01 March 2017 | Exumas
EVS: Wonderful (followed by WINDY)
All sailors, and most people for that matter, look forward to glory days – when the conditions are “just right”. For sailors, that means sufficient winds in the right direction for heady sailing, calm sea state, blue skies, and favorable companions. (In our boat yard, there is a boat named Glory Days and her former owners proudly sailed her all over the Bahamas and beyond, relishing in their time together. After she was sold a few years ago to a new owner, he started to update and rejuvenate the vessel. Unfortunately, like so many dreams, he found the reality far different from his imaginings. A fuel tank had ruptured, electric wiring and components needed to be replaced, the rigging was rotten, etc. He placed a new home port beneath her name so that her transom now reads “Glory Days My Ass”.)
Off times, when we and others are out and trying to get from point A to point B, the winds are too light, too strong, or in the wrong direction. As a result, sailboats often are found to be motoring (or motor sailing) simply to get where the crews intend. This has sparked all kinds of joking comments – what are those sticks in the air [masts] for anyway? (One friend recently discovered a good use for them – she hauled her cell phone up to the top to catch a distant cell signal and create a hot spot on her boat.) Or, “hey, what are those white things [sails] you have up in the air?”
Of course, there are the occasions when the conditions are just right and we have had a number of wonderful sailing days when we have made good time and enjoyed the absence of engine noise and the chance to listen to the surge of waves and hull through the sea. On our return from the Jumentos Cays, we had strong winds that enabled two days of broad and then close reaching with exceptional and consistent speed. The first day, we averaged about 7.5 knots, with some exceedances. (See photo). The second day became more stressful as the wind shifted closer to our bows, increased in velocity to over 20 knots, and varied considerably (from 14-21 knots) over the course of 30-60 seconds – and every 30-60 seconds it seemed. Finally, tiring of the “hunting” that Gratitude (and her auto pilot) were doing [i.e. rounding up in a gust and falling off in a lull], we put a reef in the main and partially furled the genoa. That reduced our speed somewhat but made for a much more comfortable and controlled ride.
So, we have had several glorious days of sailing, plain and simple and we have relished each one. Now, we are starting the trek north and, as always, have to temper our desire to stay put and explore with the need to keep moving to cover some ground. From the Exumas, where we are now, we will head to Spanish Wells, a favorite settlement at the north end of Eleuthera, and thence to the Abacos, where we last ventured in 2010. There, we hope to reunite with sailing friends from our earliest days aboard Gratitude. We are sure there will be glory days along the way.
26 February 2017 | Jumentos Cays & Ragged Islands
So many of the Bahama islands are uninhabited, which is what makes them so lovely for cruisers (or “tourists” as the locals call us). Unfortunately, some of the uninhabited islands also are privately owned (think Hollywood money) and unavailable to visitors (at least when the owners and staff are around). We have been told of one island owned by a movie star whose staff will motor out to boats anchored nearby and offer the crew a bottle of wine if they will relocate. Unfortunately, we have not been the beneficiaries.
The islands that are inhabited typically are sparsely so, with more and more of the population moving to Nassau or, better yet for them, to the United States. Jobs are the issue, and Bahamians need to work to support themselves and their families like any other people. Nassau is the seat of government and financial center of the nation and resources flow there. As a result, the outer islands see their populations decline slowly, year by year. The trend is exacerbated by the fact that very few islands have high schools, and fewer still offer any post secondary education. Thus, when children reach the 7th or 8th grade, they leave their home islands and families and go to Nassau to live with relatives for further education. Once off island, and particularly if they go to the States for college or university (and many do), it is rare that they return to their home islands.
