Wednesday, January 29, 2020


I am in Stuart, Florida tonight where I have rented a slip for up to a month to regroup before attempting a crossing to the Bahamas. The Lovely Laura Lee rented a car today in Fort Pierce and headed home for her work, and to care for our two precious dogs. I will work on a few projects on the boat and probably return home by Friday. For stays of more than about eight days, it is cheaper to get a slip for the monthly rate to give us time to figure out next steps.

Fortunately, I recalled this week that I had never purchased add-on coverage for boat insurance to cover the Bahamas. I logged on this afternoon and added the coverage at a minimal cost, so we are ready to go.

Internet access has been a problem for us this last week. We have a hotspot with an external antenna on the boat, and while it is part of our "unlimited" data plan with Verizon, it reached the limit where our speed was "throttled" so that nothing worked well. We have a smart TV, laptops, phones, and iPads all using data, so we are learning that we need to make other arrangements. I have found what I think is the only U.S. company offering totally unlimited, un-throttled data and we will get a SIM card from them shortly for our boat hotspot. The company is called and the service is available using the AT&T network for $110 a month. We are addicted, so it is worth it. They have a sister company called My Island WiFi that we plan to use in the Bahamas while we are there.

The weather for crossings of the Gulf Stream to Bimini has been terrible, although probably typical for January. The forecaster I follow had the following to say today:

TODAY: Frontal TROF along with remnant IMPULSE energy enters Grand Bahama/Abaco this morning, then arrives in Nassau-Eleuthera around midday with W<N wind as the TROF passes. Squalls are found along and ahead of the TROF. Areas in SE Bahamas have very little wind today, mostly from S<W. N<NE-E wind settles tonight along FL and NW-C Bahamas as Frontal TROF mostly stalls in C Bahamas and weakens.

WED29: Another IMPULSE of energy develops in N GOMEX Wed29, surging SE-S wind along FL. The NW & C Bahamas see building of E<S wind Wed29 afternoon-evening, while the rest of the Bahamas remain very mild. The IMPULSE or LO likely exits NFL Wed29 night (between sunset and midnight) with variable wind and squalls...squalls also develop ahead of the IMPULSE Wed29 in areas of warm, moist S flow. 

THU30: The IMPULSE rapidly moves E along 30N Thu30, trailing a ColdFRONT thru SFL and the NW Bahamas Thu30 morning. This initial FRONT veers mostly S wind to W-NW before slowing across the S-C Bahamas Thu30 night. Meanwhile, a second FRONT is along NFL Thu30 morning with brisk NE wind. This second FRONT has uncertain implications, but there is the potential for the FRONT to provide stiff NE<E wind for some of the FL Coast. The location of this FRONT and the strength of the wind in the region is dependent on the next developing system...a brief moderation of all wind is possible (around late Thu30) before flow increases into the next system. 

FRI31-SAT1: A messy and disorganized area of low pressure develops in the N GOMEX Fri31, dominating the wind pattern. The main piece of energy likely lifts NE thru the FL Panhandle before either riding along the SE US or ejecting offshore. In either case, it appears likely that the Bahamas/FL see a strong ColdFRONT and perhaps an area of tightening low pressure along the frontal boundary. Forecast details cannot be determined with confidence this far in advance, but it appears likely that the most inclement conditions along FL are late Fri31 into early Sat1 before the FRONT pushes into the NW and N-C Bahamas by the end of the day Sat1. Very brisk winds may accompany the initial FRONT or behind a secondary FRONT late Sat1.

This whole messy winter weather pattern gives us a good reason to regroup before attempting further travel.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Fort Pierce

We spent last night in Cocoa, Florida, to be distinguished from Cocoa Beach, which is across the bridge on the barrier island. Yesterday we travelled 58 nautical miles in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in eight hours. We averaged only 7.25 knots because the current was against us a part of the day, and because we traversed several long areas where we slowed because depths were only seven to eight feet, close to dragging the bottom in our six-foot-draft boat. 

We were in sight much of yesterday afternoon of Elon Musk's SPACEX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, poised for the launch of  Starlink's third mission to fill the heavens with little satellite hotspots designed to bring the internet to the whole world from space. The launch was scheduled for 9:49 am this morning, but was postponed until tomorrow morning. We were at the perfect vantage point, but we shall miss the view now.

