01/06/2012, Devils/Hoffman, Berry Islands
Short post and no photo until we get to Nassau tomorrow. Tonight we are at the beautiful anchorage ringed by several cays, including Devils, Hoffman and White. We anchored here last year.
We had an easy motor with almost no wind and no seas. It's just over 28 nm and we got here in about four and a half hours. We had a bit of trouble with the anchor. It wouldn't drop and I had to go down and free the chain in the chain locker. When I got back up the boat had drifted a bit back up on the chain that was down. When we tried to set the anchor the first time, Bud thought we were still moving back. I'm not sure we were straight on the chain yet, but we pulled it up and tried again. It had obviously been buried because it was covered with sand and weeds. We rinsed it off by letting it drag in the water as we repositioned. The second time all went well.
We've been to shore twice, and Bud caught two fish off the boat. We identified them as Margates, good eating quality (not very good or excellent). He threw both of them back. Bud said about a four foot barracuda was after the second one he caught. He didn't even take the time to net it, just yanked it on board so the barracuda didn't get it.
I signaled sunset with the conch horn. I took it with us to take Fuzzy ashore after he ate, as we would be ashore at sunset. I managed to fall getting out of the dinghy as we landed on the beach. I redeemed myself because I was the only one who could blow the horn. A nice man from Germany was there with two of his sons. The family had been at Great Harbour Marina and we'd met them there. They have a beautiful 62 foot Deerfoot, a boat Bud and I have admired since we started looking at bluewater boats.
Bud is cooking supper and I am going to try to post this via the SSB radio. I'll add the pictures tomorrow, hopefully I'll have good internet.
01/05/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands
I haven't mentioned it, but we've had one more system issue aboard. Our hand pump to pump our forward holding tank overboard wasn't working. We thought it wasn't very effective at the end of the season last year, but without a tank monitor, we couldn't really see if we were getting the tank emptied. Once back in the U.S., we never use that. In U.S. waters you have to have your holding tanks pumped out at a proper facility, and just about every marina has a pump-out facility.
As we headed out to the Bahamas, we tried to pump out our tanks in the deep water of the Gulf Stream. The new tank monitor showed that nothing was getting pumped out of the forward tank. Because we were concerned about that pump, we'd bought a rebuild kit before we left. Monday Bud started to take the pump apart to rebuild it. The kit contains a diaphragm and two valves. What Bud found when he took the pump apart was that the metal frame of the pump was actually eroded. Undaunted, he cleaned the pump body up and repaired the erosion with Marine Tex. He was able to get the screws out of the old valves, but when he went to replace them found that the screw holes were also eroded. We managed to find slightly larger ones and Bud drilled and tapped the holes. Today he put the pump back together and tried it in a bucket of water. It works!
The damage was bad enough that we are going to try to find a replacement pump in Nassau. If we can't find one, we hope this holds together for the season. At least it looks like it will work for now.
While he was doing that I was working on making conch horns. The shells from the three conchs Jon and Arline caught had been soaking in bleach since Monday. Arline and I had cleaned them yesterday and let them soak again overnight. Today we finished cleaning them. Once they were rinsed and dried, I took our hacksaw and cut the tip off of each of them. I then used our Dremel tool to cut out the whorl of shell inside the openings I'd made. I used a grinding stone bit to polish the hacksaw cut to make a smooth mouthpiece. Finally, I used Marine Tex to fill in the holes that Bud and Arline had knocked in them to get the meat out. After a bit of practice I was able to get a good solid hoot out of all of them. The biggest one, which is not as pretty as the others, sounds the best. The prettiest one is the hardest to blow, as the outer lip of the shell gets in the way of the mouthpiece. I'm keeping at least two of them for now, but I think the big one will be the official boat conch horn. Now we can join in the Bahamian cruisers tradition of blowing a conch horn to signal sunset. There are conch horns for sale everywhere, but a purchased conch horn just wouldn't be right on a cruising boat.
01/04/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands
Arline is a great organizer and it's wonderful to be here with her. Today she arranged a bus for the twelve of us who've been hanging out together so we could explore the island. We ended up in two vans. Here we are at the first stop, Shell Beach at the mouth of Shark Creek. At low tide (it was just starting to come back in as we got there) there is a huge area of sand and shallow water to walk. Shark Creek isn't really a creek, it's a narrow band of salt water linking the east and west sides of the island. There isn't enough land area, and there isn't enough impervious land for there to be any fresh water creeks in the Bahamas, except on Andros Island (where we've never been).
After Shark Creek we went to the other end of the island to Cave Beach. Our guide, Circle, (that's really his name) took pictures of the group in the cave. I took a picture of him taking pictures. I also got pictures of his driver (who drove the second van) Rasmus (I think I've got that name right). He's a very colorful character. He said he visited Great Harbour from Nassau twice. The second time was ten years ago and he never went home. He has cousins here, and his grandmother, at 103, is the oldest person on the island.
