31 July 2013

Top Ten Pictures

As anybody who knows me can attest, I have a bit of a photography habit.  If you only know me from my blog, I sure hope that you would have guessed that.  We are home now and it crushes me that I will not be adding any more images to my folder labelled Sabbatical.  Finality allows one thing though, a chance to reflect.  So, here is my attempt to select 10 images that I believe are my best.  Not only technically strong, but that capture the essence of the trip.

In no particular order, here we go...
Nikon D3 w/ 28-105mm @60mm - f/16, 30sec, ISO 200
Right off the bat, I lied to you, this image has absolutely nothing to do with what our trip was about.  We allowed exactly one tourist day for NYC on the way down and didn't even stop on the way home.  More than the city itself, we were impressed that our course would take our boat right through the centre of it.  So, either this or the Statue of Liberty were our favourite parts of NYC.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @70mm - f/8, 1/2000th, ISO 800
May we never tire of dolphins.  These guys are the true highlight of the Intra-Coastal Waterway.  All my previous experience was that dolphins like to ride on bow waves.  I even brought special camera mounts to capture images from this awkward location.  Lucky for us, they liked to ride our stern wake, it makes for awesome viewing.  Down in the cockpit you are so close that you can feel the mist from their blow hole.  A rather shocking experience for Macara when that happened for the first time.  Anytime that we were in the ICW and somewhat close to an inlet, we would be on the full lookout.  I chose this picture, because not only would they enjoy a ride with us, often they would look up at us.  I never did catch it, but on a few rare occasions, some of the young ones would end their ride with a celebratory flip.  I guess Sea World doesn't have that market cornered.
Nikon D3 w/ 300mm + TC17 - f/4.8, 1/800th, ISO 800
An ICW must for us was to find the wild horses that inhabit only a select few areas.  We found 3 at Cumberland Island, just north of the Florida border.  Some may say it is just a horse, but to know that even a few are living wild, makes the world a slightly better place.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @150mm - f/8, 1/160th, ISO 200
You will rarely see me take a picture that is as candid as this.  This was a wedding party that had come to see the Nurse sharks at Compass Cay Marina, where we were staying.  It was actually the wedding photographer fussing over this shot that made me pull my camera out of the bag.  Oh well, it's my cross to bear.  
This trip was many years in the making.  The planning actually started long before Macara was even born.  Now, I could not imagine this trip without her.  She has grown so much, physically and socially.  Here she was having no problem hanging out with the big girls and telling them all that she knew about sharks.
Nikon D200 w/ 16mm fisheye - f/9, 1/250th, ISO 200
Did somebody say sharks?  Yep, I love 'em!!!  It was Kerri's and my love of diving that introduced us to the Bahamas.  It was the sharks, the rays and the turtles that kept us coming back over and over again.  It was these dive trips that planted the seed for this sabbatical.  This is my 'bucket list' shot.  An adult Tiger shark up close and personal.  No cage.  Clear, warm water.  It doesn't get any better than this.  Check out our You Tube channel if you can't quite figure out how close she is.
Nikon D200 w/ 12-24mm @12mm - f/8. 1/250th, ISO 200
Yes, more diving would have been nice.  That is always the case.  But, any less snorkelling would have been a crime.  Sharing our love of the ocean with this beautiful little girl, priceless.
Nikon D200 w/ 12-24mm @18mm - f/4, 1/250th, ISO 200
Thunderball Grotto of James Bond fame with my daughter and my parents.  We had the place to ourselves.  A day that I will never forget.  
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @78mm - f/9, 1/800th, ISO 200
We didn't spend all our time in the water.  There were a few nice beaches to see.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @70mm - f8, 1/640th, ISO 200
What can I say, the girl loves to fish.
Nikon D200 w/ 12-24mm @12mm - f/8, 1/250th, ISO 200
I like to lobster.  It's easier to get good pictures of them inside the marine park.  Unfortunately, you can't take these ones home for dinner.

Who's kidding who?   You knew there was never a chance that I could wrap this up at just 10 pictures. Let's keep going...
Nikon D3 w/ 28-105mm @56mm - f/8, 1/320th, ISO 200
Getting dinner prepared fresh, dockside.  I miss conch salad a lot.  If anybody knows how to get conch (legally) in Canada, please let me know.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @200mm - f/4.5, 1/100th, ISO 400
The girls take a turn at checking the crab traps.  Blue crabbing is fun and they are tasty.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @110mm - f/8, 1/200th, ISO 200
All that clean living is good for you.
Nikon D3 w/ 16mm fisheye - f/8, 1/30th, ISO 200
Hold on a second!!!  That beer barely made it to March.  It wasn't all clean living.  I am pretty proud of that packing job though.  Eighteen cases of beer in the engine room, not bad if I say so myself.  There was another 12 cases elsewhere and some wine and some rum and some whiskey.  No wonder we had such a good time.
Canon  SX30 IS - f/4, 1/800, ISO 160
More of that less than healthy living, but damn they look happy.  This was life under the tree for over a month on Chat 'n Chill beach.  You'll notice Macara is nowhere to be seen.  There were kids in Georgetown.  Image compliments of Julie.
Nikon D3 w/ 70-200mm @70mm - f/7.1, 1/250th, ISO 200
She's a good kid with a ton of stories to tell.

I started writing hoping to be able to chose just ten images.  No dice, but I couldn't change the title.  Top Sixteen Pictures just didn't sound right.  There are a lot more images in our Photo Gallery, not to mention the videos on our YouTube channel.  Someday, I will sit down and figure out just how many pictures I took on the trip.  Not enough, but you get the idea, we had fun.

