Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #20 The Voyage Home

Yes!! We FINALLY departed from St. Thomas! Not as early as planned, of course, but early enough to get to our destination of Culebra in the early afternoon. The wind was robust, so we made between 6 and 7 knots the whole way. That translates to about 7-8 miles per hour, which probably sounds pretty slow to landlubbers. But it’s really good speed for a cruising sailboat. Since Culebra is part of Puerto Rico we had to clear in with Customs and Immigration upon our arrival. They don’t make that easy, though, because the office is at the airport, a 20-minute walk. We weren’t very impressed with what we saw of the town of Dewey. It was a little like stepping back in time, what with the narrow streets, small shops, and old cars. Culebra’s laid back atmosphere does have some appeal, but we’re eager to keep moving.

We didn’t leave ALL the work behind. After getting back from clearing in we had to get the dinghy and engine up on the boat for the next part of the trip. We hadn’t yet tried out the hoisting rigs we’d gotten for both jobs. First the engine came up with a block and tackle off the backstay onto a specially made block fastened to the stern rail. Then the dinghy had to be raised with a harness and halyard onto the foredeck. Exhausting as it was, both jobs went well. Now we don’t have to worry about losing the dinghy to one of the 6-ft. waves that regularly roll under the boat! The dinghy was doing a lot of surfing, but we had to spoil its fun before it ran into the stern of the boat.

This morning brought an earlier start and a great sail. We’ve actually made it to Puerto Rico! Fortunately, the 5 ½-hour sail was uneventful, but thoroughly enjoyable. Again we made between 5 and 8 knots. The electronic navigation is well worth the expense. It’s awesome to see the image of the boat follow the line that represents the course on the computer screen. The computer actually steers the boat when we allow it to, although we have to override it sometimes because of the wind direction. We got into a pretty anchorage at Palmas Del Mar, which looks just like the chart image and the picture in the guidebook, and we actually were able to relax for a while. We’re hoping for equally good sailing days for the rest of the week.

Salinas is a pretty, tranquil, mangrove-bordered anchorage on the southern shore of Puerto Rico. We had another great sail getting here, again making great speed. Once again we were very grateful for the electronic navigation, since the entrance to the harbor was very deceptive from the sea. The mangrove islands tend to blend together so that we had trouble seeing exactly where to go. But the waypoints on the chart were right on and led us in nicely. We expect a quiet night for sound sleeping.

We spent two quiet nights in Salinas. Rain interfered with our itinerary. This morning we decided to go for it, and managed to outrun an ugly-looking cloud bank that sent sheets of rain pouring down behind us. However, after the clouds left so did much of the wind. We couldn’t do much over 5 knots. After all the frustration in getting the whisker pole mounted on the mast Jim wanted to try it out. He finally got it working, but it doesn’t really fit our present jib. We’re anchored for the night off Gilligan’s Island (yes, it really does exist!), and the trades seem to have picked up again. Maybe tomorrow will be a better sailing day.

We’re now in Boqueron, which is the last stop on mainland Puerto Rico. What a charming and beautiful beach. However, we haven’t really explored it, because the dinghy is still on deck. The sailing was again boisterous so we made good time, arriving around 1:30 PM. The wind was light at first so Jim put up the pole on the jib, but then the wind shifted to the opposite quarter and he prepared to jibe the pole. Something went wrong with our high-tech pole car as it went up the mast and jibed. The mast fitting sheared off and down came the pole. Fortunately, it hit the dinghy so nothing got damaged, most importantly Jim’s head! What a disappointment, because now the pole that Jim put so much effort into getting and installing is unusable. Even so, if all goes as planned, tomorrow we tackle the Mona Passage, an area noted for high winds and waves. Caloosa Spirit seems up to the challenge, and we think we are, too.

Well, the Mona is behind us. We know of horror stories involving unlighted ships at night in the Mona Passage, so in order to sail only during daylight we stopped midway at Mona Island for the night. It served the purpose of a stop, but not for much rest. The rolling was as bad as some of the really bad anchorages in the USVI. Then today we sailed the rest of the way. Both days the wind and waves were nothing extraordinary. In fact, today we could have used a few more knots of wind—not to mention the jib pole. This was our first experience of sailing out of sight of land since the delivery of Caloosa Spirit to the BVI six years ago. It still isn’t my favorite thing to do, but the electronic navigation makes it far less scary and mysterious. On the computer we’re able to see exactly where we are and how long until we arrive at our destination. We are now in a marina in the Dominican Republic, where English is not as common as in Puerto Rico. We had an interpreter for clearing Customs & Immigration, and six people came aboard for the process. After everyone got finished with their paperwork we paid them $60 plus a $10 tip (that the interpreter requested), and they all went on their way. However, they informed us that we needed to get written permission from the Comandante for our next scheduled anchorage. We’re wondering if this is what we should expect at every stop here.