We are underway and due into Fort Pierce in about an hour and a half. I have been hoping to get the boat within striking distance of Fort Lauderdale and await a weather window to cross over to the Bahamas. Alas, as of now, the weather is not cooperating. For a day to cross to the Bahamas, I need two things. First, there must be no northerly component to the winds. Winds from the north run into the Gulfstream current and make the waves stand up in a very uncomfortable way. Second, I need fairly calm seas and winds under 15 knots. Neither of these conditions seem on the forecast for a full day or night in the next week. We've had a series of frontal passages the just won't quit. I have heard stories of fishing boats moved to the Bahamas that have not been able to go out since mid December.

In addition to correct winds and seas, I need somebody to accompany me. So the plan today was to leave the boat in Fort Pierce for a few weeks and head home. Calling around today I had no luck finding dockage for the next few weeks, and barely found a slip just for tonight. LL will head home tomorrow and I'll keep checking for dockage further south, perhaps in Stuart.

We found good chile at a local joint last night, but there were no other real choices on a Sunday night in Cocoa. Tonight we will be dining in.

Whatever the weather or final outcome tomorrow for docking, this has been a great week on the boat. While I prefer going outside in the ocean, I have enjoyed having the Lovely Laura Lee along and just spending time on the water. We'll report back next steps in the next day or two.

Update: We arrived safely in Fort Pierce. The Lovely Laura Lee has a car reserved tomorrow to return home. I found dockage in Stuart, Florida, just a few hours to the south. I will spend a few days with boat projects and then come home to regroup and plan to head out to the Bahamas.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Daytona Beach

I am not one to plan my travels based on favorable currents, although I do try to avoid shallow areas at low tide. With currents, I figure I will go slower or faster because of currents in about a 50-50 ratio, and life will work out as it does. But today we got lucky and had helpful currents the entire way. We covered 50 nautical miles in six hours, averaging about 8.3 knots speed over ground, even though our best speed through the water was 8 knots, and we slowed many times for traffic, bridges, no-wake zones, and shallow areas. We celebrated by stopping at 3 pm in Daytona Beach and took a walk through the old downtown area. It was a spectacularly beautiful day.

We finally got away from the Lamb's Yacht Center boatyard yesterday morning. We had planned on departing Thursday, but our stern thruster batteries failed while moving the boat Wednesday afternoon (the batteries not only were both dead, but one of them blew a hole in its side, smoking and dripping battery acid inside its box). The service guys at Lamb's were great: they located batteries locally Thursday morning and had them installed that afternoon. Not an easy job removing and replacing 150-pound batteries in the cramped lazarette area under the aft deck. Departing at around 8 am yesterday, we made it to St. Augustine and on to Daytona Beach today.

We've been watching the ocean, Seas are finally coming down to four feet in our area tomorrow, but we couldn't leave from Ponce De Leon inlet tomorrow without committing to an overnight passage around Cape Canaveral, and neither of us are interested in doing that without a third hand on board. Our next option will be Monday to exit into the ocean at Cape Canaveral and go direct to Fort Pierce. Seas in that area Monday are expected to be very calm, so we will consider tomorrow turning off the ICW to head over to Port Canaveral and making an outside run Monday. We'll see how the schedule goes tomorrow, and we note there is a rocket launch scheduled for Monday morning at 9:49 am from Cape Canaveral. We will enjoy seeing it, but we need to find out if any areas of the inlet or the ocean will be blocked to marine traffic. Wherever we end up Monday night, the lovely Laura Lee needs to head back home Tuesday, probably by rental car. If there is a chance I can get a weather window to cross to the Bahamas soon, and a crew member to help. I'll stay with the boat and plan a crossing. If the weather looks bad for a crossing soon, I will probably return home with LL and await the next opportunity.

While all of this is up in the air, we really don't care where we get when, and we are having a delightful cruise. We are snug tonight at Halifax Harbor Marina with LL cooking up a delightful dinner. On the back deck, I can hear the sounds of the Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway just three miles away. It started this afternoon and will last, well, 24 hours. 

We'll post updates as we go.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Ready to leave (and some weather)

We had our stern thruster batteries replaced today, so we should finally get away tomorrow morning. However, the weather continues to present one cold front after another, forcing us to stay inside the Intracoastal Waterway. The current weather map shows one front now down near Cuba with the one that passed through this week now in south Florida and two more on the way.

