Above is an excellent review of the 421 Catamaran from Multihull World. It explains how the Lagoon 421 corrected the problems of the Lagoon 420 that was designed to motor sail rather than sail. To quote the opening paragraph of the article….
“Here is the revised and corrected version of the 420. With its less bulky lines and more hydro-dynamically efficient hulls, the 421 should make a name for itself as one of the most widely-distributed catamarans on the market.“
THIS IS AN ARTICLE I WROTE LAST YEAR THAT I”VE JUST GOT AROUND TO POSTING
After two seasons cruising the Eastern Caribbean aboard La Mischief, our Lagoon 421 catamaran, it was time to look westwards and check out the “other” side of the Caribbean. When we heard about the Ocean Cruising Club’s Suzie Too Rally from some of our cruising friends, we jumped at the chance to explore this part of the world in the company of both old and new friends.
The Suzie Too OCC Rally is the brainchild of Suzanne and David Chappell, who first ran the rally in 2016. Our rally started in November 2018 from Curaçao, visiting Aruba, Colombia, San Blas, Panama, San Andres, Providencia, Roatan, and Utila before finishing in Belize in April.
The first major leg of the rally was the passage from Aruba to Santa Marta in Colombia, which has the reputation of being very challenging. Trade Winds funnel across the top of Colombia and the waves have a very long fetch in which to build up size. Folklore has it as being one of the five worst passages in the world. But having researched and now done it, I believe that the Rally got it right; and you can dramatically improve your chances of a pleasant non-eventful passage by planning to go at the right time of the year – before the Christmas winds kick in; penciling in an optional rest stop at Cabo De La Vela; staying close to the coast to make use of the beneficial land effects; and applying a little patience to wait for a good weather window.
Setting off from Aruba at 5pm with my partner DeAnne, and our crew of Richard and Christy, we ended up having rather benign conditions all the way to Cabo De La Vela (the Cape of the Wind), with an annoying one knot current against us, instead of with us as advertised. Progress was slow but okay, made worse by our overly conservative sail plan, choosing not to deploy our parasailer when conditions were perfect. The folklore had got the better of us!
As we left Cabo De La Vela, we pulled out the light wind gennaker for a few hours until the wind built to 20-25 knots as dusk approached. Down the gennaker came and in went a reef into the mainsail. Around midnight the wind completely died and on went the motors so that we could see the sunrise over the Sierra Nevada mountains, which run down to the sea and are very spectacular. These are the only mountains in the Caribbean where you can see snow on the mountain tops.
The approach to Santa Marta is stunningly spectacular. As we approached the headland, distracted by the snowcapped mountains, the wind picked up and the waves grew in size. We were having a great downwind sail, but we needed to reef. As we were close to Santa Marta, we decided to drop the mainsail instead of going through the rigmarole of reefing. We turned into the wind to lower the main, just as a large wave broke over us thoroughly soaking DeAnne as she stood on the coach roof to help with the sail drop.
Santa Marta Marina was fantastic. Kelly, who manages the office, is awesome. Colombia requires that you use an agent to clear into each port, and Santa Marta Marina provided us with an agent free of charge because of our extended booking. We soon discovered the famous Santa Marta katabatic winds that appear every afternoon and blow around 40kts. A good reason to be tucked up in the marina rather than out at anchor with reputedly dubious holding.
We spent two weeks soaking up the sites, culture and food in Santa Marta, which was celebrating its 500-year anniversary. We hired a car and drove the countryside. We spent two days exploring Tayrona National Park, which has some great walks and beaches. We checked out the Caiman crocodile floating in the river just behind the Park’s most popular swimming beach. Yikes. The marina also arranged three complimentary buses for the rally to go to another part of Tayrona for a wonderful beach day. We spend the night up at Minca in the mountains and did a wonderful motorbike tour to several waterfalls; an old coffee plantation; and Casa Elemente for lunch, complete with giant hammocks, a swimming pool and a view to die for. We went river tubing on Rio Don Diego and visited the bohemian hangout of Palomino.
Rally members organized regular rubbish cleanups to do our bit to try and clean up the ocean; Spanish lessons were organized; we had some OpenCPN sessions in readiness for the San Blas; and Suzanne had organized for the rally to donate heaps of children’s clothes, toys and school equipment to a local charity.
We also took the opportunity to do some provisioning. We found the supermarkets to be very good, with the exception of canned fruit and vegetables that some cruisers wanted for the San Blas, which they had to get in Curaçao beforehand. This was entirely understandable as the fresh produce in Colombia was extensive and of high quality.
But by far and away the best part of Colombia was its super friendly people. They loved helping, even if they couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak any Spanish. Luckily, DeAnne was fluent in Spanish and loved practicing with the locals.
Two weeks was not nearly long enough and before we knew it, we were at the farewell party put on by the Marina and on our way at first light the next morning.
The leg from Santa Marta to Puerto Velero was more like what we had heard about. Very lively with big following seas. We got caught out when a big breaking wave came over the back-starboard steps and into our cockpit, before proceeding through our open door into our saloon. From there we watched in stunned silence as it went down both sets of steps and into each of our hulls before we were able to pull up the floor boards for our bilge pumps to do their thing. We spent the next 30 minutes mopping up and rinsing everything with fresh water. Needless to say, the saloon door was pulled shut to avoid any repeat performance.
Once we got close to the mouth of the Rio Magdalena, we had a new potential problem to contend with. Rio Magdalena is the biggest river in Colombia and spits out large logs, whole trees and all sorts of large debris. As the water color dramatically changed, we were on the lookout for anything big that could ruin our day. On the plus side, the river water seemed to dampen the waves, making for a more comfortable ride.
Turning the corner shortly after passing the river mouth provided further relief from the large seas and we had a wonderful sail down to Puerto Velero, where we anchored for the night, under the watchful eye of our friends from the Colombian Coast Guard, who were escorting us right through Colombia, with their boats patrolling our various anchorages night and day. We felt very honored and safe in their presence.
We were off again at first light and this time the wind was nowhere to be seen. We motor sailed in calm seas, with winds less than 10kts towards the Rosario Islands, instead of heading directly to Cartagena, where you normally have to go first, as the Rally had got special dispensation for a three day stay in these islands, something that is not normally allowed.
