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Bahamas

SW Allens Cay

Jurassic Park in the Bahamas

sunny 80 °F

After a fairly typical morning on the boat, not much activity, we decided to take the dinghy to Allens Cay, about two miles north to see the iguanas. There is about a one mile reef/rocks between here and there with one good way through so we broke out the portable GPS with marine charts to make our way through the opening.

Not much of a problem, the GPS doing its thing well. However, having gone on the north side of the reef into a north wind the ride got bumpy. Again, not a problem. It also got wet ... Carol's description: the two of us fully clothed in a bath tub being drenched with a fire hose. Pretty close. Back at the boat I pumped out several inches of water.

The GPS was in a zip lock baggie and became pretty unreadable at that point and my glasses we so wet and salty the we just headed for a beach we could see. Turns out it was SW Allens not Allens, but who cares. We took the dinghy well up on the beach and put out the anchor. The boat is anchored near the tower to the left of the dinghy on the island in the background.

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Down the beach comes Iggy Iguana, no fear, no concerns, no problems, the local Jurassic version of Welcome Wagon. They are about 30-in. long and can move pretty quickly when they want to do so; they are vegetarians so not any real threat. They used to be ubiquitous throughout the islands; now they exist only on these few islands and are an endangered species. So, no more worrying about becoming a pair of Tony Lama cowboy boots for these guys.

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SW Allens is not very big, basically a large U shape. There are two defining items: a knoll, maybe 30-ft. above sea level and this single palm tree (lots of palmetto trees) which was just about on the beach where we landed.

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Walking in the water we noticed these conch shells, I figured empty. Not so. There were hundreds, none larger than about six inches. We did finally find a couple of conchs that were, maybe, legal size. I offered these up to Carol who, after personally devastating the conch population of the Northern Bahamas for her dining enjoyment, eschewed any more needless slaughter of the defenseless conch population. Oh, and she wants world peace too. On the plus side, I now know where to get my bait for fishing.

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Most of the island was eroded limestone with bits of sandy patches. The erosion pattern on the rocky part produced some very sharp areas; Carol slipped and punched a hole in the palm of her hand. I shredded and left about a quarter of the bottom of my not very good reef walkers there. We found this cairn and Carol added "our rock" to the pile.

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The ride back was much drier with the waves on the stern; we had dried out during the island visit. About halfway back, in an exposed, windy area, the engine quit. Oh s.... it's a long way to row. A simple fix ... I had pushed something against the fuel tank and disconnected the hose. Then the GPS stopped. A simple fix .... just reboot the thing and we made it back through the gap in the reef. Back on the boat, Carol tended her wound and we decided that it had been a good day but that we were through -- no more adventures.

Posted by sailziveli 14:10 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beach boating bahamas iguanas Comments (0)

Highbourne Cay

semi-overcast 77 °F

On Tuesday, after much anxious thought, I decided that our weather options were not working. We are at the extreme fringe of the XMWeather satellite coverage: the wifi antenna needs a fairly tight radius to work; there is Chris Parker SSB reception and sometimes not. So off to BaTelCo go Carol and I to get some sort of cell antenna for the laptop that will allow internet access. No such deal. But they did have 4G phones with a data plan that can also produce a wifi hot spot. Carol has been wanting a smart phone and has a birthday in not so long, her 66th for all who count these things. She is now the proud (and clueless) owner of a really sporty Samsung smart phone that we will use through the Bahamas and then will become hers when we return to the states. The only problem was: slower than slow download speeds when we had be promised 8Mgbs --- we were more than 100 times slower than that. So, rather than leave on Wednesday, as planned, there was another trip to BaTelCo to get an explanation. An arcane setting, one that I could not have known about but that the salesperson should; it's always so comfortable to be able to blame others for our own failings. An easy fix and things work fine. This also gave us a chance to refill an LP canister, not critical but nice to have done. A left handed benefit of this: much lower power consumption with the phone and iPad than with the laptop which won't get nearly as much usage.

In a way of thinking, the trip actually starts now. To date, on this trip, we have always had tethers to the shore: lines to secure us at marinas; electrical cords to power us at the dock. Now, we will start to sweat those not being at hand. Will the anchor drag? Almost certainly, at some point, yes! Will power consumption be an issue? A given with our refrigerator. Will I go nuts worrying about these? You betcha'.

As I was configuring things for the second anchor on the bow, I made a note to reread the section on anchoring in The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, a practical reference we keep on board. There were, as expected, well illustrated and described maneuvers for setting two anchors; not a thing on how to recover two anchors. Maybe that's supposed to be common sense but it doesn't seem very common to me.

This got me to remembering our first and only time we tried to set two anchors, that being during our first trip south. It was in Awenda Creek, in SC, an experience I have not yet forgotten and was recounted in some blog entry during Nov/Dec 2008. Since that event we have covered several thousand miles and have accumulated three more (checkered) years of experience. It's hard to connect the dots between then and now. We have learned so much and have so much more confidence, if not in ourselves, then, at least, in our decision making. The simplest lesson seems to be this: Do not knowingly put ourselves in a situation we are not sure we can handle. Those situations will happen often enough without any extra help. But, the simple fact is that however much more we may now know, it's not enough and will never be. We started boating too old and too late in life to be able to develop the breadth and depth of knowledge that we would like to have.

So, when Thursday morning came we were way past ready to leave Nassau. Not, maybe, so ready to see if the nav plan to skip the Yellow Bank and to skirt the White Bank would work. Coral heads v. white sand seemed like an easy choice since the water depths were about the same, minus the height of the coral heads, of course, but it added several miles to the passage. But, Bruce & Dawn had done something similar so we weren't the first to jump off that edge.

We left the marina at 0715. There is an inconvenient shoal that guards marina row and we wanted the maximum water during the falling tide. No problems there, plenty of water if you mind your location. As we were leaving we finally got to see Fort Montagu, apparently undergoing some restoration or renovation. It's tiny, maybe bigger than our garage but probably not as big as our house. It's hard to appreciate the fort as an impregnable redoubt holding pirates and the Spanish at bay for a century or two.

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The non-Explorer Chart nav plan worked out great; we never had less than 13 feet of water and saw no coral heads which, of course, doesn't mean that they were not there. About an hour before we hit the anchorage a modest front blew through -- a band of clouds, one minute of not very much rain, an a wind shift from 270 to 010. We were anchored by 1430, putting out more than 100-ft. of chain, and we were only the fourth boat in the anchorage which seemed fine to us. At about 1630 the action got a little more intense, with about 10 more boats pulling in and doing so in a way that seemed a lot like amateur hour bumper cars... anchoring too close, anchoring in a way that could foul another boats anchor line. I thought about getting on the VHF to say something and finally decided that this is life in the Bahamas: mostly adults and a few figurative teenagers. In every anchorage there has to be a last boat in.

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That evening came some ugly news. The promised high speed internet does NOT work in the out islands; this was a question that I specifically asked. It does work at speed maybe 10% better than dial-up, so a problem but not a deal breaker. I downloaded Android apps for the WSJ and the Economist. The WSJ is a big change; two years ago I was reading, maybe, six square feet of news print, now eight square inches of OLED screen.

