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Madcap Sailing
Windy but Wonderful
11/12/2007/1:46 pm, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos

We moved from Manjack Cay to Green Turtle Cay on Sunday afternoon - just an hour or so along the way, and as of Monday morning, we were all legally checked in. We dropped the anchor just off the government wharf - thinking that we'd stay out there overnight and then move in. It turned out that we liked it pretty well out there so we stayed. We were near New Plymouth - the town part of this Cay, and had lots of room around us. There were no worries about bumping anyone if we dragged again. A major plus is that we had a bird's eye view of all the action at the government wharf and a 360 degree view of turquoise water, fluffy clouds and unbeatable sunsets.

About the dragging - a couple of updates: We've talked with a number of cruisers and know a few more things. One suggestion that has come up often is the wisdom of "diving the anchor". That means someone dives down to a) have a look at it, and b) help to get it set by pushing down on it and wiggling it into the sand. This job would fall to Jim as he is more comfortable in the water than I am. So on Tuesday when we moved in a little closer to the shoreline, he swam over it and could clearly see it dig in better as I backed down on it harder. (i.e. put the boat in reverse to pull really hard on the anchor). He will have to work up to being able to hold his breath long enough to go down there and push on the thing!

Another suggestion has been to switch to a Danforth anchor, which some cruisers tell us holds better in the sand. One cruiser swears by his Delta Quick -Set, and another says that a Bruce works better than a CQR. Our second bow anchor is a Bruce so we may switch the chain over to that and give it a try.

And one last thing on the dragging topic - remember that I said last time we didn't think we had woken the folks on the "other" boat? Wrong! As we walked along the road here in New Plymouth on Monday evening, we encountered another couple, struck up a conversation and introduced ourselves. They are Catherine and David on Solitaire I, and when I said we are Jim and Beth of Madcap, they both gasped and said MADCAP? The penny dropped and Jim and I asked, "Are you the boat we almost dragged into the other night?" Yes indeedy. They had been awoken by our voices but were so calm and collected about it that they just quietly watched us get ourselves out of the predicament. It was lovely to meet them, and especially lovely to meet them in daylight and out of danger.

Monday was quite a sociable day for us. As we walked up the main street in New Plymouth - with me oohing and aahing over the gorgeous hibiscuis, and pink and blue and yellow houses, we met John, a wonderfully warm man who welcomed us to the neighbourhood, told us about the Christmas potluck that the cruisers have here, showed us where to buy heavenly coconut bread (Sid's grocery store) and where to get the best conch sandwiches at the best price. Cindy and Rick of Dragonfly came strolling along, as did some new friends, Joel and Kalin of Achates II (from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.) And so we all stood in the middle of the street by the Customs office having a good old chinwag - just like in any village anywhere.

Jim and I went to the Plymouth Rock Liquor Store and Café for lunch - the famous conch (pronounced conk) sandwiches - that really were delicious. Conch has to be pounded thoroughly to make it tender, and these were wonderfully tender morsels. Somebody must have good arm muscles. Cindy and Rick came in, and so did Todd and Joe from Crisis Mode. They were especially helpful as I perused the rum selections and decided which bottles would best fit the needs of the Madcap bar. We dinghied over to White Sound to see Blair and Mary, and then ashore to check out the Green Turtle Club where we met up with Cindy and Rick again and went to the Tipsy Turtle for afternoon drinks. I saw a sign that said they make the best rum punch around, so of course I had to check that out. I haven't done a lot of comparing yet, but it sure tasted fine!

We gobbled half the loaf of wonderfully sweet and tender coconut bread that evening, and finished it off for breakfast the next morning.

On Tuesday, I spend a good part of the day doing laundry at Bluff House. Laundry is considerably more expensive here - probably reflecting a scarcer supply of water. However, I was very happy to pay the price - $3.50 per load - and get rid of those bags of grubby sheets and towels that we've had sitting in the bathtub since Florida. Between loads, I met up with Jay and Bonny from Florida and enjoyed a lovely chat on the terrace. They were interested in our trip and so encouraging. It is conversations like this that make me reflect again on what we have done and how it feels and what a remarkable way it is to make connections with people. Marco, the marina man at Bluff House, gave me a ride up the hill in his golf cart and told me his cousin went to university in Nova Scotia. There is that small world thing again.

