Fred & Gloria
This Article originally
appeared in Trailer Boats magazine.
While idling away a summer afternoon in Cabo
San Lucas, Mexico, with fellow members of the Club Vagabundos del Mar,
the conversation turned to enchanting waters we had visions of cruising.
The fact that we were lounging in the shade of our cruiser Vagabond
may have had a bearing on the fantasy that quickly developed.
It seemed logical to us in our relaxed
condition that the same six days we consider comfortable for towing
our 10,000-pound craft from home in northern California to Cabo could
just as well get us to West Palm Beach, Florida. From there, it is
only a measly 55 miles across the Gulf Stream to the tropical splendor
of Bahamian waters. We had been to the Bahamas years ago for a week
on a diveboat and had talked many times of doing it on our own. Now
we had a boat with the range and comfort for such a cruise.
We also had a receptive audience. Tony
and Nancy Schuck had lived in Florida recently, had left their cruiser,
Gypsea there and planned to get back to it soon. After more talk and
consideration, a chorus of "Let's do it!" resounded through the RV
park and we began to plan ...and plan ...and plan.
We put a notice in the Club Vagabundos
del Mar newsletter, Chubasco, seeking buddy boats. Of the 17 who responded,
seven actually made the cruise with us.
We settled on a relaxed, one-month tour
of the Abacos, the most highly regarded cruising grounds in these islands.
A protected sea between outer cays and inner islands offers everything
a cruiser could want-posh resorts, isolated villages, secluded anchorages,
access to world-class diving and game fishing, gorgeous waters and
a swimsuit climate.
We bought charts ("The Bahamas Chart Kit" gave
the best overview), cruise guides (we used Cruising Guide to the Abacos and
the Northern Bahamas by Julius M. Wilensky continually and Yachtsman's Guide
to the Bahamas nearly as much), quarantine flags, Bahamian flags and non-perishable
foods (meals by Top Shelf were great, lightweight, heat and serve). We fixed
equipment, calculated fuel stops and made more plans.
For last-minute repairs, Harbor Marine in
West Sacramento gave great service on the West Coast and Spencer Boat Works
in West Palm Beach did the same on the East Coast, as well as giving good
advice by phone beforehand and promising to have parts flown to the Bahamas
if the need arose.
Navigation was a critical concern. It's easy
to miss a low-lying cay visible no more than six miles off, and we were to
be out of sight of land several times-particularly crossing the Gulf Stream,
which takes you north at several knots and can become treacherously rough.
We borrowed a Loran from a friend and a backup ADF (automatic direction finder)
from another. The guidebooks make it clear that the Bahamas are in a Loran
fringe area, and accuracy deteriorates once away from Florida. But we found
Loran to be fully reliable for navigation purposes-it always brought us in
sight of our destination, though always two or three miles off.
Our first Bahamian landfall was West
End on Grand Bahama Isand. The completely protected manna includes the Customs
and Immigration office, making those clearances a snap. Once done, down came
the yellow quarantine flag and up went the Bahamian visitor flag giving us
all a feeling of elation-we had arrived!
Next was Walker's Cay, a posh resort offering
everything we wanted-great scuba diving, worldclass, big-game fishing and
all the amenities ...priced accordingly. We sampled it all, then cruised
off to Grand Cay to walk the town and have cracked conch at Rosie's Place.
Sliced, pounded, battered and fried, it is better than abalone at a fraction
of the price, and is more plentiful. We couldn't get enough of it.
Dodging coral heads and shallows, we moved
on to a delightful narrow anchorage in Double Breasted Cays, with tidal bores
roaring between tiny cays right next to us. This was a perfect spot to explore
in dinghies. A young lady out snorkeling spotted a nurse shark snoozing on
the bottom and shot straight out of the water onto the nearest swim platform,
gasping and pointing. The turmoil between wanting to stay in each exciting
spot and the challenge of moving onward to others was by now well established.
Move on we did, to Great Sale Cay, a great,
uninhabited anchorage that held little for us. On south lay Foxtown on Little
Abaco Island, with the lure of fuel. We arrived at low tide and eased up
to the fuel dock in two feet of water, then anchored just offshore. The next
morning, in the midst of a squall, we heard a loud whooshing and spotted
a small waterspout weaving between our flotilla-a watery counterpart to the
dust devils we are used to in the West.
Enticing us on was vaunted Green Turtle Cay.
