04/13/2011, Emerald Bay, Great Exuma
Today is the six-month anniversary of our leaving our home port of Wilson. When we left, we never thought we'd still be as close to home as the Bahamas. In fact, when we left, we weren't sure we'd be coming to the Bahamas at all. But then we met Jon and Arline and tried to catch up to them in the Bahamas and even though we missed them that got us here. Once here there seemed no point to hurry through. We were warm, the water was clear, the sailing was good. Now we've decided to head back to the US for a while. I'm not disappointed, I'm just not at all certain of what the next step will be, but I know we'll be aboard Earendil somewhere.
I remember how nervous I was when we left Wilson at the prospect of just the two of us handling the boat. We had some scrapes (literally) docking, but have now come in to and left many different types of docks with no one around to help, and we've done fine. I remember how reluctant I was to try to anchor. Now we have an anchor we trust we find it's a lot easier to anchor than to dock (until we have to launch that dinghy, it's a lot easier to walk off a dock). I still worry that we don't have enough battery power to keep our systems happy, but today Bud reminded me that we haven't been plugged in to shore power since the 14th of February and everything is still running. I remember how concerned I was that we had spent so little time actually sailing. I still don't feel like an experienced sailor, but even if we don't do everything right, sailing this boat is a pleasure, and that's why we're here.
We ended up not doing anything special to celebrate, but the weather did. It rained, and after a slow and scattered start it actually rained fairly hard for nearly an hour. It was such an occasion that I took a picture of the rain on the water and dripping off the tarp that we put up for extra shade from the sun. When it rains here it really is pennies from heaven. The wash the boat got will save us several gallons of water at forty cents a gallon. A nice anniversary present, after all.
04/12/2011, Emerald Bay, Great Exuma
We're back at the dock at The Marina at Emerald Bay. That means washday. Free wash. The Island Breeze at Thompson Bay on Long Island charged $4 per load to wash and $4 per load to dry, but it didn't matter because the RO plant on the island was having problems so there was limited water and the laundry was closed. So a free laundry is a big deal. Plus it's one place where you meet folks. Ann from the trawler Cheers was back, Martha from DW Crow is still here. And I met Alex and Fern on Iolite, who read about and commented on our Rocna when I first wrote about it on the blog.
Also docking here are Cookie Monster and Wind Spirit that were anchored near us in Georgetown, and True North, whom we've gotten to know since meeting them at Warderick Wells, Big Major's Spot, Georgetown and Long Island.
Cookie Monster is docked two slips down with no other boat between. They were running their generator today and I noticed that besides the spurting water from the generator cooling system there was another stream of water coming from the boat, the steady stream from an air conditioner. Aha, thought I, since running the generator heats the boat, and since the generator needs a load on it (besides the battery charger) it makes sense to run the AC. We had always been running the water heater but another hot thing is not the best, and unless you're using a lot of hot water the water heater cycles off. I thought the air conditioner made more sense. Bud agreed. But we haven't used our AC since we needed the heat pump side in the bad old days. Bud checked the water intake - the filter needed to be cleaned. I checked the water egress, the seacock was open, but some stuff I had tried to store under the floor of the clothes compartment under the window in the aft cabin had slid down into the air conditioner unit. That wouldn't work. So I emptied the clothes compartment and pulled the stuff out from below. I had jeans and sweatshirts in that compartment, so I decided to pack those in vacuum bags and try to get the other stuff in there, too. That didn't work either because the bag was too big to get into the small opening for the larger compartment (there are a lot of compartments on this boat whose openings are smaller than the area behind). Anyway, I ruined two vacuum storage bags by catching them on the door latch of the compartment. So then I just put everything back and found three other places where I could store the stuff that needed to be moved.
Once that was done and the newly laundered clothes put away and the dishes done, it was about 4 PM and Bud was back with some groceries. I dried the dishes that were on the dish rack that sits on the freezer so we could put the groceries away, and boy, just like that another day is almost gone. So now I'm writing the blog. I hadn't taken any photos today and decided to just take this shot of the navigation station (nav station, to us) because some of you who read this blog have never been aboard, and you might like to see some of our very compact living space.
I do have some photos of our time on Long Island that I will add to the gallery. And, for me, the greatest luxury of all is being able to access the Internet from the boat.
04/11/2011, Emerald Bay, Great Exuma
Well we certainly had an interesting sail today, thanks to me, the navigator. We had planned to go back from Thompson Bay on the route we came on as far as North Channel Rocks. From there we could stay on the outside of Stocking Island and not go into Elizabeth Harbour (Georgetown) and instead come back to Emerald Bay. (By the way, this is only the second time since we left Wilson that we have pulled into the same harbor twice. The first time was when we visited Georgetown again after going to Conception Island.) Going back a route we just took and going to a harbor and marina we've visited before should have made for a stress free day. But no, that's not good enough for me. I couldn't see why we couldn't cut right across from near White Cay to Emerald Bay instead of sailing close along the islands. It would cut several miles from our sail. I checked out the Exumas Chart Book and it didn't show the area at all. I went down and checked on our Navionics chart on the computer, if we cut through soon enough we could sail to the northeast of the reefs off Hog Cay.
