Our First Sunset with No Land in Sight
We have caught the Bahamas slow paced “island time” bug! After several months of rushing from port to port on our journey south through the canals, along the jersey coast and then through the ICW, we finally have time to rest. And we have! In total we stayed five days in Bimini and enjoyed every last moment.
Well, except when our bilge pump stopped working. That was pretty annoying but we had brought a spare along so it really only took a few hours out of our blissful island days to do the required plumbing and electrical work to get the new (and higher powered) bilge pump installed.
With our bilge pump fixed, we set about enjoying all that Bimini has to offer. Bimini is a tiny set of islands and sits in the westernmost part of the Bahamas. Less than 2,000 people make Bimini their home and although there are cars on the narrow streets, most people get around on golf carts, motorcycles or bicycles. Or they do as we did - they walk! And they all give cheery hellos to all passersby. It is comfortable and homey, even to us non-locals.
Getting into the vibe and culture of Bimini was a real pleasure. We spent time talking with Star and Techo (their Biminite nick names), old-timer locals who are the soul of the island. Every day we chatted and every day we learned lots of the history of Bimini. We also took part in the Junkanoo festival in Alice Town, which is the capital of Bimini and where our marina was located. Junkanoo festivals are street parades with lots of music and great food. They are celebrated around Christmas and New Years and we were thrilled one was taking place on the Saturday we were in Bimini.
Of course, we also spent lots of time on the beach. Radio beach is a huge stretch of white sand along the western edge of Bimini. And there are none of the rules that we are used to with beaches in Canada. As one local told me “The beach is for everyone”. Dogs are allowed and access to the beach is from wherever you happen to be – someone’s back yard, through a café or just a pathway. We spent a lot of time on Radio Beach – soaking up the sunshine, walking, swimming and just good old relaxing.
The most fun we had in Bimini, though, was watching how people would react to Ocean. There are some dogs in Bimini but mostly medium or small sized. Ocean really stood out. No one could go by us without saying “Well, that’s a big dog” or “yeah, you’re a good dog” directly to Ocean. The one that really made us giggle was a young lad about 7 who spied Ocean coming down the street. He yelled to us “I’m Scared!!!” and then very quickly “Does she bite?”. When we assured him that she did not bite, he then cheerfully asked if he could meet her. And he did. And then he followed us for a quite a bit, while also petting Ocean. Very. Sweet.
What else did we spend our time doing in Bimini? We finally installed our Rainman water maker. This is the system that will allow us to pull saltwater from the ocean around us and convert it into drinking water. Very necessary if we want to be fully sustainable on our boat (i.e. never need to go to land unless we want to). Mike plumbed the system to be able to either manually fill our water jerry cans or to pump directly into our water tanks. And it works! The best part? The water is delicious!!
After five glorious and successful days in Bimini, we decided it was time to start exploring the rest of the 699 islands in the Bahamas. At our spot at Blue Water Marina, we were lucky enough to meet a wonderful chap from Ottawa, who is solo sailing his Alberg 37 sailboat “Lola” through the Bahamas. We hit it off right away so decided to buddy boat our way across the Grand Bahama Bank and to Chub Cay, the most southern island in what is called the “Berry Islands” chain in the Bahamas.
Tuesday morning, Wild Horses and Lola set off into light winds, through the Bimini entrance and then to the northern tip of the island before turning east at “North Rock” towards the “Mackie Shoal” and the Grand Bahama Bank. Although Chub Key is the next closest island to Bimini, it is about 90 miles away. Too far for us to transit in the daylight of one day. The solution to this problem is the Grand Bahama Bank. It is a long stretch of water that is deep enough to transit but shallow enough for us to set our anchor. And that is exactly what we did. 60 miles into our journey, the sun was starting to slide away, so Wild Horses and Lola dropped their hooks. It was the middle of the Bank, with no land in sight. This was an incredible and magical experience. Quiet serenity in calm Bahamian waters, with just the slight roll of the ocean to rock us to sleep. No lights from land, no sounds from afar. Just a full canvas of stars, including the incredible and elusive Milky Way, to highlight our evening. Sigh. Like I said, it was magical.
