4 July, 2014, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Last weekend Maynard noticed a cluster of thunderstorms which had formed off the east coast of Florida and had the potential of forming into the USA's first tropical storm. This did in fact occur and luckily for us with Vanish settled in Charleston, Hurricane Arthur passed just to our east as you can see in the above photo. Last night it roared its way between Beaufort and Point Lookout, North Carolina with 100 mph winds and storm surge and is now barrelling offshore along the east coast of the US heading for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where we visited in 2012. As work has taken a front seat so far this season, we have not yet spent much time on Vanish. Mike, however, prepared the boat for us by tying extra lines and putting out extra fenders in case the hurricane turned west into Charleston. These hurricanes are a constant worry each summer and not something we want to go through again if we can help it. Once our work commitments have lessened, we will be back on board and ready for some anchor time.
12 June, 2014, USA
Our blog this season has started out slowly as Maynard has been working in the U.S. meaning that Vanish has had to take a back seat for a few weeks. On top of that, we've experienced two major events in our lives. Firstly, we are now proud Grandparents to Grandchild number six named Charley who we look forward to meeting when we return home. Secondly, Maynard's younger brother passed away suddenly on June 1 in California. Coping with life events can be difficult at the best of times but it is even harder when we cannot always be where we're needed the most. We hope to return to Vanish soon to recharge our personal batteries and plan the next stage of our adventure.
29 May, 2014, South Carolina
During our visit to Charleston, we visited the above tree named Angel Oak, a live oak estimated to be around 400 years old. Its circumference is 28 ft and its height is 66 ft. It is a beautiful shady tree and has endured many hurricanes in its long life including the most recent Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Some of its limbs are growing along the ground and from tip to tip, the longest branch distance is 187 ft. It was truly impressive and something we love to compare to our large trees on our property at home.
As we rely on our radar systems to guide us safely at night and in tricky situations with fog and poor visibility, it was worthwhile while in the Bahamas for Mike to try to fix a problem with our 12 kw radar which stopped working properly after a series of tremendous lightning storms in Panama (see blog 10 October 2013 Lightning in the Anchorage). We have two Raymarine radar units on Vanish, a 12 kw long range radar and a 4kw short range radar. Since we didn't know for sure exactly what had happened to the long range radar, it was difficult to try to locate the problem. The only way to diagnose the problem was through a process of elimination. The easiest test was to buy a replacement cable to see if that was the problem. The radar "talks" with the Raymarine Seatalk system with a simple Ethernet Cat 5 cable. But the cable that Raymarine sells runs the power with the Cat 5 cable in one. I wanted to isolate them both to find out if there was a power issue or an info issue. We bought a 25 ft long Ethernet cable from the hardware store in the Bahamas and plugged one end into the "brain" inside the Radar unit and the other through a hatch and into the Seatalk station on the bridge below. Mike fired up the system and lo and behold, the bar started spinning as it was supposed to.
The next step was to order a whole new cable from Raymarine as the input on the Radar unit has a special plug and we couldn't just run a cable through the hatch. We ordered a 15 meter cable and tested that through the window as well... and it didn't work! The radar bar was spinning but no information was being transmitted to the screens. After a few hours on the phone with Raymarine Tech Support, they had no idea what the problem might be so their suggestion was to remove the "brain" from the Radome and bring it to a Raymarine service facility where they could test to see if it was operational. Mike had a feeling that this was not the issue so he worked with the settings in the bridge and got it working! Since the Radar was disconnected, the Raymarine system had "forgotten" about the second radar, so he needed to go in and tell the computer to look for it.
The next problem was to run the cable. It's only about 12 meters from the Bridge control up to the mast but it is a very difficult 12 meters. He had to remove every other panel from the overhead in the bridge and fish the cable inch by inch. It took a full 8 hour day to run the cable the 12 meters! But now we have a fully functioning long range radar and we didn't have to ship a 50 lb. computer to Raymarine from the Bahamas. Problem solved and great work by Mike.
17 May, 2014, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
The Gulf Stream provided us with up to 3.7 knots of northward flowing current on our trip from the Bahamas to the USA. The highest temperature we documented of the Gulf Stream was 27.3C (81F), considerably cooler than our voyage north in 2012 when we were being chased by Tropical Storm Debbie. People can joke about how much fuel we power boaters use but you might be surprised to know that the last time we added fuel to Vanish was in Panama in September last year, over 2,000 miles from our current position. We still have over a quarter of a tank of fuel left but we will take on more at this marina as it is so convenient. Our trip to Charleston took less than 48 hours at an average speed of 9 kn with the 3 of us doing 3-1/2 hour watches during the night and 4 hours during the day. We would also get together for lunch and dinner and chat about our various watch experience. On leaving the Bahamas we saw a couple of vessels on AIS heading for Bermuda and Florida but it became quiet with only one ship headed for Africa and another heading for Mexico. As we closed the US, ships started appearing more regularly in all directions but they were easy to track with radar and AIS.
Over the last two years we have been asked several times if there were any changes we would have made to Vanish. Last week we discussed our decision to replace the larger galvanised anchor chain to 3/8" Cromax stainless 318LN. We also felt the need to change out our Microphor toilets in the three guest cabins and the one up on the bridge deck. Microphor toilets use compressed air to power the flush and don't have any mechanical parts which can be a big advantage; however we noticed some irregularities in the flushing cycle when we were at sea. They can also slosh around at sea as water is always in the bowl. This is definitely not a good thing. Our goal has been to create a robust, seagoing vessel that we can trust in remote, harsh environments. We have loved the electric Tecma toilet that we have in the master bathroom so we decided to replace all four of the Microphor heads with brand new Tecma Silence Plus heads. This way we would also have five sets of spares by having the same high quality toilets throughout the boat.
We got quite an expensive quote from the local marine guys in Freeport, so Mike decided that he wanted to take on the challenge of installing the toilets himself. True to form, Marlow had already pre-wired the boat in anticipation that we might want to switch to electric heads at some point. With the help of a local contractor, Mike finished off the electrical and found a way to reroute the plumbing inside of the new Tecma head so it would be compatible with where the black water pipes come out of the deck. With the addition of the necessary 30 amp breakers and a lot of hose clamps we were able to complete a full refit of the toilet system at a fraction of the cost. We are very happy with the result as the toilets are fantastic, and they are also much more efficient than the old Microphors.
Why is it that I fall in love with almost every place I temporarily hang my hat! Charleston has another big tick on my ever-growing list with its friendly safe environment, our marina situation, its rivers, swampland, climate, beautiful homes and oak trees and wonderful downtown area. We're so lucky to always be 'at home' on Vanish no matter what country or town we're visiting and I think that's a huge advantage.
(Above Photo by Mike P)
12 May, 2014
In what seems like a blink of an eye, we have completed our first passage of 2014. All the stars aligned for us and in fact we had 80% moon, 2 to 4 feet following seas, SE winds of 15 to 20 knots and an arrival time where we arrived on slack tide in the early morning daylight hours before the winds increased. But where did we go? Ah, I thought you'd never ask. If you've been following our adventures, you'll know that we make it a priority to stay out of the hurricane zone (as defined by our insurance company) which is between 10 deg and 30 deg north. The decision we needed to make was whether to head south to Panama again, as we loved our season last year, or whether to retrace our steps from the 2012 season. Maynard's work commitments have increased considerably this year, so we decided it was best in the long run to stay in or close to the USA.
Traveling throughout the Caribbean, we have had virtually no interaction with authorities on the water. Because of the constant hassling by the officious US Government authorities in 2012, I was concerned about returning to the USA. In fact, there has been an outcry by residents and international vessels and a lot of discussion about boardings by the Coast Guard and local police which are pretty common place throughout the USA. Apparently, lately there has been an effort to try to improve public perception of these frequent boardings. They are also attempting to improve their database so that the same boat is not boarded multiple times in a short voyage. This has a long way to go because currently, the local police which have also started random boardings, do not co-ordinate with the Coast Guard. In the article we've read, it pointed out that one person's experience in the New York area was that he was boarded 5 times on a short voyage, 4 by 4 different police departments and once by the Coast Guard. In fact, just outside our marina berth, we have seen multiple boardings by the local Sherriff, the local police and very well armed Coast Guard. On the other side of the coin, there is a lot of boat traffic here and we've observed that they are the best behaved boaters we have ever seen.
So, where are we? Charleston, South Carolina. The last time we were here was 18 October 2012 and my blog from that date was less than favourable. We were glad to leave. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at 7 am, tied up at our berth and four Coast Guard and two Customs & Border Patrol arrived to clear us into the USA. We were tired from our voyage and had not had time to clean our vessel or even take a shower. BUT something had changed. All of the Officers smiled, they welcomed us to their country and were genuinely interested in us as people. Most surprising of all, they had done extensive research on Vanish on the internet well before we arrived. They knew of our blog, our experience with racing in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht races and various articles written on us in US boating magazines. We were greatly impressed and the whole clearing in process was easy and efficiently done. While we filled out paperwork, four Officers meticulously opened every cabinet throughout the entire vessel which took a considerable amount of time. We have been to countries known for drug problems within the past 12 months eg. Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, Jamaica and the Bahamas so it was not unexpected that we would be checked but we are boring law-abiding vegetarians so we have no problem with their inspections. If the Charleston southern hospitality clearing in process is an example of what to expect this season, we'll be happy campers er.........boaters.
7 May, 2014, Bahamas
Vanish has performed extremely well for us over the past 2 years. During our trip home, we left a job list which was primarily composed of routine maintenance for Mike to carry out. In addition to these maintenance jobs we had two larger jobs on our "wish list". These were to change out our anchor chain and to replace four guest toilets. Whilst we have anchored in a lot of different conditions and have never dragged anchor, Maynard has not been entirely comfortable with the amount of chain we have carried. With regard to the anchor chain, we carry 70 meters (230 ft) of ½" high tensile G4 galvanised anchor chain with 30 meters (100 ft) of 1" nylon rode. At times this has proved to be inadequate in some of the deeper depths that we encountered in Panama and will encounter in our future travels. Occasionally this particular chain would become very stiff and would form a high pyramid in the anchor locker which always had the potential of jamming the windlass. Because of this piling up, we have restricted ourselves to using 50 meters or less of chain which we acknowledge is sometimes marginal. This always made us slightly nervous as the anchor system wasn't entirely bullet-proof and we often felt we did not have enough chain in any sort of problematic weather. This 70 meters of chain weighs over 270 kg (600 lb). Given the occasional pyramid issue and the weight, Maynard was reluctant to add any more G4 chain to an already heavy bow locker.
After considerable research, we have ordered 100 meters (330 ft) of 3/8" Cromax DUPLEX (318LN stainless) chain. This is highly specialiased (eg. $$$$ expensive) chain made in Bad Edorf, Germany by Ketten Waelder. This chain weighs 40% less than ½" G4 high tensile chain and has a similar breaking strength but costs four times as much. Unlike other chain, it can actually stay submerged in salt water with no negative side effects. It has the slippery shiny quality of stainless steel with superior strength of high tensile galvanised chain and will not form a pyramid. We've had to conduct a lot of research to find proper fittings that are a size that will fit this relatively small chain yet will still have an adequate breaking strength. After much research, we found acceptable shackles made by a company called Titan in Canada. We now have a chain system which is slightly weaker than the bollards we attach the snubbing line to, which holds the chain. We've given this a lot of thought but feel that the effort and expense to put this together will give us comfort at some of the undoubtedly windy and deep water anchorages we may visit.
For our engineering readers the following are specific numbers we used to design our primary ground tackle. Standard ½" anchor chain has a breaking strength of 15,000 lb and ½" high tensile anchor chain has a breaking strength of 26,000 lb. The cost per foot for standard chain is around $7.50 per foot and high tensile galvanised chain is around $10 per foot. Stainless steel 316L ½"- has a breaking strength of 25,000 lb. chain and costs around $16 per foot. Cromax ½" 318LN stainless has a breaking strength of nearly 38,000 lb which is way more than what is required for Vanish. All of these varieties of ½" chain weigh approximately 2.6 lb per foot. It turns out that we could downsize our chain two sizes to 3/8" using Cromax chain and we still achieve a breaking strength of 22,000 lb which is slightly less than the load rating of the bollards which our snubbing lines are attached to. 3/8" Cromax chain weight is 1.5 lb per foot which is over a 43% reduction in weight from a standard ½" chain.
To calculate the load required for our chain, we derived the wind profile from our stability report and published charts and have determined that a 40kn wind exerts approximately 5,500 lb of force on Vanish and a 60kn wind exerts a force of 11,000 lb. 90kn would exert a force of 22,000 lb. In the extremely unlikely case that we experience winds of 60 kn or more, first of all Vicki would be choppered off the boat (just joking), and we would probably use the engines to relieve some of the force on the gear. We would also deploy a least 30 meters of 1" nylon rode which will greatly reduce any shock loads by at least 30 - 50%. We will be using Titan shackles which have a breaking strength of 22,000 lb to attach to our 180 lb Lewmar CQR anchor. For the time being, we are going to keep the 120 lb Rocna anchor attached to 40 meters of high tensile standard ½" chain with 100 meters of 1" nylon rode. Incidentally, the 1" nylon rode has a breaking strength of approximately 30,000 lb. Lastly, we discussed the affect of having lighter chain on the catenary of the ground tackle. Due to the relatively high weight of Vanish and its twin keel configuration shearing is minimal and catenary effect is eliminated in any wind over 25 knots.
Shipping this chain has been a tricky operation as it had to be air freighted from Germany to the USA, bonded in the States then transited while still in bond to the Bahamas and cleared as a replacement part for a "foreign vessel in transit". Lots of paperwork and phone calls. We have the best situation for unloading our old chain and replacing it with the new Cromax as Vanish's bow is just feet from an unused parking lot. It was incredibly easy to take off the old chain and replace it with the new as you can see from the above photo. We look forward to testing our new chain and reporting our findings. Any questions or comments are appreciated and if anyone wants more specific information on the DUPLEX chain go to their website www.swi-tec.us If anyone is still reading this, our next blog will be the story of the changeover of our toilets. Woohoo!! Don't despair ladies, we'll get to the fun things soon enough.
We will be leaving the Bahamas soon, as hurricane season is approaching once again.
(Go to Photo Gallery for more photos.)
3 April, 2014, The Bahamas
Time has flown by since our last blog around Christmas but of course, work never stops on our Vanish. We haven't had a "Tech Corner" for a while so we thought it might be about time. We have been doing some serious maintenance and minor refits onboard Vanish over the winter season in Freeport, Bahamas. The main piece of major maintenance that we completed was our 1,000 hour service on the main engines. What follows is a brief synopsis of the service and what we learned.
The Caterpillar C18 1000 hour service consists of 5 key tasks:
- Inspect the heat exchangers and change coolant
- Clean and Test the after cooler cores
- Inspect housings and replace sea water impellers
- Inspect the Turbochargers
- Replace the Closed Crankcase Ventilation Filter
We also decided to change the oil on both engines, both generators, and both transmissions while we were at it. We hired an engineer from Bradford Marine in Freeport named Dinyar to help Mike and answer any questions we might have along the way. It was also easiest to get the filters, oil, and coolant through Bradford Marine. We have a Reverso oil change pump that allows us to drain and fill the engines and generators from a quick connect on the swim platform. This makes things a lot easier so we don't have to carry oil cans all over the boat. We are always sure to take an oil sample and send it in to the Caterpillar Research Center in Peoria, Illinois, USA. After draining the oil we replaced all of the Racor filters (2 for each engine and each generator, a total of 8) as well as one fuel and one oil filter on each unit. After refilling the oil we brought the engines and generators up to temperature individually and made sure the oil was at the correct level on the dipstick and all temperatures and pressures were normal.
The ZF transmission oil was extremely clean already but we decided to keep up with manufacturer recommendations and change that. The only difference was that this oil had to be filled with a funnel directly on the unit's fill cap. Next, we drained the coolant from the main engines. It was somewhat difficult to find the lowest point to extract the coolant and the starboard engine had a drain plug slightly lower than the port engine so we got an extra gallon or so out of that engine. Dinyar made it clear that this wasn't a big issue to worry about as the goal was to get the majority out of it. We removed overflow containers and scrubbed them since they had a little sludge residue in them. We refilled the coolant through the fill cap on the top of the coolant reservoir and then filled the overflow containers to the cold line. Again we brought the engines up to temperature and made sure levels and pressures were normal.
Taking off the aftercooler cores would be the biggest task of the whole service because the housings are 2 feet by 3 feet of solid steel. Thankfully the engine room is big enough to allow two people to lift them off. We can't imagine what it would have been like if it were any smaller. There are 34 bolts that need to be removed as well as disconnecting the inlet and outlets. The entire unit is 75 pounds so we had to be very careful to not let it fall, and it is important to remember to close the sea-cock before removal. The next step was to remove the aftercooler core from the housing for cleaning and examination. To clean the core we filled it completely with diluted barnacle buster to remove any growth or scale. After letting it sit for 2 hours we emptied the barnacle buster into a 5 gallon bucket and rinsed it with fresh water. Then we sprayed both sides with fresh water on low pressure, and dried the core using a shop-vac and an air pump we use to fill the fenders. It is important to make sure that there is free air flow through the core and the easiest way to test was to put the air pump on "inflate" and see if you can feel the air blowing through the other side of the core.
We greased the inlet/outlets with a high-temp grease and reinstalled the core into the housing. It was very difficult to reinstall the core onto the engine without ruining the new gasket. With two people, one could guide the core and make sure the gasket wasn't crushed while the other did the heavy lifting.
While we had the sea-cock still closed we figured it was best to inspect and change the sea water impellers. We were very happy to see that both impellers were in great condition and weren't missing a single fin. It is important to inspect the impeller housings for irregular wear or damage, feel the inside with your bare fingers for any grooves or abrasions. The impellers have a thread on the outer end so they are easy to remove with the provided bolt and a socket wrench. Dinyar taught us that when installing a water impeller you should use grease that is dissolvable in water. Silicone based grease resists water and can cause the impeller fins to stick. We used dish soap (Joy to be precise).
Our Cat-18 engines are twin turbocharged, so we had four total turbos to inspect. To inspect the turbo you simply remove the air filter to expose the turbo fan. Grab the center of the fan and spin it, listen for any scraping of the fan against the housing and watch for any irregular motion or wobbling. Then wiggle the turbo fan back and forth and up and down to see if it is loose at all. The fan should spin perfectly and not hit any of the sides. Visually examine for any corrosion or foreign objects. K&N makes a good filter cleaning and oil kit and we are sure to clean and oil the filters whenever we remove them.
Replacing the Closed Crankcase Ventilation filter is simple. All you have to do is remove the clips on the plastic housing, being careful due to there usually being a small amount of oil in the bottom, and take out the old filter and put in a new one. Our engine service went very smoothly and thankfully we didn't have to replace any major parts or have any continued maintenance out of the ordinary. We have been using a fuel additive called Enerburn which is a newer product being used in many types of diesel engines all across the world. Enerburn is a catalyst that is designed to help diesel fuel burn cleaner, reduce engine wear, increase gas mileage, and generally help the engine perform better over a long period of time. You can take a look at the benefits of Enerburn on their website www.enerburn.com. We were very eager to see the results of the oil sample to see if the Enerburn was worth adding.
It turns out our oil sample came back with very good results and the soot and carbon levels were very low even though we did nearly 400 hours since the last service. This is a testament to the Enerburn as well as the ability of the CAT engines themselves to perform at such a high level. We will continue to monitor the engines' performance through these oil samples as often as possible. We are continuing with other maintenance on Vanish before we head off again in the next month or so.
30 December, 2013
It's New Year's Eve and another year has flown by on Vanish. The above photo was taken on sunset in the islands of Kuna Yala in Panama a couple of months ago. It reminds us of all that we enjoyed and achieved in the last few months, from passage making to snorkelling, swimming, peace, sunsets, people, new lands and great adventures. With Vanish safe and sound in the Bahamas and Maynard out of hospital, we decided to fly back home via Virgin Australia for a couple of months. However, Maynard's vertigo was still causing debilitating problems. It turns out he had a condition called BPV which stands for Benign Positional Vertigo (but the best way to remember it is Beer Parties & Virgins!), something neither of us had ever heard of. As it can reoccur, possibly at sea in a remote area, I decided to try a treatment called the Epley Manoeuvre. This should be done by a specialist, doctor or physio and only takes a couple of minutes. In layman's terms, by moving his head in a certain sequence, it moves the culprit of the vertigo, a loose crystal in the inner ear to a place where it doesn't cause the brain to have conniptions. We were lucky and after a day, Maynard had no more vertigo.
We're enjoying our time with family and our 12 year old Australian Cattle Dog Bindi. The wild red-necked wallabies on our property have reproduced and have definitely enjoyed their time while we've been away with so much grass to eat and few predators. There seems to be well over a 100 on our land.
Vanish will be undergoing routine maintenance which Mike will oversee with Maynard's guiding hand. I will post anything we find interesting for you and thank you for following us in 2013. Have a very Happy New Year and we'll see you in 2014.
24 December, 2013
Wishing all our family and friends a very Merry Christmas from the crew of Vanish. For some Christmas cheer, you can watch our latest video of Vicki perforning poi dancing in the dark with her latest high tech poi lights. See Favourites in the Side Bar of this page.
19 December, 2013, Approaching Grand Bahama, Bahamas
At the end of each long passage we bring both C-18 engines up to full operating temperature. Here we are doing 16 knots at 2,000 rpm for 15 minutes. We do this to ensure that we minimise carbon build up in the turbos as we generally cruise around at a leisurely 8 or 9 knots at 1100 rpm. This low rpm can lead to carbon build-up. We mix a product called Enerburn into our fuel at the rate of 1 gallon of Enerburn per 2,500 gallons of diesel which is supposed to minimise carbon build-up no matter what rpm we run the engines at. We are about to do the 1,000 hour service just after Christmas and in that service, the turbos will be inspected and we'll report back and let you know their condition. Given that Enerburn is a very expensive product, it will be very interesting to see how well it has worked and whether we should continue to use it.
If you look under Favorites to the right of this page in the Side Bar, you will see the latest video of Vanish at near wide open throttle coming into Freeport, Grand Bahama at the end of our passage from Jamaica. (Make sure you turn up the sound on your device.) It looks like we need a few more toys on board, a surfboard, a body board, a tractor tube and maybe and a tow rope and some skis. The video shows the power and speed of Vanish at just over 16 knots turning her two 40 inch props.
Thank you to everyone who sent wonderful and funny comments regarding our videos. You have spurred us on to try more in the near future if we find other worthy subjects. After the encounter with the rambunctious pigs, we visited the nurse sharks of Staniel Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas which seem to just laze around the marina waiting for scraps the fishermen discard from their catches. There are dozens of them hanging around waiting to be fed. When we were here earlier in the year, we could actually pat the sharks on their heads without getting our hands bitten off which is not something I would try back home. Wherever we anchored near Staniel Cay, one or two nurse sharks would lie under Vanish or circle the boat making us disinclined to swim. We snorkeled over to Thunderball Cave though as we wanted to see it again after our previous visit earlier this year. I spotted a resting nurse shark hidden under a rock overhang but as no other tourists had seen it, I thought it best to keep it to myself as some of the tourists were already quite nervous in the water.
We've now spent 2 weeks cruising the Bahamas. We spent a pleasant day at Shroud Cay where we took the dinghy at high water through the mangrove lined waterway over to the Atlantic Ocean side. The following day we anchored near Highborne Cay before continuing north of the Exumas to New Providence Island where Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located. Maynard wanted to keep moving while the weather held. We anchored at West Bay which is on the north-eastern side of New Providence in a well sheltered bay with a couple of other vessels.
North of New Providence Island are the Berry Islands, a distance of around 60 miles and seas exposed to the North Atlantic Ocean. With 22 knots of wind and associated swell, the seas built to between 3 meters (9 ft) and 4 meters (13 ft) along the contour line where the seabed changed from 3000 meters (9,800 ft) to 20 meters (65 ft). However, it went back down to about 1 meter as we followed the coastline of the Berry Islands and anchored at Bullock Harbour in 2.8 meters of water. Our last sea passage of 60 miles to Freeport on Grand Bahama was ahead of us where we endured Hurricane Sandy last year.
On the morning we were due to leave the Berry Islands, Maynard suddenly had an extremely bad vertigo episode out of nowhere after rolling over in bed. He was disoriented, terribly nauseous but stabilised after an hour and we decided to go ahead and leave. I was concerned as there are serious medical diagnoses with someone with vertigo but after I conducted various tests (I am not a doctor though, just a good nurse!), we decided it was more likely to be an inner ear problem. Maynard rested during the passage but was able to dock Vanish in the marina at Freeport.
We're currently in a very small, quiet marina near Freeport. We have complete access to resort facilities; restaurant, pool, spa, and beach etc and 24 hour security. Maynard was back to normal the day after we arrived but the following day he went downhill fast, so fast that he needed to be hospitalised in Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport. It was a very traumatic 24 hours trying to cope with emergency room procedures, overworked doctors and lax nurses in an underfunded Government hospital system like nothing we're used to in Australia (which has the best medical care in the World). After many medical procedures, it was determined by his Guyanan doctor that he had a virus which had manifested in his inner ear, our original diagnosis. We never wanted to tick the box of testing out a foreign country's medical system but sometimes you don't get to choose. He's back on Vanish now and feeling 90% which is a great relief.
We've completed 1,536 miles since we left Panama a few weeks ago. Since we departed Freeport in February this year, we've travelled 4,000 miles via Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama and Jamaica. Vanish will be in Freeport for a while so that we can get annual maintenance done and a few items on our wish list brought over from the USA. It feels great being back in the Bahamas where we feel so comfortable and Vanish is safe and sound.
For more pics, see Photo Gallery.
7 December, 2013, Big Major Spot Cay, Exuma, The Bahamas
'There was movement in the bushes, for the word had passed around,
That the crew in that there dinghy had some food,
And there wasn't that much time - stomachs never stay that full,
So all the pigs were gathering to the fray."
The word spread like wildfire on the beach through various snorts, grunts and noses held high. Hey, see that new dinghy in town? Those people have our absolute favourite; peanut butter sandwiches! Get out of my way, run across the sand, push the piglets aside, run, I want to be first; now swim, swim like the wind, we're coming, wait for us. Mayhem ensued with pigs swimming in circles around our dinghy as we spread peanut butter onto bread and tossed it into gaping mouths. Bad idea. Throw the bread away from the dinghy to stop the more aggressive beasts climbing in. HEY, don't eat the GoPro you stupid wild galoot! Get OFF our dinghy! Oh geez! A hungry stingray swooped under the lashing pigs trotters as he attempted to forage for scraps as well. Meanwhile, tourists snorkelled through the pigs blissfully unaware that they were firing whoopsies at will and biting each other.
We were now in shallow water and the pigs could easily climb right into our dinghy. If they'd jumped in, we would have jumped out. Maynard started up the engine once he'd ensured there wouldn't be a pig massacre in the prop blades and backed ourselves out of there. It was fast, it was furious, it was fun. The Swimming Pigs of the Exumas. A must see.
Click on Swimming Pigs of the Exumas video under Favorites on the right of this screen page.
Producer: Michael P
Music & Photography by: Vicki
Actors: Alvin, Banjo, Patterson, Babe and the Gang
Song: Allein by Pryda - Eric Prydz Presents Pryda
Please enjoy this 2 minute video of life under Vanish. Best viewed on computer screen with music turned up loud.
Photographed & Directed by: Michael P
Actors: Capt Maynard & Rambo the Remora
Song: Life's A Beach by Touch & Go
If you are having trouble viewing it, go to the side bar of this page on the right and look under Favorites, then click Life's A Beach and the video should play automatically.
3 December, 2013, Black Point, Great Guana Cay, Exumas, The Bahamas
We thought you might like this photo of Maynard standing on the white sands of the Exumas touching Vanish's bulb this afternoon. We're anchored in 2.6 m (8 ft) of crystal clear Bahamian turquoise water just before sunset. The bridle snubber is attached to Vanish's high tensile ½" anchor chain. This is a Gopro screen shot from an upcoming Vanish video for your enjoyment. Stay tuned. Pretty cool eh?
1 December, 2013, Departure from Port Antonio, Jamaica Heading for Bahamas
Today is Sunday 1st December 2013 and the Captain 'fessed up this morning over breakfast. Sometimes, too much knowledge is a dangerous thing for the First Mate and knowing me for 32 years, Maynard finally showed me some of the literature he'd downloaded on his e-Pad regarding "The Hole", the SW quadrant of the Caribbean. He was right in keeping such knowledge to himself as I probably wouldn't have been brave enough to head to South and Central America if I knew what he knew. He'd downloaded a book called "A Thinking Man's Guide to Voyages South: The Many Faces of Caribbean Cruising by Frank Virgintino at www.freecruisingguides.com where he said, "Once you enter The Hole, there is no turning back as the size of the seas off Columbia, strength of the wind and current make it near impossible to retrace your steps. This part of the Caribbean has the highest and roughest seas due to the fetch of more than 1,200 miles from the Lesser Antilles and the entire area west of Columbia, and east of Nicaragua can become very dangerous. The area is also VERY remote, rarely visited by cruisers and you are not going to find marinas or repairs easily and finding fresh water can be a challenge." The trip back to the Bahamas is a 1,500 mile upwind journey against the persistent and often very strong North-east trade winds which prevail in the Caribbean. For our Aussie friends, this is a distance equivalent of going from Cairns to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. Great! Thanks dear!
None of the cruising guides suggested taking the direct route from Bocas del Toro, Panama to Jamaica but if an appropriate weather window appears early in the Trade Wind season, it's definitely the fastest and easiest way to head North. Maynard checks weather sites every day without fail looking for patterns. The most accurate site he's found has been zyGrib.org where he looks at 20 different wind and wave parameters using both the European and American GFS models. In such remote areas, he also uses satellite infrared photographs on intellicast.com. We had considered leaving Vanish in Panama for the winter but the engines and air conditioners need servicing, the 48 mile radar stopped working, and we want to replace 5 of our toilets with Tecma toilets. Having water in the bowl at sea is a big no-no with a rolling or pitching vessel. Michael, who has now been with us for 6 months, is totally trustworthy in completing our job list but doing so in Panama was going to be very difficult. We found a yard in Port Antonia, Jamaica with a 100 ton lift, but the logistics of importing parts and sourcing competent workers was too great so we pushed on.
After arriving in Jamaica, we were quickly tired of the blaring 21 hours per day of onshore music for 3 days straight. We moved 90 miles in an overnight passage onto Port Antonio, Jamaica on the north coast and dropped anchor off the Errol Flynn Marina at 6am. What we didn't expect in this pretty port was the music to be louder that night than Montego Bay. A DJ in the park, 300 feet from Vanish, aimed his speakers towards the Bay and screamed into the microphone until 2am on Monday night. He was in full swing whipping the crowd into frenzied dancing as if they were under the influence of Voodoo magic. It would have been interesting to see but we just weren't in the mood after 5 nights of broken sleep, and we were ready to stick a pin in a Voodoo DJ Doll. We couldn't wait to leave but the clearing out procedure took over 3 hours when the unfriendly Official found that his friendly counterparts in Montego Bay had failed to give us a Cruising Permit (Coastwise Clearance). This simple mistake could have cost us $1000 but Captain Maynard explained patiently how we were inundated with paperwork and many Officials in Montego Bay and that it was just an oversight. One needs to take Ships Papers and Passports when clearing in and out of countries and a great deal of humility, patience, compliments, deference and anything else that gets the process completed as quickly as possible.
The Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio was home to only 3 boats in its 35 berths and the Marina Manager was living on one of the boats. We anchored off the marina and, for the first time in our sailing history, were charged $35 a night for the privilege. The chart showed that we were not allowed to anchor inside a large turning circle intended for cruise ships but as cruise ships no longer visit Port Antonio, we had to anchor off the marina. Initially, we were charged $35 per day but on checkout we were charged an extra $10 per day for our third person and these charges did not include rubbish removal or any other marina service.
We'd noticed a rusting yacht anchored in the prime spot off the marina and wondered how he could afford the minimum fee of $35/day and when we asked about it, the marina staff informed us that the yacht 'Imagine' had been anchored there for 20 years. So 365 days/year x 20 years x $35/day = $255,500! Ha, can you Imagine? Good luck retrieving that mate. It was amazing that the vessel had survived hurricanes, theft and scuttling for 20 years. We left Jamaica with Appleton Rum, Jamaica Blue Coffee and a desire to see more of it one day when we had the time.
A cold front which created severe weather in the USA was predicted to stall over Western Cuba. This front disrupted the trade winds and created a relatively light wind zone in front of it. It was forecast to be stationery for approximately 24 hours. This was the window we used to get through the notorious 45 mile wide Windward Passage between Cuba on our port side and Haiti off our starboard bow, an area which is often very rough due to strong north-east winds pushing against equally strong currents. Ten hours after departing Jamaica, Maynard had an important Board Meeting at 5pm. Courtesy of our new Fleet Broadband 250 Sat Phone the hour long Board Meeting went smoothly and without a hitch.
During my night watch close to Cuba, after a sliver of moon rose around 2 a.m., I slid open the fly-bridge door to look outside in the dark but my senses could only pick up a dry dusty smell. There were no lights and no activity anywhere even though the chart warned of Minor and Major Operations and a Submarine Surface Transit area. I had no idea until then that Guantanamo (Gitmo) was in this area, where Australian detainee David Hicks was imprisoned for 6 years. We kept our fingers crossed that Vanish had no issues in this area as we would have been in some trouble if we'd needed to stop in either Haiti or Cuba. Off the NE corner of Cuba the seas rose to 3 to 4 meters and the wind shifted from North to East and accelerated to 25 knots causing the seas to be very uncomfortable for around 5 hours. 45 miles past the Windward Passage we were in the lee of the southern-most island of the Bahamas, called Great Inagua Island. As the seas became more settled we realised that we would need to speed up to arrive in Georgetown before Customs and Immigration closed at 5 pm on Friday. It was Thursday and we didn't want to be stuck in quarantine for the weekend. Maynard started both engines and we were doing an average of 9.8 kn SOG.
Around 250 miles from Georgetown in the Bahamas, Maynard watched Mike on the bridge camera looking at something in the engine room for some time. Mike had noticed what appeared to be thick, dark oil spraying from the port prop shaft. There were just a few drops so he wiped it up and re-checked it at the end of his watch where he found a few more drops. The oil seemed to be coming off the ends of the large bolts that connect the prop shaft to the flexible coupling which connects to the transmission. It didn't really make much sense to any of us because there is a seal and a coupling there but no oil reservoir. If the oil were coming from the transmission it would not be dark and would probably spray out further forward of where we observed it.
We decided to blow out the engines and see what would happen with higher RPMs. The centrifugal force ended up extrapolating the issue and quite a bit more oil sprayed from the bolts. There was no way to stop and do any more investigation safely as both props turn even when steaming under one engine. With the engines at normal RPMs there was minimal oil spray so we decided to push on and investigate the problem at anchor.
After successfully clearing into Georgetown by 4pm on Friday afternoon the guys started by removing a fiberglass step over the shaft and were able to reach the shaft seal and the bolts. Two of the eight bolts were extremely loose and both were covered in the dark oil we observed at sea. This was the same prop shaft that we had so much trouble with in Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic where they used a ton of penetrating oil to try to free the shaft. We think that this is the source of the oil because there is no oil in the whole unit including the shaft, shaft seal, coupling and the housing.