So, there we went to have a great time at the laid-back Green Turtle Club
and Marina. Nearby New Plymouth, a bastion of English Loyalists descended
from those who left the United States after the American Revolution, proved
to be exceptionally picturesque.
Treasure Cay caught our interest, so we went
to dock among the sportfishers with tuna towers reaching to dizzying heights.
This resort has it all, including a $25 buffet offering all the lobster you
can eat, plus a dessert table to boggle the mind. From there we dove and
fished and frolicked in the sun.
Great Guana Cay beckoned, with a cozy anchorage
that was dinghy distance from town, then Man-O'-War Cay with another snug
harbor and interesting village. It was only a short hop to Marsh Harbor,
the cruising center of the Abacos. This sizable town had everything we needed-coin
laundry, auto-parts stores, supermarkets and all the rest. We operated out
of Marsh Harbor for a week, going off to Little Harbour to see the art studios,
out in the ocean for dorado and kingfish, over to Hopetown to wander around
and climb the lighthouse, until that fateful day came-time to head back.
We allowed ample time for a leisurely return,
making a few new stops en route, including Carter's Cay and the Great Lucayan
across Grand Bahama Island (a bulkhead epitaph
to failed development dreams). It took a couple of days to do Freeport (essentially
a company town on land provided by the government), then we touched back
at West End for one last cracked conch dinner, arriving back in West Palm
Beach the last day of May.
Trailering across the country for our month
of fun and sun in the Bahamas was an interesting experience. Everyone traveled
independently, meeting in John Prince Memorial Park
in Lake Worth, Florida. We had asked all the
Bahama-bound to weigh their rigs, keep track of fuel consumption and chronicle
the inevitable problems on the road.
Boats ranged from 24 to 30 feet long and 8
to 11 feet wide. Boats and trailers went from 7000 to 15,000 pounds and totals
with tow vehicles from 11,000 to 28,400 pounds. Except for one motorhome,
tow vehicles were 3/4- or
1-ton trucks with big engines. Two were diesels, one of whicha new 1990 Dodge
with a Cummins engine-delivered a whopping 13 mpg. The lowest mileage was
from our Baja-tired Chevrolet crew-cab 4 x 4 dooley with 4.8 mpg.
We learned the hard way that tires with sun-cracked
rubber were bound to fail, regardless of the amount of tread. Cracking comes
with drying of the rubber, as does separation from the cord. The stress we
were applying created bubbles, then the rubber peeled off, leaving us rolling
on cord only. After one of these and close inspection of the rest, we chased
down a new set for the trailer.
Nearly all trailering problems were things
to be expected with trucks and trailers that had seen considerable use-even
the blown engine we had to replace on the way home. It was inconvenient,
but not unexpected after 125,000 hard miles from Baja California, Mexico,
Moving wide loads across the continent required
patience and forethought. It was necessary to write or call ahead to obtain
each state's overwide permit, and travel was restricted to weekday daylight
hours. Conflicting instructions in Louisiana resulted in a fine for one member
of our group, and Florida officials initially refused to allow them in, feeling
their tow vehicle was too small for the load. The fact that the truck had
made it all the way from California finally persuaded the officials otherwise.
Was trailering from California to Florida
equivalent to going to Cabo San Lucas as we originally hypothesized? It was
pretty close. The interstates, of course, with smooth surfaces and room to
pull off in case of trouble, were a welcome change from narrow, shoulder-less
Baja Highway 1. While the extra 1400 or so miles can be squeezed into the
same number of days, only one of our group did so.
Is trailering from coast to coast sensible?
We certainly think so. The excitement of extending cruising waters to such
a degree is heady stuff. Exploring new horizons, far and near, is the greatest
advantage of trailerboating. We all become somewhat jaded going to the same
places all the time. It's invigorating to realize
that the entire country is accessible to adventurous trailerboaters. Why
shouldn't Floridians experience the delightful cruising in the Pacific
Northwest, just as we savored the challenge of the Bahamas?
The only caution we offer is to avoid being
rushed. Careful planning and preparation save time and grief later on. Do
your best to replace worn parts that will aggravate you when they fail. Make
a firm contract with one or more companions to be "buddy boats" for each
other. This requires a commitment to stick together, to help with mechanical
and other problems and, ultimately, to be prepared and willing to be towboats.
It's much more fun to explore together and share experiences, anyway. Take
plenty of time both on the highway and the water-don't push it.
Other than these exercises of prudence, let
yourself go. The beauty of trailerboating is the great flexibility it affords.
The U.S., plus Canada and Mexico, is a great big, wonderful playground for