This website was about voyages on various boats and then a plane owned by John and Laura Lee Samford of Birmingham, Alabama. The last boat and plane have been sold, so the blog has turned to other travels and comments on life events. It also contains other blather user-generated content. Check out what you like and ignore the rest. Thanks for stopping by.


Entries by John Samford (189)


Waiting to hear from Jack and Ruth

We met Jack and Ruth Livingstone in Long Island in the Bahamas, an intrepid couple who crossed the Gulf Stream in their 25-foot sailboat and cruised around happily for the last six months. Sunday, they tried to cross back to the U.S., at least a 12-hour trip in their little boat. Half-way across, they were boarded by the Coast Guard and sent back to Bimini for an expired fire extinguisher. They explained that they had looked for one in the Bahamas and couldn’t find one. They also explained that, half-way across, it would be safer to let them sail on rather than go all the way back and have to cross again. However, the stupid Coast Guard would not listen to reason.

I thought I had a good story about bureaucracy dealing with Customs and Immigration in Ft. Lauderdale, but this one takes the cake. Ok, they should have had the proper fire extinguisher. But when U.S. citizens are half way between Bimini and Florida in a 25-foot boat, they should not be sent to Bimini to get in compliance. This is a case of endangering lives of U.S. citizens to make a point. Why not issue them a citation and send them home to get a fire extinguisher?

You can read about their experience here, and you can read about all their other experiences on their blog.

Anyway, they were supposed to try again Monday but I haven’t heard from them yet. They either got further delayed or crossed over and haven’t gotten to internet access yet. Keep checking their blog to see how the trip turned out.


Anchoring Out

Log: 4274

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Location: Anchored in “Wailey’s Leg” just off the Mackay River, near Sea Island, Georgia

Distance Traveled Last Five Days: 286 nautical miles

Total Trip Distance: 1,634 nautical miles

One of the things you just don’t realize until you’ve been in boating awhile is just how expensive marinas are. For overnight stays on a trip, they charge by the foot with usually an extra charge for electricity or cable TV or wireless internet. The lower priced spots usually charge around $1.00 per foot while I’ve seen some resort marinas as high as $4.00 per foot. A typical rate is $2.00 per foot. So on a trip in my 52–foot boat, it’s not unusual to spend $104 for dockage plus another say $15 or so for power. Once you are docked, of course, you tend to be tired and elect to eat dinner off the boat, especially if there is a restaurant at the dock or nearby. With wine, even traveling alone, that can add another $50 or more to the evening. While you have to buy groceries to eat aboard, the simple fact is that staying at a marina adds a minimum of $150 per night to the cost of cruising. Take a 90–day trip as this one has been, stay at a marina every night, and there goes $13,500. Far more than the fuel or any other normal maintenance along the way.

So thrifty boaters have learned the value of anchoring out. It’s not only peaceful and quiet and usually beautiful, but you can save thousands of dollars a year by doing it. Tonight, I’m anchored in a lovely spot in perfect weather. My feet are propped up. I’m watching the evening news as I blog. And I’m looking forward to preparing a fine feast of canned sardines with crackers and a glass or two of chardonnay. I am reveling in the knowledge that I’m saving, or at least not spending, at least $150 by doing this. It’s like being paid to do this, and I’m thinking of taking it up as a full-time job.

If you are to anchor out, a few equipment items become absolutely essential. One is the anchor itself and the windlass that is used to lower and raise it. I planned to anchor out every night of this six-day trip but the first night, at sunset, I prepared to drop the anchor and the windlass simply did nothing. It turned out that while work was being done in the boatyard, a breaker had been tripped which is located under the forward bed. To figure that out and correct it, I limped into a marina in the dark and spent $136 for dockage just to have the leisure of taking the bed apart and getting to the breaker.

Another crucial thing is electrical power. The boat has a generator which must be run to cook or run the air conditioning. But you can’t run the generator all the time without having to change the oil every week so when running or enjoying a quiet evening, the boat needs an adequate inverter and enough battery power to run it for hours at a time. This was one of the great problems with this Bahamas trip in that I discovered the batteries were wearing out and I could not survive on the inverter for more than a few hours at a time. This situation not only cost me in dockage charges but I also had to buy seven new giant batteries when I got back to Florida.

Anyway, you get the picture. I can travel about 50 miles a day on this boat using 25 gallons of fuel at a cost of about $100. Anchoring out, I can avoid spending another $150 a day, making an enormous difference in the cost of cruising.

So, I’m almost finished with this journey. Tomorrow, I plan to reach the mouth of the Ogeechee River south of Savannah late in the afternoon, just in time to ride the high tide 17 miles up to the Ford Plantation where I will keep the boat this summer. I’ll log in tomorrow night to wrap up the trip. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures along the way. Not as interesting as the south Florida snapshots, but just a little typical scenery along the waterways:


One of my friends who swam along with me today


The girl in the background was walking on water


My next boat


Le Grand Bleue, a boat we first saw in Maine, in Drydock in Jacksonville


The Submarine Base near Cumberland Island


A few of the wild horses on the beach at Cumberland Island




No Country for Old Men

Log: 3988

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Location: Hobe Sound, Florida

Distance travelled today: 22 nautical miles

Total Trip Distance: 1348 nautical miles


Well, I’m back on the boat after a month and more repairs than I ever imagined at the Riviera Beach Yacht Center just north of Palm Beach. I was told the boat would be finished last Friday with maybe a little final cleanup Monday morning. So I came down Sunday afternoon to find it was nowhere near finished. I won’t go into it because it’s depressing, but I will say that the guy who sold me the boat, the people who built it, and the surveyor should all be shot. My only consolation now is that so many things have been fixed, there’s very little else that can be wrong.

In the middle of lamenting all this, Perfect Deckhand James Abele called to tell me the most unique boat story I’ve heard yet. He couldn’t get his pontoon boat at Lake Martin to start and nothing electrical worked at all. Upon taking apart the steering console, he found that muskrats had eaten all of the wiring behind the instrument panel. And yes James, it did make me feel better to hear of your misery. I feel your pain. Must be muskrat love.

