12/15/2006, Bullocks Harbor
I hate to say it but December has been pretty gloomy in the Bahamas. We've had some fantastic blue sky days but more often it's a blue patch in a grey sky. We're relaxing in the boat today, working on weather windows and reading. Hideko is reading "Brain Styles for Lovers" (should I be scared?), a book that Captain Charlie on CatNip gave her before we left Bimini. Captain Charlie is a USCG captain and instructor single handing her Packet Cat to Exuma. We spent some great hours chatting with her in Bimini and we were going to sail around North Rock together yesterday morning but one of her cats got loose (hope the kitten is home safe).
The SSB I/O here isn't great. Not bad in the anchorage outside of the harbor but tough inside the marina. We met David on Magic, a beautiful Baba 40 double ender, today. David and Donna have been in the anchorage and, as of yesterday, the marina for a week or so waiting to be able to get around the top of the Berrys in good weather. We're both set to go tomorrow with light North winds in between fronts. We'll head due South to Devils Cay if the window to Nassau stays open later in the week. I'm beginning to see why they call this the thorny path, I guess I need to reread Bruce Van Sant's book.
12/14/2006, Great Harbor Cay
We waited for a rising tide and once we had a foot of water under the keel we weighed anchor and motored into the Marina to tie up and check out Great Harbor Cay. The west side of Great Harbor is rocky and has cliffs as high as 30 feet in places. The rock is eaten away by the tidal flow at the waterline giving it a mushroom like overhang reminiscent of Micronesia, if not so pronounced. The East side of Great Harbor has several beautiful white sand beaches. The southern beach on the east coast is formed in the shape of a huge crescent and has small outlying Cays on each tip. The sand is like confectionary sugar it is so fine and soft. We found a place called "The Beach Club", with great cheese burgers and stiff drinks right on the beach.
As we were exploring the marina area we ran into the crew of Shanty, some folks we'd met in Bimini. They left a little after we did yesterday and got into Great Harbor at 3AM this morning. Steve, the captain, went for a nap as he had been working hard for about 18 hours. Dennis and Linda were crewing for Steve and joined us at the Beach club. After two potent Rum and Cokes, Dennis and I walked around the beach solving all of the world's problems; you know the kind of discussion. On the way back to town (a three mile walk over the hill in the middle of the island) a really nice lady in a van stopped out of the blue and offered us a ride. We graciously accepted. We got out at the local store which had just received a shipment so we bought a nice ripe tomato, some grapes and other stuff.
It turns out that this is sort of standard in the outer islands of the Bahamas. If you have a car and see someone walking your way, the thing to do is offer them a ride. Locals don't always stop for tourists because tourists often want to walk, and though unspoken, tourists may be afraid to get into a car with a stranger. This is an unfortunate fear cultured in the US and other developed countries. Outside of Nassau, safety in the Bahamas if far higher than almost any place in the US I've been. You don't have a lot of crime in places where everyone knows everyone else.
If you need a ride in the Bahamas you don't stick your thumb out, you hold your hand open and out, down by your hip and wave it side to side. This is almost guaranteed to stop the very next car that sees you.
12/13/2006, The Banks
We are fair weather sailors. The problem is that fair weather doesn't always come from the right direction. We had been waiting, enjoying, but waiting, in Bimini for over a week for something we could sail into the Berrys with. My most recent 7 day outlook combined with the NOAA Offshore Forecast had me convinced that if we didn't reduce our weather requirements we would be in Bimini for some time. This time of year fronts tend to show up about every three to four days. Fronts can be squally with high speed wind gusts, rain and overcast skies. Not fun to sail in. On the other hand, fronts create a break in the ever present Easterly trades. You can ride the clocking wind in front of the front, or you can take the north east wind behind the front. The week we were in Bimini both of these types of opportunities came along but always with 20 knots plus and big seas. Big seas translates to "choppy and no fun to anchor in" on the banks.