So about 14 or 15 miles out of Thompson Bay we turned to make a direct line to Emerald Bay. I was concerned because I knew there were some rocks and reefs just to the southwest of our route, so as we got close to that area I went up on the bow to watch. According to the chart there was nothing off our starboard side except an area of weeds. There were no depths reported less than 16 feet. Still, I didn't want to run through any heavy weeds, so I was looking out for those, too.
There wasn't as much wind as we'd hoped. There was supposed to be 10 knots, but it was closer to 5, so we had the sails up but the engine running, too. With that little wind it was pretty easy to see. I was nervous because I could look down and see the big starfish on the bottom. Still, it was sand and well over 10 feet deep, so we were good. Finally I saw some of the reefs that were on the chart off to port. No problem, we didn't have to come anywhere near them. Then off to starboard I started to see breakers! Breakers!? There's not supposed to be anything on that side. Well, we were still well southwest of them, so we were OK. Then as we drew near it became clear that there was an area of shallow water, really shallow water, all the way across in front of us. At first we veered to port to stay away from it, but the chart showed rocks and reefs in that direction, so we knew we couldn't pass it to port. To starboard were those areas with breakers, still quite a ways off, but we knew we couldn't pass to starboard. So Bud slowed down and I looked for what looked like the deepest route through. We passed over one band of rocks and out onto a little deeper area with a sandy bottom. I looked out to port and saw what looked like a wreck off in the distance. Oh, great, there were more rocky areas ahead, breakers off to starboard and a wreck off to port! We had to pass over two more bands of rocks before we finally got to deep water. I was so glad the wind was light enough that Bud could just let the sails flop and steer through the tricky spots. And I was very glad to get to water that was 50 feet deep. It turns out that what I thought was a wreck was actually a rocky island. Bud said the shallowest it got was 7 feet 4 inches! Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle, that was close! I'm glad I didn't know that until we were in the deep part again!
I went and got our other chart book and looked to see if any of the charts from Long Island included the area we'd just come through. Oh yeah, that would be the "shallow, unsurveyed area" with depths marked as low as 2 meters.
Happily, the wind picked up AFTER we were in the deep water again, and for the last 10 miles or so we sailed happily along at about 6.5 knots. Altogether we went about 45 nm, and probably saved 3 to 5 miles with that little dance with the reefs.
And there's no picture of this. I had the camera in my pocket but was just too scared to take it out and try to get a picture.
04/09/2011, Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
Bud is out fishing in the dinghy. Fuzzy and I stayed on the boat, as there is no shade in the dinghy. I was going to brave the sun this time, but Bud was concerned that the sun would prove too much for the dog and I and that we would cut his fishing short. So here I am.
I changed the bed and did a little bit of hand wash, to tide us over until the next laundry, and thought I'd maybe take the time to reflect on cruising life so far, as Bob requested.
When I tried to pin down how this feels, the first thing that I realized it that it still feels tentative. We have only been out here 6 months, and we are only in the Bahamas. We don't feel like experienced cruisers at all. Georgetown is called "chicken harbor" because a lot of boaters get there and don't go further. We went out to Conception, and then down to Long Island, but both are just day cruises from Georgetown. And our plan now is to go back to the US for hurricane season. We have some family issues and some boat issues we need to resolve, and I don't think we'll feel like we're really on our way until we leave the second time.
The good thing about cruising as a retirement lifestyle is that it is engaging. You have to do a reasonable amount of work and planning to get the basic things you need - food, water, power; so you really can't just slip into automatic and let the days slide by. It's been fun meeting other people out here. It's sometimes frustrating to meet some people you really like, but then your journeys take you different ways. We've never sailed with anyone, even coming down here the folks we had talked to left earlier than we did, so we didn't know any of the boats we could see. I think we are more isolated because of Fuzzy. It's still hard to leave him alone, so we don't go out to the places where the cruisers gather in the evenings. (Saves a lot of money, though.) I would really like to have friends and family come and visit and sail with us. Hopefully that will happen sometime.
The sailing itself has been really nice. We love the wind, water, sky and the way this boat moves given any kind of chance at all. We're still trying to find a rhythm that works, between sailing and being at anchor. You can't sail every day, the preparations and the sail are too tiring. But you don't want to spend a week between sails unless something really special is happening. Three or four days at an anchorage seems about right.
I don't really have any other type of retirement to compare this to, I retired a year before we left but spent the majority of my time in preparation. And Bud was still working, so we weren't living a retirement lifestyle. Bud's last day of work was October 6, last fall and we left on October 13. So this is all we've done.
