July 25th, 1998
Nepean, Ontario, Canada
This evening 'Pirate Jenny' sits tied to the dock at the Nepean Sailing Club. There is a light rain falling and the air is cool. Around us are the sights and sounds of an active sailing club on a Monday race night. Cars come and go in the parking lot and the hustle and bustle of the large city just beyond fills every moment with the reality of a normal life. Below on Pirate Jenny Im surrounded with the photos from our last few rolls of film. From the stereo the sounds of Trinidads calypso music play just a little louder than necessary creating a small enclave of the Caribbean. While two years of wonderful memories hang in the air within easy grasp. We have left the Caribbean and returned home but the Caribbean hasnt left us. Our experiences have changed us. In many small and subtle ways the Caribbean will be with us the rest our lives.
I realized as I began this letter just how long its been since I last wrote. Since our return to Ottawa in early June we have been occupied with re-establishing a land-based life, jobs, car, and a non-floating home. Evelyn has found a position as assistant manager of a restaurant, Ive begun work on a computer network project with a long time client, weve bought a car, dug our work clothes out of storage and have rented an apartment for the first of September. In all our re-integration has gone quickly and smoothly. Many of our friends have been by to welcome us home and many have been by to ask questions about our experiences to fine tune plans for their own escape. As costs and equipment have been of most interest, I have promised to do a breakdown of our expenses and to talk a little about what equipment we found useful. Ill get to that in a moment but for now let me take you (and me) back to Nassau where we left off in our last letter.
Pirate Jenny at home at the Nepean Sailing Club
We left Nassau with light but favourable winds and sailed west north west to Chubb Cay at the south of the Berry islands on the eastern edge of the Grand Bahama Bank. The 40 mile passage in deep water with a pleasant breeze was very relaxing after weeks of bank sailing. We arrived and anchored in the cut just east of Chubb Cay in the late afternoon. That night we experienced a common Bahamas event. The very strong currents created by water flowing on and off the bank with the tides turn the boat. The winds seldom consult the tide tables and blow whatever way they want. As a result the boat sits in the strangest positions sometime seemingly held in place by wind and current alone as she sits directly over her anchor with chain hanging slack from the bow. That night we had strong gusty winds that had us twisting and turning in every direction. At times we spun in place and other times tested the length of our tether in every direction. Many cruisers set two anchors in the Bahamas and we were also sure to do so if those around us had set two. When on our own with enough swing room we relied on one anchor. Our 44 LB Bruce and 5/16" chain rode (minimum 5 to 1 scope) held us without fail during our 2 years and one anchor rode is a lot easier to pull up than two rode braided into the most fantastic macramé after a night of changing currents and winds.
We left Chubb key at first light the next morning to begin our trek across the Grand Bahama Bank to Bimini. The Grand Bahama Bank stretches 80 some miles from Bimini at the edge of the Gulf Stream to the Berry Islands and near 200 miles from the North West Providence Channel to the Old Ships Channel just off the coast of Cuba. This entire bank is a virtual desert covered with 10 to 30 feet of water. We sailed onto the bank just west of Chubb Cay and then followed a series of GPS waypoints provided by another trusted cruiser (with 7 foot draft). The waypoints took us northwest to a mid point just north of Mackie shoal then more westerly to North Rock off the northern tip of Bimini. Our route of submerged stepping stones kept us in 12 to 25 feet of water most of the way with a short stretch of 8 to 10 feet just a few miles from the end of our journey.
Once again with little or no wind we motored across the bank 45 miles to our waypoint at Makie Shoal where we decided to stop for the night. We anchored all on our own in 20 feet of water with nothing but ocean in all directions. Our only companion was the non-functioning Mackie Shoal light, a small floating buoy. We had dinner and with anchor and cockpit lights lit settled down for the night. By 10:00 PM the wind began to blow, by 11:00 PM we had 18 to 20 knots from the east, by midnight we had choppy seas of 3 to 4 feet that ended all chances of sleep. By 1:00 am we had studied the charts and made our decision. The anchor came up and we sailed silently (no motor!) under a moonless sky toward our next waypoint. As dawn arrived we were approaching North Rock and by 9:00 am we were anchored off Alice town in Bimini harbour.
