Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 29, 2008.

The winds were from the northeast at about 5 knots and due to turn southeast a little later in the day.

We raised the anchor and as soon as it was cleaned and stowed we threw up some sail, killed the engine and headed south for Black Point.

So I found myself with the woman I love, on a great boat that’s taken care of us, on a pleasant 10 mile sail south. We were underway before 0930 and due to drop the hook before noon. It was an absolute glorious day, it started as a run, turned to a broad reach and finished as a close reach, it was a perfect day.

As we left the anchorage we ghosted along at 3 knots in the 5 knots of breeze. We had to gibe once to make our course and the wind slowly built until we finished the day at just over 6 knots. We dropped sail and started the engine to motor the half mile into the anchorage.

The anchorage here is perfect and the best view is from the Laundromat. It’s actually the nicest Laundromat we’ve seen since we left New Jersey. 10 washers and 10 dryers in view of one of the prettiest anchorages we’ve seen. Clean, can’t begin to describe the way this establishment is kept.
In a country where “good enough” is good enough this place is exemplary. They have their own dinghy dock so you can dinghy your laundry right up to the place. But that’s for tomorrow……….

We also had the best pizza since we left the states. We dinghied in and walked the settlement. We walked a bit and then stopped in to Lorraine’s to pick up the bread we had ordered on the VHF. After that it was over to Scorpio’s for happy hour. When they look out the window and see enough boats they announce a happy hour on the VHF. Half price drinks are hard to come by so it was nice of them to hold this happy hour in celebration of our arrival. The place was dead when we walked in with a crowd behind us and there were still 7 or 8 cruising couples there when we left.

From there it was on to Deshamon’s for dinner. For the last 30 miles we’ve been listening to cruisers extolling the virtues of the pizza at Deshamon’s. The pie was 21 dollars so we decided to split it with another couple. Good thing we did. It turns out that not only was the pizza great it was also thick and loaded with toppings. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve had pizza that was that good. Definitely not Degiorno.

So things here are great, we’ll do laundry tomorrow and head south the day after that. The forecast is for a week of beautiful weather so everything is just right.
January 28, 2008.

We survived another front which came through last night. The last 2 fronts have swung very quickly through west to blow from the north. Since we had virtually no protection from the west this front decided to linger as it blew from the west.

When the winds piped up it wasn’t the wind that was the problem, it was the sea state. We had plenty of notice of the storms impending arrival but we decided to stay put. We knew that the wind would linger from the west but it would be a daytime event so it shouldn’t be too stressful.

We checked the weather faithfully and the synopsis didn’t really change for several days. The wind would build from the west around noon and start to swing from the north by 2000 hours. All the boats that stayed put let out a little more chain and pretty much everyone stayed on their boats for the latter part of the day.

It was pretty rough with the boats all bucking the waves as they rode out the west winds of 15 to 20 knots. As the wind built to 25 to 30 knots it also swung from the north just as predicted. We were well protected from the north, so while the wind was up, the sea state flattened out and made for a more comfortable setting.

We had a rather good nights sleep and were up and underway the next morning headed for Black Point.

Monday, January 28, 2008

January 26, 2008.

We left Cambridge Cay about a half hour before high tide and headed for a place called Big Majors Spot.

When we had entered Cambridge we had chosen the northern deep water entrance. This route had us hugging the coast of Bell Island. We had to hug the shore for 2 miles before heading out into the ocean for about 200 yards. Then after a hard turn to starboard we had to read the waters surface to find our way into the anchorage. The water we traversed was deep but it was pretty intense as the ocean cut was rough and some of the deep water was very narrow.

The anchorage was very picturesque and a wonderful place to spend the night, but then it was time to leave. The entrance had been a little harrowing so we weren’t eager to tempt the fates again so we decided on the more direct, shallow but slightly dicey southern route.

Since it was about high tide we were hoping the 3 foot addition to the routes marked depth would be enough to let us pass without any problems. We had about three quarters of a mile of serious water reading to do but we were able to sneak safely out of the anchorage and into deep water. We did however see only 4 inches of water under our keel at one point.

After a day of only 14 miles we were safely anchored in Big Majors Spot. There were about 25 boats in the area. The big attractions here are the Thunderball Grotto (from the James Bond
movie Thunderball), and Staniel Cay which has a settlement of 150 people which means a few groceries are available. There’s also a wonderful sand bottom here for anchoring in relative protection from the north, east and south.

The “stores” here are in reality a room in someone’s home where they sell their wares. Each home is painted a different vivid color.

Today we bought fresh baked bread from the “yellow house” as its known. The coconut bread is very famous here and we also picked up some cinnamon raisin. You knock, she yells “come in” and the next thing you know, you’re standing in her kitchen. Five dollars for a fairly hefty loaf and you’re on your way.

We also trekked to the top of the hill and checked out the “blue house”. This is the big grocery on the island; it’s about the size of a one car garage. We thought we’d grab some vegetables but we’ll wait and come back the day before we leave. All the vegetables were packed into a regular refrigerator and you had to dig through to find what you are after…….this could take some getting used too.

We also walked out to the airport. It’s not like walking to Newark Airport or anything, it was just another block past the grocery store and you’re there.
There were 3 planes and a tiny hanger and the outdoor “terminal”.

We went on a little freelance snorkeling expedition. We dinghied out to one of the cuts from the banks to the ocean. The tide was ripping out at a pretty good clip so we had to be careful and watch where each other were at all times. The water is a little deeper here with more varieties of coral and we saw a lot of interesting sea creatures. We also took our first conch, now we just have to figure out how to get it out of its shell and prepare it. We have visions of conch fritters, conch salad, conch chowder and hopefully not conch poisoning but we’ll see how it goes before we take any more.