On Friday we went to SW Allens Cay, a separate blog entry.

On Saturday we went ashore on Highbourne Cay. It's a smallish island, maybe two miles long. The marina facility and its store are about as nice as any we have seen. We replaced my shredded reef walkers; who would thought to have found those here. We went down to the beach, less idyllic and much angrier with some weather coming through.

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We were concerned about the weather so we headed back to the boat, stopping only to appreciate that the Bahamas are a mindset as well as a place.

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After lunch we decided to reanchor the boat. The wind had shifted almost 180 and that could be bad for anchor holding. After we did this, several other boats made similar adjustments.

In the next day or two we hope to be able to move down to Warderick Wells Cay and get a mooring ball there for a few days. This cay is the center piece of the Exuma Park, more or less the Bahamas equivalent of Yellowstone.

Posted by sailziveli 14:08 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beach boating bahamas tourist_sites Comments (0)

Still in Nassau

and that is not a problem

semi-overcast 72 °F

Having looked at the weather forecasts, several days of 20~25 knot winds we elected to stay here. Well, we're still waiting for the high winds; today we cannot even ruffle the flag. But the weather forecast will be right eventually, maybe even in my lifetime. The newest crisis de jour: no diesel fuel. We tried to refuel in Great Harbour; they were dry. Chubb probably had some but Nassau seemed like a sure thing. Well, not so sure as it turns out; both adjacent fuel docks are dry. Our needs are small, only 20 gallons, but we're not leaving until we have that fuel on board.

So, Carol elected herself as tour guide and we have been doing some touristy things, the first of which seemed to require that we walk to the other end of the island; well, at least the other end of the harbour, which happens to be where the cruise ships are. There were five ships moored that day and there was a lot of foot traffic in the area. The instructive lesson for the day was: don't hike cross country for miles and miles in flip flops; it's hard on the feet.

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We accomplished the most important task of the day: selecting my souvenir t-shirt for Nassau. Carol's goal was to locate and purchase a beach umbrella, although I don't know why she thought we find such an arcane item let alone carry it on the boat. In lieu of that she purchased yet another hat, to go with her growing collection, this one with the virtue of a diameter almost as large as that of a beach umbrella. She must have a secret hiding place for this cache since I rarely see them except on her red head.

Both in Freeport and here there have been "straw markets," an aggregation of small booths where vendors, almost exclusively women, sell various shirts, hats and other tourist type tschotskes. We didn't give the "straw market" name much thought until we visited the Historical Society. In there was a display showing the various weaving patterns that local folks used to make straw goods, e.g. hats, baskets, etc. Today there did not seems to be much, if any, in the way of locally produced straw goods, but it is easy to imagine the evolution of the concept going back a century or two.

The Historical Society was, overall, a disappointment for a place, and a British place at that, that has such a long and remarkable history. It looked more like a thrift store than a museum. But, there were a few gems. We learned that before cruise ships that the harbour was different: the west end was closed, or impassable, due to coral heads, and the main entrance was at the east end, guarded by a fort, of course. This lighthouse was added sometime at the west end when that area was cleared.

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The Nassau economy, like most other places, appears to have suffered in the past couple of years. At the east end of the harbour, where the private boat marinas are, and also there are the two bridges to Paradise Island, things seem generally OK. The far west end where the passengers from the cruise ships shop also seems mostly OK. In between, not so much ... lots of empty store fronts and buildings. Carol thought that many of the women at the straw market seemed "desperate" so maybe things are not so good below the surface.

The Bahamas have been independent of Britain since 1964 but the residual imprint of almost 400 years of British presence is still visible. This statue is of Victoria, Regent and Imperatrix. Despite that history with the British Empire, you have to like a country that ignored that past and devised a Great Seal, on all paper currency, which has a flamingo and a fish. No lions rampant, eagles, one or two headed, griffins or such, no bellicosity explicit or implied. You can almost imagine that someone had a sense of humor. The fish is easy and obvious; the flamingos are on Great Inagua island. They have been producing/drying salt on the island for a long time and in the salt flats there exists a particular type of brine shrimp that West Indian flamingos like to eat. There is a national sanctuary on the island for those birds, and others, and we would love to go there. But the island is the southernmost in the chain and is off the eastern tip of Cuba, requiring several days of cruising for our boat to get there. So, it's probably not gonna' happen.

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Today was Paradise Island day and knowing about the traffic we decided to go early in the afternoon. We went to the Atlantis Hotel & Casino intending to visit the water park. The arrival at the hotel is pretty cool.

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The water park thing did not work out ... only for paying guests which we were not. Carol, even in her full throated Nordic Princess mode could not talk her way in, a rarity. So we went down to the village arcade which last trip had we had so enjoyed. Today, it seemed like just another bunch of stores. So, over to the Bahama Craft Center, just across the street. This was better, there being some actual hand made basketry, purses and hats and ladies that could talk about the materials, techniques and patterns. There was also some hand carving like we had seen some men doing down at the straw market. Sadly for those ladies, the casino seemed a bigger draw than their hand made efforts.

On the map was a note for "the Cloister," we having no idea what that was about. Off we hiked, me, this time, in more sensible shoes and socks. What a great surprise it was, the remains of a 14th century French Monastery that was imported, stone by stone, to the United States by the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s; 40 years later the Cloisters were bought by Huntington Hartford and installed at the top of a hill on Paradise Island overlooking Nassau Harbour.

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Across the street was a long mall with flowers, statuary and pools. The whole thing was rather stunning when looked at from afar. It was such an unexpected oasis in such a sea of commercial activity and real estate development.

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The diesel crisis got resolved. The two fuel docks at adjacent marinas were out. This marina does not have a fuel dock, but it does have diesel fuel, no gasoline, for boats that are moored there. So, we are ready to go when we get ready to go.

The marina had been mostly empty but on Thursday and Friday with the inclement weather on offer, it really filled up, almost all sailboats except for a 100-ft. motor vessel. It seemed a bit like small world week. First, the couple on our starboard side kept their boat in New Bern. Then, while I was walking down the street a man stopped me and commented on my Whittaker Point t-shirt, since he had been keeping his boat there. Turns out we had met in Oriental four years ago and we had left that marina probably a day or two before he arrived. We spent some time together doing beer & football over weekend. On Saturday, after the game I met another couple from New Bern who are aboard a 30-ft. Nonsuch. Knowing only one other person who has such a boat I asked if they knew him. They allowed that they had never met Joe but had corresponded with him on a boat owners bulletin board.

Monday was pretty lazy also. The one task I accomplished was to rig a second anchor. It's really a goofy system, but it will mostly work. I figure that the crisis for which we are prepared is not so likely to happen. It seems improbable that in several months of anchoring that we will never need a second anchor out. It's good to be prepared.

We had planned to leave tomorrow, Tuesday, but on the advice of several experienced sailors have moved that back to Wednesday. Between New Providence Island (Nassau) and Highbourne Cay, our next stop, there is a bank with lots of coral heads, some with not so much water on top. It's better to make this passage with very sunny, clear skies so that the coral is easily visible against the bottom.

