Tuesday, February 3, 2009


We have neglected our blog. We apologize to our disappointed readers. Both of them complained. Here's what has happened since our last post:

February we enjoyed the Sea of Abaco in the Bahamas. One memorable, calm day at Green Turtle Cay we snorkeled acres of beautiful coral heads crowded with colorful tropical fishes and then walked in the shallow water off the beach, finding dozens of “sand dollars.”

We returned to the mainland USA for March and April to work and visit family there.

Then in May we sailed the Sea of Abaco with dear friends Doug, Sally, and Emily from Des Moines before making an uneventful passage back to the US. We stopped in Florida to see family and get some canvas work done. Then we went offshore to North Carolina and then up the ICW to Chesapeake Bay.

Along the way we stopped at Roanoke Island, where Sir Walter Raleigh established the first English colony in America in 1587, the year before the Armada. It is a lovely town now, but we imagined that in the sixteenth century it would have been a thoroughly horrid place to live. It is low and swampy and the waters surrounding it are about two feet deep for miles in every direction. As we all know, no one from the colony is known to have survived. They had all disappeared within three years, probably dead from various causes or assimilated into the native population.

We visited the great maritime museum at Hampton Roads Virginia. They have an impressive wing devoted to the great naval battle that occurred there between the Union ironclad, Monitor, and the Confederate ironclad, Virginia. They have raised the Monitor's turret from where it lay for over a hundred years off Cape Hatteras, and they are conserving it at the museum. They exhibit beautiful collections of scale model sailing ships and of full-sized boats from around the world.

We visited Kill Devil Hills/Kitty Hawk, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. There is a great visitors' center where guests can learn about the Wright brothers' research and engineering that led to the first sustained powered flight in a heavier than air machine. This is a must-see for anyone interested in the subject.

We left Seabbatical in Virginia, on the Yeocomico River, a tributary to the Potomac, while we returned to Des Moines for the summer.

In the autumn we returned to Virginia with son, Aaron, to recommission Seabbatical and visit historic sites almost too numerous to mention. Highlights included colonial sites: Williamsburg and Jamestown; Revolutionary War sites: Yorktown; Civil War sites: Cold Harbor, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Petersburg, Appomattox, Spotsylvania, The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Manassas.

We visited the great cities of Richmond, Washington, DC, and Annapolis, the Confederate White House at Richmond, Robert E. Lee's ancestral home at Stratford, Washington's home at Mount Vernon, and Frederick Douglass' home outside Washington, DC.

Aaron returned to his home in Mason City, Iowa, and Tana and Mark returned to Seabbatical.

By late October, with the threat of hurricanes diminished, we headed south again, first, inside on the ICW until south of Cape Hatteras, and then outside on the North Atlantic from Beaufort, N.C. to Lake Worth Inlet, Florida. We hopped offshore again to Ft. Lauderdale, waited there for weather, and then crossed the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

On a wonderful October day while Seabbatical was some miles off the Georgia coast, a tiny, exhausted warbler landed on deck. He was so tired that he was for a whole day completely tame. He flew up onto Mark's chest and rested in the sun all afternoon while Mark conned the boat. From time to time he would hop about the deck, eating bits of cereal we put out for him, and occasionally he flew up onto Mark's hat. The next day he was no longer tame, and the third day he disappeared.

We had a couple of days of concern when a late-season hurricane headed north toward the central Bahamas, but it “petered out” just north of Cuba, so we arrived in Man-O-War Cay without incident, there to decommission Seabbatical again so we could return to Des Moines.

We flew to the Bahamas again in mid-January to find Seabbatical in perfect shape. Our January highlight was the visit of friends Shane and Cindy from Des Moines. We snorkeled, walked the beach, savored key lime pie, and enjoyed not shoveling any snow for days at a time.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


We left Seabbatical for a month and returned to Des Moines to spend December with family and friends, and Mark went back to work at the Clinic.

January found us back on Seabbatical in the Sea of Abaco. Winter weather here brings mostly warm, sunny, and dry days with light winds. Our activities are dictated by the cyclic weather pattern. The warm days with steady easterly winds occur during periods of high pressure over the Abacos. Then every week or ten days a cold front works its way south from the continental USA and as it does so, the wind veers south, and then west, and then the cold north wind arrives and it rains for a day or two. Then the easterlies re-establish themselves, and the warm weather returns.

