01/13/2007, Stocking Island
After three days and nights of 20 to 30 knot winds we were done. The forecast was predicting gradual moderation but no real breaks until Tuesday or Wednesday. Hideko and I were not going to stay on the dock another night. There are lots of places in the Bahamas that we would be happy to be stuck but this marina was not one of them.
I have used a spring line to get mono hulls off of lee docks several times in strong wind but trying this for the first time with our new boat in gusts up to 30 knots gave me the willies. After a quick review of our insurance policy we began to put a plan together.
I had asked the dockmaster to help us get off the day before at noon but he never showed up. After his no show I enlisted the willing help of our friends on Edelweiss and Red Leopard.
We began by getting the engines running and warmed up as a safeguard in case we needed to control the boat at some point during preparations. Our next step was to install a new spring line on the port bow cleat brought back to a dock post amidships. With the wind on the Starboard quarter we could then remove all of the other lines which we did one by one to ensure that the boat was stable as each line came off. Next we moved two fenders up to the port bow and secured them there.
We had five people working the problem. Hideko was stationed on the bow with a fender in hand ready to pop it in at the apex as I rolled the boat forward. Lowell was on the dock holding the tail of the spring line ready to release it once we were off. Rick was on his dinghy with a line to a stern cleat to help swing the rear end out (rick has a monster dinghy with a 20hp outboard) and Jane was on board ready to loose the line on the stern cleat once we were clear.
We waited for a little bit to see if the wind would give us a break but it continued to press the boat onto the dock with a minimum of 20 knots. When everyone was ready I popped the starboard engine into gear and began to drive the boat up on the dock. As the spring line took hold the boat began to roll onto the bow fenders gradually bringing the stern out into the wind. As we drove up on the dock Hideko put the critical fender in the exact spot necessary to allow us to roll as far forward as possible without scaring the gel coat. The wind was whipping through the cockpit because we had dropped the wind screen to reduce windage. The chop was relentless and I was very worried that the up and down motion would pop us off of a critical fender at the worst possible moment. Rick put pressure on the stern as we closed up the last few safe inches of roll.
Hideko signaled reverse. There was nowhere to go but back or into the dock. I gunned both 54 horsepower Yanmars in reverse and Swingin on a Star bolted off the dock and into the channel. I was surprised and impressed at how much thrust she could generate even with all of the wind and waves working against her. She's show a pretty tall 26 foot wide profile to the wind when backing up.
There was a 3 foot shoal area at the end of the dock that we had to get wide of and another dock to starboard that we needed to avoid hitting. I had preset the rudder a little to starboard to turn her out into the channel a bit as we gained steerageway. This all happened quickly and I found myself driving the boat backwards in close quarters at several knots. During this process Jane set Rick free and we cleared the outer post. The wind continued to try to drive us back into the dock and the shoal area but I decided to make the turn down wind in order to avoid the post at the end of the adjacent dock. It was work getting her around but as her nose came into the wind everyone exhaled.
I couldn't believe how perfectly everyone executed the plan we put together. We are blessed to have such great friends. I'm sure that they all had better things to do than stress out trying to get a 50 foot boat off of a lee dock in 30 knot gusts. Hideko and I are still getting used to our boat. She impresses me more every day (Hideko and the boat :-). With a more experienced skipped she probably could have come off single handed. While I enjoy developing the experience I will take the help of good friends any day.
Rick got up on a plane and showed us a great anchoring spot he had found on the southern most end of Monument beach. It was beautiful. There's a small hill knocking the wind down 5 or so knots and the minimal fetch between us and the beach eliminated all of the chop. There were boats everywhere enjoying the sun and water. It was like traveling to another country. We dropped the Rocna in 7 feet of water with a sand bottom and fell back about 75 feet to keep things tight enough for the other boats around.
I dove on the anchor and gasped when I hit the water. The water was 71 degrees! I had gotten used to the nice warm 85 degrees of the banks. The anchor was perfectly set, not completely buried but the flukes were dug well in. I ended my refreshing swim quickly and looking next to us noticed that we had anchored right across from Shanty! It was great to see Steve and chat with him. He had quite a bit of local knowledge and we got several great tips. He also lent us an anchor light which we really needed in the busy anchorage. It was fantastic to be out of purgatory and in the real cruiser's Georgetown, which is actually 100% focused on the anchorages west of Stocking Island.
We passed the afternoon chatting with Shanty, Eyran and Mica on the back porch. After dinner we joined Red Leopard one anchorage over for a game of Mexican Train Dominos with the Edelweiss crew. It was a great time. We brought ice (hey, it's a rare commodity out here!) and Rick served up some great Guacamole and Caribbean Mai Tais. We packed it in around 8PM and enjoyed a nice sleep without squeaking fenders.