The Colombian Islands aren’t to be missed and we were allocated an anchorage off Isla Grande in the Rosario group. We had a pleasant three days, swimming in crystal clear waters and exploring the island with its interesting pathways and beach bars. It felt good to get back to a bit of island life between city stops.
Refreshed and relaxed, we all set off together, proceeding in single file into Cartagena. It was quite a sight with 38 boats following Suzie Too past the forts and into the inner harbor. We felt like Sir Francis Drake as we lay siege to the city. We had a choice of two marinas (Club De Pesca and Club Nautico) or an anchorage that the coast guard had set aside for the Rally, just outside the old city walls. Colombia has a great attitude towards cruisers and is trying really hard to realize the potential that visiting cruisers represent.
Cartagena itself is one of the great cruising destinations in the world. It’s a must see with its old city, its magnificent fort and its wonderful architecture. And it does Christmas incredibly well with its many beautiful churches, its great decorations and a festive atmosphere unlike anywhere else. The Rally celebrated Christmas at Club De Pesca with a Pot Luck lunch and a bit of fun with a Secret Santa session, where fishing lures seemed to be the catch of the day.
New Year’s Eve in Cartagena is also an event not to be missed. Half of Colombia seems to descend on Cartagena for the festivities. To accommodate the crowds, all the restaurants spill out into the streets, and pop-up restaurants appear across the city. The Rally booked various restaurants around the town, before spilling out onto the streets to watch the fireworks at midnight. DeAnne and I then spent several hours walking the streets listening to the music and soaking up the festivities.
Colombia certainly impressed us, and we wished we could have stayed a little longer. But with the New Year upon us and the San Blas Islands calling, it was time to head West.
Ten Tips for Colombia
Try and make it to Cartagena by Christmas to avoid the Christmas Winds.
Christmas in Colombia is awesome. New Year’s Eve in Cartagena is also an experience not to be missed.
Brush up on your Spanish. Not many locals speak English.
Don’t go too shallow. The charts don’t have all the rocks. Locals suggest staying 5nm off the coast on approach to Cartagena.
Visit Colombia’s Islands – Isla Rosario, San Bernardo Group and Isla Fuerte before departing for the San Blas.
Take advantage of the cheap airfares and accommodation to fly to some of Colombia’s amazing inland cities and attractions. Medellin, Bogotá, and the Amazon Jungle are all worth considering.
Hire a Car in Santa Marta. There’s so much to see and do. Do a Motor Bike tour in Minca, go river tubing on Rio Don Diego or Palomino, and visit The Tayrona National Park, staying overnight in small hotels. Or take a four-day hike to the Lost City.
Soak up the culture in Santa Marta and Cartagena. These places are full of history.
Get a 10USD steak dinner at 13 Reses in Santa Marta. Eat out at many fantastic restaurants in Santa Marta and Cartagena.
Look at joining the next Suzie Too OCC Rally, you won’t regret it!
The Admiral has decided she wants an even bigger boat than a Lagoon 421 and we have recently put a deposit down on a new 50 foot catamaran. As a result, the Captain has reluctantly put La Mischief on the market, pending the move to our new catamaran.
If you are after a world cruising catamaran, it would be rare indeed to find a boat better equipped than La Mischief. We purchased her new from the Factory in March 2013 and she has never been chartered. With twin upgraded 75HP engines, twin Autopilots, 2000W of solar and Victron Lithium batteries, you can step on board and head straight out to the Bahamas, the Caribbean or indeed around the world. We have set her up with everything needed to cruise as a couple off the grid with a circumnavigation in mind.
The Lagoon 421 is a highly sought after model, with limited stock available. It is a strongly built world cruiser, designed for the liveaboards to sail fulltime, with unbelievable storage for a 42 foot catamaran. She is the popular 3 bedroom version with the port hull totally dedicated to the owners, with a large luxury bathroom and outstanding living areas. She was built just before the catamaran market shifted its focus to the charter market, where the requirements for full time living aboard are largely reduced.
As you can read below, La Mischief has a host of aftermarket improvements and additions not typically found on other boats, that add safety, maintainability and comfort to your cruising experience.
With a spacious cockpit that can comfortably sit 8 around a custom-built mahogany dining table, that also converts into a cocktail table, this boat is the ultimate entertainer. The teak floor adds a nice touch. As well as full all around cockpit enclosure, La Mischief has a full set of sunshades for the cockpit. There’s the obligatory cockpit fridge as well as a custom-made sunbed. Being an Australian boat, there’s a large Galleymate 2000 Gas BBQ with own fiberglass propane tank.
The saloon has standing room of 6’ 7” and is extremely well appointed, with special blue leather seating for 8 around a large saloon table. There are a separate set of blue leather Cushions that can be used to convert the Saloon Table to a bed. There is a forward facing Navigation Station, with a Fusion stereo system with 4 speakers in the saloon, 2 speakers in the cockpit and 2 speakers with separate Fusion amplifier for the front deck. There is also a Bose Lifestyle V35 Home Cinema with sub woofer and a Bluray DVD Player hooked up to a 37” TV for movie nights.
The owners version has the entire port hull dedicated to the owners with a semi – island type berth with front and lateral access, together with its own 22” TV, a leather sofa, two large mirrors and a luxurious bathroom with a walk in shower and fresh water quiet flush electric marine head. There is also a 3kg Washing Machine in its own separate cupboard.
Guest accommodation is generous with two large staterooms in the Starboard Hull, each with its own separate shower and separate bathroom with quiet flush electric marine head.
The galley is a chef’s delight, with good communication to the cockpit and the helm station via a sliding bay window. There’s a 3 burner stove and a separate oven with grill (broiler), all protected with a propane gas detection and shutoff system. There’s a 130L (34 US gal) fridge (plus an additional fridge in the cockpit), a 110L (29US Gal) freezer and a unique 3 sink arrangement, with a dish drainer in the 3rd sink. There’s also an additional storage area designed for a Microwave.
There’s a sea water foot pump, and a fresh water foot pump with a drinking water filter.
