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Pre-flight #1 - 2013

sunny 34 °F

It's pushing a year since the last blog entry, a welcome relief to all including the humble(d) blogger. After arriving safely in Ft. Pierce, FL, from the Bahamas, Carol and I rested a bit and then took the boat north, to Brunswick, GA in a totally uneventful two day trip.

The pleasant trip to the Bahamas in 2011/2012 ended several years of mishaps, misadventures, frustrations and boat repairs. Having gotten it right, finally, we decided to forgo an encore visit (why risk a successful string of one in a row?) and to stay home for the winter.

Our decision to stay home was not a choice against boating and cruising but, rather, a decision that what we wanted to try next was a trip north, winter generally being a bad time for skinny, cryophobic people to do that. As we went through the logistics of that possible trip a couple of things were obvious: there was some work that we wanted done on the boat, specifically standing rigging, that we only trusted to be done in Oriental, NC, at Sail Craft Services. Also, Oriental, NC is 500 ICW miles north of Brunswick, ergo 500 miles closer to where we wanted to go. So, at the end of September we left Brunswick and headed north, another uneventful trip save for three things: (1) Carol's inexplicable decision, while at the helm, to make a detour east for the Cape Verde Islands; (2) the ever unreliable autopilot again failed so we laid over in Charleston, SC while I ordered a new one and then installed it; (3) as we headed north, due to the autopilot layover, we were then paralleling hurricane Sandy, which, at the time, didn't seem like a big deal since the storm had been tracking well off shore. The boat and the hurricane arrived in NC concurrently but, very fortunately for us, the storm stayed far enough out to sea to be a non-event in NC.

The boat is back at Sea Harbor, the same marina from which we headed south in November, 2008. This is a great place with nice people but we seem to be in a slip where marginal cell phone and wifi frequently tends to converge to zero. So, for lack of a better idea, I have tried using the wifi antenna which seems to work very well except when Microsoft Inc. sends out automatic updates which wipe out the driver, which in turn seems to require about an hour for re-installation and then reconfiguration. But a strong signal with no service doesn't accomplish very much. We cannot even place or receive cell calls much of the time. It's hard to accept that guys like Capt. Cook could explore the world and we cannot move across the river without a computer, cell phone and GPS navigation.

Oriental is little changed, save for the universal economic depredations of the past several years. Some old businesses gone, some new ones in their places, but everything is mostly the same.

Winter in the mountains, after four years of avoiding the season, was predictable: it got cold, we were snowed in many times and iced in once. For all of that, our little patch of land is a paradise, beautiful 365 days of the year; it's just that some days require a little bit more work to see the beauty than others. A view from our steep and tortuous driveway this past winter.

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The boatyard work on the boat is mostly done, the only unanticipated change being a new water heater; our work ...... never done. I read a book this winter about an around-the-world sailing race in which the author cited someone else's quote about boat maintenance:

If you do not make your boat a little bit better every day,
it will make itself a little bit worse.

To me, this is boat wisdom and advice we have intuitively followed over the several years we have owned the boat. It was difficult to attain the mindset which I labeled preemptive replacement: don't wait for a failure, make the change now before it even seems that a failure is possible.

To wit, Carol and I have made several short trips to the boat this year to do the assorted, endless small things that always seem to need doing, trying to make the boat a little bit better every day. We have several small Excel programs which I use to manage both scheduled maintenance and ad hoc repairs. I don't know whether it's age, the unfamiliar complexity of this/any boat or, probably, both; I cannot keep track of all this stuff in my head. Regardless, these make daily planning a breeze: tackle an item, then change its status to completed in the data base; the computer never forgets.

We took the boat to the Yanmar dealer for some simple warranty work and the young man who did the work took one 10 nanosecond look at the engine and told me of several places where cables and lines were chafing against the block. One included a fuel line, another a hot power cable that would have shorted against the metal engine. All stuff I should have seen a year ago; all stuff the installer should have addressed; all stuff with major downside consequences. An hour, or so, and a lot of zip ties took care of everything including moving the fuel line, way above my pay grade.

That got me to thinking that any place on any boat where power lines run or hoses carry fluids is covered up with zip ties, black or white, holding things together in nice, tight, neat bundles. The only problem is that no human has ever devised a way to cut the excess length without creating a razor sharp end that will slice and puncture. It's hard to stick a hand or an arm into some tight spaces without it coming out shredded and bleeding, made worse if you are on some blood thinner like Plavix.

Preparation this year seems to be a little bit less frantic, maybe because this is now somewhat familiar ground for us; we know how, for example, to clean and purge the water tanks. When we first spent time together on the boat, August, 2007, it seemed like two grown people trying to coexist in a shoe box. The size of the shoe box has not changed but the boat now seems, if not comfortable, then at least more accommodating. Our total days on the boat must now exceed two full years, newness and strangeness gone, and if we do not know a lot about boats, we have come to know a great deal about this boat.

Of course, we (read I) seem to be unable to complete any trip preparation, frantic or otherwise, without some sort of self-inflicted disaster, this year being no exception. Getting old is its own indignity; getting simultaneously stupid is just too much to handle. This year in trying to unplug the control panel I guessed wrong and opened the two rocker switches from which fell many small parts. Not a problem, solvable with a few bucks under most circumstances. However, when the circumstances are that those parts are no longer being manufactured for Yanmar ..... big trouble! I'm not sure how this one plays out; the only saving grace is that there is a Yanmar dealer about one mile away frpm the slip.

The "sort of" plan for this trip is to head north to the Chesapeake, the time there including a side trip to WDC up the Potomac River. We would like to wend our way north through the Chesapeake, cutting over to Delaware Bay and down to Cape May, NJ. From there we think we might head to the eastern end of Long Island Sound and the islands. Then up through Cape Cod and, if things break right, a shot up to Maine and then we would work our way down the New England coast. We would like to leave on April 1st, the fool's aspect of that date held well in mind. Hurricane season starts in June but is generally ugliest in August and September. So, being in a safe harbor by early August seems prudent.

We've got most of the route planning done. The ugly job is entering the way points into the navigation system and then proof-reading the work, a job too tedious to be done without a hearty dram and too important to be done with one. We'll end up with 150 ~ 200 new way points for this trip and will almost certainly add more along the way as we change our plans. We'll use the ICW from here to Norfolk, VA, a trip of 155 nautical miles. The alternative is going outside from here to Norfolk and I have sworn that I will never have Cape Hatteras to the west of my vessel. This thought was reinforced after having read a long article about the sinking of the Bounty during hurricane Sandy last October. That captain was experienced but, maybe, not too smart about that trip; he died along with another crew member. The tentative plan is two long open water reaches: Cape May to Montauk, NY on the eastern end of Long Island, and, if we think we can handle it, another from Cape Cod to Maine. Each is about 200 nm and can be completed in less than 48 hours, barring emergencies. Three days and two nights seems to be the limit of our functional stamina underway.

The chart plotter calculates that we will travel just shy of 700 straight line miles from the slip in Sea Harbor to northern Maine. Allowing about 20% for turning a straight line into a road route, this is a distance we could cover in one very full day of hard driving. In the boat we'll need more than two months.

This trip will be less tense and nerve wracking in a couple of aspects: (1) we should have access to cell service and the internet in most of the places we are going; (2) Tow Boat US and Sea Tow should be just a phone call away. The fuel contamination problems that we had last year made an impression. For a while we were dead in the water with little availability to ready help; I'm not really sure why the fuel system didn't shut us all the way down a second time. A long wait for a tow is better that no choice at all. We also invested about $20 in a fuel filtering funnel that has a mesh so fine that water cannot pass through it. All fuel this trip will be filtered before it goes into the tank or into any jerry can. We continue to learn from our mistakes but it would be nice to avoid at least a few of them.

Posted by sailziveli 09:35 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

So, What Happened Was ....

Blog Sign Off for This Trip

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)

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)

Back in Nassau

sunny 82 °F

This time by choice, actually; the boat was not yet in need of repair there. We want to head north to the Abacos, a place we visited for a weekend on our first trip here. The weekend ended with concerns about the Westerbeke engine, which performed admirably, until it quit in the middle of the Gulf Stream, but did, eventually, get us back to Brunswick.

We listened to Chris Parker on Tuesday morning. His forecast was for a secondary front to come through on Wednesday with about 16 hours of winds on the "or so" side of 20 knots. With that we were pretty sure that we would not be able to get out the Emerald Bay Marina channel into those east winds; and we were pretty sure that we did not want to transit one of the cuts to head west in those winds. So, after the weather we cast off our lines and headed out. We passed along the port side of that big, blue hulled boat and felt very small in doing so.

We had about 130 nm to cover to get to Nassau and wanted to do that in three days, roughly 40 nm per day. This portion of the trip is about distance, not style. So we motor sailed the whole first day trying to cover and much water as possible. Our thought was to get to Black Point Settlement, hopefully by about 1600 (4pm). We made such good time, rarely under six knots, that we ended up about seven miles north by 1500 (3pm) and anchored at Big Majors Spot, just north of Staniel Cay. Davis and Alice left on Sunday; on Tuesday we anchored about 100 yards behind them.

