Bahamas bound


Ch. 1 - Operation TrailerSailor

The second major sailing expedition of the Giles family began in predictable fashion. I wrote earlier at length about the woes we suffered with our trailer catastrophe on the interstate in the middle of the Everglades.  Good thing that this did not happen again.  This time the catastrophe was in North Port, Florida.

 Homestead before nightfall – that was the catchphrase.  We were cruising down I-75 along the west coast of Florida, looking forward to that magical sail across the Gulf Stream.  If you are driving down the peninsula of Florida, the west approach to South Florida is the most enjoyable, by far.  But I digress.  It’s the flat tire I should be talking about.

There were six tires on the road that technically belonged to us, four on the truck and two on the trailer.  That means mathematically, the odds of a good flat tire (truck tire) doubled the odds of a bad flat tire (trailer tire).  We Giles have a long history of defying odds, particularly when the payoff is sure to cause weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

From the trailer arose such a clatter.  I announced to my wife, “I know what’s the matter”  (apologies to St. Nick).    “It’s just a flat tire.”  I deftly steered the trailer off the starboard side of the interstate.  Then the most unusual thing happened.  The alleged flat tire passed us at about sixty miles an hour.

Man, that tire was flat out getting it on down the road.  I guess it was in more of a hurry than we gave it credit for.  It rolled about a quarter of a mile and crashed in the brush off the interstate. You guessed it; we lost the wheel.

It burned right off.  Right through the spindle.  Amazing.  We had just had the bearings repacked and bearing buddies put on it before we left.  At least the axle did not snap from the impact of the trailer striking the ground.  Of course it held.  It was welded up like Frankenstein’s leg from the Everglades fiasco.

Point of information – Tow truck owners suddenly lose their capitalist tendencies when you tell them you need a sailboat towed in on a flatbed.  Boat towed in, OK.  Sailboat towed in, no can do.  We finally found one by just telling them the trailer size and he shows up about thirty minutes later.

The guy who operated the tow truck reminded me of a refugee from a punk rock band.  He had more hardware sticking out of his face than on the truck.  Nonetheless, he bravely hooked the Wild Hair up and we slowly dragged the whole mess up on the flatbed.  You have heard the old saying about a greased pin and a John Deere tractor?  Oh well, perhaps that is in poor taste, but you better believe I was feeling it.

Sid Vicious got that boat and trailer up like a champ and delivered it to R&R Trailers in Punta Gorda quicker that you can say, “Wonder how much this is going to cost us.”  The trailer shop in Punta Gorda was owned by a great American named Ron..  He had us underway in record time with a new galvanized axle. If you are in the area and need help, his phone number is 941-639-4797.  After leaving Punta Gorda, we did make Naples shortly after nightfall.

    We reached Miami the next day.  Somehow, we managed to get off a perfectly good interstate and drive into town smack in the middle of a traffic jam.  To top it off, we got stuck in the right lane on a bridge behind a panel truck that broke down right in front of us with three million Cubans driving like Richard Petty around us.  God himself intervened and after twenty minutes of muttering expletives, the panel truck just started and ran.  Amazing.

Ch. 2 – Prepping for the Crossing

We finally made Homestead three hundred dollars lighter.  No problem.  We had a plan; it was time for execution.  We had researched this trip to the nth degree and felt quite confident in our research.  We had chosen Homestead Bayfront Marina as our launch site.  This place is perfect. The marina is either locked at night, or patrolled by security.  Additionally, it has acres of parking and plenty of deep water ramps.  If you have not launched trailerable sailboats in Florida, then you should know you need depth.  Florida ramps for some reason are just plain shallow.

The park has a designated location just for sailboats to prepare to launch.  We opted to launch the boat with the mast down.  We anchored at a seawall, and there we stepped the mast.  We got all the standing rigging up just in time to get the heck out of the marina and anchor in the bay.  We toasted the sunset. 

Biscayne Bay is very shallow and clear.  I just knew we would see a manitee slowly swimming by, but it did not happen.  We spent our first night on the water just a few hundred yards from the marina channel.  We did not care, because we were finally sleeping on salt water.  One the most vivid memories of the landscape is the twin smoke stacks of some sort of plant on the edge of the bay.  We used these to navigate by in the bay while we were down there.  I am sure anyone who has sailed Biscayne Bay knows these twin smoke stacks.