While I was hanging around Bluff House, Jim and Blair were trouble shooting Madcap's newest problem. We had been having trouble getting the house batteries to a full charge, and when Jim tried to fire up the engine to charge them some more, the starter battery failed to start the engine. Jim manually combined the two batteries so that the house battery started it, but then found that the engine battery was discharging when it was supposed to have been charging. The battery combiner was not combining the house battery with the starting battery and so it was not getting a charge. If this all sounds like some foreign language to you - it does to me too - and Jim's grey hairs are increasing with the effort of comprehending it all!

We are hoping this will be a quick fix so we'll be able to sail back to Manjack Cay for some more exploring there before we move onward. The wind is too strong just now for a comfortable passage through Whale Cay Cut (between here and Marsh Harbour/Hopetown area.)

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16/12/2007/5:04 pm | Barbara Roberts
The Abacos look beautiful. Thank you for keeping this blog. We are here in Connecticut in the ice and snow with the boat in Deltaville, Va. Guess we wont get for this year...keep the info and photo's rolling please..thanks so much !!! itah
16/12/2007/5:04 pm | Barbara Roberts
The Abacos look beautiful. Thank you for keeping this blog. We are here in Connecticut in the ice and snow with the boat in Deltaville, Va. Guess we wont get for this year...keep the info and photo's rolling please..thanks so much !!! itah
Island Time
09/12/2007/10:44 am, Manjack Cay, Abacos

We hauled anchor and started off from Great Sale Cay right after listening to Chris Parker's weather net on the Single Sideband Radio at 6:30 am on Friday. (This broadcast has become the way we start our days Monday - Saturday.) Our intention was to get to Green Turtle Cay in time to check in with Customs and get the formalities of the entrance over with. It was while we were checking the wind speed and the distance on the charts and realizing that we probably would not make it, and thinking about where we could go instead and whether we would make it in time, that Jim said, "Why are we doing this rushing?" Our stated intention was that after steadily pushing ourselves a little farther every day down the ICW, we would change the rhythm once we reached the Bahamas. (Lest I give the wrong impression, we thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the ICW; it has been only in the last few days that we have felt impatient to be done with it.)

Several people have told us that as long as we flew the yellow quarantine flag, didn't flagrantly go off about town, and did get ourselves into a customs office at a reasonable opportunity, we would not be hassled by Bahamian authorities. So, when Jim asked this question, it was like turning off an alarm clock - or ignoring the summons of a blackberry - or responding "When I'm ready" to a call for attention. Why indeed? With that new sense of freedom and release from the clock, we looked again at the charts - this time with an eye to interesting anchorages.

We pulled in behind Crab Cay, just off Great Bahama where our Explorer Chart showed a good anchorage in an East wind. We dropped our trusty CQR anchor in white sand about 3 feet below our keel, dug it in and put our feet up. Jim BBQ'd a pork tenderloin and I made Bahamian Peas 'n Rice for dinner. We watched the sun set and the stars come out, and then went below to watch a movie. It was an island time evening.

On Saturday morning, we woke up to a glassy calm, aquamarine sea. After listening to Chris Parker tell us that the wind would be from the East for the next few days, gradually increasing in intensity, we dropped into 28 degree water for a swim and a cleanup. This is a surreal experience. We heard that it is minus 15 in Ottawa. There is enough snow to shovel in Moncton and Amherst. ... and we are swimming.

With the swim and breakfast over with, we up-anchored and headed back out around the corner toward Manjack Cay (pronounced Munjack Key and sometimes spelled Nunjack)- our next stopover. Once again, we had to do the re-thinking exercise - this time on wind direction and sail-ability. The main was up but our course was into the wind and so it seemed like we'd have to motor all the way. Then we remembered - "Oh yes - island time... direct route unnecessary." So we turned out of the wind enough to put up the yankee. The engine stayed on for an hour to charge the batteries and then off it went while we sailed quietly onward at about 4 knots. Interestingly enough, the wind shifted just enough to mean that we didn't need to do any tacking after all.

Our only diversion in course came when we crossed a clear line in water colour. This business of watching colour for depths is a real learning experience. Colour can mean differences in depth, composition of the bottom, reflection of clouds. We had been in that colour before, so I watched the depth sounder carefully and moved onward. The figures dropped rapidly from 8 ft below our keel to 7,6,5,4ft... At that point I was heading out toward the edge of the line again, and when we reached 1 foot, I let out the sail all the way, turned a sharp right angle and had us into 8 feet (below the keel) again. The chartbook had mentioned that there were shallow areas through the charted route between Angelfish Point and Manjack Cay, and it was right. So now I'm getting my eyes trained to see variations in that lovely green colour! Hmmm - it that 8ft green or 4 ft green?

