Sunday, May 25, 2008

Exumas to Beaufort, SC

Capt'n Bill at the navigation desk.

The lighthouse in the east entrance to Nassau Harbour.

Our route through the Bahamas.

The Spanish hand over the Castillo San Marcos, and the rest of Florida, to the British.

May 25, 2008

We are back in the USA. Bill has been singing the Beatles tune “Back in the USSR” but with his own words. Between his singing and his words the effect is nearly unbearable especially on this small boat.

We left Warderick Wells in the Exumas Park on May 5th and headed back north along the bank to Norman’s Key. We anchored off the west side of Norman’s and went to MacDuff’s Beach Bar for a beer (or two…) and supper. I had fish fingers which were Mahi-Mahi (dolphin fish) caught that day. I saw a picture of the fisherman who caught the fish, and since he was in the bar, congratulated him on an excellent fish. It really was good! Bill had a huge cheeseburger with fries while thoughts of Jimmy Buffet drifted through his head and ketchup drooled from his chin.

We left Norman’s Cay the next morning and sailed the 50 miles to Nassau dodging the coral heads poking up from the white sand twenty feet below the boat along the way. We anchored in the harbor but did not even get off the boat. We had heard horrible tales of thieves swimming out to anchored boats. Some said it was best to keep the boat locked and the alarm system turned on (we don’t have such a thing) even when you were on board! Maybe one day we will go back and stay in a fancy resort, or maybe not. Our anchor was up early, and we were off across the Tongue of the Ocean to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands. We were making such good time with the wind on the quarter that Captain Bill convinced me we could keep on sailing, cross the Grand BahamaBank at night, and make it to Bimini early the next morning. So we kept on going. This was my first overnight sail. It wasn’t too bad; just not a lot to see after the sun went down. The moon set about 9pm, and after that it was dark. But, beside the red and green running lights reflected in the bow rail, you could see thousands of stars overhead and the phosphorescent wake of the boat behind us; very impressive.

We arrived in Bimini Harbour and tied up in Weech’s Marina by about 11am. Bill chose Weech’s because it was the first marina we came upon and there was a sailboat tied to the outer dock. (It was also the cheapest marina listed in the guidebook.) The one sailboat left after we talked with them leaving us as the only large boat in the marina. Both of us took a short nap then went out for some sightseeing. Ernest Hemingway used to hang out here in Alicetown with his fishing buddies. One of his haunts was the Compleat Angler Bar. We thought we would have a drink in this famous bar, but when we got there we found that, alas, it burned to the ground in 2006. Not so much as a toothpick of wood remained. We later went to the Anchorage Inn, another Hemingway hangout, for dinner. The view was outstanding, but the food was so-so. In December 2007 the Bimini locals rioted after a police shooting in a bar and burned the police barracks and the police boats. We could still feel the tension in the air. From the look of things, I think a lot of drugs were flowing freely there in Alicetown!

The weather forecast for Saturday was excellent; we couldn’t ask for better to cross the Gulf Stream. As soon as the sun was up, we untied ourselves from the dock at Weech’s and headed across the Gulf Stream for Palm Beach Florida 75 miles away. In the Florida Straits the sun was out, the sky was clear, the wind was light, the seas flat, the autopilot was in charge, and all was well on Irish Eyes. We saw a Coast Guard cutter five miles away headed in the opposite direction and didn’t think much about it. When the cutter turned around and started following us, we got a little paranoid. We were watching them on the radar and discussing their maneuvers when we heard, “Sailing vessel Irish Eyes this is Coast Cutter Diligence.” over the VHF radio. (They could read the name on our stern, but we could hardly see them in the haze.) We responded and were told to prepare for an administrative boarding party. We were to maintain our course and speed and the boarding vessel would be with us shortly. An inflatable boat with about a dozen armed men came along side us. Two of the men jumped aboard Irish Eyes, and I do mean jumped. They were very nice. The peered in the boat’s bilges, checked the flares and horn, looked at the life jackets, counted the fire extinguishers, examined the boat papers, and copied the numbers from Bill’s passport. But, I just sat there. They didn’t even ask me my name before they left. It all added a little excitement to our trip.

