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Cruising Cross Country

We recently took to the highway for a leisurely road trip to spend some treasured time with each other, friends and family.

Our road trip route!

Over the course of two weeks, eight states, and 3,375 miles, we took the opportunity to build upon a trip that initially started as a visit to Carolina Beach, NC for our family reunion. First, we noticed that the Volvo Ocean Race was scheduled to be in Miami just a week before and with Charleston being an ideal middle point between the two, we were set to make a an extended trip of it. Sprinkle in visits with some of our cruising family and other close friends along the way, Matt’s birthday and our anniversary, and we had all the makings of a memorable road trip ahead. While each day was its own adventure, here are some of the highlights.
  • Spent an evening with great friends from Dallas, The Breens, who now live in Clermont, FL. They’re a solid family we connected with at Allaso Ranch (our church’s incredible kid’s camp). We admire their take on life and sense of adventure and now make it a priority to see them anytime we’re nearby.
  • Turned into Tampa for lunch stop, as our good friend Crystal happened to be in town for the day, visiting the local office of her agency 22Squared. Seafood at Jackson’s Bistro, overlooking the canals of Hillsborough Bay, made the sunny and breezy afternoon as good as the company.
  • Kept our eyes peeled as we drove through Alligator Alley in the Everglades on our way to Ft. Lauderdale but didn’t spot any live ones.
  • Enjoyed several nights in the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area, including one at anchor aboard s/v Morning Glory under the glowing lights of downtown Miami with part of our cruising family, Ted and Mili, cheering on Puma in the VOR. Lots more about our VOR adventures in the post below this one.

 Relaxing aboard s/v Morning Glory

  • Did a little dream shopping, stopping to look at two potential “next cruising boats” and gave up all objectivity by pretty much falling in love with one (a tragically emotional move in scouting boats). But no offers yet as were waiting until our little skipper arrives before making any major moves toward our next cruising plan.

 Could this be the next one?

  • Caught up with our cruising friends from Honu Lele, who’ve since moved to St. Augustine, FL. They introduced us to a local favorite, the Gypsy Cab restaurant, showed us where their new home will be soon built and worked on persuading us to move to St. Aug. (it wasn’t a hard sell).
The St. Augustine lighthouse
  • Returned, at a month shy of a year, to a city that captured our hearts (and stomachs) – the always charming Charleston. We made a “babymoon” of our stay in this beloved city with dinner at Coast and strolls about the town. The next morning we were treated to an exclusive tour of Historic Charleston by Laura Wichmann Hipp, whom we met when we sailed in last summer. As before, it was hard to leave. It seems our anchor always sets the deepest here.

Overlooking the Battery Wall of Charleston Harbor

  • Joined the rest of the Butcher/Carlson clan for a family reunion in Carolina Beach, NC. With Matt’s parents and brother in from Idaho, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins from Minnesota, it made a for a fun-filled week. Boat trips, fishing tourneys, golf, swimming, family banter and laughter around every meal and Mexican Train till you drop made the time fly. The time was further punctuated by a good ole low country boil and a thoughtful and lively group baby shower (for us, Matt’s brother Jeff and his wife Mel, and Matt’s cousin Steve and his wife, Edie).

 Boatin’ with Cousin Jimmy

  • Appreciated an easy drive back with complimentary hotel stays along the way, thanks to rewards points earned from Matt’s recent business travel.
As is often the case when you’re having loads of fun, you look up and wonder where the time went. We had a blast and couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.
The Volvo Ocean Race – Miami

While a lot of life has recently been about preparing to welcome our first little sailor, we did get a unique opportunity at the end of May to visit the only U.S. port of the Volvo Ocean Race in Miami.  

Considered the Everest of sailing, the VOR is an intense 39,000 nautical mile, 9-month around the world sailing race with 10 port stopovers. And, the timing worked out ideally as we had already planned to be at a family reunion on the East Coast a week after the race events so we decided to make a “visit-as-many-friends-along-the-way-to-the-race/reunion” road trip of it.

With a goal of being in Miami for the in-port race and start of the next offshore leg to Lisbon, Portugal, we packed up the car and drove the 1300 miles to Ft. Lauderdale. We had two overnight stops on our route there and overall it was a relatively easy ride for the then 7-month pregnant admiral.

Once there, we connected with part of our cruising family, Ted and Mili of s/v Morning Glory, and made weekend plans that revolved around catching up and being at the center the race. First stop was the Race Village in Bicentennial Park, Downtown Miami. As we drove near, even with the multi-story America Airlines Arena clouding our view, we could see the tops of the 103 foot masts piercing the sky (for context, Kaleo’s mast was a mere 43 feet in comparison).

Masts piercing the sky

Walking up to see the six 70-foot long thoroughbreds of ocean racing was electrifying, at least for us sailors. These boats are made of advanced carbon and Kevlar skins, with canting keels (the fin on the bottom of the boat pivots laterally) and can often sail faster than the wind speed. And they are all equipped with exquisite paint jobs to match their prestige.

Naturally, we’re cheering for Puma, the American team in the race. And after having spent months watching Mar Mostro (the name of Puma’s boat) claw her way around the world via the Internet, we were elated to see her in person. There she was, tugging at her lines waiting to pounce back on the water, sporting signature black sails with the Puma logo jumping up as if from the ocean itself.

The bow of Mar Mostro bridled to the dock

Then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, none other than Ken Read, a legendary sailing champion and the skipper of Mar Mostro, came strolling up the gangplank. It was all hands on deck as we grabbed the camera and scurried over to meet him. The picture hardly shows it but Matt was practically speechless.

Up close and personal with Ken Read

Ted chatted up a security guard and soon enough we found ourselves down on the dock right within arms distance of the race boats. Matt and Ted talked with Rome Kirby, the youngest guy on the Puma team (and in the VOR) at 22. When asked how he got on board with the Volvo Race he replied, “gotta start small and win all the dinghy races.” Hmm, something for Matt to work toward.

Chatting with Rome

After admiring the perfectly crafted lines of Mar Mostro’s hull and drooling over sailing equipment that alone is worth more than most boats, we sauntered around the rest of the village. Highlights included the 3D theater, the grinding competition (Matt completed it in 11.3 seconds, Volvo sailors do it in 9 flat), and seeing Iker Martinez, the skipper of a rival team, Telefonica.

Grind faster!!

With our fill of the village it was off to Morning Glory where we spent a gorgeous night anchored out under the glow of the Miami skyline. Swimming, dinghy rides, grilling and the gentle roll of being at anchor brought a flood of wonderful cruising memories back. To really make it more like cruising, we wrapped the night up with great friends and our traditional game of Mexican Train. After a leisurely breakfast the next morning, we raised the anchor and headed past South Beach and off-shore to the race course. We knew it was the right direction as we followed the VOR boats out, all in a stately line as if they were horses parading before the queen’s court.

