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.