Poised for the Bahamas

0 Miami skyline

“I hear you’re putting Totem on the hard.” “Will you go out again?” In fact, we have no plans to park Totem for an extended stay on land (or in the water), and have never considered remaining in the US. But given the dearth of information in this space about what 2017 holds I can understand the speculation. We are on the cusp of departure and thrilled to be heading out for more adventures afloat.

Cascading events prolonged our departure, but the boat’s been humming, and legged out timing has shaped our direction. Routing clarity comes slowly after many shuffles on how we’ll fill the gaps between now (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and a year from now  (Pacific Ocean, via Panama Canal). It still has a lot of squiggles and question marks, but the bigger picture should stick.

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For many months, that year-long view was literally nothing more than get out of the US and back to the islands, spend a couple of months in Cuba, and explore Panama’s Guna Yala. (Remember that Plan is a four-letter word for cruisers! Corollary: Thar Be No Schedules)

Bahamas Baby

We’d written the Bahamas off, but they’re now solidly ON, and their late arrival means I’m scrambling for information. Friday I got our Waterway Guide’s Bahamas, Turks & Caicos book. IT’S GORGEOUS. The last years of Western Pacific / Indian Ocean / Southern Atlantic sailing had poor guides, if any, and it put me off. What did exist covered too wide an area to be useful, so I stuck to travel guides instead and started thinking cruising guides weren’t important. You know what? They’re incredibly useful, I’d just been too long without an example of what a good guide offers. So with 2017 Bahamas edition in hand, instead of helping Jamie and the girls scrub the hull that morning, I did this:

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I did also buy a traveler’s guidebook for the Bahamas. I’m probably going to leave it behind, because the Waterway book is better, and has everything I need: the travel guide insights (cultural orientation,  things to bring, cool places to visit) AND annually updated cruising data (what to bring and where to provision, details for moorings and choice anchorages, the latest marina info– even updates on impacts from last fall’s hurricane, and recommendations for things islanders might need that we can ferry over).

That schedule thing

Although schedules are the bane of cruising, I’ve happily added a fixed Must Be There date by signing on to present at the US Boat Show in Annapolis in April. Pam Wall and I will lead a 2-day Cruising Women seminar, and I’m giving a few additional presentations as part of the show’s Cruisers University. I’m very excited about this, especially the Cruising Women program. Jamie seems to have been born with saltwater in his veins; before we went cruising, it was important to me to seek information and skills. Women-only courses provided the shared perspective and camaraderie that best supported my goals.  If you sign up, tell me! I’d love to anticipate meetups.

Places and people

It feels very good to be poised for Bahamas takeoff in Fort Lauderdale, but first we had to get south from Jacksonville to Miami for my friend Lynne Rey’s birthday. Schedules again? Maybe, but no way would I miss this since we could be there! Along the way, there wasn’t  a lot of wind, but some beautiful sunny days and mellow seas that meant Niall could combine studying with watchkeeping in the cockpit.

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Along the way we spent a couple of evenings hanging out with Kirk McGeorge. He’s done a couple of circumnavigations on a sistership, Gallivanter, and now does some crazy cool work building underwater submersibles with an outfit in Fort Pierce (he was a Navy diver, and drove Alvin- THE Alvin- on Titanic, way back when). The last time we saw Kirk was Australia, nearly five years ago! Cruising friendships like his are GOLD – you pick up right where you left off, despite intervening years.

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In Miami, Lynne, her husband Tony (we sailed together in college) and their kids hosted us at the Coral Reef Yacht Club. This made fun birthday celebrations, late nights in the cockpit, kids learning and playing together, and a lot of good times very easy.

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It also made it much easier for a visit from Kerry (the impressive endurance athlete / sailor / quadriplegic I sailed with last month). She gave our family and the Reys a preview of a powerful documentary she’s a part of that I hope will be ready to share publicly soon. Some tissues required after viewing before we could pose for a pic together, our thumbs in the air for Kerry’s nonprofit, ThumbsUp International. ThumbsUp connects people of all abilities to tackle athletic challenges, in particular by teaming able and disabled athletes.

