Monday, July 10, 2017

The Return Home

Molly and I last left Salty Paws on the hard in Hilton Head, SC, to weather the winter while we headed back to work and life in Maine.  With the boat still 1400 miles from home, Molly decided to forego the quick two-week spring trip that I allocated to return her to Maine.
Cousin Cliff joined me for the first week, with the first four days of beautiful weather highlighted by the unplanned Charleston rendezvous with Cousin Zeke Holland, who the hour before had just completed his circumnavigation aboard the catamaran No Regrets with two crew.  Cliff noticed the cat and yelled out “Hey Zeke,” the same greeting he used some years ago while standing on the dock that Zeke came to in Bermuda after crossing the Atlantic.   We ended up rafting with them for the day and night and shared a wonderful meal after walking to a great restaurant in downtown Charleston.  Zeke might benefit from asking Cliff his future travel plans to foretell his next boating adventure. 

Observing a paddleboard race.

Cliff met his twin.
At the City Marina in Beaufort, NC
Our departure from Wrightsville Beach, NC was delayed as we found ourselves surrounded by over a couple of hundred paddleboards competing in two different races.  Our first marina stop was in Beaufort, NC, (pronounced “bowfort” as opposed to the Beaufort, SC, “bewfort” where we spend our first night) which has a beautiful walking downtown, free car service to the supermarket and some nice restaurants.  While walking down the street in front of the marina we went by a guy who asked Cliff, “How do you like your titanium?”  I thought he was asking about some new boat design, when he was asking about Cliff’s prosthetic leg!  The “brothers” (pictured) had a nice chat.
The lock is beginning to open.
After Beaufort, NC, the weather turned, and over the next three days we generally found ourselves heading at an angle in to 3-5 foot unsettled swells and 15-20 knot winds.  We had a respite going through the Virginia-North Carolina Canal although I would have liked to go through the Dismal Swamp Canal, which is still closed due to last fall’s Hurricane Matthew.
After going through Norfolk Harbor, the lower Chesapeake was particularly stormy, and we sought refuge for the next day and a half anchored in the still water of Hampton, VA, while listening to traffic noise of three highways that surrounded the bay.  We finally made it to charming Annapolis
A few of the MD capital dome.
where we figured out the bus schedule for Cliff to travel to Washington, DC, to meet Norah and Margaret first thing in the morning.  After a dinner of fish and chips at an outdoor table at one of Annapolis’ many pubs, we settled in the Salty Paws cockpit for our last battle of a great 2-person adaptation of the card game “Oh Hell.”  After a tough initiation of a few games the first night of the trip, Cliff held his own until the trip end when he finally agreed to call it a night at 12:30 am after I had won multiple games in a row. 

Cliff was a great help on the boat, always quick to find a way to assist, and he had no problem maneuvering.   He left at 7 am the next day, and an hour later daughter Caroline and boyfriend Noah Merksamer arrived having just completed their whirlwind 2-week trip across country and back.  After a quick visit to the grocery store, Noah said goodbye and Caroline and I departed Annapolis Thursday, April 27th, on the most pleasant of days with warm sunshine and calm waters.

Caroline and Noah in Annapolis.
Trouble was brewing, however, as the long-term outlook included turbulent weather and 10-12 foot seas along the Maine Coast for the following Tuesday and Wednesday, our expected arrival date.  To arrive on Monday would require an average of 150 miles per day for all of the 5 days.  This was doable, but potentially exhausting and allowing little time for sightseeing or trips ashore.