When we headed south we exited the Cave Cay Cut on the south end of that island onto Exuma Sound. This time we headed for Galliot Cut at the north end of that same island: Cave Cay. Galliot Cut has the benefit of being fairly wide and fairly deep, at least compared to Cave Cay Cut. We hit the cut just before high tide and were fairly lucky. The wind was from the east and the tide was headed east and we got a very small example of what they call Rages here, the waves caused by the friction of wind and water headed in opposite directions. A small example was more than enough.

Actually, the boat is in need of some minor repair. The mast head fly is not aligned, is loose, or both. We can work around this but it is a really good reference for sail trim.

Wednesday started bad and went from there to worse, then awful. Getting the anchor up is not a real challenge, but wind does add a degree of difficulty, and it was windy as Chris Parker had forecast. Carol understands the windlass pretty well but her strength will never be making a critical assessment of a mechanical process. Sure enough, the anchor twisted at the bow roller and wedged in hard and tight, half in and half out. Carol came back to the cockpit but had no real interest in handling the boat in a crowded, windy, shallow anchorage near land. So I piloted the boat out to the fringe where she took over and I started working on the anchor. This work was mostly me hanging out over the bow pulpit and whacking the shaft of the anchor with a ball peen hammer. Enough whacks and it finally came loose and we secured it.

We had covered about 30 of 38 nm from Big Majors Spot to Highbourne Cay and were nearing Norman's Stake, a turning point hard onto a nasty, submerged shoal. All of a sudden the chart plotter started sending messages: Lost Fix. This went on for almost a half hour and was unnerving; it's a long way to Nassau using a small, hand held GPS, our only backup. The signal came back in time for us to make the turn safely and has not been a problem since. There's no explaining it, I suppose. We're been by that place many times without a similar problem. Maybe we can blame it on the Commie rats in North Korea or Islamist terrorists anywhere.

As we approached the anchorage at Highbourne Cay, maybe two miles out, the engine started to lose RPM's, a sure sign of a fuel supply problem. We limped into the anchorage at low RPM's and did get the anchor out and secured the boat. We tore apart the rear cabin to get to the fuel filter. When I removed the filter it was perfectly and purely black, so black that I had stop and think what color it should be: some shade of off-white. The residual fuel in the bowl was not the honey color of the island's fuel; it was dark, muddy and opaque. Big problem! I disconnected, then dismounted and finally disassembled the Racor fuel filter. There is a small float inside and I was concerned that the crud might have caused it to stick. Cleaned everything in fresh, soapy water. Then, it struck me that water and fuel are a poor mix so we got out the Honda generator, fired it up and blew the water out of the interior passages and channels with the small air compressor. We put everything back together, primed the fuel lines and started the engine: it ran, but only for a few seconds. It took us a while to prime the engine successfully but finally, probably blind luck, we got it going and kept it going. We ran it for a half hour at different RPM levels and checked to see if the RPM's were constant with an optical tachometer; they were. Four hours after we anchored we shut things down and counted ourselves weary but successful.

But wait ..... there's more! Thursday morning we ran the engine a while to make sure that the fuel supply was working. We decided that it was and brought up the anchor and headed northwest to Nassau. Our assessment was correct until it wasn't. One hour out and the engine died again. Checked the filter: pristine. The only possible explanation seemed to be a blockage in the fuel tank. So out comes the Honda generator and air compressor again. I blew out the fuel line, primed the engine and voila: it ran. Once again, the most improbable boat tool, an air compressor, saved the day.

When the engine died and we got it restarted, we changed our course to Nassau, opting to take a shorter route through the Yellow Bank and its coral heads. We figured that this would save about 5 nm, an hour of travel time and a gallon less of polluted fuel going through the system. People make this transit all the time but it was a first for us. It was a good day for newbies: flat water and bright sun. The band of coral heads may only be two miles wide, a small portion of the trip. The coral heads are easy to see and to avoid. The issue is that the dark of the coral head stands out well but it is almost impossible to gauge the depth of water over their tops: maybe 2-ft., maybe 20-ft. Since the penalty for guessing the clearance wrong is severe, everybody seems to weave through the dark spots, zigging and zagging, trying not to connect the dots. Boats that usually go arrow straight, driven by wind or motor were all over the place like some kids carnival game.

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We decided not to push the engine for fear that the increased fuel flow would cause things to clog again. After 0 knots and dead in the water 5 knots seemed pretty good and we arrived at the Nassau Harbour Club at 1530. We requested a specific slip location that we knew we could enter without maneuvering, forward or reverse, at high RPM's. They accommodated us and all ended well.

Fuel denouement: I was at a store looking at fuel transfer pumps that I could adapt to clean the tank. I was talking with a lady, explaining the issue, and she asked where we had purchased the bad fuel. I said at the Emerald Bay Marina. She mentioned that there was an article in the Nassau paper about Emerald Bay having old fuel, going bad, because they don't have enough sales volume to turn it over. Mystery solved, it was not the captain's fault!

For all of the aggravation and expense, there is a bright(er) side. Had we lost the engine Tuesday morning, which could easily have happened, we would have been on the windward side of the Exumas in strong winds pushing us toward a shore less than two miles distant. In the many scenarios that could develop from that situation most end badly.

We called Albert's Marine to have someone check the engine, just in case. Surprise, the eponymous Albert himself showed up. He said the engine is fine. Someone will come by on Monday to pump the tank dry and clean it. We are replacing all 50 gallons of fuel, an ugly, unnecessary expense. Carol also wanted to replace the five diesel jerry cans so we did that too.

Since we are in Nassau, we walked down to Lightbourne Marine, a Mercury OB motor dealer, to see if someone would check the carburetor on our motor. They sent a boat by to pick it up. Way cool! We found someone at the marina who will clean the bottom; it's beginning to look like one of the putting greens for the upcoming Masters tournament in Augusta.

The last major to-do was the mast head fly. Carol hoisted me up the mast, not a complicated thing but an activity that works better and more safely with two people on deck. It seems to be hard for any sail boater to walk by a bosun's chair without wanting to help. The magnet worked well this morning and a nice guy came aboard to manage the safety line and the mast mounted cam cleats. My guess was that the problem was going to be very simple to solve or require a complete replacement, not possible in Nassau. We needed a break and got it; it was a loose set screw needing only a couple of turns from a screwdriver to secure it. While I may not have gotten it aligned perfectly, it's good enough for us to sail with.

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The weather has been great, if not always great for sailing. At the southern end of the Exumas it was warm to the point Carol thought it hot; it was fine for me. Our first night in Nassau the temperature got down to 68o; good for Carol, cool for me. Everyone has said that April is a great month in the Abacos and we are looking forward to the time there. Carol has been using her time in Nassau wisely: getting her hair done, making dinner reservations and shopping.

So, by midweek we should have the OB motor back and we should be completely refueled and ready to head north. It's 95 nm run from here to North Man-O-War channel, an access point to Marsh Harbour and Hope Town. We'll make an overnight trip, planning to arrive shortly after sunrise. When there we hope to be able to meet up with Debbie on Illusions and also hope to see David and Alice again on Alice Mae.

Posted by sailziveli 14:33 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Emerald Bay Interlude

sunny 77 °F

There are some interesting boat name pairings here in George Town. Bojangles and Troubadour, a musical pair; Rocinante and Dulcinea, a Quixotic pair. Troubadour actually did hail Bojangles once on the VHF radio. Not much pairs with Ziveli.

We got back from town on Tuesday very wet. There were a couple of inches of water in the dinghy, some of which got into the (allegedly) water proof bag in which the computer was stored. By luck, or by plan, all the computer gear was also in big zip-lock bags so no damage was done. The fuel/water separator was leaking gas into the dinghy and may be the cause of a new O/B motor issue: it didn't run with much power or high end RPM's on the trip back. Of course, the trip back was not a good candidate for a Bonneville Flats like performance test, since we probably had a few hundred pounds of water in the boat. If Sir Isaac Newton had owned a boat his 3d law of motion would have been: for every problem you fix you also create an equal, but different problem. I think that I can deal with the leak which may also deal with the power issue ..... or not!

The winds arrived yesterday, Tuesday, afternoon. Carol wanted to stay in town for lunch, which I proposed we do; she also did not want to be on the open water in the dinghy when the winds came. In this case lunch lost out over concerns about the weather, and a good thing too. A brutal ride back would have been magnified even more. So, we, and most other boaters, are marooned on our boats. Not a bad thing since there is a water taxi which can be hailed on VHF 16.

For all the very obvious reasons, weather is a big deal on a small boat. As we have searched for sources of forecasts we have found that there is no perfect Bahamas solution for us, anyway. The internet actually has the best source of specific information, scalable to very small, very specific areas. On the other hand, there is no great overview of weather macro-dynamics other than Chris Parker who seems to spend about half of each morning broadcast talking about troughs and ridges in such far away places as Bermuda and Nova Scotia. Combining Chris Parker with the internet seems to present a fairly good picture of both cause and effect. I dislike being in a place where internet weather is not available and have, to some extent, tailored most of our anchorages based on BaTelCo phone towers to get internet access; probably wimpy but I really don't care.