Posted by sailziveli 17:32 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beaches beach boating bahamas tourist_sites Comments (0)

On to Nassau

sunny 75 °F

We got up at the usual time, about 0600, and got the boat ready to get underway. It was pretty close to high tide, so leaving early seemed like a good idea. During this I got to thinking about our planned anchorage for the evening. It struck me that the fine sand we had seen on the beach would also be the same sand in which we would be anchoring. Our experience in Biscayne Bay, Florida, which also has a very fine sand bottom, was that the Danforth anchor was the only one that had good holding. So, off goes the Manson Supreme and on goes the Fortress, something we have done often and easily. When we were in Nassau two years ago we visited some marine supply stores and the only anchors they sold were Danforth anchors. Maybe there's a reason.

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We went very slowly trying to find the channel using the depth meter, no markers, and turned the corner to head for the cut. Imagine our surprise when we could not find the #@!*^% thing, once again. Carol said that she was sure that the channel was in a particular direction, so we went that way until the depth hit 5.5-ft. and then backed up like crazy to get out of the shallow water. There was a fairly large ship moored to our port and it was starting to get underway. We reckoned that that captain could find the channel, so we followed him out. Without that "seeing eye dog" we probably would not have found it this time either. It's so well concealed that Capt. Jack Sparrow could hide the Black Pearl from the English fleet without worry.

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There was a little wind on Sunday, and we motor sailed most of the way, making great time 6~7 knots, covering about 50 nm. It's remarkable how much route planning changes when the basic daily increment is 50 nm, rather than 40 nm. Carol mentioned that when we cleared the North West Channel on the last trip we were making less than 3 knots prior to the engine failing in the channel to Chubb Cay. Today, 6.5~7.0 knots and no problems except for one little thing. About four hours into the trip we saw what looked like steam or, possibly, smoke in the companion way, above the engine compartment. Major panic attack! I opened the engine hatch expecting to see the worst and saw ....... nada, bupkus, nothing. No smoke, no fluids boiling off, the temperatures were good, everything was dry, no odors from fried electrical insulation, no alarms going off, no similar haze of any kind in the engine compartment. We have no clue what it could have been, but we both know what we saw. I'm thinking POLTERGEIST!

We thought that we might stay at the mooring field at Fraziers Hog Cay despite the facility being closed for renovations. Carol was talking to someone and was told that another sailboat had done that just that and that the mooring ball cable had parted and the boat got into serious trouble. The next plan was to anchor west of Chubb Cay with the newly installed Fortress anchor. As we approached the anchoring area we saw that there were no boats anchored, maybe just a coincidence although the wind was probably a little more brisk than would be comfortable there. There was also a boat that looked like a dredge moored in the area. So we bailed and headed for the marina, always a safe choice but, here, an expensive one.

Having left the marina we awarded ourselves the Anchoring Weenie Award. The barges & dredges were gone; there were two sailboats anchored where we would have; there were several more anchored at Texaco point; and, even more near Whale Cay. I guess that we are forever scarred by our first anchoring experience at Okracoke, which went bad and almost ended very badly. I figure that we will spend a lot of time on the hook; we're just not in a hurry to do so if there is a better alternative.

On day 26 of the trip, having left Brunswick on 12/14/11, we got to Nassau, it being 625 days since we last entered this port. This time was better! The last time we limped to the port, got towed to the harbor and towed again to the marina. This entry was under our own power ... what a concept! Things are pretty much the same at the Nassau Harbour Club Marina. Peter still runs the place; Dudley is still the dock master. The main difference: the pool has been repaired, a prospect against which Carol would have bet big money .... and lost. We are in exactly the same slip as 625 days before.

We went to dinner tonight at a Chinese restaurant which we had frequented before and to which Carol wanted to go again. Food must be important to her; she remembered the combinations she wanted and the menu page on which they were printed. We left for the restaurant at 5:30PM and the traffic along East Bay Street, which goes in front of the marina, was just like the Dan Ryan Expressway, and it was backed up to the other side of the bridge from Paradise Island. When we left after dinner an hour later ... no change, including the bridge. I do not know how there could be so many cars on that island but we were told that it will be like that until 9:00PM.

The good news was that when we arrived at the marina the package from Boat Owners Warehouse was here with the spare toilet part. The bad news was that I asked Carol to order two and they only sent one. Not a major problem because 1>0. The fee at this marina includes fresh water; it's not separate and metered as in many marinas in the Bahamas. That's good because this boat needs to be cleaned. After the last two passages we have an alternate plan for trip financing: scrape the salt off the boat, put it in 5-lb. bags and sell it. I guess that we have at least 10 bags we could fill.

We've just been doing chores, getting ready to head south. Two of the last untested items were the dinghy and motor, the motor not being much of a concern since we had it serviced at a Mercury dealer in Brunswick that was nice enough to hold it for us until we left in December. Still, if there were a problem, Nassau would be a good place to get it fixed. We have had the dinghy during two previous trips and the motor for the trip last year. The only place the two have been used together was in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL, which has all sort of speed restrictions. The motor, improbably, fired up on the very first pull and off I went. With just me in the boat, it went fast enough to be scary when there was a wake in the water or any sort of wave; it felt like it wanted to get airborne. I'm sure that with Carol as additional ballast getting airborne will not be a problem.

Having dispensed with that the other item was the SSB and getting the weather, in this case, Chris Parker. So one morning, when I was semi-coherent, I powered it up at 0630 and waited. In the islands 0630 is not an promise of precision, military or otherwise; waiting 5 or 10 minutes is part of the deal. We never heard Chris Parker, but we did hear lots of cross talk so we know that the unit works. In most populated islands these is a VHF net that rebroadcasts the weather so, not too much about which to be concerned.

When in Great Harbour Cay a gentleman told us about FFFFF, The First Friday in February Farmers Festival, in this case Farmers referring to Little Farmers Cay, the last stop for most boats before heading into the open water, south to Georgetown. A friend of ours, Debbie, plans to be there so we would like to meet her there and enjoy the fun.

That's a ways away, so our plan is to sit out some very windy weather here in Nassau where we are secure and the costs are much less than those in the smaller islands. Depending on how the weather settles out, we may not leave until next Tuesday, fine with Carol because they have conch here in Nassau too.

Our night view of Nassau Harbour.

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Posted by sailziveli 09:53 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats Comments (0)

A Little Bit More of Great Harbour Cay

sunny 68 °F

A lot of restaurants on the island have gone under, no longer open for business. Carol and I had dinner here, the Rock Hill Restaurant. It looks better in the picture than it does on the ground; the food was mediocre and too expensive. The setting was great, almost like a Graham Greene novel.

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Our last evening on the island we saw the moon rising in the east and reflected on the water while the sun was setting over the hill in the west.