We anchored in the little bay at the SE end of Manjack Cay where a few houses nestle in one corner. There was lots of depth and a few boats already there. Several more boats came in after we did - some Canadian, some American - one more with the yellow flag. A dinghy ride around yielded a pleasant conversation with a fellow on the dock. He told us that we were welcome to land our dinghy on the beach here, where to pick up the trail to the large beach to the North, that we can walk along the eastern shore of the Cay and have rays and little sharks follow us along - preferably with them in the water and us on the beach! A most delightful piece of news is that we can pick up excellent and free wifi during the day when the tower is turned on. Yippee! We have no cellphone coverage, but this connection is most welcome. It was amusing for Jim to collect his e-mail and find one from David on Calamity letting us know that we can get wifi in this very cove. Pretty good timing I'd say!

Our next learning experience came during the night (Saturday). We have always felt great confidence in our CQR (plough type) anchor and while we have a Bruce and a Danforth on board, we use the CQR exclusively. We also hedge our bets by setting the anchor drag alarm most nights. The wind was blowing about 10 knots E when we went to bed. We had been settled in for over 7 hours before that. So it was with a start that we woke up about 1:30 to hear the anchor alarm sounding. This is not overly unusual - it does sound when tide or wind causes us to swing about to a different direction. Jim went out to check and soon called me for a second opinion. Though the wind had increased to 15 knots, we were still facing the same direction so he knew it wasn't a swing that caused the beeping. It was as we watched, peering into the darkness at the other anchor lights, that we realized yes - not only were they in different positions, they were still changing. Then, alarmingly, we realized that we were seeing a boat on our starboard stern ever more clearly! We were not only dragging, but the momentum was increasing. We both leaped into action - engine started, snubber off anchor chain, navigation lights and windlass turned on, hand on throttle, one eye on compass and another on surrounding boats. Jim pulled the anchor clear and I put the boat in reverse with about 6 feet to spare. We circled back behind all the other boats, anchored again, and debriefed.

Besides being happy that we hadn't hit anything, we were pleased that neither of us had panicked. There was no shouting or commotion - in fact we never saw any sign that all our action had woken up the people on the other boat. What was odd was that the anchor had held well in 10-knot winds for several hours and then seemed to have let go and not reset itself. The tide changed around that time but the wind was strong enough to keep us pointed in the same direction. Perhaps that was enough to cause the lift, although we were fine during an earlier tide change. We doubt that setting two anchors would have made a difference. According to our Explorer book, such a practice does not necessarily limit the strain, and can sometimes complicate things by increasing the chances of tangling rodes. Clearly, this business of anchoring in sand is different from what we have been used to. One thing that concerns us is that always before, when the anchor had been set for a few hours, we felt confident in leaving the boat. Now, we will be a little wary about doing that. It's a problem we'll solve though, because we are not about to confine ourselves to mooring balls or marinas, nor to sit aboard all the time. The learning continues and we're interested in hearing from others who have experiences to share.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and windy - E 10-15 knots with Madcap still in the same place - yeah! We'll sail to Green Turtle Cay later today and will probably stay put for a few days while we explore the island. We can return here to Manjack when the wind beckons us back. Oh joy! We're free to go where "wind, weather and inclination take us". That is Jim's famous line; he's been giving that answer to the question of "Where will you go in the Bahamas?" ever since we left Ontario, and now here we are - doing it.

Because the wind is going to stay E or ENE and increase to 20 knots for most of this week, you can be sure that we'll be where there is reasonable protection and space to put out lots of chain!

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13/12/2007/2:30 pm | Nancy Simpson
I am so glad and relieved that you had such a smooth crossing of the gulf stream and am as green as the water with envy of the blissful swimming bays while I sit here watching the white flakes swirl around. The mature ladies now in winter coats and boots hope that you have a good Christmas and offer to boat sit any time!! Nancy and Mona
Safely & Happily in the Bahamas
Beth- in bathing suit!
06/12/2007/10:40 am, Great Sale Cay, Abacos

Oh what an absolute thrill to be writing this from the Bahamas!!

To give you a more precise idea of where we are, the Abacos are the northern part of the Bahamian chain of islands and are part of the Near Bahamas - the islands closest to Florida. That group also includes Grand Bahama, and the Bimini, Berry, and Andros Islands. Further down are the Exumas.

