Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31, 2011.

On the whole “back over to the Bahamas” proposition….she said no. Damn. To be fair though, it took me a week to get over being sick and then Christy caught it. She never gets sick so this one really threw her for a loop. Plus there’s the whole mental part about getting herself psyched up for a crossing. It doesn’t “feel” right to her so we’ll remain stateside while we head north.

The weather here in Vero Beach is being a bit of a bitch. One day is perfect while the next day is fraught with thunderstorms including the dreaded lightning, tornado warnings and the general mayhem that goes with such weather. Dinner last evening was accompanied by squalls with wind gusts as high as 44 knots.

The anchorage here is very protected but it can still be a bit nerve wracking. The big issue for me is being on a mooring ball. We are sharing a ball with My Destiny, a Whitby 42. Between the 2 of us we weigh in at better than 50,000 pounds. There’s no real fetch but the gusting winds get the boats moving backwards and “whack” the mooring snaps tight and you stop with a dull jerk. It’s always in the back of my mind, “just how many of these *jerks* can the mooring tackle absorb”. I’d rather be on the hook.

We need a 2 day window of decent weather to go on the outside up to Cumberland Island, Georgia. We’d like to get there and then spend a few days shelling and hiking the park. The forecasts keep changing completely every day. We might get out of here tomorrow and just go up the inside so we can make some progress.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, 2011.

The Great Battery Debacle.

We arrived in Vero Beach with our only remaining battery still barely doing the job of sustaining the boat through the night. While sailing at night we had to run the generator twice for 30 minutes each night to keep the voltage up. Our friend Jay offered the use of an old Group 31 AGM that was sitting in his garage. I figured that if I wired this additional battery into the system we would safely be able to make it back up to the Chesapeake.

Batteries on a cruising boat have a finite life. If I replace them here in Vero the clock starts today. But if we could get to Annapolis we’d be on shore power for several months. This would enable us to replace the batteries in September rather than now.

Another friend, Greg, picked Jay’s battery up and dropped it off to me at the marina. I was a little surprised that the used battery was in a box and when I picked it up the heavy box felt a little “off”. There were handholds in either end and the whole box felt a little soft but I told myself that I would just have to be extra careful in handling it.

I lugged the 80 pound battery down and got it safely transferred into the dink. Once out at the boat I carefully placed the battery up onto the swim platform. I tied the dink off and climbed up onto the swim platform as well. The fact that the battery was in a box was niggling at me in the back of my mind. Usually batteries have a lifting handle across the top but I ignored my reservations and gripped the box by both handholds and lifted it up onto the transom.

With both hands on the box that meant there was no hand left to hold onto the boat with. I mean, its not like I'm Ganesha. The swim platform is fairly narrow but the battery was safely on the transom. One more lift to get it up over the stern pulpit and I’d be home free. I got the box about eye level and WHAM! The entire top of the box ripped completely off. Instantly the battery fell a foot and a half down onto the transom cap rail which deflected it towards me. Next it landed squarely on my right thigh, knocking me backwards towards the water. I shot out my left hand and made a lucky blind snatch grab of the stern pulpit which kept me from falling into the water. The battery was now spinning as it tumbled and bounced off the transom itself, then my right shin and then the transom again. I tried to “foot trap” it and it landed squarely on my right foot. It turns out that it was a lot heavier than a soccer ball. At this point I thought I had it saved but it was like it was alive as it continued to bounce and spin. It might have all happened in less than 2 seconds but it seemed to take for ever until it took one final grand bounce and fell into the water. Oh, but I still got the top half of the box in my right hand. F@#K me.

At least a half dozen times I considered the integrity of that damn box. I mean, I’ve got tears in my eyes and not because of the deep bruise to my thigh, or because of the missing skin from my shin or because my foot is throbbing. Something was tapping me on the shoulder and trying to warn me about that damn box……Crap.

12 feet of pitch dark water, the battery probably even penetrated the muck bottom and I don’t even want to think about the fecal matter present in this mooring field. I didn’t even consider going in to look for it. After a brief mental breakdown a new plan was formed.

