A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

So, What Happened Was ....

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overcast 81 °F

So, what happened was.... on Tuesday morning at 0700 Carol's tenure as social director was abruptly ended after 14 uninterrupted hours. We were sleepily listening to Chris Parker's SSB weather report and forecast and he was greatly exercised about a 1,000 millibar low pressure weather system in the western Gulf of Mexico that was headed east. That's pretty low but nowhere near hurricane low pressure. Then, he said, that there would he a high pressure system bringing high winds from N-NE. Anyway, that sounded like the Gulf Stream was going to become impassable, for us anyway, by about Friday and could stay that way for a week, probably more, effectively postponing transits to the states almost until the beginning of May.

I was not the only person to reach that conclusion. The chatter began soon after the broadcast. I talked to Bob on New Passage who was concerned but not yet ready to pull the trigger. David and Alice were in the indecisive mode. I wasn't enjoying the Abacos that much after the wonder of the Exumas; being stuck there did not sound too great. It sounded even less great when weather strategy was added into the mix: I did not really have one. Rather than spend more time agonizing over this Carol and I had the anchor up by 0730, Carol wisely having wisely accepted the fact that I am still the captain and she was going to lose so why not lose gracefully and graciously. We were the third boat out of the anchorage headed for Whale Cut, about a half hour behind the first two.

After a couple of hours we had passed those two boats, Loon and Draco, both traveling about a knot slower than were we. Carol and I had thought that we would head to Great Sale Cay as we had planned to do at a later time. At Great Sale Cay we would anchor and then head west to Ft. Pierce the next day. I had not even run the numbers for distance, and I always run the numbers, thinking that we had another week or two, although I had entered all the navigation way points. I did not even know if we could make it to that cay in daylight and there were no Plan B (bailout) anchoring options obvious on the charts, good or otherwise. Turns out that Sea Span and Alice Mae did get underway, but a couple of hours later than we did. We could not talk to either of those boats directly but Draco, in the rocking chair, relayed the conversations back and forth.

Sometime after lunch we started looking more closely at the immediate next day, or two, of weather. I had XMWeather on the computer in real time; Draco had SSB email weather and Jeff, on New Passage, was getting some sort of radio broadcast. The consensus was that Tuesday/Wednesday was going to be the best time to cross; Thursday was starting to look like the early low from the west would start to arrive. Since we had to do an overnight, regardless of whether we anchored or pushed straight through, we collectively decided, but as individuals, to follow Jeff's suggestion to make the crossing Tuesday night to arrive at Ft. Pierce on Wednesday. As we passed Great Sale Cay it was plain that more than a dozen boats had decided to wait. That did not deter any of us as we saw that cay recede over the stern.

We hit Great Sale Cay at about 1730 where Carol and I decided that we needed to top off the fuel tanks in order to cover the 125 nm in front of us. Since we had a good fix on the distance from Great Sale Cay to Ft. Pierce, the stop also gave us a realistic estimate of what the next 20 odd hours would look like. Since we had as many gallons of water on board as miles to travel, Carol and I treated ourselves to hot showers underway, Carol even washing her hair, probably a first. A long night standing watch is tough; scroungy makes it tougher.

The whole trip was a little like Matthew 20:16: so the last shall be first. In this case the last, i.e. slowest, is the only boat ever to have been passed by a kayak on the ICW: ours. Having replaced the sails, the engine, the propeller shaft and, finally, the propeller itself, we have been flying past every boat on the horizon, big as well as small. This trip was no exception, and a good thing too, because speed matters when running ahead of weather. We made such good time to Great Sale Cay, that I dropped the engine speed a little, and we still ran over 6.5 knots motor sailing, almost impossible to imagine after the first few years on this boat when four knots was the norm and five knots was only an unanswered prayer.

The big question for us: where to exit the Little Bahama Bank and to engage the Gulf Stream? The Gulf Stream is, literally, force of nature that cannot be avoided, especially by small boats like ours: it was going to push us north, the only unknown was how far north. The last time we crossed the Gulf Stream, east to west, we started 17 miles south of the Port Everglades and ended up 7 miles north of the harbor entrance, an error factor of more than 40% and not a performance I wanted to emulate. Since Ft. Pierce is 27o 28' north, we settled on an exit point of 27o 08' north, giving us 20 miles for Gulf Stream abuse. It was interesting to watch: we steered 270o, due west, for more than eight hours. As we got more into the Straights of Florida the actual course traveled over ground grew and grew: 280o, 290o, 300o, 305o being the highest number we saw. And then, as we got into shallower water and moved behind the lee of Palm Beach, the numbers started to reverse and get smaller. We probably used about 17 of those 20 miles by the time we were into 100' of water and, then, steering directly for the Ft. Pierce channel entrance.