There has been an aspect about the weather here that has been quite different from our previous experience. Typically, when weather frontal systems move through we have been used to having a day or two of heavy, complete cloud cover and periods of rain lasting for hours, frequently longer. Here the clouds always seem to be mixed with sun; rain only seems to come in squalls, lasting a few minutes, rarely longer. This may be because we are so far south that weather systems just break up naturally. I think that we have seen more rainbows in the past few weeks than in the past few decades. Most have been only a partial arc; this one was only the second complete arc that we have seen. It's not much captured in the photo but these colors were especially bright and vibrant.

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In the strange world of 12vDC systems: when trying to listen to Chris Parker's weather on the SSB radio we noticed that there was a high level of interference which we assumed was atmospheric. Then when tuning the antenna to the frequency we noticed that an LED reading light flashed off then back on. Turned off the light and the static disappeared. No other light on that wiring run did the same thing. The lights are all the same and go through the electrical panel; the SSB is directly wired to the batteries so I don't know how there could be any electrical connectivity between the two. Fortunately there is no fix required; we just keep that light off when the SSB radio is on, but inquiring minds still want to know.

For electrical power we have been doing very well. There's been enough sun for the solar panels to contribute and the winds, of course, have been constant, almost eternal. In fact, we have been shutting the wind generator off at night for concerns about over charging the batteries; more importantly, the sound of the generator has become the pea to Carol's princess-like lack of sound sleep. There have been many worry points this trip but power has not been one of them. That's a good thing because, while we are frugal in our use of power, the number of things on board that demand recharging continues to grow: two Bahamas cell phones, one a smart phone; two laptop computers; an iPad; a Kindle; a satellite phone; a camera; a VHF hand held radio. The other two cell phones, USA numbered, will swap for the Bahamas ones on our return.

Carol is a communal, social person and likes to listen to the cruisers' net in the morning. There is a boaters general section in which boaters ask for assistance, beg for parts and barter pieces. We asked for help when the O/B motor was having its first problems and received a tentative offer from another boat. There is a certain misery loves company aspect to this as we have realized that our problems may be unique but that having problems in absolutely not unique. The litany just seems to go on: electronics, electrical, O/B motors, canvas, etc. Many of these make our issues seem like small beer.

In all the diddling with the motor, repeatedly taking the cowl on and off, the gasket that seals the edge of the cowl to the motor came loose. I had not checked to see how the gasket was affixed; I assumed glue. When in town I asked at a store if they had any double sided tape and, surprisingly, they did. A great product and quite well suited for mounting 4th grade science fair exhibits; I'm not so sure about motor repairs. Turns out that the gasket was originally set with double sided tape. It took a while, and some acetone, a product I dislike using, to clean the old glue and foam from the gasket. We are now water proof again, at least for a minute. The new tape cannot be much less reliable than the old tape, I hope. The problem with projects like this is not having access to Ben's infinitely equipped workshop: not the right tools, not the right work spaces and not the right work surfaces.

Carol seems to be, if not intimidated by the new motor, very chary of it. She was generally competent and capable with the 4-hp motor but reluctant to use it by herself, doing so only in confined areas such as the Vero Beach or Boot Key Harbor mooring fields; the logic of that was, I suppose, that there would always be someone around to help her if she needed it. She has never even started this motor and the recent spate of issues will not encourage her to do so.

We have been rethinking our plans. We had wanted to head to Long Island, south and east of George town. But next week the wind will shift to the north meaning no sailing going or coming. I had wanted to go to Cat Island, about 40~50 nm east of here and maybe we yet will; but the numbers are daunting, for the trip west anyway, and I don't want to write nautical checks that our seamanship and stamina cannot cover.

So, in lieu of an actual plan, we headed back to Emerald Bay for access to the internet so that we can deal with the IRS' claim to all that we own. Carol hauled two huge bags of clothing, towels, sheets, etc. to the laundry, none having been done since we were here last. Her rough calculation was that we saved enough money with free laundry to pay for one night at the marina. As an side benefit, I got to watch Florida play Louisville in the NCAA round of eight; Florida lost, bummer! On the plus side, Carol talked Doug, the dockmaster/GM for the marina to carry our IRS stuff back to the states and to mail it when he travels on Tuesday. This will make something that was getting pretty complicated much easier.

The most likely outcome is that we will stay here until the weather settles and the wind becomes easterly again and then head back up the Exumas to Nassua, a trip of two or three days depending on how hard we push. Carol is very keen on spending time in the Abacos, the northern islands in the archipelago. That area gets more and worse weather than where we are now. We have been told that things settle down in April so we would plan about a month there; the north/south distances there are shorter than in the Exumas so that should allow us plenty of time to explore before heading home.

For about an hour this Saturday we had this section of the marina to ourselves. Wendy and Burry had left on the Seahawk; no other boats had people on them. The the big white boat arrived followed by the blue hulled boat. What struck me about that boat was its size, looking to me, after all of these 40 years, larger than the USS Alacrity. I checked the numbers: it is 170-ft. long lacking 20-ft. of being the same size. But, USS naval warship v. private vessel: it's a contender.

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On Saturday evening, 03/24 Carol got taken out to dinner for her birthday, her 66th. We met David and Alice at the marina and David, in a very generous state of being, treated us to dinner, an unexpected but very pleasant evening. We saw them off this morning as they headed north; we expect to meet again in the Abacos.

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Carol on Her special Day!

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Posted by sailziveli 20:57 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (1)

George Town, Miscellany

sunny 79 °F

  • We had planned to leave for Long Island on Saturday, 03/17. But, in the way of boats, stuff happened. Both Carol and I felt like we were in the early stages of colds; we did not yet feel bad, but we surely didn't feel very lively. This we might have gotten past; but on the cruisers' net this morning we heard that there is going to be some sort of regatta to Long Island, maybe as many as 40 boats, leaving Saturday and returning Tuesday. Too much company in too small an anchorage. So we stayed put, did some chores, read some books, drank some gin, and just hung out. Carol noticed that the snap hook we have securing the painter to the dinghy was kaput; it was a really good Wichard snap hook that I expected to last forever. It would have been a very expensive part failure that allowed the inflatable boat and motor to drift off into the sunset. One of the chores was to make a new painter.
  • Carol had thought that she would not like it here in George Town, too much like Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, FL. But, since we are well away from the critical mass of boats she had decided that it is OK. The town has a certain charm, we think; the concentration of activity near the grocery store is remarkable. I would guess that the cruising population has a significant economic impact on the community. There seems to be a certain frenetic level of action down by the Chat 'n' Chill Grill: games, yoga, activities, e.g. water color painting, going on all of the time. It seems that many folks make a dash for here and then just sit for the duration of their allotted trip time, having close friendships with others, built up over time, who do the same thing.
  • There is a cruisers' net every morning at 0800 on the VHF radio. These are typically brutally boring and this one almost meets that standard except --- the host has a voice like a professional radio announcer and has a ready wit about him that makes it seem almost like morning drive time before it was taken over by shock jocks. Matt, the rooster, (yes, he does crow on the air) is way too much personality for me in the morning, but it is different from other nets we have heard.
  • Having no idea what this place would be like, we have been a little surprised by the turnover in boats. Every morning there is a trail of sails heading north and south; every afternoon a similar number of boats arrive to take their places.
  • There is a BaTelCo cell tower maybe a mile or so away and we have a direct line of sight to it. Despite this, the Samsung smart phone has not worked at all as a wifi hot spot for the computer except on rare occasions, another of the many things that I have not been able to understand, especially if the laptop cannot get to the internet how can I have a steady stream of Microsoft updates processing. It has, however, been able, usually, to load the internet onto its own screen. So, in order to put out the blog I have had to schlep the computer and accessories into town and go to the local wifi store pictured below. It's hard to imagine a bigger mismatch than this building and anything to do with wireless technology. It's about the size of a one car garage and in its previous life may have been .... I cannot imagine. Regardless, the price is pretty good: $5.00 all day and the upload/download speeds are not bad, in the relative sense, anyway.

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  • On the dinghy ride into town this morning we saw that Braveheart of Sark was anchored a little south of us, just like a regular boat. I had thought that this was the most beautiful boat I had seen. On further reflection, it is one of the most beautiful things (things exclude people and places) that I have seen. It was rude and inconsiderate of them to put their dinghy on the side where I had to take the picture.

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  • Our boat, which we don't think of as small, is on the smaller side of the boat universe here at George Town; the bottom third easily, more likely the bottom quarter. Despite this, some folks are here in what seem, to us, to be very small boats, 30-ft. max. These two guys are anchored just to the north of us, the long and the short of it in boat terms.

