12/29/2012, Sapodilla Bay
In our previous blog from George Town I mentioned what George Town is too many people. What I did not mention is that George Town's nick name is "Chicken Harbor". Many people have plans to sail in the East Caribbean and choose to sail The Bahamas from Bimini, Nassau and the Exumas to George Town and make the crossing over the Exuma Sound to Long Island and south east to the large Caribbean Island of Espanola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico and further to the Windward and Lee Islands. This means that as soon you pass the north point of Long Island you expose yourself to the real North Atlantic Ocean and this large body of water can bring quite large northerly swells. Exposing yourself, the crew and the boat to this this environment makes many sailors "chicken out"; they decide to stay in George Town and try it some other time in the future. During our Christmas party on "Hamburger Beach" we met many sailors who shared this experience and are very happy in George Town. We shared our table with a couple from Germany who together with their 10 year old son make a 6 month trip and a couple from Switzerland who sails for a long time already since their retirement. It was a nice beach party.
Although Dorothy and I have crossed the Gulf Stream from Miami to The Bahamas many times over the past 4 years, a few times in extreme conditions, we still had some concerns about how we would handle the challenge to sail the Atlantic. We are in Provo (Providenciales) in the Turks and Caicos Islands, so we passed the test. This was a 240 miles long trip that we decided to do in one shot without stopping. It took us 51 hours from anchor up in George Town to anchor down in Sapodilla Bay in Provo. We had selected this weather window for its calm seas and wind. However, the wind was from the South East and that meant that we had the wind all the time and in many cases the current as well on the nose except during the Exuma Sound crossing. The wind and swells constantly changed in strength and the swells also in direction. We had calm seas and very confused seas (waves and swells from different directions). We had the most extreme condition when I was cooking breakfast on Thursday morning, but we ate and had a great time. It was full moon and the ocean was beautiful with this incredible light source. The most beautiful time of the day was when the sun came up and the moon was still over the horizon. Light came from two opposite sides with all different colors of the clouds. It was a great trip, but wished we could have used the sails instead of the engine as much.
Arriving in the Caicos Bank is a wonderful experience. As soon as you come close to the entrance of channel, in our case the Sandbore Channel, the water color changes from dark blue to azure blue with clear visibility to the sandy bottom. However, before we went through the channel I wanted to empty the waste tank but the macerator pump tripped and seemed to be clogged. We had to empty the tank with a hand pump! Welcome to the life of a cruiser, no plumber available to do the dirty work. But everything is functioning again. This morning we had breakfast in the cockpit after a long night's sleep, the sun is shining, we have a nice refreshing breeze from the north east, and the bay and the bank are beautiful. A nice reward for yesterday's hard work.
Provo is a tourist destination with many resorts including Club Med on the north side of the island. This part of the island has beautiful beaches and calm water due to a reef system along the coast that protects the beaches from the Atlantic. This tourist flow has increased the cost of living on this island to an extreme level and most cruisers are just passing true. We will stay a couple of days before we continue on to the Dominican Republic.
We wish everybody a Very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2013 and we hope for ourselves that this retirement trip will give us all the things we have dreamed about.
12/22/2012, Monument Elizabeth Harbour
George Town: According to our pilot book it is the turn-around point for most; a stopover for some, the winter refuge for others, but whatever it means to us personally, George Town is the cruising Mecca for cruisers in The Bahamas. George Town is over 200 years old and during the winter season George Town can often host 400-plus boats. At this moment we are for anchor in a small cove in Stocking Island called the Monument. On top of the highest hill is indeed something that looks like a monument but it is sometimes called the Salt Beacon because it was used (when lit) to guide cargo ships into Elizabeth Harbour to George Town for the purpose of picking up salt. The salt was mined at various places on Great and Little Exuma. Between the Great Exuma Island with George Town and Stocking Island is the Elizabeth Harbour. I have some trouble calling it a harbor. It is a channel with a lot of shallow areas and one distinct shipping lane showing on the charts but is has no visual features on the water. Many boats anchor too far from shore and encroach into the shipping lane, like we did when we came in on Wednesday. Luckily a fellow cruiser came to warn us, since the mail boat that came in the next day passed very close by the spot where we dropped our anchor the first time. Now after the cold front moved in last night with wind up to 35 kn. boats are anchored on purpose in the shipping lane to have more room with the high wind and rough water. But now I am ahead of myself.
