How Do You . . . Save Money While Cruising?

We live on a fixed income and have a strict budget for monthly expenses.  Saving money is a paramount concern for us, and we’ve developed a few strategies.  None of this is new or unique, but it’s what has been working for us.

Saving money really falls into two categories:  discounts on something you are buying or avoiding a cost altogether.  We try to maximize both.  Very rarely do we recoup some huge amount all at once; instead, it’s the steady drip-drip-drip of 25 cents here and there.  But that adds up to more than you can imagine in a very short time.

DISCOUNTS ON WHAT YOU’RE ALREADY BUYING

Pick your brands:  I was never a brand snob before, but I generally chose name-brand items at the grocery store. I’ve made a real effort to buy generic or store-brand items since moving aboard, particularly with canned goods, boxed goods like pasta, and chips.  I have to say I haven’t tasted a difference, and we’ve saved a bundle.  If we only like a specific brand of a certain thing (such as coffee, mayonnaise, dressings), then we just wait until it’s on sale to buy it.  Reading about food recalls, where the same lettuce or whatever is sold to forty different outlets from Whole Foods to Walmart, really drives the point home:  it’s all the same stuff just with different price tags.

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We eat lots of international foods, and often the same type of item is cheaper in the “ethnic” aisle or at a specialty shop.  If you don’t believe me, look for seasoned black beans in the canned vegetables aisle and then look for them in the Latin foods aisle.

Being brand-savvy goes for boat supplies, too.  We have a Seagull water filtering system for our drinking water, and it’s fantastic.  However, a Seagull branded filter costs $114, whereas the Neo-Pure filter costs $75.  We’ve tried it, and it lasts as long as a Seagull filter and has the same pure-tasting water.  Done!  But I would never buy anything other than a Racor fuel filter or 3M duct tape.  You pick your battles.

Marine v. residential:  On the same note, we have a running joke that if something has a “marine” label, it’s double the cost of the same item at a hardware store.  If we can buy a similar-quality item from a hardware store, we do it.  We do feel that there are some things that have to be for specialized for marine use, such as quality stainless steel fasteners, electrical components, wire fittings, sealants, and adhesives.

Loyalty cards:  I know not everyone digs loyalty programs.  I get it:  you are trading your privacy for discounts.  Of course, this is only true if you give your actual information . . . Just saying.  I have loyalty cards from grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, liquor stores (embarrassing, I know), and boat supply stores all along the East Coast of the US; I keep them on one key ring that I throw in my pack when I’m out.

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Coupons:  Before we moved on the boat, I was a Coupon Queen.  I got more free and cheap products than I knew what to do with.  However, that level of success requires consistent access to the internet, a printer, a Sunday paper, a variety of stores, and a car.  So you can see how well that works for me now.  In this life, you shop where you can, and many places don’t accept coupons anyway.  Sadly, my couponing use has been drastically reduced.

I’ve come across two legitimate digital rebate apps that I use consistently.  One is Walmart Savings Catcher; you scan your Walmart receipt QCR code with your phone, and they price match what you bought with local stores.  You get your rebate back as an egift card, and I’d say I get something back about 25% of the time.

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Walmart Savings Catcher–it’s so easy, even I can do it.

Another is Ibotta, which has a list of items that are eligible for rebates from multiple sellers.  You pick the item that qualifies, take a picture of your receipt with your phone, and send it to them.  Rebates are put in your account, and once you reach $20, you can cash out via Paypal.

Amazon Prime:  We pay the $119 annual membership for Amazon Prime and find it is absolutely worth it.  For us, the free shipping and streamlined process is worth its weight in gold.  We buy scads of things from Amazon, from cleaning supplies to specialty foods to maintenance items.  Insider tip:  if your package does not arrive on time, call Amazon customer service and ask for a free one-month extension of your Prime membership.  We’ve done this multiple times over the years with no hassles.

We’ve been hearing more complaints about counterfeit items on Amazon, so be careful about what you buy.

Boat US discounts:  We are members of Boat US for the towing insurance, but many marinas and fuel docks give a Boat US discount.  We are never shy about asking.  I don’t care if it’s 5 cents off of a gallon of diesel; it all adds up.

Price matching:  West Marine has historically not been our vendor of choice because of its ridiculously inflated prices.  However, they have recently instituted a price-matching policy:  they will match a price from any internet vendor except an auction site.  So we pull up Defender or Amazon on our phone, find the product, and pay that price.  You still get your West Advantage points and the ability to return the item to any West Marine.  It’s awesome.  I’m not sure how long it will last, but we’re making hay while the sun shines.

Boat show pricing:  Many internet vendors will have sales during boat shows, and companies that have booths at boat shows frequently extend “boat show pricing” to items bought online during boat shows.  We calendar the major boat shows and then buy expensive items during that time.  It has saved us a bundle.

Rebates:  Any time we buy a piece of equipment, particularly electronics, we check to see if there’s a manufacturer rebate.  We’ve gotten them from iCom, Standard Horizon, and Mantus to name a few.  It generally takes forever to get the rebate, but by then it’s like free money.

