Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We sold her! :(

"Little Gypsy", a Sovereign 7.0, and our first ever sailboat at anchor with her new owners. They picked a rough weather day to take delivery.

This week, we are closing on a 1994 Hunter 29.5 in Hollywood, Florida and we'll be sailing her home on Saturday. The boat's name is Rapture and we're not going to change it. Follow our adventures at SV Rapture.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our Trip to Bimini (finally)

Here's the entire story of our Bimini, Bahamas sailing adventure on our pocket cruiser, Little Gypsy.
We departed Coconut Grove on Friday (2/16) night and anchored at No Name Harbor on the tip of Key Biscayne. It's a popular spot to make the jump across the Gulf Stream from. We woke up at 5:30 AM on Saturday and were underway by 6:00 AM. We caught a spectacular sunrise off our bow.
The sea state was calm and winds were probably about 10kts, but they were right on our nose, which is not good, as we tried to sail SSE. So, we turned on the motor. Once we were well south of the Navionics recommended track (for fast motorboats taking a direct route), we cut the motor off and sailed. We achieved a record-breaking, for our boat, speed over ground of 9.5 knots. Of course, a good bit of that (probably 5 Knots of it) was the Gulf Stream pushing us. But within minutes we had sailed way more north than east and we were on top of the blue recommended track. We cranked the engine on again.
At the beginning I wasn’t cautious with fuel consumption. I thought I had a good handle on how much fuel the boat burns per hour relative to miles traveled but my first lesson was that mileage in the bay is very different than mileage on the ocean, especially when fighting a strong current.
As it became clear that fuel would become an issue, I began adjusting throttle to lower RPMs and adjusting our angle to the wind (we had main sail up) to maintain maximum boat speed for minimum fuel consumption. We got to about 8 miles from the Bimini channel entrance when we ran out of gas.
The problem was we were slightly north of the channel entrance and wind was very light at that point, too light to sail against the northbound current. Fortunately, we saw another sailboat about a mile to our stern and hailed him on the VHF. He assisted by having his wife throw a 1-gallon jerry jug of gas over onto our deck, where Alex, like a champ, was able to grab it before it went sliding into the water. We poured the fuel and made arrangements over the VHF to return the jerry jug the next day. The sun was setting but we missed it because of the scrambling for the fuel.
We began motoring again and, of course, the single gallon wasn’t enough. We got to within 4 miles of the channel entrance. If we set the sails for the course we wanted, we made either 0 knots or 1 knot, in the WRONG direction!
Alex began to worry but we had to keep it together. We could sail in two directions, one was NE which would make us overshoot Bimini and end up somewhere in the shallow water between Bimini and Freeport. It was an option, we could at least anchor there for the night. As it was, we were drifting in 1600+ ft of water, no anchoring possible with our 15' of chain and 200' of anchor line. The other option was to turn around and head back to Florida, with the light wind at our back.
We did neither. We drifted. We pointed the boat toward the marker and slowly drifted a mile further away from it over about two hours. During that time we had contacted the marina we were going to stay (but had no reservation for, as they had said they were wide open when we called the day before) using the VHF. The dock master was friendly and promised to try to get us some help. Our VHF began acting up and communications became difficult.
Luckily Alex’s cell phone worked and her international plan kicked in. We were in touch with her sister in Louisiana who tried to get us help. We talked to the Alicetown police department in Bimini, the Royal Bahamian Defense force, the front desk of the marina/hotel. Everyone knew of our plight but it seemed like circumstances were plotting against us. The local guys who normally assist in the situations (for a fee) had no gas to give us and the marina with the gas pumps was closed for the night). The police boat was out of service. The situation probably wasn’t as grave as it seemed but after 14 hours or so on the ocean it felt bleak. We were personally running out of gas too.
Then divine providence stepped in. We got an increase in wind speed and favorable shift in wind direction. Now we were sailing toward the marker. Slowly at first, only about 1 or 1.5 knots but as the minutes passed the conditions became even more favorable. Soon we were sailing at 3-3.5 knots, in the RIGHT direction this time!
I had hoisted a flashing strobe up the mast to signal our location to anyone that might be coming to help. Once we were sailing and it seemed everything was under control, we heard a call on the VHF, asking for the “sailboat in distress”. We answered. Help was on the way. They said they clearly saw our flashing light and were within minutes of our position.
Out of the darkness (with only the light of a crescent moon and millions of stars), a small go-fast boat with no navigational lights appeared and pointed a spotlight on us. For a second my heart skipped a beat. There were three Bahamian dudes on a speedboat approaching our small sailing vessel and we were completely vulnerable. But these were white hats, even if they were for hire.