It was another good sailing day, although it started off rough. Getting away from the dock at the Punta Cana Marina was difficult due to the wind. And we didn’t sleep well because of the lack of protection from waves and the squeaking dock lines. We’re now in a lovely anchorage with a pretty beach called Punta Macao. But, contrary to our original plans, this will be our last anchorage in the DR. We got boarded again by two guys with no uniforms and sketchy identification. They were accompanied by two fishermen who stayed in their boat. No one spoke English, and we were unable to decipher exactly what they wanted—something about clearing in again with the Navy, or maybe getting permission to either stay here or go somewhere else tomorrow. Whatever it was they were trying to communicate with us, it all got resolved when money changed hands. We don’t like the idea of being shaken down at every anchorage in this country, so we’ve decided to sail offshore for two days and two nights to reach the Turks and Caicos Islands. From our last planned DR anchorage we would have had to sail over one night to get there anyway. This way we’ll avoid more uncomfortable boardings (not to mention rolly anchorages) and get further north faster. It will be scary, but we feel ready for it. We’ll both probably be enough on edge to not get too sleepy.

Punta Macao, DR

Yesterday at dawn we left the DR behind with no regrets. We had a very uncomfortable night with little sleep, concerned that we would again get boarded, this time with sinister intent. Two men in a truck onshore pulled up after midnight and pointed their headlights at our unlighted boat. Periodically they would turn the lights on and off. They sat on the beach as though they were watching us. We know they were there all night because Jim stayed up most of the night watching them. So we breathed a sigh of relief (or was it exhaustion?) when we got out on the water to start sailing. The wind was light and variable dead off our stern, making for frustrating sail trim, and eventually we had to motor. The worst was yet to come. Just as night was falling for our first overnight passage in six years, the clouds gathered and darkened on every horizon. The wind increased and we furled the headsail, but left the mainsail fully up. Running before the wind at 6.5-9.5 knots we were able to make up some time lost earlier in the day! The rain came and lightning and thunder joined the party. All night Caloosa Spirit ran across this small tract of ocean as the clouds circled and threatened. Seeing the frequent lightning in the clouds it was as though Jupiter, Poseidon, and others gods were discussing what to do with our little boat as it scurried across their universe’s parlor floor. Perhaps Mother Earth finally won out because, although I kept expecting a ferocious swat of 30-knot winds and 10-ft. seas, neither ever materialized. For me it was a night of terror second only to the few times when I didn’t know where one of our kids was. As daylight finally arrived and the clouds cleared away in the early morning I said a thank-you prayer to God. My fear didn’t stem from any lack of faith in Caloosa Spirit or in Jim’s ability to manage her in the weather. It sprang from the unknown and the unexpected, as well as very little sleep in the last several days. This morning the stress overload took its toll as I went to pieces and cried. Jim was a rock throughout the frightening experience, and provided a solid shoulder to cry on. I also said a thank-you prayer for him.

Today the sailing has been glorious. We’ve been traveling at 6-7 knots under only a reefed main. The 6-10 ft. seas are awesome coming up behind us in a steady cosmic rhythm. Being offshore is akin to being completely alone in the world, with only the wind and waves as companions. Fortunately, we also have each other. I’m not sure how single-handers cope with the total solitude when on a passage. We look forward to reaching an anchorage sometime early tomorrow, and getting some much needed rest.

