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, June 8, 2013

Hoffman's Cay - Day 1

Early morning showers once again slipped through the area.  I’m unsure to the origins of these predawn showers perhaps some offspring of the residual foul weather in south Florida?  They do serve as rude wake up calls in the dark morning hours.  At least this shower rewarded me with a nice rainbow and dramatic sunrise.

morning showers in the Berry Islands
As morning crept into day the skies cleared.  Post lunch we loaded up Rosebud and went in search of the Hoffman Cay blue hole. 

The blue hole is mentioned in Pavlidis’ Guidebook, appears on the Explorer Charts, and is visible  on our GPS.   None of these sources provides directions on finding the blue hole.  We dinghied over to the beach closest the location indicated on the charts and began our search.  Locating a trail that lead off from the beach into the thick brush was easy.  While we wandered in land an up hill along the narrow trail, I wondered who creates these trails?  The woods… calling it woods is perhaps an exaggerated compliment to the growth on most of the Cays.  The thick, just over head height, wind sculpted, hot, buggy, inhospitable, and often abrasive with a bit of cactus & poison wood scattered about to add spice growth – lets call it woods for succinctness.
Carving trails through these woods  would require time and tenacity.  Additionally how did the creators of the trial know the route to the blue hole?  My best guess is that the trail was created decades ago when the cay was inhabited and the trails are now maintained simply by their use.  Inhabited you say?  Many of these cays have played host to farmers and spongers during the early to mid 1900’s.  On Hoffman Cay we found old stone fences while wandering the trails also Anne spotted an old chimney from the water but we never located the ruins of a house.  We did eventually find our way to the blue hole.

Anne standing on the edge of Hoffman's Cay blue hole
Impressive!  The salt water blue hole is completely land locked and ringed by a 20 foot cliff for nearly it’s entire circumference.  Glassy smooth water on the surface allowed us to peer deep into the inky blue unknown depths of the hole. 

A bit of wandering about and I located a place to scramble down to the water’s edge.  Despite Anne’s disapproval , the second we walked up on the spot I knew how I was going to enter the waters.

On my way into Hoffman's Cay blue hole
We then donned our masks and snorkels and completed a lap around the perimeter.  Peering down into the dark still depths of the hole knowing that somewhere down there is a passage to leads out to the ocean set me on edge.  I cannot explain the unease, but suffice to say I’m happy to leave cave diving to off my resume.

Anne snorkeling in Hoffman's Cay Blue Hole

We made our way back to Rosebud and did some dinghy recon of the area.  Off the southwest point of Hoffman’s Cay, sheltered from the surges coming in from the cut we observed rays and sharks along the bottom.  The flooding tide and easterly winds sent us back to C’est la Vie. We slipped back into our dive gear for a closer look.

The dive offered great views of large rays, but we seemed to have lost the sharks.   We held onto the the dinghy painter and allowed the winds and currents to drift us back to the boat. Passing close to the rocky shore I began pointing out corals to Anne when she suddenly became quite animated.  We surfaced and she exclaimed that a large grey shark had rounded a nearby outcrop of rock, sized us up, then swam away in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately I never caught a glimpse, but Anne is certain it was not a nurse or a reef shark.

Dinner, another amazing creation that I’ll allow Anne to share,  was abruptly interrupted by an explosion of air from outside the cabin.  Anne and I lept up from the table both assuming that Rosebud had burst.  At first glance she appeared healthy.   Anne pulled her close aside by the painter and I crept aboard her expecting at least one soft air chamber.  We both released  a collective sigh when my hands on inspection yielded no damage. 

