Category Archives: Sailing

Bahamas 101

We are currently cruising through the amazing archipelago known as The Bahamas. We didn’t know much about this incredible cruising ground and now fully appreciate why so many boaters, particularly those from North America, spend their winters exploring the incredible little nooks and crannies!

DSCN9564 (800x599)
Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island is the deepest known blue hole in the world at 663ft.

Bahamas_2009

According to Wikipedia, The Bahamas territory encompasses 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) and is made up of over 700 islands, cays (keys) and islets in the Atlantic Ocean. These islands are divided into regions: The Abacos, The Exumas, The Raggeds, The Jumentos and the Far Bahamas, which cover the more uninhabited outer islands. The main ‘cities’ are Georgetown down south in the Exumas, Nassau on the island of Providence, also the Bahamian capital, and Freeport on the northern island of Grand Bahamas in the Abacos.

bahamas

Many boaters sail across from the US for the northern hemisphere winter and spend their time cruising up and down the islands often only visiting the closer ones: The Abacos and The Exumas. We made our way up from the Dominican Republic via Turks and Caicos and have visited some of the outer or Far Bahamanian islands. These were a treasure and we feel privileged to have been able to visit some of them!

The islands we have visited have all been different but, at the same time, very similar. The striking similarity is the ‘gin-like’ clarity of the water! We attribute this to two reasons: the islands are flat and have little to no agriculture eliminating run-off; and, the prevailing winds during winter are from the east so this means the Atlantic ocean is flushing out the waterways with every tide. The result is pristine waters just begging you to snorkel, dive or swim.

DSC_0286 (800x507)
Staniel Cay

We find it impossible to accurately describe the colour and clarity of the water…..

The shallows, of course, present their own problems. We have to time our movements according to high tide and our snorkelling to slack water. We are on constant alert for coral heads and sandbars and many nautical miles are completed with only 1-1.5m under Kool Kat’s keels.

IMG_7516 (800x533)
Capt’n on high alert for coral heads and sandbars.
DSCN9755 (800x600)
Typical sandbar on the right.
DSCN9793 (800x600)
Jack’s Cove and very typical island terrain

We had to stop at Rudder Cut Cay to dive on David Copperfield’s stainless steel piano with accompanying mermaid. And, of course, Mal had to tickle the ivories. Not bad clarity in 15-20′ of water. The tide was going out and it took all our energy to maintain position. We time our dives now for slack water!

DSCN9726 (800x600) DSCN9724 (800x600)

And, like all good tourists, we had to feed the pigs at Staniel Cay….

And, snorkel Thunderball Grotto. This is a gorgeous little cave where James Bond (Sean Connery) did what he did best in the film Thunderball.

DSCN9871 (800x600)DSCN9879 (800x600)

Good ol’ Sergeant Majors always provide a pretty show.

DSC_0322 (800x532)

And, so we continue, up through The Exumas to Nassau where we are collecting my sister at the end of this month and we can share some new experiences with her through The Abacos! Can’t wait 🙂

Until next time, Sue and Mal xxx

Overnighters

Doing an overnight passage is not my favourite part of sailing – well, actually, it’s my least favourite part – arriving at our destination and exploring is much more fun! But, hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta do it!

And, so it was when we had to make the big jump from the DR (Dominican Republic) up to The Turks & Caicos in our quest to reach The Bahamas. 198nm (367kms or 299miles) is the distance we needed to cover to reach Grand Turk in The Turks & Caicos.  At an average speed of 6 knots, we estimated it would take us about 33hrs and if we left at 6am from Samana Bay in the DR, we should reach landfall on or around 3pm a day later in T&C. The weather window indicated the winds were ENE which suited us but they would be light to start, building to about 25knots along the journey. Alright, let’s do it!