The lovely sailing continued throughout the night. The moon was a constant companion, following our progress and sharing its beauty as it lit up the waves that carried us along. The clouds were friendly last night and seemed to smile on us and our Spirit. We made the anchorage at West Caicos Island at 4:00 AM. Exhausted as we were when we arrived, we chose to pick up a mooring ball as recommended by the National Marine Park, rather than anchoring. That would have meant risking destroying coral, which can be accompanied by a stiff fine. Unfortunately we caught the mostly black and yellow polypropylene line in the propeller. Jim did not even see the floating line and thought it was missing. He motioned for Alice to swing the stern away while going forward, not realizing that there was a long floating line that would tangle in the prop. Unable to resolve the situation at that hour we went to bed for a few hours. It took half the day today to get the line off the shaft so that the engine is again usable. Time after time Jim dove beneath the boat to work on the line, and eventually his efforts were rewarded. But this was another exhausting project. Now we need even more rest than when we arrived!

Abraham’s Bay at Mayaguana. We’ve finally made it to the Bahamas! This is a strange anchorage, especially compared to the Virgins. The island is low with very little habitation. We’re anchored behind a reef that is about ½ mile in front of us, the shore is 1 ½ miles behind us, and the nearest civilization is about 4 miles (over water) northeast of us. The water is crystal clear. Speaking of civilization, we have seen only six other vessels since leaving the DR—three ships (one at night—ugh!), two boats in the same anchorage at West Caicos, and one sailboat on the passage today. This anchorage is deserted except for us—another significant difference from the Virgins, where solitary anchorages are virtually unheard of.

West Plana Cay is a beautiful, uninhabited beach anchorage which seems to define Bahamas cruising. What a joy to find such a jewel! We almost missed it, because we had considered an overnight passage to go further. But the 48-hour passage behind us was enough for now. By stopping each night we get to see some of the Bahama Islands that we may not see again for some time, if ever. We’re glad we’re here.

Bahamas sunset

Despite the cruising guide’s warning of constant surge, Landrail Point on Crooked Island has been one of the nicest anchorages so far. We had a very restful night with just a gentle, soothing rocking. While West Plana was initially inviting, during the night we got the worst rolling we’ve ever had—even worse than Mona Island. Everything in the boat was banging, so we didn’t get much sleep. It just goes to show that the guide books can’t tell us everything.

It’s hard to believe that each anchorage could be more beautiful and picturesque than the last, but that’s kind of how it is. Last night we were in Clarence Town on Long Island. The town appeared very inviting (especially the beautiful churches we could see from the harbor), but we didn’t get off the boat to explore. While we would have welcomed the opportunity to walk around and see the sights, we haven’t yet cleared Customs and Immigration in the Bahamas, so we figured that would be frowned upon. Not to mention that the dinghy and engine are still mounted on the boat. We’re really beginning to feel the strain of constantly being on the boat. I haven’t set foot on land for 2 ½ weeks, and Jim was only briefly off the boat in Punta Cana. We look forward to getting to George Town tomorrow and staying for a few days. We’ll clear in and take in the sights there.

Bahamas waters

Tonight we’re at Calabash Bay, at the northern tip of Long Island, and it’s another beautiful beach anchorage. I had read that the Bahamian waters were spectacular in variety and depth of color, but I had dismissed the supposed grandeur as hyperbole and not much different from the waters of the Virgin Islands. I think I was wrong. The water colors are truly more vibrant and vivid than anything we’ve seen before. This anchorage is like sitting in the middle of a swimming pool; at 15 ft. the water is a consistent aqua. Then there is the bright turquoise and deep indigo as the water gets deeper. Pictures can’t really capture the images, but I take lots of them anyway.

Approaching Great Exuma

We arrived in George Town, Exuma, on Friday, but the afternoon got taken up with Jim going to clear Customs (Immigration was closed), getting anchored, and getting the dinghy and engine off the boat and set up to use. So we didn’t actually get to see George Town until yesterday. (Immigration was still closed.) The town itself is quaint, and some of it is closed for the season (although Immigration is supposed to be open again on Monday). We would have enjoyed finding more interesting shops and restaurants, but that may not be what draws the many cruising boats which winter here. (Most of the cruisers who populate this area through the winter have left.) The water around the boat is again like a huge swimming pool—the same color and clarity. And with the quiescence we’ve slept as comfortably as babies. Today we visited Stocking Island on the other side of the harbor to see the beaches and other anchorages. The beach on the other side of the island is absolutely exquisite! I think I’m being converted from thinking that the Virgins are Paradise; so far the Bahamas have given every indication of usurping that title (Jim reserves judgment).

