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S.V. Gratitude
Brewer 44, hull number 284
Friends and other visitors
EVS: Sunny, Stormy and In Between
02/07/2012, Various

We were not able to go lobster hunting while in Pipe Creek because the day we planned the hunt, the winds were too high to go outside. Those lucky lobsters!

On January 30, we headed from Pipe Creek to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we took to the dock for a night so we could replenish water (so-called R-O water because it is desalinated by reverse osmosis - and costs variously 40¢ to 50¢ a gallon, depending on the marina). We also take the opportunity while at a dock to plug into shore power to replenish our batteries. (The typical charge is 85¢ per kWh, about 6-7 times the cost at home, but cheaper - and quieter - than running the generator.) The next morning, we walked to the airport to collect our dear, old friends, Joe and Niki, who flew in from the hinterlands of waaay northern Maine for a week of sunshine. (Although the weather was not bad, we did not have a week of sunshine - this is the cloudiest and squalliest season we have seen in the Bahamas, which is not all bad as the islands depend on rain for most fresh water. The natives do not buy RO water.) It is not every day that one walks to and from an airport, and we thought Joe and Niki would enjoy seeing the town, the three little grocery stores, and how things run on island time. Having lived in Puerto Rico, they are pretty aware of island living.

On the 31st, we sailed (jib only) to Cambridge Cay, which is one of the islands in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We approached it from the west, which took us around Bell Island, said to be owned by a Sheik, and saw the massive construction ongoing. For one thing, a whole section of the island has been quarried out to make a marina or service depot to receive supplies, several huge tanks have been placed in the area (likely to receive and store fuel oil), and the material removed has been carted across the island and deposited in a huge, white pile. If it were not for the lovely beaches and palm trees, one would think it might be a ski slope. We arrived in Cambridge just fine, but the wind was blowing hard from the east and the approach takes one across the opening to Exuma Sound. In making the turn, the boat is broadside to the Sound and the waves crashing into the opening. Rather rolly! We picked up a mooring and hunkered down for the night. In the morning, we ventured ashore and walked the sound beach, looking for shells we could not take, and exploring. We had hoped to do some snorkeling along the reef at the southern end of Cambridge, but it was too rough. Another alternative was to visit Rachael's Bubble Bath on the north end of Compass Cay to the south, but the anchorage there was too rough and the tide was not right, so we skipped that too and instead, headed to Warderick Wells for the north mooring field. We had made reservations that morning, picked up a mooring, and settled in for dinner and the evening. The next morning, we went ashore, signed in, renewed our membership in the Support Fleet (for the Park), and hiked up to Boo Boo Hill to leave our offering of driftwood. (We had collected the piece last year and Van used a router to carve Gratitude's name and the years of our visits to the Bahamas.)

We stayed several days in Warderick to hike, snorkel the reef, and enjoy the beauty and privilege of being in such a place. Among other "pleasures", we had that of being visited - regularly and consistently - by a pair of Bananaquits. They are small birds, with black, white, and yellow feathers. One of the birds flew in and out of the cabin, up and out of hatches, and all around the enclosure. He had no trouble finding his way in or out, nor of pecking holes in three plums and leaving his offerings in return. It became rather tiresome and we were pleased to see that other boats shooed them away too. We also sat out another stormy day and got to visit and reacquaint with folks we had met elsewhere, including Moe and Polly (who traded from their 33' Nauticat motorsailer, Serenity, and "went to the Dark Side" to a 49' DeFever trawler, Motivator. They live on the boat full time and decided they wanted more creature comforts, including laundry facilities on board. They said they had gotten tired of marina showers and shoreside Laundromats, which (with some exceptions) surprisingly are not very nice).

On February 4, we sailed and then motored (because the wind was on our nose) to Big Major's Spot so Joe and Niki could see the pigs on the beach. Mom and Dad came down to be fed and we watched them swim around a bit, but the ~12 (we lost count) piglets stayed on shore and ran in and out of the palms and scrub plants. That got us to thinking about the number of pigs that have been born on the island, where they all are, and when the next pig roast may be held.