Our daughter, Megan, her husband, Robert, and their two sons, William (4) and James (2) visited us for ten days of perfect weather and great sailing. We visited world-class beaches, swam, played in the sand, watched the stars at night, and basked in our love as a family.

This week while snorkeling a reef in about 2 to 10 meters of water we were thrilled to see a formation of seven huge spotted eagle rays cruise past us twice, just a few meters away. These beautiful animals have a wingspan of about 2 meters and are covered on the dorsal side with many dark spots against a brown background. They have a long pointed tail, and they glide effortlessly along with just an occasional wave of their great fins. They tend to swim in formation, much like geese fly. I suppose they ride the slipstream of the animals ahead. What a beautiful sight!

This week has also featured the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the early morning sky. What a sight. This morning these two brightest objects in the sky were separated by only 0.6 degrees. Stargazing in the islands is amazing. Especially in remote anchorages we experience a degree of darkness that city dwellers never see. Mars is very close right now, is a wonderful yellow color, and is brighter than Sirius. The milky way is a bright smear across the night sky.

Soon, we will put Seabbatical on a mooring and return to Des Moines for a couple of months. We are eager to see our family and friends there again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter 7: West End to Green Turtle Cay

Having arrived at West End, Grand Bahama, we were still separated from our chosen cruising ground, the Sea of Abaco by the breadth of the Little Bahama Bank. The Little Bahama Bank is a huge shallow sea about 80 nautical miles wide. Most of it is too shallow for navigation, dotted with rocks and reefs. Fortunately, mariners have found a limited number of safe routes from point to point on the bank and the routes cross each other at nodes or junctions. As long as one enters the bank at a safe point and then travels from node to node, one is safe. It's like the way we drive on roads at home.

On the middle of the bank, we were as alone as people can be. There was no sign of people, boats, or human habitation from horizon to horizon. Often there was no land in sight, either. It looked like we were in the middle of the ocean, until we checked the depth gauge and saw that we were in only 13 feet of water!

It takes two days to cross the bank in a sailboat. Conveniently, there is a safe anchorage about exactly half way across, at Great Sale Cay (pronounced “Key”). After a good two-day run, mostly under power because the wind was “right on the nose” we reached a safe harbour in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chapter 6: Palm Beach to West End

The crossing between Florida and the Bahamas is a lot like that square on a game board labeled, “stay here until you roll a 6.” One needs to wait for good weather before one sets out. The largest river in the world flows northward at up to 4 knots just off the Florida Coast. The Gulf Stream is 100 km wide, 1000 m deep and transports a volume of water that is 50 times the combined volume of all the rivers that drain into the Atlantic Ocean from North and South America, Europe and Africa. It cannot be crossed in a small boat if the wind is against the stream.

We needed to get at least as far south as Fort Lauderdale before entering the stream so it would deposit us near Grand Bahama, about 40 miles farther north, when we emerged on the other side. We left Palm Beach on a lovely, clear day and sailed south, staying a couple of miles offshore, in a fine easterly breeze, and arrived in Fort Lauderdale before dusk. We picked up a mooring and spent several days waiting for weather, visiting family and getting Seabbatical ready to go to sea again.

After the two weeks of northerly winds that brought us south from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale, and a week of strong easterlies while we waited in Florida, we jumped at the chance to cross the stream when the weather service predicted lighter east winds and diminishing seas. We left Ft. Lauderdale at 2 AM and by about 04:00 we were in the stream with the wind right on the nose. Not the 10 to 15 knots predicted; not diminishing, but a steady 15 - 20 knot wind all night. It was a slow, bouncy trip, but, in the end, we made it OK. Seabbatical is a sweet little ship.

Chapter 5: Annapolis to Palm Beach

It’s been a long time since Annapolis and we think that perhaps we are becoming better sailors than bloggers. At least, we’ve had plenty of practice at boat handling in the past few weeks.

While in Annapolis, we stocked up with spare parts, cleaning supplies and stuff for various projects, and Mark got a fabulous set of foul weather gear for his birthday. Doesn’t he look stunning in his birthday suit?