The large 75 HP Yanmar engines are an important safety feature when operating in large adverse sea conditions. Engine hours are 2402 and 2351. The SD50 sail drives have been modified with an optional kit to eliminate the cone clutch slippage problems that typically happen every 600 hours. Folding propellers provide extra speed whilst sailing. Aftermarket automatic fire extinguishers were added in each engine bay, as were secondary fuel filters with clear bowl water separators.
The 100L (26Gal) per Hour Dessalator Watermaker runs both on 12V and 220V and typically runs off the solar panels providing free fresh water.
There are four separate CRUISAIR airconditioning systems that provides separate cooling and heating in all the staterooms as well as the saloon.
The electrical system is fed by four 90AH Victron LiFePO4 Batteries together with Victron BMS, Li-Charge and Li-Load units. Charging these batteries is performed by:
3 Sunpower SPR-X22-360 Solar panels on an Aluminum and Stainless Steel Frame connected to a large Victron 150/70 MPPT Solar Panel Controller
10 Stick on solar panels on the roof (1000W) connected to separate Victron MPPT Solar Panel Controller
D400 Wind Generator
A Victron Quattro 3000VA/120A Invertor Charger providing 230V alternating current,
Two 40Amp Cristec battery chargers,
Two Alpha Pro Smart Charger regulators for each Alternator
A 9.5Kva Onan Generator (1300 engine hours)
Battery Monitoring is achieved using VICTRON BMV 602 and a Victron Colour Controller.
Shore power supply is protected by a 360W 115 / 230 V Galvanic Isolator, that accepts both 110V and 230V and is rated for lightening.
La Mischief has a comprehensive set of Navigational equipment, accessable from both the helmstation and the safety of the forward facing Navigation station in the comfort of the Saloon.
AIS 650 RAYMARINE TRANSCEIVER WITH ANTENNA
RAYMARINE REMOTE SMART CONTROL
RAYMARINE E125W DISPLAY AT HELM STATION
RAYMARINE E125W DISPLAY AT NAV. STATION
Raymarine I70 Displays (2 at Helmstation, 1 at Nav Station)
RAYMARINEHD DIGITAL 18″ 48 NM 4 Kw RADAR
RAYMARINE 55 E VHF RADIO WITH DSC
2nd HANDSET AT HELM STATION FOR VHF RAYMARINE 55E
Two independent autopilots with full redundancy – one in each engine bay (L&S and Raymarine)
Deck and Hull Equipment
La Mischief has an extensive list of optional, upgraded and aftermarket equipment, and is fully equipped and ready to sail around the world.
Lofrans 1500W Windlass new in November 2019.
Three Harken 46.2STAEH electric winches at helm station
Forth Harken Winch on Port Side for Spinnaker and Geneker use.
66m2 Square Top Mainsail
36m2 Furling genoa with UV protective band
69 m2 Gennaker (blue / white), together with Genaker rig, including optional bowsprit
Backing Plates for Parasailor attachment points
Foldable mast steps to spreaders
Deck wash pump with both sea water and fresh water.
Freshwater dock inlet
Four Underwater LED lights on Stern (LEDS hybrid Serie 30i 9-32vDC Midnight Blue)
Ground Plate for HF Radio
4 Stainless steel dive tank holders (new in 2017)
Aftermarket Stainless steel reinforcing to protect fibreglass during anchor retrieval
Waterproof loudspeakers under coach roof with additional Fusion amplifier to drive these and provide music for front deck.
Quick Chain Counter
Upgraded 33Kg Rocna Anchor and 100m Chain
Spare Fortress anchor
Aftermarket stainless steel handrail on sub and port transoms
Ultrasonic Antifouling Units in each hull.
Pirate Lights Security Alarm System with front and rear sensors
Badboy WiFI Booster (Antenna plus router)
Hypalon Ulta Light 340 Dinghy with Honda BF20HP Engine
Dinghy Davits with Harken 40.2STAEH electric winch.
OUTBOARD ENGINE BRACKET ON PUSHPIT
Viking 8 person Rescu You Liferaft in canister
Folding Carbon Gangplank 2.6m (8.53ft) with cover and handrail
To give you an idea of the additional value that has been added to La Mischief, here is a list of the optional and after market items that have been added.
Upgraded 75HP Engines (an important safety feature)
Two independent autopilots with full redundancy – one in each engine bay (L&S and Raymarine). Losing an autopilot mid ocean is not a good scenario and is too common to ignore.
Four 90AH Victron LiFePO4 Batteries together with Victron BMS, Li-Charge and Li-Load units. Lithium batteries are great at keeping the voltage up and the beer cold.
Square Top Mainsail (for extra performance)
Custom-built mahogany dining table in cockpit (folds into a cocktail table, which also allows easy access to the lockers)
Teak floor in cockpit
Lofrans 1500W Windlass new in November 2019 (standard Windlass is underpowered).
Three Harken 46.2STAEH electric winches at helm station (makes sailing a big cat easier).
100L (26Gal) per Hour Dessalator Watermaker runs both on 12V and 220V and typically runs off the solar panels providing free fresh water.
There are four separate CRUISAIR airconditioning systems that provides separate cooling and heating in all the staterooms as well as the saloon.
AIS 650 RAYMARINE TRANSCEIVER WITH ANTENNA
RAYMARINE REMOTE SMART CONTROL (Can hang around your neck and control the boat from anywhere on board).
RAYMARINE E125W DISPLAY AT NAV. STATION (great redundancy)
RAYMARINE HD DIGITAL 18″ 48 NM 4 Kw RADAR (RADAR is great for night passages, fog and for spotting and avoiding squalls)
2nd HANDSET AT HELM STATION FOR VHF RAYMARINE 55E (where the watch keeper is)
VICTRON BMV 602 Battery Monitor and a Victron Colour Controller.
