Journal of Flicka's Crew

01/21/11

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Living A Dream:

Crossing The Gulf Stream & Cruising The Bahamas

BY DOROTHY W.

February 1 - 16, 2007


#93...Dorothy's blue water adventure on sailing ketch FLICKA February 2007 another BID!   (Editor's note: *BID means before I die!)

Before this trip begins, some preliminary background:

THE BOAT:

FLICKA is a 1976 Allied Seawind Mark II, 32' solidly built fiberglass ketch with two masts. The forward sails are for power, and the stern mizzen-mast is shorter; this sail is for maneuverability. She has a white hull with sea green canvas, teakwood cabin interior, Westerbeek diesel engine, with lines rigged to be managed from the cockpit, highly set steering seat (which is good for short people like me), and a hard dinghy. Equipped with SSB (single-sideband) long range radio, 2 navigational computers, watermaker for drinking water, freezer and refrigeration, VHF marine radio, wind-generator for power, self-steering monitor wind vane (nick-named Mona) and numerous technical bells and whistles for safety and comfort--too numerous to list.

SAFETY:

We aboard are equipped with all-weather clothes, life jackets and safety harnesses. The only time we are not harnessed to the boat is when we are inside the cabin--no matter what the sailing conditions are at the moment.

THE CAPTAIN:

Captain Tricia Birdsell is the epitome of a detail person, discussing possibilities of course, wind direction, conditions etc. and then calculating and recalculating and checking her work with extreme care. Tricia is somewhat my junior who is a nutritionist by original profession. While working in the South Pacific (Papua New Guinea) she began sailing, which changed her career direction. She since has been living through sailing--living aboard, teaching sailing, writing about sailing and single-handing for 28 years on numerous boats in the South Pacific, Bahamas, Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

PREAMBLE:

I met Tricia ten years ago while attending her week long live-aboard Sailing-for-Women program out of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, with my long-time chum Lorraine Pohl-Jones from our Whonnock years. At that time I believed the sailing course would be a one-off adventure. About a year later Jim sold our power-boat and decided it was my turn--so we set about buying a sailboat to replace her. We purchased a Lancer 30 foot sloop. We sailed her to Nanaimo one weekend ostensibly to show her to Tricia and there she now lives, being our summer and second home.

Over the years our paths have connected with Tricia both in Nanaimo and in Florida. Changes have occurred in Tricia's life which now brings her to early retirement and sailing the east coast of the US in summer out of Connecticut, and south to the Bahamas in the winter. I am about to join her at Miami to cross the Gulf Stream--blue water--to the Bahamas Islands.

THE EXPERIENCE:

This is to be a sailing adventure. Motoring is a last resort. I am her first friend to accept her invitation to crew aboard FLICKA--Tricia's most recent yacht-home--cruising to the Bahamas. Being available at the right time and place has given me this opportunity to share in the myriad of processes of the daily life and work aboard an off-shore cruising vessel. In exchange for a skill-building and thrill experience, it is my responsibility to cover boat and consumable expenses for the two of us. This is not a passenger cruise--I will do work that I have skills to perform. I want to participate in everything that I can be useful doing while aboard, including watches at the helm, cleaning, maintenance, cooking etc. In return I hope to get a taste of the sailing life I have read about with a passion for most of my adult years....something I never thought I would have a chance to do. But serendipitous occurrences happen, and this came into our lives. Jim took a pass, preferring to remain a coastal and land cruiser. Perhaps cruising with 2 women may have been too much to face.

I am sharing this off-shore cruise with an instructor whose sailing knowledge and risk-aversion level give me confidence. I hope to come away a wee bit more competent and confident 'yachty'. With luck there will simultaneously be some wonderful water moments--sun, wind, warm salt water swimming, and snorkeling and visits to remote islands...and perhaps a tummy-turning thrill or two.