From Big Major's, we moved around the corner and anchored near Thunderball Grotto (of James Bond fame) and swam through that at slack tide. The little fish are not at all bashful, bumping into your hands to pry the peas, corn, or bread loose for their feeding pleasure. The day was overcast, so the colors were not as bright as we had hoped, but it was pretty nonetheless. That afternoon (2/5) we returned to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, topped off the fuel tanks, and took dock space again. We went to dinner at the Club and watched the first half of the Superbowl and half-time and then turned in so we could get up in time to escort Joe and Niki back to the airport. At the airport, we got to talking to the folks on the boat next to us, a 70' Marlowe named Golden Daze, and found out they are related by marriage to friend in Rutland. Small world indeed.

After waving farewell to Joe and Niki, we did some minor reprovisioning - it all is minor if the mail boat has not come in - and returned to Gratitude. We squared away with the Yacht Club and enjoyed a lovely sail toward Black Point. We finally doused the sails and motored in because the winds were in the wrong place again. We were greeted by Baxter and Mollie, from Stella Blue, and joined them for sundowners. They had gone to Georgetown and are headed back north now. Their computer failed so Baxter cannot work remotely very well and they have to get back to Utah. Interestingly, they have decided to leave Stella Blue at the same yard where we keep Gratitude, so we no doubt will see them again.

We were surprised to see the number of boats at Black Point. Although Baxter and Mollie told us half the boats had left the morning of the day we arrived, there were twice as many as we saw here last year. The place is popular because it is a big anchorage, well protected from the prevailing winds, with Lorraine's Café, and (no kidding) the best Laundromat in the Exumas. (As Moe and Polly exemplify, nice laundry facilities are pretty important!) We followed the routine and did four loads of our own wash, followed by lunch - delicious cracked conch and onion rings - at Miss Lorraine's, followed by some internet time and catching up. We had joined Steve and Mary Ann from Living Well and Brian and Lynn from Midori for lunch - yes, they did make it across the bank and down to the Exumas and plan to head south from here - and caught up on their cruise to date.

Tomorrow, we intend to plot our own course south to try out some anchorages that were recommended but that we missed last year. Our goal is to be in Georgetown by or over the weekend. The distance is not very great, but we do have to "go outside" to get there, because the inside approach is too shallow. So, we need to pick our weather days for the final leg into "Chicken Harbor", which is the colloquial name for Georgetown because most cruisers who go there do not venture farther.

02/08/2012 | Joe & Niki
Enjoyed reliving our adventrues together. Thanks for your wonderful hospitality and great memories!
Delayed Update, Lots going on
EVS: Gorgeous, with squalls
01/31/2012, Staniel Cay

Much has happened since our last blog two weeks ago. We departed Nassau (along with Stella Blue and Island Girl) on January 17 after spending several days (longer than we expected) in Nassau sitting out a blow. We headed for Norman's Cay as no one had a burning need to go to Allen's and see the iguanas. We made good time and, en route, hooked a nice yellow tail snapper. That morning, Van had found a recipe, which had fallen onto the deck from one of Lauren's recipe books, for ceviche, using yellow tail snapper, and wished we could catch one. Wouldn't you know, we did!

While en route, Lauren made the fresh salad, which was interrupted by a loud "bang". She thought we had hit something, but it was the sound of the head of the jib letting go. She came up on deck, took the helm and headed up to reduce speed, while Van hauled the jib down onto the deck and lashed it there. Although the winds were not terribly strong (about 13 knots), the seas were building and there were signs of approaching squalls so we doused the main and motor sailed with just the mizzen. We anchored in the southern end of Norman's Cay and checked out the sail - one of the heavy straps that cross the head of the sail had let go. It was the Captain's fault - we had help putting the sails on and the shackle to the halyard had been put through only one of the straps, so all the stress was on one, not shared between two. That, and the effect of the sun, likely weakened the one strap. (Reminder to Captain: check all work being performed to make sure it is done correctly.) Coincidentally, the last day in Nassau we had walked past a sail loft and Lauren asked if we needed any sail work done. Not then we didn't. We carry a sail needle and thread, but this was going to be a prodigious task with all the tough layers to push a needle through. Fortunately, Island Girl had a sewing awl - (now on our list of things to buy!) - which made the task of sewing a new strap fairly short work. Not only was it easier than pushing a needle through, it made lock stitches rather than simple pass-through (over and under) stitches. Getting the sail back up meant going aloft to retrieve the halyard (actually, the furling jib head slide) so we could reconnect that to the top of the sail and haul it back up. Baxter and Rocky (of Stella Blue and Island Girl) hauled Van up in record time.