That became our goal.  After a pleasant trip through the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal we turned southeast through Delaware Bay into a stiff headwind and pounding seas.  The 50 or so miles to Cape May became 65 as we tacked upwind for greater comfort.  Relief finally came in the Cape May Canal only to be followed by some anxiety in our challenge to find an open marina selling gas.  As it turned out, marinas and gas docks Chesapeake Bay south were already in mid-summer swing whereas it was still pre-season New Jersey north with many marinas not scheduled to open until May 1st or even later.  We finally found the one gas dock open in Cape May a few minutes before closing time.
We anchored in 6 feet of water not far from the Coast Guard station, and soon were entertained by the singing and cadence of the recruits.  There was only one other recreational boat anchored whereas last November, the harbor was full of recreational boaters, mostly sailboats, headed south.  While in the lee of the harbor, the stiff wind kept my attention on our anchoring situation.  At around 10:30 am, just after crawling in to my berth, the anchor alarm sounded, meaning that we have moved over 100 feet.  Our depth gauge now read 18 feet reflecting not only the 5 feet of tide but also that we were dragging anchor into the deeper harbor channel.  In our 75 or so days of anchoring Salty Paws, this was the first time our anchor had dragged.

Quickly, while just in undershorts, I started the engine, turned the controls over to Caroline and went to the bow to retrieve the anchor.  We repositioned in shallower water and put out more anchor rode, roughly 80 feet in 8 feet of high tide water.  As the boat draws 2 ½ feet, we would be close to bottoming out at low tide, but I ended up sleeping well for the night.
Lunch with our friends Mike and Jo Robinson.
Fishing rods lined the stairs
from the biat shop to the
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) meanders up the inside of the New Jersey coast but is often avoided because of shoaling and the number of low bascule bridges.  Fortunately, the new day’s weather was pleasant and the seas were at our stern, which allowed us to go outside and speed 85 miles up the coast, past the aging towers of Atlantic City to Barnegat Inlet.  The Inlet led us to large Barnegat Bay, which we crossed to a private dock in Toms River, where we met my friends Mike and Jo Robinson.  They took us to a funky restaurant on the water that was mostly a bait shop and fishing store except for the few tables on the second floor that overlooked the water.  The crab cakes and company were outstanding.

Soon we were back on the boat, weaving our way north through the bay and part of the New Jersey ICW to its official northern entrance, Manasquan Inlet.  The large swells and wave at the Inlet entrance were reminiscent of January challenges in the Bahamas, but Salty Paws muscled through, and all was well once we got outside and turned the corner north. 
Finally, we rounded Sandy Hook and nestled in for the evening and a beautiful sunset not far from another Coast Guard station with similar rhythmic shouts of the recruits.

The next day brought fog and need to turn on the radar.  We were going to be entering New York Harbor and needed to be extra vigilant given the likelihood of much ship traffic.  The Verrazano Bridge was largely invisible except for the very top of its spires until we were within shouting distance of its large span.

The fog slowly lifted on the NYC skyline.

Slowly the fog began to dissipate as we approached the awe-inspiring skyline of New York.  Many pictures later, we were speeding up the East River, hitting a record 30 knots aided by the incoming tide at Hell’s Gate.   Once in Long Island Sound, we made a beeline to Norwalk, Ct, as it had the one gas dock known to be open.  Our destination was Newport, RI, and the smooth waters lasted throughout our crossing of Long Island Sound.  Once out of the Sound, however, the water temperature dropped from the mid 50’s to 44.5 degrees and the wind shifted to the northeast, resulting in a choppy ride into Narragansett Bay and our anchoring spot in Concunet Cove.

The next morning we motored leisurely into Newport Harbor, wanting to give the marinas sufficient time to open for the day.  Alas, it was Sunday and none of the Newport Marinas were to open at all that day.  A quick Internet search found a marina 20 miles northwest in Warwick, RI, the wrong direction but it gave us a chance to further explore the upper reaches of Narragansett Bay.  Now we were 3 hours behind schedule but we finally reached open Buzzards Bay on our way to the Cape Cod Canal.  The wind and waves were directly on us with water regularly crashing over the boat.  Once again, we tacked to get a better angle through the waves.  We were hugging the western shore as best we could and finally decided to cross the Bay to get on the leeward side of the Elizabeth Islands.  After a rough ride we were finally in the lee. 