Buying in larger quantities:  Some people go to CostCo and buy a truckload of stuff at a time.  We are only two people, and we live on a 35’ sailboat.  The cost-benefit analysis of bulk buying never works out for us.  We’ve got nowhere to store huge amounts, and I get worried we won’t eat it all.  There are some things that we buy in large packs because it’s cheaper and guaranteed to get used:  paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, Ziploc bags, and rice.

Vacuum sealer:  This is one of those “you have to spend money to save money” entries.  We have a no-frills Food Saver vacuum sealer that has been a workhorse for us.   And, of course, I buy Ziploc brand vacuum sealer bags because they are cheaper but just as sturdy.  When we do buy larger packs of items such as family packs of chicken, we can then break them into smaller packages and freeze them for later.  The vacuum sealer bag keeps them frost-free in the freezer, so they aren’t wasted.  We also use the vacuum sealer for protecting spare boat parts, filters, and all manner of other things.

COST AVOIDANCE 

Cook:  I know this sounds silly, but cook your meals on board.  I love to eat out as much as the next person, but it is so expensive.  If you’ve just got to eat out, have lunch as it’s cheaper.

Repurpose what you’ve got:  When something is no longer viable for its intended purpose, we try to use it for something else if we can.  We replaced our sheets and halyards, and now we have emergency backups and lashing line.  A couple of big plastic juice containers with great screw-on lids became my storage containers for bulk rice.  Plastic boxes with missing lids hold my cleaning supplies under the galley sink.

Leverage your library:  At a minimum, the library will get you air conditioning, free wifi, and free magazines and papers to read.  Many libraries have a “Friends of the Library” section that sells books and DVDs for a dollar or two.  We’ve been in several cities that offer either a free or low cost, time-limited library card.  This opens up a whole world of DVDs, CDs, audio books, books, reference materials, and more.  The Stuart library even offered free museum passes, a sewing machine, and a 3-D printer.  If you’ll be in one spot for a while, libraries typically offer seminars and training sessions.  I’m a library fan-girl.

Tier your costs:  Many spending categories have tiers of costs; in other words, some choices are cheaper than others.  Take, for example, transportation.  Our first choice is always the free one; this can be walking, using a loaner bicycle, or taking a free shuttle/trolley/bus.  Our second choice is paid public transportation or an Uber. Do the math on the Uber; depending on cost and number of riders, it can be cheaper to take an Uber than the bus.  Finally, if we have a bunch of places to go or a large provisioning run, we may rent a car from Enterprise for the day.  Enterprise generally gets our business because they will pick us up and drop us off.

Maintain what you’ve got:  It is always cheaper to maintain something now than to fix it later.  Service your engine every 100 hours.  Spray your hand tools with Boeshield T-9.  Flush your outboard with fresh water.  Change your water filter regularly.  Put additives in your diesel and gas.  Run boiling water down your galley sink pipes.  Polish your exterior stainless at the first sign of rust.  Take care of chips in your teak finish before they become big inlets for moisture.  The list is endless and boring and responsible and is the best investment you can make.

Expand your boat skills:  Because I can sew and the Captain can splice, we never need to pay someone to do either unless it’s a huge job outside of our comfort zone.  I varnish the teak and wax the boat, and the Captain services our engine and performs electrical, plumbing, and installation work.  Taken as a whole, this means that we spent money on tools and equipment but are generally able maintain what we’ve got and to fix whatever’s wrong with no further expense.

Our cost-benefit analysis on tools and equipment is that in general, it’s cheaper to buy the tools and perform the job ourselves if we are competent enough.  In the end, you get three things:  a completed project, knowledge, and tools to use for other jobs.  It’s an investment in our self-sufficiency.

Boat work done by other people:  There will be times when you have to hire someone else to do a job.  We always talk to the workers about what parts or supplies are needed and whether we can buy them ourselves.  It’s cheaper that way because we price compare and shop sales; the yard will charge retail plus their markup.  They may have a Port Supply account, but we can still find most things cheaper by doing the homework and legwork ourselves.

Also realize that when someone uses only part of an expendable supply for your boat, you are generally charged for the whole amount.  For example, if a mechanic uses a dab or grease or sealant, you are charged for the whole tube.  You can ask for the rest of the tube, but then you have an open tube to deal with.  When we had our drive train worked on last summer, we saved hundreds by asking the mechanic to use our supplies such as paper towels, sealants, and greases.  He was cool about it, and we kept costs under control.

Have a decent inventory:  If you know what you have, you can plan for what you need.  This is especially important in the “boat spares and expendables” category.  If you know you need x number of Racor filters, you can buy a few of them when they are cheap and then store them.  That filter gets expensive when you have to stay in a marina for an extra day because it’s Sunday and the only Yanmar dealer in town is closed, then take an Uber both ways the next day because it’s too far to walk.

Have a budget:  I know, I know.  Budgets can be soul-crushing.  But if you don’t have a budget, you can’t plan for the unexpected costs that every boat is waiting to spring on you.  I will do a post later on budgeting, but at a bare minimum, you’ve got to know what you are spending and in what categories.  The categories are defined by you.  It’s too easy to eat out a few times and then belatedly realize that you’ve spent $200—money that maybe you don’t have this month because you needed to buy some equipment or extra supplies.