If not the dinghy then what?  We were quick to convict the small gasoline tank used for filling the dinghy outboard.  Earlier in the day we were amazed at it’s distorted figure due to the days heat building up pressure in the tank and burped the tank multiple times to prevent any damage.  We would not discover the true culprit until a couple days later…

I like mine with lettuce and tomato

Time for some cheeseburgers in paradise! Now as Jimmy Buffet croons there are lots of steps to this recipe. I of course had to make a few substitutions!
We have turkey burgers in the freezer, everything bagels in the fridge and we are out of hinze 57 and instead of French fried potatoes and a kosher pickle we have a quinoa salad with cucumbers feta craisins and pistachios with red wine vinegar and oil.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chicken on the grill

Dinner tonight as it is so hot in the cabin will be grilled. I bought in the states individually wrapped organic chicken breasts that were and still are frozen. I took 2 out to defrost while I prepped the rest. I wanted some roasted potatoes so I checked out my potato bin. Yuck when potatoes go off they are a horrible smell. How did we not realize this sooner. Well to the trash they went. I just purchased these in marathon too! Bummer with the rest I inspected them any black sports or soft spots they were trash too. That left me out of a 5 pound bag 5 red skinned potatoes. I decided to cook them all. No sense in wasting more food.
Who am I kidding we would eat them all we love roasted potatoes. OK so with the foil on the table I wrapped up the sliced potatoes. They were  dusted with salt and pepper and drizzled with the rosemary olive oil Muriel got for me before we left. Then pinched the sides closed and place on the hot grill for 25 minutes.
As an aside I really like these oils but am learning they are finishing oils. The flavors cook out even the spicy ones really mellow out. I think I will get more but know they are eating oils not cooking oils.
Next to get ready in its packet were the green beans trimmed of ends rinsed the water from rinsing will steam the beans. I wrapped them up and placed them on the grill for 15 minutes. They shared the grilled with the potatoes.
I chicken was defrosted but really thick so I butterflied the breasts and rubbed on stonewall kitchen  chicken and pork rub. Note to self, a little goes a very long way. We were scraping off the rub when eating  as it was too much. So this 4oz can will last quite awhile.
I popped these pieces of chicken on the grill 7 minutes a side. That gave the potatoes and green beans a chance to relax and were perfect for eating  when the chicken was done!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Skinny Water (a.ka. playing the tides along the inside route)

The route along the banks side of the Berry Islands is a series of deep water pockets associated with cuts that open to the Northwest Providence Channel connected by shallow channels tidal currents cut through the sand banks of the Ambergris Sand Bore. 

The deep water areas average 3 to 5 meters (9 to 15 feet).  The sneaks between the pockets are charted down to ½ meter (1.5 feet).  The charted depths are provided at the Mean Low Water (MLW or average low tide).   The tidal range in the Berry’s is approximately 1 meter.  Thus a ½ meter channel at high tide will be 1.5 meters (4.5 feet deep).

C’est la Vie draws 3’8” (1.2 meters).  The only way for us to transit the area is to time our passage with the high tides.  Fortunately the water is typically crystal clear and allows mariners to rely heavily on visually piloting through shallow areas (see yesterday’s post for more information)  Visually piloting is best on calm clear day with the sun over head or behind.  Visual piloting is impossible to reckless when facing into the sun, in low light, or when the water is silted out.

The day began wonderfully.  We sailed off the anchor behind Bond’s Cay and used the morning ebb tide to navigate the 1.8 meter deep channel that out to deeper water off Alders Cay.  

East winds meeting ebbing tides made our entrance into the narrow channel between Cabbage Cay and Little Harbor Cay bouncy, but once behind the high crags of Little Harbor the sea quickly relaxed.  The approaching low tide prevented us from continuing north along Comfort Cay.  The next stretch of water looked to be the most daunting of our entire time in the Berrys.  According to the charts we now faced 1/2 NM of visual piloting in waters less than a meter at low water.  

We set the anchor in a small pocket of deep water just off the southern tip of Lizard Cay.  While waiting for the flooding tide we ate some lunch and then set out in Rosebud to recon our path.  Friends on SV Carina gave us a Vexilar hand held depth sounder.  It looks like an old school flashlight, runs on one 9 volt battery, and allows us to take soundings while traveling in the dinghy… brilliant.  Running a zigzag pattern through the area we plotted a few key “deep water” waypoints on the handheld GPS.  By the time we returned to C’est la Vie the flood tide had added about of foot of depth in the anchorage.  Another hour and we should be ready to go for it.