Then we went out to the Thunderball Grotto and did some snorkeling. The place was spectacular. The entrance was easy as the water was very calm. You swim through a narrow gap with a low roof into a huge cavern. The place is mobbed with fish milling about. There were other submerged entrances into the cave which allowed sunshine in to provide a beautiful underwater light show. There was also what I would call a long blind hallway. After entering the hallway we found ourselves in the company of 3 very poisonous Lion Fish. We watched them for a while before making a dignified retreat back to the main room.

While we were surrounded by hundreds of tiny fish in the main room one of the little bastards actually bit Christy on the thigh. They’re all so close to you all the time but you never expect a tiny tropical fish to bite you. The little shit actually drew blood, but Christy is fine although we were both a little astonished by the whole thing.

After that it was back to the boat to clean up before heading over to another boat for a quick happy hour and then on to a second boat for a screening of the original movie Thunderball with James Bond.

Here’s a side note that I thought was interesting. The waiters and bartenders here do not ask if you’d like another drink when yours is empty. It’s considered rude and overly fard. They’ll walk past your empty glass a dozen times but if you flag them down they’re on it in a heartbeat. They just don’t want to be pushy.

Cruisers Dictionary update. The word is fard and must be spoken with your best Bahamanian accent. An example of its use….We’re looking fard to seeing you.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 23, 2008.

We ended up getting underway at 0920 and instead of Compass Cay we headed for Cambridge Cay.

Cambridge was the ultimate choice because it is centrally located between 2 premier snorkeling spots. We ended up heading out for a place called “The Undersea Aquarium”. We set out with 2 other dinghies and were soon joined by a crew from a fourth boat.

The Aquarium is marked by a pair of small floating buoys. The buoys are there so you can tie up your dinghy so you don’t have to drop an anchor and destroy the very things you’re here to see.

When we first rolled into the water the fish were so thick that it was awkward to try and swim for fear of hitting fish. There were a hundred kinds of fish, many of which were at arms length at times. There was a pretty good current running so it was great for swimming against the current as long as you were able and allowing yourself to drift back and view everything as you effortlessly floated past.

After we had enough of the Aquarium we climbed back aboard the dinghies and looked for a spot on the charts that indicated a crashed aircraft. A half mile away we found another float that marked the doomed aircraft. The plane sits inverted in about 12 feet of water. It is a small high winged aircraft missing its cargo doors on either side. It was either an intra island cargo plane or a drug runner. Either way now it’s a fish condo.

After those 2 great dives we traveled about 2 miles to get to Rocky Dundas. Rocky Dundas is actually a pair of small extremely inhospitable islands that have caves. They are surrounded by reefs and again, marked by floats. They are also spitting distance from the ocean. So the surface was extremely rough.

The tidal flow here is fierce so a slack water dive is best. We got there just about low tide so the tidal flow would be minimal. The other advantage to low tide is that the entrances to the caves were now visible. At high tide you’d have to swim down under the water to enter. The entrance roof is only about 3 feet over your head as enter. Once inside, the passage opens into a large room with a hole in the ceiling. There are stalactites and stalagmites all around.

It would have been much cooler to see if our first attempt at entry hadn’t gone so badly. Above the water the entrance is 20 feet wide. It wasn’t until I looked below that I realized that the only usable part of the entrance was the 8 feet all the way to the left. The rest of the entrance was only a foot deep and with the large waves crashing into the opening you would be reduced to a piece of hamburger if you attempted to enter from the right.

So I darted to the left and rode a wave in through the opening into the inner cave. Above me the cave was very large and really something to see. Under the water though the cave was rather small and cup shaped. Just enough room for one person to stand in the chest deep water. I turned around to face the opening and was confronted with the sight of 5 other bodies surfing in on a wave of their own.

It turned into a semi clusterf*ck in the narrow entrance. It was like 5 people trying to rush into a small elevator while one guy was trying to get out. We all had to turn around and get back outside. We then entered in pairs and it went much smoother. But it was still a bit scary and a little to rough for all of us to be comfortable.

After that it was back to the boat for dinner and an incredible sunset.
January 21, 2008.

The big front came through last night. We never saw gusts above 33 knots because we are very protected in the lee of the island. The wind is still continuing to blow hard. It’s been between 15 and 22 knots all day at the boat.

This morning on the VHF we heard that there was going to be a guided nature tour on one of the islands trails. One of the other cruisers here is an environmental educator / wilderness survival instructor back in the states. So whenever he’s here he volunteers to take people on guided tours dealing with the environment and the development of the Bahamas.

He starts out by telling us that he could spend the time teaching us the names of thirty different plants on the island. Except that he finds that crap exceptionally boring and he wants us to enjoy the tour. He does point out a few interesting plants, such as the Purslane that goes great in a salad.

He was a treasure trove of information and I have to say I learned more from him in 2 hours than I have on any of the previous guided tours we’ve taken anywhere. On the tour we crossed to the windward side of the island and what a difference it was. It was amazing to watch the angry windblown seas smashing on the rocky shoreline. We stood at the edge of a blow hole that had so much power it literally knocked you off balance as the seas compressed the air and forced it of the hole.

After our walk we were famished so it was back to the boat for lunch and a day spent aboard. After dinner we went over to Unchained to discuss weather and travel routes.

We’re hoping to leave on Wednesday and head less than 10 miles south to Compass Cay. There’s a great snorkel spot nearby that we would like to hit.
January 20, 2008.

It’s been a few days since my last post. We’ve spent the last few days as close to heaven as you can get without dying. Warderick Wells is just awesome.