The next day, we came back to the marina and parked on the seawall.  We went into town to provision for the trip.  We bought the usual stuff and headed back to the boat.  The plan was to set sail for Bimini at around 6:00.  Not to be.

I talked to this old salt who worked at the marina office.  He gave me a bearing for Angelfish Creek.  He said this is the best creek to take to get out of the south end of Biscayne Bay. I do not recall the exact distance, but it was around seven miles from the marina.  We motored out of the marina and pointed the boat south.  My thought was to clear the creek and get into the ocean by 4:00.  We hoisted sails and sat back.  Free at last, free at last. 

The winds were light and we were only making about three or four knots.  Did I mention that Biscayne Bay is shallow?  We grounded several times, much to our dismay.  Thank God for a retractable tiller.  We just cranked that baby up and sailed right off the sand.  Now we had to start dodging shallow areas.  As in our previous trip, there were many shallow spots that eluded our cartographer.  We sailed and sailed and sailed.  We just were not making progress.  Biscayne Bay is a whole lot bigger on the ground than on the chart.

As we approached the south end of the bay, I made the command decision to lower sails and motor.  This was partly due to impatience and partly due to a whopper of a thunderstorm that was bearing down on us.  Where did this thing come from?  Not to be daunted, we hit Angelfish Creek just as the storm hit us. 

You just have not lived until you have been in a thunderstorm on the ocean.  This was our first.  Lightening was popping all around us.  Did I mention the greased pin and the John Deere tractor?  After popping out on the Atlantic side, I set two anchors about a quarter mile out from shore and a quarter mile away from the channel to Angelfish Creek.  We bought two sets of motorcycle jumper cables to ground the boat in a thunderstorm. 

We clipped a cable to each shroud and to each stay.  We felt about as prepared as one can be under the circumstances, but we sure as heck were not sailing anywhere that night.  We hunkered down and rode out the storm.

The following morning I awoke early to a beautiful, peaceful morning sun.  While Kelly still slept, I motored the boat into the shallows.  The water was almost glass. I eased out of the boat into the cool, clear water. The only sounds were of water lapping gently against the boat.  I waded slowly around the boat, sponging off the road dirt.  It was the most peaceful, serene morning I can remember, and in stark contrast to the violent storm we went to sleep to.

As I was cleaning and surveying the boat, a flats boat came poling its way to me. The guide had two fishermen.  They said they were chasing a school of tarpon that apparently had swam right by me.  I never saw them, but it was a nice experience, knowing the giant silver fish had been watching me wade around.  Good thing they were not hammerhead sharks.

Kelly woke up and came out to greet the day.  We ate breakfast and decided to run down to Key Largo.  I had decided that we needed to replace some fuel line and add a filter.  There was this one channel that serviced two harbors.  As we motored down the narrow channel, two large fishing boats decided to race each other down the channel.  The pucker factor was very high as we hugged the edge of the channel, dodging shallow spots and shallow boat captains.

Idiot One and Two chose the left harbor.  We chose the right one both literally and geographically.  The narrow little harbor had a restaurant with a seawall.  I asked the waitress if we could park there if we ate lunch.  She agreed.

We walked a couple of miles to Boater’s World in Key Largo.  The long walk back was rewarded with a nice lunch of shrimp and fish and an ice cold beer.  Life is good.  As we slowly motored out of the narrow harbor, there was a couple about our age in a sailboat tied up at a seawall.  They asked if we were going for a sail, and we responded, “Yes.”  The lady asked where and we said, “Bahamas.”  “Now?” “Yes, right now.”  She said she wished they could try that one day.

One of the things Kelly and I have consistently found gratifying about cruising is the people you meet.  I do not remember the names of the people, but I remember meeting every one of them.  I remember what we talked about, whether it was nautical information, or just chatting about the weather or the harbor.  Cruisers are the nicest, most outgoing group of people I know.

And then we pointed that twenty-five foot MacGregor named “Wild Hair” East.


