Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Weathering the storm

We are anchored in the bight of northern Eleuthera (map), just southeast of the Glass Window Bridge, which we can see from our deck. As I type this, we are hunkered down with the boat closed up, in perhaps 30-knot winds and driving rain. The lightning is getting closer, about a mile or so by the count, and I have my cell phone and a portable VHF radio in the microwave oven, which is powered off at the breaker, for safekeeping.

The Glass Window Bridge, from our tender. What looks like a waterfall is actually the remains of a huge wave that crashed over from the Atlantic side. You can see the cars in the photo for scale. There was a stone arch here when first discovered, but the sea claimed it, along with the first three bridges man put in its place.

We moved here yesterday, after first scoping it out in the tender, from a spot just a mile or two south of here, just north of Mutton Fish Point (map). That spot, closer to the point, was a bit more protected, but we had no WiFi signal there whatsoever, a deficiency that became something of an issue for reasons I will explain shortly.

That was a beautiful spot, just off a white sandy beach with an Airstream trailer on it. I thought it might be part of one of those kitschy hotels that are so trendy nowadays, but when I Googled it I learned it actually belongs to Lenny Kravitz, who sometimes stays in it when he is in town. Apparently it is not uncommon for him to show up at some of the local joints and start jamming. Lenny has WiFi there but it is, unsurprisingly, locked.

Our new neighbor, Lenny.

After setting the hook there, we splashed the tender and headed ashore to the public Gaulding Cay Beach just a few hundred yards north. We arrived at low spring tide, and had to lift the engine and paddle the tender the last dozen yards or so. The short access road to the beach is literally across the street from Daddy Joe's restaurant, bar, and motel.

We had an excellent dinner at Daddy Joe's in honor of our 12th anniversary, which came the following day (yesterday). We had figured to be someplace much more remote yesterday, so it made sense to celebrate with a meal out a day early. We had actually hoped to tender down to the much more upscale The Cove resort a mile and a half south, but they were unwilling to allow us to land the dinghy there for dinner.

Louise on her way in to Daddy Joe's for our anniversary dinner.

Daddy Joe's at least had WiFi, and after we were seated we learned that Sunday nights they have a Rake and Scrape band. We like Rake and Scrape, and the band started up just as we finished our meal, so we stayed for a couple of numbers. This group was not nearly as good as the ones we heard in Georgetown, however, and clearly the restaurant was not set up for dancing (at least not that early in the evening), so we left after the two songs and headed back to the beach.

Scalar on the beach, after dinner. That's Gaulding Cay in the background.

All in all it was a very nice evening, with good Bahamian food in a nice environment. The tide had come up since we landed, so no paddling required on the return trip, and we were back at Vector just as the daylight was fading. We had the whole cove to ourselves, a perfect end to the evening.  Our sunset view was a giant American Eagle in a cloud formation.

The American Eagle symbol in the sky, blocking our sunset.

Our cruise Sunday was equally delightful, along the steep rocky cliffs of the western shore of northern Eleuthera. The cliffs are periodically interrupted by small coves, which collect the passing sand onto gorgeous white beaches. Along the cliffs, the water is deep right up to the shore. In places, the shoreline is dotted with expensive homes, some of which have elaborate stair and ladder systems to access the emerald green water.

"Beach" houses with stairway access to the water.

We passed the lovely Alabaster Bay with its quaint resort shortly after leaving Governors Harbour. Further along we passed the major settlement of Alice Town and its protected harbor, Hatchet Bay, formerly a pond before a channel was blasted to it, part of a failed cattle-ranching venture. Several sailboats and a couple of smaller power boats were taking refuge there from the very storm in whose midst we now find ourselves. The harbor is tricky and unattractive, and without needing that sort of protection we continued on.

Coastal cliffs of northern Eleuthera.

Between there and here is the settlement of Gregory Town. There is a small cove with a dock there, but no protected place to anchor. In more settled weather it would make a nice stop, with provisions, a couple of restaurants, and surfer bar where Lenny sometimes makes an appearance.

We're quite happy to be here, all by ourselves, in a spot that is fairly protected from all but westerlies. In the course of this storm, which likely has some rotating component, we've swung around in a full circle, but there has never been enough west wind to roil the sea state. The lightning did get very, very close while I've been typing. But it's a beautiful spot, and we have enough WiFi sporadically to get text messages in and out.

Storm all around us, as seen on our radar set.

Returning to that subject, yesterday was a waterloo of sorts for our electronics. We joked that apparently what husbands give their wives for a 12th anniversary is tech support. The incredibly coincidental timing of multiple failures even had me wondering if there was some sort of nearby EMP.

It started with my cell phone, which suffered the exact same failure it had back in Georgetown my first week there. At least I recognized the symptoms and I knew that restoring from a whole-image backup would get it working again, albeit with a resultant hill to climb to restore all my data. But at this point, my phone was the only Internet access that we had in this spot, and, to boot, the restore process would briefly incapacitate it even as a voice phone, leaving us with only the two-way radios to communicate with the outside world.