Posted in How Do You

Lessons from Cruising the Bahamas

We are amateurs at cruising the Bahamas.  We had a million and one questions before we left, and we have only slightly fewer now, but we did learn a few broad lessons.  One caveat is that we traveled primarily in the Abacos, which is more populated, so our experience must be viewed through that lens.  That being said, here’s a non-exhaustive list of what we learned.

Courtesy flag:  Don’t buy a cheap courtesy flag.  We got one for about $15 off of Amazon.com, and it looked like hell after two weeks.  By the time we left, it was a shredded mess.  Never again.

Navigation:  We used paper Explorer ChartBooks; for our digital charts, we used C-Map Florida and the Bahamas (NAD943) with Explorer Chartbooks on it.  We found both to be extremely accurate.  Garmin BlueCharts on our iPad were acceptable but not as accurate as C-Map with Explorer Charts.  We considered the Navionics digital charts for the Bahamas laughably inaccurate.  Navigational aids in the Bahamas are hit or miss and in our opinion shouldn’t be trusted.

For cruising guides we used the Waterway Guide: Bahamas and Cruising Guide to Abaco, Bahamas, by Steve Dodge.  They were both helpful.  We also had The Exuma Guide by Steven Pavlidis but didn’t make it down there this time, so we really can’t comment on it.

Anchoring:  We had no problems with dragging using our 55 pound Rocna anchor and all chain rode.  It’s important to pay attention to the type of bottom when dropping the anchor; even though the water is usually incredibly clear, it’s not always easy to tell the bottom type.  Sand or sand over coral marl look similar from the surface.  Once we anchored, we hopped in the dinghy and used our “lookie bucket” to make sure the anchor was set properly.

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The anchor alarm app on our iPad tracks the boat’s movement around the anchor the entire time we’re in one location.  It’s neat to see how much movement there is due to tides and currents.

We never had to use a Bahamian moor, but we also never anchored in a restricted swing area with very strong currents.

When choosing an anchorage, be aware that there seems to be a “movement schedule,” especially among the charter boat crowd.  It seemed that people eat breakfast and start leaving anchorages around 10:00 AM.  By 4:00 or 5:00 PM, a wave of boats start rolling into the anchorage.  If you are headed to a popular anchorage, you may want to consider getting there in the early afternoon if the tide and current allow so that you’re not jockeying for a spot.

On that note, bear in mind that the size of a boat does not reflect a skipper’s experience or proficiency.  We saw many a large vessel piloted by someone with little skill.  If someone anchors too close, don’t hesitate to politely let the other boat know and ask them to move.  If they won’t move, for your own peace of mind and safety, don’t be bashful about moving.

Weather:  We subscribe to Chris Parker’s email forecasts and received the Bahamas and Florida forecasts daily.  We also use the PredictWind Offshore app.  Both were essential for wise decision-making and proved to be accurate.  We accessed our email and the PredictWind data either using cellular data on our iPad or via satellite on our Iridium GO! (both are discussed below).

Fuel:  Diesel is widely available and is at about a 50% markup from south Florida prices.  We filtered the diesel as we pumped it into our jerry jugs; there was some water and debris left in the filter each time.  We then filtered the fuel a second time when putting it into our tank.  We had no performance issues or problems when using that dual-filter technique.

Water:  Plan on having to pay for water.  Even when we stayed in marinas, we were usually charged for water, either metered by the gallon or as a flat fee.

And remember, not all water is created equal.  We quickly learned that there is an art to asking about whether to drink the water provided.  Is it reverse osmosis? If so, that’s drinkable.  Is it “city water?”  If so, follow up with, do you drink it? You’d be amazed at the variety of responses; some will say yes, some will say lord no, some will say in tea or coffee only, some will say for dishes or cooking only.  Just because it’s municipal water doesn’t mean it’s necessarily what you want to drink.

We drink the water in our tank; not everyone does.  Bulk drinking water (e.g. RO water) that we could pump into jerry cans wasn’t always easy to find, but we found it with enough frequency that it was never a panic.  If you have a water maker, you’re on easy street.

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We saw several islands with a “water store” selling RO water.  It’s good to know where they are in case bulk RO water is unavailable.  It would stink, but getting 5 gallon jugs of RO water and carrying them through town to your boat is better than nothing.

Using a cell phone or tablet:  We have an unlocked iPhone 6 phone and an iPad.  We took out our Verizon SIM cards from each and inserted SIM cards from BTC, the Bahamas mobile provider.  This allowed us to use the cellular data network on both devices while we were in the Bahamas.  It was seamless and easily managed.

The days of SIM cards being difficult to find in the Bahamas are over (if they every really existed).  Because we didn’t know this at the time, we chose to purchase a BTC SIM card while in the US so that we could have cellular service as soon as we reached the Bahamas without having to go ashore.  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, make sure you understand the costs involved and the activation process.

BTC has a variety of prepaid plans available; they change with some regularity, but the current plans are available at www.btcbahamas.com/explore/mobile/prepaid. It is incredibly simple to buy more airtime or data, either on the internet, on the phone itself, with customer service on the phone, or at pretty much any store in the Bahamas.  You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a “TOP UP HERE!” sign.   We weren’t sure how much data to get, so we went small and then topped up as necessary.

