Le Grand Adventure

It was a dark and stormy night; well that is how the classical scary story goes. But in my case, it was a dark and foggy night. On Monday, April 26th, 2011, I left Pensacola for Fort Lauderdale and points east for a Grand Adventure … but more on that later.

It began about four months ago around January or so. Bob, a fellow squadron member asked if I was available to help him move his boat from the Pensacola to the Bahamas the first of February. Well of course I was, but wait, I was to be in Orlando the dates he really needed me to be available for the move. DARN IT!, or words to that effect. I like Orlando and the national meeting of the my boating organization, the United States Power Squadrons. Since I am a national officer, the chairman of the Operations Manual Committee, I simply could not bargain my way out for a boat trip. Still, I wanted to go, quite badly I might add.

So I began writing Bob and working with him to build a crew for the return visit. He was hanging around the island of Eleuthera, a spread out island somewhat east of Nassau. We asked several boaters we knew that could handle the boat duties but none were available. In the end, I was the only one that could make it. The Grand Adventure was beginning to build. I would need a passport, something I have never had. I got one and quite quickly I might add. I began to get excited about three months out. I planned what to wear, do the research for reservations, plan on how to get to Fort Lauderdale to catch a flight, determine what airline to fly and all the other mired details that make a trip uneventful. As the day grew nearer, perhaps weeks in advance, I began to lay clothes out, to select those that would be most appropriate for the trip and ask the questions; would it be hot or cold; wet or dry; well, you get the idea.

Tuesday: Finally, the day arrived. I rented a car to drive to Fort Lauderdale where my flight to Eleuthera would originate. I awoke at 0100 and after months of anticipation and preparation, I drove the 711 miles to Fort Lauderdale from Pensacola in 11 hours without speeding and mostly due to a great bladder. It was a great ride. I checked into the hotel and returned the rental car. 

Wednesday: This was a long day but I slept well and awoke about 0700 or so. I went to McDonalds next door and had a large breakfast. Then I packed and took the 1000 shuttle to the Fort Lauderdale Airport. I learned again why I don’t like to fly commercially.

It took an hour after arriving at the airport to get checked in and get past security. But I must admit that my passport worked and worked well. I read a lot while waiting for the flight so that was good.

It was about a 50 minute flight from Fort Lauderdale to North Eleuthera. The runway is just that a runway; no taxi ways or the like. The pilot has to turn the plane around at the end and taxi back to the terminal. They call it an International Airport; but it is about the size of a two bedroom house. I had to clear customs; not a real problem but it did take about 15 minutes.

Bob was there and I was glad to see him. We took a taxi to the launch and a boat taxi to get to Harbour Island, a relatively exclusive island with plenty of expensive boats and a great mix of ethnic peoples. I met a couple from England and one from Montgomery, Alabama. Quite a show I might add.

Then off to the boat and getting settled in. Bob and I celebrated our visit by a drink after which we took a golf cart to a local restaurant for dinner. The food was good but about three prices for what you would pay in the States. Tips are included in the price so I was cautioned.

After dinner, I got a short tour around the island. Know that most of the streets are NOT paved and rough as all. Check the picture below of the Piggly Wiggly; it is not what we are used to in the States. I am guessing that 95 percent of the transportation on the island is by golf cart. Bob also informed me this was the place where they caught the infamous “Barefoot Bandit.”

Thursday: Bob took me on the Grand Tour of Harbour Island this morning. They drive on the left side of the road here so that took some getting used to. As well, the roads are being torn up to replace literally all the water pipes and believe me, they are a mess. Rocky, rough and very uneven. Still, this is an interesting place and quite Caribbean in color and nature. We ate breakfast at the marina restaurant; it was great. We also rode by the house that Jimmy Buffet built here. It was locked up tighter than a drum and certainly one of the more updated homes in the area; but, it is on a really bad dirt road and you need to be really careful getting there and back.

We left Harbour Island Thursday around 1500 after meeting and chatting with our pilot, a native named “Woody.” What an interesting person he was. He has been a marine pilot around these island waters since forever. He told me it was his first job. He certainly knows how to handle a boat.

Boating in the Bahamas is great. The water is clear and depending on the depth, its color ranges from a deep blue to bright cyan. BUT, it is full of shoals and shallow areas so you really have to know your way around, thus the need for a pilot in unforgiving places.

We stayed the night at the fuel dock in Spanish Wells. Eating at the local restaurant proved to be better than we thought. I had fried chicken and it was pretty good. We watched the supply boat unload. The various vendors on the island wait for their stuff to be unloaded, load it in their vehicles and drive off to store it in their business locations.

Friday: We arose early and ran about seven hours today from Spanish Wells to an place I have ever heard of before, Chub Cay (“kay” if you prefer), one of the Bahamian islands. With beam seas of about two to three feet, the ride was not all that bad but there was some rocking and rolling going on. You adjust after a while. While the marina we stayed in Friday night was quite nice, the island does not appear to have a lot to offer There was a local fishing tournament and the activity in the marina was quite high. I even met someone in the next slip from a neighboring city: Fairhope, Alabama.

