Our Island Adventures, a Long Passage
Updated: Feb 14, 2020
Hello from S/V Liberty! We are about to embark on our journey down to St. Martin, and thought we’d share our adventures with you. By the time you are reading this, we will have finished our passage (fingers crossed!). We always get tons of questions from friends as to what our life is like on the boat, and thought it would be fun to share our live-aboard boat experiences with you so that you can have a glimpse into not only a “cruiser’s” life, but also that of a charter business. So, our first journey that we’ll be sharing? Sailing over 1,300 miles from Key West, Florida, down to St. Martin in the Caribbean, where we will start our 2020 winter charter season.
First things first… a long passage is not to be taken lightly, and we spend weeks preparing for it. We recently heard about a fishing boat that sank only 50 miles off of the coast of Maine, and the two fishermen died. Only 50 miles!! On our typical longer passages, we are often over 300 miles from shore, so you do your absolute best to have everything in tip-top shape, because it’s generally just you and the sharks out there in the deep blue ocean – boat repairs done, engine checks, completely full on water and fuel, fully provisioned for food, and much, much more. You also need to plot your potential weather patterns – wind, wave height, any dangerous weather systems – to determine the best route for you and when to take it. The route we are taking this time is particularly hard because we are going against the trade winds, so it takes some unusual weather patterns to make it down safely and as quickly as possible. As most sailors know, you are tied to nature when you travel on a boat, so it is really up to her. Enough about the preparations though, and onto the fun stuff … our passage.
Day 1, 1/25/20, Depart Key West
We depart our mooring field in Key West at 4:30pm. I personally like leaving at first light in the morning because you are fresh and can cover a lot of ground before sunset, but the winds didn’t pick up until afternoon, so we waited until then. We motored around the west side of Key West and then turned south for our trip – sails up, we caught a Spanish mackerel in our first hour, but threw it back hoping for more tasty fish to fill our freezer. A simple pasta with veggies for dinner, and we begin our first night watch. During the daytime, we typically tag-team looking at the navigation systems, the route, etc., although Nils does a lot more than I do. Nighttime though, is a different story. Everyone needs some sleep, so we take shifts. Nils is 9pm – 12am, I am 12am – 3am, Nils 3am – 6am, and I’m on again from 6am – 9am. Our schedule works well, but I’m not going to lie, I HATE the overnight stuff. I get exhausted after a few days, no matter how many naps I try to take during the day. It just really messes with your body, and there is something inherently scary about traveling in the pitch black, no matter how many electronic navigational devices you may have.
Day 2, 1/26/20, the Bahama Banks
I wake up for my morning “shift” at 5:55 am, and Nils decides he will sleep in the salon in case I need his guidance, as we are headed into the Bahama banks where it is shallow and rocky. We are currently 50 miles from Cuba. At 7am, we hit a storm and it starts pouring. And the wind dies at the same time. So, Nils heads up top to bring the sails in. In the pouring rain. With only 3 hours of sleep all night. Such is a sailor’s life at sea. We have bagels and cream cheese for breakfast – we try to eat as healthy as possible on our trips, but with a bobbing ocean, your stomach tends to search for basic food, which is often carbs. We do typically try to have a healthy dinner every night though. Our fishing rods are out in the morning, and at about 2pm we sail through a school of mahi-mahi and both rods snap towards the sea and bend to the pull of our catches. It seems amazing how frequently you catch two fish at a time if you have two rods out – but if you think about it, it makes sense – many species of fish travel in schools (including mahi), so if you are lucky to travel through a school, two fish are bound to see your lures. So … fantastic! Two mahi, delicious and healthy eating! I fileted them up and most of the filets were put in the freezer immediately so that they are as fresh as possible when we want to eat them. I took some of the leftover meat from the body of the fish, trimmed it of any impurities (skin, blood, etc.), and soaked it in salt water for ten minutes. After taking the trimmings out, I dried them off, and we had amazing mahi sashimi for lunch. We have only historically done tuna sashimi on the boat, but I recently read that mahi is really good raw, and it did not disappoint. Soaking newly-caught raw fish in salt water is a good technique that firms the flesh of the fish up. It definitely helps to create the right texture for sashimi so that your fish does not fall apart or remain too soft. Still no winds, so we continue to motor through the Bahama Banks. I’m pretty notorious for / guilty of keeping our freezer really full, so I had to find (make) room for the new mahi, which meant pulling out ground turkey and frozen corn from the freezer, so we enjoyed a corn, leek, shallot, and curried turkey meatball soup for dinner. The curry actually added a great dimension to the soup; I would definitely try a bit the next time you make corn chowder. Night watch went off without a hitch, which was great.