Ch. 3 - Stormy Crossing

Anyone who intends to cross the Gulf Stream should invest some time into research.  We have purchased several cruising guides and read many magazine and internet articles that address the crossing.  I remember reading one author saying that “the Gulf Stream will take your life from you” if you do not know what you are doing.  I believe him.

We initially planned on leaving at around sundown to be in Bimini in the early morning.  I was very apprehensive that I had not calculated the drift correctly.  Vespucci would have been proud of the way I plotted, checked, charted, re-checked and generally swagged the crossing route.  I boldly announced when we left the harbor in Key Largo, “We’re leaving, now!”  It was only three in the afternoon.  I do not know what possessed me to leave so early, other than the nagging feeling that we would be swept north of Bimini by the Stream.  We should have waited four or five more hours.

As I said earlier, we pointed the boat east.  Actually it was somewhat northeast, but let’s not split hairs.  We set the autotiller and sat back and enjoyed the sail.  It was just like the videos we watched.  We were on a broad reach with a steady south wind that kept us clipping at about four to five knots.  The 150 ginny was swallowing up the wind and pushing the Wild Hair right on to the Bahamas.  The seas only had a slight chop and the sun was shining.  This is what we came for!  This was absolutely, indescribably perfect. 

We sailed for a couple of hours with the skyscrapers of Miami still insight.  Eventually, the water started to get that deep blue hue that confirmed what the depthfinder was telling me.  We were getting into the Gulf Stream, and the seas picked up somewhat, but so what?  I check the weather forecast fifty-seven times at least over the last two days.  Southerly winds.  It looked like a piece of cake, right?  Right.  If Mr. Rogers as broadcasting on the NOAA weather broadcast, he would have said, “can you say tropical depression?”

The first indication of weather occurred just after dark.  We could see clouds moving in from the east.  They looked pretty ominous, but the frightening thing was the lightning.  Lightning was everywhere in the horizon.  I did some quick calculation. Hmmm, our mast is 28 feet, tabernacle is about four feet above water level, antennae another three feet… all in all, 35 feet of elevated metal all connected to the tub of fiberglass in which our lives rode upon.  Height of waves… four feet.  Mast thirty-five, waves four.  We are surely to fry in this maelstrom of lightning approaching.  We quickly connected our grounding cables to stays and shrouds and kept tooling along.

The seas picked up a lot more, and I announced that we needed to get our Sospender PFD harnesses on.  For the time being we did not attach the lanyards.  Then an eerie thing happened, that we quickly learned about.  The temperature suddenly dropped about fifteen degrees.  Bam!  Just like that, the air got chilly.

Then the real winds hit.  Wait a minute, these winds were coming from the north!  I knew what it means to be on the Gulf Stream in north winds, and we both strapped in.  I immediately uncleated the genoa and let it luff in the wind.  It was thrashing around in the wind, but I could not do one single thing about it at the moment. Then the wind shifted behind us!  Now it was whipping from the west at about thirty knots.  I let the main sheet all the way out.  The boom was almost perpindicular to the boat.  I had not had time to put a reef in the main after the excrement hit the oscillator.

The fastest we had ever sailed the Wild Hair was six knots, with occasion spurts to seven.  The GPS unit was reading a steady eight with the frigid winds pushing us.  I felt like we were skipping from wave to wave.  I was terrified.  I was afraid to turn the tiller, for fear of a blowdown.  I was riding eight foot swells with this insane wind that was relentless. 

After about five minutes, the wind shifted and subsided for a little while.  My stomach was in knots when I scrambled to lower the main.  I think this is when the reality hit me.

The reality was this: This is for real.  This is not back home on the lake.  This is not sailing around Key West in sight of shore.  This is the Gulf Stream, and this lady is moody.  We were the only boat in sight.  There was no one to call when things went south, at least no one I could tell was out there.

The chill that went down my back had nothing do with the cold wind pelting me.  I felt scared and thought, “My God, have I made a terrible mistake bringing us out here?”  I swallowed my fear and concentrated on the task.  I managed to lower the main and Kelly and I secured it.  I then took the headsail and crumpled it up in the inflatable.  We had a ten-foot inflatable dinghy strapped to the foredeck.  This was a pretty good place to stick the genoa.  It stayed there under the straps the rest of the trip.