Of course, you can’t just throw off the lines and sail into the sunrise! We needed to prepare.  Food first! In case the weather is bad and you don’t want to spend too much time indoors, you need ready-to-go and easy-to-manage food. So I set about preparing: we’d have our normal cereal for brekky, soup with toasted cheese and vegemite sandwiches for lunch, red peppers stuffed with jambalaya  for dinner and apple fritters/pancakes for snacks. We also had fruit, dry biscuits and muesli bars in the ‘snack basket’. It’s amazing how hungry you get in the middle of the night! Oh, and we had a take-away pizza from the restaurant at the marina which went down a treat!

Cheese and vegemite sangers ready to be toasted!
Cheese and vegemite sangers ready to be toasted!

Next, check the Grab Bag. Well, actually, create a Grab Bag! One of those ‘just-in-case’ things; a bag full of everything we might need if we had to abandon the boat, God forbid!

Items in our Grab Bag: water, flares, phone, dinghy key, flare gun, torches, horn, Leatherman, whistle, passports and important documents, wallet.

Next, get our harnesses out. We both wear a harness at night or in bad weather and it is always clipped on, especially if the other person is not in the cockpit.

The Despacho, Shephard, came aboard at 6am and cleared us to leave. It  was still pretty dark and as we traversed the channel we nearly clipped the starboard buoy – it wasn’t lit and Mal couldn’t see it. Not a great start! Motoring along to exit Samana Bay we then proceeded to nudge four fishing buoys tied together – egads, I was meant to be on lookout! Luckily for us they didn’t get tangled in our props and we counted our lucky stars!

As we headed out of the bay our fortunes changed and we were lucky to catch sight of some North Atlantic Humpback whales. Lots of spouts and tails kept us entertained.

IMG_7376 (800x533)

During night passages we aim to have 2hrs on-watch and 2hrs asleep but it never seems to work that way. This time we got into a rhythm of Mal being 1hr off and 2hrs on with me have 2 glorious hours of sleep and being on watch for 1! 🙂 Mal was happy with it and so was I! 🙂

We set the phone stopwatch for 12 minutes. When it goes off whoever is on watch stands up and does a full 360 of the horizon. Ships can come up on you very quickly at night and we know of friends who were hit from behind by a ferry. Fortunately, they’re OK but you have to be very vigilant!

During the night we went past Silver Banks and Navidad Bank which are two shallow areas where the North Atlantic Humpback whales come to mate and calve. On my watch I could smell whales on at least four occasions which was quite scary as we definitely wouldn’t want to hit one! I cranked up the playlist and sang louder so they might hear me. The first few glimpses of sunrise are so uplifting and such a relief after a long, dark and sometimes, cold night.

IMG_7359 (800x533)
Sunrise between DR and The Turks & Caicos

As the morning progressed the winds picked up and Mal put a 2nd reef in the mainsail and pulled in the heady a little. With winds hitting over 25knots we reached 10.2 and the direction made it possible to alter our destination to South Caicos. This meant we’d have an extra 27nm to go but we had plenty of time to arrive in daylight.

9.4 knots well above our anticipated average of 6!
9.4 knots – well above our anticipated average of 6!

We are pretty good at dodging squalls but this one caught us on the edge.  We watched it edge forward very slowly but there was no escaping it.

The squall passed leaving this gorgeous cloud formation. See the  row of puppies….

How many dogs do you see?
How many dogs do you see?

And, then we arrived. We had travelled 225nm (417kms or 340miles) in just under 30 hours, averaging 7.5knots/hour. After a very brief tidy up, we had a well-earned arrival beer and promptly went to bed for some catch up sleep!

DSCN9209 (800x600)
There’s nothing quite like the arrival beer!

We’re both hoping this might have been our last overnighter.

Until next time, take care, Sue and Mal xx

Kool Kat is FOR SALE

It is with mixed feelings that we have listed our beautiful home, Kool Kat I, for sale! Anyone who knows us or has followed our blog since we commenced this incredible journey, living aboard and cruising the Caribbean was always going to be a three-year adventure! Those three years are now coming to an end and it’s time to head home, back to Australia.