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  • Every day, about 1500 (3pm) now on DST, our boat gets done up like a tie dyed, psychedelic 60's VW van as Carol redecorates the cockpit to reduce the harsh afternoon sun as it comes in over the stern. It's pretty hard to argue about this; she is a skin cancer survivor; the sun is not her friend, after all, and most people with her history would opt for a dark cave over a Caribbean cruise.

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  • A little bit before 1300 on Sunday we headed down to the Chat 'n' Chill to meet David and Alice for a BBQ on the beach. We never made it there; the O/B motor quit after a few hundred yards and then quit again after a restart. We eventually figured out that the motor would run, but only at about idle speed, so we limped back to the boat. The most reasonable explanation was a fuel supply problem, the second was water in the fuel. When we got back to the boat I went through the trouble shooting guide, exhausting all possibilities except adjustments and settings, whatever those are. Replaced the spark plugs and checked to see that each was getting power; they were. Replaced the fuel hose, fuel fittings, nothing worked; the engine continued to stall above idle RPM's. Got tired and quit. After a few hours I decided to see if the engine would even start after cooling down. Not only did it start, it ran at the full range of RPM's. Left it alone and came back in the morning; it still ran but, maybe, it was a little rough; or, maybe, that was the way it has always run but I never paid that much attention. Went down to see David, probably less than a mile one way, and he said that the engine sounded good and offered to loan me his RACOR fuel/water separator, truly a DUH! moment, and a testament to my lack of linear and/or horizontal thinking. Such an obvious thing to do and I had never even heard of such a thing. I took the dinghy into town and headed to Top II Bottom, a marine supply store that carried the filters at only twice the price of the Defender catalogue, but about what we would have paid to get one shipped here from the states. I installed it this afternoon and the engine still seems to run OK. As prophylactic measures we have also added a tow rope in case the engine quits again; we carry the seat, now, in case we need to row; and we now carry the handheld VHF in case we need to beg a tow back to the boat. It's good when things work; it's a simple, straightforward issue when things don't work. It's the in-betweens that are hard to handle and do not accommodate themselves well to planning: will the motor keep working or not? Having checked Staniel Cay Marina, the only solution is Nassau; Lightbourne Marine sells and repairs Mercury engines, but we've made that return voyage too many times this trip.

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  • When we bought the boat Carol and I both ordered prescription, polarized sunglasses. Carol wears hers almost all of the time, light eyes having a propensity for cataracts. I rarely wear mine, no particular reason for that, but chose to wear them today for the ride into Lake Victoria. The Bahamas are a beautiful place, with the blue of the sky, the white clouds and the variegated water shading blue through turquoise to green. I was struck by how much more vibrant the colors were with the sunglasses on. The intensity and clarity of the colors went up several orders of magnitude making a beautiful view even more so.
  • Small world stuff #1: Some folks, Bill & Ann, came by the boat on Sunday to chat for a while. They are friends of Ann & Marshall who live in Spring Creek along Meadow Fork Road, maybe two miles from our house as the crow flies, although the crow would need to tunnel through some rocky real estate to make that flight. They hail from Beaufort, SC and are anchored a few hundred yards away from our boat.
  • Small world stuff #2: the New Passage, a sailboat I have much admired, spent the same two years on dock #4 of Brunswick Landing Marina that we did. Last year when we moved to dock #9, they were on dock #8, one slip away from being stern to stern with us. Today I saw that Bob & Carol are about a quarter mile south of us, several hundred miles from south Georgia.
  • Carol has had an intestinal/stomach problem recently, never a pleasant thing, probably less so on a boat.
  • Being in the far north of the anchorage we have a very long dinghy ride to Lake Victoria, probably close to two miles. When leaving the lake the first of those miles runs almost due east, and is almost always directly into the wind; with the long fetch and higher wind speeds, over 15 knots, the ride gets very jarring and very wet. Carol has taken to wearing a Gore-Tex jacket to stay mostly dry and demanding slower dinghy speeds so that, despite her generous padding, she will not feel so knocked around. I haven't been wearing a jacket and when we get back to the boat my t-shirts are so salt encrusted that they will stand up by themselves. Then there is dinghy hair, a variation of hat hair. Hair gets wet and salty, blown by the wind into strange spikes and scapes, and then, due to the salt, dries that way as solid as if coated in styling gel.
  • On the dinghy ride into town this morning the O/B engine was doing well, having started on the second pull, and then it wasn't. So, we turned around and headed back to the boat. I had already planned the run north to Nassau when I noticed that someone, not saying who, had neglected to push in the choke. At this age my legs are too stiff to be able to kick my own butt. Having put in the choke, the engine seemed to do OK but I am still hyper sensitive to real or perceived signals that things are not well.
  • Our future plans are uncertain. We have a few days of winds coming up, 20~25 knots. When first we got the boat, eager to sail, I grudgingly reefed the sails at, maybe, 20 knots, other times waiting until 25 knots. Now, a few years in I know that our boat is fairly light at 16,000~17,000 lbs and that that much wind makes for very hard and physically demanding boat handling. So, we will just sit this out, test the dinghy some more and, if the weather is right, try for Long Island, about 38 nm, later this week. On the other hand, the dinghy may force us north.

Posted by sailziveli 10:43 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

George Town, Great Exuma Island

sunny 77 °F

Most of the boats in the marina arrived on Saturday or Sunday, 03/03-03/04 and stayed. The first good, well, mostly good, day for leaving was a week later, on Saturday, 03/10. The winds had dropped below 20 knots and about 2/3's of the boats here left, most to go north, a few headed south. One of those was French Kiss, headed to George Town after a spur of the moment decision to head out at lunch time. Then we were two.

What everyone had waited for was a day where it was not impossible or dangerous to exit the channel, a narrow thing, but deep enough, without getting pushed around by the waves and wind. People had mentioned that this could be a difficult place to exit with the wrong wind, wrong being generally from the east at the upper end of the teens or higher, exactly what we have seen for more than a week.

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We decided that we were not ready to leave, wanting another look at the weather forecast and having several unfinished tasks such as topping off the fuel and water. So, we bid all those folks adieu, handled their lines for them and waved goodbye.

On Saturday a sailboat came into the marina and moored. I paced it off at 75~80 feet. It was, simply, the most beautiful boat that I have ever seen. It was a newer boat done up to look like one from the very early part of the 20th century with beautiful woodwork about the cockpit and deck. The boat had a professional captain, I assume, having seen a man with a white shirt with blue shoulder boards with gold braid stripes, a dead give away. This might have tempted me for an 18-acre swap, but I never got the chance to offer the deal or even take a picture as it left early the next morning, Sunday. The ship was named Braveheart and flew a British ensign. The home port is Sark Isle, which I assumed to be in the Hebrides or Orkney Islands but is actually a channel island between England and France. Obviously, this boat made an impression on me.

Click here to see Braveheart of Sark

After doing not very much over the weekend on Monday we, sort of, went to work, filling the fuel tank and jerry cans as well as filling the water tanks to be ready to move when we decided the time was right. All fine and well except that Monday seems to be the designated front arrival day, this being the third consecutive Monday that has happened. It was, again, blowing 20~25 knots; it rained off and on during the day. A very good day to stay aboard but we had stuff to do, so we did it, finishing all tasks except one, that one not important for getting underway.

After a little conversation between the two boats Monday night and Tuesday morning we decided to head south to George Town with David and Alice aboard Alice Mae. They needed to stop at the fuel dock so we waited until it seemed about right and then got some help from Burry and Wendy with our lines.

It may not have been my worst ever session of boat handling; then again, maybe it was, although I had help. Burry held the bow line to keep the bow from being turned by the wind; worked perfectly. But, in doing so, the wind forced the stern to move away from the wind into absolutely everything. We caromed off one boat, bounced off a metal piling before settling onto the bow of another boat which had a very large Danforth anchor poking into delicate parts of our boat. Somehow, and I don't know how, after a frantic while, we were able to get our boat off the other boat and back out of the open area. We ended up backing out of the marina into the channel. No real damage done to the boat; some of the stainless steel scaffold that holds the canvas needed a little help finding its original position and there is a very small tear in the canvas. My ego .... not a problem, 'cause I don't have one.

The channel exit was not too bad, whitecaps being at a minimum. The waves were notable but, with a decent period between them, the boat rode over them very well. Once again I appreciated the power of the new motor and the extra bite of the new propeller. They drove the boat quickly through the rough patch getting us to open water.

We caught up with the Alice Mae and they told us that they had no chart plotter and wanted to follow us through the north Elizabeth Harbour entrance, a tricky bit. So an hour and a half later we were in the channel heading for an anchorage. The first place we tried to anchor we were hailed by a local anchoring vigilante and told that we would be too far into the ship channel; of course, her boat was just fine. So we moved back north where there was less crowding to find a spot. If there are 250~300 boats here, only five are north of us, not a problem, just an observation. Being away from the concentration of boats is probably a good thing. Since few boats here use their holding tanks there are some cautions about being in the water. Up here I do not think that will be a problem. In the small world category, two of the boats closest to us we have met at Black Point Settlement.