The island is interlaced with hiking trails. Some are easy walks through sandy palm lined paths while others would make a Sherpa cry. Veranda is anchored about three quarters of a mile from the ranger station. We

had to go and sign up for 24 hours of internet so we decided to land the dinghy at the closest beach to the boat and walk across the island.

It was a good plan until we actually started walking. As soon as we got inshore the humidity went way up and we soon realized that the one bottle of water we brought was going to be insufficient. We traversed palm covered pathways alive with hermit crabs and lizards, climbed limestone paths and trudged across arid dry lake beds.

The view from the peak of the several hills we climbed was fantastic and worth the effort. Once at the ranger station we signed up for internet, dilly dallied for a bit and headed back to the dinghy.
We had about an inch of water left in our bottle for the walk home. The various paths we had to take brought us to different beaches so we could cool off but we had to keep moving as we had no water to drink. We made it back to the dink just fine but we were both glad the walk had been no further.

Today we decided to snorkel with the folks from Unchained, Bill and Sue.
They’re both divers so they really appreciate the water and take every opportunity to get in some snorkeling. First we went to a spot at the end of the north anchorage that came highly recommended.

We anchored the dinghies near the eastern tip of a small cay. One side of the cay was shallow with loads of plant life in 3 to 8 feet of water. There were plenty of small fish and the bottom was covered with conch roaming about.

When we went around the other side of the cay it was amazing. The water dropped off to 20 feet and was teeming with huge schools of fish. There was a Spotted Eagle Ray with a wingspan of more than 6 feet effortlessly swimming with us, while on a rocky ledge 2 lobster each weighing in over 4 pounds stole the show. It was a toss up as to which creature we saw was the most memorable. After an hour we climbed back into the dinks and headed over to another spot. The underwater vegetation wasn’t as dense but was more spectacular due to its diversity. At this spot we were treated to the sight of 5 huge Spotted Eagle Rays lazily swimming in formation. It was a great day in the water.

After going back to the boat for lunch we decided to take a short hike up to see the abandoned settlement that’s been dated to 1780. It’s only the remains of a couple of buildings and a stone wall that runs the entire width of the island but it was worth the walk.

After that, we hustled back to the boat to batten down for the storm front we’ve been waiting for. Once back we fed and walked the dogs and then raised the dinghy out of the water.

We were all done with about 10 minutes to spare and listened intently on the radio to the boats to the north of us as they were hit by the front.
For the first time in days we had no wind at all. We’ve been facing south south east for 2 days and finally we slowly turned and faced west. We could see the front approaching from the north, it looked very sinister. 20 miles to the north boats were reporting going from 2 knots of wind to 20 knots in 30 seconds.

That’s pretty much how it went for us. We were ready though and as the wind built steadily through 30 knots we sat in the cockpit and watched the storm unfold around us. There was a brief rain squall that came through at the beginning of the storm. It was a welcome rain as it cleaned the salt from the decks and windscreen.

Now after a few hours we have 20 to 25 knots with gusts into the low thirties. Things are good here though as we are the boat closest to the shoreline. So while the wind is up there’s no room for the sea state to build into anything uncomfortable.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 18, 2008.

We spent a couple of days at Normans Cay. It was exactly what we needed to decompress a bit after the trip across and being in Nassau immediately thereafter.

Great white sand beaches, and the ruins of a drug baron’s empire.
We could have stayed there longer but we had a strong front projected to hit the area late Sunday. We were protected from the east but were exposed to the north and west. Big winds are scheduled to start from the west and swing to the north. If we stayed there it was a recipe for an ass kicking.

That left us with the choice of heading south on either Friday or Saturday. Friday was forecast for slightly less wind so Friday it was.

We were up and underway by 0830. It was an easy 22 mile day to our destination of Warderick Wells in the center of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. With the big blow coming we will be pinned down for a couple of days so this is a great place to be stuck.

We could have anchored in the park but the anchoring areas are further from shore and not quite protected enough. Instead we opted for a mooring ball as they’re placed right up in the lee of the island. Our assigned ball is right up next to the tallest part of the island so when the wind shifts we should be completely protected.

Since it’s a national park there is no fishing, shelling or spear fishing. As a result this place is a snorkeler’s paradise, the sea life is everywhere. The water here is thirty shades of blue, and then throw in a half dozen hues of green and its just amazing.

We were moored by 1230 and after checking in we spent the afternoon snorkeling. While checking in at the Rangers station we noticed a small box of sugar hanging on the wall. It was for bird feeding. Christy took a palm full of sugar and soon had a half dozen Bananaquits eating from her hand. They were so tiny and delicate and fluttered from her fingertips to the railing and back again. Each bird only weighs as much as a quarter.

We took the dogs to shore so I sat with them while Christy snorkeled for awhile. When Christy was on her way back into the beach Molly couldn’t stand it anymore and charged straight into the water and swam out to meet her. The funny part was that Christy was looking down at the bottom and never saw her coming. Molly swam right up to her and Christy’s reaction was kind of like a shark or pelligator attack. Fins in the air, a huge splash and a muffled shriek through the snorkel. All was well as soon as she realized it was Molly and they both swam in together.

While Molly loves the water, Tucker hates it. Christy was standing in thigh deep water begging and coaxing Tucker to join her in the water. I was sitting near the waters edge and he got up, walked over and sat directly behind me so she couldn’t see him anymore. When it was my turn to swim I heard Christy yelling from the beach. I was a 100 feet from shore and there was Molly 20 feet behind me. I turned around and sent her back and continued my exploration. Upon my return to shore Christy started goading Tucker into entering the water. He got up, trotted over to the dinghy where it was pulled up on the beach and jumped in the dinghy and sat there. I guess it was pretty obvious he had had enough of the beach and was ready to head back to the boat.