But at least we are not in Spain or Mallorca where they have had waves taller than buildings (Click for the YouTube video).

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Travel Update

I stopped in Jacksonville, Florida 10 days ago to leave the boat for repair of a clogged toilet (a constant in the glamorous world of yachting), and to replace a 300-foot anchor chain that was hopelessly rusted. The toilet is working fine but the anchor chain arrived Friday and was the wrong size for the sprocket on our anchor windlass. The chain was re-ordered from a different source in Fort Lauderdale and was to arrive yesterday. So I came back to Jacksonville yesterday with the Lovely Laura Lee in hopes of departing this morning. Alas, the chain did not get here so we are now hoping it will arrive today to allow us to get away tomorrow morning.

Not only the chain delay, but terrible winter weather is complicating our plans. Temperatures have dropped to around freezing for the last two mornings and it is 34 degrees as I write this. Winds and seas have been high with a Gale Warning in this area of the Atlantic last night. A gale is defined as 34–47 knots (39–54 miles/hour) of sustained surface winds. Winds this morning in the Atlantic are 26-29 knots with gusts to 32 knots and seas at 11 feet. This does not look to improve much this week, forcing us to plan travel in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW can be treacherous as there are many areas that have shoaled and it takes serious attention to drive all day and avoid running aground. Without going offshore, it could take us a week or more to get from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale where we could cross over to Bimini in the Bahamas.

It was seven years ago next week that I sold my last boat, and a lot of technology has changed in the world of boating, particularly with apps available for phones and tablets. They have become indispensable and I am only now beginning to understand the information that is out there. Most apps are available for both Apple and Android tablets and phones, but the Apple iOS products tend to get introduced and upgraded first. For the ICW, there is one App I have come to rely on that presents information that was just not available during my previous boating career. It is called Aqua Map.

Using Aqua Map, it was easy to download a safe track recently published by Robert Sherer, author of a book on traveling the ICW and administrator of a Facebook group called ICW Cruising Guide by Bob423. Aqua Map also displays Corps of Engineers depth surveys where they are available, and it downloads the entire Waterway Guide to marinas and user comments available on an app I also use called Active Captain. Below is the Aqua Map display of the entrance to the ICW going south from the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. The red, green and yellow portions are recent survey depths from the Corps of Engineers, while the blue dotted line is Bob's recent track. This kind of information takes much of the guesswork out of getting through the ICW.

Once we start planning to get out in the ocean and need wind and wave heights, I have come to rely on PredictWind. It provides 7-day forecasts that include wind, wave heights, and wave period (time in seconds between waves). Here are screenshots of the PredictWind wave map and a typical forecast captured several days back.

I also use two tide forecast apps, mostly just on my phone. One is called Tides Near Me which tells you tides in order of distance from your location, and the other is simply called "Tides". They both give the same official information presented slightly differently.

There are many more apps that I use on occasion. "MarineTraffic" allows you to look up the location of any ship or boat equipped with an AIS transponder. Two apps named "Snag-a-Slip" and "Dockwa" are for making marina reservations online. The Waterway Guide app gives full marina information. I have downloaded another app called "Logbook Suite", but I have resisted using it because I keep a logbook on an Excel spreadsheet, where I have the flexibility to do it as I please.

There appear to be hundreds more shown on the app store under the general headings of boating, yachting, navigation, weather, etc., but for the moment, I'll just continue to try to figure out all of the features of what I have. It's a new world.

We'll keep you posted when we finally get away headed south.

Wednesday Night Update: The chain got installed today and we moved the boat to an outer dock to prepare for an early departure tomorrow morning. In the process, in strong winds, the batteries for the stern thruster failed, leaving the lazarette area full of smoke and smelling of battery acid. Sigh... The electrical guy will look at it in the morning, but it is likely we will need new batteries. We just replaced the bow thruster batteries last month so it makes sense that the stern thruster batteries were due to fail. The only good news is that the best place for such a failure is in a boatyard, and especially not in the Bahamas where replacement would be much more expensive.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

True Virgins Make Dull Company, Add Whiskey

For the navigation nerds out there like me, the ever-changing location of the magnetic North Pole is a matter of fascination, and everyday use. I can well remember that when I learned to fly, the long runway in Birmingham, Alabama was Runway 5/23. Adding a zero to the numbers told you that whenever you landed from the west your heading was something close to 50 degrees and from the east, your heading was close to 230 degrees. Years later, the runways were renumbered to 6/24 because the magnetic variation at Birmingham had changed a few degrees, so you were landing at a heading closer to 60 degrees or 240 degrees.