The Jumentos Cays and Ragged Islands are no exception. The only settlement in the entire chain of islands (that stretches over about 60 miles from north to south) is Duncan Town on Ragged Island, presently home to about 40 people. In 2000, a time capsule was buried to be opened in 2050 and at that time, the population was 127. Many years ago, the town was home to some 1800 people (we have heard numbers as high as 5,000, with “a piano in every home” but seeing the size and number of homes or ruins, that is beyond comprehension). The major industries at the time were fishing and salt harvesting and Duncan Town was a commercial center for trading with Cuba and beyond. (The salt beds still are there at the foot of town and families to whom plots are deeded still harvest salt from time to time. It has a slight pinkish tinge and is very tasty in cooking.) Unfortunately, like so many other industries, salt mining fell by the wayside as other operations in other lands proved more efficient. (It is much easier, faster, and cheaper to harvest salt with a bucket loader from land based salt mines than it is to flood fields [like rice paddies] repeatedly, allowing the sun to dry the salt, rake it up, and package it in barrels for export.) There is a boat channel from the Bahama bank (west) side of Ragged Island that proceeds straight into Town to the base of the hill and the government dock where fishing boats and salt barges were loaded, off-loaded, and goods were exported or imported. The channel is some 1 ½ miles long and, we were told, dug by hand. Now, it is used by a few fishing boats and dinghies from cruising boats (like ours, see the photo) going into town for water, groceries, the occasional meal out, and a chance to interact with the locals who are pleased to see us come, but no significant or heavy traffic indicating economic opportunity such as was ascribed to the past.
The question is, how long can Duncan Town hope to continue given the trend? Yes, the Defense Forces are building a new port for their ships used to intercept Cubans and Haitians fleeing their countries. (Would it be better to let the newcomers settle and repopulate the islands? We understand there is a long standing, and deep, dislike of the Haitians by Bahamians, so that might not be a viable option.) The base will include some “dormitory” like structures to house the crews. And, there are plans to build a hangar at the airport so the Batelco and Defense Forces planes can be covered from the sun, but how many jobs (post construction) and how much income will those investments throw off?
At the Valentines Day party held on the 18th, a young woman who is engaged to one of the young men on the islands, said they are planning to live in Duncan Town and she is planning a family of 5 children. She also has dreams of having a movie theater (which may consist of a sheet hung on a wall or between two trees and a projector) to provide entertainment for the people. We have seen other young people on other islands open shops, restaurants, and bars to improve their and their community’s lifestyles. We hope they are successful and are just the spark of rejuvenation the area needs. The southern islands also could benefit from a reopening of Cuba to Americans by being part of a sailing loop from Florida to and through the Bahamas to Cuba and back to Florida.
It is pretty obvious that Duncan Town is about as far away from Nassau, and the government’s attention, as it can be, so without some individual and collective emphasis, we are afraid it will die on the vine. Of course, we may be looking at this from a jaundiced perspective and may not see the forest for the (scant) trees, but we cannot help but wonder what the future holds for these islands. We would love to be here for the unveiling of the time capsule in 2050, but someone else will have to do that and tell us about it.
09 February 2017 | Hog Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
Stars are very important when aboard a boat. We take our bearings from them, we navigate by them, we marvel at them during night crossings or at anchor. One does not really appreciate how many exist or how beautiful they are until one is away from land (or at least populated areas) and lights. On a dark night, with no moon and no other lights, starlight can enable one to discern the surface of the water and sea conditions and provide assurance that the world (or at least the water) is where it is supposed to be.
Constellations have guided navigators for centuries. The Big Dipper points to Polaris, the north star, the Southern Cross (if one is in the Southern Hemisphere) points to the South Pole, as does Orion’s Belt in the Northern Hemisphere. Myriad other constellations and star groupings have guided people across the vast oceans since time immemorial. We do not use stars to our advantage in that sense – we rely on Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to tell us where we are within feet of our actual position. That, combined with radar and Automated Identification System (AIS), tells us about the location, direction, and speed of nearby vessels thereby keeping us informed and safe as we travel.
But other stars provide other benefits. Take the star fish at our anchor in 10 feet of water. We felt safe and secure knowing that the star in the photograph was keeping an eye (or at least an arm) on us and our connection to the sea bed. Here in the Jumentos we have seen literally dozens, if not hundreds of star fish of all shapes and sizes, from small (maybe 3” across) along the water’s edge at the beach to others (dinner plate size or larger) and in a variety of colors (red, to rust, to red with yellow veining). We do not know what starfish do or what “purpose” they serve other than to provide us with comfort in knowing where we are, where we are to stay, and how lovely is the environment in which we find ourselves.