This place is as close to paradise as anything we’ve seen. Spending several days here is going to be wonderful. Tomorrow we’ll do some hiking to an abandoned settlement from the 1800’s. The sunset was gorgeous and the air was filled with the sound of a half dozen conch shells.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 17, 2008.

We decided to head south on Wednesday. We needed to get some fuel so we were up at 0630 to haul both our anchors and head over to the fuel dock. The Freedoms have decided they’d like a little more time in Nassau and will follow us when a better weather window opens hopefully on Saturday.

We arrived there just before 0700 and discovered that they don’t open until 0800. Christy used the time to walk the dogs and ran into an employee who said she’d try to get someone down to the fuel dock early. A guy showed up and we were refueled and underway by 0800.

The run south was a close hauled bash. The wind was out of the east south east but supposed to swing to the south south east. So we set our course to the east of the direction we really wished to travel. This worked like a charm and as the wind shifted south we were able to ease across with it and keep sailing.

Our course sent us across the Yellow Banks. The Yellow Banks are an area of random coral heads that stick up to within 5 feet or so of the surface. We draw 5 1/2 feet so there could be a problem. We were across it in less than an hour but it made for a very tense time. The water is very clear so spotting them was easy. The only problem was that the sun was still so low that it made seeing directly in front of us very difficult due to the glare.

There were 7 boats within radio range of us and we did hear one fellow hit a coral head. He didn’t appear to have any water intrusion but was going to dive the bottom of his boat when he dropped anchor to check for damage.

After crossing the Yellow Banks the wind continued to build and we were soon moving along in 15 to 20 knots of breeze. We were anchored along the western shore of Normans Cay by 1330.

The shoreline here is practically paved with stone. The sand that is available to land the dinghy on is coarse and beautiful. The island is covered with small scrub like foliage and as you get farther from the waters edge the bushes begin to be replaced by trees. The dogs literally had a mile or more of beach to run and explore.

The claim to fame of this island is that back in the seventies it was the staging point for Columbian drug lord Carlos Leder and his cocaine trafficking empire. He used to receive huge quantities of coke here and send it into the United States on his own private planes and smaller high speed boats. The airport and his residence are both still here. His home is abandoned and in ruin. There’s even one of his planes that botched its landing still awash in the water nearby.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 15, 2008.

We decided to see what all the fuss was about…….The Atlantis Resort. The resort is a marina and hotel complex with opulent grounds including more than a dozen swimming pools and an incredible aquarium.

We dinghied to a nearby dock to tie up and made the short walk to the Atlantis complex. You can only wander so much of the place without paying admission. It cost us $32 apiece to get the run of the grounds including the aquarium.

The aquarium is very cleverly designed and divided up into several areas. There was an underwater tube which let you walk through as the fish swam all about. The size and quality of the fish that live here are incredible. There’s a Manta Ray that has a 14 foot wing span and sharks of every shape and size.

It’s been a long time since I’ve wandered around someplace and felt lost the entire time. The staff was incredibly polite and eager to interact with us. The buildings, land and waterscaping were more beautiful than I expected.

People that choose to swim have their choice of several pools.
There’s huge water slides, a lazy river tube float, a lap pool and pools designed like grottos.

There’s also a world class golf course and a gorgeous casino. It really has something for everybody, including the mega rich. The hotel has an east tower and a west tower. About 15 stories up is a bridge that connects the 2 towers together. The special thing about this bridge is that it is actually a 5000 square foot private suite. The suite has its own elevator among other perks. The “room” goes for $25,000 a night. I can’t imagine.

On the way home from Atlantis we decided to run across the harbor and hit the grocery store. We had heard it was really nice and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was true. It rivaled either of the grocery stores in Marathon in both cleanliness and selection. The only difference was some of the fresh vegetables looked a little worse for wear. We were only after some vegetables and bread so we were quite pleased. Best of all was that the prices weren’t that high, it was actually a hell of a lot cheaper than Block Island, R.I.

After taking the groceries back to the boat we headed out to a bar that advertised both a happy hour and free WiFi. At the bar we ran into the crews of the 4 boats that had to adjust course and go north during our crossing. They’d been putting in long days and had just gotten in that afternoon and were planning to head out tomorrow.

We had been planning to head out ourselves, so now it looks as if we’ll have company. There are some big winds in the forecast later in the week so it looks as if we’ll be heading out to Norman Cay to hangout for a bit before continuing on south.
January 14, 2008.

We both slept great again. I guess the pre trip excitement and the crossing itself took more of a toll on us than we realized. It’s almost like having jet lag.

Today we left the boat around 1130 and walked downtown Nassau. We’re at the extreme east end of the anchorage so it was a walk of a mile and a half to the center of town.

The people here are exceptionally polite and watching the drivers interact with each other was something to see. Somebody will pull out into traffic in an inappropriate fashion and traffic will stop and allow him to have his way and everybody just kinda deals with it. No horns, no screaming, no car chases or petty behind the wheel revenge. If you did something like that in the states there would be a road rage killing.

The bargain shoppers place to be fleeced is “The Straw Market”. It’s a huge tented building that has several aisles that are very long and ridiculously narrow. 2 people can’t pass each other without both people yielding. The air is stagnant, the humidity is high and the sales pressure was constant. The merchandise is piled 15 feet high and the attendant in every stall is asking “can I help you mon, love, mame, sweetie, missus” You try not to be rude but saying “no thank you” constantly gets to be a bit grating.

On the way back to the boat Jim had to stop in and chat with the people at the tourism board. We went on ahead planning to stop for lunch at a place we had seen on the way into town called “The Poop Deck”. So when the girls changed the plan to another place called “The Green Parrot” I sent them into the bar to get a drink while I waited outside to corral Jim as he went past.

