Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 28, 2012.

It's been a frustrating few days. We really want to get further north and the best option is via Eleuthera. The wind has just not been cooperating.

After our one perfect night in Pipe Creek we rode the north wind 4 miles back down to Big Majors Spot. Big Majors is fairly well packed with boats. The masses from Georgetown stop here on their way north. There is also an influx of powerboats at this time of year that have just crossed to the Bahamas.

There probably a dozen 40 to 50 footers with a half dozen boats well over a hundred feet. Last night I heard the 64 foot Ragin Cagin checking into the Compass Cay marina 30 minutes ahead of his companion boat, the 112 foot Cagin Dancer. Seriously? Somebody owns 2 boats that size?

And the big boats do have all the toys. They start spitting out jet ski’s as soon as they drop the hook. All of the big boys are towing a 24 center console to use as a dink and for fishing. We've seen private yachts with helicopters, sailboats and cars aboard but this guy had a new toy that I had only seen previously on the internet. It's the flying enema of doom. Basically its like the guts of a high powered jet ski attached to the operator via a large hose. But instead of the water propelling the jet ski its directed up a large hose and fired downward enabling the “pilot” to hover above the water.

The thing lets the operator get about 15 to 20 feet in the air. I'm admit that I did laugh a few times when the guy screwed something up and bitch slapped himself down onto the waters surface. Kind of a jet powered, face plant cannonball.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 25, 2012.

On our third attempt to head north we were finally successful. It was tough to leave someplace that you could toss your bathing suit up on the beach when you went swimming.
We had 20 knots outta the east which was supposed to drop to 15 as we got further north. About an hour north of us is the beginning of Nurse Cay Cut. The tide would change in our favor at 1515 hours.

So at 1400 hours we once again pulled the hook and sailed north. Since we would be sailing overnight and had plenty of wind we had a single reef in the mainsail. Thank goodness we did because as the sunset upon us we were beset by one line squall after another. The first one came with a sporty 20 minutes of 35 knots which had us rail down and rocketing northward. There was no moon what-so-ever so we were watching the stars to predict each squall as they ran across us. The stars would disappear and wham, a short lived ginormous burst of wind.

Since we would be traversing the most dangerous part of our proposed route in the darkness we ditched it for a route that we've done before. The new route would have saved us about 7 miles but we opted for the tried and true route.

We sailed into the harbor at Black Point without even having to re-trim the sails. We rounded up, dropped the sails and then the hook in the busy anchorage. We squared the boat away, reinstalled the outboard on the dink and headed into town with our laundry. After putting the laundry in the machines we walked over to the towns only market for fresh vegetables. We knew the mailboat had been in port yesterday so we were happy about timing our arrival with the arrival of fresh produce. But the joke was on us. It seems that somehow the islands food shipment never made it onto the boat. There were no veggies less than 2 weeks old in the market. Damn. I don't know how the locals put up with that shit.

Once home with our clean laundry we pulled the hook and sailed the few miles north to Big Majors Spot.
Our friend JoAnne was in the anchorage so we dinghied over to visit for an hour before going home to collapse into the well deserved oblivion of a deep sleep.

We woke refreshed and with a conundrum. One of our Lazy Jacks was shredded and hanging on by a thread. I'd have to go up the mast and replace it before using the mainsail again. We have a fairly benign clocking front coming through so the anchorage was already too rough for any antics up the mast.

So we sailed 4 miles north and into the confines of Pipe Creek. We arrived on a favorable tide and negotiated the shallow entrance without incident. After settling in Christy used the anchor windlass to haul me up the mast to replace the bad Lazy Jack.
We've come a long way. The first time Christy used the windlass to haul me up, one of us forgot to pull the anchor chain off its gypsy. One of us thinks it might have been the captain but thats not how I recall it. So the line hauling me up was wrapped around the capstan and as I rose into the air the anchor chain was simultaneously being pulled into the anchor locker by the gypsy. It would have been interesting to see if I would have gotten to the top before the anchor was ripped from the bottom allowing us to drift through the anchorage with me up the mast. Would Christy have tied me off, would there have been a nasty free fall or just the quickest controlled descent in history. Fortunately Christy noticed the chain being retrieved before it came to that.

