The Log of M/V ARGO
We have returned to the U.S. and updated our website with new pictures and a new Captain’s Log (below). Thanks for checking in on us.
Invitation to Visit Cuba: In January, Nordhavn (our yacht’s manufacturer) contacted us about representing them as part of a small flotilla of six yachts potentially going to Havana, Cuba on April 28. Although governmental approvals had not yet been obtained, we enthusiastically signed onboard and changed our plans accordingly. As a result, we did not sail south into the Caribbean as originally planned, instead we cruised the Exuma Islands of The Bahamas. Because of other family commitments, we returned to Ann Arbor March 13, and brought the boat back to Florida on March 19th. If the Cuba trip transpires, we will leave Key West on April 28, arrive in Havana the same day, and dock at the Havana Yacht Club until May 5. During our weeklong visit we will tour several cultural venues, make a substantial charitable contribution to the study of marine issues in Cuba (as a U.S. Government requirement for approval of our visit) and visit a fishing village located on the coast west of Havana. It should be very interesting and we hope it will be approved.
Moving south along the Exumas: We ended our last Captain’s Log with our departure from Big Major anchorage and Staniel Cay. Staniel is located at the middle point of the Exuma chain of islands, which are about 120 miles long. At the southern end of the chain lays The Great Exuma Island (an island differs from a cay in that it has fresh water wells) and the village of Georgetown. Georgetown has a population of about 5,000 people, is the third largest city in The Bahamas (almost all Bahamians live in Nassau), and lies just a few miles above the Tropic of Cancer.
The Great Exuma Island is sheltered from the ocean by a barrier island (Stocking Island) that forms a long, lovely sheltered turquoise harbor framed by beautiful white sand beaches known as Elizabeth Harbor. About 285 boats were at anchor when we arrived; it was a veritable floating city. There are three anchorages in the harbor: Monument Beach, Sand Dollar Beach and Volley Ball Beach. To me it seemed that the sailboats were anchored dangerously close together, but as the wind moved from one direction or the other, all the boats swung in unison and remained in very close proximity to one another. I really couldn’t understand why sailors would want to give up their privacy and live in a sort of floating commune. At night their mast lights bobbed back and forth and twinkled like a mini milky way. It was quite interesting and beautiful in an unusual way.
Many of the boaters are annual residents of the area, having come here for many years and staying several months if not all winter. Many consider their anchorage location a personal possession. They organize themselves via a morning VHF radio news update, offering games at Volley Ball Beach and classes in various nautical subjects. One of my friends actually studied for and took the test for a Ham Radio License here! In late February the boaters organize and host a regatta and festival week. Most of the boaters are over 65 years old: the area resembles a retirement community, except that these people are very active and energized. Most people here are not wealthy, some live only on their boats. Many have interesting land lives, such as Jim and Julie on “Just Believe” who have a ranch in Texas on which they raise Zebras, Elk, Jacks, Long Horns and other exotic animals. What fun!!
We arrived in Elizabeth Harbor in mid-February and met some of the cruising friends we’d met at previous anchorages. We spent many lovely evenings aboard different boats having informal dinners and hearing the stories of cruising adventures and learning new techniques and places to visit. We found Mag and Wendy Nygrn whom we originally met at Warderick Wells Marine Park. You may recall my writing about them in my last blog as the Norwegian couple that sailed across the Atlantic five times. I had been experiencing some problems with my ground tackle (anchoring equipment), and Mag was a valuable source of advice. The winds had been so strong over the previous month in various anchorages that my snubber lines were chaffing badly and had to be replaced (a snubber is a device made of line that cushions the jerking of the anchor chain so that it doesn’t make noise at anchor as the boat bobs in the waves or turns with the wind). In Georgetown I was able to buy one inch three-strand nylon rope and make it into a snubber. This required splicing the line so as to make a loop at each end. Since the forces at play are potentially very large, I sought Mag’s advice on how to splice the lines to be sure they would hold. We spent several pleasant hours around cocktail time splicing lines and waxing eloquent on the future of the world. We felt like old salts indeed! Our conclusion was that we were very happy to be at sea and as it turns out, our splices held in 50 knot gusts of wind!
The weather in The Bahamas really wasn’t very nice while we were there. Of course no one in Michigan will have any sympathy for us, but the winds in the Bahamas made many days somewhat unpleasant. Although it was warm, the wind made snorkeling difficult and tested our anchoring equipment. One test occurred at the very time our friends Reid and Genie Sherard came for a visit. Their plane was scheduled to land at 1730, but it was an hour or so late. In the meantime a front came through with the strongest winds to date at nearly 50 knots. Elizabeth Harbor turned into a caldron with 3 to 4 foot waves. Rebecca and I didn’t think it was a good idea to try to take our tender the three miles across the bay to Georgetown; on the other hand we couldn’t let them stand there in the rain, so off we went. We packed the tender with extra raincoats and life jackets and pushed off. It was horrendous: the green water washed over us as one wave after another assaulted our sturdy craft. Fortunately the water was about 80 degrees, so it was pleasant although frightening. As we approached the mid-point of our crossing a fierce gust of wind blew up and a large wave lifted the bow of our boat straight up in the air and pitched the boat almost perpendicular to the water’s surface. I looked at the bow straight over my head and thought “Holy cow, we are in big trouble now!” I could just envision us swimming in that witches brew. But as saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As luck would have it, the bow swung around to our left side and settled back down into the waves and we finished our passage to Georgetown in a state of adrenaline induced exhilaration! After waiting in Georgetown awhile, Genie and Reid drove up in the taxi. We explained the sea state to them, but as the waves would be mostly on our stern and with four people and luggage in the boat, we all thought things would go better; so, off we went. From the moment we got out of the inner harbor until we crossed the main channel we had one green wave after another splash over us. It was frightening, exciting, and a lot of fun (in retrospect). Once on the other side of the channel things were much better. We came upon ARGO swinging slowly and steadily at anchor as the wind and waves swirled about her. She was a welcomed sight!
As we enjoyed their visit with us aboard ARGO, winter storms were pummeling the northeast. The effect so far south seemed surprising to us northerners, yet here we were experiencing high wind as the storms passed. We needed to be back in Ann Arbor for a family commitment on the 13th, so we began our 400 mile trip to Florida on March 6. Normally such a trip would take two days if we cruised overnight or four days if we stopped for overnights. Unfortunately a big low pressure settled over North Carolina just as we made Nassau’s Albany Bay Marina; the result was waves in the 10ft. – 15 ft. range across the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately the storm was a slow mover and it wound up keeping us there for almost two expensive weeks. We flew home from Nassau to meet our commitment, and then I flew back and met my friend Curtis Hoff (also a captain) and we took the boat to North Palm Beach on the 18th. ARGO is now moored in North Palm Beach at Old Port Cove Marina.
Our two month shakedown cruise was the first time we really stayed at anchor for long periods of time aboard a boat. We had a chance to meet some very lovely people and enjoy their experiences as well as to get to know ARGO. Our boat seems perfect for what we want to do, and after Cuba, we will head for Newfoundland. We have decided to cross the Pacific Ocean in 2014, and we are now beginning our planning process for that passage. Our next installment will hopefully describe Havana!
Thanks looking in on us.
Randy and Rebecca