It was a tough night on old bodies but one with wonder nonetheless. Caught this sunset and fancied it as an appropriate metaphor for this whole trip: we were also headed west; our trip, like the day we had just enjoyed, was ending. No more sunsets for a while.

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Watching the sun go down was like being lowered into a well: the amount of light shrunk and shrunk until there was only darkness. There was no moonlight or other ambient light; we were surrounded by an unbroken wall of black. The boat was moving, a lot, and when the horizon disappeared it was impossible to tell if a light was a star in the sky or a boat on the water. The night was blissfully devoid of traffic, and the little boat traffic that we saw was behind us, save one. Some kind of boat had entered the Little Bahama Bank on a reverse course from ours. Whatever type of vessel is was, it had two enormous white LED spotlights/headlights that consumed the night and destroyed any hopes of night vision. If it had been a working boat, like a shrimper or a seiner , deck lights would have made sense; it was neither. We passed close enough for me to see the bow wave in the dark; that's way too close.

Carol has the 0600 to 0900 watch as part of our standing rotation. She woke up on Wednesday morning at about 0530 and heaved chunks for the next 20 minutes. The Gulf Stream passage was very mild with winds less than 15 knots and seas of 3-ft. or less. However, the wind and waves were of a combination that caused the boat to roll port to starboard, pitch fore and aft and yaw right and left. The roller coaster-like corkscrew motion was her undoing, strange because she loves roller coasters and all such things. She relieved me 10 minutes early not out of enthusiasm for watch standing but out of a need to be topside in the open air.

We have been into and out of the Ft. Pierce inlet many times; few of those times have been easy and this time did not disappoint. The tide was flowing out; the wind was blowing in. I watched another sailboat enter the channel a few minutes before we did. The mast looked like some steroidal metronome keeping time for Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee; it was ugly. We got past that, got through the marina channel with the wind and tide both going the same way, and the tide being low. We moored at the Ft. Pierce Municipal Marina at 1230 on Wednesday, 04/18/2012. Did the immigration and Customs thing and then we collapsed. I got 30 minutes sleep on the passage; Carol more but not a lot more. Carol fell asleep while reading; I was awake but could not focus on or read any words, everything blurring before fatigued eyes. David and Alice arrived a few hours later and we got together to share a modest dinner of delivered pizza and buffalo wings.

Our departure plans are Scarlett O'Hara-like:I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. We are catching up with folks on the phone; we have the 100 maintenance to complete before we can leave; the weather is going to be dodgy for a while; we're both still very fatigued from the trip.

The trip north to Brunswick, GA, is a detail; we'll either go up the ICW or make a passage outside, preferred. Regardless, we have done both several times; there is no mystery or wonder in any of that, so I'll make this the final blog entry for the trip.

Posted by sailziveli 11:05 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Man-O-War Cay OOOOPS! Great Guana Cay

sunny 79 °F

Sunday was a work day, at least during the afternoon. Carol had intended to do laundry in the morning but the marina had no power, no water and no washee, washee. So after lunch we got down to it: the cooler air and cooler water had made the dinghy a little squishy so we put some air into that. I had created some horrid black marks on the hull leaving Cave Cay, about six weeks ago, so those got cleaned fairly well. We brought on fuel and water so those are just about topped off. Finally we brought up the dinghy and motor to leave on Monday morning for Man-O-War Cay, a trip of about 5 nm.

Much of the harbour cleared out today, it being Sunday. In Marsh Harbour, maybe 6 nm away, there are large boat rental operations for The Moorings and Sunsail. Carol's guess was that Sunday was probably the day to return the boats to their slips. A few other boats went out as well, seemingly unconcerned about the state of the tide; it was low.

We liked and enjoyed Hope Town. Whatever stereotype may exist for Party Hearty sailors sucking down rum all night has been put paid here. We're all old and we are all in the bed/sack/bunk/berth well before the bars close. In fact, it is unusual to see dinghies moving much after dark.

Home has been more on our minds as the trip winds down. The boat next to us has a fair sized dog on board, at least 40-lb., maybe a few more. It has a similar coloration to Wile E so Carol has been much entranced by it. I have been watching the owner clean up after the dog when it does its business on the bow of the boat and that doesn't seem quite so entrancing to me. The next boat over is named Coyote, and has a large, almost life size rendition of the original Wile E Coyote sans the Roadrunner, our pooch's namesake. It will be good to see the old hound and it will be good to see our mountains and our friends.