The next issue was to re-tighten the bolts that were loose; they were hex bolts but with a female receptor of about 17 mm in size (see Photo Gallery). As we don't have a 17 mm allen wrench on board, we had to get creative and make our own tool. We found the proper sized bolt that was half threaded and put two nuts on the end so we could get a wrench on it. We tightened all the bolts and cleaned the penetrating oil from the two bolts. This should solve the issue, and is a great way to rotate the prop shafts (which we do monthly as routine maintenance) without having to turn on the engines, a great tip for other Marlow owners. This was the first time we wished that penetrating oil didn't work so well! Crisis averted.
We are now enjoying the delights again of the beautiful Bahamas. The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season was the least active season so far this century and among the quietest on record since 1950. In addition, the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season ended with something that hasn't happened in 45 years. No hurricanes were rated Category 2 or greater in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, the first year without a Cat 2 or stronger hurricane in the Atlantic basin since 1968. The season's lone two hurricanes, Humberto and Ingrid, only reached Cat 1 strength. A happy weather news story is hard to find these days.
We are heading to our old stomping ground Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama where we rode out Hurricane Sandy last year. Our same berth is open for us and we are looking forward to the familiarity and comforts we enjoyed last season.
(For more photos, Click on Photo Gallery)
29 November, 2013, Georgetown, Exumas, The Bahamas
Just to let you know that we've arrived safely in Georgetown at the southern end of the Bahamas in the Exumas after a 3 day, two night 500 mile passage straight through from Port Antonio, Jamaica. In total, we have now traveled against the wind 1,250 miles from Panama. We're watching the sunset celebrating with wine and Panamanian rum. Life is good. We will fill you in on the details once we're rested and tidy again.
25 November, 2013, Port Antonio, Jamaica
Montego Bay, aka Mo Bay, aka The Hip Strip, loves loud music which seems to come from clubs along the foreshore a long distance away. It was played at full volume for 21 hours a day the entire time we were anchored. With a moderating sea and light winds on Sunday, we opted to weigh anchor and do an overnight passage along the northern coastline of Jamaica heading east towards the protected anchorage of Port Antonio 90 miles away, which you can see on the above map. We also wanted to check out the Errol Flynn Marina at Port Antonio as their website sounded marvellous. We left at 5pm in 0.5 m swell and 2 - 10 knots of easterly wind. We took our normal watches we've grown accustomed to over the months. Maynard took the first watch from 7 pm - 10.30 pm, Michael took the second watch of 10.30 pm to 2 am and I took the third watch of 2 am - 5.30 am. Usually, we are all quite busy on each watch scanning the horizon, checking the radar for blips which can indicate fishing vessels or pangas and rain or storms, and we also monitor the infrared camera (FLIR), write a log each hour and scan engine gauges, battery useage, lights and alarms. I used to struggle to stay awake but have taken up the habit of drinking a disgusting can of diet coke which helps enormously. Our watches allow each of us to have up to 7 hours of sleep before the next watch begins.
Last night was particularly exciting as Maynard's daughter gave birth to her 2nd child in England, our 5th Grandchild named Oliver. Thanks to the good work of Maynard and Michael fixing our satellite internet system which had died in Kuna Yala many weeks ago, we received photos of him within hours of his birth. We arrived at 6 am in good shape and anchored in the protected waters off the marina. They are charging us $35/day to anchor which compares to $1.75 per foot per day berthed in the marina. Three other marinas we've visited in the Bahamas, Colombia and Panama have all charged us well under $1 per foot. This seems to be the reason there are only 4 vessels currently in the 35 berths and we're not inclined to tie up at any cost as we want to move on again soon. After another lengthy visit, paperwork and vessel inspection from the local Water Police and Coast Guard, we decided to walk into town which is undergoing road works right now. It was chaos with bumper to bumper traffic, broken footpaths, and people in all states of mind wandering the streets. This is not a place we could cope with easily and will leave as soon as the weather is right. The marina is named after Hobart born Australian actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959) who lived here with his 3rd wife and daughter in the 1950's. Mrs Patricia Wyman Flynn is still alive and lives on a 1600 acre cattle and coconut growing property in the Blue Mountains, famous for its Jamaica Blue Coffee.
Our next passage will take us north through the Windward Passage which divides Cuba and Haiti. In fact, last night we could easily see the many storms flashing on the southern side of Cuba as we glided along the Jamaican coastline. We'll probably see Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Passage for illegal migrants and trafficking but hopefully it will all be an uneventful and smooth passage.
23 November, 2013, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Clearing into Jamaica on Friday couldn't have been a more pleasant experience. Three Customs and Immigration Officials met us inside the famous and well-appointed Montego Bay Yacht Club (MBYC). Jamaica is not exactly on the normal cruising route and takes an effort to reach, particularly if you are cruising upwind as we were. From Panama, most cruisers head north towards Costa Rica then hug the Belize and Mexico Coast, round the NW tip of Cuba staying 12 miles off and head to the USA or the Bahamas. Our Aussie friends on the 62 ft Swan "IO" left the day before we did from Red Frog Marina in Panama. They faced an 1800 mile windward passage to Antigua while ours was a 1500 mile windward passage. We both took different strategies as they decided to make as much easting as possible along the coast of South America then turn NE towards their destination of Antigua. The same weather window allowed us to head north in seas which started out at 2 meters then dropped to 1 to 1.5 meters and wind of 10 - 15 knots and gusts to 20 knots during rain squalls. The trade winds have kicked in down south for the season and IO are beating to wind in 30 kn as they head towards Santa Marta, Colombia although they still have a long way to go. We certainly wished that they had been with us in the friendliest Yacht Club we've ever visited while clearing into our 7th country in just over a year.
I think we met every employee in the MBYC; they all seemed to know we were coming in and went out of their way to show us around the Club. We signed the Visitors Book (with entries back to 1993!), and met the Head Chef, Ryan, who sat down with us to say he would cook anything... anything we'd like. We brought our faded RQYS Burgee to the Club and everyone stood around laughing and chatting as they watched it being nailed up beside 123 other Burgees from around the World. We saw the Pineapple Cup trophy behind the bar for the 811 nautical mile race from Florida to Montego Bay. This race has been running biennially for 31 years and was won last year by "Shockwave".
Jamaica has a long and interesting history. Christopher Columbus was believed to be the first European to step foot in Jamaica on 5th May, 1494 and described it as "the fairest isle that eyes have beheld". We totally agree and I think we need to come back and spend more time here sometime, somehow. They also grow the fabulous Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and produce Appleton Rum which the bar staff "insisted" we try. How could we resist? Maynard is also a cricket fanatic and as Jamaica was a British Colony for part of their history until 1964, cricket is a well-established sport. Australia and the West Indies have had many battles on the field over the years. My sister is a well-known International cricket scorer and has probably met almost every famous cricketer around the world. She has even met Sir Viv Richards who was born in Antigua. Currently, Australia are playing against England back home in Australia for a trophy called the Ashes at the Gabba cricket field in Brisbane. She is retiring after 30 years of dedicated work and the newspapers have written the following:
"Australia's most prolific run scorer will be retiring after the Gabba Test match, with Queensland stalwart Judy Harris to end her stellar scoring career. Harris is the official scorer in her 30th and final Test match in Brisbane. If only Australia's top order had her composure. She's handled every dramatic collapse by the Aussies with more poise than any willow-wielding millionaire."
Sure wish we could be in two places at once. We love Jamaica but we would also love to be in Brisbane with my sister Jude as she scores her final International Test Match.
For more pics see Photo Gallery
21 November, 2013
As we expected, there were a few comments about the exercise bike photo. We enjoy the feedback and think it's probably worthwhile discussing the issue of garbage. World-wide, garbage is becoming a real problem. The First World does a pretty good job of keeping garbage out of sight and out of mind reasonably ecologically. This is done at some considerable expense. In the Third World there is seldom much provision made for any garbage. In San Blas, various pristine islands seemed to be the place where the locals stored the cruiser's garbage at $1 a bag. This garbage is often thrown in the low and formally pristine wetland areas of the islands where humans don't live. At other times, we could smell the acrid plastic as they attempted to burn it off. In some of the small islands of the Bahamas, it was not uncommon to see low areas littered with discarded refrigerators, stoves and mounds of plastic associated with their lives (see above photo taken at Little Grand Cay, Bahamas).
We have now spent nearly a year in the Third World and early on, we had to make a decision on how to handle garbage. As vegetarians who have a lot less garbage than most people, we meticulously separate our garbage into various categories which are suitable for disposal at sea complying with all international regulations. We feel this is far more ecologically advantageous than giving garbage to locals who either throw it into a lagoon or pile it into wetland areas. Occasionally when we have stayed at marinas in Third World countries, we have had no choice but to leave our garbage there but we still feel it is inferior to proper disposal at sea. To put everybody's minds at ease, the rusting exercise bike, which we've been carrying around for over 6 months, had no plastic on it. We never throw plastic overboard and we felt that burying the bike in almost 7000 feet of water was far preferable to leaving it in the remote places we visited in Colombia or Panama. The International MARPOL treaty basically prohibits all waste disposal within 25 miles of shore (some glass and papers are allowed) and you are allowed to dispose most general waste besides plastic and hazardous material as soon as you're more than 12 miles offshore, as long as it doesn't float. People in the First World have to remember that in places like Bocas del Toro the average wage is $7 a day and garbage is the last thing they worry about. We have been constantly distressed to see how much litter is in the streets, rivers and piled up on beaches. It is not at all uncommon to see people drink from a can or plastic bottle and then throw it into the gutter. Sadly, it is not always possible to comply with First World niceties everywhere on the planet. We simply try to do our best to leave the minimum impact on all places we visit. Again, we are happy to have your feedback and please know that we respect the sea more than you could ever know.
We've been at sea for 4 days and 3 nights now and are currently approaching Jamaica where we will stop for a short visit. Vanish has taken us over 8,000 miles since June last year. We've done 640 miles upwind on this leg but still have a long way to go but at least the hard part is done. The weather window turned out to be as good as we hoped so we look forward to getting back to cruising.
(For further info check out http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/outreach/pdfs/101MARPOLPstr.pdf)
20 November, 2013, 170 Miles South of Jamaica
The weirdest things happen to Vanish. We're motoring along minding our own business 170 miles south of Jamaica in about 6,500 feet of water and next thing, this rusting exercise bike just fell out of the sky. Mike tried to catch it as you can see by his outstretched arm, but just missed.
19 November, 2013, At Sea - 13 deg 12.827N; 080 27.436W
It was extremely hard to leave Bastimentos Island and the Red Frog Marina, especially after I saw my first wild capuchin monkey on a tree near the pool at my favourite villa as I took a last look around. But a good weather appeared over the weekend allowing us to head north towards Jamaica so yesterday we headed out to sea at 0800 in very heavy rain and short sharp 2 m swells. Maynard assured me that the swells would be worse at the beginning but lessen the further north we went and he was right. Windows for a comfortable direct passage between Panama and Jamaica are rare as the trade winds whip across the Caribbean Sea at 25 kn year round. However, when a hurricane or tropical storm forms in the Atlantic, it often disrupts the trade winds. Tropical Storm Melissa has been forming over the last few days and is now a huge storm measuring 230 miles across its centre. As you can see above, TS Melissa has completely disrupted the trades and this has resulted in a great diminution of the swell in the central Caribbean. The swells here are often very steep and have a short period and going against it can be very tiring and hard on crew and equipment so finding a window like this is very important. The swell in the centre of the above storm is around 10 meters and where we are in the green colour is 1 - 2 meters. We should be passing Jamaica on Thursday and may even stop for a rest unless the weather dictates that we need to keep moving.
We were accompanied yesterday by a brown booby bird which stayed with us for 5 hours hovering above the deck before swooping down to catch flying fish. We estimated he caught around 3 fish an hour. Around 4.45pm he landed a few times before deciding to sit on the cover of our Portugese Bridge for the night. He yawned a couple of times then rested his head in his feathers until sunrise at 0620 this morning, stretched his wings a couple of times and flew away 20 minutes later to a freighter which just happened to be passing us heading south about 3 miles off our beam. Perhaps he does this every night hitch hiking the Caribbean on whatever vessel comes his way and as we've only seen 3 vessels in the last 2 days, he's a very lucky bird.
16 November, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bastimentos island, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Recently our son in Australia saw a programme on TV detailing the most poisonous animals in the world. Number 1 on the list is the poison-dart frog. The above Strawberry Poison-Dart Frogs (Oophaga pumilio) are called dart frogs due to the indigenous use of their toxic secretions on the tips of blow darts. Many poison-dart frogs secrete toxins through their skin glands from eating ants, centipedes and mites which serve as a chemical defence against predation. The most poisonous is the golden poison dart frog found on the Pacific coast of Colombia and has enough toxin on average to kill up to 20 men. Scientists have used the toxins of yet another poison-dart frog from Ecuador to make painkillers which have potency 200 times that of morphine. The pretty little strawberry poison-dart frog, the one both Mike and I picked up and allowed to jump all over our hands and arms, is close to harmless for humans although it would be wise not to touch your mouth or let them hop on an open wound. I'd read another blogger's post weeks ago describing the lady's children playing with them without problems so I figured they were pretty safe. However, we won't order a strawberry poison-dart frog pizza anytime soon and will leave them alone in future...just in case.
Storms rolled in around 3 am today and popped and crackled for 4 hours before turning into steady rain and we've had rumbles most of the day. Boats always have niggling maintenance problems which can be investigated during wet weather. Maynard and Mike have been looking for the source of an air leak in our Microphor toilets for many months. The air leak turns on a compressor pump once every 20 minutes on average but with miles of line between the compressor and our toilets, it's hard to find the leak and Maynard is about ready to replace them which is quite a large undertaking. The Tecma toilet in our cabin and the Vacuflush in the crew cabin are on a different system so they are not the problem. We've had no malfunctions or anything disgusting to report but it's just annoying at this stage. It's a work in progress and one they'll keep working on.
Another pressing issue is whether to leave Panama or not. This is the reason the Red Frog Marina is also called Velcro Bay. One can get stuck by accident or by intention. If you are like us and write Pros, Cons and Option Lists, then you'll understand the difficulties involved in making the 'right' decision for us.
13 November, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bastimentos island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
The sad truth about sailing is that weather windows don't grow on trees. While Maynard and PHK worked their magic going through seismic for a week, those delicious flat seas and gentle breezes were coming to an end. We are not too disappointed as we have fallen in love with Panama and are finding it hard to leave. The HSVC (High Seas Vagabond Community) make friends easily. We are always stopping to say hi to new found friends in town and on Bastimentos Island where Red Frog Marina is located. There's not much not to like. Even the Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli visited the Red Frog Beach bar and a villa this week. He waved to us as we sat having sundowners on Vanish when he and his entourage departed late in the day.
We've learned that fresh produce arrives in Bocas Town on Tuesdays and Thursdays around 10 am, and that there are only one or two stores in town whose fresh and cold foods can be trusted. I found out yesterday after chatting to a dejected backpacker in town who was suffering an ear infection and hundreds of sand flea bites after staying at the sad looking Palmar Tent Lodge near Red Frog Beach that as the Bocas Town doctors are currently on strike, it's best to be treated by Dr Dan, the local vet. This story was backed up by another friend who told us that you can get your dog treated and get an x-ray of your broken bones all at the same time with dear Dr. Dan. Two for the price of one. I know for sure that this wouldn't happen in Australia......well at least I don't think so.
As one of our readers (trm_tqoe) pointed out, we're on a great adventure and we never know what's around the corner for us. The Panamanian lifestyle is relaxed, quiet and inexpensive and the weather is always fascinating with storms, rain, and sunshine and the cruising is world class with no risk or hurricanes. The fact that there are so many ex-pats living in Panama is not all to do with dodging tax codes in western countries or criminal activity. People are friendly, life is easy and it is terribly tempting to sign a cheque and buy a piece of property. Up until now, we've snorkeled and paddle boarded in calm conditions yet this week with windier conditions, the surf is pumping so we're now enjoying the body surfing. I take my hat off to surf photographers taking pictures in the impact zone as I took on about 10 pounds of sand in my togs capturing the Photo Gallery shots for Eric and friends but it was a great deal of fun. When and IF we leave is yet to be determined. There's not much time left and pretty soon we'll have to make up our minds.
6 November, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Compared to our home in Australia, we've seen very few flies, mosquitoes, sandflies or any other bugs in the last 2 months. However, last night the above gorilla flew into the Kayukos Restaurant at the marina while we were having dinner and caused considerable excitement. The nervous 'volunteer' above let someone put it on his neck long enough for me to take a picture. It maybe a moth but we haven't identified it yet. If anyone knows what it is, please leave a comment below.
We continue to take advantage of the great weather and ideal snorkelling conditions above at Hospital Point, 2 miles from the marina.
4 November, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Once again after about 5 days, marina fever sets in so we spent a few days on anchor at various spots in the Bocas del Toro region about 10 miles from the Red Frog Marina. We were hit by a fierce thunderstorm at midnight (is there any better time?) near the Panamanian mainland in Logan Bight. It was all hands on deck as this one was accompanied by wind which swung us towards land and with torrential rain, Maynard started the engines and radars and realised one of the radars wasn't working and the other had an issue. Well that's just great and what a good time to find out! Luckily the anchor held, the storm abated and the following day was spent tracing the problem. After a bit of effort, one radar is working but Mike and Maynard are still working on finding out why our 48 mile radar is stuck in sleep mode.
We met a few of the local inhabitants, one who brought his beautiful little child wearing gumboots in his leaky panga over to Vanish. I ran inside to find her a stuffed kangaroo toy and held it out for her to take. I had the feeling that this was her first ever toy as she didn't understand how to take it from me so I had to hold her arm, open her hand and I placed it gently in her palm. She squeezed the fur and touched the roo's plastic eyes and looked up with such a lovely shy smile. These people have very little but all of them seem happy and are a joy to talk to when they drop by. Another visitor Ricardo told us to take our dinghy up a jungle mangrove creek to look for monkeys which he'd seen yesterday but we couldn't find them. The only one we have seen was a pet capuchin monkey in Bocas Town one day. We couldn't swim in the bays near the mainland as they were so full of massive clusters of jellyfish clinging together. The locals told us that we would vomit if we were stung by these cluster jellies. We found some good snorkelling and swimming areas offshore then headed back to our temporary home at Red Frog Marina while we awaited Prent's arrival, Maynard's work colleague from Louisiana who is here for the week.
There are a few Aussies in the marina at present and coincidentally one of them is Stuart Broom and his wife Suzie. Stuart goes back a long way as we competed against him in the Hamilton Island Big Boat Series in 1999 and he was on board a yacht which t-boned Cruz by accident on our port side (he was not on the helm though). We both remembered it well and reminisced about those 'good 'ol days'. They are crewing on a yacht and heading to Jamaica after hurricane season. We also learned that this is a very big week for all Panamanias as they celebrate 4 holidays this week; the Day of the Dead on Nov 2, Separation Day Nov 3, Flag Day Nov 4, Colon Day Nov 5 and yet another holiday on Nov 10 for the Uprising in the Villa de Los Santos. Our previously deserted beautiful Red Frog Beach was filled with over 1,200 people yesterday on Separation Day (Panama's equivalent of 4th July) with a constant stream of partying pangas bringing visitors to and from the mainland and Bocas Town to the beach with DJ's, rock music, beer games, and a fair bit of activity not allowed elsewhere. Today, a Panamanian Navy patrol boat has decided it's time to make its presence felt and things are a little more under control it seems. Once Maynard and Prent have completed their work commitments, we will be looking for the first weather window to head north.
27 October, 2013, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Over the past year we've endured Hurricane Sandy in the Bahamas, swum with pigs in the Exumas, almost blew up the engine of a rental car in the middle of the Dominican Republic, trekked through the jungle in a fierce lightning storm in Colombia and today experienced a 5.1 magnitude earthquake 50 miles from here at 10.28 am this morning. We didn't feel it on the water but I wish I'd been on land at the time. Call me crazy! It lasted around 15 seconds and shook loose items and furniture.
And now to the issue of guests. We never like it when they just turn up uninvited, make a mess, spread themselves everywhere and don't know when to leave. Prent you can relax, I'm afraid the guests who are the worst are the dreaded six legged kind; weevils. Panama heat and humidity circulating around Orville Reddenbacher popcorn, rolled oats and wheat flour is a ticking time bomb if you don't stay vigilant. After moving our entire dry stores onto the dock for the entire marina's enjoyment, we systematically went through every single box and annihilated anything suspicious. Daily checks from now on though.
26 October, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bocas del Toro, Panama
In case you missed last night's Picture of the Day on Instagram at mv_vanish, I've posted it again above as it demonstrates how fortunate we are to have a good dinghy on board our vessel. The Red Frog Marina is about a 5 mile distance from Bocas Town where our new favourite restaurants are located. That's quite a distance when you are traveling at night with no moon, no navigation aids and many unlit water taxis buzzing around on a busy Friday night. However, we'd been across this stretch of water a few times in the daylight. Our chart plotter in the dinghy showed the route quite clearly as we headed out of the marina past mangrove islands and a few unlit anchored yachts in search of a meal in town. Our AB inflatable dinghy is 14 feet in length with an aluminium bottom, a centre console, automatic bilge pump, navigation lights, chart plotter, the latest generation 2 stroke 40 hp Evinrude motor and an awning which we lowered to increase our speed across the water. The best thing about our dinghy is its size as we've been used to a much smaller size on Cruz Control, our previous sailing yacht. At 14 feet it fits easily on the bridge deck and the fact that we are able to travel 5 miles over open water safely at speeds in excess of 20 knots with three full grown adults is something we've never been able to do before. The aluminium hull allows us to beach the dinghy anywhere without fear of gashing the fiberglass hull and keeps the overall weight of the dinghy low enough to lift with most davits.
In the distance past Bocas Town, a large storm cloud lit up with beautiful lightning while another was lighting the sky behind us over the mountains. At 4700 rpm we glided across the water at 20 knots in less than 15 minutes where we tied up to a wobbly dock attached to a restaurant in town which we've been using over the last week or so. Mike kept a sharp lookout on the bow as we swept past an anchored US Coast Guard vessel that is here presumably to keep narcotics at bay. We slowed down near town so we could see the darkened pangas and watercraft that would shine a torch at us to lets us know of their presence. The salad and wood-fired pizza at La Italiana was delicious and the street life odd and entertaining so it was an exhilarating and memorable evening for us all.
(Photo Gallery has a couple more pics of the dinghy taken a few weeks ago.)
21 October, 2013, Red Frog Marina, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
After waking up to a rainy day at Zapatilla Cay which made snorkelling less appealing, we moved Vanish around to Bocas Town where we anchored for a couple of days. Bocas has a population of around 3,500 with many restaurants, hostels, dive shops, and grocery stores and actually reminded us very much of Byron Bay with backpackers from all over the world in the 20 - 30 year old range. We stocked up on bread from the bakery and fresh food from numerous grocery stores and spent the afternoons snorkelling at nearby sites as the weather had cleared again. Bocas Town also has an airport, a hospital and drug stores and infrastructure we haven't seen for many many weeks. We wanted to do some land based activities as well so we decided to head over to the nearby Red Frog Marina which we'd heard so many good things about. We topped up our diesel at $US4.40 per gallon, a darn side cheaper than the prices in Queensland which are around $7.50 per gallon. In fact, it's hard to get used to the low prices of everything everywhere we go compared to home. Food, alcohol, fuel, accommodation, activities, taxis, marina berth prices, everything is ½ to 2/3 less. Our berth is perfect as we have a nice breeze, there are virtually no bugs of any kind, the wildlife starts right at the marina office with the above sloth living in a nearby tree and all kinds of birds, lizards and monkeys live in the adjacent jungle. This particular sloth is a 3 toed sloth and I've found out that they live 25-30 years, weigh between 4 - 8 kg (8-16 lbs), move at a speed of 0.015mph avg, eat leaves, bugs, petals, defecate once a week on the ground, and give birth to their young in the trees and are around 18 inches long. We're still hoping to see some monkeys but have seen many red frogs which are found nowhere else in the world but here on Bastimentos Island. They are also known as strawberry poison dart frogs and are tiny at just one inch in length. We've hired a golf buggy which we use to explore part of the 1600 acres of property owned by the marina and have visited the beautiful villas, beaches and three low key restaurants in the area. There are no grocery stores or marine services here which is a negative but it seems to be the ideal place to keep a boat for the hurricane season. It's quite easy to take a panga to town to do any shopping as the marina provides a shuttle a couple of times a week or one can take one's own dinghy or hail a passing water taxi. From the marina, we can go paddle-boarding and we have access to Red Frog Beach where we can swim, surf and snorkel. So much to do, so little time.
15 October, 2013, Zapatilla Cay, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Tempting as it was to turn left at the Panama Canal, book a spot and take Vanish back to Brisbane (or Chile), we felt we still have unfinished business here. These cruising grounds are spectacular and one could spend a lifetime discovering new peaceful anchorages while enjoying the constant change of weather and scenery, eating healthy food and snorkeling almost every day. We're still under 10 deg south and out of the official hurricane zone but the seasons are moving on with November 15 fast approaching and we need to position ourselves for the next phase of our trip. There's so much to consider and we are conflicted with our family and dog back home in Australia against Maynard's need to be in the US next year to oversee drilling a well in the Gulf of Mexico. Then there's the route to take; we can go back to Colombia and head north to Dominican Republic or keep heading west in Panama before turning right and heading north to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Either way, we are heading north but we have to avoid late hurricanes or the dreaded northerly Christmas winds. OR we can just keep Vanish in Panama at the Red Frog Marina at Bocas del Toro and spend another season in this beautiful country. Sometimes, humans don't do well if they have too many choices and we can certainly vouch for that. Many sleepless nights ahead I'm afraid.
Yesterday we departed Portobelo and headed west towards Colon and the Panama Canal, took a few happy snaps for our family and our readers and went onto our intended anchorage at the Chagres River which is the river that is the outlet of the Gatun Lake, a dam built specifically for the Panama Canal. We've crossed many river bars in our previous yachts but there were a number of challenges here. Firstly, there are few navigation aids in Panama, and none for this river. The entrance is shallow at 3 meters, and then there are two reefs we needed to pass between. There is also the issue with current coming down the river in the wet season with trees and debris and the river is 100 meters across and we are 25 meters in length so it is a bit tight but the sight of a wrecked yacht washed up on the beach at the entrance said it all. Normally, we would have dropped the dinghy in the water and checked out the depths ourselves but the swell was over a meter and it was too tricky to manoeuvre. Even though this may have been our best chance of getting up close and personal with the birds and wildlife, we all decided there were too many risks. Given the seas and weather were perfect for an overnight passage, we decided to go onto Bocas del Toro overnight, against a 2 knot coastal current in the Mosquito Gulf, a distance of 150 miles from the river to our current anchorage at Zapatilla Cay. Bocas del Toro is a sparsely populated province with a main town called Bocas Town and many islands covered in jungle with perfect beaches, wildlife preserves, national parks, Chirique villages and a few marinas including the IGY Red Frog Marina.
Do we go through or do we go on?
11 October, 2013, Cacique near Isla Linton, Panama
After two agonising weeks trying to stay in touch using local lightning affected Kuna cell phone towers to get internet and phone reception on Vanish's highly boosted boat phone, we ripped the boxes apart which contained our new KVH Fleet Broadband 250 TracPhone, antennae, KVH below deck terminal and new sat phone. The bolts for the old antennae were hidden in the ceiling of the bridge so 3 lights and a leather covered panel needed to be carefully removed. We didn't have a proper Marlow tool to pop off the ceiling so we had to be very gentle trying to pry it off without damaging the leather. In place of the special tool we got inventive and carefully used 6 butter knives as levers.
It actually worked so after prying the ceiling panel off Maynard and Mike had access to the antenna cable and the 4 bolts holding the satellite antenna onto the top of the bridge. They easily removed all 4 through bolts and lifted the antenna from above to unscrew the cable. The new FB250 antenna was installed by attaching the cable that was already run and screwing in one of the bolts to hold it in place for our test. The old below deck terminal was located underneath the instrument panel in the bridge deck but was virtually inaccessible. They removed the screen for the forward looking sonar so the screws and wires could all be reached easily, in the process discovering a pinched wire on the forward looking sonar that we have never been able to get working properly.
After removing the old terminal they plugged in the new FB250 Terminal. Thankfully the old FB150 and new FB250 use the exact same wiring and baseplate for the antenna so their first idea was to just install the new antenna and terminal and that would be an effective test to see if the wiring was a problem or not. Then came the fateful test. The old SIM card with our data plan on it was inserted, they flipped the breaker and turned on the terminal and... success! It worked perfectly! After making a test phone call and email to Prent who is in our time zone, we were fully satisfied that the problem on the FB150 must have been the antenna or the terminal and that the wiring is obviously fine, thankfully because running all new wires would have been extremely time consuming, difficult and exhausting. The next step was to properly attach and waterproof the antenna using SikkaFlex and the old through bolts. Next, they attacked the problem of attaching the terminal to the bulkhead in a manner that would be more accessible in the future. During this process, they were reading through the literature provided with the new unit and realized that the manual spent a lot of time discussing grounding the terminal. The electrician who installed our old FB150 terminal had neglected to attach a ground wire from the terminal to the hull.
We are highly suspicious that this was our problem with the FB150 in the first place as we are cruising one of the most active areas for lighting in the entire world. We have been constantly surrounded by thunderstorms and there is lighting at least in the distance most of the day and night, as was the case on the day it stopped working. They found a proper wire and connected the grounding point on the terminal to the grounding point on one of the Raymarine display screens and from there it is taken to ground below deck. The terminal was drilled into the bulkhead and the forward looking sonar screen was attached, the ceiling panel popped back and after a total of 12 hours of work, hey presto we're back in business.
10 October, 2013, Isla Linton, Panama
One hour of spectacular natural fireworks tonight:
9 October, 2013, Portobello, Panama
The weather has changed. We've enjoyed a month of fairly sunny skies with storms during the day or night but over the last couple of days, the cloud cover is 8/8 with torrential rain, fierce lightning and thunder. Panama has two seasons, a dry season from December to April and a wet season from May through to November. The wet season winds are unpredictable with squalls which bring heavy rain but are of short duration. Over the past couple of nights, even with the blinds closed, our cabin is lit up almost all night long with strobe like lightning flashing across the sky from every direction. I count the seconds it takes for the thunder to arrive so I know whether the storm is approaching or leaving us which makes no sense really as all that happens is I lose sleep and another storm rolls in behind the one that's just left. The cloud cover is so thick at times during the day that we have to put the cabin lights on. This morning during one of a dozen storms since midnight, I looked out to see a motorised panga heading to town with four passengers quite happily standing up holding umbrellas while lightning bolts darted into the sea and danced above their heads. I guess they are used to it. We actually love this weather as it's so intense, tropical and different to most places on the planet.
We dropped anchor amongst 65 yachts, many of which look abandoned, in the Bay of Portobello yesterday. The Lonely Planet Guide painted a poor picture of Portobello saying it is economically depressed with homes situated amongst the colonial ruins, which turned out to be quite true. We walked all over the town and it was indeed quite poor but felt safe. The town has many historical sites including forts all around the Bay, a Customs House, canons, a museum and church.
The Bay of Portobello was discovered in 1502 by Columbus and the City of San Felipe de Portobello was officially founded in 1597. It became one of the most important sites for transferring 45 fleets of galleons laden with gold and silver from South and Central America to Seville in Spain between 1574 and 1702. The ruins of the fortifications can be seen along the shoreline. We also visited the Church of San Felipe de Portobello which is home to the Black Christ of Portobello, a wooden statue of Jesus of Nazareth possibly dated around 1658. This local saint is worshipped by followers throughout Latin America and 60,000 people come to celebrate the Black Christ Festival on October 21.The life sized effigy is said to have countless miracles attributed to it and thousands of devotees walk up to 120 miles from their homes while many crawl the last mile on hands and knees wearing purple robes which they discard at midnight on the steps of the church. The figurine has 63 robes all donated by Panamanians, some of which are over 100 years old. The robes are changed twice a year and each one is used just once.
A well-known yachtie bar, restaurant, hostel named Captain Jacks is perched above the bay next to a stream adjacent to dense vegetation filled with wonderful birds. The barman, Jeff, provided us with a wealth of information on electricians, mechanics, canvass work etc and the ability to get anything bought or worked on in Portobello, including arranging lines and line handlers to transit the canal without the need to stay in Shelter Bay Marina in Colon. He also let me use his personal computer so I could post the last few blogs at long last. My computer didn't like his router which was irritating beyond belief. Oh how we rely on technology! While drinking some well-earned refreshments, we hatched the plan of hiring a driver (Jeff's friend) from Portobello to take us the 50 mile drive to Colon to pick up the satellite equipment and do some provisioning as well. Brilliant idea. This would save taking Vanish into the isolated Shelter Bay Marina but there was one big hiccup. Maynard found out he had a Board Meeting and couldn't go but Michael was more than happy to make the trip himself with the trusted driver. Michael has been a fantastic hand on Vanish as he is so happy and willing to learn and try anything. Our trip would not be the same without him. He regaled us with many stories of his adventure into one of the most dangerous cities in the world, described in the guide books as an "urban jungle racked with violent crime, a sprawling slum of decaying colonial grandeur and desperate human existence." Let me just say here, "Mrs. Porter, your son is fine and we would never ask him to do anything we wouldn't do ourselves." He witnessed the utmost poverty with people wearing bare rags sleeping outside Reys Supermarket in Colon in the rain where he bought our provisions. Huge armed guards wearing urban camouflage clothing and riot gear were inside and outside the store. The ATM at the supermarket had no cash that day (I wonder why?), but luckily the debit card worked. His driver Jose, and Michael enjoyed lunch and were back at the boat before dark with the satellite equipment and good fresh food. And now the fun begins with the sat installation.
P.S. Still looking forward to seeing some poop throwing monkeys ....from a distance.
8 October, 2013, Isla Linton, Panama
It's hard to believe, but we've spent an entire month in Kuna Yala. The weather was ideal, the snorkelling was fabulous and our anchorages were calm and stress free with few boats to bother us. The Panamanian authorities are used to cruisers not clearing into Panama from Colombia in the Kuna Yala region straight away so we knew we had time to enjoy it all. However, needing our sat phone working, we headed to El Porvenir early in the morning, anchored off the island and went ashore where we were cleared into Panama within an hour while thunder rolled and boomed outside the immigration building. We paid our fees in US Dollars, the official currency of Panama and left the building. The storm was very close so we raced back to Vanish, lifted the anchor and headed out to sea where we skirted the back of the storm to avoid the lightning. The sea was less than a meter and quite comfortable. Panama runs basically west to east so we headed 60 miles westward and passed between the mainland and Isla Grande. Isla Grande is one of Panama's favourite surf spots and many competitions take place here although they must occur in the dry season when the swells are large as there was barely a ripple when we entered. We then moved down to an all-round protected anchorage Maynard had researched called Isla Linton, one of the best anchorages in this part of the coast.
