History Log: Season 2004
Amida travels from Toronto to Trinidad.
Our first years adventure.
Log 7: Ft Lauderdale to The Abacos
Sunday Feb 2… Amida is in the Abaco!
Our stay in Ft Lauderdale was much longer than planned, in part because a suitable weather window for the Gulf Stream was
elusive but also because boat projects took longer than estimated (surprise, surprise!). The Log has also been a little neglected
for the past few weeks, but here’s your chance to catch up.
The major project was the installation of the solar panel and this was completed successfully. It was designed with a capability to
be tilted towards the starboard (right hand) side of Amida on the basis that much of the time while at anchor we will be pointing
into the wind, which will likely blowing from the east. Hence the panel should tilt towards the sun in the south, ie towards
starboard. Many boats have the tilt in a fore / aft axis, hence towards the east or west when mine will be facing south. We’ll see
if my logic works! Even now, in a flat position it generates around 5 Amps at midday… not a bad supplement to the wind
generator and, together, they should keep us from significant battery charge depletion and needing to use the engine to
recharge them (reducing the need for Diesel fuel).
Question: it occurred to me I have no idea what happens if the multiple regulators Amida now has (Alternator, Solar Panel, Wind
Generator) have not been set “correctly”… ie do they all have to work in concert? Do they work against each other if not? I’ll
have to check my Nigel Calder bible to see if he has words of wisdom on this topic. If any of you have thoughts, send me an
I also purchased some boat “spares”: a third anchor (Fortress) as well as a second water, bilge, and macerator pump. Can’t
have enough pumps, nor flashlights (especially LED flashlights) on board, especially as their life span is usually a week or two
past their guarantee period. Beef, beef, beef!
We actually left our slip at Cooleys on Jan 16th but managed to move eastwards, towards the Bahamas, only about 50 yards!
What happened was that the weather forecasts indicated a possible window was opening up so, in the morning, we informed the
marina manager, Joey (great fellow!) that we would be leaving that night. We then changed our minds around mid-day due to a
change in the forecast. Problem was that Joey had already allocated our slip to another boat arriving the next day, so we had to
move. Luckily, he had one other empty slip available so we untied, backed out, and motored 50 yards to the new one. Of course,
this maneuver created great hilarity among the other boats and, all of a sudden, I found an audience of a dozen waiting for me
at the new slip, ostensibly to help, but really there to check out our docking skills! Trouble was, the slips at Cooleys are at right
angles to the river and its significant current. Whilst we had timed to move at slack tide, there was still a reasonable wind, whose
intent was to blow us onto the piles to which we would eventually be tied. It took me three attempts before I judged every
component and dimension correctly and docked, safely, to tumultuous cheers… some 50 yards closer to the Bahamas.
The next window opened up for the Monday, Jan 20th, meaning we had to leave the slip at the slack tide at 3am on Sunday. We
had decided to do a night passage in order to ensure arrival at West End during daylight hours. BTW, in case you don't know
what we mean by a weather window...you should not cross the gulf stream if the wind has any northerly component ...i.e. WNW,
NW, N, NE, ENE. This is because the stream flows north and if the wind is against the flow, then waves can get really nasty..
We went to bed really early on Sunday evening, setting the alarm for 0200, and together with our boat buddies, Temeraire, left
the slips around 3am. Another boat buddy, Borean, was waiting for us down the river and the three of us would make the
crossing. Once out of the slips, we had to get through the three raised road bridges and the railway bridge to get us back down
to the ICW. Bridge Operators listen to VHF channel 9 in Florida, so we hailed to get the first one opened and received no
response! It appeared he was asleep. We called and called, Jim on Temeraire shone his high powered (500,000 candle power)
torch through the windows, but all to no avail. Of course, all the time, we are maneuvering to keep our boats from colliding with
each other, the other boats still at the slips, and the bridge itself. Eventually, we hailed one of the other bridges and that
operator got through to ours via a land telephone call, and the span was raised to let us through. Down the river we then
motored, in the pitch dark, caught up to Borean, and entered the ICW. There, a final bridge awaited, with a vertical clearance of
55 ft, which was OK for Borean and Temeraire, but marginal for us, so we asked for it to be opened. We were the last boat in the
parade as the operator started the opening sequence just as Borean, who was first, was getting close. Unfortunately, the
sequence begins with the sounding of a loud horn… a really loud horn… and this surprised Borean into thinking there was a
problem that they were being warned about, so they jammed on the “brakes”. Luckily, we were spread far enough apart so that
no damage was done and eventually all got through, past the ship basin and out into the Atlantic waters. We were on our way!