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Please check out the Facebook page for ThumbsUp International and give it a like to show your support! Kerry would really like to nudge it over the 2,000 like hurdle: can we do it?! Follow and share!

More friends visited: we first knew Tiffany and Greg as “the Coast Guard Couple” when we met them in Mexico eight (!) years ago; we last caught up in Australia. They’ve traveled a loop around the world since then, by sea across the Pacific and by land from SE Asia to the UK. Both are Coast Guard Academy graduates, both are hard core professional seafarers, and they had great advice on college and maritime licensing for Niall. Just the folks to help toss the lines when it was time to head to the anchorage, right?

5 coast guard couple

Projects projects projects

And then, there was maintenance and repair. Lots of it. Because that’s one definition of the cruising life.

7 tiny part - big pain

To give you an inkling of that everyday fun on Totem, and a peek into what’s kept Jamie busy here in Florida:

Outboard: FINALLY FIXED. It’s been sick for five months. Diagnosis by mechanic in Jacksonville: failed CDI unit, but we replaced that and still no spark. Option two: bad coil. Ding ding ding ding! Wires from the coil had both broken…photo above. They were crimped by a strain relief device, but the break was hidden inside of a plastic sleeve. Great 11th hour help from our new friend Conor, who borrowed a flywheel puller from a Miami auto shop to get it done.

8 Conor saves the day

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Sundowners on Totem later, time to talk story with Conor (former cruising kid, now physicist) and his dad

Aft cabin: I went to a road trip to Miami with my friend Patty, and Jamie broke the aft cabin. He’s since rebuilt my workspace, relocated the solar and wind charge controllers to a newly-constructed locker, and cleaned up a bunch of wiring spaghetti. Few words for a LOT of work.

Dodger: As a sailmaker, Jamie knows his way around a sewing machine. But canvas work is “fiddly” (his description) and he hoped to outsource Totem’s new dodger sides. But after weeks of no joy or no action from service providers in northern Florida, he took our friends on Shanthi up on the offer to borrow their SailRite and made it himself. Templating with Tyvek from the hardware store, then constructing the final from Sunbrella, Strataglass, and Tenara thread…on the dock, until it rained, with child labor…as you do. It IS fiddly, but he does great work, and saving the expense is a great bonus.

9 dock dodger construction

10 whoops rain

Before he could get to the canvas, the whole hard top was shifted forward: this meant changing the frame (it’s more vertical on the forward face now) and building new supports.

Deck hardware: fully reinstalled the repaired stanchion base that broke on our unpleasant passage from Bermuda to Connecticut.

Engine: Fixed pesky drip from fuel filters after troubleshooting. Replaced barbs with correct size, replaced 3-way valve fitting, and O-rings. Hopefully this saves the $250 racor replacement kit!

Electrical: We use a rugged Panasonic Toughbook for our nav computer. Both plug connections for the nine-year-old 12v charger had failed; solder now leads directly to the board. All good.

Plumbing: Replaced failing cockpit drain hoses (shared with galley sink drain: presumed grease buildup). Fixed flaw in primary water tank that prevents proper venting with a few holes (and finally found out the actual capacity, two years later- 73 gallons!). Discovered (and replaced) leaking outlet fitting in tank. Aft head required an unclogging adventure, then replacing seals and hose and other work that I’d rather not know too much about. Thanks to my sweetie for being The One That Deals with the Head on board.

…and that’s just what he did on Totem! On friend’s boats, Jamie helped install a solar panel, did a few (three? four? five? I lost track) rig evaluations, and helped get one tuned properly.

I married well.

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Much more than fixing stuff

One of the more significant preoccupations outside of prepping Totem is working with coaching clients. We thoroughly enjoy helping people make the leap to successful cruising! More recently, the kids have gotten into a few of our Skype sessions, too: prospective cruising kids want to hear the real scoop directly from them. Sitting around the iPad, this is a pretty typical scene.