More to the fact that I don't take candid photos.  We met a lot of great people over the year that you don't see here.  If we tipped a glass with you in the last 12 months, I hope that you are doing well.  May our wakes cross again someday.  Cheers!

26 July 2013

Taking the Long Way Home

Once again I need to apologize for the lack of updates.  Chaos erupted on our way home.

My last blog update ended with us heading to Rhode Island for the weekend and us hoping that the Erie Canal would be open again the following Monday.  Well, that didn't happen.  Or, the Monday after that.  Or, on the Monday after that.  It closed on June 13th and did not reopen again until July 17th.

We spent 15 days in Troy, NY.  Here is why...
Major flooding.
Major damage.
The State of New York received near record rain fall in the month of June.  A couple of times it was large amounts in a very short period of time.  Most afternoons looked like this.

We waited patiently, constantly monitoring the Canal website hoping for a ray of sunshine.  Once, there appeared to be a break in the insanity.  On a Thursday afternoon we got word that water levels were down and repairs would be completed and the Canal would be opened to mariners Friday morning at 8am.  But, that was short lived.  Not more than a couple hours later a new Notice to Mariners was put out notifying all mariners that, not only will the locks not reopen, but they would be opening flood gates in advance of a predicted 5" of rain over the Mohawk river drainage basin.  This would happen regularly.

Rumours flew around everywhere.  Everybody knew somebody that had a story, an inside piece of information.  Lock 12 is busted.  Lock 9 is busted.  I would try calling the Canal System directly, but they seemed disinterested in providing us with a straight answer.  Finally, I could take no more.  We are taking the long way home.
Home for 15 days
July 1st... new plan.  We would head north up Lake Champlain, come out on the St. Lawrence river north-east of Montreal and then travel upstream back to Lake Ontario.  Because we are now running low on time, the cheaper Trent-Severn route is no longer an option.  We will continue through Lake Ontario to the Welland Canal.  Then run Lake Erie, on up the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.  Finally onto Lake Huron, up and around the Bruce Peninsula arriving at our final destination, Wiarton Marina.  On the way down, Troy, NY was mile 550.  On our new way home, we still had 1100nm to go.

Why did it take us so long to commit to the Lake Champlain option, you ask?  The distance was only a part of it.  The other issue was their 17ft fixed bridge heights at normal water levels.  Water levels had been anything but normal.  But, on my last phone call to the Canal System 800 number and only after one request to talk to a supervisor, I was assured that the Champlain lock operators had been able to maintain their waterway at normal water levels for the last couple days.  We had to give it a try.

Our previous lowest bridge that we had passed under was a little bit outside of Baltimore, 17' 7".  That was exciting and now we need to go 7" lower.  I got to work at lowering every piece on the boat that would move.  Our highest point was now our radar.  I estimate our air draft at about exactly 17', but had no way of measuring it down to the inch.  Our first bridge of the day is a 21 footer.  We have been under plenty of those, hardly even worth talking about.  Except for the fact that two of our fishing rods touched the bridge and we had no choice, but to totally drag our outriggers all the way under.  WTF?!?!?  A little perplexed, we continue up to Champlain Lock #1 and kindly ask, "what gives, buddy?"  He explains that we had just been in the convergence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers.  The Mohawk still has too much water and that was not under his control.  He guaranteed all the following pools to be at normal water level and that 17' bridges would be 17' bridges.

From Lock 1 to Lock 5 we make great time.  Nobody is around, we have the place to ourselves.  By Lock 5 we catch up to a couple trawlers that have also had enough of waiting on the Erie Canal and are taking the long way around.  Being faster, in the lock I ask if we can pull out first.  Just around the corner from Lock 5 is our first test.  A true 17' bridge.  WOW!!!  Does that ever look low!  We approach ever so slowly.  Kerri climbs up and stands on the arm rests of my seat.  She sticks her head out the hatch on the hard top and tries to eyeball up the bridge and our radar.  "Back up, back up!!!", she says.  We angle over to another part of the bridge, no good.  Confused and a little embarrassed, we let the trawlers pass us by.  The second boat offers to spot for us from the other side of the bridge.  We try once more, this time the guy on the other side radios back and says he can see 6" of day light.  We should be good.  At the last minute, Kerri yells "back up, we are going to hit!!!"  Too late.  Our radar gets pinched under the bridge and I scratch it on the way back out.  Well, this is no fun.  We move way over by the rivers edge and try once more.  Kerri now has the radar angled to pass straight inline with the boat so that we can keep it in between the rivets.  That is how close we are... rivets.  This time we make it through.  Slightly shaken, but we are through.  And that is how the rest of our day went, 6 more bridges in the 17' range.  Each and every one was a nail biting affair, until the last one.  Crunch!!!  It felt as though the whole hardtop flexed with that hit.  I don't even ask Kerri how bad it was.  She assures me it was just another scratch. I am thinking scratches don't sound like that.  We try over and over, there is no way we are getting under this one.  I call the Lock Operator, "we are stuck".  She says "no problem, give me a minute and I will drop the water level for you."  After about 20 minutes though, she was losing her cool.  Sounded like she was breaking some rule.  "You let me know as soon as you are through", she says with a bit of tension.  Another 10 minutes go by and we finally make it under the bridge.  That is enough for one day.

Lake Champlain was a lot more pleasant, except for driving straight through one squall and dodging a couple different thunderstorms.  We make our final US port at Plattsburgh, NY.

Tomorrow, we will be back home in Canada.  Quebec actually.  The only charts that we have for the next few days are on the cell phone.  And our French, let's just say it has been a while since high school.

There is a Customs wharf immediately inside the Canadian border and things went smoothly.  We gave them a little money and they welcomed us home.  Oh, how we Canadians love our taxes.