We are anchored in the lee of Stocking Island, the eastern barrier of Elizabeth Harbour, just below the monument, sort of the Sugar Loaf mountain of these here parts. We don't know what the monument commemorates, if anything, but we will find out. The hill on which the monument sits is about 115-ft. high, probably the highest land we have yet seen in these islands. The Alice Mae headed deeper into the harbour to anchor, we're not sure where. Maybe near the French Kiss, which is still in the area.

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When things had settled down, the anchor was set and the motor was off, Carol told me that we had a topless neighbor. It had to be true because the boat had the French tri-color on the halyard. It reminded me of the CBA Harley rallies we attended with the VFD. One guy might offer $5 for a lady to take off her top; seeing the lady, another, more sober and discerning individual, might offer her $10 to keep her top on. The next door neighbor turned out to be a $10 lady, might even be worth more, to me anyway. I was considering a bottomless bath this evening to rephrase Flip Wilson's point: we don't have it and we shouldn't flaunt it. That plan was trashed when I saw that some old, flabby guy had beaten me to the punch. Maybe it was a Dominique Strauss-Kahn sighting. The hair was about right; the age was about right; the build was about right; the bare butt .... luckily, I don't know.

After a while I put on the mask and flippers to check the anchor set: marginal but not a concern. While swimming back to the boat I found this fat boy, about 1-ft. across. I messed with it a while and then brought it back to the boat, thinking that, maybe, it was just a hollow shell since it seemed so light while in the water. The points and spines were pretty sharp, requiring a fishing glove, and the exoskeleton was very rigid. Carol was excited about keeping it but I decided that it probably was alive and put it back into the water. If I find it again in he next day or two it will probably stay on board.

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I woke up last night as is the wont of older guys. While up I decided to check our position; the anchor was holding. I also usually check our power consumption, which I did. To my surprise the batteries were at lower power than I expected. I went to the cockpit to check the wind generator. After nine nights and nine days of unrelenting winds, never blowing at less than 15 knots, the vanes on the generator hung in immobile uselessness; no air stirred; the water was glassy; the boat rode with the current. The treat was to see the efflorescence of anchor lights stretching across the harbour like some horizontal, monochrome Christmas tree, each reflected onto the waters surface creating a new firmament against the dark night's background of island and water.

We spent a pleasant, early morning in the cockpit watching several boats leaving the harbour to the north. It was interesting to watch. The channel has several waypoints, each with relatively short legs, about 0.50 to 0.75 miles, requiring precise turns at specific points and precise travel between those points. Since all the boats were following the same track it was rather like some arcane marine minuet, each boat following the "steps" of the leader, the same moves in the same places, the aspect of each boat presenting itself in the same way at each turning point, offset only by time, until each reached the open water. One of those things you had to be there to appreciate.

We took the dinghy to town this morning, a longish ride since we traveled slowly, not knowing where things were exactly. We did eventually locate the entrance to Lake Victoria. I wonder how many lakes in the world carry that name? In fact, this is a very royal place: The George in George Town, at least three of those; the Elizabeth in Elizabeth harbour, two of those and one Victoria in Lake Victoria. Six English royals, at least, and that's only on the south end of the island.

To enter Lake Victoria there is a channel cut underneath a bridge carrying the Queen's Highway, the main route along the east side of the island. The posted speed limit is 3 mph in the lake, not kilometers per hour. George Town is well set up to accommodate cruisers. In most places you have to pay for potable water; here it is free at the dinghy dock. Trash drop off is also free. The dinghy dock is right behind the bigger of the two grocery stores and across from one of the two banks in the very center of town. One of our tasks was to drop off books at the library, having accumulated a supply to offer in trade. This library may have more volumes than the Buncombe County Leicester Branch Library. Of course, there is a paucity of true literature and a surfeit of mind numbing page turners, exactly what's needed for reading on a boat. It's a pretty good deal: $3 for an annual fee per boat; hard cover books must be returned; paperback books are on a swap basis or return when, if ever, you get around to it.

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On the rides to and from town we saw some empty places, perhaps where boats had left the anchorage. We thought about moving to a better place but finally decided against it. The gain in weather protection would be minimal.

This afternoon we went exploring; my main goal was to get to the monument, a trip to which Carol, feeling poorly, was not inclined. The trek would have been nothing in our mountains wearing proper boots; wearing sandals and going up in soft sand it was a bit of a challenge. The main learning: the monument has no plaque commemorating anything at all. It is, apparently, just a big concrete stele on the top of a hill signifying nothing. The view, however, was worth the effort. Carol has been demanding pictures of me for the blog, so here I am, proof of accomplishment, been there, done that.

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The windward side of Stocking Island

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The south end of Stocking Island

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Our anchorage, north of the monument; the boat is in there somewhere.

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We then took the dinghy down to the area where most boats anchor. The main attraction there seems to be the Chat 'n' Chill an open air bar on Stocking Island that also serves the usual assortment of greasy fried food and, we've been told, remarkably good hamburgers for $5.00. It's pretty well set up with lots of chairs, picnic tables and a volley ball court; amazingly, the volley ball net does not droop in the middle in deference to old white folks who can no longer jump. Then we went down to see Alice and David; his chart plotter is still on the fritz and there are no good options available.

At 7pm, 1900 hours, on Wednesday, 03/14/12, my computer weather stations had: Hot Springs, 77o; Brunswick, 77o; George Town, 77o. Who wouldda thunk that?

Carol likes most wines, hates all beer and has no special affinity for any particular hard spirit. Since drinking is a critical part of cruising, she has been working on a drink strategy, what to order in a bar, ever since we arrived in Freeport during the last week of 2011. After about 10 weeks of experimenting she has arrived at a solution which seems to involve a mix pineapple juice and coconut milk and, if a blender is available, a portion of ice, producing a vapid mixture with the consistency of a Dairy Queen soft serve. What is difficult for the wait staff, especially if it is a man, is to get the resulting blend just right so that the drink will color coordinate with her shoes, her earrings, her eyeliner or whatever fashion accessory with which she is forming an emotional bond at that moment. The ordering process is both exhausting and time consuming; when we were out with one couple, the man keeled over from dehydration before Carol had finished her order. Curiously, she doesn't seem to care what alcoholic beverage goes into the drink, rum I suppose, just so long as she looks good while eating her drink with a spoon. The good news is that she doesn't seem to have a need a paper umbrella to complete the picture.

Despite the fact that the worst of the wind and weather have passed, the seas have yet to calm all the way down.

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We have cleared customs & immigration three times in the Bahamas. Each time we had intended to come here, George Town, making it the apogee of the trip. This time we finally made it. Carol, being Carol, has a bottle of champagne on board to celebrate our arrival. Carol, also being Carol, brought the bottle on board having beenasked many times: no glass on the boat.

We have been told that lots of people come here and stay a good while then turn around and head home. We had thought that we would tarry here a while but probably will not, having spent ten nights in the Marina at Emerald Bay that might otherwise have been spent here. And we do intend to head farther south, going to Long Island as Dawn and Bruce recommended.

The ubiquitous sunset after the storm.

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Posted by sailziveli 10:55 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Great Exuma Island @ Emerald Bay

semi-overcast 82 °F

We scurried about getting ready, filling the fuel tank from the jerry cans, to make a jail break south to The Marina at Emerald Bay, a safe haven and great bargain. The total trip was about 27 nm from dock to dock, maybe a little less than 25 nm along the axis of travel. The weather was what we expected: windy and rough. It's nice not to be surprised even if the fact of the matter is not too nice.

The other two boats at Cave Cay that we knew had left about an hour earlier than we did, all three of us headed in the same direction to the same destination for the same reasons. Not too complicated.

We made our first transit through one of the many cuts leading from the Great Bahama Bank on the west side to Exuma Sound on the east, and windward, side of the Exuma island chain. It seemed like it could have been a big deal but was not. Pay attention, use common sense and stay in the channel. Not too complicated, either. But, the channel seems narrower and the rocks a little closer and more intimidating when the boat is actually in it.

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The trip was mostly boring and tedious; we were maybe two miles from shore. We could see things well there; at some places waves were crashing 20 or 30 feet into the air as driven, moving water met immobile rock. From this side of the island chain it was clear that, eventually, the Exuma islands are going to disappear, eroded by water until they pose no obstacle for the waves in their transit from east to west. There is a very stark difference between the islands' aspect when viewed from the western side versus the eastern side. On the other hand, that isn't going to happen really soon, so they'll be around for a while, at least until we sell the boat. It also got me to musing that this would not be a good place to lose power, remembering the fabled souls condemned to haunt Boo Boo Hill on Warderick Wells Cay.

After about 4 hours, or so, on the helm I was getting tired and and my helmsmanship sloppy so I asked Carol to relieve me, which she did. Between Cave Cay and Emerald Bay there were eight lobster pots in about 25 nm. Within 10 minutes of taking the helm Carol had located one of the eight, driven the boat directly over the top of it, shredded the styrofoam float into nano-particles and wrapped almost 8 feet of black 3/8-in. polypropylene line around the propeller and shaft, seriously not a good thing since she also did not have the presence of mind to put the engine immediately into neutral, something I had to do for her. Now there are only seven lobster pots in the 25 nm.