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We closed our our Miami stay by anchoring in Marine Stadium, a sweet little spot with near 360° protection and a killer view of the downtown Miami. Backlit by twinkling lights from the skyline at night, we could detect dolphins circling Totem only by loud huffs of their breath. An idyllic spot to raft up and make some great memories with the pretty Huckins, Cortado (which is for sale, by the way), and her crew.

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Totem from Cortado

Totem is now in Fort Lauderdale, on our final countdown to departure for the Bahamas. We don’t know when we’ll be back in the USA, but it’s probably some years. I’ve got an insane list, and it includes major items like, oh, battery bank replacement. Full watermaker servicing. Diesel mechanic services. Provisioning for 3 months in islands with limited stores, and high costs. Supplies for Bahamian communities still impacted by hurricane Mathew last fall. Then there are the incidentals “but we won’t be in the USA for how long?” that inflate our list. Here in the mainland, we have access to better breadth of goods, at a better quality, and a better value, than we will likely encounter for a long time.

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It’s been blowing for days, but Totem is in a protected anchorage. There is access to supplies. Anchorage neighbors stopping by to chat from their kayaks. Visits from shoreside dwellers, arriving with friendship, the gift of papaya, and lessons in art (thank you, Jim!).

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Life is beautiful. I’m grateful every day for the choices we have and our freedom as a family, and can’t wait to extend our adventures…starting soon in the Bahamas!

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28 Responses to Poised for the Bahamas

  1. Judy Hildebrand March 6, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    I CAN’T WAIT to see you guys over here in the land of turquoise!!! ?

    • Behan March 6, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

      I can’t wait either!! 😀

  2. Rick Meijer March 6, 2017 at 11:36 am #

    wondering where you are in december… I’ll be ‘that side’.. but that is a bit of a huge territory 😉

    • Behan March 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

      It IS rather large! Your guess is as good as mine right now!

  3. Jason Haase March 6, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    Sounds like you have been busy. Based on that arrow at the end of your route, does that mean you are looking at another loop around the Pacific in 2018?

    • Behan March 6, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

      We are thinking about Pacific loop! Looking at summer 2018 in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, so that would be a spring ’19 crossing at soonest. Ya know, as much as we can guess at plans two years from now!

  4. Linda Riera March 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    Great post once again. Argon is currently in Turks and Caicos for a few weeks (I’d be happy to share some TCI perspective with you via email if intetested); then we continue our slow, hesitant journey northward to Bahamas. Perhaps we’ll cross paths with Totem there.
    Thanks for the enjoyable read
    Captain Linda
    s/v Argon
    Argon.Sailing.com

    • Behan March 6, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks Linda sounds like there’s a good chance we’ll cross tracks, find us in the Exumas between mid-March and early May!

  5. Terry Peck March 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

    Thank you so much for that great post. Question I see you have Cuba on your map of destinations. (We (Annie & Terry) want to visit and spend sometime in Cuba.) What hurdles did you or do you have to jump to gain access/visa as American citizens?

    • Behan March 7, 2017 at 8:43 am #

      What you need depends on how long you have to stay (up to 14 days, easy; more than 14, more paperwork). It’s not a difficult process but it can be time consuming. We are actually not finished yet, but I promise to share the details when we are! They are changing regularly, so it’s not something to worry about until you’re in the home stretch and a few months away from a Cuba visit.

  6. Michael March 6, 2017 at 8:10 pm #

    What a great adventure awaits your family! Sounds like you’re all ready to go. Lucky you have the man, Jamie, with you. What can’t he do?

    • Behan March 7, 2017 at 8:44 am #

      Not much! I really am lucky!

