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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Sixteen

We left Chub Cay at 0800 on May 13, 2000. As expected, the wind was light and variable, but that was good news because it meant crossing the Gulf Stream would be a non-event. Heading West toward the Great Bahamas Bank, we decided that after passing the Northwest Channel marker, we would head Northwest direct to Lake Worth inlet at West Palm Beach, Florida. As usual, crossing the banks in light air meant we had a beautiful view of the coral and occasional fish. By late afternoon we were leaving the North side of the bank, which contrary to the West and East sides, tapers gradually at first into deeper water. For about an hour, in 40 to 50 feet of water, the surface was glass smooth. In this deeper water, we saw larger fish including grouper, stingrays, the usual barracuda and an occasional shark. As usual it was almost mesmerizing to glide along in such still clear water. It must be what birds feel like when they soar above the ground. The banks are mostly sandy with occasional grasses and periodic patches of coral, which attract the fish. It is these patches that were so interesting. Sometimes, the fish would scatter as they saw our shadow coming and sometimes they ignored us. Different patches of coral also seemed to support different species of fish. We also saw a few large conchs. Being so isolated, these patches of coral are probably not visited as often by conch harvesters or fishermen.

Nightfall overtook us just as we were entering the Northwest Channel and really deep water. The depth gauge gradually indicated deeper and deeper water until it reached 185 feet and then it gave up and went to standby. I assume we sailed over a ledge where the water got real deep real fast. This overnight passage was very similar to the one we experienced when we sailed to the Bahamas. We saw several large boats and a couple of cruise ships. The sky was clear and we had a half moon, so visibility was very good. As usual, we took two-hour shifts. By morning, we were in the Gulf Stream and our speed increased by a good one and a half knots. It turned out to be a beautiful day with light winds from the South. We arrived at Lake Worth Inlet at noon on Mother's Day. It had taken us 28 hours from Chub Cay, motoring the entire way at an average of about five knots. We alternated engines at each shift change and ran them at 2200 RPM, which by our calculations resulted in a fuel burn of about one half gallon per hour, for a distance of about 140 miles or ten miles per gallon - pretty good for a boat our size.

We tied up at the Cannonsport Marina, just across from Peanut Island. We needed an address where we could receive our mail as well as purchase fuel. We also had to "pickle" our water maker since we would not be using it while in harbors and the Intracoastal waterway. A biocide is circulated in the water maker membranes to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, while it is not being used. Simply flushing it for 30 minutes would ready it for use again. The marina is family owned and operated and we can highly recommend it. I also had to see a dentist in that I had chipped a filling. Once the mail was received and the dental appointment made, we moved North to the extreme end of Lake Worth, just off the waterway, where there is a beautiful bay with good depth and holding. There were already about 10 boats in the bay, but plenty of room for us. I would guess that the bay could handle 50 or so boats. The shoreline is lined with beautiful homes. We were told that the bay is a wonderful site during Christmas. A short dinghy ride to a small "dinghy" beach by the road allowed us to walk a block to a small shopping center that included a very large Publix supermarket. After only two months in the Bahamas we felt like kids in a candy store looking at all the merchandise in the Publix. We also bought 10 new paperbacks at the nearby Barnes and Noble. Most marinas have book exchanges where one can swap read books for unread books, but we had gotten hooked on some trilogies and wanted to finish the stories without waiting for chance to deliver the proper episode to us.

We also had a chance to have dinner with some old friends we hadn't seen in 12 years. It is amazing how much there is to talk about even though we had kept in touch all those years. There is nothing like face-to-face visits. They too are planning their retirement and had a lot of questions for us as well as we for their plans and dreams.

After stocking up on groceries and tending to my dental needs, we elected to motor up the Intracoastal waterway to Port St. Lucie to try our luck at passing the HAM radio Morse code test again. It was only a four-hour trip at 5 knots, but it was very enjoyable because in addition to the usual gorgeous waterside homes, there are some wilderness areas. We saw the usual birds that feed along the shore in the water, but the highlight was watching a raccoon feed at the shoreline in broad daylight. It seemed oblivious to our presence and just calmly went about Its business. It's nice to know that the waterway is clean enough to support the wildlife and that people don't harass the animals, so they aren't frightened of people and boats.