27 January 2017 | En Route to Nassau
Time dimensions; are there any? Some say no, that time just is -- here, there, everywhere. Others say time is linear; that is, a straight line without variation or deviation. (Of course, that implies at least two dimensions.). Others speak of time as having multiple dimensions that accelerate, expand, or contract, depending upon the speed at which one travels. We think of time as relative, not as in Einstein’s theory correlated to speed, but to one’s attitude and condition in life.
We have experienced time moving exceedingly slowly when times are hard, when life seems unfair, when someone is in pain or just plain unhappy. In contrast, when we are happy and content, time flies by. It is then that we wish time would go more slowly (and, in contrast, when things are not going so well, we wish we could hurry time along).
This all came to mind when we stopped in Water Cay in the Berry Islands. We had completed a long crossing (from Marathon, FL to Great Harbor Cay in the northern Berry Islands of the Bahamas – 29 hours) and spent the night at Great Harbor Cay on January 26. Because the weather was forecast to deteriorate (and it did) within a few days, we decided to depart Great Harbor after only one day, not the two or three we had planned. The wind was from the East/Northeast and blowing about 15 knots when we left Great Harbor. As we rounded the top of the Berries, with all sails flying, we first headed directly into the wind and then, as we turned more southerly, we were on a beam reach southbound along the east coast of the Berry Islands. The islands are off the beaten track, largely uninhabited, many are private, and all are lovely. We experienced one of the best sails of our trip this year, making well over 7 knots. Because Water Cay is about halfway to Nassau, and the day was getting on, we decided to pull in and anchor (as had about 12 boats before us). We pulled in, found a spot, and dropped the hook near Bert and Prue, on Exuberant, who had left Marathon about a week before us. (We had been planning to cross with them to the Bahamas, but our boat issues kept us back. We were happy to catch up with them, if only to chat over the radio.) The sunset was spectacular and we recounted our first visit to Water Cay (when we had it almost to ourselves). When was that, we wondered? It turns out that we had been to Water Cay about 7 years before and it seemed like only yesterday. (The photograph shows the Department of Homeland Security decals we secure each year before leaving the United States. They act sort of like “passports” for Gratitude so that, when we return to the USA, we can report both us and our vessel returning from out of the country.)
We decided we must be enjoying ourselves, and have been for many years aboard Gratitude (this is our 9th season). We are most grateful that we have had this time to enjoy – the boat, each other, the beautiful environment we live in, and the friends we have met and shared during our time aboard. It is our hope that our contentment and happiness continues, but we sure would like the time to slow down a bit so we can enjoy it longer!
What else could go wrong?
23 January 2017 | Sister Creek, Marathon, FL
EVS: Clear, sunny, and WINDY
There are certain questions in life that should not be asked, because the answers may not be very pleasing. Are we there yet? – is one of the earliest questions people ask, and the answer usually is “no, not for another XX hours.”
What else could go wrong is our current pick for one of life’s persistent questions that should go unasked. We delayed departing the boatyard because we had projects to finish. Just as we thought we were getting done, in the process of putting the sails on Gratitude, we ripped the mainsail. Now, that is not a real problem if one can call the sail maker and get it repaired (or a new one made – to go with the new genoa on Gratitude this year), but when it happens on the day before Christmas Eve, it is a sorry state of affairs. So, while we were away over the holidays, we fortunately were able to engage the services of one of the fellow boaters in the yard to repair the tear. We departed the yard soon after New Years and thought all was well with the world. What could go wrong, right? We soon found out.
Our bank of house batteries (4 six-volt batteries each with 300 AH capacity) simply were not holding a charge. So, we decided to have them checked when we got to Marathon, where we purchased them 5 years ago, and, if necessary, replace them. Not a happy thought because they are AGM (absorbed glass mat) construction, and very expensive (about 4 times the cost of a lead acid battery). We know people who have gotten 7 years or more out of such batteries, so we were hoping for at least one more. Then, when we arrived in Marathon, we decided to defrost the freezer because (believe it or not) ice is an insulator. (When trying to get a freezer to 15 degrees, ice on the evaporator plate makes it hard for the plate to get far below 32 degrees.) That’s when the real fun began for, when we turned the freezer back on, it ran constantly and refused to pull the box below about 32 degrees. We knew we could not head to the Bahamas without getting to the bottom of that.
