July 5-10, 2018: Offshore from Port Royal to Georgetown, SC

We left Port Royal on July 5 and headed offshore for Georgetown, SC.  The winds were brisk enough for the main and the genoa or the main and the staysail, so we did some good sailing.  The only bummer was that we were close hauled essentially the entire time, and we beat all day and night.

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It wasn’t a hard journey, and we had no squalls or close encounters with other boats, but it felt really long.  Progress was painfully slow at times, although our overall average was 4.6 knots.  Somehow it just felt like we would never get there.

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We took two hour watches except when crossing the entrance to Charleston Harbor, when we were both awake and watching for hazards.  You can see from our chart plotter how many large vessels with AIS were stacked up, and we had to cross their paths (we are the black vessel just under the 02:01:45).  Sorry about the blurry picture; it’s the best I could get.

As we entered Winyah Bay to head to Georgetown, we encountered some nasty weather.  We powered through a couple of sudden, enthusiastic rain showers but made it to the dock at Georgetown Landing Marina before anything too serious came along.  The trip was 30 hours for 140.2 nm.

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I see this and am thinking, “For Pete’s sake, we’re almost there, would you give us a break?” And the answer was a resounding NO.  Shortly after taking this picture I was getting drenched on deck while staging dock lines and fenders.

Georgetown Landing Marina has a nice, long face dock for transients, and they were kind enough to put us on the very end at our request.  The current absolutely roars through that section of the Great Pee Dee River, and we don’t want to try to dock wedged between vessels.

We ended up staying in Georgetown a little longer than we anticipated thanks to Hurricane Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl.  While they weren’t directly affecting our area, they were impacting the areas north of us and offshore enough that sitting tight was the best decision.

So since we were “stuck,” we enjoyed ourselves.  We had breakfast one day and lunch another day at Thomas Café, and the Captain was able to get the best shrimp and grits in the world.  I had a grilled cheese sandwich that was to die for:  Palmetto pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.  Seriously? Oh yes.

We did a little bit of walking around downtown and along the harborwalk and enjoyed looking at all of the old buildings.

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One night we went crazy and walked into town for drinks at Big Tuna, a wonderfully eclectic and comfortable bar/restaurant.  As soon as we walked in, I saw a huge birdcage with a parrot and a lady eating at the bar with her dog quietly sitting at her side—clearly our kind of place.

We also did some boat work, of course, including polishing exterior stainless and doing research on our upcoming trip to the Western Caribbean.  It was a nice few days, but we were raring to go once the weather gave us a chance.

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The area surrounding Georgetown’s “old town” is a lovely respite full of intriguing architectural details and plants.

Posted in Marinas, Offshore, SC

June 30 – July 4, 2018: Offshore from Fernandina Beach, FL, to Port Royal, SC

After the previous nail-biter days on the ICW, our offshore passage from Fernandina Beach to Port Royal was anticlimactic.  We left our mooring at Fernandina at 6:00 AM to catch a favorable tide out the inlet.  Once we entered the ocean we raised the main and rolled out the staysail, and that cut down some of the rolling.  The winds were light, between 5-15 knots, and none of the forecasted thunderstorms materialized.

This passage could be called “The Day of the Dolphin.”  We saw pod after pod after pod; many of them came to play near the boat.  Some of them would ride the slipstream right behind the rudder, some of them surfed our bow wake, and others chose the beam.  The Captain woke me up to see a large sea turtle, which was a treat.

We did two hour watches because we hadn’t done an overnight passage in a while.  We had a bright, full moon for most of the night, and the winds dropped to a steady 7-10 knots.  It was an uneventful night of sailing—my favorite kind!

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Trick shot:  sitting at the helm, over my shoulder, though the unzipped enclosure, with an iPod, while the boat rolls.

We arrived at Port Royal Landing Marina and, upon our request, were put on the north end of the transient dock.  PRLM has two long facing docks for transients, and the south dock is closer to the large bridge.  The current is strong, and peeling off of that face dock so close to the bridge can be quite nerve-wracking.

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Here’s a shot of the south side of the transient docks.  As you can see, if you’re much more than halfway down, you’re very close to the bridge.  Been there, done that, no thanks.

Our passage from Fernandina Beach to Port Royal was 27 ½ hours for 120.4 nm.