Victron Digital Multi Control for remote management of Victron Quattro (no more going under the bed to switch the invertor on and off)
3 Sunpower SPR-X22-360 Solar panels on an Aluminum and Stainless Steel Frame connected to a large Victron 150/70 MPPT Solar Panel Controller (these are the best panels going around and provide an amazing amount of free electricity)
10 Stick on solar panels on the roof (1000W) connected to separate Victron MPPT Solar Panel Controller (not as good as the Sunpower panels, but still provide extra battery charging)
D400 Wind Generator (great at night in the trade winds or when the sun doesn’t shine)
Victron Quattro 3000VA/120A Inverter/Charger providing 230V alternating current (the Quattro provides a passthrough capability for when the genset or mains is connected. Victron’s high end inverter/charger.
Two Alpha Pro Smart Charger regulators for each Alternator (provide more charging capability and better for the batteries)
One of the joys of cruising the world is that we visit places where we can make a difference to a community by pitching in and helping the locals. Steven Elliott at Catamaran Island is an all round good guy, and he rounded up the cruisers at not only Catamaran Island Marina but elsewhere as well to help out with a 300 pupil school over an hours drive away with a few projects that desperately needed doing,
They had managed to fund raise some money to buy a water pump and some piping and lumber to get water from the public service down the hill to a tank higher up to gravity feed the toilets and the kitchen. Previously, water has to be carried up to do this manually. Everyone got busy building stands, wiring the pump and connecting up the plumbing.
A second work group set about a playground upgrade.
It turned out to be a big day and the beers did taste really good when we made it back to Catamarans.
Bonaire is dive heaven. Its so easy to dive here, either from the shore or from the back of La Mischief. We’ve done both, having hired a car for a week. The beauty of Bonaire is that you could be lazy and just dive off the back of the boat without even leaving the mooring.
Clifton was our last stop in St Vincent and the Grenadines, before we left for Carriacou. We climbed to the top of the Fort for some outstanding views, checked out the cute town and then retired to Happy Island with our friends from Vela for some sunset drinks and to watch the Kite Boarding locals put on a show.
After 5 days and 4 nights we finally made it to Marina Puerto Bahia, just around the corner from Samana in the Dominican Republic. Follow Me and Vela kept us company the whole way, with Follow Me getting the prize for sighting the most whales. The trip was largely motoring into light winds, sometimes getting a little bit of wind angle to lighten the load on the engines. In the end we still had 2/3 of a tank of diesel for each engine and no breakages – a good trip.
Marina Puerto Bahia was a great find. At $1 a foot, it was one of the cheapest marinas I’d stayed at and it was right next to a 5 star resort with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Our slip was pretty challenging, with La Mischief just fitting between the pylons with the fenders on both sides getting a good work out. Backing into a small slip with a current pushing us sideways and Jamie and Ashley in learning mode pumped the heart rate up a bit. Took us 3 goes to finally get in.
Customs and Immigration was straightforward and reasonable, $106 for the 3 of us with no “tips” required.
That night we hosted all the other boats on the back of La Mischief and made some new friends. Which was a good thing as Sam and Erin had hired a car that turned into a 9 seater van and we spent the next few days touring the north east of DR.
Our first stop was an ATM in Samana to get some pesos. Samana was lively, jam-packed with locals riding motor cycles, but being a Sunday a lot of shops were closed. Cashed up, we headed off to Las Galeras, an old fishing village that has been given over to tourism. By now the huge northerly swells that we were racing to beat had hit and it was pretty awesome looking out on the Atlantic. Piper, Sam and Dawn’s dog was also pretty impressed with chasing coconuts down the beach. Finally we settled on a few Pina Coladas at a beach shack and came away saying they were the best Pina Coladas we had tasted with wonderfully fresh pineapple juice.
Next we wandered around to a little cove along the coast to a really nice beach and nice beach bar for lunch. DR food is delicious and cheap. I was beginning to really like this place. Jamie managed a swim but was asked to leave the water – the police mentioned sharks (?) but we think they thought it was too rough.
Our final stop of the day was the blowholes on the east coast. The road was borderline 4WD but Sam did really well with only a few bounces on the rear end of the van. The blowholes were working with the swell and Sam almost got blown away at one stage.
By now it was getting late in the afternoon and we’d been told not to drive at night because of the locals penchant for driving without headlights. So we headed back to Samana and did a bit of fruit and vegie shopping.
Next day we decided to hit the waterfalls at El Salto Del Limon National Park. We upgraded to the horse ride and all got on some under slightly nourished horses. Next time, I think we will walk. The waterfalls were a 15 minute ride in on a rough track and were quite spectacular. DR is known for its waterfalls and they didn’t disappoint. Sam being Sam went for a swim but it was too cold for Steve the Wimp.
Having been dropped off, we were asked for a “tip” that was more than what was negotiated and paid for at the start. I think they saw a bunch of Americans and decided they were fair game.
Adventure over, we drove into Las Terrenas in search of the famous Love Shack. We found it on the beach but had to go down the broadwalk to another restaurant for lunch as it was only open at 3pm. The seafood paella wasn’t up to Valentia standard but still yummy. We then made it back to Love Shack, where we got stuck into pool over a few beers. David from Oceananigans managed to beat us all – obviously able to hold his beer better than us older folk!
Tuesday came and it was our last day at the marina, before we headed off for a night at the National Park across the bay. I organised for the boat’s decks to be waxed and polished and all the stainless to be done for $130USD….a real bargain given the manpower and detail applied. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the resort and catching up on the great internet.
That evening the marina put on some hors d’orves and drinks at the hotel and it was good to catch up with some of the staff as well as a couple of other boats we had not met.
Next morning, we got our dispatchio for Parque Nacional Les Haitises, 10nm across the bay. We dropped anchor in the protected bay right where active captain said to. We only had a day there because of the weather window coming up so we quickly dropped the dinghy and got into exploration mode. We headed for the narrow creek where all the day boats were going and made our way up a narrow creek with limestone cliffs on one side and mangroves on the other until we got to a jetty with two big tour boats attached, We secured the dinghy and made our way to explore the cave a short walk away. We battled our way past quite a few tourists and enjoyed its beauty.
Back in the dinghy and onto the next cave around a couple of islands and headlands. More tourists. We beach landed and paid our $2 a head fee. This cave was right on the coast with several openings jotting out into the bay.
