04/15/2011, New Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas
We left Emerald Bay today and sailed to Cat Island. We were surprised when we left the marina at how strong the wind was (over 14 knots, it was supposed to be around 10) and at how big the waves were (4 to 5 feet). Before we even put any sails up we had to take the time to put in the windows in the dodger. We were also surprised at the wind direction, we were expecting the wind to be on the beam, instead it was quite forward of that, it was going to be a tight sail. We set the main with
two reefs in it and the jib with a little over a reef in that. Even so, we were doing over 7 knots.
We wanted Sven, our Monitor wind vane, to steer the boat again, so we knew we couldn't have too much sail up. The apparent wind (what the wind feels like on the boat) was over 18 knots, so we decided to put a third reef in the main. That's when we sailed in our first circle. Bud turned to put the bow into the wind so I could reef the main. To add a reef I have to drop the main down below the reefing point, pull the forward reefing line taut, raise the main back up tight against that reef point, and then pull the aft reef point taut. While I was doing that, Bud got the boat a little too far over and the wind caught on the back sides of the sails. Since we had lost all
our forward momentum Bud had me turn the engine on and he drove the boat in a circle until we were back pointing the right direction again. By then the main was reefed and we shut the engine down and continued to sail. We did get Sven set up and he took the helm for several hours.
Unfortunately, the wind began to drop and when it did, it moved more to the north. Bud decided to hand steer because he was trying to keep the boat as close to the wind as he could. He also decided we needed more mainsail to help sail closer to the direction of the wind. We went from three reefs, to one reef to the full main. On one of those switches we managed the sailing in a circle thing again. This time we didn't use the engine though.
We put out the staysail, too. That helps us sail closer to the wind. For a while we still had the jib with a reef in it. The boat was sailing about 34 degrees off the apparent wind and making about 6.5 knots. That's impressive. The wind dropped some more and we pulled the reef out of the jib, so we had all the sails out full. That's the way we were when we reached the big bay we're anchored in at Cat Island. We had to turn further east, which would put us closer into the wind, but happily, when we reached the bay the wind finally moved a bit south, so we were able to make the 10 degree turn and keep sailing. We had 10 miles to sail across
the bay to where we wanted to anchor.
Not too much later the wind veered back, but Bud decided to keep sailing. A first he was going to sail as far as he could just off the course and then turn towards the wind and drop the headsails. But we tightened the sails as much as we could and he was managing to sail at 25 degrees off the wind, so he thought we should try to tack and sail in further. Before that he figured he'd better bring his trolling line in, so I took the helm. I was keeping the boat just as close to the wind as it would go. Suddenly I saw some coral heads in front of us and off to port. I told Bud there were coral heads in front of us and I didn't know how deep they were. "Well steer
around them" he said."I can't", said I, "I can't come any closer to the wind." "Well go below them." But that was to port where there were more. So Bud laid down his fishing pole and started the engine and reminded me to put it in gear and I steered the boat above them. Bud took back the helm, but the wind caught the back sides of the sails again. Rather than go in a circle that time, we tacked (brought the headsails to the other side) and sailed in a new direction. It was sooner than Bud intended to tack, but we would just have to tack back to head in when we got far enough in this direction. We actually managed to sail right up to the anchorage with
one more tack.
But we weren't quite done with circles for the day. Once the sails were down I went up on the bow to drop the anchor. As we approached the place we were going to drop I tried to get the anchor loose and it wouldn't come. Luckily we had replaced the batteries in the communicators and they were working great so I told Bud what was happening and he kept the boat moving slowly forward while I raced below and checked the chain in the anchor locker. The chain had toppled over so the chain going up to the anchor was buried a bit. I tugged it loose and raced up on deck, but I still couldn't get it loose at the windlass (the device that pulls the anchor
up - ours only powers up, some power up and down). I ended up pulling some chain from the locker up on deck so I could take the chain off the windlass (it fits into little openings around the base of the windlass, sort of like a gear). I think the anchor was just pulled in too tight, because once I got a it off the windlass and pulled a bit out I was able to fit it back around the windlass and it was free and worked fine. All this only took a minute. When I freed it, the anchor started to drop, so I stood on the chain. Now the anchor was dangling off the bow roller, and I was holding it from dropping with my foot.
We were working our way towards shore and were ready to drop when we came up on some little coral heads. We didn't know how deep they were, and we didn't want to be dragging our anchor chain over them, so Bud turned back. He ended up making two more circles before we found a spot that was as close to shore as we could get and not around any little coral heads.
It's a lovely spot, the anchor is set, we used all our sails in about every configuration, so all in all it was a good day, even if we did sail in circles here and there.
04/14/2011, Emerald Bay, Great Exuma
When we were at Big Major's Spot back in February we had dinner with the crew of Raconteur on their boat. They left the next day and had to leave their boat and fly to the US and to Europe for business. They left the boat here. The first time we were here we checked on their boat and sent them a photo showing that it was doing fine. This time we expected them to be gone, as they were due back the first week in April. When we got here the boat was still here, but they weren't. Yesterday morning I asked at the desk if the marina had heard from the folks on Raconteur. They had not. Since we're leaving in the morning I figured we'd missed them. But in the afternoon, Bud saw Susan, JP and Leigh get out of a taxi. They were back. It turns out Leigh got quite ill with the flu so they were delayed a week. The happy consequence of that unhappy illness was that we met again. So we asked them if they would like to have dinner aboard Earendil this time.
Tonight we had them over for dinner. Bud made Jambalaya and I baked an apple pie. We ran the generator and the air conditioner during all the cooking to try to keep the boat from heating up. When they came we had drinks in the cockpit and then came down for dinner. It was still pretty hot below, but we all enjoyed the dinner anyway. I had Bud take a picture (I was at the back of the salon, so it was easier to have him do it). Then we retired to the cockpit for a little more conversation, but we made an early night of it as Leigh is still under the weather and Bud and I have to get ready to leave in the morning.
Susan, JP, Leigh and Raconteur are continuing on south to the Trinidad - Tobago area. So we celebrated their return and the continuation of their journey, and our 6-month anniversary as cruisers. I think Bud was a bit jealous that they were going south and we were going north. He'll feel a lot better about going back once we get the work we want done on the boat. I feel a twinge of regret that we aren't going on this year, but I also want the changes before we venture further and I'm really looking forward to seeing some friends and family again.
I have no idea what Internet access will be like in the islands where we're headed, so be patient. I'll try to post the blog via Sailmail; if that doesn't work you'll see the next posting as soon as I can get at the Internet again. I'll write almost everyday, and post as soon as I can.
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...