All went ashore for celebratory drinks, but the provisioning boat hadn't come yet from Nassau, so all the bar had was rum, rum, and more rum. No fixin's for Piña Coladas or Bahama Mamas. So, we had rum and coke with a splash of pineapple juice. The bar tender had a heavy hand, and one drink was enough. We shared the fresh ceviche for appetizers and enjoyed a delightful time at anchor.

The next day, we all dinghied north from the anchorage toward the shallows and the mangroves. We had been told of an area where a "herd" of conch was migrating. The information was correct - we saw thousands of conch, a veritable city, the most we'd ever seen in one place. Rocky and Paul (from Island Girl) and others (see separate post) retrieved some of the grandpa ones in preparation for making conch salad, cracked conch, or conch fritters. The shallow water was warm, we motored and walked (when it was too shallow) and made our way to a delightful beach , snorkeled, combed, and found a few small treasures. That night, we all dined aboard Island Girl on Paul's Pizzas.

On January 19, Gratitude departed for Shroud Cay, which we had missed last year, while the others headed further south to Warderick Wells, the headquarters for the Exumas Land and Sea Park. Shroud was worth exploring, with a deep creek that meanders clear through the island (actually, a cluster of cays connected by mangroves) to the Exuma Sound side. It was an interesting although long ride; it started to rain when we were on the beach outside, so we thought it best to head back. The winds were supposed to be from the north, which would have been OK where we were anchored, but they held their "westerly component" longer than predicted and we found it quite rolly all night long. So, on the 20th, we moved further south to Hawksbill Cay, another one we had passed by last year, and anchored mid island in a cove on the west side. We had the place to ourselves until late in the afternoon when a megayacht (150 feet or so) came along and anchored well offshore of us and unleashed its toys - jet skis and a high-powered runabout.

We really enjoyed Hawksbill and hiked across the island through the dense underbrush to the "south beach", which really is the southerly of the two northern beaches. We walked its entire length and found some more treasures. However, since we were in the Park, we did not take them. The most spectacular find was a measled cowrie, about 3 1/2" long, rare to us. On a separate hike, we took a more northerly path to the "north beach" and to Russell Ruins. The Russell family was deeded the island by the Crown in the 1700's and farmed sisal, tamarind, and other attempted crops before giving up the effort and the island. The ruins were outlines (and some partial walls) of small structures, maybe one or two rooms, plastered with tabby (a mixture of burnt lime, sand, and water). We saw one of the foundations for a bee-hive oven (in which they burned the conch shells to make the lime), several tamarind and sisal plants scattered about, and found a shard of pottery (which we also left) that displayed a white china background with royal blue design, finished with gold filigree. That appeared to be one remaining connection to home and luxury.

Because company (Joe and Niki, dear friends since graduate school days in NYC) will be joining us soon, we decided to go to Staniel Cay to be there when the mail boat comes in. The mail boat carries not just mail, but everything else one can imagine, including fresh produce. So, on January 22, we pulled up anchor and headed toward Big Majors Spot. As we were pulling away from Hawksbill, Van tried hailing Sanity II on the radio. No response from them, but Amazing Grace (whom we met in Georgetown last year) called us back and it turned out we were only a couple of miles apart, heading the same way. Amazing Grace reported having seen Sanity II crossing the Grand Bahama Bank the Wednesday before, so we knew they were in the neighborhood.

When we arrived at Big Majors, we saw Stella Blue at anchor, but no Island Girl, Sanity II, Midori, or Living Well. We caught up with Baxter and Molly and learned that Island Girl decided to push ahead as they need to get to Puerto Rico to drop off Paul and Leticia to fly home. Because we have been having radio "issues" (we could send but not receive well) we decided another trip up the mast was in order to clean the antenna connections, so Baxter and Molly hauled Van up again. (Baxter now has been re-christened "Otis" as in the elevator people.) While up on top, Van took several panoramic pictures - note the shark about to swim underneath the dinghies tied to the stern of Gratitude. A test of the radio revealed continued problems and a neighboring boat recommended checking and cleaning the ground wire because transmitting has enough power to send, but the receiving signal is weak and may not cut through the poor connection. (That seems to have done the trick, but we have been anchored in a remote spot and need to get out from behind hills to do a radio check.)

