Thursday, March 12, 2020

Accidental Preppers

We are under way eastbound across the Great Bahamas Bank, after just a bit more than a week in Bimini. Today was our first window where we could expect a relatively comfortable night at anchor mid-bank. We lost our Internet connection a short while ago, and we won't see a signal again until tomorrow afternoon. The news we left behind was gloomy, and we're almost nervous to see what we'll find in our inbox after a full day offline.

When we arrived in Bimini eight days ago, seas were already building, winds were high, and a big blow was forecast out of the north, lasting several days. We were happy to find space at the historic Browns Marina to shelter from the storm, next to our good friend John aboard Division Belle. John snapped a photo of the two boats together.

John had rented a golf cart to run his hired crew up to the seaplane base on Thursday, and he lent it to us in the afternoon. We took a spin around the island, refreshing our memories of Alice Town, Bailey Town, and the enormous Resorts World complex at the north end of the island, where we had stayed briefly in the ritzy marina on a previous visit.

Thursday evening the three of us drove up to the Bimini Big Game Club, also historic, for some dinner. We had talked about stopping into the famed End of the World Saloon, also known as the Sand Bar, for a beer first, but we all found the place to be too loud for comfort. In fact, our aft deck was just perhaps 20 yards from their patio, and so we never missed out on any of the music, which seemed to be the same sound track daily. The place was dead the whole time we were there.

Division Bell and Vector at Browns Marina. Photo: John Samford

Browns is historic in large part because it's where Hemingway docked when he was in town. He was also known to stay at the Compleat Angler hotel, the charred remains of which can be seen on the walk to Big Game. John remembers it from before it burned down in 2006, and shared a few of his memories with us. You should check out John's blog post for more information and pictures.

Big Game was our last meal ashore while we were at Browns, but we did try to get off the boat each evening and stroll through Alice Town. Friday, John dropped by and gifted us a loaf of Bimini bread after he had hiked up to the bakery and back. That loaf was our breakfast for the next four days, and I also made rum cake out of it for desert Friday evening, when we had John over for dinner. He supplied the wine, so we got the better end of the deal.

Saturday John bid us farewell, taxied up to the seaplane base at Resorts World, and flew back to Fort Lauderdale, where he rented a car for the drive back to Savannah. He is understandably avoiding commercial flights right now. Their overall plan for this season's Bahamas cruise had been to do stints of a couple of weeks or so on the boat, flying back home between excursions, but now that plan is in question. We wish them the best of luck and smooth motoring whatever they decide to do.

As the news has gotten more and more dire each day we've been in-country, and the real scope of the pandemic becomes evident, we have found ourselves thankful for our current situation. While sitting in Bimini for a week, at a dock we would not need save for the weather, was tedious and expensive, the last-minute scramble to provision the boat for a three-month cruise could not have been better timed, yet completely accidental. Our final provisioning runs at Costco, Walmart, and Publix found the stores well-stocked with everything, and yet by our third day offshore we were hearing about critical supply shortages of everything from bottled water to toilet paper.

John also took this screen shot of our two boats on Marine Traffic, after departing our respective ports.

I myself am pushing the lower bound of the high-risk age group for this virus, and before we made the decision to continue east from Bimini, the thought did cross our minds that we are getting further and further from easy access to good medical care. But we have balanced that with the fact that there is hardly any better "social distancing" than to be on a boat at sea with an occasional stop at a sparsely populated remote island with no airport or cruise terminal.

For now we have opted to stay the course and continue our cruise to the Exumas. With nearly three months of provisions on board, and a full medical kit including two oxygen cylinders, we've decided that, for us personally, this is the best course of action. We have no schedule and no commitments, so it is subject to change at a moments notice, should an even more conservative course of action become indicated.

As long as we were pinned down in a marina with nothing much to do in the neighborhood, I set about getting some work done around the boat. And first up on the project list is the ever-problematic water maker. We had, in part, diverted all the way to Fort Lauderdale on this trip to have JT-the-watermaker-guy take a look at it, and I even spoke with him at the Miami show. He's pretty booked up, but we agreed I could maybe pull the pump out and bring it to the shop.

Prior to doing that much work, I wanted some real data to give him about performance, and so we ran it in Miami for a few hows. Of course, it worked perfectly. Knowing the impossibility of diagnosing problems that can't be reproduced, we waved off disassembling the system in Fort Lauderdale. That made it inevitable that production would fall off dramatically on our crossing to Bimini.

Angel in her new under-seat box. We bought this string of plastic LED lights at Costco to replace older glass incandescent ones. We run these from the bow, over the flybridge, to the stern, like on a cruise ship.

It seems pretty clear after a few hours of troubleshooting that I have air coming in on the suction side. Probably what I really ought to do now is to replace every hose and fitting on that side of the system; it's all plastic, and now a dozen years old. The loss of suppleness in the plastic is probably at least part of the problem. But that's not really possible here in the Bahamas, and so I will continue to tweak things and tighten them down here and there to try to make an improvement.

The other big project I started was to replace the navigation lights on the dinghy. After being flagged down by the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg when they could not see them from their vantage point, I finally decided to do something about the poorly positioned side lights. These are affixed to either side of the steering pod, which means they can be blocked by the high bow of the boat if we're both sitting in the back. The port one can be blocked by anyone seated forward. And they are off-center to starboard.

Before we left the US, I had collected most of the parts to replace these with a single combination light right at the bow, which involves a glue-down mount for the forward tube. I fabricated an adapter plate to mount the single LED fixture to this, and ran wires all the way through the bilge to the stern and back forward to the steering pod, where the light switch is located.

