01/01/2012, Marsh Harbour, Abacos
Strategies For Maintaining Connectivity In the Bahamas
When in the US, we primarily relied upon Verizon cellular and wireless (Verizon MiFi) to stay connected. However, Verizon coverage does not extend to the Bahamas. Once across the Gulf Stream, we lost our phone and internet service. We have discovered that there are several options available for cruisers to remain connected while in the Bahamas.
CELL PHONE: BaTelCo offers a prepaid phone service that provides a local phone number, and the ability to receive and make calls within the Bahamas and to/from the US. We purchased a phone for $30, a Sim Card for $17, and can now make local calls for .33/min, and calls to the US for around $1.00/min. Because of the cost, we use this phone mostly as an emergency phone where we can be reached directly if needed. For routine calls, we prefer SKYPE when internet service is available.
SKYPE: When we are connected to the internet, SKYPE is a less costly option to call the US at around .02/min. It works both with the computer as well as the Iphone, and call quality is nearly equal to cellular.
INTERNET: Most marinas have WiFi, but the signals tend to be weak even at the dock. A high-powered antenna, such as the Bullet HP-2, is mandatory for connecting to these sites. There are very few unsecured hotspots. However, Bahamas wide wireless internet is available through Bahamas WiMax or OutIsland Wireless, and is the only reliable option when away from a dock. Typical costs for this service is around $150/2months, and is less expensive with longer contracts. Subscription to one of these services will provide service to most anchorages, again with the help of a a signal booster.
RADIO: A SSB receiver is essential for receiving detailed weather broadcasts and monitoring the cruiser nets. A SSB transmitter is useful for keeping in touch with other boats at longer distances, and for backup emergency communications when outside VHF/cell range. VHF cruiser nets in places like Marsh Harbor are the primary means for communicating local weather, events, and messages.
OTHER: We have a NAVTEX receiver (Furuno NX-300), which is a good backup for weather information, and basically duplicates what is available on SSB and the internet. Since it constantly receives and stores individual reports, the data is always available if we miss a scheduled SSB broadcast.
Ceili Moored in Hope Town Harbour, near Hope Town Light
We arrived in Hope Town Thursday, after a short trip from Man O' War Cay. It is a well protected harbor with an interesting history.
"Transient fishermen, wreckers, and pirates knew of Hope Town's well protected Harbour and undoubtedly made use of it during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but there was no permanent settlement at Hope Town until after the American Revolution (1775-1783). Those who opposed this war for independence and favored continued association with Great Britain was called loyalists, and they were not welcomed in the new United States. Several groups of these political refugees arrived in Abaco in 1783 and 1784; they established settlements on Great Abaco Island which they hoped would grow into great mercantile centers.
This dream was not to be, but in 1785 a small group of the refugees settled in Hope Town. Wyannie Malone and her four children, formerly of Charleston, South Carolina, were among them, and the loyalists were soon joined by migrants from Harbour Island, Eleuthera, an older Bahamian settlement. An economy based on subsistence fishing as well as farming made the settlement viable, though it was certainly not prosperous. It did become the most significant settlement in Southern Abaco, and it was a seat for local government in Abaco until 1959.
During Hope Town's slow but steady growth during much of the nineteenth century, its economy was supplemented by the salvaging of cargoes from ships which wrecked on Elbow Reef lying just east of the town. Some wrecks brought relative prosperity for a few months, but then the town returned to subsistence fishing and farming. Wrecking ceased to be important after the construction of the Hope Town lighthouse in 1863. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century's many of Hope Town's residents became engaged in producing goods for export to the United States. These included pineapples during the 1880's and later sisal and sponges and lumber; the population of the town grew to about one thousand persons. Each of these commodities seemed, at first, to be the economic salvation of the town, but then simply provided sustenance for a period of years before being eclipsed by some new activity. During World War I inflated freight rated led to the construction of large schooners in Hope Town, culminating with the launching of the 150-foot Abaco, Bahamas in 1922. Unfortunately, freight rates declined after the end of World War I, and the vessel was uneconomic by the time it was launched. Hope Town failed to become a center for shipping, but the 1920's were years which brought change to the lives of the people of Hope Town.