During the day on Tuesday, January 24, we ran into Larry from The Dove (also met last year) and then, on the 25th, Sanity II came in to Big Majors Spot and dropped the hook right behind us. We had Larry, Dave, and Mary over for dinner to celebrate our reunion. (Also, Dave and Mary had carried some new LED lighting for us so we owed them "barge fare".) Larry brought along his home-made Bahama Mamas, which we all enjoyed. We now are developing our own private recipe!

On January 26, Sanity II picked up company and headed to Warderick Wells, The Dove headed to Black Point (to do laundry), and Gratitude headed up to Pipe Creek, about which we had heard a lot, but had not tried to enter because it is so tricky. With the help of Larry's local knowledge and VPR (visual piloting via the water color), we made it in just fine and anchored between Rat Cay and the Mice (a string of tiny islands). The anchorage is barely wide enough to swing a full circle, but it is beautiful. We rigged the dinghy and motored over to Just Ducky (yes, their dinghy is Rubber Ducky), about whom Larry had informed us. Joe and Carol have been coming here for 14 years and they stay for 4 months in this one archipelago. They can dinghy south to Sampson Cay to reprovision, or north to Compass Cay for visits with the nurse sharks (see below and separate post), but mostly they hike on Thomas Cay, clear trails, and answer questions from folks like us. We so appreciated their help, we provided them with a jar of homemade Raspberry Jam from Fox Ledge Farm.

One day, we walked across Thomas Cay to the Sound side; another, we did a lovely dinghy drift snorkel in the cut where Gratitude is anchored; and another, we dinghied up to Compass Cay Marina to walk the beautiful, curved beach on the Sound side and had a huge hamburger lunch while other folks swam with the nurse sharks. Although not aggressive, the nurse sharks (a) cannot see well, (b) are interested in eating, (c) have an excellent sense of smell (via the barbels hanging from their snouts), and (d) are attracted to flashy colored items. One of the men in a group (who is the captain of a megayacht we have seen along the way) had been feeding fish to the sharks, got in the water with a bright blue iridescent camera, and proceeded to have a finger and his camera bitten. The folks who work at the Marina commented that one never should get in the water after eating and without washing with soap and water. (Today, Joe and Carol said never to swim with rings exposed as the flashes of light may attract barracuda.) Good advice for other ventures into the water, as we have seen sharks swimming by Gratitude here at anchor.

Today (January 29), it is overcast, but the clouds are breaking. Joe led us up the Creek toward the entrance between Thomas and Joe Cays to show us where we might find lobsters and where there are some attractive coral heads for snorkeling. We were a bit late for slack tide, and found the outgoing current in the entrance a bit strong for our liking, so we came back inside and did a long dinghy drift past several small islands. The underwater scenery was spectacular - many different colored fish (including lion fish, which are beautiful, but have poisonous spines and are invasive), stag horn and elk coral, and literally dozens of small coral heads with their own schools of fish. It was about as good as it gets! If the winds hold off tomorrow, Van and Joe may go "outside" to hunt for lobster. So much to do!

02/01/2012 | Terry Zimmer
So enjoy reading about your adventures. I would love to share the fresh seafood with you and we both would enjoy the drinks. (Bahama Mamas anyone?)
02/05/2012 | Randy
Wow, you guys are so totally living the cruising life as few people could imagine. Loved the update. Be well and be safe.
Conch Lady
EVS: Gorgeous
01/18/2012, Norman's Cay

I tried posting this back then (see the companion blog re the herd of conch) but the photo too big, so I resized it for posting purposes. Does she look happy or what?

We have crossed over
EVS: Sunny and Warm (not to the locals)
01/15/2012, Nassau Bahamas

January 14, 2012

After getting the chainplate replaced and doing other necessary errands, we prepared to depart Coconut Grove, Miami on January 12. Our friends on Living Well stayed with their buddy boat, Midori, which was waiting for replacement parts (new props for their engines). We contemplated staying with them but, because we have friends joining us in Staniel Cay at the end of January, and because the weather windows can be slow in coming and few and far between, we decided to pull away. It took us 1 ¼ hours to get from the mooring at Dinner Key marina to the mouth of Biscayne Bay. We departed the outer mark at 2:30 pm in calm seas, no wind to speak of, and what looked like gathering storm clouds.