I de-powered the sails and they came up along side, handing us a 3-gallon jerry jug of premixed gas. They asked if we wanted help pouring it. Sure, I said. Soon one of the guys jumped on board and with an incredible ease syphoned the gas from the jerry jug using a 30” segment of narrow gauge garden hose, by jiggling it up and down inside the jug. Within a minute the 3 gallons were in our tank. I asked what the damage$ were and there was some chatter, in Bahamian patois, back and forth between the guy on my boat and guy captain of the speedboat. "$200?," he asked. I said, "what about $175?" They agreed and I parted with the money I had set aside for customs. Soon, they were back into the darkness and we continued sailing.
When we were about a mile from the marker we were joined by a couple of playful dolphins, who would pop up on alternating sides of the boat. Alex was ecstatic and it was a nice reward near the end of a long day.
Finally, once inside the channel, we turned on the engine. The entrance is tricky and we never intended to do it at night. Alex went to the bow with a light to check for rocks and shoals, but we made it without incident and arrived at the marina. Even docking was a challenge, though. The current in the channel is very strong, pretty much all the time. Eventually we got it done, after banging on the dock a few times. Poor Little Gypsy. It was about midnight. We had been on the move since 6 AM, 18 hours total.
The dock master on duty called Customs and Immigration. Customs answered but Immigration didn’t. The on-call Customs agent showed up. He had been on a date and was in a hurry to get back to it. He was happy to see that we came with our documents already filled out.
But then came the issue of money. It costs $150 to clear a boat under 30 feet. That includes the entry and exit permits for up 3 people, the fishing licenses and cruising permit and it’s good for 90 days. Of course, we didn’t have enough after paying the unofficial private coast guard for their help. The young Customs agent offered to drive me to the ATM in his car.
On the way, I asked if he was from Bimini and he said he was from Nassau and had only been on Bimini since January. We passed in front of a small bar that was packed with Bahamians, loud music emanating from it. It was Saturday night, after all. We got the ATM and, of course, it was out order. The next option was the ATM at the newish Hilton hotel on the north end of the island, about a couple of miles up the extravagantly named King's Highway. As we passed slowly in front of the bar again, the Customs agent began talking up two Bahamian women who were walking in the middle of the street. This guy was a player.
As we continued up the road I asked if that place was for locals only (I didn’t want to be like the guys in Animal House showing up uninvited at the Dexter Lake Club). He said, “naw, tourists go there too. When you get back to the boat, you can go there and order food. Just get your wife back on the boat before sunrise.” This was after he had admonished me several times that only I could get off the boat until we cleared immigration. Now, he had let his guard down and was basically saying, it was ok to break the rules but to sure we didn’t get caught.
At the Hilton, I was able to get the needed cash. He charged me an extra $50 for “overtime” despite the fact that I had read on the Bahamas government website that there is no overtime charge for entry during off-hours. I wasn’t going to argue it. It was 1:00 AM and I was beat. He was probably counting on that. As we sped down the King’s Highway back to the marina, the Customs agent was engaged in a deep conversation with a lady friend (or relative) who was crying about her deadbeat man who goes out every night, leaving her and their one-year old baby alone. Eventually he asked her to put him on speaker and began castigating the man. “If you say you’re working, you’re hustling, then what have you got to show for it? Where’s the extra money, mon? You got a good woman and one-year old at home…”
Finally, I was back at the marina. Alex had begun organizing the mess on our boat. Soon she was in the V-birth, sound asleep. I crawled in next her after a while and just lay there. It took a while to fall asleep, as all the adrenaline finally dissipated.
It was a restless night. I awoke early to the boat banging against the dock. Our hasty job mooring Little Gypsy paid unfavorable dividends as the tide went down and up, requiring adjustments to the fenders and mooring lines. Each time I went back to sleep and eventually Customs showed up in the morning. They called to us and I came out on deck. I explained that I had already cleared Customs. They pointed at the quarantine flag and I said, we hadn’t cleared Immigration yet because the on-call agent never came. They asked for my Customs paperwork and once they were satisfied that everything was in order, they let me get back to sleep.
When I was finally ready to take on the day, I walked over to Immigration where the friendly officer did his job stamping our passports in no time at all. We were now legally in the Bahamas. The sailor who had lent us the 1-gallon jerry jug of gas stopped by and we chatted. He mentioned that the weather wasn’t looking good for our planned return on Tuesday. But I was optimistic. Lesson 2. Be pessimistic about weather forecasts.
That day we sailed to Rainbow Reef, just a couple of miles away. I snorkeled for a while. Not much to see, but it was nice to get in the water.