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Just look for the ubiquitous yellow “TOP UP HERE” sign.  It seems like they are on virtually every business.

Internet and wifi:  Open, free wifi is hard to find outside of a café.  Wifi signals are generally weak, even in marinas.  We have a Wirie signal booster, and while that helped, even that wasn’t enough to make the internet dependably useful.  If you need a strong and reliable internet connection, consider budgeting for cellular data with BTC.  There’s also Bahamas WiMax; we saw that available pretty much everywhere we went but didn’t research the costs.

Satellite devices:  BTC cellular coverage is not as comprehensive as you’d think.  Even in the Abacos, there were many places where we “had no bars.”  We have an Iridium GO!, and prior to leaving the US, we activated the GO! Unlimited plan from www.satphonestore.com.  This is the plan we use when travelling offshore as it offers unlimited data, which is critical for downloading weather files.  We used our GO! more often than I would have expected, and it was essential on two separate occasions (entering Nassau harbor and contacting BASRA for another vessel).

Banking and fees:  It’s hard to know how much cash you will need, but you will need cash.  American dollars are interchangeable with Bahamian dollars, so there’s no need to convert your USD to Bahamian currency.

We saw no American banks where we were in the Bahamas, and ATMs were not widely available.  Check to see if your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance.  Our bank, Bank of America, is affiliated with ScotiaBank through this Global ATM Alliance, which means that we can essentially use ScotiaBank as we would Bank of America to access funds.

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There’s never a problem finding a bank–it’s just finding the one you need that can be the issue.

Also check to see if your credit card charges a “foreign transaction fee” if you use it internationally.  It will vary by bank; our American Express card charged a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on each purchase.  Our VISA, however, charged no foreign transaction fee.  Guess which one we used if we had to charge something?

The flip to that is a credit card fee imposed by the seller.  Before using a credit card to pay for anything, we made sure that the seller didn’t charge an extra fee or percentage for using a credit card.

Be aware that the Bahamas charge a VAT (value added tax) of 7.5% on everything.  Everything.  Always ask whether the price includes VAT, from the grocery store to your marina bill.  That 7.5% adds up quickly.

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Price without VAT on the left ($6.79) and price with VAT on the right ($7.30).

Boat maintenance supplies:  Expendable supplies such as filters, oil, and fuel treatments are available but at ridiculously expensive prices.  We saw a minimum of 200-300% markup, and in some places it was much higher.  Want to pay $18.95 for a can of SeaFoam? Or how about $35.95 for a tube of LifeCaulk?  Bring your own if you expect to use it.  Hell, bring your own if you even think you might use it.

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Yes, you read that correctly.  This is the same gallon of oil that costs around $14 at Walmart.

Grocery prices:  For many convenience foods, we saw a minimum of a 100% markup from typical south Florida grocery prices.  For foods used to actually cook a meal, we generally saw between a 25% and 50% markup.  You can really save money by cooking meals from scratch.

Beef and pork were widely available and were at prices comparable to south Florida.  Chicken and processed meats (such as sandwich meat) were expensive and were brands that in the US, we’d consider marginal quality.

The Bahamas had the cheapest milk I’ve seen in a long time; other dairy products were generally available.  They were more expensive than US prices, but not outrageously so other than block cheese.  The least expensive block cheese we found was bulk Kerrygold Irish cheese cut from a wheel into pound-ish blocks and wrapped in cellophane, and that was about $5 per pound.

Root vegetables (potatoes, onions, carrots) and green bell peppers were always available at a good price.  Tomatoes, zucchini, and limes were easy to find at a reasonable price.  Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and most fruits were very expensive.

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Low hanging fruit:  The fastest way to save money is to bring certain categories of provisions with you.  Things that we saw that were hugely marked up were beer, chips, crackers, cookies, nuts, dips, coffee, and international cuisine (Asian and Latin, primarily).  As an example, a box of Cheez-Its costs $8 on pretty much every island were visited. The same goes for paper goods and name-brand cleaning supplies; bring all of the paper towels, toilet paper, paper napkins, and paper plates you think you’ll need unless you want to pay $4 for one roll of toilet paper.

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If it’s a choice between stinky cushions or $15 Febreze, stinky cushions it is.

Posted in Bahamas

May 1, 2018: Let the Boat Work Begin

On May 1 we left Fort Pierce and arrived at Apex Marina in Stuart, FL.  Kestrel will be there for the month while we have our chain plates and standing rigging replaced by Mack Sails.  Both jobs have been on the horizon for a while.  As far as we know neither has ever been done, and Kestrel is a 1989 boat.  We plan to cruise Central America in the coming year, and we simply couldn’t do that confidently unless the standing rigging was in top shape.  And while those two jobs are being done, we’ve added a few other changes that make sense to do while workers are up the mast such as installing a new wind sensor, replacing cable in the mast, and changing out our reefing system.

The chain plate replacement is a huge job.  The cabinetry and wall sections in front of the chain plates (starboard, port, and aft) are cut out, and the fiberglass over the existing chain plates is ground off.  The old chain plates are removed, and new chain plates are installed and bonded with fiberglass roving and epoxy.  Then everything has to be cleaned up from the insidious fiberglass dust, and the walls and cabinetry are replaced.