Christy called Jay and told him that the battery was now swimming with the fishes. He was out and about so he did a little reconnoitering for us and found that Sam’s Club had a fresh load of golf cart batteries in. The Savages are in town and they own a mini van. Perfect. A quick trip to Sam’s Club and we were now the proud owners of a half dozen 6 volt golf cart batteries.

On Saturday morning I removed all 3 of the old 4D’s and installed the new golf carts. The old capacity was 600 amp hours and now there are 660 amp hours. It’s nice to have a little more capacity but the big advantage is the actual weight of the batteries themselves. The 4D’s weigh in at a whopping 130 pounds a piece. I’m getting too old to be dealing with crap like that. The new golf cart batteries only weigh in at about 70 pounds a piece. It’s still a bit o’ weight but when compared to the alternative….its like they’re toys.

I got the new batteries wired in, charged up and everything looks good. The settings on our charge controller have been reprogrammed from AGM’s to wet cells. I still have to change the engine oil and a few small chores and we can get outta here.

We’ve been checking the temperatures up north and it was 37° up in Annapolis today. We don’t want any part of that crap so it looks like we’ll really be taking it slow. On the other hand…..we’re still legal in the Bahamas…and since we’ve got some time to kill….and the Abacos are technically north of here……we could…..I’ve gotta talk (beg, convince, wheedle and whine) to Christy.

We’ll see what happens…….

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 26, 2011.

Evidently its at the age of 53 when everything all goes to shit. Damn the luck.

I woke up this morning with a nasty head cold but that wasn’t the worst thing. The refrigerator had shut itself down during the night due to an excessive drop in battery voltage. So I set about troubleshooting and found that I wished that I had stayed in bed.

We have 3 200 amp 4D batteries as the power storage system on the Veranda. When I separated each battery from the system I could check the individual batteries health. I found that 2 of the 3 batteries were DEAD.

1 battery had probably been dead for a while and the 2 remaining batteries were able to support the dead weight of their former brethren. Finally when the second battery croaked the remaining battery wasn’t able to support the system. So most of the charging that has been happening was pretty much useless. The majority of the power coming into the battery bank was being diverted to the 2 dead batteries in an effort to bring them up to speed. Its about as useless as pumping plasma into a corpse.

The Veranda runs off the solar panels during the day and the excess power is stored in the battery bank to run the boat at night. So I electrically removed the 2 deadbeats from the system and found that the remaining battery could barely run the boat at night. The fridge and freezer would barely make it through the night with the voltage being in the high elevens by morning. So we’re on the edge of nowhere with only one battery onboard. Its of the same vintage of the recently deceased and if it dies we’re screwed. We’d lose everything in the fridge and freezer and would be unable to sail at night unless the generator was running all the time. Crap.

That left us with pretty much only one choice. I figured this out by 0900 and by 1130 we were headed back to the states.Far Niente headed west

We had great breeze from the east so we headed WNW towards the southern tip of Andros. Then it was NNW along the western side of Andros before crossing the Gulf Stream.

We had a perfect 12 knots outta the south until we started crossing the stream. In a matter of five minutes the wind reversed and surged to 20 knots dead outta the north. The experts all say to stay clear of the stream in northerlies and it was interesting to see how quickly the sea state changed.

We ended up changing the plan and diverting directly to the west towards Miami rather than our original NNW. As soon as we were west of the center of the Gulf Stream the wind completely died. The seas laid down so we once again adjusted course and headed for Lake Worth inlet. We were now motoring at 10 knots SOG in the western edge of the stream. Then a tiny bit o breeze started to fill in behind us and with the genoa poled out we spent the next 50 miles hovering between 10 and 12 knots.

AIS once again proved its value as we crossed the busy shipping channel offshore of Fort Lauderdale.

For the last 2 hours of the day the wind once again shifted against us so we dropped sail and motored at over 8 knots to the sea buoy off Lake Worth. We entered the harbor in the dark and dropped the hook at 2130 hours. I think we were asleep by 2137 after a 58 hour trip from paradise to Lake Worth.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 24, 2011.