The lazy jack is replaced and after one peaceful night here we'll be heading...somewhere

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 21, 2012.

The brunt of the weather that we chose to hide from has finally reached us. We've got 20 to 28 knots with rain squalls to 35. This morning we actually had over an hour of uninterrupted rain. The wind is always on us but the rain just marches through in solid walls. One minute it's so gray that you can't see more than a couple of hundred feet and the next moment the solar panels are putting out 30 amps. I can't begin to tell you how many times we've opened and closed ports and hatches today.

Since our hunting season is winding down I thought that I'd post some equipment hints that might help somebody else. But be forewarned. I'm not diver trained, I'm just a guy getting old with his spear. The reasoning I provide may be right, it may be wrong, but it's mine. Your mileage may vary. Anything I say here is up for discussion so if your opinion varies share it......

I believe a wetsuit of some type is a must. I wear a “shorty” that covers everything but my forearms and shins. The thermal protection the shorty affords me allows me to stay in the water for hours at a time. A lot of my friends wear a shorty with a body skin under it or a full wetsuit. The added protection on your forearms and shins would be a blessing when it comes to avoiding fire coral stings. Christy is the only person that I know who can stay in the water for extended periods of time without getting cold. Of course, she does have the benefit (the only benefit) of her peri-menopausal self produced heat shield. I notice tropical fish like to congregate in her wake.

It's surprising how badly burned the top of your head can get when you spend a few hours face down in the water. I cut the bill off a ball cap and wear the cap part to keep the sun off my dome. I'm not sure how, but the thing pretty much stays there while I swim. A bathing cap or a hood would do, but I have neither so I was forced to improvise. Christy calls it my Yarmelke of Doom.

I wear a dive knife on my right thigh. A lot of guys wear them there or on the outside of their lower leg. I've never had to use it but I own it so I wear it and besides it looks cool. It's nice to have but I think it can be done without.

I carry a flashlight. It can make the difference between taking a bug or not even having the opportunity. Sometimes you just know there’s a bug back in the deep tunnel and the flashlight removes all doubt. I've even used the flashlight to scare a bug out of his excellent hiding spot to a position where I have a shot at him. My flashlight is small enough that I can stuff it in the bottom of my shorty against my left thigh. I don't even remember that its there until someone asks me “ Is that a flashlight in your wetsuit or are you just happy to see me?”.

The wetsuit makes you extremely buoyant so a weight belt is important. How much weight you wear is different from person to person. I wear 13 pounds of lead. It leaves me slightly buoyant. It's so close that if I expel my breath I sink and if I continue to breathe I float. So swimming long distances on the surface is easy but when I decide to submerge the weight make a huge difference. I find that as I drive my body down I become increasingly heavier and I can stay on the bottom without expending any energy. Getting down and staying down easily allows you more bottom time so some weight is necessary, just how much is up to the individual. A belt with several small weights would allow you to figure out what's best for you. I've been warned by an “expert” that if I ever black out I would die because my body wouldn't float up. He did concede that if I were to wear no weight at all and blacked out I would probably drown before I reached the surface anyway. Dead at the bottom or dead at the top = still dead.

Booties inside your fins will save the skin on your toe knuckles from being chaffed away. I constantly had to wrap rigging tape around my toes before I got my booties. While the taped toes was pretty fashionable the booties are easier.

The skin between my thumb and forefinger on my shooting hand is a mass of scar tissue from the shooting band stretching across my skin. After two years I got my first pair of gloves. Life is much better. Wearing a glove on your off hand also allows you to confidently grab ledges to steady yourself as you reach under to take a shot.

As far as the mask goes I chose a basic mask in a fluorescent color. I figured that the bright color would add a little safety factor when people are trying to spot you out on the water. They also offer masks with mirrored finishes. I skipped it because I wondered if fish or lobster would see themselves and freak. Not to mention that if your dive buddy wore one you wouldn't see his eyes you'd never know if he was seeing what you're trying to communicate to him or is he looking at that flashlight stuffed up your leg and wondering if you're really hung like a Wildebeast.

I'm on my second snorkel and I hate the new one. The old one was a simple rubber U with a cheap piece of straight plastic attached. It was simple, it was streamlined and I never knew that it was there. On my new one instead of a rubber U there’s rubber flexihose connected to a plastic upright. When I drive myself through the water the flexi part wobbles. It drives me a bit insane not to mention that since it's attached to the strap for my mask the wobbling causes my mask to leak. I'm definitely losing this high tech POS shit before next season.

I have 2 pair of fins. One pair is an extremely long pair of free diver fins. I'm much faster and cruising on the surface seems to take less effort. After a few challenging days in a row my kneecaps ache a bit. I switch to the standard fins the next time out and while I'm noticeably slower the pain in my knees goes away. So its like they're medicinal or perhaps magical.

My mentor was a master of the Hawaiian sling. It's a fun weapon but it's awkward. It requires 2 hands to shoot and once it has been fired the spear has to be retrieved. If it was the only thing available I'd make do. But thankfully there’s the pole spear. Its tough, simple, it never leaves your hand and its deadly. Mine are fiberglass, 6 feet long with a 6 inch stainless steel threaded rod protruding from the end. Onto this threaded rod tips of various designs can be mounted. There are simple single barbed tips, fully articulated chisel points with 2 barbs and there are even barbs that come apart on penetration and leave the victim attached to the spear via a small stainless wire tether.

Of the two tips pictured, the one on the left looks cool but I find its performance a bit disappointing. It does the job but when compared side by side to the tip on the right, it falls short. The one on the left is so broad that it impacts with a lot of energy transferred to the target. While it gives the target a really good jolt, penetration is only mediocre. The tip on the right has all of my favorite attributes. Chisel point, long and slender, 2 barbs and fully articulated. None of the energy of the shot seems to be transferred to the target. The spear just blows right through, the barbs open and you and your quarry are now joined.

Whatever equipment you decide on the most important part is getting in the water. Its great exercise, its interesting and if successful, you'll eat healthier and the time spent in the water will keep you from sitting around drinking all day. We closed out our lobster season with one final bug today. That brought us up to 180 for the year. 15 dozen has a nice ring to it. There are officially 10 days left to the end of the season. Double century rings nice too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012.

Happy Birthday to me. Thanks Ma. It just dawned on me that I'm more than half way done. I don't know how people that make it into their nineties get outta bed. I'm 54 and my shit is sore.

Its been 2 days since we turned around and anchored behind Raccoon Cay. We're about 15 miles from the nearest Batelco tower so using the internet is fairly tedious. If we're 2 or 3 miles away our air card works down at the Nav station. Perfect. Anything more than that and I have to bring the laptop topside to use it in the cockpit. No biggie. But at this range I need a little more height. With the laptop sitting on the cockpit table I can rarely connect. But holding the laptop over my head and I can get on right away. Problemo.

Since the air card plugs into a USB port on the starboard side of the computer I found that if I rest the laptop on its port side with the air card up towards the bimini it works pretty good. Eureka. Of course it does make typing a one finger pain in the ass and reading IS a pain in the neck, literally.
But it is what it is and we're still connected. I think next year we'll be using a USB2 cable to remote mount the air card to make things a little easier.

We did get in the water and were able to take 3 nice bugs in the 3 to 4 pound range.
I also managed to grab our biggest Hogfish of the season weighing in at about 6 pounds. I was swimming against a mild current when he swam right by me headed the other way. So I turned around and spent close to 300 yards catching up to him. He wasn't really darting away but he was headed somewhere.
All of a sudden it was like he realized that I was following him and he turned broadside to flare his dorsal fin to intimidate me. I was actually SO intimidated that I shot him in self defense.

The freezer is now officially full so we decided to do a little beach combing yesterday. The beach here at Raccoon has been picked over by dozens of women for the last few months. But we applied ourselves and came home with 2 dozen various sea beans. Hamburgers, Purses and Monkey Faces, oh my.

Today we'll make some water, burn some trash and take a swim for the heck of it and yes, I will be dragging a spear along just in case.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 17, 2012.

Happy Saint Patty’s Day. Don't drink anything I wouldn't drink.

The first thing out of the weather guru's mouth this morning was “Wow, nobody saw that wind outta the north coming yesterday”. No shit Sherlock. Today's forecast was exactly the same as yesterdays so once again we pulled the hook and sailed north.

We waited until 1000 so we could hit the 16 mile gap between Nurse Cay and Man O' War Cay with the tide and breeze coming from the same direction. Our course for the first 90 miles of the day would once again be 341°. For the first 15 miles of the day we were barely making our point of sail with not much margin of error.

And then just like yesterday the wind once again veered more out of the north. Shit, not again. We flattened everything out and found that the best we could do was 335°. We're already taking a blind leap of faith by trusting the numbers a friend gave us. There's just no way we're going to be tacking up the rhumbline, in the pitch dark across a reef strewn route that we've never even seen in the daylight.

That left us with 2 options. The first was to start the engine and motorsail about 14 miles to Flamingo Cay. Our friends on Fine Lion had left a few hours before us headed towards Water Cay. We hailed them and found that they were just passing Flamingo and could see 2 boats already anchored there. They also said the were motoring into 3 footers. Crap.

We have a love / hate relationship with the anchorage at Flamingo Cay. The cay is beautiful, there is great fishing, places to walk to and a cave you can take your dinghy into. The only problem is that whenever the wind pipes up there’s a terrible wrap around swell that just brutalizes the anchorage.

Monday and Tuesday the wind is supposed to be above 20 knots. If we go to Flamingo and for some reason we can't leave on Sunday there’s a chance that we could be rolling gunnel to gunnel while anchored for a few days awaiting better weather. Not gonna happen.

We decided to take the second option and we turned around. Once the wind was behind us we eased everything and had a perfect downwind sail back across the Nurse Cay Cut. I believe that there’s a very good chance that we're the only cruising boat to traverse this section of water twice in the same day. We decided to wait until the unsettled weather passes through early in the week. Since we'd be here for at least 3 days we set a course for Raccoon Cay.

We dropped the hook at 1800 after a 47 nautical mile day. We're the only boat here and about 5 miles south of where we started the day. It could be worse, we're alone and we'll just have to get into the water and kill stuff until the weather decides to let us once again attempt to head north.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

March 16, 2012.

Unfortunately, it's that time of year when we once again have to turn the pointy end north and head back to the states. Our chosen route for the return trip is scheduled to start off with a 122 mile overnighter to the middle Exumas. We pulled the hook around noon and sailed out of the anchorage.

The first 8 miles or so had us on starboard tack trying to hold a course of 0°. We were close hauled at about 352° so we were really cutting it close. At Buena Vista Cay we would be turning onto a course of 341° so things would get better, but not much. We'd be holding this course of 341° for 92 miles through some “new to us” territory. Our friend Klaus has used this uncharted route for several years with success. He gave me the numbers and when I put them into the chartplotter I found that this new rhumbline would take us directly through an area that is thick with reefs. So holding a precision course was pretty much imperative and tacking up the rhumbline wasn't really an option.

I was worried about committing to 341° with the wind so close the bow. The wind veers a bit and we're screwed. So of course the wind did veer but at least it did it a mile before we turned. I found that the best course we could maintain was 335°. Crap.

We were going to have to stop and tuck in for the night. On the bright side, we found Puddle Jumper, Fine Lion and Sam the Skull all in the anchorage at Buena Vista. Even better was the fact that they had scheduled a happy hour on Sam the Skull and we were just in time.

We gave heading north the old college try but the wind gods decided differently. So we basically sailed 15 miles just to go drinkin'. It was almost like being back on Barnegat Bay. We'll try again tomorrow and if that doesn't work we might be here until Wednesday or so. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Somebody recently mentioned that Tucker hadn't appeared in the blog as of late. T-Dog is alive and well. Thanks for asking.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 10, 2012.

Since he's not here lets talk about Steve. Steve's wife Kim is an accomplished basket weaver. About a month ago Steve was dutifully walking across the cay in search of palm fronds to feed Kim's basket weaving addiction.

You can't use just any old fronds. It has to be a certain shoot from a specific type of palm. He left the trail and pressed into the underbrush to grab one of these special shoots when a piece of the undergrowth pierced his skin. A small broken branch stabbed him near his anklebone leaving him with a small bloody puncture wound.

Over the course of the next few days he cleaned and cared for the wound but it would not heal. It was red and constantly oozing so he started a course of antibiotics with no appreciable difference. It was sore to walk on to the point of him having to even miss a few happy hours. He was really beginning to worry because his burnable garbage was starting to pile up. And then he saw it.....

Protruding from the cut was a tiny piece of wood. He got out the tweezers and managed to get a tenuous hold on the sliver and began to pull. It turned out to be a splinter. But not just any splinter.
When finally withdrawn from his ankle the thing was a quarter of an inch wide by an inch and a half long. Wow, better him than me. With the foreign object removed he soon healed up, so its must be time to do some fishin'.

Soon after healing, one of his first in the water adventures was a very special shark encounter. He was working a coral head when a largish shark meandered into the area. Steve stopped what he was doing and paid attention to the shark. The shark seemed to make a conscious decision to quit his wandering and see if he could make Steve soil himself.

The shark slowly, but very deliberately turned and headed straight for Steve. Steve's response was to backpedal away from the shark as he got closer and closer. The shark eventually ended up with his head between Steve's fins as he swam backwards. Steve finally had to firmly poke the shark on the snout with his spear to get him to dart away.

Like most people my knee jerk reaction to Steves actions was “way to go, close call, etc.” That is until I had time to sit back and think about the whole scenario a bit. Then I realized, MISTAKE, a big giant hairy mistake.

Sharks go through life with that whole “man eater” rap hanging over their heads. Its gotta be hell on their social life. People expecting you to be a certain way before they even know you. Its probably a lot like somebody reading your blog. Anyway, I'm thinkin' that the guy in the gray suit was just lonely. He saw Steve and decided to make his move and befriend a stranger. I know, at first glance, befriending a shark sounds stupid, it would be more like he was a pet than an actual friend. But what better boat pet could there be? You could name him Ronald and he could live under the boat. You wouldn't have to feed him or walk him and no cage to clean.

How cool would it be to have your pet shark, Ronald, swimming along under the boat as you made your way back to the states. If I had one he could follow us back to Annapolis and live under the boat all summer. Yeah, I know there'd be some people that wouldn't immediately embrace Ronald. So many people have hangups about those that aren't “just like them”.

Just think how much better a job the bottom cleaning diver would do as soon as you made sure he knew that Ronald was keeping an eye on him. Instant work ethics. Think of the hours of fun I could have sending Ronald blasting out to intercept those ridiculous uber yuppies on their paddle boards.
A foot tall fin slicing across their bow and they'd come to realize that clogging the deep water channels with their Don Ho balancing act isn't really all that much fun for anybody. And when one of those obnoxious barking dogs at the end of the dock fell into the water you could just say “Hors Doervers Ronald, Hors Doervers”. A flash of gray, one quick yelp and the marina would once again be a bastion of tranquility. Christ, our dockmates would throw Ronald a block party.

Steve, all I can say is “opportunity lost big guy, opportunity lost”.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March 3, 2012.

I had to sit and ponder just how to start this post. Down here most people leave their VHF on 24 / 7. It's just the prudent thing to do in case of a night time emergency. We're remote enough that there’s not really any radio chatter, especially at night. Unless of course Arctic Racer is within 25 miles.