After 15 minutes Jim came down the street, I informed him that the plans had changed and that the girls were inside. We went inside and found the girls seated at a beautiful outdoor bar. The only problem was that in 15 minutes they hadn’t been served. There was only one other patron at the bar, 4 people behind the bar and they couldn’t get a drink. WTF? Jim and I sat down and after another 3 minutes nobody was interested in taking a drink order. They’re all too busy standing around trying to look as disinterested as possible. Screw that we’re outta here. Island time my ass. I understand island time but ignorance pisses me off.

We ended up at the Poop Deck after all and lunch was great, the service timely and the view fabulous so it all worked out for the best. We ended up on Freedom for dinner and headed home as the promised wind started to build.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 13, 2008. I slept like a dead man with narcolepsy. The alarm went off at 0600 and it felt like I had just lain down.

We wanted to get an early start on the trip across the Tongue of the Ocean. For such a large body of water it’s fairly tidal and can be very rough in the wrong winds. We wanted to get as far as possible before the winds started to build.

While I’m getting ready to take the dogs to shore I hear the islands water boat checking in with the pump house which is near our anchorage. He said he would be arriving at 0715; we had planned on hauling anchor at 0700. This would mean we would probably encounter him on his way into the channel as we were leaving through the same channel.

Andros Island is one of the few islands in the Bahamas with natural fresh water. This huge tanker comes several times a week and fills up with water and delivers it to the other islands.

So I stopped at Freedom on my way back with the dogs and asked Jim to pull anchors early so we could be clear of the channel in time. We left 15 minutes early and still ended up turning a blind corner and were met with the sight of the tanker heading towards the first set of channel markers. His boat is as wide as the channel and after a quick radio conversation it was decided that we would travel just outside the channel markers and not be crushed like bugs. It went well enough but was an unnerving way to start the day.

After this start, the day went very nicely and we had a beautiful day for the 40 mile trip to Nassau. Before entering the channel that leads into Nassau harbor you have to contact Nassau Port Control on the VHF. They ask where you’re coming from, what your documentation number is and where you’re headed.

If you’re checking into the country they won’t let you into the harbor without knowing which marina you’re planning to stay at. They find out where you’re headed and they send Customs and Immigration down to the marina to meet you. It’s a great setup except that it costs at least a hundred dollars a night at the cheapest marina just so you can be checked into the country. Since we had already checked into the country in Morgan’s Bluff we were allowed to pick a spot to anchor in the harbor.

We’re expecting 20 knots from the north on Monday night so we find a spot all the way at the east end of the anchorage to drop the hook which will give us great protection from the north. The harbor is very tidal so we have to drop 2 anchors, 180 degrees apart so we can alternate hanging from either one as the tide shifts. It will also allow us to hang from both anchors when the wind comes out of the north.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 12, 2008. We’re here!

It’s funny that no matter how much you plan and prepare while traveling by sailboat it all seems to fall apart so easily.

This morning three boats in our group opted to head back to Marathon. One boat decided to wait and cross the Gulf Stream at night so as to arrive on the Bahama Banks during daylight. That left 6 of us.

Our crossing was to be in an east north east direction for a distance of 92 miles. A straight line from point “A” to point “B” is known as the Rhumb Line. I had read about a suggested tactic for crossing the stream that seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

Since the Gulf Stream moves from south to north the flow will try to drive us north of our destination. Then as you realize that you are too far north you start to compensate by slowly turning more southward. Now instead of using all your boat speed to move ENE you’re using some speed to fight the current. This exasperates the problem by leaving you exposed to the current for a longer period of time. So you turn even further south making things even worse.

Now throw in the fact that the wind is from the southeast. This means that as you turn south to fight the effects of the stream you’re slowly bringing the bow of your boat into the wind. Now you lose the ability to sail and your day is pretty much going to suck
What I’ve suggested is that we start out heading 20 miles south of our destination. At first we’ll make good headway but in the wrong direction. Then as the gulf streams current starts to push us it will force us up to our Rhumb Line. We’ll allow this to happen and will never have to turn “downstream” to fight the current. If by chance we end up too far south then we can adjust course late in the crossing and actually improve our angle of sail and ride the current.

What I’ve proposed makes good sense to Jim on Freedom so we’ll be heading out on a course of 92 degrees rather than the rhumb line course of 73 degrees. The other 4 boats are headed straight from A to B.

Freedom travels just ever so slightly slower than we do so he headed out about an hour before everyone else. We’ve got 92 miles to catch him so it should work out.

In the morning Freedom was up and underway while I walked the dogs. We ended up hauling anchor at 0715 and headed directly into the rising sun through a huge field of crab pots. Once clear of the reef we turned to follow Freedom while the other 4 boats headed straight to Point B.

When crossing the Gulf Stream planning is essential. Although, we do have a friend that crossed the stream in a boat just bigger than a bucket with his wife and another couple and did just fine. But then Charlie’s always been lucky.

If there’s any north component to the wind it will battle the north flowing stream and generate short, choppy and downright dangerous sea conditions. 15 knots from the north could be fatal; 10 knots from the north could make you wish for the sweet release of death. So everyone waits for a weather window with some southerly breeze. It should also have some duration to the window, 36 hours minimum. If you leave with the breeze (light) coming from the southeast it should clock around and come from the south and best case, finish up from the west. Of course that’s the dream scenario and should always start with “Once upon a time….”
January 12, 2008. We’re here!