Back out on the Riviere Richelieu and there are Fleur de Lys (Quebec's provincial flag) flying at almost every home.  All the VHF radio traffic is now 'en francais' and Kerri and I are wondering what our next few days might be like.  Rightly or wrongly I often associate the Fleur de Lys with the Separatist Movement and I am feeling like I am right in the middle of it.  Our day ends with a small canal system that parallels the Richelieu river called Chambly.  The locks are very well run by very pleasant bilingual  staff, but I am still not convinced.  They are government workers, they are hired because they are bilingual.  The true test will be Chambly Marina.  The dockmaster's English is very poor, almost as bad as our French.  We quickly give up on the VHF and resort to hand gestures.  But, once we are along dockside she has a couple resident boaters helping her out and their English is very strong.  In fact, the one guy takes a shine to Macara and politely asks if she can come with him to feed the fish behind his boat.  Kerri checks in with the marina and I get the shore power hooked up and then we join them for a couple beers.  Luke has Macara on their swim platform and they are hand feeding Carp pieces of bread.  Once back on our boat and preparing dinner, Kerri and I both comment on how we wish our French was stronger, because once again some of our favourite people on this trip have turned out to be French.
Chambly Canal
Chambly is essentially a suburb of Montreal, only 40km by car.  But, we still have 36nm to travel north to Sorel, QC on the St. Lawrence river and 34nm SW back upstream to Montreal.  Oh, and one more lock.  Half an hour by car, or 7 hours by boat.

Montreal is a great city, not one that can be truly appreciated in just one night.  Unfortunately, we are behind schedule and want to keep moving.  Our marina choice for the night was Marina la Ronde.  Right by the old fairgrounds from Expo '67 there was roller coaster traffic right on into the evening.  Then after dark, we got to experience the Chinese entry into some sort of world fireworks competition.  Having been on the State side on July 1st and the Canadian side on July 4th, any fireworks would be appreciated.  And one final congratulations to Marina la Ronde, at $1.50/litre ($5.70/ US gallon) you had the highest fuel price of anywhere on this trip, Bahamas included.

From Montreal to Kingston is the St. Lawrence Seaway, 7 locks on the Canadian side and 2 locks in the USA.  These locks are huge, not like anything on the Trent-Severn or Erie Canals.  They are capable of handling Lake Freighters up to 740ft in length and having a 78ft beam.  Commercial traffic is their priority.  Recreational windows are scheduled, generally with only a couple times per day.  The Seaway employs a technique that we hadn't used yet, group mooring or rafting.  Smaller vessels raft up and larger vessels raft together.  I have to admit that our group cheated.  He had a bow thruster and we left our main engines running.  Based on my previous experience in the Welland Canal I was sceptical, but the group method worked just fine.
Kerri in her locking position

Rise and shine the next morning.  They post the recreational boating schedule at 7:30am... nothing.  Well that sucks!!!  Oh well, stuck in Montreal.  That is a pleasant change.  We have a relaxing breakfast and start thinking about what to do for the day.  On a whim, Kerri checks the Seaway website one more time.  There has been a change, there is a recreational opening at 1pm.  Strange time to start the day, but we will take anything.  And with nothing to do and being a little unsure how things will go, I see no harm on being there an hour early.  Good thing too, because something changed again.  We arrived at the lock only to find the other boaters untying their lines.  We are going straight in.  We didn't even have time to buy a ticket, we had to pay in the lock.  All in all, a little good fortune makes for a relaxing day.

We clear St. Lambert's lock (actually two locks) and and then St. Catherine's lock and patiently waited for buoy A13 out in Lake St. Louis so we could put the throttles down for a bit.  We start to accelerate and then nothing???  The starboard engine will not rise much above 1200rpm.  Humm???  Do we have turbo problems?  It was working earlier today and now nothing.  Not good!  Combine engine problems and not being sure if they will take us at the Lower Beauharnois lock and a group of 100-150 boats anchored by an island look pretty inviting.  We turn around and drop a hook in the group.  Not an hour passes and all the boats start lifting anchor.  And I mean all of them, all but one.  We woke up the next morning with one other boat.  When that many boats leave, you have to wonder if there is something that they know and you don't.  We had a great night.