Anyway, after the final work was finished today at about 4 pm, I finally got underway. I couldn’t go far that late in the day but I had to get out of there. I’m traveling alone, which is not a bad thing at all. While I always enjoy the help and good company of friends on these trips, there’s something delightfully free about travel alone. I’m not on any schedule. I go to bed when I want and get up when I wake up and pretty much do as I please. Meals are nowhere near as good as when a good cook is with me, but I’m free at the end of a long day to just open a can of sardines and drink a little wine, without worrying about being a host. I’m kind of enjoying it.

For safety, I'll be mostly traveling in the waterway. It’s shallow enough so that if the boat sinks, the majority of the boat will still be above water. In the event of a fire, I’ll just jump off and swim ashore. I may take a short dash out in the ocean on a calm day, but there will be no long trips at sea around Cape Canaveral. The Intracoastal is more difficult because you must constantly be alert and steer manually all day. However, the scenery is sometimes quite interesting.

Which brings me to the point of this entry, scenery. Whoever thinks south Florida is only populated with retirees needs to come down and check out the waterways down here. It’s No Country for Old Men. I leave you with a few of my snapshots along the way: 




Even though it’s spring, it’s never too early to think about football:



I yelled to this girl that it was time to turn but she wouldn’t go for it.



Where else to dance but the back of the boat?



As I said, it’s no country for old men:





MIAMI, Florida (CNN) — A woman on a boat died after a spotted eagle ray leaped from the water off the Florida Keys Thursday and struck her, officials said.

The force of the blow pushed the woman backward and she died when she hit her head on the boat deck, officials said.

“It’s just as freakish of an accident as I have heard,” said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The chances of this occurring are so remote that most of us are completely astonished that this happened.”

The commission identified the woman as Judy Kay Zagorski, 57, of Pigeon, Michigan.

The woman was seated or standing in the front of the boat as her husband piloted the vessel at about 25 mph out of a channel, Pino said. “The ray just actually popped up in front of the vessel,” he said. “The father had not even a second to react. It was too late. It happened instantly and the woman fell backwards and, unfortunately, died as a result of the collision.”

The accident happened off the coast of Marathon, about an hour’s drive south of Miami. The woman, who was with her husband and children, was taken to the Mariner Hospital in Tavernier, where she was pronounced dead. VideoWatch marine officers work around dead ray on boat »

Pino said he had seen rays leap into the air, but added, “it’s very rare for them to collide with objects.” VideoWatch experts explain why eagle rays leap »

The spotted-eagle ray weighed about 75 to 80 pounds and had a six-foot wingspan, said Pino. VideoWatch officials investigate eagle ray collision »

Florida Fish and Wildlife said eagle rays “are not an aggressive species, but they do tend to leap from the water.” Spotted eagle rays can have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can weigh 500 pounds, it said. Learn more about eagle rays »

Television personality Steve Irwin was killed when a ray’s barb pierced his heart in September 2006.

A month later, an 81-year-old Florida man, James Bertakis, survived after a ray leapt from the water and stung him in the heart, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

He spent five weeks on a ventilator and his recovery took several months, his sons told the Detroit Free Press in his former home state of Michigan.


Heading Home

Log: 3965

Monday, March 17, 2008

Location: Riviera Beach, Florida

Distance Traveled Yesterday and Today: 42 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1326 Nautical Miles

Well, just to prove that the yachting life is always glamorous, I had one final episode with the sewage system on the boat last night. Perfect Deckhand and I continued to notice the distinct odor of sewage at the bottom of the steps during our trip. I assured him that the venting system was not working well and that things were stirred up by our open ocean days. However, after he left and I was only cruising the Intracoastal Waterway, the odor continued. So last night I took up the floor above the black water tank to discover that sewage had filled the bilge and was almost up to the floorboards under the staterooms. I’m estimating that it was 200 gallons or more of sewage sloshing around under us.

Using the emergency bilge pump system, I emptied the bilge at sea and tried everything to see if I could find a leak. I flushed toilets, overfilled the black water tank with clean water, etc. But I cannot find a leak. I poured bilge cleaner into the area today, filled it with the water hose, and pumped it out again. Everything appears clean and smells good but i can’t figure out where the leak came from.

So I’m going home. I’m leaving the boat at a boat yard here to let them try to sniff out the problem. They’re also going to fix the bow thruster, replace all of my seven batteries, fix the spotlight, and have the watermaker serviced. Ahh, the glamorous life of a yachtsman. I’m going home to see my dogs and wait for my wife to get back in town and sleep in a great bed and not worry about batteries or inverters or sewage.

But I’ll be back. I have 366 nautical miles to travel back to Savannah. Despite the constant worries and repairs, I really do love this game.


Ft. Lauderdale

Log: 3923

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Distance Traveled Yesterday: 54 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1284 Nautical Miles

I think I have been too hard on the Bahamas as a parallel universe. They are not alone. Many of my conservative friends feel that the federal government should stay out of things because it is so incompetent, and if Homeland Security and Customs practices in Ft. Lauderdale are any example, they are right.

I didn’t know whether to write about this sarcastically or seriously, so I’ll just tell you what happened and let you draw your own conclusions. First, a little history. Years ago, before I started boating in the Bahamas, boats returning to the U.S. from foreign ports were required to stop at certain designated spots to clear customs. The customs and immigration people either had their own dock or used one marina in each area. You would come into port, tie up at the designated spot, and they would have you fill out immigration forms, check passports, and board the boat for a search if they wanted to. They would look for Cuban cigars, check your purchases abroad, sniff out drugs, or whatever else they needed to do. It was just like arriving by plane from anywhere outside the country.

Around the time I first went to the Bahamas by boat, they instituted a much easier procedure. You could come in at any marina. All passengers except the captain were required to stay on board until the captain called a local customs office number and reported in. He had to give them everyone’s name and passport number, give them the boat documentation number and the number of the customs decal that had to be purchased for each calendar year. They would then either give you a clearance number and tell you that was it, or they could require everyone to stay aboard until they sent an agent out. The procedure was convenient but also rather stupid. You could pull up to the dock, unload the drugs or illegal immigrants or terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, call the appropriate number, and be cleared to go. For law-abiding citizens such as myself, I loved the convenience but marveled at the lack of security. Corporate jets had to land, take all the luggage inside a customs office, let the dogs sniff out the plane, etc. Boats could land anywhere with any cargo without a care in the world.