The next morning, we weighed anchor once again for a short hop to Chub Cay. On the way, Lola suggested over the VHF that he was going to try his hand at fishing off the boat. With all our new gear on board, we also decided to get a fishing pole out. To our amazement, we caught one! Our happiness was fleeting, however, as we realized right away that it was a Barracuda. These fish, as well as other reef fish, can cause ciguatera poisoning, which is an illness that can cause neurological dysfunction. Um, no thanks. The fish was released but we were happy to have successfully tried out our gear. Yay!
Tonight we are anchored on the eastern side of Chub Cay. We are enjoying light winds and the beautiful warm sunshine. Oh and we are also enjoying that Ocean (finally) did her business on the boat. We can now officially call her a “boat dog”. Yay Ocean!!!
We did it! We have officially arrived in the Bahamas! Wow, we are a happy, exhilarated, and exhausted crew of three. It has been quite the week getting ready for our crossing but we are thrilled to be in Bimini and staring at the bluest water we have ever seen.
But let’s back up a tad.
We left West Palm Beach, and Sensai, last Friday. We loved Fort Worth and how accessible it was for getting groceries and boat supplies. Fort Worth is also where Ted and Evelyn on Sensai were anchored, waiting for their weather window on Saturday to cross to the Bahamas. They had decided to leave the US from Forth Worth and go to West End, Grand Bahama. The crew of Wild Horses, however, still had plans to cross using the southern route to the Bahamas, from Miami to Bimini, Bahamas. Since we still needed to go another 70 or so nautical miles south to get to Miami, we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the same weather window as Sensai but we did see another window opening up later that same week.
And on we went! This last part of the ICW in Florida is all about bridges and lots of boat traffic. Mike was stellar at the helm though and I held my own with setting up our timing for the bridges, which was no small task. In just a few days we went through 21 bridges, all timed openings. This involved a lot of precision to get right…well, okay…I am lying a bit. We actually lucked in by getting behind a gigantic motor yacht that the bridges seemed to stay open for. We just rode his coat tails all the way through several bridges, with no waiting or rushing to time the bridges. Hmmm, maybe it is all about who you know 😉.
While Sensai was successfully crossing over to the Bahamas on New Years Eve, we were in Fort Lauderdale. Holy Todelo! What a madhouse! After our very cold Christmas, 34 degree heat decided to settle itself firmly in southern Florida and everyone was taking advantage. Holidays + heat = General Craziness! The beaches were packed. The bars and restaurants were packed. The streets were packed. And the evening festivities did not disappoint. From the boat, we had a 360 degree view of fireworks. It was incredible! We celebrated the New Years with just our small crew, some take out and an awesome Georgia vs. Ohio college football playoff game that actually ended exactly as the clock struck midnight. Wild game, amazing night!
New Years Day we were on the move again but this time it was outside the ICW. We left Port Everglades and the ICW and headed out into the ocean and down to Miami. After navigating the inlet into Miami (past cruise ships and other big boats) we found our way into the anchorage at Marine Stadium. For us, this was a “get ready” anchorage. We knew we wanted to cross over to the Bahamas on Thursday and we had a long list of “must dos” including topping off our diesel and water tanks, getting Ocean certified by a US veterinarian (required by Bahamas customs) and buying our last bit of provisioning done. We got a rental car and set off into the city of Miami to get it all done.
By Wednesday, all our “get ready” items were done and it was time to move to our staging anchorage. No Name Harbor is in Key Biscayne and immediately beside the Stiltsville channel. This is the channel that would take us out into the Straits of Florida and across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas. With all of our work done, we decided to go to shore and treat ourselves to some beers and Ceviche at the local restaurant. Delicious!
Thursday morning we woke at 0400 and got the boat ready for departure (after coffees of course – we aren’t animals!). The anchor was weighed at 0515 and we made our way out the channel and into the ocean in the darkness but under a clear sky and bright (almost full) moon. Once the sun was up, we started to relax and found the trip very easy. The sea state was a gentle 1 to 2 feet with about 7 seconds in between waves, making the boat rock gently instead of pounding. This was the first time in our sailing lives that we were truly in the ocean, with no land in sight. It was beautiful and serene, with just a bunch of flying fish to entertain us.