The next morning we had to wait for a few freighters to lock through and then we made our way up the Beauharnois locks.  But, our black smoke/lack of power issue has not gone away.  We pull into Creg Quay Marina (Lancaster, ON), we need help.  As always, every mechanical failure happens on a Sunday; the mechanic will be by first thing tomorrow morning.  Archie shows up bright and early and without turning a wrench declares the issue to be turbo problem.  He will work on finding us a new turbo.  Not entirely satisfied, I call my contact at Caterpillar.  The Cat guy says it is likely a dirty turbo boost sensor telling the engine to over fuel.  Barely even sure what the turbo boost sensor looks like, I begin to inspect and swap the two engines sensors.  All the while, Kerri is pouring over our diesel handbook (Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair by Nigel Calder).  She has declared our problem a dirty air intake filter.  Interesting, but a sudden failure?  It worked earlier in the day and then not later.  Feels more mechanical to me.  Archie hasn't given up either, he comes back knocks off the air intake filter and gives the turbo a peek and then turns it by hand.  Now, he is no longer convinced it's a turbo problem.  That's a relief, that was one of the most expensive fixes.  Now it is a good thing I am not paying shop rates for my services, it took me the better part of all day to become certain what sensor I was looking at and then swap them.  It's time for a test drive.  If I have a bad sensor, that problem will follow itself over to the port engine.  To keep Kerri happy, I pull the air intake filter off the starboard engine.  Off we go.  It's marine mechanic vs. Caterpillar rep vs. Kerri and her handbook... there will be no living with her after this.  The boat jumped up on plane as good as the day we bought her.  Quick, back to the dock.  We need to order some new filters.  While Archie and I are chatting, Kerri already has the Parts Manual out and has located the part number.  Soon after Archie returns, "you are not going to believe this.  Two or three days for delivery.", he says.  Not thrilled with the delivery time, but relieved that I am not out thousands of dollars; we settle in and wait.  Creg Quay is a nice marina, it has a pool and the people seem friendly.  Lancaster is just inside the Ontario boarder and most of the boaters here are actually from Quebec.  Once again, we find ourselves surrounded by mostly french speaking people with passable english.  Macara is having fun in the pool and with the fish in the marina.  There are a few kids around and language is not getting in the way of their good time.  Day 2 quickly passes, no parts.  Day 3 is dragging on and our parts arrive at 6pm.  For some strange reason, they call me up to the office to make sure the parts are correct.  OMG!!! They sent the wrong filters.  I am crushed, but somehow not surprised.  The marina manager is equally upset, if not more so.  She starts calling in all her connections.  Somehow, the proper part gets identified and it will be in Cornwall at 8am the next morning.  9am arrives and I have 2 brand new filters sitting on the back of my boat.  The best explanation that could be offered was that I have the parts manual for the original 3196 engines.  My boat has the 4th generation turbos that comes with a different air intake filter.  We are back in business!!!  One final note regarding our time at Creg Quay and our positive experiences with the french as a whole.  Macara had been playing with a boy about her age, his dad stops by and says "if the right part does not arrive first thing tomorrow, you take my truck to Montreal and get the right part."  At that point, I did not even know the guys name.  Good people, very generous.  I just wish I could speak their language.

We have three more locks to go.  Two on the US side, which turned out to be our absolute favourite.  They had floating cleats to secure your boat to as the lock level changes.  Very nice.  And last the Canadian lock had almost no lift.  But, the downside was that even though we had made it through all the locks, this area was still considered St. Lawrence Seaway and as such was still subject to Seaway speed limits.  All the way from Montreal to Kingston they have all these obscure speed limits for vessels larger than 40ft.  I am used to 6knot limits in canals, but they had all these other limits.  10.5knots from here to here, then 16knots, down to 11knots up to 13knots, down to 8.5knots.  Well, you can image the size of wake that I pull doing 11 or 13knots.  And because it didn't make sense to me, that was exactly the speed I went.  Only pulling off as a courtesy to other boaters, which I would have done anyway.  Onward we went, slow and senseless.

One joy of our extended trip was some of the nice scenery that we got to see.  Lake Champlain is pretty  and the 1000 islands are also very nice.  No trip through the 1000 island area would be complete without a short side trip past Boldt Castle.  Call the guy a hopeless romantic, George Boldt (who was the general manager at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC and the manager at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Pittsburgh) initiated the construction of his castle, one of the largest private homes in North America.  And then, with the death of his wife in 1904, all construction ceased.  Now restored to her original glory, she is quite a sight.

Finally, Lake Ontario.  No more speed limits and dead calm seas.  Look out MasterCard, we are going to burn some fuel.

A 14hr day saw us put out of Kingston, across Lake Ontario and through the Welland Canal.  The Welland Canal alone can often take that long when you consider the delays that recreational boats often encounter there.  We got lucky!  Many, many thanks to my parents for assisting us through the locks and you sure made Macara happy to be off the boat and rid of these long days on the water.

Lake Erie was also mirror flat.   A quick stop for lunch and fuel in Erie, PA.  We continued on to Put-In Bay off Sandusky, OH.  Put-In Bay is a very popular tourist destination.  We arrived at 9:30pm and took a mooring ball.  We never set foot on shore.  How boring?

The heat has been pretty intense lately.  The heat, together with the humidity combined to be hotter than anything that we saw down south.  This creates plenty of afternoon thunderstorm in the western Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair area.  We dodged our share.  It's a lot more fun with modern electronics.

Almost home and these unusually calm lakes keep driving us onward.  We arrive in Kincardine (our hometown) hoping to stay a couple days, but the weather says we can't.  Only one more good travel day and then it is supposed to blow right through the weekend.  Sorry guys, gotta run!

We arrived in our home port of Wiarton, ON, 362 days after we left.  Some 6531nm on the trip meter.  Three different countries... Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virgina, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Bimini Islands, Berry Islands, New Providence, Exumas, Long Island, Eleuthera and the Abacos.

What a trip!!!  Oh, the memories!!!

I'd do it all again tomorrow, but we would need a sponsor.  It is time to go to work and pay some bills.

23 June 2013


Things went so much smoother when I brought the boat home in 2011.

The weather has been very unsettled this spring.  So, we had to make some different choices.  Fortunately, for me and the crew, they were all good ones.  Well, most of them.

You know how when you are driving home from a vacation and all those thoughts (of what you need to do) that you had managed to push aside, all start rushing in... imagine that after an entire year.  Our real world 'to do' list is starting to grow.  We are starting to realize, that we would like to get home.

Phase One:  The Atlantic Coast.
Given the size and speed of our boat, our trip should look something like this: St. Augustine, FL > Charleston, SC > Oriental, NC > Norfolk, VA > Atlantic City, NJ > Albany, NY.  That's if the weather cooperates.

We had always said that we will leave South Florida sometime in early June or when Hurricane Season kicks up.  For us, that happened on the same day.  As soon as we untied our lines, TS Andrea got organized and took a run at us.  We hadn't even reached the ocean yet when we got that news, so we stayed on the ICW and tucked into Vero Beach for a couple days.