As I made it to the cockpit, the rain started.  The rain and lightning were overwhelming.  The seas just became wilder.  This was when I saw the elephants.  I had heard about the square waves that north winds create, but you just have to see them to appreciate them.

I had become fairly proficient in riding down one swell and up the next.  The autotiller proved to be a bad idea in the bad weather.  You just had to man the tiller and sail by feel.  With our Evinrude eight horsepower chugging away, we rode down and up in the driving rain and lightning.  Then the waves became hard to ride back up.

In fact, the distance between the wave decreased dramatically, and when you would ride down the swell, you would crash into a wall of water.  Water would come surging over the deck, into the cockpit and everywhere else.  Kelly and I were hanging on for dear life.  All you could do was hunker down, hold on and try not to move around too much.

The squall ended about an hour later, and a remarkable thing happened.  The sky cleared and displayed millions of stars.  It was crystal clear and you could see forever.  If I were a poet, I would compose a poem about the beauty and enormity of the ocean at night.  When you look around you on the water, you realize the vastness of being out in the ocean.  Kelly and I agreed that the night was worth fighting the storm over. 

As we sailed, we saw a cruise ship lumber across our path.  Its lights were blazing and it looked like a distant city moving by.  It took a good two hours to move out of our sight.  We were really enjoying ourselves now.  We joked about the lightning and winds and rain.  We pointed out stars and constellations.  We had a grand time for an hour or so.  We could see clouds on the horizon in every direction, but right above us was perfect.

Then the whole process began again.  The winds, the waves, and of course, the temperature dropped.  We did not know that a tropical depression had settled in on the Bahamas.  We went through five thunderstorms that night on the water.  Five.  Cinco Squallo. No joke.  These were real storms complete with lightning, winds in the thirty to forty knot range, buckets of rain and lots of misery.

Despite the abject terror we felt initially, after each storm passed, we would see that beautiful sky.  Truthfully, by the third or fourth storm, we were no longer scared.  We were just worn out.  Lightning was popping all around us, but we no longer were afraid of it hitting us.  As I reflect back on the crossing, I do not know how we were not hit.  Lightning was striking everywhere.  But eventually you grow numb from the fear.

Thank the good Lord for our GPS.  We had a compass, but that GPS unit mounted on the bulkhead proved its worth in gold.  I managed to keep the boat on the course we had plotted.  About 1:00 a.m. a slight glow began to emerge over the horizon.  We kept a steady course and motored on.

It was about this time that I began to realize how tired I was.  I was exhausted and my droopy eyes wanted to close.  The fatigue was almost overwhelming.  I looked out the port side of the boat and to my surprise clearly saw the faint but distinct outline of a treeline about three hundred yards away.  It looked like we were paralleling the shore of a wooded coastline.  Odd, but there they were.  I kept a check on the GPS, the glow in the distance and those trees.  Can’t be too careful when you are near trees.

I guess I went on trying to figure out this strange treeline for fifteen minutes before I snapped out of it.  Hallucinations!  I was seeing things.  I had done that before in the Army when I was extremely fatigued.  I knew I was facing a different threat now.  The storms were over, but the danger was not.

I do not really know how I stayed awake, but I did.  Eventually, the depthfinder gave us good news as it announced we were in six hundred feet and steady getting shallower.  We began to pick out individual lights on Bimini as we made our approach at around three o’clock in the morning.  The approach brought new problems.

We had absolutely no idea of how to get into the channel, especially since it was not marked.  We decided to just head toward the shore until we were in about twelve feet of water and anchor until morning.   As we approached the shore, I strained to make sense of what little I could see.  It appeared that there was some sort of concrete seawall that ran a half of a mile or so along the shore.  I picked out what appeared to be a narrow channel that had very strange red marking lights. All in all, it appeared that we could safely anchor without being in the way of anything dangerous. 