Headed out to the course aboard Morning Glory

What started as a beautifully calm day, quickly turned tempestuous as a rollicking wind brought in storms. With waves crashing over the bows of Morning Glory, we spent the next few hours tracking around the race course as the VOR boats came ripping by, sometimes as fast as 20 knots. Again, for context, Kaleo sailed at an average of 5 to 6 knots. And after quite a few lead changes and a hard fought race, Puma came steaming by Camper in the last seconds of the race to take 3rd. Not the first place we were hoping for, but with a 39,000 mile race, it’s how you do in the long haul that truly matters.

Rounding the mark just behind Telefonica

The weather cleared as we returned to port with anticipation of the next day’s race, the start of the next offshore leg. After church on Sunday, the guys took Ted’s powerboat out to chase the racers into the Gulf Stream and given the limited amount of shade on board, the gals elected to relax by the pool.

In conditions opposite the previous day, virtually zero wind and a flat ocean, the guys zipped and zoomed around the course, at times within throwing distance of the race boats. The highlight of the day was following Puma out to sea as Read pointed the bow towards Lisbon, Portugal. They followed Mar Mostro out for about an hour waving them off with a holler as they crossed into the Gulf Stream to eventually take another 3rd place coming into Lisbon.

Headed toward Lisbon

Not only was it great to see Ted and Mili but we can’t thank them enough for making it possible to get so close to the action in Miami.

One last note, Matt’s taking donations to purchase Mar Mostro, which is now for sale for a few million. If he receives enough to buy it, all those who donate are promised the ride of a lifetime!


Amelia Island, FL to Charleston, SC

We departed St. Augustine on Saturday morning where our route took us up the ICW to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, the northernmost town on Florida’s east coast.

Looking out over the Fernandina Yacht Club and Harbor

With plans to head offshore from the St. Mary’s Inlet just north of Fernandina Beach the next morning, we took the rest of the day to explore the town with our friends from “Simpatico” and some of their friends (now our new friends) aboard “Magic Beans.”

Strolling the tree-lined streets, we drifted in and out of an eclectic collection of local stores, shops, galleries and boutiques. A mid-afternoon ice cream stop helped keep us cool and upon a glowing review from Don on “Magic Beans,” we stepped into Pablo’s for a little A/C, margs and Mexican dinner.

Fernandina Beach welcome center

Lots of pirates roaming Amelia Island

Full on fajitas but not ready to call it a night, the sounds of live music brought us to the garden patio of Cafe Karibo where a local band, Hofmann’s Voodoo, was staged beneath huge oak trees, singing and strumming a guitar and mandolin to a funky mix of Americana and Acoustic Blues until about 8:30. An ideal way to wrap up an early evening as we still needed to prep “Kaleo” for our 30 hour passage to Charleston the next day.

Enjoying the music of Hofmann’s Voodoo

Monday morning we checked the weather, said our radio farewell to “Simpatico” and topped off on fuel at the marina. We made 7 knots on the ebb tide (outgoing tide) leaving St. Mary’s Inlet, hoisted sails and were making great time toward Charleston, about 140 miles away.

Late afternoon, Matt went down for some rest with plans to get up around 10 p.m. Lighting woke him up a bit sooner and with the winds gusting in the low 20’s we decided to reef the main (reduce the amount of sail so as not to get over powered by strong winds). No sooner had we got in the first reef when the winds picked up above 25 knots.

With a thunderstorm behind us and ever-growing sea state, we played it safe by going to our third reef (the smallest amount of main sail out). It was a wise move as within the hour winds were blowing at 30 knots and the ocean swell was running about five to six feet. It seems our smooth offshore sailing streak had run its course as we spent the remainder of the night reefed down with following winds and seas. Though we were getting rocked and rolled, we gained the benefit of speed where at times we were surfing down the waves at 9+ knots, a new record for us.

After what seems like an incredibly long night, dawn broke with only about 30 miles to Charleston. If we kept up the evening’s pace, we could have made it in 6 hours sooner than planned. That did not happen as the winds soon shifted to 15 knots from the NE, exactly the direction we were headed (not good). So we spent the remainder of the day painstakingly tacking toward Charleston and finally arrived in the harbor at 7 p.m, 6 hours later than planned.

With darkness approaching and already 36 hours into this passage, we decided to pull into a slip at the Charleston Maritime Center where we could tie up safely and get some much-needed, solid rest.

As we crawled into bed, Matt mentioned having a lot of pain in his right eye which was pretty bloodshot. By the time morning came, he couldn’t open it and was in intolerable pain. A quick Google search led us to Access Healthcare, a quaint, modern medical center within about a mile’s walking distance of the marina. After 15 minutes with Dr. Dave, Matt was diagnosed was a corneal abrasion, a scrape on the clear surface of the eye. He walked out with an eye patch, a need for a pair of those nifty disposable sunglasses you get after dilation (which we picked up from an optometrist down the street) and a prescription for pain management. Ouch!

Captain, er Pirate-in-pain Matty

With the captain slightly out of commission, still exhausted from our abusive passage and with tons to see and do in Charleston, we’ve decided to make the Maritime Center our home for the week. We look forward to some rest, recovery and a fun week of exploring the incredibly charming Charleston.

“Kaleo” at harbor in Charleston Maritime Center

N 32° 47.39 / W 79° 55.42

Sights From St. Augustine

After a few day hops up the ICW we landed at Hidden Harbor Marina to explore the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, FL.

Historic downtown St. Augustine from the water

While we had plans to take a mooring ball ($20) at the municipal marina (anchoring is a little sketchy with the currents), a blog friend, “Captain Peppers”, turned us onto Hidden Harbor Marina. Just two miles up the San Sebastian River, the marina truly is one of St. Augustine’s best kept secrets! Secure, impeccably clean, cruiser-managed and ideally located across from the winery and a short walk to beautiful, historic downtown St. Augustine. Ah, and their rates – just $25/nt., utilities included! Bonus: There’s even a community garden where we were given fresh tomatoes and potatoes upon checking in. We can’t say enough about this place and its outstanding dockmasters, David and Hayla.

“Kaleo” resting at Hidden Harbor Marina

With Kaleo tied up we spent the past two days:

  • Hiking to West Marine for a few project parts and the grocery store to stock up on fresh foods
  • Making Chicken Tiki Masala dinner which before joining “Captain Peppers” (who lives at Hidden Harbor) for a sundowner aboard his cruising boat. We had a nice time hearing about his cruising plans and sharing some of our experiences.
  • Exploring Old Town St. Augustine, with its narrow cobblestone streets, quaint cafes (snack break at the Spanish Bakery for empanadas), unique shops, the grand Flagler College (the former Ponce de Leon Hotel of the 1890’s) and the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in America

St. Augustine City Hall

The east cannon wall of the fort

Just checkin’ things out

  • Lunching at Carmelo’s Marketplace, home to the best pizza in town and only a short walk from the marina
  • Touring San Sebastian Winery, where the vintners make several varieties of sweet wine out of the native Florida muscadine grape. The gratis tour included an extensive tasting session and all sorts of wine-related recipes and entertaining tips from our enthusiastic guide.