Before we felt comfortable striking out a squall line drove us out of our wee day anchorage.  Not yet ready to attempt the shallow water off Comfort Cay we elected to run into the protected anchorage behind Little Harbor Cay.  We knew this area to be shallow, but the charts denote the channel carries at least a meter of water at low tide.   We now know this to be in error. 
We assumed our Visual Piloting Positions (VRP) with myself at the bow and Anne at the helm.  I began assessing the scene while Anne followed the chart plotter into the area noted 2 meters.  This looked all wrong to me and I began to frantically signal Anne to turn hard to port.  My signaling was for naught as Anne began entranced by the beeping and every diminishing numbers of our depth sounder.  By the time I was able to draw her attention away from the screen I felt C’est la Vie’s bow lurch upward. 

As the squall worked past in frenzy we sat and looked at the 2.9 foot reading on our depth sounder.   Fortunately the bottom was reasonably soft and the wave action nil.  Soon the flooding tide began buoy C’est la Vie and we could feel her slipping across the bottom.  We ran out the genny to heel her to starboard and throttled up the engine.   A few more anxious minutes of churning sand and bouncing across the bottom and C’est la Vie ran free 4 feet of water.  Once the genny was stowed I headed back to the bow.  Despite incessant beeping from our shallow water alarm, Anne now did a fine job of ignoring the instruments and remaining focus on my signals from the bow. 
Our plan was to pick up one of the mooring provide by Flo’s Conch Shack, the only business establishment within a day’s sail. We were dismayed to find most of the anchorage was shoaled to less than two meters at best.  While focused on rigging lines to pick up a mooring and again grounded C’est la Vie on a shallow grass patch in the anchorage.  Again we sat and waited for the rising tide to carry us off.  By this time we had had our fill of this area and were confident we would fine better fortunes in the route scouted earlier in the day.  We inched our way back to our earlier day anchorage the depth sounder never bested 4.5 feet until we once again rounded the end of Lizard Cay.

Our original scouted route…. No sweat.  I used the way points plotted on our dinghy recon and the depth only dipped below 5 feet for a few seconds. 
Would we have been better off going for our original route in the face of the squall?  Should we have attempted to ride out the squall on our day anchor?  Who knows?  Fortunately our afternoon adventures only resulted in C’est la Vie losing a few layers of bottom paint.

C'est la Vie anchored off the north end of Little Harbor Cay

We found a pleasant anchorage with fine holding in soft sand on the north tip of Little Harbor Cay.  The beach on nearby Devil’s Cay proved a good escape from C’est la Vie.

Anne strolling the beach on Devil's Cay

Hot day on the water

Another sunny stormy day in the Bahamas lead me to the grill. I wanted good food fast. Aluminium foil to the rescue! My last attempt to grill salmon was a messy disaster. I wrapped the 2 fillets with salt and pepper and lemon slices up in the foil and placed them on the grill. No flipping required just 8 minutes and the a few to rest and I opened perfectly cooked fillets. While the salmon was on the grill Annie's Mac and cheese was put into motion. As the pasta cooked I cleaned and cut up broccoli. Using the pasta water to help steam the broccoli is one way to save on water. I drained the pasta over the broccoli in a colander then added the sauce ingredients I poured the broccoli on top and shut the lid to finish steaming the veggies.
Pull off the salmon skin and serve!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Southern Berry Islands

The extreme dichotomy of water depths in the Bahamas boggles my mind.  Within 1/2NM of our 2 meter anchorage our depth sounder gives up.  The charts inform us we have 1610 meters (4830 feet) of water under our keel.  Drain the ocean waters from the Bahamas and the area would look like a supersized version of the Utah desert with giant plateaus and massive canyons.

East winds forced us to motor sail around the outside of Bird and the southern half of Whale Cay.  Midway along its length Whale Cay and the Berry Island chain begin to run a more north /south direction.  This allowed us to cut the motor and sail the remaining distance to Little Whale Cay.  On a run, Anne steered us in the cut between the Whales.  We then snuck across the shallows on the west side of Little Whale and onward to Bond Cay under the genny.  By working the tides we hope to be able to navigate the inside route along the Berrys from Little Whale Cay to the Fish Market Cays.