Tavernier, Florida Keys, Feb. 1, 2007

The alarm rings at 4 am and Jim and I hurriedly pack the contents of our RV's fridge/freezer into a cooler bag, grab our travel bags, lock the motor home and head out of Tavernier in the Florida Keys in our rental PT Cruiser for the 70 mile drive to the Miami airport. At 6 am I drop Jim off for his flight to Vancouver. Heading out into the nightmare that is the ever-present road construction around Miami airport, I miss my un-marked turnoff in the early morning darkness. Thankfully I'm familiar with navigating this city and my mind pulls up its own GPS. Driving through downtown I reach Miami Beach before morning rush hour. My rendezvous with Tricia is at a supermarket across the street from the Collins canal. Amazingly, I find the spot and wait for dawn.

Before long a dinghy or two goes by on the canal. I phone Tricia on her cell and she arrives in her dinghy to fetch me and my gear. Ted, her buddy-boat partner on RESTLESS arrives too. (A week previously, Jim and I spent a weekend with them on their boats FLICKA and RESTLESS near Stuart, Florida).

As expected, there are a few errands to be attended to in the couple of hours left before I need to return the rental car. These done Tricia and I leave to return the car, but not before having a minor altercation with a 'Beemer' convertible. !@#^@! This doesn't bode well and delays us on an agenda-filled day.

There are so many things to do before departure: top up the fuel and water tanks, engine check and fuel filter change, hoist the dinghy onto the bow, lash down everything on the decks and stow the cabin securely, cook a big pot of supper for two days, course plotting, check and re-check and then up-anchor and move FLICKA closer to the channel. Anchored here are a dozen yachts preparing for departure tomorrow. There simply isn't time for me to get an orientation to the boat...and a ketch is quite different from our sloop.

A very particular weather pattern provides the right kind and amount of wind to cross the ocean to the Bahamas. FLICKA is not a fast boat so careful course planning and destination are vitally important if we are to actually use the winds and SAIL. Our course is for the Berry Islands. The weather window is predicted to be right for FLICKA tomorrow and the next possible weather-window might be weeks away.

I am exhausted early as I had little sleep last night and my body is tired from dealing with boat motion. I crash soon after cooking dinner as there is little more I can do to help Tricia who is up past midnight with details.

I fall asleep on deck watching a laser light show above the high-rises and art deco buildings of Miami Beach. The Beach is in SuperBowl Football-mode and is a bit frantic.

I'm not sorry to leave as Miami is a city too fast for my mood--especially since Jim and I have just had a good land-cruise in our RV across the southern US.

Miami Beach & The Gulf Stream, Feb 2, 2007

We are awake before dawn doing last minute prep and breakfast. We hear from RESTLESS on the single-sideband radio. Ted left on a different route yesterday through more open ocean miles than we will attempt. He has been having a wild ride in 30-35 winds. Tricia puts reefs in the main and mizzen sails before we leave. These can be shaken out if the winds prove light. The engine is warmed up, the anchors lifted and stored and we turn to go under a bridge and down the long channel to open ocean. First serious problem for me...I'm at the helm and have to get into a physically contorted position to steer and actually see over the dodger, boom etc. in order to see where we are going. Tricia is busy so I'll have to work this out with her later. This will surely strengthen my legs from all the climbing up and down. My being so @#!$ short is going to present many more challenges on this trip.

But first we get to wave at the naval personnel on the US naval ship ENTERPRISE as she heads into the harbor. A dolphin leaps and flips his fin as if to wave bye-bye.

We are committed now! I am both calm and excited.

Soon Tricia hoists sails. We are on a beam reach (wind on our side). The engine is turned off, Mona (the self-steering) is connected and we are sliding nicely through the waves in 18kt SSW winds. Several miles out to sea, we look back to see the skyline of Miami in the early morning mist. It is not long before land disappears and we are alone with only sunshine, wind and deep indigo blue water and waves all around.

Occasionally fish jump, and tiny flying fish land on deck. From time to time we see the gorgeous but dangerous 'man-of-war' jellyfish float by. These guys look like clear crystal irregular shaped blobs on the water. All along their edge is a stunning and somewhat fluorescent violet blue rim. They shimmer on the water...but their long clear tendrils are lethal.