Circle gave us the history of the island during the drive. He said the population was 712, counting us. He told us all about the golf course. He also told us they used to have a swing bridge across the cut to get from the marina to town. One of the cruiser's father used to come to the Berry Islands to fish in the '60's. She said he and his friends almost always went to Chubb Cay because they didn't want to hassle with the swing bridge. It didn't have an attendant, so you had to make a reservation to have it opened to get into the marina. I don't think that bridge was taken down until the '80's or '90's. Then the present causeway was built as an alternate route to town.
Circle drove us into town and pointed out the church where his wife is the minister, the two grocery stores (where we stopped to shop), the school, the cemetery, the restaurant and the post office and government clinic, which are in the same building.
The whole tour, which took about three hours total, was $5 each. Definitely worth the money and a lot of fun. Along with the other pictures I took of the tour, I took a picture of Circle's van, because on the door is painted "Island Bus Service, Call VHF 16". That's so typically Bahamian, to call the local tour bus on marine radio.
01/03/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands
OK, you folks up north aren't going to want to hear me complain, but the front came through last night with 30-knot winds as predicted. What I wasn't prepared for was how cold it got. It never got over 70 today, and the wind chill was in the 60's!
There's a fine group of cruisers here and today we all went for a walk. Jon and Arline led us through the ruins of the beautiful golf club that was here. It used to be the hangout of some of the rich and famous. Later drug traffickers frequented the island and used the club. Today there's little left. You'll notice in the photo all the hikers are wearing jeans and jackets (except Bud, who is still wearing shorts, but even he has on a sweatshirt and a jacket).
I took another walk this afternoon with the people from the boats immediately on either side of us. We all walked up to the beach on the east side of the island. Then Jon and Arline went back and Linda, Mark and I walked a mile or so up the beach to the point. It's the same walk Bud, Fuzzy and I took when we came here last year, but it was a lot colder today. This afternoon it got so cold I wore jeans and put on my foul weather jacket. But I was walking in white sand, not snow, so I'm sure I shouldn't complain. This wind ends tonight, I'm not sure when it will warm up. I added photos to the gallery from today's hikes.
01/02/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands
Earendil and Kasidah are finally side by side at the same marina in the Bahamas. We tried to catch up with Jon and Arline all last season, and the closest we got was when we were both in Nassau at different marinas, they were coming back and we were going out. We plan to enjoy the next few days together. There is a cold front coming through tonight. The winds may get up to 30 to 35 knots. We're happy to be tied up snug in this marina.
Today was the last day of the weather window we used to get here. It was still this morning and quite nice all day. After a long, hot shower I decided to take a bit of a walk. The marina sits on the inside of a peninsula formed by the marina, the harbor, the cut into the harbor and the surrounding sea. I walked down that peninsula. I wanted to try to find a way out to the ocean (the banks, as the shallows around the Bahamas are called) or to the cut. I was able to find both.
All beaches in the Bahamas are public, and there are lots of places from land where there is beach access. I was pleased to find a sign for beach access along the road and followed it back to a lovely little beach. I found a sand dollar, which I collected. Coming back to the main road I continued down until I came to the cut. There was a track going off towards the ocean side of the cut and I followed it back and came to a terrace-like area where the signs for boaters entering the cut are posted. I put pictures of my walk in the gallery.
I started back and was going to see just how long it would take to get back to the marina, but one of the workers from the marina came by and gave me a ride in his truck. That's typical of Bahamians. I have never met more friendly people. It's so nice to be back here. When I first went out this morning I was listening to the silence. I heard one vehicle, a motorcycle, come near and stop. It was so quiet I heard a man sneeze on the other side of the marina.
Jon and Arline took their dinghy out to try to get some conch. They brought back three large conchs. They gave us one. Barry, from the marina, showed Bud and Arline how to clean them. Then Jon made conch fritters out of their two and invited all the cruisers for a happy hour. We took some chips and hummus and everyone brought drinks. There were at least 12 boaters that gathered. Arline had champagne that she poured into little paper cups and we all toasted the cruising life "no matter what it costs" said Jon. We met some nice people as usual. There's a couple here from Oak Orchard, Anna and Greg, who left the same year we did and are on a ketch. So our little gathering had three boats from Lake Ontario (and another one from Ottawa, which isn't that far). There's a picture of the folks at the conch fritter happy hour in the gallery, too. Arline and I aren't in the group because we were both taking pictures for our blogs.
