Onward’s Cruise Journal 2019
Florida West Coast to Bahamas

Updated: 3 March 2019

February 2019

1 February 2019 - 18 February 2019; Marco Island Marina

19 February 2019; Tuesday; Marco I Marina
  • Steve Whitney showed up shortly after Peggy delivered me to MMI. We discussed the prop replacement and he went at it. A professional diver with a good bit of offshore commercial diving, he soon found that the prop had been on too long to allow a simple "knock on it and remove it" approach. He used a prop-puller and a fair amount of bad language (enabled by his full-face diving mask). I was more worried about him that the prop. He eventually got it off and the new one in place. He had to remove the Spurs cutter to use the prop puller and the sea gods ate up one of the screws. The amazing thing was I had the exact replacement in stores (4-mm x 1 cm; hex cap screw). The job was done. All was good!

20 February 19; Wednesday; Marco Island
  • Peggy brought me and yet another load of "stuff" to MIM and then went back to finish shutting down the Chalet. I made the final push to stow all the gear on the forward berth so that our guests, would have a place to sleep. Peggy returned with another load of stuff and soon had the forward berth actually looking like guest accommodations.
  • After retuning her car and putting it in storage mode, Peggy returned to MMI with Rose and Harry. While she was gone the strong SE wind had calmed down but greeted her arrival with a return of gusts.
  • With the strong winds from the SE, it would be very hard to back Onward to starboard to exit the fairway bow-first. So once we were all aboard, I asked Richard, the Dockmaster, to manage a line to the bow in case I had difficulty having it drift downwind. It all proved unnecessary as I was easily able to back out of the slip and down the fairway to the open end where I made a backing turn to starboard then headed out. So Onward's 3-month sojourn at MIM.
  • We exited the marina channel into the river and made it over the shallow hump where we saw > 8' — no problem as we had ~ 1.5' of tide with us this time. Once into the river, I got on course and turned the helm over to the autopilot. As I looked at my sparkly new Axiom Pro 12 display, I was astonished to see Onward's Icon moving with about a 30º angle to port of our course. Then I looked at the heading and it was way off what it should have been. I immediately got Peggy to manually take the helm with her greater local knowledge while I attempted to figure out what was wrong.
  • When I installed the new electronics, I had checked the heading alignment several times in the slip — and all was well. What had changed??? To make a quick fix, I went into the autopilot calibration cycle and adjusted the heading correction until the ~20º error was zeroed out. This allowed us to make the tricky passage across the shoal part of the inlet with the boat icon pointing in the direction of travel.
  • We slowly motored around to the same anchorage of the Chalet where we had spent our first night at Marco in November. Harry & rose had brought along some fried chicken to eat following cocktail hour. It felt really good to be back in cruising mode!

21 February 19; Thursday; Marco Island to Key West
  • We experienced a fairly quiet night with a bit of roll due to the SE swell. At 0500 I got underway for Key West. The only challenge was the stone crab trap floats.were a challenge to see in the dark pre-dawn.
  • During the night, I had a dream about the autopilot heading error. What had changed between when I did the heading checks after installation of the new electronics — and when we left the slip??? Then I remembered on of my last tasks had been to stow the spare parts for all the Raymarine equipment in a nook under the port forward corner of the mattress. I remember that there might be some ferrites in the bag — used to reduce electromagnetic noise on signal lines. Soon after sunrise, I checked and sure enough food a bag of ~6 ferrets. This is more than enough to induce the magnetic heading error observed. I removed the bag and put it in the salon until a new storage space was selected. This cured the problem and I recalibrated the autopilot heading to a "normal" magnetic deviation offset.
  • The SE wind held through the day and we motor sailed under genoa at >7 kts though < 3' swells. Rose and Harry hadn't gotten their sea legs and managed by a good bit of sleeping.
  • We anchored at Key West just after sunset in the anchorage SW of Margaritaville. The wind continued to drop in speed and it was a fairly calm night with less motion than at Marco.
  • Ah! Cocktails and dinner at ancho! It was good.