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Posted by sailziveli 19:40 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises boating bahamas Comments (0)

Great Harbour Cay

sunny 75 °F

Wednesday was not a great day for either of us. Carol, the CFO for the trip, tried to use her Wells Fargo card and discovered that her card did not work; mine did. All the others did and this is not a problem, only an inconvenience. Regardless, Carol got uptight. For me, it was the calculation of time, rate and distance; would we be able to get to the harbor with enough light to navigate a tricky channel. Plus there was the Berry Island Curse, our version of the Bermuda Triangle. In our two trips to the Berry Islands we have hosed the motor, fried the electrical system and tried to sink the boat with leaking transducers. We're not superstitious, but there is a definite trend line here. The old habits die hard and intensity is a useful trait at the proper times. If it's difficult to get an old dog to learn new tricks, it's impossible to get an old dog to unlearn old tricks.

Ken, a dock neighbor went fishing today and gave us some wahoo fillets which Carol decided to keep for another night. When the going gets tough, the tough go out to dinner, at least on this boat. We had a nice early bird special, basically a kid's meal with a glass of wine. It was tasty and just the right amount. After dinner we walked over to the water which I wanted to see since we were leaving the next day. Despite the weather reports indicating fairly heavy seas, the water was almost glassy -- no surf on the beach. We could only hope that it will also be that way for the trip.

Our verdict on Freeport/Lucaya? Two thumbs down, an interesting place to have visited once; not sufficiently compelling to visit twice unless the port is part of a transit plan.

It was cool on Thursday morning, 47F, when the alarm went off at 0430. Carol dug out the warm clothing, for me a fleece vest. When I looked at the vest in the light it was covered with Wile E's red and buff dog hair. It was good to remember the old pooch; he would rather be on the mountain in Spring Creek, but he's a dog and he does not get a vote. His picture, just because I like my pooch.

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I was not going to check the engine oil level, having done so when we changed it on Monday. But Carol was being helpful, hint, hint, to help me remember to do this, So, I figured, why not! It might help me establish the pattern. Imagine my surprise when the oil was well over filled; I knew that I planned to run the engine hard and too much oil would have been a seriously bad idea. So, out comes the pump to draw off the oil level at least to the maximum level. This helped pass the time while we waited.

We had hoped to get underway soon after 0500 but we were defeated by the dew point; all of the strata-glass windows were covered with moisture, inside and out, and as fast as we wiped them off, the dew reappeared. Functionally blind is not a great way to transit a difficult channel. At 0600 we said screw it and left the dock; about 10 minutes later we were in the channel, it being silhouetted against the very faint first light of dawn, and we made our way to the open water. We had thought that we would be the first boat out that morning but were, in fact, the second, a catamaran having left, maybe, 15 minutes earlier. There was another sloop about 5 minutes behind us.

The numbers were tough, at least in old think: cover 57.2 nm in nine hours hitting the Bullocks Harbour waypoint by 1600. That meant going slightly over six knots. In the event, we hit the waypoint at 1530, despite having given away some time to take in the sails. It was a good thing to have picked up some time, because I do not think that we could have successfully entered this harbor in fading daylight. This island is quite different from any others that we have seen. It has the aspect of being an atoll, a hollow center surrounded by a ring of land. In this case, the channel through the ring of land was not visible from a distance. We might not have found it except that a couple of power boats sped by us and went through the channel. The trick is/was head straight for a cliff, maybe 20~25-ft. high and, just before you crash into it, make a turn to the left of more that 90 degrees, dodging shoals and shallow water, entering a man made channel cut through the rock cliffs. It was harder than it sounds. But it proved, once again, that the Explorer charts are to be trusted. The way point the for channel entrance was spot on.

The passage itself was very pleasant. Warm and sunny with cotton-ball, fair weather cumulus clouds. The forecast was for seas in the area of 6-ft. The fact was seas more like 6-in., flat but not glassy. There was a trailing wind that provided a little more speed on the trip. A very nice boat day.

This was our first day trip, a hard day being better than a hard day and a hard night. Making this transit would have been impossible with the old engine, maintaining more than six knots being a hallucinogenic dream. We even passed and stayed ahead of the catamaran that left before we did, the only other times this happened was when the catamarans were anchored.

At day's end, after a cold drink and a hot meal, Carol was snoozing on the settee by 7:30 PM and I was nodding at the nav station. What a pitiful pair we are.

On the way in we passed Great Stirrup Cay, along with Little Stirrup Cay. The larger island is owned or leased by cruise ship companies. The large vessels anchor on the north side of the island ferry their passengers to the island for, we assume, for and drink, swimming and snorkeling and other fun bits. When we passed their were two ships anchored which must have meant an awful lot of people on the island. There is an anchorage between the two islands and cruising lore has it that, if handled politely, the folks don't mind an extra guest or two.

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We have not seen too many of these islands but this one is different from any others on which we have been: high ground. The harbour here is surrounded by a hillside that probably goes 30~50 above sea level. We were told that this is the best hurricane hole in the Bahamas, quite believable. The scale is that the condos are 3.5 stories tall with the roof making them about 4.0 stories.

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There are about 40 of these condos built around the cove. Last night there may have been 5 that had lights on. I found one offered for sale at $385,000 for 1,900 sq. ft. Needless to say Carol and I are not making any deposits or down payments.

We had a walk about on Friday, deciding to visit the town of Bullocks Harbour. Going to town a nice young mas gave us a ride most of the way. The town is small but, with our other visits there seems to be a pattern. It's not quite like the Eloi and the Morlocks but: the black population seems to live in the old, established town in a relatively dense format, probably having a century or so of continuous residence; the towns seem to be built around what is or was the harbor. The white population seems to occupy all the land that is not part of the town. It's not good or bad, but it seems to be consistent.

The other noticeable thing was that there was a lot of incomplete construction. Sometimes it was just a foundation; other times walls were up; and on a few, the roofs were in place. At some point the music died and has not played since. There is no hint that these will ever be finished. On the whole, Bullocks Harbour seemed much more prosperous than Bimini. We were told that many of the residents work for the cruise lines on Great Stirrup Cay which would put good money into the community. Carol at the causeway between the two islands, although causeway is a rather grandiose word for some landfill, culvert and two lanes of black top.

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On Saturday the walk about was to the beach, which Carol had already scouted out in the morning. It is magnificent. On the local brochure they call it a sugar beach, a pretty fair description. It is almost white; it is almost as fine as confectioners sugar. As for the water, there are not enough words to describe the shadings as the depth changes, as the bottom changes and as the sun changes. The camera is wholly inadequate.

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Carol, of course, always finds the shade.

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On the way back we notices swarms of these butterflies on these succulent plants. There were some very small flowers which must have been the attraction. My best guess is that these are Fiery Skippers, or not.

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We will leave tomorrow and wend our way to Nassau, a trip that will take a night and two easy days of about 35 nm or so. We had planned to stay at the Berry Island Club mooring field as we have done before. It seems that they are closed for renovations so we will probably anchor off Chubb Cay for the night before heading to Nassau.