Koolkat1 (800x532)

Kool Kat I is a 2003 Leopard 47 built by South Africans Robertson & Caine. I really didn’t know what to expect in our first year and was a little anxious but I was totally blown away by how wonderful the boat was. She gave me confidence in her ability to handle anything we threw at her and, best of all, I didn’t get seasick! 🙂

She’s strong, sails really well and has been our home away from home with all the mod-cons. She’s totally self-sufficient so we’ve been privileged to be able to visit some awesome places and see some amazing things! She has met every need we have had, and some more!

DSCN1308 (768x1024)#

DSCN1296 (768x1024)

IMG_7408 (800x533)

IMG_7058 (800x533)

DSC_3289 (1024x685)

DSCN0381 (1024x768)

She’s great for entertaining and has provided spacious accommodation for our guests.

IMG_7228 (800x533)

DSCN9116 (800x600)

DSCN7341 (800x600)

If you know someone who may be interested or you happen to be in the market for an awesome catamaran,  check her out at Yacht World.

Thanks Kool Kat I for the past three years! We’ll sure miss you, Sue and Mal.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

DSCN9131 (800x600)
Kool Kat in her slip at Palmas del Mar Marina

OK, our last post had us arriving at Palmas del Mar Marina on the east coast of Puerto Rico where we planned to hire a car to provision in preparation for The Bahamas.  All our cruising friends had told us that you need to be well-provisioned before visiting this incredible archipelago of islands. According to Wikipedia, it encompasses more than 470,000 sq kms!

bahamas
So much to see….

From what we understand there is very little agriculture so most foodstuffs are brought in, often by mail boat once a week and, when that food has gone, it’s gone until the next boat arrives. Because it is imported, food can also be expensive. Cruising guides have stressed that boaters need to be independent as there may be little or no services available. So, with all this advice in mind, we got busy!

Inventories were taken in the pantry, laundry and workshop! Use-by dates were checked and some stuff was tossed! We then set about trying to estimate how many meals x how many days we might need and exactly which boat spares we should buy, just in case!

DSCN9155 (800x600)

We stocked up at Walmart, Econo and West Marine. Oh, and Gwen and I stocked up at JC Penney’s and Marshall’s too as we didn’t have anything warm to wear in the cold Bahamas, LOL! New goods were added to the inventory and excess packaging was removed, not only minimising opportunities for little beasties to stowaway on our boat, but also to reduce the amount of rubbish we’d create in The Bahamas.

DSCN9153 (600x800)
I hope we’ve got enough……
DSCN9154 (800x600)
Definitely got enough tea bags!

In the midst of all this activity we celebrated Australia Day with the Inaugural Australia Day Film Festival on Kool Kat! Banyan (Alex and Dave) and Slow Waltz (Gwen and Guillaume) joined us to watch Aussie movies Red Dog and Gettin’ Square, which is only fair as we helped celebrate Canada Day last 1st July. We had a little Vegemite overload with Banyan and Slow Waltz bringing Vegemite popcorn yes, you read that correctly, Vegemite popcorn, which accompanied our Vegemite on salada-like biscuits and Vegemite and cheese scrolls. Thank goodness I also made Anzacs and mini banana muffins! I should add Mal showed a short Youtube video called ‘Straya’ which is quite a hoot!

DSCN9134 (800x600)
Yep, that’s the Vegemite popcorn in the green bowl! It was scrummy!
DSCN9138 (800x600)
They tasted better than they looked!

So, back to our planning for The Bahamas. Guillaume and Mal had been checking the weather watching for a good window where we could bypass the Dominican Republic and sail straight to either Great Inagua (bottom of The Bahamas) or The Turks and Caicos, a small country next to The Bahamas. The window needs to be 3-4 days of good sailing weather and there was one coming up which looked perfect.

Kool Kat leaving Puerto del Mar Marina. Thanks Banyan for the image.
Kool Kat leaving Puerto del Mar Marina. Thanks Banyan for the image.