01/01/2012, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands
What a way to start the new year. Bud and I got up, got ready and left the harbor at 3:50 AM. One little slip. This is a man made channel into a basin. The marina is just off the basin. Once you're out the channel you just continue straight out for a short while to deep water. No problem at night. However, this is the Bahamas. Once we left the area of the marina slips there were no lights; no street lights, store lights, house lights, nothing. It was pitch black and we had no way to see the edge of the basin or the turn into the channel. Bud idled along following our track on the chart while I hurried below and got out our spotlight (all the way in the back on the shelf under the nav station, cord terribly tangled) plugged it in and brought it up. I shown it around on the walls of the basin and the jetty and we eased into the channel and out between the blinking red and green lights (yes, actual navigation aids) at the mouth of the channel and we were out.
We motored the two and a half hours until dawn because we didn't want to put sails up in the dark. We used our AIS to identify the three huge and sinister lights up ahead as a "tanker, not under command". He was probably anchored, but was way out from shore and not near any anchorage. The other two boats moving slowly along were cruise ships, idling towards Freeport. Our course took us along the shore and across in front of Freeport. We passed Freeport before dawn and listened to the cruise ship radio operators talk to the harbormaster about coming in at 7 and 7:45 respectively. Happily we were now past the port.
The sky started to light up a bit after 6 and the sun rose at 7:04. It was a welcome sight to me! We put out all the sails in the very light wind and motor sailed. We had the engine running at under 2000 RPM and were doing over 7 knots. It was lovely, smooth sailing. At 9:30 Bud went below to rest and I took the helm. The wind picked up to over 10 knots. I didn't want to change the speed of the engine because I knew that would rouse Bud, so I just kept going. We were ripping along at between 7.8 and 8.2 knots. I was keeping a sharp lookout for other ships as we were cutting diagonally across the Northwest Providence Channel, the main shipping channel into the Bahamas. I was hoping there would be little traffic on Sunday, New Year's Day. I saw the top of a boat off the stern. Then I saw another off the bow. I switched views to see the large chart with the AIS and saw five little wedges of ships all headed towards us! They were still a long ways off so I didn't call Bud. I engaged the autopilot to free my hands and moved the curser over the closest little wedge and clicked on it. Not as easy as it sounds, because we were sailing along and the autopilot is less than precise so the bow of the boat was swinging in direction somewhat. Every time that happened, the chart, which is set to display direction of travel up, would adjust and the little grey wedges would move. It was like playing a video game; only you're standing on a heeling boat that is moving around in the waves. I finally got the first boat identified; it would come no more than 2 nm from us. Whew! Then I clicked on the boat behind it. It would come as close as a half nautical mile. That one I wanted to watch. The other three were further away and I gave up on the video game for the time being. I went back to steering the boat. After a bit I tried the closest approaching boat again. This time, as our course varied, I saw an approach as close as 0.2 nm. The other three little grey wedges were also getting closer and I didn't think I could manage to keep tabs on all these boats and keep steering. I saw Bud moving around below. Good, he'd be up in a minute and I'd have help. He didn't come up (it probably was all of a minute) and finally I broke down and called him. He took over the wheel and I took over the chart manipulation. Much better. We also shut the engine off because we were sailing at over 7 knots without it.
Bud altered our course up into the wind a bit for about a half hour until the closest boat passed us. Since we were going diagonally across the channel, we were going diagonally across the shipping lanes. There were two Bahama freighters headed for Nassau whose path was not far off from ours. The closest boat showed it coming within 67 feet of us at some combinations of course and speed as our boat moved with the wind and waves. Bud held us away from the lanes and the boats finally passed. The other three boats never came near us. Once that group of boats passed we had the place to ourselves again and could settle down and sail. I went up on the bow and took this shot trying to get in as much as I could of all the sails flying.
We sailed from about 10:30 until about 1:30 PM. Then the wind started to come forward and die down. We kept sailing for a while because we'd made such good time we expected to get into Great Harbour by 4PM. Another thing our wonderful chart plotter does is to tell you the expected time remaining to your target at the current course and speed. We were down to about 2 hours to the waypoint (about 4 miles outside Great Harbour) when the wind started to die. When our speed dropped until we now had 2 and a-half hours to go, we got discouraged and started the engine again.
We finally dropped the sails when we came onto the banks, and the water depth got down below 20 feet. We still had several miles to go, but we'd be turning more into the wind anyway and decided to get the sails down where there was plenty of room to maneuver. (We turn downwind to furl the jib and directly into the wind to drop the main.) We were still a couple of miles out when we heard Jon on Kasidah, hailing us on the radio. Jon and Arline had left Lake Worth just after we did and sailed all day and all night and come directly to Great Harbour, arriving this morning. What a pleasure to come into a foreign country, but to a harbor you are familiar with, with friends already there. We docked at 4:20 PM. It took us twelve and a-half hours to sail 85.5 nm. Altogether we sailed 208 nm in three days! We are beat! I tried to write this blog earlier but was just too tired. It's now 10:30 and I am falling asleep at the computer. I hope this is still making sense. I put a couple more pictures in the gallery.
It was tiring, but a wonderful way to start the new year.