My first visit to Bimini was 5 years prior when I crewed with Dick Roberts for our friend Pierre Asselin on his Hallberg Rassay 32 from Marathon in the Florida Keys to Nassau. It was a wonderful adventure. Pierres boat Kluane is a feisty, solid example of her Scandinavian heritage, that and the good natured camaraderie of three over-grown boys sailing the high seas made my first island landfall a magical, unforgettable moment. Five years ago Alice Town was a beautiful little town. The marinas brimming with deep sea fishing boats and fellow sailors heading south. The town breathed the tales of Papa Hemmingway and one could still feel his presence at the bar in The Compleat Angler" hotel.
On this visit we found Alice Town to be very run down. Many of the docks are rotting, some have collapsed. The town itself very dirty and lacking the life it seemed to have just a few years before. We anchored in the narrow harbour alongside a few other cruisers. We had a constant stream of white cigarette boat with 3 locals at the helm racing back and forth through the anchorage. These reckless, thoughtless young men made it very clear that we cruisers, maybe foreigners in general were not welcome on their island.
With yet another cold front approaching we listened carefully to the weather. We decided we could make the 40 miles across the Gulf Stream before the front arrived with its forecast high northerly winds and thunderstorms. We preferred the thought of waiting out this bad weather tucked comfortably at a marina in Fort Lauderdale. We left Bimini at about 10:00 am the next morning and headed directly for Miami with a 20 knot south east breeze and 5 to 6 foot seas. Miami is 40 miles from Bimini and Fort Lauderdale 20 miles north of Miami. Under full sail we scooted across the Gulf Stream with Pirate Jenny and her auto helm looking after the 40 miles west and the Gulf Stream taking care of the 20 miles north. At times we recorded over 9 knots over the ground as a combination of 6 to 7 knots of boat speed and 2 to 3 knots of current rushed us to our destination. We arrived at the breakwater in the entrance to Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale as the last rays of sunlight left the western skies. Mainland USA, 2 years and 8,000 miles later we had all but completed our cruise with one of the best sailing passages we had had all year!
Fort Lauderdale beach during the air show
We spent the next week in Fort Lauderdale at the City Marina. With electricity, water, about a million TV stations, restaurants and shopping malls all close at hand. We shopped (mostly window shopping) and ate junk food even went to a computer show and the air show. It was in some ways a sad event to complete our cruise but in other ways a joyous occasion. We had traveled those many miles, seen so many countries, met so very many people and returned safely, boat, crew and relationship as good or better than ever. (Two years on a 30 foot boat constantly in each others company has got to be the acid test for any relationship as Evelyn has decided to keep me I guess we passed). Pirate Jenny had held up beautifully, a little stainless steel polish and a coat of Cetol on the teak and she could pass the toughest inspection. I can not begin to say enough about how well our little cruiser served us. She kept us safe and dry in all weather. She sailed extremely well. Motored when required. Provided a comfortable roomy home at anchor and was always one of the prettiest boats in an anchorage. Thank you Peter Cole (designer) wherever you are!
Lake Worth, Florida
One of many impressive homes along the waterway
After our week in Sailors Disneyland with a few new toys stored below we began the 500 mile motor up the Intracoastal waterway to South Carolina. As we left the Fort Lauderdale area we passed more multi-million dollar Yachts and homes than one could imagine. Just when you thought youd seen the ultimate an even more impressive sight would appear around the next corner. We stopped for a few days in Lake Worth to say one last Goodbye to Ole and Beth on Orca. They were in final preparations for their passage to the Azores and then on to Denmark (We received a postcard from the Azores in late July and have just received a card from them from England). We stopped for a day at Cape Canaveral to see the Kennedy Space Centre and then again for a few days in St. Augustine.
Streets of St. Augustine
A Leisurely ride through town
Pirate Jenny at anchor in St. Augustine
The Intracoastal from Miami to St. Augustine runs pretty much straight north paralleling the ocean. From St. Augustine north into Georgia and the Carolinas the waterway winds its way through hundreds of square miles of wetlands, meandering up and down rivers and inlets winding slowly to the north. We spent a week in Savanna, Georgia and very much enjoyed this beautiful, historic city. A real gem of the old south. We walked through the many squares under moss covered trees admiring the centuries old southern mansions. It was like a movie set where Scarlet OHara would not have been much out of place.