The first step in the process is to remove every single thing off of the boat—and I do mean everything.  They warned us that the fiberglass dust would be everywhere (and I’m glad we believed them, because they were right!), so everything had to be removed.  It took us two solid days to pack up and get everything off, one dock cart-load at a time.  I was absolutely crippled at the end of that part.  Mack Sails assigned us a pull-behind trailer in which to store our belongings, so everything that we packed is still accessible to us.

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Everything moved out except for our Dri-Dek locker lining, which we bagged and left in the V berth. 

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And here’s a couple of days ago.  The chain plates are being installed.

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Every time we visit, I grit my teeth and think, “Soon it will be clean again.”

We can’t live on the boat during these jobs, so we rented a condominium about 15 minutes from the marina through VRBO.com.  I had never used that site before, and I have to say I am very pleased with how easy it was.  Basically it’s like finding a hotel room using an aggregate search site but instead it’s condos.  The condo we rented through the site is perfect for us, and our “landlord” is a friendly and kind guy.

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The view from our porch.  Yeah, it’s a tough life.

We moved quite a bit of stuff with us to the condo so that we could work on projects off-site.  The Captain has been working on a number of splicing projects, including a new Dyneema jack line that we’re installing in the cockpit.  I have been working on canvas projects such as replacing zippers on our dodger and enclosure.  Both of us appreciate having more space to work in.

We’ve also taken the time to do some fun stuff.  We took the two-hour immersion tour at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, which was fascinating.  Harbor Branch is a research facility for scientists investigating a number of topics related to oceanography including marine mammals and fisheries, reef conservation, coastal ecology, robotic vehicles, aquaculture, ocean dynamics, and drug development.

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One of the first manned submersibles, the Johnson-Sea-Link II.  It was so neat to see it in person.

Martin County offers a 3-month library card for $20, and it’s the best deal going.  Not only have we checked out tons of CDs and DVDs, but I’ve also “checked out” time on a home sewing machine and free museum passes.  They have a really innovative program called the Idea Lab, and patrons can “check out” time on the sewing machine, a Cricut paper cutter, and even a 3-D printer.  Folks can check out laptops, iPads, and e-readers.  I’m already a library fangirl just on principle, but this place is amazing.

Thanks to the library we visited the Florida Oceanographic Center for free.  It’s a non-profit educational center that educates people on coastal ecology and promotes environmental stewardship.  Although it has animals there, it’s not a zoo, which was my primary concern.  The animals that they house are rescue animals that are too injured to return to the wild.

We had a two-hour guided tour that was incredibly informative.  I learned a lot, particularly about sea turtles.  We visited a sting ray tank and got to feed them (amazing!).  Then we learned about sea turtles and saw three of them bobbing around,  They had all been hit by boats, which screwed up their shells and their ability to dive;  the Center either gives them drugs to regulate intestinal gasses or glues weights to their shells to approximate their natural buoyancy.  The Center also has a huge saltwater lake that houses a number of native fishes, including nurse sharks.  Our guide was very passionate about conservation and stewardship, and it was invigorating to be around someone with so much energy.

As always, we’ve managed to find time to indulge in one of our favorite activities, which is eating.  Having a full-sized kitchen has been a ball, and we’ve been testing out new recipes and cooking some elaborate meals.  We’ve driven to Miami twice so that we can eat at our favorite Cuban restaurant, Versailles, and shop in the grocery stores in Little Havana.  We really enjoy Latin foods, and some of the ingredients can be hard to source.

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Every time we go to Little Havana, it seems like I see a new mural or artwork.

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Not the most practical table, but certainly unique.

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Between the produce selection, meat selection, and lunch counter, Presidente Supermarket is hard to beat.

While it’s been great to have all of the space that a condo provides, a car to go anywhere we want, and air conditioning, we both miss living on the boat.  We visit every day to check on progress; after doing essentially all of our own work for so long, it’s difficult to step back and put the boat in someone else’s hands.  We’re both ready to have this project completed so we can move back aboard and start journeying again.

Posted in Boat Work, FL, Marinas

April 11 -30, 2018: Vero Beach and Fort Pierce, FL

After spending a few days in Vero Beach, we moved to Fort Pierce City Marina while we waited to go to Stuart, FL, to have some major work done on Kestrel starting on May 1.

Fort Pierce never disappoints.  The marina itself is immaculate, and its central location downtown makes everything so easy.  There’s restaurants and a hardware store within easy walking distance, and while the Publix is a little bit of a hike, it’s not horrible.  There is a library branch right outside the marina that will grant lending privileges to cruisers, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations while we were there.

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The marina is full of life.  The water at the dock is full of manatees, dolphins, and mullet (the fish, not the hairstyle, thank goodness).  There are pelicans dive-bombing all over the place, gulls pooping on the dock (their sole purpose in life from what I can tell), snowy egrets, and my favorites, the green herons.  They are about the size of a crow and perch over the water on docklines and power cables, waiting to scoop up tiny fish.

One of the nicest things is being able to get off the boat and stretch our legs by just walking around downtown and seeing the sights.  It’s so convenient at this particular marina, and it was novel enough to be exciting for us.  We made it our post-dinner ritual to stroll the docks and check out who had left and who was new.

