01/18/2007, Volleyball Beach
Today we hit Volleyball Beach for the first time. This place is the center of all cruiser activity in the area. There are all sorts of cruiser organized activities taking place and truly something for everyone. A lot of folks come out everyday for Dominoes, Bridge, Volleyball (ranging from highly competitive to jungle ball), or just to hang out on the beach and relax. There's a little bar and grill called Chat & Chill right on the beach and while it is a bit expensive, it has a great beach vibe and is in a perfect location to keep all of the cruisers properly lubricated.
Hideko and I went to a Bridge Training session hosted by Stewart, the British skipper of Union Jack who we met at the Atlantis Marina. He is obviously a bridge expert and did a great job herding the chickens. We all learned a lot and then played a few hands. We teamed up with the crew of Shaza, Bob and Sharon, for our practice runs.
Bob was responsible for the tour of the Stromatolites the prior day that we missed. Stromatolites are bacteria and this flavor actually forms reefs of a special kind. They typically exist in extreme conditions (for instance very hot) in the modern world and it was quite a surprise when they were discovered a few years back in the Exumas. They are not known to be found anywhere else outside of extreme environments. Bob gave us a nice overview of the tour he provided but we were even more bummed out that we missed it afterwards. There are so many amazing things to see in the world. The more you learn about things the more amazing they are.
After a quick run to the boat to let Roq play on the beach we headed to the Saint Francis for the evening Texas Hold 'Em tournament. It was a lot of fun and there were at least 30 folks playing. Hideko and I both played and made it about half way.
As we got set to head home under the moonless night sky with millions of stars above, we realized that we had no flashlight. Major cruiser sin, that. It was no problem for me to find the way back to the boat but the other dinghy captains blasting around at 10 knots can't see you. It had been such a busy day, and so bright and sunny that we just didn't think about a light. We need to make a good waterproof light a standard part of the dinghy gear.
01/17/2007, Elizibeth Harbor
We spent a bit of the day today swimming and playing on the beach with the Eyran crew. Roq had not been in the water since Hideko dunked him at No Name harbor, so I was thinking it was about time to get him back in the swing. It would also cool him down a lot. So Roq and I took our first long swim together.
Rather than taking him to the beach in the dink, I lifted him into the water at the big boat, with his PFD on of course. At first it was me towing him but then he started to get the idea and began paddling. It was a lot of fun. It cooled him off nicely and gave him some good low impact exercise for his recovering leg.
Being a good swimmer is not just a fun thing on a boat, it is a safety issue. It was nice to know that if Roq fell into the water at the big boat, he now will have some idea of how to exit the water. He's a decent swimmer but I think his PFD is an important addition at his age. The flotation it provides is ok but I wish more of it was lower in the vest. His body ends up underwater but his head is up high enough to keep his airway and eyes and ears clear. Practical Sailor just reviewed Dog PFDs this last issue (ours wasn't in the test) so perhaps I'll have to keep an eye out for an upgrade.
Roq wrapped up the day with a shampoo and shower on the transom. No matter how much hair you get off of him the quantity he sheds in the boat never declines. It is amazing.
01/16/2007, Swingin' on a Star Lounge
After the great dinner that Ellen cooked up last night we wanted to reciprocate so we invited the French Canadian Eyran crew over for Texas Chili, not something you run across in Montreal often. I made my specialty desert, Strawberry Crepes, which perhaps you do run across every day in Montreal. We had a relaxing morning cleaning up the boat and reading. Hideko baked her best French Baguettes yet during the afternoon while Alex and I went Lobster hunting. We didn't have much luck but Alex did get one medium Lobster (he always brings back something!).
Both crews got together on Swingin' on a Star just after sunset and enjoyed a great stick to your ribs meal and a nice bottle of wine. The adults talked outside while enjoying the stars and the kids watched Disney movies in the Saloon. It was a great day in Paradise.
01/15/2007, Stocking Island
It rained a bit last night which was nice. Hard to keep the foredeck clean without a good rain every once in a while. We have a deck wash down pump and hose but it is salt water. I wouldn't have it any other way but it does leave a salt residue unless we get a little rain now and then.
We had a lazy day today and spent most of the morning cleaning up and getting a shore run organized to take care of some business by phone and Internet. I can pickup the Harbor Wifi net from here but you need and ID and they never answer the radio (their home page says hail us on 69). I think I'm really starting to unwind as this sort of thing would have really frustrated me before. "How can they advertise, call us on 69, and never monitor 69? Who's running this business and how do they stay in business?!" I find myself just saying, "well ok", these days.
We met David and Tni from Rosario a brand new Beneteau 423. We had heard them on the Chris Parker weather net at 6:30 in the morning from time to time. They were anchored next to us and were leaving today so we spent a bit of time together sharing plans and talking tech. David and I are both geeks and we are both heading down to the Caribbean over the next few months. We exchanged MMSI numbers and did some position exchanges over the VHF and SSB for fun (no one else has this stuff set up!).
We also stopped by the Saint Francis resort to grab lunch and say hi to George and Gillian. They both are very harried this time of year as their shop is smack in the middle of the action. Their waitress didn't show up to work today and George indicated that this was not uncommon in the Bahamas. The Saint Francis has a sports bar and restaurant with several nice beach bungalows (the Bahamas has a hotel incentive allowing anyone with at least 5 rooms to get an otherwise difficult to acquire liquor license easily). Greg, their son, is very sharp and working on building up their wifi business. They, of course, also sell the Saint Francis 50 yachts and often have a new demo boat on the docks along with some used 44s for sale.
We capped off the day with dinner on Eyran with Alex and Ellen. It was a fun evening and we stayed up later than we normally do by far, talking and drinking coffee. Alex has the French Press wired. We do not. The French Press is the tool for coffee when you're not on AC or Genset because you just boil water (Propane only) and go, no high current coffee maker needed. Unfortunately, Hideko and I have been making a range of mud to water, so it was nice to get some formal instruction. Our coffee the next morning was perfect.
01/14/2007, Monument Beach
Many trails have been added to Stocking Island over the last two years or so. You can hike up to just about any peak and back and forth to the ocean and the harbor easily. We're only about 200 feet off of the beach so it is easy to take Roq ashore and explore. Hideko and I hiked up to the monument and marveled at how wild the surf was on the Exuma Sound side of the island. You could see the anchorage on one side with a nice 10 to 15 knot breeze and no chop and the ocean on the other with a pounding beach break and 20 knot winds.
Some of the paths on the island are not well traveled and it is easy to lose you way if you don't keep you eye out for the next red marker. After a bit of off roading we finally came out near the Peace and Plenty outpost on the North end of Monument beach. It is a nice little burger shack. Hideko and I wanted to grab lunch but neither of us brought any money. You so rarely need cash when you're hiking and swimming around islands out here.
We're going to enjoy the company here a while and get some projects done. We generally like more out of the way places with smaller crowds but the cruisers here are really wonderful folks. A boat had its anchor line part last night and began to drift down the harbor toward a bank of rocks. A group of cruisers got control of the boat and anchored her safely out of the channel. This is a very strong community.
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.