Thursday, May 17, 2018

Albert Town

We are anchored just off the northwest shore of Long Cay, near the community of Albert Town (map). Long Cay is the smallest of three major islands forming the Crooked/Acklins atoll, the other two being Crooked Island to our north and east, and Acklins Island to our south and east. In the center of the atoll is the shallow Bight of Acklins.

Scalar tied off the beach at Albert Town. Vector is in the distant background.

Monday we weighed anchor at Datum Bay and began our cruise north to Long Cay. Looking at the weather and realizing we might have a now-or-never window to cross to Long Island, we turned northwest to make the crossing of the Crooked Island Passage, making for South Point on Long Island. The plotter said we could have the anchor down in the lee of the island by 5pm, a bit late to be coming in to an area littered with coral, but acceptable.

Seas built as we got further and further from the lee of the Acklins atoll, but they were behind us and we hardly felt them. Louise even went downstairs to sew, while I worked on charts and routes and what we would do after that first night, since the lee of South Point would provide little protection as winds and seas built and clocked further south of east.

This open pavilion above the beach and pier might be the most intact structure on Long Cay.

Getting into safe harbor on the back side of Long Island requires a long trip over the bank and through a shallow channel known as the Comer Channel. This channel is less than six feet deep at low tide, and Vector can safely pass only at high tide. The tide tables showed a high at 10am or 9pm, neither of which could work for us.

It's 50-odd miles from any lee anchorage along the south end of the island to the shallow part of the channel, some eight hours or so for Vector. To make a 10am tide we'd have to anchor overnight somewhere past the halfway mark, and there's no shelter in these conditions anywhere nearby. Likewise it is unsafe to travel after dark, or really even past 5pm or so when the sun is still high enough to see the corals.

Welcome to... not much. I'm blotting out the photos of the landmarks.

We considered making for the Jumentos or Raggeds after the tip of Long Island, taking the long way around on the bank, and waiting there a few days for a more favorable tide at the Comer Channel. But the forecast is for 30kt of wind, and eight footers or more in the open water, and the Jumentos just don't provide enough cover to the bank for those conditions. Our fear was that we could end up tucked behind a rather marginally protective Cay and then be pinned there for a week or more, rolling or pitching and with no Internet access at all.

Reluctantly, we again changed course after about ten miles, making essentially a 90 turn to starboard to come here. That put the seas directly on the beam and we cranked up the fins and the engine rpm to counter it. Seas got progressively better as we  moved more and more back into the lee of the islands; we rounded the westernmost point of Long Cay and continued here, to where my chart showed a break in the coral that would let us get closer to shore.

What used to be the store. And maybe the bar. Most of the houses look like this, too.

We passed two sailboats headed south toward Salinas Point, intending to cross to Great Inagua -- clearly saltier sailors than us. And there were two catamarans that spent the first night with us here, one of whom had been with us in Datum Bay. They, too, cleared out in the morning, bound possibly for Long Island.

We worked our way in past a number of patch reefs and coral bommies to a wide area of clear sand, and dropped our hook at the upwind end. We payed out only enough chain to keep us swinging clear of the corals we had passed, and took a good set to withstand the forecast high winds. We settled in and enjoyed a nice dinner on deck.

We followed the sound of diesels to the power station.

We are anchored across from a pristine white sand beach, in turquoise water. Just a couple hundred feet behind us, the bottom drops off sharply, and the transition from turquoise to deep blue is abrupt. The turquoise in all directions is punctuated by dark patches of coral. It's an idyllic scene, with the only signs of civilization being the BaTelCo (BTC) cell tower, a pair of street lights, and a couple of rooftops just under a mile away. The cell tower and the tiny settlement are the reasons we anchored here rather than further along the beach.

Tuesday we splashed the tender and went ashore to explore. The concrete pier that used to serve as the town dock (well, the oceanside one, anyway; there is another one a mile across the island on the bight side) long ago ceased to be usable and so we beached the dinghy, using our new home-made bungee anchor rode to hold the tender off the beach.

The generator shack was wide open, the sound of a diesel emanating from within. No need for security here.

We scrambled up the rocks to the landing to find a large "Welcome to Long Cay" sign, complete with photos of the two landmarks here: the oldest jail in the Bahamas, whose ruins still stand, and the altar of the two-century-old Anglican church. The cay was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and was one of the first populated settlements in the Bahamas.

Sadly, the town is almost gone, ravaged in 2015 by Hurricane Joaquin and never rebuilt, then evacuated and pummeled again by the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. Joaquin claimed the El Faro with all souls aboard just 40 miles from here. Our guidebooks said we would find a small store here, a BTC office, a telephone, and a lot of friendly residents. In reality, the store is destroyed, the retail portion of the BTC office is shuttered, the phone booth is flattened, and we saw only two humans in the whole town. Perhaps four or five of the dozen structures are still habitable. The landmark church is mostly collapsed.

Superman can not change here. Or make a call.

Thankfully, the tiny power station, consisting of a diesel generator and an enormous fuel tank, is still operating, as is the cell tower. The reverse osmosis water plant appears to be working, and we found water pressure and clean water at the spigot in the town square, near the dinghy landing.

We strolled the entire settlement, which took just a half hour. I would have liked to walk up to the ruins of the church and the jail, but our way was blocked by a small herd of goats, and we did not want to disturb them. We saw no sign of any going concerns here; the handful of residents still left (the 2010 census listed just 29 people, and it's a mere fraction of that now) appear to be surviving on subsistence fishing, tending garden, and herding goats.