The winery on the San Sebastian River, across from the marina

Casks full of Port

  • Listening to Hawaiian Jazz music at a complimentary concert in the plaza with a wine smoothie – yes, a frosty wine smoothie (!) to top off the night

Concert in the Plaza

  • Checking off a few boat projects like changing the oil, topping off fuel, replacing a deck fill and housecleaning
  • Baking a stuffed artichoke to share with sundowners

Stuffing the artichoke to steam/bake

  • Driving, yes driving, to run a few errands as David let us borrow the marina truck (another perk of a cruiser-managed marina)
  • Hanging out with new friends, Gregg and Jo on “Simpatico”, who were in the Bahamas this season but we had just met while anchored in Daytona Beach. They’re a lively couple from Nebraska and we enjoyed talking all things cruising and which boats are mutual friends.

Overall, St. Augustine is a city filled with rich Spanish history and was a great way to wrap up our sail through Florida.

Visiting Friends in Florida

After a cool and restful night in Ft. Pierce, we took Kaleo 15 miles up the ICW to keep her on a mooring in Vero Beach while we visited friends in Ft. Lauderdale.

Kaleo resting in Vero Beach

After getting Kaleo secured and packed up for our week ashore we:

  • Visited with cruising friends from the Bahamas, Jan and Karl of “White Pepper”, who happened to also be our mooring neighbor in Vero Beach. They were kind enough to ferry us from ship to shore so we could leave our dinghy onboard and watch Kaleo while we were gone for the week.
  • Returned the favors by driving them in our rental to a nearby boat yard to snap insurance photos of their friends’ boat. Cruisers truly take care of one another.
  • Made our way down to Cooper City, a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale, to stay with Ted and Mili (of “Morning Glory”), in their beautiful land home where they welcomed us like family
  • Celebrated Memorial Day weekend pool party style at Aunt Bev’s (Ted’s sister) and had a blast meeting their family, swimming and dining on BBQ ribs and chicken

Memorial Day BBQ Party

  • Toured Ft. Lauderdale with Ted, Mili, and Bonnie (their youngest daughter) and hit up stateside favorites like Target, TJ Maxx, and West Marine. Thanks for showing us around town!
  • Stopped into a salon for the captain’s first haircut since leaving the country over six months ago

Ready for a little trim

  • Tuned into their wise counsel as we contemplate our next steps and life back in the states

“Morning Glory” and “Kaleo”

  • Feasted on an epic Surf ‘n’ Turf dinner at Chateau Cook, played Mexican Train (our signature entertainment), and watched game 1 of the Mavs/Heat finals as a sendoff before Ted and Mili head north on “Morning Glory”

Mexican Train!

  • Drove to Pompano Beach on Wednesday evening to stay with Sean and Erica, longtime friends from Dallas who now live in Florida

Visiting Erica and Sean! Wish we had a group pic from dinner.

  • Dined at the hip Rocco’s Tacos with the Bakers (unbelievable margs, fresh tableside guac, seafood entrees!) and toured A1A Beachfront Avenue in the evening lights
  • Raided the local Target, Fresh Market, and Walmart to fully reprovision
  • Checked out the beach and A1A in the daylight on a trip to Bluewater Charts and Books to pick up Skipper Bob’s East Coast Guide
  • More dining, this time at Greek Island Taverna with the Bakers and stayed up late visiting (on a school night for Sean and Erica)
  • Raced back to Vero Beach to return the rental car on time while managing to pick up a whole new house battery bank for “Kaleo”. Whew.
  • Stopped by “White Pepper” to say hello, thank you and farewell-for-now as they were heading north early the next morning.
  • Joined Ted and Mili for dinner and Mexican Train as they had pulled in to Vero for the night on their transit north. (It felt like months since we’d seen them but writing this we realize that it was only a couple of days).
  • Spent Saturday touring Vero Beach by way of their free well-kept, air-conditioned bus system. Enjoyed sushi lunch at Siam Orchid and a movie on the big screen (our first since December).

Venturing along Vero Beach

Vero Beach

  • Organized and packed all the groceries and supplies into the cavernous storage compartments on “Kaleo” and prepped to head north in the morning
  • Started Sunday with a service, “I Quit Comparing“, before getting underway for our next anchorage on the Banana River.

Though we already miss the crystal waters and laid-back lifestyle of the islands, it was nice to have such a warm welcome back stateside from great friends.

N 27° 39.3 / W 80° 22.2

Bahamas to Florida Passage Timeline

Assuming all fuel and water are topped off, the evening before any significant passage is spent prepping the boat and ourselves for safety and ease underway.

This involves, but is not limited to, securing the dinghy outboard motor on the stern rail, deflating and storing our dinghy on deck, checking the main engine oil, alternator belt and fuel filter, inspecting standing and running rigging, uncovering the main sail, running our jack lines (safety straps that run the length of the boat that we clip into when going forward of the cockpit), preparing meals that we’ll have underway, organizing and securing all movable things inside the boat and laying out the clothes and PFD’s we’ll wear.

And here’s how we spent the 30 hour crossing from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco to Ft. Pierce, Florida.

6:30 – Matt wakes up to tune into Chris Parker’s weather forecast. It confirms favorable conditions for a smooth Gulf Stream crossing with winds 5-10 knots from the east, southeast and two to three foot swell on the ocean.

Kaleo pointed toward the homeland

7:00 – We pull up the anchor with Matt at the bow and Christie at the helm. The chain rapidly clanks up over the bow roller, most likely alerting everyone in the anchorage that a boat is leaving.

7:02 – Scooted past the sleeping “Honu Lele” and entered White Sound Channel toward the Sea of Abaco. 55 miles to Great Sale Cay, our intended staging anchorage for the crossing.

7:30 – Christie makes egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast while Matt programs the day’s waypoints into the chart plotter.

10:00 – The wind picks up so Matt rolls out the jib to motorsail.

10:09 – The wind dies so Matt rolls the jib back in to stop it from flapping against the shrouds.

12:00 – Lunch is served, salads with summer sausage and crackers for Matt, grilled Veggie-cheese for Christie.

14:30 – The wind picks back up and Matt rolls out the jib again.

16:00 – The wind has held and Kaleo glides along at 6 to 6.5 knots with only the rumble of Mr. Beeker (our affectionately named engine) to disturb the peace of the island we’re floating past.

16:15 – Matt finishes his second book of the day. (Life on a Rock and The Sun Also Rises)

17:30 – We arrive at our intended staging anchorage of Great Sale Cay. Feeling good and decide to sail on through the night and get to Florida by Saturday afternoon. About 110 miles to go.