We said our goodbyes to Alex and Dave and headed off with Slow Waltz to the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, where we would stop for the night before commencing our journey across the Mona Passage and into the great beyond! But before long Slow Waltz had trouble with the autohelm and an autohelm is not what you want to have out of action when doing a big passage, well, any passage really! So, we both pulled into Salinas on the south coast of Puerto Rico to see what was what. Luckily for us, our hot water service gave up  the ghost whilst there. We’re lucky because if this had happened elsewhere further into our trip we would have been having cold showers for a very long time! Everyone tells us that The Bahamas is a lot cooler than we’ve been used to in the Eastern Caribbean so we wanted a working hot water service! We were able to order a new one, along with some other items and, because Puerto Rico is a US territory, delivery was estimated as three days and not hellishly expensive.

We moved to Guilligan’s Island and then on to Puerto Real on the west coast to wait for the goods and so we would be ready to go as soon as the next window opens up. Our trip was beautiful with dolphins and interesting terrain to keep us occupied.

IMG_7328 (800x533)
Dolphins playing off Kool Kat’s bow
IMG_7329 (800x533)
They love to jump and surf the waves
IMG_7314 (800x530)
The stunning lighthouse, Faro Los Morrillos de Cabo Rojo, on southwest corner of Puerto Rico
IMG_7345 (800x515)
Sunrise over the sleepy port of Puerto Real
DSCN9151 (800x585)
Homes in the fishing village of Puerto Real

The goods arrived true to their word in three days and Mal successfully installed it. Slow Waltz have also got their autohelm working and we’re all ready to go!

DSCN9149 (800x600)
One new fully-installed hot water service!

So now, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting. The winds are very light and there doesn’t seem to be a big enough weather window for The Bahamas so, we think we will do one overnight hop across the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic where, once again, we’ll be waiting, waiting, waiting.

Until next time, Sue and Mal xx

Postscript: We’ve woken this morning (Sunday 7th February) to 20-30kn winds so we’re off! Woohoo!

Our last Caribbean sailing season starts now….

This has always been a 3-year project for us and it is with mixed feelings that we head into our final season of Caribbean cruising. We will miss so many things: the amazing, fabulous, awesome friends we have met along the way; the friendly, relaxed islanders and their enviable way of life; the incredible diversity and adventures each island offers; the warm seas; fresh, cheap coconut water; amazing chicken (jerk, roti or a la St Pierre); rum punches that knock your socks off; and, the memorable sunrises, sunsets, sundowners, green flashes and rainbows all viewed from ours or other boats! I could go on and on but there’s still fun to be had and one more season to do it!

This post is a pictorial representation of our journey over the last few months and covers Grenada to Martinique.

Friends…..

DSCN6432 (800x600)
A dock gathering at Secret Harbour, Grenada

And more friends….

And friends saying farewell to cruising….

DSCN6661 (800x600)
Dalynn and Glenn (S/V Amoray)
DSCN7747 (800x689)
Wendy and Doug (S/V Nahanni River)

Mal and I enjoying the Underwater Sculpture Park at Moliniere Point, Grenada….

DSCN7537 (800x600)DSCN7558 (800x648)

The best Jerk Chicken Shop in Grenada….

DSCN6629 (800x493)

DSCN6613 (800x600)
A couple of Mona Monkeys of Grenada

Leaving Grenada behind and heading north….

DSCN7823 (800x538)

And somewhere in between we fitted in a birthday celebration….

11416212_10153110399472041_7156993306431623635_n
Birthday celebrations at The Slipway Restaurant, Carriacou

Some of our underwater friends between Grenada and Martinique….

Sunrise and sunset….

And, we’ve now made it to the French island of Martinique. Hmmmm, Lorraine beer, baguettes, cheese, wine, pate and so it goes…

DSCN6052 (800x600)
Mal enjoying a 50cl Lorraine beer!

Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles.  There’s been the odd boat job, like replacing the dodger….

But, even when things don’t go the way you think they will, it’s all still fun and we are excited to still be living this life! Well, for a few more months anyway! 🙂

DSCN7869 (800x600)

We hope you follow our last journey through the Eastern Caribbean. So until next time, safe sailing, Sue and Mal xx

Sint Maarten: Shopping and Carnival!