Isla Linton sits a few hundred meters off the Panama mainland and is privately owned but uninhabited, except for a few monkey families who are the real owners of the island. We were warned to be very cautious as they appear friendly at first, sitting on you and eating out of your hand but as soon as they realise you intend to leave, they become upset and may bite. They also throw their do-do at you which I thought must have been a joke but it's true and is not a pleasant thought on a hot steamy day, well any day actually. We decided not to visit the Isla. When entering the anchorage, we also needed to avoid a fish farm producing cobia. There were three large circular cages in the middle of the entrance with vessels nearby and also another fish contraption covered in a towering net. We also passed a thick coil of anchored rope floating on the surface near the fish farm which we saw just in time to veer away. There's no way we would enter this anchorage at night.
We dropped anchor near a few floating plastic drink bottles and later learned it marked a wreck underneath. Lucky again. Once we'd turned off the motors and gensets, the first thing we heard were the howler monkeys calling each other from Isla Linton to their mates on the mainland. The calls sounded quite unreal as we've never heard such sounds in an anchorage in our lives. We could also hear many bird sounds and finally realised we could hear and see macaws in the jungle covered hills. We all just looked at each other and grinned as we all felt we may as well be on another planet. There were a few houses on the water's edge and a road with a few cars. During the night wave after wave of thunderstorms passed us out to sea but the thunder was almost constant. The mountains further inland reach around 900 meters (3,000 ft) and are often covered by rising mist and a dense layer of cloud on top. Around 9 am a roll cloud came in and drenched the boat, sending the howler monkeys into vocal mayhem. Either someone was messing with their bananas or perhaps they love heavy rain. Again, we waited for the storm to pass and headed out to sea this time travelling just 11 miles west to the town of Portobello which sits on the Bay of Portobello, discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus. We've received confirmation that our satellite equipment has arrived in Colon so we are only 40 miles from our precious package.
3 October, 2013, Lemmon Cays, Kuna Yala, Panama
Diagnosing the problem with our KVH satellite phone was a major task for Maynard and Mike. We had no idea if it was a problem at our end or their end so two sleepless nights were spent emailing and talking to technicians in Australia on a very expensive intermittent mobile phone line, tracing wiring, sending out debug information and writing over 200 emails. Everything was checked including the satellite and two sim cards but it seems that our equipment just up and died. It underlined the fact that we are very dependent on our communication equipment and if it doesn't work, we cannot stay out here. Our only option was to order an entire new upgraded system, a KVH Fleet Broadband 250 including terminal box and antennae and have it shipped to Colon, Panama from Miami in the USA, not a particularly easy task. We've also ordered a hand held Immarsat mobile sat phone as another backup. It should all arrive next week in Colon and the guys will install it themselves. Our fingers are crossed that these efforts will be successful. We need to stay in touch and don't like cutting back on using the internet. What little internet we have using the boat phone is for Maynard's work commitments, with just a bit left over to post a blog entry. However, it means we now need to go to Colon.
A few days ago we moved 11 miles west to Lemmon Cays as we'd read that there was a resort and restaurant on the island of Banedup. Our imaginations were running wild with the thought of marguerita pizzas, pastas, Mexican food etc. We could hardly wait to see what surprises were waiting for us. The surprise was that the 'resort' was deserted except for three locked Kuna huts and a 'store' selling odd items;` a bit of rice and a packet or two of Doritos. A Kuna lady swung in a hammock chatting on her cell phone near a couple of bench seats which probably formed part of the 'restaurant'. It was all very laid back with nothing resembling a place to eat and not what our minds had conceived. Fortunately, we are still living well on the provisions we purchased a month ago in Santa Marta, Colombia.
Each day we look out on perfect tropical islands surrounded by aqua coloured water and reefs. Turtles pop up occasionally and Kunas drop by for a chat or stop to show us their latest huge lobster or crab catches. We try to exercise a few hours per day by snorkelling, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming, windsurfing etc. A Kuna family, Tito and his wife Floriana and their 2 grandchildren, came by yesterday as Floriana wanted to show me her molas and beaded ankle bracelets. Her molas were perfectly sewn but I asked her in broken Spanish and sign language if she was experiencing trouble with her eyesight as short-sightedness often sets in around age 50. She nodded. I decided to give her my backup reading glasses and when she put them on and looked at her handiwork on her molas, her face lit up like a Christmas tree with so much joy and appreciation as she could see so clearly. If any yachties are coming to Kuna Yala in the future, please try to bring reading glasses for both the older men and women as they desperately need them. I wish I'd brought a suitcase full. Flippers, masks, magazines and small toys are also something they would love as well. Also, the albino children need wide brimmed hats, long sleeve shirts and sunglasses.
Maynard's foot has improved with only 9 spines embedded in the soft arch of his foot. They are gradually pushing themselves out from the skin while others have dissolved. We feel lucky as this could have been so much worse.
Another decision point is coming our way. The Panama Canal is only 80 odd miles west. Do we transit the canal and bring Vanish back to Australia, do we stay in Panama or do we head through Central America and elsewhere? We're headed somewhere but not sure where yet.
28 September, 2013, Eastern Holandes Cays (The Swimming Pool), Kuna Yala (San Blas), Panama
It appears that Maynard has achieved a bit of a World Record. About a week ago while beaching his stand-up paddleboard, he stepped barefoot onto a "nest" of sea urchins and the spines went into the underside of his foot. "Ow, I've just cut myself," he said but when he looked at his foot, he saw black spines protruding which he tried to brush away. Then the pain and swelling set in. We rushed back to Vanish, checked our medical books and internet and started treatment which consisted of a priority large rum and coke and soothing music while I donned a headlamp and grabbed tweezers and a magnifying glass to help me see the spines. After two hours, I'd only managed to pull out four spines and actually pushed two others deeper which didn't go down well with the patient. There are no doctors within cooee distance so we needed to get the situation under control immediately. Digging them out was impossible. We alternated between soaking his foot in hot vinegar then hot water mixed with salt and antiseptic. The internet stated that if there were more than one spine injury we should seek medical assistance. Maynard had 45 embedded spines. We have a large store of antibiotics which we would have used but after 2 days of soaking and using rubbing alcohol and Betadine, the swelling went away. After 30 days the spines are supposed to dissolve under the skin. In these remote areas we know we have to be very proactive with any medical issues as they can quickly get out of hand.
The Kuna Indians have a long and interesting history. There are 340 islands in this 20 mile stretch and associated mainland territory called Kuna Yala and the Kuna Indians effectively control this quarter of Panama. There are no roads on the mainland area here at all. In fact, we've read in our Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus, a must for cruising in this area that there are many places no human has ever set foot. The jungle is host to beautiful birds, monkeys and jaguars. The Kunas live on some of the islands and there are a few communities along the coastline. We visited the village of Playon Chico where we hoped to find more delicious Kuna bread and potatoes and to see how the people live. The village huts are packed tightly together and built with cane siding, palm frond roofs and held together by creeper vines with not a nail in sight with floors made of hard packed sand. The door heights are very low and we needed to bend over to enter the doorways. Everything was extremely basic. We were told that 300 adults live in the village but there were too many children to count. As the gene pool is so limited, we estimated that around 5% of the population were albinos. All the villagers treated us kindly and were extremely helpful in showing us around. The village also had a school as we saw children wearing neat uniforms.
Snorkelling is excellent with 30 deg water temperatures and no current to fight against due to the fact that the tidal range is 6 inches to 1 ft. The coral is very pretty but for heaven's sake don't touch it like I did when I momentarily lost my brain. Coral stings like hell - sorry for saying hell, but it really hurt eh. For two weeks we've experienced low wind but in the last couple of days, we've had the chance to sail the Hobie and our new windsurfer. Storms rumble in the mountains, out to sea or overhead almost daily and always between 2 am and 6 am for some reason. We've developed the habit of putting all our computers and electronic equipment in the microwaves, our own Faraday Cage to hopefully protect them from lightning strike damage We are currently anchored in a large anchorage at Eastern Holandes Cays known as the Swimming Pool as it's so flat. There are a few yachts and power boats scattered around. Truly, if you want isolation, a warm climate and low stress, this is the place to be.
Pangas and ulus drop by on a regular basis with locals wishing to sell crabs or lobsters, but yesterday's panga visit brought Mola Lisa, a well-known Kuna transvestite who embroiders beautiful molas. She is one of 9 children and learned to sew from her mother who handed down all her traditional designs to Lisa. She started sewing at the age of 7 and told me that only the women sew molas while the men fish and tend crops of potatoes, pineapples, yucca and bananas in the mountains. She is an expert on Kuna history and her designs capture the importance of their mythological creatures, sea life, spiritualism and traditional medicine men, women and babies in pretty geometric designs.
During the week, our KVH satellite equipment fatally died meaning we are relying on the boat phone for data and calls, a very expensive option. This means that I can't post photos at present nor daily Instagrams until we somehow find a replacement unit or go to a marina. Having reliable communication is paramount so we are working on getting back on line as fast as possible.
16 September, 2013, Playon Chico, Kuna Yala (San Blas), Panama
The tropics have many redeeming features. The clouds are spectacular, the rain is thick and heavy, and the air and water temperatures are the same - hot. The only decision to be made each day is whether to wear a bathing costume or the lightest flimsiest material possible to protect one from the sun. However, there are a few downsides. As we anchor out most of the time, our solar panels provide a great deal of power to the boat meaning that we don't need to run the gensets more than about 3 hours a day. This means that we don't run air conditioning a lot as the boat is open to the breezes and whatever temperature is outside, is also inside the boat. When provisioning in Colombia, we knew from prior experience in the tropics that all fruit or vegetables such as pineapples, apples, potatoes, onions etc needed to be stored in our refrigerators as they will rot in no time at all. The one exception I made was to buy two very large delicious looking watermelons at 10 cents/pound in Santa Marta which I lovingly wrapped in separate beach towels and placed in a wicker basket in the salon.
It was a scorcher on Saturday morning with 100% humidity and 92F (33 C) and watermelon was on the menu. I walked over to the wicker basket sitting on our salon carpet and lo and behold, sweet sticky watermelon juice came bubbling up between my toes. Oh nooooooo. As I picked up the basket, the rotting smell and melon bits were ghastly. One of the melons had popped and the other was preparing itself to disgorge onto the carpet. We now had a 3 ft x 2 ft sugary wet mess fermenting on the carpet in this lovely tropical heat. I tried sopping it up with towels and dousing it with water but this was not going to work. There was nothing for it but to lock up the boat, clear our minds, go for a snorkel and think of a strategy.
On our return, we opened the door of the hot salon and you can just imagine the smell. We'd decided to take the carpet outside to wash the damaged section but needed to move all the furniture including the salon table which was screwed through the carpet to the floor. This all took a great deal of effort but rolling up the carpet and lifting it outside was a real heart popper as the carpet weighs at least 300+ lbs (150 kg). We washed and hosed the area with around 150 gallons of water then used a wet/dry vac, more towels to soak up dampness then brought it all back inside, replaced the furniture, washed 5 loads of towels, ran the watermaker and were all done by 10 pm. The next morning revealed a carpet with no smell and no stains although it will take a week to fully dry out. That's the tropics for you.
Lesson of the Day: Don't put watermelons in a basket on the carpet. Period!
13 September, 2013, Snug Harbour, Near Playa Chico, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
Remember that great song by Van Halen called Panama? It's now our new anthem on Vanish played daily on sunset as loud as possible with not a soul in sight for miles. Maynard and I never thought in a million years that we'd be in Panama on our own vessel, yet here we are. The overnight passage from Puerto Velero to the eastern end of the San Blas Islands went extremely well with less than a meter of swell and storms behind us, in front of us, to the side of us, but never on top of us. We're now anchored in 15 meters of water in a harbour with protection from almost all weather and we are the only vessel here. The native Kuna Indians who live here are unique in that they have preserved their culture and traditions the best out of all the tribes in the Americas. The area is reachable by sea and air with a few airstrips built by North Americans during WWII. The Kunas are the second smallest in stature in the world next to pygmies and are very healthy and energetic. They have very little crime, they cannot intermarry and do not allow foreigners to buy their land. The cruising grounds here are incredibly beautiful with white beaches which the Kuna people sweep every few days. Coconut palms and weird tropical fruit such as lonnie grow abundantly. We were given four lonnie fruit by Kuna Munoz and told it is a natural remedy when rubbed on the skin used for aches and pains and can also be taken with water to increase one's energy.
On our first day, we were visited by at least 5 dugout canoes called ulus selling lobsters (5 for $US5), large crabs, snapper, pineapples, yucca, bananas, coconuts, cucumbers, potatoes and their famous embroidery work called molas. The Kuna speak broken Spanish and a little English mixed with the Kuna language so we are able to communicate quite well. Kunas marry when they are considered mature and often the women choose their husbands. They also control the money and the husbands move into the women's family compound. Their currency is US Dollars but the charges are minimal. An "Anchor Man" came by in his ulu and handed me a receipt book which he wanted me to fill out and I saw that he wanted me to write the name of our yacht, date, country etc. The $US10 fee allows us to stay for a period of time, but I could not figure out how long. When I looked through the book, I noticed that we are only the 7th boat to visit this year. Another Kuna named Dyon sold us a few of his wife's molas . Each mola takes 6 months to embroider using unique patterns of birds, crabs, and chickens in colourful block stitching. The women wear them as part of their blouses and when they are tired of them, they sell them to passing vessels. Dyon's village has some electricity generated from solar panels and they actually have limited internet and a few cell phones with the data transmitted via microwave link to repeater stations in Punta San Blas and Isla Pinos. As long as those solar panels are exposed to the sun, they can make their phone calls but we wonder, who are they calling? Yesterday, Dyon brought us fresh baked Kuna bread which his wife had baked at 7 am. It was soft, hot and absolutely delicious when he delivered it in his ulu at 8.30. Our mission is to find Dyon again and order more bread as we love it.
Until recently, coconuts were the official means of exchange and every coconut palm is owned by a tribal member on all of their islands. For this reason, we are not allowed to take any coconuts, nor are we allowed to do any diving. These wonderful friendly people experience very little stress. They are blessed with a perfect climate, abundant rain, good soil, rainforest fruits and wood and a sea rich with many varieties of crustaceans and fish.
We have travelled the Pacific, North America and the Caribbean and this is without doubt the most beautiful, idyllic place we have ever seen even though Palmyra Island is a close second. The storm clouds are spectacular and the temperature is 10 deg cooler than anywhere else in the Caribbean. The water is the kind of temperature where you can just slide in and enjoy it even though we were inspected by a 6 ft crocodile sneaking past our swim platform.
Every Kuna has assured us they are harmless so we swim, paddle board and kayak, something we would never do in Australia with crocodiles. There are other yachts here and we love the isolation. The cruising is fantastic; the list of positives is endless. Would someone please tell me what day it is as we've lost track of time already and if we're still on planet Earth. We can't believe our luck. We've hit the jackpot and can now see why cruisers come to the San Blas and never leave.
p.s. If you have access to Google Earth, enter our Latitude and Longitude
9 19.257'N:78 deg 15.340'W
and you will see our exact anchored location and see where the San Blas Islands are located.
10 September, 2013, Offshore Colombia - 10 deg 51.115N;70 deg 24.643W
Before leaving Santa Marta yesterday, Maynard downloaded a programme called ZyGrib (you can find it on Google) which was suggested to us by Diana and Andrew who are soon to complete a 4 year round the world trip on their cutter rigged yacht 35ft Saviah. It is a very comprehensive World-Wide weather forecasting programme which has the normal functions of wind and waves but also has a lot of other indicators such as winds and isobars at various altitudes in the atmosphere, CAPE and CIN. These initial tools are very handy for storm predictions, especially in the tropics. CAPE is a measure of how much electricity is actually stored in the atmosphere and CIN is a measure of the atmosphere's capacity to store electricity. Using these two maps, one can get an idea as to where the thunderstorm hotspots might be well in advance of actually seeing any sign of a storm. The above CAPE map which was generated at the time of writing this post shows that the Central Caribbean has high capacity for thunderstorms whereas the area where we are which is about 40 miles from Cartagena has a relatively low electrical charge and hence accounts for the clear weather we're currently experiencing with a few cumulus clouds in the vicinity. You can also see that the winds are very light and the sea state is no more than 0.3 m which was ZyGrib's forecast.
After refueling at the Santa Marta Marina and saying fond goodbyes to the staff, we motored 57 miles yesterday following the Colombian coastline passing the Magdalena River which has a reputation for large debris and weird currents and waves. We've seen numerous large logs floating 4 to 5 miles offshore and clumps of weed which we've managed to dodge. We arrived at Puerto Velero as the sun was setting. Interestingly, the book The Cruising Guide to Colombia, our Raymarine Charts and the latest paper Colombian chart all had the point at Puerto Velero plotted 1mile north of its actual position. The Magdalena River dumps so much sediment into this area that all charts say that depths and land forms can significantly change from year to year so a visual approach was necessary. The Magdalena River is one of the largest rivers in South America. We anchored opposite a marina in a large sheltered bay with good mud holding in 6 m of dead flat water.
Storms popped up after sundown so Maynard set the anchor alarm on a new App on his Samsung Galaxy 8.0 Note with inbuilt accurate GPS called My Anchor Watch. There are versions for Android or Apple. This is a really fantastic App as we can now turn off all boat electronics to save electricity overnight. The App itself keeps a very close track of the vessel's position and has a loud alarm which sounds as soon as you get a preset distance away from the anchor. Maynard found this App recommended on Kens Blog. Ken is currently on a Nordhavn 68 and has written one of the most followed blogs ever on a power boat. It Is full of information and we've read his 3 books generated from that blog as they are so interesting. Thank you Ken.
At 0730 we were visited by Colombian Armada Nacionale (Coast Guard) who came on board to check our Zarpe (Clearance) papers, inspect the boat and make sure all was well. We told them we were just about to weigh anchor and they looked disappointed as they would have allowed us to stay much longer if we wished to do so. They were extremely polite and cheerful and loved the boat. They probably don't see too many like ours down this way.
If you're wondering about buying Colombian fuel, we were charged $US4.40 per gallon and have been polishing the fuel on a 2 micron filter with no significant problems yet.
8 September, 2013, Santa Marta, Colombia
On Friday, Dino, our Colombian Shipping Agent returned our passports and gave us our Clearance Papers. We were now ready to cast off our lines, pay our bills and head for Panama in the next day or so. But first, we had other important business to attend to as it was Maynard's birthday so we wandered into Santa Marta for a nice lunch on probably the hottest, most humid day we've felt. It was noon and the first thing we noticed was that the streets were practically deserted with no taxis, no motor cycles, no donkeys and very few people. Turned out that Colombia was to play soccer against Ecuador Friday afternoon in nearby Barranquilla and everyone in the country had either gone home to watch it on tv or were already in the local bars hydrating at a rapid rate. We dragged our already severely dehydrated bodies back to the boat as no suitable eating establishments were open. The weather was a precursor to a massive storm which hit Barranquilla before kick-off and the game was delayed while water was removed from the field by a bunch of guys stabbing the ground with pitch forks in order to drain away the water. How funny. This impressive storm also made its way up to Santa Marta and before we knew it, we were experiencing 30 knots of wind and drenching rain but it felt so much better.
We headed up to the Captains Lounge at the Marina to watch the game and sat with the most enthusiastic, noisy, excited Colombian marina staff and boat owners you could imagine. Then an Ecuadorian star mid fielder was given a red card and had to leave the field which opened up their back line allowing Colombia to make a quick score, the only score of the game. It was tense and exciting and then the lights went out on the field causing a ½ hour delay but the massive crowd sat patiently. There was much drama at the end of the game when Ecuador was awarded a controversial penalty shot. Their star striker slotted the ball just left of the goal and the 50,000 spectators at the stadium and all of Santa Marta erupted with cheering, fire crackers, and horn blasts. This win moved Colombia to No. 1 on the South America World Cup qualifying table and we were there to feel it and see it with the Colombians. We headed into town again for a late celebration dinner and as it was still raining we had to duck and dodge the flooded streets. Michael wasn't wearing his shoes when we walked through the small town park near the restaurant and while walking along the sidewalk suddenly received a shock from a metal cover sitting flush with the concrete. He jumped a bit and we thought we might have to crash tackle him but he was ok. He wore his thongs after that. There was only one other hiccup. Maynard's back tore again.
Maynard has been reading that prescription drugs are super cheap in these types of countries and as he was saving his last anti-inflammatory Mobic pill, we jumped in our $US 2 taxi the following day to visit the Drugueria at the grocery store called Exito. We showed the smiling attendant the packet and he checked under "M" in his drawer for Meloxicam and handed over a box for $US 2. (Everything seems to cost about $US 2, as even a packet of Marlboro cigarettes which we don't smoke also cost $US 2). In Australia, this exercise would have cost well over $100 after going to the doctor and paying for the prescription. Well, this was a tremendous win and worked like a charm so he bought 3 boxes and coughed up $ US 6 and crab walked away with the biggest grin on his face I've seen for a while. I am happy to say that he feels a lot better so we think we're clear to leave soon.
5 September, 2013, Santa Marta, Colombia
While waiting patiently for Maynard's back to heal we took the opportunity to slowly wander around the marina looking at the other boats, as you do. Chatting to fellow sailors can be fascinating as you get to find out what's ahead or if asked, advise them what we've encountered. We met a couple on the day they arrived from the San Blas Islands, Panama looking ....well, a bit fried, or even frazzled. Once we started chatting they told us they'd just spent a month in San Blas but their ketch had been hit by lightning not just once, but twice on two separate occasions and they'd had two other very near misses and just wanted to get the hell outa there as they couldn't take the lightning any more. They were in the cockpit at the time and said they saw a yellow ball of phosphor travel down the mast. Their engine died temporarily but unbelievably, they had no other issues. It just so happens that this is where we and another couple we've met want to go. We know of at least 5 boats who have been hit by lightning this season in the San Blas and it is certainly a worry for us. Their story made us all get the jitters.
We felt we should stop and consider whether we should change strategies and perhaps head east towards Trinidad instead. Now that Tropical Storm Gabriel has formed near Puerto Rico, the winds will probably die allowing us to sneak across the top of South America while all the action is further north. When a hurricane follows its typical track around Puerto Rico or Hispaniola, then the tradewinds along the north coast of South America can stop or temporarily reverse. This creates a weather window for boats travelling west to east. In fact, another yacht did exactly that this morning and is now heading east to Bonaire. We certainly have developed the vagabond type of reputation, going where the wind blows. In fact, Vanish was originally named Vagabundo by David Marlow at the time of her purchase. It really doesn't matter where we go as long as we stay out of the hurricane zone. Anyway, we've ditched that plan and are readying ourselves for a 250 mile trot down to the San Blas as we've heard it's a stunningly beautiful place and we don't want to miss it.
Vanish has now sat in the IGY Santa Marta Marina for over 3 months and we've felt extremely safe and well looked after by the staff. Today we met the UK IGY Executive Vice President Kenny Jones who has taken us under his wing and will help us out if needed at any other IGY marina we plan on visiting. Again I've encountered the problem of homesickness as well as marina fever and the need to get back out on the water. This, mixed with a new attachment to a dog caring for her puppies living in the rock wall at the marina (above pic) makes each day a bit of a challenge. I've called her Rocky Mumma and I've been sneaking fresh water and dog food to her each night. Apparently this is at least her 3rd litter in the rocks. She has changed rapidly over the past 2 weeks from a starving, skittish, frightened animal to a tail-wagging happy, relaxed dog although she is still very protective of her tiny pups who we can hear whimpering in the darkness. At least she's felt happiness for 2 weeks of her short life and I just hope someone else will help her when we leave. The same can't be said for so many other miserable creatures here such as Chocolate, Woody, Harley, Skinny and many others but we try to find and feed a lucky dog or two each day in the streets as I always carry dry dog food in my handbag everywhere I go. I try to ignore the dog problem here but find it impossible. I wish there was something I could do.
Oh yes, we also had another problem which drained Maynard's, Michael's and my energy last week. Stupidly, I thought I could find the female equivalent of our happy crewmember Michael to look after cooking, provisioning and the interior. The person we found and flew in from the US had a glorified resume and I will never use that particular crew agency ever again. Within less than a day, we knew we were in trouble with her and sent her back to the US after only 3 days of endless problems. We have, however, between the 3 of us, completed all the provisioning and many other jobs required for this next passage.
The San Blas islands have very limited internet but we will try to write as often as possible. We will do our best to stay connected. We may be in this isolated area for around a month so just keep checking.
28 August, 2013, Santa Marta, Colombia
I know you've been waiting a long time for this update and I bet you've wondered if we were ever going to go back to Colombia but here we are and all is well. During our home/work vacation, Maynard spent many hours reading blogs about boats whose owners travel back and forth, sometimes being away for very long periods only to come back to mould, exploded batteries, fried electrical systems, flooding, pests and other shocking scenarios. Luckily, we'd had just enough time to teach our new crew member Michael how to go through his daily checklist on all systems and he and Maynard regularly emailed and telephoned each other to deal with any problems. One day, Mike emailed us to say he had a fresh water leak in an air conditioning unit which thankfully turned out to be just a loose fitting. The dialog between Maynard and Michael worked really well. If we had left Vanish to fend for herself in the Santa Marta Marina, who knows what problems we would have had to face on our return. By using and flushing the boat systems regularly, we seem to have avoided major problems. The Marina staff have treated us with incredible respect and politeness and have done everything in their power to help us in every way. The boat is completely safe and we feel so fortunate having found such a modern, clean, well-functioning marina with lots of space, no surge, and good weather in a country so different and so far from the USA.
It turns out that not only do the houses and hotels in the town of Santa Marta have no hot water, it has no, I mean NO, drainage system. So when it rains, all the streets turn into fast running drains full of any garbage left on the streets. Bastidas, the main street in town in the above picture, turned into a raging torrent yesterday during a particularly heavy downpour. We waited for the water to drop about 2 feet before heading into town. Local street vendors love the rain as they make a killing placing boards across puddles and charging a few pesos to the passers-by who want to keep their feet dry. Pesos from heaven indeed and a very lucrative business in the wet season.
The roads are a challenge on any normal given day, but during rain, the dangers are hidden. The motorcyclist above just happened to drop his front tire into a crack where it became well and truly stuck while buses, vans, taxis and dozens of other motorbikes whizzed past. He spent a long time yanking on the tire whilst avoiding being run over or swept down current. Where does all the water end up? In the marina of course and out to sea. Yesterday the marina was dirty brown with floating cardboard boxes and sytrofoam but today it is clean with crystal clear sea water.
Maynard has unfortunately torn a back muscle while retrieving my suitcase at the Barranquilla, Colombia baggage claim. It was full of Sees Chocolates ...well that's a slight exaggeration but I do like those chokkies. He's not a good patient and is anxious to head out but a bad back takes time to heal so we are currently working at provisioning and readying ourselves for the next leg to the San Blas Islands, Panama, a distance of around 250 miles. But we're not going anywhere until he stops walking like a crab.
11 June, 2013, Colombia, South America
We'll be taking a break until the end of August with work and home commitments. When we return, we'll be heading off again so in the meantime, take care and we look forward to the next phase of Vanish adventures.
31 May, 2013, Canada to Colombia
One of the prettiest spots we've visited so far was Camp Driftwood pictured above on Shroud Cay, Exumas, Bahamas two months ago. This is the joy of owning the type of vessel enabling us to go anywhere we wish and with the knowledge to do so gained over the years. As dedicated sailors, we did not realise at the time that there's very little difference in the type of craft one owns as all sailors need to know as much as possible about their environment and vessel no matter what shape or style it is. Switching over to the "Dark Side" by buying a power vessel has enabled us to see the advantages of both power and sail. As long as we're all out here enjoying the wind in our hair and salt on our skin, we are all on the same path. Just over a year has passed since we moved on board Vanish, our Marlow Voyager 76LR at Snead Island near Palmetto, Florida, USA. We set off for destinations unknown and when anyone asks us, "How's your trip going so far?" it is hard to answer without chatting for the next few hours so we thought you might enjoy a few statistics of our year in review. A BD (Blog Date) is included in case you wish to go back and read the blog post concerning the information and I have included some thoughts from Maynard (M) and myself (V).
9,800 Gallons; 2,250 Gallons for the gensets, 7,550 Gallons for main engines
= 1.1 Gallons per Mile since purchasing Vanish
750 hours on each of the two gensets. @ 1.5 gallons/hour = 2,250 gallons
550 hours for each of the two engines. As a comparison we would use approximately 250 - 300 hours on the engine on our yacht Cruz Control during a typical 5 month 2,500 mile cruise.
Amount of Watermaker Water Generated:
562 hours run time making 32,770 gallons/125,000 litres .....um, we take lots of showers and like a clean boat.
Coldest Sea Temp:
14.1 deg C ( 57 deg F) at Cross Island, Maine (BD 14 Aug 2012)
Hottest Sea Temp:
32.4 deg C (90 deg F) in Gulf Stream off Florida (BD 20 Jun 2012)
Highest Wind Speed:
~80 knots at Scotland Beach, Chesapeake Bay (BD 30 Jun 2012). Highest sustained winds were during Hurricane Sandy for 3 days over 45 knots.
4 meters (13 feet) off Colombia at Cabo De La Vela (BD 20 May 2013)
Number of Hurricanes:
1: but it was a shocker, Hurricane Sandy in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (BD 23 to 27 Oct 2012)
M - Finding out the stern glands were leaking at 2 a.m. on a rough trip in the Mona Passage, Dominican Republic and realising that they had not been checked for a very long time. The fear was not from sinking, but knowing Vanish needed to be hauled somewhere........asap (BD 19 Apr 2013)
V- Chesapeake Bay derecho storm (BD 30 Jun 2012)
M - (a) Reaching safety from hurricanes in Colombia after the trauma of the haul out and crew quitting in Dominican Republic (BD 20 May 2013) and (b) Taking Vanish to Matinicus Island, Maine, USA to see the large numbers of migratory puffins (BD 28 July 2012)
V - (a) Hearing refugee Cuban Alex's story of his frightening trip to Florida and knowing that he'd lost everything except the symbol of hope we'd given him, the toy puffin (BD 9 Dec 2012 and 4 Nov 2012) and (b) Reaching exotic Colombia.
Stern gland seals in the Dominican Republic (BD 13 May 2013)
43 50'N Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada (BD 15 Aug 2012)
11 14'N Santa Marta, Colombia (BD 20 May 2013)
Number of Countries Visited:
6; USA, Canada, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic and Colombia
Number of Officials Who Have Boarded Vanish:
32 (19 just in Dominican Republic)
Countries of Origin of Vanish Blog Readers:
60; Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Malta, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, US Virgin Islands, USA, Venezuela, Vietnam. ~27,000 Hits. We would particularly like to thank our dedicated long term readers.
Number of Seasick Tablets Taken:
1; Tied up in Ocean World Marina, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic due to bad surge and rubber band effect of our lines stretching and releasing (BD 29 Mar 2012)
(a) Bahia de San Lorenzo in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic (BD 10 Apr 2013) coconut palm lined beach, caves, mountains, swimming, safe anchorage protection, whales in winter.
(b) Normans Cay, Exumas (BD 8 Mar 2013) Only during weather from west quadrant. Crystal clear warm waters.
(c) Roque Island, Maine , USA (BD 10 Aug 2012) Remote, often foggy, sandy beach, forest.
(d) Cape Lookout, North Carolina, USA (BD 1 Oct 2012) All round weather protection, good swimming, quiet, dolphins galore.
Marina Chavon, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic (BD 19 Apr 2013) as it is spacious, quiet, safe, has inexpensive labour and haul out facilities if needed, good restaurants, Wifi and climate and lots to do. Not recommended during hurricane season.
Most Inexpensive IGY Marina:
Marina Santa Marta, Santa Marta, Colombia charges ~63 cents/foot as at May, 2013 (US Dollars)
Vanish has spent just 44% of the past year in marinas but Maynard and I have spent 29%.
Waking up each day.
26 May, 2013, Minca, Colombia
Two years ago a couple of local politicians decided to make Santa Marta a safer place to visit as it is preferred by Colombians over Cartagena as a destination for a holiday. There are 1,000 police walking the beat all over the town armed with batons and guns. If we stay within the old historic part of the city area day or night, we are very safe yet not long ago these same streets had no lighting and would have been deadly for tourists like us. There are many decent restaurants and 3 very good shopping malls with massive grocery stores for easy provisioning and all taxi rides are $US2. Yup, Two Bucks!! The marina is well guarded. In February this year, a strong northerly caused a few waves to come over the marina wall so they decided to nearly double the height of the wall with truckloads of rocks. Hopefully, it will soon be finished as Vanish is covered in dirt if the wind is blowing from the NW which it normally does early morning before switching to an easterly for the rest of the day. Michael is gaining a lot of wash-down experience. The easterly seems to bring more grime from ships loading coffee, flowers, coal and wood in the tiny port but this is often the case when staying in city marinas. Internet is a struggle though and we fight every day to stay online. The weather has been very predictable so far as we see clouds building up in the mountains and hear distant thunder every afternoon although it rarely reaches Santa Marta on the coast.
Minca is a 40 minute drive south of Santa Marta and a tourist hotspot high in the mountains. We negotiated a deal with one of the taxi drivers we met on the street named Alfredo who drove us full tilt into the mountains on a narrow, winding, partially sealed road dodging axle destroying potholes, children and ever present stray dogs. There are countless police checkpoints everywhere we go and we were stopped and asked to get out of the taxi while Michael was patted down and our taxi searched for drugs. Minca is at the end of the road and is wedged amongst towering mountains but sits on a lovely river lined with a few restaurants, hostels and tiny concrete homes. We ate a delicious pasta lunch at Restaurante El Tucan and sat on boulders in the river to cool off drinking a few cool ones.
As we grow coffee in Australia, we thought it would be interesting to see a coffee farm here in Colombia and our Minca tourist brochure showed a photo of one nearby called La Candelaria email@example.com so we headed off through town before we were stopped by the police who advised us that the road was too rough for our taxi. Maynard got this 'look' in his eyes and said, "Ok, we'll walk the 5 km." As I scanned the area for the closest Avis-Rent-A-Donkey or tried to figure out how to harness the 20 stray dogs lying all around us so they could pull us up into the mountain, I heard shouting across the street. An English/Spanish speaking tour operator called Charly pulled up in his 4WD and for $25, offered to take us up to the coffee farm at an elevation of 3,000 ft. Picture this. Charly had 2 dried armadillo tails and a hessian bag containing God Knows What around his neck, a machete in a sheath on his hip, gum boots and scratches up and down his arms from just completing a 7 hour guided tour in another jungle location but he seemed a decent sort of bloke and had a charming smile so we climbed into his 4WD ready for anything.
The road was hellish and took 45 minutes to travel 5 km (3 miles). We arrived at a sign stating La Candelaria Organic Farm and climbed out of the vehicle but then had to follow Charly for another 20 minutes on foot up a steep muddy narrow path winding through coffee plants and the jungle stepping over wild avocadoes, bananas and guavas lying on the ground. It was hot so we welcomed the fine drops of rain which started to fall. This however, turned into drenching tropical rain in no time and by the time we reached the farm house past the donkey corral at the top of a pinnacle in the middle of the jungle, we were totally soaked.
We were met by Eugene Hildaleo and his wife Anna and son Isaac who invited us into their home. Once they found out we were Australian coffee farmers, they proceeded to excitedly explain everything we wanted to hear and see about a coffee farm in Colombia. Their coffee grows throughout the 133 acre steep property in a random fashion under already existing trees and vegetation. The coffee is handpicked and in his best year 10 tons were picked from 60 ac under production but only 2 tons is picked now due to a fungus attacking the plants last year. While we sat and chatted in our broken Spanish, Anna made us fresh brewed coffee in her kitchen. Eugene brought out 500 year old Tayrona artefacts, stone axes and grinding stones they'd found on the property for us to look at.