18:30 – Christie heats up premade foil packets of Quinoa stuffed bell peppers which we enjoy in the cockpit as the beginnings of sunset beckon nightfall.

19:00 – We get cell reception from a lone island tower and use our last $8.00 of Bahamian cell credit to call AT&T and have our U.S. cell phone taken off vacation hold and call  family and friends to let them know of our adjusted plans.

19:15 – Matt goes below for his sleep shift while Christie takes the helm.

20:30 – Our fishing reel starts to click, click, click signaling fish on! Matt jumps up to bring it in while Christie goes for the gaff hook and gloves. Much to our dismay, the fighting fish is nothing more than a large Barracuda which we unhook and release. At least we didn’t lose a lure.

Fishing false alarm with a barracuda on the hook

21:00 – Christie scans the horizon as a few twinkles turn into a comforting blanket of stars in the pitch black sky.

23:30 – A bright flash wakes Matt up. Turns out it’s lightning about 10 miles off our stern, not Christie taking pictures in the night. Matt joins the storm watching party in the cockpit and eventually takes over for the admiral to get some rest.

24:00 – The storm passes well to our stern with strobing flashes indicating its location.

2:30 – A silver quarter moon rises and gives lighted dimension to the waves around us.

3:00 – The engine mysteriously lugs and dies, leaving an eerie silence in the night. We sail on at 4 knots while Matt opens up the engine room to start diagnosis.

3:20 – The motor cranks and starts back up after Matt traced the problem to a drained starting battery which didn’t have enough power to run the electric fuel pump, starving Mr. Beeker to silence. After hot-wiring into the house batteries, it was back to full steam ahead at 7 knots.

5:30 – Streams of sunlight begin to pierce the sky signaling the approaching sunrise.

7:30 – Breakfast is again served, this time it’s cereal.

8:00 – Our speed increases to a near 8 knots as we’re pulled northward into the strong currents of the Gulf Stream.

9:30 – Christie crafts notes to fill a couple message in bottles and we toss them overboard in the ripping current of the Gulf Stream.

Casting message in a bottle #1

Tossing over message in a bottle #2

10:30 – Matt lowers our tattered and torn Bahamian flag as we sail back into U.S. waters.

Kaleo has seen many Bahamian isles under this flag

11:00 – Looking over our stern, we realize there is a fish on our line. We reel in a bluefin tuna, which was a little too small to eat so we cut it up for bait.

11:20 – We were welcomed into Florida by a pod of about a dozen dolphins and a double rainbow. Our playful friends escorted us in for about half an hour, some doing synchronized leaps and dives that were so well timed we thought they had escaped from Seaworld.

Welcomed under double rainbow

And escorted in by playful friends

12:30 – We motor through the channel entrance into Ft. Pierce Inlet and quickly realized we were making our grand entrance into the coast of southern Florida on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend! Boats big and small swarmed the waterways buzzing around at speeds that shattered our laid back island pace. It was an abrupt annoucement that we were back stateside.

1:15 – We dock at Harborview Marina to treat ourselves to A/C, a freshwater bath for Kaleo and a long night’s rest. First stop in the U.S. was “A Touch of Brooklyn” pizzeria where we overindulged in a gooey fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil Pizza Margherita.

1st stateside dinner, classic Pizza Margherita

A clean Kaleo resting after returning us safely stateside

6:30 – Matt finishes washing the boat, and Christie wipes the last surface inside clean. After long showers we crawl into the V-berth and are asleep before we can say goodnight.

Flying the Bahamian Flag

With the Bahamas so close that we could taste the conch, we pulled up anchor in Boot Key Harbor on Tuesday afternoon, and headed east.

Kaleo sailing toward the Bahamas. Taken by our friends aboard Storyville.
Matt taking a break from trimming the sail

The weather window was right and the five boats we had been planning the passage with were either getting ready to pull up anchor or had left a little earlier. As we sailed out into the deep waters of the Atlantic, the silent question aboard Kaleo was “how smooth will our crossing be?” After a 45 hour passage we’re happy to report that all-in-all, it was a wonderful trip into the Bahamas.

The first few hours after we sailed out of Marathon were quite rolly and uncomfortable and as we headed for “the Stream“, we hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t get worse. During our every-three-hour radio check with our buddy boats, we intently listed to what those in front of us had to say about the conditions. Some reported the same rocking and rolling but two of the lead boats said it was beautiful and smooth sailing up ahead. We altered course a bit and sailed toward those reported smoother waters.

We entered the Gulf Stream about 20 miles off the coast of Florida and were treated to unbelievably great conditions. Other than a few large container ships we had to avoid (one that came alarmingly close, despite telling us on the radio that he was miles away), the whole night we motor sailed at 7-8 knots (the Gulf Stream current was quite helpful). As Troy on Storyville put it “you could water ski out here.” At dawn the sea state was again rolly and rough as a the winds picked up and the swells increased to 4-5 feet. But things calmed down again as we passed South Riding Rock and into crystal clear waters of the Great Bahama Bank.

Still with no land in sight, the day was spent sailing, and occasionally motor sailing when the wind died, over the sea floor that we could easily see through 20 feet of pristine water. We were joined by dolphins that torpedoed around the boat like curious kids of the newbie on their playground.

One of our welcoming dolphins. Taken by Deana aboard Storyville.

At sunset on day two of the trip we hove to (parked the boat by opposing the jib sail’s force to the rudder’s force) to ensure that we wouldn’t get into Nassau before sunrise and to get a few hours of rest. Well, Matt got rest while Christie burned off the sugar-free Red Bull she had just drank as it was her turn to be on shift before we decided to heave-to. She used the time, and energy, to clean the boat, to fully catch up on this past season of Mad Men and to keep an eye on the other boats that were hove-to.

Sunset on the Great Bahama Bank

As soon as the night’s sky was filled with the most bold and bright full moon, the group got back underway and headed for our next waypoint of Northwest Channel, the entrance of the Tongue of the Ocean. With shoals on both sides and strong currents, the channel can be fairly tricky to navigate through, especially in the dark. So, all six boats within our flotilla lined up pretty tightly, like elephants trunk to tail, and kept in close communication as the depth sounder went quickly from 10 feet to 15 to 25 to 100 to the unreadable depths of 6,000 feet.

The next 10 hours were spent mostly motoring toward Nassau Harbor. Matt was sound asleep when morning came and Christie was treated to an amazing sunrise off the bow and a majestic moonset off the stern.

Soon enough we had radioed Nassau Harbor Control for permission to enter, were cleared and were on our way to dock at the Nassau Yacht Haven to wait for customs and immigration. The check-in process went smoothly as three customs officials boarded Kaleo, remaining in the cockpit, to complete the paperwork.  The only hang-up was that we were over-charged by $150 due to the customs officers not being familiar with the rates based on vessel length (or so we’d like to assume). Note: The official cruising permit fees for the Bahamas are $150 for vessels 35′ and under, $300 for vessels 35.1′ and up. We were essentially forced to pay $300 in cash, although Kaleo is 34′, as there was really no way to convince them beyond our attempts to point out our understanding of the rates. Frustrating to say the least but we plan to investigate the facts further and to take it up with the main customs office in hopes of a refund.