Needing to get to Nassau by around the 20th and wanting to get some time in cruising the Berrys before that, we needed to find a window within a week. We selected the lesser of evils within the 7 day forecast, a diminishing East wind with reasonable seas. The wind doesn't always blow your way, that's why the lord gave us motors. We were heading from Bimini around North Rock to Bullocks Harbor on Great Harbor Cay. All in all it was about an 80 mile jump. We left before first light in order to ensure that we could make the entire run in daylight. We rounded the North shore of Bimini at about 7AM with a spectacular sunrise in the East and didn't even bother raising the main. The wind was coming from 92 degrees and we were heading 92 degrees. The banks were choppy and it was a rough ride but Swingin' on a Star did over 8 knots the entire way. She would have done more if asked but the crew could only take so much of the seas on the nose so we settled in at 8.
It was a pretty eventless trip. We did a small service on both diesels before leaving Bimini, emptying quite a bit of water from the Starboard Racor. Everything ran smooth for the 10 hours we motored. We did see two skiffs (small open boats with an outboard) 20 miles from anywhere. We wondered how they got out there and how they were going to get back. Each had two guys aboard, one on the motor and one in a wet suit standing on the bow. Later Steve on Shanty informed us that they were probably Lobster hunting and were likely working from a larger boat anchored on the banks.
We hit the Bullocks Harbor way point at 4PM as planned and made our way to the anchorage just south of the entrance to the Great Harbor Cay Harbor. Hideko and I got greedy and went way too far into a long shallow grassy bottomed shelf. We were trying to get right up on this nice white sand beach. We ended up anchored with about an inch of water under the keel at low tide. Some would say that's perfect other would say something else. I was a little concerned about getting out later.
It was our first time using the Rocna. It was overcast all afternoon and started to sprinkle while we were anchoring. The Rocna took a while to set in the tough grassy bottom (one of the less preferable bottom types to anchor in). We had to back down quite a ways before the anchor finally bit. Once set it held like a champ all night in fairly strong winds. The water was beautiful so we ran the water maker for three hours to fill the tanks up a bit. Our Spectra Newport 400 was making 15 gallons an hour in the clear water.
This was our longest passage yet and all motoring into the wind at that. After the Gulf Stream crossing this was not such a big deal but still tiring. Roq, however, managed to sleep the whole way. Once we were settled at anchor Hideko cooked up a nice warm meal and we both hit the hay early.
We had been enjoying Bimini for a while because the weather has not been favorable for crossing the Banks. It looks like finally tomorrow will be the day we will sail (er, motor) to the Berrys. We had made a new batch of friends in Bimini and many of them are planning to leave tomorrow as well.
We scheduled the day before our crossing for diesel maintenance and we wanted to get the work over with early in the day so that we could relax later in the day. We spent a good part of the day saying goodbye to new friends and didn't wrap up maintenance until three o'clock or so. We wanted to go to the beach one last time before sunset. The crew of Side by Side, a Manta catamaran in the harbor, was out on the beach, so we joined them for some relaxation. The water was too cold for Randy and I (26 centigrade) so we stayed on the sand and watched the kids create an obstacle course for their hermit crabs.
We got on the computers at the Ministry of Tourism for some Internet access (first time since FL other than SailMail) right at the end of the day. The folks there knew of a gentleman in Baileytown who was making bread so we were able to pick up two loaves of Bimini bread before we left. Now we had really done Bimini right!
We went to the BTC (Bahamian Telephone Company) today to try to get a cell phone working and lo and behold they were having a massive party with all of Bimini in attendance. They had a Junkanoo band, food and all. Stevie S. sang songs about Bimini and the CEO of BTC introduced their brand new GSM and Blackberry services on Bimini. Just in time for me to enable my GSM phone! Now if I can just find a charger...
12/10/2006, The Galley
So what is there to do when you are on a small island for one week? Read? Sure. But how about baking bread?! I have wanted to bake French Baguettes from scratch for quite some time and now I have all the time in the world.
It took me a day and half following a recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. What was not included in the recipe though was patience. I had to wait overnight for the first fermentation and then hours of waiting for proofing (secondary or final fermentation) on the second day. The three baguette loaves turned out to be pretty good regardless of having a small boat oven and not much control over fermentation temperature. I had the idea of selling bread as a hobby in crowded anchorages in the future. To break even I would have to sell bread for way more money than you can buy the famous Bimini bread. My conclusion: I will keep baking as a hobby. Later, Ellen on Eryne, a French Canadian cruiser, told me that she had a bread recipe that took only an hour and a half! I better get that recipe!