We left Nassau on Sunday on our way to Highborne Cay. It was a bad day with a lot of wind on the nose with a lot of squalls with more wind and rough water. We passed the Yellow Banks based on a track I saved in the chart plotter from our previous trips since it was impossible to read the water and find the coral heads that can be close to the water surface. Just before we anchored at Highborne the wind calmed down and we had a very pleasant night.
The next day on Monday we didn't have any wind so we used the engine to sail to Warderick Wells, our most favorite place in the Exumas. But this time we did not intend to stay and we left on Tuesday morning for Black Point. We engined out to the west to get a better sail angle and after this we had a wonderful sail to Black Point. When we went to the Exuma Park Head Quarters to pay our mooring and internet fee with our dinghy the outboard engine did not want to get into neutral and due to this I could not re-start the engine. So I rowed the dinghy back to Island Girl that turned out to be more difficult than expected with the strong current in the North Mooring field. A fellow cruiser jumped in his dinghy and towed us back to Island Girl. Luckily I found somebody in Black Point who fixed the problem. That was a big relief, our dinghy is the 'taxi cab' to shore and you cannot do without it when you are anchored or moored.
The next day after we woke up we realized that this was an unexpectedly beautiful day to go through the cut into the Exuma Sound and even make it to George Town about 45 miles to the south. We left in a hurry to make the Dotham Cut but the incoming tide was already running and it took me the full engine throttle to have a speed of 2.5 kn over the ground in 7 kn water speed. So the current was close to 5 kn. After this the motor sail to George Town was paradise with a nice easterly wind and calm water. While anchored here we spent a lot of time to fix problems with our wind generator and we are waiting now for the wind to go down to install the rotor again. The cold front that moved in last night is still blowing but the sun is shining and with the full cockpit enclosure, the beautiful water and scenery we are in paradise.
12/14/2012, Nassau Harbor Club
A boat needs to be in the water, but water needs to stay outside the boat. If you violate these rules, things will go wrong. We found this out the hard way during our overnight trip from Bimini to Nassau. A couple of months ago a small nut with rubber water protection broke off the helm control unit for the electric windlass. We could not find a replacement in the store and we completely forgot about this missing part. Due to this, water penetrated the unit, causing corrosion and subsequently a short in the unit; the unit engaged the windlass to pull the anchor in. This created an enormous amount of tension on the motor and the anchor chain. The breaker tripped but only after the motor was very much overheated. In our efforts to get the tension off the anchor chain we burned the motor and we needed to order one from the manufacturer of the unit in California. Since this is a very expensive motor we first needed to send money before the motor was shipped to Nassau. FedEx did a wonderful job with the overnight shipments but it still took until today, Friday December 14, before the motor arrived. The FedEx service center is in downtown Nassau and our boat is in the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. This marina is a little over 2 miles from this service center and we used our folding bikes a lot and even transported the 30 Pounds motor with the little bike.
This does not mean we had nothing to do while waiting for the new motor to arrive. The old motor needed to be removed which was quite an undertaking because of the very small anchor space in the bow and of course the motor was stuck so it took a lot of hammering and brutal force to get it out. Every sailor will explain to you that anchoring is more than just throwing the anchor over board. It is very important to use the correct scope. The scope depends on the weather, current and the type of soil. Depending on these factors you select your scope from 1:5 for a well-protected area with limited amount of current and wind. In bad conditions the scope can be up to 1:10, but most typical it is 1:7. This means that you need to know the length of chain or rode you have out. We had it easy since our helm control unit was indicating that for us. Since this unit needs to be rebuilt we have to fall back on the old system of length marks on the anchor chain. Our main anchor has 250 feet of chain and 100 ft. of rode and the secondary anchor has 150 ft. of chain and 200 ft. of rode. We needed to pull both of these from the boat to the pier; measure the lengths, applying paint marks on the chains and of course put them back in the boat. We worked hard this week; we are going to take it easy tomorrow and we will continue our trip on Sunday.
If you believe we worked hard this week, you really need to feel sorry for our neighbors in the marina. Three young people on a 31 ft. Island Packet. After graduation they took off for a year sailing on an old boat with a lot of problems. However, the biggest problem occurred during the crossing to Nassau; the chain plate broke and they are repairing this here in the marina. The chain plate of an Island Packet is bonded to the inside of the hull. To do the repair, all the cabinets, seats and furniture need to be removed and the epoxy that covers the plate needs to be grinded off. After the plate is repaired it needs to be installed by covering the plate with resin. They are doing this enormous job while still sleeping on the boat. A great group of people.