22 February 19; Friday; Key West
  • Another beautiful day with the winds holding from the SE at ~10 kts. About 0730, Rose was enjoying a quite morning in the cockpit when she called me to come out. She had heard of voice of a man asking for help and then saw a man driving by in his dinghy whose engine would not start. I called that I would come get him. In the time it took me to launch Venture, he had drifted > 0.25 nm down current. Once I caught up with him, I used the lifting bridle on the stern as a towing bridle and tied off his painter to it. I towed him back to his boat which was just upstream from Onward. Once safely aboard, he asked me to let him give me some fuel money — I declined and said I just believed in the concept of "paying it forward". It turns out he was the captain of the Party Cat dinner cruise boat and invited us to join him on a future evening.
  • At 1000 we began to Venture into town and were halfway there when Harry realized he'd forgotten something important on the boat — se we went back and fetched it. I went into the inner dinghy dock and we soon caught an Uber down town to the Tervis store where Peggy exchanged more glasses. We had a nice walk around and work out where the fast catamaran to Marco Island berthed. We had a great lunch on the upper deck of a waterfront bar nearby.
  • After lunch, I headed back to Venture to go and fetch the luggage. I quickly got an Uber back and found the dinghy dock door open as a family was reprovisioning — I had forgotten that a code was needed for reentry. I then discovered that Peggy had the outboard interlock key. Luckily I have a way to MacGyver around this. As I was heading back to Onward, I ran my hand over the Raycor gas filter / water separator can because I noticed the the fuel bowl kept being partially filled. I discovered it was rusted through and became concerned about being able to make it back to Onward. Once back aboard, I realized that Peggy had the key to the companionway!
  • I managed to get inside and change the fuel filter which literally fell apart. That done, I loaded the luggage and headed in. It turns out there was a dinghy dock in the main harbor we could have used. After reconnecting Rose and Harry with their gear, we bid them adieu. On the way back, we filled up Venture's gas tank. Once back aboard we got ready for an early morning departure.

23 February 19; Saturday; Key West to Rodriguez Key
  • Another quiet night! Good. The wind had closed toward the SE as forecast. We were underway by 0615. Once in the Hawk Channel, we headed for Marathon and then Rodriquez Cay. We were able to motorsail under the genoa at > 7 kts. Once we reached Marathon we decided to press on to Rodriguez with and ETA just after sunset. This would give us a shorter day to make the crossing to Bimini and arrive well before sunset.
  • We were close on the wind with ~ `12 to 17 kts apparent so it was a good and fast if not exactly comfortable passage.
  • We arrived at the anchorage after sunset and dark and slowly felt our way into the anchorage by radar. I decided to cute (lazy and stupid) and not bother to turn into the wind to deploy the anchor. It set as expected, no problem so it seemed. When I went to set the snubber, I found the Bruce had snagged the rode when Onward turned into the wind. In the process of freeing the snag, the chain hook on the Bruce popped off and it deployed. I managed to switch rodes on the windlasses, retrieve the Bruce, and reset the Manson. Thus one pays a price for being cute.
  • We had a quick dinner of quinoa chili and then crashed. Something woke me up. The anchor alarm app indicated we had moved too much. I managed to wake myself up and reactivate the electronics which I had erroneously shut down. I determined the anchor was well set and reinitiated the anchor alarms and then again fell asleep immediately.

24 February 19; Sunday; Rodriguez Key to Bimini
  • Finding a safe passage from the Hawk Channel to the Florida Straits that could be followed in early morning low light conditions was a challenge. There is a passage SE of Rodriguez that had a number of spots < 10' and I considered that unacceptable without local knowledge. Peggy and I found another deep water pass about 16 nm N of Rodriguez Cay to the E of Swan C. So I laid out a route and Peggy inspected it.
  • We weighed anchor at ~0530 in the dark and slowly felt our way out of the anchorage to the Hawk Channel under radar. There was never enough light to determine what kind of vessel the large radar target was that we were anchored ~ 0.5 nm from. The wind had clocked to the SE overnight as forecast so we set the genoa as soon as there was enough light and motorsailed N. The chosen route to the Straits was wide and deep and easy to follow. By ~0900 we were in the Straits and beginning to feel the GS current.
  • Winds were ~ 10 - 12 from the SSE and we were able to motorsail at >7 kts. The seas were ~ 2' and it was a pleasant day. Peggy had the con and knitted her way across as I continued my cleanup and organization tasks.
  • During the passage, I used the new Navionics Sonar Charts to update the waypoints for the channel into N Bimini I had set on my first and only visit to Bimini on 24 Dec 2007! The channel had moved a bit and the deeper channel was a bit more to the S.
  • As we approached Bimini, I switched our phones over to the BTC cell network. I was happy that our efforts to keep our accounts "alive" had worked. However BTC changed the dial codes for setting up service plans and it took a bit of effort to work out the new system and get all of our devices functional.
  • Ed Burke had forwarded us info on the Bimini Sands Resort Marina on South Bimini so I called them. The detailed Navionics Sonar Charts show there is a 5' bump in their entrance channel. I called to check and they confirmed that with less than a half-tide the bump was a problem. As tide was falling, I decided that this was a no-go.
  • As we were about to enter the channel into N Bimini, a large motor yacht contacted me on VHF. They had lost use of their thrusters, had a single engine, drew 8' and wanted me to go first so I could verify the channel for them. So we headed in and I relayed depths as I progressed.
  • I was a bit surprised to see that my Sonar Chart waypoint for getting past he outer sand bar was actually on the S, wrong side, of the red buoy. I decided to go just S of the buoy and found the depths to be as reported. Just before entering the harbor there is a ~ 2' diameter gray painted pipe piling with no marks on it on the red side of the channel. We later found out this has a red navigation light on top for night use.
  • I had not been able to call to make a marina reservation so we were just slowly cruising by to look at the options. The vessel that followed me in was looking for a T-head to make it possible to stop with their restricted maneuverability. They found a spot at the first marina, Browns, so I took the opportunity to also ask for a slip. The outgoing tide was running at ~2+ kts so their slips were well sited to make an easy entry headed up current.
  • Docking was uneventful and as soon as we were settled we headed off to Customs & Immigration with the crew of the boat that had followed us in. It turns out it was a Canadian vessel berthed in Ft. Lauderdale and it needed to get out of the US for > 24hrs for legal reasons. So the crew had popped across the GS to Bimini so they could document their absence. It seems a gage on their hydraulic system had been leaking and reduced the effectiveness of the hydraulics. The had been able to maintain steering. This is the second encounter with an 85' Nordhaven type trawler yacht with single engine that had its maneuverability compromised by loss of hydraulics. Seems to me these designs are badly in need of backup / failsafe systems.
  • Once though with Customs & Immigration we walked back to Browns and stopped at Big Johns next-door to have celebratory drinks and dinner. Ah Finally in the Bahamas! Let the Bahamas games begin!