Posted by sailziveli 15:04 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beaches beach boating bahamas Comments (0)

Freeport, the Bahamas, #2

overcast 59 °F

With all of the stuff going on, we had been so busy enjoying the trip that we neglected to reflect on the fact that we actually made it to the Bahamas without mishap, almost getting run over by large ships not withstanding. And, we did it several months earlier than on our other trips. Of course, we have not yet gone to the Berry Islands where our other two trips foundered with (old) engine problems. So, our next stop will be the acid test.

On New Years eve I had my first illegal smoke. Not the ganja of the islands but a real Cuban cigar, illegal in the states but we are not in the states, after all. It was really good, although I could not taste much difference from Dominican cigars which are, presumably, pretty much the same. It was a Romeo y Julieta, from Havana, desde 1875. While I was enjoying this treat Carol opted for an island drink, a Bahama Mama, which seemed appropriate to her, she being in the Bahamas and also being a mother. About two sips did it for her -- she did not finish it. It might have tasted better if there had been the obligatory little paper umbrella. No such luck. Probably a good thing too since we both had already had a gin and tonic on the boat and I could not have carried her back to the boat were she to have finished it; she being too big, me being too puny.

At 9PM the party started. There were probably several hundred people on the mall, which is all of 50-ft. from the end of the pier at which we are moored.

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There was a five person musical group, two of whom were female singers. I was a little surprised perfectly fitting the profile of an old, clueless white guy. With the pervasiveness of American popular culture I would have guessed that Rap music would have a high profile here. Absolutely not the case. Reggae and Rastafarian rule. There is not a single t-shirt shop that does not have a Bob Marley offering. The music on offer was very eclectic, but done well. We stayed for a while and then retired to the boat. Sleep was problematic since the fireworks started at midnight, en punto. They only lasted 10 minutes but it was a very loud and very bright 10 minutes. Then the boats started with their horns. By 12:30AM the party was over.

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We had a quiet Sunday, no work, and on Monday started working, but not as planned. We went from being people on a boat to boat owners with responsibilities. The toilet stopped working early on, 0600 ..... big problem! Five hours later, smelling about the same as the project on which I was working, and after a complete rebuild, the toilet was re-installed and functioning. What a mess it was. The marine toilet is a complicated piece of engineering, entailing about 10 times as many parts as the porcelain pots at home. I would not work on the dock for fear of losing small parts through the spaces in the planks; so, we did it all in the cockpit. It was a good time to be at a marina and to have a hose handy. I discovered a toilet part that probably will not last very long. Hooray for the satellite phone and Boat Owners Warehouse in Ft. Lauderdale. They will have a couple of those parts waiting for us when we get to Nassau.

We thought these flowers were hibiscus; they are not but are pretty just the same.

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About half of the boats in the marina headed for home on 01/01 and 01/02. The boat next to us, a charter I think, intended to do the same but was forced to return to port after developing engine trouble. The captain says that he will have to wait for a rebuild kit of some kind to arrive from Italy. Makes our issues seem kind of small.

On Monday night a front blew through and we are living with the attendant weather; 35 knot winds, 14-ft. seas and very cool temperatures, middle 50's or less. The heater definitely came back on for this. It was so windy there were even white caps in the protected area where we are moored. The winds should die down on Wednesday and the seas, maybe on Thursday but surely on Friday. The temperature is not too bad, but the wind really makes them bite. It was strange to see the shopping area and bars bereft of people.

We had to go to downtown today to get the computer fixed after I screwed it up. We assumed that there would be a old, central downtown located in some proximity to the port with buildings dating to HRH someone or another. Well, there is not. This is almost like Tokyo, smaller, of course, by several orders of magnitude: an amorphous place with no particular geographical focus. We never even considered renting a car. We would have a survival interval measured in nanoseconds from driving on the other side of the road. The thing that we forget .... crossing the street. We always look the wrong way and then, maybe, remember. Fortunately, the speed limits are very low and, seemingly, obeyed.

Freeport/Lucaya seems to be fairly expensive. Part of that may be due to pricing for tourists, of which there are many. When my computer was being restored I looked at their prices for laptops; I would estimate that a similar product at Best Buy would have been at least $300 less than here. I have wondered many times if there prices for out landers and prices for local folks. Probably not. We had taken taxis a couple of times to the tune of $15~$20 each way. Then a nice man offered us a ride and while doing so told us that the buses are $1. We now like the bus, a great value.

Things are kind of gray and ugly here .... not a peak tourist day. We'll be busy today doing chores necessary prior to getting underway tomorrow, we hope. The trip to Great Harbour Cay is about 60 nm, or so, pretty much of a stretch for us to complete in one day. We have about 10.5 hours of daylight and another hour of good dawn/dusk twilight. It's doable but we will have to leave very early, probably before first light and try to exit a narrow, rock lined channel to the open water. The good news is that we'll have a following wind and should be able to motor sail. More good news: we called the marina this morning ... no one there but a boater picked up and we talked. He said that the last 4 nm to the harbor are over sand and that you can anchor anywhere. Good to know, if he's right. The seas will be higher than we want, but, still, not bad: in the 4~5-ft. range settling down later in the day.

Posted by sailziveli 08:55 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (1)

Freeport, the Bahamas

sunny 75 °F

This was a strange stay at the Hall of Fame marina. First, on the south side of the dock there were only six boats, occupying less than one third of the slips. It seems like this should be the busy season. Second, we were the only people on a boat at this dock. Usually there are at least a few folks around and about with whom we can schmooze; not here. I had not really noticed until now .... not being great at the weather, I usually talk to folks to see what their thoughts are and compare those to mine. It's all independent action for the weather here. The stay has not been a bad thing, just noticeably different.

When the front passed through Ft. Lauderdale on 12/27 the weather really cooled down, maybe 12 degrees on average. What had been warm enough to make Carol think about turning on the AC during the day (we didn't) became cool enough to make me think about turning the heat on at night (we didn't). But the cold weather clothing that had worked its way to the bottom of the pile after leaving Brunswick was pulled out again; the wool blanket that had been stored was opened up, at least on my side of the bed. For all that, the night time temperatures did not go below 57 degrees, which is at least 50 degrees warmer than at the house. So, no complaints here.

The weather window to head out looked like it would last about 36 hours so we took it. The plan was complicated by the New Year weekend. The Immigration & Customs offices were open on Friday but probably not over the weekend. I'm not sure what we would have done had we arrived later.

So, we left at 1300 for the fuel dock where we took on fuel and then headed down the waterway for the channel. The auto pilot had been acting weird on the way down and the problem was that the nut which holds the helm onto its axle had loosened. An easy fix with a crescent wrench. When we left the fuel dock I noticed that the nut was again loose, so out comes the wrench and we're working on the wheel while trying to steer in traffic. Not a problem, just another form of boat owner multitasking.

When we turned the corner to enter the channel we noticed some tug boats working a big container vessel but is was not apparent, to us anyway, what the vessel was doing. As luck would have it, the ship exited the channel right behind us. Love the new motor; we revved it up and were able to stay ahead, just barely, of the ship which was being followed by another of similar size. The wide channel seemed very small with these guys crawling up our stern.