01/12/2007, Great Exuma
My most recent gear reflections have been centered on fenders. Fenders are important if you plan to dock your boat or come alongside any hard object (quay, another boat, whatever). Everyone has to come alongside for fuel at least.
The docks in the Caribbean are rarely floating with rubber rails and smartly dressed dock attendants waiting to take your dock lines. More typically they are wood or concrete posts with wood planking in various stages of decay, no cleats and a lonely wind blowing down the planks. Obviously getting onto the leeward side of the dock is always the way to go, but if you are riding out a front with clocking winds or given no choice by the dock master, the windward side of the dock may be in your future.
Fenders are amazing. I have watched our 15 ton boat driven by wind gusting to 30 knots and nasty peaky chop smash the heck out of a set of fenders for three days and they just take it. I will need to reinflate them as soon as we get off of the dock but I am simply amazed that they don't pop, they just deform and reform over and over. Getting a good quality fender is an important investment.
Oversized fenders are always a plus. It is hard for me to imagine a fender being too big (within reason). The only real constraints are price (these buggers are expensive), your ability to store them (you can of course flatten them if need be and then re-inflate them prior to each use) and, if you are using them in a slip, fitting them between the boat and the dock. A good oversized fender can be positioned in a place slightly away from the beamiest part of the boat and still provide total protection. Also as the boat is severely pressed by strong winds and wave chop, larger size will hold the boat off longer and make the motion smoother. In the end, a fender that is too small is useless and a fender that is a little large is great.
Fenders come in various shapes, balls, tubes, pads, etceteras. We have tubes and I think these are the most common. Tubes work well because they roll with a swell or tide and give you a line of coverage rather than a point like a ball. This is particularly important if you need to fend off a dock post in a marina where the boat moves back a forth a bit on her spring lines. The pads strike me as even better in some scenarios because they give you a rectangular area of coverage managing fore and aft as well as up and down variation, perhaps caused by tide. The pads might be a bit tricky to store inflated however.
Strong forces in constant flux tend to squeeze fenders out of their intended position, typically a point of maximum compression. This means constant adjustment and 24 hour supervision or some mechanism for keeping things in place. It has been an ordeal keeping things positioned properly to protect the boat while we wait for a break in the wind to get off of the dock. We ended up mousing down the top horizontal fender in a stacked set of three amidships and keeping lines tight on each end of the fenders to hold them in place. The mouse acts sort of like a breast line with one side looped under the dock boards and the other cleated off on the boat. We have not had to make any adjustments since but a fender board would have been much easier.
Fender boards are a great invention and if you can manage to stow them, wonderful to have. We don't have fender boards but I wish we did. A fender board is a board or some such that you place two or more fenders behind. The dock post rubs the board and the fenders rub the boat. This keeps harsh concrete posts from mauling your fenders and does a much better job of keeping everything in place and providing a large contact surface. Many cruisers make their own fender boards but there are some commercially available products now.
The number of fenders you need depends on the size of your boat. That said I don't think anyone should have fewer than six; three for each side in a slip and three horizontal and two vertical with a spare for alongside tie ups. A few extra may come in handy.
01/11/2007, Exuma Docking Services
It was not a fun night. We spent most of it getting our fender configuration dialed in. With fifty feet of length and about five feet of freeboard our boat can put a considerable amount of pressure on a dock in 25 knots of sustained wind. The sawing affect of the harbor chop makes it even more fun with waves barreling right through the marina. What marina? Fenders slide forward or back, squeeze up or down, it is a constant battle to keep the boat protected.
First thing in the morning we made some coffee and then Hideko went to the store to buy some more fenders. We now have out all six of our large fenders and three new smaller fenders. This dock is treacherous; it nicked up our rub rail a bit last night (glad we have a rub rail!). The dock planks stick out as far as the posts so you really have to protect your topsides. I sawed off a few that were cracked and rotten. We have three horizontal fenders on a post amidships to bear the main load and one each fore and aft to handle the small compressions as the boat yaws in the wind. There are various other fenders near the middle of the boat to protect the gel coat. Our aft spring line is holding us in place and we have a cross tie on the far bow cleat and the far stern cleat to keep her parallel.
The constant chop mashes the fenders about so we really have to have someone here at all times to realign things every once in a while. On the other hand it has been sort of nice to have a down day and easy access to the store. I think that we've finally built our larder back up to spec after the family visit.