We soon discover an errant line tied on the mizzen mast which interferes with the sail. Some changes are arranged by Tricia...but this will have to be attended to when we arrive in the islands. We settle into routines as we have 26 or more hours of sailing to cross the Gulf Stream. It is wonderful out here with warm winds and nice big waves to fly through. Occasionally we see other boats and ships in the distance.

I'm enjoying this immensely...as is my tummy. I was worried about seasickness but have no sign of it. Evening comes and we are blessed with a clear star-lit night. We chat, take turns on watch and sleeping, cook and eat and the overnight sail passes by too quickly as we have had steady winds of 18-20 all the way.

Great Harbour, Bahamas, Feb 3-5, 2007

We reach our way-point, turn southward and sail along the Great Bahamas Bank to our destination of Bullocks Harbour, Great Harbour Cay. It is about 9am when we approach the harbour where we need to check-in with Bahamas Customs and Immigration. We turn on the motor in preparation for navigating the entrance channel and it sounds !wrong! It is not pumping cooling water! Quickly Tricia turns it off.

We move out of the channel, drop anchor and take down the sails. Perhaps there is something plugging the water intake? The locker surrounding the engine is opened, emptied, and Tricia crawls in and begins to remove and service the pump. Reassembled and tested, the motor purrs! One and a half hours have passed.

Then the cockpit is cleaned up and re stowed, and FLICKA proceeds into harbour and a slip to await officials with her quarantine flag flying. It's noon. We are dog-tired and dying for a cool shower and a solid nap so I decide we are over-nighting at the dock. (Tricia doesn't much care for being docked but is too tired to argue.) Customs arrives quickly and that done the dock master gives us permission to walk the docks while we wait for Immigration to arrive from the airport.

 The docks here are solid (i.e. not floating up & down with the tide) and it takes some interesting rearrangement of lines so that I can actually get up onto shore over the bowsprit. It is low tide and the dock is about 4 feet above FLICKA's deck! Tricia manages this better than I -- she is 7" taller. Once on the dock I phone Jim in Vancouver and email some friends who are aware of our crossing. I want to confirm that we made it across safely. We know Jim will call the Bahamas AirSea Rescue soon if he doesn't hear from us.

Next we score some ice cream and watch the local fishermen prepare conch for the local specialty of conch salad--kind of a Ceviche. I've seen a lot of conch while scuba diving but here we see one creature come right out of it's shell and look around. Now there is no question of me eating conch...impossible.

Immigration arrives and checks us into the country legally and makes a big dent in the wallet. We head back to our bunks for a few hours solid sleep. After waking and eating we decide that Tricia has to go up the mizzen mast to clear the errant line. She rigs the seat, line and safety line and together we get her up the mast, her pulling herself up the line and me using the winch below. We sure are glad this didn't have to happen at sea.

Next morning we are refreshed after a good night sleep, and are up and out of the harbour early as today we have a long route ahead of us with winds that aren't quite right. We will sail almost directly into the wind northward to round Great Harbour Cay and Stirrup Cay before we turn south along the same island. We make it north of the island and are tacking to try to get the right angle of approach to our course. The seas are building as are the winds.

After three hours, Tricia decides reluctantly to turn back as the harbour we are aiming for has a narrow and difficult entrance...and we are not going to make it in daylight. The seas are ugly too. We have had a grand day-sail in spite of not achieving our destination. I think Tricia may have continued on if she were on her own. (Editor's note: No she wouldn't have!) She may now be actually assessing my sailing competence. If we get into any difficulty or the seas are too wild, I don't know if I will be a strong crew. I have only come to sailing in the last few years in BC's Gulf Islands--and there is no comparison. FLICKA is still a bit of a conundrum to me. It might take this whole adventure for me to become familiar with her.

We sail back to Great Harbour and anchor in a protected spot nearby. Soon we are in the water for our first Bahamas swim/snorkel in 80 degree water! Tricia 'whoooops' her delight at being in the water. Me too, I love warm, salt waters. We remain here and have a rock 'n rolling night in 25-35 winds. Trish has a very thorough approach to anchoring--with 2 anchors out and a mushroom anchor-kellet too. I am glad of it and watch it as an art form through this trip.