Anyway, with Homeland Security taking over customs, someone thought the procedure was too lax and decided that, after the telephone check-in, everyone on the boat had to appear in person at the customs office within 24 hours. You don’t have to bring your luggage or fill out immigration forms or anything else. You just have to appear in person. What this accomplishes, I have no idea. You can stop at a marina, let Osama Bin Laden and his weapons off, along with six of his accomplices, call the number and tell them there were only two on board, and then appear at their offices. The formal announcement of this said:

Tampa, FL - Effective May 28, 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will implement revised clearance procedures for pleasure boats arriving in the United States from foreign. In the pleasure boat environment, the master of any vessel must report their arrival to CBP after having been at any foreign port or place or after having contact with any hovering vessel. For pleasure boats returning to locations in Northern Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico, pleasure boat arrival reporting is a two-step process:

  1. All arriving pleasure boats must call one of the following CBP Ports of Entry immediately upon arrival.
  2. Upon completion of telephonic arrival notification, boaters will be directed to the nearest Port of Entry to present themselves and any passengers for a face-to-face interview.

If you check in at Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, the procedure should not be too difficult. However, if you land at a remote spot in the Florida Keys or somewhere else out of the way, I have heard of people having to rent a car and drive 40 miles with seven passengers to go through this absurd exercise.

While the whole process has created any number of scofflaws who simply come back to the U.S. and don’t bother to call or go through any of the stupid process, I decided to do my best to comply yesterday. The rule is you call within 15 minutes of docking. So when we pulled in to Bahia Mar Marina, I called the number, only to get a recording saying calls would be answered in the order received. I put the cell on speakerphone, went to the office to check in with the marina, walked to the Hertz office to find they had no cars, went back to the marina office to call a remote car agency that would pick us up, came back to the boat for James, all while being told my call would be answered in the order received. After 55 minutes, with my phone battery going dead, I finally hung up and went to pick up a rental car.

After picking up our car, we went to the customs office to try to check in in person. But no, they would not let us present ourselves until we had reported in by phone. There was another boater there on hold who had been trying to get through for two or three hours. We left, came back to the boat, cleaned up, and went out to dinner. Throughout the afternoon and evening, I tried the number repeatedly, holding for five or 10 minutes each time with no results. I had decided to ignore the unreasonable procedure but at about 10:30 last night, I gave one last try and…they answered. The gentleman’s first question was what time did we arrive and I told him 3:00 pm. What did he do? Of course he told me I had violated the law by not calling in within 15 minutes.

Suffice it to say, after hours of calling without getting through, I simply lost it. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. This made him mad and he told me this was a fineable offense etc. etc. I finally calmed down and told him what we had been through and, after getting some information, he gave me a 19–digit clearance number and told us to report back to the customs office.

So this morning, while taking James to the airport to head home, we again went to the customs office. He looked us up on the computer, saw that we had checked in last night, took a quick look at our passports, and told us we were free to go.

I can’t even begin to express how stupid this whole process is. If the Bahamas is a parallel universe, this is a perpendicular one. Republicans opposed to big stupid government and waste should be having a field day with this one. Thank God William Buckley passed away before having to go through this after one of his transatlantic crossings. He would roll over in his grave if he heard about it.

Boat U.S. Magazine had this to report:

South Florida boaters, particularly those who think nothing about hopping over to the Bahamas for the weekend, are not a bunch of happy campers.

The first shoe fell a few months ago when the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection required boaters returning from the Bahamas to physically check in with an immigration officer at a U.S. port-of-entry upon their return. Previously, they had only been required to clear in with Customs upon their arrival. This can be a major inconvenience. For example, a boater arriving at Miami Beach Marina must travel 20 miles to check in at the Port of Miami and may have to take a Monday morning off from work if they arrive after the immigration office closes on Sunday.

Boaters raised a howl that drew the attention of U.S. Congressmen Mark Foley (R-FL) and Clay Shaw (R-FL) who held a press conference on the docks in Ft. Lauderdale and promised to see if there wasn't a simpler way to screen returning boaters. "Osama bin Laden isn't going to check in after coming ashore. This isn't smart homeland security--it's a bureaucratic nightmare," said Rep. Foley at the press conference. "While the good guys are being burdened, those with in intent are ignoring the rules. We want boaters to know they are not alone and someone does care. We've been listening, and now we're taking action," he added.

Anyway, we made it back to the good old USA. We were illegal aliens for awhile during dinner last night, but now we’re in full compliance. Perfect Deckhand flew home this morning and I laid over a day in Ft. Lauderdale getting a few errands done. Tomorrow, I’ll head up toward Palm Beach where I plan to leave the boat for some needed repairs, particularly the broken bow thruster. I should be back in Birmingham Tuesday.




Log: 3869

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Location: Bimini, Bahamas

Distance Traveled Yesterday and Today: 95 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1230 Nautical Miles

Perfect Deckhand James and I have had a perfect trip. Beautiful weather, interesting stops, good food, good company, and we now reach the last leg of our trip together, crossing the Gulf Stream to Florida tomorrow morning.

We departed Nassau Tuesday morning in calm seas for the 40–mile, 5–hour crossing to the southern berry islands. We headed up what is known as the Northwest Channel to Frazier’s Hog Cay, just east of Chub Cay. Our mission was to see if the Berry Island Club still existed. It had been a somewhat wild joint run by two Cajun brothers when I last saw it and we had read that it was closed. We had to check for ourselves. The club was open and we were welcomed at their dock. The two crazy Cajuns sold it a few years back and returned to the states. Now it is owned by a Bahamian man who is busily fixing up the place. Three new rental rooms have been added in a new building out back and the general appearance of the place is greatly improved. Unfortunately, the Cajun food is gone but we enjoyed a mediocre Bahamian dinner of lobster tails.

