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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Our window arrives

We are at a favorite anchorage, in north Lake Worth just off Old Port Cove marina (map). I had originally planned to anchor off Prosperity Farms, a bit quieter location, but we needed to pump out when we left Soverel Harbour, and Old Port Cove has a high-speed pumpout available for just $5. Our view consists of expensive housing units, and Tiger Woods' 155' yacht, with the unintentionally ironic name Privacy, which is for sale for a cool $25M.

One of our final sunsets at Soverel Harbour.

It's a ten-minute dinghy ride from here over to Blossom at the North Palm Beach marina, and we've been tendering over there to join up for dinner and some last-minute grocery shopping. Today we had to dinghy over to the landing under the Jack Nicklaus Boulevard bridge, for a final stop at Publix for more cat food, and the ATM at the CVS next door to replace some cash I unexpectedly had to shell out here pre-departure. Cash is much harder to get once we're in the islands.

The haul from the penultimate provisioning run, consisting mostly of fresh produce.

I also managed to find a straw hat at, of all places, Publix; I've been looking for one for the past month to keep the sun off my ears in the islands. The boat is now hexagonally close-packed with provisions and supplies, so even though we stood there for ten minutes, surrounded by the excess of a typical American grocery store, we could not think of a single other thing we could use in the next three months to fit aboard. We're as ready as we can be.

A bilge full of beer.

That's good, because our weather window has opened, for just a single day: tomorrow. In a few minutes we will deck the tender and chug down the ICW to somewhere near the inlet, to save a bit of time in the morning. If all goes well we will weigh anchor in the pre-dawn hours and be on our way to the Little Bahama Bank, where we plan to anchor off the White Sands shoal as our first stop outside the US.

Once we are five to ten miles offshore, our cell phones will stop working until we return to the US, probably sometime in May. Email will be the best way to reach us while we are away, but I expect we will only be able to access it every week or two for a short while.

I posted here a few days ago about how to follow us once we leave US waters, and I'll try to remember to kick it off by posting our location tonight via Spot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stocking up

We are docked at the Soverel Harbour Marina, on the ICW just north of the PGA Boulevard Bridge, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (map). We arrived last Wednesday afternoon after a very pleasant and unhurried cruise from Stuart down the ICW. It was a bit tricky maneuvering into our slip, at the very end of a circuitous fairway, but we were docked in plenty of time to get our Enterprise rental car before their office closed.

Having a car meant we could drive over to North Palm Beach Marina to meet up with Blossom for dinner, the first of several during our week-long stay here. We drove down to Lake Park, and, ironically, ended up dining at the very same place to which we all had walked when we were docked there for Trawler Fest a year ago.

The main impetus behind the rental car was to head down to the Miami Boat Show on Thursday. For a while it looked like I'd be going solo -- Martin and Steph were both too wrapped up with Blossom projects to take the day away, and Louise had no interest in the show itself. But at the last minute she decided she'd come along for the ride, and maybe get some provisioning done with the car while I was at the show.

Other than an hour mid-day, when Louise and I met up with our good friend Steve and his daughter/assistant Katie for a pleasant lunch off-site, I spent the whole day at the Miami Beach Convention Center covering as much of the show as I could. I had a small list of items I was trying to find there, but came away only partly successful.

A tiny fraction of the organized chaos that is the Miami Boat Show.

Chief on the list was new boat insurance, to cover a possible excursion to Cuba later this year (more on that in a separate post). As it turns out, though, yacht insurance is not well represented at the Miami show, and I struck out on this front. Also on my list was getting some technical questions on the engines and transmission answered, and here I was much more successful, at least in regard to the engines. Our transmission manufacturer, ZF, was notably absent from the show, but Steve put me in touch with them afterwards.

I got some good information about charts in the Bahamas and Cuba, and nailed down the correct type of emergency "man overboard" beacons we'd like to have before getting too far offshore. I also picked up some more LED strip lights to replace some that are failing prematurely from exposure to the elements. In all it was a decent show, but not nearly as beneficial as it was for us last year. Still, it was worth the effort and expense to go.

A full-day excursion to the show meant renting the car for two days, or else having to miss a few hours of the show. So we had the car for most of the day Friday, too, and we started the day with a visit to a nearby vet to get Angel's International Health Certificate. We spent most of the afternoon with Martin and Steph on a Costco run; we had let our Costco membership lapse when we lived on the bus because we simply had no room to store the size packages that Costco sells. Gearing up for the Bahamas, though, it's just the ticket, and we came home loaded up with fresh meat, wine, dry goods, and other provisions.