Our final stop was the Eco Resort, miles up a mangrove lined creek with lots of birdlife and fish jumping in front of us. We finally made it to the end of the creek where the mangroves gave way to open farmland. We had a short walk to the Eco Resort which was very impressive, given it Gaudi like architecture and its elevated location overlooking the bay across to the mountains on the other side.
Also impressive was the fresh water swimming pool that was fed by a mountain stream, which when accompanied by several beers from the resorts bar, provided an idyllic place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
We returned back to the boat in time to enjoy a lovely sunset, over a few more beers. At some stage we thought it a good idea to raid Dee’s sparkling supply and that eventually put us on our respective ears.
Next morning, it proved somewhat difficult to rouse my crew as we needed to take our hangovers from DR to PR, across the notorious Mona Passage. But first we had to call into the marina and pick up our dispatchio to allow us to leave DR and have our passports stamped. Our visit to DR had been all too brief as it turned out to be one of my favourite islands.
The major problem with getting to the Bahamas is a little thing called the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream runs north up to 3kts between Florida and the Bahamas. And if you get any sort of North wind you get “Elephants”, caused by wind against current, something we wished to only read about rather than actually experience.
So we waited in Marathon, paying particular attention to Chris Parker’s (the guru) daily weather email as well as PredictWind. We’d missed a good weather window getting our new solar panels installed, and finally we got what looked like a small window a week later.
So off we went, leaving at lunchtime so we could dodge the lobster pots on the way out across the shallows to the drop off, where the water gets very deep very quickly.
Because we were travelling East from Marathon to Key Largo, progress was slow as we pounded away into a 15kt Easterly. The Gulf Stream was 8nm off the shallows so it was slow progress to get out there. Once we got to Key Largo conditions got a lot better as the wind dropped and veered a bit to the south, and the current really kicked in. If we did it again we would have kept inside and reef up to Key Largo and then went through the reef there straight to Bimini.
We motor sailed across the gulf stream at night, missing out on some good fishing and seeing the phenomena of the stream itself as the water turns a brilliant blue. But a night-time crossing saw us get into Bimini in the morning.
Bimini is not noted for its good anchorages so we booked into Sea Crest Hotel and Marina, which cost us 2 bucks a foot per night. We took 3 nights so we could be there for the SuperBowl on Sunday. Check-in was pretty straightforward and 300USD later we had a cruising permit.
Then it was time to explore Bimini. A long walk along the beach saw us pop out opposite the big Hilton Resort World. It felt like we were back in the USA. Getting out of there, we were picked up by Mandy Lu and Chee on their rented golf chart. We ended up spending the rest of the day with them and their golf cart (or should I say 3 golf carts as it took them 3 goes to get one that sort of worked.
One the way we found some wonderful Conch Shacks and bars. The conch, lobster and beers were surprisingly reasonably priced and we made a couple of new friends.
Next day the wind started to howl so the planned dinghy ride to South Bimini was off. Instead we ate more conch and pottered around Alice Town. We discovered a pot luck cruisers get together at the next marina and gate crashed this. We ended the night on Lee Carlson’s catamaran, talking to Lee and Josie about writing, sailing and life in general. I’ve since downloaded Lee’s “Passage to Nirvana” – a great read about his journey back from a traumatic brain injury, with a bit of sailing, divorce, Buddhism and Zen thrown in.
Sunday was Superbowl, but before we indulged in a night of drinking and sports watching, we decided to dinghy over to South Bimini and explore that island for a couple of hours. We wandered through the main resort/condo complex before wandering along the beach and back through a canal settlement.
We surveyed all the (two) available options to watch Superbowl and decided to go upmarket to the Casino where we got to eat a buffet with 25 current NFL players who’d been brought over by one particular agent. We’d met a few of them at the beach bar the day before and Dee had jumped at the enormous photo opportunity (and some of these guys were beyond enormous).
Lee had kindly offered to drive his whaler over so we avoided a taxi ride. The four had become 3 after Josie had succumbed to the effects of a handover from our drinking session the night before. It turned out to be a great night with many of the players stopping for a chat as we had positioned ourselves strategically at the bar.
Unfortunately, we had missed Sunday’s weather window to cross the Banks so we spent a couple of days at Gun Cay and Cat Cay waiting for the wind to drop enough to cross. Wednesday came and we were off. At first light.
We followed the designated path on our C-Map charts, which we had swapped to after hearing that the Navionics charts were problematic in the Bahamas. The other good thing about C-Map was that they had all the ActiveCaptain information integrated on-screen. We also used the waypoints in “The Waterways Guide to the Bahamas” as well as in Bruce Van Sant’s “The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South : The Thornless Path to Windward”.
It was a bizarre and exhilarating experience crossing the Great Bahamas Banks. For 50nm we had 1-3m of crystal clear water under the keels. The wind was right on the nose the whole way but only 8-12kts so bearable. We had planned to put up the mainsail but had managed to rip the mainsail near the top batten car, the one that takes all the load from the square top rig. We discovered that particular batten car had lost a lot of its talon balls – hence the problem. Guess we will be motoring all the way to Nassau.
We had company across the banks in the form of a Canadian Lagoon 470, but they stopped shortly before dark to anchor off to one side. Not sure they went far enough because we noticed a fishing boat lining them up as he went the other way. Instead of anchoring on the banks we decided to keep going to Chub Cay, 14nm after we left the banks. We got there at 9pm and anchored in the dark. Pretty straight forward and the anchorage had good holding.
Next day we were up early and heading off to Nassau. Lots of people avoid Nassau with its high crime rate and its glitzy cruise ship/Atlantis resort focus. Dee had been there before and she quite liked it. It’s a great place to reprovision and Atlantis is worth a quick peep, until you grow tired of the glitz and high prices.
We booked into the Nassau Harbour Club and Marina – a name that is more highfalutin than its run-down nature. At 2 bucks a foot it was okay and it had 24/7 security so we had no problems. Walking around town during the day seemed okay as was ducking down to the Poop Deck at night. We took a day longer than the one planned to fix our mainsail and redo the batten cars with a full set of taulon balls, a job that involves dropping all the batten cars off from the bottom to get to the one at the top.