Our destination of Gloucester, MA was still 100 miles away, and once again we began searching for a gas dock.  All were closed except for one in Bourne, just west of the Canal, but that was due to close in 20 minutes.  He agreed to stay open if we hightailed it to the dock.  We followed the Elizabeth Islands as far as we could and then cut back into Buzzards Bay.  Fortunately, the seas were a little calmer, and we cruised at 24 knots until confronted by two large tankers going in opposite directions in front of us.  We steered out of the main channel, keeping a close eye on our depth, and were able to leapfrog both vessels and proceed to the gas dock.
Once in the Canal we were soon reprimanded over the VHF radio for exceeding the 6 knot speed limit.  This was reminiscent of our trip south in October when I was reprimanded for turning around in the Canal for picture taking.  I had installed Automated Identification System (AIS), which is a great way to track other boats and also make one’s own boat trackable, and there are no secrets when it is activated.  Oh well, it was just a warning.

Our leisurely, calm trip through the 9-mile canal changed abruptly once Salty Paws reached the open waters of Massachusetts Bay.  While somewhat uncomfortable, we took advantage of the winds becoming more easterly and headed north on a direct course to Gloucester Harbor, arriving in the rain in the early evening.  We picked up a free harbor mooring (the harbormaster office was closed) and then fired up the generator for heat as temperatures were now down in the low 50s.  Caroline made the last of her great suppers, and we finished off the last of the wine.

Our last supper on the boat.  Fortunately the heater was working
and raised the cabin temperature from 50 to 70 degrees.
As Gloucester is a working harbor, there was no problem finding an open gas dock the next morning.  Our only challenge was to make sure that the small bascule bridge at the entrance to the Annisquam Canal would open.  Fortunately, we were able to confirm that it was open, and the pleasant passage through the Canal saved many miles from having to go around the Rockport peninsula.
After our Canal passage, we passed through occasional rain, fog, and slightly unsettled seas on our way past the isolated Isle of Shoals, split between Maine and New Hampshire. 

The warm weather of points south was now a distant memory, and I needed multiple layers of clothing to be partially comfortable in the 50 degree damp air.  We reached the Maine coast at the beautiful Cape Neddick lighthouse, followed the coastline north, cruised through the islands of Casco Bay, crossed the open waters of the New Meadows River Bay, past Cape Small and Sequin Light, which marks the entrance to the Kennebec River and our Georgetown home.  At 15:00 we docked at the Back River Boatyard.  Salty Paws had completed a 5,000+ mile roundtrip.

Finally home at the dock at the Back River Boatyard in Georgetown.

Bill’s Reflections

I am forever grateful to both my School Committee and Molly for supporting this 3-month adventure.  My School Committee weathered the criticism of the public unaccustomed to seeing a public employee taking 90 days off on his “yacht.”  Molly was always 100% supportive even with her initial trepidation about spending all that time with me in the cramped confines of a 25-foot boat.  Her concerns became even more magnified when our first week included freezing temperatures, a non-functioning heater and a $5,000 engine repair. 
Once in New York City, we finally found some warm weather, met other boaters and saw the Broadway show, Hamilton, one of the first of many unforgettable adventures.  Slowly, Molly began to move from supportive tolerance to outright enthusiasm.  Almost every day that followed included meeting wonderful people and experiencing our country’s and Bahamian history and beauty in a way that few do.  We also learned that our boat was big enough in warm weather and that with a little forethought we could eat as healthy and with as much enjoyment as if we were home.

Our odyssey was in many respects “the trip of a life-time,” but it also had us thinking that this trip need not be the pinnacle of our boating adventures.  Slowly, our thinking has begun to crystallize that after another two or so years of working to pay off our debt, we can spend 7 months a year in beautiful Georgetown (May – through Thanksgiving or Christmas) and then travel south to spend the better part of the remaining 5 months in the warmer climates of southeast Georgia, Florida, or the Bahamas. 