By 1115 in the morning we could see Bimini start to pop up from the horizon. As we got closer, we were treated to the vibrant blues of the Bahamian water and an easy entrance into Bimini. It had been a glorious 8 hour journey. We made our way to Bimini Blue Water Marina and hoisted our quarantine flag. This yellow flag is required until we are all checked in with Customs and Immigration. Mike, being the captain, was the only one allowed off the boat to do the check in process but the staff at the marina made it a super easy process. By 1415, we were all checked in and walking through Alice Town.
Like I said, we are in awe. Bimini has been incredible and we will stay here for a few days to rest and wait for good weather to go further east in the Bahamas. Truly, there is no where that we would rather be right now. We are one happy crew, excited about all of our adventures on the horizon!
Things That Go Bump in the Night!
We spent a wonderful Christmas at Vero Beach. It was a very busy place, with lots of people taking advantage of the excellent shore access and cheap moorings. Several boats that we have met along our journey ended up hanging out there for Christmas so we had a great time catching up with old friends and spending time with new friends on Surprise and Zephyr.
It was an easy holiday, with two exceptions. First, it was cold! Not “Ottawa” cold but it did get down to 2 degrees celsius on Christmas eve and Christmas day. Now, this may not sound cold to our friends and family in Canada but keep in mind that we are in a three-season home on the water. The cold wind seems to find every little opportunity to find its way into the boat and getting to shore in the dinghy is facing the cold, damp wind head on. Brrrrr! Thankfully it only lasted a few days. By yesterday the temperatures in Florida were back to more normal temperatures in the mid-twenty degree range. Yes!
The other event happened late at night, right before Christmas. Mike and I were just about to call it a night when… “bam”. There was a loud thud on the hull of Wild Horses. We both looked at each other and then scrambled up on deck. The wind had picked up quite a bit causing a catamaran that had anchored near us earlier that evening to drag anchor. And that catamaran had just slid into Wild Horses. Yikes!
Yes, this is a “big deal” but we were lucky on several fronts:
Since the boats were already “alongside” each other and it was dark, we decided to just “raft” the other boat up to ours. This is a regular technique boaters use if they are sharing a mooring or if they are anchored with close friends. The two boats tie themselves together and share an anchor.
The other nuance to this situation we found ourselves in with the catamaran is that the other boat, the catamaran, had a planned departure time of 4:30am the next day. They wanted to take advantage of low tide in order to get under their next fixed bridge only 1 nautical mile away. What did this mean for Wild Horses? Well, untying from a raft-up needs the crew of both boats to be on deck and participating. Yeesh. 4:30 in the morning.
With our early morning in mind, the crew of both boats turned in for the night. Only, Mike couldn’t sleep. Although the boats were snugged down and not dragging, Mike was still concerned. He decided to stay on watch, in the cockpit, so that he could react quickly if the boats had any issues. That’s right, no sleep. Double yeesh.
The next morning, at 0400, the crew of both boats woke up, untangled the tie-up lines from the boats and we waved good-bye to our very brief and sudden raft-up friends. We were a little tired and still shocked but also very relieved that the situation was actually pretty un-eventful. Whew.
Dragging boats aside, Vero Beach was a wonderful place to spend Christmas and several of our friends had decided to also spend New Years there. It was a lovely idea but a weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream is opening up over the next week and we want to be in Miami to take advantage of the good weather. The day after Christmas we continued our journey south.
We are now in West Palm Beach but will weigh anchor again tomorrow with the idea of getting to Fort Lauderdale on the weekend and Miami on New Years Day.
Back in the Water and Headed South to Miami
Oh my, we are thrilled to have Wild Horses back in the water. The work on the bow thruster tube seam was finished early last Friday morning. Rich at Daytona Marina & Boat Works did a stellar job of repairing the seam and sealing it to prevent any more water intrusion. We really appreciate all that Rich, David and the rest of the team in Daytona Beach did for us.
We were launched too late in the day on Friday to make our planned anchorage spot so we decided to spend the night at the Marina and to take off first thing on Saturday morning for Titusville. This is an easy anchorage right off the ICW - perfect for a quick one night stop over. Plus, it gave us a great view of the NASA rocket launch late afternoon on Saturday. It was too cloudy to see the launch clearly but we did get to hear the loud sonic boom! The other cool thing is that we were anchored beside a boat we knew from the Thousand Islands – “Parbleu”. Our sailing friends from Ottawa, Nick and Lynn, were the owners of Parbleu but sold it this past August to a couple from Trois Rivieres. It was great to chat with the new owners and to see Parbleu looking fabulous as she heads to the Bahamas. What a treat!