I wrote about being photographed by a mysterious helicopter while down in the Jumentos. One of the knowledgeable people who reads the blog provided me with the pertinent info on this particular aircraft. It turns out to be owned by the United States Department of Justice. Seems my paranoia is justified. WTF?

March 20, 2011.

Happy birthday to me. I spent the morning doing boat chores and then we went beach combing for some sea glass. We got home about a quarter to five and frankly, I was pooped. But there was a gathering on the beach so we grabbed cocktails and headed out. It turned out to be a birthday gathering for moi. There was tons of food, gifts, birthday wishes and I got some really cool headgear to wear.
It ended up being a really nice evening.

The other day Christy and some friends had walked across the cay to do some beach combing. When she got home she told me that one of the bays on the eastern side of the cay was actually quite calm at low tide. She proposed that we walk our crap across the cay and do a little spearfishing. So yesterday we did….

Big winds outta the east like we’ve been experiencing make spearfishing a lot of work. And to actually go over to the east side to try and get into the water usually wouldn’t be reasonable because of the rough surf. But since Christy noticed that this particular bay had a reef across its mouth which breaks up the waves we decided to give it a try.

Since we were without the dinghy I had to hunt with a mesh bag to place our catch in rather than just flipping bugs into the dink. I’d shoot a lobster and then while treading water I’d unscrew the spear tip and pull the bug off the spear. Then I’d slip the spear tip into the leg of my wetsuit, drop the spear to the bottom and try and finagle the lobster into the mesh bag. It was a lot like trying to slip a dozen thorny roses into a tube sock while riding in the washing machine. I ended up grabbing 4 bugs before heading back home to the boat.
March 17, 2011.

Happy Saint Patty’s day everyone.

We sailed out of Thompson Bay in the predawn darkness. Departing at 0600 allowed us to get through the Comber Channel before the falling tide bottomed out. We had a day of slow downwind sailing. It took us just over 10 hours to cover the 55 miles to Flamingo Cay.

The next morning we had a few hours to kill while we waited for the tide to turn in our favor. So while Jay & Di did some beach combing Christy & I headed out to do a little hunting. There are 8 Bahamanian fishing boats in the 12 miles between Water and Flamingo Cays. Each one of them tow several small hard skiffs so there's a shitload of pros working the area. That’s pretty much standard procedure for this area but we always get something here so we headed out at 0900.

By 1000 we were headed back to the big boat with 2 Hogfish, 2 Grouper and a lobster. Not too shabby for an old white guy with a spear…..

We raised the hook and sailed out of the anchorage about 30 minutes after Far Niente. We beam reached and then close reached the 30 miles averaging 6 knots. Crossing the stretch of water from Man-o-War Cay to Nurse Cay can issue you an ass kicking but because we had waited for the tide the trip was quite pleasant.

This mornings weather report convinced us that Hog Cay is the place to be for the next few nights. Building winds allowed us to sail out of our anchorage and right into the anchorage at Hog Cay.

After setting the hook Christy & I went hunting while the weather would allow us to. We grabbed a nice 4 ½ pounder and head home in time for the evenings festivities. Its Saint Patty’s Day and begora!, there's cocktails on the beach, I gotta go find something green to wear……..

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 14, 2011.

There was a mini reunion while at Long Island to renew our immigration. We ran into The Savages who had picked up some family members that had flown into Georgetown. They rented a small powerboat and a captain and headed out to do some spearfishing with their company.

We anchored as close to the Long Island Breeze Resort as we dared in spite of the shallow water. Anchoring here cuts a mile out of the dinghy ride to jug fuel for the boat. We left Nassau in December, covered hundreds of miles and here in mid-March we only took 22 gallons of diesel. Thank God because diesel here is over 5 dollars a gallon. After topping everything up and hitting the Long Island Breeze for some internet we moved into the northern anchorage.

We were reunited with Gary & Mary of the Packet Inn whom we haven’t seen out on the water in about 2 years. A couple of happy hours, a little beach combing and it was like they never left.