Yes, this time we did pass our Morse code test. We didn't practice much in the Bahamas and that may have been of benefit to us. Maybe we needed a break or maybe our heads needed to sort everything out. Many people had told us that learning code cannot be rushed, but it's still frustrating when progress seems to be stymied. When we heard we could take the test and we started studying again, it all came back to us very quickly, but for the first time we actually began to recognize the pattern and sound of each character instead of the individual dots and dashes. A very strange phenomenon and we don't pretend to understand it, but I guess when its time, its time. Don't know that we'll ever use the code, but by golly we are bonifide card carrying HAMs now!

The test was completed; we had our paperwork and were back on Sojourner by 1100 on Saturday, May 27, 2000. The weather was good and predicted to stay that way for several days, so we motored out the rather zig zag St. Lucie inlet into the Atlantic to continue our journey North. We had in mind to sail overnight to Cape Canaveral and check the weather there to see if we should continue via the Intracoastal Waterway or stay out in the Atlantic. Weather permitting, we prefer to stay in the Atlantic because we like to sail as opposed to motoring, plus it is cooler and there are no bugs, plus Jan might catch a fish. The wind wasn't strong, just 10 knots from the Southeast, but it was enough to push us along at 3.5 knots. We didn't get any push from the Gulf Stream because it begins to curve Northeast just North of Port St. Lucie. But we were in no hurry and just sat back and relaxed as we watched the Florida coastline slide by.

There is something very satisfying about sailing under these conditions. There are no big waves, so the boat has a very gentle movement, but there is enough breeze to keep things interesting. Plus it is very quiet with the exception of the splashing, gurgling and bubbling of the water washing by the hulls. Once the sails are set the boat will sail herself for an hour or so without our attention or the assistance of the autopilot. There is plenty of time to contemplate the wonder of the world and one's place in it. Time to feel good about having achieved something worth doing. Time to plan new adventures. Time to enjoy each other's company. And time to be thankful for the opportunity to be there. We haven't cruised for very long and we haven't talked to a fraction of the cruisers, but those we have talked to seem to feel as we do about the sea and boats. There is a wanderlust and an insatiable curiosity, but there is also a deep and virtually reverent love and respect for the wonder of it all. To be able to ride in a marvelous machine that is also one's home using the power of the wind to move about in the open air is a singular experience. Perhaps it is akin to the lore of the old west and the freedom of the cowboy. Or a need to get away from the over organization of modern society. Then again, maybe it's a siren call never to be satisfied.

Jan has an interesting technique of fishing while we are sailing. She uses a large spool that holds about 100 feet of monofilament. The line is attached securely to the spool and the spool is connected to a strong fitting on the stern of the boat. The line is let out over the stern and held to the aft lifeline with a clothespin. When a fish strikes, the clothespin falls with a snap and alerts us. She then sets the hook and winds up the line on the spool. It's cheap and effective. She uses a variety of lures depending on our speed and whether it is overcast or sunny. She always catches something and this trip was no exception. But we were in for a surprise. After a very convincing strike, she reeled in the forward half of an estimated formerly four-foot mackerel. Something had bitten off half the fish clean as a clever. Rather disappointing, but interesting nonetheless. That was the only strike before it got dark. We don't troll at night for safety reasons. We also reef the sails at night so they will be easier to handle if we have to take them down in the dark. Dark is a relative term because we have lots of lights on the boat and can illuminate the deck very effectively, but we figure if the sails need to come down due to weather, the weather is not conducive to being on deck. We had some experience handling sails in high wind at night when we brought Sojourner from Florida to Alabama and that was enough to dissuade us from experiencing it again. Next stop Cape Canaveral. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2000-05-13,
Locations: West Palm Beach, FL

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.