These are the voyages of the sailing vessel Pétillant. Her original eight-month mission: to sail from Baltimore to France via Florida and the Bahamas, to successfully navigate the shoals of the French douane, to boldly go where few Maine Coon cats have gone before was completed in 2008. Now she is berthed in Port Medoc and sails costal Spain, France, and the UK during the summer months.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Back in Stuart

We have been back in Stuart since March 30, trying to get the kitties ready to go to France, and the boat ready to go across the pond. We cut the Bahamas trip short because we were worried about getting stuck in the Abacos by a front, and then being forced to do something stupid to make it here in time to make the plane.

After we left Bill and Dot, we motored up to Spanish Wells, just off the north coast of Eluthera. We got a slip in a marina there because the weather predictions said we were going to get hit by a good front, with strong winds greater than 30 kts. We spent 3 days there, walking around town, which is really different from the others we have seen in the Bahamas. It is clearly very prosperous, from the fishing, and the houses show it. We did not find any interesting restaurants, however, because the island is “dry” (no alcohol is sold there), so the only restaurants are just luncheonettes.

We had been looking forward to spending two weeks wandering thru the Abacos, including March Harbor, but listening to the weather forecasts and the other cruisers talking, it became apparent that these three-day fronts where you spent the time hunkered down in a marina or on a mooring, or anchored in a hole, are quite common. And, they can occasionally last for a week before you get favorable winds/seas to get where you want to go. So, considering that we were only 3 weeks away from flying to France, we decided to start to head back.

Our first idea was to head back thru the Berry Islands, which we had visited on the way to Nassau. This would have been a downwind sail from Spanish Wells, but would have been a long day. Instead, listening to others as we left, we decided to head north towards to Sandy Point, on the SW corner of Great Abaco Island. We decided to leave Spanish Wells to the west, instead of taking the northern route thru the reef because the weather forecasters were predicting 3-6 ft seas, and it looked like they were breaking on the reef north of the island. So west we went, and when we made the turn thru the cut into the Northeast Providence Channel, the winds were on the beam at 15 kts, and the seas were flat.

As the day progressed, however, the winds and the seas both rose considerably. We eventually saw 25 kts steady wind, with 30-35 kt gusts, and the seas built to about 9-12 feet. We had both sails double reefed and were doing 8.5 kts on a beam reach as we surfed along the waves. A grand time was had by all. Eventually, we made it to Sandy Point, where we anchored in the lee of the island, and spent a quiet night recovering.

Next day the wind died completely, and we had to motor for 10 hours to Lucaya, which is the resort district near Freeport. We stayed in a nice marina there, and had a great meal in a local restaurant recommended by other cruisers. Next day, we left late, headed for West End, where we planned to stage for the trip back to the US. We heard on the radio that 57 boats left the anchorage at Lucaya that morning for Lake Worth, to try to get ahead of the weather. We were alone on the trip NW to West End. We passed the big commercial port of Freeport, and saw one of the Yachtwise Yacht Transport ships anchored there, empty. This is ironic, considering that we wanted to use their services, but their prices and lack of timeliness in getting back to us caused us to decide to sail the boat across. There were several other ships anchored there, seemingly with nowhere to go. We guess it is cheaper to lay ships up than to drop prices and attract more customers…

At West End, we anchored outside the marina and watched an evening wedding on the beach. We are probably in the happy couple’s wedding photos somewhere. Hope they like the nautical touch…

Next day, the 30th, we left West End, hoping for E winds at 15 kts, but we only found about 7kts, so we ended up motoring all the way back to St. Lucie inlet. There were some threatening clouds over the Lake Worth inlet, but they dissipated before they got to us. Our return to the US was accompanied by a return to US boaters, who don’t seem to know the rules of the road. One sailboat heading north up the ICW insisted that there was a special rule for boats in the ICW that they had right-of-way over boats crossing from the right. Later up the river, we faced one large boat heading down the narrow channel, and as we watched in amazement, and then in horror, another large boat passed them and headed directly towards us. It was like being on a two-lane road with two large trucks heading towards you in both lanes. rxc gave them 5-short blasts, and the guy who was passing waved at us as he tucked in at the last second. It really got the heart pumping…

Back in Stuart, we are also back in the same slip, and Mary and Eric helped us tie up. Shane and Annie were also there to greet their favorite kitties, who are very happy to be back in FL.

We have been doing all sort of stuff for the trip. We have packed up 4 large bags to travel, and will pack 3 more before we are done. We are also going to take the bikes along, even though we have to pay for their transport on AF. It will make the boat much easier to handle if we don’t have to deal with them onboard. We have put down some carpet from Walmart to replace the throw-rugs, and the cats really like it.

All-in-all, we are gradually getting ready for the trip. More to come later…

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