Once well off shore, we set a line to try our luck catching a fish. Sure enough, we hooked a nice 26" Skipjack Tuna. Lauren reduced speed, put Gratitude on auto pilot, and came back to the aft deck with the gaff (a large hook on a long pole) to lift the fish aboard. It was beautiful, and the picture does not do it justice. Then came the fun part -- the ocean swells were running about 3' on a 6 second cycle, which is not bad, but try kneeling on a deck, with a 10" fillet knife in your hands, trying to hold a fish to clean it while the boat is pitching what seemed like 45° from one side to the other. After a rather frustrating time, we did get the fillets removed, rinsed, and down below. By this time, the Gulf Stream had pushed us well north of our intended course, so we set a much more southerly course and, because the wind had picked up, we set the jib to help us along. Under both motor and sail, we made over 7 knots.

From the entrance to Biscayne Bay to North Rock (a lighted rocky island north of North Bimini - whose light was out!) took us 10 hours. Then, we set our course across the Bahama Bank, heading ultimately to Nassau. Although the weather forecast said we might, but not likely, experience squalls, we encountered about 6 of them during the night. One was particularly exciting, providing quite a light show. The diffuse lightning provided a lighted - if intermittent - sky. It was the sharp bolts of lightning that were fantastic. Luckily, they were about 3 miles or more away, so we were not in danger, but we sure did not want to think about being under them. Our radar gave us some warning of the storms approaching, passing, or simply overtaking us (it was pitch black, so we could not see them approach otherwise). During the largest of the squalls, we reduced the jib as the winds built, but, once they got to about 20 knots and we had the sail well furled, the wind dropped to about 12. We watched and waited, but the conditions remained calm, so we set the full jib again and continued on our way.

The crossing was pretty uneventful. We took turns napping, Lauren down below and Van on deck. (That way, Lauren can rouse "deaf Eddie" by pulling a toe or shaking a foot.) We found the iPod a wonderful companion and could listen to books, dance to the Beatles and Mamma Mia, or simply enjoy the music. We did see several boats, including some that were anchored out on the bank. (The Bahamas is a land plateau, with the highest points showing above the surface as islands. The water on the banks is about 15-20' deep. In contrast, the water on both sides is 3000 feet deep. At one place (Northwest Channel) the water goes from about 15 feet to 3500 feet deep in a matter of several hundred yards.) We arrived off the entrance to Nassau Harbor at 3:30 pm (25 hours after departing Florida) and contacted Harbor Control for permission to enter. (The huge cruise ships have priority, so private vessels must stand clear if one of those big ones is coming or going.) After entry to the Harbor, we made our way to the east end to Nassau Harbor Club Marina and tied up. There, we were greeted by Baxter and Mollie (Stella Blue) and Rocky and Inga (Island Girl). We all had gotten together in Marathon and planned to cross the Stream together, but ended up going separately for one reason or another. (Interestingly, Baxter and Mollie were on the other side of the big squall watching the lightning behind them, while we had it in front of us.)

Today was a shopping and walk-about day to downtown Nassau and a bus ride to the Marathon Mall for a SIMM card for our Bahamas phone. It was good to get out and also to see some of the local housing, shops, and lifestyle away from the cruise ships. And, it was good to have a Piña Colada and some conch fritters and fried calamari - finally, we be on island time!

01/20/2012 | Kea Magnuson
Sean and I are so proud of your fishing skills! Wish we could have shared ceviche with you...
New Chainplate Installed!
EVS: Sunny and Cloudy
01/10/2012, Miami, FL

January 10, 2012

Much to our amazement, the new chainplates are made and the replacement is installed! (The second one is a spare for the opposite side. That looks fine now, but it is better to be prepared in case there is a symbiotic or symmetrical failure.)

