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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.