Early in the morning on June 6, 2018, Pilots’ Discretion eased out of her slip at the Old Bahama Bay Marina, on Grand Bahama Island, and pointed her bow west for what would be her final international leg of our 4-year Caribbean odyssey. There were brisk winds of 15-20 knots out of the west, as we passed the breakwater heading out into the Gulfstream. The resultant seas were not particularly large (4-6 ft), but the period of the waves was a very short 2-4 seconds, giving us an uncomfortable ride. I don’t think anybody aboard was really looking forward to this day, and it just felt appropriate that the sea conditions were not unsafe, but not pleasant either. We pressed on through early morning showers and passed several other yachts going the other way, heading east toward the Bahamas.
When we were about 20 miles west of Grand Bahama Island the seas flattened out and the skies cleared. Florida was already clearly visible on our radar, but not yet on our visual horizon. Four hours after our departure, the waterfront condos of West Palm Beach became visible as we headed for the Lake Worth Inlet. After cruising for days at a time seeing few boats at all in various parts of the Caribbean, the high level of traffic off the coast of Florida was just one more subtle reminder that we were reentering our home environment.
As if on cue to reenforce that point, a U.S. Coast Guard 33′ patrol boat pulled along side of us and advised us that they would be conducting a routine boarding of our vessel. Those of you that have followed our blog in the past already know that I am a former Coastie. What many of you may not realize is that Theresa served as the Vice President of a major maritime safety organization for many years. As part of her duties there, she interacted with the Coast Guard at the highest levels (she counts several past US Coast Guard Commandants among her personal friends). Some boaters are put off by the Coast Guard boardings, that is not the case with the Pilots’ Discretion. Our entire crew has a tremendous amount of respect for the work that the men and women of the USCG perform each and every day. For me personally, and my family, having the Coast Guard board us as we approached our home country represented an important symbolic welcome home. Click photo below for video
The young Coast Guard boarding team came aboard our vessel and reviewed our paperwork and our safety systems. Happily, they did not find any discrepancies. After they had completed their official duties we had a chance to share stories of “The Guard.” It was a lot of fun to compare notes since long ago I had served on many Coast Guard boarding teams in the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea. Ryan and Ronan were fascinated by the patrol boat and wanted to know how much power it had and how fast it would go (40+ knots). The Coast Guard crew was thorough and professional at all times. I hope those Coasties sensed how proud our family is of their organization and the individuals that serve our country via the USCG.
After the Coast Guard departed we entered the Lake Worth inlet, then turned north on the ICW toward the North Palm Beach Marina. One hour later, we pulled alongside the fuel dock as a thunderstorm broke out with a torrential downpour. Soaking wet, the crew of Pilot’s Discretion refueled her and cleared inbound with US Customs. Pilots’ Discretion is now back in the United States, our journey is nearly complete.
It is hard to believe that our family odyssey aboard Pilots’ Discretion is almost at the four year point. During our time aboard we have put in excess of six thousand miles under our keel, that is a lot of traveling by boat. We have seen and experienced so many diverse and unique places and cultures that it is now the norm for us to begin our day wondering what new adventure awaits. Florida is now nearly on the horizon and in just a few more days, we will be reinserting ourselves into our land based world, but for now we still have some traveling to do.
Our last port of call, Atlantis Marina, Nassau was not typical of the places we have visited along the way. Atlantis, to me, represents a combination of Las Vegas and a water based Disney World on steroids. Ryan and Ronan wasted no time finding the various water slides, while Theresa and I really enjoyed the front row seats we had at the marina as the various megayachts came and went. Click photo below for video:
It was a lot of fun to see, and certainly worth the visit, but it could not be more different than our next stop, the Berry Islands. The Berry Islands are a group of small cays that generally run northwest of New Providence (the island that Nassau calls home) for about 60 miles. The Berrys are largely undeveloped, or owned by private individuals and cruise ship companines, so they are about as far away from the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Atlantis as you can get.
One of the things that immediately struck me as we approached the Berry Islands was that the water is absolutely crystal clear. The Bahamas, in general, are known for their beautiful clear water, but the Berrys take clear water to the next level. It was, at times, hard to believe that our depth sounders were reading 50-60 feet while we were looking over the side at various marine life such as star fish, sharks and rays gliding beneath the Pilots’ Discretion. Click photo below for video:
The Berry Islands feel like a natural spot to wrap up our family exploring. We all got to see things that were not part of our norm. Sort of the signature for what has been an amazing four years of growth for our boys, and Theresa and I as well.
We left the Berrys on a direct course to West End, Grand Bahama Island. Ironic, in that our first stop outside the United States four years ago was, the still charming, Old Bahama Bay Marina, on West End, Grand Bahama Island. Click photo below for video:
After our stop on Grand Bahama Island it was time for the Pilots’ Discretion to cross the Gulf Stream westbound. Additional updates to follow.