Great Harbour to Nassau, Feb 6-7, 2007

We spend the day on boat chores and preparation for our second attempt around the island overnight tonight February 6. In late afternoon the winds subside somewhat, we up-anchor and set sail again. We have a brisk ride as the winds and seas seem to be at cross purposes. We attempt this route slightly differently and round the island.

We are by-passing the anchorage of our destination of Feb. 3 as the narrow entrance is not easily achieved in daylight and cannot possibly be attempted safely in darkness. Instead we will sail overnight and plan to arrive at Nassau harbour by mid-day tomorrow. There is another weather system approaching the Bahamas and Nassau will afford good protection for the few days of rough weather.

As we sail northward around Great Stirrup Cay, I begin to realize that I have a lesson to learn. That is, do not eat something unfamiliar before such a journey. I have made Tricia's favorite curry recipe last night. It is excellent, but I have the worst indigestion and heartburn.

As we round the island FLICKA is bucking the waves which are coming over the decks. We are sailing close-hauled and it is a struggle to keep FLICKA just on the wind. She is a marvelous little ship. With sails properly trimmed, she sails along beautifully on her own, with only a touch or two of the helm. But on this particular course and winds, she is not happy at all and bounces around. Going below for anything is a real feat of strength and balance. At one point, Tricia asks me to go below to retrieve something (my memory fails me here). I barely accomplish this, and am hooked on in the cockpit again...not a happy traveler. I'm not sick, but I know I will be subsisting on ginger cookies to Nassau.

The winds turn darn cold and we are bundled up. At this point we should be alternating watches with two hours below to sleep. Trish assesses that it won't work for me--not hard to figure out when I say there's no safe way for me to be below! I wedge myself along the companionway seat--beam to beam, locking both my harness tethers to hold me securely in place and try a little meditating to calm the heartburn. I fall into a dead sleep for an hour or so. Tricia becomes so cold while I sleep, she gingerly manages to climb over my prostrate body and goes below to warm up. I am so dead to the world I would not have known if she had used me for a step. When I awaken, I look around and see no Trish. The portable GPS tether is strung over me and I see her asleep in the cabin with kitchen timer clipped to her shirt. I sit up feeling much better, and check the horizon for other traffic. A few minutes later T's timer rings, she awakens and sees I've recovered. It's time for her to have a longer sleep and I take the timer/alarm and clip it to my hood to wake me for the 20 minute check.... just in case I nod off. I do on and off for a few minutes but find that my body adjusts to the rhythm and I wake up in 18/19 minutes. We make it through the night with the only disaster being two pairs of broken glasses as we both need them to read the GPS.

As we are moving along this route to Nassau, we do have a lot of other ships for company. Fortunately, FLICKA has an AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard (which tells the name and closest point of approach of each vessel in range.) On several occasions Tricia radios these vessels to ask them to change their course to avoid running us over. In two cases they respond that they have seen us and altered course already and ask if we are okay... nice chats in both cases. As we get closer to our destination a ship comes within a quarter of a mile and is barreling down on our stern on our course. It takes several attempts to get a radio response. Finally the operator answers and says "oh yes, I see you now and am altering course". Phew, so much for sailing in a slow boat (we're flying at 7 knots) on the open seas. My knowledge doesn't help me here--how would we outrun such a fast moving vessel?

We approach New Providence Island with the buildings of Nassau for visual navigation. Radioing the Port Authority, Tricia seeks permission for FLICKA to enter the harbour. It is noon when anchors are set. It is time for a good nap. Later in the afternoon we are tidying and doing boat inspection. Trish discovers a clevis pin that has worked it's way loose. Had it broken away in those winds, yikes...not to be considered. In the evening we decide to have a simple dinner in the cockpit, taking in the gorgeous skyline of Nassau and in particular the view of the Atlantis Casino Resort and are treated to a fireworks show. We turn in feeling quite pleased with our cruise so far.

