3 days crossing to Key Largo

Finally our weather window arrived, and we left Great Harbour Cay Marina on Monday morning. The winds were great for sailing, so we went across the Bahama Banks in a straight southwest line averaging 6 knots. Still so many cruise ships anchored out, we counted 23 of them!

Right before sunset, we anchored in the middle of the banks. It was very rough, but not too rough to cook a wonderful stir-fry meal and have a cocktail while watching the sunset.

Sunset on the Bahama Banks

After a bad night with very little sleep, we enjoyed the calmer morning with a nice breakfast burrito, joined by a curious Sushi.

Rob enjoying his Breakfast Burrito
What’s for breakfast?

We lifted anchor and sailed again, only 40 nautical miles left to get to South Riding Rock. The wind was a little lower, and more east, so we had to tack, and we enjoyed every minute of sailing through the clear blue water. We saw a couple of dolphins, too!

The water doesn’t get any clearer than this.

Willy decided that the cockpit was a good place to sleep off her seasickness, so we had to be careful not to step on her!

Willy taking a nap in the cockpit

We made it to South Riding Rock before sunset, picked our way through the rocks, and decided to anchor directly behind South Riding Rock. We found good holding, and now had a protected place to rest before the dark-thirty 4 am in the morning departure to cross the Gulf Stream.

Anchoring at South Riding Rock
Sunset at South Riding Rocks

Even with the extra protection, we did not sleep very well, as the wind was howling all night and we were worried that despite the favorable forecast, our crossing window would not open. We got up at 3:30 am and went outside – the wind was still howling and it was pitch black, no moon. At 5 am we decided to go for it. We had a following wind and could not sail (we don’t have a spinnaker), so we carefully motored out from our anchorage towards the deep channel where the Gulf Stream slowly begins. At 6:30 we started seeing the first light of the rising sun. It took us almost 10 hours to cross the Stream with following 3 to 4 foot rollers, but as soon as we got across, we set sail south to make up for the 20 miles the Stream had carried us north of Key Largo to Ocean Reef. We checked into the USA with the CBP app on the iPad, no problem whatsoever and a really fast procedure. With a 14 knot beam reach and an average of 7 knots, we got into Key Largo before sunset, found our temporary dock at a friend’s house, and prepared to go to Wauchula, where we will be working at Stream2Sea to help Autumn and John make the planet a better place. They are rocking the new earth-friendly hand sanitizer!

Stream2Sea, here we come!

Strange Times in a Wonderful Place

We have been in Great Harbour Cay Marina in the Berry Islands for over a month now. It was not our plan to stay in a marina, and if we had been given a choice, we would not have. However, this turned out to be a good decision overall. The staff is wonderful, and the marina has everything.

It probably sounds great, having escaped the “Rona” by being on a remote island that has not at all been affected, and we feel lucky. During the self-quarantine, we have been getting tons of boat projects done, and read many books. The unfortunate truth is, we have been locked up more than we could have ever imagined, and our dream of cruising the Carribean has been stopped right here for now. The Bahamas did exactly what was needed at the right time, by not allowing inter-island travel when it all started. Yes, they have a few cases on the two main islands with the biggest populations, but the “family islands” aka out-islands (not New Providence / Nassau or Grand Bahama / Freeport) have been spared. The spread of Corona was hindered that way and so far has not reached the out-islands, sparing the locals as well as the cruisers here. The only (for us cruisers) unreasonable measure was the closing of all liquor stores, so no beer, wine or rum to be had…

We made wonderful new friends here, and have had good times with locals as well as other cruisers. Everybody sticks together and helps each other out, and somehow everybody always has mutual friends somewhere. We celebrated Rob’s 65th birthday here, and although we had run out of beer, some of the other cruisers emptied their fridges to make sure Rob had more than enough beer to celebrate! Anya baked the chocolate birthday cake in the instant pot (no propane refills for our stove here), and it turned out yummy! (Anya filled the cake with Nutella, which Rob hates, but he never noticed, and loved the cake.)

A birthday with chocolate cake and beer

Our other reality is sitting on the sailboat under lockdown with no opportunity to walk to the beach or move freely, with only occasional opportunities to take walks ot take the dinghy out on non-lockdown days. When we get the chance we escape on our dinghy to a remote beach, but this has only been possible 2x in the last few weeks, and it is really not allowed (all public beaches are closed, even if nobody lives anywhere near, and all Bahamian beaches are public). And we try to follow every rule to the “T”, being model guests in our refuge!

What a place to have a picnic!

It is stunningly beautiful here, the locals could not be more friendly and accommodating, and there is no shortage of food supplies, so we lack nothing other than freedom to enjoy our surroundings. If there was a chance this could get better soon, we would stick around forever, but given the uncertainty and the fact that we can’t make our sailing dreams come true this season, we have decided to head back home and devote our time to helping our best friends at Stream2Sea in their endeavor to make the world a better and safer place for humans as well as the oceans. So we will tackle the 3 to 4 day sail back west to the Keys next week and then head up to Wauchula in central Florida, where Stream2Sea is located.

There will be a few challenges on the way back, including weather and winds (we want to sail as much of the way as possible), the closure of the Keys (we can’t get back to our old dock as Port Largo Marina is closed), as well as the upcoming hurricane season (we really want Ronya to be in a safe place during that, she is our (only) home, so that needs to be figured out).