We took down our yellow quarantine flag and hoisted the Bahamian flag to prove Kaleo was now cleared to cruise the Bahamas. Dead tired, but excited to finally be here, the crew of our group of buddy boats met at “The Poop Deck Restaurant” for a celebratory dinner. We finished the evening sipping champagne and sharing sailing stories aboard our friends’ boat, Storyville, then it was back to Kaleo for a deep slumber.

N 25° 04.5 / W 77° 18.9
Boot Key Harbor Life

Since our last post, we’ve been enjoying the warm weather of the Florida Keys, prepping for our trip to the Bahamas and meeting new people in the “neighborhood.”

Kaleo at anchor in Boot Key Harbor, taken by our neighbors aboard SaltyPaws

  • Regardless of our plans for the day, each morning at 9:00 a.m. we tune into the cruisers’ net on VHF channel 68. The net is a radio gathering of all the boats in the harbor and are moderated by a net controller. These organized sessions are intended to welcome new arrivals, bid farewell to those departing, share information and local announcements (like yoga at 10:00 at the tiki hut, SSCA lunch at Hurricane’s), allow other boaters to request help on a projects, routes, etc. and facilitate a “treasures from the bilge” exchange, (a buy/sell/trade/give-away session). They wrap up with a challenge (trivia) to try to stump the harbor and any final business. All very informative, entertaining and a great way to start the day.
  • On the net we heard about the weekly “meet and greet” for Wednesday evening. Everyone brings a dish into the marina and we all spent some time getting to know each other. It was there that we connected with Deana and Troy on Storyville and Steve on Anchor Management who are also from Kemah and are headed to the Bahamas on the next window. We’ve enjoyed getting to know them, are looking forward to making the crossing together and hanging out once we’re in the Bahamas. Watch out lobstas, Deana’s got her Hawaiian Sling ready for ya.
  • While the boat is stocked to the brim with provisions, we have been taking advantage of the convenient walk to the grocery store to pick up some fresh foods.
    There’s also a West Marine within walking distance, so we stopped in to get a Bahamas courtesy flag (a boat must fly the courtesy flag of the country it is sailing through) and a few other final items.
  • Saturday evening we stopped by the cruisers’ concert (heard about it on the net) to listen to our anchorage neighbors Bentley and Jim, on SaltyPaws, play for the crowd and Troy, on Storyville, who belted out a few acoustic solo sessions for the gathering.
  • It wouldn’t be cruising without a little boat work which included Christie going up the mast to replace a flag halyard and shipping home our spinnaker sail (a large downwind sail that takes up a lot of room and rarely gets used) as well as replacing the fresh water manifold, remounting the WiFi antenna, changing the oil, zincs and fuel filter and adding straps to more easily lift the dinghy’s outboard motor. Ah, we even used a marina cart to haul that sail to the post office where Christie managed to hitch a ride on the cart part of the way (we looked like quite the sailor bums down the sidewalks).
  • We got geared up for going under with new fins, masks, snorkels and a wet suit from a nearby dive shop.
  • Our digital camera was lost to the depths of Marathon Harbor after a slippery mishap handing it down from the boat to the dinghy. It was painful to watch it sink (like a brick) but thankfully we had just ordered an all-purpose (waterproof) digital camera so the memory capturing will continue uninterrupted.
  • Much of our time has been spent watching for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas and preparing for the actual passage. We’ve been doing our research as Kaleo will have to cross the Gulf Stream. The first big leap in getting to the Bahamas is crossing this “ocean river” that runs northward with at least 2 knots of current. The Gulf Stream can either be a benign and helpful current or a rough and hard sail in heavy seas. In planning the crossing you have a number of factors to consider: wind speed, wind direction, sea state, optimum crossing angle, vessel speed, day or night voyage, season of the year and preferred arrival destination. Whew – lots to align for an ideal crossing.
  • Two afternoons have been spent meeting with other Bahamas-bound cruisers to swap weather notes, GPS waypoints (specific points along the route we sail towards), anchorage and check-in information. While about 12 boats attended the meeting, the final count for tomorrow’s departure will probably be 6-8. While we are all taking the same route, each vessel will leave at a different time depending on their boat speed. The slower boats leave first, the faster ones last. Kaleo is right about in the middle. We’re as prepared as we’re going to be and are ready to head out tomorrow.

New Favorite Sailing Song

Thanks to fellow cruising couple, Bright Eyes, we stumbled onto some incredible new tunes created by former young cruisers and musicians, Tennis. The pair set out on a eight-month sailing trip on the Eastern seaboard where they started writing songs together as “sort of a soundtrack” for their experiences.

This one is called ‘Marathon.’ (Where we are at this week, waiting for the next weather window to cross over to the Bahamas.) It’s about the first time they ever sailed at night, and as they describe, “it’s exactly like being in outer space, and it’s really scary. And when I was doing it I was like, the only reason why this is worth it is cause I can tell a really cool story afterward. So this is the story.”

What a backdrop for any grand adventure! I adore these breezy lyrics …

Coconut Grove
is a very small cove
Separated from the sea
by a shifting shoal
We didn’t realize that
We had arrived
At high tide, high tide
Barely made it out alive
Oh … Oohhoohuh

Red over white
Fishermen working at night
Not even once did we see a light
We didn’t realize
The forecast had been revised
By moonless skies and
Shifty wind that gusts and dies
Oh on the sand our keel is heaving
But tonight we’ve got to be leaving
Travel through the day and into the evening
Oh … Oohhoohuh

Marathon how long we’ve been gone
And still not yet set foot upon you

Your low lying shores open welcomingly
To one who’s spent the night at sea
Adrift in the shallows, a modest repose
Adorn with coral, your bright color shows
Ushered in through a bridge that is never closed.
Oh … Oohhoohuh

Bonus: iTunes is offering a free download of this single track as they launch the album this week :o).

N 24° 42.22 / W 81° 05.99

The Butchers, The Bakers, & Key Lime Pie Stick Makers

We spent yesterday afternoon and evening exploring the Keys with two long-time friends and fellow adventurers from Dallas, Erica & Sean Baker! Before they arrived, we were able to wave to the live webcam for Boot Key Harbor and to Christie’s parents who were on the computer receiving our virtual hello back in Texas.