After Titusville, we continued south to Eau Gallie. This was another anchorage right off the ICW but it had easy access to shopping so we took the opportunity to not just stock up on groceries but we also decided to purchase a Honda 2200 portable generator. We haven’t been having power issues with the boat but we do like the idea of having a back up in case we are anchored for a long period of time with a serious string of cloudy days (where our solar can’t restore enough energy in our batteries). We found a Lowe’s that had the generator in stock but it was a good hour walk away. We love walking but carrying a 50 lb generator for an hour on our way back to the boat did not sound inviting. Enter Uber Pet! For just $14, we had an excellent drive back to our boat, with Ocean and our generator with us. Yes!
After Eau Gallie, we headed for Vero Beach. Our boat buddies, Sensai and Brise, are still 2 days ahead of us in Fort Worth so our original plan was to stay just one night at the Vero Beach anchorage and then to catch up with our buddies. But, with heavy rain in the forecast, we decided to stay an extra night. This also gave us a chance to do some shopping. There is an amazing Dive shop in walking distance of our anchorage and we loved the opportunity to finally pick up some wetsuits. Deep Six Dive Shop had everything we were looking for and more. We were able to pick up our wetsuits, a lobster snare, a fish knife and even our spear gun. Once we are in the Bahamas, this gear (plus lots of practice) will mean lots of fish and lobster dinners. Yum!!
But before we can fish in the Bahamas, we must wait. The weather doesn’t look good to cross the Gulf Stream for at least the next week so we will spend Christmas stateside, likely in Vero Beach. Yes, Vero Beach, that anchorage we were only going to stay in for one night. Now we are contemplating spending a week here. I guess that is why they call it “Velcro Beach”. That’s okay! We are in a lovely anchorage with access to a marina that lets us use its facilities (laundry, showers, dinghy dock), close to shopping and the ocean, and with good sailing friends that we have met along our journey. And we have lots of phone data to connect with family and friends back home 😊. Happy Holidays!!
Wild Horses (Crew and Boat) Are On Land
Yeah, it has been a challenging week for both boat and crew. We arrived in Marineland early last week with our heads swimming with stuff on our “must do” list. Miami and our crossing over to the Bahamas is imminent and our list of things to get done before we leave the affordability and accessibility of US shopping and repairs is long. Once we are in the Bahamas, grocery stores won’t be available at every anchorage and, where they are, the prices can be fairly steep. Repairs and getting spare parts will be even more challenging.
We need to do our Bahamas 3 month provisioning ASAP. And, boat projects? Certainly, we have a few small boat projects to tackle but the biggest challenge is the water intrusion issue in the bilge under our V berth. This issue first popped up in Cape May and has plagued us ever since. First, the bow thruster was leaking. We shored that up and the leaking abated… for a hot minute. Then we assessed the anchor locker and sealed several areas where water could find its way into the inner boat. This slowed down the water but didn’t stop it. Finally, in Marineland, we figured it out.
Not only did we definitely confirm that the water was salty (eliminating condensation or a leaky water tank as possible sources) but we actually got down and dirty in the bilge, visually and manually checking every square inch…and we found it. We couldn’t see the leak but we could feel it. A small dripping bit of water in the starboard bow thruster tube near the hull of the boat. Yay…but yikes! This is not a situation we want to have when we cross the Gulf Stream.
Marineland is not near anything walkable so we decided to head to our next anchorage and hope for the best. We knew we needed the boat hauled out and to have the bow thruster tube properly assessed (it sits under the waterline). But we knew we had our work cut out for us. Finding an expert to work on your boat in a timely manner has been the biggest challenge of this journey. There are a lot of them but they are all fully busy, usually booking new clients weeks or months into the future. Sigh.