Not entirely sure how long it takes for an ocean to settle down after a tropical storm we decided to hang out in the Intracoastal for a couple more days.  All thing considered, we made pretty good time and made it to St. Augustine in a day and a half, with a stop in Daytona Beach along the way.  Not all bad.
Next stop, Charleston, SC.  200nm north and taking us some 45nm offshore.  You want a nice day for that one and we got it.  Even at 23.5 knots, it takes a while to cover 200nm.  When we got to Charleston, all we wanted was a drink and a nice meal, but first we needed to fuel up and wash the boat down.  "Hey, the boat really stinks like diesel", Kerri says to me.  "We just fuelled up.  It's nothing", I said.  And off to dinner we go.  When we got back from dinner, the complaining was more intense.  Apparently I was not getting on the issue quick enough, because Kerri was the first one down in the engine room.  "There is a big puddle of diesel under the port engine!" she says.  Not at all what I wanted to hear.  I cleaned it up and hope that this was just an over-fuelling issue.  Typical 'stick my head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away while I sleep on it' response.  Nope.  A new puddle the next morning.  Insert expletive here, maybe two.  Here we go again.  I suppose there are worse places to breakdown.  Like compared to yesterday when we were 45nm offshore.  Or any of the last few months while out in the Bahamas.  But, that is only a small consolation.  Within a short time I have located a drip.  It seems to be coming from the port side engine's fuel pump.  Not any easy place to get to and quite possibly beyond my level of expertise.  I want this done quickly, so I get on the phone.  It is time for professional help.  Fortunately, a pro says it is just a loose fitting.  He borrows one of my wrenches and we are fixed.  Wow!!!  We got lucky on that one.

The next days' weather forecast is marginal to say the least, but we have an urge to get moving.  North on the ICW we go.  The ICW is not too bad between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, so we make good time.  Until we get to Myrtle Beach.  OMG!!!  If I never travel the ICW through Myrtle Beach ever again, that would be a blessing.  And to the Bridge Operator at Little River... insert expletive here.  Southern charm?
My time in the United States has led me to come up with a saying, "Nice country, just too many Americans."  Before anybody comes unglued, hear me out.  Most Americans are really nice people.  I have several that I call friends.  But, on any given day, and lately I have been getting them back to back to back, you run into that jerk that brings the entire country down.  He's the exception, but I think that he is looking for me.  So, today, I am going to make it harder for him to find me.  I am going offshore, even out of my way.  I am just not in the mood for it anymore.  Next stop... Oriental, NC.
We arrive in Oriental and 'he' is waiting for me.  'His' boat is in the slip just next to ours.  At first I didn't recognize 'him'.  'He' starts off very cordial.  'He' begins asking about our winter in the Bahamas.  'He' has been there himself.  'He' seems to be a like minded soul.  Then out of nowhere, 'he' starts ripping me about my flag configuration.  'He' informs me that my Canadian flag flying higher than my American 'courtesy' flag is a declaration of war and was offensive.  With ever increasing agitation, I respond quite quickly,  "You'd be correct if I were flying the two flags on the same halyard, but I am not.  This is the exact configuration that is shown on the US Power Squadron website, as well as a couple others that I cannot remember at this time, said that I should fly them."  He still doesn't get it and still wants to belabour the point.  I am forced to repeat myself.  You'd be right, if blah, blah blah, but you are not right because I looked it up.  Finally, the penny drops for him, "It appears you did your research on this", he says.  Lately, I am starting to feel like Dorothy.  There is no place like home.  There is no place like home.  There is no place like home.  Next stop... Norfolk, VA.

This is one of my favourite legs of the trip, but it sure keeps me busy.  First off we run the Sounds in behind the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Sounds are littered with crab traps.  I need to be on full alert and an extra pair of eyes definitely helps.  But, it is fun.  It feels like a short cut.  Then it is up the Elizabeth River and the Virginia Cut.  This is a blast!  Running a big boat like a little sport boat = so much fun.  Again, I have to be on full alert.  The driving is busy enough, but I would hate to wake a little 'Jon boat'.  In these close quarters I am afraid that I would flip one for sure.  But, damn, it is so much fun!

Like I said earlier, the weather is very unsettled this spring.  Forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms are the norm.  Our arrival in Norfolk was no exception.  The night before this system had it's fun in the mid-west.  Weather forecasters were having a tough time with this system.  They all could see it, they were just having a hard time gauging it's intensity.  Some had forecasted 100knot winds.  The story on the fuel dock was that the Navy had their tugs on full alert to hold their big battleships in position.  We arrived in Norfolk with a little over an hour to spare.  Last minute forecasts were to expect winds topping 50knots.  We put out some extra lines just in case.  Yep, we saw 50knots+.  Now we need some canvas repairs.  A little duct tape will have to do until then.  It's 'yacht white' duct tape, don't you know.  Next stop... Atlantic City.