Meanwhile, the rain was absolutely belting down and then the lightning and thunder started. The thunder and lightning were instantaneous and as I looked at the family, their faces didn't register any change during each bolt of lightning and in fact they didn't even flinch. Even their dogs yawned and their donkeys stayed asleep. This must happen all the time. Oh, of course. These are the daily storms we hear while we are in the Santa Marta Marina.
Maynard and I were eyeing each other wondering how on earth we were going to get down off the mountain as we'd only worn our town clothes and nice runners and were completely unprepared for this situation. Again, the Donkey Solution looked the best option but Eugene thought they might slip. Falling ass over donkey tail did not appeal very much so we decided there was nothing for it but to start back down on foot. The path was now a river of deep disgusting mud. Mike had worn his nice new beige crew shorts and thongs but looked like he'd been blasted by brown paint balls. Both he and Maynard held their arms out wide for balance with their shoes in each hand as they slid hopelessly sideways down the path yelling "Ohhhh nooooo, whoa...........splat as they fell on their bums in the mud." I wanted to bray like a donkey as they looked so ridiculously funny but they were so worried about falling again that I thought I'd better show some decorum and a teensy bit of concern. Meanwhile I followed the guys trying to miss the slickest mud wearing an enormous elephant ear leaf on my head in a vain attempt to keep the rain off my head. We really looked a sight. The thunderstorm was relentless but we finally made it back down to the 4WD and Minca where Alfredo patiently waited in our taxi for his now filthy passengers. It certainly was a memorable day.
On Sunday, Day 2 with our taxi driver Alfredo, we went through more random checkpoints along the road and visited the town of Buritaca where the river meets the ocean then went on to another spot called Quebrada Valencia where we swam under a lovely waterfall in the jungle. Alfredo also took us to the town of Taranga which sits at the base of one of the 5 bays east of Santa Marta. Without our taxi driver, we would have had a very hard time finding most of these places but it was a great start to seeing a small part of the inland of Colombia.
20 May, 2013, Caribbean Sea
It's 05:57 Wednesday 15 May 2013. I've woken in a cold sweat. The alarm is about to go off and soon Maynard will ask me again if we should head North to Chesapeake Bay, USA or South to Colombia. 3 minutes to go. Yesterday we cleared Customs & Immigration in the Dominican Republic but decided to drop anchor 13 miles south of Casa de Campo to get our sea legs again and just take a breath before heading out to sea. If questioned by authorities we'll say we're undergoing a repair. The weather is perfect for travelling in both directions. The previous crew who we trusted to stay with us have deserted us but we know we have more than enough experience to carry on and in actual fact we may be better off this way. It's tempting to go back to the USA where Direct TV and the phone works, people speak English and we're back in our comfort zone, but it's 1,500 miles and even though thousands of boats spend the summer on the east coast of the USA, there's always the threat of hurricanes. Colombia is only 540 miles and we can tick off a new Continent. 6:00 am.....decision made. We're off to Colombia.
We have a NE wind of 15 kn and seas of 1m. 35 miles from Isla Saona, we spot a panga heading our way at full speed. Michael looks in the binoculars and the two men are wearing hoods. They are an awful long way offshore in an open boat so Michael and I are immediately on guard. They turn the panga and shoot straight for our transom as Michael asks me what weapons we have on board. Before I can answer, they look at our home port and keep going and stop again at a white buoy we hadn't noticed bobbing in the sea. They are checking their fishing lines. Their hoods protect them from the fierce sun and are nothing for us to worry about. Whew. You can never be too complacent.
The wind steadily increases and south of Hispaniola, the beam east sea starts building. We are in 2 - 3 meter seas and the stabilisers are working easily. It's 29 deg C outside but we are comfortable in the air conditioning. Flying fish are everywhere. One morning we find 12 on our port side, the side where the beams seas hit the hull. One little chap ended up under the dinghy on the aft fly deck which is 12 feet above sea level. Large pods of Atlantic Spotted dolphins dance, leap and play all around the boat feeding on the flying fish. Michael checks the engine room every 6 hours and not a drop of water is found in the bilges. Half way across, Maynard is on the satellite phone talking to colleagues in Australia and the USA as work never stops for him.
Having a power vessel means we had the choice of doing this trip in 3 days or 1-1/2 days but because the weather was slowly moving away and was optimum for the departure in the Dominican Republic, Maynard choose the option of doing a slower speed to avoid a low moving off to the west. We pass through rain showers and storms during the first two nights. We stick to our watches of 3 hours on and 6 hours off for the 3 days it takes to cross to South America. As we near Cabo De La Vela, the beam seas are now 4 meters (13 feet) and the wind is 30 - 35 knots. Maynard has plotted a course SSW to avoid the ITZE low which had been sitting off Cabo for the past couple of days so we are in the messy leftovers from that. Just south of Cabo De La Vela, notorious for wind, we finally turn and run with the swell and immediately the boat feels fabulous. Our bodies are always moving in a beam sea so it feels great to be more relaxed.
Saturday morning and the above photo is our first proper view of South America, just north of Santa Marta. We call the Coast Guard and then Marina Santa Marta who provide us with 5 line handlers. Maynard has never brought Vanish into a berth solo but with our powerful bow and stern thrusters and his knowledge of wind, current and drift speed, we slide into the berth easily. Our 540 mile passage is over. This is home for the next few months and it looks fantastic. Santa Marta is the oldest European founded city in South America and has towering mountains overlooking the city. In fact, it has a 5700 m (18,700 ft) mountain called Pico Cristobal Colon 45 miles away with snow all year round overlooking the ocean, the highest peak viewable from sea level in the world. We all worked extremely well together to get here. We are the biggest vessel to stay in the marina in 18 months and the staff can't do enough for us. Michael is walking around with a grin as huge as South America itself and loves living his new life on Vanish. Maynard and I are now quite relaxed and think we'll do a couple of road trips before we fly to the USA for business. Stay tuned. As you know, those road trips are never dull.
13 May, 2013, Chavon Marina, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic
Yes, we're back in business. Vanish is in the water after the cheapest, most efficient, cleanest yard work we've ever experienced. The PSS manufacturer told us that the seals would most probably leak a small amount of water for the first hour before bedding in so we went straight out for a test sail for 2 hours. We motored for an hour at our normal running speed of 9 knots then opened the throttle to 2100rpm, 80% power setting, and went 18 knots. There wasn't a drop of water coming from the new seals and their temperature was normal so the job was well done. The antifouling work was excellent and the 10 valves that bring water from the sea chest to the engines and gensets were also cleaned out with acid and now work easily with single hand operation, which is also much appreciated. Overall, Vanish is in excellent condition and is now ready for the next leg. What a relief!
Our new Deckhand Michael P flew in from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA on Wednesday and is quickly learning as much as possible from Maynard's tutorage. He has a cheerful, happy nature and is extremely excited to be working and living on our vessel and we look forward to a long working relationship. As we've needed to wait for a suitable weather window, it has given Mike a chance to become familiar with Vanish's systems before we just head out to sea. We've also had the chance to act like we are on holiday for the past 3 days by swimming and lying on the beach at the Beach Club at Campo de Casa with the "beautiful people" drinking pina coladas for me and Presidente Lites for the guys under the coconut palms while discussing future plans. We've buzzed around in our high powered golf cart which someone brilliantly removed the governor so we can go everywhere really fast. Altos de Chavon is also within the Campo resort and is a recreation of a 16th century medieval Europeaan village with quaint shops, galleries and restaurants and its own 5000 capacity Roman style amphitheatre (top picture) where Frank Sinatra, Santana, Duran Duran, Sting, the Pet Shop Boys, Julio Iglesias and many more have performed since its opening in 1982.
There is no doubt we have fallen in love with the DR and Campo de Casa in particular. The resort grounds are kept in perfect condition with 8,000 gardeners who are brought in each day by bus from La Romana and safety is paramount with well over 1,000 security guards.
The homes here are spectacular and cost around $US1,200 per sq m to build and most of them overlook the 5 Dye golf courses in the complex. Labor costs are inexpensive and a house-keeper or private gardener costs around $US300 per month. Many homes employ as many as 6 or more staff if they have large families or many guests. Honestly, it wouldn't be hard to live here.
7 May, 2013, Chavon Marina, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic
We're under the influence of the most perfect weather window right now with less than 10 knots of breeze all the way from here to South America but we can't take advantage of it as we have been on the hard stand for over a week. The antifouling is done, anodes all replaced, props polished and coated in Prop Speed, through-hulls serviced and both shaft seals replaced after 3 days of grunt, swearing, struggle and gallons of sweat. We didn't know until last Saturday that Marlow leaves a special tool on all their vessels which can be used to undo the coupling seal until 3 days of trial and error and after the Italian engineer Pepe made something similar for us which ended up breaking. On the 3rd day Maynard insisted that the tool had to be found and lo and behold our crew member finally located it in the engine room's tool drawer. We also didn't know that the thread is reversed on the port side so once we had the proper tool and the coupling bolt was being turned the right way, it came off with much Spanish/Italian cheering and highly animated back slapping. To say we were all highly relieved is a gross understatement.
The manufacturer PSS had a materials defect in the stainless steel rotor whereby the stainless steel rotor which the carbon rides against wore out quicker than the carbon. This meant that the carbon was never rubbing against a smooth surface and water would aggressively leak through the stern shaft seal as the rotor continued to wear out. We were getting approx a gallon or two per hour per shaft when we arrived at this marina. The above picture shows the old and new shaft seal assembly. PSS cheerfully replaced these parts at no cost however, it is a very big job to actually install them. We felt there we had no choice and as we are going to more and more remote areas with fewer places to get the work carried out, we had to do it here. We are hoping for a sea trial tomorrow to verify the job has been successful. The yard workers here have been amazingly professional and very cheerful and determined to help us way above the call of duty by coming in on Saturday which they never do and working late as they realise hurricane season is fast approaching. 90% of the work has been completed but today people have disappeared and much time is being spent chasing them. The combination of still working, along with the intense heat and stress of Vanish in the yard has been very hard on Maynard.
To add insult to injury, Renae Weisgerber quit. The day before Vanish was hauled, her boyfriend Jake Bundred quit. He gave us 2 weeks' notice but agreed to help us in the yard. They've bought a camper and have decided to travel around for a year in the US instead of going to Central and South America with us. As Renae walked off Vanish in DR, we did not give her a reference. However, we found out in March 2014 that Jake Bundred forged a ridiculous glowing reference for her using Vanish's letterhead and boat stamp signing it as Captain even though he was our Engineer. Future employers need to be aware of these practices.
My days have been spent communicating with agencies and dozens of other sources in order to find a replacement quickly so we can continue with our adventure, but sitting in a hotel room in the Dominican Republic dealing with so many issues has been extremely testing. We were inundated with responses as so many highly qualified people want to experience the hands on approach of a very mobile 80 foot vessel. A new crew member will start in a few days and hopefully this black week will soon be an all too distant memory.
Our shining light was meeting Fred and Darla, a lovely couple who are travelling and living on their vessel with 2 dogs (Gus and Pepper) and 2 crew on their 70ft Outer Reef named Jambo. We had so much in common and learned a lot from each other sharing many Cosmopolitans and dinners together while they were visiting the DR. We would dearly love to catch up with them somewhere again soon.
After many emails to our insurers, we've received clarification that we are covered within the "box" in hurricanes as long as we are "secured and appropriately prepared", although the deductible will be higher. We've already endured Hurricane Sandy in the Bahamas without a scratch and hope we are never in the path of one again. The good news is that once we're back in the water and our new crew member arrives, we can then concentrate on finding a safe marina. Maynard can then take care of work in Lafayette in the US before we head home for a much anticipated doggy break.
2 May, 2013, Marina Chavon, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic
Maynard decided to have antifouling done and our anodes and stern seals replaced by the IBC Shipyard in the DR instead of going to Colombia after weighing up all the pros and cons. The Italian engineers seemed very competent in the yard and we have written firm quotes. Within an hour of being hauled out, Vanish was surrounded by workers who had already put blocks underneath and others who were sanding off the old antifoul ready for its new coats. Pepe inspected the job and decided he needed to make a special tool for taking off the old seals and by the end of the day, the first seal was replaced. It has been very efficient so far. The 2nd seal.....not so much. Blow torch and hydraulic thinga-me-bobs were brought in. Work will continue tomorrow so please cross your fingers. The only reason we decided to change these seals which had a very small leak, was that the manufacturer said there was a known fault with that particular seal and they would replace it with a new better designed seal at no cost for the part. Since we were coming out of the water anyway, we thought we'd have a go at it. Time will tell.
We were not allowed to stay on board at all during the haul out so we've checked into the Escuela de Vela (Sailing School) which provides 8 rooms to students learning to sail during the year. It is situated on the Rio Chavon (Chavon River) right next door to our marina and hard stand and is very comfy and convenient and easy for Maynard to act as Project Manager. We're hoping to be back in the water next week if all goes well, ready for our next leg to .....well, who knows ......but we'll look at weather and timing and decide. We've re-checked our insurance and have been told that Cartagena, Colombia is within the Hurricane No Go Zone for insurance which has really put a spanner in the works, I can tell you! It sits at 10 24.901'N so it's 24 miles north of the insurance safety margin so we need to find a home by July 1 below 10 degrees North or above 30 degrees North. Panama or Maine both look good but time is ticking.
A shocking thing happened last night while we ate dinner at the Mexican Restaurant at the Casa de Campo Marina. A golf cart with 5 people came whizzing past and one of the young women riding on the back lost her balance and came flying off the cart and landed with a sickening thud hitting the back of her head on the concrete right at the base of Maynard's chair. I didn't know I could scream that loud but the girl on the ground was silent. No one moved for several seconds as everyone was stunned at what just happened. I raced around to her and knelt on the ground as her eyes were wide, she was holding her breath, but not moving. I asked her if she spoke English and she softly answered "yes" in a Scottish accent so I reassured her she would be ok and saw that she could move her hands and feet. I held 2 fingers above her and asked her how many fingers? (Hey, I've watched enough episodes of House to nearly be a Doctor!!!). Anyway, she answered correctly as I looked for signs of concussion or broken bits and blood but thankfully there were no major problems although she was definitely winded and will have many bruises today. This is the first motor vehicle accident we've seen and it was right behind Maynard's chair. How weird is that.
25 April, 2013, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic
Not needing the rental car any longer, we thought we'd stash our water bottles in the trunk in case the next person ran into trouble. We opened the trunk and ......well looky here. We both burst out laughing. Seems like everyone had the same idea; there's even a funnel for convenience. If only the car could talk. We probably wouldn't have driven it over 700km had we known.
24 April, 2013, Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic
While waiting for our stern seal patch to arrive from the US, we thought we should use our time wisely and take a good look around. The Casa de Campo resort with its golf courses, marina and homes is the biggest employer in the DR. The resort boasts the best golf course in the Caribbean and is known as the Teeth of the Dog. We also wanted to see as much of the Dominican Republic as possible. Such a good idea theoretically. Our first rental car turned out to have no working air conditioning but we headed north on Highway 7 where we visited the cool waters of Salto Socoa, a lovely waterfall before ending up with a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere. No sooner had we pulled over when a young man suddenly appeared and offered to change the tyre for Maynard. We continued northward in the Haitises National Park on a toll road constructed through the karst topography up near Samana Bay but after a day driving around in the heat, we ditched this jalopy for another car with very comfortable cold air.
The following day we loaded up our esky (cooler) with food and water for the day and headed west on Highway 3 towards Santo Domingo the capital of DR with 4-1/2 million residents and on towards the mountains. As all the highway signs were confusing and in Spanish and the map on my lap was vague, to say the least, we miraculously crossed the city with only one wrong turn. Onwards we charged north-west on Highway 1 towards Santiago to a turn-off north of a town called Bonao and up into the 5,000 ft mountains on a road recently opened in 2010 with a 15% grade for 7 km. The road cuts were extremely impressive as the road wound around tight corners with spectacular views of the valleys below. We stopped at the top and heard our chariot making some very weird hissing sounds but kept going until Maynard noticed the temp gauge flicking from high to low as we drove up and down the hills. Hmmm. This could be trouble.
We were now 275 km from the marina on the wrong side of a mountain close to a town called Constanza which grows healthy looking potatoes, strawberries, sweet potatoes, corn, cabbages and flowers. Small concrete homes clung to the sides of the mountain on the road edge. People were going about their daily habits pulling horses along behind motorcycles, laying their washing out on the bitumen verge, sitting under trees chatting while children, dogs and chickens dodged and played with the passing vehicles. The temp gauge was now stuck on high so we pulled over and saw that there was no water left in the radiator so we took all of our purified drinking water and poured it in only to watch it leak steadily out onto the ground. Things were looking bleak as we had no phone coverage, we didn't speak Spanish and we were absolutely in the back blocks of the Dominican Republic. But there was a small glimmer of hope as the immediate effect was that the temp had lowered so we pulled out onto the road, took a guess and turned right and amazingly in a tiny village just down the road, we found a small Texaco with a very helpful attendant who refilled the radiator, changed the oil and gave us a couple of larger containers of their local water. We still had no drinking water though. As we became more familiar with the car's problems, Maynard noticed that air was bubbling up through the water in the radiator even though it was cool, a clear indication that the head gasket was leaking.
We needed to get home and back over the mountain but it meant we had to stop every 30 - 60 minutes to fill the radiator with water. Back in Santo Domingo, we took a wrong turn and ended up in a very dodgy area on Duarte Avenue unable to get back on the Highway overpass above us. The street was congested with traffic and full of vendors selling brooms, clothing and coconuts,
everything you could ever want or didn't want. Very frank discussions were held on which way to go but we persevered, did a couple of u-turns and we were on our way again in our leaking but air conditioned car which kept working until we were safely back at the marina.
I must add that driving is a real challenge with road rules we're not used to in Australia or the USA. From our observations, this is what seems to work:
- One Way Streets. Only a suggestion really.
- Double Yellow Lines. You can pass vehicles at any time.
- Red Lights. Stop, or look like you're going to stop, then go through.
- Trucks/Minibuses. Overload as much as possible to keep the driver alert.
- Motor cycles. They may drive on any side of the road. They are good for carrying gas bottles, babies, bamboo, preferably altogether as fast as possible weaving in and out of traffic.
- Don't Drive & Talk On Phone. Unless someone calls or you need to call someone.
- Town Streets. Great place to set up your kid's large blow up swimming pool. Cars can go around it. No worries.
- Speed Limit. 80 kph but anything over 130 kph seems to be ok too.
- Highway Vehicles. Horses, chickens, dogs, or anything with a wheel. It's all good.
Hitchhiking is achieved by sticking one's arm out straight and flapping one's hand up and down. The amount of information assaulting our brains from two days of driving has been enormous. I am having a particularly hard time getting used to the number of dead animals, mainly dogs, on the roads as this problem has disappeared back home from my childhood days. Even with all the driving obstacles, it all works well and we saw no accidents or aggression of any kind. Roads are being built at a rate we never see in Australia and even though they have a long way to go, it feels like an emerging economy. People work hard and they are happy to work. The Dominicans are terribly resourceful, friendly and helpful. It's really a great place to visit.
(A special big thank you to our Support Team Prent & Molly in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA for organising an important payment for parts for us thus saving my poor hubby another attempted trip to Santo Domingo in a beaten up piece of sh@# with a blown head gasket. Onya PHK.)
19 April, 2013, Casa de Campo Marina, La Romana, Dominican Republic
This last week has been another eventful one for us. We re-visited the San Gabriel Cave on the southern shore of Samana Bay at a different time of day and with a torch this time. We found the above twistng tree bathed in sunshine wrapped in vines growing out of one of the collapsed chambers in this particular cave system. It looked like a giant prehistoric claw. We also found pictographs and many other massive caverns. We've never seen so many incredible caves in one place. On Monday we headed over to the port of Samana to clear out of their area. Maynard was taken ashore by 5 officials then had to face 14 more officials in the Port Office just to be allowed to move from Samana Bay to our current location. They took our boat papers and started pulling pieces of paper out of the folder scattering them around their office, all the while talking in Espanol. Maynard had a heck of a time keeping track of everyone and what was going on. Another American cruiser was yelling at other officers in the background so it was very chaotic and stressful. However, all papers were finally returned to him and he was whisked back to Vanish where a "donation" was insisted upon before we could leave.
We'd waited for some weather to pass then chose the best weather window possible to make our way south via the Mona Passage, a stretch of water between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It has a reputation as being one of the most difficult passages to cross in the Caribbean and is fraught with variable tidal currents due to the water being squeezed between the 2 large islands and also by sand banks which extend out for many miles from both coasts. The passage is 5000 metres deep in places and has a rift zone running through it. It has frequent earthquakes and was the site of a devastating earthquake with resultant tsunami that hit western Puerto Rico in 1918. All we had to do was head in an easterly direction following the D.R. coastline then turn south. However, the wind was 17kn to 28 kn and seas were 2 - 3 metres with short sharp waves with a cross current so it was very uncomfortable dropping into the wave troughs. We had to keep our speed down to 7 knots. Vanish stayed on track and steadily made progress without any problems and mostly we had no seas hitting the fly bridge windows. We encountered a few bad rolls, even with the stabilizers, but overall, even though a couple of us felt a bit 'off', we were able to eat and do watches as per schedule. Mind you, I was very happy to be done with the Mona Passage as it was not my favourite place to be. I'm sure smaller yachts have experienced some pretty horrendous sailing conditions in this area.
The engine bilge has always had a bit of water in it which is not uncommon on vessels of this type. However, on this particular trip, we noticed more water than normal and quickly determined it was coming through the stern seals - not much, maybe a gallon or two per hour, but still something that we want to try to rectify. The stern seal is a carbon graphite seal manufactured by PSS so we gave them a call in Seattle, Washington, USA. After reviewing a couple of photos of our seals, they concluded quickly that our issue was one in which they were very familiar. To their credit, they immediately offered to replace our seals and are sending two new seals, one for each side as I write this. They have also sent us, for want of a better word, a patch which we can use until it is convenient to pull the boat out of the water. We'd planned to haul out in Colombia anyway for its annual service so there is no inconvenience.
We are now in the Casa de Campo Marina & Resort near the town of La Romana on the south coast of the Dominican Republic with many other beautiful yachts from around the world, some in the range of 50m (164ft). The marina can hold up to 314 vessels but if a hurricane comes, they all have to leave. Where do they go? Who knows? There are very few owners or serious cruisers here at present. We've only seen a handful of people in the many restaurants and shops but cruise ships do seem to call in. Once again we seem to be on our own quiet path on this voyage.
12 April, 2013, Naranjo Arriba, SW Samana Bay, Dominican Republic
For a change of scenery, we moved to another anchorage in the south-western section of Samana Bay where we could hide behind some islands giving us protection from the relentless easterlies. As soon as the anchor was down we found we were in the middle of 20 fishermen motoring in patterns in their pangas searching for prawns. At first, they stayed a polite distance away but something on Vanish caught their eye and if it had been a ½ dozen naked models, I don't think their eyes would have strayed from the Thing of Beauty. After a couple of hours and increasingly closer circle work around Vanish, I was starting to get nervous. Something's going on. Finally, one brave fellow approached followed by two more. Their clothes were wet and salty and most of them wore no sunglasses, hats or gloves. Jake was called upon to find out what they wanted and after much discussion, they wanted to know if we wished to buy any prawns, all the while smiling and pointing skywards.
A deal was struck for the crew's consumption
but while this was going on, the other two were gazing lovingly up at our aft flybridge deck. What on earth? Finally, Jake stated that they were VERY interested in the 2 Stroke 15 hp Yamaha motor hanging up there for all to see, the motor for our 2nd dinghy. After a lot more chat, the men continued fishing until sundown taking it in turns to look at the Yummy Yammy. They went ashore to their encampment about a mile away on the beach where they were staying for the week sleeping under tarpaulins which saved running back and forth to town 8 miles across Samana Bay each day.
The next day, another group were back. One young man lifted the handle of his own dinghy motor and stroked it and pointed to our shiny Yamaha with such envy. It was like they'd never seen such a Glorious Thing in their whole lives. Finally, the oldest of the group came by and wanted to know all about the motor. How old was it, how much did we pay and how much would we sell it for? We didn't answer all their questions and were vague on the rest. They said it would cost them 100,000 Pesos to buy it in D.R., the equivalent of $US4,000 and for them, 2 year's salary, as the average wage here is about $US250 per month. We'd bought it on eBay quite cheap in the US but good motors are critical to their livelihoods so we could understand their excitement over seeing a 15hp Gold Bar wasting away on our vessel. Yamahas are much sought after motors in the Caribbean so we've decided to move its location to somewhere less conspicuous "just in case". Meanwhile, a piece of string is tied to it and Maynard's big toe.
An Haitises Park Ranger told us about the below nearby cave called Cueva Rio Pescadores which contains a freshwater spring coming from deep underground with freshwater fish called chaino and ravalo.
It was hard to find but is located at 19 5.183'N and 69' 34.257'W. The trick is to go inside the cave in the dinghy and tie it to a piece of rope slung from a stalactite then jump into the water and swim 70 feet to the back of the 25 ft high x 40 ft wide cave. Yep, you're right. It was creepy as the amount of water rushing from the source created a current of around 2 knots. After much head scratching and mathematical and geological debate, we estimated that the spring was expelling fresh water at a rate of about 1 million litres/hr (250,000 gallons/hr). The water was amazingly clear, cool and drinkable which was a real contrast to the silty seawater just outside the entrance to the cave. The amount of water flowing out is enough to keep the sea from entering. It certainly was a unique experience swimming inside a dark spring fed cave in the middle of nowhere.
P.S. Our motor was still there when we got back.
10 April, 2013, Samana Bay, Dominican Republic
Now this is exactly what Vanish (pronounced "Banish" in Espanol) is all about. Getting away from it all - heading over the horizon, banishing the BS (Bad Stuff), leaving the hustle and bustle behind and spending some serious down-time in a gorgeous spot. We keep pinching ourselves on how lucky we are. There is so much to see and do here in Samana Bay. There are numerous caves surrounding the Bay and one of our favourites is the above, named Cavo San Gabriel. A column is formed when a stalagtite and stalagmite join up and just inside the small cave entrance the above column is at least 20 feet high and about 5 feet across at the top making it very old indeed. We only found the cave after one of us spotted a landing dock in one of the dozens of inlets etched into the steep foreshore. Once inside the cave we found a number of chambers with ceiling heights of at least 50 feet. Samana Bay sits on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic and is approximately 26 miles long and 8 miles wide and is shaped like a large rectangle. In January and February, 80% of the world's humpback whales come here to calve so it must be a spectacular sight to see.
The predominant wind is from the east meaning it blows straight into the Bay every day starting around 9 to 10 a.m. and lasts until just after sundown. At night, the wind dies down to 10 - 15 knots in the Bay. Due to the shallows across the 8 mile entrance, the waves don't seem to get much higher than about 3 feet even though the wind is in the 20 knot range. On the southern side of the bay, there are a number of fabulous anchorages where one can hide from the wind and waves in dead flat conditions close to shore. Paddling the kayaks is easy or we can zoom around in the dinghy to the dozens of cave sites hidden amongst the forested karst hills which drop down into the sea. We found an eco-resort at the far end of Bahia de San Lorenzo, another perfect sheltered bay, after navigating our way down a narrow mangrove lined waterway within Samana Bay
which brought us to a landing place for our dinghy and one of the spots where tourists arrive to visit the Parque Nacional los Haitises.
We then walked along a dirt road for less than 10 minutes past rice paddies and paddocks with grazing horses and cattle until we came to the resort and restaurant named El Kayuko where we enjoyed lunch
and a refreshing swim in the cascading water pools fed by a stream above the resort. The restaurant had no windows and was open to all the smells, sights and sounds of the forest, the heavy occasional downpours and even a tame crow named Wingo
which had a habit of flying into the kitchen for his favourite food of rice, bread or cheese. The climate, topography, clouds and lushness of the area reminds us so much of home.
Our Spanish is improving as we were able to find out little bits of information from the staff about their lives and where to go from here. We were the only paying guests at the resort and in fact, we had a problem when we purchased and drank a couple of drinks as we only had a 1000 peso note, equivalent to $US25, and they had no change whatsoever so we ended up trading a small bottle of rum for the soda water and a bottled water. Dumb and dumber! We've still only seen 7 yachts, 4 were locals and the other 3 were from Sweden, Texas and France but no one stays long. We can't imagine a more exotic, beautiful, isolated, quiet, safe and interesting piece of coastline.
5 April, 2013, Bahia de Samana (Bay of Samana), Dominican Replublic
What do you do when you get sick in a 3rd world country? Maynard, Renae and I have a pretty good idea now. The Ocean World Marina at Cofresi has a doctor available for guests at the nearby resort. After taking the 27 Waterfall Slide Down and Swim Experience up in the nearby mountains, Renae experienced excruciating pain in both ears from under-water pressure and the dirty water. The doctor gave her medication and sent her on her way after a large cost. The next day, I became ill and as I was so dehydrated and we didn't know for sure what it was, the doctor was called. 24 year old Orlando came on board Vanish with a fishing tackle box full of goodies, and set up an I.V. with added B vitamins. He actually tied the I.V. to the wooden slats covering the air conditioning outlet above the master cabin bed which I'm sure David Marlow must have designed especially for this purpose. Now that's thinking ahead. He also gave me liquid Dramamine, liquid anti-spasmodics, another IV full of antibiotics and I've forgotten what else. Renae, by the way, received similar medication sans I.V. I didn't care by now as I just wanted to feel better and in fact, in 24 hours, things were improving except the cost of this service. Then Maynard suddenly went from a rosy shade of pink to a sweating greenish/white colour as he ended up with the same thing but as we now knew what we were dealing with, I was able to treat him. My Medical cost = $US800. Maynard's Medical cost = $US0.40. Renae's Medical cost = $US220.00. The trick apparently is not to see the resort doctor but go into town to buy the appropriate medicine (although we already had it on board) and go to the local town doctor which cost less than $US30.
On Wednesday, we thankfully left the Ocean World Marina after spending 7 days with our flopper stopper deployed in our berth surging back and forth and side to side at the dock and being covered constantly in salt water from waves splashing over the top of the sea wall. We said goodbye to Payla the security dog at the marina
and headed to the next anchorage to the east of Puerto Plata over 100 miles to windward so we left late in the afternoon and motored all night in a 20 - 30 kn (double the forecast) easterly arriving in Bahia de Samana (Bay of Samana) the following day. We are very conspicuous by our size as we are NOT on the typical tourist route and very few sailing yachts come here. In fact, we are starting to see why so many cruisers avoid the area - not due to the obvious beauty of the country with its mountains and palm lined beaches, but by officialdom although it is better than a few years ago. 5 officials raced out to us to clear us into Semana Harbor. In the Dominican Republic, one has to clear in and clear out of each and every port one wants to visit. Each clear in and clear out takes around an hour and costs vary depending on the port and the particular officials. The Dominicans want tourists to visit but as yet they don't understand how cruising works as they seem to want us to only stay in their harbours or marinas even though anchoring is allowed. We've only seen 2 other sailing yachts out and about in the last 2 days. We were charged a $US50 docking fee in Samana when we were nowhere near a dock. One official firmly planted himself at our salon table and refused to leave until we paid the non-docking docking charge. Finally after much gesticulation, loud Espanol (which Maynard and I did not understand) and a phone call to the Commandant by Jake (who does speak Espanol), we were allowed to leave Samana Harbor to find an anchorage as the sun was quickly setting. We have found it's best to handle the Officials with firmness but to smile a lot, be as polite as possible and understanding of their unusual customs. If you wish to see where Samana is located, please click on the map to the right of this post and zoom in.
Today we walked along a nearby palm lined beach with some resident goats and visited a nearby cave system called Cayo de Line
with ancient pictographs at least 500 years old drawn by Indians who lived in here. This region is characterised by karst topography with numerous sinkholes and caves and only a handful of these caves have been adequately documented.
29 March, 2013, Cofresi, nr Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Another 2 day weather window turned which coincided with a full moon tide so we quietly slipped out of the Turtle Bay Marina in Turks & Caicos on an early morning full tide. We knew we'd make it over the sandbar just inside the entrance this time as the local seagulls were standing in knee deep water on our starboard side giving us an extra inch of clearance. Phew! It felt so good to be out in deep water again. We felt we had been misadvised on this marina and didn't like feeling so trapped. Live and learn.
I can't tell you how the conversation came about, but basically the Dominican Republic (DR) sounded like a great place to visit so here we are after another overnight passage travelling 175 miles south. DR and Haiti are located on the 2nd largest island in the Caribbean called Hispaniola. The language is Espanol, the currency is Dominican pesos and vehicles travel on the right-hand side of the road. We checked out a recommended anchorage at Luperon on the north side of DR but the entrance was shallow and it was incredibly crowded with yachts, some of which had been thrown up into the mangroves years ago. We could not make watermaker water or swim so we continued another 10 miles eastwards to the Ocean World Marina http://www.oceanworldmarina.com. We were helped in by at least 6 marina attendants and tied ourselves up to huge concrete docks. After clearing in with Customs, Immigration, Marina Management, Navy and Narcotics officials who all came on board, we paid our $83 fee and were glad to have a home as the northerly front descended on us with winds of 25 knots only an hour later. This brought surge into the marina and waves breaking over the top of the marina wall. Our berth is a blow-off berth but still, Vanish and all other vessels were sliding about a foot forward and backward and then rolling slightly from side to side, a new kind of Latin marina dance.
My brain thought that this situation was totally wrong. When I looked at the concrete dock beside Vanish, it appeared to be heaving up and down and from side to side which of course made my stomach start to do the same thing. The tug on the other side of the dock was making some dreadful noises as it banged and scraped against the dock. I have to admit that I took my first seasick pill here in the marina and luckily didn't make any offerings to King Neptune. We actually deployed one of the flopper stoppers on the first night which helped enormously in slowing the rolling motion.
On the plus side we have great internet and phone and there are many nearby restaurants and if we want to, there is a Casino, an adventure water park with dolphins, seals and stingrays, car rental offices, local buses, nearby waterfalls and lush tropical mountains up to 10,000 feet in height. Food and alcohol is extremely cheap, especially rum with a case of a dozen rum bottles costs around $US95. The people are extremely helpful and friendly and there's a lot to see. The next anchorage eastwards from Cofresi is 100 miles away at Samana Bay. If we go westwards there are quite a few more before we head offshore avoiding Haiti. We'll do our research, get our bearings and some well-deserved rest and decide which way to go soon.
25 March, 2013, Providenciales (aka Provo), Turks & Caicos
You've got to hand it to Maynard. He can sure pick good weather windows. All those years of racing have taught him a great deal about weather patterns and routing so instead of looking for the right wind speed, angles and sea conditions which we used to do with our sailing yacht, he now looks for a light stable weather pattern and low sea state. We still prefer the wind from behind if it's over 20 knots. Those conditions presented themselves on Wednesday so we departed George Town aka Chicken Town, Exuma with a light westerly wind and seas less than 2 ft. Our first day at sea was hot with a light following breeze so we had zero apparent wind. During the afternoon a high temp engine alarm started blaring in the bridge indicating the air temp sensor in the engine room had reached 135 deg F. After a fair bit of angst, checking systems, and taking heat temps with the temp gun, we found that an engine mechanic had failed to tighten a flange on the exhaust whilst doing a small warranty job in Freeport. It has now been tightened and reset and shouldn't scare the s#*t out of us again.