What an adventure! At breakfast, Lauren offered up a prayer that we would be able to get the parts made in due time. Well, did we ever. We hit the dinghy dock at about 8:00, registered for the mooring we are on, and then parted ways, Lauren to clean up and come back to Gratitude for a morning of relaxation, and me for a morning of adventure. First stop was to the metal shop, which was located in the heart of "industrial Miami" on the NW side of the airport. (I am convinced one could have anything made in this territory. It is an amazing array of industrial buildings with little warrens of shops, tool and die places, metal fabricators, furniture manufacturers, etc.) The "metal store" turned out to be open air, a bit more sophisticated than what one may find in Africa or the Middle East, but open air just the same. The most modern aspect was the little butcher shop "take a number" dispenser. When my turn came, I showed them the old chain plate and they cut me two new blanks from low carbon #316 stainless steel. When he inspected the old chainplate, the gentleman said there was no pitting or crevice corrosion; it looked like electrolysis. Not sure how that happens because all the rigging is metal and it is grounded at various locations. The owner of the shop said he had "seen all kinds of strange things on boats, for which there really is no explanation."

From there, it was just a few short blocks to the machine shop where the blanks were drilled and the above-deck end rounded (less of an ankle killer). When I arrived, I was told the boss was out, having "gone to get some wood or something." About ½ hour later, a Mercedes showed up and out climbed the owner and his wife. It turns out they are Russian immigrants, having come to this country about 37 years ago. We discussed the requirements, he quoted a price (about which I could not say much as I was at his mercy), and he assigned the task to a thorough craftsman working in a very disorderly shop. It was fun watching him measure, use his tools and computer aided equipment (for precise centering of the holes), and little brush of lubricant to keep the bits from burning. After paying the bill (which would have been negotiated lower had I paid in cash - which I was reserving for the circumstance I could not use a credit card), Oleg printed a map to show the route to the polisher's shop, which was on the other end of the airport and sent me on my way.

As on the first leg, I took a taxi because I did not know the public transportation routes and I did not want to miss the opportunity to get the parts for the cost of saving fare. The second driver was Haitian (the first knew only hard acceleration and hard braking) and, between his dispatch radio and the blaring music and Creole discussions, we had a hard time communicating. We drove past the designated street, but a U-turn brought us right back. The polisher said he could do the job tomorrow. I expressed dismay as I had come a long way and really hoped it could be done today. He said "it will take an hour" and I said "I'll wait." He was somewhat exasperated, but said I should go somewhere until 1:30 (a bit over an hour) and I asked directions to the nearest Home Depot. After doing my shopping there, and walk through a marine supply store, I got back to the polishing shop a bit after 1:00. The owner said "I told you to come back at 2:30; it is not ready." I did not argue, but said I would wait. I saw the pieces being polished and I knew this was my penance for barging into his day. About 1:15, he called me over to see the parts, which I exclaimed were beautiful (see old and new chainplate photo). He quoted a price, I asked "check or credit card?" and he said "cash", so it was a good thing I harbored what I had. I paid him and he thanked me for my patience, saying most people would not wait. I thanked him for his patience, for my intruding on his day. How we got there, I do not know, but he told me of his having lived in Brooklyn, I told him my Grandfather lived in Brooklyn, and we were off, sharing stories. (I am sure I would have had a better price had that conversation started earlier.) He wished me well, gave me extra business cards, and told me how to get back via the bus.

En route back to the marina, I stopped at another (great!) marine supply store (Crook and Crook, whose motto on the side of their building is "We try not to live up to our name!"). I caught the 3:00 tender and was back on Gratitude by 3:15. After a bit of office work, Lauren and I worked to install the new chainplate, which was completed before dinner. (We also re-caulked the parallel plate on the other side of Gratitude because that area had exhibited some leaking.)

Although there were a few frustrating moments, in all, the day was a huge success and really quite interesting. The people I met, the observation of the number of ways and places people make their livings, and the shear fact that two new chainplates were custom made in a day - at about the same cost as ready-made ones (if we ignore the transportation cost) was a delight. Now, we do some final provisioning, top off water tanks (which is where all this started), and ready ourselves for the crossing. We have been listening to Chris Parker, the weather guru for the Bahamas the last several mornings, and it looks favorable in the next few days. Here's hoping - or praying!