One major difference is that rather than travel the 1,500+ miles down the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida, we can trailer the boat south as it is small enough to be legally trailered without a permit.  Now, while we already have the trailer, it will require the purchase of a pickup truck capable of towing 10,000 pounds.  On the surface such a vehicle may make me a bona fide Maine redneck, but, more importantly, it opens up multiple options of exploration.  Maybe we pull the boat across country to Puget Sound and then cruise of the coast to Alaska.  Another option might be the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.  I have also heard great things about the rivers of Tennessee, Lake Champlain and the 1,000 islands in Canada.

Other cruises in our future may include doing the Great Loop, a 6,000 mile circumnavigation of the eastern United States (Hudson River, canals to the Great Lakes, Chicago River to the Mississippi, Up the Ohio and Cumberland to the TenTom and down to Mobile Alabama, etc.)  I am also intrigued with doing the Downeast Loop, which is a circumnavigation of New York, the New England States and eastern Canada.  There are so many options, including using our boat and trailer as an RV.  If we end up nighting in a Walmart parking lot, then surely we will have reached retirement bliss.
In the meantime there are multiple repairs and upgrades to our boat Salty Paws, and our dreams continue to form.
We both loved seeing the Pellies, as we called them.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Barrier Islands and Reflections

Our dock at St Marys.  Most always we are the smallest boat!
We’d heard about the little town of St. Mary’s, Georgia. It is on the St. Mary’s river dividing Florida
 and Georgia, in the southeastern corner of the state. The dockmaster is 86 years old and works 7 days a week. He doesn’t answer radio calls or the phone, so we took a chance on getting dock space. The marina is home to the ferries taking visitors to Cumberland Island. Several ferries left and returned both days we were in the marina, loaded with people off to camp, hike or beach on this beautiful island. We had been on the island on our way down last all, and enjoyed an 8-mile hike that featured wild horses, armadillos and stately live oaks around the former Carnegie mansion. 

In St. Mary's, little shops and restaurants cater to the Cumberland Island tourists as well as the town residents, making this a busy little town.  We biked around the quaint town, and went in the large, old cemetery at one end of town. We saw markers from the early 1800s including a small section of Acadians, some  of whom settled in this area after being driven out of Canada by the British. We will definitely return to St. Mary’s someday. 

Molly bicycling by the former Jekyll Island Club.
Graveyard Beach. Not as isolated as the
Boneyard on Blackbeard so Molly tried
to make it as unique with her dance.
After 2 nights, we set off for Jekyll Island. This island was purchased in the late 1700s by a French family and sold in the late 1800s to a group of wealthy families who called themselves the Jekyll Island Club. The State of Georgia bought much of the Island in the 1950s.  There are some beautiful mansions and some concentrated residential development on the island, but the State passed a law that no more than 35% of the island can be developed, leaving lots of beautiful open land. We borrowed old fashioned single speed Schwinn bikes from the marina(we had sold our bikes in St. Mary’s) and rode on a bike path around the perimeter of the island, about 15 miles.
One of the prettiest parts of the ride was through a marsh filled with beautiful birds.

There was a heavy fog on the water the next morning, so we waited until it lifted. Shortly after setting out, we entered a thick fog bank and had almost no visibility for about 2 hours. We motored slowly, turned on our radar and hit the horn at regular intervals. The unnerving part for me was having to cross a big ship channel.  Being in the fog in a boat is a strange experience, but we have had many foggy sails in Maine, so we
Finally the fog began to lift.
knew what to do. In time, the fog lifted to a gorgeous and mostly wind free day.  We wanted to head back to Blackbeard Island that we had so loved on the way down.

Cabretta Inlet at low tide.
The weather and tides allowed us to enter Blackbeard Creek through the Cabretta Inlet from the Ocean.  The channel is unmarked, and it was somewhat scary for me (not for Bill, of course!) with waves crashing on both sides of us, but we made it through without incident.  Our anchoring spot was a mile or two up the creek, between Sapelo and Blackbeard Islands.  During the afternoon we took our dinghy down near the southern tip of Blackbeard and walked two beautiful miles on the beach and then circled back on the inland side along the Creek. 