We remembered seeing some open WiFi signals on the way in to the anchorage, and reasoned that we could move the boat a mile in one direction or the other and get on line, even if the connectivity was spotty. So we prepared to get under way, and I went to load the signal strength survey screen for our external WiFi amplifier on the helm computer. No response...

Louise allowed how she had lost access to the WiFi amp shortly before we started getting ready to weigh anchor. I spent the next three hours troubleshooting the amplifier, even taking it down from the mast and jury-rigging cables inside the cabin. I never learned what the problem was, but after much prodding I was finally able to communicate with it. I put it back on the mast and we were ready to get under way.

We never did find a truly usable WiFi signal, but this spot has just enough signal that we drift on and off line sporadically, allowing background apps to pick up our email and text messages. Today's heavy rain has all but killed the signal completely, and I am typing into a text file for upload later when we have more signal.

After we anchored I spent most of the rest of the day trying to restore my cell phone. I had made another complete, working backup in March after I got everything back to normal in Georgetown, so I did not have to go back in and completely reprogram things for the Bahamas again, as I did in that episode. But still, six weeks is a long time (image backups are very disruptive -- it's not something you do every day or even every week), and I once again had to figure out which apps and data to restore from the post-crash backup. First world yacht problems.

Somewhere in all of this, Louise's phone also started acting up. Her phone can not be made to work in the Bahamas, so she's had it in "airplane" mode since we arrived, using WiFi connectivity to send and receive text messages. Now all of a sudden her phone was telling her it was February 17th. This final coincidence is what had me wondering if we cruised into the Bahama Triangle...

Cell phones get their date and time from the cellular network, and being off that network for over two months would certainly account for her clock getting a little out of sync, but reverting to February is beyond the pale. I'm not sure what the problem there was, but Android lets you override the network time and set it manually, which is what she had to do.

All is back to normal now, except for a handful of my apps which I am sure I will discover later are out of sync. We should be able to get back on the Internet using my phone, just as soon as I take it out of the microwave. I need to do a full sync as well, but I'll go back to Daddy Joe's or some other place with good WiFi to do that rather than eat through our very expensive cellular data.

From here it is either one long day or preferably one short and one moderate day to get to New Providence. If we make it there before they leave, we will try to reconnect with Blossom at the Palm Cay Marina on the southeast corner of the island. That's probably a long shot, because the exact conditions we'll need to finish the run to New Providence -- good daylight and winds less than 20 -- are the conditions Blossom will need for their return to the Exumas, their next stop. Still I hope we'll see them one more time here in the Bahamas.

Whether or not we stop at Palm Cay, we will probably spend a couple of days in Nassau. We like the hustle and bustle of a commercial port, and as a cruiser, it's one of those places that everyone needs to do at least once. There's no place to anchor, and dinghy theft is something of an issue there, so we will probably be at a marina for a night or two, just long enough to re-provision and maybe see Atlantis or one of the other tourist traps attractions on Paradise Island.

From Nassau we will need good weather to cross the Tongue of the Ocean to the gap between the northern end of Andros and the southern end of the Berry Islands. Depending on how early we get there, we might spend a few days cruising Andros or the Berries until we need to cross the bank to Bimini. That's a two-day crossing, and we need to be at Bimini a full day before our guests arrive.

Up until a day or two ago, that pesky thing called "work" was dictating a schedule for our guests, one which had us lining up various options to get them to a major airport by the end of the month. But that work commitment evaporated and we've been informed there is now no such mandate, which opens up more options moving forward from Bimini.

The end-of-month deadline meant we'd need to head to any of Nassau, Freeport, Palm Beach, Savannah, or possibly Charleston shortly after leaving Bimini. Without that schedule, though, we are free to wait in the western part of the country until we get a nice three-day weather window, which would let us ride the Gulf Stream all the way to Virginia. We've never done that many straight days in the ocean before, but with three or four watchstanders on board (depending on motion sensitivity), it should be a piece of cake compared to our previous double-handed passages.

While that would mean once again missing trying to connect with friends in Savannah, it makes a lot more sense from both a fuel consumption and schedule standpoint to get us back to the northeast. If we can get a head start like this, we might make it all the way to Maine this year, and/or finally get a bit further up the Potomac to visit Washington, DC.


  1. Well, we will excuse one more pass by Savannah without saying hello, but we will expect a full visit as you head south in the fall. Sounds as if you are having a great time in the Bahamas, as we always did. It is a parallel universe that few get to experience as you have. Smooth sailing.

  2. Happy anniversary! The 4th was our 30th. While we are glad that you are on the water now, it really doesn't give us any good information on where to boondock like your travels in Odyssey did. ;)

    Congrats and enjoy!

    Pat and Nancy


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