A waterway travelling companion
Beautiful Savanna, Georgia
One of the many homes of Savanna
Our final leg took us through more wetlands, past Beaufort, South Carolina then on to Charleston, North Carolina. We had arranged to truck the boat back to Ottawa from Charleston and spent our final week enjoying the sights of Charleston and visiting with friends Dirk and Grechen whom we met in Trinidad and now live onboard Wind Song in Charleston. We prepared Pirate Jenny for her truck ride back to Canada and finally hauled her from the water on June 5th. On the 6th as scheduled Can-Am transport arrived and took charge of our precious cargo. Ev and I rented a car and at noon in 104degree F sunshine headed for the I-95 and home.
One of Savannas squares
The old south lives on
Now, for the promised equipment and financial details:
I spent the year prior to our departure preparing the boat for the trip and had replaced or upgraded numerous items. I had also purchased much of the offshore and safety equipment we thought necessary. In all I spent about $40,000.CDN. This included the life raft, watermaker, 406 MHZ EPIRB, HAM Radio, SSB Radio, automatic antenna tuner and isolated backstay, 44 LB Bruce anchor, electric windlass, 300 ft of 5/16 inch chain a 30 Gpm emergency bilge pump and 15 Para-tech sea anchor. I also purchased all my charts and cruising guides, a spare Autohelm 400ST, spare GPS (handheld) and 6 new Trojan T-105 batteries. I felt the boat was well prepared and should not require much maintenance during the 2 years. I had also paid the trucking cost, our first years insurance and purchased about 3 months provisions prior to leaving Ottawa.
On our arrival in Annapolis the financial clock started ticking I still had to purchase some items such as flares that could not be shipped into Canada. I added 3 coats of bottom paint and spent about $1,500US for new engine mounts, to replace a cracked exhaust elbow and had the injectors serviced. We left Annapolis in mid April 96 well below our waterline with a lighter wallet and a planned budget of about $1,000.US per month. All our expenses were calculated back to US dollars and so any reference to dollar amounts in this summary are in US dollars.
We spent little on our way south eating mostly from ships stores down the Intracoastal to Moorhead and on our 12-day passage to the US Virgin Islands. We stopped only briefly in the USVI to change crew then sailed across the Caribbean Sea to Bonaire arriving in early June of 96. From this point on our expenses are based on 2 on board. We did have guests on board a several occasions but all paid their share of the expenses and those additional expenses have been factored out of this summary.
We stayed in Bonaire about a month and found it rather expensive. Food basics like meat and vegetables were a little more than US or Canadian prices but alcohol and bulky items like potato chips and paper towel were very expensive. A bag of chips that at home might cost a dollar was $4.
The next 4 ½ months were spent in Venezuela. We found Puerto Cabello very inexpensive. This is not a tourist area and as such prices were not artificially inflated. Though selection was more limited basic foods were very inexpensive, as were beer and alcohol. For example a medium size chicken was less than $1., beef tenderloin about $2 per pound and a bottle of rum less than $2. Propane was less than $1. to refill a 20 LB tank and diesel fuel was about $0.15 per gallon. We spent about $250. travelling inland to the Andes but also spent about 4 weeks in the out islands living on fresh caught fish and our ships stores. We had no problem keeping to our budget and in fact spent less than $500. one month.
By early October we had arrived in Puerto La Cruz. This area sees many more tourists and is home to most of Venezuelas boating industry. Thousands of foreign yachts summer here and as such prices for everything are a little higher. We stayed in a marina for almost two months in Puerto La Cruz as the anchorage was plagued with local thieves taking everything from sandals to outboard motors on their nightly raids. In all we paid about $600. in Marina fees. I had planned boat expenses I spent $1600. on a new 9 hard bottom Caribe dinghy, $600. on a second hand Yamaha 9.9 outboard and about $1,500 on stainless steel work for a stern arch, additional support for the davits and rigid framing for a bimini top.
In mid November we arrived in Trinidad. Once again we were pleasantly surprised by even lower prices for many food items and much better selection than in Venezuela. We found that it was often cheaper to eat out than to eat on board. We would have our big meal at lunchtime; e.g. A half roast chicken with rice and peas, macaroni pie and a drink for less than $3. Roti, a popular local meal was about $1.50. I had planned to have the canvas work for the bimini top finished here but with prices so reasonable I decided to have a dinghy cover and cockpit cushions made as well. "Going broke saving money in Trinidad".
We spent December and January in the Grenadines between Grenada and Bequia. My first trip to the grocery store in Grenada was quite a shock! Food prices were as much as 3 to 4 times higher than in Trinidad. I had been warned that prices were higher but I did not expect such a difference. We also spent money on sightseeing in Grenada and splurged a bit on restaurant meals over Christmas and New Years. The only thing that helped keep us even close to our budget was that there were no marine stores.