As you can imagine with Norfolk being such a large naval port, there is plenty of commercial activity, as well as recreational traffic.  Absolutely love my Marine Traffic AIS app.  Having fun with it, I call an outgoing barge by name.  I get a "You're fine, keep her coming."  What I wasn't prepared for was the sincere "thanks for checking in".  A nice start to the day for sure.  That is how life on the water should be.  Hammers down and we are off towards Atlantic City.  Another gift of a day to be on the water.  It is so nice, that I consider an 11hr run straight up to New York City.  Tomorrow's forecast is a little iffy.  Oh come on!  We are not at war here.  Stop and enjoy the view. So, that is what we did.  Atlantic City is a fairly busy inlet.  There are always boats coming and going.  On our way in, there is also a tug/barge dragging it's dredging equipment.  Not a single boat seems to be slowing down for it, but I can't do it.  Captain Chris would have my hide if he heard that I ever waked a dredge.  Now, I never hailed the tug boat Captain, his intentions were clear, he was holding to green cans.  I was going to hold the reds and give him a slow pass.  There wasn't much to talk about.  As soon as we clear the tug, we get hailed on the radio.  "Hey, inbound sportfish... Thanks for the slow pass, very much appreciated", he says.  At first, I wasn't exactly sure if this wasn't a backhanded slam at all the a-holes that had waked him all day.  There were at least two boats as big as me or bigger, in the area at the time, that should have slowed down and didn't.  But then, a good number of his crew are now giving a 'thumbs up' or a 'tip of the hat'.  Could this be?!?!  Twice in one day!  Is it too soon to say that my faith in humanity has been restored?  Let's just call it a good day.  Jersey Boy, take a bow.  There seems to be some good ones where you come from.  Next stop... somewhere up the Hudson River.

Now remember that I said the forecast for this leg was a little iffy.  I was relying on about 15ยบ of offshore breeze to keep the waters calm.  Fortunately, any errors in forecasting were in our favour.  We had a great run up the Jersey coast.  Add to that, any day you can run your own boat past the Statue of Liberty is a good day.  Life was treating us pretty good.  The Atlantic Ocean was now behind us.  A few days of river running and we are back on The Great Lakes.

Then WTF?!?!  Really?!?!  Some county sheriff wants to pull us over and see our papers?  It's bad enough we have to call in our location every night, but now we are getting delayed too.  I try to see the positive in that this is the first time it has happened to us.  By the way, thanks for the boot prints on the deck.  Those are really nice.  After then were done, then things get worse.  I cannot even begin to type a word that describes the horrible sound that followed.  We were cruising along at our happy little 23.5 knots and I will use the word 'bang', but it is way more disgusting than that.  The entire crew knew in an instant that something very bad had happened.  We hit a submerged log.  And, now a horrible vibration is shaking the entire boat.  I slide the starboard engine into neutral and the vibration stops.  I put it back in gear and the vibration began again.  Back to neutral.  Typically, this would be a moment to inspire a truck load of curse words that would make any sailor blush.  But I quickly resigned myself to the fact that when you run your boat for over 5000nm in unfamiliar waters, bad things are going to happen.  And this would be one of them.  We called the closest marina that could haul us out and we called the closest prop guy.  Of course, this was Sunday and nothing was going to happen until Monday morning.  Just as we were in the entrance of the marina I decided, to heck with this, if nobody is going to help me, then I am going to help myself.  I got some time.  I am going to do a little in water diagnostics.  But first,  I need to back out this channel.  Just then two mangled pieces of wood came floating to the surface.  There was our vibration!  Cautiously, I began sliding the throttles forward.  Smooth as silk!!!  Before long, we were once again sailing our way up the Hudson River, rounding our way past the West Point Military Academy and the beautiful mountains that border our path.  Once more, we are sincerely thanked for our courteous boating behaviour.  It doesn't take long to forget how horrible things seemed just moments ago.  Then it happened again... whack!!!  Dammit!  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me.  It's time to slow down.  What is going on you ask?  What can't I get through my thick head?  It's spring.  We are coming from sunshine.  Here they are emerging from a horrible winter/spring and a tropical storm just dumped all over that.  The Hudson River is full of all sorts of crap.  We saw so many tires floating down the river.  Wood.  Pieces of dock.  All sorts of junk.  Get me off this river.  Kingston, NY looks real good right now.  And it was.  Great meal and more incredibly friendly people.  Next stop... Albany, NY.

Albany is not that far from Kingston, maybe 50nm.  A bit of a lazy day.  Our plan was to rent a car and pick up some things.  Maybe, have a little fun.  We have been pushing it pretty hard lately and the worst is behind us.  Just before reaching Albany, I pick up the phone and call ahead to a marina in the Erie Canal system that I remembered having cheap fuel.  I would hold off topping up if he is still cheap enough.  Sure enough he was.  "$3.75 per gallon", he boasts.  "Cheapest on the the canal, but you will have a hard time getting here for a while.  The canal is closed.", he continues.  Once again I am struggling with this four seasons thing.  I never even thought.  I switch over to the VHF radio to see if the Albany Yacht Club to could take us for a couple days until the canal opened up again.  I got a one word reply... "negative".  This is quickly starting to feel real bad.  There aren't a whole lot of marina choices in this area and Albany was the big one.  And that dry reply made me feel like the elephant in the room.  I am starting to realize these people have been stuck here a few days and I am naively pulling in thinking that I am going to get a slip.  Kerri quickly begins thumbing her way through The Waterway Guide.  I am tapping away on the GPS.  "Try this number... now try this one".  Luckily, thankfully, the Forever Young Health Club and Marina was able to take us in.  They just had to move a couple boats around.

Now what?  Just wait?  We worked so hard to get here.  We could have played around a little along the way.

Today, we picked up a car today and ran some errands.  Tonight, we even took Macara to a Chuck E. Cheese in recognition of her putting up with some long days on the water.  Tomorrow, we are off to Rhode Island.  What the heck, we are in the area.  A 3hr drive is nothing compared to 9 or 10hrs on the water.  That should kill the weekend.  Hopefully, the canal will be ready to go by Monday.

06 June 2013

Day 1: Heading North... STOP!!!

Our trip north is admittedly off to a slow start.  We aren't quite ready to give this all up yet.  But, it coming.

We sat around West End on Grand Bahama for the better part of a week.  We got a taste of the marina life and frankly, it just led to a couple 2 day hangovers.  Finally, we got what we were waiting for, one nice day for shark diving and then another for our crossing back to the United States.