Nassau, Feb. 8, 2007

There is much to do and we soon launch the dinghy and attach the outboard motor. We're off to shore with a mound of laundry. There is a cement retaining wall along the shore where we need to be in town. We should be able to leave the dinghy here and get ashore. Here we find the tide uncomfortably low, and a teenager tries to force his help onto us. We say 'no thank you'. He also insists he wants to board the dinghy. With a bit of push from Tricia, I manage to crawl onto shore. I pick up the laundry bags as Tricia hollers directions to the Pond Wash Laundromat. . . She'll meet me there after finding a safer place for the dinghy. While I lug the dirty laundry across the main street, a woman stops her car mid-street and offers me a lift to the Laundromat. Of course, this was when I was across the street from the Laundromat. But, the offer was appreciated ... this is the Bahamian people.

Later Tricia and I are both running around (her at a clip and me trailing) the docks and marketplaces lugging the clean laundry. We are looking for information to see how to get Jim and I onto our follow-on visit to Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas by ferry or air from Nassau. When Jim meets up with me later this month, he and I plan further exploration in the islands. We arrive at the telephone office 10 minutes after closing. It is the only place here to buy a phone card that works with PocketMail. Damn!

Continuing to lug the clean laundry, we grocery shop and load all in the dinghy by dropping all our packages 5 feet off the dock. Problem is that now it is low tide again and there is no easy way to board. A young Bahamian fellow hollers at Tricia--wow, great hair! (She has a wildly curly head of long, fair hair). He sees our conundrum and insists on helping as he is tall and long-legged. Hum, he does help and steals a feel involuntarily from Tricia as his reward. . . nothing to do but laugh it off. He offers the use of his dock and dock-ladder to us as a dinghy dock for our stay in Nassau which we appreciate. This volunteering of assistance is typical of the Bahamian people.

Wind storms approaching from the mainland of Florida may prevent us from leaving Nassau on our proposed schedule. We will need to organize a Plan B to suit the weather conditions.

Nassau's Neighbouring Islands, Feb 9-11, 2007

Tricia has been thorough with her setting of two anchors and a mushroom anchor for a kellet. It is a challenge for them to be lifted as they are twisted. Chores completed we get away in the late afternoon to Salt Cay to anchor for the evening and dive in for a snorkel in the lovely warm water. After dinner we sit in the cockpit watching the sun set over the Atlantis Resort and Paradise Island...stunning. For once I remember to take a photo.

Here I should mention Tricia's high metabolism. Food is necessary every couple of hours. I'm a bit out of practice at the stove and am put to the test in her galley. It is a pleasure to cook for someone with a voracious appetite and T appreciates my efforts. Perhaps not having to do much cooking for herself for a couple of weeks has something to do with it.

Next morning we set out for the north side of Rose Island and anchor near shore. The reefs are quite shallow and teaming with life, providing a great hour's snorkel. Later we move to Paradise Island for the night as the wind has shifted and we won't have a comfortable night. We anchor just off of a row of posh mansions.

Next morning we sail to the south side of Rose Island, for yet another great reef. A day fiesta-boat arrives and provides us with nice music to swim by. Today we see two small eels, a live conch, barracuda, stingray and tons of fish. The zinc is gone from the prop so T replaces this using her snorkel. A decision is made to actually organize the new hookah parts and tank before Jim arrives in Nassau so he can concur on the assembly. (A hooka is a scuba-like device which attaches to an air tank. We have one on each of our boats--one sail, one power. A hooka makes attending to problems under the hull easier and safer to manage when the boat is in the water.)

Nassau, Feb 12-14, 2007

After these charming days we head back to Nassau harbour as another big blow is predicted and the west side of the harbour offers good protection from the wind direction.