So the situation was simple: the mainsail was up, we had no power, we were being driven toward shore by a 20 knot wind. Since sailing did not seem much of a solution, the situation was quite binary: fix the problem or, in a while, founder on the rocks. Most 65 year old guys with heart problems do not, as a matter of course, have to deal with these types of choices, generally being more concerned about choosing between a light beer or a regular beer.

Step one: get the sail down, which we did. Carol then thought it a good idea to remind me that the boat was still heading toward shore, making it clear that someone had to do something and that, although the problem may have been one of her creation, she was not going to be that someone so I had better get my skinny ass in the water, which I did. I put on my mask, fins and snorkel and jumped off the back of the boat, having secured my knife to my wrist with a piece of string lest I drop it as I seem to drop every other tool I handle. The first 6-ft. were pretty easy to remove, requiring only a half dozen trips under the boat. But there was about a foot wedged on either side of the zinc that was almost impossible to attack. The solution, after much effort with a serrated edge rigging knife, ended up being a key-hole saw that I had on the boat, the residue of some obscure one off project a few years ago. Eventually I sawed through the line and freed the shaft. I was in the water for maybe 30 minutes, under the boat for half of that time, but it seemed like a lot longer, as I was always looking at the bottom to see if it was getting shallower, it was, but from about 70 feet to 50 feet, not a threat at that time. The reward for the day, other than the boat not foundering, was to shred my shoulders on barnacles. Boat barnacles seem to have some sort of super slime that, when it gets into a cut, causes an infection, which hurts like the devil, and, then takes a long time to heal. Maybe the next time I'll remember to wear a shirt. The good news was that I swallowed enough salt water to halt the ocean's rise from global warming for at least two decades. Al Gore got a Nobel Prize for running his mouth; I'll get nothing for my major environmental contribution.

The engine seems OK but who knows; now every noise, every vibration is heightened by extra awareness. We'll just have to pay attention and hope for the best.

I piloted the boat the rest of the day, and we arrived at the marina at about 1500, 3pm. The saga wasn't over for the three boats that were together at Cave Cay. As we were at the marina entrance we saw the French Kiss, a brand new 50-ft. Beneteau under sail. We talked on the VHF and Michael, the captain but not the owner, said that they had engine problems and had no power. They eventually were towed into the marina, mooring very close to our berth. He thought that he had a clogged raw water intake; possible, but I'd bet against it. Later David and Alice, on the Alice May, came by and talked. They have a catamaran and catamarans, from my observation, do not ride the weather as well as mono-hulls. Their trip was so rough that a piece of metal superstructure holding the radar dome and GPS antenna cracked, broke and hit the deck. The electronics are OK but they also have a repair to make. So the trip count was three for three in the boat casualty rankings, a perfect score.

The el-cheapo dock here is a really nice floating dock. In fact, everything here is nice. The bathroom/showers are the nicest and cleanest we have seen at any marina, anywhere, even providing hair dryers which impressed Carol, for a marina anyway. The book exchange is pretty thin but the wi-fi is free and strong enough to work on the iPad on the boat, a first at any marina. The laundry is close by and free. They even have a dress code requesting that gentlemen wear shirts at all times, something that I will have to remember, and no swimwear in public after dark. This was a part of the British Empire, don't you know. The lounge/reading room looks like a private club. I guess that we are about 7 to 10 miles north of George Town, pretty remote; there are not a lot of restaurants and such within walking distance. Carol did find out that there is a liquor store not so far away, a good thing too, because we are out of tonic water, a mutiny-ing offense except that I don't think that, technically, captains can mutiny. There is a Four Seasons resort near by so Carol's thoughts have turned from the forced austerity of cruising to manicures and day spas; she has always been more adaptable than I.

The Marina at Emerald Bay

The weather forecast has not improved and it looks like we may be here a while, a while being as long as a week. I get kind of antsy after three nights in the same place so this will be a challenge for me. But I may use the time to order some double braid line to replace a piece of rigging that has been concerning me. And the place will probably fill up today as more boat seek shelter from the weather, so there'll be new folks to meet.

Posted by sailziveli 11:16 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Cave Cay

sunny 77 °F

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it will probably work out OK. We needed a plan to secure the boat during an extended stretch of bad weather. So, we decided (a) to head here, to Cave Cay, and to lay over here until Sunday morning and then head out the cut and south to Emerald Bay on Grand Exuma Cay.

Along the way we saw another boat with a beautiful spinnaker out. Went back and checked ... it's the same boat that I put in the blog before. I always think that the folks on this boat are real sailors, in ways that we are not. I doubt that 1 in 100 cruising sailboats has a spinnaker on board, and fewer, if they have one, are ready to use it. But, when deployed, these sails are things of beauty.

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Cave Cay is another Field of Dreams. Some hopeful soul has spent millions acquiring the island, putting in a marina, putting in a reverse osmosis water system and pipes, putting in a power generation system and running wires, building a marina, building an air strip, putting up work buildings, offices, cottages and houses all on the premise that there are scads of rich people that want to fly their private planes to their boats, stay in their expensive houses and drink themselves stupid while fishing. If you build it, they will come: a great premise in 2007 that is majorly strained in 2012. The cash flow on this place is so far negative that the entire world might run out of red ink. But, it's not my money, so, what do I care. This is capitalism at work, except that everybody had exactly the same idea and the number of places that are underwater financially is large.

This natural harbor is one of the best that we have seen, equaling Great Harbour, though much smaller. The dock master does not know if the cut into the harbor is man made or not; from the water level up it seems to be nature's work. When Irene came through, the boats here had very few problems; this is a natural hurricane hole of the first order.

When we had BBQ at Lorraine's, back in Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay, there were four boats that "made" the table. Three of those boats are here, although one has too much draft to enter the harbor and is anchored outside; the other is right next to us. We arrived in mid afternoon and there was one other boat in the marina: the owner's. Now there are three boats, not exactly a crowd, with room for at least 15 to 20.

Our thoughts were: the weather is going to offer a one day window to head south on the windward side, Sunday. Cave Cay has a good cut on the south end, is the farthest south you can head to the windward side, and offers good shelter for the wait. We have planned to lay over here and then head south to Emerald Bay, a marina on Grand Exuma Cay, some miles north of George Town that offers a deal: it's a high dollar place to stay but they offer dockage at $1.00/ft. with no services, e.g. water and electricity. The only place we know of that is even close is Dudley's Marina in Swansboro, NC at $0.75/ft. with services. So, basically, we will "anchor at the dock," we hope, and wait for the weather to break.

So, after all that planning and rationalization, we decided to leave on Saturday morning, concerned about the prospect of the marina filling up and leaving us, with reservations, but without a plan to ride out the high pressure front.

Posted by sailziveli 19:45 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Great Guana Cay

We hope that three's a charm

sunny 77 °F

We woke up early, forgetting to turn on the SSB for weather. There was internet service so I spent some time reading the news, unchanged: nobody loves anybody and the world is going broke. A few on board chores, the re-ballasting, and doing a simple, but frequent, maintenance on the anchor windlass, and we decided to leave, a late start for us, almost 0900.

The wind was fair, but in the wrong direction, again. Regardless, we decided to sail and the motor was off less than 10 minutes from the mooring field. A few other boats had the same idea. We made several long reaches south and mixed in a few tacks to the east. The approximate distance along the axis of travel may have been 20 nm. By the time the day was mostly done, we had sailed at least 35 nm and still found ourselves short of the waypoint by 4 nm. My guess was that we would need at least two more tacks, and about two more hours, to get there, anchoring at sunset. It was Yanmar time, a prelude to Miller time except here they call it Kalik time. On went the engine and we motored the last stretch with the autopilot on, a very welcome relief.

Carol noticed something unusual while we were sailing close hauled. When the wind was over the port side, the boat was almost impossible to control well, yawing back and forth across the line of the wind, losing and regaining speed, needing almost the whole helm in both directions to try to exert control, handling like a WWII dump truck with manual steering on a bad road. When the wind was over the starboard side, the boat handled like silk, needing only a spoke, or so, of movement on the helm, as if driving the Maxima. I can think of no explanation why this should be the case but it was clearly that way.

Anchoring was fun; this place is covered up with boats and it was challenging to weave through the field to find a hole that we could fill without making others feel nervous. We found a place, no one yelled at us on the VHF, so I guess that we did OK.

Carol really likes the Black Point Community where we are anchored. I don't know why she has this particular affinity, maybe it's the laundry close by; she says that the "grocery shopping" is better here, although that comparison rests solely on relativity. All the stores in the Exumas north of George Town, combined, have less inventory than large gas station at home. Or, it may be Lorraine's restaurant, which yesterday was on the VHF radio announcing a BBQ at 1800. We were anchored by 1700, 5pm, and started an Alphonse and Gaston routine: she said that I was tired and beat up from the day's sail, she was right, so she suggested that we eat on the boat. I knew she wanted to "go to town" and eat out, having cooked four nights in a row, so I suggested that we do that. Carol, being so wise in these matters, graciously let me win and we got the dinghy ready to go ashore, arriving at Lorraine's just about 1800. We met a guy walking our way and I struck up a conversation about tools, turned out that he is Lorraine's husband.