We spent three days at Port Royal Landing Marina.  We’ve been there several times before and really like it.  The floating docks are in great shape, the marina staff is incredibly helpful, the heads are clean, and the grounds are impeccably maintained.  The prices are reasonable:  $2.25/foot ($2/foot for BoatUS or returning customers) includes free water and decent wifi.  The laundry prices are crazy cheap ($1 or $1.25 per wash or dry), and there’s a courtesy car that can be checked out.

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This boat was all decked out either for the holiday or just to feel pretty.

We did all of the adventurous, exotic tasks that living on a boat entails:  refueling, topping up the water tanks, rinsing the salt off the boat, changing the engine oil and filters, taking the oil to be recycled, dumping the composting head, laundry, provisioning runs, and refilling a propane tank.

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Oh thank god, we’re finally home.  Hundreds and hundreds of Moon Pies.  And this is Publix, not Walmart.

We also had a lot of fun eating lunch at a good Chinese takeout spot and at Smokin’ Oaks, a wonderful barbeque restaurant.

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Smokin’ Oaks was a clean, family-run place with very good food.  We’d definitely go back.

We recognized the boat docked next to us, s/v Over Budget, as belonging to our friends J&J with whom we spent time in Atlantic Highlands waiting out Hurricane Hermine back in 2016; we later caught back up with them in Annapolis.  They bought a home in Port Royal and keep their boat at Port Royal Landing Marina.   They came to the dock to watch Independence Day fireworks, and we had a great time catching up.  We also got to see a wonderful fireworks show from Parris Island and immediately afterward, from Port Royal.

 

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The Smokin’ Oaks mascot got into the holiday spirit. 

Posted in FL, Marinas, Offshore, SC

June 24-June 30, 2018: Turbo Boost Up the Florida ICW, Vero Beach to Fernandina Beach

We couldn’t stay in Vero Beach any longer, so on June 24, we headed up the ICW to Melbourne, FL.  It was a typical ICW-on-a-pretty-weekend kind of day, which meant jetskis and motorboats careening around all over the place.  Many people had set up camp on the “islands” (e.g. spoil piles) that line the waterway, and there were kids and dogs running and screaming and having a great time.

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Many of the “islands” that run along the ICW are actually spoil piles, the dirt and mud that were dredged out to make the ICW a relatively uniform depth.  They have trees and mangroves and beaches, and they are a popular hangout.

It certainly doesn’t get boring on a day like this, as there is plenty to see. We anchored in our usual spot just north of the Melbourne Bridge in 9.5 feet of water.  Only one other boat came to share the anchorage with us, and we had a quiet night.  This day was 6.75 hours for 34.2 sm/30.4 nm.

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I discovered a stowaway on our way from Vero Beach.  Like all of the other tree frogs we’ve hosted before him, he hangs out in the propane locker.  He’s a quiet houseguest that eats bugs, so he’s cool with us.

On June 25 we got out at sunrise (have to love travelling in summer with its long days) and continued up the ICW to Titusville, FL.  The waterway was eerily empty of traffic after the prior day’s chaos.

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Laughing gulls hanging out on a mark, watching the morning come alive.

We had dolphins escorting us all day, and I can’t think of anything better.  It was a hot and windless day, and I played the “find a place in the cockpit that has shade” game all day.  We grabbed a mooring from Titusville Municipal Marina, which is about as easy as it gets.  The balls look brand new, and you can pick any one that’s open.  A quick phone call to check in, and $20 later you are secure for the night.  This day was 7.25 hours for 39.9 sm/34.7 nm.

On June 26 we again got out at first light about 6:00 AM.  We were headed for an anchorage in Daytona Beach, FL.  I think this is a long and pretty boring leg of the ICW up the Mosquito Lagoon, and yes, it’s aptly named.

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Leaving the Titusville mooring field at first light.

We saw lots of pelicans, great egrets, cormorants, ospreys, laughing gulls, and a small tern or gull that I can’t identify.  We also saw a few flocks of roseate spoonbills, which are absolutely gorgeous.  They have white and blush pink feathers, and seeing them against the turquoise blue sky is breathtaking.  The dolphins continued escorting us and making sure that I could never, ever catch them on video.

It was crushingly hot again that day, but hey, it’s Florida in the summer.  We had no trouble with bridges or shoal spots because we were prepared for both.  We anchored in our usual spot south of the Veterans Memorial Bridge; we hit it near low tide, and the deepest water we could find was 7.5 feet.  In the Bahamas that wouldn’t have bothered us, but there’s something about being here that makes me nervous with such shallow depths.  All was well, of course, but if you aren’t worrying, you aren’t boating.  This day was 8.75 hours for 46.1 sm/41.1 nm.