12/07/2012, Brpwn Marina in Bimini, The Bahamas
We finally made it; we left and arrived yesterday December 6, 2012 in Bimini in the Bahamas. This was just a 45 miles trip, but a very imported one, we left and we crossed the Gulf Stream. For anyone not familiar with the Gulf Stream: The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic Ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The process of western intensification causes the Gulf Stream to be a northward accelerating current off the east coast of North America (copied from Wikipedia). Northerly wind will make this crossing very dangerous for smaller vessels like Island Girl. We had only a very small weather opportunity according to the predictions. We decided to stop in Bimini to wait for better weather and to relax for some time to recover from all the hard work of the past weeks and all the tension to get everything done in time and also to get through the process of retirement with all the bureaucratic processes.
We both ended our careers and said goodbye to our friends and co-workers at The City of Miami Beach. During the week of Thanksgiving we enjoyed many lunches with our co-workers. That same week we started the moving process. Friday after Thanksgiving our friend Scott Thomas helped us move all our furniture to our rented storage space. We spent another week cleaning out all the closets and storerooms in our condo. We sold our car and donated articles that we no longer needed. We moved all the items we believe we needed onboard Island Girl. Since Dorothy and I like all kinds of stuff this is always a problem; we take too much and in a 38 foot Island Packet that becomes a problem. Since we are not intending to sleep in the aft bedroom, we turned that into a storage room where we store necessary items such as extra sails, our spinnaker, panel covers for our cockpit area, the snuba system for surface diving and safety equipment. The remainder is "convenience stuff" that we probably get rid of during the trip. Since I do all the repairs and maintenance on the boat we also carry a lot of tools (probably also too many). Our standard joke is, if Island Girl is still floating we are fine.
During the last engine test we came to the conclusion that we needed new batteries. We have a house bank of 3 batteries, a dedicated battery to start the main engine and one for the generator. To replace all 5 batteries for marine applications is a costly affair that I did not include in our budget. We chose the best which will give us some more battery power. Due to the different connections the installation of these batteries took an entire day.
We followed the weather predictions very closely and a favorable weather window opened up from Wednesday to Saturday which should give us time to reach Nassau in The Bahamas. Unfortunately that window was reduced to Friday and that would not be sufficient time to make this trip. However, we could easily make the crossing to Bimini. We left Thursday morning at 1:45AM and made it to Bimini at 11:15 AM. The ocean was great until we came in a big squall that caused the wind to turn to the NE up to 25 KN. That made the Gulf Stream very angry with very rough seas up to 6 feet by my estimate and rain. The ocean remained rough for another 2 hours but the remainder of the trip to Bimini was with very flat seas and calm wind.
Now we are in Bimini and really enjoying ourselves. We slept for 12 hours straight and are getting all the tension out of our bodies before we move on.
11/13/2012, Miami Beach
We finally got the good news; our house is rented out to a French Chef working in one of the many fine restaurants in Miami Beach. At least that was what we believed. Our real estate agent received the earnest money and we happily signed the contract. We wrote our letter of resignation, Bert retires and Dorothy, who is not yet eligible for retirement, quit her job. Our last day in the office will be November 21, 2012. We rented a storage unit in a nice building that is completely air-conditioned and started moving the boxes we already had, to this storage unit. We found a moving company and scheduled the date for the move. We completed stocking Island Girl with food and were surprised that after 4 trips to the grocery store, food we ordered online and all the home cooked meals we stored in the freezer and refrigerator, that the boat is still afloat. All kind of things might happen when we finally start sailing, but we definitely will not starve! It caught us complete off guard on Sunday when our real estate agent called us that the renter had to delay the start of the rent, since he had still a current rental agreement and he did not want to pay rent for two places. Besides the loss of rental income we don't like it at all to leave without having the confidence that our house is rented out and we know and approve of the people living in our home. But compared to for instance the survivors of super storm Sandy, our situation is of course nothing else than a bump in the road. We have not estimated yet how big this bump is going to be, but we are continuing with our preparations.
Bert has filled all the needed paperwork to retire from 2 other entities besides his existing retirement from the City of Austin. He completed his Social Security and Medicare applications and is still working on the needed supplementary health insurance. This morning when Bert was waiting for a few signatures in the Human Resources Department, he heard two people asking a human resource employee why the city could not have someone on staff to assist employees who are in the process of retiring. Bert concurred that is should be a great assistance for our employees and he started to answer questions these people had and realized how complicated and intimidating the process is. Later in the day we found out the total lack of common sense the government has. You cannot just drop off a form in the Social Security Office. You have to take a number wait for a long of time (hours) and give the form to the clerk. We decided to go to the post office next door to buy a stamp and put the form in the mail.