We returned to Trinidad in February for Carnival. We spent extra money on some land travel and though carnival was not expensive we did not scrimp at all during this time. We were a bit wiser this time though and did a major re-provisioning before leaving for St. Lucia in early March.
My brother and his family joined us for two weeks in St. Lucia and four adults and two bottomless pits can certainly clear out the limited storage spaces of a 33 foot boat in short order so, it was not long before we were back in the grocery stores. Again prices were considerably higher than Trinidad. Almost a year had passed since our launch in Annapolis and the strong sun and salt air were taking their toll. I was beginning to have problems with the pressure water pumps and electric bilge pump. Parts were available in Rodney Bay but were very expensive. I paid $230.US for a motor for the pressure pump. The entire pump including motor cost about $80.CDN back home.
We spent April and May between Martinique and Guadeloupe. Prices there were similar to St. Lucia but the variety was exceptional. We balanced our expenses by spending several weeks at anchor at St. Anne and in Iles des Saintes then enjoying the more expensive life on shore in Fort de France. We also did some more land travel in Martinique and Dominica. In preparation for Evelyns trip back to Canada for the summer I purchased a radar unit that was delivered to Martinique. (I probably should have spent the money on a seeing eye dog, at least it would have barked when the auto helm took a coffee break and the wind steering system (reefed main) steered us into a rock off St. Vincent a few weeks later.)
I spent July on the hard in Trinidad. I repainted the bottom ($1,200), fixed the scraped keel ($400.) then embarked on a number of smaller repair and maintenance projects that kept local cash registers ringing. The yard bill for haul and launch and 30 days on the ground was about $600. The cost of living however, remained very reasonable. On occasion we would spend a very hot afternoon in the air-conditioned comfort of a Port of Spain movie theatre watching two first run movies with popcorn and drinks for less than $2.50 each.
In September we traveled to Venezuela by ferry to visit the Gauchero caves and Margarita Island. We found prices considerably higher than in the previous year and returned to Trinidad earlier than planned. In later October we once again sailed north to visit Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Barths and St. Martin, finally arriving in the Virgin Islands for Christmas. The further north we traveled the more expensive things got. In the British Virgin Islands we paid as much as $5. for a small bag of ice. We began to have more boat-related expenses, a broken engine mount in Antigua and an electronic failure in the refrigeration in the USVI. Both easily fixed but expensive.
Puerto Rico was a pleasant surprise. Prices there were very similar to mainland US prices. Dominican Republic was also quite inexpensive. We had expected the Turks and Cacios to be very expensive but found prices to be similar to the USVI. We did not spend a lot in the Bahamas as we were prepared for the very high prices and used up the stores we had bought in the DR. Nassau was not too bad but Georgetown took the prize for the most expensive place we visited. With only one grocery store for a hundred miles around and at time 300 to 400 cruising boats in the anchorage you can expect to pay a premium for anything you may need to buy.
In all, we spent about $55,000 in the two years. A bit more than double our budget. As you can see below about ½ the expenses were boat related. This was the biggest surprise to us, as we had not expected to need much of our budget for maintenance and repair. I spoke to several cruisers with both older and brand new boats, some metal, most fibreglass and all reported that after 6 months of sun, salt and seas things began to break. In discussions with other cruisers it seemed that most found that they needed about $2,000 per month. Fortunately, we were able to continue on with our plan even with the increase in expenses. We came home with a little less money in the bank BUT every cent we spent was well worth it.
Graph of Expenses
I have probably listed just about everything in the way of equipment in the discussion of costs. We did not have any major problems with any of the equipment we carried and with a few adjustments would make the same choices again but I will comment briefly some of the items.
Safety equipment: I do believe that as sailors when we leave shore we should be self-sufficient, however when worse comes to worst I really would like to think that there is some help over the horizon. That being said I think we must then do everything we can to make providing that assistance as easy and inexpensive as possible. We carried a 6 person Avon lift raft, a selection of Solas parachute flares and smoke markers, a 406 Mhz EPIRB, hand held VHF radio and hand held GPS. We also purchased a 15 Paratech sea anchor. Fortunately, we never had the need to call on any of this equipment but were glad to have it aboard. Thanks again Neptune.
