C'est la Vie is a 1966 Charlie Morgan 34.

Her home port is Everglades City, FL. Our typical cruising area is Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys, the Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, and the Bahamas. We are C'est la Vie's third owners and purchased her in 2005. We continue to maintain and update this classic vessel. Please post any questions or comments about C'est la Vie or our travels via the comment links below.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Westward across the Stream

Our weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream was not ideal… north to northeast winds 8 to 12 knots diminishing to 5 knots by evening.  I’ve always read to avoid any north winds when crossing the stream, but with another arctic air mass forecast to deliver gale force winds by early next week we elected go, go, go. 

We encountered lighter than expected winds for the majority of our crossing.  The image of Trish lowering our Bahamian customs flag illustrates the sea state we encountered for the first half of our crossing. Yes, that image was taken while in the Gulf Stream.  We motored under bare poles with Otto at the helm.

As we crossed the axis of the Gulf Stream approximately 25NM off Cape Florida, the seas perked up.  With no wind to fill the sails the final hours of our crossing brought on a new round of sea sickness among some of the crew.

We finally found some northerly breeze as we exited the stream and were able to transit the Biscayne Channel under a main and genny. 

With 45 minutes of daylight to spare we found a mooring ball off Dinner Key (more on the new mooring field in a later post).   Anne and Trish converted C’est la Vie’s systems from offshore passage to anchor mode and assembled Origamy, the dinghy, while I contacted customs and immigration to clear back into the states.  My interaction with customs was uneventful.  I continue to be impressed with the Local Boater Option (LBO) and the ease with which it allows Anne and I to clear customs.  I encourage anyone unfamiliar with the program to check it out.  By the time Orgami was assembled we were cleared.  Next stop the Dinner Key Fresh Market. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Looking for a weather window...

Last week of exceptional cold fronts extended all the way down into the Bahamas.  We have spent most of our time hiding from winds in protected anchorages and attempting to keep warm.  We have now worked our way south to Bimini and are currently looking for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream and re-enter the US.  

We will be here at the Bimini Big Game Club tomorrow so hopefully I can catch up on posts to the blog.  Please check out our photo album via the links on the right side of our web page.

On the move again

After three days of hiding from strong north winds, 25+ knots, associated with an arctic air mass we resumed our travels.  Rather than attempt to navigate the shoals around Settlement Point in the late afternoon, we planned a more westerly route through for a break in the reefs known as Memory Rock then south  across the Northwest Providence Channel during the night.  The course commits us to our first overnight passage since our arrival in the Bahamas.  Our checkpoints were to exit the Little Bahamas bank at Memory Rock around sunset and arrive in Bimini tomorrow morning. 

The day began early as we hoisted our two anchors and motored out of the narrow passage that provides egress to the protected southeast anchorage at Double Breasted Cays.  Our next stop was at Rosie’s Place Marina on Grand Cay for fuel and water.  Water was a greater concern as we were on our 9th day out from our last refill at Green Turtle.  We have a 30G tank and travel with an additional 10G in jerry cans.  40G divided by 3 crew over 9 days… seemed prudent to fill up before headed out for an overnight offshore passage. 

The staff at Rosie’s provided excellent service, but unfortunately the water system was down so we were forced to purchase gallon jugs of water at $3/gallon.  Ouch… we limited our purchase to 6 gallons.  The diesel was plentiful and we did manage to fill the fuel tank.

Provisioning complete we set a course to clear Triangle Rocks to our southwest.  In an effort to stay on our timetable and clear Memory Rock before sunset we motorsailed downwind across the bank under a genny.  We cleared Triangle Rocks by noon, and turned to starboard on a westerly course for Memory Rock.  Soon after establishing our new heading we lost all wind. 

The image above is the view from the bow as the sunsets across a calm Sea of Abaco.  No we did not make Memory Rock by sunset.   With frazzled nerves due to the shallow waters and close proximity reefs, we cleared Memory Rock approximately one hour after sunset. Using the waypoint provided by the Explorer Chartbook we never observed less the 6 feet of water at a low tide.  This is a couple feet more than was indicated on the chart plotter.

The north winds forecasted by NOAA failed to materialize.  My hunch is a land breeze formed by the warm air over the 80 degree Gulf Stream waters rose and colder air off the 65 degree waters on the Sea of Abaco moved westward (and to think I scoffed at the need for our new depth sounder to give water temps).  To complicate the conditions the temperature differential also resulted in some lingering light squalls along the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream  which we were skirting along.  What we thought would be a downwind run to Bimini became a lumpy motorsail under our a mainsail.  The main provided little propulsion, but did serve to retard the rolling motion of the confused seas. 