We left Annapolis in a in a rain squall which was entirely appropriate because it had poured non-stop for the three days we were there. The winds were gusty, the visibility crummy and the seas rough. To add to the tension, we left the harbor just as a fleet of J-Boats darted out to start a race. Our timing was impeccable. An all day and overnight passage down Chesapeake Bay put us in Norfolk where we felt as though we were piloting a wing fighter past the Death Star as we moved our small vessel alongside the mammoth steel hulls of the Naval vessels docked there.

Just off the Walter Reed Naval Hospital in Norfolk is Mile 1 for the Intra-Coastal Waterway. The ICW is a combination of protected rivers and canals that can take you all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to Galveston, Texas. It’s a safe, inside passage when the weather is bad or the coastline dangerous. Some of the scenery along the ICW is quite beautiful, but travel is only possible during daylight, so progress is slow. We were very happy to be “inside” and tied up in the quaint town of Belhaven, North Carolina when the remnants of a hurricane Noel blew up the coast.

After about 300 miles of being passed by motorboats, trying to hold our position with a gaggle of other craft while waiting for bridges to open and anxiously looking for the dredged part of the channel, we made a break for the wide-open ocean as the weather became favorable. We had 4 days and 3 nights of glorious downwind sailing from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Palm Beach, Florida.

We pointed our bow at St. Augustine, because that’s as far south as one can point without entering the Gulf Stream. When we got to St. Augustine, the winds were still great, so we headed on down the Florida coast. Passing Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center during the night was especially memorable.

When making a passage, one of us is on watch and the other is trying to sleep. Of course, nobody gets much sleep and we were both pretty exhausted when we pulled into Palm Beach. Could you drive from coast to coast in 4 days and 3 nights if you never stopped the car? Imagine how you would feel. That’s how we felt.

Friday, October 26, 2007


You can stay in New York City for thirty bucks a night if you bring your boat. We picked up a mooring on the Hudson River at 79th Street and were very comfortable there. The next stage of our journey would take us “outside” on the North Atlantic Ocean, so we had to wait in New York City for weather to make that passage.

Meanwhile, we explored Manhattan. One evening we walked down Broadway to Lincoln Center, and heard The Marriage of Figaro at the Met. Sat in the second row, center, right behind the conductor. Those seats are not generally prized, as he does tend to obstruct the view, but we thought it was fun to sit there, and the sound was superb.

When the forecast was right, we headed out, past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, around Sandy Hook, and into the Atlantic. We boomed down the New Jersey Coast at about 9 knots in a 20 knot offshore wind all day and all night and then the next day ran up Delaware Bay in nearly calm conditions. It was perfect two day weather window for the trip.

To get from Delaware Bay to Chesapeake Bay, we took the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, a 12 mile long sea level ditch that is big enough for ships 800 feet long. It must have taken a lot of digging to build that canal, but it was worth it. It cuts hundreds of miles off the trip from Baltimore to Philadelphia for the big ships, and for us it meant continuing our trip south in the relative shelter of Chesapeake Bay.

At this writing, we are again waiting for weather, this time in Annapolis. The winds are contrary and it has rained constantly for 3 days. We haven't seen this much rain since the Des Moines flood of '93! Annapolis is the yachtsman's mecca filled with all the parts, fabricators and repair facilities you can only dream about in other parts of the world.


After arriving in the USA from Canada, it took just 10 minutes for the Customs officer to figure out we weren’t drug runners or terrorists and clear us and Seabbatical into the United States.

Next, we started our 4-day journey through the New York State canal and lock system. The locks, in a series of about 30 steps, lifted us up over the Catskill Mountains and down to near sea level at Troy, New York. Upon entering a lock, it is your job to carefully bring your boat alongside a cement wall and grab on to the slimy, disgusting lines that hang down from the walls. Then the lockmaster closes the lock doors and adjusts the water level to the level of the next step while you keep the boat alongside the wall by holding onto the lines. Sometimes we felt like rock stars as we smoothly brought in the boat and made the vertical adjustment. Other times, mostly depending on the direction and speed of the wind, we felt as awkward as a middle school boy asking a girl to dance for the first time.

At the quaint town of Catskill, NY the mast was lifted by a crane and guided into place. Rigging and lines were then adjusted and Seabbatical was once again a sailboat.

The trip down the Hudson was magical. Autumn leaves, 19th Century light houses, Vanderbilt mansions, West Point and then finally the George Washington Bridge and the skyline of New York City. Quite a ride.