Sunday, May 13, 2018

Back in the Bahamas

I am typing under way between Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, and Acklins Island, Bahamas. At this moment we are about halfway between Mayaguana, on our starboard, and Little Inagua, off our port. Both are over the horizon, as is Provo, some 30 miles behind us. I can still see the glow of light above Provo, and we only fully lost Internet coverage ten miles back.

One of our final sunsets in Grace Bay.

Shortly after my last post, I tendered ashore to pick up our guest. Amanda managed to snag a shared ride to Seven Stars, where I suggested we meet in the lobby; apparently the resort has a rep at the airport who was able to connect her with another couple. I collected her straight from the taxi at the porte cochere and we walked the labyrinthine pathways down to the beach. Fortunately she brought backpacks instead of a suitcase, which facilitated "walking the plank," aka the narrow concrete beam which is all that remains of the pier we've been using. Nothing went for a swim as we loaded her gear and the two of us into the dink.

As if making our house guests walk the plank (still better than the alternative - a beach landing in the surf) was not inhospitable enough, what happened next really put a fine point on it. I started the engine and made ready to cast off. I put the lever in forward, and we did not move. Reverse did nothing either. Phooey. Must be the gearshift linkage again, seeing as that was the last thing to break, and the throttle was still held together with zip ties (Amanda offered to bring us the part, but I called every Mercury dealer in SE Florida and no one had it). We tied back up and I took off the engine cowling.

Hmm. All looks good in there. The gearshift seems to be working as I move the lever into both forward and reverse. This is strange. So I glanced down at the "lower unit" (the part of an outboard that contains the transmission) to discover... the propeller was gone. Wow. There's no way I can paddle back to Vector; we'd be blown halfway down the bay and out to sea before I could cover even half the distance. I radioed Louise and told her to start inflating our two-person kayak, a twenty-minute process, while I contemplated what to do next. The kayak could get us and all the gear to the boat, in three round trips. Or it could be used to bring me the mask and snorkel I might need to find the propeller and its hardware.

Surfacing, recovered propeller in hand. Photo: Amanda Baker

Realizing the propeller most likely came off when I engaged reverse while approaching the dock, we moved the tender aside and I could see it, lying on the bottom in about nine feet of water. Getting the propeller in the crystal clear water would be a cinch. But the propeller nut and thrust washer were both also missing, two little black specks among many littering the bottom, and also easily buried in the sand.

Of course, I was not wearing a swimsuit. Meeting Amanda in the lobby of a nice hotel, I had put on a fresh pair of khaki shorts and a nice Hawaiian shirt before heading ashore. In the TCI, it is considered quite rude to wear swimwear anywhere except the beach and the pool. So I stripped down to just my shorts, removed my belt, emptied my pockets into the dink, and dove in for the propeller, which I snagged on the first try. It was ripped to shreds; as it backed off the shaft a blade hit the combination anode and trim tab, which broke off entirely and split in two.

This blade is peeled open. The other two have chunks missing.

Reasoning the nut and thrust washer landed near the prop, I made another dive and managed to grab both. I felt sure I would not be able to see well enough to find them without a mask, but the water is crystal clear here. I would never have been able to do this before I had laser eye surgery a few years ago. I was able to get the thrust washer, propeller, and nut on well enough just by hand to get us back to the boat, so long as I did not engage reverse, and after 20 minutes of monkeying around at the end of the pier we were on our way, Amanda having a story to tell her kids. She snapped a photo of me popping up with the prop in my hand.

Sadly, this was the brand new propeller I installed in Fort Lauderdale before we left. I had saved the old propeller, which had various chips and other damage that I had repaired over the years, and after relaxing a little back at the boat I installed that prop and properly tightened the nut with a wrench. I went back to the pier with mask and snorkel to make sure I did not leave any hardware on the bottom; all I found were the two broken pieces of the zinc trim tab. After a somewhat trying afternoon, we enjoyed cocktails on the flybridge and just tendered right back to Seven Stars, where we had a nice dinner at their outdoor beachfront restaurant, The Deck.

What's left of the trim tab, in pieces. Fortunately, the zinc base of unit is still bolted to the motor, providing some cathodic protection.

Tuesday I was prepared to go snorkeling, or kayaking now that it was inflated, or engage in one of the numerous water sports or beachfront activites available ashore, but Amanda mostly wanted to relax. We did go ashore mid-day to walk around the Grace Bay shopping district, stopping at the nice grocery store where Amanda wanted to pick up a few food items for lunch and another bottle of white wine. I grilled a couple of steaks for dinner and we had a relaxing afternoon and evening aboard. Wednesday was much the same, with the addition of swimming off the back of the boat, and we tendered ashore for a pizza dinner at Pizza Pizza.

Amanda's flight was Thursday afternoon, and we opted to have a final lunch at The Deck before seeing her to a cab at the lobby of Seven Stars. One final walking of the plank with full kit; to borrow a phrase, it's not just a visit, it's an adventure. She scored a window seat up near the pointy end and sent us some nice photos of Vector in Grace Bay from the air.