Despite a late night shower and an amazing amount of commercial ship traffic the passage went relatively smoothly.  By dawn on the December 9th we were within sight of Bimini and by 09:00 we were tied up at the Bimini Big Game Club.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trish's perspective on our crossing from Wilmington, NC to the Abacos

To assist with our transit of C'est la Vie from NC to FL we invited Trish aboard as crew.  Below is her recollection and musing on our 5 day crossing from Wilmington, NC to the Abacos.

         I find myself sitting in the corner berth of C’est la Vie, our dock lines firmly tied to a little spit of land in the Atlantic Ocean.  Getting to this place was no sail on Caribbean blue sea.   Our journey began November 19th shortly after I finished the Florida phase of the International Semester course.  Anne, Jeff and I packed the Vibe full of our needed gear and tools and headed north from Sunset Island.  After a quick overnight at Joe and Lisa Waas’ we arrived in Wilmington, NC on the 20th of November.  Bud Lovett, Jeff’s father, beat us to the boat yard and was busy sanding and gathering supplies for us to finish the prep for the upcoming launch.  The 21st was spent painting the bottom of the boat, checking weather reports, working on evaluations and budgets.  On the 22nd, Jeff worked with guys at the boat yard to launch while Anne and I spent the day doing laundry, hunting down various provisions and of catching movie (Harry Potter of course).  On the 23rd we cast our lines off the dock, waved good-bye Muriel, and followed Sunshine down the Cape Fear River.  Looking back, that was the easiest part of our voyage.

         Upon reaching the Atlantic Ocean, the winds were S-SW and the seas were rolling.  Having never been in these type of conditions for a sustained amount of time, I was not emotionally prepared to be sea sick.  By the following night I had started to violently vomit for the next 24 hours.  Any movement outside of taking the helm or laying in my corner berth had me immediately hanging my head over the toe rail.  Leaving traces of my DNA all over the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean.  Left with no other option, I took two Dramamine and slept for 12 hours. 

         In the mean time, C’est la Vie was still crashing through the sea that regularly slammed her hull and brought green water pouring over her bow.  With each crash of the sea, something small seemed to go wrong and on a couple of occasions a few large things as well.  The list included the bilge pump failing (Jeff was able to fix this underway & hanging upside down in starboard locker), the head pump failed (a trash bag sealed the bowl to prevent the contents from joining us in the cabin), running out of diesel, the main sail head board separated from the track (which could have “un-zipped” the main from the mast), and a bag of chips slipped in the chain locker to cover a drainage point (this allowed each wave crashing over the bow to come into the anchor locker then into the v-berth and then on the soul of the cabin). 

         As a crew we worked sponge water, take bits apart and put them back together, talk through different tacks, and quietly sit with one another while the other held a white knuckle grip on the tiller.  We were all digging deep to find the optimism and courage.  Wanting desperately to push pause and catch our breath, just a small break in the chaos, but that was as far away as land at that point (about 200nm).  I found myself talking to father, looking for signs that he was listening, begging him to help lay down the seas.  I don’t think he had anything to do with us making it to Green Turtle Cay, but it was good to talk to him.

         On the morning of the fifth day (we were planning on four when we left Wilmington) we finally spotted land.  Thankful for this sighting, we still could not take a deep breath.  We had to navigate through the “Whale.”  A break in the reef where waves can break your boat in half and us with 4 gallons of emergency fuel in the tank.  Finally we get a break.  Light winds out of the North, tide coming in, and the sea state was calm.  We slip in the Whale wing-on-wing and ready ourselves to come into the safe harbor. 

         Looking back on those five days, I do not want to repeat them.  I do not regret any part of it, just do not want to repeat a five day passage across or down the Atlantic Ocean.  With that perspective, I am thankful and humbled by my discoveries.

         These lessons I have learned are many and will be put to good use.  I feel like I am a sophomore sailor after this passage.  I know what I know and don’t know, as well as confident that the knowledge can be obtained.  It has also become clear that I do not want to circumnavigate the world in a sailboat.  Yup, long passage making; I can check that box off my list.  I am still invested in living on board my own boat and exploring the world via the cock-pit and tiller.

         The most wonderful discovery is the wilderness.  The ocean is the last great wilderness on the this planet.  when we were in the thick of it, there was no one else to help us out or anyway to stop action.  If one of us got badly injured, we did not have the option of call ing 911.  Unlike the land where you can stop and make a dynamic situation immediately a static on, the wilderness of the ocean is always dynamic.  I am truly humbled by that.  Thankful we never had any major injuries, but there were a few times when I wish we could have made our very dynamic world static.  Along with the discovery of the dynamic state of the marine environment, is the Ocean itself.  The vastness and diversity of the live within and above.  And the simple fact that we did not see any other people for four days.  Truly out with no signs of civilization.  I loved it.

         Sitting here safely tucked in behind a cay in the Abaco Sea, I am again thankful for the adventure.  Now I just have to keep the lessons alive.