There are several jumping off places in Florida to start the crossing, and several arrival spots in the islands. The route we used, Lake Worth to Memory Rock (as our waypoint on the Bahamas Banks) with our first stop at Great Sale Cay worked well for us. We left Lake Worth at 11pm on Wednesday, arrived on the Banks around 8am Thursday, and had the anchor down at 3:30pm Thursday. People usually leave at night so as to arrive on the Banks (shallow water) in daylight. It truly was amazing to see the depth sounder move from "last measured depth 510 feet" (really over 2000 feet) to "15 feet" so quickly. The water changed colour and all of a sudden we had arrived even though there was still no land in sight.

Despite the forecasted wind and waves, the crossing was a bit anticlimactic. We had everything carefully stowed and tied down in anticipation of 4-6 foot waves and 15 to 20 knot winds, and we put the mainsail up just before we emerged from Lake Worth inlet. The waves were no more than 2 feet and the wind didn't hit the double digits till around 5 in the morning, so our mainsail was up more for looks than for power. The waves were the corkscrewy kind however - a little this way and a little that way in a following sea - the kind that means we don't spend time below decks unless we are sleeping. Fortunately, neither Jim nor I are prone to seasickness, and we each sleep quite well when the other is on watch, so it was a straightforward crossing for us. (It's quite different from our first overnight in Lake Ontario when we were so excited that we both stayed up all night and were totally exhausted the next day!)

Jim had carefully plotted our course to take into account the strong currents of the Gulf Stream. It really is like a river running north through the Straits of Florida. Any boat crossing it tries to work with it rather than fighting it so we were pointing at a waypoint a fair bit south of where we wanted to end up. (I can remember doing the very same thing with our little sailboat at Amherst Shore 30 years ago. To end up in front of the cottage, I had to aim farther up or down the shoreline, depending on which way the wind was blowing. With the centerboard up on that Invitation, it was pretty much at the mercy of the wind). The current of the Gulf Stream was strongest near the Florida coastline, so we gradually adjusted the heading over the course of the trip, and ended up where we wanted to be at about the time we expected to be there. Our only entertainment besides watching the stars above and the bioluminescence below was meeting a cruise ship right in the channel as we were leaving Lake Worth. I hugged the green marker as closely as I dared, and someone called out a Thank You from the pilot boat as it passed. It felt like I could have reached out and shaken his hand, but he was probably a bit further off than that! We expected that there would be a number of boats crossing that night since the weather window looked to be a short one, but Strathspey's was the only pleasurecraft light we saw until early morning when we spotted another one.

I was on watch at dawn. I checked the gradually increasing wind and determined that it just might be possible to sail so I put out the staysail and then the yankee (the large foresail that we carry instead of a genoa), throttled down and then turned the engine off entirely. Ahhh, it felt blissful... the silence... the ever so gentle beginning of a new day. We hadn't had that engine off in weeks - in over 1000 miles. I had almost forgotten how absolutely wonderful it is to hear nothing but the waves brushing up against the boat as they swish on by. It is a totally different experience. And so I sat - perched on my preferred seat up on the stern railing in the starboard corner - knowing that my co-captain was sleeping below, that this trusty boat was carrying us on to the next stage of this amazing journey - feeling the warm wind on my cheeks, and watching the beginning of the day.

We arrived at Great Sale Cay (and by the way, Cay is pronounced Key, just so you know) to find only one other boat besides Strathspey there. Dragonfly, a catamaran with Cindy and Rick onboard arrived shortly afterward, and so after we jumped in the water for our first swim in this clear green water, Mary and Blair, Cindy and Rick joined us on Madcap for a celebration. The champagne bubbled, the conversation between old friends and new friends flowed easily, and we toasted our success in reaching this goal. It seems a lifetime ago that we sat around a table in Ottawa and said we four would sail our boats down the St Lawrence River and all the way to the Bahamas. After a year of planning, and almost six months of traveling, it was absolutely thrilling to say, "WE DID IT!"

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10/12/2007/4:22 pm | Phil McGovern
Good on you! Your wonderful description made the "crossing" sound easy and it gave Admiral Margaret and me the idea that we, too, can do this.

We still plan to leave Savannah aboard "Sunshine" in early January bound for Biscayne Bay (just South of Miami) where we plan to learn how to sail. From there, we'll probably head for Bimini and we will certainly look forward to meeting up with you over there. Save us a spot and enjoy the rest of your adventure!

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