Those of us who have learned to navigate, by plane or by boat, have always had to deal with adjusting compass headings to make them correct. Admittedly, the advent of LORAN and then GPS navigation have decreased the importance of the magnetic compass, by letting us tell the autopilot to take us to a certain latitude and longitude, but the compass is still front and center in airplanes and boats to determine the course we are following. Nowadays, you can purchase a GPS compass that automatically does all of this for you.

Deviation is simply the error in one’s own compass caused by its construction or nearby magnetic fields in the cockpit or pilothouse. In a boat or airplane, a compass is “swung” by mysterious experts who produce a “compass card” of how to adjust your course at various headings to be accurate. So, for example, the card might say that if you want to head due east, or 90 degrees, on your boat or plane, you might need to add two degrees and hold a compass heading of 92 degrees to actually be on a heading of 90 degrees. This part of the calculation is unique to your own vessel, and is really quite simple to understand.

Magnetic variation is an entirely different matter, and is caused by the fact that the earth’s magnetic North Pole is not exactly located at the earth’s geographic North Pole. This adjustment has always varied over time, and in most places around the world magnetic heading is a matter of just a few degrees difference from true heading. But in areas near the North or South Pole, the variation can be enormous. Suppose you are flying between the geographic North Pole and the magnetic North Pole. To get to the geographic north pole you would need to fly in the exact opposite of what your compass says is due north. In more normal locations, to determine what course to fly on your compass, you add together the effects of deviation and variation. So if the two numbers are plus three and minus two, a boat or plane wanting to go on a 90 degree true course would require flying a compass course of 91 (90+3-2). The way I was taught to remember this calculation is the phrase "True virgins make dull company, add whiskey". What it stands for is the calculation to get from true heading to magnetic heading on your own compass is the formula True + Variation = Magnetic + Deviation = Compass Add Westerly (you add westerly variation and subtract easterly variation). 

What is interesting though is that the exact location of the magnetic
North Pole is moving more quickly lately, and seems to be totally unpredictable. It has recently been moving east toward Russia at a speed of around 30 miles per year. Its location is updated officially every five years but an interim change had to be issued during the last five-year period to account for errors in the forecast. It has just been officially updated for 2020. "Magnetic north has spent the last 350 years wandering around the same part of Canada," Ciaran Beggan, a scientist from the British Geological Survey (BGS), told Business Insider. "But since the 1980s, the rate it was moving jumped from 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] per year to 50 kilometers [31 miles]." See here. This all has to do with the molten core of the earth that consists of liquid iron sloshing about beneath our feet. Per Wikipedia, "Earth's outer core is a fluid layer about 2,400 km (1,500 mi) thick and composed of mostly iron and nickel that lies above Earth's solid inner core and below its mantle. Its outer boundary lies 2,890 km (1,800 mi) beneath Earth's surface. The transition between the inner core and outer core is located approximately 5,150 km (3,200 mi) beneath the Earth's surface. Unlike the inner (or solid) core, the outer core is liquid. It is also constructed of iron."

I recommend an article from the New York Times that you can access here. It explains the  history of movement of the magnetic North Pole over hundreds of years. Check it out. Meanwhile, these variations make little difference at our latitude. If I want to go north I generally follow the compass north. A few degrees here or there are more accurate than I can steer a boat in the ocean anyway. But we need to keep in mind that geologic evidence shows times in earth's history when the earth's magnetic field was totally reversed, so that following a modern day compass north would actually take you south. If that happens again, we will need to start paying attention.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Pit Stop

I am at Lamb's Yacht Center, a boatyard on the Ortega River just off the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. We have a marine toilet that is not functioning and needs to be repaired before further travel. I am also taking the opportunity to replace my 300-foot anchor chain that is badly rusted and get another couple of small items handled. Fortunately, after five partial days of travel, I am only a 2 1/2-hour drive from home. I will rent a car and drive home tomorrow until the boat is ready to use.

