But first I suppose I should go back to the beginning. It all started about 21 months ago, when I retired in Jan of 2015. Joan and I started thinking of more ambitious sailing trips we could undertake once Joan retired in summer of 2016. What we came up with is a real stretch for us. On October 1, we will head south on the InterCoastal Waterway (ICW), staying "inside" all the way from the Chesapeake to Key Biscane Florida. From there, we will "jump off" to Bimini, Bahamas, and spend the winter in the Bahamas, making a large loop via the Berrys, Nassau, The Exumas, Georgetown, Long Island, Cat Island, Eluthera, The Abacos, and Grand Bahama. We will return to Florida and back up the ICW in the Spring of 2017. Total elapsed time will be about six months (or more)!
|The Big Loop|
Having talked to many who have made the Fall trip down the ICW before, one thing that stood out was that the cold weather marches South faster than a sailboat can. Leave too late, or dally too long along the way, and you'll end up freezing your butt off until you get well into Florida! So we're leaving a little earlier than most, who often wait at least until after the Annapolis Sailboat show, and often until November first (the official end of hurricane season). We plan to keep a pretty steady pace on the way down, with no extended stops. I'm estimating we'll take about 5-6 weeks. We'll do our ICW sightseeing on the way North in the Spring. This way, the longer we take then, the warmer it gets!
"But, what about those hurricanes" I can hear you saying. Well, the way I see it, we have two things going for us. One: We don't usually see much hurricane activity that late in the season (although there have been some spectacular exceptions to this!). Two: Since we're staying "inside" and not going offshore, we'll never be far from a hurricane hole anchorage or a safe haulout location. It's not like a hurricane can sneak up on you! There is always plenty of warning. We will just have to be properly mindful of the weather and prepared to modify our plans when the weather requires it.
This Summer, I started out with four "must finish" projects to get the boat in shape for the trip. I'm now one day away from completing three out of four! :(
Project One was the addition of two 100 Watt solar panels, and an MPPT solar charge controller, to supplement the wind generator we already have. This required building a framework structure out of stainless tubing over top of the bimini. Designing and fabricating the framework took a long time, but it's been finished and operational since mid-July.
Project Two was to upgrade to a bigger alternator with an external smart regulator. This would minimize the amount of daily engine runtime we would need to keep the batteries charged while at anchor. This was also completed mid-July.
Project Three was to improve the insulation of the icebox, which was converted to refrigeration by the previous owner. This one was super critical, as the existing insulation was so poor that the compressor ran for twice as long as it should (consuming lots of power). In addition, the freezer section worked ok, but the refrigerator section wouldn't get below 50 degrees without the addition of ice! This would become a real problem in the Bahamas, as ice is unavailable in many places, especially in the Exumas. This project became a real challenge, requiring about eight weeks to complete! Because I couldn't access the space around the outside of the icebox to inject foam, I was forced to add insulation on the inside of the box. This reduced the volume of the box, but we were already losing about half of the volume anyway because of all the ice we needed to add! The project required cutting and fitting thirteen different irregular-shaped foam insulation panels to line the inside of the box, and another nine fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) panels to protect the foam and become the new insides of the box. In addition, a thermostatically controlled circulation fan was installed to move cold air from the freezer to the refrigerator section when the refrigerator section got above 38 degrees. I'm finishing it up tomorrow, and then giving it 24 hrs to cool down before seeing how well it works. Keep your fingers crossed!