I wasn’t thrilled as what turned out to be a bushwhack that featured cactus, tall marsh grass and some mud. Without saying this to Bill, I was thinking that we might be invading the privacy of some hibernating alligators.

Walking the sand roads on Sapelo Island.

Once back at the boat we got the phone number off the internet for JR Grovner, one of the descendents of slaves who lives on Sapelo Island.  Sapelo first became the home for a number of former slaves after the Civil War, and this history reminded us of much, much smaller Malaga Island in Maine.  Now, many of the descendants can no longer afford to live on Sapelo because of the increase in property taxes.  Most of the large Island is still wild, however.  Mr. Grovner was unable to give us a tour on the private island, but he did give us permission to visit.  In our 9 mile circular walk on the sand roads we passed two houses, the African Baptist Church, the ruins of the Chocolate Mansion, a former cotton plantation, and an ancient Native American shell midden, which has been carbon dated to be over 4,000 years old.

Former slave cabin at the Chocolate Mansion. The building was made of tabby, a common 17th century building material
made of shells and limestone.
Irrigation canal that served the
Chocolate Mansion plantation.

Main fireplace of the plantation house.

Indian midden known as the shell ring.

Last night for Molly at anchor

We got back to the boat late, and were challenged to make it north through the Creek back to the Intercoastal Waterway as the tide was going out.  We anchored 25 miles north in Redbird Creek, observing both a beautiful sunset and sunrise before going on to Hilton Head, where our boat will spend the winter.
Do not trust this nun to mark
the channel.
Nor can you trust this can.

On our full day of cruising we commented on how few boats we were seeing in comparison to our trip down.  First it is winter, and, secondly, the ICW, which is supposed to be 12 feet deep at low tide, went down to 4 feet in one section as suggested by both the red and green channel markers lying in the sand.

Our boat in now "on the hard" at the
Hilton Head Boathouse.

On the final day of our adventure, there is some time to reflect on this experience. Over dinner at the Hilton Head Boathouse we both came up with the same top four memories of our trip – going through the 8-10 foot breaking waves off West End, Grand Bahama, coming into the picture-perfect anchorage at the Exuma Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas, exploring Boneyard Beach on Blackbeard Island and the friends we have made.  We have had a lot of great laughs. Boaters are wonderful people, open to making new friends, willing to help each other out of jams, and always ready with a few snacks for cocktail hour in the cockpit. They also share a sense of adventure and love of storytelling that is delightful.

We learned that one can live reasonably comfortably in 125 square feet, privacy is overrated and you won’t starve if you have enough rice, oatmeal, potatoes, cabbage and peanut butter aboard.  This adventure will be hard to top, although we are working on other ideas, and we are so thankful to have had this opportunity. Thank you all for following our journey.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Back in Florida

We have had limited exposure to Florida and have been pleasantly surprised by the number of energetic, pretty communities along the ICW in central and northern Florida including Cocoa, Fort Pierce, New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.   In Cocoa we shopped at the fascinating 130-year old, multi-building Travis Hardware.  Authorities would have closed the store as a fire hazard in Maine, but it was great as you can see in the pictures.  We told them that they should charge admission.
Cast iron cookware is 21 1/5% off!  We were told that helps the 80-year old
owner remember the discount,

Does anyone need a wagon wheel?
Is this walkway between
buildings safe?
Defrosting the refrigerator.
The boat is now 100 pounds lighter.
We enjoyed three days in Fort Pierce, shopped the great Farmers’ Market there, performed various maintenance projects and packaged and shipped four boxes home including the one thing that we found made in the Bahamas – rum cake in 6 different flavors! 

South of New Smyrna Beach, we rescued a disabled boat with three adults aboard and towed them 5 miles to the boat ramp where they had started.  We were already low on gas, and the boat owner had arranged for fuel for us at the boat ramp.  He insisted that we take some of his money and treat ourselves to a good meal in New Smyrna Beach, which we did.