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Daytona Beach is all about bridges, bridges, bridges.  Our anchorage is just south of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, which is the one in the foreground under construction.

On June 27, we left our anchorage at Daytona Beach headed for a mooring in St. Augustine, FL.  The phrase of the day was “haul ass.”  We would be passing through some of the trickiest shoal spots in this region’s section of the ICW (the dreaded Matanzas Inlet and associated hellholes), and of course we would be doing it in the afternoon when the water would be falling.  So it was to our great benefit to get through those spots as quickly as possible while on a higher tide.  That meant motoring a little faster than usual and also rolling out the staysail; even though we were close hauled, it still gave us a little boost.

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Great egrets are about the most patient bird I’ve ever seen.  This guy is waiting for breakfast to swim along.

With lots of preplanning the route through the shoal areas and the Captain’s solid helming, we got through the many trouble spots without touching bottom.  As in the past, I think I was raising the boat out of the water at least a couple of inches due to my gritted butt cheeks.  By the time we picked up a mooring from the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, we were spent from the stresses of the last few days of shoal avoidance.  This day was 9.25 hours for 54.3 sm/47.2 nm.

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Here’s what you don’t want to see in the channel right after a bascule bridge:  a sunken boat.  It’s great that someone put an WR buoy to mark it, but I’d say go crazy and get the boat out entirely. It’s literally right in the middle of the channel in Daytona Beach.

The next day, June 28, we had a short hop up to an anchorage on the south end of the oxbow around Pine Island.  We were eagerly anticipating the relaxing afternoon we’d have since the trip should only take a couple of hours.  Should have known better! We had a 3 knot current against us the whole way, which dropped our speed to an average of 3.6 mph.  The wind was too on the nose to even consider a sail, so we just motored the whole way.  This day was 3.75 hours for 13.5 sm/12.0 nm.

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Another beautiful morning.  So auspicious, and so wrong!

We got to the anchorage, anchored, settled in, and saw that a massive thunderstorm was headed our way.  Radar was indicating a thunderstorm with 40-50 knot gusts.  As the wall of black rapidly rolled across the sky towards us, we quickly secured everything and set up anchor watch in the cockpit.  It was instantly apparent from the strength of the wind gusts and blinding rain that we needed to turn the engine and instruments on; if we started to drag, there wasn’t much room between us and the oyster beds lining the banks, so we needed to be prepared.

We spent a tense 45 minutes riding out the storm, engine idling, checking the anchor position, squeegeeing the stress-fog off of the enclosure windows so we could see.  The storm finally petered out, and we were safe.  More thunderstorms were predicted to blow up all night, so we made coffee and staged our PFDs and spotlights for the next round.  In the meantime we laid down in our working clothes trying to grab a little rest before the next storm—and woke up at 5:30 AM when the alarm went off.  We had escaped further pummeling.

The silver lining of the whole experience is that we were actually in the perfect place at the perfect time.  The Pine Island anchorage is protected from waves and has excellent, thick mud holding.  Instead of being in motion in the ICW when the storm hit, we were already at anchor in a deserted area.  The one day that we stopped earlier than normal is the one day that the storms came earlier than normal.  We lucked out on that one.

So the next morning, June 29, we were ready to get the hell out of Pine Island and head to Fernandina Beach, FL.  Thunderstorms were forecast to be popping up all day, and the last place we wanted to be was stuck in a narrow channel with weather like that—call us gun-shy after the previous evening.  We needed to make some speed, and we were out of the anchorage at first light.  It took forever to raise the anchor because our beloved Rocna had set pretty much to the center of the earth, which is what kept us secure the day before.

Because the universe is capricious and perverse, right as we were entering the ICW from the anchorage, we grounded.  We’ve bumped the bottom of the ICW before (one of the many reasons we don’t care for the ICW), but this time we sure enough grounded in the soft mud.  It was dead low tide, so the worst that would have happened was we’d have to wait a couple of hours to float off with the rising tide—with thunderstorms headed our way.  No thanks.  We finally broke free after 20 minutes of engine revving and helm turning and hit the ICW running.  It was a long, hot, shoal-filled day, but it was our last day on the ICW, so we kept our eyes on the prize.