Anyway, Bud came back from fishing with no fish. He decided to try again at the end of the day, and this time, since the sun wouldn't be as intense, Fuzzy and I went along. We packed Fuzzy's supper and headed out. I took this photo of all of us in the dinghy fishing one of the deep holes (about 20 feet) in the harbor where snapper are supposed to hang out. You can readily see three things. Our dinghy is small, there are no fish in the boat, and there's not any action with the fishing lines. We stayed out a couple of hours and it was peaceful. I don't think peaceful is what Bud was after, but, oh well...
04/08/2011, Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
Most of the places we've gone have been pretty small islands, or islands with limited settlements and so far we have only explored by dinghy and by foot. All the guidebooks said you really should explore Long Island by car, so we sprang for a rental today and did the official tourist thing.
First we drove down to Clarence Town, the only harbor town on the Atlantic side. On the way down we stopped at the ruin of an old Spanish Church, thought to be from the 1600's. We had lunch in Clarence Town at the Flying Fish Marina and checked out the harbor, in case we ever come down that way. It doesn't look too bad to get in to, but there isn't a lot of room for very secure anchoring. There's supposed to be another harbor that's more secure further south, but no settlement and no supplies there. That one also has a shallow bar at the entrance, so you're not supposed to try it with large Atlantic swells.
After lunch we went back up to Dean's Blue Hole. This is the deepest blue hole in the world, 663 feet deep. It's situated right on the edge of a little cove. There is a beach and then suddenly, a hole. The photo is from about 40 feet above the hole. For the next 10 days they are holding free diving championships there. We found the road back to the hole, which was only partially paved. When we got back there, there was one other car, a small tent with a few lawn chairs and a table under it, the blue hole with a raft and a PVC pipe square to mark the dive area. Bud went snorkeling while I stayed with Fuzzy. He snorkeled way out to the entrance to the cove and then back along the edge and into the blue hole. There were no fish anywhere but along a shelf he thought was about 35 feet deep on the edge of the hole. The water there was cold, Bud thought about 15 degrees colder than the area around it. I decided that was too cold for me, so I didn't go in. I did talk to a young woman who came while I was waiting. She was a judge for the event. She explained that they were doing championships for only three of the five types of free diving: diving with weights and fins, diving with weights, and diving by pulling yourself down a line with your hands. We saw some folks come with the fins they use. It's a single, huge fin with places for both feet in the one fin. T looks like a mermaid tail. She said in that category people would get about 400 feet down on a single breath! Today while we were there they were only practicing, but it was interesting.
We made one more stop on our way back. We drove down a little side road back to the Atlantic side again where the chart said there were white cliffs. It was beautiful there. I've put more pictures of what we saw in the gallery.
Now we're back at Long Island Breeze and we're going to have dinner here. We ordered before we left on our tour because they like to know how much to prepare. They're having a meeting (along with a happy hour) upstairs here to talk about bringing scheduled flights to Long Island. I think representatives from a small airline are here. They would rather not serve us during the meeting, so I'm taking the time to write and post the blog.
04/07/2011, Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
We went in to the settlement of Salt Pond today. That is the biggest area of development along Thompson Bay and that is where the government dock is, which means it's where the mail boat comes on this side of the island. Long Island is 80 miles long (and only about 4 miles wide), and I think there are only two government docks and one government basin; here and Clarence Town, which is just a bit south of this and on the eastern side of the island, have docks. Simms, north of here and on the western side of the island has a "Government Basin". I assume the mail boat comes there and anchors and they use small boats to offload goods.
Salt Pond doesn't have a lot. It does have a very nice resort with a restaurant and WiFi, so I'm not even going to try the Sailmail postings while we're here. Bud also went into Harding's Supply and Grocery Store and tried (again) to get a large funnel to replace ours that has a tiny crack. No funnel. He did find non-stainless hose clamps to use in an emergency (no stainless available) and batteries. The last two times we've anchored we had no communicators. I thought the salt water was already getting to them, turns out to be the batteries. We also decided not to keep our batteries in the freezer. Since the temperature in the freezer goes up and down a lot we found the batteries we'd stored there got wet and had started to rust. We also got new batteries for our dive light, so now we have an underwater light that works.
After the shopping we went back to the Long Island Breeze and had a drink and conch fritters (nice dip here) and used the Internet. Like most places down here there was an area of outdoor seating where we could take Fuzzy. Bud took this picture off the deck near where we sat looking out over the government dock and some of the local fishing boats. A cruiser who's been here before told us that the biggest fishing fleet in the Bahamas used to anchor here, but there are few boats left. This may be because they are out fishing, or it may be because the fishing industry has hit hard times with high fuel prices and the economic downturn. The Bahamas really feels any downturn in the US because tourism is the number one industry.
The whole of Salt Pond is about a mile dinghy ride from where we are. I took a picture of the bay when we took Fuzzy ashore. It shows Earendil and way off in the distance, too far to really see, is where we went today. Anyway, Bud and I plan to stay another couple of days and actually do the tourist thing and rent a car and view the island. More in future posts.