The forecast wind velocity did not materialize and we started off with the wind from the South, later clocking to the west, at a
speed of less than 10 knots, so, guess what, we motored, yet again, all night long with the Gulf Stream current assisting by
pushing us in a northerly direction. In the middle of the Gulf Stream, where the current can be some 3 knots, our course over
ground was almost 9 knots! The waves were no bigger than 2 – 4 feet, making for a perfect, though somewhat boring, crossing.
Boring was, however, better than its opposite! By the time we got closer to West End the wind started to go North, but by then
we were out of the Stream, so it did not matter. We arrived at 2pm, pretty much dead on our estimate of a 10 hour crossing,
and pulled into the marina with the Quarantine Flag flying. Checking in with Customs and Immigration was uneventful, except for
the US$300 that moved from my wallet to their till… a Cruising Permit used to cost $100 till the middle of last year! I also asked
the official about what kind of fees I would be charged upon receiving the, hopefully fixed, short wave radio when it arrived here
from Toronto. My worst fears were confirmed when I was told that duties and fees would amount to 35%... for a radio that was
already mine, and one that would be in the Bahamas for a couple of months, in transit! Of course, this was way different from
the 8% that the Guide Books said would apply and reinforced the point that these decisions are made at the whim of the local
I just took a break to look outside as we are in the middle of a torrential downpour, accompanied by thunder and lightning… a
free boat wash for Amida (using water from our tanks, this would cost some $15 as it is metered, and expensive, in the
Bahamas! A new perspective on rain.
The plan was to leave West End the next day but, as we pulled out into the ocean, the waves were 6-8 feet and the wind 20+
knots, on the nose, so Temeraire and Amida played chicken and headed right back rather than face three hours of motoring into
the wind and waves to get to Memory Rock. Later that morning we took advantage of the free bicycles and went to the
Settlement, some 4 – 5 miles away. There, once again, the difference between local poverty and North American wealth showed
itself in spades. At the marina restaurant, a simple burger cost $12 while the homes of the locals were, at best, shacks. It always
amazes me how expensive things are for visitors yet the service staff are paid peanuts… where do the profits go??? It puts the
$300 cruising fee into a better perspective, as that money at least goes to pay for the kids’ schools and for medical services etc,
rather than a marina owner’s pocket…
The next day, Wednesday Jan 21, we departed for a second time, and managed to sail for a little while before calculating that we
needed motor assist in order to make the speed, and time, necessary for safe arrival at Mangrove Cay. That’s one of the
problems we’ve consistently had throughout the trip so far… we need to get to X destination in daylight, which requires an
average speed of Y knots, which invariably means the motor has to be used. Not fun, nor really what we had expected in the
Bahamas. Secondly, knowing the weather forecast is all important regarding a decision on X because protection is needed from
the wind direction for the overnight anchoring. This whole process can get tricky if, as often happens, the wind direction shifts
due to fronts moving across the area. What may be fine as we drop anchor may not be good at all later on… and guess what,
there are not many places where there is protection from all points of the compass within a small geographic area. In fact, there
are precious few places where one can go if the wind is to be from the south or west, until you get “around the corner”, into the
Abaco Sea, and there you are exposed in NW or SE winds. Mangrove Cay has a relatively good anchorage so we stayed there
one night before heading on to Great Sale Cay, again being able to put out the sails, at least for part of the time. However short
these periods are, it feels great to be sailing rather than motoring… Neither Mangrove nor Great Sale were spots to stay more
than absolutely necessary as they were just outcrops of rock covered with mangroves where we didn’t even get off the boat as
there was nowhere interesting to go. From Great Sale the route took us to Coopers Town, then to Green Turtle. Green Turtle was
the next challenge as the channel entry was either 4’6” or 5’6”, depending on which book one read, and either was a problem for
Amida as we draw around 5’10 now, loaded with water, fuel, and provisions. So, we needed tidal assistance. With great
trepidation, a slow speed, and an eagle eye on the depth gauge, we headed into the channel and discovered we had over two
feet of leeway as we’d timed it perfectly. We decided to use the marina’s slips as they had a great deal for visitors during the
off-season… you could apply restaurant bills as a credit against the dock fee! This ultimately meant that the 5 day stay cost us
just $217, which included the cost of the two dinners we ate there, and gave us access to their showers and restrooms, which
are not available when you are at anchor. A pretty good deal!
Of course, while at the slip, it’s easier to talk to other sailors, hear their stories and ask about their progress thus far and plans
for the future. It was interesting to hear how many will never, ever, take the ICW again… and how many have butterflies before
heading out to sea. The day after we arrived in Green Turtle, a whole procession of other boats arrived, some six or seven of
them Canadian, making it feel like a dock on Lake Ontario!