Our friends Pancho & Esther rented a car so on Friday morning we headed north to the airport to take care of Immigration. Even though we had an appointment the only immigration official wasn’t in. We padded the sob story a bit and the Customs officer on duty made a call to Georgetown to the regional Immigration office and got the go-ahead to process our paperwork.

A half hour drive, 3 minutes of whining, a phone call, 10 minutes of paperwork and we were once again legally guests of the Bahamas. Since we were practically at the north end of the island Pancho drove us north to do a little sight seeing. Somehow, somewhere, somebody has decided that the northern tip of Long Island was once visited by Christopher Columbus.
It may not have been his initial landfall but I guess theres a chance that he might have happened by. Maybe. Anyway, they put up a monument on an overlook so we had to stop for the obligatory pictures.

With immigration and the touristing taken care of that pretty much left us faced with having lunch. Perfect waterside atmosphere, cold beers, close friends and good food made for a great way to say goodbye to Long Island.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 8, 2011.

I woke at 0600 to a bit of favorable breeze. The wind was due to die during the day so we might as well take advantage of whats out there.

We were able to motorsail for the first 20 miles before turning into the Comer Channel.
The Comer Channel is a 15 mile long stretch of shallow water across the Bahama Banks. We arrived right at high tide which takes a lot of the angst out of crossing the Comer. We’ve done the Comer at dead low tide in the past and it can be a bit disconcerting to be plowing along for mile after mile with less than a foot of water under the keel. Theres no visual piloting as the bottom as far as the eye can see is a constant whitish blue. You just have to trust your charts and hope nothing has changed.

Birds here are surprisingly rare so it was an event for us to be shadowed by what we believe to be an Osprey.

As we approached Thompson Bay we were greeted by a small pod of dolphins who came to play in our bow wake for a moment before moving on.
March 6, 2011.

It’s time for us to make the hundred mile trek north to renew our immigration status. We made a small jump up to Buena Vista Cay and found ourselves anchored next to Kookaburra.

I’m nursing a sore toe so I watched from the boat while Keith put his bucket and his spear into his kayak and headed out to look for dinner. In 45 minutes he was back with a 5 pound lobster for their evening meal. I tease him about getting him started. I mean, he had all the tools to be successful. If anything, I showed him how important being methodical is, removed some of the mystery and maybe upped his confidence somewhat. And now here he was, out soloing up something for dinner in no time flat. I couldn’t have been happier for him.

As Christy was starting to prepare our evenings meal she said to me “Do you realize we don’t have any lobster in the fridge?”. Thank God I was wearing shorts because my penis almost fell off. Hunter gatherer extrodinaire, teacher of new guys and no lobster in the box. WTF?

I was toying with the notion of going from Buena Vista all the way to Thompson Bay in one day. The forecast called for light but favorable winds. So at 0330 I woke Christy. Then I ducked, jumped left, feinted right and headed topside to get ready to get underway.

We sailed slowly north and our ETA for Thompson Bay was looking like 2100 hours. I didn’t mind getting there in the dark but the last 20 miles was going to be motoring into a 12 knot breeze. OR, we could stop at Water Cay and motor the next day which was forecast to have no wind what-so-ever.

Stopping at Water Cay would also give me the opportunity to restore my manhood, er, hunt for some lobster. The anchorage here is marginal as far as protection goes but it is very beautiful and graced with loads of coral. I got into the water at 1430 with every intention of reminding Tucker just who the Alpha Male is on this boat.

In an hour and a half we were back on the boat with 10 lobsters including a pair of 5 pounders and a 7 pound Mutton Snapper. My self esteem has been restored but I have to cut this short as I’m going to chase Christy around the aft cabin….
March 3, 2011.

The day broke with absolutely no wind what so ever. This would give us a chance to hunt the eastern side of the cay. These occasions are rare so I was pretty excited by the prospect of swimming in practically unhunted waters.

But after finding and taking only one bug in an hour I decided to head back to some of my favorite haunts. I explained that these particular spots are more frequently hunted so Keith shouldn’t be surprised if today doesn’t measure up to the harvest we had at Buena Vista.