Yesterday, we departed early for the long run across the Banks to Bimini. We covered some 83 nautical miles and anchored just before dark on the east side of Bimini, as it was too close to dark to attempt coming around the island and into the harbor. We thought we had found a perfect anchorage off a beautiful beach but it became very rough when the wind moved around to northwest during the night and swells came around the island, hitting us from the north. The boat rolled and doors rattled, and our anchor dragged slightly. But we made it through the night. This morning, we came around into the harbor and tied up at Brown’s Hotel and Marina, right next to the famous “End of the World Bar”, which we’ll check out tonight.

Bimini has seen some improvement since last I was here. A gigantic development is going on at the north end of the island called “Bimini Bay”. We checked it out by golf cart today and it is going to be very nice. Unfortunately, the Compleat Angler Hotel, hangout of Earnest Hemingway, had a fire and may be gone for good. The outside walls are still standing but we don’t know if it will be salvaged or torn down. The remainder of Alicetown is still pretty rundown, but there are signs of improvement, including the new docks at Brown’s where we are staying.

The crossing tomorrow is just 47 miles to Ft. Lauderdale. I plan to leave the boat near Palm Beach for awhile and head home but that is 75 miles and a much longer day at sea. We’ll probably cross to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow, send James home on a flight Saturday, and I’ll mess about up the waterway over the weekend and get to the boatyard near Palm Beach Sunday afternoon.


Whatever happened to Pete?

As you may recall, I started this trip out with my friend Pete Sloss on his sailboat Snowhawk. Pete stopped at Stuart, Florida and went home for a social engagement while he had a few repairs done on his boat. He was supposed to come on down and meet up in the Exumas but I never heard back from him. Pete doesn’t do email, so I wrote his friend Steve Coleman who was due to join him on the next leg to find out what happened.

Steve replied today:

“Hi, John,

“We’re victims of various disasters. I am recovering from pneumonia. Pete’s plane is still being painted over in Georgia. I hope we’re headed south soon, but nothing is definite.

“Snowhawk is in Stuart, FL at the Hinkley yard.

“I hope you’re having a good time.

“Why come home?


Well, for Pete’s sake. You don’t need the airplane fixed to get back to Stuart, Florida. And Steve would have never gotten pneumonia if he had gone south for the winter.

Oh well. We’ve missed having them along. Perhaps we’ll meet up in Florida as I head back that way. Let me hear from you Pete. Get your daughter or someone to drop me an email. Better yet, post a comment on the blog and let us know where you’ve been. 


Crew Change in Nassau

Log: 3735

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Location: Nassau, Bahamas

Distance Traveled Yesterday: 41 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1096 Nautical Miles

The cold front that brought snow to Birmingham this week passed through Nassau just as we arrived yesterday. In front of it, we had 20–knot winds from the south all day yesterday. Fortunately, we were on the Bahama Bank so seas were not too unpleasant. Just as we got ready to tie up in Nassau, a weak thunderstorm passed over quickly so we waited outside the marina for the winds to die down and the rain to quit. Shortly thereafter, the wind clocked around to north and we had a lovely cool clear evening last night.

As always in the parallel universe of the Bahamas, things did not go as planned at Nassau Yacht Haven. I had made a reservation at the marina a week ahead and had an email from the marina manager confirming it. However, he failed to put it in “the book” so there was not a space for us when we arrived. After temporarily docking at a spot with no power available, we were moved to the “commercial dock” where all the party boats are kept when they are not in use. It’s kind of a filthy mess but we do have power and the water was turned on this morning in time to wash the boat. It’s a good thing the manager was off for the weekend because I might have killed him had he been here.

Laura headed home this morning. She will be missed. She mastered the art of handling dock lines and power cords and helped prepare a few great meals. She’s even thinking about applying for a job cooking on a yacht down the road. I was glad to have her and I’ll miss her. She’ll be replaced by Perfect Deckhand Jaaaames Abele who will arrive tomorrow morning.

Just after we docked yesterday, I was using the bow thruster to move the boat slightly to put out fenders. Suddenly, the bow thruster quit working. The motor operates but the props do not turn. There’s all kinds of trash in the water here so I believe something got caught in it and sheared the drive pins which connect the props to the shaft. I had a diver check it out briefly today and the props are still there. They turn freely so I’ll just have to do without the thruster until I can get the pins and have them installed. It will not be pretty docking this single-screw boat without the thruster.

I have a long list of housekeeping chores to keep me busy today. That’s why I’m writing on the blog. Tomorrow, we’ll get groceries and a few other supplies and head out for Chub Cay in the Berry Islands Tuesday. With perfect weather, we could actually be in Florida by Thursday, but we’ll do our best to stretch it out and have a little fun along the way.


Highbourne Cay

Log: 3694

Friday, February 7, 2008

Location: Highborne Cay Marina

Distance Traveled Today: 39 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1055 Nautical Miles

We traveled up along the Bahama Bank today, sheltered to some degree from the winds and seas in Exuma Sound. Winds were from the southeast at about 20 knots and we had three to four foot following seas even on the bank side of the Exumas. Seas in the open sound were reportedly six to eight feet so we were happy to be on the correct side of the islands.

And that brings me to list some of the many things I have learned after three trips to the Exumas in three different boats over the last 10 years:

1. Try to avoid being on a schedule. While I have loved having guests down to join us, and welcoming friends and family to help move the boat, it is a terrible thing to be on a schedule in these islands…or anywhere else that we cruise. While people have to make plans and plane reservations, being in a certain place at a certain time forces you to sometimes travel when weather dictates otherwise. Further, there are so many wonderful stops down here, you often pop into a spot ovenight and wish you could stay over a few days. From now on, to the extent possible, I’m just going to allow extreme extra time whenever I’m required to schedule anything.

2. The boat needs a good battery and inverter system. This is not exactly a new lesson to me but I haven’t had an opportunity to anchor out much on this boat. Therefore, I was unaware that the battery power would not carry a normal load long enough to anchor overnight without running the generator. The boat has five large batteries dedicated to the “house” load, and the load is certainly less than on my last boat, which had six house batteries. However, when the batteries are fully charged and we go to bed at night without the generator, we only get about six hours before the batteries get too low to run the inverter. I’m reasonably sure that we simply need new batteries as these are nearly five years old. I would like to have at least 12 hours of time on the inverter without having to run the generator.