Our friends getting ready to depart.
The boating community is generally very supportive and friendly.  Among our new friends are the Allen family, whom we saw briefly at the Boat Basin (months ago!) in New York City, passed in Delaware River and met in Delaware Gap.  We have texted back and forth multiple times about conditions and were pleased to see them again in St. Augustine, where we shared a great meal on our boat, thanks to Ann bringing the food. 

Our boat was the only pleasure boat in the free marina!

From St. Augustine we motored to Jacksonville and much enjoyed our stop there at the free municipal marina located in the shadow of the former Gator Bowl, now the home of the Jaguars, their NFL football team.  The city seems to be up and coming, and we walked around the city, including the Landing, the restaurant and cultural center.  The next day (Friday the 13th!) we continued up (which is south) the beautiful St. Johns River to Julington Creek for gas.  Another time we would like to continue exploring the St. Johns River, which flows another 150 miles south through the center of the State.

We enjoyed the aroma of the Maxwell
Coffee plant.
Home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

We still don't have a good dolphin picture!
After a great lunch at the Fish Camp restaurant, we reversed course back through Jacksonville to the ICW and headed north.  Our original destination was Ferandina Beach, but the mooring field there and marina (like many others) was devastated by Hurricane Matthew, and won’t open again until March.  Instead we anchored in the Amelia River, where we watched dolphins swim by the boat, and Molly gave me my first haircut in over three months.

Tomorrow (1/14) we cross into Georgia, but leave Florida with a much improved picture of the state along with the thought that maybe we could live there for a few months a year!  Time will tell.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Drama at Sea

Time to leave paradise.

Our trip from the Exumas back to the US required four open water passages ranging from 35 to 60 miles each.  One leg was over a typical shallow Bahama bank with 10-20 feet depths, while three of the passages were largely over ocean waters with depths between 3,000 and 6,000 feet.  There is something quite unsettling about knowing that one has a mile or so of water beneath the hull, and the unknowing of what may linger there.  In deference to a request from Molly, I never mentioned when our depth meter was beyond its 200 or so foot range. 

The level of anxiety at sea beyond water depth is much related to the strength and direction of the wind, and wave height and frequency.  These factors become accentuated by at least three factors: (a) the amount of fetch, or the distance of open water where waves can build in size and intensity; (b)  differences in the wind and wave directions, which can intensify turbulence; and (c) great differences in typography, particularly when open ocean meets shallow inlets.

Harbor Control gave us permission to pass
through Nassau harbor.
Leg I from the Exumas to Nassau was all over shallow waters and moderate winds and waves.  While not smooth, Molly was reasonably happy and enjoyed sipping coffee in her new YETI mug, a great Christmas gift from her husband.  In Nassau we fueled up and enjoyed viewing the cruise ships and all the boating activity. 

This cruise ship is beyond massive.

Leaving Nassau Harbor.

Leg II was from Nassau to the Berry Islands.  While very doable in our boat, the open ocean seas were more uncomfortable, and we were both glad to get in the lee of these Islands, where we spent the night. 

Leg III brought much anxiety, followed by peacefulness and then terror.  The first 50 miles were over open ocean.  Waves averaged 3 feet, not the 2 foot or less forecasted, and winds were blowing 20 knots, not the 15 knots or less expected.  I tried tacking, as one might do on a sailboat, but I had difficulty finding any comfort, regardless of direction.  We alternated between pounding over the waves going into the wind to surfing down the waves with increasing speed and needing to guard against the boat broaching,  where it can suddenly turn sideways to the wave and seem like it might tip over.  We got pushed by one particularly large wave, and Molly cried, “God, please don’t kill me today!”, or something to that effect.  Finally, we settled on heading the boat so that the waves were just aft of our beam.  This greatly reduced the pounding, yet the waves were enough behind us so that the boat would not surf. 
Abandoned work boats and equipment at the beginning of the
Grand Lacayan Waterway.
 We changed our landfall according to our more comfortable direction, and all seemed reasonably good until Molly observed a squall, a very dark and fast moving system, coming at us from our port beam.  We could see the downpour and increase in white caps caused by the stronger winds.  I sped up as much as I could, and, fortunately, we were able to stay in front of the squall until we got in the safety of the Grand Lacayan Waterway. Some white knuckles, for sure.