So we left with the breeze coming from the southeast with the promise of a midday swing from the south. We were supposed to get 5 to 10 knots and what we got was a more brisk 16 to 18 knots. This left us motor sailing close hauled fighting our way out to the center of the stream. It was rough going but we were able to make remarkable headway all things considered. It was quite the wild, wet ride with the bow plunging into the odd wave on more than one occasion sending hundreds of gallons of water up over the cabin top. Our anchors have never been so clean. Even with the ridiculous amount of provisions we have on board Veranda handled the seas very well.

30 miles out we were close to 4 miles south of the rhumb line and by the time we were 55 miles across we had been swept northward to only one mile south of the line. The other 4 boats had fallen into the “trap” and had been swept to far north to be able to make headway against the conditions. Just past the center of the stream they decided to adjust course and run past Bimini about 20 miles to the north. And then there were 2……..

Once they turned north their sailing conditions improved drastically and we listened to them make it safely to North Rock where they stopped for the night. The only bad thing about this is that now they’re so far north they’ll have to stop in the Berry Islands to check in and probably have to wait out an approaching storm there as well. The rhumb line decision will probably get them to Nassau a week after us. It’s kind of funny how small choices can have big implications.

We stopped feeling the effects of the stream about 20 miles from our destination and were still just below the rhumb line. This enabled us to shut off the engine and sail the rest of the way. This also allowed Freedom to catch up as they were now 2 miles behind us.

It was now dark and the Freedoms are without radar so we’d like to stick fairly close so our radar can be an extension of their eyes as well. We crossed onto the Bahama Bank at South Riding Rock as planned at 2100 hours. It was pitch black, we never saw less than 15 feet of water, we also never saw anything at all. The radar was able to pick out both South Riding and Castle Rocks and we were safely on the Banks.

Our trip across the banks was about 60 miles. The depths ranged from 11 to 15 feet so depths weren’t an issue. The wind had abated to 12 knots so we were able to sail for most of the night ghosting along between 4 and 7 seven knots. The waters surface was very flat and made for a wonderful sail.

Often sailors will make their crossing of the Gulf Stream and once on the banks will drop the hook to get a few hours of rest. It’s a little bizarre to see as they’d be anchored in 12 feet of water in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. Of course while they’re sleeping the weather isn’t and things can go to hell quickly so we decide to keep moving.

Christy and I alternated naps as we sailed through the blanket of darkness. The area is alive with boats moving slowly here and there while night fishing. At one point we were tracking 7 boats at the same time as Freedom and us transited their fishing grounds.

It all goes well and we’re treated to a spectacular sunrise as we turn south into the Tongue of the Ocean. The Tongue of the Ocean is a deep undersea canyon that splits the Bahamas. We went from 15 feet to over 2000 in less than a mile and shortly after that the bottom was a staggering 8000 feet below. We were headed south so of course the south wind that took such good care of us during the night was now right on the nose. We started the engine and motor sailed as close to the wind as we could until we had to drop all sail for the last 8 miles of our trip.

The entrance to the anchorage at Morgan’s Bluff on Andros Island is deep and well marked. We were anchored inside together with Freedom in 10 feet of crystal clear, mint green water.

After dropping the hook I showered and went over to pick up Jim so we could head into “town” to check in with Customs and Immigration. After asking about everyone we met, we found the Customs agent in his tiny office. After a phone call we were sent to the local bar to await the arrival of the Immigration official from his post at the airport.

He showed up in a half an hour and after fifteen minutes of paperwork we headed back over to the Customs guy. Another 15 minutes of paperwork and me handing over the $300 fee for the cruising permit, we were set to begin our assimilation into the Bahamas cruising culture.

Talking to the people here is a trip. Listening to Jim talk to them is even better. They talk in a rapid fire mumble where if you’re lucky you might catch every tenth word. In talking to the Customs guy when I asked him to repeat something he would say it all again in a slower more purposeful fashion and suddenly it would all be crystal clear. Then it would click in my head like “ holy shit, I just heard him say that” It just takes a second or two to analyze what you think you heard and cross reference it with the conversation “you’ think you’re having and come up with something reasonable he might have said. It’s just that couple of seconds to analyze everything said makes people look at you like you’re a little retarded.

I asked directions to the Customs Office from a woman when we first got off the dock. She said something like “Buma blanna pinnochio pistachio falala lala” Thank God she semi pointed the direction or I wouldn’t even known which way to face after getting these directions.

Jim has the Midwest slower twang/drawl thing goin’ on, so he’s behind the eight ball from the get go. When he was talking to the Immigration Officer he would answer a question and the guy would respond “I didn’t ask you anything about your wife”. After getting the answer he was looking for he would ask another. Then Jim would reply and the guy would look at him and say “I didn’t ask how much you boat weighs” The guy was merciless. Three questions in a row, three answers from left field. I’m glad it ended quickly because suppressing laughter is not my strong suit.

Once back on the boat we lowered our quarantine flag and hoisted the national flag of our host country the Bahamas.

Out trip ended up being a jaunt of 172 nautical miles over the span of 28 nonstop hours. I’m glad its over, its time for a nap. Tomorrow it’s off on a 38 mile romp to Nassau where we’ll refuel and wait out the expected northerly before heading down the Exhuma island chain.
January 10, 2008. Well, we’re outta Marathon.

A weather window has finally presented itself to us to make our crossing of the gulf stream to the Bahamas. After a hectic couple of days our upcoming 24 hour non-stop trip will be the most relaxing thing we’ve done in a while.

We were aware that Thursday was looking like a good day to head out. So we did our last minute food shopping for fresh meat, bread and vegetables the day before. Once that was done Christy went up to the marina to do laundry while I took the bicycles back to the boat and stowed them.

I wanted to stow the bikes as far forward in the v berth as I could since we will not need them in the Bahamas. Of course, that meant that first everything had to be emptied out of the v berth. The pile of crap that came out of there was pretty impressive. Now with the bikes stowed, everything could be jammed, um err, neatly put back in place.