It is interesting listening to the VHF here. You're best off monitoring 16 and 68 with double watch. Most of the cruisers hail on 68 but 16 is still an active and important channel. The cruiser network is stronger than anywhere I've ever seen. Everyone you've met on a sailboat in the Bahamas is either here or on the way. There are over 150 boats all networking, chatting and helping each other out. Organized activities take place on Volleyball beach every day. It sounds like a lot of fun. Now if we can just get out of here and over there...
01/10/2007, North Great Exuma
The front hit at 4AM. We are so bummed. A little bit of rain came with it but by 5AM the wind was really getting up. We still had the car from yesterday so we piled the luggage into the trunk and took the folks off to the airport. The airport is a good drive from Georgetown and is located more or less in the center of Great Exuma. We saw my folks off at the security check point and drove back to the coast. The wind was in the 20s at this point so I basically gave up on getting off of the dock. Hideko wanted to see the Emerald Bay Resort and Marina so we turned left at the roundabout and traveled up to the North end of Great Exuma.
The resort was very nice and we had a good breakfast at the café there. In typical Four Seasons style the service was good, they had nice shops, a selection of places to eat, lovely pools, beach access, golf course, spa and everything was rather expensive. The Marina was under construction and only some of the slips have power. The entrance is through a narrow cut well north of Elizabeth harbor and it was breaking by the time we got there (as in, you could surf the channel). Needless to say no one was coming or going for several days. Perhaps they plan to install a break water some day? Perhaps they like having captive clients? They were charging $3 a foot for full service and only $1 per foot for slips without power. A special rate of $0.75 per foot had been offered to cruisers in the Georgetown area.
The Emerald Bay is nice and they have a shopping center with a good grocery store, a pizza place and some other stuff in the area, but it is fairly isolated from everything else. It would be a good stop for a large motor yacht but probably not a budget cruiser.
It was nice to see the north side of the island but when we returned we had to face the reality of being pinned to the dock for as many as five days. A good three foot chop develops by the time it gets across the harbor to us, adding to the impact of the 20 plus wind. If I can get any sort of break I'll use it to spring off and move to the protected anchorage in the lee of Stocking island (with everyone else).
For the first time we beat Eyran out of the anchorage. I was amazed. Hideko and I hauled anchor as morning light just started to touch the sky. We followed the first boat out of the cut as the light strengthened enough to make out the surroundings.
There was a noticeable ground swell coming straight into the cut and peaking up a bit as it climbed up the ever shallower bottom. You could easily see how these cuts could get treacherous in strong easterly conditions. The Bahamians call violent currents accompanied by breakers in a cut a Rage. Quite appropriate.
The wind was two or three knots from wherever so we motored without the sails. I ran both motors to ensure a timely arrival. Mom and Dad wanted to look around Georgetown and this would really be their only day. We did about 9 knots all the way at about 2,400 RPM in the calm conditions. I really wanted to get an extra knot or two from the main but every time I looked at the instruments the wind was coming from where we were going at the speed we were going. Not enough wind, or too much, so they say.
Hideko dropped a hand line overboard with a Wahoo lure for the first time on our trip so far. Dad, and old boy scout, helped her rig up a snubber and I did my best to find the 80 foot line. We didn't get any bites but it was nice to have the rig set up and tested. I love Wahoo and Hideko loves sushi, and a guy we met in Great Harbor says that Wahoo makes the best sushi you can get. We're both looking forward to testing this advice.
Various folks have tried to put the fear into us about the Elizabeth Harbor gauntlet. The Explorer Charts do a good job of laying out a nice track through the shoal hazards so I just dropped their way points into the chart plotter and kept a close eye on the water on the way in. We watched a mail boat enter in front of us but he was too fast to follow. We turned into Conch Cut and everything else was as advertised all the way to the dock.
As we tooled down the harbor we saw lots of cruising boats anchored off of Monument beach, so named because of the 15 foot stone monument clearly visible at the top of the hill. We also saw Calypso, Swingin on a Star's new sister ship, docked at the Saint Francis Resort. There were even more boats in front of the volleyball beach, which seems to be the principal beach for daily cruiser activities.
There wasn't too much traffic but I did notice a small dinghy heading toward us with some freight on board. As it got closer Hideko recognized them. It was the Edelweiss crew! They had just returned from picking up a gas generator in Georgetown (delivered from Nassau on the mail boat). It was great to see them. They were in high spirits and had been enjoying Georgetown for a few weeks. After locating their boat we agreed to meet up later.