High tide was at 0530 so we planned to get underway at first light, well before sunrise. The trade off seemed OK, more depth under the keel but less ability to read the water. Carol has good color perception and is getting decent at reading the depth of the water by its color; for depths of 20 feet or less she can usually get within 2 or 3 feet. The depth meter tells the depth where the boat is; it's good to be aware of depth where the boat will be. In the low morning light that is not possible. But, that issue proved to be irrelevant because the sky did not lighten very much with the sunrise. A heavy layer of altostratus clouds covered almost all of the visible horizon allowing only small, crooked slivers of blue to be seen, and those not for very long as the clouds conjoined to shut out the sun. These clouds looked like they could contain squalls, and if the base line wind is 20 knots the squall winds would be even higher. So, to mollify Carol's safety and security issues, we stayed put, turned on the radio and listened to the weather reports which sounded much more optimistic than the sky appeared.

While waiting for sunrise to get underway, I actually spent some time looking at the light from the lighthouse. It was not nearly so bright as other lights we have seen on the US coast. This lighthouse is still lit by a kerosene flame as it was when it was built however long ago; my guess is that most US lighthouses are now lit by more powerful electric, maybe even LED, bulbs of some kind.

Despite our earlier efforts, this is the first trip where we have spent an extended period of time in the Bahamas. We probably should have guessed the weather pattern but did not. It's winter and fronts roll southeast every five to seven days. Each front brings, on average, at least two days when it's a bad idea to go anywhere in a small boat. I suppose that most seasoned cruisers adapt to this rhythm, have their hunker down spots, and plan on hunkering down for the duration. This winter some of those hunker down periods have seemed, to us, quite protracted and very inconvenient.

On our weather minds now are two passages we will have to make to return home. The first is the Whale Cay passage north of us. Boats with keels or deep drafts need to go east of Whale Cay, into the Atlantic Ocean, in order to head north. The local Abacos cruisers net has daily updates from folks near the area to relate local conditions and the advisability of making the transit. The other, of course, is the Gulf Stream, still a couple of weeks away, but between us and Florida. We will do that late in April, when we hope the month will be more ovine that leonine.

The ambient temperatures the past few weeks has been interesting: too cool for me in the morning, but good for Carol; too hot for Carol in the afternoon, but good for me.

We waited until 1430 with about one foot of tide having come in. We crept from the anchorage around the shoal at the harbour's entrance, crawled through the channel and over the shallow approach and then cruised for Man-O-War Cay, about three straight line miles but more like five miles when the angles were added.

It took about an hour to get there but only because we were cautious about the water and its depth: there were some areas along the way that demanded attention. Either the depth changed, the bottom composition changed or both. Regardless, it was an easy transit to the channel. The channel entrance was like threading a needle with a 12.5-ft. wide piece of thread but that was OK. When we turned the corner to go to the north mooring field BIG TROUBLE! The water ahead was all white stripes, and not the band. This was not was was in the chart book, but that is now three or four years old. It was shoaled in to the point that I turned the boat around in the narrow, shallow channel, thanks again to Joe V. for showing me how, and we headed back out.

Next stop: Great Guana Cay about seven miles north which we reached in a little over an hour. We went into the harbor to check out the mooring balls: too shallow, less than five feet at low tide. Turned around again and we headed north to the anchorage at Fishers Bay where we saw several boats. On the second try the anchor held and at 1730 we shut things down. It looks like old home week here. Alice Mae is here as is Dharma. New Passage, from Brunswick is here, as is Sea Span with whom New Passage is traveling. Some of the other boats we recognize but do not know. This is an OK anchorage but the bottom is grassy and the holding is not great. There is enough wind to make this an issue but not overly concrning.

I've decided that I don't like the Abacos very much. They suffer from the same problem as Eleuthera: there are few places to anchor and you need to travel only to those locations. After the Exumas, these islands are not nearly as much fun. These islands also have draft issues and at 5.2-ft. we are not a deep draft boat. And, the whole area seems quite developed. This anchorage is, literally, parking in someone's front yard. It lacks any sort of intimacy or charm and I am having trouble seeing the point other than being on the boat.

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Carol has been appointed the social director for this portion of the cruise and is grappling with the responsibility for making command decisions. Her plan, this evening, is to stay here another day and to leave on Wednesday for Treasure Cay, an even more developed place than here. But, she wants to go so we will unless she changes her mind.

This day stretched the standard of boring and uneventful but did not break it and that makes it good enough. Anyway, we had a pleasant if not spectacular sunset to end the day, we are on the boat and life is good.

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Posted by sailziveli 19:50 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Hope Town on Elbow Cay

sunny 77 °F

It was an easy run up from Lynyard Cay, 12 direct line miles and, maybe, 16 or 17 travel miles. Along the way we saw this sandy beach on an unnamed bit of land. Everyone says that the beaches in the Abacos are the best. We also saw this house with an annex made up to look like the Hope Town lighthouse, although we did not know that at the time.