Day 3, 1/27/20, (still) the Bahama Banks
We are just south of Andros island in the Bahamas, and still about 50 miles north of Cuba (sailing parallel to it on an Eastward trajectory.) When you look at a map, you realize just how big Cuba is! It seems to be about the size of Florida. So we have been sailing alongside of it for virtually our entire trip so far. We are only in about 15 – 20 feet of water, which means no good fishing. The good game fish tend to like much deeper waters, and particularly when there is an ocean shelf, where the depth of the water significantly drops off very quickly from, say, 100 feet, to 2,000 feet. That is typically where you are going to find your best fishing spots, so we always have our lines out when we sail over a shelf.
Early afternoon, and boredom sets in. I’ve already watched at least five Netflix shows / movies in our first 48 hours, and am sick of sitting and watching my phone! So, I head up to the bow for about an hour, watching the water and ocean life below as they glide by. I love Bahamian waters – they are crystal clear, and this morning we can see clearly all 30 feet below to the ocean floor, watching starfish pass by from far above. We are planning to anchor at Johnson Cay tomorrow to clean the hull of the boat, and I am really looking forward to going for a swim / snorkel and getting a good night’s sleep.
Bored, bored, bored ... bored, bored, bored … Are we there yet?!!
Day 4, 1/28/20, the Ragged Islands, Bahamas
Finally! We make landfall, at around noon-ish. We are going to anchor in the Ragged Islands, a tiny island chain that is supposedly very picturesque, very remote, and has great fishing. We anchor in Johnson Cay, with one other boat already there. It is a long sweep of beach, although the depth of the beach is only about 20 feet wide, but very, very pretty, because it appears untouched by humans. No trash, no footprints, just waves lapping over the white sand, and palm trees behind. Just beautiful. These are the places that make the Bahamas my favorite island chain.
As we are getting settled, our new neighbors dinghy over to say hello. I’m sure the sight of us coming into their precious since-then private anchorage was annoying, as we often feel when our peace is disturbed in such a remote anchorage by another boat. But, they were quite friendly blokes, as most cruisers are, and just came over to say hello and introduce themselves. The cruising community in the Bahamas and Caribbean is the most friendly community I have ever experienced. People will go above and beyond for you if you need it, giving you equipment, food, having you over for drinks or dinner, bailing out your dinghy, etc. It is truly an amazing example of what community should really be like, and it is completely genuine. It is literally my favorite thing about having a boat, and I feel lucky to experience it when I do.
After our new friends depart, we have to clean the bottom of the boat. We haven’t done it fully since the Caribbean last year, which is way too long! So, we have barnacles, and seaweed, and all sorts of disgusting gunk growing on the boat, which not only looks bad, but also slows down your boat significantly. So … here’s how we typically clean the bottom of the boat. Two people, swim suits, snorkels, scraping tools, gloves. You both dive in the water on respective sides of the boat with your gear on, and scrape, scrape, scrape all of the disgustingness off the sides and underside (underwater) of the boat. We did it a few times together last year and there wasn’t too much to clean, so it worked out fine. However, the last time we cleaned the bottom, it had not been cleaned in months, and it has tons of slimy sludge on it. And with slimy sludge comes creepy crawly sea creatures … sea lice! They are like these little tiny shrimp-like squiggly worm things, and they get in your hair, your ears, in your bathing suit, and I’m sure many places I don’t want to think about! After I got out of the water cleaning that time, and witnessed the horror of sea creatures all over my body, I vowed “NEVER AGAIN!!!!!!”