We were only making a 25 mile run to our rally point at the Channel Five bridge for the jump off tomorrow so we wanted to be underway by noon or so. We slipped our mooring and headed under the bridge to Poncho’s fuel dock. We topped up our water, diesel and gasoline tanks and were on our way by 11:15.

The trip east was a bash to windward, motor sailing with just the mainsail up. After a few hours we were able to roll out some of the genoa as well. We had the anchor set by 15:45. First order of business was to jump in the water and clean the hull. Christy had done it last time, so it was my turn. It went quickly and the bottom growth was minimal even though we had been sitting in Boot Key harbor for just over a month. I was pleased to find that our zincs were still there and in pretty good shape.

There are 10 boats gathered here for tomorrows crossing.

After dinner there was a lot of chatter concerning a problem one of the boats was having, (one of the lead boats that has crossed many times). They had a leak somewhere near their shaft log and they couldn’t get a handle on exactly where the leak was. Because we have to walk the dogs we were the only ones with a dinghy in the water. So it was only natural for me to go over and see if I could help.

It turned out that there was a crack behind the shaft log and a steady stream of water was spraying into the bilge. After a quick trip to another boat for the right size hose clamp and a sheet of rubber, things quickly fell into place. I was able to cut a strip of rubber and get it wrapped around the leaking area and wedged firmly into place with the hose clamp. The leak went from pretty serious to practically dripless. It’s only a bullshit repair but it should get them safely back to Marathon for a permanent repair. During all this commotion they also discovered that they have a serious transmission leak in their transmission cooler hose, and it must be fixed to travel safely.

Their best friend and buddy boat in our little group happens to be our leader, Jerry. Jerry has opted to forego the trip across and see his friends safely back to Marathon for repairs. One or two of the other boats will turn around and head back, but not us. The wind is swinging around the way it’s supposed to, so we’re set to go, we’re going.

The only real concern I have is that there will be no moon, it’s going to be dark as hell. We won’t arrive at the Great Bahama Bank until after dark, so I’m a little concerned. We will be traveling in water that is 2700 feet deep for about 40-50 miles and then SUDDENLY when you reach the banks the water is 10-15 feet deep. It literally goes from 2000 feet to 12 in 200 yards, quite a contrast. There is a trade off here, we can leave early in the morning and make it across the gulf stream in the daylight and arrive on the Bahama Bank in the dark and possibly anchor and catch a few hours sleep, or we can leave late in the afternoon, cross the gulf stream in the dark and arrive on the banks in the morning. But if we do that we won’t make it to check in and be into Nassau by Sunday. There’s supposed to be some weather coming late Sunday so we need to get to a port to check into the Bahamas on Saturday and I’d like to be in Nassau on Sunday and weather the storm out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 6, 2008. The unthinkable has happened!

Winter arrived in Marathon on Monday but on the bright side it was gone by Friday. I thought it would never end. Tuesday afternoon was in the mid eighties and the wind was supposed to swing around and blow hard out of the north late in the day.

It did as promised, and the temperature plummeted to the upper fifties. The wind continued to blow from the north between 20 and 30 knots for a few days. Wednesday night the mercury dropped as low as 45 degrees. Thankfully the wind finally began to clock around and come from the east. So by late Friday the temperature was back in the seventies.

On Saturday morning we attended a skippers meeting for boats looking to cross to the Bahamas together during the next available weather window. It was run by a guy, Jerry, who has been to the Bahamas eleven consecutive years. He and his usual buddy boat were both there and seemed to be very conservative in the type of seas that they’re willing to set out in. They had a wealth of knowledge to share and Christy and I came away from the meeting with a good feeling about our proposed little armada.

I spent today changing oil and replacing a circuit breaker that had begun to get a little fussy. We also removed our big CQR anchor from its home in an aft locker and placed it up on the bow so it’s ready to deploy. We already had our primary anchor and a smaller secondary anchor on the bow, now there are three. We were trying to avoid adding anymore weight to the bow of the boat but it was time to get it out. It looks as if we have an anchor fetish now that all 3 bow anchors are in place. Oh yeah, we have a 4th anchor on the stern.

Taking the anchor out of the locker also opened up a lot of storage space. So we spent a good bit of time rearranging our gear. On Wednesday we’ll pick up our bicycles from the bike rack and bring them back out to the boat. Our V-berth has been converted into a garage of sorts. Once the bikes are back on board we’ll empty out the V-berth, put the bikes in first and bury them with all the rest of our stuff. We shouldn’t need them until we arrive back in the states.

So we’re still sitting here waiting for a weather window that will enable us to get going. It’s a little early to tell but the end of the week looks promising. We’ll see how it plays out; plans on a sailboat are often set in Jell-O.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January 1, 2008. Happy New Year all.

It’s been about a week since my last update. Early in the week a large ketch that’s been tied to the sea wall in the marina decided to head out for the Dominican Republic.

The thing that stands out about this boat is the amount of stuff this guy has on deck. It’s a pretty big boat, somewhere in the 50 foot range. It is a center cockpit like ours, but with a much bigger aft deck. He’s got 2 outboards for his dinghy, exercise equipment, a chain saw and a full size Harley Davidson motorcycle. This stuff is all wadded together with about a hundred other things all over the boats deck.

As I was taking the dogs in for their morning walk I came across this guy just after he’d run aground while leaving the marina. There were already 3 dinghies acting as tugboats trying to push him off the shoal. After I got involved another 3 or 4 dinghies joined in as well. We tried leaning him way over using his main halyard tied to another long line to no avail. Finally the pump out boat jumped in and started to tow him while everyone else pushed and I took the line from the masthead out as far as I could to get him to heel as much as possible.