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We had no reason to hurry north. Hope Town suffers from the same issues as does Spanish Wells, very shallow depths on the approach, some less than 4-ft. at mean low water. So, we timed our arrival for 1230, dead high tide. Despite the extra 2.94 ft. of depth, it was challenging approaching the channel. The channel itself is remarkably well marked; the approach is not marked at all so you take your best shot and hope that you're right. We made it without mishap but much of that was luck; there is a shoal where the channel enters the harbour of which we were unaware. I'm not sure why we did not hit it but we didn't. Now, it's noted on the chart. We also found out, after the event, that a tethered red fender was actually a navigational aid marking the closest approach boats should take to a small coral island. Not knowing this and thinking it was somebody's anchor marker we went on the wrong side. Had it not been dead high tide we would have been hard aground.

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Mooring balls here are different from from any other place we have visited. The harbour is very small, so to cram more boats into the limited space the tethers attach directly to the bow cleats. This has the effect of making the swing radius for any boat much smaller. When first we arrived we picked the worst possible mooring spot, only one tether and that was in terrible shape. So, with the approaching winds we decided to move to another spot, maybe three boat lengths from where we first were. The new mooring was in tighter quarters, with boats all around so a nice couple came by in their dinghy to hand Carol the tethers making the whole process much easier and less nerve wracking for her, anyway. I had to turn the boat around once to head into the wind and then back up because we wanted a different mooring. So, my nerves were properly wracked.

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We went ashore our first evening here for dinner, Carol having cooked for at least seven straight nights. Carol loves to eat and loves eating even more when she does not have to cook.

This is a place which Carol has wanted to visit ever since we first started thinking about the Bahamas. It is charming, quaint, and, Carol hopes, suitably romantic. The old town, around the harbour, is beyond belief. It looks like Disney theme park for how a Bahamian island town ought to look. Or, maybe it's the movie set for some Bahamian version of The Truman Show except here Truman Burbank would likely be Truman Pindar or Truman Rolle. If either of those two clans ever had a family reunion it would take a huge island to accommodate all the attendees. Several islands in the Exumas have a Rolletown. The houses are all old, some dating to the late 1800's; they are all immaculately maintained; the profusion of bougainvillea astounds. Most have shutters and these are not decorative affectations; when closed for hurricanes they will completely cover the doors and windows. The Queen's Highway is a concrete oxymoron; it is one wagon wide or two abreast for people on horseback. It seems that many of the houses are for vacation rental and not being lived in by the owners. There are golf carts but most people seem to take shank's mare and hoof it from place to place; the distance around the harbour cannot much exceed one mile.

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The amazing thing is that all of the old town around the harbour looks like these pictures except with more colors.

And, dominating the island and the harbour is the lighthouse. It sits on a small rise and is 120-ft. high although I don't know if that is the height of the structure or the height above the water. It is the last manned lighthouse in the Bahamas, lighthouses everywhere falling prey to the ubiquity and accuracy of GPS.

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Going up the lighthouse was an experience. The front door is open to all comers; the rules are mainly concerned about matches and lighters, there being lots of kerosene about. There are no warnings that falling could be hazardous to your health; there are no yellow and black safety lines on the floors or stairs. All the hallmarks of our overly litigious society are absent, the Bahamians trusting the common sense of adults. From the outside there is a clear wedding cake design where each higher tier is somewhat smaller that the one below; inside the walls were even, allowing a smooth surface for the circular stairs. At the windows the wall thickness must have been at lest three feet.

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The kerosene fuel tanks that feed the flame for the light.

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After almost five years on the boat Carol learned that lighthouses each have signature light patterns to distinguish one from another and that they focus light through fresnel lenses.

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Prrof that I have been there, done that, and I did get a t-shirt.

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Having already visited Russell Island I now got the chance to walk on Russell Lane.

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At Brunswick Landing Marina I met Bob and Gail F. who had sailed their boat, Tulum III, around the world, taking ten years to accomplish that. Bob said that when he returned he had 200 t-shirts, which is about 1.7 t-shirts per month. I am on a pace to eclipse that number easily. I guess the existential question is: if you don't have a t-shirt were you really there. I saw one I liked for Hope Town, and then saw one I liked even more. Forget the stars, my Michelin guide has this as the only two t-shirt rated stop on the trip so far. I cannot imagine why I would want to live here but this is the first island that I could imagine coming back to visit after the boat.