We had the technicians check the batteries and examine our history of use and charging. The decision was that, while not “dead”, the batteries were weak and it would not be wise to head offshore without replacing them. In the process of troubleshooting the batteries, the thought was that the low voltage and inability to hold a charge was the culprit behind the freezer not working properly. (Low voltage makes a motor work hard and not up to efficient levels; that in turn causes the batteries to fall further below the norm; and a vicious cycle is encountered.) The technician determined that the coolant in the coils was low, so he recharged them (much like a car air conditioner). When he did so, he remarked at how little the coils took and explained that the situation could be caused by a blockage in the capillary tube (a pencil lead size tube) that “sprays” liquefied coolant into the evaporator plate. When the liquid changes to a gaseous state, cooling is produced. Without enough coolant, the plate cannot function and a blockage reduces the amount of coolant that can be introduced (or prevents it altogether). The determination was that an additional test should be conducted (after a day and a half of running) to confirm the suspicion.
So, on the 19th, we up-anchored (Marathon harbor is full of boats and, while we are on a waiting list, there are no mooring balls available) and headed to one of the marinas for the removal of the old and installation of the new batteries. This was no small task as each battery weighs about 95 pounds and each has to be lifted onto the boat, down into the cabin, and up into the battery box. Of course, all that follows first removing all four old batteries (of equal weight) from the box, hauling them up out of the cabin, and off the boat onto the dock. That is about 800 pounds altogether. But, it got done and there was much discussion of our charging and operating routine so, hopefully, we can manage and maintain the new batteries better.
The freezer technician came at the same time and verified that there is indeed a blockage in the old plate, so we now are the proud owners of a new one (at about the same cost as one of the new batteries). The next day, Van got the way cleared, disconnected the old plate, removed it from the freezer (all our food had been taken ashore to the chest freezer of a kind woman, Tatianna (“Tati”), who willingly agreed to store it for a few days), and planned the installation of the new plate. With the help of our able cruising buddy Steve Patterson on Living Well, we bent the plate to fit and be mounted in the freezer, coiled the new tubing (carefully so as not to introduce a kink in the line), and started it up. Voilla! A working freezer again! Unfortunately, the photographer was occupied on other matters, so you will have to imagine Van lying on the stove top, head in the freezer holding the plate in position, whilst Steve was standing on a bucket in much the same position drilling holes and affixing screws to secure all in place. After letting the freezer run overnight, we retrieved our frozen food and have enjoyed watching the freezer cycle on and off (not run constantly) thereby enabling the compressor to operate much less frequently, with far lower drain on the batteries, resulting in happy people!
Alas, the “question that should not be asked” had been and, when we tried to start our generator, it would not go. That starting battery – less than 1 year old – would not crank over the diesel engine on the generator. We had known that the DC circuit on the generator (which produces 110 volt AC power to run the big inverter/charger that charges our house batteries and converts a small amount, via a rectifier, to DC for charging the starting battery) did not seem to be functioning properly. So, with trusty friend Steve (a retired electrical engineer) at hand, we set about trouble shooting the generator thinking we might need to replace the rectifier. It turned out at there was an inline fuse “buried” behind the engine and difficult to see, but when viewed revealed that it had corroded and disconnected. After a trip ashore to buy a new, waterproof, inline fuse holder (we bought the last one at West Marine), the wiring was completed and, after several false starts (because Van neglected to do a wiring diagram of actual conditions BEFORE taking all apart), the generator is running and charging, AC and DC.
All this reminds us of the statement the son of sailing friends told them when they were complaining of boat problems. “What you have are problems of abundance.” Recently, we heard a different expression to the same effect – these are “Park Avenue problems”, not to be confused with wondering from whence the next meal or safe shelter will come. We know we are blessed to be able to do what we do – we just wish we could do it with a little less challenge. And no, we will not ask any more questions!
