Fort Pierce to Marsh Harbor, May 23 - June 11, 2005

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Fig 1, Route From Fort Pierce to March Harbor, Abacos, The Bahamas

Because of the number of problems encountered on the one week shakedown cruise Steve Angst and I completed in April to the Bahamas, I was reluctant to just take off for Bermuda after the repairs were completed.  We also had to cut that cruise short and I wasn't confident we had shaken out all of the problems.  I discussed this situation with Mike Repass who is my primary crew for the transatlantic crossing and we agreed a further shakedown cruise would be appropriate.  Since I had a Bahamas Cruising Permit valid for one more entry, we decided to return to the Bahamas.  This time we would keep cruising until we were confident of the boat's condition and until weather conditions are appropriate for a departure.  The map above (Fig. 1) shows our initial cruise from Fort Pierce to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island. 
Before departure we stocked Sarah with fresh foods for the Bahamas cruise and canned/packaged foods for the transatlantic trip.  All of the lockers (Fig. 2) on Sarah were filled with food and condiments.  I installed 3 baskets on the main mast (Fig. 3) for soft packages and vegetables. Click on picture to view a full resolution image
Fig 2, Starboard Lockers
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Fig. 3, Mast Bins
We had a very embarrassing departure from Fort Pierce on the evening of Monday, May 23.  As I backed out of the slip I was distracted by conversations with persons on the dock.  Without looking at the shift lever I believed I had moved it into forward gear, while it was actually still in reverse.  I applied what I thought was moderate forward power to break our reverse movement and turn the bow down the channel.  The forward throttle didn't seem to have an affect to so I applied more power.  Then I discovered I was still in reverse and heading very fast for the bow of a large power boat behind me.  It was too late to shift gears and stop the reverse movement.  The outboard motor on Sarah's stern rail took the full force of the impact with the anchor roller of the power boat.  It bent the stern rail inward and pulled two of the stanchions off the deck through bolts.  A day later we would learn it had also broken the tiller arm on the outboard.  There did not appear to be any damage to the power boat so I asked the Harbortown dock master who had helped with our lines on departure to check with the owner and contact me if there was any damage.  The marina has my insurance information so I felt they could contact me or the insurance company over any possible claim.  We decided to continue our departure and assess the damage to Sarah once we got to the Bahamas.

It's really demoralizing to start on a 3,000 mile voyage only to screw up in the first 50 feet.

We motored down the Florida coast until we were off the St. Lucie Inlet then headed due East for the White Sands Ridge and our entry onto the Little Bahama Bank.  This gave us a slightly better angle on the wind, although we were never able to sail on the crossing.  We entered the White Sands Ridge shortly after dawn and motored to Great Sale Cay, where we anchored for the night and further assessed our damage.

The stern rail was badly bent and would not support the weight of the outboard, which we moved into the cockpit and lashed to the binnacle guard.  Because the port side of the stern rail was bent in, the lifelines aft of the boarding gate were slack and useless.  We rigged some spectra line to replace the slack lifelines.  The control lines for the Monitor Wind Vane ran to a double block on the forward port end of the stern rail.  Because the rail was bent down, this block no longer provided a fair lead for these lines.  An additional set of blocks would be required to correct that lead.  We hoped that we could get the stern rail repaired in the Bahamas and not have to re-rig the Monitor control lines and not have to keep the outboard in the cockpit.

Our only chance for repairs in the Abacos was in Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island.  So we decided to get to Marsh Harbor as quickly as possible.  First we had to clear through Bahamian customs.  For that we motored to Spanish Cay the next day.  After clearing customs we stayed the night at the marina on Spanish Cay, then motored to Manjack Cay the following day.  We anchored off Manjack to assess the weather for a transit of the Whale Passage the next day.

In addition to the departure fiasco, my previous repair of the traveler block failed on the crossing the Bahamas.  While in the marina at Spanish Cay we epoxied the connection (Fig. 4).  The repair was to the machine screw that hold the left-hand block on the traveler car.  We let it set for 48 hours before re-attaching the traveler control lines.  We hoped it will hold, but it failed once more on the way to the Azores a few weeks later.

The next morning, when we started the engine there was a loud squeal of slipping belts coming from the engine compartment.  We discovered that the bracket that tensioned the alternator to the drive belts had broken in two (see Figs. 5 & 6).  This bracket is necessary to maintain tension on the two belts that drive the alternator and the freshwater coolant pump.  Without it we could not charge the batteries from the alternator, but more important we could not keep the engine from overheating.  To get to Marsh Harbor we needed a different way to tension these belts.

Mike applied what he calls Mountain Engineering (aka jury rigging) and pounded a wedge of wood and plastic between the alternator case and in the engine block (Fig. 7).  This did the trick and held for our 20 nm trip from Manjack Cay to Marsh Harbor.