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I guess that this set the tone for the crossing ... no empty ocean for this trip; it was all huge ships and our little piece of fiberglass. After the sun went down, things got fairly interesting. We were, after all, crossing a major north/south shipping lane in the Florida Straights and then entering another one: the Northwest Channel.

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Our radar has a plotting program that, generally, works OK. But it does goofy stuff some times having a contact heading north one minute and west the next. When the ship is probably within 3 miles it seems to settle down but it can be confusing until it does. And, all boats are required to carry specific navigation lights. But until the get closer it can be impossible to read them which I can do very well. Forget about being able to sort out green from red from white lights. Until the boats are close enough to collide, they all look the same. And cruise ships? It's like Where's Waldo trying to pick out the two or three lights that might appertain to navigation from the hundred others that are lit.

In the early evening there was a large bulk carrier headed for us. And, after some maneuvering, it passed fairly close astern, maybe 0.8 miles ... too close. Anyway, it was dramatically silhouetted against the glowing Florida horizon and the dark shape looked malevolent, like a Darth Vader death boat. Way cool or, maybe, I was just tired.

On that same watch I noticed two parallel light patterns on the water. I was sure that it was too soon to be hallucinating from lack of sleep. So I checked it out ... there was an airplane flying overhead, probably quite low, and the strobe lights on the wing tips were bright enough for their reflection to be seen on the water.

Later, when Carol turned over the watch to me at 0300 she said that there was a cruise liner ahead and that it was probably stopped, presumably waiting for daylight to enter Freeport harbor. I had to decide which way to go around this ship since it was between us and where we wanted to go. For the life of me, with all of their lights on, I could not decide which end of that boat was the pointy one. Choosing one, and having a 50% chance of being right, I moved. When I was later able to get a better look I found I had exercised the 50% wrong option and cut across the bow. Not good, but no danger as it was not moving.

The real fun came about an hour later. I had been tracking a boat for about an hour and it was getting closer and closer. My radar program plotted that we were going to collide. When we were about two miles apart the liner hailed me; the guy must have been ETL, i.e. English as Third Language. It's hard enough understanding any conversation over the VHF let alone with this handicap. My handicap was that my hearing aids were not in. He told me that his radar also plotted a very close CPA (closest point of approach), a code phrase for collision, and he asked me to turn south until we cleared. I was very glad to do this because our radar was not sure of his course and I did not know which direction would get me out of his way. All ended well and it was good to have learned that our boat and the radar reflector we use are visible to others. I had worried about that.

There was a nice sunrise -- aren't they all -- which looked like this in stages.

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We docked at 0830 on Friday, 12/30/11. Carol is nice; I am not. Carol is patient; I am not. Carol can handle bureaucrats with equanimity.; I handle them like Attila the Hun handled losing opponents: off with their heads. So, the sane decision was for Carol to treat with the people in Customs while I secured the boat, which we did. The outcome is that we were not permanently banned from the Bahamas for my ill behavior.

While Carol was doing the Immigration & Customs stuff I saw a wake go by our stern, but with no noise. After the second time I looked to see this small radio controlled boat speeding behind us at very high speeds, maybe 20~30 MPH, and kicking up a large rooster tail. It is, probably, about 18-in. long. This looked like it would be a lot of fun to do for maybe fifteen minutes; after that, not so much. What's cool to consider is relative speed, in this case: how long does it take for a boat to cover its overall length? By this standard, the little blue guy may be the fastest thing on the water.

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Carol picked this marina based on someone's advice, but I am not sure whose that would have been. It will be OK, but we are literally about 50 feet from a tourist shopping arcade complete with live music, the limbo and more bars than I can count. New Years eve may be a challenge.

We cannot use our stateside cell phones ... Verizon kills their customers with out of area charges. So we went to a store to get our unlocked cell phone reactivated by BaTelCo (the Bahamas Telephone Company). Since the place was several miles away we took a cab. It should not have been a surprise, but after Nassau and Bimini it was: if you missed a clue or two, you would have bet serious money that you were somewhere in south Florida. The architecture, the trees and bushes, the stores, everything is the same. The lot sizes and building spacing is very like stateside because this is quite a large island with lots of space, much different than Nassau and Bimini. And why should things not look he same? Freeport is only about 50 miles east of Palm Beach. The only thing that I saw really different? The cars are all american made, having the steering column of the left side of the car. But in deference to HRH Elizabeth II and the British Empire, they drive in the left hand lane.

Carol wants to go out to dinner this evening; she has become very creative in serving up reasons not to cook. Nothing wrong with that; it's just an interesting litany to which to listen. The nominal reason tonight: cracked conch which she likes for food and I like for bait. I, of course, am 100% right about this.

Strange things happen on the boat -- a black hole that claims wallets and boots -- Carol tossing out some of her clothing and stuff from the galley. We have had just about every variety of fly on board, many varieties of birds on board but never, that we can remember, have we had an invasion of Hymenoptera, in this case bees. Very strange! The first one arrived before we even hit the channel. When we docked there were even more. They look about like common honey bees and, while seemingly aggressive, they have not yet stung either of us. Carol, who has a Buddhist like respect for life, offered the well intentioned solution of opening more of the cockpit panels so they could escape. This, like almost all good intentions, produced the opposite outcome of letting more of them in -- lots more. My solution? Kill'em all, which we mostly did with a fly swatter. I cannot imagine what attracted them to our boat, but the attraction was ineluctable but, hopefully, not enduring.

This is, of course, Carol next to bougainvillea, a picture I put in the blog every year in the hope that repetition will help me remember how to spell this french fried word. Hasn't worked yet but there is always hope.

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We have seen lots of bougainvillea on our several trips south. In one garden through which we walked we saw our first frangipani tree in the islands and the first I have seen since my last trip to Singapore close to twenty years ago.

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This is our marina. It is actually something of a dump by stateside standards having the worst, dirtiest bath and shower facilities that we have seen ... anywhere. Our boat is somewhere in that mess which got even more crowded today as a half dozen more boats arrived. Ours is like the red headed step child amid all of these other craft. We are shorter by at least 15-ft. than any other boat here. And, ask us if we care. Not!!!

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We are actually in Lucaya, a city adjacent to but separate from Freeport. Freeport seems to have the business end of things and Lucaya is pretty much tourist oriented with hotels and condos. I am not too sure why people would want to stay here although visiting is great. The only activities seem to be: drinking, eating, fishing, gambling, sunbathing and not being cold. The not being cold part is easy to grasp but there are still 24 hours in a day that must be filled with some activity. Of course, with beaches like this maybe activity in pointless.

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There is an old(?) lighthouse that guards Bell Channel, through which we passed to get to the marina. It has been cleverly incorporated into a hotel building. We did not get to see the inside but we were curious as to whether it was accessible from the hotel's interior.

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We intend to go south when the weather will permit; Thursday, 01/05 looks like the earliest chance. Until then we will be hanging out. The new engine just hit 150 hours so we'll do a day of boat and engine maintenance which will include stuff like --- changing the oil.

