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.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Lake Ontario is a huge body of water that can have ocean sized waves in windy weather. We took advantage of the absolutely still night of October 5 to cross from Whitby, Ontario to Oswego, New York. The lake was as flat as a mirror and the only wind was that which we created as we motored across. It was a peaceful, beautifully clear night with the planet Mars sparkling like a diamond pendant below the smile of a crescent moon.

Upon arrival at Oswego, we tied up to the municipal dock waiting for a Monday visit from Customs to clear us into the USA. Then we waited another day because a big barge was blocking the whole Oswego Canal a few miles ahead. Seabbatical is too wide to get through until the barge was removed.


On August 24, Seabbatical was moved overland from the PDQ factory to Port Whitby Marina in Whitby, Ontario. (Whitby is on the north shore of Lake Ontario about a 45 minute drive east of Toronto.) Once Seabbatical was in the water, the commissioning crew set to work rigging, testing systems and cleaning.

We drove a rented truck full of boat equipment from Des Moines to Whitby and went aboard Seabbatical for the first time on September 20th. We moved our gear aboard a few days later. It seems like we spent the next two weeks making daily visits to the nearby marine supply store as we installed the gear we had brought to Whitby.

We made a couple of shakedown cruises on Lake Ontario, and then, after all systems were operational, it was time to unstep (take down) the mast. Our course will take us down the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the North Atlantic Ocean. The mast has to be down on deck so we will fit under the bridges along the way. By Friday, October 5th, the mast was down and secured by a cobweb of lines to the deck and all of our errands were completed. It was time to say good-bye to our new friends at the dock and head out across the lake.


The story of Seabbatical starts 35 years ago. In the summer of 1972, Mark was in medical school at the University of Minnesota and Tana was home from college for the summer. We met at a church event one Sunday evening and Mark invited Tana to go for a sail on his father’s Columbia 26, Repose II. Tana accepted his invitation and several times that summer, we traveled down to the wide spot in the Mississippi River called Lake Pepin to sail for an afternoon. Five years later, Tana accepted another invitation from Mark and we were married.

Fifteen years, several moves and 3 children later, we took a Live-Aboard Cruising course in the British Virgin Islands. The die was cast. Since then, some of our most memorable vacations have been aboard charter sailboats with family and friends. We have sailed the waters of the Caribbean, Bahamas, North Atlantic, Central America, California and the South Pacific. We have crewed on long Pacific Ocean passages. Now that Mark has cut his work schedule down, we are ready to cruise on our own boat.

It takes about a year to build a boat which seems like a long time until you realize that it also takes about a year to gather all the supplies and equipment that an offshore sailboat requires. The list includes everything from signal flags to anchors, from tools to flatware.

Seabbatical is finally ready to go. Join us as we cruise.