For all the boats at anchor here, maybe 30, there weren't many BBQ attendees, and only a hand full when compared to the Super Bowl party there. We were able to collect a small crowd and a few Kaliks got the conversation going. It was a nice enough evening; Carol got to talk and eat, two areas central to her well being, so she enjoyed things.

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It's been odd coming south again along these islands. I imagined that the "rush" was over. But at every place we have stayed or passed we have seen a forest of masts, many more than what we had seen earlier. It might be weather related .... folks not able to leave for their destinations; it might just be getting more crowded. We have yet to be in any place in these islands without close boat neighbors.

A bit of good news this morning; remembered to turn on the SSB and we heard Chris Parker's weather forecast. The radio does work. Of course, the 0630 broadcast started at 0700 so, maybe, with my classic impatience I had turned the radio off too soon on the other days, not allowing for island time.

At dinner last night I was introduced to a whole new area of weather and navigational angst. Most people worry about crossing the Gulf Stream, worth the effort. Now, it turns out, I need to worry about (a) tide v. wind going east through the cuts and, (b) the right wind to be on the windward side of the chain, a legitimate, serious concern. I had thought that a little common sense would do it; maybe not. And then there is the one day v. the two day plan. It's a good day of travel on the plus side 40nm, but we have to be anchored before sunset and traverse a very tricky, unmarked entry to the harbour with fading light and fatigued bodies. The good news is that these decisions do not yet need to be made, so I won't. I figure that I can have at least three more gin and tonics before all that hits the top of the to-do list.

Carol and I had a walk-about today; it didn't go well. We thought that we were on a road that would take us to the windward side of the island and give us a view of Dothan Cut. We ended up walking along a road to a quarry or borrow pit from which they extract landfill and load it onto boats. Not very inspiring, but an interesting economic insight.

This morning, Thursday, we again listened to Chris Parker's weather broadcast. His direct quote was, "It's been a while since I've seen anything this ugly," referring to weather coming in early next week. So we are working on a plan to address Carol's safety and security issues.

Posted by sailziveli 18:26 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Shroud Cay

sunny

We were both up early Friday morning, Carol to shower and me to look at the weather on the computer. I have three weather icons on the desktop: Hot Springs was 69o, Brunswick was 72o and Nassau was 66o, the coolest of the three. I would never have bet that this would happen in February.

There was frontal weather coming through some time on Saturday afternoon or evening. Our choices were to leave on Friday or to stay in the marina at least until Tuesday morning. We wanted to return to Normans Cay but the anchorage there is an F rated one, not suitable for heavier winds. Shroud Cay, on the other hand, has mooring balls rated for more than 100 tons, enough for our eight tons, or so, regardless of any front passing through. An easy choice: Get Out of Dodge!

We left without a problem at 0730. As soon as we cleared the dock into the channel, Carol was not amused; there were whitecaps in the harbour. And that's the way it was the whole trip. More wind than we expected, more waves than we expected and both, always, it seemed, dead on the bow. Carol was tough, though, and did not heave chunks, at least that I saw. She really likes calm water. Today was rough, at one point the waves, forecast at 2~3 were 4~5. In the ocean the period between waves will be about 5-sec. to 10-sec. and the boat floats over them. These were 2-sec. to 3-sec. and the boat just battered its way through, belly flopping along the way. It was like driving for eight hours over speed bumps, or being on any Chicago expressway after the final winter thaw. My forecast of seven to eight hours was off by two hours, we rarely got above 5.5 knots despite running the engine hard.

At 1030 leaving Nassau seemed to have a bad idea. By 1430 things were much better. The wind had backed off a few knots; we had shortened the fetch from 25 miles to less than 10 and decreasing. The trip was way less ugly. Carol, a chronic boat worrier, was concerned that there would be no available mooring balls. In fact, they may have been only one-third full and we generally had our pick of spots, settling in at the north end of the field.

The score for the day was: the VHF radio worked well. Jason's engine alignment was upgraded from good enough to pretty good or very good. The gas, probably OK; at this point we cannot be sure what smell is real or imagined.

Got up Saturday morning and the electrical consumption was off the charts, almost literally, over 50 amp hours used during the night. There was no breeze at all during the night and the wind generator did not make a single turn; still hasn't. This got me to thinking that we timed the purchase poorly. We bought it in very early January, 2009, after Obama had been elected but not yet inaugurated. Had we waited a few more months we could probably have gotten some of the several billions in stimulus money for clean & green energy that was wasted on companies such as Solyndra. At least our little project works and actually does reduce diesel pollution (CO2 emissions) when the wind blows, something most stimulus recipients cannot claim.

Tried to listen to Chris Parker again this morning, having tried the day before in Nassau, both times without success. In Nassau we thought that it might be interference; interference cannot be a issue out here. The problem seems to be with the USB (upper side band) range; everything is very faint while the other bands are loud and clear. This could be a problem for us.

Carol wanted to get into the island so we got the dinghy ready to go and headed out, north, around some rocks and reefs. There are several tidal estuaries that go into the island and are accessible during higher tides. We caught the timing just right, maybe an hour before high tide. The longest of these may be a half mile, but in a sinuous course. This island is not for Robinson Crusoe or Tom Hanks; not too much chance of surviving on this island's bounty. It's more a colony than an island entity, areas conjoined at low tides and separate at higher water. All these are stitched together by the mangrove swamp that occupies the center of the island. There are some very nice beaches on the interior of some of these estuaries, unexpected to me. Unfortunately, these pictures do not begin to convey the sense of the area.

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The inner area is quite beautiful but in a very austere way although there were some unexpected and great beaches along these estuaries. The water ways were fairly shallow, maybe 2-ft. to 4-ft. deep on average; we only ran aground once. The water was like glass, so clear that it was difficult to get a reading on depth. We saw fish, coral clumps, conchs, and some birds. Mangrove swamps/roots are where the base of the food chain spawns so, I thought that we might have seen more marine life. Regardless, this island is as it was centuries ago, if not millennia ago, save for the ubiquitous park signs.

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I wanted to get out of the dinghy in a few places and explore. Carol was having none of it. She wanted to be chauffeured about. I think that maybe she spent too much time talking to Sunny and bought into the concept of high maintenance women, something that she has always claimed that she is not.

The new fuel hose proved out, never disconnecting as the old one did. And, I finally figured out how to get the dinghy onto a plane with us both in it: Carol and I both have to get pretty far forward. We covered a lot of territory today in a few hours, something that we could not have done with the old 4-HP engine.

We drove the dinghy over to Little Pidgeon Cay. It's not so much how the other half lives as where they live. The island is fairly small, probably 5 acres or less, but there is a private house on it, accessible only by boat. The house is modest; the island is great. The mountains are better but an occasional month here would be very nice.

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I caught my first fish on Saturday. I had found a good sized helmet shell and set it on the swim platform and spent a while just swimming around. When I returned and picked up the shell I heard a noise inside; looked and saw a fish in the water in the shell. I let it out and it swam away, all 4-inches of it.

We arrived Friday evening, and soon thereafter the wind stopped -- not a breath to be felt. The wind generator went on holiday and for about the next 30 hours, or so, the air was still and the water was glassy. Carol was too hot during the day and decamped to the cabin; the amp hours flowed from the batteries to the point of being concerning. Then early Sunday morning the winds came and came hard, about 20 knots and the wind generator started cranking. Of course, the clouds from the front arrived by mid morning making for a not so nice day. We thought it too rough for a dinghy ride so we just hung out and read, putting a major dent in the on board library. Our concerns about being secure when the front arrived were over wrought. it just wasn't that big a deal. Of course, when you shrug that sort of thing off is when you get flattened.

On Sunday evening we saw this plane land. Who says that you can never find a taxi when you need one. Two passengers left the plane into a dinghy and went a mile or two out to a very large ship at anchor. It was so windy when the plane took landed and took off that it seemed to need less than 100-yds. to manage the landing and lift off.

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Posted by sailziveli 13:40 Archived in Bahamas Tagged landscapes boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Back to Normans Cay .... OOOOOOPS, Not So Fast

sunny 70 °F

By about 0730 we were ready to start throwing off lines to get underway. I was turning on the electronics and the VHF radio was intermittent and, then, went quiet and dark, a very bad thing because it is the first use safety device on the boat. Big problem! I opened the panel to get at the radio's back side to start checking it. Carol got my electrical tool box and I searched for a continuity tester, of which I used to have two; now that number is zero, and I don't know why, but it falls on me. The continuity tester and a multimeter are either 1A and 1B, depending on the electrical problem at hand. I was able to use the multimeter to check the power supply: good. Checked in in-line fuse: good. Having no better ideas I eventually disconnected the cable to the remote handset. Voila! The radio worked, although I have no idea why that would be. Then I remembered that when we exchanged a non working handset at West Marine they had given us the whole enchilada and we had a replacement cable and fittings. A couple of ad hoc tests showed that the old cable was the culprit and the new cable was a/the solution. All the problems that we had thought were in the handset were, probably, cable related.