The Bakers & The Butchers at No Name Pub
Looks like we found it
Fish eye view into the entrance

Our corner table consumed by dollars

Christie & Erica adding their decorated Washingtons

Erica and Sean were generous enough to drive from their Fort Lauderdale home to pick us up for an awesome day of:

  • Checking out the must-experience and hidden gem, No Name Pub, off the main highway in Big Pine Key (about 25 miles east of Key West). The Bakers heard about their conch fritters and quirky character touted on the Travel Channel so we were off to find it. We were greeted with thousands of dollar bills hanging from 100% of the interior space, ceiling to floor and everything in between except the floor and tables. It is said that this tradition with the bills started back in the 70’s and 80’s when there was so much illegal money floating around in the Keys that they started hanging it on the walls! Of course, we had to leave ours as well. After a hearty lunch, while the fritters didn’t live up to their reputation, we completely understood why they were voted the best pizza in Florida last year. This rustic little place was an adventure and definitely worth the twists and turns to find it.
  • Driving to Key West to spend the rest of the day
  • Walking to our obligatory buoy photo opp at the claimed Southernmost Point in the continental US
  • After briefly attempting to catch one of the wild roosters that roam the streets of Key West, Christie escaped its retaliation by quickly retreating
  • Lounging, visiting and sipping tasty drinks at the Rum Bar of the Speak Easy Inn
  • Walking down Duval Street, taking in the vivacious sights and interesting people watching
  • Wrapping up the day with frozen Key Lime Pies on a stick, dipped in Belgian Chocolate from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe

With full bellies and warm hearts after getting to catch up, we returned to our floating home in Marathon. Thanks again, Erica and Sean!

A Marathon Sail

We’ve been spending the start of our new year by moving further south. After leaving the Tampa area, we spent a few nights at anchor along the ICW as we motored down to Fort Myers. Then, we picked up a mooring ball for two nights in Fort Myers waiting out a strong storm front and rain that came through. While in town doing laundry, another cruiser asked where we were from, and to our reply she said with excitement “Oh, you’re the kids!” It seems our reputation proceeded us as our friends and fellow cruisers, the Sittons, mentioned we would be coming through the area soon. For a little context, at the start of our adventure a handful of other cruisers we had gotten to know (and our diesel mechanic) started affectionately referring to us as “the kids,” a name that stuck. We like it and it certainly suits us as we have so much to learn from their experience and advice.

The main, full of wind, from Fort Myers to Marathon

On Friday morning we dropped the mooring ball in Fort Myers and topped off our water and fuel before heading out into the Gulf. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction of what was forecast (blowing SE, forecast to be NW) dashing our hopes of a smooth downwind sail to Marathon. Combined with seas from the west, meaning they were perpendicular to the boat, made for a very rolly ride. Though uncomfortable, we were making good progress so we moved on past our backup stop of Marco Island to keep heading toward the Keys. The wind continued on the nose until about 7 p.m. then started to clock around to the west enough to raise the main sail. That helped speed but just after dinner we heard the dreaded “thunk” of a crab trap hitting the prop. Thankfully it didn’t get wrapped up in the shaft (which would have necessitated a dive trip into the water to cut it loose). With the darkness, it was impossible to see and avoid the crab traps so we decided to shut down the motor and raise the remaining sail. The wind filled from the west and much to our delight, Kaleo was gliding along at 6.5 knots under full sail (and only full sail). The peaceful quiet of water lapping past the hull and the whisper of wind through the rigging reminded us why we love sailing. It’s a beautiful feeling to be moving along in your house, powered completely by mother nature. About midnight, the sailing was still great but our speed would put us into the Moser Channel before light (a big no-no as you never want to enter a new channel in the dark). So we dropped the jib and sailed under just the main at about 3 knots to ensure a daylight arrival. With sunrise came wind on the nose, the motor came back on and we weaved our way under the Seven Mile Bridge and into the Atlantic Ocean.

About an hour later, Kaleo was securely anchored in Boot Key Harbor with gorgeous 70° weather under sunny skies. We promptly changed into swimsuits and fell asleep lounging in the sun on the foredeck. A few hours later we took the dingy in to check out the marina and take showers. The city marina, though utilitarian, fosters a great community of sailors and liveaboards. When checking into the marina we even received a welcome bag from the local cruisers’ net. Think of a “net” as an interactive morning radio show for every boater in the area who has a VHF radio and wants to join. We’re looking forward to listening in tomorrow. Coming back to Kaleo after dark, we were awe struck by just how many boats are in the harbor. There are rows and rows and ROWS of anchor lights lit up like a city on the water and our best guess is that we’re neighboring at least 300 other boats.

Dusk at Boot Key Harbor

Tomorrow, our friends, Erica and Sean, are driving in from Fort Lauderdale to have lunch nearby and Monday we plan to do a few last minute errands. Then, it’s time to get serious about our crossing to the Bahamas. We’ll have our eye on the next weather window with plans to stage in Angelfish Creek (or somewhere nearby) for the crossing.

N 24° 42.16 / W 81° 06.23

Looking Forward While Celebrating 2010

As we look forward to what 2011 has in store for us, we reflected on our blessed-beyond-belief 2010. This has been a year of big changes, new beginnings and celebrations galore.

Looking forward to a walk like this soon

The first part of our year was filled with starting more projects than we finished on Kaleo, learning as much as we could aboard, as well as through Seven Seas University courses, and spending a few freezing weekends planning for warmer weather projects.

Spring brought warmer weather, some great sailing in Galveston Bay, the wedding of our dear friends, Amy & Jeph, and Christie’s parents’ 35th wedding anniversary in April.

May was a landmark month as we became officially debt free, gaining financial freedom. We also moved from our 1,400 square foot townhome to a 650 square foot studio apartment to better prepare for our life aboard Kaleo. And, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at The Joule, were we stayed on our wedding night. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

With the Texas summer heat came lots of family and friends visiting the boat, marina BBQ’s, and more boat projects. And in June, the “Cyclin’ Sailors” geared up for our 4th annual Urban Assault Race in Austin!

The Fourth of July was shared with the Wilborns by sailing and watching incredible fireworks shows while anchored out in the bay. Then, we jetted to Coeur D’ Alene, ID to celebrate the newest Butchers, as Matt’s brother Jeff married his bride, Meloney. We topped off the trip to the Northwest with an incredible experience of sleeping 50′ off the ground in the boughs of a giant, old Washington Red Cedar Tree at Cedar Creek Treehouse and touring Mt. Rainier National Park. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

While the summer heat continued to bake us, we enjoyed a shakedown cruise to Galveston with the Kryzaks and a sailing weekend with The Powers. Of course, we spent a few weekends completing some boat projects along the way.

The fall brought a trip to Minneapolis to celebrate Grandma Butcher’s 90th birthday, visit with family and to Trader Joe’s to stock up on our favorite snacks. The realization that we were now within one month of tossing the docklines helped us get a lot of boat projects wrapped up almost every weekend.

October was a big month as Matt took his leave of absence from work, Christie resigned from her job, we moved out of our land home and aboard Kaleo full-time, sold a car and put another one in storage along with our belongings. We soaked up treasured time with loved ones and were given three outstanding Bon Voyage parties. We also got to celebrate the marriage of Ben and Carly (Matt’s cousin) and spent time with family in San Diego. Of course, we managed another trip to Trader Joe’s for more provisions.