Saturday: What great fun we had today. Again we arose early to ready the boat and get underway for a run from Chub Cay to Bimini, a run of about eight hours. The weather was great. We had following one foot seas for most of the day. Reaching North Rock and turning South, we entered the very shallow channel at Bimini at one time only having five feet of water when we need 4.5 feet to float and not run aground. The wind was not real good for docking but Bob very expertly maneuvered the Cane Pole into the slip and we successfully tied up. Getting the lines ready and being able to get them to the handlers on the dock is becoming easier for me.

Our internet connections during the entire trip were quite elusive. Here, it is intermittent and sporadic at best. We key in our emails and then wait for the access to become available then transmit hoping to complete the transmission before fading into oblivion.

The water ran from a bright cyan to dark royal blue as we traversed the various depths of the passage, especially crossing the Grand Bahama Bank. The water is so clear that you can see the bottom in depths of up to 20 feet with the sun overhead. I didn’t see many big fish but saw lots of small ones scurrying to miss our screws. I also saw lots of flying fish skimming the top of the water as they move to miss our hull. It is great so see these creatures again.

Sunday: We arose early this morning and cast off for Miami. The weather forecast did not look good. Whenever you get north winds over the north moving Gulf Stream, it provides a lot of wave action which is not good. Even the cruising books caution about such an event. BUT, Tuesday looked even worse and that would mean an extra two days in Bimini; so we weighed the options and headed out. If it got too bad we could always turn around.

True enough, the waves soon became four to five feet high and there was a lot of rocking and rolling going on. With the proper speed and trim tab settings it was not all that bad. The wind was not that strong and it was from east north east so on our starboard quarter. It pushed us around a little but was a lot better than some of the seas I experienced last year punching through a cold front from Clearwater to the Florida Panhandle.

We arrived safely and secured dockage at a great downtown marina very close to a great mall. Lunch was margaritas and tacos at Chilies.

We checked in on the phone with customs but they wanted a face to face appearance, so we hailed a cab and arrived there in time to check in. Hailing a cab in this multi-lingual culture was quite a chore. It took us a good 45 minutes to get one and only about 10 minutes to get to the Department of Homeland Security / Customs Office. Then a good 30 minutes to get back. All this for a check-in process of about ten minutes. My government at work? It is good to be back in America. The Islands are nice but I missed some of the things we have here. I really did. I am glad I live in America; I am glad I live in Florida.

We stopped at a CVS to stock up on some food stuffs and returned to the boat. Time for a rest and of course it is almost five o’clock somewhere.

Monday: It has been a long day. We struggled with traveling outside in the Atlantic or inside in the Intracoastal Waterway. Outside there was five foot seas on the beam and 20 knot winds; inside the channel was narrow and often shallow. We chose to go inside.

We fueled up in Miami and started out across Biscayne Bay. That was a nice ride, winds were light and seas quit calm. We crossed several voyagers who were returning from the south and asked their advise. They said there was plenty of water in the Intracoastal Water; but alas that was often not the case. We bumped the bottom several times and often had to travel slow to keep the keep from stirring up too much mud and silt.

As expected, we encountered dolphins who liked to dance around our boat jumping and splashing around. What great fun they are; to see them having such fun is great. They are certainly happy creatures.

We anchored out for the night as we could not get into the one marina we passed. We finally found a relatively deep area and for the first time, dropped the anchor and locked it down. This is what boating is all about. We were close to Islamorada.

Bob cracked some stone crab claws and I cooked the potatoes for dinner. The generator provided the other conveniences we need for the evening; cool air conditioning, hot water and audio so we can keep in touch with the world. We heard tonight that Bin Laudin was finally done in. Sooner or later, we usually get what is coming to us; I guess?

Tuesday: Bob donned his scuba gear and went under the boat to check the props. We hit bottom a few times and he wanted to see if they were okay. Just a little grass on the shaft but nothing special. After he showered, we headed for the Gulf of Mexico. You have to enter Florida Bay first and again we experienced dolphins playing off our beam. They have such great fun.

The ride was great. The seas ran about a foot, they day was bright and sunny, and we had a following sea. We took turns manning the helm and dodging the thousands of crap traps you encounter in this section of the Gulf. Making good time, we arrived in Marco Island and docked at the t-dock. A clean wash down of the boat was in order. A fuel truck was waiting for us. We had a great dinner at the Snook Inn with some friends of Bob’s who just happened to be in Marco Island on their way Key West.

Wednesday: We had a great run today until the last two hours. Until then, the wind was from the south, the seas quite smooth, and just a great ride. We have to take the navigation out of automatic every now and then to miss crab traps which are quite numerous in this area of the gulf. Bob mans the helm and then I relieve him for a while and then we switch back. I was able to relax, enjoy the water and not think about my life back home. It has been quite fun and quite an adventure.

We pulled into Venice, Florida, today at the Crow’s Nest Marina. You should have seen Bob and I riding the rickety bicycles they have to loan for those that need to go to the store. Bob even questioned my ability to ride a bicycle. Of course, I had one that was about six inches too tall for me. But I made it to the store and back with some grub for the voyage ahead.