In 1923 a diesel-powered mail boat provided Hope Town with its first motorized mail and freight service to Nassau, and in 1924 a wireless station at Hope Town provided the settlement with its first direct communications link with the outside world. Despite these modernization, Hope Town's economy remained depressed, and many persons, especially young people, left the town to find work in Nassau or in Florida. It was not until after the depression and World War II that Hope Town gained new viability as a tourist destination. First yachtsmen came. Some of them purchased land and built winter retreats. Later small tourists resorts were built and in 1959 the opening of an airport on Great Abaco Island made Hope Town much more accessible for tourists from the United States. Hope Town's present prosperity is based, in large part, on the continuing growth of tourism, but during the 1980's there were still men in Hope Town who fished from Abaco dinghies for a living.
Residential electric service and telephones came to Hope Town only during the last half of the twentieth century, and motorized traffic is still limited on its streets in the twenty first century. Hope Town remains, for the most part, a walking town. Clearly much of the past survives in Hope Town alongside the new and the modern, making Hope Town a very unique and charming place."
On Thursday night, we were able to join locals, tourists and cruisers singing Christmas carols from door to door in town. A local dish, Souse, was provided after the caroling outside the local clinic. This is a chicken stew with Bahamian spices, and is quite good(see Links for recipe). Yesterday, we explored the town, and spent some time Christmas shopping. Two small shops provide all of the local goods, and shopping was quite easy. Yesterday, a shipment of food and alcohol arrived from Marsh Harbor via surplus navy LST, and so we also dropped by the local grocery and liquor store as well. We plan to have Christmas dinner at the Abaco Inn tomorrow.
We have posted a new photo album "Hope Town".
Forget Kilowatts....How About Amp Hours?
One of our biggest concerns while cruising has been energy management. Before leaving on this trip, we tried to anticipate our energy needs by upgrading our electrical system, anticipating that we would have little opportunity to plug into shore power, and would need to rely mostly on self generated power.
We installed a house bank of 6 AGM batteries, totalling 600 amp/hours. A balmar 100 amp high output alternator on the engine, managed by a ARS 5 smart regulator provides primary battery charging. This is augmented by solar panels (130 watts) and an Air-x marine wind generator. We also installed a Magnum 2000 watt inverter/100 amp charger to provide AC power and to charge batteries if needed from a portable Yamaha 2000 watt generator.
Our biggest energy consumers are our refrigeration (about 80 Ah/day) and our inverter, which suprisingly consumes about the same energy as the refrigerator, if left on continuously. We have learned to shut off the inverter when not in use, to eliminte this power hog. When motoring on the ICW, our alternator was able to keep us fully charged. When anchored, though, we can sit only 2-3 days before needing to recharge. Solar and wind power are not sufficient to supply our needs for longer periods. In this case, we can recharge using the Yamaha generator feeding the charger in 2-3 hours, rather than running the main engine.
In retrospect, more solar panels(maybe doulbling what we now have) would be the answer, especially in the southern latitudes. Finding a place to put them, though, is another matter. Solar, one installed, is low maintenace and less prone to failure than the other systems, as we have discovered.
As we were leaving RI, our alternator began to put excessive voltage into the batteries, and this was traced to a bad regulator, which was replaced (lesson: travel with a backup alternator and regulator). Last week, as we were motoring to Man O' War Cay, we noticed an electrical burning smell in the engine compartment, as we were charging our deeply discharged house bank underway. Unsure of the cause, and anxious to prevent a fire, we pulled the fuse on the alternator, effectively shutting it down for the remainder of the trip. Once anchored, we removed the alternator and inspected it and the wiring. A loose connection where the alternator output feeds the battery main had resulted in shorting and some insulation burning. Vibration from the engine had likely caused this, and now we will pay more attention to these high amperage connections.