We find a good spot to anchor and settle in, checking the GPS to be sure the anchors are well set. Some pretty good winds rock us to sleep, but later in the night Tricia lets out more rode--just in case. It is calm in the morning but we suspect some bad weather is brewing. We spend the sunny hours doing boat work. A black, black cloud appears and moves in from the west. In no time the rain is so heavy we can hardly see anything outside. . except a few sailboats bobbing around near us. Watching helplessly, we see boats drag anchor and start to move around the bay. Soon their owners (in the drenching rain and lightening) are scurrying around in dinghies attempting to secure their boats.

Once again I secretly give three cheers for Tricia's anchoring technique.

An hour later it's all over and already the sun has dried everything. Now we have freshly washed decks! But, the dinghy is quite full and needs bailing. Later on I'm busy polishing stanchions which attracts a visit from another yachtie. Sandy and her dog Scupper dinghy over and join us for a nice long chit-chat. Then Wesley, a Bahamian living on the hook here at the anchorage, stops by to bring a gift--a conch shell horn he has made and lessons for Tricia. (Tricia plays keyboard and Ted on RESTLESS is a serious fiddle playing music man.) Need I add that Tricia was thrilled to death with this horn--but needs lots of practice. Her first attempts sounded like a bad case of indigestion!

Nassau, Feb 15, 2007

As luck would have it, today is calm and sunny. The twice-a-month cruisers' luncheon is today at the Hurricane Hole Outdoor Bar. We dinghy across the harbour to Paradise Island for a walk-through at Atlantis Resort. Tricia is dying for me to see the enormous aquarium which is part of the resort. She's right...it is amazing... filled with sharks and eagle rays. The resort is brilliant. Next we dinghy to the luncheon and fill the rest of the day swapping boating yarns with the other yachties. What a fine way to end my superb two-week blue-water adventure!

By evening I move my gear ashore to the Nassau Harbour Club as Jim arrives tomorrow. He's been in Vancouver for a couple of weeks and has returned to Miami in time to take in the huge Miami Boat Show.

Tricia and I have made plans for the three of us to go snorkeling at Rose Island tomorrow, Saturday 16th. Unfortunately in the morning the winds are not co-operating so we shift into plan B. We decide on a dinghy tour of Atlantis and a walk-through, lunch ashore, and a dinghy sightseeing tour around Nassau harbour. This is great fun as we stop to visit with a number of recently arrived boaters...bobbing around the bay chit-chatting and swapping anchorage tips. At the end of an excellent day we return to FLICKA, we all are bright red with sun and wind burn, but happy with the day's excursion. Jim and I take our leave of Tricia who is preparing FLICKA for sailing down the chain of Bahamian islands. Brisk winds are predicted for Monday--just the kind of sail she loves.

Once back on land, Jim & I hop on a jitney bus to avoid the long walk back to the Club as we are carrying heavy snorkeling gear. Only thing is, we get on the wrong bus. It is a good mistake--a great $1 tour of the residential east and south sides of Nassau. Hey Mon, the Nassau Peoples are so helpful and friendly. It is another fun experience.

You may be asking yourself if I would do a blue water crossing again, and if I learned anything on this adventure. First I'll say that much of what I learned may have come by osmosis--by observation and thinking through how a process would apply to either of our boats. Tricia often gave me brief but clear explanations of what was happening and I appreciate that. Being away from visual land points of reference was a difficult adjustment for me--and took most of the two weeks for me to begin to trust the GPS. I conclude that lifestyle aboard a blue-water cruising boat is all about management and organization. Someone has said that 'life is in the details.' And it is full-on management every day of a cruising life.

I absolutely loved crossing blue water and even appreciated the night sailing--a #10 thrill on a scale of ten. I have been fortunate to be aboard FLICKA where the operative word is 'sailing' as is sharing and learning! We hardly used the engine at all.

This is another BID completed on a long list. And now I've added another BID to the list. I'd love to sail through the chain of islands southward through the Bahamas ... but that will have to be reserved for another winter ... and another invitation.

Thank you Tricia, for the fun, the learning, the experience, the companionship and the opportunity.

In the meantime, Jim and I fly to Havana, Cuba Monday, Feb. 19 and that looks to be another story.

Dorothy W., Feb 07 .

 

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