One of the "house" cats at the vet's office, looking a lot like a throw rug.  This cat was huge, as were the two others we saw; all were super friendly.  Angel was not amused.

We had unloaded one scooter when we first arrived, and after we returned the rental car, we took turns running errands and making provisioning trips on the scooter. Most of the week has been spent provisioning and getting the boat ready for three months out of country. Here are just a few of the things we've loaded aboard:

  • Gasoline. I ordered a pair of six-gallon cans from Amazon, and I've filled both of those as well as the two-gallon can we already had. I also used the two-gallon can to top up the tank on the tender, which took four gallons, so there were three trips to the gas station just with the smaller can. We now have 14 gallons of extra fuel on top of the eight or so in the tender itself, which ought to last us several weeks. We'll probably still have to find gas somewhere in the islands, too.
  • Beer. Rum is everywhere in the Bahamas, but beer is scarce and expensive. We loaded some 200+ cans/bottles aboard. I ended up making racks in the bilge to store it, to get it out of the way and keep the weight down low.
  • Wine. Again, expensive in the Bahamas. We bought perhaps a dozen bottles between red and white, and I loaded another nine liters of the boxed variety.
  • Canned goods. Lots and lots of cans -- we expect our fresh produce to last a couple of weeks, and then we'll be into frozen and canned veggies.
  • Pickled items (pickles, peppers, beans, etc.), for the same reason.
  • Frozen vegetables.
  • Meat. I bought an entire tenderloin at Costco and sliced it into individual portions for freezing. We also bought a tray of lamb chops, a couple of pork loins, and a metric ton of chicken and stew meat for the crock pot.
  • Ultra-pasteurized milk. The fresh stuff will be gone in a week or two, and we take milk in our morning coffee.
  • Motor oil. Eleven gallons are now stowed in the bilge, enough to change the main and generator oil once each, with some for make-up.

Eleven gallons of 15w-40 squirreled away in the bilge, starboard of the engine stringer.

We have yet to stock up on fresh produce; that will happen just a day or two before we head offshore. No sense in having the clock ticking on that stuff too soon.

Today was our last full day in the marina, and I had Dockside Petroleum send a fuel truck; we took on 520 gallons of diesel at a very competitive price. We now have a full 1,200 gallons aboard, which is more than plenty for three months in the Bahamas, and will preclude our having to fuel there at island prices.

Yesterday and today were a mad scramble to gather up items from far and wide. I needed Bahamas charts and some repair items from West Marine, Louise needed fabric for quilting projects, and there were the inevitable lists for Home Depot and Walmart. I also made a run on Trader Joes and spent an hour in the T-Mobile store straightening out a SIM card issue with our iPad, which we use as a backup for navigation.

In and among all this, I spent a good deal of time setting up the new Iridium satellite phone, one of the many things we had delivered here to the marina in anticipation of our stay. Squaring away all of the minutia of our lives for an extended absence has occupied what remained of our time; we'll be out of the country and mostly away from the Internet when our taxes are due, for example.

Lest I sound like I am complaining, I should also point out that we've mostly enjoyed dining out in the Palm Beach area each evening, and tonight, while the northeast shivers, we dined al fresco, in short sleeves. It's been a mostly pleasant stay.

That said, we're ready to leave. For one thing, our slip backs up to a cigar bar, which, besides the cigar smoke, has been loud almost every evening, with live music into the wee hours on the weekend. For another, the sense of entitlement in this general area is palpable, and it's not a vibe that agrees with us (yeah, I know: says the guy typing from his yacht, in the marina).

We booked a week here, on a weekly rate that was much more attractive than the daily transient rate. Our week will be up tomorrow. Blossom is not quite ready to depart, and weather does not look good for a crossing anyway until after the weekend. So rather than extend our stay here at a higher daily rate, we'll shove off in the morning and go anchor someplace.

The dock served it's purpose: we needed an address to have some things shipped (gas cans, satellite phone, our accumulated mail, etc.), and a place to do some of the "heavy lifting" of provisioning for an extended cruise. What's left to do can be done at anchor, and we have a couple of options for tendering ashore for the final provisioning of fresh produce.

Cigar bar notwithstanding, this marina has certainly been convenient. There are three restaurants right on the property, along with a gourmet market, and most shopping is a moderate walk, an easy bike ride, or a slam-dunk on the scooter from here. It's really a hidden gem. It's a "dockominium" -- each slip is privately owned, with owners putting their unoccupied slips into a transient pool -- and not well publicized to the transient ICW crowd. The loud surroundings, particularly on the weekend, is really the only downside. Staff have been very attentive and there is full-time security on site.

