DOVKA

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MARCH - JUNE 2009
FLORIDA TO THE BAHAMAS AND BACK
TO THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
THE COMPLETION OF OUR NINE YEAR ODYSSEY

Friday, April 3, 2009
IN THE BAHAMAS

We are anchored in a large cove, open to the northeast, surrounded by white sand beach and tall grasses, with a few villas dotting the shoreline. It is off the larger Bahamian island of Great Harbour Cay, just beyond its short airstrip and tucked behind tiny Hawks Nest Cay.

The magnificent turquoise and green water color reflects the shallow sand and grass bottom, good holding as the winds continue to blow from the south and are now beginning to clock to the west, predicted by the weather maps and weather gurus we study and listen to endlessly. We have been here waiting for the wind to moderate and/or move for three days.

We began this last passage just one month ago with a plane flight on March 4th from Falls Church to Florida and DOVKA. After taking DOVKA off the Dockwise ship in Ft. Lauderdale, last September, and putting her ashore for the winter, our goal has always been to bring DOVKA home to the Chesapeake Bay from Florida via the Bahamas with, hopefully, a little time to stop and explore the reefs and anchorages of these myriad islands. At this point, I am beginning to wonder if the weather will ever allow us to do so.

For the first two weeks of March we worked to get DOVKA ready to go. DOVKA was on the hard a hundred yards from the beckoning waters of the ICW and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, for a week. She was then in the water at the marina for two more weeks. We were tied to a concrete wall next to a mass of vibracoring equipment for taking samples from the sea floor, which is what Sid was doing at the time of our marriage, 40 years ago. We were in the slip belonging to a coring workboat. Riverside is not a luxury marina, by any means. But we came to appreciate the knowledge and kindness of the office staff (even though they listen to Rush Limbaugh all day long and rant and rave about Obama and Pelosi), and enjoyed the comraderie of the other boaters.

The marina is a working marina and boatyard, one of the few we found in Florida where they allow owners to work on their own boats. It was a busy place with friendly folks working on their dreams, from quality stock purchased at repossession sales to a wreck with the keel knocked off by rocks, being readied for crossing the Atlantic this summer. As I said, lots of dreamers working away.

The three weeks in Ft Pierce, actually, were very enjoyable. There is always great satisfaction (as well as great fatigue, especially as we age)as we put DOVKA back together, troubleshoot problems, clean her up and get her ready for another season.

We reconnected with old friends from our first years of marriage in Washington, D.C,, whom we knew had moved to North Palm over a decade ago; English sailing buddies, John & Inga, showed up and joined us at Riverside while they put a new engine in their boat; and Rebecca's sister and brother-in-law joined us for a fun weekend. We went to both a Judy Collins and then a Dave Brubeck concert. Our third week at the dock was caused by weather, as we began this process of waiting for the winds to, at least, moderate, if not come from a direction that would enable us to sail.

As the winds were too strong from the south for us to head south in the ocean, we came down the Intracoastal Waterway. From Ft Pierce to Fort Lauderdale, we passed through Hobe Sound and by Jupiter Island, with large estates and some lovely homes, owned by the likes of Tiger Woods and Celine Dion, we are told. We passed through an area with some modest apartment complexes and bungalows, which was refreshing to see. Then we came into the greater Ft Lauderdale area with one "McMansion" after another, one more architecturally atrocious than the next, all built right on the channel. There seems to be a predilection for pretentious Spanish/Moorish styles. It appeared that many of these have just recently replaced the 50s ranch style Florida houses that were originally built on the ICW and the canals. And many, many sport "For Sale" signs or seem stopped dead in the process of being built.

In Ft Lauderdale, we were happy to tie up to the Los Olas Municipal Marina docks in strong southerly winds. We had come here on the early morning that we motored DOVKA off the M/V Explorer last September, after her trip across the Med and Atlantic from Marmaris. It felt comfortable. We found a trolley that took us to the Publix and West Marine and we had wi-fi and laundry facilities and other folks also waiting and waiting for weather. It seems that is what one does in these parts.

I had just bought the Sunday New York Times late morning, expecting it would keep me busy for a day or two, when we got weather information that said it was good to go to cross the Gulf Stream that night. We made the 1700 opening of the 17th st Bridge and were in the Port Everglades channel tooling out to the entrance just after 5 PM as, unbeknownst to us, four cruise ships were also leaving the port. We saw one behemoth barreling down on us and the police boat sounding his siren for us to get out of the ship's way, which we did. We both went out the inlet together, the big guy right down the middle, and we, close to shore.

People on shore were on their lawns or on their balconies waving goodbye to the passengers on the ship. Since these ships seem to go out at this time weekly, on Saturday and Sunday, this must be a regular routine for them. A motorboat had a group of rowdy men and one very chemically and silicone enhanced tattooed blond, who was standing up, screaming and shaking her grotesquely huge bare boobs at the ship. She got her moment of fame as the cameras from the ship snapped.