We have 3 large G-Series Raymarine screens in the bridge. At night we use radar on one of the Raymarine screens. The middle screen is used as a chart plotter with radar overlay and the 3rd screen displays the FLIR image (eg infra-red image) and we also use the Picture in Picture function to display the camera image of the engine room at the bottom of the FLIR display. This arrangement allows the watch person to pretty much keep tabs of the important functions of the vessel. We can also easily keep check of fuel usage, pump systems, alarms, power usage and many more statistics associated with the general running of Vanish via several other displays. We generally display the radar on a range of 3 to 6 miles and the FLIR image is great at a range of ½ to 1 mile. This combination with normal watch keeping has given us a good amount of security on those dark nights at sea. Maynard, Jake and I do 3 hour watches while Renae rests at night so she is fresh to help with meals during the day. This is working very well for us at present and means each of us can take up to 6 hours sleep before starting the next watch.
The trip took 34 hours for the 243 miles and included gensetting for 9 hours. We averaged 1 mile per gallon of fuel usage for the entire trip including blowing out the engines at WOT (wide open throttle) for 15 minutes prior to arrival at Caicos. Kyle, the Marina Manager at the Turtle Bay Marina guided us through the fringing reef in his small power boat and down the boat channel and had mentioned that the marina cut currently had a problem with a sandbar forming across the entrance. Well, this turned out to be a really really shallow convoluted entrance with only 25 feet of width and as our beam is 21 feet, both ladies had to call out clearances on each side of Vanish as rocks were threatening to take out the stabilisers on the starboard side while seagulls strolled around looking bored in ankle deep water on the port side. Meanwhile bow and stern thrusters were used to wiggle our way into the marina. Our draft is 6 ft and at high tide, the depth of water across the bar is only 6 ft 1 ins so we decided to try it. Anchoring off was not a happy choice as the north side of Caicos is exposed and rolls. We actually made it through and didn't touch. How crazy. We'll never do that again but wait, we still have to "gut it up" and get out of here. Trying not to think about that. After clearing in with Customs we needed several large glasses of red to settle the nerves (and rum and cokes too). We were cleared in by Chevron the Customs Officer for a fee of $50 which allows us to stay 7 days. If we stay longer than that, a Cruising Permit costs $300.
The best way to see a new small country quickly is either by bus or by renting a car so we had a choice of Scooter Bob's rental cars "Donner", "Blitzen" or "Prancer". All vehicles drive on the same side as Britain and Australia so all we thought to ask for was a car with air conditioning. We didn't think to ask for a car with a steering wheel on the right and ended up with "Prancer", a little rent-a-bomb with one functional seatbelt and a pig-squealing slipping fan belt with Maynard driving down the left side of the road with a left hand steering wheel right next to the sidewalk. Maynard said it puts your brain into a spin. Some cars have left-hand drive and some have right-hand drive. You can never pick who the driver is in a vehicle. It's weird. The island of Caicos is about 11 miles long and around 3 miles across so one can see most of it in a day. Turks & Caicos is a British Overseas Territory made up of 40 islands and cays with generally flat, rolling hills. These islands were the first landfall made by Christopher Columbus in 1492 in his search for the Far East. There are at least 50 restaurants and cafes on the island, resorts, upmarket rental homes on the beaches, Duty Free shops and all kinds of water sports and diving hosted by extremely friendly laid back Turks Islanders aka Belongers.
We know we only just announced our Plan but we've decided to make a "detour" and will be leaving soon. Can you guess where we're going?
19 March, 2013, Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, Exumas, The Bahamas
The town of George Town serves 1000 people and is one of the last (semi) decent provisioning stops in the Southern Bahamas. As it is a turning point for a lot of U.S. and Canadian visiting yachties, it is also known as Chicken Town. Have I mentioned there are virtually no navigational marks in the Bahamas? Coming into Elizabeth Harbour is like coming into Moreton Bay in Brisbane on visual on a cloudy day following a straight purple dashed line on the Navionics chart which worryingly went across depths of 1.5m (5 ft). We draw 6 ft. We quickly anchored before hitting anything, dropped the dinghy in the water and sent Jake ahead to check depths, then followed him into the anchorage, a prudent thing to do for us as we do not want to run aground. We anchored at the back of the pack of around 250 yachts which have been diminishing each day since as they are already heading north on a daily basis to avoid hurricane season. We've visited the local hotspot, the Chat 'n Chill, a beach restaurant where Conch Salad was being made as you can see in the above photo. Large stingrays were swimming lazily around waiting to be hand fed at the nearby beach. So far we've seen hand fed pigs, sharks and now stingrays.
OK. The question on everyone's mind is What's Next??? Are we chickens or are we roosters? Well, it looks like a weather window might be coming up with seas of 1 to 2 ft which can take us 240 miles to another country called Turks and Caicos. These places are so well known to U.S. and Canadian citizens, but to us, they never come up in Aussie conversation so we've had to do a great deal of research to sort out a Plan. Basically, we need to be out of the hurricane zone by the end of May so we need to be south of Latitude 10 deg S. We can now announce......da da da daaahhhhhh.......we are headed for either Colombia or Panama via Jamaica. April and May are the best cruising months of the year in the Caribbean so we want to make the most of it. We chose Jamaica over the more traditional Windward Island route as it is less travelled. Also as we are coffee growers and rum connoisseurs, Jamaica is renowned for both products. Pretty good excuse eh?
15 March, 2013, Little Major Spot Cay, Exuma, The Bahamas
Well we've seen it all now. Did you know that pigs are great swimmers? We'd heard about a little family of wild ..er tame pigs that live on a nearby cay called Little Major Spot which is close to our anchorage near Staniel Cay. These pigs were left on the cay a number of years ago by a couple of Staniel Cay residents. As we neared the beach in our dinghy, we saw some movement on the sand as three chooks started strutting along the water's edge followed by these huge healthy looking pigs that just walked straight into the water and swam right for us. We'd brought some apples, celery and carrots but they're fussy little devils and rejected the carrots when someone else gave them some peanut butter sandwiches. They're awfully smart and would only swim out to new visitors to their beach party. The pig in the above photo practically launched himself into our dinghy to check out our food and then swam off to find a new grocery store. It was really hilarious watching them swim and some of us were very tempted to swim with them but we were told that they'd been known to bite so we scratched that idea. They also seem to like drinking beer as they sat down politely on the sand and opened their mouths when another local tourist operator took the top off a can of beer. I bet they could all get drunk and disorderly real fast. They're certainly on a good wicket..... for a pig that is.
Next, we headed over to Thunderball Grotto, a great snorkelling site and where the movies Thunderball (James Bond movie) and Splash were filmed. The best time to dive the cave is at slack tide as there is a strong current through here. We tied up the dinghy to a mooring and swam towards the narrow entrance between sharp jagged rocks then swam under a rocky ledge into the grotto itself. Once inside, the water was around 20ft deep and filled with a fairly large school of colourful reef fish. It's possible to jump into the water from the opening at the top of the grotto but we were more interested in feeding the fish this time bringing them right up to our masks. We all agreed that it was the best dive so far.
Our last stop for the day was the Staniel Cay docks where local fishermen clean their catches. The nearby population of more than 20 nurse sharks all know about it as they were waiting for the scraps. The sharks all line up near the concrete steps at the water's edge so we took the opportunity to pat their heads as they were so docile. A very young small boy near us had no fear whatsoever and pulled a small shark clear out of the water by its tail. The bigger sharks just nudged each other and rolled their eyes as they remembered fondly their own childhoods flying through the air. One can only imagine what sort of ruckus this would have led to if the boy had done this in Oz, however, these sharks seemed to be used to it as they just came back for more. Once again, some of us were very tempted to swim with them but yours truly was told in no uncertain terms to "get a grip".
(No animals were hurt in the making of this blog.)
12 March, 2013, Cambridge Cay, Exuma, The Bahamas
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy; Maynard, Jake, Renae and me too. In case there's any doubt, we do actually work and often late into the night on various work or boat jobs. However, we take time out to exercise, not in a gym or such-like, but in The Main Man's swimming pool provided free of charge to anyone who wishes to partake. Coincidentally, we're anchored near Johnny Depp's 40 acre cay which he purchased after filming Pirates of the Caribbean - Renae and I really wish he would come over for a Piña Colada or a Goombay Smash.
Ideally, a great snorkelling experience requires a sunny day with few clouds, low wind, minimal tidal movement, no swell and settled conditions. Usually, one element or another is missing but you have to grab your opportunities. We headed out in the dinghy to explore a couple of spots we'd read about and on our way, found a buoy floating in the water at a nearby cay so we dived down to see what was there. We found a Cessna plane which had crashed years ago and was now home to the local fish. Two 3 ft long barracuda came sauntering past. One was only 18" from my face, yikes, he had big teeth too as he gave me a big cheesy grin, which was probably a bad sign. We also saw a nurse shark, and we also saw a lobster hiding in a crevice and some lovely soft coral. We snorkelled at a dive spot called Seaquarium, our best so far near O'Brien Cay where we were met by a school of hungry reef fish all expecting fish food. The fish life is very sparse but there are definitely more in this area as it is a Marine Park. The water clarity was extraordinary and we estimated we could see 100 ft ahead. We also visited Rocky Dundas, a rocky cay which boasts a cave only accessible by the ocean where stalactites and stalagmites grow just above sea level. Swells were pushing into the cave making a weird booming sound. Lastly we tried the Coral Gardens off Honeymoon Beach on Cambridge Cay but it has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
By the way, a comet by the name of Pan-STARRS is currently visible after sundown in the western sky. March 13 is expected to be the best viewing day so hopefully we'll have a chance to take a photo if we get clear skies.
10 March, 2013, Shroud Cay, Exumas, The Bahamas
These beautiful graceful birds are flying overhead looking for flying fish, crustaceans and mates. We feel lucky to see them as they are in courtship mode and the females are swinging their tails from side to side trying to impress the males. March and April is breeding season and the female lays one white egg in a crevice or hole on the dry rocky islands in the Bahamas and Cuba regions. The birds are up to 40" in length and are a real treat to see.
8 March, 2013, Normans Cay, Exumas, The Bahamas
Norman's Cay once served as the headquarters for Carlos Lehder's drug smuggling operations from 1978 to 1982. Lehder was part of the Medellin Cartel, allegedly associated with Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriego and Robert Vasco. He constructed a 3,300 ft long runway on Norman's Cay for his fleet of aircraft to transport loads of cocaine to Florida and South Georgia, USA. The DC 3 plane in the above picture was carrying a load of turf to bring to the island and was practicing a 'touch and go' manoeuvre to simulate taking off with a load of cocaine but due to misjudgement, he crashed at the southern end of the cay in the shallow waters. There was so much money passing through their operations back then that Lehder apparently just shrugged his shoulders and ordered another plane. The island became a haven for partying and debauchery and an associate of Lehder's remembers being met by Land Rovers driven by naked women. The Bahamian Government turned a blind eye for a number of years so Lehder and his mates made their own rules; drugs, sex and no police.
Years ago we watched a movie called Blow starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz about these activities so we must see if we can watch it again as we had no idea we'd ever see Norman's Cay in person. Maynard is over there right now trying to find any Land Rovers. Lehder was finally apprehended during a raid and was convicted and sentenced to life without parole plus 135 years. He sure had a good eye for a beautiful place to run his business.
7 March, 2013, Normans Cay, Exumas, The Bahamas
This is the clearest, most crystalline, beautiful turquoise water we've seen so far. The colours range from light to dark emerald to turquoise, and light and dark blues depending on the sun angles. It just keeps getting better. The colours remind me of Rottnest Island near Perth, Western Australia but the clarity here is incredible. Maynard, wearing his Geologist/Geophysisict hat believes these clear waters are due to a couple of factors. Firstly, Exuma Sound sits on the east side and is mostly landlocked and protected from the North Atlantic swells. This unique sea plus the lack of run off from rain on the thin band of islands means there is very little disturbance of the surrounding sands.
We're not sure of the water temp at present but it is probably around 25 deg C or 77 F. Our water temp sensor on Vanish seems to be reading high so we are in the process of working on a fix. I can't report any other problems on Vanish. Boring, I know.......... but I can foresee a big, big problem. We could easily spend another season here.
5 March, 2013, Pic at Leaf Cay, Exumas, The Bahamas
We've been holed up at Rock Sound, Eleuthera for a few days due to a cold front, and I mean cold eg 10.3C and strong NW winds often over 30 kn. Finally it settled down and we motored across Exuma Sound. Geez, I can barely get this blog written as a S H A R K has just swum right next to our swim platform - it's big too, more than 2 meters. Can someone tell us what it is please? See Photo Gallery. Anyway, where was I! I'm shaking now as we just came back from a kayak and cat sail on sunset. Nearly went for a swim too but that's off the cards now. You can see how clear the water is.
Well we are now officially in the Exumas, a chain of 365 or so islands and cays running NW to SE for 90 miles and all part of The Bahamas group of islands and an extremely popular cruising ground. We anchored near Highborne Cay and took the dinghy across to Leaf Cay to see the last remaining rock iguana colony in the Bahamas not expecting too much. What a great surprise. There were at least 50 on the beach and they were simply stunning lizards, as lizards go, being almost a meter in length. They are very curious and will walk right up to you as they seem to be very used to tourists.
1 March, 2013, Rock Sound, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
This week we've moved from Harbour Island on the north end of Eleuthera to Rock Sound Harbour at the southern end of Eleuthera. As one of the beaut benefits of our previous piloting experience with Little Woody was a carrot cake baked by Mrs Little Phyllis Woody, we asked Little Woody to pilot us out through the reefs and rocks again. We intended going west on the ocean side of NW Eleuthera, but Little Woody knows these waters extremely well and took us through the shortcut to Spanish Wells, his home town and down through the narrow channel alongside the town's fishing wharves and docks saving us around 12 miles thus staying in shallow waters. He regaled us with many more stories along the way and kept us entertained for the hour and a half it took to get us safely on our way.
Our flopper stoppers were taken out of storage this week as we haven't needed them since September last year due to the anchorages being so flat. This week the winds have not behaved themselves. The island of Eleuthera runs SE to NW. It is preferable to have the predominant winds out of the east so that we can comfortably stay on the west side of the island but we've had winds out of the west which means that most anchorages are exposed. This is not too much of a problem though with the flopper stoppers which work beautifully. We have the largest size, a No. 5 which is 900 mm across, and they are suspended from our cranes. They allowed us to stay happily in anchorages on the way down to Rock Sound that normally would be uncomfortable. Once those flopper stoppers are deployed and sitting 1 - 2 meters under the water, the change in the boat motion is incredible. I've included a link on the side bar to the right of this blog if you want to see more information - see Flopper Stopper Info under Favourites.
One of the main attractions at Rock Sound is Ocean Hole, a circular inland salt water lake 1 mile from the sea joined to the ocean by subterranean channels. It floods and ebbs with the tide. Locals believe it is bottomless but it was explored by Jacques Cousteau who could not find the connection to the ocean. It is more than 600 feet deep. It is full of beautiful reef fish and one can swim or snorkel in the lake but no fishing is allowed.
Every single person we've encountered in town has greeted us with a friendly smile or wave, whether they are driving, walking or even inside their homes. There are lots of photos in the Photo Gallery for your enjoyment.
(Fortunately there have been no further experiences with low flying unlit large helicopters.)
It's not the best anchorage. On my Rolling Richter Scale (RSS), it was a 3 even though we had an offshore south wind but due to a small south-west swell and being held side on with the tide, the guys deployed both flopper stoppers which brought the RSS down to less than 1. Vanish is sitting quietly at anchor as usual in a new spot with no one else around. It's dark outside. The moon has risen and Jake is serenading Renae on the bow with his new guitar. Maynard and I are reading in the salon but then we hear a sound. What's that? Sounds like a fairly large helicopter. At home, a helicopter at night could be police, military or rescue. It's very loud now so we race outside and peer towards the sound but can see nothing. It's a cloudless moonlit night and the chopper is probably 200m overhead. It's unlit! How can that be? We've never come across an unlit aircraft before. It passes but 20 minutes later it's back in the sky and all we see of it is the silhouette as it passes low in front of the moon heading stealthily off into the distance. But what's this? It's coming back and we can hear it coming low right towards us. We race to the fly deck as it's nearly on top of us now and 2 seconds before it passes over us, the pilot switches on a searchlight to illuminate Vanish. The light is quickly turned off again within 5 seconds. He circles and passes across the moon again in pitch darkness before disappearing. What just happened?
25 February, 2013, Harbour Island aka Briland, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
Meet our latest edition to the Vanish Fleet. It's a Hobie Bravo Cat and the hull is made of tough rotomolded polyethylene and weighs in at 88.45 kg, about 195 lbs. We store it on the fly deck aft and when stowed for passage making, we are able to use the aft stairs and there's still room up there for more toys. Who's counting, but we now have 5 water craft on Vanish. The Hobie Bravo takes 20 minutes to set up from whoa to go and it performs really well in a wide range of wind conditions as the mainsail can be easily furled to suit all wind conditions and it comes with a boom and even has 4 beer can holders for those who partake. It's simple to rig and has decent upwind performance and is great fun as we've found out in the past few days Maynard probably wants to trick it out with instruments and carbon fibre sails.
Little Woody told us not to worry about sharks in the harbour because if one is spotted, the locals immediately "get rid of it" but the crew on a 30m catamaran Quintessential (http://www.superyachttimes.com/editorial/0/article/id/9868) in the marina told us that a large bull shark was swimming around their boat this afternoon. It didn't stop us though as we all took turns sailing on the water.
Until we came here, we knew nothing about Bahamian life. They enjoy sunshine and a lack of rules and regulations which are becoming so commonplace in the Western world plus they have low crime rates and we found a couple more reasons people seem so happy. There are no local taxes on capital gains, inheritance, corporate and personal income, nor dividends and interest. People speak English, there are many airports, roads and ferries and The Bahamas are close to the USA. The Bahamian archipelago is 100,000 square miles and stretches about 500 miles with 700 islands and cays but the total land mass is only 5,382 square miles yet there are only 350,000 and 2/3 of them live on New Providence where the capital Nassau is located so the rest of the islands are very unpopulated. 50% of Bahamian income comes from tourism. And we can eat outside and have yet to encounter a fly, mozzie or sandfly. There's a lot to be said for that!
22 February, 2013, Dunmore Town aka Briland, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
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One of the main reasons we decided to visit Harbour Island was to see the pink sand beach reputed to be the best in the world. We were not disappointed and could clearly see the pink in the sand formed from tiny shelled animals named Foraminifera. I scooped up a bagful to study later. We've seen the whitest sand in the world made up of 98% silica at Whitehaven Beach in North Queensland, Australia but this pink sand is really something else. Definitely worth the detour.
Take the Virtual Tour of the Beach:
21 February, 2013, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
2 to 4 foot seas and a light easterly wind made for the perfect day to leave the Abacos behind and head south across the Providence North East Channel to the next chain of islands in the Bahamas called Eleuthera. From our anchorage off Lynyard Cay in the Abacos to Dunmore Town on Harbour Island in Eleuthera, we travelled 60 miles under blue skies and a slightly rolling sea. The books all recommended that we use the services of a local pilot, especially for first timers as the entrance is narrow, tidal and has rocks and reefs on either side with no channel markers. We arranged for Little Woody to meet us at 3.30pm for a relatively small fee and he came speeding up behind us, hopped on board and after a few quick pleasantries, was sitting behind the helm and talking a mile a minute. He said he's brought boats in owned by Olivia Newton-John, Jimmy Buffett, Greg Norman, Harrison Ford and now Vanish and he's been a pilot here for 17 years. It took around 45 minutes to reach our anchorage area and as he left, he kindly gave us a delicious cake cooked by his wife and other goodies and we gave him a gift of a stuffed kangaroo. No, not a REAL one!
p.s. In case you are interested, our poor little home at Byron Bay, Australia has been pounded by high winds for days by another low pressure system but winds are currently 37 knots with gusts to 68 knots. This is the 2nd time this has happened this year. You can check out the weather site at:
19 February, 2013, Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas
Time ashore is always interesting in the Bahamas. We've now spent quite a bit of time in this area so we were looking forward to going ashore, eating out, checking out the latest boats in the marinas and generally having a good old stickybeak. During lunch at Mangoes, which apparently just re-opened after being closed for a month, Maynard thought he spotted a Marlow on the other side of the harbour at the Marsh Harbor Marina but we needed to get a bit closer for verification. We first had to check out Mangoes Marina and Harbor View then Marina Boat Harbor Marina and lo and behold, we came across the Marlow 65 named Bakara and spent time chatting with the friendly Captain Eli and Mate Juliano. Unfortunately, we didn't meet the owners who will be flying in soon.
The mystery boat across the harbour was calling our names but the call for a cuppa at Java Coffee shop was stronger so we sat down with the above two lovely ladies Kate and Kelly who are on holiday from Washington in the USA, with their husbands Chris and David. Now Kelly and Chris reminded us of Maynard and I in our "Pre Boating Life". Chris wants a boat ........ like..... yesterday! Maynard and I used to have the same conversations that Chris and Kelly are no doubt having.
M: "I think we should buy a boat."
V: "Why? We've got a car."
M: "I think we'd have a lot of fun."
V: "But you don't know anything about boats."
M: "Yes, but I'll learn. How hard can it be? Lots of people have boats."
V: "But what if I get seasick or something happens?"
M: "You'll get over the seasickness and nothing is ever going to happen."
This conversation would come up almost every week for 10 years. Maynard can be very determined so I finally relented 20 years ago and here we are today. I hope they let us know what they end up with.
Quick sticks in the dinghy across to Marsh Harbor Marina and high five .....yes it's another Marlow, Blue Rosy V owned by Rosmarie and Rene. A plethora of Marlows. We were given a tour of their lovely Marlow 65 and introduced to many wonderful people staying in the marina who all appear to be very adept at playing oompah with conch shells, especially the women for some reason. I wish we could spend more time here. Knowing where we're going, this might be the last time we'll be surrounded by so many of our own kind.
17 February, 2013, Nr Treasure Cay, The Abacos, Bahamas
Don't ask me why but the guys chose today to change over the anode on one of Vanish's three water heaters, actually the water heater which serves our cabin. Each water heater holds 17 gallons. Normally this is no problem but they switched the heater off a day and a half ago unknown to me and today has GOT to be one of the coldest days of the year in the Bahamas with a current temp of 14 deg C (57 deg F....hey, that's cold for us wimps) and this morning's shower was brass monkey conditions. They decided to change the anode on the most accessible heater first which is located under a berth in the aft twin cabin starboard side. The anode needs changing every 3 years or so and is probably a 10 minute job. Nup. When does any boat job take 10 minutes? The new anode, as you can see in the Photo Gallery, was a third longer than the original so it had to be shortened and then the access to the heater is cramped as are most things on any boat. They had to drain all the water from the hot water system and partially remove the water heater to keep the length of the anode as long as possible. This is why they'd turned off the heater. I fled when I heard a thump kind of sound and "Oh sh.." but crept down three hours later to see Maynard's finger wrapped in a blood soaked paper towel. The boy's faces were all smiles and happy as they announced proudly "Job's done." Just daydreaming....but I wonder if there's room for a spa.....better not say that out loud......
(Today I discovered that the Photo Gallery pics for "Happy Little Vegemites" were unfortunately unlabelled due to an internet conx problem but this has been rectified in case you wish to check them out.)
15 February, 2013, Abacos, The Bahamas
There are a number of clever blog readers out there who have been anxiously watching Vanish on the Unexsco Webcam at the Port Lucaya Marina. Uh oh, she's vanished. Yes, we are finally on our way but due to the weather forecast of a stalled strong weather front (meaning winds could be light and variable or strong with associated storms), we decided to head slightly north to the Abacos before making our way steadily south through the Bahamas. Last night was our first night at sea on anchor since early December. We left Freeport and encountered some welcome rain and on high tide, we motored through the 3 mile long Goodwill Channel, a known short-cut near West End on Grand Bahama with depths of 2.4 m saving us 45 miles. We anchored at Sale Cay in light wind and rain before the wind came up to 18 knots from the SW. At around 8.30, the front arrived with lightning flashing across the sky and the wind changed to the NE at 30 knots with rain all night. If our little ship hadn't been so well lit, comfortable, warm and inviting, one could have said it was particularly creepy outside in the pitch dark lonely conditions. Of course, it's not as creepy as the "Carnival Ship From Hell" in the Gulf of Mexico which has just endured 5 horrendous days of dead ship conditions. We are the complete opposite and are happy little Vegemites. It takes a lot to keep vessels in perfect running order so taking a cruise with over 4000 people is not something we'd sign up for. I didn't think we'd ever be back here again but that's cruising for you - new day, new plan. We'll be taking it easy in the Abacos while the forecast 30 kn NW winds and rage seas arrive on the weekend.
12 February, 2013, Picture of Byron Bay Lighthouse, NSW, Australia
This beautiful double rainbow frames the view from our kitchen window at home. Looking out towards the Cape Byron Lighthouse on a day like this reminds Maynard and I how lucky we feel to live such an amazing life. We obtained airline advice from our friends the Stumps who are experts in all worldly matters and thanks to Virgin Australia, we had the best flight back to the US we've ever had. Although it took 33 hours door to door including a 5 hour wait in Los Angeles, we arrived in Freeport, Grand Bahama in great shape with no jet lag and ready for the next leg of this expedition. While we were away, Jake installed a number of upgrades on Vanish including a new wind vane, two upgraded tv's (the original tv's were donated to the marina staff) and she is topped up with fuel. We also now own a new Hobie Bravo, a 13 ft long catamaran, which fits nicely on the bridge deck to help satisfy our urge to sail. The hull has been cleaned, the decks were sanded and look like new, selective varnishing was done and the fridges are chockers and all in all, Jake and Renae have done an outstanding job while we've been away. Just don't ask us when we're leaving or where we're going!
7 February, 2013, NSW, Australia
The days are counting down to winging our way back to the Bahamas from Australia. We've spent almost two months at home reconnecting with our family and friends and of course our dear hairy child Bindi Blue Dog. Maynard and I have accomplished a great deal with work and meetings, mail, house maintenance and farm issues and the aftermath of ex-cyclone Oswald which brought down a dozen massive trees on the property and knocked off precious coffee beans in the 70 knot winds and driving rain two weeks ago. That's 2 hurricanes in 2 months for us. I'm not a big fan of rats but one decided to die in an inaccessible spot in the under carriage of our new 4WD in the first week we were home so the hot summer smells getting in and out of the car were quite extraordinary. I do hope this never happens on Vanish. Most of our jobs are done so may the adventures soon begin on our return to Freeport.
23 December, 2012, New South Wales, Australia
It's currently Christmas Eve on the other side of the world from our Vanish. Air travel can be good or bad and for us it was bad. For a total of 20 hours flying time, it took 62 hours to get to Australia as all the connecting flights were delayed and one of our planes broke down and just to put the boot in, Maynard caught a cold and my credit card was stolen at LAX Airport and has been used over the past few days. However, home feels great, the weather is warm and sunny, we are back with our family and Bindi dog and life is good. Thank you to our 16,000 readers for taking an interest in our wanderings in 2012 and we look forward to being back on Vanish early February. There's no shortage of stories on Vanish nor at home as this morning I found a recently shed brown snake skin at the front door. Brown snakes are one of the deadliest snakes in the world but as long as we don't meet eye to eye, all of us will remain alive. I'm sure you'd rather hear about our travels on the water so until next year, have a safe and happy holiday to you all.
19 December, 2012, Northern New South Wales, Australia
This is our first sunrise view over our coffee farm with fog rising from our lower valley through the coffee trees in the foreground. There's no place like home, that's for sure.
16 December, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
Just before we flew out of the Bahamas for Christmas, we searched for and found a worthy organisation to donate over $1000 worth of ship's stores which had been purchased incorrectly by previous crew. We'd met Dan earlier at the Port Lucaya Pizza Hut and he just happened to mention that he was a mentor for young men at a local church and after further enquiries, we found that the church was having a jumble sale that very day. Dan phoned his father, Fred Thompson from Agace House, who turned up at Vanish within the hour full of happiness and gratitude for the more than 200 lb of pickles, canned and dry foods, chocolate cups, herbs and spices, crackers, condiments and salad dressings and so much more. Nice to imagine seeing more of our waterline too.
15 December, 2012, Bahamas
Each night the Count Basie Square at the Port Lucaya Marketplace near the marina hosts great local artists and is a nice way to spend a few hours after dinner with new found marina friends. The other night we met Herbert and his sober Filipino crew friends who had us in stitches as they danced Bahamian style below the stage. They'd been away from home for 11 straight months and were letting their hair down before leaving for Barbados the following day.
We've observed that a number of vessels have changed hands just in the short time we've spent at this marina; in fact, three this week. The Dashews have finalised their handover of Wind Horse to Ben H who spent an hour chatting to us about his purchase. He wants to add tv's to the boat, upgrade the navigation equipment and do various mods to his own liking back at his home port in the Carolinas. As for the Dashews, they are taking a break from boating for a while until they decide what is next on their agenda. One thing is for sure, their trip directly into the teeth of the Gulf Stream in stormy weather in order to test stability and other systems on Wind Horse was extremely long, slow and exhausting and perhaps not an ideal way to end their many happy years of cruising. Boats can handle so much more than their passengers.
In case you're interested, Yachts International magazine has published a great article in the Dec/Jan 2013 edition on Vanish. Check it out at:
We are packed and ready to leave for our Australian holiday. Jake and Renae will take good care of Vanish while we are away.
13 December, 2012, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Gosh it's good to be back 'home' in Freeport, Grand Bahama. The marina staff know us now as "hurricane survivors" and can't do enough for us. Yesterday, Maynard and Jake spent ALL day servicing our 2 Cat engines, changing oil filters, fuel filters, anodes and adjusted all the belts, bled fuel lines and a host of other tasks which took both of them 8 hours to complete on both engines. At the end of the day both engines were pronounced ready for another 3,000 miles of cruising.
Steve and Linda Dashew's well known 83 ft aluminium FPB yacht Wind Horse came into the marina on Monday, the day after we arrived. We were last anchored next to them in Rockland, Maine back in September and they are now berthed next to us. It's a momentous week for them as they've owned Wind Horse for 7 years and travelled 50,000 miles with her. The new owner of Wind Horse has been on board all week coming up to speed with all systems and boat handling and a new future is in store for all parties.
13 December, 2012, Bahamas
No visit to the Bahamas would be complete without showing you the clarity of the water here on a recent dive 2 miles offshore of Allans Cay, Abaco.
11 December, 2012, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
We have really enjoyed ourselves in the Bahamas since we arrived almost 8 weeks ago. At first, we were a bit jaded after going through Hurricane Sandy and seeing so much damage to the islands and seeing the normally crystal clear waters stirred up and cloudy. Even though there is still a lot of work to be done in repairing some infrastructure, the vegetation will slowly turn green again and all will be well again over here. After Nick and Alison's lovely visit, we moved north to Allans Cay. We were anchored in the usual 2.2 m/7 ft of water where we could see every speck of sand on the bottom. We took our kayaks out every day, sometimes peddling, paddling and sailing 3 miles around the rocky outcrops and stopping for walks on the fine sand beaches. Maynard found the above live conch in the shallows at Umbrella Cay. Conch, pronounced conk, is offered on all menus at every café and restaurant we've visited. You can order conch chowder, conchie conch fritters, deep fried Panko conch, cracked conch, conch burgers, conch salad, grilled conch and dozens of other choices of conch. All parts of the conch are edible although I hear that the white part is the best.
A few weeks ago I cornered a security guard Michael D at the BTC phone store in Freeport while Maynard was busy finding a sim card for his phone. Michael was a fountain of Bahamian information and used to go fishing for conch on the east side of Andros Island. He said it was extremely hard work. He told me he and three other men would go out for 2 weeks a couple of times a year on a 40 foot sailboat. Two of the men would go out on the sailboat's workboat and one was in charge of sculling while the other one would stand in the boat, spot the conch on the sandy bottom and spear it with a pole and as the meat and the shell weigh around 5 lbs or more each, you can imagine how strong these men need to be. They would then bring the conch back to the sailboat where the captain would thread 5 conch at a time on a line and hang the lines in the water thereby keeping them alive. The other man on the sailboat was the cook. After two weeks, they would catch around 8,000 conch. They would travel from one area to another during the night to preserve the conch. Renae and Jake say that conch is a bit chewy but it's certainly a popular dish over here.
The Bahamas are such a refreshing change from our normal over-governed lives the western world experiences. We've seen no officialdom since we cleared in, there are no copious rules one has to abide by and memorise, the people are happy, friendly, and polite, everyone speaks English, the weather is ideal, the food is great, there are many marinas for those who wish to enjoy them, and we were able to find anchorages in the Abacos protected from all the various wind directions we were faced with.
On Monday we left Sale Cay in the early morning darkness ready for a 120 mile passage on a 12 - 17 knot south-east forecast. Maynard found a shortcut through the north-western end of the Bahama bank, about 10 miles north of Memory Rock. As we had good visibility, we could see the deeper water where we went from 5 metres to 500 metres in a very short distance and turned south-east into a 2 metre + short sharp choppy sea now blowing 25 knots. We had white water spraying all over Vanish as the backs of the waves were so steep and the sea state had waves bouncing at us at all angles from both the Gulf Stream current and some other unforecast weather event which had occurred the previous day just north of the Bahamas. Vanish had no trouble whatsoever in these boisterous seas and kept a steady speed of 10 knots for the 6 hours it took to go from the Bahama bank to Freeport. We were in our same Hurricane Berth as we had during Sandy, tied up, washed down, all back to normal by 6pm.
10 December, 2012, North-West Grand Bahama
Our Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS) burgee finally shredded and was almost lost at sea near West End, Grand Bahama today. It lasted 5,000 miles and 7 months at sea and now needs to find a home in some exotic location in the near future.
9 December, 2012
On a previous blog post written on 4 November, 2012 called Puffin On a Cuban we told the story of the two Cuban crew on a yacht next to us during Hurricane Sandy wanting to immigrate to the USA. During the post Hurricane Sandy Survival Party on Vanish we found out that our new Cuban friends had left Havana, sold everything for cash and were planning to escape to the US. We didn't know if this story was true but our concern for these two men was enormous as we didn't trust the owners of the yacht they were on. The captain was continually intoxicated and had zero knowledge of the sea. On the day they left, I gave "A" a puffin on a keychain and told him I'd infused it with good luck as I felt he needed some sort of tangible hope of good fortune to help him and his friend on their journey to a better life. "A" said he would keep it forever.
They left when the forecast was favourable with 5 - 10 knots, increasing to 10 - 15 knots from the NE and seas of 2 - 3 feet. Even though we had no idea where they were going, the weather was ideal at the time but when you put your life into the hands of people who know absolutely nothing about sailing or the sea, the experience can be an absolute nightmare.
I recently received an update in Spanish about their Gulf Stream crossing which I translated using Google Translate, a nifty little helper.
"Finally I'm here in the land of freedom. I will try to tell you everything but the story is very long. Well we left that day as you know almost dark and we anchored about three miles off the coast and near the port. The weather was terrible, so bad that everything, absolutely everything in the boat except the TV broke. We could not sleep all night and at 4 am convinced the captain to start sailing. The weather the whole time was bad and the captain and the wife were eventually seasick as well. We all had terrible moments. We intended to sail into a harbour in Florida but the Captain lost our position and we were delayed. The whole trip was terrible motoring into a headwind and we were only doing 5 or 6 knots.