We'll linger here till mid-day sometime and then head over to Old Port Cove. They have a pumpout there, which we sorely need.  We'll probably end up dropping the hook not far from there, in the northern bight of Lake Worth, an easy tender ride to Blossom or to the Publix grocery store.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bahamas bound: updating blog settings

A quick time-out here from my usual posting format, wherein I tell you where we are and what we've been up to, to do some blog and social media housekeeping.

As I have mentioned here previously, we are getting ready to head offshore to the Bahamas, our first destination outside of the US. As exciting as that is, there has been a great deal of work involved, from provisioning food and beverage (we now have some 100+ beers stowed in our bilge, about half of plan), to taking care of maintenance, to putting our taxes, finances, and insurance in order.

One of the checklist items has been to deal with communications and Internet access once we leave the country. We have a multipart strategy on this front, and I've spent several days lining everything up, then configuring and testing the hardware, software, and web services involved.

We do, of course, have both VHF and SSB marine radios aboard, and so we'll never be out of range of help. And the SSB, on a good day, will even allow us to do some very low-bandwidth text-based email and weather. But otherwise, those radios don't really help us to stay in touch with our family, friends, or extended community here on the 'net. Worse, over the last decade we've become accustomed to, perhaps even reliant upon, Internet access to deliver our weather forecasts, world news, and even troubleshooting information for various systems aboard.

We hope to have Internet access occasionally through marinas or other WiFi hotspots ashore. On our cruise around South America a few years ago we became veterans of public Internet kiosks and storefronts, and we'll take advantage of those when available. But in the Bahamas, we expect to mostly be anchored out, away from WiFi signals or even enough civilization for a kiosk.

Our next option is a cell phone from the local provider in the islands, Batelco. My Sprint smart phone has a slot for a GSM "SIM" card and our first attempt will be to pick up a card at the first Batelco office we pass, and see if that works. If not, we'll likely buy a low-end smartphone from that same store. This should get us limited email and web browsing any time we are in range of one of their cell towers.

Even cell towers are few and far between in a nation of 700 mostly tiny islands spread over some 180,000 square miles of ocean. And so we expect we'll go days or sometimes weeks with no access to a working cell signal.

For those days, we've purchase a satellite device that works on the Iridium global satellite network. Rather than buy a traditional phone handset that would require us to be outdoors in open sky (or to use an external antenna) to make or receive calls, we opted for a newer technology, the Iridium Go device. I won't bore you with the details, as you can just click the link, but we can place this device on the boat deck whenever we need to use it and then use our smartphones to make calls, send and receive text messages, get weather reports, and do very limited browsing from the comfort of our salon.

The very limited bandwidth, along with the high cost of satellite air time, necessitated some changes in our social media strategy. For starters, my trademark overly wordy blog posts will mostly have to wait until we have WiFi, or maybe cellular access, on an occasional basis. If there is something to be said of an urgent nature, we do have the ability to post here via email, but that's clunky and still expensive over satellite.

Fortunately, social media is well-suited to brief, one-way status messages of the sort that are easily sent by satellite. In order to take full advantage of this capability, we've created a Twitter account just for the boat. If you use Twitter, you can follow us there at @my_Vector (anyone can see our tweets; you do not need to open an account).

I've pointed our Spot satellite messenger to this new account, as well as to my personal Facebook page, and Spot "check-in" messages will likely dominate this feed. These messages all look alike, with a url-shortened link to our current GPS position followed by "All is well aboard m/y Vector." Spot's advantage is that I can send as many of these messages as I'd like without additional fees. The disadvantage is that, once set from the web, I can't change the message text; only the position coordinates will change. When it's in use, you can access the recent history of all our Spot position reports here.

We've also set the Iridium device up so we can post tweets to this account. I expect we'll do this whenever we have news to report. These posts do not cross-post to Facebook. I can post to Facebook over the satellite, too, but that requires more air time. So if you want the most up-to-date news of our whereabouts or status, check the Twitter feed. Note that we will not see any replies to tweets until we again have access to a higher bandwidth connection.

In order to avoid duplicate posts, I've disconnected the blog from my personal Twitter feed, @slwelsh. So follow @my_Vector if you want to be notified of blog posts via Twitter.

If all goes well, this post will show up on Twitter and Facebook within a day.