Fig. 4, Traveler Car and Blocks
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Fig. 5, Broken Alternator Bracket
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Fig. 6, Broken Alternator Bracket Closeup
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Fig. 7, Mountain Engineered Alternator Bracket
Because a very shallow shoal extends from Treasure Cay to Whale Cay across the Sea of Abaco, all but the most shallow draft vessels must use the Whale Cay passage to get to Marsh Harbor.  This passage takes you on the ocean side of Whale Cay and back into the Sea of Abaco at Great Guana Cay.  When a strong easterly wind is blowing or a major storm is kicking up seas in the Western Atlantic Ocean the Whale Passage can become impassable.  This condition is known as a Rage Sea in the Bahamas, although it takes much less than a rage to make the Whale Passage uncomfortable.  Although the wind was out of SE the next day, we transited the passage in only a slight ocean swell.  By 4:00 PM we were tied to the dock at the Harbor View Marina in Marsh Harbor.

This being Friday, we quickly discovered that there would be no work performed on our issues until Monday so we relaxed and enjoyed a weekend in Marsh Harbor.

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Fig. 8, Sarah at Harbor View Marina, Marsh Harbor
On Monday I took the outboard to the Mercury dealer and Mike took the alternator bracket to the only machine shop in town.   We hoped the machine shop would also repair our stern rail, but they were still backed up with repairs from Hurricanes Frances and Jean last year and refused to take on any more work.  They did agree to repair the bracket.  By Tuesday afternoon we had a repaired outboard and a new stainless steel alternator bracket (Figs. 9 & 10) and were ready to depart Marsh Harbor.

That afternoon Mike's friend, Kathy, arrived to join us for a few days cruising the Sea of Abaco.

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Fig. 9, New Alternator Bracket
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Fig. 10, Alternator Bracket Re-Installed
Man-O-Way Cay and Hopetown
Wednesday morning we wanted to depart the Harbor View marina, but were unable to do so because of the low tide.  By 1:00 PM the tide had finally come up enough to allow us to depart the slip and motor out of Marsh Harbor.  As usual the wind was light and on our nose, so we motored across the Sea of Abaco through the very narrow entrance to Man-O-War and picked up a mooring in the East Harbor.

We spent two nights on Man-O-Way Cay touring the small town and snorkeling in the reefs off the island.

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Fig. 11, East Harbor, Man-O-War Cay
After two days we headed out of Man-O-War Cay and motored (yes head winds again) to Elbow Cay and entered Hopetown Harbor, where we once again picked up a mooring. Click on picture to view a full resolution image
Fig. 12, Sarah on Mooring in Hopetown Harbor
We spent two days in Hopetown exploring the town and the historic and photographic lighthouse.  We left Hopetown and were finally able to sail the short distance (10 nm) back to Marsh Harbor, where Kathy left the boat and returned to the US. 

We anchored Sarah in the harbor and resumed preparations for the departure for Bermuda.  Strong easterly winds would keep us in Marsh Harbor for several more days.

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Fig. 13, Hopetown Lighthouse

Below is a panoramic picture of Hopetown Harbor consisting a series of pictures taken from the observation deck at the top of the light house.  You can see the narrow (and shallow) entrance to the harbor on the far left of the picture.  During most of our approach to the harbor the depth sounder recorded 7' or more, but we were coming in shortly before high tide.  I rented a cottage on Elbow Cay back in the early 80s for my parents and I.  I remember going into this harbor on a small dinghy and it looked shallow then.  Since that time the town has put in a number of markers to keep you in the channel.  It also happens that a road that ends at the water front acts as range to help keep you in the channel.  Even with these aids I would avoid entering this harbor anytime near low tide.

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Fig. 14, Panorama of Hopetown Harbor

Mike and I on the lighthouse observation deck.
Fig. 15, John & Mike
Mike and Kathy at the base of the lighthouse
Fig. 16, Kathy & Mike
Fellow cruisers Bruno and Maggie.  We first met them at the marina in Spanish Cay, then at Harbor View in Marsh Harbor, at a restaurant on our first night in Hopetown and then the next day when we toured the lighthouse.  They were halfway through their Bahamas cruise planning to continue around the bottom of the Abacos to the Berry Islands and then re-cross the straits to Miami.  After that they would cruise through the Florida Keys to the west coast of Florida returning to their home port in the Naples area.
Fig. 17, Maggie & Bruno
Looking up the circular stairway to the observation deck of the lighthouse.  Although this lighthouse is no longer a principal aid to navigation in the Abacos (everyone uses GPS waypoints to navigate), it has been preserved as a historic site and a picturesque tourist attraction by the citizens of Hopetown.  The preservation includes maintaining the oil fired lamp and the mechanical rotation of the Fresnel lens.  No electrical lights or motors on this lighthouse.
Fig. 18, Interior of Hopetown Lighthouse
Me, doing something extremely useful on the navigation computer (Fig. 19) and improving my mind while on a mooring in Man-O-War Cay.
Fig. 19, John at Navigation Computer
Photo by Mike Repass

Fig. 20, Reading on Mooring in Man-O-War Cay
Photo by Mike Repass
Finally on Sunday, June 11 the east winds had abated enough for us to leave and we had completed our preparation for the voyage to Bermuda.