While I was inside the pod wiring it all up, I discovered that the retrieving tube for the cable steering had slipped off, which explained an odd clunk we'd heard on hard left rudder the last couple of times we took it out. I had to cobble together a new retrieving tube from some vinyl hose I had in my spares.

The newest anchorage on Bimini, already seeing plenty of use.

The forecast winds arrived as promised, and we had a wild and woolly afternoon and night on Saturday. Sunday morning the super-moon spring tides made for a low of -0.5', and that combined with north wind blowing water out of the bay had us brushing the bottom in our slip.

By Monday the winds had laid down some, but still not enough, at least in the morning, to persuade us to leave the dock. But by Tuesday morning things were much better, and, tired of paying for a marina we did not need, we dropped lines and headed north to the anchorage. The marina was very kind, and for cash payment charged me at the weekly rate rather than the daily one, even though it had been just six nights. If we need a marina here again, Browns will be our choice.

The anchorage is two miles north, past the Resorts World marina. This anchorage did not even exist on our first visit, having been created since then by dredging for resort expansion. There is room up here for maybe a dozen boats now, perhaps the best-kept secret in Bimini. Like many such things, it won't last, as the same development activity that created it will some day make it unusable, or at least smaller.

On our way up the channel we could see an enormous cruise ship across the island, tied up to the cruise/ferry pier that the resort had built a few years ago. AIS told us it was the Scarlet Lady, which I later learned is the first in a planned fleet of cruise ships operated by Virgin. It has not even officially launched, with the inaugural cruise planned to depart Miami on March 26th.

The Resort World "mega" marina from our anchorage. Mostly empty.

What on earth, I wondered, was it doing here? A bit more digging revealed that Virgin contracted with Resorts World to build them a private oasis, to be called The Beach Club, and Virgin plans to have all their cruises stop here, in much the same way that Princess has a private area on Eleuthera called "Princess Cays," Holland America has a private island they call Half Moon Cay (really San Salvador), Disney has a beach in the Abacos, etc.

The Beach Club area is down by (but separate from) Resort World's "beach club" restaurant, where we tendered in from anchor a few years ago. I presume they will shuttle passengers from the pier using buses or trams. Since Virgin is not carrying any passengers yet, we can only assume the ship was here for some sort of dry run, or maybe as part of getting things set up and procedures worked out. She left some time during the night.

The newer, more recently dredged section of the anchorage seemed full when we arrived, with a half dozen sailboats in it, who had probably ridden out the blow there. We dropped the hook closer to the resort docks (map). This would prove to be a mistake later, but it looked innocent enough with the resort docks nearly empty.

We splashed the tender and I explored all of the new dredged areas for the new villa development, stretching northward perhaps another mile now. I also dropped by the dockmaster's office to get permission to tie the tender up for dinner. We came back in the evening and tied up right in front of the new Hilton hotel on the property, where three of the restaurants are located.

The Hilton as seen on our way out. Too early for the frat boys to be partying at the rooftop pool.

I'm not sure why we did not expect this here in mid-March, but the resort was running week-long Spring Break promotions, and the hotel was packed with 18-20 year-olds in board shorts and thong bikinis. The "proper attire required" dress code was right out the window, and they wandered through the lobby, the bars, the restaurants, and the casino. We ate at Hemingways in the casino, because it was the only venue where we could even hear each other. We were the oldest patrons in the room by a factor of at least two.

We enjoyed strolling the grounds a little before returning to Vector. On our way home, we noticed stage lighting outdoors at the pool area near where we were anchored, and a bit of digging online into the Spring Break event schedule revealed that Tuesday night was dance music from 10pm-3am with a lineup of DJs. By this time it was pitch dark in the anchorage and too late to move the boat, so we just endured it. It was actually not too bad, considering how close we were.

Tuesday night was the first test of the new dinghy lights, with the mounting pad just taped in place. Yesterday I made final adjustments and glued it down. With no music scheduled for the pool deck in the evening, we just stayed put. After our experience at the Hilton the previous evening, we decided to tender down to the other end of the marina, which used to be known as "Fishermen's Village," to eat at the pizza joint there that we remembered from our last visit.

Even though the pizza place was still listed on the web site and the resort maps, it's clearly been closed for a while, along with most of the rest of the Village. We stopped in the little convenience store to find they still have milk, eggs, ice cream, and other hard-to-find items, so at least the resort is still trying to cater to their marina guests. We ended up right back at the Hilton where we ate in the sushi bar. The spring breakers, now on day three, were looking a bit more shop-worn; the only reason to come to Bimini for break is because the drinking age is 18.

Fishermen's Village marina on our way out. Nearly empty save for the Nordhavn 76 "Take 5" at right.

Update: We are anchored on the bank, a mile south of the sailing line (map). With an early start this morning, we arrived at Mackie Shoal, our usual stopping point, a bit early. Seas had built into the afternoon, and we opted to continue on until cocktail hour to get the benefit of our stabilizers, and make it a shorter day tomorrow. It's quite bumpy here, and we'll have a bit of pitch overnight.

After dinner we decided to get some news by turning on our DirecTV. Even though I had fired it up in Bimini just to keep it synched, we got the dreaded "refresh receiver" error after it acquired signal. There is no way to refresh the receiver without access to either the Internet or a phone call, and so we remain in blackout tonight. It's too bumpy to do much else, so I watched Ender's Game from our DVD collection (not recommended) and Louise played solitaire on her laptop.

In the morning we will weigh anchor early and get back under way to get the stabilizers working again. We should be back in Internet coverage in the afternoon, when I can upload this post, and I expect to be anchored off Chub Cay mid-afternoon some time.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the boat porn, you have no idea how much a lot of us look forward to seeing your posts Sean!


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