Arriving in Daytona Beach, we were discouraged. We decided to shake off our worries with a dog walk along Beach Street towards the touristy area of Daytona Beach. Within minutes, we came across Daytona Marina and Boat Works. A quick discussion with the receptionist and we had a remote “maybe” that they could help. A phone call from the owner later that same day took it to a “sure, I think” but not until the following week. It was the best we could ever hope for. Long story short, we were hauled out today at 0900 hours and the bow thruster was immediately assessed. Yes, the bow thruster tube was failing at the seam where it meets the hull. Apparently, the seam was not correctly sealed at installation and it was just a matter of time before water found its way in.
This is all very shocking and unexpected, of course, but the good news is that we have an amazing expert from Daytona Marina and Boat Works on the job (thank you Rich!!). Weather permitting, we will be back in business, heading south, by early next week. Whew.
In the interim, the crew of Wild Horses is nestled comfortably in a hotel. But we are not wasting our days! We have spent the last several days provisioning for the Bahamas (we have a rental car) and we still have access to the boat during the day so we will be washing, waxing, finishing small projects and otherwise making her feel like the awesome home that she is. It is not the adventure we were expecting but it is still part of our learning journey. And, guess what? If you were to run into us these days, you would still see big smiles on our faces. We are happy that our crew is all healthy and soon our lovely boat will be too. 😊
This has been quite the week.
Our final few days on the ICW in Georgia were lovely. We left St. Simons Island on a high tide late last Friday afternoon and completed the 2-hour journey to Jekyll Creek. This creek is very shallow and very narrow so getting through it at high tide was critical. We also wanted to position ourselves for an early start the next day for crossing the St. Andrews Sound, which is notoriously rough if you pick the wrong weather. But Saturday was forecasted to be a low wind day and leaving at first light meant that we would also catch a favourable current. And, boy, were we rewarded! We had a beautifully calm journey across St. Andrews Sound (our wind instrument actually read “0”). So, yeah, peak calmness 😊.
It was a quiet journey for Wild Horses as we motored alone through the salt marshes. Our boat buddies (Sensai and Brise) were a day ahead of us, having left St. Simons at first light on Friday to take the outside ocean route to Fernandina Beach, Florida. For us, we are enjoying every last bit of the ICW so we stayed inside to take in the final stretch in Georgia.
And then, we were in Florida! We arrived at Fernandina Beach last Saturday and have continued, almost every day, to make headway further south. We continue to play the wind, tides, and currents to make our journey smooth and enjoyable.
One of the other things we have learned to work around are crab pots. We have to avoid them while moving the boat (so as not to foul the prop) and when anchoring (so as not to foul the anchor). At Sisters Creek anchorage, just outside of Jacksonville, this was a challenge. The anchorage area is very shallow so it is a perfect place for crab fishermen but it is also very narrow so, well, you either anchor among the crab pots or you choose another anchorage. We decided to task the risk and within a few hours, we were happy we did. Crab fishermen that we had seen on our way to the anchorage came by to empty the crab pot right behind us. We started chatting about how we had seen each other earlier in the day (they recognized us because of our dear Ocean and we recognized them because of the pelican that hung out with them). They loved our story and we enjoyed hearing about crab fishery. Then they said the most amazing thing. That crab pot right beside our boat? They wanted us to have the spoils from it. Fresh blue crab for dinner? Yes please!!! We couldn’t have been more grateful. What a dinner!!
Oh, and the pelican that was hanging out with the crab fishermen? They have named him Moley because of a distinct mole on his cheek. He is always with them and even hitches a ride home on their boat, waiting for the next work day to start. You can’t make this stuff up!
The next day we were off to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US and the birthplace of the Atlantic ICW. This was definitely a must-see destination with cool colonial Spanish architecture and a really great village vibe. Here we enjoyed walking amongst history, Christmas lights and a beautiful waterfront boardwalk. And St. Augustine got to enjoy Ocean. We have never encountered so many German Shepherd-loving people and Ocean leaned into all the attention. Of course.
So, what could top fresh blue crab or the beauty and friendliness of St. Augustine? Well, how about watching a sea turtle eat his dinner right beside your boat at Marineland City? Or, how about watching a rocket ship being launched from Cape Canaveral while anchored at Daytona Beach. Wow, just wow.