I wanted to start out in a little spot that Christy & I had noticed the last time we were here. It’s a rock the size of a football field in 3 feet of water with a decent ledge around the circumference. I found several bugs that Keith was successfully able to take including 2 with one shot. One minute he can’t hit shit and the next minute he’s a trick shooter, lol. That’s right, I’m taking credit for his new found skills. He found and took another Slipper lobster and while he swam it back to the dink I swam across the top of the rock.

It’s basically flat with no place for a bug to hide but I spied a small hole in the horizontal surface… I had to go look. The water was 18 inches deep and I was looking down through the ceiling of a tunnel and there was a subway passing by. But that didn’t make any sense. There’s no underwater subway system in the Bahamas. Holy shit, it’s a mondo f@#king lobster. If I had looked into the opening 10 seconds sooner or later I never would have seen him. If he had opted to take his little walk at any other time of day he would have gone unnoticed. Evidently some higher power wanted us to cross paths and for me to stick a stainless steel tipped spear down through the top of his back and thus ending all his lobster hopes and dreams. I don’t question my place in the universe so I answered the call.

This cosmic alignment angered the lobster. I had him firmly pinned to the ground and I let him flail about for 2 minutes before I even attempted to withdraw him from the hole. I was standing in the water next to the ledge, giggling, with the spear thrashing about wildly. We went home shortly afterwards with Keith bagging 7 bugs for the day; not too shabby. Maybe I should start a guide service. Lobster Gigantico ended up weighing in at 6 pounds 10 ounces, nice bug.
March 2, 2011.

At the cocktail party after the Beach Junkyard Wars the other night a guy I didn’t know approached me. He said that he might have to be the first person to wear the Veranda Sureshot Lobster Targeting Helmet™. He’s been here a while and hasn’t managed to grab a bug as of yet. I told him that whenever he we were in the same anchorage that we’d be glad to take him out and help him get started.

As luck would have it, the next day they pulled in to the anchorage at Buena Vista right next to us. I’ve had a hand in the beginnings of several hunter/ gatherer careers and I do enjoy it so it was with great pleasure we headed out to do some hunting with Keith and Jaime of the Kookaburra.

I was pleasantly surprised that Keith turned out to be a good swimmer who is comfortable in the water. He can hold his breath longer than I can so I knew things were gonna work out alright.

Christy & I haven’t been to Buena Vista for a few years. We usually opt to spend most of our time at Raccoon Cay. As a result I was only familiar with one section of reef that we hunted years ago. We spent the first 40 minutes touring hundreds of feet of coral with nary a lobster being sighted.

I had explained the things that you have to look for. The “straightness” of the antennas sticks out like a sore thumb once you get used to “noticing” it. The camouflage pattern on their legs breaks up their shape but the colors are just too vibrant so that flash of color is often a bug. Small fish darting into a hole as you approach only to come barreling right back out is often a lobster swinging his antlers around inside defending his den. The tips of their antennas are subtle at first but glaringly obvious after a while.

And then it was like somebody turned on the lobster switch. I found a solid 4 pounder under a large flat rock and called Keith over. He dropped down and reconnoitered the situation, took another breath, cocked his spear, submerged, grabbed the rock to keep himself steady and oriented comfortably, reached under and MISSED! He tried a couple of more quick shots but Mr. Bug stepped back into his basement never to be seen again. Okay, it happens, we’ll move on.

After another 20 yards or so I found a hole with a few tenants. 3 bugs in a hole with 3 possible shooting lanes none of which was too easy. Keith missed a couple of times so I went down and drilled one just to prove that they weren’t wearing Kevlar. Keith then succeeded in shooting his first lobster. By this time the third bug was long gone but Keiths confidence was buoyed.

After a few more successes the hits became more frequent than the misses and we each headed home with 6 lobsters including a Spanish lobster and a pair of Slipper lobsters.

Since it was still early we decided to sail the 5 miles down to Raccoon Cay to do some more hunting the next day. The wind was only blowing about 5 knots out of the south so we tacked back and forth for HOURS to cover the 5 miles.
March 1, 2011.