Finally he started to slide forward and back into the deeper water. As I rolled up his masthead line to throw back aboard he asked if I could call for a bridge opening for him as he doesn’t have a VHF radio. I said “Dude, I’m in my dinghy” The guy has an 800 pound motorcycle on board, but no radio. The pump out guy heard him and volunteered to call the bridge for him. Then he advised him to stay in the channel all the way to the end and not take the shortcut through the mooring field as it was low tide and his 7 ½ foot draft could be a problem.

After finishing my dog walking mission I was on my way back through the anchorage and who do I come across? That’s right; the overloaded ketch decided to take the shortcut anyway and he was stuck again. The pump out boat was already there and was able to get him off and out through the bridge he went. Until the next day that is……..

The next morning we’re sitting on the boat and heard a boat that’s just left the harbor call out to the bridge keeper. He said that there was an inbound sailboat that has been dismasted and has no radio. The wind has been more than a little brisk lately and we watched for the poor unfortunate to come through the bridge.

We’re a half mile from the bridge and as the boat came into view, guess who. At first we saw tons of crap on deck but it could be debris, it was to far away to really see yet. I thought that the overloaded boat from yesterday had been a ketch but this one appeared to have been a sloop with its mast broken at the lowest set of spreaders. As he got closer we realized that indeed it was the ketch from yesterday, but he was now missing both masts.

He got caught with too much sail up trying to get the heavy boat to make some speed. The wind was up and gusty and about 30 miles offshore it all blowed away.
(Blowed…. was an entry in the cruisers dictionary about a year ago) It took him all night to salvage what he could and limp back into port.

We spent New Years Eve day out on Makeitso. That’s our friends, Rick and Linda’s huge diesel hybrid catamaran. There were eight of us plus Molly and Tucker and the Makeitso’s dog Kirby.

We motored out to Sombrero Reef, a trip of about 5 miles or so. Out at the reef there are free moorings that you can pick up and spend the day snorkeling or diving the reef. The water was very warm and the visibility was good. We saw tons of fish, some we recognized and some we didn’t. We even saw a couple of 3-4 foot Barracudas before being run out of the water by an influx of jellyfish. After lunch some of us went back in while others opted to relax on the boat.

The trip home involved a lesson in flying an asymmetrical spinnaker. Tom and Deb have a spinnaker on board their boat, Hearts Desire so that made Tom defacto resident spinnaker expert. The Makeitso’s had a brand spankin new spinnaker and needed a lesson on how to fly it. Tom put up with all of our stupid questions and “ideas” of how to fly the big sail. Once the sail was up (in spite of our help) it took a little trial and error to get the sail trimmed properly as Toms only previously done this on a monohull. Finagling with the sails shape increased our boat speed from 1 knot to almost 4 knots in only 5 knots of breeze. Not bad for a twenty nine thousand pound boat. The lesson went well and I learned a lot as I’m sure Rick and Jim did as well.

After returning to our respective boats we cleaned up and headed out for the New Years Eve celebration at Docksides, an outdoor waterfront pub. With live music, food, spirits and ten friends sharing a table it was a fine way to end 2007.

When we got back to the boat we were in for an unnerving event. We’ve been leaving the dogs on top of the boat when we’re away during the day. This way its cooler for them, they can take care of business if they feel the need and Tucker likes to bark at any dinghy that ventures too close for his liking. If it’s blowing pretty good we put them below as we’re afraid one of them could slip off the deck.

The night was very dark and the water was dead calm, not a hint of breeze or a ripple so we decided to leave them in the cockpit. We rode to dinner with Rick and Linda in their dinghy leaving ours tied to the back of our boat. Upon our return, up pops Tuckers head and he makes his way from the cockpit to the aft deck to see who’s here. Molly is usually right there with him and she’s nowhere to be seen. Christy is already standing on our swim platform calling her when I just happen to glance down and see Molly sitting in our dinghy.

Molly is terrified of fireworks. At the first sign of fireworks she usually climbs up and sits in my lap and a few times she’s even jumped down the 6 feet from the cockpit to the cabin looking for some place to hide. She shakes uncontrollably and she even starts to sweat, I know, I know, dogs don’t sweat blah blah blah, bullshit, she sweats.

There must have been random fireworks during the evening and we never heard them with the loud music at Docksides. Usually the dinghy floats about 8 feet behind the boat but with the calm conditions it must have been close enough for her to make the jump. The poor thing was a sweaty mess, she must have been terrified and couldn’t find a place to hide from the noise so she figured that down in the dinghy might be better and made the jump. Luckily Christy and I are old and were home by 2200 hours. I can’t believe she made that jump, thank God she made that jump, she’d have been gone. I’m thinking that any luck we had left over from 2007 was used up right there.

Our paperwork for the dog’s entry into the Bahamas has arrived so we’re all set and ready to go. We’re still doing odd chores and refurbishing everything we can as we wait for the next available weather window to make our crossing.

One of the things on our “to-do” list was retaping the spreader ends.
It gave me a chance to try out our Top Climber, a device which allows you to climb the mast unassisted. It worked great and while I was doing that Christy used our vacuum bagger to vacuum bag all of our extra paper towels. It’s incredible how much space you can save and when you open them up later they resume their original shape.

The wind is blowing 25 to 30 knots out of the north as I write this and is supposed to continue blowing hard for a few more days. It looks as though we’ll be here through the weekend and we’ll have to see what next week brings.

The anchorage has really filled up and I’m pretty sure that when we set out it will be in the company of 15 to 20 other boats. We’re both ready to hit the road and can’t wait to get to the Bahamas!