I have done several shark dives.  I did one a couple weeks earlier in Nassau.  But, those were Caribbean Reef sharks.  Beautiful as they are, they are a lot smaller than my target species this time, the Tiger shark.  For comparison, a large Caribbean Reef shark may be 8ft and weigh up to 150lbs.  Tiger sharks on the other hand typically grow to 12-14ft and weigh in somewhere around 1200-1400lbs.  Couple the large size discrepancy between the two sharks with the fact that records for shark attacks on humans place the Tiger shark as a Top 5 offender, I needed to try this for myself.

Once again, I found myself diving with a Stuart Cove resort.  Andrea, my divemaster, was dead serious when he told me "... this is nothing like Nassau".  Okay, he has my attention.  I am all ears.  The dive briefing is pretty similar with a few exceptions.  Instead of 15 divers, there is just 3 of us.  This is not a shark feed, we will us a chum bucket.  We will sit directly under the stern of the boat and each of us will be issued a stick.  A stick?!?!?  Yep.  Not for beating or poking the shark, just to expand our personal space.  Point the stick at the shark whenever she gets too close.  My camera proved to be an acceptable substitute, I didn't get a stick.  Finally, the dive times.  This is a two tank dive, each dive will be 90min long. AWESOME!!!  I have never done a 90min dive before, let alone two of them back to back.

A little fish oil in the water as we first circle our dive site.  Our anchor barely hits the bottom and our first Tiger shark appears.  Suit up, it's show time!

The first shark at the site turns out to be Charlotte, named after a previous divemasters' girlfriend.  Charlotte is now pregnant.  Andreas says she is a beautiful shark and that he believes she likes him, but insists he is not the father.

Charlotte is with us throughout both dives, as well as some 10 other Lemon sharks.  For a while we had a two other Tiger sharks join us.  They were not as comfortable with the routine and never came as close as Charlotte.  The one had a deformed dorsal fin and Andreas recognized her.  The other, he claims to have never seen before.  The Lemon sharks are impressive in the own right, but I was there for the Tigers.

How close were they?  All images were taken with a 16mm fisheye lens on a Nikon D200.  Check out the video.

Great Whites, you are next.

With our Bahamas 'grand finale' now complete, it's time to return to the United States.

West End to Palm Beach turned out to be as easy 53nm as we have met on this trip.

However, our Customs and Immigration check in was a little more exciting than we would have liked.  It turns out there was a small issue with our Cruising Permit.  We had one, yes, but we were not following the rules of the Cruising Permit.  You see, sailing to Florida is not the same as driving to Florida.  If I were to drive to Florida, I would cross the border, do my stuff there and never talk to another official until I returned to Canada.  It turns out our border agent made a lot of assumptions when I requested a Cruising Permit, like I knew what I was doing.  Apparently, he expected that I was to report to Homeland Security every time I leave one county and check in to the next.  Who knew?  Well, I do now!  Some 2000nm of oops.  Sorry.

Up next, a couple weeks of boat maintenance and evenings of indulgence.  Fix the boat by day, some light to moderate beer drinking by night.  Let's just say we got a lot of both done.

That was fun, but even that has to come to an end.  Get your tears ready, it is time to start heading home for real.  We said our good-byes and loose the lines.  Day 1 of some 14 days to get home.  Unfortunately, all day a disorganized low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico is starting to intensify.  Crap!!!  We are cut-off!

So, another night in Vero Beach.  Get going Andrea, we will following you home.  Please, don't make too much of a mess.

14 May 2013

It's Official... We are on our way home.

We are heading home.  Those are hard words to say.  Our dream trip is drawing to a close.  We are on our way home.  Albeit slowly.

After our rude little wake-up call at Staniel Cay and discovering we had Immigration issues, we ran up to Nassau to 'check in'.  It was in Nassau that I decided to make up for a perceived lack of diving.  A couple days of shark diving seemed in order.  Kerri and I honeymooned at the now run down South Ocean resort right next to Stuart Cove.  That was my first shark dive, I have been hooked ever since.  I have upgraded my camera gear somewhat since then.  It was time to go back and get some better pictures for myself.

This time I got to shoot my own video as well, thanks to GoPro.  I just clamped that little sucker onto my strobe arms and videoed while I took stills.  This was my first attempt.  I will work on my editing skills, I promise.  Maybe even find some background music.
It was also in Nassau that I got to hook up with an old friend.  As well as honeymooning in the Bahamas, I have done six dive liveaboards out here.  It was on these liveaboards that this tiny obsession got started.  I told Captain/Owner Ray that I would be back, but I am sure that he has heard that a thousand times.  Well, we made it.  Check out www.lostislandvoyages.com  Thanks for all your help Ray!

We were all prepared to blow off the Abacos, because we were enjoying the Exumas so much.  But, everybody that we discussed that with just gave us that look.  Okay, I guess we will go the Abacos then, but that means that we only have a few days to retrace our steps back down the Exumas.

First we stopped at Allen's Cay and fed the Iguanas and do a little snorkelling.  Just too rough to go out in the ocean and do some real diving.  And the forecast was stacked against us, big east winds were going to keep us off Exuma Sound.

We had no choice but to make the most of a bad situation.  We decided to slide down the bank side and head for Warderick Well's.  There are some great snorkelling sites there and a great chance of getting some Eagle Ray pictures.

Most mooring locations in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park are first come, first served.  But, at Warderick Wells (the park headquarters) you need a reservation.  We managed to get the mooring ball closest to the best snorkelling site in the area.  Smiles all around.  

