Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

We took Bombay Duck out of the water at St Augustine on Wednesday, Nov 19th to repaint it and do some other jobs that could only be done ashore. The boat then looked like this, above.

By Sunday, Nov 23rd it looked like this. We didn't manage to get all the jobs done that we wanted, in part because we spent a day driving (4 hrs each way) across Florida to pick up our new sails from Dave Calvert, and also because I spent a morning discussing the production of a grp 32ft cruising catamaran with a prospective professional boatbuilder (more to come on that soon I hope)

And of course, as cruisers, whenever we have a car we use it to do laundry, go shopping for food etc. That is one of the problems with the USA, if you don't have a car you cannot eat. All food shops are miles from the water. In fact it is actually easier for cruisers to buy food in the San Blas islands of Panama than in the USA.

Romany (no more Bombay Duck now) was relaunched on the 24th and we began heading south again towards West Palm Beach, just north of Miami, to prepare for our crossing to the Bahamas.

Travel hoists are big machines, and such a wonderful invention!

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We made steady progress down the Florida coast, doing 30-40 miles a day. A big high pressure system settled over Florida, bringing light winds which meant we had to motor, but in compensation, the sunsets were fantastic.

Unfortunately even when there is wind much of the ICW in this area is too narrow and twisty for sailing, but once south of Cape Canaveral the waterway opened out and we could use our new sails for the first time. They are great! We look forward to some good sailing once we leave the ICW.

A Dave Calvert square top tri-radial mainsail in Pentex cloth

When anchored just south of Melbourne, Fl, we were at last able to dinghy round the boat and, for the first time, see it in all its new glory. Mind you, we still have a lot of work to do, like sanding and painting the decks, and refitting and then painting all the interior. A rigid bimini, new spinnaker and StackPack sail cover will have to wait for next year.

As we sailed south the ICW became more congested with fast powerboats, none of whom slowed down to reduce their wake for us, unlike further north where the majority were very courteous. Meanwhile the waterfront houses got larger and more ostentatious, it's clear where America's money lives.

Our last anchorage in the US was in Lake Worth but getting there was very stressful as there were 5 bridges within 7 miles - all in narrow waterways, all in strong currents and all very busy with boats going in both directions. Yet they only opened at fixed intervals rather than on demand, so we all had some anxious minutes of reversing and turning, trying to stay on station.

But eventually we were able to anchor at the north end of Lake Worth. This is a hugely popular anchorage for the simple reason that it is one of the very few places where cruisers can walk to shops. Indeed the cheekier cruisers would wheel their shopping carts back to the dinghy dock.

One of the more famous modern racing monohulls is the 100ft ex-Speedboat, now owned by Richard Branson and called Virgin Money.

Look at its draft (20ft?)!! And at the guy who needs a forklift truck to reach the foredeck

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We checked on line and found that there would be only one weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas in the next week. Unfortunately to use it would mean a night sail (our first on Romany) with a good chance of motoring into a light headwind for 60 miles, but then the weather should improve before turning windy. The Gulf Stream is about 20 miles wide and runs north at 3.5 knots. So it isn't sensible to try crossing in a N wind as the wind against current effect creates steep 2m (over 6ft) standing waves. I knew that because I'd crossed on Eclipse in just those conditions.

Accordingly we left Lake Worth at 9pm and motored out into the predicted light head wind. It was slow and tedious going as Romany banged and crashed through a sloppy sea.

A vicious rain squall hit us about 4am which forced us off-course but we eventually crossed onto the Little Bahamas Bank about an hour after dawn. Then the clouds melted away, the wind went round and we had one of our best sails for years - 50 miles across the bank in 8-12ft deep water, to anchor for the night at Great Sale Cay. By next morning the wind had picked up, and we had another great downwind sail, overtaking everyone, at times at speeds of over 11 knots. If only we had a spinnaker! Even with goosewinged main and genoa we still averaged nearly 8 knots for the 50 miles to Green Turtle Cay.

We anchored in Black Sound and walked in to New Plymouth to clear customs and pay USD150 for our cruising permit.

Black Sound has poor holding so, as winds up to 40 knots for the next few days were forecast, we moved to a mooring. And there we still are.