We currently are sitting out a blow in Sister Creek off the main harbor of Marathon and, if conditions allow, we plan to depart Wednesday morning to do an overnight passage to Great Harbor Cay in the northern end of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. We will clear in (customs and immigration) and plan to stay there a few days before heading south.
06 January 2017 | Cayo Costa State Park
EVS: Foggy, clearing, and closing in
Finally, we are under way. We arrived at the boatyard just before Thanksgiving, with enough time to drop some stuff off and take Thumbelina to the vet/kennel, and headed to Seattle for the holiday with Erik, Catherine, Andrew, Rebecca, and Justin. (Kea flew out and joined us, which made a nice mini family reunion and gave her time to connect with the Seattle side.) After a nice holiday, we returned to FL on the 30th and set to work readying Gratitude.
There were many projects, some more major than others, and we soon realized we would not (comfortably) be able to leave the yard by December 15 as originally targeted. We planned to (and did) sand and pain the bottom; wash, buff, and wax the hull; install a new (larger) solar panel and charger (for which we had to drive to Miami); checked and repaired numerous systems and boat parts; and get Gratitude rigged and (generally) ready to sail. We took time out for Christmas on LI with Kea, Ethan, and Hunter, flying there on December 24 and returning the 30th. Gratitude was launched the 23d, so we were able to leave her on the dock and make sure refrigerator, freezer, etc. were functioning. However, just before heading out for the Christmas holiday, in the process of installing the sails (main, mizzen, and new Genoa), the main sail tore at the leach (aft edge of the sail). We called the sailmaker, but got no answer and knew the odds of getting the sail repaired (much less a new one) over the Christmas week were nil. Fortunately, Bob at the boatyard does a lot of sewing and sail repairs and he was willing to repair our sail to get us through this season at least.
After our return from Christmas, we finished getting Gratitude ready and departed on January 2 after the boatyard New Years Eve potluck, which was much fun. In order to leave the canal system, we have to pass through a lock and can do that only at mid high tide or above. We got to the lock a bit early, so dropped the hook and readied the fenders and lines for the passage through the lock, always a high gulpers moment. Fortunately, a fishing boat came into the canal system from the outside, so we asked them to leave the gate open and we were able to enter the lock without stopping at the first dock. We coasted in, closed the gate on the canal side, opened the gate on the bay side, exited, stopped at the outer dock to close the gate, and then headed through the channel to the open water. Phew! We anchored there for the night, and our friends Steve and MaryAnn on Living Well anchored nearby.
The next morning, Steve and Cindy on Slip Away exited the lock and anchored briefly, awaiting full light. By mid-morning, we all were underway heading to Cayo Costa State Park, a favorite. But first, we had to leave the deep hole in which we had anchored and we neglected to check the tide and best route, so we ended up (under power and sail) plowing our way through the muddy bottom for about ½ mile to deeper water.
Under way at last, the three boats entered Cayo Costa on the high tide without issue and enjoyed happy hour on Gratitude, the first of the season. We spent two delightful days in Cayo Costa, walking the Gulf beach and enjoying each other’s company. The aspect of cruising that is most appealing to us is spending time with good friends – new and “of long standing”.
As well, we continued to do things we did not get done before we left the yard, like rig the reefing lines on the mainsail (we have yet to do those on the mizzen). Of course, like so many other projects, we had make several attempts to get it right, raising and lowering the main four times to get all the lines (and Gratitude has a lot of lines) properly routed so nothing was fouled, the sail cover zipper will work, etc. One of the topics of conversation during one of our happy hours was that, no matter how many years (and this makes 9 for us on Gratitude) we have spent on our respective boats, how many miles we have sailed (and we estimate well over 10,000 for us aboard this vessel), and how many times we have rigged the boats, each year is a learning (or re-learning) process, which just goes to show that indeed, we Can’t Remember Sxxx.
We are heading to Ft. Myers Beach, en route to Marathon, where we will sit out a weather system and allow Steve and Cindy to guide us on restaurant tours of FMB. We look forward to it (not so much to the new list of projects to be completed before we really are ready to get underway for real).