3. The Bahama Bank side of the Exumas offers the best cruising without the concerns about wind and seas you have on the Exuma Sound side. I’ve always assumed the water would be too shallow on the banks and that navigation around shoal areas would be difficult. Not so. The routes are shown clearly on the charts, we have rarely been in water less than 18 feet deep, and there is an abundance of great places to anchor or tie up for the night. Next trip, I may skip Georgetown altogether and just cruise up and down the Exumas on the “back” side of the islands.

4. The “Spectra” 12–volt watermaker I put on this boat is fantastic. It is practically maintenance-free. It is started by just pressing a button in the pilothouse. It rinses itself out when finished and automatically rinses every five days when not in use. It makes 12 to 13 gallons of water an hour so we have been able to easily replenish out tanks every day. This would be a difficult trip without such a setup.

5. The unlocked cell phone I got for the trip with a Bahamas SIM card has been a great investment. Calls home are much cheaper than roaming with a U.S. phone here and additional minutes can be purchased almost anywhere.

6. Absent a satellite phone with internet access, free or cheap wireless can be found on even the most remote islands down here. However, it would be nice to have some kind of wireless antenna setup on the boat to pull in weak signals. All the marinas say you can use the internet from your boat but I usually wind up sitting outside their office for a decent signal.

7. This boat needs a freshwater washdown faucet on deck. This can be easily added but I overlooked it before the trip. Caked on salt has caused havoc to the steel boat and I have rust stains all over. I’ll need a paint touchup and a washdown system before doing this again.

8. This is a long way from home, especially in a seven-knot boat. I do love it down here, and you must come this far south to really avoid winter altogether, but it’s a long, long way. I’ve traveled 1055 nautical miles in 177 hours. I hope to do this again but it certainly won’t be an annual trip.

9. Marinas are expensive. While I like to get off the boat every few days and perhaps have dinner ashore, take a walk, etc., this is prime territory for anchoring out, and I should have done more of it. Admittedly, the inverter/battery problem and not wanting to run the generator has been part of the problem, but next time I’ll plan a lot more time at anchor.

So, that’s today’s list of lessons from the Exumas. Compass Cay last night was one of those stops we would have extended absent a schedule, but we reluctantly plowed ahead today to Highborne, at the north end of the Exumas. The high winds led us to pay for dockage again. Tomorrow, we should have about a six-hour run to Nassau where Laura flies out Sunday and Perfect Deckhand James joins me Monday for the rest of the trek home.


Compass Cay

Log: 3640

Thursday, February 6, 2008

Location: Compass Cay Marina

Distance Traveled Today: 15 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1016 Nautical Miles

Internet connections are very spotty down here. They are usually through Hughes satellite setups and they seem to come and go with clouds, too many users, etc. Anyway, last night someone sent me an email more than 4 MB in size and my computer simply froze up trying to get it. When I rebooted and went to bellsouth.mail to see what it was, it was gone. So, if you are the person who sent me a massive email, pictures or movies or whatever, let me know and I’ll ask you to resend it when I’m home. Don’t send it again now or I’ll lock up again. I think there is some way to set Outlook not to download huge files but just to give me the header, but I don’t know how to do it.

Today was great. I awoke early and had breakfast at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club while Laura slept. I then took a walk to the Batelco office and bought $40 worth of time on my pay-as-you-go cellphone. We checked out at about 10 am, moved the boat to a nearby anchorage, and took the dingy over to Thunderball Cave where we snorkled inside, checked out the beautiful fish, etc. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Come on down here and check it out.

After lunch, we traveled the short 15 miles north to Compass Cay, a laid back little place we had heard about. We came to watch them feed the sharks. We got here and asked when they would be fed and were told to go ahead and feed them whenever we liked. What they have here is a little dock intentionally built low in the water so that at high tide, the dock is underwater by a few inches. A handful of Nurse sharks hang around the dock in the clear water. At high tide, you throw a little meat in the water and some of the sharks actually climb up onto the dock and walk around with their fins. So at high tide, we gave them an bunch of sandwich meat which they gladly slurped down. We were told we could walk out on the dock with them, but we didn’t try that.

We’re grilling steak right now. Tomorrow, it’s on to Allan’s Cay at the north end of the Exumas and then on to Nassau Saturday, just in time, for we are down to our last two bottles of red wine.


Staniel Cay

Log: 3640

Wednesday, February 5, 2008

Location: Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Distance Traveled Today: 46 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1001 Nautical Miles


I can tell you one thing: cruising downwind on this particular boat is far better than slamming straight into head seas. On the way down here, Early Uncle Randy and I took 4 1/2 hours to cover the 17 miles from Lee Stocking Island to Emerald Bay. This morning, in almost the exact same prevailing wind and seas, Laura and I left Emerald Bay and blasted by Lee Stocking in under two hours, enjoying a pleasant ride and making eight knots.

We enjoyed a great evening last night at Emerald Bay. I grilled chicken and Laura made salad and pasta, along with chocolate chip cookies for desert. We sat around watching election returns until I concluded it would be a long night and turned in at 9:45.

Emerald Bay is a beautiful marina connected with the nearby Four Seasons Resort. It has a surge problem in the basin all the time, particularly wicked when the wind comes from the northeast. Fortunately, I have not been there to experience that. For cruisers in the area addicted to the internet, cable TV, nice showers, good restaurants and a decent grocery store, it has become a haven and many boats drop in and out frequently while cruising the area. We found it especially helpful as a place to meet visitors. It is far easier to meet them there than to dingy in to Georgetown from the anchorage there.

After a six-hour cruise today, we are at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, one of my favorite hangouts on previous visits. It was here that Eddie Robinson played guitar and sang for the crowd, and here that Johnny Boy met up with Combover and Baldie, and their girlfriends. (See the old Suladan trip logs). The place has been redone and now has a swimming pool, redone guest cottages, beautiful landscaping, and new docks. It is beautiful, but retains the famous ambience in it’s bar and restaurant. To have dinner here, you have to order what you want by 5:00 pm and show up at 7:00 for dinner. I had a rum punch while I pondered the menu and we are set up for lobster tails at 7:00.

Tomorrow, we plan to snorkle at Thunderball Cave and move only a few miles north to Compass Cay, a place I’ve heard about that’s famous for shark feedings at sunset. We’ll keep you posted.