The water plant. In-ground cistern at right foreground has been replaced by poly tanks. The RO machine is in the small, intact but shuttered building.

We're fully provisioned and so the lack of a store or bar is not a hardship for us. But I had harbored some hope of buying a top-up for our BTC SIM card either at the store or at the BTC office. That's not going to happen and so we are getting by on our other Bahamian SIM, from Aliv, the competitive carrier that came into the market in the last two years. Aliv has no tower here, so the service roams onto BTC, which by itself is not an issue. And we have an unlimited data plan, good for seven days.

The problem we have here is twofold. A BTC SIM would fix the first one: for whatever reason, the Aliv service just stops working periodically. And by periodically, I mean anywhere from five minutes to five hours. To fix it, I need to either reboot my phone, or, more expediently, delete, then reconfigure, the APN. I've set up a bogus APN and so all I need do to restart the Internet is push the radio button for the bogus APN and then the radio button for the correct Aliv APN; I just keep the APN setting screen open all the time. But it's tedious, especially when failures are coming every few minutes.

The second problem is simply that this tower, serving, as it does, perhaps only a dozen customers, has very limited bandwidth. We see throughput of about 500 kbps, bursting to 1 mbps. It's on a microwave link, so round trip latency is always at least 250 mSec, and often much more. All that said, we're very glad it's here and it's working. It's tedious to do something even as simple as getting this blog post out, but at least we have access to everything we need.

Vector swinging over this living coral bommie.

With the constant 20-30kt breeze out here on the water, the temperature is very comfortable. Not so while wandering around ashore, and so when we returned to Vector we stripped down and jumped in for a refreshing swim. After cooling off I donned my mask and snorkel to check out our environs. As planned, Vector is swinging over a coral bommie, the chain safely far enough forward to not be a threat. What we could not tell when we were setting the anchor, though, is that the chain is snagging on a couple of skeletal coral remains.

These long-dead corals are essentially the same color as the surrounding sand, and are often covered with that sand, and so from above the surface some 15 feet up, they can't really be seen. They are scattered through this area so re-setting the anchor in a slightly different spot will not really help. We can move significantly closer to shore, picking our way through a few more patches, to find some clear sand -- we sounded the depths in the tender and we can get quite a bit closer. If we need to remain here for more than another day we'll have to do something, as the abrasion will damage the chain. Also, new life does try to take root on these skeletal remains and we don't want to damage it.

Chain snagging on dead coral. A hint of life can be seen at the top, trying to gain a foothold.

Most likely we will weigh anchor tomorrow and try to move up to Landrail Point, the settlement at the northwest corner of Crooked Island. Landrail might have more services, and I am pretty sure the cell tower is faster, since we were using it when we passed the island a month ago. The catch is that the protection there is strictly from the east and maybe a touch northeast. Protection here is solidly southeast and that is the wind direction. So we'll make the two hour cruise and see if it's comfortable, and if not we'll come right back this way.

Tuesday morning before we tendered ashore, we ripped apart the floor on the port side of the master stateroom, bringing the vinyl flooring to the foredeck for a fresh water rinse, and popping all the hatches to access the bilge. We brought the fresh water hose and sprayer down below, hooked it to the spigot in the engine room, and hosed down the subfloor and the bilges. All told I vacuumed about a gallon of salt water and two or three gallons of fresh water out of the bilges before we set up the box fan to dry it out. In the process I dropped the vacuum on my foot, giving myself a purple toe and a good reminder why medical emergencies in remote places are bad.

Our anchor, flukes fully buried and chain barely visible.

With no reason to return to town or even ashore, we decked the tender when we returned, and so we're really just pinned on the boat until this weather passes. I'm doing projects; yesterday I refurbished what was left of the dinghy propeller from its impromptu diving expedition in Provo. Louise is quilting as usual and also doing laundry. The latter requires a good deal of water, so we've been running the watermaker daily.

Our watermaker, despite significant service in Fort Lauderdale, is not working as it should. Rated at 300 gallons per day (12.5 per hour), it is producing an average of less than half that. We refurbished the high pressure pump and replaced the feed pump head in Fort Lauderdale, and I've gone through the electrics, so it's really down to the feed pump motor itself. We'll get it tested when we're back in the states, but for now we have to make do.

Albert Town "town square," complete with exhortation to keep the island clean.

We haven't put a drop of city water in the boat since leaving Key West over two months ago, and so now the entire contents of the tank consists of RO water that we've made. RO water is, of course, perfectly safe, but it tastes funny (if you've ever taken a swig of distilled water you'll know what I mean) and it's too "soft" for my taste when it comes to showering. The taste is not an issue for me because I usually don't drink plain water, preferring powdered drink mix. Louise has been adding unsweetened flavoring to the water in the SodaStream to make it palatable.

We're pinned down now between here and Landrail Point for the foreseeable future. We check the forecast every day to see when a small window might open to make the five-hour run across Crooked Island Passage to South Point. With any luck, such a window will coincide with a tide window to get through the Comer Channel and into the relative protection of the bank west of Long Island.


  1. When we were boating in the Bahamas in the 90's, our water maker produced the best tasting water ever. We were really spoiled. Just wondering if maybe your membranes need to be cleaned or replaced. If there is a blockage in the membrane(s), that could be the reason for your reduced output.

  2. Looks like you've added a new dimension to "boondocking"!

  3. I cannot find out where to register for your blog.

  4. Sorry. Name is Fred Gharis


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