Change of plans…
So when our friends Francis and Karine told us they had time off the first week of June and wanted to come spend time with us in the Bahamas, we thought “Hum… it’s the beginning of hurricane season, but what are the chances of a big storm that early in the season? And what are the chances that THAT storm would be on our path?” Pretty slim we thought, so they went ahead and bought their plane tickets : arriving in Georgetown on May 31st, and leaving from Nassau June 5th. So we would sail up the whole chain of exuma islands with them in 4 days. It was an ambitious plan, but with prevailing winds being from the E and SE, it seemed like a realistic plan and we were really looking forward to their visit. I had planned a bunch of possible itineraries, depending on tides for cut passages, optimizing the fun spots to visit, and allowing a little wiggle room for weather.
A week earlier would have been soooooo perfect. We had consistent 15kt easterlies for the whole week (that’s when we went to Cat island…) But after that week of perfection, we were back into ‘summer-like-weather’ : calm variable winds with thunderstorms in between. Yuck. But that’s not the worst… what became a deal breaker was Agatha. Yes, AAAAAgatha (the first tropical storm of the year on the PACIFIC site) decided to move across Mexico, and threaten to become a hurricane after regaining power over the warm gulf stream, on its way towards Florida and the northern part of the Bahamas. When all this started to really shape up in the weather forecast, it was Monday May 30th, the day before our friends were supposed to fly in.
Désolé… La traduction n’est pas disponible pour le moment. Veuillez revenir plus tard 😉
We called our friends – who had been watching the weather as much as us, if not more – and their minds were already set on canceling the trip. So we didn’t have much explaining to do. But we were so bummed out. I lived in Florida for 8 years, had a boat in the water year-round, and never saw a hurricane approach before August! I know my statistical data is pretty slim, but still, a hurricane the FIRST week of JUNE?!
As soon as we hung up, we changed gear and mindset. We were now planning a trip to Great Harbour Cay, as fast as possible. You’ll understand why later… But wait, there’s another fun story to tell before we left Georgetown…
Connie emailed us a few days earlier, saying that a boat named Georgia was going to arrive in Georgetown in the next few days. They are a couple that Connie and Tony met 11 years ago in the Baja area (Mexico), while they were both on their sail around the world. So Connie asked us to say Hello from them if we crossed path. Honored to meet them and excited to have a mission (while were ‘waiting’) we put an alarm on Marine Traffic so we would not miss their arrival. As soon as we got the notification, Monday around noon, we jumped in the dinghy with the camera in hand and crossed the bay to meet Paul and Christine and deliver our precious message! We also captured a quick message from them to deliver back to Connie and Tony. We had a blast! They were arriving from a 5 days crossing from Puerto Rico, and they looked fresh as roses. I don’t know what their secret is… Decades of practice maybe? I wish we had more time to hear their story, but they had to clear customs, and we had to get going as well. It was very nice to meet you Paul and Christine, hope to cross path again!
Back to our new plan, we ran to the grocery one last time (had one last ice cream too, you know, for the road…), hoisted the dinghy on deck, prepared some food for the trip, took a nap, and left around midnight. We were hoping to get some wind through the night, but on the sound side (ocean side) the waves were on the beam and stronger than the wind, which backwinds the sails and shakes the rig too much to our liking… (BTW, if anyone has a solution for this kind of situation, please enlighten us, we get really frustrated when this happens!) So we motored almost all night, and the wind eventually completely died, and we motored more… We crossed over on the bank side via Farmers Cay Cut before slack high tide, and motored all the way to Normans Cay, north of the Exumas. We dropped the hook and went to sleep early. Next morning we left early to cross the bank towards Nassau, motoring all day again. The weather was hot with much appreciated clouds and showers once in a while. We fueled up in Nassau, dropped the hook again for a nap, and left at 3am to get to Great Harbour in the Berries. That day was even hotter, with way too much sun… I had to be creative to survive my shift in the cockpit… The highlight of this boring motoring trip was the visit of 4 dolphins! Check it out! First time we see dolphins in the Bahamas… And!!!! We caught a yellowtail Snapper on the way as well! Yummy 🙂
Just before arriving into Great Harbour, we got hit by a squall. Wind went from zero to like 40kt (someone told us that’s what they saw on their instruments) in a few seconds. We were healing a good 20-25 degrees barepole! When we arrived in the marina that night, after doing at least 25 figure 8 and circles in the harbor to ‘wait out’ the weather before docking, I asked Remy if he wanted to check out the videos I took. He looked at me and said “you took videos today?” Remy, super focused on the helm, didn’t even notice I had a camera on the forehead!