As we have communicated to you before, the cruising community is different than that which our land based neighbors are accustomed to. We are, by definition, a group of transients with different itineraries, capabilities and goals. We have been cruising in the Caribbean for over 3 years now and we have crossed and recrossed paths with dozens of cruising families that we have enjoyed sharing our cruising dream with. Having passing acquaintances with other families is just part of the lifestyle. That said, we have developed some unique and close bonds with a select few. One of the special cruising families that we have shared a particularly close friendship with is John and Paulette Lee of M/V Seamantha, a Kadey Krogen 58′ trawler.
We first met John and Paulette in the British Virgin Islands 3 years ago during our initial trip south through the Caribbean. When we arrived to spend our first hurricane season in Grenada, we ended up with a slip right next to Seamantha in the Port Louis Marina. John and Paulette spoiled our Cocker Spaniel, “Patton” with fresh bowls of his favorite vegetable, cauliflower, on the aft deck of Seamantha. They have watched our boys, Ryan and Ronan grow from little boys into capable young men. Throughout our trip, we have shared countless wonderful experiences with our cruising buddies. As the saying goes, friends are the family that you get to choose and John and Paulette have certainly become a big part of our family.
After watching the devastation and subsequent recovery of the Caribbean after one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, we have decided it is the appropriate time to turn the Pilots’ Discretion north and head back towards the United States. We are actually looking forward to retracing our route through the Caribbean and points north. It will be an opportunity to revisit some of our favorite spots. With our decision to turn north we have arrived at another one of those intersections in the life of a cruiser. Our friends on M/V Seamantha are departing St. Lucia this week to head south and so it is that we have arrived at Yoggi’s infamous fork in the road. Pilots’ Discretion and Seamantha will be taking divergent paths which in many ways is sad. We will not be saying goodbye, but rather, we will say “until we see you again.” So, as you depart Seamantha, we wish you fair winds and following seas.
Yesterday was the last day of the 2017 hurricane season, and so it is that we now contemplate our fourth (4th) season cruising plans! We have previously communicated with you about the devastation that this past hurricane season has left behind throughout the northeastern Caribbean. The damage has been vast, but the strong will of the people on the affected islands has proven impossible to suppress. Things are not yet back to normal but the strides that have been taken by the international community and the locals has been incredible.
PROGRESS OF RECOVERY
We have been monitoring the progress of the recovery efforts on a daily basis. In addition to our general concern for the well being of our Caribbean friends and their economies, we also have been paying close attention to the recovery of the yachting infrastructure. Obviously, we need circumstances that will allow us to adequately provision with food and fuel in a safe environment for the Pilots’ Discretion and her crew if we are to turn her north towards the United States this cruising season. Additional concerns include the ability to leave the Pilots’ Discretion in a safe and suitable environment should we need to fly back home for any reason, which necessarily requires access to operational airports with flights. Access to competent medical care, and dockside electricity and water are also logistical concerns as we plot our course north. We have found the following sites helpful in monitoring Caribbean wide recovery efforts:
- Sailors Helping Sailors – providing up-to-date information on port status and opportunities to volunteer in rebuilding efforts across the Caribbean;
- Sailors Unite – Caribbean Comeback – A guide to what is open and available in British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Marteen/St. Martin, including airports, transportation, restaurants, hotels, provisioning, marketing and shops;
- ExplorerChartbooks – includes Turks and Caicos Marinas Report;
- Noonsite – provides information by anchorage or by island, so sailors can plan their cruising in the Caribbean with an eye to appropriate behavior and precautions wherever they decide to go; and
- Caribbean Safety and Security Net: “Know before you go” safety and security updates throughout the Caribbean.
We will continue to update the above list and our blog as we obtain additional information when we proceed north. If anyone viewing this has additional resources that will keep mariners updated, please send them to us in the comments section below and we will add them to this list or include in future updates.
Our current evaluation is that the islands require a little more time to deal with the lingering devastation but they are getting closer everyday. We do believe that they will be in a strong position to welcome cruisers this coming cruising season. In fact, this may represent an opportunity to see what a jewel the Caribbean islands can be when not overrun with crowds. We are confident that our Caribbean friends will have the welcome mat out for all cruisers that choose to make this season the one that they cast off and set a course for the trip of their dreams.
As for the preparations to get underway for the Pilots’ Discretion, we are reporting good progress. There are a significant number of details that have to be addressed prior to getting underway. The good news for us is that we are currently located at the IGY Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia where we have all of the services we require to ready our vessel. We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank Mr. Sean Devaux, General Manager of the Rodney Bay Marina for all of the assistance he has provided us as we prepare to head north. Our initial commitment to him was that we would be staying at his facility through September 2017. As the hurricane season devastation to our north became clear, it was initially impossible to determine when it would be prudent to depart. Sean has been great, he has told us that we can stay as long as necessary without a long term commitment. Additionally, he has worked hard to provide us will real time status updates of all of the marina facilities along our route north, even if those facilities are not a part of his organization (Rodney Bay Marina is part of the international marina group known as IGY). We are currently coordinating our annual engine and systems maintenance and that should be complete shortly.
EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) Maintenance
One component of our systems preparation is ensuring that our life vests, life raft and all of our emergency signaling systems are current and fully functional. This is normally a routine inspection but this year we got quite a surprise. We have an ACR EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon – a device that includes a GPS to determine our exact location and a satellite communication system to notify rescue personnel in the event we need assistance). We bought the unit new just before we left on our trip. Each time we get underway, we run the unit through a self test program to ensure it is fully operational. It has always past each of those tests without fail. On our most recent trip back to Florida we elected to have the unit recertified due to calendar age.
After researching facilities that are certified to service maritime rescue equipment, we elected to have the folks at Solution One Maritime, LLC in Tampa look over our unit. Expecting nothing much more than an administrative paperwork exercise, we were left very surprised when we got a call from Yusri Jadallah, the Managing Director for Solution One. He explained to me that he had found a very small leak in the case that protects the electronics and that he was certain that had the unit been deployed in an actual emergency at sea, the electronics would have likely failed due to exposure to salt water. He went further to explain that ACR would repair the unit under warranty but their estimated turn time would likely be 4-6 weeks. Yusri told me that he understood that the long turn time would create scheduling problems for our crew and as a result he offered us a brand new unit to utilize for as long as it takes to get our own unit back. As far as we are concerned, the folks at Solution One have gone way above and beyond to ensure that our family is safe and our trip uninterrupted. We have utilized other sources in the past for our emergency equipment needs but from now on, Solution One is our vendor of choice for our life raft, life vest and emergency electronics needs.
As we look forward to our fourth cruising season, we also reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for this past year, including time spent with family and friends, good health and ongoing adventures. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the spectacular time we had spending Thanksgiving Day last week in Marigot Bay with dear friends, both old and new.
Unless you have been in a cave somewhere for the last few months, it would be almost impossible not to be aware of the catastrophic damage that Mother Nature has liberally peppered upon the idyllic Caribbean islands, St. Martin/St. Marteen, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Hati and the Turks and Caicos Islands. As if that wasn’t enough, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana have all had their turn in the barrel. The devastation, and loss of life, in all of the affected areas is hard to comprehend. Obviously there are many people, from many different countries, in dire need of assistance.
We respect that the decision to help, and exactly where to make donations to facilitate aid, is a personal one. Make no mistake, the people in the path of this season’s massive hurricanes definitely need our help. Many in the cruising community have been collecting donations and attempting to travel, by boat, to some of the devastated areas. At present, the U.S. Coast Guard is discouraging private boaters departing the continental U.S. from transiting to ports affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, advising in its 9/27/17 News Release:
While volunteers and aid are needed and welcomed, it is recommended that these efforts be coordinated through FEMA, who has requested volunteers to go through www.nvoad.org. Uncoordinated volunteer efforts can hinder the response and impede a challenging logistics situation on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
In the 9/27/17 News Release, Capt. Ladonn Allen, Chief of Prevention for the Coast Guard Seventh District asserted that many affected ports “are still littered with wreckage and debris, particularly outside the federally maintained channels. Individuals entering unfamiliar ports or attempting to bring supplies without coordinating through volunteer organizations that are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its partners are putting themselves in danger.”
Additional safety concerns have arisen in the Eastern Carribean, where there have been reports of piracy attacks, and vessels being swamped by uncoordinated relief efforts. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Emergency Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) are spearheading the hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean, and all relief efforts should be coordinated through them.
One of the common denominators that we all are repeatedly seeing throughout all of the news reports from these devastated areas is the ubiquitous presence of the United States Coast Guard. The smallest branch of the US military is perennially underfunded, and over tasked, but this year is breaking new ground in terms of extended deployments of USCG ships, planes and personnel in what is one of the largest humanitarian efforts in the Coast Guard’s storied 227 year history. The Coast Guard is often taken for granted, but those of us who live our lives at sea have a special respect for the jobs the men and women of the USCG accomplish every single day. When most mariners were headed to port to seek safe haven from the approaching hurricanes, Coast Guard ships and aircraft were leaving home to preposition in the disaster zones in order to render aid to those most desperately in need. In the interest of full disclosure, long ago, I served in the United States Coast Guard.