Heading Home

Log: 3594

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Location: Emerald Bay Marina, Exuma, Bahamas

Distance Traveled Today: 52 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 855 Nautical Miles

I was up at 4:30 am this morning, getting ready to depart the marina at Stella Maris, Long Island, with the high tide at 6:00 am. I enjoyed morning coffee on the aft deck, checked out the engine room, disconnected our power cord, and got a couple of dock lines unhooked before waking Laura at 5:45 for deckhand duties. At 5:55, just before sunrise, we cast off the last of our lines and slipped out the shallow channel with just inches to spare under our keel.

And so began the long haul back to the U.S. and reality. As the crow flies, we are some 320 nautical miles from Palm Beach where I plan to leave the boat and head for home. But we will not travel as the crow flies, and the trip should be easily 400 nautical miles, or about 60 hours of travel time. With a stop in Nassau to send Laura home and pick up Perfect Deckhand James Abele, I should be back in Birmingham in about two weeks.

Seas in the Exuma Sound were slightly rough today, so we elected to head south along Long Island about 8 miles, and then take the route over the Bahama Bank back to Georgetown. It only added about five miles to our journey and certainly gave us a nicer ride. Skies were partly cloudy with a southeast wind at about 18 knots and 3 to 4–foot swells in the open Exuma Sound. I debated all morning whether to stop in Georgetown or high tail it to Emerald Bay, location of the better grocery store. Ultimately, we decided to do both, stopping for Laura to experience the Chat N Chill for lunch and then moving on to Emerald Bay.

Laura is already proving to be an excellent deckhand. She hosed off the boat yesterday at Stella Maris and is doing so again right now. And, of course, tonight she will help cook the dinner. We’re glad to be in a spot with cable TV to watch election returns tonight and we should finish up provisioning at the nearby grocery. Tomorrow, we head north to Staniel Cay or one of the other interesting stops along the Exumas. We’ll report in whenever we have internet.


We're Still Here

Sorry for the lack of news lately but, well, there’s been a lack of news.

We had a wonderful visit with our friend Loti Woods from Saturday, February 23rd through Tuesday the 26th. We spent most of the time at Emerald Bay venturing out for a car tour of the island Sunday and a boat ride down to Volleyball Beach Monday. Alas, the davit we use to raise and lower our dingy refused to work so Loti was unable to experience lunch at the Chat-N-Chill. Loti read the blog and chided me for failing to mention the outstanding dinner I enjoyed at her house when I was back in Palm Beach. So, consider it mentioned Loti, and thanks again for a lovely evening.

Tuesday afternoon, after Loti’s departure, the Lovely Laura Lee and I dashed back across the sound to Long Island for the arrival of our whole family Wednesday. Having learned that we need full high tide to get into Stella Maris Marina, we anchored out for dinner Tuesday and came in the channel just after midnight with inches to spare.

Wednesday we cleaned up the boat a little, rented a car, and moved up to Cape Santa Maria where the clan joined us mid-afternoon. Our pilot friend Chick Preston and his wife Trisha flew all the kids down and joined us for the long weekend. We haven’t had a real family trip for many years and never with the new members of our family, Daniel’s wife Emily and Suzanne’s fiance Bryant. In all, there were nine of us: Chick and Trisha, Suzanne and Bryant, Daniel and Emily, Laura, the Lovely Laura Lee, and me. Cape Santa Maria proved to be a fabulous place for the gathering — beautiful, laid back, and with plenty to do for those feeling energetic. Various members of our crowd went bonefishing, snorkling, bike riding, sailing, walking on the gorgeous beach, and just loafing around. We had dinner one night at Stella Maris Resort but otherwise had all our meals at Cape Santa Maria, which turned out to have a pretty nice restaurant.

The crowd went home yesterday, including Laura Lee, who headed back to give our dogs some much-needed attention. Laura, my youngest daughter, stayed on to get the boat back to Nassau with me. We spent last night on the boat at Stella Maris Marina and this morning, I got the oil changed in the main engine. Laura gave the boat a quick washdown outside while I vacuumed and dusted a little inside. Tomorrow, at the 6:00 am high tide, we’ll be ready to head back toward Georgetown and up the Exumas to Nassau.



If you’re wondering, pictures are posted here.


Tropic of Cancer

Log: 3441

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Location: Stella Maris Marina, Long island, Bahamas

Total Trip Distance: 802 Nautical Miles

We talk about the sun “moving” but we all know that it’s apparent daily “movement” across the sky is caused by the rotation of the earth while it’s apparent annual movement north and south is caused by the tilted earth’s orbit around it. Anyway, by this common usage, the furthest north that the sun gets in our summer is called the Tropic of Cancer while the furthest south that it travels in our winter is called the Tropic of Capricorn. Technically, the location of the Tropic of Cancer varies slightly each year. However, it is commonly agreed that latitude 23 degrees, 27 minutes north is called the Tropic of Cancer.

In about a month, around March 21, the sun will cross the equator on it’s trip north. This is called the Vernal Equinox and is commonly considered the first day of spring. Three months later, the sun will reach the Tropic of Cancer on around June 21, the summer solstice, commonly called the first day of summer.

Yesterday, the Lovely Laura Lee and I crossed the Tropic of Cancer. I think the name has to do with astronomy rather than what the sun here does to your skin. There is some kind of homage that should be paid to Neptune on such ocassions but we are not sure what it is. Our failure to salute the gods would prove to be a serious omission. Anyway, briefly today, we were in “The Tropics”.

The last few days have been mostly delightful, with a few harrowing moments thrown in for good measure. We had a great time with Bonefish Bob and the Dahling Ashley. After our bonefishing expedition Saturday, we mostly hung around at Emerald Bay enjoying the amenities of the Four Seasons Resort there. We tried to set out one day for an excursion to Volleyball Beach for lunch at the Chat-N-Chill, but the seas were rough and we returned to Emerald Bay. Bonefish Bob briefly became Bouncing Bonefish Bob as he made a heroic leap from boat to dock in an effort to get us tied off in high winds. Other than a skinned knee, we believe he will recover. I had him sign a waiver of liability before he left as he is a noted litigator.