This has been a Grand Adventure and I have had a great time. I am not tired of the trip and look forward every day to the voyage ahead. I am glad I came, I will be glad to get home and see friends, but I would not miss this adventure for anything. I have had a great chance to think and ponder life.

Thursday: Happy Cinco de Mayo. We left Venice, Florida, early and headed north passing Sarasota, Tampa, Clearwater and the like on our starboard side. It was a great ride until we crossed the Tampa Bay inlet. The wind picked up, the wind veered to be more on our starboard beam and we rocked and rolled for about three hours or so. The Cane Pole took it well although I delayed fixing lunch until it calmed down some. I tried to get ham at a local mom and pop store yesterday but all they had was SPAM, “Shoulder of Pork and Ham.” Great stuff. I made Bob a ham sandwich for lunch and I had a SPAM sandwich. Great, just simply great. That brought back memories as well.

We arrived in Tarpon Springs and fueled up before docking and washing the boat down quite thoroughly. The salt spray really accumulates and it needs to be washed off when you arrive to prevent any more corrosion than possible. I usually fill the water tanks upon arrival and since we normally hook up to city water, they stay full overnight; therefore, I don’t have to fill them in the morning.

We were right across the bridge from the quaint Greek town so availed ourselves of a Greek dinner and drinks at a locally suggested restaurant. I purchased a couple of sponges from a local dealer. While nice, they were expensive, but what the hey, I was on vacation. It brought back memories of wandering around Athens and Corinth when I was there on liberty off the USS Independence back in the 70’s.

Friday: It was up before dawn and off we ventured with just enough light to see the channel markers out of the harbor to the sea; only to return about three hours later. While we checked the weather and it looked liked the Cane Pole could certainly handle it, Mother Nature had other ideas. A very large thunderstorm developed off our bow right about the time our weather radio started broadcasting warnings. Winds of 30 knots, seas of five to six feet and much more than we wanted to weather. As well, there was lightening in it, something to be feared at sea and on-shore. We turned tail and hauled boat back to the sea buoy and then to  the dock, the same one we left about three hours before. Rather be safe than sorry.

A Great Adventure often has twists and turns in it, just as life does. We successfully docked and hooked up the power and water when it stopped raining. Dinner was as the local marina restaurant, Captain Jacks. It was great and their margaritas were equally as good. I also enjoyed a great nap.

Saturday: Again, we left right at dawn for the transit to Florida. It was an 11.5 hour run with the weather being much better. It started out a little rough with winds and seas off the bow. We were running 15 knots and the boat wind and sea wind plus the cool air of a passed cold front made it a wee bit cool. Fine boating weather with the wind and sometimes spray in your face.

We set the autopilot for Apalachicola and never had to reset it until we arrived at the channel. Running up Scipio Creek, we tied up the marina the Cane Pole tied up to last year when I helped move her from Marathon Key to Destin. Of course, the boat was quite salty and needed a complete wash down to remove the salt and black marks from the hose I used to fill the water tanks in Tarpon Springs.

Following that, we fixed dinner consisting of Stone Crab claws and baked potatoes, butter and all the trimmings. Did I mention cocktails on the aft deck? Oops, sorry.

Sunday: It was good to be back in West Florida. We arose early and prepared to leave. I topped the water tanks and we were underway. We traveled the Intracoastal Waterway to Saint Joe Bay, popped out into the Gulf and then into Panama City. Turning West, we headed to Destin and eventually home. It was a great ride. I really enjoy running the Intracoastal Waterway, it is so quiet and often you are so alone. We arrived in Destin around 1500. The first action was to thoroughly scrub the boat and then clean up and look for dinner.

We had drinks at marina the bar where we had access to the internet and could talk to the many great boating folks you meet at marinas. We walked to Baytowne, a great little outdoor mall of sorts, and found dinner at an Italian restaurant overlooking the marina. The Grand Adventure was almost over. Dinner and drinks on the outside deck overlooking the boats that others have adventures on was great.

Monday: After packing and securing the boat, we hitched a ride with Bob’s bride to home, Pensacola and Orange Beach. My home was just as I left it. I began the process of unpacking and washing all the clothes I took.

It was a truly a GREAT GRAND ADVENTURE. I genuinely enjoyed being on the water. I almost forgot my other responsibilities and only focused on moving the boat. I learned a lot about the water, geography, visiting another country and certainly about my traveling companion. Sorry folks, what happens on the boat, stays on the boat. That is the rule of the sea.

I am grateful for the experience. I do not want to do it full time but really enjoyed this one. I will say this, the Cane Pole is a great and sturdy boat. It is much stronger than I am as I will need a few days to recover from being beat up by the sea. I am quite sore and scratched up my moving around to tie and untie lines and the like.

I am grateful to Bob for the experience. As I have said before, he is a capable and competent captain who knows the sea and how it works. I again grew to trust his judgment.

It was a Great Adventure … I had a Great Time … I would do it again.