Mother Nature spanked us on the way to the Caribbean

Departure Day, Sunday November 4, promised to be a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Glenn, the captain, and crew, Pam, Jason and Karen, stumbled around in the darkness, donning warm, winter gear and grabbing hot coffee to start their journey.  We’d been preparing Mira and ourselves for this journey for months and were feeling ready – though, with the usual anxieties that precede a multi-day passage at sea. Lines were tossed and fenders stored and by 6 am we were off! Since Mira was the only boat of 21 boats participating in the Caribbean 1500 Rally headed for Antigua (the rest headed to Tortola), we chose not to join the official start line at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay later that morning. As soon as we took the turn out of the Bay heading south, the winds freshened to 20 knots slightly forward of our beam, and Mira was off!

The ensuing 1745 nautical mile passage was a true ocean sailing adventure. During the next 12 days at sea Mother Nature seriously had her way with us.  The first 24 hours of the trip were spent sailing south along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts and around Cape Hatteras as we encountered a nasty warm front. The front threw 40 knot winds, choppy Gulf Stream waves, and a 5 knot current in our face.  The crew doused the head sail, centered a scrap of main and turned on both engines – trying to stabilize the boat as we doggedly pressed southward. Continuous rain and squalls added insult to injury, as we turned east at the designated coordinates for our Gulf Stream crossing.  Another 24 hours later the Gulf Stream was behind us and we were exhausted but, as the air and sea temperatures noticeably rose, the crew began to sense a glimmer of the Caribbean waiting for us.

The middle part of the passage had Mira continuing east into the open sea of the North Atlantic. From the US east coast, the Caribbean islands are not only south but quite a bit further east than most people realize.  Traditionally, sailboats head eastward almost to Bermuda before turning south to catch the prevailing trade winds. In contrast, we encountered a stalled high pressure system which sucked away all of the wind we needed to sail east! We were forced to motor for 6 days – seriously depleting our diesel stores. But …. we were wearing shorts and swimming in the 4 mile deep ocean and catching Mahi-mahi!!  Skies were clear, fish were biting, stars were shooting, captain and crew were happy!

Unfortunately, about this time, Mira received weather updates via our IridiumGO satellite system that alerted us to a tropical depression forming in the Leeward Islands and heading northwest directly into Mira’s path. Game-day decision time! Our best option was to head a bit farther east than planned (all the way past Bermuda to the 61st longitude line) and then sail south to Antigua, hoping to come in behind the eastern edge of the tropical depression.

These last five days of our journey were spent sailing straight south – skirting the tropical depression…almost. Collectively, the captain and crew of Mira sailed faster and saw higher winds, waves, and more squalls than in all of Mira’s experiences. 25 knot sustained winds and 3 meter swells directly on the beam catapulted Mira southward. Waves crashed over the cockpit roof. Constant squalls and confused waves took a toll on the crew. Top wind gusts recorded reached over 40 knots, and Mira’s top speed was 15.9 knots – a first for Mira.  She was lurching and bucking like a bronco. Meals were limited to those eaten with a spoon from a bowl.  Water usage was rationed because of low diesel stores and a stressed water maker.

Mira, an Antares catamaran, is one of the best blue water sailboats in the world, but all boats have their limits. As the stormy days wore slowly on, Mira began to show symptoms of the strenuous and difficult passage.  Limping into Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, with reluctant engines, we dropped anchor under sail at 10:39 am on November 16th.  The next 14 days were spent washing, rinsing, scrubbing, repairing, adjusting, and testing all systems on the boat.  The crew also took a few days of well deserved R & R before our kids were scheduled to arrive for Thanksgiving. Happily, Mira is now returned to her former glory while her crew keeps a watchful eye for another sneak attack from Mother Nature.

This is the Carib 1500 Rally map that shows the track of each of the participating boats. Mira is the pale yellow track line that shoots straight east to maneuver around the storm.
This is a screenshot of our instruments showing total nautical miles of the trip – 1745 – and top speed during the trip of 15.9 knots. Considering our average and cruising speed is 6 knots, this speed was way out of Mira’s comfort zone. It was achieved during one of our last 3 days – and for those sailors out there – we were NOT surfing down a wave! Our wind and waves were flat on the beam. ;(
The first day of our passage – bundled up from the cold of November in Virginia.
Jason giving Glenn lessons on the fine art of catamaran sail trimming.
Beautiful sunset at sea.
Pam at the SSB radio (single side band) taking her turn (along with 3 other boats) leading the morning and evening Carib 1500 Rally nets. It was a great way for all of the Rally boats to connect each day and discuss safety and weather information, but also – fun things like Mahi catchings and shooting star sightings.