Here’s why we are hiding from the storm in Great Harbour : it’s SUPER protected.
It’s a tiny harbor in another tiny harbor, with a ditch size entrance, and little hills (or big hills by Bahamas standards) and trees all around. And it’s also affordable! It can’t really get any better, honestly. We knew the place because, if you remember, that’s where we landed when we first arrived 3 month ago… That’s also where we took our last real shower, so we were looking forward to meet with them again! Oh yeah!!!!
We prepared the boat as best as we could, lashing everything, doubling the dock lines and fenders. Our neighbor, a French couple, were doing the same thing, we were very happy to be docked next to them… because we were almost the only boats in the whole marina who were taking extra precautions before the storm.
Looking back, the storm was not that bad from inside the harbor, which is a good thing. We were still pretty happy to have chosen to hide in here. The next few days were not very windy, so we stayed a week, enjoying the beaches, the bikes, the showers, and meeting new sailors while waiting for our weather window to cross to Florida.
What? We are sailing back to Florida? Weren’t we there just 3 months ago?
Yes, I know, it may look like we’re turning around, but here’s the reasoning. We got to the East Coast 2 months later than planned because the US borders were closed. Then we stopped to fix our bent shaft and we were on the hard for 2.5 months. In other words, we got to the Bahamas waaaaay late. The hurricane season doesn’t care, it’s not gonna wait for us. There are 2 ways to escape the ‘hurricane box’, going south, or going north. South means Grenada or further, which is a long ways from here, and has many beautiful places to see in between. If we were going to make it there this year, we would have had to rush through the Bahamas, rush upwind to the eastern Caribbean, rush down the chain of islands, and hopefully make it to Grenada on time. Feasible, but not exactly our idea of enjoying our travels. If we were going north, it means going back up the coast until the Chesapeake maybe? Spend the summer there, and spend big $ if we need to take a slip to leave the boat while we come back home for a visit? And stressing out that hurricanes do make it up there once in a while (hell, they make it to Nova Scotia sometimes! No way we’re going back up north THAT much!) So, if exiting the box is not in the plans this year, might as well chose a safe spot IN the box, out of the water, and use that time to continue checking items off our to do list. That safe (and affordable) place was obviously going to be Green Cove Springs, FL.
We left at 5am Friday morning for a 360 nm crossing to Jacksonville.
The first day was very light winds. And on days 2 and 3, we were lucky to have enough winds to sail. It started with a nice steady beam reach, and then was oscillating between beam reach and a run, with a few lulls in between… But riding on the conveyor belt (we had plotted the position of the gulf steam to make sure we would optimize our time in the middle of it), even in the lulls, we were doing ok VMG. We also had our daily squalls, as always in the summer around here, which kept us on our toes between 3pm and sunset every day. In one of the squalls, a very nasty looking one, we had 2 reefs and no headsail just to be on the conservative side. And we ended up “heaving to” in the worst of it. It was nice to know that we can easily heave to with only the mainsail. And the funny thing is that while heaving to, we were pointing due south, but were still making 4kt in the right direction (north) because of the current. So we felt no hurry to turn around! Haha! As we were approaching Jacksonville, the wind was getting lighter and more and more variable and squally. We probably did more maneuvering in those last few hours than in the last 3 months altogether (Roll the genny, take a reef, shake a reef, unroll the genny, bare off, put the pole up for wing-on-wing, put the pole down, jibe, take another reef, head up, trim in, bare off, shake the reefs… again and again… and eventually start the engine, flake the sails, and motor into the St-John’s river!)
