Bahamas Shakedown Cruise, April 19 - 25, 2005
The initial step in the Atlantic Circle was a short shakedown cruise from Fort Pierce to the Abacos, Bahamas in April, 2005.  The purpose of the trip was to shake out the sailing cobwebs on Sarah and myself after 5 months of non-stop projects since arriving in Florida last year. Joining me for this cruise was Steve Angst who sailed with us on the Bermuda Cruise in 2001.
Before we departed I had Sarah hauled at the Cracker Boys yard in Fort Pierce, just across Taylor Creek from Harbortown.  I went to Cracker Boys because they allow owners to work on their boats in the yard.  Although I had the yard do the bottom prep and painting I wanted to go over the boat while out of the water and also wax the topsides.  As it turned out my taxes were in a horrible condition and I spent the entire haul out period working with TurboTax in a hotel room.  I guess Sarah will have to go to Europe without waxed topsides.
The Maxprop was cleaned and zincs replaced.
By April 15 my taxes were done and paid and Sarah was back in the water at her berth in Harbortown  Then I began to get her organized for sailing rather than dockside living on board.  The staysail was delivered by Mack Sails on the 15th, but the deck bag would not be ready until Monday.  Steve Angst arrived on April 17 and we began provisioning Sarah for a 2 - week cruise.  We had hoped to leave on Monday, but elected to stay in Fort Pierce to complete provisioning and pick up the deck bag at Mack Sails in Stuart.  Steve spent Monday afternoon cleaning Sarah's decks and cockpit as I had neglected the cleaning for several months (so untypical of me - I wish).  Finally on the morning of Tuesday, April 19 we topped off the fuel tanks at Harbortown and departed for the Bahamas.  We had easterly winds for several days leading up to our departure and they continued on our departure day.  This would not make for pleasant sailing to the Northern Bahamas.  We decided to go outside at the Fort Pierce Inlet then sail South East as effectively as possible.  If that course would make a landfall at West End possible we would continue across the Florida Straits.  If we could not lay West End, then we would go directly South to the Lake Worth Inlet at West Palm Beach and see if the next day brought better conditions.  We never got to that decision as when we attempted to leave through the Fort Pierce Inlet the max ebb was flowing out against the Easterly wind.  This produced breaking waves at the mouth of the Inlet.  We tested the waves as best we could and decided this was not a good idea.  We did a 180 and heading back into Fort Pierce then turned left down the ICW.  We continued down the ICW to the North Palm Beach area and took a slip for the night at the Soverel Harbor Marina.
The next day we departed Soverel Harbor around 4:00 PM, and continued down the ICW to Lake Worth
We transited the Port of West Palm Beach and headed out the inlet into the Florida Straits.  We still had Easterly winds so we began motor sailing across the straits to West End and the Old Bahama Bay Resort.
By 5:00 AM the next morning we were off the entrance to the Old Bahama Bay Marina.  Since the marina office didn't open until 7:00 AM, we circled off the entrance until then, when it was also daylight.  We proceeded directly to our assigned slip, then crashed to get some sleep until the Bahamas Customs office opened at 9:30. 
We were able to quickly process through Customs and purchase a cruising permit.  We then took down the "Q" flag and raised the Bahamas penant on the flag halyard.
Old Bahama Bay is luxury resort and marina complex still under development, but it offers excellent facilities and services.  We decided to stay an extra night in the complex to restore our sleep schedule from the overnight crossing and enjoy the amenities.
After the second night at Old Bahama Bay, we cleared out of the marina and departed at high tide. 
We wanted to navigate the Indian Cay Channel onto the Little Bahama Bank, which has a minimum MLW depth of 5'.  That does not compare well to Sarah's draught of 5.25'.  However, at high tide we never saw a depth below 8' and cleared the channel without incident. 

We used GPS waypoints for the channel provided by the Dodge and Pavlidus cruising guides for the Abacos.  On the chart plotter we have just departed the channel are headed for Mangrove Cay.  With virtually no navigation marks for the channel we are reminded how simple navigation has become due to electronic instruments such as GPS and chart plotters.  It also reminds us how dependent we can become on these devices, which have high failure rates in the marine environment. 

That day we were headed for Great Sale Cay, which is the most popular anchorage on the Little Bahama Bank as it is within a day's sail from West End and many of the outer islands in the Abacos chain.  Since a fishing permit was included in my cruising permit, I got out the old fishing rigs we used on the Bermuda trip and tried my luck.  My luck was the same as on the Bermuda trip.  We did hook what looked like a small fish, but it shook the hook before I could get it close enough to identify, much less board.
After Clearing Mangrove Cay, we turned East and headed for the bottom of Great Sale Cay.  The wind had filled in to about 10 - 12 kts out of the SW so we could finally start sailing.
I also used the 25 nm sail from Mangrove to Great Sale Cay to hook up my Monitor Wind Vane and allow it to steer Sarah by the wind direction.
We arrived off Great Sale Cay about 16:00 that afternoon.  The weather forecast predicted a cold front passage that night with the winds shifting from SW to NW and increasing to 20 kts.  The Tom Johnson Harbor on the West side of Great Sale seemed to provide the best protection from the NW winds so we elected to anchor there.  We could see the masts of a number of sailboats over the island on the Eastern side.  We wondered what they knew we didn't about either the protection or the weather forecast.  Possibly they were looking over the island, seeing our masts and wondering the same thing.
We were joined that night by two other sailboats.  So at least we weren't the only ones to believe this was the best anchorage for the night, but we were definitely out-numbered by those who elected to anchor on the other side.

