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The Voyage of Spectacle Florida

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Route Planning — There’s a Method to It

Posted by: andy

People have asked about how we have planned our route. The answer is pretty simple: we mostly let Jimmy Cornell do it for us.

Cornell’s book “World Cruising Routes” is, more than any other, the one must-have book for the circumnavigating sailor. In addition to detailed instructions on how to get from just about every conceivable Point A to just about every conceivable Point B (it’s a big book), it has detailed weather information and suggested circumnavigation plans, which can be tweaked here and there.

The biggest factor involved is that there are certain parts of the world in which you just can’t safely sail during certain parts of the year. The prime reason for this is cyclonic storms (i.e. hurricanes). For example, Atlantic hurricane season officially begins July 1 and ends December 1 (except, of course, on the rare occasion Mother Nature disagrees — last year’s Hurricane Epsilon lasted until December 8 – only the sixth December Hurricane ever recorded). It’s not an accident that we are beginning our journey on December 9. Similarly, South Pacific cyclone season runs from December to March. We’re going to be sure to have the boat in New Zealand – and out of the cyclone belt – by November 15.

Given the prevailing winds (which make sailng westward easier) and the weather patterns, the course and the timing are largely decided for you. Of course, we have to keep our fingers crossed that our ever-warming earth won’t start deviating from the patterns that mariners have relied upon for centuries. Last summer wasn’t particularly encouraging.

If you are wondering to yourself, “Hey, isn’t it hurricane season where their boat is right now?” The answer is yes. We’re checking The Weather Channel every day, hoping to avoid a replay of Summer 2005 and, in our case, especially something like Wilma.

Fortunately, Spectacle is fairly far up the New River, so a hurricane storm surge is unlikely to cause major problems for us . . . but you can bet that we check every single day.

Spectacle Shakedown Cruise

Posted by: andy

Pardon the extravagant delay, but what a month.  We drove 2,600 miles together in six days, taking Leo the Cat to his new home in Houston on our way to the USC game in Arkansas, and, after dropping Melissa off at the Little Rock airport, I tacked on 1,200 more miles in two days, arriving just in time for Tadji Kretschmer’s lasagna before taking her husband and sons to watch the Florida State versus Miami game in Miami.  Whew.  And, oh yeah, along the way, I tore a hamstring while water-skiing.

Indeed, this all takes a lot of explaining, and over the next few weeks, I’ll try to get everyone caught up.  But let’s start with a quick story.

It was a sunny, windless, hot and swampy afternoon as Spectacle, several miles offshore, motored northeast from Key West on the way back to Ft. Lauderdale.  Although the engine had been slightly overheating, the Gulf Stream was carrying us home and even at low revs, we were making 7 knots over ground (that’s fast).  The lack of wind meant we couldn’t sail, but it was still a relaxing afternoon.

I went below for a beer.  Fishing an icy Red Stripe out of the cooler, I turned to the galley looking for an opener.  A little red light caught my attention.

“What’s the bilge pump doing on?” I wondered.  I opened the engine compartment to find water sreaming in through the stuffing box.  When I say streaming, I’m talking about roughly a garden hose level.

Needless to say, water pouring into the bottom of one’s boat certainly … ahem … gets one’s attention.  The beer went back into the cooler, and the tools were fetched post-haste.  The problem was solved with only moderate difficulty, but I must say that I did have at least five seconds of near panic.

So … Welcome to Spectacle’s initial “shakedown” cruise!  Yikes!

Tom Jones (our crewing buddy hereafter known only as “Tom”) and Ted Miller joined me for a trip down to Key West and back.  And the trip down to Key West was no less eventful than the return.

When combined with contrary winds and a particularly vicious encounter with the Gulf Stream, the overheating problem meant that, at one point, we were unable to keep the boat moving toward Key West.  In the course of trying to diagnose the problem, I ended up needing to don my snorkel and “dive the boat,” going underneath to try to see if something was caught in the raw-water intake.  While I couldn’t find anything in the intake (we eventually found a partial blockage when we got back to Ft. Lauderdale), I did manage to remove a giant wad of seaweed from the propeller, and this seemed to help just enough to allow us to make some headway.  For the 80 minutes that the boat was stopped, we were pushed nearly six miles back towards Ft. Lauderdale.  That, my friends, is a lot of current.  We expected the trip to Key West to take 36 hours.  It took closer to 60.  The trip home took just over 20.  That’s how much difference the current can make.

Except for about seven hours, the wind was either right on the nose or non-existent.  We did get to sail for those seven hours on the way down, and during that time the boat was blasting along at nearly seven knots, despite being close-hauled and running against the current.  It felt great, and we had absolutely no problems with the sailing rig.

Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas

Posted by: andy

I’m sitting, with girly rum drink in hand (yes, it has an umbrella), at the highly recommended Curly Tails restaurant and bar here at the Conch Inn Marina, which will be Spectacle’s home until we leave on the great adventure on (or about) December 12.  First stop … St. Thomas.

Carey Meredith (from my mother’s clinic) joined Tom and me for the trip over here from Ft. Lauderdale (remember, Melissa is at Bikram yoga teacher training back in L.A.).  We had only the loosest of schedules, intending ultimately to end up in Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama.  As you might surmise, we ended up elsewhere.

Because of the long-held superstition that a voyage begun on a Friday is sure to be an unfortunate one, we planned for a 12:01 a.m. Saturday departure from Ft. Lauderdale.  Indeed, we moved the boat down the New River from our dock just before dark and parked at the Lauderdale Marina fuel dock around 7:00 p.m. before having an extended dinner at the decidedly so-so 15th Street Fisheries restaurant as we awaited the stroke of midnight.

Felicitously, our friend John Lewis Borovicka III (father of my close friend JLB IV) happened to be arriving in South Florida that evening for a business conference.  Of course, his flight was delayed, but John’s a trooper, and at 12:20 a.m. he arrived at Lauderdale Marina.

After a somewhat speedy tour of the boat, it was time to re-christen Spectacle.  Earlier in the week, the new vinyl names were put on the boat (out with Declaire, in with Spectacle), and it seemed totally inappropriate to merely sail off without some sort of ceremony.

Declaire’s fine service to the Gibsons was duly acknowledged.  There were plenty of alcoholic offerings to Neptune, the breaking of a Champagne bottle over the bow and toasts aplenty.  Even Sherman the Merman got involved.

To be honest, we thought that John’s late arrival might keep us from making a daylight arrival at Port Lucaya, so we were a little bit antsy to get off the dock.  We ended up hurriedly departing at 12:56 a.m. so we could make the 1:00 opening of the 17th St. Causeway bridge.  Spectacle was leaving the United States for … well, quite some time.  It was sort of emotional.

The allegedly ferocious Gulf Stream was a kitten.  The swell never got above 2 feet.  Turns out that we should have stayed and chatted longer with John — we ended up arriving at the channel entrance in Port Lucaya at 2:10 p.m. Saturday – precisely low tide.  The controlling depth (i.e. low tide depth) for the channel is 6 feet.  Our boat draws exactly 6 feet (or maybe 6-1 or 6-2, depending how full it is).  Needless to say, this is way too close to call, so we had to wait for the tide to start coming up.  We puttered around in circles and, at about 3:50 EDT, we started down the channel (at a very cautious 1.5 knots), expecting it to be 7-8 feet.  It was more like 10-11.  Apparently, we could have come in earlier and watched the UCLA / Notre Dame game, or at least the second half.  Long story short, I ended up just seeing enough to be tantalized and, then, ultimately disappointed.  Have I mentioned that if Notre Dame were playing al Qaeda, I might actually be “with the terrorists?”   When was the last time I was actually disappointed in a Bruins loss?

To say that Bahamian customs practices are a joke is almost an understatement.  We came down the channel — called the marina, called customs, docked the boat.  I spent 30 minutes trying to find the marina office (which includes the customs office) and is nowhere near where we docked the boat.  Eventually I found it, but next door to the marina office was the sports bar.  I ducked my head in — 14-13 UCLA with 9 minutes left.  I’m thrilled.

I made my first stop at immigration/customs.  It’s clear I needed to walk back to the boat to get some things (boat papers, home addresses from crew).  Yadda, yadda, yadda, I ended up walking into the aforementioned sports bar (with my papers) just as Jeff Smzqvcxrtmwdzija is celebrating in the end zone.  To be honest, I was crushed.  I have never before rooted for UCLA with all my heart and soul.

Oh, yeah, I stopped for a shower and change of clothes (in between visits to customs) along the way.  I also could have offloaded 1/2 ton of coke if that’s what I had been carrying.  Tom and Carey’s passports made it to the Customs office, but Tom and Carey never did.  Did customs ever come down to visit the boat?  Of course not.  It’s definitely not the US/Mexico border.

We set out from Port Lucaya at around 12:00 noon on Sunday, thinking we’d be going to “visit” Great Abaco, motoring once again into a direct headwind (the prevailing easterlies that Ted, Tom and me should have had when we sailed down to Key West).  We turned the corner at the southern tip of Great Abaco around 6:00 a.m.  I expected to be able to finally put the sails up (after nearly 36 hours underway since Lauderdale) as we worked our way northward up the east coast of the island.  Nope.  As if on cue, the wind backed around to — you guessed it — the north.  The sails did not go up at all.