At night we would taxi over to Atlantis and check out the superyachts in the marina and watch the beautiful people frequent the Casino. On our last afternoon, we headed off to the old town and wandered around the historic sites. Edward and Mrs Simpson were banished here during WW2 as the UK Governor and it was interesting to see where he lived.
Unfortunately we picked a bad day to go across to the Exumas but we were on a schedule and we needed to keep moving. I spent Saturday night researching the crossing over the notorious Yellow Banks and finally decided to use some waypoints off someone’s elses blog that took us between Yellow and White Banks, where the bombies were supposedly slightly less.
We beat our way into the 15kt SE wind, getting a bit of respite when we turned south to get down to our chosen crossing point. Closing in on the banks, I changed into my bathers and wetsuit top and clipped on at the front, looking out for any bombies in the clear but rough water as the water depth dropped to less than 3m. The water temperature wasn’t too bad as I signalled left and right to avoid any suspicious dark patches on the sandy bottom. We made it though unscathed and we headed for Highbourne Cay, a beautiful sandy anchorage around the corner from an expensive marina and resort. For the first time in ages I swam on my anchor – it felt good to be back in clear warm water again.
But there was no time for the wicked and we were off again in the morning for a cracker of a sail to Warderick Wells. With a lovely 15kt Easterly we made great time under a single reef over clear water with a slight chop. We had rung ahead and booked a mooring for 2 nights at $31 a night. The Bahamian dollar is the same as the US Dollar and you can use either here.
Warderick Wells was heaven on earth. Everything you imagined a Bahamas anchorage to be and more. We were allocated mooring 18, which meant we had to pass 17 other boats all moored in a narrow channel which hooks around in a 180 degree turn to get to our mooring, which was one of the last. There’s a strong current running through, which kept us on our toes as we hooked onto our mooring just before 3pm. I jumped into the water for a quick snorkel and low and behold – 6 spotted Eagle Rays – huge – glided past. I was thinking bugger – I haven’t got my camera – but it wasn’t a problem as they were our constant companions during our stay. We had some great snorkelling and nice beach and sand bar walks amongst the stunning scenery.
After a couple of relaxing days at Warderwick Wells it was time to move on. Not much of a move but the 16nm sail inside the protected waters of the Exumas was exhilarating – especially when most of it was with less than 2-4m under the keels.
The water going into Staniel Quay was shallow, perfect cat country. We motored past the somewhat famous yacht club and between two limestone outcrops into an anchorage just behind Thunderbolt Grotto. A quick lunch and off we went in A Little Bit of Mischief to the grotto for my best Sean Connery impersonation. We got there purposely at lunchtime so as to get the full effect of the sun streaming in through the top of the fully enclosed grotto. It was pretty cool, even with the hordes of people there.
Snorkelling over, we headed for town. We wandered over to where the crayfishermen were preparing tonight’s dinner and watched the twenty or so nurse sharks and stringrays gathering in the shallow below for a cheap feel of the offcuts. Dee wandered in amongst them and we got the obligatory video and photos of these harmless creatures.
Needing exercise, we buckled up our walking sandals and hit the road out along the coast to the airport. Scenic but not much to write home about. As all good walks do, this one ended at the bar of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, which by this stage was quite lively.
We’d booked in for our Valentine’s Day dinner so it was back to the boat to scrub up before hitting the restaurant next to the bar for a great surf and turf special. A lovely night with Darling Dee xxx.
Next morning, it was off to find the swimming pork chops at Big Major Spot, a couple of miles around the corner. It was a great anchorage, with lots of boats preferring to stay there rather than in front of Staniel. We picked a spot and dropped the dinghy, wanting to get there before the hordes descended. This is the spot on all of the publicity shots for the Exumas and was one of the places we were looking forward to visiting, if only because of its extreme novelty value. I’ve never seen a group of pigs swimming in the ocean and it really was fascinating. Dee got to cuddle a baby piglet and we took in some food for them to eat. The pigs know this and send out a welcoming committee as your dinghy approaches.
We spent half an hour on the beach and we could have spend a lazy day swimming off the back of La Mischief in the crystal clear waters, except for the maniac dinghy and waterski drivers who sped through the anchorage. Time to keep moving as Dee had a plane to catch from Georgetown.
Next stop was Little Farmers Cay, where the anchoring is a little problematic. We chose to anchor off the south shore of Great Guana Cay and dinghy across to Little Farmers. As we pulled into the anchorage Siggy from Asante radioed to say they were there and then Askari came over in their dinghy to say hello. It’s a small world – this cruising caper.
We wanted to see if we could get some dinghy fuel (which we couldn’t) so we thought we would catch up with everyone the next day, instead opting to dinghy over to Little Farmers before things shut. We walked around pretty much the whole island and the best we could find was The Sunset Bar and Grill on the west side of the island. So we walked back to our dinghy and motored around there. Askari had left their dinghy there so we met up for a sunset drink (or maybe it was two). Other cruisers started to come in and we had a great night, managing to drink the bar out of cold beer. There were claims of a “green flash” – maybe alcohol induced, maybe not – who am I to say. Anyway we had an exhilarating dinghy ride back late in a moonless night.
Next morning Askari and Assante had left so we decided to go and find the cave/sinkhole that a couple of other crew had told us about. We eventually found it but decided against snorkelling it as was suggested we should. Instead we went back to La Mischief and motored our way through shallow water ways, sticking to the route on our C-Map charts to get to Cave Cay, where we anchored outside the hardly used marina that’s probably the best hurricane hole in the Bahamas, being completely landlocked barring a narrow entrance channel. There was very little sign of life so we kept going on our dinghy ride across to one of David Copperfield’s five private islands – Musha Cay. It looked incredible from the water, with its imported palm trees and zillion dollar price tag (you can only rent out the whole island).
Next morning, it was up early and out the cut at slack tide. What a difference between the flat water on the inside (west) and the ocean swells and deep water of Exuma Sound on the outside (east). After getting away from the coast we motor sailed for a while before getting enough angle to sail with the odd tack thrown in to get away from the coast. We took the sails down outside of Conch Cay Cut but didn’t really need to as there was plenty of sea room inside in the calm water.