On a flooding tide we used the west side of Bond Cay to reawaken our “Visual Piloting” skills.  On C’est la Vie visual piloting means Jeff dons polarized sunglasses and heads to the bow.  Anne takes the helm.   I use visual clues… color of the water, color of the bottom, wave forms, big rocks piecing the surface, etc. to choose a route.  I then relay this information back to Anne via hand signals.  Anne then pilots the boat based on my signals.  It is really like a remote control for me making decisions at the bow.  This works well until the pilot fixates more on the alarming depth gauge than  on me at the bow, but I’m jumping ahead a day.

While transiting the narrow channel behind Bonds we observed several large rays and nurse sharks.  Once the anchor set we loaded up Rosebud... 
TT-Rosebud our new inflatable dinghy.
Ok, the name has stuck we are now calling our new inflatable dinghy Rosebud.  It is a bit of a compromise.  I chose the name BUD for Blow Up Dinghy while Anne preferred Rose.  Bliss aboard is all about compromise.

Back to the snorkeling with rays & sharks off Bond Cay.  With the tide still flooding we motored the dinghy approx. 1NM back to the narrow channel.  We dove in, held onto the dinghy lines, and let the current ferry us back to C’est la Vie.  During the dive we encountered one nurse shark and some starfish.
Anne with a reticulated starfish

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

After clearing customs

As Jeff stated we enjoyed our really brief tie up to Chub Cay Marina's fuel dock. On to Bird Cay we sailed. I started up dinner early so as to not over heat the boat. We had seared tuna steaks sauteed broccoli and quinoa with cilantro. Yes its true I dislike cilantro. But he likes it so much. Compromises. He didn't like the over night passage menu. Compromises.

YUM Cilantro!  Some help with my Scrabble tiles please.
So again with the simple is better. Just some salt and pepper.  Cook in a hot pan with some oil. I like olive oil. Cook for a few moments on each side. We like our steaks rare. And that's it. I cooked the broccoli in the same pan. Then boil water same ratio as rice 2 water to 1 rice. Cook 20 minutes add chopped cilantro salt and pepper and dinner is done.

Chub Cay Marina - Thanks for the Hospitality

Alone.  How often do you get to feel truly alone?  We awoke to an amazing sunrise and the sense of being the only people on the planet.  Spinning 360⁰ around and to the horizons all that can be seen is water and sky.  Wonderful!

Eventually a distant line of sailboats beginning their trek westward across the banks ruptured our sphere of solitude.  By 08:00 we were again underway.  Proximity and necessity dictated that we clear customs on Chub Cay.  Having heard from a couple different sailors and from one on-line resource that Chub Cay Marina was pretentious and not welcoming to sailing vessels, we were a bit nervous on approach.   

Hailing the marina as we entered the channel, Tito quickly replied and directed us to the fuel dock.  The floating docks were in excellent condition. Tito arrived with the necessary customs and immigration paperwork in hand and assisted us with our lines.   So far so good. 

Paperwork completed.  Tito gave me a lift to meet the marina’s shuttle bus.  The customs office is at the airport so transportation is required.  Hmmm.  Ok here is where they are going to squeeze me for some extra $$.  Nope.  Typically the bus ride is $5 each way dock to airport ($10 round trip), but Scottie the bus driver requested that I do him a favor in exchange for a free trip.  The favor?  Drive one of the marinas golf carts back to the marina when I complete customs.  Ok if you insist. 

Customs went smoothly.  When I arrived back at the boat Tito was at the ready to assist us with fuel and water.   The prices- $6.80 for diesel and .25 cents/gallon for water are not bad for the Bahamas.  We also dropped off trash from the boat, used the docks to pump up the dinghy, and logged onto the marina’s free Wi-Fi.   There seemed no rush to evict us from the fuel dock and everyone we dealt with was pleasant and welcoming.  Dockage was $4.35/foot ouch – no thanks.  After July 15th the price drops to $2.50/foot.   We chose to push on an anchor off nearby Bird Cay.