Anchored at Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef
Then we sailed to a beach we had passed, off which several sailboats were anchored. On our way there, we were again joined by playful dolphins.
Video of Dolphins playing in our bow wave:…/
We dropped anchor close to the shore and swam to the beach with a couple of beers. We simulated a Corona commercial with our bottles of Monterrey (Corona knock-off beers from Aldi) and just enjoyed it for a while. We picked up a conch shell as a souvenir, swam back to the boat, grilled some sausages for dinner and enjoyed the sunset.

Our knock-off Corona ad, using our knock-off Coronas, courtesy of #Aldi#Monterrey

Bimini Sunset.

Grilling while anchored near the beach on North Bimini.

 When we got back to the marina, I took care to moor the boat more conscientiously and placed the fenders in such a way that would accommodate Little Gypsy in the shifting tides.
After a while I asked Alex if she wanted to go for a drink. She said yes, and that she was getting hungry again. “I have an idea!,” I said, and soon we were walking to the bar I had seen the night before. All I needed to say when we stepped through the door was, “wait ’til Otis sees us, he loves us!” It was just like that scene from Animal House. We were the only white people there and Alex could feel the men, all intoxicated, evaluating her female form. It was cool outside, probably 70 degrees, but inside it was sweltering from the Bahamian body heat in the packed bar. Alex flung daggers at me with her stare.
I moved to bar and asked if there was food. “Yes, said the bartender, let me take you to the kitchen.” He came out from behind the bar and led us to a back room with a pool table and off of which the restrooms were located. In the back of the room was a large window with bars on it, on the other side was a kitchen in which sat two bored women. The bartender said, “order your food from them and pay me at the bar.”
We asked if there was a menu and they pointed at a dry erase board that had some items named in very light, almost illegible, writing. Not recognizing many of the items, I asked Alex, “want conch stew?” She was ambivalent, so I went ahead and asked for the conch stew. The women set about serving it and heating it up. They packed it in a small plastic bag with spoons and two big slices of warm bread. There was no open place to sit unless we wanted share a booth with a large and unfriendly looking Bahamian man. So, we walked back to the marina. Alex glowered at me, intimating that I had put her in danger by taking her to such a dive. Then she tried the conch stew. A smile came to her face and suddenly the adventure into the real world of Bimini locals was all worth it. She’s not much of a bread eater, but I am. The bread was so freaking good. Reminded me of times as a kid when we bought loaves at the “Bimini Bakery.”
That night we slept the sleep of the dead. The boat didn’t bump the dock. The fenders didn’t slip. All was right with the world.
I got up the next morning before Alex and checked the weather. The wind was blowing a stiff 20 knots from the east. The next day, for our planned return, it was expected to be blowing 30knots and continue to do so for several days. I made a snap decision to get the hell out of dodge. I went back to the boat and advised Alex. She agreed to the plan and shortly we were underway. We departed the marina at 11:00 AM on Monday morning. Knowing the wind was going to be strong, we left the main down and sailed out with our 110% Genoa. Soon we were in the ocean, heading west at 4.8 KTS under the Genoa alone. The sea state was a relatively calm 2-4 feet with the waves heading west and the sky was sunny, with some clouds, as we departed.
Video of us departing Bimini:…/

My admiral took this picture of me while sailing back from Bimini. Seas were building but I was taking it in stride.
As the hours passed, it became more overcast and the waves that were still thankfully on our stern were getting larger. Eventually, I estimate that we were sailing in 10-12 foot seas, but we were on a downwind run with the waves pushing us.
Slow motion video of the sea state on our return trip:…/

Alex at the tiller, documenting sea state and how many miles we had covered:

