Here and There and Back Again

Lots of random movement. And lots of sunshine.

For the past week or so I’ve been moving almost daily from island to island in the central Exumas. The weather has been nice with consistent easterly trade winds that allow easy north and south sailing. All of this movement has been within a day’s sail of Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot and I’m starting to think of this area as home. The anchorage is roomy and protected and its easy to get fuel, water and food — so I keep coming back after spending a few days away in quieter, more secluded spots.

The Black Point settlement on Great Guana Cay (just a few miles south of Staniel Cay) has a great natural harbor and some nice facilities for cruisers including a couple of restaurants, a small grocery store and possibly the most scenic laundromat anywhere. This is the government dock and dinghy landing.
Clearly conching is a local industry. There were hundreds of shells on the beach near the government dock.
Black Point is known for their boat builders and sailors. This one is called “Smashie.”
Just opposite the harbor there are some dramatic rock formations in Exuma Sound. This is the windward side of the island and the surf was pretty intense.
Cool blowhole I understand the spray is much taller at high tide.
One of several green turtles that hung out around Andante while anchored in Black Point.
A bit further south is White Point. No settlement here but a huge and gorgeous beach that was great for walking.
At the end of the white sand beach the rock was particularly jagged and sharp.
Back at Bitter Guana Cay in a small cove a little south of Iguana Beach. One of my favorite anchorages so far. Will be back soon.
Andante in a small cove on Bitter Guana Cay. I like the contrast between the shallow Exuma Bank and the deep Exuma Sound.
No sharks. But cool ripples on a windy day.
Today we sailed north to a nice snorkeling spot near Soldier’s and O’Briens Cays in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. Probably the clearest water yet. And some giant sea turtles.
Fishy fishy fishy fish.
Beware discount airlines.

Bitter Guana Cay

I’m not sure what the ‘guanas are bitter about. This place is gorgeous.

The island is a protected habitat for endangered iguanas. Most are 2-3 feet long. They generally move around pretty slowly but I’ve been surprised at how fast they can scamper when something exciting is happening.
The island has some pretty tall (and seemingly fragile) limestone cliffs. The view from the top is pretty spectacular, both on the protected (west) side facing the bank and on the windward side facing Exuma Sound.
This guy was pretty curious about the camera. I learned yesterday (via a friend with first-hand experience) that they will bite if you try to feed them by hand.
We are less than 3 miles from the settlement at Staniel Cay (top of the photo) but the little anchorage feels very isolated. Exactly what I was looking for.

Not sure how long I will stay here. For the first time in a while the weather is not pushing me in any particular direction. I may just stay put for a while and enjoy the environment for a while. I’ve found a few little patch reefs that I’d like to explore this afternoon. Will take the camera with me and try to share what I find underwater.

Key Biscayne

We’ve spent the last couple of days anchored offshore of the old Nixon winter white house site near the Key Biscayne Yacht Club. This spot is also just a few blocks from where Paula and Cheese and Basil and I lived in the mid 1990’s.

Through the magic of reciprocal privileges and a timely letter of introduction from our RBHYC commodore I was able to gain access to the club to use their dinghy dock to access groceries and water and covid testing. It was fun walking around the town again after so many years. The yacht club itself is much bigger and fancier than when we lived here — but the people are still super friendly and helpful and the view of downtown Miami across Biscayne Bay is still spectacular.

All the water tanks are topped off, fresh fruits and veggies are loaded, I’ve got my health visa, the weather forecast looks good and we’re ready to go. We’ll depart late this evening for the quick overnight trip across the Gulf Stream to Bimini. The plan is to stay at a marina in Alice Town for the first night (or possibly two) to get my bearings and wait for the next front to pass. Then I expect to head further east across the bank to the Berry Islands. Or not. From here on there is no real schedule or itinerary.

Andante in Key Biscayne. More boats arrive every day to wait on weather for a Gulf Stream crossing. After several weeks of lousy conditions it looks like the next 2-3 days will provide light winds and reasonable seas — so expecting to motorsail most of the 50 miles from here to Bimini.
Key Biscayne Yacht Club. A bit too fancy for my taste but amazing view from the bar.
The old Nixon helipad is on the right side of this photo. The homes along the shore are in all different styles and some are really attractive — but its the view from the houses that makes the location appealing. And I get the same view (maybe better) from Andante for free.
The view. Even better when in focus.
After weeks of worrying about logistics it was crazy simple to get a covid test from this little trailer about a mile walk from the yacht club. Same-day appointment for a rapid PCR test that gave a result within two hours. That allowed me to get all of my Bahamas health visa and immigration paperwork out of the way. Yay.
Road ibis. Use caution.
The moon over Miami was underperforming this week even with an assist from Jupiter.


Nowhere to go. So I went places and did stuff.

The cold north wind keeps on blowing so no passage to the Bahamas anytime soon. So today I ferried some water and fuel, spent some time exploring the Fort Pierce Inlet / Indian River Lagoon area in Dinghy, cooked up some more of those yummy shrimp, and climbed the mast to fix a loose tether on the radar reflector.