Pulling the old cable and running the new one was a fairly straight forward except that we had to empty about half the boat to get access to the cable run which meant that Carol had to remove just about everything in the galley above the level of the counter top, an area she considers her sovereign domain and sole suzerainty. I, of course, have a permanent easement through there since about 2/3's of the boat's wiring runs through that area. The whole job took about two hours; the repair of the galley, much longer. The odds of me figuring out the problem and, then, having those esoteric parts is about a googleplex to one. Sometimes it's good to be lucky.

Since it was too late to get underway, we decided to hang around Nassau another day and do some other work. Carol defrosted the refrigerator and I completed the non-motor part of the 100-hour checklist and a good thing too. When Jason and I were working on the engine we turned off the raw water through hull and nobody thought to turn it back on which meant that we would not have gone very far had we left.This was a rookie mistake of the first order. Since I always check the exhaust when I start the engine there's a very good chance I would have picked up on this, but, perhaps not. Regardless .... another bullet dodged.

But that bullet was small caliber compared to the high explosive (literally) artillery in the afternoon. One of the two LP tanks went empty, way too soon it seemed to us, having last been filled on January 18th. Another one of those things that you don't give much thought. Carol made arrangements to get it filled and I hooked up the full tank. I thought that I smelled gas and asked Carol to check since she is better at these things but she was too stuffed up to be any use. And, the smell could have been from the tank change over. After fretting about this for a couple of hours I went back and disconnected the tank for no good reason other than to mess with something that was bothering me. And, then I saw it or, actually, didn't see it: the o-ring that makes the seal between the brass fittings was not on there. After a second of panic about how to get a replacement here, I looked under the tank and found it. So, for three hours we were, and for three weeks we may have been, leaking explosive, combustible LP gas. This is a truly terrifying thought. Fortunately, LPG has a specific density of about 1.5 and there is a vent in the tank compartment through which gas can exit so everything turned out OK but this one will cause some lost sleep. Kudos to Beneteau for designing an owner-proof boat. The other thing to do is to get a backup o-ring when we get home or, maybe, someplace along the way like Marsh Harbour.

Carol's comment at the end of the day was that maybe having the radio problem turned out to be a good thing. She was probably right, but that could only be true on our boat. Four four days we have been working our asses off, Carol having a much larger and wider margin for error than do I, dealing with issues as they arose. We talked at dinner about whether we have become more resilient. Carol thinks yes; I'm not so sure. Boats being boats, there really is no choice other than to handle situations as they arise and to do what has to be done. What we lack is a baseline as to what level of issues should arise and where we are versus that baseline.

On the other hand, we are here, in the Bahamas; life is pretty good. We have no specific timeline for the trip so there is no sense that we have lost time. We have all of March and April, and into May, to go where we want and to see the islands. So, these problems have not detracted from the trip unless we allow that to be the case.

Tomorrow, Wedneday, if the LP canister gets filled early we'll head out. If not, we'll stay yet another day in the friendly confines of the Nassau Harbour Club Marina and leave on Thursday for Shroud Cay.

Posted by sailziveli 19:22 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Nassau Three-peat

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It was pretty cool when the Bulls did it, a Three-peat, and then, did it again, a Repeat Three-peat. On a boat, going back and forth to Nassau, not so cool. We commuted for three decades in Chicago and don't need to be doing it from the Exumas to Nassau. It was a boring commute, no wind, no speed since we did not want to push the engine. One again, we are in the same slip in which we have moored two other times: another Three-peat. I told Dudley, the dock master, that we had earned a plaque with our names on it for slip #48. But that would mean spending a lot more time here, something we don't want to do.

There has been much discussion in the certain media and some literature about the Mother Ship, and its arrival, including those poor souls in San Diego that thought that it had arrived before they perished at their own hands. Well, Carol and I did, in fact, see the mother ship about 12 nm SE of Nassua -- a confirmed sighting -- with pictures. And, the mother ship had her five, count them, baby boats,all in a row.

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This was the second time that we have returned to Nassau from the Exumas and the two days were so nearly identical as to evoke a sense of deja vu. On both days there was very little wind, and what breeze there was had clocked around to the south in anticipation of a front arriving in 36~48 hours. The seas, of course, were almost flat and glassy. Both days were bright and sunny; since we were traveling, generally, to the NW, the sun was hammering the cockpit from the back, so much so that Carol spent most of both the trips in the cabin to escape the sun.

I guess that being back in Nassau is a matter of perspective. I think repairs .... yikes! Carol thinks restaurants ... yippee! No to overlook shopping, showers and other things that so delight her. Once again the first night in meal is pizza. I'm starting to wonder if maybe she didn't sabotage the engine just to avoid cooking a few meals. In her defense, away from Nassau there has not been very much eating out and she has been doing a lot of cooking.

On Saturday morning I decided to tackle an item on the list we had made. Inspect and tighten the bolts that hold the engine mounts to the boat. It seemed simple but necessary since we had found a couple that seemed less tight than they should be. Just to get some spares, I completely took off the nut and bolt from the most accessible of the eight. I saw that the threads on the bolt were badly stripped; no alarms went off, I thought that I might have done this with my overpowering 140-lb., maybe, of mass and muscle. So I went across the street and bought like for like and a few extras and started re-installing new stuff in place of the old. I found it odd that I was using a 17mm wrench on the bolts but a 5/8-in. wrench on the nuts. Still no alarm went off. I didn't like the fact that Keith, the installer, had used locking nuts and small washers. So, midstream I sent Carol with one of the bolts to buy some non-locking nuts. When she returned, after having done three with the original parts the alarm finally went off. I'm not too bright but on a good, average day I can usually avoid full tilt stupid. I guess I did not hit average until about noon. Keith had mixed metric bolts with standard nuts. Of course, the threads were stripped and, of course again, with stripped threads they were not very tight. This may, or may not, have anything to do with the immediate and proximate problem of vibration, but at some point in the future it certainly would have. The last bolt that I changed, one of the ones I had newly installed, we so cross threaded that the only way to remove it was to torque the head off, the good news being that there was room to do this.

So, the final tally was: six bolt sets, six hours; lots of blood on the deck from scrapes, scratches and slashes; old and new parts trashed, lost and discarded ... about $100; my frustration level ... priceless. And, the job is only 75% done because there are two bolts that were just too hard to access by myself. We thought that we had written a check to obviate all these problems. The evidence seems to prove otherwise. I have to admit that I have had unkind thoughts about Complete Yacht Service.

Carol has a new favorite restaurant in Nassau: Montagu Gardens, so named because it is only a few hundred yards from Fort Montagu. It's an older place, probably dating back to the 20's ~40's. The food is good and, by island prices, very reasonable. Carol, who seems to have an aversion to ordering the same menu item two times in any calendar year, has twice had their seafood platter. On this particular night we met our starboard side boat neighbors at the bar and shared a table with them for dinner, a pleasant evening with no shortage of boat stories to go around.

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Sunday was another work day, for me at least. 250 hour maintenance on the new engine required several tasks that I had never done before and several that I had never done on this engine. Only one was left undone; I needed to have planned ahead and ordered a spare gasket, which I had not done. At the end of those two days I would have sold off Carol and thrown in Wile E for the promise of never having to hold any wrench in my two hands again.

Come Monday morning we called Albert who sent Jason to look at the engine; after about 5 seconds Jason said to turn of the engine, he had seen enough. The engine was, in fact, very badly out of alignment having severely twisted one motor mount and the proximate cause of the problem was the mismatched bolts which occupied my Saturday. In realigning the engine one of the two offending bolts which I had been unable to do by myself, Jason and I did together. The final vote was that the 8th bolt was just too hard to get to without removing the marine gear (aka transmission). So, it sits waiting for the next owner to handle. The realignment was not quite as good as Keith did during the installation but infinitely better that the mess with which we arrived. On the other hand, I may just be hyper-sensitive to vibrations now and not giving enough credit to Jason. There is no consolation in being correct about the problem and its cause. The right answer would have been: no problem at all from a proper installation.

Setting aside boat problems, we were invited back over to Doug's boat for drinks, he and Sunny having returned to Nassau, as did we; they, however, are headed west for the trip back to the states. We decided that Sunny is a boat princess and probably would not adapt well to life on a smaller boat and a sailboat at that. They are fairly new to each other, building a relationship, something which I admire and respect. I cannot even imagine doing that ... too old, too tired, too set in my ways.

Carol with Peter, the marina manager.

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Sunny and Doug.

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, we'll head back south to Norman Cay an see what we were unable to see on our first, abbreviated visit. Then we'll try to hook up with Debbie L. who is only an island or two away from Normans Cay.

Posted by sailziveli 20:07 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

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