Carol & the Dinghy:

  • We have had this dinghy and motor for well over a year now and Carol had not once started or driven it. So, this being a small and sheltered place, it seemed like a good time for her to learn. I reduced the starting to four simple steps which even she could master and, hopefully, remember. Since the engine was already warmed up from earlier use, starting it should have been pretty easy. Watching Carol pulling the starting rope was like watching her try to throw a baseball overhand for a strike: it was a painful and unnatural motion. To her credit she did get it started, drove it across the harbour, stopped the engine and got it restarted and back to the boat.
  • The only thing worse than watching her try to start the dinghy is to watch her getting into it. She seems to have no confidence in her balance and the dinghy rarely stays stationary to accommodate her fears. She has only fallen all the way into the water, once, at Vero Beach, maybe two years ago; the times she has almost deep sixed herself are too many to count. Watching this, which I have done a lot, is painful and time consuming.
  • The dinghy is our pickup truck carrying us, trash from the boat and provisions to the boat along with our several jerry cans. Carol divides the dinghy into halves, the front being hers and the rear, since I usually drive, mine. The rear section gets the 3-gal. fuel tank, the swing radius for the O/B motor handle, the pump, all the cargo, oars, me, etc. She gets all of the front all to herself needing a larger targeted landing area for her graceless landings, flops, and plops, frequently loud and always awkward.
  • But wait, there's more! On Friday morning, Carol, now deeming herself both accomplished and expert with the dinghy having twice started the already warm engine, decided that she was ready to run some errands all by her big girl self which was fine by me. She left and I remained below reading that day's edition of the WSJ when I heard my name being called, presumably by Carol. I went up to see what the deal was. The deal was that Carol had violated rule #1 of dinghy-ing, one which I have stressed with her many times: never free the dinghy from whatever it is tied to until the motor is running. To make matters worse, when the dinghy is attached to our stern I tilt the motor forward, removing the motor stem from the water to prevent marine growth in the small water circulation cooling channels. Carol did not even know how to lower the engine so that it could be started. So, there she was drifting to the windward shore of the harbour with the engine still in the up position. The oars are attached and easily have been used except the seat has to be in to actually row and she doesn't know how to put in the seat. The solution turned out to be simple: I put on my bathing suit, jumped into the fairly foul water, swam to the dinghy, hauled myself in, lowered and then started the motor. Too much stress on an old body that early in the morning, too much reminiscent of the lobster pot debacle and not what I imagined would be part of the for better, for worse deal to which I agreed several decades past.

There is room for about 40 boats to moor here. Since there is the prospect of weather there's no room at the inn. We saw David and Alice this morning before they headed over to Marsh Harbour. Wind Dust was here and Megerin arrived this afternoon. Dharma, which was traveling with Debbie, is here; Dharma and Wind Dust are both nominally home ported in Oriental, NC as we are. In our travels this year we have seen a few of the other boats moored here but we have not met their owners. French Kiss is somewhere in the area since we have heard them hailed in the VHF radio. It is a small cruising world, collapsing up to the Abacos as a staging area for folks to head home a thought that was much on my mind until I saw the 31o temperature earlier this week.

Carol and I toured the island on another golf cart. Once we left the old town the island was just another place being developed with some fairly big homes and, certainly, pricing native Bahamians out of the market. Just in case our dear friend Moose decides to move to the islands there will be an opportunity for him to serve in the VFD.

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The weather has been a little breezy and will stay that way for another day or three. We have paid for the mooring through Sunday night and hope to move on Monday, maybe to Man-O-War Cay. The nice thing about this stretch of islands is that going from one to the next the miles are measured in single digits easy, non-stressful days. The only near term trick is getting out of here on a high enough tide. Having been to the top of the lighthouse, I was able to see the water and where to go to avoid the biggest problems.

Posted by sailziveli 20:13 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (0)

April in the Abacos

Lynyard Cay

sunny 84 °F

Carol really liked Spanish Wells; I thought that it was OK but it was not where I wanted to be. Carol seems to be better at the lemon/lemonade thing than am I. At $1.00/ft. it was not an expensive interlude. Oddly, we did not eat out any night we were there. With Good Friday and then Easter Sunday most of the restaurants were closed; the only one open served only fried food, now not part of my dietary regimen.

The big decision was when to leave and where. Having been convinced that Sunday was a bad day, it was, Monday looked somewhat better and Tuesday looked good, I bowed to the inevitable, WEATHER, and we stayed in Spanish Wells on Sunday. Monday we waited for high tide, about 1000, and got underway for Royal Island, again, as a point of departure for Tuesday. We arrived and anchored at Royal Island before lunch and just lazed the rest of the day away, stirring only to watch other boats entering the harbour.

On Tuesday, transit day, we woke early. I checked the weather on the internet and using our XMWeather. XMWeather had been showing a wedge of high waves jutting into the Northeast Providence Channel; for several days the isobar like lines of wave height had been showing 8 and 9 feet, the reason were stayed at the dock. On Tuesday morning that wedge had been replaced by a rhomboid of 12 foot waves. That didn't make any sense so I decided not to tell Carol lest that send her anxiety levels soaring to heights as high as the purported waves.