Never mind; although the rest of the Abacos beckon, we have plenty of time. Furthermore, we had forgotten how great the Abacos are as a cruising ground. Flat water sailing, few sand bars, even fewer coral heads. A wide choice of all weather harbours, great beaches and some really nice little waterfront towns and villages with friendly English speaking people.

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Fortunately the wind soon moderated and we were able to explore the rest of the Abacos chain of islands. The most remote anchorage is Little Harbour, originally an artists colony, but now dozens of ex-pat houses dot the waterfront. Not sure if they realise that the bay has been washed over by a hurricane storm surge, which would destroy many of this new houses. If it wasn't for the hurricanes then the Abacos would surely be an ideal place to live.

Famous for its lighthouse, Hopetown is also a well protected harbour so everyone comes here when bad weather threatens - which it does even in the Bahamas. Rain prevents us from working on the boat, but does give me time to draw and update the website

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Everyone packs in tight, but the view from the saloon is great!

Hopetown is beginning to be a victim of its own success. A real contrast from even 5 years ago, when I was here in Eclipse. Then there was room to anchor, now a mooring is essential; then there was only one other catamaran, whereas I can see ten as I write this.

As you know from my Latest News page, I have spent the last 7 Christmases on board, and until this year each time it had been in a different country. My record was spoilt this year as I was also in the Bahamas in 2003. However in consolation, we did go out for a sail on Christmas Day and, looking back through my life, I realised that it was the first time I have ever actually sailed on Christmas Day.

On New Years Day Green Turtle Cay hosts a "Junkanoo" or street carnival. We got there a bit late for the food, but did catch the procession which wound its way several times round the small town.

There are a number of charter cats in the Abacos and we have fun overtaking them. We have found our homebuilt 34ft Romany is easily faster than a FP Tobago 35, a Lagoon 38 and surprisingly is also faster than a Lagoon 42.

Friends with a well equipped and well sailed Bristol 40, (a Ted Hood design, so a good sailer) joined us recently for a photo shoot as it isn't often that we can get photos of our own boats sailing. It was an ideal morning for sailing; bright sun, 15-20 knots of true wind and flat water. We both reefed to make the close quarters manouvering easier. As expected we were much quicker off wind, but even I was a bit surprised to find we were also quite a bit quicker to windward, sailing at between 6 and 7 knots to windward and 9-10 offwind.

The Romany, like her smaller sister Gypsy, is a budget ocean cruiser but with much better carrying capacity than Gypsy. With it's LAR keels and hard chine hulls it was never designed to be especially fast. I am always keen to race, not just because I enjoy it, but also because it is a good test of a boat. After all a proper race is the only time you know for sure everyone is trying to sail their boat as fast as possible.

One of the Abaco sailing clubs organises occasional races for cruisers. Jetti eventually agreed we could race Romany, as I promised her that it would be like the multihull cruiser meetings in BC, ie casual and laid back and that no spinnakers or screechers were allowed. In fact it was very competitive, which gave Jetti a bit of a shock (especially at the start of the first race when a 50ft Bavaria tried barging in on port and then realised it had no where to go, fortunately only making a glancing hit on the boat next to us - but it spoilt our start of course).

These were our first races in Romany so, in 15-20 knots wind and with just the two of us on board, we pulled in a reef (which wouldn't have been needed if we had had a stronger crew). We also felt a reef was sensible because it was the first time we had tried pushing the boat hard, never mind the first time we had to do some close quarter manouvering, first time short tacking etc.

Despite our lack of experience we had a 3rd and a 1st over the line, beating a J800 (albeit quite an old one), Beneteau 37, J32, Bavaria 50, Wylie 40 (all monohulls) boat for boat, and in both races were over a leg ahead of a PDQ36 catamaran and an FP Orana 48. I have to say I was surprised how well Romany sailed, particularly to windward, despite being a live aboard cruiser. We were the only boat to carry a rigid dinghy, for example. The photo shows us approaching the first lee mark, after 1/2 hr racing, with the rest of the fleet already well spread out behind and the Orana and PDQ out of sight.