  7. Bruce&Anne Stewart March 7, 2017 at 3:19 am #

    Thanks for the update. Good to get a better idea of where Totem will be heading this year. Just one question – why are you planning to cross from Cuba to Panama rather than island hop down to Grenada and the ABC’s then around Columbia? Just wondering. We are looking to cross the Atlantic next year and plan to take the ABC/Columbia route. Any views?

    • Behan March 7, 2017 at 8:46 am #

      Mainly because visiting Cuba is a priority to us compared to visiting the ABCs and that just-above-S-America route. It’s not easy to do both when you’re ultimately aiming for the canal, and starting from the north, as we are – against prevailing conditions. Still possible and really, anything can happen.

      • RDE March 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

        Hi Behan,
        The last thing you need is another suggestion to alter the PLAN. LOL But I can’t help but notice that your track passes close by one of my favorite islands— Providencia–the last tall island in the Caribbean not cursed with industrial strength tourism and cruise ships. The Caymans have good supermarkets (and hundreds of mailboxes that serve to protect the Malignant Overlords from the onerous duty of paying taxes), but I can’t think of any reason I’d want to visit there again.

        ps: Points along the route south from the Caymans like Quita Sueno Reef are so named for a reason!

  8. Mike McCollough March 7, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    Trinidad in Cuba is beautiful, and it has a Santoria(sp) museum. Baracoa is really neat because of it isolation. We didn’t have time to go to the other tip of Cuba.
    $.02

    • Behan March 7, 2017 at 11:50 am #

      I really hope we can visit Trinidad, and Baracoa also sounds very cool, appreciate the $.02 Mike.

  9. Adam March 7, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    Hey Behan, enjoy the Bahamas! We may see you there as we’re planning a cruise for early summer. Definitely pack as much food as you can possible hold into every nook and cranny as provisioning is grim outside Nassau and the Explorer Chartbook series is well worth having–depths on other charts, not so good.

    • Behan March 7, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      We’d love to see you guys! If not in the Bahamas, maybe in PR? Isn’t that your base these days?

  10. Adam March 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm #

    Sounds good! Give a holler when you’re heading this way

  11. Denny & Rennie & crew March 8, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    small world indeed – Gallivanter! We spent time with them in Grenada during hurricane season. Sure do miss Roger’s! Enjoy the Bahamas and beyond – you’ll love it!

    • Behan March 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      They bridged us, I love it!

  12. Graham Schelter March 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    Hi Behan- sorry to miss you in New England this summer. I’m curious, how your handle medical and dental care and insurance for you and your family afloat? Particularly when outside the U.S.?

    • Behan March 13, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

      Hi Graham, we’ve seen dentists on…let see, I think four continents now. No problem! We only carry catastrophic coverage for health insurance and expect to pay everything out of pocket. Also no problem. Outside the USA, health care is generally accessible and affordable. I wrote about that in this article a couple of years ago, and it still holds true.

      • RDE March 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

        Hi Graham,
        Just got back from a week in Mexico. When I was quoted $1380 US for a root canal operation I was on a flight to Mexico the next day. Short notice airfare plus a week in a nice hotel plus dental services in an office equipped and staffed at least as well as in the US still left change in my pocket. So save your worries for important things like the condition of your standing rigging!

    • Behan March 13, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

      Hi Graham, we’ve seen dentists on…let see, I think four continents now. No problem! We only carry catastrophic coverage for health insurance and expect to pay everything out of pocket. Also no problem. Outside the USA, health care is generally accessible and affordable. I wrote about that in this article a couple of years ago, and it still holds true. http://www.sailingtotem.com/2014/04/healthcare-while-cruising.html

  13. Sailing Kittiwake (Elena) March 19, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    Great post and great pics. You’re right, you married well 🙂

  14. jory squibb March 24, 2017 at 7:15 pm #

    i’ll just put in a plug for stocking island off Georgetown in the exumas. totally landlocked…beach volleyball…lots of social activities. kids run as a pack with buddies…dingy occasionally for supplies in town or to sand-dollar beach….

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