Cuban bananas are tiny but tasty, just sayin’.

Funny thing though. A couple of days after scoring some Cuban bananas I was sitting out on the aft deck and one of
the infamous black & grey helicopters of some nefarious government agency appeared over the anchorage and methodically moved from boat to boat snapping pictures.

The project I was consumed with was a field repair to our wind generator.
One of the carbide brushes had crumbled and the wind generator was useless. Luckily I had a bronze plumbing fixture that I was able to cut a rectangle out of. I was able to fashion up a new temporary replacement brush. The thing worked like a champ and we got our picture taken…..
February 28, 2011.

After a few days at Hog cay we took advantage of a shift in the wind and bolted for Double Breasted Cay. We had a perfect sail and finally started the engine as we entered the anchorage.

The anchorage at Double Breasted is marginal unless the wind is predominantly out of the south. So why were we willing to chance this sometimes rolly anchorage in brisk winds from the ESE? Beach Junk Wars, of course.

We’ve never seen the TV program, Junkyard Wars. Rick & Susan on C_Language planned and hosted their Third Annual Beach Junk Wars. The concept is that you comb the windward side of Double Breasted Cay for any type of flotsam and jetsam that you might be able to use to create a project. The projects were graded on Creativity, Functionality, Presentation, Originality and Craftsmanship.

The major catch is that you can only use three things that were not washed up on shore; a pair of scissors, a knife and a handsaw. That’s it, no pens, pencils, rulers, drills, screws, zip ties, tape, nothing….unless you found it on the beach. You could pre screen the beach for suitable crap but you weren’t allowed to collect or “put aside” anything until game day.

Christy and I brainstormed for a bit to come up with several possibilities for projects and we drew up a wish list of supplies we would have to look for. At 0930 everyone headed in to shore to start collecting suitable crap.

By 1100 hours we were back at the boat with a sailbag full o’shit. We decided to make 3 smaller projects and combine them as if they were being offered on a late night infomercial. Presentations and judging was to commence at 1630.

Some of the participants really put a ton of effort into their entries while some, like us, opted for “the laugh”. The first part of our entry was a helmet/ sighting system for the neophyte lobster hunter. A construction helmet with a 5 foot piece of bamboo protruding from the front with a handmade gun sight affixed out at the end. Perfect for the guys who after locating and stalking a lobster, shoot and miss. The Veranda Lobsterman Helmet eliminates those annoying misses and you’ll look so cool wearing it.

Theres always yards of abandoned fishing nets washed up on the beaches. Most people out here don’t have underwear let alone lingerie. That led us to whip up a pair of “fishnet” stockings complete with garters all by Verandas Secret. They only come in green so they’ll be perfect if you want to look slutty for Saint Patty’s Day. One size fits all, quantities limited, call now…….

Our final entry was the easiest but our most practical. Everyone here uses a walking stick when crossing the cays to the windward side. A big reason is that the stick is used to push shit aside when looking for Hamburger Beans. So I used the hollow end of a bamboo walking stick and applied a piece of plastic mesh over the bottom. Now when a bean is found, rather than bending over to pick it up you just have to place the end of the stick on top of the bean and press down. The bean is pushed up into the hollow shaft and trapped by the mesh. The Veranda Bean Gathering Stick with Internal Bean Storage. Get yours now, operators are standing by.

When the voting was tallied we didn’t win but I’ll try not to dwell on that. We had a ton of fun and came away amazed by some of the other projects. There was an exercise machine, a tide gauge, a “Peak O’Meter”, an ingenious pair of marionettes, a hockey rink complete with a brief demonstration game and a Zen Garden.
There was an after contest meal of appetizers and cocktails afterwhich we headed back to the boat.

After another fairly rolly night we were up and underway early headed for Buena Vista Cay. We haven’t been there in several years so it was good to get back. We walked the beach in the morning and after lunch swam a few coral heads in the anchorage behind the boat that yielded a pair of lobsters.

Tomorrow is the first day of Nassau Grouper season and I can’t wait!