We looked back and saw there were three more ships coming down the channel. It felt like we were being run down by huge apartment buildings on the move. There was a lot of rocking and rolling as we entered the sea with the swells and their wakes, but once we got the sails up and got away from them, we were sailing on a beam reach and had a lovely, lovely crossing, arriving Lucaya, Grand Bahamas in the morning. The Grand Bahama Yacht Club and Port Lucaya Village, a commercial marina and condo development was very tastefully done, but the docks and the area were pretty much deserted. It was a striking change from the previous nights in Ft Lauderdale during Spring Break!

We left Lucaya on Tuesday, March 31 and motor sailed into the wind to explore a bit of the Berry Islands chain. Our anchorage here is picture perfect complete with a few desert islands - sand cays that gleam with white beaches against the turquoise of the shallow water.

We snorkeled the first afternoon here even with the windy conditions. The sand and grass bottom is not hospitable for lots of interesting fishes, but we found a log and by the log were three of the strangest fishes we have even seen. Never having seen them before, we checked our bible, the Paul Humann Reef Fish book , but even under "Odd Looking Bottom Feeders' we could not identify them. They are striped with wonderful wings and a large dorsal fin/wing also.

We sent photos to our son at National Geographic and he immediately emailed us back with the information that they are the Red Lion Fish, who are native to the Far East and probably were let loose into the Atlantic from someone's aquarium. They are wrecking havoc in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, eating fish and destroying coral. And they are poisonous to humans as well. So much for our fish 'find'.

 

Sunday, April 26, 2009
AT ANCHOR IN MARSH HARBOR, ABACO ISLANDS
We had a good month in the Bahamas, once we became more comfortable with the shallow depths and the weather patterns. Moving around the Bahamas is very different from the dark, deep Mediterranean where, if we could anchor in less than 30 feet of water, we were grateful. Here, we were crossing banks that never got deeper than 7 feet all day long. We learned to trust that the depths were steady and that the weather patterns were cyclical and fairly predictable.

We had a Passover Seder on DOVKA introducing our Ocean Cruising Club friends to the traditional rituals and meal, even if we had to substitute a bone-shaped dog biscuit for the traditional lamb bone. Seder on Wednesday was followed by musical Easter Sunday services at the Rock Sound Methodist Church with several other yachties, welcomed by Sister Meredith, the lay preacher, as "the people from the ships." Church was followed by a lovely dinner for 8 of us aboard TRUMPETER served by our friends, Nancy and George. Rock Sound hosts an annual Easter Homecoming Festival complete with VERY loud music until late at night, but it was fun. After Easter, we stayed on when the other boats left Rock Sound, awaiting another weather front and the arrival of our son and his girlfriend for a long weekend getaway from Washington, D.C.

Ben and Lauren arrived aboard by dinghy, as the squall which signaled the frontal passage came through. It lasted for just a few minutes, and then we had glorious weather for our perfect time with them. We sailed 40 miles on a broad reach, from Rock Sound to Cambridge Cay in the Exuma Cays National Park, a little tropical paradise. Shortly after arriving there, we joined the crews of the 12 other boats moored there in sundown beach cocktail party on a little sand spit. After two daysspent snorkeling and hiking, we sailed back to Eleuthera on a close reach, in time for a special tour of the Cape Island School and Cape Island Insitute(http://www.islandschool.org/) on the south end of the island, developed to teach high school students about the marine environment and to encourage environmental research.

After Ben & Lauren departed from the tiny Rock Sound airport, we upped anchor to hightail it north to the Abaco Islands, our point of departure for the voyage to Beaufort, N.C. We had some good sailing and found the Abacos more touristy, but enjoyed the camaraderie of other 'yachties' in the crowded protected harbor of Marsh Harbor. Even this town seemed quiet and half filled. The economy must be impacting tourism.

We waited for the arrival of our friend and neighbor, Dave, who wanted the chance to make an offshore passage with us. Now we three are here and the jacklines are on the deck, the radar reflector is installed, the life vests and tethers are out, all aboard is shipshape down below. I have done my last grocery shop and we wait for weather.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2009
MORNING AT SEA
We left the Abacos yesterday morning with continuing strong easterly winds. The seas were large, but we had the wind on the beam. We are very happy to be at sea again. Our little ship is doing very well and so is her crew.

One really understands the worship of the sun when at sea. Dawn is always a startling end to the long night, even when it is benign and friendly as it was last night. I awoke to listen to the detailed weather forecast at 0630, which looks very good for us for the next four days. During that time the dawn grey became bluer and lighter as the sun rose higher in the sky and illuminated the sapphire blue water.

At night, someone is always on watch and someone sleeping. Come daylight we rise and shine and begin the day's routine which is more relaxed than nighttime watchstanding. The autopilot drives, so we have only to keep a lookout for ships, weather, the set of the sails and that all is right with our little vessel (and there is a lot that can go wrong). We have finished breakfast. Everyone has done his toilette. Dave, our crew is sleeping in the lee berth in the main cabin and Sid is in the cockpit as I write. We SHOULD (hate to ever predict) be into Beaufort, North Carolina (Morehead City area) on Friday. From there it will probably be a week up the Intracoastal Waterway until we are home in the Chesapeake Bay.