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Happy chairs.

And as proof that the universe can also be beneficent, the thunderstorms never materialized.  Thanks to Bob423’s (a/k/a Bob Sherer) generosity in posting “safe” waypoints for the two worst shoal areas, we made it to our mooring at the Fernandina Harbor Marina with no further close encounters with the bottom.  This day was 8.5 hours for 49.8 sm/43.3 nm.

We spent a smelly night as Fernandina Beach is home to a gigantic pulp mill.  I rate a pulp mill smell as not as awful as a fish processing plant or a hog waste lagoon but definitely not as awesome as a chocolate factory.  The next morning, we headed gratefully offshore, bound for Port Royal, SC.  No more ICW for us for a good, long while.

 

Posted in Anchorages, FL, ICW, Moorings

June 9-23, 2018: Vero Beach, FL

Once the chain plate and rigging replacement job in Stuart was done, we needed some serious R&R, so we headed to the Vero Beach Municipal Marina to hang out for a while.  We’ve been here a few times before and always love it.  There’s hardly anyone here because it’s the end of the snowbird season, so there are plenty of open mooring balls and slips.

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The good old Vero Beach mooring field.  You can see that many of the people that are staying the summer have large awnings to keep the sun off of the boat.

It took us some time to repack the boat in some semblance of its prior state.  The storage compartments on Island Packets are under and behind things and therefore tend to be other-than-square shapes.  We have an large amount of supplies, tools, and spare parts all socked away, and it’s kind of like a Jenga puzzle to get it all back in its proper place.  We got it all tucked back in with only minor revisions to the storage “map” that I keep, much to my relief.

We went to the Saturday farmer’s market downtown, and that was a nice opportunity to get some fresh vegetables and some wonderful Italian egg (for me) and egg and sausage (for the Captain) subs for breakfast.  The farmer’s market had fewer vendors than last time we were here, but evidently there are fewer in the summer.  It still had a wide array of vegetables, plants and herbs, personal care items, breads, and cheeses.

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The neighborhood surrounding the marina is just lovely.  Some of the trees are absolutely ancient.  This one had several orchids growing on it.

One of the best things about Vero Beach from a cruiser’s perspective is the free bus.  It picks us up right at the marina at ten minutes after the hour and takes us all over town.  I was able to go to Publix, Walgreens, a Walmart “neighborhood” sized store, and a Fresh Market all with minimal walking.  It’s like a dream come true! We got to visit our favorite coin store, West Bay Trading Company, and also have some terrific meals at TooJay’s Deli and Nino’s Café.

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This ibis was very careful to cross the road in the crosswalk.  Safety first!

In between errands and chores we worked on some projects.  I set up Big Blue, my Sailrite LSZ-1 sewing machine, in the cockpit and finished replacing all of the zippers on our cockpit enclosure.

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Not quite a sail loft, but it gets the job done.  My “table” is two buckets turned upside down.

The UV exposure does a number on the plastic teeth, and many of them were just snapping off.  When I removed the old zippers, I discovered that whoever installed them originally used polyester thread instead of UV-resistant thread like Tenara or Profilen.  Polyester thread is great but just can’t stand up to constant UV exposure, so it starts to rot and fuzz.  Needless to say, I used Profilen thread when sewing in the new zippers.

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This is what sun-rotted polyester thread looks like.  It will pull right out of the fabric.

We have two battery banks in Kestrel, one main house bank and one auxiliary bank used as a start bank for the engine.  We replaced our auxiliary bank with two Lifeline GPL-27s that we ordered online and had delivered to the marina.  Since they weigh 65 pounds each, it as a lot easier to do that then get an Uber to a local battery seller (assuming they had Lifelines) and carry them back.  We’ll replace our house bank when we get to Oriental.

It’s time to head north.  We’ve got water, fuel, and food, the laundry is done, and our electronics and charts have been updated.  Florida has been great, but we’re rested up and ready to go.  Our plan is to head up the ICW from Vero Beach to Melbourne (anchorage), then to Titusville (mooring or anchorage), then to Daytona Beach (anchorage), and then to St. Augustine (mooring).  At that point we’ll wait for a weather window to hop offshore to Brunswick or parts further north.

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I think “crabhole” should be added to the common lexicon.  It perfectly describes when you wake up grumpy from a nap.  Usage:  “Hey, stop being such a crabhole.”

Posted in FL, Moorings

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