Florida, the Bahamas. November 2015 - January 16, 2016

This winter life aboard Pilgrim began with 3 weeks of living “on the hard” in the Cape Marina yard while we re-surfaced the hull below the waterline. Various repairs to the hull and rudder had left flaking bottom paint and an irregular surface. When we hauled out in April we had all the surface sand blasted to remove old paint. Now it was time to reapply 2 coats of barrier coating and three coats of bottom paint, avoiding doing this work during the almost daily downpours. During this time we also had our life raft inspected, installed a new bank of batteries and took delivery of a new dinghy and outboard. The hard shell rowing dinghy had served us very well in the Great Lakes and the Baltic, but was wet and slow for the waters of the Caribbean.

Kennedy Space Center. December 4.

We took one day off to visit the Kennedy Space Center nearby. The bus tour of the site gave us a sense of the huge scale of launch pads and vehicle assembly building and the “highway” from the assembly building to the launch pads. One building was devoted to the Saturn V / Apollo missions, one to the Shuttle missions, and one to future missions, mainly to Mars. The Saturn rocket is truly impressive for its size. The Apollo launches must have been spectacular to witness in person. The Space Shuttle displays were only slightly less impressive. A Canadarm was included, but other than the flag on the arm there was no mention of Canada’s role in the space program, including the Canadian and other nation’s astronauts who participated in its missions. Only with the advent of the International Space Station are other nations, mainly Russia, mentioned.

The climate change summit was being held in Paris when we visited. We asked three docents what plans NASA had for alternative launch facilities with the possible rise in sea level in the next 20 years. Cape Canaveral is flat land right on the Atlantic Ocean. We were told by all three that there were no alternative sites and that it is highly unlikely that the sea level will rise and flood the center.

Lake Worth / Palm Beach. December 8 - 14

We launched Pilgrim on December 7 and left for the 110 mile run down the coast on December 8. The wind had decreased to 10-15 knots but the sea was lumpy for the strong winds from the NE the previous few days. We were able to sail with the main and staysail most of the way; there was just enough wind to keep the sails filled most of the time.

The night was dark. The crescent moon set at 9PM and we were hit was four rain squalls dimming the starlight. There were Coast Guard warning about 25 containers (40’ x 8’ x 6’) that had been swept off a container ship somewhere between Jacksonville and Lake Worth. Fortunately we did not encounter them since we could not have seen them. They usually are just barely floating, but sometimes are submerged just below the water surface depending on their buoyancy. We heard later that several containers had washed up on Melbourne Beach and contained coffee, Ramen noodles and wine. There was a barge in the Port of Palm Beach that had a lopsided stack of containers being unloaded. Perhaps that was the culprit container ship.

We had confirmation that our AIS transmission was working when a northbound tug pulling a barge with a 1000’ steel towline called us by name on the radio and asked us to move 5 degrees to sea to give him a full mile of clearance. In the darkness the barge looked as if it was transporting the 2001 monolith, and we were glad to give it wide berth.

Terms, gannets, seagulls and dolphins kept us company. It was great to be back on the ocean.

Lake Worth gave us a secure anchorage as we did our last provision runs in our new dinghy (much drier and faster than our old one) and made two trips to the Homeland Security office trying to find the procedure of surrendering / cancelling / terminating our US Cruising Permit. The system does not accommodate cruisers whose plans change with the weather. If you have a valid cruising license when you re-enter the US you cannot extend the expiry date to cover the entire time until you plan to depart again. It the cruising license expires while your boat is in storage over the summer, you cannot get a new license until you leave the US and return, and you will be breaking the law if you sail in US waters without a license. Catch-22.

The Bahamas. West End to Green Turtle Cay, December 14 - 24

We left Lake Worth at midnight and had a pleasant motor-sail across the Gulf Stream, arriving at West End on Grand Bahama Island at 10AM. We cleared in with Customs & Immigration and used the marina’s WIFI to get mail. At dusk the biting bugs descended. We began our fight with the biting bugs (generically called no-see-ems) when we were in the yard at Cape Canaveral. The fall rain in the southeast US created fantastic breeding grounds for all types of biting bugs. The long creeping grass in the yard and the pools of rainwater on the tarps under boats kept the population at an all time high. The screens on Pilgrim are fairly good at keeping them out (or in) the boat as long as they are all in place before dusk and there is not a need to leave the cabin after dark. However, one is trapped in the cabin is too many. We began to wonder what their lifespan was and if it was different for the white bugs than the black. Maybe there were many different species of both black and white with different characteristics. There were at least 3 different types of bites. Typical mosquito bites with a round raised itch, tiny blisters that pop, scab over, and reform as a blister, and red welts. It was clear that we needed to find one or more repellents and relief for the itching.

Itch relief was easiest, but temporary. Benadryl cream or gel was good and hydrocortisone was OK. Relief lasted until something rubbed against the bite and then the itch returned.

Repellent is more difficult to find, since we think biting bugs are different species and repelled by different products. These are the repellents we have tried with partial success: Deep Woods OFF with DEET, Avon Skin so Soft Bug Guard/ sunscreen with IR3535 and Avon Bug Guard spray Picaridin. We have begun experimenting with a combination of equal parts of Witch Hazel and Listerine with a few drops of Tea Tree essential oil. We still have Citronella and Eucalyptus essential oils to try with the Witch Hazel concoction. We also have been burning a citronella candle down below in the evening. We think the only solution is strong wind anchored well off-shore with less rain.

We are not the only ones suffering. Other cruisers from the southeast US say this is the worst year for biting bugs they have seen in many years.