Posted by sailziveli 18:43 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beaches boating Comments (0)

A Contender for Worst Boat Day Ever

We are so f.......d

sunny 80 °F

There just seems to be some sort of negative entropy associated with Carol and me, the boat and the Berry Islands. It’s OK for good stuff not to happen; it’s difficult when only bad stuff happens.

On Wednesday evening there were several people who decided to leave on Thursday, two motor and two sail, all four boats in a row at the dock. Come Thursday morning it was raining sideways in 30 knot winds as squall lines rolled over Bimini. On the whole east side of Florida there was exactly one area with weather on the radar: Bimini to Cat Cay. The two power boats decided to stay. The other sail left a little before noon. We waited since we could stay until 1pm without paying for another day and kept reviewing the online weather sites as well as the XM weather we have on the boat.

By lunchtime, the skies had gone from ominous to merely uninviting; the rain had stopped and the weather gurus said that things were going to clear. So, Carol and I decided to take off, having been trapped in Bimini last year by strong east winds. This may not have been the most informed decision we have ever made, but we didn’t see too much downside other than the fact that leaving at 1pm meant an overnight run across the Grand Bahamas Bank since the weather would have made it difficult to anchor there.

As we were leaving the channel we saw another sailboat coming into the channel and it looked like David’s boat, he being the early bird. As we passed abreast he yelled that his back stay had broken and that he was returning to work on repairs. Perhaps that was an omen or a harbinger.

We continued around the north end of the island and headed east for Mackie Shoal and, then, the Northwest Channel, a little over 60 miles, with another 30 or so to get to Frazers Hog Cay, one of the Berry Islands with a mooring field. The plan was to wait there for the right wind and weather.

A couple of hours out the sky defaulted back to ominous, the wind grew and the waves got a little taller. Not a problem except that both wind and waves were coming directly onto the bow of the boat; we were going directly into them. We were making very slow way against them, struggling to make 3 knots. This didn’t ring any bells; we expected to go more slowly against nature’s combination. For all of that, it was not a dangerous night, just a difficult one which boat and crew were able to handle.

It was a little concerning that there were not any other boats visible to the naked eye or to radar. Eventually we saw some commercial craft around midnight. And, for a few minutes, we got to see a waxing gibbous moon, an unexpected surprise for the night which was otherwise a stygian blackness.

The first shoe dropped sometime between 0100 and 0300, on Carol’s watch; the autopilot quit, sending error messages that were intrinsically goofy, like there wasn’t enough battery power, with the alternator running all night. This is something that will get attention, but not right away.

We got to the Northwest Channel much later than expected. We still thought that this was the result of trying to punch through the strong winds and waves. Carol went into the cabin and said that she smelled diesel, but that also did not ring any bells as rough as the night had been.

As we cleared into deep water it became apparent that the boat was only going to go slowly, 2 knots being the resulting speed of RPM’s that would normally produce 4 knots or more. This was beginning to be concerning, but there was nothing to be done about it. So, we decided that we would stay at the Chub Cay marina to do some assessment, rather than going to the mooring field on Frazers Hog Cay. The prices they charge here make the stop look like a stay in Ritz-Carlton without the mints on the pillow.

So, as we’re heading into the channel, maybe half way there, the oil pressure alarm goes off and the motor shuts down. Not a good plan in close waters with nearby shoals and coral fields. I jumped down the companion way and opened the engine compartment. I did not see the puddle of oil that I thought I might but I did see a very large lake of diesel fuel under the motor, just shy of a gallon; this is what Carol had smelled. I checked the oil …. we had a full sump. Since there was no visual evidence of an oil problem, I diddled with the two wires on the oil pressure sender, which triggered the alarm. (This unit had been replaced at our stop in Ft. Lauderdale) That may have worked because we got the engine started again and it kept going.

It took a long while to get fuel at the fuel dock and to moor the boat. When we were secure at the dock I went back to the engine compartment to think about the diesel leak and I noticed yet another gift from the boating gods: the engine coolant expansion tank was leaking its last few ounces of coolant into the diesel lake below. The problem was immediately clear to me. Ralph, the diesel technician in Marathon, had shoved the tank down when he was looking at the engine. That stressed the small plastic nipple which connects to the hose. A few more hours of engine vibration and a bumpy ride over the bank completed the job. I have to admit that this one was almost too much, a boat trouble trifecta in just 12 hours.

Anyway, we have a jerry rigged replacement for the expansion tank consisting of a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, the broken plastic nipple, a hose clamp and some duct tape. Not pretty, but it might work as far as Nassau.

The diesel leak is another issue. I’m pretty sure that it, in fact, involves the middle fuel injector, one which I have long suspected of being an issue but which the all engine guys tell me is alright. I also believe, at least as a working hypothesis, that the lack of power and the leaking diesel are intrinsically linked. Carol noted that we were lucky that there was not a fire with that much fuel exposed, and maybe we were. The odd thing about diesel is that it has more energy per unit of volume than gasoline does but it also has a much higher flash point. When we get under way we will have a fire extinguisher out and ready.

The goal now is simple: get to some place where there are more resources and try to figure out what a plan B might look like. Nassau is only 40 miles away but it is to the southeast and the winds tend to come from that direction and with our reduced power level 40 miles could be a long trip without some clear assist from the wind, assuming that the engine will get us there at all.

So, I worry about the boat and Carol worries about me worrying about the boat and neither of us are having a whole lot of fun. On the other hand, we talked about this last night and reminded ourselves that there are people we know, people we like and people we love that have real problems and that the boat is not even close to a real problem. Larry, on board the Attitude, has this aphorism on the back of his boat card: The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. We’re working on our attitudes while working on the boat and working out a plan.

Posted by sailziveli 09:32 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating Comments (0)

Alicetown, Bimini

sunny 75 °F

Well, we finally made it to Bimini. We set out to go to the Bahamas on 11/18/08 and actually arrived on 04/09/10, a mere 507 days later, more time than Darwin needed for the Beagle to get to the Galapagos and more time than Capt. Cook needed to sail to and discover the Sandwich Islands.
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This was our second try to cross to Bimini this trip. We were going to leave on the Saturday before Easter, but arriving on Easter Sunday seemed like not such a good plan what with customs, immigration and all. So, we left on Easter Sunday. The wind was forecast from the ENE, which seemed workable, at 15 knots. In the event when we were about 10 miles off shore it became clear that the winds were from the east, dead on, and the 15 knots had morphed to 25 knots. There was no line we could have sailed to get across the Gulf Stream and hit Bimini. So with heavy seas, high winds and no plan, we retired back to the Marathon City Marina which we had just left.

That was OK because there were some water projects that required a Home Depot. I had been getting a great deal of longitudinal input (married men will understand these code words) from Carol about the taste and smell of the water in our tanks. She didn’t like it; I had never noticed. So in goes an inline filter from the tanks to the main faucet in the galley. I also jerry rigged a two stage filter for using hoses to fill the tanks. I also had to reinstall the foot pump that Carol uses after it became loose and would not work.