After our guests departed Tuesday, the Lovely Laura Lee and I took off Wednesday for another try at Georgetown. This time, we went to a far less-populated anchorage called Red Shanks, a little further from town but protected from wind on all sides. Compared to the two or three hundred boats anchored along Stocking Island, we found only two sailboats in the Red Shanks area. Red Shanks is home of the tongue-in-cheek Red Shanks yacht and Tennis Club and is known for a degree of eccentricity. Sure enough, as we rounded the corner into the anchorage, we found a man walking around the deck of his sailboat “au naturale”. Didn’t bother us in the least. In fact, we returned the favor by bathing off the back of the boat that afternoon.

We took the dingy into Georgetown Wednesday afternoon for some supplies, had a drink at the Peace and Plenty Hotel bar, and ordered some lobster tails from the beauty shop in town (where else?). After grilling chicken on the boat, we were treated to a total eclipse of the moon starting around 8:30 pm. When the moon was totally obscured at about 9:30, the stars were magnificent in the dark sky. Yesterday, after a quick run into town to pick up the lobster tails, we set out for Long Island on a sparkling southern route across the banks, keeping us from the rough seas in the open Exuma Sound.

The trip across was incredibly beautiful and we were headed for a great-sounding marina which we had read about near the Simms community, right on the Tropic of Cancer. Alas, perhaps because we had not followed proper ceremony crossing the Tropic, we were destined for one of those strange Bahamas “parallel universe” experiences.

The ad in our cruising guide for Alligator Bay Marina Village is a full-page spread with pictures of docks, sport-fishing boats, beautiful condominiums, etc. It promises a 50–slip “Mediterranean Style” marina 25 miles southeast of Georgetown on Long Island. It says it will accommodate yachts to 120 feet with a 13–foot draft. Amenities include a gourmet provision shop, dockside bar and grill, gourmet dining at “Yuma”, rental cars, wireless internet, and concierge services. Beyond the marina, there are dockside residence suites and one and two-bedroom villas, fully-furnished for rent or sale with prices starting at $395,000. The marina listing in the guide backs this up with details about the facilities.

It sounded too good to be true, and it was. We are used to marinas falling short of expectations but this one simply doesn’t exist at all. There is a natural little harbor and a few construction shacks. We found out later that some work had been done there but that it had simply stopped. Classic Bahamas. In fact, there are half-finished houses and other projects throughout the Bahamas. We are told that people cannot get mortgages so they simply work on a house when they have money, and then stop until they can afford it again. The good news is that there is no sub-prime mortgage crisis here.

With it nearing dark, Alligator Bay not existing, the wind picking up, and no good anchorage in sight, we headed a few miles north to the Stella Maris Marina, one of our least-favorite places. We had been assured that we could get in the channel with our six-foot draft at half tide or better, but that was not the case. After bumping the sand and anchoring several times to wait, we finally literally dragged the boat across the sand to get in by 9 pm, just a half-hour before high tide. We shall read up on how to properly invoke the good wishes of Neptune before we cross the Tropic of Cancer again.

We are laying over at Stella Maris tonight and will have dinner at the beautiful Stella Maris Resort. Tomorrow, at high tide, we will dash back to Emerald Bay to receive our friend Loti Woods who flies in tomorrow night.


Bonefish Bob and the Darling Ashley

Log: 3375

Emerald Bay Marina, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas

Sunday, February 17, 2008

When last I wrote here, we were being buffeted by high winds and seas at Volleyball Beach near Georgetown. Wednesday, we retreated to Emerald Bay Marina to celebrate Valentine’s Day, clean up the boat, and await our friends Bob and Ashley Spotswood from Birmingham.

We spent Thursday and Friday cleaning and provisioning, had an elegant Valentine dinner Thursday night at the Four Seasons Resort, and met the Spotswood’s upon their arrival Friday evening. Darling Ashley arrived nursing a cold and exhausted from the stress of an opening displaying her artwork at a gallery in Birmingham Thursday evening. See and Bonefish Bob, on the other hand, arrived pumped up for a day of bonefishing he had arranged for all of us Saturday.

jsw_2008_bahamas_trip_011-2.jpgSaturday morning, we arose early and met our guides Reno Rolle and Garth Thompson at 8:00 am at the Peace and Plenty Hotel. The ladies took off with Reno while Bonefish Bob and I headed out with Garth for a day on the flats. The weather was spectacular, the water sparkling, and the scenery beautiful. Garth proved his worth by finding plenty of fish for us and Bonefish Bob earned his nickname by hauling in four Bonefish. I hooked three, lost one early, got one close to the boat, and landed one, my first Bonefish. The ladies were not as fortunate finding fish, but each landed one to make the day complete. Actually, Bonefish Bob and I could have caught at least six each, but it is easy to make a slight error in casting or setting the hook. Bob and the ladies were all using flyrods, giving them an additional handicap, while I, for my first bonefishing trip, stuck to a rod and reel.

We celebrated with a drink at the Peace and Plenty and had dinner by the pool here at Emerald Bay. All in all, a good day. 



Log 3,363

Total Trip Distance: 724 Nautical Miles

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Location: Anchored off Volleyball Beach near the Chat & Chill, Georgetown, Bahamas

It is incredible how weather can completely make or break a trip. I have been in this area by boat twice before for extended periods at the same time of year and never even checked the forecast. We never had high winds or rain and we moved about freely from one anchorage to another without concern. But not this time.

After the Lovely Laura Lee arrived here Saturday, and after her luggage arrived Sunday morning, we departed from the beautiful, sheltered Emerald Bay Marina and headed about 10 miles south to Georgetown. The winds picked up all day and by dinnertime, our anchorage was getting uncomfortable. We had planned on dinner in Georgetown at the Peace and Plenty Hotel so we set out in our dingy in the dark with howling winds and choppy waves. What a ride!

We arrived at the hotel battered and wet and tried to tie to their dock which was open and exposed. Worried our dingy would be beat to death, we moved it around to a more protected area and walked the block back to the hotel.