We’ll let you know how the sail goes. Stay safe and healthy!

Rob & Anya

A rough start and then a full stop

Here is the story of our crossing to the Bhahamas and then full stop of life on Ronya with the quarantine and now 24 hour curfew.

While still waiting to cross the Gulf Stream in Key Largo, we finally got to go sail, this time with our friends Marijolein and Forest down to Key West on their Lagoon Catamaran. That was great fun!

On Monday, March 16, we finally set off on Ronya to cross the Gulfstream to the Bahamas. The forecast had predicted fair conditions of 2 to 3 foot waves with a 4 second period (the time between waves, the longer the better). And a light wind coming from due East, which meant we would have to go directly into the wind with no sailing, only motoring. We didn’t care, we were so gung ho to go! We left Port Largo Marina at 4:30 am and picked our way through the shallows to get past the reef line and into the Gulf Stream. We had plotted a 71 degree course, taking into account the 4 knots of the Gulf Stream, to get us to Bimini in the Bahamas. By sunrise, we were already in the Gulf Stream:

Sunrise at the beginning of the Gulf Stream

The forecast was not very accurate. We did have the wind on our nose, but it was much stronger than forecasted (up to 22 knots), so we ended up in 3 to 5 foot waves with a 2 second period, very rough when you are heading directly into it with no way to put a sail up for stabilization. The cats were NOT amused!

After a lumpy 13 hour crossing, we arrived near South Bimini with a very salty boat. We really wanted some rest, and found a nice anchorage off the beach which seemed to have pretty decent holding for our anchor (a rarity in Bimini from what we heard). We did not want to clear customs until we got to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, so we put up our quarantine flag and opened the mini Champagne I had saved for so long to watch the sunset and toast to our arrival in the Bahamas – finally!

Anchorage South Bimini

The wind picked up again over night and cost us some well-deserved sleep, but we set out early in the morning to start our crossing of the Northern Bahama Banks. We actually got some sailing in with about 20 knot east winds, but coming around North Rock in Bimini we had the wind on our nose again, so we had to settle in for some more motoring :-(. Again, the wind was stronger than forecasted, and the crossing was much more uncomfortable than we had anticipated. At the end of the day, we were still on the Banks and the wind had settled down, so we decided to anchor on the Banks. We found a spot that was abot 19 feet deep and dropped the anchor. It was strange anchoring in a place in the open ocean where there is no land in sight!

Of course the wind picked up again over night, so we were trying to sleep while Ronya was rocking and rolling, and finally sunrise arrived and we set off on our last leg to Great Harbour Cay.

Sunrise on the Banks

On the way we saw 11 cruise ships anchored out on the Banks as they had been stopped due to the Corona Virus, it was pretty spooky:

“Ghost” cruise ships

We arrived at Great Harbour Cay around noon on Wednesday March 18, and picked our way through the shallows at the Bullock Harbor entrance, as we had to go into the marina to clear customs. Once we had cleared us and the cats with no problems, we decided to stay in the marina for a night to catch up on some much needed rest and find out what the latest news was on travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Talking to some other boaters in the marina, there seemed to be quite a bit of uncertainty, so we decided to stay put for a few days for clarification. The marina has free bicycles, so we started exploring the village of Bullocks Harbour and the beaches, which are absolutely stunning!!!

We spent a lot of time exploring the beaches, swimming and snorkeling, and sharing nice dinners with our new friend Russ who is sailing solo on Frui Vita and happens to share some friends with us from the Keys.

And then the Prime Minister shut down the Bahamas. What now? With no travel allowed between the islands and a stay-at-home order, we were stuck. But – this is probably the best place in the world to be stuck in! We get to go on 90 minutes of outside exercise each day (paddleboarding and kayaking, walking and hiking), we can go to the (very well stocked) grocery store on the bicycles whenever we please, we have shore power so I am working on some more sewing projects, and we chat boat to boat with quite a few other nice sailors that have decided to stay as well. The internet is extremely slow, so it is hard to follow the news or even surf the web, but so far that is quite a nice break ;-).

And Rob and I are getting along great in our very small space living on the sailboat:

Just kidding! 😉

Making Lemonade…

We got back to Key Largo on November 21, and started waiting for a window to cross the Gulf Stream. But first we had to get a pet permit from the Bahamian government that would allow us to bring the cats to the Bahamas, evenif they were going to stay on the boat. In the meantime, Anya flew home to Germany for a week to visit with family.

Fast forward three weeks and a few weather windows, and still no pet permit :-(.

So we decided to make lemonade out of our lemons, and fly home to Germany for Christmas. Our wonderful friend Kim agreed to take care of the furry ones while we were gone, and Christmas Eve we flew across the Atlantic towards the Elis family. Needless to say, as soon as we arrived in Munich, we had the pet permit in our email inbox…

We spent a wonderful week with the whole German family!

December 31 we were on the plane back to Miami again. We planned a few days for Rob to finish fixing our “new to us” dinghy outboard and to provision, and here we are again in Key Largo waiting for a weather window. It’s not looking to good for the next week, and we are anxious to go, but we are just enjoying our time with our friends here in the Keys!