And so now Nils cleans the bottom of the boat on his own. Sometimes one has to draw the line, and cleaning the bottom’s a hard pass for me from now on! So, this time, my job was essentially to swim around the boat with the spear gun and look out for sharks. Oh, did I mention that the first thing our neighbors said to us was to watch out for the hammerheads and bull sharks?!! Yeah, about that …. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess. We spent a few hours in the water with no sharks, luckily. The water is about 80 degrees in the Bahamas. It’s hard to believe, but if you’re in there long enough, you get cold, even with a swim shirt on, which we generally wear. I need to look up the science of your body in water vs. air temps…stay tuned for that topic in another blog at some point.
Dinner that night was an amazing rack of ribs done on our charcoal grill. Yes, we have a charcoal grill and a gas grill on the back of the boat and use the grills all the time. It was a picturesque night, grilling alongside a gorgeous, peaceful beach, and then eating in our outdoor salon with our ribs, veggies, a Caesar salad, and some red wine. Those are the moments to remember.
And then I fell asleep. At 7:30 pm. And it was so wonderful.
Day 5, 1/29/20, the Ragged Islands day 2
After a lazy morning, we jump off the boat and swim to the reef in our cove. Grouper, snapper, blue tang, and many other fish swim below us. We have our spears but have no luck there. We’re a bit skeptical to spear the grouper – they are one of the fish flagged as a possibility of having cinguatera, which is a neuro-toxin that you ingest with certain bigger reef dwelling fish. It causes major problems, hot feeling cold, cold feeling hot, and neurological issues for potentially years. Not anything you want to screw around with. So, we tend to stay far away from fish that could have any chances of having it.
We dinghy around the afternoon, snorkel a few places, spear some lobster, and catch some snapper on the fishing rod. I spot a bunch of whelks sticking to the cliffs along the side of the water, so I collect some for dinner. When we are able to fish, gather, and hunt for our food in these remote islands, I feel a bit like a Robinson Crusoe adventurer, and these are my happiest moments.
Our neighbors had mentioned that they were going to burn their trash on the beach that night. It’s a common thing to do in these islands – burning trash – and supposedly better ecologically than any other alternative down here. And so, I decide I’m going to try to make a beach fire myself while we hang out to cook our newly caught lobster, snapper, and whelk. I’ve been wanting to BBQ on a beach for a while, so I was psyched! But not very prepared either, as we hurriedly tried to get everything together to go ashore. I had a cutting board, the grill to our BBQ, a knife, and some paper towels, as well as a saucepan with some butter. No plates, no silverware, no tongs, so it was rustic! I collected some driftwood, set up the grill on top of it, and got the fire going. By the end of the night, I was covered in sand, and a lot of our grilled seafood was too. But, it was still fun, and unique, and I didn’t die from eating the whelk. By the way, no one else was courageous enough to eat the whelk - wimps! I lived to survive it, and will do it again 😊
Day 6, 1/30/20, we depart the Ragged Islands
After looking at the weather forecast, we decide to get going again on our journey south to St. Martin. It’s going to be 6-7 days of sailing and overnights to get there. Sigh…
Day 7, 1/31/20, above Acklins Islands. Bahamas
I wake up for my morning 6am shift and have cell service! Hallelujah! It’s amazing how reliant we are on our cell phones nowadays. But, especially with running a business, I feel completely removed from the world when we are out at sea. We do have a satellite phone that we use to text family and friends, but that’s about it otherwise. Ahead of our trip, we typically will download Netflix movies and audiobooks to watch, and have a bunch of paper books on board as well. But, altogether, being at sea is very slow, very quiet, and …. well …. can be very boring. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I listen to other sailor videos and they wax with love of long passages … “It’s just so peaceful and I’m one with nature and myself and I meditate and listen to the ocean and feel the movement of mother nature.” I’m sorry, that’s hogwash! At least for me, it’s just not my thing. I get impatient, and antsy, and I want to get off of this darn boat! I’ve never gone that far though, jumping overboard in the middle of a 16,000 foot ocean with a bunch of sharks still doesn’t sound as appealing as staying on our 44 foot condo. And so, here I am and will be for the next, we’ll say, six days or so 😊
For dinner we have a Tom Yum soup but with pork and noodles added. I actually smoked the pork for 14 hour on our smoker this summer when we were in Maine, and froze it at the time. We freeze food a lot for the boat – if you do so immediately after cooking it, you can have amazing quality food on the boat at any time. And the pulled pork is always an amazing meal, whether for making tacos, added to soups, or on it’s own with a side of salad and veggies. It may be 85 degrees in our salon, but the hot soup tasted delicious.