We left West End in dead calm conditions. Brian had a line out during the 10-mile run north in deep water. We saw lots of flying fish, but could not attract their predators to take the lure. We motored 50 miles across the Little Bahama Bank to Great Sale Cay for the night and the following day motor-sailed the remaining 50 miles to Green Turtle Cay, anchoring in the lee of Great Abaco Island in southerly winds. We were able to get dockage in Black Sound on Green Turtle to ride out a strong cold front with northerly and northeasterly winds in the 20 knot range.

We have always been in Canada or the US for Christmas. This year we are in the Bahamas. When we were not on Pilgrim minding the fenders and fender boards to keep us off dock pilings, we walked through New Plymouth, the settlement on Green Turtle. We were happy to see that the Methodist Church has new doors. In 2007 the old doors were being held closed with a plastic picnic fork. There were very few changes to the settlement other than the prolific Christmas decorations. Many of the utility poles had bells, nutcrackers and angels. Almost every house had some kind of decoration from snowmen to crèches. As we entered the town, there was a series of lighted arches over the street that reminded Jane of the streets in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira in the Azores back in June 2007 for the St. John the Baptist celebrations. Most impressive.

We encountered our first sister-ship, a Whitby/Brewer 42 made in Fort Meyers rather than Whitby, named Selah. We sat out a strong northerly blow at Donny’s Boat Rental and Marina. A slight shimmy in the prop shaft demanded attention, so we moved south to the only boat yard with a diesel mechanic at Man O’ War.

The Bahamas. Man o’ War Cay, December 24 - January 1, 2016

On Christmas morning we moved Pilgrim into the harbour at Man O’ War at high tide. The moon was full, so we had ample room under the keel as we picked up a mooring, but a low tide we were sitting on the bottom. At least we were next to Edwin’s Boat Yard, but the yard was closed until December 29, so we had time to go ashore.

Man O’ War has a 60-year tradition of a Christmas morning celebration for the entire island. It began with carol-singing and included prayers, scripture reading and stories. Santa made an appearance with gifts for the young children. The celebration concluded with a pot luck buffet.

We had time to do provisioning and laundry, and acquire a Bahamian SIM card for our mobile phone. We listened to Chris Parker’s weather broadcasts and downloaded GRIB files into our routing program to determine if the hoped-for weather window would open allowing us to sail directly to St. Martin. One window looked promising, but as time passed the wind dropped and would require motoring the entire 1100 miles (a 7-10 day trip for Pilgrim) and we have fuel capacity for 5 1/2 days.

There was an opportunity to move south 50 miles to Eleuthera. We sailed to Lynard Cay to position ourselves for an early departure from the Sea of Abaco to Royal Island. We went ashore at the narrowest part of Lynard Cay to look at the Atlantic Ocean’s waves crashing on the eastern shore. The rugged, sharp coral beach would not be a hospitable spot for a castaway to be washed ashore. On the western shore on the beach we found a slightly damaged horse conch and some large sand dollars. We had a cooling swim and scrub down. Our water tank had kept us going for 3 weeks, but was now empty and we were ready to start the desalinator during our motor trip to Eleuthera.

The Bahamas. Royal Island, January 2-6, 2016

The harbour on Royal Island is one of the few in the Bahamas that offers protection for virtually any wind direction. It is an uninhabited island. Development was begun on a resort and marina a few years ago but has been abandoned. It seems to be home to a number of green sea turtles.

Since the very poor weather was forecast we decided to wait several days for the front to pass. On January 5 the north wind picked up to 20 knots. It increased to 26-30 with gusts to 38, veered to the NE and brought torrential downpours. There were 5 other sailboats and one power boat in the anchorage with us. After 26 hours of wind, our 55 pound Rocna anchor began slipping in the soft sand and we fell back 150 feet before it re-set. But this put us too close to shallow water, so we hauled anchor, moved and deployed our Danforth as well as our Rocna anchor. This held us until the wind finally quieted down on January 7.

We listened to Chris Parker’s weather net on January 6 at 5PM while we were still in 30 knot wind. A boat in Rock Sound 55 miles southeast reported they had only had 12 knots of wind all day. The low trough was probably right over Rock Sound. Being north of the trough we were experiencing the strong north / northeasterly wind. When the trough drifted further south they were suddenly in 40 knots of wind which built to over 55 knots. A Hunter 46 (Second Option) reported on the radio that their wind instrument transponder at the top of their mast was blown off and their Genoa partially unfurled, shredding 4 inches of the sail along the trailing edge. In George Town, 100 miles further south, just after sunset cruisers were suddenly hit with gusts over 50 knots from various directions.  Boats at anchor were blown sidewards, some exposing their keels before they were positioned into the wind.  Dinghies in the water were flipped over and many boats lost equipment or damaged sails that became unfurled. In Staniel Cay wind was reported at 106 miles per hour.   

Chris Parker, our weather forecaster / router called it a Black Swan event:  totally unpredictable and not previously described by meteorologists.  The low that caused this weather drifted NE into the Atlantic and just yesterday became the first named storm of 2016:  Alex.  It became a hurricane headed for the Azores and will back NE towards Greenland before dispersing.  This is the second time there has been a named storm as early as January. The first was in 1938. In 2007 the first named storm, Andrea, developed in early May and we skirted it on our way to Bermuda.  The Climate is Changing.

The Bahamas. Rock Sound, Eleuthera, January 7 - 16 2016

Rock Sound became our temporary home for a week. On January 15 we celebrated a relatively new Bahamian national holiday: Majority Rules Day. The only laundry facility was closed for the week, but we topped up our food provisions for the passage to St. Martin. In the Royal Island storm we found 2 leaking port holes which are now hopefully fixed. The boat and crew are ready for the first long passage since 2011 when we sailed from Iceland to Labrador.