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!

Pigs Beach and more Thunderball Grotto – can’t get enough of the Exumas!!

More sharing of Mira with family and friends – Kelly was able to take a week’s vacation with us at the end of May – and, we loved the Exumas so much we wanted to share with her!

Staniel Cay is a favorite Exuma destination about in the center of the chain. It is a bustling little settlement with good anchorages, first-class marina and lots to do. An added bonus is a little regional airport that accepts shuttles from Nassau and Ft Lauderdale. And, it is a LITTLE airport.

I told Kelly that we wouldn’t have any trouble finding her at baggage claim! Tiny, tiny airport on Staniel Cay.
We can’t remember the last time we were picked up at the airport by a golf cart! Gotta love the Exumas!
Adorable colored vacation cottages dot the water alongside Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

 

Go ahead Kelly – swim with the sharks!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So happy to have my girl!

 

First up! The famous Pig Beach at Big Majors Spot. Who knew pigs could swim? No one really knows how the pigs got to the uninhabited island. Some say a group of sailors left them to come back and eat, or they swam from a shipwreck. Who knows? But today there are about 20 pigs and piglets hanging out on the beach waiting for funny tourists to take pictures.

Despite the warning big Mama Karma did not bite us in the butt!! She did chase us around though!

Our beautiful, blue-striped anchorage just off Pig Beach at Big Major’s Cay.

Next stop – Thunderball Grotto again! The Grotto was so amazing on our last visit, we had to show it to Kelly. I gasp every time I swim underneath the rock ledge and pop up in the middle of this magical cavern.

Snorkeling in the Bahamas is different than anywhere else we’ve been. Because the islands are fairly close together with narrow strips of water leading to ocean, there are usually strong currents ripping in between each small cay with the rise and fall of the daily tide. We learned to hold on tightly to a line attached to the dinghy (if the dinghy is anchored or tied to a mooring ball) or one person remains in the dinghy while the others hold on and “drift snorkel”. I might add that we learned this the hard way – after being swept away a few times!

Snorkeling a sunken drug smuggler’s plane near Cambridge Cay.

 

 

Mira way in the distance – from the top of Boo Boo Hill on Warderick Wells.
Waiting for the explosive shot of water through the cliffs.

Highbourne Cay is one of our all time favorite tiny Exuma islands to rest and relax! Highbourne is a private cay owned by three families. It is a very laid-back island with a few cottages for rent and beautiful grounds. The owners allow cruisers staying in their luxe marina to explore the island by bike and enjoy their stunning white sand beaches. What a treat!

And, we were off to cross the Yellow Bank to get to Nassau to join up with Patrick. Thank goodness, another uneventful crossing with no wayward coral heads scraping Mira’s lovely bottom!

 

 

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!

The Exumas & Thunderball Grotto – the Crown Jewel of the Bahamas!

The Exumas are widely known as the Crown Jewel of the Bahamas. They are comprised of over 365 islands, called cays, that stretch in a long chain for 140 miles – southeast of Nassau in the Central Bahamas. The Exumas lie on the edge of the Great Bahama Bank at Exuma Sound and are a primary destination for many sailors.

Below is a map of the route that we followed through the Exumas for a week at the end of April. Starting at the southern tip of the chain from Emerald Bay on Great Exuma, we wove our way up through the chain. Our last stop was Highbourne Cay before making the day-long crossing over the Yellow Bank to the island of Nassau. As we were headed to the Atlantis Marina, we had our first experience sliding underneath a fixed bridge. Watch the video to see how close it really was!

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One of our great pleasures living aboard Mira is having guests.  Not all of our friends and family are up for the adventure of living on a sailboat, but luckily for us, our best friends for almost 30 years, Patti and Jim, were excited to come aboard.  What a week we had exploring the Exumas!

Patti and Jim enjoying happy hour on Mira!

Setting off from Emerald Bay at first light, we spent the day sailing up the Exuma Sound. Ducking in through a cut into the anchorage off Big Major’s Cay,  we were thrilled at the beauty and spaciousness of our anchorage off the Exuma Banks.

Stunned by the stripes of blue gatorade colored water!