Day 8, 2/1/20 – Day 9, 2/2/20, north of Turks and Caicos, headed north east above Puerto Rico
I’m combining these days in our journal, because we are headed way out to sea, and there’s not much to report on. We are headed north east after the Acklins to try to position ourselves correctly for when the trade winds kick in. I did catch another mahi along this time in our sail though! Small but strong, we had a good fight.
Day 10, 2/3/20
Holy moly it is windy and rocky! The winds are consistently between 20 – 23 knots, with gusts above. We have two reefs in our main sail, which essentially means we don’t have all of it up, or don’t fly it all the way up the mast. This leaves less of the sail out exposed to the wind, so less potential for destruction of your sail. And with a high wind, a smaller portion of sail is all that you need. We are currently a few hundred miles north of Puerto Rico.
Day 11, 2/4/20
Still really rough and bouncy. Luckily Nils and I both have pretty good stomachs and don’t get seasick. We’ll take a meclizine here and there if it is really rough, as a preventative precaution, but neither of us has truly ever been seasick on board. This is our last full day and full night watch, and I am so excited to wake up tomorrow morning knowing we will be in St. Martin! We spent about five months in St. Martin last year when we originally bought the boat, doing boat repairs, cleaning, etc. St. Martin has the most tight-knit cruisers community there is. Mike, who own’s Shrimpy’s Laundry, conducts a “cruisers’ net” every morning at 7:30am, where they review the weather, safety and security, announce any items up for sale, and have general announcements. It is a great way for you to keep up with the goings-on in the anchorage, and to get to know your fellow cruisers. We cannot wait to hear our first cruisers’ net when we arrive!
Later in the day, I hear the buzzing of my reel. So excited, I haven't caught a fish in a few days because it's been so rough! As I reel the fish in, at first I think it is a barracuda, because it is long and skinny, but as it gets closer to the boat, we realize that we caught a wahoo! How exciting! My first wahoo ever. They are prized game fish and are extremely delicate to eat. So thrilled! I poached the wahoo in butter and lemon juice that night, and saved the rest in the freezer for a future feast :)
Day 12, 2/5/20
Land Ho! In late morning, we start to see the outline of Anguilla. It is thrilling to be so close to land after so many days at sea. As we get closer to Anguilla, we know the fishing will be good as there are big shelves close to shore. Sure enough, a fish hits my lure, but all of the sudden the rod snaps back to the boat with little tension, as if the fish bite didn’t catch. I start reeling in to see what’s going on and there is still “something” on the hook, so I keep reeling, thinking I just caught a smaller fish. And then, all of the sudden, I see a fin start chasing my lure! Shoot, a shark! I reel-reel-reel as fast as I can but, alas, the shark bites into the remaining portion of the fish that it had already chopped in half. And by biting the head of the fish, it hooked itself on my lure. For about 15 minutes I tried fighting the shark, thinking I could potentially get my lure back, but eventually had to cut the line. What a disappointment. The north side of Anguilla is known to be big shark territory because it has so much of a drop-off in depth, and boy did I experience it.
When we get to Marigot Bay, in St. Martin, we are elated. So excited to see old friends, so excited to visit all of our old haunts (Pineapple Pete’s, Lagoonies, Arhawak, Little Jerusalem, etc.), and SO excited to sleep! Once we get settled, we visit with our friends Mike and Andrea, who are on a boat here as well, head in for a pizza, and are dead asleep by 8pm. It feels SO good to be here, for so many reasons. St. Martin is a special place and we can’t wait to explore the island more, starting tomorrow 😊