In fact, I was stationed aboard, what was then the new, USCGC Venturous, over 40 years ago (one of the first cutters to arrive in the Caribbean after the destruction of hurricane Maria). With that background, in addition to our other hurricane relief effort contributions, we have decided to make a donation to the US Coast Guard Foundation. The Coast Guard Foundation is a non profit charity that provides, among other things, financial support to the families of the men and women of the Coast Guard that have been injured or killed in the line of duty. This is our small way to say thank you to the members of America’s smallest service for all that they do each and every day. Semper Paratus.
Click here for link to Coast Guard Sector Key West Incident Command Post (ICP) sharing some of their work and personal experiences after Hurricane Irma. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle/Released)
It has been confirmed that many of the Coast Guard crews that were stationed at Coast Guard Sector Key West suffered damage to their homes and personal possessions while deployed to render assistance to others during Hurricane Irma, they too are on the list of folks that now could use a hand up.
Since Pilots’ Discretion left her home base, Port Tarpon Marina back in 2014, we have developed a schedule for her that is dictated primarily by the weather. Our requirement to have the boat at, or near, suitable shelter during the hurricane season has resulted in the bulk of our travel occurring outside of the North Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 thru November 30th). During the hurricane season, we have settled into our hurricane home away from home. The first couple of years out we elected to weather the hurricane season in Grenada. (See A Day in the Life of Grenada, 2015/08/07 and Summer in Grenada, Season 2, 2016/09/03.)
This year, with the pre approval of our boat insurance carrier, we decided to spend the hurricane season a bit further north at the Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia. As a result of our increased familiarity with the service providers in the areas that we spend the hurricane season, it only follows that we have tended to deal with our “boat projects,” first in Grenada, and now this year, in St. Lucia. In addition to the normal operational maintenance, that is just a part of owning and operating a floating home, we also have elected to make various improvements to the Pilots’ Discretion while we have been in the Caribbean. This year we have made a few additions, both large and small, that hopefully will add to the capabilities of our vessel.
FUSION SOUND SYSTEM
Those of my friends that have known me since childhood would probably reject the notion that I am becoming an aging hippy afloat in the Caribbean. My more conservative characteristics aside, it is true that I do occasionally still enjoy a few rifts on the air guitar while listening to geriatric rockers like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant. In my quest to further develop the musical tastes of our boat neighbors, I have tried to share my impeccable musical tastes with however many marina mates are within earshot of the Pilots’ Discretion sound system. Much to my chagrin (and our neighbors relief), the Pilots’ Discretion came with a rather anemic 180 watt sound system that labored to comply with my demands for accurate fidelity at an adequate volume level. Something had to change and it has. We have replaced our old sound system with a Fusion AV-750 4 zone audio and video system (https://www.fusionentertainment.com/marine) that includes 4 zone dedicated amplifiers that put out an ear splitting 1600 watts of power. Let the audiophile lessons in the Rodney Bay Marina commence! In addition to the improved music, the system also allows all of the Giant’s fans aboard to enjoy our MLB subscription as we listen and watch our favorite broadcasters (Dwayne Kuiper and Mike Krukow) describe the action at AT&T park (OK, admittedly there has not been much to enjoy with this Giant’s season, we steadfastly remain the eternal SF Giants optimists).
KAHLENBERG AIR HORNS
Next up on our list of noise making improvements is our addition of a set of Kahlenberg air horns. We first became aware of these exceptional horns while we were boat shopping with our favorite Marlow sales rep, Eric Gervais. Our pal Eric was quick to point out these top of the line signaling horns are standard equipment on the Marlow Explorers that we have been drooling over for years. The Kahlenberg horns have an unmistakeable sound. If the neighbors don’t notice our new music system, they will not be able to ignore our new signaling horns. We have decided that if we are not going to buy a Marlow, we may as well sound like one. (Click here to hear it!)
Our largest improvement to the Pilots’ Discretion this season is the addition of a “Yacht Controller.” The Yacht Controller is a microprocessor controlled wireless device that allows you to control any size yacht, wirelessly, from anywhere on board the vessel. It’s real utility is that it allows the Captain to be anywhere on board that provides him, or her, the best visibility, and even the ability to man the helm while simultaneously handling lines and fenders while arriving or departing a dock or while involved in anchoring operations. Picking up a mooring ball is also a snap with the Yacht Controller. Again we have to say thanks to Eric Gervais for allowing us to first experience the Yacht Controller aboard the Marlow Explorer. (Click here for Yacht Controller Demonstration)
We spent the day yesterday training all members of the Pilots’ Discretion crew on the capabilities of the Yacht Controller. It was actually quite entertaining watching the reactions of people on the docks, and in the waterfront restaurants, as our 50′ Sea Ray pivoted and maneuvered in and around the docks with nobody stationed at the helm.
We have been very fortunate this hurricane season to avoid any direct encounters with any tropical storms. As this is being written, we are currently watching hurricane Irma carefully. Sadly, we have many cruising friends with roots in and around the Houston Texas area. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people being affected by Hurricane Harvey.