One of the more interesting stories was from a fellow whose son did a lot of work on his boat, amongst which was changing the
head and its hoses. Unfortunately, he neglected to inspect the work prior to launch (at Cathedral Bluffs) and also neglected to
check all was well before he closed the boat up after the launch. A few hours later, he got a phone call telling him the boat was
sinking, due to a leak! By the time he got there, the water level was a couple of feet up inside the cabin!!!!
Amida was docked next to a super motor boat and I had hoped for an invitation to board and inspect, but it never materialized. I
talked with the Cap’n and learned that the fuel tank capacity is over 7000 gallons… imagine paying over US$14,000 just to fill the
gas tanks… a different ballgame, as they say!
While here, we heard about two Man Overboard situations, one in the Gulf Stream, the other near Nassau. Amazingly, the former
was found by the US Coast Guard and rescued, but the other one was not. Both were fellows who fell off while on their night
watches…it pays to be tethered! Then there was the story of a 50+ft Beneteau, brand new, that had been stolen but later found
by the FBI, abandoned, in an abandoned marina near Freeport.
Green Turtle is a great place to spend a few days. The beach facing the Atlantic is spectacular and we celebrated this with our
first ocean swim! The settlement, New Plymouth, has a few places to eat, relatively cheaply, a couple of groceries, and even a
library. To get there & back you rent a golf-cart from the marina and hope the charge lasts long enough for the return trip to be
completed, as the speed and eagerness to go uphill is noticeably less at that stage..
One day, we saw a 47 ft Gulfstar called Carylar pull into the marina and settle into a slip two away from ours… amazing
coincidence as Ross and Caryl are Richard McDonald’s good friends and we had been hoping to meet up with them somewhere
along the way. They are also heading way south, to Trinidad and we will likely enjoy each other’s company for at least part of
Staying here has also brought home the “cruiser” syndrome… ie a disregard for time. Why not stay for another day or two?
What’s the hurry to leave? This lack of urgency was also partly attributable to the fact that the next segment meant going
through the dreaded Whale Cay passage! One book explains it as the most hazardous in the Bahamas, another telling us that
boats and lives have been lost here! Why? Well, to get further south, because of a very, very shallow area, we have to actually
go out into the Atlantic, for just a few miles, before heading back inside. The problem is that the Atlantic water is being funneled
through the narrow passage and, when wind, wave swell, and tide are not synchronized, you can expect pretty poor conditions,
same as in the Gulf Stream. Added to that was the issue of again needing tidal assistance to get out of the Green Turtle channel.
Unfortunately, high tide was getting later by the day and was now around 3pm. The tidal range was also getting less. When
added to the some three to four hours needed to get to Treasure Cay (Guana Cay was not a possible destination given wind
direction requirements for the overnight anchorage), this meant a 6pm arrival, earliest… too late to navigate the tight entrance
into Treasure. This meant we needed to leave before high tide, which in turn meant less water under Amida…
So, it was with quite some trepidation that Temeraire and Amida left the dock just after midday on Jan 30th. Temeraire was in
front, as she draws 5ft and could warn us if we had misjudged the depth of water available in the channel. In fact, she called on
the VHF to say she had “touched” bottom, so we steered a little off her course and managed to avoid that particular shoal. Our
depth gauge did sound the 6ft Alarm at one stage, meaning we had a bare 2 inches of water under the keel but we eventually
got back into deep water. Of course, here in the Bahamas, deep is a relative term! Much of the time we are in 9 to 14ft, but as
long as it is consistent, I’m comfortable with that. The passage through the dreaded Whale Cut was a breeze! The wind was only
10 – 15 and the swells less than 3 feet… huge sigh of relief! PS: Carylar went thru the Cut yesterday, Feb 2, and encountered 10
ft swells… they did not sound at all happy over the VHF!
We are still in Treasure Cay. The beach is, yet again, magnificent and the water colour just as seen in post cards… except the
weather has turned cloudy and rainy. Today we were supposed to have gone over to Guana Cay, where they have a pig roast
every Sunday, and partake of their Super Bowl Party, but the rain and the pretty fierce wind out in the open so we decided to
stay put and will watch the game in the local restaurant. There is a grocery and a liquor store here with very reasonable prices.
Bacon is same as in the US ($5/lb) as is steak, but New Zealand Cheddar is very cheap. Beer costs almost $40 for 24 but a 1L
bottle of rum is $13 and a case of Coke is $15.
Weather: We have had a few gorgeous days, mid 70s and sunny, as well as colder and cloudier ones. At night, the sleeping bag
is still needed to keep us warm as the thick duvet got packed away in Ft Lauderdale. There has been little rain. In fact, the
downpour while in Treasure was the first solid rain we’ve seen except for a day of similar weather when still in Norfolk. We have
been hearing that the weather in Ontario and Quebec is a little colder than that which we have here, so you have our sincere,
and I really mean that, commiserations. PS: In Marsh Harbour last night we had 2 inches of rain! It really pelted down. A few
miles away, apparently they had 4 inches. Another bath for Amida.