The vast majority of boats anchor off Stocking Island, well protected from the prevailing Easterlies. Someone did a count and came up with 235 boats, down from last years 290 boats. However there’s plenty of room to spread out and there’s also moorings available in several well protected basins. We parked next to Assante and promised to catch up for a beer or two this time. It was also good to catch up with Don and Nina from Enjoy, a fellow Lagoon 421 and they reintroduced us to Texas Hold Em Poker in preparation for the Poker Nights that are held regularly at St Francis
Georgetown is pretty unique. It’s the end of the road for the majority of cruisers there, as it’s from here that they turn around and head back to the States for summer. Year after year, the same cruisers sail down her, stop for 3 months and then turn around and go back again. Everyone knows everyone and there’s a pretty well-defined social calendar with Poker on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Trivia nights, Volleyball at 2pm every day, Talks and Discussions on just about anything cruiser related, Yoga, Water aerobics etc. etc. etc. It’s not referred to as Adult Day Care for nothing. The perfect place for Dee to leave Steve (in Adult Day Care) whilst she flew back to California to visit her mum.
With my long list of boat jobs, I settled in for a couple of weeks of batching on La Mischief. The dinghy ride across the bay to Georgetown got a bit wet with the stiff easterlies that were blowing but Eddy’s had good internet and cheap beer and that made it worthwhile.
Don organised a get together on Volleyball beach for all the Lagoon owners to get to know one another. There were a couple of talks on the Beach about leaving “Chicken Harbor” to go South and East to the Caribbean and Siggy and I eagerly attended those, wandering how best to do the Thorny Path without getting beaten up by the Trade Winds. Over the next few days, the long-range forecasts seemed to suggest a significant stalling of the trades as a trough pushed down in front of a cold front and seemingly produced an opportunity to perhaps make it all the way to Puerto Rico with the motors on.
By coincidence, Ashley and Jamie were leaving their boat to make way for family and were looking for a ride down to the Caribbean. A cunning plan was starting to swish around in my head. A few discussions with Dee and it was decided that I take on Ashley and Jamie and we set sail/Yanmars to make use of this great weather window. Dee would meet us in Puerto Rico, along with Kirk.
On Sunday, 20 or so boats met on Cat’s Meow to discuss our plans to leave that week. Most of us settled on Tuesday as the day to set sail/motor. And so it was. There’s no fuel dock at Georgetown, despite the huge number of boats, so we topped up using jerry cans. We paid even more money to Customs so we could get our departure notice, which DR asked for.
And then we were off, heading north of Long Island and off to the Dominican Republic before a very large swell came in on Sunday.
Having crossed from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, we needed to get ourselves organised to spend the hurricane season out of harm’s way in the north-eastern coast of the USA. For our American friends, getting to and from the USA is a well understood exercise, but for the rest of us that come from the rest of the world, it’s a bit of an unknown adventure.
The East Coast of the USA is a massive cruising ground, so I‘m just going to touch on our highlights, together with some important pieces of information to hopefully give a useful overview of what to expect, what you really need to know to get by, and how we went about tackling it. There is a myriad of other great articles available on specific cruising grounds that provide much more detailed information than my 20,000 foot helicopter view.
The first item on the “Lets sail to the USA” agenda was to organise a USA Visa. The Visa Waiver system I had been using to travel by air to the USA was not an option when arriving by boat. I needed to find a USA Embassy and apply for a B1/B2 Visa. This involved filling in an online application and booking an interview at an Embassy. It then takes about 2 weeks for the visa to be issued, during which time they hold onto your passport so you need to plan to stay put. In the Caribbean, US Embassies are few and far between. A lot of our friends got their Visa in Barbados and I ended up getting mine in Bermuda as we were there for a month for the Americas Cup.
The next task was to consider where we would make landfall and how we would get there. The two options we considered were via the Bahamas or via Bermuda. The Bahamas option involves following the trade winds from the Caribbean to the Bahamas and then hooking into the gulf stream to take you up the coast of the USA to your chosen port of entry. With the gulf stream running at up to 3 knots this sounds like a dream run, but any significant wind out of the north will create considerable wind against current issues that will make this route very uncomfortable and dangerous. Especially if the plan is to head around the notoriously dangerous Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras on the way to Chesapeake Bay. The other consideration when choosing this approach is the stifling heat of summer in Chesapeake Bay and everywhere south of here. We were told to visit these areas in the Autumn when the weather is a lot more pleasant.
In our case, we chose to go via Bermuda. We were swayed by the prospect of spending a month in the absolutely stunning waters of Bermuda, watching the Americas Cup; which turned out to be one of the highlights of our cruising career. The 820nm sail from Tortola in the BVIs to Bermuda consisted of 2 days of beautiful trade winds sailing under Geneker on a broad reach, followed by 2 days of motoring in the horse latitudes, with the last day back sailing all the way to Georgetown, arriving in mid-afternoon.
Once in Bermuda, we sat down with our friends from Aura, Lady Rebel and Touterelle and decided to head for Newport after the Cup wrapped up in late July. In reality we could have headed anywhere from Nova Scotia in Canada down to New York as the distances from Bermuda were pretty similar. We chose Newport because it sounded straightforward and was a sailing mecca. There was a bit of synergy sailing from Bermuda, the then home of the America’s Cup, to Newport, which was the home of the cup for all those years leading up to 1983, when Australia 2’s winged keel did the job on Dennis Connor. We were also aiming to get to Newport in time for our first 4th of July, and we had discovered that Bristol, which was a short bus ride away from Newport had the oldest parade in the USA. We were in.
The 635nm sail from Bermuda to Newport was a bit frustrating. It was more motoring than we would have liked, with the only excitement being the gulf stream crossing, which was interesting rather than difficult. With our Bachelor of Hindsight degree, a better plan would have been to head to Nova Scotia in Canada and cruise one way down the coast to Maine and beyond, thus covering more territory rather than the backtracking that we ended up doing.
