04/20/2011, Bennett's Harbour, Cat Island, Bahamas
When we first dropped anchor here we were all set, then Bud got worried that we didn't have enough chain out. He looked around at the little coral heads and thought we had room for a bit more chain without having the chain hurt any of them. So I brought in the chain until I could reach the part where the snubber was tied, untied the snubber, let out some chain, retied the snubber, then let out more chain and helped the snubber over the bow roller, and let out a final bit of chain until the snubber was again taking the load.
Yesterday after he snorkeled Bud decided that the chain was too close to a small coral. So we took about 15 feet of chain in. And I untied and retied the snubber.
This morning, the wind had shifted and we were now way too close to a coral patch, so I untied the snubber, we brought the anchor up (almost to the bow roller) we moved the boat forward about 30 or 40 feet, we dropped the anchor again, we let the wind set it, Bud backed down on it with the engine, and I set the snubber again. I'm getting really good at tying on the snubber, but it's not an easy knot to tie. The snubber line is ¾" and I have to tie two rolling hitches, each of which has three loops around the chain. To make it more difficult, the shortest dock line Bud could find when he bought this was 25 feet long, and I only use about 15 feet of it. That means I have to pull the extra 10 feet through six times for each time I tie or untie the snubber. So by the time we leave Bennett's Harbour I will have pulled 600 feet of ¾" line through a small loop, all while squatting at the bow. (And yes, we could shorten the line, but we'd rather wait to see if we could get a 15-foot line and not cut off 10 feet on this one. We can always use another 25 foot dock line, but 10 feet of ¾" line is not too useful.)
Being the careful (read paranoid) sailors that we are, we went out again to check the set of the anchor with our viewing bucket. This time I decided to bring the camera along and try to take a picture of the anchor on the bottom. That's what the photo is. You can see the curved bail of the anchor sticking out of the sand at just above the center of the viewing bucket. You can just see the shank of the anchor and the chain going off at about 5 o'clock. The main part of the anchor is buried as usual.
Later in the day I did some more work on the lines. All of the ends of the ropes on the boat need to be finished off. The best finish is to whip them; that is wrapping a small, waxed cord around the ends so they won't fray. You do it so you can pull the ends of your whipping cord under the wraps. Then you seize them, you take another piece of the small cord and a needle and you sew the whipping in place, so it can't slip off the end of the rope. Very few of the lines on this boat were done like that. I had worked at it a lot before we left and a bit along the way so I have all of the running rigging done, that is all of the lines we use to handle the sails. Today I did the ends of the lines we use to tie our fenders on. We have 5 fenders, three of them have two lines, and each line has two ends. It was a couple of hours of work.
Bud, meanwhile, has been working on the stainless fittings on the deck. He's been cleaning the rust off them (yes, in salt water stainless will rust, at least a little) and then coating them with a protectant.
We took time to snorkel again. This place has the best snorkeling we've seen in the Bahamas so far. Bud found a live conch under our boat and I saw a small sea turtle. It's been a nice couple of days.
04/19/2011, Bennett's Harbour, Cat Island, Bahamas
We've decided the time to go walking is in the morning, so we got ready and when we took Fuzzy to shore at 8 AM we walked into the little town of Bennett's Harbour. It is a very pretty, very small town. Everyone on these remote islands says "Hi" as you meet them. We walked by the little schoolhouse, school was in session, the door was open, and perhaps the lessons hadn't started yet, because one little boy called out a hello to us as we walked by.
There are perhaps as many houses empty as occupied. Most of the houses are pretty small. The newer ones have louvered windows that crank open. The schoolhouses in the Bahamas all look alike, and they all have louvered shutters that crank open. The older houses have shutters hinged at the top that prop open with just screens underneath. There were Sanseveria (sp.?) - snake plants - growing along the sides of the road like three-foot high grass. We saw two businesses that looked like businesses, the restaurant/bar/gas station and another bar/restaurant. We walked down to the government dock. They have a huge new dock there and a small building that looked like it had a couple of coolers in it, but no one was there and the whole place was empty.