We will spend a couple of days in Daytona Beach trouble shooting the water issue in our V berth before continuing our journey south. That’s okay, it means we can take in the Santa Claus parade here in Daytona Beach tomorrow. Watching a Santa Claus parade in shorts and a T-shirt? Yup! These are very special days!
Currents, Tides, Sounds and Shallows – Timing the Risks and Catching the Beauty of Georgia
Last Friday, almost a week ago, we thought we were leaving South Carolina behind us and starting our journey through Georgia. Our intentions were there but the weather gods had different plans for us. We arrived in Hilton Head, South Carolina on the Wednesday just before American Thanksgiving. Our plan was to stay just a few days at a dock to get water and diesel, to pump out our waste tanks and, yes, to get some laundry done. But, no, rain and wind kept us tied to the dock for several more days. We made the most of our time though. How? We finally installed our watermaker! Or, to be more accurate, all the hardware pieces of the watermaker are now installed, and the plumbing will follow in short order, once we can get a few parts from a hardware store. We won’t need to use the watermaker until the Bahamas so we still have a few weeks to finalize the set up but we are very happy with it all so far. It is a pretty slick install, if we do say so ourselves 😉.
We left Hilton Head on Monday and have been moving through Georgia every day since. This part of the ICW has been a wonderful surprise. Yes, we have to time our travels around the winds, tides and currents but the beauty of Georgia makes it all worthwhile. Throughout coastal Georgia are tidal salt marshes. Hectares upon hectares of golden-brown grasses that use the twice a day flooding tides to create a sustainable environment for blue crabs, oysters, shrimp and other fish. Certainly, the pelicans and other shorebirds appreciate it. It is common to see them plunge into the water and come up with a seafood snack. The other regular visitors around our boat are those playful dolphins. Not sure why they love to hang out with sailboats but we are really happy about it. Other than our coastal birds and mammals, most days it is just our pod of three sailboats, winding our way through the marsh. Occasionally we see another boat, but not often. There are also a few towns but they are not the norm. It is a quiet, calm and beautiful journey most days. We try to travel about 40 nautical miles a day and end with an anchorage that has some wind protection plus shore access for Ocean.
And each anchorage always seems to offer something unique. Since we have Ocean, we always go ashore to explore a bit. Sometimes that means a dinghy dock and a park, other times it is a beach that is perfect at low tide and almost disappears at high tide. Oh, those Georgia tides! They can be as much as 3 metres (9 feet) at high tide and as little as 1.3 metres (4 feet) at low tide. You can see how using the tides to our advantage has been an important part of not going aground. So far, so good! The currents in Georgia also run pretty strong. Since we sailed for many years in the Thousand Islands, and up the St. Lawrence, we have lots of experience with currents. Lovely 1, 2, maybe 3 knot currents. And that is about what we had encountered so far on this journey. Until Georgia. The current here can run 4 and 5 knots regularly. Depending on the timing, the current can stall us or make us zoom along. The other thing that stalls us are the Sounds. Huh? No, I don’t mean noise. I am referring to those little waterways that connect the ICW to the Ocean. Throughout Georgia, our ICW route passes through many of these Sounds so timing our crossing is important. The wind and current in these Sounds can be substantial!
Turning the calendar page to December, we are just about finished our journey through Georgia. We will be in Florida by the weekend and, if the weather cooperates, we should be in Miami before Christmas and planning our crossing over to Bimini in the Bahamas. We are currently at mile marker 677 so we just have a little over 400 more nautical miles on the ICW. But that is looking forward. Right now, we send a big thank you to coastal Georgia for its beauty and challenges. 😊
Leaving North Carolina, we knew that the next two states, South Carolina and Georgia, were going to offer unique experiences, but also very shallow waterways and, yes, lots of bridges.
So, lots of planning.
And I do mean lots! Somehow, we have to find a route for the day that meets the following requirements:
And, it is working. So far, the score board is: 0 bridges touched with our mast, 0 times gone aground, 0 times Ocean has had to cross her legs because we couldn’t get her to shore. 😊
But it isn’t just a slog of a journey. No, we have just about completed South Carolina and we have seen some truly wonderful places and sights as we motor down the ICW. Dolphins continue to be a real treat and, gosh, when they get really close alongside our hull…well, that is magic. We also see lots of bald eagles and pelicans and incredible terrain and vistas.