We arrived in Sint Maarten at 7am after an overnight passage from Cooper Island in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). You may recall that Sint Maarten/St Martin is an island divided into two countries: The Netherlands and France. In the past we have stayed on the Dutch side in Simpson Bay outside the lagoon and dinghied in for shopping, restaurants  and to access the French side but the swell and winds were pretty uncomfortable on this occasion, even for a cat! The upside of staying in the bay is the water is cleaner allowing for  swimming and water-making. So, while everything was going up and down including my tummy,  we spent the day making water and swimming whilst planning to enter the lagoon the next day at the 9.30am opening for inward-bound boats.

DSCN4789 (800x600)
Simpson Bay Lagoon bridge in Sint Maarten. Photo taken from the lagoon side.

It’s funny to watch everyone ‘queueing’ beforehand. At 9.10am we lifted the hook and prepared to get in the queue. They appear to keep the bridge open until everyone is through but you want to make sure you’re in line, ready and waiting so you don’t miss the boat, I mean bridge! We motored over near or thereabouts to what looked like other boots jostling for position. Everyone is waiting, circling, waiting, but, as you can imagine, it’s hard to stay in a queue when everything is moving: the water, the wind, the boats! There was a large French Customs (Douane) boat wanting to go through and he was reversing and going forward whilst other smaller boats  circled. The queue looked like a dog’s breakfast! I took three short videos  if you are interested and you can check it out here.

DSCN4791 (800x600)
Large cat going through the bridge ahead of us. Photo taken when leaving the lagoon.

Being in the lagoon was good; windy but no swell and easier accessibility to shops, buses, restaurants. And, as mentioned above, we couldn’t swim or make water so we were just as keen to get out of there when we finally left for Nevis a week later.

During the week we caught up with old friends Izzy R and Wild Cat and met new ones, including some Aussies. George from Wild Cat organised a dinghy-drift where we met Annie and Cam (s/v Annacam) from Horsham in our home State, Victoria, and Frances and John (s/v Kia Ora) from Margaret River, Western Australia. We also met Canadians Catherine and Henry (s/v Mowzer) and Americans Janice and David (s/v Livin’ Life). Janice and David have been following our blogs and Facebook for about six months and it was lovely to meet them. A dinghy drift is normally done close to a full moon where dinghies tie up to a lead dinghy and cruisers share food, drinks and lots of stories whilst drifting along. As this one was in the lagoon and as the evening wore on we looked like side-swiping some moored boats, George and Jan tied up to a vacant mooring ball and we all hung off them just bobbing along. A very nice way to while away the evening 🙂 Photos courtesy of s/v Distant Shores.

11035979_10153204669407209_5545806920650514817_n

11182279_10153204669457209_717586731806009562_n

We were lucky enough to be in Sint Maarten for Carnival this year and it was fabulous fun. Each island seems to celebrate it slightly differently but it is always a mass of colour, costumes, loud music and super-friendly people. This Carnival was the Dutch-side celebration and held in Phillipsburg which plays host to 4-5 large cruise ships nearly every day but, the port was closed for Carnival thereby enabling all locals to attend. A group of 10 of us took a bus over and had a great day. If you’d like to see some short video clips of the carnival click here.

IMG_5996 (800x533)
Gorgeous women….
IMG_5976 (800x533)
Captivated crowds…… L-R: Guillaume, Gwen, Mark and moi.
IMG_6187 (800x533)
A rewarding beer after another great day with friends…

The last time we were in Sint Maarten we purchased a piece of beef tenderloin or, as we Aussies know it, fillet steak. We loved it so much we bought another one this time and using our FoodSaver vacuum system, we portioned it out and have several meals ready in the freezer. It’s such a great meal for the boat: quick to defrost, quick to bbq and delicious to eat with a salad or veggies. 🙂

DSCN2566 (800x600)
Our tenderloin ready for the freezer.

After a week of shopping for boat supplies, waiting for parts, provisioning, socialising and just having fun, a weather window opened and we left Sint Maarten for Nevis.