I threw out the anchor and waited for the boat to drift and set the hook.  The boat really was not drifting at all.  I pulled out the flashlight and shined it into the water.  The water was crystal clear and I could see the anchor just lying on a sandy bottom.  Good, I thought.  Just to be on the safe side, I threw out a second anchor and set a waypoint on the GPS.  Satisfied that we were secure, we raised the yellow “Q” flag and tucked in for a few hours sleep.  That was one memorable crossing

Ch. 4 - Island Life

We woke up to the sound of fishing boats roaring by and rocking the heck out of our boat.  We crawled out of the cabin to see what was outside.  What a surprise!  The shoreline was completely different from the image that my tired mind had formed the previous night.  There was no sea wall.  Actually there was nothing of any significance nearby.  Once again, a tired mind played tricks on me. 

What we did find was quite acceptable.  The water was glass, except when a fishing boat came roaring by.  The morning sun welcomed us to Bimini and we both got in the water for a little while. The cool water cleared the cobwebs from our brains.  We climbed back aboard and spent a little while straightening up the boat.  We had made a mess of things during the crossing.

We found the channel that leads between North and South Bimini, and proceeded to motor toward the marinas.  All the marinas were on our port as we entered the Port of Bimini.  I had read extensively in cruising guides about Bimini, and easily picked out each marina as we went past.  My plan was to dock just long enough to clear customs and then see the island.

We tied up at the Bimini Big Game Club and I grabbed our passports and went to find the customs office.  My first impression of Bimini was favorable.  You know quickly that you are not in the United States, even though you are only fifty-six miles from Miami.  The narrow streets were bustling with people moving about.  Everyone was quite friendly, and provided me directions to the customs office.  One hundred dollars and thirty minutes later, we had both our cruising permit and fishing licenses for the Bahamas.

I went back and got Kelly, and we went for a stroll.  The town is quite picturesque.  We ran into Ernest Hemmingway’s haunt, The Compleat Angler Hotel.  We saw all the small shops that sold Bimini bread and other necessities. We ate at a deli that had the best conch fritters in the world.  I think it was named C.J.’s, but I will not swear to it.  All in all, Bimini met our expectations with its British charm and friendly people.

We stayed overnight at the Bimini Big Game Club, and prepared to make the sail to the next island group, the Berry Islands.  Our ultimate destination was to be the Abaco Islands in time for the regatta.  The motor was acting up a little bit, but we headed out anyway shortly after lunch. We traveled at a leisurely pace, clipping along at about three knots.  About a half mile out, I threw out my light action spinning rod with a Johnson’s Silver Minnow spoon on it.  Five minutes later, something nailed it.  I reeled in a three-foot long barracuda.  We released the toothy fish uninjured.

We had to sail a couple of miles in deep water before we made the easterly turn onto the Bahamas Grand Bank.  I took out one of our saltwater reels and tied on a ten-inch lure that looked suspiciously like a Rapala on steroids.  I was using a steel leader and sixty pound monofilament (I think).  We were in about three hundred feet of water and the lure was 100 yards behind the boat.  About that time, WHAMMO!!  Something hit that rod like a freight train and nearly ripped it out of the rod well.  After jumping around trying to extract the rod, I was too late.  It was gone, leader and all. I do not know what it was, but it was big, REAL big. 

We were approximately ten miles east of Bimini when we decided to anchor on the banks and settle in for a swim, dinner and sleep.  We anchored in twelve feet of water and had a nice afternoon of swimming and taking it easy.  Late that evening, the ubiquitous squall moved in.  We figured it would move through, so we just let the boat rock away. 

Two hours later, the boat was still wildly rocking.  The standing rigging was worrying me as somehow the mast had worked a little slack in the shrouds.  The mast was bouncing back and forth about an inch or two.  It got so bad that I made the decision to head back to Bimini.  I really thought we might get dismasted or have some sort of major problem in the rigging.  The wind and waves were just wild.  It was absolutely unbelievable.

We motored back to the port and hunted a place to tie up.  There was a derelict dock with one rough looking liveaboard and a boat that looked abandoned.  We just tied up on the end and had a good night sleep.  We woke the next day and pondered our next move.  To get to the Abacos, we had two or three good, long days of sailing ahead of us.