Anyway back to what we really did, which was to head for Newport. The approach to Newport was fantastic, with fireworks happening all up and down the coast as we got there in early evening on the 2nd July. Check-in had its challenges, as we were anchoring out and not going to a marina. The first challenge was the US Customs and Border Protection required that we had a US mobile number for them to call us back on. Luckily, my partner Dee is a US citizen so we were able to oblige. In fact, we helped out our friends with this requirement as well using the VHF to pass messages back and forth. We also needed to find a public jetty to pull alongside and luckily there was a couple of free options in Newport. We found ActiveCaptain to be really helpful for finding dockage and anchoring options.
The third trick to checking in is to ensure that you ask for a US Cruising License. We missed this requirement and had to sign up for an online faxing solution, so we could fax the application in and get the license back using the eFax software running on my Mac. The other option was to drive quite a distance to pick one up. Being a foreign vessel, with the cruising license we were able to cruise the US, reporting our movements by phone whenever we moved locations. It’s very important to do this as you risk a big fine if you forget to report that you have moved spots.
Newport’s a great sailing town, rich in history with the Herreshoff museum and the cute town of Bristol where we saw the USA’s oldest 4th July parade.
From Newport, we decided to head north east up to the legendary cruising grounds of Maine. In the end, we made it as far as Camden before we had to turn around to get back to New York in time to meet my son, Alex and his girlfriend Sophie. Highlights along the way included Boston (where we were able to pick up a mooring buoy right in downtown); Salem (witches), Manchester by the Sea (cute town from the movie), P-Town (lots of colour and movement – America’s gay capital), Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Gloucester, Newburyport (whaling history) and Mystic (great maritime museum).
Maine itself was a lovely cruising experience in between dodging countless thousands of lobster pots along its shallow coastline. There’s some wonderfully cute towns and nice anchorages that we managed to visit.
Back in New York in mid-August we set about tackling this great city by boat, not an easy task. We started by anchoring in Port Washington on Long Island and taking an hours train ride into New York every day. From here we motored along East river, the strait that separates Long Island from Manhattan Island, before dropping anchor right beside the Statue of Liberty. This is really only an overnight stop as they is nowhere to leave the dinghy and get into New York from here. We did however manage to drop our friends Marco and Penny off at a boat ramp and they were able to Uber home. From here, we sailed out of the harbor and past Coney Island to Sheepshead Bay, where we got a mooring ball and caught a 40 minute subway trip into New York – much better.
From New York, we headed down the coast, via Atlantic City and the delightful town of Cape May and into Delaware Bay, before swinging into the C and D Canal, which popped us into the famous cruising grounds of Chesapeake Bay. We checked out a nice secluded river anchorage, before anchoring in downtown Baltimore, a pleasant surprise and one of our favourites. From here we headed to Annapolis, the sailing capital of the USA, where we lifted La Mischief and had some boat work done.
Originally our plan was to join the Sawlty Dawg Rally from Norfolk down to the BVIs but we had a change of heart and decided to go to Florida and the Bahamas on our way back to the Caribbean, despite the difficulties in heading East against the Trade Winds.
We successfully negotiated the notorious Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear on our way to Charleston, anchoring in the river without snagging anything. Charleston was a great stop, overflowing with history, delicious food, great music and wonderful southern architecture.
Like most other international cruisers visiting the USA, we’d done the ocean miles to qualify to join the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) and this gave us access to various Port Officers up and down the coast. Some of these Port Officers have free dock space and we took the opportunity to spend a few days with Ray and…. Like all the other Americans we met, they were friendly and generous people, inviting us for dinner, lending us their car and letting us tie up outside their house.
Onwards we pressed to St Augustine, entering through a tricky entrance that continuously shifts. Another great stop in the oldest city in the USA with its rich Spanish history. It was here we celebrated my first Thanksgiving in the rain, at a potluck lunch with 85 other cruisers.
Cape Canaveral was our next stop, leaving La Mischief in Cape Marina, so we could hop in a rental car and do some big kids stuff. We spent a full day at the Kennedy Space Centre and a couple of days in Orlando at Universal Studios. We had also timed our visit to do a one day Cruising World Seminar at Cocoa Beach, with Fatty Goodlander as the star attraction. How could we resist?
We continued down the coast of Florida, stopping at Lake Worth and Ft Lauderdale, the self-proclaimed Yachting Capital of the World. By now it was December and we anchored in Sunrise Bay for a front row seat at the Annual Christmas Boat Parade.
We left the boat in Ft Lauderdale whilst I travelled back to Australia for a month over Christmas– a 30 hour plane trip. Returning in early January, we then left for the Florida Keys, spending a wonderful couple of weeks in this interesting part of the world, getting an extra 1000W of solar panels fitted whilst in Boot Key Harbor by Seatek Marine. The highlight of the Keys is undoubtedly Key West, with its 28 happy hours, the Hemingway house museum and the Mel Fisher shipwreck museum.
After 6 magical months in the USA we left Boot Key Harbour for Bimini in the Bahamas, 120nm away. Funny thing was, we didn’t have to check out of the USA. You just leave and then just check into the Bahamas.
Friendly and helpful natives.
One Big History lesson as you stop along the way.
Beautiful coastal towns with cute houses and shopping districts
Secluded anchorages with scenery to die for.
Iconic cities such as Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington DC and Miami, several with moorings and anchorages right near down town.
Plenty of pump out stations – often free.
Shopping for boat parts on Amazon. Can get anything.
You get to visit famous Sailing Centres such as Newport, Mystic, Annapolis and Ft Lauderdale.
Finding nivce swimming spots. For those of us who have been spoiled with the clear and warm waters of the Med and the Carribean, the water is not that inviting for swimming – being cold and murky.
Dodging thousands of Lobster Traps, especially in Maine.
Light Winds that meant we did lots more motoring than we expected (on the flip side we largely avoided bad weather).
Limited Anchoring options in some places. Often anchorages are overrun by mooring balls.
Our air draft of over 65 feet kept us out of a lot of good spots. 99% of the ICW was off limits as was the inside of the Florida Keys because of all those 65 foot bridges.
Services were expensive – but quality is good.
Marinas were expensive and sometimes hard to find (although we liked to anchor out a lot).
Finding a boatyard able to lift a catamaran was more difficult than expected.