 

Here are the beginnings of the churned up and confused waves of our Gulf Stream crossing. The next 24 hours became even more difficult. The nasty warm front tossed more wind, waves, and rain in our face as we battled the strong Gulf Stream current.

Small, dark Atlantic dolphins greeted us after we ventured through the Gulf Stream and out into the open Atlantic Ocean.

Relaxing on our favorite perch – savoring the warm temperatures and sunshine that were starting to appear. The middle part of our passage was truly delightful.

Captain and all crew on Mira participated in meal preparation for this passage.  We took turns with cook duty every 4th day in our watch rotation. On our “cook” day we cooked and cleaned all day and didn’t take watch until the nighttime.
Pam enjoyed planning all of the meals, buying the ingredients and provisions, and most importantly, seeing the happy faces of the well-fed crew. Here’s One Pot Beef Stroganoff.

 

This is Barbacoa shredded beef with corn salsa on yellow rice – all prepared in the pressure cooker.
Here’s one of three beautiful and delicious Mahi-mahi we caught on the middle part of our passage. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

Rocking and rolling a bit, but Glenn still got the Mahi grilling done!
Freshly caught grilled Mahi served with lemon garlic butter sauce. Leftovers made yummy Mahi fish tacos the next day.
Captain threw out a line during one of our motoring days and we all dove in!! The middle of the Atlantic (latitude 26.45 longitude 62.23) that was 19,690 feet deep or 3.7 miles. Surreal experience!

A beautiful sunset from Pam and Glenn’s cabin. Seas were starting to build.

As Mira took her turn south on Monday, Nov 12, she was starting to skirt the edge of the tropical depression. The seas got increasingly confused and much larger, winds began to increase and squalls began appearing. The last 3 days were the most difficult of the trip.

A screenshot of the tropical depression smack dab in Mira’s path.

The crew of Mira practiced safe sailing precautions. All crew wore their own PFD when leaving the salon area at night and during rough seas. Each PFD had its own personal locator beacon that would alert Mira’s chart plotter with a GPS coordinate and Mira’s crew with a loud alarm sound – if the PFD went overboard and was deployed. Each PFD also had a light, a knife, a face spray shield, and a whistle. Each crew member also attached their blue tether immediately upon entering the cockpit and would tether onto jack lines along either side of the boat if leaving the cockpit.

Glenn performed a deck check late every afternoon – checking all the running and standing rigging (lines and metal supports) – even in the worst of the weather.

Glenn and Jason supporting each other during their difficult watches during the last few days.
Land Ho! Antigua on the horizon. A sigh of relief from all!
Mira’s engines needed some tender, loving care – thanks to the Antigua Yacht Club for towing us in from the outer anchorage area.
Glenn multi-tasking technology – coordinating a delicate docking operation with the tow boat and his crew.
Mira at rest – finally – in the Antigua Yacht Club – twelve days later!

 

The Carib 1500 Rally – preparing Mira & crew for the tropical migration

The Caribbean 1500 Rally is orchestrated by the World Cruising Club. For this November’s rally from Portsmouth, VA, to Tortola, BVI – 21 boats participated. Mira elected to join the rally – despite our ultimate goal to sail past the BVI to Antigua. The WCC offers a wide range of benefits when you join their rallies. They provide a superbly prepared Rally Handbook with a wide range of safety and sailing system checklists, off-shore seminars in the week prior, and last but not least, camaraderie with other sailors through happy hours and local events.