Yesterday morning, after a lovely evening at anchor, I dropped Old Doc Kuneck (ODK) off at the Fernandina Yacht Harbor Marina to return home. I then travelled another 30 miles south on the Intracoastal Waterway to Mayport, Florida at the port entrance to the St. Johns river and the Jacksonville area. Today I brought the boat 24 miles up the St. Johns to the Ortega River, home to much of the marine industry in Jacksonville. 

With any luck, the boat should be ready to roll in about a week and I can resume the trip south to Ft. Lauderdale and then across to the Bahamas. There are rumors that I will be joined by not only my wife, but by the Bosun Paul Hamilton, which might allow us to run offshore overnight and shorten the trip significantly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Fueled up

A fast boat passed us yesterday on the Intracoastal Waterway and we ended up docked next to it last night in Brunswick. We were discussing itineraries and plans with the captain when I learned that the boat has a top speed of 35 knots and cruises at around 28 knots. At cruise speed it burns about 45 gallons per hour of diesel fuel, about 1.6 gallons per mile. Our boat only cruises at about 8 knots but fortunately only burns about 5 gallons per hour. So we get 1.6 miles per gallon instead of gallons per mile.

Our tanks hold a total of 1,700 gallons. I have bought 500 gallons of fuel twice since I got the boat more than a year ago, and it still had about 300 gallons in the tank this morning. But we spent the night at one of the least expensive fuel stops on the east coast, and we are heading for the Bahamas where fuel and everything else is very expensive. 

So we started our day completely filling my tanks with 1,415.68 gallons of fuel (roughly 10,000 pounds). The price, after a 10-cent per gallon discount for buying more than 1,000 gallons, and another 10-cent per gallon off for being a member of Boat US, was $2.359 per gallon plus 7% sales tax, or $2.524 per gallon. Not bad when prices at other marinas are running $3.80 and higher per gallon.
Golden Ray in Brunswick Harbor

Leaving Brunswick we passed by the capsized car carrier "Golden Ray" which will be gradually cut apart to be removed. It still has about 4,000 Hyundais or Kias on board. Recently, the prop and shaft weighing about 100 tons were cut away and added to an artificial reef off the coast of Georgia. See  This is some insurance company's worst nightmare.

ODK and I are underway in the ocean from Brunswick down to Fernandina Beach, FL. The wind is from the north behind us and is only at around 6 knots. Seas are one to two feet and we are very comfortable. We are just about five miles away from the ship channel that will take us in between Fernandina (Amelia Island) and Cumberland Island. We will spend the night at anchor and then I will drop Paul off to rent a car and head home tomorrow.

UPDATE @ 10:19 PM Wednesday night: We are anchored in Fernandina Beach and have feasted on lamb chops and salad. A perfect day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Heading south

After many delays, I am finally beginning to move the boat south in hopes of ultimately reaching the Bahamas. I left The Ford Plantation Monday morning at 7 am to catch the high tide and arrived at McAllister Marina near the mouth of the Ogeechee River at around 10 am. The Lovely Laura Lee along with friends Paul Kuneck and his wife Mary Kay Jans joined me there for dinner, and Paul moved onto the boat to help out for a couple of days.

After a very long day today dodging shallow spots in the Intracoastal Waterway, Paul and I find ourselves tonight in Brunswick, Georgia. We were underway today for more than 10 hours, a little longer than we planned to travel, but we are happily now at Brunswick Landing Marina, a very low cost diesel fuel provider ($2.74 per gallon), where I intend to fill up first thing in the morning. With a full load of about 1,700 gallons, I can travel about 2,700 miles before refueling. Fuel is very expensive in the Bahamas, so it is a good time to stock up.

ODK at the helm
Paul Kuneck is proving to be a valuable crew member. He drove for several hours today, and has learned how to perfectly tie a line to a cleat. He bought my dinner tonight as well. What else could I ask for? I've tried to think up a nickname for him, but I think I will settle for what his kids and their friends call him -- "ODK" for Old Doc Kuneck.

ODK will travel with me tomorrow, either to Fernandina Beach or Jacksonville depending on how comfortable the ride is in the ocean. He will then head back to Ford Thursday morning and I will soldier on alone for a few more days.