November 8th marked the beginning of our cruising life. Before leaving the dock, we met up with some cruising mentors, The Sittons, and celebrated Christie’s birthday with family and a dear friend, Crystal, aboard. The month was filled with a host of new experiences – from adjusting to life aboard to overcoming unknown challenges and navigating new waters to connecting with new friends along the way. We topped it off with a roadtrip from Mississippi to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with family.

The year wrapped up by crossing the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida. It was on those passages that we learned to love the open ocean, more fully appreciate warm days and spent time digging our toes into our first white sandy beach. Christmas with shared with family and friends in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida and we were back home aboard Kaleo on New Year’s Eve.

We welcomed the new decade with the most unusual of celebrations for us at this time of year. The clock struck midnight as we pushed two carts down the isles of a 24-hour Walmart. We laughed and shared a little “Happy New Year” smooch in the canned goods aisle and continued provisioning in preparation for the Bahamas and beyond. Yes, really. Oh, the cruising life ;o).

Thank you for joining us as virtual crew along this adventure. It means a lot to us. We wish you peace, blessings and togetherness in your new year!

We’re ready for 2011 and believe the best is yet to come. God has even more amazing things He wants to do in and through our lives so we’re straining to what is ahead. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Finding Our Pace in the New Year

Happy New Year! We wrapped up the decade by spending the past couple weeks with family and friends in Dallas, Houston, Crowley, LA and Clermont, FL. It was a whirlwind of visits to their beautiful and warm Christmas-adorned homes, our favorite restaurants, pampering appointments that helped transform us from salty sailors to our recognizable selves, and provisioning trips at every type of store from Target and Whole Foods to West Marine and Elliott’s Hardware. All those business trips paid off in miles for the ideal, direct flights that allowed us to be close to loved ones and bring the maximum amount of gear back with us (both in number of boxes and weight!).

There’s no missing our airport pick-up. Thanks Maurice!

Playing Cornhole Toss with the Breens and a few new friends

Returning to the boat and getting back into cruising mode punctuated just how different the pace of life is out here versus on land. While cruising, we typically do one or two things a day that take all day. Transiting from one place to another may take all day, if not longer. Sometimes we add in grocery shopping or laundry if we’re docked, but not often both in the same day. And exploring a new place will certainly take a full day on its own. While on land, we seem to do over forty things a day, everyday. Staying up as late as it takes to get it all in.

After just two months of cruising, we were surprised by how much we were affected by this intense pace that in our former land life, we could have run circles around.

Yesterday is when it all caught up with us. After getting several months worth of provisions organized and stowed away, we drafted an aggressive transit plan from our Christmas dockage to the Florida Keys with the goal of catching up with our cruising friends and making the crossing to the Bahamas by week’s end. While we felt a little worn out, we were motivated to get going so we set out for the Gulf.

After a late start waiting on bridges (Florida has strict bridge opening schedules) and two groundings, our ambition was trumped by exhaustion. While it was absolutely worth traveling back to the “real world” for Christmas, the pace had gotten the best of us so we made the prudent decision to anchor nearby in Sarasota and get some rest. We’ve dusted ourselves off and are now en route south to Fort Myers.

As we’ve learned over the past couple months, plans are always subject to change so we’ll continue on our course to the Bahamas as weather and our cruising pace permit.

N 27° 07.16 / W 82° 28.06

It Is A Wonderful Life

We took it easy yesterday as another cold front was forecast to blow through the Clearwater Beach area. After sleeping in until the sedating sounds of rain waned, we decided to move anchorages for better protection from the north wind that was on its way.

We reset the hook, cleaned up a bit, and by about 3 o’clock noticed that the gray clouds of the day had made way for a little sunshine and clear skies for the evening. Given the better weather, we jumped in the dinghy and were off to see if the outdoor movie, scheduled for the night, was still a go. Yes! The screen was up right along the beach at Pier 60 for Sunset Cinema and the night’s showing was “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I love, love, love this movie because it shows that God makes what seems ordinary and insignificant in our lives into something extraordinary and significant when we are living our lives for Him. We made a date night of the moonlit movie by picking up a pizza from a local cafe and snuggled up for the show under the stars.

Sunset Cinema at Clearwater Beach

Just as it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, we returned to the restaurant where our dinghy was tied, only to find the entrance securely locked for the night. Much earlier than they had told us they’d be closing. Our dinghy was within sight, yet we were separated by about 30 feet of cold, dark water. Matt thought about making a quick swim for it. For about two seconds. The next logical option was to call marina security for a little help. The call yielded neither an unlocked restaurant nor a boat to give us a lift. Looked like we were on our own. So, up to the roof Matt went. His ninja skills paid off as he scaled the building, crawled along the steep peaks of the roof and dropped down to the deck where he could rescue our dinghy. Whew, freezing late night swim avoided and a great laugh was had while break-in arrests were averted.

Ninja captain retrieving our dinghy

We returned to our floating home safely and tucked in for a solid night’s rest. This morning, we pulled up the anchor in Clearwater and headed back into the Gulf to sail a few hours south to Tampa. Remember when you used to ride your bike as fast as you could up those really steep homemade ramps and crash down only to get up and do them again? Welcome aboard Kaleo’s wild ride today. The first hour or so was pretty rolly and once we turned due south, the north wind propelled us along at about 7 to 8 knots! A few hours later, we negotiated a tricky and rough pass into the ICW, once again proving to us that open ocean sailing seems to have far fewer obstacles to navigate.

Running downwind to Tampa, FL

We’re now docked for awhile as we’re catching a flight to Texas tomorrow to spend Christmas with family and friends. We hope you enjoy a blessed one with those you love.

Opa! We’re At The Beach

Clearwater Beach, FL has given us our first full day of powdery, white, sugar sand and endless sunshine at the beach!

After the past two long offshore passages, we were particularly grateful for such a perfect day to stretch our sea legs and be part of the action on land.  Kaleo spent the day quietly anchored while we explored and soaked in almost every inch of Clearwater Beach as well as the neighboring towns of Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.

Kaleo resting at anchor

“Bubble and Squeak” (our dinghy and motor) quickly propelled us from our anchored floating home to the city docks within a short walk to try out the highly recommended, original Frenchy’s Cafe for lunch. Patio dining in t-shirts were topped with Prince Edward Island steamed mussels, fries and sangria for me, Baja Grouper tacos, coleslaw and Rolling Rock for Matt. What a way to start the day!

Within a block, we were digging our toes into the fluffiest, sugar sand we’ve ever felt! Yet. For the next few hours we played and lounged, taking in the serene sights and gentle sounds of a relatively secluded beach on a Friday before Christmas. We can’t think of a better way to have beat the holiday chaos.