25 February 19; Monday; Bimini
  • We allowed ourselves a bit of a lazy morning. At 1130 we arranged for a golfcart to explore the island and headed to the S tip of the island. Here little seems changed from my first visit. The grove of trees and the beach pointed S parallel to the entrance channel looked exactly as I remember them. Also, still there is the randomly strewn trash that so astonished me. The contrast of immense physical natural beauty punctuated my waste deposited by humans is just as stark and troubling now as it first was in 2007.
  • We found some nice samples of sea glass before starting our tour to the N end of the island. I was also surprised that so little had changed in the settlements of Alice Town and since my last visit. Along the way I took photos of things for updating the BCG Bimini pages.
  • At the north end, we entered a different world: Bimini Resorts World to be exact. In 2007, this development which covers the whole N end of N Bimini was just getting underway. It is amazing to me that it has continued to fruition unlike so many development dreams in the Bahamas. They dredge a ~12' deep channel from the harbor at Alice Town to the N end. There are two large sections of the marina and a large basin in which I saw several boats anchored. The channel and basin accommodates RORO supply ships for the development.
  • The S section of the development includes the Hilton resort hotel, a Casio, many vacation villas as part of the hotel, and the two marinas. Further N many large villas are being constructed on the ocean waterfront as well as along dredged canals on the E side. A beautiful beach facility with restaurant and bar has been built on the natural beach a bit further N. Luna Beach. Shuttle busses bring guests from the resort to the beach. The development continues N with a string of large villas along the ocean beach that has reached almost to the N end of the island. Wow! Quite a place.
  • We returned to Luna Beach and paused for a very nice lunch at the beach pavilion. The manager told me it had been in operation a little over a year. The facility is very nicely done.
  • We stopped at the marinas on the way back. They were mostly empty. Dockage is $3 - $5 / foot. A new company has just taken over management of the marinas. The manager told me that most of the slips in the S section which are smaller than in the N section are privately owned but available to rent. On good weather weekends, it is not unusual to have 100 - 200 boats come over from Miami.
  • Back in Alice Town, Peggy wanted to see the Dolphin House so we wandered S along the oceanside road until we found it. It is truly an amazing place: a work of dedication, artistry, creativity, love, and beauty. The attention to detail and fit and finish is outstanding. The 30-year work of one man! Built all by his hand; two stories now finished and the third underway. Wonderful!
  • We had dinner at an oceanfront restaurant frequented by locals. The food was fried but fresh. We ate dinner watching the sun setting towards Miami.