We wanted to dock on Great Exuma for the night to facilitate getting my parents safely ashore early in the morning with all of their luggage. Exuma Docking Service is the only game in town anywhere close to Georgetown. After a trying radio conversation with "Sugar One", the Exuma Docking Services radio alias, we ended up just bringing the boat into the docks. Seeing no one on the dock and getting no direction on the radio we decided to take an end tie facing east, perfect for getting off in the upcoming nasty weather. Just as I was about to close the gap the dock master hollered at us from the western most dock. He seemed insistent that we park on what would be the windward side of the dock near a charted 3 foot area.
I pulled in and, as can happen here, I couldn't get a straight answer as to why he wanted us there. The Red Leopard crew was on shore selling Georgetown Cruising Regatta Tee Shirts and came to help us tie up. Like Edelweiss, we hadn't seen them since Bimini. Rick cautioned me about the east swell that marches through the marina in an east wind and placed his vote of no confidence in the facilities. We were a long way from the protection of the north east bluffs of Stocking Island and the dock was not quite falling apart but far from spry. We had shore power but I'm guessing a lot of the dock space is derelict due to instability or lack of services. The onshore bathrooms and showers were pretty rank and I wouldn't put anything I valued in the laundry facilities. Given the conditions today it was a fine place for now, not to mention the only place, so we left Swingin on a Star tied up and headed off to square away air fare, explore and grab some lunch.
We had lunch at the Peace and Plenty with Lowell and Jane from Edelweiss. The Peace and Plenty seems to be the principal hang out in Georgetown with its beachside hotel and restaurant. There is a little straw market on the way with nice baskets and hats and a grocery with everything you really need.
After lunch we rented a car and headed for Tropic of Cancer beach on Little Exuma. We drove to the Southern tip of Great Exuma and crossed a one lane bridge, known as The Ferry, then drove South on the main road looking for a telephone pole with blue reflectors. Rick and Myrna had given us the directions, typical for the Bahamas. If you ever want to know about all of the best places and Red Leopard is there, just call them up. If they've been there 24 hours they will have the whole place wired.
The Topic of Cancer beach is supposed to be on the Tropic of Cancer, the beginning of the tropics and the latitude beyond which the sun does not traverse in the Northern hemisphere. I believe that the Tropic of Cancer is 23 degrees 28 minutes north, and after a quick chart check the beach is a fair bit south of there. Quite beautiful and highly recommended all the same. I noticed some good lobster spots a few hundred yards off shore that I will have to return to.
After a nice dinner at, you guessed it, the Peace and Plenty we retired to the boat to give Mom and Dad a while to pack. It was going to be another early morning and I want to get the boat off of the dock before we got pinned in by the heavy post frontal winds.
01/08/2007, Galliot Cay
We headed out leisurely at 10 AM this morning for a 4 mile motor to Galliot Cay. Galliot has a good cut out to the Exuma Sound in reasonable weather and some reefs Alex and I wanted to explore for Lobster. We took our time picking our way out of Little Farmers and around the Galliot sand bore. There were a lot of boats staging at Galliot for a run to Georgetown the next day. The weather had been on the nose and fairly brisk making the fleet pause until the 9th for a mass exodus. The 9th was light and variable but a front was coming with 25 knot winds from the North and East on its tail for four or five days.
We saw Eyran anchored in the protected cut north of Galliot but we decided to hook up on the west side to minimize the current. "Nice and Easy" and "It's About Time", a pair of Island Packets that we had heard on the radio all the way down the Exumas but never ran across, had the only two really good spots in front of Galliot's picturesque little beach. We anchored a little north of them just a bit into the current.
Alex came by after a bit in his dinghy. He had caught two Lobster while trolling around with Mia, his four year old daughter. Alex came back out with Hideko and I for some hunting later in the day. We explored some beautiful reefs but we didn't find anything worth taking.
The crew hit the hay early in order to make a day break start. Galliot is a beautiful little area and it would have been nice to stay another day or two. That said, the doors to all of the cuts and harbors would be closed (due to breaking waves and such) for about a week after tomorrow so we were on the move.
01/07/2007, Ocean Cabin
I started tracking the weather a bit more actively a few days ago, looking for a good window to make the run to Georgetown on Great Exuma. My parents wanted to see the big island. The Great Exuma Airport (which actually qualifies as an airport) is a good way to hop back to Nassau where the folks had a flight booked for the 10th. Worst case we could always fly them back from Staniel, Black Point on Great Guana or even Little Farmers Cay.