When we looked out we saw that two other boats, Megerin and Wind Dust, were already underway. Knowing Megerin from Royal Island and Wind Dust from Spanish Wells we decided to follow suit and had the anchor up before the sun was up and headed though the harbour's cut. We were in the open water by 0730, headed north with a little bit of wind to help us on our way. When we were far enough north, out of the lee of the islands the ocean swells were, maybe, 4/5 feet but with a long period between, giving the boat a pleasant, gentle rise and fall. This sunrise, versus the last one at Royal Island, seemed propitious.

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We left trailing behind the two other boats, at 46-ft. and 44-ft. When we cleared the cut between Little Egg Island and Egg Island we saw two more boats ahead of us. The closer of the two was a catamaran and the other was too far distant to distinguish. Given the math of hull speeds I assumed that they would leave us far behind their sterns. But we were able to hang with them.

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We motor sailed, running the engine at 2,700 RPM's, the fuel/speed sweet spot, and put out both sails. There was more wind than we expected but the direction was a little more north than expected; after about 15 nm we were almost a mile west of course from trying to keep some wind in the head sail.

One of the five boats, the one farthest north, turned right, for Africa, leaving just four. We were the only boat with a foresail out and we ended up just passing everyone, to the point that I dropped the engine speed so the other boats could catch up and allow us to follow them through the cut and to the anchorage.

It was a good trip and interesting, too. While I was mindlessly eating lunch I saw a line go flashing along the port side. Turns out that the halyard holding the radar reflector to the top spreader had parted, dropping the reflector about 40-ft. to the water where it was water skiing behind the boat. We recovered it with no apparent damage to the boat or aluminum reflector.

We heard Jesse, on Wind Dust, over the VHF offering the other three boats fresh fish because he had just caught and landed a 4-ft. mahi mahi while trolling on the trip north. This got me so stoked that I broke out my rig and in a few minutes had caught and landed .... a wad of Sargasso seaweed. Not nearly so tasty and the mahi mahi that Jesse, good to his word, shared and that Carol and I had for dinner. He said that this was the first fish that he had caught in the Bahamas in 12 years of trying.

Over the last 12 miles of the trip there was a current pushing us faster than we had any right to be going based on the wind and the engine. Even trying to go slow we made over five knots. The 49.3 nm trip over the open water took about eight hours but we would have been much quicker had we not slowed down to follow the other boats through the cut and to the anchorage.

At 1530 we exited the Atlantic Ocean and entered the Sea of Abaco for only the second time with about four hours of daylight to spare. We used one of those hours anchoring. The first and second tries the anchor would not set well so we moved on and tried again until it finally did. When I dove to look at the anchor it was poorly set in a thin layer of sand and grass over rock. But, there's not even enough wind to crank the wind generator so a dragging anchor is not a high concern.

This trip, like the run from Nassau to Royal Island, was about as nice as could be. It met the standard of dull, nothing important broke or stopped working. My concerns about the fuel gauge were misplaced; it did work so I do not have to swim in diesel fuel again. The weather was beautiful. With the arrival of the most recent high pressure weather system things have been cooler; some mornings have broken below 70o and one below 60o. On Monday night Carol actually pulled the bed spread over herself for the first time in many weeks.

A colorful ending to a great day!

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Posted by sailziveli 10:02 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (0)

Spanish Wells

sunny 82 °F

When all the weather that was going to happen had happened, it just wasn't worth the effort. We could easily have gone north to the Abacos on Thursday and Friday; we could easily have stayed in the harbor at Royal Island. Of course, had we stayed on anchor we would have been boat bound, not a pleasing thing for Carol.

On Thursday, the day we arrived at Spanish Wells we saw the worst of the day on the short trip between islands although one boat that came arrived in the afternoon had seen 40 knot winds, but just in a squall that quickly passed.

On Friday, late in the afternoon, we saw this knife edge of the front slice its way south. Behind was marshaled a host of low, lumpy cumulus clouds, dark and swollen with rain and linked each to the other with horizontal bursts of lightning, none being wasted on the ground, a comforting thought when your tiny home has a five story lightning rod in its middle. 60 minutes of rain and it was all over. We saw nothing of the 60 knot, hurricane force winds but we're not complaining. The thing is, though, that you cannot know where that Fickle Finger of Fate is going to point. Here, it was a non-event; five miles away may have been a disaster. So, safe and tethered to a dock is OK.