Lunch at The Deck.

We try to have only one big restaurant meal in a day, and lunch was it, so we had our usual lunchtime snacks for dinner, and tendered ashore for sunset cocktails at the Infiniti Bar in the Grace Bay Club. It was very nice, but I'm glad we only went for drinks; two cocktails came to over $40 with tax and tip. They did supply complimentary bar snacks, however. The evening marked one full month since we arrived in the TCI on April 10th.

Friday morning a swoopy 72' Azimut yacht came in the cut, down to where we were, and dropped their hook just a hundred feet away. They immediately cranked up their music, even though it looked to us like only the crew was aboard. Not long afterward, a French ketch, Wind's Way, arrived and dropped another hundred feet west of the Azimut. In the afternoon the French couple, whose names we never caught, came over to ask some questions about the anchorage. We gave them the skinny on groceries, public access from the beach, and dining, but I could not tell them where to get a SIM card short of taking an expensive taxi ride to the big grocery store on the main highway.

Vector, between the palms, as seen from the Infiniti Bar.

Late afternoon at high tide the Azimut left, presumably headed to one of the marinas in order to board guests -- no walking the plank for them. We enjoyed cocktails aboard and then headed ashore to Lupo, the Italian restaurant behind the four-diamond Regent Grand, for our anniversary dinner, which we'd deferred for various reasons. It was quite casual, but good. Little did we know it would be our last meal ashore in TCI.

Louise checks the weather daily looking for a departure window. She uses several sources, including Passage Weather, Wind Finder, Wind Guru, Windy, and a subscription passage weather service from Chris Parker. A week ago it looked like we might have a window Thursday through Saturday, but by the time Thursday rolled around that window had evaporated. When we spoke with Wind's Way after their arrival Friday we learned our decision to wave off had been correct -- they got slammed. But they'd been pinned down in a lousy anchorage in Mayaguana for weeks, and elected to pound through it rather than be trapped for yet another week.

Friday afternoon we discussed whether we wanted to clear out and make a run for it Saturday, what the original three-day window had narrowed to. But Friday's forecast showed a better window coming on Monday, and we opted to just wait for that, clearing out first thing Monday morning. As these things often go, however, the Monday window had evaporated entirely by Saturday morning.

In what can only have been a harbinger of the end of our stay in Provo, I spotted our first dolphin here, swimming just yards from the boat, while having my morning coffee. It turned out to be JoJo, a local celebrity because he basically lives in Grace Bay and interacts with humans. He swam around the boat, under our keel, up to the tender, and then stuck his head out of the water right where we were standing, to say hello. By the time I grabbed a camera all I could get was a shot of him as he turned to leave. We've been seeing signs about JoJo all over grace bay, including one over at Hemingway's with a little bell to ring if you spot him.

JoJo the dolphin swimming away after a brief visit.

The latest forecast showed a barely acceptable window still remaining Saturday and overnight to Sunday, with things taking a turn for the worse Monday, and nothing on the horizon for at least a week. While I would be happy to spend another week in Provo, hurricane season is fast upon us, and we need to be moving in the right direction. Also I have committed to some Red Cross training in early June, and, having to put a stake in the sand, I had provided Nassau as a departure airport.

After lots more study of the weather and much discussion, we decided Saturday morning to make a run for it. The window was no longer big enough to make Great Inagua in three or even two hops, and even if it was, there we'd be trapped for a week or more. Even stopping in Mayaguana posed the risk of being trapped in the very exposed harbor for weeks, as happened to Wind's Way. We decided the best course was the overnight run all the way to Acklins Island, where, once in the lee, we might be able to make further progress Monday and beyond.

That, of course, meant clearing out on short notice on a Saturday. I called Customs around noon, and they offered that they could meet me at Turtle Cove Marina at 4pm. That gave us three hours to get ready to depart. Good thing, because I had quite a bit to do.

Grace bay from the air. Vector is the tiny white dot just off the beach, left of center frame (click to enlarge). You can clearly see the coral reefs protecting the bay. Photo: Amanda Baker

For starters, I had to fuel the tender. It had enough gas to make another couple of trips to our private little pier, which was just a hundred yards away. But the marina was at the other end of the bay, a seven mile round trip. Adding fuel from a six-gallon jerry can and mixing in the correct amount of two-stroke oil without getting fuel or oil all over the dinghy or myself is about a fifteen minute process. The good news is we're fueled up now for the next several stops.

I also wanted to use our remaining very fast Internet to update charts, and also upload most of the photos for this blog post, in case I only had low-speed access later. And I went online to add more data to our Bahamian SIM card, since there'd be no way to do that in the Bahamas without, ironically, a working SIM card. I left early for my meeting, at 3pm, since I had to pick my way through a coral reef without detailed charts in the dinghy. I arrived just ten minutes early.

Louise and The Pretzel go for a swim.