This hotel on the Waterway was never

The Waterway is a 7-mile canal that follows a north-south line through Grand Bahama Island.  Off the canal are various canal tributaries, constructed to serve hotels, condominiums and luxurious single family houses with boat docks.  The hope was that this would become a Venice West, but it ended up being both the biggest public works project and boondoggle in Bahamian history. 
After passing through the tranquil, yet ghostly Waterway, we entered the Bahama Bank north of Grand Bahama.  Now in the lee of wind and waves, we easily sped along toward the marina in West End, closest point to Palm Beach, FL, our US destination.  Within a mile or so from the marina, we came to a dead stop as we observed a line of crashing breakers marking the shoal inlet that had to be crossed to reach West End.  I then motored the boat forward slowly as the frequency and height of the swells increased.  As the waves reached four feet or so, and not being prepared for worse, I quickly turned the boat around, returning to smoother waters to contemplate our options.  We had enough fuel for, perhaps  40 miles, and there was another inlet to cross the shoal 16 miles to our north.  We could also return to the canal, but there were no services for 50 miles or so.  Another factor was that it would be dark in less than two hours.

At that moment two 50+ foot sport fishing boats motored past us heading toward the inlet that we had just turned back from.  We connected over the radio, and I decided to turn around again and attempt to follow them through the shoal inlet.  “Molly, get our life jackets! Lock the doors!” The two boats in front of us were now in the middle of the 8-10 foot waves, and we could see the waves of water going over their fly bridges.  With no other viable options, we followed them in and soon hit the same waves.  The boat seemed to reach vertical  going up the waves, was nearly airborne at the top, and then crashed down the back side with the bow being briefly buried before rising again to go up the next wave.  It seemed like an eternity, but it what was probably just a few minutes, and we were over the shoal, now dealing with very unsettled seas with 4 foot waves.
I asked Molly to turn on her windshield wiper as I could no longer see out the port side window.  In her haste, (and maybe panic), she turned off the electronics.  We were now separated from the two other boats, and I couldn’t discern the marina breakwater entrance.  While the electronics were slowly restarting, Molly tried hailing the marina on Channel 16 multiple times, but there was no response.  Finally, another boater on shore came on 16 and directed us to the marina entrance.  As we entered, the other two boats, Tango and A Reel Dive followed us in.  Once docked we all breathed a sigh of relief and compared notes on the pier.  The Tango captain said that they saw Salty Paws completely out of the water on two occasions.  That night we both had two stiff drinks with a great dinner of Bahamian grouper.  I told Molly that this was the first time I had thought that we might not make it. 

We slept well but woke up the next morning, not sure if the weather would permit a crossing from West End to Florida.  The captain of A Reel Dive, Angel Cruz, was very friendly and confirmed with our weather service that today, Thursday, 1/5, was the day.  We then learned that his companion boat, Tango, had just locked into reverse and rammed the dock on the opposite finger pier.  There was very little damage to the boat, but six wooden pilings were demolished as well as Tango’s dinghy.    
Angel asked if we would work with him to tow Tango out of the inner harbor where they would be able to lock the boat in forward for the crossing and then seek further assistance in the States.We did just that before our own departure. After all, our boat make was designed for the Canadian Coast Guard! 
Our first view of the USA in almost one month.

Leg IV was our 60-mile crossing from West End to the Palm Beach inlet.  The trip was uneventful, and we arrived in Florida three hours later.


After checking in with US Customs, we motored up to Manatee Pocket in Stuart for a relaxing evening at anchor.