On the way back with fuel, water, and ice cubes. Even just sitting at anchor we use water (cooking, dishes, occasional showers) and fuel (battery charging and refrigeration). I have jugs to carry 10 gallons of water, 10 gallons of fuel, and 5 gallons of gasoline (for Dinghy). Filling all of the water and fuel tanks from zero this way would be hard work — keeping up with daily usage isn’t too bad.
Andante is anchored just south of a group of small mangrove islands. Lots of birds and fish and dolphins to see.
A gathering of white ibis. According to The Google such a grouping has many collective nouns including a “congregation”, “stand” and “wedge” of ibises.
Great blue heron. She blends in well and held perfectly still as I drove past — but made a huge racket a few seconds later when startled by something.
A great egret. Not exactly their native habitat but she seems perfectly content. And probably a better boat driver than some folks who rent this little center console at the city marina. Yikes.
These guys seem to enjoy sneaking up on me and making the biggest possible blowing noise right next to the boat. Can be unnerving when its otherwise quiet. You can hear one of them make a little squeak in the last few seconds of the video. Sometimes I wish I had a hydrophone with me.
View from the lower spreaders. From this height you can hardly see the dirt. One of the lines securing the radar reflector had come loose so I went up to secure it. During the day I pull the boom off to one side during to minimize shading of the solar panel. The wind and current here are constantly changing so i have to adjust the boom frequently. On a good day we generate 40-50 Ah (around 500 Wh or 0.5 kWh) of energy. That’s about 20-25% of our daily usage when at anchor. I run the engine for an hour in the morning and evening to generate the remainder and to cool the freezer.
Finally, I used the last of the big brown shrimp from the farmer’s market to made a risotto. All the shrimp heads and shells were toasted in a pan with onions to make the stock. Yum.

Decision Time

Off to a staging harbor to prep for the next few months.

The Banana River west of Port Canaveral was a really interesting anchorage. Lots of wildlife pressed right up against a major industrial area. Interestingly the wildlife (birds and dolphins, in particular) seemed not to care. The pelicans seemed happy to roost on man-made structures and the dolphins have figured out how to use the locks to go back and forth between the ocean and the lagoon.

We said goodbye to Port Canaveral in late morning and headed for Fort Pierce. On the way out we passed a couple of gigantic cruise ships which has arrived overnight. Andante felt very small and secretly wished for a water slide of her own.

Leaving Port Canveral
We passed two cruise ships berthed in Port Canaveral on our way back to the Atlantic. I’ve never been on a cruise ship like that and have some difficulty understanding the attraction — but they are still really interesting to me. The first one (MSC Meraviglia) was just huge. The second (Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas) had a cool twisty waterslide on the upper deck.
Sailing nicely out of Port Canveral. When the wind picked up in the afternoon it was almost directly in front of us. We tacked back and forth for a while but finally gave in shortly before nightfall and turned the engine on.
Lying on my back on the foredeck this was my view for much of the morning.
While this one missed us a subsequent storm hit us with torrential rain and some pretty good winds just a few miles before the entrance channel. I was glad to have the sails down at that point.
When I’m not on deck staring at the sails I’m generally down below staring at screens at the nav station. I use a chart plotter on my Mac (OpenCPN) to plan our route and monitor progress underway. Radar and AIS are very useful, especially at night. Its surprising how many fancy expensive boats (especially powerboats) don’t have AIS. I had a chance to do a few sun sights on this leg but haven’t worked them up yet. Now that its warm enough to hold a sextant in bare hands I’m hoping to work on my celestial skills over the next couple of months.
Andante anchored in Fort Pierce the morning after arrival. The water is warm and clear and greenish-blue. And full of dolphins and jumping fishes. On one side of us is a cluster of mangrove islands with lots of birds.
On the other side of us is the Fort Pierce Coast Guard station and a waterfront bar that offers really loud (but not very good) live rock music all evening. Bar not shown to protect the guilty.

So what next? After considering several scenarios I think the most compelling option is to head from here to the Bahamas. From Fort Pierce it is only 80 nm to West End. Getting from here to there will require completing some maintenance items, restocking food and supplies and waiting (and waiting) for an appropriate weather window. And all of this needs to be coordinated with obtaining a Covid test that is required for entry.

I chose Fort Pierce as a staging location exactly because it provides access to all of the products and services I need for this logistical puzzle while also providing the option to anchor out (free) for an arbitrary duration. I’d be much less inclined to wait for perfect weather if I was trapped in a marina paying more than $100/night. The dinghy ride to shore is long and can be wet — but the City Marina provides a nice secure dinghy dock that they encourage visiting boaters to use. A Lyft ride to downtown or the grocery store is about $7. So the infrastructure is here to make this work.

I’m still looking at options for Covid testing. The Bahamas will accept a rapid antigen test but it seems that appointments for a drive-through PCR test are more widely available. Never mind that I don’t have a car. The real trick is that the test result must be no more than 3 days old when you enter the country. With a typical 2 day wait on PCR test results, uncertain weather and the moderately slow nature of our travels it will be tough to meet that requirement.

I understand that the 3 day test age requirement can be waived if arriving by private vessel provided you can prove you haven’t stopped anywhere since the test. So at the moment my working plan is to wait for a good weather outlook, schedule and get a Covid test (hopefully Lyft is OK with a drive-through swabbing) and start sailing south along the Florida coast staying in cell range without stopping until I am emailed the test result. Then I can divert east across the Gulf Stream with an intended target of West End, Grand Bahama. Or if the test result takes really long to deliver, Bimini.

So I’ve made a decision and have something like a plan. It remains to be seen if it is a good plan but fortunately I’m flexible and in no rush. We’ll make the best of whatever happens next.