Budget: I’m still in denial about how much we are spending. The monthly credit card bills are astounding... to the degree that I
need to check the transactions on the web just to make sure that someone isn’t forging my signature. In fact, I have not updated
the spread sheet for the month of January yet as I don’t think I want to know the degree of the bad news! The strategy of “catch
up” is on shaky ground right now. On the other hand, here in Marsh Harbour, we anchor for free (in Treasure Cay they charged
$8 just for anchoring and $10 to use a mooring ball), so the only expense is lunch and its associated drinks.
Late update (Feb 3): we are now in Marsh Harbour. The four hour trip from Treasure Cay was uneventful though we ended up,
right, you guessed, motoring all the way with the wind on the nose! We watched the Super Bowl at the marina restaurant last
night. The “big screen” TV was all screwed up in terms of its colour balance and Marilyn’s valiant efforts to fix this did not entirely
succeed, though she did improve the picture a little. I had images of her doing something that would terminally, and adversely,
affect the screen and was ready to tell everyone I had no idea which boat she came from, but that ended up not to be
necessary. It was interesting to finally be able to see the US ads and the half-time show, rather than “Canadian content” we
have had in the past. Of particular interest was the “did he or didn’t he” incident at the end of the Justin Timberlane and Janet
Jackson duet… it happened so fast that I wished I’d had a VCR recording the event so I could have replayed it frame by frame
(over and over, just to be sure… OK, OK, I’m a dirty old man!). I also very much object to the network taking away my
constitutional right to see self expression in the form of the streaker.. OK, OK, I’m a very dirty old man!!
Good news: I tested out the solar panel in its tilted position and the output went up from 5A to 7.5A! All I need now is consistent
wind from the East and I can sell power to the local utility. Speaking of power, I logged onto the internet terminal in the Green
Turtle Marina office and just as I pressed the mouse button, the computer lost power. Not just the computer, not just the Marina,
but the entire island! For a moment, I panicked thinking I had been the culprit but then found out that power stoppages are a
pretty common phenomenon in this part of the world. Phew!
Great news: I just poked the laptop outside the companionway and searched for an unsecure wireless link, and found one with
pretty good strength. I was able to check the Manchester United news as well as BBC… and M will be able to upload the log using
Satellite Phone: initial testing in Florida gave poor results as the signal dropped like the proverbial whore’s drawers. The dealer’s
response was that Florida was a “weak spot” and that the signal would improve the further east and, especially, south we
traveled. This has proved to be quite correct. The battery performance has been very poor as a charge only lasts 15-20 minutes.
That’s what you get by buying a refurbished model! Ross, from Carylar, told me that Globalstar has been telling its dealer’s not
to sell the phone if the intended use is in the Caribbean as there have been too many complaints about the signal quality. I
guess the dealer I bought from is not aware of this… or perhaps ignores the recommendation in order to make a sale. So, the
jury is still out on this one.
Looking forward to your emails! Bye for now…
Marilyn writes: I have been after Andy for days now to write up the log so our friends would know that we made it safely across
the dreaded Gulf Stream. However you must realize that we are now on Island time …you know …manana manana. I can tell you
how happy we were to finally be in the islands. For me, a dream come true (pinch me!). Initially Andy was a bit disappointed …
Mangrove Cay, Salt Cay and Coopers Town were not exactly what one expects, although I though they were quite picturesque.
No beautiful beaches but still that beautiful turquoise water that goes with the sand in 7 feet of water. I kept saying just wait till
we get to Green Turtle…and once there, Andy was a very happy guy. The sand on the beach was that beautiful soft fine sand
that feels so great on your feet. With reefs off shore, the colors are spectacular.
Today here in Marsh Harbor we went to visit the Abaco Beach Resort, a place I have been to before with my friend Lorraine. It
has this great swim up bar which if you know anything about Lorraine’s and my vacations together, you will know we had a great
time in that bar. Well it is still there and Andy and I went for a swim and a drink just for old times sake ….Lorraine it brought
back such great memories …the only thing I miss is the skiing part of that vacation ..and of course you.
About the Sat Phone …we us it most days to connect to our e-mail so we can get weather information from NOAA so feel free to
fire us off a note…just no pictures please.
Well it is off to Hopetown tomorrow after a little shopping (what else) and refill of the propane tank (only our second refill) and
maybe our first chance to snorkel.
All for now …
History Log: Season 2004
Amida travels from Toronto to Trinidad.
Our first years adventure.
Swim up Bar