After once again being forced to kill a little time waiting for the tides, we made it into Marsh Harbour around 4:00 p.m.  The channel here is about 5 feet deep at low tide and 9 feet at high tide.  To remind you, the boat draws 6 feet, so this is, er, “less than ideal.”  Indeed, we had a very low speed (1 mph) and soft grounding on the way in.  Apparently, this channel is as advertised.  This was far less dramatic than it sounds and lasted all of 20 seconds.  But, technically, we went aground.

Later that afternoon, we got word that a cold front was moving in from the north.  As a practical matter, this meant very high winds (around 30 knots) out of the north.  We woke up Tuesday morning intending to sail, but there is absolutely no way we could go out in those conditions.  I have no problem sailing this boat in 12 foot waves (which is what they were) and 30 knots of wind out in the open ocean.  What I have a problem with is doing that in 7 feet of water with obstacles everywhere.  Something tells me the troughs of those waves are a lot less than 9 feet off the bottom, even at high tide.  Best not to find out.  And, oh yeah, we don’t have an autopilot right now. It’s just not working at all.  Fortunately, the engine (which had been giving us trouble) seems to be 100% ok for now.

So, rather than sail around Abaco and back to Port Lucaya, we’ve decided to park Spectacle here until we leave.  We’ve had to rearrange some flights, pay some money, etc., but there really was no good reason to head back there.  Marsh Harbour is actually on the way to St. Thomas (Melissa’s and my first destination).  And double-handing the boat the wrong direction overnight in nasty conditions doesn’t sound like much of a party, especially without an autopilot.  The only downside is that Marsh Harbour doesn’t quite have the hurricane protection that Lucaya does.  I guess we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed that this already light hurricane season has begun to calm down for good.

Prop Plane from Ft. Lauderdale to Bahamas

Posted by: melissa

Yellow Air Taxi Mel & Andy.jpg Yellow Air Taxi pilots.jpg After several long weeks of hard work and trying to anticipate every conceivable contingency, we started our adventure off with a bang … a 1 hour 10 minutes flight on an eight seater Cessna prop plane!  The good folks at Yellow Air Taxi took really good care of us to include accomodating our whopping 180 pounds of luggage!

Andy had taken Yellow Air Taxi from Great Abaco back to Ft. Lauderdale once already, but I didn’t really know what to expect.  The cockpit is several feet away allowing passengers (particularly those nervous about flying) to fixate on the various known and unknown gauges and blinking lights.  I found myself concentrating rather heavily on fuel, oil pressure, and radar … all conveniently clustered together!  After awhile however, I was able to relax and take in some truly beautiful scenery.  More Pictures

“Tale of the Twin Fiascoes”

Posted by: andy

Episode I – Fiasco Autopilot

“If you had told me two years ago that I’d have a tranny-adjacent, Bahamian auto-pilot repair man who shares my name climbing around on my bed (that’s where the access to the autopilot is), I’d have suggested you get your head examined.”

At long last, the long-promised first installment of “Tale of the Twin Fiascoes” has arrived.  Given its length, we’ve posted it on a separate page, which you can find here.

Episode II — Big Wind = Not Fun

At one point, Erik was wretching over the starboard cockpit combing, and I was puking away over the port cockpit combing.  Only Melissa emerged unscathed.

Again on its own separate page, you can find Episode II of “Tale of the Twin Fiascoes” here. 

Episode III — The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

So as we bashed upwind through the night, I thought about the apologetic phone call I was going to have to make to my mother in which I was not only going to have to explain that Erik wouldn’t be home for Christmas but that the reason for this was that the boat had no engine and was losing power.  I’m sure just having two of her sons out sailing on the open ocean already had my mother replaying  Ordinary People in her head.

For the latest in our continuing saga, check out Episode III here.

Episode IV — Christmas Really Is a Holiday in the Turks and Caicos

“Get the flares,” I told Erik.  We proceeded to shoot two flares at this plane.  We waved our arms in a distress motion.  We couldn’t possibly have been more obvious in trying to convey that we were indeed the boat for whom they were looking.

Why are we shooting flares at planes?  Read on to Episode IV, which you can find here.  

Episode V — A Retrieval With “Flare”

Of course, after firing off 5 cannon flares, 4 pistol flares, all sorts of smoke flares, self-firing parachute flares, an assortment of handheld flares, and plenty of duds — well, after all that you begin to feel like you know what you are doing.  You also get trigger happy.

For the exciting conclusion of “Tale of the Twin Fiascoes”, click here.


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