There is a fair tidal exchange here, that means snorkelling only happens on the slack tides.  Fortunately, we had a slack high and a slack low at convenient times of the day.  During other parts of the day we had time to do things like stalk a 12"-18" juvenile Lemon shark through the shallows.

I did see a couple Eagle Rays, but they weren't up for having their pictures taken.  Conversely, the lobsters seemed fully aware that they had found life in full protection of the marine park.  They walked carelessly in broad daylight and seemed very happy to have their pictures taken.

I may have seen lobsters.  But, up on the surface the girls had their own encounter.  A Caribbean Reef shark needed to come over and see what all the fuss was about.  I am so proud of my girls!!!  Yes, Macara practically drown Kerri in an effort to get closer to her.   But, after the shark was gone, both went back to happily snorkelling.  Neither wanted out of the water. :-)

As much as I would like to be in control of my own destiny, the weatherman tells me when it is time to move.  And when he says get going...  Thirty minutes later, we had the dinghy back on board and were off our mooring ball.  Next stop Highbourne Cay.

Highbourne Cay Marina was our first stop in the Exumas.  It was Super Bowl Sunday then, and Shania Twain sat two tables behind us.   The food was great, we thought we would try to relive it.  Apparently, the word is out. We managed to get a slip, but we couldn't get dinner reservations.  Bummer.

We did manage to hook up with some friends that we had met in Bimini.  They had been back to Florida for a bit and were now on their second Bahamas trip of the winter.  They had been at Highbourne Cay Marina for over a month.  To say that they were enjoying their time there would be an understatement.  Not your stereotypical South Florida sportfish crew, but they do like to fish.  And the fishing in north Exuma Sound has been crazy good lately.  And the conching, it's also good.  So, why would you leave?

But, we were leaving.  Only, they inspired us to get out and catch a couple fish along the way.  What the heck, let's go fish for 10nm or so and then get back on the bank.

How good was it?  We started fishing about 1nm from the marina.  We had our first fish on before Kerri could get our second line in the water.  Then we put out the second line and it caught a fish before Kerri could get the first line back in the water.  Wow!  Eventually, got three lines out.  We are capable of running all six rods, but we were only going to fish for 10nm.  The last time the rods went off, it was all three lines.  Kerri and I fighting fish off both sides of the boat and Macara at the helm.  The whole time a third fish is peeling off line while the rod sat in a rod holder, unattended.  I take a quick break from my fish to gaff Kerri's.  Kerri run's over and grabs my rod and I gaff it.  Kerri is now sitting on the cooler to prevent it from dancing all over the deck.  I begin reeling in all that lost line on the third fish, get it right up beside the boat and proceed to botch my gaff job.  After three failed attempts it finally spits the hook.  What a morning?!?!  All toll, we didn't fish for 45 minutes.  We didn't fish the length of Highbourne Cay.  We also weren't making very good time towards Spanish Wells.  Time to reel those lines in and get going.  Not bad though, we went 4 for 8 and a better gaff man would have landed 2 more.  It would be uncool to blame my 8 year old daughter at the helm, so I will have to wear that one. ;-)

Our run across the bank took us away from the Exumas toward Spanish Wells, located on the north-west tip of Eleuthera.  Described as the commercial fish capital of all the Bahamas, we expected a little more utilitarian look.  This was a cute little town.  All the homes freshly painted in your typical Caribbean colours.  All the yards landscaped with care. Golf carts and bicycles everywhere.  A pleasant surprise for sure.  It is a dry town, we left the first thing the next morning.

We were hoping to fish again on day 2 as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean proper towards the Abacos.  The forecast was for a south wind, but instead it was easterly.  There was also a large ocean swell from the east.  Before long the rocking became uncomfortable.  No fishing today.  Time to put the hammers down and steady this boat down.  Plus, less time on the water will make the crew happier.  Unfortunately, the whole time we got to listen to the charter boats chit chat about this tuna and that wahoo and all the 'annoying' Mahi mahi. 

The Abacos on a timeline.

We gave ourselves about a week in the Abacos.  Hopetown, Marsh Harbour, Great Guana Cay, Treasure Cay, Green Turtle Cay.  We met up with cruising friends, we even had friends fly in from back home.  That was a real treat.

We didn't feel the same passion towards the Abacos.  Fair or not, it didn't make us feel like we did in the Exumas.  We had a lot of fun, we met a lot of nice people.  But, we are missing the Exumas already.

Again, the weatherman made our plans for us.  Hurry along, he said.  A north-east cold front is on its way.  We had a beautiful night at Great Sale Cay.  We snorkelled and found one lonely conch, not enough, so he got spared.  We found a couple lobster, but they are out of season.  I don't recall ever seeing lobster making their own burrows before.  That was neat.  I even changed the zincs on the drive shafts.  Then I brought Macara down on scuba for a final inspection.  She approved.

Mother's Day on the water and still more travelling.  Our plan was to head up on the bank and swim with Atlantic White Spotted dolphins. I have had a chance to do this a couple times while Kerri was home with Macara.  But, today was too windy, too choppy, so we had to abandon that plan.  Once we got off the bank, we thought that we would give fishing a try.  Ten minutes of that was too much as well.  Although ten minutes was enough to catch one Mahi and one Cero.  The Cero went back, the Mahi was dinner.

Check out my Mahi sashimi!!!
So, now we sit in West End, Grand Bahama.  Our last Bahamas destination before heading back to the United States.  There is a really cool shark dive here.  Tiger sharks and possibly hammerheads.  All I need is for this weather to pass through and to find a couple more thrill seekers/shark lovers.  I just can't justify paying for the whole boat.

More GoPro fun from the Exumas.  Macara freediving: