Friday, April 17, 2015

Dirty Jobs

We are anchored just off Rudder Cut Cay, one of a group of cays owned by famed magician David Copperfield (map). This one is as yet mostly undeveloped, in contrast to Musha Cay just to the north, where Copperfield spends several weeks a year at his private resort. When he's not around, you and up to eleven of your closest friends can stay there and be catered to in the lap of luxury for just under $40,000 a night (three night minimum).

Beautiful but forbidden white sand beach just a few hundred yards from us. We did check out the interesting cave to the left.

Copperfield hopes to develop the entire area and keeps calling it "Copperfield Bay," though I can assure you it is not called that in real life, at least not according to the official nautical charts. It's a beautiful anchorage, though, even if landing ashore on the private islands is strictly forbidden. The eccentric near-billionaire did commission an underwater sculpture, though, that is a popular snorkeling spot for cruisers.

We took the dinghy the quarter mile or so to go see it, a full-size grand piano made of stainless steel, with a stainless steel mermaid lounging against the bench. There's room on the bench to sit and have your photo taken "playing" the piano, but we lack any sort of underwater camera and so had to be content with just snorkeling around the sculpture before returning to the boat. You can see plenty of other people's pictures of the mermaid and piano using this Google Images search; photos of the submerged sculpture when it was still new and shiny can be seen on the artist's web site, with a brief description of the commission.

Getting here involved a bit of excitement, as circumstances dictated we get under way this morning knowing full well that we would arrive at Rudder Cut with wind and waves against a strong ebb, forming confused and churning seas known locally as a "rage." With a deep and fairly wide inlet --forgiving of minor course deviations -- a sturdy boat, and over 300 horses on tap, we figured now was as good a time as any to get in some practice handling these kinds of conditions, and other than a good workout on the helm we had no trouble at all.

Coming through the rage.  This picture does not do it justice -- it looked a lot worse in person.

We've spent the last five days in a lovely anchorage just west of Lee Stocking Island, inside Adderly Cut (map). We had a short and uneventful cruise there from Emerald Bay via Exuma Sound, where we had fairly calm seas of just a couple of feet. We opted not to divert out to the three mile limit, as we had just macerated our waste on the journey up from Georgetown. We proceeded all the way to the abandoned Marine Research Station on the island and anchored in eight feet or so; Blossom opted to stay out in deeper water a half mile from us.

Remains of the Perry Institute's Marine Research Station, from our anchor spot.

I really wanted to walk around the old research station, but the island is privately owned and there are clear "no trespassing" signs posted. That did not stop a few cruisers from landing there anyway, but we find that to be disrespectful of the wishes of the owners. We did get out in the tender to explore the area a little, and snorkeled off the swim step a bit. At one point we swung in an odd direction at dead low tide and the depth sounder started squawking, so I jumped in the water with my mask just in time to see our keel grazing the tops of the sand mounds scattered on the bottom, leveling them off. Louise reported that she could not even detect it on board.

We are squarely in the part of the Exumas where there are no services for miles in any direction. At least we have cell service, and we are blowing through our metered data bucket at a prodigious rate. So other than cocktails aboard one boat or the other we mostly remained aboard, and had lovely sunset dinners on the aft deck most evenings. It was quite relaxing.

In the middle of our stay the fridge started running low on beer, and I went down to the forward bilge to bring up some more. That's when I discovered our forward waste tank was completely full, despite having macerated just a few days earlier. More troubling was the fact that the aft tank was nowhere near full, yet the tanks are connected together -- there really should be no way for them to be at different levels.

And so it was that we spent the better part of the next day working on the waste system, never a pleasant task even under the best of circumstances. In the middle of nowhere, with no access to hardware stores or even a pumpout station, it had the potential to be downright nasty. I spent the previous evening racking my brain over what could be used to rod out the crossover connection if that proved to be necessary, but it looked like sticking my whole arm into the tank might be required.

We'd been having problems on and off with venting in those tanks, and I figured on a better than even chance that the crossover pipe was fine and a vent blockage was causing a hydraulic lock in the tank. So step one would be just to remove the access port plug on the top of the tank. That said, before I opened the tank I wanted to first try a completely non-invasive technique to move any blockage in the crossover: vibration.

Forward tank. Blue tape shows the level. Access port is left of the green screwdriver. My oscillating tool is next to the trouble light.

All joking aside about industrial-strength vibrators, or that I have actually been thinking of buying one of those naughty Hitachi Magic Wands to deal with the ever-present knots I now have below my right shoulder, we don't have any such thing aboard. So I had to improvise by putting some padding and a nitrile glove over the sanding attachment on my Fein-knockoff oscillating tool. That made an excellent vibrator, although I needed to be extra careful that the edges of the sander did not end up rubbing right through any part of the tank or the fittings.

For anyone not familiar, industrial vibrators are commonly used to get lumpy, viscous fluids to move through narrow spaces.  For example, when filling post holes, footings, bollards, utility trenches, and the like with concrete, a vibrator is essential for getting the concrete to fill in all the gaps and remove any entrained air pockets. Small tabletop vibrators are used in many industries where molds need to be filled with plaster, for example dental laboratories, again to ensure the plaster flows fully into the mold with no spaces or air pockets. Having prior experience with all of the above, I reasoned that vibration might "help along" any sort of blockage due strictly to coagulation of the material.

After 20 minutes or so of vibrating every part of the crossover, focusing heavily on the two right-angle turns in the system, failed to achieve any result, I reluctantly set to opening up the access port on the forward tank. This proved more challenging than expected, owing to the fact the the 3" threaded pipe plug required a 1" square-drive tool to remove, a tool which, like the industrial vibrator, I do not have.

I started with a 1" square end of a scrap of plywood, but applying torque to that simply shredded the plies without budging the plug. What ensued was a mad scramble around the house looking for any solid item with a 1" square profile. What I ended up finding, in my soldering kit, was a 1" cube of plastic resin with a short length of thin wire rope embedded in it.  Atop the wire rope is an alligator clip; the whole assembly was a trade-show giveaway somewhere or other that, I think, was intended as a note-holder to adorn one's desk. I don't take useless giveaways at trade shows, but I did this time because I thought it would be useful to hold small parts or wires while soldering (it was, and I have used it many times for that purpose).

My soldering "third hand" giveaway from some trade show.

It turned out to be a perfect fit in the drive detent on the pipe plug; Louise was so amused by this that she snapped a photo of it. It stood far enough proud of the plug for me to get a giant adjustable wrench on it and get the plug out. That did not result in an immediate equalization of the two tanks, though, and so we moved on to checking the vent for the aft tank.

Opening the gates of hell...

I will spare you the rest of the long drawn-out story and just say that compressed air (by way of the combined tank vent output) was involved, and in the middle of that process we managed to eject the cap off the pumpout fitting.  We think it went overboard, and I immediately donned snorkel gear to find it, but we could not. Once we had the aft tank's vent cleared the levels slowly equalized and the crisis was averted.

In the course of all this we determined that the improperly sloped vent connection from the forward tank is still obstructed. I can't simply clear it with compressed air because the air just diverts through the unobstructed path to the aft tank. That's not an immediate problem so long as we keep emptying the whole system before the aft tank fills, which is perhaps 75% of capacity. But we have guests coming in May and I'll need to have it working by then so we have full use of both heads.

With the aft tank now nearing that magic mark, we thought it best to get under way this morning, head out to the three-mile limit, and empty the tanks. We needed fairly high tide just to get out of our anchorage, which had us leaving from Bock Cut on the ebb, and into our first rage, which was not bad at all so soon after slack.

Unlike our last two times, where a relatively long coastal leg meant a fairly short diversion to cross the three-mile mark, this time we had a more aggressive angle and added nearly three miles to the trip. Still that's less than two gallons of fuel, about $6, which is far less than a pumpout costs anywhere in the Bahamas.

Once the tanks were empty, I turned the stabilizers off for a few minutes, in the hopes that some significant roll and the resulting jostling of the boat would empty the recalcitrant vent connection. I have some more work to do to see if that gambit worked, but I think not based on behavior of the forward head. Now that I know where the problem is, though, it's a straightforward fix, if a bit messy and hard to reach.

Another ten minutes of cruising brought us to Rudder Cut and the rage conditions I mentioned earlier. The extra half hour on the outside along with the local differences in tidal currents had us arrive here mid-ebb, so the worst possible conditions. Unfortunately, tide and current reporting stations in the Bahamas are few and very far between, so we had no real way to know the timing here until we arrived.

We left Blossom behind at Lee Stocking, but we are hopeful that they will join us here tomorrow. We'll part company again Sunday when we need to move along to Little Farmers Cay. We're running out of funds on our BTC account, and I'm having to add data now more than once a day at $2.50 a pop to stay online. We'll be out in a day or so, and Little Farmers is the next settlement with a place to top up. We can use some provisions as well.

Update: our data bucket ran out in the middle of typing this post, so I will upload it in the morning. We think Louise's Windows-8 machine is doing something in the background that's using a bunch of bandwidth, so we'll just leave the network off overnight.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ghost resort

We are docked at the Emerald Bay Resort Marina, near Roker's Point Settlement on Great Exuma (map). "Resort" in this case is something of an overstatement, although that is not apparent from the glossy advertising photos. Nevertheless, this is the first dock at which we've tied up since we pumped out at Old Port Cove in North Palm Beach nearly two full months ago.

Vector looking lonely on the cheap docks.  There is actually a fairway between us and all the empty slips in the foreground.

We left Georgetown Harbor on Thursday, as we had hoped, and had a nice three-hour cruise here in moderate seas of about three feet. Bringing the anchor up after over three weeks in the same spot taught us a new lesson: vary the anchor scope by half the water depth every week or so. We had hard marine growth on the chain, but only for the length it hung in open water.

The part above water, of course, was fine, and the part that was on the bottom, dragging back and forth through the sand, was also fine. Next time we spend that much time in one place, we'll try to prevent the same length of chain from hanging in open water for longer than a week or so. Fortunately we had plenty of margin to take our time bringing the anchor up, and then dodging and weaving our way out of the harbor through the anchorage.

Drinks on the beach on our final evening in Georgetown.

Once out into the sound, we diverted to a point three miles offshore to empty our tanks, after learning that a pumpout at the marina would cost $25. The diversion only added eight tenths of a mile to our trip, which cost us only about $2, and macerating is easier than dealing with the pumpout anyway. It did mean we had to shut the watermaker down about an hour early.

The pumpout is not the only costly thing here. Water is $0.40 per gallon, and electricity is $0.85 per kWh. It costs us less than that to make our own water and power, so we opted for the docks where those services have never been installed, at an attractive rate of $0.55 per foot, with a three-night minimum. By contrast, the docks with water and power available run $2.48 per foot.

Even $0.55 per foot is more expensive than anchoring, which is free. But they have a free self-service laundry here, and we desperately needed to do laundry. We have our own machines aboard, but they are older units that are not water-efficient, and we have to run the generator for two hours per load. The four loads we ended up running here at the marina would have used at least 150 gallons of precious R/O water and translated to perhaps an extra eight hours or so of generator run time above our other needs.

A pair of fancy front-load washers and a pair of dryers. I think they got pot luck on the colors.

Between the $35-$40 savings on the laundry, and another $6 a day that we're saving on Internet access by using their included WiFi, and the few bucks it would otherwise cost us to get rid of our trash, the $90 it's costing us for three days here is not such a bad deal.

All of that being said, anyone falling prey to the glitzy advertising and actually expecting to find a resort here will be sorely disappointed. The dock map depicts a lavish resort, complete with swimming pools, restaurants, and other amenities, but, like the extravagant bridge I showed you in the last post that leads to nothing, here they have but one (admittedly high-end) building, which contains a front desk, a TV lounge, a billiard room (really!), and a "bar" that is not and has never been open for business. There is room for a C-store that has also never opened, and an outbuilding houses rest rooms, showers, the aforementioned laundry, and a recently opened exercise room.

The rest of the resort was never built. It's now owned by the nearby Sandals resort, but they are trying to sell the marina off. Staying at the marina provides no access to the Sandals amenities, although anyone can buy a day pass (subject to availability) for $160 per person. Kitty-corner between us and Sandals is another resort property, the Grand Isles.

Giant sign in the marina lobby advertising Sandals' day rates.

The arrested development is how we are able to stay for just 55 cents a foot on some of the nicest and most expensive docks in the Bahamas, concrete floating "Bellingham" docks, from the town of that name in Washington. For reasons that make sense only to bankrupt resort developers, they excavated the entire basin and filled it with nice docks before running out of money to install power, water, and sewer on most of them.

I'm pretty sure the reason the laundry is free is that all they could then afford were a handful of household washers and dryers; coin- or card-op models are expensive and take a long time to pay for themselves. The downside of a free laundry room for guests is that every employee here and possibly at Sandals too has figured out they can bring their laundry here (water and power, as noted, are very expensive in the Bahamas), and so even with the marina at less than 25% occupancy, we had to queue up for the four washers and dryers.

After we got tied up I lowered a bicycle to the dock so I could explore a bit, and found a pub about a half mile from our dock, between here and Sandals. It's in a modern-looking strip mall that also houses a duty-free liquor store and the now-defunct remains of the nicest grocery store on the island. I grilled chicken for dinner our first night here, but last night we walked to the pub, which was not bad and mostly full of Bahamian locals, many sporting Sandals name tags.

Martin and Steph arrived this afternoon, fueled up Blossom, and are now tied up in front of us in the cheap seats. The boat behind us, a sailing cat which is unoccupied, is coincidentally named Odyssey (for any newcomers, that is the name of the bus in which we lived before the boat, and for which the blog is named). Blossom will probably leave with us tomorrow, but paying $1.65 per foot, to meet the three-night minimum, is still cheaper than $2.48 a foot on the full-service docks.

Getting the package of chicken out of the freezer made just enough room for us to finally condense all the frozen foods down into the small freezer atop the fridge. We've been using the U-Line icemaker, with the ice unit turned off, as an auxiliary freezer since our last big provisioning run in Florida, and I estimate that this freezer alone has been adding nearly an hour of generator runtime per day.  It starts hard and works hard the whole time it runs. We cleaned it out and shut it down today, so our generator time should go down considerably.

As long as I am on the subject, we've long known that we average about two hours of generator time per day when anchored long-term. The extra freezer has pushed that closer to three hours, and we actually used 76 hours of generator time in 25 days in Georgetown, which included some extra hours for making water (something we normally try to do only when under way, where the power is cheaper).

In the temperate weather here over the last month, we've pretty much been running the gen only to charge the batteries, although we try to turn as many other things on as we can. It has given me cause to think about adding another battery charger. Under these conditions we can easily power a second 100-amp charger, in addition to the 110-amp charger built in to our inverter, and that would cut our generator runtime down by 40% or more.  I'll be keeping my eyes open for a 24-volt, 100-amp charger when we return to the US.

LED strip lighting in the taller part of the engine room. Now we can see the washer/dryer, stabilizer reservoir, fuel polisher, and other critical systems without having to fumble for a flashlight.

I did not get much done in the way of boat projects here, although I did manage to get the WiFi networking hardware working again.  I'm not sure what the problem was in Georgetown, maybe multipath interference, but I will be keeping an eye on it for a while. I did take some photos of the new lighting in the engine room (and vestibule), which Louise reported, after her under-way engine room checks, as "awesome."

Here's the new lighting in the lower-headroom area, almost too bright for the camera.  These light up the drivetrain, including the stuffing box and sump.

These small strips, glued to a galvanized drain pipe, light up the workshop.

Tonight will be our third night here and we will have met our minimum. With the laundry done, the trash off the boat, and all our backups and software updates done, we are ready to leave tomorrow and head back to the freedom of a lovely anchorage.  The next sensible stop north is Lee Stocking Island, another three hours or so from here, and tonight we sync'ed up with Blossom on where to anchor there. We ended up dining at the pub again; we had hoped to go with Steph and Martin to the nice poolside joint at the Grand Isles, but they are at full occupancy and are not taking outside guests for dinner.

Sunset this evening over the marina (at left), Emerald Bay, and Poor Betty Cay, taken from the 14th tee at Sandals' golf course.

Checkout time here is 11am, and I'll run over to the office to pay the bill before shoving off. Blossom will give us a head start, since they have no such deadline. That should put all of us at Adderly Cut on a rising, nearly high, tide, with plenty of water and daylight to hunt around for a good spot. There are no settlements there, but it is rumored that we should still have some cell service.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Final days in Georgetown

We had not expected to stay this long, but Sunday marked three full weeks that Vector has been anchored in this same spot in Georgetown Harbor. We've had a great time here, but we are ready to move on, and are now waiting only on weather for the trip outside into Exuma Sound.

Louise came back more or less on schedule, although there was a hiccup in Immigration at the airport. Visitors to the Bahamas generally must present a return air ticket, departing within 90 days, in order to be admitted to the country. We knew about this ahead of time, and made a copy of our six-month cruising permit to present to Immigration instead, so they would know Louise had alternative transportation out of the country.

When she told them she was staying on a boat, the first thing Customs wanted to see was any boat parts in her luggage. Fortunately, the small handful of items totaled less than $100 and so was admitted duty-free. (Legitimate boat repair parts above that amount are also granted an exemption from some or all duty, but the process is more complex and requires a broker.)

When she showed them the cruising permit, however, they told her it was expired. It turns out that the very nice lady who checked us in back in Grand Cay in February had written 2014 instead of 2015 for the date on the permit. We dug out all the paperwork, and found she made the mistake in about half the blanks. We had correct dates on our fishing license, and on the stamps in our passports and, as it turns out, the stamp on the cruising permit as well.

They eventually let her in, but said we'd need to get the permit "fixed" ASAP. When she got home we checked with Martin and Steph and the same error appeared on their paperwork as well. So Wednesday morning we all trundled first to Immigration, which turned out to be the wrong office, and then across town to Customs, to get it fixed. After nearly an hour they came back and said they could not change it, because it had been entered at Grand Cay. But they pointed out that the official stamp on the same form was correct, and allowed that the stamp evidence should be sufficient for any further checks, such as BDF boardings.

Pizza on the deck at the St. Francis.

Things soon returned to normal aboard Vector, and we settled into something of a routine, listening each morning to the 8am cruisers' net, running back and forth to town for errands and supplies, and dining out every other day or so with Steph and Martin. Occasionally some event or other gets announced that we try to attend, such as a cocktail hour on the beach, and we've met several nice folks this way. We've traded cocktail hours with several boats in the anchorage and I'm sure we'll see some of these folks elsewhere in our travels.

In the daytime we've been snorkeling and swimming a few times; there are mooring buoys at some of the more popular spots to which a dinghy can be tied. We spent a little time hovering over a blue hole and snorkeling near an underwater cave that leads all the way to the ocean, but we spent more time at the shallow reefs closer to the boat.

The water here looks a lot like a swimming pool.  We're in seven feet here, on our tour of the harbor's inner cays.

One day we took the dinghy on a grand tour of the harbor, including circling Crab Cay, home of the marina that never was.  There is a dredged basin where the docks should be, which instead is now a nice anchorage for a small number of boats, although it was empty when we visited. And on the other side of the cay, where it comes closest to Great Exuma, the nicest bridge in all the Bahamas connects the non-existent marina to the town.

The bridge to nowhere, complete with navigation lights and fancy street lights.

In between social events and outdoor activities, Louise has been making progress on several quilts, and I've gotten a few things done around the boat. With the items she brought back from the states I made a new painter for the dinghy, and replaced the broken zinc anode on the outboard. The replacement promptly broke in exactly the same way within a week, so I'll need to look into that further.

I also added bright white LED strip lights in the engine room and in the vestibule that serves as my workshop, as well as under the helm area, and more subdued LED strip lights in some of the cabinets, operated by door switches. I put some bright lights in the center bilge, also operated by a microswitch when the hatch is lifted, which will let us quickly check tank levels and look for any signs of trouble.

One of many beautiful sunsets from our deck.  I snapped today's cover photo from Blossom shortly after my last post.

Last week, the outdoor WiFi antenna/router system started to fail, with error rates skyrocketing and throughput dropping to painful levels, and I spent three days this week between trying to get it working properly and then working around it with the cell phone. Sprint has locked the phone's WiFi hotspot to support only a single station, so I had to rewire our network and implement connection sharing on the helm computer to get all our other devices on-line. No way to get a new WiFi router while we're here, so this will have to do until we return to the US. I put more money on our BTC account today so we'll have enough data to get us through the next couple of weeks.

We've been to the market several times, and today we stocked up on a few things in anticipation of departure. We clearly underestimated on a few of our packaged items, like balsamic vinegar, cookies, and even oregano, and we paid essentially double for those items here. We'll sharpen our provisioning list a bit for the next time.

Rake-and-scrape band, before the dance floor heated up.  Note the guy in red, who is playing a saw -- the kind you'd find at Home Depot.

This week we also finally made it to a real rake-and-scrape, which happens every Monday night at Eddie's Edgewater.  Monday was a holiday (pretty much all of the Bahamas is closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Monday, a national holiday here), so we were a bit surprised that they were open, but it was announced on the morning net. We had a great time; the music was surprisingly good and there was lots of dancing.

Louise busts a move with a young Bahamian gentleman who spent the whole evening dancing.  If there had been a limbo contest, he'd win hands-down.

Easter moonrise over the anchorage, on our way back to the boats.

Tonight we went to the less eclectic DJ-supplied music at the Chat & Chill, which happens every Wednesday.  He played everything from Neil Diamond through Kid Rock, and we had a great time dancing after a nice barbecue dinner and drinks on the beach.

We've really enjoyed being here, but it's time to move on. Among many reasons, our waste tanks are nearly full, and the pumpout boat here in the harbor, while a great and necessary service, costs from $0.50 to $2.00 per gallon, depending on amount pumped. And we're overdue to do laundry, which requires more water than we've made here in the harbor.

If the weather cooperates tomorrow or Friday, we'll weigh anchor and head to Emerald Bay, a marina further north on Great Exuma Island, outside of the harbor. As I mentioned on the way south, they have an attractive rate on a dock with no services and a three-day minimum, and they have a free self-service laundry, which is a huge benefit considering what water costs in the islands.

Vector has not seen a dock, power pedestal, or water spigot in a month and a half. And while this dock provides neither power nor water, we'll need a lot less of both if we use their laundry facility, and that alone is nearly worth the $80 or so it will cost us for the three nights. We'll make water on our way there, and make use of their pumpout facilities when we arrive.

Blossom will likely join us there in a few days, as they need to stop in for fuel, and we'll head north from there together, or nearly so. After that, we don't have much of a concrete plan, at least until mid-May, when we need to be on the west side of the bank.

Attentive readers may have caught me make mention of Cuba in these pages a couple of months ago. We had been on a list of boats that was being submitted to all the proper US agencies to get permission to cruise to Cuba in late May, coinciding with the Hemingway International Billfish Tournament held there each year. April 1 was the deadline for a go/no-go decision from the departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce, and while some boats on the list might still go, we withdrew our application last week when we learned our movements, if approved, would be strictly limited to the fishing tournament itself.

While we are disappointed that we will not be going to Cuba this year, we always knew this was a long shot, and were not in any way counting on it. We had invited our friends Mark and Mary to join us aboard if it happened; they too are disappointed, but since they already took the time off and have tickets to Miami, we will instead meet them either in Bimini or in Florida and cruise that area instead for a couple of weeks. That's still six weeks away, so we have plenty of time to cruise the Exumas and make our way slowly in that direction.

With any luck we'll have good enough weather tomorrow to get under way, but it will be a short day and we'll remain here in the harbor for the morning net and some last minute preparations. The next time you hear from me will likely be in Emerald Bay.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Island time, mon

A long overdue update today. While I'd love to blame the delay on lousy Internet access here in the Bahamas, the truth is that it is only partly to blame. The rest has a lot more to do with me being mostly busy when we've been in good coverage, or else enjoying the downtime too much to take a couple of hours out to blog.

Our anchorage at Warderick Wells. The buildings are park HQ. You can make out only the masts of the boats on the moorings.

When last I posted here, we were anchored off Emerald Rock at Warderick Wells. We never did make it ashore there; it remained too choppy to want to take a 1.5-mile tender ride, getting soaked, then pick our way through the shallows just to hike around on the island. We'll be back, we hope in calmer conditions, and perhaps even take a mooring ball a bit closer to park HQ.

Emerald Rock, at Warderick Wells.

We only spent the single night there, and after ruminating very briefly in the morning about trying to go ashore for an hour or two, we decided to weigh anchor in the good part of the daylight and get under way to Staniel Cay. We planned for an arrival at a favorable tide, in case we wanted to anchor in close to, or even dock at, the yacht club there, which is really a hub of activity in that part of the islands.

We did arrive on a favorable tide, but it was still very windy, and before we even reached Staniel we had decided instead to anchor at Big Majors Spot (map), the next cay north, which is boomerang-shaped and has a lee harbor with lots of protection from the prevailing east-southeasterlies. We were not alone by any stretch; I counted 65 boats in the harbor when we arrived, including three megayachts with all their toys in the water.

After setting the hook we looked at the weather situation and discussed whether or not we'd stay for a couple of nights, to perhaps tender over to Staniel and check things out. Before we could make up our minds we got a text from Stephanie saying they had decided to leave Highbourne and come all the way to Big Majors the next day. That sealed it for us, and we opted to stay a couple of days so we could hook back up with them and see Staniel together.

Staniel Key Yacht Club. Photo: Stephanie Morris

We ended up staying three nights. We tried to get reservations at the very nice restaurant on the adjacent Fowl Cay, part of a resort, but they were fully booked with resort guests all three nights. Instead we ended up eating with Martin and Steph the last two nights at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, which was quite the happening place.

When they first arrived on Wednesday they were tired from a long day of travel, and we agreed to ride over in Scalar, our diminutive tender, which can not possibly get up on plane with four aboard. Beyond that, it was still blowing pretty good out of the east, and as soon as we rounded the protection of Big Majors we all got completely soaked. Then to make matters worse, as I was coming into the docks at the yacht club the engine stalled as soon as I put it in reverse. It turned out that somewhere in the chaos of plowing through seas to get there, the painter fell overboard and wrapped itself in the prop, which kept spinning merrily away so long as we were in forward gear. Still it was a hoot, more of an adventure than a hardship.

Swimming pig.

The next day they splashed their much larger and faster tender and picked us up in the morning to go see the famous swimming pigs of Big Majors. We brought along all the scraps from cleaning carrots and Steph brought some old lettuce. No sooner did we arrive on the beach than three big sows came over to check us out, followed shortly by numerous piglets.

Swimming toward us to see if we have more food.

It was a lot of fun, but Martin kept the tender far enough off shore to prevent the big ones from trying to climb aboard. While we were there one of the big megayacht tenders brought their charges over to see the pigs as well.

Charter guests with one of the littlest piglets.

In the afternoon we all walked around Staniel Cay, checked out the few stores on the island, and ended up back at the Yacht Club for another meal. It's an interesting mix there of locals, yacht crews, and pleasure boaters. We ate in the bar, off the lunch menu -- dinner is done in seatings and requires advance reservations.

Sunset at Big Majors Spot.

With Louise's flight rapidly approaching, and a good (enough) weather window opening up for a Sunday departure, we again bid farewell to Blossom and her stalwart crew and weighed anchor Friday morning for the day's run to Cave Cay, adjacent to Galliot Cut. Some skinny water on the approach from the bank meant we wanted to arrive at mid-tide rising.

We had no trouble all the way to the cut, but a large swell in that immediate vicinity had us proceeding a bit further south to the protection of Cave Cay (map). We dropped the hook with just two other boats, both sailboats waiting for weather windows of their own. Much quieter and more peaceful than where we had been.

That gave us all day Saturday to study the cuts and see when slack tide was in relationship to low tide. We'd heard these cuts can be a real challenge on the ebb in an east wind.  We also had the opportunity to see several other boats coming or going through Galliot, some the afternoon we arrived and some the next day. They had much more wind than we were expecting on Sunday, and, while they rocked and rolled through the cut, none had any trouble. Galliot is a very wide and deep cut, so it can be very forgiving in that respect.

That said, while we were there we learned that Cave Cay Cut just to the south was also easy and deep, albeit somewhat narrower than Galliot. But it cut two miles off the trip to use it instead, and when Sunday morning rolled around, one of the two sailboats went out that way ahead of us. We were waiting for a bit slacker tide, but he reported back to us that it was an easy trip, and we got under way still on the ebb.

We exited into four foot seas, on the nose until we made the southward turn and then on the beam. But our weather reports had been correct, and the wind and seas diminished throughout the day, with the ride becoming more and more comfortable as the day progressed.

On the ride down we took care of some housekeeping, including making 75 gallons or so of water, and emptying our waste tank outside the three-mile limit. We also spent the first half of the trip discussing whether we wanted to head to the marina at Emerald Bay, which right now has discounted dockage at just $0.50 per foot on the "no service" dock which has no power or water. It still includes all the marina amenities, including free laundry (rare even in the US, and downright decadent here).

While the comfort and security of being tied to a dock while I'm short handed was appealing, we ultimately decided against it. Mostly because Emerald Bay, while also on the island of Great Exuma, is a dozen miles from town. That's a looong bicycle ride, or $100 in a taxi, round-trip.  Without a proper license for a motor scooter, that was not an option. I decided I'd rather spend the week in the harbor, where I can get to everything on Scalar.

By the time we arrived at the tricky, winding northern entrance to Elizabeth Harbor, seas were quite calm, and we had an easy time of it. We arrived close to high tide, so the handful of skinny spots were also of little concern. We were well into the harbor in plenty of time to scope everything out and pick a nice spot (map).

The northernmost parts of the harbor, "Monument Beach" and "Volleyball Beach," were quite crowded, and at Monument, boats were sticking out into the channel. We were happy to have high tide so we could easily avoid them a bit west of the channel.  We continued on to a spot where we could see two giant megayachts, one, a converted Dutch pilot vessel, looking for all the world like a miniature cruise ship.

Sunset over Georgetown and Great Exuma Island. Megayacht Angiamo on the left, and Intuition II on the right.

We dropped our hook in 18' of water between them and the shore, in an area known as Sand Dollar Beach. It is relatively quiet and well-spaced here, in contrast to the areas north of us. We set the anchor, and enjoyed sunset and a lovely dinner on the aft deck.

The view from our deck.  Sand Dollar to the right, and the anchorages at Volleyball in the distance. We never tire of this water color.

One reason we wanted to get down here Sunday was to give us a buffer in case we needed to adjust our anchor or even move to a better spot, neither of which proved necessary. But the other reason was so that we'd have all day Monday to get the lay of the land, figure out where to get Louise on a taxi to the airport, and make sure we had all our ducks in a row before she needed to leave on Tuesday.

I spent Monday morning working on the tender, which needed its all-around light repaired, and some wiring changes, and I added a nifty underwater light on the transom in place of the garboard drain plug. We then went straight to the main dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, a short tender ride, and walked around town a bit. I needed to top up my cell phone, as our data package literally ran out on the passage out of Cave Cay, nixing my plan to get a blog post up en route. We also checked out the well-stocked market, which had just received its fresh shipment. On the way home we cruised through "the holes" on Stocking Island and eyed the St. Francis resort, closed Monday, and the Chat & Chill, a beach bar on Volleyball Beach, from the tender. We ended up back there for a casual dinner before sunset.

Tuesday morning we made our final preparations, and hailed a taxi on the radio -- how it's done here. After lunch I took Louise to the dinghy dock with her suitcase for the $30 cab ride to the airport; she was "U.S. early," which means at least an hour before she needed to be there. Fortunately Kermit's Cafe across the street had WiFi and a comfortable place to sit. I spent the afternoon tidying up the house and then had dinner on the aft deck with yet another gorgeous sunset.

I never tire of this kind of view.

Wednesday proved to be the best passage day on Exuma Sound, and Blossom made an early start out Dotham Cut to join me here at the end of the day. So, while I was prepared to spend several days alone here and maybe getting a few things done, I have instead had good company the whole week. After Blossom arrived we tendered over to the St. Francis for dinner.

Thursday we went into town together just to wander around and see everything. In the course of that we walked into the local dive shop, Dive Exuma, and ended up booking a two-tank dive for Friday morning. We also walked into the Peace and Plenty resort to ask about the evening's activities, a BBQ Bahamian-style dinner and "Rake and Scrape" music.  It sounded fun enough and we ended up back there at dinner time.  The band was pretty good, but I did not notice anyone playing a saw.

Friday we had a nice dive. With eight on the boat I was easily able to find a dive buddy. We did a fairly shallow reef dive at perhaps 45', and an interesting wreck dive in 75', a 60' tug boat that had been deliberately sunk for the purpose. It had been down just long enough to be interesting in terms of accumulating some sea life.  I did not see the moray that is reported to live in the stern, but there was a good sized barracuda hanging out by the enormous prop and rudder. I really need to get an underwater camera.

Diving makes you hungry, and we proceeded directly across the street to the Driftwood Cafe for lunch, which was thus my main meal for the day. A stop at the hardware store finished the day, and we were all useless the rest of the evening. I had a salad on the aft deck. Sadly, my dive computer bit the dust on the very first dive, so now I have another project on my plate; I had to fill out my log with some guess work -- I did not even have a working watch on me.

By Saturday morning I was still pretty whooped from the diving and all the running around, and I had something of a downtime day. At last, or so I thought, my big chance to catch up on email and get the blog posted. I actually spent a good bit of time transferring the photos and getting them organized, and even started typing this post Saturday afternoon.  In the evening I headed over to Blossom for cocktails and then took them to Stocking Island in Scalar for dinner, but we had not realized that both the Chat & Chill and the St. Francis closed by 7pm, so we ended back up on Blossom for burgers.

Signs in front of Chat & Chill on Volleyball Beach.  Photo: Stephanie Morris

When we stopped at the Chat & Chill, though, the proprietor showed us the 170-lb pig roasting on the spit for the weekly Sunday pig roast. Seeing and smelling that pretty much sealed the deal for Sunday, and we agreed to meet up at noon and head over; he allowed that the food would be ready around noon but on "island time." I'm sorry I did not have my camera at the ready to snap a shot of the pig, and I did not want to ask him to open up the rotisserie a second time.

I got about half way or so through this post Sunday morning before Martin and Steph picked me up for the pig roast. We had perfect timing, arriving just as the food line opened up, with just enough time to grab a beer at the bar before getting a heaping plate of roast pork with the traditional Bahamian sides: rice & peas, mac & cheese, and slaw. It was delicious.

While I was in line for the food, I thought I'd snap a photo for the blog, and, poof, my cell phone rebooted itself and then spiraled into an endless boot loop. Considering that, other than a very low-speed and expensive satellite connection, this phone is our whole link to the outside world here in the Bahamas, this was not good news. We spent another hour on the beach enjoying lunch and the colorful atmosphere, but my mind could not wander far from the broken phone. At least I now had my big meal for the day in me.

It is now Tuesday morning, and, other than cocktails on nearby Sea Monkey and dinner on Blossom last night, I have neither left the boat nor stopped working on the phone problem, which I finally finished just about an hour ago. Android necropsy is not for the faint of heart; at one point I had Louise on standby to buy me a new phone in the states before she headed to the airport.

Keeping mommy's chair warm. I wonder where she is?

All's well that ends well, and other than spending nearly two full days messing with it, we're now back up and running, and Louise is already in Fort Lauderdale on her way home. Our last hurdle is clearing customs here in Georgetown with the small handful of replacement boat parts she is bringing back. With any luck that will go smoothly and I will be picking her back up at the dinghy dock around 3pm or so.

The giant list of projects did not get any shorter here in Georgetown, but we're thinking of staying another week to enjoy the surroundings so I may yet get to some of it. I've been swimming off the boat daily but I'd like to get over to the beach, and there are supposed to be some nice snorkeling sites here. I ran the watermaker all day yesterday while I was stuck here fixing the phone, so we should be good for another week.

Now that the whirlwind California trip is behind us, we have no schedule or plan whatsoever. We'll stay here in Georgetown as long as it suits us, and then probably wander back up through the Exuma chain, stopping at some of the spots we had to bypass on the way south. We have good Internet access here and hardware, groceries, and marine parts nearby, so likely we will try to get a few things done before weighing anchor. I'll post again when we have an idea where we're headed and when.

In the meantime, you might want to check out Martin and Steph's blog for more details and photos of our last few stops together.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Exumas

I am again typing under way, this time en route from Highborne Key, where we spent last night, to somewhere near Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. I'm happy to have good Internet coverage here, so I can catch you up on the last few days. Steph has also just posted about our last few days, with photos, including a nice shot of Vector.

Shortly after I last posted here, at sea off Great Abaco, our coverage faded away. Before the end of my watch, the enormous Holland America cruise ship Zuiderdam passed just three miles ahead of us. Two more cruise ships passed behind us on Louise's watch; the Providence Channels are something of a cruise ship super highway for voyages originating in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I was a bit wistful as I watched it go by; it's been a long time since we took a big-ship cruise. At three miles it was easy to see the well-lit ship in all its splendor (but still impossible to photograph).

Hope Town Light from sea, with a rain storm behind it.

I neglected to mention in my last post that a storm was moving in as we left Man-o-War. That made for an interesting photo of the iconic Hope Town lighthouse from sea, with the storm behind it and the beginnings of sunset. Sunset itself was also quite spectacular over the island.

Fiery sunset over Great Abaco Island, with storm clouds above.

We had quite a favorable current once in the Northeast Providence Channel, and ended up with an early arrival to New Providence. When I came upstairs after my four hours of sleep, I throttled back a little to delay our arrival a bit -- it's too hard to read the bottom with the sun too low in the sky.

We dropped the hook in 20 feet or so in the Southwest Bay (map), maybe a quarter mile from a beautiful expedition yacht, Seawolf, that had started its life as an ocean tug. We were so tired that I did not think to snap any photos of it or our anchorage, near the entrance channel to a high-end resort marina.

Saturday was something of a lost day, as we all spent most of the day recovering from the wonky sleep schedule of an overnight passage. We were at least able to suck in some WiFi from a nearby facility, and while I was not coherent enough to blog or email, I caught up on my Facebook feed and loaded lots of things that we generally won't load on our limited pay-as-you-go cellular connection.

With no plans to go ashore at New Providence, we weighed anchor early yesterday for the long day's run to Highborne Cay. There was actually quite a bit of chop on the bank, and it was something of a bouncy ride. I was amazed that we had BTC voice and data coverage for the whole trip; I learned late in the day that Blossom's coverage ended an hour out of New Providence. Our cellular amp, which disappoints me regularly on Sprint's CDMA frequencies in the US, has been fantastic here on BaTelCo's GSM channels.

Driving through a squall. You can see it on the radar set at lower left of photo.

The rough day culminated in running right through a squall on our way in to Highborne.  It showed clearly on the radar set, though, and it looked like we'd be through it before dropping anchor. When we finally emerged on the other side we had a beautiful sunny afternoon, and the lee of the cay made for calm water. Lots of boats in the anchorage, including the superyacht Lady S.

Approaching Highborne, now in beautiful weather. Large yacht to the right is Lady S. Blossom is the white dot against the distant hill, about in line with our starboard gunwale.

Blossom arrived twenty minutes ahead of us, using their greater speed, to scope out the anchorage and water depths. By the time we were anchored nearby (map), they had their tender down (now working after re-priming the fuel system), and after sundowners aboard Vector we all rode over to the marina for dinner at Xuma, the nice restaurant there. The food was excellent and the grounds are nicely kept. A group of nurse sharks hangs out at the end of the dock, and they were easy to see in the crystal clear water.  I am sorry I did not get a photo.

Blossom anchored at Highborne Cay.

This morning we had a hard decision to make. Louise has a non-refundable ticket to fly to California next week, out of Georgetown. Frankly, I'd be going with her, if not for the fact that leaving the boat and the cat in the Bahamas without us for a week is a logistical nightmare.

In hindsight, Georgetown might not have been the best choice for an originating airport. But with imperfect information, we had to put a pin in the map someplace. I did not want to spend a week anchored alone in Nassau, and there are really only a couple other airports in all of the Bahamas with through-booked connections to get to California. The small airstrips that dot the islands do have service, but it's about $600 or so just to fly round trip to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, on top of whatever flights she'd have to get from one of those airports. In contrast, she paid about that much for her entire round trip out of Georgetown. (She does, though, have an overnight layover in Fort Lauderdale, necessitating another hotel room.)

Given that, and knowing we'd ultimately be cruising the Exumas, it seemed like the right choice at the time. Now, however, we're still quite a ways from there, just a week away from her flight. That means we need to keep moving closer each day, and we'll probably have to slog through four to six foot seas in the Exuma Sound for the last leg (Elizabeth Harbour in Georgetown is not accessible from the bank side of the island).

Martin and Steph are not keen on going out into the sound in those conditions, and are looking instead at a weather window next Tuesday for more moderate seas.  By the time those roll around, Louise will already be on her flight. With thus a full week to get to Galliot Cut, they opted to spend a couple more days in the very protected anchorage at Highborne to wait out some wind before moving south a bit more slowly than us.

A very happy couple, in the tender leaving Man-O-War harbor. (Before the fuel ran out.)

And so it is that we said our goodbyes over the VHF this morning and pressed on alone, leaving Blossom in Highborne Cay with our new neighbor, Chasing Daylight, who dropped the hook right behind us this morning. We were amused to see them do exactly what we have to do to attach our snubber -- blindly stick an arm out through a forward hawse-hole. Now we can tell people who think it strange that it's "a big-boat thing."

This superyacht dropped the hook just a hundred yards from us. We liked their anchor technique.

We'll continue on to Georgetown on our own. While that does give us more flexibility in anchorages and routes, we'll miss them, and also the comfort of having the resources of a whole separate boat nearby in case of problems. With luck, it will be short-lived, and they will catch up with me in Georgetown by next Wednesday.

Update: while in the middle of typing all this, our Internet finally quit about ten miles out of Warderick Wells.  I had to set this post aside until we finished our day; we are now anchored just a quarter mile from Emerald Rock, on the south side of Warderick Wells Cay (map). We came in as close as our draft would permit, and dropped the hook in eight feet of water.

Once here I was able to fiddle with the phone and get intermittent Edge (lower-speed) connectivity, so I can finish getting this post up. I'm glad I loaded all the photos above while we still had a high-speed connection, but I can't upload any photos from here. I'm sure we'll be back in higher-speed coverage somewhere later on, at least in Georgetown if not sooner.

Right after we got the hook set, we realized we had anchored just 50 yards or so from a beautiful ketch we had seen at the yard in Deltaville, Jancris, which hails from Venice, Italy. They had friends aboard, but we did exchange greetings, and we'll send them a nice photo we took of their boat against the sunset.

If the weather is pleasant in the morning we might splash the tender and go ashore.  Park Headquarters is here on the island, and a hill with a lovely view. There is not much else, though, not even a rest room -- it's not unlike the Dry Tortugas in that respect. It will be a short visit, because we want to get back under way and end up somewhere near Staniel Cay tomorrow night.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Perfect window

As I type this I am alone on watch in the pilothouse. It's 11pm, and Louise is asleep below. We are southbound in the Atlantic Ocean, about four miles off the coast of Great Abaco Island. In about an hour we'll pass Southwest point and begin crossing the Northeast Providence Channel.

This morning found us anchored off Man-o-War Cay (map), a few miles from the more popular destinations of Marsh Harbour and Hope Town. As I wrote in my last post, we staged there for a quick departure to the ocean via the nearby Man-o-War channel, perhaps the best channel on the east side of the Abacos. We had already decided on the overnight option to New Providence by the time we had the anchor down.

Final sunset at anchor in the Abacos.

We had a nice dinner last night on the aft deck, with another beautiful sunset over Great Abaco in the distance. Blossom was anchored only a couple hundred feet away, close enough to talk (loudly), and they came over in their tender this morning to pick us up for a run into town, a short ride away.

Blossom anchored a short distance away. Northern entrance to Man-o-War harbor in the background.

Louise had done a load of laundry this morning, in anticipation of making 150 gallons or so of fresh water under way, and discovered that we're having some issues with either the washer or dryer imparting an odor to the wash. She opted to remain aboard to try to figure it out while we still had the generator running, and I went to Man-o-War with Martin and Steph.

We got rid of some trash and had a nice walk around town, stopping in the two fairly well-stocked groceries as well as the chandlery and even a fabric shop, before having lunch at the marina where we had tied up the tender. After lunch I picked up some bananas and Steph got a few items as well at one of the groceries before we headed back.

That was something of an adventure, as Blossom's tender ran out of fuel before we made it out of the harbor. Good thing, too, that we were still close enough to paddle/pole/pull our way back to the nearest dock (oddly enough, for the town's trash collection site), and Martin hoofed it back to the marina for fuel.

For whatever reason, he could not get the engine re-started -- bad fuel, air locked, fouled plugs, or some other consequence of running it empty under load.  Knowing we had a deadline to make our weather window, when four other cruisers happened by in their diminutive (perhaps eight foot) tender and offered us a tow we accepted. Thank you very much, stalwart crew of Perfect Day (I never got their names), from San Diego.

After getting the big tender back to Blossom, I piled in to the already full tender with our four new friends, nearly going in the drink in the process, and they dropped me at Vector before heading back to their own trawler. Stephanie gave them a bottle of wine, but this sort of thing is really a common occurrence among cruisers; they asked us to just pay it forward.

All's well that ends well, and other than a workout from paddling, a bump on my shin, wet shoes, and some slightly bruised bananas, we all made it back to the boats in plenty of time to prepare for our planned 4pm departure. Louise, however, was doubly glad she had skipped the shore leave. We have some photos, too, but one consequence of my limited bandwidth at the moment is that I can't easily post them here.

We did have a bit of swell after departing the cut, but on the beam with a very long period, so a comfortable ride. As forecast, it's been getting progressively calmer all evening, with winds dying to nearly nothing from the ~15kts we had on departure, and wave height settling down to two-ish from the three to five we had at the start. I expect an easy crossing of the channel tonight and calm conditions in the morning. It's a perfect weather window, but it will slam shut tomorrow night.

On the other hand, yesterday's cruise from Green Turtle was more sporty, with quite a bit of chop on the Sea of Abaco. The run from Green Turtle to Man-o-War involves a brief "outside" leg, between the barrier islands and the scattered reef, and that was much rougher than today's going. Angel voiced her displeasure loudly, but managed to keep her cookies down.

Breakers at "The Whale" as we come out Whale Cay Channel.

Blossom, with greater draft, took a longer route through some sections, and we had a few moments where I had to drive from up top with Louise stationed on the bow to visually gauge our depths, but ultimately we never saw less than 9.6 feet of water the whole way. The $13 chart package I bought from Jeppesen for my Android phone proved its worth, with the only accurate electronic chart aboard for the more challenging stretch.

It's now almost midnight, and I expect to lose cell coverage shortly as we round the end of the island. Louise will take over from me around 3am and I expect we'll be looking for anchorage by mid-morning sometime, somewhere at the west end of New Providence Island.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Green Turtle

We are anchored in White Sound, the largest and deepest of three harbors on Green Turtle Cay (map). We dropped the hook here Monday afternoon after a very pleasant cruise from Fox Town. The marina I mentioned in my last post, the Bluff House, is just across the harbor from us; we did not need it since we got the genny going, but we did tender over there for a nice dinner one evening.

Vector in the anchorage, as seen from Blossom.  Green Turtle Club is at the right.

We're actually anchored much closer to the other marina in this harbor, the Green Turtle Club. My information said they were too shallow for us but it looks like there is just enough water on the outside face dock. We had a couple of nice dinners there, too, and we've been taking advantage of their WiFi, which has a strong signal but slow and spotty Internet connectivity.

Tuesday we all rode over to the settlement, New Plymouth, in Blossom's larger and faster tender. The town is in a different harbor. We found trash dumpsters for cruisers at the public docks and offloaded all the trash we'd accumulated since leaving Florida. We also hit up three different grocery stores and added a very small amount to our produce stash. We did not need it, but fresh milk was also available.

New Plymouth, from the hill at the south edge of town.

We've been using up our prepaid cellular data pretty quickly and so we also reloaded the phones; in New Plymouth that happens at the liquor store. Rum is reasonably priced here but other liquor and wine is about double stateside pricing, and beer is treble. We also checked out two hardware stores, which were fairly well stocked, with pricing about half again as much to double those in the states.

This morning we will weigh anchor at high tide to make our way back out the very shallow entrance channel of the harbor. Tonight we should be anchored off Man-o-War Cay, staged for the outside run from the Abacos to somewhere on the Grand Bahama Bank. We've been studying the weather, and the window we thought would come on Monday had moved up to Sunday by yesterday evening, and this morning it's looking like tomorrow will actually be the best day.

Blossom is planning on an overnight run from Man-o-War to the southwest end of New Providence. We are still weighing the pros and cons of following them versus getting an early morning start and making a one-day run to Egg Island and thence to the Fleeming Channel. If tomorrow's the day, we'll need to decide by the time we turn in this evening.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fox Town

Notwithstanding my assertion in my last post that we'd be pinned down at Great Sale by weather until this morning, we woke to a beautiful day yesterday. The wind had died down considerably, and the forecast improved, so we called Blossom first thing in the morning and collectively decided to get under way.

It was the right decision, as we had a very nice cruise, with some light chop on the nose on the eastward leg. We ended the day here, at the anchorage north of Fox Town, on Little Abaco Island (map), protected by Hawksbill Cays to the north. We're close to a cell tower, and there are some services ashore, although we abandoned plans to have dinner there when the small restaurant and grocery did not answer the phone. We surmised that, like many things in the Bahamas, they were closed on Sunday.

Our view to the north of the rocks west of Hawksbill.

Shortly after we dropped the hook, some locals came over in a skiff looking to sell us stone crab claws. We're not big fans, and did not want to go through the trouble of cooking and cracking them, but we knew Martin absolutely loves them, so we sent the Bahamians over to Blossom, the better part of a mile away. We heard later that they did buy some and that they were delicious. They were certainly fresh.

It was quite fortuitous that we had good weather yesterday and were able to get under way. I say that because the generator quit in the morning, right after we made the decision to leave, filling the engine room with an unmistakable burnt exhaust smell. I surmised a destroyed impeller. We went into power-conserving mode, but cruising for several hours let us put quite a bit of charge into the batteries, giving us a margin to get through last night if we had needed to.

As it turns out it was just a bad impeller, and, having done this drill once already (photos of the process in the linked post), I was able to fly through the repair without even cracking the manual. This time I drained enough coolant out of the heat exchanger beforehand to avoid getting it everywhere, and I topped it up with fresh when I was done. We also took the opportunity to clean out the sea strainer and change the fuel filter.

In a few moments we will weigh anchor and continue on to Green Turtle Cay. We'll likely anchor again tonight; if we'd not gotten the genny going, we'd instead have to wind our way into the shallow harbor and go to the marina there.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Great Sale on weather

We are anchored in the "North West Harbour" of Great Sale Cay, which is actually to the southwest of the cay (map). This is a very protected anchorage for winds out of the north or east, and even though it was blowing ten to fifteen out of the south when we arrived Thursday afternoon, the winds clocked around after dark and it was nearly glass calm here overnight. We dropped the tender and had a very nice steak dinner aboard Blossom.

By mid-day yesterday the first part of this storm system had already moved in, and we decked the tender before the winds got too high. Three more boats joined our two here just at dark, and I expected they'd be riding out the storm with us here until Monday. We were all surprised to see them leave this morning; later we heard them on the radio plowing into it and looking for shelter.

Great Sale is completely uninhabited, and the four of us are again alone here. (Correction: as I was typing, a sailboat motored in, looking a bit uncomfortable. He's anchoring now.) I had figured to be off-line here, too, as we are quite far from the nearest tower, but we're getting a high-speed connection courtesy of our cellular amplifier and mast-mounted antenna. It turns out this amp works better here than on the frequencies we commonly use back in the states.

We do need to be careful -- we've already blown through a quarter of our 2gb of pre-paid data in just three days. In addition to downloading our email and researching routes and stops moving forward from here, I also went back and cleaned up my last post, adding map links to our anchorages and a few photos from our first two stops. It's too windy now to get a decent shot here for this post, but I'll try to snap one before we leave.

Winds now are around 20 knots steady, and we're expecting 30 before the storm is through with us. At this writing we expect to be pinned down here tomorrow as well, with a plan to depart first thing Monday morning, in the direction of Green Turtle Cay.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Little Bahama Bank

A short post here before we leave BaTelCo cell coverage, under way southbound to Great Sale Cay across the Little Bahama Bank. I do have some nice photos, which will have to wait until we have better connectivity.

We had a very nice crossing Monday from Palm Beach. We left about mid-exodus, with several boats passing us on their way out while we were still at anchor. Near-coastal waters were actually pretty rough, three to four feet on a short period of perhaps four to five seconds. By the time we were ten miles offshore, though, things had calmed down to the forecast one to two feet on a long nine-second period, and the ride was quite calm.

After clearing the inlet, we angled north toward the White Sand Ridge, which gave us quite a push from the Gulf Stream and we made over seven knots the whole way. We also left behind the conga line of other cruisers, all of whom made a bee-line for West End on Grand Bahama Island.

The crew of Blossom had chosen White Sand Ridge as a deeper-draft entry to the bank, and on reports of a large pod of dolphin living there. I was the lucky winner on the dolphin front, spotting one breach a good dozen feet or so out of the water, the sort of display you might see at Sea World. Blossom had a small group play in their bow wave for a while.

We ended up anchored on a high spot of the ridge, so high that my NOAA chart showed it as awash (map). That made for a very rough night, though, with winds 15-20 and a swell to match. A bit too close to, and unprotected from, the ocean at that spot. We did, however, have a lovely sunset.

Our first Bahamian sunset.

While we had hoped to wait for higher sun, the roll had us weighing anchor around 9:30 Tuesday morning and heading across the bank for Walker Cay, our chosen port of entry for clearing in. We anchored in the bight of a large sand bar (map) and had a very calm afternoon; Blossom dropped their tender and came over for cocktails.

Yesterday morning Martin picked me up and we tendered in to Walker Cay to clear in, tying up across from the now defunct marina there. We walked the length of the small runway looking for Customs and Immigration, but the island seemed deserted. Eventually we found a couple of guys working on renovating a building there and they informed us that Customs had moved over to Grand Cay while a new office was being built for them on Walker. We had half expected this, so back to the tender and on over to Grand Cay we went.

The defunct marina at Walker Cay, from the end of the airport.

We tied up at Rosie's and walked the half mile or so to the administration building, where the very accommodating Sheryse took our paperwork, but apologized that she did not have the proper forms on hand to clear us in; she expected them on the boat from Freeport around 2pm. She gave us verbal permission to go to the Batelco office, and to bring the ladies ashore for dinner, and we agreed to return to the office around 4pm to finish checking in.

Martin and I spent well over an hour in the BaTelCo office getting pre-paid SIMs for our phones and getting data working, and so now we have limited Internet access whenever we can see a tower. I also have a Bahamian phone number so we can call local businesses and they can call us back -- much simpler and cheaper than the sat phone.

Around 3:30 or so Martin and Steph picked us up in their tender and we all headed ashore to Rosie's. Martin called Sheryse when we landed and learned that the boat was late, so she still had no forms. Instead we all walked the entirety of the small island community and then landed back at Rosie's for a round of Kalik beer. We saw the boat arrive from Freeport and had just about finished our first round when Sheryse called back to say she was ready.

The docks at Rosie's marina, from the deck of the restaurant. Far too shallow for us to get in.

Martin and I shuffled off to check in, which was easy and painless if a bit lengthy. I can declare Walker Cay/Grand Cay to be cruiser-friendly for check-in. We now have a cruising permit good for six months.

We finished our visit up with an excellent meal of lobster and conch there at Rosie's. I had the lobster and it was some of the freshest I've ever had, in a generous portion. We did have a wet tender ride back after dark, as the wind had picked up a bit.

Today we got under way for the protected anchorage at Great Sale.  We are expecting a very big storm to blow in tomorrow, with winds steady over 30 knots, and we want the protection afforded there. It does mean we'll likely be off-line for another couple of days, as I don't think BTC's signal reaches that far.