26 February 19; Tuesday; Bimini
  • We headed out at 0900 by golf cart to further explore places we had passed yesterday until 1200 when we had to turn in the cart. On the way back to Browns, we stopped for lunch at a little place and picked up a couple of sandwiches for lunch. As our sandwiches were being prepared on fresh bread that had just come in on Captain C from Nassau, I got to watch Chef Pierre as he stowed the bread shipment in the freezer. A charming man. Thence back to Browns and the work of preparing for passage to the Exumas.
  • I spent the afternoon working on boat stuff that I hadn't gotten done before departing Marco I. I had decided not to use shore power because of the winds from the E at >15 kts would allow the AirX wind generator to top off the batteries. However in the afternoon when I checked, the AirX was not putting out any power! So I ended up opening up the control electronics box to see if any wires had gone astray while I was running the new SeaTalk-ng network backbone cable in the area. I also verified the wiring of the stop switch (that I had forgotten to put labels on last year). All looked normal and I could find no good reason for the lack of power output. BAAAAH.
  • The batteries were a bit low so I decided to start the generator for a short charge. When it started, it was obvious from the exhaust noise that there was inadequate cooling water flow. I had checked this before leaving MIM and the water flow was strong. I had even remembered to close the through-hull valve while under sail. BAAAAH! Nothing to do but run the main engine for a bit to make sure there would be no problem in the morning.
  • At this point, I decided I had fought the good fight so I gave up and crashed in an exhausted sleep dreaming of recalcitrant generators.

27 February 19; Wednesday; Bimini to Chub Cay
  • I was up at 0500 to prepare to get underway with first light. We had heard from Dana and Tom Talkington on Heeling Time that they were going to remain at the Chub Cay anchorage for another day so we would be able to see them before they had to head back to Ft. Pierce. By 0630 the light was good enough to navigate the exit channel so we headed out. Winds were ESE at ~10. The unsettled remains of a cold/warm/occluded front threatened us with some squalls but they soon fell apart. We sailed N up the cost past the cruise ship terminal for Bimini World and saw that it was being extended to about twice its current length.
  • We were able to make good speed of > 7 kts as we motorsailed toward Chub Cay. The SE kept threatening to deliver squalls, but all we got was a bit of spitting rain. As we approached NW Light waypoint it looked like the wind would begin to die. We sailed into a rainbow over our destination.
  • I sent Dana a text that we were only 4 nm away — and that sealed our fate. Almost immediately the dying wind came back to 15-20 kts and the calming seas turned into growing deck-washers. No more texts underway to affront the sea gods!!!!
  • As we approached the anchorage at Chub Cay, I was thinking that if it was almost anyone but Dana and Tom waiting for us, I'd just say the hell with it and sail on to or past New Providence instead of dealing with anchoring in adverse conditions in a new-to-me anchorage under these conditions.
  • I call Tom on the VHF and he assured me the anchorage was fine and calm compared to where I was. He talked me int so that I had confidence in the Navionics chart. When we approached Heeling Time Tom directed me around his stern and up the port side into the calmer are to see if we could anchor. Unfortunately it started to shoal and I had to cross his bow to find deeper water on his starboard side. We anchored and the Manson set immediately. I shut things down and cleaned up a bit. Tom came over and picked Peggy and I up for dinner aboard Heeling Time. We had a great pork roast dinner and even better reunion with good friends. Coming into a strange anchorage at night under adverse conditions and then ending up with good friends who serve you dinner — Priceless!!!

28 February 19; Thursday; Chub Cay to Highborne Cay
  • I have not connected my Apple Watch with the iPhone 6s I am using for my Bahamas phone. Hence instead of getting up at 0600 as planned, I fell soundly asleep and lurched awake at 0645. A quick look at the weather showed we needed to get underway immediately to be able to make passage directly to the Exumas without having to stop at West Bay, New Providence.
  • Onward was underway at 0715 leaving Heeling Time peacefully at anchor. We bade adieu to Dana and Tom on VHF. They planned to get underway toward Great Issac light and make a decision on crossing there.
  • Once out of the anchorage at Chub, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we had an apparent wind good enough to use for our passage. Seas were still lumpy from the overnight wind as it dropped. We deployed the main and picked up > 1.5 kts. Then we decided the AWA would allow the genoa to work also. Soon we were making 7 to 8 kts SOG toward New Providence.
  • The wind which was supposed to drop kept up its speed and SSE direction and we motorsailed nicely the entire way. Once E of West Bay we changed course for Highborne Cay where Miles had texted Ariel wold be spending a couple of nights.
  • Peggy had the con all day allowing me to work below to chew through the vast amount of organizing the remains to be done.
  • We anchored off to the radio tower at 1815 hrs with the winds <10 kts out of the SW. Once settled it was cocktail time and Peggy did her usual job of manipulating the dice by mental telepathy to beat me in two games. It never ends…
  • After a delicious chicken marsala meal and a glass of wine we both fell asleep.