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We have two barometers on board. One is the standard analog dial and the other is digital, part of a weather/temperature station. I am not assiduous about recording the readings but I do pay attention. In the past month, or so, I have not seen any readings below 30.00 inches of mercury; on Friday the pressure dropped to 29.80, not an alarming number, but unusual. 29.92 is normal at sea level.

This is an interesting island, quite different from the other small islands that we have seen; small in this case is 2-mi. x 0.5-mi. Tossing out Freeport and Nassau, Spanish Wells is, by far, the wealthiest place we have visited. It has nothing to do with tourism and everything to do with reaping nature's bounty from the sea. There are seven marinas on this island and only one, Spanish Wells Yacht Haven, accepts pleasure craft. All others are reserved for working boats and all of the working boats collect fish and shellfish. Almost all of the catch is sold off the island through distributors, there being few restaurants here. In our travels I have seen lots of working fishing boats but I have never seen boats as immaculately maintained as these. There was not a rust streak to be seen anywhere even though the lobster season just ended. Sunrise over the fleet.

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It also the whitest island we have seen, probably more than 90%.

We rented a golf cart for 24 hours to see the island. It has been four months since I have been at the wheel of anything but the boat and we/I had to drive on the left hand side of the road. It is focusing when a monster Ford F150 is coming in the other direction. There were no traffic fatalities during our drive so I guess we did OK. There are lots of for sale signs about and the prices here are not nearly so scary as they were in the Exumas. Most normal people could find a way to buy a house away from the water. Spanish Wells is mostly built out; there are very few empty spaces on which to put new construction. Most of the lots are very small but on the north side of the island there is a stretch of what might be called estates: larger homes on about an acre with old, wrought iron gated entrances. Down by the old harbor there are some old frame houses that may date to the 1920's. Most, like the boats, are beautifully maintained.

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The majority of the houses look like south Florida when Eisenhower was president: smaller in size, concrete clock, bright pastel exteriors, tile roofs and crabgrass for lawns. I may have missed the lawn flamingos.

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We went out again on Easter Sunday morning, less traffic, a safer drive. The Methodist Church has a small garden near the road which we visited. It was in some disrepair but there were these lilies (?) and some red flowering trees.

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These are all named as separate islands but, when the tide is low, a person could walk across the flats from one to another. This is the flat between Spanish Wells and Russell Island.

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There are several stores on Spanish Wells, enough for the population except for a liquor store. For that Carol had to take a ferry ride from Spanish Wells to the northern tip of Eleuthera, maybe a half mile from dock to dock. This is the very tip of the island.

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We also drove over to the non-eponymous Russell Island which is quite a bit larger and almost undeveloped. There were some land clearing projects going on, maybe to support new homes.

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So, here we sit on Easter Sunday; I wanted to leave this morning but others cautioned against that. They may have been right. It's not so much about the wind as the waves. On the north side of Spanish Wells is open ocean; call it the Northeast Providence Channel or the Atlantic Ocean. Regardless head east and you'll hit the Cape Verde Islands and then Africa. Right now the seas are running 5~9 feet between here and the Abacos. So, by Monday or Tuesday things may have settled down enough to head north. We might hire a pilot to take us out through the reef to the north; we might go back to Royal Island and leave from there.

Posted by sailziveli 10:42 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

When Men Plan, the Gods Laugh

semi-overcast 84 °F

Nassau is probably a fun place to visit; we enjoyed it here in January. This trip, like the previous two, was all work and worry. We got everything done except for one very deferrable task. The bottom got cleaned and it was a great deal, of a sort; only twice what we pay in Brunswick. The mast head fly was repaired, by moi. The OB motor was checked over and returned on Tuesday afternoon. And the fuel tank was drained, cleaned and refilled along with the brand new diesel jerry cans. If I do not survive to return to the mountains it will be due to a diesel fuel overdose. I have bathed in it; breathed it; probably swallowed some; and had it invade several open cuts and scrapes. I would truly like to be quit with that stuff other than putting it into the fuel tank.

The final "fuel hit" came Tuesday after I thought that I was done. I had removed and reinstalled the fuel level sender. When I checked to see if I had the wiring hooked up correctly it turned out that not only had I gotten that wrong, I had also misaligned the float so that it was stuck in the down (empty) position. When I removed it again we had so filled the tank that fuel dribbled out the top of the tank. Installing the sender is a trick I have not yet mastered. It has two gaskets, a metal ring and a polypropylene fixture, and five screws. It is so cleverly designed that 65 year old, semi-arthritic, fumble thumb hands cannot ever get all the parts and pieces aligned so that more than four screws will match up with the threaded holes in the tank. I had diesel fuel all over the deck; I was sliding around in it; I was so covered with the stuff that I almost could not grip the screwdriver to turn it. 45 minutes into a 5 minute task I finally had the sender working.

