So at last the day had come! On Saturday, December 16th, we wrapped up in thermal clothing, waved goodbye to Bob and Clare, and departed New Bern. We had done our last grocery shop and had just about enough beer 🙂
We were very lucky in our choice of departure date, because the tides and currents were with us all the way to Morehead City, and we saw speeds up to 8 knots! That gave us plenty of daylight to get out through the Beaufort Inlet before starting our offshore passage. The seas were calm, and we had a peaceful, uneventful trip, motoring all the way but at least making progress South.
We were once again joined by a pod of dolphins for part of the trip…
Our timing was perfect and on the morning of Tuesday, December 19th, we arrived at St Augustine, Florida with a high tide and just as the bridge was opening. Perfect! We tied off to a mooring ball, checked in and headed straight for a well earned hot shower! Then we made the trek across the bridge to a dive store to get our scuba tanks inspected and filled, ready for the Bahamas. We wrapped up the day with a walk around the city, dinner and drinks in a couple of the many bars!
St. Augustine proved to be the perfect place to spend Christmas. There is a very active boating community in St. Augustine and there were plenty of events scheduled. We went to the Wednesday night gathering at Ann O’Malleys, where there was pizza, cheap beer and a White Elephant Christmas gift exchange, which was a lot of fun!
While we were in St. Augustine, we tried to visit as many of the sights as possible. We walked down to, the Fort (Castillo de San Marcos), the Fountain of Youth and the Old Town, which were all very interesting but a bit Disney-esque.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Visitor Center, which is more like a museum telling the story of the city. It’s well worth a visit. Another day, we visited the Flagler College and took a tour. The college was originally a hotel called the Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler, the railway tycoon, in 1888 to house his wealthy friends when they spent the season in Florida. He charged by the season and it cost $4,000 for the winter season whether you stayed the whole time or a weekend. The windows and chandeliers are all by Tiffany and are stunning. The building is now a hall of residence for freshman college students – wow! Liverpool University was great but had nothing on that!
At the boaters’ happy hour, the night before, we met several great people, in particular, Charles and Rachel, who, via FB, had been helpful when Moray was asking for suggestions on places to spend Christmas. During our conversation, we discovered a mutual love of sushi, so on Thursday night, they very kindly picked us up and drove us to a fantastic sushi restaurant called Corner Sushi. We had a great meal and even better conversation, before they drove us back to the marina.
On Christmas Eve, Charles texted us and invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner! It was wonderful! We met Rachel’s family which was great, before eating fresh made seafood chowder (by Charles) and bread (by Rachel). It was so lovely to be included in a family Christmas and reminds us once again that there are amazingly kind people in this world.
We had a quiet Christmas Day on board. It was a lovely, relaxed day. We made calls to our families, opened presents all day, played cards and even had turkey, roast potatoes and brussel sprouts! Yes, it is possible to cook a Christmas Dinner in a tiny boat galley!
On Boxing Day it was time to leave. First of all, at peak travel season, the marina limits transient boats to a seven day stay, and second, the weather was perfect for the next leg of the journey south. Moray made one last run into the city to pick up packages from the Post Office, before we released the mooring ball and headed back through the St. Augustine Inlet, before turning south toward Fort Lauderdale. The weather was great so we got to sail, most of the way. The evening of the second day saw a few storms, so we motored the rest of the way, arriving at the Port Everglades Inlet at daybreak. Once under the bridge, we pulled into the Fort Lauderdale fuel dock to refuel. Another sailboat pulled around us and tried to dock in front of us, managing to hit us in the process. Luckily no damage was done to Sol Purpose, but an apology was not offered, which left a nasty taste. Anyway, once refueled, we headed a little farther north into Lake Sylvia. We had spent a night in this anchorage on last year’s trip down, along with Charlie and Bob. We got there to find that there was plenty of room, so we anchored and settled in to wait for a weather window to cross over to the Bahamas. The anchorage is surrounded by high end houses which make for a nice backdrop at night.
Last year, we had only stayed for one day, so we hadn’t gone ashore. This time, we put the dinghy in the water, crossed over the ICW (now that can be a scary trip in Fort Lauderdale!) and went to the Southport Raw Bar. They have a dinghy dock, which costs $10 per day. However, if you spend $10 in the restaurant/bar, the fee is waived so thats what we did. After appetizers and beers, I went grocery shopping, while Moray walked to West Marine to try to get some engine oil. He didn’t succeed in that, but the grocery shopping was successful!
We had hoped to get over to the Bahamas by New Year, so that we could experience Junkanoo, but the weather showed no signs of co-operating. So we did a little research and found that downtown Fort Lauderdale was having a New Year’s Eve celebration, with free live music, street bars and food vendors, and at midnight, an anchor drop. It was about an hour’s walk, but that’s fine. So we dinghied over to the Southport Raw Bar, had the obligatory $10-worth of beer and snacks, before setting out towards town. The walk wasn’t bad at all, and once we arrived, we were very impressed. The downtown area had been closed to traffic and there was a stage with live music at each end. The music was great, and there were plenty of eateries and bars, although we had taken a cooler full of beer with us! We had a fantastic evening there, culminating with the anchor drop, which was fun. The evening wasn’t over, though, as the bands played for another hour, so we stayed until they stopped and then started the walk back. Funny, it seemed much further…. Anyway, we got back to the dinghy, across the ICW and home to Sol Purpose safe and sound, around 3am! Not bad for two old fogies, huh!