01/11/2012 | Randy
That's a great story. I have several similar to it, and the best part is in your recap of meeting new people and living in their world, if but for a moment. Good luck with the crossing. I we get a timely weather window, Nikki and I will be crossing to the Abacos around 25 Feb. Perhaps we'll see you over there. Fair winds ...
01/27/2012 | George Malin
I also really enjoyed your chain plate story (it's a guy thing). A bit of sleuthing to find the damaged plate and then your day in Miami where only an old salt would survive!

Happy that your crossing is made. I can see from the map that you and Lauren are finding rum on all the islands.

Chain plates
EVS: Sunny and Warm
01/09/2012, Miami, FL

January 9, 2012

Chain plates are not the same as chain mail, but maybe they are in a sense. Just as chain mail protects the knight from the blows of a lance or mace, chain plates and the rest of the standing rigging (i.e. the permanent, wire rigging) protect the masts from falling. The chain plates (which are not chain, but hefty pieces of solid metal) are bolted to the hull or the bulkheads of a boat and the standing rigging runs from them to the masts, holding them upright. Obviously, the failure of a chain plate is not a good thing - especially if it causes the mast to fall down.

This morning, while going forward to top off one of our water tanks, I noticed the starboard, inner shroud (one of the pieces of standing rigging) to the main mast was loose. Ordinarily, they all are guitar tight on Gratitude and this caused me some puzzlement. I checked the upper and lower swage fittings and the turnbuckles, and all was in order. Then, I got on my hands and knees and checked the chain plate where it comes through the deck. I saw that the line of caulking compound (where the chain plate passes through a metal cap) was a half inch above the deck. I went below, opened the cabinet in which that chain plate is located and found it not cracked, but completely separated in two pieces. Now, the chain plates are made of stainless steel. Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel does corrode (called crevice corrosion) when the metal is deprived of oxygen and wetted from time to time - such as within the decking through which the chain plate passes. What was very odd is that the chain plate parted in the open (that is, not in a wet, dark, oxygen deprived environment), about 1" below the under decking (right where a bolt passed through the metal) and the portion within the decking (where the crevice corrosion would be expected) was nice and shiny. I suspect, from the appearance of the break, metal failure of a different sort, but I will know better once I get to a metal fabricator.

As a result of all this, we are not crossing to the Bahamas just yet. Rather, we are on a mooring in Miami and my day tomorrow will be spent going to a metal fabricator (to get the chain plate cut from high quality, low carbon stainless steel - but tungsten also is an option), thence to a machine shop to get the piece fabricated, thence to a metal polisher to get it polished. (As the name implies, crevice corrosion occurs in crevices. By polishing the metal to a mirror finish, there are fewer crevices.) I have lined up the first two, but not the third. I am hoping to get all that done tomorrow so we can reinstall the plate and get back underway. I will have two fabricated so we have a replacement for the identical part on the other side of the boat. (We have 10 chain plates on the main mast and 8 on the mizzen mast. We have inspected the others and they seem ok, but a more thorough inspection is in order when we get back to the yard. All [supposedly] were replaced in 2004, and they customarily last ~20 years, so this is an early failure, hence my suspicion of a bad piece of metal. That plus leaking around a port in that area likely contributed to the problem.)

We learned a new definition today. We have known that a definition of "boat" is "a hole in the water into which one pours money." Today, we learned that "cruising" means "working on your boat in new and exotic places." Fortunately, this was discovered in a benign setting - at anchor (we had been sailing yesterday and Gratitude was on a starboard tack (meaning the wind was coming from the side where the weak plate was located, just the kind of circumstance when a catastrophic failure could have been, well, catastrophic). Equally fortunate, it happened on this side of the crossing, in a major port, where supplies and services are available. If we are lucky, we will have the new part, reinstalled, and ready to go in a matter of days, not weeks. Had this occurred somewhere in the Bahamas ....

Stay tuned!

01/11/2012 | Randy
Wow, you are very lucky it was a lower and not upper shroud. Either would be bad, but the latter probably worse, I would think. Anyway, glad you are OK. SOOOO true about the definition of "cruising". But it's all worth it. Dean Perry of Autumn Borne also has another term. It's called "a boat unit", which is equal to $1,000 ... ;-)

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Who: Van and Lauren
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