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The name of this business was so wildly inappropriate that it surprised a bark of laughter out of me.  Nothing quite like conjuring up spree killing to guarantee some name recognition!

The Saturday Farmer’s Market is right outside the marina, and it is amazing.  It’s one of the biggest farmer’s markets I’ve ever been to, and the array of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, breads, honeys, snacks, meals, baked goods, soaps, plants, herbs, and personal care items is staggering.  And that’s not counting the craft market, which is equally as large and is held across the street.

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This is just one of the many vegetable stands.  The quality and variety of produce was mind-blowing.

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Orchids and herbs were a popular item at the market.  

We made it a weekly event to go early enough to have fresh donuts from the mini-donut stand and then get vegetables for the week.

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These fresh, hot cider donuts were wonderful beyond description.  Lightly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and absolutely to die for.

There was always a band playing for the duration of the market, and they were always good.  People brought lawn chairs and set up to watch all morning.  Each week this cute lady and her daughter would come and dance.

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We attended the first potluck that was held jointly between the Fort Pierce City Marina and the Fort Pierce Yacht Club, which is a short walk down from the marina.  The marina provided hamburgers, hot dogs, barbeque, and drinks and did all of the grilling.  There were many people there, and we had quite a spread.  The yacht club members were very inviting, the club itself is beautiful.  We had a great time, and I hope they continue the tradition.

The highlight for me was one day we were walking over a bridge, and we saw four or five manatees playing and rolling in the water beneath us.  They were having a great time “wrestling” with each other and swimming around.  We must have watched them for a good ten minutes.  There’s something about them that I find so sweet and appealing.

Soon enough our break was over, and it was time to go to Stuart and get to work.

Posted in FL, Marinas

My Favorite Signs in the Bahamas

I’m not ashamed to say that I get a kick out of grammatical humor and the absurd; mix those together, and I’m in heaven.  I realize this makes me a giant dork, but I’m not ashamed of that, either.  The beauty of being tickled by word usage is that signs become an endless source of humor for me.  Here were my favorite signs that we came across in the Bahamas.

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We’ll start with the 1, 2, 3, Floor Sports Bar and Lounge in Bimini.  Their sign takes up the entire side of the building and neatly sums up the progression of a night of poor impulse control.

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This take-out restaurant was also on Bimini.  What do they have, you ask? Why, dinners, snacks, sandwiches, and fettucine.  Because fettucine is its own category of meal.  That’s an idea that those of us on the all-carb diet can get behind.

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This liquor store on Bimini is actually a two-fer.  First you have the sign listing some rather unusual taboos:  wetness (apparently that did not include sweat, because I was always sweaty) and sands (I guess one grain was okay, but more than one was a no-no).

The second sign was only posted on–you guessed it–the day the supply boat came in.  The first copy is pretty eye-catching and pithy, but I guess adding the second copy really drives the point home.  If you’re anything like me, you hear “BOAT DAY” intoned in the voice of legendary drag-race announcer Jan Gabriel with his famous “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!”

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This liquor store in Nassau wanted to emphasize that there’s no credit extended.  Like, for real.  Ever.  To anyone.  Even Wimpy from Popeye.  Credit is dead, bro, and even sad emojis with flowers won’t bring it back.

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Many stores in the smaller communities served a variety of needs.  This one was no exception.

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This one is my absolute favorite.  It’s on Spanish Wells and alerts visitors of two very real dangers:  paking (sic) over the cess pit and the “big dog inside.” I bet nobody tries to sell Avon to this house!

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Budda’s Bar on Spanish Wells wants to make sure that all tabs are paid.  I was just thrilled to see “you’re” punctuated correctly for once.

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This was at the top of pretty much the only big hill in Marsh Harbour.  I asked our cab driver if it had ever snowed there, and he laughed long and hard.  But they are ready!

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It was tough to pick just one sign from Vernon’s Grocery in Hopetown; the entire store was papered with them.  I think this one is a true pearl of wisdom.

DSCF7189.JPGThis sign on Green Turtle Cay was funny even to one as hopelessly sports-challenged as I am.  Hahaha, see what they did there? Dolphins and dolphins.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bahamas, Uncategorized

April 7- 10, 2018: Back to the US

(Sorry for the long blog hiatus—things have been very busy!)

Once we left Green Turtle Cay, we made two utilitarian stops.  Our first night was anchored off of Coopers Town on Great Abaco.  We anchored in 17 feet of water just south of the long wharf dock.  It’s a nice anchorage for protection from westerly winds, and eventually two other sailboats joined us.  We didn’t go ashore but were able to take part in the local flavor thanks so someone playing their car radio all day long.  The trip from Green Turtle Cay to Coopers Town was a relatively short one at 11.5 nm and 2.5 hours.

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The next morning we left for Great Sale Cay, which is one of a few pretty traditional stopovers before heading back to the US.  A month ago I wouldn’t have considered this a long trip, but I had gotten spoiled by the day hops we had been making.  It took us 10.5 hours to go 46.4 nm, and we pulled in to our anchorage in Northwest Harbour late in the day.  It’s a large anchorage with good depths; we anchored in 11 feet.