Until next time, cheers, Sue and Mal xox

What a ride!

Whilst in Sint Maarten I entered a competition at Island Water World (IWW) where us cruisers seem to spend copious amounts of money! I wasn’t really sure what the prize entailed except I knew it had something to do with watching some of the 35th Heineken Regatta.

I received an email advising that I’d won and would be joining 10 other winners the next morning out on the water on the IWW 52′ Racing Catamaran. I wondered if Mal was included so I emailed back asking the question to which the response was, sure, bring him along too. Ooh, all of a sudden this is real. It’s been a bit windy, like 25 knots windy, and I get a tad seasick in rough conditions. Do I really want to go? Perhaps Mal could go on his own. Heck no, I want to go too, even if it’s just to get my free IWW rash-guard! Mal assures me I’ll be fine; yeah right, he always says that!

DSCN2414 (800x600)
Winners are grinners!

So with trepidation we head out the next morning to meet the fellow winners, receive our rash-guards, sunglass holders, both kindly donated by IWW, pose for the photo opportunity and board the vessel. Wait, there’s no cockpit, no saloon, no berths, nowhere to hide from the weather! She’s nothing like our 47′ catamaran! She’s sleek, lean and light as a feather! I’m relieved to hear there is a head in one of the hulls!

DSCN2415 (800x600)
Where’s the cockpit?

We are welcomed by Captain Rodney, crew member Guillaume and part-owner, Dominic. Rodney provides a safety briefing on deck, well, trampoline as there is no deck!  We don the safety vests and away we go. I can’t back out now!

DSCN2422 (800x600)
Captain Rodney
DSCN2427 (800x600)
Safety vests in place!

Rodney explains we will head out to watch the start of the Commodore’s Cup, which is a pre-Regatta event, then motor alongside the leaders up to Phillipsburg where we will peel off, hoist the sails and sail back to Simpson’s Bay. We can ‘play around’ in the bay for awhile and, if there is time, approach the finish line to watch the end of the race.  Everyone is excited and itching to get going. I’m still a little nervous as the winds are definitely picking up but my tummy is holding it altogether at this stage!

DSCN2456 (800x600)
Race participant, TAZ – Tasmanian Devil.

In the end, we had a great day. There was lots of wind, rain, sun and we got drenched again and again. The rash-guards were brilliant as I wasn’t cold, even when I was wet through and they dried very quickly. Mal had a turn on the tiller and got us up to 21.5 knots with two reefs in the mainsail.

DSCN2524 (800x600)
Mal on the tiller tipping 21.5 knots
DSCN2534 (800x600)
Mal bracing himself – we were hooting along!
DSCN2513 (800x600)
Enjoying the sail
DSCN2442 (800x600)
Zipping through the waves.

The cat is gorgeous. She only weighs 2.5 tonnes (Kool Kat weighs up to 33) and she has the latest and best equipment. Her shrouds and railings and, I think, the trampoline, are all made of Dyneema rope which is renowned as the “World’s Strongest Fibre”. Her history is that a few  years ago the owner-builder entered the Route du Rhum Solo Transatlantic Race from France to Guadeloupe, finishing in 14 days. She then sat in a boat-yard on Sint Maarten until Dominic from Bluebeard Charters saw her. It has been a labour of love for him to bring her up to the boat she is today where they can now use her in the business. She will be ready and entered in the 2016 Heineken Regatta! Good luck Dominic. Click here for further information about her, and if you’d like to book a ride!

DSCN2539 (800x600)
Mal with owner Dominic.
DSCN2561 (800x600)
Winner after crossing the finishing line.

Island Water World, together with Dominic, were fantastic hosts and we had water, soft drinks and, of course, Heineken on tap throughout the morning.

DSCN2559 (800x600)
Enjoying a Heineken Light.

I wasn’t ill at all and still can’t believe I managed a beer whilst sailing! Thanks Dominic and IWW, it was a great experience!

Until our next adventure, take care, Sue and Mal.