Little Farmers is a short 14 mile trip southeast from Staniel. The wind wasn't really cooperating but we decided to get as far south as possible and Little Farmers was a good target. We were going to anchor on the west side on the deeper water route to hook up with our friends on Eyran. As we passed Black Point they hailed us on the VHF. They were staying the night there. Why? Laundry. The Black Point facilities are apparently a little more developed than those at Staniel. We agreed to meet up at Galliot the next day, one island south of Big Farmers.
The channel between the southern tip of Great Guana and Little Farmers looked like a better spot to go ashore, the town seemed to be mostly around the small harbor on the East side of Little Farmers. The track through the channel to the anchorage tucked up behind Great Guana was shallow and intricate. My crew had been undergoing water reading training for the past few days and I felt like they were up to it so we targeted the most secluded anchorage spot in the area. The holding was marked as poor but some locals had placed moorings on sand screws just of the Great Guana beach. We carefully threaded our way through the passage between the islands with Hideko on one bow chair and Mom on the other. Dad covered the port side and I kept a look out to starboard and everywhere else I could.
The current was strong, a sand bar rose up in the middle of the cut between the islands and some small waves were breaking on the reef that lies just outside of the turn into the beach. It was our most delicate anchorage entrance yet. Thanks to the great depth callouts from the crew we didn't hit anything. We tried to take the last mooring ball of the five along the beach but I started to see numbers on the depth gauge beginning with a four so we settled on the second to last buoy. I think that our depth meter is about a foot conservative from the waterline but I like to treat it like the real thing.
I took Roq to the beach where an old steel trawler was resting five or six feet above the high water mark. I wondered about the old boat's story. How did it get there? Did everyone get off ok? From a distance it looked almost whole, sitting proud and upright on the sand. Roq and I were both bare foot so we decided not to explore the rusty interior.
We walked back to the dink and I loaded old Roq into the back seat of the boat. The beach had a shallow approach so I had to push well out into the water before I could hop on and fire up the outboard. I should say, "try to fire up the outboard". The rip cord on our Yamaha had stuck once during my reversed gas line antics off of Key Biscayne, but has never been a problem since, until today. No matter what I tried I couldn't get the starter cord to pull. It was completely locked up. If you ever want to get intimate with the current in a place, try rowing against it. Better yet, try it with a 65 pound dog sticking his nose, tail, butt, etceteras, in your face.
I made it back to the big boat after my afternoon workout and quickly set about taking the outboard apart and, kids now gone, spouting some choice language. There is a locking mechanism on most outboards that keeps you from starting the engine in forward or reverse, and ours now stops you from starting the engine in neutral also. This lock is not present on the 2 hp Yamaha but I suspect the liability lawyers have made it standard issue the rest of the way up the line. After locating the lock and confirming its guilt I removed said device. I'm sure that I will burn for it but at least I won't go floating off into the deep blue with a perfectly good outboard that wont start. I'm quite capable of running out of gas and hooking up the fuel line backwards on my own, thank you. We do have to be extra careful about starting 'er up in neutral now of course, but it seems to pull easier (maybe my imagination...).
We went ashore on Little Farmers at the government dock. The little harbor has rocks and reef around the opening and some shoal water on the interior. The government dock is on the near side of the south end of the harbor. A few Little Farmerites were chatting on the dock dressed in their Sunday go to meeting clothes. They greeted us and directed us to Ocean Cabin the center of cruiser activity on the island (which consisted of us tonight). We tried to always dress up a bit (golf shirt and shorts with no holes?) in the evening out of respect for the Bahamians who are always properly dressed unless working on the docks or some such.
Terry, the proprietor of Ocean Cabin greeted us warmly and served us up some Ocean Cabin Rum Punches. Wow, careful with these. They're blue and they have a bad attitude. We all had lobster dinners at the great price of $20 a piece. The OC has a nice book exchange as well as tee shirts and Little Farmers Cay flags (the only Cay to have its own flag so we're told).
After a wonderful dinner and some great conversation we bid Terry adieu and headed back to the dinghy. It was a very dark night as the moon had not yet risen. The stars were magnificent. The dinghy ride was interesting. Nothing like the sound of breaking waves that you can not see to sharpen your senses. We carefully piloted out of the reef at the entrance to the little harbor and across the big harbor toward a mono hull who was moored near by. Complicating matters was the fact that our anchor light had given up the ghost several nights back. We left the transom lights on but the wind had pointed the transom away from us. I was envisioning all sorts of Gilligan's Island scenarios but doing my best to backtrack while Hideko managed the flashlight up front. Shortly thereafter we caught site of Swingin on a Star and headed home for the night.