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Vanish - Making The Switch From Sail to Power
Marina Stabiliser Dance
Vicki – Rain 21C/70F, Sea 28C/82F, Cloud 8/8, 4Cast 15-25kn NE
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 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.

2 April, 2013 | Alison Stump
What a good choice to go to Dominican Republic. By now you will hopefully have found a calmer anchorage and will be planning the next move. It will be a long leg to Jamaica. Keep us informed.
Stuck Between A Rock & A Hard Spot
Vicki - Air 27C/80F, Cloud 6/8, Sea 29C/84F, 4Cast 5-10 NE, N
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?

26 March, 2013 | Damienn Plahn
Looks like an real challenge!
What Next?
Vicki – 25C/77F, Wind S 15kn, Cloud 5/8, 4Cast Next Few Days W, NW,N & NE 10 kn
19 March, 2013, Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, Exumas, The Bahamas

Making fresh conch salad on the beach

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?

24 March, 2013 | puffins
Love your blog. I have a question: "We draw 6 ft." The 'great loop' requires no more than 5 ft, does that mean if i tried it with a Voyager 76 i'd run aground? Marlow's specs say the draft is 5 ft. Thanks, and have fun on your trip!
25 March, 2013 | Vicki Smith
Hi Puffins. I asked Maynard to reply to your great question and here is his reply.

"A stock standard Voyager with C-15 engines would have a draft of 5 ft. However, in our case, we have added extra batteries, C-18 engines and 2 cranes as well as carrying enough spares and tools to be self-sufficient over a vast distance. This has increased our draft to 5 ft 5 ins without fuel and water. With a full tank of fuel of 4700 gallons and 500 gallons of water and full provisions our draft is 6 ft 2 ins. We have verified these draft measurements by diving. Most of this extra weight is kept very low in the vessel actually improving its righting moment but it does mean that you need that extra little water depth. It’s the old rule in yachting. Everything is a compromise. Thanks for your comments and if you want any more info, don’t hesitate to ask." Maynard
The Bay of Pigs
Vicki - Air 22C, Sea 25C, Cloud 6/8, NNE 12kn, Forecast of 4 days E :)
15 March, 2013, Little Major Spot Cay, Exuma, The Bahamas

This little pig was an incredibly strong swimmer and nearly pulled me right out of the dinghy.

Well we've seen it all now. Did you know that pigs are great swimmers? We'd heard about a little family of wild 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.

Now THIS is a pack of sharks

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.)

18 March, 2013 | Alison Stump
So you are now using Pig Power instead of Horse Power to save fuel? There is never a dull moment in the Bahamas. What next?
18 March, 2013 | PHK
Great post. Now you need to find the beach where the famous beach scene in Dr. No was filmed. Hint: It's no where near where you are, but near where you might go...
19 March, 2013 | Eric
Now that is a funny and unusual sight. Great pictures!
19 March, 2013 | Vicki Smith
Alison, hey that's funny. Yes Pig Power is definitely under-utilized; they are incredibly strong but squeal a lot! PHK; sounds like I need to research where we're going! And Eric; Yes, a weird thing to put on one's bucket list but so memorable.
26 March, 2013 | Damienn Plahn
OMG, well people always say 'if pigs could fly' now we know they don't need to, as swimming in the Bahamas is just as much fun!
Something’s Fishy
Vicki –25 deg, S 16 kn, 2/8 Cloud, 100ft+ water vis
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.

White Tailed Tropicbirds
Vicki – Air 20.8C, 7/8 Cloud, NE 12kn, Water 24C +-
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.

12 March, 2013 | AlisonStump
Beautiful birds, good photography. The Bahamas continue to delight.
12 March, 2013 | Vicki Smith
Every day is a great day in the Bahamas with lots to see and explore. Wish you were here.
Sex, Drugs and Debauchery
Vicki - Air 25C, N 10kn, 1/8 Cloud
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.

8 March, 2013 | PHK
I've got a Land Rover. One out of two ain't bad...
12 March, 2013 | Vicki Smith
I'm sure Molly would oblige.
50 Shades of Turquoise
Vicki - Air 22.7C/73F, Water Abt 25C/77F, 2/8 Cloud, N 12 kn, Depth 2.6m
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.

Well Hello Pretty Boy
Vicki - Anchored Highborne Cay - Air 24C, 2/8 Cloud, 2.3m depth
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.

Flopper Stopper Comfort
Vicki - Air 18.7C/66FC, 8/8 Cloud, Sea Temp 30.4C /87F, 12 kn NW
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.)

26 March, 2013 | Damienn Plahn
That is awesome. It was always an unknown in my mind how effective the flopper stoppers would be on such a large vessel.
Great News!

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