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
AT SEA

My watch is 0200-0500 this morning. I am sitting on deck and listening to the sounds of sailing. The difference at sea is that the sound does not come from afar. All the sounds are our sounds: the whoosh of the water around the hull, the slapping of the waves against the hull, the wind as it blows through the rigging, flaps the sails and the canvas and anything else not tied down, and the knocking of anything that is not wedged and can roll or thump as we roll and bounce and dance along. And then there is the mechanical noise of the refrigeration, which just went on as I began writing. It will last 25 minutes and then be turn off for another 10 hours. The creaks and groans of the boat will be background as long as we are underway. The wind is dying and the main is lifting and thumping the boom back down every now and then - a loud, disconcerting sound.

I am feeling very nostalgic and bittersweet about this passage as it may very well be our last long ocean passage in DOVKA. I love being at sea. It is a night with a lot of stars, but also the ink spot clouds that come and go continuously. The bioluminescence along the side of the hull in the breaking water around us is sparkling as if reflecting the stars. And the boat is rolling a bit as the wind continues to slacken. Got to go check things out…

 


Thursday, April 30, 2009
LANDFALL, BEAUFORT, N.C.

Dovka found the Gulf Stream and we were screaming along clocking 9 and 10 knots on the GPS. We sailed the fastest passage we have ever sailed: 517 miles in 80 hours (3 1/3 days). Our average speed was 6.5 knots, which is very good for us. But I was sorry it was such a short passage. We came into Beaufort, N.C. and were docked by 1730 (5:30 PM). We had a celebratory dinner at the Beaufort Grocery, where we ate the night before we sailed for Bermuda and The Caribbean in November, 1996 and then we went to bed and slept very soundly for the entire night.

 

Monday, May 4, 2009
AT ANCHOR IN THE DISMAL SWAMP
We and DOVKA are back in the good ole US of A. We cleaned up the boat and ourselves, spent one day and left to begin motor-sailing up the ICW. It was blowing like stink from the SW, but it was behind us. So, we are almost home. The trip up the ICW is also nostalgic. We don't love motoring 8-10 hours a day, but it is interesting countryside and familiar as we have done it several times, although not for 12 years.

We are enjoying the spring beauty of the vast expanse of undeveloped marshland and scrub pines, the cormorants, blue herons and pelicans. We have had three good days working our way north. This morning we upped anchor by 6:50 AM and screamed out of the Alligator River into the Albermarle Sound by mid morning.

It was blowing 20+ knots all day. We worked our way up the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City dodging crab pot floats for hours. Once we entered the narrow, winding part of the river past Elizabeth City, we were protected from the wind. There were sweet smells in the air, osprey, blue herons and Canadian geese and the new green of spring luxuriant on both banks of the dense swamp.

We anchored behind green day-marker "11" off Goat Island about 1530. Both of us just had little naps in the cockpit. I have always wanted to stop here and after another day of 20-25 kts of wind from the southwest (thank goodness), across the broad expanse of the Albemarle Sound and up the wide part of the Pasquotank, it was lovely to motor into this quiet oasis and hide here for the night.

 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009
AT THE OCC PORT OFFICER'S DOCK, NORFOLK, VA
In June, 2000 we stopped at Greta and Gary's dock before we left Norfolk to cross the Atlantic. It feels significant to return to the same dock. They are terrific representatives of the OCC and tremendously welcoming. It is a lovely reunion with good friends, after a lovely five day trip up the ICW, meeting other boats and making even more new friends, whom we hope to see again in Maine. DOVKA is almost home. Sid felt it necessary to visit the battleship, USS WISCONSIN, which is tied up as a museum a couple of blocks away. He sailed to Chile on her as a midshipman in 1957!

 

Friday, May 15, 2009
DOCKED IN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY, URBANNA, VA
We entered the Chesapeake Bay as we sailed out of the Elizabeth River and Norfolk, dodging tugs, Navy and Coast Guard ships and other sailboats. It is always lively and interesting in Norfolk. We knew we were home in the Chesapeake because it was humid, overcast and there were swarms of flies and little wind. We were happy to be home in the Chesapeake. Weather notwithstanding, it is one of the greatest cruising areas in the world.

We motored most of the way up the Bay, but, by late afternoon, as we turned into the Rappahanock River, the sky cleared and the wind came up. We rolled out the jib and gently sailed along in the soft, low afternoon light. As we came into Urbanna, our waiting friends waved furiously pointing to where they had arranged for us to dock. And then we opened some cold beers and celebrated our arrival. DOVKA is home!

After the Ocean Cruising Club Cruise mid June, we will sail her to a berth in Annapolis, closer to our land home, and begin a new life for her and for us, after 9 years, 18,000 miles and thirteen countries visited.