The festivities over, now it was just a waiting game. The weather has been crazy all over the world this winter, and Florida and the Bahamas are not exceptions. A couple of times we got ready to leave, only to find the morning of departure that the forecast had changed completely, so the trip was aborted. It did give us an opportunity to take the longest city bus ride ever, to get to a movie theater to see The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman. I’d highly recommend the movie, but possibly not the 2 hour each way journey! We went out for another night and met Liz and Mary Ann. They were later met by Mary Ann’s husband who gave us great advise on restaurants and so we had one more night of Sushi before we left the US 🙂
Finally, on Tuesday, January 10th, we decided that the forecast was not perfect, but good enough, so we headed out. When we actually pulled up the anchor, it was pouring with rain, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking we were mad! However, as soon as we got out through the Port Everglades channel, the weather cleared up, and we had a great day, even though we were motoring. We seemed to pass between all the squalls, and arrived in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands, almost exactly 24 hours after we set out. The marina allows boats to pull into a slip, free of charge, in order to complete the customs and immigration procedures. They drove Moray to the airport to get all of that taken care of, while I had to wait on board. Although he had to wait a little while, because a couple of planes arrived while he was there, it was all painless, and he was soon back on board, with stamped passports, a fishing permit and cruising permit for 6 months. We left the marina and headed back outside the harbour to anchor.
We had planned to spend some time in the Berry Islands, as we had heard how beautiful they are. Unfortunately, the crazy weather patterns continued, meaning that there would be north winds. Unless you go to a marina (which we neither want to do, nor can really afford), there is nowhere that offers much protection in those conditions. So after spending a couple of nights anchored outside the marina on the west side of the island, we took a short trip round the top of the island, to an anchorage on the east side. The plan was spend a day or two there, then start heading down the chain, tucking in wherever we could, all while keeping an eye on the weather.
Now there is a belief that you can get away with breaking one or even two rules, but break three and disaster will happen. So what three did we break, I hear you ask! Well first of all, don’t be lulled by the conditions where you are – the seas were flat calm in our anchorage, but as we were to discover, not on the other side of the island. Second, ALWAYS stow EVERYTHING – don’t get complacent and think, it’s so calm nothing will fall. And third, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, bring glass on board. We had made it round the top of the island, almost to the anchorage. The waves had been higher than we anticipated, but we could see that they were much better in the anchorage. Unfortunately, as we turned to head in, we were caught broadsides by a big wave. There was a loud crash as everything on the port side of the boat made a break for the starboard side. Most things were OK, but we had a couple of jars of curry sauce in a cupboard that wasn’t locked…. Oh the mess! I have no idea how the red curry sauce could get so far, in so many different directions! It was all over the floor, the doors, in the bathroom, but worst of all – the bed. Just to complete the meal, a bag of rice fell out of the cupboard, opened up and spilled all over the bed, mixing with shards of glass from the jar. We should have taken pictures, but just take our word for it – it was a disgusting mess. The only saving grace was that it was a Balti sauce, and not my favourite, korma!
Mess all cleared up, we decided to go to the Beach Club ashore and get a drink, followed by dinner at the Friday night Grill and Chill at the marina. We looked up exactly where the Beach Club was, only to discover that it closes at 4pm – and it was 3:45pm. Could this day get any worse? Well, we took the dinghy to the beach, along with our trash, and started the 2 mile walk to the marina. About halfway, as we turned on to the marina road, the heavens opened. Luckily, a great couple, Shakira and Herbie, stopped and gave us a ride, trash and all, down to the marina. They were going to be coming to the Grill and Chill later, and said they would give us a ride back to the beach. We got out at the marina, dropped off the trash, and went to found out about the Grill and Chill. What a day – because of the rain, they weren’t going to hold it that day. When we asked where the nearest bar was, we discovered it was in Bullocks Harbor, about another mile away. With the rain pouring down and not showing any sign of stopping, we decided to just make our soggy way back to the Beach Bar, down to the dinghy and back to Sol Purpose. As we approached the Beach Bar, we could see that there were lights on and people there. It turns out that part of the week, they only serve breakfast and lunch, but at the weekends they also serve dinner 🙂 Yay! We tucked into grilled pork chops (me) and blackened hog snapper (Moray), accompanied by the first Kaliks of the trip. It turned out to be a great day after all!
After the early morning ritual of listening to Chris Parker, reading our other weather forecasting websites and looking around, we decided that the best course of action was to reluctantly say goodbye to the Berry Islands and head straight down to West Bay, on New Providence. We had a great trip, making a tankful of water as the motor was running, and enjoying the sunshine. Moray threw out a line and about 2 miles outside the anchorage, he finally got a bite. It must have been a big fish, because not only did it get off the line, it took half the lure with it. Ah well. We came into the anchorage, dropped the anchor and backed down on it for a while. We remember only too well the incident with Debbie, Sue and Stout Wench last year, and dragging is not an option! The wind picked up shortly after sunset, which although it made for a rolly night, provided us with enough electricity to watch the rest of the first season of This is Us. (We are so far behind in our viewing!)
So, while it hasn’t been the season we envisioned so far, we had a wonderful Christmas, with new friends, a great New Year’s Eve, and are sitting in the Bahamas, with adult beverages, watching TV. Life is good.
Happy New Year, everyone!