The captain decided to take down the sails which ended up being worse. The wind was right on the bow and we were going nowhere and really was one of the worst crossings of my life. At about 4 am after sailing for more than 24 hours, we saw lights on the horizon and we were very happy but we were still far away. A little closer to the coast we spotted a Coast Guard cutter coming right at us. That's when I was very scared. I thought all was lost and we were going to jump into the sea. Fortunately they turned back when they came very close to us (we later found out that the Coast Guard was doing manoeuvers with a helicopter above). I think we were very lucky. Well closer to the inlet the Captain wanted to call on the radio to report that they came with two Cubans. You can imagine what happened! We tried to discuss it but he didn't change his mind.
At the last minute we finally decided to jump right into the water and had to swim about 150 meters to reach the coast leaving all belongings in the boat, money, documents. Everything was lost. After two days without eating and sailing in bad weather we had no strength for anything but the need for freedom and the survival instinct was stronger than us. We reached the coast almost dead and threw ourselves into the sand. We began to cry out of joy and the shock we had endured. We were very cold and walked for 45 minutes until we came across a street where we called 911. Three police cars came, the K- 9 unit, the regular police and border patrol who took us to the detention center in Fort Lauderdale. They gave us dry clothes, food and interviewed us and took all our data. For the first time in my life I felt that the police treated me like a human being and I felt respect for them. We had no fear and felt good and from there we were taken by transport at 3 pm to the Church World Service who is in charge of Cuban immigrants.
We filled out more forms and applied for Government assistance. Right now I have one credit card and another with food stamps and I have some cash and waiting for help. We get $USD 200 per month and the initial paperwork which will allow me to get a Social Security Number and a Driver's License later. So far so good, but I will never forget what we suffered to get here nor do I forgive the Cuban Government for forcing me to do this and leave my family. (Burn in hell, Fidel!) Sorry for the expression but I could never say that in Cuba. I plan to go to California. I have my Cuban relatives who moved there one year ago and I have a job and home to stay in. I dream about my family being in Florida or California which I like and I have more calmness now until my wife have daughter join me.
I'm glad to have met you. Thanks for your support and concern. I still have the migratory bird of luck. When jumping into the sea, I just took my ID and that little bird. It honestly gave me much strength. Thank you and I wish you well. My friend is at a friend's house in the south, so he is well.
Greetings from my new land."
We have no doubt that these two men are now extremely happy with their new found freedom and will be supporting themselves independently and their families in no time at all.
7 December, 2012, Allans Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas
Jake removed the port side impeller today from the genset and it was much the same as the starboard side missing 7 of its 12 impeller blades. As Maynard is uncertain when they were last changed, we are going to have to monitor them closely. Given that they were broken in both gensets, it looks like they've been in there too long. But it's ok mon. We're in the Bahamas and every little ting'll be alright.
6 December, 2012, Allans Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas
While having lunch today in our usual pozzie at the aft deck table, Maynard noticed a slightly different tone to the normally consistent tone that the Onan gensets put out. He also noticed white smoke or steam coming out of the exhaust. He went in and checked the genset engine temperature and it was well within normal working range but maybe a couple of degrees higher than normal (179 deg F). So just to be safe, we shut it off and started up the starboard side genset and finished lunch....as you do.
After lunch, Jake and Maynard went down to inspect the impeller to ensure all was well and were amazed to find that 11 of the 12 impeller blades had broken off but the genset was still able to operate in its normal temperature range which is quite amazing. These impellers are supposed to have been changed every 500 hours and it was our understanding that they were changed in Maine by the previous crew. It was our plan to change them again in Freeport, Bahamas at their normal 500 hour interval. I suppose it is possible that these impellers were not changed and that might account for the really poor condition it was found in or there may be some other problem with the housing or whatever. We will now be inspecting the impellers every 50 - 100 hours just to make sure all is well. Tomorrow, we will pull off and inspect the impeller on the port side and let you know what we find. Of course, we felt it was necessary to find all 11 blades and as you can see, we were successful and removed all of them from the heat exchanger which is a happy conclusion to this job.
6 December, 2012, Picture taken at Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
We are once again on our own after enjoying the past 10 days with our friends on Vanish. Our eyes have become so thoroughly biased with the outstanding features of this vessel that it was a joy showing these veteran yachties a complete tour of all the systems and features built into our boat. After 8 or 9 days I finally asked our guests if there was anything, anything at all they would have done differently or anything we should change and they both shook their heads and said, "Absolutely not. She's perfect!" And I can tell you that we took them out through Whale Cut where a rage sea was building to see how she handled, we anchored many times and went through every locker and bilge and tried all systems on Vanish so this speaks volumes.
The Abacos have proven to be a wonderful place to entertain guests as there are so many cays with excellent protection. We visited Elbow Cay, Tilloo Cay, Lubbers Quarters, Man O' War Cay, and Green Turtle Cay. These Out Islands are well serviced by the Donny and Bolo ferries which run all day ferrying tourists and workers back and forth between the islands. We've had excellent wifi coverage, good stores in which to provision and buy alcohol, excellent restaurants and bars to try local drinks such as the Goombay Smash and Bahama Mamas, and interesting towns with hundreds of years of history associated with them.
A couple of days ago Nick and Alison hopped onto the ferry called Bolo IV at New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. They headed off to meet Mark Anthony's taxi which whisked them off to the Marsh Harbor Airport to start their long journey back to Australia. We left Green Turtle Cay the next day and headed 30 miles north to Allan's Cay. On the way, we passed Spanish Cay which has been hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. The sea has washed across the narrowest part of the cay at the southern end of the airstrip and washed away all vegetation and buildings located there leaving nothing but sand. We saw 2 boats washed well up onto the shoreline where a photo in our guide book showed thick green bush. The 80 berth marina was apparently open but had no boats and some of the walkways were skewed.
Some cays are worse hit than others and this all depends on the direction of the hurricane winds and associated ocean swells. If you ever think of buying an island getaway, try to look at it after a hurricane and then decide if it looks secure or not. The Bahamas have encountered many hurricanes and they obviously bounce back from them but it all takes time.
We are anchored at Allans Cay, a very protected and lovely anchorage in crystal clear water and not another boat in sight. Maynard and I decided to take the kayaks out just before sunset for an hour of exercise tonight and we were just commenting on not seeing very many fish but figured that as it was nearly sunset, maybe they were hard to see. Next thing, a dark shadow came swimming towards us and passed exactly between our 2 kayaks and we looked down in the 3 - 4 feet of water to see a shark over 6 feet in length lazily swimming past. Doing what two normal Aussies would do in a situation like this, we turned our kayaks around and chased it for about 50 metres trying to identify it before it got tired of us and shot out of our sight like a bolt of lightning. It had a rounded bull type head so I must try to find out what it was. Never a dull moment.
(I will add photos to Photo Gallery in the next couple of days when we move back into better wifi as we are in the outer Outer Islands right now.)
1 December, 2012, Great Guana Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas
This vessel has recently run aground on a reef about 1/3 mile north of the ship channel at Great Guana Cay. The anchor was lowered but there was no sign of anyone on the vessel. There are waves breaking either side of the ship so they are in very shallow water. The deep water is about ¾ mile from his position so he possibly had engine trouble or some other problem. Not sure how they will salvage this situation.
(He's come a cropper - Aussie slang .... means that he's had an accident, he's come a gutser, a mega oopsie, a stuffy etc)
28 November, 2012, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas
The wedding day arrived. Just before it was time to leave Vanish by dinghy, the wind picked up to well over 20 knots with distant rain showers. We were also on a lee shore and the waves had increased but the anchor was well set. We were wondering how we were going to make it ashore without getting drenched. We'd prepped and primped ourselves, gathered the champagne and wedding gifts and our own good cheer and took off. Downwind. No problem. Side on in the channel? Problem. Lots of "Oh no, that one was really wet" and "try going faster" and "try going slower" etc. We wrung ourselves out and arrived at the party. The wedding was absolutely beautiful as we sat on the deck on top of Mike and Heather's rental house with ocean views east and west. Minister C. Vernon Malone officiated with the most enchanting Bahamanian words of wisdom as the full moon rose over the Atlantic and the sun set over the Abaco Sea. We all danced and rejoiced with the newly wed couple before walking the minute and a half walk to the Abaco Inn Restaurant for dinner. It was a truly spectacular event and again a reminder that we should always enjoy every moment.
27 November, 2012, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas
There are only 3 hand-wound working kerosene burning lighthouses left in the world and one of them is here at Hope Town on Elbow Cay in the Abacos and is called the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. Hope Town has a small protected harbour with many vessels tied to moorings. It suffered a 7 foot surge tide recently in Hurricane Sandy causing some vessels to end up in the nearby mangroves. On the ocean side of the island, tons and tons of sand and vegetation have been lost to the pounding waves and in places, the bitumen pathway on top of the dune running the length of the island is in jeopardy of future erosion. People ride on golf buggies or bicycles and the rental cottages and quaint homes are all painted in shades of pink, orange, yellow, blue and other colourful shades. Hope Town was settled around 1785 by Loyalist refugees from the USA. The Loyalists favoured Great Britain during the American Revolution and wanted to escape the wrath and intolerance of the United States at the time.
The Elbow Reef Lighthouse overlooks the Hope Town harbour, the Abaco Sea to the west and the Atlantic to the east. The red and white striped lighthouse was originally built in 1864 and rebuilt in 1934 with a light source of 325,000 candle power and can be seen for 17 miles. In 1954, cracks started appearing in the tower caused by lightning and another major rebuilding was undertaken by engineers from England by pouring concrete into concentric rings at the base of the tapering tower.
We arrived quite late in the afternoon and after signing the visitor's book, we quickly walked up the 101 wooden spiral stairs to the top. As I suffer from vertigo, I've always been able to get about ¾ of the way up (or down) a castle or a lookout and even once, the Eiffel Tower's steel steps and have had to stop for a long time before being able to move again. Highly embarrassing but it's just the way it is. Maynard dragged me up the last 20 steps and luckily it was well worth it.
We spotted a mattress tucked behind some stairs and found out that every 2 hours between sunset and sunrise, the lighthouse keeper has to wind a 700 lb weight by means of a hand winch. The weights descend on a series of bronze gears and rotate the 4 ton apparatus once around every 15 seconds. The keeper must sleep on his mattress up here at times. We learned that a hand pump is used to pressurise the kerosene in iron containers below the lantern room and travels up a tube to a vaporiser which sprays into a pre-heated mantle. The "bulls-eyes" Fresnel lenses concentrate the mantle's light into a piercing beam straight out towards the horizon. These Fresnel lenses weigh 8,000 lbs and float in a tub of mercury. At night, we could see that in between the beams, the light is constantly glowing and is known as the "soul" of the lighthouse.
Maynard wanted me to get down quickly before I had a melt down. On the steps on the 1st landing where all the kerosene is safely stowed in green iron containers, we met a lovely young couple from North Carolina Nick and Heather who were staying in a rented house for the week at Hopetown. They told us they were getting married tomorrow. We all got on so well and while busily swapping stories, they honoured us by asking us to come to their wedding as they were short of witnesses and were in The Bahamas without family or friends present which is exactly the way they wanted it, eg stress free. They had planned on possibly stopping a couple of random people during the private ceremony at their rental house to ask them if they'd be their witnesses but invited us instead! We were all laughing and talking non-stop and thought this was a wonderful idea so with much excitement we made a date for the wedding tomorrow at 4pm. Wow.
Ps If anyone knows where the other 2 kerosene lighthouses are located, we'd be very interested in hearing from you.
26 November, 2012, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
Look closely at this house and you will see a little lizard called a curly tail common to these islands, living just inside the front door. He's about 6" long and very territorial. He would dart out every now and again and attack intruders who would come over the fence or he would scurry out to eat nearby insects. If you look carefully, you will see he has much to entertain him; a surfboard, satellite tv on his roof, a Bahamanian flag, a plane, palm trees, an Adirondack chair and coffee table, two cars, a basketball hoop and birdhouse, a beer on the top verandah, hurricane shutters on the windows, a canon and coconut palm, a lighthouse and of course a sailboat. What more could a lizard need? It is situated in the front yard of a house in Hopetown and is an exact replica of the big house on the same lot. While the ladies browsed the shops, Maynard and Nick were enthralled at Mr. Curly Tail's wealth and agility, facing many problems we all encounter in our own homes.
26 November, 2012, Abacos, The Bahamas
The Amp Police have completed their research. Lucky for us we have noticed no change in the functioning of Vanish as we are already efficient with our voltage usage so we are carrying on regardless. Our friends Nick and Alison from Australia were visiting their family at a holiday resort on the west coast of the USA and decided to just "pop in" and see what all the fuss was about with Vanish. Their "pop in" involved flying for 2 days from Peurto Vallarta, Mexico via Miami, Florida to Nassau, The Bahamas and onto Marsh Harbor, 4 flights in all and countless hours of mind numbing air travel. They have nothing but praise for the beautiful timberwork, the finish, the attention to detail and the hundreds of items their keen eyes are espying. And we haven't even left the anchorage yet. As they have owned dozens of vessels of all types during their entire lives living by the water, we are thrilled to have them on board. There will be endless hours of boating chit chat to share while showing them around this beautiful part of The Bahamas.
22 November, 2012, Abacos, The Bahamas
Give a guy a sunny day on a boat with solar panels and some down time and he'll inevitably turn into the dreaded Amp Police. Whether you have a yacht or a power vessel, the Amp Police are known to lurk around looking for trouble as you can see by the above photo of Maynard's iridescent note book. Now ladies, don't tell me you've never heard of the Amp Police before. They walk slowly around the boat in a hunched fashion looking for voltage thieves, switching off any electrical appliance they deem unnecessary while batting off cries of indignation from their respective partners.
Maynard has meticulously quantified the power usage of all the various systems on board Vanish which, I might add, are numerous..........fancy fridges, untold number of lights, so many TV's, 3 home entertainment AV systems, 3 microwaves, not to mention a hoard of phones, computers, coffee makers, hair dryers, yes...you name it, we got it, even an iron (or two). He's found that if we combine the contents of two of the smaller fridges and put that into the larger more efficient fridges when they have the space, and if we turn off the three AV (audio visual) systems along with the direct satellite TV system when we're not using them, we can cut our electricity usage by an astounding 30% whilst suffering no degradation in life style.
This has a huge effect on the amount of time we genset. Under the new Abaco Amp Regime, we have a base load use of 350 amps a day. On a typical winter's day in the Bahamas, our solar panels put out about 150 amp hours a day at 24 volts. During the summer, we would get nearly double this figure. We have been able to cut our gensetting from 5 - 6 hours a day to approximately 3 hours a day. This works out well as it takes at least an hour to one and a half hours a day to run the watermaker and the stove/oven for cooking but the great thing about this is that even though it is a power vessel, it is a very quiet vessel at anchor with about the same amount of genset time being run now as we did on our 52 foot yacht.
There are ways around the Amp Police. Many years ago I remember a serious meeting on a sandy beach in Northern Queensland in Oz where we ladies were in a huddle discussing who amongst us were allowed to have an iron on board. Some of the irons were hidden under bunks, but all of us had one, except the lady who asked the question. Haha, she was young and innocent and hadn't learned the finer points of sailing. Live and learn.
18 November, 2012, Abacos, The Bahamas
Last night we noticed what we thought was a 3 ft shark swimming around the boat constantly and this morning, we saw it again lurking under the dinghy and kayaks. Jake decided to jump in the water to investigate but it shot straight towards him like an attack and you've never seen someone spin around so fast and leap back onto Vanish's swim platform with his legs tucked tightly underneath as this thing came right towards him over and over with its mouth wide open (see Photo Gallery). I took some great underwater shots but it would try to come over to our hands or feet whenever we put any part of our bodies in the water. We couldn't find any shark that looked like this on the internet and couldn't see any teeth in its mouth on the photos we'd taken so Renae decided to investigate by going for a swim as well. Well, she sure beat Jake in getting back onto Vanish in record time as it swirled around her body and she was screaming, "It's after me!!!" Once everyone had settled down again, our crew went for a kayak and showed photos of The Thing to some local people only to be told that this is a remora, quite a big one. They said that they can glom onto you and not let go...... imagine that. It must be hungry and thinks Vanish is a giant fish as it hasn't left us yet.
Downwind racing on the Abaco Sea.
15 November, 2012, Tilloo Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
The Abacos have been experiencing what they call here as "rage seas". Sounds impressive huh? The Bahamas Guide describes it as being more frequent in winter caused by oncoming cold fronts or offshore Atlantic storms and can occur in beautiful weather. They are where the swells break heavily across various entrances to harbours and banks from the open ocean and are spectacular and extremely dangerous. Well, can't let that pass without taking a gander (Oz term for look see). The plan today was to snorkel at Sandy Cay which is kind of opposite an opening into the Atlantic Ocean where we witnessed the rage seas breaking across the entrance. The swells kept on coming right into Sandy Cay making snorkeling less than ideal with waves and bad visibility and very few fish. We rocked back and forth in Vanish on the anchor although with just one flopper stopper deployed, the movement was much less than it might have been. We could have deployed both flopper stoppers, but the other crane was used to bring the dinghy back up to the fly bridge.
Onwards to our current anchorage at Tilloo Cay where Maynard and I and Jake and Renae took turns sailing our fantastic Hobie Mirage kayaks upwind to Elbow Cay. These kayaks are so fab for all round fitness as you can paddle, row and sail them and yet they fold up into a neat package if you wish to put them away. They always cause a minor sensation whenever we meet anyone on the water or the beach as no one has ever seen them before. We're finally enjoying our time here in the Bahamas as this area is ideal for all the things we like to do.
14 November, 2012, Abacos, The Bahamas
Cruising guides, charts, computers and bits of paper were strewn across tables all over Vanish's salon yesterday as we are working on a plan. We've probably mentioned this before, but one should be as flexible as possible when in cruising mode but the problem is....Where To Go? Because we plan on going home for a few weeks at some stage soon and our crew are taking a holiday in January, one thought we had was to move Vanish as far south as possible now so that we find an economic safe port while we are away and don't waste almost 3 months of our cruising time too far north of the Equator.
We've now lived on Vanish for 6 months and have only been snorkelling twice (once for me) yet one of our main goals is to find warm water, plenty of tropical fish and beautiful coral. The hurricane free cruising season in the Caribbean lasts from December through to the end of May. If we don't take advantage of these months, we'll lose the best time to swim and enjoy before the need to move out of the hurricane zone again. There are two ways to see the Caribbean. We can go from The Bahamas westwards passing Florida to the right and end up 900 miles later in either Mexico or Belize. Alternatively, we can head south-east visiting the southern Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, make a hard right to Jamaica, Caymans and again end up in Belize, one place we'd really like to see. If we don't leave now when the winds are most favourable for this kind of trip, we'll have more uncomfortable passages.
Of course, there are other factors weighing on us as well. We initially bought Vanish to head down to South America and enjoy higher latitude cruising but the desire to go to New Zealand and Greenland is also extremely strong. Hokey smoke, who would have thought I'd ever be writing these words! We enjoyed Maine, USA so much; perhaps we should go back for another summer season. The choices are endless and we have not made up our minds on what to do.
Palau is also on our wish list so we have also considered just taking Vanish back to Oz where we can visit countries we've always wanted to see. Back home in Australia we have a nifty 1978 home waiting for us on a picture perfect property in Byron Bay complete with two waterfalls and rainforest, not to mention son Eric and our daughter-in-law Ali and our grandchildren Mike, Madi, and Lily who also live on our property. And then of course, there is my darling almost 11 year old Bindi, our blue cattle dog. Have you ever spent all night with your mind spinning going round and round in circles on what to do? This looks easy, but it's not. Humans don't do well if they have too much choice, especially when the choices are all good ones. Of course, Vanish can do anything we can come up with - we just need to decide.
Making a decision was too hard so today we motored 8 miles, dropped the anchor for the night off one of a zillion cays here and, as the water was lovely and clear, all four of us jumped in and cleaned the hull. It's good exercise and Vanish is sparkling clean. Meanwhile, we'll keep working on The Plan.
12 November, 2012, Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas
The above picture shows damage to a catamaran berthed in Marsh Harbor during Hurricane Sandy. Talk about bad luck. During the storm, a starboard channel marker broke loose about a mile away and plowed into the side of this catamaran, tearing a huge hole in their hull before doing extensive damage to the berth pilings, walkway and other parts of the cat. We were actually wondering where a lot of the channel markers were as they were on the chart but not visible in the harbor. It then sank behind the catamaran and can be seen just under the water. Sunsail had 42 charter vessels in the marina but were able to move most of them to a safer inlet near Treasure Cay so the marina was virtually deserted. Luckily, the owner of this private catamaran was not on board at the time.
Tourist season doesn't get underway until around the beginning of February so there are only a handful of boaties here. We've enjoyed dining at Curly Tails and Mangoes and hope this weather calms down so we can head out again to spots we've identified in our cruising guides. The water temp is now 20 deg in the harbour, the Atlantic has high seas and to top it off, there are rain showers. We are still working on a back up plan to find those tropical hot zephyrs.
9 November, 2012, Great Abaco, Bahamas
We do like the laid back attitude of the Bahamians so we couldn't resist taking the above picture at Treasure Cay where no one seems to mind if you wear no shoes or shirt in their restaurant. In fact, this restaurant only opened yesterday after a huge clean up from being inundated with sand and seaweed. Today we moved to Marsh Island on Great Abaco Island where the eye of Hurricane Sandy passed. Only 70 miles as the crow flies from Port Lucaya, they experienced 4 days of high winds as we did but their highest reading was 125 mph. As Sandy arrived on high tide, surge was a problem as saltwater washed over the roads and damaged a number of sailboats in the harbour. The vegetation is salt blasted and brown and everywhere is covered in sand and dust and quite unattractive at present. Many local shop owners have told us that Sandy was the worst hurricane experienced for many years as it lasted so long and came in on a high tide but at least the Bahamians are used to these events and are well prepared. All of the islands have been affected by Hurricane Sandy to some extent and some worse than others.
The forecast for the next 5 days is for 15-20 knots with seas rising to 10 feet so there will be no snorkeling for a while. Oh, and the sea temp has now dropped to 21 deg (70 deg F) probably due to the hurricane stirring up cold water. It's a bit on the frigid side for my liking even with a wet-suit and night time temperatures have already dropped to 17 deg C (62 deg F) so this also cools these shallow waters. It's so tempting to move a few hundred miles south to the Exhumas or even further to find warmth again.
As Marsh Harbor is depth deprived (shallow), Maynard wanted to know the exact draft of Vanish and after careful measuring, we know that with ½ tank full of fuel, we have 1.8 m of clearance. With low water depths of 1.9-2 m in the harbour, we have just enough to swing comfortably as we have never touched bottom and don't intend to. You can see why we needed to check this very precisely. This would not have been a good place to weather the hurricane as hurricanes have been known to either blow all the water out of harbors or bring in a surge and with these shallow depths, it was definitely not an option to come here. Most vessels actually went into canals or to other islands although some of them were still damaged. Again, we are very thankful we weathered it so well at Port Lucaya, Freeport, Grand Bahama.
7 November, 2012, Treasure Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
Treasure Cay is 17 miles north of Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco and is a 4 mile long crescent of soft white sand voted as one of the world's top beaches. The hurricane took a lot of sand away and replaced it with seaweed which is currently being raked by the locals and loaded into trucks to return it to its pristine beauty. The forecast today was for 10 - 15 knots of breeze but we have 30 knots. If only Maynard had bought that windsurfer he was thinking about on our trip out to the Cape Hatteras windsurfing shop a couple weeks ago. We are anchored in the lee of this NW wind but it's still whitecapping as you can see by the above picture.
5 November, 2012, Manjack Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
A lovely anchorage where we tried our first snorkel.
4 November, 2012, Manjack Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
There is an ancient Chinese myth about the red thread of fate. It says that the Gods have tied a red thread around every one of our ankles and have attached it to all of the people whose lives we are destined to touch. A few months ago when Maynard and I were sitting in the back of a taxi on our way to pick up my sister from the Rockland, Maine Airport on a cold wet day, I placed my handbag on the back seat and noticed someone had left a small 2" stuffed toy puffin on a keychain in the taxi. It was cute but old and dirty and I thought I could probably find a new one in one of the shops in Rockland. As we'd just returned on Vanish from a trip out to the remote craggy Matinicus Rock to see the nesting site of the puffins, I really wanted to find a puffin souvenir. Jude and I visited every tourist shop in Rockland and Bar Harbor trying to find the exact same puffin keychain but no one had seen anything like it so I put it in a drawer and forgot about it.
Maynard and I had never met Cubans before but our neighbours, 'A' and 'R' had been through many hurricanes in Havana and had spent 15 years working in a marina looking after all kinds of vessels. 'A' assured us that we would be fine and we both vowed to help each other if it was needed. In fact, later, he said it was the "best hurricane he'd ever been through". We helped them with a number of issues on the yacht which they weren't aware of so that the yacht would be as secure as possible and a good relationship had already begun. Last week after Hurricane Sandy had passed only 50 miles from us in the Bahamas, Vanish had a small get together with our marina friends. During the get together, they began telling us an amazing story.
For 7 years, these two friends had been saving their money in order to escape Cuba and all the hardships they'd endured. They'd sold everything; their cars, their computers, furniture and anything they could not take with them. They had a few clothes, some money, enormous bravery, a lot of trepidation and nothing else and they were about to embark on a plan to enter the US. This was it. They were now Cuban refugees. This was the culmination of 7 years of planning for the hope of a richer, hopeful, happy new life. What a wild and crazy idea. We couldn't believe our ears.
They were both very emotional about leaving their wives, children, homes, and friends to embark on such a journey as they didn't know if they would make it or see their families again. If ever we've met two people who deserved a better life, then these men were it. They are intelligent, hard-working, family orientated, caring individuals and these are the great qualities on which the US is founded. Maynard and I both felt a profound connection to the men as we both admire people who have dreams and are willing to take calculated risks to improve themselves. In 1995, President Clinton defined the immigration policy by expediting the naturalisation process. Over the years, many Cubans have made the long and dangerous ocean crossing by various methods in a desperate attempt to enter the US. Many lives have been lost over the years. We had no idea what their plan was going to be. If they were caught in the water (known as a "wet foot"), they would be immediately deported. However, if they made it to land (known as a "dry foot"), they would be allowed citizenship.
The owner of the yacht and his wife flew into Freeport a few days after the hurricane and we observed that neither of them knew anything about sailing, and I mean nothing. We didn't know what their intentions were as we didn't speak to them but we prayed they would look after these men. The owner was heavily intoxicated most of the time but apparently had a good heart and the intention of taking the men somewhere. The afternoon of their departure arrived and I beckoned 'A' to come aboard to say goodbye. I wanted to give him something special, perhaps a good luck charm to carry with him. I'd looked everywhere before laying my eyes on the puffin keychain. I didn't know why I wanted to give him this puffin keychain as it was the only one I had but it wasn't really mine anyway. I quickly Googled "puffin migration" and was astounded to see that it is still a mystery where they migrate to in winter. This was the tiny thread that linked our Cuban friends to us and the puffins. As the yacht pulled away from the dock, 'A' and 'R' both grabbed me and with tremendous emotion, said thank you and goodbye. The owner slurred,, "There's still love in the world" as he tried leaving the berth without turning on his engine and then turned the wrong way out of the marina before realising his mistake. A 180 deg u-turn ensued and pointing the yacht towards the channel entrance, 'A' pulled the puffin out of his pocket, clutched it as if it was a gold bar, thumped his heart with his fist and yelled, "I will keep this forever" and with huge smiles and tears they were gone.
Four anxious days passed with no word from the boys. Today, we heard they are now in Miami, Florida, USA after being granted permission to stay. This trip has been full of odd experiences and special encounters. It's not about the places we travel to; it's all about the people we meet. Certainly, puffin on a Cuban is good for the soul.
3 November, 2012, Little Grand Cay, Bahamas
A week has passed since Hurricane Sandy and if you've checked the webcam site on wunderground.com you'll see that we've now left Freeport, Grand Bahama. The wind has been too strong to venture out but we've covered nearly 150 miles in search of good snorkelling sites and picture perfect island getaways. The sea temperature has changed from 27.5 deg to a cool 22 deg, a wee bit disappointing as it's borderline cold for my liking and in a month's time we'll need head protection and wetsuits due to the cold water. The hurricane has salt burned all the leaves on the north side of all plants on these islands and the water is a milky colour in places making it difficult to do any watermaking.
All the cruising guides mention the shallow depths in the Bahamas and we can confirm that it's true as we've had a few heart pounding moments in depths of 2.1 metres (our keel is 1.9 metres) as we inch our way towards anchorages near cays and islands. Maynard's middle name should be "Shortcut" as we've taken some beauties in our lives both on land and on the water. He found one yesterday at the western end of Grand Bahama as we headed over to Great Sail Cay which shaved 20 miles off our 100 mile day ensuring we arrived before sunset although I probably have a few more grey hairs. Actually, it wasn't as bad as we thought but one needed to stay extremely vigilant in the winding 3 mile unmarked channel.
It seems that this hurricane and those of the past have changed the depths as again we had very shallow water today on our approach to Little Grand Cay which is the farthest northern island in the Bahamas. As it lies adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, the water clarity has improved somewhat but it is still very cool for swimming. We have only seen 2 vessels in 2 days of travelling and expected to see dozens. We are constantly amazed at how few yachts are on the water wherever we go. The above photo was taken at Double Breasted Cay which is near Little Grand Cay.
If we find that the Bahamas are just too cool for snorkelling or the anchorages too distant for our intended journey, we may have to make some drastic changes to our plans.
28 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
Last night we unwound with a Post Hurricane Survival Party on Vanish with Mike, Heidi, Nickol, 'A, 'R', Jake and Renae which we all badly needed. As friend Alison pointed out in a below Comment, you can see Vanish this week on a live webcam in Freeport at:
Maynard and I were still worried about the West End vessels so we hired a mini-bus to take us there as no regular buses travel on Sundays to the area. Luckily, Shari, a local lady also needed to get back to her house after the hurricane as she didn't know how it had survived so she hopped in as well and off we went. The road was badly damaged at Fishing Hole Road where a tiny strip of land divides the ocean to the north and south. Seaweed was piled up alongside the road and as high as 4 feet in the fences of some businesses and homes. We saw downed power lines draped across the road, shipping containers had floated into carparks, trees toppled and plants absolutely windblasted of their leaves. We were stopped by a small crowd and officials watching the Prime Minister touring a damaged house on the way out to the marina.
At the marina, we found our friends had survived although they had retreated to the resort for 3 days as there were 3 foot waves in the marina and 90 mph (75 knot) winds. The yacht had a particularly hard time as they were being so pressed against the dock and with tremendous windage from their mast, they had a battle on their hands to save the yacht which they did. There was so much seaweed in the marina that at first, I thought it was soil. Waves were breaking against the docks and Tim and Sherry on their boat aptly named Seaweed said their boat was rocking gunnel to gunnel so this is why they went to the resort.
On the way back, our bus driver also drove past the Freeport Airport which is still closed and was under around 4 feet of saltwater. Some parked cars in the carpark were swept into the fence surrounding the airport. We also saw 4 or 5 small aircraft had been blown into a power pole and were all bundled together. Ai yi yi, were we lucky!
27 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
Listening to Freeport's local AM Radio Station 810 this morning, the news was that Freeport still has no power and no water. Eight Mile Road on the way out to Old Bar Marina at West End where we originally thought we might stay before the forecast called for N - NW winds, is completely awash with seawater so the resort and villagers are cut-off from the rest of Grand Bahama. The seawater flooding out there was apparently 4 feet high and we have no idea how the two vessels in the marina fared. The airport is closed as the domestic terminal was flooded. Many subdivisons are also still flooded and when they say flooded here, they mean from seawater, not rainwater, as we had little rain. 75 mph winds are still expected on Grand Bahama today but we are only experiencing around 40 knots at our berth. It was a wild night but we sustained no damage so Job 3 is done and dusted.
26 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
The sun has gone down and the power is out on Grand Bahama. Maynard and I just walked up to the bow and we could barely stand in place as the wind gusts kept pushing us backwards. The rain hits so hard on our faces that it stings. The noise is relentless as we are in our second day and still have another night and morning until it passes as this thing is moving so slowly. The barometer is now at 993 mb and still dropping. The wind is well over 60 knots now during the gusts from the NW. The 10 storey high hotels are in darkness, except for their stairwells, and there is barely any light anywhere onshore. Maynard said that it was very important that we found a blow off berth from the NE and NW winds as this has kept Vanish from being rolled and pushed against pilings. Outside we can hear things banging around and the light posts on the dock are swaying wildly. We have another 14 hours of these conditions. The above photo shows a 50 kn wind barb over our position which means gusts to 65 kn. Right now, it is probably the worst that we've seen in this hurricane but we still feel we are ok. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.
26 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
Maynard and I threw caution to the wind and ran across the road to the hotel which has beach access. Our attempt for wave action pictures was foiled by a big Bahamanian security guard as he didn't wish to be responsible for us being endangered with flying palm leaves and the possibility of falling trees. We were only away for 20 minutes but in that time, the wind had risen considerably and it was actually difficult to step back onto Vanish as it was being pushed away from the dock so much. Almost as soon as we hit the send button on my last post, the power and internet went out again so who knows when we'll get it back this time. The hurricane is now about 60 miles to our ENE but we're still getting rain with gusts in excess of 50 knots.
26 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
At 2 am Freeport lost power so the surrounding hotels and buildings were completely dark except for emergency lighting powered by their own generators. We now have no power at the marina and no marina internet although our satellite tv is working like a dream so we can still source information from it and cell internet. Of course we still have our own power and water on Vanish so we are very comfortable. Currently, Hurricane Sandy is only 65 miles east of our location at Marsh Harbour with 50 mph gusts occurring within a 300 mile radius of its centre. Its central pressure is 978 mb and has slowed to a speed of 6 mph. At 10 am this morning, the wind suddenly rose from gusts of 35 kn with lulls to gusts of over 50 kn. At West End, they are experiencing 45 knots with gusts over 60 knots. Here, the water is being lifted off the surface in the marina as it races towards us and is backing to the NW. We've had very little rain in the last 24 hours. We have wind waves but little storm surge and hope it stays this way.
Both Maynard and I have been through many storms in the past, the worst being at our house perched on a hill the locals nicknamed Hurricane Hill overlooking Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia in 1987. During a particularly bad storm front, we experienced winds of 70 - 80 knots and this was the right speed for our large heavy roof tiles to start flying skywards and pierce our front lawn. I only mention this because the sound, the force and the feel of the wind and weather has ensured great respect over the years. We've also been on a yacht in another heavy storm in Refuge Cove, Victoria, Australia in 1991 in winds in excess of 60 knots and of course Maynard skippered Cruz Control in the 2000 Sydney - Hobart Yacht Race which encountered winds of 60 knots in Bass Strait. These and many other severe weather events we've been through certainly help in the preparation for our current situation. We chose the only blow off berth in the Port Lucaya Marina that Vanish could fit into and she has not even touched a fender nor sustained any damage.