Jolley Trolleying

Next up, we hopped aboard the Jolley Trolley and were whisked about town, stopping off to experience the street fair on Pier 60 and were convinced that we should check out Tarpon Springs for an authentic Greek dinner that night. Authentic Greek in Florida? While we were a little suspect of such authenticity, we were up for an extended Christmas lights tour aboard the trolley so we went for it. And so glad we did! We stepped off the Jolley Trolley in Tarpon Springs and into a genuine Greek community, ambushed by aromas of Souvlaki and Baklava just waiting for us.  Considered the sponge capital of the world, the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs brought Greek Spongers in 1905 and is still a working port with sponge and fishing boats, shops and incredible Greek dining. We’re sure glad they came! We wandered about for awhile taking in some of the history and ventured down a side street where the inviting windows of Costa’s Restaurant called us in. There we enjoyed our fill of hummus, pita, Greek salads, Spanakopita, Souvlaki, and of course, more sangria.

The Tarpon Springs Sponge Boat

Were we done? Of course not. You can’t fully appreciate Greek cuisine without diving into their rich, buttery pastries so we walked back down the main street to the must-stop of Hella’s Bakery where we sipped cappuccinos and split a Saragli (walnuts rolled in filo and dipped in honey). Ahhh, we have truly lived today!

With rain in tomorrow’s forecast, we plan to stay on the hook, order some parts to be shipped before Christmas, go for a run and if the weather clears, check out the outdoor movie at the beach near Pier 60.

N 27° 58.59 / W 82° 49.29
Carrabelle to Clearwater Passage

The past few days have been spent waiting out a cold front at C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle, FL. We spent most of the time staying warm, doing some housecleaning, running  few errands and checking the weather to plan our next long offshore crossing. A highlight one evening was getting to catch up with our good friends, The Powers.

It looks calm here but coming in to C-Quarters Marina it took eight people, each with a line, and three tries to wrangle Kaleo into the slip as we fought against 35 mph winds and 2 knots of river currentSkyping with the Powers

Our Spot Tracker route from Carrabelle to Clearwater

The forecast was iffy and the weather window short but after a talk with some cruising mentors, and knowing the next window was over a week away, we decided to go for it. While most of the time was spent motoring as the wind was on our nose, it turned out to be a relatively calm and easy passage.

  • 150 – nautical miles traveled in 30 hours
  • 35 – miles offshore at the farthest
  • 10 – average knots of wind with 1 to 2 foot seas
  • 2 – distinctively inspiring books absorbed, Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi and The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
  • 2 – movies watched on our iPhones, Letters to God and Bobby
  • 0 – land in sight at 360° around us
  • 1 – powerful bible verse shared with us by friends and fellow cruisers, The Claytons, that brought a great amount of security and peace, Numbers 6:24-26. Thank you!

We were reminded that being out at sea is actually more peaceful than sailing near shore or in channels like the ICW. When offshore, the boat basically handles itself and we each take turns on watch, routinely checking the horizon, course and instruments. When closer to land, we have to be constantly vigilant for hazards such as other boaters, floating debris, shoaling, crab traps, and missing or incorrectly marked navigation aids.

One of two magnificent sunsets on this passage

Open waters of the Gulf as we neared Clearwater

Tonight we’re anchored in Clearwater where will spend a few days before moving the boat to Tampa and flying to Texas to spend Christmas with family and friends.

N 27°58.54 / W 82°49.30

Pensacola to Apalachicola Passage

Early Friday morning we set out on a 97 mile offshore passage from Pensacola to Port Saint Joe, FL. Almost 22 hours later, we arrived at the channel entrance a few hours ahead of schedule. Feeling motivated and with favorable conditions, we decided to press on past Port Saint Joe for another 25 miles through the ICW to Apalachicola. There’s a harsh cold front forecast to blow through the area this weekend so we wanted to get as far down the line as possible before being held up by the weather. We’re now tied up to a city dock that’s a little rolly, but coming off the past day’s adventure, we’ll probably sleep though just about anything.

Kaleo cutting through the Gulf

  • It took almost 13 hours to cover just the first 50 miles from Pensacola to Destin because of 17-19 knot winds right on the nose (coming at us) and 3 to 4 foot seas.
  • Just after nightfall, the winds settled to about 12 knots and the seas were nearly flat, helping us to cruise along at 6.5 knots.
  • We enjoyed the most spectacular night sky scattered with dazzling stars burning brighter than we’d ever seen. To top it off, seven shooting stars blazed above us throughout the night.
  • At the farthest, we were about 20 miles offshore.
  • Other than those twinkling stars, the only company we had along the way was one offshore fishing boat and an unidentified object that our hull hit in the night, giving us quite the jolt. (We couldn’t see what it was and there didn’t seem to be any damage but we’ll check it out more thoroughly when we can dive under in clear water.)
  • We took shifts checking the engine’s vitals, the bilge, wind conditions, sail trim and our course while the auto-pilot did most of the steering.
  • If there was a theme for the night, it would be set to the Garden State soundtrack. (Which we both listened to throughout our shifts.)
  • Other than being pretty cold, our first overnight passage of 122 nautical miles was less intimidating than we had imagined and we are grateful for being blessed with a safe trip.

Peaceful seas and a beautiful sunset

We’re off to get some rest and we’ll see what the weather brings in the morning to decide when and where we’ll head next. Ideally, we’d like to make another offshore jump to Clearwater/St. Petersburg/Tampa area once the weather clears. We’re looking forward to possibly catching up with some dear friends there.

N 29° 43.72 / W 84° 58.96

Ahoy Pirate’s Cove

We slept in a bit today knowing that we had just a short hop to cross into Florida and stage for a longer Gulf sail tomorrow.

Talk about hospitality! We discovered a freshly delivered USA Today at our companionway doorstep. Thank you Marina at the Wharf! After breakfast and catching up on all the daily headlines, we fueled up and headed back into the ICW toward “The Sunshine State.” Before we dared to cross the state line, there was a must-stop in Josephine, AL. Pirate’s Cove! Legendary hamburgers, white sandy beach, clear waters, and a mandate to stop by almost everyone we’ve met who knows these waters. It was just as they had described and the only way it could have been better is if they were docked there with us.

Kaleo waiting while we enjoyed lunch

One of the dogs took this photo while our burgers were on the grill

After our fill of burgers and wings, we motored over the Florida state line and into Big Lagoon where we tied up at Lost Key Marina & Yacht Club in Pensacola, FL. (For any cruisers out there, this is a hidden gem, not in the guide books, at $15/nt with power, water, and spacious, well-kept shower facilities.)

It’s off to get some rest now as we prepare for our longest run yet out in the Gulf. We’re planning to shoot out of Pensacola Pass tomorrow morning and sail for about 24 hours straight to Port St. Joe, FL. Yes, mom and dad, we’ll be taking turns between sleeping and sailing so no over-caffeinating will be necessary ;o).

N 30° 19.5 / W 87° 21.3

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