Communications: We left Ottawa with both a HAM radio and an ICOM 710 SSB radio with automatic antenna tuner on board. We quickly found that the SSB with the ability to transmit and receive on the HAM frequencies was all we really needed. We sold the HAM radio in Trinidad. The SSB was a wonderful and essential piece of equipment. It allowed us to receive urgent phone calls from home via the AT&T high seas operator, get both weather fax transmissions and weather analysis from several Caribbean weather "nets". Perhaps even more valuable was the ability to participate in morning nets like "Alex on Albatross" where we learned of current events and could find out the whereabouts of friends, file float plans or just put in our two cents worth on a mornings topic. We made many new friends through these nets and really felt a part of the cruising community. I would not even consider going cruising without an SSB. The ICOM 710 worked very well and by all reports provided a good, strong signal even on the days when propagation was poor.
Ground tackle: we had a 44 LB Bruce anchor, 300 feet of 5/16th inch chain and a Lofrans electric windlass. All performed very well. In two years we did not once drag anchor and slept very well. I felt that the electric windlass was essential. Often we anchored in 50 feet of water and attempting to lift 44 lbs. of anchor and 50 ft of chain is not my idea of fun. I wired controls to the cockpit and to the chain locker as well as on the bow. When single handing in a crowded anchorage with a breeze blowing it was very handy to be able to be at the helm while dropping or lifting the anchor.
Convenience items: I guess the watermaker could also go under safety items but we did not make many long passages and carried enough water in tanks aboard to last us on average 2 weeks. We also found that we could get water most places either for free or cheaper than the cost of making the water. However, our Power survivor 35 did give us some additional freedom. We could stay for extended periods in places like the Aves, Los Roques or in the Bahamas where one could live on fresh fish and stores but could not get fresh water. In some places catching rainwater is an option but in places like the Aves it seldom rains. The only change I would make next time is that I would probably want a larger unit, perhaps 80 gallons per day. The larger unit could be run for less time and not be quite as much drain on the batteries. We also have a Windbugger wind generator. This unit worked very well providing enough power to cover off the refrigeration and water maker in the brisk trade. But, many anchorages are protected from the wind and in those places I would like to have had a couple of solar panels to help carry the load. We have a Nova Cool 12V electric refrigeration unit with a holding plate. This did not work as well as I had hoped. We could keep things cool but could not actually freeze anything that was not placed directly on the plate. I believe we could have saved the additional cost of a larger unit if we could have bought and frozen food purchased in less expensive ports.
Of course the galley slave worked perfectly and tirelessly over the two and a half years. She is however, a very complex, high maintenance item and must be treated with great care and attention or things can get rather messy. Below is evidence of this fact.
The late for dinner dinner
The last word on equipment must be for the boat herself. Pirate Jenny is a Nantuckett 33. She is in my opinion the perfect cruising boat. For those who are not familiar with this model of boat, she was designed by Australian Peter Cole and built in Taiwan. She is 32 on deck and about 30 on the waterline, with a beam of 11, a draft of a little over 5 and 18,000 LB displacement. She has a ¾ keel with the rudder on a skeg, a flush deck and centre cockpit. She sails very well giving us over 6 knots under most conditions. She also motors easily at 6.5 knots with her 33 hp Yanmar burning about ½ gallon per hour from her 35-gallon fuel tank. Her flush deck and centre cockpit provide good working space on deck and a safe, dry place to stand a watch. Below decks she is beautiful with far more room than one would expect. She has a good size forward cabin for guests and an aft cabin that is a dream in such a small boat. The main salon has accommodated 12 for a thanksgiving dinner cooked in her ample galley. But, all this is just numbers She was more than just a floating home to us. She took us everywhere we wanted to go and took good care of us in all conditions. And, as Ive said before was always one of the prettiest boats in any anchorage.
Pirate Jenny below decks layout
As I complete this letter another month has slipped by. We have now moved into our apartment and are easing into a comfortable, normal life. I must apologize for taking so long to complete this last letter but, I just dont seem to have the time I once had Ev and I would like to thank all of you who have read these letters and the many who have sent us email along the way. It has been wonderful to have you share in our adventure. I have very much enjoyed writing these letters and will cherish this journal for the rest of my life. Had it not been for your interest and encouragement I might not have kept up with it. We hope these letters have helped boost your own dream plans or perhaps provided a little warmth on a cold winter night. For the next few years we will plan and dream and work towards our next cruise. We look forward to sharing in the dreams of other cruisers as we read of your travels and adventures.
"For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So, the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze." - Richard Bode, "First you have to row a little boat"
Bart and Evelyn