the prior week … a several hour task that Judy was happy not to be involved in this year.
Back in Brunswick we dove into maintenance projects and provisioning for our time on the water. In parallel repeated cold fronts started coming through … the tail of the systems dropping tons of snow with cold temps on New York and Boston to the north. Outside work was especially slowed with the cold wet weather. We were beginning to question the wisdom of leaving the Virgin Islands last year.
But that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves while in Brunswick. We certainly did. Long time work and social friends Sylvia and Bill Mueller, initially from Roseville, MN, were living aboard at Brunswick Landings while pursuing their own boat projects. We did several things with them during our time there, as well as with several others in the marina. Brunswick Landings is a very sociable place, with boater happy hours several nights a week, a women’s walking group every morning when it wasn’t raining (and sometimes mall walking when it was), group trips to local hangouts like Bennie’s Red Barn on St. Simon island for their free Thursday night fish fry, a night at Confederation Station to catch some of the best down-home bluegrass and gospel music you’ll ever hear, and a special “Robert Burns” program at the county library put on by Linda Bandelier, a Brunswick Landings cruiser who lived in Scotland for many years and is a professional story teller and folk singer/guitarist as well as being a Methodist minister.
Chicago cruising friends Richard and Joan Miller also visited us aboard the Jubilee for two glorious days, and the weather cooperated perfectly for exploring the area together. During their visit we logged another “must repeat” restaurant, the Blackwater Grill on St. Simon Island. The Blackwater has been featured on the Food Channel (check out Blackwater’s web site for the program), and it both lived up to and exceeded its billing. Our dinner was absolutely out of this world, as was our Sunday Brunch the next day at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel ( photo at left).
The accompanying picture shows the two love birds, Richard and Joan, hanging out in Brunswick’s 900-year-old Lover’s Oak tree.
After Richard and Joan departed the weather broke for the worse. The marina even had us leaving dock and restroom spigots dripping to keep pipes from freezing. This NEVER happened in the Caribbean! Reports from cruisers further south in Florida weren’t encouraging either. Maybe cruising the Florida Coast and the keys wasn’t such a good idea after all. We quickly came to terms with a Plan “B”, as in Bahamas. We decided to depart Brunswick and head south as quickly as possible, crossing to the Bahamas, (east of the Gulf Stream the temps are always significantly warmer), and then heading further south to spend a few weeks in the Exumas, hopefully catching up with friends already cruising that area.
The Cruising Begins
March 7-8, 2015: Brunswick to Cape Marina at Port Canaveral, FL – 217.9 miles/32+ hours
After our longest pre-departure prep ever (and many previously-delayed projects completed) we left Brunswick at about sunrise on March 7th, heading nonstop for Port Canaveral’s Cape Marina which supposedly was holding a parcel for our arrival. The temperature was 36 degrees in Brunswick when we left. There even was frost on the staysail cover, accompanied by very lumpy seas outside. Even with the pilothouse we had on everything we owned and were still cold. Plus neither of were feeling 100% given the rough conditions outside. We definitely weren’t in the Virgin Islands anymore!
Luckily things got better the further south we went. There was almost no traffic save the occasional freighter, a couple of cruise ships, and a submarine with escorts departing the St. Mary’s river submarine base.
Port Canaveral was a delightful change for us. Rounding the Cape always seems to yield improved temperatures. For the first time this year we were in shorts and Tees. What a difference 200 miles can make!
March 11-12, 2015: Port Canaveral to Lake Worth – 116 miles/21+ hours
Our “guaranteed” 2-3-day Priority Mail parcel sent 8 days prior had not yet arrived, presumably the victim of the ugly weather to our north. The Seattle, Washington, sender kindly agreed to send another parcel out via overnight FedEx at no charge to us. This kept us in Canaveral another day, but the down time was appreciated. Our package arrived (actually both the earlier USPS and the later FedEx package) late in the morning of the 11th, and we were off again late that afternoon on another overnight targeting an early afternoon arrival in Lake Worth.
This leg was much more comfortable, both temperature-wise and sea-wise. Although we had to motor directly into light southerlies for the entire passage, it was a very pleasant trip. The weather Gods were finally smiling on us as we anchored in Lake Worth under sunny skies and 80-degree temperatures.
We took advantage of the near-by Publix grocery and West Marine stores to dingy in and pick up a few last minute things before leaving the states. In addition, our final tax reports had just become available so we were able to finish and file our taxes from the anchorage (what would we do without the internet???). But the highlight of our stop in Lake Worth was meeting up with long time Quebec cruising friends Joe Mainguy and Joan Murphy, who had sold their boat and purchased a home in the area. We had initially met Joe and Joan in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, when we passed through in 2008. We buddy boated with them along some of the East coast, and then again later in the Bahamas. It was wonderful seeing them again (see photo taken in their backyard)
3/15/2015: Lake Worth to West End, Grand Bahama – 63.4 miles over the bottom/ 75.5 through the water due to the Gulf Stream - ~11 hours
With over 60 miles to go and the Gulf Stream to cross we knew we needed an early start to assure a daylight arrival. We were up and finished with breakfast before first light, had the anchor raised, and were on our way through Lake Worth by 7:25, right around sunrise. Another 45 minutes took us through Lake Worth, its inlet, and out on our crossing course to West End. With basically flat seas and light and variable winds it ended up being a motorboat trip, but we again at least had lucked out weather-wise for our stream crossing (stream crossings can be nasty … even dangerous in strong wind against current situations).
The stream flows north at up to 3.5 knots or so at its highest point and about 2 to 2 1/2 knots on average over its width. For us the Gulf Stream current added a computed 12.1 miles of additional through the water distance to our crossing … a pretty hefty addition during the course of one day.
The trip went like clockwork. We arrived at West End around 6:30 with time to be assigned a slip, check in, and clear customs and immigration. Life was good and, as the ads say, it definitely IS better in the Bahamas.
3/17/2015: West End to Nassau, 139 Miles/24.5 hours
Departing our West End Dock at 11:30am to assure a mid-day arrival in Nassau, our day started with some low-rev motor assist to keep things moving a pace, but within 4 hours the engine was off for the remainder of what was arguably one of the best distance sails we’d experienced so far. As the time wore on and we needed to change direction around the Berry Islands, the winds obliged and shifted accordingly giving us a perfect angle all the way for our single-reefed main and reefed headsail. We were in our Nassau Harbor Club marina slip right on schedule at noon … just in time for a short walk to the DQ in the shopping center across the street and longed-for chocolate shakes and cheesy coney dogs. Life was indeed good. The prior cold weather and lumpy uncomfortable seas off the Georgia-Florida border were mostly forgotten, replaced by warm temps, tropical breezes, and beautiful waters. The “delivery” part of our trip done (see our cruising track at right), our real cruising starts tomorrow morning as we depart Nassau for the Exumas. Stay tuned for the good stuff.