By this time a number of factors were conspiring to bring this short cruise to an even earlier conclusion.  Another cold front was forecast to come through the area at the end of the week when we planned to re-cross the Florida Straits.  This could bring very uncomfortable, if not dangerous, sea conditions to the straits.  If we did not complete our crossing before the front arrived we might not be able to cross again for several days.  Steve needed to get back to Fort Pierce NLT Saturday morning to be able to drive back to DC and return to work on Monday.  Beyond that, Steve had become a grand father for the first time while we were sailing to Great Sale Cay.  He really wanted time to stop and visit his daughter and grand child on the way back to DC.

While we pondered a number of conflicting scenarios we decided to stay put at Great Sale and see what the forecast looked like the next day.

The forecast remained unchanged so we reluctantly ended the cruise in Great Sale Cay and headed East to prepare to re-cross the straits.  I prefer an overnight crossing as it allows us to arrive at or near dawn if all goes as planned.  If the trip takes longer than planned we have over 12 hours of daylight remaining to complete the trip.  If we departed at the start of the day, we might complete the trip before dark, but if we were delayed there would be little choice but to enter an unfamiliar inlet in the dark.

Therefore we motored in calm conditions to Mangrove Cay and anchored off the NW corner to get protection for the SE winds forecast for that night.

The SE winds never materialized, but SW winds of 15 kts did arrive that evening shortly after sunset.  We looked for the Green Flash, but it was not evident to our eyes.

Even with no protection from the SW winds, we had a comfortable anchorage for the night.

The next morning we decided to tighten some engine belts that squealed initially when we motored from Great Sale Cay.  Once we had the engine cover off it was apparent that the problem was not a loose belt, but a leaking salt water pump on the engine.  This leak sprayed a fine mist of saltwater in the engine compartment, coating the belts with salt and causing them to slip.  We tried to patch the leak, but were unsuccessful with the material I had onboard.  Other than the water in the engine compartment the pump seemed to be working sufficiently to keep the engine within its operating temperature limits.  So, although I had a spare pump onboard, we elected not to attempt a replacement in the anchorage.  That pump was probably the original on the engine when it was installed by Pearson Yachts in 1978.  It was not likely to come off easily.  Better to limp home with a defective pump than to attempt a replacement and end up with no pump at all.

Therefore we decided to depart at 13:00 that afternoon and head back to Fort Pierce in the 15 kts SW winds.  We cleared the White Sand Ridge around 6:00 PM and headed out into the straits.  We had to set our course almost due West to compensate for the northerly push of the Gulf Stream.  This put Sarah nearly hard on the wind, not her best point of sail.  It made for a bumpy and wet ride, but we were making nearly 7 knots by the GPS.  The concern was that the winds would shift more westerly making it impossible to fetch the Fort Pierce Inlet.  The closest inlet North of Fort Pierce suitable for sailboats with no local knowledge is the Cape Canaveral Inlet.  This inlet is frequently closed for repairs to the lock on the Canaveral Canal (as we found out on the sail down from Charleston last fall).  So we kept Sarah hardened up as much as possible to allow for some wind shift.  This increased the apparent wind to over 20 kts.  We reefed the main, then put in a second reef and partially furled the Genoa before dark.

During the night it appeared we would be able to fetch Fort Pierce with no problem.  Then about 20 miles SE of the inlet we were hit with two lines of severe thunderstorms.  The forecasts had mentioned isolated showers and thunderstorms (typical of this time of year), but these were not isolated - unless you would say they were isolated on our little boat.  With winds near 40 kts, horizontal rain that felt like hale, and numerous lighting strikes in the area, we pretty much just held on for several hours.  During this time we experienced several 360 degree wind shifts, which resulted in more than one uncontrolled jibe.

Finally around 4:00 AM we were 15 nm due East of the Inlet and out of the Gulf Stream.  It was still raining fairly hard, but the lightning had disappeared and the winds were down under 10 kts.  We decided to risk the water pump and began to motor toward the inlet.  We entered the inlet just after dawn and proceeded to my berth at the Harbortown Marina.

We crashed for several hours then started to straighten Sarah up and assess any damage.  The cabin had been put through a mix-master, but just required putting things back in drawers and lockers.  On deck I found that the uncontrolled jibes had broken one of the boom bails for the mainsheet blocks.  Also the block for one of the traveler control lines had pulled out of the traveler car.  Although I was not happy to have more equipment to repair/replace, it is just as well that it happened 15 nm off the Florida coast, rather than mid-way between Bermuda and the Azores.

Although I had all of the problems corrected by the time Mike Repass arrived in Fort Pierce to crew on the transatlantic trip, we decided to return to the Bahamas for a further shakedown prior to departing for Bermuda.  It was well we did as one of my fixes did not hold up and we discovered several new problems.  For details on this part of the cruise go to the return to Bahamas page.