Chub Cay Marina – thanks for the hospitality and good service.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Onward Across the Great Bahama Bank

The sun arose with the old light tower  on Gun Cay in the foreground and Cat Cay just to the south.  An overnight of motor sailing under our full main across the Florida Straits allowed us to transit the narrow channel and onto the Great Bahama Bank under the 08:00 sunshine.    Once clear of the reefs and shallow sand bars along the western edge of the banks Otto, our electric auto pilot, took over the helm.  The remainder of the day we continued to motor eastward across the crystal clear and nearly windless waters.

windless clear waters off our bow as we motor across Great Bahama Bank

After 58 NM of motoring across the banks and 29 hours after we departed Boot Key Harbor, we chose to anchor off Northwest Shoal, on  the eastern edge of the Banks rather than push on another 15NM to Chub Cay.

When  our anchor struck the sand and C’est la Vie’s engine fell silent at 19:01 on June 3 we had covered 180NM in 30H39m.  We be not proud sailors to say that our engine run time during this passage was 28H56m.  But diving into clear, 86⁰waters as the sun set across the banks easily washed away any guilt.

We have been eating for sure!

Passage making for me is nerve wracking. I am excited and scared. Going over watery depths that the sounders can't gauge makes me realize how small 34 feet is. With that said we don't eat much when I feel queasy. Lays potato chips, rice cakes, apples, and tea. That is my recipe for a successful overnight passage. I know gross but that's what works for me. Poor Jeff he has to starve or eat this stuff with me.  He did try a rice cake. I don't  think they are his thing.

We did make it to the Bahamas and anchored somewhere between Cat Cay and Chub Cay. We did eat dinner to celebrate our tenacity in pursuit! 

I simply grilled 2 chicken breasts just salt and pepper and served it sliced over a salad of romaine lettuce and feta cheese with sliced cucumbers red onion and garbanzo beans. Delish!

Also the drinks are made of homemade ginger ale! More on that later!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jumping Across the Gulf Stream

With forecasts of deteriorating weather in the Keys and the possibility of the remnants of Pacific TS Barbara reforming in the Gulf, we decided to get out of Boot Key Harbor while the conditions allowed.  The forecast called for light southeast to east winds showers overnight in the Florida Straits.  Not ideal sailing conditions, but the best we could find in the extended outlook. 

We took final all you can soak land base showers, turned in our key cards at the harbor office, and ate a quick lunch then cast off our mooring ball with two days remaining on our weekly rental.  I know, who leaves Boot Key Harbor ahead of schedule?  Before clearing out of the harbor we stopped at Berdines for fuel. While there we noted rapidly darkening skys to the west.  Shoving off the fuel dock the USCG requested, “all mariners switch to 22A for an urgent weather statement.”  Hmm, this cannot be good.  We wondered aloud is it too late to go back and reclaim the two days we had remaining on our weekly mooring ball?

“Severe thunderstorm warning from Key West to the east end of 7 mile bridge.  All mariners are urged to seek safe harbor immediately.” The monotone voice of a Coast Guard operator issued forth from the VHF.  We steamed westward out the harbor channel.  C’est la Vie’s bow pointing directly at the east end of 7 mile bridge as it sliced through the teal waters.  Our intended route… northeast up Hawk Channel, enter the Straits of Florida between Tennessee Reef  and Alligator Reef, cross the Gulf Stream, and arrive in the Bahamas at Cat Cay, would take us way from the path of the north bound storm now swallowing the lower keys.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

Ominous squall line off our stern in Hawk Channel

The winds grew cool and shifted to the north as an ominous squall line began chasing us up Hawk Channel.   With no doubt remaining that we would be able to out run the storm we rolled the genny, double reefed the main, and pushed full steam ahead. 

Anne at the helm in foul conditions
As multiple squall lines overtook us we traded two hour watches during the afternoon run up Hawk Channel.   Conditions began to improve as the Channel  Five bridge pass to our port side.  Radar images via our cell phones assured us the severe storms we now in the Gulf of Mexico and the weather in the Straits looked favorable. 

Just as we changed our course to the east and slipped beyond the reef, the setting sun peeked out from beneath the clouds.

A ray of hope.  The sun setting over Hawk Channel as we head into the Straits of Florida

When next we see the sun our hull should be in Bahamian waters.