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Goodbye, Bahamas, with your beautiful water.

On April 9 we left bright and early to head back to the US, specifically Vero Beach, FL.  When we were about 17 nm from Great Sale, we heard someone on the radio hailing Bahama Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) Freeport, who didn’t answer.  There is no formal air and sea rescue organization in the Bahamas other than BASRA, which is an all-volunteer effort; BASRA can request assistance from the US Coast Guard.  When no one answered the hail, we talked to the man on the radio who said that he had just towed a small motorboat with five people on it to Mangrove Cay and left it there; they were disabled but not in immediate distress.  We called BASRA’s headquarters in Nassau on our satellite phone to pass along the details, and the dispatcher said he’d alert BASRA Grand Bahama to contact the disabled vessel.  We have to take care of each other out here, and it felt good to do our part.

(Short rant here:  People, a VHF radio is essentially a line-of-sight transmission where both antennas have to “see” each other over the horizon.  The earth is round.  Depending on antenna height, transmitter power, and intervening topographical features, you could be looking at a range 20 nm or less for your VHF distress call.  I know a satellite phone or an Iridium Go are expensive, but you should value yourself.  Your safety and mental well-being are worth it.)

It was a relatively calm trip with the exception of some squalls that popped up over the Gulf Stream as night fell (of course).  The Captain did an excellent job of shooting the boat between a series of thunderheads backlit by lightning.  It caused us to deviate from our planned course somewhat but was well worth it.  Our primary concern was a lightning strike, so I stowed portable electronics in a Faraday bag just in case.  Being belt-and-suspenders types, we keep redundant, handheld backups in case we lose our hard wired chart plotter, radio, and GPS.

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This is what I shoved in the Faraday bag:  two handheld VHF radios, the satellite phone, our InReach satellite device, the Iridium Go (not pictured), a handheld GPS, the iPhone, the emergency “candy bar” phone, and two fully charged laptops with navigation charts installed.  I added the Bose speaker just because it was there and expensive.

(Nerd note:  When lightning strikes a boat, you can pretty much kiss your electronics goodbye.  A Faraday bag has a continuous covering of conductive material that blocks electromagnetic fields.  The conductive material in the Faraday bag is grounded to dissipate electrical currents generated either internally or externally.  I like to think of it as a force field that repels electromagnetic shocks.  I got our bag from Faradaybag.com, a company with whom I had done business in my pre-cruiser career.)

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There was still room for additional devices in the bag when it was closed.  Some people advocate putting their devices in the oven as a sort of make-do Faraday cage, but I don’t for two reasons:  (1) it’s a boat oven, so it hardly fits anything to begin with, and (2) it’s not meant for that purpose.  And of course, (3) ewwwww.

After passing the squalls, the night was quiet and uneventful.  We stood our usual watches, and I replaced our US SIM cards in the cell phone and iPad so that we could use the Verizon cell network.  We hoisted our Q flag when we entered US waters.

We turned into Ft Pierce Inlet and began our motor up the ICW to Vero Beach.   The tricky thing about the ICW is that even though the body of water you are in may be wide, the actual channel in which you can travel can be very narrow.  About 20 minutes south of Vero Beach, we were in this type of tight channel when we were hit by a massive squall.  The wind sensor showed gusts topping 40 knots pounding us, pushing the boat dangerously close to the edge of the channel and some very shoal water.

The Captain kept our nose into the wind and inched along to keep water moving over the rudder and, therefore, steerage.  Between us, he is the calm and collected one, and he’s the best one to have on the helm during these type of “oh shit” moments.  The squall broke, and we made it to the Vero Beach Municipal Marina.  Once I called Customs and Border Patrol to check us back in to the US, our trip back home was over.

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We hadn’t seen decent channel markers in a while.  If you squint, you can see the brown osprey juveniles in front of the pole in the nest.  Mom and Dad were giving us the serious stink-eye.

The trip from Great Sale to Vero Beach was 148.1 nm and took us 32.75 hours, but a few hours of that time was spent slowing down to hit Ft. Pierce Inlet at a favorable tide state and dealing with storms.

 

Posted in Bahamas, ICW, Offshore

April 5-6, 2018: Green Turtle Cay, Abaco

We were eager to leave Great Guana Cay, and our next destination was Green Turtle Cay to the northwest.  Getting to Green Turtle is a little more complicated than the hops between other Abaco islands.  The water is too shallow to stay south of the islands and in the sea of Abaco.  Instead, you must divert out into the Atlantic Ocean when going around Whale Cay and then cut back into the Sea of Abaco.  This is known as Whale Cay Passage, or more colloquially, “The Whale.”

Most of the time, The Whale is not a big deal.  But depending on the weather and sea state, The Whale can have “rage” conditions, which is the turbulent offspring of wind opposing current in a relatively narrow cut with strong tidal flow.  We’ve learned in our travels to take rough water seriously and so planned accordingly.  Being rage-averse, we left early in the morning in order to take advantage of tides and avoid some incoming weather, and the whole Whale passage turned out to be a non-event for us.  My favorite kind of event! People who left later in the day did not have as easy a time as us, that’s for sure.