Having a dog, especially one that isn’t quite yet trained to do her business on deck, we need to go ashore. And this is where the beauty of some of our anchorages really gets uncovered. In towns, we get to see a bit of the local flare. Feral cats along the Waccamaw River, a beach made entirely of oyster shells, large plantation oak trees with Spanish moss hanging from them, and beautiful country homes. And always, I mean al-ways, people chatting with us about Ocean. We meet so many people who want to pet her, tell us about their dog or just give us a wave and say “that is one beautiful pup y’all have”. Incredible.
Most days are amazing but not all days are easy. Boat issues that spring up out of nowhere are our biggest stressor. Not only do we have to manage “the moment” i.e. getting the boat to a safe place where a proper assessment of the issue and cause can be done, but we actually need to solve the issue. Boat mechanics are not readily available so most fixes fall on us (i.e. Mike). Some issues are a constant worry (like our bow thruster or our alternator misalignment) but others pop up, are resolved and we move on (like our starboard helm suddenly becoming non-functional). We don’t have any specific expertise in this stuff but, man, Mike will be able to teach a master class when we complete this journey! He is a great problem solver and that skill has been key in keeping us going. He uses a unique blend of mechanical ingenuity, common sense, stubbornness and ego (will not be defeated) to somehow put us back in the forward position. Honestly, most days I am in awe.
So, yes, this journey so far has been a challenge but the rewards come daily. We are looking forward to getting to Georgia with its very shallow sections. Many sailors choose to go out into the Atlantic rather than deal with Georgia. Not us. Next week we will have Georgia on our minds 😊.
We left Beaufort, NC on Sunday with a great two week forecast ahead of us and a plan to make some serious headway south. And we are! We have been moving about 40 to 50 nautical miles a day, which allows us to do all of our maneuvering during daylight hours. For us, this is an important part of enjoying the trip. This stretch of the ICW is narrow, with lots of shoaling, meaning we could go aground even though we are in the middle of the channel (#notgood). Travelling during daylight hours doesn’t prevent this, but it does reduce our stress a bit since night time navigation requires heightens awareness no matter where you are. What does reduce our chances of going aground? Bob423.
Who the heck is Bob423? Well, he is an ICW aficionado who freely recorded his “didn’t run aground” tracks of the ICW and made them public and downloadable. Incredible. Sometimes these tracks mean doing some odd zigs or zags off the main channel. It seems wrong at times but it actually gets us around some pretty serious shoaling. The best part? It is up to date as of this fall. That is the challenging part of paper charts or rarely updated navigation tools. Shoaling happens all the time. Knowing what shoaling was present in 1989 doesn’t help much in 2022 (1989 shoaling info is actually included in our charts!!!).
The ICW, this part anyway, is kind of like travelling any big highway, like the oh-so familiar Canadian 401. It is narrow and, in-between towns, there is nothing to see. Well, except dolphins. That’s right! Dolphin sightings are almost a constant thing now. These social little creatures pop up regularly to play around our bow or give us a wave. It is an incredible experience and something I don’t think we will ever get bored of. We are grateful for each and every encounter, especially in the early morning hours. I mean, coffee with your best dolphin bud? Incredible!
We finished off our time in North Carolina with two great stops. One was the beautiful anchorage at Wrightsville Beach where we enjoyed a wonderful romp on the wide sandy beach. Ocean was in her element! Oh, and awesome pizza was devoured. In our minds, it was the perfect anchorage 😊.
Our last stop in North Carolina was meant to be a pit stop marina visit, just off the ICW, at Southport. This is a convenient stop that gave us a chance to fuel up, water up and pump out. Unbeknownst to us, it was going to be so much more than that. How? Well, in the morning, we planned a 0930 departure time with Sensai. All our pre-departure steps were going well until…we started the engine. Immediately Mike noticed that our tachometer wasn’t working. Huh? Then, that now familiar smoke and smell of burning alternator belt started (memories of Cape May). Yikes! We shut everything down and told Sensai to go on without us. The alternator alignment issue that we thought we had resolved had reared its ugly head. No mechanics were available to assist but, luckily, a Canadian sailboat docked alongside us came to our rescue. The wonderful captain of Esmeralda jumped on board and, with Mike, managed to realign our alternator. An hour and a half later, we were off the dock and headed to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Another testament to the amazing sailing community. Don’t worry, James, we will pay it forward!