Stocking Island beach

So much for quiescence. The last two days haven’t really been fun, but part of the cruising life. We didn’t get to leave George Town until yesterday. We had ordered the broken part of the jib pole assembly in order to make use of the pole in the expected light winds, and, of course, the part didn’t arrive until two days later than promised. (I think we were lucky it was only two days!) Yesterday was a long motor-sail to get to an anchorage near the northern end of the Exuma chain, where we’d like to do a little sight-seeing. As if listening to the drone of the engine for 7 hours wasn’t bad enough, we were constantly judging whether the threatening thunder storms would get us. They didn’t, and we anchored more or less comfortably for the night, unsure of what to expect from the wind and current. This morning we set off on the 10-mile trip to the settlement at Black Point, only to again watch the sky blacken ahead of us. We finally took shelter from wind and rain in an anchorage around the corner from Black Point—after the engine could barely make 2 knots in the wind & seas. This spot seems relatively protected, but as the wind has clocked to the southeast we’re doing a lot of bouncing. The good news is that the sun is starting to reappear, and maybe tomorrow will be a nice day.

Elizabeth Harbor at Georgetown, Great Exuma

Well, the sun wasn’t out, but at least it didn’t rain. This morning we came around the corner into the main anchorage for Black Point, and then enjoyed touring the settlement. The residents were very friendly, and we had a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants. However, much of the town was closed for the season. We had hoped to do some e-mail at one of the popular restaurants, but the owner was off-island. The weather has been overcast all day, and there’s no indication of when it will clear off. I guess we can’t complain about the weather, because until this week we’ve had generally sunny skies for the trip. When I told Lauri that the weather had been terrible the last couple of days, she said we’ve been in the Caribbean entirely too long, and need to come back to Indiana to find out what terrible weather truly is!

We were unsure of leaving Black Point this morning, because the weather was again overcast and unsettled. (Although I think it would be considered “settled” in Indiana!) But we took the opportunity of no rain to motor-sail up to the Exuma Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells. We’ll spend a couple of days here hiking and snorkeling, provided the weather doesn’t interfere.

This area at Warderick Wells is delightful (and the weather seems to have cleared up). We first hiked up to Boo-Boo Hill (name origin unknown) to view what appears at first sight to be a trash heap. Upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be a collection of mementos from cruising boats which have visited the island over the last decade or so. Boat names are displayed on everything from carved or painted driftwood to cast-off life jackets and hats. It’s quite a display to behold. No, we didn’t contribute anything from Caloosa Spirit; we left that whimsy for another visit. We also hiked a trail that wound through the ruins of an 18th century plantation. And, of course, we enjoyed several beaches. The snorkeling wasn’t tempting enough to gear up, however. Perhaps the presence of a couple of nurse sharks in the anchorage had something to do with our lack of interest in snorkeling. The staff was very reassuring that the sharks aren’t interested in people, but I’ll keep my distance anyway, thank you—lots of it!

Tonight we’re at Norman’s Cay, our last stop in the Exumas. This island has an interesting recent history. In the 70’s and 80’s the island served as a base/hide-out for a Colombian drug lord. The ruins of his villa and drug operation are still here. We lucked into getting a ride to visit the villa. It had a fantastic view, but is presently a total shambles. In walking around the grounds we could envision the unsavory movers and shakers who probably vacationed and did business here. In this anchorage there is a rotting dock with a rusted construction barge grounded next to it. One of the most eye-catching artifacts is the remains of a small plane half-submerged in the shallows. Apparently it crashed in a drug run gone bad. The drug lord, Carlos Lehder, was convicted and imprisoned in 1988. Today there are a handful of full-time residents and several seasonal homes on the island.