Cloud 9, Cuban 'A' and Vanish are all doing well although all of us are on high alert and feeling a tad sleepy. The whole area is deserted but we will try to walk over to the beach shortly to see what's happening and send more pictures if possible. It is a relief to be tied up in the marina and not battling the seas or on anchor watch. We do hope everyone fairs well in this event.
Ps Marina Internet and power just came back on. Woo-hoo.
25 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
This hurricane is now being called Frankenstorm as it is going to hit the US during Halloween and on the 21st anniversary date of the Perfect Storm. We can't think about that right now as we have our own personal Frankenstorm heading our way in 24 hours time. Maynard and Jake spent today looking over our neighbour's boats to see if they needed help. Alex, our Cuban yacht skipper next door needed help in lowering his jib and packing it safely for the storm. Mike and Heidi from Cloud 9, the 109 foot motor vessel also needed help retying their lines, removing the battery from their dinghy floating behind them, and advising them what to expect as this is their first trip on their vessel and their Captain has left them to it and gone back to the US.
We've been checking the wind speeds out at the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End and have seen winds as high as 35 knots today while we've only experienced winds to around 17 knots during rain squalls this afternoon. The barometer has been dropping at a rate of 1 mb per hour this afternoon and has gone from 1014 mb to 1010 mb in the last 4 hours. The centre of Hurricane Sandy is currently 963 mb with sustained winds of 105 mph and wind gusts to 125 mph moving north at 19 mph. It looks like it is going to make a left hand turn over the top of Grand Bahama coming a bit closer to us before heading north again with a storm the hurricane specialists have never seen before as it heads towards New York after passing us. This is as bad as the Perfect Storm except worse as this one will come ashore on the US coastline. We actually feel fortunate that we are nowhere between Wilmington, South Carolina north to the northern part of Maine. We still have 36 hours of bad weather ahead of us. Worryingly, high tide was much higher on the dock than we expected to see and we are starting to feel slight storm surge. We'll be on tide watch during the night to check lines.
25 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
I'll give you the bad news first. Hurricane Sandy is still coming towards us here in Freeport, Bahamas with 105 mph wind and a centre of 967 mb, a Category 2 hurricane. The good news is that we have checked all our sources and also our friend Kingsley in Australia emailed us the above GFS forecast wind model which shows the expected location of Hurricane Sandy tomorrow (Friday) at 0500. It's expected to pass 80 miles east of us instead of passing overhead so we are feeling slightly better at this stage. This should also spare the people at the West End Marina. When we left Charleston, South Carolina last Friday morning, Maynard saw that the upper jet stream was dipping low into the Gulf Stream bringing cold weather lower into the US. We felt that this jet stream should protect the northern Bahamas. Combining this with the awful beaurocratic hassels, we decided to come to the Bahamas. Hurricane Sandy is way too close, but hope the powerful jet stream will keep pushing it away. If you want to see our location, type in Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas and it should zoom into the area. If you zoom out and have clicked the Weather overlay, you will see where the hurricane is located. (Of course, if you are reading this a year from now, you've missed all the action.)
We have grey skies, 9 knots of wind in the marina but 25 knots outside and occasional drizzle this morning. The dock boys are double tying all boats in the marina, removing potential projectiles and nailing down the colourful jetty picnic tables.
For those of you watching us, here is the verbatim forecast for waters immediately offshore of our position and Florida. It shows the danger of a strong northerly wind blowing against a north flowing Gulf Stream:
Friday Night - Tropical storm conditions expected. NW winds 31 - 38 kn with gusts to 55 kn. Along the coast, seas 17 - 21 ft. Occasional seas to 24 ft. Subsiding later to 14 - 17 ft. Occasional seas up to 20 ft. In the Gulf Stream, seas over 20 ft, up to 37 ft. Dominant period 7 seconds. (DON'T GO THERE - I wrote that.....not NOAA).
In Australia, we say that if something is built strongly, it's built "like a brick dunny" (a dunny is a public or private restroom). Hey, guess what I found....a dunny and it IS built like a brick dunny....a perfect hideout for scared Captain's wives.....
24 October, 2012, Port Lucaya Marina, Freeport, Bahamas
Yesterday we did some late reconnaissance work by taking the local bus 22 miles into town specifically to look at the Port Lucaya Marina in Freeport, Bahamas. When we saw it we both felt that it provided a lot more wind protection and inundation protection but we might be subject to flying debris. This morning when we checked the weather reports, we saw that the Hurricane had intensified and the winds were also swinging around to the NW, directly across and against the Gulf Stream. This would make West End Marina more vulnerable to surge as the sea wall was only 3 feet high at high tide and the reef did not protect us from this direction. We had been reluctant to leave our berth as it was risky in the 20+ knot winds and tight manoeuvring. However, we felt we had no choice but to depart immediately. A sport fishing boat decided to attempt to cross back to Florida today and we pray they will be ok. The two other vessels are still in the marina tonight. I am really worried about them; one small boat with the lovely couple and two dogs and the 70ft yacht tied up behind us.
Our 27 mile trip against the current and ENE 25 knot wind was wet and wild but still very comfortable. As low tide at Port Lucaya was at 10.30am with 6 feet of clearance across the bar, given the seas we waited until 2 hours after low tide to cross. This alone was a hairy event as we crabbed across yet another narrow entrance into the Port. Once inside the small breakwater, the wind decreased to around 10 knots so we slowly backed into our berth, tied up with the help of the dockmaster and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Job 1 done. The boat is now tied up with a spiderweb of lines, all fenders are in place, every cushion has been removed, all covers are double tied with extra line, chairs taken inside. We have 12 dock lines of 1" nylon 100,000 lb breaking strength tied to 12 different posts which we've been assured are deeply penetrated into the sea bed but the idea is to distribute the load across as much area as possible. Job 2 done.
One thing Chattybird is good at is finding out information. We've now been told by a number of well informed locals that West End Marina has had a LOT of flooding in the past from these storms...no, not from rain, from the SEA which just washes over the beach and the land. We noticed a huge number of dead trees near West End and now realise why. And it gets waves. "Dem boats, day get mashed up down dare mon." I asked many people how well Port Lucaya fares in these storms and mostly they all say, "Just wind 'n rain mon...maybe few puddles." Ok, I don't believe it but I guess we're about to witness it for ourselves.
Once the salt was washed off the boat, Jake and Renae rushed out to Solomons grocery store for last minute supplies along with half of the Bahamas with the same idea. We have tried our best to do everything possible to keep ourselves and Vanish safe. This takes flexibility, research and experience but who knows if we'll get this right. We hope so. The winds are forecast to be 85 mph with higher gusts to 100 mph and 4 - 7 foot sea surge but we are hoping we get some protection where we are. We'll see. This is a nightmare scenario for us, one we have avoided our entire sailing careers. The airport will be closed at 7am tomorrow morning. By lunchtime tomorrow, the wind will be getting bad. I will try to keep you informed but if we lose the internet, you won't hear from us for a while. Chances are that if it gets too bad, I'm dragging Maynard, Jake and Renae off to the fortified hotel across the road where we'll play Scrabble and listen to soothing music.
23 October, 2012, West End, Grand Bahama
We decided to call Customs in the USA this morning to once again check to see if they would allow us to return to the USA in light of the approaching Hurricane Sandy as it seemed a good option to escape the centre of the storm. We were told that as we had cleared into the Bahamas, the rules state that Maynard and I cannot re-enter the USA on the visa waiver programme on a pleasure craft. We would need to either enter on a commercial vessel or fly into the USA where our passports would be stamped with a new visa, fly back to the Bahamas, then take Vanish back to the USA to a safer port. By this time, crossing the Gulf Stream would be extremely dangerous so Customs have effectively closed the door on our re-entry. As far as we know, the USA and a handful of countries in the world are the only countries where we cannot clear in on our own vessel.
Frustrated and feeling backed into a corner, we decided to look for other alternatives. There are none that we can see. We are in the path of a hurricane with a forecast of 70 mph winds. It will be on top of us within three days. There are a couple of things in our favour at this marina:
. The strongest wind will be coming from the NNE and we have 30 miles of very shallow reef to our north-east so the seas should not have any fetch,
. The entrance to the marina is very narrow so again we hope to have little wave action and the tides only have a 3 foot range,
.There are only 3 other vessels in the marina so we will not have to deal with flying debris from them and also the wind direction means any debris from the resort will not blow towards us,
.The resort is made up of several separate two storey brick buildings where we will take shelter if events become unsafe on the boat.
If you want to keep up to date with this hurricane, go to wunderground.com (Tropical Update) or weatherchannel.com. We will start our hurricane preparations for Vanish tomorrow.
I guess I'm going to get the chance to use my brand new wet weather gear after all.
22 October, 2012, Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, Grand Bahama
Invest 99L has now been named Tropical Storm Sandy. As you can see from the above model where we are located just east of Freeport, Grand Bahama, we are expecting winds of 50 knots. Not far from here 75 knots is predicted at Nassau. I don't know about you, but we've seldom seen a wind arrow of 75 knots before. As this is a northerly wind on a rapidly flowing north flowing Gulf Stream, tomorrow is probably the last day that we can safely leave the marina and cross to Florida before the seas turn truly dangerous. Of course, this ignores the problems of only having a couple of days left on our US visas, no Cruising Permit and the need to advise Customs 24 hours notice to enter the US. Trapped between a storm and beaurocracy. We will keep you posted.
21 October, 2012, Old Bahama Bay Marina, Westend, Grand Bahama
As you can see, the above photo of palm trees waving in the breeze is not Charleston, South Carolina. After being boarded and inspected by Customs and Border Protection, a different police vessel with the tried and true blue flashing lights circled us just before dark but left us alone. However, when the sun went down a helicopter from either the Coast Guard or Police Department made repeated swoops right on top of Vanish with searchlights trained down on us barely 150 metres above us. As there were no other vessels anchored in the harbour, we could not imagine why they were doing this. I tried to get a picture of this harassing behaviour but every time I ran out in my underwear, the spotlight lit up Vanish like a Christmas tree so I had to duck back inside before they took MY picture. We'd had enough. If USA citizens were searched at any time day or night for no probable cause in their own homes by officials with guns or treated with such suspicion for no reason, I don't think they'd like it very much. Given that Maynard was born in Topeka, Kansas and lived in the US for over 30 years, he finds it all very hard to swallow. It was time to leave the US and go somewhere inviting where we could relax and enjoy ourselves and as we had a perfect weather window to the Bahamas. We motored 440 miles along the US coastline, then cut across the hot Gulf Stream near Fort Pierce, Florida but not before we were once again hailed by a Coast Guard Cutter off Cape Canaveral as they wished to check us out. We were asked on the radio to maintain our course and speed while they must have checked their computer records and then left us again to find someone else to check.
We arrived in Westend, Grand Bahama today. We were at sea for two nights and just over two days and this time Maynard, Jake and I took three hour individual watches. This allowed Renae to sleep all night and stay fresh so she could keep the boat tidy and the rest of us well fed during the day, a huge bonus for all of us. This was the first time I'd done a watch on my own in charge of an 80 foot vessel at night so I certainly felt the weight of responsibility. Dodging lightning storms, fish havens and ships made for interesting watches. Jake said I was "very situationally aware" which I guess means that as an old broad, I still have my marbles allowing him to rest easy in his bunk on my watch!! We are so thankful to have these two wonderful hard working happy people with us.
We left Maine in the USA five weeks ago with 4,300 gallons of fuel on board. We have arrived in the Bahamas with 2,100 gallons of fuel remaining on board. Over those five weeks we consumed a total of 2,200 gallons of fuel. Almost all of this time was spent on anchor resulting in over 260 hours of genset use consuming approximately 450-500 gallons of fuel. This means that to cover the 1,600 miles between Maine and the Bahamas, the engines consumed a total of 1,625 gallons of fuel. Therefore our average was 1 nautical mile per gallon. Maynard is very happy with this given that the boat is fully loaded and that after we run each engine for 24 hours, we de-carbonise the engines by running them at 2,000 rpm for at least 15 minutes. At this high rpm and speed, we are consuming nearly 80 gallons an hour so to average 1 nautical mile per gallon moving at 8 - 9 knots with a full load in real world conditions is outstanding and proves once again that fuel is NOT the main expense in running this yacht.
Coming into the marina, Maynard spun the boat around in the small basin and realised we'd lost most of the power of our bow thruster. There was still a little bit of bow thruster left so he decided to attempt to dock Vanish which took longer than normal with a lot of cross throttle work in a 15 knot blow off wind and got to the dock without any damage or hassles or anyone helping us with lines onshore. On arrival, Renae leapt onto the dock, grabbed our bow line and tied us on just in time before we blew off as the bow thruster had completely stopped. Just what you don't need after 52 hours at sea. We've since found that the issue is with barnacle growth on both thrusters. Once Jake cleared the barnacles with a blade and screwdriver in the 30 degree crystal clear water, we now have our vroom back.
One hiccup though. A low named Invest 99L formed late yesterday just south of Cuba and is likely to become a tropical low in the next few days. It is expected to affect a very large area of the Caribbean and eastern Florida, and may even affect the USA coast as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina with flooding rains and high winds. Had we stayed in the US, we would still need to deal with where to go. The southern Caribbean may have up to 15 inches of rain and landslides and we may experience winds 30 - 50 knots and 5 - 10 inches of rain. Maynard is supposed to be flying to Los Angeles at the end of this week for an important meeting. With the forecast low coming in at the same time, he will need to make a very tough decision. The very last thing we want to deal with is a hurricane so we are watching this weather event extremely closely.
18 October, 2012, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
This time we were boarded by two officers in charge of a brand new Charleston Police vessel equipped with 2 x 300 hp motors who were acting for the US Customs Border and Protection. Unfortunately once again we were not allowed to take pictures of their sunny faces. As our Cruising Permit had expired, we brought out our new piece of legal paperwork, the Permit to Proceed Form obtained from the Port Director in our former port. The uniforms were different but all three Officers had guns and wore 10 Pound steel toed boots. Again we were interviewed, passports checked and everything was found to be in order. I must say that this is getting old, really old. We are looking forward to reaching the Bahamas where hopefully there will be a lot less paperwork. We would love to go ashore but this would mean another huge inconvenience clearing in, paying a fee, then clearing out again all the while keeping an eye on weather windows, and remembering that this can only be done Monday to Friday 8 am - 5 pm. No thanks.
15 October, 2012, North Carolina, USA
Before purchasing Vanish, Maynard spent a great deal of time researching a vessel to replace our Santa Cruz 52 yacht. He seriously considered one yacht back in 2010, the English built Southerly 57 as it had a swing keel, self tacking jib, large comfortable cockpit, a 4 foot draft, in-line mast furling system, aft master cabin, a full fridge and good functioning galley and many other enticing options. We were prepared to fly to England to look at Hull Number 2 and commit to the Hull 3 slot, but we vacillated and decided on a completely different concept by purchasing Vanish. Hull 3 was sold on the exact same day that we were granted our Cruising Permit for Vanish last year in October 2011. There are around 11,500 marinas in the U.S.A. and a few hundred marinas in the UK. In this particular marina, there is only space for four transient vessels where we are currently staying. Transient vessels are yachts or power boats that sail north or south along the Atlantic coast or on the Intercoastal Canal. They usually arrive after 3 pm and leave by 10 am the next day, surprisingly similar to the grey nomads or snow birds in caravans and RV's who seek warmth year round by following the sun. We took a peek at our latest neighbour who turned up yesterday morning and saw it was a vessel named Sarai, a Southerly 57. Maynard knew that only six have been built so far in the world and after a short discussion with John and Kath of New York, we were absolutely amazed to realise that this was indeed Hull 3 just five feet from us. What are the odds of that! Of course, this was a perfect opportunity to explore and discuss the finer points of each other's vessels. This chance meeting was one we could not have imagined ever occurring so we enjoyed their fine company in the evening over a lovely meal cooked by Kath and a number of bottles of red. It certainly is a small world.
13 October, 2012, North Carolina, USA
Remember how I explained in a previous blog that the USA Met start naming their hurricanes each season with the letter A? To date in 2012 we're now up to the letter R as we are currently watching tropical storms Patty and now Rafael in the Atlantic. Rafael is expected to turn into a hurricane in the next day or so and move north towards Bermuda. Because of this, we decided to spend time in North Carolina instead of heading straight to the Bahamas so we visited the Director at the Customs Department to ensure we followed their reporting requirements. The week has been very productive with Jake and Renae working diligently on boat maintenance and provisioning while Maynard and I decided to drive to Cape Hatteras, a 400 mile round trip drive. On the way, we spotted a sign saying "Watch Out For Bears" followed soon after by another sign reading "Red Wolves Crossing Next 15 Miles" so I was making a lame joke about how it would be terrific to get a picture of a red wolf boxing up a bear and Maynard's foot must have hit the accelerator laughing as he looked in the rear vision mirror to see a blue flashing light of a police car on our bumper. He looked down to see he was doing 80 mph in the 55 mph zone. Officer X (not his real name) asked to see his licence. Maynard apologized for speeding and told him we'd been talking about the bears and wolves. When he saw Maynard's licence he said, "Did you guys come all the way from Australia just to see North Carolina's Outer Banks?" We were feeling really bad by this time and said, "Well, yes". He said, "Well I'm gonna give you guys a break today. Just slow down, ok?" What a great country. God bless America! Sadly, I don't think this would ever happen in Oz but it sure left a big impression on us. We'll probably stay a while longer as TS Rafael will be directly east of our position by Tuesday night however, we don't think it will be any threat to us here.
7 October, 2012, Morehead City, North Carolina, USA
The yacht was still at an angle at 10 pm but the next morning it was gone so either Tow Boat US or the tide helped them off the beach thankfully. We left this delightful anchorage and headed into Morehead City, North Carolina to collect mail and attend to other shore based matters. When you've enjoyed peace and quiet for so long, it is a shock whenever we arrive in port, especially as we don't keep a good eye on public holidays or festivals. Turns out that this weekend is Columbus Day long weekend and 200,000 people will be visiting the Seafood Festival just up the road. The streets are at a standstill with blocked roads and traffic and the footpaths are packed with people heading to and from the carnival rides, food stalls and the multitude of vendors. What a sensory overload this is and to top it off, I just happened to meet the guys who were in charge of Saturday night's fireworks. They ignited a few hundred shells and oh how I wish I could have flicked the switch as they really put on a great show.
5 October, 2012, Barden Inlet, North Carolina, USA
You just had to take a peek at yesterday's dolphin picture didn't you? You're all too shy to put a comment on the blog but we had some pretty funny comments nonetheless. Sorry, but I don't have any more males showing off for you today.
The surf was up on the ocean side of Barden Inlet today so Maynard and I went body surfing in the North Atlantic Ocean, something we've wanted to do for a long time. The only other excitement for the day was another beached vessel in the Inlet. The owners told us they were "cleaning the bottom" but it was perfectly clean when we sauntered past in our kayaks so perhaps a little faux pas had occurred. Tow Boat US with flashing red lights went over to assist them but must have realised they were too far gone to risk pulling it back out into deeper water. They will be waiting until well after dark to be floating again although this tide is lower than the previous high tide. A speed boat buzzed us yesterday waving madly and went hooning around the anchorage. We were amused to see that the owner ran it up on the beach at full speed. He realised his oopsie, and revved the heck out of the engine in reverse to no avail. Tow Boat US came to the rescue after the owners sat in the cockpit for a couple of hours waiting for help. We don't have Tow Boat US or Sea Tow in Australia although we do have VMR (Voluntary Marine Rescue) and the Coast Guard but seriously, if you make a mistake, you're pretty much on your own there which means one needs to be more self-sufficient and conservative on the water.
4 October, 2012, Barden Inlet, North Carolina, USA
How can I put this? We have made the tough decision not to make a decision on our Departure Plan for now. In the meantime, we are enjoying kayaking, chatting to fellow sailors in the anchorage, swimming with turtles and dolphins and generally enjoying the great outdoors. Except for one incident. Maynard, Renae, Jake and I all went kayaking today. However, I was the dubious lucky one to have been flashed by a male dolphin swimming next to his mate and calf, see Photo Gallery if you dare. The little family swam straight towards me as they must have noticed my camera and in a split second, he turned over and said g'day North Carolina style.
3 October, 2012, Near Beaufort, North Carolina, USA
How can you ignore a sunset like this. I hope you aren't getting tired of these pictures. The weather has abated and we are working on a Departure Plan, actually a few plans if you really want to know.
2 October, 2012, Cape Lookout, North Carolina, USA
Last night we saw the beautiful sight of the full moon rising next to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse as we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet over a glass of red. We could hear turtles and dolphins breathing next to us in the darkness and we could also see fish darting around the yacht as they were attracted by our underwater lights. A 2-1/2 foot long flat fish which we suspect was some type of garfish leaped onto our swim platform and performed a two minute dance before deciding not to stay for a photograph. As expected, the weather turned nasty with numerous storms today, 25 - 30 knot winds and heavy rain but our anchorage is perfectly protected so we caught up on a few boat jobs on Vanish.
1 October, 2012, Barden Inlet, North Carolina, USA
We have turned off our AIS as we are currently anchored in Barden Inlet near the 163 ft. Cape Lookout Lighthouse situated on the southern outer banks of North Carolina, USA just north of Beaufort Waiting on Weather (WoW). This is one of very few lighthouses that operate during the day and is the only structure in the USA to bear the checkered daymark. The side points of the black diamonds point North South, while the side points of the white diamonds point East West. We are sharing this anchorage with only one small yacht. It is almost an enclosed inlet well protected from all wind directions and is around a mile long and 1/3 mile across. It is also blessed with long sandy beaches and grass covered dunes. When the weather is favourable again, we'll continue our journey south.
30 September, 2012, 60 Miles North of Cape Hatteras, Virginia, USA
AIS may not show our positon but this is where we are.
29 September, 2012, At Sea
We are at sea but if you would like to check our position over the next few days, go to marinetraffic.com/ais then enter Vanish in the Search area, Click on Vanish (Pleasure Craft), then on the Vanish Profile page go to Last Position Received and click on the Latitude/Longitude and it should take you to our current position showing speed and direction.
28 September, 2012, Hudson River, New York, USA
After yesterday's events, all four of us did not sleep well last night. On reflection, it would have been so much friendlier and relaxing if the Coast Guard Officers had left their guns behind and worn flip flops instead of their heavy steel toed boots on our yacht. Also, if any Coast Guard, Police Department or Customs Officers wanted to check us, all they needed to do was make a phone call to Customs for information as we are required to report in on almost a daily basis. Instead, we were automatically assumed to be a risk of something yet to be determined. For sure, 9/11 changed the way the entire world approaches security and without doubt, countries such as the USA have done a good job of preventing any other acts such as 9/11 but it comes at a real price and you can see the effects of the Patriots Act everywhere and as foreigners, it makes it particularly difficult to do even simple things such as purchasing a phone or conducting banking transactions. Hopefully in due course, a good balance between security and personal freedom can be found. It is interesting to note that we have received much support for the stress we endured yesterday yet people seem reluctant to make comment on the blog for fear it may cause further trouble.
As it turns out, we have another ticklish problem. We were thinking we were going to renew our annual Cruising Permit which expires mid-October as we were told by various Customs Officers along the way that this was an easy procedure. Today, we found out that we need to leave the USA before an exact day in mid-October. Failure to do so will result in a fee and confiscation of our boat registration papers. They will give our papers back on the day we depart the USA but we are not allowed to move until we clear out of the country. Bureacracy. Don't you just love it? Has anyone noticed that it's still hurricane season?
Going back to Canada is not an option as it's just too late in the season and we couldn't renew the permit when we were there because the law states that we have to wait until it expires before re-applying. It's a real Catch-22. Unfortunately, our Cruising Permit was originally arranged by Marlow Yachts October 2011 but since the boat was not completed and cleared to us until June 2012, we lost 8 months of precious cruising time in the USA. This is now causing us to consider when and how to travel to the Caribbean in hurricane season as there are apparently no extensions allowed for a foreign built vessel crewed by foreigners, registered in a foreign country.
The weather was a little dodgy for moving south, so the Captain decided to take his friend Charlie's advice and see the Hudson River Highlands. Instead of turning left at the Statue of Liberty, we turned right and headed up river. We anchored overnight near a town called Nyack, New Jersey then headed off north again before passing the famous Sing Sing Prison built in 1824-26 which holds 2,000 maximum security prisoners. We went 40 miles north up the Hudson River with grey misty rain hanging heavily over 1,400 foot high mountains. The river narrowed from three miles to less than 800 yards throughout the 15 miles long gorge between Dunderberg Mountain and Cornwall-on-Hudson. As we motored north we passed under the Bear Mountain Bridge before passing the famous U.S. Military Academy West Point which Maynard and I visited 30 years ago. We went as far as Bannerman's Island which is a castle ruin built in 1901 by an eccentric Scotsman. Frank Bannerman VI purchased the island as a place to store his ammunition as he was a munitions dealer at the turn of the century. Again, we saw very few vessels. In fact, we only saw three transiting the river even though it is one of the prettiest places this side of Maine on the U.S. coast. Fortunately the current weather looks fairly benign in the North Atlantic so we may take a chance. I wonder when we will get a good night's sleep again?
27 September, 2012, New York, New York, USA
We were all looking forward to seeing New York City today so we left Long Island at a respectable time after calculating the tide to be 1 knot through the Hells Gate area which is at the junction of the three rivers, the Harlem, East and Hudson Rivers surrounding New York. Sauntering along the East River taking pictures and being innocent tourists, we saw that the tide wasn't one knot, it was now a whopping 5 knots with us with rapids and whirlpools at Hells Gate. We looked at our instruments and with one engine on idle, we were doing a speed of 9.5 knots speed over ground. We were flying along and trying to keep the boat under control while staying out of the way of ferries crossing. We suddenly saw New York Police Department boats with flashing blue lights ahead patrolling the water near the United Nations Building. Oh geez Louise, what now!
The radio crackles and we strain to hear what they are saying and through heavy static we hear the word Vanish so yes, someone wants to talk to us and talk to us NOW. At the same time, a bilge light in the engine room lights up. Crikey. How typical and what good timing. Within a minute, we have a Coast Guard vessel alongside with four gun toting Officers boarding our vessel. This looks a bit serious. Jake had to help the Officers on board while Maynard kept Vanish at a reasonable speed so the Coast Guard could match our speed and transfer their men to our aft deck. Jake then quickly ran down to the engine room (followed closely by two of the Officers) to check the bilge. I escorted the other two Officers up to the bridge to meet Maynard. It didn't look like they were here for just a cup of tea.
We were inspected and interviewed and phone calls made to Customs to verify our identities from our Drivers Licences, where we'd come from and where we were going, and all documents noted and recorded. Just read the blog boys! We learned that President Obama had been in town for a day or two earlier in the week and the General Assembly of the United Nations were meeting for the rest of the week so security was on high alert. We just happened to be passing through at an inopportune time. In fact, Jake had telephoned VTS before we arrived at Hells Gate and was advised that we needed to go under a 40 foot high bridge on the east channel of the East River as the west channel was blocked due to a meeting at the United Nations. We had no idea that we'd be targeted in such a way but since 9/11, the authorities are extremely edgy and our foreign flagged vessel seems to draw way too much attention in the USA. It gets old after a while. After over an hour of motoring up and down the East River being interrogated and being shadowed by the Coast Guard vessel with more blue lights flashing while all the above took place, we were finally given a tick of approval which I duly photographed for posterity. Drinking and driving is against the law, otherwise I think we would all have been plastered by the time we got to the Statue of Liberty.
25 September, 2012, Huntington Harbour, Long Island, New York, USA
New York is now about 50 miles west of our current location at Lloyds Harbor near the town of Huntington on Long Island. It has been an excellent stop for us as we were able to provision Vanish with enough food and alcohol to last a long time although we seem to have ravenous appetites (and thirst) out here on the water. Huntington Harbor is a 2 mile long channel full of moorings and small marinas and probably holds around 1,200 boats of all shapes and sizes. I was shocked to learn from the guys at the Compass Rose Marine store that all of these boats are pulled out of the water and "winterized" (eg. covered in plastic, see Photo Gallery) and taken home or put on the hardstand as this entire harbour freezes over. In fact, they told me you can actually walk across the harbour in winter. How weird is that. As today is sunny and 22 deg c (72 deg f), it is hard to imagine that conditions here will soon be so different. We seem to be on schedule for moving south as we were told that mid-October is when boats head south for the winter.
We also needed some repair work done on a seat cover which was kindly taken care of by Steve and Mary of The Canvas Store on Mill Dam Road in Huntington. Their 10 year old "guard dog" Pierre tried to fend off the Australian contingent but was completely unsuccessful. Mary, an off Broadway playwright, told me that she had recently found a wax sealed bottle on a nearby beach containing a message, a penny and a button written a month ago by a 12 year old boy from New Jersey. The boy was thrilled to know that someone had found his bottle so Mary and Steve wrote their own message and placed it and the boy's message into another bottle, took it offshore and tossed it into the deep blue sea. If only it had an AIS transmitter attached, we could all watch its progress! Keep your eyes peeled, you never know, you might be the one to find it.
23 September, 2012, Block Island, Rhode Island, USA
The above Navionics chart is a screen shot taken on my e-Pad of our position in the anchorage on Block Island, Rhode Island known as The Salt Pond. The red arrow shows our exact position. The Salt Pond is an almost entirely enclosed anchorage and is very popular with New England sailors. We've heard that this anchorage can have as many as 2,000 boats anchored here on 4th July which would be a challenge, especially if there was any interesting weather coming through. We walked into town for dinner and could imagine that Block Island must be a huge tourist attraction in the height of summer.
I may have mentioned earlier that both Maynard and I have downloaded the $50 Navionics USA and Canada Chart programme onto each of our e-Pads as a backup of the instruments on Vanish. We are able to each study the charts and decide where best to anchor for the night depending on the weather or what scenic route to take. It is a brilliant and cheap way to carry charts and includes tide information, photographs of anchorages, port information, comments by other subscribers and much more information. We'll download the Navionics Australia and New Zealand charts once we get closer to home.
On Tuesday the 25th September is the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere where we have an equal 12 hours of night and day. The Spring Equinox at home in Byron Bay, Australia occurred on the 20th. (I always thought the equinox occurred on the 22nd/23rd.) My new handy dandy App called Sundroid Free told me that since arriving in Maine in early July, we have lost 3 hours 26 minutes of daylight up until the time we left which makes a big impact on planning routes to arrive before sunset in order to see the lobster buoys.
Since leaving Portland, Maine 4 days ago, we've travelled almost 300 miles, staying at Hull near Boston on the first night and clicking over 3,000 miles since leaving Florida. We traversed the Cape Cod Canal the following day and had to slow down in the canal as the railway bridge was lowered to allow a train to cross over. The Canal saves around 140 miles of sea time so it is a great bonus for most vessels. Soon after leaving the canal we were hailed by a police boat that was shadowing a desperate small fishing runabout taking on water. He kindly advised us to be aware of their erratic behaviour in front of us. I took some "Award Winning Shots" over the past couple of days on my brand new Canon SLR which Maynard bought for me last week in Portland only to realise that I'd left the SD Card in my computer! After uncurling myself from a thumb-sucking foetal position and being castigated for not reading past the first 30 pages of Basic Operation in the Owners Manual, I immediately ordered the book Canon EOS Rebel for Extreme Aussie Dummies from Amazon. In the meantime, I promise to read the remaining 200 pages of the Owners Manual so I don't make that mistake again. Luckily we uncovered formerly hidden artistic talents in our new crew who have kindly provided us the interpretations of my shots in the Photo Gallery.
I'd better work this camera out FAST!!!! If I find any photos, I'll add them to the Photo Gallery later as right now we have 30 knots of wind in the Long Island Sound and we're bouncing around a bit due to wind against current.
Our plan is to keep moving south to beat the onset of winter whilst not moving so far south that we find ourselves facing an October hurricane. It's a cat and mouse game.
22 September, 2012, Boston and Cp Cod Canal, USA
Our lovely crew have helped out in providing you with their best interpretations of the famous Boston Lighthouse and our Cape Cod Canal crossing when Vicki's camera skills failed her.
20 September, 2012, Maine, USA
It's a sad day as we have left Maine today and are currently on our way to Boston. 6 foot seas, 12 knots from the NE and clear skies. This morning the temperature was 7 deg C with a frost warning inland. We've lost several hours of daylight now since we arrived in Maine in early July so unfortunately all the signs are there for us to head south. We loved the people here most of all and must say that Maine has the best summer cruising grounds we've experienced so far in 20 years of yachting. We hope to come back some day.
(Aussie Slang: Toodle-oo = Bye bye, see ya later, catch you, hoo-roo et al).
19 September, 2012, Quahog Bay, Maine, USA
The forecast was upgraded late in the afternoon to 45 + knots. It has been a long time since we've seen this amount of wind in a forecast. During the night, both Maynard and Jake checked the boat and our position as we had some heavy gusts but for the most part, it seemed that we missed most of the action. Whilst we had 40 knot gusts, there was no 40 knot fog or lightning BUT I did see something I've never seen before when I crept outside to also check our position. (Doesn't hurt to check the checkers!) Small 1 ft wavelets were breaking around Vanish in the anchorage but the tops of all the waves were shimmering with white phosphorescence. I could hardly believe my eyes. It looked like someone had scattered glitter on the water. We've seen spectacular blue phosphorescence when sailing across the Pacific Ocean and even seen blue waves breaking on the beach at Surfers Paradise, Australia one night years ago during a spectacular event, but I have never seen white phosphorescence and didn't think it would occur in these latitudes in this sea temperature with that colour. Phosphorescence is heatless light generated chemically by marine life and plants and we'd noticed it in the water the previous night when Jake splashed his hand in the water in the dark. As it was blowing a dog off a chain and raining last night, I couldn't think how to take a photo, but it's now a goal to capture this on film.
18 September, 2012, Quahog Bay, Maine, USA
Well here is something we haven't seen before. The forecast for tonight is south winds 20-30 knots with gusts to 40 knots, seas building 8 to 11 feet, occasional showers and areas of fog with variable visibility to less than a ¼ nautical mile. Is it possible to have wet, gusty, foggy 40 knot winds? Who knew? For some reason, I thought fog only occurred in 5 knot winds but maybe this only happens in the mild climate of Brisbane, Australia. We have had a lot of firsts in Maine with regards to weather and yesterday on sunrise, we had sea smoke rising from the water and this occurs when cold air passes over warm water.
We're in the most protected anchorage we could find and have put out more anchor chain and secured kayaks, dinghies, cushions, and anything else we don't want to lose overboard. Of course, as with the last cold front, this one will arrive at the terribly uncivilized hour of midnight. As the guys were checking our anchor, a flock of Canadian Geese flew directly overhead honking loudly. They must be pretty smart birds. We were supposed to be in Boston by today but decided it was best to let Jake and Renae familiarize themselves with all systems on board and to clean and sort the entire vessel from top to bottom. It has never looked better and we are happy campers once again. It's a good thing we did not go south as Boston's forecast is worse with a storm warning and 50 + knots of wind. With our trusty twittering anchor alarm all set, maybe we'll sleep right through it as long as nothing untoward occurs. Now that would be nice.
16 September, 2012, Snow Island, Quahog Island, Maine, USA
Our friendly Harbor Master Kevin Battle came back to visit us while we were at Portland this week. He turned on his flashing blue light again for my amusement and photo opportunity and advised us to keep deck lights on at night in case other boaties didn't realise we were anchored. We also spent a couple of days at a marina where friendly Customs Officer Clement dropped by to make sure we were following all the necessary rules and regulations associated with our cruising permit as we are required to phone them to advise the location of our anchorages whenever we move.