Not only was the weather uncooperative, but Georgetown and the Peace and Plenty have gone noticeably downhill since our last visit four years ago. My son Daniel commented on the phone today that it would be hard to go downhill from where it was, but it truly has. Many of the businesses in town are shuttered. At the hotel, the outdoor bar we loved is closed after 5 pm now because they say it’s either windy or buggy outside. The little inside bar was overcrowded so we took a seat in the restaurant. While the service was terrible and the cocktails were watered down, it was the lousy food that really made the evening. Or was it just the weather affecting our mood?

Monday, it rained off and on all day and the wind and waves continued to make the anchorage uncomfortable. We again ventured into Georgetown in another unforgettable dingy ride and wandered around the town looking for a few supplies we needed and for internet service to check our email. After a wet bouncy ride back, we settled in, watched a movie, and the Lovely Laura Lee cooked a fine dinner. Yesterday, the sun came out but the winds are still relentless. We moved the boat to a slightly more sheltered location, went to the Chat & Chill for lunch, and had dinner and an hour of internet service at a little resort called St. Francis.

This morning, the wind continues but has shifted more to the south where we have less protection. It is expected to calm down through the day and tonight, but then another front is leaving the coast of Florida and headed this way. And so now, it is decision time. Anchoring out in this area can be fun and adventurous, but everything is always slightly difficult even when the weather is perfect. In the kind of winds we continue to experience, the slightly difficult becomes nearly impossible. We have guests arriving Friday for a long weekend. Picking them up in town with luggage by dingy would probably require two trips in the best of weather. In this kind of chop it will be two long wet trips only to find ourselves bouncing around in an uncomfortable anchorage for three days. I’m not at all sure we want to put them our ourselves through such an ordeal.

On top of the weather, we have a problem with battery power. Normally, when anchored for extended periods, it is only necessary to run the generator for a few hours each day to keep the batteries charged. The rest of the time, the batteries run an inverter keeping essential things like refrigerators running. It could be that the batteries are getting weak or that we have increased the load too much for our batteries, but we are finding that the inverter can only keep things going for about five or six hours. After that, the inverter shuts down and things begin thawing out. With only one generator, we cannot run it all the time, so extended anchoring out has become problematic.

Our best option at this point seems to be to take advantage of decreasing winds today to head back to Emerald Bay Marina. It is expensive and not very adventurous, but it is probably the best place to have guests and spend a little time in this kind of weather. I plan to propose this plan to the lovely Laura Lee when she wakes up this morning. I’ll let you know where we end up.


Getting Old I Guess

After getting up at 4:30 am yesterday to get Early Uncle Randy off in his taxi at 5:15, my plan was to get some things done and be ready to depart Emerald Bay this morning to anchor out off Georgetown and await my lovely bride. I failed to realize the amount of work that needed to be done and just how exhausted I was after the long slog down here.

I did laundry, changed the oil in the generator, gave the outside of the boat a quick washdown, and started cleaning house, changing sheets, etc. I fell in bed at about 8:30 last night and awoke this morning dreading hurrying to buy groceries and setting out to sea again. I think I’m just getting old. So I simply made an executive decision to stay here anther two nights. I’ll have more time to clean up and get provisions, I’ll be better rested, and the Lovely Laura Lee can see this beautiful place and have an easier transition from civilization to living anchored on a boat. 

I rented a car today to drive down to Georgetown and get a few supplies I needed from the hardware store. The town looks about the same although the marina there is more run down than ever. I stopped by the Peace and Plenty Hotel which looks the same as always. I kept the car and got some groceries late this afternoon. I’ll be able to meet Laura Lee’s flight tomorrow night and get her back here for dinner beside the pool. I’m feeling better already.

There won’t be many blog postings for the next few weeks. Perhaps if I find an internet cafe or we are back in Emerald Bay, I’ll post a quick note. Otherwise, we’ll be anchored out enjoying these incredibly beautiful waters. 


Finally, to Great Exuma Island

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Location: Emerald Bay, Exumas, Bahamas

Log: 3350

Miles Traveled today: 17

Total Trip Distance: 711

There are times when I really question why I own a boat. Yesterday was one of those times.

We had spent Monday night at the dock at Little Farmer’s Cay. I awoke around 4:00 am because the boat rub rail was making all kinds of noise against the dock piling. When I came up to have a look, it was clear what had happened. The wind had picked up and was screaming from the east southeast. Needing to get Early Uncle Randy to his flight Thursday, we left around 7:00 am hoping to get to Georgetown about 40 miles to the southeast.

It was not to be. We encountered one of the worst days at sea I’ve ever experienced. It was right up there with trying to head up the California coast or helping James Abele cross the Gulf of Mexico on his boat Beauty. A nearby boat with an anenometer confirmed that winds were howling at 25 knots. Seas were four to six feet but they were right on our nose and very, very steep.

Unprepared for anything so bad, we had left all kinds of things out on the kitchen counter. At one point the coffee maker crashed to the floor, spilling grounds and the remaining coffee all over. The rack of knives also slid off, scattering kitchen knives all over the boat. During the worst conditions of the day, I heard some crashing around from the upper deck. I went up to look and found the strap holding down the dingy had simply snapped. The entire dingy was sliding around on the deck, off of it’s chocks and hanging off the back deck, perilously close to falling off the boat. With Randy’s help, when we crashed forward off the next wave, we heaved it back on board and managed to get it’s bow line tied to a rail. It was wedged in between the chocks and a railing so it was reasonably secure for awhile. We had to slow the boat down to dead idle to avoid crashing down from the top of each wave.

After five hours, we had covered less than 19 miles, an average of less than four knots. Studying the charts, we discovered we could cut in just north of Lee Stocking Island for a reasonable spot to anchor for the night, and we did. We had a fine gourmet dinner of sardines, crackers, and a fine white wine. As the wind continued last night, we looked at our options on the charts. We decided to head for Emerald Bay, a new resort and marina about 12 miles north of Georgetown, but on the same island. From here, Randy can get a taxi to the airport for his flight tomorrow. This morning seas were bad, but slightly improved from yesterday. We made 17 miles in just over four hours, again averaging four knots into the still steep head seas.

So, we’re here. Early Uncle Randy flies out early, as always, tomorrow and the Lovely Laura Lee joins me Saturday. Weather forecasts show that I should be able to get down to Georgetown for her arrival. If not, she can join me here.