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If there are any disappointments with the trip so far, other than things breaking or not working, it would be these: we did not go to two islands we wanted to visit, Cat Island and Long Island; we have spent too much time in marinas, not a bad thing, just not what we had imagined. When we talked about how to head north Carol wanted to avoid the overnight trip and break it into two legs: one to Royal Island near Eleuthera and then to the southern entrance to the Abacos. I decided that we would try this route despite a fairly long leg of almost 60 nm on the second day. We now have about thirteen hours of working daylight and that should be enough time to handle the distance.

On Wednesday, at about 0800, we got underway for Royal Island. Despite having a clear understanding of the fuel/engine problem, despite having taken the proper steps to remediate the problem, despite having run the engine to ensure that we were well primed with clear fuel, despite all that, leaving the dock was a big time worry. What if I had unwittingly or half-wittedly caused another problem along the way, or the big obvious problem obscured a more insidious problem. I guess that at some level Carol and I are, by our natures, worrywarts; on the boat with our reduced levels of competence there is much about which we always worry .... to the point that, sometimes, it drains the pleasure from the experience.

We cleared the harbour by 0825 and set course for the north end of Eleuthera chain. There was a little wind, not much, but enough to provide a little punch to the motor, and we made good time, well over six knots. The clean bottom must have contributed some extra speed too. It was a very nice day to be on the water. It was only the second time, maybe in a month, that we had not seen whitecaps on the water, just some gentle 2~3 foot swells that gave the boat a pleasant "ocean motion."

The trip was boring and uneventful, those two measures of pedestrianism now being basic requirements for a nice day on the boat. Carol and I have handled our fair share of adversity this trip and, if we have not done so gracefully, we have, at least, done it with a sufficiency of equanimity. It would be nice to have about four or five more weeks of boring and uneventful. That would close the cruise out nicely.

We had never considered coming to Royal Island before. Our cruising guides, purchased in 2008, all said that the island had been purchased, was being developed, including a marina, and that the owners "discouraged" anchoring. Well, this place is another Field of Dreams. There are more boats anchored here, seven, than there are buildings. David and Alice said, "Developed, sure! One guy on a tractor." Well, even the tractor is gone and all of the buildings, save one, are single wides. There are, however, a couple of abandoned buildings, maybe from the 40's or 50's.

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The channel entrance is really narrow, one hundred feet is too generous an estimate. And, a lot of whatever width there is, is taken up by rocks and shoals. The charts said that anchor holding varies but we had no problem getting our anchor to set. The good news is that the wind will be ten knots, or less, so the will not be much pressure on the anchor, a good thing since we put out a short scope. But there is enough wind to make the wind generator go. It is a well protected harbor in almost every wind direction. There is really no place in the harbor to land a dinghy other than a small dock, and since it's private property that's probably a bad idea.

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We had not been able to receive the SSB weather forecast due to all the interference in Nassau Harbour. But, we had checked all the weather web sites including the Royal Bahamian Meteorological Society whose forecast said: no significant weather through Friday. The wind prediction was for single digit winds from the S to SW for our planned transit to the Abacos. Got up Thursday morning and we could tell something had changed; the single digit winds were 15~20 knots in the sheltered anchorage. Turned on the SSB radio to listen to Chris Parker. In the first minute he was talking about squall lines moving from the Florida Keys to the NE with 50~60 knot winds; the cold front that was supposed to come through on Sunday was now due to arrive sometime Friday with similar 50~60 knot winds in squalls. Looked out a porthole and saw this sunrise: red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.

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We weren't five minutes into the weather broadcast before Carol had out the chart book and was offering to call the Spanish Wells Yacht Haven for a slip which eventually she did. They had room so we got underway for the six nm trip in 20~25 knot winds. I was not sure that we would be able to get there; the Explorer charts show 1.7 meters, about 5.6 feet; the chart plotter rounded down to 5 feet, less that our draft of 5.2 feet. Fortunately the tide was almost at high water so we never saw less that 8.8 feet; getting out may be an issue unless we plan for the tide and/or calmer weather.

So, here we sit at Spanish Wells, in a marina again, a place we had occasionally thought to visit but for which we could never generate a sufficient level of interest. Two of the other boats that were at Royal Island also decided to come here. We got a surprise at noon. Dudley, the dock master at the Nassau Harbour Club, had brought his boss's boat over here for some work. So, he came by to chat a bit; if he has to lay over due to the weather we'll invite him by for happy hour although he does not drink.

The weather is going to be challenging through Sunday and that forecast will probably be right. Instead of the south winds that we thought would help push us north, we'll now have to wait for the winds to clock well around to the east before we can head to the Abacos and there's no telling when that may happen.

Posted by sailziveli 11:37 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

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