Contemplating another winter in the Caribbean with limited marine resources and summer 2019 in the Mediterranean, this fall seemed the perfect time to join a rally and complete some additional safety and comfort features on Mira. So, the Captain detailed a long list of projects to be completed and items to be purchased. Annapolis without wind seemed like the perfect spot to accomplish this list.  So …. during the months of August and September …. we added the following,

  • replaced our nearly new two Volvo diesel engines due to an emissions recall by Volvo,
  • new refrigerator handle & stainless kick plate,
  • European power battery charger,
  • 5 zone bilge dry out system
  • Exhaust system in galley over the stovetop
  • New mirror in master head,
  • Fixed freezer refrigerant pressure,
  • New Seagull water filtration system,
  • New life raft & stainless steel mount cage,
  • Mount on our arch for dinghy motor,
  • Newly configured arch davits for dinghy,
  • New outhaul line for mainsail,
  • Protective covers for hatches,
  • New stainless pedestals for cockpit table
  • New salon carpet & mat,
  • Stern anchor,
  • New jumbo ‘super yacht’ fenders & fender covers,
  • 4 inflatable life vests and personal locator beacons,
  • Wide variety of aerial, smoke daytime and night flares,
  • and we completed extensive offshore safety requirements for Carib 1500 including authoring our first official Mira Ships Operations & Procedures manual.

Yes.. it was a very busy (and expensive few months).  As the leaves were starting to drop, Mira sailed down from her fall home in Annapolis and arrived at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, on October 25. The next week was reserved for additional preparation before the official start of the Carib 1500 Rally on Sunday, November 4th. Pam and Glenn were happy to be joined by Karen and Jason Trautz, who had recently completed a ten year circumnavigation on their own Antares catamaran, YOLO. We were thrilled to have sailors with their incredible sailing experience aboard Mira for the offshore passage to Antigua.  Our week was filled with boat work, seminars, meetings, tours, provisioning, cooking and happy hours.

Mira’s interior was well protected during her engine swap out.

New life raft and stainless steel cradle.
Check in for the Caribbean 1500 at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA.
Glenn and Jason hard at work installing new pedestals.
Glenn installing a thru-hull cap amid provisioning stores.
Chafe gear – always a necessity!
Just a fraction of the provisions necessary for 4 people for a 12 day passage.
The view from above!  A trip up the mast is always required before a long passage.
Mira festively decked out in her dress flags for the Rally.
Mira passing the rigorous safety inspection.
Safety demonstrations included PFDs, life rafts, and flares.

Glenn, Karen and Jason at Happy Hour in historic Portsmouth, VA.
Mira’s crew decked out in their Halloween best.
Pam and Karen off to provision!
Glenn studied weather information for the passage.
Departure Day! Sunday, November 4th!

 

 

 

Storms, Sailing, & the Boat Show in Annapolis

September on the Chesapeake Bay and in Annapolis had to be better than August! August was hot, hot, hot and deathly still.  Be careful what you wish for ……

Mira continued to have some lovely finishing touches completed on her by workers in the Boat Yard. So, while we were waiting for the work and the wind to blow, we spent Labor Day weekend exploring the Naval Academy and some of the historic homes of Annapolis.

Cobblestone streets lined with historic row houses.
Great seafood restaurants and boutique shops leading straight down to a waterfront lined with sailboats and superyachts.

Growing frustrated by the lack of wind, Glenn and Pam tried out some local culture. Saw Chris Isaak in concert at the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts. Strolled through several fall arts and crafts festivals. Sat waterside on blankets for a blue grass concert and food trucks. We made the most of our stationary time in Annapolis!

Late one Friday afternoon when the workers weren’t appearing, we squeaked Mira out of her tiny marina spot and motored (of course!) up the Chesapeake Bay to eastern Whitehall Bay and down Mill Creek to Cantler’s Riverside Inn. An iconic seafood restaurant located down a lovely, meandering creek that offers free dockage for the night when you have dinner. It doesn’t get any better than that! Thrilled to be out of the marina – even for a weekend.

Cantler’s Riverside Inn
When we weren’t picking crabs, we were eating crab cakes!! You’ve got to love Maryland.

The next morning we were up bright and early and headed north up the Bay to the town of Rock Hall. We picked up a mooring on Swan Creek. Finally, peace and quiet. Walked down the street for a delicious dinner at the Wheelhouse and Thursday night football with the Falcons, and the next morning grabbed some bikes to explore Rock Hall.

Rock Hall

Once back in the marina in Annapolis, we got some of the wind that we had hoped for.  Sadly, the wind came only in the form of Tropical Storms and Hurricanes during the month of September. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon swept through that night and gave us 25-30 knots of wind and rapidly rising water.  After several days of solid rain – power was shut off at the docks to prevent electrical trouble. Directly on the heels of Gordon, Hurricane Florence was picking up steam out in the Atlantic. She appeared to be headed directly for Annapolis.  Pam continued to puzzle about why we got out of the hurricane zone north of Florida – only to be threatened by hurricanes.

At one point in September our weather tracker showed 4 active tropical storms in the Atlantic – it was crazy! 600 feet of new nylon hurricane dock line later – Hurricane Florence barely brushed us, but wreaked havoc in North Carolina, as she dumped days and days of rain.

So many storms, the weatherman was literally losing his mind.
Hurricane Florence – a massive storm threatening the East Coast.
A beautiful sunset was the only remnant of Hurricane Florence in Back Creek, Annapolis.

After Florence finished threatening, Pam and Glenn had a beautiful evening out to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary at O’Leary’s Seafood. A special night!

Kelly came down for a weekend, and we took Mira out for a spin. We actually sailed!  The sail lasted for about 4 hours, but it was phenomenal to be sailing again. Our destination was Fells Point near Baltimore. So we headed north under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Just before nightfall, we tied up in the Fells Point area – just east of Inner Harbor. Waterside Fells Point is known for its hip pubs and taverns, many with live music, as well as seafood joints serving Chesapeake Bay crab (more picking!) and oysters. Small galleries, record stores, fashion boutiques and eclectic restaurants line the cobblestone streets along the harbor and main square.  We had a blast jumping from bars to restaurants and back again, and enjoying some ice cream somewhere in between. 🙂

Fells Point, Baltimore

Sunday morning dawned grey and pouring. After a quick brunch, we headed back. The motor-sail (of course) was freezing and rainy and bumpy. Pam was certain that Glenn never told her about this glamorous(?) side of sailing!

The Annapolis Boat Show in early October has always been a favorite of ours.  A highlight this year was seeing the brand new Antares 40GS exhibiting – SV Seahorse.  She was showing off some new exterior features such as a larger boom and hardtop, solar panels, dinghy davits, and a very clever rain water collection system.  And we got to welcome its owners, Kal and his wife, to the Antares family.

But the big difference this year was we now had our own boat!! Our time perusing other people’s boats was over, and we loved just walking in and out of the many vendors booths – buying some “necessary” Mira gear.

People come from all over the world to the largest sailboat show in the US. We were able to catch up with old and new sailing friends. Had delicious dinner at the Reynolds Tavern with Matt and Valerie of SV Valley Cat and Jeff and Paula of SV Sea Larks. And, hosted a happy hour on Mira with all of them including Paul and Maureen of SV Grace. The highlight of the weekend though was an Antares owners get together – hosted by 40 Grados Sur boat builder, Memo Castro.

The Antares Family

 

 

 

Friends, Family & Crabs in Annapolis

Here’s a look at our new temporary home along the dock in Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Back Creek, Annapolis, MD. We were excited about the yachty vibe in Eastport and Annapolis. Everyone either owned a sailboat or sailed on someone else’s – great energy and memories of sailing from Annapolis in our twenties.  There were more marine services, stores, professionals than we had ever seen – Glenn was like a kid in a candy store!

The summer sunsets on Back Creek were spectacular.

Another great part about being in Annapolis – was that it was close to our daughter Kelly in DC and to lots of friends and relatives – living in Richmond or Maryland or Philadelphia! So we got lots of visitors.

Kelly and her friends, Anna and Chris, headed down from DC early one Saturday morning in early August – we piled aboard Mira and headed out into the Bay.  St. Michael’s – an adorable waterfront town – was our destination.

Glenn was so excited to be sailing again – except we mostly motor-sailed.  😦    Summer on the Bay.
Kelly, Anna, and Chris taking advantage of a gorgeous day.
St. Michael’s
Picking crabs is a family tradition, started by Glenn’s grandmother at the Jersey Shore. Glenn never misses an opportunity to pick a bushel of crabs. Chris was up to the challenge and Anna helped! 

It was also important to provide a how-to video for crab pickers everywhere.

The Crab Claw in St. Michael’s – all clean before that huge pile of crabs arrived!
Before a very silly crab dance.
The Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michael’s  – the site of some very good times back in the early days of Pam and Glenn.

A few days after Kelly and friends left, Glenn’s cousin Bruce and wife, Lee Ann, arrived from Pennsylvania for some more Mira fun. Again, we headed out in the Bay for St. Michael’s – again we motored. 😦

St. Michael’s Marina
Bruce and Lee Ann

Glenn didn’t miss ONE more crab picking opportunity!

Glenn and Pam’s very good high school friend, Al, brought his daughter to visit Mira in Annapolis. This time we didn’t even attempt sailing, but we had a great time visiting and of course, picking crabs!

In the middle of August, we “sailed” Mira overnight back to Norfolk to Cobb’s Marina. We spent almost 10 days there having our two Volvo engines replaced. Volvo recalled the engines due to an emissions issue, and we got brand new engines!

Heading early in the morning into Norfolk – we encountered the USS Bush heading into the Naval Base. It is huge!!

The only good part about being stuck in a marina getting Mira torn apart for new engines – is that we got to see our sweet friends, Babs and Bob, in Virginia Beach again!!

Heading back north to Annapolis once again, we had 3 ft seas and strong winds on the nose due to a cold front sweeping through. The first 7-8 hours were quite bumpy then the Bay calmed down. It’s really shocking how much the Bay can seem like the Ocean.

Pam was able to see the sunrise and sunset and planets at the same time while on watch – hard to hold the phone still with the bumpy waves and wind!

Time for Pam to take a break Mira and her boat work, so she headed up to DC to spend the night with Kelly.

Yummy dinner with our girl!

As August came to a close, we were able to entertain a little more. Pam’s sister, Cathy, and our niece, Ellie, were able to drive over from Richmond to spend the night and explore Annapolis with us. Again, no sailing. 😦   Maybe September will bring wind!

Summer motor-sailing up the East Coast and through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)

The middle of July, and Mira was on her way again. We pulled out of Charleston Harbor just before dawn. The harbor can be a little tricky with currents and tides – so we timed our exit to coincide with slack current.  The “outside” sail from Charleston SC to Beaufort NC was about 18 hours for Mira. We left at 6 am and arrived in Beaufort about noon the next day.  It actually wasn’t a sail, but more of a motor. Another overnight passage under Pam’s belt! We were quickly learning that there is not much wind (other than squalls) during the summer along the East Coast.

We did have an amazing pod of dolphins greet us in the ocean. They had the most fascinating stripes and markings.

We were also rudely disturbed during the night by a school of flying fish. One little guy even managed to fly through the port light on the starboard side and scare the daylights out of a soundly sleeping Glenn! They were scattered all over Mira – on the bimini, tramps, sugar scoops, and in the dinghy. I’m sure they were as startled as we were!

Beaufort, NC, is a scenic waterfront town with charming shops, restaurants and an iconic main drag, Front Street. We enjoyed wandering and exploring and were even able to catch up with friends from our Caribbean travels – Fletcher and Kris from s/v Lovely Cruise!

We were excited to explore the ICW after leaving Beaufort. The ICW can be a bit tricky for some larger sailboats. One – the depth varies greatly from section to section, and in some places the depth changes frequently with storms and tide.  Mira only draws 4 feet so we aren’t so worried about that.  Two – there are many bridges along the ICW.  Some are “swing” bridges that open either on schedule or on command, and others are fixed. The lowest height for fixed bridges on the ICW is supposed to be 65 ft.  Antares quotes the mast height as 63 ft, but since we had heard that there is at least one bridge along our route with a posted height of 64 ft., we needed to measure Mira’s mast for ourselves. While Mira was tied to a stable dock in Brunswick, up Glenn went with a long tape measure. We needed an exact mast height including antennas before we attempted to scoot under the ICW bridges. Verdict? 63′ 3″  OK – we are gonna give it a try!

We ventured out of Brunswick Landing Marina early one morning and had a lovely first day coasting up the ICW. It was exactly how I had imagined – quiet, peaceful – almost like going down a river.

We stayed just outside of Oriental, NC, at the River Dunes Resort the first night – relaxing!

We never get tired of the sunsets off the back porch!

The next day dawned grey and cloudy with some rain and a rough ride down the Neuse River. The wind was whipping up and we had an incredibly stormy night in Belhaven at the River Forest Marina. Our amazing dinner at Spoon River made up for the bad weather!

We snaked our way up the Alligator River – barely making it under the first fixed bridge. Luckily a very nice motor yacht went ahead of us and radioed back the height. The water was rising rapidly from the Noreaster – so we needed to get moving if we were going to make it under the bridges!

 

This was our first swinging bridge on the ICW. Just after this we stopped on a concrete dock loosely called the Alligator River Marina.  An awesome black bear greeted us across the way the next morning at dawn.

We left the Alligator River early the next morning to sunny skies. No storms, but little wind, which was great because we needed to cross the infamous Albemarle Sound.  The Sounds is a large body of water that opens to the ocean – notorious for choppy waves and wind whipping up easily. The wind didn’t start to pick up until we entered the North River. We wound our way up the North River and arrived in infamous Coinjock early afternoon. Again, tied up to a concrete dock – loosely called Coinjock Marina. Their restaurant is famous for their 32 oz. prime rib – Glenn couldn’t resist!

It poured and stormed all night in Coinjock, and Glenn was up at 0 dark 30 prowling around. He was nervous about the water rising, and we had 4 bridges and a lock to make it through that day. We were off before 7. The first bridge was a swing bridge, and the water level was getting precariously high. The operator warned us to go very, very slowly so as not to splash water in the electrical system. We later learned that this bridge was forced to close early that afternoon for 5 days because the high water shorted out the system. We were SO lucky to get through!!

This was the next fixed bridge we came to – the river kept rising, and we were barely squeaking under each bridge. The sign shows the current bridge clearance to be 63’6″ or so – we are 63′ 3″ – nerve wracking!!

We were excited about going through our first lock near Great Bridge, VA. The actual height of the water doesn’t change more than 15 ft or so, but it was still an experience.

The Lock at Great Bridge on our way to Norfolk.

In the Elizabeth River nearing Norfolk, we encountered lots of military ships and construction cranes and freighters. A very busy place!

We stayed for a few days in Little Creek Marina in Norfolk, VA. Finalized plans with the Volvo dealer for the engine recall that we would do later in the summer, and had a chance to see my very best friend from college, Babs, and her sweet husband, Bob! They hosted us at their home and explored Virginia Beach and Norfolk with us.

A few days later, we were headed for Annapolis, but took a quick detour to visit a good friend. Jim sailed with us to the Bahamas earlier in the year, and was the source of great sailing experience and MacGuyver-like talents. We were happy to stop in downtown Yorktown to explore and visit with him.

The beautiful Coleman Memorial Bridge on the York River – lit up at night.

We were off by noon, headed up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. It was a very interesting motor up the Bay – amid staggering thunderstorms and bolts of lightning. As each squall passed through – the wind would whip up to 30 knots or so – then completely die until the next storm.

Finally a peaceful sunrise as we approached Annapolis – the tankers lined up waiting for their time to dock in Baltimore.

We arrived in Annapolis around 6 am or so. We were able to cruise up the Severn River, around the Naval Academy, and Annapolis Harbor – before we could head into Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard. It was the end of July and little did we know it – but, this would end up being the farthest point north of our East Coast Tour.

“Outside” Sailing from Brunswick GA to Charleston SC

Mira was safely tucked into a marina in Brunswick, GA.  After a brief hiatus in Atlanta, we returned and started making sailing plans for the summer.

We wanted to sail up the East Coast to see family and friends along the way, to explore some new and old towns, and to get some boat upgrades done in Norfolk and Annapolis.  And, by the end of October, we planned to be in Portsmouth, VA, to join the Caribbean 1500 Rally. This rally sails about 30 boats nonstop offshore from Portsmouth to Tortola, BVI – about a 7 to 10 day sail.

There are two ways for boaters to sail up the East Coast – “outside” or “inside”. “Outside” refers to sailing off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. “Inside” refers to sailing along the coast in a canal called the Intracoastal Waterway. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), or “The Ditch” as many refer to it, provides the boater with a continuous, and for the most part, protected passage just inside the Atlantic Coast. Beginning at mile marker (MM “0.0”) in Norfolk, VA, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway stretches 1,243.8 SM (1080.8 NM) south to Key West, FL.

We decided to try a little bit of both. “Outside” is usually quicker, but more difficult with long overnight watches for the two of us  The ICW is more scenic and protected, but with little wind, tricky depths, and fixed bridges for Mira’s tall mast to squeeze under. So, we made plans to sail “outside” from Brunswick GA to Charleston, SC and again “outside” to Beaufort, NC then “inside” from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA then work our way north up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis MD. A very busy July!

We have done a few non-stop overnight passages since commissioning Mira in Argentina…. 11 days from Brazil to Grenada, overnight from St. Martin to the BVI’s, and 5 days from St. Thomas to Exumas, Bahamas. Somehow Pam had managed not to have taken a single overnight watch. She was a little nervous…but, she was ready to give it a try.

Glenn planned the sail from Brunswick GA to Charleston SC to be about 24 hours or 141 nautical miles. We left Brunswick about noon with light winds and motor sailing in mid-July. The plan is always to arrive into a new anchorage during daylight hours.

After an early dinner, Glenn went to bed in the salon (easy access if Pam needs help) about 8 pm. Pam’s plan was to stay awake as long as possible and then switch with Glenn. Because Glenn can literally sleep anywhere and anytime on command – he got the first sleep shift!  Her first nighttime watch turned out to be delightful and much easier than she thought. Winds were light and that really helped – not having to make sail changes in addition to watching the AIS and radar screens. She is still getting used to all of the lights of nighttime marine traffic and gauging their distances – but, radar and AIS make it much easier. Following a huge tanker’s track in AIS and knowing that Mira won’t cross its path is reassuring! She woke Glenn about 1:30 am, and then was off to sleep until about 6 am.

We arrived into Charleston Harbor around 10 a.m. and settled Mira into her new temporary home at the Charleston Maritime Center.

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Charleston – both gastronomically and architecturally! We ate, drank and rode bikes through Charleston.

So much fun exploring all of the alleys and nooks and crannies of Charleston by bike!

So happy Lori and Mark drove up to visit Mira and explore Charleston with us!
Dinner at Hank’s Seafood – I still have dreams about their delicious grouper!
Drinks at The Rooftop Bar of the Vendue Hotel.

Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina, and its history is written in brick and wood.  Wealthy Charlestonians traveled the world and brought back with them a desire to imitate the opulence they found abroad. The result is a city that boasts 8 different styles of architecture, from Georgian to Art Deco. The culmination of our time spent in Charleston was used exploring some of the most beautiful areas of town on a guided walking tour.

Sadly, we had to say good-bye to Charleston!  Time to move on!

 

Offshore Sailing in June – Getting Out of the Danger Zone

Boat insurance and hurricane zones are interesting topics among cruising sailors. Irma and Maria’s devastation in the Caribbean last year have created even more buzz. We discussed the cost of policies, coverage of policies, and hurricane season geographic restrictions. Many factors affect marine insurance quotes – value of boat, experience of skipper and crew, cruising area, and location of boat during hurricane season. The carrier we selected required Mira to be north of Fernandina Beach, FL between June 1 and November 1.

So, since Mira was still in Nassau at the end of May, we needed to sail her very quickly north to be compliant with our insurance.  Glenn asked his friends Glen and Jim to join him on the multi-day overnight passage from Nassau to Brunswick, GA.  Pam was perfectly happy to sit this one out!

The guys and Mira had great conditions for the passage and their route worked exactly how they planned. Head northwest from Nassau then head north along the Florida coast to ride the Gulf Stream current for as long as possible. They left Nassau at 3 pm on Friday and arrived 3 am on Monday morning –  450 nautical miles.

Mira’s typical cruising speed is 6-7 knots (1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour). We don’t go anywhere rapidly. But, when Mira caught the northward current of the Gulf Stream she was booking at 10 knots!!

Freshly caught fish always makes for a spectacular dinner on board!
No words for the sunsets at sea
Days on passage fall into rhythm.
Endless blue ocean as far as you can see.
Glenn, Glen, and Jim arrival in Brunswick

A couple of weeks later, Glenn and Jim helped Glen move his boat north also. Sirenité left Brunswick Landing about 10 am on a Sunday morning and arrived Wednesday morning around 8 am. 515 nautical miles in less than 3 days. Beautiful sailing conditions with following winds, except the last day and night, taking the turn west towards Norfolk from offshore, Sirenité faced building northwest winds gusting to 30 knots which made for a little uncomfortable ride.

Beautiful Sirenité – a Privilege 49′ catamaran

Two fish caught at the same time – one from each pontoon!!

Days offshore – spent sleeping and reflecting.

Pam happily heading off to play tennis while the boys are enjoying their offshore sailing!

Nassau – our refuge from Tropical Storm Alberto

Tropical storm Alberto first appeared in our weather forecasts as a numbered storm about 10 days before it hit. The various weather models gave it a 30% chance of hitting the Bahamas directly, and Mira was near Staniel Cay in the Exumas. So, the captain made an executive decision to head for a protected marina on the northeast side of New Providence Island (Nassau) to prepare.

Sadly, Alberto was projected to hit at the same time that Patrick was due to join us and Kelly to sail on Mira for his Memorial Day vacation. So we shifted everything to Nassau and made the most of it!

Beautiful Nassau Harbor sunset before the storm.

A graceful spotted ray appeared almost every day next to Mira.

We spent our only sunny day at the new Baha Mar resort at the northern end of New Providence Island. Beautiful beach and amazing pools and food.

And, we made friends with birds.
And, we jumped off stone grottos.

On the rainy days, we explored old Nassau – loved our stop at Watling’s rum distillery.

Reminisced at the Ocean Club and its gardens on Paradise Island. Glenn and I had celebrated a milestone birthday there many years before.

And, we managed to have a yummy sushi dinner too!

Video Tour of Mira – Inside and Out!

Finally, a video tour of Mira (for those requesting “..less Glenn and more boat” 🙂 ) – exterior and interior. We had a chance to straighten Mira for guests in Charleston and decided to take the opportunity to film her. She has been our live-aboard home since January, and has far exceeded our expectations in all categories!

Bahamas Bound!

After enjoying several weeks hopping around the British Virgin Islands, it was time to move on. We really wanted to spend some time exploring the Bahamas and see the gatorade blue shades of water and white sugar sand beaches.

After talking to other cruisers about the current state of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic post-hurricanes, we decided to skip that traditional sailing path to the Bahamas. Most cruisers sail from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to the Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas. Hopping from country to country –  with just a few overnight sails – fairly easy to do with a crew of two.  But, we decided to sail straight from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in a single passage – skipping PR, DR and T&C in between. Since we would be sailing without stopping for 5 days (impossible to anchor in 3 miles of ocean 🙂 – we wanted an additional crew member to help keep watch. Thanks to Neil and Shawn’s introduction  – we met their cruising captain buddy, Jim. It was a perfect match!

Jim had many years of sailing experience that he was willing to share with us – as well as endless mechanical “MacGuvyer” problem-solving skills.

Mira, with her expanded crew, left the BVI mid-April and sailed for 5 days and 4 nights. Every day was different. Winds 25-30 knots from behind us with 10 foot waves and intermittent squalls greeted us for our first two days out. Winds and waves decreased by the third day – and, we motor sailed with our big screecher headsail out. The 4th day dawned bright and sunny and flat calm – motoring that day. And, the 5th day had fairly strong winds on our beam – a bit of a rambunctious and bouncy sailing day. We all agreed that this is the best and worst part about offshore sailing.

It’s always a good day when you catch dinner!

Our route took us from St. Thomas west across the top of the northern coast of Puerto Rico to northwest along the top end of Dominican Republic and then south of the Turks & Caicos and north of Acklins Island (one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas) to north around the top end of Long Island in the Bahamas.

Our route above in blue

Glenn on watch with Jim. Clear skies and following seas!
Thoroughly enjoying napping while they are helming.

As we rounded the top end of Long Island, we got our first glimpse of the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. Our first anchorage in four nights, we were literally in shock. No need to dive on the anchor – you could see it from the bow! So very beautiful!

The next day, we docked Mira at Emerald Bay Marina on the island of Great Exuma – just north of George Town. We usually plan a short marina stay after a long passage – giving us time to rest, take advantage of endless water, and thoroughly clean Mira – inside and out.

Glenn and I enjoyed several relaxing days on Great Exuma. We visited George Town – some say the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas. Hundreds of sailboats spend the winter in the huge Elizabeth Harbour – enjoying social and athletic activities of all sorts – many marine facilities – as well as an international airport close by.

Elizabeth Harbour – George Town, Great Exuma

The Grand Isle Resort – adjacent to the Emerald Bay Marina – offers day passes to marina guests. We were able to experience the beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches up close and personal – just as gorgeous as advertised!

Dinner on the beach at the Shoreline Beach Club.

Our time on Great Exuma Island was brief as were were eager to explore the long Exuma island chain to the north.