Tomorrow we leave Myrtle Beach (with Sensai) and in a few days we will be in Georgetown, SC. Still chasing the warm weather!
Waiting Out Nicole in Beaufort, NC
Mike, Ocean and I love to be at anchor so there are very few things that will force us onto a dock. Hurricanes are one of those things. And we have had two experiences of this so far on our journey. First, there was Hurricane Ian while we were moving along the Jersey coast. Now it is Nicole. She was briefly categorized as a Hurricane on Wednesday but mostly has been a Tropical Storm. Whatever you call her, she packs a pretty good storm surge. Thanks to Nicole, we have had very strong winds over the last several days, along with higher-than-normal tides, minor flooding, and some rain. All of this was easy to manage while at dock.
We first saw that the weather was ramping up for a good storm this week while anchored in Oriental, NC. We religiously watch the National Hurricane Centre advisories along with various weather reports and all of them pointed to a pretty severe Nicole-fueled storm starting on Tuesday and extending through most of the week. All three boats in our pod (Wild Horses, Sensai and Brise) decided to secure docks in Beaufort, NC for the Monday, in advance of the forecasted strong winds. This is one of the best parts about having sailing buddies. Even when our boats are geographically separated (Wild Horses was in Belhaven and Brise and Sensai were further along on the ICW), we check in with each other, discussing anchorages, weather, tides, and routes. We also have other boats that each of us check in with regularly, crew that we have met along the way or know from back home. It is our own little crowd sourcing exercise to keep us all safe.
We had arrived in Oriental last Thursday and decided to stay put until we had to move to our dock in Beauport on the following Monday. It was a great break from the daily grind of planning, navigating, early mornings and food on the go. Settled in one place, we could sleep in, eat a hot, slow breakfast and go for good long walks with Ocean. The anchorage was only a 30 second dinghy ride to town where we could stroll along the waterfront and through charming neighbourhoods with warm (27 degree Celsius) sunny days. It was an incredible four days of enjoying the town.
But we also got some necessary work done on Wild Horses. We have continued to deal with water intrusion in the bilge area under our bed but had a new idea for the cause, and a potential fix. Sensai had suggested that the water could be coming in through the anchor locker seams. The caulking in there was old so the theory made sense. Once in the anchor locker, we did a thorough investigation. The seams were fine but some of the hoses and electrical tubing needed to be shored up. So far, this has made a difference. Fingers crossed that the water stays on the outside of the boat from now on 😉.
After several days in Oriental, we lifted our anchor on Monday and started the journey south to Beaufort. We had a calm day with a lovely sunny sky and very little boat traffic. Too easy for you Wild Horses? Should we up the level of difficulty? Let’s see, you are headed to a tight dock space in a crowded harbour, wouldn’t it be a great add-on to your day if your bow thruster wasn’t working? Yeesh. But, yup, our bow thruster was definitely not working. Truly our bow thruster (a motor that gives us control of our bow) has been rarely used on our journey. We only really need it for tight spaces when the wind is up and since we spend most of our time in wide open anchorages, the bow thruster has sat idle. Now it was beyond idle, it was 100% non-functional.
Of course, our expert captain wasn’t concerned. Under his care, Wild Horses was guided into her dock space with ease. Yes! Next was to disembark and enjoy the town!
We have now been at Homer Smith Marina for 5 days. In that time, the bow thruster has been, well, sort of fixed. Unable to find the issue ourselves, we brought in a mechanic. He checked this and that and one other thing, with no big cause getting highlighted. Finally, he asked us to try the bow thruster and, voila, it finally worked. The issue? Age and lack of exercise. Really? Yup. The contacts that turn the on/off switch had gotten sluggish with non-use. Apparently, the bow thruster, just like us, needs to move to stay in tip top shape. No worries, that is an easy step to add into our boat days.
On Sunday we will leave Beaufort and head towards Georgetown. It will take us about four days along a stretch of the ICW that is narrow with lots of shoaling and very few anchorages. By many accounts, this is a “get-through” section of the ICW. For us, it is another experience that we are happy to have aboard Wild Horses 😊.
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.