With time on our hands we worried about our potential vulnerabilities. All boaters obsess about the weather and, away from the internet, most people in the Bahamas listen to Chris Parker on their Single Side Band Radios, one of which we have. We had not been able to hear him stateside, too much static, maybe, we thought, there was too much interference from cell towers and such. We hoped for better reception in the Bahamas but that put a heavy burden on HOPE. So, we decided to sign up for the XM Marine Weather service and to have the antenna installed to download the information to our two laptops. What a mess. I spent two full days on the phone with technical support centers trying to get either computer to work, one with Windows 7 and the other with Windows XP. Eventually both did work despite the efforts of all involved, sort of a spontaneous digital healing. This was the first time I had had to deal with unstable software since the days of Sears using IBM’s O/S 2 operating system. Getting XM Weather was a wise choice; we still cannot receive Chris Parker and an internet connection here is the impossible dream.

Thursday, 04/08, was the day; the winds were, more or less, correct for the trip. We had about 36-hours before a storm front was due to arrive. There was no way to lay down a plot line …. too many variables, some of which themselves would vary over the course of the trip. The one rule that seemed to apply was not to let the course over ground be smaller than the bearing to Bimini, e.g. Bimini is at 060 so steer 080. It is better to head up from the south than to have to head down against the current from the north.

Everything went about as it should have until we got to the Bimini channel waypoint. I have only mis-entered the coordinates of a way point once; this one I got wrong twice. I thought that this error was the reason that I could not find the channel markers. Wrong! Seven of the eight markers went to buoy heaven during a hurricane so, we hung around off shore to watch some boats exit the channel. Then we took the plunge. It turned out OK but there were some surprisingly shallow waters where deep water was supposed to be the deal (to be fair to the chart publishers they did mention shifting sands).

I’ve cleared customs and immigration countless times around the world. This was the first time that I have done so with papers hand written in triplicate using carbon paper and lots of official stamps. Fortunately, it was a painless process, no lines and no hassle when we had written stuff on the wrong lines of the forms.

The water here is beyond beautiful and no picture I will ever take can convey that beauty. It is clear from the darkest blue of the very deep water to the aquamarine shades in the shallows. The west side of the island is mostly a white sand beach, and relatively high ground: probably 15~20 feet above mean low water. The view across the Straits of Florida is memorable.
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Bimini seems interesting but not in any way that would compel us to stay for an extended period. It’s predominately a black island, but I probably knew that. It’s interesting to be in a minority and not a problem because everyone, so far, has been very nice.

There is not much in the way of money here or good jobs to bring money onto the island. Some government positions, a few with utilities and some service jobs at hotels, etc; that’s all. Tourism seems to be the only way that new money comes onto the island.

One of the major economic activities with tourists seems to be sport fishing. This picture notwithstanding, I don’t know if Bimini was the island in the opening section of Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, although he wrote most/all of it here. If it isn’t, it certainly could be. The western edge of this island is remarkable. The water depth goes from 30 ft. to 3,000 ft. in maybe a mile and only a couple of miles from the beach. And, the deep waters of the Gulf Stream are where the big fish are to be had. A powerful sport fishing boat can leave Alicetown and be in very deep water in less than 30 minutes. Many of the marinas and one restaurant have 8”x10” pictures of folks with their catches of the day, some of the blue fin tuna going to 1,000 pounds.
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The cruising guides mention this store or that restaurant, a bakery or a bar. When you check the place out what is on offer is, maybe, a front room with a couple of tables or a closet sized space with some shelves and not too much in the way of merchandise on them. Carol noticed that all the inside workers are women, not men. Coming from the America of huge malls and Super Wal-Marts, it’s hard to understand that this level of retail activity can provide for and sustain some 1,700 souls, but it does.

There is only one main road: the King’s Highway, which runs the entire length of the island, not more than 7 miles. It’s easy to imagine that this was once a horse and a wagon path. There are a few cars on the island but these are certainly out numbered by golf carts, gas powered, not electric.
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It seems like about one of every ten buildings is abandoned and simply on the way to being completely destroyed by water and heat. Only a few buildings seem to be maintained and those not assiduously. Maybe the answer is that there isn’t enough money to get the job done or done economically. There is only one real estate agency on the island and not many For Sale signs.

This house was an exception. It’s a very nice house, very well maintained. Our guess, from the lions rampant, is that it was the residence of some British official before independence.
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One of the places we found was an abandoned resort at the very south end of the island. In modern terms it was like finding a Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan. From what I've seen of the island, if I were staying here, this is the place I would have wanted to be. The story is that some 30 years ago the family owners came on hard times and squabbled among themselves and it then fell into disrepair. Now, it is completely overgrown. It must have been special: several acres with the best views on the island. Now only one unit is occupied and that one looks like its ready to go.
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We rented a golf cart for a few hours to tour the island. This took about three hours with lots of stops for pictures; it’s not a very big place. Some things we saw, or didn’t see were:
• No public school, although when we asked, folks said that there is one, the building just isn’t what we would expect.
• No parks or playgrounds for kids with swings, slides, etc.
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• No obvious source of electrical power generation, although there is electricity.
• No obvious source for fresh water and only a few buildings have cisterns. The marina at which we are now moored has fresh water showers and a fresh water swimming pool.
• Only one gas station; it’s at our marina.
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• No franchises of any kind. But, there are two stores called Honey Buns, one north and one south; maybe we’ll read about that IPO in the near future.
• It was interesting to see that at least one bar has a no smoking policy.
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• The island is well churched, maybe 7 or 8 that we saw, including, of course, an Anglican church.
• Most boats moor in the harbor on the east side of the island; this boat is an exception.
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• There are free range goats, supposedly from the wreck of a Haitian refugee boat.
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In the Florida Keys killing a conch is a capital offence, Key West billing itself as the Conch Republic, without actually having any more conchs. Here, plainly, not so much of an issue; there are piles of shells along the shore and they are used for borders and fences. Conch fritters are as common here as French fries are in the states. Carol had a conch and lobster omelet for breakfast one day; the chicken needed no pity from her and the conch and lobster got none as she cleaned her plate.
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Most of the northern end of the island, maybe a quarter of the total area, has been purchased for a development: Bimini Bay. There are a lot of houses and condos built there already, although some seem to be spec houses, unfinished inside. The cost of entry is pretty high …. $2.0 million for a ½ acre lot; since every construction supply except sand for the concrete has to be brought in by boat, the cost of a house would probably be astronomical. We both like the deal on our 18.8 acres a lot better and we don’t have to worry about getting wiped out by a hurricane’s storm surge.

This has been an unusual winter, one not conducive to sailing. We waited out a hard freeze in Brunswick, the weather in Vero Beach, the weather in Key West and the weather in Marathon. Now, again, we're waiting out the weather in Bimini. We’re not sure about the next leg of the trip. We need to go east but there is a stalled high pressure area to the north and the forecast is for winds from the east at 15~20 knots through 04/15. To go east we have to cross the Grand Bahama Bank, running 15~25 feet deep. The wind on the bow in relatively shallow water with a fetch of some 70 miles would make for a very rough passage. I've read Milton and I do not agree that, "they also serve who only stand and wait," but waiting we are.

Posted by sailziveli 09:56 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating Comments (0)

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