We made landfall at Lake Worth Inlet about 5pm without any further ado. (And, without so much as a single nibble on the two lures we trailed all the way across from Bimini.) Our original plan was to be in Florida by May 15th. We ended up being five days early, but with the good weather window, it was the time to go across.

As we were approaching the inlet, a small oil tanker was leaving. Bill went just outside the red edge of the channel to give the guy lots of room. All was well until the tanker turned 180° in the channel and started back into Lake Worth keeping us under its bows for the full turn. We were more than a little worried because in addition to the ship behind (and above) us we were surrounded by a cloud of small motor boats and jet skis. The tanker was just getting into position to come alongside its unloading dock, but we did not know it at the time. The motor boats and jet skis were another tale. We had to navigate around Peanut Island, a popular spot with sand beaches for Saturday afternoon boaters to meet, drink, and party. Unfortunately, between the booze and horsepower, it was like driving down the interstate with cars weaving in and out of the lanes except there were no lanes. The cops were there and even had a police paddy wagon boat on the scene, but that did not slow the party down. Welcome to Florida! It was a shock after two months of laid back island life. We quickly fled a couple of miles north, anchored in the northern end of Lake Worth, and had our usual hook down drinks. This time they were doubles!

When a US registered boat comes back into the United States, they must call an 800 phone number to obtain entry clearance. Before we left the US we bought a Homeland Security decal for $27. This was supposed to speed our clearance into the US. We had our sticker, so we thought we would just make the phone call and that would be the end of it all. Wrong. First, we had a half hour of “Your call is important to us…”. Then when a person finally came on the line, we were given an arrival number and told we had 24 hours to report in person to the Palm Beach Airport Immigration Office. Okay, no problem. We got up Sunday morning, took the dinghy over to shore, locked it to a fence, walked to Wendy’s, called a cab, and waited. Our cab arrived with a Haitian driver. That was a good thing as he knew exactly where to take us and what to do. The Immigration Office was a separate building from the air terminal. Nobody was in line when we got there, so our driver said he would wait. We got to the window, rang the bell, a uniformed officer opened the door a crack, took our Ziploc bag of boat documents and passports and said, “Be right back”. He wasn’t joking! We waited outside, and less than two minutes later, he cracked the door open again and handed us back our plastic bag of papers and told us we were cleared. Nobody ever inspected the boat, asked us any questions, or held up our passports to see if the photos matched our faces. The passports were not even stamped. I now feel very safe knowing these procedures were in place! It cost us $110 in cab fare to enter our home country! Oh well, somebody thought this system was a good idea.

We left Palm Beach after a quick trip to the grocery store and began our journey north. After a night in Daytona Beach, we stopped off in Titusville at the municipal marina to do the laundry, fill the water tanks, and wash the salt off the boat. Bill made his obligatory trip to the local West Marine store, and we had a restaurant meal ashore. The manatees were still there swimming around the boat and drinking the water that leaked from the dripping faucet on the dock. We continued north to St. Augustine to meet Julia and Josh. They brought us the new supply of books we had ordered from Amazon the week before. They also took us shopping at Sailor’s Exchange, Winn Dixie, and Radio Shack. We took them to a restaurant on St. George Street for lunch, to the Castillo San Marcos for a tour, and to the Sana Maria Restaurant for supper. We played tourist ourselves in St. Augustine for two days and went to church on Sunday for the first time since January.

From St. Augustine we motored north on the ICW to Fernandina Beach where after some confusion we anchored for the night in the Bell River across from the town. The next day we made a short journey to St. Marys, Georgia to wait out some forecast high winds. As we continued on our way north, we also anchored behind red daymark 222 north of Brunswick, in an unnamed creek near Richmond Hill, and in Skull Creek at Hilton Head Island. We are now in Beaufort, SC for the Memorial Day weekend just being lazy, walking around town, taking in the Gullah Festival, doing a little shopping, and reading our new books. We hope to be in New Bern (and maybe Kingsport) by June 15th. That’s as far as we have planned. I have to pinch myself every now and then to believe we have really made this amazing journey. Life really is good!

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