Nassau is considered a less-than-desirable destination by many cruisers. It reeks of high-profile tourism and crime is apparently part of the fabric of local life. But for those of us who have been in second- and third-world locales for nine months, “civilization” is a welcome respite. We decided to give ourselves a treat and snug up in a secure marina for a couple of nights. Upon picking up the “what-to-do” info and maps, I found that there is a Dunkin’ Donuts within walking distance. What an exciting discovery! From our experience donuts are not considered Caribbean fare, and we haven’t had a fresh one in months. We took a walk across the bridge spanning Nassau Harbor to Paradise Island. Several resort hotels and shopping complexes are over there, but the centerpiece is Atlantis Resort & Casino. While obviously seeking a goodly share of upscale disposable income, it is a spectacular sight to behold and well-worth the visit. We had been told that viewing a series of aquariums called Underwater Atlantis was free, but as non-guests we were told that we would have to pay $25 each for entrance. We chose to save the $50 (being retired seniors on fixed income has made us cheap!), but we did get to see a well-stocked aquarium in one of the restaurants. Inside were all kinds of fish, including a bigger manta ray than I’d ever want to see while snorkeling! The casino is huge. No, we didn’t drop any money gambling. I was tempted to try a $.25 machine, but neither of us had any quarters at the time. Incidentally, Jim read that the original name of Paradise Island was Hog Island. I guess “Sheraton of Hog Island” just didn’t have the right ring to it. We also did some regular provisioning shopping so that we’ll have enough food to make it to Florida. With the right weather we should be there within a week. We also finally got to read our e-mail. Thanks to all who wrote encouraging notes regarding our cruise north. It’s always great to hear from friends, and we look forward to seeing many of you soon.

We thought we were finished with rolly anchorages, but, since Chub Cay sits right off a short arm of the ocean, we’re rocking again. And Chub Cay isn’t exactly hospitable to cruisers, what with the numerous signs on the beach saying “Private Beach, No Dinghy Landing”, etc. But it was a day’s sail (well, motor-sail) from Nassau, so that’s why we’re here for the night. We’ll leave at first light tomorrow to make the 75 miles across the Great Bahama Bank in one day. We hope to jump off across the Gulf Stream this weekend.

Seventy-five miles in one day is arduous and tedious, but we did it. We had hoped to get to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow, but the trip across the Gulf Stream requires that the dinghy and engine be again mounted on board the boat. We were just too exhausted to be doing that chore at 7:00 PM after arriving at Cat Cay, so we’ve decided to take an extra day and do it tomorrow. We are both SO ready to stop moving long distances every day!

I can imagine worse conditions to be hauling the engine and dinghy out of the water, but not much. This is another rolly anchorage with lots of power yacht traffic going past, and the wind has been blowing 15-20 knots. But at least the job is done, and we hope to leave the dinghy and engine on board for a while. We’re ready to cross the Gulf Stream for home.

How do you spell relief? F-O-R-T-L-A-U-D-E-R-D-A-L-E!! No more anxiety-filled sleepless nights contemplating the possible hazards in the rest of the trip. No more frustration-riddled days trying to figure out how to get marine equipment ordered and shipped. No more rolly anchorages (for a while, at least)! We feel monumentally fortunate to have made it here with no major setbacks, either natural or human-made. I’ve read that at times when wind and seas get into a shoving match in the Gulf Stream the result can be a vicious stampede of “white elephants” ready to trample any hapless boats in their way. Today, however, the wind and seas were in a harmonious mood, and our Gulf Stream crossing was as mild as lambs at play. Our only demon was impatience to get it over with, so we motor-sailed most of the way.

Ft. Launderdale spproach

Describing the emotional component of returning to our homeland after 9 months is difficult. No one hates a cliché more than I do, but “there’s no place like home” and “the USA isn’t perfect but it’s better than any place else” kind of sum it up. It’s nice to not be foreigners any longer. We had dinner in a place on Ft. Lauderdale Beach and got to watch the people amble by. At any other time I’d probably feel embarrassed at the excess and decadence of my fellow countrymen (and women), but tonight I gave thanks for the colorful variety of them all, and for their freedoms to be as excessive and decadent as they choose to be. The blaze of the city lights is a welcome sight, and the traffic noise is—you guessed it—“music to my ears”!

Except for the $20 for taxi fare clearing in was painless—a few questions, a couple of passport swipes, and no fee! We then spent several hours canvassing an area known for live-aboard dockage. The excursion was successful in that we located a slip that Caloosa Spirit can call home for a few months. It’s on a canal behind a lovely small apartment complex that has very nice facilities, including a pool. After staying at Las Olas Marina near the beach for 3 nights, we’ll move to the slip the day after tomorrow. We hope to be in Indy in a week or less, although Mom was disappointed that we didn’t leave today! After tending to a few necessities for leaving the boat, we’ll fly out as soon as possible.

Once more a huge THANKS for all the e-mails from friends and family up north. We can’t adequately say how much they’ve meant to us, and how eager we are to see you all again soon.

Fair winds and smooth passages,
Alice & Jim Rutherford

Posted Tuesday July 8, 2003

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