We motorsailed 15.3 nm over 3.25 hours and anchored in 10 feet of water off of Joyless Point on Green Turtle Cay.  Most boats were anchored off of Black Sound to the south, which is where New Plymouth is located, so we and our four neighbors had plenty of room.

Our dear friends M and N on m/v Boundless have a wealth of first hand knowledge about the Abacos, and they had highly recommended Green Turtle Cay.  After Great Guana Cay’s letdown, we were sorely hoping that they were right.  This was probably going to be the last island in our Bahamas tour, and we really wanted to end on a high note.  Holy cow, did we ever.

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We started our Green Turtle Cay adventure by dinghying over to Green Turtle Club, a beautiful and posh marina on the north side of the island in White Sound.  They have a free dinghy dock, and we strolled the beautiful, pristine grounds.  We stopped in to their cozy bar to have what turned out to be our favorite entry in the Rum Punch Face Off:  the Tipsy Turtle.

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The hands-down winner of the Rum Punch Face Off:  the Tipsy Turtle.

The bar reminded me of an English pub, a dim oasis from the sun outside and full of comfortable furniture.  Oh, and papered with $1 bills from thousands of patrons.  The Green Turtle Club was one of the most elegant marinas we’ve seen on this trip, and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there.

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Get the feeling there’s been a few guests here? We left our autographed $1 bill stapled under the bar.  There was no way I was going to stand on a table to reach the ceiling!

We later dinghied down to Black Sound into New Plymouth.  We left the dinghy at the free government dinghy dock and explored the cute downtown.  It was the mix of small shops and pastel colored houses that we’ve become accustomed to on the smaller cays we’ve visited.

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The town is full of tidy homes in gentle pastel shades.

The supplies boat was in, and this caused a flurry of activity and excitement.  Various shop owners and bystanders were collected at the dock, eagerly watching the freight being unloaded.  This was a boon for us, too, because it meant that the grocery stores were getting in fresh vegetables.

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Boat day is always exciting.  It appeared to be carrying food, drinks, and fuel cannisters.

We ambled about town, stopping into the liquor store cum lunch counter and the various hardware shops and souvenir shops.  There were no 3-for-$10 shirts here or other tacky junk; in particular, Native Creations had lovely mementos.  And, to my delight, they had Androsia fabric, so I had to get a yard.

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Here is “the old gaol.”  Who wouldn’t want a pink jail?

We stopped at the Loyalist Sculpture Memorial Garden, an attractive installation that has 24 busts of Loyalists and their slaves who made an impact on the settlement of the Abacos after the American Revolution.   It was interesting reading the plaque in the garden explaining how these people were vilified by their neighbors in America, stripped of their lands and holdings, and essentially on the run for their lives when they settled in the Bahamas.  That’s a perspective that I certainly was never taught in school, and it was another example of how history is written by the victors.

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The Memorial Garden is well kept and has very artful sculptures.

For its size, we were surprised at how many grocery stores and bakeries New Plymouth supported.  There were three well-stocked and rather large grocery stores and at least as many bakeries and stores that offered baked goods.  We had to visit all of the bakeries, of course, and got a combined total of white bread, coconut bread, a beef empanada, cake slices, and doughnuts from McIntosh Bakery and Restaurant and from Papa Pete’s Bakery and Takeaway.

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There are frequent power outages in the Bahamas.  Look at this hot mess, and it all makes sense.

And this wouldn’t be a post of mine if I didn’t discuss lunch.  We had a wonderful lunch at 2 Shorty’s Takeaway, which was sort off the main path.  You order at the window and then eat outdoors, and it was incredible—and incredibly cheap.  We started with a dozen conch fritters for $6; I then had a conch burger and huge portion of fries ($10), and the Captain had the $5 lunch special that included a BBQ ribs, peas and rice, and a square of macaroni and cheese.  We were so full when it was all over that we were in pain.  But it hurt so good . . .

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2 Shorty’s Takeaway, the scene of our culinary debauchery.

One of the highlights of the trip was an unexpected kindness from Mertie in Sid’s Grocery.  We have absolutely fallen in love with Bahamanian macaroni and cheese, and I was asking Mertie, the cashier in Sid’s, what ingredients she puts in hers.  She explained it to me, and I mentioned that we’d be back later after having lunch and walking around some more.  At the end of our day, we stopped in for fresh vegetables, and Mertie presented me with her recipe, written out on an envelope.  I was so touched at her gesture.  What a lovely woman.

 

From a cruiser’s perspective, New Plymouth and Green Turtle Cay “get it.”  In Black Sound, there are at least three free dinghy docks:  the government dock under the “Welcome to Historic New Plymouth” sign, in front of Curry’s Grocery, and directly in front of the anchorage.  There are two huge dumpsters for dumping trash for free.  One is on the government dock, and one is down towards Curry’s Grocery Store.

 

It’s tough putting my finger on what made Green Turtle Cay so special.  There’s been other islands as clean, as pretty, as quaint, and as cruiser-friendly.  There’s been other islands that have the things we need as well as the things we want.  But there is an ineffable quality to the people of Green Turtle Cay, and the Captain and I agree that it was by far our favorite stop in the Bahamas.

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This is someone’s backyard patio and pretty much sums up the open and inviting atmosphere on Green Turtle Cay.

Posted in Bahamas