Jim was eager to learn all of Mira’s systems. It was a pleasure to watch the two best buds anchoring and helming together. (and, I was a little happy to relinquish my first mate’s job :))

The Thunderball Grotto was our first adventure. The famous grotto is located just west of Staniel Cay, and very close to our anchorage at Big Major Cay. It got its name from the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, that was filmed here. Other movies were filmed here as well  – Never Say Never Again, Splash starring Tom Hanks and Into the Blue with Jessica Alba and Paul Walker.

This fantastic underwater cave system is teeming with exotic marine life and is a kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored coral reefs and fish – like yellow-tail snappers, Angel fish, and Sergeant Majors. The grotto’s mystery is heightened by the small, almost hidden entrance. You swim through the underwater opening into this unique marine world.

Schools and schools of fish swarm around us.
Sunlight streams through holes in the Thunderball Grotto’s ceiling.
The shadows and colors in the Grotto.
Spectacular sunset greeted us on our first evening at anchor in the Exumas.
Delicious dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

The next morning we sailed on to our next anchorage, Cambridge Cay. We explored several snorkeling spots – including a submerged small plane – allegedly belonging to a drug smuggler.

Unassuming coral island reveals a small aquarium with colorful sea life overflowing.

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is without a doubt, the most pristine, and possibly the most beautiful area of the Exumas. The park is made up of 15 major cays and many smaller ones located approximately in the middle of the Exuma chain. There are no commercial developments within the Park and the only inhabited islands are privately owned. The taking of any plant, animal, or marine life – including coral and shells – is prohibited within the Park which includes a 3-5 mile perimeter in any direction from land.

Warderick Wells is home to the Park headquarters and is one of the most beautiful cays within the Park. Sailboats are carefully arranged on moorings on a narrow strip of just barely deep enough water in a stunning shallow bay.

Mira on one of the mooring balls in the narrow cut of the Warderick Wells anchorage.
A giant sting ray was our friendly neighbor for most of our stay in Warderick.
Rugged, rocky flat landscape for our hike.
Hiking up to the top of Boo Boo Hill yielded many sailboats’ driftwood signs.
Rocky windward side of the island. We were watching for the shooting blue holes of water.
Though beautiful, this “red sky at night” did not yield sailor’s delight – a stormy night was to come.

Off to Highbourne Cay – where the weather kept us from exploring too much of the island, but we managed to enjoy a delicious dinner and play lots of Rummikub!

Dozens of nurse sharks waiting for the fisherman to drop his scraps.
Delicious dinner at Xuma on Highbourne Cay.

For the last leg of our trip, we spent the day carefully motoring across the Yellow Bank from Highbourne Cay to Nassau. The Yellow Bank is noted for its notoriously shifting shallow waters and coral heads that grow as close as 3 feet below the surface. Boaters need to wait for optimal sunlight and good weather to spot the heads before your hulls do! Luckily, we had Patti and Jim stationed on the bow checking for the dark black of the coral heads close to the surface.

Patti and Jim spotting for coral heads.

Nearing Nassau on Providence Island, we approached our first fixed bridge crossing with trepidation but some confidence (our mast is 63′ tall and the bridge height was 72′). We still breathed a heavy sigh of relief when our mast cleared the bridge span.

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island
Mira among the superyachts in Atlantis Marina.

An amazing week with great friends exploring a tropical paradise!

 

 

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.

 

British Virgin Islands – snorkeling, sailing, & relaxing – always beautiful!

Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only.  The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window.  In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.

Sirenitie – our buddy boat for the passage

We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed.  I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep.  It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002.  These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.

Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI.  Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.

Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.

 

A shout-out to my children for my delightful Mother’s Day present – a donation to the post-hurricane BVI relief fund! I can’t think of a better present – thank you all SO much!!!

But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.

Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI.  It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.

Mira and Sirenitie in the marina at Oil Nut Bay.

We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.

One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.

View of the Baths and the anchorage from the Top of the Baths resort.

Cathy and Sam enjoying the ride.

 

Our anchorage at the Bight on Norman Island. Sadly the iconic Willie T was destroyed in Hurricane Irma.
Lounging on Pirate’s Beach with Glen and Marilyn – a fun alternative to the Willie T on Norman.

 

Magnificent snorkeling at the Indians – just off Norman Island.

 

 

There’s always time for a rum punch after a long snorkeling trip!

We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.

 

We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!

Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!

Oil Nut Bay Resort

Beautiful end to our time in the BVI