On the way back from the dock we met Mary. She introduced herself, said she made straw items and invited us to her house to look at what she had for sale. Now there are people who make purses and bowls out of straw on every island we've been to. There is a shop that sells straw items listed in almost every town in the guidebook. But this is the first time someone has come up and introduced themselves, walked along with us and invited us to see their wares. What a saleswoman! Bud handed over his wallet and kept Fuzzy and I walked up to Mary's very little house and looked at her wares. I told her I wasn't sure I could afford anything, there was a lot of work in even the small items, and I figured they'd be very expensive. "You just tell me what you want" said Mary, "and I'll tell you what it costs. I don't work for nobody but Mary, so I think you can afford it." Well I did and I could and I walked away with the first souvenirs I've bought in the Bahamas. I asked Mary to pose for this picture in front of her house. As she said "It's no hotel, but it's mine."
In the afternoon Bud and I took turns snorkeling from the boat. I went first. Right away I noticed a little yellow and orange striped fish. It startled me because it came up from under me and started to swim right at my mask. It was only about 2 inches long, but very pretty. I swam out to several coral heads and then up near the beach and the fish stayed with me. I got out and told Bud about the fish, and as he started I heard him laugh, the fish found him. He swam even farther out and around than I had and that fish stayed with him the whole time.
Our solitude was broken by another boat that came and anchored, Zia from Tampa. But they invited us over for drinks, so that was okay. We had a nice visit. The man who owned the boat had another couple aboard visiting. The two men had taken their kayaks and gone into town...and came back with straw purses from Mary! They were going in to the restaurant/bar/gas station for dinner. They had a menu they'd gotten from the place (not a take out menu, a regular laminated menu) and the prices were really good. Pretty much all the entrées were $10, and included your choice of peas and rice or peas and grits. If we get to talk to them tomorrow we'll have to ask them how it was.
04/18/2011, Bennett's Harbour, Cat Island, Bahamas
When we planned our trip back, going to Cat Island was just a way to easily get to Eleuthera and the Abacos. So far, Cat Island has been my favorite place in the Bahamas. I thought New Bight was nice, with its picturesque Hermitage and only two other boats in the bay. Today, we came a bit over 26 nm north along the west shore of Cat Island to Bennett's Harbour.
We aren't actually in the harbor, which is very small and has no room to anchor. I guess if a front came by with winds from the west we could seek refuge there and tie to the large cement government dock, but there's nothing but easterlies in the forecast, so we are anchored just outside the harbor on one of the prettiest beaches I've seen. And we are the only cruising boat in sight!
Not only that, but when we checked the anchor, we took the dinghy and the viewing bucket over a few of the little coral heads that were close here, to see if we could let a bit more chain out and not hit them with the keel if the wind changed direction. They were deep enough, and they were varied, some stone-type coral, some fan-type coral and the biggest reef fish I've seen to date. It was a dark purple-blue with lighter spots and it was probably 18" long. We are anchored so the boat my drift close to them, but the anchor and chain are in clear sand, so we won't damage any of the little corals.
The town is supposed to have produce in season, there is good snorkeling right around the boat, and there is a creek nearby that is "teeming with marine life" that we can explore by dinghy. And we have the whole place to ourselves - except for the people who live here and at least one person staying at a nearby rental cottage. Still, this feels more secluded than uninhabited Conception Island, with 12 boats at anchor. Very nice!
Plus, we had a fine day's sail getting here. We tried something new today. We hoisted the main while still at anchor. I suggested we try it because we had plenty of room. The main needs to go up while the boat is facing into the wind. There was no current at New Bight, so the boat faced the wind while anchored. It worked beautifully, and we had the jib up and the engine killed almost immediately. We sailed out of that little bay with the wind pretty close to the stern. Then we turned northwest and sailed a broad reach for about 16 miles. The last four were a sleigh ride as close to the wind as we could sail. We got right near the beach before we turned to take the jib in and put the engine back on. The main came down and we were anchored PDQ. I don't think we went much over a half mile with the engine on today. Also very nice (and it keeps the boat cooler).