Well, the first problem was that the motor would not start.  I finally got it started and we motored on over to the Bimini Big Game Club again.  After lunch and a walk, we checked the motor again.  Nothing.  Kaput.  I asked the dockmaster who could fix it and he recommended a local mechanic named Chris Sanders.

This is the interesting part.  The dockmaster said he would get in contact with Chris.  He would tell so-and-so who would see his cousin who would see his wife who would tell him.  “When can he get here?” I asked, naïve to the ways of the Bahamas.  “Later on.  Don’t worry.”  I learned quickly that the concept of time is entirely relative to where you are from.  Time in the Bahamas is subjective at best and ignored at worst.

Well after numerous calls, and so-an-so telling so-in-so, I understood that this person may or may not show up. I was advised by a dock worker to take the motor to his house which is in Alice Town, just up the road and wait for him to get off work.  When I arrived, Chris’ wife was not expecting me, but what a gracious lady she was.  She invited me in to their house and I had a marvelous time chatting with her and her three children.  When Chris came home, I met one of the finest citizens of the island. 

He checked the motor out and declared that the power pack was out.  He told me he could get it fixed “soon.”  I cringed.  Here we are back to American time versus Bimini time.  We spent three more days in Bimini and he got us fixed up.  The best part of traveling is meeting wonderful people like the Sanders family in Alice Town, Bimini.  If you are ever in Bimini and need an outboard fixed, Chris is your man.

Our next three days were spent walking around during the day and waiting out squalls at night.  The tropical wave that haunted our crossing settled in over the Bahamas, rather than passing over like it was supposed to.  One squall had to have winds that topped sixty miles an hour.  It looked like a hurricane was here and I am not exaggerating one iota.  It was decision time.

We decided not to head across the banks if we were going to fight these squalls on the water every night.  This weather pattern was unusual for this time of year, but it was not letting up.  We decided to head home early the next morning and then head down to Key West.  That is exactly what we did.

Ch. 5 - The Return Crossing

We got up bright and early and headed west.  The plan was the motor home.  The motor was running well enough, and away we went.  Quickly the depthfinder slipped to three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred and then blank spaces.  The weather was tolerable as it was overcast, but not raining.

We pulled the bimini top up and kicked back with good books to read.  The autotiller was doing its job and life was great.  We did hoist the sails a couple of times, but I got tired of fooling with them and let the motor do the work. 

There is one comical thing that occurred.  A massive U.S. Navy ship (is there any other kind?) was moving around out there.  It would move this way, then turn and go that way.  It looked like it was moving away, then come back move a different way.  I have no idea what it was doing.  It did, however, choose a heading that seemed to place it in a collision course with our heading.  It was well over a mile away, so I was not worried, thinking it would change courses.  Well, on it came!

I was beginning to get somewhat worried for a really good reason.  Our outboard motor was technically wide open, but it was running like it was only a third revved up.  I twisted the throttle to make sure it was open but it was only humming slowly.  I figured it was no big deal.  We were near Miami.  We could sail this thing in if need be. 

Back to the big gray ship.  This thing was definitely on a collision course with us!  I was not really sure which way we should go.  Fortunately, the Navy captain decided for me and veered to port.  The giant ship passed behind us and the maritime tragedy was averted.  With our motor running slowly, I do not know if we could have dodged him quickly.

About two or three hours from Miami, we began to see the silhouette of the Miami skyscrapers.  We did not see them long.  A torrential downpour hit us along with the mandatory lightning and winds.  By this time, we were absolutely immune to worrying about squalls and lightning.  If it was not popping the stays, it was no big deal.  We just kept our bearing on the northern entrance to Biscayne Bay and plowed on.

By now, the motor was barely running above idle speed.  Just a little farther, I thought. As we entered Biscayne Bay, we were barely chugging along.  It was now dark and we were in a whale of a storm.  Lightning, wind and rain were just everywhere.  I had chosen a harbor called No-Name harbor, which was about a mile away.  “Come on boat, get us there!”