We arrived at the dock in Sister’s Creek Sunday night, just in time for dinner with our friends Calmalo and C’est la vie (who had crossed to Ft Pierce before the storm, and had made their way north in the ICW). It was pure coincidence that they happened to be in Sisters Creek the same night we arrived. Life is so generous! We had a great time, but did not party very late as we had a few hours of sleep to catch-up, and our friends were leaving for their offshore sail to Charleston early next morning.
We sailed to downtown Jax next day, and then to Green Cove Springs… our home base for the next few months.
From “Travel mode” to “Project mode”
In Green Cove, we organized ourselves a little differently. Ted loaned us a portable AC unit (thanks Ted, I’m not sure how we would have survived this heat wave without it!) Although we’d been sweating a lot in the past 2 months, being on the water usually means a little cooler inside the boat, and some breeze as the boat points into the wind on anchor. On the hard, the hull heats in the sun, the boat does not line itself up with the breeze, and there is much less breeze too in the summer.
Rosanne and Sean were still willing to loan us their minivan – Yay!!!!! – which is a game changer out here as there is nowhere to go on foot. Village is a 40 min walk one way (we tried it!) and there is not even a proper grocery there. So forget living a pedestrian life in Green Cove. Thanks again Rosanne for your trust and generosity!
All along the trip, we’ve been updating and modifying our long ‘To Do List’. It now has a column with a ‘summer 2022’ filter, so we could see and prioritize what we want to do this summer. Oh we’ve been optimistic, and it’s guaranteed that we won’t do it all, but at least we have a plan 😉
So for two weeks, the priority is on stuff that needs to get started early (for parts ordering or work offloading) and preparing the boat to be left alone safely for a bit. Here’s some of the list items :
- Taking the sails off the boat, and sending them to a sailmaker for maintenance and small repairs;
- Emptying all the cockpit compartments for drying and cleaning;
- Emptying the anchor locker to rinse and dry all the lines;
- Taking the propeller apart to send it off to PYI for refurbishing;
- Rinsing and greasing the outboard engine for storage ;
- Installing the curtains and shade tarps to fight the heat ;
- Cleaning and drying the bilge and underfloor (and sprinkling some boric acid in case of bug intruders) ;
- Resealing the mast booth to reduce rain water intrusion ;
- Measuring a few things for parts ordering and later projects ;
- Installing a third bilge pump ;
- Strapping the boat down in case of hurricane ;
- And… removing the dodger.
Let me explain the dodger story…
The dodger was made of wood covered in resin (or two component paint). At some point in its life, humidity got in, and when Sage spent her first winter in Quebec, nature made its thing : the water froze, expanded, and made the dodger crack everywhere. Then more water got in, and froze again the following winter and so on. Our initial idea was to remove the dodger from the boat and store it at my aunt and uncle’s place in Florida for a few months to let it dry properly, so we could then fix it in the fall. However, when we unscrewed it and started hoisting it, we realized it was in worst shape than we thought. The wood was really reeeeaaaallllllly soft in lots of places, jeopardizing its general structure. So we came to the conclusion that it was broken beyond repair. Too bad, it was a very well built piece of art, with all parts laser cut and assembled like a perfect puzzle from underneath. The good news is that it’s better to realize how damaged it was now, rather than relying on it until a handle rips off while we’re hanging on for our lives!
We have now been shuffling a lot of different ideas about what the dodger 2.0 will be like. We’ll keep you posted on this later. But for now, we need to say good bye for a little bit. We’re going back home for a few months, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for a little longer than usual. We’ll be back with yard stories in the fall!
Thanks to all of you who followed us in the past year, your support and messages were always heartwarming, and we hope our stories made you smile as much as we did.
Wishing you all a beautiful summer!