Our average speed slowly crept up. The current was pushing us slightly north. We were going to make landfall between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. I began craving a burger from “Le Tub”, a great dive bar in Hollywood, that has a dock. We had never been there on our boat. I set up the Navionics with a course for Le Tub. It was getting dark and as we got closer to land, and the water became shallower, the waves were increasing in size. I estimate by that time we were in 14-16 foot seas. But in the boat the ride wasn’t bad because the waves were still on our stern. Then I realized that our suggested route was going to take us through the Haulover inlet. That inlet is tricky, especially in big wave conditions. I asked Alex to start researching the inlet on her phone. Then I got the bright idea to ask her to research the bridge we’d have to cross under. She reported that it was a fixed bridge with a height of 32 feet at high tide. Now, I don’t know what our exact clearance is. Our deck-stepped mast is 27’ high, with a few inches more for the masthead rig and wind direction indicator. But how many feet above the waterline does the mast sit? I estimate 5 feet. That’s exactly 32 feet. Ugh. Alex had already been lobbying against using the Haulover inlet. With the mast height question on top of worries about big waves and strong current in the channel, realized Alex was right and we couldn’t take the chance. Once in the inlet, if we didn’t clear the bridge we probably wouldn’t be able to get back out into the ocean with the rough conditions. So, we had to make a choice, Port Everglades to the north or Government Cut to the south. Either way, my burger dreams were dashed.
We decided to turn south and sail on a beam reach to Government cut. We were a couple of miles off of the beach but now we had the waves were coming at our beam. We got wet several times. There's no dodger to protect us from the water on our little boat. It was beautiful sailing along Miami beach and seeing all the buildings but several of waves that rolled under us must have been 20 feet in size. Little Gypsy is a 23 foot boat. Luckily none of those monster waves broke over the boat, or we would have been done.
The last hurdle was to make sure that we cleared the South Beach jetty on the north side of Government cut. About a year and a half ago the Miami Marlins' ace pitcher, Jose Fernandez, crashed his speedboat into the rocks of that jetty, killing himself and two passengers. Of course, we were sailing at 6 Knots but still, we didn’t want to get close those rocks!
Finally, at about 10:30 PM, almost 12 hours after leaving Bimini, we were sailing in the relative calm of Government Cut at the Port of Miami. We called DHS to check in, and after giving our information to the officer that answered, he told us to report in person within 24 hours. We anchored just outside the mooring field of the Miami Yacht Club, behind some multi-million dollar homes. Alex made a great dinner of pasta with Alfredo sauce and soon we were sleeping.

Entering Government Cut. South Point condo building on our starboard.

View from our anchorage near the Miami Yacht Club, close to the Port of Miami.
The next day we set sail for Coconut Grove. My sister, who knew of our exploits, texted me because she was at on off-site work meeting that day, at a school right on the bay. We were going to sail right by her location. We coordinated with her and luckily she was on a lunch break when we passed by. She took some nice video and pics of us. The bay was choppy but for us, this was smooth sailing!
Video taken by my sister as we sailed by her on our way home to Coconut Grove on the last day of our trip.

Finally, we were on the dock at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Little Gypsy's home base. We got organized and headed back to the Port of Miami, now in a car, to check in with DHS. Awaiting us was a menacing picture of Donald Trump. I’ve had a long time to adjust to the idea of having this clown/game show host being the president but nothing made it more real than seeing his picture in a government office!

Greeted by this unfriendly face in the DHS office at the Port of Miami.
Anyway, we made it home safe and learned a lot. We probably won’t make the crossing again on Little Gypsy unless the weather is forecast to be absolutely optimal. Though, I would like to get my money’s worth on the 90-day pass! I think we’ll step up our search for a larger boat, probably 30 feet for the next one.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

First outing with new sail.

First mate was not up to it, so I single-handed. Very happy with the performance. I can tell that I'll be getting more speed in lighter winds. The boat heeled in situations where it wouldn't have with the old, baggy sail.

Friday, January 5, 2018

My new mainsail is here!

A belated but merry Christmas to us. In November, I decided our tired, 27-year-old mainsail needed to be replaced. I shopped around and found Precision Sail Loft online. Today, my sail arrived. Darryl and his crew are top notch. The sail is made of Challenge 6.11 Warp Drive sailcloth. I went for two full battens, two partial plus one reef. The sail is loose foot. I recreated the SYC 7.0 insignia in Photoshop.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New Sovereign Website

I've created a new website to house all kinds of stuff about Sovereign brand sailboats. I've researched the brand's history extensively, found advertising and a whole lot more.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When you hear a cry for help, at night, in the middle of the bay

So we were on our way back from a lovely sail tonight and I thought I heard a faint cry for help. I yelled back and sure enough someone was yelling for help. 
We steered toward the voice. It was already dark but I could make out the silhouette of a man standing on the platform of a channel marker. We brought in the sails and started the motor to maneuver toward him. When we got close, he offered to dive in and swim to us, which he did.
Once aboard, he explained he had been ejected from his power boat when it struck the channel marker. He swore the boat had continued on in the direction of Key Biscayne but soon it became apparent that the boat had circled back, as a Coast Guard helicopter was flying overhead. We radioed the Coast Guard and let them know we had the captain of the power boat aboard.We then motored to the crash site. The powerboat had crashed into a moored catamaran in the dinner key mooring field. Fortunately nobody was aboard.Here's what the scene looked like from a distance.The man's only injuries were scrapes on his legs from the barnacles on the marker. We turned him over to the fish and wildlife officers and proceeded back to our marina.On my way home in the car I stopped at the dinner key marina and saw the boat had been towed in. The last I heard the catamaran was taking on water and sinking. There was a news truck from channel 10 in the dinner keep parking lot as I drove by. But decided not to say anything.