Something caught my eye off the port bow.  As I squinted in to the inky darkness of the storm, looking out across Biscayne Bay, my eyes suddenly got large.  I said, “My God, Sweetheart, there’s a waterspout out there!”  Sure enough, the whirling water tornado was out there in the bay.  Kelly said, “I know.  I saw it a little while ago.”  I said excitedly, “You have to tell me these things!”  “I didn’t want to worry you.” 

Wild thoughts ran through my head.  My worst fear was that it would come toward us and we could not dodge it.  We were barely idling along.  Fortunately, we made the harbor and shared the nearly deserted area with only one other boat. We cheated death on the return crossing as well.  Outstanding.

Ch. 6 - Biscayne Sailing

The morning sun and steamy air greeted us the next morning.  Waking up after crossing the Gulf Stream on a twenty-five foot boat with storms thrown in is a lot like waking up with a hangover.  We were moving very slowly and quietly.   The cure for our lethargy was right on the edge of the harbor where we were anchored.

 There was a restaurant on the edge of the water.  We pulled in both anchors (always two) and slowly motored to the seawall.  We stumbled onto dry land and ascended the wooden steps to survey the fare.

It turns out, this restaurant was operated by Cubans (big surprise, right?).  I have nothing against Cubans.  We absolutely love Cuban food.  I was just skeptical of how good of a breakfast they could assemble.  In the Deep South, substantial breakfasts are the best reason for getting out of bed. 

Our suspicions were quickly vanquished by to large plates of vittles. After we ate, I conferred with two park rangers who had pulled up for coffee on a really slick looking boat.  The senior park ranger had the junior ranger go back to the boat and bring us a map.  They were both gracious, and gave us advice on where to be careful when sailing Biscayne Bay.  They pointed out a particularly perilous place called the Feather Beds.

I later found out that No-Name Harbor is part of a park and we were supposed to pay somebody the stay there.  Oh, well, as they say, “any port in a storm (literally)." Armed with an official map provided by official rangers, we set off to sail to the south end of Biscayne Bay. At this point, the motor barely could work at idle speed, but we were not in a big hurry. We decided to hoist sails and hunker down under the bimini top. We set the autotiller and kicked back with good books. It is funny how small things look on maps and how long it actually takes to sail from one end of the map to another.  Biscayne Bay is big and shallow.  You really do not need to know much more than that.

We sailed for several hours and only grounded a few times.  We have a significant advantage of having a keel that we can just roll right up.  I cannot imagine the heartache and work of having a fixed-keel boat grounding several times in one day. Knowing we can literally sail through water a foot deep makes one a little more bold than usual.

As we approached the feather beds, there was a barge gaining on us.  We were only making about three knots, which was fine with us. We were in no hurry.  Now we had to make a decision.  Would it be best to try to make it through the channel leading through the shallow feather beds, or should we wait.  It looked like the barge was not going to catch up to us so into the channel we went.

I would like to publicly state that normally this would not be an issue.  I mean, normal people have outboard motors that actually work and can zip them along.  We were not acting normally.  The barge was bearing down on us with alarming speed.  I had the sails trimmed as close as I could and we just could not beat the barge through the channel. In an act of desperation, I pulled the starter cord and the motor sprang to life.  The motor gave us three minutes of good power, enough to get us clear of the far end of the channel marker.  We peeled off to the port in time to avoid the barge that was now seriously close to the stern of our boat.  I cannot say that we were almost run over, but I can categorize the event as a serious emotional moment.

Another couple of hours put us at the channel entrance to Homestead Bayfront Park.  We motored in and decided to tie to the seawall and spend the night at the marina.  Other than mosquitoes big as sparrows and renegade raccoons, we were please with our accommodations.  We packed the Wild Hair and loaded her up the following morning.  We headed down to Key West for a couple of weeks and more adventures.  This trip to Key West was far more tame than the previous trip you may have read about. We got the motor fixed there.  It had a blown head gasket and seawater was fouling one of the cylinders.

Though we did not reach the Abaco Islands as planned, we did have a whale of a time.  There was plenty of adventure just going to Bimini and back.  Next year’s sail will hopefully be the Bahamas again.  We hope to make the regatta in the Abacos next year.  I am sure we will add more gadgets to the boat and another story to this website.


Chip & Kelly Giles


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