We mentioned a couple of weeks ago our need to replace our South African crew which occurred on Friday. Our new crew, Jake and Renae, are Australian and Canadian respectively. They are very bright, enthusiastic and competent individuals and we will really enjoy having them with us. Undoubtedly their help will be invaluable in the months ahead. Last night was our first night on anchor with Jake and Renae at Snow Island in Quahog Bay on a dark starry clear quiet night. We could hardly believe our eyes when the residents on Snow Island put on a private fireworks show immediately in front of Vanish only 100 meters away with some of the best fireworks we've seen since New York. They must have known we were coming. It only lasted five minutes but it was fabulous and we honked Vanish's extremely loud horn in thanks. Next thing, they started up again with more fireworks and then other yachtsmen started blasting their horns as well. Suddenly, the whole tiny anchorage which consisted of about seven vessels nestled amongst itty bitty islands became a family united in the joy of fireworks with cheering and laughter. It was so unexpected and we felt privileged to stumble into another unique experience such as this.
Oh Maine, how we'll miss it. The pace of life here is easy and relaxed and as a dog owner who misses my pet terribly, the one aspect I love in particular is that dogs are a huge part of everyday life here. At the hairdresser in Portland, I sat with the stylist's dog on my lap while my hair was being coiffed and fluffed. When we ate lunch in Rockland, the lady next to us had her dog on a lead under the table inside the restaurant. Many stores have water bowls on the footpath outside their stores and dogs are allowed inside all the shops. Dogs are on most people's boats and are social and integrated into everyday life. They are allowed in National Parks although some Parks ask that they be kept on leashes. This is my kind of place. This is not the case back home in Australia where dogs are terribly restricted. I'm getting close to 'borrowing' a dog for the rest of our trip as we miss our Bindi so much but I must stay strong. (Hope the Captain doesn't read this blog!).
BTW, Hurricane Nadine is heading east, away from the US Coast and no threat.
13 September, 2012, Portland, USA
In 1979, meteorologists for the Atlantic Ocean began using men's names for hurricanes. A list of 21 names, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet was developed and arranged in alphabetical order. The first tropical storm of the year was given the letter 'A' and so on. During even-numbered years, men's names were given to the odd-numbered storms and during odd-numbered years, women's names were given to odd-numbered storms. So far this year in the US, we have had 14 Tropical Storms/Hurricanes as we are now watching Hurricane Nadine in the Atlantic. In an average year, there are 11 tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes in the Atlantic. Maine has only had 6 hurricanes since 1869 with the last hurricane, Hurricane Gloria, a Category 1 hurricane occurring on 27th September, 1985. This is one of the main reasons we are still lollygagging around in Maine, trying to avoid the Atlantic hurricane activity while watching for Canadian geese flying south (yes they have started already) and watching the leaves turn colour (this is happening now as well).
My sister Jude's holiday ended on Thursday. For a mere $10, she took the bus to Boston, a 2 hr 15 min ride, toured Boston then caught the train for a whopping $2 to the airport and flew back home to Australia feeling refreshed and re-invigorated after a thorough look at Maine's lobster pot buoys, fog, lighthouses, Bar Harbor, Rockland and Portland shops, isolated islands, lobster boats of many kinds, meeting wonderful people and having an incredibly thorough inspection of every nook and cranny on Vanish. She loved driving Vanish and it was very hard to get her out of the Captain's chair!! We can't wait until we reach tropical waters as Jude has promised to come back and help us navigate the reefs.
As winter approaches, the weather systems up here are becoming more active and on Tuesday we have another cold front approaching with 30 + knot winds, 11 foot seas, and thunderstorms. I guess we have to expect it and it will all give us good practice for being in the trade winds further south and the higher winds we'll be expecting as we head to South America. We've gained a lot of storm experience on our yacht Cruz Control over many years, but Vanish is much bigger with more windage so we just need to learn her idiosyncrasies to gain the same level of comfort we have had with our previous vessel. We'll stay for a few more days before heading south after the front has passed as long as there is no late September activity heading our way.
12 September, 2012, Current Location Portland, Maine, USA
Maynard and I, surprisingly, are not the sort of people who need others around to keep us entertained so we tend to live our lives fairly quietly. However, it's hard not to share an adventure such as this with family and friends and people we meet along the way as most folks are unable to do what we are doing. One of the bonuses is that others who think they might want to try such a trip can Google a few words and bingo, they find themselves on our blog site. The Marlow Group have kept in contact with us on this adventure and recently asked us a few questions which they intend including in their upcoming newsletter to inspire other Marlow owners.
1. What has been your longest leg so far and what was the fuel used during this leg?
The longest leg so far was from Marathon in the Keys to Fort Monroe, Virginia. On that leg we measured a distance through the water of 856 miles. We maintained an average speed of 9.5 knots and we consumed approx 1100 gallons of fuel not including genset usage. We had Tropical Storm Debby 200 miles behind us and chasing us so we maintained a little higher speed than we would normally do. Remember, these figures were achieved with a very fully laden boat. We started this trip with nearly 4600 gallons of fuel on board and a year's worth of spares and four people and all of their gear. We have found that it is most efficient to travel at 8 knots with one engine with the vessel at 3/4 load, this consumes approx 8 gallons an hour. The second most efficient fuel configuration is to travel with two engines at 9 knots which consumes between 10-1/2 and 11 gallons per hour. It's also interesting to see what we have consumed to date. Thus far we have travelled 2500 miles and have consumed a total of 4000 gallons of fuel and have not stayed at any marinas and have generated all our own electricity and water. To do this we have run the gensets 350 hours each. I estimate they have been burning 1.6 gallons per hour thus consuming 1120 gallons. This means that the engines have consumed approximately 2880 gallons of fuel to travel the 2500 miles thus far whilst putting on 225 hours on each engine.
2. What will be your longest leg on the trip, how much fuel reserves will you expect to have at the end of that passage?
We expect the longest leg will be from South America to Tahiti an approximate distance of 3100 miles. We will be very careful with genset usage and would expect to arrive in Tahiti with approx 800 gallons in reserves.
3. What is your watch schedule, especially off shore at night? Could you do the trip without the crew? I am sure may readers would love to hear how you are doing this.
The watch schedule we had was 4 hours on, 4 hours off with Vicki as Watch Captain with Dirk and Maynard as Watch Captain with Julie. With passages of 1 or 2 days I don't see any problem without crew but with longer passages, it is just a lot more comfortable and safer to have crew. We preferred the longer watch at night of 4 hours which ensures that with 4 hours off, you get at least 3 hours of sleep. Everybody is different with this one, but this is what worked for us. It was also nice to have 2 people up on each watch which means you eat well during your watch and you have someone to chat to keeping everyone more alert.
4. Do you feel you have adequate stabilization? What has worked best /worst?
Thus far we have not encountered big seas but in 6 - 8 foot seas, the Naiad stabilisers work very well, even at speeds of around 9 knots. I think Dave has sized the stabilisers very correctly for our vessel. With the Naiads, we do not feel we need any other stabilisation while under way. While at anchor, we have two large flopper stoppers which were designed by ocean stabilisers in Australia. We deploy one on each side using our twin davits and they are remarkably effective. We stayed 3 days in the Hudson River next to Ellis Island (New York City) so that we were in the perfect position to watch the fireworks show. Other boats tried to stay there but were unable to do so because of the exceptionally rolly conditions. Having twin davits makes these cumbersome flopper stoppers very easy to deploy and retrieve.
5. How has the hydrogen system worked? Have you compiled any data on the benefits / gains?
Yes, Sealand installed a hydrogen system and unfortunately they were never able to get a measurable improvement from its use. We have since uninstalled it. We have just started using an additive called Enerburn. This is a nano technology catalyst which greatly reduces carbon build up when diesels are run at low rpm and also reportedly improves fuel economy between 5 and 10 percent. I will report back on this as we proceed on our trip.
6. How has the Marlow handled all the conditions you have been dealt?
Probably the worst conditions were encountered the first night from Palmetto to Marathon. We had a really sharp 6 foot sea as we headed south into 25 + knots of wind. The boat was very comfortable and very stable. We've had beam seas in the 6 to 8 foot range but we could hardly feel any roll across the vessel. Vanish is exceptionally stable. We are very careful and conservative with our weather windows. Our worst weather by far has been on anchor near Washington DC at the mouth of the Potomoc River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay. We encountered a derecho storm with 60 + knots of wind. This storm resulted in the deaths of over 9 people in the Washington DC area. On Vanish we specified as our primary anchor a 185 lb forged steel genuine CQR with 75 meters of high strength G4 1/2" chain combined with an additional 30 meters of anchor rode. We had 70 meters of chain out when the storm came through. The severe winds lasted over 1/2 hour and came at us over multiple directions and we did not drag at all. Many boats broke their moorings and/or were overturned very near our position. No problems on Vanish to report.
7. How does the boat handle the blue water passages?
Thus far, Vicki and I have found the blue water passages to be extremely enjoyable. Because the vessel is so comfortable, we really enjoy chatting, planning, blogging, and seeing all the interesting things that go on at sea in real comfort.
8. Is there a story or any advice you would give another Marlow owner looking to take on as similar adventure / journey?
Perhaps we will certainly learn as we go but it is extremely important to carry plenty of chain and have a big anchor if you want to spend every night on your own hook. This also means good retrieval systems, snubbing systems and the like. We are very happy with the way the boat is set up and have been happy with the support Dave and his team have given to this project.
If you or Vicki would like to share any other thoughts or stories that you feel might be good, please let me know.
One element of our blog has been comparing our experiences on power versus sail and as you know, over the last 20 years we have been avid sailing enthusiasts. At this stage I think sailing yachts have a definite advantage in the ocean sailing in the trade wind routes as the wind is reliable, powerful and free. What prompted us to switch from sailing was that for the last 9 years, we have largely done coastal sailing up on the Australian Barrier Reef. With coastal sailing, the wind is often light, fickle, from the wrong direction, or too strong. Even on our current trip on Vanish, we have noticed how seldom people are truly sailing. There is a lot of motor sailing or must plain motoring going on for the majority of the time. I know even though we had a very easily driven and powerful yacht, we were still lucky to sail half the time on Cruz Control.
We have recently been in communication with our friends Peter and Carla who completed a sailing trip through south-east Asia, primarily in Indonesia. It is interesting to compare his statistics with ours on Vanish. On his 2500 mile trip, he motored 517 hours. He has a single motor. It is interesting to note that we put, over the same distance, 225 hours on each of our engines. Sailing is a great way to travel but you need a great deal of time especially if you are travelling around the coast and if you look at our planned trip of 17000 miles, the vast majority of it will be coastal up and down the coast of North America, down the coast of South America and finally across the Pacific Ocean to Australia.
9 September, 2012, Castine, Maine, USA
The storm had pretty much run out of steam by the time it reached us at 0020 (that's 20 past Midnight) as we only had a few gusts of wind and a couple of minutes of rain. The above picture shows you the same FLIR scene in the early morning light today.
8 September, 2012, Smith Cove, Castine, Maine, USA
Tonight it is dark and windy with low clouds scudding across the sky. The temperature is 19 deg C so it is quite warm considering it's 9 pm in Maine in early September. A cold front is racing across the US and stretches from New Orleans, Louisiana up to the southern part of Newfoundland, Canada. We're expecting it here within the next hour or two. The forecast is for 20 - 30 knots with damaging winds, hail and heavy rain. Our anchor is set on a scope of 9:1, the anchor alarm is set, and the boat is tidy.
A yacht named Blue Rose is anchored nearby so we thought we'd take a look at it on our FLIR infrared camera. This is truly amazing technology when you look at the photos of complete darkness with our digital camera compared to the vision we see on our navigation screen in the flybridge with the FLIR camera. We can even see the wind racing across the water. The white area behind the yacht is a hill with trees on it and you can also see the shoreline with a couple of small buildings. It certainly gives us peace of mind knowing what's out there.
Tropical Storm Leslie is no longer a consideration for us but we are always watchful of any weather in our vicinity
6 September, 2012, Pulpit Harbor, North Haven, Maine, USA
There are now a couple of hurricanes heading for the North Atlantic. This one is called Hurricane Leslie and will be a Category 2 hurricane by this afternoon. It is very large and slow moving and will give Bermuda a pounding. Although one computer model shows it heading for Maine most models show it harmlessly wandering around the North Atlantic. If you look at the above image, we are located approximately under the 'M' in the word 'MON'. The other weather system is called Hurricane Michael and has winds of 115 mph so we need to keep an eye on these two boys. The water in Maine is cold and hurricanes are extremely rare so there is not really too much to worry about. Today we are celebrating Maynard's birthday kayaking, eating, and hiking. This is the third birthday this week on Vanish so we are getting pretty good at how to have a good time.
5 September, 2012, Rockland, Maine, USA
We are currently anchored next to Steve Dashew's famous un-sailboat Wind Horse in Rockland, Maine, USA. It is a very distinctive design, workmanlike, very seaworthy and easily operated by two people. He is now selling quite a few of these designs which range in size from 64 feet to 115 feet. We have always enjoyed reading his very extensive books and website at www.setsail.com. Wind Horse has done over 60,000 miles in the last few years particularly concentrating on the Northern Latitudes. The blue hulled yacht in the background named Interlude is a Sundeer 72 and another of Dashew's design. It would appear that they are enjoying Maine just as much as we are.
3 September, 2012, Picture of Jamie & Julie Rea in the Daphne-Em at Trafton Island, Maine, USA
Hmmmm. This morning the air temperature was 13.4 degrees (approx. 55 degrees F). Do Canada Geese fly at night because we sure didn't see them. Yesterday, anchored at Trafton Island, Down East Maine, USA, we had the pleasure of a visit by Trafton Island's 95 year old owner Grandma Rea's son Jamie and his lovely wife Julie who invited us ashore to this wild and exotic island. We'd met their daughter Daphne and her family Adam, Lydia and Nicholas a couple of weeks ago on our return from Canada. Julie told us she had spotted a black bear carcass washed up on the beach so we're still hopeful we'll see one before we leave Maine. They've seen deer on their island and even saw a moose once as it must have swum across from the mainland or another nearby island.
The sunny skies quickly darkened after their tour of Vanish and rain set in for the afternoon followed by a brilliant sunset then thick fog this morning. In the fog we heard the familiar roar of "Almost There", a local lobsterman Dwayne Beale. We danced, jumped, whistled, and waved in order to attract his attention and before long, he zoomed over and sat at our stern ready to "do a deal" with us for lobsters. What a character. He works the boat by himself through to 1st November and will stop for the winter. He had a boiling barrel of water on his boat which he uses to dip the pot buoys into if they are being covered by too much weed. I thought it might have been a private still but he just smiled at me as if to say, "I wish!".
I've shown Jude my new dream home at Schooner Point on Mount Desert Island (see Gallery) and the town of Bar Harbor including every single tourist shop within a 10 mile radius (groan) and again went on Oli's Tourist bus to Cadillac Mountain where the driver noted how the foliage was beginning to turn colour. As she has never been on Vanish before, Jude has quickly become accustomed to being waited on hand and foot by me hahahah and all the comforts we enjoy ourselves. She has made mention several times of the amount of clever storage space she keeps finding and wonders why on earth normal homes can't be built to the same standard. Why indeed! Maybe David Marlow needs to stop building boats and buying boat companies and go into the housing industry. We're just idly dreaming David.
As you may have guessed, for a while now, we've been dealing with issues regarding crew on our yacht. Dirk and Julie had worked diligently in setting us up for a voyage to South America so when we arrived in Florida in May, it was the first time we'd met face to face. Both parties tried hard to learn each other's idiosyncrasies but unfortunately, we were not able to deal with their issues so they have been asked to leave mid-September and have decided to buy a bus and give themselves a break from the yachting industry. We thought long and hard about replacing them as Maynard and I can run the boat ourselves, but as I've mentioned previously, Maynard is still running a private oil company and works every day on this as well as keeping us on schedule with Vanish. We've been very fortunate in that we've found a new young Australian and Canadian crew Jake and Renae who will shortly join us and continue the adventure with us. They are full of youth and enthusiasm and great expertise which will allow Maynard to travel if need be and help maintain Vanish to the high standard we require and she deserves. It has been a stressful time for everyone involved. This was an unplanned turn of events but we are learning to roll with the punches as this IS a typical ridgy-didge Aussie adventure.
(Aussie Slang Translations: "Mob" - People; "Ridgy-Didge" - Authentic)
30 August, 2012, Richard Nixon Victory Salute for Jude's Arrival at Rockland, Maine, USA
Did you know there is a blue moon on Friday 31 August? A blue moon occurs when there are two full moons in a month and they occur on average once every 2 years. Back in 1999, there were two blue moons in one year and the next time this will occur will be in 2018. It also happens to coincide with my sister Jude's birthday so we are heading back up to Bar Harbor to find a suitable place to celebrate. After flying on 4 different aircraft, she arrived in the tiny Cape Air Cessna in IFR conditions after 27 hours of travel at the Knox Country Airport in Rockland glad to be back on land.
A number of megayachts, superyachts, windjammers and yachts of many sizes and nationalities had gathered in Rockland while we were there and all of a sudden disappeared over the horizon once a small cold front came through on Tuesday. We're starting to think they are heading south as they've either seen the geese flying south or know something we don't, while we are happy to head north again to show Jude the sights and sounds of Maine. Another experienced trawler type vessel named Spirit of Zopilote, who have a very interesting history which you can Google, are still enjoying Maine too but we've always made our own calls so we think we'll just need to don a few more layers of clothing and see what happens.
26 August, 2012, Picture taken at Horseshoe Cove, Maine, USA
A few great days were spent in Orcutt Harbor kayaking and exploring this fabulous quiet refuge while we were securely tied to David's mooring which he kindly allowed us to enjoy. There are only a few homes and cottages in the entire cove and virtually no boat traffic and only a handful of pots so it was a pleasure to be there. A few boat jobs were carried out such as painting the anchor chain at 10 metre intervals as our electronic chain counter has failed twice so we've reverted to the old fashioned method for now. Maynard also braved the 18 deg C water for an hour and cleaned the waterline. I kept him company in the kayak ....too cold for moi to help him this time.
We also set out in the AB dinghy ready to explore the harbour next to Orcutt called Horseshoe Cove. Unknown to us, the engine had no oil in it and when we were near the entrance to Horseshoe, the alarm was sounding so Maynard immediately switched it off. As luck would have it, we had no phone signal and no VHF although it wouldn't have worked either as we were out of sight of Vanish. The only thing left to do was to try to row this 150 kg, 14 foot dinghy back to Orcutt Harbor, not an easy task. Luckily the tide was with us and we made about ½ mile before Maynard could call Dirk to get him to bring some oil out to us. We learned a few things in this exercise; leave fuel and oil in the dinghy, take water (it was hot work) and take a VHF. We have always been extremely strict on safety in the past so I guess we needed a bit of a wake-up call as we've never had this happen to us in 20 years of running around in dinghies. We could have limped back to Vanish with the motor on but didn't want to risk ruining the engine.
On our second attempt we had no trouble reaching Horseshoe Cove which has a lovely fresh water stream at its head. At mid tide, the water comes rushing in or out of the narrow passage between granite banks. The current runs through a salt pond and two sets of reversing falls which reach around 5 or 6 knots whipping up white-water for any kayakers or crazy crew in dinghies. The Seal Cove Boatyard which specializes in rebuilding and restoring wooden boats is also situated in Horseshoe Cove but the route to the yard is very narrow and crooked and full of deadly rocks.
A new crew member is on the way. My sister from Australia is in the air as we speak and we really look forward to showing off our new cruising grounds to her.
(If you wish to say hi to us or make any other comments, we'd love to hear from anyone reading the blog. Just click Comments and feel free to say g'day at any time.)
22 August, 2012, Orcutt Harbor, Maine, USA
Vanish was originally built by David Marlow for David and his wife Barbara until we came along and convinced him we had big plans to go somewhere special with her......Vanish, not Barbara that is! They probably never thought we'd do it, but they said that if we were ever in Maine, we were welcome to use their private mooring. Ha! Well here we are! We won't tell anyone, but they're living in paradise up here, lucky things. We had no idea if they were at their bungalow when we arrived in the harbour or not, but apparently when Dave and Barbara arrived back home from a dinner last night, he peered out into the darkness and saw the silhouette of his beloved yacht against the backdrop of their local moonlit John B Mountain in HIS harbour on HIS mooring. A bitterly disappointed David was unable to see us this morning as he has a million projects going all at once and had to fly out of Maine so we'll just have to come back at another time......before the geese start flying south indicating the weather is about to turn ugly up here.
21 August, 2012, Photo is Yarmouth Light, Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia, Canada which we didn't see due to fog on our arrival.
When considering Vanish, we spent considerable time discussing and pondering the advantages and disadvantages of her rather large size. Our former yacht had essentially one deck, a beam of 14 feet and maybe 35 feet of living space in the overall 52 foot length. Vanish on the other hand is over 20 feet wide over much of its 76 feet length with three decks, all with spacious cabins and filled with all sorts of technology and wonderful time saving and safety devices. Her large size gives us a great deal more comfort at sea; comfort, quite frankly we've never experienced before, making passages something we both look forward to. The size allows us to have multiple systems such as two large gensets, two large motors, two sophisticated radar systems, three chart plotters, three docking stations plus wireless remote control and many more systems.
Her size allows us to store huge volumes of fuel meaning that we can go thousands of miles without interacting with a marina or a fuel jetty which is precisely what we've done during this journey. Her size has allowed us to store lots of food in her many refrigerators allowing us to stay away from shopping. Of course, to keep all these systems running, it takes a lot of work. On Cruz Control we had a fraction of these systems and we were basically able to be self-sufficient for a season fixing most problems and generally making a list of things to fix on the off season at our marina with professional help. With Vanish, although two people can very competently handle the vessel in terms of docking, manoeuvring etc., we felt that keeping all these systems in good order, maintaining the stainless and gel coat, provisioning, storage and handling of food, the cleaning of its spacious interior, would be best accomplished if we had help, particularly as Maynard spends a great deal of time working. This was a very hard decision for us as we are fiercely independent people. Not everyone can live with two quiet vegetarians who like the things we like.
Initially we anticipated that at the very least we would need crew for the first year to make sure both of us could come up to speed with all the things we needed to learn to broadly handle a vessel such as Vanish on our own. Dirk in particular brought a huge wealth of engineering and boat handling experience to us. He and Julie worked at outfitting Vanish with all the spares and equipment required for long distance voyaging and we appreciated having the help in setting up Vanish. No matter how much time you spend talking to people on the phone, there is always that concern that living together might be a good or very bad idea. Even with four of us, it is tricky to keep this vessel in perfect shape as we move thousands of miles. For the intended voyage, Vanish is the perfect size.
We cleared US Customs yesterday at the beautiful Bar Harbor in Maine (THE best summer cruising ground we've ever seen) with clear sunny skies. It does feel good to be back in the US. We had a great crossing over the Bay of Fundy in calm glassy flat blue sky conditions and saw two huge sharks. This highly tidal body of water has lots of current and can produce steep dangerous waves but we saw none of that thanks to finding a perfect weather window. Our crew hitch-hiked north of Yarmouth while we stayed on the vessel at anchor in the town so this is all we saw of Nova Scotia. It turned out that Yarmouth, Nova Scotia was our turning point and now every mile takes us closer to home. We didn't intend for Yarmouth to be our turning point but we feel, as has already proven to be the case, that as we head back towards home only 17,000 miles away (OMG that's a long way...best not to think about that), crew morale has improved giving us the best chance of making this work out right. Clearly, it has been a steep learning curve living with another couple and all that entails. We are still hopeful that it will work out.
18 August, 2012, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
We have a huge window in our shower on Vanish which no one can see into during the day ........ or so I've been told. I just can't get used to looking out and seeing seals looking back at me; perhaps they have really really good vision. Yarmouth, a fishing town of 9,000 people from which many of the forefathers of Lafayette, Louisiana's Cajuns originated, holds their biggest event of the year this weekend called the Shark Scramble and we just happened to be there for it. Maynard is a geophysicist and has worked the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana almost his entire career so we have many Cajun contacts and friends back in Louisiana and didn't realise they'd originated from Nova Scotia until now. It's a weird coincidence.
The Shark Scramble this year involved 18 fishing boats departing Yarmouth on Wednesday night in order to catch the largest total weight of sharks or the largest weight of a shark. They returned by Friday midnight ready for the weigh-in today. We watched the fishing boats leave in the fog motoring 80 miles south to the Georges Bank. Each boat had between 7 and 12 people on board plus casks of beer, and a tremendous amount of food and excitement to see them through the 2 day catch. As the water temperatures have been so warm, we were told they probably wouldn't need to head too far out before the sharks would come to their boats following the scent of blood in the water. The minimum length for a catch is 8 feet and they are allowed to catch blue, mako, porbeagles and thresher sharks. In 2004, a mako shark was caught in the Shark Scramble weighing 1,082 lb. Mako sharks can jump 30 feet in the air and this shark ended up leaping into the back of the fishing boat! You might be interested in visiting http://www.yarmouthsharkscramble.com/.
As the Shark Scramble coincides with the Yarmouth Music Festival featuring 100 bands, Maynard and I enjoyed listening to a wonderful family band called Salem Road last night, a band made up of 3 brothers, their sister and her husband and son. I wish they could be featured in the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival as they would be a huge hit. After speaking to the brothers, they told me they lived just up the road in Salem Road in Spring Haven near Yarmouth and mainly play at family events. They were quite amazing. The young people have deserted the town and headed to Alberta where there is a mining boom. The average age in the audience at the Music Festival last night was around 65 so we were feeling like youngsters in this group.
We found ourselves at the weigh-in today amongst children eating ice-creams, excited salivating dogs and locals with eyes agog. I made my way to the front of the crowd and again, through splayed fingers, watched in fascination at the scene in front of me. The largest shark this year weighed in at 429 lb. More weird coincidences. I asked a group of five people next to me how they felt about this event and amazingly they responded that they were all vegetarians and they were only there to see why their fellow townsfolk enjoyed it so much. They had lived in Yarmouth all their lives and had never been to the Scramble. The DFO (Fisheries Department Officers) were present to examine the sharks as they use the information for scientific research. The meat is then shipped to a company in Taiwan for consumption.
We could only stay for a short while and found it interesting to see how other people live around the world. This town lives on fishing and is undergoing a severe recession due to the global financial crisis and changes in the fishing stocks. One of the largest retail, grocery and restaurant stores in the region called Zellers is closing soon. The Super Cat ferry service which ran from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor also ceased operations last year. Each passage cost the ferry company C$25,000 which was unsustainable with so many people leaving the area. This was death to the town. The Shark Scramble and six day Music Festival provides a welcome relief to the locals and hopefully will inject some money into the town.
And why are we returning to Maine tomorrow without seeing Nova Scotia properly? I'll try to explain it when I can find the words.
15 August, 2012, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
After a restless sleep from all the encrypted messages being sent to underwater submarines around the world and into our brains from the 26 towers at the Cutler Naval Station, we leapt out of bed yesterday morning highly energised and speaking gibberish, pulled up a very weedy anchor and headed south-east at 10 knots across the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy. The fog was so thick that for almost 8 hours, we could only see about 75 to 100 meters ahead. At times I felt that we were going in circles and only when I looked at our steady compass heading of 150 degrees and the radar and navigation charts, did my brain satisfy itself that we were indeed going in a straight line. I believe pilots can become disoriented in exactly the same way when they have no visual references and end up spiralling into the ground. You have to trust your instruments. At times we could just make out sea birds flying past completely oblivious to the conditions. How do they do that!
As the wind speed was only around 2 to 7 knots, the sea was mostly glassy with a 1 meter swell so it was also impossible to tell if we were looking at the sea or the fog. It felt quite claustrophobic and suffocating. Maynard and I needed to stay ever vigilant in the fog as we kept seeing lobster buoys a long way offshore, large floating logs, one or two small boats and what initially looked like the corners of a container but turned out to be a pair of Minke whales fogbathing. We also had to keep a lookout for a 12 ft x 12 ft black spool floating out there....wouldn't like to smash into that, would you?
We were promised by the Marina Manager 80 miles away that it was crystal clear at his end so we trusted him and within 1 mile of the dock, the sky parted slightly thankfully and sure enough, there was Killam Marina, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. We had not seen any green or red channel markers and no land of any sort even though we were right in the middle of the channel in Yarmouth Harbor. Fundy Traffic said they had us on AIS and advised there was no shipping in the channel which was a relief.
At the dock, we were visited by two Canadian Customs Officers who were extremely friendly and cleared us into Canada. We were asked about any weapons on board, drugs, alcohol, fruit, vegetables or other contraband. I was forbidden to take photos of the Officer's faces (maybe they were dentists in their former lives?) but was allowed to take a picture of their hands stamping the passports and actually nabbed a photo of their backs leaving Vanish. What a weird world we live in now. Oh yes, and we did not need to leave the boat's alcohol with our Booze Buddy in Maine as boat stores are ok. You are just not allowed to go ashore with it or leave it with someone here. Now, they tell us.
Our new marina friends on a 46ft yacht here are leaving this afternoon for Bar Harbor, an overnight motor/sail in the fog, something they are not looking forward to. We all agree that the fog is bad but the lobster buoys are a nightmare. Canada has a lobster season from November to May but Maine has its own rules. Thinking about it,it is akin to you driving your car down the road dodging cages every 20 feet, including every single place you want to drive your car eg. to the mall, to a school, to your driveway, to work, absolutely everywhere. Maybe I've said this previously, but Maynard believes this is up there with some of the trickiest boating he's had to endure and that says a lot.
14 August, 2012, Cutler Naval Station, Maine, USA
The sky was a complete white-out when we went to bed so we couldn't see the towers lit up at night. It's 4am and clear so this is the view. They're humming, it's quite eerie and beautiful.
13 August, 2012, Near Cutler Naval Station, Cross Island, Maine, USA
I'm trying so hard not to write so often and I don't want you guys to get bored but things just keep happening so here I am again! We decided to head off in the dense fog with a good working radar today and ended up at Cross Island , directly across from these enormous radio towers at the Cutler Naval Station. The towers form one of the world's most powerful radio transmitters used by the US Navy to communicate with their submerged submarines. There are 26 towers altogether forming 2 arrays designated as the north array and the south array. The central tower of each array is almost 1,000 feet high and is surrounded in an umbrella type arrangement with 12 other towers of around 800 feet in height.
What is amazing about all of this is that Maynard worked on this project in the 1970's in San Diego at the Naval Undersea Center under Dr. Hamilton who, at the time, was one of the most published geophysicists in the world. Maynard had no idea that 40 years later he would visit this very remote area in Maine in his own boat with a Chattybirrd wife. Back then he was a geological technician analysing sea bottom samples which were needed to improve the reliability of the communication and detection of the ULF (ultra low frequency) system that the military had set up to communicate with its subs worldwide and aided in the detection of Russian subs. This system takes advantage of water temperature layers in the ocean and from sampling seabeds world-wide, they are very accurately able to send messages to any sub around the world using ULF. It is a remarkable feat of human invention and the technology from this has found its way into lots of everyday devices such as digital tvs, mobile phones etc.
In winter, severe icing results in huge loads on the supporting structures so the antennas have de-icing currents running through the wires. An antenna array can't transmit during de-icing so only one array can be de-iced at any one time so that transmissions are not interrupted. As luck would have it, the fog dispersed exactly when we were ready to anchor so we had a wonderful view of these spectacular towers. Even though we were the only ones here, the water temp is now 15 deg C and the fog had rolled in, we hopped into our kayaks and took a tour along the shoreline of Cross Island which is known to have black bears. We are keeping our fingers crossed for a sighting.
12 August, 2012, Shorey Cove, Roque Island, Maine, USA
Three solid days of fog now - oh except it lifted for about 1 hour at lunchtime so we hoiked it around the top of Roque Island to Shorey Cove via The Thoroughfare, an extremely narrow shallow passage before the rain and heavy fog descended again. Nothing like a change of..... well, I was going to say scenery to lift the spirits but as we can only see white everywhere, maybe I should say that we have a change of location to lift the spirits. We couldn't stand it any longer yesterday being cooped up so we went for a long walk on the one mile stretch of beach, Maine's equivalent of Whitehaven Beach in North Queensland, Australia. Mind you, we couldn't SEE the beach until we heard the small waves lapping.
We found some interesting animal footprints in the sand about 4" long and have no idea what they are. If anyone reading this can identify them for me, please leave a comment for all to read. Our guesses have been a black bear (just wishful thinking), an otter or maybe a badger. We then took a wet dinghy ride on dusk and found an animal none of us have ever seen before swimming like crazy. I think it's either an otter or perhaps a muskrat, maybe a mink as a nearby island is called Mink Island. Again, not being familiar with the animals here in Maine, we can only guess.
This fog business makes us all appreciate the difficulties the local fishermen and residents have to contend with here. Having radar on the boat is essential otherwise if you don't have one, one can toot one's boat horn, ring a bell, listen for echoes or the sound of rocks awash, take a heading on your compass and once in shallow water, anchor there and hope for the best if your radar decides to fail. I have lots of theories (some say hair brained theories) and one of them is that the more that crew worry, the more the electronics fail. Surely you've noticed this phenomenon. People tend to suck the life out of electronics in dicey situations; why else do they always seem to fail when crossing a dangerous bar, when a storm is approaching or when traversing shallow water? The only cure is to stay relaxed and that's exactly what we're doing; we don't want our radar dying thank you very much.
10 August, 2012, Roque Island Harbor, Maine, USA
Have you ever watched the movie called The Mist, a sci fi horror movie based on Stephen King's book of the same name? I've watched it through splayed fingers but I know it is based in Maine and contains scenes of mist, fog, giant insects, thunderstorms, alien creatures and other grisly things. You really have to keep your head about you, especially at night in the fog here in Maine or your mind will come up with scenarios that won't allow you much sleep at night. Right now, we are safely anchored in Roque Island Harbor in heavy fog and drizzling rain. At times, the fog lifts slightly and you can just see another yacht anchored close by, yet at other times, it would appear we are the only ones here. At night with the fog swirling around our anchor light, droplets of water running down the cabin flyscreens, the smell of the forest, splashes in the water and the haunting sound of unknown birds or wildlife out there, we feel mighty glad to be inside our cozy craft.
This beautiful harbour has an anchorage which can hold 100's of vessels and in fact has been our most crowded anchorage in weeks having five vessels here last night. It has a one mile long fine white sandy beach with a grass topped small dune and behind that the hills are cloaked in more deep dark wooded spruce trees. The water temperature is now 15 C (59 deg F) and the air temperature is about the same. As we are in the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy, the tides are now almost 4 meters (13 ft) but I've read that the biggest tides in the world are still 140 miles ahead reaching 17 meters (55 ft). We may or may not go up and play with these Fundy tides. With such huge volumes of water moving back and forth every six and a half hours, the current increases dramatically. If you don't time your voyage accordingly, you can find yourself pushing into a strong oncoming tide which significantly slows the vessel. Just another challenge up here.
We're often visited by lobstermen at the anchorages which our crew take full advantage of as we don't eat lobsters or any meat for that matter. Today was a boat work day on board as the sun failed to show and who knows if we'll see it for some time yet.