Arctic Racer is one of 5 Canadian boats that stopped here briefly on their way to Cuba. He spent the better part of 3 days yammering away on the VHF. Morning, noon and night. He called folks at 0630 just to tell them he'd be moving down near them. Is that really important at 0630? I'm thinking “SHUT THE FUCK UP, ITS 0630, PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP HERE”. You might be able to tell that I'm not a morning person but Jesus, 0630. The next day, at 0600 he called somebody who was underway to inquire about sea state. The Allies landed at Normandy with less radio chatter than this blabbermouth puts out in an hour. If you say anything to him he thinks you're teasing.....I'm serious here f@#kwit.

He'd never been here before and when people came into the anchorage he was advising them where to anchor and then chastizing them when hes ignored. A control freak with a VHF is an annoying combination. Fortunately they're few and far between. But enough of that.

The French are here. Not too many French Canadian boats come down through the Jumentos. We've had reports from friends in Georgetown that the petty bullshit between the French and English speaking boats is worse than ever. “Bedlam” and “Mayhem” were used in two independent reports. Its all very “high school” and just another good reason to skip Gtown.

At an evening beach function I was talking to one of the French Canadian women when she said “I can't believe how nice everyone has been to us down here”. It kinda drove home how uncomfortable the hostility between the French & English up in Georgetown must be for them too. Over the course of the next two days we sent them hiking on our favorite trails and told them where to take take their kids snorkeling. We even did some hunting together and gathered a few coconuts. They were fun and I hope to run into them again. As a bonus, I think that I'm now eligible for diplomatic plates for my dinghy.

The Canadians left for Cuba so there’s only 8 boats left in the Jumentos. Seven of them are here with us at Hog Cay hiding from a week of ridiculous wind. Once again the wind is predominantly from the east. Its Tuesday night and the wind is 30 knots gusting to 40 with rain squalls.

We knew we were in for a week with
no water sports so we did jump in the water and grab nine more bugs, a small Nassau Grouper and a Red Hind.

Alpha Mike 1, Crabby Bastard, Beast, Diplomat standing by....

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 2, 2012.

Yesterday was the first day of Grouper season. The wind was up a bit from the southeast but nothing brutal so we decided to give it a go. I decided to try the area where we took the 6 bugs last time we were in the water. There is still a bunch of reef that we've never done before.

The last thing Christy said to me was “forget about lobster, Grouper only, no lobster”. So of course the only Nassau Grouper that I saw was marginal. He was legal but not really big enough to get out the fillet knife so I spared his life. And Karma rewarded me.

Thats about when I got the eerie feeling of being watched. I was working on the backside of a narrow reef. There was excellent visibility but as the waves broke over the reef I was surrounded by millions of tiny bubbles. So I would be blinded by the bubbles for 10 seconds at a time whenever a larger wave came over the reef. Thats when I saw them.....

The six beady eyes of 3 lobsters sitting side by side practically out in the open. At this point I remembered Christy saying something about lobster but I couldn't remember exactly what.

I couldn't get an angle to try and skewer more than one at a time so I just shot the biggest one in the face. His two compadres darted back into the protective confines of the reef never to be seen again.

When I handed him off to Christy she reminded me that he wasn't a Grouper but the frenzy had started. You can't deny a frenzy. An hour later we were headed home with 10 more lobster.

Friday, March 2, 2012

February 30, 2012.

A couple of weeks ago Roland was walking the eastern beaches when he came upon a mystery. Its a glass ball about 18 inches in diameter. The glass appears to be about a half an inch thick and there’s a small puddle of liquid inside. I suppose that its sea water but the ball seems to be in good shape with no faults.

There’s a small label inside that appears to say “Deep Sea Glass Sphere Type 004”
The manufacturer seems to be Benthos Inc out of Falmouth, Mass. Serial number 26266. Pressure tested to 6700 METERS!

I worked some Google magic and found that the ball was designed to protect “instruments” from the pressure of the ocean depths.
As of now it hangs in a place of honor in the new Hog Cay Pavilion.