04/17/2011, New Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas
We did a few more chores today. Bud trimmed Fuzzy again and while he did that I took apart his one fishing reel that wasn't working anymore. I found a gear inside with about 6 missing teeth all in a row. So that reel is dead unless a replacement gear is available. At least Fuzzy got his face and feet and front legs trimmed. We had the generator on (not much wind the last couple of days) so after Bud finished with Fuzzy I vacuumed. The boat always needs to be vacuumed, there is always sand that gets tracked down. Mostly on Fuzzy's feet. We try to clean his feet before he gets in the dinghy for the ride back from the beach. He stands on a towel in the dinghy until I pick him up, that also takes off some of the sand. But it's never all off, so a little gets in the salon, and that adds up pretty quickly.
We decided to hook the mechanical autopilot back up. We did that for two reasons; first, on these short island hops we could really use it to run the boat while we put sails up and down. That would probably be more help than steering the few hours between waypoints. Second, we want to try the Monitor again with the autopilot hooked up. We're hoping that with the control ropes tight enough Sven can handle the wheel even with the extra drag of the autopilot.
In the afternoon Bud finished hooking up the hookah and tried using it. Once he adjusted the engine speed of the little Honda that runs the compressor it worked pretty well. He took a wire brush and scraper and cleaned the algae beards off the metal parts under the boat. He cleaned most of the seacocks, the shaft and propeller, the zincs and the bronze grounding plates. I forgot to take a picture of Bud using the hookah, so I took this one it lashed to the aft deck, which is where it will live from now on.
I was hopeful that cleaning the grounding plates would enable me to use Sailmail again, but I still couldn't transmit. I'm going to need help figuring this one out. I was doing so well, and suddenly I can't transmit at all. So no posts until I find Internet again.
04/16/2011, New Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas
Right where we're anchored on Cat Island is the highest point of land in the Bahamas, Mt. Alverna (also called Mt. Comer). On the top is The Hermitage. We walked up there this morning (before it got too hot). The Hermitage was built by Father Jerome, an Anglican turned Catholic priest who was also an architect. He designed several churches throughout the Bahamas and in 1940, when he was 64, built this little place for his retirement. He made it out of native rock and built it himself. All of it is small, either he was a very small man or he had to duck to get through his doorways. It has a little chapel, a kitchen and a pantry in the main area with a bedroom down and outside hall. There is a covered well and off further a small building with an inside and an outside oven.
The view from the 204-foot "mountain" is spectacular. In the picture Bud took of Fuzzy and me in front of the bell tower, you can see the bay and if you look closely in the arch between the bell tower and the chapel you can just see Earendil at anchor. In the opposite direction from the photo, to the east, you can see the Atlantic.
On the way up to the Hermitage are the 12 Stations of the Cross along a very steep path. At the steepest parts there are very small stairs cut or built into the stone.
The Hermitage is the major tourist attraction on Cat Island. We were there early, but saw only two people the entire way up and down. One was a man on a bicycle right near the beginning of the access road. He said he ran the gas station and was out cutting brush to feed the goats he kept at the station. The other was a young man cutting the ground around the Hermitage by hand. It's all too steep and rough to use any kind of equipment, so I imagine the entire area is maintained by hand.
On our way up we passed several areas that had been burned, and it looked like the brush had been cut back about shoulder high. Upon closer inspection we saw that these were gardens. They are more stone than dirt, but among the stones and the brush we saw sweet corn, tomatoes and a green that looked something like collards. This island is supposed to be one of the produce suppliers for the Bahamas. No wonder most of the produce you see in the grocery stores is imported from the US. What patience it must take to try and get a garden to grow here.
At the bottom of the hill, right near the beach and bay where we're anchored, is the ruin of an old plantation house. It's the Henry Hawkins Armbrister great house and was built in the 1760's. The Armbrister family still owns and runs a resort near here called the Fernandez Bay Village Resort. I put photos of the mornings exploring in the gallery.
We spent the rest of the day on the boat. Bud set up his diving hookah for the first time. He started the little Honda engine and the compressor worked, as did the regulator (the part that you put in your mouth that delivers the air). Tomorrow there's not supposed to be any wind, so we're going to try the hookah in the water.
I worked around the boat and also cut down Fuzzy's dog port-a-potty so it would fit on the cockpit floor. We're hoping he will feel secure enough there to use it if we sail too long. We're planning to do a 24 to 36 hour sail when we cross back to the US. From what we've heard, Fuzzy might just wait the whole time, but in case he can't, we want that ready.
04/15/2011, New Bight, Cat Island, Bahams
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.