Just before I left for Customs, we monitored radio traffic from a pleasure vessel inbound to Turtle Cove. He had nearly a seven foot draft, and the necessary high tide would not be until 7:30pm, when the marina is closed. They had to tell them they'd need to try after 7:30 in the morning, leaving them stuck for the night. They were contemplating anchoring outside the reef, so we called them to let them know they could easily get in to our anchorage for a comfortable night, and head around to the other cut in the morning.

That boat turned out to be a Nordhavn 57, Time 2, from South Africa. Mike and Lynn have cruised that boat all over the world, and it would have been wonderful to have cocktails or dinner one evening and hear their story. I regret that we were just ships that passed in the anchorage and did not get a chance to get together. While I was running to Customs, Louise spoke with them on the radio and gave them lots of good information about the anchorage and the town, since they, too, will be pinned there for a while. They offered us what was left on their Bahamian SIM card, but I had no time to swing by and get it.

Time 2 anchored near Club Med, as we passed them on departure.

Clearing out with Customs and Immigration was painless. In addition to the $50 exit clearance fee, I also paid $30 in overtime ($15 to each department) for the weekend visit. I said goodbye to the marina staff, and then slammed my way back upwind the three and a half miles to Vector. We decked the tender and we under way just a little after 5pm.

We had an early dinner in the pilothouse. After we rounded the corner at Northwest Point, we found ourselves in five footers on a relatively short 7-8 second period, but with both wind and waves behind us, the motion was tolerable. The seas did make the decision for us about which end of Acklins to target; the northeast corner has a much more protected harbor, good cell coverage, and a shorter trip, but the direction was too much north of west to be comfortable, putting those five footers on the quarter. We opted instead for due west to the southwest corner, a more comfortable ride.

Outside the limit we discharged our now nearly full waste tanks, and were both relieved when the replacement macerator pump did its job. With no remaining spares, we'll be holding our breath every time now, so to speak. Louise turned in around 8:30, and I did whatever I could on the Internet before it faded out. Seas continued to build throughout the evening; I quit typing this post not long after I started because it was too rough to type, and I picked back up again this morning after I came on watch.

I donned a mask to check the running gear but these fish beat me to it. They were just hanging out by the prop.

We changed the watch at 0300 as we normally do, and I collapsed in bed. Louise had been running the portable AC in the stateroom, which I found too cold, so I turned it off and opened the portlights instead. About an hour later I was rudely awakened by a large splash of water in my face, as if from a bucket in one of those old cartoons. Louise came running downstair because she heard the noise, which she described as a pail of marbles. I was wet, and my pillow was wet, and it was clear a wave had hit the boat and splashed in. I sleep on the starboard side, which was also the windward side, so I closed and dogged the starboard portlight and went back to bed.

That lasted only a few minutes, until the bilge alarm went off. I popped the center bilge open to see water running in from the port side aft. I turned all the lights on and only then did I discover that the entire port side of the stateroom was covered in salt water. Apparently a rogue wave had actually hit the port side of the boat, with enough force to send a few gallons of water into the boat, nearly taking out the bug screen in the process, and to have hit me on the starboard side of the bed. The port side of the bed was soaked, and the floor was covered in water from wall to wall. It had finally worked its way below the flooring, through the subfloor, and into the bilge.

Additional casualties were a bunch of Louise's sweaters and several pairs of my shoes, all in shelves under the port portlight, and a basket of quilting fabric that had been moved into the stateroom temporarily while we had guests. We did our best at 4am in a rolling boat to clean it all up, and I again returned to my wet bed, but I didn't get much sleep. Sometime in the next couple of days we'll need to drag the flooring up on deck and hose it off with fresh water, clean the subfloors, cabinets, and bed frame as much as we can with wet towels, and vacuum out the bilge. Louise had to do a load of laundry on the way into Acklins this morning to get the salt water out of the bedding.

Castle Island Light as we approach the south end of Acklins. It took ten minutes to upload this one photo.

Update: We are anchored off the southwest point of Acklins Island, in an indentation known as Datum Bay (map). Winds are still 20kt or so, and we had seven foot seas right until we turned the corner. But we are in the lee of the island now, and the bay is calm enough for a decent night sleep. My cell phone is barely functional here; we have Internet coverage intermittently at just above dial-up speed (for those readers who remember back that far), so it's a good thing I had pre-loaded the photos. In the morning we will try to move north to Long Cay; we'll see if the seas cooperate as we pass along west of the Bight of Acklins. The Bight itself is too shallow for us to transit.


  1. One day, like me, you will read all of this and wonder why you did it. I hope things get better soon.

  2. I have been reading your posts for awhile and enjoy them. We considered traveling in a sailboat as our retirement plan. We sailed for many years but finally decided on RVing. This post reminds me of the many times I spent upside down in the bilge or fighting the rigging. Rving has its issues, but we do not have to worry about as many challenges that you face. Look forward to more of your adventures.


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