To prepare the transition for his successor, Bert wrote an e-mail to all his external contacts inclusive of the vendors he worked with and was pleasantly surprised about all the nice reactions he received. After close to 45 years in the work force and building a wide range of contacts, retirement seems to represent a very clear break. Dorothy still has many contacts with colleagues she worked with in Jakarta, Indonesia when she was working for the Foreign Service. One of these colleagues organized a seminar here in Miami Beach for her current employer. Although Dorothy has regular e-mail contact with her former co-workers, she had not seen this lady since our wedding reception. We met her in her hotel during a break in her very busy time schedule, had a drink and shared some great stories. She surprised us with some very delicious Dutch goodies we are currently enjoying. What a small world!
We really look forward to the day we will sail out of Government Cut and start our trip, but we are still working on the transition. We hope that our next blog will be from The Bahamas or at least with the announcement that we are casting off. We will keep you posted!
10/28/2012, Miami Beach, FL
People in our age group probably have some good memories of the disco music time and the name Sandy is special (Who knows??). Hurricane Sandy, currently in the Atlantic Ocean moving North/West will probably merge with a cold front and create a very big storm in one of the most populated areas in the USA. But Sandy has already caused a lot of problems, reportedly 51 people lost their lives and over 200,000 people lost their homes. We are thinking about Haiti, Santiago de Cuba, the birth place of Adriana, the GIS Analyst in the GIS Team of the City of Miami Beach and of course The Bahamas. We love the Exumas so much and hope to visit these beautiful islands next month; Cat and Long Island, George Town the place so many sailors are spending the winter time. What will these islands look like after this storm and how are the wonderful people we met, doing. We hope that our small Red Cross donation will help a little.
But as usual our own experience makes these events more special. Dorothy and I have great respect for these storms and we always take them very seriously. We are both members of the EOC team of the City of Miami Beach and our EOC Manager always gives very good and detailed reports to management of the city. Based on this, I went Wednesday evening after work to the Marina to double line and prepare the boat the best I could to handle strong wind and strong current that cause the boat to be launched forwards and backward with an incredible speed. We needed some improvements on the canvas and we took it off after a great sail on the bay last Sunday. So we believed we took care of the boat. I visit the marina daily, but with these kinds of storms I go at least twice a day. On Thursday the first boat damage was reported all due to the fact of the typical October high water together with extreme high tides due to full moon and the strong wind that moves the boats so violently backwards that their swim platforms are crushing against the pier.
Island Girl looked great on Friday night but we could not get on board due to the high water and the strong forward and backward movements. Saturday morning we drove through Miami Beach and nearly every street was inundated with at some places 12 inches of water, not caused by rain but due to the extreme high water in the bay in combination with an extreme strong North/Westerly wind. When we entered the marina we could not believe our eyes, all the piers were underwater or just at the waterline. We met one of our neighbors who has been living with his wife on their boat for many years. He told me that this time the boats in the marina had more damage than any boat had during Hurricane Wilma in 2005 with 120 knots wind. And he was right, just the short walk on our pier showed many boats damaged. The largest yacht, Monty docked on the outer slip looked devastated; so much damage. And then I heard Dorothy call me, "Mas, (my nickname) look how Island Girl is damaged". The high water had pushed all the pier fenders out of the water onto the pier and the boat fenders where hanging too high to protect the boats; the wind and the extreme rough water pushed the boats to the piers and the pylons. Island Girl had 'eaten' the 4x4 in front of the concrete pylon half way through but then met the iron bolts and the wood work and the rub rails could not handle this. So over an area of 72 inches she was damaged; luckily not the hull, just the rub rail and the teak. Yesterday I started the repair work and made some good progress today. The pylon is repaired and hopefully next week, with a lot of sanding, Island Girl will be back close to her old status.
We are not leaving until our Condo is rented out and we do not have a lot of progress with this, so both the repair and this will delay our departure date. Hopefully with our next update we will have better news.
Tonight we are meeting our friends Dutch and Renske from Charlotte who are flying to St. Maarten tomorrow to their Sailing Vessel "Aait Vedan" to continue their trip in the Caribbean. We will follow them soon.